‘Sick of this life/not that you’d care/I’m not the only one/with whom these feelings I share’
‘Sick of this life/not that you’d care/I’m not the only one/with whom these feelings I share’
‘I don’t need your civil war/it feeds the rich while it buries the poor’
Gemma Hayes: I’ve been in love with Gemma Hayes since I first heard Let A Good Thing Go way back in 01/02. It just so happened then that the first time I saw her live was at my first visit to the Glastonbury Festival. She put on a terrific afternoon show featuring one of my favourote live moments ever.
To set the scene- some live performers fly through their set without giving the audience a second thought, while others put on a bombastic show with a ‘Hello, Wembley’ here or there. Others though are happy to chat and banter with the crowd, and depending on the size and drunkeness of the crowd, and the confidence of the performer, this does not always end well. By afternoon the many thousands were already 3/4’s cut thanks to various cider mixtures, but the glorious sunshine and kick ass music kept everyone happy. Gemma is known to be quite chatty during performances, often answering questions and comments shrieked at her, but for this performance one bald, rugby player looking type kept heckling her. Nothing offensive, you understand, and everyone was taking it in a good natured way. It started from the usual chanting of ‘you rock!!’ and somehow moved onto the subject of booze. He was shouting questions at her, and she was laughing and answering, until the question of drinking whiskey came up. Gemma made some comment about enjoying whiskey every now and then and the crowd thought that would be the end of it. But no; materializing from nowhere (as frequently happens at Glastonbury) a bottle of Whiskey appeared which baldy proceeded to the stage with. Offering Gemma a drink, she obliged and sunk a shot to the rapturous applause and ‘chug chug chugs’ of the crowd. I got (non-digital) photos which I must find and upload.
I’ve seen Gemma 3 other times around Belfast, and each time there is similar interaction with the audience. She is always super friendly, chatty, and most importantly consistently brilliant. Many of her album tracks are soft, gentle, breathy affairs, but when played live they can transform into either a distorted rock/noise fusion or cuttingly tender moments. Live renditions of Hanging On are always raccuous, while gentle pieces like Easy On The Eye and Evening Sun are pin-dropping. I can only implore any readers out there to grab her albums and catch her if she’s playing anywhere within 200 miles of your house. For now, here’s a Belfast pic:
Guns ‘n’ Roses: The first band I ever got into, back when I was 6 or 7 or younger, G’n’R introduce me to guitars, rock, metal; basically they introduced me to music and shaped by tastes as a music lover. Of course, by the time I was of the age to start attending concerts, the band I loved was long gone. Rumours of Chinese Democracy and reforming were brought up every year, but aside from the odd movie single or South American live show, nothing ever happened. Until it did happen. G’N’R arrived in Dublin in a fury of hype- was Axl popping off to an oxygen tent between songs, what special guests were there, would they even show on time etc etc. I made my way down on The Venue bus, met up with some friends, and watched as Axl and the gang came on stage right on time. Blasting through every song you could wish for (except my all time favourite Think About You) it was about as perfect a gig as you could expect from the new line up. There was the usual banter, a few tracks from the then unreleased Chinese Democracy were played, and a great time was had by all. The RDS is a bit of a duff venue (pardon the double pun) but even that couldn’t take anything away from a special night and day.
David Gray: I never got David Gray. I mean I understand that bland, inoffensive music has it’s place but just not anywhere near my ears. Of course, i’m probably missing something given the acclaim of albums like White Ladder, but anytime I see that head bopping from side to side I get a sudden urge to pop it off. Likewise, that awful Babylon song has caused my ears to vomit on at least 3 separate situations. So why did you see him live then, asshole, you may rightly ask. Well, Glastonbury again, and my friends were casual fans. I thought I would give him a chance. Like Coldplay, Gray can perform and whip up the crowd, but when all it takes to whip up a crowd of his fans is a couple of head bops that isn’t really saying much. I’m sure many people who were there would say it was a great gig- a variety of hits were played, blah blah bland. Yeah, not my sort of thing.
The Gathering: Phew, we can finish on a high. Honestly, I didn’t know a lot about The Gathering when I saw them at Glastonbury (but they have since become my favourite band on the strength of that performance). I knew of them, I knew that the were a female fronted metal band, and I think I may have heard Leaves and Strange Machines before but hadn’t paid too much attention. They were touring as promotion for new album Souvenirs which saw a further departure from the style of music which made them famous. I saw quite far back from the stage for the whole show and let the dark, ambient moods flow through my soul. The weaving of the melodies with Gilmour-esque guitars, foreboding bass, and of course the nearest-thing-to-God-on-Earth vocals of Van Giersbergen were a revelati0n. Suffice to say, when I got back to normality I snapped up every album, starting with Souvenirs and was hooked. All there is left for me to say is- buy any of their albums now- I’d recommed Mandylion, How TO Measure A Planet, or Sleepy Buildings to start. All epic, all different, all the best thing you’ll ever hear.
For anyone who reads this list I’m sure there will be a mixture of disgust, appreciation, and annoyance. Good, make your own list. I’ve tried to include a few tracks from every album and while Chinese Democracy is still fresh in my mind and hasn’t exactly stood the test of time yet, this is a fairly accurate current list. If I was doing it by importance, or how much I’ve adored the individual songs over my life then there wouldn’t be any CD or TSI tracks here, and additional ones from AFD and UYI. As always, feel free to comment, ridicule, and provide your own favourites.
Just a note on GNR – they were the first band I ever got into, and everything I’ve listened to since then has been because of the impact they had on my early life. They looked so fucking cool, they swore, they fought, they were smart, pissed off, and they could play the most raw, amazing music at break-neck, effortless speed – everything an 8 year old boy could want. Before then my music was limited to Michael Jackson devotion and whatever crap was in the charts, but suddenly I was on my way to a life of hard rock, grunge, metal, and eventually everything else good. Soon I was learning guitar, writing music, djing in metal bars, and having groupies praise me for simply breathing. So thanks GNR, especially for the songs below.
36. You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory (The Spaghetti Incident): A fine dedication to Johnny Thunders and one of few songs worth mentioning on the ill-fated The Spaghetti Incident. Like most of their covers, this is given the G’n’R crunch, and is notable for being one of the few tracks that Duff has lead vocals on. It’s a fairly tame song in comparison with the rest of the punk overhauls elsewhere but one of only a handful you’re likely to return to.
35. Cornshucker (Lies): Ok, this didn’t see an official release, but if you’re a fan you owe it to yourself to hear it at least once, if only to hear the original line-up sounding like they used to, and enjoying it. An incredibly juvenile song, about anal sex, the whole band get in on the act -singing, shouting, so it sounds more like an orgy than a song.
34. Ain’t It Fun (TSI): A seering cover of a little known punk classic, Axl and Hanoi Rocks guest Michael Monroe compete in whispers and growls and conspire to make a self-fulfilling prophecy concerning the near-future of the band.
33. So Fine (Use Your Illusion II): Another Duff tribute to Johnny Thunders, this is as gentle as GNR would ever get, even if they still manage to rock in the chorus. A largely piano-led track, it sounds like an early crossover of Civil War and Knockin On Heaven’s Door taking ideas and cues from both tracks to create a strong standalone.
32. Shadow Of Your Love (Lies): Another unreleased one, Shadow is another breathless early track, filled with fury and that exciting exhuberence which marked the band apart from others on the scene at the time. Axl’s yelp is on full form, the chugging power chords and thunderous drums compete for prime place, and there is a nice bluesy, tipsy solo.
31. Since I Don’t Have You (TSI): Just to top off the weirdness of TSI the first song off the album is a cover of a gentle 50s soother and the video stars Gary Oldman chasing the band around a swimming pool. Imagine Dirty Dancing starring Guns n Roses and you won’t be too far away from understanding the song. It has a charm, but I remember when I first heard it I thought the band were buggered. Turns out they were. Still good though.
30. Dead Horse (Use Your Illusion I): I’ll probably say this a lot on this list, but a number of songs get easily lost under the sheer mass of the UYI albums. Dead Horse is one of those, but it warrants a re-visit thanks to a sneering attitude similar to 80s GNR and it doesn’t suffer from the overblown nature of many other tracks spread over the double disc. Great intro, rockin’ verse and chorus, good stuff.
29. Locomotive (UYI): Probably the forgotten epic of the two UYI albums, this is a hard-rockin, bluesy rambler with a few thousand too many lyrics, and one which does fittingly feel like being both on, and pummelled by a Locomotive. The song builds and repeats itself over the course of over 6 minutes before stumbling brilliantly into one of the most perfect breakdowns you’ll ever hear; the bass and drums fall away to the sound of Axl’s dying wail, and all are replaced by a wonderfully dark piano and lead guitar led piece. Axl comes back in with a single mournful line while the rest of the band eventually re-group and jam for the remaining couple of minutes.
28. Prostitute (Chinese Democracy): Chinese Democracy is definitely a strong one; a misunderstood work of myriad genres and ideas, and unquestionably weaker than the band’s high points. Nevertheless, it’s still Guns N Roses (of a sort) and is a powerful album at times. A love song entitled Prostitute ends the album, and while Axl’s new vocals sound bizarre if listening as a standalone, if listening to the album as a whole you should be well used by now. With dancey drums, a groovy string section, and the albums soaring guitars, this is a great track. A self-mocking lyric (which Axl is so good yet) and a merging of crushing volume and tenderness, as well as a beautiful final 90 seconds mean this is a stong end to the album.
27. This I Love (CD): While many of the heavier songs on CD don’t hit the mark, most of the quieter songs do. This tear-jerker would be cheesy if Axl didn’t sound so earnest and broken. It’s another hair-ripping song of love slipping away, set to Axl’s lonely piano piece, more subtle strings and woodwind than you would expect from the band, and broke up by a bruising guitar section. This I love indeed.
26. Mr Brownstone (Appetite For Destruction): Probably the first song on the list that the more casual fan will recognise, this effortlessly cool depiction of addiction and excess is both brutal and engaging. The problem with music this good is that it’s so easy (sorry (sorry)) to ignore the words/message (if there is one). Like much of AFD this is iconic stuff – the opening moments and the main riff are the stuff of rock legend, Axl struts through the verses and shrieks the choruses like a man possessed, while the rhythm guys keep everything in check.
25. My Michelle (AFD): One of the lesser known tracks from AFD this is another sordid tale of the wrong side of the tracks, with down-and-out characters sctratching and biting their way to the top, or if not the top, their next easy ride or hit. More lyrical brilliance from Rose is mirrored by huge 80s guitars and drums. It’s a groovy cousin to Mr Brownstone.
24. Nice Boys (Lies): A belter, this one is played at a billion miles an hour, with all the hunger and frenzy of a murderer on the run. The lyrics are the usual early Guns stuff, not that you’ll make them out anyway, it highlights the band’s punk roots whilst showcasing their ability to make a dying genre insteresting again.
23. Reckless Life (Lies): Like its partner above, this is a live stormer with an Iron Maiden intro, Aerosmith swagger, and carefree, reckless attitude, all thrusted into our stomachs like a spear from a Rhino. It’s fast, the melodies are saved for the chorus, and Axl is at his blistering best.
22. Knockin On Heaven’s Door (UYI): A wonderful cover of a dreary Dylan classic, this is more touching than any other version, though we could do without the reggae live version please. For a while, GNR were masters of overturning songs and making their covers the definitive version – here the blending of somber verses, triumphant choruses, and big guitars stand proud.
21. Back Off Bitch (UYI): This is one of those songs which is rarely played live, or remembered, but it really could have been a single. Sure, there is the usual misogynist edge, but show me a GNR song which doesn’t have something distasteful, even in their singles. It’s short enough to have been a hit, it’s punchy, has a singalong chorus, although I’m sure there would need to be an unfortunate radio edit. It sounds like a missing track from AFD, and the song was around for a few years before it was released. A quick search on youtube will turn up some early versions from around ’87-88.
20. Madagascar (CD): Long before Chinese Democracy was ever released (and it still feels strange saying it has been) this was the song everyone was talking about. For fans of their more epic stylings, this was supposed to be the follow-up to their biggest and best songs, a new Kashmir, a new November Rain. While it doesn’t hit those heights, it is still a strong song. I only wish it had been recorded when Axl’s voice was at it’s peak, as I’m not sure it suits his new vocals. It starts off with great promise, with those somber trumpets sounding potent and sorrowful. Indeed, I think that introduction is the best moment in the song. Axl adds a great tormented strain to his vocals here, but it sounds a little too rough rather than natural. We weave through the verses and choruses before hitting a breakdown filled with samples and soundbites at 3 minutes, including a reminder of Civil War. This section has some good moments too, and it’s an interesting addition to their catalogue, and here it sounds most like Kashmir with an oriental style string backing and wirey guitars. I think after this section there should have been something new, something to take the song into a different direction for a couple of minutes, but instead we just get the chorus and end. It’s a good song, but after it was built up so much I feel it is missing something to make it truly great.
19. Get In The Ring (UYI): A critic’s favourite this. Axl’s ego goes into overdrive as he imagines, Uwe Boll style, kicking the crap out of all of the enemies of the band inside a wrestling ring – critics, reviewers, haters in general, all those opposed. I have a nostalgic fondness for this one, as it was always good fun to snicker along to it whenit was played in the car with my parents. Sometimes they would turn it off and spark and arguement. It was the first song I heard which contained so much swearing, and even now it takes some beating. Sure it’s puerile and juvenile, but the band did have a point – being a target for all manner of criticism, much of it unwarranted. Luckily, the song is filled with strong melodies and kick-ass music, so you can lookpast all the mother-fuckers and bitchy little asses. There is a strong, bluesy introduction before the song quickens and gets into it’s stride, and similarly the outro is memorable. A solid all round rock monster.
18. Double Talkin Jive (USI)
17. Civil War (UYI)
16. Live And Let Die (UYI)
15. Street Of Dreams (CD)
14. Welcome To The Jungle (AFD)
13. You Could Be Mine (UYI)
12. Catcher In The Rye (CD)
11. Sweet Child O Mine (AFD)
10. Better (CD):
9. Estranged (UYI):
8. Nightrain (AFD):
7. Don’t Cry (UYI):
6. Paradise City (AFD):
5. Coma (UYI):
4. Rocket Queen (AFD):
3. Patience (Lies):
2. November Rain (UYI):
1. Think About You (AFD):
Feel free to ridicule or praise my list, offer some comments, and share your top ten.
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