Friday, 31 October 2014

CD Review: Cole Porter In Hollywood - The John Wilson Orchestra

Conductor, arranger and musical scholar John Wilson has brought together 15 Cole Porter classics for Cole Porter In Hollywood including Begin The Beguine ( from Broadway Melody of 1940), Love Of My Life (from The Pirate), and the albums grand opener Stereophonic Sound (from Silk Stockings).

In many cases, these recordings have been painstakingly recreated from the original film scores by Andrew Cottee and John Wilson and add to the records authenticity.

Fans of golden Hollywood musicals will love this gem of a collection which features Anna-Jane Casey, Kim Criswell, Matthew Ford, Sarah Fox and Richard Morrison providing vocal leads to these newly recorded orchestral arrangements.

Recreating Cole Porter's Hollywood Classics - John Wilson Interview

The uniquely glamorous sound and the daredevil skill of the John Wilson Orchestra playing Hollywood and Broadway’s most scintillating scores has made them one of the UK’s most beloved group of musicians. Their annual sell-out Prom concerts and national tours – and their first three releases for Warner Classics – have enchanted listeners and won them fans around the world.

Their new album Cole Porter in Hollywood basks in the big-screen glow of the hits Porter wrote for the movies and is a continuation of John Wilson's work of restoring lost film soundtracks to their original glory for music fans.

"We try to get the style absolutely just so," John recently told Andy Howells, "That's what you have to do, whether it be a Beethoven symphony or Cole Porter number, you have to get the style right. So we made a conscious effort to get as close as you can to that periods style."

The 15 songs on the album feature world premieres of newly-reconstructed orchestrations from original movie soundtracks, nearly all of which had been lost. The album is a glorious return to the resplendent sound that cushioned and encouraged Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby in films such as Can-Can, The Pirate and High Society. The energy, dynamism and detail of the playing is captured in the ideal acoustic of London’s famed Abbey Road studios. "A lot of this material was destroyed in the 1960s," says John, "when people didn't realise the value of it. I guess it had been used for the movies and they thought,"well we've made the movie nobody's going to want these bits of yellow paper.""

With the enormity of taking on such a task, does John face a dilemma when selecting material for the albums? "There things I'd have loved to have been on the album, but we didn't have space for them, because of the constraints of recording time and the amount of available time on a CD its like choosing your favourite children, its difficult. I wanted to represent all of Cole Porter's different styles and give all the singers a good chance. To put all those factors together at the end of the day, I suppose it all comes down to personal choice but a lot of thought goes into it."

The John Wilson Orchestra will be touring Cole Porter in Hollywood in November with a nationwide 13 date UK tour which brings them to both Bristol and Cardiff. A hand-picked ensemble of leading instrumentalists from Europe’s finest orchestras, these virtuoso players will be joined by guest singers Anna-Jane Casey, Kim Criswell, Matthew Ford, Sarah Fox and Richard Morrison, their trademark mix of sparkling authenticity and knock-‘em-dead gusto has been described as “Technicolor for the ears.”

"The stuff we didn't have time to put down on the album we'll perform live on the tour," says John, "big hits like Night and Day, I've Got You Under My Skin and more numbers from High Society."

John is keen to point out that the live experience will be very different to that captured on the album. "You get something completely different, more raw excitement. Not that we play it safe in the studio. When we are on the road, we really get stuck in, everyone gives their best night after night."

Are there any particular performances John is looking forward to presenting? "Obviously the ones when they are instrumental, when there aren't many singers in there, " he responds, "That's our moment to go to town. A lot of the numbers with the singers have got extended dance routines. Obviously we don't have any dancing because its a concert but they were written for the likes of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly so you get these moments where the orchestra can let themselves go."

  • The Cole Porter in Hollywood National Tour visits Cardiff's St David's Hall on November 14.
  • For further details on The John Wilson Orchestra visit the official website
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on October 24, 2014.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Andy Fairweather Low Talks About Homecoming Show

Andy Fairweather Low may have played alongside such greats as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison and Buddy Guy in his fifty year career but as the Ystrad Mynach born singer-songwriter prepares to play a homecoming date in Cardiff later today he reveals there’s no place like home.  “It’s where I live,” says Andy, “I went to London in 1966 and came back in 1971 and I've been there ever since.”

One of the most respected guitarists in the business, Andy had group hits as the front man of Amen Corner and solo hits. Among his back catalogue are If Paradise Is Half as Nice, Wide Eyed and Legless, Bend Me Shape Me, Hello Susie, Reggae Tune, Natural Sinner and Gin House Blues.

I ask Andy if he recalls any other special homecoming gigs over his 50 year career. “Last year in the New Theatre was a bit of a risk because its the biggest crowd that I've ever played to under my own name,” he says.“It was the most fabulous night, outside of that, I would say when I played Cardiff in a place called the Kennard Rooms. That was one of my first gigs ever and a band called Joey and The Gentlemen were on.  I was in a small band opening up and there was practically no-one in when we did our set but that didn’t matter it was still a momentous moment for me.”

Andy shot to fame as the front man of Amen Corner, the band scored several top ten hits in the late 1960s, “The funny thing was when I left school, the first thing I recorded became a hit,” he says, “until the moment I found things could be different I thought that’s just what you did. I thought I'd achieved the Midas touch! We soon found out later how lucky we were and that we'd been around at that time”

“I remember coming back to Cardiff with Amen Corner playing The Top Rank and The Drifters were on as well, it was a fantastic night,” recalls Andy, “I remember getting in my car and going to the top of Caerphilly Mountain. My wife was with me, although she wasn’t my wife then but I just had to get up there and try and calm down from doing a home gig of that kind of magnitude.”

Attendees of Andy’s concerts find that he still performs Amen Corner hits as well as his solo material, “Its not like I disown my own luggage or anything,” says Andy, “We play a large chunk of The Amen Corner back catalogue in the set and I'm very glad to have it.”

Andy will be performing alongside his band The Low Riders, “They are a Fantastic band, I started playing in 1964 and went to London in 1966. In that time I’ve loved soul music, jazz, the blues, rock n roll, rockabilly and that’s what you’re going to hear. We're making a DVD of the concert and maybe sticking in a bit of history of me in the music business, I'm looking forward to it.”

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

On Stage: A Regular Little Houdini, Newport Riverfront

The Riverfront's tenth anniversary as a home to a variety of arts in Newport coincided with a week run of Daniel Llewellyn Williams one-man stage show A Regular Little Houdini, and really, what a cracker of a show to celebrate with.

Over the week, school parties and theatre goers alike have been enthralled as Williams takes on the role of Alan, a resident of Alexandra Road, Pill, little over a century ago.

The story follows Alan's journey from boy to man and his obsession with the escapologist Harry Houdini, set against the historical backdrop of Houdini's visits to Newport in the early 1900s, the opening of the transporter bridge and later on, the docks disaster.

All events and scenarios, meticulously researched by Williams are brought to life through the eyes of Alan, his 'Gammy' (the chief constable of Newport Police) and Harry Houdini himself. Williams takes on each role via a funny, magical, powerfully emotive performance.

What is revealed is an insight into Newport life in the early 20th Century and what it might have been like substituting 21st century distractions for hope, adventure and creativity. (Alan's study of picking the lock on Victorian handcuff's could almost be likened to the persistence of a young computer programmer).

Direction from Josh Richards (himself a master of the one-man performance in Burton) and music from Megan Cox add both subtlety and poignancy to the unfolding story. The resulting play is something to behold and a triumph not only for Williams but Newport itself. Long forgotten people, places and events are extracted from the history books and aging copies of the South Wales Argus to reclaim their rightful place in Welsh history through this magical history tour.

Mari Discusses Her Debut Album Gentle Beauty

Back in 2012, Andy Howells interviewed Italian singer/songwriter Mari following the release of her album Gentle Beauty which was produced by former Zero 7 singer Mozez.
Do you come from a musical background? 
I've always been immersed in music since I was very young. I started to study piano but most of all vocals in a music school of Rome. After a few years I continued to study with an opera teacher, fully discovering the potential of my voice. 
How did you get into the music business?  
I started to sing for fun in a soul band and in that time I met some important artists who introduced me to the music business. In about 20 years I did a lot of concerts with different bands and musicians, so working with them and meeting people has been very important for me. This gave me the chance to have more exposure and opportunities. 
How did you come to work with Mozez?  
I have always been a huge fan of his and Zero 7, since their very first album Simple Things. I met Mozez during one of his gigs in Italy. On that occasion we started to talk and later I sent him some of my demos. Being a songwriter has been easier for me to have a chance in getting an album co -written with him, as he his also my producer. 
What are your musical inspirations?  
I listen to all types of music, but artists such as Zero 7, Goldfrapp, Air, Thievery Corporations and all the Bristol bands like Massive Attack and Portishead are my favourite ones, and Mozez of course! 
How did the album Gentle Beauty come about?  
Gentle Beauty is my manifesto. I couldn't live my life without searching for the beauty in all the things that surround me and everyone as well as kindness and respect between people. Even if sometimes it is hard to see those things among all life's difficulties. This album speaks profoundly about my vision of life which I tried to deliver with my music.  I felt the need to covert my emotions and my feeling in my songs. Meeting Mozez has been decisive for me because he understood exactly how to transform my emotions in music.
The songs Gentle Beauty and Secret have a summery 1960s feel to them. What inspired you to write them?
As I said to you, my songs get their inspirations from my emotions. Those two songs were born like all my songs. A melody and the timing come first into my mind slowly until I feel the need to write it down. I like 60's in general but it has not been planned to recall that type of sound. By the way I don't mind at all, of course! 
I enjoy the video for Gentle Beauty featuring the circus characters, was it good fun to make?  
Yes, I enjoyed myself a lot. The only problem was the weather during the night shooting. It was terribly cold and all of us we were freezing! 
Some of the tracks have lots of wonderful instrumentation supplemented with your wonderful vocals – how long did free for instance take to put together? 
Well, Free and the rest of the songs in general took a lot of time to put together. It has been a hard and long job, about 2 years. 
What is your favourite track from Gentle Beauty the album?  
I love all my songs of course, it is hard to choose. I would say Silence. 
It sounds like it’s quite a personal album too – did it take long to write?  
Yes, it is a very personal album. I wrote the songs long time ago. They where initially demos when I brought them to Mozez, but with all the melodies and part of the lyrics done, except for two songs. 
Blue is my Favourite Colour with Mozez is a strong collaboration, was that great fun to make?  
Blue is my Favourite Colour has been written by me, Mozez and Vincenzo Incenzo who is a well known Italian author and friend of mine. I would say it has been interesting seeing Mozez during the construction of the song.  I love so much how he described the story of the character of this song, who could be any person.  
The album finishes with an instrumental Silence II and almost has echoes of a film soundtrack theme – it’s a wonderful piece of music – how did that come about?  
Silence II is the instrumental version of Silence contained in the album. For this song I have asked the collaboration of my friend and wonderful musician Alessandro Tomei who played the flute; in the instrumental version is more evident its sound which has given a dreamy touch to the whole composition. 
What are you working on now and what plans have you got for the future?  
I'm working to get remixes of some of my songs. One song, Free, has already been remixed by the DJ and producer Ray Mang.  At the moment, I am starting to write down some ideas for my next album. I’m also rehearsing with my wonderful band to be ready soon and spread my music all around.      

Monday, 27 October 2014

Talking Comedy With Shappi Khorsandi

Iranian born British comedienne Shappi Khorsandi is currently touring her latest comedy show Because I'm Shappi, "Its very personal," she tells Andy Howells, " its about been pregnant when I was single and been a lone parent."

Shappi's description sums up that she is tackling 21st Century issues and scenarios that audiences will connect with. Her latest show premiered at Edinburgh Festival earlier this year, I ask her if the show has evolved as the tour progresses? "Without a doubt," she replies, "three months go by and you go "Oh, that's how I'm meant to do that joke!" It does get funnier and sharper. Some of them get kicked out, some of them get sent to borstal, it does change"

Shappi who counts BBC One's Have I Got News For You and BBC Radio 4's Just A Minute among her many appearances played a sell-out show in Ebbw Vale last year, recently performed at Newport Riverfront and will play Cardiff's Glee Club on November 5.

"I find Welsh audiences are what we in the comedy industry call "comedy literate" in that they are funny themselves," she says, " So their bar is quite high, it makes for a positive energy in the shows. It delights me when I see a lot of people coming on their 18th (birthdays) as well as stag nights and hen nights. My demographic has certainly changed over the years!"

I wonder if Shappi has had any funny experiences at comedy gigs? "A man on the train asked me if I was Omid Djallili's wife because I'm Iranian and that was quite baffling," she replies, "I wish I could tell you I was abducted by aliens on the way to a gig. Its happened after, but never before."

So when shes back at home and away from the stage what actually makes Shappi laugh? "I've got to say my children," she responds, "otherwise Id be a terrible parent!"

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Low Rider From Amen Corner - Andy Fairweather Low Interview

Singer, songwriter, pop star, Andy Fairweather Low has done it all musically, including performing with some of the all-time greats. Andy Howells caught up with him in late 2012 as he was completing his album Zone-O-Tone and found out why the former Amen Corner front man still thinks of himself just as a guitar player.
Music didn't always play so prominently in Andy Fairweather Low’s life. “You either got the bug or you didn't” says Andy. “It’s like a virus and up until ‘64 it didn't touch me at all.” 
Born in Ystrad Mynach in 1948, Andy recalls his first great passion as a boy was football. “I’d go down to Ninian Park and played school football, evenings, weekends and holidays.” 
It was a trip to Sofia Gardens in 1964 where The Rolling Stones were performing that inspired Andy to pick up the guitar and play. “It got me straight away” he says.  
Two years later, Andy had formed The Amen Corner whose debut single Gin House Blues was released in 1967. “That was a great record to have as your first single as far as I’m concerned” says Andy. “We were a soul band, trying to emulate the American soul music of that time. Georgie Fame and Zoot Money would come around and play the circuit, they’d come to Cardiff, we’d see them, we tried to pretend we were them.” 
The success of the brassy pop hit Bend Me, Shape Me propelled The Amen Corner to No.2 in the singles charts in 1968. A succession of hits followed including Hello Suzie and High in the Sky, while (If Paradise) Is Half as Nice got to number one in early 1969. 
The 70s saw Andy form the band Fairweather before going solo, however by the end of that decade he’d tired of the demands of record companies and returned to playing guitar. “I’ve always thought of myself as a guitar player,” he confirms, “and when I stopped making solo records I made a living playing guitar for 28 years.” 
Andy played guitar for a host of music legends including Eric Clapton and George Harrison. He accompanied George on his Japanese tour in 1991. “It was Beatlemania all over again, the airport was mobbed” recalls Andy comparing the scenes he experienced to The Beatles triumphant return from the states in 1964 “That’s what it was like with George, but it was in colour this time.” 
In recent years, Andy has returned to recording and touring in his own right. His composition Hymn for My Soul was a huge airplay hit in 2007 for Joe Cocker.  “It was a real honour and I loved his version” says Andy who doesn’t seem phased that his own version didn't get as much attention saying “I’ve had my 15 minutes, so I'll take what I can get!” 
Andy continues to tour with sell-out performances across the UK, three of which take place in Abergavenny, Cardiff and Newport in the coming weeks. At each venue, he will delight fans with material from the breadth of his career as well as tracks from his new album recorded with his band The Low Riders “I’m really proud of this next lot,” he confirms “It’s with the band, It’s a Low Riders album, they are a part of it too, so its great!” 
The tour which includes a debut performance at Cardiff New Theatre holds special memories for Andy who visited the venue years ago to see Buddy Rich. “I’ll never forget it because he didn't come on till 12 o’clock at night. The theatre show had been on so he came in after the show – fabulous!”

Back To Genesis - Steve Hackett Interview

Steve Hackett, Picture: Gregory Temesvari
As Genesis reassemble for a DVD and CD release celebrating their careers alone and together, Andy Howells chats to Steve Hackett who visits Cardiff later this month with a concert full of classic Genesis material
Prog pioneer Steve Hackett might be very much his own artist some four decades after leaving Genesis but he still holds his work with the group in very high regard. So much so, he’s back out on tour with a series of Genesis Extended concerts recalling the bands early years. 
Steve was Genesis’ lead guitarist from 1971 to 1977 and is the first ex-member to re-record and tour that part of the band’s material in Genesis Revisited I (1996) and II (2012). 
“For many years fans have said to me “please rejoin the band, please change the emphasis of what the band is doing from the poppy stuff to the rockier stuff," he says, “I didn't feel there was a chance of doing that, because you need everyone to tango at once. But I thought if I bypassed all the politics, I can create a band of my own where the people know and love the material and we seem to have gone from strength to strength.” 
Joining Steve on stage is an exceptional team of top class musicians, including Roger King on keyboards, Gary O’Toole on drums, percussion's and vocals, Rob Townsend on sax, flute and percussion's, Nad Sylvan on vocals and Nick Beggs on bass and twelve-string guitar. 
“There is an afterlife from Genesis but it’s lovely to be doing the Genesis thing once again,” says Steve, who recently took part in a Genesis reunion for a DVD documentary with Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, “It’s been great, I've seen grown men weep. The audiences have been fantastic for it. The material has proved itself over time, so it’s wonderful to make peoples dream come true. A lot of people weren't around in the days when we first did this stuff. People have said “Oh, I never thought id get to see Blood on the Rooftops live or Watcher in the Skies. It is lovely to be able to do something that’s passionate for me and complex at the same time. Its the simple moments like I know What I Like, so you can clap along with it if you want or dance in the aisles should you wish.” 
Steve became involved with Genesis back in early 1971 when lead singer Peter Gabriel responded to his advert in a popular music paper: “I advertised myself in the back pages of Melody Maker every week for five years and finally stuck in an ad saying “Guitarist/writer seeks receptive musicians determined to strive beyond existing stagnant musical forms” and Pete phoned me up. He must have thought I was a nutter or an idealist or both and he was right. Had it not been for the ad he probably wouldn't have phoned me up.” 
Although chart statistics record that Genesis had great commercial success in the 1980s when Phil Collins fronted the band, Steve is keen to continue shining a light on the bands earlier material. “Although it became a very successful thing, it became firmly a pop machine and they did that tremendously well, but there was something that was different when Peter Gabriel was the singer with the band. I think the subject matter of the lyrics was more challenging; there was a sense of magic about it.  I am very proud of all my involvement with it.” 
Steve admits he could keep playing Genesis material live as a full-time job for the rest of his career, but has been back in the studio working on his next album which is due for release next February. “I’m thrilled with it,” he says, “Its part rock and part orchestral. There’s a lot of Beatles influence on it. I liked The Beatles when they started to incorporate orchestras.  I also happen to be a fan of ELO as well. I’m a huge fan of the more elemental side of the classic stuff, the more Slavic moments of Tchaikovsky. Its twinning it in and out with lots of different styles and a fusion of a lot of instruments you might not recognise. Orchestra plus and group extended if you know what I mean. I think it’s my best effort.”

Friday, 24 October 2014

Meet The Cast Of Centrestage Cymru's White Christmas

A film musical classic celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. White Christmas premiered to the world on October 14, 1954 and has been part of the Christmas season ever since. The title song, originally sung by Bing Crosby and written by Irving Berlin was first featured in the 1942 film musical Holiday Inn.

60 years on from the original film premiere of White Christmas, Centrestage Cymru bring the classic musical which was made famous by the wonderful cast of Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen to the stage of Newport's Dolman Theatre this week.

The musical’s dazzling score features well known standards including Blue Skies, I Love a Piano, How Deep Is the Ocean and the all time favourite, White Christmas. Full of laughter, joy, nostalgia, song and dance this Newport stage premier has to be the best opening to the Christmas season possible for all the family. 

We put questions to several cast members about their ideal White Christmas!

Who are you playing in White Christmas?
Becci Jarvis:  I am playing Judy Haynes
Jordan Archer:  Phil Davies
Sharon Higgins: Betty Haynes
Matthew Bryant: I’m Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby)
Hannah Roper: I’m playing Rhoda
Elissa Taylor: Rita

What are you looking forward to most about the role?
Jordan: Working alongside the incredible 'ledge' Matt Bryant
Sharon: I love performing alongside the other principles and cast members.
Hannah: That she is so ditzy, bubbly and giggly, I’m having a lot of fun playing her.
Elisa: Dressing up in a box

Whats your favourite song in White Christmas and why?
Becci: I love a Piano! It's a big tap number which is my favourite style of dance
Matt: Count your Blessings – It’s just a lovely song
Hannah: Either Blue Skies or Finale cause I love the dances
Elisa: Snow because we are singing about snow, but really there is no snow.

Whats your Christmas wish for this year?
Becci: To pass University
Jordan: World Peace
Sharon: Health and happiness for my family and friends.
Matt: Happiness for my family and friends.
Hannah: A White Christmas!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

King King Step From The Shadows - Alan Nimmo Interview

Visitors to John Mayall's 80th anniversary concert at St David's Hall this week are in for a treat. Not only will fans be treat to music from John's new album "A Special Life" but they will also get to see an opening set from Scottish bluesbreakers King King.

"Obviously the crowd will be there to see John Mayall," says Alan Nimmo of the band, " But I hope we get a good chance to impress with our short but sweet show. We're doing about 40 minutes. There’s an energy to the show and to the performance."

"Its natural, it’s real and every part of it is meant. I'm doing this because, I love doing it and not because I want to get anything else from the business it’s who I am what I am hopefully that passions going to come through."

Alan who plays guitar and sings vocals has already been a popular draw on the touring circuit for many years as a member of The Nimmo Brothers, with whom he met King King bassist Lindsay Coulson.

"Lindsay played with the band for four years and we stayed in touch after that," says Alan, “We had some idea in mind to do something together. We ended up just visiting each other all the time. I was in Glasgow, he was in Lincoln. We thought we'd go out and have a beer and pay for it by putting a gig on for our mates, then we thought why don't we do this properly because we had the same visual ideas how we would like to progress. We always agreed on what the way forward for us was best and wanted to give it a try. That’s probably just over five years ago now."

The band which also consist of Wayne Proctor and Bob Fridzema have picked up several accolades along the way including 2014  British Blues Awards, not least ‘Best Band’ (for a third consecutive year) and ‘ Best Album’ for 2013’s ‘Standing In The Shadows’. They have recently completed work on their third album due for release early next year.

Alan and the band are looking forward to playing alongside John Mayall at next week’s Cardiff show," I've been a John Mayall fan for as long as I can remember," says Alan, " Obviously the Beano album is one I grew up listening to and that’s how I got into Peter Green as well."

King King themselves are set apart from most contemporaries by their on-stage appearance. Scottish through and through, Alan will be seen proudly wearing his kilt on stage, "Hopefully they won’t get too scared by looking at some large barbarian in a kilt," he laughs, "I'm just hoping they going to be pleasantly surprised  hopefully there will be some people who know who we are. We want to gain some new fans, we want to show the audience that there’s quality music they might not have seen yet.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Meet The Band: The Marmozets

The Marmozets story is of how two sets of siblings battled together to fully deserve their reputation as one of Britain’s brightest new hopes. Already being tipped for the top, the band’s growing reputation was underlined by their recent closing night headline set on the Glastonbury BBC Introducing stage. This week the band released their long-awaited debut album ‘The Weird and Wonderful Marmozets’.

Produced by former Hundred Reasons guitarist Larry Hibbitt, the album emphasises Marmozets’ growing skill in developing a broad range of styles, including the punk rock assault of ‘Cover Up’, and ‘Born Young And Free’, the brooding dynamic contrasts which feature on ‘Captivate You’, the visceral aggression of ‘Why Do You Hate Me?’ and the soaring progressive epic ‘Cry’. In essence the album captures the riotous energy of their live show with complex melodies, compelling vocals and massive riffs.

The latest single to be taken from the album is ‘Born Young and Free’ which showcases their fiery spirited attitude.

Comprising of Becca MacIntyre (vocals), her siblings Sam (guitar) and Josh (drums), as well as the Bottomley brothers Jack and Will (on guitar and bass respectively), Marmozets have a relentless work ethic which has seen them dedicate their entire lives (albeit very young lives!) to the band. Music college wasn’t an option and there was never a Plan B. Their future could only be Marmozets.

Prior to their recent Cardiff date, guitarist Jack Bottomley recently answered questions poised by Andy Howells: 

You originally came together in 2007. Has your journey to the release of your debut album been a long one for you?
Well I guess it does feel like it's been a long time looking back on it. But we take every day as it comes. We've always known it takes years to get anywhere in music, usually anyway, but it's all been about timing for us, climbing the ladder etc. can't wait for it to be out!

When did you decide you wanted to form a band?
The second I saw The White Stripes play in Blackpool. It was my first show and it blew my mind. Me and my brother started jamming in our bedroom. He was probably about 8 years old then haha.

Your band is made up of siblings is there much in the way of rivalry with each other when it comes to determining the bands sound?
Not at all, we all go for the same sound. We know what it sounds like when we get it. It's just getting it sometimes. We've only ever worked with each other so it's all we know.

What is your favourite track on the new album and why?
It's a tough one, I could say hit the wave because i play a guitar solo in it, which hasn't ever happened on Marmozets track before, but that'd be silly. Either that or weird and wonderful or vibe tech. It's so varied and mixed it's hard to pick a favourite for myself. I tend to like different ones when I'm in different moods or what ever. Depends on the vibes.

What was it like playing Glastonbury’s BBC Introducing Stage?
It was surreal! We were so excited to play. It's not everyday you get to headline a stage at Glasto' it was a crazy day.

What can fans expect from your forthcoming Cardiff Show?
Madness! We can't wait for this upcoming tour. It'll be a great night with great bands. Lonely the brave and allusondrugs are both awesome in their own unique way which will make this more than interesting!

Where can fans find out the latest news about you?
Marmozets.co.uk or weird.marmozets.co.uk for album stream.

Il Divo Rooted In Musical Theatre - David Miller Interview

Andy Howells chats to David Miller of Il Divo
"It’s been an amazing journey full of highs and lows," says David Miller of his decade with Il Divo, the world's first and most successful classical crossover group. 
The foursome have sold over 26 million albums worldwide, achieved over 50 number one records, received 160 gold and platinum sales awards in over 33 countries and staged four ground-breaking world tours. The international quartet comprises of tenor Urs Buhler of Switzerland, baritone Carlos Marin of Spain, pop artist S├ębastien Izambard of France and tenor David from the United States. 
As Il Divo first came to fruition in 2003, their current world tour which comes to Cardiff this week marks a milestone for the four singers as they commemorate the success of over a decade together.  
"The beginning was a full on experiment," continues David, "four guys in a room and see what they can come up with. We all had to kind of get over ourselves and each other and push past barriers and commit ourselves to one single goal which is making one track a time literally something we can all be proud of." 
Il Divo’s last album, A Musical Affair, a homage to the world of musical theatre, was released in 2013, "We started thinking to ourselves that we needed to focus in on something," David tells me,” We realised looking back over our tours the most popular songs we had the most freedom on was the musical theatre songs as they connected with everyone. The way we arranged them had a very powerful impact and we started to get into creating an entire album of musical theatre." 
Realising Il Divo had something special, Broadway producer James Nederland invited the boys to premiere their latest tour at The Marquis Theatre in November 2013, "it was met with great success," says David, "We thought this was the kind of thing we can bring to the world and so that’s pretty much what we are doing." 
The show will be very different to other Il Divo shows as David explains, "It’s going to be a very technologically heavy. This is musical theatre so every song has a context. The choice we were faced with was we could make it another Il Divo show or we could try and create the environment track by track, song by song. We're trying to recreate an environment that will reflect a moment in the show where the song comes from." 
David thinks that a show based around musical theatre has helped Il Divo break down a few preconceived ideas people may have had about their music. "One of our big bonuses we found over the years was that people came to us and thought we would sing opera, which is not the case, we sing pop songs. We're just using our operatic backgrounds to emphasise certain moments across pop songs. 
The bonus we got back from the audience in the end was people were going out and saying "Wow! I never realised the operatic voice could be like that!" It’s true there are certain stereotypes out there. For us to break that down was a huge bonus for us. Both Carlos' and my musical beginnings were actually in musical theatre and that got us started singing."
David who was originally in training to be a NASA astronaut before deciding on a career in music will have a very personal moment when the group perform Some Enchanted Evening from Camelot. 
"That song was the song I used in my first audition to audition for the high school musical," he tells me, "it’s like a very personal moment for me. I feel like I've come absolutely full circle 20 years later. Musical Theatre is responsible for physically bringing me out of my shell in high school and creating this desire to want to use my voice. When I sang opera it was like, "This is what I want to do with the rest of my life."" 
Il Divo will be joined by Lea Salonga, the award winning singer and actress best known for her Tony & Olivier Award winning role in Miss Saigon perform at Cardiff Motorpoint Arena on October 19.
  • Il Divo's Official Site
  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on October 17, 2014.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Honest John Plain - Still One Of The Boys

Punk rock legend Honest John Plain plays The Dolls House in Abertillery this weekend. 

Honest John met Matt Dangerfield at Art College in Leeds and moved to London with him in 1971. Dangerfield, joined London SS with Casino Steel, Mick Jones (The Clash), Tony James (Generation X) and Brian James (The Damned) with Plain joining them on drums for one session.  As London SS disintegrated in 1975 Plain, Dangerfield and Steel formed The Boys.  

The Boys quickly built up a reputation as a white-hot live band and in January 1977 became the first punk band to sign an album deal when they signed away their recording lives to NEMS.  After signing for NEMS Plain sold The Boys equipment for £500 and put it on a horse, which came second!  This and other dodgy deals quickly earned him the nickname ‘Honest’.

Widely tipped to make it big The Boys with songs penned by Steel/Dangerfield & Plain and were highly respected by both the music press and their peers.  They quickly became known as ‘The Beatles of Punk’ but unfortunately through a series of poor marketing, bad decisions and appalling luck they never converted their potential to chart success. 

Following the demise of The Boys Plain joined the Dirty Strangers and recorded an album with Keith Richards and Ronnie Woods of the Rolling Stones.  After almost 40 years in the music business Plain’s musical career is looking extremely healthy with many young musicians citing him as a major influence.  The release the new Boys album with gigs aplenty with The Boys and The Landslide Ladies it is certain to enhance his growing reputation and increase his popularity even further. 

The Boys have just released “Punk Rock Menopause”, their first brand new album since 1981’s “Boys Only”.  Plain continues to tour extensively with The Boys with dates in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, USA, Spain, France, UK, Canada, Italy, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Germany & Japan in the past couple of years to be followed by numerous live dates planned for 2014 including China & USA.  

Honest John Plain recently answered questions from Andy Howells:

The Boys released Punk Rock menopause earlier this year can you tell us a bit about that?
It's the first brand new Boys album in almost 35 years. We had been discussing recording a new Boys album for a few years but all had our doubts over the venture. We finally agreed to take the plunge in 2010, although it took us another year or two to finally make it into the recording studio

It had been a long time since the release of the last album (1981) what was it like getting back in the studio together?
I was a little apprehensive at first and we initially agreed to record just four new songs and see how it went. However it quickly became apparent that the old creative magic was still there and we ended up recording a whole album, which we are all extremely pleased with.  Matt, Cas and I were the songwriters in The Boys, although I wrote separately from the prolific Steel/Dangerfield partnership. With the new album we agreed to write songs between the three of us and it appears to have worked very well. I think it's our best ever album and the response from critics and fans alike has been phenomenal.

You’ll be visiting Abertillery soon. What can we expect from your show if we haven’t caught Honest John live before?
I'm really looking forward to the Dolls House! I love South Wales, and have recorded quite a few albums at Rockfield. We'll be performing many of the songs I've written over the past 40 years or so including "First Time", "Terminal Love", "New Guitar In Town", "Where Have All The Good Girls Gone" and "Never Listen Rumours".

What has been your most memorable live performance?
It's very difficult to pick out just one show but if pushed I'd have to plump for The Boys show in the castle high above Ibiza in 1982. It ended up being The Boys last performance for 17 years.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I've just started recording a new album with Petter Baarli, of The Backstreet Girls and have been touring quite a bit with The Boys as well some solo stuff with my own band and solo acoustic shows. I recorded an album at Rockfield a while ago with the likes of Michael Monroe, Sami Yaffa, Glen Matlock, Casino Steel, Verden Allen, Martin Chambers, Darrell Bath & Robbie Rushton and hopefully that'll be out very soon. I seem to keep myself busy!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

On Stage: Eric and Little Ern, Newport Riverfront

Morecambe and Wise were the funniest comedy double act on television during the 1960s and 70s and even though their partnership ended when Eric Morecambe died of a heart attack in 1984 their popularity has endured.

Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens stage presentation Eric and Little Ern (Newport Riverfront, October 8) is therefore most welcome. A tribute to Morecambe and Wise’s greatest comedy moments combined with dialogue of what Ernie might have said to Eric had he had the chance to see him one final time.

The opening scene, set in a private hospital room has an ailing Ernie visited by Eric (in Doctor Coat) and transformed back to Morecambe and Wise’s glory days. Classic scripts from the pens of Eddie Braben and Hills & Green were thrown into the mix including Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Eric’s throwaway comment when a police car siren wails past the hospital window, “He’s not going to sell a lot of Ice Creams going at that speed.”

Of course, it’s not just the dialogue that makes Eric and Little Ern brilliant, its Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens delivery and portrayal as the duo. Everything is there from the face slapping to the adjusting of Eric’s glasses via Des O Connor jokes and dance routines.

Sunshine and laughter certainly came into the Riverfront Theatre as the pair kitted out in trademark suits performed famous Eric and Ernie routines in the second half of the show.

Let’s hope it’s not too long before this brilliant show returns to Wales, as Eric Morecambe might have said, “Keep going you fools!”
  • A version of this review by Andy Howells was originally published within The South Wales Argus on October 10, 2014. 
  • For more information on Eric and Little Ern visit the official website.

Bluesbreaker - John Mayall Interview

Andy Howells chats with legendary Blues musician John Mayall about his forthcoming Cardiff show.

As John Mayall embarks on his 80th decade, the Blues legend shows no signs of slowing down. He is about to embark on a yearlong world tour which sees him stop off at Cardiff’s St David’s Hall in October.

This all follows a career spanning over half a century which has seen him release some 60 albums while simultaneously contributing to the rock-blues scene more than any other musician in history. He recently released his first new studio album in 5 years, “A Special Life”, along with his band, Texan guitarist Rocky Athas, bassist Greg Rzab, alongside fellow Chicagoan Jay Davenport.

“The preparation for it was only a couple of weeks,” says John, “with the same band you just fall into things naturally. The actual recording of the tracks only took three days to do and a couple of more days to put vocals and bits and pieces on, it was all very quick. That’s the way we like to work.”

While the trend for many musicians is to spend, months or even years laboring over recording an album, John’s approach to recording the album was spontaneous. “It’s very important to catch the feeling before you start running it into the ground,” he continues, “it was pretty much all first takes, just like we play live.”

John’s place in music history goes back some five decades, when he put together the first of his bands, the Bluesbreakers in 1963.  “It was pretty easy because people were so thrilled with this new music in the clubs,” he recalls. “There were so many venues for people to play.  They called it the British blues boom because there were so many bands that started off at the same time.”

The Bluesbreakers, acted as a finishing school for the leading blues-rock musicians of the day including Peter Green, Mick Taylor and Eric Clapton who joined Fleetwood Mac, Rolling Stones and Cream respectively.

John recalls Clapton’s arrival in The Bluesbreakers as a very important move for them both. “Eric had left the Yardbirds because of the direction they were going in," he says, “He wanted to play blues, so it just coincided with me hearing him properly because his progress was quite rapid. It was perfect timing for me to hire him; it was just what he wanted and just what I wanted. “

The forthcoming tour sees John still shining limelight on new talent as Glasgow four piece, King King play support. The concerts will also hold some special treats for Blues fans old and new. “The set list changes every night,” says John, “it’s not always the same show but I try to make it a pretty good match of old and new stuff. I think there’s something for everyone.”

I ask John how after over 50 years of performing he still manages to make his music sound so fresh and exciting.  He responds philosophically and poetically, “The blues is an endless fountain of inspiration, with so many shades of expression of what’s going on around you, what’s happening with you, emotionally all these things are the source of it all.”

  • Catch John Mayall at St David’s Hall, Cardiff on October 22.  Tickets available online at stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk or at the box office on 029 2087 8444.
  • A version of this interview with John Mayall by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during August, 2014.
  • Visit John Mayall's official website

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Counting Down The Minutes with Alison Moyet

In April 2013. Andy Howells spoke to Alison Moyet about her album The Minutes as well as touring later that year.
“For a long time I've wanted to work with electronica but the problem is finding the right person to work with,” Alison Moyet tells me as we discuss her album The Minutes. “The great thing about my producer, Guy Sigsworth is he studied harpsichord at Cambridge, so his musicality is sublime.  
Couple that with a really fantastic way around technology and he’s got a great edge to him which meant we could do something not only musically pleasing, but also really interesting soundscapes. It’s the most cohesive album project I've done. It’s definitely an album to be listened to as a whole as opposed to albums made by a myriad collection of songwriters and producers that are just a collection of singles.”  
Alison’s approach to making an album borders more on Serendipity, “My motivation is not about being famous or selling lots of records. It’s a creative project I want to make. Of course, I’d like it to be well received, I’d like it to go well, but that can’t be the starting point. It has to be a happy accident as opposed to shaping your work.”  
Alison has seen some changes in the music industry over the years, she started out working with musicians such as Dr Feelgood’s Wilco Johnson and numerous punk outfits before collaborating with Vince Clark to form Yazoo in the early 1980s.  
“I think my generation was one of the most blessed when it came to music,” she says “ When we grew up we had pop, prog and punk rock, new technologies, the reinvention of pop. We had such a great bed to grow in and the great thing about radio and television in those days was you’d get what you considered really fantastic stuff next to something really horrible. That was part of the joy to determine who you were in the world as opposed to this kind of colour by numbers; everyone’s cloning everyone else, which I find kind of dull now.”  
Alison feels there’s a personal return to form with The Minutes which can be compared with her Yazoo days “I see Yazoo as a very happy creative time," she says, “That has been created again now in the sense that we made this record without the record companies A and R men in the same way I did in Yazoo, I feel really good about that.”  
Following the release for The Minutes, Alison will be looking forward to the autumn when she takes the album on the road.  “Touring’s my favourite thing , she says , “the vocals are going to be quite challenging to transfer to the stage as I'm using a lot of falsettos and very deep voices on this album but live is the place I'm comfortable as its that communion with people.”  
“The best thing about this is I'm going on tour with screens and synthesisers which means that I can approach the older material with  the grandeur of the sound they should have had with electronica, also with tracks from albums such as Raindancing which were more programmed it allows me a wider bed of hits to choose from.”  
Clearly Alison sounds both happy and excited about her latest album and continues to lavish praise on her producer, “I have to say this experience with Guy has been my favourite. We’ve come to shorthand so very quickly. My esteem of him is absolutely massive and if you said who would I like to record with again, I'd say I'd like to work with Guy.”

  • The Minutes by Alison Moyet is available now on Cooking Vinyl
  • A version of this interview appeared in The Guide during April, 2013 and can be seen on The South Wales Argus website.
  • For the latest news on Alison Moyet visit her official website.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Pet Sounds - Petula Clark Returns With Lost In You

In February 2013, Petula Clark released a new album entitled Lost In You, this coincided with an announcement that she would tour later in the year. Andy Howells spoke to her about Lost In You, touring and her career.
Not many popular singers or musicians can admit to have been on the music scene since 1949, and even fewer can release an album in 2013 that sounds as fresh and contemporary than anything around at the moment, yet international music star Petula Clark has achieved just that with her new album Lost In You.

Fans shouldn’t be surprised; Petula has seen more musical changes than most artists. Her million-selling release Downtown reached the top of the charts in several countries as Beatlemania rocked the world in 1964. A very different release compared to her UK Chart-topper of five years previous Sailor where musical tastes were still heavily influenced by the music of the post-war years.

‘It’s never a conscious thing;’ says Petula, ‘I never sit down and think I’ve got to move with the times. I just live for the day and if the music comes out sounding different or contemporary that’s just the way it is.’

Her latest album Lost in You opens with the beautiful ambiance of Cut Copy Me, a release which has surprised many of Petula’s fans and she couldn’t be happier: ‘That was the first song we’d done actually. My producer John Owen Williams said: "Why don’t we go into the studio and see what happens?" I just went up and did it and its come out very well.  It is contemporary but I’m not trying to sound like someone else, they haven’t fooled around with my voice, it’s that track which was the driving force to do this CD. We just got together with some young writers and co-wrote most of them and of course we did some covers including Downtown…”

There’s almost a giggle in Petula’s voice as she mentions Downtown, but why return to it I ask… ‘That was exactly my reaction when John suggested we did it.’ She says, ‘I said "Why?" And then I said "No!" I went to Paris and when I came back a couple of days later he said "Have a listen to this!" He put the track on which was very beautiful but it had no melody, so I didn't know what it was. I said, "What is that?" and he said it’s "Downtown!"’

‘It was the most amazing experience, because I don’t know how many times I’ve sung Downtown over the years, I thought I knew it and suddenly I was singing the song in a different tempo with a whole different feel to it. I was like singing a brand new song, I find that very interesting.’

Petula also returned to her Welsh roots for another song, the autobiographical Reflections, which recalls her time growing up in Abercanaid when she was a child. ‘There’s a reference to Bach which means little and I wrote the lyric. John said to me why don’t you do something autobiographical and then I thought why don’t I just take myself back to Wales, that’s what it’s all about. I’m quite pleased with that track it’s very different to everything else on the CD.’

Petula will be returning to Wales later this year when her UK tour brings her to St David’s Hall on October 14, ‘I’m really looking forward to that’ she says with excitement. Will she get time to visit some of her old homeland? “That’s the problem will I have time?’ she sighs, before continuing more hopefully ‘I’ll be off down the valleys and maybe drop in to Abercanaid or Merthyr Tydfil, that trip from Cardiff down to Merthyr is one of my favourite things in the World.’
  • Andy Howells interview with Petula Clark was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on March 1 2013 and can be currently viewed on The South Wales Argus Website.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Martyn Joseph - Going Back To His Roots

Andy Howells spoke to Welsh singer/songwriter Martyn Joseph in January 2014, prior to Martyn's appearance at St David's Hall in February.
Welsh singer/songwriter Martyn Joseph clearly loves been busy, despite recently completing a UK tour following the release of two albums and a tour in 2013, his 2014 diary is already rapidly filling up.

He plays a date later this month as part of St David’s Hall, Cardiff's Roots Unearthed season which focuses on global sounds in the intimate setting of the L3 Lounge, an environment Martyn himself particular excels in during his concerts.

Among his set will be songs from his very latest release Tires Rushing by in the Rain, showcasing tracks written by Bruce Springsteen.

“I’ve always done a couple of his songs in gigs” Martyn tells me. “People said "we’d like to have recordings of these", but I was always a bit shy because it’s sort of hallowed turf. Then a couple of years ago at a radio station in New York I met a guy called Dave Marsh who is married to Barbara Carr, Bruce Springsteen’s manager. Dave has written biographies on Bruce and he suggested that if the covers were well thought out, he would write the sleeve notes. I thought maybe I should take the risk; I recorded the 17 songs in three days last summer. We put that out and it’s done really well.”

“The reaction has been incredibly strong and I'm doing a special gig in London of all 17 songs in one show and I’m suddenly getting all these Bruce fans coming to my show who have never heard of me.”

Despite the fact that Martyn began his musical journey back in the 1980s, and has since released many albums including chart success in the 1990s how does he feel about  been described as ‘The Welsh Springsteen’?

“That makes me a feel a little uncomfortable to be honest,” he replies, “I think a reviewer said that once and people have run with it. I think it’s interesting, it’s a need to be able to understand who you are, what you do and what you’re about so I guess it’s a useful tag to say he’s a bit like this, but it’s a lot of weight to carry.”

Martyn is still very much his own artist, touring and recording regularly as well as fulfilling his charitable work. “I’ve run my own label for over 15 years. After the heady days of the 90s, I've been able to manage everything myself and control it and keep putting albums out, playing 160 odd shows a year  travelling the states, Canada and Europe. The latest thing I’m excited about this year is I’m forming my own foundation and trust fund to aim finance some of the projects I've been involved with and others I’ve always pointed towards social concerns within songs. After a visit to Palestine last year, I thought its time to help some of these people who do a lot of great grass roots work. They help each other and other people and are always in worse off situations but don’t get a lot of attention or get the big grants and money. Its going to be called the Let Yourself trust with a small team of great people around me we can keep going.”

Its Martyn’s awareness of worldwide situations that has kept his approach to music fresh and relevant over the years, fans can usually follow his latest work through his frequently updated website as well as regular newsletters. “I’m just following a path. It’s a natural thing, in life, as you walk along the road things change. I suppose my job is to try and articulate in an art form called song writing. In a way the slant of the music has changed through the years and I think it’s important in terms of having longevity to keep something of reinvention about what you do. There’s a lot of ways of getting your message across these days with modern communication, you’ve got to be clued up on that.”

Still focusing on the live show, Martyn tells me that there will be a good mixture of new and old material as well as a special guest from America , “Billy Porter is one of the best guitar players I’ve ever seen. He’s a good friend and he’s coming over to open this show. While the shows still contain some very serious issues were having a good time these days. There’s a lot of getting the crowds singing. I want them to have a good time, a laugh, it’s a mixture of all those things one is trying to do every night and make that connection so that it feels like a dinner party and not concert!”
A version of this interview appeared in The Guide supplement and The South Wales Argus website during February 2014.

Visit Martyn Joseph's Official Website for latest news on Martyn's projects.