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Arthur Rigby & the Baskervylles Live at The Hobgoblin, Staines

On Saturday night we caught up with the Leeds based orchestral pop band Arthur Rigby & the Baskervylles,  at our fantastic local music venue – The Hobgoblin, Staines.

Ostensibly, this band is simply Ben Hatfield (vocals, guitar) and Alex Pinder (percussion and drums). But the duo employs everything from a six piece setup to a full-on symphony orchestra to add both depth and infinite flavour to their endlessly colourful productions. When I saw the troop at The Hob,  Neil Balfour was on keys adding  texture and classical motifs to the compositions, and Dan added to the beat with a bluesy-sounding bass. Additionally, there was violin from string quartet player Hannah Elizabeth Want and rambunctious trombone from scholar Tom I’Anson, both instruments creating a warmth and a special character to  the broader sounds, adding a rather splendid and luxurious element. These music college graduates have obviously resolved to tip over the apple-cart of the music establishment and add their own cultured and refined twist to the proceedings.

Sometimes leaning towards folk – and at other times rock – but always on the orchestral and mellow side of the tracks, we enjoyed tunes like ‘White Houses’ which starts with imploring bass-baritone lyrics set against a lush accompaniment of ponderously sad notes that plink out from the lonely keys like stained tears dribbling down mossy walls. Feathery imagery is provided by the soft trombone.

Or ‘One Stormy Night’ which exhibits the artistic intentions of the band’s arrangements with soft shimmering guitar echoing across a silvery landscape created by those lush orchestral manoeuvres. Supple lipped vocals accentuate the lyrics as the pace almost imperceptibly picks up and gradually, and evermore gradually, until the song becomes a rock piece, creatively clouded by the classical images that abound.

Arthur Rigby & the Baskervylles have clear electric folk aspirations and the ‘big hitter’ of the night at the Hob was the song ‘Follow’ with that jaunty pony-riding beat and feel good chorus sung in a round. The country fizzy-jig formula was magnified exuberantly by shining violin-play from Hannah and foot tapping percussion from Alex.

Other songs like  ‘Fly Far Away’ have pounding insistent beats and earthy textures whilst others, like ‘Stranger’ are moodier and complex set-pieces.

Bringing to mind Canadian folk rockers ‘Crash Test Dummies’ crossed with 2010 ‘Plastic Beach’ era ‘Gorillaz’ this band is set for stardom. I can easily see them on the world stage collecting themselves a  “Grammy”  in a couple of years time. It brings a tiny tear to my eye- as an ‘oldie’ – because I nostalgically think that Arthur Rigby & the Baskervylles are this year’s answer to that never-sufficiently-praised nor properly lauded English progressive rock band ‘Renaissance’ – albeit with a ‘Brad Roberts’ sounding lead vocalist instead  of the five-octave vocal range of Annie Haslam. But the same eloquence, attention to detail, poetry and classical aspirations are present in the musical treasure-box that Ben and Alex have on offer.

Mind changing, game altering stuff.

© Neil_Mach
February 2011

Link

http://www.myspace.com/arthurrigby

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The SkaSouls live at the Riverside Club, Staines

Knees up, trumpets down, shades on – let’s skavoovie!

After their phenomenal success, playing the hottest gig of the year, at The Hobgoblin, Staines last week – the SkaSouls went on to sell out the Staines Riverside Club on 17th Feb as well ( A charity performance in aid of the Joshua Deller Appeal).  We went along to find out what all the fuss was about.

On the glittery stage were six venerable musicians who all share a wide ranging musical ability, and each possesses the kind of musical experience and prowess that other bands merely fantasize about. Playing in various bands on the local and National scene before embarking on this Ska-shaped project back in the Summer of last year, these boys have since enjoyed a growing popularity as this town’s favourite 2-tone party band. And they already possess an enviable reputation for playing those authentically sweet Jamaican-style grooves and sweaty urban ska standards that you and I loved in the 80s – with covers of all your favourite songs from bands like  ‘The Specials’,  ‘Bad Manners’ and ‘Madness’.

After a raucous start at this Riverside venue, the band thundered and roared into their set like a Louisiana rainstorm – stopping for nothing – as they pelted out hit after hit. A large space was kept free to dance, and by the second song the audience was already up and dancing to the vibes. This band is wild. Those skutter-bus salt-chip shavings of sound soon start to set your world on fire.

Early numbers included ‘My Girl Lollipop’ (attributed to ‘Bad Manners’) but originally a doo-wop number for The Cadillacs’s before becoming a phenomenal hit for ‘Millie Small’ back in 1964 (as My Boy Lollipop). This song came alive with groovy flares of trumpet from Nick and thumping bass from Huw. But during the set we were also delectably teased with some delightful surprises like Chuck Berry’s  “You Never Can Tell”  or  Dexys Midnight Runners tribute to ram-jam Soul-Man Geno Washington “Geno”, upon which lead vocalist Lee sounds like vintage David Essex (in a good way, I must emphasise.)

But it is on the big tribal classix like “Gangsters” that this band really thrives and the audience becomes visibly alive.

This is two-tone heaven as the twin horns ( Nick on Trumpet and Allan on Trombone) flame and rip into your soul, the chuttering guitars frizzle your senses, the walkabout bass-lines juggle your brain and the ka-ching percussion rattles your emotions. And even creepy sound effects for songs like “Ghost Town” sound as genuinely disturbing, gritty and as ghoulish as you would expect.

Then we shoed-off for a skank doing the “Pressure Drop” (The Trojan-shaped hit from  Toots and the Maytals). This song and others in the SkaSouls repertoire feature those great wallowing Belushi-sized vocals from Lee and some impressive backing vocals from the other band members. Plus lumbering great chunks of trumpet and trombone and golden nuggets of pound-for-pound bass. Then we enjoyed “The Guns of Navarone” which was originally performed by ‘The Skatalites’ and later covered by ‘The Specials’. This tune was a thumping great success from beginning to end. And the amazing lead guitar from Ben shines out on this and other songs.

After an interval, to catch our breaths, the band raced into those endearing and catchy ska-pop standards we all loved – “Baggy Trousers” (Madnesss) and Lee Thompson’s tribute to Prince Buster “The Prince” – from which “Madness” took their name. And the incredibly structured “Night Boat to Cairo” (this song used to be a bit of an anthem for Lee’s much-loved old party band – FoulPlay.)

And in the final flourish we also enjoyed a thriving “Shame & Scandal” that started life as a hit for Lance Percival (of all people) before becoming an early ska-hit for Peter Tosh with the Skatalites – before being ‘re-born’ by ‘Madness’ during the new wave of British ska. And, of-course, we had the classic and superbly syncopated song “Israelites” (1969 Desmond Dekker.)

It was just a case of getting your knees up, trumpets down, shades on and skiffling and skadoodling the night away. Sheer bliss!

This is Lee Ridley’s dream outfit of a band, the vision he had wanted to create for years, but who would have thought that it could ever percolate into something as refreshing and uplifting as this?  Welcome to the chapel of living rhythm and holy beat ‘cos these madcap skasters are here to jump-start your weekend.  Do not take your eyes off this band …. and catch ‘em live as soon as you possibly can.

© Neil_Mach
February 2011

This concert was a charity show for the Joshua Deller Appeal – the event raised over £1200 for little Joshclick here to donate too

Band Link:

http://www.skasouls.com/

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My Favourite Runner Up – Live at The Hobgoblin, Staines

On Thursday at The Hobgoblin, Staines we witnessed some Welsh popinjay hotshot japes and jinks from a bunch of boys calling themselves ‘My Favourite Runner Up’. This guitar based combo sounds like an unfettered version of Blink 182. They are basically a bunch of unsophisticated pop-punk princes who churn out a pile of sherbety tunes and some jolly sticky-sweet melodies.

Unfettered by the normal conventions  of musical connoisseurship, they gaily embarked on a syrupy journey that took us towards Robbie William’s “Angels”  via Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling”. Imbued with a ravishing sense of their own self-worth and armed with a song-book of smooth lady-pleasing sweet-toothed cover-songs and an equal amount of self-penned siren-like serenades, this boy-band took to the small stage at The Hob, Staines with a gusto and enthusiasm that you could only imagine comes from an over-inflated appreciation of their own self-entitlement.

And when these brazen boys from Aberystwyth are not crooning their guiltless crowd-pleasing cheese, they also play their own effervescent and joyful thumpers.  Songs like ‘Our song’ which is a sweet and sparkling confection of guitar sounds from Chris and Andy, and acts as a canvas upon which is painted a fairly basic tune.  Or the song ‘What If?’  which has an indie sounding opening and then a flourishing feelgood build-up that makes a headrush charge towards an uncomplicated chorus.

‘Me and You (Falling Apart)’ is probably the most infectious and efficient MFRU song.  Guitars sound almost like pipes, a Celtic influence is clear.  The drums from Tom and the rigid bass from Lee add a tribal component.  And the silky-smooth vocals from Chris are lightly laced with eloquent sadness. The saccharine sweet chorus may be a little cloying for the boys in the
audience though.

The ladies were up and dancing to these power-pop players, whilst the male gig-goers sloped off for another pint and a turn at the pool table.

And that just about sums up the band.  Engaging, sweet and happy they may be.  But I cannot help thinking, cynically, that we have heard all this before.

© Neil_Mach
February 2011

Link:

http://www.myspace.com/myfavouriterunnerup

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Our Lost Infantry live at Staines Hobgoblin

So we went to THE HOB, STAINES to relish the joyful musical acrobatics and jubilantly jingoistic shenanigans from these merry men of Aldershot…. Our Lost Infantry.

Rapidly changing time signatures and keys bump and collide colourfully with each other as the ‘Lost Infantry’ magic bus runs off the psychedelic skid pan. Tearing apart the rule book and cocking a snook at the ‘in crowd’ this seriously talented quartet climbs the rigging and sails away from a mundane land and into a happy frantic world entirely of their own making.

The music sounds like early ‘Cure’ struck violently upon the head by ‘Porcupine Tree.’ Buzzingly adroit flourishes of keyboard wizardry courtesy of Matt to swirling jazzline guitars from Thom, and then busty rhythms from Tom on bass and Parkin on drums -the overall effect is generously full of melodramatic, soulful song – and they even choose to sing Acappella at times.

The song-book includes such pieces as the drum-song ‘Parkin’ that has a genuine ska-sound with softly lipped vocals, shining highlights and a groovy beat. The song has a delicate texture but scoops of full-on soul. Or take the high larkin’ song ‘The Arsonist’ that drips with silvery notes and edgy chords. The tricky percussion adds depth and jagged angles to the poetry of those flamboyant keyboards from Matt.

All-time favourite, though, is ‘The Spectacle of the Scaffold’. This number sputters along like a clockwork beetle. The tune feels like it is edging itself ever closer towards calamity. You need nerves of steel to listen to it. From the tenderest vocals that cry from the heart, to  those intricate bass-notes and cascades of keys that triumphantly collapse onto
themselves like the Walls of Jericho.  This amazing number finally tumbles into the kind of chorus you never dreamt was possible. Shining, haunting,  sentimental and, naturally, without regrets.

A kaleidoscope of squelchy blips and woo-woo sirens are accompanied by commendable piano flourishes . Nostalgic nuances and angst-ridden vocals mark this band out as a melodramatic tour-de-force to be reckoned with.  Avant-garde and jazzy enough  even to appeal to grandykins, though geekily progressive at other times, ‘Our Lost Infantry’ are always as solid and satisfyingly real as ever it gets. Ones to watch for 2011.

© Neil_Mach
February 2011

Link:

http://www.whereisourlostinfantry.com/

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Rumer -Live at the Albert Hall – Truly Equal to Karen Carpenter

Some kinds of music are best enjoyed by the fireplace, whilst snuggled up in a fluffy quilt, cuddling a large mug of frothy cocoa.  But instead, we head out to the Royal Albert Hall on a crisp, cold Friday November evening to see Rumer sing.  She takes the first ‘half’ of a concert (actually a set of 7 songs – or most of an album’s worth) at the start of Jools Holland’s  London date.

Rumer asks us to take her as she is …. well here goes,  for someone who wants to sing about love, I think she comes across a tad sulky. There is moody, and there is cool and there is, obviously,  smooth. But Sarah Joyce (Rumer) is a sulk.

I guess if you’re reading this, you’re perhaps one of the hundreds of cultured and knowledgeable music fans who joined me to fill what Jools Hollands describes as ‘an oversized Cake’ –  the sacred space of the Royal Albert Hall – for an evening of Rhythm & Blues.  But the start of what was to be a bumper jamboree bag of groovy boogie and blues based fun was slightly flattened, in my opinion, by the early slow combustion provided by Rumer.

But I assume that you, like me, also enjoy a slice of smooth jazz, a dash of light soul, and a glimmer of velvety voice thrown against a lightly painted background. And so you would certainly have been amazed by that astounding elderberry and ginger voice, white chocolate soup and tinged with bitter, smoky herbs.  Rumer’s voice is mesmerizing. And I can officially declare that the search for the Holy Grail is now over – here  is a voice that is truly equal to that of Karen Carpenter.

But Rumer and her band are not bootleg-carpenters. And she is not here to bring you cover songs, like a mere tribute artist. And it was not always jazz and blues for this London-based singer. She has been singing for her supper for a while now, and she has paid for her keep. Her singing career took off when she started singing as ‘Sarah Prentice’ with the indie folk band ‘La Honda’ at the start of the decade. After that she was discovered by Burt Bacharach, whisked over to California, and began a slow metamorphosis towards unravelling into what she has become-  the newly discovered Queen of MOR radio. She started work with the greatly appreciated  Brit composer Steve Brown (he wrote the score for the musical ‘Spend Spend Spend’. ) He shares some of the songwriting credits with Rumer on her ‘Seasons of my Soul’ album.

On stage, in a silky black dress, next to a glossy black grand piano, Rumer is dwarfed by the immensity of the setting. She tends to sing through her fringe. There is no movement from her except from her expressive hands that seem to be gently lifting each note, with perfect balance. She seems to be painfully shy on stage, like a delicate fawn caught in the spotlight. And this is the main problem with Rumer. On recording or on air, those luscious vocals and deep notes cannot be beaten.  But on stage, before a huge crowd, she delivers neither the ‘pizz’ or the ‘azz’ that we are used to from a live performer. Take platinum selling Sade for example.  She slinks across the stage like a panther lady hunting. She glows and she shines.  Or Karen carpenter herself.  Joyously thumping that drum set. Illuminating the stage, hypnotically swaying like a cobra. And what about Aretha? She is just a powerhouse of energy and spectacle.   But Rumer’s act is all about minimalism and moody control. She sings as if she were using some kind of hidden mental strength.  She wants to control your mind with her vapours. Non moving, non contentious, non confrontational.  And ultimately, I’m afraid, non exciting.

Her big numbers were the tracks that have been given airplay. ‘Slow’ insinuates itself into your brain like a niggling worm, eventually coming out of your body in a breathy hum. Evocative of a long slow train journey to nowhere, this song is full of dark shades and woody textures.  It is a fine song and very polished.  ‘Aretha’, another single, takes us a little higher and has a touch more gaiety about it, but also has it’s dark places; “I don’t want to go to school …. Cos’ they don’t understand me, and the place is cruel.” This is a magnificent and confident song and it deserves a wider recognition.

But my favourite Rumer song is ‘Thankful’. This is syrupy and gorgeously nostalgic. It is very personal.  Looking at life through a strawberry lens, it also weeps loss and regret in every note. The sweet rhythm and the  tender melody create a melancholy atmosphere that takes you way back to the days of the Andy Williams Show or seated besides Val Doonican as he gently rocks.

So Rumer’s material is full of fires, fog and falling leaves.  Like an applejar full of nostalgia and sweet soulful regrets. Her voice is like melted Ferrero Rocher – rich, elegant, dark, oozing. Her delivery is smooth and sophisticated. Lingering perfection. But as I dared to say, on stage,  she is a little sullen.

© Neil_Mach
November 2010

Link:

http://www.myspace.com/rumerlovesyou

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Sweet Charity – Doesn’t Put a Tingle in Your Fingers

Bob Fosse’s original musical ‘Sweet Charity’ opened in 1966 but you will be more familiar with the 1969 movie version starring Shirley MacLaine. Based on Fellini’s ‘Nights of Cabiria’ and a book by Neil Simon, with music by jazzman Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. It was a successful show in the late sixties.  I went to see the 2010 West End revival playing at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket and starring Tamzin Outhwaite in the lead role.  We are introduced to Charity Hope Valentine as she meets her new boyfriend, Charlie in New York’s Central Park – Charlie then steals her handbag and pushes her into the lake – starting off the string of events that leads to Charity failing, in ever more desperate ways, to achieve escape from her demeaning existence and find her idea of heaven … her ‘little white picket fences’.

The story is about the life of misery and disappointment that a girl has to bear. Charity is a taxi dancer at a Times Square dance-hall. Surprisingly, the ‘working girls’ like Charity in this story are more often than not optimistic, full of aspiration and expectation. Their hopes are so frequently and cruelly dashed upon the painful rocks of a life – that you would expect them to be cynical harpies full of hate for all men. But they seem totally unaffected by their futility – shaped for them by the total and abysmal failure of all the men that they meet to be honorable and trustworthy.  Men are always exposed as liars, cheaters, thieves, charlatans or selfish oafs. Men are pigs at the trough. And women are the feed.

You will recognise “Big Spender” the Shirley Bassey hit directly the opening notes blast out. This is the big show number that introduces the ‘taxi dancer’ girls at the “Fandango Ballroom” where Charity works for a pittance.  You know the song, ‘The minute you walked in the joint, (boom boom) I could see you were a man of distinction, a real Big Spender’.    Although these “dime-a-dance” girls are genuinely one step up from the hookers described in Fellini’s film, it is not difficult to assume that girls who offer the patrons hotter and more sensual dances, for their ten cents, get to fill their dance cards quicker and get to choose their dance partners. So the competition amongst the girls is to go the extra distance to grab themselves a good punter. They don’t pop their corks for every man they see !

Charity meets some ‘big spender’ Vittorio Vidal- who uses and abuses her. She meets shy Oscar Lindquist in a lift liaison (after a daft romp and a frustrating wardrobe scene with the big spender) and this relationship also ends disappointingly. She goes to The Rhythm of Life church under the bridge, where her life is not changed or altered in any way by the charismatic black preacher… so that’s another waste of time and effort. The story is just about the grinding futility of her existence and the relentless search for a man- it doesn’t matter whether the man is good – or bad even – Charity is happy as long as a man (any man) is willing to spend a night with her, because he just might be her ticket out of this place. She runs her heart like some kind of cheap hotel for no-goods and rogues … she has  “always got people checking in and checking out”.

The jazz and show tunes are great fun, but for most part, forgettable. The dance is hot and energetic. Tamzin was full of energy and fun and perfectly interpreted the two sides of the nature of Charity – the girly side, crushed, needy and mundane, and the get-up-and-dance side … the resilient business-woman who makes things work. The other female characters were portrayed in a similar way by the cast- some more severely cynical, others smarter, but they were all in the same boat. They were all used and abused.

The standout number in this show seems, to me anyway, to be set in entirely the wrong musical. The “Rhythm Of Life” song is introduced to us by Daddy Johann Sebastian Brubeck and Daddy’s All-Girl Rhythm Choir- and  ought to be in the musical ‘Hair’ not in ‘Sweet Charity’.   Even if you know this song (because it’s in your head for years after the first hearing) you will be surprised to find here. Sammy Davis, Jr. had a reasonable hit with this number back in 1968, and you will be humming it after the show, I guarantee it.  “The rhythm of life is a powerful beat, Puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet, Rhythm in your bedroom, rhythm in the street … Yes, the rhythm of life is a powerful beat.”

Ultimately, though, this show is built on disappointment and futility. Charity and Hope are the two virtues missing from this bleak world. And without hope and success, the show ends, in my view anyway, on a sour note – and leaves a hollow feeling in the heart. The companion songs to the two big numbers are not strong, and the farcical situations are sometimes tedious, if not frustrating, for the audience.  The Theatre Royal was not half full on the night I saw the show, but the tickets started at £10.

If you like big song and dance shows, maybe you should try something else. But if you are curious about why this musical has been successful since the sixties – and you enjoyed the film – you could give it a try.  Just don’t spend too much on tickets  – unless you are some kind of a Big Spender!

© Neil_Mach
November 2010

 

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Roland Chadwick – Staines Riverside Club

The humble Staines Riverside Club has gradually emerged, quietly yet earnestly, as an interesting and valuable local music venue over the last few years – with regular live music slots – along with plenty of other cultural activities.  As a result of a lot of hard work from some of the music-loving club members , the venue has been able to entice some formidable artistic talent to their tinsel fringed stage in recent months – such as Papa George, Big Jim Sullivan and the Good Old Boys. Last Thursday night the club opened their Thameside doors to welcome in the gifted Australian guitarist and composer Roland Chadwick.  Roland’s career has spanned from the blues to world music and then to pop, and he has been hailed as a ‘guitarist’s guitarist’ by the likes of John Renbourn and Tommy Emmanuel. He has recorded and worked with the likes of Steve Vai, Barriemore Barlow (Jethro Tull),  Mike Lindup (Level 42) and Alan Glen, (The Yardbirds.) He has also been greatly praised for his work with the English Chamber Orchestra.

Starting off a two-part set with some rootsy blues guitar work, the quixotic and, frankly, Van Dyckesque musician and his resonator guitar seemed comfortably at home in front of the relaxed Staines audience. Technically brilliant, he is also emotionally inspirational and possesses an unerring instinct to tease the sounds out of the twanging strings. The sights, smells and the sensations of the Delta come alive with his sublime use of bottle-neck and picking. But much of his blues derived material has a loftier and even classical guitar ‘edge’ to it, and is played with an observant nod towards the Spanish ancestry of his instrument. His voice is high and sweet, and has a sad quality to it. Sometimes these high notes are extended to falsetto- reminding the listener of bluegrass yodeling.

The more rounded, and probably the most commercially viable piece in this portion of the set, was Chadwick’s own song ‘Valentina’ during which he plays the guitar with such speed and melodic tone that it almost sounds like a mandolin. The tune is heart-achingly beautiful and has an emotional dimension that reminded me of the Led Zeppelin song “Thank You” (off their 1969 album Led Zeppelin II containing the lyric … “Little drops of rain”.)

Other highlights of the performance included an even handed yet thrilling version of  “Come Together” (The Beatles – Bluesman Muddy Waters is mentioned in this song) and an exciting version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” the Delta blues number Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

In the second half Roland Chadwick introduced the audience to Nick Linnick, a young ‘student’ guitarist of his acquaintance. Nick is a prodigious talent in his own right and his youthful and relentlessly high quality guitar-play is delivered at formidable speed. Balanced with an eloquent style, and in terms of talent, it was often hard to separate the master from the apprentice. This  half of the set was dominated by jazz numbers including some standards like “Ain’t No Sunshine” but also included some more demanding improvised work. The guitar duo created seductively mellow colours, often given backdrops of brooding and melancholy chords, and punctuated by vivid fluidity. A lighter moment was a show tune from ‘The Sound of Music’ but the most memorable number was the blues standard “Hoochie Coochie Man” ( written by Willie Dixon and first performed by Muddy Waters in 1954.)  When played by the duelling guitars, this song became a poignant melange of swampy, smoky delta blues laced with enough exhilarating xampany to evoke an exhilarating and dazzling percussive flamenco style. Chadwick’s nimble fingers picked and plucked the strings with astonishing speed – trickier and nippier than a ferret in a trap.

Roland Chadwick is class act and provides a hot evening of fun.  And he got the mojo too!

© Neil_Mach
September 2010

Link:

http://www.myspace.com/rolandchadwick

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