With the return of the Leamington Assembly it seems a good time to take a look back over my years covering gigs at this excellent venue and look at some of my highlights from before my time with Hot Music Live, along with a set of my photographic memories.
Johnny Winter - 2009
My first visit to the venue was in 2009 for legendary blues man Johnny Winter, a short set as he was not in the best of health but what a privilege to see one of the greats on stage and the room erupted for his take on Hendrix classic ‘Red House'.
The support set was my first look at a now favourite of mine Joanne Shaw Taylor and interviewing her several years later she told me how she was living in Leamington at the time of the show and remembers walking to the venue.
This was my early days at the venue, no photo/pit pass but snuck in my compact.
Nazareth - 2010
Into 2010 and now with passes arranged by Get Ready To Rock, I was all set to take photos and make my notes to help with my review when the bands manager asks me what time I wanted to interview the band, a little thrown (never interviewed before, not scheduled this time either) so I thought what the hell just go for it and said "whenever the band is ready".
So after writing down a few sensible questions (to me anyway, I did not want to go down the Alan Partridge root with the likes of what's your favourite colour of guitar) I found myself backstage with founder members Dan MaCafferty and Pete Agnew sharing a beer (while they knocked back the neat brandy) trying to bluff my way through an interview.
I think I got away with it with a set of around 10 hastily written questions but have to admit I was a little unprofessional having a photo taken with the guys after.
A cracking set with hits including ‘My White Bicycle' and ‘Broken Down Angel' along with a bag pipe solo celebrating the bands Scottish heritage.
Another fab support set this time by the lovely Deborah Bonham and her power packed soulful vocals, the sister of legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham she insisted on giving me a complimentary brace of her CD's when discovering I was covering the show along with a hug.
Blackfield - 2011
A slice of prog rock next with the Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen project Backfield, clever lyrics (as you expect from prog!) and fine harmonies with a set balancing up-tempo guitar driven rockers and delicate ballads.
While in ‘Once' they have one of the best live numbers I have heard in my many years at the venue, I just stood there in complete awe (if you have never heard the number check it out on the streaming services).
The Pineapple Thief opened proceedings with a 40 minute set of powerful power prog including a storming ‘3000' days.
Beth Hart - 2011
Surely one of the finest singers to ever grace the Assembly stage, a voice full of emotion and wonderful song writing along with a friendly rapport with the audience.
Her first number performed solo on the piano was the beautiful tribute to her mother ‘Mama This One's For You' she also included in her set several of the numbers she recorded with Joe Bonamassa including the quirky ‘Chocolate Jesus' and the funky blues of ‘Well, Well'.
She really went down a storm in Leamington.
The Doors Alive - 2012
The Doors Alive one of the finest tribute bands around (still fab now with a new line-up) really rolled back the years with the likes of ‘L.A. Woman','Break On Through' and ‘Riders On The Storm' with all the Morrison moves.
Yet another fab support in Voodoo Vegas, the third time I had seen this top rock and roll band from Bournemouth in action and once again I found myself backstage thanks to these guys, taking shots of them in and around the venues famous touring caravan that I believe was used in the past by country artist Tammy Wynett.
Voodoo Vegas also invited myself Julie and our doggie at the time Buster later that year to join them at the legendary Rockfield studio in Wales during the recording of their debut album, where I sat at the very piano used during Queens recording of Bohemian Rhapsody and looked through the guest book signed by the like of Oasis, Sabbath and so many greats.
Fish - 2013
2013 and now getting my passes curtesy of The Classic Rock Society.
An artist I had seen many times both at this venue and many others, this one was something special though with an excellent new critically album A Feast Of Consequences recently released and here brought to life by stirring performances and back screen projections by artist Mark Wilkinson.
The epic, multi-section, beating heart of the new album 'High Wood' was represented by three parts of this truly amazing piece of music introduced as he sat on the lip of the stage by a spell binding World War One based monologue, simply amazing as well as very moving.
The Marillion fans in attendance were not forgotten with the likes of ‘Assassing', 'Freaks' and a real surprise with ‘White Feather'.
Uriah Heep - 2015
For some reason Uriah Heep are one of the few classic British rock bands I had previously missed in the live setting, plenty of golden oldies in the set including with a huge roar from the audience ‘The Magician's Birthday' and ‘Stealin' along with more recent material and also great to see the see the bands original guitarist Mick Box in action.
Only disappointment was being a Sunday night gig I had to miss the encore getting the last train home as living in Hatton by this time.
LIVE/WIRE - 2016
Always try and catch these boys when they are in town, in fact one of my first shows with my DSLR was the bands show in St Ives in Cornwall in 2008 while on holiday and since then they usual invite me personally when they in Leamington.
One of the few tribute bands for me who give The Doors Alive a run for their money in the tribute band game they really do put on the AC/DC experience along with bells, cannons and school uniforms.
With two singers one portraying Bonn Scott and the other Brian Johnson you really get the best of both worlds, the early years classics including ‘Shot Down In Flames' and ‘Sin City' and the Johnson years with the likes of ‘Shoot to Thrill', and ‘Rock n Roll Train'.
There it just a few of my standout Leamington Assembly gigs, have loads more have not even mentioned Marillion, Mostly Autumn or Dr. Feelgood yet.
Maybe a Part 2 to come.
The photos represent all of these memories and many are unpublished.
I do hope you enjoyed the Stone Bear song "Bring A Little Love" which appeared on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume One'? Now Jeff Dennis (drums) and David John (guitar & vocals) after a busy time, playing festivals in the summer & Jeff becoming a father, they have a new record (available on Spotify), "Train", paired with "Long Gone"
Over the last year, their music has to some extent explored a more acoustic & intimate style than previously. "Train" fits into this trend, at least in terms of instrumentation. The raw power of their work which is their calling card & the core of their appeal to audiences & respect among their peers remains as potent as ever.
Another of their many songs with a definite pre-war blues feel & another which emulates & could snugly fit within the repertoire of the great pioneers of the form, the song as always features great playing, both in terms of technique & an authentic feel, with that hallmark of good musicians of sounding simple while being far from it. Add to that their performance commitment & you have a great, timeless, song which will fit really well into their live set & enhance their standing still further.
Its companion piece, "Long Gone" showcases David's superb slide playing in this brooding & powerful song. In this one, not only does it sound like it was written in 1920 but David sounds like he has been tramping the highway & riding the rails for the intervening period or its equivalent: he really conveys the sense of burden & endurance thereof.
Here's something I've never before done: I'm going to add to a review mention of another track not on the record under examination: another new one which Stone Bear had played on BBC Introducing in Coventry & Warwickshire last week: "Blues in A minor" which certainly lives up to its name but differs in sound from either of the above tunes, being in much more of a post-war, urban style, smoother & electric with a prominent swinging bassline in addition to voice, guitar & drums.
I'm assuming that from the evidence of these three songs, the Stone Bear concerts I've attended in recent months & conversations with them that the indications for their musical direction for the time being is a little away from the searing Howlin' Wolf type material towards various aspects of more laid back blues, whether it be via switching to acoustic or by a greater emphasis on swing. However some things do not seem likely to change: the musicianship, the integrity & the commitment.
A SonicPR promotion ...
Merging a fevered imagination and solid songwriting with a mad scientist's brain for weird gadgets, true one-off American singer THOMAS TRUAX has confirmed a run of UK live shows throughout March and April for his ‘New Music Machines' tour.
Described by UNCUT magazine as "shaping up nicely as one of the great rock eccentrics" while Splendid magazine called him "one of the five or ten best singer/songwriters in the world that you've never heard of...an exceptional talent.", he is also known for his unique self-made instruments including a motorized drum machine made of bike wheels, spoons and other found items called 'Mother Superior' and a souped up Gramophone called 'The Hornicator'
After riding the album/tour/album/tour cycle perpetually over nearly two decades with these ‘band mates', Thomas decided it was due time to dedicate himself to expanding the menagerie with some new musical contraptions.
Bolstered by his Bandcamp supporters and some Arts Council England funding, he devoted much of last year to dreaming up and building these special new musical inventions which, alongside his familiar friends, will be previewed on this tour.
Notable Truax supporters and collaborators include Jarvis Cocker, Duke Special, Gemma Ray, Richard Hawley, Amanda Palmer, Brian Viglione (Dresden Dolls/Violent Femmes) Bob Log III and the late author Terry Pratchett.
Most recently drummer Budgie (of Siouxsie and the Banshees/Creatures/Slits) collaborated with Thomas in Berlin on some new tracks, with a single set to be released in conjunction with the tour.
THOMAS TRUAX - NEW MUSIC MACHINES UK TOUR 2020
"Endlessly inventive and creative… A show not to be missed!" - Oxford Times
"His gigs are extraordinary, fizzing with showmanship." - Q
"When he performs, it is a spectacle - the originality and seeming impossibility of what he does is much of the appeal." -The Guardian
When recently I reviewed no fewer than three Daffod'i'll albums in one fell swoop in a catch up exercise, if you looked at the photos you'd notice both that Dill numbers each album & that I had not included number 7.
Well here then is my review of his seventh solo album, namely 2019's ‘Sky Blue Pink' (not to be confused with his eighth, ‘Pink Blue Sky' which I did review last time). I'm glad to be doing it this way as obviously four in one go would have asked a lot of me as a writer & you as a reader but also because ‘Sky Blue Pink' deserves to stand alone in the spotlight.
As with his other work under the "Daffod'i'll" banner, this album is totally idiosyncratic for the reasons outlined in my other reviews. Stylistic comparisons may well be made (I know I do this in trying to describe the songs to you) but really they defy rational comparisons.
It's all here again: humour, spirituality, word play, humanity, massed & varying voices and a general danceability. The only regular feature not present is a bit of dub.
I thought opener "MASS , Everything OK" is one of the strongest lead tracks in this series of records: poppy, catchy & caring in its lyrics with the vocal overlaying present but not as overwhelming as can be the case on some of Dill's other arrangements: definitely one of the most commercial of his songs.
"Jump" which follows it is again fairly uncluttered & its spiritual message is set against a pleasing backing with both rock & dance elements. On the other hand, "1 2wo 3hree 4our" is somewhat denser in sound with words tripping over each other playfully over a more synthetic beat: the former might be enjoyed for meaning but the latter leaves a more impressionistic imprint.
"Flowers" is a good example of why I believe this to be one of Dill's strongest albums as it's one of his best solo tracks. A prowling exotic song (it reminded me slightly of Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk") again it benefits from a clear central vocal & is embellished attractively with interesting instrumental passages.
"Work" is another strong & distinctive song: funk based with another good & clear vocal. A good example of Dill's enduring interest in dance musical forms. Next up is "Small , Tall , All." which to my ears forms something of a trilogy with "Love Is.." which appeared on this album's predecessor ‘Purrrfection' and "Love Is All" on its successor ‘Pink Blue Sky', being meditations on the nature & scope of love.
"Love Ever After" is a gentle further set of similar thoughts leading into a very distinctive Dillsong namely "Scotland The Rave" wherein we get a whole host of his characteristic tropes: punning lyrics set over a very retro synth sound & heavily treated vocals. That however is more than matched for originality by the following song "Who Ray?" (yes it's a pun) which can best be described as what might have happened had Giorgio Moroder decided to set "What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor" to one of his trademark electro disco beats. Words alone can't do justice to this example of Dill's commitment to humour in music.
"Stick Your Head Where The Sun Don't Shine" on the face of it sounds very unlike Dill whose philosophy is usually wholly positive: but don't worry: it's not an insult as much as his reflections on people who bury their heads in life's sand.
"AKA Pop" is another piece of evidence for why I think this is perhaps his best record: something of an echo of his pop sensibilities of his early career, again, it's one of his strongest individual songs.
Album closer "Hey Wedding Day" follows the precedent of earlier albums in setting religious texts partially or wholly to music: in this case a verse from Genesis leads off a gentle song about marriage.
As I said, "Sky Blue Pink" deserved a review to itself & I'm glad it has ended up having one.
Read more articles in the magazine.