Sunday, February 24, 2013

Spice of life - interview with Hardeep Singh Kohli

TV presenter HARDEEP SINGH KOHLI is celebrating the British love for curry and attempting to track down the best curry house in Britain as he delivers his Indian Takeaway around the UK. CATRIONA REEVES discovers his recipe for  cooking and comedy.

CATRIONA REEVES: Your Indian Takeaway stage show involves a nightly taste-off between a curry that you’ve prepared on stage and one delivered by a local curry restaurant suggested by the audience. Which dish usually gets the thumbs-up?

HARDEEP SINGH KOHLI: The idea of the taste-off is to show the difference in ingredients and style. British-Indian food is incredible, but it’s not what I grew up eating in a Punjabi household; what my mum and gran cooked at home. When I come to a town, we want people to suggest their favourite curry house; somewhere where they eat regularly, and get someone to actually ring up and make their usually order, so they can compare a takeaway they love with the curry that I’ve cooked.

CR: You’ve been taking your live shows on the road and to Edinburgh for about three years - how did come up with the idea of combining cooking and comedy?

HSK: I’m quite good at cooking and quite funny, but not good enough at either on its own - so if one falls down, the other fills the gaps. I’m not a stand-up comic, I’m a raconteur. The stories I tell while I’m cooking are about my love of food, my years of being a waiter, and the culture clash of growing up as a Scottish Indian.

I was runner-up on the first Celebrity Masterchef series in 2006, and after that, I presented quite a few food programmes, and wrote a book, also called Indian Takeaway, before putting on my first show at the Edinburgh Fringe, four or five years ago. I’ve been doing the current show for about a year, and it’s such good fun.

CR: Which is the best curry house that you have discovered through doing this show?

HSK: There’s a  particularly cracking restaurant in Leicester. The audiences there are particularly well versed in good food. I think it’s important for this show that it’s local people that are suggesting the restaurants we order from, so we are really getting the best example of Indian takeaways in that town.

CR: What dish do you cook on stage during the show?

HSK: My recipes change every night, to keep it fresh for me. One of my favourites is lamb curry in black pepper. Pepper provides a different sort of heat - it will make you sweat a bit, but it’s not mental. And because I’m North Indian, I always defer to bread rather than rice to accompany a curry.

CR: Lastly - being from Scotland, do you have a recipe for haggis curry?

HSK: Yes I do. Haggis, tatties and neeps curry. That’s the great thing about curry - everything goes in together, so it saves on the washing up.

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on February 14, 2013

Be Young, be foolish, be Gabby - review of Gabby Young & Other Animals

Gabby Young & Other Animals at New Greenham Arts on Saturday, February 9. 2013

THE GENRE purveyed - and arguably invented - by Gabby Young is described as Circus Swing; and while this comes from its gypsy-style musical roots (a heady mix of Eastern European and English folk, with a hefty dose of swing jazz), Young’s stunning visual appearance and the party mood provided by her performance brings all the fun of the big top to the stage. If you visited Gifford’s Circus during its summer sojourn in Victoria Park, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

The “Other Animals” menagerie was stripped down to a trio for Young’s sell-out New Greenham New Folk performance, with Young’s powerful classically-trained voice being accompanied by guitarist and pianist (and partner) Stephen Ellis, and violinist Milly McGregor. It may have been a small gathering of musicians, but the sound was anything but stripped down - who needs a brass section when you’ve got kazoos?

Wiltshire-born Young’s flamboyant visual persona has received media attention, and she has fun with it - she  has her own internet boutique, called Gabberdashery, and a previous tour saw the Other Animals performing in her favourite vintage clothes shops. The band’s on stage party mood is irresistible, and they soon had the seated audience singing, clapping and stomping along, bringing a summer festival mood to the New Greenham auditorium on a February evening.

Young’s songs are strong and beautiful, and unlike some funtime festival bands, they transfer perfectly to album (the other animals have released two to date; with 2012’s And The Band Called For More being contained in a stunning petal-fold sleeve, worth the money alone purely for presentation). Not all songs are upbeat party numbers, and many appear to be very personal in their sentiment, but all are performed in Young’s powerful yet velvet-smooth voice that grabs and holds you from beginning to end. Think of Florence & The Machine with a sense of humour, and you’re halfway there.

A gorgeous treat for at least two of the senses, Gabby Young & Other Animals are a must-see if they pop up at any festival you might be at this summer. And certainly grab your tickets quickly if Young visits these parts again. I’m hoping that next time, she brings enough kazoos for the entire audience.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on February 14, 2013

Hairs on your chest - review of Chris Addison

CHRIS ADDISON at The Corn Exchange, Newbury on Thursday, February 7, 2013

THERE’S something about Chris Addison that brings out my maternal side (yes offspring, I do have one. Stop sniggering). It’s the angelic face that belies his 41 years that does it, I think. I hope he’s eating well on tour, as he is very slim - although my sister pointed out that his television appearances mainly involve him wearing a suit (as special advisor Ollie Reeder in The Thick Of It) or behind a desk (on Mock The Week), so that is probably his default shape.

I think I may have to send him a tonic to build himself up. He doesn’t need one to put hairs on his chest, that’s for sure. The unexpected combination of cherubic visage and hairs peeking out through his loose top shirt button hasn’t escaped my attention.

But I didn’t just come here to deconstruct Addison’s appearance. I did tear my eyes away from his chest for long enough to focus on the show that has bought him back to Newbury to sell out The Corn Exchange. Called The Time Is Now Again, it follows on from his previous show, The Time Is Now (bet you couldn’t have guessed that) in its scathing look at modern society - but this time it’s political.

Addison’s bon mots fire cross-party, but it was mainly the Tories that got it in the neck, which didn’t go down with gales of laughter from the entire auditorium; however, Addison is aware that his core audience are savvy Radio 4 listeners, so hey - he probably reckons they can take it, even if they don’t agree entirely with the sentiment.

Anyway, that sort of fits in with the main theme of Addison’s show, which was the idea that most people decide what their core beliefs are at a young age - political stance, opinion on the Royal Family and so on - and then chose to absorb the media messages which reflect these, without ever reassessing them.

Addison constantly carries out such introspection himself; as a self-styled “semi celebrity”, he is aware that his decisions are judged, as reflected in his sign-off alluding to his starring role in insurance adverts. Fingers in other pies may be why he threatened that this could be his last stand-up tour; while quite likely that this was a joke, it would be a shame if true.

Addison is an accomplished stand-up whose circuitous tales create an off the cuff feel to a show which must in fact have been pretty well polished over the past 15 months that he has toured it. As long as he continues keeping his top button undone, I will be happy to continue seeing him windmill around the stage for a long time to come.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on February 14, 2013

Lemon-aid - interview with Katherine Ryan

FINDING the sweet centre in life’s bitterest moments, Canadian comedian KATHERINE RYAN has embarked her first solo tour. She tells CATRIONA REEVES why it’s better to be a smiler than a winger.

CATRIONA REEVES: You’re on telly quite a bit - both on comedy panel shows and as an actress - how are you feeling about going it alone on tour? 

KATHERINE RYAN: I’ve opened for others on tour in the past, including [fellow Canadian] Stewart Francis, and have done two Edinburgh shows of my own. For this tour, I’ve taken the best bits of my Edinburgh shows and added some new material. This definitely feels different - I’m a bit nervous, but really excited.

I’ve been really lucky with the telly stuff. The heart of stand-up comedy is on the road, but TV gets people to come to your shows. I used to do shows where six people turned up, and live comedy does need an audience.

CR: How would you describe your comedy?

KR: My material is a bit quirky - I see myself as a bit of a misfit, and other misfits seem to commiserate with me. I’ve been asked if what I do is as a character, because I come across as a big sunshiny person on stage, but really it’s just an amplification of who I am now.

My comedy voice has got stronger as I’ve got older, and now I’m super comfortable with who I am. I’ve been in the UK for five years, and I’m a mum now, and that’s all added to who I am on stage.

Earlier on in my career, I’d go to auditions for TV panel shows and look around the room, and everyone would seem very different from me. I tried to adapt, to be more like them, but what I really needed to be doing was to be myself.

As I’ve grown more confident with that, I’ve been more successful, and now I notice the different when I watch old videos of my performance - it’s the same voice, but not as strong.

CR: How do you find being a female comic on the male-dominated stand up circuit?

The TV shows are probably an accurate representation of the circuit, where the ratio of male to female stand-ups is about 10 to one, although that is changing. The film Bridesmaids seems to have had an impact, and more younger girls are emerging. 

There’s lots of female comedy role models already out there though - Miranda Hart, Jo Brand, and the writer Caitlin Moran - it’s not just about one type of comedy. It’s all about finding your own voice.

CR: What inspired you to become a stand-up comedian?

KR: I actually studied urban planning at university, but when I moved to Toronto, which is like the London of Canada, I knew that I wanted to work in entertainment. I tried presenting, and a bit of acting, but I didn’t feel like I fitted in. I like the power and control that being a stand-up gives me. I get  to write my own material, hopefully saying something with a bit of purpose and making people think.

I’ve never been very good at working in groups; I like that as a stand-up, I’m entirely responsible for what I do.

CR: You say that your show, Nature’s Candy, aims to find the delicious and hilarious side to life’s blacker moments. You seem so cheery - has anything ever threatened to bring you down?

KR: I’ve been through a lot in the last couple of years; I split up with my daughter’s father and  it wasn’t an amicable split - it was nasty. I’ve had health issues; and I’m a single mum in a foreign country. But I’m not a winger, and I like to find the positive in things, so the show basically celebrates that.

I’m a big fan of pop culture, so there’s a lot of that in there - Hollywood relationships and gossip magazine stuff. I like to laugh at it, but not in a mean way.

My comedy has been described as having dark edges, and that seems about right to me. I think it’s possible to find reasons to smile, but still have bite.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on February 7, 2013

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Life lottery - interview with filmmaker Raoul Martinez

FILMMAKER and artist RAOUL MARTINEZ speaks about the making of his Raindance Film Festival award-nominated documentary The Lottery of Birth, and explains how he persuaded some of the world’s greatest thinkers to get involved in his Creating Freedom project.

CATRIONA REEVES: What is the idea behind The Lottery of Birth?

RAOUL MARTINEZ: It looks at how personal identity is produced by forces we don’t control - inherited genes, environment, religion, other people and the lives we lead - and the implications that follow through from that.

I came up with the idea for the film while I was working on a book on the same theme. I sent out some emails to the people I’d like to interview - Noam Chomsky, Steven Pinker, Tony Benn, Amy Goodman and Stanley Aronowitz among them - and they responded.

I had no previous experience as a filmmaker, but I booked a ticket to New York, as most of these people were based in the USA, and bought a camera. A friend put me in touch with a filmmaker called Joshua van Praag who helped on the technical side, and we went on a roadtrip for five weeks.

CR: It seems to be a bit of a detour from your previous work as a portrait artist - how did you become interested in the subjects explored in the film?

RM: I’ve worked as an artist since I ws 17, but have developed my own self-study in areas of interest to me. I started a degree in philosophy but it wasn’t answering my needs; I’ve never taken very well to formal instruction and prefer following my own interests.

CR: You’ve started working on the book again as a companion to the film - what else will the Creating Freedom project involve?

RM: The Lottery of Birth is the first of three films. I’m currently editing the second, which looks more in depth at the conflicting paradigms that shape assumptions, and questions how we can create a better world rather than one based on inherited ideas. The third film will look at societal alternatives.

CR: Your sister is the comedian and disability campaigner Francesca Martinez. Do you see any parallels in your work?

RM: I think we’re trying to put across similar ideas in different ways. If you have something to say, you find a way of saying it.

* For more information on The Lottery of Birth and the Creating Freedom project, visit

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, January 17, 2013