Oct 302018
 

Craig Chisholm reviews True North 2018. Photographs by Craig Chisholm.

Game Of Thrones’ Aiden Gillen pays tribute to the ‘Thin White Duke’  with David Bowie tribute, ‘Lady Stardust’.

True North returned once again to the heart of Aberdeen with another exciting bill that boasted an eclectic range of artists, a variety of venues, screenings of movies, informative talks and appreciative audiences over its four days.

The best new talents and hotly tipped newcomers shared stages with old pros and veteran performers – and even a ‘Game of Thrones’ star who was there to pay tribute to the late, great David Bowie.

Kicking off on the Thursday night, the Lemon Tree hosted an opening concert that boasted some of the best up and coming Scottish talent.

Opening the night, Glaswegian Zoe Graham provided a low key, intimate performance.

Aided only be an acoustic guitar and her voice this was a display of a mature and introspective talent that’s unusual and impressive for a such a young performer.

Eclecticism was the defining theme of the night as the next two acts explored different musical paths.
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Scottish rapper Solareye – backed on-stage tonight by DJ Harvey Kartel – is the frontman of the hip hop band Stanley Odd.

His socially conscious lyrical flow gave the crowd food for thought and displayed a unique and absorbing talent that deserves to be heard by a wider audience.
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Final act Man of Moon were a tour-de-force of guitar driven rock.

Their music recalls The Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3 and a host of krautrock bands. Their droning, feedback drenched wall of noise is absorbing and overpowering, drawing you into their ocean of sound and leaving you exhausted and shell-shocked by the time it’s over.

A fitting end to a wonderful night.

The following night starts with a much more laid back and intense but no means any less absorbing acts as the Tivoli theatre hosts Tracyanne & Danny along with opening act Charles Watson.

The combination of singer songwriters Tracyanne Campbell (Camera Obscura) and Danny Couglan (Crybaby) works well and their soul-warming, indie pop sound is appreciated by a reverential crowd.

Drawing from their highly acclaimed, self-titled debut album their set was both intimate and expansive, offering heart breaking and personal lyrics that had the crowd absorbed, rapt and appreciative.
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Opening for them was Charles Watson.

The London based singer / songwriter / producer is possibly best known as the lead singer of indie band Slow Club but he came into himself onstage and gave a great performance that would have won over new fans on the night.
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The Lemon Tree hosted the second of the nights performances.

Kicking off proceedings was Manchester based singer-songwriter Ren Harvieu.

Backed by tonight’s headliners, The Magic Numbers, she runs through an engaging support slot that displays influences of soul, rock, indie and jazzy torch songs.
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Headline act The Magic Numbers have a wealth of material to draw from.

Their late-night slot keeps the crowd on their toes and out of their beds as they pull out Top 40 hits such as ‘Forever Lost’, ‘Love’s a Game’ and their biggest hit ‘Love Me Like You’.

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If there was ever a case of opposites attracts then Saturday nights pairing of the stately, grandeur of His Majesty’s Theatre hosting the feedback heavy, post rock of Mogwai and the apocalyptic electronica of Blanck Mass was it.

Blanck Mass are not an easy listen.

It’s a punishing yet rewarding set that sole member Benjamin John Power performs whilst hidden in virtual darkness with only a screen displaying fractual, confusing and trippy images behind him.

But beneath the pulverising noises are rewarding harmonies and hints of melody – they’re not easy to find at times but are rewarding to the listener that does.

Mogwai also have beautiful and harmonic melodies but unlike Blanck Mass they’re not always as hidden. Their elegant,  engaging, compositions are counteracted by ferocious, feedback driven guitars in what must have been the loudest act to tread the boards of the HMT.

Effortlessly one of the greatest and original talents to emerge from Scotland in the last two decades their revelatory live performances deserve to be seen at least any music fan at least once.

Their ear-splitting volume is balanced beautifully with moments of solace and breath-taking beauty – it’s an amazing performance by the Glaswegian band.

After those pulverising and draining performances it might have been preferable for some to have headed home for a lie down in a dark room to recover, but the Lemon Tree still had something to offer for those with still functioning ear drums.

Singer Colin McIntyre has performed as Mull Historical Society since the turn of the 21st Century and his music is still as fresh and heart-warming now as it was then.

The multi-talented McIntyre – singer, songwriter, playwriter, author – gives a wonderful show that draws heavily from his latest album ‘Wakelines’ as well as early hits such as ‘The Final Arrears’, ‘Animal Cannabus’ and ‘I Tried’.

It’s a great performance and he’ll be back at The Lemon Tree next year with a band that will feature none other than former Suede guitarist in its ranks. Don’t miss him.

Opening for Mull Historical Society is up and coming artist Emme Woods. Her mix of blues, rock, grunge and good old fashioned strong song writing displays a depth of talent that is inspiring to see in someone aged only 23 years.

She may be one of few acts – if not the only – that has a family pet on stage. Nestled on a fur coat to Woods’ left is her dog, Bubbles, who is comfortable enough with the performance to enjoy a snooze during the set.

Hopefully no one else in the crowd had a sleep as they’d have missed a strong performance by someone who is sure to go on to bigger things.

The fourth and final night of the festival still has a couple of big shows to go.

The Lemon Tree provides the late-night setting for Glaswegian indie stars Glasvegas.

The band power through a set that revisits their classic debut album from start to finish that gives the crowd a nostalgic but entertaining finale to the weekend.
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The big, star-studded show of the weekend happens earlier in the evening, however, at His Majesty’s Theatre.

‘Lady Stardust – Camille O’Sullivan and friends present the Music of David Bowie’ is a majestic and life affirming show that draws in a crowd of all ages and backgrounds, proving how timeless and all-encompassing the Thin White Duke’s music was.

Irish torch singer O’Sullivan is an inspired host for the evening.

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Her performance is chameleon-like and theatrical and she takes on the role with gusto, really getting into the spirit of the performance and taking on Bowie’s ability to get into a role and bring the audience with him.

Her choice of friends and peers to accompany her on this journey are eclectic and diverse.

From Paul Noonan, singer with Bell XI, performing ‘Ashes to Ashes’ to folk singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams performing ‘Kooks’ and with performances by ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Peaky Blinders’ star Aiden Gillen, pianist Duke Special and Cathal Coughlan from The Fatima Mansions, it’s an evening of sheer joy for Bowie fans old and young alike.

And special mention must go to comedian and writer Christopher Green.

The towering, flamboyant performer gives a show stopping performance that captures the spirit of Bowie.

His performance is revelatory – camp; serious, touching and funny in the space of a 3-minute pop song. A credit to himself and a credit to Bowie, whose spirit he truly captures.

The spirit of the evening truly reflects the nature of True North – an eclectic, interesting, diverse mix of music that crosses all boundaries and showcases a wide-ranging display of talent.

Oct 182018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Evita @ His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Margaret Thatcher once said that “If a woman like Eva Peron with no ideals, can get that far, think how far I can get” and she had a point.
The Iron Lady however took several decades to claw her way to the top; Eva took just the one.

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita first took to the stage in 1979.

A film version followed in 1996 starring Madonna as Evita and Antonio Banderas as Che. With the stage version now pushing forty, the storyline remains controversial. Portrayed as a working-class girl who whored her way out of the slums and exploited the poor, her legacy remains subject to debate.

Hard to ignore however is her undoubted political prowess. Assuming control of the Argentinian Ministry of Labour in 1946, she generously handed out wage increases and promoted women’s suffrage whilst privately embracing a lifestyle lavishly populated with couture clothing and expensive jewellery.

Greats such as Elaine Page and Madalena Alberta have taken on the mantle of the lead over the years and in popular culture, parody has celebrated the role with the likes of Lisa Simpson’s Evita blasting out Don’t Cry for Me, Kids of Springfield to an international audience in the 2003 episode “The President Wore Pearls”.

Latest incumbent in the leading role of Eva Peron is Lucy O’Byrne and if last nights performance at His Majesty’s Aberdeen is anything to go by, she has thrown her heart into the part.

A Dubliner, blessed with astronomically high notes, she was recently quoted as saying that:

“Whatever people say about Eva Peron – that she was selfish, that she was a gold-digger – I am playing her in her story, and I have to make you like her.”

And, this is exactly what she does. As the backstreet girl hustles her way to the top it’s clear that O’Byrne is more than fit for the part.

The role of the new-world Madonna with the golden touch is not an easy one. Expectations are naturally high and its almost a case of the star is dead, long live the star.

But, apart from a few glitches with the sound envelope O’Byrne’s delivery of those huge songs makes muster.

A splendid counterpoint to the, often malevolent influence of Mike Sterling’s President Peron, Glenn Carter’s Che provides comic relief to what is otherwise a fairly dark tale of political intrigue and extra-judicial murder.

Che is slang in Spanish for friend or pal and dressed to the boots in Guevara style combat gear Glen’s Che represents the voice of the adoring masses and gets beaten-up by Peron’s secret police for his efforts.

All the familiar songs are there including of course Oh What A Circus, On This Night Of A Thousand Stars and of course Don’t Cry For Me Argentina. The Evita/Peron duets Dice Are Rolling and I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You are particularly poignant.

As Broadway Director Harold Prince once said, “Any opera that begins with a funeral and ends with a funeral can’t be that bad” and this touring version of Evita would meet with Prince’s wholehearted approval.

Stars: 4/5
Directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright, Evita plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 20th October 2018

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

Oct 052018
 

Duncan Harley Reviews The Band at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

LtoR AJ Bentley, Curtis T Johns, Sario Solomon, Nick Carsberg and Yazdan Qafouri in The Band.

Gary Barlow reckons that Take That was Britain’s very first successful manufactured boy-band and he is probably quite correct. I mean he, of all people, should know having composed pretty much most of their early hits.
When the band went their separate ways in 1996, the angst amongst the fanbase was so great that helplines were set up to help with the grief.

Gary went off on a solo career as did Robbie Williams, the youngest band member, and although the post Take That years have been tumultuous to say the least, the music and the songs from the boy-band years at the top feature in play-lists across the land.

Now, courtesy of Tim Firth, the legacy of Take That forms the backdrop to what in essence is a celebration of the power of an enduring friendship shared by a group of friends from the day.

This is not by any means the story of the boy-band nor is it a simple juke-box musical intent on squeezing dry the hit-playlist of the glory days.

Yes, the boys are there in almost every scene. And yes, the familiar hits – there are around eighteen of them – abound. But, the band in general serenade the action and set the mood rather than inhabit front of stage. All the big numbers are there including Relight My Fire and the classic Get Ready For It.

The fans, all five of them are the stars of the show and even when Debbie – Rachelle Diedericks – is tragically killed following a Manchester gig she continues to inhabit the action right till the very end.

In a nod to the likes of Shirley Valentine, the surviving four eventually re-connect twenty-five years later to heal the trauma of the past and move on confidently into the present. The script is variously hilarious, often poignant and sometimes emotionally raw.

Comedic highlights include a trip to a Prague Police Station following the snapping of a penis from a local sculpture and that completely splendid airport scene. Safe-to-say you’ll never look at a flight safety demo in quite the same way ever again. There’s even a wee bit of wing-walking.

Lighting and scenery excelled and as the musical numbers stomped-on, it was hard to resist a bit of audience participation.
Indeed, by the end of the night, and with the encouragement of the MC, strongly played by Every Dave – Andy Williams, the theatre audience were on their feet participating in the action.

While generally this is a well thought out production it did seem as if Act 2 was slightly undersized.

Following some nicely balanced early action the dialogue sped towards a conclusive wedding scene implying perhaps that the plot had slightly run out of steam. Additionally, the use of blindingly-bright stadium style lighting during the gig scenes probably could be toned down a tad.

But, all in all The Band is a splendid foil to the standard jukebox style offering and delivers a decent storyline alongside the familiar song-list.

Stars: 4/5

Directed by Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder, The Band plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 13th October 2018.

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

Sep 192018
 

By Duncan Harley.

The four-star Maryculter House Hotel was today the venue for the Scottish Samurai Awards.  Scotland and Japan have long enjoyed both trade and cultural links – well for just around 150 years in truth.

Japan sent many students to the UK between the late Edo period (1603-1867) and the early Meiji period (1868-1912) in order to explore and import Western technology.

The various international trade exhibitions of the 19th and early 20th Century provided useful platforms for the sharing of both scientific and aesthetic ideas. 

Cities such as Glasgow and Aberdeen provided ripe-pickings for the aspiring technologists and alongside acquisition of new skill-sets the two nations exchanged cultural and artistic aesthetics which continue to create broad-ripples to this day.

Japan, of course, had participated in the second Glasgow International Exhibition in 1901.

The Japan Pavilion was located near the main exhibition hall at Kelvingrove and there is a likelihood that Rennie Mackintosh and many other influential Scottish designers of the day would have visited and been influenced by what they saw there.

Some 11.5 million visits were recorded during the eight-month span of the exhibition and surely Mackintosh would have been one of those tempted to return again and again to absorb the sights.

Contemporaries of Mackintosh certainly visited Japan at about this time and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum hold a collection of so-called ‘Industrial Art’ collected by Glasgow born designer Christopher Dresser who visited Japan in 1876 or thereabouts.

Aberdeenshire, of course, has a splendid claim to the forging of the Scottish-Japanese relationship and one man in particular played a pivotal role. Variously known as the Scottish Samurai or The Scot who shaped Japan,

Thomas Blake Glover was probably born in Fraserburgh in 1838.  His father worked as a coastguard officer and the family lived at various locations along the Aberdeenshire coastline including Sandend, Collieston and at Bridge of Don.

On leaving school, Glover began work with the trading company Jardine, Matheson & Co and quickly progressed to the Shanghai office before taking up a post in Japan. 

His role in Shanghai has often been glossed over in order to present a popular image of Glover as an enlightened trader intent on hauling an impoverished Japan into the industrial age. In truth however, Jardine Matheson & Co were happy to trade in everything from silks and tea to guns and opium.

Glover excelled in his role as trader and alongside making vast amounts of profit for his employer he soon started taking a substantial cut for himself.

His move to Japan, in 1859 age 21, came at a time when various rival clans were warring for control of the country. For more than 200 years, foreign trade with Japan had been permitted to the Dutch and Chinese exclusively.

However, following an episode of gunboat diplomacy in 1853, the US Government had persuaded the Japanese to open trade up with the West. 

Glover arrived in good time to use his proven skills to exploit the situation.

Soon he was supplying both sides in the civil war with guns and munitions. Before long he was taking orders for the building of warships, to be built in Scotland, to arm a fledgling Japanese Navy. The market for weaponry however soon became saturated and he turned to mining to maintain his by now dwindling fortune.

Glover is often credited with importing the first steam engine into Japan.

Demand for coal had surged as steamships began to proliferate in Japanese waters. Glover, in partnership with a Japanese clan, invested in developing the Takashima coal mine on an island near Nagasaki in 1868. 

The mine was the first in the country to employ Western methods. Mitsubishi acquired the Takashima mine in 1881 in the organization’s first main diversification beyond shipping.

Glover is often credited with importing the first steam engine into Japan and being instrumental in the formation of the Mitsubishi conglomerate. Japan also lacked modern facilities for repairing ships. So, Glover imported the necessary equipment for a dry dock in Nagasaki in 1868.

He later sold his share to the government, which leased the dock to Mitsubishi as part of the shipyard in 1884. By 1905 Japan had, according to many accounts, become the 3rd largest naval power in the world.

There are many enduring myths surrounding the life and career of Thomas Blake Glover.

One involves the notion that his Japanese wife Tsuru was somehow the inspiration for Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly”.

There appears to be little substance to this idea. A booklet produced by Aberdeen City Council to publicise the areas links with Glover asserts that:

“the association of Glover Garden in Nagasaki and Madame Butterfly no doubt relates to the fact that American soldiers after the Second World War dubbed the house Madame Butterfly House.” 

Thomas Glover eventually became famous in Japan and was the first non-Japanese to be awarded the Order of the Rising Sun.

today’s event saw some 23 or so Samurai and Shogun awards made to a broad range of recipients

When he died in Tokyo in 1911 age 73, his ashes were interred in Nagasaki’s Sakamoto International Cemetery. Fraserburgh Heritage Centre host a permanent exhibition celebrating his North-east links and his former house in Nagasaki attracts two million visitors each year.

Founded and overseen by Aberdonian and OBE Ronnie Watt, the Order of the Scottish Samurai is an award inspired by Blake Glover and those admitted to the Order are encouraged to use the letters OSS after their name.

While Ronnie actively heads the Order, he is supported by patrons, members and recipients – many of whom, such as Lord Bruce and Joanna Lumley take an active interest in the progression of the historic relationship between the two nations.

Opened by Ms Masami Fujimoto, Deputy Consul General at Consulate-General of Japan in Edinburgh, today’s event saw some 23 or so Samurai and Shogun awards made to a broad range of recipients.

Two previous Lord Provosts, Margaret Smith and Margaret Farquhar received Shogun awards for services to Aberdeen while Duncan McPherson and Robert Boyd received Legendary Samurai Awards for services to the Japanese Martial Arts.

Terry Boyle and Tyrone Smith were awarded OSS Shogun and Becca Hobart – alongside delivering a splendid display of Highland Sword Dance – collected up a well-earned OSS Hatamoto for services to the Order of the Scottish Samurai.

Previous recipients of the various Scottish Samurai Awards have included Ian Wood, Alex Salmond, Charlie Abel, Len Ironside (for services to wrestling) and film producer Compton Ross. So it looks likely that Becca Hobart is in fairly good company.

Words and images © Duncan Harley – Inverurie September 16th 2018.

  • Duncan Harley is author of The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire plus the forthcoming title: The Little History of Aberdeenshire- due out in March 2019
Sep 052018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Cilla The Musical at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Cilla The Musical plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 08 September 2018

Cilla the Musical is based on BAFTA-winning writer Jeff Pope’s 2014 ITV series and tells the story of Black’s meteoric rise from ambitious Cavern cloakroom girl to chart-topping mega-star.
Her sometimes turbulent relationships with Bobby Willis and the troubled Brian Epstein feature strongly alongside a no-holds-barred peek into Black’s less-savoury aspects.

At a not-too-long two hours and fifty minutes, including interval, the show celebrates the triumphs and the tribulations of one of Epstein’s many stars and covers the greats from the Cilla back catalogue along with tribute numbers from the bands from the heady days of the Black magic.

Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Mamas & the Papas and of course the Fab Four feature alongside a stream of biopics of the men behind the labels. Burt Bacharach, Ed Sullivan and Andrew Lancel’s splendidly vulnerable Brian Epstein feature alongside Alexander Patmore’s study of the dependably stoic Bobby Willis.

Scottie Road Songbird, Liverpudlian Diva, Mersey Beat Gracie Field, girl next door – call her what you will, she never diluted her accent and, although the early critics were sniffy, Epstein’s eye for a shed-load of talent launched her firmly into the hall of fame despite the crowded teeth.

She loved Rolls Royce’s and celebrated her poverty-stricken childhood in endless promotional interviews.

Kara Lily Hayworth’s Cilla is the undisputed star of the show. Picked from some 2,000 hopefuls she has, in the words of a fellow reviewer ‘Got it nailed!’.

From start to finish, Kara’s distinctive Liverpudlian tones – she is actually from Watford – and Cilla-like mannerisms capture the essence of the Black magic.

As she belts out one hit after the other it becomes obvious that she inhabits the role 100%. You’re My World, Anyone Who Had A Heart, Something Tells Me, Dancing In The Street, Alfie – they’re all there alongside some totally splendid tribute-band numbers from the early Beatles catalogue.

Both the singers and the songs are fab and Cilla The Musical is a good night out with the big plus that, alongside the bucketloads of nostalgia, the production delves deeply into the backstory which transformed a wee lass from a Liverpool backstreet into a national treasure.

Stars: 4/5

Directed by Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson, Cilla The Musical plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 08 September 2018

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

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
 

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.

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