Apr 172015

Trouble With The Blues is the fourth album from the Gerry Jablonski Band. It’s a classic compendium racing up and down the full spectrum of The Blues, and it’s absolutely cracking. Suzanne Kelly stops listening to it long enough to review.

Trouble With The Blues CoverThe Gerry Jablonski Band has come up with their best album yet, although it’s not as if they’ve released any flawed albums before. Twist of Fate, their last album was rightly well received.

But on Trouble With The Blues, the high production values, writing, playing, solos and vocals have reached new, highly-gelled heights. My first initial reaction is that I must see them do this material live as soon as possible.

The lyrics run from playful, for example in ‘The Curse’, to heartbreakingly raw and painful.

This emotion comes in no small measure from the sad passing of the band’s long-standing percussionist Dave Innes, who tragically passed away one year ago after illness. The last piece, ‘I Confess’ puts me in mind of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy which painfully questions existence; if you hear the song, you’ll perhaps take my meaning.

In ‘I Confess’, the lyrics are initially filled with sorrow:

“I never felt this way before until my friend passed away”

– as direct and crushing as a lyric can get. As it reaches a crescendo, the lyrics increasingly expose more raw pain, self-contempt and anger mirrored in the poignant vocals. All the while the guitar grows correspondingly louder and more insistent.

It’s cathartic for anyone who’s had such a loss; such a person will identify with this song and likewise be moved. It’s incredibly honest, as is ‘Anybody.’

‘Anybody’ is also a mournful, classic blues. Clapton would have been happy to have come up with this song. The instrumentals are minimal, while Jablonski sings

“I’m only human after all.  I’ve been through my changes; don’t know which way to turn.  All my friends are doing fine.  So somebody, could be anybody, take me to the light.”

Jablonski - Credit - Peter Narojczyk (1)People are going to be singing along to this when they hear it live, I guarantee it. The only thing I’d say is that this sweet song is one I could imagine with a gospel choir on the chorus towards the end; i.e. the ‘Under The Bridge’ effect if you will. But other than that suggestion, I’ve no fault to find with this accomplished album.

Jablonski’s voice has never been in better form; the guitar work, and especially the guitar solos have also taken things up a notch. The title track ‘Trouble with the Blues’ has a scorcher of a solo, for instance.

But this album is a group effort, a team production. The entire band shares the song writing credits. There are polished bass lines and funky bass solos: ‘Trouble With The Blues’ has a great solo. Once again Peter Peter Narojczyk’s harmonica work is versatile, polished, expressive; Jerry Portnoy would approve. Lewis Fraser is now on the drums. He’s done a brilliant piece of work on this album. Mr Innes would approve.

I’ve dwelt on two melancholy, soul-baring tracks so far; but ultimately this album is celebratory.  ‘Lady & I’ is upbeat and sassy; ‘The Curse’ is great fun.  Then again so is ‘Fork Fed Dog’ – down, dirty, fun. I can imagine sets opening with this high-voltage track. It’s a tremendous track and I look forward to experiencing it live. ‘Big Bad World’ is a nice sharp bit of social commentary and a good showplace for Narojczyk, with a short but sharp Jablonski solo.

Live dates are indeed coming; for more information on this album and where to catch the Gerry Jablonski band, see the website here:  www.gerryjablonskiband.com . I also understand that a video is forthcoming, shot at least in part in Aberdeen’s D-Range recording studio.

Jablonski - Credit - Peter Narojczyk (3)There is a great deal of debate in Aberdeen now about what is or is not culture, and what Aberdeen’s greatest cultural assets are. This album is as strong a hint as you can possibly get on that score.

This is not a piece of work to listen to once and forget; it will be going on your iPod and going where you go.

Having seen their Facebook updates during the project, and how happy they were to be at Abbey Road, I must say I’m very happy they’ve come out with such a strong, varied, memorable work. Nice work, gentlemen.

Dec 112014

Peter Gabriel by Julie Thompson (2)Review and photographs by Julie Thompson.

I’m sure all those of use over a certain age have memories of Peter Gabriel, either from when he was part of Genesis or maybe because of that iconic ‘Sledgehammer’ video. A frosty Monday evening at the AECC brought around 4,600 people along with Peter and the original ‘So’ tour band, reunited again as part of the ‘Back to Front’ tour.

Peter came on stage to loud applause and introduced Swedes, Jennie Abrahamson (vocals & xylophone) & Linnea Olsson (vocals & cello).

These two have teamed up to as show openers on the North America and European legs of the tour, and also later provide backing vocals to the main show when the original support, Ane Brun, fell ill and had to withdraw. Jennie’s is the female voice we will later hear in ‘Don’t Give Up’.

As Peter explains, the show is served up like a meal of three courses. The starter course is an acoustic set of 4 songs, the first song, a new unfinished piece, involves just Peter on grand piano, Linnea on cello and David Levin on bass. By song four the whole band has been introduced and is on stage. The initial 3 songs are “performed with house lights up, like a rehearsal session” as explained by Peter. Part way through song 4 the lights go out and the show really kicks off.

Moving into the main course, we are treated to a monochromatic trip through the past, with various songs selected from his back catalogue.

On stage are several giant light booms, like oversized angle poise lamps, wheeled about by black clothed masked men. There are numerous small cameras – on the drum kit, on the microphones, on the boom lights, on poles extended by film crew – all beaming a very intimate and close up view of the band to the giant side screens.

The footage is cut live between cameras, with each song having a different effect applied – digitalisation, wire frame figures, slow motion superimposed on real time, psychedelic effects, white noise patterns – there is so much going on it is almost too much to watch. Totally immersive.

The boom lights join in the dance on stage, at one point Peter is interacting with one – they were used as mobile spotlights, emphasising the song ‘No Self Control’ and making the singer seem so alone up there, looking upwards almost as if he were pleading for help.

Peter Gabriel by Julie Thompson (3)There were lighter moments though, with ‘Solsbury Hill’ bringing out the playful side – which led to skipping with his playmates, Tony Levin & David Rhodes.

Part three of the show, the dessert, was what the tour was about – his best-selling album ‘So’.
We have indeed gone back to front – with some new songs at the start, and a middle section all leading back to this – the high point of his solo career.

‘So’ spawned 5 singles – who can forget ‘Sledgehammer’, ‘Big Time’ or the duet he performed with Kate Bush, ‘Don’t Give Up’? Amongst the lightness though, this album had some very dark themes – Unemployment in ‘Don’t Give Up’, the almost Orwellian dictat of ‘We Do What We’re Told’ – the words coming from those subjected to the Milgram experiments on obedience.

The boom lighting was arranged along the front of the stage to give an appearance of a cage, with vertical white bars of light, the band and masked boom operators all standing straight behind them, chanting the lines at the end.

The lighting changed from the stark black & whites during this third segment, with colour being introduced, opener ‘Red Rain’ being performed in a maelstrom of reds and orange. ‘Big Time’ was an almost drug induced psychedelic nightmare of clashing colours, reflecting the theme of becoming famous and rich and the temptations that often come hand in hand with it.

‘Mercy Street’, a song about the emotional issues of poet Anne Sexton, was performed almost entirely via camera to the big screens, boom lights giving out UV light overhead. Peter was on his back inside a big bulls-eye on the stage, writhing in and out of the foetal position, cameras above giving full body shots, and to the side on a pole giving close-ups. It was so unusual and strangely disturbing and intimate. It left the venue in undisturbed silence as it ended.

Jennie Abrahamson and Linnea Olsson by Julie Thompson

Jennie Abrahamson and Linnea Olsson – Credit: Julie Thompson

Most moving to me though, was ‘Don’t Give Up’ – the female role beautifully performed by Jennie.

It was a theatrical performance, Peter standing forlornly to one side while Jennie tries to give comfort and reassurance.

Her vocal range was perfect, not a note off from Kate’s wonderful rendition. Peter still has that distinctive quality in his voice that he had all those years ago, despite looking so very different these days – as he said of himself and Tony Levin, “we both had hair then.”

‘So’; 28 years old and sadly much of it is still relevant. A great show and one I am glad I got to witness.

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Oct 032014

Spear of Destiny is going to be in Aberdeen at The Moorings venue next Saturday, 11th of October.

SpeardestinypicKirk Brandon has now been leading SPEAR OF DESTINY for over 30 years. 2014 sees the release of the band’s 13th studio album ’31’ (Thirty-One).

These brand new recordings will be released on vinyl, CD and digital via kirkbrandon.com, Code7 Distribution and The Orchard Digital Platform.

To coincide with the new album’s release on September 15th, an extensive UK tour commenced on September 18th and concludes on October 19th.

Fresh from being described by NME.com as a Brilliant 80s Band, Kirk appeared on Jools Holland’s BBC Radio 2 show on Monday 22nd September where he played three of his favourite tracks, premiering two tracks from ’31′ and joining Jools’s band to cover a very special song.

Jools accurately described ’31’ (Thirty-One) as ‘possibly [Spear of Destiny’s] best album in 20 years’.

Sep 262014

Spear of Destiny haven’t let up these past 31 years. Released last week, XXXI/ Thirty One is their first studio album in six years. And they’ll be appearing at the Moorings soon. Suzanne Kelly reviews.

Spear of Destiny xxxi‘XXXI / Thirty one’ was pre-released to fans, and is out to the rest of the world now; details here http://www.kirkbrandon.com/ where you’ll also find a montage of the new material to listen to.

Jools Holland called it ‘possibly [Spear of Destiny’s] best album in 20 years’.

Holland is right. XXXI marks another major milestone in SoD’s continuing voyage.

Spear of Destiny are Kirk Brandon (voice, guitar), Craig Adams (bass, vocals), Adrian Portas (guitars), Mike Kelly (percussion), and Steve Allan-Jones (keyboards).

The music is beautifully written, arranged and recorded; the diversity of the material is striking. XXXI offers epic guitar and vocals as fans would expect. It’s a journey through rockabilly, melancholic dirge, ‘60s retro, uplifting anthems and still each work is instantly, unmistakably identifiable as Spear of Destiny at its finest.

When the album was being recorded, Brandon wrote on his website:

“…it promises to be a more up-tempo record than most in recent years, which can only be a good thing I think. A bit of a kick to it!” 

Here Comes The Sun is perhaps the most positive and affirming track in this collection.

Equally infectious, equally powerful is the haunting, melancholic Sputnik, which was the first track released to those who pre-ordered the album. This builds from a minimalist start featuring electronica echoing what a satellite might sound like in the depths of space to a rich crescendo. Spear’s trademarks are the blistering layers of Portas’ and Brandon’s guitars supported by Kelly’s drums and Adam’s bass, these two tracks exemplify those traits so loved by the fans.

The diversity of this collection is something to marvel at; particularly when a Marvel Comic anti-hero/villain Titanium Man is brought to life. To those of us of a certain age who remember the animated television Marvel comics Iron Man and Spider Man and their theme music, this song could have been written at the time; its 1960s/70s retro feel belongs to a golden age of comics on television.

If Marvel is planning to revive the Russian Titanium Man in one of their upcoming films in the wake of renewed East-West tensions, SoD is in pole position with this track. But it’s not quite as fun as it seems at first hearing; the music is positively fun; but in the lyrics dark roots appear.

An early album review comes from Louder than War; it’s an appropriately enthusiastic thumbs up. It aptly describes the song ‘Australian Love Song’ as ‘a rockabilly trip-out that sounds like a piss take/homage to Nick Cave’. It certainly nods to Cave’s landmark ‘Murder Ballads’ album.

Thirty one years together makes for flawless instrumentals, a unique sound, and some remarkable riffs and harmonies. The layers of vocal and guitars is transporting throughout, though notably in Here Comes The Sun, and the solo in Sputnik. Here Comes The Sun begs to be released as a single; Fascinations offers scathing social critique as it describes bullemia and other ills.

Hurry Home (which features ethereal, plaintive vocals from Heidi Berry) is a worthy addition to the band’s anti-war arsenal

Falling Down is remarkably sad (‘this is the sorry state of our lives’), angry (‘smiling idiots only want to take it away from you’), and harsh (‘the sunlight’s a happy place / but I guess you wouldn’t know’).

The instrumental section of this piece is likewise equally remorseful.

It opens with a single guitar rising and falling at the chorus (‘you could be anything in this life / but you chose every time falling down’), and after the angry part subsides, it fades away in the word ‘delusion’ sung over and over again as if in some tranquilised haze of thought. Between this and Here Comes The Sun is an entire spectrum of emotions.

Write On:

If there is any fault to be found in this latest release, it’s that the lyrics aren’t supplied in the CD; it would be good to have them laid out. As Brandon advises:

“This marks a very big moment for Spear and for myself; it marks a return to the writing process… and the writing deserves as much consideration as the instrumentals at least”

Hurry Home (which features ethereal, plaintive vocals from Heidi Berry) is a worthy addition to the band’s anti-war arsenal. In simplest terms, Hurry Home presents us with a soldier who’s not going to make it. It immediately opens with mournful guitar, and then the vocals. While all the tracks’ lyrics demand attention, these lyrics are particularly worth delving into. Brandon’s written:

“They’ll be no reveille in the morn
They’re be no sleep tonight
We haven’t talked on the phone
I ain’t lonely, but this breeze is”

The word ‘reveille’ puts us in the barracks; the sleeplessness implies worry and the unstated cause of this worry foreshadows a tragic end. The soldier’s denial of loneliness is a very lonely, heartbroken depiction of bravado.

It continues:

“Blue on blue
Shot in the back
I understand”

Thinking on this seemingly simple passage for any length of time raises several questions. Is Brandon meaning our soldier was literally shot in the back, or is there an implied dig at the UK’s military?

Could this be a reference to the military continuously betraying troops by sending them on missions without the right equipment and protection, or by sending them on futile life-risking missions (the unfinished Helmand electricity project having just been criticised in the news this week)?

Is the ‘blue on blue’ line echoing the many occasions on which troops have been killed by people who infiltrated the Afghan police and armed forces only to turn on their former comrades to kill them when their guard is down?

This line isn’t likely to have been written without some meaning intended. When Brandon writes ‘I understand’ does he simply mean he believes the soldier was shot in the back – or is Brandon saying he knows what it’s like to be metaphorically shot in the back? In ten, plain, short words Kirk Brandon gives you some fairly large questions to think on – it’s a master class in poetic economy which layers several ideas in a condensed verse.

And if you’re not delving deeply into what ideas may be hidden here, then the last unambiguous lines close the story:

“No last hurrah for you
Just a stone in Arlington”

As poignant and political as Hurry Home is, Titanium Man is as playful (well, on the surface at first hearing anyway). Cry Baby Cemetery is laced with menace and Americana; a synthesizer mimics a rattlesnake as it opens, putting the listener on a dark lonely Louisiana highway at night before the song is halfway started. There really is something for everyone on this album.

The Album Live

Live music trumps studio work and always will. There are acts who put out simplistic but highly produced studio albums but who can’t get cleanly through a single song live (don’t mention the Cardigans… oops).

There are acts like the Grateful Dead which, love or loathe them, created studio albums more often than not as an afterthought to the unpredictable, whirlwind live shows built around remarkable impromptu improvisations which frenzied fans adored. And then again, there are acts which do great work in the studio and equally great if not greater live renditions, like SoD.

They proved this at the Bisley Underworld Festival as the album was launched; the new material was as equally well performed and well received as their cornerstone works such as Take Me Alive. There was also a well thought out, apt cover of Babylon’s Burning, perfect for this punk festival. Cover songs do have a time and a place* (see footnote).

Kirk & Jools

Brandon appeared on Jools Holland promoting the album last week; discussing his music, early life and influences. His choice of material played / performed in the show earns him triple points:

Robert Johnson – Love In Vain
Led Zeppelin – The Lemon Song* (see footnote)
Free Walk In My Shadow
Clash Complete Control

From the new album Holland’s show included:

SoD XXXI – Fascinations
Sod XXXI – Sputnik

Brandon and Holland’s live version of Free’s Walk In My Shadow was high voltage, good fun, and just a bit dirty. You can still access a clip from the show; catch it here.

Brandon’s rendition of Paul Rodger’s vocals were splendid (note – Paul Rodgers will perform at the Royal Albert Hall in early November to benefit Aberdeenshire’s Willows Animal Sanctuary. He and his likewise animal loving wife Cynthia are patrons of Willows. Also on that bill is the Deborah Bonham band; she has likewise donated generously to Willows and is a fellow animal lover).

Back to Brandon’s website where he’s also written:

“These are exciting times… See you on the album release tour in September! I for one cannot wait.”

The wait’s over, and if you make it to the Moorings, or one of the album playback dates (there’s a show near Glasgow on the 12th), you’ll be glad you did.

A Date With Destiny

Experience Spear at the Moorings; they return on Saturday 11 October (do hurry if you expect to get a ticket).

* Compare and Contrast – A Footnote

When Spear of Destiny performed at the Moorings last year, Miley Cyrus had just released something called ‘Wrecking ball’, which involved her straddling said wrecking ball without benefit of protective clothing, or actually any clothing at all (I’m sure it was essential for the creativity of the artist, for expressing individuality, etc. etc).

In that same year that Spear, ToH and Brandon toured and created this remarkable new album, Cyrus has brought us ‘twerking’, taken her clothes off, and has just slaughtered Zeppelin’s ‘Babe I’m Going to Leave You’. We are inexplicably in a world where the latter earns more money than the former. Then again, people will be listening to XXXI decades after anyone wants to see Miley with or without clothes.

A performer (or a stripper with a famous line dancing relative) just can’t buy an ability to write, to perform, to sing (please do not listen to the live Cyrus version of ‘Babe’ – it will stay with you for a long time for all the wrong reasons), however much money they and their team have. Apparently you can’t even get competent advisors however much money you have.

La Cyrus has explained she committed this crime to bring Led Zeppelin to a new generation. Don’t know where she’s been, but Zeppelin is deservedly everywhere. Cover songs do have their place and time; this slaughter of a classic will send banshees screaming into the night in terror. In fact people on Facebook are reporting that when she starts screaming frightened pets are hiding under beds and trembling.

It occurs to me that Van Gogh never sold a painting in his lifetime. Perhaps he should have taken his kit off. Thankfully, this particular cover version shall pass, if not soon enough.

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Mar 182014

Deborah Bonham launches her new album, Spirit, with some Scottish dates.  A supporter of Aberdeenshire’s Willows Animal Sanctuary and lifelong animal lover, Deborah has dates in Dumfries (Friday 21 March   http://www.thevenuedumfries.co.uk) and Kinross (Saturday 22 March http://www.mundellmusic.com/). With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

deborah bonham pic 1

The spirit in the songs and music of Deborah Bonham draws on the hurt, pain, joy and anger that come with life for all of us. Negatives are decanted as positivity, from mistakes comes learning.

From that spirit comes the determination to always push forward and celebrate life, sharing experiences with her audience.

As she sings in the opening salvo from the album: “Pain is going away, it’s gonna stop today. I’m gonna fly”.  So there could be only one title for the new album: ‘SPIRIT’

But Deborah also has soul.  It’s the soul that comes from her deep love and understanding of so many musical greats – Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, Lowell George and many more – all of whom are artists who surrounded themselves with great musicians who had that same ‘feel’.

And so it is with Deborah’s band. It’s also their instinctive affinity with the words being sung and how they absorb her emotions; sometimes soft, sometimes fierce.

Recorded at a highly charged, personally emotional time in Chichester UK and Nashville USA, Deborah instinctively channeled all that was going on in her life into the sessions, which she co-produced with Glenn Skinner (Deborah Harry, Killing Joke), who also manned the desk for her last album, ‘Duchess’.

On Drums is Marco Giovino (Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, John Cale, Norah Jones).

Marco flew in especially from Nashville to record the drums in a Chapel local to Deborah and she then joined him in Nashville to finish the recording and mix with Mike Poole (Band of Joy, Rickie Lee Jones) and master with Jim DeMain (Michael McDonald, John Hiatt).

Pedal steel supremo B.J.Cole also guests together with a special guest appearance from Robert Plant on harmonica, whilst the remainder of the musicians are her long-time, forceful working band – including bassist Ian Rowley, keyboardist Gerard Louis, and guitarist Peter Bullick.

Embracing more than ever before the bands’ rootsy-Americana influences of the likes of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and Little Feat, ‘Spirit’ seamlessly travels through Deborah’s songbook of original compositions, alongside two co-written with John Hogg (Moke, Hookah Brown – with the Black Crowes’ Rich Robinson) and ‘Painbirds’, written by the late Mark Linkous and originally recorded by Sparklehorse for their debut album.

In the same way that Hendrix made Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’ his own and as did Joe Cocker with The Beatles’ ‘A Little Help From My Friends’, Deborah Bonham and band firmly stamp their identity on this stunningly powerful song.

Elsewhere on the album, mandolin, cello and dobro weave throughout ‘Fly’ (co-written with John Hogg and Simon Sessler) and the irresistible ‘Take Me Down’ the first single to be released and a ReverbNation Rock Chart Number One – twice – which is perhaps reminiscent of The Eagles’ ‘Take It Easy’ but more intriguingly, uses a recurring lyrical theme in Deborah’s work – that of the mercurial nature of the rivers and the seas, to heal or devour.

Throughout, Deborah’s sympathetic band sear, coax, blend, sweeten, compliment, rock and groove

The Cajun stomp of ‘What It Feels’ builds on Marco Giovino’s percussive box of tricks, giving way to a harmonica solo from Robert Plant, that delivers  in the most concise way and not heard perhaps since Led Zeppelin’s ‘Custard Pie’.

The Byrds-esque ‘I Won’t Let You Down’ follows before a sultry, hot n sticky atmosphere permeates ‘Good Times’ and there are echoes of Christine McVie and Bonnie Bramlett sweetly lingering in Deborah’s delivery of  album closer, ‘Lay Me Down’.

Perhaps the most tellingly autobiographical song is ‘Spirit In Me’. If there is a defining song of this albums’ genesis and attitude, then this is it – lovingly dressed with B.J Cole’s sympathetic, yet playful pedal steel performance.

Throughout, Deborah’s sympathetic band sear, coax, blend, sweeten, compliment, rock and groove, proving (if proof be needed) why Paul Rodgers would have them as his band of choice for recent shows drawn entirely from his catalogue of legendary songs by Free.

This Deborah Bonham ‘live’ band also includes drummer Rich Newman (Sam Brown, Steve Marriott, Rory Gallagher) and the band have showcased several of the new songs in recent months, including the show-stopping, classic Bonham blues rock ballad, ‘I Need Love’ at Festivals and shows in the UK and Europe: The Great British Rock & Blues Festival, the massive Harley-Davidson European H.O.G. Rallies in France, Austria and Portugal and The Great British Folk Festival, where, even in the bands’ stripped-down acoustic format, the songs connected with the audience.

And why? Because they all see and feel the SPIRIT.


Feb 142014

KIRK_2014_Akoustik_imageKirk Brandon will be appearing in Aberdeen on Sunday 9th of March as part of his aKoustiK nights 2014 tour. With thanks to Hen Beverly.

Kirk Brandon is the voice of Spear of Destiny, Theatre of Hate and Dead Men Walking. With over 15 studio albums and countless single releases, his career now spans well over 30 years.

He has enjoyed worldwide success with all three of the above bands and is also a leader in every punk rock poll by being the singer and songwriter in The Pack.

Over the last 8 years, Kirk has released five solo acoustic studio albums (the Dutch Masters series) that have pulled tracks from all eras of his career, these albums have featured many of the people he has worked with and collaborated with over the years including Derek Forbes, Slim Jim Phantom & Clint Boon.

The latest of these solo acoustic albums entitled Dutch Masters Volume Five has become, in it’s first year of release, the best seller in the series.

DM5 features two outstanding Theatre of Hate interpretations, a James Bond theme and a Country & Western cover of a Ry Cooder tune.

Kirk has spent his Christmas break preparing a brand new solo show for 2014, even some of his best known tracks (Never Take Me Alive, Do You Believe In The Westworld? & Young Men) have been dusted off and given a given a good spruce up.

The aKoustiK nights 2014 tour kicks off in Brighton on February 20th and ends in at the beautiful Hermon Chapel in Oswestry on March 15th.

Joining Kirk on all these dates will be long time friend Dave Sharp. Dave, best known as guitarist, songwriter and sometime vocalist of The Alarm, will be show -casing a selection of songs that cover his thirty plus year career.

 “Kirk Brandon is one of the UK’s most underrated songwriters and ‘Omega Point’ is a fine addition to his arsenal of epic albums” – Vive le Rock! Magazine.

 “Kirk Brandon is on of the UK’s best kept secrets” – Mojo

 “@kirkbrandon is one of our greatest musical geniuses” – BBC’s Jeremy Vine

“Spear of Destiny are criminally underrated and are one of Britain’s best, Boys Own, punch the air, grandiose Rock’nRoll bands” – John Robb’s Louder Than War

 “Brandon’s vocal is fuller, it is more powerful, it is more tuneful. But what impresses me more is his total clarity; not only vocally but his overall performance – he lives, breathes, screams, shakes these songs out of his body. At times he appears to be in the throws of an exorcism, bent double and shuddering rhythmically” – gettotthefront.co.uk



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Jan 242013

After many years in the music industry as a lead guitarist and side man, acclaimed UK rock musician Nigel Bennett released his debut solo album, Truth Or Consequences, on October 23, 2012 (Zip Records) in North America. The CD will be released in Europe in January 2013. Suzanne Kelly gets talking to Nigel about his new CD, touring, talent shows – and Donald Trump.

Bennett, lead guitarist for the British punk band The Vibrators, is taking centre stage as he flexes his musical virtuosity as a solo performer and front man. Truth Or Consequences features 13 tracks that highlight Bennett’s appreciation for styles ranging from country-tinged melodies to hard rock instrumentals to reggae.

Pat Collier produced the album (Primal Scream, Robyn Hitchcock, The Vibrators). During Bennett’s reputable musical career, he has performed with and written a hit single for The Members (“Radio”) and toured with Julian Lennon.

In the heady days of the late 1970s, punk bands formed, changed personnel, and split up with ferocious frequency. Nigel Bennett started in the Punk scene as guitarist for the Members; more recently he toured with The Vibrators (on guitar in place of Knox, who has semi-retired).

We start by discussing his first solo album. Nigel tells me the album title ‘Truth or Consequences’ comes from one of the many long US tours he’s been on.  Passing through the mid-West, the band drives past a sign for a town called ‘Truth or Consequences’ – he is intrigued. Apparently, the entire town voted to change its name to reflect the title of a popular television game show.  Only in America.

The album has many influences, but there is a small touch of punk throughout most of it, whether in rockabilly/western/punk track Rubidoux, or in the lyrics of ‘Another Day’ – a break up song which is sad, but still lyrically a touch sarcastic and humorous, too. ‘The Edge’ is very much an American western instrumental; it is followed by ‘Breezy,’ a track which puts me in mind of classic American bands; it makes me think of acts from The Eagles to The Grateful Dead. Nigel tells me he likes all forms of music – anything that is performed well.

We talk about punk past and present. Nigel tells me:-

“For me Punk came from a time when there were very angry young people.  (He mentions the strikes and the political problems).  There are punks that reunite at ‘Rebellion’ [an annual music festival], but I don’t even know what a punk is any more…  Does it mean you have a particular haircut and a pin in your nose?  I think it’s an attitude.  In The Members everyone was welcome whatever they wore.  Punk was not a uniform.”

We discuss how the music was made in no small part by the turbulent times, and we talk about music today. Simon Cowell and today’s pop inevitably come to the surface. We wonder whether the proliferation of television talent shows hasn’t made people more interested in fame than in honing their musical skills.

“The thing is, people like virtuosity – human beings love to see another human doing something extraordinarily well, whether in music or like in the gymnastics in the last Olympics. To see someone playing brilliantly – I can’t get enough of that. There doesn’t seem to be as much of that now as there was in the past. 

“Muse is good. One of the things I liked about the Who was those big, fat power chords they had – I remember sitting back as a kid and thinking ‘oh my god’ and then these chords were used by punk bands. Punk was terribly anti-establishment.  I’d love to be rich any day, but to be famous – I don’t envy anyone who is famous.” 

He asks me what’s going on in Aberdeen and in Scotland. An hour later, after I’ve told him the basics, he tells me of his paternal Scottish roots which are important to him (but he has no desire to open any golf courses). And what does he make of Donald Trump?

“He is as ridiculous as that toupee of his, and it’s a shame he’s been allowed to just take over.  I love Scotland; there are such friendly people, even if it’s always freezing cold when I’m there. ”

Nigel’s new album may well displease punk purists; it can be difficult for some artists to move between genres.

We discuss the example of the violent reaction Jello Biafra received (he was seriously assaulted in a bar and called a ‘sell-out’, allegedly due to his straying from what purists wanted from him), while David Bowie at age 66 is releasing a new single, and reinventing himself once again.

Nigel says:-

“When you’re known for one thing, people tend to want to go to your shows for that thing. [Biafra] changed styles for his own creativity. Bowie on the other hand… it’s very clever the way he’s always reinvented himself; he’s not let anyone put him into a narrow band.” 

“The whole thing about the album is that it’s showing another side of me. Punk is only one limited part of music. I had all these various ideas sort of lying around for a year or two or three unfinished, then the opportunity presented itself to do an album, so I started to write them down. 

“I’m purely into all of this from the heart. I approached two record companies in America and they both offered me a deal so I took the best one. I always had America in mind for this album. Americans love guitar – country, rock – they appreciate it. Guitar rules America.”

We discuss the track ‘In my Dreams,’ which has a reggae feel to it.

“When I joined the Members, it was at a time when I went to all the auditions. You had to be very diverse. I went to an Iron Maiden audition; we politely mutually realised that it wasn’t a fit. But they’ve kept it going; they’ve made millions – and they’ve made millions of people happy with it.  So – the ad I was responding to was for rock/reggae; some of the Members were very into Jamaican reggae, and I learnt about the off beat. It’s very much a summer song. It’s about a boy feeling very shy, and I can remember that as a teenager.

“Then I wrote ‘Another Day’. It’s not about any particular girlfriend; it’s about people breaking up and the memories that go with them. 

“Singing is new to me, and I’ll write more songs for the next album with vocals. I need to learn to be a better singer.  I’ve played lead for 30 years, but I’ve never fronted my own band.

“I know I’m in my mid 50s, but it’s never too late and there are no rules in music.”

Best of luck to Nigel Bennett in this and future projects.

PS – The album ‘Truth Or Consequences’ is available from Zip Records, and from good record stores – if they haven’t all had to close down. Goodbye One Up; Aberdeen will miss you.

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Jul 152011

Charlie Mingin, the Auchnaclatt Bugle’s ‘Weel-Chilled Chiel’ columnist, guests for Voice this week, giving the bebop lowdown for hep cats and byre tabbies, doffing his hiply-angled Panama in the direction of The Fast Show’s Louis Balfour. Fingerprints on Cattle Cake’s ‘bone believed to be those of George Anderson….

Jock Kerouac and the Beet Generation on the road again after sell out concert in Daviot

Within twenty minutes of going on sale, both tickets for Coos in the Park had been snapped up amid fears that a surge in demand might crash Ticketmaster’s system.

I was one of the lucky ones. The minute the ticket tumbled through my letterbox, a vibe in these old jazzman bones of mine told me that something crazy was about to go down in Daviot.

And was I right, Daddy-O?

The concert in The Byre, the north east’s premier teuchter-jazz club demonstrated that Jock Kerouac and The Beet Generation were right back on top where they belonged. On the night, their fusion of bothy ballads and sixties jazz really razzed my berries.

Yes, there were mistakes. Somewhere approaching the middle eight of the opening number, Lousin Time, and half way through his third reefer of the night, Jock realised that the double bass he thought he’d been playing for the last half hour was actually still in the tipper truck that ca’d neeps during the day and transported the band to gigs in the evening. Undaunted, he rattled off the piece’s twenty minute double bass solo on his galuses. Beat that for improvisation.

I’ve been a fan of The Beet Generation since I first saw them perform at Gamrie’s Clockin Hen nightclub in 1987. Granted, nobody asked them to play but they managed to knock off their own rewrite of a Billy Joel classic, In the Midden of the Night before the bouncers got Jock in a headlock, huckled him head first out through the fire exit and into the car park where they pinned him down until the police arrived.

The band’s line up hasn’t changed since the Gamrie gig:

Jock Kerouac on double bass
Ronnie ‘The Rooser’ Roberts on Stylophone
‘Cattle Cake’ Collins on slide trombone
‘Sheep Dip’ Danny Dawkins on trumpet, electric bongos and steam harpsichord.

The first set was an intoxicating blend of old and new material, kicking off with three of my favourites: Lousin Time; Let’s Get Yokit! and Fa Cut Yer Hair an Cried Ye Baldy?

The lads ended the set with the title track from their latest album, We’re Aa Up the Wrang Dreel Noo.

Haste ye back, Jock, we can hardly wait for your next concert.

At the risk of rekindling the trad-bebop wars of the early sixties, Sid Rawlins, music critic of the Crovie Chronicle has given Voice an alternative view.

Bad Tunes A Go-Go as Kerouac’s Beet Generation Bomb at the Byre

Hepcat Harrison and the Kittlins were treated for shock at Turriff hospital last night following the murder of their teuchter-jazz classic, Let’s Get Yoakit! at the hands of jazz fraudsters Jock Kerouac and the woefully unmusical Beet Generation who somehow managed to make this classic track sound like a badly-tuned piano falling down a spiral staircase.

The scene of the crime: The Byre Club, Daviot.
Time of death, 7:30 pm Formartine time (GMT minus seventy years).

Bad jazz stands out like a toonser wearing nicky tams. And make no bones about it, this was jazz at its worst. The evening was not helped by the fact that Cattle-Cake Collins stopped mid-honk during Lousin Time to spray WD40 on his trombone slide.

I sort of liked the Beet Generation’s new project, We’re Aa Up the Wrang Dreel Noo. Yet overall, a lacklustre performance by over-rated musicians.

As Ray Charles would have said had he hailed from Kemnay, ‘Hit the road Jock, and dinna come back ony mair.’

Image credits:  
Trombone © Chris Johnson Dreamstime.com,
Double Bass Scroll © William Davis | Dreamstime.com 

Jun 102011

From time to time, CDs released by artists from the local area well worth a listen. Our David Innes contributes regularly to R2, a publication we like and recommend. The editor, Sean McGhee, all-round good guy and punctuation expert, has kindly agreed to allow Voice to reprint two reviews of local interest from the latest R2, dated May/June 2011. More on R2 here

First up, The Moonzie Allstars, from somewhere near Brechin, it seems, with ‘Hypnagocic’ (SKELPAIG MUSIC) www.moonzieallstars.com.
Moonzies’ pipes and whistles man David Adam claims Hypnagogic is, “a bit schizophrenic, but there might be something for everyone”, and he’s right.

The opening ‘Hypophant’ is structurally and tonally African, but the pipes add a Celtic element to both feel and melody.

Hotfoot behind is ‘Hey Mr Bongo’, the Moonzies again raiding the dark continent’s melodic and rhythmic jauntiness, but with its Caledonian tongue firmly in cheek as deadpan raffle announcements and appallingly obvious rhymes show what happens, as Adam says, “when you let the drummer loose with guitar and mic”.

Hypnagogic has gone some way to curing me of my fusion aversion. Despite my addiction to genre-defying southern soul stews, country-gospel or other labels applied to those delicious Tennessee grooves, less natural, ‘manufactured fusions’ have always left me suspicious. I’m sure Bitches Brew is to blame because it isn’t Kind of Blue.

The musicianship is outstanding and the production flawless. Overt Eastern and jazz influences bubble up and vie for space with potential movie scores; there are delights galore in the more traditional Celtic vein. If that’s a Frank Zappa t-shirt being proudly worn by an Allstar on the sleeve, he’d have approved, I’m certain.

From the Hebrides, but becoming well-known around the city, ‘Shoebox Memories’ (SELF-RELEASED) www.arkpr.com is Fiona Mackenzie’s impressive debut effort…

 On paper sometimes, there are collaborations that one would expect not to work too well. That was my initial thought about Shoebox Memories when I read its background press release.

In NE Scotland, guitarist Graeme ‘Bug’ Stephen is a revered jazz guitarist. Fiona ‘Bosie’ Mackenzie is not yet as well-known, but given her Hebridean background, it is easy, not to mention lazy, to categorise her immediately as a Celtic artist. Not so, and for making that assumption, I apologise.

Shoebox Memories works, and it works because Mackenzie has taken a range of influences to craft songs which are pleasingly unclassifiable and sung in her own way, with fleeting nods to Eddi Reader and Suzanne Vega.

It works also because, as Fiona notes on the sleeve, the musicians have “breathed life into my wee songs”, none more so than Stephen who gives a masterclass in understated chromatic accompaniment and subtle soloing, never better illustrated than in the guitar/strings interplay on ‘In Your Hands’ and ‘Dress Me Up In Blue’.

Offering thirteen tracks, Shoebox Memories may be on the long side, but credited to Bosie (a hug in the local patois), it is akin to being enclosed in a warm, comforting melodic cuddle.

© The foregoing reviews are copyright R2 May/June 2011. Thanks again to Sean for allowing us to use them.


Nov 052010

With thanks to Anne Campbell.

Catford,  a new band on the Aberdeen scene, are about to release a superb new album called “Chronicles”. The Album will be launched at The Blue Lamp on Monday 8th November, offering the first chance check out this exciting new act.

Multi-instrumentalists and singer/songwriters Steve Crawford and Davy Cattanach are joined by Jonny Hardie who is Davy’s former band mate in the popular traditional outfit – “The Old Blind Dogs”.

Steve and Davy have been writing and playing together for several years, originally with the Pictones, but laterally as an acoustic duo. Whilst working with Jonny on a recording project, Jonny asked if they would like to record some tracks at his studio. Naturally they jumped at the chance and with Jonny on board a few tracks quickly turned into an album with some fabulous string arrangements and accompaniment by Hardie.

Also performing on the album are well known local musicians Mhairi Sinclair and Nicky Cairney, and the legendary saxophonist Nigel Hitchcock. Nigel’s contribution to the track “Pressure” is one of the albums many highlights.

The result is an acoustic album with an emphasis on vocal harmonies, driven by Steve and Davy’s percussion and guitar along with Jonny’s luxuriant strings. Those of us who have been hearing these songs developed and played at various gigs and sessions can now hear them arranged and performed exquisitely and will finally be able to take them home.

“Chronicles” is released on the 8th of November at the Blue Lamp and will be available from local outlets. The band will be joined on stage by local guitarist Pete Coutts in addition to all who appeared on the album. See Events. (link)