Wednesday 29 August 2012

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour - Teesside Bound!

Time to reveal the details of our new event...

Bridie Jackson - coming to The Cleveland Bay!

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour will be appearing at The Cleveland Bay (Yarm, Stockton-on-Tees, TS16 0JE) on Saturday 13 October 2012, with support by Sara Dennis!

Please see our new event page for further details and stay tuned for further updates.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

New Show - News Soon

We have a new show in the pipeline!

With Bridie Jackson
Stay tuned for tomorrow's announcement.

Monday 27 August 2012

Robert Johnson's Door

Robert Johnson's Door
Blue on Black
Blue on Black are a three-piece British blues band comprising of Keith Howe (guitar and vocals), Paul Arnott (bass guitar and vocals) and Nigel Masters (percussion and vocals). 'Weapons grade rock and renegade blues' is their genre description of choice; it's a new one on me, but once I started playing the CD I came to understand just how apt it was.

The album's inspiration is made clear right from the start:

'The CD's title is a metaphor for all the artists who continue to shape their own futures by looking back at the greats, especially the legendary Robert Johnson'.

The roots of the project are visible throughout. King O' Spades is a short instrumental introduction - 'just Keith and his Owens Crossroads Resonator, lost somewhere down those Mississippi back roads', before the full band bursts into Robert Johnson's Door, singing of 'the 60 million fingers, who would knock upon on your door.' It's a real rock-out; catchy and engaging, fully indicative of what is to come.

There's a temporary switch to slower blues with Cold Wind Blows before the heavy, riff-driven Poor Boy Do wakes up the neighbours.

Up-tempo numbers dominate, sung with a serious blues growl. Subject matter ranges from further nods to the past and its heroes (such as Another Man Down) to modern day concerns (such as Information Only, about people avoiding face to face situations) and personal experiences (Bad Blood, written by Keith when he was ill and in hospital).

There are plenty of great guitar solos spread across the CD, including one by special guest Larry Miller on Black Smoke Blues. Elsewhere, occasional appearances by Gareth Young (keyboards), Al Rideout (harmonica) and the Konneckt 6 Horns (brass) fill out the sound.

Tack list

King O' Spades (prelude)
Robert Johnsons Door
Cold Wind Blows
Poor Boy Do
Means to an End
Black Smoke Blues
Information Only
Man Down
Body and Soul
Blue is...
Bad Blood
Louisiana State
Fifty Bucks
Passing Moment (intro)
Angel on Hold (reprise)

All in all, it's a very powerful, serious and uncompromising slice of blues rock and another band to add to the 'love to see live' list.

For more information about Blue on Black, please head for their official website and the GFI Promotions page.

Sunday 26 August 2012

Bex Marshall: The House of Mercy

The House of Mercy
Bex Marshall
Bex Marshall was new to me when this CD arrived at Marsh Towers. By the time I'd heard the 11 tracks a couple of times, I was pleased to make her acquaintance.

Strong vocals and seriously good musicianship inhabit The House of Mercy from the first track to the last. It's a combination of up-tempo blues and Americana, with a toe or two dipped into the world of gospel.

Two things immediately struck me as I studied the liner notes. Firstly, all of the songs were written and produced by Bex herself; quite an achievement. Secondly, the amount of instruments used throughout the CD is very impressive indeed. On the title track alone there are three guitars, Dobro, violin, banjo, harmonica, keyboards, stand up bass, drums and percussion. Not to mention some gospel backing vocals.

It is well known that too many cooks can often spoil the broth, but there's been some very delicate blending of ingredients here; House of Mercy is definitely one of the strongest tracks. I like the unexpected twists of the violin and harmonica, appearing at just the right moments to elevate the song to new levels. Indeed, I'd have welcomed more of the violin on other tracks.

Not every song is dealt mob-handed; Bite Me, for example, features a personnel of two - namely Steve Lockwood on harmonica and Bex on mandolin, percussion, resonator guitar plus both lead and backing vocals. Barrys Song (don't blame me for the missing apostrophe) is stripped down even further, with Steve's harmonica and just Bex's vocals and acoustic guitar.

Bex seems to be a remarkably versatile musician, with three guitars - lead, resonator and slide - credited in Gone Fishin, with the slide being particularly impressive.

There are some slower songs to offer a change of pace (Barrys Song, in particular) and one instrumental (the banjo-driven Big Man).

Track List

House of Mercy
Bite Me
Gone Fishin
Rent My Room
Tough Times
Big Man
Bourbon Street
Barrys Song

The House of Mercy is set to be launched at Ronnie Scott's famous jazz club on 12 September. Anyone within striking distance of London should take the opportunity to attend; I suspect Bex is terrific live.

CD Launch at Ronnie Scott's!

Further details are available over at the official Bex Marshall website.

Saturday 25 August 2012

Delta Time

Delta Time
Hans Theessink and Terry Evans
(Featuring Ry Cooder)

With a combined total of 90 years' experience behind them, Hans Theessink and Terry Evans are clearly very well placed to present 13 slices of prime Delta Time blues. With Ry Cooder's trademark guitar also in the mix, Delta Time represents an exemplary showcase of blues and gospel music.

The vocal harmonies - between tenor, bass and baritone - are extraordinary and bring real depth and texture to the entire album.

Track List

Delta Time
Blues Stay Away From Me
It Hurst Me Too
How Come People Act Like That
The Birds and the Bees
Build Myself A Home
Down In Mississippi
Shelter From The Storm
I Need Money
Heaven's Airplane
Pouring Water On A Drowning Man
Honest I Do

Photo © Milica
One or two of the tracks will be familiar from other places, such as Jimmy Reed's Honest I Do (covered most famously by The Rolling Stones) and the unexpected The Birds and the Bees (the Dean Martin version is no doubt in your mind right now). Hans Theessink's informative liner notes offer an explanation.

'P.S. Why did we include ''The Birds and the Bees''? The answer is simple: Terry sang on the original recording some 50 years ago and earned his first real money singing on this international hit as a member of ''The Turnarounds'' - reason enough to revisit this happy classic.'

A real heavyweight of the genre, Delta Time will be released on 21 September. Further details are available on the websites of:

Hans Theessink and Terry Evans, plus the GFI Promotions site.

Friday 24 August 2012

Fatal: A Tractor

It's been a while since we found a sign worthy of adding to our collection over at It's A Sign! but this one seems to tick all of the right boxes.
One can't begin to imagine the potential dangers

Wednesday 22 August 2012

One Silver Needle

One Silver Needle
Arthur Alligood

One Silver Needle delivers ten songs from three related genres, offering a blend of country, Americana and folk.

Arthur Alligood (pronounced 'Alley-good') features on acoustic guitar and vocals throughout the album and the rest of the band come and go, depending on the pace and theme of each track. The musicianship is accomplished, offering a solid base for the story of each song to develop (the themes of heartache, drifters and unrequited love are all well to the fore, as one would imagine). The tunes are generally catchy, especially on the faster numbers, with the guitar work on Why'd You Let Me Go Cold being a particular highlight.

Track List

Shouldn't Be That Hard
We Had a Mind To Run
Bring My Heart Out
One Silver Needle
Darkness to Light
Go On Back
Why'd You Let Me Go Cold
Coming For the Heart of Me
Right Time Rain

The tempo changes, song to song; I prefer the uptempo tracks such as Shouldn't Be That Hard and Go On Back to the slower ballads (OchlockoneeRight Time Rain) simply because I prefer the Americana sound.

This is Arthur Alligood's fourth full length studio CD (there's also been an EP and a live album) so there's plenty more to explore from the back catalogue of this original storyteller.

Photo © Stephen Alligood

For further details, please head for the official Arthur Alligold website.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Back To Simpson's

Top-class chess is set to make a dramatic return to Simpson's-in-the-Strand, with the first leg of the FIDE Grand Prix.

From 20 September - 3 October, some of the world's finest players - including Nakamura, Grischuk, Svidler, Topalov and Ivanchuk - will be in action in what promises to be an exciting tournament. The Grand Prix is part of the World Chess Championship cycle so the Grandmasters will have plenty of motivation to produce fighting chess.

Andrew Paulson, the Chief Executive and Founder of Agon (the company with the commercial rights for the FIDE World Championship), said: "I am delighted to confirm that Simpson's-in-the-Strand will be the venue for the September Grand Prix. As possibly the best-known chess venue in the world, it is the perfect place to kick off the new Championship cycle. However, the requirement to transfer the event to London from Chelyabinsk at this relatively late stage means that it will be a smaller, invite-only event.''

Unfortunately, that means there will be no room for Joe Public spectators on this occasion, but obviously there will be an opportunity to follow the games online.

Further details about the Grand Prix participants can be found here.

With the fourth London Chess Classic scheduled for December and the Candidates event on the way in March 2013, London will be the centre of the chess world for a period of seven months.

Sunday 19 August 2012

Lucky Devil

Lucky Devil
Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns

I find it effective when the past seeps into the present (and vice versa). Listening to Lucky Devil summons up images from the New Orleans of just about a hundred years ago; jazz, blues and slow-burning songs we can all relate to on one level or another.

It's a world inhabited by Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton, where trombones and cornets rub shoulders with washboards and sousaphones and covers of half-forgotten dusty classics sit seamlessly alongside self-penned songs (Do For Myself, Slow Burn).

Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns were formed in 2009 and Lucky Devil was released in 2010. It could be said that the olde worlde theme is recurring; in these days of instant worldwide communication, the fact that we are just discovering this important new group harks back to another era, one in which news items retained a much longer shelf life.

Imagine sitting in the corner of a dark and smokey jazz club between the wars, with Humphrey Bogart on one side and Peter Lorre drifting through the crowd. There are important matters under discussion, including the stand against fascism, extreme black market trading and various plans to 'rub people out' but it passes you by because all you want to do is sit and listen to the music.

After a week of listening to Lucky Devil, the standout tracks are currently I'm Alone Because I love You, Comes Love and Slowburn.

Track list

I'm Alone Because I Love You
I Ain't Got Nuthin' But the Blues
Do For Myself
Backwater Blues
Comes Love
Lucky Devil
The Curse of an Aching Heart
Sweet Substitute
Gimme A Pigfoot
Joseph! Joseph!

The fusion of past and presents is a pervading theme, extended even to the CD artwork. The cover is a sepia-tinged modern interpretation of a famous piece by John Ernest Joseph Bellocq, a photographer from a bygone era famous for his mysterious snaps of New Orleans prostitutes. The pose is an authentic match to the original (the table and contents are close enough); Meschiya's tattoos offer the bridge between the generations.  Appropriately, the date of the original is estimated as 2012, bringing the 'hundred years' theme full circle.

Now the genie is out of the bottle, there's no putting it back. As I mentioned earlier this month, Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns will be touring the UK in another week or so and they will doubtless add to their growing band of admirers. I'm hoping to catch them live and if successful a full report will follow here.

Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns

Find out more about Meschiya and the Little Big Horns on their official website and on this page of Brookfield Knights website.

Saturday 18 August 2012

CSC Update

My latest report on the Teesside branch of the CSC is now available here.

There's some exciting news here too; the Chess in Schools in Communities charity has been commended by the Sport and Recreation Alliance's Community Sport and Recreation at their awards ceremony for 2012.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Charlotte Church at The Arc

Charlotte Church
The Arc, Stockton-on-Tees
11 August, 2012

Charlotte Church

Think you know Charlotte Church? Think again.

Last weekend she came to The Arc and demonstrated the course of her bold new direction; Indie rock, backed by a five-piece band and tinged with shades of electronica. It was part of an ongoing tour to promote new material prior to an impending CD release.

There were two support acts. Jonathan Powell (who later reappeared as part of Charlotte's band) played a solo set of dark, deep material and he was followed by the energetic, quirky Houdini Dax.

Charlotte Church and her band came out at approximately 9.45 p.m. and played a set lasting almost exactly one hour.

Set list

The Rise
Say It's True
Breach of the Peace
Come to Me
Call It Off
How Not Be Surprised When You're A Ghost
Judge From Afar
Beautiful Wreck
Mr The News

Singing with passion
Some of the songs were based on relatively recent events which had doubtless caused pain and annoyance (writing songs about them is a good form of revenge). For example, Judge From Afar was a reaction to a piece in the Daily Mail, ironically billed here as 'brimming with facts and truth' and follow-up comments on the Mail's website which 'weren't too kind.' Beautiful Wreck was a battle cry against the expectations of 'the suits' and the art of moving away from the mainstream musical world. Mr The News - written whilst Charlotte was taking part in the Leveson Inquiry, topped both in terms of passion. It is a song dedicated to different people at different gigs; this time Andy Coulson (former editor of The News of the World) was the target.

The magnificent voice was kept in top condition by frequent refuelling from a jar of honey between songs.

Magnificent voice

The change of direction was a real eye-opener. Some of the songs had an experimental element, utilising a loop pedal. It enables a voice to be recorded, looped and overdubbed. I've seen a loop pedal in action just once before. It's an interesting device, allowing the user to harmonise with their own vocals.

Harmonising with herself
There was an amusing exchange when Charlotte asked people to follow her on Twitter. A local wag asked if she would follow him. 'What's your name?' she asked and back came the reply - 'Matthew'! 'So - I just search for Matthew...? OK, send me a tweet and I'll follow you.' There followed a Spartacus homage, with several people shouting, 'I'm Matthew!'

Counting Matthews...?
This very enjoyable performance was the most surprising show of the year. It can't be easy breaking away from the tremendous weight of public expectation and acceptance to head off on a brand new journey.

Pointing the way for a new direction

I'm looking forward to the new CD. For sceptics, The Rise can be downloaded for free at Charlotte's website.

Here's another example of what to expect.

Monday 13 August 2012

Sara Dennis: Driftwood

Sara Dennis
Regular visitors to Marsh Towers will know the name of Sara Dennis; she has been appearing here regularly since 2010, most recently by dint of providing support for Rachel Harrington and The Knock Outs at The Cleveland Bay. Sara performed some of her new songs on that finest of nights and they were very well received.  

Sara at The Cleveland Bay
The Driftwood album has just been released and it is a fitting showcase of Sara's talents as a singer/songwriter. Driftwood is rooted in the acoustic folk ballad genre, with each of the 11 songs telling moving stories via the medium of Sara's beautiful, wistful voice. It's a voice that simply demands attention, no matter how softly delivered. It's no good merely sampling the first minute or so of each song - one feels compelled to stay in the world to reach the conclusion of each story.

Image © Sara Dennis

The majority of the songs feature Sara on Ukulele with a selection of guest musicians contributing to various tracks, namely:

Dave Brunskill - guitar and harmonica
Mimi O'Malley - clarinet
Simon Stephenson - guitar
Dave Edmunds - cello
Richard Sykes - electric guitar and keyboards
Morag Brown - violin
Milo Thelwall - violin

Emily Said is the exception; a purely solo piece, with Sara on vocals and piano.

I enjoyed the extra instruments, whether they were the guitars driving the songs or the subtler touches of clarinet and cello, deepening the sound and adding texture to the whole musical experience.

Track list

  1. Wish You Were Here
  2. The Crying Song
  3. Matty Groves
  4. Driftwood
  5. A Ballad of Swords and Shields
  6. Emily Said
  7. Blackwaterside
  8. Lost Times
  9. Frozen Charlotte
  10. The Black Middens (Low Lights, Low)
  11. Like Butterflies
No fewer than eight of the 11 songs are entirely Sara's own compositions. The exceptions are Matty Groves (traditional arrangement, Sara Dennis/Dave Brunskill), Blackwaterside (traditional arrangement, Sara Dennis) and Lost Times (Gavin Wood).

Dave Brunskill

Mimi O'Malley (with Ray Legg and Andy Broderick)

All of the songs are engaging and thoughtful. For me, the stand-out songs for me are Wish You Were Here, The Crying Song, Emily Said and Like Butterflies.

Anybody who has seen Sara at one of her ever-growing number of gigs definitely needs to get hold of a copy of Driftwood. Sara is on top form throughout as she delivers each and every one of the 11 songs. Newcomers to Sara's music will find this an ideal place to start. I know for sure there's going to be a lot more to come from this indefatigable musician so it's a good time to start following Sara's career.

Image © Sara Dennis

Further details about Driftwood can be found on Sara's website and the album is also available from itunes.

Sara and Dave Brunskill
Keep an eye on Sara's live dates. If you are based in North East England then the chances are she will be appearing at a venue near you soon. We have a new interview with Sara in the pipeline plus an announcement about another very special event for Autumn, so stay tuned.

Sunday 12 August 2012

New Music

Several new CDs have arrived at Marsh Towers, namely:

Driftwood - Sara Dennis
Delta Time - Hans Theessink and Terry Evans 
One Silver Needle - Arthur Alligood
The House of Mercy - Bex Marshall
Lucky Devil - Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns
Robert Johnson's Door - Blue on Black

Reviews will follow over the course of the week.

Meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled and your plates at the ready for a helping of food/music fusion, featuring some very well-known faces.

The Hairy Bikers with Meschiya Lake, swapping cream horns for Little Big Horns

There was never any question that The Hairy Bikers would enjoy the music – and sassy style - of Meschiya Lake & The Little Big Horns, and it can now be revealed that David Myers and ‘Si’ King are big fans of the lady and her band.

For, on a recent visit to New Orleans while recording their latest series for the Good Food Channel, they headed straight for The Spotted Cat in the Big Easy’s French Quarter to film the band in action and have a chat with Meschiya.

We can look forward to seeing the outcome when the new series starts. The Hairy Bikers’ Mississippi Adventure will be screened on Sundays at 8pm from 19th August on the Good Food Channel.

Meanwhile, UK audiences can look forward to going one better as the band has a string of dates here following their appearance at Denmark’s big T√łnder Festival where they are one of this year’s main attractions.

...And the tour schedule includes a dates at Gateshead Town Hall and the ARC Arts Centre in Stockton-on-Tees...with some space reserved for dancing!

When the band flew in from Louisiana for their first ever UK tour earlier this year, they played to capacity audiences everywhere they went, confirming their reputation as one of the hottest acts on the American roots music circuit.

Accompanied by two of the world's top Lindy Hop exhibition dancers - Chance Bushman and Amy Johnston, both of whom tour the globe to participate in major competition events and dance camps from Brazil and Canada to Scandinavia – they blew the socks off all those who came out to see them.

There is a masive Lindy Hop / Swing dance revival currently sweeping the UK, with many enthusiasts in the north east, and this band brings out all those who want to see two of the best in the world up on stage with Meschiya and the band.

Meschiya was named Female Performer of The Year in the 2011 Big Easy Music Awards and this year she carried off the title once again. When the 2011 album, Lucky Devil was released on this side of the Atlantic, it received glowing reviews.

The band wowed 1000 revellers who turned out to see them at The Old Fruitmarket during Glasgow’s big Celtic Connections festival in January. After they played their first ever Newcastle date for Jumpin Hot Club regulars at The Cluny, during that tour, local promoter, Graham Anderson said: “Words can’t describe how good they were …this is a monster act!”

Reviewing their London gig at Dingwalls, Rachel Devine told readers of R2 magazine this was “one of the most entertaining ‘live’ bands on the planet.”

After filming footage for their new series in New Orleans, The Hairy Bikers described the band’s music as “Prozac for the soul!”

Following their ‘live’ BBC Radio 3 session, presenter Mary Ann Kennedy said they were: "One of the big hits of this year's Celtic Connections,” adding: "they just set the festival alight.”

A brand new album is being released later this year.

UK Tour Dates as follows:

Wed Aug 29: The Buccleuch Centre, Langholm

Thurs Aug 30: The Tolbooth Theatre, Stirling

Fri Aug 31: Eastgate Theatre, Peebles

Sat Sept 1: Brookfield Hall, Renfrewshire

Sun Sept 2: Stereo, Glasgow

Mon Sept 3: Douglas Robertson’s Studio, Edinburgh

Tues Sept 4: The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen

Wed Sept 5: Eden Court Theatre, Inverness

Thurs Sept 6: Heart of Hawick, Scottish Borders

Fri Sept 7: ARC Arts Centre, Stockton on Tees

Sat Sept 8: Selby Town Hall

Sun Sept 9: Gateshead Town Hall

Saturday 11 August 2012

Chess Reviews 198: ChessBase Magazine #149

ChessBase Magazine #149

The latest issue of ChessBase Magazine dives straight into the recent Anand vs. Gelfand World Championship match.

Rainer Knaak's measured editorial (always worth reading)doesn't dodge the controversial aspects of the match. Flagging up the standard criticisms - ''Too many draws, games not played out to a finish, too little entertainment'' - he opines ''Most of the accusations are unjustified''. Knaak traces some of the problems back to the last Candidates event, with the reliance rapid chess mini-matches foreshadowing the Moscow match. While noting that such a safety first stance was definitely not in evidence at the Tal Memorial tournament (given excellent coverage in this issue), he concludes that future matches may benefit from playing the rapid games first; ''then there is always someone who will have to play for the win''.

It's an interesting idea but one which is unlikely to happen. A similar idea has been mooted in the past for the world of football; play the penalty shoot-out first and the real match should be more exciting. The Moscow match was obviously not the most exciting we have seen, but where does the blame lie and what is the best solution? Perhaps the day of big matches is coming to an end and tournaments really are the best way to decide champions.

The lack of fireworks in the match shouldn't detract from its importance. The coverage provided by the magazine is superb and varied in tone and content. For example, Karsten Mueller is on hand to dissect some interesting endgame moments. Here's a simple example from one the tie-break games.

Anand - Gelfand

Gelfand's last move, 71 ...Rf7-f5, was a bad one. Mueller demonstrates how Anand was able to very quickly transpose into a winning endgame with 72 Ne6+ Kc8 73 Nd4 Rf8 74 Nxf3 Rxf3 75 Kb6 Rb3 76 Rg8+ Kd7 77 Rb8 1-0

All of the match games are annotated in depth by a variety of commentators and Dorian Rogozenco present a very thoughtful summing up of the contest. The highlight of the magazine is undoubtedly the lengthy interview with Rustam Kasimdzhanov, conducted by Andre Schulz. As Anand's second (not just in Moscow, but in his earlier World Championships against Kramnik and Topalov also) Kasimdzhanov is ideally placed to provide valuable insights into the World Champion's preparation and play, paying particular attention to the psychological aspects behind the scenes. Key moments from all of the games are put under the spotlight.

Gelfand - Anand, game 9

Here's one interesting snippet. Anand has just played 18 ...Qc7-d6, provoking 19 c5 (which Gelfand played). Kasimdzhanov's Grandmaster wisdom tells us that Black had a serious positional threat of 19 ...Qb4, leading to 20 ...Qa4 or 20 ...Qa5, giving White plenty to think about on the queenside, when he'd rather just play on autopilot with the two bishops. Instead of 19 c5, the best move for White was apparently 19 a3, just keeping the black queen out of the position, after which White keeps the tension and maintains his advantage.

There's nearly 90 minutes of material here and it's all good stuff, from the surprise of seeing Gelfand play the Grunfeld, through the exchange of victories in games 7 and 8 and on to the agony of the tie break games. This is the sort of feature I'd like to see more of in future issues. I always enjoy interviews and bringing them to life with ChessBase's video clips makes them even more interesting.

Despite the amount of disc space used to cover the World Championship match, the standard ChessBase magazine features are in place too. As ever, ChessBase magazine it is a top quality product at a very reasonable price.

For further details regarding this and all other ChessBase products, please visit their official website.

Friday 10 August 2012

Further Reading: re:VOX

Issue 16 of re:VOX (the magazine devoted to Ultravox and associated groups) has just been published.

In addition to covering the release of this years Brilliant CD, there are must-read interviews with Midge Ure, Warren Cann and Billy Currie and a wonderful pictorial record of the Return to Eden tour. I am delighted to see that some of my photos have been utilised among numerous other (better!) efforts from fellow fans.

re:VOX is an upbeat, enthusiastic publication and an unmissable treat for fans of all things Ultravox.

For further details, head for Rob's blog.

Thursday 9 August 2012

Further Reading: CHESS

The latest issue of CHESS includes my reviews of The Life & Games of Akiva Rubinstein (vols. 1 & 2)

Ordering details are available here.