Hot Chocolate various venues Sunderland early 1970s

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Now this really is a guilty pleasure! Hot Chocolate were playing the clubs and ballrooms throughout the early to mid 70s before they broke it really big. I recall seeing them several times at Sunderland Locarno, Sunderland Polytechnic Wearmouth Hall and possibly Sunderland Top Rank in the period 1971 to 1974. They were already having hits by this stage such as “Love Is Life” and were a great live, fun band. I am sure that I saw them at one of the Fresher’s Balls at Sunderland Polytechnic at one stage.

I found the following biography on the official Hot Chocolate website: “Hot Chocolate formed in Brixton, London, England in 1968. Members of the group included Errol Brown, Tony Connor, Larry Ferguson, Harvey Hinsley, Patrick Olive and Tony Wilson.” Now one of the most fascinating things about writing this blog is that it encourages me to find out the history of the band I am writing about. I thought I knew quite a lot about the beginnings of Hot Chocolate. How wrong I was. The biography goes on to tell me:

“In 1969 the band started working on a reggae version of the John Lennon song “Give Peace A Chance”.  Errol Brown had changed the lyrics for their version but was informed that he could not do this without John Lennon’s permission, so a copy of the demo was sent to the Beatles Apple record label to see what they thought of it.   Fortunately, John loved the version and it was released on the Apple label.” Well, I never knew that and I have never heard Hot Chocolate’s version of “Give Peace a Chance”. So, I looked on eBay and tried to buy a copy, but they are pretty expensive. Then, courtesy of Alexa and Amazon Music, I was able to listen to the track in the comfort of my own home. In some ways, it is quite close to the original; however, it is very reggae oriented also. Listen to it if you get a chance.

The band was apparently named Hot Chocolate by a secretary at the record company and in 1970 they released their first hit single “Love is Life” which reached number 6 in the UK charts. They then went on to have at least one hit a year for the next 15 years, having over 30 singles in the UK charts including massive hits such as “So You Win Again” (which reached number 1 in the UK charts) and “You Sexy Thing” (which reached number 2).

hot 2In 1985, Errol Brown left the band and at that point they disbanded. Hot Chocolate reformed with a new singer in 1992 and continue to tour to this day. Errol Brown went on to have a successful solo career until he retired in 2009.

My favourite song was always “Emma”. I have vivid memories of standing at the front of the stage at Sunderland Locarno watching Errol Brown singing that song just after it had been released. That was probably the last time I got to see them. From then on they moved from playing ballrooms to headlining Newcastle City Hall. I guess, after that, I didn’t see them as a proper rock band and our paths never crossed again. Another thing about writing this blog, is that I am encouraged to buy old LPs of the band’s work and listen to their music again. I bought myself a copy of Hot Chocolate XIV Greatest Hits from eBay (pictured). I must admit I had forgotten just how successful the band was. Looking back, they gave me lots of fun nights in the early days.

Errol Brown sadly passed away from liver cancer at his home in the Bahamas on 6 May 2015. RIP Errol Brown.

The Flying Hat Band Sunderland Locarno circa 1973?

I have quite vivid memories of seeing a band called the Flying Hat Band many years ago in Sunderland Locarno. I wasflying hat 1 lucky enough to see them at least twice. I remember having no idea who the band were but being extremely impressed by the guitarist who had long hair (that always impressed me, for starters) and played amazing fast guitar solos. I remember standing straight in front of the guitarist, mesmerised by his guitar prowess. They were a trio of the Cream/Jimi Hendrix Experience ilk and, to be honest, I had forgotten about them until I came across something on the Internet which told me that they had links to Judas Priest and hailed from the Midlands.

“The Flying Hat Band were an early 1970s Birmingham, England hard rock act that, alongside Judas Priest, ranked as the Midlands’ favourites to succeed. Despite not having released an album, the band proved a successful club act and eventually went on to support Deep Purple on one of their European tours. The band folded in April 1974 following Glenn Tipton’s departure to become the second guitarist in Judas Priest, who at the time had just signed their first record deal with Gull Records. Peter “Mars” Cowling joined Canadian rocker Pat Travers in 1975, and was part of Travers’ band for several years. Trevor Foster joined folk rock group The Albion Band and Little Johnny England”. Glenn Tipton – Official Website

Apparently, (see above) Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton was a member in one of the incarnations of the band, which was probably the group I witnessed. Their music was heavy rock, blues-based and they were simply amazing. As far as I gather they never recorded anything at the time however a more recently issued album exists, which I recently purchased courtesy of eBay (pictured).

flying hat 2The album features tracks by the Flying Hat Band and Earth, a predecessor of Black Sabbath. It reveals excellent, early heavy rock/metal/blues songs from many, many years ago when I used to love long guitar solos, particularly when played on a Fender Stratocaster, which was my guitar of choice at the time. I would go home and try (and usually fail) to replicate the guitar playing I had just witnessed. Those were the days. Sadly, I sold my 1964 pre-CBS Stratocaster for £120 to raise the money to buy a new gearbox for my car. Big mistake, the guitar would probably be worth several thousand pounds these days. Never mind. My life is full of regrets. At least I was lucky enough to witness the Flying Hat Band in full flight (I know, cheesy pun) and Glenn Tipton in his early years as a guitarist before he went on to help take Judas Priest into the heavy rock/metal history books. Happy days.

Francis Rossi I Talk Too Much Newcastle Tyne Theatre 2 August 2021

FRANCIS TIXWell it finally came. My first concert for almost 2 years. I was excited and, I must admit, a little nervous. My first outing was to see my old friend/hero Francis Rossi of Status Quo at Newcastle Tyne Theatre on a spoken word tour, promoting his autobiography I Talk Too Much. So off I went, with my friendly taxi driver and my carer Lisa, armed with my copy of the book (which I hoped to have signed by Francis) to the lovely old Tyne Theatre in Westgate Road, Newcastle.

FRANCIS 3“In this explosive new memoir, the famously indiscreet Rossi reveals the true-life stories behind his unbelievable career. Painfully honest at times, the book covers the glory years, the dark days, the ups and downs of his relationship with the late Rick Parfitt and the real stories behind the creation of some of the greatest rock music of all time” (I Talk Too Much — FRANCIS ROSSI)

We arrived just in time to take our seats for the prompt 7:30 PM start. The stage was set with two nice comfy chairs one soon-to-be taken by Francis and the other by his interviewer/compere Mick Wall, renowned Rock journalist and author. Mick opened the proceedings by warming us up with a vintage video, which we have all seen and love, of Status Quo, a young Francis and Rick, playing “Pictures of Mastic Men” on Top of the Pops. It took us all back to the start and was a great introduction to the star of the show, Francis Rossi who took to the stage with a bow, his usual cheeky grin and sat down opposite Mike. And so the evening, and the fun, began. We had a great view, three rows from the front to the left of the stage.

FRANCIS 1Those of you who have ever seen Status Quo live will know that Francis is, by nature, a cheeky, chatty chap. He started by going back to his early life, reminiscing about his Italian, ice cream shop and van, roots in London and how his father would sing to him in Italian and how he soon learned to play the trumpet and then the guitar. The story moved on to forming a band with old friend and ex-Status Quo bass player, Alan Lancaster, how they went on to play at Butlins and met a flashy young face called Rick Parfitt. Soon they were together as Status Quo and Francis told us of how he wrote “Pictures of Matchstick Men”, basing it roughly on Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe”. Francis picked up a guitar, playing and singing to demonstrate how he wrote their first hit record.

There was a box at the front the stage where you could post written questions in the first half of the show. Mick Wall then collected the box during the interval and selected some questions to ask Francis. I didn’t ask a question but one thing I should have asked is “When and why did Mike become Francis?” As I recall, in the late 60s and early 70s, he was always known as Mike Rossi and then somewhere along the line during the 70s he became Francis Rossi. I always wondered why, and still do. Maybe one day I may get the chance to ask him. The first half of the evening finished with the story moving on to the emergence of Status Quo the triumphant rock and boogie band that we all know and love, illustrated by some great video footage of the band at the height of their fame playing “Down Down”, “Rocking All Over the World” and “Whatever You Want”.

FRANCIS 4During the interval I treated myself to a glass of red wine, sat back in my chair and waited for Francis to return. Soon the show resumed and we moved on to tales of how they opened Live Aid, which I was lucky enough to attend in Wembley Stadium, Francis explaining that nobody really wanted the opening slot but they realised how important the concert, the event would be and how being the opening act would be a great place to be on the bill. Then there were tales of the breakup of the band, the re-emergence with Francis and Rick leading a new version of Status Quo and being back in the charts with “In the Army Now”. All of this was delivered with Francis’ usual cheeky Cockney charm. Then he moved through the years talking quite emotionally about the sad passing of Rick and the latest Francis led version of Status Quo. I must admit I always had my doubts about Francis continuing after Rick’s passing but I guess it is in his blood and to him it obviously seemed the natural thing to do.

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And so a new era of Status Quo has begun. We then moved on to Mick Wall asking a few selected questions to Francis. One question concerned two blondes in the back of a Rolls-Royce as Francis and Rick drove into Manchester Belle Vue in the 70s. Francis quickly swerved the question of who the blondes were, changing the topic to the fact that the Bay City Rollers had played the venue the evening before, resulting in all the seats being smashed up! Cleverly done Francis. Somewhere along the way we also got an amusing tale of how he tried, and failed, to evacuate Cardiff Capitol Theatre during a bomb scare, on the orders of the police. The evening closed with Francis singing “Caroline”. Lisa and I quickly nipped out the back hoping to be first in the queue to get my book signed, only to learn that the book signing was not going to happen, I guess, and quite understandably, due to Covid.

And then it was off back in our taxi, on our journey home, picking up Chris on the way to help put me back to bed. I was soon back in my bed at around 10:45 PM. Quite a civilised evening for my first venture out. Well I did it. More to come in the future. Thanks to Francis for a lovely, friendly evening and a gentle start to my return to concert going.

Bob Dylan Shadow Kingdom stream event 18 July 2021

DYLAN 0So this was another streaming event, this time by our old friend and troubadour Bob Dylan. I expected the event to be live, but it was clearly pre-recorded. However, this was not a disappointment and did not detract from the enjoyment of the concert, rather the pre-recorded setting of the event enabled a greater depth and atmosphere than would have been possible had it been a live performance. The streaming started late on Sunday night UK time and although I was really looking forward to it, I have to admit to wimping out and watching it the next morning.

Now I have seen Bob Dylan many times over the years, and in recent times his performances have sometimes been patchy. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed each time I saw him in concert, but on occasion his voice was not so strong and I know many other people left disappointed. But this time was something very different.

DYLAN 3Picture the scene. A smoky bar somewhere in Marseille, Dylan surrounded by his musicians including guitars and double bass and performing in front of a small audience. Everyone in the audience was smoking very heavily (and it looked like genuine smoke, but I suspect it wasn’t, and I also suspect that they weren’t really sitting directly in front of Dylan). However the effect was great and looked genuine. Dylan was dressed well, sometimes there was a change of suit or jacket; sometimes he would be playing guitar or mouth harp, sometimes simply standing singing. Sometimes he would be centre stage, and for other songs he would be to the left. The credits told us that the bar was in Marseille, but this was actually fictitious. I’m sure that it was all recorded within studios in America; but nonetheless, as I have said earlier, the effect was authentic and absolutely excellent.

Dylan performed a selection of some of his older songs from the 1960s and 1970s, some better known than others. I must admit, to my shame, that there were several that I did not recognise. This, however, did not spoil my enjoyment of the performance. The show was billed as Dylan “revisiting” some of his old classic songs. And revisit them he did indeed.

DYLAN 2This was Bob Dylan, in my view, reborn. No more strange vocalising, no more “up singing”; this was Dylan with a strong, deep, emotional voice that in many ways returned to the form he was on in the late 1970s when I first saw him. This was Dylan performing, no more standing still, he would make small mannerisms with his hands; pointing and moving to emphasise the lyrics. When he sang classics (particularly the ones I recognised) such as “Forever Young” and “I’ll be your Baby Tonight” his voice was deep, twisting and turning and emotional. This took me back to the Dylan I saw in Blackbushe Aerodrome in 1978. Tremendous. I had tears in my eyes. The old Bob has returned, singing to us from his heart and his soul in a way that he has not achieved, in my view, for many years. You have to see it to understand. He really was that good, in my view.

DYLAN 1Dylan, at 80, remains a unique and indescribable presence in modern music. Long may the troubadour continue to sing to us and let’s hope the never-ending tour will soon resume so that we can witness the legend perform for us again. 

Set List: When I Paint My Masterpiece; Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine; Queen Jane; Approximately; I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight; Just like Tom Thumb’s Blues; Tombstone Blues; To Be Alone With You; What Was It You Wanted; Forever Young; Pledging My Time; The Wicked Messenger; Watching the River Flow; It’s All over Now, Baby Blue.

Bell + Arc Sunderland Locarno 1971

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Now this recollection has a story about it. This took place in the early days of my starting to attend gigs at the local Mecca, the Sunderland Locarno ballroom. Now every Friday they had a great band on, and I with many friends, would congregate to see the latest and best live music. This particular band was not well-known, but nonetheless, were absolutely excellent live. But first to the story.

I was walking over the bridge on my way to the Mecca when I ran into a semi-familiar face, who will remain nameless (in order to protect the (perhaps not so) innocent). “Are you not going to the Mecca tonight?” I said to the person. “No” they replied, “I have already been and I have pinched the band’s wah wah pedal, so I am going home with it in case I get caught!” At this point, they opened their Levi denim jacket to reveal a Cry Baby wah wah pedal; which were state-of-the-art and very cool at the time. “Wow” (or something equivalent) was my response. They made me promise not to say anything, and I continued my way over the bridge and into the Mecca.

Sure enough, shortly after I arrived in the ballroom, I heard announcement over the PA speakers “someone has stolen the band’s wah wah pedal and they will not perform until it is returned!” Well of course, I knew it wasn’t going to be returned as it was hidden under their jacket and on its way back to their house. I told all my mates this, of course, and we all had a good laugh about it; wondering if the band would actually appear that night. After a significant wait, by which time they would be safely home with said pedal, and the band had obviously realised that it was not going to be returned, they finally took to the stage very late in the evening.

My recollection of the performance was Graham Bell’s powerful and soulful vocals soaring over a mix of rock, blues, pop and psychedelia. The backing band itself, were tremendous. John Turnbull and Nicky Gallagher were both already becoming local heroes and went on to provide the unforgettable rhythm and blues which is still The Blockheads. An excellent band, and a memorable evening, for several reasons!

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“Bell & Arc was a British pop group that existed from 1970 to 1972. It was formed when singer Graham Bell teamed up with the group Arc, whose original lineup was John Turnbull (guitar, vocals), Mickey Gallagher (keyboards, vocals), Tommy Duffy (bass), and Dave Trudex (drums). (Trudex was replaced by Rob Tait, who was then replaced by Alan White.) Arc made an album, Arc at This (1970), before joining with Bell and recording Bell and Arc (1971). The group then split. Turnbull and Gallagher later joined Ian Dury and the Blockheads.” (Artist Biography by William Ruhlmann)

I decided to treat myself to a copy of the Bell + Arc album, courtesy of eBay. The photographs are of the album which I bought and arrived the other day. Now I really must get round to playing it and see if I can remember any of the songs from that night (which, given my memory, is extremely unlikely).

The Nashville Teens and the Downliners Sect? Sunderland Polytechnic Wearmouth Hall 1971?

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Now this one is something of a conundrum. I will explain why shortly.

Every week, on a Saturday night in the early 70s my friends and I would venture down to the Saturday night dance at Sunderland Polytechnic in Wearmouth Hall, which was the students union building. We would never know which bands to expect; all would be revealed written in chalk on a blackboard in the entrance. So every Saturday was something of a great surprise. We would come along and see famous names written on the board: Arthur Brown, Screaming Lord Sutch, Shaking Stevens and the Sunsets, the Wild Angels, and many more. Some of these I have already blogged on; some I will write about in the weeks to come.

Well one Saturday night we came along and the names on the board were “The Nashville Teens” (who I had heard of) and the “Downliners Sect” (who I had vaguely heard something about).

“We were quite influenced by the Downliners Sect” – David Bowie referring to David Bowie and the King Bees in Q Magazine. “The first British R&B I heard was the Downliners Sect. It was at the Ken Colyer Club, they were really doing it then. I heard the Pretty Things later but the Downliners Sect were IT “- Van Morrison (Official site)

Now The Nashville Teens were a band from the 60s who had been in the charts with their big hit “Tobacco Road“, so I was quite excited about seeing them. And the Downliners Sect were a legendary rhythm and blues band, also from the 60s. Now here comes the conundrum. Everything I’ve read about the Downliners Sect tells me that they split up in the late 60s, around 1968, and didn’t reappear until the later 70s, reforming off the back of the pub rock and punk movement. But my memory tells me that I definitely saw a band called the Downliners Sect that night. Whether I did or not, and who the personnel were, is, as they say, lost in the mists of time and in my failing memory.

I recall, the Downliners Sect played a set of rhythm and blues standards and were quite good. But the main attraction for me was witnessing the legendary Nashville Teens and seeing them play “Tobacco Road”. I do remember thinking that all of the members, other than the singer (who was presumably the original singer Ray Phillips) looked quite young, had long hair, and looked a little out of place in a 60s band. Nonetheless, they played a great version of “Tobacco Road”.

So there we go. A good night was, as they say, had by all. But the conundrum remains in my mind. Such things drive me crazy every now and then; but then I realise there is nothing I can do about it. Unless someone out there can enlighten me?

“I was born in a trunk.
Mama died and my daddy got drunk.
Left me here to die alone
In the middle of Tobacco Road.” (John D Loudermilk, 1959).

Picture of the Nashville Teens courtesy of Pop Weekly, via Wikimedia Commons

Ducks Deluxe Marquee club London 20 June 1975

ducks marqueeI am now at the point of adding entries to my blog, when I suddenly remember a concert from many years ago that I have yet to write about. This comes about for two reasons. Firstly, I created the blog by working systematically through my tickets and programmes. Secondly, however, this means that I missed concerts along the way if I did not have a ticket or a programme or a strong memory of the gig. So every now and then one pops into my mind. This gig, is one such example. Some of these are already listed briefly in a post entitled “Other Memories”. But now is the time to write about those other memories!

This gig was the night before a group of us went to see Elton John (with strong support from the Beach Boys and Eagles, among others) at Wembley Stadium. I drove down to London early with a friend in my small red MG Midget sports car and we were staying at a friend’s flat in Acton. He had just moved to London and we were keen to go down and see how he was getting on in the big city. He would regularly go to the Marquee Club, which made us very jealous, as it was a legendary venue from the 1960s onward. The image above, courtesy of Picachord via Wikimedia Commons, shows the site of the original club in Wardour Street. 

“The Marquee Club was a music venue first located at 165 Oxford Street in London, when it opened in 1958 with a range of jazz and skiffle acts. Its most famous period was from 1964 to 1988 at 90 Wardour Street in Soho, and it finally closed when at 105 Charing Cross Road in 1996, though the name has been revived unsuccessfully three times in the 21st century. It was always a small and relatively cheap club, located in the heart of the music industry in London’s West End, and used to launch the careers of generations of rock acts. It was a key venue for early performances by bands who were to achieve worldwide fame in the 1960s and remained a venue for young bands in the following decades. It was the location of the first-ever live performance by the Rolling Stones on 12 July 1962.” (Wikipedia, accessed 28 June 2021)

ducks1And so it was that I, and two friends (who shall remain nameless for reasons which will become obvious); one from Sunderland who had come down to London with me, and another who had recently moved to Acton, went along to savour the delights of the Marquee Club and the pub rock band Ducks Deluxe. I had heard of Ducks Deluxe, although I had never seen them before and I had also heard of the developing pub rock scene, which saw new rock, blues and country based bands playing small clubs and pubs across the capital. This was offering a welcome alternative to seeing our heroes and idols in massive arenas, such as Earls Court (where I had recently seen Led Zeppelin) and Wembley Stadium (where I was about to see Elton John, the following day). The pub rock genre took music back to the basics, back into the pubs and clubs, and back to the people.

I was quite surprised how small the Marquee Club was and how ordinary the entrance appeared. It was a small door and frontage in Wardour Street, Soho. Nevertheless, it was exciting to become part of the London scene, even if only, for one night. I was also surprised that the venue was far from packed. We arrived early to catch the support band and waited for Ducks Deluxe to take the stage. 

“One of the first pub rock bands, the Ducks played basic American-style blues and boogie with remarkable panache and thorough disregard for convention. They were hugely popular but their records sales did not compare with their live success. Nevertheless, they had a heavy influence on the English punk scene that was right around the corner before their members went on to found other far more prominent bands like Graham Parker & the Rumour, the Motors and the Tyla Gang.” (Ducks Deluxe site, accessed 28 June 2021)

I recall Ducks Deluxe performance as being a mix of country rock and rock ‘n’ roll, led by the guitarist Martin Belmont, who had been a roadie for Brinsley Schwarz. This was at the time of their second album Taxi To The Terminal Zone. However, I was not to see the full performance by Ducks Deluxe that evening. As the evening progressed, my friend who had come down to London with me, disappeared into the toilets. He was later to reappear, telling us that he was not feeling well and that he had taken a tablet which later, he admitted, was probably some (presumably bad) acid (that is, LSD). He soon became very unwell to the extent that we were concerned enough to call for an ambulance. The ambulance soon arrived and we were taken to a nearby hospital (I don’t recall which one). The doctors soon recognised the problem, and told us not to worry and that he would soon be okay. However, we spent the whole night in the hospital while he shouted for me, asking for help. By the time the morning came he was okay, discharged from hospital, and we made our way back to Acton for a few hours sleep before leaving for Wembley ducks2Stadium and the Elton John concert (a story which I have already blogged on).

And so, that was my introduction to the Marquee Club, pub rock and London nightlife. Quite fun looking back, although quite worrying at the time. Ducks Deluxe were, from what I saw, excellent. This was, in a way, the start of things to come for me. The following year I would see the Sex Pistols for the first time and my eyes would be opened to a new form of rock music, born out of the likes of Ducks Deluxe and the pub rock scene. “Nostalgia for an age yet to come” (Buzzcocks, 1978). Happy days.

Stan Webb and Chicken Shack The Cluny Newcastle 27 April 2018

Stan Webb is the Man! Although best known for their rendition of “I’d Rather Go Blind”, featuring Christine Perfectchicken tix (later McVie of Fleetwood Mac fame), the man behind Chicken Shack was, is, and always has been the great Stan Webb. Stan is, without question, one of the greatest and most underrated guitarists of all time. For me, he stands up there with the UK greats including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Alvin Lee and Peter Green. His use of tone, dynamics and his dexterity on the fretboard is second to none. Stan understands, and feels, the blues just as much as any of the great old black bluesman. His reinterpretations of classics such as “Thrill Is Gone” and “If I Were a Carpenter” are excellent; he starts off quietly; with long, meandering guitars solos which lead into loud, heavy, introductions to the songs accompanied by Stan’s unique vocals.

Now celebrating over 50 years of Chicken Shack, Stan continues to play and tour and on this evening, graces the Newcastle Cluny with his presence. Entering the Cluny in a wheelchair is pretty straightforward; the staff turn up at the door, expecting me, and place a ramp over the step so I can enter the venue. My carer Jackie and I are then led through a small door at the side of the bar which takes us into the lower part of the concert room, not far from the stage. And with a great view of Stan and Chicken Shack.

Stan treats us to an evening of the blues, with his usual guitar dynamics. Sometimes he will hold his hand to his ear in the style of the old folk singers.

I recall him opening with “Thrill Is Gone”, much to my delight and playing two of my favourites: “Poor Boy” which utilises the aforementioned guitar dynamics, building from a quiet start to a rousing, almost deafening climax and “Daughter of the Hillside”, a Chicken Shack favourite which is also quite loud. We were also treated to a great version of “Nightlife”, the B-side of “I’d Rather Go Blind”. Excellent. The rest of the set comprises a mix of blues classics. Stan closes, as he often does, with the Chicken Shack hit record from 1969 “I’d Rather Go Blind“. Another great evening with a classic rock and blues guitarist.

Set list (something like this!): The Thrill Is Gone; Going Up Going Down; You Shook Me; (You Are) The Sweetest Little Thing; Prisoner; Night Life; Poor Boy; Too Late to Cry; Doctor Brown; Daughter of the Hillside; Encore: I’d Rather Go Blind.

Peggy Seeger The Sage 22 October 2018

For this entry, my daughter Laura has written an account of her experience of the concert.

Although I was much more familiar with the music of her brother Pete, I was very much looking forward to seeing Peggy peggy tixSeeger in concert. Her track “I’m Gonna be an Engineer” had been a favourite in our house, featuring on a family play-list we’d created for my daughter. The obvious feminist messages of this track had sparked my interest and made me intrigued to hear more of Seeger’s output. So, when Dad told us of the up-coming Sage concert, both Dale and I were keen to go. Baby-sitter secured, Dale and I headed to the Sage where we met up with Dad and his carer Jackie.

As a political activist, who has spent most of her life campaigning, Peggy Seeger’s music speaks of working-class struggle, feminism, environmentalism, peace and social injustice. Her two-part set included tracks which focused heavily on such themes and reflected her political beliefs. Particularly striking was “Reclaim the Night”, a dark folk song examining sexual violence and consent which Peggy performed a-cappella. However, although the set had many sombre moments when such tracks were performed, Peggy managed to deliver these serious messages whilst still keeping the evening warm and full of charismatic banter.

Seeger created a friendly, light-hearted and good-humoured relationship with the crowd. She joked between tracks and encouraged the audience to speak up and sing along with the songs, unifying the crowd and giving the evening a traditional folk feel at times. Indeed, the Belfast review stated, “Seeger’s greatest asset is her uncanny ability to dissolve the gap between artist and audience.” (Belfast Review, 2017)

At the age of 83, Seeger treated us to stories about her fascinating life, mentioning her late husband Ewan MacColl and her brothers Mike and Peter. There was the sense that we were seeing a living legend perform.

peggy bookSeeger “saw folk music as inherently political” referring to it as “the expressions and artistry of people who are not in power.” (Freedman, 2017) It was evident from this concert that Seeger’s performance was not just a musical expression but more-over an externalising of a set of beliefs.

Peter adds: I knew of course, on the famous love affair between Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, and how he wrote the song “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” about Peggy. I also knew that sometimes Peggy performs the song, and I was hoping that she would do so. I was a little disappointed that you did not sing it this time; however, this did not detract from a wonderful concert and a lovely evening spent with friends and family.

I bought a copy of Peggy’s book, which tells the story of her fascinating life. A rare opportunity to see a legend in concert.

Set List: I’ve been Wisconsin, I’ve Been a Bad Bad Girl, Buffalo Boy, Different Therefore Equal, Reclaim the Night, Brony on the Isle of ST Helena, Ballad of Accounting, Everything Changes, Concerning the Three Young Men, The Creel, Right to Life, Careless Love, Do You Believe in Me, We Don’t Talk Any More, The Joys of Living, Song of Choice, Donald’s in the White House,

Shining Levels Pop Recs Sunderland 7 June 2019

How could I forget to review this concert? The Shining Levels are a band that features my own daughter, Laura, and who has been performing songs based on the book the Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers. I saw them several times before the lockdown and this concert was very local, in Sunderland, and only a few streets away. The concert took place at Pop Rex, which some of you will remember as The Bunker, a recording studio and, in its previous location, a venue where I saw anarcho-punk bands such as the Poison Girls and Dirt.

Pop Recs Ltd is an independent record shop, which also has an art gallery, shop, and steaming cups of coffee. Pop Recs Ltd, which is owned by local band Frankie & The Heartstrings, is currently located on Stockton Road. In its time at its previous location on Fawcett Street, Pop Recs Ltd played host to some of the most exciting live music gigs in Sunderland, pretty much every week and more often than not for free. Great bands playing gigs at Pop Recs Ltd have included Badly Drawn Boy, Maximo Park, Edwyn Collins and James Bay.

What can people expect from your show at Pop Recs on Friday 7th June? (NARC, June 4th 2019)
An hour or so of complete musical escapism, we will set the tone for meditation, a musical seance which we can all enjoy together.

And that is exactly what we got, the lovely swirling vocals of the three girls, complete with flute and violin and the earthy, grounded vocals of the two boys. Unfortunately, we arrived late, at least in terms of getting a good space, and I was seated at the back in my wheelchair unable to see much over the heads of the people standing in front of me. But such is life nowadays, nonetheless, I could hear the lovely sounds which filled the room and made their way out into the dark street outside.

“Inspired by the real life events of 18th century Yorkshire criminal gang the Cragg Vale Coiners who operate in the Upper Calder Valley in the Pennines, the album’s source material, The Gallows Pole by author Benjamin Myers, has rapidly become a modern cult classic. It is the first novel to be signed to Jack White’s Third Man Books and will be published in the US/Canada in November 2019. It has also been optioned for film adaptation.

Drawing on a shared childhood and background with the author, The Shining Levels’ music explores themes from the book: an England divided, the potency and mystery of remote rural landscapes, industrial progress, the changing seasons, shifting fortunes, self-delusion and self-aggrandizement, poverty vs wealth, societal power structures – and strange visions of mythical creatures….. the bucolic meet the technological, and the rural collides with the digital to thrilling effect. “There’s certainly a nod towards what many may consider English folk, certainly in Laura’s beautiful plaintive voice,” elaborates Davey [of the band]. “But there’s also pounding drums, overdriven electric guitar, loops, and samples all over the place. So I think to call it folk music would actually be doing it a disservice. It’s a set of quite different songs and moods forming a larger soundscape that hopefully takes the listener on a unique journey.” (Piccadilly Records, 2019)

Another lovely evening with a fantastic band who I look forward to seeing again once we are out of the lockdown. I know that the band is working on new material which I look forward to seeing them perform very soon.