Concert Review – The Grahams


The crowd that braved the worst excesses of the Beast from the East were rewarded by a set of lively Americana, fine harmony singing, strong song-craft and rootsy virtuoso guitar playing when the Grahams made their Lichfield debut at the Guildhall.

Playing songs from their recent album, Glory Bound, a story song cycle about trains and live on the road, the married couple of Doug and Allysa Graham were joined by a live drummer and bassist to give their songs more dynamic drive, whilst the fleet-fingered guitar solos and the sonic invention of the vocals throughout the set was the selling point for the couple who met in childhood and have been inseparable since.

The setlist was peppered with tales of their storied life on the road, and in New York, in an environment that is shaped by political decisions, which also shaped the song-writing and their choice of covers.

Throughout the set, they moved from genre to genre, from blues, to rock, roots, folk, heartland rock, all played with their hearts firmly on their sleeves. We had the gospel like the singalong chant of Revival Time, or the slow loping gait of Biscuits, the incendiary country boogie of Gambling Girl, or the title track from their latest release, Glory-Bound. We heard the folk lament of Blow Winds Blow, and Kansas City, all twangy guitar and some leading drums.

An elongated encore, of Neil Young’s By the River, was a showcase for the group’s almost telepathic musical intuition, moving through many moods, and shows why this duo of songwriters are held in such high esteem.

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Concert Review – Lichfield Cathedral Chorus – Dvorak’s Stabat Mater


Lichfield Cathedral was filled with talented local musicians, when Lichfield Cathedral Chorus, four classical singers, and The Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra convened to perform Antonin Dvorak’s Stabat Mater.

The music of the ten movement piece was inspired by the loss of Dvorak’s daughter, with the text probably taken from the work of the 13th century writer Bonaventura Fidanza, which was a work of 20 Latin triplets on the agony faced by Mary at the crucifixion.

The massed voices of the Cathedral Chorus and the playing of the Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra added majesty to the four voices of Gillian Rae-Walker, Hanna-Liisa Kirchin, Edward Rimmer and Philip Lancaster, whilst everything was under the steady hand off conductor Benjamin Lamb.

Although the music was packed full of pathos and sadness, there were also moments of transcendent beauty, particularly during the opening part, or part four, which was a solo for bass and chorus, whilst the closing three pieces built to a powerfully uplifting final

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Concert Review – Leveret and Spiro

Seven of the best-known musicians on the British live instrumental/folk music circuit convened to play at Lichfield Guildhall as part of their Eccentric Orbits tour when Leveret and Spiro performed on Saturday, March 10th

Taking in elements of folk, minimalism, collective improvisation, and chamber music making the two groups played short sets, before an encore that saw all seven players on the one stage.

Kicking off the evening was Leveret, who consist of Andy Cutting on Melodeon, Sam Sweeney on Violin and Rob Habron on English Concertina, the unusual instrumental combination led to a number of unexpected musical avenues. The pieces were detailed, with melody lines spilling over each other, from the opening of Glorious Sun to the minimalism of Rain on the Woodpile, or the folk strains of The Road to Poynton and Robber’s Road showing the full range of the trio’s music making capabilities.

With violinist and composer, Jane Harbour, mandolinist Alex Vann, guitarist Jon Hunt and accordionist Jason Sparkes the music of Spiro offered a more rhythmic variety of music. Taking in folk strains, the music of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Simon Jeffes, there was a variety of tone and texture in the ensembles sound. From the opening of The Darkening Plains to the more focussed Yellow Noise, simple refrains for violin overlapped with complicated accompaniments, with the mandolin and accordion providing much of the musical heavy lifting. The highlight of their set though was Welcome Joy and Welcome Sorrow, a serene setting of complicated time signatures, providing support for some fine playing from all four bands.

Leveret and Spiro joined together for the encore of The Scarlet and The Green, a fine fitting to an evening that showcased the work of these two talented ensembles.

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Concert Review – The Climax Blues Band

Concert Review – The Climax Blues Band

A near-capacity Easter Sunday crowd saw one of the sharpest and longest-serving blues bands on the national circuit when the Climax Blues Band performed at Lichfield Guildhall as part of their Fiftieth-anniversary tour.

The six-piece band of lead singer Graham Dee, saxophonist Chris ‘Beebe’ Aldridge, guitarist Lester Hunt, Keyboard player George Glover, and the hard-working rhythm section of bassist Neil Simpson and drummer Roy Adams packed a lot of style, nuance and musical sophistication into a set that took in everything from the blues, jazz, rock, funk and some classic cover songs by Willie Dixon.

They also had some new songs and arrangements which were well received by the audience. They started off with Willie Dixon’s Seventh Son, before a rock back-beat led the charge through Muddy Waters’ Louisianna Blues, with some sharp riffing from Lester Hunt, whilst the high energy level was maintained during the original Fool for the Lights. Chasing Change was a light funk workout whilst a new song, Seventeenth Street Canal showed the band were capable of tackling slower, more melodic songs.

The second half was started with another reworked Willie Dixon song, Spoonful, a full band arrangement replacing the more skeletal and minimalism of the original, whilst the minor chord blues of Last Chance Saloon allowed Graham Dee to show the full emotive range of his vocal and some fine playing on guitar and saxophone.

Ain’t That a Kick in the Head was a funk workout for all of the players, whilst Hard Luck was another slow blues, and another new song Wrong Man, Wrong Time, Wrong Place had only its second live outing, but more than deserved its place in the set-list. A gospel Hammond organ part introduced the group’s biggest hit, Couldn’t get it Right, which saw many in the audience take to the dancefloor.

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Concert Review – Miranda Sykes

Concert Review – Miranda Sykes

The acclaimed singer and multi-instrumental Miranda Sykes cast a musical spell over an attentive audience when she appeared at Lichfield Guildhall as part of her Borrowed Places tour.

Best known as one-third of Show of Hands with Phil Beer and Steve Knightley, over the years she has carved out a niche for herself, as a first call bassist and singer, and this tour showcased her songwriting with Borrowed Places being inspired by her childhood in Lincolnshire.

Playing bass, guitar and ukulele, Miranda Sykes best sonic gift was her soaring vocal prowess, which was showcased in a number of acapella numbers. As well as her own songs, she also covered songs from writers such as Julie Matthews, Steve Knightley and Nancy Griffiths.

Although the set concentrated mainly on folk music and songs, there was also time for some fine jazz double bass playing, and a number of pieces that featured bowed double bass, and fleet-fingered guitar playing.

Songs played during the first half included Isabella Gunn, and the bass-driven The Lily and the Rose, whilst a show-stealing acapella I am Going To The West was delivered with a high level of assurance, whilst the Ukulele accompaniment to Forgotten Harvest showed both drive and a lot of musical dexterity.

Julie Matthews Are We Human? was a protest song with a lot of pointed questions, whilst the sing-along The Big Wheel and Don’t be a Stranger by Steve Knightley were both story songs that packed a punch. An encore of Time of Inconvenience by Nancy Griffiths was a political song with a strong bass propulsion, which showed Miranda Sykes talents to good effect.

Ben Macnair

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Book Review – Man Up – How Do Boys Become Better Men? by Rebecca Asher

In these times of #Metoo, high profile scandals involving a lot of people in the public eye, and more noted levels of toxic masculinity, Man Up by Rebecca Asher is a timely, well researched study into the issue of where traditional male behaviour fits in the world.

The book looks at the issue that are facing the ideal and concept of what makes masculinity. So the books studies the main stage of life, from schools, the teenage years and adolescence, to masculinity in the work-place, father-hood, friendships between men at all stages in life, and the traditional male bonding activities, and how they shift and change in time.

Using a lot scientific studies to back up her findings, Rebecca Asher puts forward a number of theories and ideas, about what masculinity is, and how it has changed in the inter-net era. As a deputy editor on Woman’s Hour,  she will be aware that many of these issues are becoming more prevalent, with the easier spreading of new stories, and right-wing and left wing publications and political bodies taking opposing sides on the issue.

However, the book is not about what is happening now, it is about changing how things might be in the future, and how do boys find their ways to being good men, so how we treat Boys and Girls at school is something of an issue, with boys falling behind in academic circles, whilst their behaviour can lead exclusion and expulsion, or their prospects in the job market as a result of this.

The book is not really a call to arms, as the studies used only look at how things have been, rather than looking at how they could be, but the book is an interesting and informative read with plenty to say, for both genders, about the challenges that face the human-race as a whole.

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Book Review – The Fat Artist and Other Stories by Benjamin Hale

Book Review

The Fat Artist and Other Stories by Benjamin Hale

Picador Books

7 out of 10

The stories found in The Fat Artist are not for the squeamish, they are not for the delicate of stomach or sensibility, they are not for the easily offended, or people with a fixed opinion of beauty, humanity or decency. They are however, stories for people who like things that are out of the ordinary, things that are outside the narrow confines of modern taste.

Over the seven stories in the book, we are introduced to a number of different characters, from the slightly strange to the desperate, people looking for a way out of jobs, relationships, maybe life even.

The title story looks at the plight of Tristan Hurt, an artist who becomes his own nightmare installation. Gorging himself on dangerously high levels of food, he becomes the heaviest man who ever lived. His naked body, becoming bigger and bigger with every day, every viewer bringing him food to eat, he lives in the room, his every need taken care of by staff and technology. As the novelty of his installation wears off, so do the audience, until he has gained a certain amount of notoriety, of fame even the most toxic type cannot fill the void in his life.

In Don’t Worry Baby, Miles and Odelia are a couple with a young child on the run, and their new lives come to an abrupt during an eventful holiday, and the plane ride that takes them far away from the town and the life that they once knew.

In If I had Possession Over Judgement Day Caleb struggles to hold down two jobs, one involving the transport and care of live squid, and when a different, easier type of life beckons, he takes the easier way out, which leads, unsurprisingly to catastrophic results.

The writing in this collection is of a uniformly high standard, touching on the types of characters that populate the work of Bukowski. Benjamin Hale cares about both his readers, and the characters in his book, and he is a definite talent to watch out for.

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