Fairport Convention Whitley Bay Playhouse 2 March 2022

FAIRPORT TIXIt has been a few years since Fairport Convention graced our stages across the UK. As with many bands, the Covid lockdown has restricted their ability to get out on tour. So it was a joy for the band, and for fans like me, to witness their return to the north-east; this time to Whitley Bay Playhouse, which is a lovely medium sized venue. My wheelchair space was perched right at the back of the hall, looking down on the crowd and the band below; but with a great view of the stage and the concert. The format for the show remained as it always is. First the crowd is warmed up by the support act, this time Luke Jackson. We arrived during his performance, which was great by the way. He was soon joined by Fairport Convention who started their first set with the normal opening song “Walk Awhile”, which dates back to 1970 and the FAIRPORT PROGFull House album. A great opener to a great night.

After a few more songs, Fairport have a break giving time for a short interval, during which I buy a programme. The band explain that, because of Covid restrictions, they will not be meeting fans and signing programmes during the interval as normal. However, to make up for it, the programmes are all already signed by the whole band, with an honesty box in which to place my £10 for two programmes; one for me and one for my friend John in America.

FAIRPORT 1 22After a quick pint of Guinness I am off back up in the lift to my seat. The rest of the set is a mixture of old songs, and quite a few new ones from the new album. Fairport are showcasing tracks from the Full House album, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020 and which will form a  major part of their performance at their annual Copredy festival in the summer, where they will be joined by old friends and members, including the legendary Richard Thompson. I always get the feeling that being in the presence of Fairport Convention is like joining a family get together. They are obviously all good friends and always make the audience feel very much “at home”. Original member Simon Nicol and long-time member Dave Pegg lead the rest of the band, who have now all been part of the family for many years themselves, through a series of songs which are the usual blend of traditional folk and rock music. The closing song is, as usual, the lengthy traditional folk story ballad “Matty Groves”. For the encore, as always, they are joined again by the support act Luke Jackson, for a joyful singalong “Meet On the Ledge”, taking us back to  1969 and the What We Did on Our Holidays album. A great evening spent with some peaceful, joyful songs performed by a band who, as I said earlier, made everyone feel “at home” with them.

FAIRPORT 2 22Many thanks to Jackie for the photographs and for Chris for coming to put me back into bed.

Setlist:

Set 1: Walk Awhile; Cider Rain; Don’t Reveal My Name; Lalla Rookh; Steampunkery; Sloth.

Set 2: The Journeyman’s Grace; Honour and Praise; The Year of Fifty Nine; Bankruptured; Moses Waits; Moondust and Solitude; Doctor of Physick; The Hiring Fair; Matty Groves.

Encore: Meet on the Ledge

My next concert was to be quite a change in mood, volume and tempo; Status Quo the following evening, which I shall report on soon.

The Stranglers Newcastle City Hall 18 February 2022

strangstixWell here I am. Back at the City Hall with The Stranglers. So many memories. Happy days again, yet tinged with mixed emotions, some of elation, some of sadness. So many different perspectives: the venue, the band, myself, family. I will explain each of these below.

The Venue. Newcastle City Hall is almost like a second home to me. I have seen so many concerts there; probably several hundred, maybe over 1000. My first was back in early 1971 when I saw Iron Butterfly supported by Yes and Dada (who included the late, sadly missed, superb vocalist Robert Palmer and Elkie STRANG4Brooks who, of course, went on to much greater success in Vinegar Joe, again with Robert Palmer, and as a soloist). Soon I saw the Rolling Stones there, a few weeks later, and then many more bands over the years including Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Bruce Springsteen, and many, many more over a 50+ year period. For the first time they had somehow managed to remove all of the seats from the downstairs area, allowing a massive crowd of Stranglers fans to jump around and have fun to the music. It was very strange, yet refreshing, to be part of a very different experience in a very differently configured City Hall.

The Band. This is The Stranglers Final Full UK Tour. The tour has been postponed for some time partly due to Covid and partly because of the sad passing of founder member Dave Greenfield; he of the great swirling, driving keyboards that underpinned, and led, all of those Stranglers classics. At one point the STRANG2tour was almost cancelled but fan demand persuaded the members to continue in tribute to Dave Greenfield’s massive contribution to the band and their music. Only Jean-Jacques Burnel remains from the original lineup. Drummer Jet Black retired some years ago. Lead singer and songwriter Hugh Cornwell left many years ago, and after a few line-up changes including one with both a vocalist and a guitarist, his position is filled by local Sunderland lad Baz Warne with Baz taking over vocal and guitar duties and becoming the band’s main front man. The Stranglers were the first punk band to play Newcastle City Hall in 1977, a concert which I attended and was absolutely stupendous. Later in 1977 they returned and after some altercations between Hugh, Jean-Jacques and the bouncers which ended up in a massive stage invasion The Stranglers were banned from the City Hall for a number of years. But the soul of the band remains as does the power of the music. Nothing is diminished, we are overwhelmed by a constant barrage of classic songs: right back to the start with “Grip” and “Peaches”, through the massive hits “Sweet Little Girl” and “Golden Brown” and many, many more along the way. This is The Stranglers at their best and just as I remember them from the many times I have seen them over the years. If this was to be the last time I experience this band, it couldn’t be any better. Jean-Jacques is a joy to see, quietly leading the band, his bass playing as booming and driving as ever. Baz has a bit fun with the Newcastle crowd, in terms of the Geordies/Makem rivalry. There are lots of encores and lots of dancing and moshing down at the front. For the first encore Jean-Jacques and Baz return as an acoustic duo and treat us to a couple of beautiful, more subdued, songs. The pace and volume then return for the second encore and the band finish, triumphant. The crowd go home overjoyed at the experience.

Myself. Even after a few years in a wheelchair I am still getting used to the experience of being different to, and separate from, the majority of the crowd. However there are some benefits. I am sitting with my carer and my sister-in-law (more of this below) perched on a disabled ramp up above the crowd, with a STRANG3great view over the heads of the jumping, swirling, moshing, crazy crowd below us.

Family. In 1977 I was accompanied to the Stranglers concert by my late wife, Marie. We took along her sister, now my sister-in-law, Elaine. Elaine was at the time a young teenager, excited by the new music known as punk. She is now one of my carers, but on this occasion came along to see The Stranglers as my guest. This was the first time she had seen them since that concert back in 1977. So 45 years later she was experiencing The Stranglers again. Her verdict was that they were just as good as they were “back in the day”! Having Elaine with me again, brought back lots of memories and mixed emotions. It is strange the twists and turns one experiences in one’s life.

I must not forget to give credit to the support act, Ruts DC; who are basically The Ruts without their sadly departed singer. We arrived late, but in time to see them perform their hit songs “I’m in a Rut” and RUTTS“Babylon’s Burning”. Both of these were very credible versions and it was great to hear them again.

So, to summarise. A night of very mixed emotions but overall one I greatly enjoyed. The last time I saw The Stranglers was in a muddy field at Glastonbury, once again with my late wife Marie. This time was probably the last, but was another excellent experience. Overall a happy night.

Many thanks to my carer Jackie for taking the photographs and doing a great job too.

Setlist: Toiler on the Sea; Something Better Change; Sometimes; Water ; Skin Deep; This Song; Nice ‘n’ Sleazy; Don’t Bring Harry; Strange Little Girl; Always the Sun ; Peaches; Golden Brown The Last Men on the Moon; (Get a) Grip (on Yourself) ; Curfew; White Stallion; Relentless; Nuclear Device (The Wizard of Aus); Walk On By; Straighten Out; Duchess; Hanging Around

Encore: The Lines; And If You Should See Dave…

Encore 2: Theme From Get Carter; Tank; No More Heroes

Mike Garson’s Bowie celebration live stream event 8 January 2022

This live stream event was the second produced by Mike Garson, former pianist with David Bowie forScreenshot (194) much of the 70s. I virtually attended Mike Garson’s previous event, which was excellent and consisted of a great collection of contemporary artists, all Bowie fans themselves, performing some of David Bowie’s best songs. This live stream event promised a similar collection of Bowie classics, performed by a different collection of artists including Joe Elliott with Def Leopard and solo, Living Colour, Simon Le Bon and John Taylor of Duran Duran, Noel Gallagher, Ricky Gervais and Gary Oldman, the latter two are of course both actors.

Screenshot (176)This was an equally splendid event with Joe Elliott clearly wearing his David Bowie fandom badge near his heart and Simon Le Bon putting in excellent versions of David Bowie classics. Gary Oldman once again performed astoundingly as a vocalist and Ricky Gervais spoke tenderly of his interactions with David Bowie, particularly in relation to his Extras TV programme. Mike Garson was, as before, an excellent master of ceremonies and compere for the entire event. Living colour, a band I am not familiar with, again surprised me with powerful and passionate versions of selections from David Bowie’s massive back catalogue. The house band, featuring Duran Duran’s John Taylor, gave excellent support to the solo vocalists.

Screenshot (179)Setlist: Fame (WALK THE MOON); Young Americans (Living Colour and David Sanborn); I’m Afraid of Americans (Living Colour); It Ain’t Easy (Judith Hill); Five Years (Gaby Moreno); Space Oddity (Billy Corgan); The Jean Genie (Bernard Fowler); Goodnight Mr. Jones (Joe Elliott); Time (Charlie Sexton and Gaby Moreno); Lazarus (Charlie Sexton); Golden Years (WALK THE MOON); Starman (Gretchen Parlato); As the World Falls Down (Evan Rachel Wood and The Worm from Labyrinth); Drive-In Saturday (Def Leppard); Ashes to Ashes (Charlie Sexton); Slip Away (Gary Oldman); Let’s Dance (Simon Le Bon and John Taylor); Wild Is the Wind (Bernard Fowler and Judith Hill); All the Young Dudes (Joe Sumner); Valentine’s Day (Noel Gallagher); Shadow Man (Gail Ann Dorsey); Under Pressure (WALK THE MOON); Modern Love (Jake Wesley Rogers); Life on Mars?  (Jake Wesley Rogers); Changes  (Rob Thomas); Heroes (Rob Thomas).

Chrissie Hynde sings Bob Dylan at the Royal Opera House London live stream event 26 December 2021

CHRISSY 0Chrissie Hynde is clearly, like many of us, a Bob Dylan fan. I had not realised it but she had the privilege of singing Dylan’s classic “Leopardskin Pillbox Hat” alongside the great man himself in Wembley Stadium, London on his 1984 tour which I caught at St James’s Park, Newcastle. She has recently, in May 2021, released an album Standing in the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan. This live concert took place on the evening of 26 December, Boxing Day, in the beautiful surroundings of the Royal Opera House, London and was live streamed via VEEPS, the very same streaming platform that hosted (and on which I watched) Bob Dylan’s Shadow Kingdom show last July.

CHRISSY 5Chrissie’s band for the evening consisted of Pretenders guitarist James Walbourne, with Carwyn Ellis on keyboards and Danny Williams on upright bass. Chrissie sat on a stool in the middle of the band, playing acoustic guitar. The band sat quite closely, almost intimately, together centre stage surrounded by beautiful Christmas lights, chandeliers and a Christmas tree. Lovely!

This was not your standard Bob Dylan tribute set. Chrissie didn’t play safe by performing a set of his best-known songs. Indeed, there were several songs which I did not recognise at all. Those that I did recognise included “Blind Willie McTell”, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and “Every Grain of Sand”. Each song was performed acoustically with great guitar work from James CHRISSY 4Walbourne and equally well performed keyboards and double bass. Chrissie was on fine form. Her voice sounded as strong as ever and she was clearly enjoying every second of the experience. Dressed casually in a T-shirt “Don’t Pet Me – I’m Performing”! and the usual jeans and knee-high leather boots, she looked every part the lady rockstar that she always has done, since I first saw her in Newcastle Mayfair at the start of The Pretenders life. At one point Hynde admonished a lady in the audience “Switch Off That Phone”; only to have to apologise at the end of the song, when she realised the phone flash she thought she had seen was in fact the Exit sign flashing across her eyes! You couldn’t make it up!

CHRISSY 2Having completed the Dylan set, Chrissie moved on to a couple of songs which she announced as being composed by another great writer Ray Davies (a former beau) rather than announce them as Pretenders songs: “I Go to Sleep” and (my favourite) “Stop Your Sobbing”, which took me right back to those early days when she was first starting out as a musician and artist. These were the highlights of the show for me.

The band then moved on to a few songs that Chrissie had written with guitarist James Walbourne. These songs appeared on the Pretenders most recent album Hate for SaleCHRISSY 3, and were intertwined with a great version of the Hoagy Carmichael classic “I Get Along Without You Very Well” for which she put down her guitar, picked up the microphone and stood stage front. The single encore was a song, which was new to me, by French singer-songwriter Charles Trenet: “Que Rèste-T-Il De Nos Amours?”, reading the lyrics from a piece of paper, which she often needed to consult! It seemed a strange choice, but also quite fitting and marked the end of a lovely evening spent (virtually) with the musical legend, that is Chrissie Hynde.

CHRISSY 6Setlist: In the Summertime; You’re a Big Girl Now; Standing in the Doorway; Sweetheart Like You; Blind Willie McTell; Love Minus Zero/No Limit; Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight; Tomorrow Is a Long Time; Every Grain of Sand; I Go to Sleep; Stop Your Sobbing; Maybe Love Is in NYC; You Can’t Hurt a Fool; Crying in Public; I Get Along Without You Very Well; (You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am

Encore: Que Rèste-T-Il De Nos Amours?

Rick Wakeman Sage Gateshead 16 December 2021

I first came across Rick Wakeman when he was a member of The Strawbs. My good friend, Tony, had arick6 21 copy of the album Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios, which was recorded live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1970. Rick features on the album and his distinctive neoclassical piano playing is evident throughout the record. We would sit and listen to the album again and again. I now have my own copy and played it the other night to remind myself of Rick’s early work. I next came across him when I first saw him live at Newcastle City Hall in 1972, when he had just joined Yes. I’ve been a fan and follower ever since and have seen him several times in different incarnations of Yes and on his epic solo tours including seeing him perform albums such as The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

rick2 21This tour was a Grumpy Old Man Christmas tour, incorporating Rick playing a selection of his own work, famous songs that he played keyboards on as a session musician, Christmas tunes, some Grumpy Old Man stories and anecdotes and a short question-and-answer interlude. The show was in two parts, each one hour duration, with a short interval in between.

I arrived just in time to catch the start of the performance, with my carer Jackie and we met up with my daughter Laura. Rick started on his grand piano with a couple of Christmas carols followed by a wonderful performance of “Morning Has Broken” on which he performed piano for Cat Stevens. This was followed by a selection of short segments from his albums, including the aforementioned Six Wives of Henry VIII, the latter performed on keyboards. He also performed a great instrumental version of the Yes classic “And You and I”.

rick prog 21The stage was set out very Christmassy with a lovely, lit Christmas tree towards the back, between the grand piano and keyboards. In between the music Rick told some quite funny stories (some quite inappropriate), largely about the problems of getting old and some lovely stories about how his entire village comes together for a Christmas party/musical evening. It sounds a great village to live in! He reminisced about his good friends, both sadly passed, and both also excellent keyboard players Jon Lord and Keith Emerson. He told a funny story about how he went to a small awards ceremony with Keith Emerson, and Keith got locked in the toilet. Then Rick climbed in over the top from the cubicle next door, and they both smashed the door outward in order to escape, much to the amusement of other celebrities who were in the gents at the time. There was then a short interval, during which I partook in a (tiny) miniature bottle of orange gin, which I had won in a charity raffle at Laura’s school. Unfortunately, I found the gin rather sickly (yak).

rick1 21The second half took a similar format, starting with “Jingle Bells” and “Away in a Manger” followed by some more of Rick’s own compositions. Then the question and answer section. On entry to the hall you could pick up a card on which to write a question for Rick. On this occasion, I chose not to do so. However plenty of people did ask questions and Rick selected a few to answer. Two I recall in particular. First someone asked a question about Yes and Rick threw the card to the floor, signifying (I assume) his feelings about the current version of the band, which does not include any original members and neither Rick nor Jon Anderson (arguably two of the most important musicians in the classic Yes lineup). Secondly someone asked when he first played Newcastle. He remembered that it was with The Strawbs in 1969 at Newcastle City Hall supporting Roy Harper. Now there’s a gig I wish I attended; but I was a little young at the time, sadly (my life is full of such regrets of shows I wish I attended). He then returned to the grand piano to play two wonderful songs he played on with David Bowie: “Space Oddity” and “Life on Mars”. Simply exquisite. He concluded the performance with a couple of songs which he did not play on, but which are particular favourites of his; the Beatles “Help!” and “Eleanor Rigby”, performed in the style of classical composers. Our taxi was due so we left at this point; however as we were leaving the hall we could hear Rick performing “Silent Night”. A fitting end to a wonderful Christmas performance by an excellent musician and all-round funny guy. This was my last gig of 2021 and a great end to my concert year.

rick3 21Setlist: Set 1: When a Child Is Born; O Holy Night; Morning Has Broken; Jane Seymour; Gone but Not Forgotten; Catherine of Aragon; Catherine Howard; And You and I; The Last Battle; Merlin the Magician

Set 2: Jingle Bells / Away in a Manger; The Dance of a Thousand Lights; Sea Horses; Space Oddity; Life on Mars?; Help!; Eleanor Rigby

Encore: Silent Night

Dave Stewart Sunderland Empire 10 September 2017

dave3Somehow this blog entry got lost in my memory. Anyway, I am putting things right by making the entry now. Dave Stewart had promised to come and play the Sunderland Empire a few years earlier; tickets were put on sale, but for some reason the concert was cancelled. At the time he promised to rearrange it, and true to his word, sure enough a couple of years later the concert was readvertised as below:

“The legendary co-founder of Eurythmics, Dave Stewart is coming home in a live concert celebrating his 65th birthday live at Sunderland Empire, for one night only.  

Dave Stewart says “I’m looking forward to playing lots of the hit songs I’ve written over the years in the legendary Sunderland Empire. I was born and grew up in Sunderland and have many great memories about my life there (I’m sure more will come flooding back). I was a struggling musician as a teenager in Sunderland so I chose to invite the three young local bands below to perform before me.””

The local bands Social Room, Lilliput and Picnic were all invited by Dave Stewart to be support acts for the concert.

Dave performed with his Nashville all-star players, each of whom had a very strong and illustrious pedigree: Chad Cromwell (Drums, previously played for Neil Young, Stevie Nicks, Mark Knopfler, Joe Walsh), Tom Bukovac (Guitar – Hank Williams Jr., Sheryl Crow, Don Henley), Dan Dugmore (Steel Guitar – Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Stevie Nicks, Loretta Lynn) and Michael Rhodes (Bass – Martina McBride, Buddy Guy, Lady Antebellum).

dave2I have lots of fond memories of seeing Dave Stewart in many incarnations. First, in local folk rock band Longdancer at Sunderland Locarno in the early 1970s. Then, some years on, with Annie Lennox in the Tourists again at Sunderland Locarno, at Newcastle City Hall and at the Reading Festival. Further on in his career, I was lucky enough to see Eurythmics perform at Newcastle City Hall. I also recall seeing Dave Stewart join Fergal Sharkey on stage for an encore at Newcastle City Hall, on Fergal’s first solo tour after leaving the Undertones. I think the last time I saw Dave Stewart before the Sunderland Empire concert was with Ringo Starr at the opening of the Capital of Culture in Liverpool, which was also the opening concert at the new venue, Liverpool Arena.

Dave Stewart has done pretty well for a lad from Sunderland. He has sold in excess of 100 million albums worldwide. He has also played with some of the biggest names in the business. It is great that he remembers his roots, and this return home concert was much anticipated by the people of Sunderland.

It was very fitting that he invited three local bands to support him in his homecoming show. They did a great job of warming up the crowd for the main act; the man himself. His entrance was preceded by local singer-songwriter Marty Longstaff, otherwise known as the Lake Poets, and the son of two good friends. Marty performed a number written about his hometown “City by the Sea”, a fitting precursor to Dave Stewart’s performance. Stewart has recently produced Marty’s album in Nashville.

Stewart took to the stage with his Nashville band and performed three numbers of his own, which were unfamiliar to me, but sounded just great: “So Long Ago”, “The Beast Called Fame” and “Magic in the Blues”. Stewart was very much “The Ringmaster”. Although I was sitting at the end of hero towards the front, I still had a great view as he prowled backwards and forwards along the front of the stage. Dave Stewart then took us through a selection from his extensive back catalogue, joined by guest singers throughout. This included several Eurythmics songs with a female vocalist performing Annie Lenox’s vocals faultlessly.

dave1Between the songs Stewart told stories of his memories of Sunderland in the 60s. It was great to hear him speak so fondly of our city. Guests included Diane Birch who took her position on piano and delivered a wonderful version of the Eurythmics classic track “There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart)”. Johnny Borrell, from Razorlight sang “Don’t Come around Here No More” a song which Dave Stewart wrote with Tom Petty, no less.

Then came a big surprise, and one which was very fitting for the evening. The Easington Colliery Brass Band, who had become part of Stewarts band for the evening, performed his song written about his hometown “This Little Town”. Wonderful. Then the aforementioned Marty Longstaff joined Stewart for a great rendition of the Eurythmics song “When The Day Goes Down”.

The evening was brought to a close with everyone on stage singing “Sweet Dreams”. By now the entire Empire crowd was up on its feet, singing along. A great evening with a Sunderland legend! Bought myself a signed book as a momento of the evening.

60s Gold Tour Sage Gateshead 17 November 2021

60s tixSome time ago I promised myself I would never again go to a 60s show. Too cheesy. Too embarrassing. Too many people dancing around in an unbecoming manner! However this one tempted me for several reasons. Firstly it featured my hero PJ Proby. Secondly I always fancied seeing Marmalade. I have a vague memory of seeing them at Sunderland Top Rank in the early 70s when they were out of the charts and the place was empty. But it is very vague and I can’t be certain I was actually there! And yes I realise there is no original member in the band from their heyday when they had their big hits such as “Reflections of My Life” and “Lovin’ Things” but Sandy Newman has been a member of Marmalade since the mid-70s and featured on their last big hit “Falling Apart at the Seams”. And thirdly the show featured another hero of mine, Steve Ellis. Now Steve Ellis has sadly had to pull out of the tour due to ill-health. I hope he’s soon better. Still the line-up remained strong.

60s progWhen I was a kid, around 11 or 12 years old I would go to the Saturday morning disco at Sunderland Top Rank. It was 1967 or 1968 and my heroes were Steve Marriott, Steve Ellis and Barry Ryan. I had a pair of black checky hipster trousers and a black plastic belt which was very wide and had two metal prongs as a fastener. You bought the belts at Woolworths as I recall. The hipster trousers were made of very rough material and were quite itchy to the skin. I also wore a Paisley shirt with button-down collar made by “Rave” which was the make of the day and you bought them at Binns. Of course, I also wore a vintage kipper tie. I felt I was a young mod and would parade around the walkway which circled the ballroom eating my iced drink, called a Slush. I would even dance sometimes! I often think those were some of my happiest days. One of the records I loved was “Lovin’ Things” by Marmalade. I used to gaze at young girls my own age but didn’t dare talk to any!

And so I went along to the 60s show with mixed feelings. Would I enjoy it? Or was it going to be a cheesy letdown? And I also had in my mind the question “when is a band no longer a band?” After all, some of the bands (I should call them groups, as we did in the 60s) featured only one, or in some cases no, original members.

Introduction: 7.30pm. The compere for the evening was DJ Ally Pally, whom I have seen before fulfilling a similar role in another 60s Gold concert at Newcastle Tyne Theatre a few years ago. His job was to introduce each of the acts, and he did so well. I was accompanied by carer Jackie and my sister-in-lawjerrys p 1 Elaine who was, for the evening, my guest rather than a carer. She was sitting separately from us as we bought her ticket later. However, she was able to come over and join us later on. 

Gerry’s Pacemakers: 7.33pm. First up was Gerry’s Pacemakers. This consisted of the late Gerry Marsden’s backing band, including his musical director for the last 25 years, and a new singer. They sang a number of Gerry’s hits including “How Do You Do”, “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” (one of my favourite songs of all time), “Ferry Cross the Mersey” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Good versions of great songs and a nice introduction to the evening.

Dave Berry: 7.45pm. Next, a white glove appeared from behind the curtain and the legend that is Dave Berry shuffled onto the stage, his hands shielding his face. He was, of course, famous for those strange spooky hand mannerisms dave ber 1which continued throughout his set. He sang a few of his hits including “Memphis Tennessee”, “Mama” and my favourite “The Crying Game” with its wonderful Wah Wah guitar. The guitarist did a reasonable version of the original guitar sounds and solos, which were performed by either Jimmy Page or Big Jim Sullivan (great session man who went on to become Tom Jones guitarist on his TV show). The truth of who played on the single seems to be lost in the depths of time. Whoever it was they did a wonderful job. Dave Berry is 80 years old and looks, and sounds, just fine. Excellent.

Mamas & Papas UK: 7.57pm. The Mamas and Papas UK are simply a cover band who did fair versions of the band’s greatest hits including “Creeque Alley”, “Monday Monday” and “California Dreaming”. Greatmamas 1 songs which still sound good today. Strangely the band also included the singer from Gerry’s Pacemakers! Then came my hero!

PJ Proby: 8.10pm. Now this is THE MAN. The uncompromising, unflinching, outspoken, politically incorrect, but great, legend that is the 83-year-old PJ Proby. Still in strong voice and looking very healthypj 1 and stylish with longish white hair and full beard, he belted out his hits including “Somewhere”, “Hold Me” and “Maria”. PJ sat down for some of the performance but also managed some dancing with his saxophone player! The man is a hero of mine and continues to astound with his vocal histrionics and his melodramatic, but wonderful, rendition of classic ballads from musicals. Proby, and all the other acts before him, were backed by Gerry’s Pacemakers. Then things moved up a gear.

Marmalade: 8.23pm.  This version of Marmalade is fronted by Sandy Newman who has taken on the lead role that was formally Dean Ford’s. Sandy has been in the band since the mid-marm 170s and featured on their last big hit record “Falling Apart at the Seams”. I first saw Sandy at the Grangemouth pop festival in 1972. He was second on the bill, after Billy Connolly, and fronting the Chris McLure Section. The stage cleared for Marmalade who are a truly professional act and moved the whole show up a notch. Great versions of classic songs followed: “Wait for Me Marianne”, “Lovin’ Things” (in my mind I was 12 again and back in the Top Rank Suite in my hipsters), “Rainbow”, “Reflections of My Life” and their cover of the Beatles song, which got them a big hit and up to number one in the charts “Ob La Di, Ob La Da”. An excellent close to the first half of the show, and a long time wish of mine fulfilled; to see Marmalade!

Interval: 8.45pm. Time for a nice cool gin and tonic. Elaine came across and had a chat, taking up an empty seat beside Jackie and me. We all agreed the show so far was just great!

Vanity Fare: 9.05pm. Vanity Fare opened the second half of the show with the hits “Hitchin’ a Ride”, vanity 1“Early in the Morning” (their biggest hit) and “I Live for the Sun”. This is an example of a band which doesn’t include any original members; however it does include some long-standing members who have been with the band for many years). They reopened the proceedings well and were good fun.

Herman’s Hermits: 9.20pm. Herman’s Hermits contain the original drummer, hermans 1Barry Whitwam, who has been in the band since its inception. The band members have gradually retired over the years and Peter Noone left in the early 70s. Now the musicians who surround Barry have been with him for many years and did great versions of wonderful pop classics including “No Milk Today”, “Sunshine Girl” and “There’s a Kind of Hush”. Barry Whitwam came to the front and explained how the band had sold 80 million records and told the tale of how they once had the great privilege of meeting Elvis Presley. I have seen this version of the Hermits before and they always put on a great performance. You can’t go wrong with hits like that.

The Tremeloes: 9.42pm. And now a big surprise. This version of the Tremeloes was to be fronted by none other than bass player and singer Chip Hawkes. However we were told by Ally Pally that Chip had been taken unwell at the start of the tour and had to drop out. I hope you are soon better, Chip. He was chesney 1replaced by none other than his son, the “One and Only” Chesney Hawkes. Fantastic! Chesney is a consummate performer and took the show up a level again. He led the band, which also features his brother on drums and Chip’s 15-year-old grandson on guitar plus a couple of other members (one of whom was from Vanity Fare!) through all those classics good time hits: “Even the Bad Times Are Good”, “Here Comes My Baby”, and “My Little Lady”. In the case of the latter song, Chesney explained how his dad met his mum on the Golden Shot TV show in the 60s (his mum was one of the lovely girl presenters on the show) and that he wrote the song about her; they have been married for 54 years! The “Tremeloes” continued with more hits closing with an a cappella version of the smash “Silence Is Golden”. Just wonderful. Was this really the Tremeloes? Or Chesney Hawkes and family singing the Tremeloes? Who cares. It was just great. We all agreed it had been a wonderful night.

 Concert finish: 10.20pm. Our taxi driver was waiting for us and we were soon on our way home, still excited about the appearance of Chesney Hawkes (who was now our hero) and we told the taxi driver all about it. A great night reliving some wonderful memories with some classic pop songs from the 60s. When is a band no longer a band? Who cares?!

An audience with Paul McCartney live stream from Southbank Centre 5 November 2021

paul4 - Copy (2)Paul McCartney has recently written a wonderful book entitled The Lyrics, which is a beautifully presented, two-volume (in a presentation box) selection of 154 of his lyrics. The book was edited by the poet, Paul Muldoon, who  helped Paul choose the lyrics to be included. This live stream was from a question-and-answer/audience with event which saw the two Pauls interviewed by Samira Ahmed in the Southbank Centre, London. I would have loved to attend the actual event in London but, given my circumstances, it was more practical to settle for the live streaming. Having said that the live stream was excellently done, and I really enjoyed it. It was actually almost “like being there”!

“More often than I can count, I’ve been asked if I would write an autobiography, but the time has never been right. The one thing I’ve always managed to do, whether at home or on the road, is to write new songs. I know that some people, when they get to a certain age, like to go to a diary to recall day-to-day events from the past, but I have no such notebooks. What I do have are my songs, hundreds of them, which I’ve learned serve much the same purpose. And these songs span my entire life.” – Paul McCartney, The Lyrics

“In this extraordinary book, with unparalleled candour, Paul McCartney recounts his life and art through the prism of 154 songs from all stages of his career – from his earliest boyhood compositions through the legendary decade of The Beatles, to Wings and his solo albums to the present.” (From Paul McCartney website)

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I have just received my own copy of the book and haven’t had time to go through it properly yet. However I can confirm that it is a beautiful artefact, well presented, and provides fascinating insights into the lyrics of one of our true musical geniuses, and one of my heroes. I look forward to going through the book in more detail in the weeks to come.

Paul McCartney’s collaborator and editor in this venture comes with an incredible pedigree and background, which makes him an excellent choice for working on The Lyrics. Apparently the two Paul’s worked together for five years, carefully selecting which songs to include, spanning Paul McCartney’s entire career: “Paul Muldoon is an Irish poet. He has published more than thirty collections and won a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the T. S. Eliot Prize. At Princeton University he is currently both the Howard G. B. Clark ’21 University Professor in the Humanities and Founding Chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts. He held the post of Oxford Professor of Poetry from 1999 to 2004 and has also served as president of the Poetry Society (UK) and Poetry Editor at The New Yorker.” (From Wikipedia).

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Chair and chief questioner Samira also comes with impeccable credentials: “On TV I present Newswatch on BBC1 and the BBC News channel. I was named the British Broadcasting Press Guild Audio Presenter of the Year 2020. On radio I present Front Row on Radio 4 and the Intelligence Squared podcast How I Found My Voice.” (In her own words, from her website).

The event was fascinating and well presented. Samira did an excellent job, questioning the two Paul’s. It was very clear that Paul and Paul have built up a very close working relationship. Paul Muldoon clearly has a deep understanding of Paul McCartney’s lyrics and throughout the evening it became very clear the very careful and almost forensic way in which they had approached the selection of the lyrics. They felt that the final collection represents the entirety of Paul’s career and includes important lyrics each of which tell their own story. The lyrics are presented alphabetically, rather than chronologically (which is what I for some reason expected), as they explain: “Arranged alphabetically to provide a kaleidoscopic rather than chronological account, it establishes definitive texts of the songs’ lyrics for the first time and describes the circumstances in which they were written, the people and places that inspired them, and what he thinks of them now.” (From Paul McCartney website).

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The first thing that came over to me very clearly was just how natural Paul McCartney sounded and behaved. I don’t know what I was expecting, but what I saw was an ordinarily guy, without any big ego, chatting about his work and his life. It was a pleasure to see and hear him talk so naturally about songs which have become parts of all of our lives and which mean so much to many of us. There were many little snippets which came out and revealed aspects of the songs and their lyrics of which I was not aware. A few I remember, I will recount below.

“Ticket to Ride”. Paul revealed that there was a double meaning to this song. Apparently, he and John Lennon wrote the song during a trip to a family home on the Isle of Wight and “Ride” has a double meaning, referring to “Ryde”, the town on the Isle of Wight where they were heading.

“Eight Days a Week”. Paul was travelling in a taxi and he asked the driver what sort of week he had had. The taxidriver replied “It has been really busy. I have full on working eight days a week!” Paul rushed to see John and said “I have a great title for our next song!” The rest is history. I wonder if that taxidriver ever clicked on.

“Let It Be”. This iconic song came to Paul in a dream where his mother appeared to him and, as Paul appeared worried about something, she gave him a piece of advice. She simply said to Paul “Let It Be”. He said she seemed completely real in the dream. I think we all have such dreams which seem real to us. I often wonder if they do have a deeper meaning and represent some alternative reality.

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Paul also discussed how the fact that he is left-handed and John was right-handed helped them when writing songs together. Instead of the necks of their guitars getting in the way and hitting each other, they would point in opposite directions, enabling the two to watch each other as they played and sang. Paul said he could watch John’s guitar playing and this would help him complement it with his own guitar or bass playing. He also said it brought the two young men closer together which helped with their singing, harmonies and songwriting. A fascinating insight which, in some ways, is obvious yet reveals a lot.

The evening concluded with Samira selecting a small number of questions from the audience within the Southbank Centre and from those sent in online.

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A fascinating event, which complements a wonderful book, and gave some unique insights into the thought processes behind the lyrics and songs of one of our musical geniuses.

It is not often that we get an opportunity to gain intimate insights into the mind and thoughts of a musical genius. One thing I forgot. Paul also spoke lovingly of his education at school. He admitted that, although he did not realise it at the time, he learnt a lot from one particular teacher, who taught him English Literature. He said that he particularly enjoyed Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales (“very rude, filthy!”) He also admitted that all four Beatles gained a lot from school and that influenced their songwriting, perhaps without them realising.

Michael Schenker Newcastle City Hall 29 October 2021

“Doctor doctor, please oh, the mess I’m in
She walked up to me and really stole my heart” (UFO, 1974)

shenker tixBear with me while I reminisce a little. I am in Sunderland Locarno in 1974. A band I have seen several times before, UFO, appear with a new guitarist. This guy is young, German, and with very long blonde hair playing a Gibson Flying V. His name is Michael Schenker and he is on the first steps of the ladder taking him towards legendary guitar hero status. He has left an up-and-coming German band The Scorpions to join UFO. He looks cool; just great. He comes with a bunch of new songs he has written with the band. One of them, “Doctor Doctor”, starts off with a quiet, swirling guitar introduction which soon builds up into a rocky song. This song becomes one of my favourites of all time and the signature tune for UFO, who go on to great success in the years to follow. I see them, and enjoy them, many times. They become one of my favourite bands of all time. Schenker is a guitar hero and also temperamental. In 1978 he walks out on UFO.

shenk 1I am in Newcastle City Hall in 1978. Schenker has rejoined The Scorpions for a short period, reuniting with his brother Rudolf Schenker. The City Hall is packed, surprisingly I thought as this band were still largely unknown in the UK, and they were sensational.

My relationship with, and admiration for, Michael Schenker continues over the years. I watch him perform in his own band MSG, at the City Hall, several times in the early 1980s and he is always great. He surrounds himself with top-class musicians including Chris Glen from The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, drummer Cozy Powell and former UFO bandmate Paul Raymond, among many others. Schenker then rejoins UFO for a short time and sadly descends into a period of erratic performances fuelled by alcohol and drug addiction.

He then reappears with many different incarnations of the Michael Schenker group. My next encounter with him was many years later at the Sage Gateshead, when the man was on top form again.

Roll forward to 2021 and I am in the City Hall again with my carer Lisa (thanks for the photographs: some great images) about to witness another evening with the legend that is Michael Schenker. We arrive just in time to catch the last couple of numbers by shenk3support act Doro, former female lead singer with heavy rock band Warlock, with long blonde hair and resplendent in black leathers and chains, getting the crowd suitably warmed up with some great heavy rock including, showing her influences, a great version of Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law”! Class!

After a short break and a suitably cool pint of Carling (no Guinness on sale) we are treated to two hours of classic Schenker with the guitar wizard taking us through a tour of his back catalogue. Michael looks just great; fit, slender and wearing a great furry hat, playing his usual Gibson Flying V. After couple of unfamiliar, but great, opening songs we are right back to the past and the aforementioned “Doctor Doctor”. It really doesn’t get any better. The evening continues to rock onward with Schenker on brilliant form, played some excellent guitar histrionics.

Michael has assembled a great band of musicians including excellent front man vocalist Ronnie Romero, who recently fronted Ritchie Blackmore’s reformed Rainbow.

Lots and lots of great UFO songs follow: “Lights out”; I used to always love it when they sang “Lights out in Newcastle” instead of “Lights out in London” and this always got a great cheer from the home crowd. No such change of lyrics tonight but still a great shenk2song. Then “Rock Bottom”, “Shoot Shoot”, “Too Hot to Handle” and closing song “Only You Can Rock Me”. Fantastic. A great band, excellent UFO classic songs, and a wonderful performance by Michael Schenker on top form. It made an old man happy.

My taxi is waiting and takes me back home and Chris and Lisa set me back in the bed with strains of “Doctor Doctor” still ringing in my ears and around my head. A great night. Happy days and happy memories.

SETLIST: Ascension; Cry for the Nations; Doctor Doctor; Sleeping With the Lights On; Assault Attack; We Are the Voice; Looking for Love; Warrior; Into the Arena; In Search of the Peace of Mind; Red Sky; Lights Out; After the Rain; Armed and Ready; Sail the Darkness; Rock You to the Ground; Drilled to Kill; Rock Bottom; Shoot Shoot; Let It Roll; Natural Thing; Too Hot to Handle; Only You Can Rock Me

 

 

Billy Bragg Sage Gateshead 21 October 2021

BILLY TIXIt was a strange and winding road that took me to the Sage last Thursday to see Billy Bragg. Let me reminisce a little first (after all I am an old man largely revisiting and reliving my past). The first time I encountered Billy Bragg was as part of the Red Wedge Tour, a left-wing conglomeration of bands that travelled around the country in the 1980s. Billy Bragg, along with Paul Weller, was one of the instigators of the movement in reaction to Margaret Thatcher and the Tory values of the time. I have never been greatly political, but was interested in seeing the bands which included the aforementioned Bragg, Paul Weller with Style Council, the Communards and one or two others. The big surprise of the night was an unannounced appearance by the Smiths who blew the place apart and, according to Johnny Marr, this was their best live performance ever. So thanks to Billy for bringing the Smiths along that evening. It was the last time I was to see that magnificent band.

I saw Billy Bragg once more, headlining at Newcastle City Hall, and remember enjoying the concert. My memories of him otherwise are few and lost over the years. So when I saw he was coming to the Sage I suggested to the kids (who are both grown-up and too old to be called kids anymore) that we go along. They both agreed so we purchased tickets. But to be honest I was BILLY 1going more out of interest, and for my two children, rather than as a true fan. For two very different reasons, on the evening, the aforementioned kids were unable to come along so I decided to go, with my carer Jackie, to experience Billy “on my own”(although I am never totally on my own, as like the naughty child I am, I’m not allowed out by myself).

It’s strange how things turn out and how you can enjoy events that you are unsure about. The show was in two segments with a short interval. Billy Bragg was on great form, mixing new songs with old and, as he always did, talking a lot. This was the first night of the tour and also Billy’s first night on stage since the lockdown. The tour had been postponed for one year, as many others have been. Billy explained how he had spent the lockdown year writing a new album and reflecting on things.

“It was always my intention to record a new album in 2021. I’d planned to spend most of 2020 on the road, where I could crank out ideas for new songs in soundchecks and maybe even try a few in the live set. Things didn’t quite work out that way, of course. In the past, it has been purely personal issues that have kept me off the road and I’ve sought to come to terms with those events by writing songs that draw the listener’s attention to my individual experience….. The Million Things That Never Happened isn’t about the pandemic per se, but the highs and lows of what we’ve been through provide the backdrop for the album, as they have done for all our lives over these past two years.” (Billy Bragg official site)

BILLY 3He treated us to many songs from the new album which are more about his reflections on life than his normal political songs. He also talked a lot about his experience of the pandemic and how it has given him time to focus on recording and reading books. Like me he admitted to buying many books, reading a quote or two, and then storing them away. He alluded to his acoustic Gibson guitar smelling of old books and how wonderful that smell was; a sentiment which I wholly agree with. He looked very dapper with a new hairstyle and in smart jeans (something which I still possess but can never wear). He was accompanied by a keyboard player who kept him in check about the tuning of his guitars.

In many ways Bragg reminds me of a modern day Roy Harper, or even Pete Seeger. Like Roy or the late Seeger, he is left-wing and tell stories along with singing songs. I like artists who talk to the audience and give us something of themselves. It makes them more interesting, more authentic and more “real”. So I enjoyed my latest Billy Bragg experience, much more than I expected. I also ran into an old friend who came to see me during the interval. We used to work together some 20 or so years ago; it was great to connect again and we promised to keep in touch. I also treated myself to a couple of gin and tonics, which adds to the evening.

The annoying thing about having to book taxis is that I have to give then a time to collect me. Based on the published stage timings, which to be fair are always stated as approximate, I had booked the taxi quite early and Billy Bragg was still playing as we left. Never mind, I enjoyed the evening, which was one of re-connections: meeting an old friend again and reconnecting with Billy Bragg and his music. 

BILLY BOOKI also treated myself (and my friend John) to a copy of Billy Bragg’s book “The Three Dimensions of Freedom”, as there was no programme on sale: “At a time when opinion trumps facts and truth is treated as nothing more than another perspective, free speech has become a battleground. While authoritarians and algorithms threaten democracy, we argue over who has the right to speak. To protect ourselves from encroaching tyranny, we must look beyond this one-dimensional notion of what it means to be free and, by reconnecting liberty to equality and accountability, restore the individual agency engendered by the three dimensions of freedom.”

Many thanks to Jackie for accompanying me, taking the photographs, and making sure I don’t misbehave too much and drink too many gin and tonics, and to Chris for coming along later and helping me into bed.