REAL GONE GOES OUT: Night Ranger – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London 11/3/2018

This evening at Shepherds Bush Empire has been billed as a double headline show between Night Ranger and Skid Row. However, it isn’t long after Night Ranger take the stage, it becomes clear that the event is nothing of the sort. Night Ranger’s set design is limited to a few extra Marshall amplifiers which are placed in the middle of the stage, rather than at the back. Kelly Keagy’s drumkit looks awkward, placed on stage left (audience right) and facing towards the middle rather than facing the audience. The band, in turn, are only given about three quarters of the stage to work with. Somewhere behind the amps, Skid Row’s drum kit sits in wait. So much for “double headliner”: Night Ranger have been given a support band’s set up – and that’s before we get to the massive issues with the sound.

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Hear new music from State Cows

State Cows are back! The cult Swedish westcoast band will return with a new album ‘Challenges’ in the near future. A Valentines Day update on their official Facebook page claimed it was “still too early to schedule a release date”, but they’re already streaming a couple of new tracks from their Bandcamp page.

You can stream the new tracks ‘I Got The Message’ and ‘Borrowed Time’ below.

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In an age where there are a billion singer songwriters out there and a little of Nashville rubs off onto so many of them infusing the rock and the pop with country (seemingly the only way some feel they can make the big time), it’s surprising to discover a performer from Nashville who isn’t quite so beholden to America’s core musical style. Step forward Hannah Fairlight, a woman who not only mixes 80s rock and 90s singer-songwriter styles on her 2015 release, but also revels in unfashionable 80s AOR moods that are quite unexpected. Wrapped up in a knowing title, ‘Bright Future’ cares not for fashion and in some ways should be all the better for that. However, it doesn’t care for consistency or honesty either.

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Mixing prog, pop and AOR, the first album by World Trade is somewhat of a cult classic. Showcasing Billy Sherwood’s multi-layered sound, the record is essential listening for fans of ‘Images of Forever’ by Cannata, ‘90125’ era Yes and ‘Hold Your Fire’ era Rush. Given it’s technical approach and sophisticated choruses, it’s no wonder Billy became a member of the Yes family tree a short time later. Six years on, a second World Trade album appeared, but ‘Euphoria’ seemed to not quite match expectations. Maybe it’s because both Guy Allison and Bruce Gowdy had founded AOR band Unruly Child with Marcie Free in the interim and had other interests; maybe it was just a difficult second record. The record, while enjoyable, lacked the focus of the debut and re-used tracks that Sherwood had previously demoed with Chris Squire alongside other material.

With Sherwood having other projects taking his time and also taking on the unenviable position of full time bassist with the ever-touring Yes in 2015, and with Gowdy and Allison having commitments with Unruly Child, it seemed we’d heard the last of World Trade…and then a third album appeared somewhat unexpectedly on Frontiers Records in 2017.

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STYX – The Serpent Is Rising

styx serpentThe first Styx album (self-titled, 1972) is an overlooked slab of pomp rock. It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but any band wishing to open their debut long player with a thirteen minute epic fusing hard rock with flourishes of Aaron Copland and what sounds like a conversation with a New York cabbie must have something, right? With that track, ‘Movement For The Common Man’, Styx announced their arrival in a typically grand style. The rest of the album, while nowhere near as complete sounding as 1977’s ‘Grand Illusion’ or as obviously song oriented as any of the albums from then onward, still makes for interesting listening decades after its original release. 1973’s ‘Styx II’, by contrast, is a more sedate affair – sedate in the world of early Styx means still very much still pompous and overblown – but, naturally, a bigger input from vocalist/pianist Dennis DeYoung, brought with it a much stronger element of musical theatre.

With these two records as a solid grounding, the band went all out for their next long player ‘The Serpent Is Rising’. Released in October 1973 – the third Styx LP to hit the shelves in just eighteen months – it has to be said, it has less of a focus than its predecessors. It doesn’t sound as if Styx had been tempted to use up leftover material though, rather more that this time out, the gloves were truly off. Coming from the days when bands were allowed to spend record company money (no matter how meagre a budget) while still very much on a learning curve, it sounds as if Styx intended to throw everything at this recording bar the kitchen sink to find out, once and for all, what styles worked for them…and which ones really didn’t.

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