Wednesday, 22 July 2015

This Must Be the Place - Glastonbury 2015 Highlights

A first for The Northern Chords - today's entry is a guest piece, written by a Mr Aiden Hale, with his highlights from the Glastonbury Festival 2015. It is presented here, unedited, with minor formatting changes. Warning, there is some strong language featured. Please enjoy.

Glastonbury. The undisputed world heavyweight champion of the festival world; and due to recent difficulties to actually obtain a ticket, the holy grail for festival goers everywhere. This was my third successive year in attendance at worthy farm and just like the previous two, over a week has passed since it all came to a close and still all I can find myself doing is talking about it! So I've took the decision to put my compulsive rambling on the subject into physical words (wish me luck).

The 2015 line up had divided opinion, even before a chord had been struck. Yes there was the whole riff-raff behind the booking of the controversial but undeniably gifted hip-hop maestro that is Kanye West and the idiots who started a petition which all it looked to me screamed “HOW DARE THEY LET BLACK MUSIC HEADLINE OUR FESTIVAL!”. But without getting carried away on that particular issue, people seemed to have reservations with the line up as a whole. Even on the coach journey down to Somerset I could hear conversations that all followed the same theme that this was the “worst line up in years” but how the £220 ticket is worth admission to the psychedelic wonders the lie beyond the (in)famous “super wall”. While I completely agree with the latter, the former puzzled me. For me it was as good as it’s ever been and I even had to deal with the bittersweet agony of multiple stage clashes throughout the weekend. My personalised line up on the iPhone app was full of overlaps, artists I already adored and ones who I was looking forward to discovering. Without trying to sound so cliché, at Glastonbury there really is a bit of something for everybody. Even with the heart breaking withdrawal of Dave Grohl's busted leg and the rest of his Foo Fighters (this event ultimately ended up being quite serendipitous to this list), narrowing my favourite acts of the weekend to a mere 5 was frustratingly difficult. I was tempted to do a top ten but let’s face it; we don’t have all day here, so I digress. Right, before I start I’ll state the obvious; this is strictly my personal opinion based on who I ended up seeing. I didn't see most of the acts that played, not even all the ones I wanted to, it’s just not possible at a festival of this gargantuan scale. So without further ado and trying my best to not sound like an annoying chart narrator, let’s get the countdown started!

5 – Jamie T (Sunday, Other Stage)

“We normally play in tents when we come here, what the fuck’s going on?” said Jamie in his swaggering yet clearly humbled cockney charm at the front end of his Other Stage slot on Sunday evening. Jamie T seems to be the patron of that old saying that people always miss you more when you’re gone, as during his 5 year hiatus where he seemed to drop off the face of the earth his cult figure seemed to only grow as us early twenties lot began reminiscing on our early teen years in the mid to late noughties. But Jamie as with the rest of us has grown up. Gone are the days of a snapback and chain wearing Jamie T and he relays this with his new dare I say more sensible indie-rock sound in his new album Carry on the Grudge. And this Jamie T came out firing. He was a man on a mission to prove that his 5 years in the abyss were worth the wait and that he was worthy of his relatively big slot.

Jamie T performing on the Other Stage at Glastonbury 2015 
He and his band were playing fast and flamboyantly in what seemed an attempt to get this Sunday evening crowd which might be low of energy at this stage as every bit pumped as they were. In the first half of the set the classic Back in the Game and the new banger Rabbit Hole were both gratefully received by the crowd. But what got this performance into my top five was the final leg of his set where he had purposely left tune after tune. From the first lines of Sheila and If You've Got the Money you would think you were watching a chart dominating pop sensation by the diverse audiences’ shared knowledge of every lyric. The set was then concluded with the crowd jumping in tandem to the lively Sticks ‘n Stones and Zombie where both Jamie and the crowd didn't want it to end. But end it did and the result was a triumphant return of Jamie T to the Glasto scene.    

4 – Hot Chip (Friday, West Holts)

At number 4 we delve into what seems an even bigger noughties obscurity than the last entry. Friday night came along and I just didn't quite fancy a Florence headline slot (for what it’s worth if Foos had played I would have seen Flo). So I ended up heading to the West Holts stage to do my only solo viewing of the weekend and I didn't really blame anyone for not coming with me. I myself was one of those annoying fans who were only familiar with the singles, but something in me told me that Hot Chip would put on a weird yet thoroughly enjoyable show. Boy was I right! As soon as the lights came down and unveiled their classy stage set and on walked the band dressed in a mixture of bright boiler suits, white nightwear and tropical beachwear I was sold. The set began with Huarache Lights a number from their new and difficult to label album Why Make Sense which has elements of house and techno fused into the unmistakeable weird indie-pop sound of the Hot Chip of old. The crowd was a mixture of people who all seemed to be there for the same reason; to have a good time. This lead to one of the liveliest dancing crowds of the weekend and by the time the band had performed the classics One Life Stand and Over and Over early on in the set, the party had started. I didn't care that I was dancing, jumping and singing along with thousands of strangers, it seemed only fitting that I watched this unconventional band in an equally unconventional surrounding with these people. Being a headline set meant that Hot Chip had a longer set to fill, but I needn't have worried about getting bored during runs of songs that I wasn't familiar with as Hot Chip succeeded with keeping the tempo up and the crowd on their side through album songs old and new. 

Hot Chip performing on the West Holts Stage at Glastonbury 2015
Towards the end of the set the fan favourites Ready for the Floor and I Feel Better were deployed and received rambunctious crowd participation in both singing and dancing. However this meant that they were destined to finish with a song unfamiliar to most…. Or so I thought. For the last song on walked the members of Caribou to help out in a cover of the universally loved Springsteen hit Dancing in the Dark. It was mayhem on stage and amongst the audience. It was improvised, uncoordinated and encapsulated the true Glastonbury spirit. The set came to a close with guitarist Al Doyle who is the same Al Doyle of LCD Soundsystem teasing whatever possible LCD fans in the audience (me being one of them) to a few lines from the defining LCD hit All My Friends. This finish was enough to send me back to my tent all giddy and trying to explain to the rest of my group exactly what they had missed out on that evening.

3 – Chemical Brothers (Sunday, Other Stage)

Along came Sunday night and there appeared to be a straight split between where the older and younger sections of the audience spent their evening. I respect The Who and appreciate their musical influence but I think what applies for me applies to many others of my generation and it is that I simply wasn't going to see them for the sake of seeing them. This was everybody’s last act of the weekend and we wanted to go out with a bang! So we chose The Chemical Brothers. I believe that headlining the Other Stage is the biggest slot capable of dance acts at Glastonbury. Apart from the highly unlikely booking of Daft Punk headlining the Pyramid I believe we are a long way from ever seeing DJs in that sort of position, so this is as good and as big as it gets for a dance act at Glasto. The Chemical Brothers also realised that this wasn't their usual Ibiza or nightclub gig where people had bought tickets specifically for them to do their thing, it wasn't their typical dance crowd; it was Glastonbury. They wanted the crowd on their side from the word go and obliged by kicking things off with the 97 classic and DJing favourite Hey Boy, Hey Girl. The rave had begun; flares were being set off, those bad stereotypical dance moves that seem to be nothing but jerking hand movements were all the rage and the stage set lighting was easily the most spectacular of the weekend (even better when a friend had brought a few pairs of light diffracting glasses). It didn’t matter that it was the late hours of Sunday evening; this crowd was going to muster whatever energy they had left by any means to party until the bitter end.

The Chemical Brothers performing on the Other Stage at Glastonbury 2015 
The Bros were in their stride; performing the repetitive yet addictive Do it Again and the new single Go which could be seen as homage to the iconic Galvanize. But these songs were not played as we knew them, no. The Bros had been given their platform and were here to showcase just how skilled their abilities on the decks were and refused to simply just press play on singles such as these. Instead what we saw was a ballet of twisting knobs and dials that resulted in these songs crashing at you at all speeds. It was unpredictable and kept you on your feet (quite literally). The set was a rollercoaster and seemed to fly by as such and towards the end the Bros didn't forget where they were or who they were playing to. You could see it on their faces that they knew they had smashed it, but they also knew what this crowd was waiting for and treated their patience to a finale of Galvanize (probably the purest version they have played in many years) and Block Rockin’ Beats which had the crowd carrying on the singing all the way back to their tents.

2 – Kanye West (Saturday, Pyramid Stage)

This was easily the act I was looking forward to the most; in fact it wasn't even close. So I am as surprised as anybody to find that this isn't my number 1 choice. But that is not to say that this set wasn't outstanding because it was every bit as good as I was expecting. From listening to College Dropout while doing my paper round as a young’un to Yeezus I have loved everything Kanye has released throughout his career. Simply, I am a fan. And as such there was a very unique “perfect” set that I had in my own mind. However I had come to terms that my wishes were mere fantasy and that what would unfold before me was probably going to be a long way off. But it was close enough. I cannot remember ever hearing of a Glastonbury headliner having so much adversity and opposition before even taking to the stage. This didn't stop him drawing a huge crowd; however I imagine many in attendance still needed winning over. The lights came down and there was a brief silence before the storm. The storm was then ignited with the huge hitting Daft Punk sampled Stronger. The pyramid was in full voice and the man himself had yet to even show his face, lord only knows what this did to what was already considered the world’s most inflated ego. Then came Kanye; bouncing onto the stage dressed in more denim than I thought was humanly possible. He had the stage and the audience completely to himself and he didn't look fazed in the slightest. The beginning of the set was a hit filled bonanza with Power, In Paris and Black Skinhead all being dropped in the first fifteen minutes. The crowd could barely keep up, so I could only imagine how on earth Kanye was! After a run of famous hip hop covers which were graciously receipted by the pyramid audience (who would have thought it? Glasto love hip hop after all) came arguably the two strongest songs from the critically acclaimed Yeezus, New Slaves and Blood on the Leaves. This wasn't traditional hip hop, this was the unique dark style that Kanye had moulded himself and what ultimately raised him to the biggest musical platform of all.
Kanye West performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2015 
Perhaps realising that he was on a stricter time limit than what he’s used to and aware that he had a back catalogue of hits to get through, Kanye then began to tick off song after song on a whim, not following a set list and not even playing full songs at times. I was lost in the performance, I had lost track of what he had played and had literally no idea what would come up next. Each song was a lottery and I felt like I was winning every time. The impromptu arrival of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon sent me into overdrive. Because of Vernon’s influence on Kanye’s recent albums he was the one special guest that I had wished for and my wish had been granted. Kanye then treated the old school fans (and from the number of people singing along there was many) to the classics Jesus Walks and Diamonds from Sierra Leone” before embarking on the journey that is Runaway. I must say it was quite the sight seeing over one-hundred thousand people "have a toast for the douchebags". Then the beautiful tribute to his mother Only One before Kanye jumped onto that crane of his; probably just so he could get a better view of the crowd that he now had in his pocket. Typically this coincided with his songs Touch the Sky and the feel good anthem Good Life.  Eventually Kanye briefly came back down to earth to then perform a surprise cover of Bohemian Rhapsody (I imagine that rubbed a lot of the older TV viewers up the wrong way). For those who were there it was a sensational moment to be a part of. He began to run out of time citing that he only had 7 minutes left. But that didn't stop Kanye from disrupting the start of his most well-known tune Gold Digger in order to proclaim that we were watching the “greatest living rockstar on the planet”. Watching the audience submit to this as probable fact he even leaked a sly smirk. The set came to a close with the debut album single All Falls Down and given the current political climate in the US was a surprisingly humble and undeniably poignant end to an unforgettable set.          

1 – Mark Ronson (Friday, Other Stage)

When looking at everybody who played over the three days this is probably a surprising number one. Well it’s probably surprising for those who didn't witness it, because for all those who were there this was a set to remember.  I was already a huge fan of Ronson and his work before this set and had seen him perform with a full band before, but this set well and truly blew me away. The show was propelled into life with Feel Right a song more on the hip hop side of things from his new album Uptown Special, which even though has not been released as a single is already a popular and well known track. The start of the set carried on with the hip hop theme with Ronson and the help of his two energetic MCs busting out the old school track Ooh Wee from his debut album Here Comes The Fuzz a track that even if you didn't know it was by Ronson, you know the song (this seemed to be the case for lots of the audience). By this point the sun was shining, the crowd were drinking, dancing and singing. Yet things were just getting started. For the rest of the set a revolving door or cameo appearances had swung into the motion, starting with MNDR who took her role in the popular single Bang Bang Bang from Ronson’s last album Record Collection. Then, without introduction came the forgotten man Daniel Merriweather to perform none other than the first single from Ronson’s breakthrough album Version and Smiths cover Stop Me. Merriweather’s vocals were particularly on point for this one and there didn't appear to be any disgruntled Smiths fans in the audience (you know what they’re like) so a good performance all round. The band arrangement seemed to change by song but the ever present Ronson stood, calm yet eye catching throughout; even without providing any vocals to the production. He was there and this was his set, there was no arguing that.

Mark Ronson performing on the Other Stage at Glastonbury 2015
Alongside a couple of BMXers came Kyle Falconer of the view for his feature in The Bike Song, one can only imagine Mark had to search deep into his vast contacts for that one too. Shortly after came the first big name arrival to the stage and one who really rivalled Ronson’s title of coolest member of this ensemble and that was Kevin Parker of Tame Impala. Parker, Ronson and co. then blasted out the hypnotic track that is Daffodils that had the audience revelling in awe. Up next was the gangly, brightly dressed figure of Andrew Wyatt of Miike Snow to perform an unorthodox yet very pleasant Calypso enhanced version of the Miike Snow single Animal. For those familiar with the Record Collection album it was obvious what was to unfold next, but for those who didn't expect it I can only imagine their surprise to Boy George’s arrival to the stage, dressed in full Culture Club attire and all. George and Wyatt then harmonised magically for the performance of Somebody to Love Me. Wyatt then gracefully departed the stage and it was time to get the whole crowd singing again, and what better way to do so than with the Culture Club classic Do You Really Want to Hurt Me. However for the next track there were no special guest as Ronson and the whole of the Other Stage gave tribute to Ronson’s close friend in a stripped down yet beautiful version of Valerie. At times the crowd were out-singing the track and Ronson was visibly taken aback by it all. Glastonbury has lacked many guest appearances in recent years and Mark Ronson seemed to be trying to make up for them all in a single set, especially in the final song of his set which was none other than the inescapable infectious chart topping hit of Uptown Funk. Firstly no, Bruno Mars didn't make an appearance however this was overcome by the introduction of the legendary Grandmaster Flash on the decks and vocals provided by Mary J Blige fresh from her outstanding Pyramid stage performance earlier that day. Finally Ronson paid homage to this funk inspired single and album by bringing on the proclaimed “Prime Minister of Funk” George Clinton. I don’t think me or the rest of the crowd in fact, could compute the unique collection of artists that were performing to us from that stage. It really was a once in a lifetime show.

This post was written by Mr Aiden Hale, who can be contacted via Twitter on the handle @HaleAiden. He can often be found in various bars situated around Liverpool and Leeds, and is a veteran of multiple Glastonbury appearances. He also wishes to state that he popularised his current haircut before it was cool.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Gig Review: Taylor Swift @ British Summer Time, Hyde Park, London, 27.06.15

It’s hard to dispute Taylor Swift’s power in the musical world right now. Riding high from all the conquering eighties throwback of fifth album 1989, which cemented her transition from deeply personal country pop with a girl-next-door charm to stadium-filling bubblegum electronica, she forced a u-turn from Apple Music over royalties in recent weeks, lifting her even further in the adoring eyes of her legions of fans (known as Swifties) and earning the respect of her peers and savvy financial types. Her recent singles are running amok across the Bilboard 100 in the US; last time such dominance was seen was when a denim clad Bruce Springsteen was churning out hit after hit thirty years ago.

Taylor Swift, at British Summer Time 2015
Her headlining show (part of the British Summer Time festival, and continuously referred to as a party in Hyde Park, London by the star) is the conclusion of a brief sojourn into Europe, where until three years ago, she had made nary a dent, in sharp contrast to her already large audience in her native homeland. Fourth album Red changed all that, and Swift’s meteoric ascent in the last three years, particularly across the rest of the world, is cemented here to a 65,000 sell-out crowd that only previous night’s headliners The Who have matched this summer. The atmosphere, under a sweltering summer’s day in the capital, is set to party, with masses of revellers (mostly teenage and female in large groups or accompanied by parents) crammed in, clutching homemade signs proclaiming their love for the Nashville singer, wearing custom t-shirts, and all on the verge of hyper-ventilating or crying or both. And she’s not even on stage yet.

She appears shortly after eight, following Fine Young Cannibals’ She Drives Me Crazy over the PA, to the OMD-indebted synth stabs of album opener Welcome to New York, surrounded by dancers, onto a set that draws heavy influence from Singing in the Rain, with lampposts suspended from the ceilings, to delirious screams. What follows is one hundred and thirty five minutes of solid entertainment, sometimes brilliant, not entirely original and on occasions, tiresomely nauseating and disappointing. It’s a contradictory show that suggests Swift may still not be fully sold on what she wants live performances to be.

Never being one for the charts, I discovered Swift through a series of collaborations with British rockers Def Leppard on the Crossroads programme in America (and their version together of Love Story is worth a listen if you’ve got a spare few minutes, ably reminding you that Leppard were purveyors of some fine cheese metal ballads in their heyday). Swift is well respected for her musical talent and her artistry in songwriting as well as performance – so to see her prancing down the catwalk to minimalistic electro-hit Blank Space and deferring vocal duties on multiple occasions to the backing track is both confusing and annoying: the former due to the fact that she’s going through no real dance moves of her own at that moment, the latter because when she does sing, she has a fine powerful voice that is by turns playful, arresting and emotional. It isn’t the first time and nor will it be the last that Swift defers to the recorded vocal, and it’s a shame – her elevation to pop mainstream has seen her cram the typical live show elements of elaborate staging, extensive dance and multiple costume changes to extreme levels. Thank God that she has the songs, or Hyde Park would have simply been witnessing an extended hi-tech fashion parade of old musical costumes amidst a spot of half-naked male dancing

And what songs. 1989 was one of the stronger mainstream hits of 2014, and backing track or not, there are very few dud tracks on it. Aptly named The 1989 World Tour, Swift drops its hits, its album tracks and its deluxe version numbers one after the other – over three-quarters of the set is drawn from it, but the crowd greets every track like an old friend, with mass adoration, hand waving and tears. How You Get the Girl and All You Had To Do Was Stay signal sing-alongs – her dancers move doors around the stage and down the long walkway that juts out into the middle of the crowd for escape song I Know Places. The staging itself is elaborate, verging between the musical-inspired – newest hit Bad Blood is accompanied by a West Side Story-esque wire frame and glass set up – and the ridiculous – Swift produces a piano that she’s knowingly aware of looking like some bastardised Star Wars craft and a figment of Matt Bellamy’s feverish dreams at one point. Her band is well tuned and fairly tight – they play the songs and they play them well, though there is, surprisingly for such a well-oiled machine, the odd flubbed intro and missed cue. Swift doesn’t chastise or get moody though – she simply gives a wry roll of the eye and flashes a disarmingly charming smile. She’s not a perfectionist, and that’s a quality that can serve well in the live music quarter.

Taylor Swift, at British Summer Time 2015
Songs don’t necessarily stay the same either – a slow, sleazy electro-stomp through I Knew You Were Trouble is accompanied by gyrating men with bulging biceps, exuding an inherent, almost commercialised sexualisation of camp that Freddie Mercury would be proud of but seems almost tame in comparison to other big pop shows . And therein lies another weakness – there are no game-changing elements to this performance that sets it apart from the rest. The half-naked male dancer is pop show cliché. So is musical-inspired elaborate staging. So is routines requiring a backing track. Swift borrows all, and then some, without much variation upon it. A spectacle it is, but Rihanna and Beyonce have been here before, for years too (Lady Gaga too, although her stripped down approach with Tony Bennett is winning plaudits). The redeeming grace note is that Swift, more often than not, appears to be entirely aware of the implausibility of it all and subverts it on occasion – but more often than not, it goes over the crowd’s head and its down to her personal charms to sway the rest.
At one point, she takes to the walkway (which elevates and spins round slowly over the screaming fans) and here again, it’s a show of two halves. No longer dancing, she delivers backing-less, superb vocals and shows off her musical skills, with an acoustic You Are in Love (complete with crowd chant) and keyboard-heavy makeover over of original hit Love Story strong points of the night. The true highlight of this little section is a gorgeous, somewhat emotionally desperate take on album closer Clean, a genuinely-affecting ballad that is accompanied by visuals of a woman turning into petals and water. It is starkly affecting and creates a real sense of emotion to the performance.

But it is preceded and followed by Swift’s monologues and musings on life. Most artists do this, whatever the show, but they usually keep it fairly short and snappy and appeal to the fans. Instead, the crowd is treated to four different sermons, coming in at a combined thirty five minutes. Whilst one – about being your own worst critic, and struggles with depression – is brimming with a genuine emotion, the rest ring somewhat hollow. Swift meanders on her love life and her musical success, but it feels far too scripted to be arresting. Her crowd lap it up – Swift is one of the leading lights of fan interaction, forming genuine friendships that she appears to treasure as much as the young women she connects with online over social media – but you get the distinct impression that she could read a grocery list and they would react the same way, or the receipt from a shop at B&Q.

Another gripe is the video inserts that accompany the changing of staging. Against a stark white background, celebrity pals such as Selena Gomez, Lena Dunham and the Haim sisters pay tribute to Swift. Whilst some testimony is amusingly candid (Dunham and model Cara Delevigne have a knowing awareness to what these inserts are), they are most likely meant to humanise Swift and broaden her appeal further – instead, they come off as self-congratulatory and a little sickening. Swift has never been one to flaunt her own ego excessively in the way of other pop stars, but by publishing these plaudits from other A-listers, she feels somewhat complicit to boosting it. It is underpinned by the hit Style too – famous friends, including tennis player Serena Williams and the aforementioned Delevigne walk the runway, the latter waiving a Union Jack, and it all feels a little too much like a taunting boast. Perhaps a montage of the common people, her fans from the crowd passing testimony, might have helped create a better connection – or perhaps not even at all. Swift is still at heart in possession of the cherub-like girl-next-door charm she traded on when younger, and at times it positively radiates and dazzles, but too often she feels like she is undermining her own generous warmth and showmanship with this.

Taylor Swift and friends, at British Summer Time 2015
Bad Blood is followed by a crashing hard-rock take on international breakthrough We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together that easily stakes a claim to the highlight of the show. Dirty riffs, played by Swift on an electric guitar, matched with an angered edgy vocal, it again gives a chance to showcase her vocal and musical skills – but the background visual is indebted to the video for The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army and the smack of nothing truly new in its staging rings out again. A piano led mash-up of Enchanted and Wildest Dreams leads in the finale, a frantic, tingling take on Out of the Woods, possibly 1989’s strongest track, and lead-single party starter Shake It Off, during which Swift and her troupe of dancers return to dance (harnessed, thanks to Health and Safety restrictions) along the raised walkway again. It triggers a previously-unfelt release of tension in the crowd and leads to much dancing, the giant screens either side of the stage showing the beaming expressions of fans as the camera passes over them. The vocal for Woods again pulls on the heartstrings and there’s backing again for the final number, but the crowd obviously don’t car – there is euphoria and delirium as she makes her final exit and the lights go down. Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire starts pouring out of the PA as the fans slowly disperse, teenage girls yammering excitedly to one another. Swift certainly has put on an impressive visual spectacle tonight and her fans will be well-sated – but less backing, less pedestal raising, less talking and more originality could have helped elevate it to a consistent greatness befitting her charm and musicianship.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, 18 May 2015

Gig Review: Mark Knopfler @ Manchester Arena, Manchester, 16.05.2015

Mark Knopfler seems to be undergoing something of a revival in recent years. His commercially-revered, critically-reviled band Dire Straits, departed for more than two decades, are in the midst of rightful reappraisal by the music press and the influential touchstone for acclaimed bands such as The War on Drugs and Mumford and Sons. His most recent solo album, Tracker, reached a career-peak of #3 just last month. Knopfler has always been the furthest man from the concept of cool, but he suddenly seems to be, at the age of sixty-five, more relevant than perhaps he’s ever been.
Mark Knopfler, onstage at Motorpoint Arena Sheffield, 2015.
His show at a reduced-capacity Manchester Arena, the second night of the Tracker Tour, saw Knopfler and his seven-piece band (plus additional guests) serve up a two-and-a-half hour set that, despite the call for the classics, stubbornly resisted for the most part to conform to a show half filled with tracks from his former career as the frontman of one of the biggest bands in the world and material that packed a punch. Knopfler has fallen easily into the role of an avuncular elder statesmen of bluesy rock, peppering his band introductions with wry asides and drawing applause with commentary on Liverpool FC’s Premier League loss.

With material culled from five solo albums, two soundtracks and, in concession, a quartet of Dire Straits songs, Knopfler led with new album track Broken Bones before a strident march through material from his previous LP Privateering, giving a chance for the man to impress on the acoustic guitar. Sound issues that had rendered the mix somewhat unintelligible throughout the opening stretch were fixed by the time of Father and Son, an instrumental from the Cal soundtrack, which segued nicely into stand-out fan favourite Hill Farmer’s Blues. Again, there are surprises in the setlist – there is no room from Tracker single Beryl, arguably Knopfler’s poppiest moment in years, whilst long-time live mainstays such as What Is It, Sailing to Philadelphia and Down with Bonaparte are all absent.

Guest performer Ruth Moody performs backing vocals on a pair of tracks, Kingdom of Gold and new cut Skydiver, before she is replaced by saxophonist Nigh Hitchcock who plays on I Used to Could and Dire Straits classic Romeo and Juliet. Here, Knopfler’s voice begins to truly assert itself – never a superbly articulate vocalist, his half-spoken mumblings begin to shape into familiar semi-sung words that give a weary edge to his words, buoyed by the gentle melodies and tones of his guitar work. The band halves itself to Knopfler, rhythm, bass and drums for a frenetic, elongated rendition of Sultans of Swing that brings a nice change of pace to the show – up until this point, the music has been pedestrian at worst, and executed flawlessly, but the downside of the Celtic leanings are that, in an arena setting, it can feel like a long drag.

Mark Knopfler and band, on stage at Manchester Arena, 2015.
The full band returns and for the next two numbers, the fresh momentum garnered feels like it is about to be lost inside the wall of sound. But an exuberantly-lengthened version of Marbletown (a live staple that concludes with fiddle, double-bass and piano solos) cements a resurrection, followed by the driving Speedway at Nazareth and an epic rendition of Dire Straits’ Telegraph Road, arguably Knopfler’s finest technical performance of the evening.

So Far Away, the single from Brothers in Arms feels a slightly jarring choice of encore opening – predominantly synthesiser driven, it feels heavily at odds with the pastoral folk and blues of the night, but is well-played and gives way to a reappearance for Moody and Hitchcock – firstly, on Shangri-La cut Our Shangri-La, followed by Tracker’s duet with Moody and beautiful album highlight, Wherever I Go, before a fitting conclusion with Knopfler’s instrumental epic Going Home, taken from his first soundtrack, to the film Local Hero. It gives the evening a final hurrah, a fond wave into the sunset for the band and the crowd leaves, satisfied but perhaps not in enthral of the man. Knopfler certainly knows how to play guitar, and the man can conjure tones like no other from the depths of a six-string – but perhaps a better pacing between his faster hits and gentle meanderings may have given this show the musical punch and stride it often lacked.

Rating 3/5.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Gig Review: Peace w/Carnabells @ Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 29.01.15

“We’re having an after party, somewhere in town,” drawls Harrison Koisser, amidst chants of his name, as his band Peace reach the ending track of their encore. “If you’re not comin’, then you've gotta use all your remaining energy now.” And with that, the band fire into World Pleasure, only to have to stop after a minute when the surging throng of stage invaders becomes too much for the tiny surface to handle. Koisser vanishes and it looks like the show has come to a premature conclusion, but after the last straggler has fallen back into the mass and the house lights have gone up, there’s a swish of a fur coat, and he’s back, centre stage, to the roar of the crowd, grinning like a madman with the smile threatening to split his face in half.

“That’s the fucking best stage invasion of the whole tour,” he tells the sell-out multitude, a sea of bodies that, despite the harsh winter snow outside, are dressed in what looks like their Leeds Festival gear from last year; tight crop-tops, a concerning number of hot pants, flower headdresses and glitter. Certainly, whilst there is an age spread, the vast majority of the crowd appear to not even be yet of university age, that college niche who, like many others in the past twelve months, discovered Peace at the end-of-exams, rite-of-passage festival after GCSEs and A levels, when they played a Main Stage slot underneath Arctic Monkeys.
The show poster for Peace at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 2015
It’s certainly a younger, and indeed smaller crowd to what the band played when they last visited in the city out of festival, when they played to a near-capacity crowd at Leeds Beckett University’s Student Union. Their show there was a sign of things to come; musically tight with little room for deviation, Koisser’s vocals near-impeccable and the ability to conjure an electrifying atmosphere from every corner of the room. The downside of that show, in early December of 2013, was a patchy sound-system (something that badly affected support Drenge and rendered their music into a screeching noise verging the wrong side of tuneful) and a lighting show that did nothing except illuminate the audience in strobe lighting sporadically. Fast-forward nearly fourteen months, and on the back of an acclaimed support run with Bombay Bicycle Club, Peace have honed their stagecraft, learnt the subtle elements of illumination and, perhaps down to the choice of venue tonight, fixed up quality issues for the listeners.

The venue is the Brudenell Social Club, a favourite in these parts for its warm, homely feel. It’s out of the city centre and considerably smaller than the Beckett Union; a capacity of four-hundred against one-thousand-one-hundred. Peace could have played two shows here and they still wouldn't have matched the amount who attended the show at the latter venue. But their current tour – the J’Adore Tour, in the build-up to and around the release of second album Happy People, has done the opposite of what normal artists would do; instead of promoting themselves further up the venue chain (Peace could probably have a decent crack at the O2 Academy in town, with a capacity of around 2,300, and sell-out), they have instead regressed down to venues under five-hundred capacity, with multiple night-stands, to help conjure a feeling of intimacy with the crowd. The Brudenell stop is one of very few on the tour where only the single show is booked, which makes it hot property; touts are everywhere on the outskirts, wheeling and dealing in the flurries of snow that periodically burst out of the navy skies above.

Support act Carnabells are a local bunch, and they breeze through half-an-hour of moderately enjoyable but ultimately somewhat forgettable rock music. There’s nothing offensive about them, but nothing sticks out as memorable on a first time listen and the crowd applaud politely at intervals. That said, they carve a spot in that keyboard-backed pop rock niche that is beginning to make a revival so don’t expect it to be the last you see of them. One or two numbers know their way around a hook and a lick; it’s simply a case of sustaining interest past the three minute songs.

And so, at quarter past nine, the main attraction take to the very small stage nestled in the corner of the Brudenell. Draped in fur coat, Koisser wastes no time, propelling the band forward into fan favourite Higher Than The Sun, followed sharply by Follow Baby. Both rapturously received, they then take the ballsy call of playing five tracks from the unreleased Happy People in quick succession. It’s a gamble that pays off spectacularly; reaction to Gen Strange is strong, and an intense scream follows the intro do their most deliciously direct pop song yet, Lost On Me, with its chant-along chorus over a distinctly funked-up bass line, backing vocals and guitar work that suspiciously recalls psychedelica and late-era Bee Gees. Fellow new cut Money rounds out the portion of new material for now. The band – Koisser’s brother Samuel on bass, Douglas Castle on fellow guitar and Dominic Boyce on the drums – are all as integral parts as Koisser himself, and are well-drilled and tight, bar the occasional misstep, but there is the sense that for a band whose live centrepiece is a wildly progressive rock-influenced jam around the Binary Finary hit 1998 (Delicious), there is no real experimentation musically on stage, and that such musicianship gives them a static feel, no matter how fine it is.

Festival favourite California Daze follows and girls take to the shoulders of boyfriends to holler along before 1998 arrives to cue a frenzy of circle pits and reckless abandon, bodies hurling around whilst some take refuge on the sofas at the edges to avoid the gyrating melee. It’s an undoubtedly impressive spectacle, and, as mentioned, gives the band a feel of fluidity that can only come from genuine spontaneity or incredibly precise practice; Peace’s methodical approach to their performance suggests that it’s the latter. Bloodshake comes next, from the band’s original EP, EP Delicious, its distinctively Foals-tinged rhythms keeping up the frantic pace, before the band wheel out In Love tracks Float Forever (a personal favourite) and Sugarstone before wrapping up the main set with breakthrough song Wraith. One immediate victory over their Beckett gig is set length; they have eclipsed their total set length of fifty-five minutes last time with an encore to spare.

The break from the stage isn’t long and the band return with new tracks Someday and I'm a Girl before launching into one of the decade’s best two-minute tracks, the euphoric Lovesick, a condensation of what Peace do best in a quick snippet; joyously unbridled packets of indie rock with tropically funky tinges at the edge. One stage invasion later, and Koisser and co finally get into the groove of World Pleasure, before departing the stage for good. It’s been a breath-taking set, just under an hour and a half long, that has showcased the band to the best of their ability, and with the way they are poised for stardom, possibly the last chance many will get to see them this close. That being said, Peace still feel like they are missing something live. They've carved a great image as a tight live band; but, perhaps too tight for their own good. Perhaps a little loosening up could go a long way.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Man Overboard: Can Blink-182 Survive Without Tom DeLonge?

Ah, Blink-182. Poway, California’s most famous sons. Finest purveyors of breathless three-minute, three chord songs played with ridiculously upbeat melodies and puerile lyrics that seemed to revolve around lines about the male anatomy and what most teenage boys want to do with it. Or, as critical purists would call it, pop punk. Originally an underground success, they burst into mainstream consciousness in the late nineties with mega-platinum selling album Enema of the State, bolstered by genre-defining anthems in the shape of What’s My Age Again? and All The Small Things. Just after the turn of the century, they were arguably one of the biggest bands in America and to an extent the world. Fast forward fifteen years and it’s not all sunshine and rainbows anymore. Dysfunctional by their own admission, it took skin cancer and a-near-fatal plane crash for its members to re-emerge from a hiatus, but even then, in 2009, their brand of toilet humour was faded from public consciousness. Pop punk was on the way out. Fall Out Boy had gone on indefinite hiatus; Green Day and Paramore had both departed the genre to mainstream alternative rock and found success there. Blink-182, reunited or not, were effectively a nostalgia trip, something they did not shy away from in live performance. Their lone reunion album Neighborhoods was mixed in its reception, and despite a strong placing in charts around the world, didn't really do anything to extend their legacy.

And so, it has come to pass that whatever goodwill brought from tragedy couldn't last forever. Earlier this month, bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker issued a statement that guitarist Tom DeLonge had left the band. DeLonge responded quickly that this was the first he was hearing of this, and ultimately, it evolved into a war of words through press releases in Rolling Stone and letters on Facebook. The current state of Blink-182’s membership is up in the air; the only thing apparently set in stone is that Hoppus and Barker will play shows later this year with Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio filling in the dual role of guitarist and singer vacated by DeLonge. Even then, with DeLonge as a founder and principle songwriter of the band, legal issues may only be around the corner should Hoppus and Barker continue on permanently.
Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 at Reading, 2014
It is a shame that one of pop punk’s most influential and successful exports should have to come to this, airing their dirty laundry in public. They may have never had a UK Top #3 Album, but their music is still instantly recognisable in this country. Their headline set at the Reading and Leeds Festival in 2010 was the most rapturously received of the weekend; it resulted in them making a swift return only four years later. For fans of the genre, they are considered Genesis; nearly all pop punk bands of the genre’s second and third waves cite them as a primary, if not the, influence for them. I once attended a show by pop-punkers We Are the In Crowd at Leeds’ old Cockpit venue, and in between support acts, What’s My Age Again? was played over the PA system. With the exception of my good self, every single person in the crowd bellowed along in time. Never before have I seen such a sing-along with interim music at a gig.

And perhaps it is wrong to immediately condemn Blink as a nostalgia act, rooted in a single genre. Of their nine Top #40 singles in the UK, three are culled from their 2003 self-titled album, a stylistic departure that saw the ballad I Miss You chart in the top ten with its Cure-inspired rhythms. Down and Always, the two follow up singles, both represented a sharp turn away from typical pop punk structure and the band’s signature immature lyrical content into more straightforward alternative rock. The same album spawned the acclaimed All of This, drawing on its Cure influence so much that the band stole Robert Smith to sing on it. They may not have deviated from the recipe as much as other artists, but Blink have certainly proved a level of flexibility, able to implement their ability to nail a catchy hook out of their immediate pigeon-holed sound.

And then there’s Hoppus and DeLonge; pop punk’s McCartney and Lennon. A combative relationship since the band broke it in the big time, they have undeniably written some of the genre’s strongest songs in Damnit, First Date and Feeling This amongst others. The band is their baby; they are the original members, with drummer Barker a latter-day replacement for original sticksman Scott Raynor. Their on-stage chemistry and off-stage drama has helped to cultivate the legacy around the band, to build their story with sufficient twists and turns, such as friction over reality TV shows and side-projects, the latter of which seems to be one of the key issues in the latest inter-band issues.
Blink-182 headline Reading 2014.
And that brings the story up to the final few months. Blink’s headline set at Reading and Leeds 2010 had been considered a triumph, particularly against the art-rock elements of fellow headline act Arcade Fire and the shambolic timings of the current incarnation of Guns N’ Roses that hadn't translated well. Their 2014 shows went some way to sabotaging those memories. DeLonge looked uncomfortable, shadowed by the peak of his cap; vocally, he was inconsistent and drastically out of key on occasion and musically, seemed half a step behind Hoppus and Barker’s rhythm section. Sex gags seemed scripted, typical; few moments in the show stood out, the most notable high being Hoppus’ verse on I Miss You and a euphoric Damnit in the encore, mainly propelled by crowd reaction. Nostalgic longing and the strength of songwriting pulled them through ultimately, but unlike 2010, they were outclassed by fellow headliners Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys and former pop-punk protégés Paramore over both legs of the weekend. It was frankly embarrassing.

Reading and Leeds were not the final shows of the band whilst DeLonge remained, but they were certainly the largest in that final run; as a result, they will be viewed by fans and critics as the trio’s curtain call, two shows that failed to truly impress even the hardcore and, if anything, further spread the seeds of dissatisfaction within the band. If DeLonge truly is gone though, questions certainly remain over Blink’s longevity as both a studio act and a live performer. Both have complicated paths to tread; DeLonge is one half of Blink and as such must surely have a claim over the band name and its use. Unless he consents to Hoppus, Barker and whoever fills his shows after Skiba returns to Alkaline Trio (the latter have shows booked across the summer) using the name, there’s a chance that an already messy situation could spill out even more into the public domain, a sad way for any band to hash out differences. In terms of new material, DeLonge could certainly not stop Hoppus and Barker from writing and recording with an alternate vocalist, if at all; but again, under the Blink brand, he has every right to halt proceedings. The live arena too; the remaining members can perform Blink songs without threat of potential lawsuit, but only under an alternative name. For all intents and purpose, despite their bold claim to continue as Blink-182, Hoppus and Barker’s future rests either with DeLonge, a man who claims he was unaware of his redundancy from the band, granting them an unlikely blessing after the ongoing saga or facing extensive legal fights.

And even if Hoppus and Barker succeed, by gentleman’s agreement or court order, what then? Hoppus may be the most famed and recognisable of the three, the one to clown around at the front of photo-shoots in the magazines, but DeLonge is effectively the band’s frontman – he is the lead vocalist on many of their hits, even when engaging in a battle of tones with Hoppus. The bassist has only a handful of big hits fronted solely by his own voice; most of the time, he’s second to DeLonge’s iconic angst-sneer that spoke volumes of adolescence perspectives and helped tap into a generation of young Americans. And whilst Skiba may be a talented replacement (and based on DeLonge’s performance at times at Reading and Leeds, possibly better live), the fact remains he is not DeLonge. Hoppus and Barker could record new material as a duo, with either session musicians, guests or solo, but what’s to differentiate it from a +44 record, their side-project in the original Blink hiatus whilst DeLonge was focused on his solo endeavour Angels and Airwaves?
Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 at Leeds, 2014

So, Blink-182 could technically continue. They could technically record new material. They could technically extensively tour the world in support of it. But would it really be Blink-182 without Tom DeLonge? He may have been apparently pushed from the band rather than quit outright in this instance but the fact remains that he is no longer currently part of the lineup. And, to draw comparisons, that’s a bit like The Beatles continuing on without John Lennon. With Skiba in place, they may be (and I imagine they will) a better live act for the small number of shows they will play this spring. And, there certainly seems to be a drive from Hoppus and Barker to continue under the name. But will the fans really want to see them when one part of its dysfunctional beating heart has been ousted, and the songs they love sung by a rank outsider? Will it, more to the point, tarnish their legacy? One would think that ensuring legal battles, if they come to pass, may do more than tarnish; it may raze it to the ground. So yes, Blink-182 can survive without their founding member, guitarist, vocalist and one focal point. Whether they should survive… that is another matter entirely.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Can I Play with Madness: How Iron Maiden Gave Me Music

A few nights ago, I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to watch a marathon showing of documentaries and concert films on Sky Arts 1 focusing on the acclaimed British heavy metal group Iron Maiden. It was five hours long and featured a detailed look at the recording of their seminal third album The Number of the Beast (the highlight of which was lead singer Bruce Dickinson wandering around Portmeirion in Wales to illustrate the reasoning behind a particular song), their concert film Rock In Rio, filmed at the festival of the same name in 2001 in front of a crowd of 250,000 (the highlight of which was drummer Nicko McBrain breaking out in spontaneous Scottish country dancing behind his kit) and the documentary-cum-concert film Flight 666 that charted Dickinson flying the band on their 2008 world tour in a specially modified 757 (the highlight of which was Dickie Bell, their production assistant and general grumpy yet loveable sidekick). Saying that they were the three highlights does seem to detract from the band’s credibility, but don’t let it – Iron Maiden are phenomenally talented musicians, on record and live, with an eye for a philosophically violent lyric and an ear for an insatiable pop melody underneath the pomp and circumstance of heavy metal. Flight 666 shows them at their fiercest, their fans at their wildest and a showcase for that connection between fan and artist. There are probably dozens of artists who could claim a greater connection to the masses but challenge that assertion to an Iron Maiden fan and you’ll be shot down with speed.
Iron Maiden at Twickenham Stadium, 2008

The marathon viewing session served to remind me of all this, and to remind me of the impact Iron Maiden have had on my life. Some people scoff at the notion of music being a force for good that can change lives, but I've seen so many people, friends and strangers alike, transformed by it that I can’t agree with the view that music has no effect whatsoever. For me, Iron Maiden were that band; a musical entity that changed the way I live my life, and indeed, shaped the present and direct elements of my future.

Rewind to 2010. I'm not in a very good place; I've been through a rough patch in life during year 10, through no real fault of anybody. My parents are, and still are, very supportive of me, as are my friends and mentors. Some might dismiss it as teenage angst, and indeed for many, it may be that. But I never considered it that, and looking back on it after reflection and consultation, I still don’t. It was a dark time, a black chapter in my life. Regardless, it’s closed, the episode is over and summer awaits, something that does not fill me with any real feeling of delight. It’s a six week patch that I have little expectation for, yet will become a transformative period for me.

It’s the first day of the holidays and I'm lounging on the sofa, drinking squash and channel-surfing for something to occupy my mind. I catch the end of the video for Rainbow’s Since You Been Gone on the VH1 Classic music channel, a favoured song of mine, not that that means much. Music has never been a particularly big draw for me; my album collection consists of an Electric Light Orchestra greatest hits album and La Roux’s self-titled debut. Two albums. My music taste is my parents’; it’s not a form of expression for me, not something I'm invested in. That is about to change in ten minutes.

Rainbow is followed by a short advert break, and then a video for some generic nu-metal song from the turn of the century that I can’t remember. There’s nothing specifically offensive about it, but nothing spectacularly stand-out either. What it’s doing on VH1 Classic is somewhat of a mystery that I can’t really be bothered solving. It’s bland and I decide to try for one more song before I give it up as a bad cause and search for a power ballads countdown or just turn the TV off entirely.

That one more song is called Can I Play with Madness.

Steve Harris, founder and bassist of Iron Maiden

And in four minutes, my life has been irrevocably changed for the better.

The opening lyric is so unlike anything I've really listened to before. Music of the popular variety generally deals with unrequited love, or requited love, or heartbreak, or being free, or at least the lyrics always seem to be like that with a handful of generic clichés knocked in for good measure. But for a leather-lunged voice to howl out in an animalistic scream the notion of flirting with insanity in five words, without music – it was as effective as if a fist had reached out of the television screen, grabbed me by the neck of the shirt and hauled me in.

Then comes the drums, the bass and the twin guitars. And I've heard this combination before, in Thin Lizzy in my dad’s car, but it’s never struck me in the way that it is right now. It’s an almighty cacophony of sound, of layers, of riff upon riff and a bass figure so unlike anything I've ever heard, with brushes of keyboard fleshing out underneath, before this klaxon, siren, call to arms of a voice bursts back in with lyrics that seem to make very little sense to a fifteen year old whose main interests at this point in life are Sonic the Hedgehog and sausage rolls.

But it doesn't matter one single jot. That opening line (now revealed as the title of the song by the handy information bar at the bottom corner of the video) bursts back in, sung with such awe-inspiring force and brute strength that it seems to blow me backwards, burying me deeper into the cushions as I stare, mouth hanging open, transfixed, as though a miracle has just been performed in front of my very eyes. The video is hypnotic, an unfolding fable of a schoolmaster discovering, underneath the ruins of an abbey, a vault of strange treasures, including a refrigerator in which a grotesque, undead creature leers at him from a frozen wasteland. It is utterly mental, utterly metal.

The actual lyrics of the song (concerning prophecies and mystical hellfire and death and other nasty things that form the basis of ninety-five percent of Iron Maiden lyrics) still don’t resonate with me nearly five years later. But the title can tell a story more than any lyric needs to; to the fifteen year old, a reference to being able to control a mental state so frowned upon, so much as to play with it, struck a chord with me. After the previous year, it seemed to equate to my mental state, and yet presented a way of managing and dealing far better than any well-meant words from strangers ever could.
Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden

With one song title and one hell of a brilliant melody, Iron Maiden spoke to me in a way that no music had.

For the rest of the summer, I set about tracking down the discography of Iron Maiden online; I read of Messers Harris and Murray, of Smith and Gers, of Burr and McBrain, of Di’Anno, Dickinson and Bayley and, of course, Eddie. I discovered it was Dickinson’s voice that had enlightened me on that first lesson, that Harris was the driving force behind the group, that they were the first heavy metal band to top the UK Singles Chart and that the zombie-like creature I saw on black t-shirts with regularity had a name and a name I could pronounce at that. I discovered the classic tracks – Run to the Hills, The Trooper, Aces High – and the new hits – The Wicker Man, Rainmaker, Different World. I discovered that their fifteenth studio album was due for release in August, their first effort since 2006. I bought it on the first day it was out and became one of the thousands across the country who propelled it to #1 in the UK Album Chart.

Iron Maiden were the first artist I had discovered and truly fallen in love with that hadn't been through the instigation of either of my parents. They were both somewhat surprised that after a diet of ABBA, Shania Twain and James Bond themes that I had fallen into a decades-old metal band who were as renowned for high camp as they were for crushing guitar work, but they were both incredibly supportive of my love for the band. The Final Frontier, despite its eight-minute-plus progressive metal epics, found its way into the – until then – distinctly poppy interior of my mum’s car, and with that, I hooked her and my sister too (my dad was already a bit of a part-time metal man, in between the bursts of Bob Dylan and Chris Rea). It was liberating – it bolstered my confidence to be able to look at the results of my love of a band impact others positively – and, in a somewhat strange twist of fate, my love for a band whose lyrical content painted stories that resulted in death, or possession, or more death, or supernatural premonitions – basically stuff that isn't very good for the mind – chased my black clouds of the past year away. Iron Maiden gave me new life. Between them, my family and close friends, I was able to pick myself up, move on and become a stronger individual with more respect for myself for myself.

Iron Maiden at Motorpoint Arena, Sheffield, 2011

When I saw them live, at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena almost exactly a year to the date I discovered them in 2011, on their sell-out The Final Frontier World Tour, it was my second live concert ever. It was the culmination of a journey, the end of an era in some ways. And yet, it was the kickstart for a new part. I was much happier that I had been a year prior, and that was in no small way thanks to Iron Maiden. They had widened my palate of musical taste; I owned several of their albums, and several more. Music had become one of my key interests, But in seeing Iron Maiden live, it almost felt like a goal achieved, a form of nirvana reached. What I didn't expect it to be was a gateway to a new passion. I stumbled out of the arena after 11PM, feverishly clutching my friend’s arm, gibbering about the spectacle we’d just seen. She kept on reassuringly propping me up and raved as much as I did – not bad for someone who had only known three songs on the whole setlist.

I've seen plenty of better live shows since then, but Iron Maiden was the gig that truly started off the live music craze for me, the search in life to see the perfect live show by the perfect musical artist. They’re one of the very few to come close to that ultimate goal, bested by only a select handful. I missed them on their last tour due to my refusal to go near tents and an instance of double booking on the dates of their only indoor shows. But my fingers are crossed that a new album – their first fresh material since that fateful summer of 2010 – and accompanying tour are incoming. I'm surely not the only one waiting with baited breath.

So, there we have it. When it comes to history in a hundred years’ time, Iron Maiden will no doubt be considered one of the most successful heavy metal bands of all time, and one of the most successful British exports in terms of music ever. But for me, they were so much more than that. For me, they were the band that helped me, taught me, ignited my love in music and ignited my love in live shows too. For that, they will always hold a cherished part of me without ever knowing, and I too will hold a cherished part of them without them ever knowing.

Iron Maiden, ladies and gentleman. Thank you.