Monday, 1 December 2014

December Break

Marsh Towers will be hibernating over December due to time constraints.

We should be back in 2015.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Hugh Cornwell and Hazel O'Connor

Hugh Cornwell and Hazel O'Connor
The Arc, Stockton-on-Tees
27.11.2014
The Arc came up trumps yet again last night with a very powerful double bill, featuring music from the 1970s all the way up to the present.

Hazel O'Connor was on first, flanked by Sarah Fisher (keyboards) and Clare Hirst (saxophone). It's the first time I'd seen Hazel (although, of course, her music made an impression the first time around) and she has a very impressive stage presence - emotive, with a strong sense of humour.
The songs included the likes of Will You and Decadent Days from the Breaking Glass era interspersed with much more recent material, such as I Give You My Sunshine, a song written by Hazel for her terminally ill mother.
The trio's set lasted about an hour and left us wanting more. Hopefully they will tour again in 2015. 
Clare Hirst (former Belle Star!)
Sarah Fisher
After a short break it was time for Hugh Cornwell, whose last appearance at The Arc was back in 2012 for a solo acoustic show. Shortly prior to that, he was in the North East to promote the reissue of Guilty in 2011. This time he was touring his latest album, Totem and Taboo.
The set list featured a fine mixture of tracks from Totem and Taboo (starting with the title track) and classics from the back catalogue of The Stranglers.

Hugh certainly plays it for real. He hasn't lost his edge or integrity even after all these years.
The band consisted of Chris Bell (drums) and Caroline Campbell (bass). It was a big, loud sound (useful these days, when some people turn up to gigs apparently just to talk to each other. Shouldn't they reserve that sort of behaviour for the cinema...?)
The Totem and Taboo tracks included I Want One Of Those, God Is A Woman and A Street Called Carroll; The Stranglers classics included Dagenham Dave, Skin Deep, Strange Little Girl, Duchess, Nice 'N' Sleazy and, of course, No More Heroes.

We'd already had an encore and the show looked to be over but then both trios took to the stage once more for a collective rendition of Hanging Around, with Hazel on lead vocals.
 Everyone certainly seemed to be having fun.
It was a rocking, upbeat finale that pushed the 11 p.m. curfew envelope to the limit.

Yes, another triumph for The Arc, who will have their work cut in 2015 to match this year's fine assortment of musical offerings.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

China Crisis

China Crisis
The Arc, Stockton-on-Tees
20.11.2014
Back with a new album, their first in 20 years - courtesy of an online pledge campaign - China Crisis are currently touring the UK.

They pulled the curious trick of being their own support act, with the trio of Eddie Lundon, Gary Daly and Brian McNeil performing a small number of stripped back songs before taking a break. They emerged again around 20 minutes later, joined by three more band members.
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I'm not particularly familiar with China Crisis and their style and am still not so sure what to make of some aspects of their performance. The on-stage language was enough to make Stocktonians blush (no mean feat) and some of Gary Daly's humour and dance moves - bordering on self-parody at times - made it unclear just how seriously he was taking things.
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However, musically everything was impressively tight. Highlights from the back catalogue included African and White, Christian, Working With Fire and Steel, Black Man Ray and Diary of a Hollow Horse.
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The new album, Autumn in the Neighbourhood, is currently at the 'polishing prior to release' stage. A handful of the new songs were giving an airing, topped and tailed by requests not to record and post them on the Internet, partly so as to not to spoil the impact of the new album's impending release and partly because the band was apparently aware that mistakes could be made on songs they had played only rarely. The songs in question were Autumn in the Neighbourhood, Fool and Down Here on Earth. The first impressions are very favourable. Indeed, it would have been good to hear more of the new material.

Incidentally, even though the online campaign smashed through the initial target, it is still possible to pledge and claim a suitable reward.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Further Reading: Batsford Blog

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Here's a link to a new piece of writing by me for the Batsford Blog.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Dana Fuchs: Songs From The Road

Songs From The Road
Dana Fuchs

The Songs From the Road series - one of the brightest jewels in the crown of Ruf Records - returns with an impressive double set from Dana Fuchs.

The format is the same as for the previous releases in the same series: a live CD and a live DVD - of the same show, with the occasional minor difference in terms of tracks.

The songs are drawn from Dana's three studio albums, with 2013's Bliss Avenue represented particularly well. Indeed, Bliss Avenue - once described by Dana as the album that ''really purged my soul in a starker, more naked way, both lyrically and musically'' is a powerful album, deserving of its plaudits. The songs I picked as stand out tracks when reviewing the album - namely, Bliss Avenue, So Hard To Move, Rodents in the Attic, and Vagabond Wind - are all present and correct here.
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Prime cuts from Lonely For A Lifetime (2003) and Love to Beg (2011) are not afraid to show their teeth either, as the track list shows.

Track list

CD

Bliss Avenue
Handful Too Many
Livin' On Sunday
How Did Things Get This Way
So Hard To Move
Summersong
Set It On Fire
Sad Salvation
Tell Me I'm Not Drinking
Rodents In The Attic
Nothin' On My Mind
Vagabond Wind
Long Long Game
Keep On Walkin'
I've Been Loving You Too Long
Don't Let Me Down

DVD

Bliss Avenue
Handful Too Many
Livin' On Sunday
How Did Things Get This Way
So Hard To Move
Summersong
Set It On Fire
Tell Me I'm Not Drinking
Sad Salvation
Love To Beg
Rodents In The Attic
Nothin' On My Mind
Vagabond Wind
Long Long Game
Keep On Walkin'
I've Been Loving You Too Long
Don't Let Me Down

Dana's music comes wrapped in a big, rock/blues sound. The band is on great form (they need to be, to match the high standard set by Dana).

Personnel

Jon Diamond - guitar and backing vocals
Matt Beck - guitars
Jack Daley - bass
Pete Levin - keyboard
Joe Daley - drums

Backing vocals are supplied by the Screaming Sirens - Elaine Caswell, Nicki Richards and Bette Sussman.

Dana dominates the stage with her considerable presence and energetic performance, whether she's belting out the songs - with evident feeling - dancing alongside the guitar solos, bashing the tambourine or hunkering down with the Screaming Sirens.

The DVD is very nicely shot, with lots of close ups offering great immediacy to the non-stop action. Dana knows how to find the camera and in return the camera just can't keep away. The CD offers a different perspective. Shorn of the visuals, the point of focus is definitely Dana's rocking voice.

There's no doubt about it; this volume in the successful Songs From the Road sets a very high standard for those to follow.

Follow the Dana Fuchs news over at her official website.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Julia Fordham: Porcelain 25

Julia Fordham
The Sage (Hall 2), Gateshead
15.11.2014
Julia Fordham's current tour is to celebrate 25 years since the release of the Porcelain album. The previous tour was in the summer of 2013, as reviewed here

This show saw the whole of the Porcelain album played in full, followed by a small selection of other popular songs.

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Julia's highly distinctive voice was matched by the virtuosity of Grant Mitchell on piano, but this time there was a new addition to the personnel. Pav Chana had met Julia at the stage door after the show in Leeds and had told her Porcelain was the initial inspiration for him start playing percussion. In an extraordinary twist, he was invited to join the show - with his percussion set - two days later - which is why he was here at The Sage. I've never known anything like that happen before.

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Another connection to Porcelain was the presence, onstage, of the original red garment featured on the album's artwork.

Julia connected well with the audience. Noticing one or two vacant seats on the front row, she asked people from the balcony behind her to come down and fill the gaps, praising their bravery when some people actually did so.
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Porcelain 25 was a classy show and we look forward to seeing Julia Fordham again in the near future.

For all the Julia Fordham news and tour dates, head for her official website.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

New Music In Brief

It's a very busy time here at Marsh Towers and there are lots of products to review. Due to time constraints some of the recent album releases will have much shorter coverage than others. So today - with apologies for brevity - we present a quick round up to bring the new releases up to date, with longer reviews resuming later in the week, starting with the new Dana Fuchs album - Songs From The Road.

Zoe Schwartz Blue Commotion
Exposed
Zoe Schwarz and the band are back with their third album, featuring 13 songs. There are plenty of fine guitar solos on Exposed but the real strength is Zoe's great vocal performance and the sheer range of songs on display.

According to Blues Matters, ''Zoe and her band have reached the point where they can't be ignored and are poised to make the international breakthrough they deserve.'' I agree with the assessment. Exposed offers a great sound and I'm sure Zoe Schwarz and Blue Commotion will be even better live.

Colosseum
Time On Our Side
Colosseum can hardly be classed as prolific, at least in recent times; 11 years have passed since Tomorrow's Blues, their last album.

Time On Our Side presents a fine selection of jazz-blues compositions, with Hammond organ and saxophone well to the fore. We are hoping to return to this album for a longer review in the near future.

Larry Miller
Soldier of the Line
Larry Miller leaves no doubt about his assessment of Soldier of the Line, stating: ''This is my best album ever. In love the blues rock genre but I'm always wanting to hear something more, take it somewhere else but never losing sight of passionate playing from the heart.''

The title track was inspired by the combination of images of shell shocked soldiers, hospitalized in WW1, and Larry seeing a photo of his grandfather in military in hospital uniform. The resulting song is clearly the influence on the album cover too.

Elsewhere, there's a good mix of power blues and rockers.
John Cee Stannard and Blue Horizon
Bus Depot Blues
This acoustic trio was formed to tour John Cee Stannard's first solo album in 2013. The gigs were a success and new songs continued to flow.

John is going through a very productive period. ''I have been asked several times where the songs come from. The truth is that in 2011 one day a door opened and they all started coming through.''

The songs on Bus Depot Blues are all originals bar a single cover of That's Alright by Arthur Crudup.This is a slice of feel good music, pulling the standard blues trick of making sad songs sound happy. Pop it into your CD player, tap your feet and forget your own troubles for a while.

Price to Pay
Robbie Hill and the Blue '62s
Robbie Hill, originally from Scotland, spent some time in Scandinavia where he teemed up Jesse King (bass) and Tatu Parssinen (drums), forming the Blue 62's.

Price to Pay is a mixture of new songs and covers. The music is still in the blues genre, but with strong influences from the African, jazz and world rhythms side of things. It's an uplifting album.

Vargas Blues Band
From the Dark
From the Dark is a speedy follow up to last year's Heavy City Blues and it has already been gathering great reviews, with early speculation hinting at it being the best album yet from the Vargas Blues Band.

Javier Vargas has shared the stage with a whole range of rock luminaries including the likes of Santana.

From the Dark is blues from the rock side of town; uptempo, fuelled by heavy riffs and lots of energy. Guest vocals from Dani Wilde (who, incidentally, has a new album out soon) add an important extra texture to proceedings.