That’s How You Exit Stage Left

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Augustines – St Lukes Oct 27th 2016

My first trip to one of Glasgow’s newer music venues and I have to say I like it.  It’s description  as the Oran Mor of the east is quite apt.  Hopefully a few more bands that I like will choose this setting for their gigs.

Sadly it was also to be the first and last time I will see Augustines.  They have decided to call it a day after three excellent albums citing financial reasons in the current music business climate.  It’s an absolute travesty after witnessing one of the best concerts I’ve seen this year.  How a band this good can’t make a living doing the thing they do best is quite disheartening.  I have to admit the band put on a show that took me completely by surprise.  I had no idea they were this brilliant in concert and left me kicking myself that I hadn’t been to see them before.  If I’d known it was going to be this good I’d have gone to the Liquid Rooms show in Edinburgh the night before as well.  If I win the lottery this weekend I’ll be at Liverpool.

I wasn’t aware of Augustines until Cruel City, from their self titled 2nd album, which was on a CD sampler that came with Classic Rock magazine.  It usually takes something special on these discs for me to notice and this song did just that so I checked out the album and although I liked it at the time I now absolutely love it must have played it 20 times this week alone).  I added them to the ‘bands to see live’ list and when I saw they were doing their final tour I had to see them.

I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect but as the lights went down you could sense the atmosphere change and the out pouring of affection and devotion as the band sauntered onto the stage was a real moment between the band and its fans. I almost felt as if I’d gatecrashed someone else’s party.  There was a feeling of celebration in the air and everyone was there to enjoy the band one final time.

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I remember one of the main things that struck me about the band when I first started listening to them was the singer’s voice.  A voice full of passion, depth and emotion that just reached inside you the way that only music can.  Live though his voice is just incredible, singer, guitarist and frontman Billy McCarthy stood at the front of the stage without a microphone and sang The Avenue without the aid of any amplification.  It was just breathtaking and hairs on the back of the neck stood to attention and not for the last time during the show.  I was just stunned, I wasn’t expecting this and at that moment I realised we were in for a special night.  They had set the bar pretty high after one song and it rarely dipped below that level over the next 2 hours.

The highlights were many.  The set comprised mainly of the first two albums with almost all the songs from both played.  The sound was excellent and the between song banter from McCarthy was entertaining.  He’s an engaging frontman and careered around the stage in between singing and must have lost a fair few lbs as the venue was sweltering.  The band seemed genuinely taken aback by the crowd reaction and were clearly feeling the emotions as they are now only a few dates away from it all coming to an end.

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If I had to pick out the moments it would be the beautiful Walkabout with the piano intro before the guitar and drums slowly come in and make it a completely different beast before it dissolves away to finish like it started with only the piano,  the emotion charged Now You Are Free, McCarthy coming out and doing Weary Eyes and Landmine solo at the start of the encores and the final song Cruel City which had a sea of hands raised as if in thanks at the chorus and if they didn’t already have me by then, which they did, I was a fully fledged Augustines fan after that.

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They are not a one man band either.  McCarthy may be the main focus but it’s tight trio and occasionally a four piece.  Drummer Rob Allan plays a perfect accompanying beat, Eric Sanderson switches between instruments and also got the crowd to do some communal meditative breathing exercise, it was that kind of night.  For the majority of the night they were also joined by a trumpet player whose name I didn’t catch.  Far from being a bit part player he seemed as much a part of the band as anyone.

I left the venue on a high of the post gig buzz but it was tinged with sadness and regret as well. Sadness that a band this good can’t make a living doing what they do best.  Regret that I never got a chance to enjoy this band live before.  But if you are going to give it up then you may as well go out in style and Augustines did this and then some.

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As I made my way home I joined a train full of Justin Bieber fans and it reminded me how fickle and unfair the music business is.  Before I get into a full music snob rant I accept there is a place for the manufactured pop rubbish like Bieber but in an ideal world there should be a place for Augustines as well.  There are enough crap bands we can do without losing the good ones.

Some videos from this tour below.

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Loud, Very Very Loud

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Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Edinburgh Playhouse August 10th 2016

Yet another trip through to Edinburgh for a gig and also the first time since Neil Young 8 years ago I’ve been to the Playhouse.  It’s a shame it has become the venue for ‘shows’ rather than bands as it is real old school and retains a charm few venues have these days.  Tonight’s show was part of the Edinburgh Fringe programme and I’ll be returning to this venue in a few weeks to see Mogwai and hopefully my hearing will have returned.

Tonight though it was Godspeed You! Black Emperor who played their brand of post-rock, experimental rock, instrumental rock or whatever genre you want to place them in.  I’m a relatively recent convert to the GYBE camp.  They appeared on my radar not long after Mogwai but two bands who I wish had I had heard of a lot sooner.

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Having battled traffic to get through from Glasgow I was sure I would miss the beginning of the show but luck was with me as the gig started almost as soon as I sat down.  GYBE aren’t your normal band. On stage they consist of 3 guitarists, 2 bass players, 2 drummers and a violinist and they all amble onto the stage at various points of the first piece of music and create an almighty racket.  GYBE play loud, very loud.  They play in almost complete darkness, they have a screen behind showing films that don’t really show anything much, some footage of buildings, trains etc. they form a semi circle round the stage with no one in the middle and the guitarist in front of me was sitting down with his back to the audience, they don’t interact with the crowd apart from a half hearted farewell wave from a few members at the end as they troop off one by one, it’s odd but it works.

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It’s an aural assault on your senses, their music makes you anxious, uneasy, on edge, euphoric.  It’s a heady mix and you don’t get to relax at a GYBE show. The music builds and builds until at times you feel as if all 8 members are playing different tunes before it all comes back together creating a massive wall of sound before slowly dying away leaving you feeling slightly violated.  Unlike most bands I go and see I couldn’t tell you the names of any of the musicians on stage or indeed any of the pieces of music they played although I did recognise the music.  I think though that is part of the whole experience, at least for me.  I’m sure plenty of folk know the titles and who the band are though.  It’s fairly challenging music that over 1hr and 45 mins leaves you feeling quite drained.

I loved it.

It was probably the loudest gig I’ve been to this year at least it will be until Mogwai probably.

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Status Quo – Ingliston 2016

Status Quo – Ingliston Showground, July 23rd 2016

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Sadly an era is coming to an end for me. The Quo are hanging up their electric guitars and are due to do their final dates as an electric band at the end of this year. I believe they have some ill thought out plan to continue touring as an acoustic act which would be such a sad way to go from a band that played such great hard rock boogie in the 70s. They were my first music love and will always have a special place in my heart.

This whole situation has now been complicated somewhat by guitarist Rick Parfitt suffering a 2nd (may even be a 3rd) heart attack in May which he is now recuperating from. In the short term the band have recruited the bass player Rhino Edwards son Freddie to take over guitar duties and on this date they had brought in Irishman Richie Malone, who I believe plays in a Quo tribute band, to do the honours.

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I was in two minds whether to go as Quo without Parfitt & Rossi is not Quo for me. The real Quo, imo, is the Frantic Four line up including Lancaster and Coghlan but I’ve made do with the Rossi/Parfitt line up for over 30 years and only go to hear the classic songs up to 1982. Anything after that, apart from one or two exceptions is a bit crap.

Anyway I decided seeing as I had a ticket anyway and I was a bit curious I’d go. This involved a mad dash up the road from Blackpool after an unplanned extra day on our holiday which involved a Pleasure Beach visit and then an even madder dash from home to Ingliston. I made it with 4 mins to spare.

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The familiar drone heralded the band arriving on stage and regular set opener Caroline pierced the air. All the chords sounded in the right place but it wasn’t right. Not seeing Parfitt standing legs apart, his arm a blur as he thrashed out the opening chords to Caroline was just wrong, wrong, wrong. If you closed your eyes it sounded ok but watching the stage you knew someone was missing. That said I tried to enjoy it for what it was, one step away from a tribute act. They did an excellent version of Paper Plane that saw my trusty air guitar get an airing. One other downside of Parfitt being absent is we don’t get my favourite Quo song Rain but Don’t Waste My Time does get a welcome return. The middle of the show is a struggle as it usually is as we are subjected to the ‘newer songs’ which do seem to be crowd pleasers but I really don’t like them and don’t come anywhere close to the classics. And we get a drum solo, its 2016 and people are still doing drum solos. Why?

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The closing run of Roll over Lay Down, Down Down, Whatever You Want and Rockin All Over the World was pretty decent before the band go off and come back and do Burning Bridges. A song that encapsulates everything that went wrong with Quo when the classic line up split. It was my cue to get a burger and head for the exit pausing just long enough to watch the band close out with Bye Bye Johnny and thinking, this might be it. The very last time I see Quo on stage 37 years after I first saw them live and my life changed forever.

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Overall, for what it was it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, the new boy did well under the circumstances. The show was kind of short though at just over 90 mins and I’d expect a bit longer for £45 although I got a ticket for £20 so can’t complain too much. I have a ticket for the Final Electrics tour in December but if Parfitt isn’t there then I don’t think I’ll go having now witnessed the Parfitless Quo. I hope he makes a full recovery and we can finish our live love affair with one final flourish and with Parfitt in his rightful place and me with my air guitar going for it one final time.

I See a Rainbow Rising

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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.

Three Nights in the Company of James

James – Girl at the End of the World Tour, May 2016

Setlist 1  Serlist 2  glasgow setlist

I was lucky enough to attend three of the James shows to support their fantastic new album Girl At The End Of The World and instead of writing an individual review of each one I wanted to combine the experiences to reflect the different type of shows they were.

When the tour dates were initially announced my eyes were immediately drawn to the shows in London.  Rather than one big venue they had decided on 2 smaller shows and Brixton Academy.  With Brixton being one of my favourite venues and James one of my favourite bands it really was a no brainer.  The added incentive was that they were playing the much smaller Forum the night before. They were also due to play Shepherds Bush Empire a couple of nights before that but that one day break made it impossible for me to do all 3 (the Shepherds Bush show was subsequently moved to the Forum).

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Going by the Le Petit Mort tour I expected they would be playing a large chunk of the new album so I wanted to see it in a venue where the majority of fans would be diehards and who would give the new album a chance.  I expected that as soon as it hit the bigger venues like the Hydro in Glasgow there was a strong  possibility that the new stuff would struggle to make an impact with a crowd who would have more people there for the ‘hits’.  My fears were partially unfounded.  Over the three gigs there were clearly a lot of people who had bought and immersed themselves in the new album with plenty of people singing along to the new stuff.

I have to say that all the shows were fantastic and all had their moments but night 1 of my London shows was probably the best I’ve ever seen James and up there with the best gigs I’ve been to. Everything just seemed to come together to produce an experience only live music can give.  Band on top form, great sound, great visuals, an appreciative crowd in a perfect venue.  Having seen previous set lists  I knew almost all of the new album would get an airing and any worries about how the crowd would react to so many new songs were soon dismissed.

2. Tim The Forum holds approx 2,300 people and it felt like it was full of James fanatics and they were well up for the new stuff.  It did start a little tentatively with Bitch the first of five new songs to be played as the opening to the show but halfway through 2nd song To My Surprise there was a noticeable change in the crowd who just stepped up a gear and I knew then it was going to be a special night. There’s not many 30 year old bands who would hit their audience with five new songs to open with and one of them in French and get the reaction James did.  Songs from the new album just sound fantastic live and clearly the band have enjoyed moulding them into different beasts live, with  Attention being a case in point, it has changed dramatically from the album version and on each of the three times I saw them they were still playing about with it. Whatever they are doing to the songs it does indeed work and in total 11 of the12 tracks from the album were played over the 2 hours.

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The ‘hits’ weren’t forgotten about with Ring the Bells and Sometimes coming together early on in the set, others are done with a different slant. She’s a Star sees Adrian sitting down playing cello with Saul, Jim and Tim huddled next to him.  It’s a feature of the shows that Tim wants to connect with the audience and he does a bit of crowd surfing during Catapult.  There are the deep cuts with English Beefcake and What For making an appearance.  There was a distinct murmur of recognition through the crowd as people began to recognise What For during the acoustic interlude. I believe this was its first appearance since 1999.   We got Honest Joe from Wah Wah which came across brilliant live.  My favourite James song Sound followed and tonight’s version was quite extraordinary with a middle section that seemed to go on forever. It was as if the band were letting the crowd dictate the song.  Tim Booth just stood stage front and stared at the crowd as the band behind him created an incredible maelstrom of sound that culminated in Andy Diagram complete with luminous shirt and luminous trumpet playing down at the crowd barrier.   It really was incredible stuff.

4. Andy trumpet.

For an encore we had Tim and Adrian starting Say Something up on the balcony and the two of them making their way down to the stage before finishing the night off with Moving On, Nothing But Love and Tomorrow which had the crowd going what can only be described as ‘mental’.  It was a stunning gig and for once the band did a whole gig without fecking anything up.  There is a first for everything.

5. Brixton

I thought it would be almost impossible for night 2 at Brixton to reach the same heights and so it proved but it was still a great show.  Where I was standing the new songs didn’t get anywhere near the reaction of the first night but the older songs were greeted which deafening roars.  Particularly on Born of Frustration and Sometimes that came side by side.  Tim climbed the speakers to survey his audience as they jumped about and sang along at the top of their voices.  Sometimes on the last tour the band actively encouraged the audience to sing back the chorus but last night and on reading other reviews the fact they were playing the song mid set had seen this element of the song dropped but not at Brixton, as the song came to an end the crowd picked up the words and sang the words back to the band who slowly picked up the song again.  A real band and audience connecting moment.

7. Tim surfs

Surfers Song the only song from the new album not to be played the previous night made an appearance and one of my favourites off the album.  So over the two nights I got to hear the whole album live.  It also gave Tim, as the song title suggests, an opportunity to crowd surf which he did and hardly missed a line as he was passed around the audience.  He did say at the end that he wouldn’t be doing that in Glasgow as last time they wanted bits of him.  These forays into the crowd really notched the show up as the crowd reacted to the effort the band were putting in.  The whole band really are on fire at the moment and appear to be enjoying the shows to a level I’ve never witnessed before.

Tonight we did get a feck up as Catapult completely disintegrated as Tim was on the barrier singing and about to surf once more when he completely lost the song.  It’s an endearing quality that the band can still make these errors and is all part of the live James experience.

There was also a funny moment when coming back for the 2nd encore and Tim was looking at Saul expecting him to start and Saul was saying it’s not me.  Tim thought they were doing Tomorrow and then Mark came in with the familiar intro to Come Home which really had the place bouncing and almost brought it up to the level of the previous night.  It was then followed by Tomorrow to end another great show and I was disappointed that I now had to wait another 12 days until the show rolled into Glasgow.

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So to the Glasgow gig.  Glasgow can be both infuriating and mind blowing when it comes to gigs.  Sometimes on the same night.  With so many new songs being played combined with such a big venue I had my doubts as to how good this show could be.   Overall I thought the band were fantastic with the crowd on the whole being much better than I had expected.  I think being a Thursday night cut down on the number of drunks but there was still the occasional arsehole who intentionally or not tried to upset those around them.  I did feel security were a bit over zealous in throwing out a group of young lads (at least they did usher them out of the crowd so I’m assuming they were going to chuck them out) who were jumping about down the front.  I think if you want to stand at the front you have to accept that some people will want to jump around etc.  it comes with the territory.  I was watching these guys and they were jumping about while holding onto each other which did make them a bit of a crowd issue as they barged into folk but I think a quiet word and asking them to calm down would have been sufficient.  They were just enjoying the music and not being aggressive or trying to pick any fights and I didn’t see anything wrong with that.

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Typical James though.  They get a bit of a lairy crowd and decide to start with the slow builder of Out to Get You and as the song progressed a few of the talkers even began to shut up and listen.  And of course some didn’t but I’ve started to tune out the talkers and just accepting that people will just be ignorant and there is very little I can do about it and try not to let it ruin the show.  Not as easy as it sounds sadly.

Catapult saw Tim come down to the front and as he sang the line ‘I can’t fly but I can catapult’ he launched himself into the crowd.  He had said he wasn’t going to surf at Glasgow again but clearly thought it was worth another go after the crowd got a bit too friendly the last time.  He survived intact although it was his one and only surf of the night.  Although the crowd were maybe not as into the new stuff they did in the main at least listen but it was the double header of Ring the Bells and Sometimes that saw the crowd spring into life.  Especially on Sometimes where the song was heading to its close and something went wrong with Dave Baynton-Power’s drums and the song looked like it was about to fall apart but the crowd picked it up and kept it going beyond its normal conclusion.  A real crowd and band effort.  And as is James’s want they followed the rabble rousers with another slow number in the shape of the beautiful PS.  The acoustic songs tonight were She’s a Star and, for the first time for me on this tour, Just Like Fred Astaire which was stunning.

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According to the setlist Honest Joe was supposed to be next but Tim called an audible and we launched into Come Home that had the crowd in raptures and then came one of those infuriating moments.  Tim again came down to the barrier for Surfers Song and as he was reaching the line ‘Look in to my eyes’ a girl up on someone’s shoulder appeared right beside him and it looked like perfect timing as he started to sing the line to her and then she turned around and tried to take a selfie and Tim just looked away in disgust.  It could have been a real moment but was sadly completely lost.  We then slid into another brilliant version of Sound. The swirling sound was mesmerising as the band pushed the song to its limits and beyond while the crowd moved to its infectious groove.  It is a spectacular live piece of music and the shows over the last few years it feels as if it’s different every time they play it.  I almost felt sorry for Attention having to follow it but it more than held its own.10.

For the encore I had a feeling we would see Tim and Adrian out in the crowd.  The first refrains of Sit Down were heard as they appeared up on the first tier and Tim walked through the crowd stopping for the occasional dance before they made their way back to the stage where the band had appeared and were picking up the end of the song.  Sit Down has caused a fair amount of controversy on the last few tours mainly because of its absence.  I can take it or leave it to be honest but when it appears unexpectedly it still sounds great live.  The show was completed by Moving On, Nothing But Love and Say Something and another fantastic night in the company of James was sadly over.

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That is now 5 times I’ve seen the band this year, 6 if you include a 3 song in-store appearance, and they have just been brilliant every time.  The Forum show was the best of the lot but the others weren’t far behind.  If the rumoured Barrowlands show does indeed become reality then I’ll have been spoilt beyond belief this year.

I’ve said it before but James are a very special band and we are lucky to have them to entertain us.

Fish – Newcastle 2016

venueFish – O2 Academy, Newcastle, April 9th 2016

So this time it really is a ‘Farewell to Childhood’.  I thought last December’s show at the ABC in Glasgow was going to be the final time I got to hear Misplaced Childhood in its entirety but a combination of Fish falling ill and his keyboardist breaking an arm meant rescheduled dates from the last tour threw up the opportunity of the Newcastle gig.  The temptation was too much, i couldn’t say no.  I was looking back through the years trying to calculate how many times I’ve heard all of Childhood live and I reckon this is either the 7 or 8th time through the Marillion and Fish years, including one that was almost a demo version before the album was released although I think it was just side 1 they played that night.  I have a bootleg somewhere and a number of songs have different lyrics.

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Fish was on stage sharp at 8 which nearly caught me by surprise.  I was expecting an 8.30/9 start and literally got my spot as the lights went down.  There are a few starters to get through before the main course.  Never one to take the easy route we have Pipeline, Feast of Consequences, Family Business, The Perception of Johnny Punter dealing with diverse subjects as the Second World War, domestic abuse and Kosovo among them.  It’s fair to say Fish struggled a bit with his voice.  He had problems hitting the high notes and a bit of coughing and spluttering between songs pointed towards the onset of a cold. It was also a strangely subdued Newcastle audience.  Maybe the opening selection of songs could have been angled more towards the better known Fish/Marillion material.  I’m guessing the casual Fish fan isn’t as familiar with the solo material.  I’d already heard these songs at Dalkeith and Glasgow last year and would have liked to have heard something different but I wasn’t here for those.  Fish introduced the main event commenting on the shine from the follicle challenged in the crowd saying it made a great lighting effect.

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We are all maybe a little older but the 30 years that have passed has not diminished the majesty of Childhood.  It still sounds as great today as it did on its first listen and in many ways it sounds even better.  It’s an album that means so much to so many.  I was 20 when it was released and I guess I was leaving my own childhood behind although the child in me is never far away from the surface. It’s an album that, like Fish explained beforehand, holds so many memories. I’ve waxed lyrical about the album before but it is a stunning musical masterpiece and if you have never heard it what are you waiting for?  There are sing-alongs a plenty and finally the Newcastle crowd found their voice.  Lavender brings the goosebumps, Heart of Lothian brings the passion, Blind Curve brings the complicated hand clapping that is clearly beyond some people before we head for home with Childhoods End and White Feather.  It’s all over far too soon and I’d happily have flipped it back over to side one and started again.

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The band return for a rousing encore of Market Square Heroes and its mid section had some hand clappers just giving up as it all got just too difficult.  We’re finally sent home with The Company ringing in our ears and the site of many portly men (and women) pirouetting like ballerinas.  Maybe not quite up there with Glasgow but I’d quite happily go and hear Childhood every night if I could but all good things come to an end, a Childhoods End.

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So it’s Farewell to Childhood, thanks for the great memories.

James in Glasgow

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James – HMV In Store & Quay Sessions, Glasgow March 23rd 2016

So 18 years after their last No 1 album James look like they are going to reach the top of the charts once again with their new album Girl at the End of the World (and from now on known as GATEOTW).  It’s a remarkable achievement in so many ways.  A band like James, although there aren’t any other bands quite like James but you know what I mean, just don’t normally compete with the likes of Adele, Coldplay and the franchise Now albums for the top spot and even if they don’t quite make it the fact it was even a possibility is astonishing.  The resurgence of James isn’t an overnight phenomenon they’ve been slowly building to this point since they reformed back in 2007 when they released the brilliant Hey Ma album.  It was a statement of intent and the four subsequent releases have reinforced that statement.  The loyal core fan base was always there but they now seem to have picked up a new generation of fans and some of the older generation lost after the first split have returned.

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The fact they returned, not as a nostalgia act but, as a band determined to make new and exciting music that could stand up with the best of their early material is for me at the root of their increasing popularity.  They could easily have come back and done the greatest hits set night after night tour after tour and I’m sure they would have made a comfortable living like so many bands do from that formula but James never like to take the easy route and are now reaping the rewards from sticking to creating and playing new material live and the fans just absolutely love it.  I’ve also watched with interest how they promoted last album La Petit Mort with the radio sessions, interviews and the general marketing of the album that had the fans desperate to hear the album on release.  For GATEOTW they seem to have perfected the art and took it to a new level.  The intimate shows in Manchester and London, getting on prime time TV, a plethora of radio sessions and interviews and the in store showcases and signing sessions.  It has all come together perfectly to push the band further into the mainstream and possibly to the top of the charts.

in store on stage

And the great thing is, it has all been done on their terms.  No sell out, no easy option just hard graft and a love of making great music backed by a fan base that just ‘gets it’.

Since discovering James all those years ago they were always in my top 10 favourite band list but in recent years they have forced their way further up the list and although I tend not to say I have a favourite band as such they are definitely my favourite band of the moment.  There are few bands I’d travel from Glasgow to London to see perform the majority of their new album and be genuinely excited about the new songs but James just bring out that sense of anticipation that few bands can match these days.

in store on stage 2

It was that sense of anticipation that I had when queuing for 2 hours outside HMV in Argyle St yesterday.  I knew I was only going to get 4 or 5 songs (turned out it was 3 but who’s counting) and I knew it was going to be a stripped down James with only 5 or 6 member playing (it was 6 including sometimes member and roadie, Ron).  No Andy Diagram or drummer David Baynton-Power but we got Tim, Saul, Mark, Jim with Adrian Oxaal still filling in for the absent Larry Gott.  I wonder if and when Larry returns there maybe a place in the band for Adrian.  He brings a different kind of sound and also a cello and mandolin which he put to good use here and later at the BBC Quay Sessions.  There was a pretty lengthy queue outside as we were eventually allowed into the store.  It was interesting watching folk coming up asking who we were queuing for and once told some of them showed a sign of recognition while other drew a complete blank.  It wasn’t long before the band took the stage after everyone had filtered in and in true James style Tim got the first song wrong.  A 3 song set and he couldn’t even remember which was the first song.  It’s another one of the reasons we love them.  He introduced the set as 3 miserable songs and the first song was Feet of Clay with Jim providing the insistent bass line, Adrian providing cello and Saul swapping between guitar and violin.

The violin became a topic of conversation at the end as Saul thought it wasn’t working and a few expletives were released and much good humour ensued.  They  might write some sad and despairing songs at times but they are funny guys. Some of their songs may be a little on the dark side but the band themselves seem to be in a very good place and the closeness and tightness of the band comes across in the relaxed performances they played both here and at the BBC.  Dear John was 2nd song and a backing tape provided the backbeat.  Mark was playing some kind of air keyboard and not the invisible kind like an air guitar but one he had to blow into.  No idea what it is called.  Then last track was the title track on the album and Tim’s introduction and explanation of the song about the last thing you remember before dying gave the song a great context and it was an absolutely brilliant version and real goose bumps and hair on back of neck moment.

signing

Then it was all over and a large queue snaked around the store to get various bits ‘n’ pieces signed. I was lucky enough to be fairly close to the front and got a quick chat with the band about the album and its definite overtones of krautrock.  There seems to be a few krautrock fans in the band by the looks of it.  It was then a quick dash to the BBC for the Quay Sessions later.

band 3

It was my second visit to the Quay session with my previous visit being last year to see Public Service Broadcasting.  This was much busier and later found out over 4,000 applications were made for 200 tickets.  I had 8 applications in including various friends and none of them were successful but luckily a mate offered me his plus one.  The good karma ticket god working his wonders once again.

We did have to suffer Red Sky in July who were a pleasant enough Americana/country band who featured Ally Mcerlaine formerly of Texas playing guitar but it was a bit dreary and repetitive for me.

band 2

Due to the number of attendees we were relegated to standing quite a fair way back with only a small viewing window on the stage James were due to play on but just before the band came on one of the BBC staff managed to get us into the standing area right in front of the band.  Absolutely perfect viewing point and eternal thanks to her for doing that.  Made the night.

A slightly more orthodox set up this time with a scaled down drum kit that roadie Ron was playing and Mark having full keyboard.  GATEOTW opened this time and it would have been hard to sustain the emotion of the version played but a few hours earlier.  From memory and maybe not in order they played Just Like Fred Astaire, a cover of Glasvegas’s Daddy’s Gone, Getting Away With It, Dear John, Feet of Clay, which they played twice as Tim thought he’d messed it up then they argued about which one was better.  Catapult, Say Something and Nothing but Love.  I don’t know if it’s the necessity of not having a full band but the new songs sound brilliant in stripped down mode even allowing for the odd breakout at the end of songs.

band 1

The proceedings were halted for while for an interview with host Nicola Meighan and she also picked up on the krautrock influences on the new album.  Tim also explained the recording process they go through and how songs form out of studio jams and said they wanted to do an improvisational show in Glasgow, Manchester and London.  James just like to do things differently than other bands and it’s another thing we love them for.

2nd last image

The band were so tight and together the whole night and they just seem in such a good place.  The creative juices are flowing, their fan base is increasing, they could be sitting on a number 1 album and if any band deserves their moment it’s James.  Through hard worked and sheer bloody mindedness they have achieved what very few bands of their age can claim.  They are still relevant, in an ever changing musical  landscape and they are now getting the success and recognition they deserve.

A fantastic day in the company of James and I’m already looking forward to the next album.

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