Continuing our review of 2020, we spoke with MetalTalk writer Andy Rawll.
Did you go to any real gigs earlier this year. What was your favourite? Any great memories?
Chris Braide and Marc Almond, featuring Ian Anderson – Royal Festival Hall – 10 February
An early contender for prog show of the year, as the superstar producer and electro-pop icon combined to showcase songs from both their latest collaboration, the surprisingly expansive and underwrought ‘Chaos and a Dancing Star’ as well as the 2015’s acclaimed ‘The Velvet Trail’.
Sonically and visually, this was a widescreen of style and substance, with Ian Anderson guesting the beguiling ‘Lord of Misrule’ and Almond returning the favour, sweet as a nut, on a cover of Tull’s ‘The Witch’s promise’.
With a backing band featuring Ash Soan (Del Amitri, Billy Idol, Rick Wakeman) and Andy Hodge (DBA/Geoff Downes), there was never any question that would never be short of astonishing. In the event, is was simply astounding from psyche-pop epic ‘Black sunrise’ opener until we all finally said hello and waved goodbye.
Wheel – Camden Assembly – 7 February
The ‘Tool with tunes’ dark Prog Metal sound of these mighty Finns resonated with the killer ‘Vultures’ and spooky ‘Skeletons’ powerfully atmospheric. Led by the assured intensity of English ex-pat James Lascelles, the band’s impressive debut album ‘Moving backwards’ conveys relentless motion and strong emotion in a live setting. Better still, 2021 will see the release of a new album, ‘Resident Human’, (26 March)
Daniel Steer – O2 Academy2 Islington – 5 February
Super-talented musician and songwriter, erstwhile of festival favourites ‘Reigning Days’ returned to the stage with a characteristically consummate performance of songs from his classy indie-flavoured solo album, with stadium-worthy tracks like ‘The wire’ and ‘Sweet dreams’ worth the price of admission alone.
Which cancelled gig did you miss the most?
Ramblin Man Fair
With limited resources and far eastern location, the team at Spirit of Rock have worked wonders to build this warm and welcoming highlight to the festival season. Regardless of the line-up, this remains an annual highlight for lovers of Rock in all of its shapes and forms from Prog to Psyche to Metal to Folk. Compared to other festivals, the sense of camaraderie and shared experience is more than palpable.
Genesis at O2
Having declared in his recent autobiography, that he was ‘Not dead yet’, Phil Collins proved true to his word and that he had been keeping his mowing blades sharp and confirmed the return of the Prog-Pop Goliath that is Genesis, alongside similarly dance-averse Charterhouse chums Mike and Tony. The original November 2020 dates were scheduled to April 2021, but there is a sense that wuthering viral winds may propel the shows until later next year or beyond.
Saxon at Hammersmith
A perennial delight to stir the blood and gird the loins, Biff and brethren continue to retain their seat at the top table of big teasing, Rock pleasers. This planned line-up was to have made even more special by a rare UK appearance of Swiss cheesers, Krokus and capped by Girlschool as show-openers.
Your best memory of 2020?
My last late-night escapade with an extended night-cap in the roof-top bar of the Sanctum Hotel with great friends, whom I miss every day.
Your abiding memory of 2020?
The last gig that I attended was Del Bromham’s Stray and Ken Pustelnik’s Groundhogs on 12 March at the Garage at Highbury Corner. A classic gig by two classic bands with over a 100 years of combined history, but still putting most new bands to shame with the combination of joyful performance, captivating musicianship and great songs. Del and Ken we salute you.
Top three albums of the year?
Armored Saint – Punching The Sky
The Saints come marching back with this glorious reminder of the way they combine the melodic power of late 70’s British Rock with the attitude and adrenaline of 80’s American Metal. John Bush’s voice continues to defy time, his seemingly effortless power and range commanding every song.
Fates Warning – Long day good night
A formidable and influential presence in progressive Metal for over 35 years, the band returns with the longest and possibly most epic album of their career. From the signature sound of ‘Scars’ to the shimmering electro-beat slowburner ‘When Snow Falls’, this an accomplished an immersive album of many moods, that reaffirms Fates’ position as the leaders of the pack.
Robin Trower • Maxi Priest • Livingstone Brown – United State Of Mind
Unleashed in the south-east, Trower and Priest were a match made in Lewisham. Born two decades apart in the same hospital in South East London, a chance meeting with mutual friend led to musical collaboration that successfully melds Priest’s charismatic voice with Trower’s equally soulful guitar.
Kansas – The Absence Of Presence
The unique melodic maelstrom conjured-up by their regal brand of Progressive Rock has never been so appealing. It crackles with new-born intensity and dazzles with a blinding suite of songs, fit to stand proud alongside those from the band’s 70’s heydey.
Blue Öyster Cult – The Symbol Remains
A stupendously satisfying return to the studio after almost 20 years. Like the best BÖC albums, this one is full of character, labyrinthine twists and turns and finally provides a showcase for longstanding band members Richie Castellano and Jules Radino to make their presence and contribution felt.
Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man
The presence of former California Breeder (alongside Glenn Hughes and Jason Bonham) Andrew Watt reaps dark dividends as the iconic frontman delivers a diverse and highly satisfying album full of light and shade and accomplished tunes and performances.
Top five songs of the year?
Armored Saint – Standing on the shoulders of giants
Brilliant evocation of triumphs past and victories imminent with John Bush immense.
Ozzy Osbourne – Under the graveyard
Intensely autobiographical song from the pleasingly consistent ‘Ordinary Man’. Hard to pick my favourite song, as there’s plenty of contenders, particularly the Post Malone collaboration ‘Take What You Want’.
The Dead Daisies – Holy Ground
I had initial misgivings about the departure of Corabi and Mendoza from the musical merry-go-round that is the double-D, as the band had cemented a strong identity and sound. Yet, mercurial mastermind David Lowy has yet again played a blinder, with the arrival of Doug Aldrich’s former bandmate Glenn Hughes.
The first fruit to be plucked from the forthcoming album was the intended title track that reveals an old-school riff-driven monster with Hughes soulful vocals unbelievably stronger than ever. There is not a hint of incongruous funk or predictable Blues-Rock in sight, this is hard-rocking, groove-fueled Classic Rock that surely anticipates one the best albums of 2021.
King Creature – Wisdom told
Great track from these whirling Cornish Metal fiends, whose second album ‘Set The World On Fire’ is eagerly anticipated. Combining old-school Classic Rock with the intensity of Metallica and dark soul of Alice in Chains, pirate Metal’s loss is our gain.
Dust Coda – Limbo Man
Have been bubbling-under for a while and now look set to achieve the wide-spread recognition they deserve, with a new album ‘Mojo skyline’ out in March 2021 on the high-profile Earache label. John Drake, the lead singer with the sky-high voice of thunder from down-under, may be the focal point, but this is a band of equals and this new track reveals the perfect combination of raucous riffs and barnstorming beat.
MetalTalk highlights that you worked on?
It was excellent to speak to Yes guitarist Steve Howe about his fifty years with the band and his latest, highly accomplished solo album ‘Love is’. Steve was a thoughtful, insightful and charming interviewee who still retains a fascinating bewonderment in his craft.
Metal favourite reads?
Jimmy Barnes – Working Class Man.
Bought it when the patron saint of Smirnoff played the Islington Academy over a year ago,but didn’t get around to reading it for a while. Full of great stories and insights told at a relentless freight-train pace.
David Ambrose (with Lesley-Ann Jones) – How to be a rock star.
Long overdue memoir from industry heavyweight, who graduated from a stellar career as a musician, playing with the likes of Mick Fleetwood and Peter Green, to highly-respected record company executive at EMI and RCA. The book is a thrilling tale of bass-keeper and band-poacher from a man who played a pivotal role in the careers of iconic bands including the Sex Pistols, Duran Duran, Queen and Radiohead.
Those we lost this year…. who will be in your thoughts New Years Eve?
Neal Peart – one third of one of the very greatest bands to grace this planet.
Eddie Van Halen – our generation’s Hendrix.
Lee Kerslake & Ken Hensley – the heartbeat and the soul of Uriah Heep.
Brian Howe – such a great voice, restoring Bad Co’s waning fame and fortune in the late 80s that eventually enticed Paul Rodgers’ belated return.
What are your hopes for 2021?
Health, hope and happiness for all, particularly the vulnerable and isolated.
When do you think concerts will return?
I fear it won’t any sooner than the summer – July 2021.
When do you think your first big gig will be?
I’ll believe it when I breathe it. I would love it to be a new, unsigned, no-name band at some shithole small venue with sweat dripping off the walls.
2020 in five words?
Hell in a hand basket.
2021 hopes in five words?
For those about to rock…