This blog is now very much retired. It has been for quite some time really.
It’ll remain here as a portfolio of my reviews.
You can find more recent writing of mine around the web at the following sites:\
My Guardian article about my writing life is here: http://careers.guardian.co.uk/journalism-work-experience-twitter
I wasn’t going to write about Ghost the Musical. I was embracing the idea of going to see a performance where I didn’t need to make notes throughout. Yet I’ve changed my mind. Ghost the Musical deserves to be written about.
Having only found out I was going to the World Premier five hours before the curtain lifted it’s fair to say my excitement levels were pretty high. I’d seen the preview at the Royal Exchange Theatre last year and interviewed some of the cast and crew so had big expectations.
From the haunting opener ‘Here Right Now’ I relaxed into my seat safe in the knowledge that these were being met. Caissie Levy takes to the role of Molly effortlessly with her vocals offering shivers to the spines of the audience. She’s joined by Richard Fleeshman as Sam and Andrew Langtree as Carl who are both more than capable of pulling off their roles.
Aside from the vocal performances, what really make Ghost the Musical stand out are the special effects and illusions. Although Sam walking through a door appeared a bit underwhelming at first, the techies sorted that out and it genuinely was quite the spectacle.
Perhaps it was Bruce Joel Rubin’s continued involvement that has meant the musical maintains the high standards the film did. With Matthew Warchus ably directing and music and lyrics from the musical geniuses that are Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, the finished product seemed incredibly refined for the first performance.
Sharon D Clarke’s performance as Oda Mae adds real moments of comedy to the show. When she and the ensemble took to the stage for ‘I’m Outta Here’ smiles filled the room with her overall character perfectly tuned to the role.
Of course, the musical has been modernised a bit. I highly doubt Demi and Patrick would’ve been taking photos of themselves on a digital camera and Oda Mae’s most recent account of fraud was in 2004, but with technology being the reason the performance has come to life, it’s only fitting the scenes have been brought to the present day.
So yes, I wasn’t planning on writing anything about Ghost the Musical. In all fairness, I wasn’t planning on watching it until its West End run, but I simply can’t praise it enough. For the World Premiere, I was stunned everything ran seamlessly.
Buy tickets here.
Seeing an artist you like once is pretty impressive. Seeing them three times in a year is something special.
Amy Macdonald is an underrated singer in this country. Mention her name in Switzerland and there’s a frenzy – she plays huge outdoor festivals and accompanies symphony orchestras in Germany. So why is it that she can’t fill an average sized theatre in Manchester?
Her avoidance of the media probably is key to this. As she opened her eighteen strong set with An Ordinary Life she makes it clear that she never wanted fame. “I don’t care about the camera; I don’t care about the lights”. Her voice is quick to fill the room, its strength capable of holding any note.
Poison Prince was next in the firing line. Similar subjects are approached once again; with this Pete Doherty inspired number featuring some enthusiastic tambourine playing from a new addition to the band: Owen.
First album favourites LA and Youth of Today are normally greeted with tame, appreciative crowds yet tonight one drunken heckler decided to offer a passionate interpretation of the latter. He stood up from the seated audience and enthused “We are the youth of today” with his shirt half open and beer in hand. It’s not a scene that’s often associated with the Scottish songwriter’s fan base but he was clearly enjoying it nonetheless.
Love Love and Mr Rock and Roll got the entirety of the crowd on their feet before Amy introduced a song that she admitted she’d shied away from of late. Before the opening chords of Footballers Wife, Amy made it clear that she was not oblivious to the irony but was a bit fed up of being asked the same questions about the topic. She stated that she is not a WAG as she buys her own clothes and owns her own house and when you consider the football team her fiancé plays for you can truly establish the fact that Amy is anything but a WAG.
An onslaught of songs from A Curious Thing followed. All were performed to Amy’s usual high standards with anecdotal stories being told between them in typical Amy fashion. She spoke of performing This Pretty Face on Switzerland’s most popular TV show which just so happened to be a ‘Next Top Model’ style contest hence the permanent smile fixed on her face during the performance. Similarly she entertained the crowd with the story of her mother’s suggestions for an album title – apparently “2010” was her mum’s favourite which Amy dismissed calling it unoriginal only for Prince to later release an album of the same name.
Reverting back to her first album’s hits, Amy finished the first part of her set with Run and This Is the Life before disappearing from the stage. The crowd clapped her back on for her encore in which she pulled out her cover of Born To Run as a solo performance before her band joined her for What Happiness Means To Me. Being the keen fan that I am, I was surprised when Amy left the stage to applause without finishing with Lets Start a Band. It was clear that I wasn’t alone in thinking this so we cheered once more and before we knew it the band had returned once more to finish the set in the way that leaves audiences still wanting more.
Whilst I wasn’t sold on the two encores (surely making one three song encore would have been just as adequate?) I still find it hard to fault Amy as a live performer. Her voice was as strong as ever and with her longest tour ahead of her (tonight was the first night of the Love Love Tour) I expect that it will maintain its strength.
So whilst she may not have crafted herself into the most mainstream artist, she will always have an audience who are eager to listen to what she has to offer. And maybe one day Britain will appreciate her in the same way that our continental cousins do.
An Ordinary Life
Youth Of Today
Mr Rock n Roll
This Pretty Face
Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over
Give It All Up
Next Big Thing
This is the Life
Born to Run
What Happiness Means to Me
Lets Start a Band
The ‘Love Love’ Tour
O2 Manchester Apollo
First things first, I had been very excited about this gig for some time and as such, I could have a slightly biased view of it. But all you really need to know is that both artists were amazing. If you still need to know more then here are some more words to describe it…
With both Nozuka and Radin having toured with Missy Higgins before, my excitement for the concert was already heightened. Throw in the fact that I’ve previously seen Radin live at the Hard Rock Café and knew of his incredible musical talents and you get a picture of the energy that was buzzing through me before I even left my flat.
Nozuka took to the stage for his half an hour set opening with Carried Away. His vocals were much stronger than is evident on his album and I was immediately impressed. As he continued with a mix of songs from Holly and You I Wind Land Sea I couldn’t help but find myself entranced by him. Whilst his conversation with the crowd wasn’t a patch on what Radin was about to offer, his songs were performed so well that what was said between them didn’t matter.
Be Back Soon, Golden Train and Mr Therapy Man all had the Nozuka fans in the audience singing along whilst the tracks from his newer release seemed to be slower burners. Unbroken Man brought the tempo down in the same way that his final song, Heartless, did. All in all it was a very impressive eight song set from the young Canadian.
Be Back Soon
Mr Therapy Man
From the moment he casually strolled onto the stage, to the moment he departed through the crowd, Joshua Radin had the audience in the palm of his hand. If there’s anything that this guy doesn’t know about how to woo a crowd then it’s not worth knowing. Marriage proposals were aplenty from the females, with one ambitious guy offering his own scream of “Marry me Joshua” only for a polite refusal from the man with the guitar.
Why haven’t I mentioned his music yet? I hear you ask, or think rhetorically as the case may be. Well it’s quite simply because Radin is the epitome of an artist who (wait for it…) has a lot more than the music to offer. He crafts a relationship with the audience, be that with his questions as to the name of that guy who does a Sunday morning show on Radio 2 (“I think he’s a Sir or something, I should know his name”) or through his endless ramblings about Australia after he thought he’d heard someone say they were from there.
Vocally his talents were obvious to all – he even walked away from his microphone at the end of No Envy, No Fear, filling the room with his unadulterated voice. Each song tells its own story but Radin was always on hand to offer more insight into his mindset at the time of writing. Many of the night’s highlights were songs from his forthcoming album, The Rock and the Tide, with the title track being about the first time he had a crush. He admits that his previous two albums were written about break ups so it was different for him to venture into new territories with this third offering.
A new sound has come about with the latest songs to. Radin put aside his acoustic guitar in favour of an electric for several tracks including a personal favourite of mine, The Ones with The Light, which had the crowd parted in two to sing (or scream as it turned out) a different line in the chorus.
After telling the crowd about how people often go on dates to his concerts, Radin joked about couples arguing and finding new partners in the room, before clarifying that the song he was about to play, Today, was not about polygamy.
After a bout of rock numbers from his third album he returned to the fan favourite with his biggest UK hit I’d Rather Be With You getting the most enthusiastic reception from the crowd before his whisper rock style kept us enthralled in Winter.
As we cheered for an encore, the sound of acoustic guitars could be heard behind us so we raced to the back of the room to find Radin and his two guitarists had made their way to the middle of the venue and performed one last track for us all in his typical unplugged fashion.
Overall, I am still struggling to sum up the evening in comprehendible sentences. Radin is a sublime performer and I cannot recommend him highly enough.
No Envy, No Fear
Everything’ll Be Alright
Think I’ll Go Inside
The Rock and The Tide
Brand New Day
One of Those Days
The Ones with The Light
We Are Only Getting Better
Here We Go
Nowhere To Go
You Got What I Need
I’d Rather Be With You
I didn’t catch the name of the encore
Joshua Radin and Justin Nozuka
Manchester Academy 1
As he prepares to embark on his US college tour, Anthony Snape is releasing a new single – Say So.
Who is Anthony Snape? Well, if you’re asking that then you clearly aren’t a long time reader of my blog. He is the artist behind two of my favourite albums: Disappearing Day and Acoustic Sunday. He also happens to be a rather lovely guy whose career I’ve been following since the days when Myspace ruled the world. Oh, and he’s Australian.
Currently abiding in Nashville, this new single shows a different side to Snape’s vocals. It’s more rock/pop than some of his previous releases with the electric guitar appearing to replace the acoustic guitar notes that I adored on Acoustic Sunday. A change in direction can be good though and Say So has certainly impressed me.
It’s one of those songs that is catchy without being grating. Yes, the chorus is repetitive – someone is clearly saying something – but it makes for enjoyable listening. And as for his use of metaphors? ‘Tear at my heart with a lie, with your fingernails of ice’. Fingernails of ice? I love this.
So whilst his ‘sound’ might be evolving into something new, his lyrics remain as strong as ever. And it’s because of his songwriting that I’ve always admired Snape’s music. He’s definitely worth a look into!
For tour dates and more information check out www.anthonysnape.com
Say So is released today (September 1st) on both UK and US iTunes
For my second installment of ‘New Australian Music Alert’, please allow me to introduce you to Maddy Hay. Hailing from Melbourne, this jazz singing lady has a pretty spectacular voice which is used to sooth the listener.
She wrote the above song, Smoke In The City, aged sixteen and at boarding school – which reminds me a lot of how Missy Higgins started out. In fact, there’s another parallel between the two in the fact that their early works both did well in competitions. Whilst Missy’s All For Believing won her Triple J Unearthed, Maddy’s song reached the final three of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest which she has described as being an “absolute thrill”. Bless her.
I could continue this essay about the similarities between the two (they both went travelling before launching music careers in Aus), I must point out that they are musically different. The jazz roots of Maddy give her an edgier sound that I can only imagine would be a treat to hear live.
So there you go, that was a short introduction to Maddy Hay. Find out more at www.maddyhay.com
With a back catalogue including songs that have been used all over US TV including E4 favourites One Tree Hill and Smallville along with a previous release being the theme tune to the Sci Fi series The 4400, Amanda Abizaid remains an unknown name here in the UK. I think she deserves to have a bigger fan base over here, especially with the upcoming release of This Life.
Abizaid has a soft voice; the vocals that almost sound as though they come with built in echoes. Of course, effects have been used to enhance this voice but the natural talent is evident from the very first track on this eight song album. Blue Star Red Sky has been mixed to create a sense of a lot going on behind the vocals. Whilst this isn’t something I’m desperately fond of – I’m all for the voice, deservedly, being the centrepiece – it works in this track.
Undivided is more favourable for me because of the husky vocals and the use of the flute. Yes, that’s right – the instrument I once gained passes up to Grade 2 in is being used in this record. Anyway, that’s enough of my musical history, the lyrics tell their own intriguing story here which always scores brownie points in my book..
Both Believe It and This Life show the stronger side to Abizaid’s vocals. Without too many competing sounds, her voice sounds much more powerful and is generally more pleasant. And the latter has a lovely chorus that you can’t help but sing-along to – much to the despair of those around me as I belt it out at a far less impressive standard.
It’s the last track, My Friend, which I particularly enjoyed for its slow tempo and solemn tones. The verses gradually build up to the chorus, singing of poison being turned into medicine – oh, how I love a good metaphor!
Overall, it’s a short, but sweet, album from the Lebanon born singer songwriter. I’d have liked a few more tracks with some simple vocals that weren’t being hidden by effects, but I can’t really complain.
This Life is released on 15th September
If you weren’t already aware of my love for The Boy Who Trapped The Sun then you clearly haven’t been following me on twitter or read this review of a live performance of his. In fact, I’ve seen him twice now. And loved him both times.
Scottish born Colin MacLeod has just released his debut album Fireplace and as much as I’d like to keep this amazing album to myself so he keeps playing small shows, he’s too good for me not to share.
I know I should do the orderly thing and begin with the first track and work my way through nicely, but I can’t. Because this album is home to one of my favourite songs ever – may I (re)introduce you to Dreaming Like A Fool. A song about sleeping next to someone who is planning on killing you, the metaphors are pretty full on – “You could never be an actress/I know the knife’s under the mattress”. The song is catchy. But not repetitive. It’s deep. Without being depressing. In other words, it’s perfectly balanced and I urge you all to give it a listen (or even a legal download!)
Now, back to the beginning. Golden opens the album with the sound of a seashore immediately relaxing you and preparing you for MacLeod’s vocals. His soft voice works so well with the guitar that you just want to hug him. Soothing vocals are also found in Katy – the first single from the album. Whilst it’s more upbeat with it’s quicker tempo, it still has the heartfelt lyrics that define the album.
Title track Fireplace, the slightly haunting I See You and an old favourite of mine Home all show MacLeod’s Scottish accent being given a starring role. The latter also houses a great bass line that I adore. He doesn’t disappoint in Thorn In Your Side or Walking In The Dark either. He doesn’t disappoint anywhere on this album. It’s a rarity that I love every track on an album, but I genuinely do. If anything I’d say his hidden track Poem is his weakest but that’s solely due to it being a poem – an art form I often struggle to appreciate. But if you like poetry then I’m sure you’ll love it.
Telescope has a strong opening guitar line that leads into those familiar soft vocals. And Copper Down is stunning. Oh, and I can’t fault Antique Cobweb either.
To put it simply: I love this album. I love Dreaming Like A Fool to the extreme. But this album is definitely worth a buy. And if you get the chance to see The Boy Who Trapped The Sun live (he’s playing at V this month) then you must go and see him.
If I’m honest… I love it already.