Archive for September, 2009



[Picture of Steve Vai playing Jem7]I first came across Steve Vai’s album “Passion & Warfare” in 1997, so it was four or five years old by then and had built up a huge buzz.  I got onto it seeing that Brian May of Queen regarded the opening track, “Liberty” as one of his favourites.

I then read that Vai himself described the album as “Jimi Hendrix meets Jesus Christ at a party that Ben Hur threw for Mel Blanc”. Hmm. Intriguing and worth a punt in HMV.

When I first heard the  CD, I was not immediately impressed.  What was May talking about with “Liberty”? — for anthem work you cannot beat Gary Moore, especially with Colosseum II, or The Floyd’s Dave Gilmour, come on!

It had a lot of things I just have always hated — silly narration, backwards guitar, attempts at comedy, peculiar drums and timing, and shredding for the sake of it (to name but a few). “The Audience Is Listening” has a woman pretending to be a school-teacher, talking to Steve (who “talks” through his guitar)! No! Then his kid son intros and a hispanic lady and … and… you get the picture.

So I shook my head, put the CD away to one side, and moved on with my life.

But — as such things do — Steve Vai kept coming up.  Now, I like Joe Satriani, and was surprised to discover in an article about him that he was Vai’s guitar teacher!  Then I found out that Vai was discovered by Zappa – exactly like Adrian Belew!

Vai was gaining some serious credentials!

Next up was the movie “Crossroads”…

There are various legends about musicians selling their soul to the devil in exchange for increased musical ability, one is about the exceptional violinist and composer, Niccolò Paganini who died in 1840.  Another is about Bluesman Robert Johnson who apparently sold his soul at a crossroads – and who had a secret “missing” tune. There are even rumours that Vai had gone that way himself… ooer!

The movie is about a young chap (Eugene) — played by the Karate Kid guy, Ralph Macchio — a classical guitar student who hears about Robert Johnson’s missing song and tracks down an old man and one-time friend of Johnson who says he knows it.  But Willie had sold his soul too — and needed Eugene to battle to save his soul, taking him to the crossroads.

The climax of the film is the guitar duel.  Ry Cooder played all Eugene’s music in the film, and so the duel starts off with Cooder playing Eugene’s blues/ bottleneck part against Steve Vai (as Jack Butler), the Devil’s champion — but in the end BOTH parts are played by Steve Vai (and oddly enough, some of the music was based on a Caprice by Paganini)!

embedded video of Crossroads from YouTube

That’s great fun, even if it goes against my belief that guitar playing is not competitive.

And that’s always the trouble when it comes to Mr. Vai — look at YouTube comments or guitar forums, and it’s clear that this has become a problem.  People compare Vai with Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Satriani and everyone else. Vai is accused of being too cold and calculated, lacking heart — all technique and no soul!

What bullshit…

embedded video of For The Love Of God from YouTube

So I dug out the CD of “Passion & Warfare” and jammed along, listened and got used to it, and it is wonderful!  I have even (to my utmost surprise) become accustomed to the daft bits.

As an influence on my playing, I would say that I sometimes use his pick-harmonic trick, and I now steer clear of whammy bar gargling, but that’s about all really.

Yes, Steve Vai is the shredder behind “Bill and Ted” films, but he is good with melody, sure he plays fast noodles, and overdoes everything grandly — but that is the essence, the charm of it. It’s certainly got the feel of being over-Vai-ed, in that he plays and writes too many of the parts.

I have to say that I bought his follow-up “Sex and Religion“, but that turned out to be the shortlived disappointment — despite being a proper grown-up record, complete with a band and singer! I think I would have liked another instrumental, but with some input and influence of band musicians.

Vai cites the great Allan Holdsworth as his biggest influence, and I really and truly can hear that coming through in his playing.  He also quotes as his next biggest influence, the legendary Jeff Beck (Beck was probably through Satriani and the Berkeley School). Again, once you know about this, you can hear the influence — so Vai is like a blend of Holdsworth and Beck/ Satriani.

I don’t understand the level of anger and hate that Vai attracts, and was talking about this a while back to a metal-head at work.  His theory was that resentment was down to his career moves: Vai replaced Yngwie Malmsteen in Alcatrazz, and later joined David Lee Roth when Roth split from Van Halen and went into competition with them. Although I could see that this might set Vai up in a competitive way, I have to say that Malmsteen and Eddie Van Halen are tappers — they play quite differently to Vai. Would Satriani, Beck or Holdsworth have received the same treatment? I don’ t think so!

The strangest thing of all is that I believe Steve Vai to have reached a far wider audience than most acclaimed guitarists, without resorting to playing pop (Eddie Van Halen played on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”). Additionally, Vai is at the top of the list when it comes to technique playing, especially what-is-called shredding, so he’s a massive influence on modern guitar playing — even in the development of guitars, pedals and amps, or just in that he is not playing a Fender or Gibson. He’s really put Ibanez on the top.

Anyways, I really wish he would come up with a new album to beat “Passion & Warfare” —  straight melodies and good tunes — maybe a grown up version of it would do me fine!  No need to push the bleedin’ envelope or prove something to forum quibblers!

Until then, I am stuck with one CD and movie memories.




[Picture of Frankie Boyle comedian]Frankie Boyle is brilliant.  He is the best part of “Mock The Week” — sooo acerbic!

He has a new book out soon called “My Shit Life So Far“, and I can hardly wait until 1st October (because that’s the date it will be available)! There’s no chance of seeing his run of live shows at The King’s Theatre next year as they are already sold out — but I like the fact that it’s called “I Would Happily Punch Every One of You In The Face Tour”. How “Frankie” is THAT?

Very few comedians make me laugh aloud, Frankie is one of them — and it’s guaranteed!

Embedded YouTube clip of Frankie Live at The Apollo December 2008

That’s just magic – “He looks like a sad face that somebody”s drawn on a scrotum” – sheer genius, and Abu Hamzar doing shadow puppetry with a hook for a right hand — fantastic. I don’t think he aims to be offensive, he’s just like blokes on the street in that respect — anything goes.  Most of the stuff on YouTube was cut from being broadcast.

Embedded YouTube clip of Frankie Live on “Mock The Week”

Like most comedians, once you get to know the material, you can hear the same gags re-used from time to time. But, with Frankie, it seems to me to be a two-way street; his quick-thinking wit informs his stand-up act as much as his stand-up repertoire provides gags for his on-the-spot stuff.

Where he falls down is his awareness of sensitivity — hence the legendary amount of outtakes and cuts.  I would guess that being aware of rules and suchlike would hinder his thought-processes to his detriment, so long-live Frankie Boyle’s free-flowing super-wit.

I love the reaction he gets from other comedians on “Mock The Week”; that really shows how “Out There” Frankie gets.




Eddie Izzard is my hero!  I have always enjoyed his comedy; it’s witty, clever, thought-provoking, intelligent, surprising and yadda yadda yadda.  Basically the man makes you laugh on lots of different levels.

I can remember when he first started — what an influence he was!  Even people in the street began talking like Eddie, the murmuring, the speeding up and slowing down, the drawing out of vowels, the languidity, the erudition — this was not plain “stream of consciousness” -type comedy, this was the rapids!

Embedded YouTube clip:

The man is a genius at what he does.  He unfolds a virtual world, develops it, draws you into it, until you reach a state that can only be called “glee” — all done with tricks and manipulation by a master of surprise.

Embedded YouTube clip:

I’ve been following him on Twitter ( Check out his website too:

Well, surprise of surprises Eddie has run a full length marathon every day for ages!  All round Britain for charity! How unexpected is it that this high-heeled “Action Transvestite” could run one marathon, let alone 43 in 52 days.

Sorry, but that has really blown me away; it’s so bizarre, so extreme, so altruistic, so … mental!

He has single-handedly restored some faith in humanity for me in my grumpy old age.  How inspiring, and awe-inspiring.  Eddie has actually rocked my world — and now that he’s finished, he’s off to do a 44 date comedy tour of the UK !

Like wow.




I am really enjoying the new album,Veckatimest, from Grizzly Bear. They have a website — — which you have to scroll sideways on! They played on Jools Holland’s “Later” a few months back, and were excellent live and very engaging and intriguing.

embedded video While You Wait For The Others on YouTube:

This song has been in my head for days now, it’s got a Hendrixy guitar thing, and sort-of Beach Boys vocal work — and various people reckon the Grizzlies are a bit like a LOT of bands from Badly Drawn Boy to Gomez. The music reviewers seem to prefer to compare with Fleet Foxes and Animal Collective, although I can’t see why for Veckatimest. Maybe the comparisons work better for their last album, Yellow House from back in 2006.  I know this album, but don’t like it half as much as Veckatimest!

The entire album, after a couple of play-throughs, is actually quite addictive.

The band is from Brooklyn near New York in the USA, which seems to be where-it’s-at just now.

Chris Bear plays the drums to Chris Taylor’s bass.  Taylor also experiments with mad instruments and is the producer. Everyone sings, but the two main singers also play guitar and keyboards — Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen (who is also a member of the duo “Department of Eagles”).

“Two Weeks” has a really strong piano vamp intro, and I’m pretty sure that I have heard it used in some TV commercial or something — it’s a real nag, and I wish I could remember better!

“I live With You” has haunting vocals and a Thunderclap Newman feel at times.

Overall it’s produced in a weird lo-fi fashion — sounding a bit like they have recorded tracks in their bathroom.There’s a lot of reverb and raw sounds, but that’s part of the charm — it actually sounds older than it obviously is!

They can harmonise — I like what they do on “About Face” and on the start of “Fine For Now”.

If you fancy something a wee bit different from the usual pop, but still tuneful and interesting, check out Grizzly Bear; you won’t be sorry you did!