Comedy Review   The Improvisers – Birmingham Hippodrome – May 14th 2005

Comedy Review

The Improvisers – Birmingham Hippodrome – May 14th 2005

The deadpan TV comedian Paul Merton returned to his live comedy roots when he joined the cast of The Improvisers for the opening night of their new tour at Birmingham Hippodrome.

The show, which heavily relies on audience participation also featured Stephen Frost, Richard Vranch, Andy Smart, Jim Sweeney and Suki Webster, many of whom are alumni of 90’s comedy show “Whose line is it anyway?”.

The show, without the safety net provided by the editing suite, was fast-moving, with many gags and one-liners.  The improvisational material ranged from Shakespeare to Film Noir, to horror. It included scenarios and scenes set in a dentist’s with no patients, to George Bush looking for the Brooklyn Bridge.

The second half of the show began with a series of scenes and vignettes drawn at random from suggestions made by the audience.  In a previous sketch, Suki Webster, the presentations sole female voice, had to guess her job, suggested by the audience.  She successfully guessed that her position in Aberystwyth involved putting marshmallow tips on the end of Golfing Umbrella’s which advertised Muffin the Mule.

 

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Comedy Review -Dara O’Briain – Birmingham Hippodrome – 21st May 2006

Dara O’Briain – Birmingham Hippodrome – 21st May 2006 4 out of 5 stars

A sell-out audience saw TV star and Stand Up comedian Dara O’Briain riffing on several familiar and more unusual topics when the Irish comedian played at Birmingham’s Hippodrome. A well-known comedy venue, alongside places such as the Glee Club, and Jongleurs, several high profile faces from the stand-up circuit have played at the site.

The targets of O’Briain’s ire were varied and wide-ranging. This tour was partially inspired by his recent appearance on BBC2’s Room 101, with targets such as Gillian ‘You are what you eat’ McKeith’s overwhelming passions of televisual cruelty and human waste, in addition to Magicians and daylight featuring particularly highly.

As well as being a stand-up, O’Briain is also a very good satirist, as his performances as the host of ‘Mock the Week’ on BBC2 and as a guest and host on ‘Have I got News for you’ will testify. So, with the recent misfortunes surrounding various celebrities, and our esteemed government and Prime Minister, he was mining a rich seam of comedy gold.

Much of his comedy was drawn from audience reactions and interactions, and he kept comparing the gig to other recent performances on tour, such as a gig in Salisbury, and Newport, which gave rise to an audience member being the 1968 Milky Bar kid, but having his voice dubbed, because ‘the world was not ready for a Milky Bar Kid with a Welsh accent’. The technology was also a target, with O’Briain’s allusion to the Moore Principle, and how mankind will never be able to keep up with modern technological advances.

A lot of comedy was also directed at the self-deprecating comedian. An audience member saying O’Briain was 42, rather than 34 led to a lengthy diatribe. The comedian claiming that he was always the unhealthy after picture for Honey We’re Killing the Kids, but questioning why the sick picture was still bald. Yet, in the healthy image, when the child’s lifestyle and health have been looked at, they miraculously are more hirsute than might have been expected.

O’Briain’s comedy was often on the darker side, but his charisma and charm meant that at no stage was he ever in danger of becoming a grumpy old man. In many ways, he seemed to welcome age, for the experience and wisdom that he gave, even going so far as to tell a story about his driving test, and how he felt more ready and able to take it now than he would have done in his youth.

The gig lasted for more than two hours and even saw two encores, one in which the comedian thanked everybody who had contributed, from those at the front, too the man who had helped from the front. A lengthy skit about national stereotyping was particularly good, with O’Briain showing how easily prejudices and stereotypes can become fixed. He had said that this type of show stands or falls by the audience that he gets, and their contributions. Luckily for him, and us, that Birmingham, as always, provided a good one.

 

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CD Review   Haven by Flook

CD Review – Haven by Flook – Flatfish Records – 5050693 119423

Flook, a traditional band of some international standing, have in Haven, their third release produced an album of beautifully understated instrumentals, both of their own composing, and traditional arrangements.

The core band of flute player and Accordionist Sarah Allen, guitarist Ed Boyd, champion Bodhran player John Joe Kelly and composer and flute and whistle player Brian Finnegan is augmented for this collection by bass player Ewen Vernal, 5 string banjo player Leon Hunt, harpist Catriona Mckay and Andy Davies on Hammond Organ who all help to add colour and nuance to the 9 pieces on the album.

The pieces vary from the upbeat starter ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ with its Bodhran beat introduction, to the slower ballad piece ‘Wrong Foot Forward’ where gentle flute and whistles dance around careful acoustic guitar arpeggios and a minimalist bodhran rhythm before the pace picks up.

‘Padraig’s’ could almost be fusion with its Hammond Organ part, whereas ‘Road to Errogie’ is a fast-paced reel that allows the energy of the band to come to the fore. Album closer ‘On One Beautiful day’ is a well-crafted whistle instrumental and serves as a fitting end to the album.

Flook is a touring band, and are at their best in that environment, but this album is the next best thing to seeing them live.

 

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CD Review – The Crescent Sun by Ellen Mary McGee

CD Review – The Crescent Sun by Ellen Mary McGee

7 out of 10

The Crescent Sun is an evocative collection of Folk songs from the singer and multi-instrumentalist Ellen Mary Mcgee.

She supports her light and pure vocal range with her own guitar, banjo, glockenspiel, drums and percussion backing with help from other musicians playing everything from cello to organ, piano and Ebow electric guitar.

There are several different sound-scapes here that range far from traditional folk music, such as the cello and percussion drenched ‘He is no Earthly Man’ to the pure vocal, guitar and banjo interpretation of ‘A watch of Nightingales’ which is only spoiled by the unpleasant sound of fingers dragging up and down the strings but is enlivened by the shimmering piano part.

There is much interplay here, with each song holding its own on the album. Songs such as ‘Theseus’ look to Greek myth, while ‘Upon Death and Dying’ has the same feel that its title envokes for the listener, with its droning backing and good percussion part and narrative drive to the lyrics.

‘Acolytes’ has a light summery feel, while ‘Teeth of the Hydra’ sounds like Portishead might if they employed Earl Scruggs for a session. There is much to like and admire in this collection, from the singing to the production, and shows a direction that Folk music might take in the future.

 

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CD Review – Skechbook by Echaskech

CD Review – Skechbook by Echaskech

‘Skechbook’ was the debut release by the dance collective Echaskech.

It mixed dance music grooves with intense soundtracks and beats in a way that was intelligent for the time, fusing healthy melodic ideas with a foot-tapping sensibility.

Exotic sounding vocals by several singers added to the mix, while rhythm guitars, bass and keyboards were mixed with electronic sound sources to achieve an organic, and integrated sound.

The spoken word introduction of ‘Unsynchronised Swimming’ add some humour to its retro 50’s like sound, while ‘Long time coming’ is a slower, more brooding piece that uses unusual sounds to create a more abstract feeling.

Opener ‘Cause and Effect’ is a suitable starting point for the album, with its slow synthesised opening, and ‘Multiples’ achieves a similar feel with a repetitive music background and a spoken word part that should not be played when the Vicar is around for tea.

‘Frequency Apogee’ sounds like the rebellious streak Chicane might have had before they sold albums by the truck-load, while ‘Pop-stars’ takes a look at people foisted upon the public by Simon Cowell.

Although the album is now a few years old, and Echaskech has released a new album since then, this is still a good piece of work that can stand repeated listening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CD Review   ‘Go’ by Daryl Stuermer

CD Review

‘Go’ by Daryl Stuermer

Inside Out Music – EAN – 93723 791 62

7 out of 10

Go, the latest album from session guitarist Daryl Stuermer is full of the type of guitar playing that allows such musicians as Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Jeff Beck to sell truckloads of albums.

Stuermer himself has featured on a lot of albums, being the lead guitarist for Phil Collins, live and in the studio, and also the touring guitar and bass player with Genesis, which is an impressive pedigree. Go is full of the difficult time signatures and sequences that made Genesis famous, but it also has much of the melodic richness that makes Collin’s solo work so successful.

Stuermer has written the 10 tracks on this album, with only two being less than four minutes long. The tracks range from the fusion of Striker, the eastern-influenced Masala Mantra, to the heartfelt ballad Dream in Blue, or to the hip hop soundscape of Urbanista.

The impressive and fluid guitar playing is to the fore-front of the tracks, but the playing of the band, which features such players as bassist Leland Sklar, keyboard player Kostia, and drummer John Calarco help to give the pieces a life, which would work well in the live arena.

Although the pieces are loosely fusion music, the rock is much more important than the jazz, with the pieces always remaining accessible, whilst also showing the influences of leading jazz/rock fusion violinist, Jean Luc Ponty, a previous employer of Stuermer’s.

The album may come as a surprise to many who have only heard Daryl on Collin’s albums, but for any fans of intelligent, polished electric guitar playing, this album is well worth investigation.

 

 

 

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CD Review – Come as you are by Mindi Abair

CD Review – Come as you are by Mindi Abair – 7 out of 10 – Universal Music – 602498 623312

The Alto Saxophonist and Singer, Mindi Abair fused melodic themes, and light bossa nova rhythms on her 2004 release, Come As You Are.

A Saxophonist in the same mould as Candy Dulfer and David Sanborn, the 11 tracks on this album seem written for the radio. With gentle singing on such love songs as ‘You’ll Never Know’ and ‘I Can remember’ the mood is gently romantic, while the official last track ‘Cyan’ is a soft ballad with a string section.

Other instrumentals, such as title track ‘Come as you are’ and ‘Head Over Heels’ have a light rock feel to them, and singable and minimalist themes. ‘New Shoes’ and ‘High Five’ mix proper Jazz themes with a playful beat.

Unfortunately, there is nothing on this album that really sets it apart from an already over-crowded field. Technically, the Saxophone tone is superb, but there is nothing on the record that really takes off. They seem written for a radio system that is always playing on the safe side. The playing of all musicians is still good, and there is a lot to commend the album, it is just that it is too close to pop to be correctly defined as Jazz, which the label on the sleeve suggests we do.

It is perhaps a telling sign that the most compelling musical argument for Mindi Abair as a composer and Saxophonist is reserved for the hidden track, ‘26 Hemenway’, which on many other albums would be released as a single.

 

 

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