Wednesday 19 July 2017

Some sciencey comedy and a highly anticipated film preview...

10th July - 16th July 2017

A slightly quieter week this one, but no less entertaining...

RI Summer Comedy Night

The first outing of the week with minus Mrs C but plus a colleague from work, (my regular RI attendee), for a slightly different type of event to the usual lectures, a science based comedy night.

The night was hosted by Simon Watt, most known for his Ugly Animal Preservation Society project, a book and comedy based science show where comedians argue for an 'ugly' endangered species to try and convince an audience to champion it.

Watt's between act routines were based around this concept and highlighted a few species which are of particular note for their appearance, his dry sense of humour perfectly matching with the nature of the material, and as a host he was enthusiastic and entertaining in getting the audience primed for each subsequent act.

The first act up was Timandra Harkness, a science presenter and writer, author of the book 'Big Data : Does Size Matter?', which concerns an entertaining approach to the evolution of data collection and recording, and how data is used for our benefit and to benefit those who wish to influence our lives and habits, such as search engines and online shops like Amazon.

Her personable attitude meant that the subject was never boring and always interesting whilst remaining humorous.

Next up was Rachel Weeley, a last minute addition to the line up, a former producer for the BBC she admirably stepped up with material concerning the various Mars missions, interjected with some anecdotes about her former job and her home life.

The final act was Dean Burnett, a neuroscientist and writer for the Guardian who focused on matters of the brain and it's idiosyncrasies. Culminating in a great punchline regarding some slides.

Overall it made for a refreshing spin on the usual comedy show and was a welcome alternative to the usual lecture based events, hopefully there'll be more.

'Dunkirk' Preview With Christopher Nolan Introduction

On Thursday night we headed to the BFI for a sold out preview of the much anticipated new Christopher Nolan film 'Dunkirk'.

Much has been made of the relatively short running time, (for a Nolan film), of 106 minutes, and whether this meant justice could be done to such a story in such a lean run time. Trust us the tension is ratcheted up so high and sustained for the entire movie any longer would be almost unbearable.

Firstly this is not a war movie in the traditional sense of the word, it concerns the evacuation of Dunkirk from the viewpoint of three key characters, a soldier named Tommy, (played by Fionn Whitehead), at the front line who is part of the 400,00 troops pushed back to the beaches by the enemy and awaiting evacuation back home; a civilian sailor Mr Dawson, (played by Mark Rylance), who is commandeered by the Navy along with hundreds of other boats to sail to Dunkirk and bring back some troops, joined by his teenage son and one of his school friends; and lastly Tom Hardy's RAF pilot who is trying to protect those on the beach from aerial attacks. All three story lines span different time scales, the soldier a week, the sailor a day and the pilot an hour.

As Nolan has shown in previous works, most notably 'Memento', his command of a story with complex interchangeable time lines is exemplary.

In his short introduction before the film he highlighted, along with his wife and producing partner Emma Thomas, the various challenges faced during filming, most notably with the choice to film in 70mm IMAX and the obstacles faced with using such large equipment to achieve the required shots. The dedication to recreating the aerial sequences practically as opposed to digitally meant innovations in lensing and mounting of the cameras, however the effort proves worthwhile as the claustrophobic feel and realistic viewpoints really ramped up the atmosphere.

Unlike a film such as 'Saving Private Ryan' the lack of blood and gore doesn't detract from the feeling of desperation and hopelessness during the various attacks and escape attempts, as this isn't a film concerned with the horrors of way as a whole, but exploring the individual situations faced by those who were actually there, individually represented here, but certainly not exclusive to a handful of characters but representative of the vast majority of those involved in the operations.

A few other familiar faces pop up, including Kenneth Branagh as a Navy commander, Cillian Murphy as an escaping soldier rescued from the sea and Harry Styles as a fellow soldier on the beach, (his debut here is actually really rather good), however the film's dialogue is quite sparse and used sparingly, the main dialogue of the film being Hans Zimmer's tension filled, stirring score which perfectly soundtracks the various set pieces without ever feeling like anything other than an a character in itself.

Also despite having a subtle patriotic vein running through the story, mainly due to the resilience of the characters, it never goes for a sickly sweet pomp and flag waving denouement.

A modern war film is always going to be compared to the classics which have preceded it, 'Saving Private Ryan' being the most notable example, however Nolan has wisely chosen a slightly different path and focus which is entirely rewarding in a different way but nonetheless as important and harrowing, playing like a taut thriller as much as a study of the horrors of the situation.

Nolan is a huge champion of filming on real film and there are showings around the country in IMAX and 70mm which is the perfect way to see this film as the textures and feel of film really suit the stunning cinematography.

Not to be missed.

Next week sees us catching some musical theatre, though not in the traditional sense of the word and a cinema classic. Until then, get inspired...

Thursday 13 July 2017

Some soul, some pop and plenty of rock from a slew of legends...

3rd July - 9th July 2017

A music heavy week this one, so the reviews are a little shorter as I don't like to do track by track dissections, so without further ado...

St Paul & The Broken Bones

We kicked off our week of gigging on Wednesday night with a trip to The Troxy in East London, an old converted cinema which now hosts live events too, to catch US soul/R & B outfit St Paul & The Broken Bones.

Hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, they're fresh off of releasing their second album 'Sea Of Noise', the follow up to their storming debut 'Half The City', an absolutely stonking album.

Comprising eight members, including a compliment of horn players and an organist they manage to recreate the studio sound from the album superbly.

Most notably lead singer Paul Janeway who has a phenomenal voice, with strong touches of Otis Redding but with a gospel tinge, which is very powerful.

Replete in a bright red suit, Janeway took the stage with a cape performing the intro from the 'Sea Of Noise' album, 'Crumbling Light Posts Pt. 1', which he then flung aside as the band moved straight into 'Flow With It (You Got Me Feeling Like)'

Janeway at one point even got the security to lift him over a barrier to walk amongst the crowd whilst performing 'Broken Bones & Pocket Change'.

By the time they played their breakout track 'Call Me' they had the audience in the palm of their hands and even returned for a four song encore taking the entire show to nearly two full hours.

They may have only been around for a couple of albums but their sound and performance would suggest otherwise.

If you like great classic music, played very well then catch them next time they're over, you won't regret it.

The full set list was as follows:

Crumbling Light Posts Pt. 1
Flow With It (You Got Me Feeling Like)
Like A Mighty River
Flute Solo
I'll Be Your Woman
Tears In The Diamond
All I Ever Wonder
I'm Torn Up
Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything)
The National Anthem
Brain Matter
Midnight On The Earth
I've Been Working
Broken Bones & Pocket Change
Call Me
Loran's Dance
Is It Me
Half The City

Burning Rome

The Jacksons

The following night we headed over to the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich for a show as part of the yearly Greenwich Music Time series of concerts.

This show was part of The Jacksons' 50th anniversary shows, which has been touring the UK for last few weeks.

Featuring the surviving four members of The Jackson 5, Jermaine, Jackie, Tito and Marlon, we were treated to a set of Jackson 5 and Jackson hits, with a couple of Michael Jackson songs thrown in for good measure.

Jermaine took the lead of most of the Michael material, however they all contributed vocally, with Tito and Jermaine also playing some guitar and bass respectively.

The sound was a little quiet, however that's most likely due to the only speakers being the ones either side of the stage, this however didn't stop the crowd getting into hit after hit.

Particular highlights included the medley of 'I Want You Back/ABC/The Love You Save/Dancing Machine' and 'Shake Your Body To The Ground', it was also an unexpected treat to hear 'State Of Shock' for the encore too.

The band were on point throughout, and the Jacksons themselves proved they've still got the moves as they displayed a variety of their signature dance routines from throughout their career.

Interspersed throughout were archive photos and videos of the group, including a tribute section to Michael himself.

Overall it was a great show, and a rare opportunity to see some true legends perform.

The full set list was:

Can You Feel It
Blame It On The Boogie
Rock With You
Enjoy Yourself
Show You The Way To Go
Lovely One
I Want You Back/ABC/The Love You Save/Dancing Machine
Never Can Say Goodbye
I'll Be There
Gone Too Soon
When The Magic Happens
Can't Let Her Get Away
This Place Hotel
Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'
Shake Your Body To The Ground


State Of Shock

Stevie Nicks

On Sunday, sans Mrs C, I headed over to the now annual BST Hype Park festival for it's closing night show, headlined by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame.

Taking the stage just after six, Nicks looked resplendent in her signature flowing outfit, and proceeded to power through a set list comprising hit after hit from her varied back catalogue from all eras of her career.

Mixing solo tracks, with Fleetwood Mac hits and even a Buckingham/Nicks track, the set was satisfying mix of the familiar with a couple of surprises thrown in too.

Nicks' voice was in fine form, still sounding familiar and powerful, and she seemed to be relishing every minute of playing to the sell out crowd.

She closed the main set with the classic 'Edge Of Seventeen' which set the crowd up for the final encore of a couple of Fleetwood Mac classics.

Obviously hearing the Fleetwood Mac hits 'Dreams', 'Gold Dust Woman' and 'Landslide' live was awesome, and when performing 'Rhiannon' during the encore she revealed that she'd never played a gig without performing it.

The only omission was 'Stop Draggin' My Heart Around', however as that's a duet it seemed entirely possible that may make an appearance at some point later...

The full set was:

Gold And Braid
If Anyone Falls
Outside The Rain
Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream)
Stand Back
Crying In The Night
Gold Dust Woman
Wild Heart
Bella Donna
Edge Of Seventeen




Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers

After Nicks, the stage was reset for the headliner, and about quarter past eight he took to stage to a rapturous reception.

This was their only European show this year so expectations were high, however we needn't have worried.

Kicking off with breakout track 'Rockin' Around (With You)' the classics just kept coming.

Hit after hit followed, spanning his entire career, with five tracks from the 'Wildflowers' album, (a personal favourite), being a particular highlight  for me.

Petty himself was on top form with plenty of sarcasm and humour in between songs, and the band were also superb as expected.

Nicks also made a reappearance to perform 'Stop Draggin' My Heart Around' which was awesome and not something you get a chance to see at every Petty or Nicks gig.

The band were backed by loads of archive footage and photos which added an air of nostalgia which was fitting as this was part of the 40th anniversary tour.

The sound was fantastic as it had been all day, and the two hour set flew by, with the crowd relishing every moment.

Hopefully they'll be back for a UK tour as I'd definitely recommend catching them live.

A fantastic show!

The full set was as follows:

Rockin' Around (With You)
Mary Jane's Last Dance
You Don't Know How It Feels
Forgotten Man
I Won't Back Down
Free Fallin'
Don't Come Around Here No More
Stop Draggin' My Heart Around (With Stevie Nicks)
It's Good To Be King
Crawling Back To You
Learning To Fly
Yer So Bad
I Should Have Known It
Runnin' Down A Dream


You Wreck Me
American Girl

Next week sees a little comedy and a film preview so until then, get inspired...

Tuesday 4 July 2017

A pop blast from the past triumphantly returns, plus a British musical dramedy...

26th June - 2nd July 2017

Some live music and some musical theatre this week...

Nick Heyward

On Tuesday night we ventured over to The Water Rats at King's Cross fo a special intimate show by former Haircut 100 man Nick Heyward, which was being filmed for broadcast on music channel Vintage TV, and was in support of his forthcoming new solo album 'Woodland Echoes'.

The Water Rats is a small standing room only venue, at the back of a pub, however has been host to many huge acts over the years and was perfectly suited to this show.

Aside from the half dozen or so new tracks, which were great, he also played a few solo hits and of course his Haircut 100 favourites, most notably 'Love Plus One' and 'Fantastic Day.

Backed with a full band, including a saxophonist/percussionist/backing singer and a female backing singer too it all sounded great too.

This was a return to gigging new material for Heyward and his slight trepidation about showcasing the material was evident, but his personable attitude won through as the material was also so strong.

After the filming was finished they ran through a few of the songs again, in
 a slightly more relaxed manner, and also played a few other tracks which they were not prepared for by handled admirably.

The show is due to air in August, when the new album is also released, which can be pre-ordered on PledgeMusic here.

He's also due to play the 229 in London in July, so if you fancy catching him live there's your chance, and it's well worth it!

The Girls

Our only other outing for the week was on Thursday night, and to the Phoenix Theatre on Charing Cross Road to catch a performance of the soon to close musical The Girls, based on the story and film 'Calendar Girls' with songs by Gary Barlow.

Those familiar with the film will know the basic story line, concerning a group of WI members who decide that for their yearly fund raising calendar they're going to do something a little different and make a nude calendar, to specifically raise money to buy a new sofa for the family room at the hospital which looked after one of the character's late husband who died from cancer.

The action is all set in Yorkshire, and the show doesn't shy away from it's very British setting, even basing some songs around it, which probably actually works to the shows benefit.

The show has been running for less than a year, and is rumoured to be off on tour after leaving the Phoenix, which will probably work well for the show, as despite it's quite impressive Yorkshire hills set its should work in pretty much any space, and should allow the show to reach the audience which will appreciate it most.

The film, coupled with the stage play and now this musical means that the story has, if anything been over exposed perhaps, and may be the reasoning behind it's relatively short West End residency, despite such a pedigree on the writing side of things, however this shouldn't detract from it's many positives.

The songs by and large are well written, and superbly performed, whilst the script has plenty of quite British comedic flourishes and larger than life characters to carry it and maintain the audience's interest.

We weren't typical of the majority of the audience, which were on the older side, however we quite enjoyed it nonetheless, and the performances certainly added greatly to a story which could have come across as a little schmaltzy, but actually displayed plenty of heart.

The performances, especially from Joanna Riding and Claire Moore, were universally excellent and it's a bit of a shame that the obvious passion for the show hasn't translated to a longer run here, but it's strengths should mean a life on tour and a healthy following I'm sure.

It's due to close on the 15th of July so get your skates on if you want to catch it!

Next week sees plenty of live music, so until then, get inspired...