Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Top Ten Albums of 2009

It's been a busy year.

I've joined two groups, formed one, continued playing with Hi-On Maiden, been on a lot of trains and played a lot of gigs. Somewhere in there I found the time to listen to some music. Fortunately, some of my favourite groups have been busy this year as well. I thought the 'Top Ten Albums of 2009' would write itself, but there were quite a few surprises this year. 2008 was a bit of a struggle, and the bottom few albums on the list made it there by virtue of being the strongest of a poor bunch. This year, I could have done a top twenty! I'll get to the 'honourable mentions' that didn't make it later. First, here comes the countdown...

Click here for a Spotify playlist featuring three tracks from each top ten album currently featured on their free streaming music service.

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10: Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown

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It's been five years since American Idiot came out. That album tapped into the global malaise that seemed to take hold in the early part of this decade, and in doing so it gave Green Day a sorely needed second wind. More than that - it exploded. So how do you follow that?

21st Century Breakdown is, to me, the logical next step. Rather than simply dole out American Idiot II, they cranked the bombast-o-meter and went a little bit further. A brave move, but it paid off. This album is chock full of classic Green Day riffs which, if a little predictable, certainly don't disappoint. Another slightly vague concept, and like it's predecessor runs a little bit too long to successfully make it's point. That said, it's a highly satisfying listen.

H Tunes: 21st Century Breakdown, Before The Lobotomy, Peacemaker

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9: Emmy The Great - First Love

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The first of two Latitude Festival discoveries in this list, Emmy The Great is a folk-ish singer-songwriter type young lady. First Love is her debut album and, as the title might suggest, it is full of touching naivety and youthful musings. While her lyrics look wonderfully biting in the insert, sometimes they come off sounding a bit clunky with extra syllables scattered across rhythms which can't quite contain them. That aside, this album is packed with promise for the future. There is a great honesty to the sound of this album, with no frills and not much in the way of studio trickery. This and the well-constructed (but not perhaps entirely unique) eclectic songs save the record from potential obscurity. I thoroughly enjoy this and recommend it to any of my friends with folky leanings.

H Tunes: Absentee, We Almost Had A Baby, First Love

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8: The Mars Volta - Octahedron

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I typically give bands two albums good grace if they start to lose my affections. After last year's The Bedlam In Goliath which was utterly, insanely brutal, I must admit I had fallen off the Martian bandwagon. I like their first, I love their second (Frances The Mute - my ultimate Sunday afternoon record). Their third left me a little cold and the fourth, while it was in my top ten last year, marked the end of my TMV love affair. I didn't want more of the same, which seemed to be where they were heading.

Then I heard "Since We've Been Wrong". Turns out I was wrong as well.

Dubbed by the band as "our acoustic album", Octahedron shows much more of the tenderness that sometimes shines through the madness of Rodriguez-Lopez's sound world. By no means is this album unplugged; there are some crushing moments on it. "Desperate Graves" and "Cotopaxi" both have the urgency and sonic turmoil still very much intact. But compared to the last album, this one is painted much more softly with the noisy brush. There's some positively Floyd-ian moments, but Cedric's lyrics soon remind you who you're listening to. All in all this is an absolute belter, and comes highly recommended to anyone who has ears.

H Tunes: Since We've Been Wrong, With Twilight As My Guide, Desperate Graves

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7: Eels - Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire

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It's been four years since Blinking Lights and Other Revelations came out. That album had some moments that I absolutely adore, but it's astonishing length and number of songs made it a little bit hit-or-miss. E (aka Mark Oliver Everett, son of physicist Hugh Everett III - look him up) is responsible for penning two of my favourite albums. Electro-Shock Blues is the most haunting collection of songs I've ever heard, dealing with more loss than anyone should ever have to deal with. It's follow-up, the much more light-hearted Daisies of the Galaxy is a wonderful record that has inspired me in a lot of my song-writing and instrumentation choices. So even though Blinking Lights... had it's flaws, I give E the benefit of the doubt every time.

Hombre Lobo is stonking. I had a brief conversation with a pal of mine who hit the nail on the head about why this album is so striking. "It described exactly how I was feeling at the time" said he. "How was that?", I asked innocently.

"Horny."

This record is, essentially, about wanting to get your end away and all the emotion and primal urgency that goes with it. There's some tremendously loud rock songs on this, but the tender side of things is also explored. For example, "The Look You Give That Guy" is a great little tune about jealousy and unrequited love. Following it is "Lilac Breeze", and I quote:

Birds do it, bees do it, I wanna do it
The only thing we need to do is get down to it


Quite.

H Tunes: Tremendous Dynamite, The Longing, My Timing Is Off

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6: Lee Abraham - Black & White

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This year my pal Lee put out his third solo effort. It's possibly a little bit cheeky of me to put this album on this list, given that I know the artist and will be part of the band playing this material live! However, it wouldn't be here if I didn't think it was any good. But it is. Oh, but it is!

He's really done it this time. While his last album View From The Bridge was very good indeed, the feedback from fans led Lee to laying out some cash and building himself a pro studio in a specially built out-building in the garden. Otherwise known as a shed! In production terms, he really knocked it out of the park this time. This album sounds stunning, with Lee calling in favours from all the stars of the British progressive rock underworld to brilliant effect. There are great vocal performances from Sean Filkins (ex-Big, Big Train), Simon Godfrey (Tinyfish), Gary Chandler (Jadis) and Steve Thorne (legend!). There are absolutely perfect guitar solos from John Mitchell (Arena, Frost*, It Bites) and a superb synth solo on "The Mirror" from Jem Godfrey (Frost*). A fantastic sounding and unbelievably perfect drum performance from Gerald Mulligan. I've probably forgotten someone. I can't spaff over this one enough. It really is very good.

The centrepiece(s) of the album are the two epic title tracks, "Black" (featuring an emotion-fuelled performance from Filky) and "White" (featuring a choir of Steve Thorne!). Equally stunning are the songs that precede them, with "Face The Crowd" being heavier than a really heavy thing and "The Mirror" (the stand-out track for me) creeping along to it's menacing conclusion. I can't wait to unleash this live. With prog-fests in the pipeline and reviews in industry magazines, the future is shaping up to be quite exciting for Mr A.

(Unfortunately this is unavailable on Spotify - check the website for a sampler:http://www.leeabraham.co.uk/)

H Tunes: The Mirror, Black, White

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5: The Duckworth-Lewis Method - The Duckworth-Lewis Method

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Why has no-one done this before? A new genre has been born, ladies and gentlemen, and it's name?

Cricket pop.

Comprising of Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy) and Thomas Walsh (Pugwash), this album manages to be hysterically funny yet oddly nostalgic in it's adoration of the quintessential Britishness of cricket. This was another act I witnessed at the Latitude Festival out in Suffolk during the summer, and it was an utterly joyous occasion. Resplendent in their cricket whites, the band hit the stage and I don't think many in the audience stopped laughing for the entirety of their set. Despite the humour and the potential for making a throwaway novelty concept album, the songs are remarkably good. Not that one should be surprised, given the duo who wrote them. Despite that, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this album and I recommend it to anyone who a) likes a good pop song, b) likes cricket or c) wants to have a bit of a laugh.

H Tunes: Gentlemen and Players, Jiggery Pokery, Meeting Mr. Miandad

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4: Dream Theater - Black Clouds & Silver Linings

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I'm a bit of a fanboy, so please forgive me.

This album is very much Dream Theater-by-numbers, and while there are certainly a few moments I could live without, Dream Theater-by-numbers is good enough for me. Despite the fact that they really need someone to write their lyrics for them (or ask John Myung to have another crack at them), the songs here stand up well against the rest of their catalogue. "A Nightmare to Remember" is particularly pleasing to my ears, even more so upon seeing them live and watching Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth do the Cookie Monster section with them. That was awesome. Also good is the album's short song, "Wither", is a fairly tender yet rousing baritone guitar tune. I don't really enjoy the 12-step epic "The Shattered Fortress" - it's a bit of a laboured monstrosity though it does work well with it's preceding chapters. "The Best Of Times" simply doesn't do it for me, but they really got the long-form writing right with "The Count Of Tuscany". Again, though, the lyrics are utterly terrible! Sort it out boys.

A nice extra with this record was the inclusion of the album in instrumental form, without vocals or solos. I've had a bit of fun with that! A third disc contained six cover versions, with the band chocking out tunes from Queen, Iron Maiden and King Crimson among others. The Queen cover is particularly good.

H Tunes: Wither, The Count Of Tuscany, Tenement Funster / Flick of the Wrist / Lily of the Valley (Queen cover)

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3: Devin Townsend Project - Ki / Addicted

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Another slightly cheeky entry, two albums from the same artist in the same slot. I simply couldn't choose.

Mr Townsend, having given up drugs and booze, originally planned to release four albums this year under the moniker "The Devin Townsend Project". Each album to include different personnel and a different approach. He didn't quite make it, only managing two before 2009 reached it's conclusion.

Ki was the first, and is sonically a bit of a departure for Devin. Taking a 'tension and release' approach to the songs, he's created a very pleasing sonic world. A lot of down-tuned guitars but no real distortion or heavy crunch to be heard (except for in a couple of well-chosen places). Devin employed a Vancouver jazz drummer by the name of Duris Maxwell to thump the tubs on the album, and the light touch really accentuates the ambient nature of this music. It's a great listen. The wall-of-sound attack so common in Townsend's music has been replaced with something much more restrained. Another selling point is second-to-last track "Quiet Riot", which is essentially an acoustic version of Slade's "Cum On Feel the Noize" with a lyrical rewrite.

Addicted has only just appeared, but kicks all sorts of bottom. Described by Devy as "melodic" and "danceable", it's a collection of blisteringly heavy songs with pop-like accessible structures. Female vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering) adds another layer to the music, with some fantastic interplay between her and Devin's voices. And helpfully every song has an exclamation mark after it. Brilliant. ! Unfortunately Addicted is unavailable on Spotify and as such isn't on me playlist.

Can't wait to hear what's next.

H Tunes: Coast, Terminal, Quiet Riot (Ki) / Addicted!, Universe in a Ball!, Ih-Ah! (Addicted)

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2: Biffy Clyro - Only Revolutions

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A lot of my friends disliked Biffy's last album Puzzle. I'm not entirely sure why - I thought it was very good myself! If I ever make an album half as good as that one, I'll be happy. Yes, the meandering angular song structures that made Infinity Land so dense and compelling were gone. The songs that were left, though, were stellar and inventive in their own ways. Interestingly, those same friends who disliked Puzzle seem over-the-moon about Only Revolutions, which is interesting.

I really do like this album quite a lot. From start to finish it is an engaging listen, with riffs as big as your house and some thoroughly complementary string and horn arrangements. However, the comparisons between this album and Puzzle are striking. Almost every song on this album feels like an expansion of a song from the last record. "That Golden Rule" has more than slight echoes of "Living Is A Problem...", and "God & Satan" might as well have been called "Machines, Part 2". "Bubbles" very much typifies the approach to songwriting that makes Biffy so appealing to me, combining simple song structure with the more progressive long-form style - i.e. verse, chorus, verse, chorus, now let's go off on a tangent until the end. That track in particular stands out, with some great guitar acrobatics from Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age). "Whorses" rounds things off with a wonderful rallying call. Good stuff boys.

H Tunes: That Golden Rule, Bubbles, Whorses

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1: Porcupine Tree - The Incident

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I don't quite know where to start with this one. Steven Wilson is a bit of a hero of mine, creating the sort of music that I would dearly love to get paid for. In the past decade, Porcupine Tree haven't really put a foot wrong. Lightbulb Sun, In Absentia, Deadwing and Fear of a Blank Planet were all rather good, and all seemed progressively heavier and darker. I must admit to expecting the next record to be their heaviest to date. What we got was something a bit special.

The Incident is a sprawling masterpiece on two CDs. The first CD is a 14-part "song cycle'" detailing the day-to-day horrors that are coldly referred to in media and signage as "incidents", which Wilson rightly points out "is a very detached word for something so destructive and traumatic for the people involved." There are some typically heavy moments on this album but the music is infused with much more of the lighter side of the Porcupine Tree soundworld. The acoustic guitars and piano that permeated Lightbulb Sun and Stupid Dream have been brought back into the fold, adding colour to the bleakness evoked by the lyrics and electronic wizardry. The second CD contains four equally excellent songs which stand apart from the concept.

This album is perfect.

H Tunes: Time Flies, The Seance, Remember Me Lover

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Honourable Mentions (aka "Close, but no cigar!")

In no particular order, here are the other albums that very nearly wound up in the list above but didn't quite cut it.

Bat For Lashes - Two Suns
Broken Records - Until The Earth Begins To Part
Jay Foreman - 20 Songs
Manic Street Preachers - Journal For Plague Lovers
Marmaduke Duke - Duke Pandemonium
Marillion - Less Is More
OSI - Blood
Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures
Transatlantic - The Whirlwind

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Things I Was On

Every Other Ones - EP1 (recorded but not released yet!)

I formed this band with my pal David Sharpe in the summer, and since then we've written a dozen tunes and look forward to recording an album next year. Acoustic guitars, vocals, ukulele, piano, all manner of other things in the pipeline. The most fun I've ever had without an amplifier.


Thea Ford - Monkey To The West

I joined up with this young lady as guitarist in May this year. I contribute a guitar solo to "Cat & Mouse", piano and acoustic guitar on "So Long" and acoustic guitar on "Hold You Together".

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And there you have it. Roll on 2010!

Yours with love,
Chrissy H

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

EVERY OTHER ONES: Recording "EP1" at Delta Studios - 28/29 November 2009

Every Other Ones recently hit Delta Studios in Chartham, Kent to lay down tracks for their debut E.P., tentatively titled "EP1" (imaginative or what?!).

Sharpey and I had worked very hard to ensure we each had our parts rehearsed up and ready to go, with regular practices throughout November leading up to the recording session. As any followers of our Twitter feed will attest, these rehearsals usually result in a lot of wine being drunk and a lot of other people's songs being played! We always have a lot of fun, but only after we've set out what we intended to do. By the end of the last session, which incidentally was the night before recording was to commence, Sharpey and I knew each other's parts back-to-front and were confident of getting good performances.

The next morning, the Mini de Sharpe picked me up from my humble abode and we shot down the A2 towards Chartham.

The picturesque Delta Studios I...

Picturesque

II...

The front door


Just after we pulled up outside the studios, the owner turned up to let us in. Said owner, a lovely chap by the name of Julian, made us a cup of tea while we chatted about the old days. Sharpey and his previous outfit (Half Inch Heroes) had recorded here many moons ago and had fond memories of the experience. I was looking forward to getting going! The rest of the crew duly turned up, comprising Goc, Sasha and Wolf of Kit Kaboodle Company alongside the wise Mr David Riley who had come along to document the weekend on a trusty bit of viddy-oh gear. After Julian had showed audio boffin Wolf the ropes, we settled in and EOO got going! First order of business, destroy the toilet. Eww.

Pro Tools...

Pro Tools

We started off with "Same Old", which meant breaking out my splendid Takamine 12-string. I accomplished the tune in what I thought was one take, garnering praise for my metronomic performance. It turned out that I'd missed an entire section. Whoops! Back in the box with me. Sharpey then added his parts, and it was decided we'd leave vocals for Sunday. On to "I Should Have Stayed At Home". I was a little bit concerned about this one as there are some time-signature changes and neither Wolf nor I had any idea how to programme the click-track to match my vision! I bit the bullet and managed to nail it in one take, despite the strong beat being in the wrong place for a little while. "GET IN!", I proclaimed. "Get out!", Sharpey retorted. Sharpey had not one but two guitar parts to lay down for this, and magnificent they are too. "Again & Again" was next, and both guitar parts were laid down without too much fuss. I even had a go at laying down an acoustic bass track!

After that it was time for the other Kaboodles to record some stuff (including the ridiculously talented David Mumford who turned up for a short spell in the afternoon), so I took in a little bit of engineering and quite a bit of drinking! We packed up and headed off around ten, with Mr Sharpe kindly dropping me back home.

Barely hours later, the Mini was back outside Harrison Towers and I was piled in. While shopping for rations in the local Tesco I received word from Sasha that Goc had been afflicted with a migraine and wouldn't be driving him and Wolf to the studio. Sharpey to the rescue! We took a detour to West Kingsdown to pile the smelly boys into the car and shoot back to the studio, arriving only about half an hour later than intended.

We set up the vocal booth and got on with the bit I was dreading. I'm more than confident laying down guitar tracks, but I've never been that enamored with my singing voice which isn't exactly what you'd call consistent! Despite my doubts, I managed to get through with a maximum of two takes. During the "aaah" section in "I Should Have Stayed At Home" I threw in a bit of enunciation that caused quite a lot of giggling from the control room - the name Alan Partridge was mentioned more than once. Needless to say that take got swiftly deleted - or did it?!

David Sharpe is an awesome vocalist, and as such his was a very no-nonsense approach. In, out, done. Win. He even nailed a big Freddie Mercury arrangement with no more than one take per part. What a hero! I can't wait for everyone to hear this.

Once all that work was done and the other Kaboodles had sorted some of their stuff, it was time for some jams. We chocked out a cracking set of tunes that afternoon / evening, including an Every Other Ones 'Live in the Studio' set. As neither myself nor Sharpey were particularly happy with the version of "Again & Again" we'd recorded the previous day it was decided that the version from this live set would go on the EP. Also from those sessions is a new song entitled "You Won't", which can be heard on our MySpace page.

All in all, a cracking weekend. Big thanks to Goc and Sasha for organising the session, to Wolf for engineering, to Julian for the use of the studio, and to all our friends and family for their continued inspiration, love and support.

Look out for "EP1", coming soon! Also check out YouTube for video of "Again & Again (Live in the Studio)" , and keep your eyes on www.everyotherones.com which is soon to go live!

Yours,

Chrissy H: Fat guitarist!

Fat guitarist


Tuesday, 22 December 2009

HI-ON SOUTHAMPTON / PONTYPOOL / KETTERING / BIRMINGHAM - November 5/6/7/8

Well well well, this one may be a bit of en epic! The first four-gig weekend since our visit to Turkey in February 2008 would take us from Southampton to Birmingham via Wales and Kettering. A fair few miles then!

The weekend started for me with a gig in Shoreditch at the 'legendary' BarMusicHall on Curtain Street, just up the road from Old Street tube station playing an acoustic set with Thea Ford and Mark O'Neill. I love playing original music, but there's nothing quite like wigging up and being part of the best tribute to Iron Maiden there ever was. I was on a tight schedule, as the Van of Slightly Less Comfort But Much More Likely To Start Than The Last One was due to arrive at mine between 10 and 11pm. We went on a little bit late but I managed to do a runner and arrive back at Manic Towers just after the two occupants of said van.

I walked into the dining room to find Adrian "shit in a bin" Swift adding the final touches to his rather nifty (and not at all camp) denim jacket, studded up to look just like Adrian Smith's did during Maiden's golden period. Accompanying him was Bruce "show us yer funnel!" Dugginson who was very proudly showing off his new leather gear, crafted by Boba Fett off the forums. A bang-up job he did too, as they looked just like Bruce's rather peculiar fetish gear from the '88 tour. This had been picked up on the way, and I understood from talking to the lads that the journey from Yorkshire to Dartford had taken them via Barnsley and Essex to name but a few places. There was a reason for all this malarkey, but we'll get to that later. We all settled down for a bit of much-needed kip.

Next morning, Duggers finds a hat!

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The next morning started off with a brief shopping trip looking to find some stage gear for Hulloween's debut performances. Yes, that's right - Hi-On Maiden are Hulloween. The plan was to unveil Hulloween in Pontypool and Kettering before opening the Music Live "Titans of Tribute" stage at the Birmingham NEC. More on that when we get to it. After a more-or-less successful jaunt to the shops we piled in the van and drove to Reading, where a very nice man had some scaffolding bits and pieces to sell us. Upon arrival, he also agreed to cut down the scaffold poles (collected by Swifty and Duggers in Barnsley the day before) so that they were all of equal length. This was a bit of a relief, as none of us really wanted to muck about with an angle grinder at the venue! "Why the scaffolding?" I hear you cry. Well, faithful reader, you'll see. After all this tubular trickery had clanged to it's conclusion, we set off for Southampton. We arrived a little later than planned, but this was no problem as we'd saved ourselves a couple of tricky hours of cutting poles!

Speed "I love smelly farts - they've got to sound good, and they've got to smell good - you've got to squeeze them out" Harris was already in attendance as we rolled up to the back door. The scaffolding and gear was shifted out the van and I ran off to find a sandwich - having elected not to eat breakfast that morning, I was utterly starving. Putting the scaffolding together for the very first time can only be described as a ballache. I'm utterly useless at such things, and as such sat on the sideline waiting for any heavy lifting that needed doing! Still, once you've set it up once you know where everything goes and what the pitfalls are. Next time would be quicker and less painful. The brand new backdrop was unrolled and hung from the ceiling, turning out to be almost perfect-width for The Brook. The "Seventh Tour of a Seventh Tour" stage set was done. And it look bloody spectacular. As this was going up, Jonno "sex pest coat" Lodge turned up. Jonno, star that he is, was filling in for Nicko "oh no!" McBrain Jnr who was out playing with his original band this weekend.

Soundchecking with the title track from Iron Maiden's 1988 opus was a lot of fun. It's one of those songs we've talked about doing for years but never actually attempted, at least not properly. A little bit shaky in places but otherwise successful. We also had a blast through the Hulloween stuff and identified where Swifty and I needed to work on harmonies. I actually enjoyed playing Helloween stuff much more than I thought I would. I'll admit I'm not their biggest fan, but the songs we had chosen were a lot of fun to chock out.

Then it was spandex time! I bought this stage gear over a year ago when we were planning a "Somewhere On Tour" tribute show. Thankfully Mr Murray's outfit didn't change much for the next tour so it was still a valid expenditure. The rest of the band followed suit, as it were, with Mr Dugginson's trousers in particular looking rather fetching. Aieeee!

Stage 3

All in all it was a storming gig. Duggers and I had to entertain with an impromptu 'Children Of The Damned' when Swifty's MIDI gear took a waspie, but that aside all ran to plan. There were a couple of Brown Notes in Seventh Son, but nothing too derailing. The crowd were a fantastic bunch as ever, with some good friends making the trip down. The first of three appearances from our good friend Eddie "spandex, chaps?" the 'Ead, who was making a particularly heroic effort (along with Mrs Eddie and Lord Summerisle) to get to three of our four shows.

Packing down after the show was a typically leisurely affair, with the kind and generous staff at The Brook being as kind and generous as ever. However, there comes a time when one ought to pack one's gear up and fuck off! Which we did. Back to the Travelodge and onto the Manic Cushion (those little triangular cushions at the back of the sofas) for me. Conversation turned to the past, and some revelations about a previous acquaintance were particularly enlightening. I should probably leave it there!

Up earlyish for a Little Thief breakfast before I climbed into the SpeedWagon for the jaunt down to Pontypool. En route we swotted up on our Helloween, listening to both Keeper of the Seven Keys albums and their live set from Donington '88. It seems Helloween were a bit messy that day, which was good news for me as I was fretting slightly (pun intended) about those guitar parts.

Arriving in Ponty in the rain, we loaded in and grabbed a drink or two while poor Mr Lodge had a bit of kip. After the show tonight he was going to need to pack up, drive home to Stafford, sleep, drive to Birmingham, unload, play, load, and drive to Kettering for our next gig! Needless to say we praise his heroism this weekend - we simply couldn't do it without ya mate. After setting up and imbibing Mr Swift and I worked out the intricacies of the guitar harmonies and we had a go at the Helloween tunes - tonight was do or die, as we'd been advertised as the support band! Thankfully someone else was on hand to warm up the crowd before us in the form of Cowboy & The Corpse, a well-received local covers band.

Pie Hansen...

Pie Hansen

Hulloween hit the stage! It was very enjoyable indeed, and not half bad. There were a couple of song requests from the crowd to deal with, but thankfully they were amongst the four songs we'd learned anyway! Mr Dugginson did a particularly awesome job as Michael Krispe in a wig that, after the weekend, would be donated to me as it was viewed as a more suitable Murray-a-like than Brenda. Splendid! After the Hulloween set it was time to cast aside German power metal and slip into Noooowobbham (that's NWOBHM to you). Once again, another fantastic crowd. With four gigs this weekend, it's hard to pick out highlights / lowlights from the lot, especially considering that the first three were an identical set. I remember another few Brown Notes appearing in Seventh Son, but once again it was met with a roaring reception. Jonno packed down, said his goodbyes and pootled off for home, while the rest of us retired to the bar. That's where it all went a teensy bit wrong.

Let me preface this by proffering some advice: If a Welsh barkeep ever offers you a tot from a bottle of vodka with chillies stuffed in it, kindly decline and then get as far away as you can.

The afore-mentioned offensive weapon was passed in front of my face, to which I immediately said no. It's not like me to refuse a drink (as anyone who knows me will tell you!). However, I knew this to be Wrong. Deeply, deeply wrong. So I continued to pack down my gear and sup my Guinness. While I was off somewhere else, the bottle had been offered to Swifty and Dugginson. Duggers' portion was abruptly removed from his hand by the bartender, who warned him against it - apparently, it was no good for the singing voice. Swifty merrily threw his measure right down his gullet, and then stood there in silent horror as tears ran down his cheek. Mission accomplished, thought the barman. To whit, he turned his attentions back to me. A glass with a trickle of the vile death syrup was placed in front of me at the bar. I refused again, and would have continued to do so had Mr Dugginson not come round to me. "Try it Manic, it's really nice!" said he. Had it been Swifty, I would have not believed him. Had it been Speed, I would have not believed him. Yet I still had some trust for our singer. So down it went.

At first, it was like a rather hot curry. That's fine, I thought. I enjoy a curry that leaves your lips burning. However as it trickled down my throat and made it's way through the rest of my innards, I suddenly felt as if I'd eaten a hand grenade. Roughly thirty seconds later, that hand grenade had been upgraded to a land mine. "GET IT OUT OF ME!", my body screamed, and as such I legged it up to the backstage toilet and attempted to expel the horror. Unfortunately there was no action to be had at either end, and as such I simply balled up and steeled myself. I didn't cry, but I did scream! I suffer from Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, which essentially means I create excess stomach acid and I shouldn't eat anything too spicy. You can imagine that my pain was greater than someone who did not suffer from such an affliction. Eventually Swifty and Matt came looking for me, wondering where I'd gone. They found me in the foetal position! Thankfully the agony didn't last much longer than 10-15 minutes, but the effects would last for some time. I managed to get another Guinness down my neck before calling it a night. I had enough good humour to hide Swifty's pillow and convince him that a poltergeist had nicked it. Oh, the chuckles.

Up in the morning, lamenting the spicy spirit, the three of us that remained loaded out the gear. Speed had already raced off to Kidderminster to see his family. After bidding a fond farewell to all at the Hog we hit the road for Kettering. A bit more Hulloween revision took place while we kept our eye out for the welcoming beacon of KFC. No spicy food for us for a while! We checked in at the Travelodge and made our way to the venue, soundtracked by a bit of Kate Rusby. Lovely!

Hope you're paying attention, Asbury...

God says

Kettering was pretty good. When you have four gigs in as many days, they all tend to blur into one. Hulloween was well received to my memory, though Speed wasn't happy with his performance. The whole thing came off fine and we were fairly confident of doing a good enough job at the NEC the next morning. Hi-On put in their best performance of the weekend thus far, despite poor old Swifty not being able to hear himself onstage at all and my guitar cable being unexpectedly ejaculated from the front of my pre-amp.

Scott the Rapist

The real drama started, as ever, after the gig. Mr Dugginson found a rather amusing Halloween costume which seemed to depict the demise of the Daily Express's favourite maternal figurehead, while Jonno took great joy in noting the similarities between me and "Scott The Rapist", a character adorning the walls of a quite impressively graffiti-laden dressing room.

"Oh! If only Diana was here..."

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Knowing we had an early morning start, we packed down with unusual tenacity and the time came to get stuff in the van. Unfortunately, Doctor Swift could not quite locate the van keys. This happened last time at Sawyers, so we turfed out the dressing room where they'd turned up last time. No sign. We combed the debris on stage right. No sign. I was the last man in the van, and while I couldn't recall giving the keys back to Swifty I knew that I had definitely not shut them in the van. I searched my pockets three times, my side of the stage, my bags (twice), and still there was no sign. Even the venue staff joined the hunt, relishing in the idiocy of a band who, let's be honest, couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery. Swifty checked his pockets at least four times, and there was no sign.

Fifth time was the charm.

They were in his jacket pocket the whole time, caught in headphones or something equally innocuous.

Once we'd all beaten him senseless, we piled him bloodied and broken behind the wheel of the van and we limped back to the Travelodge. Duggers was in an understandably black mood, having been looking forward to a good night's sleep before showcasing his awesome vocal talents in front of what was bound to be a large crowd. Speed had gone back to Kiddy, and after dropping our singer at the 'lodge Swifty and I ventured off in search of Ginsters. Returning with snacks we were greeted with the news that Speed was currently racing back home to attend to a family emergency. I won't go into the details in this diary, but our thoughts were all with him and his family.

In the morning, we accepted the state of play that Hulloween would not be opening Titans Of Tribute after all, as we had to focus all our energies on locating a bass player for the headline slot. Rescue was found in the form of Kev, the bass player with Yorkshire-based Iron Maiden tribute Iron-On Maiden. Kev put down his breakfast and raced up the motorway. What a hero!

Our next slap in the face came upon arrival at the NEC. Apparently we weren't allowed to use the stage set that we'd splashed out on. Change-over times didn't allow. Bugger.

At least Southampton got a show!

We took this in our stride as just another piece of bad luck in a year that, for Hi-On, has been riddled with epic failures. We can only hope for better in 2010. After loading all the gear into the backstage area and explaining our predicament to the very understanding organisers, I wandered off with my good friend Eddie's Mum for a look round the exhibition. There was some fantastic gear to be had, and I had to literally tear myself away from the Patrick Eggle stand. I ended up buying some rather silly instruments from Kid's Play music for my nephew. You can give a four month-old a kazoo, can't you? Oh well. He won't know. I returned to our dressing room to find free beer and food. This made me a very happy Hurry. While we munched we were interviewed by Phoenix Radio, a local radio station who were covering the event. Around this time Kev arrived and was greeted as a true hero.

Then it was time to get ready. Time had rolled around ever so fast! The job was to put our gear together so it could simply be rolled onstage by the tech guys, gaffa'd down and ready to go. This was quite an experience - a huge stage, a load of techies doing stuff all around you...it was like being in a proper band playing a proper gig! Fantastic. The intro rolled...

Onstage at the NEC...

Hurry wig 3

...what a gig! Thoroughly enjoyable, with a huge crowd giving it as much vocal as they could and awesome performances from the whole band. During The Trooper we were joined onstage by session drummer extraordinaire Robin Guy, who has played with none other than Bruce Dickinson, Faith No More, Dee Snider, All About Eve and many others. I remember moseying up to him during the previous song (The Prisoner, I think?) and watching him waiting behind Jonno's kit going absolutely mental - he was like a kid at Christmas!!! I couldn't wait. It was awesome to have him join us. Robin, if you're reading this, get in touch - any time we're in the same place, you're welcome to join us again! The rest of the gig went off well, with Eddie putting in a typically spectacular performance. I'll never quite forget him giving the finger to the "Time up!" screen at the side of the stage!

Once the gear was offstage we had to be out sharpish as there was a whole evening of music to be played after the Titans were done laying waste to Brum. After loading the van and saying goodbyes to the band, I ventured to the nearby Wetherspoons to spend some quality time with some great friends who had come along for the ride - brilliant to see you all guys. The whole weekend had been both physically and emotionally draining. We had put in four great gigs, six if you count Hulloween's two shows, and done our job to the best of our abilities in challenging circumstances. And what more could you ask for?

Certainly no bloody chilli vodka.

Thanks again to everyone who aided with the weekend; special mentions for Jonno Lodge and Kev from Iron On for both getting us out of tight spots - you're both utterly tremendous as musicians and people. Also thanks to all the staff at all the venues for making things as smooth as they possibly could be. Huge thanks to all the friends who came out to see us on this mini-tour, your support is appreciated and will not be forgotten!

Personal thanks from me go to the rest of Hi-On Maiden. Bruce Dugginson for simply being the best. Adrian Swift for working so hard to make this year happen in the face of everything that went wrong. Speed Harris for being Steve Harris (though I should point out he needs to change his diet - the rippers experienced in the van to Nijmegen were from the very arse of Beelzebub). Nicko McBrain Jnr for his youthful enthusiasm and for missing more load-outs than I thought possible!

Until 2010,

UP THE 'KIN IRONS!

Dave "don't drink the chilli vodka" Hurry

Come hither