Thursday, December 18, 2008
It's sad but certainly not unexpected. For the last year or so I've wandered into Woolworths and wondered what their reason for existence actually was. Pretty much everything they stocked could be bought more cheaply in Tesco and their displays and range seemed in search of a guiding hand.
Nevertheless the speed and timing (pre-Christmas) of the end were a shock and the loss of some 27000 jobs is a devestating blow.
For a forty something like myself, Woolies holds a special place in my formative years, particularly from a musical perspective. They were always great for cheap 7" singles, often reduced to 35p within minutes of dropping out of the charts and had a great selection of LPs and subsequently CDs. Laterally the writing has been on the wall with shrinking musical displays and more space devoted to DVDs, but nevertheless those of a certain age will lament the demise of a little part of our past.
Goodbye Woolies and thanks for the memories.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
On 22nd November, I travelled to London to see Jessie's debut in 'A Little Night Music' in the Menier in Southwark.
Meeting up with Jackie and Katie, I had a wonderful evening and am here publishing Jackie's superb review, which sums up the evening better than I ever could:
Ever left the theatre and wanted to walk straight back in to see a production all over again? Exactly my feeling last year exiting the National Theatre after seeing 'War Horse' - visually and emotionally stunning,'a childrens story that reduces adults to tears'. Then came 'A Little Night Music' at the Menier Chocolate Factory, quite opposite in genre but as unforgettable and engaging. I can't imagine why I had not discovered this piece before, so rich one could relish this experience over again. I visit the theatre frequently but this was my first Sondheim show. I've never written a review either, so this is simply observation,and a combination of two incredible evenings.
There is nothing to compare with the joy and privilege of that opening night -celebrating Jessie's professional theatre(dress rehearsal)debut,in such a welcoming and intimate environment, in the very best of company with friends Katie, David and some familiar faces.
No, I don't hold a MCF season ticket! But later, when my other half walks through the door with two tickets for ALNM on my birthday, sacrificing tickets for England v's the All Blacks that same day - I dont turn it down ! (Safe in the knowledge I won't miss Jonny Wilkinson who's still injured...it beats last years offering -a trip to John Lewis to purchase a tumble dryer...another chance to see this production...a 'no brainer'.)
I'm familiar with the MCF, it's as delightful and endearing as the ALNM cast,the two perfectly matched. This was a first to see a Sondheim production in this special little space and I was smitten by the entire experience. Astonishingly, so was 'Mr Critical' who guffawed and sniggered throughout, exclaiming 'absolutely brilliant' by the interval - why bother with the West End and what a result. (better than an England,Hakka hammering and much warmer).
Not wishing to dwell on the past, but in a matter of months ,the blessing in disguise not winning IDA,and escape from the media circus, is born out by the sheer pace of development in Jessie, witnessed at the MCF,hopefully dispelling any doubts from the faithless,with performances surpassing her years in maturity and measuring up to her on stage colleagues, who are of the highest calibre.
At the flick of a lace hankerchief, Jessie takes us through the turmoil faced by the vain young bride Anne, her highs and lows,tears and laughter. Anne, a master at avoiding the subject of her husband's desires, whilst adoring the flattery of young Henrik's gaze, as he looks on like a forlorn labrador puppy. Notable is the extraordinary control over the accent we usually love to hear,this is surely a challenge itself-just watch it grow in confidence between now and March. The beautiful solo song 'Soon' reiterating Jessie's vocal ability. This convincing evidence of hard work and development is enough to inspire any young creative to persevere.
The plot,a jolly good romp and sensitive fairy tale, in my view must be 'experienced 'and not just read', a delicate mix of shades from Midsummer Nights Dream, A Country Wife, Fielding's Tom Jones and Woody Allen. Every part of the space is used,the beauty of such a tiny theatre, allows every gesture to be shared,and one rapidly engages with the characters with an intimacy no other venue provides. Virtually three hours on that opening night flew by.
Under Nunn's direction Jessie displays a range of emotions at every interaction and glance, through the impressively witty and rich and moving script. Comedy is difficult to do well, but the timing delivered works and Jessie as a natural 'expressive' shines. Look out for sarcasm and those sharp cutting comments, squeezed out at opportune moments, quick or it's gone - Mr Nunn & his skillful cast don't miss a trick.
Maureen Lipman (a favourite actress) playing an astute commanding Madame Armfeldt is superb. I loved her Joyce Grenville show previously and now playing a combination of my stern headmistress Sister Cuthbert with her devestating stare and sharp, worldly wise, great grandma, who lived to 100. Intimidating-yes.
In the second act, Hannah Waddingham with amazing stage presence,showed me what 'Send In The Clowns' really means.I have never engaged with this song until now (sorry. A highlight of the show and sublime, when in context and integral to the dialogue, bringing tears of sympathy for her vivacious character, Desiree.
Alexander Hanson is totally charming alongside Jessie. In the theatre scene the two characters sit among the audience. I found myself being greeted by 'good evening' from Fredrick as he and Anne sat next to me on the steps. 'Good evening to you ' I answered. The characters exchange comments, then sit momentarily frozen in time, mid applause...not a flicker, total professionalism, immensely impressive. Ann delivers a perfecty peevish and livid 'I want to go home!' and flounces her exit via the back row. A most excellent strop Jessie.
'Every Day A Little Death' sung by Jessie and Kelly is touching and sensitively played, the tears are real.
'A Weekend In The Country'...I love to see Jessie sing this cleverly crafted and tricky song. As expressive as ever, eyebrows in overdrive, she rapidly shifts between sarcasm, paranoia, jealousy, disgust, insecurity, anticipation, mischief,(she's good at mischief,very good)and steals laughter with one of the songs best lines. She seems in her element at the end of the first act.
Act two,or 'Babes in the Wood' as it could be renamed, sees the mismatched couples find their happiness with their rightful partners,with the help and freedom of the great outdoors.
The best came with the unexpected. Opening night had the cast taking a bow, but a week later,curtain calls were in order. As Jessie and Gabriel stepped forward,I was on my feet,a proud 'bravo', a most memorable standing ovation,and no one deserved this moment more than Jessie.
(I was already standing at Hyde park,so that doesnt count !). I noted my husband also on his feet in applause,he never does this...ever.
I can only imagine that perhaps this show and schedule is totally rewarding and exhiliaratng but tough, with much to learn between now and March. Jessie has risen admirably to the challenges faced since the distant days of IDA, and like the unassuming Charlie Bucket, young Ms Buckley has won the prize worth waiting for,on her own merit...the key to the gates of the Chocolate Factory. Thus becoming part of Nunn's unique production,and one of gravitas - a perfect role. It's called landing on your feet.
We await the press...
Thursday, September 25, 2008
I travelled from Belfast with my brother-in-law who knows absolutely nothing about Rachel, IDA or WWRY. He just fancied a couple of days in London and I'm very glad I brought him as I haven't been in the city since well, quite a few years shall we say. We flew into Stansted and travelled by train to Liverpool Street. I was immediately stumped by the underground system and those mysterious Oyster cards people were waving about. Fortunately my brother-in-law was clued in and in no time at all we were all aboard the sardine tin, sorry tube and en route to Tottenham Court Road to check out the theatre. We arrived outside at 9.10am a mere ten hours early. Still it was an ideal opportunity to plan the route to the stage door.
Following an extortionately expensive breakfast in Oxford Street, we headed off to see the sights -- Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Downing Street all that stuff. Having located our Travel Lodge in Southwark, we parted ways. I met up with three delightful members of the Buckley Brigade for lunch and a very relaxing afternoon while my brother-in-law met up with a friend elsewhere.
At 6pm we arrived at the Dominion to try to guess who everyone was. Several other BB members had arrived, as well as Chris and Jo. Jo had been lucky enough to snap up Chris's spare ticket that very day and was even luckier to be sitting front row circle with the two most famous bloggers in the theatre. Talking of famous bloggers, where the heck was Andy? The guy had my tickets so I was rather hoping he would show up.
Several people came over to chat. They turned out to be Rachel's family and had some very nice things to say about the blog. Shucks.
Rosie and Eleanor arrived. I recognised Rosie immediately as we have exchanged enough Facebook messages to crash the average hard-drive. But just as I was about to go over for a chat, some bloke asked if I was David. I concurred and shook his hand asking him who he was. 'I'm Andy.' Ooops. I blame beer.
Andy was of course a great guy and we got on really well the entire evening.
We all went inside and headed to the bar. Well they called it a bar -- it looked more like a hole in a wall to me. But then they probably haven't been to Belfast where bars are done properly. Karen arrived with her hubby Richard, who turned out to be a really top guy with a great sense of humour. Team Tucker were understandably entranced to be in such close proximity to close friends of Rachel's and hung on their every word. Which is fair enough as I did too.
Then Jodie and Ashley wandered into the foyer. Several of us in TT had been wondering for weeks if any of the IDA girls would attend and if so who they might be. I honestly don't think anyone guessed correctly. Jodie was really down-to-earth and happy to chat and pose for photos with Rosie, Eleanor and Hannah amongst others.
Soon it was time for the performance and we found our seats. Being front row circle, we had a super view and the show started immediately. The first twenty minutes were entertaining but we needed something more. Then suddenly there was that classic Belfast accent wafting across the auditorium! Yes!!!! We were in the right place.
Rachel commanded the stage -- that's the only word for it. Her duet with Brit of 'I Want It All' was impressive but OMG -- 'No-One But You (Only The Good Die Young)' was something else. Far and away the highlight of the show, Rachel pulled this demanding number off effortlessly. I clapped till my hands were sore. Everything I had ever hoped for Rachel was encapsulated in that moment. Bliss.
The interval was welcome as someone had drunk a little too much. So after the joy of the queue for the loo (more toilets in the Dominion please thank you) I rejoined a stunned TT in the foyer. Karen looked close to tears. Everyone was just raving about Rachel.
Second half and there just wasn't enough Rachel. It was a great show and a lot of fun with super music, but we wanted more Rachel and we wanted it now. Every time she took the stage it was like she owned the place. Talk about a vocation. I've now seen Rachel perform six times in five different productions and every time she has exceeded my already huge expectations. Sorry I'm raving again. If you're a fan of Rachel you NEED to see WWRY. Several times.
Following the final curtain, we made our way out to the foyer and Andy and I met Rachel's sister Margaret and Aunt Susan. They were both just lovely and so appreciative of our efforts for Rachel. We had some photos taken and then a photo op with TT and Karen outside.
At this point Karen & Richard headed off to Rachel's family's hotel and the rest of us went to the stage door which I had checked out that morning. There were quite a few waiting, including Jodie & Ashley who once again posed for photos, including one with that lucky dog Chris Hawley. Nice one!
After a few false alarms, the stage door opened and there was Rachel with Guy -- a bloke who looked fit to burst with pride. Poor Rachel must have got a 'quer gunk' as we say in Belfast to be greeted by dozens of camera and a huge cheer. Bless her she had the patience of a saint, posing for photos (in some cases a second time -- you know who you are Rosie and Andy lol), signing autographs and chatting away. As always she couldn't have been nicer and finally left with Guy to meet her family and friends. TT parted ways and my brother-in-law confessed to being impressed with her performance, probably the ultimate accolade.
The next day we did more of the London thing -- I had to be abandoned in a cafe due to my legs ceasing to work -- hey Karen DID say London was tiring and she wasn't joking. I was also propositioned by a lady of the night during the day which was interesting but I politely declined. All part of the London experience I'm sure.
Back at the airport, we met Rachel's family in the departure lounge and as before they were just lovely people, rounding off an absolutely fabulous two days.
Before the flight I checked out the blog and was delighted with Rosie's and Karen's reviews, not to mention the ITN interview and stage footage.
I also want to say a special thank you to Rachel's family who were incredibly nice to me. It's very easy to see where Rachel gets her lovely nature from.
It was an absolutely brilliant couple of days and I'm going back in November for another helping.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
A wee bit of footage from the show on Saturday. You can read a full account below.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
When Andy and I first started the blog, we had no contact whatsoever with Rachel or anyone who knew her. I reckoned that would need to change if we were going to move to the next level.
After a little research, I contacted Karen in early June. She had been running Rachel's main IDA Facebook Group and I reckoned that she must know a bit about Rachel to be in that role.
This turned out to be one of my best decisions, as Karen was not only a close friend of Rachel's, but also an excellent communicator and a passionate supporter.
Karen's contribution was invaluable, supplying advice, articles, info and photos.
But Karen is also a highly talented artist in her own right. She has performed in myriad theatre productions and possesses a beautiful voice. As well as writing and performing songs with hubby Richard, Karen regularly appears on stage as Abba's Agnetha in the Legends Tribute Show.
So when she mentioned that the show would be visiting the INEC Centre in Killarney, we decided to go and make a weekend of it.
Killarney was a brisk six hour drive, and we stayed in the Quality Inn, which really did live up to it's name. We got the best hotel room we've ever had and the food, kids entertainment and service were excellent.
We arrived late on Friday and had an early night. First thing on Saturday morning, Karen texted us with a lovely welcome message.
We went out for the day to Muckross House, a huge country estate on the outskirts of Killarney, featuring beautiful waterfalls, spacious grounds, an interactive farm (we even got to milk a cow!) and horse and trap rides. Despite the bizarre weather -- warm but constantly raining -- we had a great day.
Karen had arranged to meet us in the bar of the Gleneagles Hotel where the show was being held.
I must admit to being slightly nervous. Meeting someone who you've corresponded closely with can often be a strange experience. But I needn't have worried. Karen was a even nicer person in reality than online, and really easy to talk to.
We went into the ballroom at about 9pm and found a good table in front of the stage.
The show consisted of three tributes -- the Bee Gees, who were impressive particularly in the vocal department (you try singing falsetto for an hour) and Elvis, who spent much of his act in the audience, really getting the crowd going. Talking of the crowd, they were certainly a lively bunch, well up for a dance and by the time Abba took the stage at about 11.30 they were raring to go. The place was packed -- the hotel had to open another seating area to get everyone in, and it was soon obvious as to why.
Karen (Agnetha) and Amanda (Frida) looked absolutely fantastic. Bjorn and Benny did their best, but seriously was anyone actually looking at them?
Kicking off with the awesome intro of 'Gimmee Gimmee Gimmee', the girls immediately stole the show. They were having tremendous fun on stage and the audience were on their feet straightaway. I particularly liked the segue into Madonna's 'Hung Up', before a great rendition of 'Honey Honey', one of Abba's more neglected tracks.
Karen and Amanda conversed in adorable Swedish accents between songs and encouraged the rubbish dancers like me to do the 'finger dance; to the intro of 'Mamma Mia.'
Speaking of which, we saw the film in the cinema recently and as you'll see from my review below, I was very disappointed. Comparing Karen's show to the film was rather like comparing a Porsche to a moped. The tribute show was all about fun, authenticity and above all great voices -- Meryl Streep take note!
Karen's rendition of 'The Winner Takes It All', a tough test for any vocalist, was superb. Rachel described Karen's voice as wonderful -- she was spot on.
Fourteen Abba songs were shoe-horned into just over an hour, including 'Dancing Queen', 'Mamma Mia', 'Fernando', 'Super Trouper' and my personal favourite, the bittersweet 'Knowing Me Knowing You.'
I filmed part of the performance, a little of which I've included here.
The closing number was 'Waterloo' which I filmed from the dancefloor -- not easy when everyone is going crazy. You'll notice the stage invasions by various drunken eejits -- I particularly like the one where Karen shoves the bloke off stage.
After the performance, Karen met us again for another chat. She was just absolutely lovely -- I can't say anything too good about her.
We had a brilliant night -- my daughter was up dancing through Karen's entire set and already wants to know when we're going again.
It was a priviledge and a pleasure to meet Karen and I want to thank her so much for making us feel so welcome.
Why not give your ears a treat and listen to Karen's beautiful vocals? Here is a link to her Myspace page. My particular favourite is 'Too Dependent.'
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Our family faces a dilemma every year.
My personal idea of a holiday is good food, good wine and a lot of chilling out.
My family's idea of a holiday is twenty gos on the fastest rollercoaster in the biggest park, before climbing a mountain and abseiling back down.
So this year we thought we'd try a compromise.
Keycamp operate lots of holiday centres around France and to a large extent allow you to pace your own holiday.
We stayed in Chateau Des Ormes, in northern Brittany, an area renowned for it's seafood, wine and slightly dodgy weather.
Flying in to the tiny Rennes airport, we collected an Avis hire car. Things started badly for some of our fellow travellers when their car wouldn't start. I'm sure that one had been meant for us.
We tootled off up the road trying to concentrate on driving on the right while attempting to understand the local road signs.
Eventually we arrived at the campsite and were allocated a caravan -- one of those ones with walls so thin you need to be careful where you point in case your finger goes through.
I won't say there was a noise problem but one morning I woke up to the sound of someone farting outside. So far so charming.
The site had plenty of facilities for kids -- two great swimming pools, bungee trampolene, zipwire, scary looking obstacle course in the trees, horse riding, cycling, golf, tennis, you name it. All unfortunately not included in the price, but hey Mr.Wallet was here so no problem. Ahem.
We spent quite a bit of time off site, visiting the quaint little French town of Dol-De-Bretagne several times. Great little shops, restaurants and of course an internet cafe, one of life's little essentials.
The language barrier could be a problem -- I ended up with a large plate of ten shellfish covered in green garlic gloop. Despite the rather worrying sight of the proprietor's wee dog wandering in and out of the kitchen, I survived this meal intact.
It wasn't until later in the week that we found the ultimate gastronomic experience -- a restaurant called L'Auberge something. You can tell I was paying attention.
This place was a converted farmhouse complete with huge charcoal grill over an open fire and a large amount of local diners, always a good sign.
A nice bottle of Rose wine went down a treat along with a gorgeous helping of pikeperch, followed by creme brulee. If I'm ever given just one evening to live, this is where I want to spend it.
The pace of life tended to be laid-back -- fancy some shopping in the early afternoon? Sorry we're all closed for a two hour lunch break. Fancy some food while you're waiting? Sorry the restaurants are all full because the shop workers have all piled in at once. Or my particular favourite -- the restaurant that was closed for lunch.
Back to the campsite -- the kids club proved popular. We ended up going for lunch with one of the other families -- a brave single mum with three kids in tow. They came from the Isle Of Man so of course I had to ask if they knew Samantha Barks. And of course they did. So here is a photo of a girl who got to meet Samantha together with a girl who got to do 27 shows with Rachel. I'll let you decide who got the better deal.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Being a huge fan of Rachel, I wasn't madly keen on the group performances, but they steadily improved throughout the contest as there were less girls to get in the way!
This one in particular is great fun.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Thursday, July 17, 2008
The good folk tasked with transferring 'Mamma Mia' from stage to screen had two gigantic advantages.
Firstly the small matter of the soundtrack -- effectively the run of Abba's entire back catalogue, and secondly the use of the storyline -- a compotent if unremarkable tale of a bride-to-be inviting her three potential fathers to her wedding on a beautiful Greek island.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well there's the music. Benny and Bjorn penned some of the most glorious songs in the history of popular music. But they also had the huge advantage of having Agnetha and Frida's awesome pipes to sing them. So the film-makers needed to be damn sure they roped in some major vocal talent.
And for the first ten minutes or so, it looked very much that they had. The delightful rendition of 'Honey Honey' by the three girls set the scene beautifully, all fun and frolics on a tropical island, and I began to have high hopes.
But within minutes the wheels began to come off.
It would appear that the producers had the choice of big voices or big names. Sadly they opted for the latter.
Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth may be great eye-candy for the ladies, but can they sing?
Well put it this way, your dad singing at your cousin's wedding probably wouldn't be any worse. Brosnan's mauling of 'SOS' was a horror to behold, and Firth's rendition of 'Our Last Summer' hovered precariously on the precipice of disaster.
Likewise, Meryl Streep, otherwise a fine actress, frequently floundered in the vocal department. 'The Winner Takes It All', the ultimate test for any Abba tribute, resembled nothing more than a train wreck but I confess to a misty eye during 'Slipping Through My Fingers', a song which has an unexpected poignancy now that I'm a parent.
The young girl playing Sophie positively shone on the rare occasions when she was allowed to burst into song, but the main focus bewilderingly appeared to be on the A-listers cringe-worthy karaoke.
It wasn't all awful -- Julie Walters rescued 'Take A Chance On Me' through her sheer manic joie-de-vivre and 'Money Money Money' held a certain charm, but for large sections of the film, it was embaressing hide behind the sofa time.
Which is a real shame because the narrative, the location and the awesome songs (many of which sound better today than in the 70s) are all present and correct. They just need someone to sing them.
Having said all that, if you can check-in your cringe-meter at the door, 'Mamma Mia' is a harmless and enjoyable piece of cinematic fluff.
Personally I'm now tempted to go and see the stage show for comparison, but I suspect I'm more likely to just give my 'Abba Gold' CD a whirl instead.
Sunday, July 06, 2008
Sunday, June 08, 2008
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Belfast lass Rachel Tucker was voted off 'I'd Do Anything' tonight, finishing in an ill-deserved fourth place.
I have to confess to having a small personal interest in Rachel, as my daughter was one of The Munchkins when Rachel played Dorothy in 'The Wizard Of Oz' last Christmas. By all accounts she is a lovely person and in my opinion, an extremely impressive actress and singer. Rachel even received a ringing endorsement from Liam Neeson, who saw her in the production in Belfast's Lyric Theatre.
Rachel was, in a way, on a hiding to nothing by entering the 'Nancy' contest in the first place. As the 'professional' actress, if she'd won, some would have cried fix, by losing, others might say she was beaten by amateurs. From a promotional viewpoint however, the show was absolutely invaluable.
In the event, her performances on the show ranged from solid to phenomenal. Her rendition of the Sugababes 'About You Know' was little short of awesome, and her 'Cabaret' simply blew the other three girls off the stage and even got a standing ovation from the panel, and more importantly, Andrew Lloyd-Webber himself. typically, the public reacted by voting her into the singoff, putting ALW in an impossible position. Had Rachel been tied with Jodie, I think the conclusion would have been obvious, but Samantha had garnered much praise from the panel and had not finished in the bottom two before. Andrew's decision, whilst harsh, was perhaps understandable in the circumstances.
It's true that, being a Belfast girl, Rachel came across as slightly reserved, less likely to garner the sympathy vote, but throughout the contest, her grit and professionalism shone through. Without a doubt, she deserved the part.
But this is TV land. And as the Welshman Rydian recently discovered, talent often isn't enough.
Of the three finalists, Samantha and Jessie come across as being plucky, but young and inexperienced, while Jodie comes across as the big-hearted northern lass who just might shade it at the end.
None can compete with Rachel in the vocal or acting stakes, but hey, this is showbiz. Anyone observing the music industry knows that a great voice and great songwriting can easily lose out to manufactured looks and a few gimmicks.
So if I were Rachel, I wouldn't feel too bad. Fourth out of twelve is no disgrace, and if the job offers don't come rolling in, I'll employ her myself.
As to whoever wins next Saturday, all I can say is good luck on trying to fill Rachel's shoes.
A final word for Richard Croxford, manager of Belfast's Lyric Theatre, who campaigned tirelessly for Rachel. He emailed and phoned all the Munchkins families, drummed up countless votes, and organised a great afternoon for all the kids to publicise Rachel's heroic efforts.
Rachel's early exit was a travesty, but I've no doubt her career will benefit and her talent will be appreciated by directors with their heads on their shoulders rather than in the clouds.
Check out this blog devoted entirely to Rachel!
(Link in top right hand corner).
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
A few weeks ago, I tried to explain to somebody exactly what Last.FM is. Rather like peanut butter, it's actually quite a tough sell. You really need to try before you buy. Or in this case don't buy at all, as most of it's spanking-well free!
Basically, if you love music, you'll love Last.FM. If you're a chart nerd, a CD collector, an I-Pod owner or want to hear something other than the top 40 crap on the radio, you NEED Last.FM.
To begin on the site, simply download the software (takes just a few minutes), and tell it which genre of music you'd like to hear. This can be anything from death metal to Irish country. Immediately, the site will start playing tracks from your genre, complete with a biography and photo of each artist. With each track, you have the option to save to your 'loved tracks', 'tagged tracks' or simply skip to the next one.
You can also name an artist instead of genre and you'll be played dozens of other similar artists, with the same options as above for each track.
And the really clever part is that the more you play, the more accurate the site becomes at working out what you'd like to hear.
A small tweak enables you to channel all the tracks you listen to via your PC, CDs or I-Pod through Last.FM, further enhancing the site's understanding of your personal tastes.
I've already discovered a dozen great artists through the site, including Nightwish, Syntax, Covenant, Unheilig and Rotersand.
For the modest sum of £1.50 a month, you get to play your 'loved tracks' in rotation (basically your own personal jukebox), add comments on each track, join forums and have all your tracks filed into charts, showing the number of plays for each artist and song.
It's music heaven, and for the price of a couple of CDs a year, it's phenomenal value. Trust me, you'll love it.
Now why didn't I say all this to that bloke a few weeks ago....
Hard to believe somebody took the time to do this, but here it is -- a gallery of 300+ vinyl shaped picture discs! Needless to say, most are from the 80s, but a few are surprisingly up to date.
Brings back a few memories of spectacular wall displays and discs wobbling all over your turntable! Enjoy!
Sunday, May 04, 2008
I'm sure there are hundreds of blog posts out there dedicated to these lovely ladies, but let's face it, what everyone wants are the thoughts of a man in his 40s, who's just seen them live.
After much pleading and pestering, I finally persauded my seven year old daughter to accompany me to Belfast's Odyssey Arena to see the show.
First impression was the massive discrepancy in scale compared to my other two gigs this year -- Gary Numan (approx 300 punters), Nightwish (approx 800), Girls Aloud (approx 6000!!!) AND they sold out three nights, making approx 18000 in Belfast alone. Impressive or what?
Second impression was the shocking poverty afflicting the young concert going ladies of Belfast. Most could barely afford a few scraps of clothing. Not that I'm complaining mind you.
So the next impression was the support acts. Yes acts. Three of them. Rather like visiting a restaurant and getting three starters -- generous but rather sickening.
First on was a group of lads called Billiam, whose name and performance came dangerously close to the word bilious. They sang a few nursery rhymes and jogged around the stage for about 20 minutes.
Next was a bloke called barely audible. I'm sure that was his name. Just as well he was on early, as he looked like he'd need to be up for school in the morning. To be honest, he wasn't bad. And he's on Myspace. Good luck in finding him.
Finally, a bunch of Girls Aloud wannabes came on. They called themselves the Saturdays, but by this performance, I reckon the wet Wednesdays might be more appropriate. At least one of their songs had the decency to use Yazoo's 1982 classic; 'Situation' as backing. I reckon this lot were booked to make Girls Aloud look even better when they finally came on. If they ever came on.
My daughter was getting a bit bored by now and was less than impressed with the Girls time-keeping. I was quietly praying that we'd seen the last of the support acts. To be honest, my farting farmyard impressions would have blown the rest of them off the stage.
The Saturdays thankfully departed and the lights went on. We were treated to a few pop videos, and then suddenly the show started. The curtains went back, and there were the girls, suspended in mid-air. This was going to be a classy show. None of your two torches and a disco ball here. We got fireworks and everything -- for the opening number!
Distance was a problem. Fifty four rows back does shrink your view a bit. Whereas you had to apologise for knocking Gary Numan off stage on the way to the loo, you really needed a pair of binoculars to ascertain that Girls Aloud actually were on stage. Fortunately there were a couple of big TV screens. And about a million little mobile phone screens.
I mean seriously what is the point of people doing this? 'Look I got 14 seconds of a blurry noise and somebody's head.' Woo-hoo.
Anyway, back to the show. The ladies were running through their repotoire in fine fashion. 'You can't escape my biology.' No we couldn't.
It quickly became apparent that Nadine and Nicola were doing a lot of carrying in the vocal department. Nadine seemed thrilled to be back 'home' and did some lovely inter-song banter. At least I assume it was lovely as we couldn't actually hear it.
But she looked nice and smiled a lot, so that was good enough for me.
I hadn't realised how many cover versions Girls Aloud had done. The Pointer Sister's 'Jump' was great -- better than the original in my book. But 'Walk This Way'? Well what can you say? They were game to give it a go.
Then there's Salt N Pepa's 'Push It', which relies almost entirely on it's funky little riff, so it's tough to mess up.
Particularly nice though, was the Pretenders' 'Stand By You', not only because it's a nice version, but also because the ladies felt sorry for us lonely folks at the back and came halfway down the hall via a nifty gantry, just to sing it for us. That was nice.
No expense was spared. Hunky male dancers, great slide show, fireworks, costume changes, you name it, they had it.
Highlights included 'Call The Shots', an astonishingly good track so deep into their career, 'Can't Speak French' and the encore; 'Something Kinda Ooh', which had just about everything thrown into it apart from Gordon Brown, which was a relief.
I have to say that the girl's figures did give me slight cause for concern. They really could go a few fish suppers. Come on ladies, a few curves wouldn't hurt!
And the vocals were frequently lost in the mix.
But hey, this was a spectacle, not a virtuoso vocal performance. And boy was it fun.
We got all the hits, all the fireworks and all the flaunting we could possibly want.
And it ain't easy to please a seven year old and a forty four year old, but tonight ladies, you managed it. Nice one.
Here's a picture of Girls Aloud on my sofa. All together now -- 'somethin' kinda ooh, jumpin' on my tube tube...'
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
OK so my life's so sad that my next blog post is the same subject as the last one.
Well actually I did do quite a detailed Aspergers post, but I decided it was too personal for public consumption, so it's available by request only. That's got you intrigued eh?
Anyway, the second episode of 'Pushing Daisies' has confirmed what I suspected -- this series is exactly on my wavelength. Which may be worrying. But what the hell, somebody's got to like it.
At last a programme that's imaginative, quirky, romantic, fun and clever. Not to mention slightly challenging as far as keeping up with the plot is concerned.
There's no major violence, no swearing, no extreme nastiness and no gratuitous sex. Well none at all actually for obvious reasons.
I'd never had any time at all for Anna Friel before (I'm ashamed to say I never returned any of her calls), but now she's just the ticket.
Really great so far. I'll keep you updated.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Yet again it's left up to the Yanks to provide some decent entertainment. Even if they have nicked one of our actresses (sorry I know that everyone is an acTOR these days -- well exceuuuussseeeee me) to do it.
Anna Friel was previously best known for doing a lesbian kiss in ex-soap Brookside and a yawn-fest film called 'The Land Girls.' And some adverts for something girlie.
So far so crap. But in 'Pushing Daisies', she's really rather good. In much the same way that the ex-Eastenders 'Bionic Woman' girl isn't.
Anyway, the bloke who stars has the gift of bringing things back to life just by touching them. Which is great. But if he touches them a second time they die. Permanently. Which isn't. Especially if you're his mum.
Undeterred, he makes a tidy living by temporarily reviving murder victims for a pop quiz and then claiming the reward for finding their killers. Sneaky eh.
But having promised himself he wouldn't keep anyone permanently resurrected (the nearest person dies if he does) he is suddenly faced with his childhood sweetheart in a coffin (the delightful Miss Friel). It's not a tough choice to let the obnoxious undertaker meet his maker instead and keep his ex alive for future adventures with his business partner and gorgeous undead dog.
After just one episode I'm intrigued. The style is quirky adult fairy tale with a narrator. The leads are appealing and the plot frisky. Could go far.
But if you're brain dead, you may prefer Celebrity Mr & Mrs.
Friday, April 11, 2008
There was a quirky little programme on Channel 4 last night, called 'Cotton Wool Kids.'
It concerned the often obsessive behaviour of modern-day parents, some of who go to farcical lengths to protect their kids from their idea of danger.
By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, the voiceovers were kept to a minimum and the programme was largely narrated by the parents and their worried offspring.
We were treated to a little girl of about 6, who took us on a tour of her tiny back garden, pointing out all the hidden 'dangers', which included such deadly threats as a thistle and a slippery patch of grass.
Another girl told us how she was scared of rapists and yet another who was told to grow her nails long to scratch any would-be abductors.
Other terrifying dangers included teenagers, strangers, gang members and dogs.
One mother drove her kids into town, pointing out lone men and even lone women as potential kidnappers. The spectre of Madeline McCann was invoked constantly.
It was all a very far cry from the 'good old days' when kids could play in the woods or on the streets all day unmolested. Apparently.
The truth of course is rather different. Certainly roads are busier these days, and crime generally has risen, but abductions by strangers remain incredibly rare and gang attacks tend to be by definition amongst gangs.
Then I thought about how close this all was to home. Is it better to push your children out into the street amongst the other kids, let him/her take the knocks, the bitchiness and the rough and tumble, or is it better to keep them in with their Wii, DS and Playstation? Is it better to avoid the petty rows with other parents or chalk it all up to the rich experience of family life? And when is the best time to 'let go'?
I don't have the answers and somehow I doubt anyone else does either.
In my dim and distant past there's been XTC's 'Making Plans For Nigel', Tears For Fears 'Shout' and Gary Numan/Dramatis' 'Love Needs No Disguise' amongst others.
Now let me introduce you to 'Message' by an obscure band called Syntax.
Haunting, melancholy and strangely beautiful, there's something mysteriously indefinable about this track.
The video was probably made for about 50p, but I can particularly empathise with the last thirty seconds or so, where the guy is constantly fending off 'people', known or unknown.
I guess we all feel like that sometimes. Or is it just me?
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Tonight marked Nightwish first concert date anywhere in Ireland, one of two local dates on their 40 date 'Dark Passion Play' tour.
The venue was Belfast's Mandela Hall, part of the Queen's University complex -- an intimate but still sizeable setting.
Things began rather unusually when we simply strolled in off the street without being asked for a ticket! So far so casual.
The support band were Pain, a compotent, indeed impressive bunch, who worked the crowd well. Unfortunately there was then a delay of almost an hour before the main act came on. Was it worth the wait?
Bouncing on stage to thunderous applause, the band kicked off with 'Bye Bye Beautiful', a two-fingered salute to their recently departed singer Tarja.
The band's sound was tight and highly compotent, with impressive acoustics from the small venue. But the question on everyone's lips was 'how does new vocalist Annette measure up?'
On the basis of tonight, Tarja can go get a day job. Annette may not possess the operatic pipes of her predecessor, but she more than makes up for it with her gutsy performances and boundless enthusiasm. She was an absolute joy to watch, throwing everything into every track, working the crowd, smiling incessantly and even bantering in surprisingly good English between songs.
Tuomas gave a polished and often intense keyboard performance, while Marco frequently stole the show with his anecdotes (some inaudible) and vodka drinking!
Compared to a lot of bands I've seen, Nightwish really knew how to work the crowd -- sprinting round the stage, joking, throwing plectrums and above all, really getting into it! This was top notch entertainment.
Most of the new album was performed, including the ambitious opener; 'The Poet And The Pendulum', (for some reason shoe-horned into the middle of the set) and three of the four singles (Eva was notably absent).
The biggest roars were reserved for the 'Once' tracks, particularly 'Dark Chest Of Wonders', 'Nemo' and the closing 'Wish I Had An Angel', every one superb.
Encores were the surprisingly intense; 'Seven Days To The Wolves', the classic 'Wishmaster' and the previously mentioned 'Angel'.
This was debatably my first metal concert, and a great experience it was, complete with head banging, crowd surfing and a couple of manic Chinese blokes pogoing on our toes! I'd definitely go back for another helping! An excellent night.
For anyone wondering if Nightwish can survive without Tarja, worry no more. On the basis of tonight's performance, they have a long, long career ahead of them.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Hmmmm. When I was a kid there was a TV series called the Banana Splits. It had various 'wacky' characters, who were all blokes in silly dog costumes, with names like Bungo and Fleagle. I haven't seen it for decades, but if I ever did, I'm sure it would look woeful.
The thing is, when this series ended back in the mid 70s, I almost felt like I'd lost a relative. You know the feeling you get when you finish a book you've really got into -- it's like an emptiness that suddenly these characters have gone from your life. That's rather how I felt at the end of the first series of 'Ashes To Ashes' tonight.
Never has a programme relied more on it's characters and less on it's plotline.
The final episode tied up no loose ends whatsoever. OK Alex's dad masterminded the carbomb that killed him and his wife, and was apparently intended to kill Alex too.
But she was unable to stop the event happening. Which is fair enough, as the first law of time travel (probably) states that you can't change the past, otherwise you'll endanger the future (witness a particularly memorable episode of the Simpsons when Homer alters the future by squashing a bug in the Jurassic.)
But then Alex contravenes the second law of time travel, which states that you cannot meet yourself.
And Alex remains rooted in 1981, still unable to be there for her daughter's birthday in 2008, while Gene, supposedly a detective, continues to not ask any pertinent questions whatsoever of our heroine.
Where did you come from? Why are you always talking about the future? And why have you only got two outfits?
Even more bizarrely, Gene & Alex have still failed to get jiggy, despite the first rule of TV drama that you must hop into bed within 12 hours of meeting.
So it's all very mysterious. But I just can't help watching.
The character of Gene Hunt is so hilariously likeable that a series of him painting his house would top the ratings. Keely Hawes may not be Oscar-winning material, but her portrayal of Alex Drake is strangely compelling in it's doe-eyed innocence.
And the supporting cast are absolute gems, providing some great one-liners; 'how dare a poofter (Tom Robinson) sing a song about cars -- that's a man thing'.
At it's heart, this drama is entirely character driven -- people watch to see Hunt & Drake's chemistry, to hear Hunt say all the stuff we've always wanted to and to guffaw at the rampant homophobia and sexism on display from the finest police force 1981 can offer.
A second series has been commissioned for 2009 and personally I'm looking forward to it.
Friday, March 14, 2008
Here it is: the precise moment when Jimmy Nesbitt, Brian Kennedy, Karen Rush, olivia Nash & some other bloke all got to share a stage with my daughter. Their claim to fame occurred during the finale of 'Glinda's Glitter Ball', the final show in Belfast's Lyric Theatre.
What an honour for these celebrities, and one they can treasure for years to come.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Following on from the surprise TV hit series 'Life On Mars', the BBC decided to create a follow-up, set in 1981, complete with the best soundtrack in the world!
'Ashes To Ashes' may have lost Sam Tyler, but has replaced him with the foxy Alexandra Drake, a tempting foil for the ever un-PC Gene Hunt.
This time round, Gene gets to do handbrake turns in a smart red Audi, make leering remarks about Drake's bum and still collar the odd villain, despite having possibly the most inept cop duo since the Naked Gun helping him out.
OK so as a police drama it barely makes it out of the starting blocks, but hey who cares -- just listen to that soundtrack! Tubeway Army's 'Are 'Friends' Electric?', Simple Minds 'I Travel', Ultravox 'Vienna', Roxy Music, Soft Cell, Human League, XTC....I mean come on!
Will Alex make it back to 2008 and discover who shot her? Will Gene get her in the sack first? Can she save her snooty mum from getting blown up?
Who cares? With music like this accompanying, the series can go on for 50 years with my full permission.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Last year Gary Numan embarked on a small 'Telekon Tour', playing all the songs from the album plus associated B-Sides. Unfortunately this tour didn't include Belfast or Dublin.
This time round though, with 'Replicas' getting the same treatment, we were in luck, and Numan sold out the 'Spring and Airbrake' in Belfast's Ormeau Avenue.
I had previously seen the great man live for the first time in 2001 on the 'Pure' tour, when he played the Limelight, next door to last night's venue. That had been a superb show, if a little heavier than many had expected.
But this tour promised more of a return to his electro roots and has subsequently generated quite a buzz, with many shows selling out quickly.
I went with a couple of friends, one who had been a Numan fan for nearly 30 years, but had never seen him play live. We queued outside for about 15 minutes despite arriving slightly late. The crowd were, as you might expect, a diverse mixture of young goths, middle-aged blokes and curious students.
The venue could best be described as 'cosy', with an alarmingly small stage area.
The support band came on almost immediately. Fronted by a girl who looked rather like a young Saffron from Republica, they were a three piece who ran through a compotent if unremarkable set to polite applause. The hall was barely half full at this stage, but it was soon evident that everyone had been hanging around in the foyer and by the time the man himself took the stage at 9.40, there was something approaching a crush.
Numan's early 80s light shows are legendary and despite the 'compact and bijou' stage area, the light show was really quite impressive.
Numan strode on stage with the band and launched straight into 'Replicas'. The crowd were well up for it, chanting 'Numan! Numan!' between songs, as one classic after another filled the room.
The original 'Replicas' songs were interspersed with the 'out-take' tracks on the 20th anniversary remastered CD, and mighty fine many of them were. My personal favourite is 'We Have A Technical', a track featuring the intro of what later became 'I Die You Die' and was even covered by Blur's Damon Albarn for the tribute album.
Also present were the superb B-Sides 'We Are So Fragile' and 'Do You Need The Service'. The biggest roar of the night seemed to be for 'Down In The Park', still an intensely dark, claustrophobic track all these years later.
Numan has never been one to deliver speeches between tracks, and tonight was no exception. Apart from the odd 'thank you', his only spoken contribution was when he retook the stage, declaring that; 'we've done all the Replicas songs -- do you want something else?'
Yes we did, so we were treated to 'Cars', 'Everyday I Die' and a particularly intense rendering of 'A Prayer For The Unborn', possibly the best performance of the night in my opinion.
The others I was with had recently been to see Queens Of The Stone Age and Smashing Pumpkins, both in the Kings Hall, and complained about the terrible sound quality, something which plagued the venue back in the 80s.
Thankfully there was no such problem with Numan, the smaller venue being a major advantage.
The show was absolutely fantastic, possibly the best I've ever been to, and we're definitely up for the next tour.
Monday, March 03, 2008
Do you like what I did with the name of the restaurant there? Very clever. Or not.
Anyway, since it was mother's day and I'd heard good reports about Mourne Seafood in Dundrum, near Newcastle, I thought I'd push the boat out (there I'm at it again-such talent).
I'd booked a table for four and we were shown in. The place looked a trifle decrepit, though I assumed this was the 'rustic' look they were going for. The restaurant was quite small and the tables a little too close to each other, resulting in quite a high noise level.
We ordered drinks -- a couple of cokes and a bottle of sparkling water. We'd poured out two glasses before we realised that it was still water rather than sparkling. Not a great start.
Talking of starters, two of us went for these, while B wanted a dessert so he gave it a miss. C ordered the kids meal of sausage and chips which rather inconveniently arrived with the starters.
I had the toasted scallops with side salad and H went for the seafood chowder. Both were perfectly serviceable, but nothing special.
Having waited quite a while for the starters, we had another long wait for the mains. I visited the 'restroom', which was apparently unheated.
C continued to struggle through her kids meal. Not surprising really as the chips were so hard I nearly lost a filling when I tried one and the sausages were basic at best. Very poor indeed for £4.95.
The main courses were a revelation, though not unfortunately a good one.
B had ordered a steak, which he is something of a specialist in. He pronounced it to be the fattiest steak he had ever been served, together with more of the highly unappetising chips and no vegetables.
H had the seabass fillets, which were served frugally, to say the least. Two small servings on a large plate was just a joke.
At least my hake steak was a decent portion, even after removing 1000 bones, and it was nice tasty fish, though not as nice as I'd had in the Seasalt in Newcastle the previous year (for about half the price).
B ordered his dessert from a passing waiter while I was still eating, as we'd already been there nearly two hours and wanted to get going. Fifteen minutes later as the mains plates were being cleared, it still hadn't arrived, and he had to order again.
At least the chocolate cheesecake he had was worth the wait. He awarded it 9 out of 10 and didn't offer any of us a taste, so that was a thumbs up for the chef.
We had to ask for the bill twice, and it came to a hefty £65.50 for two starters, a dessert, three mains, a kids meal and a few soft drinks.
All in all, it was a case of 'never again.' I'd definitely recommend Frenchies in Clough or the Seasalt in Newcastle over this place.