Category Archive: Music

La Roux + Meanwhile @ The Institute, Birmingham – Saturday 8th November 2014

Tonight we’re borrowing the good Doctor’s Tardis for time travel paradoxically back in time to the modern day. A retro- inspired synth-pop dance-athon back to the future courtesy of 1983, but actually right here, and right now – as we take a trip to The Institute courtesy of Grammy-winning act, La Roux.

La Roux formed in 2006, made up of singer Elly Jackson and record producer Ben Langmaid. Their debut self titled album was a commercial and critical success – winning a Grammy and spawning hit singles ‘In for the Kill’ and ‘Bulletproof.’  The album sold 2 million and spawned 6 million singles sales.The follow up proved a somewhat difficult feet, and Langmaid walked, leaving Jackson on her own, taking the bands name and finally releasing the second La Roux album ‘Trouble in Paradise’ in 2014. Following some low-key dates over the summer, she’s here at the Institute tonight – part of a string of UK dates and then off to Europe.

La Roux-12

Meanwhile…. we still thinking. We’ll maybe not – but we are transported back to precisely 1983 with support band Meanwhile. Think of electronic pop funk – tune that could merrily be the soundtrack to Miami Vice or The Breakfast Club. Lead singer and keyboardist has the blonde lock of Sylvian, with rock out vocals. They’re newbies – and have their debut EP out ‘The Element Yes’ on the 1 December 2014.  If commercial American retro-pop electronica is your scene take a look at em – and maybe give them a like on Facebook to get their likes over 970 and follow ‘em on Twitter – they’ve just 355 followers…

And in between performers tonight, the lights been to the glitter ball in the center of the high ceiling venue – party is a-coming. And  a little after 8.30 (we have a 10pm curfew on the venue tonight before Drum and Bass party night appears) dry ice permeates the stage, lights go down – we’re in darkness. La Roux take to the stage; a panting chant starts up, repeating and repeating as the keyboards join in to screams and cheers from the crowd. This is recent single ‘Let Me Down Gently’ and as Jackson is illuminated from the darkness and the song starts to rise the crowd cheer.

“Hello Birmingham – tech problems as we started up – thanks for coming out… Cold outside innit…?” as Jackson takes us into the next track ‘Fascination’ a full on retro dance track, which get the crowd clapping before morphing into ‘Kiss and Not Tell’ an upbeat clippity clappy track.

Jackson imparts that she forgot to say happy birthday to someone – Mr. Moses clearly isn’t here – “well you try and do something nice….” she quips.  For hit ‘In for the Kill’ many people in the audience get their cameras out – a sea of LED screens – as the spectacular light show gets the crowd bopping.

And the cheers get bigger after each song – and the screams – people ae partaking in falling down water – a young lad in front of us, with his cider mix – clearly things he’s dancing is far cooler than his dads. ‘Cruel Sexuality’ rolls and extends into a bass beat driven dance track. ‘I’m Not Your Toy’ is clearly recognised by the crowd and the fans bop more and hands are in the air.

‘Uptight Downtown’ has a Bowiesque ‘Let’s Dance’ rhythm and the track once again raves down as Jackson takes guitar in hand. “We’d play all night if we could….’ Jackson rues the venue curfew – and we’re in a  Yazoo-inspired tap-tap-tap on the keyboards as we’re delivered  ‘Colourless Colour’  – Jackson’s goals seeming getting higher,  and the crowd clap clap clap as it cranks up the rhythm.

And the dancing man wobbles, his dad dancing days over for now, I fear his legs won’t carry him much longer as he totters off….. ‘Silent Partner’ has a rave vibe – and I almost get to sing Donna Summer’s ‘I fell Love’ though the track doesn’t quite morph.

Encore – stomping drumbeat – ‘Tigerlily’ all atmosphere – and the wobbly man is back – and slumps across his mate. The screaming and cheering is getting louder – and then the main hit ‘Bulletproof’ get’s arms in the air and everyone jumping and singing. With an abrupt stop to the track and it’s over to a huge reponse from the crowd and applause to their reaction from the band. And at just 9.45pm we make our way homeward (or party ward).

La Roux are upbeat – that sort of happy smily synth-pop. It is difficult to know why the second album was quite so hard there didn’t seem to be much of a departure live from the previous album – and nowt particularly revolutionary going on here. But La Roux do what La Roux do best and the crowd do indeed love it. New stuff probably a better fit overseas rather than in the UK, is it bulletproof? Only time will tell.

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Setlist
Let Me Down Gently
Fascination
Kiss and Not Tell
In for the Kill
Quicksand
Sexotheque
Cruel Sexuality
I’m Not Your Toy
Tropical Chancer
Uptight Downtown
Colourless Colour
Silent Partner

Encore:
Tigerlily
Bulletproof

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Pictures courtesy of Ken Harrison. Review for Gig Junkies and 102.5 The Bridge.

Holly Johnson @ The Library, The Institute, Birmingham, 19 October 2014

In 1984 a few people got very hot under the collar about a single. It got banned from airplay on Radio 1 at a time when most the world listened to the station. An outrage many people said. But the people behind this song grinned broadly and merrily wound them up even more. This single became the most controversial and most commercial single of the decade, selling over 2 million copies.There was even T-Shirts. We love a bit of anti-establishment at the best of times. So roll on 30 years to 2014, “Welcome” to a bit of “Frankie Says Relax” with former Frankie Goes to Hollywood frontman Holly Johnson.
Holly Johnson
Wow. It’s been 30 years since the release of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s debut album  ‘Welcome to the Pleasuredome.’ Over 30 years since that controversial single ‘Relax’. Frankie literally took over the airwaves for a brief moment in time.  ‘Pleasuredome’ had reported advanced album sales (in the days of the vinyl record) of over a million copies. Second album ‘Liverpool’ was a harder sell for a number of reasons, and Johnson walked releasing three solo albums  including his platinum selling number 1 debut solo album ‘Blast’ in 1989, ‘Dreams That Money Can’t Buy’ in 1991 and ‘Soulstream’ in 1999. And this year, 15 years on, he’s back with new album ‘Europa.’ Whilst he’s played the odd festival – this will be his first solo tour since 1987… so welcome to Holly Johnson: Unleashed from the Pleasuredome.

There’s no support tonight, although a DJ, Dave Kendrick, gives some tunes including remixes featuring Kraftwerk, Kate Bush and Heaven 17 and a snippet of Frankie. I have to say, we’re too busy chatting to take too much notice.

And just after 9, Johnson takes to the stage with full band in tow and starts off with ‘Atomic City’ and receives a big cheer from the audience – before here comes Frankie – ‘Warriors of the Wasteland’ and the rising epic ‘Welcome to the Pleasuredome.’ Johnson may have recorded these over 30 years ago but his voice remains spot on, the band tight, and we know all the words.

“I’m not allowed to talk… or we won’t get many songs done….” he says in his quiet Liverpudlian accent. Another Frankie -‘Rage Hard’ – the crowd are dancing and clapping and the cheers getting bigger. And now to a solo hit ‘Love Train’ before… “we’re gonna risk a new one on you now… Dare we?” and we’re into a segment of newbies and solo stuff.

‘Heavens Here’ – “a festival treat” and ‘Americanos’ gets us dancing and a cheer on the closing line… “In the land of the free, you can be who you want to be…”

Holly Johnson-12
“Life isn’t always a bowl of cherries. There are moments when you’re feeling all alone….” “Aaaahhhhh goes the crowd in sympathy. “Not tonight!” shouts a punter. And he delivers us ‘Lonesome Town’ before “scaring us with another new one” – title track from his new album – ‘Europa.’

Another excuse to dance. “You are a bit like sardines aren’t you?” he comments on the cosy crowd, “Not much room…..you can always rub up to the person in front of you….” as we’re into ‘Dancing With No Fear.’  He was on ‘Later….with Jools Holland’ and played this one – a ballad and his favourite song on the album ‘So Much it Hurts.’

And then we’re back in time, to  Frankie song he hasn’t sung since ’87, ‘Watching the Wildlife.’ Before a song he calls “the money shot.” Asking is we are ready – hey we know what’s coming – ‘Relax’ – in all it’s beating glory. Johnson has a flashlight and shines it over the audience. We’re a-dancing and singing. Timewarp baby. Awesome rendition – massive cheer.

A quick break and he’s back – with a change of jacket. Apparently he stopped the cold war with this one (so a comedian told him). ‘Two Tribes’. Class. And then to the special one. And it’s not just for Christmas – “I’ll protect you from the hooded claw, keep the vampires from your door” – it’s the epic ‘Power of Love’ The hairs stand up on our arms and we’re singing away. It’s amazing how many of us knew all the words. Spine-chingling.

Holly Johnson is affable and funny. And he likes his songs epic. And no count, those Frankie hits were special. It was great to hear them in full totally overblown and truly glorious colour. Johnson is out for a few dates – go check him out – it’s well worth it. Hopefully, he’ll be out and about far more than he has been for the last few years.
Holly makes you smile. And you can’t ask for much more than that….. according to his website:  Holly Johnson Cosmos Mariner, destination unknown. The Odyssey Continues…

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Setlist:
Atomic City
Warriors of the Wasteland
Welcome to the Pleasuredome
Rage Hard
Love Train
Follow Your Heart
In and Out of Love
Heavens Here
Americanos
Lonesome Town
Europa
Disco Heaven
Dancing With No Fear
Penny Arcade
So Much it Hurts
Watching the Wildlife
Relax

Encore:
Two Tribes
Power of Love

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Pictures couresty of Ken Harrison – Review for Gig Junkies.

Lady Gaga @ NIA, Birmingham – 15 October 2014

So, a late opportunity to review a lesser known pop star in Birmingham. It’ll be a bit of a quiet night then. Or maybe not. This particular pop star has 67 MILLION likes on Facebook. And over 40 MILLION followers on Twitter. She’s sold over 27 MILLION albums and 125 MILLION singles. And this particular tour has already nearly sold 4 MILLION tickets. That’s a lot of MILLIONS. Popular girl then, Ms Germanotta – or as most of us know her – Lady Gaga.

Lady Gaga Image
Tonight we’re at the first night of her #artRAVE: ARTPOP Ball Tour – and as we make our way in to the National Indoor (soon to be Barclaycard) Arena, known locally as the NIA, we can look forward to queuing. It’s a tad chaotic – and punters are getting a tad wet – those who have made the effort to dress up are looking a tad soggy. Hopefully this will all be sorted for the official opening of the ‘new’ arena courtesy of Mr. Bublé.

As we take out seat the lights are down, the stage not only at the end of the arena, snakes into the centre of the crowd, is lit bright pink – and full on dance, trace, bass beats are pumping out of the speakers, getting the adoring fans in the mood.

Slightly later than anticipated the huge curtain is pulled back, the crowd scream, dancers, semi-clade in African inspired rainbow, rasta-mix bring balloons and glowsticks and throw them in the audience. And Gaga rises from the floor, dress in gold, blonde wig and furry angel wings. The scream from the crowd is huge. ARTPOP starts the show – “Birmingham” she shouts – scream go the crowd. And as she walks across the ramps to the centre of the arena – a thousand phones capture the moment.

Gaga’s set is full on energy, she’s dancing, she’s jumping, she’s singing with her crew of dancers. Yes there’s a lot of choreography,and she continually shouts at the audience to c’mon and jump… “turn the f****** music up – I want to see you on your feet!” The language is expletive ridden. ‘Donatella’ we’re in fashionesta baby – the dancers prowl – she wants us to dance, put our hands in the air, the higher the better so she can see everyone of the 13,500 fans that have turned out tonight.

Disappearing under the stage, she re-appears in full Beyoncé big hair wig and tiny spangly bikini. “Celebrate your talent and creativity… and crazy dreams can come true….” she encourages. ‘Venus’ gives us dancers and sining and lasers and inflatable plants. Yes plants – that’s what I think they are? She loves her fans so much she has another tattoo – of fans hands on her back – she shows us. As a mark of loyalty to her fans to allow her to achieve what she has done as a woman, in this age. She declares that over the past six years that we have given birth to the greatest fan base on the planet.  She preaches equality – that is her mantra – and the artistic freedoms of pop – “I will not be told how to dress, what songs to record…..if you make art tonight your are an artist.”

And this is between the full on dance and singing routines – the music at times is more than pop, it’s rock, it’s trance – whatever – the fans are partying. And a segment of dancing that includes hit ‘Poker Face’.

For ‘Paparazzi’ she reappears on stage in a Dalmatian spotted, curvy Tim Burton-esque swirl creation – and as she does on every costume change – the additions are taken away within a song to a bikini, leotard, minimal dress. There a Union Jack on stage and she picks it up and dances her way to the ice piano in the middle of the auditorium. This is just GaGa and piano. And this stripped back GaGa demonstrates what a talented Lady she indeed is – powerful vocals (which on single releases you don’t necessarily hear) on ‘Dope’ – a ballad about alcohol and drugs – she stops and talks. When she’s not drunk or a mess she’s soberish she quips. ‘Dope’ is an apology to everyone, but after she wrote it she found it was an apology to herself.

“You and I’ is about what we’ve given her over the last six years; the band is back out and in the middle of the hall. The track rocks out – it’s pretty heavy. She dancing and ends up collapsing on the stage – covered by the Union Jack.  After a couple of minutes, fans screaming with delight, she rises and walks to a piano picking up a letter. Reading the letter out aloud, it’s quite long, relates the life of a boy, isolated whilst young, brave enough to come out as gay and he’s here tonight, with his boyfriend. Gaga chokes as she reads it. He’d expected the letter to be read after the show, he’s a massive fan, she’s an inspiration. “Ha!Ha!” she laughs and invites Jason to come on stage with his boyfriend. “This kid has balls of steel.” As they sit beside her, she dedicates this song to him and his parents (who are also here tonight). A piano rendition and vocals alone of ‘Born This Way’ – impressive. Gaga is a well know gay activist – “If you are gay – hold your head up proud.”

And we’re back to the dance and the craziness.

Lady Gaga, yes put’s on a hell of a show. There’s dancing and partying and crazy clothes and just craziness – everything that you would anticipate from a Gaga gig. But may what sets her apart is the engagement with her fans. They are first, they are her priority. The set is designed so she’s in the middle of them, she’s continually crouching down to shake hands – she’s chatty and engaging, yeah kooky, but she has the ability to relate. And the audience tonight – a wide range of people, old and young, gay and straight, such a diversity. And the standard-out is Gaga stripped back – just her, singing and her piano. The OTT of everything else is just a front for her wacky creative mind.

ARTPOP is Music Fashion Dance Party. Indeed.  This Birmingham show was the first in her tour of the UK – if your missed the party, check it out on the next few dates – and she’ll be back at the NIA on 13 Nov 14…

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Setlist:
ARTPOP
G.U.Y.
Donatella
Venus
MANiCURE
Just Dance / Poker Face / Telephone
Paparazzi
Do What U want
Dope
You and I
Born This Way
The Edge of Glory
Judas / Aura
Sexxx Dreams
Mary Jane Holland
Alejando
Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)
Bad Romance
Applause
Swine

Encore:
Gypsy
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Review for Altsounds, Gig Junkies and 102.5 The Bridge.

Level 42 + Will Stapleton @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – 7 October 2014

Okay so Birmingham City Centre is busy this evening. Kylie may be tripping the light fantastic at the NIA, but we’re off to the delectable Symphony Hall to see stalwarts of 80’s funk pop. With endless hits, word wide success and a recent EP full of newbies, we’ll be funking out with Level 42.

•Level 42-14
Taking their name from A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Level 42 formed way back in 1980 on the Isle of Wight. Lead singer and bass player, Mark King, became one of the stand-out musicians of the day, especially for popularising the 70’s ‘slap style’ of playing his instrument. King’s vocals along with keyboard player Mike Lindup’s falsetto vocals gave L42 hit after hit after hit. It was their fourth and more commercial album ‘Standing in the Light’ that gave the band the first UK Top 10 ‘The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up)’; 87’s ‘Running the Family’ album gave them worldwide success, making Top 10 in numerous countries. But by ’94 they decided to call it a day permanently. Or maybe not. King carried on solo, increasingly playing L42 hits live and in the early nougties came to an agreement to continue with the name Level 42, before Mike Lindup re- joined the band once again a few years later. In 2013 Level 42 released a six track live studio EP ‘Sirens’ and tonight is part of a series of dates promoting it.•Level 42-12
Support tonight comes from singer songwriter Will Stapleton, solo with guitar, inspired by Level 42. He’s played around London for the past few years; a soulful sound with poetic lyrics. He has a single out ‘I Understand’; he’s engaging and goes down well – check out his website for further info.
Bang on 8.45, L42 take to a darkened stage – King slapping his bass like crazy – the neck of which is glowing in the dark, emblazoned with lights. And as the lights come up, the band are dressed retro, retro – in spangly, sequinned black shirts. Full band on stage tonight, with a trio on brass and rhythm cranking up the sound.
First part of the set tonight is lesser known – one for the fans: ‘Love Games’, ‘Are You Hearing (What I Hear?)’ – as the songs funk out and roll into each other, as the band groove down in true L42 style.
“Hello! How are you? Fantastic!” say King, as he quips that sequins are coming of his spangly shirt. And they’re on on their musical journey again – track from ‘Sirens’ – ‘Mind on You’ before an old one, ‘Kansas City Milkman.’ The ‘Sirens’ EP is well played tonight – all tracks get featured over the set, keeping up with the L42 trademark sound. The crowd are taking it all in, mostly seated bar a few boogying on down on the balconies. A hit – ‘Leaving me Now from 85’, then to ‘Tracie’ from ’87.
“W.T.F?” King is still having issues with his sequins. And the audience get to their feet, dancing and clapping away to ‘Living It Up (Sun Goes Down)’. And take to their seats as we’re back with a track from ‘Sirens’. “Any stars kids out there?” and they deliver us ‘Starchild’, before UK #6 hit from ’85 ‘Something About You.’ and we’re into a hit medley and dancing one again, with ‘Lessons in Love’ – go back in time to 12” vinyl inch record, mega mega remixes, which go on and on…. and you’d be on the money. ‘Sirens’ track ‘Build Myself a Rocket’, prog-funk-rock rolls on as one band member after another leaves the stage.
Encore – features ‘Hot Water’ and ‘Chinese Way’ where all individual band members get the chance to fun out under an individual spotlight of music, and the encore rolls on and on.
Level 42 are going strong on their funk-pop vibe – tonight’s gig was one for the fans – the bands hits being the clear stand outs as the crowd danced the night away. Level 42 may have been going for 30 odd years – but they’re certainly to out of sight or out of mind.
Meanwhile (and as a footnote to this review) as tunes continue roll through our little brains – we succumb to the traffic nightmare of Birmingham City Centre. As much as we like Brindley Square, over an hour and a half stuck in the car park after the gig really wasn’t our cup of tea. Methinks someone should be in ‘Hot Water’ over it!
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Listening:
Running in the Family [1987]
Staring at the Sun [1988]
Guaranteed [1991]

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Photos Courtesy of Ken Harrison. Review for Gig Junkies and 102.5 The Bridge.

 

NEWS: Michael Bublé set to open the new Barclay Card Arena, Birmingham in December 2014

After 18 months of refurbishment the National Indoor Arena (NIA) in Birmingham will be relaunched as the Barclaycard Arena after a £26 million pound refurbishment.

NIA
The redevelopment at the arena will see an increase in capacity, comfier seats, a substantially improved concourse for food, drink and entertainment, improved food outlet providing a greater choice and far greater toilet facilities! The Barclaycard Arena will have spectacular glass frontage, with Sky Needles, the tallest standing 46m high, standing out in the skyline of the city centre.

Buble
Michael Bublé is set to open the new venue on the 2nd and 3rd of December, as the opening dates to his UK December tour. Tickets are on sale now – but are likely to sell out very quickly! Last year Bublé sold out his 10 day residency at 02 Arena in London, as well as concerts in Manchester Birmingham and Glasgow.
‘To Be Loved’ is Michael Bublé’s sixth studio album following his ‘Christmas’ album which sold seven million copies internationally and was the second biggest selling album of  2011. Now closing in on 700,000 sales in the UK alone where the album was his first to go straight to #1. The album also earned Michael his fourth Grammy Award when it won Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
For more information visit the NIA Barclaycard Arena website.  

Inala: A Zulu ballet featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham 3 October 2014

Tonight at the delectable Symphony Hall we have a unique mix of the  classical sound of South Africa complimented by contemporary modern Western ballet, as the legendary Ladysmith Black Mambazo bring ‘Inana – A Zulu Ballet’ to Birmingham.

Inala-7To celebrate 20 years of democracy in South Africa, Ladysmith Black Mambazo feature in a unique artistic collaboration with multi-award-winning choreographer Mark Baldwin. Performing INALA’s original score (by LBM’s Joseph Shabalala and classical composer Ella Spira) as they blend the intricate rhythms and infectious harmonies of their native musical roots with live percussion, piano and strings. The performance features richly visceral choreography unites Zulu traditions with classical ballet and contemporary dance, performed by an exceptional company of eighteen dancers and singers.
LBM formed way back in the early, and have gone on to become one of South Africa’s most prolific recording artists. Jospeh Shabalala took the isicathamiya harmonies of the Zulu people, formed a group and started singing at local weddings and other gatherings before entering competitions – becoming ‘so good’ they were effectively banned from entering. First album ‘Amabutho’ was released in 1973, and their collaboration on Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ brought them to worldwide acclaim.  LBM have recorded over 50 studio albums and have won multiple awards, including this year – their fourth Grammy. While there have been over 30 members of LBM, the line up has remained consistent since ’93, with only two members retiring.

Inala-1
With such an eclectic mix of art on stage tonight, it’s difficult to know what we will see tonight as we take our seats. The band take to the rear of the stage – the main front area flat for the performers and the whole set incredibly simple. Tonight’s set is in two parts and given the energy of the performers – we soon understand why. LBM deliver us their unique mbube vocal style, (mbube means’ ‘lion ‘ in Zulu) – as a male lead sings cappella and the others float and harmonise in accompaniment. Tonight’s perforce is sang in Zulu too – very little is spoken in English.  The ballet dancers give us their interpretation of animals from the plains – of birds and others – stalking across the plains. The dancers performing are some of the best – award-winning, individuals with roots the Royal Ballet and The Ballet Rambert.
But LBM don’t just stand there and sing, they are part of the art, intermixing with the dancers, participating in the dance – the high kicks flying. The contemporary dancers contort, giving beautiful lines, beautiful and energetic, intermixed with Zulu dance.  There is no story as I understand, this is an interpretation of the day and of the life in Africa inspired by LBM’s songs – a village stirring at daybreak, traveling, in boats fishing, a thunderstorm of city.  This is performance, just watch, just listen; become immersed in the sounds, and the visuals.

Inala-9
Part two starts with a ballad, beautifully simple hamornised vocals, two dancing interpreting in details and amazing moves. And the atmosphere builds, the audience are mesmerized aurally and visually.  LBM are perennial world tourers – for six months of the year they are on road – their response has always been ; as long as the people of the world want to hear their music they will be putting on the shows. An English spoken section “There are many things that you may want…. but if you want to do this, you have to put your mind to it. Travel…. say I am going somewhere….”
LBM are in a line, intermixed by dancers and they each come to the front of the stage, one dancer, and one singer. Many dance in time together, a couple of LBM members chicken out this duel – to laughter from the crowd.
As as the show draws to a crescendo, the dancers amazing, the harmonies quiet spectacular – the second act completes to a standing ovation. And group and dancers bow to us all “Yeaaaaaaaahhhhhh goodbye….”
LBM are legendary world musicians and they do indeed bring the beauty of their tribal harmonies to the world. This accompaniment with contemporary ballet, taking traditional and mixing it with modern was something really quite mesmerizing and well worth taking a peek. ‘Inala’ mans abundance of goodwill; a show on the past, present and new hopes future, is an uplifting cultural experience, And as we leave, we leave with smiles on our faces the tunes of the South African plains swirling round our heads.

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Pictures courtesy of Ken Harrison. Review for Gig Junkies and 102.5 The Bridge.

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