Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, 19 November 2014

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My wife, Kath, and I saw Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo play their last concert together tonight, in the unusual setting of St James’s Church on Piccadilly. The split is amicable – they are going their separate ways after nine years. The building was lovely, the acoustics just right for the beautiful music. Shame half the pews had terrible views, obscured by large wooden pillars, but we found a place upstairs that worked well, especially if you stood up.

Emily had invited requests for the show on Facebook and the show pretty reliably went through most of the old favourites like “Ropes”, “Nostalgia”, “Fields Of June” and “Witch of Pitteweem” and “Pause”, as well as a decent amount of songs from “Dear River”, which I now think is my favourite album. “Dear River” itself, which opened the show, “Letters”, “The Cormorant and the Heron”, “Ghost Narrative” and a heartfelt version of “The Blackwood” at the end. “Ghost Narrative” is for me the closest Emily comes to sounding like Bruce Springsteen, though she went one better tonight and played a Americana take of ‘Tougher than the Rest”. “Letters” has a wonderful, rousing chorus that builds to the point where I want it to break into a metal guitar solo, but of course it doesn’t. It’s still awesome though.

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It was followed by a sublime violin solo by Anna Jenkins that sounded like an Irish folk piece. In the end it was an extended intro, I think, to “Little Deaths” off “Almanac”. There, in that beautiful church, it was a moment to touch the spirits.

As we walked to the church I thought of all the EB concerts I’ve been to since I discovered them at the Word in Your Ear event in March 2012. The song that really hooked me then and still transfixes me now is “Pause”, with Emily gently strumming an electric guitar and the Red Clay Halo – Gill Sandell, Jo Silverston, Anna Jenkins –  adding the most gorgeous harmonies. Ethereal! That song was the one I requested of course, along with “In The Winter I Returned” (which didn’t make it).

“Pause” was the first song of a trio in the encore. A moment of searing beauty. It was followed by a trip back to the first album, “Photos. Fires. Fables”, which has just been re-released on CD, with the lovely “Blackbird”. And then, rather fittingly, “Oh Journey” from the second album, “Despite the Snow”.  A poignant ending to a journey I hope they are all proud of. For me, Emily Barker and the Red Halo have provided me with so many of my favourite music moments over the past three years, since I discovered their music. I’ve been to six concerts, which I think is the second most I’ve seen of any band or artist live, beaten only by Elvis Costello.

I daresay Emily will continue to make excellent music in other guises, and I, for one, will be following that journey with interest.

Here’s that version of “Tougher Than The Rest”.

 

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lovelondonscenes – 76

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England in Autumn is generally horrible weather, but beautiful scenery, as the leaves change colour and fall. London is blessed with so many parks. This is Gunnersbury Park, southern extreme, so you hear the hum of the A4. The old tower, which looks like it could have been a chapel. The orange leaves contrasted against the green. The pond beyond the undergrowth.  Wonderful…

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Have You Heard? – (57) “American Woman” by The Guess Who

Now my answer to this question would have been NO until this week, when I heard the song on Marc Riley’s BBC 6 Music show. Marc has a show Monday to Thursday from 7-9pm, which is absolutely excellent. I often listen to it for a bit when I get home from work, and just slump on the bed for a while to get some energy back. And then I often carry on listening while I start writing my book, until I feel the need to listen to the artist I’m writing about.

Like 6 Music in general, Marc plays contemporary music, some great sessions from new artists, some old sessions from the BBC archives and a few old indie favourites. And just occasionally a bit of seventies ROCK. So I was lying on the bed when this song came on. A great blues rock rhythm, verging on reggae, with a singer who sounded like Robert Plant, Ian Gillan and Paul Rodgers, but obviously wasn’t any of the three. I thought, this is a great song, it sounds like I should know it, but I don’t. Is it Paul Rodgers? No. Plant? No. Gillan? No. Is it it some other geezer who sang with Purple or Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow? Probably not. Anyway, after another rocking tune, Marc Riley said it was “American Woman” by The Guess Who. I thought, aah, I think I know them, but I can’t remember why…

So it was a Google and a Wikipedia and all was revealed. The Guess Who were a Canadian band who made their name in the sixties and in 1970 made the “American Woman” album. The single was a number one in the US. The singer was Chad Allan and one of the band members was… Randy Bachman. He of Bachman Turner Overdrive fame. A band equally reviled and revered these days. But no-one can deny that “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” is a classic seventies rock anthem.

And that’s where my vague memory of The Guess Who must have come from. From the BTO and reading about their origins.

Anyway, you can hear the full, five minute version of the song on Spotify, with a little blues intro, but here’s the band playing the meat of the song in, I assume, 1970. It’s kind of amusing, but also brilliant and the guitar just glides. Unfortunately, the video is so badly shot that you can’t actually see the lead guitarist most of the time.

Can’t believe I’ve only just heard it for the first time, but I love it!

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lovelondonscenes – 75

St Pancras station, last Thursday afternoon. As I arrived back in London from Nottingham, I came upon this commemoration of the First World War. With outfits from the era and poppies held aloft at one point (I was too slow to get the iPhone out for that). It was a moving and dignified tribute to those who fought for our country. Shame it was held right in front of a shop with one of the most nonsensical names ever.

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Royal Blood at the Electric Ballroom, Camden, 6 November 2014

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Finally the moment came. I got to see Royal Blood live! I’ve been listening to the album so much in the past few months, just loving the raw rock’n’roll riffs and rhythms. It’s an album where my favourite track keeps on changing because there are so many good ones. Right now it’s “Figure It Out”, which has one of those riffs which build and build and then explode. You can imagine a crowd going ape at that moment. I paid well over the odds for a couple of tickets, as the tour sold out within minutes. But I really wanted to see the band in a reasonably intimate venue before they get too big to play places like the Electric Ballroom in Camden.

I went with my good friend, Dave, The Big Man. A metal enthusiast. Would it rock hard enough for him? Being distinctly middle-aged rockers we started the evening at the excellent Sushi Salsa restaurant by the canal in Camden. Superb sushi, sashimi and tempura, washed down with a few Asahis. A quick stop in a Brazilian bar on the High Street and then on to the Electric Ballroom. Modern living…

I’m not sure what to say about the gig, really. It lived up to my expectations. They played the album and a couple of other tracks. It flashed by – no encore, just an hour of out and out hard rocking rock’n’roll. The place was packed, the fans were going for it, though there was less moshing and beer throwing than I’d expected. The light show was was just right – strident without being flashy or distracting. And Mike Kerr on bass/guitar and Ben Thatcher on drums made an awesome noise.

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Oddly they started the show with a track that wasn’t on the album, a B-side called “Hole”. I’d expected an explosive start, maybe the album opener, “Out Of The Black”. That was actually the last track they played and it worked brilliantly, extended and absolutely punching. The second last song was the wonderful “Loose Change”, which is probably my favourite track of all when I stop moving around. After “Hole” at the start, they played “Come On Over”, which is the most metallic track on the album, a sort of cross between Motorhead and Zep, and the first track to get my favourite mark. From there it was solid rocking. Highlights, of course, included “Figure It Out” with its brilliant build up and explosion into riffdom and “Careless”, with perhaps the closest thing to a pop melody. But that is another thing about Royal Blood: they rock hard, but they also have tunes.

So it was basically just an hour of pure musical pleasure. Stripped down rock’n’roll. Nothing to analyse too deeply, unless you want to wonder how or why a couple of young lads from Brighton have reinvented early seventies hard rock with a bit of White Stripes and Queens Of The Stone Age thrown in. And why it has got such an enthusiastic reaction.

Yeah, why?

Well, I’d say because when someone comes up with a brilliant rock’n’roll beat, drums thumping, bass rhythm pounding, guitars riffing, and great tunes, we are all there, all ages…

Ready to rock!

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lovelondonscenes – 74

The Thames path between Lambeth and Westminster bridges. It’s got a name but I can’t remember it. This was last Friday, a lovely autumn day, when temperatures rose to 20 degrees. Down to 9 today!

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lovelondonscenes – 73

One man rowing on a surfboard, or something like it, on the Thames at Hammersmith as the sun starts to set today.

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