Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Suttie show: interview with Isy Suttie

LOVEABLE comedian Isy Suttie is on tour with a heartwarming show about internet romance and real-life dating disasters. Catriona Reeves spoke to her while on route from Birmingham to Berwick-Upon-Tweed.

CATRIONA REEVES: You’re currently on tour with a show called Pearl And Dave. Are you preparing for the Edinburgh Fringe?

ISY SUTTIE: This is actually the show I did at the Fringe last year, and also on Radio 4. I can’t do Edinburgh this year because I’ll be filming the next series of Peep Show over the summer. It’s actually nice to give my brain a bit of a break - if I had been developing a new show, I would have had to start thinking about it around Christmas.

CR: I thought Peep Show [Suttie plays quirky geek Dobby in the Channel 4 sitcom] had ended!

IS: We had a break from it last year so it hasn’t been on since 2010, but two more series have been commissioned. I’m really looking forward to going back to it. Everyone involved in it feels like family, and David [Mitchell] and Rob [Webb, who play the central characters] are a real laugh.

I’m lucky that I’ve ended up being able to do a mix of things; Peep Show, the touring, and I’m working on a sitcom pilot. I can’t imagine just doing the one thing. Touring as a stand-up can be a bit lonely, although it is a nice feeling that you’ve done it all yourself. 

Luckily I’ve got a support act with me on this tour - Chris Neill, who is in the car with me right now. We’re on our way from Birmingham to Berwick-upon-Tweed. We didn’t realise how far it was until we set off. It’s about a six hour drive!

CR: So tell me about the show Pearl And Dave...

IS: It’s the story of a couple who met at Butlins, then get in contact through Facebook many years later. I perform their emails to each other as songs. Then there’s stuff about my own love life over the years mixed in.

I’ve always performed songs in my shows; I can’t imagine doing something without music, as I’ve been songwriting since I was 11. But it’s taken a long time to get comfortable with a show format where I can fit everything together. Now I’ve found that having a narrative and singing in character really works best for me. It’s a bit more theatrical than what people might have previously seen me do.

CR: Are you planning to take the show further afield?

IS: I’d like to take it to Australia next year. I’ve performed in Australia before, and they’re very comedy savvy over there, so they’re happy to embrace something that’s a bit idiosyncratic. Generally though, I’m not that fussed about travelling. I like to go home to my own bed wherever possible - I’ll be able to do that after the Basingstoke gig.

CR: You seem like such a warm person; do you tend to attract a nice audience?

IS: My audiences are lovely. When Chris and I turned up at the Birmingham venue last night, we got a bit worried because it seemed to be full of rowdy hen parties, but then we found that we were performing in a different room, and there was my audience, with their anoraks and flasks. I was very relieved.

Isy Suttie brings her show, Pearl And Dave, to The Forge at The Anvil, Basingstoke on Wednesday, June 6. Anoraks and flasks are welcome.

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blog posts past: Slummy mummy

Urgh. It’s the end of a week’s holiday from work and I’m exhausted. Pre-child, five days annual leave were a chance to do very little indeed, but this being half-term, the week has been a social whirl of visits to London (involving a fun new game called Avoid the Congestion Charge Zone), swimming (twice), Basingstoke (it’s been a wet week) and Stoke to see the stepdaughter. We considered Legoland yesterday, but even George was complaining that his legs were too tired. Quite a relief, considering the £33 adult entry fee (even Alton Towers is a pound cheaper).

I know that it’s not the law to fill every precious second of the school holidays with relentless fun, but my current job/training involves so much multi-skilling that I’ve forgotten how to relax and just do nothing. There’s also the fact that the average four-year-old needs more entertainment than can be provided in a small house for more  than a few hours at a time. For a start, George doesn’t do creative activities out of choice. I did suggest that he made a Victorian paper doll, an activity on offer at Milestones, but he informed me that was a “school thing”, and he didn’t want to do it during half term. Anyway, it’s my holiday too, and even if I’m spoiling George with too many days out, I want to have fun as well.

The week’s reminded me why I don’t mind being a working mum. Going to work all day is so much less tiring than staying a home with a young person. It’s true that the housework is still undone when I get home in the evenings, but I’ve got the solution for that. I just don’t do it. Ever. The dust will still be there when I finish my training in autumn 2008 and I can hopefully work part-time again. Some of my fellow trainees say that the problem with study days is that they’re distracted by all the things which need doing around the house. For me, it’s the other way round. I only have to plug in the vacuum cleaner for an essay idea to pop into my head, and the housework is abandoned for the computer once again.

The other reason I’d be a rubbish full-time mum is that I’m no good at making small talk with other mums at the school gate. I really struggle to recognise faces (I think there’s a medical name for this, but I’ll just call it “laziness”). So there’s all these mums and all these kids, and I have no idea which one belongs to whom, or who is in George’s class. I even have a problem recognising the kids and mums who came to George’s birthday party. It’s not just a school thing (although how you’re meant to process any sort of face-recognition information or make conversation at 8.50am is beyond me). It hasn’t been unknown for me to walk past my own husband in the street. And when George brought home him class photo, it took two attempts to pick him out.

Luckily it’s never caused me a problem at work because I can usually link someone to the job they do, and where they sit. Although there is a team on my floor who hotdesk. That left me floundering for weeks. Obviously remembering names help, although I’m not great at that, either, which is why I rarely use them when talking to people. I know this is meant to give the appearance of being cold, but I make up for it by smiling a lot. And it’s better than calling someone by the wrong name (although this is something I grew up with: my mum used to regularly call me by the name of my sister, dad, our four cats and the dog before hitting on the right one). *

The only time I find the face-recognition thing a real problem is when I bump into someone I used to know from school (I grew up round here, so this happens quite often). While I don’t have a clue who they are, they always seem to recognise me. While I would like to think this is all because they are devoted readers of my blog, I’ve been told that it’s actually because I haven’t changed a jot since primary school. I guess I should take that as a compliment, but it's probably because I'm still a (speccy four-eyes).

2012 update... and this is why Sophie, my daughter, is named after Sophie, the family dog.

  • First published on in 2007

Monday, May 28, 2012

Blog posts past: Rubbish student jobs

IT'S been 11 years since I left uni, and those hazy, happy summer breaks, starting in late June and running all the way through to early October, are just a nostalgic memory. There are many things about university I miss. The student bar. The vodka jelly parties. The atmosphere of academia that pervaded the hallowed corridors inspired the urge to learn within me. Honest. But it’s the long, long summer holidays that I miss the most. Even now, I spend the entirety of August feeling like I really shouldn’t be at work. It’s just wrong.

Mind you, it doesn’t take a lot to make me feel that I shouldn’t be at work. On returning from honeymoon, there was a strange sense within me, call it ancestral memory if you will, that I should be throwing in the towel on my career to become a homemaker. Didn’t last long - I’m rubbish at housework. And cooking. And keeping up any reasonable standard of household hygiene.

Of course in reality I didn’t spend the whole of the summer holidays lazing in bed (I had the term times to do that). In fact, I worked quite hard. Well, some of the time. I spent several summers as an office junior for one of Berkshire’s biggest companies (no, not THAT one) which made me vow never to follow a profession where I’d have to work in an office. Unfortunately, offices are quite hard to avoid if you’re vocationally no good with your hands (and 10 years at the NWN confirmed that journalists don’t spend most of their time in pubs. Not during working hours, anyway).

And then there were my waitressing stints, most of which were spent in the pub kitchens enlightening the chefs with the rudimentary basics of Descartesian philosophy (vegetables are a great prop for demonstrating Descartes’ theory about the intangibility of colour).

There was also several youth camp holidays, as a leader, which were fun but challenging, particuarly as my little sister was one of the delightful scamps under my care.  She and her mates obeyed my every command, as you can imagine. One year, the hunky leader who everyone fancied was a guy called Chris Simmons, who went on to be Mickey in The Bill. It’s not a big claim to fame, but thought I’d share it with you anyway.

Oh yes, and I almost forgot the one day I lasted in a refrigerated dairy factory. I had to stick six-for-four barcode labels onto yoghurt pots. My hands were so cold that most of my labels went on wonky. The nice thing was, I was able to go into Sainsbury’s the next day and identify which labels were mine from their rakish angle. Lovely (and hardy) co-workers, though, and they let me take home some bottles of Yop.

So as I drag myself to my desk tomorrow (early mornings are another thing I haven’t got the hang of since leaving uni) I will remind myself that August has never been a month of complete rest and recreation. It’s not as if the weather’s nice outside, anyway. Think I might buy some jelly cubes, though. And some vodka...

  • First published on in 2007

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Blog posts past: I discover the joys of Facebook

I’VE been traipsing around the country a bit this week, so really I should tell you about our climb up Mount Snowdon  (on a train), trips to Chester Zoo and Legoland, and an overnight stay in a motel where a name badge for a certain “Shag-able Sue” was found in the wardrobe.

But instead, I’ve decided to write about the new obsession that is taking over my life - Facebook. Or, to give it its full world wide web URL. Set up in the USA three years ago as a social networking website for college students, it now lets everyone and anyone join. And indeed, it appears like everyone and anyone has now joined - or if they haven’t, they will do very soon.

Unlike Myspace, where most members aged over 25 felt like interlopers in a world that was just a little bit young and cool for them (unless you were a band member, DJ or Teen Spirit It Girl), Facebook embraces the geek in all of us. Whereas with Myspace your chosen wallpaper, font and general page design reflects how “with it” or not you are (and confirms for me that most young types have way better eyesite than I do - some of their pages are illegible), the look of Facebook is clean, functional and designed not to baffle those who grew up with BBC computers at school and Sinclair ZX81s at home.

The result is that although I was introduced to Facebook (as I am to most latest crazes) by someone 10 years younger than me, many more of my generation appear to have signed up to Facebook in recent months than ever dipped their toes into the world of Myspace. I am back in touch with old school and uni friends, workmates and exes that I haven’t seen for years; several of whom I am unlikely to meet in the real world ever again (they thought they could shake me off by moving to another country - they were wrong).

So what do we do on Facebook, apart from write endless cryptic messages on each other’s walls with the main aim of baffling other readers who aren’t in on the joke? Mainly poke each other. “Poke” as in “prod across cyberspace”, that is. And when we tire of that (which is rarely), we resort to the superpoke (tickle, irritate, defenestrate, use the force, throw a sheep at, etc). It’s extremely satisfying, and great for finally resolving those frustrating unspoken issues that have rankled for years, such as “why did you dump me in 1993?”.

And once all energy is spent, we can buy each other drinks; send flowers; replenish friend’s aquariums; turn people into vampires, zombies and werwolves, and compare people’s various traits (apparently I’m the second best dancer in my network of friends, which is a bit worrying. There can’t have been much competition). None of it is real, of course. But then, what is reality?

There are various interest groups to be joined, but most of them tend to peter out pretty quickly into a list of comments such as: “I love Derren Brown!”, “Me too!”, “I love him more!”, “Well, I’m going to marry him!”, “No, he’s mine!”... you get the idea. Facebook isn’t a forum for great thoughts or philosophical discourse (I’ve got the Digital Spy website for that).

But if you’re procrastinating over the commencement of your homework, housework, commute to work or the fact that you really ought to get dressed at some point today before it gets dark, Facebook could be the distraction you’re looking for. It’s changed my life. And my ability to meet deadlines, communicate with family members and maintain reasonable standards of household hygiene and personal grooming. Doesn’t matter though - I look always great in my Facebook profile photo.

* Actually, I will mention Chester Zoo, just for the amusing incident (for everyone else) where I got buzzed by a massive fruitbat in the bat house and fell over a rock in the dark. Bats are amazing, but a bit scary when they’re heading straight for you. And yes,  I know they’ve got sonar systems and would never get tangled up in your hair, but I dare you not to duck.

  • First published on in 2007

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Blog posts past: My writing - a health warning (aka why I can't spell)

THERE are a few things that you’re probably going to notice about my blogging style over the coming weeks, so to save you the trouble of spotting them for yourselves, I thought I’d make them clear from the start.

The first is that I have a surprisingly limited vocabulary. This was highlighted the other day when my son George was looking in a children’s cookery book, and said to me: “Look at this bicycle made from vegetables Mum, it’s ingenious”. Now, I do know what “ingenious” means, but I don’t think it’s a word I’ve ever used in everyday conversation. I’m more likely to say: “Ooh, that’s a bit clever”.

He was right, though. The verdured velocipede (don’t panic, I’ve just looked it up in Roget’s Thesaurus) was indeed extremely impressive. Not that poor George will ever get to see what it looks like in real life. In addition to using more long words than I do, he has been hampered with a mother who can’t cook. And the recipe involved courgettes, which I can’t stand.

The second thing you will soon realise is that I have no strong opinions about anything. Ever. Politics, popular culture, sport - if there’s a fence to sit on, you’ll find me happily perched on top of it. I am the ultimate neutral zone. I’d be rubbish on that Room 101, because there’s nothing that I truly hate. There’s very little that I feel passionate about either way.

Ambivalence (I’ve just checked the dictionary) isn’t the right word, because that implies that I’m torn by conflicting ideas on issues, but I’m not. I’m just... vague. I suspect that my head is too full of perfume and kittens for facts to spend enough meaningful time in there to allow personal judgements to form. Anyone who has seen me wandering aimlessly around Newbury town centre attempting to make purchases will have seen this in action. I’m not a shoplifter, honest. I just take a really long time to make up my mind.

The last point I really have to make - and this is a bit of a major confession - is that I  am a really bad speller. It’s terrible, I know, but the day they introduced PCs with spellcheckers - American or otherwise - into the NWN  newsroom, I felt that my career was on the up. I really don’t think it’s that unusual among journos. A lot of creative writer types are left handed like me, and I’m sure there’s a connection.

Plus there's the fact that I cheated in spelling tests throughout my entire schooling. A very old mate of mine is now a primary school teacher herself, and she holds me up as an example to her class of why it’s a really bad idea to copy off friends during tests. I suspect she doesn’t conclude: “... and then she became a journalist”, though.

Anyway, armed with an extremely good grasp of punctuation and grammar (I feel I have to point out that I’m good at something) I have now thrown off the shackles of journalism, and am able to venture into the wide world of writing for fun, safe in the knowledge that the wonderful Newburytoday web team will rid my copy of the worst excesses of bad spelling before publication. Who knows - I may even come up with some opinions along the way.

  • First published on in 2007

Blog posts past: Why I no longer play netball with boys

Friday the 13th? The one you’ve got to watch out for is Thursday the 12th, as I discovered for myself last week.

I’d been persuaded to play in a charity netball match, with the assurance that there would be loads of people (male and female) playing, so I’d probably only be on the court for 15 minutes, tops. I turned up to find out that in fact there were exactly 14 players, and with seven per team, that meant I’d be playing the whole match.

After 45 minutes, I’d come to the conclusion that having me as goal defence was marginally more effective for my team than being a player short. Just about. If I learnt to stop shrieking every time the ball came anywhere near me, I might have even made contact with it a couple of times. At least in netball it’s pretty near impossible to score an own goal.

The match was surprisingly competitive, and extremely physical. This came as a shock to me, as I’d last played netball as a 16-year-old at St Gabriel's (I found it quite depressing to work out that how many years ago that was). I’m not sure I ever actually played a full match at school; my natural position was as a reserve. And certainly I never played on teams that included men. Not at St Gabs. We were nice girls.

Not that I noticed the male players that much, since I was too busy hiding behind the goalpost, until one (a rugby player, I have since learnt) decided that I was clearly a threat to him reaching the ball (I was probably trying to run out of the way of it at the time) and flew into me. I presume that was what happened, anyway, as the next 30 seconds or so are a bit hazy. All I know is that my head collided with the Tarmac. Ouch.

The result was a lump the size of a grapefruit, and lots of concerned players gathered round. It turned out that I was the only person on court with any First Aid training, so after telling them that trying to put me into the recovery position wasn’t the right way to deal with a head injury, I realised that my faculties were at least still working on some level, which was a relief.

Now, if you have an accident, it’s always best to have it just round the corner from a hospital, so I was packed off from Reading University Sportspark to A&E at the Royal Berks. The rest of the evening was spent having my head prodded, my pupils checked, and being asked questions like my name, the Queen’s name, the year, and the dates of the Second World War (I guess they get a lot of old people in casualty).

My favourite one was: “Who do you think I am?”, asked by the nice doctor, as he pointed at his stethoscope. I really wanted to say “a nurse”, as I know how much that irritates doctors (Bill has only just stopped asking a female doctor friend of mine “how’s the nursing going?” after 10 years of knowing her), but as I really didn’t want to be kept in overnight, I gave the correct answer.

After several hours of observation I was allowed to go home as long as I had a responsible person there to look after me. If not, Bill being there would do. I was given a wonderful leaflet that explained I may have suffered “bruising to the brain” which could cause symptoms for a few days or weeks. These include tiredness, feeling miserable, trouble with memory, difficulty concentrating and loosing my temper easily. Nothing new there then, says Bill.

I should also “avoid getting involved in stressful situations and should not make any major decisions” until I’m better. Which explains why I found it so difficult to decide which Easter Egg to eat next. The only answer was to eat two. At once. Well, the leaflet also says I should “allow myself to rest”. And for me, resting always involves eating chocolate.

In lieu of a bandage wrapped around my head a la Basil Fawlty, there is no sign of my trauma, so I’m milking the accompanying elbow graze for maximum sympathy with a lovely big dressing and a slight groan whenever I need to lift something heavier than a Creme Egg. And I have made one major decision -  I am never ever going to play netball again. I’ve always said that sport is bad for you.

  • First published on, 2007

Friday, May 25, 2012

Blog posts past: Popmaster and pillow talk with Ian Anderson

I’ve been a bit poorly this week so have mainly been stuck at home, gleaning most of my entertainment from hubby Bill’s ongoing obsession with the BBC Radio 2  daily quiz Popmaster.

Bill was a competitor the other week - he didn’t even know he was definitely on it until DJ Ken Bruce said: “...and next, Bill from Newbury,” and then he got a call from a producer, saying: “You’ll be live on the radio as soon as this track ends.” A Lindsey Buckingham song has never sounded as long, he told me afterwards. Quite clearly he has never listened to Tusk in its entirety.

Anyway, Bill trounced the competition, winning himself a ‘Space’ radio (so-called, I assume, because it looks like one of those rocket ice lollies). But having got one question wrong, the dreaded ‘3 in 10’ round stood between him and a guaranteed place in the coveted Champions League finals at the end of the year.

“In 10 seconds, name three hits by... Pink,” pronounced Ken. Bill got two. Come on, could you have done better? Really?

So, ever since, Bill has been coming home of an evening to test me on that day’s ‘3 in 10’ (and it turns out that not many contestants can manage it). 10CC? Morrissey? No, you can’t count Smiths songs. The Three Degrees?

I think that a few Radio Two listeners would have been a bit jealous of my week’s highlight. Being really quite poorly that day, I was asleep at 2pm when my mobile rang. I didn’t pick up in time, but checking my voicemail, I discovered that Ian Anderson out of Jethro Tull wanted me to ring him. And who could blame him?

I had totally forgotten I was meant to be interviewing the Tull frontman for NWN2. I could blame this on being ill, but to be honest it’s not the first time. I once had to do a telephone interview with a slightly annoyed Gina Yashere while she was waiting in line at airport check-in to go on holiday, because I had failed to ring her the previous day. Irritated comedians do not make the easiest of interviewees.

So there I am sitting in bed, chatting to Ian Anderson, with a slight temperature and sounding like Bonnie Tyler because of my laryngitis. Soon as I ring off, I go straight back to sleep.

As a result, the next day sat at the computer to write up my interview, I’m staring at shorthand notes that appear to translate as: “terrified by big breasts”, “Auntie Het used to clasp me to her ample bosom”, and “Pamela Anderson”.

Now, while I don’t doubt for a second that these are direct quotes from the mouth of the Jethro Tull frontman (although my shorthand is truly awful), my memory of our conversation is a little hazy, and what I can’t figure is: what on earth was I asking him to elicit these responses?

Best answer wins a Popmaster ‘Space’ radio. (No, not really, Bill).

  • First published on Newbury Today ( in 2007

Monday, May 21, 2012

Lovely man - review of Jimeoin

Jimeoin at The Corn Exchange, Newbury, on Friday, May 4, 2012

LOVELY by name (well, the name of his current tour, anyway) and lovely by nature, Jimeoin is such a sweetheart that he even makes the job of reviewing easier by including bits in his show especially for the reviewer. Suits me, as I’m a bit lazy. So:  “Jimeoin used the whole of the stage” (said by Jimeoin as he, well, used the whole of the stage). Oh, and “he also had a dark side” - that involved him hovering around the back of the stage, near the gloomy red-lit backdrop. See, he sorted me out with a paragraph straight off. Nice one.

Jimeoin (yes, it is his real name, surname McKeown) is probably better known in Australia than the UK - having moved Down Under from Northern Ireland aged 22, he doesn’t pop up that  often on the usual British panel shows. However, his occasional stand-up appearances on UK TV help the public warm to him and his his tours and Edinburgh runs sell well (The Corn Exchange possibly being the exception - “don’t look at the people on the balcony,” he warned the audience, “they’re really shy. They’re also doing that silent laughter thing.”)

But no matter that the place wasn’t full, Jimeoin was still happy to share his laid-back attitude to life in general and comedy in particular. He flitted good-naturedly from one thought to another in the manner of the 1990s rave casualty he physically resembles. Sweet and likeable, you get the feeling that his show isn’t terribly tightly scripted, as he often goes off on interesting tangents but then needs prompting to pick up where he left off. He has a guitar on stage, but even his approach to live music is lackadaisical, with only one actual song being played on it all night, with another being performed on his iPad, which he pointed out, “would save lugging that thing [the guitar] around everywhere”.

But things aren’t as shambolic as they may appear, and Jimeoin’s slight vagueness is all part of the act. “I’m a lazy mime”, he comments, demonstrating how another, more efficient mime artist might tidy up after him, closing doors and windows he left open. And he’s happy to let his audience “drift in and out” of  his narrative. “You won’t find everything funny - but you’ve got your teeth out,” demonstrating the anticipation of laughter. It was gentle, unconfrontational comedy, whimsically drifting over a variety of everyday subjects, but presented ever so well. A reminder that sometimes, comedy is allowed to be just... well, lovely.

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, May 10, 2012

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Edutainment at its most entercational - review of The Amazing Bubble Show (Louis Pearl) and Science Museum Live on Tour

Science Museum Live on Tour and The Amazing Bubble Show, at The Corn Exchange, Newbury on Friday, April 27 and Saturday, April 28

THE Bubble Man really loves bubbles, and he wants you to love bubbles too. He wants you to love the way they float, the way they burst, the way they follow you when you walk (really), and the way they can be trained to create squares, UFOs and bubbles-within-bubbles. He likes putting bubbles on people’s heads, and putting people in bubbles, then getting them to blow from the inside to create more bubbles without popping their giant bubble house. 

The Bubble Man, being laid back and dry-witted San Franciscan Louis Pearl even managed a first at The Corn Exchange, it being the building with the highest ceiling in which he has managed to get a helium-filled bubble to float all the way up. “Cheer wildly if I manage it,” he told the audience, “but don’t go ‘aw’ if it doesn’t. I’d rather have silence than the sound of disappointment.” There was much cheering and applause throughout, as small people and their grown-ups were amazed, wowed and delighted by the beauty of the bubbles, and learnt a bit along the way about the science behind the frothy stuff.

Laying on the science a lot thicker on Friday and creating somewhat louder pops than the bubbles were “Mark” and “Mandy” demonstrating the principles of various types of energy, from potential to kinetic and light to nuclear. The theme was a perfect excuse for plenty of bangs and flashes as the presenters carried out a variety of experiments to demonstrate how energy can be produced and harnessed, as well as donning wigs and padding to recreate an imaginary slugfest between the two fathers of gravity, Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke (I was rooting for Hooke).

The on-stage fun was interspersed (while the stage was tidied up) with on-screen mini-tours of the Science Museum, which felt a little bit like “a word from our sponsor” - but as it is free to visit, there seemed to be no harm in sparking the enthusiasm of the audience to plan a future trip there. My only niggle was why the producer couldn’t find an actor with suitable facial hair to play Prince Albert. But then, prior to the show, I didn’t know that Prince Albert founded the Science Museum - did you? A slight tonsorial slip-up maybe, but overall, it was edutainment at its most entercational.

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The show must go on - review of The Ilsleys

The Ilsleys and Rick Green at ACE Space, Newbury on Friday, April 20

THEIR name may make them sound like a local band for local people, but The Ilsleys’ collective experience tots up to around 200 years or thereabouts in the music business, so a little thing like an injured drummer wasn’t going to put them off their stride (pretty hard to do: they were all sat down anyway - thinking of their hips), and their first headline show at ACE Space went ahead as planned on Friday, proving what utter pros they are. 

Not to say that drummer Nigel Reveler wasn’t missed (rule one of music reviewing: never annoy the drummer),  but the remaining four members (I was going to say “surviving members”,  but on second thoughts...) put on such a cracking performance that it was easy to forget that they weren’t planning on an acoustic set all along. I’m a sucker for vocal harmonies, and the richness of the band’s three-, and occasionally four-part harmonies soared throughout. Someone mentioned to me that their sound was reminiscent of Crosby, Stills & Nash - a pretty accurate comparison, as the set included a couple of hits written by Ilsleys nominal frontman Colin Jennings for The Hollies in the ’70s - albeit after Graham Nash had left the band.

The band performed two sets, crammed with an impressive 22 mainly new songs (the band might have a hard job picking out the ones to include on their forthcoming album Licks, Lilts & Lullabies) reflecting many lifetimes of musical and worldly-wise experience. “This one’s another love song,” pronounced Jennings, eliciting a comment from the audience: “Aw, love songs at their age.” Fair enough, the band were rocking the grey haired look,  but turning their hand from pure romance (Send Me The Pillow) to classic pop (their version of the Jennings-penned Hollies hit Magic Woman Touch), hippy vibes (Back To Nature) and a hint of psychedelia (I Will Love Her), The Ilsleys proved that years of experience, great on-stage banter, and top-notch professionalism create a magical musical brew.

In support was Rick Green, stepping out from behind the sound desk for an extended solo spot to showcase his new self-titled full-band album, available from Green himself at Sticks & Strings in Thatcham. His songs and shirt were tinged with Americana, and his set included a useful education in learning to love the C-word (which is, of course... Country).

What a great night. Let’s do it again soon, boys - next time, you can even bring your drummer (you might have to squish up your chairs to fit him onto the stage, though).

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, April 26, 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

Stanhope of the States - review of Doug Stanhope

Doug Stanhope at The Anvil, Basingstoke on Friday, April 13

US COMEDIAN Doug Stanhope is an enigma. Lucid, erudite and socially aware one minute; shambling, verging on incoherent and downright dirty the next. I know which version of Stanhope I prefer, but then I’m a delicate flower. Likewise, the audience divided pretty much into diehard fans and “try it  outs”, a fair few of whom didn’t make it to the end. This, along with a smallish crowd (for The Anvil) of about 300, seemed to be pretty much accepted as all in a day’s work for Stanhope, who carried on regardless in his indomitable manner.

From an excellently-argued monologue about why the USA is a really great place to live despite its questionable governance, social organisation and legal system, to a dissection of his Twitter spat with Daily Telegraph journalist Allison Pearson which revealed a kind heart hiding somewhere within a maelstrom of vitriol and bile, Stanhope at his best was on the button with something really interesting to say, and the wit to present it well.

However, at other points, his act delved to the darkest depths of depravity, including an extended Aristocrats-style “joke” which I suspect is becoming daily more disgusting as the 30-date tour runs its course. Not my cup of tea at all, but the uproarious laughter from much of the audience belied my personal sensibilities.

I went to this gig knowing it was quite likely not to be all to my delicate tastes, and I’m not going to take umbrage with the bits that made me uncomfortable. In the end, no one got hurt, and unlike so many less intentionally offensive comedians, I can’t recall anything faintly misogynistic or endorsing of domestic abuse, which as I’m sure any regular readers of my reviews will have noticed, is my personal comedy bugbear.

Personally, I found the support act, comedian/guitarist Henry Phillips, to be more palatable to my fairly gentle tastes. Another American with a potty mouth, Phillips kept on the right side of mucky with songs which also showcased a true musical talent, including one written on the road  by himself, Stanhope, Stanhope’s partner Bingo (who received a cheer whenever she appeared to ply her man with more alcohol) and other crew members about the various hardships of touring in the UK. To be fair to Stanhope, there were a few obvious absences from the audience before he followed Phillips onto the stage, which was probably the right decision - if those people were shocked by Phillips, Stanhope might have made them pop.

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, April 19, 2012