Tag Archive: Classical

Live Transmission – Joy Division Reworked @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – 28 September 2013

Joy Division were around for a tiny snapshot in time. Formed in ’76 they pioneered the post-punk indie sound that subsequently inspired so many. Their debut album, ‘Unknown Pleasures’ drew critical massive acclaim. But lead singer Ian Curtis was beset with depression and illness beyond other personal difficulties. In 1980, aged just 23, he tragically committed suicide. So tonight’s reworking of everything Joy Division comes 33 years after his untimely death. Live Transmission, we are assured, is an immersive, cacophony of orchestra meets interactive plays homage to a truly unique period in music.

Live Transmission is performed by the Heritage Orchestra, with electronic composer Scanner and Birmingham-based video artist Matt Watkins. This isn’t just a series of Joy Division songs, it’s deconstructed – you can hear the indie riffs and iconic melodies. The visual graphics inspired by Joy Division cover art, such as the ‘Unknown Pleasures’, morph into a 3D experience. Musically tonight’s performance is driven by drummer Adam Betts, guitarist Matt Calvert (both of instrumental noise-rock band Three Trapped Tigers) and bassist John Calvert (Ghostpoet), with conductor Jules Buckley, who battles with equal force using the incomparable strings, brass, voices and percussion of the Heritage Orchestra in conjunction with the unique sounds of Scanner.

A leftfield and truly unusual concept, the team at the Town Hall & Symphony Hall have taken a risk in having the 80 minute performance in Symphony Hall, in all its musical beauty. And boy, how that pays off.

The lights switch to darkness at 7.45pm; it’s near pitch black. Lasers scoot round the Hall from a central point as dry ice floods the air. Layered screens, plus the ice give us an exceptional 3D effect for the graphic accompaniment. From a haunting start, then that drumming bass beat of total indie-ness, it seems odd in some ways to see this as a full orchestra; post-punk was DIY, learn on the hoof, deliver on the fly. I wonder if Curtis could have at all visualized the concept of this performance, although in his darkened dreams he may have dreamt it. Dark and moody and mesmeric, we occasionally get haunting female vocals and an occasional snatch of the Curtis voice as the beautiful performance rolls on. 3D images leap out from the screens, much of which is live edited on the fly, no glasses required and if you love Joy Division or the subsequent genre and generations they inspired – you would love this. It is not overblown or over the top – the balance between interactivity and music is perfect, and to hear it in such a venue as the Symphony Hall, a huge and glorious treat.

Then in 3D we see in words – scribbled and scrawled, sometimes scratched out and overwritten, in front of the orchestra, as if floating in fresh air written by the hand of Curtis himself.  The lyrics to ‘Isolation’ are poignant and moving: “A blindness that touches perfection. But hurts just like anything else….” The scrawl goes on… “Mother I tried. Please believe me. I am doing the best that I can. I’m ashamed of things I put you through. I am ashamed of the person I am.”

After over and hour and five the performance stops and we’re once again plunged into darkness. It stops so suddenly, I hear a person nearby say ‘…amazing…’ quietly, in awe. But it’s so quiet we hear him. And a polite applause breaks out.

It’s not over; we start again with a melancholy suite of violins… in full string arrangement. Curtis vocals are revealed and echo round the Hall in accompaniment. It sends shivers down everyone’s spine…

“When routine bites hard, 

And ambitions are low. 

And resentment rides high, 

But emotions won’t grow. 

And we’re changing our ways, 

Taking different roads. 


Love, love will tear us apart again. 

Love, love will tear us apart again…” 


The screen is muted, made of greens and golds; slowly and beautifully morphing in time to the music and lyrics…


Why is the bedroom so cold? 

Turned away on your side. 

Is my timing that flawed? 

Our respect run so dry? 

Yet there’s still this appeal, 

That we’ve kept through our lives. 


Love, love will tear us apart again. 

Love, love will tear us apart again. 


Do you cry out in your sleep? 

All my failings exposed… 

Gets a taste in my mouth 

As desperation takes hold. 

Why is it something so good 

Just can’t function no more? 


Love, love will tear us apart again. 

Love, love will tear us apart again. 

Love, love will tear us apart again. 

Love, love will tear up apart again…”


A beautifully haunting reflection to one lost so young. Wow. We are all in awe; claps and a standing ovation and, no doubt, a few tears fill the auditorium.

Sometimes you get the opportunity to SEE something truly unique. Sometimes you get to EXPERIENCE something truly unique. This was both – in bucketfulls. A beautiful, truly original and moving performance that words just cannot do justice to. Brave for the Symphony Hall to do this, but exactly the right venue – Live Transmission deserves all the plaudits it’s receiving, and then some. You can’t exactly call Joy Division upbeat but this performance perfectly balances the beauty and the angst. This is a total experience – see it and experience it – because words just don’t do it justice.

 Review for Gig Junkies – pictures: Ken Harrison

Clannad + Brian Kennedy @ Warwick Arts Centre, 10th March 2013

So spring has deserted us, snowflakes fall as we head towards Warwick Arts Centre. Tonight it’s mystical pagan vibes with the returning Irish folk legends, back in full force and celebrating over 40 years performing, we’re here to listen to the beautiful harmonies of the legendary Clannad.

Warwick Arts Centre is truly busy as we walk into the main foyer. Three venues here plus a cinema and we’re sharing tonight’s facilities with those who are here to see comedian Marcus Brigstocke performing in the mid-sized venue. A very friendly welcome and chat with Sarah, Assistant House Manager for tonight, who tells us all about the venue and bands tonight. We walk into the largest venue, 1,400 capacity and pretty much sold out, to take our comfy places for the support act.

It’s unusual to see someone in support with a pedigree such as this man. Belfast born Brian Kennedy has been in the industry for over 20 years, released 11 albums. He worked with Van Morrison and Georgie Fame for years, did the theme tune to ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’, was the Irish entry in the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest (coming twentieth) and was a coach on the first series of ‘The Voice of Ireland’. Not only that, he was the singer on the Secret Garden original version of ‘You Raise Me Up’ – a song now recorded by more than a hundred other artists- and a song he sang at George Best’s funeral.

Tonight there’s just him with acoustic guitar and, for a couple of tracks, with no guitar. He’s affably chatty and friendly, engaging and funny. ‘Hello – I’ll call you Coventry rather than Warwick – or maybe Covwick…’ as he starts off with first song ‘Captured’, released 23 years ago, then performed on the Terry Wogan show. His challenge, he states, is to convert audience members who have never heard of him to hard-core fans.

“For those of you who don’t know – I’m never truly happy unless singing something truly sad…” as he takes us into the lament that is ‘Wonder What is Keeping My True Love Tonight.’ Kennedy had a truly amazing voice, his Gaelic lilt reaching truly dizzying falsetto heights. Live he’s more mesmerizing and impressive than on record. Then a track Van Morrison produced ‘Crazy Love’. Tonight he has just 35 minutes to entertain us. “I usually talk a lot more…” as he swaps guitars to discover whilst tuning it’s not to his liking – ‘Going okay so far? This will teach me to change the strings before playing – get it in tune, or it’ll be time to go off!” Not happy – he changes back to the original guitar, and swaps what he’s going to sing to a track off his new album ‘Voice.’ A check with the audience – he’s five minutes left “One more song…” no guitar this time, just him. As he sings a truly remarkable rendition of ‘You Raise Me Up’ his vocals soar as high as the clouds. “Join in if it’s not too high…” and the audience makes the attempt. Remarkable voice – few are given such a natural vocal talent. Kennedy clearly just loves to sing live – at any opportunity. In the interval he was at the merchandising area standing chatting and signing. Why he isn’t more well known in this country I have no idea – take a peek at his website to listen in  – and if you fancy it, he’ll be at the MAC in Birmingham on the 13th April 2013.

A quick break and now we settle in for the main performance – lights go down; dry ice permeates and onto the stage come Clannad.

If you we around in the 80’s Clannad permeated the radio waves, bringing their own unique take on Gaelic mystical music. If you are below 30, you may not have even heard of them – so quick potted bit of history. This family group, brought up in Donegal, Ireland, three siblings, Maire (pronounced Moya), Pol and Ciaran Brennan, started playing regular slots in their fathers bar way back in 1970. It wasn’t long before they were joined by uncles Padraig and Noel, winning a local talent contest and going on a couple of years later to recorded their first album, the self titled ‘Clannad.’ A talented family, their ’82 album ‘Fuaim’ featured sister Enya, who shortly went her own direction, most notable for ‘Orinoco Flow’. For Clannad it was the haunting theme to the ITV three part series Harry’s Game (a hard-hitting drama about an undercover soldier tracking down an IRA gunman – played by one Derek Thompson – ‘Charlie Fairhead’ from ‘Casualty’) that brought them to wider attention. Their ’83 album ‘Magical Ring’ started to sell: their career gaining international momentum. The sound track to the ITV series ‘Robin of Sherwood’ (at that time THE Saturday early evening ‘one to watch’ with the beautiful Michael Praed as ‘Robin of Loxley’ and a little known actor called Ray Winston as ‘Will Scarlett’) which brought them to a wider audience – the accompanying album ‘Legend’ won Clannad a BAFTA.  Album after album sold worldwide, Maire duetted with none other than Bono on ‘Once in a Lifetime.’ Pol Brennan may have called it a Clannad day after the ’89 album ‘Sirius’ but the band continued, the last album from them, ’98’s ‘Landmarks’ won them a Grammy.  And after that, where to go? The band members set off on their own journeys, always knowing that the family business would come back together.

And now with Pol back in the fold, they’ve been recording a new album and tonight’s gig, if a tad low profile on the PR stakes, is one of a far ranging worldwide tour. Clannad are quite mesmerizing to watch – they may not be full of energy, but alongside the usual synths, drums and acoustic guitars, we get double-bass, flutes, penny whistles and Mairie on harp. Maire may well be 60, but she hasn’t lost any of her haunting vocal ability, the supporting lads all in harmony accompanying her. The first few songs are in Gaelic – but that makes no difference – some folk inspired, some written. For those not in English, we get an explanation – many involve a girl and a boy and well, you can take it from there. Second song is passed on from the Brennan’s grandmother – a traditional folk song they used to sing about the local boy they fancied ‘Maire Bhruinneal’.  This is the first time they’ve played Warwick Arts; the venue is suiting them well, the audience soaking in the performance.

Pol: “We do sing in English from time to time. This wasn’t on Facebook – written in the 80s – Facebook wasn’t around. It was written about the recession over the pond, and we’re singing it tonight, because it over the water again.” ‘Something to Believe In.’ Next song in it’s a sing along (another song in English), ‘Two Sisters’. We got to grip with the lyrics, this folk song is 9 verses long – we were threatened that it would go on to 19 or more if we didn’t!

Clannad are at their best all moody and atmospheric. Imagine it’s a warm summers day (hard to believe I know – as I write this it’s snowing like crazy outside), you are at Stonehenge or Avebury, lying in deep daisy covered grass, staring a blue, cotton cloud littered skies. Close you eyes and melt into the track that is ‘Newgrange.’ The Newgrange in question is in County Meath, Ireland – deemed to be a mythical place 500 years older than the pyramids and older than indeed Stonehenge. And we keep the mystic – as we go into the medieval times when men wore tights and some bloke called Robin in Nottingham robbed from the rich and fed the poor. A medley of tracks from the TV series, beautifully rendered.

Brian Kennedy is back on stage – taking Bono’s vocal duties on ‘In A Lifetime.’ Before a song about seaweed. No seriously, the song centres around cloth dying and edible seaweed. As you do. ‘Dulaman’. Pol: “Think about it as a Donegal sushi song…”

And now we’re back to Clannad in full mystical and moving charm – with the theme to the ‘Last of the Mohicans’. For me, one of the stand-out tracks of the evening.  And of course we get the ‘Theme from Harry’s Game.’ Still moving and haunting as it ever was. All beautifully sung live. And it still makes the hairs rise up on the back of your neck.

One more song ‘Teidhr Abhail Riu’ – and an intro to the supporting band members on stage tonight – Jed Lynch on drums and Ian Parker on keyboards and vocals.  After the gig Clannad will be signing stuff in the foyer and having a cuppa tea. We are encouraged to join them.

But before that we have a couple more – first up a W.B. Yeates poem ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’ followed, in true Gaelic fashion by ‘Nil Se Ina La’ – a stomping Irish drinking song.

Clannad may not necessarily be on the commercial radar any more. There was a time when the theme from Harry’s Game was never off the airwaves. But what Clannad did do, was bring their own unique mystical, lifting, lilting, haunting and moving Gaelic music to the masses – and created a musical world that gave inspiration to those who now give us ‘Lord of the Rings’ and similar ilk. Get a chance – go and see. It will be worth you time to melt away to their performance.


Setlist includes:

Something to Believe In, Two Sisters, Newgrange, Robin of Sherwood medley, In A Lifetime, I Will Find You, Closer To Your Heart, Theme from Harry’s Game.




Magical Ring [1983]

Legend [1984]

Past Present (Collection) [1989]

Landmarks [1998]


Review for Gig Junkies. Pictures Ken Harrison.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain @ Town Hall, Birmingham, 28th June 2012

Birmingham’s Town Hall built in 1834 for ‘just’ £25,000. In 1996 it closed for a £30m+ refurbishment, re-opening its doors 11 years later. This iconic building in the centre of Birmingham, with it’s beautiful interior, has played host to a multitude of legends over the centuries from classical writers like Charles Dickens to rock gods Led Zeppelin. And here on this Thursday evening – a Hawaiian and a folk twist – welcome to the world of that is The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. 

So that’s a potted history of the venue and tonight’s ‘Ukes’ performance, specially commissioned by the Town Hall / Symphony Hall, celebrates Cecil Sharp, who in the late part of the 1800 into the twentieth century made it his mission to ‘collect’ folk songs from across the UK, Europe and America. He was a man with a notebook, ‘recording’ the songs and the people, who performed them, in middle of fields – “a bit of a strange thing to do.” But without him, many songs would have disappeared and many would have not been re-interpreted into music we recognize today.

And so to the ‘Ukes’. A band of brothers and sisters, all singing, all strumming, using instruments brought with loose change, who believe that anything is up for musical interpretation – as long as it is with a Uke. The Ukulele is, apparently, of Hawaiian descent – after being inspired by similar stringed instruments taken there by Portuguese immigrants. And they come in different sizes of commonly four tones: soprano, concert, tenor and baritone.

The ‘Ukes’ formed in 1985 as a bit of fun. Well since then, their journey has took them all over the world – “a world tour with only hand luggage”; their music used in films, plays and commercials and including collaborations with Madness, David Arnold, The Ministry of Sound, Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) and The Kaiser Chiefs to name a few. The ‘Ukes’ are Dave Suich, Peter Brooke Turner, Hester Goodman, George Hinchliffe, Richie Williams, Kitty Lux, Will Grove-White and Jonty Bankes.

Tonight’s exploration of The Cecil Sharp Songbook: ‘Waly Waly on the Ukulele’ is sold out. On the stage are seven seats, which are taken up by the seven members, in full black tie dress – six playing ukes, one on a double bass.  And introduction to tonight’s event: “This is a one off occasion to see the show…. we’ll do the show…. even if you don’t like it…!” First up ‘English Hornpipes in Slow 3’ from 1693, followed by ‘The Tree in the Wood’ – notable for appearing in the film ‘The Wicker Man’. Sung by George, it has the round-robin effect of ‘I knew an old lady who swallowed a fly…’ –   “Gawd-blimey” as George gasps for breath after the rounds of repetition.

Joke: “How many folk singers does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “ Four – one to change the light bulb – three to complain it’s electric!”

‘Bonnie Lightmore’ is from the Napoleonic wars. Next up, from 1918, a ditty used by Fairport Convention and notably the same melody as The Animals’ ‘House of the Rising Sun’. Many of these songs have multiple names and multiple interpretations and multiple versions – but you do recognise so many. ‘The Princes’ has an Elizabethan vibe and we get a rendition of a track that has again morphed into many variations including ‘Scarborough Fair.’

The next one – ‘Butchers Boy’ is akin to Napalm Death (!) or maybe early Sabbath (?) – well note quite sure about that one – but it is a dark song, about hanging and coffins (many of these folk songs have a dark fairy tale side) performed appropriately darkly by the ‘Ukes’ – a song Nick Cave would appreciate. The next sing is indeed the basis of The Blockhead’s ‘Sex and Drugs and Rock n’ Rock’ to which the Ukes morph between traditional and Dury’s lyrics.

An ‘interlude’ for the interval and we’re back in for the next batch of songs. Christmas carol ‘Down in Your Forest’ (which has nothing about Christmas in it) is clearly the inspiration behind The Stranglers ‘Golden Brown.’ The ‘Huntsman’s Delight’ or ‘The Keeper’ was banned ‘cos it was so rude – Sharp ‘cleaned up’ the lyrics – “more like Carry on Hunting!” – but you know this one – found myself singing along “Hey down, ho down, derry derry down, Among the leaves so green-o…”

‘The Unfortunate Lad’ or ‘St Thomas’s Hospital’ (a leper hospital) – could be said to be the tune behind The Velvet Underground’s ‘Venus in Furs.’ ‘Blackbird’s and Thrushes’ about squatters (no – these squatters could live in property if they built it on common land between dawn and dusk, and by dusk had smoke coming from it). A ‘William Shatner’ moment – this song is spoken rather than sung. ‘Waly, Waly, The Water is Wide’ has been interpreted by U2;  ‘Hold on Hold’ is clearly ‘The Magic Bus.’ And we complete with ‘Edward’ – “it’s all about… Edward.”

“If you haven’t enjoyed the show, don’t worry, you never see it again!” The audience response is positive – it has been all night!

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are indeed a totally different experience. They’re fun. And chatty. This show was different to their norm, but still fascinating in a way to hear tunes of the past, brought to the present, interpreted on a Uke. The ‘Ukes’ are at their best – giving it some, singing in harmony. Dressed in black tie, they play this little stringed instrument – and they have become more than just a fringe freak – it is a balance between the serious and the hilarious. And these ‘Ukes’ have inspired a million clubs groups and individuals who have took up this little stringed instrument.

So if you fancy an alternative, alternative, night out, for something completely different – then go catch the Ukes. And as for that strange man with his notebook, without Cecil Sharp, music of today would be entirely different. We applaud him for doing something pretty outlandish all those years ago – because very possible without you – the world of music may have been a very different place.

Review of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 3D @ The Symphony Hall Birmingham – Thursday 21 April 2011

Sometimes you get the opportunity to see and review something entirely different. And this performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 3D certainly is living up to that expectation – taking a beautiful venue, a full symphony orchestra playing classical music, contemporary dance and ground-breaking  technological advances to create a truly stunning and revolutionary interpretation of dance, performance and 3D technology. Wow!


Invited to a pre-show rehearsal, which unfortunately didn’t happen, we had the opportunity to look behind the scenes, to see how it was delivered, how it would be achieved. Two years in development, this show needs the right venue to deliver such a diverse and complex show.  And Birmingham is lucky. It has such a venue in The Symphony Hall! To the side of the stage a blackened alcove – where contemporary dancer Julia Mach will perform – with meticulously pinpoint accurate cameras, relaying the performance to a live edit and then streamed through 4 massive dual lensed 3D projectors, 35 metres to a simply huge screen above the stage, for audience to view in 3D glasses. The delay, we are told, is merely second from actual performance to screen viewing. On the rest of the stage City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra – even some of the orchestra members instruments have receptors, allowing the interaction of sound to compliment and interact with the onscreen visuals.

Days in rehearsals and set-up – with the powerful projectors giving out so much heat that the air conditioning system is struggling to cope –   this is truly a brave and radical leap to merge classical music with the latest in visual opulence.

The visual representation will visualise the change of a person into virtual space – the breakdown and merging of humanity to data. A true compliment to the music.

I will have the opportunity to see this spectacular later this evening, for the first of two performances – one at 6.30pm, one at 8.30pm. Then everyone will pack down after the concert to appear in London on Saturday at the Royal Festival Hall for the Festival of Britain Opening Weekend.

Worth a look – you can find out more about the performance atwww.riteofspring3d.thsh.co.uk – and there’s still tickets available if you fancy a truly different musical and dance experience this lovely spring evening!


And so to follow up the prelude here’s the review of last night’s performance…..

And so to the main performance, the first of two performances tonight, both around 45 minutes.The first part, in two movements, is the CBSO alone performing brief works by Varese and Ligeti. The first an abstract mixture of loud sound, the second a haunting melody – definitely would be used for a film score or drama mystery, almost waiting for the bad to leap through the screen. With this section, you just listen to the music, there is no visual distraction. Close your eyes, you can hear why the CBSO are a world class orchestra.

In the introduction the announcer said that the dancer, Jane Mach, had spent most of the previous evening in casualty. Well you wouldn’t have known, as she took her place on the blackened alcove, the lights went down and on went the 3D glasses.

This was all streamed live as the dancer contorted into positions, the 3D interactivity commenced – first with signs and squiggles drawn on the screen, and then emerging into space before your eyes, so you could almost reach out and touch them. The screen effects were clever, predominant black background with morphing images, and the dancer moving, all cleverly choreographed in the with the music. And they were right – there was no delay in the process – the dancer was in time to what was happening on screen. The visuals were reminiscent of a cross between Disney’s Fantastia and the original Tron movie.

For me, the best 3D effects were the simple ones – the more complex imagery of the dancer positioning herself in such a manner that she emerged from the screen, occasionally appeared to blur, but that could have been my eyesight or seat positioning ( it must be very difficult to ensure that the viewing perspective is the same for an audience in the round). One part, took dismembered arms legs and morphed them so they were adjoined to the upside down to arms and legs – while the dancer continued to move – the screen showed a Daliesque vision in time  to a crunching movement of the music. (For metal heads –  you would know as the introduction to Metallica’s symphonic album ‘S&M’).

Tonight’s performance was very, very clever – the technology, commitment and work put into creating such a feast was impressive – the CBSO are truly wold class, the dancer incredible and the capability of the technology – a brave mix of classical music, art and dance – hugely inspiring.

The slight downside is that the musical performance of the CBSO was so slick, that it became background to the visuals. And I think our expectations of the visual imagery are higher than what appeared – that is not to say that what was achieved in a live performance wasn’t incredibly clever and shouldn’t be applauded – maybe we just expect a tad more these days…

For those who think classical music isn’t them (and I have to admit knowing little about it, so apologies if I’ve got some of the technical terms incorrect), these days such music surrounds us, in adverts, programmes and films. And to be performed by one of the best orchestra’s in the world – you should take the opportunity to take a look (even if it’s not your scene) as we are truly lucky to have such a resource in the City. As for tonight’s performance – it was truly different – to bring arts and dance with classical music – worth taking a look if you get the opportunity – all should be applauded for taking the risk, for putting on something that is so different. If you think 45 minutes is short – it’s not – watching 3D in such a depth, with a full multimedia symphonic experience is actually quite tiring. The length is just right.

Next is London,  and the Royal Festival Hall for the opening weekend the Festival of Britain. Take a look on the Symphony Hall’s interactive linkwww.riteofspring3d.thsh.co.uk for a preview of what it is all about!


For the rehearsal unfortunately the photo opportunity didn’t come off (thanks to John Kennedy for offering his services at short notice) and no pictures were allowed at the main performances. Thanks to Lyle and the team at Symphony Hall for the pre-show tour.


Full review of this performance can be found on the Birmingham Live! website.