Martian rock opera: The War Of The Worlds live at the Royal Albert Hall, London, 18 April 2006

Jeff Wayne's The War Of The Worlds album“No one would have believed, in the last years of the 19th century, that human affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space…”

As a kid, I often heard these words, spoken by actor Richard Burton, rattling out of the speaker of a mono tape recorder in my bedroom. The cassette it was playing was an orange-labelled BASF C120. For the full, immersive experience, I’d go downstairs and play it on my dad’s music centre, which had a lovely rich sound and plenty of bass, and clamp a pair of chunky brown headphones to my ears. It was manna from Mars.

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A night of words and music with Nick Hornby and Marah – Lock 17, London, 6 April 2006

Marah live at Lock 17, London, 6 April 2006Last night I went to a gig. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with live music for some time now. I love seeing bands but hate the fact that I have no control over whether the experience will be enjoyable, due to other people – but I’ll save my thoughts on this subject for another time.

I only mention it now because I’ve been so down on gigs recently that I very nearly didn’t bother buying a ticket for last night’s show. And when the band on stage is Marah, that is so ridiculous I’m starting to question whether I should be allowed to make my own decisions about this stuff.

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Heartbreaker: A review of Valor Del Corazón by Ginger

Valor Del Corazón by GingerDown the decades, entire libraries’ worth of words have been written about rock ‘n’ roll’s life-affirming properties.

I’ve read some of it. I’ve enjoyed some of it. But I’ve also yet to read a single line that sums it up better than the closing line of Valor Del Corazón, the first fully-fledged solo album from Ginger, creator and creative of The Wildhearts, whose last proper long player, 2003’s The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed!, sounded like the work of a band who’d found something approaching contentment for the first time in their 14-year history.

Unfortunately, the following year Ginger watched his life fall apart around him. An open letter to fans on The Wildhearts’ website detailed the horrors he’d been through. It was a messy, tragic story, at the root of which was a failed relationship. It appeared that everything that followed was an attempt to escape the sadness he felt, and nothing worked – until he hooked up with producer and friend Ralph Jezzard to begin work on what was to become Valor Del Corazón.

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Both feet in the honky tonk: Jason Ringenberg live in London and Brighton, 11/20 November 2004

Jason Ringenberg live at the Hanbury Ballroom, Brighton, 20 November 2004Earlier this year, Tara and I were in a Nashville bar, Robert’s Western World, sipping cokes and watching the resident covers act. We’d only been sat down for 30 seconds when a voice came from the stage: “Who’s your favourite country singer?” All eyes in the room turned to us. It was obviously the newcomers’ turn to request a song.

“Jason and the Scorchers?” asked Tara, hopefully. “Sorry, who?” came the reply. The name was repeated for clarity but it didn’t do any good – the guy on stage who prided himself on being able to play anything from country’s vast and rich catalogue of classics was stumped. To save us further embarrassment, a voice from the bar requested some Johnny Cash and everything was suddenly back on track.

With hindsight, as well as sticking a couple of dollars in the tip jar on the way out, I should’ve included a note answering that “Who?”, if only for the sake of the next weary traveller that stopped by hoping to catch, say, Harvest Moon or Shop It Around. In fact, I should’ve nipped over the road to Ernest Tubb’s and returned with a copy of the freshly reissued Still Standing CD. Next time, I’ll come prepared.

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Hail Hale! Rock ‘n’ roll: Tommy Hale and The Snakes – live at The Verge, London, 23 October 2003

Far From Grace by Tommy HaleHearing American musicians talk about their travels around the UK always makes me smile. Tonight, it’s Tommy Hale who sets the corners of my mouth twitching. When an American accent starts snaking its way around the names of some of this country’s towns and cities, I start mentally rewriting the first verse of Chuck Berry’s Promised Land. Substituting Wigan and Leicester for Raleigh and Caroline turns the song’s road-mythologising poetry into a battered RAC route map.

A Dallas resident who’s spent the last eight days trekking around England in support of his first solo album, Far From Grace, Tommy Hale is playing an unnervingly empty Camden venue. I’ve never been to The Verge before, but I’m guessing that it’s a bustling little place on a warm Saturday when the latest local sensation is headlining. Unfortunately, it’s a freezing Thursday and Tommy’s name doesn’t ring many bells with London folk.

Oh, and the Northern Line is broken.

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Darrell of fun: Darrell Bath live at the 12 Bar Club, London, 12 August 2001

Darrell Bath live at the 12 Bar Club, 12 August 2001Well, he did it again. Darrell Bath’s ability to pop up in my favourite places never fails to amaze. Ian Hunter, Dan Baird, Dogs D’Amour, Quireboys – he’s cranked it out with ’em all down the years, each new collaboration adding weight both to my enjoyment of these artists, and to my theory that Mr Bath is sneaking round my flat when I’m tucked up in bed, rifling through my fave records, and systematically hooking up with the people who made ’em. Either that or he just has impeccable taste in music.

Get this: a few days ago, I was standing downstairs in the Mean Fiddler watching Big Star (a great gig, by the way), when, out of the corner of my eye, I spied a guy wearing a groovy cap, looking, from that angle at least, like a young John Lennon. My interest piqued, I turned round and had a proper gawp. And, yep, you’ve guessed it, it was Darrell, can of Red Stripe in one hand, cigarette in the other. More proof that the guy knows a good band when he hears one. Oh, and he dances just like he plays guitar (a good thing, obviously).

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Garage daze revisited: The Quireboys live at the Garage, London, 18/19 July 2001

Spike, Nigel Mogg and Luke Bossendorfer live at the Garage, London, 18 July 2001“Closed my eyes, heard a Marshall stack / Swear to God, I had a heart attack”
– C’mon by the Quireboys

So, they finally sold out. Well, as near as damn it. There might be a few tickets left, but the Garage can’t be far off a capacity crowd for these two shows. Who’d have thought it, eh?

The last time I saw the Quireboys, at the old Bottom Line in Shepherd’s Bush in 1995, there was hardly anyone there, leaving me with the impression that everyone, bar a few of the faithful, had forgotten all about Spike and the boys. It was a bit of a saddener ‘cos they’d only been away for 18 months or so at this point. But now, having seen this… well, I can only assume that it was down to lack of publicity – something that definitely hasn’t been in short supply for these Garage shows. And, of course, there’s also the rise in popularity of the Internet over the last few years. Oh, and this from Spike…

“We’re not gonna give up this time. Not that we gave up last time. We were just too pissed.”

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There they go again: The Quireboys are back!

Flyer advertising This Is Rock 'N' Roll by the QuireboysWell, that was a nice surprise.

Last night (13 June 2001) was the final night of Cheap Trick’s three-gig London Garage residency. I was waiting for the support band to come on, wondering who it would be (Monday night we had the singer from Urge Overkill – very good; Tuesday was some dirgey English band I never caught the name of – not so good), when out wandered Spike and Griff.

“‘Allo, remember us?”

Yeah I do, as it happens. Nice to see ya, fellas.

Spike explained that they were in town doing some promo and had been invited to open for CT. They were joined by an unnamed keyboard player and did a half-hour acoustic set, playing Whippin’ Boy, Roses And Rings, I Don’t Love You Anymore, a couple of songs from the new album, and a medley of Just My Imagination (the old Temptations song, as covered by the Stones on Some Girls) and You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

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Nights of Mister B: Dan Baird & Darrell Bath live in South Shields, Newcastle & London, June 2001

Darrell Bath and Dan Baird live at Trillians, Newcastle, 6 June 2001“I get the feeling that most of ya here have seen the Big Three-O. If you haven’t, what the fuck are you doing watching some old man on a Friday night?”

Rock ‘n’ roll, someone once said, is a young man’s game. Absolute rubbish, of course. But it’s led to all kinds of nonsense down the years, such as the predictable “Strolling Bones” quips that tabloid newspapers wheel out every time the Stones – still one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands out there – hit the road (if anything should be pensioned off, it’s jokes that were rubbish the first time around).

It’s probably also responsible for the self-deprecating humour of the Ian Hunters and Dan Bairds of this world. As it happens, Mr Hunter is playing the Astoria next door tonight. No doubt he’s got a house full – he usually has. There’s a sizeable crowd for Dan here in the Mean Fiddler, too.

What does this tell us about rock ‘n’ roll in the 21st century? Possibly that there’s room for everyone, young, old and every age inbetween; that’s it’s not just the youth who want to let their hair down and feel the power of The Riff; that this kind of music is just as relevant, exciting and inspired as it was all those years ago when Mr Chuck Berry first strapped on a guitar and duck-walked his way to Memphis, Tennessee.

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Pray for me mama (I’m a Geordie now): In the studio with Jason Ringenberg and The Wildhearts

Jason Ringenberg and The Wildhearts, Blackwing Studios, 20 May 2001It’s like something from a movie. A fantasy sequence in High Fidelity, perhaps?

The camera, in a low shot, glides through the studio door and into the control room. On the floor lies Danny McCormack, curled up in the foetal position, purring like a cat. Pan up over a table strewn with empty beer cans: Special Brew, Guinness, Tennent’s Super, K, Becks.

Nearby, there’s a tray of stewed coffee and a stack of unused mugs.

Tilt up to see Ginger sitting in the producer’s chair, with the engineer they call Fully at his side. They’re both rocking backwards and forwards in an excited fashion. Pan right. Stidi is sitting forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He’s bouncing up and down like someone just lit a firework near his backside. All eyes face forward.

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