Musical Thoughts

21 Mar

Rival Sons, The Roundhouse, London 1 April 2105

Stephen : April 7, 2015 8:27 pm : Music

It’s only 5 months since I saw the Sons play in Kentish Town but even in that short time they’ve upped their game.

From the thunderous chords of ‘Electric Man’, drawn out by Scottie Holliday in a teasing opening, it is clear Rival Sons are thrilled to be at The Roundhouse. And why not?

It’s an iconic venue where The Who, The Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and many other luminaries have gone before and singer Jay Buchanan tips his cap accordingly.

Said venue is full and enthused and the band responds with a strong set drawn largely from 4th (and most recent) release, ‘Great Western Valkyrie’

This band are going places for a number of reasons: their song writing is consistently improving; and in Jay Buchanan and Scott Holliday, they have an exceptional front pairing.

Buchanan is an enigmatic singer with clarity and charisma but it is the gunslinger guitarist who makes the Rival Sons sound resonate with colour and depth. It’s rare for a guitarist to provide structure and detail, but Holliday pulls it off seemingly effortlessly, his twirling moustache, Ray Bans and sharp suits helping construct a cool and assured stage presence around which Buchanan’s ethereal blues vocal stylings have room to breathe.

The Sons ripped through the opening 4 songs back-to-back, all up-speed numbers from Valkyrie, with the sound superb and well-balanced and the light show making the most of the smoke and mist in the venue.

Manifest Destiny is an epic tale of how the West was won/lost, and it segues into Torture. Previously, I’ve seen Buchanan try to shush the crowd as they sing the closing refrain, but this time the band goes quiet and the house lights put on so the Roundhouse crowd can give it full throat.

We then had a departure from the script as a five song semi-acoustic part appeared, including a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Long As I Can See The Light’, a sublime, fragile Nava and a great version of Burn Down Los Angeles which eschewed the thumping chorus and breakneck speed.

Belle Starr makes a rare but very welcome appearance and Where I’ve Been tugs at the emotions before the show closes with a fire-breathing sequence of Tell Me Something, Open My Eyes and Pressure & Time, ended by the anthemic Keep On Swinging.

A quickfire half-assed review of this gig I saw made me think twice about it, but gut instinct is reliable for a reason: Rival Sons are excellent. a band and a live act well worth checking out for anyone interested in heavy rock with a psychedelic blues twist. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but believe me, it does.

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Queen with Adam Lambert, O2 London, 18 January 2015

Stephen : January 19, 2015 11:52 am : Music

Half of Queen & Adam Lambert

Half of Queen & Adam Lambert

So I get a message saying a friend of a friend has (free) box tickets to see Queen with someone called Adam Lambert at the O2 on Sunday…and off I go.

I was a big Queen fan in the early days – Queen, Queen II, Sheer Heart Attack, Night at the Opera, Day at the Races – but they’re not on my musical radar these days and I therefore have no clue who Adam Lambert is. I do know bassist John Deacon doesn’t play any more but seeing Brian May and Roger Taylor play ought to be worth the trip…..

Turns out that the show is part rock gig part tribute show and judging by a sold out arena and the crowd reaction, it worked. Having attended at less than a day’s notice and not bought the ticket I watch proceedings with an objective eye and the sound and visual effects are impressive, as is May’s guitar which carries the band along effortlessly.

With most public attention coming to Queen after their epic 1984 Live Aid performance, it is often forgotten that they were a top line rock band at their creative zenith from 1973 to 1977. Not so easily forgotten this evening.

Stone Cold Crazy appears early in the set and to be honest i was blown away with how good it sounded. Ditto Seven Seas of Rye, the first Queen song I ever remember hearing.

By then I’d adapted to not hearing Freddie Mercury singing, as Lambert strutted and preened in cartoon style, in a Rob Halford leather jacket and shades.


Tie Your Mother Down…

He’s a talented singer, certainly, and it was an odd fit seeing him alongside Doctors May and Taylor, but the hit songs kept coming and it was rarely dull. Save Me was outstanding, as was Lap of the Gods and I Want To Break Free, a much looser vocalist fully in his element by then. Taylor’s son Rufus joined his Dad on drums, keyboard player Spike was stage right and the sound was beefy and sharp.

Easy to forget Mercury died almost 25 years ago, and his appearance on screen and in voice weaved into the sound was emotional stuff. No more so than on the last verse of Love of My Life and when on-screen Freddie and Adam Lambert sang alternative lines at the end of Bohemian Rhapsody to bring the show to a close.

If you want to check out the 70’s rock band Queen, buy Sheer Heart Attack or listen to March of the Black Queen, Liar, Ogre Battle, White Man or Prophet’s Song.

If you don’t, you’ll probably find it hard to avoid mainstream Queen songs on radio or TV.

Either way, this concert hung together in what I can only describe as an oddly pleasing way.

Set List

One Vision

Fat Bottomed Girls

Stone Cold Crazy

Another One Bites The Dust

In The Lap of the Gods/Seven Seas of Rye

Killer Queen

I Want to Break Free

Somebody to Love


Love of My Life

Those Were The Days of Our Lives

Under Pressure

Save Me

Who Wants To Live Forever?

Tie Yor Mother Down

 I Want It All

Radio Ga Ga

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Bohemian Rhapsody


We Will Rock You

We Are The Champions

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Rival Sons @ Forum, Kentish Town, 10 December 2014

Stephen : December 13, 2014 9:39 am : Music

Rival Sons: not your typical rock band

Rival Sons: not your typical rock band

All killer and (almost) no filler.
Rival Sons shook the shabby art-deco surroundings of the Forum on Wednesday night with their heady artisan mixture of hard rock, soul and blues. The Doors and Led Zeppelin are evident influences but the appeal of Rival Sons to me is that they plough a unique furrow and don’t appear to break sweat doing it….
‘Great Western Valkyrie’ is their armour-plated fourth album and features heavily in the twenty song set, but early cuts are enthusiastically received when a belligerent ‘You Want To’ and the sleazy All Over The Road’ open proceedings. ‘Pressure & Time’ is an early set highlight, with singer Jay Buchanan howling frustration with working life and the audience bellowing along. The sound makes my rib cage vibrate and there don’t appear to be very many people not paying attention.
Rival Sons are guitarist Scott Holiday, Mike Miley on drums and Phillip Seymour Hoffman lookalike Dave Beste on bass, with Jay Buchanan on vocals. (Augmented by a mystery keyboard player who looks like a hipster rabbi).
Buchanan and Holliday front the band on stage angnd Holliday drives the band alo, but the singer is the walking definition of enigmatic and on occasion is channeling the spirit of Jim Morrison. Not that the Lizard King’s powwrful baritone is copied or aped: Jay Buchanan’s vocals are simultaneously robust and ethereal, soulful and sharp.
Buchanan also has little time for audience interplay and stage chat, focused on his performance and displaying his vocal talent. The voice is velvet, powerful, the delivery full of subtlety and depth. Although the songs and the band’s playing are consistently excellent, it is Buchanan’s astonishing singing which lifts Rival Sons to a very high melodic plain.
Jay Buchanan. Vocalist extraordinaire
‘Electric Man’ is heart-stopping rock at it’s best but it is songs like ‘Good Things’ and ‘Rich and the Poor’ which defy conventional description. At times they sound like The Animals, James Brown, Van Halen, Otis Redding, The Beach Boys, Deep Purple and Sam Cooke put their heads together. Very hard to describe but very easy to enjoy.
Penultimate somg of the night, ‘Jordan’ is pure gospel soul, no melodrama but a song which could be done acapella in the Royal Albert Hall or played at a wake. You can’t imagine another heavy rock band pulling that off, but Rival Sons do it effortlessly.
Mid-set, Buchanan gave a brief flash of raw emotion telling the crowd that ‘this (London) is where the shit (music) began!’ and most of a very happy crowd sang along all evening for almost 2 hours, enjoying Rival Sons playing in a relatively intimate venue. I don’t think they’ll be playing those for much longer. Keep on Swinging….
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Review: Augustines at The Roundhouse, Camden, 8 December 2014

Stephen : December 9, 2014 8:35 pm : Music

Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson

Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson

Augustines have come a long way since I saw them in the Hare and Hounds pub in King’s Heath, Birmingham two years ago – yet even then, front man Billy McCarthy shone brightly as he enthused about playing the city which spawned Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, UB40 and Duran Duran. Tonight he, Eric Sanderson and local drummer Rob Allen are playing one of London’s iconic venues and clearly loving every minute of what they do.
It’s hard to be detached or cynical watching an up and coming rock band throwing everything they have into a performance and the sell-out Roundhouse crowd are quick to respond and involve themselves in the raucous sing-alongs instigated by McCarthy’s fist punching salutes.
A brave start to the gig see Augustines open with two slices of their premium material, ‘Headlong Into The Abyss’, the seminal ‘Chapel Song’, then ‘Book of James’ from their debut cut. Part of the joy of this band is McCarthy’s voice, at times high and pure alternating with fragile and insistent. It takes Billy five songs before he chats to the audience and we are clearly watching a work in progress as the band segues from playing 150 capacity music pubs to the bigger venues their music so obviously merits.
The addition of a trumpet player from New York ‘the sleek Greek’ expands and enhances the Augustines sound and it is still amusing to watch the guitar roadie pick up a bass for half a dozen numbers in between trying (and failing) to ensure McCarthy and Sanderson don’t wreck their own equipment.
The initial two thirds of the set is almost entirely songs from ‘Arise Ye Sunken Ships’, a surprise given the strength and difference of the recent ‘Augustines’ follow-up, but a one hour set ends up with a 50 minutes ‘encore’ including ‘Cruel City’, ‘Nothing To Lose But Your Head’ and the sublime ‘Kid You’re On Your Own’ showcasing McCarthy’s wonderful fragile vocal.
This was the biggest gig the band have ever played: ‘I’ve been waiting all my fucking life for this night’ says Billy to apprecaitive cheering and they are clearly destined for greater things. The encore kicked off by a surprise foray into the far balcony to deliver an acapella song before returning to the stage, although obviously contrived it sums up the engagement and enthusiasm which this band brings to the party. Very, very good – and more to come…
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Gig Review: The Stranglers, Sub 89, Reading, 8 July 2014

Stephen : July 9, 2014 12:35 pm : Art, Music

How are The Stranglers doing these days? Pretty darn good, as it happens.

Still going strong without the 75 year old (!) Jet Black on drums, they treated a packed and bijou Sub 89 Club in Reading to a fabulous set list and a performance that made the Germany vs Brazil match irrelevant.

‘Welcome to, err, someone’s living room?’ opined Baz Warne. ‘Reading on a Tuesday night’ as he surveyed the sweaty fifty-somethings before him, ‘ain’t you got jobs to go to?’.

 The Stranglers were never a ‘punk band’ in the sense that even in 1977 although they had a ‘fuck you’ sensibility, they could actually play.

In Dave Greenfield and Jean-Jaques Burnel they have talent and depth, and both are on display this evening, assisted by a PA and sound which gives each instrument and voices room to breathe and clarity. Burnel’s snarling bass and Greenfield’s ethereal keyboards give the Stranglers a unique musical signature, evident on opener ‘Toiler on the Sea’, followed by killer versions of ‘(get a) Grip (on yourself)’ and ‘Skin Deep’.

 I find myself smiling like a chimpanzee, drinking in the ageless sound of a great rock band playing a small venue. The front section of the crowd sings along raucously and jumps up and down in time with Warne’s singing and Burnel’s obvious love for his people. Gone are the days of menace and introspection, The Stranglers are clearly enjoying themselves in their senior years.

 The set rattles effortlessly through the gears: Always The Sun, Curfew, Death and Night and Blood, Nice N Sleazy, Duchess and a peerless cover of Walk On By……the show is peppered with songs from Black and White and Rattus Norvegicus IV and the sparse newer material blends in nicely without being overdone.

Most people in the crowd want the classics, although a surreal moment occurs when Warne tells the crowd they can vote by applause on the choice of ‘Golden Brown’ or ‘La Folie’ and the latter wins by a distance. These are hardcore fans.

 I baled out early to catch the last Oxford train before midnight, but relished the chance to catch up with a seminal band on top of their game. Keep on Stranglin’…….


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4 July 2104: Black Sabbath, Soundgarden, Motorhead….

Stephen : July 7, 2014 7:10 pm : Art, Music
Heavy rock works best in the dark: that’s just empirical observation. Shady music, minor chords and ghoulish lyrics, grandiose audio-visual effects, a genre which flirts (often laughably) with the powers of darkness…… how would this work in the blazing sunshine of Hyde Park? 
The answer is pretty well.
The British Summer Time festival on Friday 4 July kicked off with Soulfly, the US based thrash band fronted by Brazilian Max Cavalera. Soulfly, are, bluntly, not my cup of tea, with impenetrable lyrics delivered in the growly/grunty/shouty register favoured by too many nu-metal bands and, in my honest opinion, over-compensation for a lack of vocal talent.
There, I’ve said it.
SF tried hard, threw in a blast of Symptoms to tickle the Sabbath fans but they didn’t hold my interest. Meh.
Next on were the band whose motif sums up what they’re about. ‘Everything louder than everyone else’. Motorhead.
Lemmy seems to operate on his own time zone, about half a second slower than everyone else. You can hear the peculiar diction of someone with a mouth full of false teeth, which makes him sound like the pensioner which he most assuredly doesn’t look like. Dresed in wrap-around shades and US cavalry hat, he leads the most unsubtle band on earth through an hour and a bit of their canon. Stay Clean, Killed by Death, Over The Top, Damage Case, an excellent Going to Brazil and others, topped off by a roaring and snorting version of Overkill.
There isn’t much stage patter, Lemmy concluding with ‘we are Motorhead, and we play rock and roll’. A consultation with Mr White leads me to believe that the last time I saw them play was 1982. Love them or loathe them, they’ll probably survive a nuclear armageddon.
The sun continued to beat down and on the Hyde Park stage, something very odd indeed was happening: a crew of roadies dressed in white bolier suits were turning all of the back line and side of stage white, while another set were busy bring on a few thousand  pounds worth of fressh flowers and putting them stage front. This heralded the arrival of Faith No More, a band I knew nothing about.
Seriously, the depths of my ignorance about them are as yet unplumbed. Don’t own a single one of their records, didn’t even know they were from the States. (For some daft reason i thought they were from Sheffield.) Anyway, on they came, all five dressed as priests and, well, they, er, tore it up. In Mike Patton, they have a front man of genuine charisma, huge stage presence and no little vocal talent, but for a band supposedly inactive for 2 years, they were as tight as a drumskin. 
It was hard not to pay attention and in fact they got the first encore of the day, well-deserved and  a set which, I’m told, featured 2 new songs and all their biggest hits. I may well check them out, solely on the basis of a great set full of hooks and clever melodies, delivered with passion and energy. Top notch.
The unseasonal sunshine provided penultimate act, Soundgarden, with a challenge which Chris Cornell, on tremedous form, acknowledged as he led the band out to a thunderous welcome. The band were going to play the entire ‘Superunknown’ record, including miserablist classics like Fell On Black Days and Black Hole Sun, in the bright evening sunshine. How was that? Superb.
I was looking forward to seeing them when the line-up was announced and they didn’t disappoint. In Ben Shephard, they have one of the coolest bass players around. Fretting high and playing low, Shephard wanders around with a casual air of menace and didn’t miss a beat.
Spoonman is one of my favourite songs and to hear it live again was joyous, and my only criticism was that by confining themselves to one album they were compelled to play the handful of place-holder songs instead of raiding the band’s excellent back catalogue. 
But as the dusk arrived and the rain threatened – hooray for British weather! – it was time for Black Sabbath, who hit the stage at 8.45 with Ozzy peeking round the corner and the air raid sirens preceding ‘War Pigs’ cranking up the volume.
The huge set and wonderful AV came into play  now, vast screens playing a montage of Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, George W Bush and Kim Il Sung and images of war and conflict as the band blasted it out like a jet engine. New drummer Tommy Clufetos makes them sound like a rocket barrage and has breathed new life into the old dogs.
‘Into The Void’ followed the opener and the clear difference from seeing them in December and now was that Ozzy’s voice was stronger and in tune – the benefit of not ending a tour having thrown everything you have into it.
After Tony Iommi’s fight with lymphoma, he looks happier and more centred than ever, mugging with Ozzy and smiling like a child given free chocolate.
And after the sang froid of Ben Shepard came the focused hammer punch of rock’s greatest bass player, Geezer Butler, the king of cool.
Watching Osbourne, Butler and the incomparable Tony Iommi play is a tonic for the soul - and the new material from 13, especially Age of Reason, stands up well enough against the classics which landed one after another: Iron Man, NIB, Behind the Wall of Sleep, Fairies Wear Boots, Snowblind…… the time Children of the Grave and Paranoid brought the show to an end at 10.30am sharp, the vast majority of the 60,000 crowd were ready for home – dazed, deaf and happy.
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Record Review: ‘High Hopes’ by Bruce Springsteen (Sony)

Stephen : January 13, 2014 2:32 pm : Music


Boss time!

Boss time!

The new Bruce Springsteen release ‘High Hopes’ is unexpected, with The Boss spending the last 18 months on the road touring the ‘Wrecking Ball’ record and few hints of recording studio time accrued.

But the internet is a wondrously widespread beast and not only allows Backstreets, Greasy Lake and other Springsteen websites to obsessively follow developments, but allows Mr Springsteen to exchange ideas with his producers (Brendan O’Brien and Ron Aniello) and send ideas, bridges and mixes back and forth electronically.

‘High Hopes’ differs from previous output in three ways: it involves 2 different producers; features three cover versions; and on more than half of the twelve songs features Tom Morello.

Also known as the Night Watchman, Morello is former guitarist for Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave and sat in for Steven Van Zandt recently, with Little Steven already committed to filming series 2 of the wonderful ‘Lilyhammer’ and Springsteen keen to tour the far-flung southern parts of the globe.

Keen observers will have seen Morello playing ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ with the E Street Band at previous gigs, and this is one of the two Springsteen compositions revisited on ‘High Hopes’ – the other being ‘American Skin’, which reappeared as a live number in Ireland last year, on the day Trayvon Martin’s killer walked free.  

The album lacks the ‘feel’ that Bruce Springsteen usually seeks, a thematic coherence conveyed via strands of lyrical content within an overall production sound, in a precise running order.

This theme –evidenced on, say, Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River or Wrecking Ball – imparts the core message and makes many Springsteen albums more than just the sum of their parts.

‘High Hopes’ departs from this path in being a far more eclectic mix of recent music, obscure covers and remastered live material and has patches of light and shade as a result.

Opener ‘High Hopes’ has Latin and marimba rythms, horns which can be heard on ‘We Shall Overcome’ and ‘Wrecking Ball’ and bowls along at a nice pace – could easily be a crowd-pleaser at a live show. ‘Harry’s Place’ wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘The Rising’ with a sinister mobster tale and ‘American Skin’ revisits the enduring disgrace of how fragile and cheap the lives of young black men are.

Bruce describes this song and ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ as ‘among the best of my writing’ and both get a deserved airing on this record. (‘Ghost…’ is a song I’d have played at my own funeral, an unflinching portrayal of the underside of modern life uplifted by a hymn of defiant, positive resistance.)

 Other stand-outs on early listening are ‘Down In the Hole’, ‘This is Your Sword’ and ‘The Wall’. The first has a haunting melody and searing, graphic lyrics which fit with a 9/11 motif; ‘Sword’ wouldn’t sound out of place at a ceilidh or as a modern church hymn; and ‘The Wall’ is the keynote song which Springsteen devotes two thirds of the liner notes to: the homage to a childhood friend missing in action in Vietnam and all the more bitter and angry for being delivered in a soft slow arrangement. ‘Apology and forgiveness got no place here at all’.

 There are songs here to suit most tastes, but the record will appeal primarily to Springsteen anoraks and those looking to visit his music for the first time. There is variety and colour, some knock-out rock guitar from Tom Morello and more than occasional flashes of the writing which the man from Freehold has graced us with this last five decades. Check it out.

 (NB British listeners also snag an enclosed bonus DVD of Bruce and the E Street band performing the ‘Born In The USA’ album at the Olympic Park in June 2013, featuring the best performance of some of those songs I’ve heard to date.) 

 Still a believer…..

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Gig Review: Black Sabbath, Birmingham LG Arena, 20 December 2013

Stephen : January 7, 2014 10:11 am : Music


Geezer, Ozzy and Tony.

Geezer, Ozzy and Tony.

I’ve loved Black Sabbath since my mid teens and watching them gig in Birmingham is as good as it gets.

I don’t really care that they’re in their 60’s either, they’re still playing live, producing new material and Tony Iommi’s recent lymphoma hasn’t even stopped him performing live. Mind you, he lost the tips of 2 fingers in the late 60’s and didn’t let that stop him playing guitar. ‘Iron Man’ indeed…

So, rolling up to the refurbished NEC (LG) Arena in a sell-out crowd I’m close enough to the stage to see facial expressions. That’ll do.

More importantly, the sound quality is superb and breaks my three gig streak of decidedly dodgy mixes. The air raid sirens wail, the crowd roars and the bone-shaking opening chords of ‘War Pigs’ kick off a solid two hour set. ‘Into The Void’ and ‘Under The Sun’ follow, songs rock DJs would describe as ‘deep cuts’ from albums number 3 and 4 respectively, and not for the faint-hearted. This is classic heavy metal from the band who invented the genre and set the standard. ‘Form is temporary, class endures’.

Ozzy’s singing is slightly sharp almost as often as he’s on the mark, but his voice lasts the gig out and the delivery and overall sound make that minor quibble unimportant. Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler pound out bass-end heavy riffs and licks, new drummer Tommy Clufetos batters his kit mercilessly and the crowd goes, well, slightly mental….

It is joyful to be stood in the heart of a homecoming gig and Sabbath are loving every minute of it. Mr Osbourne goes to his knees doing the ‘we’re not worthy’ genuflection to the crowd, smiles like a crazed hyena and shouts as if he’s the Arena’s police force – ‘let me see those f*ckin’ hands!’.

As Tony, Geezer and Ozzy beam across to each other, you are witness to the unifying pleasure of playing a home gig for your people, many of whom have been with you since 1969.

‘Age of Reason’, ‘God is Dead?’ and ‘End of the Beginning’ are culled from the new ‘13’ album and match existing material but in truth Sabbath unfurled a set full of gems. ‘Classic’ is a much misused word but without doubt applies to this band’s back catalogue: ‘Snowblind’, ‘Fairies Wear Boots’, ‘NIB’, ‘Iron Man’, ‘Children of the Grave’…… the evening ends with confetti and balloons dropped on us during ‘Paranoid’ and a happy crowd trudges out into a wet and shitty December evening, reconnected with humble lads from Aston who left an indelible mark on rock music.

Respect is due.

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Stephen : November 29, 2013 7:46 pm : Music

Set List. Other material was added later...

How enjoyable to see Neil Finn live and not hear ‘Weather With You’.

I could (and will) pen a rant to songs that artists seem obliged to play that I loathe, but tonight it’s an intimate showcase for the upcoming ‘Dizzy Heights’ record.

On entering the church I realise we’re lucky to be here. There are less than 300 souls attending, including a Neapolitan couple we meet in the queue who came over just for the gig and a Dutch bloke seated behind us. These are the hard-core fans.

Just after 9pm Neil Finn sits at the piano preceded by 8 string instrumentalists, a percussionist and his ‘conductor’. The acoustics are as expected , giving the music room to breathe and occupy and the intimacy of the gig ensures quiet and only minimal use of the eternally irritating mobile camera phone.

The set opens with ‘Dive Bomber’, sung entirely in falsetto and another seven songs from the new album are delicately unfolded by piano and strings.

‘White Lies and Alibis’ and ‘In My Blood’ are beautifully crafted, showing Finn remains unafraid of abandoning traditional verse/chorus/middle eight structure.

‘Lights of New York’ is a bit inspid but that’s rare: most of the time Neil Finn crafts a wonderful song and conveys a love for what he does – and shares it with his audience.

And praise will come to those whose kindness, leaves you without debt...

‘Sinner’ pads softly through the church air, thick with religious imagery and ushers in ‘Impressions’ the mid-point of a 90 minute set rolling on into solo and Crowded House material.

‘World Where You Live’ works wonderfully from piano and ‘Faster Than Light’ and ‘Message to My Girl’ are majestic but the set (and the night) ends with ‘a joyous ‘Distant Sun’ before we traipse out into the jarring noise and light of Piccadilly Circus.

Finn will be touring Dizzy Heights in April 2014 and if you haven’t seen this exceptional songsmith performer before, don’t miss him this time.

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Stephen : November 26, 2013 11:01 am : Art, Music

Whatever happened to the heroes?

It would be a stretch to call Hugh Cornwell a national treasure but the lead singer/guitarist on the first ten Stranglers albums is iconic to us ‘men of a certain age’.

 Even in his mid-60’s and in a suit, blue open neck shirt and resembling a fashionably dishevelled accountant he retains strong hints of a submerged menace – at one point lasering in on a guy laughing at a story which wasn’t funny and asking him why. Rather him than me……

Cornwell left The Stranglers in 1990 and his extensive solo catalogue gets aired tonight via the device of a song from every record.

But it’s ‘Goodbye Toulouse’ from sublime Stranglers debut Rattus Norvegicus IV opening the proceedings as Cornwall prowls around a big circular Persian rug on centre stage, rattling his acoustic guitar and punctuating his chronology of songs with understated anecdotes.

In their heyday the Stranglers were genuinely scary, terrifying the then-powerful music press by relentlessly targeting hacks foolish enough to give them a bad review. Little of that was on show in the vignettes about songs, venues and events from the mid-70s onwards, as Cornwell shed light on his song writing craft and the stellar producers he’s worked with.

And starting his set with ‘Goodbye Toulouse’, ‘No More Heroes’, ‘Nice and Sleazy’ and ‘Nuclear Device’ reminds us that this guy wrote some of the most significant music of mid and late 70s, even at a time when innovation and creativity were stellar.

Supported by one-man orchestra Dave Ford, Cornwalls tarted at 9 and played solo for an hour and 40 minutes, successfully striking a balance between well-known cuts and his more obscure offerings.

‘Deca-dance’, ‘Story of He and She’ and ‘Nerves of Steel’ were compelling, as was unlikely but heartfelt tribute to Robert Michum, ‘The Big Sleep’.

As my (reluctantly attending) wife pointed out, this was a set for enthusiasts and not passing observers but nevertheless, where else do you hear songs about Leon Trotsky’s ice-pick, Lenny Bruce and the Premier of Queensland who sold part of his territory to Japan?

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