Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Fish - Leamington Spa Assembly Rooms


Undaunted by the snowy weather we set off to Leamington Spa not knowing for sure if the gig was going to go ahead? Two hardy souls were already queuing outside The Assembly as we walked past some three hours before the doors were due to open. We made for the nearest pub and had a warm up watching the Manchester derby football match on the tv. This was also notable as I had my first pints of beer since September 15th, which as you would expect went down rather well.. We made our way back up to the venue with half an hour to go before the doors opened and low and behold it was still the same two hardy souls in the queue. Apparently they were saying on Twitter there was some dispute about whether the gig should be cancelled. Certainly there would be those who couldn't make it, but then again the band had managed to get down from Manchester the previous night. It's a tricky one but I think it was right to go ahead as many had made the effort to be there.

 

First up was Doris Brendel with her band of Prog and Pop rock with a bit of a 'Steampunk' theme going on. She has been described as the modern day 'Janis Joplin.' Her father Alfred Brendel is an Austrian pianist, poet and author, known particularly for his performances of Mozart, Schubert and especially Beethoven. They were fine and got a good reception from an ever increasing crowd but I don't think I will be putting their CD on my Christmas list.It wasn't the last we would see of Doris though as she was providing backing vocals for Fish too.



Fish has returned to UK stages to debut his new studio album ‘Weltschmerz’ together with a final full 30th anniversary performance of ‘Clutching at Straws’, his last album with ‘Marillion’.
‘Weltschmerz’ was coined by the 18th Century German writer Jean Paul to describe a ‘feeling of apathy caused by the sadness about life when seeing the evils of the world.’
 Clutching at Straws was the fourth Marillion studio album( 1987) and the last with Fish before he quit the following year. A concept album that is dark in places exploring the principle characters relationship with the demon drink and a life going off the rails."The concept was maybe too close to home," he wrote in the liner notes for the album's 1999 re-release. Very different from the much more commercial sound of 'Misplaced Childhood' many see this as Marillion's finest hour. 

 

Fish welcomed and thanked the audience for their efforts in getting to the show in such awful conditions. He quipped ' When people have said in the past there is snow at the gig it meant something else entirely'. He spoke briefly about his unhealthy relationship with Cocaine back in the day and his over familiarity with alcohol. The first four songs are are all from his solo albums, '13th Star, 'Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors' and 'Suits' .

 

 We are then treated to 'Clutching at Straws' in it's entirety. Some of the songs have never been played in over thirty years and rarely heard live. We kick off with 'Hotel Hobbies' depicting life on the road and the temptations that go with such an existence. 'Hotel hobbies padding dawns hollow corridors. Bell boys checking out the hookers in the bar. Slug-like fingers trace the star-spangled clouds of cocaine on the mirror. The short straw took its bow'.
This is followed by 'Warm Wet Circles' which was the third single released from the album. Possibly the best know track from the album is 'Incommunicado' which reached number 6 in the UK charts in 1987 and still gets some radio play today on stations such as Planet Rock.











By now Fish has  started to deal with a bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc , something clearly well practised. £5.99 from Majestic he informs the crowd. Much cheaper than the twenty quid they were asking at that posh Italian place over the road. He is on good form waxing lyrical and his chief target tonight is 'Donald Trump' . 'How embarrassing is it that is mother is Scottish he asks'?
It is great to hear 'Clutching at Straws' for one more time and nobody who has made the effort will leave disappointed i'm sure.
We get one final song from the era 'Tux On' during the first encore, which has always been a favourite of mine. The final two songs are from 'A Feast of Consequences' and wrap up a superb night.

Guitarist Robin Boult












Full Set List
  • The Voyeur (I like to Watch)
  • Emperor's Song
  • Circle Line
  • State of Mind
  • Hotel Hobbies
  • Warm Wet Circles
  • That Time of the Night (The Short Straw)
  • Just for the Record
  • Incommunicado
  • Torch Song
  • Slainte Mhath
  • Going Under
  • Sugar Mice
  • White Russian
  • The Last Straw
Encore 
  •  Tux On
  • Perfume River
Encore 2
  • The Great Unravelling

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Metallica - Birmingham Genting Arena


Its a frightening thought that I was still a teenager the last time I saw Metallica at the wonderful and much missed Birmingham Odeon. I will forever remember that night , a mere callow youth being about 10 feet away from the stage on one of the loudest gigs ever where even the floor seem to be vibrating. It was one of the last few shows with Bassist Cliff Burton who tragically died on September 26th in the tour bus crash in Sweden. So, here we are some 31 years later since their first visit to these shores and 8 years since they last came to Birmingham.

I shall skip over the support act 'Kvelertak' from Norway who to me were just a noise and I was pleased when they had finished in truth.

 

 The stage was “in the round” and the band entered as the lights dimmed to Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold” from the 'Good the Bad and he Ugly overture. The sell out  15,000 crowd are in raptures and the digital boxes suspended from the ceiling light up with spectacular visuals and rise and fall accordingly. James Hetfield promises us a lot of new stuff and a lot of the old, so something for everybody without a doubt. But we kick off with two new songs before the real crowd pleaser 'Seek and Destroy' from the 'Kill em All' album. The latest album 'Hard wired to Self Destruct' has been hailed as their best effort since the legendary 'Black' Album. And we were to get seven songs from the new album in total.

James Hetfield
Robert Trujillo
 

‘Now That We’re Dead’ sees more digital cubes holding drums rising from the stage floor ans all four band members bashing out the rhythm. One of my favourites 'For Whom the Bell tolls' came after 'Now that we're Dead'. Without any doubt Metallica are on top form, energetic, powerful  and as tight as any band you will ever see.





As if the Birmingham crowd needed any more reason to party then it came when Hammett and Trujillo  gave a rendition of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ after Halo on Fire and a cover version of the 'DiamondHead' classic 'Am I Evil? Which as all Metallica fans know had a a huge early influence on them..
Hetfield shouts out 'Gimme fuel, Gimme fire and that is just what we get with flames shooting from all over the stage!
'Moth into Flame' was dedicated to the late Amy Whinehouse and was memorable for the cool drone-moth-things that flew around the stage during the song.

‘War Pigs’rendition
 
Kirk Hammett

The technology and effort behind the band is of epic proportion with the planning that goes into making the show an extravaganza of sound and light. So I suppose it shouldn't be that much of a surprise when something 'snaps'. This happened midway through 'One' when a power outage brought things to an abrupt albeit temporary stop. It didn't stop the band for long and once resolved they were straight back into their stride from exactly where they left off, almost seamless. The mark of a band who are at the top of their game , an amazing live band who never disappoint .
  

Lars Ulrich
Hetfield has been in playful mood tonight, conducting and entertaining the crowd making sure that the sound 'isn't too heavy for them' ? Taking time to talk to a young fifteen year old at the front and another fan who claimed to have seen the band 140 times. 'But I got you beat' is Hetfield's reply. Then we got 'Master of Puppets' before the band made their exit.
























Naturally the encores followed even though by now it was gone 11O'clock and timings were running late. Another new boy ‘Spit Out The Bone’ before the epic ‘Nothing Else Matters’ and ‘Enter Sandman’.
The crowd leave absolutely buzzing and probably wondering if and when we may ever see Metallica again? Whatever happens we all feel part of the 'Metallica family' even if it is only for one short night.


Set List
  • The Ecstasy of Gold (Intro) 
  • Hardwired 
  • Atlas, Rise! 
  • Seek & Destroy 
  • The Shortest Straw 
  • Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
  • Now That We’re Dead
  • Dream No More 
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls 
  • Halo on Fire 
  • Am I Evil? 
  • Fuel 
  • Moth Into Flame 
  • Sad but True 
  • One 
  • Master of Puppets 
Encore
  • Spit Out the Bone 
  • Nothing Else Matters 
  • Enter Sandman

Saturday, 28 October 2017

London Parks


After all the excitement of the previous evening a quiet wander through Hyde Park was just what was required. I've not had an alcoholic drink since September 15th so today might prove a bit of a challenge as I love a London pub. A decent breakfast was had first at the hotel and Mrs A was most put out that some young American tourists had filled their rucksacks with hastily made rolls and croissants from the buffet table to see them through the day. Not the sort of thing you would catch me doing, i'm far to quick and practised at that game .....

 

 I've seen Parakeets before in London flying over Hampstead Heath in the past but the ones in Hyde Park were something else! They are actually 'Ring Necked Parakeets' and extremely tame. To the point where they will actually feed out of your hand and pose for pictures on your head. I didn't get that close as they preferred fruit to my dried bread.

 

 The Parakeets escaped from a private collection some time ago and have thrived in the mild temperature of the Capital. The park was a scene of activity with all the joggers , walkers and cyclists and the lakes were full of bird life.

 

We stumbled upon the 'Peter Pan' statue in Kensington Gardens in the same spot as Peter lands his bird-nest boat in the story, ‘The Little White Bird.’ Peter Pan creator and local resident JM Barrie was inspired by Kensington Gardens. He commissioned Sir George Frampton to build the statue which has been a favourite feature of the gardens since 1912.

 

Coming to the edge of Kensington Gardens on Albert Memorial Road opposite the Royal Albert Hall is one of London's most ornate and impressive monuments, designed by George Gilbert Scott. 'The Albert Memorial' is stunning and in my opinion very overlooked , not getting the mentions it deserves. Unveiled in 1872, The Albert Memorial commemorates the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, who died of typhoid fever at the age of 42. Influenced by the series of 13th Century Eleanor Crosses (Charing Cross perhaps being the most famous but we also have one in Northampton don't forget). Marble figures representing Europe, Asia, Africa and America stand at each corner of the memorial, near the top, are gilded bronze statues of the angels and virtues. Around the base celebrated painters, poets sculptors, musicians and architects are depicted, reflecting Albert's enthusiasm for the arts. As monuments go this is a beauty.



From the peace of the parks we caught the tube to the hustle and bustle of Covent Garden, another of my favourite places to wander around. As always there is the the usual mixture of street entertainers and 'living statues' to amuse and bemuse the tourists. One in particualrreally caught our attention 'Master Yogilaser'. Internationally and nationally known as a yogi-contortionist extraordinaire, he wiggles and writhes his muscular physique into and out of seemingly impossible yoga postures. It made my poor old back and knees wince just watching him.

 

His 'pièce de résistance' as you might say is to fit his entire body inside a box measuring 20 x 17.5 inches...Something He completed in a time of 5.35 seconds, breaking the previous Guinness World Record of 9 seconds. He brought his act to a stunning finale by recreating this amazing feat for us today. He richly deserved the donation we put into his hat afterwards.

We walked from Covent Garden through Theatre District and along The Strand past Trafalgar Square down to Westminster. We cut through Horse Guard's Parade into St James Park and enjoyed a pic-nic lunch. Another of the 'Royal Park's' and is surrounded by landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Whitehall. Once again there is a lot of bird activity and some more unusual ones in the form of Pelicans. First introduced to the park in 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador, over 40 pelicans have since made the park home. They are free to leave if they wish but seem very happy where they are.



 The Blue Bridge provides spectacular views across St James's Park Lake to Buckingham Palace to the west and Horse Guards Parade, Big Ben and the London Eye towards the east.



Duck Island Cottage Garden dates from the original use of St James's Park as a hunting park. It is something of a rural retreat and the picturesque lodge now serves as offices of the London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust. It is a real throwback to times gone by with the home grown crops and cottage garden plants and flowers.
 

Making our way through the Park we arrived on the Mall and splendour of Buckingham Palace. The view back down St James Park was more my thing though with the tress showing their stunning Autumn colour.



Altogether a lovely day spent in contrasting peace and nature to the hustle and bustle of central London , and still no alcohol consumed despite being in at least three different pubs.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Marillion - Royal Albert Hall

This could potentially be my longest concert review since starting this blog. It was just one of those most special of occasions where Marillion making their Royal Albert Hall debut gave us everything. However the night didn't get off to the best of starts....


Our view

Staying at a hotel in Lancaster Gate it was a short hop across Hyde Park to get to the venue , twenty minutes they said. Perhaps following the line of the Serpentine was not such a good idea? Nearly an hour after we set off we emerged opposite Hyde Park Corner tube station. Another detour was needed as we made our way past Harrods in Knightsbridge to get back on course. Thankfully time was on our side and we took our seats with half an hour to spare.



The 5,000 tickets had sold out in less than four minutes with several times as many fans left disappointed. The atmosphere was electric and there was the sense that we were about to witness something epic. I had already spotted a couple of musical celebrities on the row in front of ours. Producer and Prog Rock musician Steven Wilson along with his band member and ex Kajagoogo bassist Nick Beggs. Marillion have an amazing and loyal following from across the world and is continually growing.  This was not a young audience and I was reminded of something Ian Anderson (Jethro  Tull) once said to his audience 'It's wonderful to see so many young faces out there ,some of you hardly look a day over 50'. The majority of whom have been there since the first album was released in 1984.

Steve Hogarth


The light show never dipped all night and along with the massive screen backdrop it made for a cinematic feel even in an auditorium this size. Frontman Steve Hogarth announced that the first set would compromise entirely of the latest album 'FEAR'. Something of a work of art ,hailed as the best album in 20 years from the band. Where each of the five tracks seems to melt into the next one it does take some listening to for the uninitiated. A dark message about political corruption and greed the changing fortunes of the country. It starts with in the quiet and peace  of an English country garden. It slowly builds into an emotional and explosive realisation that 'The New Kings' hold the power and why is 'Nothing ever true'.







Set 2 kicked off with with 'The Space' from 1889's 'Seasons End' the first album with Steve Hogarth on vocals after the departure of 'Fish'. It was followed by another of my favourites 'Afraid of Sunlight' from the album of the same name (1995).
I should also mention at this stage that for the second part they were joined by a string quartet, plus a flute and French horn. 'H' did promise us something special for part 2 and we were not to be disappointed.
I don't think the song 'Easter' has ever sounded better than it did under the fantastic acoustics of the RAH and guitarist Steve Rothery was playing out of his skin (as always).

Steve Rothery


A much anticipated moment was to be during the song 'Go'. when the entire audience who equipped with finger lights were to 'switch on' and light the place up. The effect, along with the lasers was absolutely stunning and unfortunately the photos do not in anyway do justice to the spectacle. It is well worth a 'Google' if you get a minute or two.


  'Man of a Thousand of a Thousand Faces' brought the second half to a rapturous ending. But of course  this was never really going to be the end as in time honoured fashion the band returned for a n encore. The highlight for me and many of the audience I would guess was 'Neverland'. Even Mr Hogarth ' said' we've got a good one  for you now'.


 The performance culminated with the final track of the evening ‘The Leavers V: One Tonight’ and just seemed like the perfect piece of music to bring this magical evening to a close.
The band were then showered and that isn't doing it justice really by the confetti cannons. With all the excitement I hadn't even realised that today was Friday 13th. A day associated with bad luck and misfortune. Well it really would have been terrible bad luck to have missed Marillion tonight at the peak of their powers.
There are still those out there who think that without Fish there is no Marillion ... Fish is a great performer in his own right but please can we all move on . Similarly those who say did they do Kayleigh ? That was a different era do yourself a huge favour and catch up with the catalogue of work since Steve Hogarth joined the band. Also for that matter the fantastic solo work by Fish. Thank you I feel much better now i've said that in the most polite way possible.
   


Marillion really the complete band in everything they do , and don't forget they have done it the hard way. No private jets for these lads , the last few albums have all been 'pledge funded' , something they pioneered.
It was a fantastic night at the RAH in every respect and I can't wait to see it all again as it was being recorded for future DVD release.
The night did indeed have a happy ending as we managed to navigate ourselves back to the hotel via the road that goes through Hyde Park via Alexandra Gate. Thankfully the park was all locked up so impossible to get lost....This time it did indeed take us 20 mins, just in time for last orders  at a local pub.

Set List 
El Dorado: I. Long-Shadowed Sun
El Dorado: II. The Gold
El Dorado: III. Demolished Lives
El Dorado: IV. F E A R
El Dorado: V. The Grandchildren of Apes
Living in F E A R
The Leavers: I. Wake Up in Music
The Leavers: II. The Remainers
The Leavers: III. Vapour Trails in the Sky
The Leavers: IV. The Jumble of Days
The Leavers: V. One Tonight
White Paper
The New Kings: I. Fuck Everyone and Run
The New Kings: II. Russia’s Locked Doors
The New Kings: III. A Scary Sky
The New Kings: IV. Why Is Nothing Ever True?

Interval 

The Space…
Afraid of Sunlight
The Great Escape
Easter
Go!
Man of a Thousand Faces

Encores

Waiting to Happen
Neverland
The Leavers: V. One Tonight

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

'Blowers' Althorp Literary Festival 2017

'Blowers' 'My Dear Old Thing'

Enjoying some sun
The 14th Annual Althorp Literary Festival and my second visit to the event. Regulars may recall my seeing 'Paul Gambaccini' last year. This year the Festival has moved to a later date in the early Autumn rather than mid Summer. This years contributors include; John Challis, Judy Murray, Pam Ayres, Chris Ryan, Clare Balding, The Rev Richard Coles and Henry Blofeld. Personally I think I prefer the Festival at this time of the year but it was a nice day and I might think differently had it been a howling wind and driving rain. A lovely day though for a wander through the grounds taking the 'Roman' approach of going wherever we pleased until told otherwise....Rather than the 'Napoleonic' approach of waiting to be told where one can go and must not go. Walking past the marquee we bumped into 'Bernie Keith' of Radio Northampton who was with 'Rev Richard Coles'. Richard had been on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing show the night before and was talking about his varied life from pop star to Parish Priest.

''The Oval' Lake

Our walk talk us to the 'Round Oval' as the lake is known, constructed in 1868. The summer house at the lakeside was bought in 1901 by John Poyntz, Fifth Earl Spencer, from Admiralty House gardens, London, for the sum of £3.00 and moved to the south of the Round Oval in 1926. It is now dedicated to Diana, Princess of Wales, with a central silhouette in black marble upon white marble, and on the left a tablet with a quotation from Diana on her willingness to undertake charitable works.

 

It is said that Princess Diana is buried on the island since her death in 1997. My wife for one would argue differently though believing Diana is with her father in the Church at Great Brington. Who knows? Certainly not me that is for sure but personally I think I would rather be on the lake surrounded by the birds and flowers.

'Round Oval'  from The Summer house


The Wendy House
We made our way back to the marquees and the crowd passing the outdoor swimming pool, tennis court and games room and it was almost impossible not to conjure up images of Diana enjoying herself growing up in this idyllic landscape. There was also probably the largest Wendy House you will ever see! I'm sure you could live in it.

It was time to start queuing for Blowers, only there wasn't a queue so we walked straight in sitting close to the front. Blowers has recently retired after over 40 years of broadcasting with TMS (Test Match Special) as well as writing for many other publications. He explained that at the age of 78 he felt that it was time to hang up the microphone before someone possibly suggested it was time to. He told tales from the commentary box both home and abroad paying tribute to colleagues past and present. After which he gave a question and answer session from the gathered audience. 





 As the questions started to drop off someone asked a horrible question about standards dropping off and some of the new TMS  team not being as good as the old ones. It was clearly an embarrassing moment for both the interviewer and Blowers. I thought that asking a follow up question about Pigeons would lighten the mood once again which it did. He told me afterwards that he very much liked my question. Afterwards came the chance to get his new book 'Over and Out' signed by the man himself.





We made our way out as the sun started to set on another Althorp Literary Festival. A lovely setting once again and the chance to take a few more photos of the house and landscape. Walking down the tree lined drive the stags in the fields had started their rut, Squirrels darted across the grass hurriedly hiding their stash off sweet chestnuts and acorns before winter arrives.