Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Emma's Purr-fect Panto Role In Dick Whittington

Emma Goodwin as
Tommy the Cat
Andy Howells meets Emma Goodwin, the actress  behind the feline fur of Tommy the Cat in Newport Riverfront’s pantomime Dick Whittington.

It would be safe to assume that running a dance school and leading a Cheerleader team regularly for Newport Dragon’s matches would be enough to keep anybody’s diary full, not so for actress Emma Goodwin who is currently treading the boards in Newport Riverfront’s Dick Whittington.

In recent years, Emma has been responsible for choreography in the Riverfront panto, but during this festive season she has quite a different role. “I'm taking a break from the choreography and taking on a bigger role in the form of Tommy the Cat.” she says, “Being a full part of the cast which will be really fun as well as a challenge!”

Emma's  involvement with local dance schools since childhood has enabled her to gain experience in many local pantomime productions as well as  appearances at Her Majesty’s Theatre and The London Palladium. Emma has also gained a full scholarship at the Urdang Academy of performing arts in London’s Covent Garden.

Emma made her debut Riverfront panto performance back in 2009 in Peter Pan. “The year before I was chaperoning the children in panto and the director said to me “Whoa what are you doing there - why are you not in it?” The following year they rang me up and said they would love me to be in it. I assisted the choreographer and had quite a few chorus roles, it was really good fun.”

As each pantomime has come around, so has a new challenge for Emma including playing Eliza in Robin Hood two years ago and been responsible for choreography in Beauty and The Beast last year.

Emma has also been busy throughout the year running her own dance school which consists of 170 students and more recently organising a cheerleader team for Newport Dragons matches on the build up to Christmas. “I quite like teaching,” she says, “the school has opened up so many opportunities for me as a performer.  I’d like to do more professional productions with the children. All of the tutors who work in the school with me are all working actors or dancers so the children love the element of us all working in different things.”

Emma’s panto roles also serve as an inspiration for her young pupils, “The children in my school come along and watch it, and I get such lovely responses from everybody especially if I haven’t been in class for a bit. It’s nice for them to see someone they know in a big production so that they can aim for their goals and dreams as well.”

  • Dick Whittington which features Emma along with Richard Elis, Lee Mengo , Elin Llwyd, Nerine Skinner  and Gareth Tempest continues at The Riverfront until January 4, 2015 Call 01633 656757 for ticket details.
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during December, 2014.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Judith Owen Discusses Her Album Ebb And Flow

Andy Howells chatted with Welsh singer-songwriter Judith Owen as she released her album, Ebb and Flow in early 2014.
“I call myself London-Welsh.” American based singer-songwriter Judith Owen told me as we chatted over the phone, one day in late January. “I was born in London, although my mother was from Kidwelly and my father from Llanelli." 
"My Dad was at Cardiff college of music and drama planning to be an opera singer. He and my mother were going back and forth between London because Dad was wanting to become a serious opera singer, which he did by joining the chorus of Covent Garden for 35 years. So, I was basically a product of very Welsh parents who were constantly homesick for Wales and whose real home was the place they had left.” 
Its clear from talking to Judith and listening to her acclaimed new album Ebb and Flow that she still feels a strong  genetic attachment to Wales through her childhood recollections of family visits and her strong memories of her mother and father both of whom she has dedicated songs to on her new album. “We went back to Wales as often as humanly possible," she tells me, “and that was what we saw as been home." 
Judith and her sister were exposed to frequent classical music rehearsals from an early age as their father was the popular operatic singer, Handel Owen; I ask why she didn't follow her father’s classical path musically. “The overwhelming desire I had from an early age was to write music at the piano,”she says,“I could copy my sister playing Debussy and that wasn't hard work at all because that was my gift. I faked it really well until everyone realised I wasn't going to be a concert pianist at all and I was just pretending." 
"Ultimately it was all about self expression and it was an immediate thing that I realised I could express myself at the piano. There was sort of sadness around because although my mother was a beautiful alive and wonderful person she was also a very depressed person. It was a sense of great light and darkness in our house so watching the effect the music had on my father and how his face lit up when he could sing. I knew from a very early age that was the route to joy and life a love affair with a piano and singing.”
It’s the stark realisation of loss that inspired two “honest interpretations” of emotions through the songs You’re Not Here Anymore and I Would Give Anything on Judith’s latest release. “I don’t know of anybody that doesn't go through this and beats themselves up,” she says, “All of us think we have forever and if you didn't think that way you wouldn't get through it. I don’t write music to be anything but cathartic and compassionate and that’s the point of it, I still think music needs to be beautiful and therapeutic for the listener it should still be a beautiful experience.” 
"A beautiful experience" sums up Ebb and Flow, a set of potent songs about love and loss, pain and joy, dreams and despair, exploring the duality of the human condition with Judith turning to the legendary musicians who created the seventies’ troubadour sound. Between them, her core band of drummer Russ Kunkel, bassist Lee Sklar and guitarist Waddy Wachtel played on many of the landmark albums from the era by the likes of Carole King, James Taylor, and Joni Mitchell. 
As homage to the era Judith covers James Taylor's Hey Mister, That’s Me Up On The Jukebox and Mungo Jerry’s In The Summertime on the album, “I asked them which James Taylor song I should do and of course James Taylor is the king of taking over peoples songs and making them sound that they’re his anyway. Russ (Kunkel) said “you've got to do Hey Mister. We were on the road with James at the time and he literally heard himself in a bar it was about his loneliness despite his success he was a lonely person a little too long” and that’s the bit that breaks my heart when I sing it.” 
I ask Judith if her husband, the comedian Harry Shearer gives her any feedback to her recordings. “Whenever I write a song Harry is always the first person who plays on it, he’s the first person I ask about mixes, the look, sound and everything that’s the relationship we have. I see everything he does, he sees everything I do, we are that to each other and I’d never release anything if I didn't think he would be a 100% about it. That’s the implicit trust we have in each other, that’s the major perk of been married to your number one supporter it’s a rare thing.” 
With numerous UK dates in the pipeline Judith also hopes to play dates again in Wales in the future. “Nothing makes me happier than coming back to Wales. It’s hard to describe to people how much Wales means to me and coming from a Welsh background the thing that comes close to the feeling I get when I come home are those are my happiest memories and they really are.”

  • Ebb and Flow by Judith Owen is available to buy as a CD or download now.
  • For more information on Judith Owen visit her official website.
  • A version of this review appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during April, 2014.

CD Review: Definitely Maybe (Remastered) - Oasis

Crazy as it might seem its 21 years since Oasis exploded onto the music scene with their debut (and some regard - still best) album Definitely Maybe.

Some might say (excuse the pun) that the album might not need revisiting, but as The Gallagher Brothers have frequently pointed out in various interviews over the years Oasis has rarely got much better than this, except it does.

While all 11 tracks including Rock and Roll Star , Shakermaker and Supersonic have been remastered, fans and collectors will also enjoy the two extra discs in this package which contain 33 demos, rarities, b-sides and live tracks including Half The World Away and their cover of The Beatles' I Am The Walrus.

Among the cut and thrust of rock n roll and raw Brit pop  there are also the occasional surprises including the string version of Whatever which closes the collection. Classical Oasis anyone?

  • A version of this review by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during June, 2014.

CD Review: The Sound Of Strength By Laura Wright

Laura Wright
Soprano Laura Wright's album The Sound Of Strength certainly breaks down barriers when fusing the classical music genre with the driving beats of drum and bass.

Her powerful  rendition of Barber's Agnus Dei sampling sections of Rudyard Kipling's poem If was released with a Hunger Games stylized video earlier this Summer and succeeded in securing the attention of a diverse range of music fans.

"Classical music is for everyone," Laura recently told Andy Howells," and it’s a matter of how you use it and produce it. I feel I want to be someone who presents it in a different way."

Laura certainly achieves that objective here, giving an energetic twist to the compositions of Puccini, Caruso, Beethoven and of course, Barber challenging the listener both mentally and physically.

The fusion of familiar tunes such as Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and epic production values make this album incredibly accessible and with the accompaniment of a sequenced workout playlist devised by Sport Psychologist Dr Costas Karageorghis bring The Sound Of Strength like a breeze into the world of health and fitness.

  • Laura Wright will tour the UK in early 2015. Visit laura-wright.co.uk for further details.
  • A version of this review appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during October, 2014

Sarah Perryman Of The Siren Sisters Discusses Debut Album

Back in Summer 2014, Andy Howells chatted with Sarah Perryman of 1940s homage vocal trio The Siren Sisters as the group released their debut album, Now and Then.
The Siren Sisters were formed in 2010 and have appealed to audiences young and old. The trio have based their success on a true representation of the 1940s era and made numerous performances on television, radio and their successful theatre show Christmas With The Siren Sisters. Such has been their popularity the trio recently went into the recording studio to put together their first album. 
"Its been a long time in the making really." says founder member Sarah Perryman, " we kind of dilly dallied with a few EP's to sell at Christmas time for our theatre tours, but then we decided we wanted to do an album. People kept asking me for it and in the end We've been doing it for long enough we felt we really do need to have one." 
Anyone who has seen The Siren Sisters live on stage will know of their attention to detail with their 1940s inspired hair, dresses and shoes. Their attention to detail is followed through on their debut album featuring songs originally popularised by Al Bowlly, Bing Crosby and The Dinning Sisters. The album  entitled Now and Then features ten songs from the classic era recorded in the first instance using modern recording techniques and then repeated and remixed again with a more vintage feel (complete with record crackles and mono overtones). 
"Basically people love those songs. We have a really wide audience base of older people that love what we do and a really big younger following as well," says Sarah, " I couldn't decide whether to use all the modern technology available or go for the more vintage sound but then risk compromising on the quality so i had the idea of having two versions of each song so the audience can decide to listen to the songs as they would sound now or listen to them as our interpretation as what they would have sounded like then." 
Sarah maintains that although The Siren Sisters may be inspired by the wonderful music of the bygone era they are still rooted firmly in the present,"All the way along I've always wanted to honour the songs. I haven't really messed with the songs too much in terms of modernising them because they're well loved.  Its always about bringing it up to date and looking forwards so that younger people can join with older people and celebrate the same music together. Its a bit of artistic licence as well, our costumes aren't actually from the 40s, I wouldn't want to wear them because they'd probably rip in two minutes!" 
Sarah hopes some of the songs featured on the album will also enlighten audiences to some long lost hits of a golden era, "We wanted some songs that were well known songs like Run Rabbit Run and a mixture of British and American as well. I didn't want it to be all well-known songs that you'd find on someone else's swing style album. I wanted it to be some of the more obscure songs from girl groups like the Dinning Sisters who perhaps weren't commercial in the way that The Andrew Sisters were. A lot of their music hadn't had the same exposure I almost love their stuff more." 
  • The Siren Sisters new album Now and Then is available from their official website.
  • A version of this interview appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during July, 2014 

Linda Lusardi Brings Pantomime Magic To Cinderella - Interview

Linda Lusardi in Cinderella
Actress and former glamour model Linda Lusardi is currently making wishes come true as the Fairy Godmother in Cardiff New Theatre's pantomime Cinderella, "It’s quite a change to me because I'm normally a Wicked Queen in Snow White or Carabeth in Sleeping Beauty. For me to be a Fairy Godmother is quite nice as I'm able to smile on stage and not get booed!"

Linda, along with her husband the actor and director Sam Kane have been pantomime regulars around the UK for the last 25 years and will be appearing on stage together in Cinderella, (Sam is playing an Ugly Sister alongside Mike Doyle as well as directing.)

"I think we work well together because he has so much to think about with all the different characters," says Linda of her on stage partnership with her husband, "sometimes I see things that he’s missed. Kids are the best because when ours were younger they would sit in on rehearsal and go "Mum that doesn't make sense and it would be something you've not even seen but children don’t miss a trick."

Linda took up acting following a successful modelling career in the 1980s "I wasn't a confident person even when I was modelling," she says, “Slowly as I got older I was offered different things. I was offered this play called Funny Peculiar. I didn't really know what I was doing but the director worked with me and by the end of the 12 week run I kind of got the knack of it. There were no microphones you had to project yourself on stage. From that, I was offered my first panto with Norman Wisdom in Dartford and that was it, that was Christmas for me. I just wanted to do panto every year."

Andy Howells meets Linda Lusardi
Linda met Sam when they appeared in Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs at Darlington 20 years ago. "He was the Prince and I was Snow White,"she says. "My marriage was on the rocks and had been for a while and we'd basically become really good friends over that season. We remained in contact after my marriage split. I was in Llandudno in a wartime play and he came to see it and we went out for dinner and it was lovely. Twenty years on it still feels new."

Linda and Sam married in 1998 and have two children Jack and Lucy, both of whom are following their parent’s footsteps into the acting profession. Like Sam and Linda, Lucy is also appearing in pantomime this Christmas, but in Swindon with Nigel Havers.

Linda feels that the medium of pantomime is an important one for bringing families into the theatre, "We've had some people go "I've come every year for a good sleep because its just for the kids, but this year we've really loved it, we were into it as much as the kids!"

Of Cinderella which also stars Lee Mead, Gareth Thomas, Andy Jones, Holly Bluett and Mike Doyle, Linda says, "Its lavish and sparkly, we've got real ponies on stage for the carriage for the ball. Its spectacular."

Even though Linda is taking to the stage as the Fairy Godmother, I wonder if she'll have any Christmas wishes she'd like granting of her own. "That we don’t get stuck in by snow, " she replies, "I hate driving in the snow, as my daughter is in Swindon  I hope we can get over and pick her up for Christmas Day without any problems. if it goes smoothly its all I can hope for."
  • Extracts from this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on December 19, 2014. 
  • To book tickets for Cinderella, which runs until January 15, 2015 visit Cardiff New Theatre's website.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

CD Review: Elvis: That's The Way It Is (Deluxe Edition)

In 1970, Elvis Presley fans were thrilled by the arrival of two cultural milestones: one an album, the other a full-length concert/documentary and each of them called Elvis: That’s The Way It Is. 2014 saw Legacy recordings revisit the original album, but this time with additional recordings from five other Elvis concerts of the period and several out-takes from the sessions.

Totaling some 150 tracks there is naturally some repetition, but the clarity of most of the live performances allows the die-hard Elvis fans to cherry-pick their favourite cuts, among them BJ Thomas' I Just Can't Help Believing, Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline and George Harrison's Something.

A separate disc of insightful rehearsal highlights, featuring unusual song selections showcases both the hard work and the playful atmosphere that governed Elvis’ relationship with his band of the period.

There are some further attempts for Elvis to visit what he terms on the album as "The Beatles songbook" in a series of out-takes which make interesting listening.

That's The Way It Is is available as both a highly-collectible 8CD/2DVD box set and That’s The Way It Is (Deluxe Edition).

  • A version of this review by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during August, 2014.

Lee Mead Takes To The Stage as Prince Charming in Cinderella

Lee Mead has some on-stage fun
with Welsh rugby legend
Gareth Thomas
Andy Howells meets Lee Mead who plays Prince Charming in Cardiff New Theatre's presentation  of Cinderella.
2014 has been a busy year for Lee Mead, having undertaken a solo music tour, taking on a regular role in Casualty and currently performing as Prince Charming in the New Theatre panto Cinderella throughout the festive season. 
“It’s a right laugh and a special time for the audience,” Lee tells me, “My biggest regret is not doing this sooner. KDOS first approached me to do these seven years ago, I wasn't sure if it was something I’d want to do. The first one I did was Jack and the Beanstalk in Southampton two years ago, then Robin Hood last year in Plymouth and now I’m hooked!” 
Lee, the 2007 winner of the BBC talent show Any Dream Will Do in which he won the coveted role of Joseph in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s revival of Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has been busy recording albums and touring in a variety of stage musicals in recent years. He joined the cast of Casualty as a regular early this year.
Recently, Lee completed a series of gigs across the UK in which he performed stripped back renditions of popular musical hits. “I always spend a lot of time making sure that the quality of the show is good,” says Lee. “I get weekends off and that’s the only time to go back to London to see my daughter. I don’t want to be working all week and not see her for a fortnight. I do one show a month. I see her on a Saturday until Sunday do a sound check then go straight to the gig.” 
Andy Howells and Lee Mead  
Lee’s transition from playing gigs to treading the boards was immediate earlier this month when he began rehearsals for Cinderella on completion of the tour. In order to be in Cinderella he is also getting some time off from the wards of Casualty
“The past two or three months I've had story-lines which have been shot but they wont be shown until four months from now as its filmed four months in advance,” he says. “It’s really nice as it looks like I’ll be staying on in Casualty for a second year. I'm excited about that as Lofty is a nice role.”

Lee is also enjoying treading the boards as Prince Charming in Cinderella,"It’s a brilliant line up, “ says Lee of the panto, “and with Gareth Thomas involved - he is Wales! I’ll be singing a few songs hopefully; it’s a nice cast and a great story"

“We've got a beautiful theatre as well. I was at The New Theatre, a few years ago in a tour of Joseph and a rock show of Tommy so it’s nice to come back for a longer stint.”

Lee will be releasing a new album and touring once again in the New Year this time featuring performances of songs from MGM musicals, he will also be recommencing work on Casualty. “I like been busy but I also like been back home on a weekend,” he says.

  • Cinderella runs until January 19, 2015, to book tickets visit Cardiff New Theatre's website
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on December 19, 2014.

Happy To Be A Saturdays Girl - Mollie King Interview

Mollie King of The Saturdays
Back in Summer 2014, Andy Howells chatted to Mollie King of The Saturdays as the band released their Greatest Hits album and announced their UK tour which included a date at Cardiff Motorpoint Arena on September 18.
Few bands reach the pinnacle of having a Greatest Hits album while still planning a future together but in the case of The Saturdays they are taking the opportunity to tour with their Greatest Hits
“We've had 17 singles up until now,“ says Mollie King, “and we thought “right, we need to put these on one CD and just give it back to the fans.” They've been asking us for a Greatest Hits for a while. We wanted it to tie in with our tour as well so it all seemed to come together at the right point.” 
Bucking the trend by releasing the collection at the height of their career, The Saturdays Greatest Hits is far from a farewell and more of a celebration. “Everyone assumes that the Greatest Hits means it’s the end,” continues Mollie, “we’re going to keep going and put another new album out at the end of the year. There is no rest!”
The Saturdays Frankie Bridge, Una Foden, Rochelle Humes, Vanessa White and Mollie King came together in 2007 and supported Girls Aloud on their Tangled tour before releasing their debut hit If This Is Love. Several hits have followed including last years Number One What About us with Sean Paul. “It was just incredible,” says Mollie, “it was the biggest party ever! We had all our family and friends there. I just couldn't believe it when they told us we were number one because so many times we've come so close.” 
Been in the music business has always been Mollie’s dream since childhood, even when she was pursuing one of her other talents, skiing professionally for Great Britain. “I totally did love it, racing for the country and travelling around everywhere but it was singing I used to go to bed dreaming of every night rather than winning the Olympics,” confesses Mollie, “ I thought if I’m dreaming of performing at Wembley rather than winning the Olympics I need to make a swift change.“ 
Does Mollie regret not pursuing her sporting career? “I've never really had regrets,” she says, “ I think my parents had worries about me giving it up because I was in the team and doing quite well, but as soon as they saw me get into The Saturdays they knew how much I loved it.” 
The Saturdays
Seven years on and The Saturdays are the most popular girl band in the country and show no signs of slowing down. Mollie is sure the fans will love every moment of their live show. “It’s going to be an absolutely massive night out,” she says, “a really good party and a celebration of all of our singles. You won’t really need to have bought the album because you'll know all the words to the songs, there’s going to be loads of glitz and glamour costume changes. Its going to be a full on party show!” 
I ask Mollie if she has any unfulfilled ambitions. “I'm so ambitious there’s so much I’d like to do,” she replies, “ I’d like to put another album out with the girls and keep doing all my fashion stuff because I have a fashion line with Oasis, so to juggle them is the best thing I could wish for.” 
Is there any inclination for Mollie to move on to any solo projects at any point? “I love song writing and go into the studio every now and again and write a few songs but at the moment solo isn't really on my mind,” she says, “I’m just really focused on The Saturdays and want to keep going with that really.” 
  • A version of Andy Howells' interview with Mollie King of The Saturdays was originally published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during August 2014.
  • For more information on The Saturdays visit The Saturdays official website

CD Review: The Theory Of Everything (OST) - Johann Johannsson

Soundtrack albums can be a curious breed. In an age where every film now possesses its own unique soundtrack, an album of music to accompany a film release has become a necessary piece of marketing.

In the case of The Theory Of Everything, the forthcoming biography of Stephen Hawking, the accompanying soundtrack features no less than 27 pieces of music from Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson.

Releasing the album ahead of the films release gives listeners a chance to appreciate the music on its own merits and without the intrusive imagery of an accompanying film. As much as I enjoyed the intricate orchestrations I did find them incredibly short in length, but maybe thats more the limitation of CD space than Johannsson's impeccable compositions.

  • This review by Andy Howells was featured in the South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on December 19, 2014

Friday, 26 December 2014

Katherine Jenkins Heads Home Sweet Home On 2015 Tour

Katherine Jenkins
Welsh mezzo soprano Katherine Jenkins recently announced her return to the live arena with a full 21 date UK tour for 2015, culminating with a homecoming show at Cardiff Motorpoint Arena on Saturday 14th March. The new tour follows the recent release of her latest album Home Sweet Home.

The tour ending in Wales means Katherine will really be pleased to be Home Sweet Home as she recently told me. “It’s well planned this time. It means I get all the family and friends in as well as get to relax after the last night.”

“Touring can be quite grueling at times, you get to the end of a tour and it can be quite sad and emotional that it’s coming to an end. The fact that this last night is a home crowd which is always my favourite and makes me up my game is going to be a really nice end to the tour.”

Cherished as one of Britain’s favourite singers, Katherine has achieved meteoric success as the world’s most prolific classical crossover artist. Her albums have sold in excess of eight million copies and gone platinum all around the world. She has received numerous accolades for her recordings, including two Classical BRITs for the coveted Album of the Year Award.

In 2013, Katherine headlined the Queen’s Coronation Festival at Buckingham Palace and was awarded an OBE at the 2014 New Year’s Honours List for her services to music and charity. She also cemented her position as one of the UK’s greatest exports and in 2013 toured South Africa, the US, China, Abu Dhabi and Europe.

Katherine admits though that touring is a “learning curve.” “I take a few home things with me or I try to have family and friends on the road sometimes. I have my own little family on the road in my orchestra which is conducted by Anthony English. They have been there from the start so after ten years of performing we all get on quite well. You get used to building a team of people you like and get on with. If you’re away from your loved ones and they can’t be with you then you need your network there as well.”

Katherine married American artist and film actor-director Andrew Levitas in September this year and hopes to show her new husband some of the UK on her next tour. “The way we'll probably work it is when I’m on tour he'll come with me and when he’s making a film next I’ll make sure I’m working in the area that he’s in”

Katherine’s new album Home Sweet Home is her tenth album since Premiere a decade ago and includes a variety of familiar songs including Land of My Fathers, Barcelona (recorded with Alfie Boe) and Sanctus (Elgar’s Nimrod).

In selecting material for Home Sweet Home, Katherine says “We had the luxury of time which was brilliant, so we could consider the songs very carefully. I basically wanted to go back to my classical roots and find music which would crossover and be the kind of songs that people would recognise rather than the bog standard things that people keep churning out time and again”.

Katherine is keen that her fans enjoy the music, particularly in her live shows and recently went to the point of communicating it through social media, “I actually went out on Twitter and said “Okay guys, what would you want me to sing?” I really appreciated the response. There are favourites like Hallelujah, Time to Say Goodbye and Angels, but I’m also going to be singing the Welsh national anthem Land of My Fathers, Dreaming of the Days and Nimrod from the new album. There’s going to be a mix of all kinds of classical crossover.”

Prior to the tour Katherine, will be coming home to Wales with her new husband for Christmas; is there anything she’s particularly looking forward to over the festive season? “I just want to go home and have some time with the family,” she says, “ my sisters got a little boy called Rhys so I just want to have cuddles with Rhys.” Home sweet home indeed!

Georgia Celebrates Christmas In South Wales

Georgia Paterson
Welsh singer/songwriter Georgia Paterson is having a busy Christmas with several gigs scheduled up until New Year.

Her take of Clara Barker’s song Christmas In New York retitled Christmas in South Wales is also doing well on YouTube.

Georgia told me: “A little while ago one of my fans (Julie – who has become a friend and big supporter of my music) suggested that I cover a song called Christmas In New York by Clara Barker ( a singer/songwriter from the Isle of Man). At that point I had heard of neither the song nor the singer!"

"Julie sent me a link to the song and I soon fell in love with it. Having never been to New York it didn't quite feel right so I adapted it and Christmas In South Wales was born. I'm very proud to be Welsh and I always spend Christmas in South Wales – it was lovely to be able to name check some of the local places that I've played in. I've shared my version with Clara Barker and she loves it and has been super supportive – I've been thrilled with the response the song has received.”

Georgia’s EP Hear Your Voice was released earlier this year and will get a digital release in early 2015. Georgia will be performing at Cardiff's Winter Wonderland on Monday December 19 and The Wharf on Cardiff Bay on December 31.

Bel Blue's Musical Homage To Dunraven Bay

Singer/Songwriter Bel Blue is a familiar presence on the live music scene counting The Riverfront sessions and Maindee Festival among her many appearances in recent years.

Bel recently released the stunning track Dunraven Bay via her Bandcamp webpage. The song which takes inspiration from the Vale of Glamorgan location was recorded recently at Shabbey Road studio’s in Caerphilly and perfectly displays Bel’s beautiful wistful vocals set against a lilting acoustic backdrop.

“Recording with multi-instrumentalist Al Steel was a joy.” says Bel, “Given the time we had and my style of playing, we went for a live organic feel. Percussionist Andy Constable, added a clay bodied Tabla, that drives the song all the way though, with an undulating beat, like the ebb and flow of the sea."

“It was a heart-warming experience to record this song, with Andy and Al, and I'm looking forward to going back to do more. “

You can listen to Bel’s recording of Dunraven Bay by visiting belblue.bandcamp.com. Although you can download Dunraven Bay for free, donations for the track are invited so that any profits made can be donated to a Mental Health Charity of Bel’s choice.

Holly Bluett Steps Into Cinder's Shoes

Andy Jones as Buttons and
Holly Bluett as Cinderella
Cardiff New Theatre’s current pantomime Cinderella has been described as “Very exciting” by Holly Bluett who makes her professional debut in the title role.

“It’s a great story so when people come to see the pantomime its not just going to be great fun, a great laugh and great family atmosphere,” says Holly, “ you're also going to get that really good storyline as well.”

Holly who hails from Barry in South Wales is enjoying filling the shoes of Cinderella “I auditioned through my agent,” she says, “I kept saying I want to do panto so it went from there. I used to do a pantomime in Barry every year and that was great fun. I've been in Cinderella twice before but never played Cinderella so this is like promotion.”

Holly features alongside an all-star cast which includes Sam Kane, Linda Lusardi, Lee Mead, Gareth Thomas and comedians Mike Doyle and Andy Jones.

Cinderella will be Andy’s 32nd pantomime and he thinks it will be the chemistry of the cast that will contribute to the shows success “everyone is friendly and are having a laugh and you can feel its going to transfer on to stage,” he says, “The audience will be able to sense what is going on stage and how much we are all having a laugh its going to be special this year.”

“It’s a great time for children because for many of them this is their first trip to the theatre they love the music, the sets, the costumes, the lighting and the slapstick. If you can get the children then they’ll keep coming back to the theatre, it’s that magic for them!”

  • Tickets for Cinderella which runs until January 18, 2015 can be bought on 029 2087 8889 or online at The New Theatre Website

Monday, 22 December 2014

Dub War Reunite for Newport Show

Benji Webbe of Dub War
and Skindred
There will be a rare chance to catch classic alternative metal band Dub War as they play a one-off Christmas Show gig at Newport’s Six Feet Under in Stow Hill this weekend.

The band who were formed in Newport in 1993 offered an innovative mix of punk, ragga and metal and subsequently released release two albums, Pain, in 1995 and The Wrong Side of Beautiful in 1996.

Dub War split in 1999 following creative differences with their label Ear ache Records, but lead singer Benji Webbe along with drummer Martin Ford and Bass Player Ritchie Glover went on to form an early line-up of Skindred with whom Webbe still performs with.

Of returning with his old band for their first in 18 years, Webbe says: “The Newport alternative scene once had amazing Christmas shows with the likes of Cheap Sweaty Fun who used to put shows on. After losing TJ’s and the fact that I'm home this Christmas, we thought let's resurrect this mastodon and have a good old knees up Port-style!”

Webbe admits rehearsing with Dub War once again has brought back “Fun Memories”. “We are digging up the first albums more raw side  that first got interest from labels back in the early days”

Webbe says he is likely to revisit the sounds of Dub War with Skindred during 2015, “We are hoping to fit some Dub War material in at festivals this coming year, but this will be our last club show in Wales, I know that much.”

The Dub War gig will take place at The Bassment in Six Feet Under on December 27 from 7.30pm. Tickets are available from Newport outlets Diverse Music and Kriminal Records.

Review: The Nutcracker, St David's Hall, Cardiff

Christmas stories don’t come much more traditional than The Nutcracker currently presented by The Russian State Ballet of Siberia at St David’s Hall as part of their ballet season.

The ballet, set in the 19th Century Germany focuses on the magical events surrounding a Christmas party at the Drosselmeyer House on Christmas Eve and how an eccentric inventor and toymaker gives the gift of a toy called The Nutcracker to the party host’s young daughter, Marie.

As the clock strikes midnight, Marie goes to the living room to look in on her new toy but the inventor appears Marie is whisked away into a magical land which sees her doing battle with an army of mice and fighting alongside her Nutcracker who has transformed into a handsome prince.

It was not to difficult for audience members of all ages to be pulled into the action  of this  dramatic presentation with Tchaikovsky’s music provided with plenty of  charisma by The Russian State Ballet Orchestra.

Vasily Vainonen and Sergei Bobrov’s exciting choreography is brought to life by a magnificent cast of dancers lead by Maria Kuimova as Marie,  Kiril  Litveinenko as The Prince and Alexey Zevin as Dr Stahlbaum. The chemistry created between Kuimova and Litveinenko on stage is as elegant and magical as the characters they portray. The production is further enhanced by Christina Fyodorova’s colourful and vibrant costumes including flowing gowns, dresses, uniforms and mouse costumes.

As traditional as the tale is, The Nutcracker still remains very contemporary, its story displaying elements of heroic battles and fantastical escapism. A production for all the family to enjoy The Nutcracker runs until December 24.

Review: Cinderella, New Theatre, Cardiff

Lee Mead and Holly Bluett
in Cinderella
One can't help but notice that looking at this year’s line-up for the New Theatre's pantomime that it has more stars than usual. Casualty's Lee Mead, Welsh Rugby legend Gareth "Alfie" Thomas, Sam Kane, Linda Lusardi, Welsh comedians Andy Jones and Mike Doyle and last but not least Barry's own rising star, actress Holly Bluett.

Featuring an impressive line-up however doesn't always guarantee success,  a pantomime has to capture the whole family's attention for over two hours as well as adding a little extra something special to well trodden fairy-tale story line. That something special certainly exists in multitudes with Cinderella, each of the all-star line up bringing something individual to the table.

Gareth Thomas stage appeal goes far beyond having a strong fan following, his role as Dandini allows him to gently poke fun at his real-life persona as well as allow him to endure several bouts of slapstick humour in character.

Lee Mead is the suave Prince Charming, ready to set not only Cinder's heart aflutter  but also many female fans as he sings several numbers including Pharrel's Happy and Any Dream Will Do.

Sam Kane and Mike Doyle deliver a larger than life comedic portrayal of The Ugly sisters Alisha and Amanda, getting as many laughs as they do boos and hisses.

Andy Jones and Linda Lusardi are essential ingredients to the production as Buttons and The Fairy Godmother respectively. Both have a distinct knack in classic vaudevillian delivery, in Andy's case with a dash of Eric Morecambe comedy in places while Linda shows diversity with a comedic tongue twister of an exchange with The Ugly Sisters as well as performing a song and dance routine with The Lori Guppy Dancers.

Holly Bluett makes her professional panto debut as Cinder's and is the icing on the cake of an all ready talented cast proving her worth as a singer, dancer and actress. Her duet with Lee Mead is certainly a moment to savor.

The shows comic highlights belong to Thomas's Dandini pairing with The Ugly Sisters on the song  I'm sexy and I Know It and Lusardi, Mead, Jones and Thomas coming together for traditional slapstick comedy on If I was Not in Pantomime…

For everything you could ever want in a traditional pantomime and more besides Cinderella will have you whooping, cheering and crying with laughter - don’t miss this festive treat of a show. Runs until January 18, 2015.

  • This review by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales entertainment supplement The Guide on December 18, 2014.
  • Visit The New Theatre website to book tickets for Cinderella.

Review: Dick Whittington, Newport Riverfront

Gareth Tempest and
Emma Goodwin
The following is Andy Howells review of Newport Riverfront's 2014 pantomime, Dick Whittington as performed on December 4, 2014:
Panto time is here and Newport Riverfront’s tenth anniversary year is ending on fine form with yet another unmissable treat for the family. 
Hiss and Boo’s presentation of Dick Whittington wastes no time in getting into the story-line of how Dick and his trusty cat, Tommy travel to London to flee the capital city of rats. However, following their successful arrival the pair are framed by King Rat for a crime they didn't commit. 
To win the hand of the Alderman’s daughter, Alice, Dick must prove his innocence but not before taking to the high seas on a trip to Morocco where King Rat is attempting to cause further havoc. 
Combining adventure, comedy, song, dance and a few double entendres for the grown ups, Dick Whittington takes in a variety of locations from South Wales to London and on to Morocco via the seven seas.  
Newport’s own Gareth Tempest   heads the cast in the title role as a believable all singing and dancing hero with a dash of Douglas Fairbanks Jr about him. Nerine Skinner breaks the mould of Fairy Godmother’s by delivering an energetic and fun portrayal of Bowbells. Tommy the cat is portrayed by  Emma Goodwin with an almost athletic flair as she cartwheels on to the stage. 
Michael Onslow takes on no less than three roles as The Alderman, Sea Captain and Sultan, frequently playing the straight man to other cast members crazy antics but getting plenty of laughs on his own accord. 
Pantomime Dame Lee Mengo has his role of  Sarah The Cook honed to perfection, raising laughs while bringing much warmth to the role while  Elin Llwyd is simply fabulous as feisty female Alice striking the balance of superb acting and throwing in a few song amd dance routines for extra razzle dazzle. 
Richard Elis’ King Rat brings a baddie the audience love to hate and he received much in the way of hisses and boos during Thursday nights performance. 
Finally ensemble performers Alexander Day, Joshua Galvin, Chrissie Perkins and Ioanna Kamenou bring some tight and well constructed choreography to the show in multiple roles. Fun for all the family, Dick Whittington runs at Newport Riverfront until January 4.

Restaurant Review: Christmas Menu at Frankie & Benny's

Christmas is everywhere at the moment, and if like me, one of your favorite parts of the festive season is the actual Christmas lunch, there is a chance to have an early preview, without all the hassle of children complaining about their likes and dislikes or the washing up afterwards.

Frankie and Benny’s at Spytty Park never fails to deliver the goods, as my family have discovered on several visits in recent years, presenting a menu that appeases both adults and children’s different tastes. This visit would be even better as we were greeted  by friendly staff members Emma and Jess, who saw that we were comfortable and enjoying our Frankie and Benny’s Christmas experience with all the trimmings including crackers party poppers and paper hats.

My wife, Rachel and I were longing to try the seasonal menu, and we could be certain that our children, Seren, Jon and Tom’s tastes would be satisfied with old favourites such as Frankie’s Hotdog and Margherita pizza. The latter, described by Jon as “Awesome!”

Rachel opted for the BBQ Grinder Rigatoni, a real combination of Christmas delights combining Meatball chunks, crispy bacon and pepperoni tossed with “tasty” rigatoni, diced roasted red pepper, red onion and Frankie & Benny’s signature BBQ sauce.

My choice for a main, Frankie’s Christmas Dinner is more traditional fare, taking the form of flavoursome roasted half chicken ,served with sausages in bacon, Christmas potatoes, green vegetables, pork, sage & onion stuffing, covered in meaty gravy and additional cranberry Sauce on request. I really enjoyed this festive treat, particularly as the Chicken was of great quality and cut as neatly as it tasted.

Rachel followed up a second course with a Bourbon Salt Caramel Cheesecake topped with bourbon salt caramel sauce and chocolate covered honeycomb pieces, served with vanilla ice cream on the side. Similarly, Seren enjoyed sampling the red velvet cake set against Ice Cream with a hint of Strawberry flavour.

As the boys played it safe with Ice Cream Sundaes and Chocolate Buttons (a firm favourite that even Seren had to return to), I plummeted for the Christmas Slice, a fair sized dessert portion with a hint of rum, served with warm custard.

A Two Course Festive Menu at Frankie and Benny’s will cost £16.95 per head and proves great value in a relaxed and fun environment whether out with friends or family.
Bill (Drinks & Extras not included):
1 Junior Hot Dog 7.75
2 Kids Margherita 8.50
2 Christmas - 2 Course 33.90
1 Christmas Top Up 3.00
Grand Total: 53.15
To visit Frankie & Benny’s, Newport Leisure and Retail Park, Seven Stiles Avenue, Newport
NP19 4QS call 01633 636 310 or visit frankieandbennys.com

This review was originally published in The South Wales Argus Entertainment Supplement The Guide during November 2014

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Review: Disney's The Lion King, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Re-imagining one of Disney’s most successful film animations for the theatre was always likely to be a tall order, but as The Lion King took to the stage of Wales Millennium Centre the phrase “Hakuna Matata” (No Worries) certainly sprung to mind.

Recreating all the colourful Prideland landscapes of the film, the show also retains its larger than life characters and edge of the seat drama, while throwing in some startling choreography and new songs to sit neatly alongside those already scored by Elton John and Tim Rice.

The ensemble piece Pride Rock opens the show in similar vein to the film. As Jonathan Gill’s orchestra deliver the African beats of Circle of Life across the theatre, a carnival of colourful animals lead by the enigmatic mandrill Rafiki (played by Thulisile Thusi) take their place. Birds, lions, cheetahs, giraffes are all represented via groundbreaking costumes and a startling array of puppets.

The first half of the show faithfully retreads the film script and Scar’s plot to overthrow Mufasa as King of Pride Rock while the second focuses on Simba’s attempt to reclaim the territory from his evil uncle. The second half also has the added extras of presenting musical solo spots and a further ensemble piece One by One.

Stunning performances from Christopher Colquhoun as Scar, Cleveland Cathnott as Mufasa and Wales’ own Meilyr Sion as Zazu provide the backbone to the story, while the demanding and energetic roles of the young Simba and Nala are played to perfection by the talented Mitchell Jelley and Eve Midgley making way for Hope Maine and Melina M’Poy’s portrayals as the characters in adult-form during the second half. Dominic Brewer and Lee Ormsby are also on hand to inject some comic fun into the proceedings as Timon and Pumbaa.

A treat for all the family both visually and musically, Disney's The Lion King runs At Wales Millennium Centre until Sunday 11 January 2015. Tickets are available via 029 2063 6464 or www.wmc.org.uk and from 8am in person at the Centre.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Gareth Tempest Steps Up To Dick Whittington Role On Newport Riverfront Stage

Gareth Tempest in
Dick Whittington
For Newport-born actor Gareth Tempest who plays the title role in Newport Riverfront's latest pantomime Dick Whittington his acting career has come full circle.

Gareth, who recently toured with a production of Macbeth appeared in Hiss and Boo’s first pantomime presentation at the Riverfront in 2005 which coincidentally was also Dick Whittington. On that occasion he was a fresh-faced extra.

“It has its gone completely right around,” he recently told Andy Howells, “I remember been shouted at a lot by one of the managers. Me and my friend were two little tykes really. I've got some really fond memories including going on stage in very see-through tights, because I’d bought the wrong ones. The first time I ever held a girls hand was in that show. We were dressed up as rats and we had a big rat tale fight and we smashed a load of light bulbs.”

Gareth had previously been involved with Newport’s New Venture Players prior to his role in Dick Whittington. “I’d done a few shows with them and it was actually my friend who said he was going to go to this audition. I went with him; it was a really fun experience. I remember turning to one of the actors in the wings one day because even then I knew I wanted to be an actor. I said “How do you be an actor?” he said “you just work really hard!” I went “Right, okay!”.

“I finished High School and got very lucky by getting into the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School where I trained. My first job was at the Sherman Theatre in It’s A Family Affair, We'll Settle It Ourselves.”

Gareth performed alongside actor Lee Mengo in It’s A Family Affair and is reunited with Lee (who plays Sarah The Cook)  in Dick Whittington. “I'm really excited because I've heard really good things and I'm excited to work with Lee again," says Gareth.

Of course, Gareth is glad to be back on home turf in Newport, “I’ll be home for Christmas and of course I’m working so it’ll be great.”
  • To book tickets for Dick Whittington visit The Newport Riverfront website
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on November 28, 2014.

In Concert: Imelda May, St David's Hall, Cardiff

Imelda May
"Tonight Cardiff, we are going to have a good night - and we're going to sing!" announced Rockabilly Queen Imelda May part way through her show which took place at St David's Hall on Monday, November 17.

It might have been the beginning of the week, but Imelda wasn't going to have any bystanders in the audience as the rock n roll rhythms delivered by her band raised the roof of St David's Hall.

The show kicked off with a 40 minute set provided by hep cat rockers The Caezars in which they performed an all-original set strewn with funky guitar riffs and double bass beats.

The band performed with a style and flair befitting that of 50s rockers Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent. Caezars tracks Six Feet in the Ground, Dirty Robber and You Can Love Me helped set the perfect pace for the evening prior to Imelda May's arrival on stage.

Beginning with the title track from her latest album Tribal, Imelda and her band weren't short on original material. While Wild Woman was dedicated to all the female members of the audience (some of which had traveled all the way from Imelda's native Dublin) similarly she dedicated Big Bad Handsome Man to all her male fans.

As well as adrenaline-rush rockabilly, there were also quieter moments including a fabulous blues drenched rendering of Howlin' Wolf's Spoonful and a sensual performance of Torture (I Wanna get you alone).

Imelda actively encouraged audience participation throughout the show too. So much so that many had moved down to the front of the house to dance into the last half hour of the show, giving the band a further jolt of electricity as double bass, drums and guitar tore through favourites Zombie Girl and Johnny's Got a Boom Boom.

An unplugged encore which included Imelda giving acoustic performances of Cher's Bang Bang My Baby Shot Me Down and Blondie's Dreaming' brought a memorable concert to an incredible close.

Monday night's will never get any better than that!

  • A version of this review by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on November 21, 2014.
  • Visit Imelda May's Official Website

Only Men Aloud Need A Little Christmas - David Fortey Interview

Only Men Aloud
Picture: James Davies
The celebrated male vocal ensemble Only Men Aloud will bring there 2014 We Need A Little Christmas UK Tour to St David’s Hall on December 14. Since winning BBC’s Last Choir Standing in 2008, the Welsh vocal phenomenon have enjoyed huge success selling hundreds of thousands of albums, nine sell out UK Tours, multiple TV appearances and numerous standout live performances including the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

“If we turn back 6 years or so we were doing it as a hobby, so to speak.” OMA’s first tenor David Fortey recently told Andy Howells, “I guess it’s an old cliche but entering and winning a BBC talent competition absolutely changed everything. It changed all of our lives and a lot of us, myself included, had a chance to focus on music as a full time career and it hasn't stopped since.”

David and other members of OMA split their time between performing and mentoring younger choir groups including Only Boys Aloud and Only Kid’s Aloud. “The male choir tradition stems back centuries in Wales and OMA is part of that tradition with a slightly more modern twist,” David continues “the key thing is these days we're hearing more stories about the more traditional groups who have to close down because they are maybe elderly and can’t carry on. We are immensely proud to give something back to the community and to the tradition of male voice choirs, so they can continue for another hundred years or so. For us it does get hectic at times, we find ourselves on the road performing and singing and then we might be back teaching - it offers variety.”

Variety is also the order of the day as Only Men Aloud prepare for their forthcoming Christmas concert at Cardiff's St David’s Hall. The Classical Brit award winners will showcase their eight piece vocal harmonies as they add their magic touch to Christmas classics and best loved songs from the musicals, among them standards such as White Christmas and O Holy Night and dazzlers including Putting On The Ritz from Top Hat and Razzle Dazzle from Chicago.

“The good thing about the OMA repertoire, Tim Rhys Evans who is the musical director puts his mark on all of our music. Every single one of us loves Christmas so you get the traditional right up to the present day. Everything is given the OMA razzle dazzle as it were and really makes one great show. We have fun doing it, the audiences enjoy it and it puts them in the right spirit for Christmas.”

“The last year or so we’ve been an 8 piece ensemble,” continues David, “Tim is writing and arranging music for the group which is almost one and a part so each one of us has our own individual line and are kind of responsible for making the whole thing tick. Everything has its challenges because the repertoire is diverse, we kind of have the traditional which you'd have the choir to sing and then it branches out to endless possibilities which offer its own challenges. You’re always switching styles and going from one thing to the next the good thing is all the guys are accomplished singers and musicians so it’s a good challenge to have.”

David also says there will be a few surprises in the show, “We have got a few new songs and some good Christmas medleys which I won’t spoil. I’m looking forward to a few of those they are going to be good fun.”
  • Tickets are available from the box office on 02920 878 444 or online at stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk
  • Extracts from this interview appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during November and December 2014.

"It's All About Challenges" - Welsh Rugby Legend Gareth Thomas Talks Pantomime

Gareth Will Play Dandini in
Between promoting his autobiography Proud, commentating on rugby matches and preparing for a stage show about his life, you’d think Gareth Thomas would be looking forward to a quiet Christmas. However, you would be mistaken, as you’ll find the former Welsh rugby star treading the boards as Dandini in Cinderella at Cardiff New Theatre from today.

“When I was approached to do it this year it was a kind of no-brainer because it was in Cardiff,” he recently told Andy Howells.

“Its a difficult time of year to work constantly because you don’t go out to Christmas parties. but you create your own little environment in the show. Its your own little family, you make new friends and its all about having so much fun.”

Gareth made his pantomime debut in Aladdin at Wrexham two Christmases ago and recalls his first day as a panto star with laughter. “I walked into a room and there was one of the guys dressed in a full body stocking, putting on all this make up and a huge wig. I was thinking to myself “what the hell am I doing here?” Then you realise the more outrageous, the more fun it is and the more it brings joy to other people. You have to embrace that and go along with that for the part.”

Gareth pictured with Casualty
star Lee Mead in Cinderella
“For me its all about challenges,” says Gareth, “I could go through the rest of my life been known as an ex rugby player but I want to do more than that. I will always be in love with rugby, in love with the game, but life is full of different challenges and different parts of who you are. Rugby gave a platform for me to stand on stage and essentially act and make other people laugh. When I left rugby I was unsure of what I’d do with the rest of my life, it was scary. Now what I do is embrace the fear and actually the fear is a challenge and I love challenges. If you'd asked me ten years ago would I do it, I’d have said “never in a million years”. Because I said I’d never do it and the fact I’m doing it now means I’m overcoming challenges constantly and that’s why I love it. Who says that every ex rugby player has to permanently be a commentator or coach, why can’t they do other things with their life?”

Gareth’s autobiography Proud released in September was received with positive reviews from readers and critics alike. “I’d love to say it was an amazing journey,” he says, “but now its out and I'm hearing the comments and the effect it’s having on people. It makes everything I went through twice (because you go through it twice when you write about it) worthwhile. I didn't think it would be. There are times and places I never want to physically or mentally revisit but to do the book I had to. By revisiting them I kind of faced up to them and finally put them to bed, rather than just saying “I don’t want to face them again”. For me it was the final hurdle of saying “its okay, I've got over it.” Its there in print to help other people it’s helped me as well.”

Andy Howells meets
Gareth Thomas
There are still talks that a film of Gareth’s life is to be made, “That’s still happening, there’s some serious people involved. Its not a process that I’m wholly involved in but I have to entrust it in other people and they know more about it than me.”

So in the meantime, it’s back to Christmas, a season that brings a magical glint into Gareth’s eyes when we discuss it. “I love everything about Christmas. I bought a house a few months back and one of the reasons I bought it is that it was made for Christmas decorations. I loved it that much I bought the house!”

His love for Christmas ties in neatly with his love for pantomime. “I feel for anyone who loses their inner child,” he says, “I’m 40 years of age and I’m still a kid. I can go on stage and be part of something I love. Been able to give to so many people in the city that I love is a dream job.”
  • Gareth will star in Cinderella at The New Theatre alongside Lee Mead, Sam Kane, Linda Lusardi, Mike Doyle, Andy Jones and Holly Bluett from December 13 until January 18 Tickets can be bought on 029 2087 8889 or online at www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk 
  • A version of this interview was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on December 5, 2014

Review: Holland-Dozier-Holland Rare 45's

If you love your classic soul on vinyl format then the Holland-Dozier-Holland: Rare 45s Box set is the must buy of the 2014 festive season.

Music legends of the early 70s Chairmen of the Board, Freda Payne, The Barrino Brothers, Honey Cone and Eloise Laws line up for 20 sides of rare and previously unreleased soul heaven .

Several sides belong to Chairman of the Board. Their hits You’ve Got Me Dangling On A String and Give Me Just A Little More Time get neat remixes,  although  one wonders why the brilliant What’s The Use? didn't get a single release first time around.

Similarly The Barrino Brothers Trapped In a Love, Eloise Laws' You’re Mine Baby Doll and the exclusive vinyl release of Freda Payne’s Unhooked Generation all enhance further the legendary work of Holland-Dozier Holland some 40 years on from the original recording sessions.
  • A version of this review appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during November, 2014.

Friday, 12 December 2014

In Concert: The Sensational 60s Experience 2014, St David's Hall, Cardiff

The Ivy League
The Sensational 60s Experience returned to St David's Hall on November 25, 2014 featuring The Ivy League, The Union Gap UK, Dave Berry, The Swinging Blue Jeans, Herman's Hermits and compere Alan Mosca of The Dreamers performing some of the 1960s greatest hits.

Getting the show off to thumping start were The Ivy League performing Not Fade Away and The Last Time on individual drum kits as well as classic hits Funny How Love Can Be and Tossin and Turnin. Guitarist Mike Brice (a former member of 60s instrumental group The Eagles) also treat the audience to a version of The Shadows'  Wonderful Land during the set on his synthesizer guitar.

1960s revivalists Union Gap UK followed, delivering a cracking set featuring vocalist Tom Harding recreating the original Union Gap hits Lady Willpower and Young Girl, while guitarist Simon Paul hit the high notes on The Four Season's Sherry.

Pictured with Dave Berry
Union Gap UK remained on stage as 60s legend Dave Berry stepped into the spotlight to perform his hits Memphis Tennessee, Little Things and The Crying Game. Dave also sang The Yardbirds’ Heartful of Soul, a composition offered to him by composer Graham Gouldman back in 1965. Judging by Dave’s performance of it, it was clearly a song he should have recorded because it gained a great response from the audience.

The current incarnation of The Swinging Blue Jeans began the second half with a great selection of Mersey beat hits including The Hippy Hippy Shake, You're No Good and the Joe Brown hit A Picture Of You, composed and sung by band member (and former member of Joe Brown's Bruvvers) Peter Oakman.

Pictured with Herman's Hermits
featuring Barry Whitwam
Finally, Herman's Hermits featuring original drummer Barry Whitwam took to the stage with a pick of million sellers including My Sentimental Friend, No Milk Today and There's a Kind of Hush.

The Sensational 60s Experience certainly does what it says on the label, allowing fans an opportunity to experience the best in 60s music live and even an opportunity to meet some of their music heroes for an autograph at the end of the night. Sensational indeed!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Sixties Legend Dave Berry Still Happy To Be Touring - Interview

Sixties legend Dave Berry is back on the road with The Sensational 60s Experience, Andy Howells recently chatted to him.
“I’ve always looked forward to touring.” singer Dave Berry tells me, “Fortunately I’m in a nice position in my career to continue every year which has been excellent for me. This year I did a rhythm and blues tour with The Zombies, it gave me the opportunity to do some different material I don’t normally do in my sixties shows.”

Sheffield born Dave, who released his first single Memphis, Tennessee on the Decca label in 1963, would go on to score major chart success during the 1960s with hits The Crying Game, Little Things and Mama.

“We’d had a gradual build up,” remembers Dave as we discuss his early days in the music business which saw him and his band The Cruisers tour with The Rolling Stones. “I’d done all the major TV shows so I was quite established before The Crying Game. I can tell you any artist who says that they aren’t blown away when their records get high in the charts are lying. It’s the most exciting thing you can ever imagine, its like a footballer been chosen to play for your respective country. To be suddenly chosen and be there in the top five you really are thrilled. It’s the highlight of your career and the hope that you can keep it going. “

Dave has been a constant presence on the live circuit since his 60s heyday having toured with the likes of Van Morrison and performed on stage with artists such as Boy George, Ronnie Spector, Paloma Faith and Ray Davies. 
“I’m sort of like the old musicians,” he says, “I think it was Keith Richard who once said of sixties artists “as we all get older we reach the status of all the old jazz musicians.” We want to play the music because that’s what we do, we’re not just pop stars who had thirty minutes or three years of fame. We all wanted to stay in the music business which we’ve all done, its been very much a part of my life.”

Dave recently played a 12,000 capacity concert in Rotterdam alongside such legends as Colin Blunstone, Steve Ellis and George Baker. His success in Belgium goes back to 1965 when his record label signed him up for a song festival in Knokke. “I thought, "well it’s not really my thing," but they said "Well we’d like you to go because we’d like you to break into Europe." I didn't really have any hopes in having anything from it apart from a good weekend and a few drinks and a laugh.”

Dave had a change of heart when he got to the song festival, he continues, “I thought, “No, I’ll go on and do it correctly and do the proper Dave Berry show,” I did and they took to it like a duck to water. There’s humour in the show which is nice, it’s all a bit tongue in cheek. Within about 6 weeks I’d got five records in the Dutch and Belgium charts.”

Dave’s impact in Belgium and Holland saw him have huge success with the Ray Davies composition This Strange Effect resulting in his biggest hit there. Despite his overseas success, he still regularly tours the UK and will continue performing with The Sensational 60s Experience tour in 2015 with Herman’s Hermits, The Swinging’ Blue Jeans, The Union Gap UK, The Ivy League and Alan Mosca of The Dreamers.

“I will be doing all my hits,” says Dave who puts much of his success in the court of the fans who have supported him over the years. “As the years go by, you look back on your career. I've done something that many hundreds of thousands of people would never have the opportunity to do, all the major TV shows and to be still touring quality venues now. I’m very proud of the songs I recorded in the 60s.”

  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells was originally published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide in November 2014.
  • For more on Dave Berry visit his official website
  • For more on The Sensational Sixties Experience visit the official website