Posts Tagged ‘acdc’

In a week where we read sad talk of Angus Young retiring AC/DC, Australia’s greatest rock’n’roll export, this CD popped up in my Reviewer’s Box. And it cheered me right up again.

Back In Blue: A Blues Tribute to AC/DC is more than a gathering of the tribes, more than just a summit meeting of Australia’s leading blues artists. It is a project conceived by Queensland musician, Darren Griffis, as a shot in the arm for depression-busting organisation, Beyond Blue.

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Each artist has taken a track of the AC/DC album Back In Black and reinterpreted it in their own image. It’s a smart idea, and one that comes off as brilliantly as one would expect.

From Geoff Atchison’s slinky ‘Hell’s Bells’ with vocalist Jane Michele (fading in out of a smart, scene-setting cut-up of radio grabs announcing Bon Scott’s shocking and untimely death), via Chase The Sun’s heavy ‘Shoot To Thrill’ (wunderkind Jan Rynsaardt sizzling on guitar) to acoustic superstar Lloyd Spiegel’s chugging ‘Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’, Back In Blue: A Blues Tribute to AC/DC is a thrill ride for lovers of modern blues – and anyone else with ears and a soul.

Treats along the way are hair-raising Hammond organ whizz, Lachy Doley – also a hell of a singer – showing no mercy to ‘Back In Black’ and Eightball Aitken’s surprisingly slinky (and waaaay more believably horny than the original) ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’. Back In Blue1

Gail Page’s almost gospel-tinged take on ‘What You Do For Money Honey’ and Genevieve Chadwick’s whiskey-throated ‘Have a Drink on Me’ show why they will always be regarded by we humble subjects as this country’s Queens of the Blues.

Special mention (and a shiny gold star) goes to Marshall Okell flipping the randy ‘Giving The Dog A Bone’ on its black head. Okell’s strutting mid-song rap on depression and fight-back spirit takes the double-entendre sleaze out of the original and replaces it with grit and guts.

It is significant that producer Darren Griffis chose Back In Black to hang the Back In Blue project on, as the original album was AC/DC’s declaration of mourning for recently deceased singer and icon Bon Scott. Yet it was also a statement of spirit and strength, a rallying cry to carry on in the face of tragedy. Let’s hope Back In Blue reaches out to those those who need its spirit the most.

 

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Heavy guitar rock comes in and out of fashion with almost meteorological regularity. Who is this week’s saviour of rock?

The truth is that heavy guitar rock never ever goes away and whenever things get too precious, it appears to be a rockin’ guitar band that pops up to give it a shot in the arm – or an analogue kick up the auto-tuned arse.

Rock and roll, metal, punk, grunge, pub rock – they are all manifestations of the primal urge of rock. The mutant hybrid of a guitar, an amp, a teenager – all pushed beyond what they were calibrated to do – has given us some of rock’s most feverishly thrilling moments. From Link Wray to The Who to The Stooges to Iron Maiden, it is Boy’s Own fun and fantastic stuff.

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Australia seems to do guitar rock exceptionally well – giving the world one of the most iconic guitar bands of all time in AC/DC, and producing enormously popular and influential bands such as Rose Tattoo and Midnight Oil. Because much of Australia’s toughest hard rock was born in pubs, clubs and skinned-knuckle venues, it has always had a feeling of being bullshit-free and unvarnished – more ‘real’ – much as Australians see themselves.

Adelaide three-piece, Tracer, seem set to follow that fine hard rock lineage that recently has wavered a little too into cartoon territory with bands such as Airbourne. Their new album, El Pistolero has garnered top marks from Kerrang!, Classic Rock Magazine and Total Guitar and it is no surprise.tracer 1

Produced by Kevin ‘Caveman’ Shirley – the go-to guy for anything truly rocking (Black Crowes, Led Zeppelin, Joe Bonamassa) today – El Pistolero hits all the marks, ticks all the boxes and kicks all the pricks. Shirley has drawn a great sound out of a band that already had a big, thumping rock and roll heart.

Tracer’s sound balances their precision with sludge, their momentum with thud and their howl with growl. The mix is one of the most exciting I have heard for a while.

No cartoons, no posing, no weekend warriors – Tracer are a hard-working band who sound great because, like all the real bands – old like the Stooges or new like Kyuss – they do nothing but work at what they love.

El Pistolero is out today, June 5, thru Mascot/Warner.

The band’s tour kicks off June 12; details are here – http://www.tracer-band.com/?page_id=6

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Prior to posting this review I asked Tracer’s Mike Brown a handful of questions. Here are his responses:

TheOrangePress: The title, graphics and 3 part ‘Del Desperado Suite’ give El Pistolero that eternally-cool spaghetti western vibe – what drew you to this theme?

Mike Brown: We’re movie nuts in the band and we’re especially drawn towards directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez for their quirky, oddball films that are just dripping in coolness. I think we take that approach to our music too, trying to make cool music with a bit of a weirdness in it. I was watching the Rodriguez movie Desperado and I started tinkering with a flamenco guitar to learn the song in the film and that led to me writing a couple of tunes that were inspired by the film. I mean, the guy is a guitar playing, vigilante super hero! That’s fuckin’ awesome! We started writing songs that had a Mexican/south-of-the-border vibe to them and I was writing lyrics that followed the storyline of Desperado just to see if it could be done. It was a bit of a challenge for us because there was a high possibility that it could end up corny or a bit cliché but I think the songs that are based around the film came out really cool. We already had a bit of a tex/mex, dry, desert sound but with this album we wanted to open it up a bit and push the barriers in the stoner rock genre that we’ve been classified in (not something of our doing by the way). So we tried to get a more expansive, cinematic vibe to the tracks, which I think really came out in songs like ‘There’s A Man’ and especially ‘Until The War Is Won’.

TOP: Tracer’s sound is obviously inspired by ’70s guitar bands such as Led Zeppelin but there is just as much Soundgarden sludge in the mix as well. How did to arrive at this mix – why not go entirely one way or the other?

MB: It happened very organically. We never decided to write songs that sound like a certain band or consciously copy a sound. I think it’s derived from our influences. We kind of pick what we like from them and it subconsciously goes into the melting pot for us to pick and chose from when we’re writing songs. At the end of the day, we write songs that we want to hear. And that’s mostly because nobody else is making the music that we want to hear in our heads. I love the sludgey Soundgarden and Kyuss stoner rock, and I love the free form of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple so we take elements from those guys and leave behind the stuff we don’t dig, mix it in with what we want to hear and Tracer is what comes out. I have no problem in wearing my influences on my sleeve and I always remember what David Bowie once said… ”I have never had an original idea in my life.” This from an artist who I would consider one of the most original that has ever lived!

TOP: ‘Caveman’ Kevin Shirley – you really couldn’t find a better producer for the Tracer sound. How did working with Kevin come about?

MB: Kevin had worked with a few artists on our label, namely Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart and Black Country Communion and our music got put forward to him by the head of our label. Apparently he got very interested in recording with us and we got an email about two weeks later saying “Kevin is in. Be in LA at the end of November to record an album.” We just thought “Holy fuck! We should write some songs!”

TOP: What was it like working with him? He appears to have pulled some great performances out of you – was there any blood spilled?

MB: Yeah he really did get the most out of us for the record. He has a great ability to read people and knows when to push people to their limits and when to mother them towards a good performance. There wasn’t any blood spilled but there was plenty of sweat and hard work. Dre and I went to LA to prove a point with our playing and we had been working really hard on getting our level of musicianship up and also concentrating on good performances, especially with the vocals. I think Kevin picked up on this and pushed us further in the studio. With Kevin taking the producer role, which was something we had previously done ourselves, it really freed us up to concentrate solely on the playing and I think it shows on the record.

As far as his methods, all I can say is he is extremely quick in making decisions and recording in general. He catches the vibe very fast and then moves on before the magic dies. We had 14 songs tracked with drums, bass, guitars and main vocals in 6 days! He has a great knack for capturing that live excitement that comes from musicians playing together and getting excited by the music together.

TOP: Why do you think there is pretty much always a market for heavy, guitar-based analogue rock?

MB: Because it’s real! It’s emotion provoking and I don’t think people get enough of that in their lives from external sources. I think guys in particular have anger that needs to come out and I think that vocalizing it through rock music is a really healthy way for people to do it. Also I think people still appreciate good musicianship and well-written songs. Dave Grohl has been banging on about this for the last couple of years and I think he is absolutely right. There is a magic, a vibe, an indescribable feeling of when musicians play instruments and it’s recorded as is, warts and all. The artifacts and little fuck ups became that favourite part of the record and you can hear the musician’s soul. You can’t do that with auto tuned, computer music. There is so much terrible crap on the airwaves today that people can’t hang their hat on because it’s there one day and then it’s completely forgotten the next. Artists aren’t creating music anymore they’re creating adverts for a brand and I believe that people are starting to see through it again as they did in the 80’s. Punk, grunge and metal were the saviours in the 90’s because of the plastic-ness of the 80’s music. And I think the same thing is happening now.

TOP: And finally, what are your thoughts on music, in general, today? Please feel free to use bad language.

MB: See rant above haha! To be honest I try not to get caught up on it. There is an underground swell throughout the world at the moment for rock music and it will only take a couple of bands to break through before we start seeing a resurgence in real music for real fans and not fake music for scenesters.

Thanx.

Published July 2013 on theorangepress.net

 

 

Firmly established in its 24th year as one of the premier music festivals of the world, the Byron Bay Bluesfest continues to top its already heady highs. The lineup for this year’s festival was a dream program for lovers of blues and roots music and anything else festival director Peter Noble decided to throw our way.

Criticised in the past for veering too far from its original blues brief, Bluesfest has outgrown these criticisms purely by booking the biggest acts in the world, and some of the most interesting – over the past few years headliners have been Bob Dylan, B B King, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Yes, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty, Paul Simon and (almost) Roger Daltrey performing Tommy (even though Daltrey didn’t show – next year maybe?).

Noble’s knack for picking the greats, blues or not – and a demonstration of the power he wields on the world festival circuit in doing so – was vindicated by this year’s record attendance: capacity crowds of 17,000 per day which adds up to 85,000 in toto.

And I was one of those fools dancing in the rain. And the smile is still on my face.

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Taj Mahal

Accompanied by Gaz T, my intrepid local tracker and native guide, my 24th Byron Bay Bluesfest experience started on the Friday with the wonderful Taj Mahal. Mahal was one of those bluesmen – like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee – that the 1970s hippie freaks took to their hearts back in those fragrant days. His popularity has remained undiminished since then. As is often the case, I expected a creaky veteran, tottering on a chair – but what we got was a big man, standing tall, whipping his trio through modern blues, pre-war country blues and even calypso flavoured blues. Yeah!

And if Taj Mahal surprised me with his age-denying vigour, reggae and ska legend Jimmy Cliff utterly floored me. Cliff was already a star in Jamaica while Bob Marley was merely learning his trade, and at 65 he has lost nothing – twisting, dancing, leaping through his set. It is this pin-sharp showmanship that reminds us of the huge influence classic 60s Motown had on pre-Marley Jamaican artists. Slick, soulful and bang-on, his beautiful songs had heart, message and groove.

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Jimmy Cliff

Shuggie Otis

Shuggie Otis

While everyone headed to Steve Miller in one of the big tents, I moved towards the smaller Jambalaya stage and blues guitarist Shuggie Otis. Otis was a child prodigy of the blues guitar, the son of rhythm-and-blues bandleader Johnny Otis. After a few semi-hits in the 70s he faded from view. After a 40 year hiatus for whatever reason, he is back touring the world and I could not miss him. Rail thin and now with the angular almost-Latin good looks of his father, Shuggie seemed troubled and ill at ease. But when he found his zone and soared, he soared higher and higher. His beautiful playing took my breath completely away. In a way it was more exciting to see an artist who could easily miss, but hit it so well; compared to all the other in-the-pocket coolly-pro bands at Bluesfest, Otis’s set had that element of danger. Sublime and edgy.

Then the rain hit and my Bluesfest experience sprung a leak. Not having brought a raincoat or wet-weather gear I was soaked to the skin in minutes. Not being able to squeeze into the Steve Miller tent I stood in the rain and watched him play ‘Fly Like An Eagle’ – rain will come and go, the beautiful epoch-defining voice of The Space Cowboy (some call him Maurice…) singing this glorious freedom song was here and now. Around me, teenage fans danced in the rain to Miller’s golden period hits, singing every word to ‘Rockin’ Me Baby’ and ‘The Joker’. It’s only rain, it can soak our skin but it can’t dampen our spirit.

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Carlos Santana

Keeping the San Fran psychedelic vibe going – albeit in a very very different way – Santana’s set began with cosmic interstellar graphics fading in and out of the two huge screens either side of the stage. Then it was a brief drum roll from drummer Dennis Chambers and the Santana band roared into 1971’s ‘Toussaint L’Overture’. As well as Chambers, the percussion backline was made up of long-time conguero Raul Rekow and Karl Perazza on timbales – who together propelled the music like a freight-train, but a freight-train which skips and dances lightly along the track. Of course the main voice of this band has always been the elegant guitar playing of Carlos Santana – always lyrical, always going for the emotional connection over the empty dazzle of technique. Which ultimately makes him, above and beyond his Latin and jazz phrasing, one hell of a great blues guitarist – as we heard from a short (and all too rare) snatch of Santana playing some straight blues during the set. Can music reviewers still use words like ‘celestial’? I guess I just did, because it is the only word I have left to describe Santana’s unearthly performance.

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi

The day ended with a truly soulful set from The Tedeschi-Trucks Band. The absolute highlight of my first ‘Fest two years ago, the band of slide ex-wünderkind Derek Trucks and his wife, vocalist Susan Tedeschi never fails to amaze. For their 2013 return they brought their three-man horn section along and their firepower went up a notch. The thrilling ‘Midnight In Harlem’ – a song that is built on an almost sexual upward curve – had Trucks’ solo coda taking it up and up into that region that Carlos Santana used to (and I am sure still does) call ‘spiritual orgasm’.

I was saturated with rain, good vibes and killer music. And I still had two days to go.

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Allen Toussaint

Saturday we eased in with the once and future king of the Big Easy himself, New Orleans magus Allen Toussaint. The man’s CV is virtually a history of modern R&B, soul and funk and his urbane cool belies his immense impact in shaping these musics. As if his beautiful, artfully funky music (and stunningly virtuosic piano playing) wasn’t gift enough, he threw Mardi Gras masks (and green and yellow AFL footballs?) to the crowd. A charmer in every way.

After a while cruising the human river and people watching (a Bluesfest pastime in itself) I chanced upon Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. And it was one of those wonderful music moments when seeing a band live makes you an instant fan – all subsequent listening experiences filtered through that thrilling ‘Eureka!’ moment of discovery. Wilco’s music seems to beat with the same American-classic heart at the centre of the songs of Neil Young and the darker Bruce Springsteen material. The band (especially guitarist Nels Cline) seem to be able to paint perfect soundscapes behind any of Tweedy’s songs, be they dark rockers or sweeter country-tinged ballads. A revelation.

Floating on the beauty of Wilco’s music I was yanked back down to earth by Status Quo. Britain’s answer to AC/DC, the indestructible Quo have been playing the same song for over 40 years – a variant on 12-bar pub boogie that has sold 118 million albums (think about that figure for a minute). Watching their flawless set, with mainstays Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt rocking hard before banks of white Marshalls, I could (almost) forgive them their awful Coles ads. Some bands are simply a force of nature and Quo are a blast of the simple joy of undiluted rock’n’roll.

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Robert Plant’s Sensational Shape Shifters

The straight-from-the-botttle thrust of Quo was perhaps a good brain-scourer –  an astringent appetiser – for the almost too-rich feast that was Robert Plant, which followed next. The fabled Led Zeppelin vocalist has been the main obstacle to any Led Zep reunions, as he has always moved forward with his music, taking his former band’s world-music aesthetic to greater heights than they ever did. His new band, The Sensational Shape Shifters, are the best version of Plant’s patented future-primitive groove – to one side of the stage we have Juldeh Camara working a Gambian wooden banjo, to the other side keyboardist John Baggott (ex-Massive Attack) sits in a nest of synths and laptops. Plant acknowledged the faithful with a few Led Zeppelin tunes, but messed with their anthem ‘Whole Lotta Love’, bedding it in a chugging African drum figure. Unlike almost every other ‘legendary’ act at Bluesfest he made no attempt to recreate his past, instead giving us a show we would think about for many months to come – a show driven by the restless creativity and often contrary nature of a true and uncompromising artist.

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Sunday we awoke to clouds and gray skies over the succulent green of Byron Shire. At the ‘Fest, Tony Joe White’s Swamp-Fox baritone conspired with the dull skies to lull us into maybe too deep a state of ‘relaxation’. We needed a wake-up!

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Saskwatch

And we got it in the shape of Melbourne nine-piece Saskwatch. Bursting with chops and youth – and fronted by their not-so-secret weapon, vocalist Nkechi Anele – the band mixes soul, funk and Afrobeat horns to great effect. Like Mayer Hawthorne in the US they also take the bouncier, pop-soul side of Motown and do great things with it. Last year it was The Eagle and The Worm that assured me music is in good hands for the future – this year is was the snap, crackle and (soul-)pop of Saskwatch.

My 2013 Bluesfest experience wound to a finish in a mix of rain, muddy dancers and 1970s progressive rock classicism. Jon Anderson, the vocalist of perhaps the greatest of all Prog bands, YES, played an intimate solo show for us that was quite sublime. (Oddly, YES played Bluesfest last year with –surreally – a replacement vocalist who was drawn from a YES covers band). Listening to Anderson peppering his set with acoustic, folky versions of YESsongs made me realise that it was in this form these tunes were written and presented to the band – who then proceeded to inflate them to Prog size. Unadorned with pomp, they are lovely songs, Anderson’s voice is one of the sweetest in all Rock and the man is once of our most beloved space cadets.

My prize for 24th Bluesfest Festival Moment goes, however, to the experience of standing in the teeming rain, with my 5 dollar poncho disintegrating on my back as I listened to Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson singing ‘It’s Raining Again’ (with not a drop of irony from what I could gather). But of course, the magic of his songs – one beautifully uplifting hit after another – sung in his spacey tenor blew away the rainclouds in my head and warmed the souls of all who listened. Once again, it’s only rain; this was bliss, a good reason to live right here, right now.

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Beautiful people

So that was it – right there, right then. Bluesfest 2013 – a festival beyond belief in so many ways. Criticisms? Around me I heard faint grumbles of over-selling and over crowding, and yes, it seemed fuller that previous years. But it is never anything like a problem – considering the logistics of an event that has grown to such proportions, artistically and attendance-wise.

What will Peter Noble conjure up for us next year? Being the 25th Bluesfest, he and his intrepid team will need to go beyond the pale to top the jaw-dropping line-ups of the last few years. The Jimi Hendrix Experience? The Beatles? Elvis Presley (pre-Hollywood of course)? I am just putting it out there – and knowing Noble’s almost supernatural powers (coupled with the soul of a true music fan), I really wouldn’t entirely put it past him.

 

Published April 2013 on megaphoneoz.com

Malcolm McLaren could bend a whole generation to his will but he could not bend John Lydon. McLaren, the evil genius and Svengali behind the Sex Pistols and the Punk explosion of the mid-1970s, cast Lydon as Johnny Rotten – the figurehead and spitting, snarling poster boy of Punk.

What McLaren hadn’t counted on was that – unlike Sid Vicious and most of McLaren’s other minions – Lydon had a mind of his own, and a razor sharp mind at that. As soon as the Pistols debacle had slithered to a halt, Lydon cut all ties to McLaren’s circus, cast off the faintly daft Rotten name and formed Public Image Ltd – known (and loved) as PiL.

With bass player Jah Wobble and guitarist Keith Levene, Lydon produced a number of superb albums, incorporating experimental rock, dub and drone over which he ranted and howled his pained, angered lyrics like a manic preacher. The second, 1979s Metal Box (packaged in a round metal box) was described by NME as ‘arguably the first post-rock record’.

It is hard to say whether PiL has ever truly split and reformed, as John Lydon hired and fired at will, working across the years with an army of musicians as diverse as Bill Laswell, Steve Vai and Ginger Baker. His music has always been highly original, willfully abrasive – full of sardonic wit and the sort of withering insights that a mind like like Lydon’s can’t help.

The last official PiL album was 1992’s That What is Not. The intervening years have been used up with Lydon playing the pop-culture game as only he can (appearing on British reality TV and, hilariously, on Judge Judy), writing his memoirs (the wonderful Rotten – No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs) and unashamedly making money on Sex Pistols reunion tours.

Oh, and making butter commercials for British television. This is significant because it is the money made from his TV ads for Country Life Butter that funded the recording etc of the new PiL album This Is PiL. Is this rock and roll? In a world where AC/DC put their name to a range of mid-priced wines and Mötörhead put out a fine-bodied shiraz (not to mention the Sex Pistols fragrance range) I don’t know what rock and roll is anymore.

But I do know I like This Is PiL. On reggae thumper ‘One Drop’ Lydon caterwauls “You cannot change us” with the same dramatic defiance he used to power the best of the Sex Pistols’ fuck-you tunes. Throughout the album Lydon’s vocals also have the same feeling of stream-of-consciousness that made any PiL album always seem close to coming off the rails with intensity (check 1983 single ‘This Is Not A Love Song’ or the “Anger is an energy” refrain from 1986’s ‘Rise’).

Lu Edmonds guitar is a wonderfully irritating  (as it should be) foil for Lydon’s squawks and retorts across the album – jangling till your head splits on ‘Deeper Water’ and fuzzing it up on ‘Terra-Gate’ – with enough of those post-punk one and two-note string constructions that work to such great effect (I often wonder what The Edge would have come up if he had never heard Metal Box?)

The electro-dub of ‘Lollipop Opera’ shows Lydon at his dramatic best as his voice slides in and out of a harsh robotic tone, adding a metallic bristle to his hectoring. One of rock’s all-time great non-singers, Lydon – like Lou Reed or David Byrne – makes up for any lack of God-given pipes by laying the drama on thick and filling your head with a new atmosphere. Rock is one of the only musics where this could work and it is one of rock’s true mongrel delights.

But the question always remains with a new release from a band that did its best work 30 years ago – is it worth it? This Is PiL gives us what we want from John Lydon and his cohorts, but after all the intervening music from the bands that Metal Box influenced, this could sound a little tame. If shock and abrasion was all PiL had to offer then This Is PiL would fall short. But Lydon has not lost his drama and the PiL sound still delivers.

As with Janes Addiction’s 2011 album The Great Escape Artist (my review here) it is a still a bit of a thrill to hear any music by rock’s great rule breakers, even now that there are few rules left to break.

One does wonder, though, what Malcolm McLaren would make of it all.

 

Published June 2012 on theorangepress.net

The recent Facebook War – the page  ‘1,000,000 Black Sabbath fans say yes to Bill Ward’ (check it out and ‘like’ it for Bill’s sake) – regarding Black Sabbath‘s drummer Bill Ward started me thinking.

The page, in support of re-adding Bill Ward to the upcoming Black Sabbath reunion album and world tour after he pulled out citing an ‘unsignable’ contract is a signifier of something bigger. I watched it jump from around 1,400 ‘likes’ midweek to almost 37,500 as I write, at the end of the weekend. Online Metal magazines, blogs  and fans got behind the push and it quickly flourished. Guitarist and writer Tony Conley, who set the page up, admits he would have been happy with 1,000 ‘likes’ – it looks as if he actually might make his 1,000,000 at this rate. Why?

Bill Ward is just a drummer from a ’70s heavy rock band who have not put out a significant album for 20 years and have the occasional reunion, playing their 30 year old hits. On the other hand Bill Ward is a demi-god among demi-gods who gave heavy metal to us and will live forever. (Before you get out the voodoo doll with my name on it, I want to say quickly that I subscribe to the latter view, as obviously millions around the world do).

Black Sabbath – through a once-in-a-lifetime combination of personalities, vision, happy accidents and the blessings of Odin in the form of good old luck – came fully formed into the world of rock music with a cinematic, doom-laden music that instantly electrified 15 year old boys the world over. All the elements that form Heavy Metal were there on their first album Black Sabbath (deliciously released on Friday the 13th, 1970) – even though the New Wave of British Heavy Metal of the early ’80s would refine and streamline the music in the hands of bands such as Iron Maiden, the template was set by Black Sabbath.

The band was helmed by the visionary guitarist Tony Iommi (now there’s a surname for a Lord Of This World) and bassist/lyricist Geezer Butler. Their singer was Ozzy Osbourne who brought an amazing, blood-flecked drama to Butler’s acid-fried sci-fi/Hammer Horror lyrics. And on the drums was a sweet natured stoner with the very workaday name of Bill Ward.

As a drummer, Ward was often overshadowed by his early Metal contemporaries – Deep Purple‘s sizzling Ian Paice and Led Zeppelin‘s towering John Bonham – and yet, he was the most human of all three. His playing was often sloppy and it struggled with some of the faster tempos or more syncopated grooves that Iommi’s compositions and riffs presented. BUT without a doubt he was the best, by a country mile, to air-drum to.

And before you 2012 hipsters start sniggering at the thought of a 1970 15 year old boy air-drumming to Black Sabbath, I want to say that it is reaction to music that makes music fun – and ridiculous reactions, such as air-guitar, air-drumming or singing along to AC/DC on your iPod make it super-fun, and stamp that music indelibly on your soul, often till the day you die. Dancing is not the only reaction to music, and some music draws out no reaction at all. Bill Ward’s playing was just perfect to air-drum to – check his tom fills on 1970’s (yes, that’s 2 great albums within 4 months of each other) Paranoid‘s ‘War Pigs’. Generations know these fills as well as they know the anti-war singalong refrain ‘Generals gathered in their masses/Just like witches at Black Masses‘. Unlike the regal rock-prince stance of Led Zeppelin or the concert-hall classicism of Deep Purple, Black Sabbath’s music was approachable and more inclusive (and, importantly, kids could actually play this stuff in their suburban garage bands). And Bill Ward’s style and personality had a lot to do with that.

Fans loved him for it, and obviously still do. But that is not entirely the cause of the groundswell of support. It is that Black Sabbath fans around the world want a Black Sabbath reunion to be just that – a reunion of the four original members of Black Sabbath. Sharon Osbourne was initially identified as the evil witch in this scenario (come on, it is Metal, and Sharon does seem to relish the Black Queen role now and again) but it seems she had nothing to do with it. There is silence from all sides as to how the contract presented to Ward was ‘insignable’ – but the consensus appears to be that for the most down-to-earth, no bullshit member of the band to walk away, it MUST have been an absolute iron-clad insult.

Who knows how it will pan out? Obviously, fans will accept nothing else than the original lineup – and i think this is very important. Since the Beatles smilingly destroyed the Sinatra-style solo star in the early ’60s, we have seen our bands as four- or five-headed single entities. It is generally the ‘original’ lineup that we stitch together into one being. And we don’t like it when that being loses a head, or replaces that head with another. The Beatles could never replace a member. Led Zeppelin did the right thing when John Bonham passed away – they split. The Rolling Stones tour without bassist Bill Wyman and it isn’t the same. They replaced Brian Jones after his tragic pool death with Mick Taylor, and then Taylor with Ron Wood – to all intents and purposes becoming a new band each time, stylistically. The Who soldier on without the theatrics of drummer Keith Moon or the dark bass-gymnastics of John Entwistle, which is getting kinda stupid (and faintly arrogant). Black Sabbath themselves have had some truly dreadful lineups over time, alienating fans hugely each time. This time Black Sabbath have moved forward with their album and tour plans by recruiting the drummer from Ozzy Osbourne’s band, Tommy Clufetos in Bill’s place. I am sure Tommy Clufetos (poor bugger, i would not like to be him right now) is a great drummer – maybe he is even technically better than Ward – but that is entirely not the point. Our four headed Black Sabbath is missing a head and we want it back.

Years ago, when I was a jazzhead serious young insect, I used to cringe when reminded that Australia’s major contribution to contemporary rock music was Pub Rock. Nowadays I glow with pride.

AC/DC, Cold Chisel, the less arty side of Midnight Oil (who came up in the blood-and-sand pubs of Sydney’s Northern beaches), The Angels, The Radiators – hell, even Jet – have proven it and a thousand unknown but bullets-sweating guitar bands prove it every Saturday night. Even with a band as ‘grown up’ as Powderfinger it is just below the surface (vis a vis ‘Got You on My Mind’, pure and perfect pub-rock). The populism and boozy hedonism of Pub Rock also extends into Australian Hip-Hop, Blues and Country. Like it or not, it is a musical reflection of who we are and who we want to be – informal, inclusive and wildly colonial. And we do it so fucking well.

But none do it better than Australian hard rock’s once and future kings, Rose Tattoo. Formed around 1976, Rose Tattoo have never diverged from the path of perfect, flint-hard rock and roll. Styled from the start in the outlaw/bikie mold they have never become a cartoon of themselves, as AC/DC have, nor have they craved the stadium lifestyle (despite playing to hundreds of thousands in Europe where they are particularly revered). The slide-guitar (originally of Pete Wells RIP, and today of Dai Pritchard) has been a feature of the band since day one, linking their sound to the dark church of the blues as it howls and moans through their music.

Earlier this year, Rose Tattoo played a couple of shows at Newtown’s Sandringham Hotel. Fans couldn’t believe their luck – here was a band on par with AC/DC but in a pub, up very close and very personal. This says as much about the band’s street ethos as it does about how they see their connection to fans – stadiums are fine but you can’t touch the people. The shows were such a success that they repeated them on December 9 & 10 at the iconic Annandale Hotel.

The December 10 show that I caught was warmed up by The Corps (square-jawed punk with Oi flavours) and Black Label (superb blues-rock royale, a little Thin Lizzy, a little Led Zep, a lot tough as nails). During their last song I remember thinking that Rose Tattoo couldn’t possibly be more filthy, more urgent than what Black Label were putting out. But if course I couldn’t have been more fuckin’ off the money, as Angry might put it.

No announcement – what could you say? – and there they were, larger than life, black, dirty white and chrome, grizzled road dogs to an illustrated man. As the guitarists plugged in, Angry Anderson took the mic by throat, berating us all with a fuckin’ this and a fuckin’ that, bourbon in hand. Over the next hour and a half, he would throttle that mic to within an inch of its life, shredding it with his paintstripper voice (a national treasure in itself). There has recently been another man out there called Angry Anderson who has dallied with questionable right-wing politics; this Angry Anderson was a different animal, a tough little dog, seemingly three feet shorter than the towering guitarists around him and yet King of this leathered, bearded, boozed up domain. All hail!

There is a particular intersection of ecstacy where all your senses are filled up to the brim and, instead of panic, you just float. When the Rose Tattoo rock machine, counted off by drummer Paul De Marco, starts to roll, you either swim or sink. At asphyxiating volume, with the twin banshees of Anderson’s voice and Dai Pritchard’s slide eating at your vitals, it is a ride like no other in rock. The swagger and loose-limbed animal grace of their grooves is up there with the Stones and the songs are deceptively simple but brilliantly built – everything paired away for maximum dramatic effect. The storytelling blues “The Butcher and Fast Eddie” reaches back to the roots of their roots and the quieter, almost country “Stuck on You” (…stuck on you, like a rose tattoo…) shows some really tasty musicianship. With lyric vistas of bad boys (Ian Rilen’s “Bad Boy for Love”), jailhouses, violence (“Black Eyed Bruiser”) and honour over the top of these irresistible anthems, the effect is one of enormous liberation. For a few hours in our dulled lives we are Rock and Roll Outlaws and we never needed anyone.

Is it stupid? Is it art? Is it the cause of the decline of Western Civilisation? Oh what a pleasure it is not to think, but to feel and to wildly chant along to “We Can’t be Beaten” because for those three minutes, we can’t be. Rose Tattoo have allowed us to join their gang and we can face any-fucking-thing.

Published December 2011 on theorangepress.net