Sunday, 16 November 2014

Bringing Back 60s Sounds - Tom Harding of Union Gap UK Interview

Andy Howells meets Tom Harding of The Union Gap UK ahead of the bands appearance on The Sensational 60s tour which comes to Cardiff on November 25.

Tom Harding and his band The Union Gap UK have remained one of the most successful 60s tribute bands on the circuit, so much so, they now perform alongside some of the original acts from the era.

“I was asked to join 20 years ago,” says Tom, who performed as a member of The Honeybus for several years “it was an existing project, then one or two line up changes along the way, but it’s gone from strength to strength.”

Although The Union Gap UK have a diverse set list, their main specialty is recreating the hits of American band The Union Gap, who with lead singer Gary Puckett scored several UK chart hits in the late 1960s with songs Young Girl and Lady Willpower.

“We try to recreate as faithfully as possible all the orchestral sounds as well as the sounds on record,” Tom continues, “vocally; I just try and do my best.”

A working knowledge of Gary Puckett’s work has helped the band gain a large following on the 1960s circuit, “He’s got a voice to die for. I try to put my little bit on to it and it seems to be well received. People are commenting they enjoy the songs we perform and the way they are recreated and hopefully people go away for many years to come thinking the same way.”

The Union Gap UK will be playing St David’s Hall, Cardiff on November 25 alongside Herman’s Hermits, Dave Berry, The Ivy League and The Swinging Blue Jeans. Tony cites a strong format as part of the shows success. “The songs and the approachability of everybody after the show goes a long way,” he says, “The audiences are getting to meet and greet with the artists after every show that we do. All the bands are more than happy to stand there and have a chat. The songs that are performed are really strong songs; there isn't a bad song amongst it.”

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Rockabilly Queen Imelda May's Dual Role

Imelda May returns to Cardiff with a rocking night of music at St David’s Hall on Monday. Her current tour follows the release of her recent album Tribal, which rocketed to No.3 in the UK earlier this year and stormed its way to the top of the charts in her native Ireland.

“We’ll be playing almost every song from Tribal and then I’ll be playing some from Mayhem and Love Tattoo," Imelda recently told me, “Good songs, good music and a good night, no gimmicks and no costume changes and a good atmosphere.”

Imelda is keen to be playing for her Welsh fans once again, “They have the passion for music like the Irish do and the crowds like to let their hair down which is always a bonus, I love it!”

Dubliner Imelda has always had a keen interest in music from childhood, turning her talents to performing party pieces for the family and singing in school choirs. As a teenager she turned away from the sounds of Wet Wet Wet and Rick Astley to be inspired by the blues and rock riffs of Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran as well as country, rhythm n blues and punk.

Imelda is keen to point out that the Rockabilly influence in her music is more rooted in the present than in the past. “I’m not wanting to do retro music,” she says, “I definitely put a big chunk of now into it and keep it current. I never lived in the 50s but I live very much in the now. I want to catch the feeling of stuff from then and keep it for now. I can’t be nostalgic about something I never experienced.”

The electrical essence of Rockabilly has always been a big draw to Imelda, “I remember saying to a teenager that Somethin’ Else is the first punk rock song ever made. If you put Eddie Cochran on, turn it up really loud that could’ve been written anytime. It’s a fantastic song and it rocks out like mad.”

Imelda who will be performing her recent hits It’s Good to Be Alive and Wild Woman gets a real kick from performing her special brand of primal rock n roll. “That’s what I’m addicted to; the adrenaline pumping around is fabulous. When I get that between myself, the band and the audience, it kind of feeds upon itself in a good way. So, I go mad, the band goes mad and the audience go mad and that’ll make me go mad and it all goes round and round. It’s great when you get the electricity and then you bring it right down and do a ballad and you can hear a pin drop in the house. I love that and then on the next one, everyone jumps again that’s what drives me.”

Motherhood hasn't slowed Imelda down as she will be bringing her two year old daughter on tour with her. “You know what they say, if you want something done you ask a busy person, I get on with it. I’m a musician and always have been. I know no other way; I don’t know how to not do it. I think I’d probably be miserable if I wasn’t making music, its in my bones. I love been a mammy as well, the most important job is been a mammy. I think one role balances out the other, I’m a happy mother getting to be creative!”

Friday, 14 November 2014

Rich Robinson on The Ceaseless Sight

Rich Robinson has just released his third full-length studio album The Ceaseless Sight via The End Records/Circle Sound and is currently touring the UK. As co-founder of the seminal rock act - The Black Crowes, and having sold well over 30 million albums throughout a career that spans over 25 years, Rich has nailed the mark on this record offering the kind of crossover potential that appeals to a country/indie audience as well.

On The Ceaseless Sight, Rich reminds us that it all comes down to the song, and among some of the great electronic music which relies heavily on technology, there's still a place for organic, stripped down songwriting and storytelling.

Rich recently answered questions put to him by Andy Howells.

You’ve just released your third solo album, what was the inspiration behind The Ceaseless Sight?
Music. My love for creation and experience and expression.

The songs on the album are described as “organic, stripped down songwriting and storytelling”. How important was it to you to make an album in this way?
I've always written that way. If a song is moving in it's most basic form, then for me that's the sign of a great song. Music is an organic being in my opinion. It lives and breathes and should represent the human experience and universal truths that show themselves to us daily.

How long did the album take to put together and what differences have you found within the recording processes as a solo artist as opposed to been a member of a group?
It took about a month all in. It's fun to make a record unfettered by infighting and pettiness that can sometimes come about.

What can people expect from your shows?
I have a great band. We all love playing music together. We'll be playing songs off of my 3 solo records and some cool covers.

Will you be performing any interpretations of Black Crowes material ?

Tell us about the meet and greet aspect of the gigs, how important is it to you to talk with the fans?
It's cool to meet people that you don't know but have been sharing these experiences for years, and in some cases 20+ years.

Beyond the tour and the album, do you have any other projects you are working on?
I'm putting together another art show, and producing and writing for other people.

  • Visit Rich Robinson's official website
  • A version of this Q&A with Rich Robinson appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on October 31, 2014

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Dreamers' Star Alan Mosca Talks About Working With His 1960s Heroes

For many years Alan Mosca was Freddie Garrity’s right-hand man in The Dreamers. However, Alan will be stepping up to the front of the stage when as he comperes the current tour of The Sensational 60s Experience.

“I enjoy that, possibly more now than I do playing with the Dreamers,” Alan tells me, “I love that role because a lot of these were heroes of mine anyway. To get the opportunity like I did last year working with Chris Farlowe, who was an absolute superstar and Steve Ellis from The Love Affair, one of the first mods."

"Steve was so prominent and well known not only on the 60s circuit but also the Northern soul circuit. On one of the shows last year Steve brought Paul Weller with him which was quite remarkable. There was me singing Hey Baby which we do to have a bit of fun and I looked down and there was Paul Weller clapping his hands. It was bizarre. I said to my grandchildren," You know what? I've never seen Paul Weller live, but he’s seen me!””

Alan will be keeping order as acts such as Herman’s Hermits, The Swinging Blue Jeans, Union Gap UK, The Ivy League and Dave Berry step up to the stage. He believes the show will be great fun for all 1960s aficionados.  “It will be hard to follow next year,” he says of the annual music show, “because number after number everybody knows that any one of those boys can do 20 minutes of their hits.”

In Concert: Roger McGuinn, The Glee Club, Cardiff

“I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now,” sang Roger McGuinn as he stepped on to the stage of Cardiff’s Glee Club with electric guitar on Tuesday evening.

The American singer/songwriter looked much younger than his 72 years, displaying all the showmanship and musical expertise performers half his age would be in awe of. No band, no frills, just Roger with two guitars, one electric, one acoustic, regaling tales and songs from over half a century of his own back pages.

From been inspired to play 12 string guitar by Leadbelly, via chart success with The Byrds and his enduring friendship with Bob Dylan, there was much to enjoy as Roger displayed a natural gift of storytelling while encouraging participation from the audience.

Naturally, the concert featured many of The Byrds hits, among them Mr Tambourine Man, Turn Turn Turn, Eight Miles High and Pete Seeger’s The Bells of Rhymney. “I received an e-mail from a lady in Wales that said “You’ve been pronouncing it (Rhymney) wrong all these years,” Roger explained, “We only sang it the way Pete Seeger sang it.” Roger then sang a corrected version, much to the audience delight.

There were other treats too, a performance of a Beach Boys style recording Roger wrote in his early days as a songwriter, an acoustic instrumental called Right out Of the Box and a beautiful interpretation of Bob Dylan’s Knocking On Heavens Door.

Clearly Roger and the audience (myself included) all enjoyed the show, itself a rare chance to get a first hand glimpse into the life of one of rocks true legends.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

CD Review: 12 Inch / 80s Chilled and 12 Inch/ 80s New Wave by Various Artists

As the era of the extended play record was the 1960s the heyday of the 12 inch singles undoubtedly the 1980s. With the exception of New Orders Blue Monday the medium didn't quite capture the imagination of the record buying public but did prove popular with collectors and club DJ’s. A lost art? Perhaps.

Universal have given us the chance to revisit the medium with two sets of CD compilations featuring remixes of familiar cuts from Tears for Fears, Blancmange, OMD, The Specials and The Blue Nile among others.

A chance to revisit the music of the 1980s from a different angle.

Working on Disney's Lion King is Good Fun! - Will Pearce Interview

Ahead of The Lion King opening at Wales Millennium Centre tomorrow, Andy Howells chats to head of puppets, Will Pearce

From Thursday 6 November 2014 to 11 January 2015, The Lion King will play at Wales Millennium Centre. This Cardiff season will mark the first time the legendary musical has played in Wales and will be the only Welsh dates in the show's record-breaking tour of the UK and Ireland. The Lion King will play a ten week season in Cardiff, giving audiences the opportunity to experience the global phenomenon in their local theatre.

Four years in the making, this truly international production brings together a cast of over 50 actors, singers and dancers, from 18 different countries, supported by a backstage team of over 100 people. The touring production is the biggest musical production ever to tour the UK. With hundreds of masks, puppets and more than 700 elaborate costumes representing 26 different types of animal, 23 giant trucks are used to transport everything across the country. In total, the touring production will visit 11 cities across the UK & Ireland over two and a half years, with further dates and locations to be announced.

Masterminding the puppets is Will Pearce who has worked on the production since it played The West End. “We maintain all the puppets,” he tells me, “I’m painting the cheetah at the moment. We paint stuff and do running repairs, if anything breaks we’re backstage we have to kind of mend stuff and stick stuff back together and get them back on stage.”

Synchronization is key to the productions success as Will tells me. “The show is really busy there’s one hundred and fifty technical crew. Its all very well rehearsed and everyone knows exactly where they are going, backstage as well as on stage everyone knows where they are at the right time, it’s a smooth well oiled machine.”

Because the puppets feature so prominently in The Lion King, Will and his team are constantly at work to ensure everything runs on course. “Our job split between two things,” he continues, “We are on the shows in the evening with a talk-back radio system, if a leg falls off or something we've got to run on and patch it up and get it back on stage. During the days we have to keep the shows clean and looking as good as possible, one of us is painting Simba, another Gazelle’s and I've just painted a cheetah so it’s a constant maintenance programme to keep the show looking sharp.”

Will and his team get a great sense of pride as the puppets step on to the stage for the Circle Of Life opening sequence which brings many elements of the show together. “We look after about 160 different elements in the show and they've all got there different trademarks. You get used to certain things breaking. Sometimes some things come up that you haven’t seen before so that’s a bit of a challenge.”

Cardiff will be the eleventh city The Lion King has visited since opening its UK tour in Bristol in 2012. It will do a short run in Manchester in early 2015 before moving to Switzerland.

“It’s a real lifestyle,” says Will of his work, “I like to stay in the puppet world – its good fun!”

  • Disney’s The Lion King will play at Wales Millennium Centre from Thursday 6 November 2014 to Sunday 11 January 2015. Tickets are available via 029 2063 6464 or and from 8am in person at the Centre.
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment section The Guide on October 31, 2014

Monday, 3 November 2014

Byrd Touches Down In Wales - Roger McGuinn Interview

Andy Howells chats to singer/songwriter and former Byrds front man Roger McGuinn ahead of his solo Cardiff show tomorrow.

Legendary former Byrds front man and founding member, Roger McGuinn visits Cardiff as part of his current UK tour next week. 2015 will see the fiftieth anniversary of The Byrds arrival in the UK following them topping the charts with the Bob Dylan composition Mr Tambourine Man.

“It was a big thrill back then,” remembers Roger, “I got to meet the Beatles, and Paul McCartney took me for a ride in his Aston Martin DB5 all through London. The next night I got to meet him at his private club and we hung out together. I remember going to a party with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and it was incredible.”

At the time The Byrds were storming the charts with defining songs like Eight Miles High and Turn, Turn, Turn. Such songs would become classics of the new folk rock sound. The Byrds first visit co-incided with a visit to the Top of the Pops studio in London to perform their hit All I Really Want to Do, “There were screaming girls,” says Roger; it was just like A Hard Days Night!”

The Byrds had formed only a year earlier, “I was working at the Troubadour folk club in LA and I’d been listening to the Beatles,” I loved what I was hearing, so I tried to take folk songs and make them sound more like a Beatles song. Gene Clark came along and he liked my approach. He said “lets write some songs together" so Gene and I started writing songs and then David Crosby came in and started singing harmony with us. He introduced us to Jim Dixon who was a producer/engineer in Hollywood and World Pacific records, Jim kind of put the whole thing together and got us a bass player and a drummer and a record deal. It all fell together after that.”

McGuinn's trademark Rickenbacker 12 string sound has influenced generations of musicians although he admits another Liverpool band besides The Beatles were also influential to The Byrds sound. “The Searchers were definetely an inspiration,” he says, “they did Needles and Pins and that dee dah dah dah sound that we used in a Gene Clark song, I’ll feel a Whole Lot Better When You’re Gone.”

Another Byrds classic The Bells of Rhymney, will also come to life when Roger plays Wales next week, “When we are over, we go, oh there’s Cardiff, there’s Rhymney , Swansea, all the towns are mentioned in the song,” he laughs.

Although the original Byrds eventually went their separate ways, Roger has continued to record and tour as a solo musician. This year saw the release of his most recent project ‘Stories, Songs & Friends, a live recording where Roger takes the audience on a fifty year journey through his career, “it was recorded for my mother,” he tells me, “She had broken her hip and was turning 102. We wanted her to hear the concert but she was in bed so we recorded it with 8 microphones as a high fidelity recording. She got to hear it and lived to be a 102 and three days. After she passed on, we listened to the concert and it sounded pretty good so I thought, “You know what? Lets release it and so we did.”

His latest show will draw from his huge back catalogue, including his Grammy-nominated project, Treasures From The Folk Den, his critically acclaimed 4 CD Box Set, The Folk Den Project. and 22 Timeless Tracks From The Folk Den Project. “I’m just solo by myself,” says Roger, “I don’t know if you ever saw Pete Seeger, but he would come out and play a banjo and a 12 string guitar and tell stories and that’s what I do between the songs. I’ll be doing a bit of everything some of the hits from the Byrds some songs from my solo albums like Cardiff Rose, Back from Rio and some songs from my folk project which is coming up for 20 years putting songs up on the internet for free download.”

I ask Roger if there’s a big difference to performing live as a solo artist as opposed to been in a band? “well its something you have to get used to,” he replies, “When you’re in a band you've got all these other guys up there too and they'll back you up. You can stop playing for a minute and the music will still go on, but when you’re solo you have to carry the whole thing by yourself and its a bit more pressured. I've been doing it for thirty years, its a lot of fun for me now.”

  • Roger McGuinn plays Cardiff Glee Club on November 4. Call 0871 472 0400 or visit for ticket details 
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on October 31, 2014
  • For more information on Roger McGuinn visit his official website.

CD Review: Sweet Talker by Jessie J

Given the fact that Jessie J is Britain's best known female pop performer it’s surprising to find that Sweet Talker is still only her second album.

Ain’t Been Done kicks off this collection which also features the hits Burning up and Bang Bang.

Seal Me with A Kiss reveals an 80s dance influence reminiscent of a Whitney Houston and Cameo mash-up.

The real gem has to be the ballad Fire allowing Jessie to put all her heart and soul into a mesmerising vocal performance.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

CD Review: 24 Carat Gold by Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks has plummeted her own archive for 24 Carat Gold - Songs From The Vault, a collection of unreleased recordings and demo reworkings from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Why they have remained unreleased until now is anyone’s guess, but we should be grateful that we can now enjoy such recordings as The Dealer, Blue Water and Starshine alongside covers of Vanessa Carlton’s Carousel, and Mark Knopfler's She Loves Him Still. Each title betraying their Songs From The Vault tag as if they were recorded yesterday!

A treat for anyone who loves Stevie Nicks' work with Fleetwood Mac and her solo outings particularly from The Other Side of the Mirror period.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

In Concert: Sixties Gold, 2014, St David's Hall, Cardiff

As I was born in 1968 the music of the 1960s has always been close to me and for that matter has had a particular part to play in forming my own life's soundtrack. As new styles come,become stale or boring, the endless genres of sixties, pop, rhythm and blues, rock and even ballads still endure.

It's never a surprise to me therefore when attending sixties package shows that there is always a strong demand to hear classic cuts performed live and if you're lucky, maybe even get to see an original singer or musician from the era perform them. Despite Gerry Marsden and Brian Poole not appearing due to serious illness, Wednesday evening's Sixties Gold show still had music legends aplenty.

Original sixties chart stars Spencer Davis (pictured), PJ Proby, Tremeloes star Chip Hawkes and Searchers John McNally and Frank Allen were all there performing alongside slick (and in many cases) time served newer members of The Searchers, The Fortunes and The Pacemakers.

Among the many highlights, was The Fortunes keyboardist Bob Jackson recalling his time with Welsh band Badfinger and paying tribute to songwriter Pete Ham with a version of Without You, Spencer Davis giving an electrifying rendition of his 1967 hit I'm a Man and PJ Proby proving he still had a fine voice with a powerful rendition of Somewhere.

There were also pop classics from Chip Hawkes, looking and sounding great performing Silence is Golden, The Pacemakers with a selection of Gerry’s hits and The Searchers topping the bill with a memorable set including Needles and Pins and Everytime You Walk in the Room.

Sixties Gold? Definitely!

In Concert: Andy Fairweather Low and The Low Riders at The New Theatre, Cardiff

“This only happens here” announced Andy Fairweather Low as he played his homecoming concert at Cardiff’s New Theatre on Thursday evening, “I feel like I know you all, I probably do, there’s nothing more frightening, there’s nothing more appealing.”

It’s true, Andy’s audience, a packed house, were as keen to receive him as he was keen to play to them. Andy was clear from the offset he intended to give his audience a night to remember.

The first half saw The Low Riders “I am their singer, they are not my band” stated Andy, place the spotlight on not only Andy, but Paul Beavis (drums), Dave Bronze (Guitar / Double Bass) and Nick Pentelow (clarinet / saxophone) through a variety of styles including the upbeat rock of Dance On, the reggae of Natural Sinner and the pure jazz of Petit Fleur.

When the second half curtain came up, there was a surprise addition of a full brass section and keyboards from three further performers Andy referred to as The High Riders. This enabled the group to reap the full benefit for the original Amen Corner brass sound on 60s classics such as Bend Me, Shape Me, Hello Susie, High In The Sky and a superb blues version of Gin House Blues. The audience reaction was electric and intensified by the intimate setting of The New Theatre, everyone clearly having the time of their lives.

Don’t believe me? Well fear not, the whole event was recorded for posterity for a future DVD release. So if you weren’t there, there’s still a chance to catch the ultimate Andy Fairweather Low and The Low Riders experience… watch this space!