Category Archives: music

Evolution of a Phoenix

There is a certain regal oak named ‘Kindred Spirit’ … but for us
Kindred Spirit” means only one thing … the locally based five-piece, electric folk rock band that features the radiant and deeply moving voice of Elaine Samuels.

The band line up also includes Gavin Jones (electric violin) Catherine Dimmock (flute and sax) Mike Hislop (bass) and Les Binks (former drummer for Judas Priest.)

The band are about to release their stunning new album Phoenix Rising – and we have been watching the project unfold and develop.

Elaine Samuels - Voice is radiant and deeply moving...
Elaine Samuels – Voice is radiant and deeply moving…

We’ve been having a sneaky listen to some of their (yet unreleased) tracks currently being recorded @SkylineStudios by @JezLarder:

Opening song “Kindred Spirits” certainly contains the ethereal quality you might find in early Moody Blues.

It has that dramatic “Threshold of a Dream…” feel about it.

This has a soulful flute and intricate acoustic guitars that embroider the surface.

The finest crystal bell clear voice ripples seamlessly through the
vision … creating a sort of divine salvation.

Album Launch show - St Augustine's Church Whitton 18 April 2015
Album Launch show – St Augustine’s Church Whitton 18 April 2015

We also heard the jaunty number “The Phoenix” with its trotting pace and pizzicato strings.

The violin animates the piece (although it maintains a shaded heart.)

This song seems to be about facing all that is left … (in other words, the “Ashes” ) trying to make sense of them … before you can even hope to fly again.

Finality and sadness has to be visited upon us before we can hope of being re-born.

This song reminded us of Renaissance (the rock band) around their ‘Novella’ period.

It immediately draws the listener into enormous depths – the pay-off is complex, exciting and invaluable.

Book a ticket to the Album Launch Concert April 18th Here>> http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/kindred-spirit-album-launch-tickets-15087938430

@neilmach 2015 ©

Link:

https://www.facebook.com/KindredSpiritBand

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Paul Saxby at The Hobgoblin, Staines – May 23

I once heard Zakk Wylde  ( with Nick Catanese)  play a stripped down acoustic version of the BLS hit “Stillborn” and this memory kept haunting me as I watched Paul Saxby play at The Hob Staines. Yeah, OK, the string-work doesn’t quite compare, but you really get the feeling that these two rock hounds share the same experiences of anguish and despair. And they seem to share a secret desire to just get up off the stool and belt the hell out of a song – preferably with a huge and thunderous backline.

Moping about in the low chords- “Why Can’t We Just Get Along?” Because we’re programmed to function- sings Paul and you know where his heart is at. This song can be seen as mournful but it also chugs along with a ‘proper’ rock riff and shrugs its shoulders at any folk aspirations. And Paul’s big number is ‘Social Casualty’ – a buzzingly busy beat-pop song with a catchy and memorable chorus that makes the most of the time it spends  in your head by burning deep into your synapses.

The good looking and cheerful Staines crowd also loved the excellent howling cover of “Seven Nation Army”. And whilst we are on the subject of the ‘White Stripes’ it is worth mentioning that Paul pays more than a passing resemblance to Mr Jack White.

Sometimes an array of vocal effects tends to hide the size and character of shiny supple voiced Paul, but nevertheless the results are often moving, always interesting, never corrupted.  Paul uses his expressive voice to interrogate social ideas and his voice has an appealing edge against the contrasting tonal sounds picked up by his acoustic guitar.  Climaxes are often fought over and cried for, a sense of audacity pervades every movement and composition. The performance was neatly concluded with a respectable version of the first success story in the  ‘folk rock’  annals,  “The House of the Rising Sun.”

Paul Saxby is a versatile and an uncommonly appealing singer of songs. Highly recommended.

© Neil_Mach
May 2010

Link:

http://www.myspace.com/paulsaxbyofficial

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Mostly Autumn – O2 Shepherds Bush Empire

Sadness sells.  Just think of the dirges- (“To Live is to Die” by Metallica) the elegies (Elegie, Patti Smith) and the requiems ( Verdi’s Requiem).  Dark timbres, moody textures, melancholy notes, slow movements,  sometimes painful yet always perfectly rendered visual images – these all contribute to expressing the emotion of sadness.

Mostly Autumn know that sadness sells. They know that a walk around a lake in Cumbria is likely to fill you with a kind of joyful sadness. It is that bittersweet release that makes it so poignant. Autumn seasons are sad. The vitality and new life of spring is over. The fullness and maturity of summer is all gone. Only a future of darkness and cold is to be seen. Autumn is the saddest month because things are no more. Nor have just begun. We compare the seasons for the duration of our lives, so the ‘autumn of our  life’ can be seen as a golden age at the end of a prosperous and fruitful time, but can also be seen as harbinger of the dark days, the decline and death.

So Mostly Autumn gently turn their sweet yet mournful songs into exquisite symphonies of majesty and power for the crowd at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush.  ‘Marcia Brady’ looking golden-haired beauty Olivia Sparnenn (also ‘Breathing Space’) now ‘fronts’ the band and looks like a radiant angel in her white smock over tight black pants and long boots. She has the same kind of range and power as Christine McVie and delights with her soaring voice. Upon the stage it seems as if she can talk to the spirits (within some kind of trance) and at times I could make out what sounded very much like Sigur Rós-type ‘singing in tongues’. Maybe it is the Jórvík in her!

Big man Bryan Josh is the big daddy of the outfit. He is very much the “auteur” and director of the show -although the band probably says that it is a matter of cooperation. You get the feeling, though, that this giant haystack of a man, with his thick rubbery lead-guitar solos and thumping, crashing chords is the power-house of the band. Near to him were Andy Smith – Bass Guitars and  Gavin Griffiths – Drums – stirring up one hell of a wasp-nest of excitement and dangerous fury. On the other side of the stage were the combined talents of Iain Jennings and Anne-Marie Helder on those luscious keyboards.

Ann-Marie also played the haunting flute pieces (so reminiscent of The Moody Blues) and also came ‘out front’ for the odd ditty and jig, when the time was appropriate. Liam Davison also provided a ranging mix of guitar sounds.  All-in-all this was a big sound from a very big band- almost an orchestra – both in dimension and aspiration .

One of my favourite pieces (and you must think of the work of Mostly Autumn as ‘pieces’ in the classical sense) is “Dreaming” from the 2007 album ‘Heart Full of Sky’.  It has to be said that this has an annoying euro-pop almost Abba-esque sound to the  chorus bit it is the verse that I most enjoy – very reminiscent of May’s “The Prophet’s Song”  off  of Queen’s 1975 album ‘A Night at the Opera’.  Like many Mostly Autumn pieces, it has that evocative thin slice of spine tingling lead guitar in the middle. The focus of this perfect composition is a duet by Anne-Marie and Olivia, before returning to the lively chug of the verse. A very accomplished composition.

Many fans were saddened by Heather Findlay’s autumn departure from the band but I think that Olivia is a worthy and valuable replacement and she deserves her place at the front. She holds the fragile hearts of the audience gently and compassionately in her expressive hands, as the finale to the show – the crowd pleasing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ type masterpiece ‘Evergreen’ –  is teasingly unravelled for all to behold. This is an epic song full of grace and charm.

And maybe Heather knows what it’s like to be Evergreen ….

Oh, a little sadness . . .  but sadness sells well.  And I am sold.

© Neil_Mach
May 2010

Link:

http://www.myspace.com/mostlyautumnband

Wishbone Ash – Live Shepherd’s Bush – May 15th

One year after their successful yet controversial 40th anniversary tour, Andy Powell’s  Wishbone Ash is back at The O2 Shepherd’s Bush to round off another UK tour. When I saw Wishbone Ash back in the day (1977) they were playing venues like Wembley (Front Page News).  These days they play the likes of The Brindley Arts Centre, Runcorn or the Farnham Maltings – worthy venues I grant you – but not quite the stadiums of yore – and their fan base is withering on the vine too – maybe the music seems somehow stuck-up and arty-farty to the new generation of gig goers. And, although there is no doubt that their work in the 1970’s was important and enjoyable, the truth is, let us not forget, that the band was never was quite everyone’s cup of tea.  Even back then in the Seventies, when I was asked for a list of my favourite bands I would always include Wishbone Ash, but often with the extra qualifier ‘And do you know …’. Rarely was the answer,  ‘Yes’.

Well I don’t know about ‘Blowin Free’ but there were more bald pates on offer at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire than at a Telly Savalas memorial convention – even flying-V man Andy Powell ( a man as bald as a B-cup man-boob) had to make mention of the apparent ‘certain age’ of the group of geriatric slap-heads surrounding the stage. He also noted that, incredibly, there was really a ‘girl’ in this sweaty, beer soaked crowd. Yes, the name ‘Wishbone Ash’ persuades those fifty-something old guys out from their doubled-glazed cozy homes faster than a DFS sale.  Away from their M&S TV dinners and their sensible slippers ….  and free at last, to singalong with their fellow “Warriors”.  And it is always a bit of puzzle to me that the ladies don’t ‘get’ Wishbone Ash.  Don’t they like soft and symphonic? The Wishbone melodies are lovely… why don’t they like them? And don’t they like lush vocals?  It is not as if the band is Slipknot you know. One woman at Shepherd’s Bush explained the problem to me,  “ Their stuff is quite complicated – you see. It is not easy to take”.   Maybe that’s it then  …. maybe Wishbone Ash is the musical equivalent of the Wisden’s Cricketers Almanack – they fulfil a man’s need for complicated structures and memory games.

Back in the day, the twin-lead symphonies were a close coupled affair evoked by Ted Turner and Andy Powell. Now It is Andy and Muddy. Muddy Manninen looks like a wigged-out blonde version of Professor Severus Snape after he has just been shocked and  jolted by one Harry’s abracadabra bolts.  He constantly looks like he is sucking a lemon whilst simultaneously being rogered by a rhinoceros-  a look also accomplished by his predecessor Ben Granfelt. [Muddy replaced Ben in 2004.] And, frankly, I know he is a good guitarist and all that, but he mucked up the solo lead break in ‘The King Will Come,’ so badly that, as far as I’m concerned, he ruined the song. Now please believe me, I am not suggesting that the piece has to be played note-perfect  at a live date. I am not asking that it comes across as a perfect studio copy – it’s just that I want the soloist to at least pay respect to the original patterns and swirls. And miserable looking Prof Snape failed to do this.

But the all round hero of the night and top guy (in my book) was bass -player quite extraordinary – Bob Skeat – who managed perfect renditions of the buoyant and brilliant bass sounds from those early masterpieces. Bob replaced founding father and superb lead vocalist/bassist Martin Turner (who now runs his own ‘Wishbone’ act and is worth catching.)  Martin Turner is credited as the man who gave ‘Argus’ both voice and spirit. He was the key songwriter for this immense album and he wrote those memorable lyrics. His bass play was astounding- and it is to Bob Skeat’s enduring credit that he pulls off those amazing twists and turns with the same dexterity and speed.

And now we have Pendragon’s drummer Joseph Crabtree on percussion- but none will ever replace Steve Upton whose legendary rolls and flares lifted the Wishbone sound from the ashes and made them soar like a Phoenix. (Just listen to the fireworks on ‘Vas Dis’ –  ‘Pilgrimage’.)

The gig started off with the formidably jazz orientated ‘Pilgim’ (Pilgrimage) the band then wandered off, without too much verve, into more jazz odyssey territory… yawn.  ‘Jail Bait’ or even better ‘Blind Eye’ would have been far more energetic and arresting curtain raisers… and the crowd would have been at one from the outset.  We didn’t really ‘get going’ as a crowd until the sublime ‘Persephone’ from ‘There’s the Rub’ – an album that sparked the remarkable talent of Laurie Wisefield.  Then we went from a perfectly acceptable ‘Sometime World’ to a disappointing version of ‘The King Will Come’.

The band didn’t go nearly far enough in capturing that unique soft and gentle country air, emotional journeys like Pilgrimage’s ‘Valediction’ or the Wishbone Four haunting songs ‘Everybody Needs a Friend’  or  ‘Sorrel’.  It’s that softness from Wishbone Ash that I really love – that remarkable luminescent quality – but the band never really created the ethereal dimension.  They just jammed and coasted along. A bit of a conceit and a bit of a session.

You really need to have to know their work before you go to see a group like this, so that you can admire the ability to ‘conjure up’ the music before your very eyes – you don’t really have the capacity to ‘learn’ a new song – so it is strictly an aficianado affair.  This is a shame, because there was a considerable group of potential new customers for the band (who had actually come up to London to see the two important and delicious-sounding support acts  – Panic Room and Mostly Autumn) and these Generation Y rockers were eager for more. And I regret to say, Wishbone Ash did not really offer up the goods.

But, as they say in rock n roll , “It’s No Easy Road.”

© Neil_Mach
May 2010

Links:
Wishbone Ash http://wishboneash.com/
http://www.myspace.com/wishboneashband

‘Martin Turners’  Wishbone Ash:  http://www.wishboneash.co.uk/

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Albany Down, The Hob Staines, May 6

Wow! What a show!  As if touched by grace during the past six months, Albany Down put on a mesmerising and masterful show for the eager crowds at the Staines Hobgoblin last Thursday.   The breadth of their musical achievement is amazing. High dancing vocals from Paul Muir, exciting solos and pushing,  tearing power-chords on the guitar by Paul Turley, pounding great grumbling bass notes from Billy and wildly wicked thunderclaps of earth-shattering power from Jonny on drums.  It was like an eruptive force of nature exploding onto the stage at The Hob.  Those of us who had witnessed Albany Down in the past were in for a surprise.  Expecting their usual subtle blends of ‘grown up’  Rock, Blues and Indie originals  (with maybe a few exciting covers chucked in) none of us could have foreseen such a seismic change in the talents of this ‘conservative’ looking and ‘conservative’  sounding young band.  But their new show is classic rock to be reckoned with.  And this was more than just a performance. It was an urgent, volatile, flaming heart, ears buzzing declaration of power and creative energy.

The band shared a bundle of new material with the delighted crowd at Staines. ‘The Morning After’ with it’s progressive bass-play and  pulsating rhythms of tension and groove constructed to create a mocking anthem  for sliders and shifters…  laced with those treacly lead guitars and culminating in an elegant and hummable chorus. This is an accomplished and worthy song. And  ‘Wasted’ starts with a riff that is so tense that it makes you want to urgently seek much needed climatic release. This is a poisonous mix of clean-cut vocals and dirty, dirty guitars – all chugging along with that insistent drive.

Evidently someone must have whacked a rattlesnake up Paul Muir’s kilt at some stage, because he is now a rampant beast…   prancing, jumping and parading around the stage like an addled Mick Jagger crossed with a libidinous Marti Pellow.  He really ‘held on’ to the heartstrings of the crowd. And Paul Turley not only gave up his quality southern-soaked guitars, but also gave us some note-perfect, sizzling lead vocals on a blues number, and plenty of melodic and expressive backing vocals on other songs. Billy the Bruiser was equally flamboyant on bass guitar, lurking, leeching and leering his way all around the stage whilst  wildman Jonny, on those frantic drums, provided a confetti of pyrotechnic percussive achievements.

The final four songs of the set; The Albany’s blues-style version of the Steve Booker / Duffy hit ‘Mercy’, followed up by the ‘Train Song’, ‘Jealousy’  and ‘Save Me’ draw influences from early Stones, Who even Zeppelin. And these numbers demonstrate that the band would be comfortable working in a blues club, an indie rock venue, a metal festival or up on the high altar at a stadium sized event. Such is their ability and their scale of work.

Yep, Albany Down are now as hot a volcanic ash and yet as cool as snow slippers. This sparkling band goes from strength to strength. Check them out as soon as you can. They will pour passion into your pumps, fire flames up your flares and ram jumping beans down your jumper.  True quality!

© Neil_Mach
May 2010

http://www.myspace.com/albanydownofficial

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Underline The Sky – Hobgoblin, Staines

UTS came all the way down from Ipswich (also home to post punk revival band ‘Rosalita’ ) to play The Hob,  Staines on Thursday’s regular live music evening – bringing with them their overlarge headphone cans for Hicks, and their adorable and instantly infectious, catchy pop songs fresh from a box labelled ‘energy and charm’.

Obviously, this lively five-piece band has been busy in their craft shop back home, with their sticky backed plastic, their safe scissors and lashings of glue, putting together some lovingly created little bits and pieces just for you. To treasure, to cherish or just to hold on to for an evening.

Underline the Sky is lead by the singer Bronwyn Cooper (slim, attractive, clean-bill-of-health) wearing a T-shirt that said  ‘Sexy Girls Come Up to Me’. By her side, Dan Oaten is on guitar (cuddly pocket-rocket guitar power-house.)  Chiron Richardson-Todd is on the bouncing bass, Tom Bryce is also on guitar and helps with those harmonising backing vocals.  And who could miss the lanky stick of dynamite James ‘Hicks’ on drums?  Wearing what I can only describe as two flower pots, stuck to the lugs on his head.

There is an urgency to Bronwyn’s performance. She uses the entire stage – bokking up-and-down the length of it, like some doe eyed young fawn out at play time. She encourages the whole crowd – and her band-mates too –  to give it all – to achieve the best possible performance. She is a star in the making. After the show Bronwyn put on some kooky spectacles and, with her hair up, she looked like one of those hot librarians.  She is that rare artist who looks even better off stage than on.

UTS songs are all about sunset beaches and being in love when you’re sixteen. Yes, it is all a bit sickly sweet. But, as our American cousins on campus would say … it’s kinda cute and also kinda neat.  But even though the hooks and the verses are full of cherry-pop cream soda sweetness and light,  I also really appreciated the growling, snarling, darker undercurrents of the heavy guitar, layered under each lemon-puff tune. Their songs are like life, really. Very funny and light on the surface, with much to laugh about when you are out with your friends.  But underneath, at home, off stage, in the dark, alone – things are full of tension and anxiety. And pain.

And the lyrics to the UTS songs are not that cheesy either:  This Is Goodbye:

“when you speak it makes me sick
like poison written on your lips”

You would expect that line from an emo band like ‘Paramore’  – but this is a group full of cheerful bright and bouncy poppy young people.  It is worth remembering that even happy-go-lucky adolescents, with good teeth and nice hair cuts, have their darker places too.

But the songs kept spilling out.  Each was destined for chart success and summertime disco airplay.  Take for example the song  ‘Katie’ which is as insistent as a wasp at a summer barbecue. But beware. You will get stung.  Because you will be exposed to a frustratingly  boppy chorus and that memorable rhythm. “Tonight I will sleep,” she sings. But it is unlikely, ‘Cos you do  not forget this one in a hurry.  Or take the song  ‘Live This One Down’ which has gigantic boulders of bass and heavy chords  acting as foundation stones for the honey sweet vocals from Bronwyn, reminding me a lot of  Avril Lavigne.

So these are happy pop punk melodies- reminiscent of Blink 182 –  seamlessly patchworked together with experimental rhythms, to provide some hard-cut classic pop, easily digestible for the masses and suitable for mainstream release.  This is a band who knows where they are going and they are willing to take the necessary steps to get there. But the buckets-and-spades end-of-pier appeal to this band is that they are charming, well-groomed, spontaneous and generous. They bounce and cavort on stage like the fun loving kids that they really are. And this draws the audience in and, very soon,  Bronwyn  gets everyone to start shuffling their feet and clapping their mitts to those infectious beats.

“They Said We’d Never Make it…” They sing.  Well, I don’t know about that, because I am pretty sure that this band will be catching the next plane outta Suffolk and on way to Successville.  And you had better be there. Or you’ll miss it!

© Neil_Mach
April 2010

Link:

http://www.myspace.com/underlinethesky

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