Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Love Me Tender @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Monday 24th August 2015

More than two dozen of the King’s best loved songs, one of Brit Soul’s finest voices and Barry Evans from EastEnders, these are just some of the ingredients of Love Me Tender, a brand new jukebox musical from the production team behind Hairspray, Legally Blonde, Jersey Boys and West Side Story.

Set in an anonymous small town in 1950s America it tells the tale of boy meets girl...well, tough nut female mechanic in this case, who soon pretends to be a man in a slightly bizarre attempt to woo him (devotees of Shakespeare may detect just the merest hint of Twelfth Night - arguably one of the first ever gender bender comedies - about it all). That’s not the only budding relationship though, pretty much all of the main characters fall for each other along the way creating more love triangles than a geometry teachers’ convention.

Given Elvis’ movie career it’s perhaps appropriate that Love Me Tender has its tongue firmly in its cheek...just behind its curled lip...throughout the show but it’s all affectionately done and the producers miss few tricks when it comes to shoehorning in songs (or just the odd line even) to match particular plot developments. Strip away the plot though and you’ve still got some of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest hits and there are some particularly fine solo vocal performances from Mica Paris (as streetwise bar owner Sylvia), Laura Tebbit (as grease monkey Natalie) and Mark Anderson (as the geeky Dennis). Listen up for Aretha Ayeh (as Lorraine) and Mica’s That’s All Right in the first half of the show though. It takes some voice to hold your own when Paris is in full flow but Aretha’s every bit as powerful and soulful. Kudos to Shaun Williamson too, he may have made a career out of gently taking the piss out of himself (notably on Extras) but the dude can belt out a song with the best of ‘em and he provided some of the biggest laughs of the night. Good ‘Evans!’

Ben Lewis is delightfully cheesy as Chad too, channelling his inner Fonz, albeit with an eye for the dicks as well as the chicks. Ahem.

In amongst all the goofing around the musical addresses some serious issues. Perhaps the racial elements are a little uncomfortable, especially the dancing KKK troupe (okay it’s clearly mocking the whole thing and it’s got a great visual payoff but even so...), then again maybe whitewashing the racial tension endemic in 50s America (hell, things don’t seem much better in some states even now) might have been just as offensive?

Cleverly staged, especially the opening Jailhouse Rock scene (I imagine that took some serious rehearsal) and the repeated use of the cast as bits of the scenery or props, the choreography was also suitably hip thrusting and lively throughout blending some classic Presley moves with a more modern twist.

You can guess how it all ends and, predictable as it is, it’s still heart warming stuff making this a musical you...wait for it...simply Can’t Help Falling In Love with. 

Love Me Tender is on at The New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday August 29th. Tickets right here. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Just over a folking fortnight to go!

In just over two weeks Moseley Folk celebrates its tenth birthday with one of its strongest line ups ever. Friday’s highlights include Du Blonde (the artist formerly known as Beth Jeans Houghton), Anna Calvi and Spritualized, Saturday dishes up Gaz Coombes and Idlewild and Sunday...well...it’s only The Polyphonic Spree (arguably the best festival band on the planet...any planet) and The Monkees innit!! Listen to the band(s)!:

In between all that you’ve got oodles of other great bands, the living legend that is Mr Martin Carthy, scrummy food and drink and the now traditional straw wars on Sunday (trust me, you’ll be picking straw out of your nether regions for months). If Mother Nature behaves herself (she’s normally had a pint or two so it’s all good) the whole shebang will be bathed in that glorious autumnal sunshine that makes everything seem just that little bit magical...even the loos. Tickets still currently available but beware, Mo Folk’s been known to sell out and this one’s extra special. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Jjuke - A Little More Love

Oh dear, what happened to the summer this year? Okay, so I'm not a fan of the sweaty dusty too hot to think kind of days but a little gentle heat and just the merest hint of sunburn wouldn't go amiss would it eh? It's actually cold here in Baron Towers today, COLD...in August. Pah. Even the leaves are starting to give up and fall off way too soon and the bees on the lavender aren't buzzing...they're shuddering. Poor things. Anyway it's against this backdrop that this fluffy slice of 80s style summertime pop dropped into my in box. I have no idea who Jjuke is but it's just the kind of track that makes you want to dance around in the sun wearing just a pair of Y-fronts and a smile. Enjoy.

PS: A Little More Love is out on So Tangy on September 7th.

Friday, August 14, 2015

42nd Street @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Thursday 13th August 2015

Take around 100 hopefuls, give them the chance to train with the Alex’s creative team and then let them experience the full on ‘smell of the greasepaint and roar of the crowd’ that you only really get in a professional theatre. That’s what the New Alexandra Theatre’s Stage Experience offers and I’ll admit it, I was expecting enthusiasm and smiles but not the kind of polish you usually get at The Alex. Well, colour me three shades of wrong, every blister, pulled muscle and strained vocal cord that this cast may have suffered over the past two weeks that they spent honing their moves and learning their lines was well and truly worth it.

Of course 42nd Street’s pretty much the perfect choice as it’s all about new talent getting its big break and there’s certainly plenty of that on offer in this full scale production. Caprice Lane was perfect as the fledgling star in the making Peggy Sawyer, a role that’s certain to be reflected in her real life career, and Matt Pidgeon out-tapped...well...pretty much anyone I’ve ever seen...playing opposite her as Billy Lawlor.

Playing roles designed for much older actors and actresses is always a huge challenge but Mollie-Anne Riley nailed the fading star Dorothy Brock and Mark Shaun Walsh impressed as the producer on the edge, Julian Marsh. The full cast numbers were a particular delight as well. It’s all too rare these days to see dozens of dancing feet on a stage and, despite the youngest being just 9 years old, the synchronisation was remarkably good, presumably due to some pretty intensive training and endless rehearsals (I’m guessing that the choreographer and director Pollyann Tanner will need a good lie down after these past few weeks). There’s no skimping on the production values anywhere in fact. I’m sure I heard someone say that this show uses a washing machine bustin’ 450 different outfits, the set’s been used in the West End and even The Alex's regular orchestra were used to provide the music. To quote Julian Marsh in the show itself, “Congratulations kids, that was damn good!”

42nd Street is on at The New Alex Theatre until Saturday August 15th. Tickets right here. See the stars of tomorrow (seriously, I bet my bottom dollar some of these will make it to full on West End starring roles), today!       

Monday, August 10, 2015

Yr Welcome returns...

Check out that for a line up. The cream of Birmingham bands (plus a few from further afield) across two days at The Wagon and Horses for a mere tenner (or £7.50 per day). Bugger me backwards that's a bargain. Tickets right here, right now. And here's just a sniff of what you can expect...better glue yer ears on or they're liable to get ripped clean off.

Rich pickings...

Beautiful stuff eh? It’s always a little sad when a talented Brummie (or adopted Brummie for that matter) leaves the City for somewhere else. That’s life of course, the world’s ruddy massive and there’s no reason why any of us should stay in one place but still, they’re missed. One of those who packed his trunk and headed off down under (which is about as far from Brum as you can get) is Rich Batsford, a lovely chap and a darn fine musician to boot. Back in the day he was also one of the driving forces behind Project X, something which I’m ashamed to say pretty much passed me by at the time, but there’s a wonderful Wikipedia article on it that’s well worth a read. 

I was fortunate to catch a couple of his solo gigs before Rich left and they were truly beautiful evenings, just Rich, his piano and an open door to his soul. Adelaide’s a heck of a long way to go to see him again but luckily he’s ‘popping’ (I’m pretty sure the number 11 goes as far as Adelaide) back to the UK soon to perform his show, Classically Chilled Piano the Edinburgh Festival, and squeezing in a rare hometown gig in Brum too. You can catch him at the Birmingham Buddhist Centre, 11 Park Road, Moseley on Saturday September 12th, 8pm. Tickets £10/£7. Highly recommended. 

Friday, August 07, 2015

Goodnight Lenin / Hoopla Blue / Chartreuse @ The Hare and Hounds, Thursday August 6th 2015

Three and a half of Brum’s finest bands on offer this evening courtesy of the lovely This Is Tmrw team. First up relative newbies Chartreuse with their neat boy/girl vocal interplay, 80s tinged pop (think a little bit of Aztec Camera, Prefab Sprout and Deacon Blue mixed up with the more recent Best Coast) and shimmery surftastic guitars. Bonus points for the double drumming climax too which saw the band’s female vocalist Harriet teach hers a lesson it won’t forget in a hurry. Impressive stuff.

Hoopla Blue continue to defy genres, gleefully drifting from Floyd-y noodlings one minute to Wild Beasts-ish flights of fancy the next, adding a little Highlife and steel drum sounding synths along the way. Texturally rich, musically schizophrenic and played with the kind of intensity that makes you think their very lives depend on it the Blue are growing into something really special. Hoop hoop hooray.

Speaking of special things tonight was the first ever appearance of a 7 piece version of Goodnight Lenin, their numbers boosted by the addition of 50% of Free School (or 66.6% depending on if you count Greg Bird as a full time member). As their last gig at The Rainbow proved GNL are going through something of a metamorphosis right now, adding rawer, rockier, hookier material to their existing more folk focussed back catalogue. Tonight’s set kicked off with a brace of new tunes that well and truly fitted into the first category, played with such ferocity that lead singer John Fell even busted a string. Holy folk! There’s still an American vibe to the music but these songs have more of the gutsy feel of Springsteen at his bombastic best (Start Over, dripping with mentions of ‘gasoline’, could well be the distant cousin of Born To Run) and with the new members sprinkling a little electronic fairy dust over the whole thing it’s the ‘phattest’ they’ve ever sounded.

There was still room for plenty of ‘old skool’ Lenin in the set too though, pick of the bunch being a sublimely brilliant version of You Were Always Waiting and firm fan favourite Old Cold Hands. Whether these songs will carry on being played if the band continues to get its rocks off remains to be seen...or heard.   

A mid set Twitter contest for the audience proved that the band’s not lost its sense of fun, something which perhaps helped them build a devoted fanbase in the first place. Challenged to tweet something witty the winning entry was “What’s ET short for? Cos he’s got little legs”. Boom boom. The prize? A copy of Jurassic Park...not the latest one but the old one. Still, the bloke who won it seemed chuffed enough.

There’s room for much more electronica if this 7 piece experiment’s going to continue, perhaps more so on the older, gentler songs, and when the band hits a groove you’re sometimes left wanting more but most importantly of all they seem to be enjoying playing more than ever right now. Free of the weight of expectation that came with the release of their much anticipated debut album perhaps they’re just seeing where the road leads ‘em this time? Judging by the audience’s deservedly enthusiastic reaction to this new 'meatier' Lenin it’ll be bigger venues than this before long.