Archives: February 25, 2024

Warrington Parr Hall hosts Winter Music Fest 2024

On the 20th January Warrington’s Parr Hall hosted the Music Festival Winter Showcase sponsored by Culture Warrington. It was a welcome return to the music scene during the mid January gloom and despite being low in the pay packet it was an excellent turnout .

 Now readers, I have mentioned in the past that the Parr Hall sound can sometimes appear a bit  ‘distorted’ so to put it into context I thought a bit of history might be worthwhile here –  ‘ Parr Hall was designed by the local architect William Owen in 1895. Originally it was built for the people of Warrington by Joseph Parr and the Warrington Musical Society gave the first concert. The hall has hosted concerts and organ recitals from leading orchestras and cathedral organists over the years’ 

What does that mean for modern music?  Quite simply the building was designed for projection of the voice and instruments without the means of amplification. Having played here myself I have witnessed this on several occasions and you can hear the sound on stage very clearly from the circle. Unfortunately when amplifiers are switched on the sound can sometimes be ‘muddy’ or distorted – you cannot hear the vocals or instruments clearly at first until you become accustomed to it but when the hall starts to fill up with people it gets better as tones and echoes are absorbed. So, huge praise to the sound engineers for this festival, especially for the early acts as I could see them adjusting settings constantly, they did a great job.  

So, what of the music?  Obviously I don’t have enough column space to cover each band in detail and readers will find more reports coming on line from my fellow writers and photographers soon so keep an eye out for those . However, with all new music people have no reference, I am often asked “who do they sound like?”. So after the band name below I have included the music genre and occasionally who I think they sound like in brackets. Here is the line up in the correct order with brief notes on each.

The Odeens – ( 5 piece – EMO Rock , Rock ). I reported on this young band on the 13th Aug 2023 and I have watched them grow from a band playing in Warrington Youth Zone to the opening act at this festival. It’s not easy being first on stage for the reasons given above about sound, but the lads are progressing very well indeed. They have been out gigging and appear a lot more relaxed , they are no longer looking around nervously ,which is common amongst all new bands, and are far more confident with their own parts . Stagecraft cannot be taught , it comes with experience and bolstered by their teenage fans the lads were enjoying themselves , particularly when they played their self-penned number ‘Dirtbag’ which is available on Spotify , YouTube Music & Apple Music. Have a listen and give them a thumbs up.

The Hillocks – ( 5 piece – Indie Rock/ Melodic Hip Hop – sound like The Streets)  Another young band , I had not seen them before and like The Odeens they had a small following for support. The band opted for a mixture of Indie covers and original material, one cover being ‘Boys That Sing’ – a nod to local band Viola Beach which was well received. Covers may be used when the band doesn’t have enough material , however playing them can sometimes be difficult as you either get it very near the original or you do a different version completely . I wasn’t sure in this case , however their own Melodic Hip Hop material was very interesting and proved to be popular in the small crowd. This is where I reference them to The Streets , the vocalist suited that genre and perhaps that is the direction they are going? If I get a chance to catch up with them I will find out.

The Lunar Youth – ( 4 piece – Alternative Rock –  sound like Early Radiohead  )I first saw this band at Cheesefields festival last summer and they reminded me of the band ‘Suede’ the Art Rock outfit in appearance , but that’s where the similarity ends . The Lunar Youth ( not to be confused with Lunar Youth ) appear to have matured a lot .This is the beauty of local – new music festivals where bands can showcase their development and The Lunar Youth are no exception. From the outset you could sense a new confidence , the gelling of strong vocals with an impressive range and jangling guitars all underpinned by a tight rhythm section are quite apparent – I suspect they have been working hard and it was pleasing to watch. Another band for the interview list!

Ritch – ( Vocalist – Pop/Rap )  A complete change of direction as Ritch took to the stage to deliver his own style of Pop-Rap mixed with a few covers to suit, including Hey Ya by Outkast and a novel version of Creep from Radiohead . This likeable and confident young man encouraged the small crowd to join him down the front and have a dance and they duly obliged whilst Ritch played a number of his own songs supported by tuneful loops . There was a definite positive vibe in the air and on looking around ,the young audience were enjoying his performance . As the only soloist of the day hats off to him, I’m sure we will see Ritch more often.

Belmont and the Stocks– ( 4 piece – Indie Pop / Punk) – The genre of Indie Pop/Punk might seem a bit broad but if readers listen to the rough cut of the bands single              ‘ America’ on You Tube you will see where the punk reference comes from. Generally their other songs like ‘ I’m wearing your shoes ‘ appeared more Indie/Pop and this very entertaining , young outfit carried it off superbly . The band are fronted by an energetic Marc Bolan lookalike on rhythm guitar & vocals ,  a lead guitarist , drummer/backing vocals and a girl bassist/ backing vocals who looks on bemused and coolly takes it all in her stride!  Good job because midway through the set the frontman’s guitar string broke ” Oh no , this is live music folk , has anyone got a spare guitar?”  Obviously there was one and as it was sorted out the drummer and bassist tinkered ad-hoc with the Stone Roses number ‘I wanna be adored’ much to the crowd’s delight.   Shortly after this the band had another incident when the drummer’s hi-hat clutch came loose and had to be adjusted!  “Well done” I say , been there & done that and they handled the disruptions very well with good humour before resuming with the Bowie number  ‘Rebel Rebel’ .  A proud parent told me the band had only been together about 8 months and if that’s the case then they are very tight and clearly having fun . Their sing-along anthems are already popular with their posse of followers and I liked them a lot. I will be watching closely.

SYFTA – ( 4 piece – Indie Rock – sound like Arctic Monkeys ) – By the time SYFTA arrived on stage the hall had begun to fill up and the sound had improved dramatically . This is the first time I had seen the band and my fellow writers had mentioned how good they were and they weren’t wrong. This Widnes band is clearly very experienced, with strong vocals and the familiar driving rhythms synonymous with Indie Rock and they delivered a polished performance  . Coupled with good stagecraft the lads looked relaxed and appeared to enjoy playing to a local crowd and it’s not surprising they have sold out shows in Manchester , Liverpool and London. A thoroughly enjoyable set and I would definitely book a ticket to see them.

Parlours – ( 5 piece -Indie Rock – sound like early Oasis)  Having seen the band in November at the Pyramid Basement I was aware of them , so their set was no surprise and they certainly didn’t disappoint in front of the larger home crowd. Parlours music is high paced and electric with good harmonies, and adorned in lads overhead jackets they are the archetypal Indie Rock band that create a buzz in the crowd . With two singles under their belt so far ( Hacienda & Make your Mind up ) and no doubt plenty of material in the bank they are well worth watching . Check them out on Social Media. 

Standin’ Man – ( 4 piece – Psychedelic Inspired Rock ) Unfortunately, duty called and I was unable to stay for the headline act although I have seen Standin’ Man twice before and they are without doubt a quality band that never fails to entertain . However, it wouldn’t be right to add further comments on a performance I didn’t witness but I believe it was a brilliant rock n roll set and I will recommend further reading by fellow writer Janet Harding instead.  

Overall the Winter Showcase was a well organised day and coupled with the efforts of the hall’s permanent and helpful staff it was a good day for new music, roll on summer!

20 mins with Baz Warne of The Stranglers

Jan 9th – 2024 . I remember the date well when my editor – Gary Skentelbery of Warrington Worldwide Magazine asked  “Do I fancy interviewing Baz Warne of The Stranglers”, what do you think my response was?  Answers on a postcard are not required readers because my decision took nano-seconds , a resounding Yes!!  

Just seven months ago I would never have imagined such an opportunity for a voluntary writer, yet here I was gearing myself up for an interview with the lead vocalist and guitarist of the iconic punk rock/new wave band -The Stranglers. 

Of course I had to refresh my knowledge and watch a number of other interviews so I didn’t look a real ‘numpty’ but it was scheduled to be a voice Zoom call anyway so there was no chance of that, I just needed to sound confident didn’t I ? 

Luckily my knowledge of The Stranglers material was all in there somewhere, ok it was from a number of years back when I first saw them and Hugh Cornwell was in the original line-up but Baz Warne had been the frontman since 2000 so he was hardly a ‘new kid on the block’. 

So, on the 16th Jan at 1.50pm I calmly joined Zoom nice and early in anticipation of a scheduled 2pm call but sods law, Zoom wanted to update!  Arrrgghh , not now go away ………but despite my frantic efforts it would not and insisted on the update, blind panic set in as the minutes ticked away and at 2 minutes past 2pm I joined the call only to find Baz waiting on video!

Unbeknown to me the Zoom call type had switched to video instead of voice only and Chuff Media brightly announced  “Hi Glen, you’re live with Baz for 20 mins!! “

Now readers , they say composure is key but I had nothing to worry about as Baz was completely disarming and after a good laugh about my predicament I relaxed for my first perfect interview, what an experience. Baz is extremely passionate and knowledgeable about music and you can read the full transcript of the interview at the link further below, but if you want to see the band on this 50th Anniversary Tour be sure to book early as it will be a sell out for certain. 

Here is the transcript of that interview for your enjoyment!

GS: Thanks for your time Baz, in what must be a busy schedule. You have the 50th Anniversary tour coming very soon starting in Glasgow on March 8th, how are the preparations going?

BW: Yeah , it’s going very well but there’s a lot to get through with picking the songs. I mean, how do you start with that? JJ and I were always responsible for selecting them and we would start talking in late September/early October about what we thought might be a good set list, and I suppose with a tour of this magnitude, you’ve got to try and cover as many different bases as you can which isn’t an easy thing to do.

I mean, it would be very easy to just go out and do all the hits, piece of cake, play them all! But no, there’s a lot more to the Stranglers than that, as I’m sure you know.

October was the introductory thing and if I’m honest, we got to the end of the week and looked at each other and thought, well, we’ve actually broken its back in the first week of rehearsal.

GS: That was one of the first questions Baz. How do you select from such a massive back catalogue? How do you actually produce a set list?

BW: Well, from my own personal point of view, I’ve always liked to do at least one song a tour that’s never been played before and there will be one of those on this tour.

I like to play some more obscure stuff, album stuff. Obviously, on top of that, there are songs that must be done , you’ve got to do your ‘Golden Browns’,  ‘No More Heroes’ and you’ve got to play ‘Always the Sun’, because of two and a half thousand people in a concert hall, probably two thousand of them people are just members of the public. I mean they’re not diehard Stranglers fans, so they want to hear what they know.

GS: That’s it, yeah. It’s a tough call, isn’t it?

BW: Yeah, it always has been. It’s a pleasurable one though , you know.

We call it the black jukebox because there’s so many songs to pick.

GS: My editor, who’s Gary Skentelbery at Warrington Worldwide Magazine saw you on the final UK tour at Warrington Parr Hall in 2022. Obviously, it’s not on your tour list this year but do you remember playing at Parr Hall?

BW: I do, and I’ll tell you why, because I’d been ill and we had to reschedule three shows, one of which was the Parr Hall. I knew how famous Warrington Parr Hall was, you hear about that. I’ve heard that all through my musical career, but I hadn’t actually played there.

I really loved how intimate it was. It’s not the biggest hall I’ve ever been to, but there was a lot of people. I mean, it was well sold out. I enjoyed it very much and it was a throwback to an old fashioned British music hall.

GS: That’s exactly what it is, Baz.  the sound’s not always that good, to be honest with you as it wasn’t designed for amplified music and it can be muddy in there but it’s an old fashioned music hall and that’s what makes it, isn’t it? You know, it’s better than these big arenas, I’m guessing.

BW: Without a doubt, without a doubt.

GS: I’ve been playing drums myself in bands since I was 13 and I’m 64 now, and obviously it’s getting hard work. I read in your interviews, that you’re going to keep going.

Have you got plans for retirement Baz?

BW: No, none whatsoever. I mean, on this coming tour, when we do Bristol on the 25th of March, I actually turn 60 that day,  that’s my 60th in Bristol!

JJ was 70 in Bristol a couple of years ago.  So, Bristol holds a bit of a thing for us.

Actually , I’ve just been across and had a sandwich with JJ on a lunch break before I came back to speak to you. And there’s no way we will pack it in, I mean, you walk in and we look at each other and we’re still 21 in our heads.

GS: Well, that’s it, isn’t it? You feel the aches and pains afterwards, especially when you come off stage, ( Laughs ) .

BW: (Laughs)  You deal with that later. I mean, I don’t know what it would be like playing drums at my age. So, fair play to you, that must be hard. But Jet was still playing with us when he was 72!

GS: I read that. That gives me a bit of inspiration Baz. So, how do you wind down after a gig then?

BW: To be honest with you, not like I used to. I mean, we would maybe get a towel down, throw some fresh clothes on, jump in a cab and go to a club somewhere. Now, we like to have a glass of something fizzy and bubbly afterwards. We’ve always done that.

Kick the sweaty Dr Martens off and maybe have something light to eat and just chill.

I mean, we’ve got to keep ourselves well. You can still go and have a proper drink and kick back. But in the middle of a tour at this time of our lives you’ve got to look after yourself. You have to keep going.

GS: That’s exactly right. Without a doubt.

Are you working on any new material at the moment Baz?

BW: Not in the recognised sense. There are always ideas. I mean, that’s one of the beauties of having these things we call mobile phones now, because back in the day when you had an idea, you had to quickly find a tape recorder, sing it before you forgot it, because you do forget!

As inspired as you think you might be with your new idea, if you don’t get it down quickly, invariably it never comes out the same second time around. Mobile phones are great for singing in. I’ve got hundreds of little snippets of me singing and playing guitar.

JJ has the same. I’ve got lots of bits of us sitting together with a glass of wine at 10 o’clock at night with a couple of acoustic guitars. I’ve got loads of things like that.

But this year is predominantly going to be a touring year. We already started talking about the possibility of another album. We steadfastly refuse to be on the nostalgia bandwagon. I mean , if you’re touring after 50 years, there’s an element of nostalgia attached to it. Of course there is, but it’s a rarity for us because in doing this tour we are actually looking back, which is not something we do too much. We generally look forward and go forward.

GS: So, new songs is the way to do that?

BW: Absolutely. JJ and I have got some tentative plans. If we do start to record, it won’t be till 2025 anyway.

GS: Oh, right. Got you, too much to do this year.

BW: Yeah. It’s amazing how you still have plans, you know, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Keeping yourself going and keeping it fresh.

GS: Yeah, course it is,  I’ve obviously looked at a number of interviews on YouTube with various agencies that you’ve done Baz and have read and heard quite a lot about your musical tastes. Sounds (like me) an eclectic mix of music.

Can you tell us which music had a big influence on your career when you first started?

BW: Anything really! I’ve copped a bit of stick for saying this in the past, but frankly I don’t care. I was a kid. I loved Status Quo.

I loved the old Quo, and that’s predominantly why I started playing a Fender Telecaster.

GS: Right, you mean the very early stuff, like ‘Down the Dust Pipe’?

BW: Yeah, into the early 70s and then to ‘Down-Down’ which I still think , when it comes on the radio, is there a better intro to a song than that?

Because I’d like to hear it if there is. I mean, it stops me in my tracks even after all these years.

I was more of a rocker than a punk. When punk came along, I was still only 12 or 13.

So, I knew that some of it was good, but I knew that some of it was crap. I knew that some of them could play, and I knew that a lot of them couldn’t!

So, during those formative years between 13 to 18, the first five, those are the years that kind of determine who you’re going to be pretty much , and so I listened to, frankly Glen, anything that had a guitar in it, you know, anything that had a good guitar in it. So now I listen to the radio – Johnny Cash or something like that.

GS: Yeah, you take something from everything, Baz, don’t you?

BW: Absolutely, a little bit from everything. I mean the Stranglers were, to my mind, vastly superior over them all for many reasons, most of which I think (probably) were the songs. The songs are just, for the likes of you and me who are pretty close to each other in age, ingrained into you, as the part of your life, part of your upbringing.

GS: Very evocative music Baz

BW: Absolutely, yeah. Of course, when you’re starting a band the one thing above all else that you want to do is to have your own sound and identity so that when it comes on the radio, people instantly know who it is. The Stranglers for example, there’s no one like that. I mean, Stranglers come on the radio, you know who it is. And that’s, the enduring nature of the songs.

No mistake whatsoever and completely original and unique.

GS: I agree. Very conscious of your time Baz but I saw something interesting the other day, in Louder Than War magazine . It said and I quote here, ‘You’ve been celebrated in the book The Art of Darkness, A History of Goth by John Robb’. I thought to myself, would Baz class himself as goth, I wonder?

BW: ( Laughs ) Not even when I had hair and a waistline would I have classed myself as a goth Glen!  I was amazed by that if I’m honest. Well, I have to say thank you for drawing my attention to it, because I’ve never heard of that before.

 Yeah,  A History of Goth by John Robb? , and is it The Stranglers or is it me personally he’s talking about?

GS: It just refers to the Stranglers .

BW: Yeah. Well, I suppose I suppose there’s something gothic overtly, but not goth in the sense that we know, with the black hair and the miserable faces and, you know, the big, silly boots. But I suppose there’s some gothic leanings in some of the music, certainly as far as Dave was concerned, you know, with the style that Dave played. That baroque and a little bit gothic style.

GS: Somebody sent me a question here. This is from a lady called Alexis Gamble in Ballymoney, Northern Ireland.

She’s saying, “a few of us are going to see them in Belfast and at the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool, can we expect any guests on your shows?”

BW: What is she thinking? Is she thinking that we’re going to get some of the ex- members or something to come on?

GS:  It’s a good question . I’m just wondering, is she referring to your support act or is she referring to people who might join you on your actual sets? I’m not sure.

BW: No, it’s just going to be the four of us for the entire evening. There isn’t going to be a support act because we’re going to do two sets. We’re going to play for well over two and a half hours.

The first set is going to be some more of the complicated time signature, strange, weird, and wonderful, obscure, Strangler stuff that no one hears. The second half will be more of what the general public would like to hear with some other stuff thrown in. So, it’s an eclectic mix.

It took us quite a while to settle on what we were going to play and as we’ve always done in tours past, the set never stays the same.  I mean, generally we’re aiming for the first two or three shows and then somebody will say, do you think that works? Or I don’t think that’s working there as it slows the set down too much. I’ve seen people looking at their watches. I saw a woman yawning!

If ever I see anybody yawning in the front row, I have them, it’s brilliant , I say  “I’m sorry, are we boring you? “ (Laughs)  

GS: It’s no wonder you started rehearsing in October though when you think about it, two and a half hours!  That’s a big set.

BW: Well, we’ve got to get the songs straight. You have to inhabit these tunes so that it looks like second nature. Because there’s some very complex stuff going on and it has to be right, you know?

GS: Yeah, quite right.  Well, I’m just looking at the time – 2.20pm . I think we’re bang on time and that’ll please Warren ( Chuff Media ).  Baz, thanks very much again for joining me. It’s really good of you.

Good luck with the tour. –  Not that you’ll need it, of course, and from everyone at Warrington Worldwide can we thank you for everything you do in music and we look forward to seeing you at the Apollo in Manchester.

BW: That’s very sweet. The pleasure was all mine. Take care of yourself, Glen.

GS: Thank you, Baz. Bye now.

The Ambersons step into Christmas

Friday 1st December saw the return of the popular local band The Ambersons with their Christmas show  ‘Winter Songs’  at the Pyramid Arts Centre in Warrington Town Centre and what an excellent night it was.

Readers might recall I wrote a preview of the show on the 5th November this year and included a small section on the bands bio, but if you didn’t manage to read it here is the link to refresh your memory:

One of the founder band members Andy Fairnington hinted ‘Winter Songs’ was going to be something spectacular and word must have got around as the 250 seats sold out  quickly and on arrival at this contemporary venue there was a definite ‘buzz’ in the air. I thought it just might have been good timing, after all it was the first day of the festive season and people had been paid, but it was evident that people were quite excited about this night out and there were Christmas jumpers, baubles and deely boppers aplenty plus the basement bar was doing a roaring trade! 

So, armed with a pint and following a ‘once over’ at the strategically placed merchandise table (where I purchased a very nicely produced programme) the entrance to the auditorium beckoned and a glance to the right revealed a beautifully lit ‘Winter Wonderland’ on a 2 tiered stage with an ever changing visual backdrop throughout the evening. Then, right on cue the support act – Ben & the Believers took to the stage in a 3 piece electro-acoustic guise to perform a brief 25 min set that closed with their own Christmas song ‘Ring My Christmas Bell’ – a jaunty number with a Shakin Stevens type vocal that had a good few up and clapping along already, a sign of things to come perhaps? 

After a quick changeover and re-positioning of equipment the professional-looking three piece brass section and the string quartet took to the stage shortly before The Ambersons, who were greeted with rapturous applause from the home crowd. There was a lot of love in the air from friends and fans but the reception was heartfelt and the audience were delighted to see their return to the big stage. If the lads said they were a bit nervous they certainly didn’t look it, and with smiles all around the band launched into their well known song  ‘A little love’. Accompaniment from the brass and string section was a master stroke, it sounded full, polished and quite frankly superb. This was setting the tone for the remainder of the first set and the vocals from Midge and mixed harmonies were excellent throughout and dare I say, reminiscent of The Beatles and the Sgt Pepper Album! 

I could see people up on their feet dancing very quickly, the atmosphere was electric and kudos to the sound engineers as it’s not often you can distinguish the chords being played when 2 electro – acoustic guitars are on stage, especially in a larger room. 

After 8 numbers and great entertainment the set drew to a close with a very good rendition of The Beatles hit ‘ Lullaby ‘ and sadly for myself it was time to move to another engagement. However, my friends reported that the second set consisted of more of their own material and some covers including classic Christmas songs – ‘Merry Xmas, All I want for Christmas, Step into Christmas’ and an encore culminating in the often recorded ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’ . Many commented it was equally as good as the first set but with a lot more Christmas fun and joviality and the ambience had stepped up a gear which can be seen from the abundance of videos circling on social media. Let’s remember that this was a show that was suitable for the children as well and I am delighted to report that the band had a videographer out that night and the footage is being edited as we go to print , I will look forward to that!

My final comment must go to the hard working band members including the brass and string sections , the volunteer ‘roadies’ and sound and light team for a magnificent evening. These events take a lot of planning and coordination and The Ambersons don’t have a huge entourage of staff following them around , it’s all done with good , honest graft and very well done to them all . Spectacular indeed Andy! 

Our focus is now on social media!

Morning folks , the website has now been running for about 6 months so it was time for a review of the statistics and I have made the decision that the focus will now lie on our social media accounts.

Don’t worry, we aren’t going anywhere! The only impact on here is that I won’t personally be adding as many reviews or write ups. I already write a musical column in @warringtonworldwidemagazine and they are time consuming so I will leave the music reviews to guest writers if they want to contribute . However, I will still be posting news and events on here as much as possible.

Can I ask a big favour? Will you follow me on Facebook and Tik-Tok? The handles are On Instagram our handle is @unsignedhub.com_uk.

I am also launching a podcast as the statistics from my Tik-Tok experiments are showing the spoken word is proving far more powerful nowadays so watch out for the podcast via Spotify where I will be able to link tracks and get some guests in, exciting stuff and check back soon. Happy New Year everyone !