Wednesday 26 June 2013

The Who

The Who
 Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle

Roger Daltrey hinted at a Who tour when we saw him at The Sage in 2011. Two years later, it became a reality as the habitually underrated Quadrophenia was dusted off and presented as a complete body of work.

Vintage Trouble did a good job as the warm-up act. The lead singer ran through the audience to whip up the enthusiasm!

The Who appeared promptly at 8.30 p.m. and played non-stop until 10.40 p.m. Quadrophenia has long been in the considerable shadow of Tommy for decades. I think the tide may be finally turning.

The sound was excellent; the power incredible. Roger Daltrey's blood-curdling screams on the likes of Love, Reign O'er Me were all present and correct (despite his claim of suffering badly from hay fever) and Pete Townshend was on terrific form.

The were many highlights, but two stood out. During 5.15, John Entwistle appeared on the big screens and audio of his exemplary bass playing was married to the sound of the live band. The same impressive trick was pulled later on with Keith Moon singing his old trademark, Bell Boy.

The Who followed Quadrophenia with a selection of hits, namely: Who Are You, You Better You Bet, Pinball Wizard, Baba O'Riley, Won't Get Fooled Again and Tea and Theatre (featuring Roger and Pete performing a duet on an otherwise empty stage).

It was undoubtedly one of the best gigs I've ever seen. Hopefully there will eventually be a Blu-ray release of the tour.

Meanwhile, here's a few more photos from the excellent evening.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Federal Charm

Federal Charm
Track List

Gotta Give It Up
I'm Not Gonna Beg
No Money Down
Somebody Help Me
The Stray
There's A Light
Tell Your Friends
Come On Down
Any Other Day
Too Blind To See

Hailing from Manchester, Federal Charm is a big sounding rock band with blues influences and real presence. Indeed, it's the rock side of things that takes centre stage, genre-wise. It's a big sound, to be sure - heavy on guitar riffs and energetic drumming, with vocals bordering on metal.

The pace rarely dips from 100 mph but there are a couple of tracks (Somebody Help Me and The Stray, plus the cover version of Reconsider) for which the needle hovers slightly more to a slower blues sound.

The album is marked by the swagger of self confidence; that's no bad thing of course and Federal Charm look set to break out from club land and into the wider world. Their big sound cannot be restrained!

In the the words of guitarist Paul Bowe: ''The songs aim for a bit more of a commercial vibe, as a lot of kids are buying blues rock again. We can’t wait for the CD sales to start happening, but we love playing live. At the moment we’re happy as long as we can eat and put gas in the tank. There are a lot of bands out there, but we have a collective belief and confidence that good product and a good band will always rise to the top.''

It will be interesting to follow their inevitable progress.

Stand out tracks: Gotta Give It Up; Somebody Help Me; The Stray

Federal Charm will be released on 1 July.

For further details, including tour dates, please visit their official website.

Monday 17 June 2013

Try Anything Twice

Try Anything Twice
Blues ‘N’ Trouble

Track List

Try Anything Twice
Money's Tight
Leaving Blues
Down 'n' Dirty
Meandering Man
Rock This Joint
King Bee
In My World
You Can't Hit A Woman
Bye Bye Bird
Psychotic Reaction

Emerging from Livingston (Scotland) in the 1980s, Blues 'n' Trouble have spent ''30 years as a hard driving, good time Blues and Boogie outfit.'' The current line up consists of: Tim Elliott (vocals/harmonica); Sandy Tweeddale (guitar/vocals); Angus Rose (keyboards/guitar); Rod Kennard (bass); Andy Munro (drums).

Today sees the UK release of their new album, Try Anything Twice, which offers eight original songs and five covers. It's all great sounding, toe-tapping professional blues with a great rhythm section anchoring the sound and letting the keyboards, harmonica and guitars take off and soar in all directions. There is no pretentious element here; it's up-tempo blues with a familiar feel - highly accessible instead of experimental.

The best of the cover songs is a great version of King Bee with growling vocals and exemplary guitar work. The original compositions spin through the style book of the blues, from Rockabilly (Rock This Joint) to slow burners (Waiting) and social commentary (Money's Tight).

There have been recent festival appearances with the legendary Maggie Bell (remember the great theme song for the 1970s TV show Hazell?) and Blues 'N' Trouble are about to hit the road for a UK tour, starting at the end of June.

Powerful and professional, Try Anything Twice will make a welcome addition to your library of blues music.

Stand out tracks:  Try Anything Twice; Waiting; King Bee.

For further details, please visit their official website.

Saturday 15 June 2013

Gone To Texas

Gone To Texas
Mike Zito and The Wheel

Track list

Gone To Texas
Rainbow Bridge
I Never Knew A Hurricane
Don’t Think Cause Your Pretty
Death Row
Don’t Break A Leg
Take It Easy
The Road Never Ends
Subtraction Blues
Hell On Me
Voices In Dallas
Wings Of Freedom
Let Your Light Shine On Me

''Texas saved my life.'' This is how Mike Zito begins his liner notes and he goes on to expand his claim.
''Gone to Texas'' is an old euphemism for running away from large debts and committed crimes. In Zito's case, it was a physical relocation as well as a personal inner journey.

Describing Texas as ''My last stand'', it was where Zito ''confronted my problems and made a change that saved my life.'' He once signed a CD for a Texas woman and included the words ''take me to Texas with you''. It turned out to be a pivotal moment in his life.

The (obviously autobiographical) opening track charts the initial journey in an upbeat manner and acts as a fitting introduction for what is to follow.

We encounter an impressive range of styles over the course of the 13 tracks. Rockers such as Rainbow Bridge rub shoulders with the likes of the soulful (I Never Knew A Hurricane), the dark and grungy (Don’t Think Cause Your Pretty), bluesy (Death Row) a slab of sax-driven funk (Don't Break A Leg) and even Gospel, which makes a late appearance on Let Your Light Shine On Me.

The musicianship is not in question. In addition to Mike Zito's own evident virtuosity on various guitars, he is open with his admiration of the following personnel: Jimmy Carpenter (saxophines, vocals, percussion); Rob Lee (drums); Scot Sutherland (bass), Lewis Stephens (B3 and pianos); Susan Cowsill (vocals).

''The Wheel is a special band. These musicians were hand picked over the years. These are some of the greatest musicians on planet earth. My dream band.''

Each and every song takes its place in a soundtrack to Mike Zito's own life. That means they all have great meaning to him and it certainly shows through in the quality of the performances.

Stand out tracks: Gone To Texas, I Never Knew A Hurricane, The Road Never Ends.

For further details, head for the official Mike Zito website.

Thursday 13 June 2013

The Governess

The Governess 
Darlington Civic Theatre 

The Governess, written by Patrick Hamilton (of Gaslight fame) is a recently rediscovered psychological thriller.

The main character, Detective Inspector Rough (played here by the inimitable Peter Bowles), features in both tales (this one is set before Gaslight).

The basic plot concerns a missing child. Murdered or abducted? We don’t know until the final scene. That there is a sinister side to the governess (a convincing Jenny Seagrove) is not in question; she is seen to treat her pupil cruelly very early on. For the rest of the first act, she appears to be perfectly well. What dark secret does she hold, and is she acting alone?

Inspector Rough’s appearance is held back until the latter part of the first act. When he does appear, he enjoys the wittiest of lines and is brought to life by a sparkling performance from the ever-reliable Peter Bowles (incidentally, I can recommend his autobiography, Ask Me If I'm Happy as a good read).

The best parts of the play come in the second act, with Peter Bowles, Jenny Seagrove and Colin Buchanan sharing excellent three-handed scenes on the way to the denouement.

Intriguingly, director Roy Marsden could only locate an incomplete version of the play, but in his notes he hints that the full version may still exist somewhere in the British Library. Perhaps one day it will be found; meanwhile, we should be grateful for the efforts taken to resurrect this forgotten gem.

For the tour dates, please head for this page.

Friday 7 June 2013

The Kennedys

The Kennedys
Milton Room, Malton

The Kennedys (Pete and Maura) impressed with their last visit to the UK, when they played twice nightly on the Nanci Griffith tour; first as the support act and secondly as an integral part of Nanci’s touring band (indeed, they had been a cornerstone of the Intersection album).

The Kennedys with Nanci Griffith (2012)
This time they were on a small tour playing their own material at a number of very intimate venues. We caught up with them as part of an audience of approximately 40 people in a packed downstairs venue downstairs at the Milton Rooms. The intimacy was reminiscent of my shows at The Cleveland Bay; the respective rooms were of comparable size.

The Kennedys have built up a strong repertoire over the years and they enjoy an impressive back catalogue. Last year, they cleverly collected most of their tour favourites onto one CD, which sells well on tours and saves them having to cart their whole output across the ocean. 

Their new CD, Closer Than You Know, was available at the show and they played a couple of the new songs (Happy Again and Wild Honey - both of which sounded very good on first impression). The rest of the set included their better-known songs such as Life is Large, Half a Million Miles, 9th Street Billy and Midnight Ghost, together with some unusual renditions of others. We had an extraordinary Somewhere Over The Rainbow, a little bit of Beatles and some amazing work on the ukulele.

As they chatted and signed CDs during the interval, The Kennedys were open to song requests, which they happily incorporated into the second set.

It was an excellent and intimate evening of Americana (with its folk and rock roots showing).

For further information, head for:

The Kennedys website
Milton Rooms website

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Chess Reviews: 216

ChessBase Magazine #154

Alongside the usual features, such as fine opening surveys (including more - and very welcome - Moskalenko French coverage) and study material on openings, tactics and endgames, three very strong tournaments are given in-depth coverage in the latest issue of ChessBase Magazine.

The FIDE Grand Prix (Zug) saw Topalov dominate the field (1.5 points ahead of Nakamura) and Aronian shared first place with Gelfand at the Alekhine Memorial (Paris and St. Petersburg), with the former edging the top spot on the 'most wins' tie-break.

Exciting as those two tournaments undoubtedly were, they still couldn't match the London Candidates Tournament for bloodthirsty drama. The latter rounds saw an exciting two-horse race between Carlsen and Kramnik. Both suffered late defeats and Carlsen went on to win his place in the next World Championship match by way of an unsatisfactory tie-break method.

The best notes are often the players themselves. It was interesting to read Kramnik's own thoughts on an important moment in this game against Svidler.

Kramnik - Svidler
London Candidates 2013 (Round 8)
''This position used to be very popular some 10 years ago, after my match with Kasparov in 2000. 14 Kc2 A new idea, which I had been studying already more than 10 years ago, but for some reason decided to play it only much later. There were a lot of games played with 14. Ke1, but it seems that, according to modern theory, Black finally managed to find a way to equalise.''  1-0 (40)

I find it incredible, in this day and age, that an idea can remain behind the scenes for a decade (although I suspect Kasparov still has a few unused novelties tucked away from even longer ago).

Both of the leaders lost in the final round. For Carlsen, it showed he is not infallible after all and the pressure seemed to make him crack. Watching such games live on the Internet won't teach a student much, but a grandmaster's notes, written ''in the quiet of his study'', certainly will. Take a look at this snippet, which really gets stuck into the position to demonstrate that White was still capable of holding the game.

Carlsen - Svidler
London Candidates 2013 (Round 14)
31 f3? (and 0-1, 48) Marin gives 31 Bd5! and says: ''This is not that difficult to spot, but evaluating the consequences requires some effort. 31 ...Bxd5 32 Qxc5+ Kg7 33 Qxd5 Kxh6 34 Qxf7 Ba5 35 Qxe8 Bxe1 36 Qxe5 Bxf2+! 37 Kxf2 Qxh2 with a probable draw. If White interposes his queen to one of the checks, Black can exchange and win the bishop with ...g5.''

Nevertheless, Kramnik couldn't take advantage. Commentators have lazily blamed his use of the Pirc Defence in the critical last round encounter, but there was far more to the story than that. Indeed, Kramnik seemed to stand well in the middlegame, with just the sort of complex position he could use to push Ivanchuk into the time trouble that afflicted him throughout the event.

Ivanchuk changed the course of chess history with an unexpected idea. Who would have correctly predicted White's next move here?
Ivanchuk - Kramnik
London Candidates 2013 (Round 14)
24 g3!? Nxh3+ 25 Kg2 Nhg5 26 Rh1 and 1-0 (47)

GM Gormally, who provides the annotation for the above game, was impressed by the tournament.

''The 2013 Candidates tournament in London, had the most exciting denouement of any tournament I can remember. The brilliant Norwegian Wunderkind Magnus Carlsen, was eventually to stagger over the line, after a war of attrition and nerves that will live in the memory for many years. But it was the Russian Vladimir Kramnik who will perhaps feel most aggrieved - he did not lose a game until the last round, a game we shall now analyse, and his chess was of a very high quality indeed.

There are a lot of ifs and buts, but I would not criticise the format. One player had to qualify, and if there had not existed the tie-break format, and the tournament had gone to play-offs, perhaps you would have had a much more cautious approach from the players, resulting in the veritable bore-fest which was the previous candidates. Clearly this tournament format is the way forward.''

It's good to be able to revisit these games and to enjoy the detailed of expert commentators. With the information boom and strong tournaments coming thick and fast in the international calendar, there's a danger of modern classics being shunted off onto the minor paths of chess history. ChessBase are doing their best to make sure that will never be the case.

Anyone who is serious about their chess needs Chessbase magazine.