Friday, 23 January 2015

Meet The Band: Menace Beach

Back in the good old of days of 1990, Color Dream Games released Menace Beach for the then popular NES games console from Nintendo. Imagine skateboarding through a side-scrolling 8-bit world filled with balloons, clowns and disgruntled dockworkers in search of your cute pixilated girlfriend Bunny. It’s from this slightly surreal, esoteric world that this Leeds indie rock revolving cast of local luminaries, headed by Ryan Needham and Liza Violet, draw their name. It’s reference acts as the perfect backdrop to their 90’s American underground and pre-Brit Pop indie; melody heavy, supercharged pop that’s always surprising.

After the success of their EP Lowtalker in early 2014, British indie label favourites Memphis Industries snapped Menace Beach up with the band’s debut album in mind. It comes in the shape of Ratworld, a twelve song assault, a journey through a psyche tinged wonderland, documenting moving away and waving goodbye to the fractured rubble of an unhappy lifestyle.

Although Ryan and Liza are the creative core from which the wellspring of inspiration pours from, they’re now joined by Matt Spalding (bass), Nestor Matthews (drums) and Matthew ‘MJ’ Johnson (guitar). As everyone’s favourite Leeds based producer, MJ sits behind the desk and has been molding the sound in his Suburban Home studios since the start. It’s his keen ear and ability to thread and balance an artist’s sonic themes that is the foundation stone upon which these songs can explode and punch you in the gut. And they do. Over and over again.

Andy Howells recently put questions to Ryan from the band.

How Did you come together?
Me and Liza have known each other for ages but the band kind of haphazardly came together after we both ran off from the town we were living in and moved up to Leeds. We bumped into some old friends who were up for hanging out, eating pizza and playing music.

Where are you from?
We all live in Leeds. Liza is from somewhere on the South Coast and me and Matt S are from the Midlands originally.

How would you describe your music style?
Pretty loud guitar-y stuff. I like melody and noise pretty equally and my favourite records are all a bit rough and energetic and chaotic and kind of honest sounding, so hopefully it’s like that.

What’s been your best live experience?
I’m a big fan of festivals and Beacons last year was a really good one. We played at Bristol Fleece last December with pulled Apart By Horses and that was pretty wild. I found a pair of lost mosh-pit-casualty shoes after Horses played and they’re a real good fit. There’s also great coffee to be had next door.

You have a new single and album coming soon can you tell us more about that?
Tastes Like Medicine is the single that’s out now, we've just finished a video for it which has got some ghoulish animation going on. Our album is called Ratworld and is out on Jan 19th. It’s kind of a noisy document of feeling gross, running away from stuff, moving cities and starting again, that kind of thing. Its actually way more upbeat than that sounds!

What can people expect from your forthcoming Bristol gig?
I think Bristol is a few dates in and we should have learnt all the songs by then so we’ll be relaxed but maybe also fired up on caffeine from that awesome coffee shop that’s also a bike shop. I dunno, probably lots of feedback, the good kind, and some fabulous cardigans.

Where can people hear your music?
You should go to a record shop, you’re really spoilt for them in Bristol! I think there’s an album stream online or if you just search Menace Beach Ratworld I'm sure it’ll pop up.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Billy J Kramer Remembers The 1960s With New UK Tour

“It was just a matter of the right time, the right place and things lining up with my schedule,” says Billy J Kramer as we talk about his return to the UK to perform his first concerts in 18 years. The original Mersey beat era star who scored Number One hits with Bad To Me and Little Children now resides in the USA will headline The Solid Silver Sixties Show as it tours the UK later this Spring.

Billy explains why he hasn't toured the UK for so long, “I did a lot of touring and I thought it was best to leave it off, I didn't want to do one tour after another as I thought people would get fed up with me!” The 1960s chart-topper couldn't be any more wrong as he discovered recently when performing to appreciative fans at several Beatles Fests in New Jersey, California, New York and Chicago with his old friend Mike Pender from The Searchers. “I knew The Beatles before they made records and was honoured to work with them when they became successful it was a wonderful period in my life.”

John Lennon and Paul McCartney regarded Billy so much that they penned both sides of his first two singles recorded with his backing group The Dakotas. “The day I was 20, John Lennon said “I have a song for you!” I said, “Well, play it.” He said “I'll play it the next time we're in Abbey Road.” When I went to Abbey Road he sat at the piano and played the song Bad to Me, later he said "I want to play you another song and I want your opinion," it was I Want To Hold Your Hand. I said “Can I have that?” and he said "No!"”

Bad To Me became Billy’s first chart-topper reaching number one in the UK charts during August 1963. “I didn't think it was anything I would achieve and it came as a complete shock, at first it was very difficult for me to handle. You've got women screaming at you that weren't screaming at you the day before.”

Billy is quick to credit his success to Brian Epstein who also managed the early careers of The Beatles and Cilla Black. “It was very hard coming from Liverpool, Brian had the right way about him and he opened doors. I just thought he was a gentleman the way he went about things. I remember when I got terribly overweight, he told me in such a compassionate way it really registered and I never forgot that.”

For years Billy led the campaign for the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame to recognise Brian Epstein’s contribution to music and even wrote a song To Liverpool with Love about his friend who sadly died in 1967. “I wrote the song before he got into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and I hope in my own way it helped a little. I felt that he’d been cold-shouldered. He'd brought the biggest rock n roll act to the world.” Ultimately Brian was finally given his overdue recognition early last year, where he was posthumously awarded the Ahmet Ertegun Award for Lifetime Achievement. Billy has since re-recorded To Liverpool with Love recognising this achievement for his latest album I Won the Fight.

I Won the Fight also features a version of The Story of My Life, originally a number one for Liverpool’s first pop star Michael Holliday in 1956. Billy also revisits a slice of his own history with a new version of the Lennon/McCartney song I’m In Love originally recorded in 1963 but not released at the time. “I had about 15 minutes for a session and John and Paul came in and said "we've got this great song,"" he recalls, “the guys learned it very quickly and we laid two tracks down. I don’t know why it was shelved but EMI have recently put it out by using technology to merge the two tracks. I thought for this album and the fiftieth anniversary I should revisit the song and do it well.”

Fans can expect to hear Billy perform his classic hits and songs from I Won the Fight when he plays St David’s Hall as part of the Solid Silver Sixties Show on April 1. Billy is looking forward to revisiting his hits, “I think it’s my duty as an entertainer because they (the fans) bought all these records that sent me around the world and gave me a wonderful life. I always say it was the most fantastic time in the history of pop music, there’s never been anything like it before or since and I don’t think there will be anything like it again.”

  • Billy J Kramer along with Mike Pender, PP Arnold, The Merseybeats, Chris Farlowe and New Amen Corner will play The Solid Silver Sixties Show on April 1, 2015. Visit St David's Hall website for booking details.
  • For more news on Billy J Kramer visit his official website.
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells appears in the South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on January 16.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Top Hat Stage Musical Pays Tribute To Fred and Ginger - Alyn Hawke Interview

The classic Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film musical Top Hat comes to life on the stage of Wales Millennium Centre next week. Packed full of Irving Berlin’s greatest hits including, Cheek to Cheek, Top Hat, White Tie & Tails, Let’s Face the Music & Dance and Puttin’ on the Ritz, Top Hat tells the story of Broadway sensation Jerry Travers who dances his way across Europe to win the heart of society girl Dale Tremont.

Stepping into the shoes of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, in the lead roles of Jerry Travers and Dale Tremont, are Alan Burkitt and Charlotte Gooch who both return to Top Hat having previously performed these roles in the West End. Also part of the original West End cast is Bridgend born Alyn Hawke who returns to South Wales as part of the ensemble and Dance Captain for the show.

Alyn Hawke, Dance Captain for Top Hat
Alyn went to Brynteg Comprehensive School in Bridgend before going on to train at Arts Educational Schools in London for a BA (Hons) in musical theatre. Going into theatre work was a fulfilment of a lifelong passion for Alyn. “I grew up watching all the old movie musicals,” he says, “My Gran was very keen on them. I always knew that’s what I wanted to be involved in, in some way.”

On completion of the course he joined the European tour of Evita before moving on to the West End production of Top Hat, three years ago. Alyn has continued with the production on its 42 week UK tour as Dance Captain. 

“In a nutshell, The Dance Captain is to be the choreographer’s eyes on the show,” says Alyn, “because although they create the show they don’t come on tour with us. The Dance Captain has to uphold what the choreographer’s standard and expectation of the show is. We therefore have to make sure everyone is doing the right choreography as well as taking company warm ups, there’s lots of different things we are involved with.”

In all Top Hat features 29 cast members, 20 of which are dancers. The production features many iconic scenes that fans will be familiar with but something different too. "There’s lots of iconic bits of which our choreographer stuck to," says Alyn, " It wasn't until later on in the process he was given permission to choreograph his own original routines rather than copy the film. There have been lots of variations as Top Hat has gone on. It has strayed further away from the film while still keeping an authentic 1930s Fred Astaire feel to it. There are so many nods to Fred and Ginger and the songs of Irving Berlin. As much as we’d like to, no-one could ever replicate exactly what Fred and Ginger created, so it’s nice it has those original touches with that in mind."

With the production maintaining that 1930s flair does Top Hat still stand up as good entertainment today? Alyn seems to think so. "Top Hat as a show is escapist, easy watching and elegant it’s such a lovely show to watch and be part of."
  • Top Hat is at Wales Millennium Centre from 14 – 24 January 2015. Tickets range between £18 - £46.50. Premium seats are available. For more information and to book tickets visit or call the ticket office on 02920 636464.
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on January 9, 2015

Chapter And Verse From Funeral For A Friend - Kris Coombs-Roberts Interview

Fourteen years after their formation in Bridgend, Welsh rockers Funeral for a Friend release their latest album Chapter and Verse on January 19. Known for packing punch and purpose into their recordings, the theme promises to continue with their latest release but on a new level.

 “Its sonically different to a lot of records you hear at the moment,” reveals guitarist Kris Coombs-Roberts, “ We wanted to go for a very live production and something that feels human and real as opposed to something that is been constructed in a laboratory by a computer.”

The band finished touring with their last album, Conduit, in October 2013; it was then a process of looking towards their next project.  “ We all play guitar everyday and we’d all collected ideas over a year,” says Kris, “ When we finished touring we all sat down and tried to work out what we wanted to do with them. We put them into a Dropbox as we had 20 odd ideas. We chose what we thought were the best out of them then spent two weeks hammering them out into songs and went down to Southampton in January and recorded them in two weeks with Lewis Johns.”

Melding gruff attitude with melodic choruses, Kris says the band wanted a live feel for their new album “Pretty much what you’re hearing is a live performance., no guitar overdubs or click tracks, we wanted to get the feel and the emotion of the songs as opposed to sonically perfect. I’m bored of hearing records that are flawless they don’t sound like they are been played by human beings. Back in the day when everything was going on tape it was about performing and playing well and getting the feel  for the songs right and that’s something we definetely wanted to capture.”

Kris is also keen that Chapter and Verse is recognised as an album in the true sense of the word, “It works as a body of songs, a complete piece of work, there’s some styles on there we haven’t done for a while. Slow-burners I guess, not balladesque songs but slightly slower and longer and more expansive, it’s something that I feel quite happy to have back in our sound. With Conduit we were all in a different place and wanted to make a very aggressive fast record. We wanted something a little bit more experimental and tangible.”

Prior to Chapter and Verse’s release the band will begin a spring tour with a date at Bristol’s Fleece on January 15, Kris emphasises that the bands relationship with their fans at gigs is important to them.  “Its important to go everywhere and play,” says Kris, “ As a musician the thing you enjoy more than anything else is writing music, but then its going out and playing to people who appreciate your music and then you showing your appreciation to them for buying your records.”
  • For more details about Funeral for a Friend’s New album and tour visit their official website
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on January 9, 2015

Saturday, 3 January 2015

CD Review: Foreverly by Billie Joe and Norah

Foreverly arrived on the review desk before Christmas 2013 and inevitably before the passing of Phil Everly, so although it was recorded as a tribute by Billy Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones it will no doubt take on an ever deeper meaning now to those who hear it.

Fans of The Everly Brothers will no doubt recognise many of the songs featured on Foreverly from the Everly’s album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.

It’s fair to say that both Norah and Billy Joe haven’t strayed to far from the arrangements of the The Everly’s. A good or bad thing?

Undoubtedly it would have been nice to have heard a more originality from the featured artists but an Everly Brothers tribute is long overdue and can only serve to introduce another generation of fans to their music.

  • This review by Andy Howells was originally featured in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during January 2013

Friday, 2 January 2015

Sam Kane Talks About Dual Role In Cinderella Show

Andy Howells meets Sam Kane
Andy Howells chats to Sam Kane who is currently directing and starring in the pantomime Cinderella at The New Theatre, Cardiff.
Actor Sam Kane is having a busy pantomime season. Not only is he currently starring as an Ugly Sister in Cinderella at Cardiff New Theatre but he’s also directing the production as well. “Its the first time I'm in that dual role,” Sam tells me,“ in fact I made my directional debut at The New Theatre in the millennium year with Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs .” 
“Its weird this year. As I have to pay a bit more attention to myself than I normally do, because I'm a joker and a comic anyway. I was actually down to play Buttons this year but you know what?  I kind of fancy been next to my best mate in a frock, I love it!” 
When Sam refers to his “best mate in a frock”, he is of course talking about his wife, the actress, Linda Lusardi who plays The Fairy Godmother. The pair met in pantomime at Darlington 20 years ago and have since married and had two children. “I was the handsome prince that year and she was Snow White. Its a fairy-tale. 20 years and its still going on we are blissfully married and have two amazing kids, its just an odd job to be in for normal people!” 
Sam who hails from Liverpool has always had show-business in his blood,” I always wanted to be a performer,” he says, “I wanted to be a singer when I was a kid and I was into pop music. I suppose I was extrovert without knowing it. I had a lot of brothers,  I had to be heard so was always in front of an audience, anyway I finished school went to a college, went to a drama school and knew that’s what I wanted to be. 
On stage Sam has starred in musicals such as South Pacific and Seven Brides and Seven Brothers while on television there was a regular role as lovable hairdresser Peter Phelan on the Channel 4 soap opera, Brookside, which he played for nearly three years. 
More recently Sam has appeared in a new film Vendetta which starred Danny Dyer and also directed the new stage play Kiss Me Honey Honey at the Edinburgh Festival. This was a huge success and went on to win a Fringe First Award. “I was thrilled to bits,” says Sam of the play, “we’re going back next year with another great writer and the same actors and really looking forward to it.” 
In the meantime, Sam is currently acting and directing in Cinderella alongside his wife Linda, Gareth Thomas, Lee Mead, Andy Jones, Mike Doyle, and Holly Bluett. For Sam it’s a dream cast, "What we have right here is an old style theatre bill where there’s a lot of people who can do the job on stage whether they be celebrities from television, stage or sport. We've got the whole gamut on one bill and everyone’s got an amazing ability or personality. That is the star of the show. Cinderella’s the best pantomime I've done.”
  • Cinderella runs at The New Theatre until January 18, 2015. Tickets can be bought on 029 2087 8889 or online at
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on January 2, 2015 

Review: Whitney Houston Live - 2CD Ultimate Edition

Posthumous releases tend to usually offer something new, unreleased or rare from the featured artist. 

Whitney Houston Live - Ultimate Edition is a collection of live recordings from Whitney Houston's best television appearances (recently released as half of a CD /DVD set ) and a tagged on collection of 18 of her greatest hits (which was also released a while back).

I'm not quite sure who would buy this collection, as fans will likely own both albums already, also both albums feature the same song (although different studio and live versions) more than once. 

Search out both albums individually for a better Whitney experience in either the studio or as a live performer.
  • A version of this review appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on January 2, 2015.

Rebecca Bruni Says Never Again On New Single Release

Cardiff based singer-songwriter Rebecca Bruni, has recently released her debut single Never Again.

The lead singer with Shazoot has collaborated with guitarist and songwriter David Layton and producer Glyn Havard to present a bright and breezy slice of melodic guitar pop that is set to bring some sunshine into the colder winter days.

Listeners can check out the song on reverbnation along with a further track, the rockier Now That You’re Gone, itself a nod to the rockier elements of late 60s Beatles material.

Never Again is currently on sale for download and streaming from all on-line retailers.

  • A Version of this story by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on January 2, 2015.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Laura Wright Discusses The Sound Of Strength

Laura Wright
During July 2014, Andy Howells chatted to Mezzo Soprano Laura Wright about her EP The Sound Of Strength.
Earlier this year, 24-year-old mezzo soprano Laura Wright - one of the biggest selling classical artists in the UK combined her love of music and sport when she was taking part in the London Marathon.  
"I stopped halfway around Tower Bridge and sang Jerusalem live on the BBC which was quite daunting," she laughs. Laura completed the run in 4 hours, 20 minutes "I was pleased with my time," she continues, “I felt pretty exhausted at the end, it was the third time I'd done it and that’s why I wanted the added challenge." 
Laura is the first to have taken on this remarkable feat of music and sports fusion, and it was to coincide with the release of her stunning EP The Sound of Strength, recently released on Decca. The concept behind The Sound of Strength EP is the body as the ultimate instrument. There are plenty of similarities between athletes and classically trained singers – the need for dedication, being healthy and being prepared to challenge yourself. Laura has taken this desire to always challenge herself as an inspiration for the EP. "We love the kind of music that goes with sport which tends to be classical," Laura continues, "You look at The Three Tenors and The World Cup and I've tried to bring that (music) and my sporting passion together. I wanted something I could listen to in the gym because I see my body as an instrument and my voice as a muscle." 
Laura has taken her classical music to a new level with tracks including Puccini’s Nessun Dorma and Barber’s Adagio for Strings, arranged herself and melded to driving beats, with the help of producers Starkey (who has worked with composer Einaudi), Killahurtz and Dan Vinci (who has worked with everyone from Skream, Snoop Dogg and Jesse Ware). Doing so, she has created a new sound which melds beauty and power to startling affect. She is currently working on her forthcoming album, due for release in September. 
"It’s been quite exciting writing and arranging music with my producer," says Laura, “I can’t wait for people to hear the music and see that there’s a real story behind it." Laura fells that her approach will also help Classical music be more accessible for younger people. "We've recently done a video (Barber's Agnus Dei) for the lead track.  I think the video shows this is not just classical music, it’s a new way of listening to things. I don’t want people to write it off just because they hear the words classical music. Classical music is for everyone 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, I'm 24 years old and I listen to Coldplay, Drum and Bass and Dub step when I go to the gym, but I also love performing classical music. It’s the power that classical music has that I think people love, the feeling that you want to be a superhero!" 
Laura says the release of her forthcoming album will likely be followed by a tour. "Early next year is the idea, I don't have any involvement in the Rugby World Cup yet, but I'd love to be involved in some way!" I suggest that maybe Laura should come to Wales and sing at one of our matches. "I'd love too," she says enthusiastically, "I've never performed in the Millennium Stadium, so I'd love too!" You read it here first! 
  • Visit for more information on Laura.
  • A version of Andy Howells' interview with Laura Wright  was published in the South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during August 2014

Rachel K Collier Gets Curious - Interview

Rachel K Collier
Andy Howells chatted to singer/songwriter Rachel K Collier during the Summer of 2014 about her collaboration with Ray Foxx, Curious.
Curious, the new single from Ray Foxx ft. Rachel K Collier, is the latest collaboration from the duo, following on from last summer’s infectious Top 20 hit Boom Boom (Heartbeat). 23 year old singer/songwriter Rachel who hails from Swansea and is a former student of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama,  has had quite a busy year since her last chart appearance. 
“I’m working on an EP now and another commercial release which will be coming quite soon after Curious,” she says, “I spent a bit of time in LA last year just song writing not only for myself but for other artists and other projects. I came back last summer and it all kicked off with the Boom Boom which was amazing because we got to play Majorca Rocks and the Radio One Live Lounge. Since then I've been working on my own stuff and getting all my solo material together.” 
Anyone who hears Rachel’s music is usually struck by her diversity, she is equally at home playing piano and singing as well as laying down beat hooks for new dance tracks.
“I love dancing and I love writing over a beat, but scrape all that back and I’m a singer/songwriter,” she continues, “I play piano and write stuff with chords, if you take away the beat there will always be a strong song there. Sometimes it’s quite hard knowing where to fit yourself in.” 
Rachel K Collier and Ray Foxx
Rachel’s musical success is a far cry for the young girl from Swansea whose initial interest was drawing. “There was a piano in the house which my mum played a bit when I was small. One day I just switched from drawing pictures to playing around on the piano every night. It was like a complete transition; I found the piano and started experimenting on there, copying tunes from the television. I never really read music until I was about 18. I had a really good group of supportive friends who would just listen to me.” 
Since studying a Music Tech course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Rachel has fronted her own band and released several recordings before signing to Island Records. Recently Rachel had to turn her skills to acting for the Curious video in which she is seen swimming with a male model. “We shot it in Ibiza during July, I was quite nervous because it was an acting role. I did a bit of acting in school at the Glamorgan County Theatre. To be honest I didn't like acting, I just used to like the singing and the dancing. There was this moment in the boiling sun when I was just about to swim in the water to do this underwater kiss scene and I thought, “Actually the West Glamorgan county theatre had its uses!”". 
Rachel K Collier
Does Rachel have a particular formula she follows when collaborating on a track with another artist? “With Ray Foxx it’s been a song beforehand and then he’s taken a song and made a wicked beat. Then Ray and I work on it to make the chorus strong. But in my next commercial release, the producer just sent me the beat. He said “can you write me a melody and lyrics over this?” In that case it can be beat first, it varies. It depends on the producer you are working with.” 
A varied approach to music ensures Rachel won’t be restrained by a specific genre, so music fans can expect to be hearing more from her in coming months as a singer. Songwriter and producer. “There’s lots of ways you can go about making music especially for me, because I can go about making banging dance music or stripped back vocal and piano. With my forthcoming EP I want to get a blend in there I make a lot of music just from my vocal sounds. I do like to have a variety of what I can do. It’s definitely a challenge.”
  • A version of Andy Howells interview with Rachel K Collier was originally published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during September 2014. 
  • For more information about Rachel K Collier visit her official website.

CD Review: Timeless By Dr Hook

Although they were the airplay heroes of the radio waves in the 1970s it’s astonishing to find that Dr Hook only had 5 Top 10 UK hits.

The US band successfully transferred from country music to pop with classics such as Sylvia’s Mother, Just A Little Bit More and their 1979 number one smash When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman.

Over 30 years since their last top 10 hit, lead vocalist Dennis Locorriere has compiled 40 pieces of Hook from the bands repertoire for Timeless revisiting hits, album tracks and live favourites.

Hearing the tracks on the first disc again recalls the laid back sounds the bands were so at ease at producing. The second disc features more in the same style although is probably more for the die-hards. Still, if you love country-rock, you’ll love this collection and When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman still carries great advice “When you’re in love with a beautiful woman, you watch your friend!”

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