Oh, I just don’t know where to begin…Accidents Will Happen. In late 2018, this venue played host to the early dates of an Elvis Costello tour which didn’t get much further. He was diagnosed with a form of prostate cancer and despite some lurid headlines, he recovered and here he is back treading the boards many, many years after angry young manhood.

So it seems a little impolite to, well…I dunno.

The support act kind of underlined the problem here. Singer/songwriter Ian Prowse was very hale, hearty, full of verve, vigour and twinkle, a combination of scouse/Irish wit and charm and poppiness. Clearly thrilled to be playing such a big venue with such a ‘name’ he claimed his eight-year-old daughter came out to see him in Liverpool on the first night of the tour; and that was ‘the first time she’d seen him’ which I don’t think is quite what he meant. He also offered to buy everybody a drink if they met him at the merch stand after his set…careful, Ian. Last time one of our lot made a similar claim it cost me thousands. Seriously though he was very listenable as were his fellow troubadours but the lack of a bass guitar can very rarely be compensated for by a keyboard, I reckon. The final song in the set, “Does This Train Stop on Merseyside” is a bit of a stonker as well. Keep eyes and ears open for Ian Prowse. A good listen.

Elvis, on the other hand…the tour is called Just Trust 2020, and we kick off with a ‘sighter’ from the ’81 ‘Trust’ album, “Strict Time”. I usually allow bands one or two to get settled and to let any gremlins work their way out so we won’t dwell on this one much, followed by “Clubland” and “Greenshirt” which, although intense seemed to be pretty much all over the place mix-wise. I know the venue has a bit of a reputation for wayward sound but this was a really wild ride, a sort of rumbling, grumbling mess. It seemed to these ears that the opposite of what should have been the case was the truth; they were playing like they’d only just met. And with former Attractions Steve Naïve on keyboards (lots of them) and Pete Thomas on drums and with a settled line-up in the Imposters, this took me rather by surprise.

And come the first of the ‘Hits’, the towering majesty of “Accidents Will Happen”, another problem seems to emerge. Occasionally in later life, singers will not be able to hit particular notes. But this doesn’t seem to be the problem here…his vocal range still seems to be there…but the timing is all over the place and sometimes he just seems to be ‘chasing after’ the song; which is a problem for the sharp, angular, quick-fire demands of many of his older hits. His singers/dancers throw themselves about all over the place to give the impression of concerted, rhythmic responses to the music, but they can’t throw me off the scent. I dig in for an evening of irregular but profound wincing. Great, great song, though.

And then “Better Watch Your Step” and a clutch of others…but I’m SO distracted by now. It isn’t just the timing…he’s Very Flat on occasion…then he’ll throw in one of those soooo Elvis vocal trills and you’ll forgive him…and then for the next 30 seconds he sounds like he’s in the wrong key…the mix is beyond muddy and…I’m not sure he can actually hear himself. Can he hear himself?

“I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea”. Love the song. She’s last year’s model. It’s a killer. Band layer it intensely but he’s chasing the song again…why? I can’t sing but I could probably read the lyrics so they’d actually ‘fit’ the song… all over the place…

…into one for the 2018 album “Suspect My Tears” and possibly because it was written when he was an older man, he does actually get this one to ‘fit’ and glory be, the mix slowly starts to get a bit tighter and more ‘approachable’. After which I’m treated to Elvis telling me he hates me in “Radio Radio” complete with bonkers ‘Farfisa’-style organ and intense and angst-filled playlist envy. Sorry Elvis. Just not radio-friendly, that one.

“Watching the Detectives” is, though. Backlit in eerie green, Costello as ‘spook’ comes to the fore and, at this juncture, it is important I mention the guitar playing. His various ancient and weird-looking guitars and barrage of foot pedals are no doubt very necessary for despite the barrage of keyboards Steve Nieve bounces around behind, there is only one guitarist and it is EC. And the guitar sound is universally excellent, very subtle and supple where required, very sharp and incisive in ways which the interesting but wayward voice now seems less than.

Sitting down at the piano we get the ‘country’ section of the show, including a quite rambling and off-key “Good Year for the Roses”. Always a broken heart/broken voice job, this seriously pushes the boundaries on that particular concept.

From that to another from the 2018 album “Look Now”, “Burnt Sugar is so Bitter” a song co-written by Carole King and this is a right old work-out on a song which tells one of the oldest stories in songwriting in a typically direct way. This worked really well, Steve Nieve’s rattling, empty ‘ice rink’ organ sound giving a hollow, almost ‘Northern Soul’ feel. And speaking of which…”High Fidelity”, a hit from the ‘soul’ album “Get Happy”, which once again, seems to leave his voice behind. Otherwise, just great. But…

“A Whisper to a Scream” jerks us back again to “Trust” and it is an intense delivery, which then melts in to the sublime “Alison” from the first album recorded for about six quid in 1976/7 depending on who you talk to. This is gorgeous and even though the voice does that wandering thing again there are moments within this when all is forgiven, just to hear it ‘live’ again; especially when that folds seamlessly into a marriage with Motown beauty “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”. Every tune is working to a crescendo now and it would be spectacularly unfair to point out that despite the compromising of songs by a meandering voice, the audience are really warming to this and 80’s FM radio A-lister “Every Day I Write The Book” arrives right on cue and as described in the brochure.

And then “Pump it Up” nearly blows the roof off the place. At the end of it, this guy is a showman. Nobody is going to leave this venue feeling like they’ve been short-changed, I will say that much. And as is the current vogue for encore avoidance, the band stay on the stage and soak up well-deserved applause for a strong and professionally-delivered set. Not their fault the old lad’s struggling to hold a tune on occasion now.

And our final tunes for the night are the “Give Peace a Chance” section of the show and who can blame him? Certainly not I when this commences with “Shipbuilding”. Written by Costello and long-time Madness producer Clive Langer, I have to say I FAR prefer Robert Wyatt’s tremulous, fragile version but I’m here tonight and I’ll take this….but he’s off wandering again and he can’t point at not being able to live with the pace of the song here…and it’s all a bit so-so until he finishes the song on a shimmering, jazzy ‘When we could be diving for pearls’ which just seems to hang in the air and really does force listeners to face the compromises we make with the world in order to be ‘of’ the world.

Which, of course, rumbles straight into a spirited, very ‘dashing’ rock ‘n’ roll version of “Oliver’s Army” which ‘only’ got to Number 2, combining fairly ‘confrontational’ lyrics with the sort of piano that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an Abba single. Part of our ‘Should have got to number 1; God, where were you?’ club repertoire, anyone would have been excused for thinking that was that, as it could well have been, but pacifist’s corner ended very appropriately and rather touchingly with Brinsley Schwarz’s “What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” and that was indeed it, standing ovations all round the crowd no doubt shuffling off into a cold night warmed to the cockles by the memory of familiar tunes played stirringly….and how many of them would recall great acres of vocal creakiness the following morning?

Absolutely well worth going to see but an increasingly flawed masterpiece as the vocals struggle to live with the songs he’s created, I’d like to think he was throwing stuff about when he got off stage because he couldn’t hear what was going on or he’d just had an ‘off night’. But. Maybe it is Twilight Time.

The first proper gig; it should be memorable, shouldn’t it? For some of us it’s the start of a lifetime of queuing in the rain twenty minutes after doors while the drummer gets his floor tom sound right, of missing the last train home and paying £60 for a cab and of explaining that you just spoke to the band’s manager twenty minutes ago and you are definitely on the guest list, besides the singer’s a mate of yours. All of those frustrations are forgotten when the sticks click and the band hits their groove (sorry anyone that doesn’t have a drummer, but you know what I mean).

Do you remember the first time?

I certainly do, and I made a reference to it on this very website nearly eight years as part of an appreciation of the wonderful Nick Lowe. Here’s the unedited album version.

It was the East Midlands in the mid-seventies: a time of industrial unrest and political instability. The UK had been in the Common Market for a year and in the US, Nixon was living on stolen time (he resigned almost six months later). On Monday 25th February 1974, none of that mattered; I was going to my first proper gig, to see a proper band that I’d seen on the Whistle Test and had already released five albums. And they were playing at The Civic Theatre in Mansfield of all places. I’m pretty certain the sixth forms from all of Mansfield’s grammar schools were in the audience, after visiting the pubs with the most lenient bar staff. Fair to say there was a sense of expectation.

With hindsight, I can see that there wasn’t a huge budget for the tour and that support bands were picked up locally. It makes financial sense, and a local support will bring along some of their fans to swell the audience and that’s a good thing, yeah? The support band this time was a local rock covers band called Care, whose singer lived on the same estate as I did and who were popular with the local biker gang. Any alarm bells ringing yet? They played their set, got a great response from their own fans and were actually pretty convincing. So, after a quick break to top up the alcohol levels it was on to the night’s headliners.

By this stage, following the 1970 Fillmore hype and the bad feeling it generated with the rock press, Brinsley Schwarz as a band were back on creative form but commercially pretty much finished. They had some great tunes were a superb live band on their night. What they weren’t, crucially on this night, was a heavy rock band; you would colour them moody blue rather than deep purple. The majority of the audience had paid to see Brinsley Schwarz and were perfectly happy to hear their well-crafted and crisply-performed soul-inflected pop/rock. Not the leather-jacketed fans of the support band; from the opening of the set they bayed menacingly about the lack of red meat and thud and blunder. The natives were restless and hammered; not the best combination.

The inevitable happened a couple of songs in when Mansfield’s finest mild boys took advantage of the lack of security to invade the stage in protest at the lack of power chords and screaming vocals. Everything happened surprising quickly and suddenly the stage was engulfed in greasy leather. It looked like a fairly even match between rockers and roadies until one deluded delinquent took a lunge at Nick Lowe, who was sporting his Gibson EB bass; and then he wasn’t. The rocker was wearing the headstock of the bass in his mouth and nose and spitting blood and teeth. Game over; Brinsleys 1, Mofos 0, shortly followed by the ignominy of the rockers’ retreat and vaguely threatening noises.

The roadies went back to the day job, got the stage reset for the band and the gig went ahead as if nothing had happened. The band were on good form and did the business for the rest of the set and then everyone went home happy, apart from a few broken bikers. As first gigs go it was memorable; a bit of underage drinking, a support band with a lead singer that I knew, a full-scale stage invasion and a great set from a band that I really wanted to see. And it happened in Mansfield of all places; I didn’t think for a second that forty years later I would be watching Brinsley Schwarz (with Graham Parker) and Nick Lowe (with his band and Geraint Watkins) at gigs in London, but that’s the way it panned out. That first gig showed me a way out of a small provincial town and the events of that night still influence my life now.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I wrote briefly about that gig eight years ago and a couple of interesting things happened. Someone else who was at the gig contacted me via a website comment and we’ve met up for a couple of beers in London, then Ian Gomm, who was the guitar player in Brinsley Schwarz, contacted me to say that the band never actually knew why the stage invasion had happened and were a bit concerned about getting a kicking outside. Unlikely; the rockers had probably retreated to their base in the Midland Hotel to compare war stories and intimidate the under-age drinkers that hadn’t gone to the gig.

 

 

Just let me be completely serious here, the whole idea of reviewing albums and gigs and doing live music photography is something I wouldn’t have dreamt of ten years ago. Whatever gods you believe in, I will thank them for this opportunity. Every album I hear or gig I go to is another bonus and I truly appreciate it; I’ve made many friends as a result of doing this and had some wonderful times. Every year for the last five years or so, I’ve had few moments that stop me in my tracks and they’re still coming. Here are a few from 2019, in no particular order.

 

Mavis Staples @The Roundhouse

It wasn’t the first time I’ve had the opportunity to photograph Mavis; that was Cornbury Festival last year. This was different; it was the full-on show, the proper gig experience. Proper soundchecks, full-length sets and not having to dash off to shoot another band after the first three songs. And it didn’t hurt that the support for Mavis’s two gigs in England was Stone Foundation, my favourite current UK soul band; they rose to the occasion, powering through a tight set and grabbing the attention of an audience that had mainly come to see Mavis as part of the Innervisions Festival. I’d managed a couple of decent shots of her at Cornbury, but you never pass up an opportunity to photograph a legend again. Three songs from the pit, including a few that I’m still happy with, and then what? Get to the mixing desk, stand in front of it and enjoy the force of nature that is Mavis Staples and her band. The songs always had power, the band are totally on it and Mavis’s voice is undimmed by age. What a night.

Interviewing Graham Parker

Bit of context here. As a student in the late seventies (I know, you work it out), I had access to a lot of gigs and I was just getting into gig photography (Olympus OM-1, if you’re interested). I spent a fair amount of time as a DJ with current MusicRiot contributor Steve Jenner. As a DJ at that time in Students’ Unions, you got a lot of freebies. One of the freebies that grabbed my attention was an EP by Graham Parker called The Pink Parker EP (the original limited edition was on pink vinyl) and it ignited a life-long love of this guy’s music. He’s now one of several musicians that I’ve photographed at an interval of four decades; you get the picture, I’m a fan.

Cutting to the chase, in February of 2019, a Graham Parker tour celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the album “Squeezing Out Sparks” was announced and one of the dates was The Foxlowe Theatre in Leek, one of my favourite small theatres in one of my favourite small towns, coincidentally the current hometown of Mr Jenner. Tickets were bought and as the year went on, I thought it might be a good idea to collaborate with Steve on an interview with GP if we could swing it. Turns out (with the intervention of Neil Sheasby from Stone Foundation), we could. So, on Friday October 22nd in Leek, I found myself sitting with my oldest mate Steve Jenner opposite Graham Parker with a microphone between us. If you’ve got half an hour to spare, you can listen to it here:

It’s the first time I’ve been happy to use an interview as a podcast, rather than transcribing the whole thing. It was a bit of moment.

Sam Tanner album launch @The Half Moon

Heard of Sam Tanner? You really should have, he’s the man. Sam sings, writes songs and plays keyboards, but that really doesn’t do him justice. He’s the funkiest keyboard player I’ve heard, his songs are incredibly powerful and then there’s the voice. As a keyboard player and soul singer in the UK, the obvious comparison is Paul Carrack. I’ve seen both several times and I have to say my money’s on Sam. I first got to hear of him as a member of Mollie Marriott’s band, then as member of Brother Strut (check out this Ed Sheeran cover) before bumping into him at various gigs around town. All of that talent and it turns out he’s a really nice guy as well.

For the launch gig for his solo album he pulled out all the stops (thinly-disguised organ player gag) with a full band, horn section and backing vocalists (Mollie Marriott and Izzy Chase). This was a quality line-up with the kind of players that could follow any changes and sounded incredible. Sam was on top form vocally and even dealt with audience members talking in his trademark gentle way: “If you’re going talk along, can you do it in B flat because that’s the key the next song’s in…”. Superb band, superb vocals and lovely atmosphere; I floated back to Putney station.

Dana Immanuel & the Stolen Band @The Forum

While I’m ‘fessing up to all the bands I love, I can’t miss out Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band. I love these people as artists and as people. In October, I saw the band three times. Each gig was special in its own way, but a support set at The Forum with a full house was a huge opportunity. The band supported Polish eighties punk band Kult who still have a huge following in the UK. It can be difficult playing support to a band with a hugely partisan following, but Dana had a secret weapon (besides having a great band). Fiddle player Basia is Polish and did various links and introductions in her home tongue, which the audience loved. It’s a fabulous feeling to see one of your favourite bands get a rapturous reception at a big gig on their own manor. I suspect I’ll be at a few more Stolen Band gigs in 2020.

Poetry

I know it seems unlikely, but I got back into poetry. Over the last few years, I’ve become a fan and friend of the songwriting colossus that is Phil Burdett. It’s been no secret that Phil’s had some issues over the last few years and working on his poetry is something that’s been therapeutic. This year, Phil published a volume of poetry and prose (it’s very good and you can buy it here) and launched it at The Railway Hotel in Southend-on Sea with a performance featuring spoken word and songs aided and abetted by his long-time collaborator Steve Stott, playing the usual mandolin and fiddle. I’d forgotten how good it is to hear poetry performed live and wasn’t remotely surprised at the way Phil aced his first live recital. And the songs with Mr Stott sounded bloody good as well. As if this wasn’t enough, Ralph Dartford supported Phil with the launch of his latest volume, “Recovery Songs” and also went down a storm. The audience was perfect; totally silent during the performances and noisily appreciative at the end of each piece

And there’s still more. A few weeks later, Ralph launched (no pun intended) his volume, “Recovery Songs” from a floating bookshop on the Regent’s Canal in King’s Cross, supported by Phil and Steve. Not quite such a captive audience, but great to see people walking along the towpath stop to listen. Those two volumes are probably the first new poetry I’ve bought since “The Mersey Sound”. Another bonus was that I had the chance to have beer with some very interesting musicians, which is a theme that crops up elsewhere in these High Fives. There might be a good idea buried somewhere in that.

Nostalgia and a record

I can’t resist a bonus ball this time, inspired by the Graham Parker interview. In the same year that I first saw Graham Parker, I also saw a band from Birmingham that I’d heard a lot about, The Steve Gibbons Band. Imagine my surprise when I turned up to interview Southside Johnny at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in March to discover that Steve Gibbons had been added to the bill at short notice. Forty-two years isn’t my personal record for length of time between gigs I’ve seen an artist at; it ties with Brinsley Schwarz as a member of his band and as a duo with Graham Parker, but it’s quite impressive. My options for beating that record are pretty limited now; I think it might come down to seeing Ian Gomm or Billy Rankin again – just sayin’ guys, there’s a record to be broken here… To make everything perfect on the day, the interview went really well and the gig was absolutely storming. I love this job.

All images except Phil’s book cover courtesy of yours truly.

 

So how about five great gigs this year? Well, I’ve had plenty to choose from and I can’t say that I’ve seen a bad one, so it hasn’t been an easy choice to whittle it down to the top five (and no cheating this time either). These are all gigs that I walked away from feeling elated, feeling that I’d seen something special that I wanted to tell the world about. So I did, and here’s a reminder of how good these gigs were.

01) High Fives John FairhurstJohn Fairhurst @Rich Mix

On a freezing February Friday night in Shoreditch, Rich Mix was a welcome respite from bars full of bankers and ‘exclusive’ lap-dancing joints. The venue is a social enterprise where the motivation isn’t purely profit and programming of events is always interesting. On this particular night, John Fairhurst, along with Pete Episcopo (bass) and Toby Murray (drums) played a raw and raucous set of blues focussing on the 2014 album “Saltwater”. Some of the album versions of the songs were fairly big production numbers but the live performance was strictly a power trio affair with John’s blistering guitar topping off the mixture. The journey back through Shoreditch didn’t seem quite so bad after a night of proper blues with electric guitars playing way up loud. You can see some photos from the gig here.

Mollie and Izzy

Mollie and Izzy

Mollie Marriott @The Half Moon

This one was firmly in the eagerly-anticipated category. Mollie’s been working quietly for some time putting together a great band for live and studio work featuring her Jim Stapley bandmates Izzy Chase-Phillmore, Sam Tanner and Johnson-Jay Medwik-Daley. After an interesting acoustic support set from her nephew, Mo Evans, Mollie’s full band made their first live appearance in a Half Moon packed with fans and a few well-known faces as well. It was obvious from the start that this isn’t just a bunch of hired hands; this is a bunch of really good mates as well. None of their playing is showy or attention-seeking; everything serves the songs and underpins Mollie’s phenomenal voice, and it all works perfectly. The audience were onside anyway, but Mollie and the band gave a great performance of material from the upcoming debut album and a couple of covers as well. Here are some photos of this one.

14) MichaelMad Dog Mcrea and Sound of the Sirens @The Half Moon

This was a very special gig. I’d been invited along to see Mad Dog Mcrea and I had no idea about the support on the night, Sound of the Sirens. It’s such a great feeling when you see an artist for the first time and you know instantly that they’re something special. And it’s not just me; apparently Chris Evans was quite impressed with them as well. Anyway, they played a storming set completely winning over the audience with their powerful songs, dynamics, and harmonies. If the night had stopped at that point, I would have been perfectly happy, but we still had Mad Dog Mcrea to come, with an energetic run through material from their album “Almost Home” plus a few old favourites and crowd pleasers. Two great bands with enough in common to appeal to the whole audience but with enough differences to create a very varied night. And there are some photos here.

10) Chris DiffordSqueeze and Dr John Cooper Clarke @Indigo2

Another interesting double bill, this time with two very different artists, linked by the era which saw the start of their careers. John Cooper Clarke (now making the most of his honorary doctorate) has been doing poetry and comedy events for a few years but the tour with Squeeze put him back in front of big audiences filled with people who remembered him from the first time round. He throws more one-liners and gags into his routine now but a lot of the old favourite poems are still there, although some of them, particularly “Twat”, have evolved over time. On this night he was a barnstorming crowd-pleaser, building up the audience nicely for the headline act.

This year Squeeze had a new album to promote so the setlist was varied, to say the least, with material covering almost forty years from “Take Me I’m Yours” to new songs like “Cradle to the grave” with the usual smattering of different interpretations of Squeeze classics. What made this performance so special was the group of musicians (mainly Glenn Tilbrook’s Fluffers) now making up the rest of Squeeze who add upright bass, melodica and other esoteric instruments to the mix as well as adding rich vocal harmonies. Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook have never sounded better and what an incredible set of songs. Guess what, some photos here.

Union Chapel 050515

Union Chapel 050515

Graham Parker and Brinsley Schwarz & The Union Chapel

And finally. One of the greatest talents never to break through in the seventies and eighties, Graham Parker, who toured twice this year; once with The Rumour and once with Brinsley Schwarz. With a songbook which again covers almost forty years and a new album to promote as well, Graham Parker mixed up some established classics, some surprises and some new songs to delight an audience which might have been a little biased anyway. His voice is still remarkable and the songs are all strong enough to work in stripped-back arrangements. This wasn’t just a nostalgia thing; there were new songs to promote and they all sounded as good as anything he’s done before. He’s a remarkable man and it was a real pleasure to hear these songs in such a beautiful venue. How about a look at GP in the seventies and now?

 

 

In December 2014, I made a conscious decision that I would get to as many gigs as I possibly could during 2015. Not all of those gigs became reviews or picture galleries, but I certainly broke my previous record, which has stood since my second year at university. I love those moments at gigs when something happens which is either so unexpected or so exceptional that the hair stands up on the back of your neck and you know that you’ll remember it forever. Here are five of those from 2015:

Interview ScrollerSound of the Sirens – In mid-March this year I was at The Half Moon in Putney to see Mad Dog Mcrea. I’d just reviewed their “Almost Home” album and thought they would be good to see live. I hadn’t heard of the support band, Sound of the Sirens, but I like to see support bands because you never know when you’ll make a great discovery; this was one of those nights. Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood grabbed my attention from the opening notes with superb songs, perfect harmonies and counterpoint and a huge dynamic range combining to create a set of acoustic anthems for the twenty-first century, all of it completely new to me. The entire set was stunning, but “Faith in Fire” had me transfixed; I had to just stand and watch, open-mouthed as the song progressed from the quiet intro to a rousing finale. Just perfect.

Union Chapel 050515

Union Chapel 050515

Graham Parker & Brinsley Schwarz at The Union Chapel – My first visit to the lovely Union Chapel and I was there with Phil Burdett to see one of my teenage heroes play a stripped-down set with Brinsley Schwarz (who was in the first proper band I saw live). Graham Parker has such a huge catalogue of songs that it’s impossible to predict which ones would make the cut on the night. Over the pre-gig pint, I came up with a small wish-list; one of which was almost a certainty, and the other a bit of an outsider. The opening song “Watch the Moon Come Down” ticked the certainty box, but it wasn’t until much later in the set that the harrowing “You Can’t be Too Strong” completed the list. The audience reaction of awed silence throughout the song and an explosion of applause at the end showed that I wasn’t the only person waiting to hear that one. I think I may have had something in my eye at that point.

Hannah Gallery ScrollerHannah Aldridge at Green Note – This is another gig that came out of hearing an album and deciding that I had to see the artist. Hannah’s debut, “Razor Wire”, is a wonderful piece of work featuring some brutally honest and sincere depictions of her life and I was keen to hear how these songs would strip down to an acoustic format. As expected, the songs worked perfectly in their original forms with Hannah’s pure, clear voice and acoustic guitar; Hannah was engaging between songs, giving some background to each piece, explaining the inspiration behind it. The song which completely silenced the full house at Green Note was “Parchman”, a song that, uncharacteristically, isn’t autobiographical; it’s the story of a woman on death row for murdering her abusive husband. I swear you couldn’t even hear anyone breathe as Hannah pulled the maximum emotion from the song by playing it completely straight; no vocal tricks or adornments, just a perfect song and a beautiful delivery, leaving the audience emotionally drained.

02) DeanDean Owens at The Union Chapel – It’s fair to say that Dean Owens is a bit of a Riot Squad favourite and it’s great to see that he’s having some very well-deserved success this year. Landing the support slot for Rosanne Cash at The Union Chapel gave Dean a chance to play in front of a full house and an appreciative audience in London with only his guitar and a bunch of great songs. He had the audience with him from the start and got a great response for the whole set but saved something very special for the end. He went completely unplugged; no amplification for guitar or voice. I’ve seen this done in smaller venues (Hannah Aldridge did it at Green Note) but it was big moment in a venue this size, however good the acoustics are. Dean hit the ball out of the park; he pulled out a rip-roaring version of Buck Owens’ “Love’s Gonna Live Here” which rightly earned him a huge response from a slightly stunned audience. A magical moment.

Rosanne Review TitleRosanne Cash & John Leventhal at The Union Chapel – I know, I’m just being greedy here; two epiphanies on the same night. Rosanne Cash featured a lot of songs from the award-winning “The River and the Thread” and, with husband John Leventhal, was superb throughout, taking time to tell some of the stories behind the songs and establish a warm rapport with the audience. Strangely enough, the entire set seemed to come into sharp focus on someone else’s song, Bobbie Gentry’s enigmatic “Ode to Billy Joe”, which pulled all of the other threads together. A very simple arrangement and heartfelt performances pulled the audience into the song and generated a response that was part acclamation and part relief at escape from the song’s interwoven strands of tragedy and banality.

And I suppose that’s one reason that we go to gigs; we always hope that we’ll see those moments that you can’t capture on film or record/CD/MP3; the things that only happen once. I think five in one year’s pretty good going. Thanks to Sound of the Sirens, Graham Parker, Hannah Aldridge, Dean Owens and Rosanne Cash for those fabulous memories.

GP TitleSo, Graham Parker and Brinsley Schwarz at The Union Chapel and I have to say that this one has a special significance for me. The first proper gig I saw was Brinsley Schwarz (the band) playing at Mansfield Civic Theatre on February 25, 1974 and you can read about that gig here. As a student I saw Graham Parker and The Rumour play at Dundee University Students’ Association (April 20, 1978 if you must know, and £1.50 to get in) and the following year at The Odeon in Edinburgh. The songs were great and the band was on fire at that time; Graham Parker should have had huge commercial success, either at that time or without The Rumour in the early eighties, but it didn’t happen. He’s continued to write, make albums, and play as a solo artist and with various group lineups, mainly in the USA, but after 2012’s “Three Chords Good” album which reunited The Rumour, the UK seems to be ready to clasp him to its bosom again.

The audience in The Union Chapel was pretty much what you would expect for this type of gig and surprisingly well-behaved (no loud conversations about how terrible the journey to the gig was or whinges about the bar prices) apart from the bunch that wanted to help GP by braying along like a tone-deaf rugby team; you can’t win them all. With a body of work going back around forty-five years and a new album to promote as well, there’s a chance that you might not get to hear their favourite song; it must have been my lucky night, because I heard two of mine.

The set started with a GP solo version of my first favourite, “Watch the Moon Come Down”, which lends itself to an acoustic interpretation and it’s probably known by most of the old fans so it was the perfect way to ease everyone in before the almost new “Stop Crying About the Rain” from “Three Chords Good”. It’s great to see Brinsley Schwarz back in live action again; his musicianship has always been superb and his harmonies add another layer to the sound. It’s not The Rumour, but it’s a big enough sound to work in an intimate venue like The Union Chapel.

The set spanned the forty years from the release of “Howlin’ Wind” (which was well represented with “White Honey”, “Silly Thing”, “Not if it Pleases Me” and “Don’t Ask Me Questions”) to the new album, “Mystery Glue” which has three songs featured: “Railroad Spikes”, “I’ve Done Bad Things” and “Flying into London”. There was an obvious warmth and camaraderie between Brinsley and Graham as well as between the audience and the performers throughout the set; GP seemed very much at ease with the whole thing and his voice still sounds superb.

As you might expect, there were a couple of interesting choices. The encore opened with an a cappella solo version of the Gershwin classic “Someone to Watch over Me” and ended with the big seventies hit “Hold Back the Night”. Throw in a scattering of great songs (“Turned up Too Late”, “Under the Mask of Happiness”, “Nation of Shopkeepers”, “Passion Is No Ordinary Word”, “Back to Schooldays” and “Stick to Me”) from across the forty year period and you’ve got a pretty good summary of the career of one of our greatest singer-songwriters. And as for that second favourite song of mine – the second song of the encore was one of the best and most harrowing songs I know. “You Can’t Be Too Strong” (from the album “Squeezing Out Sparks”) is a controversial but very brave piece of songwriting which sounds as relevant now as it did in 1979.

So, Graham Parker can still do it live and this was a pretty good selection of his best songs of the last forty years. He looks relaxed in the live partnership with Brinsley Schwarz, but I suspect that the best is still to come with the reformed Rumour promoting “Mystery Glue” which is out on Monday May 18. You can also hear him doing a guest vocal on the new Stone Foundation album “A Life Unlimited” which is released in the UK in August this year.