Friday, 19 December 2014

Review of the year...

It's been a bit traditional on the blog here to post a review of the year over the years I've been talking to myself you good folks on here.

So 2014?

Gig of the year.  Not done that many these days as I'm more cash strapped than I used to be and with my son living away from home I don't go with him to gigs like I used to.  Anyway from those I did see it would have to be Show Of Hands at Tunbridge Wells.  Super stuff, great playing and singing and the sound was excellent throughout.  Close second were Bellowhead.

CD of the year.  Now here was a year with a few big names releasing... but sadly I thought Elbow, Coldplay and esp U2 all missed the mark a degree (Elbow) or several (Coldplay) or totally (U2).  But there were so many great things out.  Blair Dunlop, Bellowhead, Uriah Heep... etc.

Hmm... So I'm going to award three this year.

1. Rock - Uriah Heep The Outsider.  Just a thunderously brilliant album as though losing Trevor Bolder seemed to inspire them to greater things as a tribute to him.

2. Mainstream - David Gray - The Mutineers.  David Gray's best album since White Ladder quiet simply brilliant.

3. Folk - Hmm... still torn with this category.  I'll cheat the CD release by False Lights is Feb and I think that'll win them next years award.   So... Bellowhead for Revival - probably their best to date.

Read of the year... The Farm by Tom Rob Smith - not a pleasant read in some respects the subject matter throughout is challenging but well written and with great twists.  Thoroughly recommended

Thursday, 11 December 2014

False Lights Salvor

Anyone who has a long memory will know that I've waxed lyrically about the great Sam Carter on this here blog from time to time in the past.

Now ... he has teamed up with Jim Moray to form a new folk rock band called False Lights.   Their first release is Salvor which is just flipping brilliant.  And you can listen to it all now (plugin compatibility allowing etc.) on Soundcloud...  just click and love it!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Book Reviews - The Empty Throne Bernard Cornwell and On Wings of Eagles Ken Follett

Bernard Cornwell - The Empty Throne.

The next instalment in the Lord Uhtred saga.  I've always really enjoyed Bernard's books, great historical research and then placing great fictional characters with great stories into real life historical events.  This saga now on the eight instalment.  We've followed Uhtred from his forcible exit from his family home of Bamburgh Castle as a child, through his time as a slave to his unusual alliance as a pagan with the most pious King Alfred helping Wessex to eject marauding Danes from it's borders and helping Alfred in his quest for a united England.  In this one Alfred is dead, Uhtred himself is recovering from the near fatal wound he received at the end of the last book The Pagan Lord.  He is grievously ill and with his failing strength others manoeuvre around him to try to ensure the crown of Mercia is grabbed by enemies.  Of course Uhtred whilst ill is not to be ignored and he soon is politically dealing to reinstate his mistress Alfred's daughter on the throne and also challenging those in battle who have been fighting for another outcome including him engaging in a major fight with a new Viking foe who'll return again in further episodes in this story.  Great historical novel gets a thumbs up on the FTUBRS*

On Wings of Eagles - Ken Follett

I like Ken's writing.  This is however different from him to me, rather than a fictional story woven into a history setting this one is the recounting of a true story.  In 1978 during the Iranian revolution two executives from the American computer company EDS were arrested and imprisoned in Tehran.  Simply put Iran was broke and corrupt to crazy.  EDS had not been paid for some months for the work done but also had been paid some millions of US dollars already.  Some people in the Ministry for Health seemed to think they could extort the payments back out of EDS by setting the bail for the executives at $12million.  EDS felt extremely let down by the USA Embassy that did nothing to help them and the dithering in the Carter administration didn't help.  In the end Ross Perot the owner of EDS set up a rescue team who went to Tehran with the plan to break the executives out of jail.  However once there on the ground the prisoners were moved to a prison where a jailbreak was impracticable until they were able to whip up an anti-regime protest to enable a complete jailbreak of all prisoners and then the team had to drive through a fractured and dangerous Iran to get over the border into Turkey.  I have to say I very touched by some of the story - esp the ending.  However throughout I was also worried about how Ken portrays the story - he seems a little bit hero worshipping some involved, particularly Ross Perot.  So a two thumbs horizontal - a great story to read but I'm concerned how some of the events and characters are portrayed and not Ken's best writing I feel.


* Furtheron Thumbs Up Book Review Scale - 
lowest is both thumbs down with a frown
two thumbs down, 
one thumb horizontal,
two thumbs horizontal, 
one thumb up, 
two thumbs up 
two thumbs up with a grin - very rarely awarded

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Gig Review - Bellowhead Margate Winter Gardens 25th November 2014

Bellowwho?  Is what many people seem to say to me when I mention them - well go find them out.  They are a large multi instrumental folk group.  However before all you rock fans turn away and ignore them - they are very rock sounding to me in their arrangements even if they don't have a traditional rock rhythm session - in fact the bass instrument of choice is brass - Helicon, Tuba or Sousaphone...  Most of the band are multi-instrumentalists too adding incredible range to the bands sounds.  The venue I thought would suit them well, the Winter Gardens is an old seaside dance hall/ theatre- very ornate big rectangle with the stage on one of the long sides, which was more suitable with a dance but not maybe a modern gig.  But what made it worse was the decision by someone for it to be all seated.  I've been to gigs there before when the "dance floor" is standing only.  Sadly this lack of dancing/jumping about meant the atmosphere was a little flatter than I'd expected from them until into the second half.

However they did hit the ground running with Roll Alabama as the kick off song- one of my personal favs of theirs and a highlight off the lastest album Revival.   The mix then onwards was a mix of a lot of the new stuff off Revival (Let Her Run, Let Union Be, Fine Sally, Gosport Nancy ... etc.)  and old hits - a lot from Hedonism album which is my favourite album after Revival from them.

Sound I thought was good for me although one friend thought it not so clear but I thought it good, to cope with so many acoustic instruments without a muddy mix and only one or two little feedback squeals I was suitably impressed with.

Top gig!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Christmas Gift Guide for Guitarists

Inspired by my friend Judy over at So Very Slightly Mad here are some ideas for Christmas Gifts for the guitarist in your life.

NOTE - the recommendations here are made purely on my experience I'm not being paid or otherwise reimbursed by any shop or manufacturer neither does my endorsement imply an exhaustive set of tests alongside competitor products... it is just my recommendation based on my experience, unless otherwise stated.


Seriously any guitarist with any kind of collection goes through so many sets of strings.  Find out what they use - or what they'd like to try.  We're a conservative bunch.  I had never tried coated strings but kept reading players raving about them that I respected.  I went to a guitar show in London and got a free set as part of a goody bag.  I'm sold!  Once I get through the box of old ones I'm moving to them on all my acoustics.  Not convinced yet on electrics but on acoustics I am sold big style.  In the UK I use Strings Direct - fast good service never had an issue with them.


Or Plectrums if you aren't bother by the grammar police commenting on your blog... ;-)  Again you can never have too many plectra.  There is some fundamental rule of Physics which states that any plectrum dropped will suddenly accelerated beyond the speed of light, become instantly so massive it creates a mini black hole about your knee area on the descent and before hitting the floor it disappears beyond the event horizon into another universe and the black hole disintegrates leaving you looking all about you for the little sod which is never ever seen again.  Somewhere in another universe is a planet where they build lavish multicoloured temples out of these plastic triangle things that materialise out of nowhere almost continually. Inside they house weird mechanical contraptions trying to recreate an off Cadd9 kind of chord sound which they hear a mere snippet of as each little triangle appears.

By the way if you're not a guitarist one plectrum is not as good as another - we all like this shape, not that shape, this material not that material and this thickness not that thickness... ;-)  Jim Dunlop though is where to start - they must have something that'll suit pretty much anyone.


Like plectra there is another rule of physics that says the hour before your big gig one of the cables in your rig will start to splutter and squawk.  Again you can never have too many cables!  I recommend Cleartone cables - built really really well and much better than more expensive leads I've bought in shops.  All made to order too so you can really get a series of sensible lengths that work for your exact situation.


If your pet guitarist doesn't have a capo - they should!  If they have one they'll be needing more.  For a laugh one thing I've yet to try but would like to are some great partial capos by Shubb which offer ultimate total confusion after the Christmas festivities.


Clip on ones, foot pedal ones, bog standard ones... the range and cost is almost limitless but a cheapy clip on one will always find a potential use on an acoustic instrument in the hubbub of the pub open mic night trust me!  Korg are well respected (I don't use their products to be honest) and have a great range to consider.

Books about guitars!

If we're not playing them, stringing them, tuning them, upgrading them or sniffing them... err... sorry TMI ... we love to read about them.  If you have the total guitar geek in mind then the latest book on Brian May's Red Special is just superb!  My son bought it for me for my birthday - pouring over the photos of that legendary 6 string being completely disassembled and then all the stories of how he and his Dad built it etc.  Just wonderful.


Finally I still use an old little wind up one that I bought as a teenager and I'm surprised how many people don't even seem to own one.  I find it indispensable for practising keeping my stuff to time and even figuring out the best tempo to play stuff I've written and getting rigorous at playing it repeatedly at that tempo.  I've been thinking about a newer flashy electronic one but glad to see essentially the same model of the one I own is still available even if it is frighteningly costly compared to other options out there now including really great electronic ones.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

CD Reviews - Uriah Heep - The Outsider and Blair Dunlop - House of Jacks

Uriah Heep - The Outsider. 

 I've passed by Uriah Heep over the years. I remember really liking Conquest back about 1980 and there last album had some good stuff on it but... The Outsider the first one they've done since long standing bass player Trevor Bolder. I gave it a listen on Spotify - I found myself repeatedly playing it so when my sister gave me an Amazon voucher for my birthday I bought the CD... I'm an old Luddite and still love to have the CD in my grubby mits!

 Just brilliant - great searing vocals, stomping drums and bass, super riffing guitar work and above it all a throbbing Hammond Organ! Yes part of the "Heep sound" since Ken Hensley was in the band and still brilliantly there front and centre. You can do what you like with synth patches and what have you but in great rock a Hammond just has such a great warm sound. The Opener Speed of Sound is a punchy jump to your feet rocker and that mode continues throughout. Is Anybody Gonna Help Me, Jessie and Kiss the Rainbow are other favourites of mine but there is no dud track on this album at all... buy it and ROCK!

 Blair Dunlop - House of Jacks. 

 Blair is Ashley Hutchings son. Who? Well if you are into English Folk Rock Ashley has been a legend for years with stints in The Albion Band, Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. I love his last album and this is better! Great songs, well written. His guitar playing and singing are top notch throughout. Some of the songs deal with difficult issues like the albums first track and initial single release - Somethings Gonna Give Way - which is about a young lad persecuted at school, a traveller who ends up resorting to violence to make his mark. Dark stuff but well exectued. You can listen to the album on Soundcloud via Blair's site.  I urge you to.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Cover tunes.

Now if you're going to do a cover, make it your own.  I was thinking this when I remember this stunning song I first heard on Unleashed in the East and bought my leather wrist band and headbanged along with the faithful at Hammersmith.

Somewhat different from the original...

That's how to do a cover... :-)