Sunday 23 September 2018

Shania Twain - Now

Shania Twain
Manchester Arena
Shania Twain rocked the Manchester Arena with an extraordinary two-hour performance showcasing all of the best songs of her career to date.

Having retired from performing in 2004 due to illness, any chance of seeing her 'live' seemed to have gone. However, the release of the Now album almost exactly one year ago - her first new album since Up! in 2002 - heralded the start of a remarkable 77-date world tour.

North America witnessed the first leg of the tour and then South America had one date in Brazil before the third leg brought Shania to Europe. Following two dates in Glasgow, the first of four English dates was in Manchester last weekend.

Bastian Baker and The Shires added considerable weight to their respective support roles and then there was a mere 15-minute interval before the main event.

With all eyes fixed on the stage, it soon became apparent something special was happening in the opposite direction. There was Shania, making a dramatic entrance at the back of the stadium and wending her way to the front to the cacophonous sound of an audience already in raptures.

This was merely the first of numerous theatrical elements to the evening, during which Shania regularly vanished from sight (often via the on-stage trapdoor) only to appear elsewhere, usually with a complete change of outfit.

The stage set was phenomenal. Consisting primarily of a number of blocks capable of holding video backdrops, it was in a contact date of flux, rearranging itself into the most unlikely of shapes, testing the nerves of Shania and her magnificent band of musicians and dancers, who were frequently lifted to incredible heights. That is exactly how the crowd felt too.

Three members of the audience were picked out for special attention (too made it to the main stage) and selfies as Shania went out of her way ti connect with people.

Five songs from Now (I'm Alright, Life's About To Get Good, More Fun, Poor Me and Swinging' With My Eyes Closed) rubbed shoulders on equal terms with all the greats from previous albums

Life's About To Get Good
Come on Over
Poor Me
Don't Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)
That Don't Impress Me Much
Any Man of Mine
Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?
Honey, I'm Home
I'm Alright
You're Still the One
More Fun
Video montage (to cover a mini-break and another change of costume) Woman in Me/You Win my Love/Don't/Forever & for Always
From This Moment On
I'm Gonna Getcha Good!
Party for Two (with Bastian Baker)
Swingin' With My Eyes Closed (with Bastian Baker)
(If You're Not in It for Love) I'm Outta Here!
Man! I Feel Like a Woman!

It was a wonderfully uplifting evening and definitely one of the best gigs I have ever seen.

Here are a few more captured moments from a remarkable occasion.

Shania Twain - Wow!



Friday 14 September 2018

Project 30: Event Announcement

The second season of Project 30 started in fine style with the visit of FIDE Master Steve Giddins.

It is now time to announce the next two events.

KO Championship

Rapidplay Match Championship

These were two of the best events on last year's calendar and I am pleased to report they will return for this year's edition of Project 30.

The KO Championship will feature 16 players.

Each of the rounds will feature one game played at the normal time limit (36 moves in 90 minutes followed by an extra 15 minutes on each clock to play to a finish). Colours will be decided immediately before the games in the usual fashion.

Drawn games will require a replay with colours reversed, which can be played at any time limit agreed by both opponents. If both players cannot reach agreement then the aforementioned timings will be used.

Rapidplay Match Championship

The first round will feature two games will be played (one with each colour) with 30 minutes on each clock. Players winning their mini-matches will progress to the next round. Players losing their mini-matches will be eliminated. In the event of a 1-1 tie, the players will contest two five-minute games and keep on doing so if further scores of 1-1 are recorded.

The second round will feature Rapidplay matches of four games, the semi-final will feature six games and the final will feature eight games, with all of these rounds following the same tiebreak method as the first round (if required).

The number of players in the Rapidplay event has doubled this year and a number of players will be making their Project 30 debuts.

Exciting times ahead!

Sunday 9 September 2018

Scott Lloyd: Down to Earth

Down To Earth
Scott Lloyd

Scott Lloyd's new single is out now and here at Marsh Towers are very pleased indeed to offer one of the first reviews of Down To Earth, just as we did for Scott's last single, Looking Out To Sea.

That was Scott’s first single released via Aardvark Music and it gained over 1000 plays on Apple music within a few weeks of release, which is an impressive tally.

The song starts with a mournful harmonica (one of Scott's trademarks), which is soon joined by the rising sound of the guitar, introducing a song that starts with a man who 'Found myself thinking...about what I've lost...' and just when it seems to be heading further into the depths of despair fuelled by introspection, the he finds 'Your smile...brings me back down to earth.' The theme of the juxtaposition between living in the moment and the trap of being caught in the negativity of other times (the past - and the potential future) recurs throughout the song.

Scott continues to grow in strength, both musically and lyrically. Just as with Looking Out To Sea, Down To Earth makes full use of a richer, fuller sound, granting a slight sideways switch to the pop end of folk as compared to his earlier work. Scott is really hitting his stride and his music is set to grow in popularity. He is a hard-working singer/songwriter who definitely deserves listening to, especially if one is interested in crafted songs.

Scott - originally from Teesside - is gathering a growing number of very positive reviews in his current home city of Manchester, within publications including The Skinny, Clash Magazine, NE Volume, Telegraph Music and the Manchester Evening News.

Down To Earth was recorded at Red Sand Studios, Chorlton, Manchester and produced by Mathieu Garcia.

For further information, head to Scott's official website and also our Scott Lloyd index here at Marsh Towers.

Here is the official video for Down To Earth and more videos can found on Scott's YouTube channel.


Thursday 6 September 2018

Mark Harrison: The Panoramic View

The Panoramic View
Mark Harrison
Two years have flown by since we reviewed Mark’s Turpentine album here at Marsh Towers.

Turpentine was, in some ways, the final part of a trilogy of albums and was predated by both Crooked Smile (2012) and The World Outside (2014). All three presented the quirky observations of the outsider who has to deal with an ever-growing number of eccentric people and baffling situations; in short, the modern world.

Although sharing some messages with its forefathers, The Panoramic View - newly released this week - takes the listener into brave new directions. As the title suggests, the outsider now turns his attention to the much wider world at large and this includes direct tributes to former blues greats, plans of running away to a better place, humiliation brought on by human feelings, a lack of social conscience, irreverent spirits and even an instrumental in honour of a Coventry bus station.

The individual song titles contain plenty of intrigue and they definitely up top Mark's usual creative and imaginative standard.

Track List

01 One Small Suitcase

02 House Full Of Children

03 What Son House Said

04 Meet On The Other Side

05 Ragged

06 Falling Down

07 High John

08 Pool Meadow Strut

09 Don't Die Till You're Dead

10 Ain't No Justice

11 Rediscovery Blues

12 Mess Is Everywhere

13 John The Chinaman

14 The Biggest Fool

15 Hooker's Song

An innovative device employed by Mark on this album is the use of spoken word introductions, setting the scene for each mini-story to follow. Gail Porter delivers the little prologues in style: matter-of-fact, informative and kept short so they never outstay their welcome.

It is a bold innovation – and it works. It's not that Mark's fine songs don't tell the story in themselves - of course they do - but these spoken prologues set the listener thinking before the first note is played.

For example, the introduction to Mess is Everywhere compliments the song perfectly and is thought-provoking in itself:

'Sometimes, everything can just fall apart, you don’t have to do much of anything for it to happen. The wheels just come off and you wind up in a ditch, wondering how you got there. No point pretending there is no ditch.'

On the surface, Mark’s songs can often come across as jaunty roots and blues music. There’s nothing wrong with being just that, of course – but these are crafted songs that need to be listened to in order to understand the messages and secrets they contain. 

Take John the Chinaman, for example. At first impression it could escape as a light-hearted song, but a closer examination reveals a far deeper meaning dealing with very important subject matter. Here is the introduction, setting the scene for the song:

'When the transcontinental railway was built in the US in the 1850s, the owner of one of the two companies building it bet his counterpart 10,000 dollars that his workers could build 10 miles of track in one day. The workforce consisted of 3,000 Chinamen and 8 Irishmen in charge. The Chinese workers all got called John the Chinaman, their names too hard to pronounce or decipher, no records of them kept. At the end of the job, there was a celebration parade in Sacramento to honour ... the 8 Irishmen. This kind of thing of course goes on today, in different guises.'

It's not so easy to name highlights from such an extraordinary set of songs; there is certainly no 'filler' to be found here. However, I would like to give a shout out to Don't Die Till You're Dead, Falling Down and Meet on the Other Side

The latter song is a simply glorious piece of gospel music. Incidentally, the very word 'gospel' has been known to be off-putting to some, due to its obvious religious roots and overtones. However, one should not let such prejudices get in the way of enjoying fine music. Remember Patty Griffin's exploration of the genre on the outstanding Downtown Church, back in 2010? Patty had no history of gospel prior to the album but...those songs!

Mark's band is tight, as usual, and the personnel can be seen here.

If you have yet to explore Mark's music then now is a great time to start. All of the songs work on various levels, from toe-tapping along to the hooks and riffs to becoming wrapped up completely in each individual story and reflecting afterwards on the various observations and issues raised along the way.

The Panoramic View is highly recommended as a robust antidote to the surface-level material that is is too often passed off as music. Mark has clearly put an awful lot of effort into crafting these songs and it is high time his music reached a much larger audience.

Find out more about Mark’s music and tour dates over at his official website.

Sunday 2 September 2018

Skyline Series: Triple Bill in Birmingham

The Skyline Series brought a remarkable series of events to Bristol and Birmingham towards the end of the Summer months.

I was delighted to see a fabulous triple-bill in Birmingham on Saturday 31 August, with headliners Texas accompanied by Imelda May and Ward Thomas.

In mid-July it was announced the venue was changing from the open-air, standing-only Digbeth Arena to the Birmingham Symphony Hall, causing disgruntlement in some quarters but this was actually the clinching factor in my decision to attend my first Birmingham gig since seeing Patty Griffin at the intimate Glee Club back in 2013.

The Symphony Hall is similar in style to both The Sage in Gateshead and Manchester's Bridgewater Hall; very comfortable, with fantastic acoustics.

A triple-bill always means an early start and Ward Thomas opened the evening's entertainment at 6.45 p.m.

This was my third time seeing Ward Thomas, following their appearance at 2016's Under the Apple Tree Festival of 2016 (again with a Patty Griffin connection) and their support slot for Miranda Lambert in August 2017. They were very good the first time around and play with increasing strength and confidence each time.

With a third album imminent, they are building up an impressive repertoire and this set featured big-hitters such as Cartwheels and Guilty Flowers plus new material, including their current single, Lie Like Me.

Imelda May presented an extremely powerful set from 8.00 p.m. onwards, connecting rapidly with the audience in exactly the same way as she had done when I first saw her at The Sage, back in 2016.

Starting with Call Me from the Life Love Flesh Blood album, which she sang from a chair, lights dulled, brought an immediate design of intimacy to the evening.The set was crafted perfectly to build in intensity as the evening wore on, moving through more extraordinary material from the same album (Including It Should Have Been You; Black Tears; Leave Me Lonely; Human and Sixth Sense) before hitting a high-powered, rockabilly finale with Mayhem and Johnny Got a Boom Boom. An absolute masterclass!

Texas hit the stage for the concluding session of the evening to deliver an energetic and crowd-pleasing set covering the whole length of their impressive career: I Don't Want a Lover; Halo; Guitar Song...they were all there, plus many more besides. Sharleen Spiteri was on absolutely dominant form and the evening ended on a magnificent high when Texas played an encore of Suspicious Minds, which very nearly brought the house down.

I had wanted to see Texas for some time and they proved well worth the wait.

What a sensational evening!