Sunday, April 15, 2012

Star Turn - interview with The Ilsleys

TAKE members of legendary Newbury outfits Ricky and The Gamblers and Tonton Macoute, mix it up with up to 50 years experience in the music industry per member, and reveal the dark secret that they to blame for the 1980s novelty hit Pump Up The Bitter, and you’ve got The Ilsleys - a bunch of West Berkshire 60-somethings recording an album and getting ready for their first full gig at ACE Space on April 20.

CATRIONA REEVES spoke to guitarist COLIN JENNINGS about starting a new musical journey when the band members have all got bus passes.

CATRIONA REEVES: It sounds like The Ilsleys' members have known each other for years - what made you decide to come together as a band at this point in your lives?

COLIN JENNINGS :We played in function bands together, and of course there was our excursion into comedy [as Star Turn on 45 (Pints), the act behind Pump Up The Bitter]. The idea of making an album of totally original material was the motivator, especially at our age. They always say the first album is the most important; it’s just that for us it took a little longer than usual!

Bassist Pete Fry and guitarist Dave Hicks were founder members of Newbury’s very own Ricky and The Gamblers in the swinging sixties. In their heyday, a number of record companies came down to Newbury to try and sign the band, but failed... Dave wasn’t fond of their manner, particularly The Rolling Stones’ producer Jimmy Miller, who thought that Dave should wear satin shorts on stage... it wasn’t a meeting of minds! Pete and Dave have both continued to play with various groups since then.

Drummer Nigel was in pop band Windmill before joining local band Tonton Macoute, who achieved cult status in the 70s throughout Europe. Their albums are so sought after that they are worth more than Nigel’s drumkit!

I started my career in the late 60s with The Greatest Show on Earth, a jazz rock outfit, and earned my crust for many years as a songwriter/performer working for, among many others, The Hollies and Cilla Black.

Last but not least, there’s Dave Stevens on keyboards - another local lad, who has made a major contribution in the arranging of the band’s music. Being a much younger member, he is also responsible for making sure that the rest of us are clean before we go on stage.

CR: What is your resulting musical style like - and who writes the songs?

CJ: The style is developing every time we play. The songs, the reception we get playing them live, and recording in the studio will all help. But it’s inevitable at out age that we’ll be drawing from the greats; which is fine, as long as it has our stamp on it.

I do most of the songwriting at the moment, only because I already had songs, old and new. But the two Daves have written for our live set at ACE Space, and I am sure that we all will have ideas going forward.

CR: You’ve got a provisional name for your album, Licks, Lilts & Lullabies. How is it coming along?

CJ: First recordings have started, and will be finished by midsummer. I was keen to get my old Abbey Road engineer/producer Tony Clark to produce the album. The only problem was, I couldn’t find him, until a chance conversation with someone at a studio who could put me in touch. It turned out that Tony had been following a different path altogether; he had taken a horticulture degree and was looking after a Victorian garden in London.

Luckily, when we met, he said that he was keen to get back into the studio. It’s great to be working with him - his pedigree is exceptional; he’s worked with Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Cliff Richard, among others. It will sound great.

CR: You’ve been testing out some of the songs at ACE Space’s Unplugged events. How have they gone down?

CJ: Really well, which is why we decided to do an evening of them. It’s a really nice place with good people and all sorts of talent, so it’s the perfect place for our first gig.

CR: What can people expect from the gig? Is it going to be all sex, drugs and rock & roll?

CJ: Hopefully - as long as it starts before eight and finishes at 11. Dave the guitarist likes to get the cups turned over by 11.30.

CR: And will you treat us to Pump Up The Bitter as an encore?

CJ: The gold lame suit and wig are in for a refit so probably not... but who knows!

  • Below are The Ilsleys performing at ACE Space 

Friday, April 06, 2012

One Yank and they're off - interview with Doug Stanhope


DUBBED “the Voice of America” by Charlie Brooker, Doug Stanhope is a graduate of the US stand-up comedy school of hard living- outspoken, outrageous, rarely with alcohol out of his system, and often outside, having a smoke. He’s mostly rather polite in real life though, as Catriona Reeves discovered, when she rang him on his tour bus - but don’t tell. We wouldn’t want to blow his cover.

Catriona Reeves: You're currently about half way through a 38-date UK tour - how is it going?

Doug Stanhope: I’m doing well so far - only one or two major hangovers. Stoke-on-Trent was the worst one - I had some friends come to see me and stay over at the hotel. I don’t think we’ll be allowed back in that hotel.

CR: Wow, I had no idea there was so much fun to be had in Stoke.

DS: I’ve been to 15 different countries, and they all look like the inside of a bar. As long as there’s a bar, I’m happy anywhere.

CR: So are you receiving a warm welcome from UK audiences?

DS: British audiences are scary. In America, audiences are over the top and easily amused; over here they tend to be smarter and more controlled. You have to work a lot harder over here. Luckily, the Brits tend to be cynical and cranky like me, so we get on just fine.

CR: And what exactly should your cynical and cranky audiences expect from your show?

DS: I have no idea. It usually involves whatever’s been irritating me that day. I can always find something to irritate me. I switch it around every few days, but it’s always going to be the same angry, drunken, caustic, blow-hard nonsense that it’s been for the last 21 years.

There will certainly be something about Allison Pearson and the Twitter war we’ve been having [Allison Pearson is a Daily Telegraph columnist stood on the other side of political fence to Stanhope in regards to assisted suicide]. She is fully aware that I’m not going to drop it. It keeps me fired up.

CR: You certainly don’t shy away from tackling controversial issues. Do you think that you’ve got something important to say, or are you just having fun?

DS: Sometimes I’ve got something to say, but sometimes it’s just graphic smut. There’s always plenty of smut to laugh about; I don’t have to force myself too hard to find it.

CR: So, overall, you’re enjoying the tour...?

DS: I have no idea where we’re going, but usually when I come to the UK I’m stuck in Leicester Square, losing the will to live, so it’s great to see the country. We’ve been to some beautiful places - Bournemouth is stunning - but we’ve still got some s**t holes to visit, like Leeds and Liverpool.

CR: But Liverpool is the birthplace of the Beatles!

DS: I know. Henry Phillips who’s touring with me as my support, he’s a musical comedian, so he wants to do the Magical Mystery Tour, but I couldn’t give a monkeys. I wouldn’t say hello to Sir Paul if he was stood in my way when I’m going outside for a smoke.

Not that I’ve got anything against The Beatles, but I’m more interested in having a smoke.

Doug Stanhope can be found smoking outside the stage door at The Anvil, Basingstoke on Friday, April 13, and the Concert Hall, Reading on Wednesday, April 18. Paul McCartney is unlikely to attend.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ince-sane in the brain - review of Robin Ince, Happiness Through Science

Robin Ince: Happiness Through Science, at Arlington Arts, Snelsmore, on Friday, March 23

DO you remember Robin Ince before he went all sciencey? Back then, he was best known as Ricky Gervais’ support act and whipping boy, and toured a rather delightful cabaret night called The Bad Book Club. I enjoyed it so much when he brought it to New Greenham Arts, that I sent him a copy of Danielle Steele’s Love Poems. Some people may consider that the act of a stalker, but Ince saw in it the wonder of poetry at its worst, and later performed readings from it accompanied by music and interpretative dance. Truly stunning.

Clearly having exhausted the deepest seam of terrible literature with that pinnacle of artistic achievement, Ince has more recently turned his sights outwards to the universe, and the comedy to be found in the wonderful world of science and its writings. As a layperson from an arts background, Ince has an enthusiasm about theories and discoveries for their intrinsic beauty, as well as the entertainment value that can be found by an outsider trying to grasp concepts as mind-messing as quantum theory, and the fabulous quirkiness of great thinkers such as Richard Feynman.

Ince showed how Schrodinger’s thought experiment (the cat-in-box paradox; not to be confused with Pavlov’s Dog) can be applied not only to the recession (“Here’s a box of oil for you... don’t open it!”) but also to nostalgia for TV programme from childhood (“if you buy a DVD of a show you loved, you must never ever watch it”). He also did a rather good impression of his co-presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Infinite Monkey Cage, Dr Brian Cox (“he’s good at pointing”) and hinted at a chink of humanity in outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins, who was rather put out by a certain item of his anatomy as depicted in a reworking of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, with Dawkins painted into the part of Adam.

Central to Ince’s exploration was the question whether it is possible to be a scientific realist and/or atheist (as Ince himself is, despite coming from a family of vicars - some of his relatives were in the front row at Arlington) and still be happy. Can you find any joy in living if you believe that life - and the universe - is ultimately pointless? Ince believes that you can; with as much wonder to be found in the scientific world - and so much more to discover - as in religion, faith and mysticism. Maybe you can’t be happy all the time; but you can certainly find plenty of things along life’s path to both amaze and amuse.

* Robin Ince brings Happiness Through Science to Cornerstone in Didcot on Friday, June 29.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, March 29, 2012