Sep 052018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Alan Stewart’s new book.

Five years in the making, Alan Stewart’s new book ‘North East Scotland At War’ will appeal to anyone even remotely interested in the history of the North-east of Scotland.
There are plenty of books out there which record the difficult years between the Chamberlain peace accord and the Soviet conquest of Berlin. Osborne’s ‘Defending Britain’ and Gordon Barclay’s ‘If Hitler Comes’ are the classics.

But this book is slightly different and there is certainly room for further historical accounts of the dark days when Hitler threatened our shores.

With a decidedly local slant, North East Scotland At War launches the reader into the minutiae of the defence of the North-east against what was, for a brief few years, perceived as the Nazi threat.

The archaeology of those distant times is laid bare and many of the official documents which record the difficult days inhabit the pages.

A ground-based Invasion never came. But preparations were firmly in in place and Alan’s finely researched history brings the day to day story of those difficult times sharply into focus.

Fougasse – developed by the Petroleum Warfare Department as an anti-tank weapon, Dragon’s Teeth and Railway Blocks feature in this book along with the stories of the stop-lines, the Home Guard roadblocks and of course that secretive plan to harry the invaders using suicide squads tasked with assassinating both their own commanders – who might betray them under torture – and German officers.

Air crashes also inhabit these pages. Alongside the enemy casualties, and they were in the hundreds, Alan details the stories behind some of the Commonwealth gravestones which litter the cemeteries of the North-east.

Training accidents accounted for many of the casualties.

A Czech fighter pilot killed when his Spitfire spiralled into the ground, an air-sea rescue crew lost in a collision with railway wagons on the perimeter of RAF Dyce Airfield and the gravestone of Flight Lieutenant Wheelock – killed attempting an emergency landing – again at Dyce – are featured.

This is one of those books which is difficult to set aside. The minutiae of the location of pill boxes and the stark reality of the bombing maps, feature alongside some difficult tales of children killed on the local sands, not by the Germans, but by the very defences intended to keep them safe.

Landmines and barbed wire were as much a hazard as air-borne bombs and machine gun bullets.

Alongside the difficult descriptions of civilian carnage, Alan has included a number of images of official documents which give a flavour of the times. In a memo marked TOP SECRET, a Colonel Geddes, commander of Aberdeen Garrison, expresses his concern regarding the vulnerability of Tullos Hill.

“I am a little uneasy” he writes, 

“about the defence of TULLOS HILL – Area 4624. This is a very commanding feature, on which the following units are located: A.B. 2 Site, Heavy A.A Bty, Detachment 319 Search-Light Regiment, RAF Wireless Installation and Royal Observer Corps Post.”

And there are literally dozens of such so-far hidden documents sprinkled throughout this account of the time when the invasion of our shores seemed such a certainty.

Profusely illustrated and replete with a plethora of new information gleaned from both local and national records, this is a local history book which I am pleased to include on my bookshelves.

North East Scotland At War – by Alan Stewart is Available from http://www.cabroaviation.co.uk/book.html at £21.99 + £3 P&P

ISBN 9781527215689
Cover image © Alan Stewart

Aug 212018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Jersey Boys at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame arrives in Aberdeen this week in the form of the 1960s era, jukebox-laden musical Jersey Boys.

From curtain rise to curtain call this is a highly polished and electrifyingly energetic production features around 30 original Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons numbers.

With a pedigree of 27 Top 40 singles including Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man and Rag Doll, the original Four Seasons’ tough-but-tender doo-wop harmonies continue to wow Rock ‘n’ Roll fans of all ages.

Add to the mix around 100 million record sales, and it’s difficult to see how Director Des McAnuff’s musical portrayal of the group’s often troubled rise and fall could fail to please the theatre audience.

In fact, this is one of those shows that should be seen again and again. I should know – to date I’ve seen this tribute show three times and given a whiff of a chance, I would go back at least one more time.

As always, casting makes or breaks a musical, and the choice of Michael Watson to play lead Frankie Valli is more than satisfying.

Bearing a passing resemblance to the younger Frankie, Michael’s stage presence and ferocious vocal range steal the show. Alongside the fast-paced numbers – Bye Bye Baby/Working My Way Back to You/Rag Doll – Michael’s mellow Can’t Take My Eyes Off You had the audience spellbound.

Peter Nash as the slightly dodgy Tommy De Vito, James Winter as Who Wears Shorts Shorts composer Bob Gaudio and Lewis Griffiths as the Ringo-like Nick Massi completed the band line-up and in numbers such as Sherry and Bye Bye Baby, the quartet’s performance bordered on the magical.

At times it was difficult to separate performance from reality. And don’t you just love those smart-smart red blazers!

The narrative is neatly subdivided Vivaldi-like into Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, with each band member taking a turn to relate his own particular version of the band’s rise and fall.

As the rags-to-riches-to-rags story plays out and the discord between band members becomes unbearably raw, the musical score stays apace. Spring’s I Can’t Give you Anything But Love leads us on to Summer’s Oh What a Night. Fall’s Big Man in Town gives way to Winter’s Fallen Angel and Who Loves You.

This Vivaldi-esque approach inevitably elasticates the truth. The gang connections, for example, might be ever so slightly romanticised.

Two rather than just the one of Frankie Valli’s daughters actually died, one by apparent suicide and another by drug overdose. And perhaps inevitably, the genuine Tommy DeVito strenuously denied, in the Las Vegas Review, being the band-member who habitually peed in the sink:

“I was probably the cleanest guy there … I don’t even know how they come up with this kinda’ stuff.”

The storyline exists in an explosive bubble of doo-wop and aside from a reference to Bob Gaudio’s pre-Seasons chart-topping Short Shorts and some insight into buying airplay on prime-time radio, we are pretty much left in the dark about the general music scene in the far off 1960s.

Asides such as ‘come back when your black’ and ‘there are only two kinds of girl’ firmly set the general tone of the times. Suspend moral indignation mode prior to taking seat, might be good advice!

Choreography, lighting, sound and costumes were pin sharp and in all, Jersey Boys is a show well worth seeing.
Sit back and go on a roller coaster ride of some favourite songs and some great back-story from the 60’s and the 70’s. Oh what a night and what a well worked tale.

Stars: 4.5/5

Jersey Boys plays at HM Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 25th August

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT

Aug 122018
 

Duncan Harley reviews  Far, Far From Ypres at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

It’s difficult to adequately classify Far, Far From Ypres.

Described as “the story of the Scottish war effort during World War One” with “its excitement, hope, suffering, endurance, humour, fear and disillusionment in the face of horror told through the eyes of fictional, prototypical soldier Jimmy MacDonald” this ambitious multimedia production sits oddly – and please excuse the pun – with its feet astride two camps.

A strong documentary-styled historical narrative, delivered by veteran broadcaster Iain Anderson, frames a broad range of popular song from the period whilst overhead a mix of trench imagery combines to add poignancy to the performance.

We are told that the fictional Jimmy is from any town or village in Scotland and that when issued with his tin hat and his rifle, he heads off to the continent in search of medals for the victory parade and of course for a great foreign adventure.

An acceptable figure for Scottish war dead has yet to be calculated – some put it at between 100,000 and 146,000 – and the enthusiastic Jimmy is portrayed as one of those who did not return.

Killed in France or Belgium, not by bullets nor by shells but by an influenza better known as Spanish Flu, he certainly died in uniform but is probably not numbered amongst the roll of the war dead.

Based on a Greentrax double album of WW1 songs, “Far, Far From Ypres” is laden with familiar and not so familiar song.

Within the context of the narrative, most are a good fit for the performance and most are delivered strongly by a cast of largely familiar folk-figures. Barbara Dickson, Dick Gaughan, Alan Prior, Tam Ward, Ian McCalman and Mairi MacInnes are just to name a few.

In fact, there are around 27 performers on stage at any one time making for a crowded performance space and indeed a difficult place for the soloists to excel in.

It was perhaps the male dominated chorus which brought the intent of the production solidly home. Decidedly appropriate and atmospheric of the era, Pack up your Troubles and When this Bloody War is Over vied with Tipperary and Armentieres to tug the heartstrings.

All in all, this is a largely successful attempt to track and trace changing perceptions during the course of that First War to end all wars through the songs of the day.

From hopeful beginnings through to eventual despair, the song list bravely traverses some four years of the bloody history of that hundred-year-old conflict in which young men could take the boat-train to the continent, stick a bayonet into the skull of a youngish man from a neighbouring land and, if he were lucky enough not to be stuck in his turn, return home with a medal in time for the local victory parade.

At the close of the night and indeed during the performance, not a few tears were shed.
Stars: (4/5)

Following last night’s performance at HMT, Far, Far From Ypres heads off to Oban, Skye, Ullapool, Stirling, Inverness, Dumfries and Edinburgh.

Aug 122018
 

Craig Chisholm reviews Iron Maiden at AECC. Photos by Craig Chisholm.

One of the biggest names in the history of heavy metal returned to Aberdeen for the second time in just 18 months to perform an exclusive Scottish date in front of a sold-out audience.
With the larger Hydro venue in Glasgow being used as part of the 2018 European Athletics Championships, the Exhibition Centre provided the bands only date north of the border in what must count as an intimate show for a band more used to headlining stadiums and festivals.

For metal fans in the North East, Glasgow’s loss was Aberdeen’s gain as the AECC hosted the most extravagant, theatrical, over-the-top, and, arguably, one of the greatest performances ever seen in the arena.

However, before they were treated to Maiden’s powerhouse set they also had one of the leading lights in modern Metal to contend with. Killswitch Engage have been around since the turn of the century and provided an energetic, pulverising set that’s rarely delivered by headliners, let alone a support band.

The Metalcore band from Massachusetts stormed through a dozen songs in their all-too-brief set. From opener ‘Strength of Mind’ to the closing cover of Dio’s ‘Holy Diver’ the band were relentless in their energy.

Pausing briefly only to praise the “beautiful city” of Aberdeen – and to speak of his hatred towards our wasps! – the bands set was a masterclass in arena heavy metal that would have blown many a headliner off their own stage.

However, Iron Maiden are not of that many. With four decades of touring and recording behind them they are consummate professionals and masters of the stage – despite all of the band now nearing what most normal people would consider retirement age.

Fortunately, Maiden are anything but normal and retirement seems a long way off as the six band members show energy and stamina on stage that would leave people half their age gasping for breath and begging for a rest.

With no new album to promote, the tour is thematically linked to their ‘Legacy of the Beast’ video game which gives them a good excuse to trawl through their back catalogue and pull out some deep cuts, old favourites and tireless classics.

Opening with ‘Aces High’ from 1984’s ‘Powerslave’ LP, the stage is, quite literally, set for a show of epic proportions as a near full size Spitfire is dangled above the band as they power tirelessly through the opener.

Singer Bruce Dickinson comes tearing onto the stage as the track opens and jumps, leg wide open, in the air for a number that’s quite epic, even by their standards.

After the song has finished, and the spitfire has retreated into the stage and out of sight, a quick one-two of old classics ‘Where Eagles Dare’ and ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’ follows before Dickinson addresses the crowd for what he says will be the only time during the bands marathon set.

Referring to the spitfire, he praises the “brave men, a third [his] age” that were fighting Nazis and fascism.

It’s a thought provoking and humbling monologue that holds resonance in the current climate of fear and uncertainty and the rise of the so-called alt-right.

He then introduces the next song and how much of an honour is to play it in Scotland before the band play their Scottish themed track ‘The Clansman’.

From then till the main set closer -the eponymously titled ‘Iron Maiden’ – the music is left to do the talking.

However, the band’s theatricality is given full reign during most of these tracks – the bands mascot, the giant zombie-like figure Eddie, comes onstage to engage in a swordfight with Dickinson during ‘The Trooper’.

Dickinson lugs a lit-up cross around the stage whilst performing ‘Sign of The Cross’.

A giant demonic head appears at the rear of the stage during erstwhile classic ‘The Number of the Beast’ and Dickinson fires flame throwers at a giant winged angelic figure during ‘The Flight of Icarus’.

At any other concert such theatrics would be in danger of falling into Pantomime.

But Maiden perform it with a knowing wink and a nod to their fans who are lapping up every move on stage by the legendary six piece.

The band wrap up the near two hour long show with a triple song encore of 1987’s ‘The Evil That Men Do’ and a couple of early 80s classics ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ and ‘Run to The Hills’.

Despite the length of the set and the energy sapping heat, there’s no doubt that the band and their fans – many of whom have travelled from all over Europe to watch them – could have happily went for another couple of hours of, what surely, must be one of the greatest stage shows in Maiden’s history.

Jul 042018
 

Craig Chisholm reviews ‘Enjoy’ music festival at Hazlehead Park. Photos by Craig Chisholm.

Enjoy Music festival returned for the fourth year on a fun packed, sun soaked weekend that drew the crowds, had some big name artists and will have left punters looking forward to next year’s event.
After three years of successful one day festivals the organisers took the brave step of making this year’s festival a two day affair.

And, after a bit of rain last year, also took the decision to make the main stage inside a giant 3000 capacity big top, rather than outdoors – but, typically, the Scottish weather conspired to make it to one of the hottest weekends of the year with not a cloud in sight.

Gates opened at 4 o’clock on the Friday afternoon, when a lot of attendees would still be at work, school or college. But those that did make it early were treated to electric sets by Fat Hippy Records signings, the Scottish indie band Miss Lucid and Manchester band Alias Kid, who are signed to Creation Record’s Svengali Alan McGhee’s management team.

After the up and coming bands had warmed the crowd up it was time for the big names to take the main stage.  Mark Morris, frontman of Britpop band The Bluetones, played an acoustic set that was well received by his fans.

With The Bluetones numbers such as ‘Slight Return’ and ‘Cut Some Rug’ he had no trouble commanding the stage and warming up the crowd for the next band on the bill – another Britpop band with a string of Top 10 hits behind them.

The tent is rammed for Cast.

They do not disappoint those in attendance.

Pulling such hits as ‘Sandstorm’, ‘Finetime’ and the ballad ‘walkaway’ out of their back catalogue has the tent buzzing.

But it’s their debut hit, ‘Alright’ that is the highlight with the crowd signing along word for word.

Completing the bill on the Friday, is a headlining set by dance legends Faithless.
The band’s keyboard player and writer, Sister Bliss, is behind the decks and delivers a high tempo, energetic set that has everyone dancing.

Filled with classic dance tracks, contemporary floor fillers and a healthy dose of Faithless’ biggest numbers she brings the crowd to a frenzy and closes off the first day of the festival in style.

Saturday brings in a bigger crowd and has more stages and family entertainment for all.

With amusements from Codona’s, bungee trampolines, Nerf Wars, craft workshops, a storytelling tent, face painting and much more there’s plenty there to keep kids entertained whilst their parents enjoy the music.

Performances in the family big top prove to be popular and with Love Rara providing walk around characters from Disney and superhero movies there’s a lot of happy youngsters on site. On the main stage, the music provides a wonderful soundtrack on a hot, sunny day.

Blues influenced rockers Full Fat play some engaging, competent blues influenced rock, whilst local band The Capollos storm through a frenetic indie rock set that has earned them a strong following locally and across Scotland.

Another Aberdeen band that are making waves are Cold Years. No less a publication than rock magazine Kerrang! described them as an ‘Aberdeen five piece [that] prove beyond doubt that rock ‘n’ roll lives’ and it’s certainly a sentiment that those who watched them that would agree with.

Glasgow band Colonel Mustard & The Dijon 5 are, quite possibly, the perfect festival act and will have gained a lot of new fans today.
An explosion of colour, the band engage the audience and make them part of the performance.
‘Dance Off’ is exactly what it says it is with children and adults alike strutting their stuff. The entire audience are led around the tent by a band member carrying a lollipop man’s sign to ‘Cross the Road’ and there’s a minor stage invasion by redheads to ‘Ginger Girl’.

Their eclectic mix of brass, disco, rock and humour is perfect for an event such as this, uniting old and young in one happy, joyous collective.

Dodgy singer Nigel Clark follows them with an acoustic set that includes hits such as ‘Staying Out for The Summer’ and ‘Good Enough’ to a rapt audience.

Welsh rap heroes Goldie Lookin’ Chain provide a humorous set with ‘Guns Don’t Kill People (Rapper’s Do)’ proving a popular highlight.

Over in the dance tent things are really hotting up – a day of beats and breaks is finished off with a couple of big names that have the tent rammed. The talented producer and DJ James Zabiela has the crowd dancing to a frantic and energetic set before handing over to one of the biggest names in dance music – Basement Jaxx.

The dance duo are no strangers to big stages and working large crowds as headlining performances at Glastonbury and Rockness with a full band prove.

In a smaller environment such as this they are flawless – with a back catalogue stretching back over 20 years they have no trouble at all and have the crowd eating out of their hand.

Meanwhile, the main stage is closing out to a couple of eclectic big names.

With 5 albums behind them, Starsailor have no problems working the big stage and pulling out some major hits. ‘Alcoholic’, ‘Silence is Easy’ and ‘Good Souls’ are particular highlights and has the crowd singing along in rapture.

After their set there’s a change of tempo as drum and bass act Sigma end the evening. Hidden behind a cloud of dry ice and flashing lights the duo gives a sensory overloaded set closing the festival in euphoric fashion.

With 10,000 people through the gates over the weekend, some stunning entertainment and beautiful weather Enjoy Music can only be declared a success yet again – here’s to next year and to another bill that will put Aberdeen firmly on the festival map.

Jul 042018
 

A coalition of trade unions, political parties, and equality, faith, and campaign groups will hold events in Glasgow and Edinburgh on 13th and 14th of July to coincide with Trump’s planned visit to the UK.  With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

Scotland United Against Trump is a coalition of organisations and individuals that have come together to protest against the policies and politics of Trump and the corporate interests for whom he governs.

It includes the STUC, SNP, Labour, and the Greens as well as Scotland Against Trump, the group which organised protests following his election in 2016.

The SNP has also spoken out to encourage people to stand up for Scotland’s values during the President’s visit.

Dave Moxham, STUC Deputy General Secretary, said:

“All of the organisations coming together for these protests agree that Donald Trump’s presidency is proving every bit as dangerous and divisive as people feared.

“Trump’s administration represents corrupt corporate interests – cutting taxes for the rich, attacking workers’ rights, undermining democracy, endangering action on climate change, and stoking resentment based on racism, sexism, transphobia and bigotry.

“At the very moment when the world needs more solidarity, more cooperation, and a greater commitment to justice, he proposes to build walls and wants to turn us against each other.”

Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Richard Leonard said:

“There is understandable anger at the prospect of Donald Trump coming to Scotland and a strong desire across the country to show that he is not welcome here.

“Someone who holds such misogynist, racist and anti-trade union views, and withdraws the US from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, should not be given the ‘red carpet’ treatment.

Scottish Labour wants to see a world that stands up to intolerance, injustice and climate change and that is why we are working with Scotland United Against Trump campaign to ensure there is a mass protest if Trump does visit.”

Co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party, Patrick Harvie said:

“Scotland has seen the bullying, arrogant and delusional side of Donald Trump long before his election. Since becoming President the whole world has seen far worse, as he gives political space to white supremacists, and seeks to wreck international cooperation on climate change.

We should unite to show him he’s unwelcome, and demand that the UK Government stops treating this dangerous man as though his politics are legitimate.”

Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said:

“Scotland and America have historic ties that go back centuries and that will not be undermined by the policies of one President. We share values with the American people of equality, diversity and support for human rights and must always stand up for those values when they are threatened.

The President’s approach threatens international co-operation on key issues like climate change and it is our job to show that we will not be put off our efforts by his opposition.

If President Trump visits we have an opportunity to show that we will never compromise our values and Trump will go back to America with a clear message that in Scotland we build bridges, not walls.”

Kirsty Haigh of the Campaign organisation, Scotland Unite Against Trump, said:

“Trump likes to talk up his Scottish connections – but we are going to show that his politics are not welcome here.

A growing coalition of organisations and campaigns are coming together to say that Scotland will stand united against Trump. Over the next month, we’re going to be building support for two massive days of actions with a rally in Glasgow and national demonstration and festival in Edinburgh.

We will also send a message to the Tory government that we will not tolerate their pandering to Trump.”

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Jun 262018
 

In an ongoing attack on Aberdeen Voice and its contributor Suzanne Kelly, Northfield Animal Haven alleged on Facebook that the police were looking into events and had supplied a bundle of documents to Northfield’s owner.  However, the police recently confirmed in writing that this claim by Northfield was a fabrication.  By Suzanne Kelly.

Northfield Animal Haven’s activities have been exposed in previous Aberdeen Voice articles, and the shelter/farm have often used social media to try to throw doubt on the facts exposed.

In one instance, Northfield Animal Haven took to Facebook in September 2016 to claim the police were involved.

The police have just recently confirmed in a two page letter to me that this is completely, totally untrue.

Northfield wrote:

“… finally getting a resolution on that carry-on we have had to endure, spent this afternoon at police station speaking with the officers this so next stage is set in motion hopefully I can update you all about this very soon.”

The post on the Animal business’ Facebook page was accompanied by a photograph of what appears to be a thick bundle of documents with the Police Scotland logo showing, handwriting, and the name of an officer.

The post on the Animal business’s Facebook page was accompanied by a photograph of what appears to be a thick bundle of documents with the Police Scotland logo showing, handwriting, and the name of an officer.

I had been trying to get the police to comment on this bogus-looking documentation and claim for some time.

It is a great vindication that they’ve dismissed Kelly Cable’s/Northfield’s claims entirely.

The police wrote a two-page letter to me on 22 April 2018; the entire contents have been shown to the editors of Aberdeen Voice.

The letter read in part:

“Police Scotland would not permit or allow any private individual to photograph, copy or have access to any Police investigation paperwork without instructions from the Procurator Fiscal.

“I can confirm that this is not a Police Scotland investigation file.”

The letter continued: 

“…he (the police officer whose name appears on the documents pictured on Northfield’s post) has stated that he has in fact had no involvement at any time with the establishment or the person named.”

Ms Cable was asked to explain the bundle of documents and the assertion she had spent an afternoon about a ‘carry on’ at a police station. As per the previous articles, we asked for her to comment on the situation. 

She has refused to explain where the bundle came from and her claim the police were involved.

However, a lawyer from Brodies, which seems about to sue me over my articles, wrote to my lawyer with a demand to stop me writing this or other articles. 

As I explained to my lawyer, I have a right and a responsibility to share factual information that is in the public interest, and I have a freedom of expression guaranteed by EU Human Rights law. People who donate money to any cause should have access to the relevant facts.

Northfield has called me a liar by name on social media. The owner’s father named me in an alleged break-in at the farm that resulted in a pony being overfed to death (NB other animals have died at the business in feeding-related circumstances), and ‘joked’ about using an AK47 to ‘solve’ the problem.

I look forward to hearing from Brodies, which Kelly Cable is briefing about taking me to court, as to how they explain this latest embarrassing deception. I can’t wait to hear what the ‘next stage’ Northfield referred to in their post is.

Clearly Kelly Cable knew she didn’t spend an afternoon in a police station; she knew she didn’t get a bundle of documents from the police, and she knew that this officer Henderson was in no way involved. But someone cooked this story up.

Whoever wrote it did so as a representative of Northfield Animal Haven – and Northfield Animal Haven should be held to account.

I suspect that using a Police Scotland logo as Cable did may well be a criminal action; we’ll see.

If they do take me to court, I have a very strong suspicion who would be believed – and it’s not the convicted benefit fraudster Ms Cable, caught in yet another deception aimed, in my opinion, at making me look bad and deceiving social media visitors to the NAH page about events.

Even the fundraising she created to raise money to sue me seems to be misleading:  I feel an obligation to let people who are giving her money know that this bundle of evidence is a fabrication, disowned by Police Scotland.

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Jun 062018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Flashdance The Musical @ HMT Aberdeen

Flashdance The Musical plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 09 June 2018.

It’s steel-town Pittsburgh Pennsylvania circa 1983 and, in this Billy Elliot come Rosie the Riveter aspirational tale, dance junkie Alex dreams of graduating top of the class from Shipley Dance Academy.

Played by Strictly Come Dancing Champion Joanne Clifton, our heroine is addicted to both welding-rods and rhythm, but not necessarily in that order.

Boiler-suited to the local steelworks by day, Alex twilights’ as an exotic dancer at the local night-club.

Pursued by Nick the factory boss’s son, she sticks to her career plan and eventually, following a series of set-backs, bags both the dancing career and the heir to the family fortune. It’s a familiar story-line.

This kick-ass juke box style musical has the verve to include the legendary Harry’s Bar – birthplace of the Bloody Mary – in the line-up but there is no sign of Hemmingway. And as the dedicated Alex struts her stuff a splendidly curmudgeonly club-owner in the shape of Harry, played by Rikki Chamberlain, provides a warm-hearted sanctuary to all and sundry.

Maniac, Steeltown Sky, Gloria, I Love Rock & Roll, Manhunt and of course that sensational What A Feeling title track inhabit this juke-box musical and a good few Brit-stars strut the stage.

Heart throb Ben Adams and Strictly Joanne Clifton certainly fulfill a promise or two and the band of course play on.
In the big-kickass scheme of things, despite the dazzling choreography and the explosive energy, Flashdance The Musical somehow hasn’t aged gracefully. There are occasional attempts at humour and the dialogue is well enough put together but the ‘Cinders makes good’ storyline has maybe been done to death over the decades.

It may have been Sondheim who mused on those heady production-lined musicals which, in the main, seem to follow the chemistry of old established fame:

If you emerged from the theatre humming all of the tunes, it’s probably because you entered the theatre humming all of the tunes”.

Go see this though. You won’t be disappointed; that is if you can bag a seat. It’s all in the best possible taste and it generally does pretty much what it says on the tin.

Five stars? Well maybe four. And, of course, I really enjoyed the nostalgia element of it all. But blown away? I’m not completely sure. What a Feeling.

Directed by Hannah Chissick with choreography by Matt Cole, Flashdance The Musical (A Selladoor Production) plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 09 June 2018

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

May 312018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Sunshine on Leith @ HMT Aberdeen

A modicum of politics, a wee measure of Leith and a whole lot of heart inhabit this latest production of Sunshine on Leith.

The musical first saw light at Dundee Rep in far off 2003 following a review of the back catalogues of several Scottish bands by playwright Stephen Greenhorn.

Awaking from the whisky-fuelled review session, Stephen found a post-it note, written in his own hand-writing from the night before, with the words “Proclaimers musical?” written on it. Sunshine on Leith was born.

Since then the musical has morphed into film then back to stage again and now features around eighteen original Proclaimers songs from the day.

Director James Brining would go on to say that:

“One of the really interesting things about the Proclaimers as musicians and songwriters is the breadth of their influences. They’re political – they’re fiercely supportive of Scottish independence and they write about relationships with brutal honesty.”

With a central theme which can only be described as a search for belonging, Sunshine on Leith paints a sometimes-difficult portrait of Scottishness. Identity, sentimentality and relationships come under the spotlight as returning heroes Davy – Steven Miller – and Ally – Paul-James Corrigan –  struggle manfully to reintegrate following a tour of the Afghan battlefields and Davy’s dad Rab – Phil McKee – wrestles with truth, love and morality as he faces consequences of a long-forgotten affair.

The script seamlessly flits from the crisis-fuelled love lives of the ex-squaddies to the crisis-ridden events which emerge to challenge the community. A vicious bar-fight in a Hibs pub, a break-up or two and the emotional rollercoaster of that long-hidden affair inhabit this tale of ordinary folk facing ordinary challenges.

Indeed, the complete ordinariness of this storyline is its true strength. There are no high-kicking brashly dressed chorus-lines here.

The folk in Leith are only slightly caricaturised and, with a fluid set flitting from the familiar High Street to the local boozer, one could almost be forgiven for walking on-stage to mingle with the performers.

As for the songs, all of the big Proclaimers numbers are there. Sky Takes the Soul, Hate My Love for You and Letter from America are just for starters.

The musical numbers sit seamlessly within the dialogue and the band, who are onstage throughout the entire performance, wander amongst the actors sometimes as buskers more often simply as cast-members. Even the title lyrics:

“My heart was broken, my heart was broken; Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow.” are used with commendable restraint.

All in all, this is a splendid revival of a commendable classic.

Directed by James Brining with choreography by Emily-Jane Boyle, Sunshine on Leith plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 02 June 2018

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

May 232018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Fat Friends the Musical @ HMT Aberdeen

This slick-mix of classic sit-com slap-stick musicality descends at points into the vast realms of morality-tale-land but on the whole offers a humongous slice of sugary sweet entertainment.
As the title strongly suggests, fat is to the fore in this production and fans of the original Kay Mellor TV comedy drama will not be disappointed with this portrayal of positive body imagery.

Originally aired on prime-time TV some fifteen years ago as the sit-com Fat Friends, the musical story-line follows the fortunes of Kevin and Kelly as they approach their wedding day.

With a mere six weeks to go, the supersized Kelly sets her sights on shedding a good few pounds in a determined effort to fit into the wedding dress of her dreams.

Not for her a tale of ‘does my bum look big in this’. More like ‘can you zip me up sometime during the next few weeks please’. But, its all in the best possible taste of course.

However, shades of Shylock’s pound of flesh in the form of slimming guru Julia Fleshman – menacingly played by Atomic Kitten Brit-pop girl Natasha Hamilton – cast a dark shadow on proceedings when, in pursuit of her dream day, Kelly unwisely binges on the slimming pills.

Inuendo, some profanity and a good measure of double entendre litter this production with classic lines such as clumsy Kevin’s ‘I thought rats were going to come and eat my tadger’ and Kelly’s verbose ‘Diets are shite’.

Heroes of the piece include the formidable Elaine C. Smith who, alongside letting rip with a superbly well-timed panto-style trouser cough early on, uncharacteristically utters the immortal lines:
“I’m a bit frightened that they’ll ask me a question and I’ll get all lost for words.”

The songs in the main are quite bearable. Most memorable of the bunch are Chocolate and Beautiful. Chocolate parodies those raunchy Cadburys Flake ads from the 1980’s and pulls no punches.

Jodie Prenger’s powerfully delivered end of Act One solo Beautiful ‘For just one day I want to be beautiful’ is truly heart-warming. Ms Prenger can sing, and dance and enthral. Indeed, she punches high.

Although perhaps not in the slimmer of the year category, Fat Friends the Musical, delivers a good measure of lively and at times hilarious entertainment and, despite some flaws, the musical will no doubt delight fans of the original TV show plus a good few of the uninitiated amongst us.

Directed by Kay Mellor with music by Nick Lloyd Webber, Fat Friends the Musical plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday May 26th 2018

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA