Category Archives: Music

An interview with Geoff Cripps

The Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently got the chance to chat to Geoff Cripps. We discussed his career to date, his band  Allan Yn Y Fan and his thoughts on music and theatre in Wales today.

Hi Geoff great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I was born and raised in Pontllanfraith in the Sirhowy Valley and educated at Pontllanfraith Grammar Technical School, University College Swansea and UWIST Cardiff. My early interest in music and the arts came from my mother who gave me piano lessons when just an infant. Pont Grammar School with its annual musical theatre productions and very broad church school “Folk Club” encouraged the performer and participant in me. This was the fabled sixties (yes – I am an old git!) and I remember various peers showing each other in the school playground their mastery of the latest guitar riffs or chord sequences of the rock & pop music of the day…That, plus when I was in the sixth form, there was a sequence of wondrous gigs at the pre-refurbed Blackwood Miner’s Institute by the likes of Dave Edmund’s Love Sculpture, Black Sabbath, The Strawbs often supported by the Rhondda band which became Racing Cars. All heady stuff!

In Swansea I became the organiser of our hall of residence folk club – which was also where I first started booking performers. At this point I was mad about music, never recovered actually, and saw 137 bands in my three years there ( I was the nerdy boy who star rated them all in his diaries!).

At this stage apart from being taken to panto as a small boy and one trip to the Prince of Wales Theatre in Cardiff I was not a theatre goer or knowledgeable at all on this genre.

You are a member of the band Allan Yn Y Fan. Congratulations on your 21 years together! What are you all currently working on?

Thanks Guy. Sometimes it is hard to fathom how the initial quartet of myself, Kate Strudwick (currently boss of Head 4 Arts), Chris Jones & Linda Simmonds have stuck it out for more than 2 decades…Even harder is for me to think quite how I managed to make 4 albums, tour to Germany, Czech Republic, France, Ireland whilst Artistic Director at RCT Theatres! The current line up now also consists of lead singer Catrin O’Neill and fiddler Alan Cooper and together we are working hard to try and get the gigs that keep a six-piece band on the road!

These are tough times…but we are excited that next month we perform for the first time at the Abergavenny Food Festival Community Feast (14th Sept.), followed by our first ever performance in Austria at the House of Regions in Krems (21st Sept.) and then are honoured by performing at the Welsh night of the Labour Party Conference in Brighton on 24th September. We might all have a lie down in a darkened room after that lot!

http://www.ayyf.co.uk

As you mentioned earlier you are the former artistic director of RCT Theatres. Get the Chance has had a great deal of support for its work in the valleys venues of South Wales. The venues very often act as the social and cultural hubs of our communities. How do you see venues of this nature developing in the future?

I am so pleased that Get the Chance has been so well supported by the Valleys Venues. I came in to running a Valleys Venue – the Beaufort Theatre Ebbw Vale when I was first appointed as Arts Development Officer for Blaenau Gwent CBC way back in 1994. This was not long after the initiative from the old Welsh Office and South East Wales Arts Association which had enabled the refurbishment of a number of Valleys Venues in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This initiative brought back to life or reinvigorated some ex-Miner’s Institutes which had previously been the cultural and social hubs of the valleys communities. These days I am very fearful for the future of many of these venues in a period when money is so much scarce than in those heady days of the ‘90s but also when, it appears to me, that, despite all the evidence gathered over the past couple of decades, the value of the investment in arts and culture is still little appreciated by the political funding masters. I think that those local authorities that continue to invest in and support their cultural venues are to be applauded. Those residents in areas that still have their cultural venue operating and supporting professional and amateur artistic endeavours should cherish and use them – and shout about the opportunities they offer loudly and often to all their elected representatives.

The best venues and those which keep deepening the nature of their active engagement with their local population will be the ones which will survive and may ultimately thrive.

When you have any spare time you are also a board member of Creu Cymru and Theatr na nÓg.Creu Cymru is a development agency for theatres and arts centre in Wales. Is it possible to explain your more about this organisation and your role?

I have since retirement been proud to have had the opportunity to serve on the boards of The Borough Theatre Abergavenny, Creu Cymru and since 2016 Theatr na nÓg. I hope that whatever “wisdom” I may have picked up over my “career” I can share with and strengthen through good governance of these artistic organisations.

Creu Cymru is an organisation unique to Wales – its strength and appeal reflected in the fact that virtually all the professionally run theatres and arts centres in Wales are in the membership. It aims to be the development organisation for all those working in these arts venues – and links the big operations such as Venue Cymru or Wales Millennium Centre to places such as the Congress Theatre Cwmbran or Galeri Caernarfon.

Creu Cymru offers opportunities for theatre staff to go and see work – whether that be in Edinburgh, across Wales or – sometimes funded by WAI – for international visits such as to CINARS in Montreal. Visits such as these enable the programmers and marketers in the venues to see work across the genres and to debate with peers the merits or otherwise of all scales of artistic endeavour. This often leads to such work being brought to Wales for the benefit of Welsh audiences.

Creu Cymru arranges regular arts consortium meetings (Music, Drama and Dance) at which the work is discussed, members can bring to the table ideas they wish to or are about to develop and also identify strands of work that will enable them to reach out to parts of their audience ecology they wish to reach.

http://www.creucymru.com

I have been fortunate to have had two periods of board membership – coming to a conclusion in 2018 – and through my own membership it was the backing of or the interactions with my colleagues in Creu Cymru which emboldened me and my RCT Theatre team to start in our co-producing and producing role which I am delighted to see being continued by Angela Gould now.

It was this latter involvement which really set the seal on my support of and active involvement with Theatr na nÓg leading to us co-producing Tom in 2014 with the premiere being held at The Muni in Pontypridd. I am delighted to be on the board of such an inventive and exciting company – and also delighted that as one of the new strands of their work they are encouraging the participation of young people in theatre making via their Ambassador scheme.

http://www.theatr-nanog.co.uk

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision Are you aware of any barriers to equality and diversity for either Welsh or Wales based artists/creatives?

The barriers I am aware of are our poor transport networks, lack of money and lack of equality of opportunity – often compounded by the first two factors. I hope that with the focus Get The Chance brings to certain projects/areas/opportunities more pressure will be brought to bear on those who can best resolve some of the infrastructural issues!

There are a range of organisations supporting Welsh and Wales based musicians, I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you?

For Allan Yn Y Fan our best supporters are the Musician’s Union and TRAC (which I was delighted to be the first Development Director 2001-2003). In some areas there has been support from ACW and WAI enabling Welsh musicians to take part in show casing opportunities such as WOMEX and Showcase Scotland at Celtic Connections. As a band we have been fortunate to have received modest grants from ACW to support our tours of Wales in 2010 and 2016 but with the diminution of Lottery funds – getting such awards are going to be increasingly rare. It is also a shame, in my view, that ACW has not supported the production of CDs in the way that Creative Scotland has and continues to do.

I do hope that in my lifetime we might see a showcasing event which will spotlight the current vitality and breadth of traditional music acts in the way that Showcase Scotland and Folk Expo England do.

folk development for Wales

I do hope that in my lifetime we might see a showcasing event which will spotlight the current vitality and breadth of traditional music acts in the way that Showcase Scotland and Folk Expo England do.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would

 

 

 

 

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

See above – I would fund for a three year period on a tapering basis a Welsh traditional music expo with opportunities for the general public to attend all the showcase performances – this would assist in breaking down the widespread apathy or ignorance to the “real music” of Wales.

What excites you about the arts in Wales?

The blurring of the roles of “Presenter” and “Producer.” The contributions of artists across the country who do what they do for insufficient recompense or recognition.

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

Just because it is so fresh in my mind I nominate the NTS production of “Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour” which I first witnessed at the Traverse in Edinburgh in 2015 and last week loved once again as it approaches the end of its’ London run at the Duke of York’s Theatre. I just wish that our National Theatre companies would develop and tour a show in the country’s theatres!! Site specific can be brilliant but please National Theatre Wales and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru – put something of value into the network of Theatres in Wales….. (retires to await the brickbats!)

Thanks for your time Geoff

 

Review: Burning Lantern Fayre, St Fagan’s – By Eloise Stingemore

 

5 Stars5 / 5

 

Burning Lantern Fayre was the heritage attraction’s first large scale music event. Over 8,000 people descended on the country fayre styled event set in the picturesque grounds of St Fagan’s National Museum of History, Cardiff one of Europe’s leading open air-museum on a sunny albeit chilly evening.

With big names live on the main stage from the moment the gates opened, street food (Cavavan, The Grazing Shed, Taste of Spice and Dusty Knuckle), a crafts and activities tent, storytelling, a children’s entertainer, circus skills, pony rides and a vintage funfair. It is safe to say that no one was bored or hungry at the inaugural Burning Lantern Fayre!

Performances came from headliner Brit and Ivor Novell award winner Tom Odell, who gave an electrifying and charismatic performance, which featured a mesmerising light show. His unique show featured a number of hits but it was the songs ‘Still Getting Used To Being On My Own’, ‘Concrete’, ‘Hold Me’ that captivated the audience and really demonstrated why Odell is being touted as one of the country’s finest singer songwriter.


Whilst the UK first country music act to chart in the Top 10 Album Charts, The Shires, livened up the billing. Their 45-minute stellar set included a string of their biggest hits including: ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’, ‘Nashville Grey Skies’ and ‘Friday Night’, thoroughly entertained the 8,000 strong crowd and signed off their set with a promise to return to Cardiff soon.

Whereas top Motown act, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, despite not being everyone cup tea where given a true warm Welsh welcome. However, it was hot act of the moment Jack Savoretti that brought the biggest cheers of the evening and his set went down a storm. His live set included performances of his many hits including; ‘When We Were Lovers’, ‘I’m Yours’ and ‘Tie Me Down’, certainly got the crowd in the festival mood as the sun set on the stunning location.

The first even Burning Lantern Fayre was a huge success with the 8,000 strong-crowd enjoying a variety of music, entertainment and food under the sunset skies. Here hoping that the buzz of Wales’ newest music event hopefully ensures it was the first of many Burning Lantern Fayres to come!

Review Llechi, Pontio by Gareth Williams

4 Stars4 / 5

 

Having missed it first time around, the chance to catch the restaging of Llechi seemed too good to miss. Originally performed as part of Pontio’s opening season, this eclectic mix of visual, musical and aerobatic art forms was a fascinating watch. It was engaging from start to finish, featuring a host of performers, all of whom played their part in making this a thoroughly enjoyable and captivating show. Despite its fluency in the Welsh language (with the exception of poet Martin Daws), I, a humble learner of the lingo, still managed to be entertained and entranced by the spectacle on offer. It was a delightful performance that offered plenty of emotion and a real sense of place.

Originally curated by alt-folk group 9Bach, the Welsh sextet returned to lead a talented cast in this fresh and innovative approach to storytelling. Taking us on a journey through the history, culture and traditions of the slate industry, this performance brought to life, in a new way, the story of local Welsh slate – the people, and the landscape. Full of experimental sounds and a mix of genres, it spans the centuries. This huge timescale is reflected in the song choices: from a spine-tingling rendition of Welsh hymn Dyma’r Gariad to the bass-fuelled beats of ‘90s rave music. There is no clash of musical styles here however. Instead, 9Bach have managed to create a very diverse yet complimentary soundtrack. The changes of tone, mood and tempo that take place throughout are at no point jarring. Instead, with help from the lighting, each transition is smooth and natural. It is something that could so easily have been a disaster. Here, though, it not only works well. It works incredibly well.

Alongside the musical prowess of 9Bach, choreographer Kate Lawrence and her team offered up some stunning physical performances in the air. It helped being seated on the lower balcony to watch these four talented dancers move across the auditorium. It was clear that many of their actions were reflecting the movements of quarrymen. But their pieces also featured an elegance that conveyed something of the local landscape too. Their graceful movements made for a mesmerising sight. But it also brought to mind, as a result, the ethereal and mythic quality of the mountains and the quarries. This was complimented perfectly, at one point in particular, by the hauntingly beautiful vocals of Lisa Jen Brown. Truly evocative, the backdrop of images that featured in the show were sometimes superfluous as a result. It was a strangely immersive experience.

I came away from Llechi desperate to buy the soundtrack. The music was wonderfully inspirational, eclectic and truly evocative of its Welsh setting. 9Bach have delivered a beautiful collaboration that is full of heart. It is a love story that awakens the senses and births a spirit of hope. It says that this land is not forgotten to another age. Instead, it evolves, becoming the place of the next generation who follow in the footsteps of their forbears whilst carving out new paths of their own. Sadly, the soundtrack isn’t available to buy (hint to anyone who may be able to change that.). Nevertheless, it will stick in my mind for a long time to come. Llechi is a truly memorable piece of contemporary Welsh art.

https://www.pontio.co.uk/Online/Default.asp

Top Tunes with Rebecca Jade Hammond

Hi Rebecca great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
I’m a Cardiff born actor and writer and more recently Artistic Director of Chippy Lane Productions Ltd. My next project is “Chippy & Scratch – Does The Diff” performing Tuesday 18th July at Chapter. Limited tickets still available www.chippylaneproductions.co.uk. This is a scratch night for emerging Welsh and Wales based playwrights.

https://www.chapter.org/chippy-scratch-does-diff

This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to?
Well – firstly this was such a great challenge to put together. Music is a massive part of my life and work. It’s so funny as what I’ve chosen now is not what I would have chosen fifteen years ago when I was obsessed with Garage, Incubus and Dido. However, I’ve tried to mix it up to reflect what was me then and now as it’s all contributed to my current taste.

At present I’m listening to H.E.R a mashup of soft R&B and vocally reminiscent of early Aaliyah. Soulful and sassy and easy on the ears it’s great listening when you want to block out the noise of the city. If you like Ray Blk and FKA Twiggs I would definitely recommend it. Old R&B reminds me of my teens, circa 2001 when all I cared about was my Adidas Galaxy’s and my discman breaking (anti-shock button was a lie, it never worked) so any R&B at the moment new or old is very much on my playlist.

We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why?

“Bjork” – It’s impossible to pick one… all of her albums are such exquisite provocative pieces of work. Each, cinematic and theatrical. All of her music transports you to a space of sublimeness. I have to pick though, so probably “Post”. The first play I ever wrote, which looking back was frightfully naive and man-hating included tracks from this album. You can’t help but want to move when you hear her music and it’s impossible to sit still. I remember seeing her live and it was otherworldly and I always feel happier listening to her voice. Favourite track – “Possibly Maybe” – mainly because I’m a sucker for great lyrics and hopeless romantic and when she sings “…but afterwards I wonder, where’s that love you promised me? Where is it?” makes my heart breaks every time.

“Imogen Heap” – Everyone who knows me, knows that Heap is my idol. Her musicianship, creativity and talents knows no limits. Who re-mortgage’s their house to make an album? She is the antithesis of a musician making music to belong to other art forms. I had the pleasure of watching her work as the soundtrack to a Frantic Assembly piece called Pool No Water by Mark Ravenhill several years ago and again in the new Harry Potter play and it simply is extraordinary. Her album “Ellipse” – my favourite I listened to whilst writing a my Masters dissertation on “Theatre as spectacle”. It’s one of those albums where you can listen the whole way through without skipping and it never ever gets overplayed because there’s so much to discover. Favourite track – “Earth”.

“Kate Bush” – I was lucky enough to watch her show in London in 2015. It was a theatrical feast of music, puppetry, Theatre and storytelling. I’ve never witnessed anything like it and i’m pretty certain anyone else who saw it would agree with me. Again, hard to pick a track… but probably “And Dream of Sheep” from “Hounds of Love.” Lyrically beautiful and thought provoking. I listen to a lot of Bush to get things done and I always do!

“Drake” – I can’t really explain it, but when I listen to his work much of what he raps or sings about is the want and need to strive to be better, for success. His compositional skills of sampling and mixing are in my opinion some of the best songs around. He is one of the few rappers that transcends his own genre. I love listening to his albums “Views” and “More Life”, when it’s on my ipod it’s impossible not to walk down the street with confidence thinking – I can do this! Top tracks is “Views”. Lyric – “The only way I got here, coz I put the work in, and did it with a purpose.”

“Beyonce” – Everything about her is just divine. Every album is symbolic of a new chapter in my life. She promotes power, feminism, equality and proof that if you work hard enough you can achieve great creative things. Favourite track – “Grown Woman” from her self titled 5th album. It makes me think anything is possible and it’s just great to dance to with friends or blast out in your car. I love her so much I did a parody in my webcomedy of her video 7/11, I mean I’m no Queen B but I gave it a good go.

Thanks Rebecca, just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?

Imogen Heap – “Earth”. Her music is beyond important to me. She is, as my friends would say “Oh – Imogen heap, she’s just so you Bec!”.

Thanks Bec!

Check out Outpost Coffee and Vinyl Cardiff. For the latest and greatest vinyl and great independent coffee!

http://www.outpostrecords.co.uk

 

Review, Gregory Porter, Llangollen International Eisteddfod by Gareth Williams

5 Stars5 / 5

In some ways, Gregory Porter was made for the International Eisteddfod. The man whose music transcends was making his debut at the annual event. Bringing his sweet, smooth and soulful sound to a warm and pleasant Friday evening, Porter is the embodiment of the festival’s message of peace and love. It is little wonder that he was rapturously received by a cross-generational crowd that pretty much packed out the Llangollen Pavilion.

There is always a message behind his music, and his choice of songs here balanced nicely between songs of relevance and well-known hits. His most famed, Liquid Spirit, certainly encouraged audience participation on the hand clapping front. Hey Laura got the biggest cheer of the night on its introduction. It is his shifts in tempo and mood – including between these two songs – that make Porter’s set constantly fresh and teaming with life. It also makes the acoustic parts of his set – just him and Chip Crawford on piano – that much more powerful. His impromptu rendition of Nat King Cole’s (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons was especially moving. Contrast that with a toe-tapping rendition of Papa Was a Rolling Stone, and you begin to see the diversity of his set.

He also had time to offer some thoughtful and inspiring words that chimed perfectly with the Eisteddfod’s values. Porter is a great believer in the power of music. It brings people together. It is spiritual, emotional, physical. It is a great healer. It is a builder of bridges across divisions in society. It is what the International Eisteddfod aims to do. And Porter certainly honoured those things. He, along with his band, were exceptional. From the organist to the double bassist, the French horn player to the saxophonist, they were all on sparkling form. The standing ovation at the end was thoroughly deserved.

Gregory Porter never feels like a man who craves the limelight. He was completely absent from the stage at times, the band performing independently of him. The music is the star of the show. That humble and sincere belief is something that has won Porter legions of fans. It is also the reason his presence at the Eisteddfod was a perfect fit. A match made in heaven.

Top Tunes with Gary Owen

Hi Gary great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I’m a playwright. My family are from Pembrokeshire, I grew up in Bridgend, and I live in Cardiff. Mostly recently I’ve written Iphigenia in Splott for the Sherman Theatre, Violence and Son for the Royal Court, and Killology for both the Sherman and the Royal Court. Right now I’m working on a new version of Chekov’s classic comedy The Cherry Orchard, which relocates the play to Pembrokeshire in the very early 1980s. It’ll be on at the Sherman in October.

http://www.shermantheatre.co.uk/performance/theatre/the-cherry-orchard/

This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to?

I’ve actually got a playlist called “Just Great Songs!” – with the exclamation mark and everything – and I’m listening to that. Right now it’s playing “In Every Dream Home, A Heartache” by Roxy Music. A title I will almost certainly steal for a play one day. And now it’s playing “Glosh” by Cotton Wolf, from their amazing new album “Life in Analogue”.

We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why?

On any day it could be any of dozens of other records, but for today. I find it almost impossible to work in silence, but at the same time if I’m going to work to music it can’t be too engaging, or it’ll distract me. So I’ve got a whole load of records that are maybe not quite music, or just very low key music, that I put on when I need to work. The top one is Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports”, but I use a lot of his ambient albums, especially “Discreet Music” and “Neroli”.

And then there’s a brilliant album called “Electric Enigma”, which is field recordings some guy made by going out into the desert and sticking up a big antenna so he could record radio noise made by cosmic rays and the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic field. It’s available for free from the Internet Archive and it’s very beautiful.

https://archive.org/details/ird062

And I’ve got a CD-R called “Buildings”, which is two hours of recordings made by sticking contact mikes to buildings with lifts in them. So it’s two hours of lifts, going up and down buildings. Simon Proffitt gave it to me and I don’t know where he got it from. I worry he made it himself. Anyway it’s gorgeous.

“Bendith” by Bendith. Bendith are a Welsh folk supergroup made up of family trio Plu, together with Carwyn Ellis, mop-topped singer from psychedelic pop wonders Colorama.

They came together to make music mostly about Carwyn’s childhood in Carmarthenshire. There’s a lovely documentary show about the project on iPlayer which features live versions of the songs, and lots of pics of the villages and houses Carwyn’s family lived in, lots of elderly men in barns and sheds in the 1970s, and I’ve got a lot of very similar photos of my family in Pembrokeshire. And the music is so breathtakingly beautiful it stops me in my tracks every time I hear it. Not an album I can work to.

“Fantasia on a Theme from Thomas Tallis” by Vaughan Williams. Vaughan Williams is a deceptive composer in that he seems very catchy and undemanding and writes actual tunes (which is probably why I like him) but there’s a huge melancholy in much of his work (which is probably why I like him). “Fantasia…” was written in 1910 and it is, as its title suggests, a fifteen minute riff on a tune written in 1567 by the Elizabethan composer Thomas Tallis. Aside from being straightforwardly beautiful music, I love it because there is something glorious and heroic about these two men, collaborating across four centuries, together creating something neither could have made alone.

“Night Thoughts” by Suede. I have loved Suede since they and I were skinny indie boys in the 90s. Now they are chiselled indie men and I am a haggard old wreck, but I love them still. “Night Thoughts” is their latest album and I think it might be their best.

It’s nostalgic and sentimental and over-blown and glorious. They made a heart-breaking film to accompany the music that turns the album into what we now call a visual album. I was lucky enough to see a screening of it at Chapter, after which Brett and Mat did a q&a. I couldn’t ask them anything as I was too much of a sobbing mess.

“Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” by Gavin Bryars. This is a 70 minute piece based around a loop of a homeless man singing a brief refrain, which Bryars recorded I believe in Elephant & Castle in 1971. And what Bryars did was to build up an accompaniment to the man’s voice – gradually he is joined by brass, strings, layers of harmony and eventually Tom Waits turns up and sings along with him. There’s something profoundly deceitful about it. No-one really took this man and lavished the care and attention and love he deserved on him, as they did on this snatched recording of his voice. So the piece is a comforting lie. And yet – it is irresistible. It is beautiful. I fall for it every time I hear it. In my guts I feel it is a wonderful tribute, even as I think it is a lie.

Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?

“Music for Airports” because I need it to work. But then, it’s not proper music. I could just work next to a lift and have Bendith to listen to. Yes, I’ll probably do that.

Review La Voix- Ffresh, Wales Millenium Centre by Emily Garside

Let’s talk about Drag. Most people have probably encountered a Drag Queen of some kind in their lives. (If not please, reassess that situation after reading this review) Whether it’s as part of a Hen Party or Birthday Party at the local Drag Bar- hello Minsky’s and Wow- or on TV via (if you’re my age) Lily Savage presenting Breakfast or tea-time TV (those were the days) or on Netflix with the glory that is Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Obviously if you’re a drag race fan the next sentence will not be a surprise but: Drag is an artform.

Once again: Drag is an artform. Cabaret is an artform. Drag as Cabaret is an artform. So easy to dismiss as someone in exaggerated make up in a wig in a dark bar you visit once in a blue moon. But real Queens work a room and a crowd tougher than most comedians. Most Queens have worked their way up through dingy back rooms and hiking on outfits in toilets. All Queens are not the same either. All Queens are definitely not created equal. But the best are an utter masterclass in entertainment.

La Voix is an utter masterclass.

All the above said too, it’s really important to say how brilliant it is that Ffresh at the WMC invited a Drag Queen to be part of this season. That alongside the National Theatre’s production of Jayne Eyre in the main theatre, La Voix was invited to do not one but two nights.  It’s both important in recognising that performance given space in arts venues shouldn’t be on a hierarchy- although some patrons might sniffly ask why a Drag act was in a theatre, not back in a club where they no doubt think that sort of act ‘belongs’ but also to show audiences ‘yes we welcome all kinds of performance here’. It’s also important as reviewer to have the experimental Jazz group last week, included on the same programme as a Drag Queen. It’s about saying there’s sophistication, and training, and creativity across all kinds of performance, so let’s do away with these divisions. Finally, it is also about- particularly in ‘Pride Month’ the idea that LGBTQ+ performers and audiences, and work that historically wouldn’t have been welcomed in such spaces is. It’s only 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalised, and Drag and other Queer performance was not so long ago an underground scene or at the most related to a certain kind of club. To see then a drag performer in the flagship venue for Wales, and with a diverse audience is not something to be taken lightly.

All this politics and history however is taking away from talking about the Diva herself. And that isn’t on really. La Voix is a force of nature. She got to the semi- finals of Britain’s Got Talent in 2014, where her name meaning ‘the voice’ and is known for her on-point impressions of famous Divas.

Winning many prestigious awards which include Best act at the London Cabaret awards, Winner of Drag Idol and most recently the Gold award winner for Best act at the Boys Scene Awards. And was in the Ab Fab film.

So, for the past 10 years La Voix has been taking on the big divas and making them her own, on both stage and screen. And last night’s tour of the Divas didn’t disappoint. Resplendent in a turquoise gown and trademark red wig, she reminds the audience that ‘I didn’t get this dressed up to not have pictures taken’ before adding ‘If your flash isn’t on…I’ll wait’. The audience interaction is, as with any drag show and after storming on with ‘the voice’ filling the room, there’s some delightful patter with the accompanist (Fresh from Hawaii with accompanying shirt) and of course with those lucky (unlucky depending on your take) to be in the front row. There were clearly a cohort of die hard fans in the audience who know the show possibly better than La Voix, but also allowed for some great banter between them. Drag Queens are known for both cutting, and a times filthy humour. And while it was certainly un-PC at times, the jokes never strayed into the borderline offensive that some other acts might take on. No doubt that changes with the venue and crowd, a skill again knowing how to work an audience, meant those in the audience unfamiliar with the Drag style of humour wouldn’t have been too shocked- and I defy them not to have laughed.

Songs take centre stage, as do the Diva’s who deliver them. While to some degree sticking to the demographic most in evidence at the show- the over forties, Diva fans- there was enough contemporary reference mixed in to make the show feel fresh. So, while Adele might not have been performing at Wembley that night, La Voix brought us Liza does Adele.  The audience was given a masterclass in performing the Divas from Cher through Liza to Judy and ending on a Welsh flavour with Shirley Bassey. A personal favourite as a musical theatre fan was Liza doing Mein Herr from Cabaret…but as if she tried it now at 76. I didn’t know I wanted it until I saw it. There’s such a detailed familiarity with the Divas from La Voix that goes far beyond simple mannerisms and vocal impersonation, and there’s also the love of a Diva in general that fuels the act. So while they are mercilessly mocked, there’s a sense of love and respect there. Something that’s very much at the heart of a really great Drag Queen too.

Also at the heart of any good Queen’s act is how to make an entrance and also an exit. And the closing numbers do not disappoint. Audience already primed 2 songs earlier, for the exit and cheering her back on stage La Voix returned decked in Ostrich Feathers and white (soon to be put in danger by a misplaced vodka cranberry). Dame Shirley was taking the final bow, and the crowd loved a home-grown Diva. And finally, as a sing-along closing number, Bonnie Tyler. In which the crowd also proved that giving a Welsh audience a chance to sing and they will attempt to upstage any Diva. But really what more fun can you have on a Saturday night than singing at top volume to ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ with a Drag Queen dressed in white?

There’s a lot to be said for bringing Drag to wider audiences, and respecting just what a skill not only Drag but working a live cabaret audience is. La Voix thanked the crowd for coming out and supporting live cabaret noting that in these times it’s live entertainment- particularly at this end of the spectrum- that suffers. She also said that in these dark times we need that entertainment. And that’s the crux of it. At the end of a long day or week, La Voix gave us an escape- a fabulous, sequin clad, feather trimmed Diva-esque escape. Merci La Voix, Merci!

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2017-2018/ffresh/LaVoix17/

 

Review, Beginnings, Hannah’s Yard by Gareth Williams

4 Stars4 / 5

The release of debut album Beginnings is surely the start of something special for Hannah Layton Turner. The musical collective known as Hannah’s Yard have released a fascinatingly eclectic record. Here are 14 songs that span across a variety of genres. We have a mixture of folk, pop, country, jazz and swing. They combine to create an album full of musical flavour, that doesn’t sit neatly into one particular category. The opening song “Why Would I Know” offers a laid back, easy listening sound; “Doin’ It for Myself” is an inspiring and upbeat pop song; and “I Want You” is a gear shift into jazz and swing. Then, in another key change, Hannah duets with fellow band member Barnaby Pinny on country-sounding ballad “Here and Now”, with the country/folk influence continuing in later songs “Baby I’m There” and “Dance Our Way Back”. This mixture of musical styles works, in part due to the naturally confident and adaptable voice of Turner. Her melodic vocals make for a seamless transition between songs. Her purely vocal intro to final track “Amazing Grace” shows off her vocal prowess – a captivating sound that calls for a devoted listening ear. This last song is a nod to Olney, the small English town where they are based and where the original was first written in the 1770s. Surely Hannah’s Yard is destined to be known further than their Buckinghamshire base however. With such a range of musical tastes, they have produced a lovely and surprising album that would be a welcome soundtrack to many people’s summer.

Review Delta Autumn, Ffresh, WMC by Emily Garside

Ffresh the new cabaret venue at the WMC continues its latest season of music with the eclectic and unusual Delta Autumn. Asked to describe them it’s difficult to pin down a band who describes their influences from Autumn’s hip-hop, glitch, pop, rock and jazz. Performed with electroacoustic compositional techniques they were initially conceived as a studio only project by Robbie and Luke, Delta Autumn later expanded to take in Thomas and Ric. An unusual band, provoking curiosity they are the perfect addition to the latest season at Ffresh.

The venue itself is relatively new to the WMC and is conceived as a space to host a variety of gig-style events. Though the Cabaret style work of visiting musical theatre stars such as Caroline Sheen and the ever-popular Hello Cabaret nights, would seem the logical choice for the WMC’s venue gigs like this prove its versatility as a venue. Among the rest on offer include An Israeli contemporary solo bass player, a Welsh country and folk musician and a Leonard Cohen tribute and a winner from RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s something fresh (pardon the pun) and exciting for a gig venue in Cardiff not to feel restricted by genre or target audience.

The venue itself has also been revamped for the new cabaret setting, with the back half of the bar now an intimate collection of shabby-chic cabaret tables, framed by bronze leaf trees that give the place a slightly ethereal feel. With the front tables, practically on the stage it makes for an intimate feel that is missing in many of the live music venues in Cardiff. The fact that it’s seated, with drinks gives the place a ‘grown up’ vibe. Table service from the excellent WMC staff means there’s no bar scrum and even at full capacity this wouldn’t feel like an overcrowded venue.

Delta Autumn’s gig was a low-key affair, and although the audience was on the small side there was a supportive and attentive vibe from the crowd. Indeed, it was a small but vocal crowd for last night’s gig. The band clearly have a dedicated following who knew their work well, but they also commented on how nice it was to see new faces in the crowd. The band also joked that as their only released music was only 15 minutes long then two 45 minute sets were going to be a challenge. They needn’t have worried however, their set comfortably filling the time and veering between low-key melancholy sounding tracks and upbeat synths was as fascinating musically as it was entertaining.

Best described as an electronic jazz sound that barely scratches the surface of the musical influences covered. And they were as fascinating to watch-working across multiple instruments and mixing live- as they were to listen to. Mixing up their sets with piano and guitar solos really showed off what the band are capable of. Despite the skill on show individually there is a strange alchemy to their work together. Hard to believe they were originally intended as only a studio project, their live performance was masterful. It’s sometimes difficult to listen to an entire evening of unfamiliar music but Delta Autumn create something so unique it’s impossible not to be won over.

Touring the country this summer, at a variety of festivals Delta Autumn are well worth an encounter, you’ll be fascinated and also hugely entertained.

 

 

Top Tunes with Matthew Bulgo

Photographs of Matthew by Jon Pountney

GRID

Hi Matthew great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Hello! I’m Matthew Bulgo. I’m an actor, playwright and dramaturg based in Cardiff and I’m also an Associate Director of Dirty Protest, Wales’ guerrilla new writing theatre company. I grew up in Swansea, studied in London and stayed there for a chunk of time before settling in Cardiff.

This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to?

I’ve been a huge music fan ever since I hijacked my father’s vinyl collection when I was about 10. I listen to a lot of music. I listen to music when I work, when I’m making food, when I’m having an unwind, when I go running. It’s a really important part of my life. Currently, I’m listening to Hippo Campus, Froth, Ezra Furman, Angel Olsen, Yeasayer, Darwin Deez, Real Estate, Dick Diver, Lord Huron, Will Butler, Maximo Park, Hinds, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Soccer Mommy, Public Access TV…I’ve also rediscovered Blondie this week so I’ve been binge listening their entire back-catalogue at the moment.

We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why?

The Strokes – ‘Is This It?’ – I love the energy of this album. Once you get past the first track, it feels like a runaway train that’s threatening to derail itself. It just has this real sense of abandon. It’s up there for me as a modern classic. There’s not a single dud track on there.


Arcade Fire – ‘Funeral’ – Now, I’m not a fan of dancing but there are a few tracks on here that are just so galvanising that I just can’t help myself. Again, like The Strokes, this album has this really boundless energy.


The Beatles – ‘Abbey Road’ – This was the first ever vinyl that I bought with my own money when I was about 10. I think my dad had pretty much every other album by The Beatles but this one was missing from the collection. ‘Come Together’ was an immediate favourite, just such a cool riff.

When I started my first band when I was about 16, that song was top of the set-list. And then there’s the extraordinary B-side to the side to the album where all of the songs segue into each other. As you get to those final few tracks, you can sorta hear that it’s the last thing these four people are going to record together. They’re saying “this is it, and now we’re going to go out with something really spectacular”.


Belle and Sebastian – ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’ – Now, this album reminds me of a really specific time in my life. I was into the music that no-one else really liked and I didn’t dress how people expected me to dress. I started to going to this club night in Swansea that played all the music I loved and I suddenly discovered all the outsiders who were into the same things as me. It was just as this album came out, so these songs felt like the soundtrack to that whole period.


The Smiths – ‘The Smiths’ – The Smiths are lyrically just exquisite. I loved how they were able to be cool and witty and pithy and fey all at the same time. I could have picked any of their albums really but this has one of my favourites, ‘Still Ill’ on it.

Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?

Ooo, maybe ‘Last Night’ by The Strokes. Great song, super-cool video and a melody that is best shouted rather than sung.

You can purchase a range of the latest vinyl records and classics from Outpost Coffee and Vinyl Cardiff.

http://www.outpostrecords.co.uk

Many thanks for your time Matthew