Trinity Live 2014

 Trinity Live 2014 flyer

 

So, what started as a planned short tour with The Reasoning, Touchstone and Magenta turned into a special charity gig at Leamington Spa Assembly Rooms on 18 May 2014 with a greatly expanded and quite mouth-watering line-up.  It promised to be a great day – and with an auction, a raffle, assorted donations from the great and the good, a VIP lounge and a guest appearance by artist Rodney Matthews mooted, I was sure it wouldn’t disappoint!  And so it was that I took my good self off to the inaugural Trinity event for a birthday weekend treat with Messrs Woodley and Brew.  Here is my review.

Trinity Live - Leamington Spa Assembly Rooms

Kicking off proceedings is former Pallas man, Alan Reed,  who, aided and abetted by prog whore Mark Spencer (sorry Mark, couldn’t resist), produces a set of engaging, accessible and thought-provoking tunes. Apparently he’s a BBC journalist now! The set consists primarily of solo material with Pallas’s ‘Sanctuary’ (a song about Auschwitz) thrown in for good measure. The highlight, though, is a superb version of Twelfth Night’s ‘Love Song’, for which Reed and Spencer are joined by Kim Seviour of Touchstone.  It hits all the right buttons for the occasion. They keep things relatively simple and uncluttered, giving the voices and words room to breathe. Sadly the world still needs the light cast by the words and music of the late Geoff Mann. Moving stuff.  Post-performance, I pick up a copy of Reed’s First in a Field of One for good measure.

Trinity Live - Reed Seviour Spencer Love Song

Reed, Seviour, Spencer – ‘Love Song’

Matt Stevens is fast developing a reputation, not only as a gifted and original guitarist, but also as possibly the nicest man in prog. That means that he plays his ‘one man and his guitar’ (oh, and a loop pedal) set to a receptive and supportive audience that responds well to his unique brand of energetic and inventive music. Those who’ve not done so should check out Lucid, his recent solo album, and Spooky Action by The Fierce and the Dead.

Matt Stevens - Photo by Tim Laurie

Lucid moments – Matt Stevens entertains. (Photo by Tim Laurie)

Motorway traffic has delayed the unfortunate Heather Findlay, so an impromptu change to the running order sees an earlier than expected performance from Magenta.  The presence of vocalist Christina Booth delights everybody in the audience – it was, after all, her cancer treatment that inspired the Trinity event in the first place. She looks and sounds fantastic. It’s an impressive set with the band rocking surprisingly hard and material from latest offering, The Twenty Seven Club, standing out.  The highlight of the set, however, is again a cover, with Alan Reed joining the band for a very emotional version of ‘Don’t Give Up’, the Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush duet. (There’s a version knocking about on You Tube and Facebook, if you want to seek it out – check out the audience response!)

Trinity Magenta - photo by Ali Brew

Christina Booth and Magenta – photo by Ali Brew

When Heather Findlay does finally hit the stage she’s resplendent in a flowing white, sparkly dress, a veritable prog princess, whose powerful and striking voice delivers a shorter than planned six track set to a rapt and attentive audience. Joined by guitarist Chris Johnson, particularly impressive are the gentle and folky ‘Yellow Time’, and the classic (Mostly Autumn track) ‘Evergreen’. It really is a flying visit though, with Heather only able to stick around for half an hour or so before she’s off again. Bloody motorway traffic, eh?!

Trinity Live - Heather Findlay and Chris Johnson - photo by Ali Brew

Heather Findlay and Chris Johnson – photo by Ali Brew

Lost in Vegas are the band of Assembly Rooms owner and Trinity organiser Chris Lynch. They sound like my kind of thing – full-on hard rock. However, the unavailability of food in the venue (which doesn’t have a licence to serve food, apparently) means we’ve got to go out to eat sometime – and just a track or two in I leave with the others to feed my aching hunger.

Speaking of which, we make sure we’re back in time to catch the eagerly awaited return of The Reasoning, now a  six-piece with Robert Gerrard replacing Tony Turrell and giving the instrumental passages a new Purple-esque feel (that complements the guitar work of Keith Hawkins) and a new vocalist/acoustic guitarist in the form of Sebastien Flynn-Goze. It’s a storming set. Opener ‘Dark Angel’ sets the tone, followed by ‘The Thirteenth Hour’ . ‘Fallen Angel’ features a great vocal performance from Rachel Cohen, and two killer solos from Keith – such an important part of The Reasoning’s sound these days. ‘Awakening’ features a Bach-influenced organ intro from Robert, with the epic ‘Adventures in Neverland’, ‘A Musing Dream’ and, yes, crowd favourite ‘Aching Hunger’ drawing the well-chosen, career spanning set to a rousing conclusion. The band is currently working on a new album – and the vibe and performance auger well.

Trinity Live - The Reasoning

The Reasoning – the new look line-up rocks Trinity Live!

Touchstone are a band I usually want to like more than, in practice, I do. They have some very good moments, for sure, but despite the odd exceptional track, they’ve never quite done it for me. Until tonight that is! From the first note to the last, this is Touchstone with a BIG sound – more exuberant and confident than I’ve seen them before. Indeed, this is the first time I’ve seen them looking so ‘at home’ and using the full width of the stage to maximum effect. For me this is the performance of the day. I suspect they draw the biggest and most enthusiastic audience of the day too. Here is a band seemingly growing in stature before our very eyes, and it’s great to see. Though ‘Strange Days’ remains my personal favourite, it has to be said that with John Mitchell’s help they deliver a stunning cover of ‘Mad World’. You could be forgiven for thinking that they wrote it themselves!

Trinity Live - Touchstone

Touchstone and John Mitchell – powerful and persuasive!

That’s not to say that headliners Arena are in any way off the pace. They deliver a solid, enjoyable and highly-competent set with moments of genuine excitement. With Clive Nolan (and his rotating keyboard), John Mitchell and Mick Pointer in the ranks, it’s quite a line-up, and on this occasion Kylan Amos picks up bass duties in the absence of John Jowitt. Vocalist Paul Manzi is one of the most flamboyant front men I’ve seen in a while – nineteenth century dandy meets 1980s’  hair metal rock star! But there’s no doubt he has a good, strong rock voice, and visually he demands attention. Those untroubled by last trains and Monday morning work demands remain appreciative throughout and are well rewarded with a full-blooded and gutsy set. It’s a strong band performance and an entertaining end to a wonderful day.

Trinity - Arena Paul Manzi and John Mitchell

Headliners Arena – Paul Manzi and John Mitchell

A word too about the charity auction and raffle. An extraordinary number of bands donated all sorts of weird and wonderful paraphernalia – including Rush, Yes, Peter Gabriel, Steven Wilson, Marillion, The Pineapple Thief, Roger Glover, the Summer’s End Festival, The Reasoning, Steve Hackett, Touchstone, Flying Colors and Gordon Giltrap, to name a few! Artist Rodney Matthews even turned up to auction some of his own prints, including the ‘Heavy Metal Hero’, one of his favourite pieces. The biggest money was splashed on the Rush, Flying Colors and Steven Wilson items in particular, with my friend Ali delighted to secure The Pineapple Thief bundle!

 

Trinity - Rush Auction

 

The event apparently raised £12,000, which after operating costs enabled the Trinity Team to provide Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Cancer Research UK, and Brain Tumour Research with donations to the tune of £3,000 apiece.

There are plans to do it all again on 9 May next year, with work on assembling a killer line-up already underway. Make sure it’s in your diary!

 

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HRH Prog/AOR 2104

HRH Prog Panic Room - Gavin Griffiths and Anne Marie Helder

Spring 2014 turned out to be real Progfest, with both the Trinity Live charity event and HRH Prog coming along in quick succession.

The latter featured a stunning line-up that included the likes of The Flower Kings, Focus, The Enid, Purson, Panic Room, Fish and The Pineapple Thief (to name a few). With a number of ‘must-see’ acts over the AOR stage too – Tigertailz, Graham Bonnet and headliners UFO – it turned out to be a blissful 3 days of fabulous music and great company in the beautiful setting of North West Wales.

If you’d like to know what happened, check out my full review on the Uber Rock website.

Prog ‘n’ roll!

Prog Crew

HRH Prog Crew – all present but largely incorrect! Photo by Fiona Boubert

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Robbie Cavanagh: ‘The State of Maine’ Album Launch

 Robbie Cavanagh album launch

I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Robbie Cavanagh’s solo debut The State of Maine. (Check out my Über Röck review, for example.)

The announcement, therefore, of a series of three album launch gigs in Manchester, Liverpool and London sounded positively mouth-watering. Irresistible, in fact. And so it was that Jess and I rushed through Friday afternoon as quickly as we could, trading Welsh hills and Roman Baths for a small Baptist Church in Hampstead, London.

We only missed one turning. It just happened to be Junction 2 of the M4, and it set us back an hour. To our surprise and delight, however, we still manage to arrive before the gig starts – and boy was that lucky, with both support acts, Your Correspondent and Lovelace, turning in ‘not to be missed’ sets.

Your Correspondent, featuring Andrew D. Smith (vocals, guitar) and Edwin Ireland (cello), play without the violinist, drummer and backing vocalist who feature on their 4-track E.P. – not that you’d guess anything is missing from the assured performance and quality of the songs. Of particular note are ‘Watching the Storm’, ‘Spinning Globe’ and ‘The Violin Trees’. (The latter, about a man whose job it is to select the trees from which violins will be made, is given an added twist by the story of the band’s regular violinist owning an instrument made in 1751.)

Second act, singer-songwriter Lovelace, proves as quirky and engaging as the music she plays.  She seems to spend a lot of time in the USA – and regales us with tales of a songwriting trip to San Francisco that yielded just one track, and the Nevada festival that inspired the song ‘Burning Man’.  For the first time ever, it seems, Lovelace is joined on stage by three young vocalists – Ruth Corey, Hannah Murphy and Sian O’Gorman – who do a fine job replacing her loop station! It’s a veritable feast of melody, harmony and vocal gymnastics – hugely enjoyable stuff!

Robbie Cavanagh and Will RogersBut as good as the support acts are, within moments of him taking to the stage, all eyes and ears are on Robbie Cavanagh. He opens with ‘Deeper’, the first track of his album. It’s mesmerising – with the restrained drumming of brother Jamie and hummed backing of Messrs Brewin, Tosh and Rogers enhancing Cavanagh’s bleeding heart vocal and emotive guitar.

For this series of gigs Robbie has assembled nearly all the musicians who play on the album, namely Rick Brewin (percussion, bass, backing vocals), Rachel Shakespeare (cello), Melody Nairn (vocals), Jamie Cavanagh (drums), Will Rogers (guitar) and Drew Tosh (backing vocals). Keyboards this evening are provided by Liviu Gheorghe.

There is a warmth evident between the musicians, and, indeed, the contribution of the band to Robbie’s performance should not be underestimated. Rachel Shakespeare’s cello, for example, adds appropriate pathos, as on the enormously impressive ‘Heavy Heart’. Melody Nairn’s dreamy voice works particularly well on ‘1991’ (a personal favourite), the male/female vocal dynamic emphasising the significance and impact of the lyric. Group claps add percussive force to the flamenco-styled ‘Worn’ and contrast nicely with Robbie’s quieter guitar moments. The full band version of ‘Boy From The Fair’ is a treat. And ‘Choked Up’ is given an energy boost that has it sounding even more ‘countrified’ than on the album, the upbeat music clashing delightfully with the (relatively) dark lyrics.

The fact of the matter is that The State of Maine features some achingly beautiful and often delicate music. One of its strong points is its ‘realness’; the sense of ‘person’ you get from the songs. Seeing that same person perform the songs live reinforces this.

Cavanagh has presence but is unassuming. There is strength and emotion in the songs – he seems to feel every note and every lyric – but between songs his manner is gentle. He is charming but also modest.  “Thank you for clapping,” he says at one point, “it makes it better for us.”

He seems genuinely grateful for, and even surprised by, the enthusiastic response of his audience. His explanation for having chosen to play in a church is that: “You have to face the right way, and the doors are locked.” He is gracious towards the support acts with whom, he says, he has “fallen in love a little bit”.

This was an intentionally small and intimate gig attended by, perhaps, 50 people. (Apparently, he had half the cast of Channel 4’s Hollyoaks at the Liverpool gig.) Hopefully more gigs will follow. Check out the album, and if you do get a chance to see the man live, make sure you take it! As I said in my album review, here’s a musician, and a soul, on fire!

Robbie Cavanagh launch gig - stage shot

The State of Maine is available now on iTunes.

Physical copies are available from Big Cartel.

Check out Robbie Cavanagh’s Words and Music interview.

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The Threepenny Opera – Graeae Theatre Company

Graeae Theatre Company. "Threepenny Opera"

 

“SEX, VIOLENCE, DRUNKENNESS, BAWDY HUMOUR AND SOME CRACKING SONGS … ALL THE THINGS WE LOVE SO MUCH!”

Review by Paul Monkhouse

What, you may ask, is a review of a MUSICAL doing on the esteemed pages of Words and Music? Well, if your idea of musicals is something like Les Miserables (much better than the film), Grease (the film is much better than the musical) or even We Will Rock You (the band is much better than the musical) or, Heaven forbid, the truly awful Mamma Mia (the band is much better than either the musical or the appalling film)… then think again! Neither is it an opera, despite the title, but it has the style and bile so beloved of great artists such as Ian Dury and as such is a rare and fascinating feast.  Also … you, dear reader, obviously have both the class and intelligence to appreciate something a little different, something with superb lyrics and a superb musical score. Words and music … both sublime and THAT is what this site is called and is so passionate about.

This isn’t just a production line West End show, with performances and emotions done by rote, but a living, breathing piece of musical theatre which (I feel) is possibly going to be one of the very finest and most unique shows that you’ll ever see. Full of fantastic songs, amazing performances, brilliantly simple staging and a heart that beats hard and true, this has much more of a rock/punk spirit and mixes not only social satire/commentary but a touch of Music Hall and a real, rebellious and righteous (in the best possible sense) core.

Graeae Theatre Company always brings a troupe that deftly incorporates both able bodied and disabled actors and musicians, all perfectly cast. In fact, the matching of The Threepenny Opera with Graeae is an absolutely perfect fit, giving the piece a reality and resonance that has an awful lot of both passion and compassion. Extraordinary, challenging and inspiring are just three words that start to describe their astounding adaption of the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill classic. Once again, the company have put on a show which is both wildly entertaining and breath-taking in its execution. Despite having been originally performed in 1928 and itself adapted from 18th-century English ballad opera, John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, the production is as bitingly relevant today as it was then.

Graeae Theatre Company  "The Threepenny Opera" - CiCi Howells as Polly Peacham and Ben Goofe as Jake

CiCi Howells as Polly Peacham and Ben Goofe as Jake

Diving straight into the dark underbelly of London’s underworld we meet a motley selection of criminals, prostitutes and corrupt policemen, all of whose lives intertwine as they conspire to thrive and survive as the capitol prepares for a royal coronation. When the notorious and brutal criminal Macheath marries Polly, the only daughter of ‘King of the Beggars’ Mr Peacham, the latter plots to deal with Mac once and for all by any means possible. There follows a tale full of sex, violence, drunkenness, bawdy humour and some cracking songs … all the things we love so much! With brilliant staging and a superb score featuring standards like ‘Mack the Knife’ and ‘Pirate Jenny’, The Threepenny Opera is a treat for the ears and eyes. To say too much of the plot and visual effects would spoil the surprises and is, quite frankly, lazy journalism. Rest assured though that you’ll be both gripped by the story and equally amused and surprised by the graphics.

Milton Lopes oozes a heady mix of charming charisma and danger as crime-lord Macheath, his voice having a ‘certain something’ in its gravel and unique accenting that proves irresistible to both those characters onstage and the audience off of it. Acting honours are arguably stolen by the always brilliant Garry Robson, whose Mr Peacham conveys even more cunning and manipulation than the Fagin-like character he first appears (also without the latter’s vaguely anti-Semitic overtones). As Mrs Peacham, Victoria Oruwari plays her character with a little more broad humour but there is most certainly steel behind her act and she has a beautiful singing voice. In other lead roles: Will Kenning (as corrupt Chief of Police Tiger Brown), Natasha Lewis (as Lucy Brown, one of Macheath’s more recent conquests) and Amelia Cavallo (as Jenny, Madam of the prostitutes and a key old flame of Macheath) are all outstanding, the latter having a particularly emotive and melodious voice. Special mention must go also to John Kelly, superb as the Narrator, always ready with a twinkle in his eye and a rough edged quip or two.

Graeae Theatre Company  "The Threepenny Opera" - Milton Lopes as Macheath and CiCi Howells as Polly Peacham

Milton Lopes as Macheath and CiCi Howells as Polly Peacham

For me though, one of the biggest revelations was the amazing CiCi Howells as Polly Peacham. Having seen her in the very physical but silent role of Cat in the New Wolsey Theatre panto (true!) at Christmas I had no idea of the voice she was holding down within herself. When she let rip, it was pure, gutsy, ‘rock chick’ with enough fire and emotion to strip the varnish off of the seating and set fire to the beer taps in the bar. Don’t get me wrong, there was pure animal passion there but also a subtleness and wellspring of delicate sentiment that gave her performance real colour. Rather ironically, it is Jude Mahon, who acts and sings who leaves another huge impression. ‘Ironically’ in that her main role as Sign Language interpreter is absolutely magnetic but almost always silent. It’s an eye opening revelation to see her sign some very suggestive lyrics in a way that’s even more explicit but beautifully poetic, physically speaking. Her shadowing the movements of Polly in ‘Barbara Song’ (known colloquially by the cast as ‘Knickers’ (sic)) is absolutely stunning.

It is a necessary evil of reviewing a show to mention certain people but truly, there isn’t a member of the superb twenty-strong cast who doesn’t get their moment in the spotlight and from the leads to the ‘supporting’ actors all the performances are uniformly excellent.

There is so much to see and hear in the show that it’s definitely worth seeing it more than once to take it all in. Visually arresting and packing a huge punch, directors Jenny Sealey and Peter Rowe have created a show that HAS to be seen.

You can see The Threepenny Opera at:

Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Dates: 27 March -12 April
Tickets: £15.50 – £27.50
Tickets on sale now: www.birmingham-rep.co.uk

West Yorkshire Playhouse
Dates: 24 April – 10 May
Tickets: From £12
Tickets on sale now: http://www.wyp.org.uk

 

Graeae Theatre Company  "The Threepenny Opera" - Garry Robson as Mr.Peacham

Garry Robson as Mr.Peacham

 

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Deep ?urp!e

Deep Purple - Now What?! chart action

Unlike, say, Black Sabbath (who have faced different sorts of challenges), since their 1980’s reformation Deep Purple have kept going as a creative force, keeping their core line-up pretty much intact, or, at least, allowing it to evolve in a way that has ensured stability and continuity.

I made my peace a long time ago with the Steve Morse and, more recently, Morse/Airey line-ups. Indeed, for me, the Purpendicular album (1996) was an extraordinary creative rebirth which has had me on tenterhooks in anticipation of each new release since.

Deep Purple - Now What?! album coverWhile there’s not been a bad album with Steve Morse in the band, 2013’s Now What?! is probably the strongest since the aforementioned Purpendicular. It is undoubtedly their most experimental and progressive album for quite some time – certainly since Purpendicular and probably since Fireball (1971). It has a looser, fresher feel, as producer Bob Ezrin encouraged the band to jam, have fun and just play. Sometimes in the past, the band seems to have felt constrained by what they take to be popular notions of what ‘Deep Purple’ stand for and what they should sound like. In contrast, most fans I know (admittedly a very small subset) would agree that what made Deep Purple great was their desire to be exciting, to follow their instincts, to experiment, and to push at musical boundaries. For those of us who feel like that, Now What?! is a very, very pleasing album.

So, what of the songs? The quiet and beautifully sung opening to  ‘A Simple Song’ doesn’t so much lull you into a false sense of security as set the tone for the unpredictable nature of what follows. I hear hints of ‘Black and White’ (from the House of Blue Light album) in the melody – possibly and playfully deliberate given Gillan’s use of the phrase in the lyrics.

The next two tracks pick up the baton and drive us deeply into the album. ‘Weirdistan’ has an understated eastern-flavoured riff and features a wonderful spacey keyboard solo from Don Airey. (“Oh yes, it’s beautiful”!) ‘Out of Hand’ has an atmospheric opening, with Airey’s prodding keys yielding to a trademark big riff, more eastern stylings and a stand out Morse solo.

First single ‘Hell to Pay’ initially appears to be standard fare until we’re treated to some sublime guitar/keyboard soloing and interplay that has always been a feature of Deep Purple (whether we’re talking Blackmore and Lord, Lord and Morse, or Morse and Airey) and that no one, but no one,  has ever done better. Of course, it’s all wonderfully underpinned by Glover and Paice. This is some band!

‘Bodyline’ has a funky opening and rolls along nicely. But surely I’m not the only listener disappointed that lyrically it turns out to be a vehicle for an oversexed Ian Gillan to indulge his whims again. I was hoping for a song about cricket and past Ashes intrigue!

Deep Purple - Above and Beyond coverAs good as it’s been up to this point, the heart of the album is the run of three tracks spanning the ever so proggy ‘Above and Beyond’, the cool and sometimes laid back ‘Blood from a Stone’, and ‘Uncommon Man’. The latter features a wonderful extended guitar-led prelude with orchestral arrangements (a fanfare?) before Paice’s drums usher the band effortlessly into the verse. Again, there aren’t many bands who could, who would, write something like this. (The Enid, perhaps?)

‘Après Vous’ is a more standard rocker, which picks up the pace before settling into a nice bass groove and featuring yet more cool Morse/Airey interplay. “C’mon man. Fill your boots,” sings Gillan, with thoughts of “another life, another world.” His ‘Woman from Tokyo’, and other women from other places, clearly still make him sing.

‘All the Time in the World’ is a gentle and touching ballad – the kind this incarnation of Purple do so well (think ‘Clearly Quite Absurd’ from the Rapture of the Deep album). Morse’s solo is sublime. He can shred with the best of them, but when he wants to go for the heart he just reaches right in there and grabs you. Gillan recycles and adapts a lyric from Purpendicular‘s ‘Soon Forgotten’: “Sometimes, on a good day, I sit and think. Sometimes I just sit.”

The closing track on the standard version, ‘Vincent Price’, is loads of fun, featuring a church organ, a crash of thunder, an operatic intro, a mock-horror riff, multi-tracked vocal effects and a lyrical run-through of every horror film cliché Gillan can summon. “It feels so good to be afraid,” he sings, “Vincent Price is back again.” The video is a lot of fun too – haunted castles, wax-work dummies, roaming monsters and a pole-dancing nun! Really! Don’t take it too seriously but check it out:

Vincent Price promo shot

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=BEWYRRaxFhU

As you can see from the picture at the top of this piece, the album charted all over Europe, reaching number 1 in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Norway, and entering the top 10 or top 20 in numerous other countries. (I don’t wish to pitch Black Sabbath and Deep Purple against each other, but there was a feeling in some quarters that while Sabbath worked hard to rediscover their mojo – turning in a decent album, 13,  which incredibly achieved number 1 chart success in the UK and the USA – Purple were, with Ezrin’s help, able to give free expression to theirs, raising the creative bar a notch or two in the process.)

It must be very gratifying for the band, and, indeed, for long-term fans and supporters, that the album has been so well received. The music deserves it, but it’s also been better promoted than previous albums. It even got the band an interview appearance on Jools Holland’s BBC television show (Tuesday 14 May 2013). At their age as well. Who do they think they are?!

The success of the album was tinged with sadness, of course, given the passing of former keyboard player Jon Lord. While the whole album is dedicated to Jon, the track ‘Above and Beyond’, is a poignant and more direct tribute. It includes the following beautiful lyric …

Souls, having touched, are forever entwined

Now What?! is a fitting tribute both to the memory of Jon Lord and to the musical legacy that he and his Deep Purple bandmates have bequeathed to us. Highly recommended!

Deep Purple promo poster

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An Interview with Simon Robinson (Deep Purple Appreciation Society)

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