Sunday 31 March 2019

Yuzoo at The Georgian Theatre

The Georgian Theatre, Stockton

The Georgian Theatre celebrated 10 years of their Sound of the Eighties series last night with a disco followed by the tribute act to Yazoo and Alison Moyet.

The disco took a little while to get going but once people were enticed from the bar they found plenty of interest, with 1980s album covers adorning the walls and other typical trappings of the decade scattered around the room, including face masks of everyone from Freddie Mercury to Steve Strange, glow sticks, bubbles, balloons and badges (such as 'Choose Life' and 'Frankie Says Relax').

The room had filled up nicely by the time Yuzoo took to the stage (around 9.30 p.m.) and alls seemed set for a lively, atmospheric evening. Yes sounded great and they played all of the songs one would expect to hear, but for some reason the audience was not fully engaged and numerous people preferred to talk loudly amongst themselves, while the numbers steadily reduced as others decided to head for the bar.

Those still in the room were determined to have a good time and Yuzoo did exactly what they should have done - they just kept going despite the distractions.

As a celebratory event, the evening should have been so much better. The fickle elements of the audience are to blame for the strangeness and this led to a rare disappointing evening at the Georgian Theatre.

Hopefully Yuzoo - who had a long journey from Cornwall - will return to Teesside at some point to find a more engaged audience.

Sound of the Sirens at Band on the Wall, Manchester

Sound of the Sirens
Band on the Wall, Manchester

It's easy to be drawn into the popular belief that the creative music scene is disappearing under the considerable weight of conveyor belt manufactured acts and the instant - yet strictly temporary - gratification of the streaming world.

Yet scratching the surface reveals a different story. In my experience, there are still numerous artistes who are putting in the hours to produce crafted, significant songs with a message far deeper than 'stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap.' Don't be fooled by the lack of airplay; beautiful, moving songs are still out there, but one has to do a little more digging than in former times.

I can strongly recommend investigating the work of a whole range of relatively new artistes, including Gabrielle Aplin, Hannah Grace, Freya Ridings, Lauren Daigle, Emma Stevens, Lucy Rose...and Sound of the Sirens.

I had wanted to see Sound of the Sirens - Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood - for some time and it was ironic to see the North East date of their current tour clashed with my ticket to see Amy Macdonald in Manchester, last week. Further irony was added to the equation when it became clear my only realistic opportunity to catch the tour would mean a speedy return to Manchester, just one week later - and on a school night, too...


It was my first at the intimate venue known as Band on the Wall. It is quirky, with friendly staff and particularly impressive furniture. It is not often one gets to pull up a chaise lounge while awaiting the evening's entertainment. had been a long day
I even found a chess board, but - alas! - not the pieces.

There was also quirky evidence that the venue sometimes offered soul music.

A door opened at the appointed time to reveal the music room. The temporary chairs are in neat rows, school assembly style. The stage is augmented by a fine backdrop curtain and the distinctive Band on the Wall logo (which brought to my mind the image of a latter-day Groucho Marx ).

The stage was already decked out in Sound of the Sirens livery, with the 'time' theme from the new album cover consistently in evidence.

I always like to catch the support acts, even though a significant percentage of people tend to delay your arrival until the main acts appear. This time we had an enjoyable set from James Holt who scored over some support acts by engaging with the audience impressively quickly and by not making the classic mistake of talking too much between songs. Given a standard 30-minute slot, the trick is to let the songs do the talking. James did exactly that, confining his chat to short introductions. Towards the end of his set he listed to the usual social media outlets he inhabits, before asking, 'Any I've missed?' which was met by a rapid, one-word reply from a vocal local yokel: 'Tinder!'

Following a short break, the Sirens took to the stage amid a palpable atmosphere of excitement and anticipation, with the announcement that they would be 'playing a mixture of things from our new album…and bits of everything from our old material as well.' 

The latest album, This Time, is a deep work.  'The themes of time, love, loss, perseverance, hope and clarity are intertwined in these songs' and there should be plenty of resonance within those themes to reach even the coldest of people.

The songs are delivered passionately. There is no 'filler' material to be found anywhere in their catalogue; everything hits the killer bullseye. The darkness of the themes plays against the demeanour and personalities of Abbe and Hannah, as evidenced by the nature of the between-song discussions, which covered aspects of life including the perils (or otherwise) of cutting your own hair immediately before each gig, fair warning of a pre-song blow of the nose, the delights of vegan sausage rolls ('and we're not even vegans'), their love of merchandise - including tea towels - and tales of a mean Headteacher who only ever allowed pupils to cap with one finger - which is why they formed a band to ‘make so much noise.' There was also a mention that they are going to run the London Marathon this year, to raise fund for MIND.


Various guitars were utilised throughout the 90-minute set, plus a mandolin, piano and a foot-powered drum plus percussion. The vocal harmonies were sensational and featured many instances of 'the ancient art of weaving.' The closeness between Abbe and Hannah makes them such a powerful unit. At various moments during the songs they turn, in unison, to make eye contact, almost as if they are connected on another level.

The set list evolved as the evening went on. It started off looking like this...

...but I believe this what we actually experienced (although I am open to correction).

Set List

Count Our Luck (T)
Another Day (T)
Chaos (S)
Awakening (T)
Troubles (T)
All We Need (T)
Yellow Road (T)
Lie Awake (T)
All the Webs (T)
Keeping Us Alive (T)
Through the Night (T)
Four O’Clock (T)
The Order (T)
The Voices (S)
In This Time (S)
Next Year
Every Time (T)


Grow (S)/Together Alone (S)

(T) = the song is from This Time
(S) = the song is from For All Our Sins
Next Year, 'a Christmas song with an all-year round message' was, as far as I can tell, released only as a digital single. The message is that 'the presence of people is more important than the possession of things,'

During Lie Awake, the Sirens brought the audience into play for some split-room singing and as everyone was very much under their spell by then it worked brilliantly.

Abbe and Hannah are self-effacing and like to joke about how dark their songs are. This is oversimplification, as the songs may speak of various weaknesses, regrets and failings of the human condition, but crucially they are full of a strong defiance that performs alchemy on the darkness to convert it to a genuinely uplifting experience. The evening's finale, Together Alone, emphasises the powerful message:

'Find the chance you wish to see
It's the same for you and me
Say it when you feel it, contemplate real bravery
Go and break your boundaries
Go and sail across that sea
Beyond the moon
So soon your time will come

Take that idea and go run
Time - there's never too much time
Time forever on our minds...'

The songs, the delivery, the image, the sentiments, the atmosphere...I loved it all. Thank you, Sound of the Sirens, for a truly inspirational and memorable evening.

Find out more about the Sound of the Sirens over at their official website.

Sunday 24 March 2019

2nd Project 30 Celebratory Tournament

The inaugural Project 30 Celebratory Tournament, played almost exactly one year ago, was a success despite a number of players being unable to make it trough the snow. How strange that seems now, in days warm as these.
This time everybody who accepted the invitation to play made it through fine and the tournament fulfilled its original intentions of featuring players from every club I have ever played for, plus some former junior students and several excellent friends from other clubs. It was good to see a couple of newcomers entering the Project 30 Rat pack.
I experimented with the format, utilising the old Scheveningen System for two teams of six players. I spent some time balancing the teams, grade-wise, and managed to do so within an insignificant number of points.

Team A consisted of me, Matt Jackman, Kevin Winter, Sean Cassidy, Graham Edwards and Nick Tadd. We faced Team B, made of David Baillie, Mike Creaney, Peter Harker, Royce Parker, Paul Weightman and Brian Whitaker.
Team A
Team B
The system - which pits each member of the team against each member of the opposing team, over the course of six rounds - worked extremely well and the scores were ultra-close until the very last game.

Rounds 1-3 were all drawn, 3-3! Team B won the fourth round by 3.5-2.5 but Team A won by the same score in round five. It all came down to the last round and, with everything level at 2.5-2.5 and just one game left going on, we witnessed a dramatic end to the day when Royce Parker finally managed to break the resistance of Kevin Winter.

Thus, Team B won by a final score of 18.5-17.5. Remarkable!

I managed to win all of my games to take hime the trophy of the best individual score, but not without various difficult adventures along the way. Royce was especially troublesome and I was only able to break out of his bind in mutual time-trouble, when we both had to speed up dramatically and accuracy went out of the window. Matt Jackman looked more than capable of matching my score but his last game, against David Baillie, was always going to be a tough test and the latter showed his class to win a tactical battle.

What were we celebrating...? Being alive! Being with great friends and being able to enjoy such excellent company and play so many exciting games!

We went to Borge immediately afterwards, to relax and eat as much as possible.

Kevin shows off his large one
Celebrating success with a cranberry juice
No Teesside meal is complete without a 'parmo'
Chess players always find the skewers
Seasoned players
Sean C. must have ordered extra lemons
Kevin has clearly had his just deserts
Nick may have bitten off more than he can chew...
We all started singing 'Happy Birthday'
Still time for one more square meal
We waited three hours for Nick to finish this Borge beast
Thank you, everyone, for a truly wonderful and enjoyable day.

Amy Macdonald at the 02 Apollo, Manchester

Amy Macdonald
02 Apollo, Manchester
Amy Macdonald's Woman Of The World: The Best Of 2007 – 2018, released in November 2018, is a celebration of her work to date and the current tour adopts the same ethos. A brand new album is definitely in the pipeline but this year is all about commemorating how far Amy has come since her extraordinary journey began, 12 years ago.

This was my fourth time seeing Amy - and the first time away from the North East. I was there more or less at the start, back in 2008, and saw the next two tours of 2010 and 2013.

Woman of the World - one of two new songs on the new album - makes for a defiant opener and puts the audience in the mood for the assault of hits to follow. Not that anyone needed much encouragement; the completely sold-out Apollo was in feel-good mood right from the start of the evening, with the anticipation growing during a rousing opening set by the guitar and drum rock support provided by Rosborough.

The songs from debut album This is The Life still sound fresh and vibrant, with Mr. Rock and Roll coming relatively early in the set and inviting the first few dancers to leave their seats and head for the aisles.
Set List

Woman of the World
The Rise & Fall
Never Too Late
Mr. Rock and Roll
Leap of Faith
Dream On
Don't Tell Me That It's Over
Give It All Up
Down by the Water
Prepare to Fall
This Is the Life
What Happiness Means to Me


Left That Body Long Ago
Life in a Beautiful Light
Poison Prince

The band was augmented by a string section which brought out extra textures to the songs. The evening was acoustic but never less than lively. During the between-song chats, Amy revealed she still felt like an imposter when she was out there, singing at packed venues. This is one reason she keeps her feet firmly on the ground; there is never a feeling of 'us' and 'them' at her shows.

The rousing Poison Prince was saved until the very end, which brought the 12-year journey into a remarkable full circle, as it was the very song she started with when I saw her back in 2008.

Amy and her band are on top of their game and the excellent evening was definitely worth the long and complicated journey. I am now looking forward to hearing the next album and hopefully seeing a date on the next tour.