Friday, 2 November 2012

Demon @ The Green Star 1st November 2012

Review by Andy Law

After 30 years in the business and having influenced everyone from Metallica to Hammerfall, frontman Dave Hill has more than a few Demon stories to tell. Demon have been busy chaps recently; whether tearing it up at festivals in Germany (Bang Yer Head) or, writing a theme tune for Sweden Rock (Fill Your Head With Rock), besides releasing new album Unbroken, the quintet have also experienced several pivotal line up changes.
Talented ex guitarist Ray Walmsley has returned on bass to replace Andy Dale; elsewhere, shredmeister general (guitarist) backing vocalist Paul Hume has stepped in on the other guitar alongside the flamboyant Dave Cotterill, and its an inspired move. Clear the floor - the areas finest twin guitar partnership have just landed...
Besides his gifted musical talents, (Paul Hume) has has also produced Demon's new album at Summerbank Studios, Tunstall, giving it the classic Demon sound with a more modern edge. Finally, keyboardist Karl Waye has replaced Paul Farrington. Opening with Wonderland and ripping through heavyweight after heavyweight, Leek's finest are clearly in unstoppable mood. The Plague burns with a sinster, Sabbath-esque fire before breaking out into Bat Out Of Hell esque intro solos and Led Zep shades; Life On The Wire offers a shining chorus hook with mindblowing guitarwork; and further sonic treats include Blackheath, Sign Of A Madman, Under The Spell and Remembrance Day.
In terms of the newer material, there's Better The Devil You Know album standout Standing On The Edge Of The World. From latus opus Unbroken, we get the anthemic Fill Your Head With Rock; I Still Believe meanwhile, brims with passion ('Its my religion, its my life, I still believe, I still believe, that rock will rule the world...'), a Man-o-war style rock ballad if ever there was one!
Finishing the set with Night Of The Demon and Don't Break The Circle, its a jaw dropping close. Fantastic musicianship - from head thudding drums (forming a solid partnership with Ray Walmsley's bass) dazzling twin guitar harmonies and tear it up solos make for a stirring display. Dave Hill inspires on many fronts; showing off great melodies, superb songwriting and plenty of onstage charisma. Although his vocals aren't as prominent as they used to be, he proves beyond all doubt that high range is not the be all and end all where good songwriting is concerned. The band also demonstrate a terrific awareness of the need for strong backing vocals, often turning up three part harmonies or octaves. In plain English, jolly good musicianship - and the overloaded Green Star couldn't get enough. So let's cut to the chase. Slash, Motorhead and yes, Demon - a cut above.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Dry the River / Camp Stag / Arcane Roots @ The Sugarmill 29th October 2012

Review by Andy Law

Outside of exceptionally talented guitarist/lead vocalist Andrew Groves' exceptional bad luck with snapping guitar strings (Halloween blues, maybe?), Arcane Roots sweep out any such technical cobwebs with a high octane, energetic stage show.
If tonight's evidence is anything to go by, progressive is the new cool in alternative rock these days; healthy, in the interests of continually re-energizing this vital and cutting edge genre (and of course, keeping Radio 1 happy). Vocally, Arcane Roots mix it up between falsetto, screams and lung piercing notes really rather well, while musically they particularly impress on the broken down, slower numbers, bringing so much more substance out of the band.
Mega melodies, beautiful tunage and beefier choruses are all the end product of this change in tempo. Call it standard melody, if you like, but it works - it always has and always will. Outside of this, and the impressive backing vocals, subtle virtuoso guitar breaks (note the Van Halen esque tapping on several tunes) and the Arcane Roots formula of aggression meets progression sadly doesn't really mark any new territory on a highly populated scene. Currently working on an album and sure to be stars on Radio 1 with single Resolve, success may already be guaranteed, but to these ears the bands greater strength has yet to be fully realized.     

Serving up luscious vocals with pretty, progressive rhythms and seismic bass grooves, Camp Stag open things up with a warming twist. 'Ultimate chilling music' volume 5 meets with enough dynamic shifts to get the foot tapping, while hammond organs are as at home as a candyfloss at a fare.
Walking With Broken Bones is a particularly inspiring effort, as painstakingly impressive as the title, and with a mouthwatering chorus hook, single Sirens is the one you simply can't ignore. To such a point, it prompted The Fortunas (on Sound cloud) to brand it 'the best track by a local band for months';  although a bit like the trademark red swimsuit without Yasmin Bleeth, it leaves you wanting more than the bare three minutes on offer... 
The e.p. title track When the lights come down throws an atmospheric guitar solo into the mix, the final flourish adding to a set where you can't help but admire the textures this band creates and the effortless vocals that lead the way.
For the fans out there the set list was Matilda Please / Walking With Broken Bones / Northern Dream / Call It The Flame Sirens / When The Light Comes Down

On route via an epically dodgy 80's intro theme music, pushing us to a close are the venue filling Dry The River. With no less than six band members - including a violinist, twin guitars and keys - Dry the River are one of the most strictly musical bands these ears have heard in years. Three part vocal harmonies are full of folk vibes, violins flow indulgently into delightful acoustic guitars and choruses are often memorable. This is, of course, coupled with keyboards to pad the whole thing out and electric guitars to add to the musical maelstrom.
Perfect for a relaxed Summers evening or a log fire on a cold winters night, the bands onstage chemistry doesn't go unnoticed either; with more guitar changes than Gangem style single's sales and a bassist Scott Miller who screams 'metal band side project' with his constant poses, its as entertaining as it is enchanting. 
In the way of height, hair and even voice, singer/guitarist Pete Little bears an uncanny resemblance to Justin Hawkins - and although individually 99% falsetto free vocals would admittedly be better, collectively it works with the harmonies.  Such vocals can either be considered dated or timeless; besides the point, really, as what really counts is the songs, and on this front Dry The River are a joy. Additionally, any band who can drift seamlessly into performing with only three lonely voices and an acoustic mike free cannot fail to win your admiration.
So, there you have it - a band of authentic musicians, with real singing and real atmosphere, performing well written songs. If that doesn't get us all singing from the same hymn-sheet, little else will - and that's why, irrespective of what is flavour of the day or what genre it is, we live and love great music.      
If you'd like to treat your ears, then Shallow Bed (Acoustic) is out through RCA Victor via Digital Download 17th December 2012.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Aaron Mobberly “Unison Harmonies” single release feat. Samuel Astley/Monster I Am/Marc O’Reily@ The Sugarmill, Saturday 15th 2012

Review by Pete Callaghan

Since Aaron Mobberly’s Commitment EP back in January I’ve been looking forward to hearing a bit more from him, and after seeing him about at various venues it got me all excited to hear he had a single release coming up at the ‘mill, even if I did keep getting the date mixed up. So I climbed aboard the ol’faithful, as she should rightfully be known (the 18 bus if you want to be accurate) and darkened the streets of Hanley with my presence once again.

I was little late for the first set by Sam Astley, who’s name I’ve heard banded about over the past couple years, but what I did manage catch I really enjoyed. The guy’s got such a powerful voice, at times I thought he didn’t really need mic’ing up but he’s able to bring it down to such a low, subtle level that shows real skill. It’s indicative of his vocal range and guitar playing that his songwriting was just as good. To underscore this point, he was able to make up a song off the cuff, which was both funny and very catchy. His last track “The Chip Shop Song” was particular good as he heckled the audience to sing along and was joined by friends, who he had previously sung about, who danced their way onto the stage in something that felt rehearsed and spontaneous at the same time. Great set from what I saw.

Next on to the ‘mills stage was Monster I Am who sang mostly ironic melancholy folk numbers. It was hard to decipher whether he sang about actual terrible experiences which had happened to him (like, whoever the girl was he lost, it sounded like she destroyed him) or that he was being satirical about the whole depressing folk scene. To be honest, I think it’s best to not dwell on such matters as it just abstracts itself away from the music so what I’ll write about how the good the tracks were. I enjoyed the Killers cover of “Mr Brightside” and the brilliantly titled “Hunting for Bitches” but “Talk Show Host” really made it for me; it was a gentle, ingenious song, clever and remorseful. Definitely hope he’ll being doing more gigs soon.

Luckily, as it was soon evident, Marc O’Reily decided to stop by Stoke-on-Trent as part of his six-week tour of England - luckily because it’s rare that you get to see someone with who is this good. O’Reily’s style of acoustic playing is unique: from sublime fret tapping, guitar drumming (which he could play at furious speeds) to brilliant blues picking, acoustic numbers. You can hear the passion in both his lyrics and his playing. His track “Foo” stood out as it wasn’t like the blues inspired technical playing I heard in his other tracks but completely soulful and authentic. To see him fully immersed in the moment is an incredible sight; I was utterly mesmerized watching him. He is a spectacular talent from Ireland and all I hope is that I’ll get to see him play live again some day.

Before the main event, we were treated to the debut of Mobberly’s video for “Unison Harmonies”. It’s really well shot, featuring some lovely landscape shots and, of course, the single which is brilliant by itself. Aaron then took to the stage and played a few solo tracks before being joined by Sam Bloor, Brad Malbon and Alexander Howick on lead guitar, drums and bass respectively. It’s the first time I’ve seen Aaron live with a backing band and honestly, I wasn’t sure it was going to work. Aaron’s vocals and chord work is just so special on its own that I thought that the full band setup might be too much live. Thankfully, I was completely wrong. It really gave a lot of emphasis to the tracks and how good the songwriting is. ‘Crayons’ and ‘Commitment’ sounded fantastic, as did ‘Looking for’ and it was nice to see the audience really showing a lot of support for some great music.

When Autumn comes around, I like to listen to folk. I don’t know why, the two just seem to go well together. Over the past couple of years it’s been Midlake’s ‘Trials of Van Occupypanther’ and Fleet Foxes’ debut album and usually some Nick Drake for good measure. But thanks to this gig and the release of ’Unison Harmonies’ I’ve got a lot of local and unsigned acts I can listen to that will fit my Autumn mood well.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

A Page of Punk / Leif Ericsson / All the Best Tapes / Werewolves on Motorcycles @ The White Star, Stoke. 3rd August 2012.

Review by Robert Egan

For a small venue, the upstairs room of The White Star can be heard across the town centre which doesn’t bode well for my ear drums. I arrive to a pretty full venue with the first band Werewolves on Motorcycles pounding out their already sweat-laced set and I get a feeling that tonight is going to be something special. 

We have been featuring their track Dr. Love on the Stoke Sounds Radio show for some time and it is nice to be able to transcend the recording to the live experience. Werewolves are a powerful three-piece and all members eventually take turns on the vocals which gives a nice difference to their already varied songs. Being excellent musicians the band are impressively tight and the music seems to be a more traditional/pure punk sound one minute, then they hit you with a Doom laced edge the next. The sheer volume of the PA and Bass/guitar amps rocks the soul and I am cursing not bringing my earplugs for all of the right reasons! With an impromptu vocal performance from Dave Collins (Leif Ericsson guitarist/vox) for 2 tracks covering Ramones numbers, their set is heated up further, exacerbated by their animated stage presence and Animal-esque antics of the drummer. Before too long the set is finished and I am left wanting more; Werewolves will well be worth catching the next time…

Second band up tonight are  All the Best Tapes and to be honest, from an outfit that are not challenged in the age department as yet, I was not expecting the wall of sound that came crashing out of the system. The vocals are being screamed across it seems at ten times the normal volume and  it’s causing considerable damage to my already strained ears. 

The band have a layered sound which is at times quite mellow and at other times somewhat stomach wrenching. The drums come across clear and precise and the amp distortion is just enough to add suitable depth to the music without being overpowering. The sound is dynamic and thought through with a sincerity, which for a punk outfit really surprises me; it is a more accessible style of punk than you might be expecting with some interesting changes from loud to emotional content. Some tracks sound truly epic yet the vocals remain clearly defined in the mix, which considering the sheer level of the volume is quite impressive. 

The third band is The Leif Ericsson, who quickly settle into their set. It’s immediately apparent that they are tight and polished and seem well used to performing. The instruments and vocals come across clearly yet the distortion is just enough to give an edge. Leif want to take you on a musical cruise through their repertoire and as we sail through what seems like a few different genres, we ultimately arrive back to where they began, which interpret as punk with a more mainstream feel. The most appreciative crowd are enjoying their set and if the bands sweat levels are anything to go by; Leif Ericsson are utilising every joule in their performance.

Headlining tonight’s showcase is the Japanese band A Page of Punk. Now I must admit that if a band are going to take the time to come all the way across the world on a tour and pay Stoke a visit, the least we can do is go and see what they have to offer and from the opening track, I am in a bit of awe. Their sound is as loud as it is encompassing. It might be an often used sentence but the audience are going nuts for these guys and the band ride the wave of sentiment higher and higher, morphing from the front and into the crowd so that they are almost indiscernible. Page of Punk are certainly not going to conform to the ‘stage’ area nor the stereotype aesthetic of their genre; their front man Chiaki is decked out in a sparkling gold jacket and with lashings of eye shadow and slicked hair looks more a new romantic. He manages to keep most eyes on his antics as he gradually undresses to underwear whilst throwing himself around the room frantically. The music is tight and well played, loud and driven, energetic and yet playful at the same time. I like this band, they have the bravado and excitement to draws your attention and keep it firmly in the palms of their hands, until it’s all over and you wonder, what the hell just happened? Let’s hope that they come over more often…