Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bunker down - review of Comedy Bunker featuring Naz Osmanoglu and Tom Deacon

The New Greenham Comedy Bunker at New Greenham Arts on Thursday, February 16

TAKING place in the auditorium at New Greenham Arts rather than the nearby bunkers that formerly housed cruise missiles, Comedy Bunker was a mini-Jongleurs featuring three acts from the Avalon Entertainment arsenal - compere Naz Osmanoglu (above: isn't he scrummy?), female character stand-up Grainne Maguire, and a headline set from Radio One DJ-stroke-comedian Tom Deacon.

Twenty-five-year-old Deacon wore great hair and those strange trendy trousers that young types have started sporting - sludgy colours, baggy around the top, slim around the ankle. I learnt from his act, which partly centred on the dilemma of looking cool or otherwise that such slacks are officially known as chinos, but they don’t look like the military-style chinos I remember from my youth. These ones are just silly. Although at least those who wear them don’t have their pants on show. Anyway, despite the clear generation gap between Deacon and the majority of the audience, his act went down a storm. I think all women in the audience wanted to mother him, and all the men remembered when they had hair as luxuriant as his.

Stunning Irishwoman Maguire hid behind a geeky persona and costume of nerd glasses, laddered tights, wonky hemline and ill-fitting jumper, meaning it was hard to tell if her slight awkwardness at the beginning was genuine or part of the act. Things warmed up towards the end with a good take on the likes of Beyonce making a curvy derriere fashionable again, with a song dedicated to the female belly, culminating in a intentionally disturbing Pussycat Dolls-style writhe against the mic stand. Don’t tell her mum that she’s dropped the Beowulf material, though.

It’s always a challenge to review a compere as their main purpose is to warm up the audience through ad-libbed interaction rather than to provide material in their own right - the handsomely-bearded Osmanoglu did a very good job; but to be honest I’d be much more interested in seeing him return to Newbury with his comedy troupe WitTank, after they received glowing reviews and a place on the Fosters Comedy Award longlist at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. With co-member Kieran Boyd hailing from Caversham, I think that needs to be sorted out, sharpish. I want to see that beard again. 

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, February 23, 2012

Joy division - review of Your Days Are Numbered

Your Days Are Numbered: The Maths of Death, at The Forge, Basingstoke on Thursday, February 9

ANYONE remember the early 90s when comedy was heralded as the new rock & roll? It wasn’t, of course, the new rock & roll turned out to be grunge, which made much more sense when you think about it. But 20 years on, I think it’s perfectly reasonable therefore to say that science (and maths) is the new comedy. Or, at least, that scientists (and mathematicians) are the new comedians. Yup, scientists with social skills. Who knew.

Among this breed are stand-up mathematician (or the mathemagician, as I will now call him) Matt Parker and science writer/performer Timandra Harkness who have devised a a jolly little show about the mathematics of death, investigating likely length of life and various ways it may be ended, through the wonder of statistics.

With the show set to come to New Greenham Arts in April, I am aware that I have a 99 per cent chance of giving away too much and therefore reducing potential attendance by roughly the same amount. However, I am also aware that the next phrase, while factually correct, could achieve that on its own: there were a lot of acturaries in the audience. And reference to Bayesian probability (which I just had to Google in order to spell correctly).

Don’t let that put you off, though. Really. As a mathematics numpty (AS-level predicted grade E - I didn’t bother taking the exam), I can confirm that you don’t have to be an actual actuary to enjoy the show. The concept of micromort - a unit of risk measuring a one-in-a-million chance of death - was clearly explained for us non-actural acturaries early on, making the facts that followed easier to grasp than chunking (a little joke thrown in by me for the primary school teachers among you).

I came away with the new knowledge that my plus-one is destined to meet his maker through auto-erotic asphyxiation (or suffocate in his own beard); that the likelihood of me writing a positive review increases exponentially when I am brought up onto the stage and plied with vodka; and that the stickers placed on the forehead of audience members to pronounce them dead during the 100-minute show (one minute equalling one year of life) are likely to take off approximately 50 per cent of an eyebrow when removed. None of which ever happened in a maths lesson when I was at school. I might have passed my AS-level maths if it had. Or had more fun trying.

* Assuming that Parker and Harkness survive the next two months, they will be at New Greenham Arts on April 12. While no audience members have died during a show on the tour so far; with a 0.000043 per cent chance that one could snuff it during any given performance, you can work out the risk of attending yourself.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pretty brilliant things - review of The Pretty Things

Review by Bill Ainsworth

The Pretty Things at Arlington Arts, Snelsmore, on Friday, January 27

IN my early teens, in about 1974, I bought an album called PinUps by one of my idols of then and now, Mr David Bowie. I had been brought up on my dad’s record collection, no bad thing considering that largely consisted of all The Beatles releases as soon as they came out. What PinUps did however, was to make me aware of stuff father never introduced me to from the ’60s, as it was a collection of Bowie’s covers of some of his favourite British hits from that decade. In amongst The Yardbirds, The Who etc. were the tracks Rosalyn and Don’t Bring Me Down, which were apparently singles released by a band called The Pretty Things.

Nearly 40 years later, in my neverending quest for the greatest music ever made and having already bought Love’s Forever Changes, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and The Zombie’s Odyssey and Oracle, I finally acquired The Pretty Things’ 1968 album S.F. Sorrow last December. 

Just in time then, because it gave me a chance to get to know four of the tracks performed on this wonderful night, namely S.F. Sorrow Is Born, She Says Good Morning, Baron Saturday  and Old Man Going, all of which were rapturously received by the largest and most enthusiastic crowd I’ve witnessed at the Arlington, quite impressive considering that includes gigs by Supergrass and Dodgy!

The aforementioned seminal piece of classic British psychedelia formed only part of a set that spanned five decades. The band, named after a 1955 Bo Diddley song, now comprises original members Dick Taylor (lead guitar god!) and Phil May (vocals), Frank Holland, a member for over 20 years (second guitar/harmonica) abd Mark St John (their “Bez”;  anything shakeable, ratlleable or portably bangable) plus two 21-year-olds (yes 21, and they’ve been touring with them for four years!)m George Perez (bass) and Jack Greenwood (drums). The set also   included the previously mentioned hits covered by Bowie as well as Midnight To Six Man, Mona, Roadrunner and L.S.D. (whatever that’s about....) from their early daysm through to The Beat Goes On from their latest offering, 2007’s Balboa Island.

If you want to learn more about a band whose founding members LEFT The Rolling Stones, because they thought Mick’n’Keef et al were not wild enough, more research is encouraged.

If you missed it and love great, loud British R’n’B (R Kelly fans need enquire no further), psych and rock that has inspired all those in the know from Led Zep to The Pistols and more recently Kasabian and The Libertines (co-frontman Carl Barat even called his post-split band Dirty Pretty Things), they are planning to return to Newbury soon. Miss at your peril!

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, February 2, 2012 (with my name on it instead of Bill's! Doh!)  

Ash Wednesday - review of Ash

Review by Bill Ainsworth

Ash at SUB 89, Reading, on Wednesday, November 30

HAVING never visited this venue before I expected, given it’s name, it to be below 89 Friar Street. Wrong! It’s above it. Oh well, no matter.

I’ve never been to an Ash gig before either, although I’ve seen them countless times over the years at this town’s rather popular music festival which you may have heard of; I also saw them when they were main support for fellow Irishmen U2 at Twickenham in 2005 (they’ve been friends for years and played some huge gigs to promote the, eventually successful, Irish peace talks in 1998).

Formed when they were in their mid-teens in 1992, for the last five years the band have been back to their original three-piece line up (since the departure of guitarist Charlotte Hatherly who was a permanent member from 1997 to 2006) of Tim Wheeler, vocals and guitar, Mark Hamilton, bass and, sporting a resplendent Movember effort, Rick McMurray, drums.

The set mainly consisted of tracks recorded without Ms H, so tracks from 1994’s debut mini album Trailer and 1996’s UK number one first album proper 1977, along with some of the 26 (yes, 26!!) singles released over the last year or so (part of their A-Z Series, released fortnightly).

Opening inevitably and pleasingly with Lose Control, track one on 1977, the band then launched into a set guaranteed to keep the near-600 capacity crowd happy. Second up was Girl From Mars so two tracks in and the place was rocking full tilt. We were then treated to a further hour-and-a-half of classics such as Trailer’s Jack Names The Planets, Oh Yeah, the manic Kung Fu, Goldfinger, Orpheus, A Life Less Ordinary (great track, poor film) and the wife’s personal favourite, Shining Light. Mixed in with newer material, of which I have to confess I am not familiar, but enjoyed nonetheless, including Arcadia, a rather (believe it or not) funky Return Of The White Rabbit and Dionysian Urge.

They returned to treat the fans with a four-track encore of last studio album title track Twilight Of The Innocents, Sometimes, another from Trailer, Uncle Pat, and finally again both predictably and correctly, the poptastic classic Burn Baby Burn.

You know a great singles band if after all of this, on the way home you have a “hang on they didn’t play......” moment-  and for me that was Angel Interceptor

So, now in their mid-30s, Ash have still got it and probably will never lose it. “It” being the ability to rock a crowd with the kind of cracking power pop from a catalogue, spanning over half their lifetime, that many current would-be contemporaries can only dream of.

I’ve no doubt that I’ll see you again at a festival soon, guys!

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