By thunder, what a year that was! Well now’s the time to look back in pleasure rather than anger, at some memorable musical events including the concerts, albums and records that enlivened 2019. There was sadness too when many fine artists and musicians who had made their special mark in pop history, passed away.
It was a year when major rock movies hit the big screen and brought queues back to cinema box offices. Elton John’s bio epic Rocket Man was a winner and Bohemian Rhapsody the Freddie Mercury story, became the biggest selling music biography of all time. Released in October 2018, it just grew and grew throughout 2019. The premiere of a superb Jimi Hendrix documentary movie at London’s Royal Albert Hall on October 21st celebrated the 50th anniversary of the group’s concert filmed at the same venue on February 24, 1969 and proved a great audio visual experience.
There were many great ‘live’ music events too, starting with the moving tribute to the late Jon Hiseman at a memorial concert held at the O2 Shepherds Bush on February 2nd. Organised by Jon’s daughter Ana Gracey the show included a cavalcade of performers representing different facets of Hiseman’s career, including Colosseum, JCM, Barbara Thompson’s Paraphernalia and NYJO.
Ana also sang songs from her new album Wicked Games with jazzy versions of popular songs like Stay With Me, Cream, and All About That Bass. A video of Jon Hiseman soloing with double bass drums and cymbals provided a powerful climax to a memorable show.
February was a busy month with the Steve Eggs Band launching its new album We Humans with a headlining show at the Boom Boom Club in Sutton, (2nd). This was followed by Steely Dan, supported by Steve Winwood performing at the Wembley SSE Arena on the 25th. Winwood sang hits from Traffic and Spencer Davis Group days, while Donald Fagan led his band into a series of outstanding songs from classic Dan albums Can’t Buy A Thrill, the Royal Scam, Katy Lied and Count Down To Ecstasy.
In May Rick Wakeman delighted fans with his Piano Odyssey solo tour when he played in a variety of styles from ragtime to swing and the classics. His version of Sweet Georgia Brown was a great crowd pleaser, as were segments from famous hit songs he played on as a session man, notably Cat Steven’s Morning Has Broken and David Bowie’s Life On Mars.
Rick was back on stage for a wonderful revival of his mega opus Journey To The Centre of the Earth, recreated at London’s Royal Festival Hall on July 14th. Clad in a variety of glittery capes, the keyboard wizard was accompanied by the English Chamber Choir, the Orion Orchestra and English Rock Ensemble fronted by singer Ashley Holt and with Rick’s son Adam Wakeman on extra keyboards.
In the previous month legendary country guitarist Albert Lee played a dynamic set at the Half Moon, Putney with a feisty backing band. The former Thunderbird revealed his love for Buddy Holly with zippy performances of Well Alright and Rock Around With Ollie Vee before a sold out, enthusiastic crowd.
On the jazz scene critically acclaimed clarinettist Adrian Cox wowed his audience at a Loughton, Essex gig that was part of his Profoundly Blue tour. Dedicated to reviving the music of the late U.S. clarinet star Edmond Hall Adrian’s quartet also romped through an Ellington medley at the NJA sponsored concert held on September 28th.
American jazz rock guitarist, Larry Carlton has strong connections with Steely Dan among many other bands and artists who have long valued his session services. Larry made a welcome return visit to Ronnie Scott’s Club in September with his own dynamic group. He bowed politely to applause from devoted guitar fans and even forgave the MC for introducing him as ‘Larry Coryell.’
Ronnie Scott’s Club celebrated its 60th anniversary with a Gala Concert at the Royal Albert Hall in October, with guest appearances by Courtney Pine and Nigel Kennedy. Georgie Fame was due to make a farewell appearance with the Blue Flames but could not make the date, due to suffering a fall at his West Country home a few days earlier.
While the continued popularity of ‘live’ music and increased sales of vinyl LPs was a source of pleasure to pop, jazz and rock fans, there was also dismay at the number of familiar faces and heroes from the Sixties and Seventies who died during the year.
Among those who passed away was Eric Haydock (75,) bass player with The Hollies, Ted McKenna (68) drummer with Alex Harvey and Rory Gallagher, Peter Tork, bass player with the Monkees, and Keith Flint (49) vocalist with The Prodigy. We also lost American session drummer Hal Blaine, (90), Dick Dale (81) the surf rock guitar pioneer, Bernie Tormé (66) guitarist with Ian Gillan’s band and Ozzy Osbourne, Paul Raymond (73) keyboardist with UFO and session guitarist Larry Taylor (77).
Among the famous pop stars were Scott Engel (76) of Walker Brothers fame, movie actress and singer Doris Day (97), Dr. John (77) the Night Tripper and legendary Cream and Blind Faith drummer Peter ‘Ginger’ Baker’ who died aged 80 on October 5th.
We also lost blues guitarist Leon Redbone (69), Malcolm Duncan (74), saxophonist with the Average White Band and Ric Ocasek (75) singer with The Cars and Barrie Masters (63) , lead singer with Eddie & The Hotrods.
Perhaps the saddest blow of all came when the much loved Neil Innes, humorist, singer, pianist and composer, formerly of The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and the Rutles and often called the 7th member of the Monty Python team, died suddenly aged 75 on December 29th .
Maybe the sound of Neil’s Top Ten 1969 Bonzo hit I’m The Urban Space Man will now be echoing through heaven. Either that, or his guitar solo on The Canyons Of Your Mind will be creasing them up in the section labelled shirts.