Category Archives: Music

Review, Ghost of You, Megan O’Neill by Gareth Williams

(3 / 5)

Irish singer-songwriter Megan O’Neill has just released a beautiful debut album that I would highly recommend listening to. Ghost of You is a lovely collection of songs that represent a wonderful opportunity for some easy listening on a summer’s afternoon. Served as a main course of ballads with a side of electric guitar-infused pop, it is a delectable album that gently tantalises the taste buds. You certainly wouldn’t refuse more.

Opening track Don’t Come Easy sets the scene, creating an expansive space which O’Neill fills with her gorgeous vocals. The electric guitar here helps open up the stage so that when we enter into the slow, soulful sound of Let’s Make One Up, its full potential can be realised. With a great guitar solo and the lovely addition of an electric organ, this is a fabulous blues-inspired track that ensures the walls around this album remain wide and open for the rest of its duration. Into this space, O’Neill then steps to sing a succession of piano-laden ballads, each one beautiful in its own way. The title track is one that could easily make it onto a mainstream radio playlist, reminding me of a stripped back version of an Anne Marie or Dua Lipa song. To place O’Neill alongside these artists is also to say that her vocals are second-to-none. In some ways, it is all about the voice. Whether echoed (Treading Water), amplified (Don’t Say It’s Over), emotionally-charged (Any Younger) or naturalistic (Lost a Love), here is an artist whose voice is the defining feature in every song. Perhaps that’s why the ballad suits Megan O’Neill so much. Instead of drawing you in, she fills the space; rather than edging closer to her, she comes to you. It is a different kind of closeness and intimacy. It works well.

My personal favourite on this album has to be Bottle. Having recently listened to Mind of Mine by Lisa Wright, there seems to be an alcoholic theme emerging in my UK country music collection. Both artists seem to be seeking solace in the wine bottle. Whereas Wright’s troubles are told in a musically-dissonant way though, O’Neill takes a much more familiar line, pouring her despair and yearning into a big vocal performance full of aching emotion. It doesn’t make it any less relatable though.

Following close behind in the standout tracks on Ghost of You is the final song, Lost a Love. Despite thinking that catchy crowd-pleaser Good Love would be the one that would stick in my head afterwards, I actually found Lost a Love to be the song that left an indelible mark on my mind. It is what I call a “proper country ballad”. It evokes the likes of Emmylou Harris or Beth Nielsen Chapman in its simplicity, reflectivity and poignancy. Moreover, there is so much emotional vitality and variety in O’Neill’s voice here. It is absolutely compelling. Truly four minutes to savour.

No wonder Megan O’Neill has reached No.1 in the Irish country music charts, shared a stage with Miranda Lambert and Kip Moore, and appeared numerous times at C2C. She has an immense voice and a great songwriting talent which combine here to make a truly wonderful album. As debuts go, Ghost of You is more than pretty good. Full of ballads dealing with love and loss, it is engaging on every level. I’d encourage you to check it out.

Click here to sample some of her tracks.

Festival of Voice 2018: My review highlights (Gemma Treharne-Foose)

2018’s Festival of Voice, produced by the Wales Millennium Centre builds on previous years’ attempts to unite communities and celebrate voice in all its forms, drawing upon Wales’ wide cultural and musical legacy. This would be my first experience of the festival and it really kicked off in style.

Over the course of a week, I’d be bowled over, discover something new and completely unexpected and leave my typical comfort zone of only watching (and reviewing) theatre. Festivals like these are a smorgasbord of new opportunities to learn something new and develop your palate for new art forms and genres of music.

We were introduced to the opening of the festival from the centre’s Artistic Director and team, before being joined by community and advocacy groups – true to the centre’s vision to be inclusive and accessible, but I did wonder how ‘accessible’ it really is that unless you are familiar with the set-up and already know that you can verify your ticket – the £8 parking ticket cost to park in the nearest car park and see a WMC show would be pretty inaccessible to most carers and people on PIPs and other benefits.

I also need to point out the ridiculous set-up of the toilets in the centre. There are disabled toilets, sure – but the two sets of heavy doors, teeny-weeny area to dry your hands and the smallest bins I’ve ever seen in my life are deeply irritating.

But I digress….enough of the nit-picking and on to the main event…

CARERS CHOIR, GIG BUDDIES AND BILLY BRAG, WMC

Underappreciated, underpaid and perhaps an unlikely group of people to assemble as a choir, the festival was opened by a multi-generational group of carers, who sang with real spirit and heart. Knowing the obstacles and challenges they face in their day-to-day lives, their positivity shone through and the audience were visibly moved by their version of ‘What a wonderful world’ and ‘Lean on me’.

After rapturous applause, it was time for the Gig Buddy crew to crash into the foyer, clutching signs, banging drums and stamping their feet. They had formed a group to protest the fact that the support they receive does not take into account the fact that they too want to access music and arts performances – and these of course fall outside the typical office hours of supporters and carers. In association with Learning Disability Wales and Hijinx Theatre Company, the protesters delivered a skit about the fact that for most people – not being able to go to gigs, movies and performances like everybody else is not only unfair but naturally they’re quite rightly pissed off about it.

This was a brilliant opportunity to showcase the ‘Gig Buddies’ initiative where volunteers are matched (via their interests) to people with additional learning needs and various disabilities who need a little extra support to access gigs and shows. Bloody brilliant idea and I’m hoping to sign up myself.

The main event for the opening of the festival was ‘Topical singer songwriter’ Billy Brag (he doesn’t like to call himself a political performer in case it puts people off!). I knew the name Billy Brag but barely any of his actual material. This would be a new experience, not least for discovering the awesomeness that was supporting artist Nadine Shah, a Tyneside lass whose basy, punky songs are accompanied by soulful vocals.

Her edgy songs draw upon current affairs, world injustices and the hurt and heartbreak of modern life. Performing songs from her 2017 album ‘Holiday Destination’, she gave a fierce and raw performance. The song Holiday Destination and its refrain ‘How you gonna sleep tonight’ is a polemical nudge and critique on the holidaymakers in Kos who complained of refugees on the island ruining their holidays.

Shah tells the crowd “We need immigration – we make food taste better, we make the place look better and we make music sound better, too!”.

Shah’s heritage is Norwegian-Pakistani, and her Northern accent and humour shines through in her work. Billy Brag is – just like Nadine Shah, a storyteller. In between his songs, he delights the audience with his insights, his banter and his stinging observations about what’s going on in the world. He is unapologetic about his views, honest about his flaws and endlessly witty about politics in general.

He skewers Trump in the finale song based upon Bob Dylan’s ‘Times they are a changin’, which was changed to ‘Times they are a changing-BACK’). He tells the audience he wrote the song in a rage in 2016 when Trump was elected. His stories and rambles include the fact that he was schooled the last time he was in Cardiff for using a plastic bottle on stage at the Tramshed. “I’m sorry…I learned from my mistake. The oceans are full of plastic and shit, we need to do something about it.” Since then he’s used a ‘Gig Buddy’ aluminium bottle.

Of the grumpy artist Morrissey, he tells us “What is happening? He’s turned into a bloody gammon!”. Brag’s songs are clever and his set is largely improvised. He plays a song after an audience member shouts out a suggestion – and his final song is the famous classic ‘A New England’.

The entire audience shouts back the lyrics and it’s electrifying. I couldn’t believe I haven’t been following this chap’s career. Where the hell have I been the last 37 years? He has a new fan in the Rhondda, that’s for sure. The opening acts in the foyer and the main concert in the Donald Gordon theatre were rebellious in spirit and sound.

LOVECRAFT (NOT THE SEX SHOP IN CARDIFF), WMC (Ffresh bar)

I don’t know where Carys Eleri has been hiding out but we all need to see more of her. I didn’t know what the show ‘Lovecraft’ was going to be about – something to with science and love, I gleaned from the flyer. But it’s so much better than the event write-up promises.

I can’t praise the producers and director of this show enough for their vision. As sets go, it’s pretty low-tech, a cabaret-style set up within Ffresh bar serves as the set and Carys is accompanied by two screens which form a kind of visual aid and powerpoint for this hilarious one-woman show. The production is a romp through the idiosyncrasies and absurdities of love. What’s the ‘science’ behind love and sex? You’ll get to find out – via Carys’ brilliant stories.

It’s outrageously honest… and completely mental. This show will especially appeal to any women in their thirties who feel the pressure and expectation that society thrusts (‘scuse the pun) upon them.

At times, this feels like you are catching up with one of your girlfriends from Carmarthen who is every bit as outrageous and filthy as you are – and you’ll love her for it. The science narrative is informative, but not the main point of the show. You’ll be drawn in to her off the wall stories, brilliant observations about her Mam (“Carys…can’t you put on a bra..?”) and the dirty and embarrassing secrets we might all experience growing up – ‘fanny gallops’, hallucinogenic trips in the back of a taxi being driven by a unicorn and waking up naked next to another girl. We’ve all been there, right?

The song ‘Tit Montage’ is the highlight of the show, perhaps of the entire festival – and in my opinion would be a credible entry for the Eurovision Song Contest.

The song ‘I brain you’ is pee-your-pants hilarious. If Carys Eleri was running for Prime Minister, I’d probably vote for her. I BEG you to see this show – its been to Edinburgh Fringe already and has attracted a steady stream of adoration from audiences at the Festival of Voice.

There is so much life left in this show – and I hope it tours again (I will be sure to gather as many of my filthy friends as I can to share the experience with). My only negative points are that I could have happily sat through another hour of it before it finished and I now want Carys Eleri to be my best friend/drinking companion even though she has no idea who the hell I am.

RHONDDA RIPS IT UP (WNO), New Theatre

After a somewhat lukewarm experience at my last opera, I wasn’t sure if I was an ‘opera person’. But anyone following the #MeToo movement, who calls themself a feminist or admires the women who took part in the recent ‘Procession’ in Cardiff to mark a hundred years since women obtained the right to vote REALLY shouldn’t miss out on this show.

Led by Emcee Lesley Garrett, this is a look back at the stuffy Victorian era and the legendary Margaret Haig (Lady Rhondda) – a politician’s daughter and activist who led the Newport branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). The indomitable Margaret Haig was an outspoken radical who along with other women, was judged and ridiculed by the Asquith’s liberal government for her efforts.

Played by Madeline Shaw, Lady Rhondda is a fearless campaigner. Along with her friends Edith and Prid (played by Paula Greenwood and Meriel Andrew), the production satirises the ‘old boy network’ of both the government and society at the time and pokes fun at the uptight/prissy way in which women were expected to behave.

I had no idea opera could be this edgy or this level of hilarious. Everything from the choreography, the physical comedy of Garrett and other cast members, the originality of the songs and cheeky/camp way they are delivered is a treat for the audience.

The stand out scenes are the songs ‘My girl’s pussy’ (yes, really!) and the song about the fondant fancies, complete with all the flair and foppishness of the Edwardian music hall tradition. This is Women’s Institute crossed with #MeToo.

There are also guest appearances from the WNO community chorus (who deliver a rousing performance as fellow suffragettes) and a nod to Haig and Helen Archdale’s gay relationship, demonstrating the extent to which Lady Rhondda tore up the rule book and challenged convention, albeit discreetly. There is a telling scene in the show when Margaret Haig and her friend are on the train (with their bomb-making materials) and they overhear a man saying “Suffragettes! If that was my wife, I’d give her a darn good thrashing!”.

Queue a hilariously camp sequence with a bunch of ‘men’ thrashing each other’s behinds with rolled up newspapers in a homo-erotic fashion. Nowadays we’d call this toxic masculinity at its worst – back then, those kinds of attitudes were de rigueur.

I am no opera buff, but WNO have delivered a phenomenal tribute to Lady Rhondda and her contribution as a suffragette and business pioneer.

It was sensitive without being syrupy and witty without being cruel. Not everyone will get the satire, apparently – one audience member overheard in the loo commented she didn’t understand why ‘men were being made fun of’ and that she preferred the WNO community chorus to the production itself. For me, the main feeling I got was one of immense gratitude – that so many women like Haig faced violence, imprisonment and the scorn of society and for their dogged determination to change history for the better.

Their first victory was not a resounding success, the first bill allowing women to vote was only for women over 30 with property. There was plenty more to fight for – and with world events and pussy-grabbing presidents reminding us daily, some might say the battle is far from over. But as the legendary suffragette Emily Pankhurst once said:

“Never surrender….never give up the fight.”

GWENNO, WMC (Weston Studio)

A former member of indie band The Pipettes, Gwenno has already amassed a strong critical following and fanbase after the release of album Un Dydd Olaf in 2015 and Cornish language ‘Le Kov’ in 2018. Her dedication and tribute to Edrica Hughes at the Festival of Voice was a moving tribute to the poet and patchwork quilt artist Edrica Huws (1907-1999).

There was a packed house in the Weston Studio for the one-off performance, entirely created and composed by Gwenno, but this time with the support of a violinist and harpist (Angharad Davies and Georgia Ruth). The stage was dressed like a set – a lived-in parlour with an old-fashioned crib, a fireplace and the markers of domesticity from a time gone by.

At the foot of the large screen above the stage stood Gwenno’s mixing decks and computer, flanked by a triple harp and wooden toys – the musical set and hi-tec equipment is a curious accompaniment to the ironing board, clothes horse and lamp on stage, denoting the ordinary, humble life of Edrica. On the screen we saw vignettes of slices of history sketched and animated on the screen, accompanying the synthy electric-pop landscape being played and mixed live in front of us.

We saw suffragettes marching in 1907, weaving in and out of the war, a grimy London landscape of the humdrum existence of everyday life, love, relationships and duty stitched together with the dreamy melodies and an almost hallucinogenic quality to the music. I hadn’t known about Edrica’s work or story before. An ordinary wife and mother, she didn’t start expressing herself artistically until age 51.

She became a ‘patchwork pioneer’, breaking the rules and conventions of art and design in terms of subject, material, tone and texture to become a celebrated exhibitor and artist/poet around the world.

Animated by Tad Davies, the on-screen vignettes to not distract so much as heighten the experience for the audience and Gwenno’s gentle vocals, the poppy disco beats, baseline and meandering harp and violin are a thing of beauty.

Gwenno’s soundscape is punctuated by poetic whisperings, especially poignant and beautiful during ‘Anrhefn Pentyndod / The chaos of childhood’ and kooky and marvellous when she donned a cat mask for ‘Y Gath’ / The Cat in tribute to Edrica’s ‘Cat on an ironing board’ piece.

She is not a wild or attention-seeking performer in the sense of other unique artists (like Bjork for example) but she is completely enigmatic – a quiet genius in many senses. She creates riffs and spacey echoes using props – one song loops the sounds made by wooden toys and they are overlaid with a base-heavy disco beat.

It is weird and wonderful and strangely soothing. Edrica is a feast for the senses, the thinking person’s mind disco – and you’ll be richer for having witnessed it.

In between each song, the audience is almost deathly silent for a few seconds – not because the show is bad (because it was clearly bloody brilliant) but because they know they had witnessed something magical and weren’t sure what the rules were. Should we get up and dance? Applaud wildly? Edrica Huws broke the rules during her lifetime and Gwenno is doing the same.

5 stars 

Type of show: Music / Theatre / Opera / Performance Art / Poetry

Title: Festival of Voice Venue: Multiple Locations

Dates: 7-17 June

Produced by: Wales Millennium Centre (and partners)

Author: Gemma Treharne-Foose

Review: Passenger #FoV2018 at Wales Millennium Centre by Patrick Downes

REVIEW: Passenger 14 June 2018 Wales Millennium Centre

I’ve been a fan of Mike Rosenburg (Passenger) since 2012 and Let her go, plus having seen him perform at Cardiff Uni in 2014, was curious to see how he’d progressed. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I’ve not really kept up with his music, but he’s got that kind of distinctive voice that you know for sure when he’s being played on the radio.
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Fast forward 2018 and the Festival of Voice at Wales Millennium Centre. A place I know so very well having seen many musical and theatre productions there in the past few years. It’s not really the kind of place I’ve seen live music at, albeit James and Only Men Aloud is the exception to this fact. A sold-out gig in one of the most incredible auditoriums I’ve bore witness to, could this be the most perfect night?

Well, let’s start with the support, Stu Larsen. Hailing from Australia, and with just his guitar to boot, the Donald Gordon Theatre was filled with an amazing sound of quiet, and music, with even the sound of a door in the upper circle closing, could be heard. It felt the right kind of support for Passenger, with the voice and storytelling within his music, you could see how good at his craft he was. You often wonder with support acts, are they going to be good – or are you going be heading back to the bar. Needless to say, I didn’t see anyone leaving during Stu’s 45 minutes, and quite right too.

Then onto the main event. The Festival of Voice 2018 was an international arts festival in Wales’ capital city that celebrated the voice in all its forms. It featured Gruff Rhys, Billy Bragg, Charlotte Church and Passenger. If you’ve not seen Passenger or heard his music, I think the only way to describe it would acoustic guitar driven folk story telling.

As I mentioned previous, the Donald Gordon Theatre is acoustically perfect, as was the audience. I’ve never been to a gig with such respect for the musician. Maybe that’s due to the location, or maybe due to the person. Whatever it was, the sound reverberated around the auditorium with little effort. With a setlist that featured acoustic tracks from Whispers, All the little lights, plus of course the better-known hits of Hearts of Fire (featuring Stu Larsen on harmonies), Holes and his number one single, Let her go.

Each song had a back story, and within each song then performed, you gained a better and proper understanding of it. From Riding to New York to David, I felt I left the gig with some food for thought. Anyone can write a hit record, but it takes a special kind of person to write a song that will make you think.

I just hope the next time I see Passenger, it’ll be a venue like the WMC (top 5 gigs he’s ever done apparently), and I’ll keep my musical education a little more in tune. In fact, I’ve had the last 3 albums on the iPod on repeat in my car since the gig. I just close my eyes, and I’m back there (obviously I’m not driving at the time).

In a few days, another guitar wielding male singer songwriter will be descending on Cardiff, now Passenger may not have the loop pedal, but for what he lacks in technology, he more than makes up for in heart.

Review by Patrick Downes

Review: Laurie Black Live by Sian Thomas

Seeing Laurie Black: Live was so much fun. Straight away it was easy to tell it was a show perfect for me. Though I could sit quietly in the background and mind my business, I still felt lovingly included and seen. It began relatable and topical and brilliantly on my wavelength.

Her songs had a very specific feel to them. An almost gothic or witchy vibe (which I personally find a lot of fun; I’ve always enjoyed those kinds of aesthetics although I haven’t really lived them) that also rang with a lot of emotion I didn’t expect to find but was glad I was shown, anyway. I kept an interest in them overnight (I’ve found only really good shows do that to me. Sometimes they just end, sometimes I just go home. Other times I keep it in a corner of my mind, look it up online for a little bit longer, dedicated a little more time to finding things out about this. With this show I looked up some other music, I saw the kinds of things sold in the merch store, and I thought ‘yep. This show’s the winner’.). I’m happy to say I’ve found some new songs to listen to.

The participants portion of the show was good! I’m glad I didn’t have to do it myself and I was glad I felt alright blending into the background and just having the opportunity to watch on and see what other people thought, which was really nice! That and, it was more enjoyable watching other people have fun on stage.

The make up was great. It was glow in the dark. Which I didn’t expect to adore, but I did. I thought it was a really nice touch with the rest of the flashing lights and the way the windows of AJ’s Coffee House were blocked out. For an apocalypse show, I thought it was a nice and extravagant detail; the kind of extra mile you definitely couldn’t go if the world was really ending unless you really, really tried.

Laurie Black herself was affable and fun, definitely undeterred in her show, unstoppable in how she created laughs, a supportive and laid back atmosphere, and unquestionably a wonderful performer. It’s always nice to watch people just be themselves on stage, unafraid to swear or mess up or anything else. It was almost cathartic to watch; I wish I could have related. Although I definitely related to some other points during the show – I think those were enough.

This event was the one to mark the end of the fringe festival, so I’m pleased to say I attended to watch it go out with a bang. I’ve had an immensely wonderful time seeing all these different kinds of shows and going to all these different kinds of events. I wait with bated breath to find out what’s coming next year, and I hope I get to experience the same wonderment and awe for my third year in a row. These last two really have been something special; I’ve had fun with the people I’ve gone with and I’ve been able to see shows I wouldn’t have otherwise ever known existed.

I’m voting for Laurie Black: Live for my favourite show, this year. A close second was Camp Be Yourself. Although it will forever remain that the Open Mic Poetry Night is my all time favourite free fringe event, Laurie Black: Live was most definitely my favourite show this year. None of them left quite the lasting effect as this one had.

Sian Thomas

Review: Voices of Protest – Festival of Voice, Wales Millennium Centre by Luke Seidel-Haas

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★★★★★

 

The Festival of Voice is a biennial international arts festival, described as an opportunity to “hear and be heard”. Featuring events scattered all over the capital city, the main hub of the festival takes place at the Wales Millennium Centre, featuring a hugely diverse program of events. These range from rock and pop music, to cabaret and musicals to live art. The aim, according to artistic director Greame Farrow, is for the “Festival to become internationally renowned and on a similar scale to Edinburgh. I would love to close the streets of Cardiff for the weekend and fill them with voices for free,”. It was with great pleasure that I was invited to attend the opening night of the festival which featured Billy Bragg and Nadine Shah in an event called Voices of Protest.

At this point I have a slight confession – I had never heard of Nadine Shah before this point, and was only vaguely familiar with Bragg’s work through his Left Field Stage at Glastonbury. That being said, I felt this was an excellent opportunity to go into an event with a completely open mind and no presuppositions. Between collecting my tickets from the box office and the main event, I had a chance to explore the rest of the Festival of Voice hub. The main foyer of the WMC has been given a bit of a makeover, with a live DJ playing, and interactive art works strewn around. Outside the building, sandwiched between the WMC and the Piermaster building was a collection of delicious looking street food stalls. These included a Wood Fired Pizza stall, Fresh Pasta, a coffee kiosk and a bar, as well as a pop up Kitchen ran by Oasis, the refugee and asylum seeker organisation. Eventually I settled on a Turkish inspired stall called Murray May’s Rolling Kitchen which was selling proper charcoal grilled kebabs served in pittas. This was absolutely delicious – if you get a chance to get down to the hub I can’t recommend their food enough.

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Enough about the food – on to the music. Settling down in the beautiful surroundings of the Donald Gordon Theatre, I honestly had no idea what to expect. Slightly later than billed (since when to musicians take to the stage on time anyway), Nadine and her band arrived and launched right into things. Brooding and dark, Shah’s voice is undeniably excellent. Rich and soulful, she has a unique tone which is likely in part to her strong North-Eastern accent which she doesn’t attempt to disguise or Americanize when singing. Featuring the traditional rock lineup of guitar, bass and drums, Shah’s band also included a keyboardist and saxophonist which contributed to the full tone of the outfit.

In an event called Voices of Protest, it is clear why Shah’s blend of music hits the mark – the content of her songs range tackling fascism and Islamophobia to refugee and immigrant rights. As a self confessed second generation immigrant (born in South Tyneside to a Pakistani Father and part Norwegian Mother), Shah stops her set at one point to remind the audience of the valuable contribution that immigrants can and have made to this country. And yet while the content of her songs is intelligent, powerful and provocative, Shah is clearly happier to let her songs do the talking – at one point she confesses that shes “rubbish at this talking stuff”, and will leave that to Bragg.

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After a brief interval in which sets are changed, Billy Bragg takes to the stage to rapturous applause. Aged 60, Bragg is clearly still full of energy and passion for politics. Despite claiming in his most famous song that “I don’t wanna change the world”, his songs have a clear message to people – get involved, educate yourselves and campaign for what you believe in. In comparison to Shah’s rich full sound, Bragg stands alone on an almost bare stage with just his guitar and the occasional backing by colleague CJ on electric or slide guitar. Yet Bragg’s enthusiasm and warmth manage to fill the auditorium, and as he discusses the meaning behind each song it is clear that the majority of the audience are becoming more and more alert to the messages behind what he’s saying. Highlights include Handyman Blues, an ode to men accepting that they don’t have to adhere to stereotypical notions of masculinity, a cover of Bob Dylans The Times They Are A Changin (Back) but with the words re-written after Trump’s inauguration, and of course his final encore song New England.

Despite his earnest and heart-felt political opinions, Bragg never comes across as preachy or condescending. At one point he stops the show to discuss an event that happened at his last gig in Cardiff at the Tramshed, where a heckler asked Bragg why he was drinking from a disposable plastic bottle. Bragg showed us (and indeed that very heckler, in attendance tonight) that he had learnt from this and now uses a Gig Swig reusable bottle while encouraging other musicians to do the same. It is this type of genuine activism and openness to being challenged that makes Bragg an excellent champion of left wing causes. While not the greatest singer or guitar player, Bragg’s strengths lie in his excellent song writing. Poignant lyrics, which open your eyes to the possibility of and need for change, are an excellent way of reminding people what can be done together. Bragg confesses in the gig that music cannot change the world – but what it can do is give you an outlet to inspire others to change things in other ways. The motto of the Bragg curated Left Field at Glastonbury is “recharge your activism”; after this evenings powerful opening to the Festival of Voice it would be difficult not to feel rejuvenated. Inspiring and thought provoking, Voices of Protest is an excellent evening’s entertainment featuring two different but equally galvanizing artists.

Voices of Protest

Live Music

Donald Gordon Theatre, Wales Millennium Centre

7th June 2018

Billy Bragg & Nadine Shah

Part of the Festival of Voice – more info and tickets here

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Luke Seidel-Haas

 

Depot in the Castle 2018 by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Depot, self-branded as Cardiff’s most exciting original venue, certainly earns their creativity kudos (and then some) with a whole host of events from street food socials to pop-up secrets speakeasys and, since 2017, an annual music festival at Cardiff Castle. After having reviewed the wonderful line-up, but woeful organisation, of my first festival experience (last year’s Burning Lantern Fayre), I was looking forward to seeing how Depot in the Castle (DITC) fared with their sophomore festival – and I’m happy to report that it was a roaring success!

I was incredibly impressed by just how well the event was organised. A plethora of food stalls purveying everything from posh crepes to pizzas – it was dazzling to the eyes and ears, and also the tastebuds. Unlike Burning Lantern – where I only managed to procure a Danish pastry approximately seven hours in – the availability of food on offer here was astounding. After much deliberation, I plumped for curry and chips at That Fish Guy’s stall – I was served immediately, and can only commend their efficiency of service and high quality of food. The only queues in sight were, understandably, lining up to the bar (though with the amount of staff on hand, they were fast-moving and efficient), and at the ice-cream van. Il Gelataio’s artisan ice-cream was a highlight of the day, and the best gelato I’ve ever tasted – the 30 minute queue was in part due to their status as the only ice-cream vendors of the day, and in future I’d suggest they have at least two such stalls to reduce the wait-time.

The free water was also a huge plus – I wrongly assumed that it was available over the counter, so I initially had to shell out £2.50 for bottled water (though I’m not sure why they weren’t allowed to give out lids, leaving me carrying around a precariously un-lidded bottle all day). However, once I found the free water station, it was a life-saver – especially on such a gloriously sunny day – and an idea from which Burning Lantern would have benefited.

Depot also continues my personal trend of finding the penultimate performers to be the best acts of the festival. For Burning Lantern 2017, that was Jack Savoretti; for Depot in the Castle 2018, that honour goes to The Fratellis. Their debut album Costello Music was one of the first albums I ever bought, and hearing it again – live – was a full-on nostalgia trip. Sung by football fans and angsty teens alike, their iconic song Chelsea Dagger has mass appeal in the nifty universality of its one-word chorus – and the raucous refrains of ‘do do do, do do do, do do do do do do do’ (repeat ad infinitum) understandably had the crowd in raptures. Their set was the standout of the night, and every song was a winner – from the pretty little ditty Whistle for the Choir, to the bawdy belting of Henrietta, and the scat-like sound of Flathead’s gleeful gibberish chorus that could just as well be a modern update of The Beatles’ Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da.

Sister Sledge closed the night with an absolutely sensational, stylish set, bringing the house down with iconic tunes like Lost in Music, Thinking of You and He’s the Greatest Dancer (during the latter, they even brought up two people from the crowd to dance on stage, which was a lovely touch). And it was a special treat to see these legends closing out the festival with the incomparable We Are Family.  I have to also shout out their amazing band, who filled the festival with the most amazing music. Their joy in performing was matched only by the joy of the audience.

It was a real privilege to be able to see The Fratellis and Sister Sledge performing live in Cardiff, and a real coup for Depot to have secured them for the festival. However, I must say that they were the only musical acts worth seeing at the event. Hackney Colliery Band, while highly skilled musicians, didn’t fit the tone of the festival for me. And the only other music was pumped, pre-recorded, out of the speakers. Fleetmac Wood’s remixes only lessened the original songs; and Horsemeat Disco had a great playlist, but it didn’t come close to the quality, excitement or atmosphere of live music. Say what you will about Burning Lantern (and, believe me, I have), at least they had live music across the board throughout the entire event, on both the main stage and a separate acoustic stage. Holding the festival in St Fagans also provided Burning Lantern with a bigger, more picturesque location – though setting DITC 2018 in Cardiff Castle was a real treat. Unlike Burning Lantern, DITC’s site was accessible and well-signposted, and it was most helpful of them to release a setlist and site map prior to the event that made navigating the festival easy and enjoyable.

Depot in the Castle 2018 was a huge success, from the wonderful central location to the excellent organisation, delicious food with minimal queueing, and the two stellar headliners. However, the scarcity of live music was a disappointment, and I can only hope that the overall quality of the festival will entice more artists to perform live at Depot in the Castle 2019.

Review: ‘People – Picture – Power – Perception’ by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(3 / 5)

 

With ‘People – Picture – Power – Perception’ (PPPP), Avant Cymru set out to explore what Welsh Hip-Hop theatre is and to showcase the hip-hop talents of Wales at the Chapter Arts Centre as part of the 2018 Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival.

As the title suggests, the piece portrays people, gives them the platform to show their picture, which gives them the power to change the perception surrounding hip-hop. In the mainstream, hip-hop is portrayed as specifically rap with themes of drugs and gangs. A major worry when attending this performance was that it would be too much like this. I have had experiences with Welsh hip-hop before and it has been limited to that field.

However, Avant Cymru do not fall into this trap. If you’re not aware, allow me to give a very brief history and explanation of hip-hop culture. Hip-hop culture consists of four main art forms known as the four pillars of hip-hop; emceeing/MCing (rapping/singing/spoken word), DJing (beat production, beat-freestyling, beat-boxing), breaking/break-dancing and graffiti art. It started in New York and has grown into the one of the biggest art movements in the world.

Jonzi D, a pioneer of hip-hop theatre, was told at his dance school, “Hip-Hop is not valuable for the theatre,” before going on to define what British hip-hop theatre is, with the help of people like Akala who created the Hip-Hop Shakespeare company. And now, we have Avant Cymru attempting to do the same in Wales, with specifically Welsh artists, Welsh voices and Welsh themes.

Starting with the DJing, mostly produced by Jamey P, the beats used for ‘PPPP’ are exceptional. The production is one of the outstanding elements of the show. The production always fits, sounds incredible and even when left to stand alone is enjoyable.

Beatbox Hann performs his championship-winning beatboxing skills very well. His accolades and CV speak for themselves, but here he showcases real talent. Understanding when to blend into the background and when to come to the forefront.

The stand-out section of the show is a piece between Hann and breaker, Bboy Flexton (James Berry). It starts with Flexton sat at a table, whilst Hann starts creating a beat with his vocal chords. He mixes this together on what appears to be an MPC of sorts, so each sound loops and eventually builds into a beat. Eventually, Hann turns the beat off and starts beatboxing on his own.

Whilst this happens, Flexton starts to break into a dance. At first it isn’t exactly clear what is going on but as the dance progresses we see Flexton appear to hold a gun to his head before wrestling it away. This collaboration of beatboxing and breaking works very well and appears to portray a kind of suppression of violent outburst and possibly suicidal thoughts. It certainly would be interesting to see a slightly extended version of this.

Moving onto the breaking, and Flexton pops up again, portraying an aggressive nature. However, Flexton is the only breaker that seems to portray a specific type of character. This is not a fault of the breakers themselves, at different times they all proved themselves to be talented dancers. It is more a fault in the choreography and direction of the show. The expression could have been more clear at times. It will certainly be interesting to see the difference between this show and Avant Cymru’s upcoming ‘Blue Scar’, another hip-hop theatre show with more of a set story.

The emceeing is of a very good standard. Occasionally repetitive, but very good at getting the point across. Rufus Mafasa, Maple Struggle and Jamey P all perform well. The themes do jump around a little bit, but the lyrical content, delivery and flow are all strong. The highlight is Maple Struggle’s song, Quit Mooching, which starts with Maple Struggle getting left with the bill after a date before breaking out into a song about his perception of how some women will use men as well as general materialism.

The graffiti used in the performance is minimal. The piece as a whole could really capitalise on the art form better. There is a stylistic writing of the piece’s title on a screen off to the right of the stage and on a screen at the back of the stage, at times are pictures and moving pictures of graffiti. However, even sitting at the front it was hard to make out exactly what the graffiti was and certainly wasn’t used as well as it can be. The simple set worked well, but could do with more graffiti.

The main theme of the show is gender which is explored thoroughly. Toxic masculinity is portrayed particularly well by Bboy Flexton with the aggression as well as suicidal thoughts. An issue very specific to toxic masculinity and very important in the South Wales region. Rufus Mufasa also had powerful moments of feminist lyricism and generally portrayed herself as a powerful woman. Some of the breaking could be more clearly focused on this theme.

As far as is it worth seeing? Yes, it is worth seeing. It’s not the most rehearsed piece of hip-hop theatre or the most concise. But in terms of exploring what Welsh hip-hop theatre is, it is pioneering. If you’re a fan of or are involved in hip-hop then definitely see this if Avant Cymru ever bring it back. If you’re not into hip-hop, then I recommend seeing this for a positive introduction to hip-hop.

After the show there was a bit of a freestyle from those involved and some from the audience and the feel of community this gave off was beautiful. As a hip-hop fan, it was great to see the true power of hip-hop community shine bright.

As this was a once-performed show with no known future dates, go and check out Blue Scar by Avant Cymru at the Park & Dare Theatre in Treorchy on July 12th and 13th and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Much of the same cast will be involved and the preview they gave at the end was very good.

Info:
People – Picture – Power – Perception’
Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
31st May 2018
By Avant Cymru
Directed and Choreographed by: Rachel Pedley, Tommy Boost and Jamie Berry.
Music From: Maple Struggle, Rufus Mufasa and Jamey P.
Set Designed by: Unity (Amelia Thomas).
Breakers/Dancers: Rachel Pedley, Bboy Flexton, Tommy Boost and special guests (uncredited).

Review by: Gareth Ford-Elliott

Review The Last Ship, Wales Millennium Centre by Kate Richards

They say that ‘first impressions count’, and I can honestly say that my instant reaction to the opening few bars of The Last Ship was ‘wow what a sound’! I found myself trying to rationalise why the quality of the sound had made such an impression on me – were these particularly exceptional singers, are the acoustics in this auditorium better than other venues or could it be that I just don’t hear live music often enough? In fact – is this actually live music or just a high quality backing track – I couldn’t actually see anyone playing an instrument other than an upright piano to the right of the stage. A momentary wave of disappointment crept over me….but this musical was written by Sting – surely he wouldn’t put his name to a production with no live music? I was distracted again by the voices and allowed the sound to wash over me as I took in the atmosphere. It was well into the second or even third scene when I finally spotted the musicians – seated on the stage, behind the piano lurking in the shadows of the set. By the end of the production I had decided that the phenomenal sound was a combination of all three elements – there are some absolutely exceptional singers in this cast, the auditorium does have great acoustics and yes there really is a huge positive difference between the immersive experience of listing to live music in a theatre versus the usual way I consume music these days – the digital radio in my car or occasionally on a mini-speaker around the house. Note to self next time I am procrastinating about buying theatre tickets – yes it is definitely worth paying for live theatre when you can!

I hadn’t paid a great deal of attention to the set. It’s not the first production I’ve been to with a fairly dark, industrial looking set composed of a few ladders and girders (Rent in London many years ago, springs to mind for example) – but obviously for a musical set in a ship yard in the North East of England it was at least appropriate. I found the set oppressive and dark – it looms menacingly over the action and the audience and I longed to see out over the top of the ship’s hull and find a horizon or the mouth of the river and expanse of sea that you know are out there from the songs. The entire story unfolds in the shadow of the huge ship which dwarfs everything around it, and therefore perfectly reflects the dominance of the ship yard in the life of the town and its people. In fact it was so atmospheric I honestly thought I could smell hot metal for a second when the welding sparks began to fly. My message to the set designers? Job well done!

So what of the story and the cast? A simple enough tale – childhood sweethearts, he grabs the opportunity to escape the oppressive predictability of life in the town and she has little option but to stay. 17 years later he returns after the death of his father, assuming all will be as he remembers including the girl he left behind, and having finally made up his mind that he wants her. Unsurprisingly to all but him – things are not quite as he remembers. Meanwhile of course the ship yard workers worst fears are realised when they get a visit from the yard owner and the ‘Thatcheresque’ Minister from the Department of Trade & Industry informing them that the sale of the half-finished ship has fallen through due to cheaper competition overseas. It’s a familiar tale, especially here in South Wales where the heavy industries have suffered similar fate, so there is a lot of resonance for local audiences who may have seen the demise of their own, once thriving, home towns as the single biggest source of employment ground to a halt.

Joe McGann quickly establishes himself as a credible likeable, respected foreman of the yard. His stature and demeanour is strong, steady and serious but softened by his soft, singing voice – a little rough around the edges compared to the polished tones of some of the cast members – but he’s a ship builder what do you expect? Knowing of her only through Emmerdale, I confess to having no idea that Charlie Hardwick could sing, but boy can she?! A very believable portrayal of a strong woman standing behind her man and coming out in support of the cause (no matter how lost) when required – well it was the 80’s!

In the words of my guest for the evening, Richard Fleeshman was absolutely ‘spot on’ (as she gave me a knowing sideways glance). She’s not wrong though. For me, a Sting fan for many years, I was not disappointed with Fleeshman’s delivery of Sting’s songs old and new. I don’t know much about his previous roles and have never heard him sing before, but he either has, or has successfully adopted, Sting’s breathy, restrained style which I loved. Right at the point where other musical theatre singers would build to a mighty power-ballad crescendo, and some of us might wince, Fleeshman holds back but still sings with power and lyricism. If like me, you love this about Sting’s voice and style, you’ll love Fleeshman’s vocal performance. Oh and for a power-ballad crescendo that definitely won’t make you wince – I give you Frances McNamee! There was a palpable intake of breath from the audience around me as Frances opened her mouth for the first time. Clearly this cast has been selected to deliver music and vocal versatility that its demanding writer can be very proud of. I’m not the type of person who goes back and sees the same production multiple times – but if I was offered another chance to see this again – I really think I’d go.

 

The Last Ship

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

14th – 19th May 2018

Review Ready Player One by Jonathan Evans

 

(2 / 5)

 

“Hey, that’s *blank from so-and-so. I love that movie/game” “Ah! They quoted/referenced that movie/TV show I love!” This is the reaction that Ready Player One seeks to get out of you with every moment it has onscreen. It pulls from so many pieces of instantly recognizable pop culture that there will be something that everyone will be able to recognize, whether it be a character walking by, a vehicle, or a line of dialog. Yet it has almost nothing to say or do anything inspiring with said big toys at its disposal. The experience is only surface deep.

We see a future where the rich have gotten richer and the poor are indeed poorer. Trailer park neighborhoods are in abundance but so much so that they are stacked up high on top of each other. It is a gray, muddy place to live and is not the hardest thing understand that people would want an escape. So they go to The Oasis, pretty much the internet that you can virtually enter. Our guiding character for the story is a young man named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), that just wants to get to The Oasis as fast as he can each day and search for the great McGuffin that exists there.

The Oasis was created by a man named James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and the great programmer was also a big aficionado on pop culture and hid three keys in this world that will allow the owner of all three to take a final test and become the owner of The Oasis.

An undeniably strong element to the movie is its worldbuilding. Worldbuilding is the construction of a fictional world and how it operates. In bad worldbuilding, it doesn’t make any sense and you are just left with questions, good world building you understand how it operates and has a solid grasp on how you would live in it. Because The Oasis has become so integral to life everyone logs in and when they win games they earn coins in the game that earns them money in real life. They can buy equipment that allows them better reflexes in-game and feels the touch of the world itself, also ordering stuff.

What bothers me greatly about the way the world is conveyed is that there doesn’t seem to be anything nourishing to the art. I believe that real art, be it cinema, literature or music exists to enrich those who consume it in some way. The world portrayed before us it seems like it’s just about seeing all high-status pop-culture movies out there and memorizing every facet of it, nothing about what it means or how it has shaped them as people. This is a world where the people can make anything, yet they all they do is recreate someone else’s creations.

A fundamental flaw as the movie was playing out is that Halliday is revered amongst the people in The Oasis, they have learned everything they can about him, his favorite movie, favorite pizza topping, quotes he lived by. He made a list of every movie he ever saw and when. I don’t think they realise how sad this man is. He lived his whole life alone, apart from one friend who he eventually kicked out. This is a man to learn from by avoiding all his mistakes.

As a movie what this offers is the chance to have nearly everything that is classic popcorn, crowd-pleasing entertainment. There is a race scene, martial arts fight, shootouts, dancing, sneaking around etc. Of course Speilberg is one of, if not the, greatest living visualiser working today and he clearly and effectively brings them to life. It’s just that it lacks a should because I feel how empty it is, I wasn’t invested in the characters goals because I just wanted them to log out, get outside and read a real book, see the sights and interact with actual people.

If this was an episode of Black Mirror or handled by Satoshi Kon then it would probably be taken to a much darker and interesting place. Truly examining why humanity rejects the real and takes comfort in the artificial. But this isn’t either of those and is only here to push your joy button.

Going into the big battle near the end I did start to feel a connection for the characters and understood that there were real stakes. Remove all the characters from movies, TV shows and video games and what you have is a well-composed battle where you understand the geography and key players bring contribute different things to it.

In the end, the message for this movie is that you should maybe spend a little less time dwelling on pop culture and spend some time in the real world and form actual relationships with people. Duh! I don’t need a movie to tell me that and it should be so intrinsically built into us that we shouldn’t need to spend over one hundred and fifty million dollars to make a movie to project that message.

In the end, I want so much more. I’m not against or even above being charmed by references, far from it. But I want them to take the essence of those precious moments I love and channel them into something that can stand on its own. This shows a world where originality seems to have fizzled out and all we can do is regurgitate the same.

For a movie with a similar premise but with much more depth and heart, I point you towards Mamoru Hosada’s Summer Wars. This, there is a good chance you’ll be tickled by all the appearances but everything else is so shallow.