Hey folks some news for these dark times and as we’re all self isolating Ryan Hamilton is gonna shine a little sunshine your way via some live performances. He had this to say,
“As you may have seen, all of our scheduled Festival appearances and Tour Dates this Summer have been canceled or postponed. Very strange, and difficult times right now. But, we’re doing our best to roll with the punches.
SO….. for the next few weeks I will be hosting online shows from my home in Texas.”
April 2nd – Songs from Hell Of A Day
April 9th – Songs from The Devil’s In The Detail
April 16th – Songs from This Is The Sound
April 23 – Songs from The New Album
(brand new songs from the forthcoming album)
All shows are “Pay What You Can”. We can’t let the virus stop the music!
Now my on-off love affair with Brian Fallon has been going on ever since I heard him with The Gaslight Anthem back in ’08 – So to see a new album from Brian Fallon in 2020 is a joyous sight and sound.
Brian has said that this new record is about life right now, and when you are presented with gloriously melancholy little ditties such as When You’re Ready, you are transported to another time and place – and one can not help but feel nostalgic. ‘When You’re Ready’ and ’21 Days’ are perfect examples of what Brian does best – the narrative that runs through each song is beautifully crafted and while they are not connected, the stories somehow get under your skin and is infectious to the point that you want to hit the replay button but after a few listens you know there are other great plots ahead told by a master and held together with extraordinary music. ‘I Don’t Mind (If I’m With You)’ is a song that on first listen could be seen as depressing but after the second or third listen I found it to be quite uplifting. So say what you will about his music but Mr. Fallon has recorded some of his best work in these intimate songs. For example ‘Lonely For You Only’ is upbeat song that comes just at just the right time to add a bit of jolly swing to proceedings, which is then followed by ‘Horses’. This song is a tale of forgiveness and redemption that for me is life-affirming.
One thing that I found while listening to this album is that now we are left in a Tom Petty-less world, I am thankful for having songwriters like Brian Fallon and Ryan Hamilton still here writing life stories in 2-3 minutes song bursts. The eight songs presented here are soft songs for hard people, or at those who get touched by tales of hope in the face of adversity.
This album represents one of those brilliant moments in life when you receive an album that just immediately clicks on almost every level. If this album didn’t come from Hodge, it might not be what you expect from RPMOnline. With a history of performing with Crass, Ryan Hamilton, and Ginger Wildheart among others though, I was going to be very interested in hearing this album on that basis. From the moment I hit play, I found myself stuck on the computer the first time it played. I immediately burned a copy for the car and then made sure it was on the iPod so I could play it throughout the house. Hodge has created a great pop album that takes darkness and immerses it in hope and her charisma.
‘Stop Worrying Baby’ features some very nice piano that reminds me more of the likes of Carole King then what people consider pop music today. Hodge’s voice hits me in all the perfect ways, and she uses it to craft a magical chorus that has made me hit the repeat button numerous times. Piano alone introduces ‘Waving Not Drowning’ with the song feeling like it should be the centerpiece in a movie. Musically, this song has a very haunting feel to it, but, as I mentioned in the introduction, the song has much more of a positive message to tell with this song addressing suicidal ideation and the importance of reaching out to others whether it be friends, family, or strangers. ‘I Still Love Me’ provides an increase in the tempo and celebrates all of the special things that make each of us without it sounding cheesy. Dave Draper’s production is spot on throughout the album (as expected) with this song being a shiny example. The drums and bass jump out of the speaker with the guitar riff being perfectly placed. The chorus is designed for maximum effect without it being over the top in the mix.
‘In Case of Emergency’ showcases how powerful a ballad can truly be. The delicate piano works in perfect union with Hodge’s vocals. The subtle twist in key going into the chorus is tremendous. I also don’t think I have made it all the way through this song one time without the hair on my arms standing up from Hodge’s magical vocal. The subtle use of the guitar here provides some additional texture. Following that song was never going to be easy, ‘Magical Bullet’ rises to the task by providing us with a great rock song that makes it impossible to sit through without moving. You will want to be up on your feet moving, dancing, and singing.
Kicking off the back half of the album, ‘Send Me Someone’ reminds me more of the likes of Fiona Apple perhaps. There is something magical about Hodge’s voice when it is just paired with a piano. While this song does not connect quite the same as ‘In Case of Emergency,’ it remains a powerful song full of powerful, direct lyrics. The sequencing here is extremely important too with ‘Send Me Someone’ containing vocals until almost its last note. The transition to the layered vocals at the start of ‘Semi Colon’ is perfection. I am left hanging on every vocal and piano note on this one. Even after many plays, it becomes a challenge to write a review while listening to the album because I just keep getting lost in the music and words all over again. ‘Virtue Signals’ turns up the rock again and is also the longest song on the album at 5 minutes. This song has proven to be more of a grower which I attribute to the previous song being so amazing. Hodge sings with confidence and power here which gets highlighted with the way the pre-chorus sets up the chorus by taking her vocals and musical down a deep ravine before having the full music and vocals come back for the chorus.
Hitting near the end of the album, ‘Stopped Believing in You’ has all the makings of a huge crossover hit if it could catch some airplay. Draper had made a comment to me about the potential of this song to make this album huge, and he was right on the money. It highlights the strength of the album when this song gets placed near the end. The song builds and builds over a musical beat that again gets the listener moving. Subtle musical touches rise to the surface with each listen, and, at just over 3 minutes, this song ends way too soon so I have noticed this is another one where that repeat button keeps getting abused. ‘Let Gravity Win’ serves as a perfect closer as Hodge tells the narrative that happens to us as we get older in this society. The song provides a sense of catharsis and provides empathy that we all go through this rite of passage. We can do it our own way though.
‘Savage Purge’ hit me at the perfect time when I first heard it so I resisted reviewing it immediately. I wanted to give it a little more time so I could dig in deeper. Additional listens have only strengthened my first impression. These 10 songs deserve to be heard by an audience far and wide. This album also goes to another level in the dead of night when there are no other sounds in the background. Do yourself a favor and give this album some listens and a purchase. We need to keep hearing more songs by Hodge.
‘Savage Purge’ is officially available March 30th and available for purchase now
The last 12 months or so Ryan Hamilton has released a critically acclaimed album with his band The Harlequin Ghosts, toured with The Alarm and Blondie’s Clem Burke, and yet he ends the year divorced, battling online bullies and doing a bit of soul searching. What better way to drown his sorrows with a one-off UK Christmas show billed as The Holiday Hoedown.
Miles from Nowhere (or MFN as it is more commonly known) is a biker bar/club literally miles from anywhere in the Nottingham countryside. As we follow the sat nav down a dark and damp country road in the scenic (maybe in daylight) countryside, I do wonder if the postcode is wrong, but lo and behold here we are at a very cool looking venue, several hours before show time to catch up with the man himself for an exclusive interview which you will be able to listen to very soon.
Turns out MFN is owned by former Showaddywaddy drummer Malcolm Allured. Gold and silver discs adorn the walls alongside 50’s and 60’s rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia. It’s pretty cool, but also pretty small. A small kit and a couple of Fender amps are set up near the bar. A tad underwhelmed that the band appears to be playing a pub gig, we grab a drink and a seat. Slowly the bar empties and I wonder if maybe this is not where the band are playing after all.
Turns out we are in the wrong bar! A door at back of the pub leads into a much bigger, proper club sized venue. Shit, this place is an actual tardis of a venue! No wonder the band have returned here for a one off, this is a very cool venue and I’m surprised more bands don’t have this place on their radar. While it may not quite have the size of Nottingham’s iconic Rock City, it certainly has the ‘cool’ factor and bands who maybe aren’t quite big enough for the city centre gig could well find it in their interests to search this place out.
Following bluesy prog 3 piece led by local singer Danny Beardsley and a rather fine set from punky rock ‘n’ rollers Steam Kittens (check ‘em out if you dig the likes of Cyanide Pills and Buzzcocks, I definitely recommend these geezers), Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts take to the stage to great cheers. Gone are the suits, big hats and pigtails of recent shows. Shorn of the locks, sporting John Lennon shades and a tan suit jacket, our favourite Texan troubadour has gone for the casual look. Whether this is a long term image change or just a sidestep for the Hoedown, we will have to wait and see.
Strumming a Martin acoustic picked up during his recent road trip, (from the man who provided guitars for Tom Petty, no less) Ryan and his band get the party started with a one-two from his debut solo album. Opener ‘Be Kind, Rewind’ is a gloriously upbeat power pop delight that incites the first of many crowd sing-a-longs, but it’s the following ‘Smarter’ that takes the party up a notch for sure.
I don’t know if its Ryan’s recent circumstances, the setting, or a combination of both, but there is something extra special about tonight’s performance from the off.
The band are tight as ever, the sound is crystal clear and the crowd are rowdy and up for it. Between songs, the frontman swigs from a bottle of red wine, as he jokes and enjoys banter with the crowd, yet there is understandably a hint of sadness and edginess to the man tonight. Coming straight off a soul searching road trip, the singer is mourning the end of a relationship and going through a period of unexpected change in his life. Playing a bunch of party anthems to his UK fanbase is just the therapy he needs methinks.
The likes of ‘Bottoms Up’, ‘Karaoke With No Crowd’ and the sublime ‘Records & Needles’ should be enough to convince any naysayer in the room that Ryan Hamilton is a match for his peers as a songwriter and an entertainer.
Spangles guitar slinger Ben Marsden is a welcome addition to the band for the first time tonight. He fits the band like a glove. During an extended and jammed out ‘Oh My God’, Ryan encourages the guitarist to go for it and show us all what he is capable of. Ben needs no further encouragement as he rips out a killer improvised solo, while Ryan grins away watching as he plays. Ryan then explains the story of the song, as the band continue the jam behind him. Another bizarre chapter in his life involving a drug addicted model girlfriend, infidelity and revenge. He may not get the breaks in life, but he has definitely not had a dull one!
The boys in the band take a break, leaving Ryan and Carol Hodge on keyboards to duet on latest single ‘Won’t Stop Now’. The duo deliver perfect harmonies over the piano led ballad, as a clearly emotional Ryan is literally in tears as he lays his heart on his sleeve for all to see.
Club owner Malc joins the band for an impromptu blues jam, the whole band get presents to open on stage and we even get a new song called ‘Can I Get An Amen’ which is pencilled in for a January single release. It is a very strong song, as instant as anything he has written. Full on Americana with a big band sound and a memorable chorus, that comes on like Springsteen meets The Band. If this is taste of the new music to come, be excited… be very excited.
As Ryan passes the bottle of red into the crowd there is only one thing left to do. End the set on a high. ‘This Is The Sound’ has a new found urgency to it tonight, even more than the recorded version. Mickey’s beats lead the melody into a rousing chorus many of us will be singing late into the night. The band appear to be loving it, the ever smiling Ben, the hard hitting drummer and the animated Rob Lane who pulls more cool poses than a Bulletboys video and throws up and catches more picks than any sunset strip band in their heyday.
Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts ended their year on a high. Tonight was a memorable and triumphant show in a busy venue with a great atmosphere, which is more than many struggling artists could ever hope for. Same time next year then?
It’s no surprise to see ‘This is The Sound’ featuring in so many Albums Of The Year lists and I hope all the hard work sees Ryan get the rewards he rightly deserves. But I’ll leave you with one thought to contemplate. When an artist is down, when they have their backs against the wall, that is when they are at their best. Heartache, loss and pain, this is the stuff that fuels the fires of creation. Don’t take the phrase ‘tortured artist’ lightly, when a songwriter truly has something to write about, THAT is when they are at their best. Right now Ryan Hamilton could be on the verge of recording the album of his career due to the rocky road he has recently had to travel, and he damn well knows it. 2020 could be a very interesting year indeed for Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts, I look forward to seeing where they take things next.
Currently touring the UK supporting Clem Burke’s band The Tearaways, Ryan Hamilton pencilled in a couple of intimate, acoustic songs & stories shows in between touring duties. So following a Saturday night in the company of Frank Turner’s acoustic album release show at The Brudenell, we take a Sunday evening drive to the idyllic, sleepy town of Otley, just a few miles away from the masses nursing hangovers and sunburn at Leeds Festival.
Bloomfield Square is the coffee shop come print shop owned and run by Terrorvision frontman Tony Wright. He sometimes hosts gigs, this is one of those. It’s certainly the most intimate gig I have attended, more of a house concert than an acoustic gig. It’s sold out, and there are maybe 25 people here.
The two sealed their friendship a couple of years back by recording a Country album together. ‘Grand Ole Otley’ (get it?) You should! Unfortunately there no Country collaboration with the two tonight, Tony is serving drinks while Ryan sings songs and plays guitar, accompanied by a couple of his Harlequin Ghosts, i.e. bassist Rob Lane and keyboard player Carol Hodge.
“Im sweating like a blind whore in a cucumber patch!” Says Ryan after an extra chilled one-two of ‘Bottoms Up’ and ‘Records and Needles’ opens the set in fine style. Yep, as the man says, it’s very hot in here.
Carol’s harmonies are the perfect accompaniment to the be-hatted Texan songwriter, the likes of ‘Feels Like Falling In Love’ and ‘Won’t Stop Now’ are full of emotion and the band sound great. So intimate it almost feels wrong to join in singing. But as the heat rises and the drinks flow, we lose our inhibitions and sing along. The songs float by like a summer breeze, it’s a shame they can’t actually conjure up a summer breeze in here!
This is not like a normal gig, this is just like watching your mates jam at a house party. Tony comes down the stairs with a fan to help cool Ryan’s ass, “What the fuck’s going on in this country? Global warming…don’t tell my president, we just tried to buy Greenland!” says Ryan at one point.
The laid back rock ‘n’ roll of ‘Get Down’ works well and ‘Never Should Have Moved To LA’ with its “See You Next Tuesday” refrain is high energy euphoria, just as it is on record.
Never afraid to expose his bad luck stories and experiences we get tales of cheating, drug addiction and drunken drummers, and of course his ongoing fascination with English swear words. All told as he swigs from a bottle of red wine. It’s highly amusing and very entertaining.
The most fascinating of those stories is the tale of Smile Smile. The story of the former band he had with his fiancée is truly fucked up and I realise this is something he is still dealing with and what a large majority of his lyrics are actually relating to. I won’t go into details, you can find out more if you look about, but there could well be a documentary on the way, so look out for that.
‘Truth On Tape’ is a Smile Smile song and documents his fucked-up former life. A song he emailed to his ex as a diatribe, which she then wrote melodies to and sent back to him. They did that a few times, had enough for an album, then they toured it. Now that’s fucked up! It’s a heartbreaking ballad that takes on new meaning when you know the background to it.
Springsteen style, he tells some of the back story mid-song and goes into how Rolling Stone called them out for sounding like a U2 song, then he breaks into ‘With Or Without You’…same chords and melody, yeah! They then mash it up, the Truth On Tape chorus with Carol singing the U2 backing vocals, clever stuff and a highlight of the evening.
‘Be Kind Rewind’ incites the most enthusiastic crowd response. That poptastic, sing-along chorus gives summery vibes, the instrumentation is taken down to minimum accompaniment for the “nah nah nah nah” refrain and we sing like a beautiful choir, albeit a small one. The bass and piano pick back up to take the song to its conclusion.
How often do you get to see a Texan singer/songwriter sing songs with no PA, in a coffee shop in Yorkshire run by the singer from Terrorvision? Not very often is the answer! But life throws out these opportunities and you have to grab them while they last.
Like witnessing a gig in your own front room, Ryan Hamilton and a couple of his Traitors played a special, intimate show that succeeded in capturing the essence of where live music originated, and what it should be about.
Thanks for checking out my little corner of the Internet again. There really are no rules or expectations of what I am going to do here. Immediately after completing my first one though, this piece started writing itself in my head. It’s also shifted back and forth a bit during that time. The Wildhearts recently released their latest studio album ‘Renaissance Men,’ and it is quite simply a monster of an album. It is a serious album of the year contender with its 10 mostly compact songs reminding us of those albums of yesterday that did not waste time and placed an emphasis on all killer, no filler. That album served as the inspiration for the topic here- the stigma of mental illness.
Completing the first half of the album, ‘Diagnosis’ finds the band making a powerful statement that cannot be heard enough. The album has been on constant rotation, and that song kept nudging me to emphasize it for anyone that carries a mental health diagnosis with them. Coincidentally, I also saw a study by Record Union which indicated 73% of independent musicians suffered from some form of mental illness (https://www.the73percent.com/). I do not believe this is by any means a new phenomenon, but there has thankfully been much more awareness raised now. Unfortunately, there continues to be a stigma attached to mental illness that needs to be destroyed. People are NEVER a diagnosis. I do not care if it is a physical health condition or a medical health condition. Labels have genuine consequences.
‘You are not your diagnosís
You’re not that prescription in your hand
You are not your diagnosís
Simplified for them to understand’
(Ginger Wildheart, The Wildhearts, ‘Diagnosis’ from their latest album ‘Renaissance Men’)
I have worked in behavioral health for many years and have seen remarkable changes taking place within the field which are innovative and produce remarkable results. I remember the first time the clinic I where I worked brought a Peer Support Specialist (PSS) on board. We only had one, and there was some definite ignorance among the clinical team as for the first few days there was an unsaid belief that the PSS probably should not work with someone in crisis because it could cause the PSS to also go into crisis. I am very happy to report this belief was eradicated within about a week because we experienced the power of peer support. Clinically, we had failed to connect with the person, but this approach was remarkably powerful. In the not too distant past, I introduced a Peer Support Specialist to an inpatient psychiatric unit where the concept was entirely new.
“The stigma I experienced working in that facility has permeated through my recovery story. Before I reached wellness, people were telling me that my reality wasn’t true. Throughout my journey, having friends and loved one’s back away. Now in my profession as a Peer Specialist, being denied opportunities to help someone because it would “trigger a crisis” in myself according to their opinion. I am not my diagnosis. I am not my past. I am a person. My name is Jessi.” Jessi Davis, MHPS RSPS Transition Age Youth Coordinator Via Hope
I have been fortunate that I worked in a system that celebrated strengths and meeting people where they are. It inspired a passion for me in my career to always try to do everything I can to make this world a better place. Some days are more successful than others. I have heard and seen horrific stories. I have heard and seen beautiful acts of love, empathy, support, resilience, and recovery.
I know that I never liked the task in school when I was asked to identify 3 strengths or things I liked about myself. I think it has become much easier with time, but I honestly do not know if it is because of the experiences I collected on my way to adulthood or some other reason. Parts of my adolescence were awful, and it didn’t change until I was well into my 20’s. I also know though I was extremely lucky and fortunate in many ways, especially in that I found coping mechanisms that worked for me. Music spoke to me and was my escape from the challenges I experienced. I also began writing in a journal, and, while they were initially song lyrics, my limitations in musical talent (having none) meant that these would become essentially poetry, even if that wasn’t what I wanted to call it due to preconceived stereotypes about my role in this world as a man and how we are trained to guard our feelings. My darkness I felt when I was younger had outlets- healthy outlets.
Along the way in my career, I was presented with an exciting opportunity. Despite having no behavioral health diagnosis, I had the opportunity to attend a two week Peer Support Training class as part of my orientation for a job. Part of the training is the Peer Support Specialist being able to share their story in a way that inspires hope and resiliency. It was scheduled for about the middle of the training, and I felt uncomfortable with the idea of being in the class that day. I felt like I was an outsider and was betraying my classmates trust in some way. On the second or third day, I said something to one of my classmates during a break. This came out later that day in class, and our instructor told me he was sure I would have a story to share. Sure enough, I was annoyed that we only had 10 minutes to share as I felt it was not nearly enough time. While I have never experienced some of the things my classmates had, I had experienced similar emotions, similar moments in my life, and was moved by the stories I heard. Those two weeks have been extremely inspirational in my career. I have worked with others who have also received that training, and the power and energy these individuals radiate with afterward are contagious.
Turning this back to the song ‘Diagnosis’ and what inspired this, people are never just one thing. If you take 60 seconds and write down everything you are, I am sure you will have quite a list. It might start with father, son, husband, supervisor and then it gets really interesting as we drill down even deeper into what makes us who we are. To label someone as a disease takes away everything else they are. I have been fortunate to work with a CEO who frequently serves to remind others of this and has inspired significant changes in organizations across multiple States on this side of the pond with his approach. He also plays to people’s strengths and understands that you meet the person where they are in their reality, which can be quite challenging for some staff. Whatever the person is experiencing is what is real to them, if that is not validated, what reason does the person have to trust you?
If you watch the evening news, scroll Facebook or Twitter, pick up a newspaper after a horrific event, you will be hit hard with the power of stigma as people are quickly labeled or assumed to be (fill in the derogatory word that comes to your mind). What word was it for you? How did that become your conditioned response? Statistics over the years have demonstrated that individuals diagnosed with a serious mental illness are more likely to be the victim of a crime than the perpetrator.
While I am not writing this to dig out all of those reasons why that might happen, I believe addressing the stigma of mental illness can help serve as a catalyst for change. If people felt like they could discuss what they were feeling and experiencing without the negative responses and shame, I believe it would begin to make differences, even if the ripple of change is small. Several of them become larger and a wave can form with enough of them. It starts with each of us though. We interact with people on a constant basis in our lives. We do not know what most of them are experiencing or have gone through in the moments before we see them, earlier that day, earlier in their lives. We often get one snapshot of that person. In my worst moments, I would not want someone to take that as being all I am.
When I look at the artists whose lyrics have hit me in the heart and soul the hardest, it is the likes of Frank Turner, Ginger Wildheart, Tyla, and others who articulate so clearly many of the thoughts that have passed through my brain over the years. Many of their songs have become personal anthems that inspire me when I need them. They inspire resiliency and let me know my brain is not really that strange in those weak moments. Turner’s ‘Get Better’ Being a powerful anthem for many and a reminder that we can always get better as people as long as we are still breathing.
Thinking about this topic has also given me a reason to really take a look across several parts of my collection with various albums immediately coming to mind that has connections to this blog. If we travel back in time to 1978 when I was just a boy, Alice Cooper unleashed ‘From the Inside’ which was conceptually based around his stay in a psychiatric hospital of the time.
The ballad ‘How You Gonna See Me Now’ has always been one of my favorite Alice ballads, and I have really enjoyed the lyrical depth to it that became apparent as I got older. Titus Andronicus released ‘The Most Lamentable Tragedy’ in 2015 and shared the story of someone dealing with symptoms related to bipolar disorder over the course of a rock-opera with the band releasing one segment of the story as a music video that portrays someone receiving services in an institution.
Stand Atlantic released a music video for their song ‘Lavender Bones’ in 2018 which show their singer being treated the same as everyone else and being taught to think and act the same way. She breaks free from the authority in the video, and, to me, celebrates the character she is playing by showing all of the different sides to who she is as a person through all of the colors she uses in her painting (my interpretation).
Ginger Wildheart has been very open with the challenges he experiences and their impact on him. Between Twitter, his music, his charitable actions, and even negative incidents, he has let fans have a window into a world that would not have been seen decades earlier before the rise of social media. Ginger Wildheart has albums such as ‘Ghost in the Tanglewood’ and ‘The Pessimist’s Companion’ that really speak to the insecurities and dark emotions that we experience and provide catharsis. He has also addressed these experiences in specific songs over the years as well such as ‘The Order of the Dog’ and personal favorite ‘Drive.’ Ginger was recently on “Rock Talk with Mitch Lafon” with Alan Niven talking about their recent suicide attempts and mental health care. Here is a link to the show:
Wade Bowen is a red dirt singer/ songwriter based here in Texas who has a discography of amazing albums, and he has never backed away from singing about person topics that have affected both him and his family, such as his song about post-partum depression ‘Turn on the Lights.’ He recently released a piece on YouTube that addresses his own recent struggle with a physical illness as well as the suicide of his nephew who was also a member of their team. While Bowen and the team continue to process their grief, it serves as another reminder to eliminate the stigma that keeps this topic from being discussed. Here is a link to ‘Inconsistent Chaos.’
Another band that served me extremely well back in my late teens when I felt mentally exhausted and struggling was Suicidal Tendencies. I felt like Mike Muir was often tapping into my own brain with the likes of ‘You Can’t Bring Me Down,’ ‘Alone,’ ‘Can’t Stop,’ etc. His lyrics served as a kick in the butt while also tapping into human emotions that all of us feel at some point in time. They also helped provide another realization in that we need to like the person we are and be comfortable in our own skin. I feel like that goes back to my earlier example where I would struggle as a teen to identify my own strengths.
As the Wildhearts served as the inspiration behind this blog, it seems fitting to close it with Ginger Wildheart and Ryan Hamilton ‘Fuck You Brain’
Texan singer/songwriter Ryan Hamilton has been on our rock ‘n’ roll radar for a good few years now. We at RPM have been following his power pop goodness since the days of People On Vacation and ‘Hell Of A Day’. So, we were pleasantly surprised and overly pleased when the artists formally known as Ryan Hamilton & the Traitors only went and bagged a record deal with the uber cool garage rock label Wicked Cool Records, owned by the legendary Little Steven.
Joining a label that has released albums by RPM faves such as Prima Donna, Kurt Baker and Wyldlife probably excites us as much as it does them, and being mentored by a NY legend who champions so many cool underground artists can only be good news for Ryan Hamilton & the Harlequin Ghosts.
So, a name change, an image upgrade and a debut album usher in exciting times for Ryan and his UK based band of bruthas (and 1 sista). Following the most excellent ‘Bottoms Up/Straight Up’ pink vinyl 7 incher, the band now release their highly anticipated debut long player.
‘This Is The Sound’ follows on where the ‘Traitors Club: Year 1’ EP left us in 2018. And what is clearly evident is that the fine art of a catchy chorus is never lost on Ryan Hamilton. Yep, this album, like his past work, is littered with power pop goodness, quirky vocals, positive energy and an overall message of hope, something that is hard to come by in 2019.
The band starts strong with opening single ‘Mamacita’. With a Little Steven penned chorus, this is a classic sounding earworm that will have you singing the chorus on first listen and long into the night. Gloriously addictive and happy go lucky; you would be forgiven for thinking the band has shot their proverbial load prematurely with their strongest effort. But fear not power pop pickers, as ‘Mamacita’ is just a taster and not even close to being the best song on this album.
Like I said, this album has a very positive energy and you can bet your bottom dollar that in these trying times, Ryan will be there for you to raise your hopes. Whether he’s urging you, in pure David Lee Roth style, to “raise a glass and then kiss my ass”, or professing to “bustin’ through ceilings and love you like a superhero” on the brilliant and bouncy ‘Let You Go’, Ryan Hamilton & the Harlequin Ghosts will be with you every step of the way.
‘Bottoms Up (Here’s To Goodbye)’ is a high energy toast to going down with the ship. Full of 90’s Brit Rock vibes and Silver Sun soaked melodies. The band is firing on all cylinders in an effort to remind you all of the good times and promise more of the same ahead. A killer hook and summery vibes, this is a song to wear shades and down cocktails to.
The anthemic title track delivers the kind of euphoric, turn of the Century pop punk goodness the likes of American Hi-Fi gave us. Mickey’s urgent beats help bring the message to the fore, as it builds to a sublime chorus. The feel good themes of the album summed up in 3 minutes and 15 seconds.
You can take the boy out of Texas, but you can’t take Texas out of the boy! Fort Worth resident Ryan Hamilton’s roots are still all over this album. The goodtime rock ‘n’ roll of ‘Get Down’ is a bar room boogie that will have you shakin’ and a groovin’ and downing them beers. While ‘All Fall Down’ has shades of Tom Petty storytelling, while ‘Girl vs Monster’, with its mournful slide guitar and tinkling of the ivories, is full of country twang.
There’s a very fine line between cheesy and genius when it comes to radio-friendly sentimental balladry, but these guys have it nailed, hands down. The beautiful chorus in ‘So Gone’ really hits in the feels. A mixtape worthy song that will urge you to tightly squeeze the hand of the one you love and never let go. And ‘Feels Like Falling In Love’ has hit single stamped all over it, with Donnie Vie like vibes and hazy, lazy backing vocals, for me, its one of the strongest songs on offer.
The album closes on a reflective note with the piano led ‘Won’t Stop Now’. A heartfelt, haunting dittie, full of church hall echo, soaring vocal harmonies and strings that take it up to an ethereal plane.
If you are the sort of person that relies on music to get you through the day, let me introduce you to Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts. They have crafted an album of masterful songs that are guaranteed to lift your spirits, make you smile and reach for the play button the second the disc stops spinning.
‘This Is The Sound’ is a very strong album and expect to see it riding high on End of the Year lists six months down the line and with the backing of Wicked Cool Records who knows what the future holds.
After a pretty decent Friday, it was time for the main event. entering the Arena early Peters played the lucky first few hundred a sneak preview of a track off the next album and taking some questions from the audience and a few requests it was on with the show as Ryan Hamilton was up first. Accompanied tonight by his piano player Carol Hodge Ryan sadly was without his Harlequin Ghosts which was a shame but with the audience starting to turn up and the Alarm audience being notoriously partisan some might see it as a tough crowd because lets be honest here a lot of these people are here to see one man and hear his songs which is fine but I can’t help but feel they might be kinda missing out, anyway. There are some in tonight who were no doubt impressed by his stint on the recent Alarm tour and want to see and hear what he might have to offer stripped down to acoustic guitar and piano so after a couple of unfamiliar new tunes he tried the old trick of playing something he knew most people in here would know and like so playing ‘Desire’ by U2 was a good move which brought a few people in further to investigate.
Its fair to say Ryan can talk and when time is of the essence there is a balance to strike and I think Ryan was acutely aware of this as he referred to the very same problem but having banter is great and endearing but I want to hear what you’ve got sir so ‘Smarter’ sounded great as did ‘Karaoke With No Crowd’ now we were getting somewhere Hamilton has clearly enjoyed his time hanging with Team Alarm and it was great to see him perform at the Gathering maybe next time come back and bring those other three with you and rock the house because the set was brief and by the time ‘Raise Your Hands’ was played we were just warming up.
Ok also on the bill tonight was 80’s pop-rock combo Then Jerico or as they were called Mark Shaws Then Jerico. Now I’ll hold my hands up and admit that growing up through the 80’s I was obviously aware of who Then Jerico was and I believe one of my siblings did indeed own ‘Big Area’ but I never investigated their music and they weren’t my thing at all. Shaw had a lot of energy on stage much like he did in the ’80s and to be fair he didn’t look like the years have been unkind to him and yes, of course, they played ‘The Motive’ and saved ‘Big Area’ til the end and no doubt some ladies seemed jolly pleased they played and got the chance to ‘Mam Dance’ a little.
right onto the main event and tonight, the stage is decked out in tin foil. Why? I have no idea but it was all shiny and when the band took the stage in matching jackets they must have been chuffed when the house lights tried to cook them at what must have seemed 190 without being fan assisted.
With the line up of Smiley on the drums, James on Bass and occasional guitar and mikes wife Jules playing keyboards the main bulk of the stage was Peters as he ran from left to right singing into the three microphones on the front of the stage. Now I’ve seen this line up perform at Cardiff University and felt underwhelmed but then a short while later they played the Thekla in Bristol same line up different set and were bloody superb so I didn’t have a clue what to expect again tonight maybe it would be down to what the setlist was as to how my mood would change. I do think I’d got used to James playing the guitar which to be fair he does superbly on old and new alarm track and I always loved Craig Adams style and his bass thump was thunderous and really added energy to any live show not to say James isn’t good (am I digging a hole here I can’t climb out of?) anyway maybe I feel there are talents not being 100% utilised here maybe that’s my take on things but like I said this line up has also turned in some fantastic shows hell last years Saturday night was one of the best in twenty-seven years. Anyway, I do enjoy hearing both classics and new material whereas there are always a lot of attendees who just want to hear the classics and some even after all these years crave the original line up and turn up in the hope that this year will be the year it happens, haha. sadly not this year again ‘Coming Backwards’ sounds good and I do like ‘Peace Now’. From the last album ’13, Dead Raindeers’ was one of my favourites and it’s a nice riff. ‘Sold Me Down the River’ is up next and then its in the round for Peters who leaves the main stage to play ‘a few off ‘Declaration’ in the shape of ‘white Cross’ and ‘the Deceiver’ he then just about manages to knock out ‘Cenotaph’ before the gremlin get into the PA but not for the only time they rear their head.
The front of house sound decides it’s going to down tools. Anyway, Peters loves a challenge and tonight he decides to go out into the audience with his guitar and voice and move from side to side climbing into the seated area and sing ‘One Guitar’ or at least get the audience around him to sing it because only those near could hear. Still no sign of the PA coming back on as people begin to rummage round for coins for the meter to hopefully get the PA back on anyway being the resourceful sort PEters then rolls out a rendition of ‘Merry Christmas (War Is Over)’ yup a weird one on me too considering its February but hey why not.
With the impromptu break in proceedings, it means the band has to once again build up a head of steam so what better way than to break into ‘Spirit Of 76’ and we’re into the home straight but not before ‘Beautiful’ is aired from the excellent ‘Viral Black’ album. the band cruise into my favourite Alarm song ‘Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke’ to give it it’s full title or ‘WWYHWTSB’ as my notes say. which leaves 68 Guns and off they go.
I had no clue as to how long tonight’s encore might last I mean it could have been longer than the main set who knows nothing would surprise me at a Gathering. So I was surprised to be fair as this year there was no Craig Adams and the encore was a lean four songs ‘Neutral’, followed by ‘Strength’ then ‘Two Rivers’ then it was everyone on stage for a romp through ‘Get Down And Get With It’ oh and did I mention there was another power out? Oh well shit happens and the good ones don’t get phased by it they roll with the punches and that’s exactly what Peters did and once again it was a memorable Saturday night partly down to how they coped with adversity and partly because there are so many great songs to chose from I’m glad Mike writes new material and mixes up old with new and also is happy to play around with classic arrangments but not for the sake of it is why I keep going back, its always about the music – the music comes first and throughout my adult life the Gathering has been a constant good thing and I always look forward to the next one, as we debate what might go on and who will be there Its such a special Gathering for one of the hardest working musicians in the business whos taken the knocks and always got up and delivered. sure there have been off nights but who hasn’t one thing you always get with The Alarm is 100% and considering I’ve been privileged to see them play well into the three figures and I’ve heard ’68 Guns’ more times than should be legal I’ll be sat by the computer the second Gathering 2020 tickets go up for sale. Bring it on its yet again been a pleasure and never a chore.
If you thought February was a bit full on then welcome to March. Whilst the UK did its usual shit the bed over some snowfall the rest of the planet got on with what it had to do without much fuss. Such was the panic, Fraser had to abort his trip to Londinium to see Turbonegro unless he hired a chopper then paraglided in, he was stuffed due to the Baltic conditions and an inefficient panic-stricken country. Anyway.
RPM scribes did manage to leave the house at some point because Ben caught Ryan Hamilton & the Traitors up North whilst Dom caught the tour in Cardiff. When Ben saw the tour party it was as advertised because on the night in Cardiff the Main Grains couldn’t attend due to…Um… snow on the roof of their car! No Car couldn’t find it under snow, leaves, it had blown away or they couldn’t make it because it was waaay too far when London was next on the schedule, ticket sales weren’t exactly great or some similar excuse, oh well, it wasn’t to be so Hamilton was left to break the news of the Main Grains transport issues cough, cough. Like the trooper he is he and the Traitors played an extended set to the few hardy souls who ventured out into the great wide open to fly their freak flags and a thoroughly enjoyable evening was had. It would have been nice to have both bands but there we go.
So with most people tucked up in their castles listening to punk rock praying that those hardy postal workers managed to get into work so they could deliver a veritable avalanche of new releases, some even made it onto the death decks of future RPM scribes such as Dirt Box Disco with their ‘Immortals’ album and joining them this month would be Eureka Machines with their brand new pledge endorsed campaign ‘Victories’, which went down well (to be fair) all Eureka pledges go well as Chris Catalyst seems like a guy with a plan and knows how to execute a well-oiled campaign always full of little extras.
There were also some notable records released in March by the likes of Christmas with their most excellent ‘Scum As You Are’, Ryan Hamilton also got recording this time with Tony Wright and their ‘Grand Ole Otley’ and showing that we’re not all about the crash, bang, wallop! Boss Caine and his album ‘Loved By Trouble, Troubled By Love‘ was also released this month.
The most hotly anticipated release of the month has to go to those speed dealers Zeke and their brutal, frantic and breakneck take on rock n roll that made ‘Hellbender’ such a success. There was also tour dates announced for a few months that would have some of the scribes at RPM all hot and bothered. Last Great Dreamers released their latest offering also through Pledge it was the most excellent ’13th Floor Renegade’ it certainly got HQ rocking and rolling.
Hot Snakes released ‘Jericho sirens’ mid-March which also bothered turntables and speakers all over our gaff. Its no secret that we love a single here at RPM and seeing as we love the little things in life who could forget some epic 7″ releases in March most notably in the shape of Fireburn and their EP ‘Shine‘ a band that will feature later in the year under more tragic circumstances. Fireburn might not have had the sheer brutality of Todd Youths Bloodclot project it certainly was pretty damn good and along with their EP something we are delighted to champion.
Finally and thankfully people managed to stay out of jail or the morgue this month which is always a good thing. Again its quality over popularity for RPM scribes and the champions of March are plenty but I’d have an inkling if we had a vote it would have to be Zeke for the ‘Hellbender’ album. 1-2-3-4 woosh!