Sunday 31 March 2013

Ian Hunter At The Arc

Ian Hunter
The Arc, Stockton
Ian Hunter - former Mott The Hoople frontman - was the latest big name to appear at The Arc. One really has to give Stockton's premier music venue its due; they have attracted a significant number of stars over the years and their ''coming soon'' list for the next couple of months impressively features Ian Siegal, Midge Ure, Suggs and Nine Below Zero.

Support came in the form of Jason Jason Ringenberg (of Jason and the Scorchers). His solo set was very energetic and entertaining.

Following a short break, Ian Hunter appeared on the stage. It is apparently obligatory to mention his age while writing a review, so here it is - he is 73.

For this acoustic evening he was joined by guitarist Andy York  and bass player David Roe.

Initially, Ian's voice sounded strained and thin. It did improve as the evening wore on, but hitting the higher notes remained a problem. Being acoustic, and heavy on the harmonica, gave the evening a folk feel at times.

The power was mainly in the songs themselves. His most recent CD - When I'm President - continues to receive rave reviews. This was my first exposure to the new songs and I was impressed.

Indeed, the show opened with The Way You Look Tonight and a further six songs from When I'm President were to follow.

Little anecdotes occasionally punctuated the evening, such as the tale of Barry Manilow recording Ian's son Ships - ''the last hit he ever had.'' This he followed with the self-deprecating: ''...and speaking of Barry Manilow's last hit - here's my last hit...'' which triggered a lively rendition of Once Bitten Twice Shy.

There was the occasional tale from life on the road. ''We were in Edinburgh last night. Slight cultural difference I noticed in architecture. Who's running the council here?? Shoot the ******!''

I was expecting a show somewhere in the region of 75-90 minutes, but the four-song encore - which included a very popular All The Young Dudes - stretched the performance fully to the two-hour mark, meaning I had to produce an (almost) Olympian time in running to catch the last bus home.

A very enjoyable evening!

Set list

Just The Way You Look Tonight
All Of The Good Ones Are Taken
Man Overboard
Shrunken Heads
Once Bitten Twice Shy
Fatally Flawed
Wild Bunch
When I'm President
Dead Man Walking
Words (Big Mouth)
Now Is The Time
Michael Picasso
Irene Wilde
Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse)
Sweet Jane


Roll Away The Stone
All The Young Dudes
Goodnight Irene

Head to the official Ian Hunter website for further information.

Saturday 30 March 2013

Les Misérables at the Queen's Theatre

Les Misérables
Queen's Theatre, London
I enjoyed the film version of Les Misérables when I saw it earlier this year. I found it to be the most moving film since Atonement (the woman sitting next to me was in more pieces than a human jigsaw puzzle at the end - and no, not because she was sitting next to me).

The only blot on the copybook was the overcooked humour involving Sacha Baron Cohen and ''dial-a-nutty-woman-character'' Helena Bonham Carter, which spoiled the mood somewhat (I understand the need for comic relief but I also understand the need for a modicum of subtlety).

I was interested in comparing the film to the theatre version and took the first opportunity that arose to make the necessary arrangements.

The Queen's Theatre was packed out. Glancing around, it was clear to see the international appeal. There were French people to the left of me, Chinese to the right and Japanese in front.

The play lasts for three hours (including the 15-minute interval) but the time flies by. The cast is universally excellent (incidentally, erstwhile Dorothy Danielle Hope plays Eponine). What is achieved on the stage in terms of both visual spectacle and emotional punch is nothing short of remarkable.

In comparison with the film, the comic relief characters are, thankfully, numerous shades more on the subtle side. For purists, the singing is generally of a higher standard too. Naturally, the film has it's own share of advantages (the Samantha Barks version of On My Own - sung in the pouring rain - is a world beating performance by anyone's standards).

Les Misérables definitely lives up to expectations. Now in its 28th year, ''The world's longest running musical'' thoroughly deserves its ongoing success.

For further details, head for the official website.

Friday 29 March 2013

New Event: Yarm Craft And Healing Fair

Event: Yarm Craft And Healing Fair

Date: Sunday 21 April 2013

Time: 11.00 a.m. - 3.00 p.m.

Venue: Fellowship Hall, West Street, Yarm TS15 9BT

There will be a variety of stalls including crafts, produce, Natural products, Alternative Therapists, Readers etc. There will also be a Felt Making workshop. 

Table bookings now being taken; please email lightembrace[at] for further details.

There will also be a felting demonstration and workshop. Learn the wonderful skill of felt making by turning natural wool into your own creative piece of work. This is a wonderfully relaxing art form working with the most natural of materials - sheep wool. Come and join this small workshop, relax and learn a new skill. The cost for a two-hour session is £20 which includes taking home your own creation. Please book in advance as places will be limited to a small group. Prior to the workshop there will also be a FREE Felting demonstration - no restriction on numbers for this part of the event. Free demonstration begins at 11.30 a.m.

There is a Facebook page for the Craft and Healing Fair and another one dedicated to the Felting Workshop.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Ian Hunter

I saw Ian Hunter at The Arc last night.

A full review will follow soon. Meanwhile, here's a couple of photos to be going on with.


Tuesday 26 March 2013

King King: Jealousy

A month ago, we reviewed Standing In The Shadows, the new CD by King King.

The CD has now been released, as has a video for Jealousy (a track I picked out as one of the stand outs on the album). Here it is, presented with permission.


For further details, including tour dates, please visit the  King King website...

...and the Manhaton Records site.

Monday 25 March 2013

London Candidates Tournament: A Spectator's View

London Candidates Tournament
A Spectator's View

The Candidates Tournament features eight of the world's best chess players. They will play each other twice and the tournament winner will challenge World Champion Anand for his title later this year.

Organised by FIDE in conjunction with AGON and sponsored by SOCAR (The State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic) it is fantastic that such a tournament should be held in London. I took the opportunity to visit the event and watch the seventh round.

I was unable to take any photographs. My press pass failed to materialise and I was on the 'wrong side of the ropes'. Indeed, cameras, phones and similar items were not allowed in the playing hall. Everything had to be deposited in the downstairs cloakroom in return for a raffle ticket. After that, every person entering the playing hall had to step through an airport security style scanner and then be scanned again by a hand-held object. Returning from a trip from the toilet or a spell in the commentary room meant a further couple of scans. Maybe such things are necessary. Or perhaps it's all pomposity. Either way, at £30 per daily ticket (not even real tickets either - an email print out was swapped at the desk for simple sticker with the relevant date stamped on) I felt the procedure could merely alienate the general public.

Once inside the playing hall, it was easy enough to find a seat. The venue was roughly one third full, so the statement made on the booking site that one may not be able to obtain a seat for all of the games was (in a way) optimistic.

Tablets were on some seats. The audience could use these to follow the games and there was even a facility to submit one's own analysis. As this meant submitting one's name and email address also, I didn't feel like utilising the facility and I don't know how many people actually did.

The view of the players was poor in some respects. The layout of the room was spoiled by some basic errors. It was impossible to see all four games at the same time as wooden partitions were inconveniently placed. It was possible to watch two games for a while and then switch seats to see the other two, but that meant disturbing people (the seats were tight, like in a cinema). The most central view of all gave an obscured view of the big video screens relaying the moves, due to an unfortunate placing of some lights.

Future events will hopefully correct these errors.

Three of the four (drawn) games were exciting battles. Ivanchuk vs. Svidler was the exception. Despite early promise, the game just fizzled out to a draw.

Gelfand didn't look to be making any progress against Kramnik's Nimzo-Indian Defence but a late slip (19 ...Ne8?) allowed a momentary chance (20 (either) N-g5!) - which Gelfand missed.

Aronian, sharing the tournament lead with Carlsen, seemed to be making progress against Grischuk but the latter defended very well and held the draw.

Carlsen looked to be in real trouble against Radjabov but the latter couldn't break through.

The tournament will continue until 1 April. Follow the action over at the official tournament site.

All of the photographs in this report were taken by my friend, Ray Morris-Hill and are reproduced here with his kind permission. You can see more of his superb collection (and it's not just chess!) on his website.

Saturday 16 March 2013

Wilko Johnson At Holmfirth

Wilko Johnson
The Picturedrome, Holmfirth

January's bad news left fans of Wilko Johnson wondering if they would ever see him again.

However, the diagnosis of terminal cancer did not mean Wilko was going to vanish immediately from the public eye. Suddenly, a farewell mini-tour of the UK was announced and there was even talk of a new album.

Obtaining tickets for the tour was always going to be problematic. Demand was high and the tickets sold out predictably quickly. (Ebay ticket touts made sure of that.)

Holmfirth was an unusual choice for a venue. Made famous by TV comedy Last of the Summer Wine, the village's credentials for a Wilko farewell gig weren't immediately obvious to me.

Once inside the Picturedrome, with geezers on the door busily ticking lists and strapping wristbands to all and sundry, the picturesque village was replaced by a dark venue consisting mainly of standing space with a mere handful of balcony seats with a decent view. The place was packed to the rafters. To move an inch was to give the next punter a mile as the audience constantly jostled for the mythical ''better view.''

There were two support acts. I didn't catch the name of the first one...

...but the second was Mark Radcliffe and the Big Figures.

However, on this night, of all nights, it was time to focus almost exclusively on the main act - the one and only Wilko Johnson.

Ably supported - as usual - by legendary bass man (and Blockhead) Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Dylan Howe, Wilko started his set with a lively cry of ''Good evening!'' before launching into a storming All Through The City.

One problem with trying to enjoy a show in such a tight and packed venue is having to deal with the statutory quota of drunks. Throughout the first song, one such dolt persisted in tapping me on the arm. I ignored him until the end of the song before having words. He cleared off but the tapping was repeated by the next man in line during the second song. Only by moving towards the end of the gallery was I able to escape their doltish attention and enjoy the show.


The trademarks were all present and correct, such as Wilko's machine-gunning of the audience, emphasised by Dylan's ''rat-a-tat-a-tat'' on the drums.

The trio was on great form throughout the evening. They are such a tight unit, with their playing dovetailing wonderfully to create a really big sound.

Norman seemed particularly inspired.

It is a mistake to over-analyse the set list in search of topical sentimentality. It hadn't changed from Wilko's usual repertoire; there were no surprises and even the extended encore of Bye Bye Johnny has been there for years and wasn't merely added to play on the Bye Bye aspect.

There were extended solos for all three artistes during Don't Let Your Daddy Know.

Set List

All Through The City
If You Want Me, You've Got Me
Dr. Dupree
Going Back Home
The Western Plains
Sneaking Suspicion
Keep On Loving You
When I'm Gone
Cairo Blues
Don't Let Your Daddy Know
Back In The Night
She Does It Right


''Just to show you're never too old to learn, we'd like to finish with something experimental..''
Wilko always says that, and it's always a lead in to...

Bye Bye Johnny

The house lights stayed down after the encore and the building cry of ''Wilko! Wilko!'' gave false hope that there would be a second encore. However, it wasn't to be and the evening really was over.

The chances are high that the Picturedrome gig was my last chance to see Wilko in action. The time scale of his illness is not entirely clear but it is obviously unlikely that he will be available for many more shows.

Previously at Marsh Towers:

Wilko Johnson at Shildon Civic Hall, 2011
Wilko Johnson at The Arc, 2012
Wilko Johnson at The Sage, 2012

Friday 15 March 2013

Amy Macdonald At The Sage

Amy Macdonald
The Sage, Gateshead

Amy Macdonald made her Sage debut last week and the venue was completely sold out.

Support came in the form of Ben Montague, a name which will doubtless be seen more often in the near future.

Ben Montague
The release of 2012's Life In A Beautiful Light has given Amy three albums of fine songs from which to build a touring repertoire. All three were well represented at The Sage, with a couple of covers thrown in for good measure.

The show kicked off with 4th Of July - one of the strongest songs on the latest album. This was swiftly followed by Poison Prince, one of the stand-outs from her first album, This Is The Life. And thus the pattern for the evening was set, with 'old' classics happily rubbing shoulders with the newer material.

There were one or two things stopping the gig reaching the absolute heights. We felt the drums were too loud and they drowned out some of the lyrics (indeed, the mid-gig acoustic set was the highlight of the evening). There was also an issue with a Glaswegian heckler shouting down from Level 3. It doesn't really suit The Sage. Later on, a couple of foul words from Amy jarred somewhat and perhaps the talking between songs was a shade overlong in places.

Nevertheless, she is a confident performer with a steadily growing catalogue of accomplished recordings to her name.

Set List

4th Of July
Poison Prince
The Game
Mr. Rock and Roll
Slow It Down

(Acoustic set)
Love Love
Give It All Up
This Pretty Face

(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher
Don't Tell Me That It's Over
The Green And The Blue
I Got No Roots
This Is The Life
Life In A Beautiful Light


Dancing In The Dark
The Furthest Star

Barrowland Ballroom
Let's Start A Band

For further details about Amy Macdonald and her music, please visit her official website.

Previously at Marsh Towers:

Amy Macdonald at the Carling Academy 2008

Amy Macdonald at the 02 Academy 2010

Thursday 14 March 2013

Gretchen Peters At The Sage

Gretchen Peters
The Sage, Gateshead

The Woman On A Wheel tour saw a triumphant return to The Sage for Gretchen Peters.

Following hard on the heels of last year's Hello Cruel World tour, which focused primarily on the album of the same name, Woman On A Wheel was more of a career retrospective, presenting songs all the way from 1996's The Secret of Life to the present day.

Support was provided by Ben Glover, who played a very accomplished solo acoustic set. He would return later in the evening for a couple of well-chosen duets with Gretchen.

Ben Glover

Songs from Hello Cruel World still made up a fair percentage of the set list, which was fine by me. Indeed, the opening number, Woman On A Wheel, set the scene well. 

Following the cheery Sunday Morning (Up And Down My Street), Gretchen quipped: ''Now we've got the happy song out of the way we're going to get down to business here...''

True enough, the songs generally wear their emotional badges of honour on their collective sleeve.

Midway through the set, Gretchen left the stage to showcase the talents of Barry Walsh and Christine Bougie. They played two of Barry's instrumental tracks - Leaving Newcastle and Gretchen's Theme - before Gretchen returned and launched straight into one of the biggest highlights of the evening, namely Hello Cruel World. It's such a great song that I think it could be used virtually anywhere in the set. Last year, it was the opening number. It would work equally well as the encore. it's my favourite of all Gretchen's songs.

Ben Glover returned for a duet on Return Of The Grievous Angel (a great Gram Parsons classic). He returned once more for a beautiful rendition of Wild Horses, which brought the evening to a close.

Set List

Woman On The Wheel
Sunday Morning (Up And Down My Street)
The Matador
Dark Angel
England Blues
Independence Day
Circus Girl
Leaving Newcastle
Gretchen's Theme
Hello Cruel World
St. Francis
Return Of The Grievous Angel
Five Minutes
On A Bus To St. Cloud
To Say Goodbye


Breakfast At Our House
Wild Horses

For news about Gretchen's new CD, DVD and book release - Woman On A Wheel - please head for this page on her official website.

For my earlier reviews of Gretchen Peters, please follow these links:

The Sage, Gateshead (2010)

The Arc, Stockton (2012)