Tag Archive: 102.5 The Bridge

John Cooper Clarke + Mike Garry + Luke Wright @ Town Hall, Birmingham, 23 October 2014

Tonight we’re at the beautiful Town Hall in Birmingham, to see a full on punk-rock gig, with a twist. There is no music, no musicians, no instruments, it is the words that are the lyrics and the melody. Tonight we’re here for rock with words, the punk god-father of the satirical, the political and the scathing courtesy of Doctor John Cooper Clarke.
Q Magazine’s Poet Laureate John Cooper Clarke remains as important these days,  as he was when he first burst onto the scene in a blaze of vitriol in the ‘70s. Thanks to his biting, satirical, and overtly political verse, delivered in a unique rapid-fire performance style, he became firmly entrenched in the punk movement and toured with the likes of The Sex Pistols and The Clash, while Joy Division and subsequently New Order supported him.

Now armed with an honorary Doctorate of Arts, he brings his treasury of punk poetry and two ‘up and coming’ poets – Luke Wright and Mike Garry – for the holiest of punk poet trinities.

Up first Luke Wright takes to the stage – giving us manic, quick fire poetry. He claims he’s  “a stay at home dandy” – he’s been out on his tour in the Autumn with ‘Fat Dandy.’ A poet and sometime broadcaster he writes a new shows each years and touts it round the country – not as some claim he says to “take poetry to the people” but because it pays his mortgage – and he loves it!  He tells us he met  Lenny Henry, asked him if he was stating in a Premiere Inn – response – “Of course not!” Henry didn’t get the irony and quick witted comedy of Wright in that one. He’s books and CDs – well worth checking out – find out more on his website.

Next up - Mike Garry – he’s from Manchester. His poetry is observational, ranting and a raving and social commentary. And he’s fast – the poetry is the rhythm of his music – the ability to recant the lyrics of his poetry at speed with no reference is pretty incredible and mesmerising to watch. He loves Birmingham. And gives us a poem about a s**t club – the Embassy – and the characters that are there, their lives are maybe what they may seem to be. He’s impressing himself here – and now for a sonnet –  another look at societies throw away attitude – ‘Pay As You Go.’ He’s here with books (a merchandising plug – he be there after his act)  and as one falls off stage he tells us not to knick it. He’s a good as stand up comedian as talented poet, next one to the local Manchester legend Tony Wilson – written after his death and performed with New Order. ‘Antony H Wilson’ another social look on life and Wilson’s impact – and the words take on the alphabet letter by letter – clever and emotive. Birmingham is beautiful, although he’s less complimentary about local councils, and at the end of his set he will jump off the stage – “un-risk-assessed”. “Have you been involved in an accident….” a satirical take on the adverts we see on TV, before a poetry eulogy to his mother who died. Funny but sad too – and we feel.

And now to THE main man. The Godfather of punk poetry – Doctor John Cooper Clarke. “Evening. ” He’s the chairman of the board, dressed in top to tail in black, blackened hair spiked, darkened glasses.

He got here late, he tells us, he’s gonna read ‘the Guest List’. “Would it kill ‘em to buy a ticket?” he quips and leaps into a fast paced rendition of everyone he knows, names rhyming. Apparently Birmingham is an ‘Atomic City.’

And tells of ‘generalisation’ ( we all do it),  which comes with two other important factors ‘Prejudice’ and ‘Judgement’ – a three pronged trilogy. And poetry to recant in full on observational vitriol as only Dr Clarke can do – “Get Back On The Drugs You Fat F**k” . He’s funny and whitty and fast paced and flies off at tangents – continually challenging, asking questions, pointing out the bleeding obvious. “Dr. Clarke how did you get here?” on birth and life and how he got here rather than the car he travelled in, before he leaps into ‘Hire Car.’

A punter’s question to “Is there a God?” doesn’t get the straight answer, but a tangent circle of responses. As he says “the public are in charge – the public is the governor” as he gives us the old and new in his poetry treasury – including his love story in reverse “T**t!” And his poetry can be two lines, limericks, sonnets, Hiaku or the long ones. He’s the “peoples balladeer; the high court judge” in newbie “The People’s Republic of Doktor Klarke.”

From is back catalogue ‘Beasley Street’ – a real life place and it’s social life, plus a an update to the way the place has changed ‘Beasley Boulevard’ – all ‘Urban Splash!’ Irony, and observation – on ‘golf audiences’ and age. “Age. The silent killer” – he’s been around our entire lives, before “Bed Blocker Blues.

He’s been experiments with Hiaku – poems of 17 syllables. he has a list and number 1 will be the final he reads to us. “Smarter than I have ever been, total idiots. I have met them all.” And his number 1. “To freeze the moment in seventeen syllables is very diffic…”

And he completes with his personal favourite – the classic ‘Chickentown’ – used in the penultimate episode of the Sopranos. When played on the BBC in ’78 the bleep operators got repetitive strain injury. Before thanks to the Arctic Monkeys, who closed their critically acclaimed album AM with a version of  ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ which we receive the Doctor Clarke version – in it’s full and scathing and dark glory.

This trilogy of social commentators were tonight, funny and witty, scathing with vitriol, yet caring and thought provoking.  The good Doctor was mesmerising in his words the hour and a half set whizzed by, with that inherent knack of making people laugh.  Doctor Clarke – part poet, part stand up. And still relevant.


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

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…


Just Dance / Poker Face / Telephone
Do What U want
You and I
Born This Way
The Edge of Glory
Judas / Aura
Sexxx Dreams
Mary Jane Holland
Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)
Bad Romance


Review for Altsounds, Gig Junkies and 102.5 The Bridge.

An Audience with John Lydon @ Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham Tuesday 14 October 2014

In the 70’s this chap and his fellow punks took on the music industry and gave it a swift kick in the b******s, whilst sticking their fingers up to the establishment. For a brief moment in time, him and his band scared the s**t out of everything the establishment held dear and shook up the world of ‘popular’ music forever. And once that trip was over, he set up a different band – creative, innovative, still doing their unique thing today. And that’s just his musical side. With a new autobiography out – ‘Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored’ – we’re here to see the irascible character that is John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten.

John Lydon_Audience-7
The Sex Pistols shook up the world and then some. Probably the world’s most notorious band ever, Lydon as their lead singer, became vilified by the press and scared politicians so much, he was even discussed in the Houses of Parliament, under the Traitors and Treasons Act, which still carries the death penalty. PiL (Public Image Limited) - his musical true love have been his outlet – on a truly personal basis on so many levels  – a musical challenge  and journey. Over the years PiL have had over 49 members (“a college of Further Education” Lydon quips tonight, some going onto more success than others) and to see them live is a joy in the true passion and professionalism that they deliver.

Meanwhile he’s turned up on TV on adverts selling butter (for which monies earned brought PiL back to life after hiatus) and ITV’s “I’m A Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here” which he would have won by a country mile, if he hadn’t walked, full of integrity and for all the right reasons.

He’s just released a new book ‘Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored’ -his autobiography of a fascinating life. Tonight’s event is just one of three theatre dates – all total sold out. And he’ll be interviewed by friend and BBC Radio 6 Music presenter Matt Everitt. His book goes from his childhood to present day and tonight, there’s no reading, just Lydon’s thoughts and questions from the audience.  Why the book?

‘This book is about the life of a risk taker. I make things safe for other people to follow in my wake’ – John Lydon

So two seats, a table and bottles of water adorn the stage as Everitt appears to introduce the ‘icon’ (a word he knows Lydon will just hate). Lydon stomps onto the stage, adorned in crumpled designer suit and bags like he’s walk off the street – to rapturous applause.  He’s a “bit ill” (clearly flu-laden), the Boots bag contains medication and a box of tissues. Oh and a bottle of brandy.  After relating he’s ill, he says “Hello. I’m John. But at least I’m here…..” with that menacing grin of his. Everitt asks him if he likes Birmingham – “Are you trying to ruin this interview?” he quips – he likes us here in Brum – we ignore those major newspapers; a conversation about Brum soap “Crossroads’ and the “access” he’d like to get to Ms Diane… He’s written about his life before; this book is about his life and is part of an extremely long end (he’s 58 and intends to gone on ’til he’s at least 100). His life is “half-done” and unlike the Stones song – he has no intention on dying before he gets old – he wants to be extremely old!

John Lydon_Audience-9

Scandal has been looking for him all his life – it’s surrounded him – and clearly his book will be a fascinating read. Few will have challenged society so much that his home was regularly raided by the Police; he even knew the Police Officers by name – he’d see them in the pub and they’d say hi and reluctantly indicate they would raid his home later that week. He was notorious and continues to have that menace about him. But as we can relate,  Lydon is harmless, he’d never hurt anyone, as he attests his political hero is Ghandi.

He’s saddened by the death of Robin Williams – he could relate to Williams creative mind – that bounces all over the place all of the time. His does the same. All of the time. As a child he had meningitis which left his comatose for 4 months and left him with no memory, no movement, no voice. Parents he didn’t know or recognise. It took him 4 years to recover. Doctor’s told his parents not to mollycoddle him – to make him angry. And that anger still drives him today.  And as he discusses the pain of life and of the death that has impacted on him – he’s very honest. A tear. We feel for him. He doesn’t want sympathy, but we are empathetic – we feel his pain – his honesty and the man behind the notorious image. A chap in the audience related he told his mother, suffering with dementia, he had told her he was seeing John Rotten tonight. “Do you still like him?” came the response. Lydon sends his love and to his mom – and agrees to and handshake and a hug that makes this guy’s day – he’s been a fan for 30 years…

“Do you think brandy goes with Night Nurse?” (Or Day Nurse – he has both in his bag).

There are those that come in for his ire – those in ‘management’ at the time of the Sex Pistols – “ those clothes makers”; punk’s ‘new’ look Green Day get a sneer; Simon Cowell get’s a slating; former PiL members Kevin Levin and Jah Wobble also get the Lydon sneer; Town Council’s he derides – we should go and call them to account – spend less time watching TV – go and party in the council chambers – stop these ‘normal’ people dictating how we should live; UKIP and Farage – “barrage – they’re preying on the stupid”; The Clash – now don’t ask Lydon about The Clash. That’s not a good move.

A question on Jimmy Saville – a famous comment Lydon made in ’78 – “We all knew way back in ’78” and derision towards the BBC and other establishments that allowed this and other such similar atrocities to happen.

What’s next for PiL? Once this book tour is over, he’s off to the Cotswolds with his beloved band for a new album. There’s no demos in advance, the creative process is organic; inspiration of the moment. While the Sex Pistols changed the world – punk could be copied (and in droves, and badly he thinks). PiL is his baby, it is unique and never copied. And he loves that idea.

The potential theatre opportunity of being in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ was a surprise to him. He loved the challenge and  the family aspect of the team of the cast, even though the promoter eventually pulled it. As if he was a vegetarian after being in the jungle – his comment was that he wasn’t “unless you mean vegetables like Jordan.”

A couple of people dare to walk out (not because they are leaving) and have to pass in front of the stage. “They’re not hiding their face from the 400 of you, they’re hiding from one of me,” he chortles. And after they take some time to return: “Are they doing drugs?”

Blowing his nose – the flu is not good even with the brandy and night nurse – and promptly lifts the tissue in the air and shout’s “Ebay!” – we laugh.

Lydon is brutally honest. He tells it like it is. He is incapable of lying. Honesty in full and glorious Technicolor. And we love him for it. He trusts everyone. Until they lie. He surrounds himself with only those who are truthful.  Nora, his wife, who he adores, get a mention. He says she’s as unique as him – and while they should grow apart over the years they just get closer.

And after an hour and 15 he suddenly stands – he needs a “s**t” – and it’s the end. And audience members rush to the stage to see if they can shake his hand and he’s rushed off stage.

Lydon is fascinating; a true character – at times deep and introspective – fully aware of his own failings yet brutally honest in his own explicative worded manner. And he says exactly what everyone thinks anyway. Get the book – it’ll be well worth the read. He’s loveable, yet remains menacing, but totally approachable. There’s no flies on Johnny. Just never piss him off.


Pictures courtesy of Ken Harrison. Review for 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!
Running in the Family [1987]
Staring at the Sun [1988]
Guaranteed [1991]


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


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.

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.

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.


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

World Premiere: A Time and Place: Musical Meditations on the First World War @ The Town Hall, Birmingham, 17 September 2014

This year marks the centenary of the start of the First Word War. 100 years ago in a totally different world, that it so many ways we can’t relate to.  The first mass produced cars (by Ford) only started in 1914, the telephone (as in landline) was still new technology, radio even newer and the first national broadcasting service – the BBC was 8 years away from formation. News was through newspapers or cinema screenings. But the very real human stories of the time still resonate today and tonight are shown through a powerful musical project: – A Time and Place: Musical Meditations on the First World War.

British folk singer Sam Lee (whose 2012 album Ground Of Its Own garnered a Mercury Music Prize nomination for Album Of The Year) undertook extensive research for A Time And Place earlier this year by discovering wartime songs and stories from rural communities in the south-west of England. Sam’s joined on stage at by north-eastern singer-storytellers Rachel and Becky Unthank – who have set new music to First World War poetry and more – along with band-mate Adrian McNally who has arranged all of the above for an 11-piece ensemble including string quartet and brass.  And all this takes place in Birmingham’s 180-year old Grade I listed Town Hall. And if this wasn’t enough – this performance will take place against the striking visuals from Birmingham video designer Matthew J Watkins (Gorillaz, Beat13, Live_Transmission: Joy Division Reworked).

A Time and Place-6
As we take to our seats birdsong and country sounds play out over the speakers, dry ice wafting gently over a backdrop of three tombstone shapes, on which there is projected a beautiful sunset sky. You can even hear bees buzzing around. It eludes peace in the beautiful setting of the Town Hall. And as the lights go down, the ‘camera’ drops from the sky to the ground and a cave, and the musical cast take to the stage. Tonight’s music is traditional folk inspired, and as the trio of singers chant cathedral windows rise across the screens. “We’re here because we’re here…” goes the chorus. And then a voice, an old woman relates the how boys from her town were taken to war. She asked one boy after the war which village he came from. He didn’t like to say. He was the only one who returned. He couldn’t face the others’ mothers. A staunch and poignant thought – how could we relate today if only one of the men from our village returned from such a war?

The performance is already beautiful, perfect balance of imagery, vocals, musicians and the poetry and words from that moment in time. This song’s theme is about enlisting, the naivety of what young men and boys were walking into – today – social media and 24/7 news would give us a damn good idea. But then? They really didn’t have a clue of the horrors that would unfold. ‘Bideford Bridge’ relates the stale of enlisting and the journey to the trenches – with the chilling end of chorus line “but all of them died in the May.” And then a song with an occasional drumbeat as the men are sucked into the trenches.

And a mention of Empire. In 1914 the  British Empire covered 1/5th of the World population at the time – over 450 million people. And those people too were sucked into the War – not only across Europe but across the World as the British and German Empires fought over territories. Another song – a mother’s epilogue to a fallen son “rotting in No Man’s Land…” as she remembers bathing him as a young child.
‘Bold Privateer’, a Devonian song, is sung beautifully. ‘Wargirls’, quite upbeat, about the women taking on the responsibility of tackling jobs once done by the men – a moment in time as the world began to change for women as a whole. And then a haunting song, as The Unthanks are joined by another woman from the ensemble to give us ‘Socks’ – a song of hope –  as they pray that the men will survive.
A Time and Place-3
The we have a two parter if you like. A soldier, Roland, writes to his sweetheart whilst in the trenches. He seems to know his fate and encourages a brighter future for her and that she should move on. And then his sweetheart, Vera, writes back, a poignant response for this brighter future. Within a month of writing his letter, Roland was dead. He died in 1915. And their words are projected onto the screens behind as this emotional song is recounted.

And a quick breather and a break as we take in the stories we have heard.

As we take our seats for the second part, the birdsong is ringing out once more. And then as the ensemble take to the sage Lee conducts the strings in a musical disarray of the meltdown of war. Another song: comments from a “simple soldier boy” on his experience in the trenches.”Breakfast whilst shells scream overhead….” and then the bugle sounds. A call to go ‘over the top’.

‘Everyone Song’ is about the Christmas Day cease fire…. the briefest of reliefs from the distraction of the trenches; birds are flying, the song is soaring, the hope, the escapism, before it all melts away…. ‘They’ll Never Come Back’,  a modern day song by Tim Darling (New Rope String Band) , is as dark as it is serious.

Lee tell’s us when the time comes join in. We recognise the tune, sung beautifully, but in German. And now in English. And then we sing…”Keep the Home Fires Burning, While your hearts are yearning. Though your lads are far away, They dream of home….”

And then to the final song of the night. It’s Spring 1919. The war is over. The heroes return. They have memories to smother as they transfer from war to peace. And poppies appear on the screen. The flowers that remembers the generation of men and boys who died in the blood-soaked fields of the First World War.

The performance ends as we hear the old woman over the speakers once more.
“I hate war.
“I hate war.
“But I admire the soldiers.”

And we leave the screens are covered by little white crosses. In memorial to the millions who died needlessly in a terrible war.

A Time and Place presents new material inspired by personal stories and arrangements to First World War poetry alongside original repertoire from the time against striking This event is funded by Arts Council England and PRS For Music Foundation and is part of the Imperial War Museums First World War Centenary. It’s  co-produced by sounduk, Barbican and Opera North in partnership with Town Hall & Symphony Hall.


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