Category Archives: Music

Review: The Bromyard Folk Festival by Roger Barrington

 

(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!

 

Roger Barrington

 

News: Bromyard Folk Festival 6-9th September 2018

From the 2017 Festival

Cosmotheka-by-John-Wright

 

 

 

Keith Donnelly by John Wright

 

 

 

 

 

Bar Folk People

 

 

 

Children’ Entertainment

 

 

 

 

Ceilidh Dancing by John Wright

 

 

 

 

https://www.bromyardfolkfestival.co.uk/

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.

 

END

Roger Barrington

Review: Britney Spears @ The O2 24.8.18 by Patrick Downes

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.

Setlist

Work Bitch
Womanizer
Break The Ice/Piece Of Me
… Baby One More Time/ Oops! I Did It Again
Me Against The Music
Gimme More
Clumsy/Change Your Mind (No Seas Cortes)
Scream and Shout
Boys
Do You Wanna Come Over?
Work It/Get Ur Freak On/ WTF
I’m A Slave 4 U
Make Me…
Freakshow
Do Somethin’
Circus
If U Seek Amy
Breathe On Me
Toxic
Stronger/(You Drive Me) Crazy
Till The World Ends

Review: Patrick Downes

Review Carmen La Cubana, Sadlers Wells by Hannah Goslin

 

(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.

 

 

Review of Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru at the WMC by Roger Barrington

(4.5 / 5)

 

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

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2018-2019/DonaldGordonTheatre/TocynDydddayticket/?view=Standard

NB. There is an abundance of events you can attend free.

Review, Talk of This Town, Catherine McGrath by Gareth Williams

(4 / 5)

Catherine McGrath represents the next stage in the UK country music revolution. I say this because it is not just BBC Radio 2 that are championing her. Scott Mills and others have been playing the 21-year-old’s music over on Radio 1 too. Her debut album Talk of This Town is bursting with the kind of country-pop that made a certain Taylor Swift known to the mainstream. In that case, it might not be one for the country music purists. But for those of us who like the lyrical emphasis and authenticity of the genre, McGrath serves up a real treat.

Talk of This Town is essentially the soundtrack to the past three years of her life. Adopting a heart-on-sleeve approach to her storytelling, McGrath is open, honest and vulnerable about her relationships. It has the effect of making them relatable in such a way that even I, a 27-year-old male, could find solace in some of her songs. I say this because their themes resonate beyond the boundaries of their mostly romantic settings. For example, opening track ‘Talk of This Town’ presents the image of a person who doesn’t quite fit in (tick), who has been continuously shot down (tick), and whose dreams are waiting to be burned down at the first signs of fear or failure (tick). The more I listened to this song, the more I could see myself in it, and the more I gained inspiration from McGrath’s ultimately positive outlook.

The further one goes into the album, the more McGrath’s honesty and vulnerability transcend the catchy pop riffs of her songs. They may be coated in music that makes you want to dance, but contained within are raw and revealing emotions that are comforting, hopeful and inspiring in equal measure. For example, ‘Just in Case’ is underpinned by uncertainty, ‘Dodged a Bullet’ reveals hidden emotional scars, and ‘Thought It Was Gonna Be Me’ is a harsh lesson in heartbreak. This latter song is beautifully complimented by its predecessor ‘Wild’, the epitome of McGrath’s blend of honest storytelling and infectious country-pop music. ‘Wild’ is probably the standout track on Talk of This Town, followed closely behind by ‘Lost in the Middle’, which has the most stupendous chorus. Both tracks are heavily-laden with guitars, whilst the addition of the banjo gives each a sprinkling of country and western flavour. This seems to be the favoured musical mixture for McGrath, and it works well, despite what country music critics such as David West and Duncan Warwick might argue.

Talk of This Town is a wonderful collection of songs that might be influenced by the sound of Taylor Swift but are written from the heart of Catherine McGrath herself. They are a beautifully blended set of country-pop songs that draw comparisons not only with Swift but Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris too. There is a Kacey Musgraves-like honesty to her storytelling that definitely leans towards the hopeless romantic of Musgraves’ Golden Hour. Yet despite this emphasis it remains hugely relatable, largely because McGrath presents her experiences in such a way that the themes contained within them become identifiable beyond their specific context. She is the outsider, the dreamer, playing second fiddle and without much romantic luck. Yet in spite of her experiences she remains positive and inspired. You need only listen to the music that she combines with her lyrics to realise this.

Catherine McGrath is a real talent. She is going to go far, not just because she is making great music but because she is a genuinely lovely person too. The response to the release of Talk of This Town was evidence enough that she is fast winning a legion of fans. Her autumn tour will surely be the last in which she plays the UK’s smaller venues. The larger arenas beckon. It won’t be long before this talented (for so long supporting) artist becomes a regular fixture at the top of the festival bill. And she truly deserves it.

Click here to view her website.

gareth

Review Double Vision, Gagglebabble, Wales Millennium Centre, Festival of Voice by Tafsila Khan

Double Vision is a brand-new thriller co-produced by Wales Millennium centre and the award-winning theatre company Gaggle Babble for Festival of Voice 2018. This is a very ambitious and multi-sensory show which is predominantly set on a luxury cruise liner called The Empress of the Sea.

As you take your seat in the auditorium you can already sense you are about to embark on a journey filled with humour and a surreal feeling, as you are seated by ushers played by members of the cast, who don’t seem to know when the show is about to start.

The show opens with the amazing voice of Lisa Jen Brown who is a member of the welsh folk band 9Bach who plays Serena in the show. The show has no interval but there is a definite sense of it being split into two halves.

The first half begins with the weird and wonderful guests boarding the cruise liner, this half of the show is performed behind a white gauze sheet, which reduces the visual nature of the show for the audience. Mel played by Mared Jarman works in the Bijoux bar on board with Serena who mesmerises the guests with her haunting voice as the singer in the bar. You get the sense that the women are good friends and get a sense from Mel’s character that she is very fond of Serena and is very protective of her. This makes sense a bit later in the show when you find out that Serena is blind. One night after performing at her usual spot in the bar Serena tells Mel that she is looking to leave the ship once it docks in Miami, this throws Mel who does not want her to leave. Another point in the show where again you feel Mel is protective over Serena is when the ship docks in Havana and the women get separated. This scene is in the middle of a nightclub where there are steamers which are released on to the audience and balloons printed with a single eye that are thrown into the audience.

In the second half of the show the white sheet is dropped making the view clearer to the audience. The atmosphere onboard changes from a light humour, to one of terror and danger as the ship is caught up in a storm. We learn that one of the passengers have fallen overboard and with this the story takes a dark turn of a surreal nature.

I was lucky enough to catch the last showing of this production which for me contained amazing singing, music and performances from all the cast. This show was very accessible for visually impaired people as a detailed touch tour was provided before every show and also the cast did an amazing job with integrating audio description into the show. I hope to see more work like this in the future and feel that Gaggle Babble have set the bar quite high. I look forward to attending the next production by this theatre company and see where they take it from here.

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