I See a Rainbow Rising

ticket

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – Genting Arena, Birmingham June 25th 2016

It’s nearly 20 years since Ritchie Blackmore hung up his trusty white strat to play medieval music.  The man in black is a bit mad or if you’re being kind he’s just a little eccentric.  Whatever he is he has been involved or is responsible for some of rocks greatest riffs and songs.  So when he announced he was making a return to the stage to play the songs that had a major impact on my formative years in music I had to go.

So with 3 like minded old rockers we headed down to Birmingham with a sense of anticipation and probably a little trepidation.  Could he still produce the goods after so many years, was his band going to be up to the job. Was he going to do a lute solo?

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After a day of football, beer and some paint stripper called fireball (thanks Mike) we headed out to the NEC or Genting Arena as it’s now known.  T-shirts duly purchased and seats taken we awaited the arrival of the legend.  As the lights went down we were greeted with the intro music of Land of feckin hope and glory.  A dirge at the best of times but in the current climate it was rubbing salt into the wound but it was replaced by the traditional intro from the Wizard of Oz.  ‘Toto, I’ve a feeling were not in Kansas any more, we must be over the rainbow (Rainbow, Rainbow) and we were into the first classic of the night, on a night when just about every song would make classic status, Highway Star. Any fears or doubts about the band and Blackmore were soon dispelled. There were worries that instead of going for more well known musicians he surrounded himself with relative unknowns and members of his band Blackmore’s Night but the band sounded great although it was Blackmore we’d all come to see and he didn’t disappoint.  He reels off some of rock greatest riffs with consummate ease and you have to remind yourself that he’s now 71. He may be using the Grecian 2000, probably some cosmetic work done and sports a ridiculous moustache but boy can he play guitar.

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The man with the hardest job of the night was singer Ronnie Romero who had some big shoes to fill.  We counted songs from 5 different vocalists in the set including Ronnie James Dio, Ian Gillan, David Coverdale, Graham Bonnet and Joe Lynn Turner.  Some formidable singers in there but Romero did a fantastic job.  He did justice and more to the classics that were rolled out and didn’t try to sound like the original singers but kept true to the feel of the songs.  There were three particular highlights for me. Soldier of Fortune, Romero maybe didn’t have the deep resonance of Coverdale’s voice but this version was just as spine tingling, Child in Time was a song I first heard on Purple’s Made In Japan over 40 years ago and was a real WTF moment, Romero proved beyond any doubt he was more than capable to take on this classic and the highlight of the evening was an incredible Stargazer where the whole band excelled and although it would have been great to see Dio up there I think he would have given Romero the seal of approval for his vocal performance.

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The gig of course finished with one of rock’s greatest songs and riffs ’Smoke on the Water’ and you were left to reflect how many great songs Blackmore has contributed and then started to realise how many more he could have played that wouldn’t have been out of place in the set.  It will be interesting to see if he does indeed retire once again from rock music and go back to wearing a funny hat and playing music from the 16th century or if he may have reignited a long dormant itch for playing loud music or if that itch has now been scratched.  Whatever he does his place in the history of rock music is assured and if this is the end it was a pretty special way to say farewell.

Week 17: Guns n Roses

album cover

Appetite For Destruction

It’s pure coincidence that Guns n Roses followed AC/DC on the blog given the recent hybrid mash up that’s been going on with Axl and AC/DC.  This album has to go down as one of the greatest debut albums ever released. From opener Welcome To The Jungle to closer Rocket Queen there just isn’t any filler.  Twelve tracks of sleazy, down and dirty hard rock.

I was a little ahead of the curve with GNR.  As stated on a previous blog I worked in the Daily Record in my first real job and music writer Billy Sloan was always being sent stuff and the heavier stuff often made its way to me.   GNR’s first single It’s So Easy backed with Mr Brownstone was in one of those bundles.  I fell in love on first listen and pretty much wore the single out until the album was released a month or so later which I also got free although I kept asking if it had arrived yet as he often got albums a little before release date.  It was also one of the original album releases with the controversial Robert Williams painting “Appetite for Destruction” as the cover.  It was later changed to a skull and crossbones featuring each of the band members head on a cross.  It of course had the parental advisory sticker telling me explicit lyrics were contained within.  That just made it that little bit more exciting.

GUNS N ROSES, STUDIO, 1987, NEIL ZLOZOWER

The album just blew me away.  There are not many better album openers than Welcome to the Jungle.  A song my wife and I contemplated having as our first dance but felt it may not be appropriate particularly with the middle section asking ‘You know where you are?  You’re in the jungle baby and you’re gonna die’.  We thought that might be a bit too much for some guests but it would have been brilliant to see their faces.

GNR totally lived the rock n roll lifestyle even before they were rock stars and this album just has an edge to it that bands just don’t have any more. Having read many stories and biographies about the band it’s one of life’s great mysteries how they are all still alive.  The drink, the drugs, the partying were an ever present but it was also what broke the band apart and members were lucky to survive. In 2001 guitarist Slash was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy a form of congestive heart failure and was given 6 weeks to live, in 1994 bassist Duff McKagen  was diagnosed with acute alcohol-induced pancreatitis and was told he’d be dead within the month unless he stopped drinking.  Drummer Steven Adler has battled drink and drug addiction even before he was fired from the band.  You can only imagine the extent of his drug problem when you get fired from GNR for your drug taking.  His sacking from the band led to one of my favourite headlines when Kerrang ran with ‘Axl axes addled Adler’.  Recent interview footage of Adler shows him cutting a rather sad figure these days.  Izzy Stradlin had to leave the band before it killed him and has pretty much retreated from the music business only making sporadic appearances.  Axl wasn’t so much into the drugs, he was just plain bonkers and become increasingly erratic as the band progressed and when he took full control of the Guns N Roses name the band really ceased to exist for me.  10 years to record Chinese Democracy was just ridiculous and it wasn’t even very good.

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There have been many millions of words written about GNR and it’s members and I couldn’t even begin to do the story justice in a blog like this.  Suffice to say I regard them as the last of the truly great rock bands.  I doubt a band like GNR would be allowed to do what they did any more the way the music business is these days.

I was lucky enough to see GNR twice and the Axl fronted tribute version once.  The first time was at Donnington in 1988.  GNR were third on the bill below Megadeth, Dave Lee Roth, Kiss and headliners Iron Maiden.  People tend to forget the Appetite album was almost a flop and took over a year to become a hit album thanks to the playing of the Sweet Child of Mine video on MTV which is a whole other story.  So when they were initially booked for Donnington they were relatively unknown although the UK had got into the band before everyone else and were well down the bill but really should have been moved up the bill.  Their show was nothing short of incredible.  They had an energy and drive and sound that even at 3 in the afternoon just attacked the senses.  It was  an absolute triumph.  Sadly it also turned into tragedy unknown to most of the crowd until the end of the whole event two people died during GNR’s set.  There had been a steady downpour for most of the day and the stage was located at the bottom of a slope with some steep areas.  A mix of wet weather, a crush to see GNR saw two people go down under the crowd never to get back up.  RIP Alan Dick, 18 and Landon Siggers, 20.  It was quite a sobering moment and a life lesson for me and ever since I’ve kept that memory with me and I’m always aware of my surroundings at a gig and make sure I look out for other people and hope they look out for me if the need arises.  I’ve been in some mental crowds when down the front but being a fairly robust 6 footer I can take care of myself but there have been some moments where I haven’t been in control of what’s’ happening and it can be quite scary until the control returns.

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My 2nd GNR experience was during the Use Your Illusion tour in 92.  We drove down to Gateshead to see a bill that included Soundgarden and Faith No More as support.  This was the bloated over indulgent GNR that had backing vocalists,  saxophonists, trumpets, horns and a keyboardist.  It couldn’t have been any more removed from the 5 hungry young men who played at Donnington 4 years earlier.  It was still a good show but they had started to lose the essence that had made them great.  It was also the beginning of the end of the band as Izzy left during the Illusion tour.

As an aside I remember I queued outside Tower Records in Argyll St to be one of the first people to get the Illusion albums which they started selling after midnight.  There is some brilliant stuff on both albums and although the band had lost the rawness of Appetite they had written some great songs.

My biggest regret though was not seeing them as a 5 piece on their own.  I did have the chance.  I remember seeing an advert in the window of the record shop 23rd Precinct located in Bath St stating they were running a bus to Newcastle City Hall for the GNR show.  Having checked this was back in October 1987.  At the time I really couldn’t afford it but I really wish I could go back and go on that trip now.

I did go to the SECC to see the Axl’s GNR and Axl did his usual turning up late and came on about 10.30.  Some people clearly weren’t aware of his tardy timekeeping as some folk were leaving about 15 mins into the set to get their transport home.  It was funny watching people start to get annoyed and one minute they were booing then 2 seconds into the first song they were cheering.  Despite Izzy joining Axl that night it wasn’t the same without Slash and Duff and I wasn’t going back to see that line up again.

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And now after all the years of rumours the band have partially reformed with Axl, Slash and Duff.  I really hoped we’d see a full classic line up reformation but at this stage it seems unlikely.  I’m not really sure what to make of it.  It looks like Slash and Duff are just hired hands in Axl’s band and they’ll all walk away with a load of cash.  I’m not sure what I will do if they do come over to the UK to do a headline tour.  I’ve no interest in seeing them in a festival setting.  I can see ticket prices being exorbitant but can I really not go?  I guess we’ll see.  I just think about all the lost years when the band could have been making great music but sadly we’ll never know what they might have been capable of.

A superb album from a band that had it all and pretty much snorted and drank it all away.

I’ve avoided some of the more obvious songs.

See you on week 17.