Pick Your Rock and Metal

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Storm front flattens sweaty Diamond Rock Club

SWEAT-soaked, beer-drenched, loud and proud - when Stormzone launched their new album Three Kings at the Diamond Rock Club the thermometer was set to melt, the beer was quaffed and the five members of Stormzone laid down heavy metal the old school way - loud, proud and majestic.

The Ahoghil venue was packed, and it was close to the sweat of the collective fans running down the walls as the heat rose for a night of pure metal fun.

Opening act, all the way from the homeland of metal in Birmingham, were Agincourt, an outfit determined to show that the ghost of metal still can send shivers down the spine. With their set drawn largely from their 2011 album Angel of Mons, this was the spirit of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal writ large.

Edge of Paradise and Queen of the Night were included in a set that proved that this type of music translates well to the live setting; what sounds adequate from a studio recording roars to life on stage.

The band took the opportunity to play a new track, Rainbow Man, dedicated to the memory of Ronnie James Dio, which was a highlight to the show along with the eponymous Agincourt sounding appropriately epic. The only niggle throughout the night was the need Richard E Toy's vocals to have some backing vocal support on choruses to lift the sound.

On an ordinary night the sounds of Agincourt would have delighted the Diamond, but the 27th July saw Stormzone announce their intentions with a set that saw the band ascend further than they have ever done before. This was no ordinary night.

Opening with The Pass Loning it was clear from the off that this was a special night for the band, feeding off the audience from the first riff this was a show when Stormzone transcended from the mighty force they already were to something special.

From Death Dealer through to Spectre each song brought forward a tightly coiled spring which when unleashed flattened any doubt any indifferent attendee and brought then to their feet, punching the air, and roaring appreciation.

This was a night when hyperbole does not even convey the sense of joy both on stage and in the audience.

Harv was the jester leading like a Pied Piper, Steve and Davey played as if joined at the musical hip, while the whole entity was held from tottering over the edge by the solid anchors of Davy's drums and Graham's bass.

Stormzone could have stumbled over the precipice into pretention and a presumption that the audience was on their side, but the intent was to play as if the crowd needed to be sought after like an elusive lover.

Fear Hotel and Where We Belong had the audience singing every word and new album tracks Night of the Storm and the ballad Beware in Time delivered with aplomb the latter adding a new dimension to the headlong race to metal glory.

Even the intro tape to The Pain Inside sounded superb in the over-heated setting.

This was Stormzone rising to a new level.

The Diamond Rock Bar bowed to the majesty of Stormzone as they brought a true heavy metal storm front to Ahoghill, flattening all in its wake.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mind your manners - a simple guide to rock and metal gig etiquette

HEAVY metal gigs and concerts, are anarchic - where the rules of normal society are set aside for a few short hours, when brutally loud music, sweaty people, alcohol and, occasionally, mosh pits may break out. But recently we have observed some rather disturbing behaviour.

So disturbed are we that we feel it necessary to outline some very simple gig etiquette lessons - a way to help you and those around you to enjoy the gig...

While we all know that if someone 'goes down' in the pit it is in the unwritten code of metal that those around them pause to bring that person back to their feet. The lessons below are there to help us all enjoy the band's performance.

One of the worst set of behaviours we saw recently was at the Wintersun/Darkest Era gig. A pair of numpties spent the entire Wintersun set filming it on their mobile phones, pausing only to update their Facebook status and yell out the singer's name. These behaviours are simply wrong, so let's break it down a little.

First - we all are there to actually hear and see the band. We don't need to watch it through your phone screen. Of course, now and again a gig-goer may want to capture a song that it is special to them; and in that case it can be done without holding the camera in front of everyone, blocking their view. The videos taken by Nigel Jackson are fine, some very good, some excellent, but you'll not see him at the front, blocking everyone's view.

Lesson One - DO NOT block the view of others with your smartphone - it just proves you're not smart.

Next from the litany of shame above - updating your Facebook pages while at a gig...why? This proves you are a pathetic human being who needs to tell others how special you are to be at the gig. If they wanted to go they'd have bought a ticket, and if you are messaging someone else in the gig on Facebook then you are a sad human being obsessed with your own ego...

Lesson Two - YOU CAN WAIT until the band is off stage to tell people about the gig; and wait until afterwards to 'talk' to the person you were messaging; humans have evolved over tens of thousands of years to have a functioning voice box.

Going back to the list of appalling gig etiquette above - why do you need to constantly yell out the singer's name? Surely he knows it and doesn't need reminding. Or is this a tactic to draw attention to yourself? Mmmmm, on consideration this seems to what you are at. Believe us, ask any band member and this is irritating - especially when they are playing or introducing the next song.

Bands have prepared and rehearsed for months - sometimes for years - their set and their stagecraft and will not make a special point to come over, shake your hand, give you a blow job, offer their services as a personal slave, gift you their merchandise. There are hundreds, sometimes thousands of people at a gig, and they do not need reminding what the singer's name is.

Lesson Three - DO NOT yell out a band member's name constantly - it is irritating, selfish and draws the crowd's attention to you being a prat, more interested in 'getting' attention than allowing the band to do their job, which is entertaining the crowd. If you really are that keen spend a few thousand and book them to play in your front room.

Moving on from this is the habit some people to hold a conversation during a band's set. You've paid to get in, paid to see the band perform. What conversation cannot wait until the gig is over?

This is disrespectful towards the band, who have worked to record their material and are there playing their heart's out, delivering to the Northern Ireland audience an often exclusive to the island set. You and your mate then spend the time yabbering, chittering and generally being annoying.

Lesson Four - JUST SHUT UP. It can wait, or simply just take it outside where you can massage each other's ego without disturbing others.

At the extreme end of disrespectful behaviour are those people who complain at others bouncing about, throwing the horns etc. As mentioned above, rock and metal gigs are anarchic. They are places when some of your inhibitions can be left aside. If you are not happy being in the melee then move elsewhere. Do not stand next to the mosh pit and then complain that someone has 'bumped' into you, do not stand at the crash barrier and complain about being 'crushed'. It's not the ballet, the opera or an orchestral manoeuvre in the dark - it's a rock gig! Prepare to bounce up and down, have fun and enjoy the cathartic experience.

Lesson Five - EXPECT TO BE BUMPED. Go to the back, find a seat, or go to the edges, otherwise just enjoy yourselves.

Then there are the evils of booze...Alcohol is an excellent lubricant, muscle relaxant and is generally accepted to be part of the culture around rock and metal. If it was up for Government approval now it would be turned down. Now most of us really enjoy a pint but at gigs there is such a thing as too much. The drunken, semi-conscious drunkard stumbling around pretty much can be annoying (author's note - we may have exhibited these behaviour, but we try not to...).

The Final lesson - JUST ENJOY yourselves. Have a few drinks but not too many, thrash around, don't get in people's way with your camera, show respect to your fellow gig goers, shut up until it's over, don't stand updating your social media status and if you don't want to be pushed and shoved find a safe place for you.

Are there any other lessons you think gig goers should observe, or do you think that it is everything goes? Comments, conversations, complaints and general waffling welcome...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Has the ghost of Thin Lizzy been laid to rest by the Black Star Riders?

WHEN the Sex Pistols released a compilation of songs they'd already released it came under the title of Flogging a Dead Horse. To a certain extent, when Thin Lizzy were touring last time there was a feeling that it was a tribute show rather than the real thing - the songs were there, the feeling was there, but the creativity was straining at the leash - it was time to stop flogging the horse...

With long term fans and those closest to the Lizzy legacy uncomfortable with 'new' material being released under the Thin Lizzy monicker it was a wise choice to adopt a new name and strike out in their own direction.

With only Scott Gorham from the 'original' line-up remaining - following the amicable departure of Brian Downey and Darren Wharton - all members of the band had to settle on what direction they would take under their new name, Black Star Riders.

The band will play Belfast on Sunday, December 15th. With those dark nights distant in the hazy sunshine it is time to reflect on the debut release, All Hell Breaks Loose.

The promised Lizzy vibe is there, as promised by Gorham, especially on Bound for Glory - which has an echo of Southbound - and Kingdom of the Lost.

However, the band seem to be stretching beyond the past glories and the high bar set by the late, great Phil Lynott, no less than on tracks such as Kissing the Ground, which has an FM radio sensibility, but the twin harmony guitar breaks that keep their roots firmly in place.

Equally Hey Judas has Ricky Warwick echoing Lynottt without trying to copy him. This mid-paced song has hooks a plenty and a tasty solo leading into the twin harmony.

The appeal of Lizzy was the strong songwriting, matched by both serious lyrics and occasional whimsy of heartbreak and romance such as Dancing in the Moonlight, On Someday Salvation that light touch is evident and it lodges in the brain...

With Gorham and Damon Johnson taking on the majority of the song craft Warwick produced a set of lyrics surprisingly well balanced, a deft touch on the songs suited for radio, and more insightful such as on the Blues Ain't So Bad, with even an echo of his beloved Stiff Little Fingers in some of the passionate words.

Overall All Hell Breaks Loose at times seems like the band is trying to firm up its own identity, and Kevin Shirley's production, while excellent as usual, could have boosted some elements and been more watchful of some of Warwick's word structuring to avoid unfair comparisons with Lynott.

This is not a Lizzy album, but Black Star Riders are beginning a journey which it can be hoped more will come. The songs are ripe for the live setting. It is by no means a perfect album and the shout refrain in Hoodoo Voodoo is simply inappropriate, ruining a great song.

It is also an album that bears repeated listens - with several tracks just simply exquisite such as the previously mentioned Someday Salvation.

What is more the promise within is that Black Star Riders can evade the shackles of comparison's with the past as they develop on the stage and their next release. This is a a seven out of 10 album on first listen, with more listens making it an 8.5 out of ten.

Has this laid the ghost of Thin Lizzy to rest peacefully? Probably not yet, but it can rest as long as the Black Star Riders carve out their identity in the future.

Roll on the Belfast show in Limelight1 in December.

Footnote for Northern Ireland readers: Ricky Warwick is known as a passionate Glentoran fan, yet he titled a song 'The Blues Ain't So Bad'. Is this a reference to Glentoran's arch rivals Linfield, known throughout Belfast as the 'Blues'? Somehow we think not!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cultures colliding in harmony - Darkest Era and Wintersun rock the Limelight

A COMMON theme between Northern Ireland's Darkest Era and Finland's Wintersun is their musical roots in death and black metal; but the expression of those musical roots also speaks to the roots in their country's of origin.

Both are unremitting powerful on record, and live they step up to another level; Celtic roots from Fermanagh with Darkest Era and the Finish power from Helsinki of Darkest Era.

Darkest Era erupted on to the stage with rejuvenated line-up in the rhythm section, powering from an intro from the Final Fantasy game the band reached new levels - their recent appearances at the likes of the Ragnarock festival have tightened the sound.

The twin guitar attack works with Sarah and Ade harmonising and complementing a full-on assault on the senses. Despite the cramped stage they managed to maintain composure and much headbanging.

Krum's engaging personality often belies the sheer power of his vocals; whether it was the new tracks aired from the forthcoming album, or standards like The Morigan or Ancient Fire the sheer delivery took the performance to a new level.

With the room well and truly warmed up by Darkest Era and sweltering temperatures inside and out, a tight turnaround saw Wintersun on stage bang on time, and inspiring an almost cult-like adulation amongst many in attendance.

While guitarist Jari Mäenpää has always been known through his work with Ensiferum in the past, what began as a side project has blossomed into something more significant. Where the adulation comes from for a band seemingly removed from the so-called metal traditions is a mystery to many, but it was there in evidence on Ormeau Avenue.

One tradition the band have adopted is to briefly video each audience during the intro for their Youtube channel and Belfast was no different.

What Wintersun have brought to the metal table is a range of influences and a technical prowess, bound up in intricate song structures and almost complete disregard for taking the conventional route.

Other bands pitch a song at the audiences, but Wintersun pitch a concept, wrapped in an delicate aural blast.

Playing almost the entire Time 1 album they kicked off with Sons of Winter and Stars, Wintersun stormed through increasingly complex songs, with the highlight being Time and Winter Madness.

The detail in the playing - which at times was blurringly fast - was complemented by an increasing use of pedals to alter and enhance the guitar sounds, allowing the songscapes from the album to blossom.

Rounding off with Starchild Wintersun proved that despite the detail and attention needed to enjoy them on the album, live they added an element of participation and genuine conviction.

Whether Wintersun can further develop on the adulation remains to be seen when they finally release Time 2, but it seems that a fair proportion from the Belfast's audience on 20th June will be eagerly awaiting their return.

Wintersun and Darkest Era proved that with a common root, their divergent geographical locations can provide a different take on those roots, but also bind

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Win a pair of tickets to see Lamb of God rip up Belfast

AS previously written on this blog (and syndicated on rockradioni.co.uk) we are of the firm opinion that Lamb of God are one of the most important and influential metal bands on the planet right now.

And now, thanks to our good friends at the Limelight, we are offering you the chance to win a pair of tickets to see them rip up Belfast on August 12th, just after their headlining slot at Bloodstock.

Yes, Lamb of God are something special: intelligent, brutal, honest, and intense - just what you want from your heavy metal; real groove, sublime musicianship and the true x-factor of earning their stripes on the road.

From Richmond, Virginia to stages around the world Lamb of God have proved they can develop, they can grow and with latest album Resolution unveil yet more depths

To be in with a chance on winning the pair of tickets to see Lamb of God in Limelight1 just answer this simple question:

What were Lamb of God previously known as:

Email your answers here before Wednesday, July 31st and good luck!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Last in Line's Vivian Campbell on Dio, playing and coping with chemotherapy

In a candid interview Vivian Campbell speaks about his forthcoming Belfast date with Last in Line, dealing with cancer, his fall-out with Ronnie James Dio, and the 'gang' that is Def Leppard

FROM the depths of the debris of Ronnie James Dio's first tenure with Black Sabbath arose a seminal album - Holy Diver; an album that defined a new rendering of heavy metal, influences drawn from the US and Europe.

And handling the guitar duties was Belfast guitarist, Vivian Campbell. Now - 30 years since Holy Diver rocked metal heads across the world - Campbell is leading the charge to celebrate its release and the albums he worked on for three heady years.

We caught up with Vivian as he prepared for a Def Leppard gig in Quebec City (July 12th). Remember, this is a man who recently completed his seventh chemotherapy session since being diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. But as he declared, he believes "we are what we do" and picking up the guitar is what Vivian does - it is who he is...

When Vivian arrives in Belfast with his bandmates the Last In Line will rewind the clocks to the 1983 to 1985, when in a short period of time they pounded out three albums, toured the world and Holy Diver, Last in Line and Sacred Heart were on playlists on radio shows and in every self-respecting rocker's album collection.

Last in Line appear at Limelight1 on 8th August - the full cast list is Vivian, Jimmy Bain, Vinnie Appice, Claude Schnell and vocalist Andy Freeman. All bar Freeman played on the first three Dio albums and tours, and to an extent, for Campbell it is about "re-claiming" the songs that he and Bain, aided on some tracks by Appice, wrote in those heady days.

How Last in Line got together goes back to an invitation to play onstage with Thin Lizzy, and a chance for the axeman to re-connect with his roots after an invitation to play a gig with the 'new' version of Lizzy came before they dropped the legendary monicker in favour of finding their own identity.

"Lizzy was such a seminal influence to me as a kid and a teenager in my formative years as a guitar player," said Campbell. "Their guitar players, Scott Gorham, Brian Robertson, were players I looked up to, and through Thin Lizzy I discovered Gary Moore."

"He was probably my single biggest influence. And I got a call from Scott Gorham asking if I wanted to play a few dates with Lizzy, and I thought - yes I do!"

And it was through that experience that got Campbell back into what inspired him.

"To play those songs again really re-connected me with my youth, and that passion to want to be a monster guitar player, so after I came back from that tour I went back to LA and I was really fired up," he explained.

"So I called Vinnie Appice and Jimmy Bain from the original Dio band and said 'let's get a rehearsal room and play', and they called Claude Schnell our keyboard player back in the Dio days.

"The four of us went into this rehearsal room and played and it just sounds so amazing. Thirty years had passed and it seemed as if 30 minutes had passed, and we didn't miss a beat."

But there was no-one on vocals...

"Vinnie Appice said he knew a guy called Andy Freeman," said Campbell. "I'd never met Andy before, even though he lives nearby. Vinnie calls him and about an hour later he shows up, steps up to the mic and starts singing and that was just the final piece."

Freeman has sang backing vocals on tour with The Offspring, Dokken and the George Lynch Mob, so he knows his chops.

"It sounded so incredible we all thought we got to do something with this and take it a stage further. With Andy, he's a real powerful singer, he's got real passion in his voice, has a great range, but he doesn't actually sound like Ronnie, which made it even better," explained Campbell.

"If we were going to do something we didn't want a Ronnie clone, that would invite those comparisons. You can never replace a voice like Ronnie's. He was the best singer in that genre and had a very unique sound, a unique timbre to his voice.

"That made it even better, here was a guy who could match him in power and passion but not the same tonality. We just wanted this to be a celebration of the original band and the original music"

Originally Last in Line planned a three-week tour of Europe, but that was before Campbell was diagnosed with cancer.

"I've got to do these chemotherapy thing every two weeks and I've got to do it in Los Angeles," said Campbell. "So we couldn't do the original tour, so the dates we have in now are what we could fit in between my chemo treatment.

"I think I'm over the worst of it. They say every cancer is different and every treatment is different, but I personally think I'm over the very worst of the bad side effects. I'm out here doing shows with Leppard, but it's really just like touring always was. The worst part is the travel and it's worse travelling when you're feeling nauseous, but it is what it is.

"No matter what it's still a pleasure to play on stage and I'm a great believer you should continue with your life when facing this kind of stuff. You can's stop living."

Campbell has chemotherapy on August 5th, and then will be arriving in Belfast on the seventh, the day before the Limelight1 date with Last in Line.

"It's going to be pretty hardcore," he said. "Doing these four dates. but it was important that we do it, and I didn't want to miss the opportunity to establish ourselves."

Apart from the four dates, Last in Line have a Japanese date in October, but Campbell is determined to keep the "wheels in motion, doing as much as we can", fitting dates in around his Leppard touring commitments and the gig dates of the other members, who all have ongoing projects.

When Last in Line arrive to play Belfast it is a set firmly rooted in their collective memories and the touchstone songs for almost all fans from that era.

"We're pretty limited as we only did the first three albums, and none of us have particularly fond memories of Sacred Heart as that's when the relationships with Ronnie started to go sour," said Campbell.

"We probably won't play a lot from that, we might play King of Rock 'n' Roll and the title track, but we'll play every song of Holy Diver, and most of The Last in Line."

Looking back to the early days, when he was playing with Sweet Savage, Campbell said he was very focussed on making his career as a guitar player.

"It would have been great if Sweet Savage had made it big, and in a way we did, we just changed our name to Metallica," he said laughing. "And, when I hear Hetfield sing I hear Ramie Haller!"

"While it would have been great for Savage it was just the wrong place at the wrong time, but we certainly gave it our best."

For Campbell, he explained, that after his career since Sweet Savage with Dio and Whitesnake, he is comfortable with Def Leppard.

"It's a great bunch of guys, and it really is a band. Dio was never really a real band. Jimmy Bain and myself wrote so many of those songs, but it the name was Dio and Ronnie kept all the money. It was never going to be a real band, and that was why I got fired," he explained.

"The first time I met Ronnie in John Henry's studios in London it was me, Ronnie, Vinnie Appice and Jimmy Bain, and we got together and played for a long time. We then got together and Ronnie explained the parameters to us and he said 'I have an existing record deal, we're going to call the band Dio for name recognition, and I'm going to bankroll this and take all the risk, but by the third album we'll have an equitable situation' so when we did the third album I called him out on this and I got fired.

"I said 'Ronnie, third album, remember that night we talked about the third album' and that's when I got fired," Campbell said. "We were literally getting paid less than the road crew, yet we had written those songs. We'd given blood, sweat and tears to that band.

"People might says isn't it a bit blasphemous to go back and play those songs, I wrote those songs with Jimmy, Ronnie and to a lesser extent with Vinnie, so for us it's about reclaiming those songs, so we're perfectly entitled to reclaim our heritage."

He said that Dio was never really a band as it was Ronnie's vehicle, and Whitesnake has always been a "revolving door of musicians, it's always been Dave Coverdale's band".

Campbell continued: "I was never destined to stay too long with Whitesnake but Def Leppard is a very different thing. Def Leppard is a very different thing. Def Leppard is five guys who very much in a band together, it's like being in a gang.

"We're a very close bunch; we genuinely have respect for each other, and that's why Def Leppard have been able to endure. I've been in the band for more than 20 years, but you can guarantee that if Steve Clarke hadn't died, Steve Clarke would have still been in Def Leppard. I'm the new guy - I'm the Ronnie Wood of Leppard!

He said there was a reason why they'd been able to continue for so long as Leppard are "a very original band, and there is a mutual respect between everyone in Def Leppard, and it's a very professional organisation and a great bunch of muscians".

Campbell said that sometimes he had a "very minor gripe" that he doesn't get to play enough guitar with Leppard, "but that's what I have Last in Line for".

The Belfast man is not work shy. He has had a variety of side projects as well as Leppard and Last in Line.

"I like to be busy. I'm a firm believer that you are what you do and I love playing guitar, playing my instrument. And to be fair Leppard has huge blocks of time when it may be inactive and I keep myself active in those time," he said.

"I even have a wee bar band back in LA, and I go out and play, and get $100 each and we schlep out own gear around, literally like back in the day, but we do it for fun and we do it for the enjoyment of it. And playing live is where it is at; that's the ultimate reward."

For Campbell, no matter what project it is that reward which makes it worthwhile.

"I still get a real buzz. You still feel that [moment] of apprehension before you go onstage, you have an adrenaline flow and the buzz you don't get from sitting at home watching TV."

As if that wasn't enough Campbell was a founder member of the LA ex-pats football team, Hollywood United, which featured a range of players, all starting with a pick-up kickabout. And it was an all-star line-up which donned boots.

"We had Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols, Billy Duffy and Ian Astbury from The Cult, Robbie Williams turned out a few times and Vinnie Jones, when he was in LA doing movies he'd come out a play with us, so it was a bit of fun"

Campbell played as a defensive midfielder, before he stopped turning out for the team.

And that is perhaps a suitable metaphor for Campbell. Like all holding midfielders he is has firm opinions on how the game shapes; he knows his role and understands his commitments to the 'team'. For him the game means everything and his game is as a guitar player, the man with both the flourish to lay down the licks, but also keep the riffs going while the frontman or another player takes the spotlight.

It has been a long journey from the streets of Belfast, but it has been one that has seen Campbell take his share of knocks yet still remain standing. He has firm views on the road so far, and the potholes he has navigated, but is open enough to express them.

Despite dealing with Hodgkin's Lymphoma he remains committed to his craft, and whether it be with Def Leppard, a bar band in LA or Last in Line, he still has his axe ready to lay it down.

Last in Line play Limelight1 on 8th August, tickets are available from all usual outlets.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Top 10 tips to market your metal band

WHEN you've practised and practised your heavy metal tunes, played your first ever gig, and even released your first few tracks into the wild wilderness of public gaze you can sit back and enjoy your burgeoning success. Or maybe not...

You see it's called show business for a reason - enjoy delivering the show, but get down to business!
And the most important part of that business is marketing your music. Fail to do that and you'll fail. Sorry, but you may have recorded the best ever hard rocking and heaviest ever groove, it may have killer riffs, grooves to die for, solos that blister paint, but nobody will ever hear them.

If you want to rise above the mundane ranks of has beens and recruit legions of fans then you have got to market yourselves.

Now we can't tell you how to do that in a few short paragraphs - that's what managers and public relations people are for, which leads to the first top tip...

Tip Number One:

Get good management... Okay Rod Smallwood and Peter Mensch are sort of busy at the minute with Iron Maiden and Metallica - but one day you may come across their radar if you get the right local management to give you a kickstart. Don't just sign up to any chancer who comes up with a wild proposition. Ask the right questions, ask others who have worked with them, check out their connections, and see what PR and marketing skills they have. And never sign anything unless you are totally confident...

Tip Number Two:

Be part of a union... Consider joining the Musician's Union (or your local equivalent). You may think you can protect yourselves legally etc etc, but the Musician's Union can help you, and with the support of your manager this is the wisest move you can make. And, when it comes to marketing, being signed up members of the Musician's Union gives you credibilty - even if the promoters etc don't always recognise that, taking the step will give you the confidence (not to mention all the advice you'll get) that you are serious about taking the next step to success.

Tip Number Three:

Be nice... You may have produced the heaviest ever song, or the darkest black metal, or the doom-laden masterpiece,  but off-stage you must be nice to everyone, even the total prats that piss you off. Let's put it this way - act the aloof, arrogant musician and it will be death by social media suicide. You don't have to spend hours with them quaffing ale, or exchange love letters, just be nice, thank them for coming along. And, you will know the fans that keep coming along and are ever-present at the right time - they can help you market yourselves by that simplest old-fashioned endorsement - word of mouth.

Tip Number Four:

Be social... The wonderful world of the internet has opened up the possibilities of promoting your band to a global audience. But that audience is also busy playing Call of Duty, watching illegally downloaded movies and the clutter of mundance inaccuracies that descend over every inch of optic cable spanning the world. You need to find your 'voice' in the clutter. Yes, you will have a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a Bandcamp site and a Reverbenation presence. So what! Every sodding band on the planet has those!  Use your social network presence to connect with fans. If a fan praises your gig, just say  thanks and do it publicly, no private messages. If a journalist or blogger gives your album a good review, re-post that review, and send them a private message thanking them and asking is there anything else you can do to help them. AND, use that review on your website, attributing the source. You do have a website don't you? A website with links to buy your music and your merchandise.

Tip Number Five:

Don't give your music away... You might think it is a good promotional idea to give tracks away to promote your band, but you might as well throw all your hard work down the tubes. Yes, you want journalists and bloggers to listen to your tracks,  but you want other people to make a purchase. Yes, it may only be a couple of pounds for a CD or pennies for an MP3 file, but if you give it away free then people will not attribute a value to it. And, if your music is halfway good then it does have a value.

Tip Number Six:

Keep good records... Two reasons for this: the boring one is the taxman. Any earnings you make at all will be subject to tax. You can write off a lot of your expenses (travel, instruments, out-of-pocket expenses, Musician's Union fees) against any earnings, but fail to do this and at some time the taxman will come calling. The second reason is to maintain a good database of fans, journalists and bloggers. Using this database you can list all the review copies you have sent out, and all the fans who have contacted you in person or on social media. The journalists and bloggers you will need to keep up-to-date with developments. The database of fans is one of the most important. By contacting them through email (use an account you don't use for day-to-day activity) social media and even in rare instances through phone calls. Let them know about upcoming gigs and releases, about band events; and be creative. Give out stagetimes, let fans know about setlists, ask fans for suggestions about song order, fun cover versions even merchandise...which leads on to the next tip...

Tip Number Seven:

Get decent merchandise... T-shirt and hoodies are your key pieces of merchandise. One, if someone buys your t-shirt you get revenue - that means money for your next set of guitar strings or drum sticks. The t-shirt and hoodie is also, when worn, is a walking advertisement. But you can also be creative. You may have a great designer in your band, or have a mate who is a graphic designer, but why not get the wider metal and hard rock community invovled. There are a lot of creative people out there in that community. Run a competition for your next t-shirt design or album cover design. The technical term is crowd-sourcing. You may find that there is some real talent out there. And, make sure the winner is rewarded - a mention on the liner notes and, for example, £1 or £2 for every t-shirt sold.

Tip Number Eight:

Gig, gig and gig some more... Yes - it may be in front of five people or 500, but the more times you gig the better you become. The best marketing you can do is to make sure that you play in front of people. And, it will help you network. Networking is vitally important. Other bands, promoters, journalists, bloggers, fans - you need to network with them all. Think about getting some cheap business cards printed up - with your band's name, logo, social network address, website, and email contacts. Hand them out before and after every gig and when you meet people who you think may be able to help.

Tip  Number Nine:

Stagecraft... Yep - this may not seem like a marketing tactic, but when you step on to the stage you are your biggest asset. Stand like frightened rabbits, gazing down at your instruments and not engaging with the audience is a recipe for disaster. Eye contact with the audience, pull the poses when delivering your solo, rage down the mic, stand up from the drum stool at the end of each song, and move around. You are not nailed to the spot! To do that needs rehearsal. Ask Maiden, Machine Head, etc etc etc - they rehearse what they are going to do during each song - and we pretty much enjoy all those gigs - don't you?

Tip Number 10:

Fun... The best thing you can do to promote yourself is to have fun - it communicates to the audience. Whether you are a hardcore band, death metal act, hard rockin' party animals , you are allowed to have fun. This is what you have worked for, this is what you want to do. Never mind whether you are having a rubbish day or week, have fallen out with bandmates when you get on stage or into the recording studio have fun!

There you are - your top 10 tips in abbreviated form. Obviously there is a lot more to marketing your metal. You need to spend a lot more time and effort than possibly can be covered here, but take the time and effort to make sure you market each and every part of your band well.

With almost 15 years public relations experience, five years as a full-time journalist before that and 20 years writing about music the author of this article hopes that he has provided some insight into helping market your metal...

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

40 years on Sylvain Sylvain hits Belfast all Dolled up and ready for NYC rocking

Guest columnist Mark Ashby interviews Sylvain Sylvain of The New York Dolls

There is no doubt about it - The New York Dolls are one of THE seminal bands who helped to influence not one, not two but several generations of rock ‘n’ rollers.

Since they swaggered out of the back alleys of the city from which they take their name in the early ‘70s - fusing the sound of vintage rhythm and blues, protopunk and glam rock in a way which the renowned contemporary critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine described as “hard rock with a self-conscious wit, a celebration of camp and kitsch that retains a menacing, malevolent edge” - they have been credited with shaping the face of not just both the punk and glam/sleaze rock movements, influencing bands as diverse as The Ramones, The Cramps, The Sex Pistols (Steve Jones modelled his stage style on Johnny Thunders), Kiss, Motley Crüe, Guns ‘N Roses, Hanoi Rocks, Blondie, Television and legions of others.

After the band split in 1975, founder member Sylvain Sylvain went on to pursue a solo career, as well as collaborate with fellow Doll David Johanson on a number of albums.  Almost 30 years later, Smiths frontman Morrissey – a lifelong fan, so much so that as a teenager he was president of the band’s UK fan club, and later wrote a book about them – persuaded the Dolls to re-unite for 2004’s Meltdown Festival (at which another fan, REM’s Michael Stipe guested on ‘One Day’).

This Saturday (July 13th), Sylvain Sylvain returns to Belfast to play a ‘solo’ show, at the Empire Music Hall. I tracked down the man born in Cairo as Sylvain Mizrahi to fire a few questions his way – and then spent several sleepless nights deciphering, translating and getting my head around his answers… and I still don’t have a clue what he’s on about half the time!

So first off was he looking forward to returning to Belfast for the first time since the Dolls supported The White Stripes in Botanic Gardens back in 2004?
Yes and I just wish that it wouldn't have taken this long because I love Ireland… I'm married to an O’Kelly…

Who else is in the band for this visit?
This time, Gary Powell is going be playing the drums.  Gary played with The Libertines - and he also played for [re-united] New York Dolls at the [Morrissey-curated] Meltdown Festival in London in 2004.  Kenny Aaronson [formerly of Dust, Stories, HSAS and Blue Oyster Cult, among many others] is on bass: an incredible musician… and he's a New Yorker - we hung out together when we were kids and grew up out of the whole music scene in New York.  Also, Aaron Lee Tasjan [ex-Semi Precious Weapons and Alberta Cross] is playing the guitar.  I'm so happy to be playing with these incredible musicians:  we've already done it in New York and other places, and stuff, and [been] very, very well received - and we’re having such a great time thank you…

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of the Dolls’ first album:  looking back to those heady days of the early 70s, did you ever think that you’d be celebrating such a significant landmark in your career?
Well, it's always great to be loved for what you've done and what you're about to do!  It's great, yes:  I never thought [I’d still be doing this] 40 years [later], but the time keeps on clickin’ in – [but] the stopwatch hasn't stopped yet, so thank God for that!  Hence the reason why I'm coming over to play for you crazy kids - I love you…

Are there any plans for something special to mark the anniversary (which actually falls exactly two weeks after your Belfast show)?
Unfortunately no…

If the Sylvain Sylvain I’m talking to now could travel back to the formative years of his career, is there any advice you would give to your younger self, or anything you would change?
The only good advice I think I can give anybody at this point my career is… always depend on the blues: learn the blues, play the blues, have fun with the blues:  you can travel musically anywhere once you master that...

The influence of the New York Dolls has crossed multiple genres, with the band being regarded as one of the seminal punk bands, but also cited as a major influence on the ‘hair metal’ movement of the 1980s (which many would regard as the antithesis of punk):  does it surprise you that the band’s influence has stretched, and continues to stretch across such a broad musical spectrum?
[It] doesn't surprise me at all, because, again, I rely on the blues and the blues is forever.  I'm still enjoying having brand new people discovering the New York Dolls today, and [doesn’t seem to] stop… thank God for that…

One band on whom you were a big influence was Hanoi Rocks (still a favourite band of mine), and in 2005 their former bassist, Sam Yaffa, joined the Dolls:  was it a strange experience to have a member of a band who at one time were seen as successors to the Dolls, and someone who had even paid his own tribute to the band by naming one his projects Jet Boy, as an integral member of the group? 
Actually, I was the one who had suggested his name to David in 2004, after we lost Porot 13 [founding bassist Arthur Kane, who died of leukaemia that year] - the reason [was because] his influences were all New York Dolls; he also has that quality [about him]… when you see the guy walking across the street, he's a manic, cabin easy, New York doll…

As we mentioned, the Dolls have influenced not one, but two, maybe even three generations of bands:  do you pay much attention to bands who cite you as an influence, and if so are there any acts that make you think “mmm, they’ve maybe got it right…”?
Yes.  I love to be loved and to be appreciated for what I do:  [music is] what I think I do best in my life - and, yes I think some of the [the bands that have been influenced by that music are] really, really great actually.  I love that I've influenced almost three generations.  [With the internet] now, even more people keep finding something about the New York Dolls that speaks to them in a profound way - and [hopefully that will] last forever… it's beautiful:  you can never plan anything like that - it's always something that will only happen naturally…

Are there any plans for a new Dolls album?
No, there are no plans for New York Dolls album, but I have a new [solo] album that's coming out, hopefully by the end of this year. It's called ‘The Monkey Never Dies’, and I have a new single out that's called ‘Leaving New York’ that's available on iTunes and all your favourite downloads stores.  I hope [the album will be available] on all the other formats, including vinyl, so look out for that…

Finally, as we talked about earlier, the first New York Dolls album is 40 years old, and you yourself recently turned 62:  are you “never too old to rock ‘n’ roll” or do you see a time when you’ll hang up your guitar?
I know I don't see any kind of retirement as far as rock 'n roll is concerned - especially now that I'm coughing up such a fever for the love of rock 'n roll… and that's all I could ever do:  that's all I do!  I just try to stay as creative as possible, and then I hope as long as people want to come out, check it out, and see me and hear my new songs on recordings and stuff… But, I'll do it forever - to my last drop…

Sylvain Sylvain plays the Empire Music Hall on Saturday July 13. Support comes from Million $ Reload and The Sabrejets. Tickets are on sale now, priced £17.50 plus booking fee, from www.ticketmaster.ie and all usual outlets – and also be available at the door.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Why Lamb of God may be one of the most important bands from the US right now

HEAVY metal, by its very nature, is a counter-culture. Whether it be genre-defining Black Sabbath, arena-busting Iron Maiden, thrash defining Metallica, or Speed metal kings Slayer, the occassional step into the mainstream consciousness never betrays the outsider status.

Right now the newer crop of bands are struggling against the multi-marketed pap pop and Simon Cowell's dreadful push of mediocrity on the ignorant masses; and the soulless digital recording some artists take as the shortcut.

But, for one band mediocrity is never an option; and they may be one of the most important metal bands to emerge from the US since Pantera. They are Lamb of God. And they are brutally honest in their music, their lyrics and their attitudes.

The easy listening or the heritage circuit is somewhere one feels that booking agents will never place Lamb of God onto.

How many acts can you recall that release their ninth album - Resolution - and take it to new places, without sacrificing one iota of their aggressiveness and integrity.

From their first inklings Lamb of God brought a mouth full of questions and a sound filled with rage; now that rage is tempered by the hot waters of touring and a multitude of personal issues.

And singer Randy Blythe is sure that he does not want anyone to feel 'comfortable' by the questions he raises.

As he said upon the release of Resolution: "Not everything is really okay. You can have your cable TV and XBox in your car or whatever, but that doesn't mean everything is okay, and you can stop because it is easy. The root of what I try to put forth lyrically is 'think for yourself'. Do something, do anything."

As to the music - well you'll just have to take the time and make the effort. We promise that if you make the effort you will be rewarded. It's not easy listening, but it is glorious metal in its purest form.

Lamb of God appear at the Bloodstock festival this year, and will be tearing apart Limelight1 on August 12th. Tickets are available at all usual outlets. See ya there.