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!
Recently signed to Little Steven’s Wicked Cool Records label, Ryan Hamilton and his newly renamed band The Harlequin Ghosts are an exciting proposition, facing exciting times.
Recently announcing they would be knocking the headline tours on the head for a while to concentrate on other opportunities, I didn’t think I would be catching them for a while here in the UK. Yet, here they are on a high profile tour opening for Welsh legends The Alarm, which should hopefully widen their appeal to larger audiences than they have been reaching in recent times. It seems the image change and the name change is no coincidence, as this band is stepping things up to the big league.
There’s a glint of something different in Ryan Hamilton’s eyes tonight. A new sense of determination and seriousness to his delivery. There’s less of the between-song jokes and banter, although he is still obsessed about learning new English swear words.
Whether it’s the matching sharp suits and the heavier (yet still catchy) material, I don’t know, but this bunch of musicians seem more cohesive now, more like dare I say it…a band.
Faced with an over-loud and dodgy sound mix and an audience unfamiliar with their material, Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts are up against it tonight and they rise to the challenge. When a band are up against the wall with something to prove, when they have to fight for attention, that is when a band are at their best.
So out of the relative comfort zone of a room of people who will sing along to your mighty fine power pop ditties, the band reel off song after song to a small but growing crowd of The Alarm fans, sipping their beers waiting for their heroes. Maybe tonight, just a few of those fans may have found a new band to check out in the morning.
It’s a good job Ryan and the guys have the songs then. ‘Karaoke With No Crowd’ with it’s over cool “whoo hoo’s”, the sublime power pop of ‘Records and Needles’ and the following ‘Medicine’ should be enough to reel in even the staidest of observers.
Ryan, his hair in plaits and wide-brimmed hat, making him look like some spaghetti western preacher leading his congregation. He uses his hands to gesture as he addresses the audience, whether playing the guitar or just in control of the mic. The Tom Petty like drawl of ‘Never Should Have Moved To LA’ is mighty fine as always, they then transport us back to Texas with the country twang of ‘Oh My God’.
Introducing final song ‘Freak Flag’ Ryan tells us he is the living proof there are second chances, that it is possible to get a second chance at the rock ‘n’ roll dream. Tonight’s performance is a testament to a rock ‘n’ roll survivor and long may he keep returning to our shores. A sublime set from the probably the best support band you will see this year or next.
Now, Mike Peters is a true survivor and a legendary rock ‘n’ roll talent. He may not be as famous or as revered as Bono or Springsteen, but he has the songs, the road-weary years of experience and the passionate fan base to match.
I guess I’d call myself a casual fan of The Alarm, and I’ve never seen them live, so tonight is a truly monumental experience for me, as I never imagined they would be this good.
This live incarnation of The Alarm, with Mike Peters on vocals and acoustic, his wife Jules on keyboards, longtime Alarm guitarist come bassist James Stevenson and drummer Steve ‘Smiley’ Barnard is as good as it gets.
Anthem follows anthem tonight as Peters and the gang dig deep into the 35 years plus back catalogue to deliver a set that will satisfy even the most casual of fans. From opener ‘Blaze Of Glory’ to main set closer ’68 Guns’, it’s a masterclass of rousing, alternative rock ‘n’ roll. From the ’80s, through the ’90s and beyond, all bases are covered.
Peters has free reign of the stage as the rest of the band are pretty much rooted to the spot. I’ve never seen any frontman use 3 vocals mics for a performance. The only advantage I can see if for the vocalist to reach every corner of the venue, so as not to be confined to one spot due to him being the sole guitar player. Fair play, he uses it to its full advantage, switching between left, right and centre stage at will during songs.
It’s an energetic and passionate performance as the man plays to his crowd, and The Alarm fans are as passionate as it gets. Being down the front, I witness it firsthand; 2 ladies of a certain age next to me sing and dance together having the best night of their lives, a middle aged gent in a suit jacket is reliving his youth, precariously swinging from the railing with one hand and punching the air and pointing at his hero as he mouths the words to the anthems of his youth.
This is nostalgia at its finest, people. There are no teenagers here, we are all of a certain age, gathered together to hear the songs that transport us back to a time that was simpler, better and much more fun than most of us have now. True escapism, am I right or am I wrong?
I would usually argue that no one wants to hear new songs at this sort of show, but The Alarm do have new songs and they ain’t too shabby to be fair. ‘Beautiful’ fits the bill nicely and 2 new songs bookend ‘Strength’ come encore time. ‘Neutral’ and ‘Two Rivers’ are as good as it gets and rightly deserves a place amongst the classics.
The feel of a stadium show in a small local venue, you can’t beat the power of rock ‘n’ roll old or new. Two excellent world-class bands in my local venue and certainly one of the best shows I’ve seen this year.
Here I sit on a transatlantic flight bound for Minneapolis with my best mate Matt Seddon. Last night we saw Living Colour play at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, tomorrow we visit Paisley Park, then fly to San Francisco. The start of a carefully planned 10 day road trip that will ram in all the sights, sounds and experiences that Southern California can offer.
So, how did we get to this point you may ask? Well, in the summer of 2016 Sedd and I both lost our brothers within 6 weeks of each other. My brother Dan after a short battle with cancer and Sedd’s brother Andy to a heart attack. Obviously, these events changed our lives forever, it made us both re-evaluate our lives and what we take out of it in the future. Life is short and sometimes it takes a tragic life experience to give reality a jolt and make you question life, the universe and everything.
We are both music lovers and musicians, as were our brothers. Sedd and I spend our Saturday nights together drinking, putting the world to rights, talking music and planning things we may never actually do. This trip is about doing some of those things before it’s too late.
Call it a voyage of discovery, a pilgrimage or simply a tribute to our brothers, but what started as a chat about how cool it would be to visit Paisley Park quickly snowballed into a rock ‘n’ roll roadtrip. We are both Prince fans as were our brothers, Minneapolis seemed the perfect place to start. Then catch a plane over to San Francisco for a few days, hire a Ford Mustang and drive the Pacific coast road down to Monterey, onto LA for a few days and end our trip in Las Vegas. Take in the sights, the sounds, the history and maybe catch a few bands too, who knows.
As it worked out, the trip is bookended by two bucket list gigs at my favourite North Yorkshire venue The Brudenell Social Club. The day after we return from Las Vegas Redd Kross support The Melvins and the night before we fly out, we witness Living Colour play a sold out show there.
Dan would’ve been so jealous. Living Colour were one of his favourite bands. I remember when he got their third album ‘Stain’, he would play it over and over to me. Being a drummer he would bang on passionately about Will Calhoun and his playing, the tempo changes they use in the likes of ‘Mind Your Own Business’ and so on. He had been a fan since their first album, but he never got the chance to see them live and now I had the chance to do it for him.
The new album ‘Shade’ is a great return to form and this UK tour of smaller venues the perfect opportunity to catch a bucket list band who rarely visit our shores.
They open with Robert Johnson’s ‘Preachin’ Blues’ and follow with the classic ‘Wall’, a fiery political statement, it’s an early highlight. Yet it’s a slow burner of a gig to be honest, although they sound great the band do seem to be holding back. Where’s the energy, have they still got it?
Bassist Doug Wimbish is mesmerising to watch, what a player. He does this mad, dramatic pull off thing on the strings that looks and sounds smart. Singer Corey Glover, dressed in baggy gear, an over-sized brown leather jacket, cloth cap and specs, looks like an extra from Starsky & Hutch. He seems subdued for the first few songs, maybe jet lag or maybe it’s just his style, I can’t quite figure it out. In complete contrast the ever smiling Vernon Reid pulls off staggering leads at the speed of light to his side.
It takes a few songs to get going tonight, but damn me if Living Colour don’t pull off one of the gigs of the year. Tonight they play a few songs that they have not played so far on this tour. So, as well as the usual suspects we get a raw and undiluted ‘Elvis Is Dead’, extended and jammed out with crowd participation, even breaking into a few bars of ‘Hound Dog’ with added Corey hip thrusting. “I’m gonna regret that in the morning” he jokes.
A surprise calypso tinged ‘Glamour Boys’ is an amazing highlight with full band backing harmonies that sound frankly amazing, it takes the song to another level. The extended bass and drum solos, although impressive, I could live without. While Doug’s soloing to his own looped bass line was highly inventive and impressive for all the musos in attendance, they could’ve fitted three more songs in the set.
The new songs mix well in the set. The angst ridden ‘Gunfight’ continues to show that this band always had something to say and they deliver their diatribe with passion. ‘Cult Of Personality’ ends a pretty much dream set from a band I never thought I would get to see.
As they leave the stage Doug announces they will be at the merch stand to sign anything that is put in front of them. If we weren’t getting up at 5 am to catch a plane to America we would’ve stayed for a chat, but tonight was about seeing Living Colour play live…job done.
A delayed flight from Manchester is soundtracked by Junkyard, Prince and The Foo Fighters along with the highly enjoyable new Alien film and the quirky Colossus starring Anne Hathaway, a film that is much better than it sounds in the plot.
We change flights at Atlanta and miss our connection. As we fly over diminutive estates of identical houses that look like monopoly pieces scattered between the miles of lush, green trees, I realise I forgot to load the phone with music, so the soundtrack to Minneapolis comes courtesy of a Ryan Hamilton & The Traitors live album and a Juliette Lewis EP on shuffle.
We have been up since 5am UK time, that’s 19 hours and counting, I wonder if we’ve flown over Butch Walker’s house?
It seems like yesterday that I made the decision to avoid John Lydon and PIL and instead make my way to catch Ryan Hamilton at 2018’s Camden Rocks. Since then a lot of things have changed for the band without even thinking about the name change (when I caught them they were Ryan Hamilton and the Traitors). I suppose the most important change being the band no longer have to put their material out themselves, they have been signed to Wicked Cool Records. For those in the know, this is the Garage Rock label founded by “Little Steven” Van Zandt in 2005. The label evolved out of Van Zandt’s weekly syndicated radio show Little Steven’s Underground Garage, in fairness Van Zandt recognized that some brilliant rock music just wasn’t getting the push it needed and he was the right guy to do it.
When you consider the label also has on its roster among others Steve Conte, The Dollyrots, Wyldlife, Prima Donna it has some serious street cred and what better place for Hamilton to ply his trade.
The first thing I noticed when the band hit the stage was the sharp suits, the second thing I noticed was that the sound had gone up a gear, they rocked!!! Tracks moved away from the alternative country feel, sped up hit hard and the between song banter talked about the Little Steven influence and how great he was to work with.
This performance as Ryan pointed out was just one within a run of dates that will be the last solo tour for a while, they’ve already picked up some serious support slots for next year and that’s all after time spent in the studio recording the new LP. If the new single performed tonight “Bottom’s up, (here’s to goodbye)”bought tonight on 7” pink vinyl available here
is anything to go by it will be a blinder. Tracks like “Be Kind Rewind”, “We should never have moved to LA”, “Karaoke with no crowd” and “Gulf of Mexico” just breathed, the band let loose, enjoying the feeling of being let loose. The stories, crowd banter and impromptu song “Sorry Chloe” showed a side of Ryan that wasn’t there in Camden, confident, excited and looking forward to what’s coming up. The cover than ended the set tonight I think shows that confidence, the B-side to the new single a rocked out, funked up version of Paula Abdul’s “Straight up”. The future is very definitely golden.
Whilst we’re here we’d like to point you in the direction of an incredible charity – Love Hope & Strength. if you do one thing after reading this news it should be to click here and get over to the site where incredible work is done, even Ozzy got involved with LH&S