Category Archives: Music

Dean Friedman, Shinfield Players Theatre, 12th May 2018 – Thank your Lucky Stars

I don’t think that I have ever been able to walk from my house to a gig before, well not since I was at university perhaps. But last night we were able to do just that as we went to see Dean Friedman live at Shinfield Players Theatre. It seemed like an odd choice of venue but I wasn’t complaining as it was nice and close.

When you mention Dean Friedman to people (in the UK at least) they almost always remember the hit single Lucky Stars which topped at #3 in 1978. Friedman said that in his native US he is more known as the Million Matzoh Balls man. Which just goes to show how some music appeals to one market and not to others. It also goes someway to explain why Friedman is doing such a long tour in the UK.

Audiences are a funny lot. I always seem to be seated behind the tallest man, with the biggest head and so it was last night. Worse still was that the couple insisted in talking. I would have told them to shut up but as previously recorded he was much bigger than me. Anyway at one point the woman said to the man “Are you enjoying this, do you want to leave?” My heart soared and I got really excited when he got up and went. Unfortunately it must have just been a loo break and he returned all too soon. I spent the rest of the show with my head at right angles to my body.

The couple behind me were also chatterboxes (if people want a good conversation why don’t they fuck off down the pub or stay at home?). They also clearly hadn’t been to many gigs. The bloke was complaining that Friedman played no songs that he knew in the first half – “should’ve started with Lydia” was his considered opinion. How that would have worked I’m not sure given that the whole point of the gig was that it was the 40th anniversary of “Well Well Said the Rocking Chair” and Lydia is the 7th track…

Anyway, back to the music. Friedman reminds me of a cross between James Taylor and Richard Stilgoe, taking the smooth music from Taylor and the wit from Stilgoe. But where Friedman really made the night for me was in the stories he told between the songs. These were almost always related to the next song in some way and really helped to put it in context. Hearing the lyrics when you know the back story is just great.

It was a very enjoyable evening so much so that we intend to book again as he is also playing our favourite restaurant, The Crooked Billet. How cool is that top food and music!

Marillion, Hexagon, 19th April 2018 – So Here I am Once More

It has been a while since the last time I saw Marillion live – 34 years to be precise. A lot has happened since then for both them and me. My last outing to see them was at the Apollo in Oxford when Fish was still the front man. He burst onto the stage through a large bit of white paper I seem to remember. These days he’s not quite so active and is more concerned with his potted plants and new greenhouse.

Support for the band was Roxanne de Bastion, a folky-poppy singer who arrived on stage on crutches wearing only what appeared to be a nightshirt, one red boot and a leg cast. It was an interesting ensemble!

Next up was something else that I hadn’t seen before. Someone, the tour manager, I guess came out and told us about how they weren’t one of those restrictive bands. They were happy for us to take pictures and post videos to YouTube but please don’t use your mobile because it blocks the view of the person behind. This seemed somewhat contradictory to me. If you spotted anyone taking pictures you’d know that they were, apparently, a “twat”. I guess that makes me a twat then, although I did wait until the second encore.

And finally, they were here, on stage in front of me.

They make for an interesting bunch of people. Out front is Steve Hogarth who was excitable and expressive (His movements during the songs reminded me of comedian David Armand’s interpretive dance routine to Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn”). He also had an odd line in musical instruments including a cricket bat, yes, a cricket bat which had been converted into some sort of keyboard. There was no indication why but I suspect that the answer might just have been because he could.

Hogarth was backed by the most studious bunch of musicians I have seen in a very long time. Lead guitarist Steve Rothery very much reminded me of my secondary school headmaster! They were also the most hi-tech band I’ve seen in a while too. The keyboard player was rocking a Mac Pro while I’m pretty certain that Rothery was connected to mission control and coordinating the latest Space-X launch between songs!

And the songs. Well they played a good selection of Hogarth era tunes including a several from the excellent latest record. They then came on for two encores during which Hogarth implored us to “Sit down. You’re too old to stand up” (he was right) before ending with Garden Party. Here’s to the next 34 years!

Chris Difford & Boo Hewerdine, The Forge, 6th April 2018 – Cars and Girls

Today we finally collected our new car after several false starts during which Hyundai proved that they were incapable of mounting an efficient delivery operation. There was a tedious hand over process that had to be sat through before we could finally get the keys though.

When we arrived we handed over the keys to our existing car, which was been offered in part exchange. The salesman went off and collected the keys for our new car and on returning opened his desk draw and put them in there. No doubt this was for safe keeping and to stop us running off with them and driving the vehicle that we had paid for before all the boring paperwork was completed. Whatever the reason Helen and I found it a bit odd that he couldn’t just leave them on the desk. We’re clearly not trustworthy looking!

As the salesperson was reading down the delivery sheet he realised that the car mats hadn’t been included. These weren’t any car mats, oh no, these were luxury mats for which we had paid an additional £60 (everytime I say that sentence, and I say it a lot, it always amazes me that the garage can be so miserly over a set of mats when you are spending tens of thousands on a car). Anyway, off he went to get a set. He appeared a few minutes later empty handed. He then made his way to the i30 show car from which he took the mats and walked out past us to our car waiting outside where he fitted them! Neither we nor he mentioned it! Our excuse was that by this point we just wanted to escape. It’s not clear what his excuse was.

Finally we were allowed to leave and drive away. Our first proper journey was down the lovely A33 to Basingstoke where we were going to be seeing Chris Difford & Boo Hewerdine, the former of Squeeze and the latter The Bible.

The duo were appearing at the Anvil not in the main auditorium, that was packed out with Jasper Carrot devotees, but in the Forge. The Forge is the musical equivalent to Harry Potter’s home at the Dursleys in that it is literally the space under the stairs. It is tiny, or “intimate” as Difford regularly referred to it, holding just under 100 people. The last gig we saw at the Forge was James Grant and it seems to suit this kind of music particularly well.

Hewerdine came on first, there is no backstage at the Forge so artists have to come in through the same door as the audience, and played a handful of songs. Hewerdine is a terrific songwriter and has a lovely dry self deprecating wit which he uses to great effect between beautiful acoustic renditions of his songs. In a way he very much reminds me of James Grant, both were in bands that were minor hits in the 80’s (The Bible and Love and Money) before going off to forge solo careers writing songs that tell a real story and are powerful emotionally.

After half a dozen songs Hewerdine was off and there was a short intermission before he was back to introduce Difford. However, rather than launching straight into a run through his extensive back catalogue they first off started with a Q&A between themselves. I got the feeling that this was more to warm up Difford, who seemed a little uneasy, than to provide value to the audience. One reason for Difford’s unease might have been that his brother was in the audience which may have been off putting.

When Difford came on he was armed with an iPad which he snapped into a stand in front of him. He never again touched it all evening but was clearly looking at it so either he was watching the telly or it was prompting him for words and stories. In some ways this was a bit odd as the structure of the evening was autobiographical and I’d imagine that he does the same stories every night. Whatever it was great to hear them and hear some classic Squeeze tracks played acoustically and hear his rock ‘n roll life.

That’s three members of Squeeze we have seen live now, I’m thinking that we should go and see Jools Holland so that we can tick off a couple more!

Steven Wilson, Royal Albert Hall, 29th March 2018 – The Sound of Muzak

This morning at 10am I was in front of my computer trying (in vain as it happened) to get tickets to see Snow Patrol in April. The tickets were going to be £70 and it was standing. Remember what I said about standing before? In the evening I was seated in the splendour of the Royal Albert Hall to see Steven Wilson for which I paid only £50. I’d never seen him live before and (spoiler alert!) he was tremendous.

The Royal Albert Hall is a great place and perfect for someone like Wilson. Not only does it look great but because it was designed for music the acoustics are fantastic and you get a good view no matter where you are. Contrast this to the awful Wembley arena where it sounds like you are in a bucket and the view is poor.

Normally you go to a show and you listen to the music and watch the band play but this was much more a multimedia experience. I’d read reviews of Porcupine Tree in the past and this sounds very similar. There was a giant screen behind the stage showing videos. Occasionally a net screen was drawn in front of the stage onto which things were projected, such as Ninet Tayeb (above) and dancers. On stage we were treated to Indian dancers dancers and the ever entertaining “Sir” Nicholas Beggs (for someone most associated with pop Beggs does like his prog regularly appearing with both Wilson and Steve Hackett).

Wilson covers a big range of styles moving quite effortlessly from pop through to heavy rock and a lot of prog. As last nights gig was being recorded for dvd there wasn’t a lot of talking between tracks so as to squeeze as many tracks in but there was one interesting section where Wilson stuck up for pop. This had come about because Wilson’s latest album, ‘To the bone’ is perhaps more accessible and, yes, poppy for some. Wilson made a spirited defence of pop and said the “best band ever is the beatles and second best is Abba. I’ve written a great pop song” and he has – Permanating (comes with a great video above). Last night’s rendition also included the dancers

WIlson said, towards the end of the set, that “I’m going to end with two miserable songs. One is miserable with a sing along chorus and the second one is just miserable!” He was right!

Who needs Snow Patrol?

The Amazons, Reading Hexagon, 10th February 2018 – I’m getting too old for this!

A year or so ago I discovered Reading band The Amazons and really loved their music. So when I heard that they were going to be playing a homecoming gig at the Hexagon in Reading I had to go. Tickets went on sale August 2017 and were either seated in the balcony or standing downstairs. I love live music but I have reached the age where I won’t stand for long periods any more, so I elected to get a seat in the balcony.

A week ago I got out my ticket for the gig and my heart sank. It very clearly said “General Admission” on it. In other words – standing. I still have no idea how I managed to screw this up so badly but there it was. So last night I went along to the Hexagon to see The Amazons and stood for the duration. That said I wasn’t willing to also stand for what could be a couple of dodgy support bands so I got to the venue just before I knew The Amazons would be on.

I had feared that I would be the oldest person in the place but that fear was unfounded as it turned out. Myself and all the other old people formed a line around the back of the auditorium and let the drunk students get on with their stuff in front of us. They were certainly “enthusiastic” and interesting to watch, although I’d have perhaps liked to have been a little further away from the action. What seemed to be happening would be that somehow they would clear a large space in which a couple of inebriated youths would dance before there was a massive bundle like a playground game of British Bulldog. This continual expanding and contracting had the effect of pushing the old fogies further and further away from the stage.

One of the great things about new bands is they have virtually no material to play and so it was last night. By the time the lads had rattled through their first album and a couple of covers they had managed to fill an hour and a quarter. Even I can stand for that length of time!

What was that? You want to know what the music was like? You see here’s the thing, by the end of the third track my ears were buzzing so much that I couldn’t make out much at all. I know that they played Black Magic, Junk Food Forever, Palace and most of the rest of the album but it was just a fuzzy mass of noise. Part of that is the acoustics in the Hexagon which are right up there with Wembley Arena for awful sound. It’s also because it was just so loud that my ears couldn’t take it.

So, to recap. The Amazons are great. The Hexagon is awful as a music venue. I’m getting too old for this!

A Cut Above

Some 25 years ago my first son was born to be joined a couple of years later by the second. Who knew that two small people could take up so much space? Despite moving to a larger house to accommodate everyone and everything we quickly ran out of space and realised something had to go. Having considered which of the two boys should be released I was told that wasn’t an option so the axe fell upon my large collection of vinyl!

Looking back now I regret getting rid of pretty much all my collection gathered since picking up a copy of Mud Rock Vol 2 in 1975. However, then it really did make sense. Vinyl was dying, I had most of my records on the much more compact discs and we really did need the space. Oxfam was the winner that day.

Wind forward 20 odd years and vinyl decides to make a come back. By this point I need reading glasses and can no longer read the tiny print on a CD sleeve so the thought of something much larger suddenly appeals! My original Dual CS 505-2 has long given up the ghost so I invest in a cheap new deck and start hitting the charity shops and end up with a load of tatty vinyl.

Another three years pass and the replacement deck also expires so I upgrade once again, this time to an Audio Technica AT-LP5. This presents a different set of problems in that, compared to the last deck, it is huge and heavy and putting on or taking off a record requires a dexterity that I no longer possess. So now we also need to find a new resting place for this deck, a search that is ongoing.

At the same time I was surprised to find that collection now numbers 150 records and has outgrown the space that was allocated to it taking me neatly back to the position I was in 20 years ago!

All this is leading me to re-evaluate my purchasing decisions in order to inject a little quality into the collection and so I am trying to adhere to the following “guidelines”. I will only buy a record if it is:

  • a limited edition in some way (so numbered, signed, coloured vinyl etc)
  • 180g vinyl (amazed at how flimsy 140g feels now)
  • new (not cheap secondhand unless it is…)
  • a classic collectable (which, of course, covers a multitude of sins)
  • accompanied by a download card

I appreciate that this gives me a huge amount of wiggle room (I’m not that stupid) but if I do try to keep fairly closely to that I might be able to build a collection that is worth having and playing.

The good news is that both the boys have left home so now I can turn both their old rooms into record storage!

Record Store Day/Are You Listening? Festival 2017

In what is now rapidly becoming a tradition I was up at 05:45 and in the centre of Reading by 06:15 to join the back of the queue for Record Store Day 2017.

When the list was first published earlier this year I looked down it and found that little on it moved me. I did wonder whether to skip it completely this year but in the end it’s actually a fun thing to do – stand out in the cold for two and a half hours fretting that the one thing you really want on your list will have already gone!

What I really wanted this year was the new release by The The, limited to only 2000 copies UK-wide I did wonder whether by the time I reached the head of the queue it would be gone. That presented no problems as it turned out and I even managed to snap up the shops only copy of The Buggles “Video killed the radio star” a 12″ picture disc.

This is the 10th year of Record Store Day and when it was first started it was to help local, independent record stores. With the resurgence of vinyl one wonders if that is still necessary and whether the record companies see this as an opportunity to make a quick buck.

The prices for these releases can be eye watering. The The The single is an excellent but one sided 7″ coming in at £10. While the 12″ double Marillion album on gold coloured vinyl was better value at just over double that. My total spend this year was £63 but the guy in front of me spent £380…

This year Record Store Day coincided with the Are you listening? music festival held in town. By the time this started I was beginning to run out of steam (I’m not as young as I once was) and so I didn’t do as much as I did last year.

I saw Big Zero once again and I really like their quirky ways but being on at 2pm was way too early for their kind of music. I also enjoyed the Amazons in conversation with some Radio 1 DJ (Unless it is Tony Blackburn I have no idea on modern R1 DJs) so much so that I have had their “Black Magic” on repeat almost since then.

Looking at the dates for next years festival and record store day it is unlikely that I will be able to attend either as that is when we’ll likely be on holiday which is a great shame as both are great fun.

10cc, Reading Hexagon, 23rd October 2016

Thirty four years ago, on 13th March 1982, I went to my first ever gig to see 10cc at the Oxford Apollo. At that point they were really only 5cc and were distinctly past their best but I was hooked. Last week I saw them again. They are now down to 2.5cc but really rather much back to their best.

As is in vogue right now the first half of the show was taken up by playing the whole of one album – Sheet Music, which, in my opinion is their best along side The Original Soundtrack. Inevitably this means putting up with some rather dodgy material along with some cracking tunes.

Sheet Music was released when 10cc where at their very best and the original four members were all together. Only Graham Gouldman of the original quartet now remains but for this performance one of the original members, Kevin Godley, had created a video soundtrack and had even contributed the vocal to the operatic, Somewhere in Hollywood, which was a nice touch. It has some great lyrics including: “He’s out on the patio | With his polaroid and scenario”.

The second half of the show was a spirited romp through a number of the groups hits along with a few lesser known tracks such as Feel the Benefit from Bloody Tourists.

The fact that the group are still going strong and that the place was pretty full seems to suggest that there is still an appetite for 10cc. Which is why I can’t understand why there hasn’t been a big money offer for the original four to get back together and play again. Maybe there has and it has been rejected? Whatever the reason that’s a great shame as they made some really classy music together including one of the most sublime pieces of all time… I’m Not in Love.

7 Days 7 Singles from the ’80s

So I have been nominated by Dirk Manuel on Facebook for the “7 Days 7 Singles from the ’80s” challenge (you can read his selections here). I wouldn’t normally bother but this has been great fun to both read other’s entries and to sift through my single collection again to select my final 7.

I decided I would only choose where I still owned the original 7″ which, regrettably, meant that there’s no Love and Money but has allowed me to spend a fun evening listening to many other, forgotten, records. Some I listened to and thought “why did I buy that?”, others I didn’t even have to listen to think that!

And so to the first selection…

Day 1 (1981): In the Air Tonight – Phil Collins

I was 16, still at school at this point, and had a major Genesis obsession. I remember very clearly sitting on the floor in the lounge at my parents house listening to this with my headphones on.
Music was an area of friction between myself and my parents who always felt I played it too loud. They also objected to my singing along with the headphones on while they were trying to watch the TV!

This was so nearly a number one in the UK for Collins but was kept off the top by the death of John Lennon. But it did introduce the gated drum sound to a much wider audience.

Day 2 (1982): Market Square Heroes – Marillion

I was now 17 and going to college to retake all the O Levels and CSEs I had failed at school. I found the change of environment refreshing and gave me a new lease of life.
As an early Genesis fan I supposed a progression to Marillion was inevitable. They were one of the first bands that I went to see and I still clearly remember Fish jumping through a paper background at the start of the gig. Ever the showman. I still like Marillion and am eagerly awaiting 23rd September for the next release.

When I listened again to the single this week I was surprised as just how raw sounding and under produced it is. Such a refreshing change to the over produced sounds that it was competing against.

Day 3 (1983): What is Love? – Howard Jones

18 and on the cusp of leaving home to go to university (or, to be more accurate, Polytechnic in my case).

I’ve included this selection for a number of reasons:
1. it typifies the 80s sound
2. it’s a great tune
3. we’re all trying so hard to look cool with our selections I thought I would buck the trend!

Day 4 (1983): Relax – Frankie goes to Hollywood

Thanks to DJ Mike Reid this became a big hit and set Frankie on a path to success. There was a big fuss at the time but it seems tame now. Actually it was overblown at the time too.

This was another great piece of production by Trevor Horn (who I have written about before). He is pretty versatile as his work from the 80’s shows spanning everything from Dollar to Yes to Buggles to FGTH.

One slightly odd thing is that my copy of the 7′ has the b side label on both sides – wonder if this make is more valuable?

Day 5 (1984): Do they know it’s Christmas? – Band Aid

This, I’ll admit, is not the world’s greatest song but it is here for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it features so many of the biggest names in 80’s music and if you watch the video you will see just how you they look!

Secondly, because it highlighted the plight of those living in the drought of Ethiopia and raised substantial amounts of money through the single and Live Aid…

Thirdly, because I was there. I was 19 and now at University. Emma, my girlfriend at the time, and me were driving home and drove past the Guildhall. I have no idea where we would have been to take us back past there but we did. As we came round the square we noticed people queuing up so we stopped and went over to ask what they were queuing for. “Live Aid” was the response. So we joined the queue and “slept” outside the Guildhall overnight until the box office opened at 10am the next morning.

I remember the 13th July 1985 very clearly mainly because it so hot that there were people at the side of the stadium spraying water into the crowd to cool us down! We saw an amazing lineup of bands and for that reason alone is why Do they know it’s Christmas gets included on this list.

Live Aid

Day 6 (1985): Slave to the Rhythm – Grace Jones

So I rediscovered Grace Jones’ Island Life album again earlier this year and thought how it really hasn’t aged and could chart now. Can’t say that about much else from the 80’s. Of course it’s that big Trevor Horn sound (again). He really does know how to do it right.

The album cover to Island Life has Grace Jones standing wearing not very much, oiled up, arse in the air. I still remember to this day my dad commenting “she’s got a great body”. Which, of course, she has but that’s not something I needed confirming by my father!

At 20 I was still of the belief that to work out how often your parents had had sex you just needed to count your number of siblings and add one. So to hear anything vaguely sexual from my dad was quite shocking.

Day 7 (1986): Don’t Dream it’s Over – Crowded House

And so we reach the end of this music journey with the beginning of my Neil Finn obsession.

At about this time I would have been 21 and on my industrial placement at IBM. This meant more disposable income which went increasingly on CDs and a much better sound system. I still have the same speakers although the rest has gone.

I can’t remember what got me into Crowded House but it was also certainly this track which I still love to this day. For the jangling guitar at the beginning to the lyrics it is just sublime. After this I couldn’t get enough of the Finn’s output. In fact from 1991 to 2001 when, with a single exception, I saw no-one in concert unless they had been in Split Enz at some point! I’m also a member of the fan club but this is decidedly a very grown up affair.

2016-08-16 15.52.47

A Summer of Vinyl

Anyone that has been paying attention will have noticed that I am back into vinyl in a big way – mainly because I like having a physical product and also the print on a record sleeve is large enough for me to be able to read without glasses!

However, I am trying to be a little more discerning about what I buy now rather than simply plundering the local charity shops for dog eared copies of what I already have (although I do that too!). And with vinyls resurgence there is now so much new music being released on that format that it is increasingly possible to add new items regularly.

To illustrate that very point I have all of the following on pre-order, all of which are on “heavy-weight” vinyl and quite a few are also signed too:

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool – 17th June 2016
Peter Gabriel – So, Up, Us – 15th July 2016 – half speed, limited edition, remasters
Dodgy – What Are We Fighting For – 2nd September 2016 – Signed Deluxe
The Divine Comedy – Foreverland – 2nd September 2016 – Signed
Marillion – Fuck Everyone and Run – 23rd September 2016 – Signed

tab_width

There does seem to be a gap in August though but the La’s reissue would fill that nicely!