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