Sunday, June 30, 2013

You've got male - an interview (of sorts) with Stewart Francis

Last autumn, I was asked if I would like to do an email interview with comedian Stewart Francis, ahead of his tour. For some reason, I never got round to knocking it into a publishable format for the Newbury Weekly News, so here it is in a semi-publishable format instead.  

Catriona Reeves: How would you persuade people to come and see your live show and what can people expect?

Stewart Francis: I would persuade people to go by telling them that Michael McIntyre was performing. They can expect to see me performing.

CR: You're a native Canadian - what do you miss about your homeland, and what do you like about living in the UK?

SF: I miss having my inhaler. I like the number of asthma clinics the UK has. 

CR: Have you always been a one-liner comedian, or have you tried other types of stand-up?

SF: Yes, no.

CR: Do you have any special tips or tricks for committing your jokes to memory for your live shows?

SF: Not really, I've just always had a great memory. I probably get that from my ah, um...  

CR: You often pop up on the telly - do you enjoy doing the panel shows?

SF: I don't enjoy doing panel shows because the other comedians always interrupt me which I find (SORRY TO INTERRUPT EVERYONE, DARA O BRIAIN HERE, JUST LETTING YOU KNOW THAT TICKETS FOR MY TOUR CRAIC DEALER ARE AVAILABLE AT TICKETMASTER.CO.UK) irritating.

CR: Which are your all-time favourite jokes (yours, or other peoples)?

SF: I'm not a fan of my jokes but one of my all-time favourite's would have to be Tommy Cooper's: " I was cleaning up the attic last week for the wife... filthy dirty, covered in cobwebs...

...But she's good with the kids".

CR: Anything else that you think the readers of the Newbury Weekly News should know about you?

SF: They should know that I look forward to both of them being at the Reading show.

The tour that Stewart was promoting has now long gone, but luckily he's back on the road this autumn with The Lumberjacks - aka himself and fellow Canadians Craig Campbell and Glenn Wool. It doesn't look like he's coming to Reading.

Good Vibes at Ace Space - review by Bill Ainsworth of The PJP Band, Horse Around Home and Harry George Johns

The PJP Band, Horse Around Home and Harry George Johns at Ace Space, Newbury on Saturday, May 18

IT’S a funny old place, Newbury: lots of people love their music around here, but complain that there isn’t much of a live scene. They are quite prepared to go and see a band for free in a bar, where it can cost nearly £4 for a pint, but the idea of actually paying a mere £5 for a ticket puts them off, despite the fact that they’d be in for an evening dedicated to wholesome live music at a great little venue where it’s only £2 a pint. Build it, and they will shrug…

Right, mini rant over; to the folk who stayed away, it was your loss. The people who were there were treated to over two hours of top notch entertainment. First up was Harry George Johns, a lovely guy who, I’m told, plays regularly around the circuit with tonight’s headliners. Sat on a stool with just his acoustic guitar he held the audience in hushed awe with his yearning, achingly beautiful songs, which, by his own admission went from sad, to very sad, to the saddest.

Despite the song’s textures his between-tune banter was quite the opposite; humorous and humble; and as for his voice, well Jeff Buckley, James Morrison and Bon Ivor sprang to mind - yes he was that good. In an ideal world, guys like Johns would be household names and not these here-today, gone-tomorrow “talent” show winners, but, as we know, that isn’t where we’re at.

Mostly local guys Horse Around Home were up next, but not, we’re told, their usual line up. Regulars Julian Tulk (vocals and guitar) and Barry Pollock (bass) were more than ably accompanied by Patrick James Pearson (keyboards), more of whom later, and brothers Terry and Scott Essen (lead guitar and drums respectively). The latter two only had a few rehearsals in the last couple weeks to learn what turned out to be a very complex set of numbers. I like to draw comparisons when reviewing, but cannot bring anyone to mind with these guys I’m afraid. 

The lolloping build of set opener Hold did exactly what it said on the tin, I love a tune builds and builds to an orgasmic climax of controlled noise and this one had the crowd gripped. Other highlights for me were Dust And Dirt, Tulk’s solo effort Shoe Song and the very touching Smiling. Mr Tulk has had some rather good things happening in his personal life of late which he very lovingly touched upon when introducing Smiling; much to the joy of those involved, who I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time, and bringing cheers from those in the crowd who were in the know.

Two things all three acts tonight had in common was epic facial hair and/or cool dress sense - much check and denim etc was on show. Another was an absolutely brilliant vocal range, including in the case of the aforementioned Mr Pearson, who now took centre stage with The PJP Band, his keyboards looking like an early 1970s George Harrison (that’s a major compliment in case you weren’t sure).

By his own admittance, Pearson was feeling a little hoarse (no pun intended) this evening, but if he hadn’t mentioned this, I certainly wouldn’t have noticed. He and his cohorts treated us to a stunning nine-song set, with band members leaving the stage only to return when required, meaning the band ranged from a two to a four piece during the performance. 

Highlights for me were opener Disciplines, which brought Interpol to mind, and singles I Am A Racer and the splendid psyceadelic romp that is Vicious Luck, videos for both of which are available on You Tube. Other acts that came to mind at various points ranged from Lennon, The Flaming Lips and Arcade Fire to the bass heavy groove of The Chilis and the singalong, dancealong good time stomp of The Blues Brothers.

Finally on the PJP front, Patrick impressed me greatly when not only was he able to sing and play his main instrument with gusto, but not content with that, he increased his multi-tasking by playing tambourine with his foot. Good work, sir!
Bill Ainsworth

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on May 30, 2013

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Smooth as selkie - review of Lady Maisery at New Greenham Arts

Lady Maisery at New Greenham Arts, Greenham, on Thursday, May 23

 WHAT do you mean you haven’t heard of the bansitar? It’s a musical instrument that combines the sound of a sitar with the tuning and playing technique of a banjo. And do you know what diddling is? It’s a style of singing without words, once common in England, used to create music for dancing without the need for instruments. OK then, how about a bit of clog dancing? You don’t see much of it round these parts, but the tradition continues in the north of England, where it grew up around the factories and workhouses.

Lady Maisery is an all-female trio, Hazel Askew, Hannah James and Rowen Rheingan, who all grew up steeped in the folk tradition and performing from an early age, before coming together to form a harmony group focussing on the vocal traditions of Britain and further afield, with Scandinavian, Celtic and Appalachian songs also getting a look in.

The general cheeriness of Lady Maisery’s performance - and of the often upbeat tunes - contrasts with the themes that pop up regularly in their songs, particularly those on their newly-released second album Mayday, which intentionally scrutinises the human (and often female) struggle for power and equality.

And thus, thought-provoking modern folk songs such as The Crow On The Cradle by Jackson Browne and Palaces Of Gold (inspired by the Aberfan disaster) by Leon Rosselson were performed alongside old songs about honour-based murder, illegitimate births (covered up by Scottish songs of selkies - fabled man-seals - making night time visitations), and the importance of clinging on to that precious “maidenhood”.

Even West Berkshire resident Kate Bush got a look-in, with a particularly lovely interpretation of her song This Women’s Work, a song about childbirth sung from the partner’s viewpoint, which Lady Maisery originally recorded as a charity single to celebrate International Women’s Day. 

Some of the lyrical vibes may have been a bit on the heavy side, but Lady Maisery’s performance certainly was not. The trio were warm and engaging, their harmonies gorgeous, and their between-song chats both enlightening and often mood-lightening. The vocal focus of their performance blended with their other musical abilities, playing the fiddle, banjo, harp, accordion and concertina.

Oh yes - and then there’s the diddling. There’s something innately cheery about diddling. You can’t listen to a diddle and not smile, even if it comes straight off the back of a song about death - their sign-off song, Sleep On Beloved, isn’t just about someone having a snooze. But however chilling and stark some of Lady Maisery’s songs may be, it’s nothing that a diddle and a little bit of clogging can’t solve.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on May 30, 2013