Monday 28 January 2013

Erja Lyytinen: Forbidden Fruit

Forbidden Fruit
Erja Lyytinen
Forbidden Fruit, Erja Lyytinen's fifth solo album, has just been released.

The sensual cover acts as a worthy and warm antidote to the freezing winter weather. The songs are warm and welcoming too; upbeat and pacey, they blur the line between folk, blues and pop. The lyrics gravitate mainly towards the pop side of town, but there is an interesting contrast with the guitar-driven sound. Erja's own expertise on slide is well to the fore.

Death Letter and Jealousy are the most blues orientated tracks, with the latter featuring the finest guitar playing of the whole album.

A 'live' feel runs through the album. No surprise, because according to Erja, ''It was all made without an auto tuner, so everything is played and sang as you here it.''

Track List

Joyful Mystery
Hold On Together
At Least We Still Fight
Forbidden Fruit
Death Letter
Change Of Season
Press My Button
Things About Coming My Way

Stand out tracks: Joyful Mystery, Death Letter, Jealousy.

For further details, please visit the official Erja Lyytinen website.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Robin Trower: Roots and Branches

Roots and Branches
Robin Trower
It's been 40 years - give or take a month or two - since Robin Trower left Procul Harum. Since then, he has been far from idle and has nearly 30 solo albums to prove it. He has also worked with other artists, most notably with Brian Ferry (as both player and producer).

Roots and Branches features a number of new songs which happily rub shoulders with covers of blues and R'N B classics. Initially, the album was conceived as an all-covers affair, as Robin confirms: ''I started off thinking I would do a complete album of covers. I wanted to get as far away from the originals as possible. I came up with half a dozen arrangements, which I felt were different enough.''

Then the project escalated. ''I ended up writing some new songs as well. I have tried to make the new songs be influenced by what I have done with the classics, so the album blends together.''

Track List

Hound Dog
The Thrill Is Gone
When I Heard Your Name
Little Red Rooster
I Believe To My Soul
Shape Of Things To Come
That's Alright Mama
Save Your Love
Born Under A Bad Sign
Sheltered Moon
See My Life

The covers (Roots) are generally softer and more bluesy than the original versions, with Robin's guitar well to the fore. That is not to say visions of the originals are not present; indeed, it is easy to picture Elvis, Ray Charles and a pair of Kings (B.B. and Albert) et al dropping in from their respective places in this world or the next, nodding in approval and tapping their toes on their way back.

The new songs (Branches) fit in seamlessly with the covers. When I Heard Your Name is probably the pick of the Branches, managing to effortlessly combine feelings of freshness and familiarity.

Stand out tracks: Hound Dog, Little Red Rooster, That's Alright Mama, When I Heard Your Name.

There's nothing too demanding here; it's good, solid blues to be enjoyed anytime, anywhere. I'm sure the songs would sound even better live, but we'll have to wait a little longer than expected as the intended UK tour has been postponed (possibly until Autumn 2013).

Roots and Branches will be released on Manhaton Records on 4 February 2013. Pre-orders are now being taken; for further details, please visit the Robin Trower website.

Sunday 20 January 2013

Quantum Frolics: Ordering Details

John Turnbull's solo album, Quantum Frolics - which we reviewed earlier - is now available via iTunes in addition to John's official Ebay store.

It's an album full of gems and is recommended to all.

Friday 18 January 2013

Wilko's UK Farewell Tour Dates

Following last week's bad news about Wilko Johnson's illness, his manager has now released the details of Wilko's UK Farewell Tour.

6/3/2013: London Koko 

7/3/2013: Bilston Robin 2

8/3/2013: Holmfirth Picturedrome

9/3/2103: Glasgow o2 ABC 

Tickets go on sale Monday January 21.

To quote Wilko’s manager, Robert Hoy, “The four UK dates represent an opportunity for Wilko to express his sincere thanks to his fans for all the support he has had over his long career.”

Full details, including booking information, can be found here

Monday 14 January 2013

New Music

Five new CDs have arrived at Marsh Towers.

Stay tuned for reviews...


Saturday 12 January 2013

Wilko's Last Stand

This week brought some sad news for Wilko Johnson's fans, when his manager released the following statement:


I am very sad to announce that Wilko has recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer of the pancreas. He has chosen not to receive any chemotherapy.

He is currently in good spirits, is not yet suffering any physical effects and can expect to enjoy at least another few months of reasonable health and activity.

He has just set off on a trip to Japan; on his return we plan to complete a new CD, make a short tour of France, then give a series of farewell gigs in the UK. There is also a live DVD in the pipeline, filmed on the last UK tour.

Wilko wishes to offer his sincere thanks for all the support he has had over his long career, from those who have worked with him to, above all, those devoted fans and admirers who have attended
his live gigs, bought his recordings and generally made his life such an extraordinarily full and eventful experience.

Thank you.

Robert Hoy

I have been fortunate to see the former Dr. Feelgood man in action three times over the last year and a half (Shildon, The Arc and The Sage). It looks like the next time will be the last time.

Watch out for news and tour updates over at the Wilko Johnson website.

Friday 11 January 2013

Dave Young Interview: Part 3

We now present the concluding part of our exclusive interview with Dave Young.

Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here.

I know you've done some public readings and other events. Do you enjoy performing your work or is it an uncomfortable necessity? 

I do enjoy performing. Most people who come to listen are there because they are like-minded and interested. The intriguing aspect for me is comparing how an audience perceives the poem in relation to my rendition of it.
Photo © Dave Young
A writer needs a strong online presence. Where can readers find you? 

Readers can find me on my website, which I update on a regular basis. I encourage people, via Facebook, email and Twitter, to post comments and messages.

 Who are your literary inspirations? 

Of the modern poets Carol Ann Duffy (before she became poet laureate), Jo Shapcott are influential. I do reference influences in some of my poems. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, the first book I read from cover to cover in one sitting (see my poem, Growing Up) and when I was a teen, Bob Dylan (see my poem Young Skin parts 1, 2 and 3). I, like many, were awestruck by the way Dylan revolutionised the way language was used in song. This led me to the beat poets and Kerouac etc. I should also include Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Their relationship was destructive but creatively inspiring.

What can you reveal about your plans for 2013?

The travel blog as I mentioned earlier is on going. It has ideas and therefore legs. It just needs an injection of effort. Angelspit will also take me into 2013 and at my current rate should be completed on the website by April. I aim to do some more travelling and hopefully continue with my creative writing groups.

Photo © Dave Young

Dave Young, thank you very much! We will be back with you later in the year for another update. Meanwhile, please head for Dave's website to catch up with the Angelspit project.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Dave Young Interview: Part 2

Continuing our interview with author and poet Dave Young, in which we discuss Dave's three poetry collections and the art form itself...

Photo © Dave Young
Tell me a little bit about your collections of poetry: Ready to Ignite Water's Edge and Angel Spit.

Ready to Ignite is a mix of themes ranging from the joy/frustration of writing, the reality of life for some living on Teesside, the awkwardness of a first kiss and the poet's natural stomping ground love and death.

Water's Edge
Image © Dave Young
Water's Edge is a collaboration with Teesside fine artist Juliet Adele exploring themes of childhood, growing up, nostalgia and the pain of lost love. Juliet and I describe it as poetry and art coming together from the sane inspiration source.

Angelspit explores the themes of change, intimacy and self doubt. The word angelspit is a metaphysical symbol visualised through the shape of a tear, a drop of water, a glucose drip, the pearl buttons of a wedding dress etc. The shape, in its various forms, provides the glue that holds each poem in this collection together.

How relevant is poetry today? Is it a dying art?

I don't believe poetry is dying, far from it. In Teesside alone there are many poets practicing their art in venues across the Tees Valley. In challenging times it is often the arts that provide a vehicle for people to identify with. Poetry has and will continue to roll with the times because poets write about universal themes that effect us all.

To be concluded...

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Dave Young Interview: Part 1

We were fortunate indeed to have secured an interview with author and poet Dave Young.

Dave is busier than ever in the literary world and is involved in numerous exciting projects. For the first part of our interview, we focused on his first novel and his cross-genre writing...  

It's unusual for a writer to enter the worlds of both fiction and poetry. Have you always been interested in both genres and why do you think the crossover is a comparative rarity?

I am interested in all forms of writing. Hopefully, like not reading the best book I've ever read I haven't written my best poem. I suppose it is unusual for a writer to be published in both fiction and poetry; some noted exceptions of course such as Maya Angelou, Ted Hughes and of course Shakespeare. My passion though is poetry and has been for over 20 years. I love its form and its rhythm, it can be as structured or as unstructured as you wish.

Photo © Dave Young
Waiting for Jericho to Fall (Book Guild, 1996) was your first published novel. How long did it take, from the first idea to publication?

'Jericho' took about three years to write from the first germ of an idea to completion and another year to find a publisher.

Is there a new novel in the pipeline?

There is no new novel in the pipeline although I am currently throwing ideas at a draft page on my website. I did some travelling around Europe last year and kept a diary of sorts as I journeyed. It is a mix of prose, poetry, anecdotes and even the odd recipe thrown in for good measure. I am trying to avoid the Notes From a Small Island genre so I've re-imagined a number of the situations I found myself in.

Part 2 will follow tomorrow...

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Dave Young Interview

Photo © Dave Young
An interview with author and poet Dave Young will follow here over the course of the next three days.

Stay tuned!

Monday 7 January 2013

Chess Reviews: 210

Arkell's Odyssey
The Autobiography of a
Chess Grandmaster
Keith Arkell
123 pages
Keverel Chess

I've known Keith Arkell for a long time. We played each other on numerous occasions and became friends. He was always a friendly and approachable Grandmaster of chess.

I was very pleased to hire his services for two simultaneous displays for the junior players of the Chess Links Project back in the mid-2000s.  The juniors loved the experience of playing against such a strong player and the two events made front-page headlines in the Teesside press.

I remember telling him - on more than one occasion - that he should write a book. It's great to see that (more than a decade on!) he has finally found the time to do so. Yet Arkell's Odyssey is not the book I was expecting him to write.

Keith's star qualities, the very aspects of his personality that make him the winner that he is, are neatly summed up by Britain's No.1 player, Michael Adams, in his foreword. ''Keith's appetite for the game: his determination, mental toughness in bad positions and fighting spirit, not to mention his formidable endgame technique...'' With that in mind, one would have expected Keith's first book to be a serious games' collection, with deep notes explaining exactly how he consistently manages to squeeze full points out of virtually nothing. ''That's the sort of thing a Korchnoi or a Karpov does, but not a less industrious Grandmaster such as myself'' he writes, on the very first page. Instead of that, Keith decided to write his autobiography.

It is a story full of surprises. Despite the early suggestions that he has led an unconventional and unorthodox life, I wasn't prepared for such a degree of frankness from page 1 onwards, with a near fatal birth and the admission that he was ''a very frightened little boy.'' It's a feature destined to reappear later in the book, with the further admission of panic attacks and a fear of infinity, ''a feeling of being trapped in time forever.''

Even his passage into the world of chess was unconventional. These days, when some children in their early teens are studiously dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's on their way to becoming young Grandmasters, it will come as a surprise to learn that he only got to know the moves and rules at 13 when his father taught both Keith and his brother Nick the moves of the game ''he had just learned from one of his workmates.'' A couple of years later, sporting his first ever BCF grade of 142 (ELO 1736) he took his first notable scalp when he defeated Sheila Jackson (ELO 2048 at the time).

Soon came another pivotal moment in his life, this time away from the chess board. Taking a position as a junior wages clerk could have been the first step on the road to a conventional life, but after a ''terrifying and claustrophobic'' first day at the office, he never returned. ''Since that day I have never taken conventional employment again or signed on the dole.'' Thereafter, Keith's future life as a professional player was well and truly sealed.    

He remains remarkably frank about personal matters throughout the book, even chronicling - in detail -  his first love, marriage and eventual divorce from Susan.

Naturally, the bulk of his story concerns chess and his rise through the ranks to become the scourge of British weekend tournaments and, in 2008, to achieve one of his greatest successes - a tie for first (with Stuart Conquest) at the British Championship. He lost the play-off the following day, having been out celebrating until 5 a.m. in the morning, but still shared the title of English Champion.

70 games (or game fragments, in some cases) are peppered throughout the book. Opponents include Tony Miles, Bent Larsen, Michael Adams and Lev Psakhis. There is even a successful tactical tussle against an 11-year old Magnus Carlsen (now, of course, the world no.1). Annotations to the games are brief. Too brief really, which is OK in the context of adding a little chess colour to the story and completely excusable if a serious study of Keith's games will someday see the light of day. You don't need to be a Karpov or a Korchnoi after all, Keith; your games, together with a full explanation of how to convert slight advantages and exactly how you manage to keep just enough going would make an excellent and highly instructive book - a fitting companion volume to Arkell's Odyssey.

Here are a couple of interesting snippets to give a flavour of the chess content. For those who are more used to seeing Keith grind out the points from extremely long endgames, two queen surprises may come as a surprise...

Arkell - Boudre
Hastings, 1988

28 Qh1! (with the idea of 28 ...Bxh1 29 Ne6+ Kg8 30 Rxg7 checkmate). Black tried 28 ...Qxc5 but couldn't hold on for much longer. 1-0 (33).

Arkell - Holland
e2e4 High Wycombe Open, 2012

29 Qd8! ''...the most spectacular way I have ever seen to simplify to a better ending,'' wrote Michael Adams in the Daily Telegraph. It's an incredible fork on the rook and bishop and it led to an endgame advantage Keith converted after 58 moves.

There are numerous photos too, some of which will be familiar to readers of old CHESS magazines and some from the Arkell family archive.

Arkell's Odyssey is a very unusual book. Chess players are usually loathe to admit to any form of weakness, let alone fear. Keith, as usual, goes his own way and presents an uncompromising ''warts and all'' self portrait that will come as big surprise to most readers. Entertaining and thought provoking, this is a book which deserves to reach a wide audience.

Further information and ordering details are available from the Keverel Chess website.

Saturday 5 January 2013

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour: Single Launch

Scarecrow/All You Love Is All You Are
Bridie Jackson and The Arbour
One might have known it wouldn't be much into the New Year before Bridie Jackson and The Arbour made another appearance here at Marsh Towers.

This time last year we were all excited about their impending self-release of Bitter Lullabies and the launch show at The Sage. Now, following an immensely productive 12 months, Bride and The Arbour (Rachel Catriona, Jenny Nendick and Carol Bowden) following up their recent signing to Debt Records with the release of their first official single.

The single, scheduled for release on 11 February, is the equivalent of a double A side from the height of the vinyl era.

Scarecrow is something of a surprise. Unusually, the song isn't one of Bridie's own compositions but was written instead by Louis Barabbas (Debt Records stablemate and frontman for The Bedlam Six). It is a dark tale of a bride murdered ''on the night before my wedding day'', with the titular scarecrow ending up wearing the discarded wedding dress and leaving the deceased bride, narrating from the grave, appealing for it's return.

The song borders on traditional folk rather more than Bridie's usual repertoire; perhaps it's a small step towards a general broadening of the Arbour arsenal (just as Mucky was on Bitter Lullabies.) although the subject matter remains dark and dangerous. Naturally, the Arbour trademarks we know and love - the wonderful strings, the unparalleled harmonies - are present and correct.

This version of All You Love Is All You Are is a new one. 16 seconds shorter than the album version, it is a tighter song that has lost none of its power. I have spent some time today comparing the respective versions and the production of the newer of the two is definitely crisper, with both the vocals and instruments sounding cleaner.

It's pointless trying to draw comparisons to other artistes. Nobody I have heard makes music anything like Bridie and The Arbour. Maybe one day somebody will - imitation will doubtless remain the sincerest form of flattery  - but the original will always be the best.

Everything is now in place for Bridie Jackson and The Arbour. The original music, fused with the deep, moving lyrics and unique delivery have been there for some time but now the label deal and the striking, evocative artwork are in place everything is ready for the next big leap forwards.

Now is the time for you to make arrangements to catch them live. Fortunately, a tour of North East England is coming up very soon.

Impending Live Shows

31 January: Middlesbrough, Folklines
1 February: Jarrow, Bede's World
2 February: Berwick, The Watchtower
8 February: Newcastle, Cluny 2 (official single launch)
9 February: Hexham, Moot Hall

Some of my earlier features on Bridie Jackson and the Arbour can be found here and further details are available on their official website.

Friday 4 January 2013

John Turnbull: Quantum Frolics

Quantum Frolics
John Turnbull

John Turnbull, a Blockhead since the beginning, has just released a wonderful album of solo material.

In a world which, in some quarters, still lazily labels the Blockheads as ''punk'', it's clearly time to leave preconceptions at the door.

Quantum Frolics offers songs with a wide variety of sounds and styles (rock, folk, pop, funk), united by several central themes (varying from positivity, humour, the value of family and friends on the one hand to love lost and life's regrets on the other).

The scene is set by the first track, Don't Lose It. It's an optimistic, upbeat number; looking forward while keeping an eye on the past, as enunciated by the opening line: ''I'll be the catalyst to spark your evolution/I'll buy the ticket to holistic solution...'' Clearly harking back to a former time, the similarity to ''I could be the catalyst that sparked the revolution...'' from the Blockheads' What a Waste is no accident but this time personal evolution is the keynote as opposed to thoughts of revolution.

The diversity of styles heralds dedication from the listener. Every song tells a story, regardless of musical genre, but this not a CD to listen to just once or twice before moving on. After several plays, the melodies take a firmer shape and the independent messages emerge, loud and clear. For example, Blue Beat Saint is dark song (initially) disguised by jaunty music (Wiyos-style). The story is of a broken relationship:  ''It's gonna take a long, long time/For me to stop thinking you're mine...''
It's a clever song and the sentiment which emerges from the sugar coating will be familiar to most listeners.

Sweet Mary is the only song not written solely by John. For this one he is joined by fellow Blockhead Chaz Jankel for the funkiest track on the album (it wouldn't be out of place on Chaz's own album, The Submarine Has Surfaced). Chaz also lends his keyboard skills to Love and Magik.

Chaz Jankel
Billynomates is the track closest to the current Blockhead style, invoking the social commentary of their most recent CD, Staring Down the Barrel, (and in particular a song such as George the Human Pigeon).

Road Rise, the longest track of the 12 (a little over six minutes) encompasses numerous topics; a spiritual and physical journey, passing comment on the modern world: ''If we go back before petrol and cars/Back to when you could still see the stars.'' Environmental concerns reappear in other tracks too, such as Natures Table and The Gods Are Laughing.

Brother Be Able is the only song from the album I'd previously heard; it's one of the two simplest of all the compositions (Live to Love being the other), a gentle, uplifting folk ballad. Have a listen for yourself...

Love And Magik brings the album to a very satisfying conclusion. It's such a wonderfully uplifting, spiritual (don't be afraid of it) denouement. The melody is the finest on the album and the song lifts the listener from the present, via its fairy tale beginnings (''When you wish upon a star...'') soaring through the ether and back down to Earth at journey's end.

John's musical versatility is confirmed by the credits; one would naturally expect vocals and guitars to be there, but also listed are keyboards, ukulele, bass, drums and harmonica.

John with Blockhead bassist Norman Watt-Roy
Sharing the vocals with Derek the Draw on the recent Class of '77 tour

Track List

Don't Lose It
See Through Eyes
Blue Beat Saint
Safety In Numbers
Sweet Mary
Road Rise
Brother Be Able
Natures Table
The Gods Are Laughing
Live To Love
Love And Magik

Quantum Frolics is available as a limited edition from Ebay. I'd advise an early purchase before stocks run out.

If schedules permit, an interview with John Turnbull may well follow here some time this year. Meanwhile, keep up to date with the Blockheads over at their official website.

My reviews of the Blockheads can be found here and here.

Thursday 3 January 2013

Jez Hellard and the Djukella Orchestra: Blood and Honey

Blood and Honey
Jez Hellard and the Djukella Orchestra

Our second review of the year throws the spotlight on an artiste who was new to me when Blood and Honey arrived at Marsh Towers.

In amongst the mixture of traditional and contemporary folk songs, there is a diversity including tracks influenced and informed by the worlds of tango, rhumba, funk and reggae.

In addition to his guitar playing and soulful folk vocals, Jez Hellard excels on the harmonica. Indeed, two of the tracks I most enjoy are Miner's Picket Dance and Atlas Tango, both of which are instrumentals, allowing the harmonicas to really come into their own.

That's not to say the vocals and lyrics aren't strong too; here, Mercenaries and Harvest Gypsies represent the pick of the bunch.

A note on nomenclature. ''Djukella (mongrel) is a common insult in the southern Balkans. It seemed an appropriate name for this international hybrid of a band.''

The Balkan influence extends further: ''The word ''Balkan'' comprises the Turkish words ''bal'' - honey, and ''kan'' - blood. After criss-crossing that area on various madcap schemes these past couple of years, The Land of Blood often seems an apt description for one of the richest melting-pots of people and cultures I've ever had the good fortune to experience.''

The band itself includes Zoe Moffat (violin), Jordan Kostov (accordion), Nye Parsons (double bass) and the songs were recorded in various places, all the way from Skopje to a Bristol kitchen.

Track List

Saucy Sailor
Miner's Picket Dance
Remember The Mountain Bed
Atlas Tango
Bonny Black Hare
Luther/The Last Straw
Harvest Gypsies

Stand out tracks:  Mercenaries, Miner's Picket Dance, Atlas Tango, Harvest Gypsies.

Definitely one to watch in 2013. For further details, including tour dates, head for the official website.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Julian Sas: Bound To Roll

Bound To Roll
Julian Sas
New Year, new music. Bound To Roll is the first of three new albums I will be reviewing this week.

Bound To Roll is largely up-tempo blues, heavy on catchy guitar licks; rough and ready, without superfluous trimmings. Ideal for blasting the first musical hole into 2013.

The album hits the ground running, with the first three tracks kicking in with a thoroughly restless pace. The tempo only slows temporarily with How Could I Have Been So Blind (Burnin' Bridges and Ain't Backing Down are the only other slower, more traditional blues numbers).

This is the Dutch blues-rocker's eight studio album and he is joined by Tenny Tahamata (bass) and Rob Heijne (drums). Guest Willem van de Schoof occasionally fills out the sound with the Hammond organ.

The album took two and a half years to make. It is, confirms Sas, ''a very personal record. This album is about pleasure, enjoyment, love, loss, pain and sadness. About real life, about the blues, about experiences that, I hope, made me stronger and a better human being. For me making this album was a way of dealing with my emotions.''

Three covers rub shoulders with the nine original compositions, namely:  Shadow Play (Rory Gallagher), 30 Days In The Hole (Steve Marriott) and Highway 61 Revisited (Bob Dylan).

Track List

Life On The Line
Bound To Roll
How Could I Have Been So Blind
Shadow Play
30 Days In The Hole
The Blues Won't Stay
Tear It Up
Burnin' Bridges
Ain't Backing Down
Highway 61 Revisited
Life On The Line (Radio Edit)

Stand out tracks are Life On The Line, Mercy and The Blues Won't Stay. If they don't get your toes tapping, then Bound To Roll is not for you. Otherwise, slip the CD into your music player of choice, turn it up loud and enjoy the ride.

Find out more over at Julian Sas's official website.

Tuesday 1 January 2013


John Challis (Boycie from Only Fools and Horses and the underrated spin-off series, Green Green Grass) took time out from playing Captain Hook to sign copies of his books at Middlesbrough's Waterstones just before the New Year.

He is currently working on a novel, which is being written in the small gaps between acting commitments.

Being Boycie and Boycie and Beyond are both available from the Wigmore Books website.