Tag Archives: jazz

Guernsey Literary Festival presents The Recks, Heidi Joubert and Harry Baker – The Fermain Tavern – 13/05/17

The Recks

The Recks

Every year the Guernsey Literary Festival sets aside a night of its week-long event to combine music and poetry in the live environment of The Fermain Tavern. In the past this has welcomed the likes of John Cooper Clarke, Linton Kwesi Johnston, Attila The Stockbroker and Ruts DC and this year, in a slight twist, it featured world poetry slam champion Harry Baker, jazz percussion YouTube sensation Heidi Joubert and our own schizophrenic indie folksters, The Recks.

With the venue already busy early on Heidi Joubert took to the stage with her band for a soundcheck that, it transpired, had been delayed by the artists being unable to find the venue during the afternoon (and seemingly the festival organisers unable to give them suitable directions or chaperone them accordingly), so this set things off in an odd way and, seemingly, reduced the length of Baker’s performance as well.

Harry Baker

Harry Baker

This was doubly a shame as, for the five or six poems we were treated to, Baker was excellent. From the surreal flight of fancy Dinosaur Love to a poem about the love between a pair of prime numbers, to his tongue twisting, poetry slam winning, piece of verse centred on the letter P, Baker was one of the most entertaining and engaging performers I’ve witnessed, particularly when you consider he came armed with nothing but his voice and his words.

With a largely subtle performance side setting off his word play, he was a delight and, while I didn’t quite get the parody aspect of his Ed Sheeran reworking, it rounded off his set with a barrage of excellent puns turning a Sheeran love song into something I don’t doubt is far more entertaining and endearing than the original – I just wish there’d been time for more.

After a brief break The Heidi Joubert Trio returned to the stage and proceeded to stumble and dawdle their way through a set of easy listening, Latin style, jazz – interspersed with much talking to the sound man and trying to convince the audience to at once ‘shake it’ and, later on, be quiet!

A little research after the show seems to indicate that much of Joubert’s fame stems from a video of her busking on a train going viral on Facebook and she wasn’t shy in telling us about that during the set either, but what may work in a short online clip failed to remain interesting for the better part of an hour.

Heidi Joubert

Heidi Joubert

Rather than a collection of songs what we experienced felt like a disorganised jam of a set and, while all three were clearly very good players, it didn’t come together to make anything approaching an enjoyable whole and mostly amounted to a lot of other people’s riffs and lyrics forced into jammed out grooves and delivered with a sense of knowing arrogance that was ultimately hugely frustrating.

After that something needed to happen and, thankfully, The Recks delivered.

With something more of an energetic attitude than I have seen from them in a long time they launched into their set (a very similar line up of songs to that heard on Liberation Day) at breakneck pace and never looked back.

All five members of the band seemed intent on making their mark and, while Richey Powers was just the frontman we’ve come to expect, it was Gregory Harrison who really seemed to up his game revealing an intensity previously only hinted at and perfectly fitting his place in the band.

Gregory Harrison of The Recks

Gregory Harrison of The Recks

With next single In The Garden taking on something of a new spirit and the twisted disco of new song She Ain’t No Revelator providing a couple of highlights the performance reached its climax in three-part encore ending on a genuinely deranged Papa Leworthy that was as heavy and dirgey as this band could ever muster.

It’s just a shame many who’d come along early missed the genuine highlight of the night by leaving early and I’m not sure I can put into words how disappointing it was (not to mention disrespectful) that a majority of the events organisers also seemed to have vanished well before their own event was over, but none-the-less The Recks continued their current run of great shows as they head towards the height of summer festival season.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

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La La Land

La La Land posterGoing into a film that has just been nominated for a record equalling 14 academy awards sets up a certain expectation. But, along with a huge amount of positive hype there have been some opposers to La La Land, including stories of whole groups walking out of screenings.

Well, even as the strains to the spectacular opening number died away I was pretty sure what side I would fall on. The film sets its stall here as we enter Los Angeles into that most LA of things, a vast freeway traffic jam with a cacophony of car horns, engines and myriad radio stations before it coalesces into a spectacular song and dance number, including a jazz band in the back of a truck.

This serves the purpose of showing us that, while this looks like the real world, we are in the same kind of fantasy land that gave us the likes of Singin’ In The Rain and other classic ‘golden era’ Hollywood musicals, and so it goes from there.

The story at first looks like some thing fairly well trodden and hackneyed as we meet Emma Stone’s aspiring actress/current barista Mia and Ryan Gosling’s down at heel jazz pianist Sebastian, with a nice Pulp Fiction-esque bit of cinematic trickery.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

The pair of course meet and, through a few cracking song and dance numbers, become romantically involved and it looks like we are heading for the happily ever after.

Where the film really wins in this regard though is that at any moment that it seems it’s all going to go ‘a bit too hollywood’ and saccharine it subverts expectations just enough but without derailing its overall upbeat feel.

Of course without the music a musical would be somewhat lost and what La La Land does is ingenious. It bases its musical ventures largely around Sebastian’s love of jazz leading to numbers that are great for spontaneous fantasy dancing, alongside more diegetic moments that help the balance of fantasy and reality.

La La Land

Mia and her housemates head out on the town

Despite this the singing and dancing, while well handled, isn’t the film’s highlight. Though both Stone and Gosling acquit themselves fairly well, particularly during emir courtship dance in the Hollywood Hills, it’s fair to say neither are Gene Kelly or Debbie Reynolds level – though it knows this enough to acknowledge its historical references.

Throughout it feels that the most accomplished dancer in La La Land is the camera as it glides and swoops through lengthy shots and takes both during the musical numbers and otherwise, finding a good balance between over showy camera work and giving the actors a chance to, well, act (often a rarity in mainstream films).

With a story about the downtrodden seeking success and fame in the entertainment industry La La Land is a movie custom-made for Hollywood to love and its classic representation of the American dream, with a slight twist, is refreshing in a world where that dream feels increasingly like it’s been hijacked for nefarious purposes.

John Legend and Ryan Gosling

John Legend and Ryan Gosling

It also manages to attain a feeling of joy I don’t remember seeing in a cinema in this way in a long time and does so in a way that feels like it has some real heart, as well as a point to make about artistic compromise and integrity, all while being startlingly uncynical without a bad bone in its body, making for a wonderful two hours of much-needed escapism.

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Clameur De Haro and The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers – The Golden Lion – 23/12/16

Clameur De Haro at The Golden Lion

Clameur De Haro

As the offices closed up for Christmas The Golden Lion in St Peter Port was packed on Friday 23rd December 2016, Christmas Eve-Eve, and with many having already been in the pub for several hours it was down to Clameur De Haro and The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers to provide the entertainment.

‘The Clams’ started things off downstairs with the crowd already packed up to the front as they launched into their set. Mixing their own songs with covers of rock classics and some festive fare, all in their own ‘sort-of-bluegrass’ style, the audience were into it from the start.

Being right at the front I could hear things perfectly though, given the layout of the pub and the wall of people going about half way down the bar, it was hard to tell how far back the music penetrated but that didn’t matter as we were all having a great time at the front with the band being their usual chatty and relaxed selves.

Clameur De Haro (and Mike from Blue Mountains)

Mike from Blue Mountains gets up close to Clameur De Haro

Christmas covers invoked mass singalongs but it was also great to hear not only the other covers but also the band’s original songs being sung back at them which helped increase the party atmosphere even further.

As the first set reached its peak with accidental stage invasions and more Christmas classics it was clear everyone, both on and off stage, was well into the festive spirit (or was it spirits?) before the music moved upstairs into the newly opened ‘Lions Den’ bar.

In its past life the upstairs room of The Golden Lion had been a semi-abandoned pool hall, but now, after some extensive renovations thanks to new owners White Rock Brewery, its has been converted into an old-fashioned feeling bar room with a small stage area at one end. While clearly made for more relaxed events the old world feel perfectly suited The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers and the energetic audience were certainly up for more great music.

The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers

Clem and Gemma of The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers

The Skillet Lickers style of ragtime street skiffle went down an absolute storm with people dancing from off the off and packed to the front, much like downstairs. A few sound issues early in the set were ably worked through and around by the now experienced band.

Added to their generally fairly fluid line up here was Andy Coleman on trombone and, given his experience playing everything from jazz to mod to ska, he fit in perfectly and it was like he’d been jamming with the band for years as they rolled through their repertoire of obscure vintage lo-fi classics in their trademark style.

Gemma, Clem and Shacks trio of vocals all played off each other excellently while Greg, Ash and Andy all had a chance to shine on musical leads as Paul kept the bass rhythm going on his battered looking tuba as the party atmosphere continued.

The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers

Ash, Andy and Shacks of The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers

With their first set finished Clameur De Haro were back downstairs for more of the same, albeit a little more ramshackle and well lubricated than an hour previously, and the atmosphere just kept lifting and lifting making for a great way to see in the Christmas weekend and a great round off to live music in 2016 (excepting of course the events happening on New Years Eve) that was very similar to how my musical year started back in January.

You can see more of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

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West Side Story

West Side Story movie posterHaving picked up 10 Academy Awards upon its release the film version of West Side Story has its place assured as an undeniable classic but its one that always brings a certain nostalgic feeling for me as I took part in a production of the stage musical as a teenager (playing Diesel, conglomerated into Ice on-screen), but, 15 years on from that production, revisiting the film has opened up a new level of appreciation for it.

Once the overture fades into a series of aerial shots of New York we are dropped into a heightened and expressionistic world of teenage street gangs on Manhattan’s West Side. Over the following 10 minutes or so we are introduced to their world as movement and dance are used to tell the story of heightening tensions between the ‘local’ gang, The Jets, and the Puerto Rican newcomers, The Sharks.

As the back and forth dance culminates with a moment of real violence (albeit rendered in now PG, early 60s mainstream cinema friendly fashion) the film begins in earnest and we are led through a surprisingly tight reworking of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet updated for a modern world that still rings true today.

West Side Story - AmericaThis use of dance is one of the highlights of the movie as it goes on to be used as an expressionistic analogue for the venting of emotion whether its like here as tension, in ‘the rumble’ and America sequences as a form of battle or in the astonishing Cool as a means of learning to control emotions in the face of an insurmountable situation.

Focusing on Cool for a moment this is one of the less well recognised highlights of the film as it combines all the elements that make West Side Story work so well, in one sequence. The choreography is extremely tight, but in that, has a freeform feel that is appropriate for a teenage gang of misfits. On top of that the lyrics draw strongly on be-bop and jazz, with a good dose of the Beat movements use of language, to create something entirely of its time and place but also expressionistic enough to be somehow timeless and instantly recognisable as teen-speak (like Nadsat in Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange). This combines with great performances and excellent use of the camera to create an enthralling sequence on all levels.

West Side Story movieAcross the film the dance performances are flawless, while the singing varies from spot on to suitably rough bringing a sense of reality to the street toughs, helping it tread the line that musicals always have to fight between the sublime and the ridiculous and the acting is generally of a good standard too (though a few of the Puerto Rican accents wobble at times).

The story itself has enough tonal ups and downs to keep it moving for its two and a half hours with the comedic and ensemble highlight of Officer Krupke being something of a signing off point for the beginning of the tragedy borrowed from the Bard.

It is in the tragedy that the film finds its heart and its message as, while Shakespeare certainly told a gripping tale of young love and ultimate sacrifice, here it is transformed into a warning for the dangers and pointlessness of gang violence. This culminates in an amazingly well delivered scene where the heroine, Maria (Natalie Wood), takes control of the situation and seemingly brings the opposing gangs together, albeit after several of their number have paid the ultimate price.

West Side Story - Tony and MariaTopped off with the classic cinema look of the period have, West Side Story is a highlight, not only of musical cinema, but of cinema in general as it uses every aspect of its production to tell a moving and effective story, put across a message, and is packed with memorable moments and performances.

Rewatching it now, 15 years removed from my first experience of it as teenager, has revealed a new side and appreciation of it for me that puts firmly in among my favourite movies and proves that musicals don’t have to be brightly coloured and ‘nice’ as West Side Story veers from the humorous to the genuinely brutal with genuine grace.

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Twelve Tribe Mansion on BBC Introducing Guernsey

Last week I had the opportunity to interview Guernsey based gypsy funk ‘n’ rollers Twelve Tribe Mansion on the BBC Introducing Guernsey radio show.

Here is my article on the band for BBC Introducing Guernsey (click on the screen grab to read the whole thing):

Here is a video of Twelve Tribe Mansion playing at the Vale Earth Fair this summer to give you an idea of what they do (video by Guernsey Gigs):

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