Saturday, 10 November 2007

In Concert: The Blues Band, Newport Riverfront, 2007

The Blues Band arrived at Newport Riverfront on Friday night with two sets worth of classic Rhythm and Blues tracks.

Paul Jones, Dave Kelly, Tom McGuinness, Gary Fletcher and Rob Townsend now in their 29th year as an ensemble, delivered over two hours of classic blues and original compositions from group and solo albums.

Paul Jones, ever ‘the one in the middle’ displayed an unfaltering broad vocal range, as well as an impeccable style for playing the mouth organ. It was easy to see why, when performing songs by Sonny Boy Williamson and Curtis Mayfield how he has remained at the top of his field for over 40 years.

Jones didn't sing all the lead vocals however, these were shared out with other Blues Band members Dave Kelly, Tom McGuinness and Gary Fletcher, all whom performed tributes to Ray Charles, Arthur Crudup and Howlin' Wolf among others.All delivered an extremely high standard of performance, while Rob Townsend kept a steady beat on drums and percussion.

Instrumental highlights included McGuinness’s guitar solo’s (of which one he performed while balancing guitar on his shoulder back) and a phenomenal drum solo from Townsend in the encore. All in all, a fantastic concert to end the week in which you could rock, roll and ultimately chill out. Let’s hope the Blues Band return to Newport for their 30th anniversary tour!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

On Stage: Dad's Army - The Missing Episodes. New Theatre, Cardiff

On seeing Dad’s Army: The Lost Episodes starring former EastEnder Leslie Grantham and Emmerdale’s Peter Martin, I could almost hear a distant John Le Mesurier as Sgt Wilson asking “Do you think that’s wise?”

Being a lifelong fan of the Dad's Army TV series, Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s adventures of Walmington-On-Sea’s Home Guard still tickle my funny bone decades on from their original broadcast, but certain rewrites in places could have made this stage presentation flow a lot smoother than it did, particularly between episodes.

Leslie Grantham does shine though, as lovable spiv, Private Walker, injecting the charm and charisma of his own personality into the role originally made famous by James Beck, while Kern Falconer displays the doom and gloom necessary for cantankerous Scotsman Private Frazer, an interpretation that even John Laurie himself would have been proud of.

Peter Martin’s portrayal of Captain Mainwaring doesn’t quite deliver unfortunately, maybe not so much a fault of Martin’s but more for the fact that Mainwaring is forever entwined within the personality of Arthur Lowe, a role the actor very much made his own through 80 TV episodes.

However, criticism aside, this is a rare chance to see an interpretation of two of the three missing shows from the series, A Stripe for Frazer and The Loneliness of The Long Distance Walker, done in the spirit of Dad’s Army even if they lack something of the sparkle of the original.

  • A version of this review by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus during October 2007

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

In Concert: The Searchers, Newport Riverfront, 2007

The Searchers were among a legion of bands that formed ‘The Mersey Sound’ back in 1963 and followed fellow Liverpudlians The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers straight to the the top of the charts with hits such as Sweets For My Sweet, Don’t Throw Your Love Away and When You Walk In the Room.

Growing up literally a decade after their initial chart success, my awareness of them was a collection of Pye singles from the mid-60’s in my parents record box. I always loved the sound of the jangly guitars and falsetto vocals set against the scratchy popping of well played mono vinyl. There was always something quite magical about the sound of The Searchers

And last night, it was evident the magic was still there as the Searchers played to a packed house at the Riverfront. Long standing members John McNally and Frank Allen were joined by Spencer James and Eddie Rothe and belted out over 45 years worth of hits, b-sides and album tracks plus a few covers. There were many memorable moments including renditions of What Have They Done To The Rain?, Mr Tambourine Man and Roy Orbison’s Running Scared.

It was clear that The Searchers were thoroughly enjoying themselves  and had the audience joining in with the songs wherever possible.The raw energy of their original 1960’s records certainly transformed to the stage and I honestly felt I could smell the original Vinyl
  • A version of this review by Andy Howells was originally published in The South Wales Argus during October 2007.

Monday, 10 September 2007

On Stage: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum

Several funny things happened at the Dolman Theatre last night in Newport Playgoers musical production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum

Pseudolus, a Roman slave attempts to bargain his freedom with his master, Hero by tricking Lycus, a buyer and seller of lovely young courtesans into giving the beautiful Philea to his master even though she has already been bought by the ferocious Captain Miles Gloriousus. As Pseudolus devises a plan, chaos ensues and belly laughs are galore as the comedy unfolds.

Steve Gerrish heads the cast as Pseudolus, in a role originally brought to acclaim by Frankie Howerd in the West End and delivers comic timing to full effect in what is a physically demanding role encompassing song and dance routines and lots of movement.

There are many strong performances from supporting cast members, including Sam Williams as Hero and the delightful Victoria Currie as his love interest Philea. The pair steal the show with some wonderful vocal performances. Also of note were splendid performances from Chris Edmunds, Rob Jacob and Stephen Saunders as well as the three young Proteans who changed roles and costumes at lightning speeds. The Five Courtesans (see them dance!) also displayed much in the way a very appealing stage presence.

Anyone who thought classic comedy was dead can think again as A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum is alive and well  at the Dolman right up until September 15. Don’t miss it!
  •  A version of this review by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus during September 2007.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

In Concert: Joe Brown, Newport Riverfront, 2007

It was a case of something old, something new, something borrowed and something bluegrass when sixties pop legend Joe Brown ended his current tour at Newport Riverfront on Friday evening.

Joe accompanied by his Bruvvers, Phil Capaldi, Neil R Gauntlett, and Dave ‘Rico’ Nilo began the show with the a capella Gospel song “Rock My Soul”. Then to everyone’s surprise, Joe’s son Pete, himself a successful performer and producer walked onto the stage to join the band.

Joe and the Bruvvers displayed a wide range of musical styles including folk; country, skiffle and rock n roll paying tribute to friends Lonnie Donegan, and George Harrison along the way. It was also interesting to hear new twists on Buddy Holly’s Well Alright which had a distinctive Bluegrass feel and a blues version of the medieval song She Moves through the Fair.

There were also tracks performed from his new album Down To Earth and  of course a few diversions into Joe’s own pop past with rocking performances of I’m Henry The Eighth I Am, Sea Of Heartbreak, Picture Of You and Darktown Strutters Ball.

After closing on a rousing version of Forty Days, Joe returned for an encore of his unique ukulele version of See You In My Dreams a song he said would send us home with some love in our hearts. Hearing the comments of people as they left the Riverfront and for me personally – I’d say the magic definitely worked!

  • A version of this review appeared in The South Wales Argus during May 2007

Monday, 23 April 2007

In Concert: Reelin' and a Rockin', Newport Riverfront

Reelin' and a Rockin arrived at Newport Riverfront on Friday evening, bringing with it five celebrated music stars from the 1960s, namely, Dave Berry, Dave Dee (of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mich and Tich) , Chip Hawkes (of The Tremeloes), Barry Ryan and Susan Maughan. All artists had sold over 30 million records between them in their heyday, but could they still deliver the goods?

The show commenced with an opening medley of Rock n Roll classics featuring all artists including such songs as Reelin and Rockin, Route 66 and Lucille.

Chip Hawkes delivered The Tremeloes hit Suddenly You Love Me, while Dave Dee, recovering from a recent bout of laryngitis, bravely tackled Zabadak. Dave Berry gave a stylish performance of The Crying Game, and Barry Ryan stole the show with his soulful power ballad Eloise.

Hawkes, Dee, Berry and Ryan would ultimately unite on several numbers throughout the evening including a Beatles medley and a moving interpretation of Silence Is Golden.

Susan Maughan also gave a rousing version of her 1962 smash Bobby's Girl, while backing musicians The Big Beat Band recreated the sixties sound with stunning performances from lead guitarist Paul and saxophonist Sophie.

Many hits and memories were revisited and as the evening ended with Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On; one felt the audience really could have continued rocking all night.
  • A version of this review by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus during April 2007

Monday, 5 March 2007

In Concert: Gerry Cross The Mersey, Newport Riverfront, 2007

Born in 1968, I don't really remember the 1960's. I did grow up, however, becoming a fan of the era's music. So an opportunity to see Gerry Marsden, at Newport Riverfront on Friday night was a chance I didn't want to pass by.

Gerry and his band, the Pacemakers were an integral part of "The Mersey Sound". They were the second band (after the Beatles) to sign to manager Brian Epstein in 1963. Gerry and The Pacemakers were also the first recording act to go to number one with their first three singles.

Their first hit, Mitch Murray's How Do You Do It? came to them after been turned down by both Adam Faith and The Beatles. Gerry recounted John Lennon as saying to producer George Martin "Its rubbish, give it to Gerry Marsden, he needs a song".

Ably supported by a new version of The Pacemakers (these guys were too young to be the originals) Gerry took the audience through many hits including I'm The One', I Like It, Ferry Cross The Mersey and You'll Never Walk Alone, while also paying homage to heroes Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino.

I wondered if 40 years after his initial success, Gerry would still have the voice that soared him to number one. I shouldn't have worried. That voice transported me back to a golden era I'd have loved to have grown up in. Thank you Gerry!