Iron Maiden – Brave New World This album changed my entire life. I started playing the guitar the same day. More specifically, the first track, The Wicker Man changed my life. I was 13 and my brother had just picked up the single of, The Wicker Man from the bargain bin in Woolworths for a quid. I listened to it and was hooked right away. I started playing the guitar that afternoon, using a plectrum I found in the school playground that same day (fate..?) with a little help from my Dad, on his trusty/ancient classical guitar with metal strings. It was agony to play, but I loved it. By Christmas, my brother and I had persuaded our parents to get us an electric guitar an amp (it didn’t take much as they were both musicians themselves and incredibly supportive of anything we did – thanks Mum and Dad!) The bonus tracks were great too, which were taken from earlier Maiden albums. I then got busy washing the car every weekend and earning extra pocket money to buy the entire discography as quickly as possible – I think I managed it in about 6 months – they had a LOT of albums, even back in 2000. I’ve seen them live more times than I can count and got to meet founding member Steve Harris last year at a British Lion gig (his other band) – I have no idea what he said to me because I was so nervous, but I have a photo with him, so I know it happened!
Symphony X – The Odyssey I came across this band whilst I was on a concert band tour playing the Tuba in Germany, back in 2003. We had an afternoon off, so a friend and myself went and found a local record store. I had all of the Maiden albums already and wanted to try something new. I’d just gotten into Blind Guardian and a few other power metal type band thanks to my Cousin making me a mix tape and posting it down to me. I seem to remember the guy in the shop playing me 30 seconds of the first track and I loved it. It was like regular power metal on steroids and then some. I managed to catch them live some years ago supporting Dream Theater. Sickeningly good stuff!
Blind Guardian – Nightfall in Middle Earth This band were a complete revelation to me. I can remember being 16 and on GCSE study leave. My Uncle on my Mum’s side has been a record dealer for many years, hence my Cousins being very clued up and influential music wise. The mix tape I mentioned before arrived a few days before hand, which meant that my 6 weeks of exam leave were spent tracking down and listening to every Blind Guardian song that I can find, then trying to work them out on guitar too. I did fine in my exams, but I won’t be giving my daughter the same advice when she does hers … 🙂 An amazing live band with awesome use of melody in both the guitars and the vocals. They can pull of 4 part vocal harmony live too. Who else can say that?
Newton Faulkner – Hand Built By Robots This album is an absolute belter. I think I first heard Newton Faulkner back in about 2007 or thereabouts and managed to catch him live whilst I was at Uni back in 2009. He had broken his wrist not long before and used a floor organ to write that new album – when he had healed, he decided to use the floor organ as part of his live set, which added a whole other dimension to the performance. A very charismatic performer and wonderful songwriter, I got to meet him at the London Guitar Show back in 2015. I loved his use of open tunings and the percussive elements he added – it was a real eye opener to me back then.
Bruce Dickinson – Accident of Birth I had no idea that Bruce Dickinson even had a solo career until I did my work experience back in 2003. I did a week at the local record store, then a week at the local newspaper in the media department. On my lunch break I wandered into town to grab some lunch and look what new music they had in. There was a whole section just for his solo stuff, which was a real find. I phoned my Uncle when I got home and he posted me down 2 of the albums, one of them being Accident of Birth. It was, I think, the first album I ever came across where I didn’t skip a single track. It’s pretty different to Maiden, but the songwriting/metal edge/the sheer range the guy has staggered me. Still one of my favourite albums to this day.
Eiffel 65 – Europop When Tops of the Pops was still a thing, I used to listen to the Top 40 on the Radio on a Sunday evening. Then I realised they had videos on the TV show too. Eiffel 65 released their tune Blue at some point in the late 90’s, which was HUGE for quite a while. I think this was the first album I ever bought with my own money. It was pop mixed with an electronica type vibe I suppose, which
Soilwork – Figure Number Five Soilwork have been one of my favourite bands for around 10 years now. I’ve been fortunate enough to catch them list at least 4/5 times, along with meeting them in person after gigs. I think I came across Soilwork after seeing In Flames in concert in about 2005 – they come from the same area of Sweden and often appeared in each other’s videos. I picked up this album and loved the aggression of the vocals/the guitar sound in particular. Another album I still listen to every week.
Dry Kill Logic – The Dead and Dreaming These guys are a real hidden gem. A friend of mine had their first album, The Darker Side Of Nonsense back in about 2001 I think – he played me a few tracks and I got hooked pretty easily. When they released The Dead and Dreaming the vocals started to incorporate a lot more variety in terms of dynamics and harsh/clean vocals. He can really pull it off live too, which I found out on 5/6 occasions when they came to England. Really nice guys too, we hung out with them several times at gigs as they remembered us as ‘the group of guys who kept coming to see them play the same set every night, just at another venue…’ !
Andy McKee – Art Of Motion When Youtube first exploded back in 2006 (I think), I can remember shooting a live DVD with my band Smokescreen at a studio near Birmingham. The guy who was running the session showed us some videos of a guy in a pink top playing an acoustic guitar. It was the tune Drifting which uses several unconventional techniques. I’d never seen anyone do that in the flesh before, nor had I seen anyone play a Harp Guitar. This album exposed me to so many different possibilities and made me realise that an acoustic guitar can offer so much more than just strumming chords. I then saw him live on several occasions and bought a Harp Guitar in 2009. He’s a lovely guy too (I’m noticing a pattern here …) – Very mild mannered and composes beautifully lyrical melodies rather than just chucking tons of flashy techniques together.
Eric Johnson – Venus Isle Back in 2003 when I was 16, I thought I was a pretty good guitar player. I’d been playing for about 3 years and could play most of the Iron Maiden back catalogue. I decided to get some regular guitar lessons to help me diversify and soon realised (after about 15 seconds) that I wasn’t quite as good as I thought I was! I learned about jazz voicings, country, reading lead sheets and various right hand techniques that took me years to fully get my head around. It was the best wakeup call I’d ever had, which also meant that I got given a list of albums to listen to. This was one of them. His tone is just out of this world, complimented by a very soft voice and staggering orchestration. It’s my go to ‘relaxing’ album. Every track chills me out and I play one of them, Manhattan back in 2012 for my final recital at Uni when finishing my Degree in Performance. I’ve since learned that Johnson has influenced just about every guitar player, both electric and acoustic, that I listen to. After hearing this album, I understood why.
(I’m Gonna) Tell God Everything is out now.