Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Stranglers

The Stranglers
by Pete Clemons

I have to say that I was personally delighted when I heard that The Stranglers were going to headline the Friday evening of the Godiva Festival 2017. Having seen them play live on many occasions I do admit that they really are a guilty pleasure of mine.

This band is one of the UK’s most popular and successful groups to have emerged from the punk rock era. For well over thirty years they have produced a host of studio and live albums. And, still today, they continue to sell out venues up and down the country.

Formed as The Guildford Stranglers in 1974 the band was, at first, a part of the London pub rock scene. However from 1976 they became more associated with the growing punk rock movement.

They were formed by drummer Jet Black, who was then well into his 30s. Joining Jet were bass player Jean-Jacques Burnel, guitarist Hugh Cornwell and, a short while later, keyboard player Dave Greenfield.

Looking back to those days though, and the gigs I attended, the band members were not averse to jumping off the stage and thumping the punk element of the audience who thought the idea of ‘gobbing’ at the band was a term of endearment.

Jean-Jacques Burnel has since been quoted as saying that in retrospect ‘he thought of himself as part of punk’ at the time, as they were inhabiting the same space, but he would like to think that the Stranglers ‘were more than punk’.

The punk rock movement spread like a wild fire up and down the country. New bands seemed to spring up from nowhere on a weekly basis. And the cities outside of London, particularly Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, became engulfed by it all.

And there was no denying that this new musical genre had, quite early on, fired up the imaginations of Coventry’s youth as well as inspiring the minds of the more musically talented and creating a do it yourself ethic that covered everything from the music itself to the clothing.

Coventry’s branch of Virgin Records who, at that time were based in the city Arcade close to the birdcage, soon became the hub for buying these records and a magnet for all those who those who wanted to discuss the new bands with a very knowledgeable staff who included future Specials drummer John Bradbury and photographer extraordinaire John Coles. But punk rock brought with it a large amount of bad publicity.

For Coventry it had all started well with early visits by some of punk rock’s major names. However a country-wide ban on punk by the Tiffany’s empire, during the early part of 1977, brought the gigging scene, as far as punk bands were concerned, to a halt.

From then on, and for about nine months, things went relatively quiet in terms of ‘major’ punk bands visiting Coventry on a regular basis. A few of them, namely The Stranglers and Elvis Costello and the Attractions slipped into Coventry under the radar but it wasn’t until September 1977 that the onslaught really began.

Tiffany’s ban was eventually lifted during August 1977 and when asked how the venue was going to prepare for a punk invasion in Coventry, the then manager, ‘Aubrey Marsden’ said ‘the only thing the company now draws the line at are ‘striptease shows’.

But it was not just Tiffany’s that suddenly gave punk rock a warm reception. At almost the same time Mr Georges Club also found a mid-week slot for punk beginning with a three band night London, The Swords and The Victims. And, to a lesser degree La Chaumiere in The Burges, attracted local punk influenced bands like The Flys, and The Wild Boys. For the next 18 months or so it was an amazing and wonderful time for Coventry indeed.

Back to The Stranglers. Today they still have Jean-Jacques Burnel and Dave Greenfield in the ranks. They are also completed by guitarist and vocalist Baz Warne who has been associated with the band for almost 20 years.

As for the drum seat, it is my understanding that Jet Black is still an official member of the band. However, due to ill health and the fact that he is now 78 years old, he is no longer the touring drummer.

Jet was certainly not present on the last tour when I saw them at the Leamington Assembly. Instead his duties were taken by a guy called Jim MacAulay. And it appears that Jim is in-fact now the touring drummer for the band.

Steven Wilson to visit the Midlands

Steven Wilson to visit the Midlands
by Pete Clemons

At the time I last put digit to keyboard and put a few words together about Steven Wilson, his third studio album ‘The Raven That Refused to Sing’, was about to be released.

Without the backing of major promotion ‘The Raven’ reached the top 30 of the UK album charts and was also very popular in Europe.

A supporting tour across Europe and North America during the early part of 2013 was followed up by further European dates, including a sold out date at The Royal Albert Hall, along with gigs in Australia toward the end of the same year.

Steven’s fourth album ‘Hand.Cannot.Erase.’ was released during February 2015 and also crashed into the album charts. Critically acclaimed, The Guardian newspaper called it ‘a smart, soulful and immersive work of art’. Others called it ‘a masterpiece’. Once again, a major tour promoted the album that took into further territories that including South America.

Now Steven has his fifth album ‘To The Bone’ on the horizon and this time a date in Coventry, as well as the Symphony Hall Birmingham, has been included in the itinerary.

There have been several tasters for the album released to the internet, but being an old fashioned kind of listener I would personally prefer to wait until the album has been released, during August 2017, and hear it in its full glory. But they are out there to be viewed.

Having not being tempted by the tasters I cannot comment on the album at all. However I can relay some of the comments I have read about what is to come:

A gloriously dynamic modernistic pop record. Fusing futuristic rock and spectoral elecronics with elegant atmospheres and wild guitars. To The Bone references the hugely ambitious Progressive Pop records that inspired Wilson in his teens. Lyrically, the album’s eleven tracks encompass the paranoid chaos of the post-truth era and the creeping self-loathing of the technology age, as well as steely fly on the wall observations of the everyday lives of religious fundamentalists and a welcome shot or two of wide eyed escapism. To The Bone is a high definition snapshot of the disconcerting times we live in.

Another major piece of news is that Steven recently signed for Caroline Records. For those with long memories, you may remember Caroline as a subsidiary of Richard Branson’s Virgin Records label. At the time it specialised in progressive rock and jazz influenced artists.

Nowadays Caroline is fully American owned and appears to have widened its horizons and releases records by a whole range of artists.

On his signing for Caroline Steven said ‘I’m absolutely delighted to be entering into partnership with Michael roe and his team at Caroline for my next album. Although Caroline exist within the Universal Music Group, their philosophy allows me to remain creatively independent, while at the same time providing the ‘muscle’ that being with a major organisation brings. This makes it a perfect home for me, and I’m happy to now be label mates with some of the most respected musicians in the industry’.

So back to the tour planned to begin during March 2018. The Warwick Arts Centre gig will be held on Thursday 15th with the visit to the Symphony Hall being a week after on the 22nd. And tickets appear to be selling very well.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Stone Foundation

Stone Foundation
By Pete Clemons

Nowadays, the music business is a very strange and fickle place. At one end of the spectrum you have the artists who gain instant, but relatively, short lived success that comes via the TV reality programs. And at the other end of the scale you have bands that plod on for many years, ploughing a furrow of their own, slowly growing and building a solid fan base.

And although this band has received little radio play or mainstream exposure, a Warwickshire based band have followed the latter path. And it was a path that the band was brave enough to take as they always believed it was the right one for them to take.

And now it seems that the courage of their convictions is beginning to bear fruit. After great dedication and a lot of hard work, Stone Foundation have, at long last, are crossing the brow of that hill. And the music world is beginning to take notice.

2017 has so far proved to be an incredible year for Stone Foundation. Their latest album, the critically acclaimed ‘Street Rituals’, was released during March. It comes two years on from the equally impressive ‘A Life Unlimited’.

Since the release of ‘Street Rituals’ the band have a sold out gig at the Islington Assembly. Their single, ‘Back in the Game’ has topped the UK vinyl singles chart. The band has paid a return visit performed concerts in Japan. They are due to tour for the first time in Ireland. And a date at Glastonbury awaits them.

There is a song on the ‘Street Rituals’ album titled ‘Love Revisited’. And when I first heard that track I distinctly remember thinking, how fitting a title it was. For me it kind of summed up the album as a whole. It was as if a whole style of music, that you rarely hear nowadays, was being completely revisited. And the music listening public at large seem to be enjoying it also.

Despite the song writing revolving around social issues it still manages to remain an optimistic listen.

The production talents of Paul Weller are indelibly stamped all over this album. He even performs on a track. However, and with all due respect to Paul, the success of this record is down to some strong song writing. It is this that has elevated Stone Foundation to the next level.

The album incorporates a diversity of musical styles. As with past Stone Foundation albums there is definitely a soulful direction with this music. But, to these ears at least, it also emphasizes more funk and R ‘n’ B influences than previously heard.
The band, formed at least a dozen years ago, comprises founder members Neil Jones (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Neil Sheasby (bass). In addition, and performing on the latest album, you have (deep breath) Phillip K. Ford (drums), Ian Arnold (Hammond organ, piano), Rob Newton (percussion), Paul Speare (baritone sax, tenor sax and flute), Gary Rollins (tenor saxophone, flute), Dave Boraston (trumpet and flugelhorn), Gareth John (trumpet), Anthony Gaylard (alto sax), Adam Stevens (baritone sax) and many others.

During their existence, Stone Foundation has regularly performed under their own steam, in small clubs. They have also being invited to support major bands, on the larger arena tours.

It has been in those smaller venues where I have seen the band several times. Always immaculately turned out they never fail to create a buzz. These foundations are well on the rise.