Monday, August 26, 2013

A wheely good time - feature on Beaulieu National Motor Museum, House and Garden

BACK in the 1990s, Beaulieu National Motor Museum, House and Garden promoted itself in a television advert with the jingle “You’ll have a Beaulieu-full day at Beaulieu". The jingle may have been long discarded (possibly because it was the clunkiest play on words ever to be used in an advertising campaign), but Beaulieu itself is still going strong, having been voted VisitEngland’s Best Large Visitor Attraction for 2013.

It may be a bold claim for an attraction to claim that it has “lots for everyone to enjoy”; but Beaulieu comes nearer than most in fulfilling such a promise; with the ruins of 13th century Beaulieu Abbey, Palace House, the ancestral home of the Montagu family since 1538, and its stunning grounds, including the well-tended Victorian flower and kitchen gardens.

Such tranquil surroundings may seen like a rather incongruous setting for a museum dedicated to cars and automobilia, but the founding of the National Motor Museum was no cynical tourist ploy; the current Lord Montagu started his collection in 1952 as a tribute to his father, a motoring pioneer as far back as the 1890s.

Despite the appeal of these historical attractions - on our visit to Beaulieu last month, we got no nearer to the house, abbey and gardens than via an aerial view from the mile-long monorail that circuits the site. We did go on it twice though, to get a good look. Not through laziness though - there was simply so much to be seen in the motor museum itself, and the adjacent World of Top Gear display. We even got a bird’s eye view of the exhibitions from the monorail, as during its journey it passes through the roof area of the museum, giving an unusual perspective on the vehicles on display, some of which are staged, staggered or suspended to make the most of space and viewpoints.

In addition, the weekend we visited coincided with the annual Beaulieu Custom & Hot Rod Festival, meaning that there were plenty of sleek cars, vans and bikes bedecked with shimmering chrome, in the event area next to the museum. Pleasingly, despite the increased visitor numbers - which we were warned about when we booked - everything was well organised, with no enormous queues or difficulty viewing the permanent exhibits, with the custom car interlopers simply adding to the atmosphere. The free fairground dodgems were most welcome as well.

And so into the museum itself; a quite breathtaking journey through the history of motoring, with more than 250 vehicles on show, from the earliest days of motoring (in stunning conserved condition) and family cars of the early 20th century, through to classic cars of the 70s and 80s, historic and modern racing, F1 and rally cars, and world land speed record breakers, including Donald Campbell’s Bluebird. I couldn’t help thinking of Matthew Crawley’s tragic final moment in Downton Abbey while looking at some of the beautifully sleek but not particularly safety-conscious early open-topped Rolls Royces and Bentleys. A joy to drive, I’m sure, but where were the seatbelts?

The famous “Outspan Orange” car (built on a Mini chassis in the early 1970s) had a certain ap-peel (gettit?) for young Sophie, while I was particularly drawn to the London Routemaster bus, and had a go at jumping on and swinging around its pole - with slightly less glamourous results than I had pictured in my head. More successful as a photo opportunity was an Edwardian car supplied with appropriate motoring costumes, and Sophie and I had great fun transforming ourselves into ladies from 100 years ago - while George refused steadfastly to even don a flat cap for the photo, and Bill kept well out of the way.

Opened last year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of James Bond films, the museum’s current flagship exhibition is Bond In Motion, showcasing 50 iconic Bond cars, boats, motorbikes, tow-sleds and jets, including the 1937 Phantom III Rolls-Royce from Goldfinger, the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldeneye, the “Little Nellie” autogyro from You Only Live Twice, and the Bede Acrostar jet flown in Octopussy.

Another separate exhibition area of Screen Cars features Del Boy’s iconic Reliant Regal from Only Fools and Horses, Mr Bean’s green mini, and the flying Ford Anglia from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. My favourite of all, taking pride of place in the main museum, was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - sadly, like many of the exhibits, for understandable reasons, not to be clambered upon. How I would have loved to climb into Chitty and go for an arial cruise above Beaulieu’s stunning grounds. What do you mean that it doesn’t really fly?

None of us are avid Top Gear fans, but the World of Top Gear was great fun, featuring some of the BBC television show’s more outlandish stars (I’m talking about the cars, not Jeremy Clarkson), centred around the Top Gear Enormodrome, which recreates the feel of the Top Gear studio, featuring a specially-made film made at the programme’s production office, with classic action clips featuring some of the outlandish vehicles on display. George was particularly impressed with the MG Limo bowling alley, although he did question the practicalities of using it while in motion.

We spotted the cobbled-together motorhomes, the “budget Bond” submarine cars, Ann Hathaway’s Cottage (an interior bedecked with flagstones and a woodburner), homemade police vehicles, and the double decker cars - not one of which looked at all roadworthy. If you spot any of these vehicles on the road, overtake carefully - or, as a friend once did while passing the Top Gear motorhomes driven by the presenters, film them and post to Youtube, resulting in a viral clip which was then picked up by the BBC as the trailer for the series, netting him a life-changing £400.

As we never made it into Palace House, we didn’t get the opportunity to enjoy some of Beaulieu’s current non-motoring exhibitions, including Royal Pageant, a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation, exploring the links between Beaulieu and the monarchy; and The Secret Army, telling the story of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) which trained secret agents at the Beaulieu “Finishing School” on the estate during the Second World War, before they were sent to occupied Europe to work with the Resistance, many never to return. A historical link that James Bond himself would be proud of.

With the school holidays upon us, Beaulieu is revving up for an influx of summer visitors by stepping attractions up a gear with living history characters giving an insight into Victorian life at Palace House and in the 1870s kitchen garden, falconry and Cisternian monks in the Abbey Cloisters, a go-kart track, tours on the open-topped replica 1912 London bus, and creative activities in the museum with a caravan theme. See - what did I tell you? Something for everyone.

Check the website for details and entry prices at

  • First published in Out & About magazine, July 2013

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

From pavement to penthouse - interview with Glenn Gregory from Heaven 17

WITH albums called Penthouse and Pavement and The Luxury Gap, Heaven 17 may seem intrinsic to the decedent ’80s, but dig a little deeper, and they had something serious to say about the decade of excess. GLENN GREGORY reminds CATRIONA REEVES of the message behind the music.

CATRIONA REEVES: Heaven 17 had a rather suave image, but the band actually came out of the Sheffield electro-pop scene, which as depicted in the 2010 BBC Two documentary Heaven 17: The Story of Penthouse and Pavement, all looked a bit gritty. Were you a band on a mission to escape that?

GLENN GREGORY: Not at all: Sheffield has been really good to us. Back in the ’70s, Sheffield was in economic decline, with the steelworks and cutlery industry collapsing, so it was quite a depressed place. There were no music venues, so we used to travel to Manchester, Leeds and even Liverpool to see bands. 

We were all living in the closed-down cutlery factories because they were so cheap. The Human League [originally featuring future Heaven 17 members Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh] had their first studio in the one of the factories, and we also used them to start putting on our own little club nights. In a way, because the city was on its knees and falling apart, out of the ashes came a new verve and excitement.

Sheffield is quite a left wing city - it’s sometimes called the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire - so there was a political slant to what was going on as well, especially when Thatcher stuck the knife in to the steelworks.

Lyrically, The Human League were guided by Phil [Oakey], who liked things a bit strange and sci-fi, a little bit odd. So when I joined up with Martyn and Craig to form Heaven 17, we knew that we wanted to do things differently - to say something political, but not in a preachy way; we wanted to make something you could dance to.

CR: Do you think that your fans realised that was what you were doing? Did they listen to the lyrics, or did they just look at the slick album covers and take them as face value?

GG: It was probably a 50-50 split: some people understood the irony of our message, but then City boys came into being, and they thought it was all about them.

CR: Basically, you unintentionally invented Yuppies, didn’t you.

GG: Nooooo! Please not!

CR: You and Martyn Ware continue to record as Heaven 17, and also as British Electric Foundation [BEF]. Do you still aim create the original electro-pop synth sound on your records?

GG: Some sounds we love and are comfortable with, and we’ve still got some of the old synths, including the one that Being Boiled  [The Human League’s first single] was written on - they still work, and we still use them. But there are some excellent new synths available now, and computer programs which can recreate the sounds of the classic old synths, which are amazing. They sound just like they did in Martyn’s studio all those years ago.

We’re currently writing new BEF material, and working on it with lots of different artists, including Green Gartside from Scritti Politti, Sandi Shaw and Boy George. We’re very privileged, and proud of everything we do.

CR: You’ve never actually disbanded - although Ian Craig Marsh has now left - but there was definitely a resurgence in interest around the time of Penthouse and Pavement’s 30th anniversary in 2010. Have you been discovered by a new generation?

GG: Definitely - It’s not all 40-somethings at our gigs now. La Roux’s support of us around the same time helped bring us to the attention of younger fans. We did a BBC session with them, and then I sang Temptation on stage with them at Glastonbury. 

Waiting backstage, I wasn’t sure if the crowd would know who I was, but when Elly [Jackson, La Roux’s singer] brought me on, the whole place erupted - it was great. I came off stage and Florence Welch from Florence + the Machine gave me a big hug - she wanted me to come out on stage again and sing with her!

I never mind singing Temptation - it’s one of those songs that always raises the roof, no matter where we play it. We really enjoy revisiting our old songs - when we started reworking Penthouse and Pavement in the studio in preparation for performing it live in its entirety for the 30th anniversary tour, we were surprised how contemporary and fresh it sounded.

CR: You’re playing the Rewind festival this weekend - do you enjoy meeting up with other acts from the ’80s?

GG: In the old days we were almost rivals, fighting for the number one spot or slots on Top of the Pops or The Tube; but these days it’s like a big school trip; we’re all there to make people happy. I always go out the front to watch some of the other acts. I love watching ABC. Martin Fry is a star performer, and part of the Sheffield crew like me.

We’ve done Rewind a couple of times, and it’s one of the best festivals of its type. The venue’s fantastic - I was stunned the first time I saw it, although I think it’s grown massively since then. My mum and dad came to the first Rewind, and they want to come again. It’s such good fun.

CR: You were good friends with the late Billy Mackenzie from The Associates, and you often perform his song Party Fears Two in your set. Is that an important song for you to perform.

GG: It certainly is. When I sing it, I have fantastic memories and pictures of Billy in my head. It gets me quite emotional. I have a whippet called Bill, who is named after Billy, because he bred them, and gave me my first puppy. He loved dogs even more than he loved his music. 

Rather confusingly, our female singer is also called Billie [Godfrey] - no, she’s not named after the whippet!

* Heaven 17 play Rewind, The 80s Festival on Saturday, August 17 at Temple Island Meadows, Henley-on-Thames. For information, visit

  • First published on

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Loving her happy holidays - interview with Sonia

PERKY popstrel SONIA still loves performing her hits to crowds at festivals and retro gigs most weekends - and now she gets to take her daughter along on her “happy holidays”. CATRIONA REEVES spoke to her ahead of the Henley Rewind festival.

CATRIONA REEVES: Of course I love all your hits - I’m just the right age - but don’t you get a bit bored of singing them?

SONIA EVANS: Not at all! Gigging is my life, and I’m very lucky to have a job I love. My husband is my tour manager, and our little girl, who has just turned three, comes with us to gigs, wearing her ear defenders. She loves our weekends touring the country - she calls them our “happy holidays”.

Festivals such as Rewind are like a massive party. I did my first one in Bradford in May, and it was amazing; thousands of people singing my songs word-for-word.

CR: You were part of the Stock Aitken & Waterman Hit Factory - do you have fond memories of those years?

SE: I was only 17 when I got signed and 18 when I had my first hit. I had an amazing time travelling the world and staying in the best hotels. My first time on Top of the Pops was a dream come true. I was part of a team with Kylie, Jason and Rick Astley - of course I loved every minute of it!

CR: What did you think of Dawn French’s ultra-bubbly impression of you in a French & Saunders sketch?

SE: At the time I was a bit embarrassed, but now I’m quite cool with it - they only did impressions of people who were mega famous, so it was actually very flattering, and she looked like me! I actually met Dawn sometime later - I was at a Stonewall gig, and Paul O’Grady told me that Dawn was hiding from me in the toilets because she was scared of what I’d say!

CR: Ah yes, Paul O’Grady - as “Bunty” you are the daughter of his alter-ego Lily Savage. Are you two really good buddies?

SE: Oh yes - Paul is such a lovely guy; we can talk for hours, and I adore his dog buster. I once went on his Radio Two show - we were so busy gassing that we got told off by his manager! We’d almost forgotten that we were on the radio, and no one else would have a clue what we were on about; we were just catching up!

I had a ball with Lily Savage. It all started with a four-month run in Blackpool - I wasn’t a character, it was just Lily, and then I came on and sang during the show. But during that run, Bunty was born.

We went on to do a tour, and a show for the BBC with Lily and Bunty. I really enjoyed it - I did a drama degree, so I love acting. I do panto every Christmas - I’ve done 14 altogether. This year I’m going to be the Good Fairy in Jack & the Beanstalk in New Brighton, on the Wirral. I think my favourite was Peter Pan. I took to flying really quickly! 

I’d like to get into TV drama in the future, maybe have a part in a soap. I’d love to play a real cow - a character that people wouldn’t expect!

* Sonia plays Rewind, The 80s Festival on Sunday, August 18 at Temple Island Meadows, Henley-on-Thames. For information, visit

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on August 15, 2013

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Ever the Rebel - interview with Steve Harley

Photo by Mike Callow

FORTY years after the release of their debut album, STEVE HARLEY and his band  are still going strong and playing live. CATRIONA REEVES discovers if the decades have mellowed the Cockney Rebel.

CATRIONA REEVES: It has been suggested that your second album, 1974’s The Psychomodo, is your masterpiece - would you agree?

STEVE HARLEY: I don’t like to think that I’ve painted my masterpiece yet - there’s always a new canvas! I still strive to create it, and I think it’s still within me. I wouldn’t consider any of my songs or albums to be perfect, I’m a born worrier apart from when I’m in the spotlight and playing.

I know that Psychomodo is cited as an influence on a lot of people. We played it in its entirety November with an orchestra and choir, alongside the whole of the first album, The Human Menagerie, and it felt pretty huge.

While I was performing those early songs, I started to wonder who that young me was, and where those songs came from. It doesn’t particularly impress me that I created them, but they’re from so long ago that it does feel like someone else wrote them. These are the words and emotions of an angry young man, which is fine, but you can’t carry on like that when you get older.

CR: So, you don’t feel that you still have the same anger within you these days?

SH: Angry old men are pub bores. Anyway, I’m settled down now, I’ve got lovely children, and I get to travel the world. I’m not “Sting” rich, but I have paintings on the wall and beautiful things around me. It’s hard to write an angry song when you’re fairly content with life.

We played at the Isle of Wight Festival last month, and I went out front after our set to watch the Boomtown Rats - Bob Geldof still performs as an angry teenager, all angst and aggression. I don’t want to be like that. It’s rather ill-fitting, and also looks quite exhausting. I’ve got kids of 30 and 27; I don’t want to be the oldest teen on the block. I can’t be bothered with all that attitude and looking like a rock star. It’s not becoming at my age. 

CR: It seems like the music press gave you a bit of a hard time in the ’70s. As a former journalist yourself, did that bother you?

SH: I didn’t mind all the jibing in the music press, it was just a bit of fun and it didn’t bother me. For all the criticism there was plenty of praise. I still feel the same - there are a couple of performers out there who seem to be universally adored, and that’s just sycophantic. 

There’s a lot of sycophants among reviewers - I just wish some of them were on my side! To be fair, there are a few reviewers who do like me. But most people who come along to see us know who we are and what we do, and aren’t influenced by a review. Of course I like to read good, kind words, but I’ve been going so long that I’m indestructible.

CR: There’s a story that the reason that your single Black Or White failed to chart in late 1975 was that EMI had put all its marketing budget behind Bohemian Rhapsody. Do you think there’s any truth in that?

SH: Black Or Wight and Bohemian Rhapsody were released very close to each other, but I’ve never heard that speculation! EMI were always very good to me, and I can’t see why they wouldn’t want a band signed to them to have a hit just because another is doing so well. I’m a fatalist, and if a song isn’t a hit, that’s just the way it is. We played Black Or White with the orchestra last year  - the first time I’ve ever performed it on stage - and it sounded wonderful. It certainly felt like a hit then.

CR: You’re playing the Rewind Festival in Henley next month - will you be playing your fist single, Sebastian? It’s rather good.

SH: We only get to do a very short set at Rewind - about half an hour, so we’ll just be doing the hits, getting off stage, and getting an early dinner. I would love to do Sebastian, as it’s enormous on stage, but it’s about eight minutes long, so don’t hold me to it! Make Me Smile, is about seven minutes, so if we did Sebastian as well, we’d only fit in about three songs!

Of course we’ll do Make Me Smile, as it was our number one hit - although it puts pressure on our guitarist to get the solo right note for note, because the audience sing along. There’s no room for interpretation on that one - deviate from the original, and you’re sacked!

We do a lot of outdoor shows in the summer - we’re doing two others that weekend. They may only be short sets, but I enjoy them, because it always feels like you start off playing to strangers and end up winning friends.

* Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel will be performing at the Rewind, The 80s Festival, at Temple Island Meadows, Henley-on-Thames, on Saturday, August 17. Visit for ticket information.

They will also be playing a full band show at The Anvil in Basingstoke on November 19. Visit for tickets.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on August 8, 2013

Strange and beautiful - review of Newbury Youth Theatre's The Curious Case of the Ugglie Wump and Other Mysterious Monsters

Performing in the BBC Pink Tent at Edinburgh Fringe

The Curious Case of the Ugglie Wump And Other Mysterious Monsters, presented by Newbury Youth Theatre, at The Corn Exchange, Newbury on Saturday, July 27

HAVE you heard of the Ugglie Wump, who lives under the town of Wonky Bracket? Or Hildegard, the tree beast, who turns children into boiled sweets? What about Foliculous, the kelp-bearded sea monster? Surely you’ve heard tales about the mysterious swamp-dwelling Moobies? If not, you must have had a very sheltered childhood.

The children of Wonky Bracket are very aware of the monsters that surround their town - after all, they are a suspicious lot who never wear shoes, despite it having rained constantly on their homes for the last 200 years. And so, when their parents disappear suddenly, the children set off on a monster hunt, in the certainty that one of the fabled beasts must be responsible.

Taking Sticky Monsters, a book of beastly Post-It note line drawings by artist John Kenn Mortensen as inspiration, along with the similarly unsettling artwork of Edward Gorey, “Wump” was devised entirely by Newbury Youth Theatre members with the support of NYT’s “grown up” theatre practitioners, giving the 25-strong ensemble cast the opportunity to develop their own characters, as both the town’s children and the monsters.

The resulting production allowed ensemble members to demonstrate their strong acting ability and skills at song and dance, with a satisfying streak of well-timed comedy carried through by some cast members, giving relief to what would otherwise be a very dark and scary tale. Things got a little busy up on The Corn Exchange’s stage at points, but generally the size of the ensemble helped add to the imagery; conjuring up child-swallowing forests and stormy seas through mass movement. 

Suitable for children aged six and over, as well as adults who still sleep with the light on, the twisted set and freakishly frightening masks drew heavily on Mortensen and Gorey’s artwork - as did the use of black umbrellas, which pop up regularly in both artists’ drawings. Having only explored Mortensen and Gorey’s work as a result of “Wump”, it is clear that NYT have grasped the combination of fear and fun in their drawings, creating a world which is both nightmarish and innocent, as it is never made clear if the monsters of Wonky Bracket really exist, or are creations of the children’s imaginations. Which begs the question: what really did happen to their parents...?

Having won awards and five-star reviews for the last five consecutive years at the Edinburgh Fringe, NYT are taking “Wump” up to their regular Edinburgh haunt of Venue 40, The Quaker Meeting House, from Monday, August 5 to Saturday, August 10. Hopefully this year’s production will be met with the same plaudits; but whether or not Edinburgh officially acknowledges it, the NYT cast and crew, under the long-term direction of Amy and Tony Trigwell-Jones and artistic director Robin Strapp, should be incredibly proud of an entirely original production and the dark world of childhood nightmares that they have created.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, August 1, 2013

A funny thing happened - review of the You Must Be Joking 2013 final

YMBJ 2013 winner Matt Dwyer

You Must Be Joking final 2013 at The Corn Exchange, Newbury on Wednesday, July 10

HAVING struck out alone from the Newbury Comedy Festival which it used to be part of, The Corn Exchange’s You Must Be Joking stand-up comedy gong has enough clout to continue to be coveted by new and newish comedy talent from all over the UK - and even from other countries. Sort of.

Saying that, it was a delight to have local woman Eve Slatcher, AKA Mama Eve, in the final, not only representing West Berkshire but the whole of womankind, as the only female to make it through the heats. Feisty and fearless (this was only her third gig), her material understandably needs a bit more development, but the confidence to take her stand-up career onwards and upwards was certainly on display.

Bravely taking the first spot (well, not sure he had a choice, actually) was Carl Jones, who has been out and about on the comedy circuit for around three years. His material was fairly safe and cosy, but he had a lovely, warm style, and the audience took to him with ease.

Ian Cooper had a braver edge to his jokes, and a good narrative arc ran through his eight minutes on the theme of facing fears, only falling slightly flat with a weak wrap-up which suggested material that had to be cut short to fit the slot. He had some great punchlines, though, and wholly deserved his place in the final.

Welshman Kappa Llewellyn was getting laughs before he even started his set, peeking out of the wings dolefully, before introducing to his part-lovable, part-pitiful character (if it is a character). His material was strong, about searching for love and being Welsh, and he definitely came out with the best joke of the night - which can’t be repeated here, or even touched upon, for reasons of taste, decency and my desire to continue writing for the Newbury Weekly News.

First on after the interval, Bobby Honeybun had an easy conversational style - nearly to the point of not coming across as a performance; very natural, but maybe requiring a little polishing, just to  bump up the air of confidence. His act displayed some excellent writing though, and while he might have focused on the comfortable themes of music and TV, there were some really good jokes in there, and Honeybun appeared to have a fun, dark streak that belied his innocent appearance.

Mark Cram’s act was a masterclass in comedy design; his story of sibling rivalry with his high-achieving military brother had an unexpected revelation dropped in halfway through, and wrapped up its threads beautifully by the end. Almost certainly pared down for the competition from a longer act, he left me wanting to know more about him and his family.

“Swedish-ish” Olaf Falafel was a beardy blonde Viking in a Scandi knit sweater told the most complicated toilet joke of the night.  He was a strong character and great with the audience, jumping down to interact with the front row and give them Viking names; and was confident enough to insult the judges (from the safety of the stage). What a cheeky Viking. The £250 prize would not be his.

And so to the winner: selected by a judging panel comprising local actor and ACE Space founder Adam Kotz, managing director of Windsor’s Firestation arts centre Dan Eastmond, and, er, me - the gong went to imported Australian Matt Dwyer. Dealing with the sole heckler of the evening magnificently, he was relaxed with the audience and demonstrated excellent stage craft, using the space well without too much bounding.

Dwyer’s act featured a bunch of excellent one-liners, including a bundle of jokes about women and relationships which managed to be razor sharp without ever stumbling into the mire of bitter misogyny. A well rounded performance that deserved to win, up against some other great acts; and a winner genuinely and touchingly blown away by his success on the night.

The whole shebang was compered by YMBJ 2010 winner Matt Richardson, who continues to support the contest which launched his career. Richardson will be presenting The Xtra Factor on ITV2 this autumn, and is currently schmoozing with the likes of Nicole Scherzinger as The X Factor auditions are being filmed, so let’s see if he remembers little old Newbury this time next year.

Actually, Richardson’s coming back on October 5, when he will be bringing his first solo show, Hometown Hero, to New Greenham Arts. Strange to think that he’ll actually be a bit famous by then. But hey - that’s the magic of being a YMBJ winner. No pressure, Mr Dwyer...

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on August 1, 2013

Olaf Falafal. Not the winner, but what a magnificent beard

The age of aquarium - Peixos by Sarruga

Photo courtesy of The Corn Exchange

Peixos: Creatures From The Deep, presented by Sarruga, Newbury town centre, Saturday, July 20

OF all the stunning, fascinating and thrilling events that have been put on by The Corn Exchange as part of its Outdoor Programme in the last few years, Insectes - A Night Carnival is probably the one that has left the strongest imprint on the minds of those that saw it in July 2011. And so, when it was announced that Spanish artists Sarrugia would be returning with an aquatic-themed parade, the excitement in the town was palpable, heightening even further as hundreds gathered along Northbrook Street as dusk fell on Saturday to witness the spectacle.

Powered by cyclists, the sea creatures floated, bobbed and swam their way along Northbrook Street as pumping music pounded; with clownfish spurting steam and the shark following on behind, snapping at the crowd, this was not a relaxing underwater experience; this was the raw power of watery nature in dark light form. Shoals of angelfish and disco ball-topped seaweed added to the atmosphere, as the larger creatures sent the crowd lining the street scattering with shrieks of delight and mock-fear.

The parade culminated in the Market Place, transforming it into a giant aquarium, complete with a distinct fishy smell, where the shark made short work of the other creatures, turning off each of their lights in turn until only the king of the sea remained.

The Corn Exchange’s next outdoor event will be Ablaze: a Festival of Fire, on the evenings of September 6 to 8, when braziers and animations will transform the Kennet and Avon Canal into a world of fire and music.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, July 25, 2013

Intensely familiar - review of Sam Carter

Sam Carter at New Greenham Arts on Friday, June 28, 2013

YOU know when you hear a song played that seems so intensely familiar that there is no way that you haven’t heard it performed live before - possibly more than once? That happened to me with Sam Carter’s Dreams Are Made of Money. It rang such a strong bell that I could picture myself, as  part of an audience, singing along to the chorus. I even told Carter himself after the show, that I must have seen someone else cover his song, but I couldn’t remember who. He had no idea who this could be, simply commenting “ah well, the PRS cheque will still come to me”.

Unfortunately, there will be no Performing Rights Society cheque winging its way through his letterbox on this occasion - after several hours of trying to work it out, I concluded that in fact I had seen Carter himself performing Dreams Are Made of Money on the BBC TV show Later... with Jools Holland last autumn. As me and Jools Holland are not one and the same, I have decided that it is the insane catchiness of this future folk standard that has burrowed it into my mind, and there it will stick forever more.

Carter is fully aware of the compulsive nature of the song’s tune - he first heard it himself performed in its original version as Antioch, a hymn performed acapella by four harmonising voices, while gleaning inspiration for his most recent album, The No Testament, which is partly influenced by the American tradition of shapenote singing. He told the audience that after one hearing of the song, he was unable to shake it from his head, and so reinvented Antioch as a hymn for the modern world.

Whether self-penned, traditional or a mix of both, many of Carter’s songs have tales behind them, often drawn from his more painful life experiences, including rejection in Pheasant (“you flattened me like a pheasant on a country road”) and a disintegrating relationship in She Won’t Hear. It seems like the women in Carter’s life can’t expect a song written about them until the love is gone.

Most personal of all, and stunningly moving, was Here In The Ground, the title song of Carter’s 2008 debut EP, written about the death of Carter’s older sister at the age of three, when he was a toddler. This contrasted with the following song, a cheery little ditty called Lumpy’s Lullaby, written for the child of Carter’s surviving sister while still in utero. Almost certainly entirely lacking in soporific tendencies, it was a sweet reminder of the circle of life, and how it can impact on one family.

As Carter himself quoted on stage (from whom, I can’t remember), “no one lives long enough to write a traditional song”, explaining that a song has to be passed through generations of musicians, changing and developing along the way, before it can be considered “traditional” - and, of course, no one remembers the original composer by then. On the eve of his 30th birthday, and with his BBC Folk Best Newcomer Award three years in the past, it may be that with at least one song (Dreams..., of course), and possibly with more, both written and unwritten, Carter has confirmed his place as a composer of future folk standards. Let’s hope that his name is remembered for them.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, July 4, 2013

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The one and only - interview with Nik Kershaw

FORMER jazz-funk guitarist NIK KERSHAW became a teen idol in the ’80s before going on to write hits for other singers, including Chesney Hawkes’ number one, The One And Only. Now he’s preparing to re-live his own time as a pop star at the Rewind Festival.

CATRIONA REEVES: You’re still writing new songs for yourself and other people - but do you enjoy getting back on stage and singing your old hits?

NIK KERSHAW: I love it. I went through a period of resisting playing them, but they’re great songs, and I’m not ashamed of them. It’s amazing to think that it’s 30 years since I wrote Wouldn’t It Be Good. I still remember that the tune came into my head, and wouldn’t leave me alone - it was demanding to be written. I never thought that I nailed the lyrics though, until it was a massive hit. Then I decided that it was probably alright!

CR: Talking of lyrics, your song The Riddle remains an unsolved mystery. What is the answer?

NK: The Riddle actually started off as a guide lyric - just nonsense I wrote down while writing the song. My second album [also called The Riddle] was released in a hurry on the back of the success of my first album, Human Racing [they were both released in 1984], and in the end, we just had to get the song recorded as it was! I did try changing the lyrics, but nothing else worked.

My record label loved it though - they made it into a competition for people to solve The Riddle, but I don’t think anyone ever won - how could they, when even I don’t know the answer! It’s great that the song still gets radio play. It’s what the Americans call an “earworm”.

CR: You spent a long time away from performing, to write and produce music for other people, but now you’re doing it for yourself again. What made you decide to give it another go?

NK: I feel like I’m a different person to who I was 30 years ago. Music is a weird business, you often have your biggest success when you’re still serving your apprenticeship, and then over the years you improve your craft, but by then your fans have moved on and they’re not interested anymore.

When I play a set at somewhere like Rewind, I often tease the crowd with “this is a song from my new album.... only joking!” At somewhere like Rewind, I know what the crowd want, and I’m happy to give it to them.

CR: Seeing as Chesney Hawkes is also on the Rewind bill, will you be performing your own version of The One And Only?

NK: Certainly not! We’re close friends; I’ve seen Chesney perform it many times, and to do it myself would be a bit rude!

CR: Back in the ‘80s, you were a bit of a style icon, and pretty much launched the fashion for snoods. Do you consider that your biggest cultural impact?

NK: Around that time, I did an awful lot of photo sessions - I must have only worn a snood about four times, but each time I was photographed, and that’s what I became known for! A couple of years ago, there was a big thing in the press about footballers wearing snoods, and I was called up by TalkSport to come on the radio and talk about it. I declined - I don’t really consider myself a snood expert.

CR: It was also documented at the time that you mainly bought your clothes in girls’ fashion shops. Is that still the case?

NK: Certainly not - these days I shop in Gap Kids!

* Nik Kershaw plays Rewind, The 80s Festival on Saturday, August 17 at Temple Island Meadows, Henley-on-Thames. For information, visit

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on July 25, 2013