Monday, August 24, 2015

Taste: What's Going On - Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970 - Release Date: 18 September 2015 (DVD, Blu-ray, Vinyl & CD), I'll Remember (Taste: Four CD Box Set) & The Final Split

Rory Gallagher's comprehensive story is finally being brought up to date. I'm pleased that Taste's performance at the The 1970 Isle Of Wight Music Festival is being released on DVD, Blu-ray, double-disc vinyl & CD formats on 18 September 2015. Any review of Rory's life, music and unique guitar playing would remain imbalanced and incomplete without footage of the seminal and inspirational music Rory created and performed at the outset of his career with Taste. I was fortunate at sixteen years old to be at the festival with my older brother and witness Taste's performance. From the opening riff of "What's Going On" Rory and Taste (Richard McCracken on bass and John Wilson on drums) had the crowd enthralled.
The extraordinary power, dynamism and breathtaking improvisation created by Taste, and Rory's magnificent and emotional guitar playing, was a shot in the arm - mid-afternoon - after some uninspiring performances from preceding artists. Taste were buoyant and their stellar performance generated a spirited and sincere rapport with the large crowd. Each song of their set was followed by a storm of applause. I'm disappointed that no footage of Taste performing 'I Feel So Good' is available. Rory's innovative and singing guitar sound reached a 'peak' on this song during their performance. Moreover, the bass and drum solos by Richard McCracken and John Wilson are sadly absent from the film. The fact that the tracks asterisked below contain incomplete, duplicated, or mostly crowd footage during the performance is also a disappointment.   

 Tracklisting DVD / Blu-Ray
What’s Going On
Sugar Mama
Morning Sun*
Gambling Blues
Sinner Boy
Same Old Story*
Catfish Blues

Tracklisting CD / Vinyl
What’s Going On
Sugar Mama
Morning Sun
Gambling Blues
Sinner Boy
I’ll Remember
I Feel So Good
Catfish Blues
Same Old Story
Blister On The Moon 

Fans of Taste and Rory Gallagher will welcome the bonus features which include a film on the history of Taste and three tracks from the German TV series Beat Club: 'Morning Sun', 'It’s Happened Before, It’ll Happen Again' and 'If The Day Was Any Longer.' I believe, however, that the P3 music promo videos for 'I’ll Remember', 'What’s Going On' and 'Born On The Wrong Side Of Time' are artistically banal in visual & narrative style, and, instead of enhancing the music, get in the way of it.

The successful performance of Taste at the Isle of Wight in 1970 established Rory Gallagher as a prodigious talent and a charismatic and passionate guitar player. Just as the popularity and fame of Taste was increasing with audiences, record buyers and critics, only an "inner circle" knew that the atmosphere within the blues/rock trio and its management was beset with dissatisfaction and sustained tensions. Given that Taste were still producing memorable live performances, receiving rave reviews in the music press, most of their fans had no knowledge, or reason, to think that disharmony was tearing the group apart. 

Rory was just twenty two years old in 1970. Taste had achieved considerable success in Europe and were attracting a growing audience with each passing gig and day. I remember reading the cover of Melody Maker in September 1970 and trying to take in the shock announcement: "TASTE SPLIT". What had caused the early disintegration of a supreme rock and blues trio led by Rory Gallagher, a rare talent and musical genius?
The vast majority of Rory's fans were not privy to the anxieties and problems that beset Taste, their management, agents, record company, or the mindset of group members on the cusp of success. What I do know is that the unpredictable demise of Taste ended with a short lap of honour which included concerts in Belfast and Dublin. The music and magic were still present. Fans watched and listened to "three" gifted musicians playing to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion.

The burden of leading a band brings great physical and psychological demands and can be exhausting to a passionate, sensitive artist whose own life places great value on integrity, honesty and commitment. I'm just glad that Taste existed and, in Rory Gallagher, produced a genuine musical legend who played in his own unique style with grace and passion, and enriched the lives of so many people worldwide. Moreover, Rory remains an inspiration for successive generations of guitar players. Daniel A. Muise's book: 'Gallagher, Marriott, Derringer and Trower: Their Lives and Music' provides, through interviews, a kaleidoscope of memories of Rory's life, music, and premature death which, at times, is difficult to read without experiencing profound sadness.

A four CD Box Set titled I'll Remember containing 'remastered' versions of Taste's studio albums Taste and On The Boards (as well as bonus tracks) will be released on 28 August 2015. The box set contains previously unreleased 'live' recordings from Stockholm’s Live at Konserthuset (1970), "Off-Air" recording at the Paris Theatre, London (1970) which includes blistering and dynamic renditions of 'I'll Remember' and 'Railway and Gun', and the Woburn Abbey Festival (1968); also, demos recorded in Belfast (1967) and sleeve notes with rare and previously unseen photographs. I'm thankful to have the 'original' vinyl albums of Taste I purchased in Belfast in the late '60s and early '70s and which still take 'pride of place' in my record collection. 
I believe that Rory Gallagher's musical career, at times, lost impetus and direction (similar to all established musicians), and his singing voice periodically wavered in its emotional resonance (due in part, to relentless tour schedules, long set lists, and the impassioned and organic nature of each performance). Sadly there was never to be the likelihood of Rory performing, during his solo career, any of the classic, timeless songs he composed and recorded with Taste which still touch the emotions in profound and unexpected ways.    

Re-issuing and re-packaging Rory's music is to be welcomed and will undoubtedly attract new listeners to his music and guitar playing. Words cannot do justice to Rory's looser live performances where the magic and the music really happened.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Robin Trower: CD Review "Something’s About To Change" & USA Concert Tour in 2015

 Photograph © Michael Leach

Robin Trower is an engaging musician and guitarist much undervalued in his own country. His music is direct and soulful in its intensity, especially live. Robin creates a lyrical, ethereal sound quite unlike any other guitarist alive or dead. Frankly, the constant comparisons of Robin's guitar playing and music to other musicians is damn tiring to read never mind listen to. The comments and prejudices expressed by mulish music critics, reviewers and music aficionados about Robin Trower's solo work are depressingly predictable. I see no point in grading musicians and guitarists as better or worse among themselves. I respect their genuine differences. Even at their least successful, the music created by a musician may be admired and have deep meaning to the listener.

It takes great physical, emotional and spiritual stamina to sustain a successful career through each different phase, each new studio album, and to continue to reach listeners and inspire other musicians. Robin Trower remains one of the most gifted electric guitar players of the twentieth century and thankfully he is still creating music and playing in performance today. I hope, and suspect, that someday Robin Trower's music and guitar playing will receive the recognition it genuinely deserves.

This summer Robin, with Chris Taggart on drums and Richard Watts on vocals and bass guitar, will be on tour in the USA starting with a concert in Tulsa on 2 June culminating with a gig in Seattle on 3 July. I'm sure the atmosphere at each concert will be highly charged with expectation and emotion. Also, that Richard and Chris will provide the perfect musical backcloth for Robin to solo with his unique guitar style and sound. I admit to disappointment, however, that the set list for 'recent' tours has remained virtually unchanged. It would be wonderful if Robin showcased other songs from his extensive musical catalogue in live performance. One of the great pleasures over the last decade has been the inclusion of songs from diverse periods of Robin's career which have invigorated his set. 
The variety and range of musical output by Robin Trower from his earliest work to the latest album, Something's About To Change, is to be admired for its spirit, soulfulness and quality. In interviews when Robin comments on his studio albums, long after they've been released, he acknowledges that some albums fall short of his own vision and artistic expectations. Each person has their own long-standing favourite Robin Trower albums and tracks. While I believe that some of his albums are uneven in quality, and contain songs which sound repetitious or simply vapid, I'm always pleasantly surprised by the magic generated by some of Robin's new material. The lyrics, music and guitar solos tend not to get lost and lie ingrained in the memory.

The title track 'Something's About To Change' opens Robin Trower's new album. The atmosphere and sound is Robin at his best. The drums and bass create a hypnotic "cooking" rhythm and the song contains Robin's best vocal and guitar soloing on the album. The song provides a great build-up to Robin's first and second solo where every note is made to tell. The brooding spirit of the blues, and Robin's airy, soulful guitar hang over the entire track. I wish the second solo had lasted longer and the track listing had been edited to exclude two or three of the undistinguished songs on the album.

'Riff No.7 (Still Alive)' is lyrical and funky with a tight groove. The changing chords and phrases build the tension and, once again, Robin's tone and soloing is excellent but way too short (track length 3:11?!). 

'Dreams That Shone Like Diamonds' has a potent and subtle emotional resonance. The chorus is haunting and memorable, catchy, reflective. The verses are mostly spoken by Robin Trower like a kind of prayer and the track contains some of Robin's most moving and eloquent playing.

'Strange Love' has a slow, flowing groove. Robin's vocals are gentle, yet passionate. His lead guitar shines on this song with extraordinary lyricism, feeling and spirit. Memorable lyrics. 

'The One Saving Grace' has a more pronounced sound than the other tracks on the album, except the title song. The drums and percussion have a more solid feel and Robin whips up the tension with his soloing. Robin's guitar tone is breathtaking and his playing is poetic and passionate (track length 3:06?!). Another song that deserved a longer solo and fade out. In terms of the overall sound of the album - dynamics, rhythms, performances - the inclusion of a talented and expressive bass player may have radically changed the pedestrian feel of some of the songs and added new and intense dimensions.     

The beauty of great (perhaps good) music is that you can listen to it many times with added pleasure, similar to rewatching a movie or rereading a novel. If Robin Trower's music continues to touch your mind and heart you are on a passionate and rewarding venture. 

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Rock Band Europe - Ireland/UK Tour Dates "Live and Loud in March 2015" - Ulster Hall, Belfast, 3 March 2015

Thank God for rock bands like Europe. The band are bringing their atmospheric, melodic and energetic music to the Ulster Hall, Belfast on 3 March 2015. Their superlative performance at the Sweden Rock Festival on 7 June 2013, in front of 30,000 people, is proof that the band have entered a highly creative and inspired musical phase.  

Most musicians and bands reach an impasse, sooner rather than later. It takes self-determination, spirit, vision and genuine talent to invigorate a career that alternates between highs and lows and the breakup of a band. Presently, Joey Tempest is singing with supreme range, power and stamina. And guitarist John Norum is a truly talented musician who plays with great artistry, superb tone and inspired phrasing.                
The 'Live and Loud' Tour coincides with the release of a new album "War of Kings" in the UK on 2 March 2015. The album is being hailed as Europe's strongest record in years and contains some of the band's best creative work. A powerful reminder that Europe are capable of rock-music making of the highest order. 

Joining Europe on the tour are Black Star Riders featuring Scott Gorham (Thin Lizzy) and Ricky Warwick (vocals/guitar) who was born in Newtownards, Northern Ireland. The Belfast date should be a memorable gig for Ricky. Black Star Riders set will include songs from their new release "The Killer Instinct" and Thin Lizzy. Special guests on the bill are all-girl rock band The Amorettes.

Europe Official Site

Postscript: Unfortunately, some artists and bands fail to include Belfast or Dublin on their gig schedule when touring Great Britain. This deprives music fans of witnessing their favourite group in performance. Travelling to a concert in England, Scotland or Wales may not always be possible for music fans by reason of financial or health issues.

I have been lucky to attend concerts in many wonderful indoor music venues in Ireland, the UK, Europe and the United States. I can honestly say that the Odyssey Arena in Belfast qualifies as one of the worst venues I have had the misfortune to experience. The acoustics, seating, and security personnel [sic] verge on the abysmal. The management encourage irresponsible drinking during concerts which is both disheartening and inappropriate. A venue to be avoided unless you're already inebriated or have complimentary admittance.