Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express Gateshead Old Town Hall 6th November 2015
I’ve always wanted to see Brian Auger. I am a big fan of that classic ’60s swirling Hammond organ sound and you don’t get much better an exponent of that groove than Mr Auger. Brian Auger has played or toured with many of the greats of classic rock including Rod Stewart, Julie Driscoll; Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin, Led Zeppelin, and Eric Burdon. Those crazy stylish videos of the Brian Auger Trinity and Julie Driscoll playing “Wheels on Fire” will remain etched within my memory for ever. But today Brian Auger is once again fronting his jazz rock combo the Oblivion Express. Accompanying Brian in this incarnation of Oblivion Express are his son Karma Auger on drums, Mike Clairmont on bass and Alex Ligertwood on vocals, guitar and percussion. Alex Ligertwood hails from north of the border, and is best known as being the lead vocalist of Santana on several occasions during the period 1979 to 1994. He also performed with The Jeff Beck Group (1970) and was a member of Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express in the early 1970s.
The concert took place in the beautiful and historic Gateshead Old Town Hall building. A respectable number of evening hipsters turned up on a cold Friday evening to groove away to the Oblivion Express’ jazz rock fusion extravanganza. Auger’s music is enjoying renewed interest and the audience reflected this, consisting of young and old; all keen to experience the sound of a band of excellent musicians. The material was unfamiliar to me, drawing from jazz greats including Jimmy Smith, Miles Davis abd Art Blakely, but nonetheless enjoyable. Auger’s Hammond organ playing has lost none of its style and Alex Ligertwood’s vocals were excellent. An enjoyable evening, spent experiencing some music which is a little different from the gigs I usually attend.
Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express Gateshead Old Town Hall 6th November 2015
Bob Dylan Manchester Apollo 28th October 2015
Bobby; he keeps reinventing himself. These days he has become a crooner, the ultimate smokey lounge singer, paying tribute to all those great balladeers who went before. It sort of suits his croaky gravelly rasp. Like he has found his way back home. His latest album “Shadows in the night” covers songs made famous by Frank Sinatra. It has been a big success; reaching Number 1 in the UK album charts and achieving rave reviews. The Telegraph declared it Dylan’s “best singing in 25 years.” The crowd at Manchester Apollo knew the score. Two nights sold out in the blink of an eye. Everyone wants to go see Bobby sing those sad winding poetic tunes. From Rolling Stone: “He felt that a lot .. of it was written from the heart …He felt there was a lot of spirit in that music. …. ‘I’m not gonna write a song; I’m gonna pay homage to what shook me as young boy.'” So no “Like a Rolling Stone” or “All along the Watchtower” this time around, although we were treated to “Tangled up in blue”, “She belongs to me” and, for an encore “Blowing in the Wind”. The rest of the set was drawn from Dylan’s recent albums. But hey I’m not complaining. Bob Dylan is singing great; better than he has been for years. Sure; I never dreamed I would see Bob Dylan sing Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I do”, but it works, and seems so natural. Dylan’s voice fits these songs like an old glove. Of the more recent Dylan tunes, “Scarlet Town” is dark and powerful. Closing classic “Autumn Leaves” was truly emotional, and a great way to end an excellent and enjoyable concert. As we made our way out of the Apollo, I could hear everyone around me commenting how good it was. Very different to shows I attended 10 years ago, which left some people disappointed. Me; I went back to my little hotel room in Piccadilly and got some sleep; I had to get up at 5am to catch a train to London for a meeting. Till next time Bobby.
Set 1: Things Have Changed; She Belongs to Me; Beyond Here Lies Nothin’; What’ll I Do; Duquesne Whistle; Melancholy Mood; Pay in Blood; I’m a Fool to Want You; Tangled Up in Blue
Set 2: High Water (For Charley Patton); Why Try to Change Me Now; Early Roman Kings; The Night We Called It a Day; Spirit on the Water; Scarlet Town; All or Nothing at All; Long and Wasted Years; Autumn Leaves
Encore: Blowin’ in the Wind; Love Sick
Donovan Tyne Theatre Newcastle 8th October 2015
Donovan is out on the road again, working his way down the country on a 22 date 50th anniversary tour. He started in his home town of Glasgow, worked his way through Edinburgh and Dundee and then stepped over the border to come and play to us in Newcastle. From there he continues to Scarborough, Leeds and onward further south.
Now, Donovan is a bit of a story-teller and he is also a bit of a name-dropper. If you have ever been to one of his concerts you will know exactly what I mean. You are guaranteed to hear stories of the ’60s and of all the friends he made. At the Tyne Theatre Donovan tells us of his folk influences Buffy St Marie and Shawn Phillips as way of introduction to their songs “Universal Soldier” and “The Little Tin Soldier”. He mentions, of course, The Beatles and how George Harrison contributed a verse to “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and asks “Would you like to hear George’s verse?” to which we reply a rousing “YES”! He talks of his old friend and fellow traveler Gypsy Dave; and how they would have to run from crowds of screaming girls, comparing the scene to that of the Beatles running through the station at the start of “Hard Day’s Night”. Gypsy asked Donovan “Why are we running? Let’s stop and let them catch us!”. And he tells us of his muse and wife Linda, the subject of many of his songs; one of which “Madrigalinda” he sang for us. Linda and all the “Donovan clan” came to the Glasgow concert, “flying from every corner of the world” he declared proudly.
Donovan sat alone cross-legged on a carpet laid across a raised platform, as he must have done many times over the years. He told us that we would “never be more than two or three songs away from a hit” and he was true to his word. He started the show with “Catch the Wind” and then went straight into “Colours”, many singing along with him. The mood then moved from “The Voice of Protest” from his 1975 7-Tease album to “Sleep” a lullaby from “Cosmic Wheels”. Then he took us back to 1965 and one of my favourites “The Little Tin Soldier” the “Fairytale” album. “Jennifer Juniper” was followed by the title track from 1976’s “Slow Down World”. Donovan then told a story of how “we all went to Jamaica” for a rest and a holiday during the ’60s and he came back with a new song “First There is a Mountain”. The first half of the concert closed with two old songs “To Try for the Sun” from “Fairytale” and “Donna Donna” from his first 1964 album “What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid”.
After a short interval Donovan returned and sang “Universal Soldier” which sounds just as powerful today as it ever did. This was followed by the beautiful traditional folk song “The Trees they do Grow High”, “Madrigalinda” for Linda and the excellent “Hurdy Gurdy Man”. “Hurdy Gurdy Man” took me right back; I used to have the EP of the same name, and I played it endlessly. As introduction to “The Promise” Donovan told us of his lovely green guitar,”Kelly”, which was designed for him using the colours of the Book of Kells. This led into a story of how he once visited Jimmy Page’s house, and how Jimmy had 300 guitars all lying across the floor in their cases, all in tune because, as Jimmy told Donovan, “You never know when you might need to play one”. “The Promise”, said Donovan, is to be played by “Kelly”, always live, and will never be recorded. The ballad “Lalena” led into the jokey fun “Intergalactic Laxative” from “Cosmic Wheels”. Then came the inevitable singalong of “Happiness Runs” with the men singing “Tralala…”, the women singing “Happiness Runs”, and Donovan singing the verse of top; all a bit too embarrassing for me. I didn’t join in (sorry Donovan). “Sunshine Superman” took us safely back to the hits. Now it I thought “Happiness Runs” was embarrassing, the final song took the meaning of the word embarrassment to whole new level. For “Mellow Yellow” Donovan finally took to his feet, and mimed and danced awkwardly to a recording of the original track. Still, you have to forgive him. It was great to see Donovan again. He has a tremendous back catalogue of tunes, and his stories are always fun (even if I have heard most of them before).
Set 1: Catch the Wind; Colours; The Voice of Protest; Sleep; The Little Tin Soldier; Jennifer Juniper; Slow Down World; First There is a Mountain; Try for the Sun; Donna Donna
Set 2: Universal Soldier; The Trees they do Grow High; Madrigalinda; Hurdy Gurdy Man; The Promise; Lalena; Intergalactic Laxative; Happiness Runs; Sunshine Superman; Mellow Yellow
David Gilmour Royal Albert Hall 3rd October 2015
“Flicker, flicker, flicker blam. Pow, pow.
Stairway scare, Dan Dare, who’s there?
Lime and limpid green, the sounds around
The icy waters under
Lime and limpid green, the sounds around
The icy waters underground.”
(Astronomy Domine, Barrett & Wright, 1967)
It’s a lovely bright Sunday morning and I’m sitting on a Grand Central train which is weaving its way back home up North. I am also reflecting on last night’s concert by David Gilmour at the Royal Albert Hall. Nine years have past since Gilmour’s last album “On an Island”, and since I last saw him in concert at the same venue. Well we are all almost a decade older, maybe a little wiser, and much has changed. Some things, however, do remain comfortably and reassuringly constant, one of those being the unique crying, sustained tone and crisp guitar voice of David Gilmour. Gilmour has released a new album “Rattle that Lock” which has been well received and has also done well in terms of sales, reaching No 1 in the UK and many other countries. He has also now (just) completed a short European tour to promote the album, including five nights at the Albert Hall, and a warm-up show in Brighton. Last night was the final night of the tour; he will visit the USA in 2016.
The concert was in two parts, with a healthy selection of new and old tracks sprinkled throughout. After going through the ticket collection process courtesy of legendary promoter Harvey Goldsmith (no tickets were sent out in advance, and I had to show my credit card and photo-ID in order to collect my ticket), I made my way up to my cheap (well sort of, all things are relative) vantage point in the gallery (bad decision on my part by the way, I am too old to stand all night and I am very stiff this morning). The show started with “5 AM”, an instrumental and the opening track on the new album. Gilmour stood alone, lit by a single spot, the crisp, clear sound of his Fender guitar cutting through the night; filling the hall. In that moment we all knew why we had come. It took that single note, in that unique style, to cut through the years and take us back to halcyon days. His soaring tone blends blues, psych, sci-fi and surf guitar styles; I could hear the influences: Hank Marvin, Jimi Hendrix, B B King. This was followed by the title track of the new album. The fourth song, which was of course welcomed by a massive cheer, was “Wish You Were Here”. The sound was clear, loud but not too much so, and the 1975 classic never sounded better, nor more appropriate. These songs have become a tribute to a legendary band, to Syd Barrett whose vision made it possible, and now sadly to Gilmour’s friend and fellow Floyd comrade Rick Wright, who played with him at those Albert Hall concerts nine years. Other highlights for me in the first half of the concert were the “Dark Side of the Moon” favourites “Money” and “Us and Them”. The last song before the interval was “High Hopes”, the closing track from “The Division Bell”.
The second part of the concert took us back to the very start. “Astronomy Domine” is the first track on “Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, Pink Floyd’s first album, recorded before Gilmour joined the band. Today it is played as a fitting tribute to Syd and Rick (who co-wrote the song) and to days of innocent English psych, of early space-rock. The hall was bathed in colour, the giant (and familiar and Floyd-like) circular screen behind the band displaying a full-on ’60s psychedelic liquid light show. The strange chord sequence built to its screaming discordant climax. Fantastic; and for me, it was worth the ticket price for that song alone, as it was something that I thought I would never see performed live. This was followed by what has become my favourite Pink Floyd song, “Shine on you Crazy Diamond”. Searing, souring guitar, that familiar riff, a song of Syd and bitter-sweet sadness, and great visuals. The rest of the set was a mix of new and Floyd songs, including “Fat Old Sun” from “Atom Heart Mother”, “Sorrow” from “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” and closing song “Run Like Hell” from “The Wall”. I am not too familiar with “Sorrow”, to be honest, but last night it stood out for me, with some particularly fine, cavernous, deep, and heavy guitar work by Gilmour, which thundered and reverberated around us.
For an encore a clang of coins greeted us, tills jangled and we were, to our great delight, taken back to “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Money”. During the extended closing song “Comfortably Numb” the light show moved up a notch, and the hall became a criss-crossed matrix of green, misty, then bright, stark red, laser light. Gilmour stood in front of us, his lone figure picked out by two spots, as if he were standing above the clouds of laser light, his guitar solo meandering and taking us to the end of a tremendous show.
Well. It was a show you truly couldn’t fault. The selection of songs, the sound, the band, Gilmour’s guitar, the vocals, the lights; simply perfect perfection. Only two things would better it for me. First (and this is probably never going to happen), I would just die to see him play “See Emily Play” as a tribute to Barrett. Oh, and finally, a seat. I am never going to scrimp on the ticket price again, and stand in that gallery. I am sure I will be stiff for days. Not good for an old guy. I remember my dad having terrible back problems (think they called it lumbago back then) and I fear that I may be inheriting it.
Walking out of the venue I heard a father telling his grown up son (who was probably in his 30s) of the 1975 Knebworth Floyd concert and of the (model) plane crashing into the stage at the end of “On the Run”. Happy happy days. I really do feel like I am getting old.
Set 1: 5 AM (new), Rattle that Lock (new), Faces of Stone (new), Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd), A Boat Lies Waiting (new), The Blue (On an Island), Money (Pink Floyd), Us and Them (Pink Floyd), In Any Tongue (new), High Hopes (Pink Floyd)
Set 2: Astronomy Domine (Pink Floyd), Shine on you Crazy Diamond Parts I-V (Pink Floyd), Fat Old Sun (Pink Floyd), On an Island, The Girl in the Yellow Dress (new), Today (new), Sorrow (Pink Floyd), Run Like Hell (Pink Floyd)
Encore: Time (Pink Floyd), Breathe (Reprise) (Pink Floyd), Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd)
Tour band: David Gilmour (guitars, vocals), Phil Manzanera (guitars), Guy Pratt (bass guitar), Jon Carin (keyboards, guitars), Kevin McAlea (keyboards), Steve DiStanislao (drums, percussion), João Mello (saxophones), Bryan Chambers, Louise Clare Marshall (backing vocals)
King Crimson The Usher Hall Edinburgh 17th September 2015
“When music appears which only King Crimson can play then, sooner or later, King Crimson appears to play the music.” Robert Fripp
It is more than 40 years since my last King Crimson live experience.
7.30pm sharp. Seven guys in three piece suits, looking like they could be attending a bank managers’ conference, walk onto the Usher Hall stage. This is the 8th incarnation of King Crimson and features Gavin Harrison, Bill Rieflin and Pat Mastelotto (three drummers), Tony Levin (stick bass), Mel Collins (sax, flute), Jakko Jakszyk (guitar, vocals) and (of course) Robert Fripp (guitar). The house lights are still on. Our Crimson musos take their places without saying anything. The three drummers sit at the front of stage, one to the left, one centre and one to the right. Each drum sports the rather disconcerting image of an Edwardian-looking boy with one eye in the centre of his forehead, which features in the publicity for the tour. Jakko’s guitar is adorned with the red face from the cover of the first Crimson album. The lights go down and the music starts. The sound is crisp, clear. The songs are largely unfamiliar to me, but I gather that they are drawn from across the suite of King Crimson albums. Fripp describes the new band thus:”King Crimson VIII moved to its next stage of actualization. This is a very different reformation to what has gone before: seven players, four English and three American, with three drummers. The Point Of Crim-Seeing was of a conventional Back Line reconfigured as the Front Line, The Seven-Headed Beast of Crim is in Go! mode.”
The music is a mix of dark, heavy foreboding guitar, mucho drums, very jazzy at times, almost classical at others. The tempo drifts from heavy metal through prog through folk. Robert Fripp sits stage right, wearing headphones, alternating between squeezing strange riffs from his guitar and observing and quietly leading his musicians. I am reminded how unique and ground breaking Crimson were, and are. “Epitaph” takes us back to that classic prog-defining first lp. Wonderful. I am transported back to days of my youth so many years ago, when I sat with friends; we listened to that album in total awe; we discussed it endlessly and took it to school, proudly holding that red cover for all to see. They close with “Starless”. It is 9.30pm. The lights go on. We stand and clap, and cheer, and clap some more. The seven Crimson guys return. They still have not spoken. “Devil Dogs Of Tessellation Row” gives the drummers the opportunity to show their skills. Then Crimson are transformed once again into prog-gods who tell us the exquisite tale of “The Court of the Crimson King”. Finally, the dark fear of the “21st Century Schizoid Man” takes us through a wall of screaming discordant terror to a crashing squealing climatic end. Mind blowing stuff.
A note about my drive home. Are there roadworks and diversions every night across the entire country? I always seem to hit them. I have a detour through Scottish villages just north of the border; the A1 is closed near Dunbar. Home at 1am.
Setlist: Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One; Red; Suitable Grounds for the Blues; Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind); Meltdown; The ConstruKction of Light; Level Five; Banshee Legs Bell Hassle; Pictures of a City; Epitaph; Hell Hounds of Krim; Easy Money; The Letters; Sailor’s Tale; Starless
Encore: Devil Dogs Of Tessellation Row; The Court of the Crimson King; 21st Century Schizoid Man
Ian Anderson performs the rock opera Jethro Tull @ Sage Gateshead 13th September 2015
Things come full circle. The touring band known as Jethro Tull seems to have been shelved, with Tull frontman and our manic flautist hero Ian Anderson touring under his own name, and Tull guitarist Martin Barre doing likewise. But Ian Anderson couldn’t keep away from the Tull moniker and concept for too long. So, as “a tribute to the original 18th Century agriculturalist” whose name the band borrowed back in February 1968, our hero has “imagined a scenario where the pioneering pursuit of improved crop-growing and farming methodology might apply to the world of today and tomorrow”. This led to the development of “Jethro Tull: the Rock Opera”, the delights of which Norm, Will and I experienced a few days ago at the Sage Gateshead. Anderson’s rock opera concept is this: take the story of the original farmer and inventor Jethro Tull and bring it up to date; tell that tale through the songs of Jethro Tull the band (and a few new ones written especially for the occasion), and create a theatrical stage show which takes the audience through the story. The show is very much just that; “a show” rather than a concert. The band provide the music, playing in front of a giant HD video screen. On the screen appear a cast of “virtual guests” who play the parts of Mr Tull and his family, narrate the story and sing segments of the songs. Anderson explains it thus: “Instead of spoken introductions to the songs in the show, there will be the use of that operatic device, the “recitative”, where the links are made by short sung vocal segments in a usually-simple musical backdrop”. So the songs are sung in part by Anderson live, and in part by virtual singers on the screen. The songs flow from one to the next with short video segments as bridges.
The show started at 7.30pm prompt. Parking problems made us a little late, and we had to wait outside until first song “Heavy Horses” was finished (“a suitable break in the performance”). The first half was around one hour and there was a short interval before “the show” resumed. How did it work? Very well actually. The video was high quality and the sequencing between Anderson and band and the virtual singers was faultless. Anderson’s voice may not be quite as strong as it was “back in the day” so the use of video allowed him some vocal rest, and gave welcome variety to the performance. However, I must say that Ian’s flute playing remains as excellent as ever, and his stage presence and antics are undiminished. The virtual sets were as you might imagine; we were transported onscreen to Preston station for “Cheap Day Return” and deep into the forest for “Song from the Wood”. Great Tull fun. Special mention to Unnur Birna Bjornsdottir whose vocals were exquisite and made for great reworkings of Tull classics, particularly “The Witch’s Promise” and Florian Opahle, whose guitar playing was tremendous. A very different and highly enjoyable Tull evening. Great to see old friend Doug and other fellow Tullites.
What next Ian?
Part 1: Heavy Horses; Wind-Up; Aqualung; With You There to Help Me; Back to the Family; Farm on the Freeway; Prosperous Pasture; Fruits of Frankenfield; Songs From the Wood
Set 2: And the World Feeds Me; Living in the Past; Jack-in-the-Green; The Witch’s Promise; Weathercock; Stick, Twist, Bust; Cheap Day Return; A New Day Yesterday; The Turnstile Gate; Locomotive Breath
Encore: Requiem and Fugue
The Musicians: Ian Anderson (flute, vocals, guitar), Florian Opahle (guitar), John O’Hara (piano; Hammond organ), Greig Robinson (bass), Scott Hammond (drums, percussion).
The (virtual) Players: Ryan O’Donnell (the younger Jethro, and Jasper son of Jethro), Unnur Birna Bjornsdottir (Susannah, wife of Jethro), David Goodier (Jethros’ father), Ian Anderson (Narrator and the older Jethro), John O’Hara (scientist and choirmaster).