Dec 062019
 

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

Comic Christmas capers in Aberdeen wouldn’t be quite the same without the annual HMT panto and this years rags to riches take on Cinderella stars soprano Rachel Flynn as Cinders with doors opening this month for a five-week run.

Naturally, wicked step-sisters are to the fore and the cast list for 2019 includes Call the Midwife star Laura Main who delivers a sterling performance as the Fairy Godmother, River City funny man Paul-James Corrigan who shines as Buttons, Two Doors Down Joy McAvoy plus River City Sally Howitt as the Stepsisters and Prince Charming is played by Emmerdale Paul Luebke.

Dancer/choreographer Louie Spence plays a delightfully camp Dandini with Alan McHugh leading the action as the outlandishly-costumed Baroness Heifer McHardup.

Outwitting step-sisters involves both humour and determination and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud slap-stick moments along the way alongside a multitude of double-entendres and slick comedy routines.

Lavish special effects and merciless lampoons litter the plot.

Sound and set are sublime and the Trump gets an obligatory bashing as does the city of Dundee. And there is a quite splendidly tongue-twisting comedy-Sushi routine which is to die for.

Last years disappointing dwarfs have thankfully been supplanted for 2019 by an ultra-slick troupe of tap-dancing pumpkins.

Astaire would be impressed. And there are pyrotechnics galore.

But it’s all in the best possible taste as the classic Dandini line ‘Now, this of course is where Prince Charming holds his balls and dances’ clearly illustrates.

Buzzing with energy from very beginning to royal wedding, Cinderella @ HMT sparkles. Go see.

Stars: 4.5/5

Directed and written by Alan McHugh, Cinderella plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Sunday 5 January 2020

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT and © Qdos Entertainment

Dec 052019
 

With thanks to Brookfield Knights.

Since issuing their superb Songs of The Hollow album in 2017, CUA have gone on to become a band that has gathered in more praise than most from all the best sections of the media.

Aberdeen music fans can judge for themselves as the band make an appearance at The Blue Lamp tomorrow, Friday Dec 6.

Awarding the album an 8/10 rating at AmericanaUK, top writer Jeremy Searle said:

“This Irish trio stands right at the forefront of contemporary cutting-edge folk and even that description sells it a little short.”

Issuing a similar judgement for Acoustic magazine, Julian Piper had this to say:

“At its finest, music should confound and amaze the listener, and this trio from Ireland have the luck – and the ability – to be one of those outfits who can pull this off.”

Folkwords said, rightly:

“Unlike anything else.”

As a result, there are many who cannot wait to catch the band in action and this will be their first major UK tour, although they caused a sensation when they attracted a capacity crowd to their Celtic Connections show in Glasgow, earlier this year.

Tickets here: https://www.seetickets.com/event/cua/the-blue-lamp/1464462

Nov 272019
 

Craig Chisholm reviews Liam Gallagher plus support at P&J Live, Aberdeen.

For North East Oasis fans, it was a bit of an exciting day, to say the least.
Noel Gallagher dropped a new single – ‘Wandering Star’ – with his High Flying Birds and, more importantly, brother Liam made his debut solo performance in Aberdeen.

Nearly 10,000 fans packed the new P&J Live Arena to watch their hero blast through a 90-minute set that drew tracks from his two albums ‘Why Me? Why Not’ and ‘As You Were’ but also, to the delight of many, a liberal sprinkling of classic tracks by his old band – and I don’t mean Beady Eye.

The mood was set for Liam’s triumphant performance by the two support acts that were both warmly received by the crowd.

Dylan John Thomas is the opening act. The young mop haired Glaswegian is very much following in the footsteps of friend and mentor Gerry Cinnamon who has recently supported on tour.

His acoustic guitar-based tunes are jaunty and catchy and, unusually for a new act, seems to meet the approval of a large section of the vast crowd. A cover of Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ especially goes down a treat.

DMA’s are a more familiar act, having sold out the Music Hall just a few months back.

The Australian act play a laid-back indie sound that’s indebted to Oasis without being a pastiche or outright copy.

Their short set draws tracks from both of their albums – ‘Hills End’ and ‘For Now’ – and all get a passionate and appreciative response from the crowd.

However, at the end of the day there’s only one man the audience are here to see – and that is Liam.

Walking on to near frenzied applause he exudes a swagger and confidence that most rock stars, let along normal people, would kill for.
He sets his stall out early with first track ‘Rock n Roll Star’ from Oasis’ 1995 debut album.

It’s less of a set opener than a statement of intent, a manifesto for all the Liam is.

The Oasis back catalogue is mined quite heavily throughout the set – ‘Wonderwall’, ‘Gas Panic’, ‘Morning Glory’, ‘Stand by Me’ and more are interspersed throughout the main set.

The encore pulls out a few of the big hits as well – ‘Acquiesce’, ‘Roll with It’, ‘Supersonic’ and a stripped down ‘Champagne Supernova’, all sang word for word by the audience; all received with near religious fervour.

As an added and unexpected bonus, he’s joined on these tracks by Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthur, original Oasis guitarist who left the band 20 years ago, in 1999.
But this isn’t an Oasis show, it’s the Liam show – and he has his own songs to sing.

Tracks such as ‘Halo’, ‘Shockwave’, ‘Paper Crown’ and ‘One of Us’ are received as warmly by the audience and get the same sing-along treatment as his old band’s classics.

Overall, it’s an assured and confident performance. You could never accuse Liam of being humble or overawed but he genuinely looks pleased with the crowd reaction and the energy and enthusiasm that they exude.

Liam Gallagher Setlist: 

Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
Halo
Shockwave
Wall of Glass
Paper Crown
Morning Glory
Columbia
Stand by Me
Once
One of Us
Gone
The River
Gas Panic!
Wonderwall

Encore:

Acquiesce
Roll With It
Supersonic
Champagne Supernova

Encore 2:

Cigarettes & Alcohol

Nov 202019
 

Craig Chisholm reviews She Drew The Gun / Peaness / Freakwave at The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen

The Lemon Tree played host to one of the best up-and-coming bands in the UK, in the shape of She Drew the Gun, along with sterling support slots from Peaness and Freakwave in an exhilarating – and refreshing – triple bill of female fronted bands.

Opening the nights proceedings are Glaswegian’s Freakwave. Their spiky, energetic punk-inspired rock is exciting to watch.

Drenched in a red-lit stage the band blast through a short, passionate set. Each band member has their own individual style – the barefoot bassist, the drummer with his “taps aff”, the guitarist with the bottle of Buckfast in his back pocket. But its guitarist / singer, the enigmatically named Summer Skye, that’s focus of attention.

Dressed in a leopard print top and trousers and Doc Marten books she’s a captivating sight with talent to back it up.

Their set includes a cover of ‘Pure Imagination’ from the 70s ‘Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory’ movie which goes down well.

Second support is Peaness. The three piece from Cheshire have a dreamlike, almost shoegaze in places, quality to their sound.
Their three-way harmonies recall the Gallic indie sound of Stereolab in places, but all recall the dreampop of early Lush.

There’s an Afrobeat influence lurking in their at times that gives them hints of Talking Heads or Vampire. Another band to watch, for sure.

She Drew the Gun deserves to be huge.

Their two albums – ‘Memories of Another Future’ from 2016 and this years ‘Revolution of Mind’ – are both well developed, confident tomes of work.

Live, they are just as confident. The Wirral band plays in front of projections of psychedelic, swirling visuals. And their music is just as kaleidoscopic and trippy.

From opening track, ‘Resistor’ the band blast through nearly an hour and a half of engaging politicised indie pop.

Highlights include their current single, ‘Trouble Every Day’ which is a zeitgeist capturing reinterpretation of the Frank Zappa song, the spoken word passages of tracks such as ‘Paradise’ and ‘Revolution of Mind’ and the final track, a poignant cover of The Beloved’s classic ‘Sweet Harmony’.

Three bands, three distinct sounds but one amazing bill.

Nov 152019
 

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

This unfolding story of the demise of the Weimar Republic is seen through the eyes of young American novelist Cliff Bradshaw – played here by Charles Hagerty – and is loosely based around Christopher Isherwood’s classic 1939 novel “Goodbye to Berlin”. 

A central focus is the doomed love affair between English cabaret performer Sally Bowles, played here Kara Lily Hayworth, and Cliff who has come to Berlin to complete a novel but soon finds himself involved in other distractions.

Alongside his pursuit of Sally, a serial manizer, Cliff soon finds himself involved in money-laundering for the fascists and is witness to a moral decay which will ultimately destroy the easy-going morality of a city known by many at the time as the Babylon of Europe.

Much of the action takes place in the Kit Kat Club – a place where ‘Here there are no troubles … Wilkommen, Leave your troubles outside … We have no troubles here! Here, life is beautiful.’

John Partridge plays the magnificently camp Emcee at the Kit Kat. And while budding storm-troopers prowl the streets, paying customers can look forward to an evening of sleazily decadent bondage-inspired entertainment. All of the dancers, both girls and boys, he says are virgins.

‘But you can try them if you like!’

Replete with both a rich tapestry of flesh and a familiar stable of songs: ‘Wilkommen’, ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me’, ‘The Money Song’, ‘Perfectly Marvellous’ and many more; the plot moves awkwardly between club, street and Fraulein Schneider’s apartment building.

The club scenes are deliciously believable. The rest, less so. It’s not as if the shocking street violence or malevolent menace of fascism is out of place. It’s just that the dialogue in places is somehow dated.

The marketing hype describes ‘Show-stopping choreography, dazzling costumes and iconic songs’ and while this is genuinely the case, the spoken lines often lack lustre and the underlying politics – the elephant in the room – is perhaps understated for an audience distanced from such events by a curtain of some 90 years.

Technically splendid – the set, songs, choreography and lederhosen are magnificent – this electrifyingly camp production sets a high bar which it fails to quite reach.

Stars: 3/5

Directed by Rufus Norris, Cabaret plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 16 November 2019

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT

Nov 152019
 

Catfish and the Bottlemen @ P&J Live, 7th November 2019. Review and photos by Craig Chisholm.

The rise of Catfish and the Bottlemen has been nothing short of remarkable.

In about six short years they’ve graduated from small local venues, such as The Tunnels and Café Drummond’s, to the vast expanse of the new P&J Live Arena with what seems relative ease.

To their credit they look like a band that’s been headlining festivals and playing arenas for years as they gave a slick and well-honed show brimming with confidence and self-belief.

Lead singer, the poetically named Van McCann, has especially taken on the mantle of stadium rock god with consummate ease. He’s a whirlwind of movement – wielding his guitar flamboyantly whilst simultaneously waving the mic stand around the stage, never standing still, never not playing up to the crowd.

What’s noticeable about the crowd is how young they are. The majority are teenagers, hungry for excitement on a wet Thursday night in November. A vast amount of them would have been too young to have seen the bands Aberdeen debut at Café Drummond in 2014.

But Catfish and the Bottlemen is not a band about the past, they’re a band about the here and now. They’re about living for the moment, the visceral thrill of the being young, of being free and not having a care in the world.
And that feeling is what the crowd want, and what they give back.

They’re excited, they’re emotional, and they are fanatical.

This is not a jaded seen-it-all before crowd, this is a crowd seeing it for the first time and loving it. This is a crowd cheering roadies doing mic checks,.

This is not a crowd that care that there’s an outtake of ‘Helter Skelter’ by The Beatles used as the intro tape, Catfish and the Bottlemen are their Beatles.

Looking around the arena, you’re struck by the lack of t-shirts being worn displaying the logos of any other bands, the type of thing you normally see at gigs. The only t-shirts seem to be of Catfish and the Bottlemen themselves. And most seem bought from the merch stands that very night.

Catfish’s set is exclusively drawn from their three albums – ‘The Balcony’, The Ride’ and their latest effort, ‘The Balance’, which was released in April.

There are no cover versions or fillers punctuating their set, there’s no bloated solos to pad the set out. They have confidence in their own material and have an audience that knows every song they’ve recorded word by word. From opening track ‘Longshot’ to the closing ‘Cocoon’, 8000 voices sing in unison.

Where Catfish go from here will be interesting. This is not a band that will rest on their laurels, or do nostalgia tours playing anniversary shows of past albums – they are already headlining festivals such as TRNMST and they’ll be aiming for headlining stadiums.

And this crowd will be there with them and, as they did tonight, they will love it.

Catfish & The Bottlemen Set list:

Longshot
Kathleen
Soundcheck
Pacifier
Twice
Fallout
Anything
Sidetrack
Encore
Homesick
Conversation
Overlap
Rango
Basically
2all
Outside
Hourglass the (Van McCann acoustic)
Fluctuate
7
Cocoon

Nov 082019
 

Craig Chisholm reviews Happy Mondays/Fat Cops at The Music Hall – 24th Oct.

Madchester legends the Happy Mondays rolled back the years and brought the spirit of baggy and the halcyon days of the Hacienda Club to the Music Hall in an enjoyable and entertaining set.

The evening’s mood was set with an interesting set by support act, Fat Cops.

Their name may not be familiar but some of their faces were – comedian Al Murray was on drums and the guitarist, Bobby Bluebell, is the writer of Scottish pop classic and number 1 hit “Young at Heart” by The Bluebells.

And, just to add to the surreal line up, the keyboard player is originally from Huntly. Oh, and he and happens to be married to Harry Potter author JK Rowling.

Fortunately, their music is decent enough to fend off any accusations of a mid-life crises. Their blend of funk, rock, soul and dance music is catchy and memorable.
Tracks such as ‘Rock Star’, ‘Dehydrated’ and ‘Hot Tub’ quickly draw a healthy crowd through from the bar and earn themselves a few new fans in the process.

With the house lights dimmed and thumping dance music playing in the half hour after Fat Cops leave the stage, the atmosphere for Happy Mondays is reaching boiling point by the time Happy Mondays come on.

Bounding to the lip of the stage and engaging in his signature “freaky dancing”, Bez is the undisputed star of the show.

Not quite as svelte as he used to be, he still manages to dance non-stop throughout the set whilst engaging with the crowd – whether posing for photos wearing a bucket hat that has been thrown on stage or reaching up to the balcony to shake hands with punters.

Lead vocalist, Shaun Ryder, is much less animated but still as compelling as ever.

Hidden behind dark sunglasses and a baseball cap he’s a lot more enigmatic. However, his between song banter is casual and relaxed – although he seems to be constantly looking to a video prompter for lyrics and to find out what song is next.
His voice may not be as it once was but he still has that star quality.

The rest of the band, including Shaun’s brother Paul on bass, is tight, with original backing singer Rowetta making up for any slight misgivings in Shaun’s vocals through her powerful performance.

The set list is comprehensive and trawls through the Mondays classic catalogue – ‘Dennis and Lois’, ‘Kinky Afro’, ’24 Hour Party People’ and ‘Loose Fit’ are all given an airing.

Undisputed highlights, however, are ‘Step On’, ‘Hallelujah’ and a banging ‘Wrote for Luck’.

A great performance by a great band who, despite their well-documented years of excess, still have the energy and enthusiasm to get the crowd excited.

Oct 302019
 

Craig Chisholm reviews Alice Cooper / The Stranglers / MC50 @ P&J Live, Aberdeen

It was a night of firsts in Aberdeen as the new P&J Live arena held its debut gig. and rock legend Alice Cooper visited the city for the first time in his near half century career.

Also celebrating 50 years are opening act MC50. This is the current name for original MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer’s touring act which is celebrating the seminal US proto-punk classic album ‘Kick Out the Jams’.

The band is a who’s who of underground and alternative rock legends – as well as Kramer on guitar and vocals there’s Faith No More’s Billy Gould on bass, Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil, Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty and on vocals, Marcus Durant of the band Zen Guerrilla who have released albums on feted records labels such as Alternative Tentacles and Sub Pop.

If the line-up of the band is jaw dropping then the music is even more so. Rock staples such as ‘Rambling Rose’ and the aforementioned ‘Kick Out The Jams’ are electrically charged and life affirming.

In these politically charged times it’s essential to have politically aware bands and MC5 are the originals.

It’s an honour to see them. Essential listening for anyone not familiar with these classic Detroit rock legends.

Middle of the three band bill is another legendary act. The Stranglers need no introduction; such is their legacy and body of work.

It’s a tight, 11 song set lasting 50 mins they perform, filled with classics.

Massive hits such as ‘Golden Brown’, ‘Peaches’ and ‘No More Heroes’ pepper the set, along with rockers such as ‘(Get a) Grip (On Yourself)’ and ‘Hanging Around’ and their cover of Dionne Warwick’s ‘Walk on By’.Dressed in black and minimally lit the band give a masterclass in understatement that provides a suitable juxtaposition to the headliners performance.

There’s no subtlety or understatement in Alice Cooper’s performance – its pure overblown theatre from the moment he walks on stage.

Dressed theatrically in top hat and leather he strides on stage in front of a giant castle wall backdrop.

The show is pure pantomime and schlock horror, bombastic and supersized.

Giant babies stride the stage; corpse brides interact with Alice; slasher flicks are performed; canons are fired and, in an elaborate set piece, Alice himself is beheaded on a guillotine.

It’s an elaborate stage show – pure theatre. The horror is, thankfully, tongue in cheek and is well staged without being too bloody or trying too hard to shock.

It’s a fun crowd pleasing show that would have got everyone talking.

Fortunately, however, there’s some good music behind
it.

Tracks such as the brooding ‘Poison’. the air-punching ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’ and the raw rock of ‘Under My Wheels’ are catchy and melodic.

‘I’m Eighteen’ is a singalong anthem; and the closer, ‘School’s Out’ is such a rock staple that even non-Alice Cooper fans must know it.

His band are virtuosos – expert enough in their playing to be able to ham it up and add to the theatrics whilst simultaneously providing a tight musical performance.

Guitarist Nita Strauss is particularly eye catching as she plays stunning guitar solos and flings her guitar around, looking every inch the rock god(ess) and living up to her nickname of Hurricane. It’s a fun show and it’s one that every rock music fan should catch at least once.

As for the new venue, it is also a success – it’s large enough to not feel crowded but not large to feel dwarfed; queues to get in are handled well and getting food, drink or merchandise is easy.

It’s going to be hard to top the opening night for P&J Live but with Lewis Capaldi, Liam Gallagher, Catfish & The Bottlemen and The 1975 all booked to perform in coming months, there’s certainly going to be a few trying.

Oct 292019
 

Craig Chisholm reviews Gary Numan at The Beach Ballroom, Aberdeen, 27th Sept 2019.

Pop legend Gary Numan made a long overdue visit back to the Granite City to celebrate his (R)Evolution 40th anniversary tour.

It’s been over 35 years since he last played here and his wide-ranging set made up for the missing years by covering material from a vast amount of albums released in that time.

Ranging from his imperial phase 80s synth pop chart hits to the more brutal Nine Inch Nails inspired electro-gothic nihilism; his set provided a fascinating and diverse showcase of his talents.

Where before he seemed slightly withdrawn and deliberately robotic his stage presence has in the intervening years been honed and crafted to the point where is now a full blown rock god, at ease with himself and with his adoring crowd.

On stage he was never still – contorting his body and throwing shapes with his hands, conducting and leading the maelstrom of sound around him.

The choice of songs wide ranging – from the slow burning electro of ‘Absolution’, the industrial ‘sturm und drang’ of ‘Here In the Black’ or the surprising addition of an acoustic guitar to perform ‘My Breathing’ and final track of the night, Tubeway Army’s ‘Jo the Waiter’.

But it’s the big hits that most mainstream music fans will know him for and these are performed with aplomb and to rapturous appreciation by the crowd. His chart topping no.1 hits ‘Cars’ and ‘Are “Friends” Electric’ bring the house down and rightfully so.

Later 21st century period material such as opener ‘My Name is Ruin’ and ‘A Prayer for the Unborn’ receive the same amount of reception from the crowd as classic Numan cuts such as ‘Metal’ from 1979 album ‘The Pleasure Principle’.

At 61 years of age, Numan displayed the energy and commitment of someone half that age.

Here’s hoping that he returns north sooner than another 35 years’ time whilst that energy is still there.

Set list:
My Name Is Ruin
That’s Too Bad
Desire
Films
Metal
Absolution
My Breathing
Down in the Park
The Promise
Cars
Here in the Black
We Are Glass
Call Out the Dogs
A Prayer for the Unborn
Are ‘Friends’ Electric?

Encore:
My Shadow in Vain
It Will End Here
Intruder
Jo the Waiter

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