Favourite musicians/bands

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last updated 2 May 2016

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Engaging music has always been a major source of joy for me when feeling up, and of solace when down.

This page is devoted to the bands who've meant so much to me both recently and over the years. I was fortunate to grow up in the 1970s when lots of excellent music was around, and discovered a taste for tuneful, energetic but not overly aggressive, tender, intelligent and passionate bands, whose songs connected through to my inner heart and soul and deeply moved me. My main passion has always been for classic rock, as this is the style I find I most easily relate to, but I enjoy any band or artist that I can 'connect' with.

Only the most commercially successful bands are well remunerated. Many of the musicians who've given me the most pleasure live lives much harder than my own, and do so willingly because they care deeply about the conditions of peoples' lives and human tragedy, and want to entertain and enhance our culture. Many times more decent and selfless than some I meet in other walks of life. But I believe that if you really like something in this world you should actively support it, rather than taking it for granted until too late. So I get to as many gigs as practicably can and I've created these pages, and run the sites I run, to espouse and help promote my favourites while helping you connect up to any you may find interesting.


Hayley Griffiths at Bilston Robin 2 Ian Jones at Leicester Y Karnataka are a wonderful melodic rock band, originally hailing from Swansea but now based in London. Their music incorporates sophisticated musicianship, sensuous playing, intelligent and varied songwriting and passionate feeling. They have now done two tours with their latest lineup including great young vocalist Hayley Griffiths (left). Their early songs embodied a unique South Welsh Celtic spirituality which touches my soul deeply. They have now released a great new album Secrets of Angels.
Their brilliant live performances are captured superbly on their live albums New Light and the earlier Strange Behaviour (original lineup). They won a brace of CRS awards, including Best Band 2003, Best Album 2003 for the magnificent Delicate Flame of Desire, and lead singer Rachel Jones (right) was Best Female Vocalist for four years running. Their second CD The Storm was my favourite of 2001, including The Journey which is one of the most joyful and uplifting pieces I have ever heard.
I have photographed them at Monmouth Festival on 30/7/02, Derby Flowerpot on 20/3/03, Derby Flowerpot on 8/11/03, Rotherham on 15/5/04, Vibes from the Vines on 12/8/06, Leicester Y on 30/3/07, Bilston Robin 2 on 14/10/08, Bilston Robin 2 on 19/2/12, Bilston Robin 2 on 8/3/15, Leicester Y on 17/4/15, and Bilston Robin 2 on 11/10/15.
Ex-members have moved on to interesting new projects including Panic Room and The Reasoning. >>>more>>>


Dave and John at BanburyDave Lambert at WythallI've been a very big fan of the Strawbs (John Ford and Dave Cousins, left; Dave Lambert, right) ever since I discovered them in the mid 70s. I have always found a resonance with their spiritually-inclined prog-folk-rock material, full of feeling. I have taken photos at gigs including Exeter Phoenix gig on 20/4/01, Bilston Robin 2 on 28/6/05 (electric band), Derby Flowerpot on 8/2/02 (original Acoustic Strawbs lineup), at the NPL in Teddington on 2/12/06 (Hero and Heroine electric lineup), at a private party at Wythall on 16/9/06 (new Acoustic line-up with Chas Cronk), at their Xmas party in Teddington on 2/12/06 (several line-ups plus guests), Twickenham Stadium at their 40 Years On festival on 12/9/09, and Bilston Robin 2 on 27/4/16. I am a co-moderator of the Strawbs chat list Witchwood.
Bassist John Ford, who sang the lead on Part of the Union, now has a band in New York and his own official site and albums available. Keyboard player John Hawken also has a good site. Former guitarist Brian Willoughby now tours and records with Cathryn Craig. >>>more>>>


Anne-Marie at Leicester Panic Room are a fine Welsh band, originally formed from the core of Karnataka's original lineup, with Anne-Marie Helder (left - vocals, guitars, flute), Jonathan Edwards (keyboards), Dave Foster (guitar), Yatim Halimi (bass) and Gavin Griffiths (drums).

They produced a great new album Skin, following their earlier albums Satellite and Visionary Position, and have now released a further album Incarnate.

Anne-Marie was awarded Best Female Vocalist 2011 by Classic Rock Presents Prog magazine, and CRS Personality of the year by the Classic Rock Society in 2010 and 2011. She is also a member of Mostly Autumn. Gavin Griffiths was awarded Best Drummer of 2010 by the CRS, and is now the regular drummer for Fish and Mostly Autumn.

I photographed their live debut at Lydney Town Hall on 11/4/08 and their gigs at Leicester Y Theatre on 17/11/12 and at Bilston Robin 2 on 12/7/13, 1/12/13, and 17/5/15.



Bryan Josh at Rotherham Rocks 2005 Olivia Sparnenn at Bilston Robin 2 2013 Mostly Autumn are another great melodic rock band with Celtic influences. Hailing from the York, their songs combine passion with fantastic musicianship and I steadily became more and more addicted to their spirited music. They are masters of live performances, usually very tight with great poise and sound balance - generally you can easily hear what all the instruments are playing despite being a seven-piece band. Guitarist and main-man Bryan Josh (left) has won the Classic Rock Society's Guitarist of the Year award on more than one occasion, and former vocalist Heather Findlay won Female Vocalist of the Year in 1999. Since then, Olivia Sparnenn (right) has taken over the lead vocals, and Chris Johnson has joined in place of Liam Davison.

I have taken photos of Mostly Autumn headlining Rotherham Rocks in 2005, at Bilston Robin 2 on 8/12/13, and Bilston again on 7/6/15.


Irony at the Duke of Connaught, Windsor Irony are a rock/folk/jazz/blues/soul fusion band from the Thames Valley. I discovered them back in '97 after hearing their fabulous song Maria Bahran on a sampler CD distributed with now-defunct Rock magazine Frontiers (we miss ya guys!). Sung with extreme passion and containing an awesome guitar solo, it was exactly the kind of track to blow me away.

Mainman Dany moved to the south of France in 2006, though the band still performed in England from time to time when he came back to visit, and also played the occasional gig across the Channel. But he returned in 2014 so they have been able to rebuild their momentum since then.

After running their official website for several years, I still keep it up as a fan site, though I was grateful when the opportunity arose in 2010 to hand over the official site responsibilities to a new webmaster.

Irony have now produced six great CDs and Dany produced some good solo CDs during his time in France, with many tracks featuring other Irony members.


Isabel at BrightonDaron at LeicesterDrugstore are an amazing English indie/alternative band fronted by fabulous, spirited and lovely Brazilian singer/bassist Isabel Monteiro. Their songs are vibrant yet laced with tender, more sensitive touches. They have now re-formed with a completely new lineup and have signed a deal with Cherry Red Records to release a new best-of album which will be released in September. They have a new official website, and Isabel also publishes a blog. There is a Drugstore group on Facebook, and they still have have excellent unofficial websites by Gary and Lex. I have taken photos of the them on many occasions, from Brighton on 30/9/97 (left) through to Camden Dingwalls on 3/12/01, including at Leicester Charlotte on 16/7/99 (right) and Birmingham Flapper & Firkin on 28/02/01. >>>more>>>


Legend are a great folky Pagan progressive band who play with a rare passion and feeling. I enjoy all of their CDs as well as seeing their superb live performances, my favourite being Triple Aspect. Legend have now reformed and issued produced new CDs Ritual Echo, Cardinal Points, containing the superb track Spark to a Flame, and Spirit.


Nigel Shaw and Carolyn Hillyer are two pagans from Dartmoor who play with conviction in a great variety of styles. They are also the core of tribal dance band Global, whom I liked instantly when I heard them supporting Gong at a one-day festival in Bath in 1996. They also played a great set, as a duo, at Malvern in May 2002 - on that occasion their music carried a wonderful vibe of peace and tranquility, which can also be found on Nigel's CD Requiem - Well of Souls: we chose the track Rest Gentle Heart from this album as one of the musical pieces for my father's funeral. Carolyn has just released a lovely new CD The Wyched Wombe.


Liz at MalvernEric at MalvernSpiralize were a Malvern-based tribal dance band who played gigs locally. Sadly they have now parted their ways, as the nights I spent at their gigs were some of the best of my life. They played a unique kind of tribal sound which combined Lizzie's exquisitely sensuous vocals with powereful but flowing rhythms and good melody lines. Their gigs were also adorned, wherever possible, with the vividly colourful flourescent drapes you can see in some of the photos. The whole atmosphere was just right. As their photographer I took several sets of photos and I hope these will now stand in tribute to a fabulous band I sadly miss.

There is now a MySpace Spiralize profile.


Fernanda Mesquita at Rotherham Luiz Garcia

Ashtar were a superb young Brazilian band whose impressive compositions combine progressive metal with celtic influences from Scotland and old school progressive rock. Their CD Urantia is one of the best debuts I have ever heard. The depth and quality of feeling in these songs reaches right to my heart in a way few others do. They embrace as wide a range of moods and feelings as I can recall from a single band, and are sung and played with rare passion by fine musicians. I have taken photos of them at Rotherham on 15/5/04, Rotherham Rocks 2005, Malvern on 27/5/05, Bilston on 16/7/06 and Malvern on 29/7/06. I also run the Ashtar Fan Clan so fellow fans can get in touch and discuss their great music. There are also several other useful sites with Ashtar material. >>>more>>>


The Reasoning at The Peel, Kingston The Reasoning were a progressive band led by ex-Magenta bassist Matt Cohen and including former Karnataka lead singer and four-times CRS Best Female Vocalist Rachel Jones. With a talented lineup including three good vocalists their numbers include good vocal interplays. They have now recorded three great CDs Awakening, featuring a guest appearance by Steve Rothery of Marillion, Dark Angel and Adverse Camber, the latter featuring their latest lineup with Tony Turrell at the keyboards and Jake Bradford-Sharp on drums. I had a great time listening and taking photos at The Peel Live Music Venue in Kingston on 14/4/07, and Bilston Robin 2 on 20/1/08, Bilston Robin 2 again on 19/10/08, and Leicester Y on 14/11/10.


My only peace lies in my music
And then, only because it drowns out
    all other sounds and souls...

Chris Judge Smith

(from Peter's album
The Fall of the House of Usher)

Another long-time favourite is Peter Hammill who of course led and inspired 70s band Van der Graaf Generator. Their songs combine great musical inventiveness with intelligent, forthright lyrics, and are passionately delivered. My favourite VdGG epic is Childhood's End from the album Still Life - the lyrics are a philosophical tour de force in which he dismisses conventional attitudes to life to leave a persuasive view of his place in the grand scheme of things.


After Crying are a brilliant Hungarian band who play a symphonic, spiritual style of progressive rock. Their album De Profundis is a real favourite.


PTS were a superb Dutch progressive band whose album Campaign was far and away the most outstanding new CD I heard in 1997. Its raw unbridled passion hits me with enthralling sensuality and sensitivity. Its textures are replete with subtle touches which easily withstand the loud playing that best suits its direct, bombastic style.


Illusion were formed in 1976 and included Jane Relf, Jim McCarty, Louis Cennamo and John Hawken from the original lineup of Renaissance (who had all left before Annie Haslam joined). Both of these incarnations played a strain of bright folk/prog rock with a rare freshness.


Inkubus Sukkubus are a passionately energetic pagan gothic band whose gigs are always brilliant fun and a great excuse to shake the body around. They've also written some class songs, especially on their Belladonna and Aconite CD.


Curved Air made some fabulous records in the 70s, they had a tremendous line-up and played with skill and passion. I saw a couple of good gigs including Cardiff Castle in 1976, but sadly only at the end of their existence. They also have a chat group at groups.yahoo.com/group/curved-air - click here and just send a blank email to subscribe.


Porcupine Tree are a magnificent English prog/psych/trance band led by Steven Wilson, who is also the creative force behind No-Man and the Incredible Expanding Mindfuck, and also played on and produced Fish's Sunsets On Empire.


Dagmar 41 is a talented German musician and former English student. We made contact when we found we were both big fans of Peter Hammill and Chris Judge Smith's opera version of The Fall of the House of Usher. Dagmar wrote her dissertation on comparing this with the original Edgar Allan Poe story, and has now published this as a book The House is I She then produced a privately recorded CD called Ferric (my own personal favourite, warm and sensuous in spades) and has since released several others. All her works show remarkable insight and freshness, and Ferric is my favourite CD of 1998.


Headhunters headlining the Avalong stage at Glastonbury, 1999Headhunters were another great Malvern band doing high-quality dance crossover music. Their debut album Millennium Time Bomb features a list of guest artists headed by Nigel Kennedy. Official website here!


Other favourites include:


Friends' bands

A number of good friends also play in bands, so check these out too:

You will also find more good bands among my friends on MySpace.


 

Music was my first love, and it will be my last
Music of the future, and music of the past
To live without my music would be impossible to do
'Cause in this world of troubles, my music pulls me through!

John Miles


Ashtar | Strawbs | Karnataka | Irony | The Reasoning | Panic Room | Spiralize | Mostly Autumn | Drugstore | Peter Hammill/VdGG | After Crying | Shaw-Hillyer | Legend | PTS | Illusion | Inkubus Sukkubus | Curved Air | Porcupine Tree | Dagmar 41 | Headhunters | more...


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