Thursday, 30 August 2018

Live Review: Graham Bonnet Band @ The Underworld, Camden

We live in an age where singing is presented as little more than the mastery of technique. There's a right way and a wrong way to do this, we're told, and the result is that popular music now suffers from a surfeit of vocalists who sound remarkably similar. It's getting tedious, quite frankly. Everyone can sing, yet no-one is communicating anything. And on that basis, thank goodness Graham Bonnet is still performing. This is a man who doesn't just rhetorically 'give everything' onstage, he has always sung full throttle and clearly knows no other way.

Whether you first encountered Bonnet through late sixties duo The Marbles, his solo work or the high-profile hard rock of Rainbow, Michael Schenker Group and Alcatrazz, it is a little perplexing to see him play at a small club venue like The Underworld. The gig is reasonably well attended although not packed to capacity. Still, his band play with gusto and even from several feet away it is clear how visceral Bonnet's vocal delivery still is.

Tonight's set list is the expected mix of well-known tunes from his rock era - the bulk of his career, obviously - including a couple of Impelliteri songs and his own single, 'Night Games'. On this trip he is accompanied by Kurt James on guitar, a man familiar to many from his time with acts like Steeler and the overlooked Dr Mastermind. His playing is mostly comprised of flawless, rapid-fire staccato runs, although it is a welcome relief when he chooses to sit on a note for a moment and let it resonate.

Assembling a running order for a show of this nature is never going to be easy, and there will always be those of us who seek to query the strategy involved. 'All Night Long' second in the set, really? And surely 'Desert Song' would be a climax to the show rather than something deployed halfway through? Ultimately, a man with a history as rich and varied as Bonnet's has no need to trouble himself with such trivialities. He steps onto the stage, sings from the depths of his soul and leaves no-one disappointed.

Score: 4/5

Writer: George Colwan
Photography: M Godding

Monday, 27 August 2018

Raven Lunacy: Ten of the greatest Raven moments, 1980 - NOW

If you're bothering to read this, it's likely that you are familiar with - and maybe even a staunch admirer of - that era of rock music we now call the 'New Wave of British Heavy Metal'.  And assuming that this is the case, then you must surely know the work of Raven

Alongside Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Saxon, Raven is one of the few bands that emerged with, and yet also transcended, the NWOBHM movement. Many acts came to prominence during this time, but only a select few can claim to have an unbroken history like these Geordie stalwarts. The never-say-die spirit of brothers John and Mark Gallagher is simply unsurpassable.

Raven began in Newcastle during the mid seventies and solidified their line-up with Rob 'Wacko' Hunter on drums before signing to Neat Records in 1980. Stylistically their hallmark was (and is) a frenetic delivery of intense riff-driven rock music with urgent, high-pitched vocals. There is a type of mania and intensity in Raven that cannot be found elsewhere. 

A spell on Atlantic Records in the mid eighties led briefly to a more commercial approach, but before long the Gallagher lads were back with new drummer Joe Hasselvander. They're still out there now, intimidating all and sundry to this very day.

Here's a quick trawl through some of your correspondent's favourite Raven moments.

1) Don't Need Your Money (Neat single, 1980) 
Following years of graft on the pub and club circuit in north-eastern England, this was Raven's introduction to the wider public. And what an introduction it was. The sawn-off-shotgun energy of the tune coupled with the infectious acapella chorus meant that this single was instantly burned into the consciousness of all who encountered it. 

2) Tyrant Of The Airways (Rock Until You Drop album, Neat, 1981)
A remarkably mature piece of work, given the youth of the characters involved. The song takes you on a journey that begins in brooding fashion then accelerates into the speedy Raven insanity that many of us have come to revere. Then all of a sudden it takes a tranquil, melodic detour before reaching a devastating climax... Said the actress to the bishop.

3) Read All About It (Wiped Out album, Neat, 1982)
Alright, let's have it. Thunderous drum opening, compelling guitar hook, eccentric lyrics - it's all here, delivered with the usual Gallagher panache.

4) Rock Hard (Crash Bang Wallop 12" EP, Neat, 1982)
Here's a superb example of Raven versatility. The snappy guitar introduction has something of a southern rock feel and - out of the blue - Mark Gallagher takes the microphone. Again, catchy as hell. 

5) The Ballad Of Marshall Stack (b-side of Neat single, 1983)
This little gem deserved far more than simply being relegated to the flip side of 'Break The Chain'.

6) Take It Away (All For One, Neat, 1983)
There's almost a pop aesthetic here. 'All For One' was an impressive leap for Raven in terms of recording quality, and the songs appeared to be a lot more focused too. 

7) Screamin' Down The House (The Pack Is Back, Atlantic, 1986)
From the much-maligned major label period of the band, this contagious offering cannot be denied. Unless you are deaf. But even then, possibly not.

8) Laying Down The Law (Nothing Exceeds Like Excess, Combat/MFN, 1988)
1987 was potentially a tricky year for the Gallagher lads, what with the departure of Rob 'Wacko' Hunter and the end of their tenure on Atlantic Records. With little hesitation, they enlisted ex-Pentagram drummer Rob Hasselvander and signed a new deal with Combat, then proceeded to record one of the finest albums of their career. It's hard to pick a favourite from such a uniformly strong record but let's go with this one.

9) Against The Grain (Walk Through Fire, King/SPV, 2009)
In 2001 Mark Gallagher sustained life-threatening injuries following a shocking accident. Almost four years passed before he was able to return to the stage, and during the initial run of shows performed from a wheelchair. When 'Walk Through Fire' finally appeared on Japanese label King in 2009 (followed by SPV elsewhere a year later) it was just the kind of affirmative statement one would expect from Raven. The album is one long declaration of hyperactive power from start to finish.

10) Malice In Geordieland (bonus track, Extermination,  SPV, 2015)
Gahn spare, like. As the title suggests, what we have here is the perfect melding of Heavy Metal music and the Geordie dialect. Which in many ways is an ideal situation.

Raven are about to grace British shores once again (full listings online at

London tickets available here!

Writer: George Colwan

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Live Review: Pallbearer @ The Underworld, Camden

Bleak, beautiful and crushingly heavy. Little Rock, Arkansas' Pallbearer have built a reputation over the 8 years following the release of their 2010 demo for stirringly heavy music, the result of a careful balance in songwriting ability and sheer musicianship. Their material shoves the listener into a frightful deluge of low-end distortion, offering only the faintest glimmers of light through the deployment of plaintive, gripping vocal and lead melody. This is unmistakably contemporary (not trend-chasing, not nostalgia-wallowing, but utterly of this time and moment) heavy metal, that can soar to tremendous heights on record and in the right live environment, but can be vulnerable to falling flat if any one of the band, audience, or venue is lacking on the day. Tonight's change of venue from the majestic Islington Assembly rooms to the dark, sweaty intimacy of Camden’s Underworld makes for a less grand atmosphere, but the band are equal to the task wherever they play.

Opening tonight are Milton Keynes' Tuskar, a two-piece who, appropriate to the setting, conjure up a disproportionate amount of noise from a drum kit and a single telecaster. Simple, raw, low guitar riffs are propelled along by primal and vicious percussion and the audience's appetites are whetted. Definitely one to watch in future.

Pallbearer are all business tonight, launching straight in with second album Foundations of Burden highlight 'Watcher In The Dark' and treating the crowd to a fair distribution of material across all three full length albums with a new song, 'Dropout' front-loading the set. The initial trio of songs - 'Watcher...', 'Dropout' and 'Thorns' are strong enough contributions, but the set doesn't really seem to get going until 'Dancing In Madness'. This is surprising as the latter presented as one of the weaker tracks on 2017's Heartless, lacking some of the immediate appeal of that album's standouts such as the title track and 'Lie of Survival', but experiencing the song unfolding in a live environment really adds a great deal of power, the opening jam setting the audience on something of a sonic journey with the final vocal line as a kind of finale.

From here on the set’s second half is dominated by 'expansive' sounding numbers. 'Foreigner' absolutely soars. This, 'Worlds Apart' and 'Given To The Grave' are masterclasses in power through sparse arrangement. The latter song in particular is a microcosm of Pallbearer's compositional prowess. Everything about this song, its structure, pacing and atmosphere is deliberate, controlled, crafted. And yet the result is something that sounds loose and 'freeform' enough to carry the live crowd along with it. The audience are rapt throughout.

Pallbearer close with about the closest thing they have to an 'anthem', 'Devoid of Redemption' and the audience disperses. An emotionally intense Monday evening and one I am glad of: New heaviness in the form of Tuskar and Pallbearer showing they can deliver the goods again during festival season, hopefully on the cusp of something bigger. It's all they, and we, deserve.

Score: 4/5

Writer: Craig Stewart

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Connoisseur's Choice: Hidden Treasure - Ten (Slightly) Different Versions of Great Recordings

Every now and then, those of us who enjoy hunting down old records will stumble across something a little out of the ordinary.  If you're fond of collecting a particular band or artist, then finding an unusual version of a favourite piece of music, single or album can be a real joy.  Coming from an unashamedly biased position, what follows here are a few interesting examples.

Budgie: Never Turn On Your Friend (MCA album, 1973)

"I have never promised anything but blood, tears, toil and sweat"... As album introductions go, it doesn't get much more powerful than this.  The band lifted the brief segment from one of Winston Churchill's World War Two speeches, and it leads beautifully into the hall-of-fame riff that drives 'Breadfan'.  Sadly MCA were nervous about copyright clearance and decided to remove the excerpt. Still, the initial version emerged on early pressings in France, Germany, Australia and Venezuela.

AC/DC: (Australian pressings, Albert Productions 1975-77)

The best way to hear AC/DC's early work with Bon Scott is to track down the original editions of their first four albums.  Outside of Australia, the LPs most of us became familiar with had drastically revised track lists, unwelcome edits and different sleeves.  The band issued two domestic albums in 1975, High Voltage and T.N.T., before an international version of High Voltage emerged the following year containing selected songs from each of the aforementioned releases. Annoyingly, this omitted several crucial tracks, the outstanding 'Soul Stripper' among them.  Their next LP Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap received similar treatment, and even Let There Be Rock didn't fully escape the meddling.  For a true grasp of Young, Young and Scott's efforts from this period, it is well worth hearing them as they were intended.

Samson: Hard Times (Gem single, 1980)

It would be fair to say that Samson's second album Head On sounds like nothing else. An imaginative set of songs fronted by a world class singer, wrapped up in a strange, off-kilter production. Evidently there are some who find the whole thing a tad unsettling to take in.  If you're that type of listener, Tony Platt's remix of 'Hard Times' is for you. It's a snappier edit with a fatter, warmer sound. Anyone who has watched the Biceps Of Steel film will recognise this version.

Hard Stuff: Jay Time (Purple single, 1972)

Does anyone know which rendition of the song came first? This, or the one that opens Hard Stuff's fabulous debut? For those familiar with the album, what we have here is an intriguing alternate take of one of its catchiest tunes. A contagious, looping groove laced with the brooding sense of paranoia that pervades so much of John Du Cann's work. Sonically, the principal differences here are the additional lead guitar and handclaps throughout.

Andy Scott: Lady Starlight (RCA single, 1975)

Having penned the gorgeous 'Lady Starlight' for Sweet's Desolation Boulevard album, it seems Andy Scott didn't take long before wanting to have another crack at it.  This rendering stays reasonably close to the original, adding keyboard flourishes and a slightly slicker production.  Throw in the superb b-side, 'Where D'Ya Go?' and you have a faultless 7" record.

Patto: Hold Your Fire (Vertigo album, 1971)

Only a few thousand copies of this groundbreaking album were pressed at the time, yet somehow they do not all appear to be the same.  The edition familiar to many is now widely available on vinyl and compact disc reissues, whilst the lesser-known version contains 'Hold Your Fire' in edited form along with a completely different take of 'See You At The Dance Tonight'.  If you already have the original, it'll take a bit of work to find this one - the sleeve and catalogue number are identical for both.

Sweet: Off The Record (Capitol album, USA 1977)

Sweet followers the world over are aware of the American pressings of their LPs, or at least they should be.  Each one is noticeably different from its UK counterpart.  Whether it's an altered running order, an additional song or a different sleeve, there's always something that will catch the eye of a Sweet fanatic.  Unlike the butchery that took place with the early AC/DC catalogue, these records are deserving of your attention.  The US release of Off The Record is a particularly nice one.  'Fever Of Love' starts with a few bars of unaccompanied guitar that will come as a surprise to those only familiar with the British release, but best of all, the infectious 'Stairway To The Stars' has been absolved of its single-only status and included here.

Budgie: Zoom Club (MCA single, 1974)

What a pleasure it is to hear this unique rendition of one of the many jewels in Budgie's dazzling catalogue.  I'm not going to comment on the relative merits of this version versus the one that features on In For The Kill, except to confirm that it makes for a heartwarming listening experience. 

Trust: (French language albums, Epic, 1980s)

Several of Trust's early albums were issued in two forms, sung in either their native language or English.  Looking at the impressive March Ou Creve (UK, 'Savage' 1981) record, the song 'Misere' was removed from British pressings.  Why? It appears there was a worry that the lyrical content might offend the delicate sensibilities of folk here.  Strange really, as it's harmless enough.  Vocalist Bernie Bonvoisin clearly has trouble differentiating between England and the United Kingdom, yet still gamely blunders through a confused slew of platitudes on Thatcher, the IRA and so on.  With the stellar instrumental work of Nono, Nicko McBrain and friends, this remains a slab of hard rock excellence.

Humble Pie: Street Rats (A&M album, USA 1975)

Street Rats is often spoken of as a Pie album in name only, given that much of the material started life as part of a Steve Marriott solo recording.  What's more, over subsequent years various members of the band expressed displeasure at the release, criticising the song selection and production.  That said, it's still an essential listen if you love this group.  In places a more restrained and reflective offering than previous LP Thunderbox, this is nevertheless a gripping collection of tunes.  Whether it's their soulful reworking of the Beatles' 'Rain', the heavy swagger of 'Let Me Be Your Lovemaker' or the cheeky cockney filth of 'Queens And Nuns', there's something for most of us here.  Allegedly Marriott & co. preferred the US mix, which diverges from the UK version in several obvious places. American pressings also substitute the impressive, autobiographical 'There 'Tis' for 'Funky To The Bone'.  So on that basis alone, you need to seek this one out.

Writer: George Colwan

Monday, 6 August 2018

Live Review: Riot, Primitai & Rising Five @ The Underworld, Camden

Tell the boys to step aside, tell the girls to form a line, because Riot V are back again celebrating the 30th anniversary of their 1988 classic 'Thundersteel'. 

Kicking off proceedings on this clammy Tuesday night is the fairly new Rising Five and not having heard much material, I'm intrigued to witness the vocal prowess of Mike Tirelli (ex-Holy Mother and Burning Starr etc.) in the flesh. The floor is somewhat empty to begin with but Rising Five's evident professionalism and tight sound entice a sparce crowd to float somewhat near the front of the stage. Mike Tirelli's traditional, melodic vocal projects across the venue as it is often teamed up with a surprisingly heavy, almost industrial vibe from the guitars and rhythm section. They work through a short but varied set including tracks from their upcoming EP No Death Reborn and finishing up with Holy Mother's 'The River' where Mike Tirelli's Dio-esque vocal style can very much be heard. Tirelli has been an integral cog in the heavy metal machine for decades including previously providing vocals for tonight's headliners and this powerful performance is very promising. You can keep up-to-date with Rising Five's whereabouts right here. 

Photo: Warren Newman
Re-entering the room after a short break and the ground is quite literally shaking and breaking beneath us. It must be time for Primitai. These lads are no stranger to Camden stages and waste no time increasing the energy in the room as they deliver a razor-sharp set. The band's unique sound grabs the crowd's attention in full force as guitarists Srdjan Bilic and Sergio GirĂ³n deliver 80s inspired melodies juxtaposed excellently with Guy Miller's powerful, rough and more modern vocal and commanding stage presence. The band gel flawlessly on stage and it's clear to see that their recent release The Calling and successes with Dissonance Productions have ensured that they've got a well-deserved growing fan base. Primitai certainly never fail to impress. You can check out and buy their newest album right here. 

Photo: Dani Ben Haim
It's finally time for Riot V to take to the stage and the buzz in the air is infectious as the room begins to fill. It's been many a year since Riot have headlined a UK tour and since then they have experienced a career full of successes, many esteemedd releases and of course grieving the loss of founding member and legend Mark Reale. They are back again and the minor name change not only respects and pays homage to Riot's history but also paves the way for the band's new chapter. On this tour, they've been celebrating the anniversary of Thundersteel - an album which many fans believe to be some of their greatest work. 

Long-standing members of the band Mike Flyntz and Don Van Stavern take pride of place as does guitarist Nick Lee whilst Frank Gilchriest does so behind the skins. The Camden Underworld is already full as fists raise in the air waiting to revel in this long anticipated set. Vocalist Todd Michael Hall enters the stage as a warrior enters battle... his Herculean presence already dominating the hall. Boy does he have big boots to fill as he takes on the works of vocal masters Guy Speranza, Rhett Forrester and Tony Moore etc. 

Wasting no time at all, Riot smash through the atmosphere with 'Victory' taken from their newest album Armor of Light, continuing on with 'Angel's Thunder, Devil's Reign'. A few numbers down and we are gifted with 'Tokyo Rose/Rock City' taken from the 1977 album Rock City- a surprising but pleasing addition. The crowd presumably in awe are somewhat sombre, as Todd Michael Hall remarks on the lack of movement. Almost as if foretold we hear the opening drum barrage to 'Flight of the Warrior' and the sing-a-long is in full swing. Todd Michael Hall takes on every single note with great ease and confidence and this continues into the incredible 'Bloodstreets' delivered with intense passion and power. The band's spirit is truly vibrant.

Surprisingly, the tracks from Thundersteel are embedded in-between a handful of other Riot numbers from their back catalogue including 'Heavy Metal Machine', 'Angel Eyes' (joined by Mike Tirelli on vocals) and a personal favourite 'Road Racin''. However, it is surprising to not hear the celebrated album in it's entirety as previously assumed. Complaining about this would be foolish however as we are privileged to hear 'Johnny's Back' and 'Sign of the Crimson Storm' amidst the rest of a brilliant set.

Don Van Stavern holds a large bottle of tequila in the air as an inflatable sword stands tall in front. The crowd cheer and the room shakes along to 'Swords and Tequila' and another Riot classic 'Warrior'. The now bare chested Todd Michael Hall opens his arms and tells us he knows what we all came for- and well, he isn't wrong. Before he could even finish, the infamous riff to Thundersteel's title track sends the crowd into a frenzy as everyone's balls drop and they attempt to hit those killer high notes in the first line "A streak of lightening, comes shooting through the air!". What a feeling- and clearly the band feel it too as they evidently enjoy the reception. 

Regardless of the fact that it would have been extra special to hear all of Thundersteel in it's intended order, this was a show of a lifetime. The energy was consistently strong throughout and it was inspiring to see heavy metal fans of all ages enjoy songs from Riot's history as well as some of the most excellent newer material. Tonight, Riot showed that they're keeping the legacy alive to the highest degree and we're sure Mark Reale would be nothing more than proud. 

We hope Riot will be back again. Very soon. 

Score: 5/5

Writer: Kayleigh Griffin