Tuesday, 29 December 2015

RIP Lemmy

On 28th March 1981 I paid my second and final visit to the Queen's Hall in Leeds: both visits had been memorable, for different reasons. My first, some time in 1978, was to see The Stranglers, and on the way to catch the coach to the gig (trip organised by the Sixth Form society at school) I was knocked off my moped and sustained a sprained ankle - so no pogo-ing, sadly. My second was to see Motörhead, on the tour that was to form the basis of their Number 1 live album, 'No Sleep 'til Hammersmith'.

The venue was an acoustically poor barn of a place, but for Motörhead that didn't really matter. They were all about energy, speed and volume, and as we spent most of the evening trying to get our heads as close as possible to the bass bins sound quality didn't really matter (for at least a week afterwards too!)

What I remember was the band's sheer love of the music and of life itself, and Lemmy, as front-man and singer, epitomised this. He lived the true rock 'n' roll lifestyle: he allegedly drank a bottle of Jack Daniels a day for the best part of 30 years, and it was his drug habits that led to his departure from Hawkwind in 1975. Intelligent, witty and devil-may-care, he will be remembered as one of rock music's true icons.

The next life will be a much louder place from now on!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Music of 2015

And so another year slowly reaches its climax, and here again is my look back at the music (mainly, though not exclusively, Progressive Rock) that has entertained and delighted me over the past 12 months. As with the last three years, this has been another wonderful year - we are living in a very creative time for progressive music at the moment, and making my selection has not been easy.

Before I run through my Top 20 albums of the year (and another 18 that I thought to be of particular note), a few other categories:

Live Albums
Three live recordings have really stood out to me, all of them quite brilliant.
3. Anubis - Behind our Eyes (Live 2014): some great prog from the Aussie boys
2. Lifesigns - Live in London-Under the Bridge: long-awaited, but worth it!
1. Snarky Puppy - Sylva: always recorded live, and always outstanding.

Discoveries of the Year
Acts that I've only become aware of in the past 12 months, that have really stood out.
3. The Room - although their debut appeared in 2012, it's only this year that I've discovered their melodic, catchy music. A great band live, and their sophomore effort 'Beyond the Gates of Bedlam' takes them a step further to recognition they richly deserve.
2. Louise Le May - A beautiful voice singing equally enthralling songs, Louise's voice reminds me in places of Judy Dyble. This folky delight needs to be heard wider, I think.
1. Tiger Moth Tales - Has I delayed my year-end list in 2014 for a further week, then Peter Jones' debut, 'Cocoon', with its evocations of childhood, would've featured highly. Since then, he has been almost prolific, producing his second album in the space of 4 weeks, as well as a collection of Genesis covers and a number of live shows. Here is a true talent.

Gigs of the Year
I've managed to get to a few shows this year: here are my Top 10, in no particular order except for the top 3
Abel Ganz & The Room @ CRS, Maltby
Cloud Atlas & Lifesigns @ Fibbers, York
The Enid @ Holy Trinity Church, Leeds
Fish & Lazuli @ Sheffield City Hall
Steve Hackett @ Leeds Town Hall
Lazuli & Alan Reed @ CRS, Maltby
Howard Sinclair & Heidi Widdop @ Wesley Hall Crookes, Sheffield

3. An Evening with Andy Tillison  @ Wesley Hall Crookes, Sheffield - a wonderfully intimate evening with Andy playing pieces from his Tangent, Po90 and solo material as well as some excellent improvisations and great banter
2. Steven Wilson @ Bridgewater Hall, Manchester - a quite simply stunning show on the Hand.Cannot. Erase tour: visually and aurally mind-blowing
1. Big Big Train @ King's Place, London - a show so good I attended the following night as well! Exquisite music played to perfection by an octet at the top of their game (and such a wonderful bunch of people too!)

And so to my favourite albums of 2015. But before I count down, I must mention a couple of EPs from the year: Big Big Train released 'Wassail' from their forthcoming 'Folklore' album alongside a couple of new tracks, 'Lost Rivers of London' and 'Mudlarks', and a live in the studio rendition of 'Master James of St George' from 'The Underfall Yard'; and David Longdon, along with Christina Booth & Rob Reed from Magenta, Nicks Beggs & D'Virgilio and Steve Hackett produced a wonderful new version of 'Spectral Mornings' with lyrics written by David. Both of these EPs were outstanding in their own particular ways and, although not full albums, merited mention in this year-end review.

Bubbling under the top twenty, in alphabetical order :
Alco Frisbas - Alco Frisbas
Anekdoten - Until All The Ghosts Are Gone
Beardfish - +4626-Comfortzone
Comedy of Errors - Spirit
The Enid - The Bridge
David Gilmour - Rattle That Lock
Grand Tour - Heavy On The Beach
Steve Hackett - Wolflight
Iron Maiden - The Book Of Souls
IZZ - Everlasting Instant
Karfagen - 7
Dave Kerzner - New World (Deluxe Edition)
Mew - +-
Mystery - Delusion Rain
Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space
Tom Slatter - Fit The Fourth
The Unthanks - Mount The Air
We Are Kin - Pandora

The Top 20
20. Unified Past - Shifting The Equilibrium
19. Nad Sylvan - Courting The Widow
18. Lonely Robot - Please Come Home
17. Built For The Future - Chasing Light
16. 3RDegree - Ones & Zeros
15. Riverside - Love, Fear & The Time Machine
14. The Room - Beyond The Gates Of Bedlam
13. Pasajero Luminoso - Afuerino
12. Karnataka - Secrets Of Angels
11. Louise Le May - A Tale Untold
10. Advent - Silent Sentinel
 9. Thieves' Kitchen - The Clockwork Universe
 8. John McLaughlin - Black Light
 7. Perfect Beings - II
 6. Snarky Puppy - Sylva

 5. echolyn - I Hear You Listening
     Another quite brilliant set of songs from this US group, a fitting follow-up to their eponymous 2012 offering
 4. Tiger Moth Tales - Storytellers Part 1
     Great musicianship, story-telling, and humour from the talented Peter Jones, and all written & recorded in a month!
 3. Theo Travis' Double Talk - Transgression
     Some exceptional jazz from the multi-instrumental maestro and his friends
 2. Steven Wilson - Hand.Cannot.Erase
     A haunting piece, full of musical dexterity and harrowing stories. Definitely on a par with 'The Raven Who Refused To Sing'.

 1. The Tangent - A Spark In The Aether
      An album that grabbed me on first listen and hasn't let me go all year. Andy Tillison has gathered a magnificent band of musicians around his own outstanding talent to give us a collection of songs full of energy, wit and imagination. From the excitement of the opening title track, the nostalgia of 'Codpieces and Capes', the dreaming of 'Clearing the Attic', the evocation of 'Aftereugene', and the aural pilgrimage of 'The Celluloid Road', this is a group of songs that take you on a journey of discovery and adventure. Quite simply brilliant.

(And yes, I have noticed that Theo Travis plays on the top 3 albums)

So there you have it: my 2015 in music. 2016 already has some great treats in store: here's to another epic year!

Sunday, 13 December 2015


Last weekend, Storm Desmond hit the North West of Britain, bringing a months-worth of rain in 24 hours, and flooding and devastation to a number of communities around Cumbria. One of those communities affected by the deluge was Kendal, where I am currently based.

The first I knew that something big was happening was when I received a phone call around lunchtime on Saturday 5th December, asking if I could come to one of our churches, Sandylands Methodist Church, to help with evacuating some of the local houses. Fearing that driving there might be problematic, my wife Jude & I set off to walk. It was evident very early on in our journey that the River Kent was very high, and by the time we reached the bridge over the river it was almost high enough to breach the bridge! In fact, shortly after we had crossed, the police decided to close the bridge in fear for its stability.

The evacuation effort was under way when we arrived, and hot drinks, towels and soup were provided for those who needed them, as was childcare and muscle-power to take furniture upstairs in some of the affected houses. But the rain kept coming, and by 5:30pm we were told to evacuate the evacuation centre, as the water was threatening to get in. So we made our way home, at times through water above knee-high. Showered and changed, another call came to get to another evacuation centre, in the Town Hall. By this stage all of the main roads in and out of Kendal were impassible, and among the folk holed-up at the Town Hall was a bus-load of day trippers from the Wirral who couldn't get home.

The rain finally stopped in the small hours of Sunday 6th, when the enormity of the damage began to become evident. The church on Sandylands had flooded to a depth of about 2 feet in places, and was technically unusable. Such technicalities didn't stop them, however, and it quickly became a hub for help, advise and practical support to the hundreds of homes on that estate alone which had been swamped by the rising waters. Local charities and supermarket chains provided cleaning materials, food and other essentials, and people from the community and beyond rallied round to help in the clean-up. Sadly, many of the people were uninsured, or under-insured, and local businesses lost plant and premises.

The leaders of the church met on Tuesday evening to take stock, and as part of our meeting we were asked how were feeling. The best way to sum up my feelings then, and now, is the word Overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the damage caused by the water, and by the volume of it.
Overwhelmed too by the burden of responsibility on me in my new role as a Circuit Superintendent, which if I'm honest left me feeling lost, confused, out of my depth and wanting to run away (I didn't).
Overwhelmed by the energy, stamina, dedication and organisation of my colleagues at Sandylands, Wendy & Jonny, who have both spent the last week going above and beyond, doing all in their power (and beyond it) to hold that community together; to be the heart and soul and strength of an estate reeling from what hit it last Saturday. What they have achieved has been phenomenal, and has been rightly praised by the secular authorities as setting the standard for this kind of relief work.
Overwhelmed by the willingness of people who have volunteered to help with practical problems such as house-clearance, advice on where to find help with housing, insurance issues.
Overwhelmed by the generosity of the Kendal people, and those outside our town, who have given clothing, bedding, food, transport, money and even houses, to help those in need.
Overwhelmed by a community coming together for each other, truly saying 'We're all in this together'.
I hope in one sense that I never have to face something like this again in my ministry. But in another sense, I hope that all churches, and all communities, could demonstrate the same spirit, the same support, the same 'koinonia' (fellowship), the same 'agape' (unconditional love) that I have seen over the past week.

I have been overwhelmed.