CD Review – Dani Wilde – Shine – Ruf Records

CD Review – Dani Wilde – Shine – Ruf Records

8 out of 10

The young prodigy Dani Wilde has returned to the studio to record her newest album Shine.

A vastly matured vocal performance is at the centre of the album, along with some impressive guitar work, with 11 strong vocal performances and nine self-written songs, the album has clearly been a labour of love.  The two covers are a wholly convincing version of The Rolling Stones’s ‘Miss you’ and ‘Where Blue Begins’ written by Dana Gillespie, and the fact that Wilde’s songs sit well alongside such august company is a testament to her abilities in the recording studio.

The instrumental performances are all of a high standard, with Will Wilde showing his worth and potential on Harmonica alongside his sister. At the same time, Laura Chavez, known for her work with Candye Kane, adds her real lead guitar talents to some of the songs.

There are obvious influences on the album, ranging from Janis Joplin and Susan Tedeschi on the playfully funky ‘Red Blooded Woman’ and ‘Some Kinda crazy’. The opening title track is a prime example of blues pop, while the closing solo performance ‘Big Brown Eyes’ finishes the album with a well-placed sigh, rather than the roar that less assured musicians would have used.

Veteran record producer Mike Vernon has helmed the project, adding his experience to an album that will be a marker in Dani Wilde’s career for a long time to come.


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John Martyn Concert Review   Solid Air Tour – Birmingham Symphony Hall – January 25th 2007

John Martyn Concert Review

Solid Air Tour – Birmingham Symphony Hall – January 25th 2007

The 1970’s era of the art of the sensitive singer-songwriter was to life when John Martyn, one of the prime movers in the scene played his classic 1973 album ‘Solid Air’ for the audience at Birmingham Symphony Hall.

Support for the evening came from songwriter and guitarist John Smith. He possesses a common name, but a rare talent. In a set that included both his own songs and covers, his bluesy drawl of a voice, and deft playing won the audience round. Highlights of his set included the upbeat ‘Matchbox Man’ and the forlorn love song ‘So-so’ while the set finished with the melodic, but incredibly demanding ‘Winter’ which threatened to steal the show.

Now confined to a wheelchair, John Martyn started his set with a newer song, before dedicating ‘Glorious Fool’ to George W.Bush. The band was really hitting their stride by the time they played ‘Couldn’t love you more’ with its trademark jazz-pop style, and the gruff melodicism of Martyn’s voice, which is as fluid as his remarkable guitar playing.

The singer-songwriter was accompanied by session stalwart Spencer Cozens on keyboards, as well as a rhythm section of drums and bass and much of the soloing was handled by Tenor Saxophone.

Although it is now nearly 34 years old, ‘Solid Air’ is one of those timeless albums, that just seems to get better. It’s a forward-looking blend of jazz, blues, folk with ambient and electronic effects meant that it was groundbreaking when it was first released.  Many of the songs have been recorded in different ways down the years, with these performance seeking to emulate both the vitality of the original release while still retaining the ideas from later treatments.

Songs such as ‘Solid Air’ were more jazz-like and ethereal with the keyboards and saxophone helping to provide many of the effects, spaces and timbres. While ‘May you Never’ probably one of the most heartfelt prayers to platonic camaraderie written started off as an acoustic folk ballad, and then became almost country, before becoming pure folk-rock at the close of play.

‘Over the Hill’ and ‘The Easy Blues’ gave John Martyn the chance to show that his playing his lost none of its vitality, while the reprise at the end of the second song allowed for extended blues paying from the whole ensemble.

‘I’d rather be the Devil’ and ‘Dreams by the Sea’ used the echoplex sound that John Martyn has made his own, while ‘The Man in the Station’ and ‘Don’t want to know’ where the purely written ballads they were in 1973. ‘Solid Air’ is a classic album, that deserves a place in every record collection, and this gig showed just why that remains the case today.


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G3 – 26th June 2004 – National Indoor Arena

G3 – June 26th 2004 – National Indoor Arena

Three of the world’s most influential electric guitarists hit the stage and bought the house down when they played at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena on Saturday, June 26th.

Robert Fripp, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai have all played an essential part in shaping the outer limits of Electric Guitar in their long and illustrious careers. The three-hour show started with ex-King Crimson and solo guitarist Robert Fripp. He played an uninterrupted 30-minute improvisation using multiple digital delays and guitar synthesis. The music was often inventive and beautiful, but after 5 minutes, the audience began to grow bored. This was not surprising, as the audience had come to hear the undisputed kings of instrumental rock guitar, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.

In their wake, the world often saw albums by hotshot guitarists hoping to be the new fastest, newest kid on the block. However, Satriani and Vai have avoided this trap, never letting technique get in the way of a good tune.

Steve Vai bounded on to the stage, with a three-necked guitar, which was utterly rock and roll, if not a bit too Spinal Tap. He made crazy noises with the guitar as if his life depended on it. His multi-talented band bought the muscle and musical sophistication that Vai’s complex arrangements needed.

The highlights of their set were the ensemble pieces ‘Answers’ the three-piece boogie shuffle ‘Juice’ and the melodic ‘Boston Rain Melody’. He finished the game with the touching and emotional ‘For the Love of God’

Steve Vai’s long term friend and ex-teacher Joe Satriani opened up the second set with a master class in visceral, emotional and joyful electric guitar playing. Only two years short of 50, Satriani has maintained a zest for his art and was the evenings most interesting performer. He played a selection of music from his latest album, as well as more music from his nine albums, twenty-year career, started when he turned the world of electric playing upside down with his album ‘Surfing with the Alien’.

New material such as ‘Gnahh’, ‘Up in Flames’, ‘Is there love, in space?’ and the one vocal song ‘I Like the Rain’ was mixed with older songs such as ‘Always with Me, Always with You’, ‘War’, and his signature tune ‘Satch Boogie’.

The audience was enthusiastic from the start and loudly applauded each and every track. The three guitarists played together at the end, with renditions of Satriani’s ‘Ice Nine’ King Crimson’s ‘Red’, Steve Vai’s ‘Murder’ and the old Neil Young musical warhorse ‘Rocking in the free world’.

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Concert Review   Crowded House – Birmingham NEC – 3rd December 2007

Concert Review

Crowded House – Birmingham NEC – 3rd December 2007 

Purveyors of some of the most mathematically perfect post Beatles pop Crowded House played a packed set of new songs and old favourites when their ‘Time on Earth’ tour called into the country’s second city.

Support group Duke Special played a set of their gently keening Americana to a receptive audience. The minimalist line up of a keyboard, bass, drums and woodwind played several songs with ‘Scarlett’, ‘No cover-up’, ‘Freewheel’ and ‘Last Night I Nearly Died, but I woke up just in time’ proving the highlights, with some of the power and emotional resilience usually associated with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Crowded House, also had a minimalist set up, but each member played a number of instruments. They started off with ‘There Goes God’, and continued with the soaring harmony song ‘Mean to Me’.

This was the groups first tour in 13 years, and they had several new songs to promote. These included such pieces as ‘Don’t stop now’ a harmony song that almost sounded elegiac, the ballad ‘Heaven that I’m making’ and the love song ‘Walked her way down’.

Although the new songs were warmly received, the loudest cheers were chosen for the groups biggest hits. Songs such as ‘Distant Sun’ and ‘It’s Only Natural’ were performed much like their recorded counterparts. Other songs, such as ‘Don’t Dream it’s over’, ‘Pineapple Head’ and their biggest hits ‘Four Seasons in one day’ were radically changed. They had new codas added, or solos that showcased the exemplary musicianship that the band showed throughout the gig.

Much of the instrumental virtuosity was handled by Marc Hart, who played keyboard, melodica, harmonica, and added chiming Byrd’s like 12 string guitar to the songs, while lead singer, songwriter and frontman Neil Finn provided many a good pop guitar lead, and some deft keyboard playing, particularly during an unrehearsed, but well played ‘Rocky Racoon’.

The dynamic backline of bassist Nick Seymour and new drummer Matt Sherrod added light and shade to the songs, whose gleaming pop exteriors often hid a melancholy lyric, much like a lot of the Smith’s recorded output, indeed, Johnny Marr the Smith’s guitarist contributed to the recording of Time on Earth.

A three-song encore saw new energy within the performance, with ‘Something so Strong’ and ‘Locked out’ lighting up the audience. At the same time, the group’s ‘Weather with you’ was given a communal singalong treatment by the audience and the band.

Neil Finn said the group was going back into the studio to record some new songs. On the strength of their new material, and the band’s love of live performance it should be worth the wait.

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Comedy Review   Sean Hughes – Birmingham Alexandra Theatre – 15th October 2007

The Irish novelist, actor, and Perrier award winner (at 24) Sean Hughes returned to the forum that initially made his name with his latest tour ‘The right side of wrong’.

Now known as a face from TV (he played Love Rat Pat in Coronation Street) he now occupies that space where people ‘don’t know if they know me from the telly, or from 4 houses down’.   

He joked and said he was only on tour because the neighbour’s kid has just started learning the trombone. He is now 41, and much of the content of the show focussed on the process of ageing, of growing up and accepting change. His comedy is more up to date than some performers, bearing in mind the long gap between tours, and refers to texting, the Internet, and also allows for audience participation, involving conversations with the audience on the first row.

His comedy covered darker subjects but told in a friendly, non-confrontational way. He questioned the media, and their seemingly unending interest in Paris Hilton while letting more critical, and more important stories go. In a world where people often toe the line, it is good to see that the tradition of telling uncomfortable truths in comedy started by Lenny Bruce, and continued by Bill Hicks, is still being explored by such modern comedians as Sean Hughes and Mark Thomas.


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Book Review – Treats by Lara Williams

Throughout 21 short stories, Lara Williams introduces us to many different characters, all at moments of crisis, or in the developments of emergency, or whole lives are revealed in the space of a few pages.
We have the post-university come-down, of no jobs, or unrewarding jobs, of partners who are never what you hoped that they might be, of taxidermy, of sly humour, of the blackness of the human heart.
With an eye on both surprise, and comfort, on the familiar, and the unknown Williams sets out to expose 21st-century life, morals, ethics and mores in a way that is both realistic, and startling. We see in It Begins the post-university job interviews, that lead to jobs, and the people you meet along the way, the broken relationships, knowing that you are worth more than a terrible first date.
In A Lover’s Guide to Meeting Shy Girls or Break Up Record we meet heart-breaker in chief Devon, and his girlfriend Emily, and their break-up while watching Annie Hall, or in Both Boys, were two a girl meets two boys on the same night and the story that unfolds for all three of them.
It’s a Shame About Ray covers the life of Ray and the decisions that he makes, and in avoiding becoming the very thing that he hates, he becomes something else entirely. Dates look at all of the rituals that we go through when first dating someone new, the questions to avoid, and the questions to avoid answering.
Taxidermy is the story of Neala, who in less than three years loses her boyfriend, her job, and her hair, and finds solace in stuffed animals, while Penguins looks at how the older we get, our friends seem to get busier and busier.
At 125 pages we are only shown a small snapshot of the interior lives of these characters. Some of the tales are sketches rather than full-blown stories, but they all add up to something special within the pages of this unique collection of short stories.

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Comedy Review   Jason Manford – Birmingham Town Hall – October 6th 2008

Jason Manford, star of  8 out of 10 Cats, and Tonightly bases his comedy persona more on the witty friend out for a pint than on Bill Hicks. This works in his favour, as his amenable and amiable comedy suits the persona, but it also means that it lacks any edge.

Sluggish ticket sales for the Monday night show meant that there was a plentiful supply of empty seats, which did not affect the comic’s professionalism.  Joking that he was going to leave it for a few minutes, saying hello, and talking about last night’s TV, like everyone does in offices, his show was well done, but it never really took flight. There were words in plentiful supply, and some of the tangents he went of on took banal topics into new areas.

He also included members of the audience in his act, saying that he failed his driving test 6 times before Ken in the audience bested him with 7, but much of the material seemed old. Material included Brokeback Mountain and Gillian McKeith’s career choice, references that are now old hat.

A long main set was followed by ad-hoc questions and answer session, where he spoke of his comedy influences, and working alongside the new stars of comedy, as well as Bernard Manning.

So while comics like Frankie Boyle may go out of their way to offend, or some others stick to Political Material for new gags his comedy will never really be out of favour, as there is always room around the table for your witty mate down at the pub.




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