Steve Hackett – Selling England by the Pound and Spectral Mornings Live at Hammersmith

Achievement can dull ambition, and most successful musicians slow down after a while. Not Hackett. He is as keen to make great music now as ever, as his 2019 album At the Edge of Light shows. But he also knows that his fanbase still want the classics that soundtrack their lives – which makes this release special.

While this tour promoted his latest work, it also celebrated 40 years of the Spectral Mornings solo album, playing all but two of those tracks. But its hugest appeal lay in a complete performance of the zenith of Genesis’ catalogue. Selling England by the Pound is an album that still thrills after more than 45 years.

Photo Lee Millward (via The Publicity Connection)
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Kate Rusby: Handed Down Songs

There are two big questions here: how old does a song have to be to be classed as a folk song? And how should you approach a cover – be faithful to the original or make it your own?

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A Genesis in my Bed

There might be less Genesis than I expected in guitarist Steve Hackett’s pacy autobiography, but the ‘other stuff’ is just as interesting. Any prog fan will enjoy this – and it is so easy to keep re-reading.

Steve Hackett with Mike Rutherford. Image: ©Armando Gallo/ARGA Images Inc. (via The Publicity Connection)

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A Proper Double Album – Dreamland

Is Dan Whitehouse the David Bowie of folk? His voice often has the same timbre. He also has a similar sensitivity to moods, strong songwriting talent and flippant approach to genre, letting songs find their own sound, rather than force them into a style for the sake of it.

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Gigspanner – a Cert for Best-of-2020 Folk Album Lists.

There are times when ‘big’ is highly relative, and that applies to Gigspanner, the trio formed by ex-Steeleye Span veteran Peter Knight. Its Big Band version still only has six members.

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Dion – “I Should be Dead.” But he’s Fully Alive Here.

“If I got what’s coming, man, I should be dead,” sings Dion on the star-studded Blues with Friends. He’s right, after 15 years of heroin addiction and a last-minute decision to save $36 – and inadvertently his life – by not taking the plane flight that killed Buddy Holly, he has cheated death at least once. He’s made the most of his life since, though. Forget his age – this is an absolutely top-class feast of blues.

Noble PR

Who else can you think of, who was in the vanguard of rock and roll in the ‘50s and is still making relevant music today and winning plaudits?

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Avishai Cohen – Big Vicious

This is a remarkable instrumental album. Sometimes jazz releases can be clever-but-unpleasant; this one, though, is an absolute delight, because the band has put melody centre stage, expanded the style to include electronica, and re-invented a classic Massive attack track brilliantly. More music should be like this.

Avishai Cohen (Image by kind permision of Ziv Ravitz)
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Tangerine Dream – Recurring Dreams

Electronica pioneers reinvent some of their classic work.

Tangerine Dream were true innovators, pioneering the use of synthesizers as a sole instrument and creating a mainstream genre in the process.

It took a while. Their initial work was what a school friend called ‘brick music’ – as if you would put a brick on a keyboard and come back five minutes later to move it along the keys a bit. He wasn’t far wrong.

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Rhidian Brook, pt 1: Living in the Heart of a Pandemic

As we are currently facing a global pandemic and writer Rhidian Brook is celebrating 20 years of contributions to Thought for the Day, this is a good time to revisit the epic adventure that featured in some of his early contributions to the slot: 9 months immersed in the world’s AIDS hotspots with a young family.
People sometimes speak of adventures starting with a dream. When Brook’s journey began, he knew nothing about it – but it started with a real night-time ‘waking dream’ that came true.

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Rhidian Brook, part 2: Thoughts for the Nation

Thought for the Day is a tough ask: you have under three minutes in the middle of Today, Britain’s main current events breakfast radio show, to add some insight that might inspire several million listeners. And not just any listeners: these are generally more informed and opinionated; they do not suffer fools gladly.

Rhidian Brook is one of Thought for the Day’s 23 regular presenters, and has been offering those Thoughts for twenty years, a hefty chunk of which have been collected in a book, Godbothering.

Brook has an advantage, as he sits among a panel of bishops, professors and a Chief Rabbi: he is not one of them, but ‘one of us’. I suspect he has to earn respect a little bit harder as an ordinary person – albeit an award-winning one who has had his books translated into 25 languages and Keira Knightley star in one of the film adaptations.

Photo by kind permission of

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7-63 Up – One of the Greatest Documentary Series Ever Made?

Angered by Britain’s class system and inspired by the Jesuit saying: “Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man,” in 1964 Tim Hewat, founder-editor of TV documentary series World in Action, selected 14 seven-year-olds from a range of backgrounds: poor urban, including two from an orphanage; suburban; and some privileged children who already expected to go to Cambridge University.

The original aim was a one-off, to show that class privileges set in early. Denis Forman, the head of Granada TV, later suggested that a follow up would be a good idea. This not only helped to prove the original point, but began a fascinating series that has turned viewers into impassioned followers.

Tony, Neil and Sue – then and now

Early programmes interview these children, asking for their hopes and expectations, and every seven years we see their progress, as later episodes track those dreams right up to retirement and (in one case) death.

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Rory Gallagher – Check Shirt Wizard (Live in ’77)

“We’ve got a jack-knife beat, killer of a backbeat, sounds like an iceberg rolling down a back street.” Not quite, but Rory playing live at the peak of his career is still a majestic sound.

Paul Slattery via NoblePR

Ask me what gig I most regret missing, and you’ll get an instant answer: U2 supporting Rory Gallagher at my local rock club (it was a Wednesday night and I was still at school). Ask what Rory’s best studio album is and I’d say 1976’s Calling Card (just ahead of Against the Grain).

So a live release (which is where the Irish guitarist was always at his best) that includes all but one tracks of Calling Card is likely to be superb, and this collection is a new favourite, even beating some remarkable posthumous compilations, including acoustic collection Wheels Within Wheels and last year’s excellent-value triple CD Blues.

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Kaprekar’s Constant – Depth of Field

Like Big Big Train, this poetic album blends folk, soft-prog and a personal take on historic events. It deserves a wide audience.

image via
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Wildwood Kin

(Press image)

The Devon trio release another magical, harmony-drenched set of hooky songs. This is beauty with guts and purpose.

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Deborah Rose – The Shining Pathway

Even before hearing a note, I found Rose’s story intriguing.

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Dave Walker – Revenge of the Flower Arrangers

(Canterbury Press) There is an idiom ‘Many a true word is drawn in jest’ (or something like that). In his anticipated bi-ennial collection, the definitive church cartoonist uses the full scope of what cartoons can achieve, with plenty of observation feeding his work.

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The Rise and Fall of Christian Rock – A Personal View: Pt 1. The Pioneers

Larry Norman (Photo credit: Derek Walker)

Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) hits 50 years old this winter. This 4-part series tells its story and is an expanded version of the feature Christianity Magazine published in Dec 2019.

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The Rise and Fall of Christian Rock – A Personal View: Pt 2. The Professionals

Delirious? (Image via

While Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) became established over the 1970s, music of true professional quality was more the exception than the rule. But across the following two decades, the genre – as it was to become – exploded with talent and creativity.

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The Rise and Fall of Christian Rock – A Personal View: Pt 3. The Problems

When comedian Ross Noble appeared on the TV show Room 101, where celebrities list the several items that they would most like to eradicate from the world, his first choice (ahead of “people with clipboards”, Craig David and “people who look like cats”) was Christian rock bands.

The thought of them going on tour and “tidying hotel rooms” was just a passing objection, he claimed.

His main argument was that rock is angry music, but Christians don’t know how to be angry. The two were incompatible.

This captures the reputation of Christian music as bland and to be avoided – something that both music lovers and musicians feel, with God-loving bands avoiding the label ‘Christian rock,’ in case it damages their career.

But in the ’90s, Christian music had everything going for it. So how did it get to this?

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The Rise and Fall of Christian Rock – A Personal View: Pt 4. The Present

Wildwood Kin

In the 1970s the pioneers of Christian rock had plenty of passion and several had great talent, but rarely the resources to make polished work. When the demand grew in the following decade, outstripping supply, resources came flooding in, creating a peak of passion and professionalism, with creativity expanding to fill the gaps. But the labels began to take control and by the turn of the century, the original vision was largely squeezed out.

Just as technology (CDs) boosted the industry in the ‘80s, when people re-bought their old music in a more durable new format, technology did the opposite in the new millennium, as illegal file sharing threatened to close the industry, further pressurising Christian labels (between 1999 and 2013, the annual revenue of the global record industry dropped from around $29bn to just under $15bn).

But the same technology was a lease of life for quality artists with an established fan base. As the internet became the go-to communication channel, artists like Jars of Clay, Iona, Switchfoot and Over the Rhine formed their own labels and went straight to their audience, free of the censorship and creative interference we saw in Part 3. Most of these have thrived and released some of their best material as independents.

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