Category Archives: Music

Polar Night, Jodie Marie, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Three weeks in the Arctic Circle has certainly left its mark on Jodie Marie. The Welsh singer-songwriter’s new EP shivers with the cold fjord breeze and echoes the icy terrain of Norway’s northern tip. Yet there is also a log-fire intimacy and crunching of soft snow in its sound. It evokes a wild landscape of welcome and wonder. Polar Night is firmly rooted in the geography of its creation.

Opening track ‘Seiland’ plunges the listener into the frozen setting of Jodie Marie’s base with a continuous choral hum. Its simplicity is a theme that defines this record, here manifested in a short instrumental arrangement that tingles the senses. There is a wonderful incongruity between the constraint and freedom of her isolation. This is expressed in the rich combination of soulful vocals and balladeering piano which run through the rest of the record like a stalactite. Meanwhile, lyrics such as those on the title track – “biting wind / I’m frozen here / at the water’s edge / I feel free” – and ‘Blue Hour’ – “I’m lonely / but I feel alright” – act as a stalagmite that meets in the middle to create a solid pillar of yearning love.

The idea that absence makes the heart grow fonder becomes more explicit as the record progresses. And as it arises from the environment in which Jodie Marie finds herself, the songs are ripe with imagery and metaphor. There is something of the sacred in being “surrounded by beauty / and all I see is you” on ‘Blue Hour’. The wooing harmonies conjure up a whooshing wind on ‘Eye of the Storm’, tempered by the comfort of the electric guitar strings, resembling the arms of a loved one. Meanwhile, the stars become a focal point on ‘Closer to You’, the line “miles apart / but we share the same view” reinforcing the intriguing contrast of separation and connection found throughout the EP. It seems this Scandinavian island offered something more than just creative inspiration for Jodie Marie.

Final track ‘Reindeer Heart’ encapsulates the gentle nature of this EP musically whilst also reaffirming the metaphorical link between landscape and love in its lyrics. There is something mystical about this final song, borne of sensitivity and encouraged into being, as a presence that “leaves no traces… that the eye can see”. It is more in the vein of ‘Carageen’ than anything else from her last album ‘The Answer’. But whilst that arose from the Pembrokeshire shoreline, Polar Night was formed amidst the darkness of the far-northern hemisphere. Jodie Marie has captured this setting perfectly, so that even in the midst of its warm Spring release, its sense of place can be keenly felt, and when the sun goes down, embraced.

‘Polar Night’ is out now. Listen to it on Spotify here and/or order a physical copy of the EP here.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review Rosewood, Manchester Collective, RWCMD by James Ellis

Photo credit: Camilla Greenwell

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

In their most recent outing, the Manchester Collective are wowing audiences with Rosewood, featuring Scottish guitarist Sean Shibe. John Cage’s 6 Melodies starts us off with restrictive playing and a strict atmosphere of music making. Highly minimalist, Cage has given the players strict methods of playing and how many notes to be heard also. The concert takes it’s name from David Fennessy, now pluralised to Rosewoods. Inspire by an Italian church in Orkney, this delightful piece bringing the crisp air and stunning landscapes of the islands to life.

Kelly Moran offered up a touching personal note of bereavement and heart break in her Living Again. Some fine cello playing here aside Sean on electric guitar gave soft tones, a very pretty piece and not ashamed to admit it. The traditional piece La Folia, was given a sideways look with a fabulous reimagining from the whole quartet and Sean. Perhaps his arrangement both sums up these players who look back to the past and are still looking forward. Their was a vitality to this outing and they really knocked it out of the park. David Lang’s Killer felt a world away from his softer, modest work. This brazen, brash piece stunned with it’s jolting swipes and strikes, the guitar shining, the strings roaring. Majestic.

Emily Hall and her Potential Space started with Sean playing a violin bow on his electric guitar, something which impressed my plus one. This remained another fine premier, I was quite taken with it’s approach, the string starting off pizzicato and Sean getting many highlights, his talents and hunger for the experimental never wavering. This wonderful night wrapped up with a composer getting the popularity he always deserved: Julius Eastman. His Buddha, sees an egg like formation baked in the sheet music, with some performances lasting two hours. It was a slight affair, though it felt like a highly ambient version of this odd little piece. It never over stayed its welcome and left us highly satisfied with a fabulous night.

This golden concert is continuing proof of the Manchester Collective’s genius. See on tour!

Rosewood continues on tour to Saffron Walden, Nottingham, Leeds, Salford, Liverpool & London.

Review Rock of Ages, Venue Cymru by Richard Evans

Venue Cymru, May 2 – 6 2023

A DLAP Group and In Fine Company Production

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Rock of Ages, fit for the stone age or a timeless classic? 

The 1980’s is an ideal setting for a jukebox musical.  For many it is the heyday of glam metal bands, Styx, Journey and Bon Jovi among others and you can take your pick from any number of power ballads.  Would this musical be an excuse for an extended playlist of Metal’s favourite songs or would it have some substance to the story?  

It is the storyline that could be a problem. Many in this genre of theatre are fairly artificial and predictable and at first glance Rock of Ages falls into this trap.  There are two starlets seeking to make it on Los Angeles’ famous strip who meet and fall in love.  In their ups and downs they confront the reality of a rockstar lifestyle and the fate of many young hopefuls who tried to succeed only to see their hopes dashed.  

There is however, more to this musical than that.  The first act felt stereotypical, but the second blossomed into an unexpected parody.  It delighted in poking fun at the characters and breaking expectations.  My favourite was where the business tycoon revealed a secret dream of designing formal wear for pets.  At times it developed into farce, the aging rocker retiring and opening a llama farm in Mexico where he would teach the llamas to swallow and not spit.  

 One welcome aspect of the performance was the willingness to break down the fourth wall and relate directly to the audience.  Most prominent in this was Kevin Kennedy as Dennis Dupree, a rocker turned sound engineer who narrated the play and sought to turn at least one member of the audience into a groupie.  This added to the most welcome comic touch in the second act.

This farewell (at least for the moment) tour is a consummate production as you would expect having come from the West End.  The set is dazzling, the choreography energetic and complimented the action really well rather than being an annoying interlude.  Pride of place goes to the three piece band who, as well as being fittingly loud, were excellent with plenty of screaming guitar solos and thunderous drum rhythms.  To criticise, at times the loudness of the music and the quick pace of the production drowned out the dialogue and lyrics in the songs.  This made the production, especially in the first act hard to follow.  

Would this musical warrant a comeback tour?  Some of the songs were great to hear again and it is good to see a production laugh at its own topic matter.   It would also suit the rock scene, where it is not unknown for bands to break up and reform several times, so such a prospect should be welcomed.  Going by the strength of the standing ovation at the end, this audience would enjoy a return to the stage in the near future. 

Review, Sugar Coat, Southwark Playhouse, by Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

What more could you want from a play than no boundaries commentry on female love, life, sex and feminist punk music? Sugar Coat effortlessly encompasses the whole lot and more.

With a live female and non-binary band, this play is a verbatim meets rock musical theatrical production. We follow a girl from childhood, through her teens and her 20’s, through heartbreak, sexual assault, love and therapy and the relationships, emotions and feelings that come with it. It is an emotional rollercoaster yet full of laughs and a great big hug in words, where there are no boundaries on topics or themes.

It may not be the right thing to pick out as the stand out, but as a punk rock fan, I loved that the story began as if we were welcoming a band at a gig – they embodied this rock n roll ethos and it did make you question what you were about to view. This approach to a theatre production felt like something new and interesting, and immediately hooked me and my personal passions. The second stand out for me was how plain and transparent sex, issues, thoughts and emotions were talked about. There was no beating around the bush (pardon the pun), masking realities – they were out right calling spades a spade and talking candidly about physical and emotional items. For the prudish, this is not for you. But it was liberating and great to see fear and censorship thrown out the window instantly.

The themes were ones of difficulty but also ones of liberation – miscarriage, sexual assault, transition to adulthood and femininity, of first times, of cheating and of polyamory. They were themes that today’s youth go through and never speak about and to know, even as a 30 year old woman, that they were thoughts, feelings and situations that happen (for good or bad) to others through the coming-of-age period, was actually reassuring even 12 years past going through it myself.

The music was well constructed and fit well with the narrative – mirroring what was being experienced and, for someone who feels a lot within music, drummed up a lot of feelings within me. There were also times to bring out your inner rock star and refreshing and fun to see an all female/non-binary cast take this celebration and run with it, encompassing all there is to come with rock stars.

My only qualm was that it felt like the blueprint for this production was repetitive. We have a verbatim monologue, we are introduced or re-introduced to other characters who say their bit, then we are back to monologues. We are then in dispersed with music and back to the same. And while all of this was perfection and excellently executed, I found myself wanting something to break up that cycle, which never came to fruition. A happy ending of sorts, with the idea that other plays and stories could be told of what happens next, this didn’t feel enough of a cliff-hanger for me to be happy with it as an ending.

Sugar Coat is emotional, comedic, laid back and fun; it cuts into trauma and lays out growing up as a female and all the issues and confusion that comes with this. It has some sick music and taps into lovers of 90’s rock, but the format felt repetitive and needed something to break into this predictive plan.

Review, Queer Planet, Bi-Curious George, Vault Festival

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Have you ever thought of how hetero-normative nature documentaries are. No? Bi-Curious George has, and they are here to shake the natural world.

This is a Drag King, Cabaret show like no other. Comedic, yet informative, this is a live, stage documentary with song, dance, comedy and a whole heap of camp. Think of a Queer David Attenborough meets Steve Irwin. Then triple it and add some comedy and sparkle.

George is a natural on stage. A performance of sheer perfection, we all felt as if we were their friend, as they interacted with us one by one, whether that is by audience interaction or just general eye contact. There are a many people in a room but we are all welcomed. They also made sure that everyone was comfortable – usually audience interaction is something forced upon participants, but George begins by ensuring we are comfortable at the door and then early on, giving us a signal just in case. This is a safe room and that is brilliant to impose upon within a production without taking away its essence or interrupting the discourse.

George brings us a range of factual stories of real animals, real queer relationships, intercourse, courtship and unions. But this is enhanced with songs that have been changed to fit queer narratives, with effective and, in themselves, comedic costumes and guests. The guests themselves are excellent – a singing shrimp, a almost mute magician making balloon animals from plastic bags (trust me when I say, it is something to behold, as this act was of pure genius) which add different levels and elements to the overall production, adding in the cabaret element, with George as our compere.

Queer Planet is probably one of the most genius ideas for a production I have ever seen. It is so excellently executed, with perfection as a performance, informative as a piece of education, yet at the same time, creating a easy safe and welcoming space for all with comedy, pizzazz and genius yet ridiculous concepts and costumes.

“The ability of music to open doors into the transcendent is extraordinary” An Interview with Julia Plaut.

Hi Julia, great to meet you. You have a background in music and education, can you give our readers some background information on your career to date? 

Straight out of Music College (RCM) I worked principally in the world of orchestral bassoon playing, freelancing with the BBC Symphony, BBC Scottish and also specialising as a baroque and classical bassoonist. I performed, recorded and toured internationally with ensembles such as The Academy of Ancient Music and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Alongside playing, I’ve been composing since I was a child. I write wide ranging music from orchestral to solo instrumental works, from opera to songs for children. I loved my own childhood music experiences and have been teaching music since I was a teenager. Creating Kodaly and Dalcroze inspired learning flows for groups of children is a particular passion. I enjoyed wonderful years as Head of Primary Music at Llandaff Cathedral School before moving to the RWCMD firstly for an M.Mus in Composition and then as a tutor for baroque bassoon and early years pedagogy.

So, what got you interested in the arts?

I had an inspirational class music teacher in my Primary School years. She introduced us to recorders, singing, tuned and untuned percussion. I remember enjoying the lessons and putting on fun concerts and productions. My parents were also very supportive in organising piano and ballet lessons and making sure we did our music practice. 

What importance does music have in your life and how have you combined the two areas of music and education in your professional career? 

Music gives me great joy as a performer, composer, worshipper, listener and educator. From the synergy of being in a high functioning orchestral wind section to the joy of engaging babies and toddlers in perfectly age-appropriate songs and games – the ability of music to open doors into the transcendent is extraordinary.

Music education has interweaved with performing and composing right across my career, often intermingling. It feels rather like cooking to me. You have a room of “ingredients” people/instruments/voices/music and you work deftly with what you’ve got to create a delicious meal that everyone enjoys. It’s about creating the optimum environment to bring out the best in each person’s unique flavour.

I resonate with strongly with Zoltan Kodaly’s maxim:

“Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand”.

You are delivering two different music activities as part of a RWCMD Music Residency at Penarth Pier Pavilion, as part of a new partnership with the Vale of Glamorgan Council.  A one-year pilot has been agreed that will see the college run parent and toddler music sessions, base a small ensemble at the pavilion and put on Dance Band evenings for the local community. The parent and toddler music sessions will be run by yourself, Julia Plaut, a composer who served for many years as Head of Primary Music at Llandaff Cathedral School, and take two forms – Morning Mini Music and Little Concerts. Running on a weekday morning in the pavilion gallery, Morning Mini Music sessions are focused on music and movement that help children with interaction and socialisation. Little Concerts will be weekend afternoon music events for families, specifically designed for the under-5s, that feature new works from RWCMD composers”

Credit Kirsten McTernan

How did you come to be involved in this project and what are your ambitions for its delivery?

Part of my work at the RWCMD is mentoring selected students in early years pedagogy. This project gives industry-facing experience to these students under the umbrella of an expert practitioner. My ambition is that we deliver high quality musical experiences for Penarth children and their families that create a real buzz locally while providing sector leading training for RWCMD students. You can find out more about the project and book tickets here

 You are the Artistic Director of Little Live Projects, this charity works to “inspire young people to flourish through sharing excellent musical experiences with professional musicians” How do you deliver this work? 

Little Live Projects has two strands. One is the Little Concerts series of joyful interactive chamber music events presented in partnership with the RWCMD. The other is the Cardiff Children’s Choir, an after-school community choir for children aged 5-11 years based at Urban Crofters near City Road in Cardiff. The choir welcomes all local children and particularly those from displaced families or who are facing barriers of any kind.

Credit Kirsten McTernan

You have close links with The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, how did this relationship develop?

Quite a few of the RWCMD staff team have been professional colleagues over the years. I’m a tutor for baroque bassoon and early years pedagogy there. I formally pitched the Little Live Projects vision as part of my M.Mus studies. The RWCMD and Little Live Projects share a strong synergy of vision for future focussed training with outstanding student experience delivered by world-class staff in providing transformative experiences for diverse communities.

The Little Live Projects Team.

Funding for musical provision is increasingly being cut for young people, can you see the impact on young peoples lives and possible career paths as professional musicians as a consequence? 

Good quality instrumental music tuition is a very expensive to fund, and importantly, to sustain over long enough to allow children to become accomplished enough to consider a career in music. El Sistema style initiatives like Making Music Changing Lives in Cardiff are doing brilliant work to address this deficit. I have questions about the usefulness of the large group instrumental teaching that takes place in schools which only gives a cursory taste, often on poor quality instruments and without the formation of basic good technique. I am however excited by the potential for choral singing to provide a quicker route into embodied musical understanding and real accomplishment. It works brilliantly in large groups and embeds aural and other transferable skills that children could then take into learning an instrument.

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

I would fund an expert Kodaly practitioner to lead singing in every primary school in Wales one day a week. Each child has a singing voice that can be nurtured, giving them a worthwhile means of self-expression. Through singing together children develop the intimate knowledge of a social togetherness in which discipline and order prevail. Not only would these practitioners lead and embed singing but, in doing so, they would be providing continuing professional development for staff to carry on the singing confidently during the rest of the week.

What currently inspires you about the arts in the Wales?

I am inspired and encouraged by the way Ty Cerdd are championing Welsh composers and creators across a broad range of styles. I also gain a lot as a member of Anthem’s Atsain Network. Hearing nuts and bolts stories from other community music practitioners from around Wales gives me loads of inspirational ideas.

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

Recently I attended a fabulous concert by Genesis Sixteen and Harry Christophers singing Handel’s Dixit Dominus at RWCMD. The musical excellence and vibrant energy that was released through seasoned professionals mentoring young singers, conductors, instrumentalists and soloists (aged 18-23) was breath-taking. It made my heart sing to see the cascading of good things into the next generation of musicians.

Thanks for your time.

Review Suzanne Vega & Sam Lee, St David’s Hall by James Ellis

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It’s amazing to see some fine musicians get to Cardiff, so many don’t. Going around St David’s Hall I was stunned some people were not going in for the warm up act, saying they are just here for Vega. This opening act being Sam Lee, I declared those who didn’t come in for him as fools. I recall Sam from his immaculate set at the Queen Elizabeth Hall back in 2019, his love of all things folk and nature remains the eternal muse. Whilst that fine late night concert would offer up a live stream of nightingales setting down for the night, this warm up was a treat of folksy ballads, Sam’s buttery voice doing laps around the melodies of these sweet, old song from the British Isles. His sweet persona is infectious and his encouragement of a singalong needs little energy in the Welsh capital. A joy to see and hear him again.    

Suzanne Vega is know for a few famous songs, though there are other jewels to be mined. Though perhaps most famous for ‘Tom’s Diner’ (one of our giddy encores for the evening), a strident song about a very precise instance in her life. I’m so glad she sang ‘Luca, an incredible touching, full on 90s song about a little boy who is abused by his family. It tugs the heart and still though remains funky. Ever the poet, Vega declare her love for Leonard Cohen and other influences, the song writing capability a fine thing to hear.  

Gerry Leonard joined Vega as backing bassist, the sole accompanist on stage and one of immense talent and of subtle impact. The lack of synths and drums made this large, St David’s Hall concert feel rather intimate. It is Vega’s homely nature, her warming appeal and conversational voice that just makes all of us feel calm and contented. Finding ways to describe her voice, it seems there is a uniqueness and familiarity. Perhaps best known for ‘Marlene On The Wall’, an almost country ballad and pop delight with a soft and wide chorus that most should hopefully recognise. 

Vega delighted us with attempts to speak Welsh, with some livid fans shouting at her how to say things correctly. Her returning to Welsh later on almost put me in a coughing fit, her humour is quite dry yet open. Stories of past lovers, who then (of course) become songs are treasures, words from her mum and some quips from legend Lou Reed all pepper the evening, though I wouldn’t quite say the evening could be billed as both songs and stories, the former the bulk of the show, as itself. 

No one quite does it like her.   

Suzanne Vega continues on tour around Europe and the United States 

Review The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, The Musical Box, St David’s Hall by James Ellis

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Ever the one to try something new, The Music Box looked like a fascinating attempt to honour the work of the band Genesis. This is a new one for me, I was sat amidst die hard fans and veterans of the era. It proved to be an exciting prospect that I was down for.

The evening started with a slump. I doubt anyone sat in this audience wanted to watch a 20 minute documentary about the stage effects of Genesis’ live shows, though it did give a glimpse of some of the Polaroid snaps not used in the live show. It did feel quite cheeky to pop this little doc on and then have an interval, only for the main two hour show to end at an eye watering late 11pm. Ditch the video stuff, get drinks in before the show and stick to a prompt 8pm start and you’re laughing.  

Overlooking this discrepancy, the main event was a bizarre, thumping thing to behold. The story of Rael, a young lad living in New York City and the strange adventures he finds himself lost in remains pretty abstract. I wouldn’t say there was a clear through line in the story, more so a chance to embrace sexual liberation, consumerism, nature amongst other big topics. A lot of the chosen imagery proves it as a period piece, with some questionably misogynistic material. Though a lot of the chosen video works sees broad strokes of Dalí, Hollywood film posters, lithographs, collages and saves of other sights.

Musically, it’s quite appealing though I personally wouldn’t say any song stood out enough to be a classic. The title track was funky and so much of the album blazes with mind-bending stylings its hard not to like. The Musical Box seem to transgress the idea of the tribute band and deliver something so genuinely authentic you’d think they were the real deal, Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins from the band have expressed their love. Denis Gagné as the vocalist, gets to keep up a lot of energy and the vast variety of the vocals. He excels taking on what was Gabriel’s part in the original album and show. The band as well deliver some feats of pure thumping rock and a choice section of other genres. They never waver. 

Many surreal moments abound. Denis as the Slipperman see’s him birthed through a suggestive tube, his costume to showcase deformity and disgust. A strange song to say the least, though the multi costume changes offers the original clothes from the classic show. He also gets moments out of Trash Humpets and hammer horror in masks and dress, these moments giving off glam rock vibes. 

Even with the late end and often lack of a conventional story, the show was a success. Though I think I should leave it to the fans of the album to really savour it. More chances to see The Musical Box are a must though!     

Review Rebecca Black & Jessica Winter, Thekla, Bristol by James Ellis 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)


My time was up in Bristol, only for now. A varied programme of music would end with a firecracker night at Thekla. The story behind Rebecca Black has a chequered history and is turning out to be a hit.

Whipping things forward was warm up act Jessica Winter who wowed with her strident pop bonfire. I remained amazed with her talents, the audience loving her funky tracks. There was a whiff of Kate Bush and even Chrystabell. I knew not who would be the warm up and was delighted with the outcome. I would be sure to check her out as a leading act as well. Without hesitation. 

As for Rebecca’s set, I was highly impressed. The absurd mega meme of her private music video Friday, left her with a torrent of abuse. It’s clear she can in fact sing and has some great moves to boot. The discovery of her latest songs remain a delight: Crumbs, Destroy Me and Doe Eyed as highlights. What remained was an electrical storm of sounds, very rock like more than I expected. The drummer who did not get enough billing was also spectacular. Rebecca who has opened up about being a member of the LGBTQI community and the impact of what Friday delivered to her and those around her.

Any aspect of novelty is stripped away, though an encore of her hyper pop take on Friday remained a joy. The song is on her terms, the company who wrote the song appear to be be involved with the track one way or another. 

The audience space was packed, her respectfully gay following was heightened by her stint at Heaven in London the night prior. It was the unashamedly thumping pop sound that permeated through. I found most of these songs to be highly catchy and a lot of fun. 

Rebecca’s career is only on the rise and I am here for the journey. 

Review Smetana’s Má Vlast, WNO Orchestra, St David’s Hall by James Ellis

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Tomáš Hanus at the helm of Welsh National Opera has brought unforgettable performances. Be it the extensive operas of Janáček or the deeply moving youth work of Brundibár, the love of his homeland has never been questioned. The homeland in question is the Czech Republic and in a special concert of a Sunday afternoon, Cardiff was treated to the entirety of Má Vlast by native Bedřich Smetana. Truly a love letter to all things Czech, landscapes are meshed with myth and history. This fine orchestral jewel holds up as one of the Romance period’s best musical moments, the composer went deaf during its writing.

It is the duo of plush harps that set us off on this pristine journey through time and place. Filled with innovation, the work proves the composer’s talent in usage of folk melodies and orchestration. The second movement by far the most beloved: Vltava or The Moldau is the voyage of the river from its source to traverse across it’s fair nation. This is always a highlight and has featured in the film The Tree of Life and the animation of Don Hertzfeldt. The melody is borrowed from a catalogue of sources, though the whole movement is essentially perfect.

The next four movements add depth, joy and fascination. If I could read sheet music proper I would love to stick my nose in it. The towering feeling of the following music, goes into the history and myths of the country, Šárka and Blaník remain proof of the dense points of reference. You can most certainly hear Janáček in Z českých luhů a hájů or From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields

The final, sixth moment Blaník, remained a sonic experience, Army of knights led by St. Wenceslas sleep in the cave of the movement’s name was a riot, the brass and timpani coming into their own though through the entire work. Everyone excelled here..

Hanus lives and breaths the work, at moment he didn’t conduct and simply bowed his head. Unafraid to tell the brass to be just slightly quieter through a raised, considerate hand, a plea of pianissimo. Wild gesticulation and feverish physicality are his trademarks. He makes this Welsh orchestra just that little bit more Czech. I have never heard this piece throughout its entirety live and I think its time we did more so.

What also must be said at this time: Let’s keep the classics on at St David’s. They remain its home.