Sunday 31 December 2017

Best of the Year: 2017

It has been another fabulous year for gigs. I thought 2016 would be hard act to follow - and it was, but this year at least matched last year in terms of diversity, enjoyment and excellence (despite the noticeable lack of Jah Wobble, Patty Griffin, Bridie Jackson and the Arbour and the Sage Americana Festival - all top highlights of previous years).

Here are the highlights for 2017.
Celebrating David Bowie, Brixton Academy, 8 January. Mike Garson assembled a fabulous group of former Bowie-band members from across the various eras plus numerous special guests to start my year of gigs in great style.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor, The Sage (Gateshead), 18 February. A brilliant performance and the gig of the year.
Rod Stewart, 02 Arena, 27 February. A rearranged gig date was bad news for some but good news for me.
Camille O'Sullivan, Arc (Stockton), 8 March. A stunning blend of theatricality, intense performance, Bowie, Brel and lots more.
Laura Marling, Arc (Stockton), 24 March. This highly anticipated show sold out almost immediately and gave Arc another highly memorable evening.
Kraftwerk, The Sage (Gateshead), 14 June. An extraordinary audio/visual experience.
Cliff Richard, Old Royal Naval College (Greenwich), 2 July 2017. A triumphant performance at a magnificent venue.
Brian Setzer's Rockabilly Riot! 02 Forum, Kentish Town, 11 July. Exemplary. Stray Cats fans - stay tuned for an exciting announcement on 2 January 2018.
Gary Numan, Exhibition Centre (Liverpool), 27 July.  The debut performances of many of the new Savage songs. I enjoyed my first visit to Liverpool since the early 1980s too.
Miranda Lambert, Eventim Apollo (Hammersmith) 23 August. Supported by Ward Thomas and showcasing the new songs from The Weight Of These Wings.
Sparks, Boiler Shop (Newcastle), 19 September. Mosh pit only for this one, with Sparks enjoying playing their new Hippopotamus songs plus all of the old favourites.
Gary Numan, Brixton Academy, 14 October. Yes, he makes the list twice this year. He is writing, playing and singing better than ever.
Gabrielle Aplin, ULU (London), 26 October. Still one of the UK's best-kept secrets. Catch her if you can; she's a wonderful singer/songwriter/performer.
 Chris Isaak, Bluesfest at the 02 Arena. Double bill with...
 Hall and Oates, 28 October. Top entertainment from start to finish.
Bananarama, York Barbican, 16 November. One of the year's most unlikely comebacks (with the original line-up). Brilliant!

UB40, Eventim Apollo (Hammersmith) 5 December. Bought on the spur of the moment, I managed to bag the final online ticket. A very impressive gig.

Slade, Manchester Academy, 17 December. The very front of the mosh pit and my ears are still ringing to prove it. Superbly entertaining and a real feel-good show, with the whole audience being in a great mood and the band on top form.
The finale for 2017 featured an extraordinary triple-bill of Carol Decker...

...and Kim Wilde for the Wilde Wild Xmas Show, The Ritz (Manchester), 17 December.

Will 2018 be able to match 2017? We'll see...

Sunday 26 November 2017

Project 30 Rapidplay: Round One Complete

Head to the CSC Teesside blog for the full results of round one and the draw for the semi-finals.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Project 30: Two New Events

Time to announce two more aspects of Project 30.

So far we have started an Individual KO Championship and a Rapidplay Match Championship, both which have started well and will continue to run throughout the chess season.

We have also had a very impressive simultaneous display by WFM Sarah Hegarty at Ings Farm Primary School, in which the brilliant England International and former British Champion played - and defeated - 20 juniors all at the same time.

There are at least two more simultaneous displays by titled players in the pipeline for 2018.

Meanwhile, we can now announce two more brand new events.

New Event 1

An Outstanding Student trophy award for the person from each one of our CSC Teesside curriculum schools has most impressed the CSC tutors and teachers over the course of the school year 2017-8.

New Event 2

A problem solving tournament, open to all players at our CSC Teesside curriculum schools.

Full details will be circulated to the relevant schools in the near future.

Stay tuned for more Project 30 announcements...

Friday 10 November 2017

Project 30: Sarah's Simul

Today brought a very special event for Project 30.

WFM Sarah Hegarty came to Teesside for a 20-board simultaneous display!

We had an excellent and hugely enjoyable day.

The full story can be found here.

Monday 2 October 2017

Project 30: First Two Events Unveiled

As previously mentioned, Project 30 will bring the introduction of at least 14 new chess events for 2017-8. Some will be for juniors, some will be for seniors and some will be for both.

Other events will be open to the public and I am currently talking to four well-known titled players about some very special events.

There will be lots of announcements soon.

Today we can unveil the first two events for the senior players.

Project 30: KO Championship

Round 1

Peter Harker vs. David Wise

Mike Creaney vs. Matthew Jackman

Dave Edmunds vs. Brian Whitaker

Sean Marsh vs. John Garnett

Julian Allinson vs. David Baillie

Paul Weightman vs. Andrew Smith

Kevin Waterman vs. Richard Harris

Bernie Price vs. Sean Cassidy

Project 30: Rapidplay Match Championship

Round 1

Julian Allinson vs. Dave Edmunds

Richard Harris vs. John Garnett

Sean Marsh vs. David Baillie

David Wise vs. Matthew Jackman

Regular updates will follow...

Monday 11 September 2017

Giving Something Back

My very good friend and CSC colleague David Hardy recently wrote a chess book and I have just posted a review here.

Sunday 10 September 2017

8th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament - Report

As mentioned yesterday, today brought the 8th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament.

I replaced the unavailable defending champion Julian Allinson in this year's line-up, thus making my tournament debut after seven years of 'merely' being in the role of organiser.

The players had to pick a comedy-themed envelope to determine the pairings.
The others chose first and left me with Tony Hancock. Stone me, what a life!
Everything is ready and now I await the guest stars 
Play was soon underway. The four players had to play each other four times at 5-minute chess.

Kevin Winter
David Baillie - former champion of this event
and the only person to have played in all eight.
Richard Harris
Me, hard at work
Richard arrived with gifts! He had spent part of the morning baking excellent blueberry muffins. Chess tournaments are civilised here at Marsh Towers.

The scores of the first cycle of games were:

Sean Marsh: 5.5/6
Kevin Winter 3.5/6
David Baillie 3/6
Richard Harris 0/6

I drew against Kevin in the final game of the first cycle when Kevin should really have won.
Enjoying the muffins at half-time
The second cycle saw the pace increase and brought the most closely contested games.

Scores of the second and final cycle of games:

Sean Marsh: 4.5/6
David Baillie 4/6
Kevin Winter 3.5/6
Richard Harris 0/6

I lost the final game of the event when I missed a key move in Kevin's attack. I had a lost position in one of the games against David too but managed to hold a draw.

Final scores:

Sean Marsh: 10/12
David Baillie 7/12
Kevin Winter 7/12
Richard Harris 0/12

All of the games were hard-fought and many sacrifices were played. Mike would have enjoyed the games, that's for sure.

Lunch after the tough battles
Thank you, everyone. The 9th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament will definitely go ahead in 2018.

Saturday 9 September 2017

8th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament

Tomorrow brings the 8th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, which is set to feature a small yet competitive group of players who will play 12 rounds of 5-minute chess games in memory of my great friend.

I have written about Mike many times here at Marsh Towers, as a judicious use of the search box will definitely reveal.

We first played each other at chess while still at our respective schools and went on to become very close friends and club mates at Guisborough, Redcar and Elmwood. Playing side-by-side for our teams we enjoyed a remarkable run of success at Guisborough (winning the league title for the first time in 50 years) and Elmwood (regularly winning the league and the Tom Wise KO Cup). We tended to win the same individual honours too, such as the Cleveland Championship, the Northern Counties Chess Union Championship, the Redcar Congress and the championships of our three mutual clubs.

We helped each other prepare for key games and were in touch with each other virtually every day from just after leaving school all the way until the terrible news came through of his extremely untimely death.

We played each other many times too, in the Cleveland Championship, the championships of the three aforementioned clubs, an assortment of tournaments and even when we played for different teams. Our games were usually full of fighting, creative chess as we constantly tried to get the better of each other. Despite working together so closely, we always had different styles and different openings.

Our friendly rivalry provided plenty of inspiration for both of us as we made our way up to the top of the local grading lists and, playing together, offered a difficult and challenging match for all-comers.

Things have never been the same since that fateful day back in 2010.

We still meet and play chess...but now it is only in my vivid dreams. For an indeterminate amount of time we are back as we were: playing, analysing, talking. Always semi-aware I am caught in a dream, I feel reluctant to wake up and break the spell created by our moves and games.

Once a year I organise a tournament in his honour. I feel sure he would have approved of the event. 

2010 sometimes feels like five minutes ago but are already up to the eighth tournament in the series.

Reports on the previous events can be found by clicking on each of the following links:

7th Memorial Tournament

6th Memorial Tournament

5th Memorial Tournament

4th Memorial Tournament

3rd Memorial Tournament

2nd Memorial Tournament

1st Memorial Tournament

Tomorrow's tournament promises to be as exciting as the others. A full report will follow here in due course.

Sunday 23 July 2017


Sit down. We need to talk.

Suddenly we are at the end of the third and final term of the 2016-7 school year. All of the hopes and the fears for the year have been tied up, like so many plot lines, and then everyone will now move on, ever-upwards through the system, until they reach their ultimate destination.

Teachers celebrate the end of the school year for a variety of different reasons: job well done; crowd controlled; a well-earned rest ahead; a new school year on the way. Clean slate; clean SMART board. Yet for me the final half-term of any school year is always my least favourite.

We achieved a lot during my 29th year in schools. We broke all records for attendance in all of our main tournaments, brought more schools on board, pioneered more brand new ideas - including training days for parents - and attracted considerable publicity along the way, culminating in a special feature on ITV's Tyne Tees News.

The story may remain the same, but we use moving pictures and colour these days.

Press shot - 1988
Screen shot - 2017
And yet...I wanted to achieve more. Time - the great essential, which we should try never to lose - once again pulled the rug from under our feet, leaving some plans frustratingly short of fruition. It seems like no time at all since the 2015-6 school year drew to a close.

We build things up and time relentlessly tears them down. It bothers me. I always end up feeling I am just the other side of fulfilment.

There are times when I am tempted to tell the full story of my 29 years and to record my exact thoughts regarding people, places and events. Yet each time the notion surfaces it is tempered by the wise words of Edgar Allen Poe:

'If any ambitious man have a fancy a revolutionize, at one effort, the universal world of human thought, human opinion, and human sentiment, the opportunity is his own – the road to immortal renown lies straight, open, and unencumbered before him. All that he has to do is to write and publish a very little book. Its title should be simple–a few plain words –"My Heart Laid Bare." But – this little book must be true to its title.'


'But to write it – there is the rub. No man dare write it. No man ever will dare write it. No man could write it, even if he dared. The paper would shrivel and blaze at every touch of the fiery pen.'

I understand the task must wait a little longer.

There have been many huge changes in schools over the three decades and the wider world has hardly escaped unscathed. Governments and systems of belief have come and gone (none of those ever interested me anyway), as have many people who were and are dear to me. Virtually everyone seems to take offence at virtually everything. All these years on from the 1980s and anger is still an energy - but it is allowed burn itself away on trivial matters.

I feel the need to work harder as I grow older and to create more events, reach more people and achieve more than any given previous year.

To that end I would like to announce I am working on a series of special events to celebrate what will be my 30th year when the schools return to action in September.  

The following are currently in the planning stages (other ideas are also in the mix):

New tournaments

Special chess events featuring guest stars

Special events featuring inspirational people

Reconnections with former team mates and colleagues

A series of matches against old friends

An end of year celebratory event

We've done it before, you know...and we still have some jokes left over
In the words of Claude Cahun:

'Under this mask, another mask.
I will never finish removing all these faces.'

Further details will follow in due course...

Sunday 14 May 2017

The Scott Lloyd Interview

The work of Scott Lloyd has featured several times here at Marsh Towers (most recently with this review) and today we are delighted to present an exclusive interview with the man himself.
All images in this article are © Scott Lloyd

How did it all start? How did you become interested in music? 

Probably back when I was a young lad, around the age of 10/11 I suddenly decided I wanted to learn how to play the saxophone. My dad was a Frank Sinatra fan and I got into big band and swing music from him listening to that sort of music. I loved the music and the melody of the tunes. Those old American classics really are masterpieces in songwriting, and that’s what fuelled my passion I guess. 

From then on, from being able to play the saxophone a bit, I joined the Cleveland Youth Swing Band in Middlesbrough and stayed with them for a few years. We gigged in a number of venues around the north east area; it was good fun. 

When I turned 16 I took a step away from playing the saxophone so much and started getting into rock/indie music. Me and my mates used to send songs to each other on MSN Messenger; great days. I think I remember getting my first taste of the music that would really shape my taste of that time. My friend Jamie would send me real stand out classics like 'My Generation', 'Smells Like Teen Spirit', 'Back in Black' etc. It was my education of sorts to catch up with the wealth of rock music I didn’t know about from the past. 

Then I became a big Libertines fan when my friend Andrew played 'What Katie Did' in my mate Tom’s garage, a regular haunt for us, that. I started a band in college called The Blends and from then on became interested in songwriting. 

Then at university I learned the singer-songwriter craft and got into solo artists like Dylan, Neil Young, Bowie etc. That was the real game changer for me which, I guess, has brought me to this point now. It’s been good. 

What about the rest of your family? Are any others interested in music? 

Other than my dad, my uncle plays the saxophone well. He taught me to play those first few years I was leaning. Most of us in our family enjoying listening to good music and always have a good soundtrack when we have family gatherings. But, I’d say my dad really shaped my taste in music and got me off the mark in terms of inspiration. 

I guess I was a little creative lad and I just managed to find and really glue with music. Nothing moves me like music does. 

When did you write your first song? 

It’d be around the time I was in The Blends, my band at the age of 15/16. I remember writing a tune called 'Good Times' very early on and I think I wrote it up on the computer and printed it off. I was very proud of it. I was about just me and my mates all having a good time, from what I remember. Nothing flash. But, I wrote all the time for the band so I guess it must’ve been around that time I really got into song-writing. 

When did you get your first guitar? 

My mum bought me the first guitar from Middlesbrough Music Centre when I was about 14. I didn’t want to be a guitarist, I just wanted something to play chords from and write songs. All my favourite bands at the time used guitars to it just seemed natural to want one. 

I remember not being interested in being a guitarist though, I never had guitar lessons, haven’t had any since. I learned to play from just using the internet to work out where the chord positions were and to find out the chords/lyrics to my favourite songs. The first full song I learned was ‘What a Waster’ by The Libertines, its only four or five chords throughout so I managed to get that nailed quickly. 

Then I just carried on doing that, learning my favourite songs. I got a bit better on the guitar and got a bit better at singing. The guitar was a red Westfield acoustic; wasn’t the best but it did the job. 

Do you play any other instruments apart from guitar and saxophone? 

Around the time I got into rock/indie music age 15/16, my dad randomly bought a drum kit, I think mainly because he wanted a new hobby. He bought a drum kit and put it upstairs in our house. He had a few years of lessons and I just started messing about on it, inadvertently learning how to play the drums. I became a drummer before I even thought about getting a guitar. 

I was in one or two little jam bands throughout school. Nothing serious, just playing covers and having a bit of fun I guess. I loved playing the drums though. It was incredible to make sounds and rhythms like that. 

My heroes were Keith Moon and John Bonham. I had a few lessons but never really enjoyed them from what I remember. It took the fun out of it for me. I wanted to just play how I wanted to play. Rudiments and rules just made it boring and stressful, I played with my friends and sang where I could. 

Other than that I guess I know the notes on a piano, oh and the harmonica! 

When and where was your first performance? 

The first gig we had in my first proper band, The Blends, was at a place called Liberty’s in Middlesbrough around 2006. We played there with another band called the Lexingtons, the guitarist from that band worked with me at McDonald’s at the time and he managed to get us on the bill. Great stuff. 

Me and the band rallied all our friends and we had a pretty big crowd, everyone was going nuts! Properly jumping around and singing along. It’s one of my favourite memories, that. We had an absolute ball. 

That feeling gave me a taste for performing live; I still love it to this day, especially with my backing band. 
What comes first in your songs? Is it the music or the lyrics? 

It’s very naturally, nothing is ever forced. If I’m not feeling it or straining to rhyme words or find a melody I put the guitar down straight away. 

Sometimes I have the lyrics written on my phone or at least a few lines I like that I have thought of while out an about somewhere, and then sometimes I don’t have any lyrics and just start jamming with chords and messing about. 

I find the harmonica is a good way to find a nice melody sometimes, I just strum chords in a certain key and then improvise on the harmonica. A song from my new EP, 'Cornish Coast', came from the riff I had. The opening guitar lick came when I was messing about on an electric guitar I’ve got. I really liked the little sound from hammering on and off a string quickly, it gave a little ‘twiddling’ sound that you hear quite a lot in folk music. From that riff I started singing, no idea the song would be about Cornwall and have the sentiment it did, but it just came from nowhere. I had the song written over a few days I think, very simple and very naturally. 

Similar to ‘Wild Flower’ I just started playing the chords and started singing, that’s all it was. I sang words that naturally came out and changed chords naturally. Absolutely nothing was preconceived. I think the best songs come out that like. 

My favourite songs of my own come like that; 'Picture in my Mind', 'What Have I Gotta Do', 'God I Say', 'Somewhere' and 'Long Live You' have all come out of the blue. 

I’m a firm believer that if you catch an idea when its just emerging you capture it in its purist form, in all art forms, it always works because its natural and unhindered from any sort of criticism and influence, it’s the defining point in any idea. 
'In the Garden' brings the addition of a band. Is the band here to stay or temporary detour from your solo acoustic work? 

I tend to just work on what is happening at that point in my life. Don’t try to think too far ahead, although it is hard to not resist thinking about where I’d like to go with my music, I do try to remain in the moment. The band has opened so many avenues for me now. I’ve gone from being an intimate-only singer to the potential to play on stages with other bands with a big sound. 

I couldn’t thank the lads enough. Andy, Iain and Dave are great players, the best I’ve performed with, and they understand the direction I’m not only coming from but the idea I’m heading to in terms of sound. We’ve got the full band EP launch at Gulliver’s in Manchester on Saturday 27th May...
...and then a festival slot at Eroica festival in Buxton. There will be a few more announcements to come but I’m leaving it at that for now. It’s going to be great. 

I hope to play with the lads for years to come I guess, but you never know what’s coming. 

What are your musical aims in both the short and long term? 

Short term I think it’s to try and write great songs and try to let people hear them as best I can. I’d love to make a big career from doing this but it’s early days and I really am just enjoying it right now. If I set myself goals I’m going to stress about achieving them. So, keeping it simple for now is the best idea. 

What is your opinion on the so-called reality talent TV shows? 

At first I thought they were harmless, other than ruining some great songs, it just seemed like junk telly. However, as time goes by, I think its ruining a live music scene for upcoming acts. The general public aren’t going to go out looking for new acts if they’ve just got a multi-million pound production on there TV with some singers who want to make it big. 

The real, down to earth artists are lost in the wild world of small venues with only a certain selection of music fans. That’s all well and good but I do believe X Factor has ‘dumbed down’ as what people think music is. They think its flash and cheap. It doesn’t help unsigned acts at all. 

But then again, if you’re looking for an audience who is sitting in on a Saturday night your goal posts need to be shifted a bit. Each to their own though, I guess. I just wish they had unsigned, good music on television more often these days.

Thank you, Scott!
Follow Scott's music, news and tour dates here:

Sunday 16 April 2017

Scott Lloyd: In the Garden

In the Garden
Scott Lloyd

It's over three years since Scott first appeared here at Marsh Towers, when we reviewed The Northern Gate. A review of his subsequent EP, Give Me Something, soon followed.

Scott's brand new EP is out now, featuring five original songs.

In the Garden
Cornish Coast
Four Cities
Wild Flower

The title track ushers in a change of direction, with Scott backed by a band rather than playing solo and acoustically. It's a lively song, harkening back to a sunshine youth of getting home from school at 3.30 p.m. and playing football until a tea of fish fingers, chips and beans; playing in the garden and dreaming about growing up and being 10 feet tall. Amid the happy memories is a darker understanding that being older will not bring the freedom of youth. This is one of the two great standout tracks on the EP.

The narrative, driven by the up-tempo beat, is reminiscent of some early numbers by The Kinks, with youthful freedom and family life casting long shadows over a later, more complicated life.

Loss and longing are recurring themes throughout the five songs. 

Cornish Coast and Lavender slow the pace for more straightforward love songs, closer to Scott's folk roots and Four Cities charts the journey of a wanderer now keen on returning.

Wild Flower is a slow-burner and a real standout track. It extends the garden imagery from the title track and paints a picture of a man determined to change his life for the better and being able to see the sky again. The song has been crafted to build in admirable fashion and is a really accomplished piece of work.

Scott's repertoire and style continue to evolve. In the Garden finds him in good voice and with plenty to saw. These five songs are his most textured to date. Scratch the surface of the 'easy listening' coating and one will encounter plenty of thought-provoking questions and ideas.
In Manchester? Head for the EP Launch Show
Find out more about Scott and his music at his official website.