Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hilariously tall tales - review of Greg Davies

Greg Davies at The Corn Exchange, Newbury on Friday, June 17

I DON’T like to use the word “hilarious” in my reviews of comedy for the Newbury Weekly News - partly because not all the acts I see hit the “hilarious” button enough times to deserve it, but also because if I describe a comedian’s performance as hilarious, where do I go from there? What if I see someone even more consistently, side-achingly, tear-inducingly funny the following week? What word do I use to describe them?

But I have decided on this occasion to take the plunge. So, here goes... Greg Davies is hilarious. His show, Firing Cheeseballs At A Dog, elicited laughs, guffaws, chuckles and titters from beginning to end. His support act, Ed Gamble, was pretty good as well, which isn’t always a given. Davies apologised if some of his material was familiar to the audience who may have seen his recent appearance on TV channel Dave, “but I have extended the show since then”.

In fact, he had brought it in a shortened embryonic form to Newbury in April 2010 as part of The Big Laugh comedy event put on by The Corn Exchange’s youth committee (he’s also previously performed at Newbury Comedy Festival as part of the sketch trio We Are Klang). No matter; it was excellent then, but an Edinburgh Fringe run and an inordinate number of tour dates later, Davies has lovingly honed the show into a well-crafted run through some of the most bizarre “true’ moments from his life, introducing some fabulously freakish characters along the way, including his magnificently eccentric parents.

Whizzing through some more ignominious periods of his life - his university years were summed up as “Drunk. Pathetic. Single” - in favour of the long, dark teatime of the soul which was his teaching career, Davies was wonderfully self-deprecating (describing his toddler self as resembling Mr Tickle) without ever slipping into maudlin introspection. He teetered in his tales and their telling just on the right side of “man of the people” rather than wobbling over into “worryingly strange”. He happily jumped into the audience to find a “young person”, and bravely let it slip that he was off to The Dolphin pub after the show to see a mate’s band. I bet they suddenly had an influx of new customers in there around 11pm on Friday.

The next comedian I see has a lot to live up to [it might be Mark Thomas during Newbury Comedy Festival in July, so to be fair, he’s likely to do a pretty good job ]. For now, I will pack the word “hilarious” away, having reserved it for Davies alone. I hope he uses it wisely and liberally.

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, June 23, 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

In a room... with Dodgy - review

Dodgy at South Street Arts Centre, Reading, on Saturday, June 4

AUGUST 1996. Reading Festival. I'm working on the Saturday, but "no worries," says Bill, "come down later, we'll probably be at the main stage, somewhere on the left - don't be late for Dodgy!". Hmm. Vague. Anyway, early evening I make it onto the festival site; Dodgy are already on. I wind my way through the crowd towards the front of the main stage, keeping towards the left - and just as Dodgy start playing my favourite song, Grassman, I spot Bill's leather jacket. Sorted.

OK, so Reading Festival back then wasn't the immense crush of more recent years, and I do have a theory that we all used to have built-in satnav which was switched off when we all got mobile phones, but I like to believe that it was the magic of Dodgy that made a seemingly impossible meet-up very straightforward indeed.

June 2011. South Street Arts Centre, Reading. I'm not going to have much trouble finding Bill at this gig, as the room only holds a couple of hundred people (but there he is, down the front, on the left). Appearing as a favour for an old muso friend, the organiser of Reading's Know Your History club night (which aims to mark major musical anniversaries), Dodgy have not only agreed to play for a cut-price rate,  but are obliged to perform a track off The Smiths' album The Queen Is Dead, which was released 25 years ago. Their attempt at There Is A Light That Never Goes Out is not exactly the musical accomplishment of the night, but it would amuse all but the most hardcore Smiths fans. Luckily there don't seem to be many of those in tonight.

Dodgy have been back in the shape of their classic line-up (Nigel Clark, lead singer and bassist, Andy Miller, guitarist, and Matthew Priest, drummer) since 2007, but this was the first time that I've seen them since the 90s - when I saw them many, many times. Older they may be, wiser they may not be, but the trio's vocals still blend together together in perfection, on old hits such as Staying Out For The Summer and the epic and uplifting So Let Me Go Far (but sadly not Grassman - I've since had words with them about that), and newer tracks from more recent and forthcoming albums.

One thing I always loved about Dodgy back in the day was their sense of fun, and it's good to see that has remained intact despite the passing years, as they banter with the crowd and each other throughout their set. As a microphone slipped down its stand, Nigel bravely battles on with the song, straddling lower and lower until he is all legs akimbo, like a dubious Elvis impersonator. I doubt Morrissey would be so obliging. Hilarious.

Dodgy, I know you've never really been away, but welcome back into my life. I hope you'll stay a while.

Fluffy Kitson - review of Daniel Kitson

Daniel Kitson: The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church, at The Corn Exchange, Newbury, on Thursday, May 26

I KNEW Daniel Kitson was meant to be good. After all, he was voted “best British stand-up of all time” by fellow comedians in Dave’s Census of Humour earlier this year. So I kind of expected to be blown away by him - and when I was, it wasn’t a complete surprise. But that didn’t make the experience of being blown away any less exhilarating, life-enhancing or uplifting - with the left field addition of also being incredibly touching.

The show Kitson is currently touring isn’t ‘stand-up’ as such. It’s actually what he describes as a “story show”, delving into the life of the character Gregory Church, from his decision to end his life after redundancy in the early ‘80s until his eventual death more than 20 years later. The tale was told through Kitson’s discovery of 30,000 letters sent and received by the retired and isolated Church, cataloguing the unsolicited salvation found in the replies to his 50-odd suicide notes (“he never expected anyone to write back”) and his slow return to life through the ongoing correspondence which continued through the years.

Starting the tale with “this bit is true” meant that although the audience was fully aware that it was entirely a product of Kitson’s detailed and ordered imagination, it was unclear where the truth becomes fiction and the “story” actually started, resulting in a deeper emotional investment in Church and the recipients of his letters. There was a collective sense of sadness when his long-term sparring partner, the local newspaper editor, passed away, and a frisson of hope for romance, which came to nothing, for, as Kitson says, an account of someone’s life does not have the satisfactory resolutions of a book or a film.

Kitson’s compelling delivery was unfettered by his occasional stutter (“if it bothers you in any way... you are a bigot”), while his easy distraction made for unplanned moments, both amusing and awkward. To see him giggling at the illusionary bend in his glass of water was a delight, but microphone problems and the crinkle of a sweet packet in the audience showed that for Kitson, the intensity of performance can be a challenge. However, each situation was overcome with politeness and charm, and we were quickly delved back into the absorbing tale. This was a show that revealed much about the lives of two most interesting characters - Gregory Church, and his fascinating, complex and delightful creator, Daniel Kitson. 

* First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Just what I always Wanted - review of The Wanted

The Wanted at Newbury Racecourse, on Saturday, May 21

NEWBURY Racecourse may be gearing up for music legends Rod Stewart this Sunday and Tom Jones on August 13, but last weekend the stage belonged to a group of new kids on the block whose combined age barely beats that of elder statesman Mr Jones.

Since hitting the top of the charts with their first single, All Time Low, in the week of its release last August, The Wanted have struck a chord with girls from pre-teens upwards all over the UK, from east to west. Life may never be the same for the five-piece who hail from various parts of the UK and Ireland (rather than springing up fully-formed from some backstreet, boys were auditioned for a coveted place in the band),  but The Wanted have a strong work ethic, and less than a year since their debut, have busted a gut to get their second album recorded and ready for release. 

Despite only having one album under their belt, The Wanted performed for more than an hour, debuting forthcoming single Lightening (lyrics: “in fact it’s all a little bit frightening; we might as well be playing with lightening”, and covering songs by Jason Mraz and the Goo Goo Dolls. They then took things up to another level with a demonstration that these musical youths aren’t just pretty faces but can also play instruments, with a laid back cover of Neon Trees’ Animal, before they let loose with a lively covers medley of hits by Taio Cruz. Whether his song Dirty Picture was entirely suitable for the age of The Wanted’s target audience was debatable - a bit blue, maybe?

Their dance routines may be a little more unconstructed than many boy bands, but their singing was A1 and impressively in sync with each other; much better than I, for one, was expecting, and putting many a former Popstars/Pop Idol/ X Factor act (of whom I fear I have seen more live than I care to admit) to shame. To us oldies, they might just seem like a new edition of so many outfits that we have seen come and go since the 80s (and before), but as they grow from boys to men, The Wanted may prove to have the staying power that elludes so many boy bands. As a rousing lyric-perfect crowd singalong of their single Heart Vacancy demonstrated, right now, these boys own their rightful place at the top of the pops, and demonstrate that it is possible to storm the charts without being a Simon Cowell production. Take that, JLS!

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, May 26, 2011
There are 14 boy bands 'hidden' in the above review (not counting The Wanted) - can you spot them all?