Every year we ask the GRTR! Team to list their favourite albums and gigs of the year. As ever, it is a very eclectic mix and reflects the very broad and all-embracing tastes of our reviewers.
How have we arrived at the reviewers’ Top 10? We’ve taken the most popular albums and live acts (those listed by more than one reviewer) and then also included one top album and live act from each of the remaining reviewers not represented in the initial selection.
Photos by Steve Goudie, Simon Dunkerley, Iain Scott, David Wilson, David Randall
1. CODE OF SILENCE Dark Skies Over Babylon
2. BLACK STAR RIDERS All Hell Breaks Loose
3. ALTER BRIDGE Fortress
4. W.E.T. Rise Up
5. MICHAEL MONROE Horns And Halos
6. DEEP PURPLE Now What?!
7. MOTORHEAD Aftershock
8. BUDDY GUY Rhythm & Blues
9. THE SOUND OF CONTACT Dimensionaut
10.THE ANSWER New Horizon
Top Live Acts
1. STEVE HACKETT
4. DEEP PURPLE
6. MOODY BLUES
7. THE ANSWER
8. THE BRONX
10. WILKO JOHNSON
Watch Out 2014!
JASON RITCHIE (Reviews Editor)
1 THE DUCKWORTH LEWIS METHOD – Sticky Wickets (Divine Comedy Records)
Tthe leaders in cricket pop return with an even stronger second album! Non-stop playing since it was released earlier this year and every song is a winner.
2 BLUE OCTOBER – Sway (Membran)
Well crafted commercial rock and some of the best melodies you will hear this year.
3 ALTER BRIDGE – Fortress (Roadrunner)
Not their most instant album, however stick with it for what is surely their best album to date. Vocalist Myles Kennedy and guitarist Mark Tremonti are stars of the album.
4 JONO – Requiem (indie)
Ddon’t let this gem slip the net. If you like Queen, Muse and Cheap Trick you will love this album, pomp meets pop rock perfection.
5 HAKEN – The Mountain (Century Media)
Lot of good prog rock/metal albums released this year and this one just pips Sound Of Contact’s album. They have the melodies and harmonies of a melodic rock band with the musical variety of a classic 70′s prog rock band. Very impressive and they are just as good live.
Perfect festival with new and established prog rock bands. Bands of the weekend for me were Threshold, District 97, Mystery and Haken.
2 CAMBRIDGE FOLK FESTIVAL
Wanted to go since a wee small lad and finally got the chance this year. An amazing festival, very friendly and well organised. Bellowhead and Steeleye Span were the bands of the weekend for me.
3 LAST IN LINE (Islington Academy)
It’s the classic Dio line-up less their late, great singer. Storming set of Dio classics and good to see Vivian Campbell in such fine form and not battling a robot dragon as he was last time I saw him onstage playing with Dio.
4 THE MOODY BLUES (O2 Arena )
They played a set of classics as you’d expect and Justin Hayward still has the vocals and onstage charisma. One of the better live bands you will see in your lifetime.
5 SHINEDOWN (Wembley Arena )
They pipped headliners Alter Bridge as band of the night. This band will be playing bigger venues when they return to the UK.
Honourable Mentions: Power Quest (The Underworld)
A sad and fond farewell to one of the best power metal bands out there. Great atmosphere and set list with past members joining the current line-up. Oh well here’s counting the days until the reunion…
Watch Out 2014! – Blackberry Smoke
Something about this band and their no frills, honest hard rock. They will either become massive in the next twelve months or become a future ‘lost gem’ reissue on Rock Candy in years to come…
DAVID RANDALL (Managing Editor)
1. CODE OF SILENCE – Dark Skies Over Babylon (Mauseoleum)
Shamelessly overlooked by the mainstream media but an album that entralled everyone else who encountered its irresistible charms. Any doubting hacks would end up salivating over the Iron Maiden meets Dream Theater meld of melody, metal and razor-sharp musicianship.
2. MAGGIE REILLY – Heaven Sent (Red Berry Records)
A very fine pop/rock album from a sometimes overlooked Scots singer songwriter who sang with Mike Oldfield in the 1980s and whose earlier works also repay investigation.
Listen in to our recent interview with Maggie on the eve of her London gig. More
3. DEEP PURPLE – Now What?! (earMUSIC)
The album and accompanying tour displayed a re-energised band firing on all cylinders and sounding remarkably relevant.
Win the strictly limited Gold Deluxe Edition Box version of the album including many extras. Competition
4. BLACK STAR RIDERS – All Hell Breaks Loose (Nuclear Blast)
The Thin Lizzy baton is passed on and the assembled hard rock aristocracy stretch that legacy and then some. Great songs and Scott Gorham’s continuing faith re-purposed.
5. BUDDY GUY – Rhythm & Blues (Sony Music)
Not just one album but a 2-CD package from the influential septuagenarian and an amazing consistency throughout. A lesson in longevity.
Honourable Mentions: Sound City – an interesting idea made better by the participating musicians. Even the Macca track is passable, but the Stevie Nicks piece is an in-year highlight.
A wonderful comeback, a personal triumph for Andrew Latimer, and the sheer novelty of seeing the band back in action. More dates lined up next spring and, one would hope, a new album.
2. DEEP PURPLE
Ian Gillan evidently limiting his presence on stage and a higher quotient of instrumentation did not detract from the irresistible blend of classic and current Purple.
3. STEVE HACKETT
A musician whose renaissance in recent years has been a joy to behold and seemingly now very comfortable in his authentic Genesis skin.
Except for Arnel Pineda, the Journey-men were almost like living statues in the robotic execution of their core dirty dozen tunes. It was left to Coverdale and his crew to show how to really engage an audience and – in their 30th Anniversary year – the appearance of Bernie Marsden was a deft touch.
5. DAN REED
A charismatic performer whether just with acoustic guitar or – as here – with his band. Demonstrating that great songs never die, they just get better. But still no ‘Tiger In A Dress’ this time.
Watch Out 2014! – Tess Cunningham
Australian-born, London-based singer-songwriter whose EP debut ‘Let’s Compare Scars’ shows an encouraging blend of the quirky and quite memorable.
PETE FEENSTRA (Features & Blues/Rock Editor)
1. ANDERS OSBORNE Peace (Alligator)
The New Orleans based, Americana influenced singer songwriter is by his own admission on the outside looking in. He’s a story teller whose narrative driven songs covers the waterfront from Neil Young influenced grungy rock to Paul Simon influenced rhythms, Jackson Brown style emotive phrasing and riff driven guitar moments, that have you punching the air, before he finds his inner ‘peace’.
This is an album that looks outside of the box for its inspiration and finds the master songsmith burying his demons on the epic ‘I’m Ready’, one of a number of highlights of an album you’ll find yourself returning to again and again.
2. MORELAND & ARBUCKLE 7 Cities (Telarc )
’7 Cities’ is a concept album with a difference, as the harp and cigar box driven band’s point of departure is the local mid-west legend, the 16th century Spanish conquistador Francesco Vazquez de Cornado and his fruitless search for the mythical ’7 Cities of Gold’.
If that sounds a bit wearisome, just listen to the music which bristles with Aaron Moreland’s pulsating guitar work and Dustin Arbuckle’s baritone vocal and deep toned harp, on a vibrant mix of boogie, swing, grungy guitar, southern and garage rock, R&B and country blues.
The whole caboodle is wrapped up by drummer Kendal Newby’s subtle fills, undulating swing and outright power, on an album that even finds room for a mesmerising cover of ‘Everybody Wants To Rule the World’. A positive delight.
3. WALTER TROUT Luther’s Blues – A Tribute to Luther Allison (Ruf)
It says something about Walter Trout’s prodigious output and search for emotional honesty in his music that it’s taken him over two decades to record a covers album. In doing so he passionately pays homage to his late friend and musical contemporary Luther Allison.
As you might expect the album burns with incendiary playing, emotive singing and a live in the studio feel that nails Allison’s blues perfectly, as Walter adds his own self penned ode ‘When Luther Played The Blues’.
4. JAMES COTTON Cotton Mouth Man (Alligator)
For a guy who can hardly sing and who lost his teeth years ago, the all star ‘Cotton Mouth Man’ must rank as one of the great comebacks of our time. Produced and co-written by Buddy Guy collaborator and drummer Tom Hambridge, this album is effectively an autobiographical trawl through the Chicago harp heavyweight’s career.
From the opening trademark harp inflected chicken squawks on ‘Midnight Train’ to the explosive ‘Something For Me’ which features Warren Haynes and the effective mission statement of ‘Blues Is Good For You’, ‘Cotton Mouth Man’ is a 5 star delight.
5. STEVE HUNTER Manhattan Blues Project (Deacon Records)
Steve Hunter’s long and distinguished career includes stints with the likes of Mitch Ryder, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, David Lee Roth, Jack Bruce and Aerosmith, but this album is his career defining moment.
He manages to portray New York City in a sympathetic light, refracted through star turns from Michael Lee Firkins on slide guitar and Joe Satriani on a scintillating shred. But right there and consistently at the centre of a compelling musical journey is Hunter’s own subtle dynamics, perfected by his magical touch and yearning tone that evokes the Manhattan landmarks and almost makes you overlook guest appearances from Joe Perry, Marty Friedman and Johnny Depp! Seek out this album as it deserves maximum exposure.
1. FAMILY 40th Anniversary Show – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London 1 & 2 February 2013
On an evening when they had more to lose than to gain, Roger Chapman and his extended family – ‘The In-laws’ – rolled back the years, with some carefully crafted arrangements to re-invigorate one of rock’s most compelling back catalogues.
The septuagenarian was a little rough around the edges, a little coarse in his comments but his unique vibrato remained undiminished and rose magnificently above the jagged rhythms, some quiet to loud dynamics and contrasting plaintive folk.
‘Sat’d'y Barfly’ was a beautiful horn inflected revelation, ‘Hung Up Down’ was thunderous, ‘The Weavers Answer’ timeless, and the whole evening was best summarised by the song title ‘In My Own Time’.
2. ROYAL SOUTHERN BROTHERHOOD – Boom Boom Club, Sutton, 28 September 2013
The term supergroup has all too often been memorable for all the wrong reason from bloated egos to all round excess, but RSB are the magnificent sum of their talented parts, with Cyril Neville providing the funk, soul and percussion, Devon Allman & Mike Zito the dual guitars and Yonrico Scott and Charlie Wooten the peerless rhythm section.
The set moved built like a pressure cooker, apparently climaxed on The Dead’s ‘Fire On The Mountain’ but gently rose again on Zito’s ‘Gone To Texas’ and the suitably titled ‘Fired Up’. A true rock-blues and soul extravaganza.
3. WALTER TROUT Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London 8 November 2013
On an evening full of unwanted irony, Walter Trout battled hard to overcome his own health problems and pay his respects to the late Luther Allison. Such was the intensity of his soloing that he wrung every last possibility from an emotive tribute to his late friend Luther Allison on the show stopping ‘Bad Love’ , before he delivered the evening’s killer line: ‘If pain was money, you know I’d be such a rich man’. Never was a blues lyric so close to the truth.
The extended standing ovation at the end was both for the memory of Allison and the stunning show that saw Walter Trout play from his soul.
4. IAN ANDERSON (Thick As A Brick Parts 1 & 2) – Royal Albert Hall, London 20 June 2013
The voice may be a bit ragged, the tummy a little plumper but Ian Anderson’s flute playing and stage presence was every bit as good as his brilliant conceptualisation of TAAB part2, some 40 years after the groundbreaking album.
Who but old ‘Aqualung’ himself could bring together a roll call of unlikely guests, including actor/vocalist Ryan O’Donnell, Mark Almond, violinist Anna Phoebe, and surreally Gavin Essler in a frog suit, to update his original masterpiece with theatrical and audio visual elements? A timely reminder of an enduring major talent in the Prog rock era.
When it came down to it and the smoke disappeared, there was Joe Bonamassa in the company of three different bands on the same night filling the Albert Hall with every element of his impressive cannon.
His stellar playing brought together Celtic roots, blues, classic hard rock and brilliant ensemble playing that left him spent on the drum rise at the end of a memorable week, stamped Bonamassa!
From an early cover of John Martyn’s moody ‘Jelly Roll’, and his reflective co-write ‘Round The Bend’, the anthemic ‘Driving Towards The Daylight’ and the block busting ‘John Henry’ to his mesmerising ‘Mountain Time’, this was Bonamassa recording live without a safety net and at the very top of his game.
Warren Haynes is a one man musical mountain. There was never a moment on this memorable American independence night of primo rock-blues with smidgens of reggae, when Warren wasn’t at the centre of some of the most intense and gutsy rock blues played in the capital all year.
Gov’t Mule made their name as a jam band but now they’ve added polish and finesse, though they climaxed the set with their own take of ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’.
Honourable Mentions: Moreland & Arbuckle, Eric Steckel, Ryan McGarvey, Skinny Molly, The Graveltones.
Watch Out 2014! – Laurence Jones Band
Very few young artists cut such a mature debut album as Laurence’s ‘Thunder In the Sky’ and he’s already backed that up with lots of road work and topped it by signing to Ruf records.
With a combination of his mature songwriting ability and a hotly anticipated new album to be recorded in the States with members of Royal Southern Brotherhood and guests like Walter Trout and Aynsley Lister, Laurence is part of the current tidal wave of new, young British rock-blues talent that has re-energised an often flagging musical genre.
PETER MUIR (Progressive Editor)
THE SOUND OF CONTACT – Dimensionaut (Century Media)
Drummer Simon (Son of Phil) Collins helms this very promising, award-winning UK band whose debut is a skilful blend of slow, mid- and fast-paced spacey pop/prog. Yes, there’s dabs of Genesis here and there but not to tribute extent and the outcome has dollops of self-assurance with plentiful promise of more good things to come.
THE FLOWER KINGS – Desolation Rose (Inside Out)
Energetic, crowd-pleasing return-to-form from the 90′s-formed Swedish act harnesses the best of the genre’s stylings with strong melody lines, taught up-front vocals, lengthy passages interpersed with shorter pieces, beatifully-played. It’s all very busy as the band gleefully hop time signatures ensuring there’s no nodding off at the back of the stalls.
WOLF PEOPLE – Fain (Jagjaguwar)
Hirsute Brit fuzz, folk, funk fusionists’ latest album takes in more influences from Germany’s 70′s ‘krautrock’ scene to scary effect on the dark affair that is Fain. Recorded in a farmhouse on an English moor somewhere few otherwise go, it couples the crackle of the fire in the grate with some frenzied whiplash fretwork that leaves you gasping for air.
QUATERMASS – Quatermass (Esoteric)
Too much quality 70′s prog back catalogue is either wasting in a cupboard somewhere or contractually tethered to some clueless label.
Esoteric Records consistently show how it’s done and their top-notch 2CD re-packaging of the 1970 debut by this keyboards-driven power trio is a case in point featuring simply stunning new mixes by band member Peter Robinson in both Stereo and 5.1 Surround Sound, along with three bonus tracks, two previously unreleased, across a CD and DVD, plus a big booklet of revised notes and period images, and so on.
There’s just so much going with these reissues, they are must-haves even if you already have the original album (in this instance, an essential for any prog fan).
LAKE – Lake/Lake II/Paradise Island (BGO Records)
BGO may not drill down as much into the embryo of their reissues but there’s no denying the quality of output nor the excellent value for money they offer.
A further case-in-point is their 2CD reissue of the first three albums by this largely-forgotten German rock act; again, informative notes get behind the story, the highs and lows, what happened and why etc. but then there’s the music and here’s another instance of knowing what you’re fishing for when it comes to trawling the major label archives.
It’s just great stuff – Steely Dan-meets-Supertramp in a slew of breezy, FM-friendly power pop/prog songs than never flag. The soundtrack to a hood-down, sunny day drive – keep it in the glove compartment until then!
ARGENT/THE ZOMBIES and guests Aylesbury, Bucks
A charity gig with an eclectic turnout of performers covering a wide range of genres could mean there is something for everyone but will there be enough to merit the price of entry?
This fund-raiser for a local teenager played like a dream: acts rolled on and off stage having left the audience satisified and with appetite for more, not least headliners Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone et al.
Good-natured professionals, they got the mix just right, spanning the Zombies early pop across to Argent’s 70′s rock-tastic charters by way of Blunstone’s delicately breathy solo work. The hits just get on coming; Russ Ballard was back, too.
DAVE WILSON (Live Editor)
FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH – The Wrong Side Of Heaven And The Righteous Side Of Hell – Volumes 1 and 2
Bending the rules a bit here as I have included 2 albums for the price of 1 in my top spot. Five Finger Death Punch have managed to produce two of the heaviest, yet most infectious, albums of the year.
With not a duff track across the two releases the guys have proved themselves to be one of the best metal bands on the planet at present and, coupled with a killer live show, 2014 should see them make the move to the major league of rock.
THE BRONX – The Bronx IV
I said when I reviewed this album back in February that it would take something very special to knock it from my ‘Best of…’ top spot. The Bronx just get better and better and have become more self-confident with each album release.
Frontman Matt Caughthran has come into his own on this album bolstered by his performances with the band’s mariachi offshoot. The tracks and content matter are as confrontational as always proving that the band still have their hardcore ideals intact. Why this band aren’t massive is a constant puzzle to me, an amazing album.
VOLBEAT – Outlaw Gentlemen And Shady Ladies
Volbeat’s popularity in the UK is steadily growing and with this album they took another big step. The album is the first to feature Rob Caggiano on guitar and production duties and he has given the band a more metal edge in the process. A sold out tour and a great performance at Download did their popularity no harm either, the Danes go from strength to strength.
TRUCKER DIABLO – Songs Of Iron
Trucker Diablo are another band who deserve to be huge. Songs Of Iron is the band’s second album and it continues on from where the first release, ‘The Devil Rhythm’, left off. Massive riffs, great melodies and choruses catchier than Norovirus combine to create a party atmosphere. There is nothing big or clever here, just honest hard rock, who could ask for more ?
GLORYHAMMER – Tales From The Kingdom Of Fife
Any band who can come up with song titles like ‘The Unicorn Invasion Of Dundee’, ‘Hail To Crail’ and ‘Beneath Cowdenbeath’ are alright by me. The fact that said songs are classic slabs of power metal, delivered with collective tongues firmly in cheek, make it all the more special. Musically and vocally this album impresses, all hail Angus McFife!
DOWNLOAD FESTIVAL – Donington Park
After the Somme like conditions of 2012 it was going to take a special line up to tempt me to Download 2013. As soon as Maiden and Rammstein were announced I knew we were on to a winner and what a weekend it proved to be.
The sun shone (most of the time) and the line up proved to be everything we had hoped for with many fantastic performances over the weekend from the likes of Maiden, Five Finger Death Punch and Dragonforce. The festival finale provided by Rammstein though sealed this as my gig of the year.
THE BRONX – The Garage, Glasgow
The Bronx never fail to deliver and this show was no different. The band were in fighting form with Matt Caughthran spending more time in the crowd than on the stage. As a live experience a night with The Bronx is about as intense and entertaining as it gets. If you see a poster for the guys playing a local gig I implore you to get yourself along, I guarantee you won’t regret it.
SAXON/ The Quireboys – O2 ABC, Glasgow
On paper this pairing looked like odd bedfellows but on the night it proved to be a fantastic line up. Seeing two of Britain’s best loved and most endearing rock bands on the same stage was a privilege and proved to be fantastic value for money. Whilst there may have been differences in musical styles no one seemed to give a damn and both bands received a rousing reception from the, very hot and sweaty, capacity crowd.
THE WILDHEARTS – O2 ABC, Glasgow
Ginger and co know how to put on an entertaining show and this was no exception. The fact that this was the 20th anniversary show for ‘Earth vs The Wildhearts’ album and my first live Wildhearts experience combined into one special night.
DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT– The Garage, Glasgow
Depending on how you view Devin Townsend, he is either a genius or a maniac. Either way you are assured of a spectacular show and from the half hour of ‘Ziltoid TV’ pre show to the closing bars of ‘Grace’ the performance was nothing short of stunning.
The musicianship was first class and the ramblings of Townsend were highly amusing. Great music and a good laugh, the perfect night!
Watch Out 2014!
Trucker Diablo – with two excellent albums now under their belts the word is spreading about Ireland’s finest, can 2014 be the ‘year of the truck’?
Black Spiders – another band that delivered album number two in 2013. Their live performances are stuff of legend and they should be seen for the facial contortions of drummer Tiger Si alone. Hopefully 2014 will see them gain the recognition they rightly deserve.
CODE OF SILENCE – Dark Skies Over Babylon (Mausoleum)
A killer album by anyone’s measure. Great songs, great vocals, and stunningly good guitar work. That the original band imploded before making it onto the road is criminal.
BLACK STAR RIDERS – All Hell Breaks Loose (Nuclear Blast)
Hat’s off to Gorham and co, they’ve done the Lizzy legend proud. Better than we could ever have hoped.
DEEP PURPLE – Now What?! (earMUSIC)
You can’t keep a great band down. Purple show there’s plenty left in the tank with their best album in a decade or more.
MAGENTA – In Session for GRTR!
Kompenium, The Twenty Seven Club – Rob Reed and co continue to come up with the goods. But this brief acoustic session tops the lot. If ever more was less, this is it. Sumptuous. More please.
The Magenta session is repeated in December. Follow the above link for more info.
LUNA ROSSA – Sleeping Pills & Lullabies (Firefly Music)
And in a similar vein, a very beautiful album centred on Panic Room duo Jonathan Edwards’ magnificent grand piano playing and Anne-Marie Helder’s heaven sent vocals.
STEVE HACKETT – Genesis Revisited II tour
A masterful performance that breathed fresh life into the 1971-1977 Genesis back catalogue. One that made a certain generation of gentlemen very happy. Andy Latimer’s Camel revisiting of The Snow Goose running it a close second.
Watch Out 2014! – AJENDA – less brash than other relative newcomers in the female fronted rock stakes like American counterparts Halestorm and Hydrogen, Ajenda are more rooted in the classic rock style of say early Heart. Not quite the finished article, but ones to watch in 2014.
SIMON DUNKERLEY (Photographer)
THE ANSWER – New Horizon (Napalm)
A band I have followed since the beginning and always wonder why they are not bigger than they are. This new album is for me the best they have produced and gets closer to their stunning live performances.
THE GRAVELTONES – Don’t Wait Down
Debut album by one of the most exciting bands I have seen since The Black Keys, How two people can create such a soundscape on both album and live performance is beyond me. A great piece of work and hopefully the first of many.
MOTORHEAD – Aftershock (UDR)
What can be said that hasn’t already been said about Lemmy and Motorhead. Apart from Ozzy there is no larger a Rock Icon than Lemmy and this new album has some great new songs on it which lean so much back on the earlier works. Like many I hope the great man comes back for at least one last tour.
THE TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT – The Temperance Movement (Earache)
One of my “look out for” from 2012, TTM whilst always selling out the gigs were not widely know apart for the early fans but after 100 gigs this year and also now winning “best new band” the last tour had completely sold out weeks before the first date.
This debut album shows all the styles of the band going from Smouldering, Pride and Chinese Lanterns to Midnight Black and Only Friend. Look out for the Spring 2014 tour.
THE ANSWER – Limelight Belfast
First gig of the New Horizon Tour and with their home crowd. The Answer always put 110% into their live performance, led by Cormac’s raw vocals the gig is always amazing.
They are definitely one of those bands whose live performances show off the music more than the studio work. I’ve seen them 3 times on the current tour and will see them at HRH7 and also the final gig of the tour at The Diamond Rock Club in January.
THE GRAVELTONES – Leicester Academy 2
One of the best new bands I have seen for a while, the album (listed above) is brilliant but it in no way prepares you for the live show. The raw energy and sound produced from Jimmy O and Mikey Sorbello is infectious, it’s not a show you stand and watch but one you are engulfed in and can’t help but enjoy. Expect to see them on the gig circuits next year.
FEROCIOUS DOG – The Bodega Nottingham
Take a 250 person venue and pack it with 250 Ferocious Dog fans and you have created one of the most vigorous and energetic gigs you can get. From the first to the last beat it was a moshpit from wall to wall and the passion of the crowd was matched by the passion of the band. Truly one of the best gigs I’ve been to in years.
ALICE COOPER – Cropredy Festival
All these years and I had never seen Alice Cooper and it was amazing experience when I did. To coin a phrase used by Alice himself “Who knew that the best rock’n’roll audience of the tour would be at the Cropredy folk festival?”. An amazing full on show.
H.E.A.T – Firefest
It’s the second time I’ve seen these guys and they were definitely the band of the festival for me. If this is the new face of AOR then I’m all for it.
No-one really because I’ve seen so many great gigs over the year although Alice Cooper must rank up there very highly. Oh and also snapping a shot of Robert Plant while he was sticking the “V” up to me backstage at Cropredy Festival
The continuation of the lack of support for live music. With so many venues having to close due to lack of support or rising cost and so many festivals cancelling due to poor tickets sales and ever stricter planning rules I do hope that we are not all squeezed into going to a few super festivals that are there for nothing more that to make money rather than support live music.
Unfortunately the apathy of some people is also the problem, when it’s gone its gone so go out and support local music/venues and stop watching “I’m a moron get me out of here because I’ve got no talent” on TV.
Watch Out 2014!
Cage The Gods - Sensational new British rock band that fuse together rock ‘n’ roll culture from the four corners of the UK in a thunderously blues-inspired fashion. We have seen them support Tracer, The Answer and they are appearing at HRH7 and touring in December.
Virgil and the Accelerators – Blues rock power house trio hailing from Birmingham, England. Currently recording their forthcoming second album, with legendary producer Chris Tsangarides. They have toured extensively for the past four years and after Virgil McMahon (guitar) was recently voted “Best Guitarist 2013″ at the “European Blues Awards” you can expect to see a lot more from these guys over the next few years.
KOMPENDIUM – Beneath The Waves (Inside Out)
Where Magenta’s main man Rob Reed realises his dream of a ‘rock opera’ in the fashion of Jeff Wayne’s ‘War Of The Worlds’ – and then blows said masterpiece clean out of the water. Reed assembled an army of top musicians, including the likes of Steve Hackett, and they delivered a piece of work so epic and so moving I was prompted to say in my review that it was a reminder of just what made you love music in the first place.
CODE OF SILENCE – Dark Skies Over Babylon (Mausoleum)
Put together by Eden’s Curse main man Paul Logue, Code Of Silence took the melodic metal template outside and gave it a damn good thrashing. This is how rock music should sound – massive riffs, soaring keys, thunderous drumming, a vocalist who’s torn a leaf out of the Coverdale bible and in Ben Randall’s fiendish fretwork, a breath of fresh air in a genre dominated by overblown shredders.
BUDDY GUY – Rhythm & Blues (Sony Music)
Now aged 77, Buddy Guy has no right to be still getting better – but he is and Rhythm & Blues is the proof. A double album, no less, which surely cements his place as not only the finest purveyor of authentic blues music there is, but also as one of the top ten guitar players on the planet. Add to this his superb delivery and wicked sense of humour (check out ‘What’s Wrong With That Woman?’) and you have the perfect entertainer.
KATATONIA – Dethroned & Uncrowned (Peacethrone)
When former black-metal merchants Katatonia turned from the dark side to deliver the superb prog-metal masterpieces ‘Night Is The New Day’ and ‘Dead End Kings’ everyone thought ‘how do they follow that?’ Well follow it they have with ‘Dethroned & Uncrowned’, which took ‘Dead End Kings’, stripped it of all the metal and just left the prog – to dramatic effect. Melancholia never sounded this good – ever.
LONDON GRAMMAR – If You Wait (Metal & Dust)
Bit of an odd one for me this, as I usually tend to shy away from anything that’s hyped to the max in the music press. But this is worth every word of the vortex of hype that preceded its release.
The atmospheric piano and skeletal guitar figures are a perfect backdrop to the wonderfully expressive voice of Hannah Reid – surely a great singer in the making. It’s indie/pop rather than GRTR’s usual fare, but is so stunningly ethereal it must not be wasted purely on the download generation.
1 W.E.T.- Rise Up (Frontiers)
A melodic rock classic for the modern age, full of brash, stirring anthems.
2 SNAKECHARMER – S/T (Frontiers)
The old pros have moved beyond being a Whitesnake tribute with an album of originals of pure class with a warm classic feel especially to the guitars.
3 FM – Rockville (Riff City)
Ttheir rejuvenation continues with not one but two albums with Steve Overland’s voice as golden as ever.
4 BLACK STAR RIDERS – All Hell Breaks Loose (Nuclear Blast)
An impressive debut achieving the near impossible of managing to convincingly write songs in the mould of classic Thin Lizzy.
5 SEVENTH KEY – I Will Survive (Frontiers)
A classy AOR album with progressive twists from men with an immaculate pedigree.
1 BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – Ricoh Arena, Coventry
I saw two of the Boss’ incredible marathon, life affirming shows but this one, with Born to Run played start to finish, was marginally the more special.
2 FIREFEST X – Rock City, Nottingham
I was in melodic heaven with an international crowd lapping up 19 superb performances out of 20; Treat, H.E.A.T and the ladies formally known as Vixen just shading the weekend for me.
3 STATUS QUO – Hammersmith Apollo, London
Wworth my 27 year exile from the Quo to see the original line up play a set of classics. The atmosphere at too many gigs now is subdued but at this one the floor was shaking like the old days.
4 RICK SPRINGFIELD – Shepherds Bush Empire, London
A rare UK date for the ageless rocker was a treat, especially when he dived into the crowd during Human Touch to sing inches away from me.
5 STYX – Rock the Park, London, Ontario
The special atmosphere of being up the front at a festival in Canada combined with perhaps the most polished and entertaining live act among the AOR greats.
Honourable Mentions: Heart at Molson Amphitheater , Toronto (especially the Led Zep encores), Bachman Turner and Head East at Moondance Jam; Bon Jovi at Etihad Stadium, Manchester; FM, Shepherds Bush Empire; Paul Raymond Project at Borderline; Fleetwood Mac at the O2, London; Crosby Stills and Nash at Royal Albert Hall, London.
Watch Out 2014!
I’d like to see the new generation of British melodic rockers- Summers, Estrella, Night by Night, The Wild Lies, New Device etc- get more regular touring exposure.
ALTER BRIDGE – Fortress (Roadrunner)
Relentless riffage, clean vocals, thunderous rhythms, epic tunes. It’s all here, in polished spades. Alter Bridge’s trajectory remains as close to vertical as makes no difference.
KROKUS – Dirty Dynamite (The End Records)
Airbourne pushed out a decent album this year too, but in the battle of the accadacca clones, I bow before the altar of Marc Storace. An unapologetic celebration of all that is right with blues hard rock, 40 years (count ‘em) in the making.
MARCUS BONFANTI – Shake The Walls
Young master Bonfanti comes of age on this powerful, Stones-Zep inspired blues album, marrying whisky drenched baritone with sweet dobro, thrilling slide and southern groove. The future is safe.
MOTORHEAD Aftershock (UDR)
How often do the words ‘Lemmy’ and ‘diversity’ appear in the same sentence, eh? Well it’s justified here. Sure there are fat, monstrous chugs and bile-laden lyrics to feed on hungrily. But the Big L, in his dotage, has found expansive room for acoustics, blues and melody. Well, well. More power to you, sir.
PEARL JAM – Lightning Bolt (Virgin EMI)
This eclectic grab-bag of moods and tones sees Vedder on top form and the band putting together an onion-layered grower that still surprises after a good few spins. Welcome back.
WILKO JOHNSON – Koko, London
A deeply emotional gig. Only a month after he announced he had pancreatic cancer and was not taking any treatment, Wilko was strutting and agitating across the Koko stage, staring down the audience through the gun barrel of his Telecaster. He ripped out note-perfect barbs of life affirming rhythm and blues like there was no tomorrow. Uplifting.
MICHAEL SCHENKER – The Forum, London
I’d missed Schenker on his last tour and had previously seen too many moody shows. But he was in a good place on this night. Plundering a set list packed with UFO, Scorpions and MSG classics, Schenker played with fury, power and melody. He remains a genuine guitar genius, albeit shot through with genes of self-destruction.
MARCUS BONFANTI – Borderline, London
A hot, sweaty, joyous gig which stripped down much of the edgy blues material on ‘Shake The Walls’ into an intense and very confident delivery. This was Bonfanti’s first headline gig at the Borderline. He was enjoying it and it showed. Bigger things await.
RUSH – O2, London
A gig of two halves. Rush have so much good material tucked away in their lockers that they always throw up surprises. Kicking off with Subdivisions was one of many. One day they’ll play Jacob’s Ladder again. Just for me.
The second half moved the whole experience up to a giddy (geddy? ed.) level. The excellent Clockwork Angels album was delivered meticulously and enthusiastically, backed by a string ensemble and in front of an audience that couldn’t get enough. Rush may even be getting better.
STIFF LITTLE FINGERS – The Forum, London
SLF gigs are always hallmarked by honest music, grainy humour and copper-bottomed credibility. On this night it was also a lean, confident full force Fingers that ripped through a strong back catalogue, alongside the beefiest new material heard in years. Life in the old dogs yet.
Watch Out 2014! – KILL FOR EDEN – a band that financed and self-released a highly accomplished debut this Spring, chock full of giant hooks, dynamic vocals and craftily insistent tunes. And in Lyla D’Souza they have a front woman who blends range, power and presence. November’s ‘Life On Mars’ EP showed healthy ambition, contrasting sharp grind with easy swagger in equal measure. Refreshing and dynamic. This lot have got plenty to look forward to.
TOM KEIFER The Way Life Goes
Some ten years in the making, this debut solo album from the Cinderella front man was well worth the wait.
MICHAEL MONROE Horns and Halos
With a great live band behind him that have managed to translate their live energy into this record, the first listen of the album gave me that same feeling I had when I heard Hanoi Rocks for the first time.
A consistently good album that shows the band really is still at the top of their game – and long may they stay there.
BLACK STAR RIDERS All Hell Breaks Loose
This album should surprise no-one. A great ensemble of talent that has created an album true to the spirit of Thin Lizzy – and a good move to put it out under a new band name.
HARDCORE SUPERSTAR C’mon Take On Me
Possibly their strongest album to date and one that does not let up from the opening notes to the very last riff- stunning.
WHITESNAKE/Thunder - Birmingham NIA
Only slightly edging ahead of the next night’s Wembley show (purely down to David Coverdale’s superb on stage banter) this was a great package tour – if you can only overlook the performance of Journey on both nights. Whitesnake were great, Thunder were immense – let’s hope they schedule some shows for 2014.
RECKLESS LOVE – Islington O2 Academy
Like a fine blend of early Van Halen and Hanoi Rocks, this band rarely play a bad show.
MICHAEL MONROE – Islington O2 Academy
Monroe has a solid and energetic band that deliver gig after gig. Following the previous weekend’s very well received slot at Hard Rock Hell, this gig was a pure winner.
BLACK STAR RIDERS – Hard Rock Hell
Black Star Riders are an awesome live band, and at their headlining slot at Hard Rock Hell they simply wiped the floor with most bands out there today.
THE CULT – The Roundhouse
Rolling back the years with some gusto, The Cult played 1987′s Electric album alongside a handful of hits. Will they follow on by playing Sonic Temple next? I wouldn’t hold your breath!!
Watch Out 2014! Blackberry Smoke – I’ve been championing Blackberry Smoke since 2010 and am pleased to see that they are now making waves in Europe. With a European tour in March and the UK release of last year’s superb The Whippoorwill album to coincide, it is time for everyone else to catch on to this great band.
NICK VAN DER MEULEN
1. THE POODLES – Tour De Force (Frontiers)
Melodic, grooving Poodles style, this one keeps me returning for another listen.
2. REDS’COOL – Bad Story (Music Buy Mail)
Russian band’s debut release, touted to be the next Gorky Park, although I believe they are better.
3. EVILYN STRANGE – Mourning Phoebe (indie)
This outfit has been on the go for a while (in a different guise). This is proof that you can provide class despite not being signed to a label.
4. DAVID BOWIE – The Next Day (ISO Records)
Quite a surprise to have the legend return after a long hiatus and the album was up to the hype. I believe the Deluxe Edition (released recently) is even better.
5. AVANTASIA – The Mystery Of Time (Nuclear Blast)
Tobias Sammet just can’t go wrong: everything he touches turns to gold. This new concept album is no exception.
Dio reissues (Dream Evil and Magica – Universal)
Both wonderful albums getting the Deluxe treatment they deserve, an essential for Dio fans.
Oliva – Raise The Curtain (AFM Records)
Mr Oliva’s most personal album to date and the last featuring lost Criss Oliva recordings.
Whitesnake – Made In Japan (Frontiers)
Yes, it’s a live album and Mr. Coverdale’s getting on, but the disc of outtakes is wonderful.
Hugh Laurie – Didn’t It Rain (Warner Bros)
Hugh Laurie continues paying tribute to the blues in style. The Book Edition with the bonus tracks is essential.
Top Reissue: SAVATAGE – Streets: A Rock Opera (earMUSIC)
The narrative version of ‘Streets’, as Jon Oliva would’ve liked it on Broadway. Remastered, a different version of ‘Jesus saves’, seven bonus tracks and a second disc of official videos, along with a redone cover of the bleeding guitar. Brilliant.
Didn’t attend many gigs this year, but Pink Cream 69 and Pretty Maids at Pratteln, Switzerland, was stonking!
AYREON – The Theory of Everything
Arjen is back with another Ayreon epic. Faultless!
WITHIN TEMPTATION – The Q Music Sessions
Yes it is a covers album, and yes there are some recent chart friendly numbers covered, but they are all given the Within Temptation makeover and with the wonderful Sharon den Adel singing what is there not to like.
BLACK SABBATH – 13
Welcome back to the mighty Sabbath – after several abortive attempts they finally knocked one out. Let’s pray that it is not the last.
STEVEN WILSON – The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)
Mr Wilson can do no wrong at the moment…another thoughtful masterpiece
W.E.T. – Rise Up
The Scandinavian super-group released the best melodic rock release of the year – every song is majestic.
You have to appreciate vocalist Dave Hill’s commitment to the Demon cause after all of these years plugging away…
Watch Out 2014!
The Virginmarys debut release was one that impressed me…best thing to come out of Macclesfield since…well The Macc Lads!!
1) SAXON – Sacrifice (UDR)
Saxon continue their purple patch with a more intense album than the last – the guitars and vocals full on and still sounding good.
2) RHAPSODY OF FIRE – Dark Wings Of Steel
Operatic melodic symphonic power metal band follow up their From Chaos To Eternity Live set with their first post Luca album and while it’s a tad less orchestrated the keyboards, guitars and Fabio’s operatic vocals all come together perfectly.
3) MICHAEL MONROE – Horns and Halos
More punky and bluesy than the former Hanoi Rocks frontman’s former set, Monroe has produced a storming set, blistering beginning to end.
4) DEEP PURPLE – Perfect Strangers Live
This CD / DVD set details the band’s 1984/5 tour. Sadly not the Knebworth 1985 performance but this 1984 show in Australia shows the band happy, energetic and on form. Classic beginning to end.
5) SAXON – Solid Ball Of Rock / Forever Free / Dogs Of War / Live In Germany 1991
These reissues (and a period live set) on Edsel / Demon makes available a classic and very underrated much overlooked period for the band. British metal at it’s best; not a bad moment here.
SAXON – London, May 2013
This band never ever fail to entertain; great sound, great performance, vocals still fantastic. A decent set and a varied setlist.
Watch Out 2014! – GLORY ROAD
Gillan’s Mick Underwood playing a retrospective and more than decent set, with a very decent band.
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Power Plays w/c 31 July 2017
THE SPIRITUAL MACHINES Bubble (Would Work Sound)
CATS IN SPACE The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (Harmony Factory Records)
KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD Nothing But The Night (Provogue)
MISE EN SCENE Still Life On Fire (Membran)
MORRISSEY & MARSHALL Hangin’ Around (Mass Market Recordings)
Featured Albums w/c 31 July (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 LIONHEART Second Nature (AOR Heaven)
12:00-13:00 MR. BIG Defying Gravity (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 CIARA SIDINE Unbroken Line (indie)
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