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Concert Reviews

 

Over the years I have attended numerous rock concerts and for many years wrote and edited a rock music column in the Norwich Evening News under the glorious title of "Here and Now." I still go to the University of East Anglia, Norwich Waterfront and Norwich Arts Centre when I can although I have been rather more selective in recent years.

In this section I will try to recall some of the concerts I have attended and tell you about the only time I have left a concert before the end, concerts that have been a huge disappointment and artists that have surprised me.

It all started back in 1972 with possibly the two best gigs I have been to, both in the same year. Both were important for introducing me to the music first hand of what were to be two of my most important musical influences.

One of the concerts took place at Harlow Playhouse and the other at Harlow Technical College where I was studying journalism at the time. Thanks for the marvel that is the Internet I have been able to date these two events.

The first I have covered at length elsewhere on my site. November 13th, 1971 was the first time I had seen Barclay James Harvest. They instantly became my favourite group and have maintained that status to this very day. The other concert was David Bowie at Harlow Playhouse on March 20th 1972.

I remember vividly that performance. So below from the mists of time to the present day I will start to build up my concert memories. I will miss many, but be patient as the memory needs additional fuel at my age. Some of these reviews have appeared on various other web sites.

November 13th 1971 - Barclay James Harvest - Harlow Technical College. *****

It was a long wait. I don't really know what I was doing there anyway. The college's social secretary Steve Clarke told me he had signed an interesting band by the name of Barclay James Harvest. Steve, like me, came from Norwich and went on to become a respected rock critic. I was at a loose end that evening so decided to pop along.

I seem to remember there were a succession of bands, all of whom I thought were BJH. They were all interminably boring and I very nearly went back to my digs. Thankfully I stayed. I have to vote this my greatest gig ever if for no other reason than it changed my musical life forever.

In modern day parlance I was simply blown away by their prog rock. I pretended to a friend that I knew their music (that's the kind of thing you do when you are 19, not wanting to sound ignorant). I agreed that Mockingbird was sublime without having heard it.

After 35 years I still think Mockingbird is sublime and now I've heard it hundreds of times!!!! I loved the performance, I loved the "exploding" organ at the end of After the Day, I loved the whole feeling of theatre. It was a night to remember and one I will never forget. I have written at length about BJH on this site, but this really was a musical experience of the best kind.

March 20th 1972 - David Bowie - Harlow Playhouse *****

I had been a Bowie fan from my schooldays - but that was the Bowie of Space Oddity and the pseudo Anthony Newley period. None of that could prepare me for this appearance. Bowie was sensational.

I'm sure his act was split into two. The first half featured him at the piano, mainly doing material from Hunky Dory (which today remains my second favourite album of all time behind Barclay James Harvest's Once Again). It was a subdued and beautifully poignant set.

The after the break we were treated to one of the first glimpses of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I remember Trevor Boulder's ridiculous side-burns, Mick Ronson's superb guitar playing but above all Bowie's regenerated presence. This was electric with a capital E and my rock world would never be the same again. At the time I had no idea that I was in the presence of real genius. It wouldn't take time to find out.

May 21st 1973 - David Bowie - Norwich Theatre Royal  ***

Excerpt from diary written at the time: "I went to see David Bowie concert which was very disjointed and loud and he did nothing with the acoustic guitar and gave no encore. Apart from that on several of the songs he just missed the notes completely. Afterwards I drove home and went to bed at 11.40 p.m." 

If memory serves me correctly I attended the second of two evening performances which sounds as if it was just too much for his voice.

May 24th 1973 - Monty Python at Norwich Theatre Royal  ****

I remember this as a tremendously fun evening. As soon as John Cleese walked on stage the audience broke out laughing. Vividly remember the Dead Parrot sketch and the concert got a mention in Michael Palin's diaries. Made the following entry in my diary at the time - "The show was really funny and a good tonic." and that really sums Python up.

 June 2nd 1973 - Tempest at Lowestoft South Pier    **

I believe that Tempest were a hybrid super group combining jazz and rock. Reading through my old diaries shows me that after the concert I went back stage to meet them to do a report for the local newspaper on which I worked at the time. My diary entry records the following - "After a couple of drinks we (myself and John Andrews another reporter) went backstage and talked to the group which consisted of John Hiseman, Alan Holdsworth, Ollie Hassell, Paul Williams and Marc Clarke. They turned out to be an extremely loud and raucous group." I presume the last remark was a comment on them as human beings and not their music.

November 16th, 1978 - Mike Harding at Derby Assembly Rooms **

I have no real recollection of this concert but found the following comments in my diary entry of that day: 

"We were there (Derby Assembly Rooms) to see Mike Harding. He turned out to be very amusing but perhaps the show went on a little too long. In fact the support act - Hedgehog Pie were very tedious. In the end the show went on until after 11 p.m and at the end we hurried home and went to bed very tired indeed."

 

November 23rd 1978 - Lindisfarne and Chris Rea at Derby Assembly Rooms ****

 

I remember this concert distinctly due to the fact that an unknown artist by the name of Chris Rea was the support. He turned out to be refreshing for a support act and I think played songs from his first two albums. I particularly remember the lovely "Raincoat and a Rose" which still remains one of my favourite songs. Rea was supporting Lindisfarne and they were as good as ever, making a memorable evening. In my diary I wrote.

 

"It turned out to be a very good evening. The support act Chris Rea was quite good and Lindisfarne were tremendous. Made up for the dullness of the day."

March 15th 1998 - Jimmy Webb - Cambridge Corn Exchange  *****

On Sunday 15th March, 1998, I enjoyed one of my defining musical moments when I attended an Evening with Jimmy Webb at Cambridge Corn Exchange.

The evening had a kind of surreal feeling thanks to the fact that only about 150 turned up. I found this difficult to come to terms with. Here was arguably the greatest living songwriter, playing in the heart of England and just 150 people there to listen to the genius of his music.

Through the evening, however, I gathered the distinct impression that the artist himself is happy playing small, more intimate venues and this certainly came over in the wonderful rapport he had with what was a small but very knowledgeable audience.

I have never looked upon Jimmy as a performing artist - believing his voice to be two tremulous and too thin to carry off his songs. How wrong I was. His interpretations of his own songs was masterful and his piano playing stunning.

It is rarely that I focus 100 per cent on an artist, all too often there are distractions. Not with this concert. During the songs you could hear a pin drop - such was the spell that this man wove. And at the end I was left with the feeling that we had only heard such a minimal part of this great man's output. So many great songs were left out, that it was all too easy to want so much more. Above all it made me realise the stunning output of songs from this man's pen over so many years.

Above all I will remember the concert for his own versions of MacArthur Park and The Moon's A Harsh Mistress - both were better than any version I have ever heard even eclipsing Richard Harris' "Park" and Judy Collins' "Mistress."

It was a wonderful night - far exceeding my expectations.

At the risk of being pretentious I have elected Jimmy Webb into my own Music Hall Of Fame which is designed to give my reflections on those artists who, over the years have musically meant the most to me and had the biggest effect on my life. Jimmy Webb will join the following initial list of inductees: Harry Chapin, Barclay James Harvest, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, The Beach Boys, David Bowie, Phil Ochs and Pink Floyd.

For each inductee I hope to build up my particular memories of their music and what is has meant to me. I will also include links to what I think are worthwhile sites on the artists.

Jimmy Webb is one of the few artists who has his own web site which can be contacted at Jimmy Webb

You will find plenty of news and views on this site and I have actually e-mailed him personally on a couple of occasions and received replies which suggests that he really cares about his fans.

On my own site I am attempting to log Jimmy's songs - a vast job as there have been so many versions of some of his classics. I would like to hear from anyone who can add to my list. Have a look at it at Jimmy Discography

My memories of Jimmy Webb's music go back to my teenage years, although it must be said that I'm only six years younger than the man.

I have to take you back to a bungalow where I lived with my parents just outside Norwich. I remember taping MacArthur Park on a reel to reel machine and listening to it virtually every day, particularly when helping with the washing up!

For some reason that song still embodies the sunshine of springtime for me particularly with those opening words: "Spring was never waiting for us girl, it ran one step ahead as we followed in the dance." That apart much of the lyrics were incomprehensible - much like some of my earlier poetry.

That, however, added to the power of MacArthur Park. So many people have tried to define it over the years. I prefer to just enjoy its mystic feeling. Here was a song that destroyed the three minute single mould. The fact that it got played on national Radio One spoke volumes for its originality.

I simply loved it to bits and, as you will see if you look at my all time top 100 tracks on this site you will see that the Richard Harris version has only been eclipsed by one other song.

There are a number of songs which helped develop my love of music and MacArthur Park is right up there at the top.

I can't remember at the time whether I was aware of Jimmy having written the song, possibly that came later. At that time I was probably more interested in the voice of Richard Harris. There is more about Richard Harris as a singer at the following link Richard Harris

This was shortly before I left home to attend journalism college at Harlow in Essex. I well remember buying a number of Richard Harris albums around that time including "Love Songs", "A Tramp Shining", "The Yard Went On Forever" and "My Boy." I loved each and everyone of them and suddenly became aware that most of the tracks were written by Jimmy Webb. So I transferred my allegiance to the songwriter as the instrument of providing Harris with such wonderful songs.

"A Tramp Shining" and "The Yard Went on Forever" have now been released on CD as the Jimmy Webb Sessions. The songs are still wonderfully poignant and just as important to me.

Jimmy writes difficult songs with many key changes and this is so evident on "A Tramp Shining". The quirky side of his writing is evident again on the title track of "The Yard Went on Forever." But by this time Jimmy was showing that he could write simple songs that stayed in the mind. One of these from "The Yard" album was the wistful "That's the Way It Was."

At college most people laughed at my love of Richard Harris apart from one soulmate who enjoyed his music. Gradually as we talked our emphasis moved away from the Irish singer to the "guy who had written the songs."

I think it was this point that fostered my love of finding out about the writers of songs as well as the artists. Suddenly I realised that here was a man who could provide heart-rending melodies. What came out on disc by various artists was the sum of his many parts.

That's what slightly annoyed me at the Cambridge concert. If Glenn Campbell or Art Garfunkel or any of the other artists who have recorded Webb classics appeared they would have sold the venue out almost immediately. Here we were in the presence of the genius who provided their material and the place was barely one-quarter full.

The guy I sat next to looked around him: "Some people have no taste" he said. My reply was simple: "The ones in here have very good taste, the ones outside don't." He simply smiled and nodded.

Anyway I digress. The college experience of the Webb works spilled over into my working life where music came a vital part of my relaxation process. I automatically bought albums with Jimmy songs on them - even without hearing them. His name on the credits was good enough for me and if he produced them so much the better. The only other producer I would buy without hearing the product is Van Dyke Parks.

It was in this way that I bought an album by The Supremes, produced by Jimmy and featuring his material. Now I have never really liked the Supremes, but this album was excellent particularly for the song "Where Does Brown Begin."

My love of Jimmy's music has continued over the years although I must admit that some of his solo albums have left me a little cold although "Lands End" is very enjoyable.

On that March night in Cambridge many of those memories came flooding back. I was left to reflect on the past but also to look forward to many more golden Jimmy Webb moments.

Today, thanks to articles in the likes of Q magazine and the New Musical Express, Jimmy is becoming something of a cult artist and his ability as a songwriter is perfectly highlighted by the diverse collection of songs written by him on a new Compilation "And Someone Left the Cake Out in the Rain." The title is a reference to one of the many obscure lines from "MacArthur Park." 

November 9th, 2006 - John Lees' Barclay James Harvest - Norwich University of East Anglia  ****

From November 13th, 1971 at Harlow Tech to November 9th, 2006 - that's how long my Barclay James Harvest "career" spans.

Back in 1971 they forever set the standard for me for rock music. Little did I think that almost 35 years later I would be listening to the self same songs. I imagine that at the age of 19 I didn't even have a concept of what 35 years was!

So I had a feeling of almost light-headed euphoria as I waited with friends for the UEA appearance.

It is many years since I last saw BJH. I think it might even have been their 25th anniversary tour and it was a sobering thought that three-fifths of last night's band probably weren't even born when John and Woolly were writing most of these excellent songs.

The band was tight without destroying the spontaneity of the playing and John, hunched over his guitar in typical style, was spot on all evening.

Woolly was a real star - playing to the audience and seeming to enjoy every minute. He made reference to returning to Norwich and certainly I have seen the band at least five times in the city at three different venues.

As I listened to the likes of Galadriel, Mockingbird, The Poet and After The Day I tried to transport myself back to how I felt in 1971.

Today I cannot remember much about that defining evening - who I went with, whether I had too much to drink, how I got home - but I do remember being "blown away".

More than anything this 2006 concert taught me that you cannot return to the past but you can keep the memories alive.

If I have one criticism of the show I would have liked to see John smile a few times. He seemed to be struggling to enjoy the evening (something I'm sure that wasn't the case) and I would liked to have heard more from him and more about the songs that have meant so much to me over the years.

It was almost as if the band was actually Woolly Wolstenholme's Barclay James Harvest.

Musically it was excellent. Mockingbird has undergone a number of changes over the years, none of which have destroyed its beauty and Medicine Man was blistering. Suicide? was another highlight and The Poet/After the Day brought a fitting climax and should have been the last number. That's only a personal preference, however, as Hymn has never been a great favourite of mine.

I was sorry that She Said wasn't included. I had seen the set list before the evening so knew exactly what to expect. It is sad that there is no longer such a thing as a genuine encore in rock music. The return to stage to play one, two or three more numbers seems nowadays to be totally planned rather than spontaneous.

But these are all minor moans in what was a memorable evening.

Ray Davies - Brighton Conference Centre 2007  *****

I have a thing about frontmen who either trot out meaningless drivel or treat the audience with disdain by virtually ignoring them. Great bands and artists communicate with their audience. And nobody does it better than Ray Davies. This evening was a delight.

I had previously seen Davies in his one man show (a slight misnomer as he was accompanied by a guitarist) in Norwich. That night he wove his songs around a story of his life. I was expecting a similar thing at Brighton, but this turned out to be a full electric band and excellent they were too.

It is a strange thing that bands can be put together who as far as musicianship goes are hugely superior to the original. It is difficult to think of the original Kinks being this good although sadly I never saw them to be able to make a valued judgement.

Davies worked his way through all the classic Kinks material - hit after hit after hit - that reminded us that here was a genius of British/London songwriting and a man who has influenced so many others. Whether Davies is the greatest writer of the Biritish rock song ever is debatable but he's certainly up there with the best.

Above all the great thing about this event was the way in which Davies inter-reacted with the audience and the amount of fun he seemed to be having - a consummate professional still at the top of his game.

And just when we thought it was all over, the audience had stopped dancing and the lights were starting to go on, he returned to inform us he had forgotten to play one song. We were then entertained to the greatest song ever written about London "Waterloo Sunset." I for one went home very happy and singing that particular song for the rest of the night.

December 19th, 2007 Rick Wakeman - Norwich Cathedral  **

What a huge disappointment this turned out to be. Billed as Rick Wakeman in Concert gave an entirely wrong impression. I am aware that my views on this concert will not be shared by the majority of a very attentive audience who were more than happy with the concert and who gave the ensemble a standing ovation at the end. The setting was as magnificent as Norwich Cathedral always is but we knew we weren't in for a rock concert when a middle aged man started proceedings by telling us where the fire doors and toilets were located. At that point it felt more like being on an aircraft than being in the presence of one of the world's greatest keyboard players.

I was aware that there would be a Christmas feel to the concert as this had been underlined in the local press when I purchased the tickets. I wasn't quite prepared, however, for an entire evening of carols and mainly Christmas music that became little more than a professional carol service.

Wakeman accompanied readers, singers and choirs without ever showcasing his ability. I longed for him to let rip on a keyboard solo but the closest we got was a replication of his work on Cat Stevens' Morning Has Broken. Indeed any one of thousands of keyboard players could have provided the accompaniments.

Yes musically it was fine, but the whole evening was soulless and having spent 50 on two tickets (I accept that the money went to Cathedral funds) I was rather disappointed to have to pay an additional 2 for half a polystyrene cup of mulled wine.

December 20th, 2007 The Blockheads featuring Phill Jupitas - Norwich Waterfront  ****

If Rick Wakeman had been soulless the same couldn't be said about the Blockheads 30th anniversary bash at Norwich Waterfront. It does say something for the allure of Ian Dury that the last time the band played the city they sold out the UEA, but this time could only manage to much smaller Waterfront venue and it wasn't full.

This was, however, a raucous and excellent evening. Jupitas filled Dury's shoes as well as any man could and had an excellent repartee with the audience. The band was as tight as ever with Norman Watt-Roy proving once again that if there is a better bass guitarist on this planet I have still to see them.

The band worked their way through virtually every Dury classic. As Jupitas said at one point it was a great honour to sing the lyrics of the great man. Dury's music is timeless and, with Chas Jankel, he wrote some of the greatest fun pieces in British rock music.

And they played for just short of two hours which isn't bad in these days of bands getting in, getting on and getting out. Of course with plenty of swearing and obscenities being thrown around it wasn't one for the faint hearted or for those easily offended.

The support act was a London singer-songwriter by the name of Tony Carling. He started off okay with a couple of mildly amusing ditties before becoming very samey and going on for far too long. In the end I think he amused himself more than the audience.

February 25th, 2008 Tina Dico - Norwich Arts Centre  ***

Danish singer-songwriter Dico is certainly a class above many of her contemporaries. Apparently she has a very strong following in the Norwich area and this was evident by another full house at the Arts Centre.

Tina looks and sounds good and built up a good relationship with her knowledgeable audience. It was good to see and hear an artist explain the meaning of the songs and then produce a classy and enjoyable set.

April 18th, 2008 James - Norwich UEA   ****

I have never been a great James fan but felt they were the kind of band I should see. The University of East Anglia was packed. Tim Booth and his cohorts have a tremendous following and are recognised as one of the best touring bands around.

In this respect they certainly didn't disappoint and having a very strong new album "Hey Ma" certainly helped. There were plenty of instantly recognised James tracks and Booth has a good repartee with the audience. So in a nutshell although I wouldn't want to see them again, I was glad I went.

June 9th, 2008 Judy Collins - Norwich Arts Centre  *****

To start with I couldn't believe that one of my all time musical heroes would be playing Norwich Arts Centre as part of a very short tour of England. Whoever books acts for this venue is a musical genius.

I didn't actually believe that Judy would appear until she was physically on stage. It just seemed too good to be true.

And the concert was as good as I had hoped for. Judy Collins connected with her audience in the way that only American artists seem to be able to do. It was a highly knowledgeable audience who sang along with many of the songs. Judy was a very modest and gracious host and an example to the younger generation of singer-songwriters who seem to have so little to say and who say it in a rather aggressive way.

Judy took us on a musical journey through her back catalogue from her days as a  raw folk singer to the mature material of the later stages of her career. It produced a wonderful evening of music featuring songs by Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Webb, Harry Chapin and Judy herself. Anybody reading my pages will know of my love for Jimmy Webb and Harry Chapin and so this was always going to be an outstanding evening and so it turned out.

Judy's voice cracked on a couple of occasions but that really didn't matter. When you have material this strong, a wonderful stage presence and an obvious love of what you are doing it comfortably papers over any small cracks. When I told people that I was going to see Judy Collins many of them said "who." That is a comment on the intransigence of music. I suggest these people get hold of one or two albums and give them a serious listen to uncover an endearing artist who has been performing since the 1950s.

August 1st, 2008 The Feeling - Newmarket Racecourse  ****

An outdoor setting after evening horse races at Newmarket  and a very strong one hour set from one of the poppiest and most successful bands of the last couple of years. There is a homely feel about the Feeling prompted by the fact that most of their songs are instantly recognisable and well crafted. Newmarket in the open air was an excellent setting.

October 28th, 2008 Fleet Foxes - Norwich Waterfront   ***

Something of a shambolic evening was rescued by some excellent music from Fleet Foxes once they eventually got on stage and realised that they needed to actually play to get the crowd behind them. Up to that point it had been a very disappointing evening. Band member Josh Tillman was given the warm up slot where quite frankly he bored many people by singing what appeared to be the same song six times with different words and just a guitar accompaniment. Doors opened at 7.30 p.m and by just before 9.30 p.m we had been "entertained" by six very second rate songs before Fleet Foxes ambled onto stage, stood around for what seemed an eternity before starting to play songs from their excellent debut and eponymous album.

There were still some haphazard ramblings during the set and their delivery could scarcely be called professional. When they let their music and close harmonies do the talking it was a much better experience with Robin Pecknold proving what a strong voice he has despite resembling a latter day hippie more than a bona fide rock musician. So mixed feeling about this one. The band are well worth seeing but they need to do much work on their presentation - but how many times have I said that before. And despite generous applause during the gig and at the end they didn't return for an encore. I would suggest that was because they had already worked their way through their entire output.

November 5th, 2008 Okkervil River - Norwich Waterfront.  ****

Now this was more like the real deal. I love the Fleet Foxes album, but Okkervil River had a much better stage presence and some wonderful musicianship. The textures of their songs allow them to be equally at home with ballads and more rocky numbers. They played for over one and a half hours and my interest never waned.

I have to admit that I am not hugely up with their material but this gig made me want to investigate some more. My first thoughts were that Will Sheff looked like John Lennon and this was borne out with the encore of Jealous Guy.

Okkervil River are stuffed to the rafters with multi-instrumentalists and it was just a shame that a relatively sparse audience turned up. Those not there missed a treat.

November 3rd, 2009 John Lees' Barclay James Harvest - Norwich Waterfront ****

Claire Hamill - Norwich Waterfront ***

It is pretty much 38 years between the first time I saw BJH in concert and this one. Somehow I have the feeling that it may be the last time I see the group, although of course I could be wrong. I base that on the fact that they have to give up touring at some point and also the Waterfront was only half full. Most of the audience have aged along with the band. For once I stood near the front, wanting to see John Lees' mesmerising guitar playing at close quarters. The problem was to do that I had to stand very close to a speaker which at times gave a slightly unclear and distorted sound quality.

Nevertheless it was two hours of nostalgia for me and I hope some of the younger members of the audience appreciated the artistry and powerful songs. There is little new about the original two BJH members. Woolly Woolstenholme still looks like a slightly mad professor, wandering around the stage in almost demented fashion, whilst talking to the audience and spreading a feeling of bonhommie. Unfortunately he had been suffering from a throat infection and, whilst not detracting from his performance, it was obvious at times that he was uncomfortable.

John Lees was simply John Lees. The voice may not quite have the resonance of the past but the guitarwork was as good as ever and his rather abrasive personality hasn't changed one jot over the years. I often think somebody should tell him that the name of the band is John Lees' Barclay James Harvest and maybe he should take more of an outgoing role.

The band worked their way through most of the old and best BJH material including a super version of She Said, Mockingbird, Galadriel, Summer Soldier etc etc. They ended with the beautifully apocalyptic The Poet/After the Day which is just how I remember them from all those years ago. Messrs Lees and Woolstenholme may today look more like kindly grandfathers than angry young rock musicians, but their music is as powerful as ever. I particularly liked the inclusion of River of Dreams, one of their lesser known numbers.

Listening to the power of some of these songs you realise what good lyricists the duo have been over the years. It was just sad that due to noise and time restrictions at the venue they didn't have time to include Medicine Man or Suicide? in the set. John and Woollly were ably supported by the cheeky Craig Fletcher on bass guitar, Kevin Whitehead on keyboards and Jez Smith on keyboards.

The gig was opened very nicely by Claire Hamill who gave a varied set of both her own songs and covers.

Midlake at Norwich Arts Centre - January 27th, 2010 ****

There is a indefinable quality about Midlake. Firstly I couldn't believe that they played such a small venue as Norwich Arts Centre which only takes about 200 people. Secondly their music has an ethereal feel to it - almost as if it isn't of this world at all.

Certainly the band members are a throw back to the hippy days of the early 1970s. It's almost as if they have got stuck in a time warp, celebrating British folk rock from where they get so much of their inspiration.

The concert co-incided with the release of their third album - The Courage of Others which is arguably their best. Under-stated yes but full of wonderful earthy harmonies. They ran through virtually the entire album, alongside material from the previous one - The Trials of Van Occupanther.

Possibly the stage and the venue were a little small for their sumptuous sound that saw five guitarists, a drummer and a keyboard player. Tim Smith's plaintiff voice occasionally got lost but overall it was a fine evening from the Texan septet who were well supported by fellow Texan singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe.

Midlake at Norwich UEA - November 1st, 2010 ***

Maybe a gap of just nine months is too short a time to return to Midlake. Their set at the UEA was virtually the same as that at the Arts Centre. I was looking to seeing them in the rather larger setting and an appreciative audience certainly enjoyed the evening.

At times the balance seemed to be lacking with flutes being drowned out by guitars and some of the better known material such as Roscoe lacked clarity and produced a rather mushy sound. Material from the Courage of Others can sound similar and it will be interesting to see where the band goes with their fourth album. Overall their performance had a very 1970s feel to it.

Support came from ex Grandaddy frontman Jason Lytle (**) who produced a slightly shambolic set where he seemed to struggle to make an impact. Arguably star of the night was the golden voice of ex Czars frontman John Grant (****) who showcased material from his excellent album Queen of Denmark - a self confessional album of some gravity.

 

Athlete at Norwich UEA - November 21st, 2010 ***

A decent gig yes, but Athlete are just not for me. I find their music at times repetitive and lacking in direction but their performance was decent. Support was from Alice Gold (a decent rock set) and Stoney (arrived too late for this).

Ellie Goulding at Norwich UEA - November 24th, 2010 ***1/2

One of the pleasant surprises of the year. Only went to this one because my son had a spare ticket and I wasn't expecting a lot, but thoroughly enjoyed it even if I felt a little out of place amongst all the teenagers. Music is for all ages and Goulding has plenty of talent, although it is likely that she will be caught up in the famous for a few months modern syndrome and this time next year will probably be reduced to playing small venues.

I found her voice a tad weak but the material was better than expected and less poppy techno than on record. Goulding has an engaging personality and a strong fan base (which will of course only continue until they switch to the next big thing). Certainly her own material is reasonably strong and her covers of Elton John's Your Song and Midlake's "Roscoe" were interesting if not entirely convincing.

The Enid - Norwich Arts Centre - December 23rd, 2010 ****

Having seen the Enid briefly in London a few years ago when they were pretty shambolic, I didn't quite know what to expect from them at a small venue like Norwich Arts Centre and just two days before Christmas.

The result was a great surprise and my favourite gig of the year. John Robert Godfrey has surrounded himself with excellent musicians and this is just one great prog group. The pieces played were intense, often very long, but full of beauty and in Jason Ducker the band has an excellent lead guitarist who waltzed his way through some extremely difficult pieces spanning the 30 year plus history of the band and climaxing in the stunning tone poem Faund.

Take some Mahler, Holst, Elgar and mix it with Pink Floyd and Ketelbey (for kitsch value) and then add some Latin, African rhythms and throw in the kitchen sink and you get some idea of The Enid's work. Thankfully Godfrey has returned from what I'm sure he would describe as "a very dark place." Next year they play Birmingham with a very large orchestra and that will be a concert that I would love to be at. I also like the way the Enid spit against modern convention by producing all their own music on their own label without pretensions and just turn their back on musical trends and fads. This was pure prog music at its best and the whole concert was 100% enjoyable.

 

White Lies - Norwich UEA - February 6th 2011 - **

Crocodiles - no stars

Active Child - *

After just two albums my view of White Lies is that they have already run out of material. An enthusiastic and pretty much packed audience at the UEA loved them, but their music has a sameness that makes their future in terms of longevity unsure.

Every song seems to have a similar structure - a quiet thoughtful intro and then, you just know that the same barrage of sound and pounding drum and bass is going to kick in. There seems to be a lack of ideas.

This concert showed the band's limitations and even featured a 10 minute break when they left the stage due to a problem with one of the guitars. It is beyond me how, in this day and age, instruments can go wrong during a concert, particularly when Roadies seem to take a ridiculous amount of time setting them up in the first place.

And whatever happened to spontaneity? The band returned after their 10 minute break and played one number and then announced that normally they would go off at this point and come back for a three number encore, but as we had been kept waiting whilst they sorted the guitar out they would just go straight through. So everything is planned giving the whole evening a false feel.

The first support band Active Child came from Los Angeles and featured electric harp, keyboards and bass guitar and fell into the weird category. Most of the music was computer generated which posed the point of why the duo involved didn't stay in the USA and just send their computers over. The second band Crocodiles were the worst rock combo I have seen for years. The frontman seemed to be stuck in a 1980s timewarp, continually spitting on stage. Most of their material seemed to be aimed at proving that none of them could play their instruments, making up for this fact with the kind of noise that 90% of people who had never touched a guitar could produce. Ironically listening to a couple of their tracks on Napster show a very different kind of outfit with little of the harshness they produced live.

Jimmy Webb - Norwich Arts Centre - February 10th, 2011 - ***

Nell Bryden ***

Ah the master. Say the name Jimmy Webb to most people and they just glaze over, unaware that the man is a supreme songwriter who has written some of the most endearing songs of the past two generations. And it was this fact that was celebrated at Norwich Arts Centre to a knowledgeable and appreciative audience.

The show fell short, however, of the excellent performance at Cambridge a few years back. For a start Jimmy's voice, never the greatest at the best of times, was hampered by a cold and you could see the man was struggling at times.

For me getting the right balance between dialogue and music is a tough one. Too many wannabees of today have little or no repartee with their audience. But it is a fine line between too little chat and too much and Jimmy just veered on the side of too much. Some of his stories were rather too drawn out and veered on the side of uninteresting such as the long dialogue about his new hat. There was also too many plugs for the new album - something even the man himself apologised for. So I would have appreciated a little less chat and a little more music.

His piano playing was of the usual high standard verging at times on jazz and at others veering towards country. Jimmy bemoaned the loss of real genuine songwriters in these days of manufactured plastic commercial-based pop conveyor belts... and the man was right. Songwriters of the calibre of Jimmy Webb just don't exist anymore and probably never will again. So it was glorious to hear By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Galvaston, Wichita Lineman, Didn't We and Macarthur Park just one more time.

Nell Bryden supported and gave an entertaining set delivered with a sparkling personality and falling somewhere between the folk and country genres. Her song to 9/11 Siren was outstanding.

 

The Hold Steady - Norwich Waterfront - February 15th, 2011 - *

Wintersleep *

According to Wikipedia Hold Steady's singer and songwriter Craig Finn is a highly literate man who weaves intricate characters and literary heroes such as WB Yeats into his songs. Shame then that at this gig the music was so loud that scarcely a single word was understandable. Sadly that went for both groups and this is the first rock gig I have left before the end for many years.

The volume was ridiculous. I have nothing against volume providing the lyrics are distinct. I had no idea what Finn was talking about and to me the Hold Steady just shrieked into a microphone while producing an horrendous noise that made every song sound exactly the same. This kind of thing makes me wonder where rock music is going and exactly the same thing could be said about Wintersleep.

Is it not possible for these people to understand that they are destroying the very thing they want to be part of.

Rick Wakeman - Norwich St Andrew's Hall - March 12th, 2011 - ****

Sanity restored thanks to an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable evening with Rick Wakeman and a grand piano. Rock wannabes take note. This is how things should be done.

Wakeman's one man show is amusing and entertaining and his solo piano playing is totally effortless. It all added up to an excellent evening even if his playing at times was rather too "twiddly"

Wakeman covered his early informative years along with his work as a session musician for the likes of David Bowie and through to his days with the Strawbs and Yes. It is all put together with humour and a great pride in what the man has achieved. Wakeman obviously is a serious musician but at the age of 61 he no longer takes himself quite as seriously as he once did.

Other Reviews (dates still to be found) - some of these reviews are short as they are simply recollections from many years ago - much of the detail being lost in the mists of time.

 

Lindisfarne (Derby) ***

Chris Rea (Derby) ****

 

Lindisfarne have always been one of my favourite bands and so, whilst living near Derby, I decided to pop along to see them. To be honest I can't remember much about them as they were overshadowed by a young unknown support act who was to become world famous. Chris Rea seemed on this evening to have a very special talent. It was years before Road to Hell propelled him into international stardom. This was when he was playing well crafted songs and it was a dleight to hear them.

Gene Pitney (Norwich Talk of the East) ****

The things I remember about this concert were Pitney's modesty and his connection with the audience as he ran through all his old favourites including "Backstage" and the immortal "24 Hours from Tulsa." The ladies in the audience loved it and lapped it up.

Don McLean - Norwich Theatre Royal  **

A hugely anticipated concert and a huge letdown. McLean - the man who wrote the classic songs "Vincent" and "American Pie" came to Norwich Theatre Royal and went through the motions. Looking back into the mists of time, this has to be one of the greatest disappointments of my life. One of the finest songwriters to come out of the 1970s in America, he ambled through his back catalogue with little interest or passion and I felt let-down.

Tom Paxton - Norwich Theatre Royal ****

In contrast to McLean, Tom Paxton showed how it should be done. Plenty of political references and a great passion in his own songwriting. Paxton spoke and sag as if he really meant it and took us through an America of his dreams and nightmares in a thoroughly enjoyable performance.

 

Joan Baez (Cambridge Corn Exchange) *****

Josh Ritter (Cambridge Corn Exchange) **

 

Joan Baez was the second of three amazing concerts by some of my favourite American artists 9Jimmy Webb and Judy Collins being the other two). None of them disappointed. It was remarkable that, despite being in her sixties, Joan's voice was as pitch perfect as ever and never once broke during the evening which was a mixture of her own material, her greatest hits and new material by contemporary writers such as John Stewart, Steve Earle and Josh Ritter. It was one of those concerts that I loved every minute of and was very sorry when it finished.

 

I am not in the habit of commenting on support acts - simply because for most of the time they are pretty dreadful and just fillers for the main course. I make an exception for Josh Ritter who is a very talented American singer-songwriter. Sadly his warm up performance was disappointing. When he sang his songs it was fine but he spent an eternity tuning up his guitar and then having to borrow one. At one point he tuned up longer than the following song and asked for a round of applause for so doing. Music good, presentation sucked.

The Handsome Family (Norwich Arts Centre) ***

This one would score highly in the weird stakes. Husband and wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks spend much of their on-stage time bickering (obviously well scripted). In many ways this is fun, in others it is annoying. They play instruments bought from junk and charity shops. It's all very strange. The interesting thing is the duo have written some fine songs. I still remember this as one of my stranger nights out.

John Stewart - The Borderline Club, London  **

I had been looking forward to seeing John Stewart live for some time, but sadly this was a huge disappointment. Having travelled to London I was expecting a classy show, but sadly John was obviously beginning to fail physically and mentally and tragically would die a couple of years later.

To start with the sound was all wrong. On numerous occasions he stopped to try and correct the balance. Then there was a horrible reverberation noise that went on for some time and then John left a piece of equipment somewhere and couldn't locate it. Finally there was a massive noise as if something had exploded. I found it all very sad. In addition John's voice regularly broke and faltered. I am glad that I was able to see the man, but said that I hadn't caught him in better circumstances.

Ian Dury and the Blockheads (Norwich UEA) ****

This was Ian Dury's penultimate concert before his untimely death and it was a privilege to be at the UEA as the main wrestled manfully with great songs and still maintained his sense of humour despite being in the late ravages of cancer and having to be helped onto and off the stage. The evening raced through all the old favourites and it was certainly a night to remember with the excellent Blockheads in fine form.

Moody Blues (Ipswich Regent) ****

I was pleasantly surprised at how good the Moody Blues still are. Graeme Edge, John Lodge and Justin Hayward worked their way through all the classic material in an extremely enjoyable evening that brought so many pleasant memories from the 1970s flooding back. Haywards voice was as strong as ever and the band seemed to enjoy playing as much as the audience enjoyed listening. Well worth the 120 mile return journey.

 

John Martyn (Norwich UEA) **

Ian McNabb (Norwich UEA) ***

 

I have never been a great fan of John Martyn but still took the opportunity to see him at the UEA where the crowd was sparse. Sadly it proved a great disappointment. His lyrics were slurred and incomprehensible and there was little spark or style to the performance. Martyn was supported by one of my favourite English songwriters and that came as a pleasant surprise. McNabb did a short acoustic set that included one of my favourite songs "Head Like a Rock". Sadly it was all too short.

 

The Strawbs (King's Lynn) ****

The Strawbs (Norwich Arts Centre two concerts) ***

 

The Strawbs have always been one of my favourite bands and they regularly tour in both their electric rock set-up and as an acoustic band. There are a number of years that separate these concerts with the one at King's Lynn being the full electric format and the others at Norwich Arts Centre being acoustic. On reflection I probably prefer the full blown version as an acoustic Dave Cousins can become a little difficult to take at times with his over-theatrical vocals. Nevertheless the band still have a wonderful stage presence and relate well to their audience and Dave Lamberts guitar playing is mesmerising.

 

Art Garfunkel (Norwich Theatre Royal) ****

 

As I left the Theatre Royal I remember commenting "it's a great shame Paul Simon wasn't with him" to which  somebody said "If he was they wouldn't be playing here." That was very true. Simon and Garfunkel would never have played a venue such as the Theatre Royal. So we simply had to be satisfied with one half of the duo - the voice rather than the songwriter. Garfunkel has one of the most perfect voices in rock/pop/folk and he ran through the whole S and G catalogue with considerable charm and humour to provide a very pleasant evening's entertainment.

 

Barclay James Harvest - Norwich Theatre Royal **

Barclay James Harvest - University of East Anglia ( two concerts) ****

Barclay James Harvest - St Andrew's Hall ****

 

Click on the cuttings to see larger images. These are reviews by myself of two concerts by Barclay James Harvest. They appeared in the Eastern Evening News.

 

Many years separate all these concerts and it's now difficult to remember them individually. Probably the earliest of the three was at St Andrew's Hall where the support band was Rare Bird. I seem to remember it as the first time I heard the extended versions of Summer Soldier and Medicine Man. The acoustics were very good and it was another excellent BJH night.

 

For some reason I remember the Theatre Royal concert as very disappointing. I am sure that I wrote a review in the Eastern Evening News which attracted the headline "Good but not Golden Harvest." Not sure why I was disappointed, but perhaps the band failed to play its best material.

 

One of the two concerts at the UEA were to celebrate the band's silver jubilee - a romp through their best material. The other I seem to remember as being enjoyable without being able to recall the specifics.

 

Muse (Norwich UEA) ***

 

Muse have one of the most expansive sounds around - arena rock. So it was rather stilted in the confines of the UEA. Matt Bellamy has an extraordinary vocal range and this was an enjoyable concert although, as on so many occasions, there wasn't a great deal of rapport between the band and the audience. It was really one of those "well I was glad I was there" gigs.

 

Spiritualised (Norwich UEA) *

 

I don't want to be hyper critical but Spiritualised droned on with absolutely no personality and I was so bored by the end that I didn't bother to stay for the encores.

 

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (Norwich UEA) *

 

Same comments as for Spiritualised. I found these mundane and dull and couldn't wait to get home.

 

 

Divine Comedy (Norwich UEA) ****

Divine Comedy (Norwich UEA) ****

 

One of my favourite bands, Neil Hannon is one of my favourite songwriters with a great ability to mix comedy with pathos. An excellent frontman, the Divine Comedy is really his vehicle. Looking back I may have seen them three times at the UEA - the first when I stood too near the speakers, the second when they appeared with a string orchestra and the third when they appeared on their own. Whether it was two or three concerts they are never anything short of entertaining and Hannon has written some highly original material.

 

Mostly Autumn (London) ***

Pendragon (London) **

The Enid (London) **

 

I attended a prog rock day in London that featured about five acts - including those listed above. My main reason for going was to see The Enid and in particular Robert John Godfrey live. It was the first time he had played live for many years. Overall it was a disappointing day although the prog rock fans present seemed to enjoy it and it was certainly value for money.

 

Mostly Autumn I had previously seen at Norwich Arts Centre. They are a decent band with some good material, but overall rather second league. Pendragon simply leave me cold so reviewing them is rather unfair as their music does nothing for me.

 

The Enid were disappointing. It was good to see them, but much of their music was on pre-recorded tape.

 

The Coral (Norwich UEA) ****

The Coral (Norwich UEA) **

 

Two concerts at the same venue, a couple of years apart and quite a contrast. First time around the band's excellent debut album had topped the charts and there was a swagger about the band with their original material coming as a breath of fresh air amongst a mountain of average CDs being released.

 

A couple of years on and the band gave the distinct impression that they had lost interest and were purely going through the motions and it showed. There was a lack of vitality and charisma.

 

 

Starsailor (Norwich UEA) ***

Starsailor (Norwich UEA) ****

Starsailor (Norwich UEA) - April 7th, 2009 ***

 

Again not sure whether I've seen Starsailor three or four times (the old memory plays tricks at times). Certainly the first time they were rather "wet" in their delivery, but the second time had honed their performance with James Walsh becoming an excellent frontman and vocalist with a distinctive style. I rated their debut album very highly indeed and the band seem to have an affinity with playing Norwich. Walsh looks upon it as his lucky City after playing there twice after winning major awards. He manages to communicate this to the audience in a very pleasant manner that sets them apart from so many of their peer bands.

 

The second of the three concerts above was the outstanding one with the band very tightly knit and producing and excellent sound. In 2009 they seemed to have gone off the boil somewhat after the release of a competent if unexciting fourth album. Walsh seemed to have gone back into his shell somewhat - preferring to talk to people in the front row rather than communicate with the whole hall and the sound mix at times seemed well off balance.

 

Scissor Sisters (Norwich Waterfront) ****

 

Scissor Sisters played Norwich Waterfront just before they broke into "the big time" whatever that is. Their first album had just been released and providing fun was high on their agenda. They impressed the audience with their knowledge of Norwich and some bloody good rock music.

 

Tom Baxter (Norwich Arts Centre) ***

Tom Baxter (Norwich Arts Centre) ****

 

Tom Baxter comes from Bungay in Suffolk and so Norwich Arts Centre is like a homecoming gig for him. He is always a genial artist who gives you the distinct impression of enjoying himself. I enjoyed the first of the two gigs but the second showed a marked improvement. His album had received rave reviews and been Radio Two's album of the week. Tom also had support from a friend and his brother Charlie and it was a fun evening with some top class ballads and rock music.

 

Ray Davies (Norwich St Andrew's Hall) ****

Ray Davies (Brighton Conference Centre) *****

 

Two very contrasting concerts from the Kinks frontman. A review of the Brighton concert appears above. This was a full band sound, but at St Andrew's Hall we had the one man show (although he was accompanied by a guitarist). Ray took us through his history, his family and his world with the help of world famous songs, illustrating what a prolific songwriter he has been over the years. It was in turn poignant and fun, although difficult at times to work out where he had embellished his story. I took my eldest son (insisting that he would enjoy the experience) and he certainly did, standing on his feet and whistling at the end.

 

The Zombies (Norwich Arts Centre) ****

The Zombies (Norwich Arts Centre) ****

 

The Zombies tour regularly and are well worth catching. They seem to enjoy playing Norwich Arts Centre as much as the local fans enjoy them. I have always been a fan of  Colin Blunstone and he has a superb rapport with the audience that says he is thoroughly enjoying a resurgence in the bands music and status. Rod Argent is a superb keyboard player and I would see these guys anytime they are in the area. 

 

The shows cross the entire spectrum of Zombies/Argent material from out and out rockers to crooner ballads and across the psychedelic spectrum. An evening with the Zombies is a musical experience that is not easily forgotten. On the second occasion was fortunate enough to meet up with Colin and Rod and they are gentlemen as well as being superb musicians with a top pedigree.

 

In Brief

 

The Editors (Norwich UEA) - **

 

Pretty dull material that will not stand the test of time. Nothing wrong with the concert apart from the ridiculous theatricals of lead singer Tom Smith who seemed to spend much of the evening clutching his head in a strange posture.

 

World Party (Norwich UEA) - *

 

Exceptionally disappointing. They came on stage amidst some strange special effects that involved candles and then launched into a very dull set that seemed to have no relevance to the theatricals.

 

Franz Ferdinand (Norwich UEA) **

 

Much heralded but sadly very average band who soon had their day.

 

The Von Bondies (Norwich UEA) **

 

Same comments as for Franz Ferdiand whom they supported

 

Cord (Norwich Arts Centre) ***

 

Saw Cord a couple of times at the Arts Centre as they come from Norwich. They signed a five CD deal with Virgin and looked to be on the way to great things, but then fizzled out and morphed into Tin Man. Early material was very good but material on their debut album had too many Muse overtones about it and was ultimately disappointing.

 

The Crimea (Norwich Arts Centre) ***

 

Second Leaguers who produced a decent set and made their mark by offering their second album for free download from the Internet. Some good material and a reasonably enjoyable performance.

 

I Am Klute (Norwich Arts Centre) **

 

Second division rockers from Manchester who were rather dull and uninspiring

 

Cooper Temple Clause (Norwich UEA) **

 

Another nearly band - that never quite made it and it was easy to see why

 

Biffy Clyro (Norwich Arts Centre) *

 

Excessively loud for no reason - inaudible lyrics and quite frankly a mess.

 

Australian Pink Floyd (Norwich UEA) ***

 

Superb musicianship and very true to the original. A thoroughly enjoyable band - but ultimately of course they are a covers group, although admittedly one of the few cover bands I would be happy seeing.

 

Leon Jackson (Great Yarmouth Racecourse) no stars

 

A here today, gone tomorrow star of the X Factor who will have his 15 minutes of fame before sinking into obscurity. Appeared at Great Yarmouth after the races and I forced myself to stay and listen.

 

Fake That (Great Yarmouth Racecourse)  no stars

 

A pretty dreadful run through of Take That and Robbie Williams material

 

Spandau Ballet (Newmarket Racecourse) ***

 

One of Newmarket Racecourse's retro evenings and Spandau Ballet still have plenty to offer as they ran through new versions of their 1980s hits and provided a good backdrop at the end of the evening's racing.

 

Still to Review

 

Ralph McTell (Norwich Theatre Royal)

Ralph McTell (Norwich St Andrew's Hall)

Longview (Norwich Waterfront)

Mostly Autumn (Norwich Waterfront)

The Rapture (Norwich UEA)

Lindisfarne (Norwich UEA)

Glen Campbell (Norwich Theatre Royal)

Al Stewart (Norwich St Andrew's Hall)

Bert Jansch (Norwich St Andrew's Hall)

Leo Sayer (Norwich Theatre Royal)

The Dooleys (Norwich Theatre Royal)

The Saw Doctors (Norwich UEA)

Duke Special (Norwich UEA)

Black Box Recorder (Norwich Arts Centre)

Barclay James Harvest featuring John Lees (Norwich Waterfront) 2010