Tag Archives: prog-rock

92. PHIL THE MUSIC QUILL IS TWO YEARS OLD!

I can’t believe that my website is two years old on 1st February 2016! Just out of interest, here are my ten most popular articles; ordered by the amount of ‘hits’ they’ve had….

TOP TEN ARTICLES FROM THE LAST TWO YEARS:

  1. SON OF MAN at VILLAGE BLUES CLUB, DAGENHAM TRADES HALL. Gig review. Sept. 2015 (Review #69)
  2. MARIELLA TIROTTO & THE BLUES FEDERATION Live In Concert album review (#34)
  3. LARRY MILLER at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC. Gig and interview. July 2015 (#61)
  4. MARTIN TURNER’S WISHBONE ASH at VILLAGE BLUES CLUB, DAGENHAM ROUNDHOUSE. Gig review. May 2015. (#56)
  5. MARTIN TURNER’S WISHBONE ASH at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC. Gig and interview. October 2014 (#25)
  6. MARTIN TURNER’S WISHBONE ASH at THE BEAVERWOOD CLUB. Gig review. April 2015 (#44)
  7. VIRGIL AND THE ACCELERATORS at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC. Gig and interview. Nov 2015 (#83)
  8. MARTIN TURNER Written In The Stars album review (#73)
  9. RED BUTLER at THE NEW CRAWDADDY CLUB. Gig and interview. August 2015 (#66)
  10. MALAYA BLUE at DAVE SPARKS ROCKIN’ BLUES NIGHT, ANCHOR, BENFLEET. Gig and interview. Aug 2015 (#64)

 PTMQ

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40. FOCUS (+ THE STEVE EGGS BAND) at the BOOM BOOM CLUB, Sutton. Friday, 20th March, 2015.

Menno and Thijs watching the support act from the wings! (Photo: PTMQ)

Menno and Thijs of FOCUS, watching the support act from the wings. (Photo: PTMQ)

Anyone who has been reading my Blog since the New Year will soon realise that it has been very much dominated by a variety of Dutch bands of late. First a review of Mariëlla Tirotto’s wonderful new album: Live In Concert (See my Blog #34). Then a review of the excellent debut album by Blueshaker: Handle With Care. (See my Blog #36). Now, I am writing a review of a fantastic gig by – perhaps the most well-known band from The Netherlands – the mighty FOCUS.

One of the most enjoyable gigs I’ve been to in recent years, was Focus at the BOOM BOOM CLUB, Sutton, back in October 2013 (just a few months before I started my blog).  That was the tour to promote their tenth album – simply entitled Focus X. Of course, when I heard that these Dutch Prog-Rock veterans were due to play the same venue again this year, I jumped at the chance of seeing them in action once more. This time they were also promoting their Golden Oldies compilation album (see my blog #3: ‘Prog-Rock Revisited’). Cousin Charlie got the tickets sorted with promoter PETE FEENSTRA, and we were ready to go.

Now, I first became aware of Focus as a 13 year-old, back in ’73 when the wonderful instrumental ‘Sylvia’ became a hit single in the UK. A school-mate of mine had the live album Focus At The Rainbow  which I liked straight away; and which introduced me to more of their unique sounds. Sometime after that, another mate lent me Moving Waves – again, a good album. And so since those musically formative teenage years back in the 70s, I’ve considered myself to be something of a Focus fan; so I was very much looking forward to the gig.

As regular readers of my Blog will already know, I like the Boom Boom Club; its one of my favourite venues. Its a fair drive from my home in Essex, and crossing the Thames at Dartford on Friday afternoons can be a pain in the arse; so when I go to this venue I normally set off early and stay with Charlie (who lives just ten minutes walk from the club), and take the opportunity to sink one or three pints – a rare pleasure for me these days as I’m usually driving home from gigs completely sober! We arrived at the venue in good time, and said hello to Pete Feenstra and a couple of others that we knew.

THE STEVE EGGS BAND (Photo: PTMQ)

Support act: THE STEVE EGGS BAND (Photo: PTMQ)

First on the bill was the support act, THE STEVE EGGS BAND – who describe themselves as a ‘Country/Rock/pop’ group. They hail from South London; and were founded in 2011. Charlie had seen them before and said they were good. I’d heard the name, but I’d never seen them; so I was interested to find out all about them. They are a four-piece outfit  led by Mr.Eggs himself (lead vocal/rhythm guitar); and ably assisted by JON KERSHAW (lead guitar/vocals); PETE WASS (bass/vocals); and MARK TAYLOR (drums/vocals).

Now I like a bit of Country-Rock and I was looking forward to it.  This band did not disappoint. They began with their Eagles-esque song ‘Going To California’ – I liked the trans-Atlantic lyric about ‘a London boy’ travelling to the USA in this song.  Good start. They then continued their short set of eight original Rock / Country-Rock songs,  which included: ‘Here Comes The Rain’ penned by bassist Pete; ‘Heartbreaker’ from the new album; ‘Good Intentions’ which reminded me of Molly Hatchet; and the rockin’  ‘Roll Over’.  They are obviously influenced by some of the Rock and Country-Rock greats, yet they do have an originality that clearly shines through. I liked them.

As a musical unit, these boys were tight and competent. Steve, equipped with a Gibson acoustic, strummed a steady rhythm throughout, and sang confidently. Lead guitarist Jon, sporting a red Strat, showed himself to be very useful, very early on; and impressed with his wah-wah pedal. Pete played a Hofner bass guitar (don’t often see them), and made very good use of it, I must say. Drummer Mark looked precarious, parked on the edge of the crowded stage; but produced a fine exhibition of the percussive art.  They’re a good band to watch too; quite lively. They look like they thoroughly enjoy playing their music, and appreciate the applause they are awarded at the end of each song. I got hold of a copy of their latest album Hometown Skyline, and may write a review on this Blog soon.

Here is a link to The Steve Eggs Band website:

http://www.steveeggsband.co.uk/

Focus At The Boom Boom Club! (Photo:PTMQ)

Focus At The Rainbow Boom Boom Club! (Photo:PTMQ)

And now to the main event. The last time I saw Focus, as I’ve said, was in October ’13 at this same venue. That occasion was a mid-week gig, and the club was far from full up (we even sat at tables like a trendy music café – unusual for the Boom Boom). This time though, the punters were rammed in from the stage-front to the exit! As soon as the support act had cleared their kit from the stage, the indifatigable Mr.Feenstra was up there introducing the band we’d all come to see – the  inimitable Prog-Rock legends, Focus.

The line-up that climbed on stage to great applause at the Boom Boom Club have been together since 2011. Yet all of them have had a lengthy association with the group over the years. They currently consist of: THIJS VAN LEER (hammond organ, flute, scat-vocals, yodels); MENNO GOOTJES (guitar); BOBBY JACOBS (bass); and PIERRE VAN DER LINDEN (drums). Excellent musicians, all.

Thijs started the proceedings with a majestic flute intro to the first track from their debut album of 1970 Focus Plays Focus – the self-titled piece, ‘Focus’. What better way to begin? Before the cheers had finished the band were straight into their first European hit single: ‘House Of The King’. Their classic piece ‘Eruption’ followed to great approval. Thijs took centre stage during this for a flute solo – and some remarkable scat-singing! This rendition also show-cased Menno’s guitar skills; showing him to be well worthy of standing in JAN AKKERMAN’s shoes!

Hocus Pocus, its Focus! (Photo: PTMQ)

Hocus Pocus, its Focus! (Photo: PTMQ)

After Thijs reminded us that his Mrs was manning the merch desk, they gave us the iconic ‘Sylvia’ – arguably their most popular work – and a fine execution of the piece it was too. From Focus X they then gave us the manic ‘All Hens On Deck’. The apparently seldom played ‘Peace March’ was played next; followed by the beautiful ‘Focus II’.

From the Hamburger Concerto they then played two pieces, including ‘Harem Scarem’ –  which is about the joys and the dangers of alcohol. This was extended into a sequence of remarkable solos by all the band members in turn. Each excelling in his chosen field. Menno was particularly noticeable in this – his Gibson Les Paul being an extension of his mind! Yet all were exceptional.  Then we were plunged into the finale of the show – it was, of course, the iconic ‘Hocus Pocus’.

After the gig, Charlie and I had a brief chat with Thijs, Bobby and Menno. We complemented them on a remarkable performance. ‘We were in good form’  Jacobs said. They certainly were.

Thanks to Pete F and all the hard workers at the Boom Boom for making this gig happen.

PTMQ

27. STEVE HACKETT Genesis Extended Tour (+ Bryan and Livvy from MOSTLY AUTUMN) at CLIFF’S PAVILION, Essex. Tuesday, 28th October, 2014

Originally, I  was due to go to this gig with my friend Birdseye, who is a big GENESIS fan, but the poor old sod had an ear infection, so he had to cry-off sick at the last minute! Luckily, another friend put his hand up for the ticket at short notice. This was guitarist GLYN PROTHEROE – another self-confessed Genesis nut, and ex-member of the Genesis tribute band REGENESIS (You may have seen him – he played the PETER GABRIEL part from ’94 to ’98).

Bryan and Livvy of Mostly Autumn (Photo by PTMQ - and I apologise for the quality!)

Bryan and Livvy of Mostly Autumn (Photo by PTMQ – and I apologise for the quality!)

We were a little late entering the auditorium, and consequently didn’t get seated until near the end of the first song by the support act. This was BRYAN JOSH and OLIVIA SPARNENN of MOSTLY AUTUMN doing a short acoustic duet. I was very much looking forward to their set, so I was disappointed to miss the first song which I think was from their Passengers album. All was not lost however, as next up was the beautiful ‘Evergreen’ from my favourite Mostly Autumn album, (their 3rd) The Last Bright Light (2001). This was a fine acoustic arrangement of one of their classic songs. Bryan’s guitar work with Livvy’s vocals and flute-playing were a joy to hear.

Their next offering ‘The House On The Hill’, was from their new concept album Dressed In Voices. Which Livvy described as ‘…quite a dark concept, but…. surprisingly uplifting’. I quite enjoyed it. This was eclipsed for me, however, by another great MA favourite of mine ‘Heroes Never Die’; from their remarkable debut album For All We Shared (1998). I love this song. Again, it was an interesting conversion for an acoustic duet; that didn’t lose any of the emotion of the original. A privilege to listen to; and I thank the couple for performing it. The final choice of this micro-set, was the title track of the new album; and a fine song it is too.

All in all, Bryan and Livvy performed an excellent little set – personally, I think I could have sat through a couple of hours of MA unplugged if this was a sample of it!  My only disappointment is that I’d have liked to have heard ‘Shrinking Violet’ too; but time was obviously limited.  Fine acoustic guitar, vocals and harmonies throughout. At the break, Glyn and I had a little chat with the couple, and I bought the new album. We had a longer conversation with them later – after the Hackett set – and we found them to be very friendly and talkative. A pleasure to meet them both.

Mr.Hackett and band (Photo by PTMQ)

Mr.Hackett and band (Photo by PTMQ)

Back in the auditorium, we eagarly awaited the entrance of the headline act. They appeared on stage after a short wait – our host centre stage; Gibson Les Paul Gold-Top in hand. The band consists of STEVE HACKETT, of course, on guitars (who rquires no introduction from me); ROGER KING, Keyboards (who’s worked with numerous musos, including the late GARY MOORE); GARY O’TOOLE, Drums and Vocals (another veteran rock/blues/pop artist); ROB TOWNSEND, Wind and Percussion (a well-known Jazz musician and score-writer); NICK BEGGS, Bass and Guitar (ex-IONA, and among others on his CV, ’80s pop group Kajagoogoo); and the remarkable NAD SYLVAN, vocals (who, having a voice that sonds like both Gabriel and Collins at once, is entirely suited to the task in hand!) All in all, a fine looking line-up.

In the brief silence before the start, one fan immediately called out for ‘Spectral Mornings’! Hackett thanked him, and smiling, explained that as this was his Genesis Extended Tour, he’d only be playing material from the parent band, and unfortunately not his solo work. That clarified, the band launched into two tracks from A Trick Of The Tail (1976); namely, ‘Dance On A Volcano’ and ‘Squonk’. It was good to hear these old classics once again after all these years; and performed so close to the originals too. And it was clear from the off that we were in for a grand show; with the band in superb form – and Sylvan obviously being the right man for the vocals. The audience gave up rapturous applause. A rousing start.

Next was a particular favourite of mine: ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’, from Selling England By The Pound (1973). Again this was very well performed by the lads, and sung by Sylvan (this time in Gabriel mode), and as near as you will get to the original Genesis front-man. From The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (1974), it was then time for ‘Fly On A Windshield’. Drummer Gary did a fine job on vocals for this one; and Nick was remarkable with a stick-bass too.

Nursery Cryme’s ‘Return Of The Giant Hogweed’; ‘The Fountain Of Salmacis’; and ‘Musical Box’ were then performed; with a quality to which we’d already been accustomed to at this gig. And following these live favourites, the original band’s nearest thing to a hit single, ‘I Know What I Like’ (Selling Englnd…) was then presented to us. A great solo from Rod on this one.

After a short break, we found Steve alone on stage with a nylon-strung acoustic, ready to give us his brief, but beautiful, ‘Horizons’ (from Foxtrot, ’72). It was a sublime rendition – a pleasure to see and hear. Changing back to his Gold-Top, and with the band returning to the stage, we witnessed ‘Firth Of Fifth’ (Selling England…) with its classically inspired piano intro and its odd time-signatures. Good solos from Steve and Rob; and Nick did a fine job with his twin-necked bass/12-string (every bit a Prog-Rock instrument!)

And the old classics kept coming: ‘Lilly-White Lilith’ (The Lamb…) was the next song; with Nick playing a Chapman Stick – again, good solos from Steve and Rob. Our final piece of the main set was the lengthy ‘Supper’s Ready’ (Foxtrot). This was a fantastic rendition, with excellent 12-string sound; and went down very well.

The well-deserved encore consisted of another Foxtrot track: ‘Watcher Of The Skies’; which was followed aptly by  ‘Los Endos’. Rapturous applause ensued from the auditorium, full of Genesis aficionados. All in all, a well chosen set, I thought. My only slight disappointment was the omission of ‘Ripples’; but that’s a minor complaint!

Back down in the foyer, we awaited the appearance of Mr.Hackett to meet his fans. While we waited, we chatted again with Bryan and Livvy of Mostly Autumn. And who should I bump into but the ubiquitous Dave Kitteridge and his wife Trudie of Touchline Live Music. If this lovely couple are not hosting an excellent gig at their club, then they’re in the audience at someone else’s show – not a bad life at all! Well, we waited ages but SH didn’t show up. Glyn was still keen to see him though, so we went and found the stage door, and there he was just about to leave. We only had time for a quick hand-shake and to offer our congrats to him on a fine show before he was off.

My thanks to all the staff at the Cliffs Pavilion for their hard work; and to Glyn Protheroe for putting the info straight on a few points; and commiserations to Birdseye for missing the gig!  PTMQ.

 

19. RUSH: “A Farewell To Kings”; and memories of 1977!

RUSH's 'A Farewell To Kings' - classic album

‘A Farewell To Kings’ – classic RUSH album

Apparently, it was 37 years ago this September that Canadian prog-rock supremos RUSH, released what many (myself included) consider to be their finest album: the epic ‘A FAREWELL TO KINGS’. Reading this recently on Face Book, I stepped back in time to 1977; and my first encounter with this classic work. Here’s the story….

Those readers old enough to remember the 70s will know that it was a fantastic era for rock music of all types. But apart from word-of-mouth, in those pre-internet days, there were precious little ways to hear about, or find out about new music. The chief source of information was BBC 2’s ‘THE OLD GREY WHISTLE TEST’, hosted by ‘Whispering Bob’ Harris; who we teenage rockers considered to be the most musically knowledgeable bloke on Earth!

Now, the OGWT was aired late on a Tuesday night, and never repeated; and there were no means to record it back then; so if you missed it, you missed it for ever! This wasn’t a problem if you were home on a Tuesday evening, of course. The problem was that three stops down the line from where I lived was a pub called ‘The Green Gate’ (now, sadly, a McDonalds!) which held a ‘Heavy Rock Night’ (you’ve guessed it!), every Tuesday evening! This was an event that I rarely missed for years, in spite of the necessary evil of missing the OGWT and all the exposure to new sounds that it proffered.

So, one Tuesday evening in late ’77, there I was at ‘The Green Gate’ watching the regular house band (who I think were called Tonix) covering ‘Smoke On The Water’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’, or some such classic, when in walks the girl I was going out with at the time (who’s name I honestly don’t recall), and within a few minutes we were rowing about something or other. Well, whatever it was about, I got so annoyed with her that I buggered off home thinking ‘Well, at least I’ll catch the end of the Whistle Test’.

And sure enough I did. I put the telly on, tuned it to BBC 2, and ‘Whispering Bob’ was just saying (in his inimitable way) something like ‘Here is Rush on stage in Toronto performing ‘Xanadu’ from their new album ‘A Farewell To Kings”. Who the hell are Rush?’ I thought. There they were – a band unknown to me at the time – a drummer almost invisible behind the biggest drum/percussion kit I’d ever seen; a guitarist playing weird, mysterious-sounding chords on a twin necked Gibson; and most remarkable of all, a bassist playing a twin necked Rickenbacker whilst singing AND playing keyboards! Well after a few seconds of ‘Xanadu’ I was a Rush fan!

It was just what I wanted to hear at just the right time. I was sick of the New Wave/Punk Rock thing; and radio DJs and the music press telling us that the old ‘dinosaur’ Prog-Rock and heavy Rock bands were a thing of the past – even though venues like ‘The Green Gate’ were packed with punters every Tuesday, listening to classic rock, and eschewing the Punk/New Wave thing with a vengeance! The problem was that there was precious little new Prog or Heavy Rock being recorded because the record companies believed the out of touch DJs and music press; And then there was this Canadian band called Rush!

Rush’s albums had only been available as imports up until ‘A Farewell To Kings’ was released in Britain. A 12-inch EP was released by Mercury Records, showcasing 4 Rush songs: ‘Closer To The Heart’ from the new album; along with ‘Anthem’ from ‘Fly By Night’ (1974); ‘Bastille Day’ from ‘Caress Of Steel’ (1975); and ‘The Temples Of Syrinx’ from ‘2112’ (1976). Well I bought the 12-inch, and the new album; then over the next couple of weeks got my hands on the whole Rush back-catalogue which had all now been released in the UK. But I had to wait until May ’79 before I first saw the band live (at Hammersmith Odeon). That was a gig to remember!

After all these years, ‘Xanadu’ by Rush remains my favourite Prog-Rock track (beating STRIFE’s ‘Sky’ into 2nd place; and MMEB’s ‘Blinded By The Light’ into 3rd). But most of the early Rush material is deeply ingrained in my mind – their work (especially ‘A Farewell To Kings’) is to a large extent, the soundtrack to my late-teens! My thanks to ‘Whispering Bob’ and a nameless ex-girlfriend for a sequence of events that introduced me to a band who have given me a great deal of pleasure for many years! PTMQ.

6. THE AUSTRALIAN PINK FLOYD at THE CLIFFS PAVILION. Tuesday 4th March 2014

TAPF 02Due to death, and/or internecine feuding; the chances of seeing the original PINK FLOYD are absolutely nil. The nearest we can get to seeing the unique music of the band played live nowadays, is to go and see one of the many excellent tribute acts currently performing across the World – such is the lasting influence of the original Pink Floyd.

Chief among these Floyd tribute acts is THE AUSTRALIAN PINK FLOYD – a 10 piece band consisting of: vocalist; 2 guitarists; bassist; keyboard player; drummer; wind instrumentalist; and 3 girls on backing vocals. All very professional and impressive performers. I do not know of any other tribute band that can (1) command £40 a ticket (15-quid is about the most a tribute band could normally expect) ; (2) sell out a gig almost a year in advance; (3) fill up a venue the size of The Cliffs Pavilion; and (4) put on such an impressive show.

I first saw TAPF with the same dos amigos (Rambo and Bunny) two years ago at the same venue (having been too slow to obtain tickets for last year’s gig!). Being an early bird with the tickets this time, I managed to get three seats in the centre of the upper circle; and an excellent view we had too. The ticket stated that there would be a ‘Special guest’, but there was no support act. It was a two-part TAPF show + encore.

The band opened the show themselves with a near-perfect rendition of the long and bluesy prog-rock classic piece: ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’; before launching straight into ‘Welcome To The Machine’. Various Floyd favourites followed, including, (from ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’): ‘Us And Them’; ‘Time’; and ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’ (featuring an excellent performance by the three ladies on backing vocals). Other tracks were: ‘Another Brick In The Wall’; ‘Talk To Me’; ‘Hey You’ (with its slightly disturbing arpeggio); and ‘Pigs’ from ‘Animals’

Floyd’s earlier work was represented by the psychedelic ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’. And ‘One Of These Days’, which began with a didgeridoo intro; prompting my friend Bunny to quip that Rolf Harris must be the ‘Special guest’! (Thankfully not!). The middle section of ‘One Of These Days’ also included the inflation of a large plastic kangaroo, centre-stage – a parody, of course, of the original Floyd’s inflatable pig of 1977.

The sing-along classic ‘Wish You Were Here’ began with an amusing parody of the original radio tuning-in at the beginning of the song. This consisted of snippets of film shown on the large circular screen over the stage, from various well-known iconic Aussie cultural motifs: Neighbours; Crocodile Dundee; Skippy; Men At Work; AC/DC (who got a very loud cheer!), Kylie Minogue, and Waltzing Matilda! The song was played superlatively and the audience were in good voice too.

The band finished, of course, with a blinding rendition of ‘Comfortably Numb’; before returning for the inevitable and well deserved encore – a cover of ‘Run Like Hell’. It went down a storm with the crowd!

Along with the music (and inflatables) was a superb light-show. Which although at times obscured the stage because of the brightness in our faces, which was a bit annoying, was nevertheless spectacular. My only other (minor) criticisms would be that barely a word was spoken directly to the audience by the members of the band; and I’d like to have heard them play ‘Money’. All in all though, it was a brilliant gig. I expected as much and wasn’t disappointed.

Wish you were there! Phil the Music Quill

3. CLASSIC PROG-ROCK REVISITED!

FOCUS at THE BOOM BOOM CLUB, Sutton. October 2013 (Photo by PTMQ)

FOCUS at THE BOOM BOOM CLUB, Sutton. October 2013 (Photo by PTMQ)

My friends in the Dutch progressive rock band FOCUS have recently announced that they are to release an album of re-recorded classic tracks, entitled ‘Golden Oldies’. The band currently consists of two original members (Thijs Van Leer & Pierre van der Linden) + two new boys (Menno Gootjes & Bobby Jacobs). The band have been concerned that some of their die-hard fans will not take to these new recordings – some will undoubtedly say ‘What’s the point?’ I can understand that view to some extent – after all; can you improve upon perfection? And why would you want to? But there is a point: And the point is that the current band perform the classic pieces such as ‘Hocus Pocus’; ‘Sylvia’; and ‘House of the King’ live on stage to this day; so all they are doing is putting on record, that which we all love to hear at gigs anyway. It will be interesting to see how different these new studio recordings are compared to the originals; as it is not only the personnel that has changed in the last 40 years, but there has also been a revolution in instrumentation and recording technology. The band may have decided to change parts here and there too; so it will be interesting to see how the music has evolved over the years, with the input of Gootjes and Jacobs no doubt having a great bearing on this. I don’t think its a question of trying to improve on the originals; but of measuring the evolution of the band’s work. We will still have the original recordings to fall back to if the new album turns out to be a bummer! But it won’t – it’ll be another Focus classic!

Its nothing new to re-record classic albums anyway. Recently, CAMEL released a re-recorded version of their classic 1975 album ‘The Snow Goose’ – and a damn fine job they’ve done too. MARTIN TURNER’s WISHBONE ASH have also re-recorded the iconic 1972 album ‘Argus’. Again, a brilliant job. Comparisons with the originals are inevitable, but in both these cases the new albums are at least as good as their forebears in my opinion. Focus’ new offering will be too. So all we need now is for RICK WAKEMAN to get down the studio for a new version of ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’; and MIKE OLDFIELD to get the ‘Tubular Bells’ out again, and we’ll be right back in the prog-rock Heaven that was the early ’70s!

PS: ‘Hocus Pocus’ (presumably the old version) is to feature in the new ROBOCOP film!

VEEL SUCCES MET HET NIEUWE ALBUM, FOCUS! Phil The Music Quill

1. THE STRAWBS (+ ADRIAN NATION) at THE TOUCHLINE MUSIC CLUB, Hullbridge, Essex. Saturday, 1st February, 2014

ADRIAN NATION

ADRIAN NATION (Photo by PTMQ)

I’d ordered tickets for this gig well in advance; and at only £13 a shot you can’t go wrong! Cousin Charlie and I turned up at 8PM and were directed to our seats at table 7 – the music room being arranged with tables like a trendy jazz café – all very civilised, and I must say I approved! Last time I saw a gig here last December (for BUDDY WHITTINGTON) the seats were unusually arranged in rows with standing room behind. But the ‘jazz cafe’ style of seating arrangement is normal for this club. I like the Touchline; its a small friendly place and gets some good acts booked – some fairly famous names, and a few copy-cat/tribute bands too.

The show opened with Master of Ceremonies Brian Sangwin introducing the support act, ADRIAN NATION. I’d heard this name before and was keen to see what he was all about; knowing nothing of his music. We’d clocked him sitting near his own merch table at the back of the music room as we walked in; he on one chair, guitar on another. It was nearly nine before this singer/song-writer, suitably folk-bearded, took to the stage; and it was immediately evident that he knew his way around an acoustic guitar. He impressed the audience with a display of fretboard skills; constantly changing guitars and tunings to suit his repertoire. He wasn’t fazed when white noise sounding like a dentist’s drill introduced itself in the middle of one song. (This was later bizarrely found to be a fault on the hand dryer in the gents WC; and as Brian Sangwin pointed out later, proves that men do wash their hands!)

NATION’s music is not easily definable, although obviously sitting generally under folk music’s wide umbrella. I particularly liked his piece inspired by the book ‘Up the Yukon Without a Paddle’; and his only cover of the set, a very good version of RICHARD THOMPSON’s ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’. At times he reminded me of GORDON GILTRAP – especially in his use of open tunings. He says he has an ambition to play the ROYAL ALBERT HALL – well, he has the confidence, the voice, the guitar skills, and the songs to do so; so why not one day?

THE STRAWBS

THE STRAWBS (Photo by PTMQ)

Now to the main event. Most people of a certain age if asked to name a Strawbs song will undoubtedly say ‘Part of the Union’ – that classic hit single of theirs from 1973. This however, is like JEFF BECK only being remembered for ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’, or (as my good friend ROB WHEATON of folk band DEVONBIRD often likes to point out) JONI MITCHELL for ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. In all these cases these highly memorable songs are in no way typical of the bulk of the work by these artists. Anyone expecting The Strawberry Hill Boys (as they were originally known) to perform anything like ‘Part of the Union’ would have been sorely disappointed though, as this veteran band played what they are best known to their long-term fans for: high quality progressive rock (sometimes with a folky feel). Furthermore, its prog-rock originating from the golden age of British prog-rock – the early 70s.

The band currently consists of: ageing long-term members, DAVE COUSINS (vocals and guitar); DAVE LAMBERT (lead guitar); CHAS CRONK (bass and 12-string); and TONY FERNANDEZ (drums); now joined by ADAM WAKEMAN (keyboards). The latter replacing his brother OLIVER WAKEMAN who left recently to join SNAKECHARMER; and both of course sons of the legendary keyboard maestro RICK WAKEMAN, who famously tickled the ivories for the Strawbs until departing in 1971 to join YES. I wonder if any other band can boast of having a father and two sons all playing keyboards for them at different times?

The band opened with ‘Turn Me Round’ and continued to play several old songs with barely a word from COUSINS until he announced they would then play the “Hero And Heroine” album in its entirety. And a near faultless rendition it was too; apart from at one point COUSINS began playing with his capo on the wrong fret (easily done!) and had to start the song over again. All in all though, it was a damn fine performance. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t do ‘The Man Who Called Himself Jesus’; but very glad they played ‘Down By The Sea’ with its haunting arpeggio. With the main set finished it was only necessary to clap, cheer and whistle loudly to get the lads back on stage for an encore. This final offering was of course the iconic electro-folk hit single from 1972: ‘Lay Down’, which had everyone singing along. ‘Part of the Union’ would have gone down well at this point as a finale, but it was nonetheless of a performance without it.

With COUSINS’ distinctive voice and flamboyant arm-waving front-man style; LAMBERT’s confident lead guitar; CRONK’s reliable bass playing; FERNANDEZ’s steady drumming; and WAKEMAN’s skilful keyboard work, THE STRAWBS can’t fail to impress; even after all these years. We found it a very enjoyable gig; and I’d recommend anyone with a liking for prog-rock to see them whenever possible. The only downside was that I couldn’t drink because I was driving – shame, because a few pints of London Pride would have gone down nicely! Cheers, Phil The Music Quill