Monday, 29 June 2015

Thank You For The Music: Chris Squire

Well, with the law of averages - and being 54 years old - I knew there would probably come a time when I would have to write an obituary for a member of my favourite band - YES.

And it fills me with pain to have to write about the passing of The Fish - Chris Squire.

I worked it out earlier, if you add up how many hours I've probably listened to YES and the films, documentaries and dvds I've watched since I first discovered them back in 1972, then I've probably spent more time with members of YES than anyone except my wife.

I will never forget my first introduction to YES music - in  fact the first notes I ever heard of YES were by none other than Chris Squire.

The song was Survival, from the first YES album - they had released up to Close To The Edge by the time I first heard them. But I was struck by the sound of Chris' bass. I have loved bass ever since and that distinctive Rickenbacker 4001 stereo bass has a sound like no other and perfectly sums up the individuality of Chris Squire.

I'm not going to go into the history of Yes & Chris Squire. There are far better journalists with more information than I could ever obtain who will do a much better job. All I can say is how much he meant to me - as a fan.

Chris has gone on to influence every bass player worth his salt since he first appeared on the scene with his distinctive lead style with his pre-YES band Mabel Greer's Toyshop.

But not only was he a fine bass player but he was also an exceptional vocalist. Indeed , he started out in boy's choirs as a child but in YES contributed many a sublime backing vocal both alone and also as part of the 'YES CHOIR'.

He was the only founding YES man to be in all incarnations of the band and appeared in every live tour - except this year, where the illness that took his life took hold and forced a replacement in Billy Sherwood - specifically chosen by Chris to perform Bass duties on the 2015 USA Fragile/Close To The Edge Tour.

I have seen YES many times over the years up to the 3 albums turn in 2014 and Chris has always been the most flamboyant and animated member of the band - always seemed the most pleased to be up on that stage and giving it large,

He was seen by nearly all YES fans as The Keeper Of The Flame for YES.

Chris has always contributed to the music of YES both as a writer in his own right and co-writer with other members of the band - as most of the YES music was written. Here are some of Chris' contributions to YES.

He also found time in his YES schedule to record one of the best Christmas songs - the classic Run Like The Fox with his partner in rhythm Alan White.

He was certainly not frightened of a collaboration as he showed with Steve Hackett in Squakett and with Billy Sherwood in Conspiracy.

But these other collaborations never overshadowed his work with YES. In 2014, Chris found himself as undoubted leader of the new version of YES who released a new album Heaven & Earth, to which again, Chris contributed in the songwriting department. One song being, The Game.

A couple of months back, Chris revealed that he was fighting a rare form of leukemia. But true to form, he announced a new YES 2016 Tour Of Europe where YES are going to play Fragile & Drama in their entirety. The two albums that most YES fans wanted after the successful 3 albums tour of 2014. 

And during the 2016 Tour I was finally going to meet my bass hero in Bristol. I had already worked out what I was going to say to him in the very short time we would spend together - how much I loved YES music, how much I loved his bass playing and would he PLEASE release another solo album. Nothing heavy.
But, it is not to be. That meeting will never take place. So, I will have to live with the one solo album from Chris - Fish Out Of Water and the catalogue of YES albums from the 1960's to the present day.

On such a sad day yesterday, it was lovely to see the outpouring of love from the YES fans and especially from Chris' fellow musicians.

The one bright light is that Chris has left us with a wealth of recorded music as his legacy. He WILL continue to influence and inspire future generations of bass players.

I hope that YES will continue - they already have a replacement in Billy Sherwood. They already have a tour booked for next year. I'm sure Chris would love the band and the music to continue and expand.

Chris, I loved your music. You were a HUGE part of my musical life. And by God I'll miss your presence in my favorite band.

And whenever I hear thunder from now on, I'll think to myself - it's only Chris Squire practicing for the Great Gig In The Sky.

This is how I chose to celebrate the life of Chris yesterday - I think he'd approve

Goodnight Big Man - you'll be missed.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Albums Of 2015: Don Gallardo - Hickory

Anybody who has read a few of these blog pages will have realised by now that I like a spot of Americana. 

My favourite UK label, Clubhouse Records, are purveyors of top quality British Americana with UK bands such as The Redland Palomino Company. However, this year they have signed two American artists, the young Texan Country singer Cale Tyson and the true Nashville based singer /songwriter Don Gallardo. And do you know what? Clubhouse sure know how to pick a winner.

The authentic Nashville tones come flooding out of Don Gallardo's latest album Hickory.

And if your hear a better Americana album in 2015, then I'll eat my stetson.

Hailing originally from Northern California and now resident in Nashville - Don has even had a song featured in the Hit TV show based on his adopted hometown. Don has released albums with his band How Far West and they are all over this, Don's debut solo release.

Hickory contains a sheen and swagger that make the majority of the songs radio-friendly. It's more athentically 'Southern', for want of a better word, than the majority of the songs that you will find featured on the Nashville TV show - and there are some mighty fine songs that have appeared through that show.

Hear Don talk about the album on his EPK (Electronic Press Kit) on the video below.

The album opens with the delicious Down In The Valley. With a voice like velvet, Don sings this plaintive ballad to the sound of dobro, pedal steel & fiddle. It's a brilliant opening track and sets up the rest of the album perfectly.

Don has a fabulous voice and in the next track, Diamonds & Gold, his gentle vocal leads the listener through a track based around a dobro and piano shuffle.

'Some days are diamonds and some are gold'

I'm not going to write a track by track breakdown of the whole album as I like to leave it to the listener to enjoy the process of discovering the songs for themselves but i can give you a flavour of what the album contains and hope you will seek it out and enjoy the same experience as I did.

There are some lovely surprises contained within Hickory - one being the slinky sax that features in the song Midnight Sounds. Not an instrument that you find in many Nashville records but one that you do find in Country Soul. And there are some classic, understated Country Soul moments contained within Hickory.

I have to make a confession here - I have had this album for a few months after going to see Don play a gig in Bristol, so I've lived with it for a while and let it's beauty seep into my ears.

Although Don has a velvet voice, he can also make it sound pleading and soulful, as in Banks Of The Mississippi. Looking at the album as a whole - Country Soul is a good definition for the sounds contained within. If you enjoyed albums such as Southeastern by Jason Isbell, then I think you might enjoy Hickory.

But Hickory still has it's pure Country moments such as the jaunty The North Dakota Blues.

'Shot's went out and a man went down'

There's nothing like a good Country redemption song - and fans of this type of song are well catered for with the quietly magnificent A Cup Of Rain.

'When the stars hold me down and the night pulls me in'

But don't think the album doesn't have it's lighter moments, Angel On The Dancefloor once again breaks out the sax for an uptempo stroll across those line dancing boards.

And the Honky Tonk sounds of Will We Ever Get It Right will get your foot tapping and giving it some air piano.

The album closes with the another stately, confessional song in the pedal steel and organ draped Pearls. A real Country song for the purists out there.

'One thing's for sure, I never promised you pearls, darling'

There are some really beautiful moments contained within Hickory - it has classic Country songs, a deep resonance and superb musicianship. But would you expect anything less coming out of Nashville these days?

But a lot of the Nashville output does not have the authenticity or the depth of songwriting chops that is contained in Hickory. This is not songwriting by committee but the voice of a man comfortable in his skin and with something to say. 

But don't just take my word for it - check out what other reviewers more qualified than myself have to say about Hickory

Now go and do yourself a favour and purchase a copy of Hickory. Your ears will thank you for it.

Twitter - @dongallardoband

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Live in 2015: Danny & The Champions Of The World with Michele Stodart live at The Louisiana, Bristol on Wednesday 11th June 2015

The summer is here and it's time for a new tour by Danny & The Champions Of The World - with a storming new album to promote, What Kind Of Love, I was at my second favourite venue to see the second date of the tour.

Danny has pulled off a bit of a coup with his support act for this evening with Michele Stodart. Although Michele does perform backing vocals on the new Champs album.
You will probably know her as one quarter of the band The Magic Numbers, where she plays bass/keyboards & vocals with her brother Romeo and another brother/sister Sean & Angela Gannon.

In 2012, Michele was the first of the band to release a solo record - the lovely WideEyed Crossing. It sits firmly in the Americana genre with some quality songwriting and wears it's influences of all the female country greats on it's sleeve. Freed of bass duties, Michele has the chance to come out of the shadow of her brother Romeo and when you hear her solo, you can see how much she brings to the Magic Numbers sound.

I was delighted to discover that Michele's performance tonight features mainly new songs. Songs that have been recorded for album number two, which she is in the process of finishing off.

She opened up her set, just Michele & her guitar, with Once In A While, a lovely new song. Many of the new songs are of a downbeat nature but suit Michele's voice perfectly and stripped of their obvious forthcoming studio sheen, sound raw and of the hurtin' kind - exactly as a good country song should.

Other new songs included Just Anyone Won't Do & one whose name I didn't catch but both were excellent.

Michele did play some songs from her solo debut though with Invitation To The Blues and Foolish Love getting alive airing tonight.

Michele also sang one lovely cover  - Neil Young's Birds from his After The Goldrush album.

An appreciative audience lapped up the set and it was brave to end the set with another new song, Will Your Heart. I for one can't wait for album number two and hope it comes out soon. Judging by the activity on the merch stand following the gig, I won't be the only one.

So it was time for the main event as Danny & The Champs took to the stage - now a stable band of Danny George Wilson on Vocals/Guitar , Chris Clarke on Bass/Vocals, Paul Lush on Guitar, Free Jazz Geoff on Sax/Keys/vocals, Henry Senior Junior on Pedal Steel and Steve Brookes on drums - the band are as tight as the proverbial ducks rear end.

I've now seen The Champs quite a few times and I've got to say that tonight is the best I've seen them perform. The new album is a magnificent beast and I couldn't wait to see how they recreate the classic soul/Stax sound of What Kind Of Love in a live setting. I was about to find out from song one.
The band opened up with the new album's opening track Clear Water. It's a great song with a classic Champs riff and got the audience on board straight from the off.

The Sold Out Louisiana was bouncing tonight and with maximum audience participation on the singing front, it was great to see people singing along to tracks from the new album- and it's only been out a week. Impressive stuff indeed and shows the power of a good song.

Tonight's set featured most of What Kind Of Love and the next two songs up, Precious Guard and This Is Not A Love Song show the quality of the songs contained within. 

What IS missing from the album is the female backing vocals and the brass section that adorns a lot of the songs on the new album - although stripped back, the energy still manages to shine through. A Champs live set is not about recreating the albums - it's about energy, brilliant playing and most of all, Passion. And Danny has enough for the whole band.

The band released my favourite live album of all time last year - it caught the band at the height of their Stay True tour. It was called Live Champs. And you need a copy in your collection.

But with the increasing number of albums added to the goldmine of songs to chose from, the boys had a tough choice of what older songs to include in the set - obviously it will change from gig to gig as the tour moves on and I'm sure somebody will say they didn't play their favourite song - but that's the price of success , I guess.

The title track from their previous studio album, the breakthrough record Stay True was up next and is proving to be a real live staple for the band.

A favourite of mine from the new album, Words On The Wind was an early highlight and brought the house down with some superb guitar work from the always excellent Paul Lush - the antipodean with a grip of iron (just try shaking his hand to see what I mean).

Early in the set, Chris Clarke managed to break a string on his bass -  a real collectors item - and something you don't see it very often. But he had a spare bass up his sleeve and normal service was resumed by the time Danny re-tuned his guitar.

The now legendary Henry The Van, complete with and audience singalong was followed by another superb song, the fabulous (Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket. A fabulous live song.

Two more new songs follow with It'll Be Alright In The End & Thinking About My Friend, and once again they got a fabulous reception from the Louisiana Crowd.

By now it was very hot, very sweaty and totally exhilarating. This is what live music is all about. And any young band who wants to see what this live performing game is all about should just attend a Danny & The Champs gig - and take notes. Nobody stealing the limelight, all the musicians working together, quality songs and stage presence.

The set ends with the elongated version of The Colonel & The King, (about Elvis & Cl Tom Parker) - which gives each member of the band a chance to show off their musical skills and a share of the spotlight. Paul Lush is on top form in this song and shows you don't have to be Eddie Van Halen to be able to play the guitar.

Nobody bothers leaving the stage in the Louisiana as the band has to go through the crowd to get to the stage - so the band just stood there and milked the applause from an appreciative audience. Hot, sung out, gigged out but buzzing.

The encore was the literally show stopping Restless Feet before the band called it a night and headed for the bar - promptly followed by most of the audience.

The Merch stand was doing brisk business and all of the band came down to have photographs taken, sign cds and generally chat with their audience. To all you musicians and band members out there, This is how it SHOULD be. Respect your fans and your fans will support you, Danny & the boys are always good humoured and seem to enjoy a chat  - that's one of the reasons I love this band. And so should you. They're a National Treasure.

Long Live The Champs. And roll on St Donat's in July

All Photos by Macwood Fleet with Courtesy to the performers.




Thursday, 4 June 2015


30,000 Visits

A BIG THANK YOU to everyone who has felt moved to visit any of the pages of this Blog - It's here for you. It started as a bit of fun, it still IS a bit of fun. I update as much as I can, I don't expect anyone to come here - but I'm glad you do. Feel free to dip in and have a look - you're always welcome :)


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Albums Of 2015: Steven Wilson - Hand. Cannot. Erase

The words 'Masterpiece' and 'Classic' are often bandied around in this world of music. Very few actually are albums of such distinction. But, in my humble opinion, this year's album by Steven Wilson, Hand. Cannot. Erase. is worthy of such praise.

Steven Wilson. Prog God. Multi-instrumentalist. Producer Extraordinaire. The man the best Progressive rock bands in the world trust with their recordings.

Steven's last album, The Raven That Refused To Sing was a Tour-de Force of Progressive rock. Indeed, it was voted Album Of The Year 2013 at the Progressive Music Awards.

It would have been so easy for Steven Wilson to recreate Raven for it's follow up album but true to his searching spirit, he decided to move on to a much more emotive and reality-grounded subject matter than the supernatural Raven..

For Hand. Cannot. Erase. Steven has looked into the true-life story of Joyce Carol Vincent. You can hear Steven about the inspiration for the album on the video below.

As you would expect from such a musical man, Steven brought together some top notch performers for the album, which also formed his band for the live presentation of the work. You can see the band working on the album on the two links below.

It is very much a Twenty First Century album. Top drawer recording techniques and production values and so much more besides.
For this album, Steven has created a story of fiction and writes from a female perspective, which makes for an interesting approach. Steven has used the story of Vincent as a base point to build a story of success, depression and finally isolation in this, the reality of our lives today.

This album is SO much more than a Progressive Rock workout - it is THE album for our times - as Steven has said, we have never been so connected, with the rise of Facebook, Twitter, etc. But also, never has a populous been so isolated and inward looking. Just look at everybody who walks around with headphones these days with no interaction with our fellow human beings.

I don't want to spoil the story by revealing it here. It really needs reading in the lyrics and digesting with music over time. 

The album should be listened to as a whole, no doubt about it. So put the time aside to listen.

Hand. Cannot. Erase. opens with a 2 minute instrumental called First Regret, which contains a theme that recurs throughout the album in small glimpses.

3 Years Older follows and is the first of three longer tracks (10 minutes+) that are contained within the album and will no doubt be the tracks that please the Progressive Rocks fans that listen to Steven's music. It starts with percussive guitar work before gently falling into a section which contains harmonies that Crosby, Stills & Nash would be proud of. The album is a dynamic joy and this one song explores multi facets of the music that you'll find throughout the album.

You would expect Steven to show influences of his heroes such as Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes etc. And there are times when you could be listening to passages from these bands throughout the album. But Steven can also write a killer pop song. And the next track, the title track of the album, in it's 4 minutes, could grace any modern rock album with ease. It reminds me a little of something The Manic Street Preachers could have come up with, at their most commercial. Twinkling guitars, glorious harmonies, pounding bass, swirling synths. It's a real joy and it's good to see Steven produce something with a pop vibe. And it also fits perfectly into the beginning of the album before it starts to acquire a darker tone.

What might be unexpected is the use of modern loops and programming throughout the record and highlighted in the next track, Perfect Life. But Steven has a history of collaboration and has produced several albums within this modern style with Tim Bowness under the No Man moniker. 
It's a gentle hypnotic track which has some beautiful harmonies. Again, it's all part of this progressing story.

The next track, Routine, is another longer song at 9 minutes and begins with a piano based ballad before it starts to explore different ground within the story.

The album is like a weaving of a large tapestry before your very eyes (or ears), with the different colouedr wools, silks and textures coming together to produce an arresting and sometimes disturbing picture. For every piece of light, there is an equivalent piece of darkness.

One of the images that came into my mind when listening to the album is that of walking around a cathedral, you understand it's a human construct and you can appreciate it's beauty. But within the shadows, you feel a certain unease and then you glimpse the beautiful light that shines through that stained glass windows. The second part of Hand. Cannot. Erase. is very much like this.

Home Invasion is a dark, brooding, slice of rock with a staccato riff that highlights the technical expertise of the band
Steven Wilson on guitars, keyboards and lots of other stuff, Nick Beggs on basses and backing vox, Guthrie Govan on guitars, Marco Minnemann on drums & Adam Holzman on keyboards.
It's very much a track with a Pink Floyd influence.

Home Invasion segues into Regret #9 - an instrumental keyboard based track that creates an uneasy feeling but which ultimately builds into a epic Floydesque guitar solo before imploding in on itself to the sound of a lone banjo. Very Mike Oldfield.

The 3 minute Transience provides some welcome sensual relief - very reminiscent of the pastoral approach of Gabriel era Genesis and very beautiful. 
I find myself using the word Beautiful a lot in this review - and that's because the album IS beautiful in places - just like life.

So following this small chink of sunlight, we have the 13 minute epic that is Ancestral. For many reviewers, this seems to be the pivotal track on the album.

A song of brooding darkness, isolation, oppressiveness - but it doesn't ALL sound like a doomladen affair. There are many musical twists and turns contained in this one track and is essential in the telling of the story. It is the most Prog song on the album and it needed to be.

There has to be a resolution. And there is one. This comes in the form of Many Happy Returns/Ascendant Here On. 

Again, I don't want to spoil the ending so I'll leave it for you to experience if you so desire

Steven has stated that the album sounds like an amalgam of his previous work - all the roads leading to this one destination. I can see what he means. It's a work of emotional intensity and integrity.

photo courtesy of Lasse Hoile

I can see Hand Cannot. Erase. being the subject of many a thesis and academic investigation. It's an important album and a contemporary statement of our times.

It's also Glorious, Beautiful, Inspiring.

And - A Classic & A Masterpiece.