Keegan McInroe’s last album, “Uncouth Pilgrims”, was very much a troubadour’s set of songs; tales of his travels and celebrations of life. This one’s a very different beast. You can probably guess from the title that it’s full of protest songs, like the ones that Dylan, Joan Baez and Buffy Sainte-Marie used to sing in the sixties and seventies. Since the US election last year, after the initial disbelief, the references to the administration onstage from touring American bands started to become a regular thing. The odd critical song started to appear on albums, but Keegan McInroe has gone all the way. “A Good Old Fashioned Protest” is nine protest songs (well, eight songs and a poem) with media manipulation, environmental exploitation, militarism and hypocrisy firmly in its laser beam.

The album opens with “Talking Talking Head Blues”, a strummed acoustic backing underpinning a headlong rush through the evils afflicted on us by the current US administration (and let’s not think we can be too smug in the UK), including biased news, the surveillance society, dumbing down and smoke and mirrors. The narrative opens with Keegan waking from a dream to hear a talking head on a news show; the dream is from the last song on the album, “Keegan’s Beautiful Dream”, which has all of the anti-establishment protesters banding together to render the system impotent. The album comes full circle and the cycle starts all over again.

I’ve had a beer with Keegan; he’s a lovely guy. He’s witty, he’s well-read, he knows his music and he’s really laid-back, but here the message is anger bordering on rage at the state of the world today. He targets environmental exploitation in “Big River”, militarism in “Bombing for Peace”, hypocrisy and self-righteousness in “Bastards and Bitches” (there’s no token single swear word here to get a parental guidance sticker here, this album is full-on) and the causes of radicalisation in “Timmy Johnson’s Living Brother”. The poem “Nietzche Wore Boots” deserves a special mention; it satirises the way the plutocracy divides and rules and points the way to an apocalyptic ending that will be just another tiny event in the history of the planet. And it’s the pivot before the two songs of redemption that end the album. And they’re still protest songs, just protest songs with a positive message.

Tyrants hate the arts and people involved in the arts. They know that artists and writers and poets are free thinkers who never just accept what they’re told by the establishment. They ask awkward questions and they create works that criticise the status quo because someone has to. Keegan McInroe has done that with this album; he’s pulled together a varied bunch of songs that will pull you in with their rhythms and melodies and make you stop and think about what’s really going on in the world; maybe ask a few questions yourself. That has to be a good thing.

“A Good Old Fashioned Protest” is released on Friday January 12.

This was the first album I listened to on January 1 2018. Kind of appropriate really; after hearing so much beered-up musical stodge over the festive period, this is the perfect aural January detox to accompany the real thing. The Wailin’ Jennys (Heather Masse, Nicky Mehta and Ruth Moody) have been together fifteen years (hence the title), but this is their first album in six years. It’s worth waiting for; it’s gorgeous. They interpret nine very different songs but the common thread running through all of them is those three fabulous voices and the heartbreakingly pure harmonies. It’s possible I might mention that again at some point.

Everything is built around creating a setting for those flawless voices to deliver interpretations that are technically and emotionally perfect. Generally speaking, the musicians have a fairly light touch throughout the album; this is all about putting those three voices straight upfront and centre. When full string band arrangements are used, they tend to build up in layers to push the song to a higher level, which works particularly well on the timely cover of Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” and the Jane Siberry song, “The Valley”. “Boulder to Birmingham”, Emmylou Harris and Bill Danoff’s plaintive elegy to Gram Parsons has a full band sound with some lovely two-guitar picking and percussive upright bass; none of it threatens to overwhelm the vocals.

For all the subtle and delicate playing, the a cappella or virtually a cappella material that really shines brightly. Paul Simon’s “Loves Me like a Rock” gets the handclap and fingerpop treatment, Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” begins with a solo vocal before the stunning harmonies join, but the best is saved till last. The album’s final song is an a cappella cover of Hank Williams’ “Weary Blues from Waitin’” which not only has the expected beautiful three-part harmonies but features some incredibly precise three-part glissando harmonies. I have honestly never heard that done with such precision.

So now you’re going to ask if I like it, yeah? What a great way to start the year. But you don’t have to take my word for it; a click on any of those song links will take you to Spotify where you can hear it for yourself.

“Fifteen” is released on True North Records on Friday January 5 2018.

Let’s start 2018 in the traditional way by dusting off the Riot Squad crystal ball and having a peek into the next few months to see what we have to look forward to. As always, in no particular order.

After an absence of a couple of years to deal with serious health issues, Phil Burdett’s back in business again and firing out creative sparks in all directions. The action starts on Saturday January 27th at The Dickens in Southend with the launch gig for Phil’s latest album, “Psychopastoral”. He’ll be backed by the sublime Phil Burdett Group and the support band will be Winter. But that’s just the start; Phil has big plans for the rest of the year, including recording a double album of the songs written while he was in hospital, working on an art/film project and completing a book of poetry and a novel. We’ve got an interview with him coming up in the near future, so just watch this space. (Breaking news on this, Phil’s currently looking for a new venue for the gig on the 27th after The Dickens closed down over Christmas).

 

While we’re on the subject of grand ambitions, let me tell you about Martin Harley. He’s doing a three week tour of the UK with upright bass player extraordinaire Daniel Kimbro. They work together perfectly as a duo, both live and in the studio. The songwriting’s first class, the playing’s perfect and the harmonies are superb; even the chat between songs is interesting and often hilarious. Anyway, one of Martin’s ambitions is to play the Union Chapel in Islington, so he’s booked it for the last night of the tour on Saturday March 10th and he’s promoting the gig himself. It’s the perfect venue for Martin’s music and the Riot Squad will be out in force to support such a brave venture.

 

Another musical partnership we’ve been following for some time is Dean Owens and Will Kimbrough. Will’s guitar playing is in high demand; I lost count of the albums I reviewed in 2017 that featured Will’s playing, but he’s built a special relationship with Dean that’s led to a full-scale collaboration on their latest album “Southern Wind”. We’ve had some sneak previews here and we’ll be reviewing it in the next couple of weeks ahead of the official release date of Friday February 16 on At The Helm Records. You’ll love it.

 

2017 saw the release of the ‘lost’ PP Arnold album and the announcement she’s going to be making an album this year at Paul Weller’s Black Barn studio. It’s fantastic that “The Turning Tide” has finally been found, but even better that Pat is actually making original music again. And there’s plenty of speculation round the water cooler here at Riot towers about possible guest appearances and collaborations on the new album.

 

Finally, and this is specifically a London thing for the moment, late January will see the launch of Talentbanq, the latest venture for Ray Jones. Ray, former Development Director at Time Out has a passion for music that would shame most journalists and he’s always been willing to put a lot of time and effort into promoting new talent. Now that he’s no longer at Time Out he’s focussing his energies on promoting up-and-coming artists with Talentbanq. We’re still waiting for more details, but we do know that it’s going to be an interesting ride.

 

I’ve seen Hannah around at various events over the last couple of years, but somehow managed to avoid hearing her songs or seeing her play live. I’m pleased to say that I’ve managed to put that right this year. I loved her latest single “Chanel and Cigarettes” and managed to find the beautiful song “1954” as well. Late to the party, but I’m making the most of it now I’m here. Anyway, after finally meeting Hannah for the first time a few weeks ago, I invited her to make a contribution to this year’s High Fives. I’m well chuffed that she agreed – Allan.

Amelia White

East Nashville based singer songwriter Amelia White’s music is, without question, my favourite discovery of 2017. Her album Rhythm of the Rain is one of those gems that you’ll find yourself playing over and over again, finding new diamond moments with each listen.

For me, she brings together all of the best elements of Patti Smith, Lucinda Williams and Martha Wainwright, but very much has her own style. I had the pleasure of seeing her live twice this year on her UK tour. She is the real deal, authentic, talented and gracious with an effortless rock star quality that is rarely seen these days. I’ve since fallen in love with Rhythm of the Rain’s predecessor Home Sweet Hotel and am very much looking forward to delving further into her back catalogue

Loud Mountains

Oxford based ‘Loud Mountains’ were the highlight of Truck festival this year for me. They deservedly played on the main stage which I unfortunately missed, but luckily caught their second set at the Saloon stage the following day. The atmosphere during their set at the Saloon was absolutely electric – jam packed with fans as their infectious hooks and perfect harmonies reinforced by their rocking band shook the walls. The best live act I’ve seen this year without doubt

Newton Country

I am very, very excited by Bath based 3 piece band Newton Country, I had the pleasure of playing the same bill as them back in March at The Golden Lion in Bristol and they are just lovely people and extremely talented. With their fresh energetic vibe, lead singer Roisin’s Neko Case-esque vocals and thoughtfully crafted songs they are ones to watch for sure in 2018.

James Hodder

I first heard James Hodder perform back in February when we both played the Resonance FM fundraiser at Aces and Eights, I was completely blown away and I admit I was ashamed that I had not heard him perform before. Having known James for a couple of years  (the presenter of ‘Tin Can Hodder’  – a fabulous radio show on London’s ‘Resonance FM’)  as someone who champions roots music and musicians, and is particularly supportive of us struggling indie musos it is wonderful to see him gain much deserved attention for his own music. Velvety vocals, carefully crafted songs with intelligent and moving lyrics- in my opinion, he is the UK’s answer to Jason Isbell.

Society

Crawley based ‘Society’ were my highlight of this year’s inaugural ‘Rambling Roots Revue’ festival in April which was an absolutely fantastic three day festival in Buckinghamshire choc full of the finest acts in the Americana scene. Society (Matt Wise, Fin Scott Kenny, Thomas Collison and Ben Lancaster) were one of the bands I was looking forward to seeing the most and they did not disappoint. Their perfect close three part harmonies, Matt Wise’s gravelly vocals and storytelling, the musical calibre of every band member (including a singing drummer!) and the chemistry between them all made for one of the most exciting and enjoyable performances I’ve seen this year.

 

The Boxing Day edition of High Fives comes courtesy of The Hallows. We’ve seen them a couple of times in 2017 and they’re absolutely stunning live; get out and watch them if you can. If you want a lazy description (it’s Boxing Day and we’ve been hitting the superlager here at Riot Towers) just imagine if Kate Bush joined Muse as singer; you won’t be too far off the mark. And now we have multiple levels of introduction, first from the band, then from bass player Dave Pugh.

The Hallows are fond of a tipple and enjoy nothing more than good beer and wine shared with splendid company…however there is always one who likes to take it a bit further and embraces the world of alcohol in a way that many will never understand…we hand you over to Dave Pugh, Bass player for The Hallows and all around Craft Beer connoisseur to give you a rundown of his top five beverages. Take it away Dave…

So, I like beer. Always have. Well not quite always obviously… but since about 2013-14 I have become somewhat of an enthusiast rather than just someone who enjoyed a pint (or many…) down the pub. The craft beer scene worldwide is huge now, and seems to have grown even more so in Britain in 2017, with loads of really very good stuff available in all major supermarkets and even corner shops. These five below are my favourites that I’ve drunk this year. Spoiler alert, I’m an IPA fan… as my favourite T-Shirt reads “Give me hops or give me death.”

Psychokinesis – Magic Rock Brewery

This beer is amazing. Magic Rock have become probably my favourite brewery and this was the finest example of their limited edition IPAs this year. This is a west coast style IPA using an experimental new hop called HBC438 (along with some others). It’s got big aromas of tropical fruits as many IPAs do but this new hop gives almost bubblegum or lime type notes. Back when I could get my hands on this beer you could probably have seen me cradling the glass like Gollum would The One Ring…

 

DIPA v11 – Cloudwater Brewery

Cloudwater have been winning awards all over the place, and had you asked me to put this list together last year they could easily have had 4 or even five places on the list with their run of double IPA versions. This one was my favourite this year. Big flavours. Complex, full bodied, strong, resinous, fruity, dank. Awesome.

 

 

Fantasma – Magic Rock Brewery

Another from Magic Rock. This beer is very interesting in that it was designed along the same lines as the others in their Canned IPA series but it is actually gluten-free and is even safe for coeliacs to drink. It’s tropical, hazy, dank and slightly bitter – all the things I look for these days! This one has been kept in production rather than disappearing as you would expect a limited edition to do. Go get some.

Jackhammer – Brewdog

Slightly cheating here as this is not a beer that was created or brought to market in 2017, but it remains one of my all-time favourites and go to beers. Brewdog were the company that caught me up in the craft beer movement when I discovered how much I loved their Punk IPA (I still drink far too much of the stuff, far too regularly…) Jackhammer is like Punk IPA turned up to 11, hops everywhere and just about the most bitter finish available. With Brewdog’s expansion after their amazing success and growth as a company you can now get hold of it in major supermarkets as well as specialist shops and Brewdog bars. Do it.

Brewdog vs Cloudwater New England IPA v 2 – Brewdog & Cloudwater

A collaboration between two of my favourite breweries? In a style I really like? Yes please. Loads of hops, hazy, juicy, spicy and a real note of pine in the aroma. It’s a very complex tasting beer which at points makes you think you’re drinking a fruit juice and at times smacks you in the head and reminds you it’s 8.5%… really, really good.

So that’s my list. Obviously I’ve drunk more this year than IPAs, but this is my list… there’s so much good stuff out there now, definitely something for everyone.

I have to give a big shout out to Sean and Mollie at Warwick Real Ale. I’m really lucky to have such a great craft beer shop right on my doorstep in Warwick. You really couldn’t wish for more knowledgeable or friendly business owners and the service is always spot on. Please find them on Facebook and support local business.

I was invited to go and watch HVMM at Proud Camden in June this year. Their press release described them as a mix of Peaky Blinders, Nick Cave and Black Sabbath and that was pretty close to the mark; they are awesome. The hottest weekend of the year in a room painted black with virtually no stage lighting. Had a bit of a chat backstage with the band and shot a few candids, including a really nice one of Sam Jenkins, who contributed this piece. And Andy Teece’s ‘tash is extremely impressive – Allan

5 things that put lead in my pencil !!

1 – Ludwig 402 snare drum – best snare ever and the choice of John Bonham [ Led Zep ], I was given one as a gift  and it sounds incredible.

 

 

 

2 – Bathams Best Bitter – From the Midlands, drunk by Midlands drummers. Best pint in the land, and I’ve tried a few……Enough said !! 

 

 

 

 

 

3 – Sundays in the Pub, you know you shouldn’t, which is why you do ….

 

 

 

 

 

4 – Keith Moon – Needs no explanation…

 

 

 

 

5 – Andy’s Teece’s  Tash [ Lead singer of  HVMM ], it is simply a thing of beauty!

Maybe you already know that Allan’s a bit of a Southside Johnny fan. Ok, a lot of a Southside Johnny fan. So, we decided to invite Johnny to contribute to the 2017 High Fives. And he did, with not one but four sets of High Fives chosen by our random category generator. That’s the kind of value you get at a Jukes gig. Take it away, Southside…

 

Steven Van Zandt

5 songwriting heroes

Cole Porter

Tom Waits

Steven Van Zandt

Bob Dylan

Smokey Robinson

 

5 places he’d play every night 

Paradiso Amsterdam

Paradiso, Amsterdam

Shepherd’s Bush, London

Birchmere, Alexandria, Virginia

Stone Pony Summer Stage, Asbury Park, NJ

Anywhere in Cleveland, Ohio

 

5 people he’d like to meet 

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Big Bill Shakespeare

Barack Obama

Willie Dixon

My mother’s father

 

5 favourite harmonica solos

Little Walter

Big Walter, “Walking By Myself”,

Sonny Boy Williamson “Don’t Start Me Talking”,

Little Walter, “Tell me Mama” and “Lights Out”,

Paul Butterfield, “Born in Chicago” and a thousand others.

 

5 covers he hasn’t done yet

Way too many to list.  Happy New Year!

 

There isn’t really a theme to this selection, it’s just five photos that didn’t really fit in with the format for the earlier features; they’re a little bit different. Anyway, I like them and you can make up your own minds. We’re hoping to have selections from some of my favourite gig photographers coming up soon, but you’ll have to make do with these for the moment.

Joe Francis (Winter Mountain) @229 The Venue – I’m a huge fan of Joe Francis; he’s a great songwriter, he’s passionate about what he does and it shows in the way he performs. I’d grabbed some good shots from the front at this intimate gig and I was looking for something a little bit different. I went to the back of the room and saw a perfect, almost symmetrical, frame formed by two of the audience. I’m really grateful to both of you.

Neil Jones (Stone Foundation) @Islington Assembly Hall – This gig was one of the highlights of my year. I managed to get a photo pass for a gig where one of my favourite bands was joined on stage by Danny Champ, Dr Robert and Paul Weller. The lighting was a bit strange (even on the official DVD it has a strange colour cast) but there was no shortage of photo opportunities. Neil Jones lived up to his frontman role by creating a few nice opportunities. This was my favourite.

Sarah Rodriguez (The Hallows) – This was my second Hallows gig (they’re very good, you really should go and see them) and I was determined to get some good shots. All three band members are photogenic, but when the singer straps on a keytar and starts throwing some rock star shapes, you know you’ve got the shot. Cheers Sarah.

Totally @The Sebright Arms – This was my first visit to this venue; I was invited along by the band and I was really impressed. You will hear more about them on MusicRiot. The lighting wasn’t perfect, but the band have a great visual identity so it wasn’t too difficult to grab some interesting shots. I liked the contrast between the spots and stripes and the intensity of this shot. I’ll definitely be seeing Totally again.

Wovoka Gentle @Rich Mix – I was alerted to this gig by my fellow photographer Greg Towning, who had been praising this band profusely. He wasn’t wrong, they are sensational. Once again, the lighting was a bit challenging (mostly from behind and moving very quickly), but that’s what live music photography’s all about. You work out the best angles and then try to predict where the lights will go and hope for the best. This one worked for me (and thanks Greg).