Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Get Better : A Film About Frank Turner

Frank Turner at the Vue Cinema, Leicester Square December 13th, 2016

I went to a screening of Get Better : A Film About Frank Turner in Reading. The film was getting a one off cinema screening to over 50 cinemas nationwide. Frank, himself, was at the Vue cinema in Leicester Square, where he did a Q&A session and then a short acoustic set before the screening. So here's my photo of Frank on the cinema screen in Reading playing live before the film.

The film is absolutely fascinating and follows Frank over an 18 month period taking in the release of his most recent album, Positive Songs For Negative People. The film takes in the period when album sessions were delayed and Frank and his band were left in limbo with no shows to play either. The film covers this dark time in Frank's life as he goes on a downward spiral. The film including many interviews with band members, family and friends brings to the screen an honest account of how complicated a character Frank is, but more importantly a genuinely nice guy who will always go the extra mile for people whenever he possibly can. Frank turns things around and the film ends in a positive light. Here's hoping for a Blu-Ray release sometime soon.

I am one of those lucky people who has been on the end of Frank's support. He very kindly agreed to take part in a fundraising book I am currently putting together for the Beating Bowel Cancer charity. I go to meet and photograph him back stage at his recent show at the Reading Hexagon. He couldn't have been nicer and it's going to make for a great chapter in the book which will be out in a year or so. I am writing the book, where I meet and photograph celebrities, in memory of my Mum who recently passed away after a 4 year battle with bowel cancer. Interestingly I think that if I had seen the film first I might not have approached Frank, as the amount of time he puts aside for his fans is staggering. I felt a little guilty if I am being honest.

Frank's live shows are something else. The energy that Frank & The Sleeping Souls bring to the stage makes for a brilliant show ensuring that everyone leaves wanting more. The recent gig in Reading was one of the best concerts I have been to in a very long time. Frank manages to capture on record something close to that of a live performance, although if you haven't yet seen him live you really must...

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The Vapors Are Back In Business

So here is the news that fans of The Vapors have been waiting over 30 years to hear. The band are and rehearsing for some UK and Ireland dates in the autumn. I can't wait to see one of my all time favourite bands play live as I was too young to see them first time around. Click here to go to the bands facebook page.

At the beginning of 2015 I was fortunate enough to meet Dave Fenton. I was writing a book to rasie funds for the Beating Bowel Cancer charity where I met and photographed people. I managed to track Dave down and he immediately agreed to me. We met outside Big Ben and I got my News At Ten photo for the book. The photo below is one that I didn't use in the book. Lives & Times was published last November and has raised over £1350 for the charity. My mother was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2012 and is still fighting this awful illness. The cancer has spread to her brain and she is now in hospital after her condition recently deteriorated. 

Although The Vapors are best known for their massive 1980 worldwide hit Turning Japanese, I was a massive fan of their second single News At Ten. It should have been a massive hit, but lack of exposure, including a strike at BBC's Top Of The Pops resulted in the single just missing out making the UK Top 40.

I have already booked my ticket for their gig in Wolverhampton on November 19th. I am forever playing their compilations on my iPod and the one track I am desperate for them to play on tour is Letter From Hiro, which is just most gorgeous song!

Monday, 22 February 2016

Eddie Macdonald from The Alarm has a new band Smalltown Glory

Smalltown Glory is the new musical venture by Eddie Macdonald, co-founding member of The Alarm. Eddie has put together a three piece band which includes Paul Evans and Charlie Fowler. This is Eddie's first proper venture back into mainstream music since The Alarm folded in 1991. In the intervening years he has forged a successful career as a commercial photographer.

The band's debut six track release, Tenements Commandments EP Vol. 1 is available exclusively on Pledge Music, and it has already smashed through its target. To  buy the Tenements Commandments EP Vol. 1 on Pledge Music click here.

It's a welcome return for Eddie, and the songs the three piece have put together for this first release are stunning. Eddie has lost nothing of the knack for coming up with a decent tune. His songwriting partnership with Mike Peters in The Alarm was the driving force behind many of the band's finest songs.

I have already got my download copy of the EP and if you are a fan of Eddie or The Alarm you won't be disappointed. Nigel Twist from The Alarm makes a guest appearance on drums and the final track is a new 2016 version of Third Light by The Alarm. I am looking to see the band play live later this year, and I am already anticipating more new material.

Eddie has been a great supporter of the Lives & Times fundraising book I recently published to raise funds for the Beating Bowel Cancer charity. My mum has been fighting cancer since 2012. I was lucky enough to meet and photograph Eddie and Nigel for the book in London.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Mike Peters, The Alarm, Welsh Pops Orchestra, Acquire, Morriston Orpheus Choir at Cardiff Millennium Centre

It had been 25 years since I had last seen Mike Peters & The Alarm on stage in Cardiff. The previous time they were supporting U2 at The Arms Park. That was a day I remember for there being no alcohol inside the stadium, which meant an evening on Panda Pops! Roll the clock forward and once again I was on soft drinks, but this time down to the fact that I was driving to Cardiff from home in Reading.

Over the last couple of years Mike has reworked the songs of The Alarm's first two albums, Declaration & Strength. He has predominantly been touring these albums as a one man band aside from the annual Gathering shows where we have been given a taster of the potential that was fully realised at this concert at the Millennium Centre.

The early evening saw a screening of the director's cut of The Man In The Cameo Jacket, which is a forthcoming film which documents Mike's career in the music industry and his 20 year battle with cancer. Prior to the concert Mike had gone public about the recent return of his cancer, which he is now battling a third time. The film was terrific, and received a well earned standing ovation at the end. Mike took to the stage to another standing ovation. The absolute love and support for him inside the hall was not something I have often seen. 

The question is just how many musicians can you get on one stage. Answers on a postcard to By the end of the evening Mike & The Alarm were on stage with two choirs, Acquire & the Morriston Orpheus Choir, plus the Welsh Pops Orchestra.

2015 has seen the 30th anniversary of Strength and the set featured a large part of it. The highlights for me from that album were the performances of Deeside, Spirit of 76 and The Day The Ravens The Tower. Seeing these songs with full orchestral arrangements in such a wonderful setting was an experience that will not be forgotten. The sheer power and beauty of an orchestra was simply stunning! Adding to that the performance of Acquire, who have performed at The Gathering, and who were once again a real treat to watch. I have always thought more recent performances of Alarm classics have lacked backing vocals... Well that certainly wasn't the case here!

The reworking of 68 Guns was always going to be a bit special, and I wasn't disappointed. The older songs were given a new lease of life. If only it might be possible for this show to go on the road as a full tour... I always enjoy performances of The Stand, which is the song I first heard on John Peel in 1983 that got me into The Alarm. Other songs included Marching On, Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke, One Step Closer To Home, Breathe, My Town, One Guitar, Blaze of Glory, and Rain In The Summertime. A special mention must be made of the rendition of A New South Wales which saw the arrival on stage of The Morriston Orpheus Choir. It was quite brilliant. The set lasted for a good two and half hours, and it was one of the best concerts I have been to. When I first saw The Alarm at The Marquee Club in 1983, I never would have thought that 32 years later I would see many of the same songs performed with the orchestra and choirs.

Mike took great delight in celebrating Wales qualifying for the Euro 2016 finals when the result was shouted out to him during the evening. As an Englishman in the audience I could not bring myself to join in the "Wales, Wales" that rang around the auditorium! No offence :-)

Mike now begins his cancer treatment. I found out the day before the cancer that my mother's bowel cancer has returned for a third time so it was quite an emotional evening for me. Mike let me photograph him at Abbey Road for the forthcoming Lives & Times fundraising book I am publishing to raise funds for Beating Bowel Cancer. I can only wish Mike the very best in beating it again.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Declaration 2014 Tour - Oxford

30 years on from the original release of The Alarm's debut album "Declaration", Mike Peters is touring the UK in 2014 performing the album in full. This is no ordinary tour though, as marking the anniversary he has completely re-recorded the album with totally new arrangements taking the album back to the origins of the band's sound of acoustic guitars and drums. I got a taster of the new recordings at The Gathering in Llandudno  recently so I was eagerly anticipating this gig in Oxford to hear the whole album performed in full.

I have seen Mike Peters perform Alarm material acoustically many times, and this was without doubt the best acoustic show I have ever seen him perform. The show was split into two halves with the first half seeing him perform a selection of material covering the bands complete musical history so there was something for everyone. For me it was an absolute treat to see him perform songs like "Lie of the Land" and "Across The Border" which got rare outings. With "Unsafe Building", "Up For Murder" and the glorious "One Step Closer To Home" it was a terrific first half. He is using a new guitar called "The Deceiver" which allows him to seamlessly switch between an acoustic and electric sound, and a small drum by his feet allowed him to put a beat into the music at times too. Also by using a sampler and the occasional backing track it really was a lot more than just an acoustic gig. Very much a one man band in 2014! The second half of the show was the performance of Declaration, and it was stunning. With every track being completely reworked it made for a new experience for any fan of The Alarm even those of us who go back to the early days. The anecdotes in between the songs were both interesting and amusing as we were treated to a really interesting insight into the band back in the early days leading up to the release of the album. It's hard to call a favourite song from the second half... "68 Guns" has been transformed into a song of both beauty and power, "Where Were You Hiding" rocks along in free flowing fashion and the anthemic "We re The Light" has taken on a more sullen beauty to it with introduction of minor chords to the verses. "The Stand" which was the song that brought me into this band has a wonderful skiffle arrangement and "Blaze of Glory" which finished the set was glorious, and watch out for the choir on the new recording of the song. We also got an insight into the origins of the lyrics and the band's relationship with U2. Possibly for me "Third Light" was the highlight as it is such a powerful song lyrically and very apt at the moment with the 100 year anniversary of World War One. The audience was very enthusiastic and much bigger than I expected, so I would advise anyone thinking of seeing the show to get their tickets in advance! A fantastic evening, and I hope tour this again very soon!

Of course there are bound to be many fans who will be anti the idea of reworking the album and dabbling with songs they have lived with for the past 30 years. It was interesting to hear Mike talk about how disappointed the band was with the production of the album, how tracks were messed with in their absence, and it brought back memories to me too. I had a copy of the single version of "Marching On" and back in 1984 I was eagerly anticipating the album and I remember when I first played it being disappointed with the production of that song more than most. Having seen the band a number of times during 1983 starting at The Marquee somewhere the live sound just hadn't been captured like I hoped. However you  learn to live and grow to love albums and Declaration remains one of my all time favourites, but 30 years on I am eagerly anticipating the new release and getting the 2014 perspective. I see no point in Mike simply re-recording the album as it was, and if you are going to do it I think it is right to strip the songs back and represent them in a fresh light, whilst staying true to the origins of the band. It might not be for everyone's tastes but I still eagerly anticipate new music as much as I did back in the day and am very impatiently waiting for my order of the new album to arrive in the coming weeks. 

I have included a chapter on Mike Peters & The Alarm in my "Beating Bowel Cancer" fundraising book I have self published to raise money for the Beating Bowel Cancer charity. If you would like to find out more about that please click here.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Rifles

I think it's a case of straight to the point with this post. The brand new album by The Rifles entitled "None The Wiser" which came this week is quite simply an absolute belter. It has been a long wait for it to come out, but it has been more than worth it. It is the band's 4th studio album and it more than holds its own with their previous efforts. What does it sound like? I don't think there is any harm in making comparisons to bands like The Jam, but for me it just sounds like The Rifles! Elements from all the previous 3 albums are in there so we get the fast energetic melodic guitar tracks as well as some beautifully crafted acoustic sounding slower tempo songs. I think my favourite song on the album at the moment is "You Win Some", which has a fantastic unofficial video to go with it, but seeing as I am playing the album non stop at the moment I am sure this will change in the days ahead. It seems these days that guitar driven bands like The Rifles struggle to get much radio airplay, which is simply beyond belief. It can't be because the music is not popular as the band have no problem filling concert venues and the new album is riding high at number 6 in the midweek charts during its first week of release. Its about time radio stations stopped deciding for themselves what is and what is not popular and created their playlists a little bit more based on facts...

I kind of missed out early Rifles material at the time, and not sure why as its bloody brilliant including the wonderful "She's Got Standards". By the time I got round to trying to buy the debut album "No Love Lost" it had been deleted. As much as I love the band I refuse to pay the high prices now being asked for the album so I had to resort to downloading it from a file sharing site. I shall have to hope that one day it gets reissued so as to get a genuine copy.

However I was right on cue to buy "Great Escape" the fantastic 2nd album. This album has been my favourite album by them to date, and I think it will be a close run thing with the new album as to whether it remains so. This album contains the live favourite anthem of "Romeo & Julie", which when seen live with a crowd in full song is about as good as things get at any gig...

The third album "Freedom Run" continued the run of quality material being released by the band. Around this time I was due to go and see the band live for the first time at The Coronet in London, I had my ticket and everything was set, and then unforeseen circumstances prevented me from going at the last minute. I put this right in 2012 going to see an acoustic show in Oxford which was amazing. Last year I went Rifles mad seeing the acoustic tour in Reading, then 3 dates in one week in November with the original line up playing back together, plus finishing off going to a Christmas concert at the Boogaloo in London. I am looking forward to seeing them on tour this spring in London.

Don't underestimate this band. They write rousing guitar driven anthems with lyrics that are both insightful and connect with their audience. They have also released 2 acoustic albums on their website of the songs of their career to date, and this is where the stripped back versions let the lyrics come much more to the forefront. This a band at the top of their game.

Monday, 18 November 2013

A Week With The Rifles

What a way to spend the dark late autumn evenings. Having never seen the full Rifles electric live show I booked up to 3 concerts on the current tour with the original line up. In fact 3 gigs in 4 days, which would be a test of stamina for a golden oldie such as your truly!

The week started in Oxford on Tuesday November 12 at the Oxford Academy. Being a school night and with the venue being a bus ride away from the railway station I decided to drive from Reading. I was pleasantly surprised to find space in the tiny car park close to the venue. A young homeless girl was doing great business instructing numpties like me on how to put money into the machine as it was one of those silly machines that required your car registration number. I think she was handing out instructions regardless whether you neeeded them or not in the hope of getting some loose change. Arriving at the venue at 8:00 I was a little surprised to see The Rifles were not due on stage until 10:00pm, but at least it gave me the opporunity to listen to the support bands, Dexters and Life In Film. I have to say I was particulary impressed with Dexters. My bad back held firm and 10:00 came and on stage arrived The Rifles. What a joy to see them in their full glory. It was a great set with the band playing for about an hour and playing stuff from their 3 albums plus new tracks from the forthcoming album. I think the late start meant they ran out of time depriving the audience of "Romeo & Julie" at the end with a strict 11:00 curfew in place. I drove back to Reading a happy man. The video below from Oxford is "Local Boy" and no matter how hard I try I keep getting spelling errors in the title so I apologise for "Oxfod" in the title, but I never intended to have a career in video production!

With the Wednesday off to recharge my batteries we moved on to Reading on Thursday November 14th at SUB 89. Always nice to see your favourite bands on the doorstep and I was able to get a bus to and from the town centre. My original plan was to have a bite to eat at the Oakwood Social Club, but this was thwarted by some problem in the kitchens requiring water to be pumped out! So plan b was to go to O'Neills for a Magners and a burger. Adequate if not particulary memorable... With still an hour to kill I decided to go to the Hop Tap close to the venue for another drink. The Hop Tap is a Wetherspoons pub and as soon as I sat down with my drink I thought to myself no! Sure the pub sold cheap beer but I really hope I don't end up like some of the folks in there in another 15 years or so. To be fair I always have a dating head on and it is definitely not a pulling pub! Note to one self spend a few extra pennies next time and go to a decent pub. My timing was good though as I arrived at SUB 89 just after 9:00 and only had to wait a few minutes before the arrival of The Rifles. It was in truth a very similar set to the Oxford one, but I felt there was a warmer atmosphere in the venue and and a better cross section of people in there. It was a brilliant set and had the added bonus of the band closing with "Romeo & Julie". The video below from Reading is of "Robin Hood".

With just a short bus ride home and having had a few drinks I decided to hang around afterwards and picked a copy of the 7" limited editon "Heebie Jeebies". All the band came to the merchandise desk so along with many others I got my copy signed so went home a merry chappy.

With no respite the following night, Friday November 15th, it was off up to The Forum in Kentish Town for the final show in my trillogy. The journey got off to a poor start with no seats on the train from Reading to Paddington. I suspect the England international at Wembley had something to do with this. Things did not get much better on the tube with delays on the Victoria line so I had to change my route a little to get there. On leaving the tube station 2 police cars went screeching past and I immediately thought "Welcome to London". The plan was to have a bite to eat and I had been suggested to try the Kentish Canteen. However it was full and I have to admit looked a bit too posh for a pre gig meal. I do however know where to take a lady out for a bite to eat if I ever date anyone in Kentish Town! Instead I went to the Gulshaan Indian restaurant and enjoyed a lovely lamb byriani washed down by 2 pints of Kingsisher. On entering the venue I was immediated taken back by the size of the crowd. The place was packed and it was just on such a bigger scale than the 2 previous shows. Once again it was a great cross section of people and the atmosphere had a really good vibe to it. I was not overly impressed with the yellow jacketed security numpties who seemed rather over zealous and the way they shone their power torches during the set was a little too gestapo like! One poor soul close to me was taken out for smoking so missed most of the set. Surely a tap on the wrists would have been sufficient? Anyway I digress as the set by The Rifles was stunning. They had certainly saved the best for last and it seemed the audience were bouncing off the band and visa versa. The set was a good 30 minutes longer than the other 2 shows and the band seemed to be in their element. One of the finest gigs I have been to in a very long time. A rather tedious and long journey home was fine as the show made everything worth while. The song I filmed in London was "Peace & Quiet". I didn't film "Romeo & Julie" at any of the shows as it is a song to get involved with and enjoy rather than stand and hold a camera and film...

So what next after such a great week? Well I have booked up to go to one of The Rifles acoustic Christmas shows at the Boogaloo in London in December, which will be a great end to the gigging year for me. I have seen the band acoustically a couple of times before so I know I am in for a treat!