Thursday, 4 June 2020

Summary of Activity

Here is the latest summary of activity on the chess front.

Clearly, the current emergency is far from over and we have no idea when things will start to return to anything resembling normality.

Meanwhile, we are doing our best to keep people connected. We are also maintaining a steady stream of top quality chess material, accessible to all, so please feel very free to share as appropriate to your pupils, teachers, parents, chess clubs, libraries and whoever else you think may find the content of interest.

A reminder to all schools that the UK Chess Challenge is now an online Summer Festival of Chess and the time to enter is NOW.


Lessons 14 and 15 are now available at the CSC website. All of the other lessons are there too, making it easy to catch up with any you may have missed or would like to revise.

My two latest CSC lockdown blog posts - which are aimed at novices and parents - cover 'Pins and Skewers' and 'The Fork'. They can be found here.


A reminder to all of our schools that you were sent information and links to sign up every pupil for ChessKid accounts and there is still time to join in.


My personal view on the current emergency can be found here.


My latest Chessable blog posts are here:

The London System

The Art of Attack

Steinitz Memorial, Day Three

Steinitz Memorial, Day Two

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Carrying the Shame

I carry the shame of my generation.



We have sleepwalked our way into a time of extreme problems.



Prior to this, the most recent case of sleepwalking into a nightmare world occurred in the 1930s.



The current problems are largely self-evident.



Just two weeks ago I wrote:

‘The finishing post is NOT in sight.



Schools should NOT return to action unless it is absolutely safe to do so.


I hope schools are able to make a stand against the latest plan.

Everyone is much too valuable to be used as an experiment.’




A lot has happened since then.



A lot hasn’t happened since then.



Substantial pressure is being placed on schools to return to action. The campaign to name teaching staff as heroes dovetails so neatly into the ethos of the weekly act of clapping that it will act as a badge of shame for those who do not think it is safe to return.

The pressure is intensified; who would want to let the side down? Who isn’t capable of being a hero?



The nation needs its share of the ‘feel good’ factor.

The simplest example of such an artifice occurred during the 1939-45 war, when households were asked to donate points and pans and the railings from parks and gardens were removed, ‘to help the war effort.’



Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister for Aircraft Production, ‘We will turn your pots and pans into Spitfires and Hurricanes, Blenheims and Wellingtons.’



The unfortunate reality of the situation is that the metal was either dumped into the sea or merely left in scrap heaps, which rather dilutes the intended ‘do your bit’ feel good message.



You don't need to give away your pots and pans.



You don’t need an appointed time to clap for your heroes.



It will already have faded from memory that many people wanted to clap again for the ‘hero of the nation’, who recklessly subjected himself to the virus by shaking hands with infected sufferers.

Presumably someone told him Princess Diana once did something similar, during the height of a different virus. The finer detail of how the respective viruses were allowed to spread was either ignored or not present.



On the day some schools will open their doors to more than just key workers' children, the lockdown will be eased in other ways.

This will ensure there will be confusion when the second spike appears; the trail won’t lead clearly to the school environment.



I need schools to return to normal for the sake of my own business - but I don’t want them to return as I know it is not going to be safe.



There is no point in comparing the situation in the United Kingdom to that of other countries. It fails the test of comparing like with like.



One aspect that isn’t being talked about is just how will people - of all ages - react to a return to school after so many weeks away.



Any teacher will tell you how difficult it is to go back to teaching after the Summer break.

They now have to return after an unprecedented time away from their children, friends and colleagues. Any attempt to make that sound like an easy transition is pure bravado.



The spike in the spread of the virus won’t be the only one. The explosion of mental health issues will be unprecedented.

Nobody, anywhere, can successfully claim to be immune to such problems when their whole world is turned upside down.



Time and again I have said I believe in the next generation to make a much better job of everything once they have the opportunity to do so and I am deeply ashamed of the the state of the world they will inherit.



To the young, I apologise.

I carry the shame of my generation.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

UK Chess Challenge 2020 – Online!

Many people have asked me about the future of the UK Chess Challenge since the start of the lockdown.

Our own Teesside Megafinal had to be cancelled, as did every other Megafinal. Unfortunately, there was no alternative.

I am now delighted to convey the big news of the solution devised by Sarah and Longson.



UK Chess Challenge 2020 – Online!

For the first time the UK Chess Challenge will be being held online. Throughout the summer there will be a festival of chess with all the regular events (Megafinals, Gigafinals and Terafinal) and a host of other championships including chess 960, chess variants and a Blitz championship. We will also be holding regular simultaneous displays with masters and past champions.

Unlike previous years once you have entered the competition you have a ticket to the full event – no requirement to pay extra for Gigafinals or the Terafinal if you get that far.

There are three options.


i) “Competition Pass” which gets you access to all of the competitions

ii) “Season Ticket” which includes everything in “Competition Pass” PLUS 1 x bootcamp (targeted training session with master coach) and access to special events such as the simultaneous displays versus masters and past champions

iii) “VIP Pass” which has everything in “Season Ticket” PLUS 2 x training sessions (in small groups) with past UKCC champions such as Sarah Longson and David Howell and a tailored report on your performance with tips on how to improve.

The events take place on lichess.org – the best place to play chess online and completely free registration. All participants will have access to full training on how to use the platform and all the safety features (though most will be able to just “pick up and play” as it is very easy to use).

All participants get:

Access to all tournament competitions (though qualification required for some events)

Digital certificate of participation

Access to video library – “How to learn and play chess online”

Access to the live stream – daily tournament commentary, lessons and more.

Further details are available here.

Incidentally, Sarah and Alex have been very proactive during the current emergency and have been producing lots of new material, details of which can be found on the Delancey UK Schools' Chess Challenge Facebook page and Twitter account.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Infested Waters

I am in the fortunate position of being able to decide when I go back to schools. That is, of course, if I decide to go back at all.

Most of the UK schools’ workforce of over 1.4 million teachers and teaching assistants will not be able to choose for themselves. They have to rely on the judgement and planning of others.

The latest talk is of schools returning to action at the start of June.

This is an absurd plan which should be immediately stopped.

Imagine if people have to stop swimming in the sea because it is infested with highly dangerous sharks.

Then imagine people in authority make a lot of promises about testing the waters before they will people to return.

One person in authority boasts of visiting the sharks, metaphorically shakes hands with them, is badly bitten and then portrayed as a hero in some quarters.

Not only are the tests not carried out, but the amount of sharks is allowed to grow considerably.

Older people are forced back into the sea - and their friends are dragged in too. The number of fatalities is horrendous, but kept hidden.

Nothing has changed regarding the danger of the situation, but suddenly everyone is told they can return to the water too - as long as they stay alert.

Such actions are tantamount to manslaughter.

Would anyone be happy with such a situation?

Back to the real world - and the virus has not gone away. It will not go away in the near future. It thrives on situations of close social contact. We have over 67 million people in the UK.

Anyone who has worked in schools will know how ridiculous it is to suggest social distancing will work. Is everyone going to walk to and from school, two metres apart? Is it possible to stay two metres from anyone else in a classroom, a corridor or a school hall? It is completely unreasonable to expect young children to understand the situation and be compliant to any restrictions.

Some schools have remained open as hubs for the children of key workers. Fortunately, the numbers involved have been smaller than originally anticipated but that has not meant it has been a comfortable experience for anyone directly involved.

Specialist training and Personal Protective Equipment would be required for all staff to even begin to tackle the task. Is any of that in place?

Do you still think schools should return to action at the start of June?

Nobody seems able or willing to agree on a figure, but statisticians claim there have been 50,000 deaths, up to the start of May, over and above the rate we should expect for this time of year.

50,000 grieving families.

The hidden number of elderly victims is unlikely to be revealed in full. They were sacrificed, with infected patients being sent back to care homes in order to free up hospital beds. It should not have been a surprise that care homes were then so badly hit by the spread of the virus. They had no chance whatsoever. They were sacrificed following a particularly despicable piece of action.

School staff and children are to be the centrepiece of the next big experiment. Schools are the most social of all settings. Someone, somewhere will be crossing their fingers and analysing the figures.

I care about the children in my schools. I care about my friends and colleagues. I don’t want to see them used in this fashion.

The phrase ‘collateral damage’ is being used, which is not correct, for that relies on the key definition point of being ‘unintended.’

Just before the schools were forced to close, I witnessed, at first hand, the effect the situation had on the staff in my schools. Some were openly crying at the enormity of the challenges ahead. They are not weak people. They understood life was going to change and, in many ways, it would change beyond recognition. That is quite something for young people to have to accept.

People we know are going to die. The finishing post is NOT in sight.

Schools should NOT return to action unless it is absolutely safe to do so.

I hope schools are able to make a stand against the latest plan. Everyone is much too valuable to be used as an experiment.

Some people care, some people don’t.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Lockdown Blog: Parts Four and Five

What is the connection between The Kiss of Death and the annual CSC Head Office party?
To find out, head here for the latest episodes of the CSC lockdown blog.

Interview For Chess Unlimited


Kineke Mulder of Chess Unlimited is one of the most positive of all chess personalities and I was delighted to be interviewed for her series on chess people.

English and German versions are available!


Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Lockdown Blog Part Three

A new edition of my lockdown blog is now available for your perusal.

Click here.

Monday, 27 April 2020

CSC Chess at Home: Lesson 10

Today brings a brand new chess lesson to the CSC Chess at Home page.

If you would like to know about the best ways of starting a game then please head for Lesson 10, which comes in the form of a worksheet, Kahoot! quiz and my latest YouTube video:

Chess at Home

If you have missed any lessons or simply need a refresher then the first nine lessons are on the same page.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

'Who Wants To Be...'

'Who wants to be...'

...one in a million?

Please write the answer on the back of a £20 note and send it to me at the usual address.

When you have done that, please click here to read the second post in my new CSC blog.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Brand New Lessons: YouTube, Worksheets and Kahoot! Quizzes


Chess in Schools and Communities are producing new material to help families cope with the lockdown.

Please head here for the latest details.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

CSC Teesside in The Sunday Times

Click to enlarge

Please head here for further details.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Chess For Life Interview

Today I was interviewed by Natasha Regan and Matthew Sadler for their Chess For Life video series.

To see the interview, please click here. Don't forget to subscribe to the channel.


Wednesday, 8 April 2020

New Blog

A new blog has been launched over at the Chess in  Schools and Communities website, to start the ball rolling on a wealth of new projects.

The first post can be found here.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Project 30: What Did I Miss? (5)

We now present the concluding part of the current series on missed opportunities.

This is the position we saw yesterday.

White to play
I played 35 Qe6?? but my hopes of a fine finish turned to dust after 35 ...Qxe6 36 Rf8+ Qg8! which is considerably different to the line I was hoping for (as posted yesterday).

I had completely missed that the black queen could drop back immediately. This was due to three factors.

1) The clock situation. We were both down to our last few minutes.

2) Matt's incredible resourcefulness. He just never gives up looking for ways to turn the trend of a game, which makes him very hard to put away - regardless of the size of the advantage.

3) The desire to finish off the game quickly and in style. My intended checkmate pattern was a pretty one and it clouded my judgement.

Going back to the position before 35 Qe6?? we can find several superior paths. These include: 35 Rf8+ Rxf8 36 e8=Q; 35 Rd1; 35 Rf7 and, best of all, 35 Qe5! which forces a checkmate which can only be delayed slightly by 35 ...Qf6.

It is never easy to accept it when excellent positions slip away into unexpected defeats. One of the major differences between masters and the rest of us is the way in which the former can keep control of their positions to ensure winning positions don't evaporate as often.

This brings our current series to a close but more new content will follow soon.

Thank you to everyone who supported the third year of Project 30. I learned a lot from my own games against Dave Baillie, John Garnett (in both events), Richard Harris, Sean Cassidy, Matt Jackman and Peter Harker - all of whom caused me lots of problems over the chess board but remained - of course! - fabulous friends at all times.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Project 30: What Did I Miss? (4)

John Garnett - SM
Black to move
Yesterday I left you with this position. Black has just sacrificed a bishop. What is best continuation from here?

24 ...Bh4! would have given Black a decisive advantage. This denies White the important defensive resource of Qf2 (as played at a key moment in the game). The threat is 22 ...Rxf3 23 Rxf3 Qxf3 and the white king will be checkmated very soon. A sample line would end with 24 ...Bg3+ 25 Kg1 Bf2+ 26 Kf1 Rg1 checkmate. It is the introduction of the bishop into the dark squares that makes all the difference.

Our final example of missed opportunities comes from the Rapidplay semi-final.

SM - Matt Jackman
White to play
This had been a wild game and now that a large advantage had been established I was looking for the most efficient way to conclude matters - especially as we were both down to the last two or three minutes on the clock. There were various ways to win - including moving the a1-rook to anywhere sensible - but I believe in the power of passed pawns and played 33 e6. After the subsequent moves 33 ...Nxa1 34 e7 Qd6 all is still going well and there are several 'finishers' available.

White to play
The one I chose was well intentioned, but not fit for purpose. I played 35 Qe6, hoping to deflect the Black queen from the defence of the back rank. The specific line I had in mind was 35 ...Qxe6 36 Rf8+ Rxf8 37 exf8=Q+ Qg8 38 Bxg7 checkmate.

Checkmate!
However, this did not happen because Matt threw a considerable spanner in the works.

What did I miss after 35 Qe6?

Tune in tomorrow for the final part of our series.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Project 30: What Did I Miss? (3)

In the second game against Dave Baillie, I had this position, as posted yesterday.

Sean Marsh - Dave Baillie
I played 20 Nxd7 but missed the stronger 20 Nxe6!, deflecting the bishop from the defence of c6. After 20 ...Bxe6 21 Rxc6 White would be a sound pawn up and the rest of Black's central pawn structure would have been severely compromised.

The next missed opportunity came against John Garnett in the first round of the Rapidplay event. We ended up playing six games during a very long, tiring and memorable evening: two Rapidplay games in the club championship, two in the Project 30 event and then two five-minute games for the Project 30 tie-breaker.

This position occurred in the first of the Project 30 Rapidplay games.

John Garnett - SM
Black to play
Black is a pawn up and has high expectations of a successful attack on the enemy king. With queen, two rooks and two bishops all pointing the right way, I felt it was time for a sacrifice and I played 23 ...Bxh3! This tears away part of the king's defence and should have opened up the position for a decisive infiltration.

John captured the bishop with 24 gxh3 but I followed up with the incorrect 24 ...Rxf3? after which John repulsed the attack with careful moves: 25 Rxf3 Qxf3 26 Qf2! Qh5 27 Rf1 and even though Black isn't doing badly in terms of material, with three pawns for a piece, I couldn't ever shake John's knight from the weak d5-square and he went on to convert his advantage in fine style.

At the time I felt I must have missed a better attacking option. My intuition told me the sacrifice should be good, but the resulting position clearly lacked a certain something.

Black to play
It turns out I went wrong very quickly after the sacrifice. This is the key position. What did I miss?

Tune in tomorrow for the answer.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Project 30: What Did I Miss? (2)

David Baillie - Sean Marsh
Yesterday I gave this position. White looks to be in trouble, but Dave found the superb move 34 Rf5!

Black to play
I had missed this completely. The rook attacks the queen and the knight. If the queen captures the rook it is no longer defending the rook on e8 and White would checkmate the black king with 35 Qxe8.

It is fortunate that I was able to check White's king with my queen, which solved one of the problems. 35 ...Qa1+ If White were to now hide the king away with 36 Kh2 then I could play 36 ...Nhf6, keeping the advantage, but Dave played 36 Rf1, attacking my queen again. The queen has to defend the rook on e8 again, to prevent checkmate, which meant I was forced to play 36 ...Qe5, after which the game was drawn by repetition of position (37 Rf5! Qa1+ 38 Rf1 etc). A brilliant tactical 'save' from Dave.

Incidentally, this was our first draw in a full-length game since we shared the point in our very first encounter, back in 1984 (although we did draw a blitz game in the 8th Mike Closs Memorial event).

We started a replay almost immediately, this time with 30 minutes on each clock. It was another uncompromising encounter.

SM - Dave Baillie
White to play
Black's bishop on d7 could be classed as 'bad' as it is locked in behind the pawns. However, it is holding some key white squares together. We were both angling for our ideal circumstances to trade. I was waiting for ...b7-b6, prompting the knight, when after Nxd7 Qxd7 Bb5! the pin on the black knight would be highly unpleasant. Meanwhile, Dave was waiting for me to block my bishop's diagonal before committing himself to ...b7-b6.

Sure enough, after 19 Ne1-d3 Dave immediately replied with 18 ...b6 and I matched his pace with 20 Nxd7. It was as if our thoughts were connected by a single dialogue on how this particular episode should be resolved.

After those moves, White obtained an edge, Dave played very actively and eventually held the endgame of Rook and Knight v Rook with excellent defensive technique. We then played a third game, with just five minutes on each clock, which was wild and could have gone either way before Dave eventually lost on time.

However, rewind a little, to this position.

White to play
Instead of going down the intended route with 20 Nxd7, I had the opportunity to play a much stronger move, which would have given me a significantly more substantial advantage than the one gained in the game. What did I miss?

The answer will be given tomorrow.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Project 30: What Did I Miss? (1)

The third year of our Project 30 events drew to a close last week. Some events had to be postponed due to the current emergency but they will be rescheduled when the smoke clears.

I enjoyed my games in the Rapidplay Championship and the KO event even though every round brought hard work against tough opponents (I have junior chess stars Jessica and Evie to thank for the round-by-round pairings).

The highly competitive nature of the games brought out many good moves and ideas but the occasional blunder or missed opportunity was always waiting in the wings, ready for an instant appearance at the most inopportune of moments.

Here are a few of the opportunities I missed in this year's Project 30 games.

The first example is from round one of the KO tournament.

David Baillie - SM
Black to play

Black is the exchange up (rook for knight) and has the safer of the two kings. Dave's last move, 32 Rf1-f3, was to defend the weak pawn on e3. White's position is about to collapse under the pressure. 32 ...Nhf6 looks to be Black's best move now, just improving the position of the knight before resuming the attack on White's weak points.

However, I thought it would be a good time to simplify the position, to reduce the potential for any tactical counterblows and to head for a steady endgame win.

32 ...Rxe5 33 dxe5 Qxe5

White to play
If Black can bring the knight from h5 back to f6 his advantage will be obvious. There is an extra pawn and all of White's pawns are isolated and potentially very weak. His king is also a real cause for concern due to the lack of defensive cover. Dave was also very short of time on the clock...but he played his next move instantly, which changed the course of the game. What had I missed?

The answer will be given tomorrow.

CSC War Cabinet

Good afternoon, chess players.

I hope you are all being sensible and keeping safe during the current emergency.

You would be forgiven for thinking chess has taken a rest while the ongoing situation prevents our school visits.

However, in reality, the CSC War Cabinet is working very hard on a whole range of new and very exciting plans which we will unveil in due course.

I don't think anyone who likes chess will be disappointed in what we are going to offer in the near future.

We are missing our schools and pupils but please stay tuned, stay indoors and await further announcements. I know you will recognise these as good moves in the struggle against this new and dangerous opponent. 

We will win this battle if we all keep playing as best we can.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Project 30, Year 3: Results Update

Following on from the update at the start of March, we now present the final scores of the Rapidplay tournament.

Semi-final

Matt Jackman 1-4 Sean Marsh (1, 0, 1, 1, 1 from my point of view)

This was the third time I had to play Matt in Project 30 Rapidplay matches. We also met in the first two Project 30 KO events, at the 1st Celebratory Tournament and in this year's club championship for The Buffs (1-1). That's a lot of games (22) against the same opponent.

Our latest match was tough and tense. I will return to some of the key moments in a future post. The score should have been closer; Matt turned down a draw in the fifth game, knowing he needed a win.

Final

Sean Marsh 4-0 Peter Harker

For obvious reasons, we reduced the number of games from eight to six. The games were combative, with a steady stream of interesting ideas and unusual moves from both players. When we reached 4-0 we spent the rest of the session playing a number of every interesting Blitz games.

Peter had played marvellously this year to reach advanced stages of both events and I am sure the experience gained will help him make a significant jump forward when chess activity resumes.

It was a real pleasure for me to face two of my former juniors in the last tow rounds of this year's event.

Thus ends the third Project 30 Rapidplay event.

Due to the current emergency, the final of the KO Championship between Matt and myself will not be played. We are calling it a tied place, to mark this strangest of years with something a little different and to enable us to resume Project 30 - when the time comes - with a clean slate.

All other Project 30 events for this season have been postponed and that includes some of the most anticipated of all, including the Third Celebratory Tournament, the return of GM Matthew Sadler and WIM Natasha Regan and a sequel to the 1st Teesside International Women's Invitational Tournament.

Thank you to everyone who has supported the Project 30 events over the first three years. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Coexisitng

This week, as the enormity of the world situation became apparent to me, I had to make some tough decisions which would have a major impact on my own lifestyle and, much more importantly, those of others.


None of my decisions were taken lightly but I believe time will show them to be the correct ones.

Just like so many other self-employed people my entire future career is now precarious and uncertain.

We are on the verge of a complete lockdown in the UK. The coming months will be a major test for all of us, regardless of all factors. Rich, poor, educated, uneducated, qualified, unqualified, privileged, unprivileged; it doesn’t matter. The current problem is widespread and indiscriminate. It is going to change the lives of every single person. Numerous aspects of our lives will never be the same again.


The delay in closing the UK’s schools has not been helpful. I have watched as class sizes have been cut in half and have understood the panic and fear among the front-line workers - even though they have managed to remain completely professional at all times.

Teachers, more often than not the easiest target when people want to start gratuitously criticising others, have, alongside all other school staff, displayed immense courage and commitment in recent times. I know for certain that some of the staff are more at risk than others due to various ailments yet they have still been there every day to provide for the children.

The children have been magnificent this week too. They should not be going through this dreadful experience. Somewhere along the line they have been failed.

 Now is not the time to judge the actions - or inactions - of others. The panic-buyers clearly have a much lower panic threshold than the rest of us. We do not know how we would act if we crossed our own personal thresholds. Perhaps we will soon find out.



I am very fortunate to have a small circle of special friends who will always be there to help me (and vice-versa, of course). Many others are nowhere near as fortunate; their instincts and actions will be different. We all have our own battles. Some of them are internal and highly damaging.

Every single person now faces unparalleled challenges, which would have been unimaginable just two weeks ago. We are at a crossroads where suddenly the differing scenarios of ‘everything is important’ and ‘nothing is important’ coexist.



I hope we can find a way to replace anger with understanding, to forestall hatred with love and to use kindness to navigate away from selfishness. This time, we all need to be on the same side.



Please take care, everyone.

We are all valuable and fragile in equal measure.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Clannad at The Sage

Clannad
The Sage, Gateshead
7 March 2020
Having experienced Moya Brennan's music for the first time last year, I was keen to investigate the work of Clannad. I almost left it too late to actually see them, as they announced their ‘In a Lifetime’ Farewell World Tour in September 2019.

The tour, with dates up to October 2020, is to commemorate 50 years of their journey through music.

The mainstays of the group are Moya Brennan, her brothers Ciarán Brennan and Pól Brennan and their uncle, Noel Duggan.

50 years in an incredible amount of time to be active in the business. Their music is rooted very strongly in folk, but has proved expansive over the decades, embracing several genres including Irish, Celtic and even the world of television soundtracks.

The Sage looked to be almost completely sold out in the weeks running up to the evening, with only a tiny scattering of available seats. On the evening there were noticeable gaps dotted around, which was presumably due to the extraordinary panic caused by anyone who has sneezed over the last couple of weeks.

Clannad treated us two sets of exttoaodonary music, followed by a double-barrelled encore. Hihglouights included In a Lifetime, Hourglass, Celtic Dream, I Will Find You, Theme From Harry's Game and a suite of music form the Robin of Sherwood which closed the first half.

The musicianship was of a fabulously high quality and Moya's voice carried all of the gentle power one would expect. At times the music was positively hypnotic, drawing the listener into another world.

It must be a very emotional tour for Clannad and while it is hard to believe their musical journey is entirely over (it would be a surprise if Moya Brennan wasn't back on the road in her solo guise after another year or so) this tour is almost certainly the final opportunity to catch the full family group all together. I am pleased and relieved I managed to do exactly that just before it was too late to do so, as this proved to be a very memorable evening indeed.

Gabrielle Aplin at the Wylam Brewery

Gabrielle Aplin
Wylam Brewery, Newcastle
6 March 2020
Three years have flown by since I last saw Gabrielle Aplin at London's ULU. It was one of my top gigs of 2017. I was pleased to discover the third leg of the current 12-date tour was at a North-eastern venue.

The release of Dear Happy, her powerful third album and first as an independent artist, is the driving force behind the current tour.

Wylam Brewery may seem an unlikely name for a gig venue. It was not so easy to see the lake and other park attractions at nighttime, but the colourful trees made a bold attempt to light up the dark. Inside, the gig hall was of a size and design typical of the smaller venues; similar to ULU, in fact. It was standing only, as expected. People of greatly varying ages were there, with a strong bias towards to the younger generation. The room was already starting to fill up when we arrived, which was a surprise. Usually the crowd gathers only towards the time the main act is due on, but the two support acts both played to an already packed hall.

The support came in the form of first Nick Wilson (acoustic pop) and then Emily Burns (synth-pop), both of whom engaged well with the appreciative audience. Emily already had sections of the audience singing and dancing as the evening warmed up very nicely for the main event.

Gabrielle Aplin has a strong stage presence; that much is made clear from the moment she presents herself to the audience. The Newcastle crowd gave her a very warm reception and the reality of an excellent evening ahead was never in doubt.

The songs from Dear Happy made up nine of the 16 on the set list. My Mistake is still my favourite from the new album. This version was just Gabrielle alone on the stage with the keyboard.

Prime cuts from English Rain and Light Up The Dark rubbed shoulders with the new songs. It is a sign of confidence in her own material that Gabrielle can leave out the cover of The Power of Love, which brought her to the attention of the prime-time audiences when it was used for the John Lewis Christmas advert back in 2012. No, this evening it was all original material.

Set list 

Until the Sun Comes Up
Like You Say You Do
Panic Cord
Heavy Heart
Kintsugi
Waking Up Slow
My Mistake
Salvation
Nothing Really Matters
Losing Me
Please Don't Say You Love Me
Strange
Home
Dear Happy

Encore

Sweet Nothing
Miss You

It was a very fine evening indeed one which showcased Gabrielle's undeniable talent. Being an independent artist in the music industry is never going to make for an easy journey but we are grateful for her continued efforts. The crowd at the Wylam Brewery certainly showed appreciation and hopefully Gabrielle will keep the North East in mind next time she tours.

.


.






Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Ultimate Bowie at The Georgian Theatre

Ultimate Bowie 
The Georgian Theatre, Stockton-on-Tees
29 February 2020
This is not the first time I have seen the Ed Blaney's Ultimate Bowie tribute act and it is not the first time David Bowie has featured on this blog either. It was, however, the first time I have seen Ultimate Bowie in such an intimate setting (the last time was at Billingham Forum).

The smaller venue suited the show perfectly, especially as it started the punky Earthling persona.

Over the course of the evening we were treated to classic songs from various Bowie eras, split into two excellent halves, moving through prime cuts from Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Pin UpsDiamond Dogs, Young Americans, Heroes, Lodger, Station to StationScary Monsters, Let's Dance and Earthling. That clearly represent an enormous range of styles and it was an impressive performance all round by the band.

The respective set lists will tell their own stories on how far reaching and lengthy the evening was (it was definitely worth missing the last bus home).

Set One

Sacry Monsters
Little Wonder
Changes
Starman
John I'm Only Dancing
Space Oddity
Moonage Daydream
Sweet Thing
Suffragette City
Time
Drive In Saturday
Queen Bitch
Life on Mars

Set Two

Diamond Dogs
Rebel Rebel
Absolute Beginners
Young Americans
Sorrow
Boys Keep Swinging
Golden Years
Fame
Fashion
Let's Dance
Under Pressure
Jean Genie
Heroes
Modern Love

Encore

Ziggy Stardust

I know many people who shudder at the thought of going to see tribute acts. They are missing out, as there are plenty of fabulous ones out there. Indeed, I have two more Bowie nights already lined up for 2020. For now, it is enough to say the Ultimate Bowie act is firing on all cylinders and is better than ever.

.

.