Monday 20 February 2012

More Maverick

The latest issue of Maverick Magazine (March/April 2012) includes my review of Alison Krauss & Union Station at The Sage.

For ordering details, please visit the Maverick homepage.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Midge Ure at The Sage

Midge Ure
The Sage, Gateshead

'Here we go!'

How time flies! It's nearly two full years since I last saw Ultravox on their highly successful reunion tour.
A new CD - and another tour - are due soon. Both are eagerly anticipated.

Meanwhile, it was good to see Midge again (albeit solo), this time at The Sage. With a cheery 'Here we go!' he started the evening with a powerful version of Waiting Days. The end of the song brought  enthusiastic applause. 'You’re easily pleased! That’s why I like coming here...', Midge quipped.

A big surprise followed. In reference to the ongoing Ultravox project, he said, 'Some weird stuff’s been going on since the last time I saw you...' before unexpectedly announcing 'I’m going to play you a song from that album now - but don’t tell the rest of the guys!'  That certainly ensured the audience paid full attention. The new song is a slow burning, soft and wistful ballad, which builds very nicely after a quiet start. He didn't announce the title, but it might well be This One, based on the recurring line:  ‘It’s hard to believe the time has come for this one, for this one...’ 

'Don’t tell the rest of the guys!'

Midge was on great form throughout the evening. His voice was strong and confident, his guitar playing exemplary and he seemed very happy and relaxed. There were various bits and pieces of witty banter, such as Midge revealing that he had '...a moment of realisation; I looked in the mirror and I think I’m losing my hair...'  Later, when a guitar string broke during Dear God, he said, 'That’s what I get for giving God a hard time’.

'Dear God'

The set list featured songs from all stages of his career.

Full set list

Waiting Years
This One (title unconfirmed)
Love’s Great Adventure
Lady Stardust
Fade to Grey
One Small Day
You Lied
Man of the World
Fields of Fire
Breathe (‘My Valentines gift to you all’)
Dear God 
No Regrets
Dancing With Tears in My Eyes

Ready for the encore...


All Fall Down
If I Was

The end of an excellent evening
It was a fine show and we now await further Ultravox news...

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Death Notes

I think you'll agree that this is the
most impressive notepad around

Good for all those 'poison pen' letters

Monday 13 February 2012

Chess Reviews: 195

ChessBase Magazine 146

As usual, ChessBase Magazine offers a huge amount of material on diverse aspects of chess.

I always like to read the editorial by Andre Schulz in the printed magazine. It's the sort of thing one can easily overlook, but it's always well written and thought provoking. This time there is considerable - and well deserved - praise for Malcolm Pein and his efforts to create one of the world's best chess tournament.

‘When, three years ago, Malcolm Pein staged for the first time the London Chess Classic, he got everything correct right away and was at least two steps ahead of other tournaments as far as presentation was concerned.’

Top tournaments covered in issue 146 include Reggio Emilia (won by Giri, ahead of an all-star 2700+ cast); the European Team Championship (a fabulous success for Germany, achieved on 11.11.2011) and the Tal Memorial (won by Carlsen, just ahead of Aronian on tiebreak). Needless to say, all of the games are given and some have fine annotations.

The report I most enjoyed was on the aforementioned London Chess Classic, partly because it brought back great memories; I was present for most of the 2011 tournament.

Kramnik’s impressive winning performance was very professional (beating the four English players and drawing with everybody else).

Audio streams from the London post-mortems are included, covering all of the rounds (and nearly all of the games). Weighing in at approximately 15 minutes each, these represent a considerable body of work. It's a pleasure to hear the top players talking about there games.

There are written annotations too and they are illuminating, particularly when contributed by the players themselves.

Short – Kramnik
Kramnik played 19 …d5 here, with the comment:

'Now the bishop on b3 is out of play for the rest of this game, and Black simply starts exchanging pieces, since all endings are won for him now.

19 …a5 is strong according to the engines, but the text move is the one any human would play without thinking.'

It is good to hear that even super-GMs play different moves to the engines' top suggestions!

Short – Kramnik
Later, after an exchange of rooks on e8, the bishop endgame was reached and Kramnik showed his humour:

'In practical terms Black is playing a two bishops versus one ending. I am particularly strong in such endgames :)'

I enjoyed reading the honest annotations of Carlsen too, which were quite revealing at times.

Carlsen - Gelfand
Tal Memorial
12 Bb3  'I thought about this one for a while. Just a waste of time really, as I realised pretty early on that I wanted to put my bishop on b3 here, and that I most likely was not going to change my mind.'

Carlsen - Gelfand
'I was pretty sure that I did not have an advantage here, objectively speaking, but I was fascinated by unusual nature of the position, so I was nevertheless pretty excited.' 1-0 (38)

I found both of the above comments to be a refreshing change from the 'I was winning all the way through' type.

There are 1255 games in the magazine's database. It’s good to see so many games by the top players. Anand (17 games), Kramnik (17), Morozevich (16), Ivanchuk (26), Carlsen (17), Nakamura (27) Aronian (25). Despite the strange politics which continue to haunt chess, the level of activity at the top end appears to be very healthy at the moment.

It can be good fun to play through games with a chess engine bubbling away in the background. There are usually many improvements to be found...

Korchnoi – Cheparinov
European Team Championship
37 …Rxh4+ 38 gxh4 Qh3+ 39 Kg1 Bd4+ 40 Rf2 Qg3+ 41 Kh1

Korchnoi – Cheparinov
European Team Championship

41 ...Bxf2? (41 …Kf8!) 42 Qe8+ Kg7 43 Qe7+ Kg6 44 Qxd6+? (44 Qe8+ draws) 44 ...Kh5? (44 …Kf7! and the Bishop will eventually block the Queen checks) 45 Qe5+ Kxh4 46 Qe7+ Kh3 47 Qh7+ Qh4 48 Qd3+ Qg3 49 Qh7+ draw

The usual magazine features are all present and correct. The popular opening surveys cover:

English 1 c4 c6 (Carlstedt)
Old Benoni (Stohl)
Classical Dutch (Schipkov)
Sicilian 4 …Qb6 (Grivas)
Sicilian Marocy 7 …Ng4 (Kritz)
French Advance (Moskalenko)
Ruy Lopez, Bird’s Defence (Marin)
Ruy Lopez, Cozio Defence (Kuzmin)
Tarrasch Defence (Breutigam)
QGD 5 Bf4 (Postny)
Nimzo Indian 4 Qc2 (Schandorff)

...and there are three in the Chess Media Training format:

French Winawer 7 Qg4 0-0 (Kritz)
Nimzo Indian 4 Nf3 (Mikhalchishin)
London System (Lilov)

ChessBase magazine 146 is, like its predecessors, a wonderful product.

Sunday 12 February 2012

Further Reading

Part 2 of my major round up of the best chess products of 2011 has just been published in the latest issue of CHESS (February 2012). It covers four pages. More reviews are scheduled to follow in CHESS and they will occasionally appear here too.

Further details about the magazine can be found here.

Saturday 11 February 2012

The Wiyos at The Cluny

The Wiyos
The Cluny, Newcastle

The Wiyos

The last time I saw The Wiyos, they debuted some songs for their forthcoming CD, based on the Wizard of Oz. This year's tour featured the new material, with virtually the whole of the first 60 minutes being devoted to Twist.

The familiar sight of the tree of percussion occupied centre stage before The Wiyos appeared. One could easily spend a considerable amount of time analysing the contents of the stage. 

Look carefully for an air raid siren and...
...a bag of nuts

Twist (reviewed here) is a truly extraordinary piece of work. It was brought to life at The Cluny by an equally extraordinary performance.

The harmonica and a few jingles on the tree of percussion started a slow and warped version of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ and the rest of the Wiyos joined in one by one, with bass, keyboards, drums and guitar all contributing little bits and pieces. The fabulous opening line, ‘Last night my house came down on a witch…’, heralded an evening of top quality entertainment.

There are now five Wiyos. Michael Farkas, Teddy Weber and Sauerkraut Seth Travins were all together last year, when they were joined by special guest Andy Bean (one half of the Two Man Gentleman Band). This time, the core trio were augmented by Brian Geltner (drums) and Kenny Siegal (keyboards and guitar). The new instruments fill out the sound, allowing the extremely intricate Twist to be unleashed with the force of a Kansas twister.

Kenny Siegal (left): keyboard and guitar

 A performance with a Twist
Playing a concept album almost in its entirety changes the dynamic of a show. There wasn't any chat between the songs, as there had been last year (at least, not until the Twist segment had reached its conclusion); instead there was only the very occasional introductory line, kept in context so as not to break the spell. For example, 'Scarecrow'  was prefaced by the comment, ‘This one goes out to the man in the field’.

Harmonies form an important part of the repertoire, both vocally and otherwise. Hearing a harmonica and trumpet in perfect harmony is quite unusual but highly effective, completely in keeping with the desire of The Wiyos to push out the boundaries and create something totally unique.

Michael Farkas and Teddy Weber - veteran Wiyos
Full concentration on the legendary tree of percussion
As Twist blew itself to a close, the 'fourth wall' was knocked down and the spell was broken. It was back to a more anecdotal approach and a couple of old favourites to compete the set. First we were treated to the fast-paced The Natty Dread Polka (a fabulous song from Foxtrots, Polkas and a Waltz), complete with a full range of instruments to go with the clever lyrics, including trumpet and kazoo. This was followed by Promenade (from Broken Land Bell), which had a false start and a quick readjustment (‘Gotta have a tight thumb pick for that one’).

Attention was drawn to a beautiful, limited edition book, which contains a copy of Twist with different disc art to the regular version, full CD lyrics and lavish illustrations. Watch out for the book, which is for sale on the tour. There''s even a sauerkraut recipe printed on the back.
Sauerkraut Seth - a man with recipes
Yet another instrument
Another new addition - the beard wasn't there last year!
There was still time for an encore, which was Blues-based. First we had Cluck Old Hen and then the finale was Charlie Poole's The Milwaukee Blues, featuring an extraordinary extended Farkas solo.

Extended solo
What a night! My advice is to get out and see The Wiyos on their UK tour. We want them to come back again as soon as possible.
A rare shot of all five Wiyos

For further information, please visit the official website of The Wiyos.

Thursday 9 February 2012

Last Call to 'Pitch In'!

(Image copyright: Rachel Lyn Harrington)
Rachel's new CD is just about ready to roll! There's still time to pitch in with a pre-order and/or donation to ensure an acknowledgment in the CD booklet. Simply head for Rachel's Pitch In page.

We are counting down the days until Rachel and Knock Outs appear at The Cleveland Bay (with support from Sara Dennis!) For further details, please visit our special event page.

Monday 6 February 2012

The Return of The Wiyos

Last April, The Wiyos told me: 'We'll be back; maybe next Winter'. True to their word, their return trip coincided with our first snow of the season.

A full review will follow soon. Here's a couple of teaser photos to be going on with.

Meanwhile, check the tour calendar to see if The Wiyos are coming to a town near you this February. If they are, don't miss them!

The Wiyos

Back in the UK!
Stay tuned for our exclusive interview too!

Saturday 4 February 2012

Simon Callow on Dickens

Simon Callow
The Customs House, South Shields

I started my Dickens bicentenary celebrations a little early, with trips to various exhibitions and events in London back in December, including Simon Callow's wonderful one-man presentation of A Christmas Carol. 
New book
When I found out that Simon was going to do a tour to celebrate the release of his new book on Dickens, Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World, I knew it was something I should make the effort to see. Luckily, the tour came to the North East, making it an easy target. And so it was that I was able to enjoy a couple of hours immersed in the life and times of Charles Dickens, as told by a man who is master storyteller in his own right.

It was, of course, another one-man show. The stage held only a couple of pieces of furniture (chair, lectern); nothing else was required. Simon Callow brought everything to life all on his own.

The Custom's House had the privilege of hosting the first date of the tour. Simon confessed that he'd never been to South Shields before, but had enjoyed what he had seen. He had wondered what Dickens had made of the area and related how he had performed a couple of very successful readings towards the end of his life. Being Summer, it had been extremely hot, but Dickens, despite failing health, had gone for a three-mile walk. Caught in an unexpected storm, he had was drenched but came back feeling '...wonderfully well; quite strong and fresh'.

The evening was a blend of the autobiographical, biographical and readings from the new book.

Simon explained his own relationship with Dickens, starting with a trip to the theatre, at the age of six, to see a performance of A Christmas Carol, confessing that had been '...a bit frightened but excited too'. For a while afterwards he used to go about saying 'Bah Humbug'  Then at the age of 13 he received a copy of The Pickwick Papers from his Grandmother as a distraction from chicken pox. It instantly cured his scratching. 

Time passed and he then became an actor; once again A Christmas Carol  entered his life, with a performance for children at the Theatre Royal in Lincoln, in which he played numerous roles: Bob Cratchit, Mr Fezziwig and ‘many other carol singing people’.

The biographical material on Dickens brought home the difficulties and hard times of his early years, including the dreadful days of the blacking factory. Yet once Dickens found success with The Pickwick Papers, his life and career took off dramatically and he achieved a degree of fame which has never receded.

Simon focused particular attention on the theatrical side of Dickens, including the famous reading tours he performed. These were immensely popular affairs but they took a terrible toll on the health of the workaholic writer and performer.

Summing up, Simon declared that Dickens remains present in way no other writer enjoys, not even Shakespeare. Dickens was phenomenal and unique, a ‘...blazing fire of a man’.

The performance was followed by a book signing session and the opportunity for a quick chat with Simon Callow. It would be great to interview him one day.

Post-show signing and chat
It was an extremely enjoyable, instructive and entertaining evening. There will doubtless be a lot of Dickens to come in 2012 and hopefully, there will be more performances from Simon Callow in the not too distant future.

For further details, including tour dates, please visit Simon Callow's official website.

Thursday 2 February 2012

Hugh Cornwell at The Arc

Hugh Cornwell
The Arc, Stockton

Hugh Cornwell
Last time I saw Hugh Cornwell was at The Sage in April 2011. He had his band with him then; this time it was a solo acoustic outing for the former Strangler.

The Arc is an intimate venue which has seating added and removed according to the show. This was an all-seater affair.

Apologising for being jet-lagged, having just returned from America a couple of days before, Hugh quickly ran through his personal check-list before he started: 'set list; strings; water; microphone (low, near a seat) in case I get dizzy; microphone (high, for standing position) in case I don’t get dizzy; guitar; spare guitar; audience...right!'

He promised '...a mix of stuff. Stranglers songs and songs from my solo albums and maybe two or three songs from the new album - Totem and Taboo.' And that's exactly what we got.

The first song of the evening was 'an old Stranglers classic’, namely Duchess, which was well received.

The jet lag surfaced briefly during the second song - Land of a Thousand Kisses - when he temporarily forgot the words, but he quickly recovered and continued.

The set list for the first half included:

Never Say Goodbye
Under Her Spell
Nuclear Device ('I've never done it acoustically before but it works quite well')
Gods, Guns and Gays
Strange Little Girl
Hanging Around
One Burning Desire
Slow Boat to Trowbridge
Goodbye Toulouse 
Sweeter Than You (a Ricky Nelson song Hugh wished he had written)

'Anyone live in Stockton?'

There was plenty of banter between the songs.  'Anyone live in Stockton? Oh, that’s good. I hope.' There was time for slice of social commentary about neighbouring Middlesbrough too. Last time he was there, he said, he saw lots of young girls out and about in very short skirts and T-shirts, with nothing but 'a packet of fags' with them - in mid-December. 'It was me Mam,' shouted a member of the audience.

Following a couple of bizarre and eccentric comments from the audience, Hugh turned around to the empty stage behind him, pointed to nobody and said, ‘I think they’re talking to you.’

Three people came in very late due to traffic problems. This didn't go unmentioned. ‘Shall we start from the beginning again?’ I’ll tell you what you’ve missed…’ and he read from the set list. 'So not a lot really. By the way, this is the second set…’

'I'll tell you what you've missed...'
The second set brought a whole hour of songs, with further banter to and from the audience. 'By the way, you're a top guy,' commented one fan. Hugh, busy plugging in his guitar, looked up and replied, 'I beg your pardon?'  whereupon one local wag said, 'Your flies are undone, apparently.'

Introducing an Everly Brothers number, he asked, 'Anyone here called Mary, or Maria...?' which ran into: 'You're not a psychic, are you?'

The set list for the second half was:

Take a Message to Mary
Totem and Taboo
Midnight Summer Dream
The Pleasure of Your Company
Nice and Sleazy
Lay Back On Me Pall
Golden Brown ('...almost unrecognisable but if anyone can change it - I can')

The audience started chanting for an encore. 'Hugh, Hugh, Hugh, Hugh!' He quickly returned with the comment, 'It's like that film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes!' The welcome encore featured four more songs.

A Street Called Carol
Always the Sun
Nerves of Steel
No More Heroes

It was all good fun. Hugh said he'd be available to chat and sign merchandise after the show. 'I'll sign anything: bodily parts, clothing, bus tickets...'

A quick post-show chat

News and tour dates can be found on the official website. There's also an option to pledge towards the release of Totem and Taboo. The new tracks sounded good. Hopefully he will tour the album on its release.