Saturday, 28 February 2015

Wales At Number One, A Unique St David's Day Celebration - Sophie Evans Interview

"Its going to be really nice celebrating being Welsh, the music and the success of Welsh artists" Sophie Evans tells Andy Howells of Wales at Number One, which takes place at Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff on St David’s Day.

Sophie, who captivated theatre audiences in the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz after becoming runner up in the TV series Over The Rainbow has gone from strength to strength since taking on the iconic role including presenting The Really Welsh Christmas Show on the BBC to having a starring role in the film success Pride.

Sophie will be joining stars such as Shakin' Stevens, Ricky Valance, Amy Wadge and Manic Street Preacher James Dean Bradfield to recall Wales' greatest hits this Sunday.

"I'm singing number one songs that were originally done by Welsh artists," explains Sophie who will be performing the Amen Corner 1969 number one If Paradise is Half As Nice as well as the first ever UK number one from a Welsh artist, Shirley Bassey's As I Love You. "I'll sing it in my own style while keeping the essence of Shirley Bassey," says Sophie while saying of the Amen Corner smash, “I’ll be singing that very differently."

Sophie who is currently touring with Britain's Got Talent stars Richard and Adam will be making a one-stop performance at The St David's Day event before rejoining the duo on their 19 date tour.

Sophie's love of classic pop goes back to childhood. "Since I was about four I've always loved music, I've listened to Barbara Streisand and Elaine Paige probably when I should have been listening to S Club 7. I was always interested in the more mature sounds probably more with the influence from my Mother, but that was the music I loved."

Rubbing shoulders with Welsh greats such as Shakin’ Stevens and James Dean Bradfield is something Sophie is quickly becoming accustomed to as she will be working alongside further musical heavyweights from the world of pop later this year. "I'm also doing the Eisteddfod this year in Llangollen which has an absolutely unbelievable line up including Burt Bacharach, UB40 and Gareth Malone. That’s going to be amazing."

Wales at Number One will be hosted by the One Show’s Alex Jones. Other stars participating in this unique music event will be Steve Balsamo, Jessica Lee Morgan (daughter of Mary Hopkin) Lucie Jones, Alys Williams and Shaheen Jafargoli.

The night will include tracks made famous by Dame Shirley Bassey, Ricky Valance, Spencer Davis Group, Mary Hopkin, Dave Edmunds, Shakin' Stevens, Bonnie Tyler, The Flying Pickets, Manic Street Preachers, Stereophonics, Duffy, and of course Sir Tom Jones, whose huge hit “It’s Not Unusual” got to No 1 50 years ago, in 1965.

The stars will be accompanied by the Welsh Pops Orchestra featuring pianist Gwilym Simcock and conducted by Matthew Brind.

The Centre will celebrate St. David’s Day throughout the weekend with free performances from Welsh artists on the Glanfa stage plus a chance to experience the taste of Wales in the Centre’s ffresh Restaurant. On the menu will be an array of traditional Welsh dishes including Cawl, Roast leg of Welsh Lamb and Slow Cooked Welsh beef.
  • Wales at No.1 is at Wales Millennium Centre on St David’s Day, 1 March 2015. Tickets range from £17.50 - £35. For more information and tickets visit Wales Millennium Centre's website.
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on February 27, 2015.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Meet The Band: Man Without Country

Acclaimed electronica duo Man Without Country are currently embarking on an extensive headline UK tour. The tour follows the release of their new album Maximum Entropy, on Lost Balloon.

On Maximum Entropy Man Without Country - Welsh duo Ryan James and Tomas Greenhalf - combine sleek electronic minimalism with a love of classic pop music, merging the pared-back synths of Ulrich Schnauss and East India Youth with the adventurous quest to redefine pop shared with early electronic pioneers like The Human League.

The album was recorded, produced and mixed entirely by the band in their home studios in South Wales, and features a stunning cover of The Beloved’s Sweet Harmony, reimagined for a new generation of clubbers while maintaining the original’s state of bliss.

Man Without Country’s Ryan James provided the hypnotic, fragile vocal on Röyksopp’s recent single Sordid Affair, travelling to the seminal Norwegian duo’s Bergen studio to record the track, which is taken from their new album The Inevitable End. As remixers, Man Without Country have a varied CV that’s seen them remix everyone from Two Door Cinema Club and Band Of Skulls to Moby, Miike Snow and Active Child. In a package that includes Erol Alkan and Factory Floor, the band recently remixed the Interpol single My Desire.

Ryan James recently answered questions poised by Andy Howells

Who are you and how did you come together?
We are an electronic, contemporary shoegazey band called Man Without Country. We met at Glamorgan University and have been making music together ever since.

Where are you from?
I (Ryan) am from Bridgend and Tomas is from a small village near Kidwelly. We also have a live drummer, who is based just outside of Oxford.

How would you describe your music style?
It’s a combination of programmed digital and analog synthesisers mixed with live drums, drum machines, and often densely reverberated vocals. Overall it’s emotional, intense, powerful, honest, and intellectual.

What’s been your best live experience?
Supporting M83 at Paris Olympia and Brixton Academy was quite special. We’ve also had some very memorable headline shows in San Francisco, Santa Ana, Washington DC, Berlin and Prague to name just a few.

What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment we’re mostly just doing interviews and preparing for our tour. But our writing process never really stops. Ideas for our third album are slowly starting to take shape.

Where can people hear your music?
Spotify, YouTube, iTunes, everywhere really.

Where can we see you live?
We’re playing all over the UK throughout February and March, but more specifically we’re playing at the Norwegian Church Arts Centre in Cardiff on Feb 26th.
  • For more information on Man Without Country visit their official website.
  • A version of this Q&A appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on February 20, 2015.

Monday, 23 February 2015

In Concert: The Blues Band, Newport Riverfront, 2015

The Blues Band were back in town on Friday night and what a welcome they received with a fabulous turnout at The Riverfront Theatre.

Paul Jones, Tom McGuinness, Dave Kelly, Gary Fletcher and Rob Townsend play a variety of blues styles in such a way that they deliver with ebb and flow whilst pulling their audience in with them for the journey.

Such was the case with a concert that began taking inspiration from their latest CD/DVD release pf their televised concert Live At The Rockpalast 1980 with Come On In and Talk To Me.

The focus then shifted onto individual members solo recordings performing very much as a team effort with every individual band member bringing their own unique musical talent to the party. Tom McGuinness’s rendition of The Wrong Woman, Gary Fletcher’s bittersweet take on political spin with I Am the Doctor, Dave Kelly recalling playing with Howlin’ Wolf on Dustman Blues and Paul Jones encouraging audience participation on Suddenly I Like It.

Following a brief interval in which the Blues Band met fans and signed copies of their albums, it was back to business with an upbeat second half.

Tom lead the band with the blues wailing Sitting on top of the World while Paul delivered a sublime version of Sonny Boy Williamson (his personal harmonica tribute to the Blues legend) and Gary lead on Ukulele with Say You Will.

The audience by now were not averse to joining in with some numbers and followed Dave’s lead on Can’t get my ass in gear and also Paul on Let the good times roll.

With music coming to an end after two and a half incredible hours it has to be said The Blues Band certainly delivered the goods and Newport lapped it all up!  A good show all round!

Sunday, 22 February 2015

2015 Tour Brings The Stranglers To Wales - Baz Warne Interview

Following 2014’s spectacular, sell-out Ruby Anniversary Tour and accompanying celebratory box set album release, Giants & Gems, The Stranglers are now preparing for a new tour which brings them to Cardiff in March.

“We worked like absolute swine’s last year,” says vocalist and bass player Baz Warne, “With the fortieth anniversary, we had a massive British European tour and by the time we'd got into the festivals I’d had some trouble with my knee. We finished festivals in August and in September I had to go under the knife for an operation which put me out of action for three months. Of course after that happened it was Christmas holiday time, so we're all looking very much forward now to March.”

Baz who hails from Sunderland joined The Stranglers fifteen years ago after working in the music industry for the best part of two decades. “I first picked a guitar up when I was about 9 and it’s never gone away,” he says.

Baz rose to prominence as a member of The Toy Dolls who scored a hit in 1984 with their rendition of Nellie the Elephant. “I was actually playing bass on that record,” he laughs, “but I'd left the band by the time it came out which I was quite pleased about! I was only 19 and it gave me the thought that maybe I could do this for a living, so after that I formed a band with my brother and some other lads from Sunderland (The Smalltown Heroes) and had some minor success a couple of albums and a few singles. Then I met The Stranglers in 1995.”

Five years later, Baz was asked to join The Stranglers alongside long-time members Jet Black, JJ Burnell and Paul Greenfield. Along with Hugh Cornwell, Black, Burnell and Greenfield had scored over 17 chart hits in the late 1970s and early 80s including No More Heroes, Peaches, Golden Brown and Walk On By.

“They were like the soundtrack of my youth really,” remembers Baz, “I used to be a newspaper delivery boy and part of that was delivering papers like Sounds, Melody Maker and NME. The Stranglers used to be featured regularly in there and occasionally you’d capture a glimpse of them on Top of the Pops or you’d hear them on the radio.”

Does Baz have any particular memory of his first Stranglers engagement? “It happened so fast, we didn’t have time to think about it. We went out and played for the peace-keeping forces in Kosovo in 2000 and I had about 10 days to acclimatise, learn the songs and meet the guys. It was a real baptism of fire.  I didn’t really think about it so much until the end of the first gig when we had the first unwinding beer, thinking "...I've just played a gig with the Stranglers! You’d remain a stone not to get some kick out of it, which I did in the early days”.

Being a member of The Stranglers doesn’t give you chance to admire the scenery for too long, they continue to be one of Britain’s most successful live bands and have conquered new territories in recent years. Resisting genre tags they have played The BBC Proms.

“The Proms was a thing we very much embraced,” says Baz, “They were trying to cross over between BBC 6 music to BBC Radio 3. They said “who are a pop band with classical baroque influences?” and they asked us to do it.  We rehearsed with the London Sinfonietta at Maida Vale. It was completely sold out, a bit of a culture clash, but amazingly enjoyable, a real cherished memory.”

The organisers of Glastonbury Festival also gave in to fan pressure in 2010 by inviting The Stranglers to perform “There were 85,000 people there just to see us. The post-gig reviews came out a few weeks later with The Stranglers announced as one of the top five bands to see for the whole weekend. Strangely enough, they won’t have us back.”

As The Stranglers begin rehearsals for their forthcoming tour, I ask Baz if there could be any new recordings in 2015. “There are always tentative plans,” he says, “there’s a lot of anticipation for the tour and that always fuels us, so it’s a case of striking when the irons hot. There’s every chance.”

And what can fans expect from the forthcoming Cardiff show? “To coin a cliche expect the unexpected,” laughs Baz, “Although we've been together a long time, it still refuses to be a nostalgia trip for us otherwise we wouldn't bother writing and recording new material. So there will be a mix of old and new. There will be some hits in there and some surprises. Being The Stranglers, anything can happen at our gigs and often does!”

  • Catch The Stranglers at Cardiff University on March 10. Tickets are available from / 0844 811 0051
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during January 2015.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Joe Pasquale Discusses Monty Python Musical Spamalot

Monty Python’s Spamalot gallops to Cardiff in March as part of its 2015 UK tour featuring comedian Joe Pasquale reprising his much loved role of King Arthur alongside Todd Carty as Patsy.

Lovingly ripped off from the classic film comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Spamalot is a kind-of new musical with a book by Eric Idle and an entirely new score for the new production, (well, almost) created by Eric Idle and John Du Prez.

Spamalot tells the legendary tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and features fantastic tunes more magical than a Camelot convention, including He Is Not Dead Yet, Knights of the Round Table, Find Your Grail and of course Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.

Ahead of the show’s forthcoming visit to Cardiff's New Theatre, Andy Howells recently chatted to Joe Pasquale.

Can you tell us about the role you’re playing in Spamalot?
I'm playing King Arthur which is one of the best things I've ever done. I love the part and I love the show.  I grew up watching Monty Python so it’s my generation!

How did you get into comedy originally?
I was always such a fan growing up and watching comedy on the telly, Tommy Cooper, Norman Wisdom, Eric and Ernie, Bob Monkhouse, were all great comics I grew up with. Then when I got the chance to go out on stage I was never scared, it was just a case of showing off. I had two older sisters and a younger brother, I was the one in the middle who had to find his own entertainment and I think that had a bearing on trying to get noticed.

When you got into comedy and started getting noticed what that like was for you?
I only ever wanted to get up on stage, I never thought of it as a long-term career or making money from it, it was just a way of showing off  and that’s what you do on stage - show off!
When it came together I started enjoying it more than I thought I would. Then it becomes your job and you have mortgage payments and things like that. It becomes more than a job and you've got to keep working. There's pressure as well, not a pressure to be funny but a pressure to find work. I had a great friend and mentor in Bob Monkhouse. He helped me out a lot in the early days and in particular my first appearance on the Royal Variety Show, he just looked after me all the time - a genius and a gentleman.

You enjoy your work?
I love what I do, to go out and do an Eric Idle script any comic of any generation these days would give their right arm to do this show. Its two hours of non-stop laughter.

What’s Todd Carty like to work with?
I love working with Todd, he’s deaf as a post in one ear so I have to make sure I'm on the right side of him when I talk to him. We’d both done the show before but not together, it’s lovely because we’ve formed a little partnership in the show. I do most of the talking between the two of us as he only has about eight lines but he makes every single one count. I can’t look at his eyes on stage without starting to laugh.

How would you sum up Spamalot?
Its just funny. It hasn’t dated, it changes on a nightly basis depending on whose in the news and what situation were in. Everything is carved and created around where we are. Its always bang up to date on topical stuff as well.

How long are you carrying on with Spamalot for?
Its open ended at the moment so who knows?

Have you got any other projects lined up for this year?
I’m going back on the road for a stand up tour in August but anything after that I’m not quite sure yet. I enjoy my acting but I like to keep my hand in with stand up as well.

Do you prefer that to TV work?
No, I don’t do anything for too long I don’t do much telly, stand up or stage work, I do a bit of voice over work. Its an eclectic career I have which was more by accident than design and I’m lucky enough to do a job that I love so I never get stuck  in anything for too long.

  • Spamalot plays Cardiff New Theatre from March 2 to 7. Visit or call box office on 029 2087 8889 for ticket details.
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on February 20, 2015

Friday, 20 February 2015

Meet The Band: The Dunwells

The Dunwells are currently undertaking a UK tour which sees the band perform at Bristol's Louisiana this week before finishing up in their hometown of Leeds on 28th Feb with a gig at The Wardrobe.

The four-piece, made up of brothers Joseph and David Dunwell and friends Robert Clayton and Adam Taylor, released the Show Me Emotion EP in September last year. Produced by Steve Harris (Kodaline, Kaiser Chiefs) the EP features an incredibly emotional set of songs, with heartfelt lyrics and four part harmonies to melt even the hardest of hearts.

They were drawn together by their shared love of bands like Bon Iver, Elbow and Damien Rice and they've been making music together since they first met in school.  With one album under their belt and several rounds of successful touring in the US and UK, the current tour coincides with a brand new single. Andy Howells recently caught up with Joseph Dunwell from the band:

Who are you and how did you come together?
We are The Dunwells, we have been a band since 2009, Dave And I are brother's, Rob and Dave were best friends at school, me and Adam went to music college together in Leeds and have been friends ever since.

Where are you from?
We all come from Leeds apart from Adam who is from Doncaster.

How would you describe your music style?
I would describe our music as Up beat, melodic, rock.

What’s been your best live experience?
There have been so many, we feel so lucky to be doing what we do as a Job, it's incredible. Playing Red Rocks in Colorado has to be up there. We also got to play our First Arena support show in the UK this year. We played our home town Leeds. It was Nuts.

You have a new single and album coming soon can you tell us more about that?
Yeah the album should be out later this year, but we are having fun releasing little EP's and bundles of music. Last year we had the Show Me Emotion EP that got such a great response and really soon we will be releasing another EP called. Lucky Ones which is also our next single. Lucky Ones has been a song that we have been working on for nearly a year to get it exactly the way we want, I really think we have done exactly that. We can't wait for you to hear it! It's a song to give hope to others, to look at the now and to realise and appreciate what we have.

Are you enjoying the tour?
Like you wouldn't believe, it's why we do this Job. Standing on stage playing your own songs. That always been the dream, now we are in it, now we are living it. We finish the tour with a show in Leeds to a home crowd.

What can people expect from your forthcoming Bristol gig?
Lots and lots of new material, including our new single Lucky Ones. We have been working really hard in creating the sound and working on the live shows, Its a sound we are now proud to say is "The Dunwells" We just want the shows to be full of energy and for people to enjoy themselves. We spent the last few weeks in rehearsals working on the set.

Will you be coming to Wales sometime in the future?
We have played once in Wales when we first started out, it was in Cardiff I remember the place being so beautiful we would definitely love to come back. Hopefully we can make it happen on the next tour.

Where can people hear your music?
You can listen to all of our material on Spotify and it's available to buy on iTunes and Amazon,
We also sell our music at our shows. You can Follow us on @thedunwells for more info or find us on Snapchat The Dunwells

  • Catch The Dunwells at The Louisiana in Bristol on February 21.
  • A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on February 20, 2015.
  • The Dunwells Official Website

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

In Concert: 10cc, St David's Hall, Cardiff, 2015

On completion of a meal at a restaurant on Tuesday evening, I was asked by the waiter what I was going to be doing for the rest of the evening. “I’m off to St David’s Hall to see 10cc” I responded. I was met with a rather blank look, “is that a bike?” he replied.

Thankfully when I got to St David’s Hall there were many other people in attendance that actually knew who 10cc were. Fronted by founder member Graham Gouldman the current touring band consisted of three further key members who have had associations with 10cc since the 1970s, guitarist Rick Fenn, drummer Paul Burgess and percussionist Mike Stevens. The line up was completed with the inclusion of guitarist Mick Wilson.

The first half of the show was made up of a complete run through of 10cc’s 1975 album Sheet Music featuring live recreations of tracks Wall Street Shuffle, The Worst Band in the World and Silly Love. One of the many highlights of the first half was an all singing and dancing video contribution from another 10cc founder member Kevin Godley leading the band for a rendition of Somewhere in Hollywood.

The second half of the show consisted of back to back 10cc hits. The Things We Do For Love, I’m Mandy Fly Me, and The Dean and I were all featured, but the atmosphere rose to a peak as the audience showed their appreciation for Number One hits I’m Not In Love and Dreadlock Holiday with the adjusted lyric “I don’t like Cardiff, I love it!”

The real highlight came with the encore, an a Capella version of 10cc’s debut hit Donna and an out of your seats and dance version of Rubber Bullets all resulting in an entertaining evening from one of the best bands from the 1970s. Here's to the next time!

Monday, 16 February 2015

CD REVIEW: Beautiful Guitars by Mark Nevin

When Mark Nevin sings the words “We had a band, we made a record, we saw the world, we touched the sun” on the title track of his latest release Beautiful Guitars he’s clearly recalling his days as a member of Fairground Attraction. Mark hasn’t forgotten his roots as a member of the fondly remembered folk-rock outfit of the late 80s as intricately arranged numbers such as Love = Love = Love, Lets Make Hay and Dangerous recall.

No doubt the albums highlight is Mark’s own bluesy vocals, making him sounding occasionally like Bob Dylan and don't miss a new and fun arrangement of Perfect, Fairground Attraction’s most enduring song.
  • A version of this review by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on February 13, 2015

CD REVIEW: Texas 25 by Texas

Its 25 years since Texas entered the UK charts with their debut hit I Don't Want a Lover and this latest release celebrates their quarter century with four new tracks and re workings of the bands greatest hit highlights with NYC soul outfit Truth and Soul.

Long-term fans of Texas will know of the bands soulful tendencies, this album sits new songs such as Start a Family alongside stripped back live versions of Halo and Say What You Want.

Texas 25 defines the band as they are in 2015 and is an enjoyable release particularly for fans of a more stripped back rawer live sound.

  • A version of this review by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on February 13, 2015

Friday, 13 February 2015

On Stage: The Royal Bed, Newport Riverfront, 2015

A classical story steeped in passion, tension and unbound love. No, I’m not talking Fifty Shades of Grey, more fifty layers of passion and how it can affect us inwardly and outwardly with devastating effects. The real rub here is Theatr Pena’s The Royal Bed, Sion Eirian’s adaptation of Saunders Lewis play Siwan is set here in Wales, nearly 800 years ago.

An uneasy truce exists between a divided Wales and England and at the court of the charismatic Prince of North Wales a catastrophe is about to unfold and dreams of a united Wales will crumble. At the centre of the drama is Siwan, the illegitimate daughter of King John and passionate, outspoken and politically astute wife of Llywelyn the Great.

The cold stark setting of The Royal Bed transported a packed Riverfront studio on Thursday evening, back to Medieval Wales in order to tell the story of Siwan’s adulterous affair with the young Marcher Lord, Gwilyn Brewys, and the terrible revenge exacted by Llywelyn when discovering the lovers in the royal bed.

Eiry Thomas wonderfully depicts Siwan from carefree lover to the real power behind the throne despite been incarcerated for her actions, a joy to watch in such a demanding role. Hannah O Leary as self-assured chambermaid Alis also has some very powerful moments from recounting her brief but passionate marriage to describing Gwilym’s execution.

There are also two very strong male lead performances from Francois Pandolfo as Siwan’s lover Gwilym who displays unbound love up until his final moments and Russell Gomer as the brooding and occasionally dark Llywelyn.

With atmospheric music from Buddug Verona James and Delyth Jenkins, The Royal Bed opens up the beauty of Welsh Culture to the masses. A Valentine’s gift to Wales, embrace it as it embarks on its tour. Visit for details.

10cc Revisit Sheet Music Album For 2015 Tour - Graham Gouldman Interview

After the exceptional success of their festival shows in the summer of 2014, which included the 65,000-capacity British Summer Time in Hyde Park and a 23-date UK theatre tour through October-November, the legendary 10cc are back with 19 major shows including a return to Cardiff’s St David’s Hall On February 17.

The band will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of their highly inventive and creative album Sheet Music, and as a special treat for fans, the band are to perform the whole album in its entirety, including the Top 10 hits The Wall Street Shuffle and Silly Love, with a special video contribution from 10cc co-founder Kevin Godley.

The second half of the evening will feature all the usual 10cc classics, including Dreadlock Holiday, Rubber Bullets, I’m Not in Love, The Dean and I, and I’m Mandy Fly Me, making these shows a must-see for old and new fans alike.

Released in 1974 and produced by the band, Sheet Music reached No 9 in the UK charts and entered the Top 100 in the US. It remains a master class in the composition of popular music and typifies the eclecticism and breathless invention that characterised the band’s earlier work – soft and fuzzed art-rock guitar, immaculate harmonies and elements of spoof and parody.

Led by 10cc co-founder and recent Rock N Roll hall of fame inductee Graham Gouldman, the current live band has been together for over a decade. Andy Howells recently chatted to Graham about the tour.

How did you get into song writing?
Out of necessity in a funny sort of way. I sort of dabbled with song writing but the Beatles inspired me to take it more seriously and also the band I was in at the time we wanted to make a record. We went to the usual sources to try and find material and couldn’t find anything and I thought "I’ll write something" and so I did.

What was it like when you got your first taste of success?
Amazing, if you can imagine what it was like for a 19 year old to write such a big hit for the Yardbirds For Your Love.

Was it difficult breaking into finding success as a musician?
No. Things just happen. 10cc kind of just happened. You can do what you want but if the public don’t like it you’re not going to be successful at it. You just do your best and I've been very fortunate that I've been able to make a living as a songwriter and a musician as well.

Working with three other songwriters within 10cc in the form of Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley and Lol Crème was there ever any trouble getting a satisfactory level of material on albums?
We never had any problems with things like that. In fact whoever wrote a song the others would adopt the songs as their own and try and make them better. We never rejected each others songs. We did change partners quite a lot. 

In this tour we’re going to be performing the Sheet Music album in its entirety. What’s interesting about that album is because I've obviously been listening to it a lot and looking at the credits and everything is how we swapped writing partners. I think that’s why its my favourite 10cc album and it seems to be the favourite of many other people as well since we announced the tour. I'm very pleased about that. its never been performed live.

What’s it like revisiting the songs after all this time?
I know the album is just slightly over 40 years old but I never think of their age I just think of them as songs it is quite awesome it is 40 years I can believe it. The fact is they’re great songs they are interesting they've got lots of things going on in them although it’s a challenge to perform them the way I want to do them its very satisfying.

It does seem incredible its 40 years one of my earliest memories of 10cc is seeing you perform Rubber Bullets on Top of the Pops.
It’s a great song. We’re doing Sheet Music in the first half and we’ll be doing the greatest his and more in the second half.

What was it like reaching number one?
We’ve been very lucky. We had three number ones with three different singers which prove that the strength of the band was with all the members.

What was the inspiration of I'm Not in Love?
We didn't want to write a love song there are enough love songs in the world and I have to say Eric came up with the perfect title, kind of like an anti-love song, or is it?

Joe Brown recently covered that on his ukulele album.
He did and Diana Krall has done a very good version of it. To be able to do it on a ukulele was quite a feat and it sounded good.

Looking forward to the tour, there’s a contribution from Kevin Godley?
A visual contribution. He’s going to be performing one of the songs a classic song from the Sheet Music album

Are you all still in regular contact?
Kevin and I have been in regular contact over the years, we've never lost contact with one another. I originally wanted him to come on tour with us but that wasn't possible but he said “I’ll make a video contribution.” What its lead on to, because of the way were going to present the show and Kevin's appearance means that our whole visual side of the show is going to be upgraded quite drastically. Normally we have lights, backdrops and things but this is going to take it to a different level.

Beyond the 10cc tour, do you have any other projects lined up?
I’m doing something called Heart Full of Songs which is me and two other musicians in a sort of semi acoustic evening. It’s much more intimate where I get to sing a lot of the songs I wrote pre 10cc and post 10cc and talk about the songs as well which is nice. I've done it for two years and I’m hoping to do it again.

Please bring Heart Full of Songs to Wales.
Id love to, I've never done it in Wales. We've done it all over the country but I’ll make a point of telling my agent that we must go to Wales!
  • For ticket information visit or call 029 2087 8444
  • Visit 10cc's official website for more news on the band and Graham Gouldman.
  • A shortened version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on February 13, 2015.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Theatr Pena Take Welsh Drama The Royal Bed On Tour - Erica Eirian Interview

Ahead of the launch of Theatr Pena’s tour of Sion Eirian’s play The Royal Bed, Andy Howells chats to director Erica Eirian about the production.
Theatr Pena’s third co-production with The Riverfront in association with the Torch Theatre Milford Haven is a classic Welsh story. The Royal Bed by Sion Eirian, an English language adaptation of Siwan by Saunders Lewis, will premiere at Newport Riverfront on Wednesday February 11 and continue until February 14.

The play was originally commissioned by BBC Radio 4 in 1993. Theatr Pena’s 2015 touring production is The Royal Bed’s stage premier and a rare opportunity for theatre audiences in Wales to experience the Welsh classic in English.

“It’s our first national tour,” says director Erica Eirian, “We’re going to 18 venues in all, including The Riverfront. The Riverfront is our co-producer and provide our rehearsal space and lots of support, so we open here for our usual Wednesday to Saturday six performance run including two matinee's and then we go on tour for six weeks.” The Royal Bed will visit other venues across Wales in the coming weeks including Abergavenny, Abertillery and Blackwood.

Theatr Pena was set up in 2008 driven by an uncompromising determination to stage revivals of some the world’s best classic plays and develops a commitment to creating opportunities for women in theatre. The Royal Bed follows other major productions by the company including The House of Bernada Alba, The Trojan Women, The Maids and The Killing of Sister George
“Ironically this is the first production that has men,” says Erica, “We are not exclusively women. We simply try to choose our material which gives opportunities. The central character in this is Siwan and it’s her story we follow.”

Set around Easter 1230 when an uneasy truce exists between a divided Wales and England and at the court of the charismatic Prince of North Wales a catastrophe is about to unfold and dreams of a united Wales will crumble. At the centre of the drama is Siwan, the illegitimate daughter of King John and passionate, outspoken and politically astute wife of Llywelyn the Great. Set in Medieval Wales, the play tells the story of her adulterous affair with the young Marcher Lord, Gwilyn Brewys, and the terrible revenge exacted by her enraged husband when he discovers the lovers in the royal bed, the consequences of which reverberate down the centuries to contemporary Wales.

“Essentially what the play is about is the struggle and the tension between personal desire and public political duty,” says Erica who believes the aspects are central to much of Saunders Lewis’ work, “In this we have a young woman who has spent 20 years constricted by duty and responsibility as a wife and as a political and royal consort, who in the moment wants to taste passion and desire and so she gives into that with repercussions, but equally Llywelyn gives into rage”

The Royal Bed will feature BAFTA Cymru award winner Eiry Thomas as Siwan, Hannah O’Leary as Alis, with Francois Pandolfo as Gwilym Brewis and Russell Gomer as Llywelyn. The production also features live music from mezzo soprano Buddug Verona James and Celtic harpist Delyth Jenkins.

The Royal Bed will run at Newport Riverfront from Wednesday February 11 at 7.45pm with further presentations on Thursday February 12 at 2.30pm & 7.45pm, Friday February 13 at 7.45pm and Saturday February 14 at 2.30pm & 7.45pm Tickets -£12.50, concessions - £10.50, students - £6.50 Call 01633 656679 for ticket details. 
  • Visit for a video preview of The Royal Bed.
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on February 6, 2014 

Monday, 9 February 2015

From Soap Stardom To Theatre Stage - Jasmyn Banks Interview

The National Theatre’s award-winning comedy One Man, Two Guvnors comes to the New Theatre, Cardiff from February 10-14. Now seen by over one million people worldwide, this internationally-acclaimed smash-hit is on its longest ever UK & Ireland Tour.

Nicholas Hytner’s five star production tells the hilarious story of Francis Henshall who, fired from his skiffle band, becomes minder to Roscoe Crabbe. But Roscoe is really Rachel, posing as her own dead brother – who's been killed by her boyfriend Stanley Stubbers. Francis spots the chance of an extra meal ticket and takes a job with one Stanley Stubbers – but to prevent discovery, he must keep his two guvnors apart. Simple.

Gavin Spokes takes the central role of loveable chancer, Francis Henshall. Shaun Williamson plays Charlie Clench, Emma Barton plays Dolly, Jasmyn Banks is Pauline Clench, Alicia Davies is Rachel Crabbe, Michael Dylan is Alfie, Derek Elroy plays Lloyd Boateng, Edward Hancock is Alan Dangle and Patrick Warner plays Stanley Stubbers.

Earlier this week, Andy Howells spoke to Jasmyn Banks who is best known for her role of Alice Branning in EastEnders.  Jasmyn’s other TV credits include: Little Crackers, Sadie Jones and Life of Riley while her stage work includes Hecuba for Lazarus Theatre Company and Wind in the Willows for the RSC.

Can you tell us about the role you play in One Man, Two Guvnors?
I play Pauline Clench, she’s your typical dumb blond, very confused and doesn't have a clue what’s going on.  She’s engaged to be married and then another character comes in that she has previous arrangement with within an arranged marriage and she’s devastated and that’s how the play starts for her.

How did you get into the acting process originally?

It’s something that I wanted to do since I was about 7; I wanted to be an actress. I did whatever I could. I did acting classes got an agent and started auditioning, so far so good, I've been very lucky. Don’t get me wrong, I've had my moments when I've been out of work  but that’s how it goes for any actor.

How do you compare working on television to working in the theatre?
It’s a totally different job; working on EastEnders we were making four episodes a week, so it would sometimes be a 12 hour day, 6 days a week. Fifty actors can’t keep the main story line and I’d have times when I’d have two weeks off, someone else was in the spotlight.  Then my characters story line would get big and I’d be very busy so it was very hard work but I can’t tell you how much fun I had, I learned so much.

This job (One Man, Two Guvnors) is totally different; it’s doing the same script every night and finding new things with it. That’s a challenge in itself as is having a live audience (which is) a totally different experience to camera. With this show I've found many different ways to play the same person and many different ways to play a line. It’s been so much fun.

Was there any truth in the tabloid stories saying you were planning to go to Hollywood after leaving EastEnders?
I think its one of the many things people make up when you leave soaps. I did want to go out to LA and still have hopes to go out there and work, that was a very funny story that came out, and I’m not sure what it was all about, I found it very amusing but it would be fabulous.

How long will you carry on with One Man, Two Guvnors?
We carry on touring until the end of March and then hopefully I’ll start auditioning again soon.

How have you found doing comedy as opposed to serious drama?
It was actually really daunting seeing myself as a comedy actress, as slapstick comedy requires you to be completely free and really big and bold. I was really terrified of going into it, but I've learned so much about it, the bigger and sillier I behave the funnier I still find it.

Who makes you laugh?
That’s a really good question! Ricky Gervais - he’s really clever and funny.

Would you like to do more comedy in the future, perhaps a sitcom?
I would never say no to that, I think there’s a lot of fun to be had in comedy, I definitely would leave that door open.

You’re working with two other former EastEnders actors in One Man, Two Guvnors (Shaun Williamson and Emma Barton). Has there been an opportunity for you to exchange stories about your experiences on the show?
Yes I suppose so, we've worked with similar people but we were there at totally different times but it’s nice to be able to reminisce about things that happened on set.

Finally, are you looking forward to visiting Wales?
I've never been to Wales and I cannot wait, I keep hearing wonderful things about Wales and how beautiful it is, I’m very excited!

  • A shortened version of this interview appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on February 6, 2015.
  • For ticket information visit call the New Theatre’s box office on 029 2087 8889 or visit     

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Meet The Band: Troyka

Troyka are an experimental British trio who make rich and enthralling instrumental music.
Featuring Kit Downes (once Mercury nominated in his own right) on hammond/synths, Chris Montague on guitar/loops and Josh Blackmore on drums, Troyka is far more than the sum of its parts and is definitely not your usual Hammond organ trio.

Ornithophobia is the London three-piece’s third studio album - their first for Naim - and truly marks the fruition of five years' worth of musical experimentation. Influenced by the likes of Tim Berne, Aphex Twin, Deerhoof, Albert King and Flying Lotus, their music is intense, ambitious and iconoclastic. Unpredictable, yet catchy, melodies woven into complex time signatures may be a trade mark of the trio at full swing, but it is the flavours of textural beds, polyrhythmic post-dance, haunting trip-hop and atmospheric post-rock that make this record a sensation of the heart as well as the mind.
Having self-produced all of their records to date, it was Troyka’s bold decision to invite Petter Eldh to produce and mix the album, that truly solidified the diverse, dynamic and discerning edge of Ornithophobia. Swedish producer Eldh (himself a seasoned musician, playing bass for Django Bates and Marius Neset) mixed the album at his home in Berlin.

 The potency of the electronic and experimental music scene of the German capital positively seeps into Troyka’s creations as a result. This is most evident on Life Was Transient and Troyka Smash, in which Eldh takes acoustic recordings of the band and resamples the performances into entirely different compositions, whilst losing none of the essential Troyka sound.
The album's title, Ornithophobia, was first inspired by guitarist Chris’ fear of birds. This became the aptly chaotic groove of the album’s title track, which, in turn escalated into an album set in a fictionalised London; a post-apocalyptic dystopian nightmare in which people have contracted a form of avian flu that is slowly turning them into human-size birds and gradually making them lose their minds. If this sounds like the stuff of comics, then you're not far off, as the album artwork encompasses a dark, comic book storyboard, featuring our heroes Troyka, created by artist Naiel Ibarrola.
Ornithophobia opens with Arcades, which after a deceptively mellow intro, descends into an unrivalled concoction of prog, thrash, jazz, blues and Bernard Hermann score. This sets the scene for what is to follow; Life Was Transient's stylish and spacey broken hip hop gives way to the Zappa-esque uncertainty of spiraling Hammond and chirpy palm muted guitar; the Nils Frahm-like minimalist Hammond organ of Bamburgh is followed by The General, which builds from moody 70s Schifrin-esque soundtrack to cacophonous psychedelic rock that is in equal part Yes, Jimi Hendrix and Deep Purple, whilst never losing its currency. In contrast, the album closer, Seahouses, is a delicate work of instrumental post-rock, a hybrid of Mogwai and Durutti Column-like melody and atmosphere with the last word going to a symphony of arpeggiating 8bit synths that leaves you wanting to start the album all over again. Chris Montague of the band recently answered Andy Howells questions.

Who are you and how did you start playing music?
I'm Chris Montague and I play guitar and write music for Troyka. I started playing music when I was 9 years old. I was in the car with my Dad and Voodoo Chile by Jimi Hendrix came on the radio and my head nearly fell off. I told my Dad that I wanted a guitar for Christmas and that I was gong to be a guitar player. I soon realised school was a living nightmare so began to play the guitar endlessly along with my Mum and Dad's record collection, they had loads of BB King, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, Chic, Doobie Brothers, Police, Prince, all really good guitar stuff. I'd sit for hours trying to play the parts note for note and getting it completely wrong. I was lucky to meet a very inspirational teacher called Jimi Savage (he still teaches in Newcastle) who would get me to go along and sit in with bands he was playing with at the time. I was still a kid and it was a very big deal for me.

Where are you from?
I'm from Gateshead and grew up in that area. Josh Blackmore who plays drums is from Derby and Kit Downes is from Norwich. We all live in London now.

How would you describe your music style?
I call it jazz because we improvise a lot and I associate that with Jazz, although it's harder to answer than that. We're all into tons of different music and steal the bits we like the best. It could be rock, funk, blues, electronic, dance, avant-garde, it really doesn't matter too much for us as long as we can use it.

What’s been your best live experience?
There have been so many with this band. Maybe the most memorable for me was performing with the Troyk-estra (our big band version of this music) at Cheltenham in 2013. We had only played the music once before and the gig was being broadcast on the BBC, it was incredibly terrifying as the music is very challenging. It felt like it could go horrendously wrong, but it didn't and ended up being released as a live album. Big risks sometimes pay off and I'm so glad that one was documented like it was.

You have a new album coming soon can you tell us more about that?
The album is called Ornithophobia and it's on Naim. We took our time recording this music and we collaborated with the producer Petter Eldh who brings a very new aesthetic to the production side of things. The album was partly inspired by my genuine phobia of birds, it embraces all of the macabre elements of this but at times has great beauty and tenderness in there too. It's a new direction for us and we felt we didn't have to document how we do things live, we'd done that on the previous albums. This album has a higher production value to it and embraces more of the electronic and ambient music we like, but it still has the Troyka wonky, wrong vibe to it.

Do you enjoy touring?
I always love touring with this music and the guys in the band, we've known each other a long time so it feels very familiar (a bit too familiar sometimes). Touring in any situation is very tiring and being away from home is often tough, but if the music is good it's very rewarding. We also have an amazing sound engineer called Alex Fiennes with us and we will be recording all of the gigs, maybe for a potential live album in the future. We have some gigs in Europe too which is always fun and we're going to some new places like Istanbul and Trondheim.

What can people expect from your forthcoming Cardiff gig?
It's at the Royal Welsh College of Music, the space we play in there has a really great sound and the crowd in Cardiff is always up for it, they have been great with us in the past when we have played Dempsey's (a great venue and a vital stop on the jazz circuit). We will have played 4 or 5 nights previous to this one and it's after the album launch at Richmix in London on the 12th so we will be very well rehearsed and slick hopefully, we will also be very relaxed as it's the last night before a short break.

Where can people hear your music?
You can hear a teaser of the album and then buy it direct from Naim for tour dates visit:

  • Catch Trokya at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama on February 13.
  • A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells appeared in the South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on February 6, 2015.