Category Archives: Media

Dean Friedman, Shinfield Players Theatre, 12th May 2018 – Thank your Lucky Stars

I don’t think that I have ever been able to walk from my house to a gig before, well not since I was at university perhaps. But last night we were able to do just that as we went to see Dean Friedman live at Shinfield Players Theatre. It seemed like an odd choice of venue but I wasn’t complaining as it was nice and close.

When you mention Dean Friedman to people (in the UK at least) they almost always remember the hit single Lucky Stars which topped at #3 in 1978. Friedman said that in his native US he is more known as the Million Matzoh Balls man. Which just goes to show how some music appeals to one market and not to others. It also goes someway to explain why Friedman is doing such a long tour in the UK.

Audiences are a funny lot. I always seem to be seated behind the tallest man, with the biggest head and so it was last night. Worse still was that the couple insisted in talking. I would have told them to shut up but as previously recorded he was much bigger than me. Anyway at one point the woman said to the man “Are you enjoying this, do you want to leave?” My heart soared and I got really excited when he got up and went. Unfortunately it must have just been a loo break and he returned all too soon. I spent the rest of the show with my head at right angles to my body.

The couple behind me were also chatterboxes (if people want a good conversation why don’t they fuck off down the pub or stay at home?). They also clearly hadn’t been to many gigs. The bloke was complaining that Friedman played no songs that he knew in the first half – “should’ve started with Lydia” was his considered opinion. How that would have worked I’m not sure given that the whole point of the gig was that it was the 40th anniversary of “Well Well Said the Rocking Chair” and Lydia is the 7th track…

Anyway, back to the music. Friedman reminds me of a cross between James Taylor and Richard Stilgoe, taking the smooth music from Taylor and the wit from Stilgoe. But where Friedman really made the night for me was in the stories he told between the songs. These were almost always related to the next song in some way and really helped to put it in context. Hearing the lyrics when you know the back story is just great.

It was a very enjoyable evening so much so that we intend to book again as he is also playing our favourite restaurant, The Crooked Billet. How cool is that top food and music!

Marillion, Hexagon, 19th April 2018 – So Here I am Once More

It has been a while since the last time I saw Marillion live – 34 years to be precise. A lot has happened since then for both them and me. My last outing to see them was at the Apollo in Oxford when Fish was still the front man. He burst onto the stage through a large bit of white paper I seem to remember. These days he’s not quite so active and is more concerned with his potted plants and new greenhouse.

Support for the band was Roxanne de Bastion, a folky-poppy singer who arrived on stage on crutches wearing only what appeared to be a nightshirt, one red boot and a leg cast. It was an interesting ensemble!

Next up was something else that I hadn’t seen before. Someone, the tour manager, I guess came out and told us about how they weren’t one of those restrictive bands. They were happy for us to take pictures and post videos to YouTube but please don’t use your mobile because it blocks the view of the person behind. This seemed somewhat contradictory to me. If you spotted anyone taking pictures you’d know that they were, apparently, a “twat”. I guess that makes me a twat then, although I did wait until the second encore.

And finally, they were here, on stage in front of me.

They make for an interesting bunch of people. Out front is Steve Hogarth who was excitable and expressive (His movements during the songs reminded me of comedian David Armand’s interpretive dance routine to Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn”). He also had an odd line in musical instruments including a cricket bat, yes, a cricket bat which had been converted into some sort of keyboard. There was no indication why but I suspect that the answer might just have been because he could.

Hogarth was backed by the most studious bunch of musicians I have seen in a very long time. Lead guitarist Steve Rothery very much reminded me of my secondary school headmaster! They were also the most hi-tech band I’ve seen in a while too. The keyboard player was rocking a Mac Pro while I’m pretty certain that Rothery was connected to mission control and coordinating the latest Space-X launch between songs!

And the songs. Well they played a good selection of Hogarth era tunes including a several from the excellent latest record. They then came on for two encores during which Hogarth implored us to “Sit down. You’re too old to stand up” (he was right) before ending with Garden Party. Here’s to the next 34 years!

Chris Difford & Boo Hewerdine, The Forge, 6th April 2018 – Cars and Girls

Today we finally collected our new car after several false starts during which Hyundai proved that they were incapable of mounting an efficient delivery operation. There was a tedious hand over process that had to be sat through before we could finally get the keys though.

When we arrived we handed over the keys to our existing car, which was been offered in part exchange. The salesman went off and collected the keys for our new car and on returning opened his desk draw and put them in there. No doubt this was for safe keeping and to stop us running off with them and driving the vehicle that we had paid for before all the boring paperwork was completed. Whatever the reason Helen and I found it a bit odd that he couldn’t just leave them on the desk. We’re clearly not trustworthy looking!

As the salesperson was reading down the delivery sheet he realised that the car mats hadn’t been included. These weren’t any car mats, oh no, these were luxury mats for which we had paid an additional £60 (everytime I say that sentence, and I say it a lot, it always amazes me that the garage can be so miserly over a set of mats when you are spending tens of thousands on a car). Anyway, off he went to get a set. He appeared a few minutes later empty handed. He then made his way to the i30 show car from which he took the mats and walked out past us to our car waiting outside where he fitted them! Neither we nor he mentioned it! Our excuse was that by this point we just wanted to escape. It’s not clear what his excuse was.

Finally we were allowed to leave and drive away. Our first proper journey was down the lovely A33 to Basingstoke where we were going to be seeing Chris Difford & Boo Hewerdine, the former of Squeeze and the latter The Bible.

The duo were appearing at the Anvil not in the main auditorium, that was packed out with Jasper Carrot devotees, but in the Forge. The Forge is the musical equivalent to Harry Potter’s home at the Dursleys in that it is literally the space under the stairs. It is tiny, or “intimate” as Difford regularly referred to it, holding just under 100 people. The last gig we saw at the Forge was James Grant and it seems to suit this kind of music particularly well.

Hewerdine came on first, there is no backstage at the Forge so artists have to come in through the same door as the audience, and played a handful of songs. Hewerdine is a terrific songwriter and has a lovely dry self deprecating wit which he uses to great effect between beautiful acoustic renditions of his songs. In a way he very much reminds me of James Grant, both were in bands that were minor hits in the 80’s (The Bible and Love and Money) before going off to forge solo careers writing songs that tell a real story and are powerful emotionally.

After half a dozen songs Hewerdine was off and there was a short intermission before he was back to introduce Difford. However, rather than launching straight into a run through his extensive back catalogue they first off started with a Q&A between themselves. I got the feeling that this was more to warm up Difford, who seemed a little uneasy, than to provide value to the audience. One reason for Difford’s unease might have been that his brother was in the audience which may have been off putting.

When Difford came on he was armed with an iPad which he snapped into a stand in front of him. He never again touched it all evening but was clearly looking at it so either he was watching the telly or it was prompting him for words and stories. In some ways this was a bit odd as the structure of the evening was autobiographical and I’d imagine that he does the same stories every night. Whatever it was great to hear them and hear some classic Squeeze tracks played acoustically and hear his rock ‘n roll life.

That’s three members of Squeeze we have seen live now, I’m thinking that we should go and see Jools Holland so that we can tick off a couple more!

Steven Wilson, Royal Albert Hall, 29th March 2018 – The Sound of Muzak

This morning at 10am I was in front of my computer trying (in vain as it happened) to get tickets to see Snow Patrol in April. The tickets were going to be £70 and it was standing. Remember what I said about standing before? In the evening I was seated in the splendour of the Royal Albert Hall to see Steven Wilson for which I paid only £50. I’d never seen him live before and (spoiler alert!) he was tremendous.

The Royal Albert Hall is a great place and perfect for someone like Wilson. Not only does it look great but because it was designed for music the acoustics are fantastic and you get a good view no matter where you are. Contrast this to the awful Wembley arena where it sounds like you are in a bucket and the view is poor.

Normally you go to a show and you listen to the music and watch the band play but this was much more a multimedia experience. I’d read reviews of Porcupine Tree in the past and this sounds very similar. There was a giant screen behind the stage showing videos. Occasionally a net screen was drawn in front of the stage onto which things were projected, such as Ninet Tayeb (above) and dancers. On stage we were treated to Indian dancers dancers and the ever entertaining “Sir” Nicholas Beggs (for someone most associated with pop Beggs does like his prog regularly appearing with both Wilson and Steve Hackett).

Wilson covers a big range of styles moving quite effortlessly from pop through to heavy rock and a lot of prog. As last nights gig was being recorded for dvd there wasn’t a lot of talking between tracks so as to squeeze as many tracks in but there was one interesting section where Wilson stuck up for pop. This had come about because Wilson’s latest album, ‘To the bone’ is perhaps more accessible and, yes, poppy for some. Wilson made a spirited defence of pop and said the “best band ever is the beatles and second best is Abba. I’ve written a great pop song” and he has – Permanating (comes with a great video above). Last night’s rendition also included the dancers

WIlson said, towards the end of the set, that “I’m going to end with two miserable songs. One is miserable with a sing along chorus and the second one is just miserable!” He was right!

Who needs Snow Patrol?

Hamilton, a Load of Rap

It seems that the lead times from ticket purchase to actually going to the event are getting longer and longer. We waited the best part of six months from booking to seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Yesterday, some 13 months after we booked the tickets, we got to see the musical that everyone is talking about! Yes, we finally got to see Hamilton.

Now those of you that know me will probably assume that this is a musical about the life of Stevenage’s best known export, F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton. However, you’d be wrong, this was about the rather lesser known (to me and, one suspects most others) Alexander Hamilton one of the American founding fathers. The musical has had rave reviews on Broadway and I was interested to see just how well it played in front of a UK audience.

The show is written by Lin-Manuel Miranda someone I knew only from his small role in the TV show House. In that he does some rapping and the style and feel was very similar to that used in Hamilton. I’m no great rap fan and I must admit that there were times when I wished that there were subtitles. That said there are other musical styles too such as the appearances by King George III which were probably my favourite bits.

Like every West End musical there was a terrific cast (who knew George Washington was black?), a superb set and I came away having learnt a lot more about the America founding fathers and Hamilton in particular. He didn’t strike me as a particularly likable person and get his comeuppance in the end.

What I found most particular was the audience though who I came to suspect must have been predominantly American. They let out a huge cheer when Washington was introduced and laughed heartily at the jokes about New Jersey which went over my head. But most weird was the cheering after every song as if it was the end of the show, along with the obligatory whooping and a hollerin. I started to wonder just how would they top this at the end? With an instant standing ovation of course! I’m not suggesting that the show wasn’t worth a standing ovation but it all felt a bit contrived to me.

So, to sum up, Hamilton is a superb musical with a great back story and the right balance between humour and history but it needs a better audience!

The Amazons, Reading Hexagon, 10th February 2018 – I’m getting too old for this!

A year or so ago I discovered Reading band The Amazons and really loved their music. So when I heard that they were going to be playing a homecoming gig at the Hexagon in Reading I had to go. Tickets went on sale August 2017 and were either seated in the balcony or standing downstairs. I love live music but I have reached the age where I won’t stand for long periods any more, so I elected to get a seat in the balcony.

A week ago I got out my ticket for the gig and my heart sank. It very clearly said “General Admission” on it. In other words – standing. I still have no idea how I managed to screw this up so badly but there it was. So last night I went along to the Hexagon to see The Amazons and stood for the duration. That said I wasn’t willing to also stand for what could be a couple of dodgy support bands so I got to the venue just before I knew The Amazons would be on.

I had feared that I would be the oldest person in the place but that fear was unfounded as it turned out. Myself and all the other old people formed a line around the back of the auditorium and let the drunk students get on with their stuff in front of us. They were certainly “enthusiastic” and interesting to watch, although I’d have perhaps liked to have been a little further away from the action. What seemed to be happening would be that somehow they would clear a large space in which a couple of inebriated youths would dance before there was a massive bundle like a playground game of British Bulldog. This continual expanding and contracting had the effect of pushing the old fogies further and further away from the stage.

One of the great things about new bands is they have virtually no material to play and so it was last night. By the time the lads had rattled through their first album and a couple of covers they had managed to fill an hour and a quarter. Even I can stand for that length of time!

What was that? You want to know what the music was like? You see here’s the thing, by the end of the third track my ears were buzzing so much that I couldn’t make out much at all. I know that they played Black Magic, Junk Food Forever, Palace and most of the rest of the album but it was just a fuzzy mass of noise. Part of that is the acoustics in the Hexagon which are right up there with Wembley Arena for awful sound. It’s also because it was just so loud that my ears couldn’t take it.

So, to recap. The Amazons are great. The Hexagon is awful as a music venue. I’m getting too old for this!

Writefest 2017

According to the blurb Progress Theatre’s Writefest is in its 12th year but previous incarnations have passed us by. The idea is that six local authors write a short (c. 20 minutes) play and all are shown in one evening . It’s an interesting idea and one that means that if you don’t like one of the plays there is bound to be another along in a minute that you do like. We went to see if that was true last Thursday.

The six plays were very different, even if there were themes that were similar. For example political unrest, people who are different than us and Brexit all made their way into the offerings in one way or another. The sets were minimal just a chair or a table in order to allow the stage to be set quickly between each one and some of the actors were shared too.

In terms of the plays themselves it was a real mixed bag. The evening started strongly with “A Little Nibble” which told the story of a good Samaritan who was brought home by the person she helped only to discover that they were a zombie and wanted to eat her. Next up was “Pen” which while the idea was sound – that memories stored in the cloud are lost in the event of a disaster and paper is forever – but, for me, this one didn’t really work and wasn’t a very strong story.

The first half ended with “The Last Bus” which I think was probably my favourite of the evening. This showed a couple who were waiting to catch the last bus out of Pergatory which was being shut down. Nicely acted and a good idea.

The second half started with “If it be now” which was my least favourite of the lot mainly because it was a bit of a mess. What went on, I think, was that a couple were planning to kill someone who seemed to be stalking them after the wife of the couple had an affair with him a few year previously. It could also have been that the wife was setting up the husband but this wasn’t clear. It also came to an abrupt end and nobody seemed quite sure if it had ended or not.

Next up was “Buried” about a man struggling with his sexuality and hiding the fact that he really wanted to be a woman despite getting married and having children. This was done by having his inner voice played by another actor trying to guide him to do what he wanted rather than what society demanded. I would hope that this is an outdated concept but maybe it’s not.

And finally “Fairy Tails”- one that wasn’t set in the here and now as it was a fantasy of three, well I’m not sure what they were, who snapped the tails of fairies to make calls and ended up killing one of them. It was actually better than I have made it sound.

It was an interesting evening and there were some interesting ideas there but I am not sure that 20 minutes is enough time to give the subjects that some tried to cover justice. Also some left just a little too much to the imagination (or maybe I just suffer from a lack of it?).

The best bit in the whole evening though was when an audience member behind us, in a voice that they clearly thought was a whisper but really wasn’t, said to their partner “NICE COFFEE”. I spent several minutes following that suppressing a giggle!

Outdoor Cinema in August in the UK – What Could Possibly go Wrong?

Sometimes what seems like a bad idea becomes inspired after the event and other times, well, let’s just say putting on an open air cinema in August in the UK is a brave thing to do.

Originally we had intended to visit the Cult Screens open air cinema in Reading last year, however, for various reasons this didn’t happen. When we saw that this year they were showing La La Land, a Thompson favourite, we decided to try again.

I’d been watching the weather all week and the forecast suggested that we might be lucky and avoid a soaking. On the day though the rain was heavy and I swear at one point there was snow coming down for one brief moment. Anyway, as the allotted hour approached the skies were dark but it was at least dry so we set off.

When you booked you had three seating options: bean bag, deckchair or bring your own (and consequently sit at the back). We elected for a bean bag which was more bag than bean but perfectly adequate.  Unsurprisingly these were allocated on a first come, first served basis but the view seemed pretty good no matter where you were.

A change from last year was that you are now able to bring in your own food which plenty had done and we too wished we had. This is what I had which was fine but I wished that there were a few more options.

Of course, the most important thing is the film. By eight thirty it was reasonably dark and the film started – no lengthy ads or previews of forthcoming features here. The screen itself was what appeared to be an inflatable with a white frontage – perfectly adequate given the surroundings and sound was pretty strong too.

On some balmy summers evening  I’m sure that this would have been a pleasant experience but there was a cold wind that was blowing from across the Thames. Lying down on the bean bag helped present a low profile to the wind but I was also grateful for the blanket we had plus a wooly hat… In August!

And if you don’t believe me here’s a picture taken on the night with me not looking at the camera for some reason.

We had a good evening but in future I think that we would make a late booking when we could be more certain about the weather and we’d also take along our own food but it was certainly a different experience to your usual trip to the Vue or Showcase.

A Cut Above

Some 25 years ago my first son was born to be joined a couple of years later by the second. Who knew that two small people could take up so much space? Despite moving to a larger house to accommodate everyone and everything we quickly ran out of space and realised something had to go. Having considered which of the two boys should be released I was told that wasn’t an option so the axe fell upon my large collection of vinyl!

Looking back now I regret getting rid of pretty much all my collection gathered since picking up a copy of Mud Rock Vol 2 in 1975. However, then it really did make sense. Vinyl was dying, I had most of my records on the much more compact discs and we really did need the space. Oxfam was the winner that day.

Wind forward 20 odd years and vinyl decides to make a come back. By this point I need reading glasses and can no longer read the tiny print on a CD sleeve so the thought of something much larger suddenly appeals! My original Dual CS 505-2 has long given up the ghost so I invest in a cheap new deck and start hitting the charity shops and end up with a load of tatty vinyl.

Another three years pass and the replacement deck also expires so I upgrade once again, this time to an Audio Technica AT-LP5. This presents a different set of problems in that, compared to the last deck, it is huge and heavy and putting on or taking off a record requires a dexterity that I no longer possess. So now we also need to find a new resting place for this deck, a search that is ongoing.

At the same time I was surprised to find that collection now numbers 150 records and has outgrown the space that was allocated to it taking me neatly back to the position I was in 20 years ago!

All this is leading me to re-evaluate my purchasing decisions in order to inject a little quality into the collection and so I am trying to adhere to the following “guidelines”. I will only buy a record if it is:

  • a limited edition in some way (so numbered, signed, coloured vinyl etc)
  • 180g vinyl (amazed at how flimsy 140g feels now)
  • new (not cheap secondhand unless it is…)
  • a classic collectable (which, of course, covers a multitude of sins)
  • accompanied by a download card

I appreciate that this gives me a huge amount of wiggle room (I’m not that stupid) but if I do try to keep fairly closely to that I might be able to build a collection that is worth having and playing.

The good news is that both the boys have left home so now I can turn both their old rooms into record storage!

I say there is no darkness but ignorance

Some reading this may well conclude that I am either a heathen or, perhaps, a philistine – maybe even both. (My use of both heathen and philistine should count in my favour though).

However, let’s get it out of the way early. I don’t rate Shakespeare at all. So you can imagine my level of enthusiasm when it was suggested that we go with friends to see Twelfth Night at The Globe in London. I’m a firm believer that experiences are a great way to happiness and so I classed this visit in the same bucket, although I went along with more hope than expectation.

I nearly had a last minute reprieve when the friends we were going with, who also had the tickets, were delayed on the train into Waterloo. This last glimmer of hope was dashed as they ran from the station to the theatre arriving just as the bell was sounding for us to take our seats. Well, when I say “seats” I mean hard wooden benches. There are, no doubt, prisons in Siberia with more conformable seating arrangements. Nevertheless even this was preferable to the standing area at the front given the continual rain that fell on them during the play.

And then it began and the biggest shock was that Shakespeare seemed to have written a camp musical set in Scotland. Lots of jolly sailors with flags dancing to 70’s disco and some bloke with an impressive chest dressed up in a glittery dress and huge wig. I don’t mind a camp musical at all, I’ve seen a few in my time, but add the Bard’s impenetrable prose on top of that and you have an almighty mess.

Now, to be fair, everyone else seemed to be having a good time and laughing away so it could just be me but I don’t think so. Everyone else had simply been brainwashed into believing the “Shakespeare is the greatest playwright” schtick.

Our next trip to the theatre is to see Young Marx, the next play by Richard Bean – now there’s a playwright!