Archive for the ‘Music Reviews’ Category

It’s rare to hear stadium quality music even in a stadium these days. Bands are wheeled out to play the same old hit(s) and the 4/4 chord chops that many young guitarists learn in their first lessons. In the manufactured, mediocrity ravaged music industry sausage factory, dullness and predictability stalk live music venues like ex-boyfriends on Facebook. However, tucked away in the North East of Scotland is some intriguing talent warming the cockles of the listening public. Three bands; three big sounds: Uniform, UTN and Same Faces. Their latest playground: The Tunnels, an intimate underground venue and one of the UK’s best avenues to hear live music. One weekend saw the arched roof shake with quality tunes from these three very talented bands.

Uniform providing great support

The first support act, Uniform, made an impact from the start. A strong six-piece presence with 3 guitarists, a bassist, drummer and- rarely seen these days-  keyboardist, filled the stage physically and with  a solid wall of  sound. With strong Robert Smith style vocals and some intricate interweaving guitar work, very much like early U2, they held their own like a mainline act playing to their own crowd, rather than just filler while the main acts wait in the wings. This very tight and melodic sextet of indie-rockers are due to do very well, being huge crowd-pleasers as well as consumate musicians, uniform in thought and form.

Stuart, leads from the front

George milks the guitar

Aberdeen stalwarts, UTN, were up next and whipped up the crowd with their wonderfully inventive songs. Harking back to the days of solid rock craftsmanship but with a great modern vibrancy, they played their strings and drumskins bare, reminiscent of the Black Crowes and Black Keys. The rangy and emotion driven vocals of striking lead singer and guitarist, Stuart Youngson, sailed across the fantastic precision rhythm of John Christie on bass and Attila Kiss on drums.

Attila: drum-master general

John in full bass flow

George Gillies punctuated and supplemented this wonderful landscape of musical mastery with well executed riffs and legato solos. Their songs never let your interest wane for even a split second, with multiple sections and tempo changes- all of them pure platinum class. I was impressed that they kept this energy through the whole gig as if they were aiming all songs to each member of the audience individually. This culminated in the whole crowd chanting along to the last tune which came with a ridiculously catchy chorus that I am still singing to myself now- a week later.

Charlie, charismatic frontman of Same Faces

Finally, Aberdeen’s answer to ACDC, Same Faces swaggered onto the stage to give their MOT tested and guaranteed blistering performance. As ever, the domineering presence of Charlie Munro and his razor sharp vocals roared the clever yet brutally honest lyrics to their confirmed fans, old and new.

Gordon and his golden Gibson exploits

Rich and his rich bass sound

Gordon Leith brandished his axe and tore through the songs with the chunkiest guitar chops I’ve heard in a long time. With his trusty Gibson Les Paul switched to the neck pickup, he certainly made sure his sound had hard edges that packed a real guttural punch. Tunk Reid was sat on his drumstool throne giving the kick drum hell and making cymbal thrashing a near Olympic sport. New bassist, Rich Lewis, fit right in with pumping fingerstyle bass playing that added massive tonnage to the already weighty tunes. They all look the part. They all sound the part. The songs are great. A great band whose phenomenal music rings true with all who hear it.

To all who say rock is dead in Scotland, think on. We have three bands in our seemingly sleepy corner of the world who are ready to rock the sh*t out of all who come. See it live. Hear it loud. Aberdeen rock is alive and great and proud.

All photos reproduced with the kind permission of Euan Ross. To see of his pictures from this gig, go –>here<–

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In times of perceived economic gloom, we look for escapes and ways to lighten the drudgery of day to day life. Many of us in the UK head off to sunnier shores; some make a shorter journey down to the local pub. For those in need of  instant cheer, they can listen to Kick and Pull by Aberdeen based singer-songwriter, Oliver Richards.

The first track, Gimme Love, starts with a soaring arpeggio and strings reminiscent of the joyous dance music of the 90s which pulls up the listener just in time to hear some gorgeous finger picking on acoustic guitar, Oliver’s signature to this uplifting song. The lyrics offer a simple, plaintive message which is sung pleadingly and sweetly in a near whisper.

Go Baby is a more sultry affair with  bossanova driven minor chords and seductive suggestions in husky undertones. This calming piece of music is a pleasure to listen to and acts as a lovely counterpoint to the less subtle pick-me-up of the first track.

Things become more urgent and driven with Poison Ivy. The relentless rhythm raises the heartbeat and the fractious keyboard riffs jolt the senses. Oliver’s acoustic guitar is there too, palm-muted and as lively as the kick drum and double time hi-hat. The lyrics ring true with anyone who has been in an acrimonious relationship, with the eponymous Ivy being held up as a prime example of a dangerously beguiling lover.

Yeah No is more of an ensemble piece, with a full band sound in which the acoustic feel is adorned with electric guitars, bombastic drumming and pumping bass. Although the intimacy of the EP is somewhat lost in this track, the fullness of sound and production quirks make this an enjoyable listen.

The final track, 19th July, is a soaring masterpiece of acoustic folk where Oliver gives his voice a rest, bares his Scottish folk roots and reminds us what he can do with an acoustic guitar. The flurry of fingers combined with an awe inspiring church hall sound makes this song a fantastic finale for a well crafted EP full of surprise, joy and fervour.

Kick and Pull is a wonderfully crafted piece of work, well thought out without being forced or overindulgent. The production is phenomenally good, managing to combine acoustic beauty with hard-wired electronica, rock power and Oliver’s diverse vocal range. For an artist still young in his years, his music has a maturity that can speak for itself, urging you to listen as it will make your day just that little bit better.

*****

     Kick and Pull is available for download on iTunes  and Amazon

Once in a while, when out and about listening to live music, your ears prick up when you hear something new, different and exciting. Recently, the Same Faces have burst onto the scene and driven a shot in the arm to Aberdeen’s already vibrant music scene.

Formed from the still burning flames of much loved rock covers band, ByHookorByKrook, the Same Faces have had years of experience performing together but have all of the fresh energy of a brand new live act. Writing all new material gathered from their years of playing and listening to the music they love, they are inspired by artists as legendary as AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Nirvana. The songs, along with the band, gel very easily, being tight and full of catchy riffs, rhythmic power and cosmic thump. With a new EP, In It For The Money, and a very popular live gig and album launch at the prestigious Aberdeen venue, The Lemon Tree, the Same Faces have already made a massive impact.

Front man Charlie Munro believes in what he sings and is a fan of his own songs, not because of a huge ego but because he is passionate about what he does, stemming from a deep appreciation of that style of music. Very straight talking and with a disarming lack of pretension, Charlie saves all the bluster and bravado for the stage where his powerfully screaming yet melodic voice provides a forceful face to songs already full of strength and no-nonsense vigour. This is demonstrated in War, the first track of their debut EP where Charlie’s cries of “This is war!” leave you waiting for the artillery to fire and the tanks to start rolling for real. He strides the stage with ultimate confidence but none of the drama, interacting with the crowd and making the band heard.

Guitarist Gordon Leith adds meaty riffs and classic solos that feel an integral part of the songs, sweated out from years of hard graft over a guitar and amp. With the awesome chunkiness of Gibson generated chords and beefy licks, he works the strings to the advantage of the overall dynamic of the group while clearly enjoying the ride himself. His big influence of Zeppelin shines through and he does Jimmy Page proud with the way he handles the weighty guitar parts, as can be heard in spades on War and Better Quit Now.

Bassist Neil McDonald is one of those rare four string specialists who can keep up with the guitarist and drummer in equal measure. His booming basslines manage to boost the guitar parts as well as enhance the thump of the kick drum. Neil is adept at fingerstyle bass playing which is hard enough in a soft jazz trio let alone a storming rock foursome. Neil is a solid member of the crew, acting as the cement holding the songs together while providing a melody much more ear catching than the usual plodding bass notoriety you see in other well established bands.

Drummer Tunk Reid takes the art of percussion and imposes it on you with split-second timing, ear-shattering volume and hair-raising precision. Tunk is a drummer that every band would dream of having as he provides a huge solid base for the weighty songs to play on. He is also skilled in the sort of stop-start drumming that gives a lot of the Same Faces songs their character, being more than  just a drum machine but a real musician contributing to the overall soul of the music.

Their sensational live performance at the Lemon Tree and in studio sessions during an interview, prove that they are a force to be reckoned with locally, nationally and potentially internationally. As Charlie said:

“We don’t want to play to the opening of an envelope…. We want every gig to be an event.”

The Same Faces certainly were an event on that night and are a huge event themselves, making a big difference to the listening public and the state of modern rock music.

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For a behind the mic interview with the Same Faces click here ↓

Click –>here<– for the Same Faces website

Click –>here <– to join the Same Faces on samefacebook

Two Scotsmen, a Swede and a Hungarian walk into a pub…and play some of the most exciting music I have heard in a long time.

The Blind Faiths are no joke. They sprang from four disparate talents who met during the course of Aberdeen’s buzzing open mic scene and blew apart the live circuit with their catchy, funky, pensive and uncategorisable music. There are many reasons why these guys are a band to watch, destined for great things.

The Blind Faiths in full flow

Firstly, the music hooks you as soon as your ears catch it, sending a message directly to the brain’s pleasure centres saying, “This is awesome!”. The songs are not mere pop-by-numbers throwaway singalongs, however. They are full of depth, character and haunting lyrical content. There is never a dull moment, with changes in pace, key and melody within each song. There is also a marked shift in genre between tunes in The Blind Faiths’ repertoire. This does not seem artificial or forced but adds to the wonderful musical melange that these talented musicians can concoct. Songs range from the heartfelt “Holly” to the epic “Trees (Branching Out)” and the uptempo ska-inspired anthem that is “Gypsy from Kingston

Straight from the start, the cohesion of the group itself is not in question: tighter than a door seal on a nuclear sub and with just as much impact. All four members seem to compliment each other with every one displaying his prodigious talents, gelling with the others to form their audible magic: all this from a band formed less than four months ago.

Billy and his saxual prowess

Billy M Jack, whose vocals would not be out of place at a soul revue, gives the lyrics a driving force with a strong voice full of bristling passion. He is also an accomplished guitarist, providing a warm bed of acoustic rhythm for the flowing waters of the melody. He also occasionally gets his well travelled sax out and reels around the stage, and sometimes into the crowd, blowing punchy riffs and spiraling solos to great effect.

It’s rare for a band to have two outstanding singers in their stable and this is where Rico Strokes comes in. Sharing the lead and backing vocals with Billy, he belts out the songs with as much gusto and emotion. The transition between the two voices is natural and they compliment each other

Rico's light shines through

wonderfully within and between the songs. Rico also wields his electric guitar with aplomb, giving a cutting edge to the music with his stark rhythms, choppy riffing and flowing solos.

Erik in perpetual motion

Erik Berggren cuts a commanding figure. The tall Swedish bassist never stays still during his set, with his blonde head and fingers always on the move. Another rarity in most groups is the presence of a bass player who makes you sit up and take notice. Erik does this in spades with basslines full of funked up sophistication as well as pinpoint accuracy. He manages to define many of the songs in the opening bars, providing a catchy tune that sears onto the long term memory, the main culprit being the brilliant “Sign (on the dotted line)

Zoltan Kraszko is an experienced and versatile drummer from Hungary, who communicates beautifully with the rest of the band, providing a solid base as well as using his kit as a multidimensional instrument, forming an integral part of the musical structure. His almost Jedi like instincts ensure that the songs are held together with flexible consistency.

Flexible cohesion from Zoltan

This fantastic foursome are a treat to watch in action as well as listen to. Their boundless enthusiasm for their craft and their sense of fun shine through and permeate the audience who, if not already dancing, break into spontaneous bouts of clapping, foot-stomping, whooping and whistling as if at some rock and roll ceilidh. The band have recently spread the joy all over the UK in their  “What’s That You Say?” tour, playing to even more delighted hordes of fans hungry for something new and vibrant. 

Keep your eyes peeled for The Blind Faiths: they’re enough of a solid platinum guarantee of musical genius, sparkling energy and good times ahead.

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To listen to an exclusive pre-tour interview in the cellar of the Cellar, click here –> The Blind Faiths Interview

[Warning: some language in the interview may offend, including cl*nge, f**k and b*s f********h]

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Follow The Blind Faiths on facebook, youtube and twitter.

In this digital age and times of hardship, the live scene and the struggle to be heard for the lower echelons of the musical hierarchy is a tough one. Most bands would be grateful to get any live exposure: especially in Central London and with a free backline and PA provided.

This gratitude seemed to escape The Proletarians as they shambled on stage at The Comedy Pub near Leicester Square in the sizzling City of Westminster. They picked up the gauntlet handed to them on a silver plate and took a geological age to set up, even longer and more meticulously than pretentious stadium rockers with a phalanx of pot-smoking roadies. Eventually they turned to the crowd with an impressive array of instruments: all hollow bodied guitars and gleaming cymbals. As they started to play, the shine wore off and  hollowness prevailed. Ten thousand years of musical tradition were thrown out of the badly fitted window as the drummer failed to grasp the basic tenet of keeping time, the guitarists had never learned to tune their guitars (let alone play them) and the “vocalist” seemed to have a hit and hope policy to every note, leaving me constantly hoping he would surely hit the right note next time around.

Having never written a bad review, especially of the real proletariat of up-and-coming bands with little or no income, I felt compelled to do so in this case due the complete lack of social awareness and diva-esque stroppiness of the lead singer. The first complaint was fired at the all too generous sound man who was directly blamed for the central mic stand being too low. “I’m not two-and-a-half foot f***ing tall” was the comment from the floppy-haired, pseudo-surly front man. After the offending metal pole was adjusted for him (by almost 20 degrees), the musical debacle unfortunately continued.

After more of the same: tunes played as if each band member was in a soundproofed isolation booth with no connection to each other, or indeed the real world, they ran over time by five minutes, necessitating the promoter to call it quits just at the end of their penultimate song. This resulted in more four-letter tirades from the sweary front man, ironically harrumphing about how rude it was to stop them mid song. The other musicians in the crowd, as well as some of the friends and family in the audience I suspect, were glad of this musical euthanasia. More time was eaten into the final bands’ sets with the dismantling of their gear and eventually they flounced off vowing never to play there again.

Lucky venue; lucky future audiences.

[Anyone who would like to judge for themselves, please tune into their music: a fair approximation of how they sounded live. The Proletarians- One Night at the Hippodrome]

After the rigorous security procedures at Aberdeen’s The Lemon Tree and Mike was able to put his trousers back on the right way round, we (the dream team of Mike, Dave, Ieva, Shruti and our videographer, Rebecca) clambered up the stairs and into the Van Susan’s dressing room. There we found a spooky wood-panelled former chapel with a bell on the wall and guitar cases strewn across the floor as if some funky poltergeists had just been in for a jam. There was also a box of beer (empty) and a bowl of semi-exotic fruits, maybe as a peace offering to the string-happy spirits.

Then one half of the Van Susans entered. Luckily there are 6 in the band as 2.5 Van Susans would have been messy. Olly Van Andrews (lead vocalist and guitarist) and brothers Eddie Dullaway (lead guitarist) and Rob Dullaway (drummist) sauntered in to find their interviewers outnumbering themselves. After a little small talk about lemons, biscuits and proposed changes to international monetary policy in the Eurozone, Mike and Dave sat them down and chatted properly for the camera, ably assisted by the boom-meister general, Ieva; Rebecca handling the video camera and the frig rig (a real thing- click it if you don’t believe it) and Shruti stroking the buttons on the stills camera.

After a frenzied acoustic sesh, playing as yet unreleased hit, Served Cold, and a group photo of the lads complete with floating lemon action, we let them go and do their job downstairs on stage: supporting The (Beautiful) South.

The crowd swell down stairs was bubbling without being sweaty and chirpy without being frenzied. The slightly older audience who came to see 80s/90s legends, The South, looked stageward as the 3 young London lads strode on with their instruments in their talented hands. For more observant readers, Rob did not carry a full kit but a cajon drum which doubled as a comfy seat. His shaky eggs were pretty impressive too…

The big noise coming from this vibrant trio wowed the crowd with its finger-pickin good, acoustic brilliance. The thumping shakes from Rob set the platform for Eddie’s blistering solos and Olly’s wide-ranging vocal gymnastics and steady rhythms. The crowds were clapping, stomping and whooping as much as their bumping bones would allow. The Van Susans are all seasoned stage pros, only being in their 20s, using the mics and special sounds of the Lemon Tree rig-up to their great advantage. They blasted out their hits from their EP and eagerly awaited new album (due out in May), culminating in the new single, Bricks Not Sticks or Straw. The audience’s ears pricked up even more, dancing round the pillars and clapping like Mexicans on the 5th May.

A job well done above and beyond the call of duty, The Van Susans left with an extremely warm hand on their exit. With the rest of the night off, they slung back, polishing off a few beers while Dave dutifully ironed their guitar cases and the ladies fixed a bra around Olly’s one as a men-only anti-theft device. The details of the rest of the evening were a blur but involved plenty of real snow, red wine, coconut beer, The Moorings Bar (arrr!), country skanking to ACDC, trying to break the world record for fitting the most sweaty people in a Travelodge lift and of course, pear smuggling.

We’ll miss those chirpy Van Susans. It’s not often you find talent, youth, fun and niceness all rolled into one. A firm friend of the show, we can’t wait to meet the other half too for a laugh and a brew.

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Dave Phillips is a writer, presenter and coconut smuggler for The MJ Radio Show on Aberdeen Student Radio

Follow the MJ Radio Show on facebook  –>here<–

To follow The Van Susans on facebook, click –>here<–

To see a picture of a lovely pair, click –>here<–

Looking over the multitude of murmuring heads and towards the stage, I spy the slight frame of Oliver Richards stood behind his guitar greeting the crowd with a shy grin and a modest introduction awaiting the start of his supporting act for the legendary Midge Ure. Alone apart from his instrument and the beam from a solitary spotlight, Oliver eased into his set as the crowd hushed in anticipation at hearing some relatively new talent. With Oliver’s eyes down to a full house, a strong, confident voice danced through the seated audience and he introduced everyone to his music.

In Oliver’s solo act he shows variation between songs, moving from the quiet, gentle folk of “Stone House Hill” to the soft soul sophistication of “Go Baby” and the foot-stomping jiggery of “Master Chancer”. There is is also variation within his songs, his voice bursting forth then retreating with innate subtlety while he manipulates his guitar with ringing arpeggios, staccato rhythms and dextrous fingerwork from both hands. He blends both voice and instrument to become one entity.

Oliver backstage

As the evening progressed, the avid listeners more than warmed to Oliver and his music. He needed no pithy introductions between songs as he let his skill and quiet charm do the talking. A disadvantage of playing your own material is that there is less familiarity to grab the audience’s attention. Oliver managed to do this and more through the sheer strength of his songwriting and his ability to use his powerful sound. Even when they became a bit distracted during a short break for retuning, they chatted quietly amongst themselves which died down when Oliver started fingerpicking his next song, providing an aural massage to soothe the restless crowd. Silence and rapt attention prevailed when the singing rang out once again.

There was a blend of influences in his music, combining American soul with accompanying vocal growls and the softly accented whispers and open chords of contemporary folk. None of these seemed contrived or forced, having been part of his musical upbringing. His lyrics are intelligent without being pretentious and down-at-home folksy without being  parochial. The guitar playing was technically impressive but not painfully so, the technique being used to provide a shimmer to a performance already full of depth, spirit and character.

An untapped seam of musical gold

This was highlighted halfway through his set in “Master Chancer”, a song that Oliver had been working on since the age of 16. This dedication shone through as the multilayered tune combining rhythmic double stops, slinky fret slides and sizzling trills. The shift from major to minor chords and back again also added to the ebb and flow of the song’s moods.

On the strength of  last year’s performance, he was asked back to support Midge Ure, definitely holding his own and providing a fitting introduction to the Ultravox and Band Aid frontman. He used the sound, the stage, his voice and his guitar to full effect, wowing the crowd whose appreciation rang through at the end with their loud applause and respectful cheering. The mixed audience seemed to be won over by this talented young figure on stage, one lady even asking me what cover versions he was playing as he was that good. For a masterclass in understated showmanship, Oliver Richards is an untapped seam of musical gold.

For Dave’s exclusive after-show interview with Oliver click here:

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[For up and coming gigs and other Oliver-related news go to the OR Promotions webpage]