Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Avenue Q @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Tuesday 16th September 2014



If you grew up watching Sesame Street then it won’t take long to get into the swing of things on Avenue Q. Like the Street the world of Avenue Q is inhabited by a variety of brightly coloured puppets who interact naturally with humans as though it’s the most normal thing in the world...all without the aid of mind altering substances too. And, like Sesame Street, Avenue Q examines some of the issues that most of us face, albeit with more of a focus on coming of age ‘adult’ stuff as opposed to why someone stole your action man or pulled your pigtails during the lunch break. Of course in the wonderful world of TV you don’t actually see the puppeteers/performers at all, onstage this is a impossible conceit to maintain but it’s surprising how quickly you forget they’re there...in the nicest possible way of course.   

In a nutshell the show’s about a young puppet called Princeton finding his felt feet in the world, leaving Uni and discovering that the world’s not gagging for yet another English graduate. Along the way to discovering his ‘purpose’ in life he has some particularly energetic sex with another puppet (honestly, you’ll learn all the positions you ever need to know in this show...plus a few that perhaps you’re better off forgetting), he encounters Different Strokes’ Gary Coleman and comes across...actually maybe that’s an unfortunate way of putting it...a porn obsessed puppet called Trekkie Monster. Yes folks, this is a puppet show with a difference. And it’s ruddy hilarious. The songs tackle everything from racism and internet porn to schadenfreude, the wicked but irresistible pleasure derived from the misfortune of others, and if you didn’t think you could get a catchy tune out of a word like that then this alone is worth the price of a ticket.


The cast is exceptional too. Lord knows it’s hard enough getting up there on stage and performing let alone playing several different characters and operating a puppet at the same time. Jessica Parker deserves a special mention for stepping into the role of Kate Monster and Lucy The Slut, neither of which she was due to play. I never thought it was possible to fall in love with a puppet but her portrayal of Kate was a delight from start to finish. Similarly Tom Steedon, who played her love interest Princeton, somehow managed to make you actually care about the cloth and stuffing on his hand. He came into his own as Rod though, a wonderfully uptight closet queen who...well...that would spoil things wouldn’t it eh?

In many ways this is a musical for people who wouldn’t dream of ever going to see one. If you’ve ever enjoyed the irreverent humour of stuff like South Park or the Simpsons though you’ll love Avenue Q. And, whilst I’d never seen it before, a quick trawl through You Tube shows that this cast absolutely nails it...arguably even better than the original performers back in 2004 on Broadway perhaps. Simply Q-mendous fun.  A must see. 

Avenue Q is on at the New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 20th September. Tickets right here...see, the internet isn’t just for porn...ahem...       

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Assist...by The Assist




Walsall's finest (after Noddy Holder that is...) The Assist release their first proper single, handily entitled The Assist, on Monday 13th October and it's a cracking mix of early Arctics style swagger and Britpop catchiness. The song's a kind of statement of intent too, correctly coming to the conclusion that the only way they're going to make it in the big bad old music biz is to work their frickin' socks off...judging by the number of gigs they've been playing and their impressive use of the old social media that's not something that's likely to bother 'em. Play it a few times and you'll be humming away like a loon.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Folk in the Forest



If you go down to the wood today...well not today exactly but next Thursday September 24th...you'll catch a veritable gaggle of unplugged acoustic loveliness from the likes of Tom (aka Top) Peel, Mike Molony and Rick Wellings...and it's all FREE. Whoooohahahahaha!



They've even got a Fire Pit and a moth trap too, although hopefully not too close together, no one wants a crunchy moth stuck to their marshmallow. The whole shebang takes place at the Sandwell Valley RSPB Reserve, a mere 5 miles or so outside Brum City centre.  Mo' details here y'all.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Undone - The Bird and the Bee



Hurrah! Indie pop duo The Bird and the Bee are back with a new single (from that dodgy Sex Tape movie). Okay so it came out weeks ago but it takes me time to catch up with stuff these days, too busy laughing at that 'hilarious' Mr Salmond. If the lovely people of Scotland believe a word he says then they'll be well and truly 'Undone' too. Good luck with that. On the plus side at least we'd get rid of Cameron, Clegg and, hopefully, that bloke who looks like a muppet masquerading as the leader of the Labour party...

Anyway, The Bird and the Bee, jolly good stuff. Here's a couple of older classics just in case you'd missed 'em.





PS: You Tube did that linky likey song thing too and pulled up this one. Apparently a number one in the US of A. Funnily enough I'm 'all about the bass' too...that's a diet of sausage rolls and cider for you.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Rudy’s Rare Records @ The REP, Tuesday 9th September 2014


I dread to think how many hours I spent in record shops over the years. In Brum we had...deep breath...Swordfish, The Diskery, Plastic Factory, Reddington’s Rare Records, Highway 61, Tempest, Second City Sounds, Frank’s Wild Records plus a Virgin Megastore, and at least two branches of HMV. There were probably others that have now faded into the memory, along with regular record fairs (one or two a month). Of course that was pretty much the only way you could hear a wider range of music back in the day, often under the gentle guidance of the record shop owner. Radio stations pretty much revolved around the top 40 and barring the odd maverick...step forward Mr John Peel for instance...you’d only hear a limited amount of what was out there. Now of course some Nigerian dubstep is just a click away (I actually made that genre up, or so I thought, and within 2 seconds I’d found some online). Anyway this waffle has a point. Sort of. Set in an imaginary record shop in Brum this stage adaptation of a Radio 4 series sees Dudley’s finest, Lenny Henry, play Adam the son’s owner who reluctantly moves home to look after his aging father, the titular Rudy. It’s the sort of setup that’s spawned some of the best sitcoms in history, Steptoe and Son and Frasier among them, and Rudy’s Rare Records clearly follows in their footsteps. Once again the son is pretty straitlaced compared with the father, in this case we have a third generation too though in the shape of Adam’s son, who clearly takes after his granddad. Sensible chap.  


So much for the setup then, how does it translate on stage? For starters it’s blessed with a great cast. Fresh from recent dramatic triumphs (Othello and Fences) Henry has a more subtle edge to his performance (although he can quickly turn on the old Lenny comedy tap) and there are some touching moments of pathos between him and his onstage father brilliantly portrayed by Larrington Walker. 



If you’re not used to a broad Jamaican accent Walker’s may take a moment or two to get used to but it’s the real deal and both writer and actor have clearly had some fun coming up with some wonderfully amusing lines and verbal mash ups. Keep an eye open for Larrington’s dance routine too, boy that dude can move. Joivan Wade is perfect as Adam’s son, I won’t reveal the plot twists but again it creates some neat moments for intergenerational bonding. Speaking of the plot it’s a fairly simple tale of a record shop under pressure from developers, practical Adam wants to sell up whilst Rudy won’t even consider it. There’s a great line early on in the show that perhaps sums up why he feels that way, “This place is an art gallery” he explains gesticulating at the rows of records on the shelves. With that broad Jamaican accent though he places an ‘h’ in front of the word art...I could be imaging all this but doesn’t that just sum up the difference between record shops and downloads? There’s a real h(e)art and soul to the former that you just can’t replace with a click or two.

An entertaining support cast add some extra spice to the whole thing with Natasha Godfrey as that rare subgenre, “a black goth”, Lorna Gayle as the subject of Rudy’s affections and Jeffrey Kissoon as his oldest friend and partner in crime...mainly card playing, rum drinking and chasing the ladies. 



Having a live band onstage is a great idea, they could’ve skimped on this and used pre-recorded stuff but this makes the production a bit more of a cross between a play and gig, especially during the second half of the show which sees the cast perform some old school classics. Put it all together and it adds up to a proper feel good night out with plenty of chuckles along the way. Any music fans over 40 will recognise places like Rudy’s from their teenage years, anyone much under this age will hopefully get some sense of what they’re missing and seek out the few remaining record stores still left (happily in Brum both Swordfish and The Diskery are still alive and well). If this particular Rudy could send a 'message to you' I guess that would be the best of all...

Rudy’s Rare Records is on at The REP until September 20th before moving on to the ‘ackney Empire. Cor blimey guv, apples and pears etc.

All photos copyright and courtesy of Robert Day

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The right Duff...




One of my personal favourites, the lovely Mr Patrick Duff, is currently on tour across the UK with a date this Thursday September 11th at the Hare & Hounds.



Gutted that I can't make this one but you have no excuse...well you might...you might be in Latvia or somewhere...but if you're free and in Brum please go along. Trust me, you won't be disappointed. Tickets from our chums at Birmingham Promoters right here. For older readers here's a slice of vintage Duff from his days in Strangelove.



 

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Roland Gift / John Simmit @ The Hare and Hounds, Wednesday 3rd September 2014


Anyone who was alive and kicking (hmmm, good title for a song there) back in the mid 80s might be a little surprised to Fine Young Cannibals’ lead singer playing the relatively intimate Hare and Hounds tonight. Of course he’s kept a pretty low profile for 20 years or so but that didn’t seem to do Kate Bush much harm eh? Maybe he’s just dipping his toe in the water before some bigger solo dates? Whatever the reason tonight’s gig, announced a mere three weeks ago, was unsurprisingly sold out...and more than a trifle moist as a couple of hundred 40-50 somethings packed into the place.

First up though opening act Dipsy...from the Teletubbies. No...I’ve not been on the ‘shrooms again...really. Well, the bloke who played him anyway, John Simmit, in his stand up guise (something he was doing before he was plucked from obscurity and pretty much kept there thanks to being sewn into a lime green costume for four years). It’s pretty unusual to have a stand up opening at a music gig but I’m all for mixing stuff up. He had some fairly good lines and routines and generated a healthy number of chuckles though, which is as much as you can ask for with an audience that’s there for one thing and one thing only.


Joining his 6 piece band onstage Gift looked pretty good, a little ‘fuller’ (as one reviewer tactfully put Kate Bush’s appearance recently), but in remarkably good shape for a bloke in his mid 50s. Of course it’s the voice that matters. Gift was always a distinctive vocalist, singing at the higher end of the scale with a slight quiver in his delivery that hinted at the soul staples of heartache and pain. The good news...no, make that great news...is that it’s still there. Perhaps just a tiny little lower in places the only stretch seemed to be the odd high note during She Drives Me Crazy. And let’s face it 8 year old choirboys would struggle to hit some of those notes. Speaking of the songs the set was a crowd delighting mix of the hits (ALL of ‘em) plus some new tracks from forthcoming album (and soundtrack to Roland’s new self penned film apparently) Return To Vegas. There’s a pleasing old school 60s feel to a lot of the new material with some swirling Hammond organ, girl group harmonies and hooky choruses in there. As I failed to grab a setlist from the clutches of the megafans (some of whom seemed on the verge of orgasm at times) I’d only be guessing at the titles but the country soul of She’s Not Your Girlfriend stood out as a little different and 24/7, with its classic soul style countdown of the days of the week, hit the spot rather nicely. Nice to hear It's Only Money from his self released 2002 album too. It didn't make much of a splash back then but it's a bit of a grower. 


Time and time again it’s the voice that really ‘sells’ each song. You can tell he’s also an actor. There’s a way he inhabits the lyrics, it’s subtle but believable most notably tonight on a surprisingly moving Not The Man I Used To Be. Despite the familiarity of the song it somehow seemed like he was singing it for the very first time. I have no idea of his private life but the performance of this track and several others seemed to have an honesty and rawness that's tricky to fake, no matter how much of an old thesp you may be. Predictably the biggest cheers were reserved for more upbeat stuff though. The intro to Good Thing may still sound like Gloria Jones’ version of Tainted Love but it’s a cracking track. Northern Soul goes 80s pop. Can it really be a quarter of a century old? Jeez.

Despite this being one of his first solo shows for years (although he’s toured extensively with Jools Holland and played the odd revival festival) Gift seemed pretty relaxed up there this evening, even enjoying/enduring a little banter with some of the more vociferous members of the audience. He’s soooo well spoken too. Okay not everyone who grows up in Brum or Hull (Gift’s homes for his formative years) has a regional twang but that accent’s pure Patrick Stewart in places. There’s evidence of a dry wit too. “Does anyone like punk?” he asks at one point. A good dozen or so old punks cheers uproariously “Okay...here’s some reggae” he deadpanned before launching into a slightly dubby Ever Fallen In Love. That’s the only significant fiddling about they did with the hits, everything else was dished up as nature intended and it was timely reminder of why the Fine Young Cannibals Raw and the Cooked album sold 5 million copies or so. Whether Gift will ever hit (if indeed he even wants to) those dizzy heights again remains to be seen. The voice is still special though, classically soulful but with that tremulous edge soaking virtually every line with emotion.  Not the man he used to be? Nope, even better I’d say.   

Photos courtesy of the lovely Mr Ian Dunn at Principle Photography