Top Ten Concerts from 2014

kate_doug_hamThis year has been one of the greatest ever for live music based on the sheer number of amazing rock concerts I was privileged to witness. Many milestones were hit – Kate Bush performing 22 sold out shows in London 35 years after her first and only tour – Stevie Wonder doing all of Songs in the Key of Life – his masterwork from which had never played more than 3-4 numbers – Fleetwood Mac with Christine McVie back after 16 years absence from touring – Yusuf / Cat Stevens, back in the U.S. 38 years since his last appearance here. To top it off, Sir Paul McCartney, playing the final event at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, the site of the last Beatles concert some 50 years prior. So quite a few firsts, which may become “lasts” – one never knows.

Special mention this year goes to the “progressive rock cruise” called Cruise to the Edge. On that journey my lovely wife joined me and we saw Steve Hackett, Yes, UK, Tangerine Dream, Marillion, and most importantly for me, Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM, from Italy) and Three Friends (Gentle Giant’s guitarist Gary Green and drummer Malcolm with full band of hired help). Both of these shows were absolutely fantastic – both celebrating 70’s progressive rock and keeping it alive with surprising precision and power.

Hard to pick a top ten out of these, but here goes:

  1. Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo Theater, London

IMG_1127This was one of those “Once-in-a-lifetime” experiences as we witnessed the third of what were 22 highly anticipated Kate Bush concerts she staged after 35 years absence. As the night’s proceedings and the accompanying media frenzy proved, this long absence was a terrible shame. Focusing on The Hounds of Love (1985) and Aerial (2005) irked some fans, but it gave her the chance to perform two acts of the best rock theater ever staged – heights only reached by the likes of Pink Floyd and Genesis. Absolutely brilliant – here’s hoping they filmed it as well!

  1. Three Friends (Gentle Giant), CTTE

P1000511Because I had not been able to see Gentle Giant until their last ever show at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles, I had not seen them perform many of their complex classic works live. Gary Green (guitar) and Malcolm Mortimore (drums) hired a band of crack musicians calling themselves Three Friends and changed all that on the cruise as they tore through almost all of the third Gentle Giant album, Three Friends (1972) along with something from almost every record made between their debut and Interview. Early in they played “The Moon is Down” – one of four tracks they would include from Acquiring the Taste (1971). They perfectly nailed this dense composition going beyond all expectations. For this fan the whole experience was true nirvana.

  1. Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM), CTTE 

P1000160PFM was Italy’s answer to the British progressive rock invasion of the ‘70’s. Their records were unique, beautiful, and completely original. We had been able to catch them early in this millennia at a prog rock festival, but the shows on the cruise beat that, as the band covered lots of tracks from their first five releases, along with a few more recent, including one from PFM In Classic – Da Mozart A Celebration. A highlight of the show was their performance of “Promenade The Puzzle”, an early classic with brilliant lyrics by former King Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield.  It was a truly rare treat to witness these maestros perform live, and to interview them for Gonzo Weekly as well!

  1. Yusuf / Cat Stevens, Nokia Live Theater, Los Angeles

cat3Cat Stevens has been absent from the stage in the U.S. for 38 years. The first concert I ever attended was his last – the Majikat tour in 1976 with my sister Sue. My 7th grade Social Studies teacher had us reading and interpreting his lyrics in class, focusing on his seminal album Tea for the Tillerman. At that first concert, in my 15th year, I discovered the amazing impact seeing an artist perform live could have on a heart. “The Wind” was the first song on the set list back then, and again when Yusuf / Cat Stevens came to the Nokia Live theater in December. What was surprising and gratifying about this show was that he chose songs from his whole career, including the Foreigner suite, Days of the Old Schoolyard from IsItSo, and others. His voice is aged like fine wine and the show was superb.

  1. Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life Tour, Oakland Arena

stevie_bandUnbelievable, fantastic, heartwarming, tear jerking joyous show in which one of our finest artists played his entire masterwork from 1976, sounding like he’s never aged a day since. Joined by 30 musicians including a 10 piece orchestra, 6 piece horn section, three keyboard players, three drummers, numerous backup singers, bass, and guests, each track was played with it’s perfect accompaniment, whether that meant Stevie alone, as on “If It’s Magic” or all 30 as with the anthemic finale “As”.

  1. King Crimson, Warfield Theater, San Francisco

KC_Oct4_BowThis progressive rock juggernaut brought their seven-man supersonic distortion machine to the states for a series of highly anticipated concerts. These were epic events for King Crimson fans. For the first time in what seems like forever, leader Robert Fripp agreed to dust off older tracks like “Pictures of a City” from In the Wake of Poseidon (1970), “Sailor’s Tale” and “The Letters” from Islands (1971). Given he had winds genius Mel Collins in the band they were able to reproduce those rare treats with surprising ferocity, particularly “The Letters” which was just stunning. The three-man drum assault was legendary. I’ve never seen Robert appear more happy and excited to be addressing his followers!

  1. Elbow, Fox Theater, Oakland

P1010130Elbow played one of the top shows we’ve seen this year.  Singer Guy Garvey led the group through a lengthy set that included much of the latest album, along with highlights from their catalog of recordings.  What was really impressive is how this singer emotes and connects with the audience.  At times the languid pace threatens to overstay it’s welcome, but this band can meander between slow and soulful to more medium paced bits, building the dynamics of a song until the audience can be swept up in the emotion and joy of their beautiful melodies, their meaningful lyrics, and Guy’s silky smooth vocal delivery.  In this way I would compare them to The National – one of the other great live acts seen last spring.

  1. The National, Greek Theater, Oakland

P1000846The band were in fine form this year, supporting 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, driving their slow burning moody compositions to lovely crescendos – punctuating dark passages with horns and carefully placed guitars and keys to enliven the procession.  Matt is a baritone and as such inhabits the sound spectrum at the low end, spilling out his unique lyrics, huddling over his mic, or stalking the stage to accentuate the sound of their work.  This time out, the band backed the volume down during key passages, allowing Matt to be heard clearly and gain additional dynamics in the mix – a clever way to help connect him and the band to the audience.  The show was a wonderful demonstration of their wares – the best yet for this viewer.

  1. The Eels, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

Eels_closeupThis American alt-rock band played the best and most impactful show I’ve seen them deliver here in the city. Since so much of singer-songwriter E’s music does tend toward dark and painful subjects (he calls it “soft bummer pop”), his work in large quantities can threaten to depress. However on this night, the crack band of musicians aided the man, teetering perfectly between the melancholy and happy, quirky sides of his catalog, peppering the sadder tracks with the upbeat. Notably, E sang several covers, including lovely renditions of “When You Wish Upon A Star,” (okay small tears were shed) “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis and “Turn on Your Radio” by the similarly underrated and wonderful Nilsson. Friends of soft-bummer pop unite!

  1. Fleetwood Mac, Oakland Arena, Oakland
Christine McVie
Christine McVie

The Mac is back! They rolled into the town for the “On With The Show” tour featuring the return of Christine McVie – singer, songwriter and keyboard player who left the band to retire some 16 years ago. The audience greeted her with rapturous applause. It was wonderful to hear the band whole again, back to their 1975 lineup, which endured for so many years producing mega hits on the albums “Fleetwood Mac” (1975) through Tango in the Night (1987).

 

paul_ticketHonorable mention goes out to other amazing artists we caught this year including Paul McCartney, Yes, UK, Steve Hackett (on his Genesis revisited tour), Kraftwerk, Queen (with “glambert”), Tom Petty, Neil Finn, Midlake, Daniel Lanois, America, Erasure, Elton John, Tears for Fears, Adrian Belew, Paula Frazer, The Musical Box and others. Thank you to Artina for being so open minded and musically inclined, and for taking so many of the best photos we shot during the year. I will have to renew that resolution to catch more new artists this year – we are starting in January with Ty Segall. Happy New Year, everyone….

Cat Stevens Leads Peace Train to City of Angels

cat4The first concert I ever attended was Cat Stevens in 1976 in Los Angeles, California with my sister Sue. That tour was to support his magical album Numbers in the United States, and was dubbed the “Majikat tour.” Back in those hippie days of the ‘70’s, many of us studied Cat Steven’s lyrics like poetic literature – indeed my 7th grade Social Studies teacher had us reading and interpreting his lyrics in the class room! I found something beautiful about his work, as did so many of the class who received a great gift at school that day – a deeper understanding of the meaningful impact music could have on their lives.  At my first concert, in my 15th year, I also discovered the amazing impact that seeing an artist perform their work live could have on a heart. After that show we were not to see Cat Stevens perform in town again until last Sunday night, December 14, 2014, some 38 years later, just months after Cat Stevens, now Yusuf Islam, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As the story of how this tragic absence came to pass is well told, let’s go on with the show.

cat5The tour was dubbed the “Peace Train Late Again” tour. The theme was peace, with a reference to Yusuf’s long absence from the stage, and more importantly the world as it is still, clearly not living in harmony.   While Yusuf made a few very short genteel statements during the show, he let the music and his lyrics speak for themselves – a fitting choice given his history with the press – misquoted and maligned.

cat2The stage backdrop was itself a wooden train station, on our night, the last night of this short U.S. tour, with the signpost announcing “Los Angeles” as the depot. The lighting was simple, and appropriate – frequently illuminating the crowd in white light as we all joined in the singing. The current six-piece band including original guitarist Alun Davies is vastly improved over the 1970’s crew, and the sound was fantastic.

cat3But the real attraction of all this was the man himself, and his messages, still delivered in fine raspy voice, with clear, crisp guitar, piano, and accompaniment. The edge is off the breathless, forceful delivery of the past, but the result is aged like fine wine. It was amazing to hear these songs arranged the way they had been so many years ago, each standing the test of time, and still sounding warm and resonant. Many of his key early tracks were included in the set list, beginning with opening song “The Wind” and it’s searching lyrics:

I listen to the wind
To the wind of my soul
Where I’ll end up, well, I think
Only God really knows

After the next four tracks, each covers, Yusuf launched into one of the highlights of the evening, “Miles From Nowhere” followed by “Sitting,” then at the piano, and shortly thereafter a fan favorite “Where Do the Children Play,” ending the first half with another heartwarming song of empowerment from the “Harold and Maude” movie soundtrack, “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out.” One of the covers in that first half was Curits Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” with it’s train a-comin’ which certainly fit the theme of the night, sung beautifully as if a lullaby.

cat1For the second half of the set, many more hits from the ‘70’s were performed including a beautiful rendition of “Trouble”, from my favorite album Mona Bone Jakon, as Yusuf made reference to it and so many of his early songs being written from a hospital bed as he struggled with that strange “medieval” affliction (Tuberculosis.) Also selected: “Oh Very Young,” “Moonshadow”, “Wild World,” “Father and Son,” “Sad Lisa” and a bluesy version of “Bitterblue.” The inclusion of part of the Foreigner suite, and “(Remember the Days of the) Old School Yard” were surprising given their historical rarity. Throughout the set, Yusuf added covers and many of his recent tracks, the best from this year’s excellent rock-n-blues release Tell ‘Em I’m Gone. The most effective of these “Big Boss Man” and “Dying to Live” are covers, while “Editing Floor Blues” is a driven, autobiographical original.

It occurred to me that with a few less covers, Yusuf could have delved a bit deeper into the back catalog, maybe even including something from Numbers and more from Catch Bull at Four, but all in all the set list was varied and appropriate to the theme of the night, placing Yusuf / Cat Stevens among his historical luminaries and their timeless art. By the end of the show, the enthusiastic audience had been reintroduced to this spiritual seeker, and his words of peace, just in time for one of the encores, “Peace Train”:

Oh, I’ve been smilin’ lately,
Dreamin’ about the world as one
And I believe it could be;
Some day it’s going to come

Introducing this one, Yusuf gently proclaimed, “The train hasn’t arrived yet, but we can still sing about it.” Let’s hope for another chance soon to sing along with this acclaimed troubadour of the heart. Peace, Out.

Stevie Wonder Sings in the Key of Love

stevie2Stevie Wonder played at the Oakland Arena Friday December 5, 2014 performing his 1976 masterwork, Songs In The Key of Life. He arrived amidst a series of tense protests in Oakland and across the country over the grand jury verdict that declined to indict a white New York cop over the choke-hold death of Eric Garner, a black man who was stopped by police for selling loose cigarettes earlier this year. While protesters took to the streets just blocks away from the concert venue, and even shut down highway 880 outside, Stevie took the stage to urge love and harmony for all people, acknowledging that there is still far to go with race relations, before launching into the entire 22 song suite for a show that lasted more than three rapturous hours.

stevie5The “Songs in the Key of Life” album is one of Stevie’s most accomplished, and certainly includes many of his most meaningful, touching lyrics. Some speak to race relations, but more reflect the positive experiences of his childhood, and praise God and love eternal. These messages were perfectly suited for the evening, and as he went through the set, key songs were introduced with stories and short statements. The album was presented in it’s entirety, beginning after a lengthy introduction and welcome, followed by a beautiful rendition of the first song, “Love’s In Need of Love Today” clearly articulating it’s sentiments in his undiminished tone:

stevie4Love’s in need of love today
Don’t delay
Send yours in right away
Hate’s goin’ round
Breaking many hearts
Stop it please
Before it’s gone too far

stevie_historiaEach song was presented as it’s own work of musical art, some with just Stevie and one or two accompanists, others with up to thirty backup musicians and singers, some part of the main band, some guests. The entire album was delivered at the highest level of excellence of any show I’ve seen. Stevie was in perfect voice, demonstrating his immense skills as a vocalist, and player of harmonica, piano, synthesizer, and other instruments. The music travels a wide range including R&B, soul, funk, gospel, fusion, and a dash of rock and it seemed perfectly fitting for such a substantial entourage to reproduce them. For the second track, Stevie brought India Ari to the fore singing “Have a Talk With God.” stevie_passtimeThe next track, “Village Ghetto Land” was performed by Stevie with just his ten-piece orchestra – a heartbreaking story of poverty and despair in the inner city. The six-piece horn section punctuated celebratory tracks “Sir Duke” and “I Wish” just as one would dare to hope. Bass from original collaborator Nathan Watts, along with three keyboard players, three guitarists, and as many drummers pumped up funky tracks like “Contusion” and “Black Man.” Backup singers included Stevie’s daughter, Aisha, herself introduced for the song “Isn’t She Lovely” written for her almost 40 years ago. All the performers rose to the occasion, surely realizing they were not just playing a normal concert, but performing one of the greatest albums of our time, with one of our greatest artists.

steve_harmonicaThe highlight for this witness were the last few songs, each a different ode to love. First, a wonderful version of “If It’s Magic” – Stevie singing along with a recording of original harpist Dorthy Ashby encouraging the crowd that “we must become more of a united people of these United States” with the lyrics,

If it’s magic
Why can’t we make it everlasting
Like the lifetime of the sun
It will leave no heart undone
For there’s enough for everyone

stevie_bandThis was followed by the one-two punch of “As” and “Another Star” the latter’s salsa beat punctuated by Oakland native’s Sheila E.’s raucous percussion at which point more than thirty performers covered the stage in praise and celebration. There were generous encores and fun after the main set, but I could have left then, feeling as full of joy as after any concert I’ve seen. Stevie took us to church that night, reminding us it’s possible to live in harmony, that there is more to do in our lives, more people to touch, and more to give. Until the day that is the day we are no more. Love, in.

Fleetwood Mac Go On With The Show

Christine McVie
Christine McVie

Fleetwood Mac rolled into the Oakland Arena on December 3, 2014. The headline for this tour is “On With The Show” featuring the return of Christine McVie – singer, songwriter and keyboard player who left the band to retire some 16 years ago. The audience greeted her with rapturous applause, and after the opening track “The Chain” the band launched directly into one of her best, “You Make Loving Fun.” It was wonderful to hear the band whole again, back to their 1975 lineup, which endured for so many years producing mega hits on the albums “Fleetwood Mac” (1975) through Tango in the Night (1987).

FM_christinebackFor their set list, the band focused on their hits, which has been the norm for the last several tours. As such, the addition of Christine’s tracks “You Make Loving Fun,” “Everywhere,” “Say You Love Me,” “Over My Head,” “Little Lies,” and as the second encore, a beautiful rendition of “Songbird,” with her on grand piano, front and center, helped to freshen the set list.

Mac's Songbird
Mc’Songbird

The rest of the song selections alternated between Stevie and Lindsey’s lead vocal tracks, all of which they have been featuring since 1998. My only wish would be for the band to pull out some more rare tracks, such as “Warm Ways,” “I Don’t Want to Know” or one of Christine’s tracks from Tusk, particularly “Brown Eyes.” I half expected they might pull out “Hypnotized” to pay tribute to Bob Welch who passed away in 2012, but not so. Having said all that, it’s understandable that they focused on their most reliable hits and crowd pleasers, now that they are five once more.

Lindsay Fingerpicking
Lindsay Fingerpicking

The lighting and staging for the show was top notch – the latest in movable screen panels and track lighting used to enrich the events on stage. The main feature was the huge hi-def projection system that filled the screen behind the risers, used for imagery that matched and accentuated the songs, and then also used for closed circuit video of the band in performance. This was particularly effective in capturing the band member’s skills and techniques with live close-ups of their playing.

FM_lindsayafraidAnd what a musical, lyrical performance it was. Lindsey was in top form with his amazing, dexterous fingerpicking style, the likes of which I’ve never seen from any other rock guitarist. Perennial favorites including the explosive acoustic guitar on “Big Love” or the rockin’ blues attack on “I’m So Afraid” fully displayed his remarkable skills and pliant voice. Stevie sounded as good as I’ve heard her, nailing classics like “Sisters of the Moon” and “Landslide” whether the phrase was soft or forceful. Christine sounded great and again made a big difference in the overall sound. Her backing vocals were also quite noticeable on the other songs that featured one of her band mates on lead vocals.

Stevie's Gypsy
Stevie’s Gypsy

What was really noticeable was how personable the band members were. Time was taken between tracks for some fun stories – the longest being Stevie’s intro to “Gypsy” during which she encouraged the audience to follow their dreams. She talked about how she and Lindsey got their start in the bay area, poor but working hard, and described the San Francisco shop “Velvet Underground” with it’s beautiful painted floor and stacks of rock frocks, where all the stars of the era like Janis Joplin, Grace Slick and others shopped for their stage clothing. The already potent lyrics were made more meaningful by the intro:

So I’m back to the velvet underground
Back to the floor that I love
To a room with some lace and paper flowers
Back to the gypsy that I was to the gypsy that I was

FM_fleetwoodThis is the stuff from which great live shows are made, and we got a bit from Christine and Lindsay as well, and at the end of the show receiving another heartfelt sendoff from Stevie and a final farewell from drummer Mick Fleetwood with his characteristic “The Mac is Back!” Indeed, they are.

Lee Pomeroy’s Progressive Journey

Lee_wRick
Lee Pomeroy with Rick Wakeman

Lee Pomeroy is a multi-instrumentalist; composer, producer and band member or session bass guitarist for the likes of Headspace, It Bites, Take That, Gary Barlow, ELO and others. Lee’s work as live performer includes tours with some of the top progressive rock acts in the world, hailing back to classic era stars such as Steve Hackett (Genesis), Three Friends (Gentle Giant), and Rick Wakeman’s English Rock Ensemble. This means that besides his own fabulous compositions, Lee has performed work originally developed by the likes of Michael Rutherford (Genesis), Ray Shulman (Gentle Giant) and Roger Newell (Rick Wakeman) – some illustrious company! He plays the original progressive masterworks from these artists faithfully and with technical mastery, but also with feeling – bringing his own unique interpretation and infectious energy and enthusiasm. Seeing him perform live is a marvelous experience.

I reached out to Lee recently to find out more about his work, and what’s coming next for his career.

Lee what led to your abiding interest in progressive rock?

I think I was drawn to progressive rock because of my two older brothers who used to play records that I would end up hearing and I think it just settled in my brain at a young age. They didn’t only play prog rock though, they’d play heavy rock, pop, reggae, jazz, classical and electronic music too so I grew up liking Bowie, Be Bop Deluxe, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, The Zombies, Argent, Bob Marley, Genesis, Yes, Gary Numan, Ultravox, The Police, The Jam, Billy Cobham, Steve Hackett, Thomas Dolby etc…..

Last year I was witness to two shows that featured Lee as bassist – the one-off Rick Wakeman charity gig at Cheltenham, where most of Journey to the Center of the Earth and Myths and Legends of King Arthur were played with orchestra and choir.

Lee, far right, with Rick Wakeman
Lee, far right, with Rick Wakeman

Lee, what can you tell us about that show? Had you been able to play with the band and full orchestra and choir before this?

The Rick Wakeman shows in Cheltenham last year were really good fun. We had played with orchestras many times before so it wasn’t a learning curve this time around. I love Rick’s band because we have a real hoot and we play our arses off for two and a half hours. It’s always good fun being out with the ERE. John Noyce did the Six Wives shows in 2011 because I was on tour with Take That so I asked him as he’s a mate and brilliant player who understands that music. He played in Jethro Tull for about 15 years so he was just the right man for the job. In fact he’s now doing the Three Friends gig for me as I’m always away when they’re playing. I recommended him to Malcolm Mortimore and Gary Green and he’s doing an unbelievable job there too.

The second concert was as rare – a chance to see Steve Hackett play his Genesis Revisited show at London’s Royal Albert Hall – which is now available on a superb DVD release. Lee brought his chops to the bass, twelve string guitar, pedals and all the rest it took to create the sounds from recordings dating from 1971-1976.

Lee, one of the things that stood out for me at that show is how much fun you seemed to be having – do you find yourself being the guy that’s lightening the mood when things get stressful?

Lee right, with Steve Hackett
Lee right, with Steve Hackett

The Steve Hackett tour last year for the Genesis Revisited album was the literally a dream come true for me. Genesis are my favorite band of all time, especially the Gabriel era, so that’s why I had a permanent grin plastered over my face for the whole tour. I was into Steve’s music (Spectral Mornings, Defector, Cured, Highly Strung) before I got into Genesis so to stand on stage with the man himself really was and is a boyhood dream come true. He’s the nicest, most caring person you could wish to meet too – I love him. The whole band are brilliant too, they’re a real clever bunch too so I always come back off tour far more knowledgeable than when I went away.

Watching you play Mike Rutherford’s parts, I was struck by their complexity, particularly during the Selling England by the Pound tracks – yet Mike was pretty demure in his autobiography about his skills and this album. What are your thoughts about Mike’s playing on these and other Genesis compositions?

I’ve always loved Mike Rutherfords’ playing both on guitar and bass and this took my respect for him to another level. He has the most brilliant independence between his hands and feet so when he’s playing bass pedals he’s also switching in effects and adjusting his volume. In fact I got so good at it that I was able to add in some vocals that he could never get to and I also added in a moving bass pedal sequence that he’s played on the album version of The Musical Box but never did live. I do those things for all of the fans that come along because I’m a fan too and I hope it gives them the same thrill as I get when I’m playing those things.

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Lee on double-neck with John Wetton singing Firth of Fifth

What preparations were needed and what impact did the use of double-necked guitar have for you – was this a new feat?

The double-neck was a real challenge but it was a challenge I’d wanted all my musical life and I leapt at it with all guns blazing. When you have to play bass then switch to 12-string all while playing bass pedals and sometimes even singing you expand your own abilities massively, so now it’s not such a hardship to come back to. It’s almost like a dance that you learn: switch that switch and play that pedal note, turn the volume down while still playing bass pedals then sing that bit while switching back to bass!! It’s crazy bit it’s fantastic fun.

I know you played for a time with Three Friends (former members of Gentle Giant) but there is scant information available about their activities. What are your thoughts about playing in their style and for those shows?

Gary Green of Gentle Giant
Gary Green of Gentle Giant

Three Friends is a great band to play in. Gentle Giant are another of my favourite band and Ray Shulman is one of the most gifted bass players I’ve ever heard. His timing and his accuracy are second to none and he can play things on bass that leave you scratching your head and wondering how on earth did he do that. Gary Green is another wonderfully gifted player who has a childlike playful energy on stage that’s so infectious that it fires you up. He’s another lovely man who just is so warm and friendly but also really funny. I hope to do some more shows with them at some point but I’m not sure when that’ll be.

Headspace is a progressive metal band with Lee along with Adam Wakeman, Damian Wilson (Landmarq/Threshold vocalist), Pete Rinaldi (bass) and Rick Brook (drums). They release an EP followed by a debut album I Am Anonymous in 2012. The music is textured and dense, highlighted by tight metal riffs and Damian’s clear sustained vocals.

Lee_HeadspaceHeadspace is a band I’ve been in since 2005 and it’s great fun to play with those guys. I got to know Adam Wakeman in 2000 when he was producing and playing on a Yes tribute record and a mutual friend of ours recommended me as a bassist because I knew all of the Yes material. He called me and we got together and started working and got on like a house on fire. He then recommended me to his dad Rick for a tour and that’s how I got started with Rick.

Headspace came about in 2005 when Adam worked with our guitarist Pete Rinaldi and asked him about putting a band together. Pete said yes and then Adam called me, Damian Wilson and Richard Brook to see if we wanted in as we’d all worked together with Rick. And that was it. The lads in the band are such a laugh and we spend more time laughing and taking the mick out of each other than we do rehearsing.

What was your experience with Headspace when they toured opening up for Ozzy Ozbourne?

The Ozzy shows in 2007 were great fun. We’d just released an EP entitled ‘I Am…..’ and wanted to promote it. Adam Wakeman plays with Ozzy and with Black Sabbath and when Sharon Osbourne heard our music she invited to come and open three UK shows. It was Ozzy, Black Label Society and us. We were on first but the audience each night didn’t know that we were on the shows. So when the lights went down the crowd began to cheer because they thought Black Label Society were coming on. When we walked instead there was a chorus of “Who the $#%& hell are you?!?!” which was a bit nerve-wracking!! We soldiered on though and eventually they started to listen to us and we gained quite a lot of new fans from those shows. In Dublin, they were throwing 1 euro coins at us at the start of the gig. These were smacking into our guitars and bouncing off but at the end of the gig they gave us a massive applause, plus we earned about 50 euros as a tip! We are in the process of making a follow up album to our ‘I Am Anonymous’ album of 2012. It should be out early in 2015.

lee_ELO_posterBBC Radio 2’s “Festival in a Day” was held in Hyde Park on 14 September 2014, and Lee played bass backing Jeff Lynne’s ELO with the BBC Concert Orchestra with Gary Barlow’s band. There are now rumors that Jeff will agree to stage an ELO tour in 2015.

Lee – what can you tell us about the ELO show and the potential for a tour?

Lee_wJeff
Lee (w/cool Giant Giant t-shirt) with Jeff and crew

The ELO show was absolutely incredible. The whole band were all huge ELO fans so we were completely wallowing in the glory of that music. It was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been a part of and the crowd were so full of love for Jeff that we could really feel that energy coming toward us. I’ll never forget it. In terms of an ELO tour, nothing has been said as yet so I guess it’s just wait and see what Jeff wants to do. I do know he had a great time though and he was really floored by the crowd reaction.

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Lee with the ERE, second from right

What’s up for you as we close out 2014 – what do you have booked?

I’m currently rehearsing with Take That again for a promo for their new album that is released next week. In 2015 I shall be doing a very big Take That tour – 37 British shows and then off to Europe and other places. The Take That shows are a real spectacle. Incredible lights and special effects, loads of dancers and set changes and even the odd 50 foot tall crying robot or giant elephant! So it’s more of a multi-media spectacle than a gig. Gary’s tour is a proper gig where as Take That is a show.

I’m also stepping back into the Hackett band in February for some South American dates.

Here’s hoping for more chance to see Lee this coming year plying his trade as one of our most prolific and accomplished musicians.

LEE’S DESERT ISLAND DISCS 

Lee_desertislandLee says, “Here’s a list of 10 albums I love. They are not necessarily my absolute top ten but these spring to mind at the moment. I’m including just one album per artist just for the sake of variety!”

Nursery Cryme – Genesis
Fragile – Yes
Moving Pictures – Rush
Acquiring The Taste – Gentle Giant
Discipline – King Crimson
Telekon – Gary Numan
Gentlemen Take Polaroids – Japan
The Hounds Of Love – Kate Bush
On Land And In The sea – Cardiacs
One Of A Kind – Bill Bruford

Warchild Lives On! …an Interview with Dee Palmer

JWC_Dee_BW
Dee Palmer

Jethro Tull’s classic period extended from 1968’s This Was up to 1979’s Stormwatch. During that time, composer and multi-instrumentalist Dee Palmer (then David) wrote orchestrations for Ian’s dramatic music. While other progressive rock artists such as Rick Wakeman, Camel and The Moody Blues included orchestra on one or more recordings, strings were an integral part of Tull’s work up to 1979, and at the hands of Dee they were emotive and compelling. By the Too Old to Rock and Roll: Too Young to Die! tour in 1977, Dee was playing with the band in concert, and by Songs from the Wood the next year she became a member of the band in studio as well – tracks like “Velvet Green” and “Ring Out, Solstice Bells” highlighting her contribution to the groups multi-layered prog-folk sound.

Dee’s first work with Jethro Tull was for their debut release This Was (1969) and the track “Move on Alone.” Subsequent albums, Stand Up, Aqualung, and Living in the Past all incorporate the best early examples of her work. Songs like “Reasons for Waiting,” “Life is a Long Song” “Sweet Dream” and “Cheap Day Return” employ strings in a way that greatly enhances and is intertwined with the sound of each track.

JWC_cover_imageThe two albums that came after Living in the Past – namely Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play contained little of this orchestration (outside of “The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles”). But, this reversed course with Warchild, when the strings became much more pronounced, and for which we now know, a set of orchestral compositions were developed for an abandoned film project. The additional orchestrated music is now seeing the light of day in the newly re-mastered release of Warchild.  Dubbed “The 40th Anniversary Theater Edition” the set includes sensational remixes by Steve Wilson including the main album, eleven associated tracks from the period (3 previously unreleased) and the “Warchild Orchestral Recordings.”  Some of these orchestrated cues contain themes from the album cuts we already know, “The Third Hurrah” being particularly effective, but others are separate compositions, and all of them are wondrous to behold.

I asked Dee about the Warchild recordings, and her experience with Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull:

By the time of Warchild it had been six years since I was at the Royal Academy of Music. I had been very fortunate in successfully breaking in to the burgeoning studio music scene and just like a Doctor in general practice or a mechanic in a car garage I was asked on a daily basis to heal, improve, change, and embroider music, written by other people. From when I’d started working with Ian on This Was – by the time of Warchild, we were then far down the line. I understood how to work with him. As he doesn’t read music, we found a language to communicate in. I was never ever given any instruction as to what to do or indeed how to do it – I was just given the tracks and told we would like you to work on these. That kind of trust engenders within any musician worth their salt to give it their best. Nothing ever left my desk until I was absolutely sure it was the very best offering I could add to enhance these tracks.

Jethro Tull      photo @Barry Wentzell
Jethro Tull photo @Barry Wentzell

With Warchild I was again asked to work on an album that was largely completed – to engage a symphony orchestra for the album and the music that was to accompany the film. There was a terrific responsibility placed on my shoulders to come up with the goods. There was never a contract between Ian and I like there are between most employees and employers. Our relationship was significantly different from the normal trend of the record company engaging an arranger by contract. So I accepted the task, which in retrospect makes me feel there was an amount of respect from Ian for my God given gifts and the likelihood for my turning up with what was expected of me.

I would listen to the rough tracks, or mostly finished songs, and write the orchestrations to fit the music. For instance “Bungle In the Jungle” – there’s a line “Just say a word and the boys will be right there, with claws at your back to send a chill through the night air” – its burglar music – like a 1920’s horror picture. It was sound echoing sense, ie: reflected in the music. My job was to weave into those textures the stuff that resides in my head and ears – and then it would gain approval.

JWC_Ian1
Ian, from Third Hurrah promo video

When I was in the band I thought Ian was unique as the guy up front, and during those years his writing was quite brilliant. Ian encapsulated the mood of the topic he was writing about. Warchild is largely redolent of the work of Kurt Weill who wrote with Bertolt Brecht in the early 20th century. When Ian gave me that track I didn’t think he knew those types of harmonic progressions. He gave me “Warchild Waltz” on just guitar – I was amazed at the way he had been able to construct such a piece, with clear influences of composers with whom he was not at all familiar.

JWC_JohnAlso, on Warchild the instrumentation includes a fair amount of saxophone, which Ian was still playing at that time, and piano accordion, played by the immensely talented John Evan.

On Warchild, the band was getting an early 20th century “in between the wars sound”. The saxophone had been invented before that era, but it had its first real outing in the world in the 20’s, coming back into popular music. Ian played it the way he wanted to play it – but it was the right instrument for that album. John played piano accordion which also fitted the theme. It’s like using the harpsichord – once you use the harpsichord, you’re into the music of the baroque. And once you put a piano accordion in, the result is, it’s the music of anywhere – either a street or a club or cafe in Italy or France. He used it judiciously within the context of the fabric of the orchestration. It’s like pointillism, a few dots of something –like a dash of pepper – it enhances the flavor of the whole dish.

With the Warchild album the strings seem like such a natural part of the music – tracks like “Queen and Country”, “Sealion”, “Bungle in the Jungle” – it was doing more than accentuating the songs, it was an integral part. Then there was the orchestration planned for the movie – was that your work as well?

Yes, I orchestrated all of the music that we were going to use in the film. One cue is called the “Warchild Waltz”. There is a version of Warchild on “A Classic Case” which I wrote for the film. Ian heard it and said “I’ve never heard anything so dramatic in my life!” In the case of the film soundtrack it was more than orchestration it involved composition as well, particularly the Mahlerian ending slowly bringing the piece to its close with the magic of the chord of the three trombones at the very last. If you listen carefully, it sounds like the last breath of a dying man. I suppose all you have to give me is two or three notes and I’ll make it turn into whatever you would like it to be.

In casting the movie some collaboration was resorted to. I had made contact with John Cleese to enlist him for that film. I was the musical director of the Cambridge University footlights review at the time of John Cleese and Graham Chapman, and they were the two Cambridge Monty Pythons. John and I are great friends and I enlisted him for the movie.

After the film project was shelved, the album was released in it’s 10 song format – how was it received?

Official promo @Warners
Official promo @Warners


The record company didn’t like it – when we sat in the studio and played it for Terry Ellis he said well, what I think we should do is get DP with Shirley Bassey to sing this lot – that’s what he said. Terry was sitting there in his businessman’s suit making commentary on a body of work we had been working on for a long time, questioning music that was exploratory and not just banging out the same riff. He wanted another Aqualung, which was also the case with Songs from the Wood. They wanted something less adventurous and exploratory. Thank goodness fortuity prevailed and what we had done ended up on record and not something occasioned by the suits.

On the Warchild tour, a string quartet was hired for the live performances. Were you involved, and how was it incorporated into the show?

String Quartet @Warners
String Quartet @Warners


I did all the writing and then was on the road supervising it until it worked in the pattern of the show. For the first portion of the show it was not easy to incorporate the strings in the material I’d written for the album. What they actually did was play on the “catalog” material – earlier songs from before Warchild. Those girls in the quartet were something else! They looked great in black dresses and platinum wigs and they were good players and had a bit of hedonistic fun on the tour. I can’t tell you what went on – if my mother knew what was going on –if she knew I might do those things she might have ended my life!   I was on the road with them until they played themselves in, then went home.

What are your thoughts on the film soundtrack material now seeing the light of day on this reissue?

It’s a kind of respectful cleaning out of material from the attic. Its material that Jethro Tull aficionados would like to have but a lot of it is archival. It may have stayed in the archives but as Ian owns the material there is the opportunity to make it available.  I appreciate the release even if at times its like someone going through your underwear drawer – there are some pieces you wouldn’t mind seeing but there other rather grey, over-washed items which you would rather consign to the duster bag rather than the fans!

After the release of Warchild, and subsequent tour, Dee worked on the next two “classic era” albums, Minstrel in the Gallery (1975), and then Too Old to Rock and Roll: Too Young to Die! (1976), joining the band for that tour.  Dee then became a full time member for the group for the next three albums. I asked Dee how the collaboration and writing process changed.

JWC_MinstrelIt actually changed with Minstrel In the Gallery, which came just after Warchild. We went across to Los Angeles and sat down in a very nice house in the canyons and worked on the songs for Minstrel and for the first time I was there at the beginning of the writing. It would be immodest in the extreme, and I consider myself to be a humble soul, with a bias towards self-deprecation, but Ian by then I think had probably realized what my real abilities were. If you listen to that album and divide the aural field in two – one part is largely Ian playing his guitar and singing with the band – then listen to what the rest of those tracks are and depend upon –it’s me with a string quartet – nothing more than a four person string quartet.

Most of those familiar with Jethro Tull will know of the wonderful record Minstrel in the Galley. Many fans consider it to be Ian’s finest vocal work, and the strings really become front and center with that record. The song suite “Baker St. Muse” is unique in the Tull catalog – it’s a rich and beautiful composition that leans towards the acoustic, with Dee’s orchestral work gracing each passage.

Again, what I had to work from was Ian playing his guitar. Somewhat immodestly I will say, that was enough – I can just do this – I can sit down and write music until I have to go to sleep. I can sit down and write music in a moving train, a taxi cab, a darkened hotel room, a restaurant or in a studio while we are recording something else I can be writing music for tomorrow. So its one of those curious gifts that one comes with – a lot of it probably has to do with my aural ability which God gave me as well.

JWC_Stormwatch2One of the few things I wrote for Ian is “Elegy” – I wrote it when we were writing a ballet, and my father died and I wrote it as a dedicated piece to him. John Glasgow died shortly afterwards so I included John in the dedication.  

“Elegy” appears on the Stormwatch album, the last release of the 1968-1979 period and the last to feature Dee and John Evan. “Elegy” must go down as the prettiest piece of music in all of Tull’s history. It also appears on Dee’s “A Classic Case – The London Symphony Orchestra Plays The Music of Jethro Tull.” I asked Dee about the end of that era, just after the Stormwatch tour, as Ian’s first solo project instead became the Tull release “A”:

At that time, we were all exhausted from the non-stop recording and touring cycle. I wanted the band to stop touring and take a year to write – get together, and sift through it and see what we got and then go back out again, but playing in small clubs where the audience were near. We had lost that contact factor which is so important. During that time, Ian ended up collaborating with Eddie Jobson. For me, as a classical composer, the heavy electronics approach was something I did not agree with – it was taking Jethro Tull up an Einbahnstrasse – a one way street!

The 1970’s music scene was the flowering of a lot of talent. There were some pretty fine musicians and session singers – it’s a period of music writing and recording and performance that’s gone forever – things are so different now. Music is for change – it must progress, I just regret Ian discarded a formula that was so proven.

Ian’s ability as a performer and a writer is something I’ve always admired. My attempts at live performance are couched in different terms from Ian’s presentation. I know from standing behind him playing my keyboards and watching him lead our show from nine until eleven o’clock at night without flinching or forgetting, was a work of great art and mastery.
JWC_ClassicCaseDee, after the breakup of classic era Tull, you went on to produce your “Classic Case” series of records. The first was for the music of Jethro Tull. How did you make decisions on the track list for A Classic Case?

That was really quite fluid – choosing most on my own, but I did let them badger and beat me into using drums, bass, and guitar! I didn’t want to use those instruments, and they said “but its rock music”, and I said don’t think for one minute I can’t make rock music sound like rock music without the drums bass and guitar – don’t you worry – but they just insisted. Of course once I’d done that album, all the other record companies from EMI to Sony all wanted me to include drums, bass, guitar from the originals – and I said look, you’re missing the trick – I can create a new music here – but it’s the suits that got me! Nonetheless, for these classic case albums – Queen, Yes, Sgt. Pepper, Genesis, and Pink Floyd – you listen to those versions and then listen to the original and think it’s kind of a magic thing…is it?

JWC_Dee_ColorIndeed the classic case albums are themselves now classic – the first soon reaching it’s own 30 year anniversary. That Jethro Tull Classic Case release is once again available from Gonzo Multimedia here: A Classic Case. And in fact, the title track from Warchild is arguably the best of the set list, perfectly suited to full orchestral treatment, while “Rainbow Blues” and “Bungle in the Jungle” from the same record also shine brightly. A classic take on the best of “classical rock” and a showcase for Dee’s brilliant work with Jethro Tull, as are the magnificent orchestral works now uncovered 40 years on from the Warchild project.

 

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