Category Archives: Gigs

Download 2018: The Rock Festival That Sets The Standard For All Others

This time last week I was driving home from Download Festival 2018 reflecting on a weekend of great music, and on the funeral of my 35-year-old nephew who was to be cremated just two days later.

There is something about Download.  Few would argue that Donington Park in Leicestershire has become the spiritual home of rock music.  The place reeks of history, name a great rock band and the chances are that they have played Download.  The atmosphere is fantastic, a mixture of fun, craziness, and a love of music that binds the many thousands of fans together.

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room: Guns N’ Roses.  Hands up, I have never been a huge fan, Axl Roses’ reputation for being a total twat prevented me from really connecting with their music.  As soon as it was announced that Guns N’ Roses were reuniting for a tour, it was obvious that a headline slot for Download was inevitable.  I think I was more excited about this show than for any band I have ever seen.

 

So what did we get? Well Guns N’ Roses certainly didn’t shortchange the biggest crowd I have ever seen at Download.  They played a set of 28 songs in a show that lasted close to 3.5 hours.  The band even took the stage two minutes early!  What followed was a masterclass in how to delve into a large back catalog to create an interesting and varied setlist.  Of course, the old favorites like Paradise City, Mr. Brownstone, and Sweet Child O’ Mine were present, so too the famous covers like Live and Let Die, and Knockin on Heavens Door.  In fact, we had a total of nine covers in the set with songs by Soundgarden, The Who, and Pink Floyd getting an outing.

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This was rock royalty in every sense of the word.  So how was the show?

In truth, I thought it was a mixed bag.  Despite the huge numbers in attendance Axl Rose didn’t really interact with the crowd, at least over the course of the first two hours.  I felt that the atmosphere was strangely flat, though I wasn’t in the middle of the massive crowd.  Guns N Roses followed Black Stone Cherry, Thunder, The Temperance Movement, The Struts and Monster Truck on the main stage lineup.  I missed The Temperance Movement, but each of the other bands whipped the crowd into a frenzy, so I think Axl’s more aloof persona added to my feeling that things were a bit flat.

Axl sounded great.  I think he struggled to hit the notes on some of the songs, my friends disagreed. I must admit that I was a little taken aback to see Axl Rose make more costume changes than Beyonce!  Slash was a little self-indulgent at times but the band was as tight as a camels backside in a sandstorm.  Overall, I am thrilled that I finally got to see Guns N’ Roses.

I must mention The Struts and Thunder because for very different reasons they both blew me away.  Thunder passed me by first time around, and they last played at Donington in 1990.  They were just fabulous.  Good old-fashioned headbanging rock music that had the crowd bouncing for their entire set.  Definitely one of the highlights of a brilliant weekend for me.

I last saw The Struts at Reading a couple of years ago and I did wonder how they would go down with an audience of metalheads.  The answer, they went down a storm.  Struts frontman Luke Spiller, could be the love child of Freddie Mercury and Justin Hawkins from The Darkness.  He has that same flamboyance, the outrageous styling, and boy can he work a crowd.

My favorite moments on Friday’s line up came on the Avalanche stage, this year hosted and curated by Kerrang Radio.  Stray From The Path and Stick To Your Guns absolutely shredded the huge tent.  I simply don’t understand why both of these bands are not bigger than they are.  The sheer rawness and energy blow me away every time I see them.

Over on the main stage, Bullet For My Valentine and Avenged Sevenfold were simply brilliant.  BFMV have a new album in the offing and I talked about it with Matt and Jason before the show, watch out for that in the next few days.  Avenged Sevenfold always turn in a great show, and this was no exception.  They are worthy headliners for Download and are always worth watching.

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If I’m honest I found the Sunday lineup at this year’s Download a little uninspiring.  Of course many will disagree, but Marilyn Manson and Ozzy Osborne on the main stage just wasn’t my cup of tea.  Manson’s stage persona and music have never really connected with me, and I was so disappointed with Ozzy’s performance with Black Sabbath at 2016’s “Drownload,” that I decided to give his show a miss for fear of tarnishing the memory of a true icon in metal music.

That left me free to wander and to just soak up the festival vibe.  The evergreen Rise Against and the rapidly improving Milk Teeth were my highlights of the day.  Across a brilliant weekend of rock music, and aside from the frankly ridiculous prices for merchandise, food, and drink at this year’s Download, my one lowlight also came on Sunday.

I wandered past the Zippo stage to check out Body Count Featuring Ice T.  I really like bands like Enter Shikari who are adding elements of Rap and Hip Hop into rock music, Truth be told I quite enjoyed Body Count’s music.  What I didn’t like was Ice T bringing a two-year-old girl onto the stage and telling her that “if anyone ever fucks with you, tell them your uncle Ice will shoot them in the fucking face.”

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Whilst I welcome the positive influences different musical genres can bring to the world of rock, you can keep the negative influences so often associated with Rap and Hip Hop.  You can keep the misogyny, the allusion to gun violence and all the negativity to yourself thanks.

Finally, even the weather cooperated to make Download 2018 a memorable occasion.  A dry weekend makes for a much more enjoyable festival, same again next year please Mr. Copping.

 

 

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Bearded Theory 2018 – Triumph In Adversity! (Part 1)

At last!  After what seemed to be the longest Winter ever, the UK summer festival season is underway.  Those who have read my previous views on this festival will know that Bearded Theory is a real favourite of mine, the dates for next year are already in my diary.  That said, there were a few problems at this years festival, so let’s deal with those right away.

Getting onto the site this year was quite simply a nightmare.  It took me over four hours to travel the last four miles from the A38 to the site.  Not good, not good at all.  The queues were dreadful and the situation was exacerbated after arriving on the site and meeting an incredibly rude, aggressive and officious campsite security supervisor who refused to let me park my van in an empty spot and sent me to the overflow crew field instead.  This meant a 40-minute walk to the site, no fun when carrying all of my camera equipment.  I realise that staff are stressed when things go wrong, but there is no need for aggression towards festival fans.

Sadly, my experience was far from unique.  If my festival friends are to believed many shared my experience.  However, let’s remember that the huge majority of security staff were helpful, friendly and polite.

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The net result was that I missed the entire Thursday lineup with the exception of the last couple of songs by headliners, Reverend and the Makers.  It was certainly a disappointing start to the festival.  On Friday, we woke to rain and the awful news that tent thieves had been at work overnight, this is fast becoming a trend at UK festivals, especially on the first night when people are carrying the most cash.

That said, if you think this is going to be a review that focuses on what didn’t go well, let me disavow you of that notion.

There are many reasons why Bearded Theory is my favourite festival of the year, and it’s mostly about the people.

The organisers of Bearded Theory were horrified by the traffic problems, and I am certain that they will do everything in their power to ensure that there is no repeat next year.

Of course, it isn’t just the organisers who make a festival run smoothly.  They are assisted by a huge team who spend days before and after the festival building and breaking down the site.  A special mention must go to the wonderful army of Oxfam stewards.  These selfless souls turn up giving their time, often working long shifts, for no more than free entry to the event.  They work incredibly hard to keep us all safe and to keep things running smoothly.

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Of course, the biggest praise of all should go to those festival fans who turn up intent on having a great weekend.  In their thousands, music fans arrive on site to party, make new friends, and to socialise with other revelers.  Perhaps the best example of the atmosphere at Bearded Theory was the fans reactions to the Thursday night thefts.  Many fans donated to hastily arranged funds collected by the welfare team and by the crew at the Something Else Tea Tent.  Thousands of pounds were donated to help ensure that those who lost everything were able to stay on site and enjoy the festival.

You can’t help but be impressed by the selflessness and generosity of the fans at Bearded Theory.  Likewise, the attention to detail displayed by the entire team.  The festival had campsite helpers who entertained children whilst tents were erected.  There were sign language interpreters on all the stages, new paths had been installed to assist those with mobility problems,

My wife and I walked the camping fields on Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening, almost unbelievably, as the photos below will show, there wasn’t a single piece of litter to be seen in the campsites.  This was seriously impressive, but it also exemplifies that everyone has a role to play in making a festival and great experience for everyone.

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Lastly, one of the reasons that Bearded Theory is frequently awarded accolades for Best Family Festival is the Bearded Theory School.  Teachers, volunteers, Special Educational Needs teachers combine to provide a fabulous fun and educational experience for the younger festival fan.  This really is the jewel in Bearded Theory’s crown.

To summarise, Bearded Theory had a few issues to deal with over the past weekend, but as they always do, the organisers reacted swiftly, doing everything they possibly could to resolve the problems.  I have no doubt that they will do everything in their power to improve again next year.

It is Bearded Theory’s ability to listen and respond to its customers that sets it apart from most festivals.  It is the determination to get it right that makes Bearded Theory the best festival of its kind in the UK.  Long may it continue!

I will end part 1 of this review here, do watch out for reviews and photographs over the next few days.

 

Palma Violets

Palma Violets –  Reading – 29 April 2015 – Gig Review

Palma Violets hail from Lambeth and were formed through a musical partnership between Sam Fryer (guitar and vocals) and Chilli Jesson (bass and Vocals).  The bands debut single “Best Of Friends” won NME’s ‘best song award in 2012 and since then the magazine have given the band strong backing, raising their public profile enough for them to win a slot at the 2014 Reading and Leeds festivals which is where I first saw them.

Palma Violet have been part of the NME Awards tour in both 2013 and 2014 where I managed to cathc their show at Portsmouth’s Pyramid centre.  Of course being part of the awards tour is useful in terms of exposure but with so many bands involved sets are typically only around 45 minutes and as such I dont think that they really had the opportunity to showcase themselves fully.

As a result I was only too happy to grab my camera and jump in the car for the 80 mile drive to Readings Bowery District to catch the violets in a small venue.  Having seen them at a festival, a mid sized venue and now a small enue I was interested to see how they made the adjustment and worked the crowd across three totally different venues.  I was also looking forward to hearing how the material from the forthcoming album “Danger In The Club” (released on May 4th) goes down with the punters.

As a first timer at this particular venue I must confess that the photographer in me was also hoping that the lighting was of a standard to let me get some nice photo’s.  The lighting at the Pyramids is great for gig goers, awful for photographers, far too bright and glaring.

The venue is an interesting one, sort of nightclub masquerading as a concert venue, very oddly shaped and a tiny little stage, however the sound was great and the lighting reasonable.  Like many venues these days the Bowery has moved to halogen lighting which does make photography difficult.

Palma Violets were supported by a band I had not come across before, Ming City Rockers a very good four piece drums, bass and two guitars.  They bashed out a 30 minute set of good old fashioned loud and energetic ‘hair’ rock.  I thoroughly enjoyed their set.

Palma Violets hit the stage at 9.30 p.m. 15 minutes later than their advertised time.  From minute one on stage it was clear that the Violets were up for a rocking good time as they laid into “Secrets Of America” from the forthcoming album Danger In The Club.  As the evening progressed the band treated us to seven tracks from the new album with the rest of the 16 track set coming from debut album 180, “Step Up For The Cool Cats” and “Three Stars” the only tracks not getting an outing from that album.

Palma Violets have a great connection with their audience which consisted primarily of people in the 16 – 24 age group.  I love the looks I get when I know the words to most of the songs and sometimes feel like getting on stage an telling the kids that my generation invented this music and that we are not too old to enjoy it until we are dead.  Over the course of the evening both Sam and Chilli joined in with the crowd surfing that seems to be the norm at gigs these days.  I don’t get it myself, whilst you are doing that you are missing the gig, but whatever.

The energy on stage was certainly matched by the energy in the crowd.  Everyone seemed to know their way through all of the old songs and they enjoyed the new as well.  The small stage size created a few problems as mic stands went flying on numerous occasions during the set and the sense of mayhem was only added to by the road crew trying to sort out the mess whilst climbing over the band and the two videographers who were trying to shoot the show for a live stream.

Make no mistake, Palma Violets are the real deal.  They really do remind me of the kind of rock music that I grew up with.  They have the energy and attitude of the bands of my youth and would sit comfortably amongst the likes of Stiff Little Fingers, The Vibrators and the Membranes.  They are most certainly a band I would be very happy to get out to see any time.

One final point I would like to make and  to be fair it isn’t necessarily directed at Palma Violets though it does apply to them.  Last nights set ran for 63 minutes, and that included the time they spent off stage before coming back for the encore. Why is it that a 63-year-old Bruce Springsteen can play a set running to four hours and six minutes (Helsinki 2012) when bands a third of his age can only manage an hour?

One hour sets seem to be the norm for many bands at the moment and, whilst I understand that they don’t have the back catalogue that some like Springsteen has to draw on, frankly it sucks.  Surely any band worth their salt can put a 90 minute set together even if it includes a cover or two?

Franz Nicolay

Franz Nicolay – The Joiners, Southampton 27 March 2015 – Gig Review

Back in January of this year I had the pleasure of reviewing Franz Nicolay’s latest album “To Us The Beautiful” for Echoes and Dust and a very fine album it is.  I was thrilled to see that Franz was in the UK for a series of 15 shows and one of those shows was fairly local to me at The Joiners in Southampton.

The Joiners is a bit of a legendary venue and huge numbers of big name acts have played there on their way to becoming big names.  Ed Sheeran, Enter Shikari, Muse the Levellers and Oasis are just a few of the bands that have played this little 150 capacity venue.

Situated in the St Mary’s district of Southampton The Joiners like the whole area has seen better days.  It looks a little neglected both inside and out and the lighting is terrible.  That said the sound is great and the beer is fine too.

We arrived at the venue just before 8pm and were expecting to find that support act John Shoe was already on stage but no.  As seems to be becoming the norm these days there were no less than four acts across the evening.  As a result it was 9.45 before Franz took the stage.

If you don’t know Franz Nicolay’s solo music he is a multi instrumentalist and during this show he accompanied himself on guitar, banjo and accordion, though obviously not all at the same time.  Franz opened the set with the opening track of his album “To Us The Beautiful”  and as you would expect we were treated to around half a dozen songs from the album with Marfa Lights, Shallow Water, Wrestlers and Bright White all getting a run out.

What impresses me about Nicolay is the seamless way he shifts between instruments.  As an example when he broke a string during “The Hearts Of Boston” he finished the song, handed off his guitar for someone to replace the string, picked up his banjo and launched into “Shallow Water” no fuss, no flap, no drama.  The evening comedy moment came a little later in the set when Franz again broke a string during “Wrestler.” On this occasion he handed off the guitar and played “This Is Not A Pipe” on his banjo.  When his guitar was restrung he simply scratched his head, said “Now where was I?” and went back to where he had been in “Wrestler.”

It is also nice to see an artists ask the audience what they want to hear and then do his level best to play it.  On this occasion this included a cover of The Sharp Things song “There Will Be Violins” though to be fair Franz did release his modified version of the song back in 2007.

Nicolay is an accomplished and engaging performer.  Modest and self effacing he chats to the audience rather than at them and is happy to share a joke or wisecrack between songs.  There is no doubt in my mind that incredibly talented performer should be playing to much larger crowds than is the case at venues like the Joiners, but sadly it seems to be the case that talent counts for little  in the music business these days.

We just have to be grateful that people like Franz Nicolay and venues like The Joiners find a way to keep their heads above water so that we can continue to listen to great music.  Lets just hope that they can both keep doing so for years to come.

Stiff Little Fingers

Stiff Little Fingers – Glasgow Barrowlands – 17 March 2015

2015 saw the 24th edition of Stiff Little Fingers annual St Patricks day gig at Glasgow’s Barrowlands.  The venue is a real old school standing only venue in a less than salubrious part of Glasgow’s East End.  Frankly both the venue and the area have seen much better days.

This particular gig is no less than legendary among punk fans and it is one that I have always wanted to attend.  Sadly a combination of work commitments, distance and a lack of opportunity meant that this was the first time I actually managed to get there.

I met up with some friends and looked forward to a couple of great days of great company and great music.  We met up at the hotel and headed off for a few beers before heading down to the East End for the gig.  We stayed in the pub a little bit too long and missed the opening act, “Electric River” but we arrived in time to catch the second of the support acts “Love Zombies”.

Love Zombies were good fun in a female fronted,seen it all before, punk band.  I enjoyed watching them and they were a good warm up for the main event, but I and most of the crowd were there for Stiff Little Fingers.

After Love Zombies finished the setting up of the stage for SLF seemed to take forever and frankly it should not have taken as long as it did.  The delay seemed to cause the atmosphere to go a bit flat.  When SLF did emerge the sound was just not up to scratch and this did not help the atmosphere either.

SLF played a very good set-list with songs from across their extensive back catalogue.  The opening of the set was strong with a popular trio of songs in “Nobody’s Hero’s,” “At The Edge” and “Roots, Radical’s, Rockers and Reggae.”  SLF aficionados will have appreciated a run of lesser known songs that followed the openers but a run of six less well known songs meant that people could be seen drifting off to the bar or the toilet.

I personally love to hear less well known songs but on nights like this people are there to hear their favourites and such a long run of less familiar tunes depressed the atmosphere still further.  “Bits of Kids” and “Straw Dogs” lifted the atmosphere a little but it really took to the last couple of songs “Tin Soldiers” and “Suspect Device” before the gig really exploded into life and by then the band were leaving the stage.

SLF returned with a cover of Elvis Costello’s “Peace, Love & Understanding” before finishing the set with “Wasted Life” and “Alternative Ulster” and suddenly it was all over.  It was an enjoyable gig with a decent set-list but it didn’t really hit the heights that a St Patricks night gig at Barrowlands deserves.

As we left the venue and headed back down Argyll Street we all felt pretty much the same.  A good gig but not one of the best SLF gigs we had seen. No matter I suspect that we will all be back to do  it all again next year for the silver anniversary gig.

Enter Shikari Portsmouth

Enter Shikari And Support – Portsmouth Pyramids – 16 Feb 2015 [Photos]

Enter Shikari are currently on the UK leg of their tour in support of their new album “Mindsweep.”  It is probably a comment on the bands growing stature that they were supported by no fewer than three excellent bands in the form of FatherSon, AllUsOnDrugs and Feed The Rhino.

Given that Enter Shikari played pretty high on last years Reading & Leeds Festival main stage it was refreshing to be able to see them in Portsmouth relatively small 1500 capacity Pyramids venue.  Bizarrely this was actually my first visit to the Pyramids, it certainly won’t be my last.  The acoustics are great, sight lines are fantastic and increasingly rarely the security staff were both helpful and friendly.  It all made for a great atmosphere and a truly superb evenings entertainment.

I must I did draw a few funny looks from the fans at the gig as I was probably the only over 50-year-old in the venue.  I never fail to be amused by youngsters who think that you can’t appreciate a great band because you are a bit (well ok a lot) older than them.  Guess what kids, my generation invented this kind of music, I was there first time around, I might not have the energy to mosh to the same extent you do and I am certainly past crowd surfing but I still love good music.

FatherSon

FatherSon

First up on the evening was Glasgow based Indie Rockers Fatherson who have been making quite a stir on the Scottish music scene.  Their seven song set consisted largely of tracks from their debut Album “I Am An Island,”  together with a couple of tracks from previous EP’s.  As you might expect from a band supporting Enter Shikari, Fatherson delivered an dynamic and energetic set but it is not all in the wall of sound with these guys.  There is a beautiful melodic undertone in tracks like “Hometown” and “I Like not Knowing.”  Front-man and vocalist Ross Leighton is an engaging presence.  Having already received airplay on Radio 1 and played at festivals like T-in the-park I think we will be hearing a lot more from Fatherson.

Yorkshire Alt-rock band AllUsOnDrugs were next up again with a seven track set.  AllUsOnDrugs

AllUsOnDrugs

AllUsOnDrugs

are arguably a little more difficult to categorise so I am not going to try.  Again the energy was there in abundance, as they played through their set.  I was particularly struck by the opening track “Stir” and recent single “Am I Weird.”  I found AllUsOnDrugs to be one of those bands that you instantly know you are going to love.  The high energy five piece are fronted by Jason Moules who came on stage fronting a Joy Division shirt.  Quite a statement but actually he carried it off and easily.  Jason has a look of Kurt Cobain, the mannerisms of Ian Curtis and the energy of Jim Morrison all rolled into one package.  The music may embrace a range of styles but it is always intense, engaging and entertaining, this is music that makes you feel something.  This is music that is sometimes dark and menacing but it is strangely uplifting too.  I can’t wait to see these guys again.

Feed The Rhino

Feed The Rhino

Feed The Rhino can only be described as a hardcore tour-de-force.  From the moment the tattoo covered shirtless front man Lee Tobin hit the stage we were dragged screaming and kicking through a performance that was dynamic, gut wrenching and brutal in its intensity.  This is hardcore punk infused rock delivered with an intense aggression rarely seen in the era of bland pop.  Tobin reminded me in many ways of LetLive’s Jason Butler.  Tobin was no sooner on stage than he was up on the barriers and into the crowd as he whipped the audience into a seething sweating frenzy.  It was brilliant stuff as they worked their way through five songs from the most recent album “The Sorrow And The Sound” supported by a couple of tracks from “The Burning Sons.”

Of course all of this was leading to the main event and the sold out audience was absolutely pumped

Enter Shikari

Enter Shikari

by the time Enter Shikari hit the stage at 9:30 the tension in the crowd was palpable.  It may have been a Monday night but these guys had come to party hard.  Rou Reynolds and the rest of the band came onstage in a wall of sound and blinding lights.  They opened with “The Appeal & the Mindsweep I”  the opening track of the new album “Mindsweep” and for the next 90 minutes they blasted their way through a set of 17 songs drawing from their entire back catalogue as they went.  We had six songs from “MindSweep” and crowd favourites such as “Destabilise” and “Ghandi Mate, Ghandi,” “Radiate” and “The Paddington Frisk” all made an appearance.  Reynolds sent a speaker into the crowd and much to the delight of the iPhone wielding crowd performed a full song standing on top of it in the middle of the packed crowd.  The set closed out with Anaesthetist before the band returned with a three song encore “Dear Future Historians” which had Reynolds plying an upright piano, “Slipshod” and finally “Sssnakepit.

It was a fantastic closure to a brilliant nights entertainment and anyone who left the arena less than dripping wet and exhausted really ought to stay at home.  It is worth mentioning the lighting technician at this gig, because Enter Shikari’s performance is very visual.  The lighting was tremendous and the technician worked his ass off ensuring it was perfect.  Sadly whilst it is an incredible spectacle for the audience it does make photography incredibly difficult and as a result my photographs are not all that I hoped for.  I hope you enjoy them nonetheless.