Monday, 28 January 2013

Birdsong Adapted from Sebastian Faulks’s novel. The Haymarket, Basingstoke, 24th January 2013

Dramatist Rachel Wagstaff is quite right in saying “Birdsong is in an incredibly powerful novel”. As a “literary novel”, it’s a haunting piece set across different times and locations. Sadly, this adaptation does not do the book full justice and leading inevitably to a disappointing theatrical experience.
The Amiens pre-war scenes where Stephen Wraysford meets and takes as a lover Isabelle Azaire lack credence and sexual charge. It was too brief and never satisfying. Both this affair and the factory strike had great dramatic possibilities – possibilities woefully squandered.
On the other hand, the visually stunning and superbly lit Western Front episodes captured the tedium, the fear, and the comradeship of soldiers living in death’s shadow Two years into the war and  still there. Tim Treloar as Jack Firebrace, the strong character, broke down as he learnt of his young son’s imminent death. He obstinately prayed to a god that, in reality, had abandoned him. It is an achingly heart-breaking moment. If only Isabelle (Sarah Jane Dunn) and Stephen (Jonathan Smith) could have reached such heights.
Undoubtedly, it is hard to translate the power of a book. A book is personal. This adaptation was an honest and valiant endeavour but I personally found it, at times, deficient and unmoving. Sebastian Faulks who, when approached about the possibility of dramatization replied, “Why try to make a sculpture from a painting?” Maybe he had a point.

Birdsong is adapted from the critically acclaimed novel by Sebastian Faulks.
Directed by Alastair Whatley | Stage adaptation by Rachel Wagstaff
Brought to the stage by The Original Theatre Company & Birdsong Productions Ltd
National Tour, 22nd January to 3rd August 2013

This review was written for and first published  on The Flaneur website.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Great British Folk Festival 2012 Skegness. 30th November 2012 – 3rd December 2012. Review first published in The Flaneur.

Now in its third year The Great British Folk Festival held at Butlin’s Skegness resort has now become an established part of the festival scene. Forget any preconceptions of the ‘holiday camp’. The images lampooned in programmes such as Hi-Di-Hi are outdated and have absolutely nothing to do with the modern first class visitor experience. Comfortable and welcoming Accommodation is included in the package, the stages skilfully managed, and the music takes in all aspects of  loosely defined ‘folk’ – a chance to want to have a good time while maybe unearthing something new. This is why GBBF wins.

Friday’s line-up included Pie, Feast of Fiddles, The Fureys and Davey Arthur, The Travelling Band. All estimable talents however some of the other acts that day did not deliver. Fake Thackray would have been better suited to a smaller venue as would Oh Susanna. The Travelling Band sadly lost some of the The Fureys large audience. Although To be fair, the Fureys must be a hard act to follow. Meanwhile Feast of Fiddles dazzled the audience on the Centre Stage with their eleven fiddler players.

Saturday afternoon and Babajack shook the Centre Stage with an intense mix of blues, roots and folk. Becky Tate’s cajon (box drum) and   Trevor Steger’s semi-acoustic ‘winebox’ guitar invoked a past area of raw and unpolished blues and roots. Not for the faint hearted.
The session’s other bands and singers – Deborah Bonham, Shinjig, and The Billy Mitchell Band rewarded the audience in a more traditional style. In contrast, the band Moonshee took on a global slant with Sitar, tablas, fiddle and harp. OK so it’s not unique these days but nevertheless a band definitely worth catching.

Saturday evening was probably, for the weekend’s audience, the best with Show of Hands, Thea Gilmore, June Tabor and The Oyster Band, Merry Hell and Fay Hield and The Hurricane Party.

June Tabor’s reunion with The Oyster Band after a twenty-one year gap and now on tour was the highlight of the weekend. Tabor has a startling and compelling presence yet never overshadows the band. Their take on Jefferson Airplane’s psychedelic ‘White Rabbit’ was electrifying. The gig ended on a high with ‘Put Out the Lights’. Merry Hell – “Folk-rock with punk attitude” (their words) closed the evening on Reds with firm favourites Show of Hands closing Centre Stage.

Finally to Sunday afternoon on Centre Stage with a welcome diversion for tired heads – Animals and Friends with their   storming session of nostalgic R’n’B. Gallagher’s keyboards were much to the fore offering a driving rhythm through many of the old standards but were nicely contrasted by Barton’s deep booming voice. That evening saw amongst others Ashley Hutchings & Morris On, Steel Threads, Gigspanner, Gordon Giltrap, The Gathering and headliners ,The Albion Band on Centre Stage and on Reds Stage,  King Arthur’s Dream.

So over, for another year and clearly all of the above is both subjective and selective and not under any circumstances definitive. Therefore, I offer apologies to those missing their favourite artists or wanting a complete set-list. Overall, a fantastic weekend and already bookings are being taken for 2013!

If you want to see some of this year’s performances take a look at Peter Simmonds’ You Tube Site.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Animals and Friends at The Great British Folk Festival, Skegness, 3rd December 2012.

Without doubt, The Animals were one of the most important bands originating from England’s R&B scene during the early ’60s, and second only to the Rolling Stones in bringing hard faithful R&B-to British audiences. I suppose it was some unease that I approached The Animals and Friends thinking that like so many of those sixties “resurrections” they would only appeal to the achingly nostalgic. However, I am glad to say that the band delivered a satisfyingly rock solid performance.

For this gig drummer John Steel, an original member of The Animals, was joined by Peter Barton on bass and vocals, Danny Handley on lead guitar and Mickey Gallagher on keyboards. It’s worth noting that Gallagher has historic connections with The Animals having replaced a departing Alan Price in 1965 – so no stranger to the band or the music.

His excellent playing was much to the fore offering a driving rhythm through many of the old standards but always effectively contrasted by Barton’s deep booming voice to great effect – especially on Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home” and Bennie Benjamin’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” .
After that the numbers came fast and furious – Bright Lights Big City, “We Gotta Get out of This Place”, John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” and ending with an passionate “House of the Rising Sun”.

That afternoon The Animals and Friends showed that they have the power to capture an audience with their coruscating mix of blues, rock, and soul. It’s great to see that they are taking it on the road throughout 2013.
Moreover, to add to that Animal magic the ‘legendary’ Steve Cropper will be guesting.

Article originally appeared in The Flaneur online magazine.