Category Archives: Music

Review Ryosuke Kiyasu & Friends, The Exchange, Bristol by James Ellis

Ryosuke Kiyasu, photo credit: Adam Horswill

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The quest for more adventures in music lead me to Bristol. What could have been quite niche was anything but with the main space of the Exchange ever growing with a hungry, alive audience.

Now I happen to know the opening act, Linus who here has gone for the Germanic dubbing Wülf Gas. Known in the city for his grindcore sensibilities, here his heightened, furious vocal mic attack were shockingly brief. Adorned with a balaclava and little denium shorts, he peaked so intensely during this tiny set. It was extreme and I wanted more. Pain Matter aka Luke Oram gave a relentless and zen like offering on his electric guitar. Evoking minimalism and Glenn Branca, Luke helped up its momentum, his fingering also noteworthy, his concentration unbounded.

Seth Cooke, photo credit: Adam Horswill

Seth Cooke followed with some lovely use of cymbals, placed upon the floor sat atop devices which vibrate. This led to a drone like bliss, not disimailr to the binaural beats videos I was lisenting to earlier in the day. They sizzled and sang, the technology an improvement then the last time it was tried out apparently. He stood statuesque as he held he control which set the devices in flux. I’d be intrigued to hear more ambitious ideas here. Marvellous.

Then there was Insatiable Wound who scraped and blasted us. This noise level a feeling of Dubstep meets the battle of Waterloo. You really felt this one in your bones, the volcanic sound unlike anything I’ve heard for a while. The whole space appeared to quake, such was its impact. The audience count believe their luck at the idea of the thing.

Lastly, the big number. Ryosuke Kiyasu has been a player of the snare drum for twenty years. Gaining viral success back in 2018, there was a lot of buzz about how he plays. This bold new take on percussion is exciting. The audience had grown in size to see him play on this night, lost in their frenzy, staggered over his offering. Ryosuke processes and dissolves rhythms, structures and effects. His scrambling with his sticks, his hair almost a part of the music fling upon the drum skin and the literal flipping of the table at the end were all note worthy. A spirit seems to posses him when he goes, it’s like any notated element of music has been thrown out the window. We felt this freedom with him, as he wrapped up with night with in blaze of fire.

I’ll be honest with you, I was highly impressed with the evening. I crave much more.

Ryosuke Kiyasu continues on tour around the UK and Europe. 

Review Meltdown, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs & Low Island, Southbank Centre by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

My last night in London wrapped up with a a fairly noteworthy event at the Southbank. Warm up act Low Island were fairly rocky, English sounding. I found them attentive if not really attention grabbing. Loud, proud rock which was not really my thing. Amazing how dim the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer was even with the sun beaming through.

The wonderfull named Orlando Tobias Edward Higginbottom is better known by his DJ moniker Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs. There are some great, thumping tunes here. I knew him best for Trouble, which recall getting as a YouTube advert back in the day. He tracks sure know how to get a place dancing, we were lost in his groovy, funk house beats. Nice to near Orlando sing live as well, a huge plus in my books. He’s cleverly chosen to not wear a first nation’s head gear anymore as well. Other songs were recognisable, easily heard on the dance floor and it remained a great set.

Meltdown will return in 2024.

Review Meltdown, Johnny Jewel & Zola Jesus, Southbank Centre by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The Southbank would simply Meltdown from the heat. This year’s fest sees Christina and the Qeens platforming an array of lush artistic activity. Our warm up for Johnny Jewel was Zola Jesus.

Zola arrived on stage, vamp and punk and I was in love. She said she rarely uses piano and was treated to a concert grand, she couldn’t believe her luck. With wild operatic vocal and an easy pop aura, I found myself taken unawares. Her own songs were introspective and honest. I never expect to hear Dido’s Lament by Purcell. Folk songs were also offered from Ukraine and Armenia. She has this extasic quality about her. Most certainly the discovery of the festival. I’d love to hear more feverish opera!

The main event was Johnny Jewel, best known for his work on the new Twin Peaks from David Lynch. His set used clips from the films he worked on, Lost River, Bronson and Drive aside old horror including The Nude Vampire and A Bay of Blood. It’s the piercing synths and all round heightened flair that Johnny brings to his sound world. Tell Me a stunningly touching song with vocals from Saoirse Ronan was heard near the end and I’m so glad it was. The spine tingling saxophone solo for his Windswept in Twin Peaks The Return was a real highlight, with video from the whole of the show’s run. His bow at the end appeard to have broken him, back bent for a durational period.

What an utter thrill to hear live. Won’t you come back, Jonnhy?

Meltdown runs till 18th June 2023

Review Laurie Anderson Let X = X Show, Barbican Centre, London by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

It has been a few years of waiting to finally see Laurie Anderson on tour in London. All the Things I Lost in the Flood had an ill fated date in the Capitol in 2020 and we wouldn’t discover what exactly happened with her estate just yet. I don’t think its yet to come here and a new tour Let X = X, should please both fans of her new work and much more classic offerings.

It remains her wry observations, slightly surreal sence of humour, her multi talented practices that wow. Spoken word, violin, performance art, video work and more which proves her brilliance. Her band also got us good with an array of pop, jazz, funk and everything in between. 

We flew off From the Air  from her eternal Big Science album, a treasure on vinyl nowadays. There is a plane theme throughout the work and outstanding brass pepper the sound world with vigor. Her puns and modulations in her voice are also highlights, amazing how he can sound masculine when lover and higher is another sort of realm. The mostly  monochrome video work shed her chalk work flourish and thrive as snowflakes and chemical compounds. A spaceman falling off a mountain was a visual to not forget in a hurry. Her love of her late husband Lou Reed also loves here, a collaboration which spanned years. 

Lesser known works is also a reminder that there remains decades of art from Laurie. Her new curiosity with A.I. has lead to some quirky songs. Of course, her number one hit O, Superman  almost certainly her most known track. Minimalasit and quite string, it’s always a bob and had a strange aura all it’s own. Whilst we didn’t hear thing from Home of the Brave, there was a wonderful choice of songs from over the years. One wonders what will happen to A.I. 

This fabulous concert ended by wrapping things up with an audience off its feet doing an impronteu Tai chi session. Wonderful. 

Laurie Anderson continues on tour around Europe. 

Polar Night, Jodie Marie, by Gareth Williams

 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

 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

 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

 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

 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.