Friday 27 February 2015

Ponchos, Tom Petty, and Toasters - An Evening with Lone Twin at Norwich Arts Centre

Anyone who has visited Norwich Arts Centre since the beginning of this month will have seen the exhibition of photographs featuring internationally renowned performance artists 'Lone Twin' celebrating their 19 years together (why wait for a 20th anniversary? That would be far too conventional!).

The images of Gregg Whelan and Gary Winters tell the story of a unique partnership that has seen them building a boat out of donated timber as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad; giving their comic timing the ultimate challenge - reciting the same joke and punchline non-stop for 12 hours whilst unable to hear one another; and a one month bike ride followed up each evening with a show to relive that day's experience. In the interim, they have become involved with everything from street dance to theatre shows.

Their current tour is a re-working of  'True West', the classic Sam Shepherd play of conflict between two brothers, set in the kitchen of a house in 1970's California. Having been performed on Broadway and having featured such legends as John Malkovich, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Randy and Dennis Quaid, Lone Twin have now re-worked the script into what they deferentially refer to as a 'cover version' of the original play.

After starting the tour in Bristol and Guildford, Lone Twin moved on to Norwich Arts Centre, and they performed 'True West' in Norwich last night. Instead of taking a travelling company of supporting actors, they recruit a small team from the staff at each venue. After a single rehearsal session, they take to the stage along with Gregg and Gary in that evening's performance. I was part of that team last night.

Just over a week ago I had been asked if I would be interested in becoming involved. Four out of the five available places had been taken by house staff, and an e-mail had then gone out to the Arts Centre volunteers to fill the final space. I realised that the role required some singing, but was assured that this would probably be drowned by a loud backing track, and was only required to be up to 'pub sing-a-long' standard. On this basis I agreed, and put down my name. I was given a five or six page synopsis of the play outlining the sections in which 'The Table' would be involved - mostly spoken lines delivered in unison, but also with a couple of choreographed sequences, and a short rendition of the Tom Petty song 'Runnin' Down a Dream'. We were given YouTube links to videos for these.

So, yesterday morning we met Gregg and Gary, and Sonia their technical director, for the first time for a three hour rehearsal session. I won't give too much away about the show, but we would be on stage for the whole duration of the performance. Most of it was fairly straightforward, although I was a bit concerned about the singing. Yes there was a backing track on Sonia's laptop that we would be singing to, but our voices would also be picked up by on-stage microphones. To make it even more nerve-wracking, I would be stood next to Lydia who, as well as being part of the Arts Centre team, is a singer in local bands, and has a very good voice.

Rehearsals seem to pass off without major trauma, and the critical part seemed to be making sure that we timed our delivery to come in together, and at the right moment. We agreed to meet back at the venue for six o'clock, with the performance scheduled for 8.00pm.

Upon returning in the evening we found that one of our number had been called away, so we were down to four instead of five. Unfortunately for me, it was one of the male voices that I had been relying on to 'hide behind' that would now be missing from the actual performance.

A final run-through of the re-jigged script left us with time for one quick drink in the bar before taking our places backstage with Sonia. By now we sported our azure-blue ponchos, complete with trademark 'Good Luck Everybody' cloth badges.

The next hour flies by in that surreal suspension of time and place that anyone familiar to live performance will recognise. Despite having to concentrate intensely on the script, I remained sufficiently relaxed to be able to enjoy the on-stage perspective of Gregg and Gary's performance. It also allowed an appreciation of just how well they had adapted Shepherd's script to suit their own interpretative and slightly monotone delivery. The laughs came only in the right places - it is, after all, a traditional narrative rather than a comedy.

At the end we take our bows, and I remember just how much I enjoyed those euphoric adrenaline rushes all those years ago in university drama productions. However, for me this time the singing was a lifetime first. As the audience may have been able to tell, I had never, ever previously sung in public, and I had not told anybody just how nervous I was! Yet, if I have taken anything from the last twelve months since giving up work as a pharmacist, it is how important it is to experience anything and everything that comes your way. So a massive and sincere 'Thank You' to Lone Twin, for helping to break my vocal seal!

The next performance of 'True West' will be when Lone Star roll up at Cambridge Junction on March 5th. It is an inspired production, and I am sure that the staff of The Junction will also step up to the mark, and hopefully have as much fun as we did. I would certainly recommend going along if you are around in Cambridge that evening.

Just watch out for the toasters!

Photographs taken from Lone Twin's Facebook page HERE

Lone Twin's website HERE

Thursday 19 February 2015

Young Guns (...Having Some Fun!) at The Waterfront - The Tilting Sky and Accelerator Showcase

Norwich promoter and good all-round musical egg Craig Hill had been careful to attach a rider to the publicity for this night of young local bands - yes, there is already a Buckinghamshire band that goes by the name of 'Young Guns', and no, they are not appearing as part of The Tilting Sky's showcase at The Waterfront tonight. Instead, 'Young Guns - Norwich 1' was featuring, in conjunction with 'Accelerator', Community Music East's development programme,  a taster night to highlight five young bands currently honing their skills in this Fine City.

 Five bands for a fiver? What did I have to lose?

Comic Book Ending

Good advance ticket sales meant that the upstairs Studio at The Waterfront was already full (plenty of friends and family at the back whilst the young crowd administer encouragement from the front), and rock four-piece 'Comic Book Ending' were already on stage. Frontman Jack Steel has already mastered the authentic low-slung guitar posturing to look the part, and the band is bristling with confidence. Watch their videos on YouTube here if you haven't seen them live.

'Perfect Mistakes' are a three piece, with vocals shared between drummer Ben and guitarist Marcus. Bass player Ollie does what all good bass bass players do best - watches everything and keeps the bassline going. Nice bit of harmonica playing from Ben, and Marcus does have a really interesting voice, with lots of potential. Although they were offering free EPs on the night, they do have tracks  on their Bandcamp page here if you failed to snaffle one.

Marcus of 'Perfect Mistakes'

'Lobster' are a band that are making a lot of noise at the moment - well, with a line up of eight plus a  loose collective of extra musicians on whom to call as well, what else would you expect. You may have seen them busking on Gentleman's Walk, and you may have spotted tenor sax man Dominic Trevor performing with local samba-funk-rock band 'Rabo de Foguette' when they played a sold out night recently at Norwich Arts Centre. 'Like' them on Facebook here and check out there video performances from The Birdcage last year.


Bolstered by the vocals of Molly Holdom, Lobster's set includes their own compositions sandwiched between soulful jazz-funk interpretations of classics like Al Green's 'Let's Stay Together' and Stevie Wonder's 'Isn't She Lovely'. So much talent on one tiny stage, these guys are Norwich's very own 'Uptown Funk'. They even throw in a limbo competition as part of their set. No extra charge!

Amazon Blu

'Amazon Blu' played Norwich Arts Centre for the 'Montagues and Caplets' album launch last July, then rocked The Mash Tun in October as part of Norwich Sound and Vision. This time they are back to celebrate the launch of their own EP, available through Bandcamp here . Citing inspiration from Kate Bush and Lily Allen, but compared by others to Tracey Thorn's old band Marine Girls, 10,000 Maniacs, and The Secret Goldfish, this all-girl trio has already carved out a name for themselves all the way from here to London. Subtle melodies, assured delivery, and still only in their teens.

The Mondegreens

Headliners and final performance of the evening came from The Mondegreens, a four piece indie band featuring Oliver Jordan on vocals, Fred Garrett-Stanley on guitar, Gabriel Gifford on bass, and Jan Shelley on drums. They headlined a showcase evening at Epic Studios last July, and now they are back headlining the Waterfront. Find them on Facebook, or grab a track  here on Soundcloud.

All five acts are a tribute to the young musicianship in Norwich, yet it has to be said that The Mondegreens have a tightness in their playing that only comes with hard work and committment. They are deserved headliners tonight, but graciously invite Lobster back on stage for a final collaboration - a rumbustious version of Beats International's 'Dub Be Good To Me'. This is jam-hot!

The Mondegreens and Lobster - 'Dub Be Good to Me'

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Rae Morris at Norwich Arts Centre - 'Unguarded' but not Unplugged

There was a definite buzz of anticipation as I checked in for my volunteer shift last night at Norwich Arts Centre. It was not just the fact that evening had sold out in advance - that often happens, especially if a popular band is hosting an album launch, or there is a charity fundraiser. No, this was the palpable air of expectation that is obvious when a star in the ascendancy arrives in town. It is also accompanied by a spate of  last-minute telephone calls from disappointed fans desperately hoping for  a returned ticket. Queues will start to form well before the doors are due to open, and the photographer and press passes have all been eagerly snapped up.

The cause of the excitement was 21 year old singer-songwriter from Blackpool, Rae Morris. Having spent several years touring, and having supported the likes of Bombay Bicycle Club, Lianne La Havas, Noah and The Whale, Tom Odell and George Ezra, Rae was finally back on the road to promote her own debut album, 'Unguarded', which was released at the end of January and reached the top ten in the album charts.

As soon as we opened the doors at 7pm the first ticket holders were already waiting to come in. We had our lists of advance ticket sales from SeeTickets, Ticketmaster and AXS, as well as our own box office and the UEA Students Union to search through, and it was interesting that this event had brought many first time visitors to the Arts Centre. This was the final night of a twelve night tour that started on February 1st in Liverpool and had taken in Glasgow down to Brighton, as well as London and Birmingham. Most nights, like this one, had sold out.

Support act for the night was Fryars, stage name of 24 year old Benjamin Garrett from London. His first album was released back in 2009, but he now has the follow-up, 'Power', to promote. Although I was not able to abandon my front of house post to see his set, I could hear that his set of self-written electonic pop songs justified a proper listen at some point. It also transpired that he had co-written one of Rae Morris' tracks on 'Unguarded', and would re-appear during her set to duet on 'Cold'.

By half past nine most, if not all, of the audience had arrived, we had managed to sort out returned tickets for a couple of lucky punters, and pass on the cash to the appropriate returnees, so I was allowed to cash up (not difficult on a sold-out gig, as we had only sold a handful of advance tickets for upcoming gigs - the rest of my duties had been checking tickets and stamping hands) and take my place in the auditorium just after Rae Morris had taken the stage.

Although it was fairly packed out, I managed to weasel my way to a spot at the front of the stage next to the right hand speakers, so ended up with a pretty good view. Supported by guitar, second keyboards and drums, Rae performed most of the set from her electric piano, although she had played a grand piano at the Electric Brixton gig (the Arts Centre does have one - she only had to ask!). When she comes from behind the keyboards to perform a couple of the more up-tempo numbers like 'Closer' and 'Morne Fortune' a few of the audience at the front respond with muted dancing of their own, otherwise it is the usual well-behaved and appreciative mix in the hall, although there is one small group who still want to chat throughout most of the set.

Rae Morris and Fryars duet on 'Cold'

Fryars, as predicted, returned to duet on 'Cold', and after returning to the stage after 'Love Again', Rae gives us 'Not Knowing' and the excellent 'Under the Shadows' for an encore. She certainly did not disappoint, her lovely long curly hair and jungly jumpsuit cutting a petite but stylish presence on stage, taking the trouble to thank us all for supporting the record, and expressing her pleasure at ending the tour in such a beautiful venue (although everyone, quite correctly, says that!). Her voice is a mixture of Ellie Goulding, Florence Welch and Lorde, and whilst the whole set has been pretty much all electronic, it would have been nice to hear her play the grand piano, or try something a little more acoustic. But that is really just me being picky.

I did not buy the album from the merch stand, choosing instead to pick it up at the excellent price of £5.99 on Amazon Prime, including a free AutoRip MP3 download, once it became clear that there was no 'meet and greet' chance to obtain a signed copy.

All in all, a good night, and hopefully the Arts Centre will have gained more than a few repeat visitors on the strength of their experience this evening. After all, it is Britain's Best Small Venue!

Monday 9 February 2015

Slow Club at Norwich Arts Centre - Mutual Love and a 'Complete Surrender'

The Obelisk Stage. Latitude. 2014. Friday lunchtime. First act on. Not necessarily the preferred slot for any band, but at least there should be some bodies through the turnstiles, past the bag-searches and making their way into the arena. Last summer, having made my way unusually straight towards the Obelisk Stage, basking in the Suffolk sunshine, there was a cracking band that opened the Friday proceedings with a presence and confidence that immediately won me over, and played to a sizeable and appreciative crowd. That band was Slow Club.

 Hailing from Sheffield, long-term friends and musical partners Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson were just about to release their third album, 'Complete Surrender'. Fleshed out with Avvon Chambers on drums, and with Fyfe Dangerfield guesting on bass, Slow Club gave most of us a first taste of how the new songs on the album would sound, and we were not disappointed.

Now, six months later, they are touring, again as a four piece but without Dangerfield on bass, and concentrating on a batch of smaller more intimate venues before a homecoming at the end of the month in Sheffield. This, the second date of the tour, brings them to Norwich Arts Centre.

Taylor has already been tweeting her new-found love for Norwich, and one of her first comments to tonight's audience is her desire to come and live in our Fine City, followed by a tongue-in-cheek offer of £20 a week to rent a room in someone's house. If that doesn't win over the undecided in the hall, then nothing will.

It is soon obvious that the purpose of tonight is to showcase the songs from the new album, songs that again take the band in a new direction after the folky pop of 'Yeah So' and the experimentation of 'Paradise'. Three years later and the result is 'Complete Surrender', a simpler, more focused set of songs that ably demonstrate their individual talents but also their strength as a vocal harmony band.

We only get one number from 'Yeah So', and apart from 'Two Cousins' (as one half of the encore) they only play two songs from 'Paradise'. In contrast, all but one of the tracks from 'Complete Surrender' are performed, starting with the melodic lyricism of 'Tears of Joy', and ending with a bonus acoustic rendition of 'The Pieces', performed guerilla-style from the main exit doors of the auditorium. A lovely touch.

The evening is a triumph, not only for the band, but for us, the audience. We have been flattered and thanked, we have had our city and our venue praised, and we have been entertained, not just played to. There has been a connection and enthusiasm between us that is sometimes missing from bands that have been around long enough to become weary and cynical of touring. Even when Rebecca completely loses her place in the sensitive and personal solo rendition of 'Dependable People and The Things That I Am', the incident is laughed off like a fluffed Karaoke, before recovering and completing to rapturous applause.

A quick mention, too, for the support band 'Happyness'. a three piece from South London that go down well with the Arts Centre crowd tonight with their set of breezy indie-pop numbers. There is a risk that they might have lapsed from our consciousness by the end of the evening through no fault of their own. I certainly made a point of visiting their social media pages once I got home. An interesting name for a band, and I would love to see them supporting Peace. Peace and Happyness - perhaps the ultimate double bill?

Thursday 5 February 2015

Two Years On - Leddra Chapman Back at Norwich Arts Centre

It is almost two years to the day since I last saw Leddra Chapman at Norwich Arts Centre. She had just finished her second EP, 'The Crowds and the Cocktails', and although it was not yet officially available to download, we were able to buy physical copies that night. The debut album, 'Telling Tales' had been released three years earlier, and had received airplay by Terry Wogan on BBC Radio 2, especially the two singles, 'Story' and 'Summer Song'. The Independent had described her soprano voice as 'pitch-perfect acoustic pop', and she had been taken on as an ambassador for both Quicksilver and The Body Shop.

Fast forward to 2015, and Leddra is back in Norwich, older and wiser, but we are still waiting for the release of the follow-up album. She is supported, and accompanied on stage, by Lee Broderick, who coincidentally also played support last time around.

Broderick has grown as a performer since I last saw him, and his songs of missed love and angst sound more Nashville than Liverpool. He also has an album out soon.

Lee Broderick

Interestingly, there are a high proportion of Leddra fans ('Leddies') in the audience that seem to know all the old songs, and are politely receptive to the new ones. National fame and fortune may still be tantalisingly close, just around the corner perhaps, but keeping a loyal fanbase is a solid foundation on which to build.

The new songs convey an element of confession, anger, bitterness, and even cynicism. Leddra still flashes the trademark smile, giggling and chatting between numbers then goading us into choreographed sing-a-longs, but for a singer who built her name on an upbeat and positive message there is a melancholy that seems to catch the audience out. It as if we have pigeon-holed Leddra into the 'happy box', and seem reluctant to want to buy in to her pain and soul-baring. 

No doubt we will see more of Leddra Chapman in the next twelve months. She intends to spend the year touring, and has her eye on the festival circuit. It will be interesting to see how the new album is received by a fresh audience, whilst the 'Leddies' may still be hanging on to 'Summer Song' and 'All About You'.