Tuesday, 17 May 2016

CD Review - Gilded - Blair Dunlop and Live the Farewell Tour - Bellowhead

Gilded - Blair Dunlop

I've enjoyed Blair's work since his first release Blight and Blossom.  Now I sit to write this I should actually play that back to back with House of Jacks (his sophomore effort) and Gilded, it'd be interesting to compare them as he has developed. Who is Blair?  Well his dad is Ashley Hutchings which if you know anything about British Folk Rock is something of a legend in that genre having been a key member of Fairport Convention, Steeley Span and the leader of The Albion Band for years.  Having his Dad's connections helps with people like Martin Simpson and Richard Thompson being amongst those who've tutored/mentored Blair.  Oh yes, if you are a film buff Blair played the young Willy Wonker in the Tim Burton remake of the Roald Dahl classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

What about this one then?  Well it is a move into more rockier less folk territory with more electric guitar, similar to the last Albion Band offering when Blair took over leadership of that band from his dad.  However the fundamental song structure and format, namely songs with a story, maintains that British Folk feel. There is more bite to some of the lyrics, I read an interview in Acoustic magazine where Blair joked that he was 24 now and was supposed to be angry.

Castello kicks off with a strummed acoustic (btw Blair uses Tanglewood Masterdesign models).  The song builds with drums, bass and some stonking organ with some terrific lyrics - the Manchester and Joy Division mentions are terrific.  By the end of that track you already know this is going to be a top album.

Other highlights for me are First World Problem which has the best electric playing from Blair on the album and can see this being a firm live favourite for a long time to come with a sing a long hook line and it's buck the system sentiment.  Up on Craigside is another one that kicks off just Blair and his acoustic which then builds under I'll kick against the rat race lyrics which I really like how he pictured the story.Eternal Optimist and The Egoist are other good tracks.  In fact there isn't any filler anywhere covering any cracks.  I thoroughly recommend you give it a listen - it is up on Spotify for those who use that.

Live the Farewell Tour - Bellowhead.

The world is a duller less good place since on 1st May 2016 Bellowhead played their last ever gig at the site of their first one 12 years before in Oxford.  Sadly the Bellowhead story is over as Jon Boden the lead singer, main arranger and focal point of live performances decided that he wanted to move in other directions and wouldn't continue in the 11 piece group.  The group understandably decided that without Jon there could be no Bellowhead and thus sadly they are no no more.  This double CD and DVD combo (bargain at only £15!) is therefore their final hurrah.

It captures what made Bellowhead such an exciting and loved act.  Let's just think about it.  Say I wrote on here that I planned to form an 11 piece folk band with a bunch of multi-instrumentalists, all who are great vocalists, the line up to include woodwind in the form of oboe, bass clarinet, sax and brass like trombone, trumpet and the bass handled by brass low instruments mostly a Helicon.  For good measure most of the groups repetitive would be old folk songs and sea shanties.  I think many of you would smile and think me deluded.  But given any tour of Bellowhead is normally sold out in minutes in venues most top folk acts would never dream of filling the bizarre notion was incredibly successful.

The collection of songs spans the bands recorded output.  The top ones for me are Roll Alabama, Haul Away, Let Union Be, Roll the Woodpile Down, Let Her Run, London Town and New York Girls... but I struggled to get the list that short!  The DVD is well shot and captures the energy and fun the band clearly have in every performance.  It is a great shame that they are no more but this is a really fitting finale and tribute to them.  As I pointed out the cost of a double CD and DVD combo is a phenomenal bargain.  Again it's on Spotify to listen to... esp my USA readers if you never heard them go see what good UK folk can sound like - trust me you'll be dancing in you huge USA kitchen whilst cooking waffles wishing you were English and had like me been privileged to see this lot live before they were gone.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Book Reviews - Time after Time Ben Elton and The End Game Raymond Khoury

Time After Time - Ben Elton

This is a really terrific book.  Here's the simple question you are posed with "If you could go back in time and change one thing what would it be?"

Seems simple doesn't it.  However as ever total conjecture since time travel isn't available to us.  But... what if it were.  What if there was a place and point in time where you could go back?  This is the situation for our hero Hugh Stanton who is an ex-soldier and YouTube star of survival videos who is given the opportunity to do just that.

The point of incredulity, scientifically and historically is that Sir Issac Newton figured out all of relativity before he died and way ahead of Einstein.  He determined that some time loops overlap in a small fragment of space and time.  Name in Istanbul in 2025 and 1914.  So you can go back to 1914.  And do what?  Stop the first world war?  Seems logical.  So that is what Hugh is tasked to do by a group of boffins who know of Newton's secret.

It is a terrific book.  Not only is there all the historical element but the interesting juxtaposition of a 21st century guy going back 111 years into an Edwardian Europe.  How Ben plays some of that out is excellent and also the moral aspects of what he has to do as his mission, also remember that he shouldn't affect anything other than his mission.

The start of the book flips back and forth from 2025 to 1914 until you are firmly in 1914 with Hugh on his mission.  However the best bit comes towards the end when some terrible realisations come to dawn on Hugh and the whole book and your comprehension of it is brilliantly turned on its head right up to the climax.  Excellently written, esp the reveal which I can't tell you but becomes obvious once you get there and the penny drops in one sentence that Hugh says.  The final outcome is that you look on the 20th century history with a really different view and now if someone asked me if I could go back and change one thing what would I say or do?

So very nearly a two thumbs up with a grin ... maybe it is... go read it!

The End Game by Raymond Khoury.

I've liked some of Raymound's books - The Sign is brilliant.  The last in the Sean Reilly saga I felt went off the boil a bit.  This one more so sadly.  It is a ripping fast thriller which has our hero FBI agent Reilly being set up as a murderer by the shadowy spies who are of course doing what they do for the greater good.  There is some personal links into Sean's history and the last book in the series (Devil's Elixir) but it is all a bit too unbelievable.  Not only that there is some ludicrous double standards exposed in the hero.  He is angry at these agents for how they treated his family and others without due process of law etc. but in his revenge he acts just the same as they do.  That just couldn't be squared off in my thinking and to me the hero was as bad, if not worse than those he challenged.  Maybe that was Mr Khoury wanted the reader to feel/think but if so there was no response to your feelings in the narrative to allow you in some way interact with the character either to sense he knew that was so or that he was wrestling with his conscience in any way.

Sadly only a single thumbs up I'm afraid.



* Furtheron International 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

Monday, 4 April 2016

CD Review - Joe Bonamassa Blues of Desperation and Jeff Healey - Heal my Soul

Joe Bonamassa - Blues of Desperation

I ordered this a day or so before the gig previously reviewed.  It arrived a few days after.  So I'd heard some of the tunes at the gig before hearing them on the recorded version.  Overall a terrific album, possibly his best yet, in terms of performance, song writing, sound and energy.  The album kicks off with uptempo blues rocker This Train and then into one of the albums highlights the Zep like riff laden Mountain Climbing.  These set the scene for the early part of the album - tight superbly executed blues rock.  The tone of all instruments is to die for frankly Kevin Shirley is undoubtedly one of the best producers around in terms of getting a band to all individually sound superb.

Drive the pre-release single is a slower more Chris Rea/Mark Knopfler sounding gentle sound with some great percussion playing.  No place for the lonely is another highlight tipping it's hat strongly in the direction of Gary Moore for me.   What I've Known for a Very Long Time is the closer and is a superb tribute to the late great BB King, I'm presuming that it was with the lyrical guitar intro the slow swing blues beat and super brass section stabs it sounds just like the BB of the 70s to me.  I'd also say this album has the best studio recorded singing from JB I've ever heard frankly.

Overall a really great album that hardened fans like me will lap up.  Will it find new fans?  It might do as some of the songs whilst in the Bonamassa style do push into new areas of the genre that he's not been renowned for playing before.  I believe it has hit new sales records for a JB release already so maybe some new fans out there are picking up on it.

My only downpoint was somewhere about 75% in there seem to be one or two tracks notable The Valley Runs Low which whilst a good song doesn't seem to sit perfectly in this collection.

Jeff Healey - Heal My Soul

First album in 15 years from Jeff, I've seen it billed like that believe it or not.  Given sadly Jeff passed away in 2008 that's hardly a surprise then!  His estate have managed to find a collection of unfinished and unreleased tracks that they have been able to polish up.  This all sounds like one of those "Oh boy, maybe they shouldn't have released all of that?" type scenario... remember some of those posthumous releases featuring Jimi Hendrix in the 70s?  Anyway this selection of songs doesn't fit into that mould at all.  This is frankly a stonking set of songs and I really pleased they've seen the light of day.

We kick off with Daze of the Night - this is Jeff at his incendiary best, heavy blues rock in the tradition of Cream et al.  His Strat is being played within an inch of it's life it seems throughout!  Overall the collection here is more heavy blues rock like this with some more AOR radio friendly stuff like Kiss The Ground You Walk On.

If you ever liked Jeff check this out - if you've never heard of him but any mention of Rory Gallagher makes you go gooey eyed then... check this out for the rockers!

Monday, 21 March 2016

Gig Review - Joe Bonamassa Birmingham 19 Mar 2016

I had a great weekend on a flying visit to my son in Birmingham.  The reason for this was to get to a gig by Joe Bonamassa who was playing a short tour of the UK, basically he needed to come back to fulfil a commitment on a gig cancelled on the last tour so added in a couple of other dates including Birmingham.  Firstly I've never been to the Barclaycard Arena - which was the old NIA but in the world of corporate sponsorship had a makeover a couple of years back and a name change.  Joe was quiet funny making reference to this during the gig ;-)  The venue was good though, efficient staff, clean, etc.  My son had been there for a Slipknot gig and was saying he was worried it would be too big for JB but said "The seating plan when I bough the tickets though indicated a completely different layout."  It was cleverly done.  They moved the stage to end so that essentially it was turned into a semi-circular amphitheatre of about 4,000 capacity.  It worked well for JB.

To the music - well simply flawless!  With a 5 piece band (drums, bass, keyboards, trumpet and sax) they were as tight as ever and responsive to Joe's dynamics.  He arrived on stage pretty much on the advertised 8pm start time and we were off.  Given I didn't recognise several of the early numbers I've assuming they are off his new album which is released later this week.  We rattled along though with the odd "Thank you" from Joe between numbers but it was a long way into the set before he said a formal "Hello".  That wasn't that long and then bang into another quick fire set.  All too soon it was 10:15 and he was off stage then back on for a two song encore and we were filing out feeling completely sated.  He is simply the best blues/rock guitarist on the planet currently (in my humble opinion) and a great showman of the old style - i.e. I'll sling on a guitar and play/sing my heart out for you but no theatrics or mad showmanship just impeccable musicianship.

Soundwise the front of house sound was really good, however my Tinnitus is still bad guys but it was a couple of hours welcome distraction from that. Yes I wore earplugs throughout to anyone with any concern but frankly the damage is long done!  He played through a variety of tweed Fender amps, four in regular use throughout.  This is a completely different rig to what I've seen him play through before which was the Marshall 25th anniversary head and custom Two-Rock heads with large cabs before.  The difference was a more compressed sound, more SRV than Gary Moore and actually much closer to his studio sound in my opinion.   Guitarwise we had a procession of drop dead gorgeous Les Pauls - I presume custom shop models not his actual late 50s ones, although I saw Gary Moore regularly in the day with a house worth of guitar around his neck so maybe.  In the les Paul area the odd Bonnabird (LP body with Firebird neck) got an outing.  However he used a couple of Strats to excellent effect giving a very different sonic feel - the burgundy rosewood fingerboard one he opened the set with was a beauty!  Also a couple or ES 300s came out an ES355 for a very BB King inspired few moments and a sunburst ES335.  His Korina 50s style Vee also featured for a few numbers in the set too.  Highlights - too many to mention but see below and Ballard of John Henry was just stonking as was his signature piece Sloe Gin.

Terrific gig

Here is one of the new tracks off the new Blues Despersation album and one of the highlights from Saturday live with the line up we saw Saturday - enjoy...


Monday, 22 February 2016

Gig Review - City And Colour Brighton 18th Feb 2016

Mrs F, Daughter-of-Furtheron and your truly went to see City and Colour down at the seaside last week.  This was mostly a Daughter-of-Furtheron driven gig as she's been a big Dallas Green fan since he set out on his solo material.  I remember sticking my head into her room some years back and said "Who is this?  I like it."  She explained who Dallas was, I knew of Alexisonfire and therefore I wasn't expecting this acoustic alt country/folk singer/songwriter stuff.  Since then we've both been fans.  Interestingly my daughter prefers his earlier stuff and I've been the one buying the last three recent albums.  As he has grown the City and Colour thing has become more a band setting live and in the studio and he has grown from the alt.country/folk roots to more alt.indy soft rock.

So the band kicked off with Woman the opener from the latest album If I Should Go Before You.  Now there is a stunning opener - it builds and roars and soars and Dallas voice holds you in both it's authority and vulnerability.  Honestly I think the guy is blessed with one of the greatest voices on the planet in that he has this stunning vulnerability without it losing it's place in the music at all and holding a certain authority that allows him to portray his own brand of melancholy that run through much of his material.

Much of the set was from the latest album but he also did delve back into his back catalogue and the further you went back through Little Hell and further there was a significant difference in the songs.  Dallas has re-imaged the songs from the earlier catalogue around the latest band structure, strengths and sounds so they sounded bigger, broader and more band orientated.  All totally in a great way - I thought it a highlight of how those songs were re-imagined.

For the encore Dallas reappeared with acoustic guitar on his own and we were back into his country/folk roots before the band returned for a stunning closing on one of my favourite tracks of his "Hope for Now" from Little Hell and if you know that track you'll know when the band crashed in soaring with distorted guitars, drums, bass etc. rising and rising a crescendo and slow let down.

Brilliant Brilliant gig.   Dallas voice is actually better live than on record - how is that possible?!

First time any of us had been to the venue, Brighton Dome, which was very good and whilst I didn't see any issues my wife said the security did efficiently and speedily deal with some issues in the stand crowd beneath us.  I'd recommend the circle seats there as we had a great view.  However driving into Brighton was a nightmare, it's been some years since I've driven there and frankly the road changes to give buses priority have made it a disaster.

The one whole downer was my tinnitus being a hassle throughout the day and the gig.  I wore earplugs throughout which helped so at least the music was rarely painful but I can't deny it did interfere as it so often does now.

I should give a shout out too to Lucy Rose who was the superb support artist.  Not someone I've ever heard before but she has a good style and sound and great songwriting.  Finally the audience should be applauded also for especially during Lucy's set being incredibly respectful.  Too often I've been at gigs where everyone seems more intent on holding conversations that could wait for the journey home or the bar at the interval.  However Lucy played Shiver which is very quiet piece in places - you could hear a pin drop as the audience respected the performance - well done Brighton I salute you.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Book Review - The King's Assassin Angus Donald

The latest instalment on the journey of Sir Alan Dale.  Angus has throughout this series clever woven the legend and myth that is Robin Hood and his merry men into the true events during the late 12th and early 13th century.

In this latest instalment we find Sir Alan returned from the siege at Ch√Ęteau Gaillard even more despondent with King John than ever.  He has good reason given what he witnessed in the previous instalment and of course with Sir Alan having been a one-time great friend and co-composer of legendary songs with King Richard the Lionheart King John will never meet up to his expectations.  But he returns to find his lands taxed beyond what he can afford and the latest Sheriff of Nottingham determined to extract as much from the area as possible.

Against this background whilst supporting the King's latest attempts to reclaim lost territory in France which comes to eventual failure at the Battle of Bouvines Alan foolishly agrees to help some of the angry barons rid the kingdom once and for all of King John.   Needless to say history dictates that Alan fails but then Angus weaves Robin Hood into the story of the signing of one of the most important documents in the history of England, the Magna Carta.

I like this series despite the odd historical inaccuracy here and there for dramatic effect they are great readable historical thrillers with plenty of guts and gore and intrigue.  Indeed whilst I part guessed one guilty party in the intrigues the other I only realised late in the day so suspense was maintained for me through a lot of the book.  We are promised one more outing with Sir Alan and Robin Hood in the last of the series soon.  I certainly will look forward to it.

Definitely a two thumbs up in the FITUBRS*

* Furtheron International 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

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

NAMM 2016 - Vox Starstream

I spent an evening or two looking over the various videos on Youtube from NAMM 2016 to see what new stuff had been launched.  Sadly to say that it was a lot of "same old, same old".  Fender have new Elite versions - which are a revamped deluxe... yes nice but... still a Strat still a Tele...  Gibson seem keen to go on about their heritage and all that... hmm whilst the new nut and tuners are about you'll see most models have two versions one with the new gizmos and one without and traditional nut and tuners etc.  Also the huge discounts I've seen on 2015 models online recently makes you think good old Orville and Co realised that they'd pushed the envelope a bit too far for many of their buyers.

Yamaha - some new acoustics that are based on the old... etc. etc.  You get the picture.

However here was the shining light frankly.  Vox have come and go in the guitar market since their pioneering 60s models.  I remember some in the 70s/80s with Dimarzio pickups.  About 5 years ago a really innovative range of semi acoustics looked like they may get somewhere, they had some really innovative pickups.  However that range quietly disappeared  - see my comments above we guitarists are a terribly conservative bunch.  Look at my collection... Les Paul, Les Paul a like from Gordon Smith, Strat, Strat, Strat with humbuckers, Tele... etc.

What Vox have done is launched the biggest competition to the Line6 guitar range ever.  A modelling guitar with various models available.  Styling maybe too radical for many but the sounds are impressive.  Here's a demo video from Vox.  I've seen street (online) prices at under £600....  The synth sounds add another dimension too...