This witness protection programme isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; we managed to find our arch-miserablist in a pub in Basildon this week just in time to get his opinions on the perfect storm of the end of a decade and a general election. We blew the whole years’ hospitality budget on Stella and rum and black, but we think it was worth it. Just a word of warning, there’s some fairly fruity adult language here. And it’s an opinion (or set of opinions) from one end of the political spectrum. If anyone wants to reply to this with opposing viewpoints, we’ll happily publish it. Let’s light the blue/red touchpaper and go.

Really; it’s been ten years of Tory misrule. Time flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it? And it looks like the narrative is ‘Everything’s screwed; vote for us to unscrew it’. But didn’t you just screw it up in the first place? ‘Get Brexit Done’ – because about 39% of the eligible electorate voted for Brexit. That’s not anything close to a majority. And how many of those were conned by the £350m a week back into the NHS – I’m calling BS here. Forget about the fact that benefits come back into the UK economy from the EU. The aim of the Tories always is and always has been to systematically unpick the welfare state in general and the NHS in particular. You were conned and now the extremists have been given the upper hand. What do I think of that?

And what about the head knob, the unelected Prime Minister who suspends Parliament when it suits his agenda, can’t remember how many kids he has, buys water cannons that are illegal in this country that have to be scrapped at a huge loss and approves grants for British businesses to his American ‘friend’. You’ve all been conned by a toff who takes nothing seriously and only ever does anything if it benefits Bojo the Clown. He doesn’t care about you, or your friends, or your family. All he wants is your vote. As John Cooper-Clarke said ‘They can’t find a good word for you. I can; twat.’
And the skulking coward refuses to do interviews with journalists who might give him a bad time. He even hides in a fridge to avoid an interview with the arch-Tory sympathiser, Piers Morgan. Just the kind of person that you want to have as Prime Minister, yeah?
Over to you, Brian, Freddie, John and Roger:

The Tory cabinet; yeah, we can all feel that we’re represented there, can’t we? What a bunch of Matt Gossers. I mean, it’s difficult to pick out a lead Jeremy Hunt here, but the front runner has to be the bad Dickens caricature, Jacob Rees-Mogg. Yeah, the one who has a little nap on the front bench during a crucial debate. You think he cares about someone on Universal Credit in Hartlepool? No, if you’ve read this far, you obviously don’t. Have you noticed that he’s been seriously inconspicuous during this election campaign. Why do you think that is? J R-M, this one’s for you:

Spin, fake news, alternative facts. It’s strange how these are mostly coming from the blue side of the electoral divide (88% apparently). Who’s funding it, who’s really spreading it? We’ll probably never know, but there was a bit of official reaction from Dominic Raab (resigner, not remoaner) when the Tories changed their Twitter account to make it look like an independent fact-checking site. He said “no one gives a toss about social media cut and thrust”. FYI Dom, I do give a toss; I think most of my friends do too. Graham Parker did as well, when he wrote this very prophetic song about four years ago:

What do all of these privileged muppets have in common? They have absolutely no understanding of the life that we all lead every day – zero, nada, zilch, sweet FA (and that’s not the Football Association or Fanny Adams). This is all a game where they make decisions and don’t have to live with the consequences. Real life isn’t about making a point with a soundbite in a debate and looking smug about it. Most of us don’t spend our lives in the Oxford Union and the decisions that are made by this privileged bunch affect all of us. Here’s their theme song:

Merry Christmas and it’s your round. Stella and rum and black’s fine, thinks.

Space ElevatorIt’s fair to say that things have been a bit serious around here recently, so maybe it’s time to inject a bit of fun back into our lives and I can’t think of a better way to do that than with the latest single from the 2014 debut album by Space Elevator which ties in with a spring and summer 2015 mini tour (details below)There was some debate over whether to choose album tracks “Loneliness of Love” or “Oils and Bubbles” for the next release, so the band has opted to release both songs (with a little bit of editing for radio) as a digital double “A” side.

“Loneliness of Love” is in the classic eighties power rock tradition with drums like heavy artillery, pumping bass, and big harmony guitars and keyboards sitting underneath The Duchess’s laserbeam vocals, while “Oils and Bubbles” is indebted lyrically and musically to mid-seventies period Queen. Its extended piano intro and layer upon layer of harmony vocals would sit comfortably on “Sheer Heart Attack”, “A Night at the Opera” or “A Day at the Races”. Whatever you think of their reference points, the truth is that these songs are well-constructed, superbly played, and they’re a lot of fun. The multi-layered vocal arrangements on “Oils and Bubbles” (written and sung by The Duchess) are the cherry on top of the icing on top of that particular camp confection. I think Freddie would have loved it.

Anyway, it’s released on April 22 and if you want to see the band play live (I certainly do) you can see them here:

Garage, Highbury                               April 22

Railway Venue, Bolton                       April 25

King Billy, Commercial Street           April 30

Northampton

Arts4every1, High Wycombe            May 9

 

Homefest, Buckinghamshire            July 19

Smoke and MirrorsUnless you’re the most jaded and cynical old hack ever to have had any connection with the music business, then surely an email with the header ‘Slovenia’s ShadowIcon to release Symphonic Metal EP’ has to grab your attention. I mean, we know that symphonic metal exists, so why shouldn’t it exist in Slovenia? It’s easy to dismiss the genre as clichéd, over-the-top and predictable, but if you threw Paramore, My Chemical Romance and 1970s Queen into a blender you’d probably end up with something very like ShadowIcon (or a few litres of very messy genetic material).

The EP opens with “(Now I See) Through a Mirror Darkly”, a duet between Ana Prijatelj Pelhan and Helloween’s Sascha Gerstner and blasts in with a high-speed guitar riff and strings which break down briefly for the entry of the vocal, but carry on at 100mph (sorry 160kph) for the rest of the song. “If I Was the One”, the lead track from the EP is up next; slightly slower with loads of keyboard arpeggios under the vocal and a synth solo at the two-thirds mark which doubles up with guitar before the final chorus comes in. Here’s what the video looks like:

The Edge” (and it isn’t about the guitarist from U2),opens like a Phil Spector classic, breaking down briefly again for the entry of the vocal before building to wall of sound climax with strings and bells. Of course it’s over the top, but isn’t that the point? “The Beauty of a Rose” starts with slow solo piano and voice, but it doesn’t take long before it becomes a big production number, trading string and guitar riffs before the obligatory impassioned guitar solo and epic finish with massed choir vocals and a plaintive synth line. “My Plea” again opens with just mid-tempo voice and keyboard but doesn’t even make it to the end of the first verse before the rest of the band starts to pile in, building up to an epic final chorus with the usual massed backing vocals, guitars and keys all turned up to eleven. The final track is a non-duet version of the opening track which doesn’t really add anything, but it doesn’t take anything away, so I guess the decision was easy; just put it on there and the fans can decide which version they prefer.

In addition to Ana, the band comprises Tomaž Lovšin (guitars), Bojan Kostanjšek (guitars), Matej Ravšelj (bass), Peter Smrdel (keys) and Žiga Ravšelj (drums) and they’re all good musicians. It’s easy to criticise bands like ShadowIcon but the music’s dramatic and dynamic; the drums thunder, the guitars scream, and the lyrics stand up to scrutiny pretty well. If you like your metal melodic and melodramatic, then you’ve come to the right place.

Out on March 16th.

Another one of the Riot Squad favourites who agreed to contribute to High Fives this year is Dean Owens. We love his albums and he’s a very engaging live performer as well. We’re all looking forward to Dean’s new album “Into the Sea” which will be released on Drumfire Records in the spring of 2015. Meanwhile, these are his top5 albums of 2014.

Sun Kil Moon“Benji” – Sun Kil Moon

I’m a huge fan of Mark Kozelek. He just has a way with words and very much travels down his own character filled road. Dark, funny, tragic and beautiful.

 

 

 

Ben Watt“Hendra” – Ben Watt

This is a lovely album. All the songs sit so well together and there’s some great understated playing from Bernard Butler.

 

 

 

The war on drugs“Lost In The Dream” – The War On Drugs

I guess this will be on a lot of people’s lists. It took me a couple of listens to get into, but then I just fell in love with it. Sometimes I hear Dylan in there, then I hear Mike Scott, Springsteen and even Queen. A good one to listen to in the car.

 

 

Tweedy“Sukierae” – Tweedy

I don’t like everything on this record, but there are some real wee gems from one of my favourite writers. Plus Jeff Tweedy has one of the best voices in Rock n Roll.

 

 

 

Ryan Adams“Ryan Adams” – Ryan Adams

I never thought Ryan Adams would make a top 5 list again with me, but I listened to this a lot while going through some tricky personal stuff earlier in the year. “Shadows” is such a beautiful song and summed up how I was feeling at the time. He’s a very underrated singer.

 

I have to say there have been no albums that have completely blown me away in 2014. Looking forward to some crackers in 2015 hopefully.

Space ElevatorThere’s a link between all of the members of Space Elevator , apart from the fact that they’re all very good musicians (and I always include singers in that category); all of them have, at some time, been involved the Ben Elton/Queen musical, “We Will Rock You” which played for twelve years at London’s Dominion Theatre before closing in May of this year. I know that some music fans are pretty sniffy about musical theatre, but the fact is that you have to be a very, very good (and consistent) musician to play in such a high-profile production as this. So, what I’m saying is that the five members of Space Elevator are musicians of the highest order and, putting “We Will Rock You” aside, they have worked with some of the biggest names in modern music.

Space Elevator comprises The Duchess (vocals), David Young (guitar), Neil Murray (bass), Elliott Ware (keyboards) and Brian Greene (drums) and their first album “Space Elevator” is out now and, in the best possible way, it’s what you would expect from a group of musicians with their background and experience. The songs are well constructed, the performances are all faultless and the whole album is underpinned by sense of theatricality and fun that’s so often missing from serious (or po-faced and pretentious) rock albums. And, there are quite a few segues from one song to the next, so don’t even think about listening to it on shuffle.

It’s not too difficult to pick out reference points either, musical and lyrical; “We Are the Losers” features layered Brian May-style guitars, massed vocals and changes of tempo and instrumentation before the music hall piano leads into the anthemic finale and straight out into “I Will Find You (Gallifrey Dreams)”. This epic pop ballad provides a musical setting for the Dr Who/Rose love story, opening with gently picked acoustic guitar and close-miked vocal and building up to a chorus with a great guitar hook and The Duchess’s vocal cords set to stun. The album’s first song “Elevator” and “More Than Enough” both use highly processed spoken intros representing an automated lift voice and radio announcer respectively, while “Little White Lies” and “We Can Fly” rely on tempo changes to keep the attention focussed.  Lyrically, the album is shot through with the theme of looking to the future, which forms the basis of “Move On” and “Really Don’t Care” and also pops up elsewhere. The Duchess even has a “Killer Queen”-style Freddie Mercury moment with “Oils and Bubbles”, featuring the memorable lines: ˊI’m so clean, scrubbed to a sheen, I’m a total hygiene queen; it’s the only way I’ll be bedded, to cleanliness I’m totally weddedˋ, which wouldn’t sound out of place in “The Rocky Horror Show”, but fits perfectly with the high camp of the piano backing, the guitar solo and the layered backing vocals in the chorus.

“Space Elevator” isn’t an album that will allow your attention to wander; you’re never more than eight bars from another surprise, whether it’s a tempo change, a guitar fill, a breakdown or an unexpected segue into the next song. The rock purists will object to the theatrical elements and the production, but if that bothers you, then stick to Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts. Throughout the album, The Duchess’s dynamic range is matched by superb playing and arrangements full of hooks which just won’t quit. Go on, you know you want to.

Out now. Available from Amazon and the band’s website.