Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Gary Murphy’s Guitar Legends – The Rock and Roll Years

Image Source: Epstein Theatre
Written By: Alison Jones

Format: Music Show
Genre: Rock 'n' Roll
Date: July 27 2017
Location: The Epstein Theatre, Liverpool, England

Before I go any further, I must declare an interest: Gary Murphy and his multi-talented band have been favourites of ours for many years, and we in Birkenhead and Liverpool have been lucky enough to take this type of talent for granted.

Where do I start?  Well, performing from an early age, Gary has played all over the UK and Europe, and his project Guitar Legends made its debut at The Floral Pavilion Theatre in 2007. The production involved staging the history of the guitar from the 1920s to the present date, showcasing some of the pioneering guitarists in music history through various guitar styles from jazz, blues, country and rock. The show met with rave reviews and has returned to theatres several times with this visit to the Epstein Theatre the latest production.

The story was expertly narrated, often with humour by Mrs Butler’s eldest, Billy Butler. He brought back memories of guitar heroes from the past and informed us of the guitars the legends favoured, and whenever possible, Gary gave a demonstration of their unique sound.

Gary kicked off the evening with Chuck Berry’s Johnny B Goode, and then from the Eagle’s Hotel California to Brian Adams’ Run To You featuring Alan Armstrong’s vocals, the variety of iconic rock and roll songs satisfied everyone.

The soloists and accompanists were just amazing. Elvis Presley was expertly recreated by Elvis Clayton, and Queen’s Adam Lambert (represented by Craig Murphy) raised the roof. Bohemian Rhapsody required all hands to the pump with Rob Shirley switching from keyboards to guitar effortlessly and providing lead vocals, while crystal-clear backing vocals were provided by Jade Tremarco, all of which afforded a standing ovation. She also led vocals on Fleetwood Mac’s Chains, and then Gary Brown joined the party. Covering The Who, he delivered outstanding vocals with a charismatic presence, and when the audience heard the opening bars from Sweet Child Of Mine by Guns and Roses, you just knew he was going to knock it out of the park.

The final number, again fronted by Gary Brown, was AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, which turned out to be heavenly. A brilliant night which had the audience literally rocking in the aisles.

Overall Rating: 10/10 - Perfect

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Music Review: Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra

Image Source: Liverpool Philharmonic
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Music Show
Genre: Music
Date: July 15 2017
Location: Liverpool Philharmonic Hall

Jools Holland has been a staple of music for many years, with his talents ranging from singing to piano-playing to song-writing. His New Year's Eve Hogmanay, in particular, stands out for its unique blend of music, entertainment and big-name performers covering a range of genres. Therefore, the prospect of seeing Jools and his crew performing live in person was a tantalising one, and so it proved, as the show was a superb platform to showcase the true art of music in its finest and purest forms.

Before the main show began, we were treated to Jack Lukeman. Jack, an Irish folk singer with previous experience of performing in Liverpool, delivered several stunning and unique vocal performances, with perhaps the best being his acapella version of Old Man River. This was an incredible rendition, and one of the true highlights of the evening with the greatest of respect to Jools and co.

Of course, Jools himself was in top form, as were his orchestra, delivering a wide range of rhythm & blues tunes, some without the need for lyrics and vocal skills, others using the beat and the words to get the Liverpool crowd up on their feet dancing. There was plenty of variety mixed in with the music to keep things fresh, and Jools was able to demonstrate his vast range of musical talents along the way.

Helping the show were the use of special guests. Louise Marshall and Beth Rowley were very good, but it was perhaps the well-known Ruby Turner who truly shone, and who earned one of the night's biggest ovations upon her arrival. Her performances at the tail-end of the show were spectacular, elevating the standing of this show even further. The same can be said for Jools' longtime drummer Gilson Lavis, who possibly stole the show with some truly spell-binding drum solos.

I also appreciated the simple yet very effective special effects, in particular the lighting which helped to convey the mood of specific songs, as well as making each tune seem different and unique. The one downside to the show that I found would be that there weren't many instantly-recognisable songs performed, making it harder for the audience to sing along to, but this is only a minor thing, especially since the attendees were up dancing more often than not (and some may have been having too much of a good time in this regard!).

Summing this show up, then, if you're a big fan of Jools Holland then you'll have a great time, but even if this is your first introduction to Jools, you'll still come away with a real appreciation for him, his team and for music in general. A topnotch production.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent

Thursday, 4 May 2017

KT Tunstall weeks away from returning to Parr Hall

Image Source: Culture Warrington
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Provided By: Culture Warrington

Brit Award-winning singer KT Tunstall is returning to Parr Hall later this month as part of a 2017 tour to showcase her new album KIN.

The Warrington show on Friday May 26 is one of eight new dates announced last year to coincide with the release of her single It Took Me So Long to Get Here, But Here I Am.

The Brit Award and Ivor Novello Award-winning singer was honoured further with the Inspirational Artist gong at the Women in Music Awards.

It Took Me So Long to Get Here, But Here I Am is the third single taken from the full-bodied and full-blooded album KIN which was released last year to rave reviews.

KIN debuted at No. 7 on the official UK Album Chart and follows previous critically-acclaimed albums Eye To The Telescope, Drastic Fantastic, Tiger Suit and Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon.

KT had a busy few months at the end of 2016 as she was a special guest in the Jamie Cullum & Friends Jazz Café show, which raises money for Help Refugees, in London on 4 December, and lent her vocal talents to a charity single in memory of MP Jo Cox.

Early 2017 saw her support Simple Minds across Europe before heading out on her own headline tour which includes a show at Warrington’s Parr Hall on 26 May.

KT Tunstall's show takes place on Friday May 26, beginning at 7pm, at Parr Hall, Palmyra Square South, Warrington, WA1 1BL. Tickets cost £35, £25 and £17.50, and they are available now from www.pyramidparrhall.com and on 01925 442345.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Brit Floyd

Image Source: Sage Gateshead
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Concert
Genre: Rock
Date: March 3 2017
Location: Liverpool Echo Arena

Almost anybody who knows their stuff about music will know about Pink Floyd. A British rock band who focused on alternative, psychedelic and thought-provoking songs, many of which lacked lyrics but carried emotional instrumental sequences, Pink Floyd quickly gained legendary status, and are remembered today as one of the most important and unforgettable bands of all-time. They formed in 1965 and toured for the final time in 1994, with a one-off reunion at Live 8 in 2005. Although it is more than 50 years since they arrived on the scene, Pink Floyd left an indelible mark on the music industry, and influenced other artists and bands that went on to achieve big things such as David Bowie, Queen and Radiohead. One cannot tell the story of British music, or indeed music, without discussing Pink Floyd.

Brit Floyd brings the Pink Floyd experience back to life with an exclusive tribute show, performed by an all-British band. Damian Darlington, the lead guitarist and band leader, was previously part of The Australian Pink Floyd Experience from 1994-2011. The Australian group still tours today, but Darlington made the decision to leave in 2011 and focus on putting together his version of a tribute to Pink Floyd. (You can read about that and more in our interview with Damian by clicking here.)

Therefore, one can definitely state that this show really is his vision for how best to pay homage to Pink Floyd. It isn't just about the music, it's about the production. The screen frequently displays a mix of cool and thought-provoking imagery covering all forms of life, entertainment and, at times, of our own planet within the solar system. Some visual scenes are designed to match the song (such as a brick wall for, erm, Another Brick In The Wall), whereas others are simply a reflection of life which, mixed with the slow nature of certain songs, actually make for a pretty emotional experience at times. That's not including the strobe lighting which, whilst occasionally a little on the heavy side (those sat closest to the stage may not have been able to see directly into the lighting at certain points), provided another element to the show, whether it was the rainbow-colours to emphasise the band as a whole, or the changing colours of the dazzling lights on a rotating basis to match the emotion of that particular tune.

Now, for anyone unfamiliar with Pink Floyd, many of their songs would be - well - long. As in, well over six minutes, with quite a few coming in at ten or more minutes (Atom Heart Mother, released in 1970, lasted a whopping 23:39). This is reflected in the Brit Floyd show, as the actual number of songs may appear to be on the light side but, due to the extended guitar solos (and don't forget that quite a few Pink Floyd songs were instrumentals, meaning no lyrics at all), the length of the songs themselves makes up for that. That's not to mention that the songs were performed to an excellent standard and, as one onlooker pointed out, because of the band's focus on instrumental numbers, these hits could be performed with incredible accuracy, to the extent where if one closed their eyes whilst listening, they might genuinely mistake Brit Floyd for Pink Floyd themselves.

As for the songs: Another Brick In The Wall went down very well. As Damian mentioned in his interview, Dogs became part of the set for the first time for this year's tour, and this too went down a treat. Is There Anybody Out There, Money and What Do You Want From Me were also memorable renditions from this particular show. Although Damian was superb all night, and the rest of the band were of the highest standard as well, perhaps the standout performance of the whole evening came from Angela Cervantes, who (having provided backing vocals in a trio of background singers for other tunes on the show) delivered wordless vocals for The Great Gig In The Sky, but did so with such passion, with such a vocal range and with such a high pitch, for so long, that she earned a standing ovation afterwards, not only from the crowd but from her fellow band members.

The only sticking point for me from a production standpoint was its length. Pink Floyd fans - and Brit Floyd fans, obviously - would recognise that longer songs mean a longer show. However, coming in at just over three hours may not have been advisable, especially with the encore songs being announced more than 30 minutes before the final bows were taken. For any attendees who weren't familiar with the band or were watching Brit Floyd for the first time, I'm not sure if such a long conclusion would be wise. On a side note, the group did well to overcome frequent heckling between songs from certain members of the audience, more so in the first half, although it probably didn't warrant what appeared to be a pretty large number of safety stewards scattered throughout the arena.

More than perhaps any other music show, one has to be a fan of Pink Floyd to truly appreciate Brit Floyd. If you are unfamiliar with the group or if you are only partially aware of who they were and what they meant to their industry, then this show may not be for you, and certainly its running time will not be a reason for you to come along.

If, however, you loved Pink Floyd back in the day, or even if you have become a fan of the band in the last decade or so and wish that you had the chance to watch them perform live, then Brit Floyd is the closest and best experience that you would probably find, with some superb performances, dead-on instrumental renditions and occasionally mind-blowing production techniques. Simply put, if you love Pink Floyd, you will love Brit Floyd.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent

Monday, 27 February 2017

The X Factor Live Tour 2017

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Concert
Genre: Pop
Date: February 26 2017
Location: Liverpool Echo Arena

The X Factor Live Tour has returned to Liverpool Echo Arena with the 2016 finalists, and based on the performances and the audience reactions, the show was a major success.

Having launched in 2004, meaning that the next series will be the 14th UK series, The X Factor has certainly seen its fair share of ups and downs, from massive worldwide success for the likes of One Direction to judging panel line-up changes. However, one of the truly great things about X Factor is how it provides a real platform for undiscovered talent to make their first step towards stardom, and never is this more evident than during the Live Tour, which showcased many of the top X Factor names from the 2016 run.

Kicking things off were 5 After Midnight with a stirring rendition of Uptown Funk. The trio performed further upbeat, disco numbers throughout the show (most notably September), and they did a great job in getting the audience on their feet and ready to dance. The opening half-hour also spotlighted Four Of Diamonds, who collaborated with 5 After Midnight as well as delivering strong performances for such songs as Royals; Honey G, who again got the crowd to its feet for customised remixes of Men In Black and Jump Jump; and Ryan Lawrie, who provided a mix of fast-paced tunes such as Twist and Shout and slower songs like If These Wings Could Fly, the latter alongside Emily Middlemas, who was superb - one of the best singers of the evening without question - who also shone with slower, quieter versions (supported by a huge vocal range, mind you) of such tunes as What Makes You Beautiful, Toxic and The Winner Takes It All.

Saara Aalto also provided unique renditions of various songs, partly due to the outstanding production techniques which were added to several tunes, but most noticeably those of Aalto. Case in point: for Quiet, Saara was handed a set of super-sized helium balloons which elevated her to the arena ceiling, and a similar, elevator-style chair also allowed Saara to rise above the crowd during a rendition of Everybody Wants To Rule The World. That's not to dismiss her singing talents, however, because she was very good; in fact, there wasn't one poor performer all night, and partly because most of the songs were familiar to the crowd, there weren't any low points throughout the show.

The show saved the best for last by waiting until the final quarter to present winner Matt Terry, who demonstrated first-class vocal talents and illustrating why he ultimately won the competition. Matt performed Put A Spell On You, One Day I'll Fly Away, Purple Rain, When Christmas Comes Around (Matt's debut single) and Writing's On The Wall, all to a high standard and to an incredibly enthusiastic crowd response. All of the former contestants returned to the stage for a final, super-funky rendition of Sax to close the show with style and pizzazz.

Going back to the production for a moment: I appreciated the extracurricular activities through the show, from the pre-show music videos of star performers like Little Mix and Olly Murs (who, of course, have X Factor experience) to the use of pyrotechnics (which was frequent, but not to the point of overkill, ensuring that its impact would not be diluted) to the superb lighting and screen effects (for example, a London Tube-style train with the logo amended to spell out "Honey G" during one of her numbers) to the variety of stand-out costumes by all performers to the use of various settings to begin or even completely perform certain tunes (such as a second stage in the middle of the arena, and sitting alongside fans to open some songs thus providing further audience interaction). Add to that TV-style intros to bring on performers or introduce songs, as well as providing show highlights, and a chance to sign up as an auditionee for the next series, and you have an experience tailor-made for the X Factor fanatic that will have matched expectations of both the young and the old.

For any fans of The X Factor, the Live Tour is well worth going to see, as a chance to both reflect upon the previous competition by being wowed once more by the finalists, and as a platform to begin feeling excitement towards the next series. Simply put, if you're a die-hard fan of The X Factor, you really need to see the Live Tour!

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent

Monday, 20 February 2017

Modern Baseball

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Gig
Genre: Pop Punk
Date: February 17 2017
Location: Manchester Academy 2

Heading up a busy Friday night line-up that also included warm-up acts Thin Lips and The Superweaks, Modern Baseball brought their popular pop punk style to Manchester Academy 2.

With an enthusiastic crowd looking on, Modern Baseball - who formed in 2011, and have since released three studio albums and six singles - delivered many of their most famous hits, which were performed excellently and which were very well-received. They included Wedding Singer, Note To Self, Every Day, Hiding and Tears Over Beers, all delivered brilliantly by Jake Ewald, Sean Huber and Ian Farmer.

At present, lead vocalist Brendan Lukens is taking time off from the band due to health issues, a fact that fans were aware of beforehand and which was acknowledged during the show by Jake. Far from a hindrance, fans were more than supportive, chanting Brendan's name, which is a nice reminder that at a time when many people seem to have the mentality of wanting everything or nothing at all, the fan base here was more concerned that Brendan's health improves. Besides, Jake did a fine job of keeping things moving along, to the point where someone unfamiliar with Modern Baseball would never have guessed that its main singer was not present.

The band also made this particular experience unique in a number of ways. For instance, more than one of their tunes was performed in acoustic form, which were different to their original incarnations but made for some intriguing and cool renditions nevertheless. The group also invited a member of the audience onto the stage to sing The Weekend, which is something that very few bands would be willing to do on any level (and by the way, the fan did a great job!).

The main problem - actually, the only problem - with the show was the fact that it suddenly concluded. Wrapping things up very quickly with the mention of there being no encore, the moment when the band left the stage was almost greeted with laughter, due to the absolute abruptness of it. Some were expecting an encore anyway, and therefore when it didn't happen, the finale felt very rushed, and a bit of a low note (no pun intended) to end upon. The subject of the encore is tricky, because it has become so commonplace that when a performer or group doesn't provide an encore, it's frowned upon. That was partly the case here, but it was also because the band did not introduce their last number as being the show-closer; they simply said that they were done and left. It wasn't presented as if there had been a problem or a last-minute decision to walk off, by any means, but in the future, the band may be better served to at least introduce their final song as being such, rather than informing people after the fact.

Under the circumstances, with the lead singer absent, Modern Baseball put on as good a show as could be expected from a performance standpoint. The abrupt conclusion which prevented die-hard fans from hearing some of their favourite hits put a bit of a dampener on the evening, but otherwise, it was a satisfying experience that will leave the band's supporters coming back for more.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 - Good

Friday, 10 February 2017

G4: "It's all about the music to us"

Image Source: G4
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Following a successful reunion tour, coming off their original stint together in the mid-2000s, G4 are hitting the road again with their newest UK tour, which includes a performance at Parr Hall, Warrington on Thursday March 2. This comes alongside the release of their new album Love Songs, for which G4 held a special performance at HMV in Liverpool One. Beforehand, we spoke to the group about their next tour, their history together and an interesting fact which their fans may not be aware of ...

First of all, tell us about your upcoming UK tour, beginning in March.

Jonathan Ansell: "It's going to be fun! We love being on the road, it's exciting to see so many great audiences around the UK and to live in close proximity on the tour bus is something that we love and hate at the same time!"

Ben Thapa: "You love it and I hate it! (Laughs)"

What inspired you to become singers, and what attracted you to the opera style?

Mike Christie: "A lot of us have sung since we were kids. I was a chorister from the age of 8-13, and we all ended up at music college. We were all inspired to train singing, and that's where we met as a group. We formed originally as a barbershop quartet, and then it took off from there."

How much of a life-changing experience was it when you applied for The X Factor in 2004, and did you ever envision the success that you would have on the show?

Jonathan: "Massive!"

Ben: "It was definitely a massive, life-changing experience because I remember that we had a few weeks in between the filming of the auditions and when the first show was broadcast, so we had that time (to prepare), and I remember we sat in Mike's flat with a curry, and I thought 'this is the last time we'll be able to sit around and have a curry.' The next day after it went out, John with his massive blonde hair was getting recognised by everybody, saying 'were you that guy from the telly last night?' Everybody's lives did change forever; The X Factor was an amazing TV vehicle to help us onto a journey that we've been on ever since. It's been something that I don't think we could have imagined when we first set foot in the college."

You released a number of albums over the next few years including the self-titled G4, G4 and Friends and Act Three. Which songs stand out the most for you from those albums?

Jonathan: "I have to say that Bohemian Rhapsody is up there I think, as one of the biggest, more controversial but well-received releases that we put out initially in our careers. Then we went on to sing songs like Radiohead's Creep in a very different way to the original, and it's those moments that I think capture the imagination of the audience who realise that genres can be broken down. It's actually just singing and entertainment, and it's been exciting from that point on to just keep the variety going."

How did you adapt to life on the road during the early years of your careers?

Jonathan: "Getting in the pub more, at the time I think! (Laughs) That's how we adapted to it, it was a permanent haze!"

Ben: "It was fun, as we had a few more pennies to our names to spend in the bar, whereas when we were students, we were literally counting out our change, and sometimes we were lucky enough to have notes! (Laughs) So that was one good thing! But it was an amazing experience, and it just kind of passed us by in a rush sometimes. At the same time, there were other amazing experiences along the way that we remember and that we'll treasure forever."

G4 reunited in 2014, and would tour the UK again in 2015. Was it a thrill to get back together?

Jonathan: "It was mad. It was a really good experience to stand at the front of the stage and to not be able to sing for what felt like minutes while the audience were just screaming. It made us all realise that we really had to keep this going and to re-ignite our careers. It's exciting to have Nick as our new boy in the group; Matt didn't want to be part of that reunion, but it's great to see how well Nick has been embraced by the audience and how much fun he's having with it! So, it's been a good team effort from then on."

What can the Warrington audience expect from G4 on March 2?

Mike: "It's very exciting as we've never been to Parr Hall before. We'll be singing the songs from our Love Songs album, and also some of the hits from back in the day, like Bohemian Rhapsody as John mentioned, we've got a bit of opera with Nessun Dorma, a bit of Frank Sinatra with My Way, and some interesting duets with soprano that are also from our album."

Finally, tell us something about G4 that fans may not know.

Jonathan: "Gosh, that's an interesting one. Maybe that I'm not as intelligent as I might sound? (Laughs)"

Nick Ashby: "I can say that we do all help with loading the equipment in and out every day, every show, wherever it is. Even today at the signing, we've done that, and we do that for every show around the country whether it's a big theatre or not, and whether or not they already have a crew there, we always get in there and help. I think it's a really important part of the process to mentally help getting into the building. You feel like you've physically earned your beer at the end of the day! (Laughs)"

Ben: "There's no writers, there's no fluffy lambs in the dressing room, none of that stuff; it's all about the music and that's what we love, so that's what important."

G4 perform at Parr Hall, Warrington on Thursday March 2. To book your tickets, click here.

For more information about G4, click here.