I have the first details of my photo exhibition taking place in Leamington Spa this autumn and hope some of you will put it in your diary and there will be more details later.
Wednesday 17TH October
7pm until 10-30pm
VENUE (and big thanks to them for the use of the room)
The Upstairs Function Room
The Oak House Sports and Social Club
87 Upper Holly Walk
All proceeds will be spilt 50/50 between
Zoe's Place Baby Hospice - Who have a branch in Coventry.
The Cinnamon Trust - The National Charity for the elderly, the terminally ill and their pets.
My exhibition has been kindly sponsored by Leamington Spa company (and my work place) Presto Classical.
My exhibition which will be free entry will consist of prints covering my favourite images from my years of music photography along with a slide show of those that just missed the cut, and will be mostly local to this area (Leamington Spa) and many will be previously unpublished.
I will also have live acoustic music provided by a couple of my local musician friends - news to follow and there will be a bar in the room.
To raise money for the good causes all exhibited prints will be available for purchase on the night along with possibly a few more images with all proceeds to the charities and there will also be a raffle which will hopefully include signed items be some of the artists in the exhibition and other prizes - again more info to follow.
Hope some of you will come along and I am very much looking forward to celebrating my 10 plus years of gig photography and raising money for two great charities.
Another very proud moment for the team at "Alternative Sounds" who can now announce the tracklisting for Volume 2 of "Alternative Sounds": more of the cream of Coventry & Warwickshire music, past, present & future.
Wild Boys; "We're Only Monsters"
We Are A Communist "The Silent Bugler"
The Flys "Program"
Mysterious Monks "First Call At Dawn"
I "I Am I"
Digital Dinosaurs "The Sideways Man"
ENGRAM "Karl Marx"
Resurrection Men "Regular Parrot"
Tracey Skarzynska "She-Devil-She-Machine"
Johnny Wild and the City Centre Shakers "What Could I Do Now?"
Warriors of the Dystotheque "We're Taking Control" (featuring Pop Will Eat Itself)
Blush "Seven Years"
Stress "Elizabeth Selwyn"
Stavely Makepeace "I Want You Want Love"
Polly Bolton "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"
Rod Felton "Take Me Away"
King of the Alps "You Smile"
Keith Fabrique & the Missing Links "Inside Looking Out"
Courtiers of Fashion "Courtiers of Fashion"
Morocco Dave "You May Not Be the Coolest Person Here"
Pre-orders of the album are now being taken at
with a free download of the Wild Boys track at:
We are also proud to dedicate "Volume Two" to the memory of Rod Felton (24th August 1942 - 26th March 2014) and John Millar Thomson (14th January 1959 – 15th October 2013) ("Johnny Wild Boy")
As a taster to the extremely imminent release of "Alternative Sounds: Volume Two", the latest compilation showcasing "the cream of Coventry & Warwickshire music, past, present & future", the team are releasing a free taster download of one of the tracks, "We're Only Monsters" by the Wild Boys, written by Roddy "Radiation" Byers whose band it originally was before he joined the Specials. The lead singer on this track is the late Johnny "Wild Boy" Thomson, to whom "Volume Two" is co-dedicated.
You can download the track at:
In the words of "Alternative Sounds" creator & producer, Martin Bowes who mastered & compiled the album & its predecessors in his studio The Cage:
"The first time I ever sang on stage... if you can call it that... a while before ATTRITION was born... was at my 21st birthday party, at the old Hope n Anchor pub in Coventry in 1979... I had local punk band The Wild Boys play that night... their single at the time was "We're only Monsters" (written by The Specials' Roddy Radiation)... I got up on stage and sang "We're only Martin's"... I was very drunk... :)"
Years ago, I am not sure I could imagine myself reviewing a concept album. I guess the concept of a concept album has been around a long time (presumably "A Love Supreme" must be one) and of course when pop music evolved into rock then bands looking for the next step "forward" produced some great ones. It was the subsequent descent into pomposity & pretension that rather sullied the expression for many people though: myself included.
However in recent years, Coventry & Warwickshire can hold its head up high in terms of some excellent concept albums: even if that's not always the terms the artists themselves use: sets like "Millions of the Mouthless Dead" & "All Mine Enemy's Whispers" by ATTRITION, "12 Songs" by Two Giraffes & Kel Elliott & Her Three Man Orchestra's album of songs around Chedham's Yard in Wellesbourne are superb examples of suites of songs around a theme & I defy anyone to criticise them in my hearing.
The latest in this respect is Chalk Drawings' album "Grand Union": a narrative set of songs released just before Christmas, telling the story of two individuals & their relationship. The album title works on several levels: there is a title song but in the song "Exquisite Night", reference is made to a bar in Leamington of that name (which did in recent years actually exist, it was a good music venue too but no longer exists under that name: it's now Apehangers under Procaffeinate) which of course in turn takes its name from the famous canal, yet I imagine the main reference in the title is to that of the bond between central couple.
The band consists of Simon Dagger (vocals & guitar) Rob Lewis (bass) and Kev Stanley (drums) with associate keyboards player Russ Tovey and "Grand Union" was mixed by Nick Mew at Chicken Shed Records
In a tale wending its way from 1939 to 1975, the narrative arc encompasses war, love, ecstasy, separation, reunion, marriage, parenthood, loss & redemption in ten songs plus a partial reprise of the title song.
Obviously within this, the story ebbs & flows with finer detail which is impressive. It's a sort of musical version of Proust or "Dance to the Music of Time" I suppose, albeit on a more intimate scale: indeed like the latter, the imagery of a turning wheel (of life) is central.. That scale seems to determine the musical setting which is appropriate to such a narrative. The instrumental arrangement is tasteful, subdued & is more of a setting to the lyrics than overwhelming them (and overblown arrangements were part of what gave the "concept album" a bad name in the 1970s: that & pretentious lyrics, which these certainly aren't: instead they are elegiac & elegant with a sense of restraint: probably echoing the culture in which "Alfred" & "Millie" were supposed to have lived, when expressing emotions through the "less is more" approach). I can see why Chalk Drawings & Blind Faith enjoy working together as both seem to share a belief in avoiding over fussy arrangements & letting clarity prevail, with plenty of the space in songs which I prefer & which encourages dynamics to thrive. Since the quality of singing & playing is excellent on "Grand Union", there is no need for layering on extraneous embellishments & the material is all the better for this. Yes, the arrangements are discreet, but this firstly allows the variety of tone, which keeps the album interesting & engaging, to emerge simply through musicianship & not production & secondly is a better reflection of the story being told. In fact as the action shifts from fairground to POW camp, to dance hall to home to cemetery (with plenty of other stops along the way), the musical action shifts accordingly with folk, jazz, swing, soul, rock, blues & even music hall tinges.
At this point in a review, I expect normally to move into a look at standout tracks. However I find this quite difficult on this occasion: firstly because all the tracks sound equally good to me & secondly because I wonder if I should single individual tracks out from the wider context of a complete & unified set (I know Pink Floyd get upset about this sort of thing too). I am sure each one on "Grand Union" could stand on its own merits, but they do work well interacting as intended. That said, the band have produced a video for a single track, "Rag & Bone (you can view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nG1i6O0UgQ&feature=youtu.be). Also, I'm stuck with making some sort of a choice as Chalk Drawings have kindly allowed "Alternative Sounds" to use one of the tracks on a forthcoming volume of the cream of Coventry & Warwickshire music, past, present & future. Certainly "Rag & Bone" is a very catchy track: perhaps at the more upbeat end of the spectrum on the album, (along with "Ain't Nobody" in that respect) but then the title track is central to the album's whole being: in terms of narrative, imagery & also its emotional tone."Last Letter" and "Exquisite Night" offer the more heartrending end of the scale. But as I say: there is only one real way to get the most out of the record: play it all & play it in the right order. Then play it again as I did.
One of our very best local blues men Laurence Jones is back on home turf this May when he performs at The Zephyr Lounge on Friday 4th in conjunction with Planet Rock (a fine radio station and magazine it is by the way) and it is a sign of how well he is doing that they are on board.
He is sure to treat us to a selection from his recently released (would you believe it!) 5th studio album The Truth as well as fan favourites from his rapidly growing back catalogue.
Last year at the same venue he was simply stunning and he also supported Kenny Wayne Sheperd later in 2017 at The Assembly (unfortunately I was unable to charm my way into covering that one!) and I love it that he regularly continues to include local shows in his gig schedule and long may this continue.
For those of you that have seen this amazing guitarist/vocalist and his band in action I am preaching to the converted but for those that have not had the Laurence Jones live experience treat yourself to a night of top quality modern blues from one of the stars of the genre, and yes for me he is still getting better all the time.
The photos above are a few of my unpublished shots from that amazing Zephyr Lounge gig last year and I have kept back what I think are a couple of crackers for my exhibition this year.
***Coming this autumn in Leamington Spa - an exhibition covering my 10 years of gig photography (more info soon)***
It is good, so soon after reviewing a live Blind Faith performance when I saw them collaborating with Chalk Drawings at APE Promotions' "Surreal Deal" at the Zephyr Lounge, to be a position to review their forthcoming debut EP, "I've Waited"
This band is in fact a duo: Faith Meades on vocals & John Garrett on keyboards: I imagine they are used to enquiries about Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood & co, but since the latter don't use the name anymore.....
Consisting of three original songs ("I've Waited", "Holly May" & "Stay") plus a cover of Sara Bareilles' 2004 track "Gravity", what strikes me straight away is how they play to their strengths: when you have a vocalist this talented & a pianist of this calibre, why muddy the water with too many extra elements of arrangements? Yes, the extra instruments of the Chalk Drawings gig brought out additional textures & I'm sure in the future they may well experiment effectively along these lines, but for now thank goodness they have had the confidence not to over produce & to set out their very considerable stall with clarity, focus & consequent impact. Only "Stay", which features additional (male) vocals and some tastefully light snare drumming departs from the essential template of voice & piano. As a statement of intent & calling card for a career it works extremely well.
The songs are as beautifully written as they are performed with intelligent & evocative lyrics set to emotionally appropriate melodies. It's good to hear that the art of lyric writing is still alive & thriving in some quarters. Much as I do appreciate the impact of dance music on wider songwriting, I do sometimes roll my eyes when I hear good performers sing good songs but which are over dominated (in my opinion) by excessive repetition of hooks & which ultimately leave me wondering what the piece is about. No danger of that with Blind Faith: the words & intent are as clear and lucid as their delivery.
By sheer coincidence, as I was playing the EP for the first time, I was contacted by Neil Wilkes who hosts the Coventry Culture Show on Touch FM & I couldn't help but share the title track with him. His response? "Her voice is amazing. She needs to be out there! She's brilliant- so crisp!!". I think we can anticipate Blind Faith on the Coventry Culture Show after that endorsement... And I look forward to hearing this material live too.
Ansty is a village and civil parish in Warwickshire and was part of the County of the City of Coventry until that county was dissolved in 1842. It is notable for another thing now, it is the home every Monday night to Tierra Buena a band whose style is New Orleans Jazz. They perform at the Ansty Club in Grove Road CV7 9JD. Traditional New Orleans jazz is alive and well in Warwickshire.
This is no ordinary jazz band because the core of the band, Brian Bates, (Cornet and Vocals), Brian "Watty" Wathen (Trombone and Vocals) and Dave Wagstaff (Banjo and Guitar) are the same three fellas who formed the band sixty years ago in 1958! Other personnel include Dave "Spud" Taylor, (Clarinet and Tenor Sax), Al Sharp on Drums and John McIntosh on double bass. On this occasion, Dave Wagstaff was indisposed so sitting in was multi-instrumentalist Ian Parry, playing banjo and guitar.
On Easter Monday 2nd April, they opened their account with "Eyes of Texas" one of over six hundred (600) songs and tunes in their repertoire. You name it they can play it. Their years of playing together shows in their mutual understanding of what each of them is going to do next. As is often the case, each of the front line take solos during the numbers and during Louis Armstrong's "Papa Dip," Watty gave a good impression of Trummy Young in the trombone solo. I don't think I have seen a musician enjoying playing his music as much as Watty appears to do. His delight is infectious and the audience warmed to him and his style. Al Sharp drives the beat along nicely and seemingly with the effort commensurate with several decades behind the skins.
Doubling on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Dave Taylor makes his hard work appear so effortless, especially when called upon to play the reed part of (say) "High Society." This was one of a few requests from the audience with which the band happily complied. There were some numbers in the set, (each of which seemed to be the subject of a few second's discussion between the players), which I had not heard before. One such was "I Saw Stars" in which Brian Bates took the vocal before allowing Ian Parry to take a lengthy guitar solo. There was no hint that he was not a regular member of the band in the way that he fitted in. Incidentally he had driven up from his home in West London to take part, having been playing elsewhere in Coventry the previous day. There's dedication for you.
The numbers that the band played are too many to list here, but some simply have to be noted. "Seems Like Old Times" (being here with you) was played in a pleasing swing style, again with vocals from Brian and guitar solo from Ian, before each of the front line took superb solos. Watty took the vocal in a lively rendition of Clarence William's "Cake Walking Babies". Brian Bates on cornet is inventive with his solos, I am sure that I heard a cameo appearance of Rondo al a Turk during "Every body Loves My Baby" but it seems to come so naturally that I am not sure he realised it himself. They do not always restrict themselves to the standard jazz four beats in a bar, for example "Go Down To New Orleans" was played with a Latin beat and each of Spud, Brian and Watty variously played the maracas whilst the others were delighting us with their instrumentals.
Brian donned a Willie Nelson style headband for "Crazy" and then led the band into a super active version of "Stevedore Stomp" to close the show.
It was a super night and for only £5 admission with drinks at club prices, it was a bargain. I had no idea that this was a regular event on every Monday evening commencing 8.00pm. I heard of it only through a casual conversation with bass player John McIntosh. This needs to be publicised more because there must be many jazz fans in Coventry and the surrounding area who would be delighted to attend. Even if you are not a jazz fan, if you know someone who is, tell them about it and come along with them to give it a try. You will probably find me there now I know about this musical gem of a night.
Five against one sounds like risky odds. Nonetheless, in the service of boogie and armed with nothing more than a well-sharpened pencil, I venture into the old Coffee Tavern to hang out with the full lineup of local rock heroes, Blues Extra.
"What's that name all about?", I want to know. It turns out that the guys started out as a strictly blues outfit but soon realised that their audiences were looking for a broader repertoire. As bassist Terry Villars, puts it, "We wanted to do blues and suddenly realised that if you played twelve-bars all night it would be a bit challenging for the audience so we threw some other rock stuff in a bit of extra. So that's how it came about." So the set list evolved to include blues-based rock from Hendrix's Red House to Zeppelin's Rock and Roll together with Prince's Purple Rain. "Prince is a blues-rocker?", I ask innocently. Drummer Tony Ashpool picks this one up, "We tried to do things that were more blues-oriented originally. But we got rockier and poppier rock over time. It's a real mixture."
"So on a scale from Robert Johnson to Gary Moore…", I wonder. "Towards the Gary Moore side, definitely!" they answer, on a scale from 1 to 10, it's an 8." "We've never played any delta blues" says multi-instrumentalist Tony Freeman thoughtfully while Terry recalls that they do cover Howling Wolf's, Smokestack Lightning.
"So it's more about a modern rockier treatment of the blues than a deeply authentic rootsy interpretation?", I speculate. "We'll do more 70's pop stuff like Radar Love as well, Golden Earring. Not blues at all but it's a great song and goes down well. People like the old favourites", says lead guitarist Louis Ballestrini, "But I think I'm stuck in the 60's and 70's; I don't know about the rest of the band." "That's because you're much older than we are!", Terry comments, adding, "70's definitely, perhaps a bit of 60's as well."
How about influences? Well, Jimi Hendrix is certainly a contender here. Louis confesses, "Hendrix was the first guitarist where I thought, ‘My God what's happening?' That was Electric Ladyland back in 69 when I was 15. I thought one day I'm going to play something like that - it's taken me 40 odd years and I still haven't sorted it out." But Terry comes to the rescue here, "He's putting himself down, he's very good at Hendrix." Similar classic rock influences include Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and AC/DC together with many of the old blues greats and modern blues rock outfits such as King King and Joe Bonamassa. Tony F is reluctant to name his favourites: after recent gigs to see BB King, Gary Moore and Oscar Peterson, he feels increasingly like a subcontractor for the grim reaper. Rounding out this bluesy vibe, Tony A brings an attachment to funk, soul, ska and two-tone together with a taste for Spaghetti Westerns.
We get talking about the local blues and rock scene and I wonder what makes Blues Extra so popular. "We've got a range of instruments, Tony plays keyboards, harmonica and good jazz guitar, that helps a lot. Lead guitar, bass and drums and the keyboard really does fill things out." "So it's a rounder sound?", I suggest. "Yes, and three of us can harmonise", adds Tony F. "We put our own spin on things occasionally, make it our own", Terry adds. I ask for some examples. "We deconstructed Joe Bonamassa's Dust Bowl", says Tony F with a grin. "Destroyed it really", Louis interjects before Tony picks up the thread again, "We turned it into a Sergio Leone Western masterpiece. Goes down well; on a good night you can spot at least 3 film references."
"And you have a new singer?", I ask. Terry answers, "We've got a new vocalist, Luca Rusnighi. We wanted a good front person, someone who was really going to go for it and Luca does doesn't he. He's fantastic." "It's given us a new lease of life", adds Tony A, "He's just much more of a front man for the band, rather than somebody who just sings with the rest of the group." "And he tells us when to stop!!", adds Louis, "When he puts his hands up in the air, I know I've got to stop my solo which can go on for about 15 minutes if everyone lets me. He's like a bandleader as much as a singer .. which is good … he's a good singer too, good songwriter ... he's Italian - I'm half Italian, he's from Milan, I'm from Margate."
A moment later, Luca arrives and we get talking about his vocal style. "We're very much influenced by British Blues, very electrified,not very traditional … it was always the blueprint of the band. For the type of singer I am, I don't have a voice that really suits the original blues singers." How would he describe his voice? "It's like Robert Plant, it's high!" "Luca used to be in a Zeppelin tribute band" adds Terry, "It's high and powerful - he can belt it out."
I ask the guys which venues they are playing these days. "Mostly pubs, festivals and beer festivals like Hook Norton" says Terry, "We always get invited back. We've not done a gig recently that we've not been invited back to. That's always good. - and they tend to pay us more the second time. Lots of pubs in Rugby and Warwick, like the Punchbowl and the Squirrel. Quite a few new ones this year. And we've just been approached by Leamington Beer festival." The Antelope in Warwick is a favourite spot,"It's intimate but it has energy". As for the notoriously petite ‘stage' at the Squirrel, Luca reports, "I have to be careful because I hit the ceiling with my head."
The conversation turns to the constant hassle of finding gigs. The band's view is that in some ways the scene is healthy with plenty of places putting on blues and rock acts. On the other hand, fees are generally much lower than they used to be. "The money was better 10 years ago", says Luca, "But there are a lot more places doing it. If you had to do it for the money, I don't think you would do it. People say, you book a gig, it's a couple of hours, but you have to bring your own equipment, you have to drive, the effort of learning songs, getting together, …. it's a lot of work for the financial return that you get." It's also very competitive and many pubs now need a demo or YouTube performance and tend to book up months ahead. "We can't book you in this year, it's only bloody February - I like it more spontaneous."
I suggest that in spite of these challenges, Blues Extra are rather successful at getting work in a climate many acts find difficult. It sounds like the trick is to build a following. As Terry puts it "We're getting a reputation and that's good - loads of Facebook likes. We've got hardcore fans. Sometimes we'll do an encore for 15-20 minutes and they're still wanting more - which is fantastic. The Punch Bowl was the perfect example, it was hard to get in there as you know.The first one was for a reduced price. They liked us and booked us for four more gigs. This year we've got four gigs again. We get in somewhere, they keep rebooking us."
I wonder who else the guys rate on the local scene. The answers are maybe surprising covering The Last Minute, HunkyDavy, Shanade, Jabba Cartel, The Peas together with the Sam Powell Blues Band.
Waving my now blunt pencil in the air I wrap things up by asking the band whether they're driven by money, reputation or fun. The answer is unanimous. "Fun. You've got to enjoy it!"
...What do local folk musicians do on their night off? They turn up at a Sly Old Dogs & Friends gig, sit in a (sort of) circle and entertain each ...
...In 2008, a young man with a passion for theatre started his own acting project, although he had produced and directed a play at school when he was ...
...What on earth do you expect from a debut album from a band comprising (a) a drummer from various acclaimed local bands who now plays guitar (b) the ...
...I've said it before, but it bears repeating that the APE nights promoted by Johnny Satsangi represent the best musical value for money around.
...It is a real privilege & pleasure to be able to review the new EP by Ross Darby entitled "Down the Rabbit Holes" which will be released on Friday ...
...Live and loud, full of action, hilariously funny but containing a surprising amount of pathos, the Interesting Theatre production of Sister Act is a ...
...This was something of a coup for Jonny Roden's "Tunehouse at the Townhouse" night: a really interesting specialist musician from Charleston, ...
...A Sonic PR promotion .
...A Sonic PR promotion .
...I was reviewing this show for The Classic Rock Society Magazine and wanted to share with you a few of my photos and say a few words about this fab ...
...A Sonic PR promotion .
...We're lucky to have many active music venues in our area.
...Currently touring their latest album, Look Both Ways, Warwickshire's own Steamchicken took a day off from the trail of pubs, bars and ...
...Due to the bad weather tonights (2nd March) gig by the Bon Jovi Experience at The Zephyr Lounge in Leamington Spa has been cancelled but the good ...
...Readers may well (I hope) remember from an earlier review, my enthusiasm for the live act of Stone Bear.
...Fearlessly challenging the boundaries of community journalism, I'm chatting to Paul Swanson while being hassled round ...
...Lorna Dea has taken over hosting the Big Help Music Showcases at The Fusilier In Leamington and The Bear in Rugby.
...A whole lot of great news just in from Ross Darby I'd like to share with you.
...It's Friday 2nd Feb 2018 and we're off to see The Howl & The Hum at The Tin .
...As part of the Valentine Day celebrations The George Inn at Lower Brailes hosted local band Elastic to entertain the crowds enjoying the warmth from ...
...Somewhere in the indeterminate zone between a gig and a jam session, Deja Vu and friends featured a brace of energetic Dejas, Midweeks and ...
...Latest in well established series of house concert in the Warwickshire village of Princethorpe, tickets for these shows are usually reserved limited ...
...Chic setting of Cafe, Bistro, Bar & Cakery (table reservations essential for dining) receives music makeover for one night a month (first ...
...First live music of the year for me took place at The Oak House (formally The liberal Club for us oldies) and was a night of classic rock by a band ...
...The Jolly Abbot, in the Abbotts Farm area of Rugby is a pub that is going through a renaissance and rebuilding it's reputation after a low ...
...GEORGIETO RELEASE NEW EP - IMPACTS 16th FEBSUPPORTING JAKE BUGG ACROSS UK & EUMansfield troubadour GEORGIE has announced her new three track EP ...
...REDFACESNEW SINGLE ‘MESSED UP' RELEASED FEB 23RDUK TOUR DATES IN FEBRUARY"Another brilliant band from Sheffield" – Huw Stephens"These are ...