Oct 142019
 

Duncan Harley reviews Tessa Williams’ ‘Hotels of the Stars’.

Months ago, at least it seems like it, I was sent a copy of Tessa Williams’ ‘Hotels of the Stars’. Described in glowing terms as featuring ‘A-list Haunts and Hideaways’ the book, amongst others sat amongst my pile of promised reviews.

Inevitably some never make it to the top of the pile and kindness occasionally precludes that promised review. In the case of Tessa’s tome, a bit of illness got in the way and now that I am much better, I thought it timely to pen a few words.

A journalist by trade she is no stranger to the content having spent a portion of her life penning for the likes of Marie Claire, Elle and Vogue.

There are no Holiday Inn’s or Travelodge’s here and nor should there be.

With an introduction by Albert Roux this book reveals the inner details of that cosseted world of the super-rich and those super-famous-folk who inhabit the likes of London’s Dorchester, Fort William’s Inverlochy Castle and L’Hotel Paris. Raffles, The Chelsea Hotel and the various Ritz’s also feature alongside The Rock at Gibraltar and that iconic Kempinski in Berlin.

Not that I have visited many of the establishments on this list, well maybe – The Balmoral – but, in the big scheme of things, after ruffling amongst these pages, I feel that I have at the very least an understanding of how the other half live.

Replete with quotes such as ‘Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolates in one go’ – Truman Capote and ‘When I was growing up, I had three wishes. I wanted to be a Lindbergh-type hero, learn Chinese and become a member of the Algonquin Round Table’ – John F. Kennedy, this is much more than a coffee table trophy.

In all, there are around 37 featured hotels – each with a historical narrative. And each illustrated with iconic images to salivate over.

For my money, the piece featuring Claridge’s on P48 gives full flavour to the intention of this book. Alongside a descriptor ‘The hotel was also a home for the Hollywood Royalty … including Audrey Hepburn, Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Cary Grant’, we learn that Spencer Tracy described the place in glowing terms:

“When I die I don’t want to go to heaven, I want to go to Claridge’s.”

You really couldn’t make it up!

Hotels of the Stars by Tessa Williams is available from Amazon @ £35 in hardback.
ISBN-13: 978-1909399983

Oct 042019
 

Duncan Harley reviews The Crucible @ HMT Aberdeen

The last Scottish witch met a fiery end at Dornoch in 1727 ending what some saw as the domination of the devil in local affairs.

Smeared with tar following a short trial, Janet Horne was burned alive in a barrel following an accusation of consorting with the forces of darkness.

In 1950’s America however, the devil-incarnate took the form of McCarthyism – perhaps best defined as the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence.

Many intellectuals, artistic folk and politicians fell afoul of the new inquisition. And Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible took an allegorical stab at that modern-day witch hunt against those accused of the crime ‘Un-American activities’ using the medium of the Salem Witch Trials of the 17th century.

And now, this no-holds barred portrayal of the overly-righteous paranoia that was McCarthyism is subject to fresh interpretation by Scottish Ballet.

Shocking in its intensity, this exquisite take on the witch-trial agenda dwells on the currency of falsely framed accusations, fearsome events and the power of inquisitors over life and death and morality.

Penned in the 1950’s and set in 1692, the familiar story is set among the Puritan colonists of Massachusetts. A backdrop of infidelity, a declaration that god is dead and a smidgeon of pagan ritual leads to accusations of witchcraft. And within a short timeframe events have spiralled terrifyingly out of control.

Alongside Peter Salem’s hauntingly edgy new score, American Helen Picket’s choreography shatters the myth of Puritanical purity.

Adolescents dance naked in the moonlight, farmer Proctor – Nicholas Shoesmith and servant Abigail – Constance Devernay frolic in the farmyard and voodoo makes an unwelcome appearance.

Nothing is as it seems and the fault lines of a wildly dysfunctional community are soon tested to destruction.

Simple staging accents the rawness of this tale of persecution and David Finn’s choice of gloomy lighting adds poignance throughout. This is no over-bearing stage-set.

Stark and poignant, this adaption of Miller’s play for dance sets a high bar indeed.

Choreographed by Helen Pickett and based on the play by Arthur Miller, The Crucible plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 5 October.
Stars: 4/5

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

Jul 312019
 

Review and photos by Craig Chisholm.

A bit of the Deep South came to the Far North as Kentucky rockers, Black Stone Cherry took their Family Tree tour to the Music Hall in Aberdeen.
The sold out date could almost be described as an intimate show as the band are more likely to be seen in much larger venues nowadays.

Dates last year included a headline slot at the cavernous Hydro in Glasgow and as main support to the mighty Guns n’ Roses at the 80,000 capacity Download festival.

Just days after their trip to the Granite City and they are, in fact, headlining another festival, the Ramblin’ Man Fair, in front of 15,000 adoring fans – 10 times the number that are packed liked sardines into tonight’s sold out show. But before the band take to the stage there’s the matter of a couple of up and coming support acts for the crowd to digest.

Coming on stage as the stragglers are still filtering through the main doors of the venue were another set of Kentucky rockers – the hirsute, rootsy rockers, Otis. Their short 30 minute set was a mix of blues and classic rock heavily sprinkled with lots of Southern fried boogie.

In front of a surprisingly busy Music Hall – considering the early stage time – they won over the crowd quite easily with their infectious rock n’ roll. Definitely a band to watch out for in the future.

Next up, The Kris Barras Band are a heavier proposition. The Devon born guitarist plays stripped back, no nonsense rock n’ roll. Searing bluesy guitar solos and raucous, soaring tracks showcase his talents and undeniable skills.

Judging by the amount of t-shirts bearing his name in the audience then the time to watch him is now, with no waiting around for the future. With a new album out in September expect to see more coverage of him and his band in the press and airwaves and, crucially, in the live environment where he belongs.

Black Stone Cherry come onstage to a rapturous reception by the devoted audience.

Opening with the thunderous ‘Me and Mary Jane’ the band plough through a 16 song set that lasts an hour and a half and doesn’t let up at any point.
The energetic first few songs see guitarist Ben Wells and bassist Jon Lawhon run around the stage hyperactively, swapping sides and hanging over the crowd, working them into a mad frenzy.

Lead vocalist and guitarist Chris Robinson has to raise his voice to be heard over the adoring crowd who sing the songs word for word. And, stage rear, drummer John Fred Young tosses and catches his drumsticks in the air but anchors the maelstrom with his thunderous rhythms and pin point accurate beats.

After a few songs the band have to catch a breath, lest they collapse with exhaustion. He tells the crowd that they headlined a show at a castle in Wales last night and they wondered how they could top that tonight but, as he says:

“We remembered we were coming to Scotland.”

This wins over the crowd even further – not that they needed to by this point – and sets the tone for the rest of the show.

They’re a band that care about their fans and engage with the crowd.

There’s plenty of clap-a-longs and call and response interaction. They even call out, by name, a fan in the front row that had been petitioning online for them to start playing a deep cut from an old album – and, of course, they play it live tonight for him.

Songs from all eras of the band’s history are played – from 2006’s eponymous debut right up to the latest album ‘Family Tree’.

A rollicking cover version of Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ is segued seamlessly into from their own track ‘Hollywood in Kentucky’ and massive singalongs such as ‘Blame it on the Boom Boom’ are dispatched flawlessly and confidently in front of the awe struck crowd.

It’s a triumphant performance by a band at the peak of their powers –and the there’s no doubt the adoring crowd realised this and appreciated it accordingly.

Black Stone Cherry set list: 

Me and Mary Jane
Burnin’
Blind Man
In My Blood
Bulldozer
Soulcreek
Bad Habit
Hollywood in Kentucky / Folsom Prison Blues
My Last Breath
Cheaper to Drink Alone
Ain’t Nobody
Blame It On The Boom Boom
White Trash Millionaire
Lonely Train
Family Tree

Encore:

Peace Is Free

Jul 222019
 

Review and photos by Craig Chisholm.

It’s the end of an era at the AECC as tonight’s gig marks the conclusion of the venue’s live music history before attention turns to the new P&J Live as the new home of large scale arena rock in Aberdeen.
Throughout the venue’s history, it has seen some genuine rock and pop legends tread the boards in the main arena.

From its debut as a live venue in 1990 – when Scottish pop stars Wet Wet Wet provided the first live entertainment – household names, legends of rock, country stars, hip hop titans, heavy metal heroes and genuine music royalty have tread the boards.

Acts as diverse and eclectic as Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Lady Gaga, Kylie, Rhianna, Kings of Leon, Motorhead, Take That, Oasis, Foo Fighters, David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Radiohead and much, much more have had memorable nights in the Bridge of Don venue.

Were you there? You should have been!

Alas, all good things must come to an end and tonight sees the final party at the venue hosted, as it began, by another Scottish act but this time in the shape of an undoubted legend – the indefatigable and evergreen Rod Stewart.

However, for tonight only, the gig is not inside the venue itself but outdoors in the adjacent car park in order to accommodate a crowd more than twice as large as could be accommodated indoors.

The concert itself has already been postponed due to the vagrancies and unpredictability of the North East weather – Wet Wet Wet would surely have been appropriate band on the original date scheduled for last month – but tonight there are no such issues with the weather remaining relatively dry and pleasant, albeit with the odd shower.

So finally, a few weeks late, the show must go on.

At the age of 74 you’d think Rod would be happy to retire to his country pad and tinkle with his legendary train set, but it seems as those days are still a long way off as he gives a sprightly and energetic performance that would shame performers half his age, if not less.

Running through a back catalogue that stretches back over six decades the sprightly rocker pulled out all the stops as he performed crowd pleaser after crowd pleaser from his formidable and extensive back catalogue and from latest album ‘Blood Red Roses’.

Setting the tone with the opening cover of Sam Cooke’s ‘Having a Party’ and his stage entrance to spectacular pyrotechnics the stage is set for a spirited romp through Rod’s eclectic back catalogue with cover versions, re-interpretations and classics such as ‘Baby Jane’, ‘Maggie May’, ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?’, ‘Some Guys Have All the Luck’ and the Tom Waits penned ‘Downtown Train’.

The party mood is paused on occasion for poignant slow burners and ballads including the melancholic ‘Every Beat of My Heart’ whilst his feted reworking of Crazy Horse’s ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’, a song which he has long since made his own, is performed as part of a stripped back section of the show.

Costumes are changed; footballs are booted into the crowd and a good time is had by all before the night is ended with the poignant classic ‘Sailing’ and Rod leaves the ecstatic crowd in raptures with another sterling professional, performance lasting over 2 hours.

So, after nearly 30 years of gigs, the AECC ends it’s tenure as Aberdeen’s biggest music venue on a high – finishing with one of the biggest names in showbiz in front of one of the biggest crowds it has ever had.

Rod, however, will be back – he’s already announced a date at the P&J Live on Saturday December 7th for what is bound to be another sell out performance.

Jun 142019
 

Review and photos by Craig Chisholm.

It’s a sad, undeniable fact that if you want to attend certain concerts then a trip to Glasgow is, more often or not, the only option.
This has been especially true the last few years with the Music Hall closed for renovation and the opening of the Hydro in Glasgow which has attracted some of the biggest names to perform there.

Hopefully this situation might be rectified in the future with the newly renovated Music Hall and the soon-to-be opened TECA complex (or is it called the AECC as per the WPR signs? Or the P&J Live as announced last week?) already attracting some big names to the North East.

There is one major glaring gap in the Aberdeen live music scene, however, and that is the staging of outdoor concerts and festivals during the summer months.

Sure, Rod Stewart will be belting his heart – and the odd football – out in the AECC car park this June but, apart from that, and the, albeit excellent, Enjoy festival, what is there in the way of major outdoor music events in Aberdeen?

Glasgow, on the other hand, seems to have an abundance of events – TRNSMT, in the city’s Glasgow Green will host headlining sets by Stormzy, Catfish & the Bottlemen and George Ezra whilst across at Bellahouston Park you can attend sets by The Cure, Foo Fighters and The 1975 as part of the Summer Sessions.

In fact, even more frustratingly, the Summer Sessions are held in two cities just an hour or so away from each other so Glasgow residents could just pop in the car or train to Edinburgh where Florence & the Machine, Primal Scream, CHVRCHES, Lewis Capaldi and James will be performing in Princes Street Gardens.
Weather permitting, which of you wouldn’t rather be lazing in the green grass in a park, on a weekend afternoon rather than a midweek gig in a windswept car park next to the North Sea?

Can you imagine a summer in Aberdeen with acts of that calibre performing in Duthie or Hazlehead Parks?

And it’s not just major festivals that are happening in Glasgow – smaller outdoor events are happening in places such as the SWG3 venue which is hosting outdoor events by bands such as Miles Kane, Foals and the subject of this review, the newly reformed Doves.

SWG3 itself is another revelation and a perfect example what can be achieved with a little creativity and foresight.

Located in the city’s West End, the main space is a repurposed warehouse that can hold up to 1250 people for concerts and will see bands such as Interpol, Ministry, Orbital and Stereolab tread the boards over the summer months. There are also artist studios for hire, design studios to utilise and a smaller warehouse that can hold 450 people for concerts.

Doves, however, are outdoors in the former Galvanizer’s Yard performing their first Scottish gig for nearly a decade as part of reunion tour that has seen them play festivals down south in England and as main support for Noel Gallagher in Heaton Park, Manchester.
Judging by lead singer / bassist Jimi Goodwin’s reaction, however, this night is proving to be the highlight of their comeback as he profusely thanks the crowd from the stage and looks genuinely emotional at the reception they receive.

Well, that’s between the occasions he’s speaking about the seagulls and the passing trains however!

Doves have a back catalogue of four strong albums to fall back on and these contain a fair amount of hits and fan’s favourites.

Top Ten singles such as the anthemic ‘There Goes The Fear’ and the melancholic ‘Black and White Town’ are sang along to word for word by the 5000 strong crowd whilst driving rockers such as ‘Words’ and ‘Pounding’ bring out extra reserves of energy from the fans.

There are also touching moments of real emotion in tracks such as ‘Caught by the River’ and the beautiful ‘The Cedar Room’ that brings a tear to the eye.

Overall, an amazing set and a welcome return to one of the best acts to come out of Manchester on the last couple of decades.

Here’s hoping their reunion is extended longer and they make it up to the North East before long.

Also on the bill are Edinburgh based two-piece Man of Moon.

They’ve been reviewed in the Voice before, when they played at True North last autumn, and the sentiments expressed then are still true – they are magnificent, one of the best young bands to have emerged from Scotland in the last few years.

Their mix of droning, psych, garage and electronica recalls bands such as Suicide, Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized and will appeal to fans of those acts. They’ve played Aberdeen a few times in the last couple of years and if you haven’t made it to any of those gigs then make sure you make it to their next.

So, overall a nice wee trip to Glasgow – the weather held out, the music was outstanding and the venue was fantastic.

But also one tinged with a sense of frustration – OK, we can’t do much about the weather but surely, with a bit of innovation and daring, venues such as SWG3 could come to happen in the Granite City? And maybe we could host summer events that aren’t just hoary old rockers playing to your Granny in a car park?

Here’s hoping….

Doves Set List.
Snowden
Rise
Black and White Town
Sea Song
Words
Last Broadcast
The Outsiders
Winter Hill
Kingdom of Rust
Pounding
10:03
Caught by the River

Encore:
The Cedar Room
There Goes the Fear

Doves – https://dovesofficial.com/
Man of Moon – http://www.manofmoon.net/
SWG3 – https://swg3.tv/
TRNSMT – https://trnsmtfest.com/
Summer Sessions – https://www.smmrsessions.com/

Jun 042019
 

Review and photographs by Craig Chisholm.

Idlewild frontman Roddy Woomble.

Scottish indie veterans Idlewild rounded off their UK tour in support of latest album ‘Interview Music’ with a heated and well received performance at the Music Hall on an already scorching May Day weekend.
This was, in fact, their fourth live appearance in town in recent weeks after they headlined two nights at the Brewdog AGM, held at the AECC, and performed a stripped down, intimate – and slightly hungover after a few Brewdog beers – acoustic set at HMV.

Those truncated performances, whilst entertaining, were merely a precursor to the main event of a full set in front of a partisan and adoring crowd.

The set list encompassed a wide range of material stretching back over two decades to their earlier, rawer work to the more refined and mature songs from their latest album.

Five songs off the new album are given an airing tonight – ‘Dream Variations’, ‘I Almost Didn’t Notice’, ‘Same Things Twice’, ‘There’s a Place for Everything’ and the title track itself.

Well known songs and singles are reeled off during the show prompting singalongs – ‘American English’, ‘Little Discourage’, ‘Roseability’ – each one a highlight from the band’s over two-decade career.

On stage, guitarist Rod Jones is the visual focal point – careering and spinning round the stage, guitar swung around with casual abandon. He’s a whirlwind of noise and skill, painting the songs with melody and bite. Singer Roddy Woomble, by contrast, is a more reserved and understated figure. His lyrics and melodies are given his full attention and during the musical interludes is more likely to wander to the side of the stage rather than engage in the drama or histrionics seen in more attention seeking frontmen.

As well as their own songs the band play a poignant and touching tribute to late Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison with a touching cover of ‘Heads Roll Off’ that the crowd appreciate and understand.

Opening the nights proceedings are local heroes The Xcerts.

Although born and bred in Aberdeen, the band have been based in Brighton for several years now.

They’ve mellowed their rock sound over the years in favour of their current, polished, arena-rock sound which is more palatable to the ears and would appeal to a wide range of listeners.

Their stage craft is confident and natural, and they look at home on the large stage.

Looking genuinely happy to be performing in front of many of their friends, family and fans – both casual and dedicated – their set is a triumph for them.

The Xcerts will only go from strength to strength and its only a matter of time before we see them headline this historic venue themselves.

Idlewild Set ist.
Dream Variations
Roseability
You Held the World in Your Arms
(I Am) What I Am Not
Interview Music
Little Discourage
There’s a Place for Everything
A Ghost in the Arcade
Live in a Hiding Place
Love Steals Us From Loneliness
Same Things Twice
I Almost Didn’t Notice
American English
Make Another World
El Capitan
When I Argue I See Shapes
Encore:
Head Rolls Off (Frightened Rabbit cover)
Everyone Says You’re So Fragile
A Film for the Future
A Modern Way of Letting Go
In Remote Part / Scottish Fiction

Apr 222019
 

Duncan Harley reviews Doorways in Drumorty @ Aberdeen Arts Centre

Doorways in Drumorty is loosely based on the writings of a Strichen lass by the name of Lorna Moon who made it big in Hollywood.

Alongside her one published novel Dark Star, Lorna – born Helen Nora Wilson Low – escaped her native Buchan age 24 in around 1910.

Broken relationships and abandoned offspring followed before the talented, and by now re-badged, Lorna Moon took up with the son of Hollywood mogul Cecil B. DeMille and forged a successful career as a scriptwriter.

Her short stories, first published in Century Magazine, feature a clutch of thinly disguised Buchan folk and pull few punches. Titles such as ‘The Sinning of Jessie MacLean’ and ‘Feckless Maggie Ann’ did not endear her to the locals and, in true Lewis Grassic Gibbon tradition, legend insists that her books were shunned by the local library service.

Penned by author/playwright Mike Gibb the play explores the curtain twitching mentality of small-town Buchan. Questionable morality, dubious loyalty, fractured community and tightly held family bonds inhabit the tale and through the course of a series of vignettes the reality of a century old Buchan community is revealed warts and all.

A three-hander – Estrid Barton, Fraser Sivewright and Lucy Goldie take on some dozen roles – Doorways is at points humorous, poignant and even tragic.

Neatly bookended by Lucy Goldie’s Lorna Moon in full 1920’s flapper gear the play hits hard.

A heavily pregnant and destitute Bella Tocher is banished from Drumorty to fend as best she can. A new minister unwisely accepts a dinner invitation and is labelled a thief, the local dentist elopes with the postmistress and – following the theft of a chicken – an innocent infant is subject to divine retribution.

Gossip, double-standards and rumour-mongering infest the close-knit community but of course:

“You’re only the gossip on the street until something more interesting comes along.”

Set and lighting are simple and reek of a more austere era. Fast paced, the character changes are at times difficult to follow leaving some of the audience at least lagging behind the action on stage.

However eventually, when it becomes clear that this is not a tale about Lorna Moon but is a tale based on her writings, the building blocks slide into place.
As for the title; there is speculation that alongside revelling in the name Lorna Moon – she had taken up with Walter Moon in around 1913 – Lorna was a great admirer of kailyard authors such as Ian MacLaren and J.M. Barrie.

Barrie’s ‘Window in Thrums’ and MacLaren’s ‘Drumtochty’ provide some clue as to the provenance of the ‘Doorways in Drumorty’ header.

As Lorna, an admirer of Barrie seemingly said:

“I’d rather be Barried than buried.”

This is in essence an important play and seems destined to re-awaken interest in a woman who, although ruthless in her pursuit of career, nevertheless put the likes of Strichen on the map.

Mind you, at the final curtain and despite the loud applause, it was hard to shed the notion that the long-gone folk in the Buchan graveyards were still cockin’ a lug and shakin’ their heids at the pure cheek o’ the lass.

Stars: 4/5
Produced by Andy Corelli and written by Mike Gibb, Doorways in Drumorty will tour 18 venues across Scotland between 18 April – 18 May 2019

Click here for tour dates and tickets.

Words © Duncan Harley. Images © Andy Corelli

Apr 112019
 

Mike Shepherd reviews Duncan Harley’s ‘The Little History of Aberdeenshire’.

Duncan Harley’s fascinating new book is described as a little history of Aberdeenshire, yet covers a 4,000 year time span from the Neolithic when peasant farmers built the stone circles that dot the countryside through to North Sea oil.

Along the way we read about battles, plagues and the arrival of the modern era when Aberdeenshire finally became accessible to the outside world: turnpikes, canals and railways were built.

This is anything but a dry and dusty history tome.

As with his previous book, The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire, Duncan throws in lots of quirky and curious facts to liven up the tale.

Did you know that the bulldozers building the Aberdeen bypass uncovered a whole load of new archaeological finds including ninety Roman bread ovens at Milltimber? That it took years to complete the monument to the battle of Harlaw near Inverurie, because of a reluctance to add the armorial shields representing the highland clans?

The expense involved was considered as ‘paying for the arms of the enemy’ (and this 500 years after the battle took place). The shields were finally added in 2011 for the 600th anniversary.

Or how about this? Stonehaven’s oldest building, the Tollbooth at the harbour, was severely damaged during the Second World War when an anti-shipping mine beached next to it.

These and many more nuggets make Duncan’s book an engrossing read. If you enjoyed Duncan’s first book or you are curious about the history of Aberdeenshire, then this is the book for you.

Highly recommended. 

Published by The History Press. £12.00 in hardback.

 

Apr 082019
 

Review and photographs by Craig Chisholm.

Rick Redbeard.

The multi-million-pound revamp of Aberdeen’s Music Hall, has breathed new life and opportunity into the historical and iconic city centre entertainment venue.
One of the innovative schemes was to create more usable space for concerts and events within the building and it is in one of these spaces – the Big Sky Studio – that an early evening show is taking place.

The intimate room, with seating for around 50-100 people depending on layout, provided a unique up-close-and-personal opportunity to see former Phantom Band members Rick Redbeard and Duncan Marquiss perform short sets for a bargain ticket price (only £8.00) and at a quite civilised post-work Friday time (6pm start!).

Opening proceedings is Duncan Marquiss. His set consists of effects laden, ambient guitar soundscapes and space age blues instrumentals that lift the listener to transcendent realms of bliss.

Duncan Marquiss.

Hunched over his bank of guitar pedals, Marquiss coaxes beautiful textures from his instrument looping himself, manipulating the sound to create a cascading ocean of sound textures.

Using a slide or an e-bow to great effect, he strays into the world of avant-garde minimalism and experimentation, creating new and interesting sounds, with a screwdriver under the strings on one track, or laying his instrument on the ground and using small sticks to drum on the strings.

It’s a beautiful and satisfying experimental set that has the audience listening in hushed silence before erupting in rapturous applause at the end.

Rick Redbeard, better known to his parents and friends as Rick Anthony, offers a more straightforward but, nonetheless, satisfying set that is steeped in folky acoustic heritage whilst remaining topical and forward thinking.

His acoustic guitar strapped round him like a shield, he offers a satisfying nine song set of beautiful, heartfelt campfire melodies.

His intricate finger picking style is flawless and mesmerising, creating space to allow the songs to breathe and for the listener to fully embrace his well thought out lyricism.

Songs from his two previous solo albums – ‘No Selfish Heart’ from 2013 and ‘Awake Unto’, released in 2016 – are given an airing alongside sneak previews of a track or two from his proposed third album which he hopes to release this year.

Between songs he is friendly and chatty, acknowledging his family sitting a couple of rows from the front and discussing Brexit and the irony of his track ‘The Golden Age’ given the current political situation.

There’s a moment where a new song is stopped as, he says himself, his “brain and hands stopped communicating” and there’s a moment of amusement – and bemusement – when the tannoy announces that the show in the main hall is due to start in 5 minutes.

But moments like these add to the intimacy and personal feel of the performance rather than detract.

One can only hope that the success of this show encourages the Music Hall staff to organise more events of this nature – the early start is an interesting novelty that may encourage people to seek out new and interesting music and sounds whilst enjoying a post-work pint at the end of the week.

Overall, the evening proved to be a success – enjoyable music, an appreciative audience and a wonderful atmosphere. Here’s to the next one!

Big Sky Sessions returns to the Music Hall at 6pm on Friday 19th April with Iona Fyfe, Calum Morton-Teng and Ellen Gira.

Then on Friday 31st May with The Dark Carnival : Unplugged (which also includes a free glass of whisky).

Tickets for Iona Fyfe are available here. and for The Dark Carnival : Unplugged, click here.

Apr 022019
 

Review and photos by Craig Chisholm.

The Men in Black returned to the Beach Ballroom for another triumphant performance, albeit one with a few teething troubles including a couple of false starts and one song being stopped half way through.

But, as lead singer Baz says apologetically “it’s only music, only a band” before pausing and adding:

“Not just any band – it’s the fucking Stranglers.”

And he’s right, it’s not just any band. It’s a legendary, critically acclaimed, punk band that scaled commercial peaks, influenced everyone from punks to Britpoppers and still sells out venues across the world nearly 50 years into their illustrious career.

And, as it’s only the second date of their 2019 tour, then any teething troubles can be as easily forgiven as the exuberance at seeing such a seminal act in front of a sold-out crowd.

Before the self-proclaimed Men in Black take the stage, however, there’s an opportunity to see another classic rock act ply their wares as Britain’s premier Rhythm & Blues act, the mighty Dr Feelgood, open the night’s proceedings.

It’s a very different Dr Feelgood that started in Canvey Island 1971 and became mainstays of the then burgeoning pub rock scene – long gone are original members Wilko Johnson, The Big Figure, John B Sparks and late, enigmatic frontman Lee Brilleaux.

Instead, present members Kevin Morris, PH Mitchell, Steve Walwyn and Robert Kane have been keeping
the band’s name alive as a going concern for a few decades now. 

Between them, they provide a competent, nostalgic and talented run through of some of the band’s finest moments – ‘Down by The Jetty’, ‘Milk and Alcohol’ and
a cover of ‘Route 66’ being stand out songs of their all too brief set.

The Stranglers themselves have a few line up changes over the years too and the only remaining members from their early years are bassist JJ Brunell and keyboard player Dave Greenfield – although drummer Jet Black is still part of the band when recording in the studio but no longer touring due to ill health.

It’s a typically eclectic set from the band that stretches back to their 70s beginnings right up to their most recent releases.

Chart hits such as ‘Golden Brown’, ‘Peaches’, ‘Always the Sun’ and closer ‘No More Heroes’ are well received by the adoring crowd as are fan favourites such as the pile driving ‘(Get a) Grip (On Yourself)’ which, as always, gets the crowd going wild only three songs in.

Humour is never far from the band – whether it’s JJ’s huge grin throughout the set, or lead singer and guitarist Baz Warne’s between song banter.

But the comedy moment of the night surely belongs to their poor guitar roadie, tonight celebrating his 40th birthday and getting the opportunity to dance topless on stage whilst wearing a tutu. Quite a sight, to say the least.

The Stranglers return to the Granite City in October as primary support to Alice Cooper in an eclectic three band bill that includes the surviving members seminal rockers The MC5, celebrating 50 years and billed on the night as The MC50.

It’s sure to be another unmissable night of live music that, one suspects, won’t feature any false song starts, early tour teething troubles and, most importantly, dancing roadies in skirts! Miss it if you dare.