Richard Taylor – British Lion

Written by Paul Monkhouse

 

Richard Taylor of British Lion

There is a huge buzz around my home town as, for the second time in just over a year, Steve Harris brought his ‘other’ band British Lion to a small venue in East Anglia. I have seen Iron Maiden play many times in Norwich, firstly at the University (my very first rock gig in 1981) and then again under various pseudonyms at The Oval, a now sadly defunct rock pub on the outskirts of the city centre. Having been offered the chance to interview British Lion singer Richard Taylor and knowing what a powerhouse band they are, this was an opportunity not to be missed.

When I first stroll into The Waterfront venue with my thirteen year old son I find Richard relaxing on a sofa pre-sound check as he pours through the latest edition of Classic Rock magazine. Very charismatic, but seemingly utterly ego-free the quietly and thoughtfully spoken Richard proves to be a genuine pleasure to talk to and very easy, good company. With a friendship that stretches back many years, being the frontman in a band whose bass player is a genuine rock legend doesn’t seem to faze him at all but that shows that British Lion are truly a collaborative band and not just a vanity side project. When Steve strolls over later on you can sense a very real camaraderie between the two that speaks volumes.

Prior to the interview proper we discussed Live Aid, the pleasures of living in East Anglia, mutual friends who were in the superb The Catherine Wheel, which rock magazines are best, cycling, and our joint love of Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’ album. As with the rest of the band, here was a man very happy in what he’s doing and enjoying touring immensely. With the sound of drums being sound checked in the background I hit the ‘record’ button…

What does rock music mean to you?
Music in general, any genre, from a youngster, it was my life, it was all I ever cared about. I had kind of an unusual upbringing and music just got me through anything that was troubling my life. So yeah, in a kind of way and not to get too deep, it saved my life as a youngster.

Was there a band or an artist who first made an impression on you?
Yeah, T.Rex, Marc Bolan

Any particular reason for that?
I would have been nine, ten years old and it was melody. That was the first thing, and from that there was so much in the 70s that came along, unbelievable songs and I just latched onto all of that. As a child seeing him on television, it was just “wow!” and I used to have a tennis racquet that I ‘used’ as a guitar as I’m sure a lot of us did. [Laughs]

Is there a particular song or album that still means a lot to you?
BBruce Springsteen Born to Run album coverorn to Run by Springsteen definitely. Again, that was another part of my life, that album, hearing that made me want to become a musician. That entire album, and the album after that as well, both mean so much to me. As he’s American a lot of my friends don’t get it, but even if you take the Americanism of the lyrics away, I find you can still relate to it. And also, although it sounds a complicated album with respect to production, the songs are three chords or four chords on guitar which I can play back to back, all of them, and that was also attractive to me. After listening to bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple that were so complicated, as an acoustic guitarist you can play great songs like ‘Born to Run’, ‘Thunder Road’ or ‘Jungleland’ on the acoustic, whereas playing ‘Smoke on the Water’ on an acoustic is not so easy.

We were talking earlier about various musicians, so what do you say to a (quote/unquote) ‘rock star’ when you meet them?
I haven’t met too many rock stars but I would most probably just say “I admire your work” if it was somebody… actually, I have met a few but I’m not too overwhelmed by that stardom thing.

What’s been your best experience meeting an artist as a music fan yourself?
I don’t know, you don’t really get to know the person if you get to meet them other than saying “Hi” and “I admire your music”. I met Brian May actually and just said to him “Hi Brian, nice to meet you”. I guess it must be the same for them, they must get bored to tears by people coming up and saying “You’ve changed my life …”

And what’s been the best response to you from fans?
Well, it’s kind of been overwhelming really, the last three tours that British Lion have done, two European tours and this British tour. When we released the debut album it was kind of controversial because a lot of people weren’t expecting it to be like that with Steve involved and that was quite hard to take. I think a lot of people didn’t ‘get’ it or quite understand what it was all about, and I think that’s still the case. But when you see it live, from the word go, especially after three tours now, it speaks for itself. It’s powerful and we mean what we’re doing and every night we give it everything we’ve got and the reaction everywhere we’ve played has been absolutely fantastic. Some places the audiences have been a little reluctant to go with it initially but by the end of the evening that has totally changed. That’s been brilliant for me and the rest of the guys as well.

So, what makes a gig special to you?
It’s two things really. Well, more than that! Firstly, I like to feel it. There’s a lot of lyrical content in these songs, especially some of the new material, and I don’t just want to stand there and go through the motions and clichés. I like to be spontaneous and just let that happen, and if that can happen then, of course, you get the audience with you as well, getting elements of the two. The last four or five dates we’ve played have been unbelievable, the crowds have been almost louder than the band and we’re still a new, young band so not too many people know of us yet. Obviously they’re coming to see Steve, we know that and are under no illusion, but like last night, when they leave they speak to you and compliment British Lion, which is what we’re trying to do.

Has there been a notable gig you’ve done that you’ll always hold high and cherish the memory of?

Richard Taylor and Steve Harris - British Lion

Richard, Steve and Paul’s son Sam looking forward to show time

There’s been a few to be honest. I always like to play quite locally if I can because I’ve got family and friends who have supported me for years and have known these songs. ‘Eyes of the Young’ particularly is twenty four, twenty five years old and when they come and see that it’s special to me, getting to sing it to them. There have been a few but I can’t really say one in particular. We have been quite overwhelmed wherever we go by the response to British Lion.

Has there been a gig you’ve attended as an audience member that really blew you away at the time and you still hold in high regard?
Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising tour at Wembley Arena. That album was written after 9/11 and I’d seen him quite a few times before but this time it wasn’t that type of show where he talks to the audience telling them stories and having fun, it was a really serious show, keeping his head down, hard rocking, and he really meant it. You got the shivers all over watching that and for what he was standing for that night. That one in particular, but I have seen lots, I’ve seen many bands. I saw Dylan but that wasn’t when he was touring an album, he just decided he wanted to go to play a few clubs and we saw him at Brixton Academy. He had the most amazing band and played every classic song you could ever imagine and that was quite overwhelming to be honest.

So, sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll: a jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
[Laughing …] Big question! So, you want me to answer that? Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, I’m not into any of that … never have been. You’ve only got to look at me; I’m not that type of person.

I know we were talking about your love of cycling earlier on and I know that Steve really takes his health seriously too …
Oh yeah, he’s a great football player and he’s very conscientious about health. I do a lot of cycling and live on the coast and do a lot of running. I do a lot of walking, which is where I get a lot of my ideas from quite often, and those Suffolk skies and along by Walberswick and Southwold … in the summer some of those sunsets are quite outrageous.

So, rock music: music for all or is it quite tribal?
I think it’s a shame. I think rock music should be for everybody but I think unfortunately some people pigeonhole music in categories and if you say it has to be rock or metal it has to be a certain type of rock and I think that’s really sad. But, I think that’s maybe a younger approach and as you grow and get older … Like, I play in a rock band with Steve Harris from Iron Maiden, a band who I love and they’re incredible and I like lots of bands like that who are metal bands, but I love other stuff as well. I love classical music, I love folk music and I think it’s a shame that music does get pigeonholed. I also think that in the UK, maybe more so than any other country, we’re so fashion orientated. If you like one genre of music it has to be fashionable as well. Take Oasis, that was the fashion in the 90s and you wouldn’t let anything else in. It’s the same with certain types or rock and metal and that affects what people listen to. But again, I think it’s an age thing and if you really love music, even if you won’t admit to it … I’ve seen some Maiden fans really loving the quieter side of our music,and that’s great! Certainly the Maiden fans that I’ve met JUST love music and they like all types and that’s brilliant.

I think you’re absolutely right, not only with British Lion but with Maiden too the key thing is the song writing. Not only is there fantastic performances but you’ve got to have the songs haven’t you?
British Lion album coverDefinitely, and I think that’s what British Lion stands for more than anything. When the album was first released I got a lot of comments saying that I can’t sing – “the singer’s rubbish” – but it’s not just the fact that I was singing for British Lion, but I was also a key part of the song writing and to be honest that element is more important to me than being a vocalist. It’s most probably taken some of those comments for me to realise that by the time we record again it will be the first time I stand up and say “hold on, I have to focus a bit more on how I sing,” because some of those vocals had no more than one or two takes. With British Lion, it’s fundamentally about song writing and it’s how Steve and I first got together: we both love great songs and we write really well together, kind of differently to how he’s written before and how he’s written with collaborators before and that’s a really attractive thing. It’s taken it somewhere differently.

How do you think your music is labelled?
I think at the moment it’s just labelled classic rock but by the time we get to our second album I don’t know if it can be titled as that. With the first album you have tracks like ‘The Eyes of the Young’ and ‘The Chosen Ones’ and yeah, that is classic rock, but those songs were written twenty-five years ago. David Hawkins is a big part of the song writing and he’s much younger than me. He listens to bands like Muse and Linkin Park and he’s an absolute whizz in the studio. With Dave and Steve and myself, we all come from different angles. I hate titles…why does something have to be called something specific? I guess it just makes life easier.

I can absolutely see what you mean and as the three of you are coming in with your own influences you give the band very much its own identity rather than a cookie cutter impression of something already in existence. It makes it fresh and interesting, not only for you guys but also for the people who listen to the tracks and come along to the gigs. There IS that variety.
Yes, the people who didn’t get it the first time will hopefully get it by the time we do the second album. Certainly live people are beginning to understand it. You take other bands who have melodic singers and they put on a show but if you see what we do live we’re pretty on the edge and we really get out there and work our arses off. We’re not a safe band, we’re pretty spontaneous and people will get a shock. The album is what it is but live it goes to another level. I’m pleased about that and I think people who’ve seen us have grasped and latched onto that.

Is there a particular piece of music you’ve been involved in, thus far, that you’d like to be remembered for?
Certainly some of the new stuff is pretty special, but on the first album ‘This is My God’, that’s a pretty special song: the lyrical content, the riff. Again, that’s an old song but we’re playing a new song in the set that’s only come out this year called ‘Bible Black’ and that’s quite a special song that means a lot to me.

I recently read a live review of this tour and they picked out that song for a particular mention, which is confirmation of just that …
That’s great! [Smiling widely and nodding]

What would you say to the people who say the rock era is dead?
I think you just need to go and watch bands. Those people don’t know what they’re talking about. Just go and watch Iron Maiden next year and you can certainly see it’s not dead. They’ll sell out arenas all around the world and that’s just one band. It’s not dead, it’s more alive than ever!

What’s next for you?
We’re going to go back and listen to a lot of the live recordings from the last three tours and may at some point put something live out. We’ll also go back and carry on with material for the second album – we’ve  actually got plenty, enough for three or four albums. We never stop writing. I personally write all the time … And back to running on the beach!

Later that evening British Lion proved once more what a superb band they are, taking the packed Norwich venue by storm. With a massive Iron Maiden world tour looming, quite how long it’ll be before the next album is released is unclear. But judging by the magnificent new material played tonight, it’ll be well worth the wait.

CHEERS, GUYS!

Related posts: Relics 3: Finding My Marbles and Drawn by Quest for ’Arry

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Matt Cohen (The Reasoning)

Matt Cohen - The ReasoningKilled by punk? The British prog scene is thriving, mate. A prog stage at the High Voltage Festival, the birth of Prog magazine from the Jack Daniels soaked thighs of Classic Rock, the inaugral 2012 Prog Awards, the Hard Rock Hell Prog Festival, Marillion playing not one, not two but three biennial Weekend conventions, the annual Summers End festival in Lydney, the Celebr8 festival. What more proof do you need? Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree, Panic Room, Anathema, Amplifier … music that moves you. I could go on … and on. And, of course, there’s The Reasoning, a band described in Words and Music as “one of the great hopes of the current British prog rock scene”.

I caught up with bass player, songwriter and producer Matt Cohen to talk a bit about prog, a bit about The Reasoning, and a lot about his thoughts and experiences as a rock fan.

Hi Matt, let’s go for it. Can you tell us what rock music means to you?
In some ways it means very little to me. I’ve spent a lot of time recording, analysing sounds and getting involved in the production of music. It’s only since starting this new band [Foxbat, a new side project with guitarist Keith Hawkins] that I’ve started getting excited by other people’s music again. I’ve taught myself to listen again. So ‘nothing but everything’ is probably the answer to your question.

Why has starting the new band made a difference?
How I listened to music and what it meant when I was a kid discovering bands like Purple, Sabbath, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin is nothing like it usually is when I’m writing and producing music. But now I’m listening again. There are three rooms in my house where there’s always music: the office, the lounge and the bedroom. The office is usually where I’m working on The Reasoning stuff. But I’ve moved a sofa in there and now call it “the listening lounge” and I can lie there and listen. I try to listen to one complete album every day – and I’ve not done that since I was 21. I’m getting back some of that initial excitement I felt when I was a kid.

So what did rock music mean to you when you were a kid?
It was excitement and mystique 24/7 – it pointed to a world you never got to see. The music was overwhelming. It got your head nodding and made you want to dance. Not many things do that, and that’s fantastic, that’s magical.

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
Queen, then Status Quo and AC/DC. My first single was ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.  I was only four or five and got it while out shopping with my mum.

Matt Cohen - photo by Ant Clausen

Photo by Ant Clausen

Tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
Song: Iron Maiden – ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’. It was the first time I heard Maiden groove and it blew my mind.

Album: Iron Maiden – Killers. Hearing everything rising up and coming together. The power! The melody!

Lyric: Queen – ‘Mother Love’ from Made in Heaven. Those lines Freddie sings about not regretting a thing and wanting to go back into his mother’s womb. It’s very moving. Also ‘How Far to Fall’ by The Reasoning [from Dark Angel]. Rachel wrote it about a dream I had.

An artist who has stayed with you over time?
Iron Maiden. Steve Harris has been one of the biggest influences on my life musically. I remember seeing Maiden in Cardiff on the Piece of Mind tour. Just to see this guy with long hair flying across the stage and ‘shooting’ people with his bass was awesome. But also the way he used the bass as a lead instrument and the melody of his bass lines. He’s still in my top five bass players of all time.

So who are the other four?
John Deacon, Roger Glover, John Paul Jones and John Myung. John Deacon plays some ridiculously clever stuff. Roger Glover is so solid and plays some nice little things. I also love his production work. John Myung is very flash, not that I really want to play like that myself, and probably couldn’t anyway, but I’ve got to have one flash player in there!  And John Paul Jones is the master of melody. In fact all four, along with Steve Harris, are very melodic bass players.

I often wonder about song writing and bass players. Steve Harris, for example, is a big prog fan isn’t he? I wonder to what extent he writes on bass.
Well, I’ve never been to a Steve Harris writing session (laughs), but I write on bass … usually anyway. I also write on guitar and keyboards as well, as this helps me get a different perspective/feel for a song.

What makes a rock gig special?

Ritchie Blackmore

Guitar God Ritchie Blackmore – kicking fans at a venue near you!

The first gig I went to was Rainbow at St. David’s Hall, Cardiff, on the Bent Out of Shape tour. I reached up to pluck one of Ritchie Blackmore’s strings and he kicked me in the shoulder! I had a big bruise. I showed my Mum and she was worried … “Oh my angel, my angel!” … but I was proud of it: “Ritchie Blackmore did this. Ritchie Blackmore kicked me!” The only other thing I really remember about that gig is it being very hot and loud, and the smell of patchouli.

The last really special gig I went to was Dream Theater on the Octavarium tour, 2005. Jordan Rudess’ opening to ‘Octavarium’ was so atmospheric/melodic/real and it genuinely made me cry.

So, to answer your question, what makes a gig special is when a band believes in what it is doing and gets you engaged, makes you believe that they’ve written songs for you. I saw Martin Simpson at St. David’s Hall. Not rock music, just him and an acoustic guitar playing on Level 3 (i.e. not in the auditorium itself). It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. Karine Polwart in Swansea. Not rock but classy folk music, and beautiful. Too often these days, things seem to be all about the show rather than the music.

Your most memorable gig as a fan?
I’d have to say Queen at Wembley in 1986. I’d been, and still am, a massive fan so this was a dream come true. There was also a real vibe around Queen after Live Aid, real Queen fever, and it was nigh on impossible to see them. So just to be there was awesome. And Freddie, his voice – he had the best voice in the world.

Your most notable gig as an artist?
Ooh, there have been a few. Some people might expect me to say our first Marillion support at the Colston Hall, Bristol, and that was truly awesome/overwhelming. High Voltage was bloody amazing too, as was the Marillion gig in Cardiff last September. But I’d have to go for our gig at the recent Fish convention in Leamington. The audience were fucking unbelievable. We played out of our skins and after coming back from a great tour, we were gig-ready and so up for this show like none other. It was also the first time, believe it or not, that I realised that we really had something going on.

The Reasoning - Fish support

The Reasoning, supporting Fish at Leamington 2012

Dylan or Morrison?
Neither, I can’t stand them! I just don’t get them. Dylan writes incredible songs, I just wish he wouldn’t perform them!

Gabriel or Collins?
Collins. I like his pop sensibilities plus he’s a shit hot drummer and comes across as a really cool guy with a great sense of humour.

What do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
“Where’s the bar?” or “Can I buy you a drink?” or just “Nice to meet you.”

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan?
I’ve met loads of brilliant people. The Marillion guys have been nothing but sweethearts to us. Steve Rothery is one of my favourite guitarists and is a wonderful/lovely man, and I’m sure I have come over all ‘fan boyish’ with him a few times – ha ha ha ha ha.

But to answer the question, I’d probably say Fish. Misplaced Childhood was the first Marillion album I got into and is still one of my favourite albums. The lyrics, the phrasing, the whole way he blends the lyrics with the music. When we played at the convention last October, and I don’t normally go up to people and tell them how much I like their music but, I just had to tell him what his music meant to me at the time and still does. We were having a drink in the backstage bar, the vibe was amazing and everything was friendly and comfortable, so that’s when I decided to say something. It was a cool moment.

It’s an odd kind of thing isn’t it, the relationship between fans and the bands and musicians they like.
Yes, it is.  As I say, I’ve met loads of brilliant people, I’ve had photos taken with other musicians, chatted, shaken their hands, horsed around, but some of the mystique has gone for me now. I still have my heroes but some of these guys I just wouldn’t want to meet. The Led Zeppelin guys, for example. I’d be too awestruck. I saw Jimmy Page walking round at High Voltage, and I thought about trying to get near him to say “Hi”, but what are you going to say to him, really? I met Ade Edmondson once and got drunk. I was mortified afterwards as I made a right knob of myself. Bad News was and still is one of my favourite sketches and I just fell to pieces. Rach laughed her arse off at me. I met Sting too as I was doing some work as a roadie and we had to move a load of stuff into his house for some recording he was doing. When we finished we were sitting down on this kind of window seat when he came in. We jumped up quickly, a bit in awe of him, but he told us to sit back down and thanked us for moving all the stuff for him. That was very cool.

Matt and Rachel Cohen of The Reasoning with Geoff Downes

Matt and Rachel Cohen with Cardiff City fan Geoff Downes

Your strangest encounter with a fan as an artist?
It’s unbelievable some of the things people say to you, it really is. This guy came up to us after one gig, said hello, shook our hands and then said, “So what are the sleeping arrangements in the band?” What are the fucking sleeping arrangements in the band? (Laughs) So I said, “Well, I sleep with the drummer, Rach sleeps with the guitarist and everyone takes it in turn with each other.”

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
It has its place. Everyone does it in one form or another; it doesn’t have to be a rock and roll thing. Most people like a few beers to unwind. Most musicians don’t push things too far – they know what a grind the next day is going to be! Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a kind of euphemism for life, isn’t it? After all that’s what we’ve been brought here to do – fornicate, eat and get intoxicated!

Rock music – the spawn of the devil or a force for good?
Well, it’s certainly not the spawn of the devil (laughs)! It’s a force for good. Anything that makes you smile and nod along happily has got to be good. Rock music is an escape, a way of life, and hopefully it should make you think too. It takes you out of yourself, takes you away. As a youngster I totally bought into the rock image, long hair, tattoos, I wanted it all.

Your music is often labelled ‘progressive rock’? Do you think that’s been helpful or limiting?
Well, I’ve never met anyone who can define ‘Prog’ and really tell me what it is.  We’ve got good cross-over in our audience, so being labelled prog has not been limiting. Actually, it’s been good to us, so I’ve not had a problem with the prog tag.

Progressive rock is often associated with demons and wizards, fantasy and fiction. Can it, and should it, have social relevance?
Uriah Heep Demons and Wizards album coverI think heavy metal has more to do with that kind of stuff, demons and wizards and so on. I can’t think of many prog bands who write stuff about demons and wizards. People only think like that because Rick Wakeman wore a cape (laughs)! Some of the prog bands had the fantasy artwork, but metal bands had plenty of that too. Yeah, who does write about demons and wizards? Uriah Heep, Demons and Wizards, The Magicians Birthday and so on. That was good, but was it prog? To be honest I don’t know how to define prog, as stated earlier, but music to me is about engaging people and entertainment. What matters is that the music is good, and the melodies are strong. If the music’s good you can write about dragons and unicorns and people will like it – I do!

Someone said in a BBC documentary that progressive rock musicians are frustrated jazz musos who should really have kept away from rock and roll. What do you say to that?
I got into prog much later in life, I was always into the heavier side of music. I’ve never really been a jazz guy but I do appreciate it. I listen to jazz sometimes, but for me personally, finding that one note, that point when everything comes together around that one note, is everything. Why play a million when one will do?

When progressive rock does get TV coverage, things often seem to stop with the big 70s bands. You don’t get a lot of coverage of the scene today.
The scene today is still in the process of re-establishing itself and has probably been building for the last 12 or 13 years.Things have been diluted too by modern media, social networking sites and so on. Everyone today thinks they can be in a band and that setting up a Facebook page or a Twitter account should be enough to get you coverage. But it’s hard work getting coverage and you have to really work to get it. I still go to magazines rather than the internet to see what’s going on. I think the music press still has a huge and important role today in providing a kind of filter for us. You can’t listen to everything and not everything merits public attention. You can’t assume that just because you put yourself out there your work deserves attention.

We could talk about the impact of the internet on the music scene and the music industry, but to what extent do you think the advent of the CD changed the way people approach their music?
I think albums should be a maximum of 45 minutes long, maybe 50. Lots of people don’t usually have an attention span beyond that. Adventures in Neverland is the longest album we’ve done (56 minutes), but I’ll never do a double album and we won’t make one quite as long as Adventures in Neverland again. Just because you can get 80 minutes of music on a CD, it doesn’t mean you should! Shorter albums sometimes provide you with a better listening experience. I like that thing Tom Petty did on one of his CDs when he put in a little spoken interlude telling people where the sides of the original albums ended, helping them to listen to the music in the way originally intended – genius and inspired!

The Reasoning Adventures in Neverland album cover

CHEERS MATT!

The Reasoning official website: http://www.thereasoning.com/home.php

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Relics 3: Finding My Marbles

Relics Script Poster

So here I am once more, rolling out some relics from my playground of yesterday … and … er … of today too, actually. And probably tomorrow come to that. (It’s never a good thing to grow up too much.) Anyway, here are some images to accompany some of the more anecdotal parts of Words and Music and other things that came to mind as I jotted down a few notes. This game is most certainly not over!

A Matter of Life and Death
Maiden A Matter of Life and Death passTo some fans – ususally teenagers, but sometimes middle-aged obsessives too – getting backstage at a show by one of your favourite bands can seem like a matter of life and death. How we strive for all we are worth to breach that final frontier. In Words and Music I recount the tale of a meeting with Steve Harris. I was tongue-tied. The moment was signficant for me. Steve, of course, will have no recollection of it. But here’s the pass that got me that far.

I had a bit more luck with Adrian Smith, who popped into the lounge where we were sitting to meet up with an old friend of his. I let him finish his chat, and as he got up to leave I moved towards him. “Adrian, will you sign the album for my daughter?” I asked.
“Sure, what’s her name?”
“Dave!” shouted some wag from the next table. I laughed. Would I really pull that stunt?
“Alys,” I said, acknowledging the joke, and Adrian duly signed.
My cousins and I also posed for a photo with him – the type that rock fans love putting on Facebook – though in this case I still haven’t actually seen it.

Nicko also popped in, wearing a bath robe and a big smile, but he didn’t stick around for long.

Maiden Final FrontierThere is another event that does stick in my mind from that evening. As we relocated to an upstairs bar, the youngest member of our entourage (who shall remain nameless) spotted a stack of cans in an apparently empty room. As he reached in for a ‘complimentary’ beer, he became aware that he was being watched. He looked up and saw the collective eyes of the support band on him. He had inadvertently invaded their private space. “Who are you?” he asked calmly.
“We’re Trivium,” said one of the band, “and who are you?”
“I’m Jesus,” he said, picking up a can and legging it down the corridor. Is it any wonder that so many bands guard their backstage privacy so fiercely?

If you’ve read my earlier blog (Drawn by Quest for ‘Arry), you’ll know that undetered I went back for another crack at Harry on The Final Frontier tour. I’d sent him some book extracts and was hoping to get a comment. I didn’t get a comment. But I did get a dodgy photo!

Hang Cool Teddy Bear
Meat Loaf Hang CoolAnd speaking of backstage passes, here’s one from Meat Loaf’s Hang Cool Teddy Bear tour. I reported on this gig, or, at least, what was most significant about it to me , in the “This guy could use a hair cut” blog. Suffice to add that the entire band, including singer Patti Russo and the man himself, were exceptionally friendly and a joy to meet. As noted elsewhere, drummer John Miceli was great with the kids, Meat was ‘good value’ and guitarist Paul Crook has since done a Q&A for this very website. Hang cool guys!

Steve Morse – Monster of Rock
Steve MorseCaptain’s log, 2006 AD, and we’re in Milton Keynes for the relaunched Monsters of Rock Festival. Deep Purple are headlining, with Alice Cooper, Journey, Queensryche, Thunder, Ted Nugent and Roadstar making up a fine bill. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful event. Purple were magnificient – a great, great performance from the first note to the last. There was a great band vibe – a joy and togetherness that has characterised their live shows in recent years. And, as much as I miss Jon Lord, I’d never seen fingers move as fast as Don Airey’s in his solo spot. (He even threw in a few snippets of his ‘Mr. Crowley’ intro!) With the help of our Classic Rock subscriber  ‘queue jumping’ pass we also got into the signing tent to meet Steve Morse. He signed the picture you can see here, and he signed a wedding card for my cousin Jon and his wife. (Jon is a big Purple fan, but couldn’t make it to the Festival.) Steve also commented on my wife’s rather revealing summer attire. He was out of luck though – she was hoping to get sacrificed by Alice Cooper.

Marillion – Access Most Areas and a bag of marbles
Marillion marbles!Having rediscovered Marillion after a hiatus of about 15 years (maybe more), it was a thrill to be one of the winners of the Marbles ‘Golden Mug’ competition. You entered the competition simply by ordering a Marbles coffee mug. A small number of the mugs, packed entirely at random, were golden (bright yellow in fact) and included a winners slip that gave you a selection of prize options. The winning mugs also contained a bag of Marillion marbles (see photo). We (my wife and I) opted for the soundcheck/gig/aftershow tickets for a Marillion gig of our choice. We chose the first night at the London Astoria on the Marbles tour – check out the Tobusaurus Wrecks blog for a Pete T. photo from that evening.  (I also saw them in Newport two days earlier; the first time I’d seen them in about 20 years. They were in stunningly good form – well-rehearsed and note perfect, with a set list that took you to emotional breaking point and kept you there through a series of h-era classics and rousing encores.)

Relics Marbles passWell, we got the soundcheck and AAA passes okay, and being in the venue early also meant we could stroll down to the front row just before the doors opened. This is where we met Antonis from Cyprus and Monica from Portugal – who were rather surprised that they’d queued outside for hours only to find that others, like us, were already inside the venue and in pole position. I’ve not seen Monica since, but the connection and friendship with Antonis has endured. Great gig – filmed for the Marbles on the Road DVD, and we can be seen (briefly) occasionally, enjoying ourselves at the front. Unfortunately, though, there was no aftershow – there was a strict curfew as Marillion and fans were cleared out in preparation for the regular Saturday night gay disco. By way of compensation, we were given soundcheck passes for the Bristol gig on the Somewhere Else tour – a review of which appeared in a later edition of The Web Magazine. (We are refered to in that review as “a young couple from Cardiff”, which flatters me somewhat.)

Tenacious D
There’s not very much Tenacious D in Words and Music, save a couple of passing references to Jack Black and Wilderbeest, but that’s probably an oversight. Check out the photo below.  “Michael, We Love You!” “Michael, Party!” I could tell you that Jack and Kyle gave this to me as a token of appreciation for my contribution to their first album, or about the time I partied with the D over a long weekend in Vegas. Or I could tell you that I had a small part as an extra in the cafe scene in The Pick of Destiny. Actually, my sister got me this photo and got Jack Black and Kyle Gass to sign it. I’ve never met either of them. It used to hang over the stairs in my old house. It was the last thing I’d see every morning as I left the house for work, and it always used to make me smile. It’s good to maintain a sense of perspective!

Tenacious D

And finally …
That big cardboard Script jester I got from Spiller’s Records and forgot to photograph for Relics I? Well I’ve finally managed to dig it out and do the honours. Now if only I could find that giant Fugazi poster …

The Script Jester

Relics 1: And Don’t Forget the Joker

Relics 2: Programmes That Can Be Read

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Darker Than Blue (Review)

Deep Purple Appreciation Society

Review by Simon Robinson

Words and Music / Michael Anthony – ISBN (978-0-9572528-0-6)

If I’d realised Michael was going to splash some of my thoughts on his book over the back cover when it was printed, I’m sure I would have tried to come up with something more erudite. Too late. As Ian Gillan once screamed. Anywho, Michael has put together a wordy tome in which he attempts to put into words what rock music means to him, and by inference to the rest of us. A tall order indeed but over 350 pages he gives it a good shot. And if at the end of the book my initial reaction is to pull Made In Japan off the shelf and give it another blast, then that cannot be bad (especially as these days I find myself listening to a smaller group of discs but more frequently).

Michael has used his own experiences of first hearing rock music, going to gigs, and meeting like minded people as the basis for the book, so it’s often quite a personal slant but one we can all empathise with. From here he goes further and ruminates on a variety of rock music themes, often with a couple of his favourite bands underpinning the arguments. What brings the book into our sphere is his love of just about all things Deep Purple. His telling of seeing older relations freaking out to Made In Japan behind closed doors to finally being able to borrow a copy, and then playing it non-stop every day after school for about a fortnight, will resonate with a lot of fans.

Indeed for the first third of the book, Deep Purple crop up with alarming regularity (I just hope his listing of their various accomplishments at one stage doesn’t put less enamored readers off!), while Deep Purple fans may well look on with envy at the chapter on how Marillion look after their supporters. What’s good about the book is they way most of us will be well able to relate to the unfolding story and it isn’t written in the ‘trying to be clever’ way of some writers who use rock music to underpin their work (I’m thinking of Nick Hornby here). It’s rare to find book which looks at any aspect of being a rock fan without the writer taking the piss somewhere down the line, so on that basis alone it deserves a mention here.

 The book did spook me once or twice with stories which seemed cribbed from my own life, albeit ten years further down the line, but that alone illustrates the shared experiences so many rock fans have, knowingly or otherwise. Brownie points docked for the lack of pictures (I love the shot shown here of Mike and his mate meeting Steve Harris  from Iron Maiden backstage. They had time for one photo. And the flash failed to go off.) but more than awarded for keeping it local plus the sheer amount of effort which has gone into it. And of course his cogent thoughts on Deep Purple when they appear. Michael has kindly allowed us to print an extract, so I’ve chosen this part (edited down so as not to spoil the book) where he riffs on that eternal theme of Deep Purple vs.Led Zeppelin.

Details of where to buy are available via the link to the author’s own site  (https://wordsandmusicbook.wordpress.com/) on which continues the themes in the book. Any problems getting copies let me know.

 

“Who’s the greatest heavy rock band ever?” my friend Harvey once asked me. I thought for a while and, not without reservation, answered “Deep Purple.”

“Nah. It’s Led Zeppelin,” Harvey grinned back, “people who say Deep Purple always have to think about it first. Zeppelin fans know that it’s Zeppelin. Purple were always a bit too arty for my liking, but Zeppelin just get you. Man, no one plays the blues like Led Zeppelin.”

I think Harvey had a point or two. I recognise, for example, the power of Led Zeppelin and the sensual pull of the band. I recognise too that while Zeppelin are a very direct and hard-hitting band, Purple have a more varied and arty approach that does give pause for thought. When you answer “Led Zeppelin” to Harvey’s question you are shooting from the hip. When you answer “Deep Purple” you must first draw the disparate elements together, with the cerebral exercise required inevitably introducing a hint of hesitation. It should be said that Led Zeppelin were always very good at creating a mystique around themselves that has been preserved over the years by the clever management and marketing of their image and their back catalogue. It’s not that the history of Deep Purple is without incident or intrigue – think, for example, of the sad and senseless path travelled by the late Tommy Bolin – but it is surely true that Purple’s reputation was built on music alone and was not augmented by the dark and demonic associations and tales of general decadence that seemed to follow Led Zeppelin around.

I am not suggesting that Led Zeppelin lacked substance in any way, but they certainly knew how to package and present themselves to maximise their impact. By simply letting their music do the talking, Purple failed to capitalise on the kind of image and product management that would have made it easier for them to preserve their own status and reputation.

How often I’ve wished that the band had been able to prevent the release of all of those pointless post-reunion compilations, and how often I’ve wished that I could remove ‘Smoke on the Water’ or ‘Black Night’ from all those crappy rock compilation albums you find in the bargain-bin in supermarkets.

Of course, Deep Purple have sometimes been their own worst enemies. While Zeppelin maintained the same line-up throughout their entire recording career, in-fighting and seemingly frequent changes in personnel have not helped Purple’s cause.

I don’t want to get drawn into a divisive Purple versus Zeppelin debate. To my mind they are both great bands who should be treasured and respected by us all. I do, however, want to say a little more about Deep Purple because it seems to me that while Zeppelin’s position in rock history is assured, and even Black Sabbath’s flailing reputation has been restored, Purple do not get the credit and recognition they deserve.

It almost goes without saying that the impact of the Mk II line-up on the early 70s rock scene was immense. The bludgeoning power of In Rock, the experimentation of Fireball and the classy rock perfection of Machine Head , rightly established Purple as one of the greats. If they’d recorded nothing else ever, these three albums alone would represent a phenomenal achievement, and a legacy of which the band could be justifiably proud. But how many modern day music fans realise just how popular Deep Purple were? Indeed, the exertions of the Mk II line-up made Purple the biggest selling album band in the United States in 1973, with the band outselling even Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones.

I know of no other ‘mainstream’ rock band (with the possible exception of Queen) that has blended rock with such a range of musical styles with such stunning creative success. Check out the back-catalogue and you’ll see, for example, the strength of the classical influences from the very start. Outside of Purple, Blackmore’s own classical interests found expression in some of his Rainbow-era musings. A guitar player I met once told me that a lot of the time Blackmore’s playing is based around arpeggios. “That’s not uncommon, is it?” I asked. I lacked technical understanding but had read about the then-current fashion for ‘Bach ‘n’ Roll’, and the playing of people like Yngwie Malmsteen. “No, it’s not uncommon,” he replied, “but the thing about Blackmore is that you don’t realise they are arpeggios or what he’s really playing until you try to learn the songs.”

Beyond Purple most of the band’s musicians have taken creative turns that are further testimony to the talent and musicality of this unique band. It’s well worth reminding ourselves just how popular Purple and the ‘splinter bands’ were around the time of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and of the esteem in which they were held by some of the bands who emerged around that time or soon after. Saxon, for example, name-check Purple on ‘Play it Loud’ from the Denim and Leather album, while Iron Maiden and Metallica made no secret of their admiration for Purple’s achievements. Even now it is not unusual for contemporary musicians to acknowledge their debt. In the credits to their excellent 2005 album Second Life Syndrome, for example, Michal Lapaj of Polish prog-metal band Riverside gives “a big bow to Jon Lord for all my keyboard playing.”

And, of course, it’s not over yet. Purple are still out there and doing it, releasing the occasional album, undertaking massive world tours and playing to decent sized crowds everywhere. They even headlined the re-launched Monsters of Rock Festival at the Milton Keynes Bowl in 2006. If I have a criticism at all it is that they still appear to rely too heavily on Machine Head for much of the live set, choosing to ignore some superb material from more recent albums like Purpendicular and Rapture of the Deep. For me it is the breadth of the music and the willingness to experiment across styles and genres that makes Deep Purple (its musicians and its splinter groups) so special.

See this review on the DPAS Darker Than Blue website:
http://darkerthanblue.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/excursions-in-the-world-of-rock-fandom/

http://darkerthanblue.wordpress.com/review-pages-%e2%80%a2-cd-dvd/words-and-music/

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Drawn By Quest For ‘Arry!

Does anyone remember that funny bit in The Young Ones book when Rik attempts to ‘interview’ Cliff Richard from a vantage point near the back of the stand as Cliff performs on stage? Cliff appears to answer every question with a lyric, but of course there’s a fundamental disconnect and absurdity here, wherein lies the humour. Sometimes, as a fan, even when you’re in closer physical proximity to a ‘rock star’ than Rik was to Mr. Pilchard, it can seem a bit like that.

At one point in Words and Music I describe an occasion when my cousins and I got all tongue tied in the presence of Iron Maiden mainman Steve Harris on Maiden’s Matter of Life or Death tour. We suffered a distinct group failure in our efforts to let him know how much pleasure his music has given us over the years and how much we value his contribution to the great rock tradition. What I don’t say in the book is that, ever a glutton for punishment, I went back for another go when Maiden’s Final Frontier tour brought them back to Cardiff in the summer of 2011. On this occasion I had the added incentive of trying to find out what he thought of the book extracts I’d sent him.

“I’ll introduce you to him,” said Vince, mate of my cousin, West Ham fan, and goalkeeper for Maidonians F.C. “and just see how it goes from there.”

Introduce us he did, in a room that was more sidestage and up-a-bit than ‘backstage’ (the holy grail of the rock fan) … but there were lots and lots of people there and opportunities for thoughtful conversation were limited. ‘Arry gave freely of his time, shaking hands and posing for photos, but his time too was limited. In fact, by my reckoning he was due on stage within about 45 minutes. (It amazed me that he seemed so relaxed so close to a show, but I guess he’s an old trooper by now.)

“This is Michael who did the rock book,” said Vince. ‘Arry nodded, we shook hands and said hello. “And this is Jon,” Vince continued, introducing him to my cousin. In the little time available to us, Jon did his best to fix up a  football match against the Maidonians sometime on the next tour, and Vince took a photo. It was time for Steve to move on. No time for book talk, but we did have a photo. Or did we? Turns out the flash didn’t work! Here’s a copy of the photo Vince later sent to me:

It had already been a good night. It was a real thrill to meet Vince and Voodoo Six guitarist Chris (“Shaven” not stirred) and enjoy a pre-gig drink with them in the famous Brains pub The Old Arcade, along with Jon, his brother (my cousin) Chris, my graphic designer friend Chris, my wife Chrissy (blimey, that’s a lot of people called Chris), and Jon’s friend … Alan. (The last time I’d seen Alan he was getting sucked into the crush at Maiden’s Twickenham gig and promptly disappeared into the abyss.)

Maiden were typically great … and, of course, it was also a thrill to be introduced, however briefly, to Steve. I never got to tell him how much pleasure his music has given me over the years, etc. etc. … but in the cold light of day, I guess he doesn’t need me to tell him that. I think the banners and flags and chants and queues and album sales and ticket sales all over the world tell him all he needs to know. There are earth dogs and rivet heads everywhere!

UP THE IRONS!

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