Friday, 10 February 2012

Five Double Live Classics

Status Quo - 'Live!' (1977)
Recorded over three nights in October 1976 and the Glasgow Apollo, this gem probably marks the high point of Status Quo's career before they began the long slide into becoming a cheesy parody of the band they used to be. This is Quo at their heaviest and purest. Tracks like Roll Over Lay Down, Backwater, Big Fat Mama and especially Is There A Better Way roll from the speakers like boogie powered steam rollers and just lay waste to everything in their path. But the twin highlights have to be the extended versions of Forty-Five Hundred Times and Roadhouse Blues (the old Doors number, first covered by Quo on the Piledriver album), both of which turn into extended jams that show just what good players the band in fact were.

Crash Street Kids - 'Live From The Waist Down (2010)
With the concept trilogy of The Supersonic Star Show completed, what better way for Arizona glam focused retro rockers Crash Street Kids to celebrate than to record and release a good old fashion double live album. Recorded in a small club in their home town in front of a fanatically loyal crowd over two nights, this album is a live document that stands up their with the best of them. With a set drawn from right across the preceding three studio albums, Live From The Waist Down shows just what a classic rock band in the making CSK are, from the opener - C'mon C'mon C'mon to the closing chords of Penthouse, the band take a listener on a thrill ride of rock and roll excellence that really does make you feel like your there in the crowd. And with cuts like Cigerettes and Star Fuckers, Space Rock time Bomb, The Kids On Dope, Mandy and The Leapers and a storming cover of the Mott the Hoople classic All The Young Dudes on offer, and presented in their rawest and striped down form, full of the pure joy of glam rock enthusiasm your left asking just one question. 'Why the hell aint this band better known'

REO Speedwagon - 'Live: You Get What You Play For' (1977)
 Although some people, especially in the UK, may find it hard to believe, before MTV and the power ballad hits, REO Speedwagon were a damn fine hard edged rock and roll band. This double live set, recorded in various Mid West venues on the band 1976 US tour proves the point in fine style, there's not a cheesy power ballad in sight as the REO boys layout a solid hard rocking set which includes rock and roll classics like Son Of A Poor Man, Lay Me Down, Riding The Storm Out and their break through US single Keep Pushin'. But to me the true highlights are the guitar and vocal interplay on 157 Riverside Avenue and a cracking version of the Chuck Berry classic Little Queenie

Demon - 'One Helluva Night: Live In Germany' - (1990)
 NWOBHM outfit Demon may not be a household name, but as a cult draw on the underground scene, especially in Germany they have few equals. So its hardly surprising that when they decided to release a live album, they recorded it in Germany. This album is basically a full set recorded at The Rockfabrik in Ludwigsburg at the tail end of the band 'Taking The World By Storm' tour in 1989. Demon as a live animal is a slightly different beast from their by then slick progressive metal style of their later studio output, live they reverted to the old school NWOBHM sound of their first two albums, but it still works fine. Whilst tracks like Life Brigade, Living In The Shadows and Life On The Wire do loose some of the studio majesty, they are instead fitted with a new pair of bollocks and are reformed in a fire of glorious angry politically aware metal attitude. Throw in a couple of quieter spine tingling moments like the wonderful Remembrance Day and a load of uptempo rebel rousing classics such as One Helluva Night, Wonderland and Night Of The Demon and you've got a live document that should be owned and cherished by metal fans everywhere.

Hawkwind - 'This Is Hawkwind - Do Not Panic' (1984)
Not so much a double live album, this classic from space rock gods Hawkwind is in fact an archive live set recorded in 1980 at the Lewisham Odeon on the bands Levitation tour coupled with a 12" single recorded at the 1984 Stonehenge free festival. Both sections of this one are well worth a listen. The Lewisham tracks are note worthy for the fact Ginger Baker is the drummist on show and include a storming high energy versions of Psi Power and Shot Down In The Night and a rendition of Angel of Death that by contrast is slowed down to a glorious spaced out sleaze. Of the two Stonehenge tracks Stonehenge Decoded is a tripped out acid improvisation which show a side of the Hawks that had been often neglected since the early 70's, and Watching The Grass Grow is a classic number from Nik Turners Inner City Unit (with Mr Turner guesting) given the Hawkwind treatment. Over all a pretty damn good record.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Five Hawks Doing Their Own Thing

Dave Brock & The Agents Of Chaos - 'Agents Of Chaos' (1987)
This is Dave Brocks second solo album and is an interesting little find as it seams to lay out the foundations for the electronica path the Hawks were to follow following the departure of Huw Lloydd Langton and Harvey Bainbridge. Tracks like Hi-Tech Cities are deliciously bleak soundscapes and a couple of numbers, Heads and Wastelands of Sleep were later to surface on the Hawks Xenon Codex album, but here they are sparser stripped down versions that make for enlightening if somewhat uneasy listening. However this is still a good record and is a good insight into Mr Brocks songwriting genius. 

Robert Calvert - 'Hype' (1981)
The third solo album from Robert Calvert isn't his best known, but it is arguably the most rounded and musically complete. Released to tie in with Calvert's novel of the same name, Hype is devoid of all the standard Hawkwind-u-like psychedelia, instead exploring a dark almost new wave direction. Featuring, amongst others, tracks like the dark and paranoid Flight 105, the strangely touching The Green Fly And The Rose, the delightfully atmospheric The Luminous Green Glow Of The Dials Of The Dashboard (At Night) and the jagged riffing of the almost hit single Lord Of The Hornets; this is the album that showcases Calverts incredible songwriting skills and distinctive vocal talent best. Take in some tasty guest performances from fellow Hawk Nik Turner and novelist Michael Moorcock and you have a real classic that everyone should check out.

Huw Lloyd Langton Group - 'Time Space and LLG' (1988)
This is the third official album from the Huw Lloyd Langton Group, and the first since Mr Langtons departure from Hawkwind. Featuring a rich blend of blues, hard rock and psyche rock - all delivered with a striped down punk style and attitude this is in my mind perhaps the strongest of the early LLG albums. High points include the driving grind of Work of Art, the shiver inducing Market of Death, and the Hawkesque City Of The Future. This album is also noteworthy for it's deep and challenging lyrics penned by Huws wife Marion.

Steve Swindles - 'Fresh Blood' (1980)
Ipswich born, but Bristol bred, Steve Swindles wasn't a hawk for that long, only appearing on the 25 Years On album (although he does contribute to several retrospective archive releases - most noticeably The Weird Tapes series), but in that time he did pen one of their best loved tracks, Shot Down in The Night. After leaving the band he released this, his second and surprisingly final solo album (although several 'lost' albums are due to be re-issued). Featuring fellow hawks Huw Lloyd Langton and Simon King along with Van der Graaf Generator bass man Nic Potter this album is a bit of a gem. Blending the late 70's Hawks sound with a harder more punk/new wave edge, it contains not only a striped down and raw to the bone version of Shot Down In The Night, and a couple of corkers Bitter And Twisted and Don't Wait On The Stairs which would later turn up covered on Roger Daltry albums, but a host of other rather groovy cuts like the deliciously dark Low Life Joe and the edgy and angry Figures of Authority. Definitely an album that should be better known.

Harvey Bainbridge - 'Red Shift' (1996)
After leaving the Hawks, and doing a stint in the Alman Mulo Band, Harvey Bainbridge issued a couple of interesting solo records of which this in my mind is the stand out. Featuring tracks like the wonderfully titled And He Smoked His Pipe and Talked to Them Till the Last Whiff and Then his Head Disappeared in a Cloud, this is a wonderful adventure into very trippy, instrumental psyche prog. Sounding not unlike Tangerine Dream or maybe Church of Hed  this is a classic and well laid back album, Highlights include the epic Long Lines At The Double Helix Bar, the spacey Blue Giant and drifting Solar Drive Down.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Five 70's Brit Rock Gems.

Widowmaker - 'Widowmaker' (1976)
Widowmaker were a bit of a supergroup whose members had previously cut their teeth in Hawkwind, Spooky Tooth, Mott The Hoople, Chicken Shack, Lindisfarne and Love Affair. Arriving on the UK scene around the time of the punk explosion assured their ticket to obscurity in their home land, although they did achieve some degree of recognition in the US. Their 1976 debut album is a bit of a fave of mine, mixing as it does rockers like On The Road, with some spine tingling softer tracks such as Pin A Rose On Me and Straight Faced Fighter. However to me the stand out cut is the anthem Leave The Kids Alone - a true lighter waver if ever there was. Widowmaker released one more album 'Too Late To Cry' in 1977 then fell apart soon after as various members went on to other projects.

Groundhogs - 'Split' (1971)
Having started out as a blues band backing the likes of John Lee Hooker in 1960's by the early 70's the Groundhogs had evolved into one of the UK's most innovative acts with the emotive and experimental guitar stylings of Tony McPhee backed up and driven on by the exciting rhythm section of bassist Peter Cruickshank and drummer Ken Pustelnik. This album, their fifth marked their high point both musically and commercially, peaking at number 5 in the UK album charts and saw them performing the track Cherry Red on Top of the Pops. The first side of this one consists of the four part Split suite, a work that describes a panic attack. The second side feature more typical 'Hogs material including the laid back Junkman and the bouncy and driven aforementioned Cherry Red - a track that was to become the bands signature number. This line up was to record one more album, the equally noteworthy 'Who Will Save The World' before Pustelnik left and the band entered an era of having a fliud line up that continues til this day.

Status Quo - 'Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon' (1970)
Before the big hit singles and after the Carnaby Street faux-psyche era Status Quo went through a bit of a transitional phase as the pseudo hippy pop songs gave way to the blues and the boogie. Marking this transition is this little gem. This is the first album to feature the trade mark boogie shuffle, but on this one its heavier, more urgent and hungrier than on any other following records. Tracks like Spinning Wheel Blues, Juniors Wailing and Is It Really Me / Gotta Go Home, are raw and aggressive slices of blues fueled energy that feature some of Mr Rossi's most impressive guitar work and sees the Coghlan / Lancaster Rhythm section at their most driving. However the ghost of the old psychedelic Quo still haunts the grooves, Roy Lynes had not yet vanished down under at this point and his wailing organ, along with tracks like Shy Fly and April, Spring, Summer and Wednesdays lend a trippy feel to break up the boogie. Add in the almost metallic feel of Daughter and you have a sound and groove that Quo never quite managed to recapture.

Stray - 'Mudanzas' (1973)
Formed around the core duo of guitarist Del Bromham and vocalist Steve Gadd, Stray were a band who never quite got the breaks they deserved. treading the fine line between bluesy hard rock and raw edged prog they put out a string of impressive albums between 1970 and their split in 1977, of which, in my min at least, this is high point. Featuring hard rockers lie As Soon As You've Grown alongside mellower moments such as Oil Fumes And Sea Air this is an LP that delivers on all fronts. Mr Bromhams guitar work is especially noteworthy and the quality of the song writing on this one is to die for. Stray reformed in the 1990's and are still gigging and recording to this day.

The Pirates - 'Out Of Their Skulls' (1978)
Originally the backing band for Johnny Kidd, backing him on all hit 1960's hit singles, The Pirates called it a day shortly after Kidds death in 1966. However a late 70's reformation lead to them being caught up in the then booming pub rock and R&B movement. With a line up of Mick Green, Johnny Spence and Frank Farley they recorded this, the first of several albums to great critical acclaim. With a live side one that includes classics and standards like Shakin' All Over, Lonesome Train and Please Don't Touch; coupled with a flip side of cracking originals and new tunes such as You Don't Own Me and Gibson, Martin, Fender this is a real gem of a hard edge rock and roll album that still sounds as fresh now as it did back in the day. The Pirates carried on, on and off until Mick Greens sad death in 2010

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Five '80s White Metal Classics

Bloodgood - 'Bloodgood' (1986)
When the whole 'white metal' thing started to break through thanks to the likes of Stryper, Seattle outfit Bloodgood seamingly came out of of nowhere to unleash this righteous classic on the world. This album shows a far more musically mature approach than the waspish ones laid out. Tracks like Accept The Lamb come over like Dokken at their best whilst others such as Killing The Beast and Black Snake are power metal master works that stand proud alongside the very best the secular metal world has to offer. I'm glad to report that Bloodgood are still going strong and this gem has recently been re-issued with a bonus live recording. Well worh checking out.

Barren Cross - 'Atomic Arena' (1988)
Know as 'Gods answer to Iron Maiden' L.A. white metal merchants Barren Cross soon found themselves (along with Stryper) signed to a secular label just in time for the release of this their second full length opus. Although the production on this one does let the band down somewhat with a rather muffled sound, it doesn't stop the quality of the music shining through. Cuts like Terrorist Child, Dead Lock and King Of Kings are white metal classics and have helped mark this album as the high point of the bands career. God-rock fans will be pleased to here that Barren Cross have recently hit the reformation trail.

Stryper - 'In God We Trust' (1988)
Although their hearts were in the right place, it cannot be denied that Stryper alienated as many people as they attracted with their wasp costumes, Bible bunging antics, hair spray over doses and over produced sickly sweet stacked harmony vocal approach to heavy rock. However by the time it came to issue this their third full length opus they had wised up a little. Despite being a tad more commercial and radio friendly in out look than the preceding albums, the OTT production had been toned down a tad, and the music was a little rougher and less cliche. The result was a very listenable release that contains some belting tracks, most noticeably,  Keep the Fire Burning, The Writings on the Wall and of course the classic title track. Christian rock fans will be glad to know that the waspish ones are still going strong.

100% Proof - '100% Proof' (1981)
Christian rocks contribution to the NWOBHM wasn't exactly earth shattering. 100% Proof came out of the English Midlands and turned a few heads both saved and secular with their debut four track 7" ep, This lead to a deal with UK Christian label Myrrh and their eponymous debut album. Now to be honest the bands blend of Status Quo / Spider blues fueled boogie and AC/DC inspired sleaze riffing hasn't aged well, but as an object lesson in shear enthusiasm this album is still worth a listen (if you can find a copy - it goes on eBay for £45+). Tracks like Back Street Driver and No Good Trusting In Money are enjoyable, if somewhat naive exercises in old school boogie rock and the albums stand out cut The Loner (Bon Scott) is a nice slice of late night greasy blues with a noteworthy lead solo. 100% Proof went on to release the slightly improved 'Power And Glory' album in 1983 before disappearing into the 'where are they now file'

REZ - 'Innocent Blood' (1989)
You can't have a feature spotlighting christian rock albums without picking something by The Resurrection Band. This is the ninth studio offering from Chicago outfit and founding fathers of Christian rock. released under the shortened moniker REZ, Innocent Blood marks possibly the highlight of the bands career. Everything about his release is more than its predecessors, on cuts like Child of The Blues, Rooster Crow and great God In Heaven they walk a pure blues path, then you have the cut Where Roses Grow which is a radio friendly AOR classic to die for. Then on the other hand you have tracks like Alter Of Pain, 80,00 Underground and The House is On Fire which are 100% honest to goodness heavy metal classic - all righteous rage and divine anger. Chuck in a cover of The Who's classic Bargain and you have a pretty near perfect album for believer and non-believer alike. Sadly REZ called it a day in around the turn of the millennium, but lead guitarist Glenn Kaiser is still keeping the flag flying with his own rather tasty blues band.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Five with a folky feel

The Albion Band - 'Under The Rose' (1984)
Album number eight from Ashley Hutchings' post Fairport Convention outfit The Albion Band is a wee bit special, a bit more 'plugged' than many of the Albion Bands other albums, this one not only features some storming virtuoso performances from Mr Hutchings and his crew but features the spine tingling vocal stylings of Cathy LeSurf. Every track is a killer but highlights include the rebel rousing Rascals, the dark and ecological Woodlands Of England, and the majestic Dancing Under The Rose.

The Dreadnoughts - 'Legends Never Die' (2007)
All three albums to date by Vancouver folk punk outfit The Dreadnoughts are well worth a look or five, but my personal fave remains this their debut release. Sounding like a mass drinking session involving The Pogues, The Wurzels and The Dropkick Murphy's, this album is a classic from beginning to end. Not only do you get storming salty shanties like Antarctica and Sons Of Murphy, but you also get acapella classics like Roll The Woodpile Down and the song with the greatest title ever Mary The One Eyed Prostitute Who fought The Colossal Squid And Saved Us From Certain Death Upon The High Seas God Rest Her One Eyed Soul.

Orion - 'Jack Orion' (1987)
This one may take a bit of tracking down, but believe me its worth it. Bristol outfit Orion, featuring Dee Jarlett and Martin Hanstead were a bit of an institution on the south west folk scene in the '80's, but sadly this remains the pairs sole album release. The album is an affair of two halves, the first side being a collection of traditional songs and folky originals and the second being a loose concept work based on a spread of tarot cards. Not only is this a collection of great songs, but the performances of the duo are outstanding, and the track Death and The Lady has to be one of the finest contemporary folk songs ever penned

Mike Harding - 'Bombers Moon' (1984)
Although Mike Harding (aka The Rochdale Cowboy) is better know as a stand up comedian and sometime travel writer, it must not be forgotten that he started out as a folk singer, and folk music has remained his first love. Whilst some of his 'serious' folk songs would often turn up on his earlier comedy records it wasn't until the release of this in the early 1980's he chanced his arm with a full on folk album. Employing the likes of brass bands, string quartets and a rock and roll band along with the normal folk instrumentation, this album is a powerful and emotive look at working class life in Northern England. highlights include the inspirational Small High Window, a cracking cover of the Bruce Springsteen number Factory, the heart rending Accrington Pals and of course the title track which has to be one of the most powerful anti war songs ever recorded.

Press Gang - 'Outlandish' (2009)
UK outfit Press Gang have been around for a while now and have several releases under their belt, of which this one is a personal fave. Taking a number of folk standards such as Bonny Ship the Diamond, Raggle Taggle Gypsies and Outlandish Knight and playing them fully plugged with a pure rock and roll attitude they have in this record created a real gem. This is a wild and exuberant album that kicks any idea of folkies with fisherman's jumpers, mandolins and fingers in the ear well into touch. They do a corking live show as well!!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Five Rare NWOBHM Gems

Runestaff - 'Runestaff' (1985)
This is the only album ever issued by Ipswich outfit Runestaff, not your typical NWOBHM sounding band this album starts to help lay the foundations of what would later be known as 'progressive metal'. It's well worth checking out for Joanne Syme's emotive vocals and killer tracks such as Road To Ruin and Whatever You Want From Me. Sadly the band split not long after this albums release.

Split Beaver - 'When Hell Won't Have You' (1981)
This is the sole album release from Wolverhampton based biker metal outfit Split Beaver, who suddenly found themselves caught up in the thriving Midlands metal scene of the early '80's and snapped up by the then hot and happening Heavy Metal Records. A very 'blokish' blend of old school Motorhead style metal and transport cafe greasy blues this one will never win awards, but it has an appealing feel good vibe to it that makes it quite memorable. Highlight has to be the storming Hounds Of Hell. Split Beaver still treat metalheads around Birmingham with an occasional reunion

Battleaxe - 'Burn This Town'(1983)
 They say never judge a book by its cover, well that counts for the first album by Sunderland metalheads Battleaxe as well. This is their debut album, released in 1983 by Music For Nations, and features one of the worst metal album covers of all time. However the music is great. Batting off the same wicket as the likes of Tyson Dog and Angelwitch this is a bit of classic and contains a number of cracking tunes including the title track, Dirty Rocker and the wonderful Thor, Thunder Angel. It was later re-issued in a slightly less cheesy sleeve. The band also recorded the equally noteworthy Power From The Universe in 1985, and have recently hit the comeback trail.

Vardis - 'Quo Vardis' (1982)
This is the third full length album from Yorkshire outfit Vardis, a band who had been around since the early 70's and suddenly found themselves caught up in the NWOBHM scene. Possibly the strongest of their five LP's, this is a master work in ultra catchy blues fueled boogie rock. Steve Zodiacs guitar work is to die for, you get full horn lines and even some session piano from Jools Holland. Highlights include the high speed blues of Do I Stand Accused? and the superb Where There's Mods There's Rockers. Sadly Vardis called it quits in 1987.

Tank - 'Filth Hounds Of Hades' (1982)
When Algy Ward left The Damned and formed a metal band called Tank a few eyebrows were raised. However when this, the debut album surfaced in 1982, most of the critics were silenced. From the opening tribal drum beats to closing cut, the anthem (He Fell In Love With A) Stormtrooper, this is one of the best albums of the whole NWOBHM. Sounding a little like the bastard son of Motorhead every one of the ten cuts on offer is a real killer. Personal highlights of mine include the slow and sleazy TWDAMO (That's What Dreams Are Made Of), a drinking anthem Blood Guts And Beer, and the punk fueled Heavy Artillery. Tank went on to release another six great albums, and still get back together for the odd gig or three; but they have never quite topped this all time classic

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Five for the proggers....

The Enid - 'Something Wicked This Way Comes'(1982)
The fifth studio album from The Enid, and first to feature vocals. A remarkable little gem that still manages to maintain the huge pseudo-classical pomp of their earlier albums whilst introducing a new slightly more commercial and almost new wave edge to the bands sound. Highlights include the dark and moody And Then There Were None, the medieval sounding Jessica and the epic title track which features a Stephen Stewart solo to die for.

Greenslade - 'Time and Tide' (1975)
The fourth and final Greenslade album before the band called it quits in early 1976. This is a real gem. The goodies start with the Patrick Woodroffe cover art and continue into the tunes beyond. Look out for the bitter and biting attack on music journalists that is Newsworth, the triple whammy opening to side two in the form of The Flattery Stakes, Waltz For a Fallen Idol and The Ass's Ears and the gloriously trippy Tides.

Room - 'Pre-Flight' (1970)
Room had a very brief career, formed in 1968, won the NME's unsigned band of the year award in 1969, released their only album in 1970 and split soon after. Pre-Flight may be a hard one to track down, but its worth it for its quirky blend of King Crimson and early Fairport Convention influences and the albums epic title track.

Pallas - 'Arrive Alive' (1981)

Everyone has to start somewhere and for Aberdeen prog gods Pallas, it was here. Recorded live in Scotland in April 1981 this album is a bit on the raw side, but shows the talent that was to flower over the next 30 or so year. This one had a couple of cassette issues with a slightly different track listing before the LP version saw the light of day. Its a damn fine record over all but highlights have to be the blood soaked epic that is The Ripper and classic cut Crown Of Thorns

Variant - 'Beyond Jargon' (2005)
Another obscurity. To date this is the only album issued by Texan band Variant, a band who seam to have vanished off the face of the earth. However this one is well worth checking out, its rooted firmly in the fine tradition of prog rock past with hat tips to the likes of Genesis, Pink Floyd, Marillion and the rest, however it also starts to lay down the more aggressive in your face style the likes of Arena, Pallas and Pendragon are now peddling. Tracks to check include March To War, None So Blind and the epic Carrin' Carrion.