Saturday, 5 November 2011

In Concert: The Blues Band, Newport Riverfront, 2011

A wet and miserable evening resulting in the postponement of The Newport Dragons V Blues match at Rodney Parade was enough to give any Newport resident the blues on Friday night.  Thankfully The Blues Band were in town to drive away any sadness with good music at Newport Riverfront.

Tom McGuinness, Dave Kelly, Paul Jones, Gary Fletcher and Rob Townsend gave a two and a half hour crash-course in the Blues played with feeling. Along the way name-checking greats such as Chuck Berry, Oscar Brown Jr. and Little Johnny Taylor.

Following the powerful opening of the title track from their new album A Few Short Lines, the band launched into an early Manfred Mann B-side Without You, which featured a soaring vocal from Paul Jones.

One could not help but marvel at the guitar talents of Tom McGuinness (at one point playing a guitar perched on his back) and Dave Kelly mixed with Paul Jones energetic harmonica playing, Gary Fletcher’s deep bass sound and Rob Townsend's drum-beat which tied the band firmly together.

Other highlights included the joint vocals of Paul, Tom, Dave and Gary on How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times, Gary Fletcher’s Bluesy vocal on You Are True and Paul Jones seeking audience participation with Suddenly I Like You. The concert was rounded off with a two song encore including a version of Curtis Mayfield’s People Get Ready, proving that the blues had never sounded so good.

As I left the gig, I heard one audience member say “That was a much needed boost to the usual Friday night”. He couldn't have been more right.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

In Concert: The Barron Knights, Newport Riverfront, 2011

“We’ll kick off with some rock n roll and then have some fun!” promised Barron Knights founder Pete Langford at Newport Riverfront on Friday evening and it has to be said the band known by their peers as “The guvnors” certainly delivered.

The Barron Knights now in their 50th year are one of the few acts to have toured with both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones during the 1960s. Initially a serious pop act, they made their name internationally in the 1960s and 70s as a pop act that parodied the popular hits of the day through medleys such as Call Up the Groups and A Taste of Aggro.

Visitors to the Riverfront on Friday evening sampled these delights once again from the alternative to The Searchers Needles and Pins (Saucepans and Tins) via Brotherhood Of Man’s Angelo (Greasy Joe) to Boney M’s River’s Of Babylon (There’s A Dentist In Birmingham).

Pete Langford along with Len Crawley on Keyboards, Mickey Groome on Bass  and Lloyd Courtenay on drums kept the audience smiling for over two hours with parodies and perfect tributes to the likes of The Beach Boys, The Everly Brothers and The Four Seasons.

The group also delighted in delivering cheeky parodies of David Bowie’s Space Oddity (Birth Control To Ginger Tom) and The Windmills of Your Mind (Poem for The Aged) while delivering pitch perfect covers of Eddie Cochran’s C’mon Everybody and The Coasters’ Yakety Yak.

A roar of excitement went up from the audience when it was announced The Barron Knights may return to Newport next year and with the smiles the band raised on Friday night that certainly isn't a bad thing!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

In Concert: Glen Campbell, The GoodbyeTour, St David's Hall, Cardiff, 2011

Earlier this year, Country music legend Glen Campbell announced that he had being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and would be retiring from the music business after his next tour

So as Glen Campbell's Goodbye Tour reached St David’s Hall on Sunday evening it was of little surprise that fans turned out in force to see him.

Opening for Glen was the band Instant People which featured Ry Jarred, Siggy Sjursen and three of Glen’s children Ashley Campbell (who looked delightful playing banjo in a red dress) Cal and Shannon. The band played several new country stylised numbers including the upbeat Abbott Waits, Into the Wonder and the powerful ballad Waiting On Sunday. After a break of 25 minutes, the band returned to the stage with an extra musician in the shape of long time Campbell collaborator T.J.Kinster.

Then Glen Campbell appeared on stage as the audience gave him a standing ovation. Looking every inch the all American country star in a dark suit Glen joked “I like adulation. That’s why I learned to play guitar”, before continuing “I am happy to be here of course!”

For the next hour and twenty minutes, Glen performed a mixture of classic hits including Gentle on My Mind, Galveston and Southern Nights as well as New Country flavored tracks from his new album Ghost on the Canvas. The highlight of the evening was Glen’s fabulous instrumental guitar “duel” against daughter Ashley’s banjo playing.

The concert rounded off with classic hits Wichita Lineman and Rhinestone Cowboy before Glen returned to the stage for an encore and saying of his Welsh fans “These are Amazing People.” From an awesome man that was quite a compliment.

  • This review by Andy Howells was originally published in The South Wales Argus during October 2011.

Friday, 23 September 2011

On Stage: Call Mr.Robeson, Newport Riverfront, 2011

How apt that literally only miles away from where Paul Robeson filmed The Proud Valley in 1940, a musical dramatisation of the man's life and career should play at Newport Riverfront’ on September 22 2011.

Call Mr. Robeson was presented in the intimate setting of The Riverfront’s Studio venue and played to a packed audience of fans who obviously still held the memory of Paul Robeson and his Welsh connections in high regard.

Nigerian Baritone Tayo Aluko writes, produces and stars in Call Mr. Robeson, which is presented as an informal monologue with piano accompaniment provided by Michael Conliffe.

The play begins with the powerful image of Robeson stepping onto the stage from the shadows carrying a chair on his back singing Nobody Knows The Trouble Ah’ Seen accompanied by a piano and the sound effect of a needle scratching on vinyl. Within seconds Aluko has brought the spirit of Robeson back to Wales!

Recounting his life and career from the early 1900’s as an athlete, singer, actor and a civil rights campaigner, Robeson informally discusses his life with the audience. This discussion recalling his parents, wife, son and lovers is aided with strategically placed fragments of memorabilia and books scattered into sections representing his periods residing in America, Russia, England and Wales. The remnants of a giant 78rpm record flank the props which itself has been fragmented across the stage, defining Robeson’s worldwide appeal.

From the outset it becomes clear Robeson’s struggle against the prejudices he faced as a concert performer in America were something that ultimately inspired him to campaign for equal rights by facing racism and challenging oppression.

It seems almost unimaginable that audiences for his concerts would be segregated in one venue prompting him to walk off stage, but this scenario beautifully played out by Aluko is only one of the play's most defining moments.

Despite the prejudices Robeson faced in his homeland, he was welcomed with love and affection in Russia (where he was treated like a real human being for the first time in his life) and welcomed warmly by fans when he comes to live in England during the 1930s.

His special relationship with Wales and his generosity to several unemployed miners who had completed a hunger march from South Wales to London is also recalled. Having completed a performance of the musical Show boat in Drury Lane, he was greeted by the miners at the end of the road. Immediately identifying with their plight, he bought them their first meal in days.

Forming a special bond with Wales, he would later tour there and ultimately make the film The Proud Valley on location in The Rhondda and Port Talbot during 1940. It is also evident that that bond is still remembered by Welsh residents, as many members of the audience recalled those connections with affection after the play ended.

A wealth of Paul Robeson music is also featured in Call Mr. Robeson. Mesmerising interpretations of Steal Away, Just a Wearin’ for You, Going Home and Joshua Fit de Battle Ob Jericho were delivered by Aluko. On completion of Jericho the audience were so awestruck the performer was greeted with silence. "If anyone feels like applauding I will not be put off", he jokingly stated to which he received a rapturous applause.

There were more serious moments to come however, the decline of Robeson’s career coinciding with a riotous concert in Kansas City. As the noise of rebellion is flanked with the sound of a low flying helicopter, Robeson sings Ol’ Man River defiantly into the face of opposition creating a momentous and powerful moment.

Robeson by now has become too radical and outspoken for the U.S. governments liking. Branded a traitor because of his civil rights work, his passport is extracted from him and he is banned from performing.

Caught up in the madness of his own personal struggles he nearly loses everything including his life and at the eleventh hour is called upon – "Call Mr. Robeson" - by the House Un-American Activities Committee to present his defense. What follows is a memorable comeback that displays Robeson as a brave individual who was never afraid to stand up for his beliefs.

A powerful presentation in words and music Call Mr. Robeson is not only a fine tribute to the memory of Paul Robeson but serves to educate the audience as well as entertain.

Call Mr. Robeson will continue to tour the UK into 2012 and special performances in New Hampshire, USA and Carnegie Hall, New York are also scheduled.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

On Stage: Newport Playgoers Society - Fawlty Towers, Dolman Theatre

Newport Playgoers new season commenced on Tuesday evening with Jes Hynes' directorial debut of John Cleese and Connie Booth’s much loved classic sit-com Fawlty Towers.

One of the most popular comedy series ever to grace TV screens, a stage presentation of such an iconic show was indeed a risky one that ultimately paid off. In just under 90 minutes, the audience is treated to a prospective visit from hotel inspectors, difficult hotel guests, a chaotic fire drill and a visit from the Germans.

Alex Wilson’s portrayal of Basil Fawlty cleverly unfolds as a ticking time bomb of irrational behaviour duly opposed by his fearsome wife Sybil, played to perfection by Nicky Davies. Ryan Salter ducks and dives as Spanish waiter Manuel between scenarios, his classic comedy moment communicating via a moose’s head with The Major (David Eynon-Williams). Equally, Cathy Morgan as Polly gets a taste of comic action via quick-fire exchanges with Basil when attempting to hide his horse betting success from Sybil.

Of course, all this is topped off with Basil’s rude exchanges with the German guests continually mentioning the war and impersonating Hitler’s goose-step resulting in the audience falling apart with laughter.

Complemented with a replica set of the hotel and a talented supporting cast, complete with 70s-style garments, Fawlty Towers is a strong start to The Playgoers new season. Be certain to make a reservation before the production closes its doors on Saturday.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

In Concert: Gerry and The Pacemakers, Newport Riverfront, 2011

Fans of 1960s music had a great opportunity to reel back the years when Gerry and The Pacemakers gave a fantastic concert at Newport Riverfront on Saturday evening.

Supported by a new incarnation of The Pacemakers who opened with Smokey Robinson’s Get Ready, Gerry Marsden then took to the stage and proceeded to belt out his 1964 hit It’s Gonna Be Alright.

Gerry, ever the consummate performer, still retained his cheeky grin and regularly joked with the audience between songs, much to everybody’s delight.

When asking the audience to guess the composer of the next song he was to perform with the description of "he was short and played the piano", your Argus reviewer had to blurt out “Fat’s Domino!”. Gerry then asked me to make myself known by standing up and rewarded me with a nod of approval and a “Well Done, Son!” – Then launching into a rendition of Blueberry Hill – what an honour!

Tributes to Elvis, Little Richard, The Beatles and Roy Orbison were interspersed with Gerry revisiting his many of his own hits including How Do You Do It and Ferry Cross the Mersey.

The Pacemakers also gave a fabulous rendition of Heard It Through The Grapevine with a brilliant vocal provided by Garth Watt-Roy.

The concert concluded with Gerry performing his 1963 Number One, You’ll Never Walk Alone which had the audience out of their seats and joining in, proving that Gerry Marsden is still pick of the pops with his many fans – long may that continue!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

In Concert: Rat Pack Vegas Spectacular, Newport Riverfront, 2011

Anyone who attended Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin’s and Sammy Davis Jr’s concerts at The Sands Hotel, Vegas in the early 1960s obviously took away the memories of a lifetime and its probably fair to say that anyone who attended the sell-out tribute Rat Pack Vegas Spectacular in Newport on Saturday evening probably did the same.

The 8 strong Rat Pack Orchestra under the direction of Drummer Chris Draper and featuring Al Terry on Piano kicked off with a rousing rendition of Ain’t That a Kick in the Head Performed by Patrick Kennedy as Dean Martin.

Patrick Kumah as Sammy Davis Jr then made a startling entrance through the audience performing My Shining Hour before launching into the classic Mr Bojangles.

The show was already in full swing when King of the Rat Packers, Roman Marek took to the stage as a Songs for Swinging Lovers era Frank Sinatra made his entrance in trademark hat and spats with a rendition of Come Fly with Me.

Accompanied by two wonderful dancers’ Jenny and Sarah who made a wide variety of costume changes throughout the evening, the trio delivered many Rat Pack standards and a personal tribute to Newport – a lyrically adjusted version of My Kind of Town.

Concluding with Sinatra’s New York New York , The Rat Pack Vegas Spectacular was a neat tribute to three of the 20th centuries Greatest Performers and judging by the audience response a magical evening for all who attended.

  • A version of this review by Andy Howells originally appeared in The South Wales Argus during February, 2011