Thursday 28 June 2012

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Stadium of Light, Sunderland

The Red Hot Chili Peppers rocked Sunderland last weekend with a blistering - and very loud - evening of funk rock.  Although the are not among my favourite bands (I don't own a single CD of theirs) I can appreciate a good show when I see one.

In fact it was a six-hour musical extravaganza, with no fewer than three support acts, the first of which appeared as early as 5.00 p.m.

They were Reverend and the Makers, followed an hour or so later by...

...The Futureheads, who played through the topical deluge of rain. Next up were...

...The Wombats. Of the three, they were probably the most interesting. Shortly after 9.00 p.m. the Red Hot Chili Peppers finally appeared on stage, full of energy, antics and everything turned up to 11.

I'm not an expert on their music, so instead of a blow-by-blow account I will merely show a few photographs and add the set list.


Monarchy of Roses
Can’t Stop
Dani California
Scar Tissue
Look Around
Universally Speaking
I Like Dirt
The Adventures of Rain Dance
Right on Time
If You Have to Ask
Under the Bridge
Higher Ground
By the Way


Suck My Kiss
Soul to Squeeze
Give It Away

Quite a night! It meant missing the England v Italy match (I missed England v Sweden the previous week for similar reasons) but that was probably a good thing.

Keep up the Red Hot Chili Peppers by visiting their official website.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

CSC Update

A new update on the Teesside branch of the Chess in Schools and Communities project is now available.
Head for the CSC site to read it.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Bridie Jackson at Helmsley

Featuring Bridie Jackson and The Arbour
Helmsley Arts Centre

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour
There always seems to be plenty going on at the Helmsley Arts Centre. Last week I took the opportunity - and my umbrella - to head across to see Bridie Jackson and The Arbour in concert for the fourth time.

Once through the storm, we were in for a musical treat. Helmsley Uncorked was to have featured three different acts, but unfortunately poet Rommi Smith was unable to attend due to illness. On the plus side, Bridie Jackson and The Arbour stepped in to fill the gap, doubling their intended performance time.

They played two half-hour sets with a break in between. They have been touring hard this year, partly to promote the wonderful CD Bitter Lullabies. Every time I see them live they seem to be an even tighter unit and the trademark harmonies a little more spellbinding.

Starting with We Talked Again - a perfectly judged opener, replete with exquisite harmony vocals and disturbing yet hopeful message - the scene was set for a typically dark slice of alt-folk. As the set list shows, we were treated to some rarely-heard older songs in between the material from Bitter Lullabies. With due respect to Rommi Smith (get well soon!) fans of Bridie and The Arbour definitely benefited from the bonus of a second session.

Songs of alienation, broken relationships and other dark subjects were briefly punctuated by the optimistic, upbeat Advice at the start of part 2.

Set List
Part 1
We Talked Again
Singing with feeling
Diminutive Man ('a song about all the idiots I've been out with')
Mucky (complete with audience participation encouragement.)

Bluesman Dave Smith played a very accomplished set, with songs ranging from classic Robert Johnson material up to the present day, with Dave's own compositions. 

Dave Smith
The Arts Centre had stocked the tables with a variety of impressive nibbles, which we made short work of during the seriously toe-tapping set.

Em Whitfield Brooks (Artistic Director for the Arts Centre) sang a well-received song of her own - unaccompanied - prior to announcing the start of the Bridie's second set.

Em Whitfield Brooks
Bridie appeared solo for the start of the part 2, which began with an unexpected announcement. The result of the England v Sweden football match! 'In case anyone is interested - England won! I'm not sure what they won...It was 3....something. I don't know. Football and music rarely mix.'

Not a football in sight
Set List
Part 2
Advice ('...and here endeth the happy songs. It's all a big sobfest from now on.')
Prolong (the first live outing of this early Bridie classic for '...about three years'.)

No more happy songs!
The Arbour returned to the stage at this point and following a round of introductions it was on with the show...
Bitter Lullaby
Promises Are Broken

Harmonies so strong one can almost hear them from the photo
New Skin (About the 'same guy' featured in Diminutive Man, but 'about three years earlier'.)
All You Love Is All You Are

The end of a wonderful evening
Powerful, dark and utterly unique, Bridie Jackson and The Arbour will doubtless continue to entice more followers into their own remarkable world.

Head for the official website for further details about Bridie Jackson and The Arbour, including tour dates.

Saturday 23 June 2012

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Live

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show – Live!
Theatre Royal, Newcastle

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of England lies a city called Newcastle. It’s possible that the ape-descended life forms of the city still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

It was in this particular part of our utterly insignificant blue green planet that we saw something we never expected to see. It is not unnatural for people to make this particular observation about Newcastle. However, little did I think when I accidentally tuned my Sub-Etha radio into a certain radio show back in the very early 1980s that I would eventually see (most of) the original cast perform – live, on stage – the story of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The Theatre Royal
The Theatre Royal is steeped in history. Plays featuring the works of Dickens were performed there while Dickens was still very much alive. I had been there once before, sitting up amongst the gods, to see Elaine Paige. This time I was in a central seat on Row 2 of the Stalls. So close I could almost reach out and stick my finger down the throat of a Vogon.

With a live band and Billy Boyd as the guest ‘Voice of the Book’ (the guest spot changes frequently during the tour) we were all set for lift-off. Minutes later, after a rousing and moving musical treat of One of These Days and Journey of the Sorcerer played back to back, our first two heroes took to the stage, looking dramatically skywards at the Vogon constructor fleet. Simon Jones as Arthur Dent! Geoffrey McGivern as Ford Prefect! Two cool froods who really know where their towels are.

Before too long we got to see Mark Wing-Davey and Susan Sheridan as Zaphod Beeblebrox and Trillian respectively, followed swiftly by an imaginative – and highly effective – stage version of Marvin, the paranoid android.

The first half of the show condensed the first five original episodes into a package of ‘greatest hits’ moments. We experienced Arthur Dent’s distress at seeing first his house being scheduled for demolition and then his entire planet; we suffered the terrible punishment of listening to Vogon poetry (frankly, I’ve heard worse verse from humans – and I will recite some of it to you personally if you ever upset me); took a trip to Milliways (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe) and found out the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything (which ended up being redundant as we never discovered what the actually question was).

The material was very familiar; we have grown up listening to, reading and watching all of the various Hitchhiker adventures in a myriad of different formats.

There were occasional fluffs - which were impossible to successfully disguise in front of an audience who could doubtless quote the original lines word for word - and Simon Jones improvised a little bit of comedy business with the tea cups dispensed by the Nutri-Matic machine on board The Heart of Gold.

Following a short break, part two brought a much sketchier experience. Bits and pieces from the subsequent radio shows and novels were re-enacted for our enjoyment, although the narrative took a back seat at this point. Random (daughter of Arthur and Trillian) and Agrajag made notable appearances (the latter played by Dirk Maggs, armed with a huge umbrella)Time travel and alternative existences were used to explain away various discrepancies in logic but it didn’t really matter. A clever line about whole chapters missing from Arthur’s life – delivered with a knowing look to the audience – emphasised that we were all there as part of a celebration and not to discuss the finer points of a serious text.

To top it all, we were even treated to two songs from Marvin.

Will there be another show to explore the missing bits and pieces? We didn’t get a look at the B-Ark, for example, although there was a prominent rubber duck to prompt our memories. It certainly seemed to be a sell out at the Theatre Royal, so a sequel must be an option.

It is said that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. Yet I feel sure I wasn’t the only one in the audience to feel the decades fall away and recapture one’s lost youth; a time when men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.

Meanwhile, the tour goes on…catch it if you can.

Friday 22 June 2012

Chess Reviews 197

ChessBase Magazine #148

The June edition of ChessBase Magazine could have been the calm before the storm. #149 will doubtless look at the recently concluded Anand – Gelfand World Championship match. It will be interesting to read their thoughts on the controversial and generally dull encounter.

However, far from representing a pre-championship lull, #148 is packed with chess goodness. As usual, it would take weeks to go through all of the material so I will simply draw the reader’s attention to some highlights.

Four things in particular caught my eye.

The coverage of the Zurich Chess Challenge - a match between Kramnik and Aronian – is excellent. The match exceeded expectations as a spectacle and there was plenty of fighting chess. Four of the six games have impressive annotations and the highlight must be Kramnik’s own notes to game three. 

Uncharacteristically starting with 1 e4 (‘A novelty on move 1 already!’), the former World Champion played the white side of a Scotch Four Knights. Not the most reliable of openings when looking for an interesting game, but both players were clearly determined to provide entertainment. After 21 moves they reached this position.

Kramnik – Aronian

‘A very strange and unbalanced position, which we each assessed in our favour during the game. I still think after it that I was right!’

Aronian played the dubious 21 …g5?!, drifted into time-trouble and found it too difficult to keep his pieces coordinated. 1-0 (42)

Hopefully the success of the match will see more top players contest such events. Non-title matches were popular in former times. A FIDE title shouldn't be the only way to get elite players going head to head in a set match.

I also enjoyed reading the annotations of Gawain Jones. I’ve known him for a very long time and followed his rise through the ranks. In this game he matched one of the best players in the world.

Gawain has always had the ability to cut through the most complicated of positions to home in on the one move that will make a difference.

Caruana – Gawain
 27 …Qc3! The d-pawn is suddenly too vulnerable to survive. The game was drawn after 41 moves.

The other annotations to watch out for are Tiviakov’s in his recent victory over Anand. He misses no opportunity to criticise the World Champion’s poor play. Here’s an example.

Tiviakov - Anand

11 …b6?! (11 …0-0 is better). Tiviakov comments:

‘I couldn’t have expected the World Champion to play so badly from this moment until the end of the game. Even playing without any preparation you would expect more resistance…in the current game the World Champion was playing like a beginner. Even playing in open tournaments you would have worked much harder to win than in this game.’

At the end of the game he says:

‘It was a very easy win for me, one of the easiest games in recent months.’

There are numerous opening surveys. The one which held my attention more than any other featured 4 a3 in the French Winawer, partly because I have a long-standing interest in 3 …Bb4 and partly because it was written by Viktor Moskalenko. I always find his writing interesting and the French Defence is his specialist subject. 4 a3 formerly found favour with some World Champions but has struggled to recover any sort of reputation at high levels ever since Fischer received a rare pasting at the hands of Kovacevic (and possibly one or two others, behind the scenes) back in 1970.

Fischer - Kovacevic
 18 …e3!!  0-1  (30)
Nevertheless, it remains a potentially potent weapon in club chess and the survey acts a suitable reminder that although a lot of chess players like to copy the opening moves of the current champions, the over-the-board reality is that the semi-forgotten side lines are somewhat more likely to make an appearance in the next local league match than the latest wrinkles in the Slav or Grunfeld.

One of the great strengths of ChessBase magazine is its ability to cater for such a wide range of strengths. Issue #148, far from being merely a prelude to the next, World Championship-based issue, keeps up the very high standard we all expect.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Caroline John

R.I.P. Caroline John (Liz Shaw)
1940 - 2012

My earliest memories of watching Doctor Who are from the first year of Jon Pertwee's TARDIS tenure, featuring Liz Shaw as the companion.

Spearhead from Space, Doctor Who and the Silurians and Inferno remain three of my favourite stories and are all available on DVD. The only remaining regular story to feature Liz Shaw, The Ambassadors of Death, is set to be released soon, following some work on colour restoration.

Caroline John played the character of Dr Elizabeth Shaw, a knowledgeable scientist from Cambridge, drafted into UNIT by the Brigadier. An interesting dynamic existed between Liz and the Third Doctor. The seriousness the character brought to the show is one of the reasons her four stories have stood the test of time so well, despite being first broadcast back in 1970.

I met Caroline several times at conventions (the photo was taken at the 2009 Dimensions event) and she was always very friendly and full of fond memories and interesting anecdotes from her time on the show.

She went on to reprise the role of Liz Shaw several times, most notably in a series of audio adventures produced by Big Finish.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Junior Tournament

We had a busy day at the Teesside Junior Chess Championships last Saturday.

Yarm School hosted the event and we received entries from nearly all of the schools on my regular Chess in Schools and Communities rounds, with 104 players contesting the titles for the Under-7, Under-9 and Under-11 categories.

A full report will appear on the CSC website soon.

Sunday 17 June 2012

Further Reading

My review of Vishy Anand: World Chess Champion... included in the latest issue of CHESS Magazine.

Saturday 2 June 2012

Further Reading

The latest issue of Maverick Magazine (July/August 2012 - the special issue celebrating 10 years of Maverick) includes my reviews of Rachel Harrington and the Knock Outs at The Cleveland Bay and Wilko Johnson at The Arc.

It's quite coincidental that the magazine should have been released yesterday as it ties in very nicely with out whole week of reviews and interviews with Rachel.

Friday 1 June 2012

The Rachel Harrington Interview (Part 3)

In the third (and concluding) part of our interview with Rachel Harrington and the Knock Outs, we discuss life with a band, small venues and future plans.

My very good friend Kevin Winter with Rachel and the Knock Outs

How is it for you to work with a bigger band than normal?

Oh, it’s horrible! No...I think it actually could be horrible. I’ve only heard nightmares about having bands, I have to say but every songwriter that I’ve talked to – confidentially – has said Don’t do it! Don’t ever have a band. It’s horrible, there’s politics, blah-blah…and, you know, that might be the case, after you’ve played with some folks for however many years – like the Rolling Stones or whatever – but right now we’re just having a great time. It’s been absolutely a great time. We’d been out on the road for about six or seven days and we were in the van somewhere in Holland and it was like, my stomach muscles feel sore; what the heck is…? I mean, I’m not getting any exercise apart from walking and lugging gear and I’m trying to work out what I’ve done that made my stomach muscles sore and it was just that I’d been laughing so much that my stomach muscles were physically sore for two or three days, just because we were having so much fun. And like I said, there are cute and they smell much better.

How is it when you come to a venue this size – very small, just about 30 people – does that affect you at all?

Well, we just did a house concert a couple of weeks ago in the Netherlands; yeah, we do house concerts…

Rocking The Cleveland Bay

Knock Outs: We played a small pub the other night where we just about managed to fit everything in. It’s always the challenge; how are we going to set everything up tonight?

Do you enjoy the variety of big venues and smaller venues?

It’s great! We’ve played in a punk rock kind of venue somewhere in Belgium and we played a 130 seat theatre in Hereford that was sold out. They’re like children; they’re all unique and you love them all.

And finally…what’s next after this tour and the new album? Are you already working on the next album already or does that come between tours?

You know, Alisa put a bug in my ear today. She said, ‘So…what about next Summer? What do you think about another tour?’ Oh, yeah, that sounds good! Because these gals are all super-busy; they play in great bands already so we have to plan well ahead. So I said, yeah! Next Summer sounds great, and Alisa said, well, you need a new record. Gosh, OK, you’re right, we need a new record! OK…err…so as soon as I get home I’ve got to work on the release of this album in the States and then it sounds like I’m going to have to write some new songs…!

So we’ll see the Knock Outs with you again next year?

Well, we hope so.

Well, that’s all for now, unless there’s anything you’d like add.

Knock Outs: Music is awesome!

We agree!

Music - and the Rachel and the Knock Outs - are awesome!

Coming soon...a new interview with Sara Dennis!