Wake Up Leo

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Citing influences such as Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, The Cure and New Order, Wake Up Leo is an up and coming project fronted by Leo Ulph, backed by a very tight indie/pop band from the South East of England.

Leo and the boys put out a very polished, professional sound, with hints of the New Romantics of the eighties mixing in with a definite pinch of nineties chart Britpop.

I was sent five tracks, including their latest release, Friends. Of these, my favourite was The Race We’re Running, a poppy number with an instantly memorable riff and a feel that reminded me of Ladyhawke’s self-titled first album.

Of the others, Higher is more anthemic, with a Verve / Coldplay style. Cellophane brings the Housemartins into the frame, whilst Friends brings a feel-good message and feel that wouldn’t have been out of place in the eponymous US sitcom that bears the same name. The final track, Nowhere To Go, is probably the most individual track I heard, more difficult to pin to any genre, and I suspect closer to their own style than the other songs.

So what do I think?

The guys in the band (Leo, Erim, Paul, Tom, and Russ) know their stuff. The tracks are well formed, polished, and laid down well. There’s a commercial edge to the material that comes over clearly and, given the right exposure, I can see Wake Up Leo going places.

One thing bothers me though.

There’s a sense in which the band, and the songs, are…. well, a little too commercial, a little too nice. Were I to throw a word of advice to them, I’d like to see a little more energy and edge in their music, because it’s a cut-throat business and unless you stand out, you run the risk of being categorised and then forgotten.

Overall – I like Wake Up Leo quite a lot. I can’t help thinking that I’d like them even more if they tried to upset me a little…

Check out Wake Up Leo at https://www.facebook.com/wakeupleo1

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Train / Magic Numbers / Natasha North – O2 London. 24 March 2015

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Picking my daughters’ favourite band? Easy. Whilst their friends are all boy-band crazy, or turning a little bit Emo, my girls are huge fans of US rockers Train. So when we saw that they were appearing at the O2, of course we were going to be there.

Now, I’m not usually a fan of huge arena gigs, preferring the smaller, more intimate venues where you can really engage with the artist. So I went with a mix of expectations: excited for the girls, looking forward to Train (they are very good) and apprehension that the size of the venue might dwarf the experience.

First on was a singer unknown to me. Natasha North hails from Beaconsfield, in the rural commuter belt just outside London. Her blend of acoustic guitar, synth strings, and rhythmic percussion filled the arena, and her haunting vocals really kicked the evening off well. She declared to the appreciative crowd that this was ‘the biggest gig of her life’ which made her performance all the better, as she really stepped up to the plate. Check her site out at http://www.natashanorth.com

Following on from Natasha were The Magic Numbers. Hailing from my own home town of Hanwell, I was looking forward to a blend of rock and pop delivered with style and setting us all up for the main event. So I was a little disappointed to find their set comprised a very formulaic blend of bland, uninspiring tunes delivered in a style that suggests they had watched ‘How To Play Rock On Stage #101’ before stepping out. I saw all the poses, all the wide-legged stances, and all the guitar-waving, but the music didn’t live up to the billing. They weren’t bad as such, just a bit… well, meh… Check out http://themagicnumbers.net

And so to Train.

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Formed in 1993 in Los Angeles, Train have consistently delivered well-crafted, catchy rock tunes for more than two decades. In Pat Monahan they have the secret ingredient every successful band needs – a charismatic frontman. Pat’s ability to engage fully with the audience, and his flawless delivery of their catalogue, set the arena alight. This I know to be true, because from the word go, my girls were utterly enthralled. yelling the lyrics to every song at the top of their voices, taking pictures and selfies, they were in heaven.

With songs such as Angel In Blue Jeans, Hey Soul Sister, Bruises, 50 Ways To Say Goodbye and Drops Of Jupiter, Train have identified their sound, and deliver their songs with confidence and energy. And it’s clear that they love what they do, an emotion that spills out to the enraptured audience.

I can pay them one more compliment, which for me shows their skill: They made a huge auditorium feel like a small club. You don’t get better than that.

Train‘s website is http://savemesanfrancisco.com – check it out for more information about my girls’ favourite band!

The Psychedelic Furs – London 2012

There’s something about going to a decent gig that gets your pulse racing and cheers the soul.

When the music is pounding, the crowd responds, and for a while, a short while, you’re taken on a journey to a place where your work worries, your family woes, your money troubles, whatever else ails you just doesn’t matter.

People have long believed that music has theraputic properties, and every time I hear a great tune, played brilliantly in an atmosphere that’s rocking, I believe it.

On a recent Thursday evening in July, I was one of a great many people packed into The Garage, in North London, to see one of the bands I grew up with as a child. The Psychedelic Furs may only be known to most people purely for the association that their 1981 hit Pretty In Pink has with the 1986 John Hughes movie of the same name, but those whose understanding starts and ends with Molly Ringwald and Duckie are missing the entire trick.

As a live act, The Furs are simply superb. More than 30 years may have passed since the Butler brothers first formed the band, but their enthusiasm, energy, and sheer love of the job is undiminished. The music is timeless, the musicianship flawless, and the performance peerless.

OK, let’s discuss the line-up.

My start point has to be my friend and fellow drummer, Paul Garisto. I’ve spoken with enough people that know Paul to understand that he’s acknowledged by all that know him as a real gentleman, a lovely guy, and one hell of a fine drummer. We’ve chatted online for a number of years and I have had the pleasure of seeing him play both here and when I was stateside in 2011. Both times, Paul went out of his way to give time to chat and catch up, and it was a pleasure to be able to spend time after the gig with him, chewing over drum stuff, talking about the vintage kit he’s just got, and the stuff he’s selling to make room. The Furs have a real gem in Paul, and it’s clear to see from their performances and the way they interact on stage, that they know and appreciate this all too well.

Next, I have to mention lead singer and founder-member, Richard Butler. Richard brings his full personality to lead vocals, with a voice oft-described as ‘nicotine-filled’ and certainly uniquely distinctive. To see Richard perform is to understand the heart of the man and to get inside the song. He’s an object lesson to any wannabe singer on how to engage with an audience and make them love you. I was able to cach up with Richard for a few minutes after last week’s gig, and once again, a genuine and lovely guy, clearly still very much in love with his music and the buzz on stage (even if I did point out, to his amusement, that he’d just succeeded in generating London’s oldest ‘mosh-pit’!)

Alongside Richard, at the start as now, is his brother Tim on bass, singing away and bringing bass excellence and so much more to the mix. I swear that at times, Tim was getting closer to the audience than Richard dared to! These two guys so obviously love their job, as well they should, and this infectious joy of performing hits the audience across both cheeks and dares them not to join in with the glee.

As well as the three above, we have the wonderful Mars Williams on sax, bringing his love of Rock and Jazz to create those distinct licks that fill and stir around both the guitar track, which is delivered with energy and passion by Richard Good, and the keyboard fills, which Amanda Kramer weaves in and out of the musical narrative with consumate skill and feeling.

I have to use the phrase Musical Narrative, even though it sounds pretentious, because that’s what The Furs do with their music. Every song tells a story, every lyric introduces a new character, and you cannot but be picked up and carried along with everyone around you.

And so to the gig.

I went with my younger brother, who I have watched from afar as he grew up as part of the mix-master generation, believing that turntables and segues are the key to good music. He’s been a DJ, he’s run karaoke clubs, he’s done a bit of singing, and now, at the age of nearly 40, he’s just joined his first ‘proper’ band. I took him along and advised him to watch and learn, my boy, just watch and learn. I admit to feeling a little like Yoda introducing the young Jedi student Skywalker to the ways of The Force. Suffice to say, he keeps telling everyone how great the night was, that he has a new favourite band, and it’ll be interesting to see what effect watching Richard’s delivery will have when next he performs with his band!

Musically, you won’t get much better than an evening with The Psychedelic Furs. There’s a freshness and a vibrancy about their music that makes me wonder how anybody could willingly listen to anyone called Beiber. There’s just no contest.

Whether they are playing tracks with a driving beat, such as Mr Jones or Into You Like A Train, or whether it’s a slower, more melodic track such as Heaven or All Of This & Nothing, the audience reaction is the same – utter entrancement. They sound like the end result every other live band is aiming for, and deservedly receive the adulation the audience pours out.

The Psychedelic Furs are back in the US now, but next time they are over this side of the pond (or next time you are over there, anywhere near a gig) be sure to grab your tickets and be there – you will certainly go away happy. I did, the Furs did, and so did everyone else who was there, on that special London night.

Thanks for a great one, guys!

Text copyright Paul Shrimpton, 2012.

Degrees Of Freedom – Perfect World

It’s always a good feeling when you do something new – visiting a city for the first time, reading a new book, watching a new movie. So I was pleasantly surprised when my copy of the recent Degrees Of Freedom album, ‘Perfect World’ hit my doormat. Some new music by a band I’d never heard before was just what I needed.

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The story behind the album is interesting – it’s the culmination of guitarist John Aulabaugh’s mid-life crisis, which took a Blues Brothers twist when he decided to pull his band back together after a quarter of a century. I’m not sure if a 106-mile road trip or the Illinois Law Enforcement Agency were involved, but I’m sure the sunglasses put in an appearance!

As far as line-up goes, Degrees Of Freedom are guitarist John Aulabaugh, vocalist Michael Husler, Michael Murphy on bass and drummer Tim Murphy. In addition, the album benefits from guest appearances from Lydia Salinkova on keys and strings, Ken Barnum on bass and Paul Garisto on drums.

Perfect World is an eclectic mix of tracks, ranging from the rock to the melodic, from the driving beat to the tunefully pensive. Each tune has a slightly different flavour hinting at a wide range of influences and moods. My personal favourites are Again and Again, Overwhelmed, and Howlin’ at the Moon, tracks that show the best that Degrees of Freedom offer – great musicianship, a lyric that tells a story, and a tune that sticks in your head after the album has long finished.

The remaining tracks are all very good standalone tracks, including the title track, Perfect World, deliberately written in a mix of time-signatures so that it never quite settles into a comfortable groove in your head.

These days, it’s rare that you’ll sit and listen to an album from start to finish. I’m old enough to recall a time before people simply downloaded individual tracks, and then hit the shuffle button. Gone are the days when an album took you on a journey, with all of the tracks hanging together and taking you from A to B. And there’s the only problem I have with the album. Perfect World is, to me, an example of how nine great songs don’t quite hang together as a great album when played in sequence.

Now I’m very aware that I’m being picky here, but it’s that range of influences I mentioned before that possibly contributes to this. Don’t get me wrong – this is far better than most of the stuff you hear on the radio these days, and is worthy of a place on your shelf.

As a collection, Perfect World is excellent. As an album, it’s merely very good indeed…

Track listing:

  • Again and Again
  • Indifferent
  • Howlin’ at the Moon
  • Bring Me
  • Lie to Me
  • Mexico
  • Overwhelmed
  • Hand of the Devil
  • Perfect World

John Aulabaugh – Of Sins Present And Past

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New Music.

It’s a phrase that evokes a range of emotions, but these days, more often than not it sadly throws up a depressing image of kids with computers in bedrooms remixing and self-producing in the hope of becoming the world’s next YouTube sensation. Which is why, when a new artist comes along that defies the stereotype, we should sit up and take notice. John Aulabaugh is one such artist.

His debut album, Of Sins Present And Past, dropped into my inbox this week.

John is a musician, a businessman, a father, a son, a husband. He’s seen life with all its triumphs and challenges, and with this album, John brings all his years to bear when telling a story.

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Of Sins Present And Past talks of addiction and recovery, of secrecy and deceit, of compulsion and hurt, pain and recovery. And just as that journey is full of ups and downs, John’s music hits you on unexpected, and at times slightly uncomfortable levels. It sings of despair, desire, destruction, desperation and the hope of ultimate deliverance, through well-written, meaningful lyrics and intelligent, carefully crafted melodies.

If you asked me to pull out a few tracks as standouts? It’s tough, because they are all good, but I’d say that having spent a few days listening, the tracks that I find myself singing are the wonderfully acoustic A Road Less Travelled, the darker, more compulsive Strange, the more laid back, rhythmic feel of Awake, and the beautifully haunting Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. That these tracks each have their own feel and flavor just highlights again how John Aulabaugh has delivered a welcome, refreshing breath of fresh air with Of Sins Present And Past.

This new kid on the alt-country block has been round that block a few times, and his music is all the better for it.

John Aulabaugh‘s debut album, Of Sins Present And Past, is a habit well worth indulging. Featuring such renowned artists as Jessy Greene and Rami Jaffee, it’s at the same time both personal and universal, and deserves all the acclaim it will undoubtably create.

Of Sins Present And Past is released on March 30, 2015.

Shadows Of Violence – Rise

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Sadly, I’m old enough to have lived through the ‘golden age’ of rock. Bands like AC/DC. Iron Maiden. Thin Lizzy. Motorhead. Bands now seen as ‘classic’ by many, and as ‘old grandad music’ by many more. And from these, we have today’s metal scene.

These days, there’s a definite formula for metal. It includes complex rhythms underpinned by a driving, solid 4/4. It includes guitars that fill your head with several chords, with at least one fast-fretworked solo designed to show off the sick skills of the lead guy. It includes lyrics that are hurled to the far wall with more focus on volume and power than on obeying the rules.

Rise, by Sounds Of Violence, meets all of these criteria, and meets them with a vengeance.

Based in Leeds, the band formed in 2006 and Rise is their latest EP.

Now I’m much more  a ‘classic’ man, so shared the tracks with a few colleagues in the office, who declared that they liked the sound, because “I like Cradle Of Filth”, and even hinted at a similarity to early Metallica.

Whether you fall into the classic camp like myself, or are more likely to be found in the mosh-pit at parties rather than the kitchen, there’s no denying the raw energy and dynamism of Shadows Of Violence.

If metal’s your thing, go check them out.

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Rise track listing:

  • Breeding Vengeance
  • Green Eyed Monster
  • Scars Of A Fractured Mind
  • Swing For The Lights
  • Through The Looking Glass

Shadows Of Violence are: Vocals – Chris Moules; Guitars – Martin Haigh, George Watts; Drums – Michael Burrows; Bass – Kieran Mitchell

Website: https://www.facebook.com/shadowsofviolence