Monday, December 10, 2012

The Way of Dodgy - interview with Math Priest for Lights Go Out

THEY may have recently been described by the NME as “the Chuckle Brothers of Britpop” (a compliment any day in my book), but reformed 90s pop warriors Dodgy were always far more than three cheeky chappies up for a giggle on Never Mind The Buzzcocks. For a start, they have their own philosophy - the Way of Dodgy; at least one commandment on every recording; now numbering in their 30s. They have a pale ale named after them. And a beer. Beat that, Chuckle Brothers.

On top of all that, Dodgy care. A lot. They care about their fans; they care greatly about the music (new album Stand Upright In A Cool Place, out now!), and they care about the way it is presented to their fans in its myriad forms. Let us worship at their feet and allow drummer Math Priest to tell us more...

LightsGoOut: Who does your artwork, and where did you find them?

Math Priest: A psychedelic warrior called Russell Hardman ( Like most things to do with this album, we started working together in quite an organic way. Besides being a cosmic pioneer, he's also an art teacher, and he used to teach the daughter of a great friend of ours, Robin Evans, who helped produce the album.

Russell was a big fan of ours when he was a kid and I think we helped form his psychedelic mind, if you know what I mean ,*wink*.

My brother was the designer for the band back in the 90s and Russell is a massive fan of his work. so we made sure that my bro was on hand for inspiration and approval 

LGO: How much input into the look and feel of Dodgy’s artwork do you have as band members?

MP: Well, everything has to be approved by all of us, which can be a shitty process for the artist as two of us could like something, and then it gets rejected by the third member.

It happened with the cover for Stand Upright In A Cool Place. Russell had designed this really unique-looking sleeve with a penguin on the front and we all approved it, but then Nigel [Clark, singer] changed his mind a few weeks later. This quite understandably infuriated Russell, but Nigel was right to question it as Russell came back with an even better sleeve. I'd even go so far as to say it's an absolute classic album sleeve. One of the greats.

LGO: Nowadays have you got more control over artwork and suchlike than you did back in the 90s when you were on a major label, or did you always have an input? 

MP: We've always had final say on the artwork but as my brother, who was a highly regarded designer back then, was doing the design, we kinda trusted him. He'd known the band from the beginning and totally understood our ethos and where we were coming from. In fact, his ideas and designs were integral to the whole image and vibe of the band.

Within the band, Andy [Miller, guitarist] is very artistic, he has a good eye. And quite an attractive forearm. 

LGO: Which are your fave album and single covers from your catalogue?

MP: My fave album cover has to be this new one, I can stare at it for hours, in fact I have. You can meditate with it. Closely followed by the sleeve to the Ace A's and Killer B's best of; we employed a horticulture school to plant the flowers - it took a bit of planning that one. Sad times, though.

For a single, nothing beats our first-ever sleeve for Summer Fayre/St Lucia back in 1991.

LGO: Your CD booklets have often been quite fun [1994’s Homegrown aptly featured instructions on how to build the perfect spliff] - do you think the CD format is one that works well with good artwork, or do you prefer good old vinyl-size covers?

MP: Of course nothing beats an old LP sleeve but the trick with CDs was about being creative with the restrictions. I like discovering new things every time you pick up the CD.

LGO: Tell us about the Way of Dodgy.

MP: My brother was always a spiritual soul, always trying to find some kind of inner-peace, though he did used to search for it in the strangest places :-)

The Ways of Dodgy appeared on every release since the single Water Under The Bridge in 1993 and were started by him really, so he could dispense some of his little aphorisms. Some made you think, some were just plain silly. We used to chip in with quite a few, my favourites were:

The Way of Dodgy No. 2: The only thing that you should worship, is the ground you walk upon
The Way of Dodgy No. 18a: The only nation you should have pride in is your imagination

LGO: Seeing as you’re appearing in the hallowed pages of LightsGoOut... are you a little bit punk?

MP: Absolutely, Nige was a punk. That's how we bonded in the early days - I would introduce him to lots of soul like Sly and The Family Stone and he would introduce me to The Clash and the Ruts. I had to draw the line on some of the stuff he liked as I felt you kinda had to be there, like Crass, Subhumans etc. But that mistrust of authority that Nige got from punk has certainly permeated everything Dodgy has done.

As for a modern punk band, I fucking love Cerebral Ballzy. Are they punk? [I dunno... Mr T, are they punk?]

Catriona Reeves

  • First published in Lights Go Out issue 17, June 2012. To buy a real papery copy and for loads more punk zine fun, visit

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Small, and very funny - interview with Roman Stefanski, producer of Charlie & Lola's Best Bestest Play

THE HAYMARKET in Basingstoke is currently bringing Lauren Child’s much-loved characters Charlie and Lola to life through the magic of puppetry for a pre-Christmas treat for under sixes.

The director for the BBC Worldwide and Polka Theatre production of Charlie & Lola’s Best Bestest Play, ROMAN STEFANSKI, told CATRIONA REEVES how he took on the challenge of bringing the delightful siblings’ visually lush and “very funny” world view from the page and television screen to the stage.

CATRIONA REEVES: How did you go about adapting such beloved stories for the stage?

ROMAN STEFANSKI: Playwright Jonathan Lloyd and I knew that we wanted to create a show which was an exciting and engaging piece of theatre and one which was instantly recognisable to its young audience. Children can be the most demanding and the most rewarding audiences but they do know what they like and you don’t mess around with their favourite stories.

Having said that, children are also sometimes more adventurous than adults – for example, they instantly accept that you see the puppeteers as well as the puppets.  Seeing an actor behind a puppet doesn’t stop youngsters completely entering into the world of the show – children call out to Charlie or Lola, comment on the action, warn them what’s about to happen and so on.

CR: The show has been created for the under-sixes who know Charlie and Lola from the Lauren Child books and CBeebies. How do you ensure that they identify the puppets as “their” Charlie and Lola?

RS: One of the big decisions we made, early on, was to use a recorded sound track which was created by the child actors who voice the tv show.  Again, it’s all about recognisability and those two voices are the ones which thousands of Charlie and Lola fans identify with.

CR: Do the puppeteers enjoy working on the show?

RS: We’ve been doing it for four or five years now, and over time quite a few actor/puppeteers have worked on it.  They love the show and the reaction they get from audiences and quite often they’ll work with us for a while, then go away and then come back again. For example, Ruth Calkin, who is Bat Cat in Basingstoke, went off to work on a big tour of In The Night Garden but has come back to join Charlie and Lola.

Puppetry requires a very high degree of skill – not just dexterity but acting skills as well – if you don’t enter into the spirit of the show, and the character you’re presenting, it wouldn’t be a success.

CR: Is it particularly challenging to produce a show for very young children?

RS: The show works on all kinds of levels – the older children see more subtleties and recognise stories they know but often we find parents bring along young siblings who just enjoy the lights and the music, even if they don’t fully follow the stories.

We do include one slightly scary story, from the books and the tv series – the story of Lola and the Ogre – but it all ends happily!

Charlie & Lola’s Best Bestest Play, presented by Watershed Productions, runs at The Haymarket until Friday, December 15. Tickets are priced £10 and £12.  Discounts are available, including for parents and childminders who may wish to attend as a group.  For more information or for tickets, call the Anvil Arts box office on (01256) 844244,  Or use the Anvil Arts website

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on December 7, 2012

Nights to remember - review of Arabian Nights at The Watermill Theatre

Arabian Nights at The Watermill, Bagnor, from Thursday, November 22 2012 to Sunday, January 6, 2013

ABSOLUTELY everything that children and grown-ups could wish for from a Christmas show is at play in The Watermill’s production of Arabian Nights. Storytelling, music, audience interaction, jokes, stunning costumes and scenery and plenty of sparkle are combined into a mesmerising two hours of pure entertainment.

Based on the collection of Arabian folk tales of the same name, the six cast members played King Dara Al-Saeed, his unfortunate wife Princess Cyra (based on the royal couple Shahryar and Scheherazade in the original text), The Hakawati (storyteller), and the princess’s three slaves. Locked in a dungeon on her wedding night, Princess Cyra (Amanda Wilkin) and her entourage tell stories to the king (the stunningly handsome Tarek Merchant) in the hope of saving their lives and melting his ice-cold heart.

Lesser-known tales from the Nights, such as The Fisherman and The Jinni and The Prince & The Tortoise (with its undertones of Cinderella and culinary educational facts about roz bil halib - “a delicious rice pudding flavoured with pistachios) were presented along with the better-known Aladdin (pronounced authentically as Ala ad-Din). This story provided an opportunity for some self-referential pantomime moments, with the princess taking on the principal boy role,  characters being transported by Jinni to “the most desolate place on earth - Swindon” and the audience being encouraged to boo the baddy, before being slapped down sharply with “this isn’t The Corn Exchange”.

The princess, storyteller (Kit Orton) and slaves (Morgan Philpott, Rosalind Steele and Samantha Sutherland) threw themselves enthusiastically into their playlets (as you probably would if you had a potential death sentence hanging over you), scrabbling for props in the surprisingly well-stocked dungeon to bring the tales to life, and bickering over their roles. Princess Cyra was prepared to take the role of the “large and ugly” tortoise who found herself married to a prince, with her handmaidens relishing the parts of the preening sisters-in-law who mistreat her. It appears that all are equal when your head might end up on a pole.

As with many Watermill productions, the cast members played their own instruments, performing rollicking songs by composer Simon Slater (the musical director was King Dara himself Tarek Merchant. Talented as well as handsome...). The palace set was relatively simple, giving ample space for the story tellers to create their tales, and there was less scenary-clambering than in some past Christmas shows; but nothing was lost for this, and much was gained.

Arabian Nights (written by Toby Hulse and directed by Robin Belfield, returning to The Watermill for his third Christmas) pulled together a myriad of themes - many nods to the original text’s alternative title of One Thousand And One Nights (telling the whole story would have made for a very long performance); the power of storytelling to allow the listener to discover themselves; the fact that we are all in a story of our own; and the richness of the legends and traditions of a part of the world which may hold some trepidation and misunderstanding for some children.

Overarching all though, is a sense of fun and mischief, and it is never forgotten that this is a treat for all, albeit one that is as rich, nourishing and satisfying as the roz bil halib - so “loved throughout all Arabia”. If I dare say it, having seen a fair few of The Watermill’s Christmas shows over the last decade, Arabian Nights is among the best ever. A shimmering box of eastern delights worthy of a place in Aladdin’s cave of wonders.

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

Packham in - review of Chris Packham

Chris Packham Goes Totally Wild at The Corn Exchange, Newbury on Monday, November 19, 2012

HE may have a rather worrying fondness for poo, but naturalist Chris Packham has a passion for wildlife, a talent for photography and a way of conveying his love and knowledge of nature with infectious enthusiasm.

Packham’s touring show focusses on a collection of his latest photographic images: some taken in the most stunning of environments, such as Antarctica and the South American rainforest; others in his own garden and nearby countryside in Hampshire. 

Even these aren’t exactly the easiest of images to capture though - in a bid to transform common British birds into ornithological pinups, he set up various contraptions and scenery  to capture them at their most stunning - using a garden hose to create “rain”, breaking a hole in a glass sheet and training a blue tit to poke its head through by tempting it with peanuts.

And his attempts to capture starlings at their most stunning end in frustration time and again - “this would be a fabulous picture if it wasn’t for that bird’s wing getting in the way...”.

Packham isn’t a proponent of getting back to nature in all its most basic forms: “Why would anyone want to camp in the New Forest? There are some lovely B&Bs...”, and his stories of the various discomforts of communal living while on location with various scientists, naturalists and film crew; none of which seem to be as fussy as him about keeping things civilised, kept the stories lively.

Saying that, Packham isn’t adverse to putting himself through some discomfort in a bid to pull off the perfect shot; as demonstrated by his five-day shoot immersed in chilly water, photographing damselflies - “I would like to have taken longer over it, but I had other work commitments”. The resulting images were breathtakingly stunning, and combined well with some pretty interesting observations about damselfly behaviour, partly gleaned through the “friendship” Packham formed with one particular male during his stakeout.

Packham confessed that he was a perfectionist who was critical of his own photographs and would never be truly satisfied with any single image; being particularly obsessed with the search for symmetry. He admitted that occasionally he has resorted to digital trickery to help nature along a little - such as in a stunning photograph of a pure-white snow petrel flying past a swag of icicles in Antarctica - and he is quite happy to encourage creatures to perch exactly where he wants them in order to get the best focus, angle and background.

But of course, nothing in nature can be dictated to, and it is clearly this element of uncertainty that provides the challenge that Packham so relishes. I rather hope that he never takes his perfect photograph - it would be a pity if he then gave up the quest.

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

Noises off - review of Sean Hughes

Sean Hughes: Life Becomes Noises, at Arlington Arts, Snelsmore, on Saturday, November 17

IF ever a comedian could change the way he is perceived by his audiences, Sean Hughes has succeeded with his current show, Life Becomes Noises. In fact, revisiting my rather snotty review of his rather disastrous 2010 stand-up visit to Newbury (when his selection of a wholly inappropriate local news story to lampoon drew complaints), I could barely believe that this was the same performer.

The catalyst for Hughes' current show - a staged production rather than pure stand-up - was the death of his father last year, inspiring Hughes to dissect his thoughts and feelings regarding his father and their relationship, the manner of his passing, and his own life and mortality.

Hughes said that rather than the show being a cathartic exercise to help him deal with his grief, he wanted it to be his tribute to his father presented in a format - ie comedy - that would have made him proud. 

Possibly not surprisingly though, it was comedy with a very dark edge. Apart from the gallows humour with which the very subject of death is naturally tinged, Hughes did not shy away from presenting his father with the foibles that made him human - a hard drinking gambler whose return from the pub was not always fully welcomed by his family.

And then there was Hughes' introspection into his own sense of being - a man in the image of his father, both physically and in essence of being, there were flashes of his own inner demons, and struggles which may not have yet been fully concluded.

As on his last Newbury appearance, Hughes was sometimes candidly frank with his audience, not just about himself, but regarding issues he has identified with individual audience members. It’s as if the inner voice that says “Sean, don’t say that” is missing - or he’s just really good at ignoring it.

The difference this time round was the manner with which he dealt with these more challenging utterances - more apologetic if he felt he had gone too far, he dealt out gentle high fives and hugs with the acerbic asides. The approach seemed to be about celebrating the failings that make him, and all of us human- and identifying and embracing those “kettle in the garden” moments when our minds go a little off-piste; and we find ourselves standing in the garden, with the kettle in our hands, wondering what we were inending to do with it.

Challenging then, in parts, the show was also life-affirming and emotive as a reminder of mortality and the acceptance of loss - and that we should all tell our dads that we love them while we still can. 

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on November 22, 2012

Piff, paff, puff - review of Piff the Magic Dragon

Piff the Magic Dragon at New Greenham Arts, Newbury on Thursday, November 8, 2012

IS he a magician? Is he a comedian? No... Piff is a dragon. The clue is in the name. Durrr.

He’s a rather grumpy dragon as it happens: emotionally scarred by his ex-wife; a petulant assistant on community service, and a love-hate relationship with sidekick Mr Piffles, an adorable Chihuahua, who gets far more attention than poor beleaguered Piff. And don’t mention his famous older brother - Steve. Sore point, that one.

Piff (real name John Van der Put - that took a bit of Googling to find out) performs magic mainly with two aims - firstly, to snare his very own princess (the dream of all dragons) by submitting an audience member to various fairy tale challenges, and secondly, to subject Mr Piffles to any number of death-inevitable stunts without invalidating his life insurance.

Piff is pretty good at the old magic thing, particularly when it comes to card and close-up tricks - as anyone who saw him attempting (and only just failing) to fool Penn & Teller on their ITV show could testify. He can also make the ever-obliging Mr Piffles disappear, and then resurrect him as a two-dimensional postable version.

But it’s the incongruous combination of his dragon get-up and a deadpan comedic style that makes Piff a little bit special. The children’s entertainer veneer of his act seems to make audience members particularly willing to participate both on stage and off, and even add to the comedy with their own responses to the whimsy. However, this is by no means a children’s act, with Piff having a distinct dark side as he enacts revenge on his ex-wife, and treats both Mr Piffles and stroppy assistant Amy Sunshine with weary disdain.

Piff didn’t find his princess in New Greenham Arts; his quest continues. If you see him on his travels, you’re welcome to give the delightful Mr Piffles a pat on the head - but do give Piff a little tickle under the chin as well. Dragons thrive on the attention. 

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on November 15, 2012

Really Wild - interview with Chris Packham

WITH Autumnwatch wrapped up for another year, and the rest of the BBC Natural History Unit preparing for hibernation, the whirlwind of naturalist energy that is CHRIS PACKHAM is Totally Wild out on tour. CATRIONA REEVES tracked him down walking his dogs, to discover more about this rare and exotic creature.

CATRIONA REEVES: A week after Autumnwatch is off our screens, and you’re on a live theatre tour. Didn’t you fancy a bit of a rest first?

CHRIS PACKHAM: I don’t stop working - you’ve only got one life, and I plan to sleep when I’m dead and eat just before. 

The theatre show is a talk about various species I have encountered and experiences I have had, all illustrated with photos I have taken in various parts of the world; exotic species from pole to pole, from Antarctica to the rainforests, and some in my garden, and within 20 minutes of my house in Hampshire.

Ultimately, when it comes to photography, the best subjects are on your doorstep. I enjoy stretching myself to take the most imaginative pictures possible in my back garden.

The New Forest is where my heart is; it’s where I grew up and where I am most comfortable in the environment. I enjoy exploring but I am made of this place. It’s where I foraged as a kid and learnt my trade as a naturalist.

CR: What started your love of nature as a child, aside from the local countryside?

CP: When I was young, I was given a set of Brooke Bond tea cards featuring tropical birds that my grandmother had collected, and it became a great source of inspiration and longing to see al the weird and wonderful birds featured on the cards.

If we want to continue to ignite this sort of passion young people we need to get them out into the  countryside to see it, smell it and touch it. Kids these days are not allowed to fall out of trees or make camps for fear of what might happen to them. We’ve turned the countryside into a dark, dangerous place, where kids are extinct.

There’s an element of risk involved in everything we do, and if we don’t let them explore, it’s going to have a massive negative impact in the future.  If you really don’t feel you can let your kids out on their own, then get out into the countryside with them, and discover it together.

CR: Do you already see that restriction on freedom to explore impacting on the next generation of naturalists?

CP: I’ve met naturalists who’ve been to university but can’t identify every British butterfly or common bird species . Universities have to run identification courses to teach their students the basics. It’s terribly sad, but it’s not their fault - it’s their parents’ fault.

As we speak, I can hear a blackbird chattering - I happen to know that there’s a tawny owl round here, so that’s probably what’s disturbing the blackbird. I got that knowledge because of spending so much time out here. There’s so much that you can’t learn in the library or on the internet. Skills and knowledge will die off.

CR: You have been at the forefront of the current campaign to prevent the proposed badger cull in order to prevent the spread of TB in cattle - are you relieved that plans have been put on hold?

CP: In my heart, I hope that this is a way of easing us into another u-turn, and the cull will never happen - if it isn’t, I will pick up the baton again, and continue to campaign against it.

If the cull was going to work, I would grit my teeth and let them get on with it, because we need to support our farmers and agriculture. But science shows that it won’t work.

We need to focus on finding a vaccine for the cattle that works, and allow vaccinated produce to be sold. We should have been doing that for the last 20 years. But instead, to do something wholly destructive to British wildlife that won’t even stop TB in cattle is absurd. If the cull goes ahead, it will be a triumph of ignorance.

CR: Are you concerned about the ash tree dieback that’s currently killing ash trees across   Europe, and has now spread to the UK?

CP: I think we will lose ash trees to the disease, just as we lost the elm trees a few decades ago, because the fungus that’s destroying them knows what it’s doing. But nature is dynamic, and there will be winners as well as losers - woodpeckers and wood burrowing beetles will have a bonanza for a few years. And as long as the dying trees are allowed to rot - which takes about 50 years - rather than cut down and burnt, they will provide a great ecological advantage to the environment.

It’s very sad that we will lose such characterful trees, but nature is a constant and active struggle.

CR: Oh dear, this is all getting a bit gloomy - can we end this interview on a cheery note?

CP: One of the things I’ll be talking about in the show is my trip to Brazil last year to make a video for Velvet, the toilet tissue manufacturer, which has a ‘Three Trees Promise' to plant three trees for every one that it uses. Two of the trees are planted in Scandinavia, where they harvest, but in the third one is planted in Brazil, where they are working with the government to  replenish huge areas of rainforest.

The scale of it is amazing - three million trees planted in one place.It’s a great piece of corporate co-operation with conservation. Much as I feel that I have a duty to comment when things are going wrong, I also like to show that we do have the ability to put things right.

  • First published on Newburytoday (, November 2012

Old Hamilton's game - review of Andy Hamilton

Andy Hamilton at The Corn Exchange, Newbury on Saturday, September 8, 2012

HE’S a little bit taller than Sandi Toksvig - that isn’t saying much; but comedy performer and writer Andy Hamilton has a big personality that effortlessly filled the sold out Corn Exchange with much amusement and pleasure, perfectly targeted at an audience mainly comprising Radio 4 listeners.

Starting with an apology and explanation of why he had to reschedule his Newbury date from May - “I had viral gastro enteritis - I could have done the show, but only if a live feed could be set up from my toilet”, Hamilton’s show was certainly worth the four-month wait.

Possibly best known for playing Satan in his long-running BBC Radio 4 sitcom Old Harry’s Game, Hamilton’s show was entitled Hat of Doom (referring to a hat filled with random topics which he could then talk about during the show), but in person, he is extremely un-satanic, conveying much warmth with his wit.

There was a little bit of audience participation, but nothing too uncomfortable (apart from the inability of anyone in the room willing to attempt an impression of a taser gun being fired - giving Hamilton much amusement at our parochial naivety), some fun and games, a silly song, and a Q &A session (I am kicking myself for forgetting to ask him to do his Dr Elephant voice; the character he plays in Peppa Pig). 

All lovely stuff; that's not to say that a little bit of politics didn’t come into it, but the show wasn’t as overtly topical as those who know Hamilton from various radio and television current affairs panel shows might expect - it was more like a anecdotal performance of the sort of true stories and experiences which inspire his radio and television scriptwriting.

In particular, his musings on family life suggested that he didn’t have to look too far from his own home in the writing of BBC sitcom Outnumbered; with the tale of the little girl who picked up more than grouting tips when playing “builder’s mate”, and a wonderful relaying of an unfortunate experience when he and his wife were faced with an angry hippo in Kenya.

But you can’t keep an acerbic topical wit suppressed entirely, and there were some wonderful, gossipy nuggets thrown in unexpectedly, including a fabulous titbit about Jeffery Archer which I would love to repeat here, but won’t - Hamilton is already in enough trouble with the Cornish for something he said about them on a panel show, so I don’t want to make things worse.

With this being Hamilton’s first ever touring show (I wouldn’t have guessed), he has nearly 40 years as a comedy writer and performer to draw material from; and the random elements mean that it is quite likely that seeing him again could draw out an entirely different set of anecdotes. I am seriously tempted to see him again at The Concert Hall in Reading on September 30 - although that is another show rescheduled from May, there are still tickets available. If you weren’t able to see Hamilton at The Corn Exchange on Saturday, I urge you to go. Especially if you’re a Radio 4 listener.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, September 13, 2012