Saturday, December 17, 2011

Drop the boy - review of Daniel Sloss

Daniel Sloss at Arlington Arts, Snelsmore, on Friday, November 25

I WOULD have such a crush on Daniel Sloss if I was 20 years younger. He’s good looking, funny, has cool hair (young men should always enjoy it while they’ve got it), a lovely Scottish accent, smells nice (I can verify that), and he gives good hugs (I can verify that as well). Having made his comedy club debut aged 16 after a two-day workshop, and crammed so much live, television and writing work into the four years since then that at an age where most stand-ups haven’t even considered their first open mic spot, he’s already a veteran comedian at just 21.

His current show, The Joker, is the result of the curious combination of worldly experience and insularity that the comedy circuit provides   - Sloss has a style and professionalism honed over his years of performing, but beneath that he is still a very young man, with all the verve and enthusiasm for the simple experiences in life (moving out of home, first major relationship, and still being able to jump - grrr) that belong to youth alone.

I don’t think he needed to swear quite so much (it’s not really shocking, just a bit annoying) as it grates with his generally sweet demeanour, but Sloss is no precocious child performer; his material is often adult in nature, although the older generation in his life (parents and grandmother) still loom large, and he is a long way from delving into the new dad land beloved of comedians who have settled down and started families. His world is still one where potentially emotional relationship endings turn into a race to “win” the break-up by changing your status on Facebook to “single” before your ex-girlfriend does.

Sloss is probably looking forward to the day when his reviews don’t mention his age, but the current schtick that makes him stand out from the crowd is his youth. However, his slick confidence and good-quality material transcends the generational gap, with his gentle teasing of his elders and betters often working on both sides of the coin. I therefore have no fear that he will continue to craft and hone his skill and material to mark his mark on the comedy world well into the future, and still be around in many years to come (although he may find that his hair is not).

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Good Enough for a comeback - interview with Math Priest from Dodgy

The purveyors of the finest British pop Dodgy are back in their original line-up and preparing to brighten up January for the good people of West Berkshire with a date at Arlington Arts. CATRIONA REEVES is rather excited as she interviews Dodgy’s drummer MATHEW PRIEST 

AH, the 90s. Happy days. Life was easy back then. Summers were longer (for those of us at uni), alcohol didn’t give you hangovers (honest, kids), and no one made any effort whatsoever with their hair. And the airwaves were full of shimmery, summery guitar pop sounds all year round, with the toppermost of the poppermost being Dodgy, a trio of cheeky chappies from the Midlands who delighted (and maybe occasionally slightly grated - not everyone is a fan of their biggest hit, Good Enough) with the cheeriest sounds around, including Staying Out For The Summer, In A Room and If You’re Thinking Of Me (OK, that one wasn’t so cheery).

But before those of you too young to remember Dodgy are thinking “must have been a boyband”; the band comprised three strong musicians, songwriters and harmonising singers with an inspiration that meant their reformation in their original line-up around 2008 after nine years without frontman Nigel Clark was more than just about getting back on the road to revive their greatest hits. And so a new album has been written; the sound of  a band older and wiser, but still with that distinctively shimmering Dodgy vibe, and the band’s current live dates include a showcase of the whole album (due for release in January) before a second set of old favourites.

“The idea of playing an album live in its entirety has been around for a few years now, but doing it before its release is unusual,” explains drummer Math Priest, whose effervescent presence was once a regular fixture on TV pop quiz show Never Mind The Buzzcocks (I am currently campaigning for his return). “However, Paul Weller is now doing it, so it must be a good idea. Nowadays, the shelf life of any album is a lot shorter. This way, people can hear about it and look forward to its release.

“Playing new songs is always tricky. We want to give the audience a good show, to get them clapping and cheering and going home on a high; then you slot in a new song and it’s almost apologetic. So we thought “sod that, let’s challenge people and give them the whole album”. We’ve done it with confidence, and give them a payoff with the hits at the end, and the audiences have risen to the challenge. It’s a great relief to be free of the old way of doing things.”

Luckily, the new album Stand Upright In A Cool Place (instructions on a bottle of bleach) has gone down very well indeed, both live and in reviews, with BBC 6Music’s Chris Hawkins calling it “the best stuff they’ve ever done”. But Priest says that although some of their older songs may not be as relevant to the band members today as they were back in 1994, they still enjoy playing the old hits.

“To many of our audience, those songs are part of their lives, and we won’t disrespect that. For example U.K. R.I.P. - a response to the jingoism of Britpop; one of our fans has told us that one was a lifeline to her growing up as a teenage Asian. It’s a great feeling that our songs can affect people in a positive way and make their lives better.

“And Grassman - we heard from a couple who got married to that.”

Ah yes, Grassman. My favourite Dodgy song, a sweeping, piano-led epic, soon due to be remixed by German electronic musician Kris Menace: I haven’t heard the band play that since they came back on my radar (I’ve seen them live twice this year). “The trouble is,” says Priest, “in the days when we were a four-piece with a keyboard player we had to play that all the time at the end of the set. We’re trying to vary things, to revisit some other songs, which are still some fans’ favourites which they thought they’d never hear live at all.”

I won’t hold my breath to hear it at Arlington, then [although I later discovered via Youtube that the band had in fact played it at a gig in Bristol the night after I interviewed Priest. So you never know.

So, back as a three-piece and writing songs that are relevant to them today; Priest says that although he and guitarist Andy Miller carried on with the band after Clark left in 1998, “it was like having a limb missing.

“Nigel was my best mate, so when we weren’t talking for years, it wasn’t nice. Now we know that we can go and do music with other people, but nothing will ever feel like the chemistry of the three of us working well together.

“It all feels so right now - we’ve got a team around us who are all friends and people we've known for a long time, and they’re doing it because they love it. The other day, out of the blue, we got contacted by a computer whizzkid who used to do our website years ago - he’s done a Dodgy phone app.

The band are fully embracing the digital age, with an “Advent calendar” of treats running throughout December in conjunction with Cancer Research UK (join the mailing list at to access it), and Priest says that there is a growing number of new, younger fans turning up at their gigs who have discovered the band through blogs and Youtube. “We’re hoping to reach a whole load of new people, because we really want to carry on doing this,” says Priest. “We’re not expecting to sell millions, but we’d like to make a living out of it again.

“So far, everything has exceeded our expectations. It’s all really exciting.”

Dodgy are playing at Arlington Arts in Snelsmore on Wednesday, January 11. Tickets cost £15 via

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Sexy stand-up - review of Tom Stade

Tom Stade at Arlington Arts, Snelsmore, on Thursday, November 17

I AM totally rubbish at spotting the next big thing when reviewing them in relatively small venues in and around Newbury. Those I have failed to predict would go on to play massive arena tours include Russell Howard (Arlington), Jason Manford (New Greenham Arts), Tim Minchin (NGA), Michael McIntyre (a tiny makeshift stage at Donnington Valley Golf Club) and Russell Brand (an audience of 16, including his dad, at The Forge in Basingstoke). I gave them all nice reviews (am I ever anything but encouraging?), but I didn’t foresee any of their careers going stellar. I’m just too pessimistic by nature for that sort of sagacity, I suppose.

So it’s a major thing here for me to stick my neck out and declare Tom Stade, just might, potentially, with a fair wind and enough television exposure (that might be a problem as he’s a bit of a sweary Mary), make it big. Possibly.

It was the atmosphere at Arlington Arts that made me think that there might be something going on here that transcended the average Thursday night comedy gig in the wild woods of West Berkshire. For a start, the place was heaving, but it wasn’t just that; there was a buzz in the air, an electrical prickling of something, suggesting that tonight wasn’t just a night out, but a happening. “Who is Tom Stade?” I thought, getting a sense that everyone in the building - representing an unusually wide age range - knew exactly who he was except me [I don’t tend to do much research before reviews. That’s just the way I roll].

And then, the man himself. Greeted with a cheer akin to that heard usually at rock concerts, British-based Canadian comedian Stade strode on to the stage, short, dark and handsome, a rhapsody in double denim. Bit of a potty mouth, and slightly dubious attitudes to women (his wife is the brunt of many of his tales), but you can tell it’s all part of the act. I’ve grown tired of getting huffy every time a comedian makes a dodgy joke about their partners. I’d much rather they didn’t, but I’m not going to let it spoil my enjoyment of the rest of the act, and I’ll go with the assumption that no one who goes to see Stade is going to be offended by things like that. Slick, relaxed and with a rough-hewn charm, he’s a professional who knows his audience, and who am I - clearly the only person in the entire universe who didn’t already know and love his work before the show - to opine differently.

And then, the big moment. The joke that everyone had been waiting for (except me; I was still convinced I had never seen Stade before in my life). The Meat Van joke. And finally, the penny dropped. Ah yes! The Meat Van joke! I remember seeing him do that on the telly, on one of those stand-up shows! Again, the audience reception was like to a band saving their biggest song until last - and performed by Stade in a similar way that an oft-played hit might be - slightly off-kilter, with a “you all know the words, but I know you want to hear it anyway” feel to it. Really quite obliging - as he was outside afterwards, already there as the crowd left, happy to pose for photos. Best to catch him while you can - it won’t be so easy to catch him for a snap when he plays the O2.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, November 24, 2011