Baroque ‘n’ Roll

Jethro Tull – Birmingham Cathedral

It takes a lot to imbue me with the spirit of Christmas, it’s all this enforced jollity and good will to all men that gets my goat, but I must admit that when I left the architectural wonder that is Birmingham Cathedral, I felt at peace with the world. It’s amazing what a couple of pints in the Old Joint Stock and a cheeky large glass of wine in the cathedral’s nave can do.

This concert was part of the Jethro Tull 50th Anniversary tour and for the last ten years or so the band have been putting on concerts in cathedrals around the country to celebrate Yuletide. This year it was Birmingham Cathedral’s turn. All monies raised went to the cathedral’s restoration fund and, in particular, towards the preservation of the wonderful Edward Burne-Jones stained glass window. A worthy cause, to be sure.

One of two baroque cathedral in the country, St Paul’s being the other, and one of the smallest, standing cheek by jowl with the edifices of Mammon on Colmore Row, it made for an unusual and curiously intimate setting for a seasonal and more acoustically orientated Tull gig.

Ian Anderson has had to be inventive in recent years to mask his set of failing vocal chords but there was less need for such subterfuge as he wasn’t having to battle against the might and fury of a prog band at full throttle. A gentler, more relaxed style seemed to suit him better and perhaps this is the direction that he should move towards, if he feels the need to continue to tread the boards.

The band was helped out by the Cathedral choir on a few seasonal ditties which were given the Anderson twist. The set included a generous helping from the 2003 Jethro Tull Christmas album, was sprinkled with a few old favourites, Aqualung in particular was heavily bowdlerised to suit the surroundings, and seasoned with a couple of guest artists.

Violinist, Anna Phoebe’s version of Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes and the breathtaking Celtic/Moroccan fusion that was Babouche were stand outs as was Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, started off on the stentorian cathedral organ and finished off in style by Florian Opahle on lead guitar.

A splash of celebrity star dust was provided by Loyd Grossman who thrashed around on lead guitar as well as treating us to some words of wisdom from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I could easily have done without him but that may just be my taste buds.

Anderson knows how to put on a show and is beginning to acknowledge the effects of anno domini – he did seem to take more of a back seat and happier to let others share the limelight.

A lovely, uplifting evening and the Cathedral is a few steps nearer to getting those windows restored.

Hey! Santa! Pass us that bottle, will you?


Gig Of The Week (4)

Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets Band – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Wow, what a concert!

My brain is still scrambled. I set the control for the heart of the sun but at least I didn’t end up on the dark side of the moon. Our seats were up in the gods but our view was not obscured by clouds. The sound was superb.

The central conceit behind Mason’s band is to resurrect the early Floyd music, pre-Dark Side when it then all got a bit too pompous and up itself, such entertainment as there was coming from an extensive and over-blown light show. I much preferred their earlier stuff when the much-lamented Syd Barrett’s psychedelic musings and ramblings ruled the roost.

You can also see why Mason has a penchant for this era. By the time Floyd had become mega stars, the role of drummer in the band had been relegated to pretty much an also-ran. But the drums are much more of a feature of the early stuff, non more so than the urgent primal drumming of the central section of Saucerful of Secrets.

Accompanying Mason on his first tour since the 1994 Division Bell tour are long time Floyd bassist, Guy Pratt, Gary Kemp, a surprisingly accomplished guitarist, Lee Harris on guitar and Dom Beken on keyboards. All the favourites were played – Arnold Layne, See Emily Play, the wonderful Bike – as well as Astronomy Domine, Interstellar Overdrive, Saucerful and Set The Controls, representing the more experimental side of the band. I particularly enjoyed a rare outing for Fearless and the Vegetable Man.

Two thoughts. Rather like jazz, psychedelic music sounds so much better live than on record. I wonder why? And what is the definition of a tribute band? Does having a member of the original group mean that the rather pejorative term doesn’t apply?

Whatever the answer, there is no doubt that the evening was a wonderful homage to a period when Floyd were rightly lauded as one of the more inventive and experimental bands of the time. If you can get to see them – they have just announced extra dates – do so or else you will wish you were here.

Living In The Past

Jethro Tull 50th Anniversary Concert, Royal Albert Hall, 17th April 2018

It’s all too easy to take the piss out off a Jethro Tull audience. Perhaps the gig would have been better called the Prostate Prom or even Too Old To Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die. For many it may have been a new day yesterday but it is certainly an old day now.

It is true that there were some members of the post baby boomer generation in the audience – I even saw a couple of children and thought about contacting Social Services – but even with a more severe haircut than normal I found myself in possession of more follicles than most of the males there. And you know that nature is telling you that your bohemian days are over when the queues to the male bogs are longer than those for the female equivalents and a couple of pints of Old Speckled Hen – lovely but so it should be at £6 a pint – means impromptu visits to the toilets by many to the general inconvenience of the rest of the row. Alas, the extended drum solo in Dharma for One – usually a signal for a mass exodus to the carsey – was too early in proceedings to serve its purpose.

I’m not a fan of the Royal Albert Hall. You could hardly call what Philomena Cunk deliciously described as the receptacle for Adolf Hitler’s missing bollock as an intimate venue. Sitting in the circle we were far away from the action and the sound in the early part of the concert was a bit muddy. Fortunately, either the engineers got the balance right as the show went on or my ears grew more accustomed to it all.

The band consisted of Dave Goodier on bass, John O’Hara on keyboards, Florian Opahle on lead guitar, Scott Hammond on drums and, of course, the only survivor of the original band, the septuagenarian Ian Anderson on flute, vocals, acoustic guitar and, occasionally, one leg. Anderson was helped out on vocals from time to time by virtual artists beamed up on the screen behind him, a triumph for timing, if nothing else. The video screen was also used to beam in messages from former members of the group – over the years Tull has had 37 members – and good wishes from some of the great and good of rock. While the band performed, we were treated to footage of the band in their heyday, considerably more hirsute than they are today, and fascinating as it was, I found it all a bit distracting.

Tull in the early 70s were probably the most exciting live act I had seen and, sensibly, Anderson chose to plunder his back catalogue from the first ten years of the band’s existence, ranging from the bluesy Mick Abrahams influenced numbers to the more folky rock numbers of the mid to late 70s. But their glory days were encapsulated by the albums I return to most, Aqualung and Thick As A Brick. My God, when the band is on form, as they were, there is nothing like Locomotive Breath, Cross-eyed Mary, Aqualung and a wonderful abridgement of Thick As A Brick to set what few hairs you have left standing on end. I could even forgive them a reprise of A Passion Play.

As I listened to the early numbers, I couldn’t help musing what sort of band Tull would have been if Abrahams had stayed. But there was never going to be room for two egos and look what happened to Blodwyn Pig.

Musically, it was a great night of nostalgia, featuring Tull, one of rock’s greatest survivors, at their best. Don’t tell TOWT but I have got her an early Christmas present – tickets for the Tull gig at Birmingham Cathedral in December. I wonder if they will play My God!

Gig Of The Week (3)

To the Anvil in Basingstoke on 27th October to see Richard Thompson on his Solo Tour. The show was aptly named as it featured just the guitarist, almost lost in the cavernous stage area armed with just a guitar and a table, playing from his vast back catalogue of numbers which, in his own words, span the full range of melancholy. So we were treated to a set ranging from fast rockers such as Valerie to the slower, more thoughtful numbers such as sensitive reading of mental health that is From Galway to Graceland. The set was peppered with his all-time favourites including I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, the only one of his ditties which troubled the compilers of hit parades.

The evening was a joy for Thompson’s aficionados who were encouraged to let their hair down, if they had any, or else to rattle their jewellery. Celebrating 50 years in the business, Thompson has not lost many of his fans but, perhaps worryingly, not gained many new ones. TOWT and I seemed to be in the younger quartile of his audience.

Inevitably he doffed his beret to the Fairport era but his choice of song, Who Knows Where The Time Goes, was odd as Sandy Denny’s version is peerless and the impressive support act, Josienne Clark and Ben Walker, had already treated us to us to a stunning version of Reynardine. Perhaps, having reunited with some of the old Fairports in the summer, Thompson realised that the other person who made the group what it was in its heyday was Denny and this was his homage.

Josienne Clark has a stunning voice and a personality to match and is one to watch out for, her material outdoing Thompson in the melancholia stakes.

Very few artists can hold the audience for 100 minutes, solely through the power of his material and the virtuosity of his playing. Thompson undoubtedly is one of those.

Gig Of The Week (2)

The tragic death of guitarist, Michael Casswell, TOWT’s cousin, last September was a shock to his family. What was also a shock to them was how respected and loved he was in the music biz as he rather hid his light under a bushel.

On the hottest day in 40 years we went to the subterranean music venue that is the 100 Club in Oxford Street to attend the tribute concert put on by his friends and colleagues. It was a great evening with his band, East of Java, putting on a storming set.

There were cameos from the likes of Tony Hadley, Limhal – who had me dancing in the aisles – and the wonderful Marcus Malone band.

Check out tribute concert highlights

Check Malone out playing with Michael

The venue had smartened up since I was last there, some thirty-seven years ago, and the beer was considerably better – I had to have the BrewDog Punk IPA.

It was a great evening and one which did Michael proud.


Guitarist Of The Week


At my age it is a regrettable fact that I find myself going to funerals with increasing frequency – at least it is an opportunity to wear a whistle. It is even more tragic when the person who has died is younger than you and had immeasurably more talent.

Last Tuesday TOWT and I trekked out to the Badlands of Essex – Hainault – to attend the surprisingly uplifting Humanist funeral of her cousin, the rock guitarist, Michael Casswell who died in a tragic swimming accident aged just 53. The celebration was standing room only and as well as family and friends there were musos in attendance including Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet) and Limahl (Kajagoogoo).

I only met Michael on a handful of occasions – usually funerals – but to use the cabbie’s vernacular I had him in my car once when I drove him to Stansted airport to fly off for a gig after his Dad’s funeral. We had a great chat about music, influences and styles.

As well as being an accomplished session musician, he had astonishing technical ability and was always keen to pass on his knowledge via his popular Licklibrary videos.

As Joni Mitchell sang, “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone”. Click the link to hear a track from his latest album, Complaints about the noise

Michael, rest in peace.

Book Corner – July 2016 (2)


1971 – Never A Dull Moment – David Hepworth

Ah, 1971. It was a year of transformation for me. I started the year aged 16 and turned 17 three-quarters of the way through. It was the year that I realised that there was more to life than parsing irregular Greek verbs and discovered the three Bs, booze, blow and birds. And the soundtrack to the year was pretty good with Who’s Next and the wonderful Baba O’Reilly, Led Zep IV with Stairway to Heaven, Lennon’s Imagine, Bowie’s Hunky Dory, Neil Young’s Harvest, the Stones’ Sticky Fingers, Joni Mitchell’s Blue and, if you must, Carole King’s Tapestry.

One of those topics for pub conversations when the only other option is to stare vacuously at each other is which was the best year for popular music. A very good friend of mine steadfastly refuses to believe anything good was produced after 1973, for him the year that music died – yes, Don McLean’s tiresome American Pie was released in 1971. Hepworth nails his colours firmly to the mast. Forget 1966, 1971 was the year that saw more influential albums released than any year before or since and was “the most febrile and creative time in the history of popular music”. TV was nowhere, the film industry was tanking, but music was vibrant.

This is the thesis behind Hepworth’s affectionate, sometimes irreverent and sometimes tongue-in-cheek survey of the music biz in 1971. The book is laid out chronologically with a chapter for each month of the year, from which Hepworth picks out some notable albums or artists who were emerging at the time. The problem with this approach is that the book rapidly descends into a muddy mix of thee thematic and chronological approaches and I can’t help thinking that a straight thematic approach would have served him better. Music doesn’t fit into neat chronological packages – there is the conception, the recording and then the release, all of which takes time. The subtitle to the book illustrates his problem. The Rod Stewart album of that name was actually released in 1972.

That aside, there is much in the book to think that there is something in what Hepworth has to say. It was the year that saw the first mega star charity bash, George Harrison’s concert for Bangladesh, a concert which he could only persuade Clapton to perform at in aid of starving children if he was supplied with his favourite heroin. It was also the concert at which Dylan took the unusual step of playing an oldie, Like A Rolling Stone  – one of the fascinating insights of the book is that until then bands touring, and they all toured prodigiously then, thought they had to play current or new tracks – a landmark event along with Elvis Presley’s residency at Vegas which persuaded groups that they could resuscitate their back catalogue and which launched what is now termed heritage rock.

Technology assisted rather than hindered the music, the synthesiser became established as a bona fide rock instrument and there were more family groups and fey singer songwriters than you could shake a stick at. The book’s finest chapter includes the pen pictures of three London lads, Cat Stevens. Marc Bolan and Rod Stewart. For me one of the endearing features of the book were the social insights – record stores with listening booths, scouring the music press, NME and Sounds, to gen up on the latest records and forming a sort of collective to share the burden of buying albums and swapping them, all of which I did.

This book won’t feature in the top 100 books of all time but Hepworth makes a fine case for 1971, although for me it set the pendulum swinging in a way that needed the punk uprising of 1976 to rectify.