MODERN ENGLISH – ROBBIE GREY PREVIEWS UPCOMING U.S. TOUR

BY J. KENNEY

Over the summer, Limelight Magazine had the opportunity to catch British rock band Modern English in concert at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I. The band was taking part in the month long Retro Futura tour that also featured Howard Jones, Men Without Hats, The English Beat, Paul Young and Katrina (formerly of Katrina and The Waves). It was our first time seeing any of these acts live in concert.

While we were impressed by everyone’s performance, Modern English’s short set was the highlight of the entire show. Rather than stick to their ‘80s material, the band included a new song in their set called “Moonbeam” which is featured on their most recent studio album Take Me To The Trees. The song had the audience on their feet with a standing ovation. Since I couldn’t get the song out of my head, I purchased the physical CD on Amazon after the show and I’ve been playing it non-stop ever since. The album had such an impact on me that I also purchased their other studio albums, including some from private sellers on E-bay.

Take Me To The Trees is the band’s first studio album in 30 years and features four-fifths of the original lineup. The album reconnects the band to their roots, as it was co-produced bv Martyn Young of Colourbox and M/A/R/R/S fame, whose last production job was 1986. The album’s cover was also done by Vaughan Oliver, whose first sleeve design was Modern English’s “Gathering Vibes” single in 1980.

Modern English is currently rehearsing for a fall tour of the U.S. that will hit ONCE Ballroom in Somerville, Mass., on November 13th. (Purchase tickets HERE). Despite his busy schedule, lead singer and guitarist Robbie Grey, who has been part of every incarnation of the band, answered some questions Limelight Magazine had for him about the Take Me To The Trees album and tour.

MODERN ENGLISH’S TAKE ME TO THE TRESS IS THEIR MOST RECENT STUDIO ALBUM AND FEATURES FOUR-FIFTHS OF THE ORIGINAL LINEUP.

LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE (LM): According to the band’s Facebook page, Modern English is currently rehearsing for their upcoming tour of the US. How are rehearsals going so far?

ROBBIE GREY: The rehearsals are going well. It’s great to be playing a mixture of really early Modern English material with the new album and figuring out how to arrange the set.

LM: Earlier this year, Modern English released its first album in over 30 years with four-fifths of the original line up. How was recording this album with this line-up different than recording your first three studio albums?

ROBBIE GREY: “Well we did the new album in our own art studio space using the art gallery as the live room. Before we always used recording studios. Also, using the music program logic was new to us. Recording over a couple of years was new as we could never afford that before using professional studios.”

LM: Do you have a favorite song off Take Me To The Trees and why is it your favorite?

ROBBIE GREY: “Trees” is my favourite. It reminds me of a film soundtrack. It’s very cinematic. I love the arrangement of the instrumentation. Also the lyric is very nature based. I like that.

LM: Take Me To The Trees was a PledgeMusic supported album. Why did the band choose to take this approach?

ROBBIE GREY: It’s the new way. Great to touch base with our fans. We were surprised after all the time away to do so well with the Pledges. We had a lot of control which was a real bonus.

LM: Does recording new music through a fan driven campaign create more or less pressure on the band than having the support of a record label to produce a hit single?

ROBBIE GREY: It’s a lot less pressure I think. No record company means no interference.

LM: Speaking of the new album, Take Me To The Trees is one of your best. I’ve played it non-stop since buying it on Amazon. At this point in time, do you know how much of the new album will be part of the set list for the upcoming US tour?

ROBBIE GREY: “Trees,” “Sweet Revenge,” “Moonbeam” will all be featured on the tour.

LM: As for the older songs, will you primarily focus on material from Mesh & Lace, After The Snow and Ricochet Days with the original line up or will there be songs from Stop Start, Pillow Lips, Everything Is Mad and Soundtrack as well?

ROBBIE GREY: The shows will feature songs from Take Me To The Trees, in addition to early 4AD singles and tracks from Mesh and Lace’ and After the Snow.

LM: I got to see you perform for the first time this summer in Providence, RI, on the Retro Futura tour. One of the highlights of your set was hearing “Moonbeam” from Take Me To The Trees. You were the only band to play a new song and the audience loved it. Many bands at retro shows typically stay away from performing new songs but you included one in your set. How do you feel when the audience appreciates your new music just as much as what you created in the past?

ROBBIE GREY: We agreed to the Retro Futura tour only if we could play new material. “Moonbeam” fit into the short set really well. People really liked it. Always good when new stuff goes down well.

LM: You’ve had various lineups of Modern English over the years. What makes recording and performing with this core group of individuals different than the rest?

ROBBIE GREY: It’s the original band. Always had a magic about it. There’s no comparison really. Get us in a music room and it works.

LM: You may have been asked this before but looking back on your long career with Modern English, what has been one of the biggest highlights for you personally?

ROBBIE GREY: “We just picked up an award in London for 5 million radio plays for “I Melt With You.” More than Bowie’s “Changes” and ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” I mean that’s pretty good!

LM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

ROBBIE GREY: We always just want to make music. We’re still very creative. It’s an exciting feeling. I hope people can see that.

MODERN ENGLISH (PHOTO BY NIKOLAI PUC’ PHOTOGRAPHY)
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The Cassette Chronicles – Night Ranger’s ‘Big Life’

BY JAY ROBERTS (SPECIAL TO LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE)

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s that I have acquired through Purchase Street Records in New Bedford, MA.

The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from the 1980’s through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums.

These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

NIGHT RANGER – BIG LIFE (1987)

For the third and presumably final spotlight feature on a Night Ranger album, it is time to check out the Big Life album. It is 30 years on from its initial release and aside from the inclusion of the soundtrack title cut for the Michael J. Fox comedy film The Secret of My Success, this is a mostly disappointing album.

The first side of the album has just four songs and after checking them out I asked myself two questions. The first was how did this album ever go gold? The second question was why would anyone want to listen to these four songs ever again?

Despite featuring the requisite melodic hooks you’d likely come to expect from the band, the songwriting felt so flat and uninspired that the biggest point of interest came from the song “Rain Comes Crashing Down” and that is because the title conjures up an image in my mind that the song didn’t really match. There’s a bit of an attempt at giving the musical soundtrack to the song a cinematic vibe but it just doesn’t come fully together.

The second side comes off a little better. It opens with the “The Secret Of My Success” from the movie I mentioned above. The song was co-written by David Foster (one of three people to garner a production credit on the album along with the band themselves) and it has all the hallmarks of an 80’s movie soundtrack hit. It’s got a heavy keyboard influence running throughout the song while a rocking guitar line competes for your attention. The vocals are very up in your face during the chorus as well.

The song “Carry On” is a pretty kicking rocker with a simply outstanding guitar cut powering the song. I thought “I Know Tonight” was an understated gem of a rocker though I think that is mostly due to enjoying another standout guitar line, but it also had a smartly crafted lyrical performance as well.

The other two songs on side two are mediocre at best and did nothing to fire the musical imagination for me at all.

The band’s commercial fortunes were definitely on the wane with this album and I can certainly understand why. You have to wade through an astonishingly large amount of filler to find the diamonds in need of a polish. It is certainly to the band’s credit that their songwriting feels so much stronger these days than here on Big Life.

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Note of Interest: Vocalist Kevin Chalfant is credited with providing backing vocals on the album. He fronted the bands 707 and The Storm and was once targeted to be Steve Perry’s replacement in Journey though it never came to fruition.

The Comedy Connection to Throw “Chuck and Brad’s Halloween Spook-Tacular” Comedy Show

Local comedians Brad Rohrer and Chuck Staton have a podcast, “Agreeing to Disagree: The Chuck and Brad Podcast,” and their unique stage show is being completely transformed into a Halloween show on Wednesday, October 25, at the Comedy Connection in East Providence, R.I.

“We feel like there’s a lack of true Halloween events for adults,” host Chuck Staton said. “Going to a club dressed as Jason Voorhees can be fun. But do decorations and themed-drinks really make it feel like Halloween?”

Chuck and Brad are doing an entire night of comedy dedicated to celebrating Halloween. “It will be for fans of something like the Simpsons’ ‘Treehouse of Horror’ episodes. It’s stand-up comedy, sketch, audience participation, pranks – all the different types of comedy we normally do, but we’re making it all based around celebrating Halloween” said host Brad Rohrer.

The event will feature Chuck and Brad on-stage for most of the night, with stand-up sets by Liz Moniz, Derek Furtado, and Ray Harrington.

The show will end with the debut of a Halloween prank on Brad Rohrer from classic prank artist Chuck Staton. Is Brad nervous about this? “I’m a mouse of a man!” said Rohrer.

For more information, click HERE and check out their promotional video. For tickets, please contact Chuck at chuckandbrad@gmail.com.

The Cassette Chronicles – Vixen’s ‘Vixen’

BY JAY ROBERTS (SPECIAL TO LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE)

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s that I have acquired through Purchase Street Records in New Bedford, MA.

The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from the 1980’s through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums.

These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

VIXEN – VIXEN (1988)

I had a different album in mind for this week’s article, but as sometimes happens when dealing with cassettes of a certain vintage, the player ate the tape. I struggled for a few days to pick a new album to feature and finally thought of some of the new CDs I had reviewed so far this year. I ended up thinking of the Janet Gardner solo CD and remembered that I had a copy of this self-titled debut album from the band she fronted both then and now. It was a pretty easy decision from that point forward.

Now I know the band isn’t exactly seen as being up there in the hall of great 80’s bands, but I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t enjoy them at the time and place they occupied back then. Hell, after their second album I even joined their official fan club. Remember those? Send away to join and get a packet of stuff in the mail. I choose to believe the band was in the midst of breaking up already but it was a bit odd that I received my packet about a week or so before the news broke they’d broken up back in 1991. I swear it wasn’t my fault! At least my membership fee got refunded though.

While the album suffers from an over produced sound that was at least partly a sign of the times, there are some gems here that I’d forgotten about alongside their two best known songs.

As was the case for a lot of bands, the album’s big single led off the track list. And I don’t care what anyone says, I really love “Edge Of A Broken Heart”. While it was written by pop singer Richard Marx and Fee Waybill from The Tubes, the band does sell it as if they were the originators of the track.

The first side of the album is where the strength of the album lies. While the song title for “I Want You To Rock Me” is pretty much a cliche that sums up a lot of the songs from the 80’s metal movement, it is fueled by a strong drum backing that gives it a heavy sound than you might expect.

The band’s second single was “Cryin'” and it manages to straddle the line between ballad type lyrics and a faster musical pace throughout. I’m not sure if that technically falls under the heading of power ballad or not but however you define it, I enjoy the song. The same can be said for Vixen’s performance of the Jon Butcher song “American Dream”. I don’t know what Butcher’s fans might have to say about it but I don’t rightly care all that much either. I liked the track as is, though I do plan to seek out and hear the original Butcher recording for comparison’s sake.

The closing song on Side 1 is “Desperate” and it sums up the feeling I got about the song as it completely falls flat.

As for the second half of the album, it gets off to a very rocky start with “One Night Alone” and “Hell Raisers”. The songs may drop the hammer as far as pacing goes but they also drop the ball in regards to having songs that stand the test of time. For the latter of the two songs, I need someone to explain how it took seven credited songwriters to come up with a song that was just so pedestrian and run of the mill.

In fact, the songwriting credits might be a big factor in the band being seen as a little bit of a packaged product. Of the 11 songs on the album, the band is credited with four co-writes (including as a band on “Hell Raisers”) and the song “Waiting” is credited as a collaboration between singer Gardner and guitarist Jan Kuehnemund. Everything else is written by outside writers. I don’t know if it meant anything then but looking back I wonder if the fact that all the outside writers were men was a factor at all.

The song “Love Made Me” is the best of the six tracks on Side 2 even though found the chorus to be a bit too high pitched for my own personal tastes. Oh, and I should mention that I liked “Cruisin'” as well.

Overall, Vixen isn’t a half bad album. It might not set your heart aflutter throughout but it is nice to pull out of the collection and give it a listen once in a while and remind yourself of that late 80’s sound you loved back then.

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Notes of Interest: Guitarist Jan Kuehnemund died of cancer in October 2013. The remaining three members (Gardner, drummer Roxy Petrucci and bassist Share Pedersen) continue the band to this day with current guitarist Britt Lightning.

Spencer Proffer co-wrote and produced the song “Hell Raisers”. He also produced the songs “One Night Alone” and “American Dream”. For those that don’t remember, he was the producer of Quiet Riot’s smash hit album Metal Health, the first heavy metal album to hit the #1 spot on the charts.

Current Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell is thanked in the liner notes for the album for the guitar duet on “Desperate”. Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big), Jeff Pilson (Dokken), Carmine Appice and Kevin Dubrow (Quiet Riot) also get name dropped in the thanks section.

The Cassette Chronicles – Night Ranger’s ‘7 Wishes’

BY JAY ROBERTS (SPECIAL TO LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE)

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s that I have acquired through Purchase Street Records in New Bedford, MA.

The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from the 1980’s through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums.

These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

NIGHT RANGER – 7 WISHES (1985)

The second and final of Night Ranger’s platinum selling albums (the band’s third studio release overall), 7 Wishes, showcases the band still at the heights of their commercial peak. The album contains three hit songs that have become staples for any kind of best of collection that might be put together for the band.

The biggest thing I discovered about this album while listening to it is that beyond the hit singles, I never actually listened to this album. I figured that out because I have no memory of the rest of the album’s track listing. So, while I was a huge fan of the hits and their previous smash hit album Midnight Madness, I guess I had kind of already started tuning out the band or something.

Speaking of those hits, they are all really good in their own right. I did notice that when I listened to “Sentimental Street” that it didn’t quite have the same grip it did when it was a charting song. Luckily, both “Four In The Morning” and “Goodbye” remained as strong as always in my mind. The latter song is still perhaps my favorite power ballad from Night Ranger outside of “Sister Christian.” Hell, at times I might even find myself preferring it instead.

Despite those noteworthy tracks, the album is chock full of interesting music. The opening song is the title track (though it is spelled “Seven Wishes”). It gets the album off to a charged pace and the song has an instantly gratifying sound.

I didn’t care for how the opening of “Faces” was constructed but once you get into the song, things get a lot better. In the case of “I Need A Woman,” the song was hit and miss throughout. It had some good moments throughout but it never really got all tied together well enough to be a song that resonates well.

Side two opens with the killer rocker “This Boy Needs To Rock.” I can’t remember ever hearing this song so it was a little bit of a new discovery for me. I shouldn’t be all that surprised that this is probably the most aggressive sounding song on the album given that Brad Gillis co-wrote it. Meanwhile, the track “Interstate Love Affair” unintentionally made me think instead of the Stone Temple Pilots song “Interstate Love Song.”

I found myself enjoying the album a whole lot. Jack Blades displayed a strong touch in the songwriting on this album as he either wrote or co-wrote each of the 10 tracks. The melodies were strong and when the band cut loose and rocked out they really had the chops to do it right.

As I listened to this cassette, I found myself thinking back to when this album would’ve been released. I was 14 years old and really still in my rock and roll fandom infancy. It was a nice reminder of my own musical roots while at the same time revisiting the band’s heights. I know each generation has their own perfect musical era, but for my money nothing is ever going to top the 1980’s, whether rock, pop or metal the decade had a little bit of everything for everyone and Night Ranger spent a few years right there in the middle of it all.

The best thing is that each time I listen to a Night Ranger album that I missed out on the first time around, it makes me like the band even more while simultaneously cursing myself for missing out on the release originally.

Note of Interest: Motley Crue’s Vince Neil and Tommy Lee are listed as providing background vocals on the song “Night Machine.”

Scenes from the ‘Bowie by Mick Rock’ exhibit

On September 2, 2017, Limelight Magazine visited the Bowie by Mick Rock exhibit at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, WA. This exhibit featured 65 of Rock’s photographs that captured David Bowie’s creativity and charisma, from dressing room shots of his transformation into Ziggy Stardust and live performances to private moments between gigs. Here are some photos taken by Limelight Magazine at the event.

The Cassette Chronicles – The Pretenders ‘Learning To Crawl”

BY JAY ROBERTS (SPECIAL TO LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE)

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s that I have acquired through Purchase Street Records in New Bedford, MA.

The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from the 1980’s through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums.

These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

THE PRETENDERS – LEARNING TO CRAWL (1984)

I don’t know about anyone else, but there are groups I tend to refer to as my “radio bands.” By that I mean, I love hearing them on the radio but haven’t really felt moved to actually buy their albums, or perhaps I might own a greatest hits compilation at best. Pink Floyd and Rush are probably the two bands that fall into this classification. Despite the fact that I always liked to hear Chrissie Hynde when she appeared on radio interview shows like Rockline because she seemed like a pretty captivating personality, you can also add The Pretenders to that list. Well, until now anyway.

I’ve heard the group’s stuff on the radio for years, from their first album hit “Brass In Pocket” to the five songs on Learning To Crawl that have become classic rock radio standards over the 33 years since the album was originally released. But I just never got up the desire to purchase any of the albums. It also left me a bit ignorant about the origins of at least a couple of the songs.

After the first two albums from the band, they suffered the losses of bassist Pete Farndon (fired in 1982 over his growing drug abuse, he died in 1983 after an overdose) and guitarist Jim Honeyman-Scott (died from drugs two days after Farndon’s firing). This left the remaining original members, vocalist Chrissie Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers a bit adrift. They released some singles after the lineup changes but it was two years before a full album was released.
As I said, there are five songs on Learning To Crawl that are rock radio staples nowadays. Sadly, the rest of the songs on the album mostly did nothing for me. I did find that I liked the country tinged aspect of the song “Thumbelina” but that was about it.

But when you have songs like “Middle of the Road”, “Back On The Chain Gang”, “Show Me”, “My City Was Gone” and “2000 Miles” on the same album, you’ve done pretty well for yourself. “Middle of the Road” is probably the most rocking song of the bunch, fast paced with an edge that should come as no surprise to those that are long term Pretenders fans. I think “Show Me” is a bit underrated despite it being one of the band’s better known songs.

While “My City Was Gone” was originally released as the B-side to “Back On The Chain Gang” in 1982, both songs on the album here ensured they got more of a look-see on their own merits. It goes to show how either stupid or memory challenged I am because I have gone a long time thinking the song was called “Back To Ohio.” Yes, stupid and a bit embarrassing to admit.

In researching the album online for this article, I also learned, after all this time, that “2000 Miles” which has always seemed like a Christmas song given its lyrics (and the fact that it gets played a lot on the radio during the holiday season), is instead a song about the death of Honeyman-Scott. Written by Chrissie Hynde, it was released originally as a single in 1983, the year after the guitarist’s death. Being new information to me, it gives a new spin on the song.

I don’t know that finally taking the plunge and listening to a full album from The Pretenders will make me run out and buy their entire discography but it has changed my outlook on the band as a whole. While I can’t say much in the way for the lesser known material on the album, Learning To Crawl’s five hits went a long ways towards cementing the band’s place in rock and roll history. It has also peaked my interest for what else I might’ve missed out on from the band.

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Notes of Interest: The album was reissued in 2007 with seven bonus tracks comprised of live tracks and demos.

The cover of the Persuaders song “Thin Line Between Love And Hate” featured singer Paul Carrack on both vocals and piano. Carrack has played with Squeeze, Roger Waters and has his own solo career. He’s perhaps best known as the singer for Mike & The Mechanics where he sang lead on their two biggest hits “Silent Running (On Deadly Ground)” and “The Living Years.”

Music and entertainment coverage since October 2006!