Tuesday 29 October 2013

Anita Harris

Anita Harris
Saltburn Community Theatre

Saltburn pulled off a considerable coup three years ago when they brought Robert Powell and Gabrielle Drake to their theatre for a very memorable evening and they repeated the feat last weekend by presenting another major star of stage and screen.

It's not often we get stars the calibre of Anita Harris treading the boards on our Teesside stages and when it happens it is obviously an opportunity not to be missed. However, the audience consisted of a disappointingly low number of people - fewer than 20, in fact. Maybe some were scared off by the threat of the impending storm. Whatever the reason, those who stayed away missed out on a very special evening.

Introduced by her husband and record producer Mike Margolis, Anita took to the stage with all of the star quality one would expect.

Amongst the opening anecdotes came one from a backstage rehearsal from a 1967 Top of the Pops, with Dusty Springfield informing Anita that her brother Tom had a song that would suit her very well. She then performed the song in question - Just Loving You - before introducing the film Carry on Doctor.

Following the film it was 'any questions', with Anita sharing her stories of working with the likes of Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Barbara Windsor, Charles Hawtrey, Frankie Howerd, Phil Silvers and Hattie Jacques.

Anita is currently writing two books; an autobiography and a book on pantomime. I'm looking forward to both. Her personal life has not been without great misfortune and tragedy; together with more anecdotes about the personalities mentioned above her autobiography should be a very good read indeed.

Anita came across as a genuinely very lovely person, generous with her time and blessed with a very positive outlook on life. Hopefully she will be back on Teesside some day soon, perhaps with a musical evening combined by a double-book signing session.

Follow the latest news and tour dates over at the official Anita Harris website.

Monday 21 October 2013

Chess Reviews: 225

ChessBase Magazine # 156
The unmistakable features of Vladimir Kramnik peer out from the cover of the new ChessBase magazine. He had two excellent tournament results during the period covered this time, namely at the FIDE World Cup in Biel and the annual Dortmund event. He had to be content with second place at the latter - due to a magnificent performance by Michael Adams - but the World Cup was a smashing success for the former World Champion.

Issue 156 in the long-running ChessBase magazine series provides exemplary coverage of the tournaments in Biel and Dortmund (complete with annotations by the champions) and, of course, lots more besides. Other tournaments covered include the Breisacher Memorial (won by Vachier Lagrave, on tiebreak) and the FIDE Grand Prix in Beijing (won by Mamedyarov ahead of 11 other 2700+ rated stars).

Other features include the usual high quality opening surveys, this time shining the spotlight on the following:

Budapest Gambit
Sicilian Kan
French with 3 Nc3 a6
King's Gambit with 3 ...Ne7
Ruy Lopez with 5 ...b5, 6 ...Bc5
Exchange QGD
Grunfeld Defence, Prins Variation
Tango Part 1
KID Saemisch
KID Bayonet Attack

There's plenty of training material too, covering all phases of the game. It is, however, the annotations by the world's top players that always grab my attention more than anything else.

Vladimir Kramnik's notes always strike me as being totally honest. In his key game against Andreikin he already criticizes his own play twice in the first 15 moves, saying:

(Move 12) ''Trying to be clever and avoiding a4 for the moment, but I'm not sure now it is so clever after all.''

(Move 15) ''The right idea with a slightly wrong move order.''

It's good know that even World Champions feel the same frustrations we all do when running our games through an analytical engine. This is the position after White's 22nd move.

Kramnik vs. Andreikin
Black to play
''It looks nice visually for White and I thought I must be slightly better, but Houdini always finds equalizing resources for Black and claims that it is balanced.''

We witness some real human class a few moves later.

Kramnik vs. Andreikin
White to play
31 dxc6! Rxe1+ 32 Nxe1 Qc7 (32 ...Qb6 33 Rxb5!) and the queen sacrifice gave Kramnik a serious advantage (1-0, 63). However, the game continued to provide interesting moments right until the end and Kramnik's instructive notes are well worth investigating.

The second big standout feature on CBM 156 is the series of videos in which Daniel King picks out round-by-round highlights from the Breisacher Memorial. Daniel's polished style is perfect for such a feature and I hope it becomes a regular part of the magazine.

As impressive as always, ChessBase Magazine remains one of the must-buy items on the chess market.

Monday 14 October 2013

Ron Sayer Jr. and Charlotte Joyce: Hard To Please

Hard To Please
Ron Sayer Jr. and Charlotte Joyce
Track List

Hard To Please
Cold Shoulder To Cry On
Wolf In Sheep's Clothes
Off The Road
Time For Goodbye
Do You Love Me Like You Love Yourself
Mr. Weatherman
No One Left To Blame
Don't Mess Around
One Of Your Looks
It Ain't Up To You
Tell Me Something I Don't Know

Ron Sayer Jr. has been featured here at Marsh Towers before, when we took a look at his Better Side album. Hard to Please features the same sort of musical fusion, keeping one foot firmly in the blues camp while extending the other into the genres of funk, rock and country.

The major difference between the two albums is the addition of Charlotte Joyce, who shares the vocals duties throughout. Indeed, the title track and One Of Your Looks are both full-blown duets. Ron and Charlotte take turns on lead vocals thereafter, but the other is never far away. On the funky Cold Shoulder To Cry On for example, Charlotte's backing vocals provide warmth and texture every time we hit the chorus; a trick repeated later on the rocking Do You Love Me Like You Love Yourself.

There are a couple of marked changes in tempo, such as Time For Goodbye, which sees Charlotte slow-burning her way through one of the gentler numbers. Mr. Weatherman sees Charlotte smouldering away in a slab of soul.

Impressively, the singing duo also share the songwriting credits on all 12 tracks.

Stand out tracks:  Wolf in Sheep's ClothingDo You Love Me Like You Love Yourself,  Of Your Looks.

For the latest news and tour dates, head over to Ron Sayer Jr.'s  official website and the Charlotte Joyce website.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Rev Ferriday and The Longdogs: Nine Beats

Nine Beats
Rev Ferriday and The Longdogs
Track List

Syd's Song
Nine Beats
Tail Lights
C Inside
Comin' In

Rev Ferriday's musical past dates back to the late 1980s, with Indie rock band Loop but it was only in 2012 when his first solo album appeared. The follow-up is all set to be released on 21 October.

With bluesy harmonica well to the fore, deep vocals and general grungy feel, Nine Beats presents nine slices of down 'n' dirty blues, described in the publicity blurb as inhabiting a place ''somewhere between Johnny Cash and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.'' On close inspection, I'd say the description is not a million miles from the truth. The sound reminds me of other artists too, such as Ian Siegal (especially from his Revelator era).

Mostly, the pace is uptempo, with a rock feel, but there is room for the occasional step into the world of more traditional blues, such as 10/6.

Catchy riffs abound; it's all toe-tappingly good stuff with simple enough arrangements that were presumably designed to be played live.

Stand out tracks:  Moonshine, Nine Beats.

For news and gig dates, head for the official Rev Ferriday and The Longdogs website.

Friday 11 October 2013

BabaJack: Running Man

Running Man
Track List

Running Man
Coming Home
Rock 'n' Roll Star
Falling Hard
Death Letter
Every Day the Same
Hammer and Tongs
I'm Done
Some People

This week saw the release of Running Man, the fourth Babajack album since 2010. Becky Tate and Trevor Seger form the core of the group. Indeed, all tracks bar Death Letter carry their songwriting credits.

I haven't encountered BabaJack before and wasn't sure what to expect from Running Man. It often takes two or three spins in the player with new material before the riffs and hooks take a hold but the title track immediately grabbed my attention. It's a big, full blues sound, starting relatively slowly but soon building in pace to represent the running man in question. The drums hold the pace while the other instruments duck and weave in and out of sight. Becky Tate's voice is easily powerful and textured enough to hold its own against the driving musical backdrop. I couldn't help thinking it would make an excellent theme song for a film. An impressive start.

Coming Home changes the pace with a strong guitar riff playing call-and-response with a solid bass line. Just as the song seems to fade away, there is a sudden and surprising harmonica-driven change of pace, before returning to the guitar riff and bass line and heading for the conclusion.

Thereafter, the songs drift across a number of styles, from the funk of Rock 'n' Roll Star - very nearly rap in some parts - to the Gospel-tinged Hammer and Tongs. Despite dipping the toes into these extra-curricular genres, the overall sound of the album is remains firmly in the blues camp. The influences come from roots music, funk, African rhythms and early blues, with a few modern touches thrown in for good measure. Indeed, the tradition of the early blues is further enhanced by the homemade instruments of Becky and Trevor!

Running Man makes an instant impression yet still rewards repeat playings. The fusion of styles, fine playing and powerful vocals make for an interesting and entertaining listening experience.

Stand out tracks: Running Man, Coming Home, Every Day the Same.

BabaJack are currently touring the UK before heading off to mainland Europe. Follow their news and tour dates over at the official BabaJack website.

Thursday 10 October 2013

Alison Moyet At The Sage

Alison Moyet
The Sage, Gateshead

Alison Moyet was on great form at The Sage last weekend. Looking great and showcasing an impressive new album, she played for just under 90 minutes and connected strongly with the excited audience.

Horizon Flame, the opening track from The Minutes album, proved an effective opener here too, smouldering, simmering and building the mood for the rest of the evening. Side screens filled the visual experience with glittering stars as the electronic music riffed and looped. This was swiftly followed by another highlight from The Minutes, namely When I Was Your Girl (the first single from the album).

Early on, it was made clear: ''It's Electro tonight - not Jazz. None!'' and the theme of the night was set. It wasn't all recent material by any means; the next song, Nobody's Diary was ''written at 16'' and a number of songs from a similar era received reemerged to the evident pleasure of the crowd.

As regards the older material, Alison Moyet said it was essential to avoid the ''danger of becoming your own tribute act'' and stressed the importance of ''engage with what I'm doing.'' This led straight into a new version of Only You that retained the spirit and vocal delivery of the original and coupled it with an updated musical arrangement.

The new material was certainly not overshadowed by the Yazoo classics; it will be interesting to see how they settle into context a few years down the line.

All in all, it was an engaging and triumphant performance and another act on the growing list labelled - ''definitely to be seen again.''

Set list

Horizon Flame
When I Was Your Girl
Nobody's Diary
Ordinary Girl
Remind Yourself
Is This Love
Winter Kills
A Place to Stay
Only You
Apple Kisses
This House
All Signs of Life
Right as Rain
Love Resurrection


Whispering Your Name
All Cried Out
Don't Go

Keep up to date with all the latest Alison Moyet news and tour dates over at her official website.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

An Evening With David Nobbs

Helmsley Arts Centre

David Nobbs - author of, amongst other things, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin - is currently on a theatre tour to talk about his life and publicise his new novel, The Fall and Rise of David Coppinger.

We caught him at the exact midpoint of the tour, at the Helmsley Arts Centre. We had been there once before (to see Bridie Jackson and The Arbour). It's a small and cosy venue - perfect for an intimate show.

Despite the presence of a Ronnie Corbett-style armchair, David spent most of the evening standing as he regaled the appreciative audience with tales from his life and long career, including his spell in the army (''You there! What's you're name?'' ''Nobbs, sir!'') and his spell as a reporter for a newspaper (the first word of his debut article was ''thives'' - a misspelled version of ''thieves'').

He went on to tell us all about his times with the likes of Frankie Howerd and Les Dawson before finally sitting down for a question and answer session.

The evening concluded with a book signing session (a selection of his books was on sale at the venue at reduced prices) and the opportunity for quick informal chat.

It was the second time I'd seen David Nobbs. The first was at the Scarborough Literature Festival, back in 2010. Both occasions were very enjoyable and his one-man shows are highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the genre.

Follow the latest Nobbs news and tour dates over at his official website.

Monday 7 October 2013

Further Reading

My reviews of Kotronias on the King's Indian, Volume 1 (Quality Chess), Playing the Trompowsky (Quality Chess) and Chess Champs Legends (card game) are all in the new issue of CHESS (October 2013).

Ordering details can be found here.

Saturday 5 October 2013

Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac
Phones 4U Arena, Manchester

Fleetwood Mac rocked Manchester with a stunning set clocking in at approximately two hours and 30 minutes. There was no support act - there wasn't time. Indeed, the tickets indicated an 8 p.m. start and I think it caught a lot of people by surprise when they realised the start of the show was imminent as they entered the Phones 4U Arena (formerly the MEN Arena). Fleetwood Mac emerged at 8.20 p.m., with Mick Fleetwood's thunderous drums announcing the start of Second Hand News.

Popular favourites dominated the set list, with seven songs from Rumours enjoying an airing. There were one or two new inclusions, namely Sad Angel and Without You (both from this year's surprise EP of new material), but it was the big-hitters that inevitably grabbed the attention - particularly the likes of Gold Dust Woman, which brought out the full theatrical side of Stevie Nicks.

Gold Dust Woman
Lindsey Buckingham, with his unnatural energy, held centre-stage for virtually the entire evening. The others all took breaks at various points but he somehow kept going.

Lindsey Buckingham - larger than life, as usual
The songs were enhanced by projected backdrops featuring various scenarios and, at times, huge versions of the main players.

The band's not-so personal history is well documented. It seems that their performances are somehow still feeding from the energy - good and bad - of several decades ago. It takes a while for Lindsey Buckingham to interact with anyone else on the stage but tension - staged or otherwise - relents during certain closer songs with Stevie Nicks, with occasional hugs and brief holding of hands.

Retired band member Christine McVie had appeared for one song at one of the London O2 shows but was not to repeat the cameo here.

There were a couple of slower moments during which Stevie Nicks chatted to the audience and related a few anecdotes (probably to give everyone a breather). However, her lengthy preamble to Without You (a ''lost'' song recently rediscovered) proved a little too long for some vocal local yokels, much to Stevie's apparent frustration. Nevertheless, the overall reception to the evening was overwhelmingly positive - a ''Fleetwood feelgood'' by anyone's standards.

The first encore took the show over the intended stopping time (10.20 p.m. had been officially quoted) and there was such a gap before the second encore (and we'd already witnessed Mick Fleetwood's drum solo) that some of us were already departing to beat the rush. A chap in one of the side rows put his hand on my shoulder and excitedly informed me ''There's two more songs to come, mate!'' so back we went for Silver Springs and Say Goodbye.

Set List

Second Hand News
The Chain
Sad Angel
Not That Funny
Sisters of the Moon
Big Love
Never Going Back Again
Without You
Eyes of the World
Gold Dust Woman
I’m So Afraid
Stand Back
Go Your Own Way


World Turning
Don’t Stop

Second Encore

Silver Springs
Say Goodbye

Both Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham delighted in announcing that ''The Mac is back!'' Although nothing is confirmed beyond this particular tour, the prospect of more new material and tours intrigues and excites.

Here are a few more photos to finish with.
John McVie on bass 

The inimitable Stevie Nicks

Mick Fleetwood

Drum solo!

Friday 4 October 2013


Kirkleatham Museum, Redcar
7 September - 3 November 2013

Kirkleatham Museum is currently hosting an exhibition of Sci-Fi costumes and memorabilia.

The entry fee is just two of your Earth pounds and that includes a free return visit. The number of visitors had already reached 6,000 by the end of the first month so it can easily be classed as a success.

Star Wars was particularly well represented but there was plenty of room for other invaders too, including those from the world of Doctor Who.

Let's have more fine exhibitions on Teesside!








Further details about this (and other exhibitions in the Redcar area) can be found here.