@The Acoustic Music Centre, Edinburgh 24/08/2012
The Edinburgh Fringe is not renowned for its music shows, but beyond the daunting number of comedians, there are some high quality music events. While an excursion to an unknown comic may give you the blues, there were no such concerns about the standard of performance at the Acoustic Music Centre in St Brides Church with a lineup of intimate, but well attended shows including Dick Gaughan, Preston Reed and Mike Whellans. It was John Alexander that I had come to see, with a show subtitled "Dustbowl Blues with a Glasgow Kick". A solo performer and song teller, I was struck from the opening 'Saints & Sinners" by both his soulful but gritty vocals, and the honesty of his delivery. The bluesy 'Still Got a Long Way Home' was upbeat, while a topical 'It's Dangerous' featured some particularly intricate acoustic guitar playing. The performance allowed the audience to hold onto every word Alexander uttered, and this came over strongly on the atmospheric 'Going Gone'. A diverse set saw Alexander switch from 'Apologies To Woody', with its country blues flavour, to the Celtic influence of 'Bridge Of Kings'. The boundaries between these genres are vague. This was a point made by Alexander before 'Gallows Pole', a song of Scottish/Irish decent, which became a regular theme in American folklore. With a rich imagery within his lyrics to songs such as ‘This Side Or The Other’ and a likeable dry wit, Alexander is an engaging and talented performer well worthy of your exploration. Duncan Beattie
Glasgow singer follows summit gig with Fringe show
People have been playing the blues around the world for a long time but a gig at the top of an African mountain followed by a packed venue at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe must be a first.
But Glasgow blues singer John Alexander is about to do just that.
Having returned from a charity trek up Jebel Toubkal in Morocco, he is gearing up for two gigs at the capital’s annual arts festival.
Raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support, John played a specially written song at the 13,700ft mountain summit after carrying his guitar on his back.
He said: “The guide taking us up saw me carrying the guitar from the start.
“He was looking at me as if I was crazy when he realised I was planning on taking it all the way to the top. But the performance went down well, so I think the music was appreciated.”
John, a keen hillwalker, made the trip with friend Daniel McCafferty and told how it came about.
“I go hillwalking with friends and somebody said they wanted to something a bit different, a bigger trip rather than one in Scotland.
“Because the Morocco trip was something a bit different we felt we had an opportunity to raise some money for a cause.
“A few people had family that had a lot of help from Macmillan and while Daniel and I have no direct contact with the charity we decided it was really good cause.”
Used to the mist, midges and cold of Scotland’s mountains, the heat of Morocco – “a cool 42°C” said John – could have been a hindrance, but he persevered.
“I passed up the opportunity to have a mule carry my guitar because I decided that just was not in the spirit of the event,” he said.
“I also felt sure I would be spurred on by my fundraising promise to Macmillan Cancer Support to carry the guitar to the top.”
Having reached the top, John and Daniel celebrated with some Irn-Bru.
“Spot the Glaswegians,” John said with a laugh. “It was warm and fizzed up, but still tasted good.”
With the sun out and his thirst quenched, John sat and played a few songs before sitting back to listen to fellow musician Andy Robbie, of Glasgow band The 4/5s.
John said: “Once I got my breath back I played Call Me A Doctor’, the song I had penned for the trip.
“I then savoured the views as Andy took a turn on the guitar with a few tunes.”
John and Daniel have so far raised £1600 for Macmillan Cancer Support from the two-day trek but hope to get some more donations.
John is now back down in more familiar territory as has prepares for two nights at the Edinburgh Fringe.
He played the Fringe last year with two sell-out shows after receiving critical acclaim for his album, Rain For Sale.
The Fringe shows will be followed by a short tour in the Highlands before returning to Glasgow for the Americana Festival in October.
Any plans to play a regular mountain-top slot?
“I might try somewhere else,” he replied.
“I had a crazy idea to play on top of Ben Nevis, but I have already done one a few feet higher. Kilimanjaro might be next, it’s a bit colder.”
- John Alexander, Dustbowl Blues With A Glasgow Kick, Back Room of the Acoustic Music Centre, St Bride’s Centre, Orwell Terrace, Edinburgh. August 12 and 19, doors 8pm, £8 (£6 concessions).
- To make a donation to Macmillan Cancer Support visit www.justgiving.com/aintnomountain
AN EARLY and deserving contender for the 2010 Best Fringe PR Stunt Award is Glasgow bluesman John Alexander, who recently scaled the highest mountain in Morocco's Atlas range with his guitar strapped to his back to belt out his newly penned song Call me a Doctor.
There's a Youtube clip, of course, showing Alexander sitting on the 13,700ft summit of Mount Toubkal performing a twangy-and-lonesome number, mostly in this case about how he's nearly dying of exhaustion: "Well I should be, full of coffee, but I feel, like I'm dead."
Even at altitude and in the Moroccan summer heat, with temperatures of 44C, Alexander proves his worth in a strong performance. The jaunt, dubbed the Ain't No Mountain Charity Challenge, was to raise funds for MacMillan Cancer Support. After playing to sell-out crowds at the Fringe last year, he's back with "Dustbowl Blues with a Glasgow Kick," in two performances at the Acoustic Music Centre in St Brides on 12 and 19 August.
"Dustbowl Blues with a Glasgow kick” says the promo material that arrived with John Alexander’s latest album Rain For Sale. It's a perfect description because despite this unlikely geographic conflict he has conjured up a CD that has gone a long way to restoring my faith in genuine grass roots music.
There's no fancy over production where the band only meet on the 'net, this is, in the words of another notable Glaswegian, Alex Harvey, “Gamblin Bar Room Blues.” Real down to earth, down at heel, genuinely heartfelt blues.
Once you delve a little deeper you can see that John Alexander’s journey took a few twists and turns that clearly made an impression on his musical development. Trained as a classical guitarist in his native Scotland he soon found himself succumbing to the lure of the blues.
Travelling to the southern hemisphere he set up home in New Zealand, Christchurch on the South Island to be precise. It was while he was there that he released his debut album Waiting For Now. It was a rustic mix of blues, folk, and country blues that had clearly soaked up a lot of what he had heard on his travels down under and also during a trip across America.
After he had moved back to Glasgow he set about working the circuit. He has recently opened for Newton Faulkner gaining many accolades along the way. His music radiates an earthy, gritty reality with deep thinking lyrics during which his observations on life are set expertly aside his cool guitar picking style.
Rain For Sale continues along that road radiating powerful sonic images of life’s highs and lows in a mistily, wistful journey underpinned by his determination to survive.
The album opens with the “yellow moon and hound dogs” of the gently sloping slide guitar of “Making Waves”. The dark, bleak “Skin” sets the intensity that the majestic “Silver & Blue”, available as a single, continues. This is a song of passionate beauty that is expertly picked out.
“Carry Me Home” is the world weary voice of a guy who has been kicked about by life but with the ability to put those lessons into words.There is a sense of heartfelt pain on tracks such as the superb “Going Gone”. This is a song dangerously loaded with enough melancholy to leave you contemplating those episodes in your life that you really wished hadn’t happened.
He doesn’t let you off the hook with the dark clouds that hover in and around “Let Me Die”. “Bridge Of Kings” and “Rakaia” arrive as Americana country styled ballads that make the whole geography of it all totally meaningless.
Meanwhile, “Sway” underlines his song writing ability in a warm glow of waltzing late night reflection. “Nowhere To Go” and the lovely “Saints & Sinners” sit together effortlessly and gently lead the way for the country blues of the closing track “Early Rise”.
With top drawer lyrics, quality song-writing, superb guitar playing and genuine vocals Rain For Sale hits all the targets several times over. Recommended.
Q Magazine Dec 2009
So scintillating that it sounds at times you could be forgiven for losing yourself completely
Originally from Glasgow, John upped sticks and left for sunnier climbs in Christchurch, New Zealand where he found himself living for a substantial period. Whilst there, he played an untold number of gigs which increased his experience of performing live. This being his third album, his large legion of fans will surely be delighted as well as those who have yet to hear his work.
With a faster beat than some on this twelve-track release, Carry Me Home includes some rambling picking which I’m sure every country fan appreciates and wouldn’t be out of place if played on a 1970s Dire Straits album. By the first few moments of Rakaia you seem to understand what John is all about;
Picking superiority. What seems like both an acoustic guitar and banjo, the instrumental work is certainly not wasted as they are the perfect accompaniment to John’s unmistakably croaky yet by all means enticing vocals. This track is that fine it should be recorded by either an East Nashville resident or one of the Austin-based bands as it certainly deserves to be heard by as many people as possible. A quite groovy tune it is, Nowhere To Go has both blues elements about it but has the advantage of keeping true to its country and Americana roots by revving the awesome button all the way up to eleven; a toe-tapper, crowd pleaser of a song it sure is.
As John spent quite a large amount of his life earning himself a substantial number of fans in New Zealand, I’m confident that if he relocated to the land of our American cousins further and even great success would be heading his way.
Maverick Nov 09
Sunday Herald October 09
John Alexander plays acoustic blues steeped in the influence of everyone from Kelly Joe Phelps, Muddy Waters, John Martyn, Greg Brown and hints of Bruce Springsteen
Roots-blues played with passion, and recorded simply in an old church on the shores of Loch Torridon in the Scottish Highlands and a back room of a South Glasgow tenement flat see Alexander’s gritty vocal style aided by accomplished acoustic guitar picking. Plus, there is a little banjo as he repeatedly hits a noteworthy benchmark. A standard regularly achieved by the likes of Kelly Joe Phelps and UK folk blues act, Johnny Dickinson. Intimate and warm, Alexander produces a series of mighty tunes as with the ‘Going Gone’. Where his vocals possess shades of Springsteen on a good day and ‘Bridges Of Kings’ that captures the romantic beauty of where mountains meet the sea, sandy beaches and poetic imagery set to leave you transfixed.
Alexander, though Scottish through and through, had to travel to the other side of the world to New Zealand for the music that was in him to be nurtured and grow, and now it seems there is no limit to what he can do or where it may take him. Of the twelve self-penned songs ‘Early Rise’ steeped in slide guitar coupled with its persuasive melody emanating great calming qualities and a beauty you yearn to hear it again and again. Coupled the Dickinson-esque ‘Nowhere To Go’ and hot to go, guitar picked, banjo and harmony vocals boosted well textured ‘Rakaia’ are as good as it gets.
As an entire body of work ‘Rain For Sale’ has a great deal to offer — to the degree it would take a good number more lines than I have written to cover adequately.
Maurice Hope 7 out of 10
www.americana-uk.com oct 09
Guitar & Bass Magazine Dec 09
John Alexander is a roots and blues musician from Glasgow . He lived a long time in New Zealand and is an avid traveler, including the US crossed. His life and travels are documented here. These songs were recorded in a remote church on the of Loch Torridon, a beautiful lake in the Scottish Highlands, and then some songs just in the back room of a Glasgow flat.
Acoustic sound paintings are part of his travel stories, dreamy and sober, with guitar, slide, a bass and a banjo. His weathered voice reflects about his life, drawn, but especially determined to survive. The opener "Making Waves" by the slide that sounds rough in act, but in the sequel "Skin" is the root element as a rootsy banjo eight ground should. In the extremely beautiful "Silver and Blue" the dark clouds move away and really what the sun breaks through. The travels of course brings with it nostalgia, and since then we get a significant portion of, or in the folk tinged "Carry Me Home" and the more Americana-oriented "Going Home".
Also what purer traditional country influences are found in some songs like " Bridge Of Kings " and the beautiful "Early Rise”. The separate sounding "Sway" which also appears as a single, even has a catchy waltz rhythm.
John's influences to his own words: Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Dylan, Mark Knopfler, John Martyn, Greg Brown and John Butler Trio. This is indeed evident in his strong narrative style of his lyrics and beautiful guitar work. His previous releases have been well received and these new recordings, it seems that a bigger breakthrough is imminent. With "For Sale Rain" expresses John Alexander is well-folk, Americana and blues lovers. A singer-songwriter who sounds original in his approach and knows how to captivate his beautiful narrative style.
The PR man or woman the term "Dust Bowl Blues" for his music has found, hit the nail on the head, because that is the perfect name for this music, and the case gives the same atmosphere again deserted plains, long journeys, loneliness and homesickness. A perfect example of what our reviewers this is a "growth plate" call. The more spins, the better it sounds ... Convince yourself.
John Alexander is een roots en bluesmuzikant uit het Schotse Glasgow. Hij leefde lange tijd in Nieuw Zeeland en is een fervent reiziger, die ondermeer de U.S doorkruiste. Over zijn leven en reizen in die plaatsen en zijn thuisland gaan zijn "vertellingen", gestileerd in blues, folk en Americana songs. Die songs werden voor deze cd opgenomen in een afgelegen kerkje aan de rand van Loch Torridon, een prachtig mooi meer in de Schotse Highlands, en enkele songs dan weer gewoon in een achterkamer van een flat in Glasgow.
Akoestische geluidsschilderijtjes zijn het kader voor zijn reisverhalen, dromerig en sober, voorzien van gitaar, slide, een staande bas en een banjo. Zijn verweerde stem weerspiegelt zowat zijn leven, getekend, maar vooral vastberaden te overleven. De opener "Making Waves" klinkt ruig door de slide die er in fungeert, maar in de opvolger "Skin" is het hoofdelement een banjo die als rootsy achtgrond dient. In het uiterst mooie "Silver en Blue" schuiven de donkere wolken zowaar wat weg en breekt de zon door. Het vele reizen brengt natuurlijk heimwee met zich mee, en daar krijgen we vervolgens een flinke portie van, in respectievelijk het folkgetinte "Carry Me Home" en het meer Americana gerichte "Going Home".
Ook wat puurdere traditionele country invloeden vinden we terug in enkele songs zoals "Bridge Of Kings" en het prachtige "Early Rise". Het apart klinkende "Sway" dat overigens ook als single verschijnt, heeft zelfs een aanstekelijk walsritme. John's invloeden zijn naar eigen zeggen: Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Dylan, Mark Knopfler, John Martyn, Greg Brown en John Butler Trio. Dat is inderdaad duidelijk voelbaar in zijn sterke vertelstijl van zijn teksten en zijn mooie gitaarwerk. Zijn vorige releases werden al goed ontvangen en met deze nieuwe opnames lijkt het erop dat een grotere doorbraak voor de deur staat. Met "Rain For Sale" spreekt John Alexander immers zowel de folk-, Americana als bluesliefhebbers aan. Een singer-songwriter die origineel klinkt in zijn aanpak en weet te boeien met zijn prachtig vertellende stijl. De PR- man of vrouw die de term "Dustbowl Blues" voor zijn muziek gevonden heeft, sloeg de nagel op de kop, want dat is de perfecte naam voor deze muziek, en het hoesje geeft diezelfde sfeer weer van verlaten vlaktes, lange reizen, eenzaamheid en heimwee naar huis. Een perfect voorbeeld is dit van wat wij recensenten een "groeiplaat" noemen. Hoe meer draaibeurten, hoe beter het klinkt...Overtuig jezelf.
John Alexander, singer-songwriter en wereldburger, is afkomstig uit Glasgow Schotland. Hij woonde jarenlang in Nieuw Zeeland en reisde intensief door Amerika. John deelde het podium met o.a. Darrell Scott en debuteerde met Waiting For Now opgevolgd door de e.p 24/7. Met Rain For Sale toont Alexander zijn kunnen in optima forma; akoestische folk-blues in de traditie van Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, Kelly Joe Phelps en John Martyn. Intensieve beluistering van het album laat een welhaast ideale kruising tussen Phelps en Martyn horen; kristalhelder (slide)gitaarspel vergezeld van een doorleefde stem. “His (Martyn) style of playing and songwriting has had a great influence on my own style, I admired his ability to transmit raw emotion in song”
John klopt meteen krachtig op de voordeur met Making Waves, een meeslepende slide gitaarblues. De eerste seconden “muted guitar” zouden zomaar een hommage aan fellow Glaswegian Martyn kunnen zijn. Vervolgens introduceert Alexander op Skin de banjo, laat op Silver & Blue een streepje hoopvol licht aan de donkere hemel zien op een album vol “dust bowl blues.”
Going Gone is een blaartrekkende ingetogen folkballade die zich meteen in het hoofd vastzet, Bridge Of Kings klinkt daarna als een Schotse traditional van eigen makelij. Op Rakaia gaat John in gedachten terug naar het Zuidereiland, "I want you to keep Rakaia flows as it carves through the Southern Skies."
Het onweerstaanbare bitterzoete walsje Sway, één van de hoogtepunten van dit album, laat een mismoedige man horen. Nee uiteindelijk zal zij niet voor hem kiezen; she won't sway. Saints & Sinners beschrijft het eeuwige gevecht tussen goed en kwaad, dit gevecht vindt zoals altijd plaats onder één en dezelfde hemel, aldus Alexander. Op Rain For Sale is de hemel vaker donker, het waait, het stormt en striemt, zonder ook maar ergens somber te worden. Moe gestreden legt John aan het einde van het album zijn arme hoofd neer op Early Rise, "I've got to close my eyes, I've got an early rise."
Rain For Sale is een solo album in elk opzicht; Alexander bespeelt alle instrumenten. Hij nam het album deels op in een kerkje aan de “autumnal shores of Loch Torridon and the outlook from my 2nd storey sandstone tenement flat.”
Liefhebbers van emotionele akoestische folk-blues hebben er met het onweerstaanbare Rain For Sale weer een pareltje bij.
Koop dit album bij voorkeur via John's website, dit is een artiest die het verdiend om gesteund en gekoesterd te worden.
5 songs you must download