Live Review: Lucy Ward Band in Matlock Bath, 25/04/14

Venue: The Grand Pavilion, Matlock Bath
Date: 25/04/14

Matlock Bath is hiding something very special. To pass by you could be forgiven for thinking the once Grand Pavilion building had just been forgotten and like so many great buildings of it’s era, deteriorating and closed to the public.

Restoration is underway and this fallen beauty is opening it’s doors to quality events hosted by a team of wonderfully organised and passionate volunteers.

Lucy Ward’s final, homecoming tour date with her newly formed band was a brilliant event not just for her loyal and enthusiastic fan base, but for the promotion of the Pavilion as a great venue.

Consisting of some of the folk world’s finest musicians; Belinda O’Hooley, Heidi Tidow, Joy Gravestock, Sam Pegg and Steve MacLachlan the Lucy Ward Band impressed even before they had played a single note.

Having already set out her stall with her debut album Adelphi Has To Fly as a strong musician and writer, the award-winning singer felt the time had come to explore a new kind of sound with a full band.

As she entered the stage to cheers, the audience were in high spirits as she launched into her unmistakable and characteristic chat and a cheerful “Ey up”.

Playing songs from her current album Single Flame, her set featured a mixture of old and new with live arrangements composed especially for the band’s tour. The powerful I Cannot Say I Will Not Speak, was a potent start to the set, with the likes of The Last Pirouette the sad tale of a prima ballerina at the end of her career and the sensitive, heartfelt Icarus. Of course, the emotion is all in Lucy’s beautiful, soaring and strong voice.

Going back to her folk debut, which saw her secure BBC Radio 2 Folk Horizon Award, the band treated the audience to renditions of Julia and what has become an anthem for her hometown Derby, Alice In The Bacon Box, which got a hearty response from the audience singing along.

Most notably, Lucy is a vocalist and her voice was able to shine on the haunting, traditional song I Don’t Want To Die In The Storm. Lucy’s voice paired beautifully with Heidi and Joy who lent their sparse but perfectly placed harmonies to the song.

It was the anthemic, re-working of 80s pop classic Come On Eileen, that brought the second half to an all time high, along with a rocky version of Blondie’s Hanging On The Telephone . With jokes about their choice of covers as a band in rehearsals, they side-tracked with a humorous, off the cuff folk/ rap version of Coolio’s Gangster’s Paradise. One of the true tests of a musician is to work within any genre, let alone on the spot, on stage and under pressure. Without doubt, the Lucy Ward Band passed with flying colours.

Rounding the second half to a close, Lucy’s hard-hitting, modern day, protest song For The Dead Men was their choice of finale. Leaving the audience standing on their feet cheering for more and rightly so.

What a homecoming, and the audience weren’t prepared to let the band leave without a double encore too and a second standing ovation. Clearly overwhelmed by the reaction, Lucy took time to thank the people who’d made the tour happen. From the band, to her family and everyone behind the scenes who’d clearly worked so hard to get such a tight and precise show on the road.

With a rousing chorus of Maids When You’re Young the Lucy Ward Band finished their triumphant final tour date in her native Derbyshire, having brought life and music back to the once grand Matlock Bath Pavilion.

– Charlie Barker

View full set of live gig images: click here.

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Film Review: Sabotage

He’s been Mr. Universe, The Terminator, a professional politician, at the centre of scandals; but has Arnold Schwarzenegger got what it takes to be the star of a modern action movie anymore? Well, if Sabotage is the test case, the answer to that is clear.

Arnie plays John Wharton, aka “Breacher”, that head of an elite, if oddball, team of undercover DEA agents. His team of misfits include Terrence Howard, Mireille Enos, Sam Worthington and Josh Holloway. When the team decides to get paid for what they do, it all goes wrong. The $10 million they took from a drug cartel goes missing, the team are benched for six months due to an investigation and although they get back to work, one by one they start to get picked off by the cartel. To say the plan’s gone awry is an understatement.

This is a near-perfect modern version of the action movies we all knew, loved and thought were the greatest. We have people who can actually act, but who stay within the realms of the script, action sequences that are dynamic but not flashy or extravagant and dialogue that is awesome, punchy and eminently quotable. I’m being really serious on that last part, not only the banter between the team, but Olivia Williams being sarcastic in an American accent is something you’ll hear from your friends from now until the apocalypse.

Everything does not blow up. Are you paying attention Michael Bay? They key to a good action flick is not to detonate more cubic feet of TNT than was required to put man on the moon. It doesn’t have endless amounts of parkour-fu, the current STD of the action genre. It just has some good honest violence as part of its core and the good guys storing their bullets in the body parts of the bad guys is all I want from this type of movie.

There’s also some actual moviemaking in here, there’s a recurring device of intercutting between crimes taking place and their investigation, which makes for an excellent framing device and some very economical filmmaking, there’s not a dull moment.

Can Arnie be the star of a modern action movie? Yes. However it’s only true if he’s surrounded by people who are actually making an action movie anyway, and aren’t expecting his mere presence to turn a film conceived on a napkin into a blockbuster. Sabotage is an action movie first and foremost, Schwarzenegger is icing on the delicious cake they’ve got all the ingredients for and have baked to perfection. For action fans it’s a must-see. For the rest of the world, if you’re after an honest popcorn movie, there’s not much better to spend your beer tokens on.

– Taylor Iscariot

Film Review: Transcendence

The Director of Photography for Christopher Nolan, the reason all his films look superb, takes the big step into the director’s chair for the first time with this sci-fi drama. Hotly anticipated ever since it was announced, the question remains, is his only talent in pretty visuals? Or can he use those to build a complete film?

25 seconds into the future Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) lives on the bleeding edge of computer research, the goal; to create a real and functioning A.I. When a technophobic domestic terrorism group try to take out everyone in the field, Depp survives… barely. Given only weeks to live, the decision is taken to map his brain and effectively upload him to a computer. Although successful, his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany) manage to upload something, there’s that niggling doubt of whether it really is him.

It’s a sci-fi film, but a fortnight into next year sci-fi, not space planes and laser cannons sci-fi. The effects as you’d expect are outstanding, and most importantly used fairly sparingly. In fact the most obvious use is digital camerawork at a couple of points and not the nanomachines repairing objects in front of your eyes. If you’re wanting Transformers, this isn’t the film for you, the CGI is used in service to the plot rather than the other way around.

On the acting front, you’d be hard pressed to find a film with such acting potential and delivery from its cast. Depp is back on What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? form, which we haven’t seen in years. Hall has always been highly underrated in my opinion and it’s about time she’s given the spotlight opposite people that can actually match her. Bettany’s ability is well-known and I won’t waste your time singing his praises. In the supporting cast you’ve got Morgan Freeman, Rooney Mara and Cillian Murphy, which means this film has a better supporting cast than most films have lead role stars.

Some people will say that this is boring, I would opine that such people have the attention span of roadkill. It is a slow burn, but the pay-off is there in the end. It’s a human drama, and your life doesn’t have gunfire, car chases and explosions every five minutes, does it? While some may not enjoy it, for those hat think a plot isn’t an optional extra on a film should see this for what it is, a very solid first film from Pfister. It would have been easy for him to make a formulaic film, but maintaining his visual flair and tackling something most directors would shy away from is something to be commended.

Should you see it? The majority of the population shouldn’t, they won’t get it. However the same can be said of a lot of the Nolan movies Pfister worked on, and that doesn’t make them any less great. If you like to think about a film rather than just sit there while it’s played in front of you, I think you’ll get on with this.

– Taylor Iscariot

Live Review: Gianna Lauren, Dirdsbead & Red Trees at The Rude Shipyard – 26/04/14

The Rude ShipyardVenue: The Rude Shipyard, Sheffield
Date: 26/04/14

The Rude Shipyard is neither rude nor a shipyard, it is a friendly, Bohemian bookshop and cafe on Abbeydale Road. This was one of it’s occasional music nights. It is a small space, but it was full for an evening of warm electric guitars and interesting artists.

Locally based duo, Red Trees opened the night with a lovely and delicate set. Lou and Chris harmonise beautifully over their gently arpeggio-picked guitars, creating warm and restrained indie-folk.

Local solo artist, Dirdsbead darkened the tone with an intense set, which perhaps belied and reflected that he was suffering from a-heavy-night-the-night-before. Over heavily reverbed electric guitar, he varies how he sings, from the sonorous to the overwrought. There were occasional touches of Elvis Presley, Nick Cave and Matt Bellamy in his vocals, but he is very definitely himself.

Gianna Lauren from Canada, she humorously took mock umbrage at being introduced as from America, headlined. She has a nice, easy conversational way with the audience; the way she established a dialogue, asking us questions and created a rapport.  Soon she was being asked if she’d ever seen a bear, as we tested her true Canadian-ness.

This was her first visit to Europe and she found it wasn’t scary and that everyone was really nice. Of course, you reap what you sow and she is a very good performer. She worried in case she was too loud. She really wasn’t and yet somehow she blew the PA system. This produced more humour as she mused on her newfound rock credentials. She is charismatic in performance, she has a quirkiness, delicacy and gentleness, but is never fey.

Musically, she is a warm performer too, with clear electric guitar sound. Her songs are not words plus music, they are fully integrated pieces. Lyrically they are thoughtful and poetic, with themes of human behaviour, musically they are understated and dreamy. She plays indie-pop vaguely reminiscent of The Cowboy Junkies, Suzanne Vega and Beth Orton.

This was a great night, warm both musically and atmospherically.

– Simon Benton

Album Review: Sunjay – One Night Only

Label: New Mountain Music
Released: November 2013

Sunjay One Night OnlySunjay Brayne is a very talented singer and acoustic guitarist and this is captured on One Night Only, a live album recorded at the Woodman Folk Club in Kingswinford last year.

Sunjay may be an Anglo-Indian from the West Midlands, but he clearly has a deep love and great affinity with acoustic blues. He won the Wath Festival Young Performers Award and was a BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award Nominee when he was 18 years old in 2012, and has attracted many admirers.

Terry Reid described him as “an amazing picker, a must-see” and folk singer Vin Garbutt also said, “he’s a technical wizard on guitar”.

He is a phenomenally talented guitarist, if you watch him play live, you can see he is very comfortable and has complete confidence in his fingerpicking technique; his performances aren’t about dry technique though, they’re about songs. His voice is rich, tuneful and smooth.

Sunjay has been compared to Chris Smither and he is clearly a big influence, at least 4 of the 16 tracks here are associated with Smither, including the opener, Love You Like A Man.  All of the songs are covers, amongst them, Bob Seger’s The Fire Down Below and Buddy Holly’s It Doesn’t Matter Anymore, or reinterpretations of old blues numbers, like Scarlett Town and Sittin’ On Top Of The World.

Sunjay utilises his abilities well, on his cover of Sailing To Philadelphia. He obviously can’t duplicate the production number of the original, recorded by Mark Knopfler and James Taylor, when he’s playing live and solo. Instead it successfully becomes a piece of intricate picking with a rich and melodic vocal.

This is a great album by a great new talent.  If you’re looking for a troubadour, you came to the right place!

– Simon Benton