Friday, 31 October 2014

Live in 2014: Steve Hackett - at St David's Hall, Cardiff on Thursday October 30th 2014

I've been looking forward to this gig since I saw Steve Hackett play the first half of this extensive tour last year at the same venue. I thought last year's show was just exceptional - this one was even better.

The support for tonight's show was a nice surprise too - Vocalist/guitarist Bryan Josh & the ethereal Vocalist/Flautist Olivia Sparnenn from the band Mostly Autumn came on and performed songs from the Mostly Autumn back catalogue and included 3 songs from their latest album, Dressed In Voices. I was so impressed I went out and bought the CD after the set.

The new album has an intriguing concept and some lovely musical moments- if you like Prog, check it out, I'm sure you'll be impressed.

Last year's Genesis Revisited 2 show was a large production with back screen projections - today's show just concentrated on the music, with an excellent light show to boot.

With a set list very similar to last year's show - the audience were in for a treat - but with a few surprises thrown in too.
The show began with Dance On A Volcano and was quickly followed by Squonk - both from A Trick Of The Tail. Right from the start the sound and light show were just superb. 

For this Tour - Steve was again joined by Vocalist Nad Sylvan who was just excellent throughout the whole show.

Steve is now the 'Keeper of the Flame' for all early Genesis fans. With Tony Banks now pursuing a classical music career and Mike Rutherford still flogging the Mike & The Mechanics route, (Phil Collins still in retirement) it is left to Steve Hackett to give the early Genesis fans what they want - we know his importance to the band and the music - and he doesn't disappoint as he reignites the early Genesis catalogue such as Dancing With The Moonlit Knight & The Return Of The Giant Hogweed - Nad especially got to indulge in his more dramatic leanings (but more of that later).
It was especially good to hear The Fountain Of Salmacis, which is especially dramatic and gives Steve a chance to show just what a accomplished guitarist he actually is. On Genesis albums, he quite often gets buried in the mix due to the prominence of Tony Banks' keyboards. But on this tour, we get to hear what IS actually on the albums but isn't often visible.

Of the many highlights of tonight's show - one of the songs I was anticipating most was The Musical Box. And it didn't let me down. It was just superb building into one of the best climaxes to a song ever committed to vinyl. 

On this tour, bass player Nick Beggs has joined the band. And he was a revelation. Gone is the 80s popster, he's now an accomplished bassist/guitarist who's musicianship just blew me away. He made the complicated passages of the music look just so effortless.

The crowd pleasing I Know What I Like followed quickly followed by Steve showing his classical guitar chops with a delicate version of Horizons. You could hear a pin drop. 

Firth Of Fifth was another highlight with Steve's soaring guitar now taking centre stage.

At this point in the set came of of the surprises of the night. Last year's set featured a Wind & Wuthering segment which included Unquiet Slumber For The Sleepers - ....In That Quiet Earth - Afterglow, this was replaced tonight with a sparkling version of The Lamb's , Lillywite Lillith & Trespass', The Knife. Totally brilliant with Steve proving that he can solo with the best of them.

A word here about vocalist Nad Sylvan. Since last year, you can see that Nad has relished the role of interpreting these classic songs and I, for one, love it when he becomes the actor/dramatist. He is a striking stage presence and should do this more often - you can tell by the reaction of the audience that they think the same way.

By now, we had listened to over 1 1/2 hours of quality music. Then the 12 string acoustic guitar came out and the enlightened knew what was coming next - the one song that the majority of the audience had been waiting for. The majestic Supper's Ready from Foxtrot - all 25 minutes of it.

This is where the band really showed their skills and Nad really showed what an excellent front man he is. It must be difficult for Nad as this is Steve's show (he is centre stage) but Nad is the 'real' interpreter of the songs, especially this epic. But he does a superb job within the constricts of his placing within the stage and you can't take your eyes off him during the song.

The band leaves to a 8 minute standing ovation and then return with a scintillating version of Watcher Of The Skies. Nad is once again the centre of the song.

The band finishes the show with a reworked version of Los Endos which brings the 2 hour 20 minute musical extravaganza to a close and a huge standing ovation.

With Steve now working on a new solo album, it may be a while until we hear these songs together again, but suffice to say, when it happens, I'll be there. And you should be too.

setlist care of

Twitter - @HackettOfficial

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Live in 2014: Johnny Marr - at the Great Hall, Cardiff University on Saturday October 18th 2014

This was the second of my 'Guitar Heroes' gigs this month following the mighty Albert Lee on Thursday.

Johnny Marr brought his Playland Tour to the Great Hall of Cardiff University. I'll admit here and now that I'm not a great fan of University Gigs but for Johnny, I thought I'd have to make an exception.

Support for the evening were Childhood. I'd already seen these guys support Temples in The Globe Cardiff which was dogged by lousy sound quality which did neither band any favours on that night but I was looking forward to seeing how far the'd come in more or less a year.
And I must say that they've improved tremendously.
Their music proved an intelligent choice to warm the crowd up for Johnny Marr and in Ben Romans-Hopcraft they have an enigmatic & interesting front man.

Now, I'll come clean and admit where I stand on The Smiths. I remember vividly their first appearance on Top Of The Pops with This Charming Man and thinking what a great sound they had and what an excellent song it was. I loved Johnny Marr's music, I even enjoyed Morrisey's words but I wasn't fussy on his vocals. And that didn't change. Like Dylan, Morrisey /Marr were excellent and interesting songwriters but I just couldn't get into the vocals. I know this is blasphemy to Smith fans but there it is. And this is the first time I've got to see Johnny live.

I've always followed Johnny Marr's career and was interested to see where his latest album would take him. Playland came hot on the heels of The Messenger and I left buying it until I saw the live show.

So was Johnny worth the wait, you bet your life he was. Playland is a much more uptempo beast than The Messenger and this made for a uplifting show which didn't give an inch from the first note to the last.

With a band as tight as.... Johnny, strapped to his Signature Fender Jaguar, opened his set with the title track from the new album and immediately he had the crowd with him all the way.
Just a quick note about the crowd, it was heaving in that relatively small arena and was full of students and over 40s. The one thing that DID surprise me was that all of the younger element of the audience were singing along to ALL of The Smiths songs word for word. So the band still has that pull today as it did way back in the early 80s. Yes, I know it was a University audience so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised but I was.

Next up was the first Smiths song with a storming version of Panic. Throughout the gig, Johnny played several Smith songs together with songs from his solo career and Electronic too.

Next up was Upstarts from The Messenger and that led into the first crowd stopping moment with the latest single Easy Money. It was here that Johnny showed that he is now at ease with his singing voice and has accepted his fate as Guitar Hero.

25 Hours from Playland followed and made way for another storming version of New Town Velocity from The Messenger.

There is nothing as pretty as William or Heaven Knows on Johnny's latest solo output but he has replaced this with dynamism & attack which is perfect for this high octane show.

The Smiths Stop Me If You Think.. gets the audience singing along again before two solo tracks Back In The Box & Speak Out Reach Out  get the crowd bouncing around even more.

Next up is one of my favourite solo Johnny tracks Generate! Generate! which just brought the audience to a frenzy.

It's The Smiths once again for Big Mouth Strikes Again and Playland's, Boys Get Straight lead into the next Smiths classic Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want and new song Candidate.

The Right Thing Right is another of my favourites from The Messenger. At this point I can actually say that I'm preferring his newer material to The Smiths classics that are being played by their co-composer here tonight.

Next up is a reworked version of Getting Away With It from Johnny's Electronic collaboration - an album which I adore.

Johnny eneded the set with the Smiths classic (aren't they all) There Is A Light Which Never Goes Out and had the audience singing the song right back at him, and he let the audience take the vocal several times during the song.

The encore kicks off with The Smiths Still Ill and next up was an incredible version of a song from Playland called Dynamo which was my favourite performance of the night.

The Messenger closer Word Starts Attack was followed by an energetic version of I Fought The Law

I thought that would have been an amazing closer but Johnny thought otherwise and actually finished the show with an electrifying and indeed show stopping version of The Smiths' How Soon Is Now

There is no doubt that Johnny Marr deserves his title of Guitar Hero - he has influenced so many guitarists over the years that it's a given. However, he is finally producing work which can now be compared to some of his best work with The Smiths. Solo, Johnny is a different beast totally from The Smiths. He can be much more energetic, which probably reflects his personality more than his Smiths tenure. He likes the spotlight, you can tell. 

The audience obviously made more noise when The Smiths songs were given an airing but I for one found his new material more interesting. 

So, a dynamic, uplifting and high octane show by a man who may be finally accepting his fate as The Smith guitarist but has found a new lease of life and is producing his most consistent work in years. In short, tonight was a TRIUMPH.

Twitter - @Johnny_Marr
@ childhoodUK

Live in 2014: Albert Lee - at The Princess Royal Theatre, Port Talbot on Thursday 16th October 2014

This is the first gig of a trilogy of 'Guitar Hero' gigs I've booked myself for this month. And you can't get any bigger a hero than Albert Lee.

Now 70 years old, Albert has played with some of the gretaest names in music, and that's music of ALL genres. His Telecaster playing is the stuff of legend. Although these days he normally sticks to his Music Man Signature Guitar.

photo courtesy of

So there was NO way I was going to miss this masterclass of guitar playing.

It was a gig of two halves and the set opened with, of all songs, Green Day's Good Riddance - but very much the Country treatment that Glen Campbell recorded for his 2008 album, Meet Glen Campbell.

His fluid guitar playing is a sight to behold and hear. He may be 70 years old but he can't half pick his way through that fretboard. As he has been associated with many of the biggest names in music, he included tracks from some of the legends tonight, as well as his own albums.

Among the great songs that Albert played in tonight's first half were Roseanne Cash's Runaway Train, The Everley Brothers' No One Can Make My Sunshine Smile and Buddy Holly's Learning The Game where Albert displayed his electric piano skills.

He also included Real Wild Child and the Dave Edmonds song - Sweet Little Lisa.

Second half treats included The Traveling Willbury's Handle With Care, Little Feat's Rad Gumbo and Albert returned to his electric piano for a stunning version of the Jimmy Webb classic, The Highwayman.

Albert really showed hat playing the guitar was all about with a cover of Ray Charles' Leave My Woman Alone. 

The set ended with a stunning version of Country Boy which included many of the greatest rock riffs from the last 50 years - just to show all these younger pretenders just how it's done.

For the encore, Albert took to the electric piano again and performed the brilliant Glen Campbell song A Better Place from Glen's equally brilliant album Ghost On The Canvas album.

The show closed with a spirited version of the Johnny Burnette song, Tear It Up.

It was a night of pure virtuosity and showed that Albert should be up there with the British Greats. Will he ever get any recognition from his home country like a Brit award? I doubt it, but those who know, know just how good this man is and in the end, that's all that matters. Oh, and he IS a Grammy winner, so that trumps a Brit Award as far as I'm concerned.

Twitter - @ALeeOfficial

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Albums of 2014: Ray Cooper - Palace Of Tears

I was privileged to be there in Treorci for the last gig by Ray 'Chopper' Cooper with Oysterband. It was a very emotional performance/evening as Ray said his final goodbye to his days with Oysterband. Ray had joined the Oysters for their 1998 album Ride and had become an integral part of the band with his multi-instrumental & vocal skills.

So that day came in Treorci in February 2013 when Ray left the Oysterband - I even got to shake the man's hand and wish him well on his solo career. And made him promise to come back to Wales!

Ray had already released one solo album - Tales of Love, War & Death by Hanging back in 2010 and I was intrigued to see which direction Ray would go on his second solo outing.

Oysterband have gone on to release my favourite album of their whole career this year (without Ray).

But the key question has to be, has Ray's decision to leave the band to realise his own vision been justified?
 I can answer with a resounding YES. Now we have two stunning albums from the Oysterband camp this year.

Ray has produced an album worthy of his Oysterband history and marks the beginning of what should be an impressive and rewarding solo career. It is not Ray Cooper (ex Oysterband) - it is NOW Ray Cooper.

Ray has picked the perfect time to present his solo album, Palace Of Tears to the world. The album has a beautiful autumnal feel which probably has as much to do with recording in his Scandinavian home - complete with the area's aching melancholia. And Ray has not put his head in the sand as far as subject matter is concerned. 

For example, the album's opening track, A Line In The Sand, deals with conflict in the Middle East and is even more poignant today with what is happening in the Middle Eastern countries.

It is a plaintive ballad that begins with solo piano and is joined by intertwining violins. It sets up the tone of the rest of the album perfectly.
'So the black snake will wind through the valleys, through bones and empty farms and poppyfields'

Ray has produced the album himself with executive production and mixing by his replacement in Oysterband, the rather excellent Al Scott. Ray plays the majority of the instruments on the album including Cello, guitar, kantele, mandolin, harmonium & bass guitar. Keyboards are by Gustav Andersson, Jenny Tidman & Patrik Andersson on violins and harmony vocals by another excellent female singer Rowan Godel.

The title track Palace Of Tears is another poignant song which deals with the building in which East/West Germans met their family and loved ones in the Cold War. It's a very moving track with a a piano and orchestra.
'Now the checkpoints are demolished, the city has survived, the losers and the winners just get on with their lives'.

Ray, whose home in now in Sweden has also looked to his local landscapes and history. A product of this is Destroying Angel with Ray's trademark Cello playing and includes strings and tuned percussion.
'Is it me that brings corruption to this quiet wooded glade?'

My favourite song on the album is Tears Of Isis, which features the lovely harmony vocals of Rowan Godel and has acoustic guitar, piano, and tuned percussion and bells. While working on the album, Ray was keen to point out he was using instruments that were Scandinavian based such as the Kantele - and they bring a unique sound to much of the album, together with the harmonium he purchased. The song is about looking back into our past and being aware of your hertiage and your ancestors.
'And I'd like to meet all of my fathers and mothers, All the way back through the shadows of time.'

Ray with Al Scott

Ray has done a splendid job of producing an album of depth and interest. He has kept the production minimal and tasteful, keeping with the majority of the reflective songs on the album. It is an album that looks back as well as forward and promises much in his new solo career.

So then Ray, it's time to keep your promise and head on down to Wales so we can hear the songs live.

all photos of Ray courtesy of Ray's Facebook page & website

Oysterband photos are my own.

Twitter - @RaycooperRay