Ahead of the 2018 Brecon Baroque Festival, I had the chance to chat to it’s Artistic Director, Rachel Podger about what to expect this year and also about her own flourishing career as one of the world’s leading violinists.
I was lucky enough to attend Party at the Park last week, a fantastic festival which featured a superb line-up of beloved stars of the 1970s and 80s at Bute Park, Cardiff. With more fantastic musical acts than Depot 2018, and none of Burning Lantern‘s Queue-Gate drama, Party at the Park 2018 is the best festival I’ve had the pleasure of attending.
Now to the acts themselves: Big Mac’s Wholly Soul Band started off the musical line-up with a brassy bang, getting the party started with energetic renditions of Living in America, Get On Up and Proud Mary.
Next, we were treated to a vibrant set by Odyssey, a group responsible for some of those best floor-filling dance hits in living memory; of that dynamic discography, we were blessed with electric renditions of Native New Yorker, Inside Out, Don’t Tell Me Tell Her, and perhaps the most iconic of an exemplary back catalogue: Going Back to My Roots.
Next up was T’Pau (aka Carol Decker), who came on to perform such hits as her joyfully synthy bop Heart and Soul, the Frankenstein-inspired power ballad China in Your Hand, and melancholic new song Run. Carol Decker’s powerful, effortless voice has never sounded better, and she had such a wonderful, natural rapport with the audience and her fantastic backing singer/ tambourinist.
Special guest Tony Hadley, of Spandau Ballet fame, performed a brilliant set that incorporated some of his greatest hits with some lively new material, backed by a tremendously talented band. As with Carol Decker, Hadley’s stadium-sized pipes have never sounded better, belting out new hits like the James Bond-esque Take Back Everything and the nostalgia-infused Tonight Belongs to Us. But there was little that could match the nostalgic heights of Gold and True, two of Spandau’s finest songs, and the near-spiritual sound of the crowd belting out every lyrical inflection, as one.
The festival closed with headliners Al McKay’s Earth Wind & Fire Experience, reuniting the band’s past members to honour the legacy of Maurice White, the group’s co-founder and co-frontman who sadly passed away in 2016. The band who brought us Boogie Wonderland, Shining Star, September and more brought down the house – the quality of the live music was stunning, with every singer, dancer and musician at the very top of their game.
On a non-musical note: there were at least four bars situated onsite, and a number of street food stalls that kept the queues relatively small and fast-moving. They even had a fun fair and a VIP area; and, in addition to the tent that housed the main stage, there were two other disco tents playing piped music. These were all good additions, but they often drowned out the music from the main stage unless you were right near the front.
Party at the Park 2018 in Cardiff was a roaring success – from the sheer number of high quality acts on the billing, to the ready availability of food and drink of all sorts on offer, and the beautiful location of Bute Park – roll on next year’s festival!
(4.5 / 5)
There are moments in my life when I can pinpoint the occasion when I became enchanted by a composer.
Many years ago, back in the days of the LP records, I happened to buy a compilation of tracks, one of which was “Finlandia” by Sibelius. He has since been my favourite composer.
Then, around 1971, I watched Luchino Visconti’s “Death in Venice” and Mahler’s breathtakingly beautiful Adagietto from his 5th Symphony as Dirk Bogarde is transported on a gondola across the Venice Lagoon resulted in that composer becoming a favourite.
But Ralph Vaughan Williams, a contemporary of both, has never really done it for me. Until last night!
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, in existence for over 90 years, kicked off it’s new season at St. David’s Hall, Cardiff, with a first half devoted to RVW.
Beginning with “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis”, a piece that, of course I am aware of, (it has repeatedly been placed at 3rd place in Classic FM’s Hall of Fame Poll), by the time it had concluded – around 17 minutes later, I could happily have left the concert, thinking I had had my money’s worth. Except that I hadn’t paid any money because I was reviewing!
Within the first minute, I was emotionally drained by the sheer beauty of the piece, immaculately played by the String section of the orchestra. The mellowness and intensity that the players brought to this composition was superb. Written in 1910, and revised in 1913 and 1919, you can close your eyes and imagine yourself back pre- WW1 on a summer’s day in the countryside – only four years before the world went mad
And if that wasn’t enough, it was followed by another RVW composition, “Songs of Travel”. Nine songs that again conjured up strong images of rural England sung by the world renowned baritone Sir Thomas Allen.
Sir Thomas, now aged 74, still has the vocal ability to render justice to the nine songs. In addition, his considerable acting talents allowed him to deliver the songs perfectly, stamping his own individual style of delivery – a talent that has him recognised as one of the great baritones of the world.
Upon arriving home, I just had to listen to the Fantasia again and followed it up with RVW’s “Pastoral Symphony” – I’m hooked!
After the interval, the crowd-pleasing, “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky with amazing orchestration by Maurice Ravel, was the sole piece played. This composition for full orchestra, needs tight control and at times restraint, all leading up to the thunderous climax of “The Great Gates of Kiev”. I’m certain that many of us left the auditorium with Mussorgsky’s masterpiece ringing in our ears. Upon its conclusion, the rapturous reception of the audience matched the orchestra’s panache.
All of this under the baton of Japanese conductor Tadaaki Otaka.
Otaka San was principal conductor of BBC NOW from 1987 to 1995 and is now Conductor Laureate of the orchestra. He has a fondness for British music, and this is clearly apparent on the evidence of the orchestra’s performance last evening.
A truly memorable event, and a fitting concert to commence the BBC NOW season.
In December the orchestra tours China and visits my former home in Wuhan, Hubei. I will be urging my ex-students to turn out.
POET IN THE CORNER is a production that foretells Debris Stevenson’s internal story from when she was a girl developing in to a woman finding herself and then articulating her voice exclaiming why her and many people within the community, who feel disenfranchised, have connected and affiliated to Grime. We see how Grime was a gateway for her to escape her pain and permitted permission for her to willingly explore herself as a female, artist and individual. It cultivates awareness of a captivating society that’s held within a social culture, easily lost and withdrawn from the torment inflicted in to the young, who may also be struggling to adjust to life so confide in the culture of Grime music.
The surrealism featured in Debris’ play openly expressed learning difficulties, family complexities, Sexuality, mental struggles, exploration of the body, attempting to adjust to religion, family standards, identity crisis, unrealistic devotions, bullying, friendship disputes circulated around pulling each other up and the misunderstood appreciation all manifesting under the same roof. This gave an empowerment testimonial in to what Debris’ life was like growing up feeling detached from home, school and her social life.
The set majestically opened up formulating a moving circular shape; one of the cast members opened up as an open format live DJ, lively and vibrantly creating a gig feel setting in the theatre. Debris brought a taste of her rhythmic, fiery and raw lyrics incorporated in numerous sequences within the play. Immersive techniques were used when artist and lyricst Jammz who was discreetly seated in the audience interacting with Debris on set, smartly causing a scene by increasing tension away from the stage and in to the audience. We then see Jammz eventually being escorted on to the stage, bringing double the heat, radiating from his microphone exhilarating even more speed, energy, passion and insight in to his perspective and elements of his incomparable struggles to hers growing up as a black man in a council estate with limited opportunities with a single mother. Debris Stevenson sparks a rational comeback, which exhibits how her being a Caucasian female doesn’t deflate the fact she also has struggles. Emphasising how both herself and him coming from different worlds, but yet have so many controversial, similar struggles is the emphasis to the value of them respecting each other’s struggle.
Poet in the Corner is fused with breaking fourth wall elements, projections, hot dance moves consisting of basement, krumping and street, exportation of the limitation through commercialised media, power of poetry, physical theatre techniques and a grime concert feel , rave feel and gig all wrapped up in one with a depiction of the sentimental artistic, fabrication of England. This production is enticed with expressions and intimate real life moments, discussions and powerful emotions. It is definitely a production worth seeing, an experience for all!
(4 / 5)
The 51st annual Bromyard Folk Festival recently took place and I spent a delightful afternoon at one of Britain’s major showcases of home-based talent in this perennial music genre.
Performing at this year’s festival were headlining artistes such as Oysterband, The Young ‘Uns and the guy I was fortunate to catch, Chris Wood.
The Festival site is located about a quarter of a mile outside the attractive Black and White styled buildings of the Herefordshire market town of Bromyard. Only being 90 minutes drive from South-East Wales, makes it easy accessible. The town itself holds many fringe events such as bands playing in the pubs and Morris Dancers performing in the Town Square. The overall effect is quintessentially English, and, even on a murky drizzly September afternoon was sufficiently edifying for even the writer’s Welsh gaze.
At the field where the paid part of the Festival is located, there is a veritable cornucopia of activities that welcome the attendee.
The main acts are housed on the Wye Valley Brewery stage, housed inside a large marquee. This is where I watched the superb songwriter/musician, Chris Wood.
Self-taught on the guitar and violin, he is inspired by the traditional dance music of France and Quebec. What impressed me most was his witty and clever lyrics, presented with a clarity of vocal annunciation that hammer home the song’s message, but in a quiet easygoing manner. It isn’t too difficult to understand why he has been twice awarded the BBC Folk Singer of the Year. He has collaborated with Billy Bragg,and Martin and Eliza Carthy and other folk-world luminaries and recently supported Joan Armatrading, not that, (in his own words), she requires any support. And if, in the unlikely occurrence that his musical career flounders, he could make a decent living as a stand-up comic such is his highly amusing delivery.
You also have a large bar marquee where acts perform and an outdoor stage, where I witnessed the prancing antics of a Morris Dancing troupe. There are also a number of related trade stalls and food vendors, a children’s play area and competitive events are held during the Festival’s four days.
I found there to be a highly convivial atmosphere present between the organisers and festival-goers. Free car parking is provided in an adjacent field.
Already the 2019 dates are set for 5th-8th September 2019 and tickets will be available early next year. I am already looking forward to it!
From the 2017 Festival
How to Get there
From M5, use junction 7 ( Worcester South) and follow A44 signs for Leominster around new southern Worcester by-pass. Follow A44 for 12 miles to Bromyard. Take first turning into town – see detailed map below. From South Wales – Hereford then A465 to Bromyard, West/ North Wales – Leominster then A44 to Bromyard.
Leave Bromyard town centre on the B4203 signed to Stourport – the site is 1/4 mile from the town centre, on the right – sharing the entrance with Bromyard Town Football Club.
For GPS use HR7 4NT.
REVIEW: Britney Spears @ The O2 – 24 August 2018 by Patrick Downes
So, having seen every major music star from the last 20 years or so, only a few were left to see, and on Friday night at the O2 in London, I finally saw Britney Spears.
Fair to say, in the 18 years since ‘Baby One More Time,’ she’s covered more press inches than most people do in a lifetime. From that short marriage, to her meltdown, and now bringing her “Piece of Me” Vegas show to the O2 and other arenas around the UK.
What to expect? Didn’t really have any expectations to be honest. Had read a little bit about her “live” performances but I thought to experience it for myself.
Well, okay. Let’s not avoid talking about the elephant in the room here – she lip synced the entire gig. Now for some that would be a huge no no. It’s a case of seeing someone “dial in” their performance. It’d be like David Guetta or Calvin Harris just having an USB stick and pressing play. But then when you see everything put together – the dancing (and not just Britney, I’m talking her backing dancers) and the performance didn’t feel like it was dialled in. The choreography and visuals even from my position in the back corner of the O2 (pretty much watching the concert on the screen), they were good – and the sound mix too. I think some venues struggle with sound – the O2 doesn’t.
So she mimed. To me and the other 17,000 people within the O2 that night, it didn’t matter. What mattered was we partied, sung, danced (of sorts for some of us), and had an amazing night. Where else in London on a Friday night could you witness a man being walked across the stage of the O2 with a dog lead, or a woman sounding everso like Dick van Dyk in Mary Poppins (there’s the other elephant in the room – Britney’s “British” accent that she spoke with). If there was one piece of advice I’d give, it would be to be more interactive with your crowd. Leaving the audience participation till the last quarter of the night was a bit flat, maybe earlier, and maybe more of it. Yes, Britney I know you mime because the dance routines are quite busy, but surely a little appreciation of the people who came and who’ve made your life the way it is?
Special mention to Pitbull, her support act. You forget how many songs he’s been part of. How many bangers has Mr 305 had? Well, quite a few (NB. Mr 305? Because that’s the area code of Miami he’s from – it’d be like me calling myself Mr 01443 – good, but not as catchy). Without a doubt it was a masterstroke having him open for Britney – although it felt like I was watching a 1970s act from Vegas with him having showgirls as dancers. Too much? Yes, him on his own just performing was amazing. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand.
Overall Britney’s setlist showcased just how many hits she’s had. Granted giving a few toilet breaks of the newer material, but overall, if you’re a Britney fan, she is someone you do need to see live (using that word live is ironic I know). If you’re not so much a fan, then probably it’s not for you. I’ve saw Madonna live in 2006 on the Confessions tour, she too mimed a little, Britney may have mimed it all, but for sheer performance, you’d be hard pressed to find someone better than Miss Spears.
Break The Ice/Piece Of Me
… Baby One More Time/ Oops! I Did It Again
Me Against The Music
Clumsy/Change Your Mind (No Seas Cortes)
Scream and Shout
Do You Wanna Come Over?
Work It/Get Ur Freak On/ WTF
I’m A Slave 4 U
If U Seek Amy
Breathe On Me
Stronger/(You Drive Me) Crazy
Till The World Ends
Review: Patrick Downes
(4 / 5)
If you do not already know the story of Carmen, you will at least recognise the music.
Usually performed as an Opera, Carmen has been taken through lots of different twists and turns, in dance, in performance and the tale is retold in different places, in different ways. It is a versatile and, at times, relatable story.
For those who are unaware, Carmen tells the tale of the meeting of an elusive woman, and an (at the time) attached man. They fall in love but in the end, their love is too detrimental and Carmen grows bored, leaving Jose. With rage and jealousy, Jose returns, finding Carmen with another man and he decides that if he cannot have her, no one can.
The original Opera was set in Seville, Spain. This time around, at Sadler’s wells, we are transported to Cuba; rife with latin music, dance and attitude. It is fierce, sexy and full of drama and life – almost like a soap opera. We laugh, we cry, and we notice how ridiculous some of the dramatic storyline is.
Seeing Carmen at Sadler’s wells a few years ago, the premise was very different – set in a garage – a literal ‘Car-man’. It was full of dance, full of what we would expect from contemporary – showing all these fighting emotions through movement.
Whether I was assuming something similar, while set in a different part of the World, this time, Carmen La Cubana was in a way very traditional; there was plenty of singing, an almost Opera meets Musical theatre production with the same hammed up characters, fighting and ensemble dance.
While it was perfection in all emphasis of musical theatre, and could not be faulted in its execution, I think part of me wanted more dance – latin dance is so energetic and beautiful, it felt as if there was little room for this and it was just an after thought. When it did happen, it was beautiful and vibrant, it flowed well and left us in awe of their abilities, but there was a lot more emphasis on speech and the singing.
I did enjoy this, but maybe the fault is in me thinking more with a dance head, when attending a dance venue such as Sadler’s wells.
I was also undecided whether the narration should have had translation or not – on screens to the side and above, we had translation, which, with the speed of Spanish, was unable to keep up and I felt my eyes being drawn more to this than the stage. I felt perhaps if I did not have to read as well as watch, I would have been more invested in the on stage action. This is not to say it should be in English – far from it. While my Spanish ability has little to be admired, knowing the story, I would have liked the performance to tell me it; much like Carmen a few years ago, in only dance, did.
Overall, Carmen La Cubana is brilliant, beautiful and to all intent and purpose, perfection. But I felt a little disappointed with the lack of dance in the production, when Cuban dance is so energetic, beautiful and fantastic to watch.
It may seem a little incongruous to have a review about the Welsh National Eisteddfod in English, but, I’m afraid that my best endeavours, (strike that – my lack of endeavour) fifty years ago, meant that I just managed to avoid being unclassified for my O’Level Welsh language examination.
In fact, I think the last time that I attended an Eisteddfod, I was actually taking part in it! I came third, (out of three) in the piano competition. I recall the adjudicator, a Mrs Ogwen Thomas if my nightmarish memory serves me correctly,, summed up my playing by saying that it took her a while to recognise the piece I was playing. So, there ended my budding concert recital career!
Being Welsh, you are always aware, when being out of your native country, of being The Other. Having lived two-thirds of my life to date outside of Wales, I have exploited that, both to my advantage and disadvantage. So, I looked forward to attending the Welsh National Eisteddfod, which, this year is being held at and around the WMC in Cardiff, with great anticipation.
I was also a little apprehensive due to my concern about missing out on most of the activities, due to my lack of understanding Welsh.
My fears were allayed due to the presence of a desk in the foyer, that has free instant translators into English. However, this only works in The Pavilion, (Donald Gordon Theatre), but as all the major action occurs here, this is not a huge problem. And the instant translation works well.
In the three hours I sat here, I watched a huge diversity of competitions – vocal, recitation, instrument duo, instrument solo and dance. Of course, music transcends the difficulties of language, so I found this to be the most enjoyable events.
The talent on display was, at times, breathtaking. In the instrumental duo, I watched two cute little ten year old girl harpists in competition against two Royal College of Music student duos – twice their age! Naturally, they came third, but to be pitted against two highly accomplished duos from the RCM, and not be embarrassed, is an outstanding achievement – especially as one of the girls lives in Lampeter and the other in Cardiff, making practicing together a little awkward.
In the Blue Ribband event for under 16’s events, I saw four wonderful young musicians. Naturally I was drawn to the pianist, a twelve year old girl from Pontyclun, who played Scarlatti and then Bartok. Two vastly different pieces, and her maturity not only in technique, but also expression was awe-inspiring. A brilliant alto saxophonist, and a cellist who again played contrasting pieces, together with a talented trombonist completed the finalists. At the time of writing, I do not know who won this competition, but it was certainly going to be a tough decision by the team of adjudicators.
Monologues are translated into Welsh as well, so you can understand fully what is being said.
Added to all this, there are a number of other venues to visit, both inside and outside the venue.
There are a vast number of stalls present again, providing a real festive environment.
I took a look at the Welsh Books Council stall, and despite my intention not to add to my already burgeoning book collection, I came away with “The Hill of Dreams” by Welsh author Arthur Machen. The opening line goes, “There was a glow in the sky as if great furnace doors were opened”. Well, I can equate the glow to the Eisteddfod and the doors blown wide open, are those to my Welsh soul.
I invite you to rekindle your sense of Welsh identity, because, one thing that is clearly apparent is that the future of our culture is in assured hands.
Tickets, (remarkably good value for money), can be obtained at
NB. There is an abundance of events you can attend free.