Category Archives: Music

Review, Cosmic Pulses, GBSR Duo & Sound Intermedia, Kings Place, London by James Ellis 

  out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Klavierstück XV SYNTHI-FOU for multiple electronic keyboards and eight-channel electronic music
STRAHLEN for vibraphone and ten-channel electronic music
COSMIC PULSES eight-channel electronic music

What was most likely my last night in London this year was spent at Kings Space. I’ve yet to get back in Space One, this evening was in their stuido space. GBST Duo and Sound Intermedia offered up delights from the real odd ball: Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Wales’s own Siwan Rhys began with the fast approaching anticipation of Klavierstück XV SYNTHI-FOU. I loved her jump suit and massive flares, very serious till the end, even with a keytar too. The galaxy of chords and mutations from the keyboards were perplexing and wonderful. The work sort of gathered up all other sounds and had the limelight with its serious demands. I’d revel at the score no doubt. It was the wild and unending scope that I’ll savour. Siwan’s pulling off the fingers of her gloves, counting this down with added musical notes was somehow amazing.

Then along came George Barton with Strahlen. This vibraphone heavy piece has the tender middle ground which might have faired more fitting as the starter. The strands of notes relentlessly patter about, a miniature theremin also proved smooth glissandi. I wanted to nod off during this point, the piece worked but had its own demands. A little too long as well, I found joy in Geroge’s golden jacket was a treat.

After the break, it was up to Ian Dearden as sound designer, who had done a fab job all night, unleashed upon the audience Cosmic Pulses. We sat in near darkness, our live duo nowhere to be seen, as we focused on this electronic piece. It was constantly modulating, loud yet not extremely harsh. I heard an electrical storm, speech, a flock of birds and even Mr Blobby all within its acoustic. Perhaps this could have even been picked as the opener? It felt two parts ludicrous, one part transcendent. 

Review, Wynton Marsalis’ Violin Concerto, Philharmonia, Royal Festival Hall, London by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The Let Freedom Ring season with the Philharmonia has seen a wide burst of music from the United States. The question still prevails: what is the American sound? What is the American sound today?

The discovery of this night goes to the opening slot from Wynton Marsalis and his Violin Concerto. Born in 1961, Marsalis offered up this piece in 2015 and it establishes a lot of the American sound that he personally knows and loves. It was quite lovely, the use of jazz, blues and country music breaks down barriers like prevoius composers before him. A solid 40 minutes, it never dragged, its merriment often pulling you into its delightful world. I could not resist the fun with some head nodding of my own. Rampant rhythm changes and a rich, orchestral pallete stoodout as highlights. Nicola Benedetti was the guiding spirit of the work, really tucking into the eccentric aspects and delighting in novel musical genres that phased through. Nicola’ passage from centre stage to the side, saw a telling duet with Matt French on drum kit, one of many thrills. Listen to this on BBC Sounds, you might just be surprised.

Leading into more light music with Duke Ellington and his Three Black Kings. This puntasic tribute to The Maji, Solomon and Martin Luther King, is pleasent enough. This large orchestra feeling on the heavy side for what I dare say passes as elevator music. Its was pretty and had some clever melodies yet I wasn’t wowed by it at all. I found more to get out of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture, though that took a while to take off. I guess you wait for the famous songs out of this flawed and problematic opera. Though when Summertime, I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’ and It Ain’t Necessarily So arrive, it does pay off. The Storm scene with additional bell sounds is evokative and quite scary. Here the orchestra let loose once more and thrill in these finely written songs in orchestral form. This remains the best way to listen to Porgy and Bess, as the full opera is pretty dull.

Listen to this concert on BBC Sounds now. 

Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie by Gemma Treharne-Foose

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Press Night 23 October 2023

“A riotously upbeat tale for our times….” 

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (playing at the WMC until the 28th October) has had a meteoric success since the original documentary about 16 year old Jamie New (who wants to be a drag queen) was introduced to us on our TV screens in 2011. Since then, we’ve seen a musical, an award-winning world tour and a movie starring Richard E Grant and Sharon Horgan. Attending the opening night in Cardiff with my teenage daughter, I wondered if the setting of much of the play (in a typically grim British state school) would chime with her or potentially be shot down as a sad attempt by Millennials to capture Gen Z culture…never an easy line to tread!

It’s the kind of premise that would make a Daily Mail reader’s head explode. We have a gloriously camp 16 year old Jamie New who daydreams of stardom as the next big thing in the Drag scene. His accomplice, a Muslim, hijab-wearing Pritti Pasha (Talia Palamathanan) is his best friend and wing-woman. Supporting his bold and some might say outrageous career aspirations while maintaining her own moral and religious code, the friendship represents the kind of unity and integration that we all wish for. This is never too forced, or too jarring in its earnestness. Talia Palamathanan’s voice is absolutely sensational and her solo number ‘It means beautiful’ (by Dan Gillespie Sells) is stunningly delivered and I saw multiple folks around me wiping away the tears at the end of the number.

Huge credit for first-class character work and rapport with the audience must go to Shobna Gulati as Ray and stand-in Georgina Hagan (who was replacing Rebecca McKinnis as Jamie’s Mum Margaret New the night I attended). Georgina’s two solo tracks “If I met Myself Again” in Act 1 and “My Boy” in Act 2 were truly some of the best numbers in the show. Georgina’s vocals gave me goosebumps and although I’m not usually a fan of sequences with contemporary dance peppered into some scenes, Georgina’s emotional delivery took the whole scene to the next level. The dancers accompanying her were superb – it helped to tell the story and made Georgina’s incredible vocals even greater.

Some of the set-up for Jamie’s big reveal may remind you of Billy Elliott (young Northern lad overcomes toxic and stifling masculinity and a troubled father-Son relationship to follow his dreams, plucky ‘Diamond in the rough’ family members will rally around to support him when it really counts, etc etc). But this show, though perhaps formulaic in places, manages to simultaneously pack in a great story, outstanding choreography, quality songs and a great set. I wasn’t a huge fan of the visuals on the screens behind the stage set – it made the overall look and feel a little ‘commercial-like’ or trying to be like MTV or a swishy campaign when the action and performance on stage really is enough to carry the show…no glossy brand-like photography needed!

Hot on the heels of the incredible Layton Williams who played Jamie New in 2019 (and is now fox-trotting across our screens in BBC’s Strictly), is Ivano Turco. Ivano’s performance as Jamie is spectacular. Sometimes when you listen to the original soundtrack to popular musicals, it can feel like it’s not possible to improve on this ‘original recipe’ – and no disrespect to anyone on the original soundtrack but Ivano’s silky smooth voice is like honey. His approach to the songs is beautifully soulful and his relationship and interaction with Georgina Hagan as his Mum was lovely.

My daughter and I LOVED this show. We listened to all the songs again on the drive back home and we’ll be closely following Ivano’s career – he’s destined for a glittering future. This is a gloriously upbeat tale for modern times and it’s a dopamine booster. Highly recommend it!

Review: Rick by Ricky Montgomery by Sian Thomas

4/5 stars

Ricky Montgomery’s new album, Rick, landed on shelves and streaming services today. This is an album I’ve been looking forward to since his last album, Montgomery Ricky, and a handful of singles (such as some edits of songs from his first album, and singles from Rick such as Don’t Say That, Eraser, and Boy Toy) came out.

Montgomery Ricky released in 2016, with a track list of:
This December
Line Without a Hook
Cabo
Don’t Know How
Last Night
California
My Heart is Buried in Venice
Mr Loverman
Get Used to It
Snow
and a run-time of 35 minutes. However, his two songs, Line Without A Hook, and Mr Loverman went viral on TikTok back in 2020. Typically, they go hand in hand with various edits and memes, but when I discovered those songs and thereby the album and Ricky himself, I was floored by his music style, lyricism, and voice.

His new album Rick, had been alluded to and then promoted vigorously online, and described during his Block Party Podcast appearance as, “It’s called Rick, which is both my dad’s name, so it’s like being an adult and growing up without, you know, one of your parents. […] I am called Ricky, it’s my name that I go by, that I’ve gone by since I was a little boy – if your name is Ricky, there’s a point in your life where you consider becoming Rick.”. I found this particularly interesting as while the album progresses, it moves forward with the clear theme of rushing adulthood, self-discovery, and family relationships. I found it altogether endearing and in many instances, heartbreakingly intense.

Rick has a track list of
One Way Mirror
Boy Toy
Truth or Dare
I’m Just Joking in This Interlude (Interlude)
In Your Pocket
Don’t Say That
Eraser
We Got Married Twice (Interlude)
Type A
Paper Towel
Sometimes I Need to Be Alone
Ethan’s Song
Black Fins
Ribbons (Outro)
and a run-time of 40 minutes.

Songs such as Sometimes I Need to Be Alone stuck out to me as almost classics; soft and witty with lines such as “You tell me it’s not now or never / but I can’t wait forever / It’s such a simple question / with such an easy answer” and the repeating-to-finish lines of “It’s you”, the song quickly stuck out to me as an all-time favourite. I found it particularly inspiring as it goaded out my own creative endeavours with a burst of energy and life, which is always such a gorgeously invigorating feeling when finding a song, artist, or album.

The tracks Don’t Say That, Eraser, and Boy Toy were released early in anticipation for the album, and while in my experience I didn’t see many waves from Don’t Say That and Eraser, Ricky’s song Boy Toy was a quick hit to fans, myself included. I feel this song also boosted his online presence, leading to fun artist interactions and a fantastic peek into what the wider album would look like, especially with the inclusion of the lyric video. Boy Toy was an interesting look into the art and style of the music, with fun, bouncy music and catchy lyrics, with a nice undercurrent of vulnerability and admission. 

The general “vibe” of the art and presentation of this album almost gives me the vibe of a backroom, a liminal space, a creepy story regurgitated online; however all the music itself is incredibly vulnerable and introspective, especially given songs Truth of Dare and Type A, with lines such as “Let’s play truth or dare / try to act like I’m not scared / stripped down to my underwear / it’s only show and tell” and “What a year we’ve had / you went bi, I put my gender back” respectively, being amazingly open, raw, and real. 

The two interludes and outro include some spoken-word conversations between Ricky and his mother, discussing his father, in various past situations before their divorce and his untimely passing. There was a similar interlude in the 2022 EP It’s 2016 Somewhere, and these three tracks reek of that nostalgic tone. They are heartfelt, funny, and contemplative. A nice break to the album that provide a nice context, but ultimately become skips on further relistens as the draw is of course more naturally pointed to the songs.

Ricky Montgomery is honestly one of my absolute favourite artists I’ve had the fortune to come across, as his music is youthful, fun, and cuts right to the bone. My anticipation for Rick was high; I was incredibly excited for its release and found myself up and listening to the album as early as 5:30am the morning of release! It is truly an incredible listen, and I’m beyond excited to see where Ricky goes next (hopefully, to the UK on his tour!)

Sian Thomas

La Traviata – a review by Eva Marloes

Stacey Alleaume as Violetta in La Traviata, photo by Julian Guidera

 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

In the past week, the documentary In Plain Sight, an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches and the Sunday Times, has alleged that comedian turned wellness guru Russell Brand is responsible for exploitative treatment of women, including rape and sexual assault. Just like when the #MeToo  movement emerged, many have questioned the women speaking out. Women are still exploited by powerful men and their sexuality is still policed.

La Traviata couldn’t be more topical. Verdi’s opera was shocking in depicting and taking the side of a ‘fallen woman’, what today might be an escort. Alas, the unimaginative direction, originally by Sir David McVicar, here by Sarah Crisp, makes it look preposterous and bizarre.

Violetta, a courtesan, meets Alfredo at a lavish party. She decides to leave that life and live with Alfredo supporting their life together financially. Unbeknown to Alfredo, his father asks Violetta to leave his son to protect his and his family’s reputation. 

Stacey Alleaume as Violetta and Mark S Ross as Giorgio Germont in La Traviata, photo by Julian Guidera

Violetta leaves Alfredo who feels spurned and acts his revenge by throwing money at her in public to repay her. Verdi thinks she has a dignity and should be respected.

It is none other than Alfredo’s father who defends her and condemns his own son for disrespecting her. Yet, only at the very end Alfredo learns that Violetta sacrificed their love and life together for his reputation. He comes back to see her dying. 

La Traviata could still be a powerful story if set in today’s times, just as James Macdonald’s clever production of Rigoletto did by setting it in Washington DC in the #MeToo era. 

The WNO’s traditional setting fails to convey Verdi’s intention. The choice of a very dark set design, presumably to symbolise impending doom, has a jarring effect on the opening scene whose frivolity and joviality are dampened. It weakens the unfolding of the tragedy and frustrates the solid performances of the artists. 

David Junghoon Kim shines as Alfredo, just as he did as the Duke in Rigoletto. He is at home with Verdi and gives a performance full of pathos. His beautiful tonality and powerful voice deliver longing and sorrow effectively. Stacey Alleaume as Violetta has a splendid coloratura. She’s at ease on high notes and bel canto. In the ‘croce e delizia’ duet with Alfredo in Act I, she seemed often overpowered by David Junghoon Kim when singing at a lower range. She is stronger in the second act with Mark S Ross, playing Alfredo’s father Giorgio Germont, and the final dying scene. Mark S Ross has a beautiful baritone voice. He gives an excellent performance.

The WNO’s chorus is strong as ever. The orchestra, under the baton of Alexander Joel, gives a solid, albeit uninspiring, performance.

David Junghoon Kim and Stacey Alleaume in La Traviata, photo by Julian Guidera.

WNO’s Ainadamar – a review by Eva Marloes

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Ainadamar is an homage to poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who was killed by the fascist falangists during the Spanish civil war in 1936. It is told through a series of tableaux where actress Margarita Xirgu, Lorca’s muse, reminisces with her student Nuria of the time she met Lorca, her attempt at persuading him to leave Spain, and his execution.

Ainadamar, which in Arabic means fountain of tears, is one of the early works of eclectic composer Osvaldo Golijov, who excels at weaving together folk, pop, and classical music in harmonious balance. Here, Golijov brings together flamenco’s cante jondo (deep song), electronic sounds, mournful ballads, and classical opera references. His musical complexity is refined but overly dominated by longing and anguish.

The astounding performances of Jaquelina Livieri as Xirgu, Hanna Hipp as Lorca, and Julieth Lozano Rolong as Nuria, make for intense moments of longing, hope, and loss. The imaginative light design and direction keep the audience engaged countering a too simple narrative with no emotional arc.

Hanna Hipp as Federico Garcia Lorca, photo credit Johan Persson

Ainadamar opens with Margarita Xirgu (Jacquelina Livieri) preparing to go on stage as Mariana Pineda, the 19th century liberal martyr subject of Lorca’s play. She tells her student, Nuria (Julieth Lozano Rolong) of meeting Lorca in a bar in Madrid. The scene shifts from a light-hearted rumba to a nostalgic duet. Jaquelina Livieri’s agile and rich voice make Margarita spell-binding. Mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp, as Lorca, has power and stage-presence, yet tender in her duet with Livieri.

The memory of Havana is broken by the harsh radio broadcast of fascist Falangist Ruiz Alonso. Alfredo Tejada, as Alonso, conveys power and anguish as flamenco cantaor  counterbalancing Lorca’s flamenco cante jondo

Alfredo Tejada as Ruiz Alonso, photo credit Johan Persson

In another flashback, Margarita recounts her attempt at persuading Lorca to flee to Cuba. The nostalgic and dreamlike image of Havana, the route not taken, is a sensual and playful moment that gives way to grief. Lorca does not want to run away and chooses to be executed. 

The final tableau is in the diegetic present of 1969 when Margarita is dying in Uruguay recalling Pineda’s last words of freedom. She is joined by the ghost of Lorca. The scene fades out rather than reach a climax. The sense of loss and longing dominates Ainadamar from beginning to end. There is intensity but no drama. 

Photo credit Johan Persson

Review, A Philly Soul Summer Festival, Ronnie Scott’s, London by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Natalie Williams’ Soul Family present: A Philly Soul Summer Festival

This first venture to Ronnie Scott’s would prove a triumph. Whilst queues to get in went down the street and the intimate interior was welcoming, it was all quite exciting. Natalie Williams’ Soul Family have been wowing for years for their end of year Motown shows, though here was a summery treat. This Philly Soul fest would be highly accessible, I knew most of the songs from what is essentially my mum’s ear of music.

Whilst some technical glitches early on prevented the family from continuing, a little break would iron out any problems and march onwards with the set. It was just a lovely, warm feeling from the players that caught me. Working my way back to you, Thinking of You and Could it be I’m falling in love was just a taste of over the over 20 song set for all of us to jam to. We were encouraged to dance for occasional numbers and some obliged. You could feel the chemistry between these musicians, Natalie as ring leader, with some piercing vocals and her ensemble of singers: Altia Moses, Vula and Brendan Reilly all getting knock out solos. This is a high calibre of singers, people.

I was also quite taken with Bust Your Windows by Jazmine Sullivan, a blazing, new discovery for me and a highlight of the night. Sat at the bar I was witness to the hustle and bustle of the serving staff who did not stoped for this entire set and prior to playing. It’s a bit tight at the bar if you sit and I was cracking a table proper, still I lost myself in this great concert. People around me were loving it and it was shut an all round good vibe. The band as well were world class, never a fault or flaw in it all. It was just great to see musicianship do what they love and share it with an audience.

I’d be delighted to come back soon.

CREDITS

NATALIE WILLIAMS – vocals
ALITA MOSES – vocals
VULA – vocals
BRENDAN REILLY – vocals
PHIL PESKETT – keys
ALEX MONTAQUE – keys
BEN JONES – guitar
ROBIN MULLARKEY – bass
MARTYN KAINE – drums
DAN PEARCE – vocals/percussion

Review: Bowjangles: Dracula in Space, Ed Fringe, By Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you have walked up and down the mile, you more than likely will recognise this quartet. Armed with string instruments, their street performances are beautiful concertos but in the basement of the Patter Hoose, they tell the story of something much more sinister….

Only kidding! Dracula in Space is as comedic and ridiculous as the title suggests. A part musical, part comical satire, Bowjangles, former Spirit of Fringe Award winners, bring a twisted tale of space exploration and classic horror fable.

The narrative is hugely self aware, and plays upon each person, the fringe and classical music. A moment of classical composer puns descends into the very niche and commentary is made about it. They also play upon how hammed up they have made the story and the characters, and it works well. Moments of slight corpsing happen but it’s almost unrecognised, fitting mostly into the ridiculous and silly nature of the production, but is also forgiven because it purely adds to the humour and shows that they enjoy what they do.

The original songs and beautiful and perfect playing of instruments is literal music to the ears. They harmonise perfectly and bring a more elevated edge to the musical genre, also somehow making this fit the narrative effortlessly.

The costumes and staging are also brilliant – basic yet well formulated, it is all used to its best ability but also creates its own theatrical and comical humour throughout. There’s a sense of slapstick humour and again, this is so well done that it all just works. A true blueprint for comical musicals.

Bowjangles: Dracula in Space is comical, silly in all the greatest ways and also makes you feel more sophisticated with the classical music soundtrack.

Review: Klanghaus: In Haus, Ed Fringe, By Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Harking back to my origins in theatre, my days in the experimental theatre scene in Wales was often in a site specific set up, taking an existing location and moulding it to the concept. It feels like it’s been a while since I went to one of these, and oh how I missed it.

Klanghaus: In Haus utilises one of Summerhall’s spaces and creates a living room. Comfy chairs and maximalist decoration fills the space, pocketed by instruments and projections on walls. Every inch is taken up and for this one hour, you’re forever spotting something new.

This is a gig meets experimental think tank, provoking memories, emotions and at the same time, an intimate and fierce gig. The performers are inviting, warm and casual. We enter their space and they welcome it to us as a home, with hospitality and comfortability at the forefront. The juxtaposition of relaxation and punk rock heightens your senses. The close proximity keeps you on edge but somehow you’re also comfortable and chilled.

When we are taken to the “nook” we have some downtime and are involved, providing a sound as a collective, that we hear later on, interwoven into the ending. Occasionally audience members are asked to switch something on or get further involved, and, while this is minimal, we feel part of something. It’s like a house party with our closest friends.

And the music is impeccable. Not a note or sound is out of place; it is soothing and catchy and those who love female punk rock or even rock in general, will be tapping their toes and banging their heads.

Klanghaus: In Haus is the perfect use of site specific theatre, meeting intimate and personal performance art.

Review: Oat Milk & Honey, Mo-Ko Piano & Circus, Ed Fringe, By Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

In a small, circular lecture theatre, we are brought an avant-garde expression of anxiety through the forms of dance, circus, music and .. oh a Llama.

From an Australian duo, Oat Milk & Honey quite effectively use their platform to share how anxiety feels, not only for the person experiencing it but also the impact on others.

There is no narration or vocals bar the occasional breath of the moving performer and pre-recorded voice overs but the silence is filled with beautiful, original compositions which occasionally go off-piste to express the interruption anxiety can create.

It feels relatively slow paced and it would have been interesting if there had been a change of pace. There was a little of this, interrupting the seriousness with an element of comedy when a performer comes in dressed as a Llama, reflecting the fact of serotonin created from watching Llama’s run which we hear at the beginning in a voice over.

There’s no doubt that both of these performers have great talent in their own right; a talented composer and musician and a very flexible and powerful dancer, circus performer. And each part of this performance is really interesting to watch but continues at the same pace which loses attention.

Oat Milk & Honey is transcendental and soothing, with a poke of humour but needed some different speed levels to keep the intrigue.