Thursday, April 23, 2015

Some-swing good is going to happen...

After selling out its first two years Swingamajig is back and bigger than ever with no less than six (or ‘alf a dozen in old money) stages in and around the Custard Factory.

Kicking off at 2pm on Sunday May 3rd and carrying on until an eye reddening 6am on Monday (relax, it’s a Bank Holiday) it’s billed as a 16 hour celebration of “electro swing, gypsy folk and vintage mayhem” with a dazzling line up of top notch live acts and DJs from the best dressed scene around including The Correspondents, Mr B The Gentlemen Rhymer (who I’ve still not seen live, partially because I look uncannily like an older, chubbier version of him and it might all get a bit weird) and recently reformed Hearing Aid favourites The Anomalies!

Last few tickets are £25.00, available right here.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

White Town - I'm Giving Up

The slightly older amongst us may remember one of the most remarkable number one singles of the 90s, White Town's Your Woman which, on top of going on to be a hit across Europe and the US, even got Madonna's juices flowing at the time (there was no need for that was there...I do hope you weren't eating). Anyway, the track was produced in the bedroom of Jyoti Mishra and after what is referred to on Wikipedia as a 'troubled working relationship' with EMI he retreated back there again, sporadically releasing stuff on independent labels (hurrah!). Happily (the music biz needs more Jyoti Mishras) he seems to be ramping up the output at the moment and the latest offering is the rather awesome I'm Giving Up which, to my ears at least, seems to cleverly mash up Northern Soul and Indiepop...quite possibly for the first time in history...and I just can't get enough of it right now. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Producers @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Monday April 20th 2015

As themes for musicals go it’s pretty difficult to imagine a more unlikely subject than Adolf Hitler. That’s the basic premise behind The Producers, one of whom has worked out that he can make more money staging a flop than a hit (hmmm...maybe that’s what the team behind Viva Forever were up to?). Originally a 1968 film from Mel Brooks he waited a mere 33 years before adapting it into an actual musical (a case of art imitating life imitating art etc) which has gone on to win awards and win over audiences across the globe...even in Germany and Austria...which is just a touch odd when you think about it.

It’s not unusual for a show to have one or two scene stealing performers but this version of The Producers has half a dozen of ‘em. Seriously. 

Cory English oozes chutzpah as the OAP ‘servicing’ Max Bialystock (what that man won’t do for a dollar...oy vey!), Jason Manford channels a little Jerry Lewis as the uptight Leo Bloom and Phill Jupitus is delightfully unhinged as the frequently Führer-ious Franz Liebkind. 

Add in Louis Spence...simply being Louis Spence is enough and he only has to flick his wrist or wiggle his ass to get a laugh (and that’s some talent...try it) as Carmen Ghia, David Bedella who somehow manages to out-camp him (something that should be scientifically impossible) and Tiffany Graves as the English mangling Swedish love interest Ulla and you’ve got a dream cast for this show. 

Bedella’s gloriously OTT Hitler routine deserves a particular mention. Watching him prance around in a gold sequin jacket surrounded by a swastika wearing goose stepping chorus line still has the power to shock if you actually think about it but of course that’s the point. Speaking of which apparently sometime after the original movie came out a woman got into a lift with Brooks and recognizing him said, 'I have to tell you, Mr. Brooks, that your movie is vulgar.' Brooks smiled before replying 'Lady, it rose below vulgarity.' Genius. 

Of course Hitler and the Nazis were a ridiculous joke that turned deadly serious and whilst nothing can be done to undo the horror they unleashed on the world Brooks’ revenge by sending the whole thing up is bitter, sweet and entirely justifiable however you look at it. Here endeth the sermon.  

Growing up during the golden age of Hollywood musicals Mel's also neatly tapped into what makes a great number and, on top of the classic Springtime For Hitler (sample lyric "Don't be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi party"), the evening’s packed full of glitzy and surprisingly catchy show tunes including the hilariously camp anthem Keep It Gay. Kudos to the band and the supporting cast for somehow sounding and looking like there were several dozen of them on and off stage too, creating a Busby Berkeley feel on a budget (several of the cast played five or six roles minor roles each, which is exhausting enough just to think about).

Smart, funny, satirical and with a cast that makes the most out of every line, gesture and opportunity to dress up (or down in Ulla’s case...see below...ahem) this production really does have the ‘reich’ stuff.  

The Producers is on at The New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 25th April. Tickets here!

All photos courtesy and copyright of Manuel Harlan. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Miss Halliwell - Capitulate

Mondays...don't you just love 'em? Happily this Monday has been made at least 78% better by the appearance of the brand new video from Miss Halliwell for one of their best tracks to date, Capitulate. Okay, so it might scare young children and clearly it freaked the bejesus out of one of the passers by captured at around 3 minutes and 8 seconds in but you can't make a cake without breaking a few eggs can you eh?

The track's pretty much Miss Halliwell's manifesto...not in a 'we'll say whatever you want to hear as long as you vote for us...and then we'll do what the hell we want 'cos we're in power now so nah nah to you' way (lord help us all on May 7th), more a commitment to keeping on keeping on no matter what life throws at you. A lot of people struggle to find a meaning in it all but Miles Perhower strips things back to basics here "Some days are okay, some are excellent" he sings "Find a way to stay sane, everyone will die someday". Hmmmm, I don't know about you but I find that strangely comforting, albeit in a nihilistic existential kinda way.

PS: Don't forget that Miss Halliwell has a brace of dates coming up this Friday and next, details here.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Marc Almond / Stephen Langstaff and Satin Beige @ Town Hall Birmingham, Friday 17th April 2015

With a well received brand new album of original material under his belt (something he’d pretty much ruled out ever doing again after 2010’s Varieté) this survivor of synth and sin is back out on his own personal ‘velvet trail’, stopping off at a few select tea rooms on the way (Almond apparently has a bit of a thing for tea and cake these days, who knew?). I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him numerous times over the years (not in tea rooms), the first way back in 1988 at The Powerhouse remains one of my favourite gigs of all time but his last Brum date at The Symphony Hall, jam packed full of the hits and classics, was a bit of a triumph too. It’s safe to say that one or two shows over the years have been a little ‘mixed’ however (sometimes by Marc’s own admission it has to be said) for a variety of reasons, choice of material, sound quality, technical difficulties, the position of Mars in relation to Saturn, who knows what precisely what makes a great gig?

Singer / songwriter Stephen Langstaff opened up the night joined by a Miss Satin Beige (possibly not her real name I’m guessing). This turned out to be an inspired move, a real case of 1 + 1 equalling three...or maybe even four on the better songs like Let Forever Be. The combination of Langstaff’s mellow folky tones and Beige’s slightly edgier, more soulful vibe worked really well. Add Beige’s cello into the mix and you’ve got an embryonic duo with real potential.  

With a healthy number of true Gutter Hearts (the name that Marc’s superfans adopted way back in the day) in the audience (there were some particularly ‘Brilliant Creatures’ here this evening dahlings) he came on to wild applause before launching into a epic Minotaur, prowling the stage, flinging his arms about theatrically and singing his heart out from the very first note. Speaking of which the voice was in fine form tonight and from our position (up in the gods) it all sounded great, not always an easy trick to pull off in a venue as grand as the Town Hall.

With a 35 year career (good grief, tempus fugit) picking a representative setlist that’s going to appeal to the fan-atics, the casual admirers and those drawn by the latest album must be a bit of a ‘mare but tonight’s set was pretty much perfectly judged. The Velvet Trail’s perhaps one of Marc’s most accessible releases for a while and the glam pop stomp of Bad To Me accompanied by a dazzling pop art backdrop picked up the pace nicely still my bearing heart...The Stars We Are. As the entire Hall was lit up by stars (okay so it was just clever lighting but indulge me for a mo) I regressed to my 18 year old self for a few minutes when life seemed full of potential and promise. So, er, pretty much like it does today then. Cool. 

It has to be one of Almond’s best and he did it justice tonight, giving the “whoa whoa whoa’s” plenty of welly and sustaining the longer notes without collapsing in an crumpled heap on the floor. Truly magical.

We were in for plenty more back catalogue treats though. Long time musical collaborator Neal X gave Varieté a little more twang this evening making it part Bolan, part Link Wray and part Parisien cabaret, The Dancing Marquis (something of a recent hidden gem) sprang to live once more and Darker Times was plucked from Soft Cell’s often overlooked last album (Cruelty Without Beauty). 

In these pre election bullshit caked times it’s never sounded more relevant sadly. “Blinded by lies” sang Marc to a pounding electrobeat “We’ve got to keep dancing through these darker times”...and this was pretty much the perfect track to do just that.

After an archetypal Almond track, Champagne (harking back to Marc’s earlier obsession with the seedier side of life) which flirts with the classical it was time for a proper old classic, Black Heart all the way from the Mambas days. Vocally Almond’s in a different league now compared with then, richer, more controlled and powerful but still retaining that distinctive tone, and personally I’d lose the drums on this one and just leave the keyboards and vocals. It’s a minor tweak (as opposed to a Minotaur...ha...oh alright then) but vocally tonight the performance was so strong that you just wanted everything else stripped right back to the bone.

A selection from The Velvet Trail including the poignant title track (harking back to his Southport days that so influenced his love of fading glamour) all went down well with the crowd, especially Life In My Own Way which could well become his signature song in the coming years. “Friends ask me to clubs, to parties, to bars but I’m never around, I just like a nice cup of tea or a walk on the beach” he protested. There we go, there’s that tea thing again! Sinatra had My Way, Almond has Life In My Own Way now. I look forward to seeing him sing it in the Royal Albert Hall on his 80th birthday...assuming we’re all still here that is.

From the new to the old and the main set ended with Bedsitter (again given a little more of a rockabilly edge by Mr X) and a truly triumphant Soul Inside. Bugger me this sounded great tonight. It might be 31 years old now but as a showstopper it really was a “wild celebration” with the few members of the audience still seated up and on their feet.

You’d expect him to bring out the big guns for the encore...and he did...but Gutter Hearts came first giving those who’d been with him since his first solo release the chance to sing their (gutter) hearts out. 

Donning a guitar, “Neal’s taught me the chords”, Almond rattled through one of the more raucous songs from his back catalogue before a sing-a-long Tainted Love and, what else could it be, Say Hello, Wave Goodbye which saw several hundred hands wave him off into the night.  

Vocally on top form and with a setlist that pretty much offered something for everyone tonight was another triumph. The muso in me still yearns for a proper backing orchestra on some of the tracks but that’s a minor quibble. 35 years on from the Mutant Moment that birthed him Almond’s latest (soft) sell out (this gig sold out months ago) was entirely justified.

Setlist: Minotaur / Bad To Me / Stars We Are / Burn Bright / Varieté / The Dancing Marquis / Darker Times / Champagne / Black Heart / The Velvet Trail / Scar / Life In My Own Way / Zipped Black Leather Jacket / Demon Lover / Meet Me In My Dreams / Brilliant Creatures / Bedsitter / Soul Inside

Encore: Gutter Hearts / Tainted Love / Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

Friday, April 17, 2015

How moon is now? Lunar Festival’s on the way!

Now that the birds and the bees are finally getting it on it's time to think about festival season once more and one of the absolute gems, Lunar Festival, is just a few short weeks away. Taking place on the beautiful Umberslade Estate (Tanworth in Arden) you could be in the middle of nowhere rather than a mere spit away from Birmingham/Kings Heath/Solihull (delete as applicable depending on how posh you are), which makes getting there and (more importantly after three days of cider, booty shaking and sleeping in a tent the size of a postage stamp in my case) getting back home a bit of a doddle. This year’s line up is another wonderfully eclectic mix too including Tinariwen, The Bootleg Beatles (putting on a ‘66-‘70 set!) and Public Service Broadcasting alongside slightly more left field but equally spiffing choices as...deep breath...The Fall (frankly worth the admission price on their own), the cancer kicking Wilko Johnson, Julian Cope, Sun Ra Arkestra, BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Robyn Hitchcock (a hugely underrated artist in my humble opinion) and Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin (quite what he's 'goblin' we'll have to wait and see). Up ‘n’ coming talent’s well represented too by Zun Zun Egui, Syd Arthur, Jane Weaver, Midnight Bonfires Radcliffe, bless ‘im. There’s decent grub and booze, plenty of loos (kept remarkably clean last year...good work there toilet fairies) and a nicely chilled out family friendly atmosphere. Plus there are club nights, workshops, crafts, woodworking, Northern Soul Dance Classes (bring your own talc) and Nick Drake’s actual record player (!) which last year was set up in the woods for around 40 of us to listen to Five Leaves Left on. Despite the roaring log fires around us even our goosebumps had goosebumps, a truly memorable festival moment from a weekend that was jam packed full of ‘em. Here’s a link to last year’s review just in case you’re still not totally convinced. 

Tickets, a mere £89 for the whole ruddy weekend INCLUDING camping, right here!

And here's a trio of tracks from just three of the acts playing over the weekend to get you in the mood. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Somewhere over The Rainbow’s the return of Goodnight Lenin!

They’ve not played live for a while so this date at The Rainbow on Friday May 1st is an all too rare chance to catch up with ‘em unless you’ve got tickets to Glasto which, let’s face it, is harder to get into than a bank vault these days (although in the case of those blokes who nicked £200million worth of jewels over the Easter holidays this seems to be a piece of piss). 

Apparently they’ve been working on some new stuff too which might well make it onto the setlist. Ragga? Speed garage? Death metal? Could be. Although I’m guessing it’ll have the same wonderful blend of Folk and Americana that made their debut album, In The Fullness Of Time, one of my favourite releases of 2014. Lovely stuff. Support comes from hotly tipped new Mersybeaters John (Lennon) McCullagh and the Escorts too! 

Tickets right here, get 'em while they're 'ot.