Memories of my first ever live gig – Slade at Donington August 81 by Darren Johnson

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supplied by Darren Johnson

When I went to Monsters of Rock at Donington, aged 15, in 1981 it was not only my first ever festival but also my first ever live rock gig of any type. It still remains my favourite gig of all time, in particular the set by Slade that afternoon.

We arrived at Donington a little late and by the time we had parked and got into the arena the band More were most of the way through their set. The next band on were Blackfoot who I have no real recollection of at all. What I do remember is the anticipation of waiting for Slade to come on. After several years in the doldrums Slade had burst back into the charts a few months earlier with ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’. Their storming performance at Reading Festival the previous year (when the band replaced Ozzy Osbourne at the last minute) had already become legendary and this all meant that in the space of a few months Slade went from being a band that sang about Christmas that I vaguely recalled from my childhood to being my number one favourite band in the whole world. And that was even before I witnessed what would become (and still remains) the most remarkable live performance I’ve ever seen. Loud guitar-driven rock, commanding showmanship, unforgettable songs and sheer over- the-top-eccentricity, it was an absolute master-class in compelling live performance.

story continues here… https://darrensmusicblog.com/2017/03/13/memories-of-my-first-ever-live-gig-slade-at-donington-22881/

The Levellers on Hastings Pier 19th September 2016 – review by Darren Johnson

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photo by Darren Johnson

Many big-name musical acts played Hastings Pier in the 60s and 70s and it’s great to see that spirit being evoked as the revived and refurbished pier plays host to bands like The Levellers. The big difference nowadays is that lacking a concert pavilion today’s events are more like mini-festivals, replete with wristbands, an outdoor stage, beer marquees and portable loos. But the pier is a fantastic open space and makes for a brilliant setting for a small but perfectly-formed festival.

Prior to the headliners taking the stage supporting acts are local band Matilda’s Scoundrels; the very Levellers-esque sounding folk-punk band Ferocious Dog; and Turin Brakes, who had some chart success in the early noughties and put me in mind of bands like Travis.

The Levellers are clearly the band that everyone has come to see, though, and the crowd has swelled significantly by the time they take the stage. It’s twenty five years since their seminal album Levelling The Land was released. It took the band from niche performers on the festival and protest circuit to the Top 20 and the main stage at Glastonbury. Tonight, and in a subsequent Autumn tour, they are performing the album in full. As on the album the set starts with One Way (“there’s only one way of life and that’s your own, your own your own..”) When it came out, at a time of road protests, demonisation of travellers and a growing authoritarianism in policing and criminal justice, it instantly became the anthem for anyone who didn’t want to conform. And judging by the way it’s received tonight those words still mean an awful lot to people.

Levelling The Land is not only the band’s most famous album, it’s a good showcase for the different sounds and influences that have defined the Levellers; bringing together their reflective folky side (with acoustic ballads like The Boatman) and their more raucous punky side (with tracks like The Boatman), mixed in with some perfectly crafted slices of early 90s indie pop (like Sell Out). After performing the album in full the band rattle through a number of other musical highlights from the Levellers career, eventually encoring with a glorious What a Beautiful Day.

Musically, the band are still in very good shape. Lyrically, there’s even more in the world to get angry about than there was twenty five years ago. So a Levellers show today: still artistically and politically relevant in post-Brexit, austerity Britain or nostalgia for great songs in troubled but simpler times? In all truth it’s probably a mixture of both but there’s no harm in that.

https://darrensmusicblog.com/2016/10/01/the-levellers-on-hastings-pier-19916/

Ronnie Spector at The Stables Milton Keynes 13/6/16 review by Darren Johnson

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Darren Johnson… Ronnie Spector was supposed to be at the De La Warr Pavilion last month but this was sadly cancelled on medical advice from her doctor who was advising her not to fly. However, I caught up with her last night on a later leg of the tour in Milton Keynes. Review here

https://darrensmusicblog.com/2016/06/14/ronnie-spector-at-the-stables-milton-keynes-13616/

The Rolling Stones “Exhibitionism” The Saatchi Gallery reviewed by Darren Johnson

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I’ve been to a few rock music archive exhibitions over the years and thought I knew the score. A room or two of old programmes, concert posters and record covers, a few old stage costumes here and there, perhaps a guitar or two and then you’re ushered into a room to watch an video that you could probably have found at home doing a quick search on Youtube.

With Exhibitionism, however, The Stones have set the bar extremely high and in the process of taking over The Saatchi Gallery have utterly rewritten the template for what a successful rock memorabilia exhibition should look like. At £24 per ticket it’s not exactly cheap but for any Stones fan, or indeed any follower of rock history, it represents excellent value for money. Room after room after room is laid out with absolutely fascinating archives that go way beyond the old “concert posters and record sleeves in glasses cases” approach. It’s beautifully themed and gives a fascinating insight into the life of one of the world’s most iconic rock n roll bands over the past five and a bit decades. There’s a recreation of the Edith Grove flat that Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones shared in the early days, gloriously capturing all the hideous squalor of sixties bedsit-land. There’s a recreation of the recording studio where they recorded some of their classics and there are huge and extensive displays of guitars and other instruments, meticulously archived original recording contracts and legal documentation and a fascinating display of stage costumes through the decades. I was struck by how pristine and smart the bands sixties suits still look compared to how bedraggled and tatty some of Mick Jagger’s nineties stage outfits now appear. Clearly, they don’t make em like they used to.

For me, however, one of the most poignant moments was walking into the room set out as an exact replica of the Stones backstage area: the admin, the technical gizmos, Mick Jagger’s make-up tent… For a minute it really felt like you had walked in on something very, very private that few get to see.

Allow at least ninety minutes to properly take in all of the exhibition. If you are so inclined you can then spend an exorbitant amount of money in the gift shop but I consoled myself with a £3.99 branded re-usable Exhibitionism shopping bag. A little souvenir of an exhibition that has set a new global standard in rock ‘n’ roll archives.  https://darrensmusicblog.com/2016/05/11/review-the-rolling-stones-exhibitionism-at-the-saatchi-gallery/

http://www.saatchigallery.com/current/rolling_stones.php

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