Tuesday 24 April 2012

Wilko Johnson at the Arc

Wilko Johnson 
The Arc, Stockton 

I saw Wilko Johnson in Shidlon last November; he seemed to finish one tour and start another one almost immediately. Recent releases of a Dr Feelgood box set (All Through the City) and Wilko's autobiography (Looking Back At Me) will doubtless benefit from the publicity generated by the tour and we all get to see him more frequently, so it's a win/win situation.

The Arc is a very intimate venue but I think it was a mistake to make the floor area all-seated; people like to dance when Wilko is in town. However, that was only a minor matter and it was an extremely enjoyable evening of blues and rock 'n' roll.

Virgil and the Accelerators opened the show; they were at the Guisborough Blues Festival last year. Everything is still turned up to eleven - their style is a sort of blues/metal fusion.

After a short break, the stage door burst open and three black-clad musicians took to the stage in determined fashion.

With a cheery 'Good evening!', Wilko strapped on his guitar and launched straight into the opening number.

As usual, Wilko was accompanied by Dylan Howe (drums) and the legendary Norman Watt-Roy (bass).

The band were an even tighter unit than last time and Wilko's machine-gunning guitar antics were once again utilised very effectively. The tracks were delivered with the pace of a bullet too; there was a bare minimum of chat and most of the songs followed each other directly, with hardly ever even the briefest of pauses.

Set List

All Through the City 
If You Want Me, You’ve Got Me 
The More I Give 
Going Back Home 
Roxette (this brought the biggest cheer of the night)
You Shouldn’t Call a Doctor 
Sneaking Suspicion 
When I’m Gone (featuring a lengthy bass solo)
Dr. Dupree 
Don’t Let Your Daddy Know (including introductions and lengthy solos by all concerned - this song lasted nearly 17 minutes)
Wooly Bully 
Back in the Night
She Does it Right

The encore started with the wise words of Wilko:

'Well we’ve obviously got a very intellectual audience in here tonight, so we’d like to leave you with some jazz…'

There followed a few quick riffs and rolls from the bass and drums respectively before Wilko mouthed ‘my turn’ and, just as he did at Shildon, he launched into a lengthy (15 minute!) version of...

Bye Bye Johnny

There was still time for a second encore...

'We have time for one more for the road, and this is about the most famous road in rock ‘n’ roll’' which was, of course:

Route 66

Then it was ‘Goodnight – thank you!’ and the blistering evening really was over. Come back soon, Wilko!

Meanwhile, here's a few more photos from an excellent show...

Monday 23 April 2012

The Cactus Blossoms

The Cactus Blossoms

Time to introduce another slice of new music.

The core of the Cactus Blossoms comprises of brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum, whose musical career took off following a victory in the 2010 MN State duet contest. The full band line up includes Mike Razz Russell on fiddle, Randy Broughten on steel guitar and Liz Draper on the bass.

Their self-titled debut CD features a genuine honky tonk sound, very strong on vocal harmonies and songs full of love lost, jail-breaking bank robbers, trains and lonesome cowboy blues, with a little bit of boogie along the way. The tunes are catchy and regardless of how sad the subject matter is, one gets the distinct impression that everyone is singing and playing with smiles on their faces.

Track List

A Sad Day to be You
Lost John Dean
Cold Foot Boogie
Song of the Bird
Lonesome and Blue
Adios Maria
Stoplight Kisses
Blue Railroad Train
Don't Do It
Traveler's Paradise

There's a good change of pace throughout the course of the 10 songs. On the whole, I prefer the faster numbers, such as Lost John Dean, Cold Foot Boogie and Blue Railroad Train to the slower ballads.

This is clearly a very impressive debut; despite inhabiting a well-worn genre, The Cactus Blossoms retain a very fresh feel to their songs.

To find out more about The Cactus Blossoms, head for their official website and this page of the the Brookfield Knights website.

Saturday 21 April 2012

Hillfolk Noir: Radio Hour

Hillfolk Noir
Radio Hour

It was back in January when I first heard of Hillfolk Noir and wrote my review of Skinny Mammy's Revenge.  They are already back with a new offering of 'Junkerdash'.

Radio Hour has been devised to sound exactly as the name suggests; it's like listening to a radio station for an hour and experiencing the range of different songs and occasional jingles. The conceit of basing an album around the loose premise of a radio show isn’t entirely original (The Who Sell Out is an older example) but given Hillfolk Noir's style it's one which works well and is not overdone to the extent where it could become too forced or intrusive.

Following the typical sound of a radio tuning in, the band launch into Down the Road, an easy going, catchy sing-a-long number which should have the listener indulging in a little toe-tapping before the song is through.

Thereafter we have a selection of different styles, including slower blues such as Ballad of a  Lonely Rounder, the humorous The Great Grizzly Bear Scare, a lazy old love song (Hand in Hand), the occasional concept jingle (Hillfolk Wild Root Cream Oil) and the downright unusual (Talking Music Blues).

The list of personnel reveals some very unusual instruments, entirely in keeping with the Hillfolk style:

Travis Ward: writing and arranging, guitar, singing, harmonica, tooth knuckle, kazoo
Alison ‘’The Warden’’ Ward: triangle, singing saw, washboard, banjo, singing, kazoo
Mike ‘’PW8’’ Waite: upright bass
Jared Goodpaster: snare, tambourine, suitcase, jug
Travis Swartz: coot hooter
Shaun King: banjo, clanker

It's all quirky, inventive and original stuff and I imagine the band would be a terrific live act.

Track List

Down The Road
Run Round Reel
Ballad of a Lonely Rounder
Hillfolk Wild Root Cream Oil
The Great Grizzly Bear Scare
Parchman Farm Blues
Pig Town Jug
Trash Can
Hand in Hand
Don't Mean Nothing
Talking Music Blues
Rattler in the Outhouse
Jim Beam Blues

The final track includes a couple of brief bonus pieces just when you think the CD has finished.

Keep up to date with Hillfolk Noir by visiting their official website and this page of the Brookfield Knights site.

Friday 20 April 2012

Wilko Johnson

Wilko Johnson was back in North East England tonight, putting on a typically blistering show at Stockton's Arc.

A full review will soon be available. Here's a couple of photos to be going on with.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Mick Taylor at Fibbers

Mick Taylor
Fibbers, York

Mick Taylor doesn't tour particularly often and I was pleased to discover that he was appearing within reasonable striking distance.

The cavernous domain of Fibbers provided a very suitable venue for some real down and dirty blues by the former Rolling Stone and his band. Indeed, it was good night for blues fans in York; Oli Brown was playing just a couple of doors up the road, at The Duchess.

I saw the Stones in Sheffield back in 2007 but of course Mick Taylor was long since gone from 'the greatest Rock 'n' Roll band in the world' by then. What to expect? Mick played down expectations as soon as he appeared on the stage, with the greeting:‘Welcome everybody. There’s nothing really that slick or professional about what we play, so…here we go!’

Fibbers makes for an intimate evening. I spent the full 80 minutes of the show right at the front, virtually within touching distance of the band and with my right ear almost touching the right hand side amplifiers.

The first two numbers were fast-paced songs, namely Secret Affair and Twisted Sister. Both are from Mick's solo album, A Stone's Throw. Self-deprecation was the order of the evening. After playing both songs back to back, Mick announced that they were a '...couple of obscure classics they were recorded, like, 14 years ago…On an album that as one actor said about one of his movies, it wasn’t so much released - it escaped…'

He never seemed entirely comfortable between the songs and said on more than one occasion that he found the sound too loud. 'We also play some blues but the bass drum’s too loud – we’re not a big disco band either.'

Indeed, the sound was frequently murky and dogged by a buzz of feedback for most of the evening. Somehow, the imperfections suited the evening. That's the blues for you.

Late at Night swiftly followed; a slower number, also from A Stone's Throw. Then Mick took a rest from vocal duties and introduced organist George Zoot Money ('I used to go and watch him play at the Flamingo Club when I was a 15 year old') who sang an extended Gospel song, May the Circle Be Unbroken. This led to a wistful post-song musing: 'But of course it always is…sadly. It’s just life, you know?'

Going South was next up, a very long instrumental which gave room for extended solos from all of the band over the course of its 20 minutes. It was more Santana than Taylor. The rest of the band were introduced during the song, revealing that we had Jeff Allen on the drums, Michael Bailey on Bass and Robert Awhai on rhythm guitar.

Before the next song, there was a little bit more interaction with the audience which went something like this:

'This is a quieter song – promise!'

'We don’t want quiet!'

'Yeah, but I do! All this loud music…I’m going unplugged from now on.' 

The song in question was No Expectations, the first Rolling Stones song of the evening (although it was from the time before Mick replaced Brian Jones). This version was faster than the original, heavy on the trademark Taylor slide, and was probably the highlight of the evening.

Stop Breaking Down was next; a Stones song Mick did play on originally, albeit one written by Robert Johnson. Suddenly we were into 'last song' territory and it was back to A Stone's Throw for Losing My Faith, which sounded very Clapton-esque.

The band left the stage but came back on after a minute or so. Zoot announced: 'Can’t go on without a bit of Chuck Berry up you’re a***' before taking the vocals on Promised Land.

True - it was not a slick or polished evening but it was a very entertaining one nonetheless.

Keep up with the latest news and tour dates over at the official Mick Taylor website.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Two Middlesbrough Events

Middlesbrough Libraries have two new events coming up very soon.

The flyers below should provide all the necessary information...

Monday 16 April 2012

Bard: The Springtime Fool

It's time to catch up with some new music which arrived at Marsh Towers a short time ago. Later in the week we'll take a look at the recent releases from Hillfolk Noir and The Cactus Blossoms, but we'll start with the new CD from Bard.

The Springtime Fool
Earlier in the year I reviewed Bard's three-track EP. They have now followed it up with a full CD of songs and are currently touring the UK.

The three songs from the EP are included on The Springtime Fool alongside nine new ones.

Track List

Born In London Town
Down Into The Sea
Rambling With You
Drums Of Freedom
Beating Of My Heart
Peace, My Mind
Late Afternoon
Married By The Sea
The Springtime Fool
Our Love Is Strong
What I Need

Violets, Born In London Town and Beating Of My Heart Head are the three tracks which were on the EP. The new songs display good variety, from the pacey, optimistic ballad Rambling With You through the moralistic slow-burner Late Afternoon to the more traditional folk offerings such as Married By The Sea.

Theo Bard has an unusual vocal style; a distinctive voice with an unorthodox delivery, sometimes verging on the spoken word rather than conventional singing and somewhat reminiscent of a wandering medieval minstrel. There's a lot of words - the book of lyrics, included with the CD, runs just over 10 pages - and the songs tell thoughtful stories over ever-growing, catchy tunes.

As before, I found the clarinet particularly effective, lifting the songs at just the right times.

Head to the official website to learn more about Bard. There's more information on this page of the Brookfield Knights site too.

Friday 13 April 2012

Mick Taylor

Former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor was in action at Fibbers (York) last night.

A full review will doubtless follow; here's a couple of photos to be going on with.

Thursday 12 April 2012

Chess Reviews: 196

ChessBase Magazine # 147

April's issue of ChessBase Magazine keeps up the very high standards one can rightly expect from this fine series.

As usual, the coverage of recent top tournaments is first class. Those receiving the full treatment this time include Wijk aan Zee and Gibraltar.

Girbraltar is billed here as the more exciting of the two events; the magazine states that 'This year there was not really great excitement in the Tata Steel Tournament in Wijk. The dominance of Levon Aronian was simply too obvious.'

Of course, there was plenty of excitement at Wijk aan Zee. How could there not be, with the likes of Aronian, Carlsen, Nakamura, Topalov and world title challenger Gelfand all in action? Nevertheless, Aronian's performance was indeed one of dominance (even though he managed to lose two games on the way to victory).

I was impressed by some little of the little details in his game with Giri.

Giri - Aronian

White's only active plan appears to be to push f3-f4. It's instructive how Aronian manages to keep that idea strictly under lock and key while manoeuvring towards a winning advantage for himself.

21 ...Rf5 'Preventing the advance f4' says Aronian, whose own notes adorn the game. 22 f4 gxf4 23 Nxf4 Rg5 is the simple point. White played 22 Kg2. 'On 22 Qb8+ as well as other moves, Black has the interesting resource Nc8' - because after 23 Qxc8, Rf8 wins the Queen! Aronian followed up with 22 ...Nd7, 23 ...Nf8, 24 ...Ng6 and 25 ...Nh4+ and went on to win after 43 moves.

Magnus Carlsen provides enlightening annotations to one of his games too. There's a key moment towards the end where he admits to missing an important possibility - which could have spoilt all of his efforts and earned Black a draw.
Carlsen - Gashimov
Carlsen played the tempting 51 f5 and comments:  'This was my point, as now Black cannot play ...gxf5 Bxf5 Ne6 due to the check on e6. However, Black has another trick, which I failed to spot.'
 51 ...g5?  It turns out that Black could have played 51 ...h5!! and after 52 fxg6 Ne6! the Knight springs to life and will soon hop into d4, apparently saving the game.

It's always good to read honest comments by the top players.

Gibraltar may well have produced more exciting games than Wijk, but its not really comparing like with like. Gibraltar was an Open tournament on the Swiss system, a format which demands active and aggressive chess if top honours are to be fought for.

Nigel Short certainly entered into the spirit of things, playing the rare Benoni Defence in a critical last round game and being rewarded for his bravery.

Sasikiran - Short
White has just played 29 Bg2-h1? which was a clear error (29 Bf1 was the better Bishop move). Short pounced with 29 ...Ne5!, winning the c4 pawn and, soon afterwards, the game.

With characters such as Hou, Adams, Judit Polgar and Korchnoi all in action, there was no shortage of dynamic chess or decisive results at Gibraltar.

In total, there are 2097 recent games from recent Grandmaster events and there's lots more besides.
For example, there's a 50 minute video featuring Alexi Shirov presenting his take on recent developments in the Botvinnik Semi-Slav, using his game against Grischuk at the European Team Championship as the main focal point.

Elsewhere, the opening surveys will be welcomed by serious tournament players as they are invariably up to date, interesting and presented by experts. The pick of the bunch this time is the one in which Viktor Moskalenko rounds up the recent theory on the French Advance with 6 a3 c4.

ChessBase Magazine continues to offer excellent value for money. There's no other chess product like it.

Two other items of interest.

Firstly, my review of this book...

The Tarrasch Defence

...is available in the current issue of CHESS Magazine (April 2012).

Secondly, Gambit have just publushed a brand new, greatly expanded edition of a a classic title...

Vishy Anand: World Chess Champion

...just in time for the imminent World Championship match. My full review should appear soon but for now I'd just like to point out that there's a special section at the end of the book featuring a full appreciation of Anand written by me, partly based on the interviews we recorded at the London Chess Classic in December 2011.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Nanci Griffith at The Sage

Nanci Griffith
The Sage, Gateshead

Nanci Griffith

Nanci Griffith made a very welcome return to The Sage, just over two years since her last Gateshead appearance. 

The current tour is to promote her latest CD, Intersection. It's a very good album; The Queen of Folkabilly has lost none of her power or the desire to shout up against the wrongs of the world.

Support was supplied by The Kennedys (who form part of Nanci's recording and touring band). They are a fine act in their own right, with songs not half a million miles from Nanci's own style. They were joined at the end of their set by Nanci herself for the obligatory Davy Jones tribute song, Daydream Believer. In truth, Nanci didn't look entirely well. Although her voice was terrific all night, she turned out to be coming down with something and a number of subsequent shows in the UK were postponed (the new dates are on her website).

Following a short break, Pete and Maura Kennedy returned to the stage, together with Pat McInerny (who has been Nanci's drummer and percussionist for a quarter of a century) and then Nanci. The stage was set out a little like a large front room, complete with comfy chairs and lamps. Hall One of The Sage is big but the setting converted the atmosphere to intimate.

Eastenders Fan!
Cosy set
A very strong set list followed, combining classic tracks from older albums with the stand-out numbers from the new one, with plenty of informal chat and anecdotes in between. The final song was an acapella solo version of The Road To Aberdeen.


Set List

Speed of the Sound of Loneliness
Simple Life
Bethlehem Steel
I Ain’t Never Going Back
Just Another Morning
From A Distance
Trouble in the Fields
The Loving Kind
Across the Great Divide
Tequila After Midnight
Listen to the Radio


Hell No I’m Not Alright
The Road To Aberdeen

The first song of the encore is proving to be one of Nanci's most popular ever. Two 'new additions to the band' emerged to help out with that one - the Clap Brothers.
The Clap Brothers!
Standing stock-still for the verses, the enigmatic duo broke their statuesque poses for the chorus, to demonstrate to the audience when (and how) to clap along.
Clap - NOW!
It was a very enjoyable evening. Nanci has lost none of her edge and her performance has been enhanced with the fresh energy of The Kennedys. Here's hoping they will be back at The Sage before too long.


There's a very good interview here in which Nanci chats about Intersection and the inspiration behind some of the songs.

Nanci's official website is updated frequently and has details of all forthcoming tour dates.

Sunday 8 April 2012

Rachel Lyn Harrington and The Knock Outs: Photo-report 2

One more set of photos, this time from my perspective.

There's no need for captions this time; just read over the last few posts to find out more about the evening.

My post-show interview with Rachel and The Knock Outs will follow soon.