Tuesday, 31 March 2015

DVD Review: The Drop

If like me, you missed The Drop when it originally hit cinema screens last year, then this is your chance to finally catch this gritty crime drama on DVD and Blu-ray.

The story follows Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) an apparent underdog lonely bartender at Cousin Marv’s; a neighbourhood bar in Brooklyn. Bob’s cousin, the eponymous Marv (James Gandolfini in his last completed film role), runs the business as a “drop bar”; laundering money through a covert scheme of funneling cash to local gangsters.

Under Marv’s heavy hand, Bob finds himself at the centre of a robbery gone awry when money intended for a Chechen gang is stolen from the bar by masked gunmen.

The robbery is investigated by cynical police officer Detective Torres (John Ortiz) and while Bob tries to forge a relationship with his neighbour Nadia (Noomi Rapace) he finds himself entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighbourhood's past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living – no matter the cost.

The big pull for The Drop is undoubtedly the multi-layered characterisations within the film. No character should ever been taken at face value and there are surprises on every level right through to the final moments.

Undoubtedly Tom Hardy and the late James Gandolfini are brilliantly cast in the lead roles but there are also strong performances from Noomi Rapace and Matthias Schoenaerts, the latter portraying a ticking time bomb of menace with an air of mystery.

  • This DVD review by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on March 27, 2015.
  • CD Review: Meghan Trainor - Title

    Try as you can to avoid it , some pop is almost too infectious to ignore. Meghan Trainor had already been riding high in th US charts  before her singles started to scratch the surface in the UK  and as Lips Are Movin' and All About That Bass have proved, she is certainly more than a one-hit wonder.

    The catchiness of her melodies continue with her debut album Title which includes her next UK single Dear Future Husband (already a big smash in America) and collaborations with John Legend on Like I'm Gonna Lose You and Shy Carter with Mr Almost.

    My tweenage daughter loved this and I have to say as a forty-something Dad so did I, its all about that bass? No trouble!

    A version of this review by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment section The Guide on Friday March 27, 2015.

    CD Review: Ratworld by Menace Beach

    Ratworld is Leeds combo Menace Beach guitar-psyche fuelled debut.

    Harkening back to the days when indie music really was indie Ratworld is energetic loud and slightly out of phase but all the brilliant for it.

    Time for the great pretenders to move over, Drop Outs is among one of the many album highlights.

    Tuesday, 24 March 2015

    Review: Robot Wars 2015, Newport Centre

    New episodes of Robot Wars may have been off our TV screens for 14 years but as the audiences gathered at Newport Centre for the beginning of the 2015 tour there was evidence that the live show inspired by the series has a life of its own.

    The Robot Wars 2015 tour commenced here in Newport with two live shows on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon and there was much to enjoy for all the family. Home-constructed featherweight and heavyweight robots doing battle not just with each other but also the arena dome that not only fires flames at the remote controlled participants but is also liable to spring them into the air. To add to the drama house robots including the hammer-wielding Major Damage and Matilda (a frightening female with a chainsaw for a backside) then wade in and start throwing their heavy-metal about.

    Live show presenters Chris and Trevor do much in the way to encourage audience participation from foot stomping and yelling to splitting half the audience into rival teams. Among this year’s  highlights were both presenters build robots to do battle in the team featherweight round, which saw the debut appearance of new House Robot Olly who fired paint-balls at the robots.

    Of course, the audience, young and old lapped up every thrill and spill with an adrenaline rush enthusiasm that no-one wanted to end, proving that Robot Wars still rules in the field of Family Entertainment.

    Check out robotwars.tv for updates on further live shows and how to get in on the action of building your own robot.

    Saturday, 21 March 2015

    Meet The Band: Purple

    Texan trio Purple make a welcome return to these shores for a run of shows including Bristol Louisiana on March 29 alongside Demob Happy.

    Having cemented their live reputation on their inaugural visit late last year, the band follow a series of European dates with their first UK shows of 2015 in support of forthcoming single DMT.

    Bookended by recent single, album opener Wallflower, and new single DMT, the band’s debut longplayer (409) picked up plenty of thumbs up on it’s release last year, not least a 5K review in Kerrang and plenty of plus points in lieu of their incendiary live shows.

    DMT, a live favourite features vocalist / drummer Hanna Brewer full throttle ahead blitzing through all six minutes of riotous wig out aided and abetted in no small part by fellow thrill seekers, bassist Joe ‘Prankster’ and guitarist Taylor Busby.

    Andy Howells recently put questions to Hanna...

    Who are you and how did you come together?
    We are Purple and we ended up together cuz I (Hanna) saw Taylor's reggae band play an' thought he was a really bad ass singer and asked him to jam with me. I messaged him on myspace and he ended up coming to my jam room and we just wrote and recorded material and then later we got a bass player!

    Where are you from?
    We are from Beaumont Texas, Baybeh!

    How would you describe your music style?
    I would describe it as punk and wild. But we can still get down to earth and real.

    What’s been your best live experience?
    When we played a sold out show in Berlin with The Subways and Kill it Kid!! 1800 cap! We killed that show and sold some damn merch!!

    What are you working on at the moment?
    We are on tour with The Subways and Dune Rats!! And also writing new tunes for our second album. I'm so freakin' stoked about these new songs. I think it's better than the first album.

    Where can we see you live?
    Welp... We have been playing a lot in the UK and Europe!! You can catch us at Bristol Louisiana on March 29.

    Where can people hear your music?
    Purpletexasmusic.comYouTube.com/purpletexasmusic and we are also on Vimeo and Spotify!!

    • A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on March 20, 2015.

    Friday, 20 March 2015

    Bringing Major Damage To Robot Wars Live Show - John Findlay Interview

    This weekend the thrills and spills of Robot Wars return to Newport as this years tour launches at Newport Centre. Earlier this week technical director John Findlay spoke to Andy Howells about this years live show.

    John’s association with Robot Wars goes back some 16 years when he began building and competing robots in the popular television series. He progressed to become the driver of TV house robot Ripper before building Major Damage for the live shows.

    How did you get involved with Robot Wars TV Series?
    It’s my Dad's fault! Actually I was at university training to be a car designer and he watched the show. He phoned me up one Sunday morning and said “Have you seen Robot Wars? You could do that!” That’s how it evolved. I had a go at building my first robot which to be honest wasn't very good. You’re under the illusion when you go there for the first time that the robots aren't very powerful .So I took my remote control car apart, the wheels off my mums wheelie bin and went down to the filming. Obviously when I came back my robot was all destroyed and burned and I had to explain to my mother why her wheelie bin wheels were molten rubber.

    When you do it once, meet (the TV presenters) Craig Charles and Philippa Forester and get the adrenaline rush been in the arena with your creation I left there with my bin bag going “you know what? I’m going to go back and get my revenge on those nasty house robots!” I've been all over the world with it; it’s the best job in the world.

    And you got involved in making it a live show?
    I was on the TV show with a robot called Ripper for the last four series and it was 12 years ago when the show was last on. When the TV show finished I started a company to keep it going as a live show. We've been doing it for 12 to 13 years now.

    Has Robot Wars popularity endured?
    It had peaked off a little bit and then they showed the repeats on Dave and now there’s a whole new generation of kids that have grown up watching the repeats. We do a lot of work in schools using the robots to promote engineering, so at the moment we’re getting busier and busier and also on course to getting a new TV series commissioned, then hopefully it will be the next phenomenon again.

    The current star of the shows is the house robot Major Damage; can you tell us a bit more about it?
    Damage is signed to Robot Wars so when the new TV series comes along it will be the new robot in the show. It was built in 2007 and is now known as the 'Big Daddy of the Arena' because it’s the star of the show. It’s got its cushion jaw, a flame thrower and everything you need to defeat the opponent. Many have had a go to try and kill it but haven’t succeeded yet.

    Can you tell Robot Wars fans anything about this weekends show in Newport?
    We've got the molds from the BBC to replicate a brand new Matilda which launches at this show. Another new feature for this year is we are going to try and get the presenters to build a robot during the show and put them in with the featherweights. We've also got a new house robot called Ollie who s going to fire paintball at the other robots and that’s going to splat the hell out of them and just destroy them.

    How much are robots part of your life now?
    It’s taken over; I get told off for having robot parts all over the house! We've actually got the R2D2 who’s in the show in the dining room sat at the dinner table at the moment. We had it for Christmas dinner as a bit of a giggle when the family came and we decorated him with tinsel but we have to get him ready for Newport. R2D2 has proved a big hit with the kids and adds an extra element.

    And you’re remaining hopeful to get Robot Wars back on television?
    It just takes the right production company with the right budget and hopefully we’ll be away and getting it back on TV. It keeps coming back and then phases out again. Dave showed a series just before Christmas which has helped our lives considerably, I was in a school today and we showed the children a video of Robot Wars and I asked them “Who remembers Robot Wars?” You’ve got 5 and 6 year olds who’ve seen it over Christmas and they are like “this is great, we want our parents to take us to see it!” It’s funny because there hasn’t been a series in 12 years and it can still entertain the kids and they can still get hooked on it. And they still love it.

    Thursday, 19 March 2015

    Meet The Band: Demob Happy

    Brighton’s finest new purveyors of raucous, off-kilter garage rock, Demob Happy follow their triumphant 2014 debut single Succubus with powerful new cut, Young & Numb, due for release later this year via the bands own Milk Parlour records.

    Fusing their natural affinity to relentless chord-thrashing with a fondness for melodic undertone and bold dynamic shifts, Young & Numb comes laced with feedback and fuzz. Lyrically, meanwhile, the track is less the nihilistic stoner manifesto that its namesake could allude to, and more a vicious rumination on the dazed efforts made to drag knowledge and meaning from the bedlam of youth.

    A headline tour through last October saw Demob Happy leave the UK’s small venues broken and beaten, when, upon their return, The Guardian’s Single Of The Week heralded their debut single, Succubus as “a joyride through rock's sleazier back alleys”. Their live show is heralded as a whirlwind of energy and chaos, always handsomely toeing the line between dexterity and disarray.

    Catch the four-piece on tour through March and April 2015, which also marks their first venture into Europe before they descend upon the UK.

    How did you come together?
    We're just four best friends who enjoy mutually coming together in small rooms over guitars and drums, and on the road over people who've paid to see us.

    Where are you from?
    We live in Brighton, but were from Newcastle, and Wales is our favourite place to write music. Carmarthen has good water and good milk.

    How would you describe your music style?
    Its really a simple winning formula, just super catchy up-beat pop rock that mums and sisters alike can enjoy.

    What’s been your best live experience?
    Our best gig by a long shot was performing at Alan Shearer's annual summer fete to raise funds for keen, yet under-privileged inner-city telemarketers at the Newcastle metro arena.

    Where can people hear your music?
    People can hear our music by stealing their Grandma's 3.6 GHZ Macbook pro and typing into the internet address bar - www.soundcloud.com/demob-happy

    Where can we see you live?
    We're about to set off on a world tour of the UK and Europe. the closest gig to South Wales being at the Louisiana, Bristol on March 29th. Thanks for having us!

    Wednesday, 18 March 2015

    Experiencing Monty Python's Spamalot On And Off The Stage

    Ten seconds in a musical is a long time. I’m not talking about the actual performance of an individual performer but all the components that go together to make that performance. The preparation of the cast, crew and musicians, from wardrobe dressing to rehearsal, every prop, player and performer plays a part in bringing a script to life.

    All kitted out like a
    Monty Python extra...
    My invitation to join the cast of Monty Python’s Spamalot as Sir Not-Appearing at Cardiff New Theatre last week for all of ten seconds took some 90 minutes of rehearsal and preparation, and I was all but a small cog in the wheel of a big show.

    Well not quite, I mustn't demean anything about Monty Python’s Spamalot not even my carefully crafted walk on. “It gets a big laugh!” encouraged Joe Pasquale when I interviewed him recently,” You've got to do it! You’ll love it!”

    Stage manager Phil Sykes confirms this on the night as we sit in his office at The New Theatre, “It’s a small role but it gets a big laugh, so are you up for it?” I don’t hesitate in my response, “Definitely!”

    So it’s off to wardrobe to get measured up for my knights’ costume. “Well its a choice of small medium or large,” wardrobe master Iwan Harries tells me as he helps me buckle in to my costume, “How on earth did real Knights cope,” I wonder  before catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I look like an extra from a Monty Python sketch in my knights costume and spectacles. Probably because I am.

    Then it’s down three flights of stairs to the stage for my rehearsal, bumping into Joe Pasquale along on the way who greets me with a warm handshake. The cast are going through warm up movements while the band are tuning up at the back of the stage. To the side the technicians are running through their final preparations.  I sit in the sidelines for five minutes watching the production come together noticing Joe Pasquale and Todd Carty discussing a final adjustment to a comedy routine.

    Phil Sykes reappears and leads me onto the stage, “This is Andy, from the South Wales…”

    “...Argus,” I interject.

    Wired for sound...
    “That’s right; he will play Sir Not-Appearing tonight!” The cast give me a hearty cheer. I get a further greeting from Joe and Todd and then we go through my quick rehearsal which involves the Knight before me arriving on stage at very last minute following a quick change from another role that finishes seconds before. I must wait for him, but not miss my cue.

    So the narrator’s announcement comes, “The wise Sir Bedevere was the first to join King Arthur’s knights, but other illustrious names were soon to follow: Sir Lancelot the Brave; Sir Galahad the Pure; and Sir Robin the Not-quite-so-brave-as-Sir-Lancelot who had nearly fought the Dragon of Agnnor, who had nearly stood up to the vicious Chicken of Bristol and who had personally wet himself at the Battle of Badon Hill; and the aptly named Sir Not-Appearing…”  I walk on to join the knights and they all look at me like I'm not supposed to be there. I'm not so I apologise and walk off.

    “Perfect!” says Phil. So, I go back up to wardrobe to wait, sampling a piece of chocolate cake, kindly given to me by a member of the cast.

    Ten minutes before curtain up I'm back in the wings. There’s one final touch as Jade the wigs mistress fits me up with a false moustache and beard. The show begins and I can hear the laughter of the audience as I see the cast members play their parts. Seeing the clockwork precision of each piece come together at the side of the stage is both exciting and fascinating.

    Final resting place of
    my costume...
    Then, my moment approaches, Joe Pasquale in his full King Arthur regalia steps off stage and strolls over to me. “You alright?” he asks, “Yes thanks,” I reply. “Good,” he smiles, “watch your ‘tache doesn’t fall off!” I feel for my false moustache, fitted some 15 minutes before, its half hanging off!  As I smooth it back on another actor tells me how problematic they can be, but not to worry. Then Todd Carty, in his Patsy costume steps over “Just enjoy it,” he beams, before clopping back onto the stage.

    “We’re up next,” says a fellow Knight and before I know it, I’m in the queue with the knight before me joining us at a furious pace just as the first knight marches on the stage. Then, as my name is spoken, I get a cheer from the audience as I walk on stage. It doesn’t last long, I meet the fixed glares of the cast and I apologise and make a quick exit just as I did in rehearsal.

    I don’t remember it but I’m told it got a big laugh. I guess I got caught up in all the excitement. Andy Warhol was wrong when he said everyone’s famous for 15 minutes, I didn't get 15 seconds but I did get a big laugh and a personal experience of a lifetime. Appearing in Spamalot for ten seconds was indeed great fun just as much as I enjoyed watching it in the second half and all down to the marvelous cast and crew that made me feel so welcome.

    Tuesday, 17 March 2015

    Laura Wright To Commence Headline Tour In Cardiff - Interview

    Following her sensational performance at the Opening Ceremony of Prince Harry’s Invictus Games last year, sporting soprano Laura Wright begins her first headline tour in Cardiff on March 20.

    The 24-year-old mezzo soprano who shot to fame with classical choral group All Angels has sold over a million albums, and has become one of Britain’s best selling classical artists. As the first mezzo-soprano to perform at the Olympic Stadium, Laura has toured with tenors Alfie Boe and Russell Watson and opened the iTunes Festival for Andrea Bocelli.  A firm fixture at sporting events, Laura sings regularly at the International rugby matches for men and women, The Six Nations at Twickenham and is the England Rugby team’s first ever-official anthem singer.

    Classically trained at the Royal College Of Music, for which she received a First Degree, for her first headline tour, Laura will perform some uplifting and classical favourites from her past albums, as well as songs from her recently released album ‘Sound of Strength’ which not only shows off Laura’s classical singing prowess but also fuses together more popular, mainstream works too.

    Among the songs Laura will sing in Cardiff on March 20 will be World in Union, Swing Low, Jerusalem, Nessun Dorma and Invincible, which stole the show at the Opening Ceremony of Prince Harry’s Invictus Games.

    Andy Howells recently spoke to Laura about the forthcoming concert.

    What’s life been like since the release of The Sound of Strength?
    Since the album came out and up until Christmas it was mad. I love that kind of lifestyle where you’re going to different places everyday and different performances.  It’s really exciting.

    How was the album received?
    Really well, there's been a really positive reaction. There's always going to be the sense that it’s a different kind of vibe, a different idea. People I've spoken to have really embraced it. It’s reached a younger generation as well, which for me is really exciting. It’s exactly how I wanted it to be but there’s still more to be had there, more development and change for something that was quite new as an idea but something that was very natural to me as a progression. I’m very proud of it.

    What can you tell us about your live shows?
    I’ll be performing with a guitarist, violinist and a cellist and backing tracks and singing music from all three of my albums.   For me this tour is a family tour, I want young and old, children, parents and grandparents   and everyone to come along and enjoy the music that I’ll perform. I've chose music that are not only peoples favourites but music that has a story and you can talk about on stage.

    How much have you been involved in the creation of your own music and what inspires you?
    I actually arranged and wrote quite a lot on the new album as well as Invincible which I performed at the Invictus games. It’s really been developed and its something that I'm so excited about, it allows me to open a lot of doors and to have a lot more creative freedom. Its kind  of become about creating something that takes you somewhere else, creating a sound that I have in my head that transports me somewhere with a particular emotion in mind. Normally it seems to be the idea of conquering, defeating or overcoming something. It really is that idea that's motivational and it comes from my other passion which is sport, fitness and exercise, bringing that together in the sense that I need that motivation in my sporting life as well.

    How are you feeling about taking your music out on tour?
    I am a little apprehensive but I see that as a positive thing. I am eager to meet people and to talk to people and have that face to face relationship about my music which I'm passionate about. It will be the new stuff that I'm most nervous and excited about. There's one track (O Euchari In Leta Via), the very first track on the new album which I’ll sing at the beginning of the concert. It’s so magical, it’s just my voice alone and I think that creates a nice atmosphere.

    Was it difficult to select a right balance of music for the concerts?
    There's been a lot of to and fro via email as to how we'll put the set list together but it’s been very carefully chosen.

    Beyond the concert tour, do you have plans for new recordings?
    We are talking about that at the moment actually but for me, definetely. I’m writing new music already and obviously with the Six Nations and the rugby coming up as well there’s lots of things in the pipeline.

    • Catch Laura Wright at the Royal Welsh College Of Music and Drama on March 20. Visit ticketmaster.co.uk for details.
    • For more information on Laura and her music visit her official website.
    • A version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on Match 13, 2015
    • Laura Wright Discusses The Sound Of Strength

    Saturday, 7 March 2015

    Meet The Band: O'Hooley & Tidow

    One of the most exciting acts on the contemporary folk scene today; Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow are accomplished interpreters of everything from Massive Attack to traditional Irish ballads, but it’s their own boundless songwriting and exquisite harmonies that truly shine.

    Following the release of their widely acclaimed third album The Hum, the duo received a personal invitation from Billy Bragg to perform at last year’s Glastonbury Festival. They have the originality and skill to invite comparison with the folk scene’s most celebrated North American harmony duos, from early Simon and Garfunkel to the iconic Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Lyrically and musically, Belinda and Heidi’s powerful, deeply moving, and at times spine-tingling performances are infused with an honesty and empathy that will disarm even the hardest of heart.

    The pair recently took time out to answer questions poised by Andy Howells

    Its a year since you were touring with The Hum, did you get a good response while out on tour?
    Yes, we think it’s been the best response yet of all three albums. Our Bristol Folkhouse gig in particular was a highlight with a great audience. It was a very warm and emotional evening. People seem to have clutched The Hum and us to their bosoms!

    Were there any particular highlights at the gigs?
    The new material has been very well received, in particular Two Mothers which is our ballad about the controversial child migration scheme. It is a bit of a tear jerker. In contrast, probably the most joyful song we've ever written, Summat’s Brewin’ about our love of real ale has seen the country singing along loudly and heartily.

    You’re back in Bristol next week, what can we expect from O Hooley and Tidow this time?
    We’re returning to the Folk House on Friday 6th March for one of three concerts across the UK celebrating International Women’s Day. We are joined by BBC Radio 2 Folk Award finalists Lady Maisery and the irrepressible Leicester songwriter Grace Petrie. As well as singing our own material, there will be plenty of collaboration with the other performers and hopefully raising lots of money for local women’s charities.

    Are there any Welsh dates forthcoming?
    There are indeed. We love playing in Wales and return to Machynlleth Y Tabernacl on Saturday 18th April, then our first visit to Anglesey with a concert at Menai Bridge’s Victoria Hotel on Sunday 19th April. In the summer, we've been asked back for the second year running to headline Trelawynd’s Folk at the Hall on the Saturday afternoon of 11th July. There’s an announcement coming soon for the Autumn…

    What about any new recordings?
    We are currently writing album number four to be released in Feb 2016. We’re already really excited about it.

    What’s inspiring you both at the moment and are there any particular albums or artists you’re enjoying listening to?
    The people and the landscape of where we live in the Colne Valley area of Huddersfield is a constant source of inspiration. Wildlife, the human condition and love in all its permutations, outsiders, masks, oppression are recurring themes in our music. We've actually been listening to a fair bit of dance music because of the fitness classes we do at our local leisure centre…

    What was the first record you bought and why?
    Heidi bought ‘I Wish I Could Fly’ by Orville because it was the cutest thing she’d ever heard.
    Belinda bought ‘Arrival’ by Abba because it made her fingers tingle.

    Friday, 6 March 2015

    In Concert: Wales At No.1, Wales Millennium Centre

    What better way to celebrate St David’s Day than bringing one of Wales' most universal popular culture contributions to the forefront – the number one record.

    As Wales at No.1 hosted by The One Show’s Alex Jones proved on Sunday evening, this has been a medium Wales has been excelling in since 1959 when Shirley Bassey topped the UK charts with As I Love You.

    As the evening commenced with The Welsh Pops Orchestra’s rendition of At The Sound Of The Swinging Cymbal (composed by former Shirley Bassey musical director Brian Fahey, and the theme to radio's Pick of The Pops) it became apparent no other tune would be more appropriate to introduce the best in Wales music talent.

    Swansea’s Shaheen Jafargholi brought new life to Spencer Davis Group’s Keep on Running while John Owen Jones revived Tom Jones' hit Green Green Grass of Home. Sophie Evans brought a new twist to Amen Corner’s smash (If Paradise Is) Half as Nice and Jessica Lee Morgan gave a welcome rendition of her mother Mary Hopkin’s hit Those Were The Days which the audience clapped along with from the offset. Lucie Jones also wowed the audience with her stunning performances of Dave Edmunds I Hear You Knocking and Stereophonics Dakota.

    There were some genuine Welsh Number one stars to hand as well. Shakin Stevens opened the second half of the show with two of his four chart-toppers Green Door and This Ole House while the first Welshman ever to reach the UK Number one slot Ricky Valance gave a perfect rendition of his 1960 chart-topper Tell Laura I Love Her, despite suffering a severe heart attack early last week.

    Amy Wadge’s rendition of her co-composition with Ed Sheeran Thinking Out Loud and Manic Street Preacher James Dean Bradfield’s rendition of If You Tolerate This, You’re Children Will Be Next also proved to be real musical highlights.

    As key performers of the evening reunited on stage to sing Tom Jones It’s Not Unusual, (celebrating its 50th anniversary as a 60s chart topper this week) Wales At No.1 proved to be the ultimate Pick of Wales Pops. Diolch!

    • A review by Andy Howells of this concert was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on March 6, 2015.

    Thursday, 5 March 2015

    In Concert: Royal Blood, Newport Centre

    No egos, no frills just pure rock is what greeted fans who turned out at Newport Centre on Tuesday evening (March 3, 2015) to see the recently crowned Brit Awards Best British Group winners, Brighton’s Royal Blood.

    The concert kicked off with a half hour plus set from Los Angeles’ Mini Mansions featuring Queens of the Stone Age bassist Michael Shuman , keyboardist Tyler Parkford and drummer Zach Dawes.

    The trio took to the stage adorned in a wardrobe of eye-catching suits ranging from pure white to floral. Their lyrical content was just as surreal. One particular line “I wanna live in a world with a zombie all day” raised a smile when placed alongside such musical gems as Creeps and Vertigo, fusing psychedelia with Beach Boy style harmonies from their forthcoming album The Great Pretenders.

    Newport were undoubtedly ready to step up a gear when Royal Blood appeared on stage. Both guitarist and vocalist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher have a dynamic stage presence that goes beyond their artillery thumping baseline.

    As the duo performed favourites Hole and Come on Over, a sea of fans formed around the stage to carefully focus their phone cameras on their music heroes amidst a flurry of bouncing mosh-pit heads.

    Of course, the band encouraged as much participation as possible, Kerr yelling into the crowd “Newport – Are You Ready?” before grinding the chords of his guitar Hendrix-style into fan favourite Little Monster from their album Out Of The Black.

    The rock didn't stop for over an hour, the band only breaking away once from original material to pay homage to Marc Bolan with a raucous rendition of 20th Century Boy.

    Royal Blood more than proved that they were a force to be taken seriously with killer tracks Better Strangers and Blood Hands and played with flair devoid of gimmicks or bad attitude. Hats off to them, they deserve all the success they are getting and Newport was evidently very pleased to receive them for an evening, long may they reign!

    • A version of this review by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus on March 5, 2015.

    Monday, 2 March 2015

    On Stage: TAN, Newport Riverfront

    Welsh history came alive on Friday evening as Harnisch-Lacey Dance's double bill Spin and TAN premiered at Newport Riverfront.

    Dance trio Daniel Ovel, Jacob Smart and Tom Tindall mesmerised the audience in the opening 20 minutes of the show with Sandra Harnisch-Lacey’s 2014 Edinburgh Fringe success Spin. A breathtaking demonstration of modern dance, Spin was a performance tight in synchronicity but showing flair of contortion was only a taster of things to come.

    The second part of the evening saw the premiere of TAN, a dance based drama inspired by Wales' journey to reclaim its cultural identity. TAN combines elements of contemporary dance, breakdance and parkour performances while exploring the universal themes of identity, freedom and power of transformation.

    The centerpiece of the production is a 1930s arson attack in North Wales by dramatist Saunders Lewis, poet Lewis Valentine and novelist Di Williams following the century long purposeful decline of the Welsh language within school and the enforcement of the wearing of The Welsh Not for any child who chose to disobey their peers wishes.

    The production portrays the three men as defenders of the Welsh culture, defying segregation and bringing to life the brilliance of Wales past, presence and future.

    A combination of contemporary music, soundscape and video clips of Wales' cultural history were liberally intermingled with the dancers’ powerhouse dance performances including the historic arson attack on the RAF bombing school in Penyberth.

    Rather than just recall history, TAN also enforces the message of the ongoing importance of the freedom of the Welsh language and as my 12 year old daughter pointed out brought the words of the Welsh National anthem into clarity.

    Suitable for older children upwards TAN is a must-see show bringing together Welsh cultural history and the finest in contemporary dance. There’s a further chance to catch TAN at The Met in Abertillery on March 12 and The Gate Arts Centre, Cardiff on March 18. Visit harnischlacey.com for details

    • A version of this review by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus on March 2, 2015

    Sunday, 1 March 2015

    Julian Lloyd Webber Embarks On Unique Concert Tour - Interview

    Julian Lloyd Webber, one of the world’s finest and most influential classical musicians has announced a special series of concerts. For the first time, Julian will take his audience on a historical and musical journey by presenting a unique insight into his extraordinary life, with music performed by himself, his wife and fellow cellist Jiaxin Lloyd Webber, together with pianist Pam Chowhan.

    As a member of arguably the most influential musical dynasty of modern times, Julian will recount stories and anecdotes of touring, recording sessions, concerts and TV shows to link with a new presentation of rare video footage of him talking and performing. “We'll be showing lots of video clips of me working with people like St├ęphane Grappelli, Cleo Laine, Yehudu Menuhin but also composers like Joaquin Rodrigo,” says Julian, “ interspersed with all this, my wife will be playing pieces that have been very important in my career. I’ll be reading from my book Travels With My Cello and at different points doing a question and answer from the audience.”

    Julian is keen that the show will be a very interactive experience for the whole family and will be inviting a member of the audience to get a unique Cello master class on stage. “What I thought of originally was doing an encore with my wife. As we are travelling by car all the time, we literally cant get an extra cello in,” Julian laughs before continuing, “if some young cellist wants to come I’ll play an encore on their instrument and they can have a few minutes on stage and maybe I can give a few little tips. I want the evening to be totally appropriate for children like an introduction to classical music, a celebration!”

    Julian’s passion for music education will spill over into the show and he hopes his lifelong musical experiences will serve as an inspiration to younger members of the audience.  “ I just never knew anything else,” he says as he recalls growing up in the Lloyd Webber home. “ I took it for granted, there was all kinds of music going on, musicians dropping into our flat. My father was a composer and organist while my mother taught young children the piano and Andrew would be composing his latest tunes. Music sort of grew out of it for me, there was no particular pressure to do it and I found the cello. There'd never been a string player in the family and that’s one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about music education. Had I not been in that kind of background I don't know if I'd have discovered music or not, it’s just that it was always there.”

    The show will see works performed from Faure's Elegy, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Music of the Night, Rachmaninov's Cello Sonata through to composers William Lloyd Webber, Frank Bridge, JS Bach and Philip Glass, “There’s almost too much going on, I think it could overrun a bit!” says Julian when discussing the show which also features a comedy clip of him appearing on TV with the legendary Kenny Everett.

    Looking back over a career which spans some five decades, does Julian have any favourite moments? “There are so many things,” he responds, “I loved working with Yehudi Menuhin. I thought he was a great man and a great musician that was just a wonderful experience. More recently I've really enjoyed working with my wife, we've made two CD's and I'm really glad we've been able to do that because it’s something to look back on. We've got a young daughter who’s three and a half and she'll be able to say: "That’s Mummy and Daddy!"”
    • An Evening with Julian Lloyd Webber will take place at The Grand Pavillion, Porthcawl on April 9. Visit grandpavilion.co.uk or call box office on 01656 815995 for ticket details.
    • A version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on February 27, 2015.