Some of my published Newspaper reviews….

July 09
Floating through the Tull times
Maryport Blues – Jethro Tull. Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull sprung onto stage wielding his flute with aplomb to a cheer from the audience that filled the vast marquee. It has got to be said that they were there to see Tull.

The chattering of excited anticipation had been growing during the sound check. Instant familiarity and heart-warming nostalgia settled on the crowd, as the first number was vintage Tull. The respectably long set list was well geared for a blues festival, drawing on more than 40 years of the band’s extensive creative catalogue. Anderson’s early blues influences were evident on hearing Tull again as part of this major blues festival. Even so, a later number based on a Bach composition and given the Jethro Tull treatment got probably the most enthusiastic audience reaction of the evening, but then it was very lovely.

The audience had been there done that and were definitely wearing the T-shirt. A veritable parade of treasured, vintage and precious clothing souvenirs were on display. Tull T-shirts from the Seventies and festival T-shirts from the Eighties and Nineties were worn like flags of musical status. Enjoy Ian Anderson at his one-legged-balancing, slightly maniacal flute-playing, best. Step back to 1973 and float on the heady aroma of patchouli oil that drifted through the audience to slip back through those 35 years. Hearing Aqualung, Thick as Brick and Heavy Horses was almost more pleasurable than you would care to admit.

It wasn’t all about the later days of hippydom or the pastoral, poetical themes of old Tull; the band have an edge that isn’t constrained by their earlier eras. Their contemporary feel was evident with the jazz-oriented keyboard and the exquisite talent of young German guitarist Florian Opahle. Anderson introduced the ubiquitous drum solo that, unlike in decades past, did not diddle on for an eternity. Like everything about Jethro Tull, it was just right.
Jethto Tull

Peatbogs’ fire in their bellies
Brampton Live – Peatbog Fearies Ecstatic. Jubilant. The audience was utterly thrilled to welcome this nine-piece band onto the stage for the last slot of the weekend at Brampton Live. Excited festival-goers appeared from all corners of the site, flowing into Marquee 2.

Based on the Isle of Skye the Peatbog Faeries Celtic-styled folk line-up is hyper talented, brimming with enthusiasm and dripping with musical power. Between them they play fiddle, guitar, drum, keyboard, whistle and bagpipes. Now there is a brass section too – an inspired addition – just for that added wow, if it were needed, giving a sophisticated timbre that slickly adorns the sound without buttering it up.

This is a big, big band with an ability to be joyously rousing. They whip up a high velocity storm on the dance floor with thrilling fusion-flooded music. Although the overwhelming feel is Celtic folk elements from their influences are striking, from a very Pink Floydy keyboard symphonic, to a more than perfect South African guitar plinking reminiscent of the Bhundu Boys from the 1980’s. They are great to watch too, each and every one of them clearly loves doing this. Kilts swinging to bagpipes howling a tumultuous call would stir the most stoical heart.

The two youngest members of the band are fiddle players who race the devil when they join forces for a fiery brace of jigs. With a loud cheer that must surely have been heard as far away as Newcastle the audience went wild when the fiddling pair stepped back from stage-front.

The Peatbogs stirring numbers are blended with a kaleidoscope of musical styles that will leave you breathless, even if the dancing doesn’t. There is no sign of them quenching the fire in their musical bellies – they are as powerful as ever and will burst your heart with their sheer exuberance.

Gimme more.
Peatbog fiddling boys

July 2008
Politics of humanity
Show of Hands

Like a cup of cocoa before bed time, or the light in the window of home after a long journey, Show of Hands keep you warm.

Steve Knightley and Phil Beer have the ear of the nation’s foremost folk and acoustic broadcasters, musicians and traditionalists as well as pleasing many music fans. Individually their talents are sought after; collectively they strike a richly harmonious balance of calm and turbulence. Their album Country Life hit some nails squarely on the head and hopefully made some people in power take notice.

Their practically perfect song Roots gives us something to think about, its sights are set on the often-ignored British minority of the rural poor and a maligning of urban dominance. There is a hard edge that may well sneak past the less attuned listener, covered as it is in the smooth coating of brilliant instrumental playing.

Joining SOH on stage for the Saturday headline slot was Miranda Sykes on double bass. With Phil and Steve, playing several instruments beautifully, she gave a pristine performance and made us forget the slick mud soaking our feet.

Rain, rain, go away, a new song by Knightley, was perfectly apt to the soggy conditions at the festival.

Words that rang dangerously true were delivered with humour and warmth in the richly stirring voice of Knightley.

The politics are un-harsh and humane. What they have to say makes more sense than you will ever hear from the powers-that-be. Radically, refreshingly, they even advocate that people copy their CDs.
Miranda Sykes : Show of Hands - Brampton Live 2008 (365/36)

Slick seducer, 100-string guitar
Richard Thompson

Super cool from his teens and still cool after more than four decades, here he was, Richard Thompson, dressed entirely in slick black and his signature beret, the man who started something new way back when folk was associated with chunky sweaters and bad haircuts.

It was a welcome return to Brampton Live for singer, songwriter and guitarist Thompson. Judging by the packed marquee not a soul was going to miss this treat.

He leapt straight in with Walking on a Wire and the oh-so wonderful distinctive guitar skills that leave you breathless. It’s hard to grasp that such complex and perfect tones can come from any instrument of less than 100 strings, let alone a single guitar.

Lyrics of angst, repressed anger, unrequited lust, paranoia, riotous fun, fear and disappointment were belted out in a voice that is even more powerful than 30 years ago and is undeniably a bellow of maleness. In Hot for the Smarts he extols the virtues of intellectual women, and barely a soul didn’t know all the words to Vincent Black Lightning. Woods of Darney tells a heart-rending tale of war, grief and anonymous death while a mock folksy sea shanty about an imaginary band called the Drones was warmly tongue-in-cheek.

With the Sandy Denny number Who knows where the time goes which Thompson dedicated to the late Sandy, there was an audible sigh of pleasure in the marquee.

It was a long set, stuffed with many of the best of his songs from the last 40 or more years, though never straying too far from the present day. His songwriting is no less quirky, clever and memorable now than all those years ago.

Thompson showed great forbearance when audience members got over-excited, shouting out what they wanted him to play next. He was always going to play the handful of numbers the audience was demanding and the gorgeously honeyed Beeswing was predictably his last number.

For two hours one man held hundreds of people rapt, while they rolled over and let him stroke their souls and warm their hearts.

Richard Thompson - Brampton Live 2008 (365/37)

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