To round off the mid-term report for 2015, we thought it would be good to have a look at some of the people we’ve discovered this year. Some of them are relatively new and some have been around for a while but they have one thing in common; they’re all very good.

05) MollieWe heard about Mollie Marriott last year when she did backing vocals (along with Izzy Chase-Phillmore) on Jim Stapley’s debut album “Long Time Coming”. She’s had a couple of singles out (“Ship of Fools” and “Transformer”) and the first album’s just about ready to go. She’s been collaborating with some exceptional songwriters and her live band (Johnson-Jay Medwik-Daley, Sam Tanner, Alex Reeves and Henrik Irgens) sounds stunning. Top that off with a voice which can do the pure pop, but has a raw, soulful edge as well and you’ve got something a little bit special. The only way is up.

Abbe and Hannah

Abbe and Hannah

Discovering Sound of the Sirens earlier this year was proof that turning up for the support band can pay off. They supported Mad Dog Mcrea on a few dates earlier this year, including The Half Moon in Putney and they were superb. Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood create a huge sound with two voices, two guitars (or guitar and mandolin) and two stompboxes. If you insist on attaching a genre tag to Sound of the Sirens, ‘twenty-first century acoustic anthems’, is pretty close to the mark; it works for us anyway. But don’t just take our word for it, in the last couple of months, Abbe and Hannah have played at Glastonbury, have secured a BBC Introducing slot and are appearing at Carfest. And they’ve got a new EP out.

10) JupeThe guys in Jupe are Dublin-based and they’ve been together for a while, but now that their line-up has settled they’re just starting to get the attention that their anthemic soul/pop/rock really deserves. The Riot Squad saw Jupe at a showcase gig at The Garage in Islington a few weeks ago and they were the band that got the entire audience on their side. The sound is contemporary and commercial but it’s backed up with rock-solid musicianship and a charismatic singer who knows how to work a live crowd. The single “Rocket” is out on August 3.

03) 3300-0028Hannah Aldridge released her jaw-droppingly good debut album, “Razor Wire” in 2014; it’s a collection of intensely personal songs written from the perspective of a writer who has walked the darker side of the street. She toured the UK recently in support of the album and won over audiences with her stripped-down solo versions of the album material, including a storming version of “Howlin’ Bones”. The album and the live performances of the “Razor Wire” material alone would secure Hannah’s inclusion in this feature, but there’s even more. During the show at Green Note, Hannah played a new song called “Gold Rush” which held the audience in hushed awe. If the rest of the next album is even close to the standard of “Gold Rush” it’s going to be an album to grace anyone’s collection.

Natalie TitleThree years ago, we were seriously impressed by Natalie Duncan’s debut album “Devil in Me” and her stunning live performances. Things went a bit quiet following the initial promotion for the album and the major label deal didn’t really work out, but Natalie’s a strong character and a formidable talent; she’s been working on new material and, over the last year or so, she’s been playing to a mixture of album material and new songs to appreciative audiences all over London. The new songs from her “Black and White” EP are much more edgy than her earlier material, using vocal loops and samples as part of the backing tracks and they seem to be attracting a new audience to augment her original following. Anyway, she’s sounding better than ever and you should give her a listen.

And, if that’s not enough to be going on with, there are a few other bands that you should keep an eye on. Black Casino and the Ghost release their second album later this year, Space Elevator’s brand of theatrical melodic rock is attracting wider attention, The Jar Family are reaching wider live audiences with their well-crafted songs and energetic gigs and Jim Stapley (Mollie Marriott collaborator and astonishingly powerful rock singer) is working in New Orleans on new material for that difficult second album. By the time you’ve checked out all of those, we’ll be doing the year-end review.

Duchess TitleOk, let’s get the whinge out of the way first; I really wish smaller venues would do something about their stage lighting. On a night when it looked like you had to have a pass if you weren’t taking pictures, the  lighting made it almost impossible to get a decent photo. Rant over. The good news is that the support for the evening, Shady Blue Orphans were very good, knocking out a great set of mainly seventies and eighties rock covers including “Hold the Line”, “Jump” (Van Halen, not the Pointer Sisters) and the classic Thin Lizzy ballad, “Still in Love with You”. The playing was spot on and singer Tony Monk has a very special rock voice. I spent ten minutes working out that his voice sounded a lot like Music Riot favourite Aynsley Lister, and that’s a very good thing in my book.

Anyway, on to Space Elevator. Their debut album was reviewed here last year and this is the first chance we’ve had to get out and see them live. For the Garage gig (the first of their summer mini-tour) the line-up was reduced to a four-piece, the band playing without the benefit of Elliott Ware’s keyboards. The songs from the album all fit in somewhere between good and very good and the standard of musicianship is as high as you would expect from seasoned session players but with all due respect to David Young, Brian Greene and Chas Maguire, it still needs another ingredient to make it special; to get upfront and sell that expertise and hard work to the audience. The not-so-secret weapon for Space Elevator is The Duchess and it’s fair to say she’s impossible to ignore. The voice is big and she commands stage centre with hyperactive moves and catsuit set to stun.

The set was basically a runthrough of the album with the occasional unexpected ingredient thrown in to spice up the mix, and it held together really well as a live set, opening, as the album did, with “Elevator”. The singles “I Will Find You”, “Loneliness of Love” and “Oils and Bubbles” were interspersed with “Ordinary Day”, “We Are the Losers” (which are definite singles material as well), “Little White Lies” “More Than Enough”, “Really Don’t Care” and “We Can Fly” to showcase almost all of the album. Two non-album songs, “Take the Pain” and “Far Away” were slotted in before the two sides of the current single and we even got a cheeky cover. I wouldn’t have predicted that “Day Tripper” would be a Space Elevator cover but the band made it their own with a truncated riff and a harder edge that worked particularly well. And not forgetting an encore of “Love in an Elevator” to round things off.

There were a couple of technical glitches, but you have to expect that on the first night of a tour and it was still a banging set. The songs work well live, the rhythm section was rock solid and David and The Duchess have all the melodies you could ever need. Throw in that extra bit of onstage exhibitionism and you’ve got the perfect rock package.

You can still see the rest of the tour here:

Railway Venue, Bolton                       April 25

Arts4every1, High Wycombe             May 9

Homefest, Buckinghamshire              July 19

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

David Young is the guitarist and songwriter with Space Elevator, who released their very fine debut album this year. When we asked him for a music-related Top 5, here’s what we got:

When we decided to release the Space Elevator album on vinyl I actually had to walk up the road to the local Oxfam to buy a couple of vinyl albums just to reacquaint myself with the size of the lyrics and general artwork.

This led to a fervent re-buying of most of my old vinyl all over again once I purchased a new deck. It is all (except for a couple) second hand, either from shops or e-bay.

My top five vinyl purchases so far are not necessarily my favourite five albums but the five that for some reason have given me most joy since purchasing them again in this format.

So here we go.

Queen 2Queen 2-- I was bought this for Christmas by my Gran when I was 12. It was  October and she was down visiting from Glasgow. I ran home and played it before she came home on the bus, watching for her coming down the road. Once she was home that was the record gone for two whole months until Christmas. No possible way of hearing it. Tell that to a twelve year old nowadays!! It’s their best cover, inside and out!

 

 

FightingFighting- Thin Lizzy -- I bought this album when on holiday in Bournemouth when I was 14. It had the U.S. building site cover which is more tasteful than the “weaponry” of the UK version. Same cover this time. Took me right back…brilliant.

 

 

 

Paul StanleyPaul Stanley -- My favourite Kiss solo from 1978 was always Paul’s. I picked this up from a guy in New York on e-bay in great nick with the original poster from that awful jigsaw poster they did, and with the specific Paul merchandise sheet.

 

 

 

21122112-Rush -- Back in the days of vinyl, I had every Rush album and treasured them. Signals was my favourite, but bizarrely I never owned 2112 on vinyl. I had a cassette. It’s great opening up the gatefold sleeve and seeing the album as it should be. I also forgot how good side 2 is!

 

 

 

TThree Sides Livehree Sides Live-Genesis -- I got into Genesis quite late and this was the first album I bought. I recently purchased it in mint condition in a shop for £4.00 It sounds absolutely superb!!

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.