Thursday, October 31, 2013

Wicked game - interview with Jo Caulfield

FEISTY comedian JO CAULFIELD is on the road with her Better The Devil You Know tour, and coming to Arlington Arts on Friday, November 1. CATRIONA REEVES gets her to pull in at a service station in the West Country to talk about why she still loves a live audience.

CATRIONA REEVES: Right - this is only going to get in the paper a couple of days before your Newbury date: we need to sell the show quickly. You can start persuading our readers.... now.

JO CAULFIELD: My husband and I recently celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary - we’d got married in New York because we just wanted a holiday, and didn’t want to pay for other people to have a good time. I was talking to someone else who had also got married over there, and they mentioned the hassle of completing all the paperwork to register the marriage when they got back. Now, we never did that, so I started to wonder if we were actually legally married at all.

That got me thinking about what it would be like to be single, and after 10 years it seemed a good time to have an appraisal of my marriage - focussing on him, of course, not me as I’m perfect. Obviously, after so long together, I’ve pretty much got him  behaving as I want him to, but there’s some traits that can’t be changed, and I had to decide if it’s “better the devil you know”, compared to the single life, which to be honest, looks rather exhausting. I don’t think I’ve got the energy for that.

The show seems to strike a chord with a lot of couples - men come up after  the show and say that it explains so much, and women ask if I’ve been following their husbands with a camera. It’s really interesting talking to couples during and after the show, particularly those who have been married a really long time. It seems that after 40 years or so, the men give up and do what they’re told, so it looks like they can be tamed... eventually.

It’s great to have couples in the audience who are prepared to offer themselves up for sacrifice, but singles are also very welcome, as it’s a good reminder that they’re not really missing much by not being in a relationship.

CR: You’ve had a healthy career away from the world of stand up, not least as a comedy writer. The lure of the road must be strong for you to go on tour again.

JC: My time as a writer for the likes of Graham Norton taught me a lot about writing jokes. When you’re live on stage, and you’re coming up to a new joke, the test is whether you tell it or back out - if that happens, you know it’s not that good. It’s different on television, where it needs to be decided beforehand if the joke is worth telling. Graham is excellent at that - he says “I’m not hearing laughter, I’m hearing smiles...”.

But stand-up comedy is something you can’t take a break from for too long if you want to return to it. It’s easy to get rusty, so you have to keep on at it, and you can’t do that if you’re busy writing for someone else. So I’ve made the decision to start writing mainly for myself again now. I really enjoy touring. It doesn’t suit everyone, certainly not all women - but then there’s lots of male comedians that it doesn’t suit either.

CR: The Times described your show as “like a sociology textbook, but with jokes”. Were you chuffed with that?

JC: It made me sound very clever! I wouldn’t say that the show has an intentional message as such, bu if you’re talking about day-to-day life, it does in itself become a social commentary. It’s not so much my aim, as a happy outcome. But people come up to me after the show and tell me that they really relate to it, which is lovely, as it means that I’m on the right track.

* Tickets for Jo Caulfield at Arlington Arts on Friday, November 1, cost £13, available from www. or 01635 244246.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Stories through song - review of Case Hardin, Daisy Chapman and The Lullabirds at ACE Space

Case Hardin, Daisy Chapman and The Lullabirds at ACE Space, Newbury on Friday, September 20

PROMOTER Richard Markham reckoned that Friday’s ACE Space gig line-up “didn’t look like it should work on paper”, but in fact, the three bands blended together beautifully, each telling moving and heartbreaking stories through song, and breaking free of the traditional rock band line-up with the sound of strings and other instruments.

The evening was opened by The Lullabirds, a localish trio featuring Kate Sharples on flugel horn, Rebecca Wilson on Double Bass, and the beautiful contralto vocals and guitar of Celia Barrett, creating a sparse yet mesmerising sound, creating a showcase for Barrett’s lyrics of love and death - two themes which made regular appearances throughout the rest of the evening.

Co-headliner Daisy Chapman first played at Ace Space two years ago, as a solo performer, although with her keyboard and loop machine to create layers of vocals, she can fill a room with sound without the need for other musicians. However, her band - cello, violin and drums - added a wonderful depth and fullness to her sound, bringing alive her tales of crashing planes, sinking boats, 18th century gin-soddenness, sin and death.

Chapman’s version of the Titanic tragedy, Mrs Hart’s Premonition, was heart-rending, ending with a cipher of Nearer My God To Me, played by the ship’s band as it sank. Even more stunning was A Sinner Song, breathtakingly beautiful in the simplicity of its tune and lyrics, and yet lush with layers of vocals, piano and strings.

Proving that she isn’t all about misery (even her jollier tunes, such as Madame Jeneva have darker undertones in their lyrics), Chapman perked up her set with a couple of unexpected covers, rounding off with an only once-previously performed version of Soul II Soul’s Back To Life; a song which should be the staple of far more bands with a string section, owing to its funky violin riff. Chapman may love the winter, as she sings on Shameless Winter, but there’s a touch of fun in her performance that keeps her darkest-themed songs beautiful rather than bleak.

Case Hardin are always a guaranteed draw at ACE Space, and while they were co-headlining with Daisy Chapman, it was only right that they would round off the evening with their hefty dose of Americana. Pete Gow’s ever-shifting band has lost mandolin and banjo player Adam Kotz to his acting career, but gained violinist Hanna Piranha, keeping Case Hardin’s sound, as showcased on their recently-released third album PM, rich and interesting.

Despite the downbeat nature of many of Gow’s storytelling lyrics (“Daisy’s album is called Shameless Winter, and ours is called PM - what did you expect?” he quipped), the band were in upbeat mood, bringing a sweaty rockiness to proceedings which perked up the saddest of tales a treat.

For the last few songs, joined by the errant Kotz on banjo for a welcome reunion, the band tumbled off the stage and into the audience, setting out their stall between the tables for an acoustic encore of Champeen, Gow’s tale of a bare knuckle fighter facing death or glory.

As with Chapman, Gow’s lyrics are often dark and his tunes moving, but the rock & roll feel of Friday’s performance added a shot of adrenaline to the mood which didn’t detract from the thought-provoking content of the songs, and signed off a tune-laden evening with an unexpectedly upbeat flourish.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on September 26, 2013

Bishops sing the Blues - interview with Simon Burrett from The Blue Bishops

WITH about a billion years* of professional musicianship on their collective CVs, The Blue Bishops are feted internationally for their work at the rockier end of the R&B and Blues spectrum - and they’re playing at ACE Space next Friday. “Everyone’s going to have a good time, and that’s not being big headed - that’s the truth”, band founder and guitarist SIMON BURRETT tells CATRIONA REEVES.

CATRIONA REEVES: The Blue Bishops have got an impressive musical pedigree - tell me 

SIMON BURRETT: Our lead vocalist is Geoff Grange, who has played the harmonica for Bill Wyman and all sorts of other people. Drummer Justin Hildreth has toured all over the world with the likes of Joan Armatrading. And our usual bass player is Jim Rodford, who used to be in Argent and the Kinks, and now plays with The Zombies - he’s currently touring with them so won’t be joining us in Newbury.

And then there’s me! I’ve been kicking around the London band scene for more years than I care to admit, but the Bishops has been my longest commitment, and the most enjoyable of the lot. I still do other things, but my main squeeze will always be the Blue Bishops!

CR: Your last album Into The Red, which featured both Rod Argent and The Who’s keyboard wizard Rabbit,  was very well received on the rock and blues scenes. Can we expect another album soon?

SB: There’s been a bit of a hiccup on that: I had the beginnings of about 40 different tracks recorded on my phone; unfortunately they got lost when it got smashed after I drove off with it on the roof of my car. I’m recreating them, slowly!

CR: So, is a lot of The Blue Bishops’ work original?

SB: We enjoy fiddling around with stuff from the Blues idiom, but it’s not a big part of our set. But although we cover the spectrum of rock & roll with our own songs, the Blues are always in there somewhere. It’s a simple basis,but when you get into it, it’s not that simple at all. It’s not just about giving a song a three-chord structure!

The producer Paul Long is attributed as saying that the Blues never stands still, and if it has the right feel, music can still be the Blues. And however rocky our set gets, there’s always a Blues heart to it. 

CR: I understand that the band has a local link to Newbury...

SB: When Jim is away with The Zombies, our other bassist is Chris Hook from Newbury, who was in Voyager in the 70s. Seeing as this is his local gig, it’s only fair that he plays with us at ACE Space!

It’ll be “hello again” to Newbury from me as well - my mum and dad used to live in Inkpen Common. I used to go to the pub in Faccombe and make my way back to theirs - I can tell you, Combe Gibbet at 1am is a spooky place! I’m not sure I’ll make a return visit there after the gig, but I’ve got strong ties to Newbury, and it’s going to be great to play at ACE Space.

CR: So you’re looking particularly looking forward to this gig, then?

SB: Very much so. We get off on our audience, and they get off on us I can guarantee that everyone will have a good time; and that’s not being big headed - that’s the truth. If you come and see us, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

* The Blue Bishops play at ACE Space on Friday, October 25, supported by The Poachers. Music starts at 8pm. Tickets cost £10 on the door or £8 in advance from Hogan Music. They can also be reserved by emailing, or call 07974534452 or 07905590214.

* Figure may not be completely accurate. But it’s an awful lot.

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