Saturday, 30 June 2012

Mike & the Mechanics @ Holmfirth

Mike Rutherford is, of course, one of the leading lights of British Rock music, having been a fouder member of Genesis and, along with Tony Banks, the only consistent member of the band throughout their 45-year history. Since 1985 Rutherford has also worked with his own side-project, Mike & the Mechanics. The band spawned a number of hit songs in the late 1980s and early 1990s, using the vocal talents of the late Paul Young and Paul Carrack. Having gone into hiatus following the 2004 release 'Rewired', Rutherford recently resurrected the band with a new line-up, bringing in the vocal talents of Tim Howar and Andrew Roachford.

That new band came to the Picturedrome in Holmfirth last night, and entertained a full house of around 600 people to a selection of music spanning the band's catalogue, and those of the band's members. It was lively, high-energy performance which had the crowd on their feet for just about 1½ hours. As well as classics from the band's repertoire such as 'All I need is a Miracle', 'Silent Running', 'Over My Shoulder', 'The Living Years', 'Word of Mouth', 'Beggar on a Beach of Gold', 'Another Cup of Coffee' and 'Get Up', the band performed songs from their latest album 'The Road', and also delighted the audience with a handful of Genesis and Roachford numbers. Tim Howar threw himself into a very passable rendition of 'Throwing it all Away', bringing the vigour that Phil Collins does to a live rendition of the song, as he did with 'Follow You, Follow Me' and 'I Can't Dance'. Andrew Roachford brought a wonderful soulful atmosphere to the show - at times reminiscent of James Brown's cameo in the Blues Brothers (My wife commented that she was almost expecting back-flips down the aisle at one point!) He gave us very powerful versions of his songs 'This Generation' and his massive hit 'Cuddly Toy'. Behind all this energy, Mike Rutherford stood quietly and often understatedly, but clearly in control of the music. This was soulful pop-rock at the top of its game.

Before this main attraction was the support act. This is always a difficult slot to fill: after all the people in front of you have not payed good money to see someone they've never heard of! I have to confess though that I have a slightly blinkered opinion of the support last night, as it was my son, Mike. He writes his own songs and plays on his own with an acoustic guitar and I thought he was brilliant (but then I would, wouldn't I!?) The crowd really warmed to him, the rapport was excellent and he even had them singing along to one of the songs towards the end of the set. If you've not come across him you can find out more here or here.

All in all a great night: I got to see one of my rock heroes, and Mike played the gig of his life (so far). I'm one proud dad.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Banks of Eden

Roine Stolt, although not perhaps widely known outside his native Sweden or the halls of 'Progdom', must be one of the hardest working musicians around. Alongside his major musical project, the Flower Kings, he has also in recent years produced music with Agents of Mercy, Karmakanic and prog 'super group' Transatlantic. His 'baby', The Flower Kings, have been in a state of hiatus for five years - since the release of 'The Sum of No Evil', which has given him space to explore these other musical avenues, but now that hiatus is over with the release of 'Banks of Eden'.

If you include Stolt's debut solo album 'The Flower King', this is the band's twelfth studio release since 1994. It contains all the characteristics of a Flower Kings offering: keyboard and guitar-driven tunes; lyrics laced with spirituality and a thinly-veiled dose of hippy idealism of love, peace and universal harmony; soaring solos, symphonic forms and an opening track of epic length. This is what Stolt & the Kings do well, and this latest collection, I'm sure, will not disappoint.

The Flower Kings seem to major in epic songs: their albums have never failed to include at least one song of 10 minutes plus - usually more than one, and sometimes of 25 minutes and more. The opening track, 'Numbers', clocks in at 25:27 and picks up musical themes that are developed later in the piece. The musicianship throughout is of the consistently high standard that one has come to expect of this collection of fine musicians, with Stolt, Jonas Reingold, Tomas Bodin, and Hasse Fröberg weaving their magic alongside drumming newcomer Felix Lehermann. Interestingly (for me anyway) this is the shortest of the albums produced by the group - the only one clocking in at under an hour in length. But what we have is quality material, and underlines their place as one of the finest exponents of Progressive Rock music today.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

To be a Pilgrim

Last year at this time I, along with a few other hardy souls, embarked on a walk around our Methodist circuit, primarily as a fund-raiser for one of my congregations. It went very well and raised about £1,000 towards a £20k total, but it also gave us a wonderful opportunity to pray around the churches too.

So, this year I decided to repeat the exercise, but solely as a prayer exercise. I was joined by 6 others as we set off, one of whom left after 5 miles to attend his grandson's first birthday party. The rest of us made it through many heavy showers to the lunchtime stop, about 10 miles into the walk, when a family of 4 had to leave us too (including two children, who'd done really well to keep up with us). The remaining two of us completed the walk in rain and wind.

It was a great encouragement to me, and I think to the others, to find people waiting for us at the churches, to offer us refreshment and to pray with us as we travelled round. There is a lot of good work going on across the churches, and it was wonderful to hear about it and bring it to God in prayer, as well as to share prayer concerns for those in need.

As I've already hinted, the weather was not particularly kind to us, but we didn't get discouraged. In fact I found myself going back to those words of John Bunyan as we walked: "There's no discouragement will make him once relent his first avowed intent to be a pilgrim. I got home tired but enlivened by the experience again. Will we do it again next year? We'll see.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Celebrating Community

Photo: Big Jubilee LunchThis weekend the nation celebrates 60 years reign of Queen Elizabeth II. We will all find different ways to do it, but at Wesley Ebenezer Methodist Church, a multi-site church with two congregations in Walkley & Crookes, Sheffield we did so by sharing food with the local community, building and strengthening links between the churches and folk in the surrounding streets.

On Saturday morning a group of us from the Methodist and Anglican congregations in Walkley set up a stall on the main street and gave away cups of tea, coffee and squash to anyone who wanted one, as well as cakes and biscuits. Some very good conversations were had with old and new friends, and quite a number of people were surprised and delighted that someone was giving stuff for free, with no strings attached. It was good to meet them away from church buildings and share something of God's love with them in a practical way.

On Sunday, after our usual meeting for worship, we gathered in the Church hall at Wesley Hall, Crookes to share lunch with the local people. We had hoped that this would be a barbecue in the church car park, but the weather was not kind to us in that respect, so we had to eat indoors. We still barbecued outside, under a tent! About 100 people came and shared with us, and all those who came were given a copy of a commemorative edition of the New Testament. Again, a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate God's love.

It has been wonderful to be able to share with our communities in this way, and I hope that we will be able to do something similar again soon.