Tag Archive: Town Hall

Kraftwerk Uncovered – Live @ The Town Hall, Birmingham, UK, Saturday February 8th February 2014

So a limited crowd tonight, a couple of hundred snugly in the Town Hall avoiding winds and horizontal rain to see a Kraftwerk extravaganza: Kraftwerk Uncovered – Live. This is another cultural event that the Birmingham’s Town Hall / Symphony Hall (THSH) group should be justifiably proud in presenting, celebrating creativity, and exactly because it is not a safe option – it certainly couldn’t be classed as mainstream.

Let’s be clear about this – this is something completely different – we’re here for an experience – similar to the Joy Division Reworked, that THSH put on last year. Contemporary orchestra Icebreaker are here tonight with their own unique take on the music that was created by the legends of electronica – Kraftwerk. Created by German sound-scape artist and composer J. Peter Schwalm, this intentionally deconstructs Kraftwerk’s music and features award-winning visual artists Sophie Clements’ and Toby Cornish’s creative cinematic works, filmed in the Ruhr, the region in Germany from which Kraftwerk started off life.

So it will be interesting to see how the inspired performance delivers.  So in jeans and T’s the orchestra take to the stage. Icebreaker are indeed different – not your usual take on an orchestra – instruments include panpipes, accordion, drumkits, guitars in the mix with your traditional orchestral and percussion instruments – plus the additional of two electronic keyboards.  The first half hour set is not Kraftwerk, but features Erik Bunger’s Variation on a Theme (featuring snippets of KC & the Sunshine Band), Michael Nyman’s Think Slow, Act Fast and three track montage from Moss Side Story original written by Barry Adamson (of Magazine and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds fame). It is a unique way of looking at things, electronica done by live instruments and people – and it does take some getting used to. It is indeed the alternative to the alternative. There isn’t any visuals here – just the orchestra on stage – so it’s very much close your eyes and take in the music.

Barry Adamson’s reworking includes tracks ‘Chocolate Milkshake’ and ‘Under Wraps’ – and was apparently written for a fictitious film, written about the seedier side of life and drug culture in Moss Side, Manchester.  The music has a bluesy feel – I’m not sure I’m feeling in Moss Side – more like 60s / 70s New York or London and I’m waiting for Michael Caine to make an appearance. First set over and I’m pondering about what this is all about.

Half hour break and we’re into set number 2 – Kraftwerk. The origin’s of this piece of work goes back to 2009, after Icebreaker took on Brian Eno’s Apollo for  London’s Science Museum.  So the music starts up and the mono visuals are played on screen as we go into

‘Heimcomputer ‘(from Computer World 1981). It is a bizarre take as we get Kraftwerk deconstructed with real instruments especially as confusingly there electronic music too.

‘Megaherz/mitternacht’ (from Kraftwerk 1970 / Autobahn 1974) the visuals take us to arthouse, grainy, mono and sepia toned footage of the exterior of houses, a time warp  -they seem 70s and architecturally simple. Next performance, ‘multitanz’ is inspired by the track Tanzmusik (from Ralf & Florian 1973). Sans footage this time, musically Icebreaker are very good.

And now accompanied by visuals of triangles, squares and circles, ‘Modul 6’ (inspired by the track Radio-Activity from Radio-Activity 1975) factories spewing smoke in sepia tones. With German words its almost a modern Metropolis on screen – metal structures, concrete structures and symmetrical flats.

‘Morgenspaziergang’ (from Autobahn 1974) becomes the polar-opposite we have canals and water and greenery – all in mono footage; accompanied by lilting flutes and pan pipes, clarinet accompanies by violins. Mellow and quote beautiful.

And then to ‘Spiegelsaal’ (from Trans-Europe Express 1977)  – as floating mono squares zooms across the screens. And windows. This track too is beautifully delivered – the pan pipes replacing that dum dum dum keyboard sound.  Images show communist inspired  Germany – images are 70s-like – that ‘iconic’ feel run down, functional, Bauhaus created living.

And now the finale – ‘Autobahn’ – images of looking down at the central white lines and tarmac of the road, an autobahn indeed. And a 60s garage. And as the drumbeat kicks in for a crescendo…and we’re going along the road. And now were on the motorway, and as the track rises – the autobahn in full flow.

Well tonight was a different experience. I remain a tad confused and I’m not sure just who this was delivered for in terms of audience. However, the performance by Icebreaker was great and exceptionally well delivered. Kraftwerk took a leftfield approach, sampling sounds, using electronica to develop sounds in their own unique way. It was the polar opposite of what was delivered tonight – so in a twist, their replacement for live instruments is now being delivered by –  live instruments. For me I’m not sure if it worked, unlike the Joy Division Reworked which was indeed leftfield of leftfield, I guess I was slightly disappointed that Icebreaker didn’t go further – it seemed a little safe, given that Kraftwerk have always been, and continue to, push artistic and creative boundaries.

Tonight’s performance has been supported by Arts Council England, Science Museum London, Goeth Institut, Edge Hill University and Third Earl Music.

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Review for Gig Junkies; Pictures by Ken Harrison.

Go West + Hue and Cry + The Christians, Town Hall, Birmingham, 6 November 2013

Well there’s total traffic meltdown tonight in Brum, but no problems for us – we’re seated cozily in the beautiful Town Hall listening to a bit ‘Love and Pride’ by King and ‘Footloose’ (Kenny Loggins) to get us in the mood for some 80s retro courtesy of The Christians, Hue & Cry and Go West.

 

Go West

First up at 7.30 come The Christians. Forming in ’85, three brothers Garry, Roger and Russell took their surname plus Henry Preistman (his middle name) becoming The Christians. These days its just Garry from the original line up, with full band. “Good evening Birmingham. Terrible weather and lots of traffic….” As they start up, they’re pretty slick and give it all the harmonisations the band was originally known for. “Been a great tour so far – don’t spoil it…” Christian jokes. He’s knackered after nine dates out of 30 odd. Next up is ’87s ‘Forgotten Town’, their first single ever released. Good rendition accompanied by a good reception, they are clearly enjoying life on the retro scene. Christian is quite chatty and entertaining; the next song ‘Ideal World’, he thinks means more today than it probably meant all those years ago. There are still a few empty seats: “Do you think they’re stuck in traffic, shall we wait for them?” They have a new album out (only two people in the crowd know this) but it is for sale tonight (and he’ll sign) so next is a track off it ‘Speed of Life.’ Garry loves Brum, (honestly) he really does, as he goes into ‘Hooverville (Promised Us the World)’. A short set, the last song, “…we’re constrained…” it’s ‘Harvest for the World.’ Goes down well with people dancing. And after his set Garry Christian is indeed at the merch stand chatting merrily away to the punters.

Quick break with Terence Trent Darby’s ‘Wishing Well’ before we get a bit of Hue & Cry. Scottish brothers, the Cranes – Pat and Greg, start off their set with ‘Labour of Love’, their biggest hit, which made No. 6 in the UK charts. Tonight’s set starts off with keyboards and vocals. We’re then encouraged to hold hands to ‘Violently.’ Pat is the one singing, has a powerful vocal range when he gets going. He’s feeling “…Liza Minnelli… a bit camp… but not all…” as they deliver ‘Ordinary Angel.’ Now he’ll be flogging their website, no problems with pictures or video: “…stick it inter-web.” “Here’s one you might know…” which is ‘Looking for Linda’ to which the crowd duly sing the chorus back. Greg’s swapping back from guitar accompaniment on a couple of tracks now to keyboards for ‘Mother Glasgow’ from their ’89 album ‘Bitter Suite’ – followed by an encouragement from Pat to start up an online petition to get them to sing it as the opening song at 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Next up, Paolo Nutini cover ‘Last Request’ followed by final track of their set and their first single on a “…pah…” major label, ‘I Refuse.’

And now to an interval and a little more 80s over the PA before Peter Cox and Richard Drummie aka Go West take the stage. Go West have full band in tow, starting off their set with ‘Don’t Look Down’ top 20 hit from ’85. People are already on their feet, dancing away. Straight into the next song, ‘Black & Gold’ Drummie encourages the audience to clap. Here’s something a bit different, they’ve all gone acoustic, three guitars and a couple of the band on rhythm accompany Cox as he sings soulfully ‘Skin Deep.’ Crowd politely cheers and start to clap as they recognise a very mellow version of ‘Call Me’, their ’84 hit that reached 12 in the UK Charts.

So acoustic set over and we’re into their rendition of Motown classic ‘Tracks of my Tears’, another song that has had a little bit of a makeover from their ’93 version which, once more, mellowly rolls on and on. Then we have possibly their biggest 80s hit that starts with bass beat and has bit of a remix before going into the version we all know ‘We Close Our Eyes.’ People start to stand as the audience repeats the second line to Cox and as the guitarist does a funky solo as the track goes on.

Now they’re trying a bit of Kings of Leon. ‘Sex on Fire’ is actually a better rendition than expected and shows that these West men can rock down. Cox’s voice too manages to deliver. This is the track that the crowd gets most involved in. An intro to the band members and then an intro to Birmingham, “…the audience…”, to cheers. And then it is their hit from the film ‘Pretty Woman’, this be ‘King of Wishful Thinking.’ Cox wants us on our feet and hands in the air. And after just over 35 minutes their set is over, as is the whole gig.

Well tonight it was a dolly-mixture of the pop middle ground, harmless bands of the 80s, slightly sugary, delivering pretty well in a nice posh cozy venue. Tickets at £32 maybe a tad steep, you got three bands (x 35 minute sets) for your buck and your 80s retro fix. And on a wet and miserable night or, as Cox pointed out a beautiful autumn evening, there were some very avid fans. Go West young man? It was indeed a gig for you.

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Go West setlist:
Don’t Look Down
Black & gold
Skin Deep
Call Me
Tracks of My Tears
We Close Our Eyes
Sex on Fire
King of Wishful Thinking

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Listening:
Go West – ‘Go West’ [1985]
Hue & Cry – ‘Seduced and Abandoned’ [1988]
The Christians – ‘The Christians’ [1987]

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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.

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