Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Rachel Harrington Interview (Part 2)

Following on from part 1, this section of the interview with Rachel Harrington and the Knock Outs covers the potential pitfalls of touring, such as meltdowns and the tricky balance of finances...

In full swing at The Cleveland Bay
You are very honest on your tour blog, highlighting the good and bad points of touring. Is it all worthwhile at the end of the day? 

Is it all worthwhile at the end of the day…what do you guys think?

Knock Outs: Touring? Absolutely. Hell, yeah!

'Hell, Yeah!'
You have the low points, though. The meltdowns…

Knock Outs:  It’s not necessarily with it during the day – but during the show…! Yeah! We play music; it’s fun and it’s a great life. We’re also very focused when we’re touring. We get into town and set up, play the show, pack it all up and then move on to the next one. There’s a nice rhythm to it.

You certainly look to be having lots of fun when you are playing and that comes across as being very genuine.  Financially, are you lucky to break even on a tour?

Well, we’re looking to more than break even. We all like to make a living.

Of course, but based on the comments on your tour blog and doing the maths of the tour – there’s a lot of you – it must be difficult to reach the level where you are making money.

It is. In part we’re able to do this because of my history of touring over here so I already have a certain draw, a certain fanbase who will already come out, so that’s what…you know, last year, I threw it as a trio because I can afford to bring some more folks. Amy and Mo play as MoZo and they’ve got records for sale so that helps with their income. Alisa is working on a record right now so next time we come out on tour she’s going to have that, so yeah, we’re going to figure out a way to make it work. In the meantime it’s a paid vacation. I mean, we’re working out buts off –

Knock Outs: We work hard and play harder!

The interview in progress
To be concluded...

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Rachel Harrington Interview (Part 1)

I first interviewed Rachel back in 2010, when we talked about the Celilo Falls album. Following the excellent evening at The Cleveland Bay in March of this year, we recorded another interview to discuss the new album - Rachel Harrington and the Knock Outs - and related matters.

Rachel Harrington
Let’s start by talking about the genesis of the new album. How did the idea come about to make a slight change in the direction of your style?

Gosh…well, I’ve always wanted to make a proper country record. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Actually, to tell you the truth, Celilo Falls was supposed to be the country record but I ended up not having the funding that I had hoped to have so suddenly I scaled it back and said, OK, it’s got to be an acoustic record! So I put most of those songs on the back burner and then I went out and wrote a new batch of songs and that was Celilo Falls. So I still really want to make a proper country record. I’m not exactly sure what gave me the idea but the idea of putting together an all-girl band was, I think in part, inspired by my Mom’s love for the Dixie Chicks. I’ve loved my previous records and touring partners and everything but I felt like I just wanted to have fun. I thought yeah, let’s make a country record and maybe I could get some girls together that I actually really, really like and we could go and make a record and we could tour the world and gosh, wouldn’t it be fun? And it’s been completely, totally – just pure fun.

So where did you find these magnificent people?

The Magnificent Knock Outs
They were standing on pedestals and God just dropped them down to me.

That’s what I’d thought you say, actually. 

Yeah! Halos appeared and they flew down – it was awesome!

Did you know each other from previous times?

Yeah – I mean, Seattle…the whole of the North West US is fairly isolated so kind of everybody – at least in Seattle – we kind of all know each other. Even if you don’t know them, you know somebody who does and that kind of thing. I’ve known all these three girls for years. So when I had the idea last year I just started putting out feelers about who was available and interested...and this happened. Honestly, none of us had any idea that we were going to set our harmonies as we did. I had no idea any of them sang harmonies but it turned out we could have four-part harmonies which was just awesome.

The harmonies were outstanding, it must be said. I’m intrigued by the track Moonshine Boy. It’s a spin on Sunshine Girl; it’s that you kissing goodbye to the past or is it an extension of your previous work?

Well, let’s see…I think part of it was inspired by the fact that I knew that there might be some response to ‘oh, this album is a new direction…!’ Well, to me it’s not at all, but…OK, it is different but it’s still totally me. So, by putting one of those tracks on the record and also as a live show we play some of the songs from prior records it just feels like it gives it more continuity to me. And we like playing the songs. We now get a fiddle solo on that song. The fiddle makes that song!

'The fiddle makes that song!'

To be continued...

Monday, 28 May 2012

Rachel Harrington and the Knock Outs: New CD

Rachel Harrington 
and the 
Knock Outs
This week we'll be publishing our recent interview with Rachel Harrington. To set the scene, here's another look at Rachel's new CD. The genesis of the CD will be covered in the interview.

Suffice to say that the introduction of an all-girl band has given Rachel a change of direction, although stepping from the worlds of Americana and folk into country and honkytonk does not represent a seismic shift, so fans of previous albums will not feel they have been left behind. Makin' Our House A Honkytonk sets the scene perfectly, just as it did when it when opened the set at The Cleveland Bay. It's pacey, catchy and instantly likeable.

Not every song is so blatantly honkytonk, there's good variety on this CD. There's a duet with Mark Erelli on the smouldering I'll Show You Mine, an updated, punchier version of Sunshine Girl - Rachel's signature tune - now called Moonshine Boy, and an extraordinary (and very funny) observational piece called Hippie In My House.

Track List

Makin' Our House A Honkytonk
He's My Man
Love Him Or Leave Him To Me
Wedding Ring Vacation
Get You Some
I'll Show You Mine
Nothin' To Do But You
Hippie In My House
Moonshine Boy
I'd Like To Take This Chance

As we saw for ourselves at The Cleveland Bay, the Knock Outs are a terrific band who just love playing together. Their enthusiasm is apparent on every song on the CD.

Impressively, Rachel wrote all of the songs (with co-writing credits for Steve Duda and Evan Brubaker on I'd Like To Take This Chance and He's My Man respectively).

Stand out tracks: Makin' Our House A Honky Tonk, Nothin' To Do But You, Moonshine Boy.

There's more on Rachel, her music and the Knock Outs on this page.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Billy Walton Band: Crank It Up!

Billy Walton Band 
Crank It Up! 
Billy Walton has been very active in the New Jersey shore music scene for over 15 years. Now, with the formation of the Billy Walton Band, his hard blues style is pushing much further afield.

Billy's guitar solos naturally feature heavily, particularly on the faster numbers. Stylistically, there are similarities to the likes of Eric Clapton and Mick Taylor. Lyrically, the inspirations come from further afield; there are, for instance, strong hints of Bryan Adams on Summertime Girl.

The majority of the tracks are indeed 'cranked up'. Fast numbers open and close the CD but there are some gentler songs in the middle of the track list to add contrast.

Apart from the guitar, other stand out instrument is the saxophone, which lifts several numbers just at the right time.

Billy Walton Band

Track List

Deal With The Devil
Crank It Up
The Night The Deal Went Down
Till Tomorrow
Night Turns Blue
One In A Million
Summertime Girl
Hot Blues
Black Jack Dealer

Stand out tracks: Deal With The Devil, Till Tomorrow, Black Jack Dealer.

Further details are available on the Billy Walton Band website.

(All images used in this review are © Billy Walton Band website)

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Clare Free: Dust and Bones

Dust and Bones 
Clare Free

Both with a band and as a solo artiste, Clare Free has enjoyed an increasing amount of radio and magazine coverage over the last year or so. 

 All of the songs on Dust and Bones are Clare’s own compositions; an impressive achievement. The themes should resonate with most listeners. For example, Can’t Slow Down portrays a world which ‘ain’t kind to a human heart’ and in which ‘…we’re always rushing caught in life’s slip stream’, while Tempted speaks of being able to ‘Hear my demons talk to me in dirty ways; my self control slowly slips away.’ 

The subject matter is often dark, but tinged with hope, an aspect especially noticeable on Stronger Than You Think and Small Miracles. Elsewhere, there are songs of broken love (Dust and Bones) and unwanted attention (Creepy). All good topics for Clare’s fiery, passionate blues style. 

Track List 

Can’t Slow Down 
Dust and Bones 
Little Miss Jealousy 
Believe In Me 
Stronger Than You Think 
Small Miracles 
My Last Day 

Stand out tracks: Can’t Slow Down, Stronger Than You Think, Creepy. 

Follow Clare’s progress on her official website.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Ron Sayer jr: Better Side

Better Side
Ron Sayer jr.
Ron Sayer’s own description of his music is ‘…a mix of many different styles I’ve absorbed in a sponge-like way over the years (funk, rock, country, jazz etc)’. Such a fusion shouldn’t necessarily lead to confusion for the discerning listener, as the music is ‘…always served marinated in blues sauce. Just the way it should be!’

He earned his first guitar at the age of seven, having been promised the prize on the condition that he ‘…could learn the Star Wars theme on my cheesy Bontempi organ.’ Cream provided early inspiration; many others followed, from classic old bluesmen such as BB King and Muddy Waters to ‘…some not so obvious but still incredible players’ such as Tommy Emmanuel. Ron periodically plays bass guitar for Oli Brown too.
With Oli Brown

Better Side showcases Ron’s guitar skills in combination with his talent as a singer/songwriter (all bar two tracks were written by him). The riff-driven blues have the backing of a full band (drums, keyboards, bass, backing vocals) to give everything a punchy, accomplished sound.

Faster tracks (such as Bad Thing and Manana) intermingle with slower blues (I Ain’t Leaving, What Would You Do?). The keyboards add a touch of the soul sound here and there and, of course, guitar solos are an integral feature throughout the CD.

The only song I didn’t warm to was My Mother In Law, which proceeds in predictable fashion and seems at odds with the rest of the selection.

Track List 

Bad Thing
I Ain’t Leaving Don’t
Make Me Stay
All The Time
You Can Cry
Piece Of Me
Your Pleasure, My Pain
My Mother In Law
Little White Lies
What Would You Do?
Baby Blue

Stand out tracks: Bad Thing, Piece Of Me.

Find out more on Ron’s official website.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Suzy Bogguss at the Gala Theatre

Suzy Bogguss 
Gala Theatre, Durham 
Suzy Bogguss was in fine form at the Gala Theatre last night. Relaxed and clearly enjoying herself, she played 90 minutes of Americana, country and folk songs. There was no support act; Suzy appeared on the stage promptly at 8 p.m. with a winning smile and launched into the first two songs. Introducing the third song, she revealed there had been a wager against her speaking to the audience before the first three songs were through and that she’d just lost.

The opening number was Outbound Plane (a song we have also heard played by the writer, Nanci Griffith) and it partly set the tone for the remainder of the fine evening. We were treated to a mixture of popular songs (mostly covers) from various stages of Suzy’s career and a selection of material from her latest CD, American Folk Songbook.

I Still Miss Someone, If You Leave Me Now and Shenandoah were undoubtedly among the highlights of the first half of the show.

Suzy’s band consisted of Charlie Chadwick (bass) and Pat Bergeson (guitar and harmonica). There was plenty of on stage banter between the three of them, reaching a peak around Suzy’s (ultimately abortive) attempts to master the Jew’s harp.

Following a short break after the first 45 minutes, it was back down to business with an equally strong second half, starting with a powerful rendition of Wayfaring Stranger. A little bit of audience participation soon followed (‘Eat At Joe's’) and the show eventually drew to a close in cowboy territory, with talk of sharing TV dinners with Roy Rogers. The story led into the closing number, I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart, complete with authentic yodeling.

An encore swiftly followed in the form of Red River Valley.

It was her first time in Durham (‘a beautiful city’) but she promised to return. Hopefully, we’ll be there to see it happen.

For more information, please visit the Suzy Bogguss website.

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Two Man Gentleman Band: Two At A Time

Two At A Time
The Two Man Gentleman Band

Towards the end of 2011, The Two Man Gentleman Band began a Kickstarter appeal to help fund their new album (Marsh Towers covered the project here and here). The fruits of their labour are now ready, willing and able to enhance your own gentlemanly collections of musical entertainment.

I have seen one half of the band; Andy Bean toured the UK with The Wiyos a couple of years ago and recorded a wonderful EP with them too (as mentioned in my interview with The Wiyos).

What should one expect? Well, let's start with the name. True, there are two of them, namely Andy Bean (on tenor guitar) and Fuller Condon (string bass) and they describe their music as 'hot raucous retro swing'. According to the events portrayed in the songs, we must assume that the term 'gentleman' is being used a shade loosely. Possibly, to borrow a phrase used to describe the great music hall star Billy Bennett, it would be more accurate to them as 'almost gentlemen'.

The well-dressed duo - rarely to be seen with a hair out of place or without a cocktail glass in hand - present 12 songs of general debauchery, based on subjects such as having lots of fun while their folks are away, arranging a pool party just to get a look at bathing suits (and their contents), a desire for strong drink and...the perfect Tikka Masala.  Everyday concerns for the everyday gentleman.

Would you go to a pool party with these gentlemen?
The track list should give ample information on what else to expect.

Track List

Pork Chops
Please Don't Water it Down
Panama City Beach
Pool Party
Shut That Gate
Two Star Motel
Cheese and Crackers
Tikka Masala
Let's Get Happy Together
Prescription Drugs
Two at a Time

The Gentlemen in full swing

The Two Man Gentleman Band fuse a modern, tongue in cheek knowingness with the best traditions of feel good music hall to produce a worthy slice of pure entertainment, all played with a pair of stiff upper lips and straight faces.  All of the songs are catchy and leave one wanting to hear more. My two personal favourites are undoubtedly Tikka Masala and Pork Chops. They represent the two strongest cuts on the album. But don't just take my word for it; have a listen to this:

Keep up to date with The Two Man Gentleman Band over on their official website  and there's more information on this page of the Brookfield Knights site.

All images in this review are © The Two Man Gentleman Band

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Dani Wilde: Juice Me Up

Dani Wilde
Juice Me Up
With an energetic statement of intent from the horn section and a building roll of drum thunder, Don't Go Making Me Cry blasts off Dani Wilde's third solo album with a strong, toe-tapping opener. It's fast-paced blues with deep Motown roots clearly showing. Instantly familiar, catchy and likeable, it draws the listener into the album in search of more of the same.

Walk Out The Front Door is a little bit slower and more soulful but very much in keeping with the opener. By now, the scene is well and truly set.

Let Me Show You is faster again, very 1960s, complete with backing vocals (mainly repeating the sing-along title) and mid-song guitar solo. The general subject matter running through the first three songs - boys and break ups - is solid ground.

There's a change of tack on Crazy World, a song about rebel group in Africa recruiting children. Politics rear their head again on the funky The Burning Truth, which is about the 2011 UK riots. Personally, I don't enjoy political and/or protest songs as much as others (they date so rapidly for one thing) and I feel here that - despite being worthy statements - they are perhaps a shade too far removed from the overall feel of Juice Me Up.

Elsewhere the diversity continues. There are more songs in keeping with the opening tracks (Call On Me), slow ballads (Falling, Sweet Inspiration, I Will Be Waiting), a slow Doo-Wop style number (Who's Loving You) and a couple of rock-outs (Juice Me Up and the down 'n' dirty bluesy Mississippi Kisses).

 Track list
  1. Don't Go Making Me Cry
  2. Walk Out The Front Door
  3. Let Me Show You
  4. Crazy World
  5. Who's Loving You
  6. Mississippi Kisses
  7. All I Need
  8. The Burning Truth
  9. Falling
  10. Call On Me
  11. Juice Me Up
  12. Sweet Inspiration
  13. I Will Be Waiting
I imagine Dani is great to see live, where even more energy can be poured into the songs. Definitely one to keep an eye on.  Fans of Oli Brown should give Juice Me Up a try; there are some stylistic similarities between the labelmates. (Dani had a guest spot on Oli's latest CD too.)

Keep up to date with the latest Dani Wilde news and your dates over at her official website and there's more information over at Rufrecords.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Yes, Prime Minister

Yes, Prime Minister 
Darlington Civic Theatre 

There is currently a trend for transporting TV comedies to the stage. In recent times I have seen - and enjoyed – stage versions of Steptoe and SonDad’s ArmyPorridge, Up Pompeii and Hi-de-Hi.  

Last week it was time to see Yes, Prime Minister, which had done very well on the West End before heading out on tour. The script, by original TV writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, sets a high standard which the cast are equal to. We are given a fly on the wall view of shady political machinations as Prime Minister Jim Hacker desperately battles to find straight forward answers buried deep within the rhetoric of Sir Humphrey Appleby (Cabinet Secretary) and Bernard Woolley (Principal Private Secretary). 

Everything at Chequers (represented by a magnificent set) seems to be just about under control (despite the Prime Minister’s total bemusement) until they receive an unusual request from the Kumranistan Ambassador, which appears to place the PM in a lose/lose situation. The request (a liaison with a school girl) is clearly outrageous, but the solution to the UK’s financial meltdown demands the cooperation of Kumranistan. 

To make matters worse, amid the spin, double dealings and general political mayhem, the BBC are coming to interview the Prime Minister, live on TV, and to appear ‘courageous’ is considered to be a fatal error. The ‘nick of time’ solution to the problem is achieved only after a couple of hours of genuinely laugh out loud moments, resting mainly on extremely clever word play, brilliantly delivered by the cast, and reaction acting of the highest calibre.

Yes, Prime Minister is a very clever and extremely entertaining show. The laughs certainly haven’t been subjected to any cuts in the humour budget and the whole thing was considerably more engaging than anything the world of real-life politics has to offer.

Friday, 11 May 2012

CSC Training Day

There will be a training day for the Chess in Schools and Communities charity in Middlesbrough on Wednesday 27 June.

Please click here for further details and an online entry form.

Our Teesside Project page can be found here.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Further Reading

The latest issue of CHESS includes my new reviews of The Greatest Ever Chess Endgames (Steve Giddins, Everyman Chess) and What It Takes to Be a Chess Master (Andrew Soltis, Batsford).

CHESS magazine is currently the home of my regular reviews but there will still be the occasional one or two here.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Memories of Mike: 1 e4 c5

Two years ago today, we lost the Mighty Mish. Gone - but not forgotten, of course. Here are a few more memories from our games together.

Back in the 1980s, when we first started to play against each other regularly, the Sicilian Defence was a major part of my repertoire. I switched between the Dragon and Najdorf variations. In the latter, I often transposed to Scheveningen positions, heavily influenced by the first two Kasparov - Karpov matches.

Mike excelled in the Sicilian Defence. 1 e4 c5 were undoubtedly his favourite opening moves from both sides of the board. He went on to adopt both the Najdorf and Dragon to great effect and his victories as a white Sicilian-slayer were legendary.

Over the course of a week in 1986, we contested two games which were very important to both of us. Both were Scheveningens and we won one each. I achieved a tremendous position in the first game and...lost. In the second game, Mike did exactly the same.

Mike Closs - Sean Marsh
Guisborough v Redcar, League Match

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e6 7.0–0 Be7 8.f4 Qc7 9.a4 0–0 10.Kh1 Nc6 

Yes, we knew our stuff in those days. Mike also knew I played the Poisoned Pawn variation against 6 Bg5 and he wasn't ready to take that on.

11.Nb3 b6 12.Be3 Rb8 13.Qe1 Re8 14.Qf2 Na5 

Mike's typical kingside attack hasn't started yet and Black is able to take the initiative. I remember reading about this ...Na5 idea in a book. Black hopes to open the b-file and develop some Benko Gambit style pressure. The doubled pawns didn't seem like a big price to pay.

I remember something unusual occurred around here. The lights in the chess club (a tiny room upstairs at Guisborough Cricket Club) went out. 'Bad play stops light', we quipped. Thinking of illuminated alternatives, someone was sent downstairs to ask the Bridge people if they wouldn't mind us using the back of their room (we knew our place). We were given permission and carefully carried the boards downstairs. Everything was very quiet in the room as we started to think about our positions again, but things changed dramatically as soon as the Bridge players finished a hand. Such noise!

15.Nd2 d5 16.e5 Nd7 17.Bd4 Nc6 18.Nb3 Nc5 19.Nxc5 bxc5 20.Bxc5 Rxb2 

Black looks good here, but we were both getting very short of time and Mike was always trying to find active play to give him a chance of turning the tables. In later years, we would joke about how he always seemed to have positions with a Bishop on d3, a pawn on e5 and a Queen jumping out to either g4 or h5.

21.Bd3 Nxe5 22.Bxh7+ Kxh7 23.Bxe7 Ng4 24.Qh4+ Nh6 

A flurry of drama, but Black is doing well. White's position is collapsing but Mike knew how to throw pieces towards an enemy King and always retained a puncher's chance. We were both in very bad time trouble now and we had to reach the time control at move 36.

25.Nd1 Rxc2 26.Bg5 d4 27.Nf2 f5 28.Nd3 Bb7 29.Rg1 Qc3 30.Rad1 Rd2 31.Rxd2 Qxd2 32.Ne5 

See what I mean? Mike suddenly has three pieces in excellent positions, just waiting for a slip in the defence.

32 ...Rg8??

This looked good at the time. My idea was to use the open g-file (after Bxh6) to augment my attack on g2. Unfortunately, I'd missed one of Mike's trademark Queen moves, which turned the game around completely.  32 ...Rc8! was the best move, intending to meet 33 Qh5 or 33 Bxh6 with 33 ...Qxg2+, forcing checkmate.

33.Qh5! d3 34.Qg6+ Kh8 35.Bxh6 Bxg2+ 36.Rxg2 Qd1+ ...and, having reached the time control and realising that Black had nothing left to try, I resigned.  1-0

Just two days later we were at it again.

Mike Closs - Sean Marsh
Cleveland Championship

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 e6 7. O-O Be7 8. f4 O-O 9. Be3 Nc6 10. Qe1 Qc7 11. Qg3 b5 12. Bf3 Bb7 13. a3 

A more critical line than the one used in the first game. We both played the opening very quickly and no wonder; we had doubtless spent many hours preparing over the previous couple of days.

13 ...g6 14. Nxc6 Bxc6 15.f5 He never messed around when it came to attacking on the kingside. 15 ...exf5 16. exf5 a5 17. Bh6 Rfe8 18. fxg6 hxg6 19. Bg5 Kg7 20. Bxc6 Qxc6 21.Qh4 

White has a big advantage here.  

21 ...Ng8 22. Qd4+ Kf8 23. Qf4 

He was very good with his Queen! Apparently Black's best try is to play either 23 ...f6 or 23 ...f5 here, which shows how difficult the position is. I played something else, which should lose the game. 

23 ...Qc4 White can play 24 Nxb5 is he wants to, but the game variation is very strong too. 

24. Bxe7+ Rxe7 25. Qxd6 Kg7 26. Rf4 Rd8 

We were both in time trouble again and missed 27 Rxf7+, netting another pawn. Mike no doubt wanted to keep things as simple as possible to confirm a victory, but it's interesting how quickly he lets things slip after the Queens are swapped.

27. Rxc4 Rxd6 28. Nxb5 Rd2 29. Nd4 Re4 30. c3 Rxb2 31. Rc5 Re3 32. Rc1 Rd3 

Black's Rooks are troublesome now and with both of our flags hanging Mike blundered and lost a piece with...

33. Rc2? Rxc2 34. Nxc2 Rd1+ 35. Ne1 Rxe1+ 36. Kf2 Rc1 

Here the game was adjourned and we came back the following week to continue. The rest of the moves don't really require any comment.

37. Ke3 Nf6 38. Kd4 Rc2 39. Rxa5 Rxg2 40. c4 Rxh2 41. c5 Rd2+ 42. Kc4 Rd8 43. c6 Rc8 44. Kc5 Ne8 45. Kb6 Rb8+ 46. Kc5 Kf6 47. Ra4 g5 48. Rd4 Ke5 49. Rd5+ Kf6 50. Rd4 Nc7 51. Rd7 Ne6+ 52. Kd6 Rb3 53. c7 Rd3+ 54. Kc6 Rxd7 55. Kxd7 Nxc7 56. Kxc7 g4 57. a4 g3 58. a5 g2 59. a6 g1=Q 60. Kb7 Ke5 61. a7 Qxa7+ 0-1

Two games with the wrong results!

We only ever contested one more Sicilian Defence. That came during a four-game training match as we prepared for the Leeds Rapidplay tournament. We had to acclimatise to 30-minute chess (a novel idea at the time) and a match seemed a good idea. Mike raced to a 2-0 lead but it ended 2-2, with the Dragon winning in game four. Mike then took up the Dragon himself and used it at the Leeds event, but as this earlier column mentioned, his debut with it wasn't exactly a success!

After 1986 I never played 1 ...c5 against his 1 e4. He just became too strong in the resulting positions and I tried some other openings against him. But that's another story.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Oli Brown: Here I Am

Here I Am
Oli Brown

It's safe to say that Oli Brown has taken the blues world by storm over the last couple of years. The British Blues Awards recognised his emergence and confirmed it by awarding the twin honours of Best Band and Best Album in 2011. The album in question was Oli's second - Heads I Win, Tails You Lose, released in 2010 and toured extensively last year.

Good news! Not only has Oli just released his third album but I can very happily report that in my opinion it is even better than Heads I Win, Tails You Lose. Here I Am wastes no time getting to the point. The title track hits the ground running and is a statement of both achievement and intent, nailing his colours unashamedly to the tallest mast of British blues. The song is pacey, confident and the ideal opener for such an accomplished album.

Track List
  1. Here I Am
  2. Thinking About Her
  3. Manic Bloom
  4. All We Had To Give
  5. You Can Only Blame Yourself
  6. Start It Again
  7. Devil In Me
  8. I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know
  9. Remedy
  10. Mr Wilson
  11. Like a Feather
  12. Solid Ground

It is a further testament to Oli Brown's talent that 10 of the 12 tracks are written by him (or co-written with Ron Sayer). Tracks 8 and 11 are the covers.

There's no slack on this album. Every song is catchy and great riffs abound. After playing it for a couple of weeks, I can claim the stand out tracks are Here I Am, All We Had To Give and Devil In Me. 

In addition to Oli (on vocals and guitar) Here I Am features the following personnel.

Bass: Scott Barnes
Drums and Percussion: Wayne Proctor
Keyboards: Joel White
Guests: Dani Wilde (vocals, track 11) Paul Jones (harmonica, track 12)

Here I Am is powerful, fresh and exciting. Oli is on the crest of a wave at the moment and clearly has a long and very successful ahead of him. Catch him live when you can!

Keep up to date with all of the latest news and tour dates over on the official Oli Brown website.