Wednesday, 23 December 2015

CD Review: The Complete Them 1964-67

Much is often made of Van Morrison’s solo years, so a 3 CD revisit of his earlier material with Them recorded between 1964 and 1967 is extremely welcome.

Taking their name from a 1954 sci-fi movie, Them recorded their debut single for Decca Records in July 1964, only months after making their debut at Belfast’s Maritime Hotel performing charismatic interpretations of R&B blues and soul.

Don’t Start Crying Now paved the way for further hits Here Comes The Night and Baby Please Don’t Go, all included here, along with tracks such as Paul Simon’s Richard Cory and rare BBC radio session recordings of Gloria and One More Time.

Them may have only been under Morrison’s leadership for three years but there’s a wealth of material to enjoy for both Van Morrison collectors and 1960s aficionados.

  • A version of this review by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on December 18, 2015

Book Review: Private Eye Annual 2015, Edited By Ian Hislop

Its Christmas time and bestselling news and current affairs magazine Private Eye have come up with their nineteenth collection of the year’s best cartoons, jokes and spoofs.

Edited by Ian Hislop, the colourful title has become one of the best value for money annuals to snap up over the festive season, and is packed full of content that showcases the very best of the magazine’s unique blend of wit and humour.

Presented in the tabloid newspaper style, the book is almost a Have I Got News For You presentation of 2015. So expect an alternative look at the general election, game shows, public sector services and sport. Similarly there are comical representations of public figures such as Nigel Farage, Jeremy Clarkson, David Cameron, members of the Royal Family and One Direction.

So, before you dismiss 2015 you could do far worse than turn a comical (Private) eye to this end of year satirical review.

  • A version of this review by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on December 18, 2015

Christmas Albums 2015 Reviewed

A Classic Christmas - Blake
It has to be said that Blake, the classically trained vocal trio, have really captured the spirit of Christmas with their uplifting Classic Christmas album.

Besides their irresistible pairing with Dame Shirley Bassey on The Christmas Song, the warm seasonal glow of jazz fusion continues  on fresh interpretations of tracks such as Bing Crosby's Its Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas and The Beach Boys' Little Saint Nick.

There's also a breath of fresh air on traditional songs O Holy Night, In The Bleak Midwinter and Silent Night. An album that lives up to its name, it certainly deserves to sit alongside some of the best seasonal offerings of Christmas past to be enjoyed well into the future.

Kylie Christmas - Kylie Minogue
Kylie Christmas features the pop queen putting her own slant on old favourites such as Winter Wonderland, Let It Snow and Santa Baby (a track she performed on Top of the Pops some years back and seems to have become an annual festive favourite to watch as well as listen to).

To add variety to the album, James Corden, Iggy Pop and the late Frank Sinatra all make audible contributions to Miss Minogue's diverse portfolio of duets (previous musical pairings have seen Kylie matched with Nick Cave, Jason Donovan and Robbie Williams).

Not sure if Kylie Christmas is a Christmas classic though, perhaps it needed a bit more originality, although anyone who has been dreaming of a Kylie Christmas for the last quarter of a century aren't likely to be disappointed.
  • A version of these reviews by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement, The Guide on December 18, 2015

Sunday, 20 December 2015

On Stage: The Snow Maiden, St David's Hall, Cardiff, 2015

If you are already tiring of the stressful clutter of the Christmas season be it present buying or Christmas parties and longing for some genuine magic then St David’s Hall’s ballet season featuring The Russian State Ballet and Orchestra of Siberia is an ideal place to start.

The season began on Saturday afternoon with a presentation of The Snow Maiden, a breathtaking re-adaption of Alexander Ostrovsky’s story set in freezing mid-winter which was ultimately the inspiration for the Disney film success Frozen.

Protected from the outside world by Father Frost, the exquisite Snow Maiden plays innocently amongst the dancing snowflakes in the mesmerising Land of Frost. The fantastical seasonal tale follows the beautiful girl as she dances from the wintry overtones of her snowflake world into the colourful village inhabited by the humans who live there. Venturing too far into her new territory and the Snow Maiden becomes swept away by feelings of both temptation and betrayal.

Anatoly Cherpurnoy conducts The Russian State Ballet of Siberia Orchestra to perfection as the atmospheric music of Tchaikovsky acts as the narrative for the unfolding drama on stage. Ekaterina Bulgutova heads the cast as the elegant and delicate Snow Maiden while Demid Zykov is both colourful and debonair as Mizgur.

There is strong support from Olesya Aldonina as Kupava, Yuriy Kudryavstev as Lel and Alexei Balva as Father Frost, but ultimately it’s the combined work of the dance ensemble can orchestra that make The Snow Maiden the ultimate in seasonal treats for the family.

The Snow Maiden runs until December 21, with further presentations of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake over the Christmas season. To book your seats, please visit or call the Box Office on 029 2087 8444

In Concert: Jools Holland and The Rhythm N Blues Orchestra, Cardiff Motorpoint Arena

The audience at Cardiff's Motorpoint Arena were literally bristling with excitement on Saturday evening as fans took their seats to witness the penultimate date in Jools Holland and His Rhythm N Blues Orchestra’s current tour.

Rhythm and Blues Orchestra guitarist Mark Flanagan  provided opening duties playing a brief set comprising of Americana and acoustic stylised music. Flanagan drew the crowds to their seats very quickly having to send them back for their refreshments before Holland’s orchestra took to the stage.

“Thank you! Goodnight!” joked Holland as he opened his arms to greet the audience when arriving on stage. Holland’s Goodnight would ultimately evolve into a very good night for all in attendance.

Ever the showman, its clear Holland has a love for music and musicians and wasted no time in introducing the percussion, brass and string sections of his orchestra giving each member a chance to display their individual talent on several occasions. Highlights included a rocked up version of Flight of the Bumble Bee (reminiscent in tempo to B Bumble and The Stingers Bumble Boogie) and an R&B slant on the traditional standard, When the Saints Go Marching In.

Holland also celebrated long term collaborator Gilson Lavis, of who, he observed, had met 40 years to the day. Holland stated that Lavis had given the best drum solo he or the audience were ever likely to see. A big statement, yes, but not one that anyone was denying.

There were fabulous vocal contributions from Louise Marshall and Mabel Ray as they lead individually on a blues soaked rendition of My Favourite Game and a Ska rendition of Secret Love.

Singer/songwriter KT Tunstall changed the pace into fast gear with an up-tempo performance of Suddenly I See, while there was also a spectacular nod to Sinatra of a rendition of Night and Day.

Holland’s final guest, the legendary Ruby Turner provided the icing on the musical cake with several songs from the new Jools & Ruby album. The audience by now were also in full swing, out of their seats and dancing to renditions of Ray Charles’ Jumpin' in the Morning and a rousing version of Peace in The Valley.

An encore including Enjoy Yourself and a duet of I'll Be Seeing You  featuring Holland and Turner brought a very diverse and memorable night of music to a close and yes, it was clear, everyone had enjoyed themselves!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

On Stage: Aladdin, New Theatre, Cardiff

If you had three wishes for an ideal pantomime, they would be an all-star cast, a magical story line and stunning special effects. Cardiff New Theatre’s 2016 pantomime, Aladdin, certainly carries all these magical ingredients with possibly their biggest and best panto in recent years.

Aladdin wastes no time in getting into the action with Sam Kane’s gloriously devilish Abanazar setting out on his quest to find the chosen one and seeking the powerful magical lamp for his own. Abanazar is not only jeered and booed by the audience but also shown up for any shortcomings by the beautiful Scheherazade played by Linda Lusardi.

Returning comics Mike Doyle and Andy Jones who play Widow Twankey and Wishee Washee respectively, know how to inject further fun into the proceedings with comic dialogue, slapstick and impersonations. Doyle, is particularly at his best as the pantomime dame and even gets chance to shine a light on a hilarious Shirley Bassey impersonation. Mark Llewellyn Williams Emperor Ming gets to bring his operatic singing abilities to the forefront as well as work as occasional stooge for both Doyle and Jones.

Ian H Watkins, best known as a member of Steps, takes the lead role of Aladdin, displaying versatility as an all round entertainer, singing, dancing and acting while still been a joy to watch. Watkins also gets to sing some Steps hits including The Way You Make Me Feel, a duet with his enchanting love interest, Princess Jasmine, played  by Holly Bluett.

With the action and fun been so involved, Gareth Alfie Thomas' appearance midway through the show as The Genie of the lamp almost comes as a surprise, but a welcome one at that, as he gets a huge cheer and welcome from the audience.

Dance routines provided by a fabulous ensemble cast and the Lori Guppy School Of Dance enhance the show further, particularly a wonderful Peking Keystone Cops style pursuit of Aladdin via Widow Twankey’s Laundry. There are also some stunning special effects including Aladdin’s ride on a magic carpet to Egypt that flies right out into the audience during a musical sequence.

Aladdin has everything you could wish for in pantomime fun and is the perfect Christmas treat for the family. The show runs until January 17, 2016.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

CD Review: Frank Sinatra: A Voice On Air 1935-55

You can’t rewrite history or can you? Most people remember Frank Sinatra these days for his slick performances in the 50s and 60s, the voice of the 20th century, the leader of The Clan (now commonly referred to as The Rat Pack) and the movie star.

Frequently overlooked are his early years, a good two decades formed around regular American radio appearances in which he became the first serious rival to Bing Crosby in the popular music stakes.

Frank Sinatra: a Voice On Air 1935-55 is a fabulous audio document cataloguing a diversity of radio performances from a live equivalent of a top 20 best selling songs show to a dedication programme on the day of the D Day landings.

The clarity on these historical recordings is astounding to say the least and brings back to life one of the most interesting periods in Sinatra’s career with some sharp performances of songs such as That Old Black Magic and It Had To Be You.

Listen out for an early rehearsal take of As Time Goes By, with Sinatra leading the way while the backing musicians still haven’t quite got it together, the consummate performer has arrived but no-one seems to have realised, its a real peek into music history and a must for Sinatra fans.

A version of this review appeared in the South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on December 11, 2015.

DVD Review: Downtime

The current series of Doctor Who may have come to an end but there's a DVD release fans can enjoy between now and the forthcoming Christmas special.

Downtime is a unique British 1995 sci-fi movie from the Doctor Who universe (but unofficial) featuring treasured characters and talent from the franchise and only now released on DVD - it's a must see for fans of the Time Lord.

The adventure features Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) of UNIT who investigate New World University; a sinister school run by Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling) and Professor Travers (Jack Watling). The technology obsessed University holds a gateway to Earth made by classic foe the Great Intelligence. Fighting alone and without the aid of their time-travelling scientific advisor, The Brigadier and Sarah Jane are hard pressed to decide who is friend or foe as they search for a missing Locus, which binds the Intelligence's power. The battle is broadened when the Brigadier's own family is threatened and UNIT faces a powerful new breed of Yeti!

An unofficial sequel to the Doctor Who serials The Abominable Snowmen and The Web Of Fear, Downtime neatly bridges the gap between classic Doctor Who and the new series, utilising familiar characters and monsters. Perhaps the most interesting inclusion in this story is the introduction of The Brigadier’s daughter, Kate (played here by Beverley Cressman) who has become a recurring character in the Doctor Who series in recent years.

The two disc DVD available now from Koch Media features the complete Downtime film written by Doctor Who writer Marc Platt and directed by Christopher Barry as well as second disc looking at the making of the film and post production clips.
  • A version of this review by Andy Howells appears in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on December 11, 2015

Christmas Singles 2015 Reviewed

Andy Howells delves into the bag of Christmas singles available for the festive season and cherry picks three releases for 2015.

Red Sky July – Save Christmas Day For Me 
Award-winning Americana trio Red Sky July have released an atmospheric, beautifully orchestrated single for Christmas featuring Beth Nielsen Chapman. Save Christmas Day For Me is original and beautifully produced and destined to become a Christmas classic.

Blake & Dame Shirley Bassey -The Christmas Song
Incredibly, in her 60 year career, Wales own Dame Shirley Bassey has never recorded a Christmas song, so this unique pairing with classically trained vocal trio Blake of The Christmas Song is a bit of an overdue treat. It starts off with soaring strings before moving into uptempo jazz. Irresistible and very festive!

Judith Owen & Harry Shearer – The Best Things EP
Another Welsh artist, Judith Owen and her comedian husband, actor Harry Shearer (famed for his work on The Simpsons and Spinal Tap) have produced a new and original collection of songs continuing the tradition of Owen and Shearer’s own Christmas gatherings around their family piano. The three track EP features two atmospheric piano lead songs from Judith very much in keeping with the laid back sound of last years Ebb & Flow album. The third track Too Many Notes is a soulful jazz inspired number featuring both Harry and Judith on vocals, well worth a listen, and maybe the pair should look to doing an album next year!

  • A version of this review by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on December 11, 2015

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Meet The Band: Molotov Jukebox

After a summer of festival appearances, Molotov Jukebox are touring the UK with an exclusive six date tour showcasing their forthcoming second album Tropical Gypsy. Having already hit their Pledge Music album target and sold out their London and Bristol shows, the London based six piece will be stopping off in Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Brighton across November and December and will be joined by special guests The Church, who will guarantee to start each event off on the right foot with their all singing, all dancing, party church service.

They play Bristol Lantern this evening (December 5), Andy Howells put questions to actress and Molotov Jukebox lead singer Natalia Tena. Natalia not only fronts the band but is a familiar face to fans of the Harry Potter movies in which she played Tonks and Game of Thrones in which she plays Osha.

How did Molotov Jukebox come together?
Sam and I met in another band and decided to run away and create our own musical circus. Over the years people have come and gone, we've had 18 different musicians pass through but the Molotov team you see now is a year and half old and it's the one that is going to stay.

How would you describe your style of music?
The clue is in the title of our next album Tropical Gypsy. Through the eyepiece of our London roots, we have tried to fuse together a Balkanesque gypsy sound with the Latin tropical one.

What’s been your best live experience so far?
Playing our first big show in Brazil when we all went as a band to Rio for the first time. We'd done a smaller guerrilla tour a few years earlier that got us in the door on that side of the world. When we came back the second time, we were put in Circo vador, a massive space that on night, which was filled twice over with the most enthusiastic dancing and clapping I've ever experienced.

Can you tell us about Tropical Gypsy?
In the vein of both Balkan and Latin music, we wanted to borrow their devise of putting lyrics that tackle big subjects, like betrayal, loss of all faith and death combined with music that propels the fans to the dance floor with a riot of sweat and wiggle.

Who has inspired the music you make most?
Wow. Tough one. Really it's no one person, it's a step-by-step aural discovery propelled by that first musical love, which for me at 5 was Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Chuck Berry. I musically lived in the 50's and 60's till puberty and with my hormones rushing around, I discovered the female legends; Carla Thomas, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and Etta James.

You’re also well known for your roles in Harry Potter and Game Of Thrones – how does been in a band fit in with being an actor?
It's a battle because their timelines clash so often and lead to having to make very tough decisions. Sometimes it's seamless and I can juggle both if I work hard enough but when it’s an either or situation, it's incredibly hard to pick.

Do you have any more roles in the pipeline?
Watch this space...

What was the first record you bought?
Ha ha ha ha ha, it's awful! At 12 I saved up and bought one of the Now... something albums. Probably Now 10 it was so long ago. It's had Baby Come Back on it, which I listened to on repeat.

Where can we see you live and what we can expect from the show?
Well we are finishing our UK tour on the December 6 but next year, with our release of Tropical Gypsy on April 1, that's when it will get interesting. We are looking at a bigger UK tour and potentially Europe too, followed by the chaos of the festival circuit in the summer.

  • A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on December 4, 2015.

Friday, 4 December 2015

DVD Review - DangerMouse: Mission Improbable

I'm one of those people who cringes when I hear the word reboot uttered from TV and movie geeks but when I heard that DangerMouse was making a return to TV even I couldn't resist tuning in to CBBC with my youngest son.

The new series is bursting at the seams with terrific tales of derring-do and random ridiculousness that DM is famous for but with a 21st Century twist that sees our hero venturing even further afield to save the world with a dazzling array of high tech gadgetry and transportation that only the greatest secret agent could ever dream of owning.

Of course, every top agent needs a tip top team to support him and DM’s return sees him joined by some familiar faces as well as some new ones. DM is reunited with his right-hand hamster, Penfold and Colonel K is back to keep a watchful eye over every mission. A modern day secret agent needs state of the art gadgets and luckily for DM, the ingenious Professor Squawkencluck has joined the team and has a gadget for every occasion, although how long they’ll stay in one piece in DM’s hands is another question.

The classic voices of David Jason and Terry Scott as DangerMouse and Penfold have made way for Alexander Armstrong and Kevin Eldon, but the pair along with the voice talents of Stephen Fry, Ed Gaughan, Shauna MacDonald, Dave Lamb and Richard Osman have ensured the spirit and fun of the original shows is still there.

If you missed all the fuss when the show returned in October you can now catch up with the first seven episodes (including the feature length first episode DangerMouse Begins Again) on DangerMouse Mission Improbable.

Compared to some DVD's this is one of the more enjoyable cartoon series that even some of the grown ups can enjoy. As well as DM's classic arch nemesis Baron Greenback and his henchman Stilletto there are also a host of other villains for our hero to fight including a psychotic computerised toilet and a gigantic Welsh space plant with ideas of world domination (and he really sings in Welsh too, because my son, a fluent Welsh speaker, told me!)

  • Dangermouse: Mission Improbable is available now from Freemantle Media.
  • A version of this review by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during November 2015.

On Stage: Jack and The Beanstalk, Newport Riverfront

Fee Fi Fo Fum I smell the lure of panto fun!

On the evidence of the third night performance, this years Riverfront panto, Jack and The Beanstalk, already has fun oozing out from an already tightly knitted ensemble cast to an audience who doesn't hold back from booing, hissing, cheering and having an all out good time.

Newport’s own Gareth Tempest is at the helm of the fun as the bright and brave hero of the piece, Jack, while established Riverfront favourites Richard Elis and Elin Llwyd raise the bar again this year with respectively fun and feisty appearances as Dylan the Daft and his beautiful sister Jill. Nerine Skinner also returns this year delivering a literally bubbly performance as the charming Fairy Liquid.

There are two new faces too, Simon Nock makes a flamboyantly brilliant Riverfront debut as Jack’s mum Dame Trott, while Patrick Marlowe is devilishly delightful as evil villain Fleshcreep.

The bright comical fun filled presentation doesn’t end there. There’s a few old gags freshened up, The Twelve Days of Christmas sketch presented by Elis, Bock and Tempest been a particular crowd pleaser. The ensemble cast as well delight with fabulous choreography and some nicely turned out musical performances.

The real fun of the show comes from the choreographically challenged cow Daisy operated to perfection by Emma Anderson and Natalia Iles and the spectacular giant operated by Jamie Anderson really has to be seen to be believed.

These are exciting times for Newport and the city has many things to be proud of, the high quality of its annual pantomime is certainly one of them. Don’t miss this year’s show which runs until January 3, 2016.

On Stage: An Evening Shared With Jasper Carrott and Alistair McGowan, St David's Hall, Cardiff

With Britain’s favourite impressionist Alistair McGowan and the original king of stand-up, Jasper Carrott delivering over two hours of side splitting comedy at St David’s Hall on Tuesday evening, the show was set to be a winner from the offset.

Feeling the pressure of a busy schedule in recent weeks, even I didn't realise how much of a good laugh I needed until McGowan stepped on to the stage and recalled a previous visit to Swansea Grand that had seen him greeted at the door by TV newsreader Huw Edwards mother. McGowan immediately dived into a comic news report in the unmistakable style of Edwards before paying tributes to Welsh Sport with perfect replications of Chris Coleman, Colin Jackson and Terry Griffiths.

McGowan diversified further with Moira Stewart’s summing up of reality TV star’s eyelashes getting tangled in a nightclub clash, an energetic performance of Eddie Izzard stepping in as a wildlife commentator and the cast of Dad’s Army re-imagined for the 21st century.

If that wasn’t enough value for money, further treats arrived when Jasper Carrott took to the stage. “Its said you only play St David’s Hall twice,” he began, “once on the way up… Well it’s nice to be back!”

Stark observations on growing old, eating a hot curry from a bowl made of space shuttle re-entry iron and bidding for his own autograph on eBay were a number of scenarios that kept the audience in constant fits of laughter.

A particular winner was Carrott’s graphic description of insomnia and the hell of observing your partners three stages of sleep at 4am in the morning.

An absolute treat to watch, this classic comedy pairing really lifted the spirits of all those in attendance including myself, in fact rereading my notes for this review I’m still laughing. Thank you Alistair and Jasper!

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Pinocchio Story Brought to Life For Christmas

As Christmas approaches, Llanyrafon Drama Group have something a little special in store for their audiences this year.

Pinocchio is adapted and based on the original classic story, and follows Geppetto, a charitable toy maker who makes a wish upon a star, hoping that one day he will have a son of his own.

By magic, Geppetto’s wish comes true as his little wooden puppet Pinocchio comes to life, and when the evil Master of Disguise, hears of this, he plans to kidnap Pinocchio, and keep him for his very own.

Pinocchio promises lots of fun for the family, and is the perfect seasonal treat that everyone should see.

So if you’re looking for something to lighten your “wooden heart” this festive season then pop along to Llanyrafon Methodist church hall, Llanyrafon, Cwmbran.

Performances start today December 4 at 19:30, followed by performances on Saturday December 5 at 14:30, Friday December 11 at 19:30, Saturday December 12 at, 14:30 & 19:30. Tickets are only £5, and can be booked through the box office on 0845 4742545 or via the website on

DBA Reunited For Surburban Ghosts Album - Geoff Downes Interview

Andy Howells chats to prog rock legend Geoff Downes about his latest project with top producer Chris Braide as DBA, Surburban Ghosts.

Three years after their critically acclaimed debut Pictures of You, creative powerhouse duo Chris Braide and Geoff Downes have reunited for the second chapter of their joint venture as the Downes Braide Association (DBA in short), Suburban Ghosts.

Prog legend Geoff Downes has played keyboards in The Buggles, Asia and Yes. He co-wrote the hits Heat of the Moment and Video Killed The Radio Star. Similarly Singer songwriter and producer Chris Braide has written and produced songs for numerous performers including Beyonce, Lana del Rey, Paloma Faith and Britney Spears, in his accomplished career he was awarded Ivor Novello, ASCAP and Billboard Awards It was at The Buggles’ reunion show in London back in 2010 that Chris and Geoff’s paths crossed for the first time.

“Chris was in a band called Producers and said, “I’d really like to write with you one day,” says Geoff, “ He moved to the States straight after that and I happened to be LA a few months later and we both said “Well, lets sit down and write some stuff together.”

With Chris busy working with both Paloma Faith and Lana del Rey and Geoff recording the Yes album, Fly from Here, DBA’s first album, Pictures of You was a culmination of a year of secret ‘moonlighting’ sessions. “The first one was very much testing the water,” says Geoff, “when we finally got together in an organised fashion we thought it would be a good idea to carry on and do another one.”

The sophomore album, Surburban Ghosts, has similarly been put together between both artists other work commitments. The quality of the release howeveris exceptional featuring a collection of melodic pop that is both nostalgic and new. Tracks such as Machinery of Fate and Number One are almost Buggle-esque in approach but with production qualities rooted firmly in the 21st century.

“The one thing we wanted to put to the fore was the synth and the melodies,” Geoff continues, “Chris was a big Buggles fan. One of the first albums he bought was our first album The Age of Plastic, so maybe its an unconscious nod in that direction. We’re not trying to emulate that, but certainly the sounds are nostalgic.”

Geoff has described DBA on his YouTube account as “the best band that will never tour”; I ask if performing live as DBA will always be out of the question? “I do know these things can always change,” he replies, “There are certainly no plans at the moment. Obviously I'm busy with both Yes and Asia touring so I don’t have a lot of time in that department. Chris is flat out with his song writing, but you never know if someone says “I’d really like to put you guys on and see how it goes,” I’m sure there’d be an appetite for it.”

The positive aspect for Geoff is that DBA material is something new for fans to get their teeth into. “Doing something like the DBA album is new music, As much as you want to play your old stuff its important to write new material and develop.”

  • Surburban Ghosts is available now through Cherry Red Records.
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during November, 2015.
  • Official DBA website

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Meet The Artist: Rebecca James

Pop, urban, singer-songwriter Rebecca James blends vocal harmonies with a modern urban sound. Throw in a twist of classical training and a taste of youthful exuberance and you have an exciting and dynamic pop star.

Rebecca's single On My Way was previously a BBC Introducing track of the week on BBC 1Xtra. The track is now delighting music fans again with A Gifted Remix featuring the very talented V Simmons.

The remix puts Rebecca in a totally new space which only goes to show off her versatility. Her stunning vocals blend well with the trap style synths and compliments this more gritty remix with charm and bold expression.

After lining up on stage next to some of the UK’s biggest artists at The Wembley Arena and completing her own national schools tour, this has already been an impressive year for the Cardiff born singer, and with her mixtape due out soon as well as other exciting things planned for 2016, it would be best to keep an eye on Rebecca James for the coming year.

Andy Howells recently put questions to the rising star.

Have you always had an interest in music and what lead you to become a singer/songwriter?
Definitely, from the age of 3 years old, I was singing along to my Dad's favourite albums (including Stevie Wonder of course) and then I was doing musical theatre from the age of 6 onwards.. It wasn't until early teens when I really decided to be a singer/songwriter..I realised I loved the theatre but didn't want to be involved in it anymore, there was something else..and it happened to be singing and playing!

Who has inspired you most on your musical journey?
I would say Alicia Keys. She was my first artist inspiration and then I started to read Elton John's songs..And realised I loved them so wanted to write my own stuff and that started from there. Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston have also been big inspirations to me as a young singer.

You’ve had quite a busy year in 2015 – what have been your highlights?
I have indeed. My biggest highlight of the year has to be playing Wembley. The whole day was incredible, something just felt very right and homely when I was on that stage.

What inspired the new remix of your single On My Way?
I just really wanted to hear a different angle on it, I always get curious with my songs that’s why I appreciate remixes so much. I knew Gifted would do an amazing job with it so handed it to him and here we are.

How did you get involved with working alongside V Simmons on the track?
He came down to the studios where I work from a lot and we just vibe'd for a bit and he jumped on the track. He was very quick at doing his verse, it was pretty cool.

You have a mix tape coming out soon can you tell us more about that?
Yes! I cannot wait to release it. I wanted to put something out that showed everyone where my inspirations come from, what kind of thing I like listening to and showing myself (RJ) on different tracks. I've never done anything like this before so it was a challenge but it pushed me as an artist and I hope people who listen to it recognise that and most of all love it as much as I do.

Will you be doing any live dates in the near future?
So..I have a press event coming up for the near future. Its invite only and will be me and my full band with lots of RJ things going on. That’s in Hippodrome Casino, Leicester Square this month. My rehearsal life is based around that at the moment and its been hard work but so much fun, I can’t wait for it to come around.

Which artists and albums are you currently listening to?
Ahh..I’m just gonna reel off some names..The Weeknd, Alessia Cara,Tori Kelly, Frank Ocean (Still..Waiting for his album..still), little bit of Ellie Goulding and the rest just depends what mood I'm in. But they're my main peoples at the moment.

How can people find out more about you and your music?
They can visit my website which is or I tend to post everything on my twitter which is @Rebeccajames_ for gigs, events..anything like that all my information will be over there!

Meet The Band: Josh Flowers & The Wild

Josh Flowers & The Wild are a London based four-piece who blend crunching blues with rock and folk influences. Lead by front-man Josh Flowers, with Squiff on cello, Dave on bass and Reuben on drums, they charm their audiences with country inspired harmonies and high-energy shows.

With their debut EP, Young Bones, racking up over half a million hits on Spotify, the band have recently completed a tour with The Zombies and are currently playing UK solo dates.

An EP, co-written and recorded with Grammy and Brit Award winning producer Martin Terefe (Cat Stevens, Jamie Cullum, KT Tunstall), is set to be released before the end of 2015.

How did you come together as a band?
Me and Squiff met at a studio in North London where I was recording and went for Nandos afterwards. I got extra hot chicken and he got herb & lime, I guess opposites attract. It was fun so we played some gigs together and then brought Dave and Reuben on board over the next year, who make up the rhythm section of Josh Flowers & The Wild.

How would you describe your music?
Someone described it in a recent interview as 'grungy rock meets bluesy country' which I thought was pretty good.

Who are your musical inspirations?
Inspiration can be hard to pin down when you all listen to and make a lot of different music, but I guess the proof is in the pudding. Hopefully our band makes for an enjoyable pudding. My first loves were the old songwriters like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen; that's what made me want to write. As a band we all love Rage Against The Machine, The Doors, The Black Angels... And more recently Kurt Vile and Leon Bridges have been getting played a lot.

Can you tell us about your current release?
We just made a 3 track CD called Magpie Boy, which is only available in physical form on our tour with The Zombies. We won't be putting it online anywhere, so people have to come to a show to get their hands on one. Our next full release (On iTunes, Spotify etc) is happening in January through an exciting record label we can't mention yet.

Whats been your live show highlight so far?
The first show of the Zombies tour at Kentish Town Forum is still pretty fresh in our minds as it was only two days ago. It was a real step up for us to be playing on a stage that size to a big crowd and feeling totally comfortable doing it. We had a great time!

What can we expect from your forthcoming Cardiff Gig?
We'll bring everything we've got to you guys in Cardiff! It'll be loud and hopefully sweaty and definitely fun.

What can we expect from you in the future?
Look out for our next single in January and then our EP in April, as well as plenty more tour dates and good times going into 2016. Merry Christmas!

A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus on November 27, 2015.
Josh Flowers and The Wild play Cardiff Globe tonight (December 2). For more info on the band visit their official website.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Candid Carrott - Jasper Carrott Interview

“I’m having the time of my life and I’ve never worked better,” Jasper Carrott OBE tells me as we discuss his visit to Cardiff’s St David’s Hall tomorrow evening in which he will share the bill with impressionist Alistair McGowan.

“It all came about two years ago when we did the Henley Festival in Berkshire,” recalls Jasper talking about the first time he teamed up with Alistair on stage. “They put us together to do an hours show. He went on for the first half hour and I went on for the second. I was backstage and he was ripping the pants off the audience and I thought “how am I going to follow this?” He finished and the audience went bananas and I did an aside to Alistair and said “Alistair, I asked you warm them up not boil them!” He got me off to a running start with the audience and it was very successful and that’s how we got together. He’s a lovely chap and very talented.”

Birmingham born Jasper started out on the comedy circuit in the early 1970s touring clubs across the UK. He reached the pop charts in 1975 with Funky Moped produced by ELO’s Jeff Lynne, “I think its top of his CV actually” laughs Jasper. The B side featured the comedy dialogue sketch Magic Roundabout which ultimately became the bigger hit. “It sold to discos because deejays would put it on when they were having a break,” says Jasper, “The audience would go “where can we get that? Magic Roundabout is the only hit single with no musical content and yet it was a disco hit – a bizarre single!”

Alistair McGowan & Jasper Carrott
In 1978, An Audience with Jasper Carrott the first of several TV specials placed him at the top of the TV ratings, more success followed over the next decade with TV series Carrott’s Lib, Carrott Confidential, Canned Carrott and the sitcom The Detectives.

“When I did An Audience with Jasper Carrott it was every piece of material I had,” recalls Jasper, “I then had to start from scratch again. I was out on the road and then I did an hours special. Later in '82 we started with Carrott’s Lib and that’s the first time I’d ever written with anybody else, so that was a revelation, been able to write with other people. I always loved introducing new writers and new acts and I’m still doing that now.”

Jasper took a break from stand-up in 2000 but returned to touring two years ago and now happily divides his time between his Stand Up and Rock shows with Bev Bevan of The Move and his appearances alongside Alistair McGowan. I wonder if it’s difficult for him to maintain the pace of new material as he did back in the 1980s.

“I’m actually coming to the end of the material that I’ve written and I’m going to spend the whole of next year writing,” he says, “ It’s very difficult to write now because there are so many comics on the road and they’re all doing similar stuff and I’m trying to be different from them. I’ve got an advantage that I can talk about getting old, I’ve regurgitated some old stuff too. I used to do a routine on the 60s and I’ve brought that back for the present day and that works very well. When I come to Cardiff, people who follow me will get new material and if they do recognise anything, it’ll be a bit obscure but I’ll have changed it. I’m pretty confident it’ll be a brand new show.”

Jasper also holds Wales in high regard and it’s quite clear he can’t wait till he returns “I’m a big fan of Wales and I have a saying that there should be a bit of Wales in everybody’s heart and Max Boyce is one of my best friends in the business. In fact I was in Wales earlier in the year because I was doing a TV show with Len Goodman when you go back to your childhood and I went back to Barry Island because I had a couple of holidays there when I was 13/14 so I went back – terrific!”

I ask Jasper, in closing, if he has ever had a funny incident that has ever happened to him at a gig, he responds with "many" before telling me, first hand, of one of the most comical scenarios.  " I was doing Liverpool Empire and about 5 minutes into it a bloke right from the top balcony in a Scouse accent yelled “Hey! Carrott! We cant hear up here, y know!” I got the sound guy and we moved some cabinets and I started again, then five minutes later he went “Still cant hear, y' know!” Within a few minutes and been in Liverpool he’d formed a union! The only place we could find a seat because it was rammed solid was the stool I was using on stage and he came down from the top, walked on stage and sat on the stool. I performed the show with him sitting next to me for the evening. When I finished he took the bow with me. The audience were laughing at him, I was laughing at him it was a real treat , a fantastic night!"
  • An evening shared with Jasper Carrott and Alistair McGowan takes place at St David's Hall, Cardiff on December 1.
  • For more information on Jasper Carrott visit his official website.
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus on November 27, 2015

Friday, 20 November 2015

Airrion Love Back On Tour With The Stylistics

With instantly recognisable hits such as Stop, Look, Listen to your Heart, You Are Everything and Betcha By Golly Wow, The Stylistics are one of the most iconic groups in soul history. The group still feature two of the original members (Herbert Murrell and Airrion Love) and is fronted by the brilliant Harold 'Eban' Brown, former singer with Wilbur Hart's Delfonics.

The Philadelphia group recorded a remarkable 10 straight top-ten hits during the early 1970s and will being their iconic sound to Porethcawl's Grand Pavillion on November 26. Andy Howells recently put questions to founder member Airrion Love.

The Stylistics came together in 1968 from two Philadelphia Groups The Percussions and The Monarchs. Did you come from musical backgrounds originally and what made you want to become singers?
As a child I was always singing, but other than The Glee Club and All City Choir in Junior High School, that was my only background.

When did you actually realise you’d become successful?
I still can't believe it! In my neighborhood coming up a lot of people knew me because of the music, but I lived there all my life so I was one of the lucky ones. There were a few recording artist from Philadelphia at that time.

You cracked the UK chart in 1972 with Betcha By Golly Wow. How important was it to you break into the UK?
Our management thought is was very important to break into the UK market, in fact our first mini tour we came over for free. The first city we came to in the UK was London. We were schedule to do a lot of promotions and we showcased at a club called Gulliver's.

Two of your hits Stone In Love With You and You Make Me Feel Brand New went on to  really define your sound. Did you have any idea how unique they were when you recorded them and do you still enjoy performing them?
Well, working with Tom Bell at the time, he always produced great songs. And yes when I heard You Make Me Feel Brand New for the first time it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I knew then it was a great song.

The Stylistics were a mainstay of the UK charts as well as the US and gained a UK Number One in 1975 with Can’t Give you Anything But My Love. What was the story behind that song and what did it mean to you to get a number one with it?
We had mixed feelings in the beginning. Tom Bell had stopped producing us after a disagreement with the record company and Hugo and Luigi the record company President and Vice President started producing us. We didn't feel the material was as strong as before and in fact we lost a few fans here in the States because of the change of sound. That album was the first one for Hugo and Luigi so they did a big TV promotion. It did go Gold Stateside, but after that, records sales went down here at home. But overseas it took off not only in the UK but Japan also. From then on it seem the material were written for our overseas market only but we opened two new markets.

You are still touring and performing and have retained a few original members from your 1968 line-up how do you all get on after all these years?
Well like a bad marriage, things start heading downhill, so did our relationship with our lead singer Russell Thompkins. Its been almost 20 years since he left and there's no communication with him at all.

What can fans expect from your forthcoming Wales show?
We've been coming to the UK for quite a few years, and we come to know what our fans expect from us. So we try to give them as much Stylistics Music and we can. We're not going to feature any other music but our own, so they can expect to have a lot of memories flooding though their minds. They might even find themselves falling in love all over again.
This is a funny story, but a woman wrote to our web site that she came to see one of our show with her ex-husband and ex-mother-in-law. After seeing the show which brought back so many memories she felt like she wanted to remarry her ex-husband again.

Out of all the years of The Stylistics success which would you describe as your best moment?
There's one that stands out in my mind, was performing South Africa to 65,000 people.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Laughter Lines With Nish Kumar

Stand-up comedian Nish Kumar is touring the UK for the first time with his new show Long Word… Long Word… Blah Blah Blah… I’m So Clever, will perform at Cardiff's Clwb Ifor Bach on November 17.

The show recently won Best International Show at the New Zealand Comedy Festival and is also one of the Top 10 most reviewed comedians at Edinburgh festival last year. Nish has performed on Dave’s One Night Stand and Alan Davies As Yet Untitled, he’s also a regular writer of Sky One’s The Kumars show.

Andy Howells recently put questions to the comedian.

What made you decide you were going to become a comedian?
I tried to have a real job for a while and I decided that it just wasn’t for me.

If you hadn’t become a comedian what would you be doing?

Who are your comedy heroes?
Richard Pryor, Tina Fey, Louis CK, Stewart Lee, Ross Noble, Amy Poelher.

What’s the funniest experience you’ve had while touring?
I was once chased offstage by a Scottish heavy metal band.

What can you tell us about your new show?
It’s stand up comedy from a clever boy. It’s about politics, diversity and the American Pie film franchise.

What makes you laugh?
The Simpsons

Where can people find out more about your work?
All of it is on

  • Andy Howells is a freelance writer. A version of this Q&A appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide in November 2015.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Meet The Band: Superheaven

Following the release of their second album Ours Is Chrome and their first ever U.S. headlining tour, Pennsylvania's Superheaven are currently touring the UK supporting Every Time I Die. They play The Fleece in Bristol on November 8.

Taylor Madison from the band recently answered questions from Andy Howells.

How did the band first get together?
Pretty much the same way any band gets together. We all played in bands, and wanted to start something new. So we write some songs and recorded a demo. Then we just started playing shows.

Who or what has inspired you most on your musical journey?
 I don't think anything specific. I think everyone in the band started playing at different times and for different reasons. But after playing music for 10 plus years now, I can definitely say that there is a need to create, and that's probably why we continue writing new music.

Can you give us some background about your latest album?
It's our second LP. I don't think there's much background to give. It was a little more difficult to write a second record, but only because there's a desire to make it better, or at least as good as the first record.

You’re touring shortly are you looking forward to that?
Yeah. It's been a little over a year since we've been to the UK.

What can people expect from your forthcoming Bristol gig? 
We have played Bristol more than once. It will probably be loud.

What are you enjoying listening to at the moment?
The new Kurt Vile record is pretty good.

  • A version of this Q&A appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on November 7.

Meet The Artist: Dan Owen

It has been a ground-breaking year for young singer-songwriter Dan Owen. The 23-year- old has gone from playing to tiny audiences in backrooms of pubs to a run of impressive festivals dates, including Bushstock, The Great Escape and Glastonbury.

Following those early live shows, he went on to win Best Young Artist at the British Blues Awards and a surprising accolade came from another audience member, Mick Fleetwood (of Fleetwood Mac), who hailed Dan "at the forefront of the new wave in British singer-songwriter talent". Now, stepping away from the blues and writing new material, Dan is getting ready to release his first EP late this year – produced by Cam Blackwood (George Ezra).

Dan, who hails from Shrewsbury is now headlining a UK tour which brings him to Newport's Le Pub on November 7. Andy Howells recently put questions to him.

What lead you to becoming a musician?
It all started when I was 9 getting my first guitar lessons at school. I failed music but then started playing guitar for my sister who sings, around the pubs when I was 13. As a profession, it was kind of forced on me when I had a workshop accident involving my eye. I couldn't do any of the fine carpentry work anymore so had to give it up and start singing songs for a living.

Who or what has inspired you most on your musical journey? 
More than anything probably the musicians I got to know playing around my home town. The older musicians I got to know and played with on Jam nights and gigs have always inspired me with their crazy stories from the road.

Can you give us some background about your upcoming EP? 
It's all about my own stories and experiences that I've been able to write about over the last couple of years, moving away from the blues covers and doing my own thing. I have kept one blues song on there that always goes down well when I play it live. One for the blues fans. The others are mine though and I'm looking forward to getting it out there. I have been lucky enough to work with a producer called Cam Blackwood, who did George Ezra's album. We had an amazing time making all kinds of noise in the studio.

Are you enjoying touring?
I love touring, it's definitely where I feel most at home, having done 150-200 Gigs a year from a young age, it feels great getting out on the road. I'm currently supporting Rae Morris on her UK tour and it is going great.

What can people expect from your forthcoming Newport gig? 
Everything from foot stomping, hand clapping to those emotional moments, we're gonna have an awesome time!

What are you enjoying listening to at the moment? 
At the minute on the rare days off me and a few mates will sit around with a Spotify account a few beers and play each other music we've discovered from Joe Pugg to run the jewels.

  • Stay in touch with Dan online by visiting 
  • A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on October 30, 2015

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Acid House Pioneers 808 State Back On Road - Graham Massey Interview

From their origins as one of the quintessential “Acid House bands” at the tail end of the 80s, 808 State emerged from the iconic Madchester scene, to their proto-IDM, boundary pushing 90s output, 808 State’s influence on modern dance music can not be underestimated.

At the peak of their powers, the band comprising Andrew Barker, Darren Partington and Graham Massey blew away huge crowds at the Manchester G-Mex with the biggest PA system ever assembled and went on to collaborate with the likes of Quincy Jones, David Bowie and Afrika Bambaataa.

Tomorrow, the band's current tour comes to Cardiff Globe, in which they will air classics from a highly esteemed repertoire loaded with anthems including the seminal In Yer Face and the era-defining Pacific State, not to mention a wealth of electronic nuggets from their trail blazing career. Andy Howells recently put questions to Graham Massey of the band.

808 State are back on the road! Are you looking forward to the new tour?
I always enjoy playing live, its very cathartic. I think we’ve reached a point where the set works as an arc of music that really peaks. By the time we get 30 minutes in I’m usually pretty lost in a vortex where I’ve stopped thinking about the technology and the music’s coming through from somewhere else. Its taken years to reach that point

You are best remembered as one of the first bands to gain some recognition from the Acid House movement – did you feel you were innovators at the time?
Being an innovator wasn’t our goal, we were excited about American dance music in the late 80s, we were excited about new computers, old synthesisers and recording studios. We wanted to put records into the dance clubs where we found our escape.
In the process of discovery and the influence of our mutual record collections thing turned out a bit more fanciful at a rare time when people were open to a new kind of music, even a new kind of pop music. I was as shocked as anyone that our synth fantasy music was on day time Radio. I was talking to Luke Vibert at a gig last week, he reminded me that in remote rural areas of the UK such as Cornwall, where there was only a tiny scene for rave. John Peel's show would be a window on this new alien landscape music coming out of the post industrial wastelands of the UK.  Our work influenced a lot of people to take that music further out. I’m not sure our strength was about floor fillers (though we had a number of them). Our Albums broke new ground and sold well to a wide audience beyond clubbers.

Who were your music heroes and what inspires you now?
Usually people with a strong singular vision of music, Stevie Wonder's synth albums being some of the first that caught my young ears. Bowie was important in my early teens, I got into the jazzier side of rock, things like Santana and Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report lead me toward Miles Davis, who is still my defining musical hero. He never stayed in on one spot musically. similar searchers like Coltrane & Sun Ra. I’m involved in a Sun Ra tribute band in Manchester.

808 State in 1989
Picture: Pete Walsh
Its some 25 years since you first cracked the charts and you will have gained a new generation of fans in that time as well as the ones who remember you from first time around, how does that make you feel?
Well I couldn’t have predicted still doing 808 State 27 years on. I’m surprised how I’m not bored with those tunes yet but music should be timeless don't you think? Its great to address young ears hopefully a lot of our music stands up, and doing it live enables us to mold and update the sound.

What are your memories from playing Wales the first time around?
I believe one of our first ever gigs as 808 State was in Wrexham FC social club in 1988, organised by some friends of the group K Klass. We were booked as a bunch of hip hop bands "Hitsquad MCR" that included MC Tunes and A Guy Called Gerald, we did some acid house at the end of the show. Probably some of the first UK acid house going at that point in time. The club served good pies if I remember correctly. We also did Cardiff Ice Rink in 1992 on a Xmas tour with Madness, 'twas Madness!

He haven’t played in Wales so much over the years, but we did play Port Merrion at Festival Number 6 a few weeks back. We were the last group at the Festival and had the power pulled on us in the midst of doing Pacific State. We had lost track of time and strict licensing laws applied! We carried on with some quiet free form jazz all red in the face and confused.

How has the music scene changed for you personally over the years?
I’ve been involved in music since 1977, so witnessed Punk, Post Punk and the rise of club culture. All these changes were brought on by individuals with a do it yourself attitude.

What do you think has been 808 State’s personal highlight?
There s been many but breaking into the mainstream culture with little compromise seemed like a triumph for a wider ideal than just us, contributing to all I love about music. Playing gigs that had an incredible exchange of energy with an audience. I think audiences used to be a lot more passive in the early 80s then with the dance culture they were as active as the performers, the boundaries broke down a lot, what a great point to be playing and harnessing that energy.

What can people expect from the new shows?
If they’ve never caught an 808 show before people are surprised that it includes a rhythm section (Bass Player & Drummer) but we've had this set up for decades now, it provides a muscular drive to our studio based music. Old classics are transformed into something quite different, there’s also a fair amount of improvisation in the music which I guess isn't usual in Techno.

Do you have any new projects you are working on?
We all are working in a wider context of music, be it DJing or the aforementioned Sun Ra tribute big band, I love improvising and I’ll always find an outlet that enables me to play with other musicians, but also I’ll try out ideas in solo sets in more underground situations. Lots of pointers for these projects on
  • 808 State play Cardiff Globe on November 6.
  • A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus on October 30, 2015

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Return Of The Ordinary Boys - Preston Interview

After a hiatus of nearly 10 years, The Ordinary Boys are back with what is arguably their strongest album to date and a new tour. Hot on the heels of their energy driven single Four Letter Word, the band are playing Cardiff Globe on November 5.

The reformed line-up consists of the original trio – Preston, James Gregory (bass) and Charlie ‘Chuck’ Stanley (drums) - plus new member Louis Jones from celebrated power-pop band Spectrals on guitar.

After a brief stint in the limelight following his appearance on Celebrity Big Brother in 2006, Preston has spent the last 8 years building a solid reputation as a successful songwriter, having written hits for John Newman and Example and a number one for Olly Murs with Heart Skips A Beat. Andy Howells recently put questions to Preston .

You're back with a new album and tour, what made you decide you wanted to make music together again?
I had fallen out with our drummer, Charlie in 2004. He only played on our debut album and then as I reached the peak of Saturn Returning I decided it was time to put the past behind me and give him a call. By the end of the phone call we had somehow decided to put the band back together and make a new record! The whole new album and tour is just a way for me to force my friends to hang out with me for a whole month! I can hold them hostage in van and force them to have a lovely time with me.

Its just over a decade since the original Over The Culture Counter was released and you rose to fame quite prominently what was that period like for you looking back?
The first tour and everything around that first album was so exciting. I look back at it as such a nice time in my life. It took ten years of time away from the band to be in the same position, completely unaccountable to anyone, that allowed us to make another record exactly the way we wanted to.

Did your time on Celebrity Big Brother, affect or detract from the inner workings of the band at all?
Massively but it was also an important factor in getting to the place that we are at now. I learned how to write pop music and, although the third album wasn't really an Ordinary Boys album, it taught me how to write pop music, which is what I do for a living now. I write for Olly Murs, John Newman and the Vamps.

Can you give us some background on your latest album?
We have a new guitarist, Louis from the band Spectrals, who immediately became one of my best friends. It's very much an album sparked by friendship and a desire to make some fun, singalong punk rock songs, which is what we always did best!

What are your memories of the first time The Ordinary Boys played Wales?
We played TJs a lot. The first time was supporting the Vandals in the late 90s. We stayed in the bunkbeds above the venue. We returned a few tim,es and were heartbroken to find out that it had closed down.

You're playing Wales on November 5, what can people expect from your show?
Every show on this tour has been great fun. Lots of kids moshing and singing along. We are having a brilliant time and I think it shows!

What do you think you've learned in your time together as a group?
I've definitely learned what the important things the get out of being in a band are. Friendship and making sure the amps are turned up really loud.

Finally, what has been your personal highlight in your time with the band?
We had a number 1 album in Japan and we played a 40,000 seater baseball stadium over there. That! We are returning to Japan in December which is very exciting!

  • Catch The Ordinary Boys at Cardiff Globe on November 5.
  • A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus on October 30, 2015

Snakecharmer To Play Cardiff Globe

Six of the UK's most highly-esteemed and experienced rock musicians have joined forces to create Snakecharmer.

Original Whitesnake members Micky Moody and Neil Murray have teamed up with Laurie Wisefield (Wishbone Ash), Harry James (Thunder, Magnum), Adam Wakeman (Ozzy Osbourne) and Chris Ousey (Heartland) to create classic twin-guitar based rock as it should be played.

With a live set comprising material from their critically-acclaimed 'Snakecharmer' album, coupled with such Whitesnake classics as Ready And Willing, Fool For Your Loving, Take Me With You, Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues and Here I Go Again, Snakecharmer is the genuine article.

The list of world-class bands and musicians that the members of Snakecharmer have collectively played with runs into literally hundreds: Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Jeff Beck, Gary Moore, Magnum, Queen & Paul Rodgers, just to name a few.

With their second album to be released soon the band are currently undertaking several live dates and will play Cardiff’s Globe on November 15. Tickets available from

Friday, 30 October 2015

On Stage: The Ministry Of Science, Newport Riverfront

“Why wasn’t science this much fun when I was a kid?” is what I thought as I watched The Ministry Of Science present a Brainiac style dynamic, fun and informative show at Newport Riverfront on Thursday afternoon.

Boring old text books were out as young presenters Mike and Vicki talked excitedly about names that had previously been presented to me without any sort of passion by tweed wearing schoolmasters a few decades ago.

The groundbreaking work of Bell, Da Vinci, Pasteur and Edison among others, came to life through visual recreations of some of sciences greatest discoveries. The effects of liquid nitrogen on a bunch of flowers to building a hovercraft on stage from everyday items made science cool for everyone. While youngsters from the audience were encouraged to take part in static electricity experiments, a grown up was given the task of using pedal power to create her own smoothie.

Any adults who had long forgotten the names of the chemical elements were given a two minute refresher courtesy of Mike’s rendition of Tom Lehrer’s 1959 song The Elements which incredibly names 102.

Experiments were made relevant as it was demonstrated how a Plasma Ball could power fluorescent light strips akin to Star Wars light sabres. With a variety of fabulously loud explosions occurring throughout the show from further experiments The Ministry of Science Show was definetely fun for all the family.

Find out more about The Ministry of Science online:

Meet The Artist: Julian Argüelles

Esteemed British saxophonist Julian Argüelles brings his working quartet, Tetra, to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama tonight. This follows the release of his the album Tetra which also features Kit Downes (piano), Sam Lasserson (bass) and James Maddren (drums).

Known widely as an original member of seminal big band Loose Tubes, as well as for his outstanding compositional and performing involvement with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, smaller creative ensembles have always been close to Argüelles’ heart, previously recording with suchluminaries as Mike Walker, Dave Holland, Martin France and the late John Taylor. In this new release, his respect for, and collaboration with, today’s eclectic strain of younger jazz musicians kindles a mutually imaginative spark with an equal emphasis on composition and freedom of improvisation, often melodically or texturally blurring those divisions.

Having already worked successfully with Downes and Maddren, Argüelles knew that they would possess an innate ability to connect with the complexities of his writing, as well as the spirit to soar extemporarily – and bassist Lasserson was discovered as the perfect rounder of this creative circle. Tetra have toured variously over the last three years, developing and shaping their alliance into this vibrant debut recording which ripples and sings with unpredictability and consummate musicianship.

Andy Howells recently put questions to Julian Argüelles about his forthcoming Cardiff show.

What inspired you to become a musician, were you from a musical background?
Well, the journey has been a long one, as it is for everyone. At first my motivation was just to have a good time playing music, as much as a social thing as a musical one. Then music became a way of expressing myself and making sense of important issues regarding life.
My parents weren't especially musical, but my brother, who is a couple of years older, had a great drum teach which led him to become interested in Jazz and he joined a local big band. I basically followed his path a couple of years behind him.

What drew you to the saxophone?
An amazing set of circumstances. I seem to remember putting my hand up in class, I guess I was about 8 or 9, when the teacher was organising who was going to play musical instruments. I hadn't thought about it before, but I suddenly fancied a go. My hand shot up somewhere between double bass (too big) and trombone (not cool), sax wasn't an option, clarinet and I became connected Once my brother became interested in jazz, it was only a short, and a very welcome, hop to the alto saxophone. Luckily the schools i went to seemed to have good peripatetic music teachers.

Did you have a driving influence or music hero who inspired you?
Thousands: people from countries I have never been to; musicians who i have never met; musicians from other genres; people who have never recorded anything; and many musicians I have been very fortunate to play with. But three musicians stand out because I became obsessed by their music at a formative and important stage of my development - Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Keith Jarrett.

You are probably well known for your work within the big band Loose Tubes but with tetra you are working within a quartet, what are the major differences you find when performing within a smaller group?
I don't have a preference, I enjoy both hugely. But I would say as a performer I prefer the intimacy and the solo and group improvisation possibilities of a small group. As a composer/writer I enjoy larger groups because you have more possibilities in terms of musical colour, orchestration, more individual voices, and there is nothing quite like the sound of a big band all 'breathing' as one, it can be very powerful.

Can you give us a bit of background about Tetra the album?
I met Kit and James through a bass player called Euan Burton, we did some gigs together in Scotland, I was surprised that they knew some of my tunes. Sam, I found after a bit of research after getting some recommendations of younger bass players I didn't know. I love the band, it seems that anything is possible with these guys. We've been doing quite a lot of playing over the last 3 years and after one of the tours we recorded this music. Originally it was conceived as a long suite with improvised interludes, we now play the music as stand-alone pieces. Recently the band has done several gigs as a septet with the addition of another sax player, trombone and trumpet.

What can people expect from the performance and the masterclass at your forthcoming show?
We'll be playing music from the CD of course as well as some new and not so new music. Of course the live experience will be very different to the CD, more risks and playfulness. I'm not sure what will happen in the workshop, there are several ways it can go, we'll certain play a bit, show examples of some of our ideas, lots of talking, and discussing things I feel are important about being a musician and writer. Hopefully it'll be very interactive, they are the most fun.

Do you get a good cross range of ages at your shows and do you feel there's a lot of appeal for jazz with younger music lovers?
Yes, I think so - and a fairly good percentage of women in the audience too, which is important I think. The colleges and schools are making lots of young people interested in jazz, and thats an amazing if you consider the TV coverage of jazz in the UK is shocking, and the jazz 'infrastructure' has been having a tough time for years.

What have you got planned for the future?
I have this 2 week tour coming up. Trips to Germany, Ireland and Copenhagen are coming up in the next month. I have to finish a set of arrangements of Phronesis music for a concert at the London Jazz festival with the Frankfurt Radio big Band. And I have just relocated to Austria and started a teaching position there.
Oh dear, I think I am busier than I thought.

For further details visit
  • A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on October 30, 2015.

Meet The Band: The London Souls

THE LONDON SOULS, who hail from New York City, comprise guitarist/lead singer Tash Neal and drummer/singer Chris St. Hilair and play Cardiff's Great Hall on October 29 as part of their latest UK tour.

Andy Howells recently put questions to Tash Neal...

How did the band form?
We met as teenagers in New York City. There weren't that many kids playing the kind of music at the time that we wanted to play so we had a mutual group of friends that brought us together. As we were both singer songwriters and multi instrumentalists we created songs in an interesting way and grew along the way as musicians. We started playing high school coffee houses with friends and then night club venues, some of which we were too young to play in at the time but that didn't stop us. I remember many times hiding in backstage green rooms or avoiding security because of too much suspicion. "Lemme see that ID again !"

Who or what has inspired you most on your musical journey?
I think wanting to become better and grow as artists. If you feel you're not the best you're going to be and you haven't done your best work, it's a great driving force and inspiration. I think if you make music you're of course going to hear things that influence you growing up that you eventually shed or evolve with, but it's our inner journey with music and expression through our instruments and songs, that defines the journeys identity. And of course hearing music that moves you deeply and perhaps inspires you to take a different path musically is something that happens all the time. It's both how I got started and why I keep going.

Tell us a little about your most recent album
The album we just put out is our proudest work to date. All of the tracks Chris and I recorded live with drums and guitar, and then did what we wanted switching between instruments for what we thought best suited the song. It was a great experience as everything was really inspired in the moment and we worked very quickly getting through the recording process. There was a very clear vision for what would make everything we brought bring the best out of the song. We've been touring heavily supporting the album and playing the a lot of the songs live. We've got a bunch of songs ready for the next album, and a few we've already been playing live.

Do you enjoy touring?
We're actually touring at the moment while writing this. Touring is always great when you're playing your music for people in an immediate way. It's a really special experience. We're especially excited to be returning to the U.K. playing with catfish and the bottle men. We love playing for UK crowds and we love a lot of music from the area. I mean our name's the London souls !

What can people expect from your forthcoming Cardiff gig?
People can expect to see a loud sweaty, rock and roll band giving 1000% of their soul into the music. Expect to feel good, and expect what I'm assuming will be well priced beverages, hopefully.

What are you enjoying listening to at the moment?
We're actually listening to All Things Must Pass by George Harrison at the moment. It's one of the greatest albums of all time. Wah-Wah, and What Is Life are incredible pieces of music. We've also been listening to Sly and the Family Stone as well.

For more details on The London Souls visit

  • A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplent The Guide during October, 2015.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

In Concert: Donovan In Concert. New Theatre, Cardiff

Few artists can command an audience for two hours sitting on a rug and performing their greatest hits on an acoustic guitar. Yet this is clearly the natural habitat for Donovan who performed to a packed house at Cardiff’s New Theatre on Monday evening.

The singer/songwriter who clocked up no less than eight Top 10 hits between 1965 to 1968 gave the audience an authentic 60s style concert.

Opening with his 1965 debut Catch the Wind, Donovan encouraged the audience to indulge in the art of “community singing” before he launched into a fabulous harmonica solo.

Songs such as Colours, Jennifer Juniper and Buffy Saint Marie's Universal Soldier were interspersed with tales about the mission that both he and fellow songwriter Gypsy Dave planned on popular culture on the beaches of Cornwall in 1963. Later, he revealed they would become victims of The Drug Squad’s first busts. There were also stories of going to India to find inspiration and enlightenment with The Beatles and how his comic song The Intergalactic Laxative was inspired by a children’s TV programme following the first moon landing.

The concert  also featured a performance of his beautiful song The Promise, which he said he will never record, making Donovan's rare live performance even more extra special.

“The idea of the 50th anniversary for me is to come out and thank you,” Donovan told his audience at the end of the evening before treating them to renditions of Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow. I, like many others was glad he did. Thank you Donovan for adding to life’s great soundtrack!

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Meet The Band: The Milk

London band, The Milk recently released their second album entitled No Interruptions.

Fuelled by a rediscovery of the music and artists that originally inspired their formation, the four walls of their studio were ablaze with a soundtrack of Bill Withers, Isaac Hayes and the Isley Brothers throughout the songwriting process of the album.  Now out on tour with a date at Bristol's Thekla on October 29, Andy Howells recently put questions to bass guitarist Luke Ayling.

How did the band form?
The first incarnation of the band and still the original line up started way back when at secondary school. Mitch, Rick and Dan were all in the same year; drawn together through a love of music, Oasis and the excitement of the Brit pop era they decided to start a band. A bass player was needed, having shown an interest in the instrument and being the only bloke they knew that could afford a bass at the time my brother Mitch asked if I wanted to join. I accepted and even though I'm older than them all, I'm still thought of as the new kid! The band has become more of a family than just a band. and my relationship with Mitch, Rick and Dan is likely to be the longest one I'll ever be involved with! The future wife is gonna love that!!

Who or what has inspired you most on your musical journey?
Each member of the band can relate to their own musical heroes and inspirations but for me its James Jamerson... The man was a genius on the bass and as the link between melody and rhythm in the legendary Motown house band the 'Funk Brothers' pretty much performed on, and wrote the bass lines for more hit records than any other musician. He revolutionised modern bass playing and I always try to channel my inner James Jamerson when I write my bass lines!

Tell us a little about your most recent album No Interruptions
Our second record, like many others before us, has been a life affirming but at times painful experience. For all the good we did on our first record, we felt that there we're many unanswered questions. It was important that this album put the record straight, not just for our fans and peers but for ourselves. Favourite Worry is born from the difficulties that everyone feels as they move through life, the dreams that falter, the friendships that struggle or the love that falls away. Each song is born from this very personal atonement that each of us has had to reconcile ourselves with. It was vital that the record demonstrate the many years we have played together, the blood harmonies and sibling rhythm section. Just as importantly the need for the sound to reach deep into the guts of the listener, as so many of our influences do, was always at the forefront. In Paul Butler we found a kindred spirit, musical guide and friend who helped us create our atonement. We hope you enjoy it

You’re touring shortly are you looking forward to that?
Being in a band for me is split into two very distinct yet equally rewarding experiences... We came to the end of the first at the beginning of the year when the writing and recording of the album was finished. Now its time for the second and that's taking the record on the road and showcasing it to as many people as we can. There's a beauty to the recording process, its very much a personal, emotional and isolated experience for the band but when you come to tour and perform these tracks live there's nothing that can quite explain the feeling of getting on stage and performing in front of an audience eager to listen. I can't wait to hit the road, the set we have planned is one you won't wanna miss.

What can people expect from your forthcoming Bristol gig?
Its not often you get to play in the belly of an old boat... Its a venue that's a one of a kind so expect a room that's Hot, Sweaty and filled with a Soulful sound from a band at the top of their game... Bristol is a town we always look forward to returning too, not only is it a beautiful place to be but it has always provided us with some of the best and most memorable after parties on the tour.

What are you enjoying listening to at the moment?
Im really enjoying Tobias Jesso Jr at the moment, he harks back to a classic song writing style that would prick Lorraine Ellison ears. 'How Could You Babe' is a real treat but his whole album 'Goon' is well worth a listen. I also really digged the new Alabama Shakes LP thats was out earlier in the year.. 'Sound & Colour' was a familiar follow on from the debut but with a voice like Brittany Howard's theres not much that soulfull bunch from across the pond could do wrong in my eyes! Other than that Leon Bridges, Foals, & Churches to name but a few are all releasing or have released some great tunes this year!

Stay in touch with The Milk online:
  • A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on October 23, 2015