Sunday, June 08, 2014

Out for the summer - interview with Math Priest from Dodgy

BRITPOP survivors Dodgy are back on the road and Out in the Open for an acoustic tour from this month - and they’re looking for local musicians to support them at Arlington Arts Centre on June 11. Drummer MATHEW PRIEST tells CATRIONA REEVES  why people should come to see them on a Wednesday.

CATRIONA REEVES: What's the idea behind your current Out in the Open tour?

MATHEW PRIEST: Nige [frontman Nigel Clark] has been running a regular open-mic night in his hometown in Worcestershire for the last few years and it's great fun. Packed every time, unpredictable with some seriously good talent - what's not to love?

We wanted to see if we could take the idea on the road, so we tested it out at our Borderline show in March in London and it worked really well so we're doing it on the road.

Obviously it can't work exactly like a standard open-mic where folk just turn up with a guitar and hope to play as we actually need to sell tickets, so we're auditioning potential acts beforehand. If you're successful then you get two songs; we're hoping for about five acts per show.

CR: Nigel left the band in 1997, but you reformed with the original line-up [Nigel, Mathew and guitarist Andy Miller] in 2008. More recently you gained a new band member [bassist Stu Thoy], and are recording a new album. Now you’ve been back together a few years, does it feel like you’ve ever been apart?

MP: Well the problem is that our memories are fading so it's more a case of not remembering that we were ever apart!

We're about three quarters of the way through recording the album, but we've had to take a break for this tour. We're really happy so far, it seems to be a bit heavier and more upbeat - that might be Stu's rock influence.

Writing and recording this new album has been particularly satisfying, I can't wait for folk to hear it. The boys have done good.

CR: Were you particularly keen to play Arlington Arts again after your 2012 date there? I was quite surprised - and chuffed, of course - as you are also coming to Reading on June 6!

MP: We had a great time in Newbury last time, so we thought we'd chance our arm again. We love playing gigs: we have such a laugh. It's not right, what we get up to, it really isn't! 

CR: Apart from the forthcoming album release, have you got any exciting future plans coming up?

MP: Well it's the 20th anniversary of our Homegrown album this year and there's talk of some shows where we play it in full towards the end of the year [the band did similar shows for the anniversary of their debut, The Dodgy Album, last year]. But that's all it is at the moment - just talk. We're up for it: take a full band on the road; keyboards, horns, girls. And goats.

CR: Your Newbury show is on a Wednesday, which may mean that some potential audience members may take a bit of extra persuading to come along. Can you convince them to make the effort on a school night?

MP: The reason why we have some very suspect political parties and a climate of fear and blame is because we spend too much time at home on the computer and watching rubbish TV, and not enough time in each others’ company.

The good folk of Newbury need to come to the Dodgy show and feel the love you can only feel when you're in a room watching an awe inspiring, hilarious, spontaneous live show.

CR: Lastly, as you know, I have lyrics from one of your songs tattooed onto my shoulder [“We can be immortalised”, from Raggedstone Hill, a song on their 2012 album Stand Upright in a Cool Place]. It may be time for me to get another Dodgy tattoo... what should I have done, and where?

MP: My face on your face.

CR: Consider it done.

* Dodgy will be visiting Arlington Arts Centre on Wednesday, June 11 at 8pm. Tickets cost £16 from or telephone the box office on 01635 244246.

  • First published in The Advertiser in May 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014

Man about town - interview with George Cazenove of An Officer and a Gentleman

When did you last wear a well-tailored jacket with a fascinating history in its pocket? Man-about-town GEORGE CAZENOVE has relocated from London to Hungerford to open vintage clothier An Officer and a Gentleman. “Vintage clothes look good, and tell a hell of a story,” he explains to CATRIONA REEVES.

I FULLY expected An Officer and a Gentleman to be a treasure trove of vintage delights, but on visiting the shop in Charnham Street, Hungerford, it was a pleasure to discover that its proprietor George Cazenove is brimming with old-school charm and bursting with fabulous stories, both about the clothes he sells, and his own adventurous life.

Descended from a family of “rakes, boozers and fornicators” who lost most of their fortune through death duties, Cazenove turned his back on the traditional family profession of stockbroking to set up a clothier called Bertie Wooster - named after PG Wodehouse’s most famous character -  in late 1980s London.

Feted by the Chelsea set, Bertie Wooster’s vintage finds and bespoke tailoring graced the bodies of the bold and the beautiful across the pages of society magazines, and the business expanded to seven branches across London and beyond, before Cazenove closed up shop in 2005. “I’d moved to Africa two years before, and it was too difficult to run the business from over there.”

Cazenove’s Africa move came about rather by accident - bet by an SAS soldier that he couldn’t drive round the whole of Africa, he did just that, down the east coast and up the west; and rather liking it over there, he set up a property company in Angola. He spent the next nine years dividing his time between there and Cape Town, where he made rather a name for himself as a campaigner against the hangover of Apartheid.

Back in the UK and “having lost a lot of money” during a divorce, Cazenove was “in limbo and seriously considering going back to Africa”, when one day, driving through Hungerford, he spotted a for sale sign outside a near-derelict Victorian building, the town’s former gasworks, and made the decision to set up shop once more. “I’d sold the Bertie Wooster name, so had to decide on a new one - I heard the theme song for the film An Officer and a Gentlemen on the radio, and thought that would be perfect.”

Opening his doors in July, Cazenove has felt fully welcomed with open arms, both by his old contacts in the trade - “They always said that I had a nobby background, but a barrow boy mentality” - and by the community of Hungerford. “The mayor’s been fab; I’ve made so many friends in a very short time, and James Podger at Great Grooms has sent me lots of clients - it’s almost like a marriage; he sells them a dining table, then passes them on to me for dinner jackets so that they can sit down at their table in the proper style.”

The shop’s stock is entirely men’s clothing: Savile Row tailoring, accessories, military uniforms and sporting memorabilia, but fashionable women often pop in to snap up military tunics, hunt tail coats, velvet smoking jackets, Barbours and tweed. “If I had a motto, it would be ‘You must be seen in vintage tweed’, says Cazenove. “It‘s so much better than the new stuff; it doesn’t have that shiny look to it, and it can be worn smart or casual - a tweed jacket looks great with jeans.

“The coat I’m wearing in the Out & About photographs is from the 1930s. To build it now would cost £5,000, but we’re selling it for £150, and it’s got that fabulous vintage look.”

So, how can he identify the pedigree of the clothes he sells so specifically? “Easy,” he says, rushing out of the kitchen and returning with a tweed jacket. “This is a rabbiting coat, made for the British Army General Adrian Carton de Wiart in the 1940s. Look - when something is made by a tailor, there will always be a label in the inner pocket, with the date and who it was made for.”

The Chelsea set have started flocking back to Cazenove’s door, following in the footsteps of Pippa Middleton, who visited in August and left with an on-trend mid-century military tunic. Another recent visitor was an unnamed “horsey lady” who bought a jacket made by Savile Row tailor Bernard Weatherill, and wore it on television the next week. I think we can all guess who that was...

Cazenove is also welcoming a new generation of customers, many of them the children of those who used to shop at Bertie Wooster. He is delighted that they, like his assistant, local farmer’s son Freddie Walker, are learning to appreciate the delights of vintage clothing - “why pay £100 to hire a dinner jacket when you can buy a beautifully-made vintage one for the same price?” Everything is cleaned before being put on sale by Best Western Dry Cleaners in Newbury, although Cazenove advises against the use of mothballs to store clothes, “because you can never get rid of the smell. The modern solution is vacuum bags - the moths can’t get in there. But really, clothes are made to be worn”.

For someone who has such a love of items with historic value, Cazenove is surprisingly unmaterialistic. He is adamant that he has no plans to build another clothing empire - “there will only ever be the one shop” - and says that his own wardrobe (he lives above and behind the shop) is simply an extension of the stockroom.

“I have between one and 50 coats that I wear at any given time, but I always end up selling them. I’ve just sold my own dinner jacket to a young man for the Feathers Ball (a major event in young London’s society calendar). His mother was desperate, and I knew it would fit him. I’ll find another one for myself before too long”.

Unsaleable - but wearable clothes - are given to homeless shelters for ex-servicemen, and Cazenove has donated particularly special items to museums in the past. “Back in the ’90s, I got a phone call from a man living up a tower block in Tower Hamlets, saying that he had a load of stuff in suitcases with fleur-de-lis on them.

“I was a bit nervous - it wasn’t a nice area back then - but when I got there, it turned out that he was a descendent of Tsar Nicholas’ surgeon, and he had all this amazing Russian gear - suits, minks and Vuitton luggage, as well as letters of correspondence from the Tsar. I valued it fairly and took the whole lot.

“Of course I sold a lot of it, but some, I gave to the Victoria & Albert Museum. It only seemed right, as I’d got such a good deal. There’s leopardskin-lined coat from that collection still on display there to this day.”

Cazenove is always happy to meet potential sellers, citing An Officer and a Gentlemen’s first “big break” as the day that someone brought in their late father’s “lovely old clothes”, and to provide advice - being particularly pleased that he recently assisted someone in selling sashes from the Crimean War for £18,000 for which the seller had originally been offered £60 by a generic antique dealer.

He is also happy to be consulted on potential purchases from elsewhere, particularly if it helps people avoid fakes: “There’s a lot of Edwardian military coats around which are actually copies from China. Swords as well. People are pleased that they’re getting a bargain, but it may not be what they think.”

Up since 2am on the day I interviewed him for a flying visit up to London, Cazenove had already had a successful morning, selling a fur-lined coat, made for the British ambassador to Russia before the Second World War but never worn, to fashion house Ralph Lauren, who will be copying it for a future collection, and displaying the original in its New York flagship store. So, there’s plenty of highs to be had in the vintage clothing game - but how about the lows?

“It’s heartbreaking when you go into the attic of a stately home and see clothes which could have been worth a fortune, and they’re threadbare or moth-eaten. I once visited the Dashwood family, whose ancestor had been a pageboy at the wedding of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert in 1840. Sadly, his outfit was shot through - totally destroyed by moths. All I could rescue were the silver buttons.”

At this Cazenove jumps up and pulls a plastic tub full of the buttons out of a drawer, insisting that I take away with me a small but amazing part of history. I don’t need much persuading, recognising the intrinsic beauty in the small, but weighty nub of tarnished silver, stamped with Queen Victoria’s crown, and immediately deciding that I will get a chain to hang it on.

“Vintage clothes are a talking point; they look good, and they’ve got an artistic and conceptual value; a history, and a hell of a story,” says Cazenove. “Just think about it - the violin from the Titanic’s band has just sold for nearly £1m, and it’s totally unplayable; but clothes you can wear. It’s not about the money for me; it’s about the passion. I would rather spend £100 on a story I can wear on my back than buy a new BMW.”

  • First published in Out & About, 2013

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The art of the garden - feature on botanical artist Katharine Amies

SOMEWHERE deep in the woods of Snelsmore Common is a haven of tranquility: a light and airy kitchen where hours pass like minutes and creations of breathtaking beauty can be inspired by from something as apparently mundane as a root vegetable.

But these vegetables aren’t for eating, they are for celebrating in their raw state, to be captured on paper, frozen in time - and no; I’m not talking about potato printing: for this is the home of botanical artist Katharine Amies. Botanical art dates back hundreds of years, flourishing in the 17th century when it became a way of portraying and disseminating the beauty and novelty of plants brought back from Britain’s new colonies. It continued to be popular for the next two centuries, with detailed drawings and paintings of flowers, fruit, vegetables and other plants being used to illustrate flora field guides, catalogues and magazines.

The advent and advancement of photography has not made the skill of the botanical artist redundant, as the careful observation and detailed capturing of each subject brings it to life with a vibrancy and realism that somehow a camera could never capture. Amies has on display in her kitchen a line drawing of a pineapple which bristles with an micro-authentic hyper-reality that can only come from careful observation and the most delicate of pencil strokes building up layer upon layer of carbon to create three-dimensional depth and shadow.

As passionate about teaching the skill of botanical art to others as practising it herself, Amies has started holding workshops at her home, with the mantra that anyone can learn how to draw and paint, as long as they are taught well.

Attending a day’s session on painting summer flowers, I was worried that my extremely rusty pre-GCSE standard painting skills and frankly embarrassing drawing ability wouldn’t stand up to such a meticulous and detailed art form, but Amies’ explanation that botanical painting is as much a science as an art soon put me at my ease.

“Basically, if you follow the rules, concentrate, and don’t rush, there’s no reason why you can’t do it. It’s so prescriptive that if you do what I tell you, you will get a result that you can take home and be proud of. Most people who come on my courses are like you - they haven’t painted since school, and they are really pleasantly surprised by what they can achieve in a few hours.”

Amies herself discovered botanical painting after a few false starts at finding her creative forte almost put her off art for good. “I always loved drawing beetles, bugs and detailed things, but I didn’t really get on with art at school - it all seemed to be a bit vague, about ‘expressing yourself’, and that wasn’t up my street. Later on I went on a watercolour landscape weekend, but that didn't suit me either - again, I wasn’t given enough direction for my liking. I studied languages at university, and got a job in fashion retail marketing, so art didn’t feature in my life for a long time after that. 

“Then, in 2001, a friend invited me to see her mother’s botanical painting exhibition, after she’d completed a year’s course with the Florilegium Society at Chelsea Physic Garden. I was absolutely stunned - I remember her painting of a sweet pea which I found particularly amazing. I left my job, signed up for the course, and spent a year of Mondays being talked through how to create three-dimensional shapes through shading, how to make cherries and plums shine, and how to tackle petals and leaves.

“I loved it - I discovered that I like being told how to get a result rather than be told to ‘find it yourself’. I suppose the fact that I studied languages at university shows that I like being told what to do, and that if I work hard enough at something, I can get good at it.

Of course, a few generations ago, lots of people painted or drew - it was a common hobby among our grandparents when there were less alternatives, and their work can look surprisingly good, but it was because they kept at it. I believe that anyone can be taught to draw and paint if they really want to, and spend time on it.

I was taught in a way that I can pass on to others quite easily, even if they can only attend one of my workshops - all it takes from me is encouragement and patience.”

In 2003, Amies submitted her first artwork into an exhibition in Chelsea, selling eight pictures, and realised that she could make a living out of her talent. She booked a space at Shepherd Market Gallery in Mayfair for the following year, by which point she had produced 48 paintings, of which she sold 44. Her productivity has been slowed down in recently years by the arrival of her children, but she has held a third exhibition, and mainly undertakes commissions.

“Customers normally commission flowers, such as roses or peonies, but will buy the unexpected when they see them: beetroot, borlotti beans and courgettes for example. I do like to do things that wouldn’t be considered classical botanical images. Vegetables can be quite beautiful. The cardoon (also known as the artichoke thistle) is a good example of that.

Amies enjoys a challenge - “the passion flower was pretty tough, because it’s so detailed” - but there are still a couple yet to be conquered. “I started to paint a cantaloupe melon; the outside was difficult because of the spiderweb pattern, but then I cut it open, and thought “no way, I can’t do it.” Working with fresh plants also provides a challenge - flowers have to be painted before their petals droop, and the leaves of root vegetables tend to droop as soon as they are picked. The solution is to grow them in pots, only uprooting them at the last minute, so that the leaves can be painted in situ.

She also has an expert helping hand with the growing side of things from her father, the renowned wildflower cultivator and countryside restoration champion, Charles Flower. “People suggested that I use my maiden name for my artwork as it’s rather appropriate, but I thought that would be too much!” she laughs.

As for my own experience on Amies’ painting day; I was genuinely delighted with the resulting line drawing and watercolour paintings that I produced. Following the formula of imagining the light source coming from top left and thinking about how it would create light and shade on the petals and leaves, I was able to create three pieces of art that I would be proud to put on my wall. “You’ve got the hang of taking it steady, building up the colour layer by layer, not overdoing it,” Amies explains.

“The main mistake people make is to overload the paintbrush, and put on too much colour to begin with. It’s heartbreaking when that happens, because there’s often nothing I can do to help them correct it. It’s always possible to add more, but you can’t take it away once there’s too much colour on the paper.”

And so, with the motto “less is more” ringing in my ears, I departed Amies’ welcoming kitchen, the day having flown by in the blink of an eye, three pieces of artwork ready to frame, and thoughts of buying a watercolour and pencil set in my mind; with the confidence that if I practice hard and long enough, I could actually become a lot better at painting and drawing than I ever believed possible.

  • First published in Out & About, 2013

A deeper shade of blue - review of The Blue Bishops and Invisible Vegas at Ace Space

Photo: Richard Markham

The Blue Bishops and Invisible Vegas, at ACE Space, Newbury on Friday, October 26, 2013

A BAND with true blue credentials (in the musical, not political sense) oozing out of their pores, The Blue Bishops cranked the sound up to 11, nearly “red lining” the sound system, and rocked to the rafters at ACE Space on Friday night.

Joined by local musician and regular band stand-in Chris Hook while usual bassist Jim Rodford was elsewhere doing his thing with The Zombies, the Bishops demonstrated what decades of individual professional musicianship and years playing as a four-piece should sound like.

Despite the slightly unatmospheric setting - ACE Space’s lighting rig  went kaput earlier in the week, meaning that the band performed their set under the hall’s harsh florescent strips - the Bishops created a sweaty ambience all of their own with two storming sets.  

The blues’ heaviest sounds, such as Fleetwood Mac’s Drifting (written by Peter Green) were juxtaposed with covers swiped from the less well-thumbed pages of the blues songbook, such as Elvis Presley’s That’s Alright Mama, which I wouldn’t have previously spotted as featuring a classic blues progression, but was actually written by blues singer Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup back in the ’40s.

However, it was with their own songs, mainly written by frontman Geoff Grange and guitarist Simon Burrett, that the Bishops came into their own, bringing a rocky - nay, poppy - and often fun edge to their sound, on more lighthearted songs such as Credit Card. A darker, Springsteen-esque seam ran through Black Diamond, written about a 1950s mining disaster at a Durham Colliery, near to Grange’s home town of Hartlepool.

Grange himself is all you want from a frontman; with a wiry charisma, he held the stage with each song, with plenty of opportunity to showcase his prodigious harmonica playing which has secured him long-standing collaborations with the likes of Bill Wyman and Nicky Hopkins. Overall, the band were truly excellent - a real treat for ACE Space, which is getting a name for itself as a small but welcoming venue, helping to put Newbury back on the musical map.

Support came from two of Invisible Vegas, a youthful Oxford band discovered by gig promoter Richard Markham, testing the water at ACE Space with a view to returning with their full membership in the New Year. Their polished indie rock sound and boyish charm went down well with the audience, so I’m pretty sure that they’d receive a warm welcome if they were to return. They’ll have to crank up the sound a fair bit to compete with The Blue Bishops, though.

* First published in the Newbury Weekly News in November 2013

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Tea towels and dogma - interview with James Studholme from Police Dog Hogan

“MIDDLE aged man band” Police Dog Hogan enjoyed their Arlington Arts gig so much last year that they’ve been persuaded back to Newbury for a more intimate date at ACE Space on April 26. Frontman JAMES STUDHOLME tells CATRIONA REEVES why 

CATRIONA REEVES: There’s quite a lot of musicians in Police Dog Hogan; I hope you realise that you’re going to be a bit crushed on the ACE Space stage!

JAMES STUDHOLME: We’ve recently pared down to a six piece because our guitarist has moved away - but anyone who plays with us is a Police Dog in perpetuity, just not currently on active service. Sometimes we bring a guest trumpeter along, but maybe we’ll leave him at home for this gig!

When my friend, the DJ Johnny Walker, heard that we were starting up as a seven-piece, he said “you’ll never make any money”. But the more people there are in the band, the more fun there is to be had.

CR: I’ve heard that the band runs to a set of rules known as “Police Dogma”: what do these involve?

JS: They were based on the rules of bluegrass - mainly that we don’t involve any instruments that you can’t carry to a microphone. The original idea was that we would play around one microphone, but we quickly realised that wasn’t practical. It’s different in America, where musicians grow up with that way of doing things and are highly skilled at it, but we soon converted to a more conventional set up.

We’re still basically trying to stick to the bluegrass soundscape - we still haven’t involved a piano in the band - but the pure bluegrass style is quite restrictive, and of course we’re English, so we haven’t applied the rules religiously.

I guess that we’ve broken our own rules to get to a more interesting place. We’re probably more in the folk than the rock world, but there’s no real road map. We’ve been called “urban bluegrass”, “townbilly” and “Anglicana”, but I think our banjo player Tim coined it best with “middle aged man band”.

Our pop heritage is Slade, T. Rex, punk and The Smiths, and that’s all in our music, along with the country music thread. But we don’t want to be singing about highways and truck stops - our songs are about the A39 and Knutsford Services. 

CR: You’ve all got successful day jobs [Studholme heads up film company Blink Productions, responsible for Cadbury’s drumming gorilla and two of John Lewis’ Christmas ads] - but do you harbour dreams of jacking it all in to be full-time rock stars?

JS: Rock and roll stardom is every schoolboy’s fantasy, and we were all musicians in a previous life before we made our livings. Where we are now is a really nice spot - It’s basically a supercharged hobby; I guess the term is “semi pro”. We are now being offered more gigs than we can do in a year, and it’s nice to be able to pick and choose.

The big thing that we’re in this for is the songwriting and recording, and the success of the live shows is an unexpected surprise. When we tour, we realise that people are coming to see us who don’t know us personally, which is great. 

Like all bands, we started with a few friends and family members coming along and shuffling a leg. I think it was a relief for them when we started to get a following of our own; it meant that they didn’t have to come along to every gig!

CR: Your big selling merchandise item is a tea towel featuring the faces of band members. I hope that you’re bringing a load to ACE Space; I think they’ll sell rather well to the regulars.

JS: The tea towels seem to have developed a following of their own. They are sensational quality - larger than most, and very absorbent. People buy one, then come back for more! We’re still fractionally ahead in record sales, but I can see a day coming when the tea towels take over.

Fortunately we’re recording a new album in May, so our Newbury gig is part of a little run of dates to give us a chance to play the new songs before we go into the studio. So, hopefully, we should be able to keep the music just ahead of the tea towels, in terms of popularity.

CR: Police Dog Hogan’s banjo player is The Guardian’s weekend columnist Tim Dowling. Do a lot of readers come along to check out the band?

JS: Tim’s column is predicated on everything in his life being awkward and going wrong, so when he mentions the band it tends to involve humiliating disasters. Certainly in the first 18 months I can’t imagine that anyone reading about us in his column would have been tempted to see us live!

Luckily we started to get quite favourable internet noise, and it seemed that last year quite a lot of people were coming to check out if Tim could play. He’s actually a very talented musician, and I like to think that we’ve converted a lot of his followers to our cause.

CR: Is being in Police Dog Hogan as much fun as it sounds?

JS: It certainly is. The band is built on longstanding friendships - some of them up to 35 years - and all the shared memories and feelings that come with that. It makes the songwriting process an absolute joy. We’re looking forward to the ACE Space gig. It should be a riotous evening.

* Police Dog Hogan play at ACE Space on Saturday, April 26, supported by The Pottingshed Band. Tickets cost £12 from Hogan Music [no relation to the band] or £14 on the door. Tea towels should be available on the night.

* First published in the Newbury Weekly News in March 2014

Monday, November 04, 2013

Why I am striking for the future of public protection - Napo Probation Strike, November 5-6 2013

HEY people, I thought I'd explain why I am joining the Napo national strike to save Probation tomorrow, in case you thought it was about pay or pensions...

Basically, the government are planning to sell off 70 per cent of the Probation Service. G4S and Serco will almost certainly win all the 20-odd contracts. I don't want to work for either G4S or Serco, but more importantly, I don't think that that public protection should be put in their hands.

The government says that this will allow more voluntary and charity organisations to get involved with offenders. No bad thing. But why is it considered that G4S and Serco will be better at sub-contracting to the third sector than existing Probation trusts? (who already do some such partnership work, btw).

Maybe you think "well, maybe Probation are doing a rubbish job". But we're not. Each trust was graded between good and excellent last year. And the figures that the government quote about high rates of reoffending among those sentenced to less than 12 months in prison isn't of our doing, as they are currently released without licence.

Minister Jeremy Wright finally admitted the truth on BBC Five Live earlier - it's about money. They don't want to pay Probation to manage these people effectively, so they're giving it to cheaper organisations - along with 70% of our existing work (managing medium and low risk offenders).

And yes, on the ground the work will still be done effectively, at least to begin with, because the majority of staff in these community rehabilitation companies (as they will be called) will be former Probation staff. But wait until G4S and Serco take over the contracts in 2015. Over time, professionalism will be replaced with the cheapest option, and the concept of public protection will become a distant memory.

Jeremy Wright said today that public protection will be safe because risk assessment will remain in the hands of the National Probation Service. 

But risk is dynamic, not static, so will those working directly with offenders be able to spot the signs? Will those alarm bells start to ring, based on professional experience and trained intuition? Or will the signs be missed as offender managers find themselves under pressure to hit payment-by-result targets to make each case look like a success?

Oh - and what a coincidence - the new contracts will be in place a month before the general election, so even a change of government won't stop it happening. Chris Grayling wants his legacy, for good or bad.

Tomorrow and Wednesday's strike probably won't lead to a u-turn in the government's plans. Although it just might, if enough members of the public kick up a fuss, write to their MPs, sign the petition etc, and make it known that these changes aren't being made in their name, or for their good.

I personally can't let it go ahead without making my view clearly known, and that's by going on strike and losing a day's pay. Because I didn't give up a perfectly good (and far less stressful) previous career for the money, the perks, the friendly faces or the gratitude. I would have been sorely disappointed if I had.

I became a Probation Officer because I felt that I had the skills to work with some of the most challenging people in society, engage with them, manage and reduce their risk, and hopefully do my bit to protect the public. And I want to be able to continue to do this as part of an organisation with an internationally respected track record for doing so.

If you feel moved to do so, please sign the petition:

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Wicked game - interview with Jo Caulfield

FEISTY comedian JO CAULFIELD is on the road with her Better The Devil You Know tour, and coming to Arlington Arts on Friday, November 1. CATRIONA REEVES gets her to pull in at a service station in the West Country to talk about why she still loves a live audience.

CATRIONA REEVES: Right - this is only going to get in the paper a couple of days before your Newbury date: we need to sell the show quickly. You can start persuading our readers.... now.

JO CAULFIELD: My husband and I recently celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary - we’d got married in New York because we just wanted a holiday, and didn’t want to pay for other people to have a good time. I was talking to someone else who had also got married over there, and they mentioned the hassle of completing all the paperwork to register the marriage when they got back. Now, we never did that, so I started to wonder if we were actually legally married at all.

That got me thinking about what it would be like to be single, and after 10 years it seemed a good time to have an appraisal of my marriage - focussing on him, of course, not me as I’m perfect. Obviously, after so long together, I’ve pretty much got him  behaving as I want him to, but there’s some traits that can’t be changed, and I had to decide if it’s “better the devil you know”, compared to the single life, which to be honest, looks rather exhausting. I don’t think I’ve got the energy for that.

The show seems to strike a chord with a lot of couples - men come up after  the show and say that it explains so much, and women ask if I’ve been following their husbands with a camera. It’s really interesting talking to couples during and after the show, particularly those who have been married a really long time. It seems that after 40 years or so, the men give up and do what they’re told, so it looks like they can be tamed... eventually.

It’s great to have couples in the audience who are prepared to offer themselves up for sacrifice, but singles are also very welcome, as it’s a good reminder that they’re not really missing much by not being in a relationship.

CR: You’ve had a healthy career away from the world of stand up, not least as a comedy writer. The lure of the road must be strong for you to go on tour again.

JC: My time as a writer for the likes of Graham Norton taught me a lot about writing jokes. When you’re live on stage, and you’re coming up to a new joke, the test is whether you tell it or back out - if that happens, you know it’s not that good. It’s different on television, where it needs to be decided beforehand if the joke is worth telling. Graham is excellent at that - he says “I’m not hearing laughter, I’m hearing smiles...”.

But stand-up comedy is something you can’t take a break from for too long if you want to return to it. It’s easy to get rusty, so you have to keep on at it, and you can’t do that if you’re busy writing for someone else. So I’ve made the decision to start writing mainly for myself again now. I really enjoy touring. It doesn’t suit everyone, certainly not all women - but then there’s lots of male comedians that it doesn’t suit either.

CR: The Times described your show as “like a sociology textbook, but with jokes”. Were you chuffed with that?

JC: It made me sound very clever! I wouldn’t say that the show has an intentional message as such, bu if you’re talking about day-to-day life, it does in itself become a social commentary. It’s not so much my aim, as a happy outcome. But people come up to me after the show and tell me that they really relate to it, which is lovely, as it means that I’m on the right track.

* Tickets for Jo Caulfield at Arlington Arts on Friday, November 1, cost £13, available from www. or 01635 244246.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Stories through song - review of Case Hardin, Daisy Chapman and The Lullabirds at ACE Space

Case Hardin, Daisy Chapman and The Lullabirds at ACE Space, Newbury on Friday, September 20

PROMOTER Richard Markham reckoned that Friday’s ACE Space gig line-up “didn’t look like it should work on paper”, but in fact, the three bands blended together beautifully, each telling moving and heartbreaking stories through song, and breaking free of the traditional rock band line-up with the sound of strings and other instruments.

The evening was opened by The Lullabirds, a localish trio featuring Kate Sharples on flugel horn, Rebecca Wilson on Double Bass, and the beautiful contralto vocals and guitar of Celia Barrett, creating a sparse yet mesmerising sound, creating a showcase for Barrett’s lyrics of love and death - two themes which made regular appearances throughout the rest of the evening.

Co-headliner Daisy Chapman first played at Ace Space two years ago, as a solo performer, although with her keyboard and loop machine to create layers of vocals, she can fill a room with sound without the need for other musicians. However, her band - cello, violin and drums - added a wonderful depth and fullness to her sound, bringing alive her tales of crashing planes, sinking boats, 18th century gin-soddenness, sin and death.

Chapman’s version of the Titanic tragedy, Mrs Hart’s Premonition, was heart-rending, ending with a cipher of Nearer My God To Me, played by the ship’s band as it sank. Even more stunning was A Sinner Song, breathtakingly beautiful in the simplicity of its tune and lyrics, and yet lush with layers of vocals, piano and strings.

Proving that she isn’t all about misery (even her jollier tunes, such as Madame Jeneva have darker undertones in their lyrics), Chapman perked up her set with a couple of unexpected covers, rounding off with an only once-previously performed version of Soul II Soul’s Back To Life; a song which should be the staple of far more bands with a string section, owing to its funky violin riff. Chapman may love the winter, as she sings on Shameless Winter, but there’s a touch of fun in her performance that keeps her darkest-themed songs beautiful rather than bleak.

Case Hardin are always a guaranteed draw at ACE Space, and while they were co-headlining with Daisy Chapman, it was only right that they would round off the evening with their hefty dose of Americana. Pete Gow’s ever-shifting band has lost mandolin and banjo player Adam Kotz to his acting career, but gained violinist Hanna Piranha, keeping Case Hardin’s sound, as showcased on their recently-released third album PM, rich and interesting.

Despite the downbeat nature of many of Gow’s storytelling lyrics (“Daisy’s album is called Shameless Winter, and ours is called PM - what did you expect?” he quipped), the band were in upbeat mood, bringing a sweaty rockiness to proceedings which perked up the saddest of tales a treat.

For the last few songs, joined by the errant Kotz on banjo for a welcome reunion, the band tumbled off the stage and into the audience, setting out their stall between the tables for an acoustic encore of Champeen, Gow’s tale of a bare knuckle fighter facing death or glory.

As with Chapman, Gow’s lyrics are often dark and his tunes moving, but the rock & roll feel of Friday’s performance added a shot of adrenaline to the mood which didn’t detract from the thought-provoking content of the songs, and signed off a tune-laden evening with an unexpectedly upbeat flourish.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on September 26, 2013

Bishops sing the Blues - interview with Simon Burrett from The Blue Bishops

WITH about a billion years* of professional musicianship on their collective CVs, The Blue Bishops are feted internationally for their work at the rockier end of the R&B and Blues spectrum - and they’re playing at ACE Space next Friday. “Everyone’s going to have a good time, and that’s not being big headed - that’s the truth”, band founder and guitarist SIMON BURRETT tells CATRIONA REEVES.

CATRIONA REEVES: The Blue Bishops have got an impressive musical pedigree - tell me 

SIMON BURRETT: Our lead vocalist is Geoff Grange, who has played the harmonica for Bill Wyman and all sorts of other people. Drummer Justin Hildreth has toured all over the world with the likes of Joan Armatrading. And our usual bass player is Jim Rodford, who used to be in Argent and the Kinks, and now plays with The Zombies - he’s currently touring with them so won’t be joining us in Newbury.

And then there’s me! I’ve been kicking around the London band scene for more years than I care to admit, but the Bishops has been my longest commitment, and the most enjoyable of the lot. I still do other things, but my main squeeze will always be the Blue Bishops!

CR: Your last album Into The Red, which featured both Rod Argent and The Who’s keyboard wizard Rabbit,  was very well received on the rock and blues scenes. Can we expect another album soon?

SB: There’s been a bit of a hiccup on that: I had the beginnings of about 40 different tracks recorded on my phone; unfortunately they got lost when it got smashed after I drove off with it on the roof of my car. I’m recreating them, slowly!

CR: So, is a lot of The Blue Bishops’ work original?

SB: We enjoy fiddling around with stuff from the Blues idiom, but it’s not a big part of our set. But although we cover the spectrum of rock & roll with our own songs, the Blues are always in there somewhere. It’s a simple basis,but when you get into it, it’s not that simple at all. It’s not just about giving a song a three-chord structure!

The producer Paul Long is attributed as saying that the Blues never stands still, and if it has the right feel, music can still be the Blues. And however rocky our set gets, there’s always a Blues heart to it. 

CR: I understand that the band has a local link to Newbury...

SB: When Jim is away with The Zombies, our other bassist is Chris Hook from Newbury, who was in Voyager in the 70s. Seeing as this is his local gig, it’s only fair that he plays with us at ACE Space!

It’ll be “hello again” to Newbury from me as well - my mum and dad used to live in Inkpen Common. I used to go to the pub in Faccombe and make my way back to theirs - I can tell you, Combe Gibbet at 1am is a spooky place! I’m not sure I’ll make a return visit there after the gig, but I’ve got strong ties to Newbury, and it’s going to be great to play at ACE Space.

CR: So you’re looking particularly looking forward to this gig, then?

SB: Very much so. We get off on our audience, and they get off on us I can guarantee that everyone will have a good time; and that’s not being big headed - that’s the truth. If you come and see us, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

* The Blue Bishops play at ACE Space on Friday, October 25, supported by The Poachers. Music starts at 8pm. Tickets cost £10 on the door or £8 in advance from Hogan Music. They can also be reserved by emailing, or call 07974534452 or 07905590214.

* Figure may not be completely accurate. But it’s an awful lot.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A whisper of winter - interview with Daisy Chapman ahead of her Newbury gig with Case Hardin on Friday September 20

DAISY CHAPMAN will be bringing a touch of early winter to ACE Space on Friday, September 20, with a rare full-band show by the “sinner songwriter” as she calls herself. She tells CATRIONA REEVES how Bruce Hornsby inspired her to becoming a musician, and what it’s like to be a big name in Germany.

CATRIONA REEVES: The first song you ever learnt to play on the piano by ear was The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby & The Range. Not terribly rock & roll...

DAISY CHAPMAN: Not very cool maybe, but that was the era! I was learning the piano, and was always drawn towards keyboard-led music as a result. Even now, there’s not much guitar music in my collection. I was inspired by the greats from the start, such as Elton John, especially his early stuff.

CR: I hear that you’ve got quite a big following in Germany - how did that come about?

DC: I’m signed to a German label called Songs & Whispers, as well as Folkwit Records in the UK, so over the last six years I’ve toured over there quite a lot, and a micro-climate of Daisy Chapman fans seems to have developed.

The German attitude to live music is very different to here in the UK - over here, there are so many artists, acts and venues that people are spoilt for choice, and they really want to be impressed. In Germany there is less of that available; and in particular they seem to really appreciate foreign artists that have made the effort to come and tour their country.

CR: You have performed at Ace Space previously as a solo artist, but this time you’re bringing a band with you - do you enjoy playing with other musicians?

DC: As I’ve had the opportunity to play and record more with other musicians, I really feel that I’ve found my sound, and I want to develop that - make it bigger and more powerful. I’ll be bringing a small band of violin, cello and percussion to ACE Space. It’s quite difficult to get us all together as a band for many live gigs, but we’re playing at Brisfest in Bristol the next day, so this will be a great warm-up for us.

CR: You do still tour a lot of the time as a solo artist - can that be lonely?

DC: It was actually that feeling of isolation on tour which inspired the theme of my latest album, Shameless Winter. I wrote a lot of it while in Germany, and feeling a bit lonely, in particular after a gig in Hanover, which was attended by four people. I must add that my Hanover gigs are much busier these days!

But the album has certainly got a wintery theme to it. We all need to get prepared for the winter mood - come along to the gig, and leave the sunshine behind!

* Daisy Chapman and her band will be at ACE Space on Friday, September 20, in a double header with Case Hardin, (pictured below), fronted by singer songwriter Pete Gow, who are returning with a changed line-up and a clutch of songs from their newly-released album PM, focussing on the theme of troubled souls and the outcasts of societies. First on, at 7.45pm, will be folk trio Lullabirds.

Tickets are available for £7 from Jacqui’s Shop in Blenheim Road and Hogan Music in Bartholomew Street, Newbury, or for £9 on the door, or telephone 07905 590214 (Ace Space) or 0797 453 4452 (promotor Richard Markham) to reserve if you're coming in from out of town.
  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, September 12

Monday, August 26, 2013

A wheely good time - feature on Beaulieu National Motor Museum, House and Garden

BACK in the 1990s, Beaulieu National Motor Museum, House and Garden promoted itself in a television advert with the jingle “You’ll have a Beaulieu-full day at Beaulieu". The jingle may have been long discarded (possibly because it was the clunkiest play on words ever to be used in an advertising campaign), but Beaulieu itself is still going strong, having been voted VisitEngland’s Best Large Visitor Attraction for 2013.

It may be a bold claim for an attraction to claim that it has “lots for everyone to enjoy”; but Beaulieu comes nearer than most in fulfilling such a promise; with the ruins of 13th century Beaulieu Abbey, Palace House, the ancestral home of the Montagu family since 1538, and its stunning grounds, including the well-tended Victorian flower and kitchen gardens.

Such tranquil surroundings may seen like a rather incongruous setting for a museum dedicated to cars and automobilia, but the founding of the National Motor Museum was no cynical tourist ploy; the current Lord Montagu started his collection in 1952 as a tribute to his father, a motoring pioneer as far back as the 1890s.

Despite the appeal of these historical attractions - on our visit to Beaulieu last month, we got no nearer to the house, abbey and gardens than via an aerial view from the mile-long monorail that circuits the site. We did go on it twice though, to get a good look. Not through laziness though - there was simply so much to be seen in the motor museum itself, and the adjacent World of Top Gear display. We even got a bird’s eye view of the exhibitions from the monorail, as during its journey it passes through the roof area of the museum, giving an unusual perspective on the vehicles on display, some of which are staged, staggered or suspended to make the most of space and viewpoints.

In addition, the weekend we visited coincided with the annual Beaulieu Custom & Hot Rod Festival, meaning that there were plenty of sleek cars, vans and bikes bedecked with shimmering chrome, in the event area next to the museum. Pleasingly, despite the increased visitor numbers - which we were warned about when we booked - everything was well organised, with no enormous queues or difficulty viewing the permanent exhibits, with the custom car interlopers simply adding to the atmosphere. The free fairground dodgems were most welcome as well.

And so into the museum itself; a quite breathtaking journey through the history of motoring, with more than 250 vehicles on show, from the earliest days of motoring (in stunning conserved condition) and family cars of the early 20th century, through to classic cars of the 70s and 80s, historic and modern racing, F1 and rally cars, and world land speed record breakers, including Donald Campbell’s Bluebird. I couldn’t help thinking of Matthew Crawley’s tragic final moment in Downton Abbey while looking at some of the beautifully sleek but not particularly safety-conscious early open-topped Rolls Royces and Bentleys. A joy to drive, I’m sure, but where were the seatbelts?

The famous “Outspan Orange” car (built on a Mini chassis in the early 1970s) had a certain ap-peel (gettit?) for young Sophie, while I was particularly drawn to the London Routemaster bus, and had a go at jumping on and swinging around its pole - with slightly less glamourous results than I had pictured in my head. More successful as a photo opportunity was an Edwardian car supplied with appropriate motoring costumes, and Sophie and I had great fun transforming ourselves into ladies from 100 years ago - while George refused steadfastly to even don a flat cap for the photo, and Bill kept well out of the way.

Opened last year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of James Bond films, the museum’s current flagship exhibition is Bond In Motion, showcasing 50 iconic Bond cars, boats, motorbikes, tow-sleds and jets, including the 1937 Phantom III Rolls-Royce from Goldfinger, the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldeneye, the “Little Nellie” autogyro from You Only Live Twice, and the Bede Acrostar jet flown in Octopussy.

Another separate exhibition area of Screen Cars features Del Boy’s iconic Reliant Regal from Only Fools and Horses, Mr Bean’s green mini, and the flying Ford Anglia from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. My favourite of all, taking pride of place in the main museum, was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - sadly, like many of the exhibits, for understandable reasons, not to be clambered upon. How I would have loved to climb into Chitty and go for an arial cruise above Beaulieu’s stunning grounds. What do you mean that it doesn’t really fly?

None of us are avid Top Gear fans, but the World of Top Gear was great fun, featuring some of the BBC television show’s more outlandish stars (I’m talking about the cars, not Jeremy Clarkson), centred around the Top Gear Enormodrome, which recreates the feel of the Top Gear studio, featuring a specially-made film made at the programme’s production office, with classic action clips featuring some of the outlandish vehicles on display. George was particularly impressed with the MG Limo bowling alley, although he did question the practicalities of using it while in motion.

We spotted the cobbled-together motorhomes, the “budget Bond” submarine cars, Ann Hathaway’s Cottage (an interior bedecked with flagstones and a woodburner), homemade police vehicles, and the double decker cars - not one of which looked at all roadworthy. If you spot any of these vehicles on the road, overtake carefully - or, as a friend once did while passing the Top Gear motorhomes driven by the presenters, film them and post to Youtube, resulting in a viral clip which was then picked up by the BBC as the trailer for the series, netting him a life-changing £400.

As we never made it into Palace House, we didn’t get the opportunity to enjoy some of Beaulieu’s current non-motoring exhibitions, including Royal Pageant, a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation, exploring the links between Beaulieu and the monarchy; and The Secret Army, telling the story of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) which trained secret agents at the Beaulieu “Finishing School” on the estate during the Second World War, before they were sent to occupied Europe to work with the Resistance, many never to return. A historical link that James Bond himself would be proud of.

With the school holidays upon us, Beaulieu is revving up for an influx of summer visitors by stepping attractions up a gear with living history characters giving an insight into Victorian life at Palace House and in the 1870s kitchen garden, falconry and Cisternian monks in the Abbey Cloisters, a go-kart track, tours on the open-topped replica 1912 London bus, and creative activities in the museum with a caravan theme. See - what did I tell you? Something for everyone.

Check the website for details and entry prices at

  • First published in Out & About magazine, July 2013

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

From pavement to penthouse - interview with Glenn Gregory from Heaven 17

WITH albums called Penthouse and Pavement and The Luxury Gap, Heaven 17 may seem intrinsic to the decedent ’80s, but dig a little deeper, and they had something serious to say about the decade of excess. GLENN GREGORY reminds CATRIONA REEVES of the message behind the music.

CATRIONA REEVES: Heaven 17 had a rather suave image, but the band actually came out of the Sheffield electro-pop scene, which as depicted in the 2010 BBC Two documentary Heaven 17: The Story of Penthouse and Pavement, all looked a bit gritty. Were you a band on a mission to escape that?

GLENN GREGORY: Not at all: Sheffield has been really good to us. Back in the ’70s, Sheffield was in economic decline, with the steelworks and cutlery industry collapsing, so it was quite a depressed place. There were no music venues, so we used to travel to Manchester, Leeds and even Liverpool to see bands. 

We were all living in the closed-down cutlery factories because they were so cheap. The Human League [originally featuring future Heaven 17 members Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh] had their first studio in the one of the factories, and we also used them to start putting on our own little club nights. In a way, because the city was on its knees and falling apart, out of the ashes came a new verve and excitement.

Sheffield is quite a left wing city - it’s sometimes called the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire - so there was a political slant to what was going on as well, especially when Thatcher stuck the knife in to the steelworks.

Lyrically, The Human League were guided by Phil [Oakey], who liked things a bit strange and sci-fi, a little bit odd. So when I joined up with Martyn and Craig to form Heaven 17, we knew that we wanted to do things differently - to say something political, but not in a preachy way; we wanted to make something you could dance to.

CR: Do you think that your fans realised that was what you were doing? Did they listen to the lyrics, or did they just look at the slick album covers and take them as face value?

GG: It was probably a 50-50 split: some people understood the irony of our message, but then City boys came into being, and they thought it was all about them.

CR: Basically, you unintentionally invented Yuppies, didn’t you.

GG: Nooooo! Please not!

CR: You and Martyn Ware continue to record as Heaven 17, and also as British Electric Foundation [BEF]. Do you still aim create the original electro-pop synth sound on your records?

GG: Some sounds we love and are comfortable with, and we’ve still got some of the old synths, including the one that Being Boiled  [The Human League’s first single] was written on - they still work, and we still use them. But there are some excellent new synths available now, and computer programs which can recreate the sounds of the classic old synths, which are amazing. They sound just like they did in Martyn’s studio all those years ago.

We’re currently writing new BEF material, and working on it with lots of different artists, including Green Gartside from Scritti Politti, Sandi Shaw and Boy George. We’re very privileged, and proud of everything we do.

CR: You’ve never actually disbanded - although Ian Craig Marsh has now left - but there was definitely a resurgence in interest around the time of Penthouse and Pavement’s 30th anniversary in 2010. Have you been discovered by a new generation?

GG: Definitely - It’s not all 40-somethings at our gigs now. La Roux’s support of us around the same time helped bring us to the attention of younger fans. We did a BBC session with them, and then I sang Temptation on stage with them at Glastonbury. 

Waiting backstage, I wasn’t sure if the crowd would know who I was, but when Elly [Jackson, La Roux’s singer] brought me on, the whole place erupted - it was great. I came off stage and Florence Welch from Florence + the Machine gave me a big hug - she wanted me to come out on stage again and sing with her!

I never mind singing Temptation - it’s one of those songs that always raises the roof, no matter where we play it. We really enjoy revisiting our old songs - when we started reworking Penthouse and Pavement in the studio in preparation for performing it live in its entirety for the 30th anniversary tour, we were surprised how contemporary and fresh it sounded.

CR: You’re playing the Rewind festival this weekend - do you enjoy meeting up with other acts from the ’80s?

GG: In the old days we were almost rivals, fighting for the number one spot or slots on Top of the Pops or The Tube; but these days it’s like a big school trip; we’re all there to make people happy. I always go out the front to watch some of the other acts. I love watching ABC. Martin Fry is a star performer, and part of the Sheffield crew like me.

We’ve done Rewind a couple of times, and it’s one of the best festivals of its type. The venue’s fantastic - I was stunned the first time I saw it, although I think it’s grown massively since then. My mum and dad came to the first Rewind, and they want to come again. It’s such good fun.

CR: You were good friends with the late Billy Mackenzie from The Associates, and you often perform his song Party Fears Two in your set. Is that an important song for you to perform.

GG: It certainly is. When I sing it, I have fantastic memories and pictures of Billy in my head. It gets me quite emotional. I have a whippet called Bill, who is named after Billy, because he bred them, and gave me my first puppy. He loved dogs even more than he loved his music. 

Rather confusingly, our female singer is also called Billie [Godfrey] - no, she’s not named after the whippet!

* Heaven 17 play Rewind, The 80s Festival on Saturday, August 17 at Temple Island Meadows, Henley-on-Thames. For information, visit

  • First published on