Sunday, 27 July 2014

Live in 2014: Stone Foundation live at The Globe Cardiff, Friday 25th July 2014

As part of a very select set of UK dates, Stone Foundation return to the Globe in Cardiff with very special guest Nolan Porter. The temperature outside was hitting 28 C and inside it was even hotter as the band conjured up their stirring brand of Soul.

The first half of the show belongs to Stone Foundation. Having recently released their latest album - To Find The Spirit - it is a chance to hear the majority of the album live for the first time.

They start the set with the the new album title track To Find The Spirit and the heat rises another few degrees. Augmented by a new percussion player the band are on fine form tonight and the sound fills the Globe to great effect.

The band play most of the new album with highlights for me being Hold On and the brilliantly extended Don't Let The Rain.

They slow the pace with the lovely When You're In My World - one of the highlights of To Find The Spirit.

The crowd are up and dancing and with songs like Stonger Than Us the place is now bouncing. 

We then have a 15 minute break before the second half of the show featuring the vocal delights of Nolan Porter.

Nolan has a long history with the band and has appeared on previous recordings. 

The band make the most of the voice of Nolan as they run through some soul classics like Gimme Little Time. Tracks are taken from Nolan's two 70s albums and the crowd are right into the groove by now as the silky voice of Nolan casts its spell.

The band played some of Nolan's best known songs such as Fe Fi Fo Fum & Crazy Love and the excellent  If I Could Only Be Sure

With Nolan's charm and sincerity he soon had the audience in the palm of his hand. He seemed genuinely excited to be playing in Cardiff tonight and thanked the audience and the band several times for helping to keep his music alive. Keep it alive? Nolan, it never went away.

The show concludes with an encore of the Rolling Stones classic Jumpin' Jack Flash to end a spectacular night of music. 
This band should be huge - with excellent albums and stunning live shows if you haven't experienced Stone Foundation yet - then you're missing something special and quite rare in these times - SOUL :)

There is talk of Nolan and the band working on some new material. With any luck this will happen soon.

Twitter - @stonefoundation 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Albums of 2014: Robert Reed - Sanctuary

Well, what can I say - I didn't expect this!!

Rob Reed is the keyboard player behind the Welsh band Magenta. The sound of Magenta certainly displays his Prog Rock influences in bands such a YES, Genesis, Pink Floyd etc. Magenta's latest album is called 
The 27 Club

But I never realised he was SUCH a Mike Oldfield fan. Almost as much as me!!

But he has been able to take this one step further - in fact, several steps further.

Now I've heard fans trying to recreate music inspired by Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge, Ommadawn & Incantations by Mike Oldfield before but nothing prepared me for Sanctuary.

Firstly, Rob had to learn to play all of the instruments to an impressive standard because he wanted to play all of the music himself, exactly as Mike Oldfield had done on Tubular Bells. 

Rob had been making music by multi tracking on tapes ever since he was a teenager. Exactly how Mike had started his Tubular Bells project.

Rob saw aspects of his own personality in Mike Oldfield and his music resonated with the young Rob and has been with him ever since.

So in 2012, Rob started work on an album that would be inspired not only by the music of Mike Oldfield but also his working methods - no Pro Tools job here. This is music recorded almost exactly as Mike Oldfield did back on his first 4 albums, that set is still seen by fans and followers as the best music making period of his entire career.

Over 18 months, Rob put together Sanctuary. 

It is based around the Tubular Bells template of two sides of music about 20 minutes for each side.

In the video below, Rob talks about the project.

When you really 'listen' to Tubular Bells you can really hear the turmoil going on within Mike Oldfield at the time. There are moments of exhilaration followed by passages of deep sadness. 

Rob has followed a similar path within Sanctuary - the majority is uplifting but there are pieces of music contained within it which are quite melancholic. He'll probably hate me for saying this but I see the joy of Tubular Bells 2 within the work, even though it is steeped in the first Tubular Bells. 

Rob has referenced not only Tubular Bells but also the other 3 albums too. I can hear Hergest Ridge's pastoral beauty, Ommadawn's folk leanings and Incantations' rhythmic passages. And lots of other small pieces that, if you know the music of those first 4 albums like I do, you can pinpoint on each of those four albums.

The whole project would not stand up if it wasn't for the quality of the music. And I've got to say Rob has produced a masterpiece.
The music is SO strong, you could honestly believe that you are listening to a lost Mike Oldfield album from the mid 70s.

But Rob has also captured the 'feel' of Mike's playing - the emotion if you will. Recreating the sound is one thing, but recreating an emotion is a whole new ball game. And I believe Rob has got as close as he possibly could, within his own experiences.

To his credit, Rob did not just stop there. He contacted both Tom Newman and Simon Heyworth who were the original co-producers and engineers on Tubular Bells. They were so impressed, they agreed to work with Rob on Sanctuary. 

The album could so easily have become a pastiche but it stands up in it's own right as a totally gorgeous piece of music. 
The 5.1 surround sound version is just out of this world.

I never thought I'd hear another album like those first four Mike Oldfield albums ever again. Especially not from Mike himself. But Rob Reed has pulled something really magical out of the hat and given fans of early Mike Oldfield the album they've waited all these years for.
Fans of Mike Oldfield should absolutely love it.

And wouldn't it be fantastic if people heard this album first and then went back and investigated Mike Oldfield's first four albums?

I wish that Mike would be able to hear Sanctuary and think to himself that Rob has produced an astonishing piece of work and be able to say to himself, 'The boy done good' and I'm honoured to have been his influence & inspiration. Perhaps one day he will.

photos courtesy of Rob's Facebook page

Twitter - @robreedmagenta 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Live in 2014: Zervas & Pepper - Level 3, St David's Hall Cardiff (as part of the Welsh Proms) - Monday 21st July 2014

On a sultry Monday evening on Level 3 of the St David's Hall in Cardiff, Paul Zervas & Kath Pepper, complete with band, played a gorgeous set as part of the Welsh Proms series of events. After flying down today from Gateshead following playing the Summertyne Americana Festival yesterday, Z&P showed no signs of travel fatigue as they produced a show of their best known songs - with some surprises thrown in for good measure.

First up though was support act Lisbee Stainton.

Lisbee played a lovely set which included songs from her 4 available albums.

She had the crowd on her side as she gave performances including Elosie, Girl In An Unmade Bed, Never Quite An Angel, Word Games & We Don't Believe In Monsters. She received a great round of applause from an appreciative Cardiff audience.

Then we came to the main event with Zervas & Pepper making their second visit to their hometown this year, following their gig at the Glee Club in February.

Playing to a packed Level 3, the band kicked off with Buffalo Crow. With EPs and two albums now under their belt, Somewhere In The City & Lifebringer, the band had plenty of material to choose from in this 1 1/2 hour show. If there was ever music to suit the weather in Cardiff tonight - this was it. The sun kissed harmonies of Paul & Kath suited the mood perfectly. If only it was outside it would have been even more magical.

Crowd favourites followed with the band playing last year's singles Jerome & Sure Fire Bet. Early song King Of The Skies get an enthusiastic cheer from those in the know.
Kath asked if there were any new fans in the audience - the answer was Yes. No doubt having heard their music on Radio 2 over the last couple of years. But the band also had a core of older fans who made themselves heard throughout the performance.

Next up were One Man Show and Living In A Small Town from Lifebringer and early favourite Starting Over - is is Rock or is it Pop asks Kath - I think its both.

The came the first surprise of the evening - the band leaves the stage and the duo are joined by Lisbee for a mesmerizing version of the Crosby Stills Nash song Helplessly Hoping. This song prompted huge applause.

The on-stage banter is again in full flow with Kath being her usual lovely self effacing self and Paul with his extremely dry wit.

Paul & Kath are used to playing shows as a duo and Lisbee left the stage to leave them to sing their very first song - You Must Be Doing Something Right.

What followed was something VERY special - a gorgeous vocal performance by Kath of the Joni Mitchell song Woman Of Heart & Mind from her 1972 album, For The Roses. Truly beautiful.

The rest of the band then came back on stage. This was the point where those who have followed Kath & Paul for a while were rewarded with two new songs.
First was the new single - These Blurred Lines. Very much a Zervas & Pepper track with gorgeous layered harmonies and sunny vibe.
This was followed by an even newer song - Tidal Wave. This track was much more rocky with Paul on good form with his electric guitar,

The band are currently recording for the third album, due next year, and the quality of the two songs they have produced so far bode well for number 3.

Following these new songs the band launch into Cigar Store Indian, probably their best known song and a real crowd pleaser at every live show.

Then came the final song, which is also the final song on the Lifebringer album, All The world Has Changed.

But the crowd wanted more and the band came back for a cover of Crosby Stills Nash - Long Time Gone.

And for those musos wondering what Paul's new guitar was - I had it from the man himself - it's a Guild X175 Manhattan (Blonde) - and mighty fine it sounds too with his Guild 12 string :)

So a triumphant home town return for Zervas & Pepper with some great new songs. What More Could You Want?

Twitter - @zervaspepper

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Live in 2014: Elvis Costello at The Brangwyn Hall, Swansea - Friday July 11th 2014

"Fuck The Electricity"
Not my current leaning in musical output these days but a direct quote from Mr Elvis Costello as he brought his solo show to Swansea with his first appearance in the city for 34 years.

It's Elvis Solo tonight - with a choice of 7 guitars and an electric piano onstage, Elvis takes us on a tour of his greatest hits and some album gems too. He opened with Jack Of All Parades from the King Of America album.

Next up was Green Shirt from the Armed Forces album.

The musical Gods were not kind to Elvis tonight - throughout the night they had issues with the sound every time Elvis picked up anything electric. This ruled out several of the gorgeous guitars that Elvis had brought onto the stage. It was a shame but I actually enjoyed the stripped back acoustic performances of the songs.

The venue was holding almost 900 tonight and Elvis made it feel like a much more intimate gig by playing the majority of the show acoustically. Several times you could have heard a pin drop as he worked his way through his set.

Following a great version of Accidents Will Happen & Poison Moon, Elvis went on to talk about his previous visit to the city - 34 years ago at the long gone Top Rank. He stated that tonight's venue was much more salubrious. Too right it is.
He was in fine voice tonight and the more acoustic setting gave the songs a chance to breathe and to highlight the superb lyrics to the vast majority of his songs.

Elvis then played Girls' Talk, which was a big hit for Welsh rocker Dave Edmunds but written by Elvis.

His country ballad Good Year For The Roses followed to great applause.

New Amsterdam morphed into The Beatles' You've Got To Hide Your Love Away which was just sublime & brought one of the biggest cheers of the evening. It is almost 29 years to the day that Elvis performed All You Need Is Love at Live Aid - that would have been a nice touch.

He finished this part of the show with an excellent version of Everyday I Write The Book, which he jokingly revealed was written in 10 minutes and he couldn't stand the song.

Elvis then took to his seat for several songs including Walking my Baby Back Home, You Took Advantage Of Me, Ghost Train and his version of the song from the movie Notting Hill, the magnificent She.

Following the rather excellent seated section, Elvis then risked the electric semi acoustic to put in what I must say was a rather riveting performance of Watching The Detectives, using a guitar loop to create some terrific sounds.

and next followed my all time favouite Elvis song, Alison.

After a tiny break where some people thought there was an interval, Elvis rushed back to the stage to sit at the electric piano and give a sensational performance of his Falklands War observation, Shipbuilding.

It was time to risk the electric again as Elvis launched into Oliver's Army and Last Year Of My Youth.

Then came the 'Fuck The Electricity' which almost brought the house down as Elvis returned to his acoustic to give us superb versions of Jimmie Standing In The Rain, The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes and Wave A White Flag.

Asking for requests, Elvis responded with Blue Chair.

Before finishing the show with (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding.

So, despite some electrical gremlins which obviously affected the way Elvis Costello would want to produce his show, it was a triumphant return to Swansea after 34 years. 

Many thanks to the people of New York who managed to capture the video that I've used to try and convey the atmosphere and performance of the Swansea show. 

Photos are my own from the Swansea show.

Twitter - @ElvisCostello

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Albums of 2014: YES - Heaven & Earth

Who would have thought that I'd be writing a blog page on a new album by one of the last surviving Prog Rock bands YES in 2014? Not only that, but that it would be a good album too.

So here we have YES in 2014 - now consisting of founder member, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, Drummer Alan White, Keyboards player Geoff Downes and the latest recruit, vocalist Jon Davison.

Following the last album, 2011s Fly From Here, which featured another new vocalist in the shape of Benoit David, YES have re-emerged with their new vocalist and put in a performance that many thought they wouldn't achieve again.

Firstly, let's address the elephant in the room. Original vocalist, instrumentalist & writer Jon Anderson's shadow will ALWAYS be over the band. His voice was SO distinctive and his lyrics and observations were very much his own. Some YES fans will always be of the opinion that there is NO YES without Anderson. 

This album will not change their minds.

 But, if you consider that YES has always been an evolving organism which has embraced change over their 46 years, then you also have to consider that Anderson's departure is yet another chapter in a book that has produced some amazing music over the years. Indeed, YES have had 5 vocalists .Jon Anderson, Trevor Horn, Trevor Rabin, Benoit David & now Jon Davison. Yet alone the countless other musicians that have been through the ranks. 

I have been a YES fan since 1971. YES have always been my favourite band.

I have ALWAYS embraced the changes. New members bring new dynamics into the music. If you go back through the years, you can see how the major changes have produced some of the band's best albums. When Trevor Horn replaced Jon Anderson following his first departure it resulted in DRAMA. An underrated classic. Enter Trevor Rabin - result, 90125, their biggest selling album. And 2011s Fly From Here with new vocalist Benoit David was also regarded as a return to form. So now we have another new vocalist in Jon Davison. And he's the best YES vocalist since Jon Anderson. Very similar in sound and approach to Anderson, Jon Davison, for good or bad (depending on your particular YES leanings) has put his fingerprints all over Heaven & Earth.
Co-writing all but one of the tracks on the album, Howe's It Was All We Knew, Jon has firmly established himself as a major part of the band. Good for him! He's even the lone writer of one of the finest songs on the album, Light Of The Ages, which is ironically probably the most YES sounding track on the album.

I managed to catch YES on this years 3 album tour were I got to see Jon Davison perform the albums Close To The Edge, Going For The One & The Yes Album live. And he was a revelation. I think YES have finally found their man after the departure of Jon Anderson.

So, here we have the results of Jon Davison joining the band and their first album together. And do you know what? It's very good indeed. If you are a fan of any incarnation of YES, I think you'll find something to love within it's grooves.

Photo courtesy of

The first track to be released from the album was Believe Again. It starts with Steve Howe's weeping guitar before Geoff Downe's Keys and Chris Squire's thumping bass come in and herald the the dawn of a new YES era. Jon Davison provides lyrics with enough mysticism to satisfy the Jon Anderson fan. 

As an opener it is just about spot on. It encapsulates the new YES perfectly. Soaring melody, 9 minutes long, all the instruments in the right place, Davison's YESesque vocals and the Squire/Howe harmonies. Yes, the guitar work and keys may sound more like an ASIA album than a YES album but surely with two of ASIA's mainstays in the band, it has to be expected.  

The Game is next up and is a strong song which skips along nicely featuring the harmonies of Chris & Steve. Led very much by the guitar work of Steve Howe. With only two songs in, the first thing that strikes me is how melodious the songs are. Is this because of Jon Davison? I guess we'll find out on the next album.

Geoff Downes can never really be described as a flashy keyboard player but with the next track, Step Beyond, he's very much to the fore with a phrase that loops almost constantly throughout the track. It's quite a poppy song. And again has the Squire/Howe harmonies in the background. I must say that former alumni Billy Sherwood has done a fabulous job throughout the album in capturing some excellent backing vocals/harmonies.

I haven't mentioned drummer Alan White so far, who gives an assured performance throughout and also co-wrote the next song, To Ascend with Davison. On my first few listens, it has been my favourite track on the album. It starts with an acoustic guitar and Chris plays some lovely bass lines throughout. It's a very gentle song and is probably the song I would most like to hear live.

In A World Of Our Own almost swings along, it's another very poppy track and one of the least YESlike tracks on the album. It's as if the band are trying out different clothes to see which ones fit the best. To me it's a bit to Yes-By-Numbers. But Hey.

The next track sees the band back where they belong with Jon Davison's Light Of The Ages. It starts off very much in the classic YES vein with layered keys, tuneful bass lines and Steve's soaring guitar before Jon comes in with sufficiently obscure lyrics. Geoff plays a nice piano motif which runs around the vocals. 

If I'm trying to place the songs so far in any sort of context, then they all sound as if they could have come from different eras of YES including the classic early 70s work and funnily enough the unloved Tormato and underrated Drama era. The album sounds like a band looking back on their history and searching for a cohesive direction. with the way the songs were constructed, with Jon Davison visiting all the individual members in their own houses to co-write then I can see how this might be the outcome. Hopefully, with the next album will have more time to record and produce an album using a 'band' writing process, where we can see all the strengths put together. 

The joker in the pack has to be the next track, Steve Howe's It Was All We Knew. A jaunty throw away upbeat pop track. Not what I expected from one of our best guitar players. 

A lot of fans are waiting to see if there are any Prog classics on the album. Well, the nearest we get is the final track Subway Walls. It's a co-write between Jon & Geoff (his only credit). It will probably be the live highlight when the band tour the album and also get closest to pleasing fans of the longer YES compositions with every member of the band getting a chance to shine in the longer song format.

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of smartbassguitar

Heaven & Earth has been described in several early reviews and by Roy Thomas Baker himself as picking the best of all the types of YESMUSIC that has gone before. And he's right. To an extent.

It is YES for the 20teens and acknowledges a rich history of sound and composition but firmly wants to be in the present and the future. I hope the fans and the band get the opportunity to hear another album by this line up and Geoff Downes, in his interview with Kevin from the excellent YES MUSIC PODCAST (see link below) has indicated they have tracks ready for the next album, one of which is a long form piece. I'd love to hear this line up's new Awaken in the future.

Twitter - @YesMusicPodcast 

Twitter - @yesofficial 

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Albums of 2014: Tim Bowness - Abandoned Dancehall Dreams

Every now and again an album comes along by someone who you've never heard before that just grabs you by the balls from the very first track and just doesn't let go.

A few days ago I came across an album called Abandoned Dancehall Dreams. It was by an artist called Tim Bowness. Who, I hear you ask (maybe)? I had the same response. How could I have missed this guy?

I heard the track The Warm Up Man Forever. And it just blew me away. Its relentless rhythm, staccato strings, almost eastern overtones and a soft voice (reminiscent of Paddy McAloon) with a subject that I'd never heard a song about before. Just brilliant. Here is that track followed by a video in which Tim talks about the track.

So who IS Tim Bowness? Well, he's been around for a while actually. He's actually been part of a band called No-Man since the late 80s with none other than Steven Wilson. He of Porcupine Tree fame and one of the Icons of Prog Rock. He's well worth checking out both as a solo artist and as a member of Porcupine Tree.

Tim has also been in bands such as Henry Fool and has produced an album which Japan's Richard Barbieri.

Steven Wilson - Photo courtesy of UltimateGuitar,com

So, I set about finding out where The Warm Up Man Forever came from. It's actually the first track from Tim's second solo album released only a couple of weeks ago called Abandoned Dancehall Dreams.

It's a very beautiful record and it's 8 tracks contain some of the most mesmerizing music you'll hear on any album this year.

Two tracks Smiler at 50 and I Fought The Law come in at over 8 minutes long. I know what you're thinking - How Prog - but don't dismiss it. It's not musical masturbation. the songs grow and at the end of each one you'll understand while they needed the space to grow.

photo courtesy of

Smiler at 50 and it's companion track, Smiler At 52 tell the story of.. No, I'll let you find out yourselves. 

50 is a gorgeous piano based ballad. I heard echoes of Beatles & Beach Boys funnily enough which ends in a rather dramatic fashion and sets you up for 52 later in the album.

Songs Of Distant Summers is up next and is again based on a lovely piano refrain, it reminds me of something that Dennis Wilson could have recorded for his legendary Pacific Ocean Blue. A very good thing.

Waterfoot is an acoustic based song which conjures up Nick Drake in places with it's very English pastoral feel and chord changes and woodwind/strings. Tim explains what the songs is about here.

Dancing for you revolves around an electric piano before an electric guitar solo sends the track off in another direction completely with a Pink Floyd edge before coming back to the main theme.It's very elegiac and stately.  

Smiler At 52 brings the story up to date for Smiler.

Next up is the almost 9 minute I Fought The South which begins with strings and electric guitar with a feel Mark Hollis from Talk Talk would be proud of. Halfway through, it transforms into something totally different and ends on a very gentle note indeed.

photo by Dion Johnson

The final track is Beaten By Love and has a very Peter Gabriel feel about it. It seems as if the song has been composed around percussion, as Gabriel did on 3. 

I don't really want to say too much as I want you to discover the delights yourself. Odd for a review I know but there's so much to discover on the album that I am loathe to spoil it.

I just urge you to check it out and at least give it a listen. 

photo courtesy of

Twitter - @TimBowness