Mike Atkinson

Bucks Fizz / Brotherhood Of Man – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Thursday June 28th

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on June 29, 2007

What Bucks Fizz were to the 1980s – a clean-cut, middle of the road, two-boy/two-girl vocal group, whose greatest claim to fame was winning Eurovision – Brotherhood Of Man were to the 1970s. Since their hit-making days, both acts have doggedly continued to plough the cabaret circuit, with a particular focus on seaside resorts and holiday camps.

While Bucks Fizz have undergone numerous personnel changes, with two rival versions of the group even clashing in court, Brotherhood Of Man have retained the same line-up for over thirty years. It takes a special kind of dedication to play the same old hits, year after year, in notably reduced circumstances, without becoming bored or bitter – and even in last night’s three-quarters empty venue, those smiles never cracked for a second.

Featuring just one original member, the eternally chipper Bobby G, the current Bucks Fizz line-up were an oddly matched bunch, who could only offer pale imitations of former glories. No Cheryl, no Mike, no Jay? You could almost feel the disappointment rippling through the audience as the group took to the stage.

“You say you don’t know me, or recognize my face”, they trilled, gamely hoofing their way through Starship’s We Built This City. Never were truer words uttered.

“We love you, Bobby!”, screamed a tipsy hen party. “It is Bobby, isn’t it?” they added, promptly collapsing in hysterics.

Performing to backing tracks, with a minimum of stage props, both acts padded out their allocated hours with numerous covers. Bucks Fizz opted for medleys by Ricky Martin, Abba and Meat Loaf, while Brotherhood Of Man plumbed the very depths of Seventies cheese: Tie A Yellow Ribbon, Shang-A-Lang, Remember You’re A Womble, My Ding-A-Ling. Such bargain basement shortcuts might have wowed the campers at Butlins, but they fell far short of the standard expected in the Royal Concert Hall.

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Interview: Vince Clarke of Erasure

Posted in interviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on June 21, 2007

Speaking from his Stateside home in Portland, Maine, Vince Clarke talked about Erasure’s new album, their forthcoming tour plans, and the reasons for their longevity.

The title of the album – Light at the End of the World – sounds both apocalyptic and optimistic. What were you conveying with that?

“I think it’s optimism. Most of the tracks are upbeat, and that’s the general vibe of how we wanted the record to sound.”

Did you have a pre-planned intention for the album, or did its themes naturally emerge during the recording?

“The themes just naturally happened. We wrote the songs initially in Portland, Maine. Andy Bell came over to the US for a while, and we demoed the songs on guitar. Then we rented a house in town and built a studio. Usually I’ll go to the UK, but because I’ve got a little baby and everything, we decided to have the producer come over here. As the producer and I worked on the tracks, Andy would start formulating the lyrics, and it just built that way.

Does the songwriting process always involve the two of you working physically together in room, or are things ever arranged remotely?

“We always have to start the song together. We’ll sometimes do the production apart, and he’ll sing the lyrics in a separate studio. But this time round, we did the whole thing together. We wrote the songs together, and we were in the studio at the same time while the music was being produced. He would sing vocals in the evening, and we’d do it that way.”

Andy’s lyrics can sometimes be enigmatic, but you generally get the feeling that they’re based on real events in his personal life. Do you ever ask him for further clarification, or are you happy to let the enigma stand?

“I usually get what he’s saying anyway. On this record in particular, his lyrics were much more personal. He and I share everything that’s going on in our lives anyway, so I can tune into what he’s trying to say.”

This feels like your most uptempo set in a long time – especially the opening three tracks, which are all highly danceable. It reminds me of the start of the last Madonna album, as a real statement of intent. I heard that you were suffering from a “mid-tempo crisis”…

“That’s definitely true. As we got older and older, our songs got slower and slower. So we made a concerted effort to write more dancey tunes this time.”

But you’re a married family man now. When was the last time you went out and shook your hips in a club?

(Laughter) “Ooh, I can’t remember! 1979, I think! Andy still goes to clubs and stuff, but those days are over for me.”

What about remixes? Are you going to be looking for dance remixers to get involved, maybe with [the current single] Sunday Girl?

“Yeah, we definitely want to get some good remixes done. We have a guy that looks after us in the States, and he’s really interesting in getting a kind of US angle on them. So we’re looking at various people from over here to maybe contribute.”

You’ve always done well in the Billboard dance charts, so I guess some of the tracks might be showing up there.

“Yeah, hopefully.”

You’ve been together as a working partnership for 22 years, which is roughly half your lives, and longer than many marriages. What is it that keeps you together, and have there been any moments when a divorce has looked imminent?

“We don’t clash at all. We haven’t argued in 22 years. Andy’s a really easy-going guy, and I think his easy-going nature has rubbed off on me as well.”

“The other secret is that we don’t get precious about our own ideas. If he comes to me with a lyric and I say “Well, I don’t know”, or if I come to him with a tune and he’s not 100% behind it, then the song just gets dropped, and we move on. If we’re not both fully committed to the tune, then inevitably it won’t sound very good.”

Yourselves and the Pet Shop Boys – and arguably Depeche Mode, funnily enough – are the last of the Eighties synth-pop acts who are still regularly releasing new material. What is it that has enabled you to remain viable for so long, while most of your contemporaries have fallen by the wayside?

“We’ve had a fantastic fanbase: people who have stayed with us throughout our existence. We did a lot of touring early on, and people have just stuck with us.”

“We also have a very loyal record company. The guy that runs the company [Daniel Miller of Mute Records] is a fan. I don’t think we would have survived if we had been signed to a major label.”

Even though they have major label backing now, Mute Records still retains the identity of a quirky, leftfield, arty, independent label – and I wondered whether a large part of your longevity was down to that support. If you have an album which maybe doesn’t do as well as the previous ones, they’re cool with it.

“Absolutely – and Mute really is a one man operation, as well. So it’s not like we have to build up a relationship with a new A&R person every time we release a new record.”

Since your commercial peak in the early Nineties, you still register very consistently sales-wise. Indeed, every UK single since Sometimes has gone Top Thirty, which is quite a hell of an achievement. It means that you’ve never become a nostalgia act.

(Deadpan) “Only to ourselves.”

Because you’ve never dramatically altered your sound, it’s like you exist in a separate musical universe all of your own. Do you feel any musical kinship with other acts?

“I don’t know. You talk about nostalgia; well, I’m nostalgic for music that came from the Eighties. It’s not that we’ve set out to have a particular identity; what we’ve really tried to do is write electronic music around good songs. For us, the most important part of a record has always been the tune. I guess that gives us a particular identity.”

You’re touring the UK in the autumn, but before that you’re taking part in a summer package tour in the US called True Colors, which features quite an interesting line-up of acts. Can you explain something about the concept of the tour?

“It was an idea that was put forward by our US agent, about a year and a half ago. He wanted an event that was almost like a family day out, with lots of bands. He asked us to take part, and it just felt like an interesting thing to do. It will hopefully be playing to an audience that haven’t necessarily seen us or heard of us. It’s not just old codgers like ourselves there; there are a couple of young bands as well, so it won’t be like a geriatrics’ convention.”

Who else is on the tour with you? Rufus Wainwright sticks in my mind…

“I think he’s doing a few guest appearances. There’s Blondie, and Cyndi Lauper will be headlining. Then there’s various different bands playing on different nights – about five or six every night. Everybody plays a 45 minute set, and it will be larger venues than we usually play.”

With Blondie being on the tour, you could wheel out your cover version of Rapture, for comparative purposes…

“Well, she’d be chuffed about that. Not!” (Laughter)

Any thoughts, at this early stage, on what we might expect from your autumn tour of the UK?

“Once we’ve done the True Colors tour, we’ll be touring the US in our own right. I’m not sure what Andy is cooking up for that side of the tour, but I assume that whatever happens here is going to be transferred to the UK. I’m sure there’ll be costumes involved! (Laughter) It will be all electronic, all-singing and all-dancing, and lots of… clothes.”

Which songs do you never tire of playing on stage, and are there any old hits which you’ve quietly dropped?

“There’s lots we’ve dropped – but the song I enjoy playing the most is A Little Respect. Everyone seems to know all the lyrics. Last time we performed it, which was in London, the audience sang the whole song before we’d even started it. It was amazing; really, really moving.”

When you’re on stage, how faithful do you like to be to the original versions? Do you like messing around with old favourites?

“I change from tour to tour. Sometimes I radically change the sound, almost doing a complete remix of the track; at other times it’s very true to the album. It really depends on the day. The technology’s changing all the time as well, so that often changes the sound.”

When it comes to contemporary music, do you still follow the charts? Do you still try to keep up with everything?

“Well, no. Now I’ve got a child, the only music I listen to is The Wiggles.”

Do you ever hear other singers and feel tempted to work with them, or is it a pure monogamous loyalty to Andy?

“It is a monogamous loyalty. I do work on other stuff, though. I do bits and pieces with Martyn Ware [Heaven 17] sometimes, on various projects. Not making pop records, but making music for exhibitions and stuff. I just did some music for a cartoon here in the States. So, little bits and pieces – but not actually working with another singer and making an album, no.”

Career-wise, perhaps you’ve already done it all – but are there any musical ambitions left to achieve?

“Yes. To appear on Sesame Street. That would be brilliant, wouldn’t it?”

Cocorosie – Nottingham Trent University, Wednesday June 13

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Trent University by Mike A on June 14, 2007

Watching Cocorosie casually shambling around the stage, sharing private jokes and either unwilling or unable to concentrate on their performance, we seemed in danger of having all our worst preconceptions about the self-consciously arty avant garde confirmed. Led by sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady, and backed by a keyboardist, bassist and human beat-boxer, the band’s hip-hop influenced “freak-folk” sound was dominated by the sort of squeaky Björk-on-helium vocals that could have become intensely grating.

As the set progressed, these eccentricities became steadily less troublesome. Slowly but surely, the performers settled into their roles. Predominantly song-based, the material was never allowed to drift into the sort of aimless meanderings that make the likes of Joanna Newsom such a struggle.

With their radical re-working of Akon’s I Wanna Love You, sung from the stripper’s perspective (“You see me trying to smile up on this pole, just hiding the pain that’s deep in my soul”), everything snapped into focus, the remaining material displaying a new sense of purpose and cohesion. This no longer felt like smug experimentalism for its own sake. What could have been one of the year’s most insufferably pretentious gigs instead turned out to be one of the most spell-binding and magical.

Interview: Marc Almond

Posted in interviews by Mike A on June 8, 2007

A shorter version of this interview was originally commissioned for the Nottingham Evening Post. Here’s the full transcript of our conversation, which took place on Friday June 1st 2007.

Let’s start by talking about the new album, Stardom Road. It’s a covers album, with most, if not all, of the songs taken from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. There’s nothing after the Seventies, is there?

No, because I was a baby of the Fifties, a child of the Sixties and a teenager of the Seventies, and those were the decades that really shaped me. Obviously, the Eighties part of my career is very well known – but I did toy with a couple of songs from the Nineties at one point, by Pulp and Suede. But they were too much already in my own world, if you see what I mean. The artists are too associated with those tracks, and I didn’t feel I could bring anything different to them. I did record a song with Antony & the Johnsons, but that’s only available as a specific download. So most of the songs are from those decades, because I felt those were the decades that shaped my influences and shaped my life.

I’m curious to know which particular Pulp and Suede songs you were thinking of…

I can’t say, in case I ever decide in the future… I’m not going to say! (Laughs)

Fair enough! I shall speculate on that at leisure.

Oh, I’ll tell you actually. It’s a song by Pulp called Live Bed Show, which I really loved, but I couldn’t find the right angle for it. It was the title that appealed to me more than anything. And a track by Suede called Still Life, from Dog Man Star. But I felt I was just being a little bit indulgent, really. I had to have somebody throughout the making of the album – it was Tris Penna, the producer – doing the A&R-ing for me, and saying: no, no, you’ve got to concentrate on the songs that make the album flow. Talking me into different directions from being plainly self-indulgent. If I’d just made an album of random songs which I really loved, it would have been all over the place.

Although you only wrote one of the songs yourself, it strikes me that this is as deeply personal an album as any of your self-penned collections. The song selections all seem to have a very direct, almost autobiographical resonance with your own life – and I think that makes us hear these songs in a different way. Was that the intention?

Yes, it was. When you do an album of cover songs, it’s always very difficult to get that balance right, and to make it sound like one complete record. So I think you have to pick a theme, and a thread which goes all the way through the album – and the thread that seemed to be coming together was that this would give a little musical journey through my life. It doesn’t go to the most obvious places, like the electro side, because that’s already obvious to a lot of people – but I think it’s important to have that running journey, and a running theme.

I wanted to pick songs like the opener by Charles Aznavour, I Have Lived. It’s not a very known Aznavour song, and so I could put my own stamp on it that much more easily. People could listen to the lyrics, and they could really accept it as being a Marc Almond song. Almost a song which could have been written for me, or I could have written. I mean, I wouldn’t put myself in the same class as a songwriter like Charles Aznavour – which is why I like to sing other people’s songs, because I feel there are better songwriters than I ever could be, who can express my ideas better than I sometimes can through my own words.

It’s the second time I can think of that you’ve covered an Aznavour song, because there was What Makes A Man A Man, a number of years ago…

Three times, actually. I’ve also covered Yesterday When I Was Young, on my album Absinthe. The original choice for this album was going to be a song called This Will Be My Day, but I thought that as a lesser known song, I could give I Have Lived much more of a personal stamp, and make it my own.

It’s a great statement of intent. You could almost imagine it as the album’s finale, and it’s interesting that you use it as a kind of overture instead.

I wanted the album to end with a self-written number. After the accident, I couldn’t write songs. I wasn’t in a position to write songs; I wasn’t able to write songs. Then, when I was able to sit down and think about writing some lyrics, I was going through a very bad time with the recovery, and I would always come out with something that was quite depressed and over-melancholic. I wanted this to be a celebration album: the fact I’d got back into the studio again, the fact I’d got my voice back, and that I feel that I’m singing better than ever. I went back to lessons again, and got my confidence back, and I wanted the emotion and the celebratory feeling of actually going back into making a record.

That does come across…

So it was important that I ended the album with a self-written song, to show the way for the future and that I was back writing songs again. Redeem Me is about growing up and moving on, still being the person you are, still being true to yourself, but changing in life and prepared to want different things.

I want to ask you more about Redeem Me a little later on. I particularly like the sequence where you go from Bowie’s London Boys into Strangers in the Night. They’re both examples of songs that, when we hear you sing them, it brings a different context. I mean, London Boys: what an ahead-of-its-time song that is…

It’s still many young people’s experience, when they come to the big city. It has a resonance of today about it. I first heard it when I was about 14, 15 years old, when I bought The World of David BowieZiggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane had been successful, and they reissued all his earlier Sixties stuff. So I heard London Boys, and he was singing about, you know, the first time he took a pill… it was almost dangerous, there was something very provocative and evocative about it. London seemed to be this exciting, dangerous, fantastic place, which draws you to it. When I finally sang it all these years later, sitting in the studio while the orchestra were playing the song, I felt very emotional – and I hope the emotion comes out in the way I sing it.

Indeed, and when you go from that into Strangers in the Night, you’ve still got London Boys in your mind. So you’re thinking of being out in a club, copping off…

I’ve always wanted to do Strangers in the Night. There have been so many versions, and people have been a bit funny about it. They have this kind of prejudice against the song. There are so many cheesy versions of it. But the version that I loved was by Matt Monro; I love those British singers of the Fifties and early Sixties. It’s a song about picking people up casually, anonymously; it has quite a dark edge to it. I wanted to bring some of that out in my version.

I think that works. During the first half of the song, you forget that it transforms, and that you finish with a happy ending. You’re very much in that place of thinking about the anonymous encounters.

But I wrote these extra words, that go round at the end: “Stranger to stranger; lover to stranger; lover to lover; lover to stranger; stranger to stranger.” It’s like the cycle of a relationship: you meet somebody, you fall intensely in love, you know them so well, you have this great relationship, and then a year later you meet them on the street and they ignore you.

Oh God, I know what you’re talking about.

I hope you’ve never been through that experience… (Laughter)

Many times!

So often now, people want these quick, intense experiences – so it is a nod towards that. But people will either get it or they won’t. It’s a risky one to do, because some people will instantly not like it – but I hope they get my little twist on it.

Indeed. In a way, this almost sounds like an easy listening collection; it positions you as a cabaret crooner. You’ve got a Dusty song, a Sinatra song, The Ballad of the Sad Young Men, which a lot of people associate with Shirley Bassey…

Well, I’ve been there before, with Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart, and some of the songs on Tenement Symphony.

I thought of Tenement Symphony as well. It’s interesting that you’ve gone from an original background in experimental electronic music, into this more cabaret material. It strikes me that you’re travelling in an opposite direction from Scott Walker.

I suppose I’ve got older. I’m not one of these artists who has mellowed or anything – but I’ve been through lots of different styles in my 27 years of making music. I do still like to work in the underground side of music, and sometimes I’ll do a little electro-dance single with a dance producer. Not many people will get to hear it sometimes, but I do it for myself more than anything else. With someone like Scott, for example, he’s gone into being very experimental and underground. I can respect and appreciate him as an artist; he’s doing what he wants to do.

Whatever I’ve done, all through my music, even since the Soft Cell days: in a way, they have always been classic songs. I’ve always come back to classic songs, and classic arrangements of songs – even in the less accessible things that I’ve done. Even when I went to Russia, and made an album of Russian music, I think they were quite old-fashioned songs. There’s an old-fashioned songwriter and balladeer in me – it’s almost music hall.

I think that comes from being brought up in Southport. I’ve got that seaside tradition, which runs through me; it’s in my genes. I worked in a Southport theatre, with an older style of entertainer, so that whole music hall spirit has always inspired me.

You recently said in an interview that you now prefer singing other people’s songs to your own, and that the world has had enough albums of Marc Almond originals.

I’m writing songs at the moment that I’m really pleased with, but I don’t usually fall in love with a lot of my songs for very long. I feel I’ve reached that stage where I’d love to do another album of totally original material, something for my fans and for myself, and I hope people would like it – but I just enjoy singing other people’s songs so much more. It gives me more freedom. There are better songwriters than I’ll ever be, who can say things in better ways than I ever can, and who can write better lyrics and better melodies.

Does that put a lot of pressure on you, though? The thought that your next collection of original material will be your final statement, if you like?

It gives me something to aim for. I love giving myself these kinds of challenges. But it doesn’t mean that I’ll never write another song again. I might write the odd song for this and that – or even for an album, like Redeem Me on this one. I might find the space to write one song that I can love, and I’ll find the opportunity to do that – but I’ll just do one more album which is completely of Marc Almond songs. I do feel that the world doesn’t really need them.

Through doing this album, I’ve listened to so many songs. There are so many albums that I’ve re-discovered, and songs which I’ve never heard before, and I’m thinking: God, there are so many great songs out there, and there’s so little time to sing them.

My fans would probably love another Marc Almond album. I would love it for me, because writing songs gets something out of me, and I’d just put the demos in a box under my bed and never release them. That would tidy things up for me.

Well, I enjoyed Redeem Me. As a reformed party boy myself, I could appreciate the sentiments. But a friend of mine, who’s a big fan of yours, claims that he doesn’t believe you. He thinks that there’s a small part of you that still yearns to “dance through subterranean chambers”, as the song puts it.

And he could very well be right there! (Laughter) All I can say is that I definitely still like to dance a lot of the time – but nights are a little earlier. Not so many late nights.

Indeed. Most of my dancing is confined to the kitchen floor these days…

I DJ sometimes in clubs as well, so I will always like that world. As Redeem Me says, I’ll always be true to the person I am. I’ll still be the same person that I’ve always been, liking the same things. I just want different things in my life now, as well. It’s nice to have a little bit of light, as opposed to just the darkness.

Beyoncé, Nottingham Arena, Wednesday June 6

Posted in Capital FM Arena, gigs, Nottingham Post by Mike A on June 7, 2007

The best arena artists are the ones who refuse to cut corners. Aware that there are higher ideals than merely extracting the maximum financial return from the minimum investment, they aim for nothing less than artistic and technical perfection. On the strength of last night’s astonishing show, the extraordinarily driven, focussed and committed Beyoncé Knowles is clearly one such artist.

Fronting an all-female band, and accompanied by some of the sexiest dancers on the planet, Beyoncé tore through over thirty numbers in over two hours, still finding time for six changes of costume. Bookended by her two biggest and best hits, Crazy In Love and Déjà Vu, the set featured a ten-song medley of Destiny’s Child favourites, as well as the recent chart-topper Beautiful Liar (accompanied by video images of Shakira, the song’s co-performer), and Listen (from the soundtrack of Dreamgirls).

In some ways, this was a traditional soul revue, whose dazzling energy and pacing brought to mind the likes of Prince at the height of his powers. In other ways, it was totally contemporary, showcasing an inventive, adventurous style of music which simply couldn’t have existed in any other decade.

Although belonging to a lineage of soul divas which stretches back over forty years, what sets Beyoncé apart from her predecessors is her utter lack of vulnerability. This is a woman who is fully in control of every aspect of her presentation and personality, at all times. And so, despite seeing real tears roll down her face towards the end of the ballad Flaws And All, you somehow knew that similar tears would be flowing, at precisely the same moment, on every night of her 77-date world tour.

Beautiful, talented, untouchable, mysterious, and with a flawlessness that borders on the downright eerie, Beyoncé is that rare creature: a true icon and a natural star.

Pam Ann, Nottingham Theatre Royal, Sunday June 3rd

Posted in comedy reviews, Nottingham Post, Theatre Royal by Mike A on June 3, 2007

Whether you’re a glamorous frequent flyer in first class, a canapé-shovelling freeloader in club class, or merely one of the down-trodden hordes in cattle class, there is something in Pam Ann’s act that will strike an immediate chord of recognition.

That haughty, don’t-mess-with-me strut that British Airways cabin crew perform en masse through Heathrow Terminal Four, dragging their wheelie suitcases through passport control? Pam has it down to a tee.

That two inch gap in the curtains at the back of club class, left just wide enough for envious economy passengers to watch the complimentary champagne being served in real glassware? Pam probably invented that evil little trick.

Having graduated from the gay scene to the theatre circuit, Pam still enjoys a huge gay following, and her knowing references to some of the more “specialist” aspects of the gay lifestyle drew roars of delight. Much of her audience is also drawn from the airline industry itself, and any references to specific crews – bossy, indifferent BA, air-headed Virgin Atlantic, or those unfortunates on easyJet who dream of one day being able to serve hot food – were just as eagerly lapped up.

The more experimental second half featured a series of other stewardess characters, linked by extensive video footage. Relying more on visual humour than on Pam’s razor-sharp observation and bitchy banter, the material was altogether patchier, and consequently less successful.

For the finale, various audience members – all cabin crew themselves – joined Pam on stage for a hastily and hilariously choreographed performance of From New York To L.A.

Interview: Pam Ann / Caroline Reid

Posted in interviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on June 1, 2007

EG caught up with Caroline Reid, the Australian creator of trolley-dolly bitch extraordinaire Pam Ann, wandering through the streets of London on her day off. Over the roar of traffic in the background, Caroline chatted happily about her best known comic character, and the various other sidekicks who will also be appearing at the Theatre Royal on Sunday evening.

But first… was the globe-trotting Pam familiar with our very own Nottingham East Midlands Airport (recently voted Best Airport at the “prestigious” Baltic Air Charter Association Awards, as I couldn’t help but boast)? Or maybe, given the dominance of low cost airlines such as easyJet and bmibaby, we’re just a little too “short haul” for her…

“Maybe for Pam – but I wish I was flying to Nottingham, rather than coming up on the motorway. I must put that in the contract for next time. But yeah, I know bmibaby: they’re clinging onto the hope that one day they’ll be scheduled.”

Ouch. That’s no way to talk about the East Midlands’ favourite airline… and possibly the only one that asks if you’d like ice cubes in your white wine, to boot.

“That’s fantastic; I may use that. I’m writing it down now!”

Is Pam held in high esteem by the trolley-dolly community, or do they view her as a scandalous misrepresentation of their profession?

“I think they love her, because they’d actually like to do and say the things that I do on stage, but for real. If I’m on a plane, they’ll run up to me saying “Pam, Pam, Pam! I’ve got a joke for you!” I mean, half of them have written my show, really… so if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t even have a show. If the cabin crew like what I do, then I’m doing a good job.”

So perhaps audience members might occasionally spot one of their own anecdotes popping up in the show? (Bmibaby… ice cubes… white wine… one has to live in hope.)

“Absolutely!”

Although Pam Ann headlines the show, four other characters will also be making an appearance, as Caroline explains.

“I’ve got Valerie from American Airlines: she’s 105, and still flying today. She scares the audience with horror stories of air disasters she’s been in.”

Hoping to lure Caroline into some juicy bitching, I suggested that some battle-scarred travellers might regard American Airlines as a horror story in their own right. Interestingly, she was having none of it.

“Well, they’ve given me a uniform, a proper name badge, and their stamp of approval. They’re big supporters of what I do – and if they’re happy, then I’m happy. I love American Airlines, and I’ll wave their flag any day.”

Suitably chastened, I moved Caroline onto her other characters.

“Mona the BA bitch is basically very old school, waves the flag, horsey. She’s waiting for her pension to come round. Very good at her job, but verging on prison warden.”

“Then I’ve got Sarah from Virgin, a typical dumb blonde. Richard Branson hires very young cabin crew; very S Club 7. You just don’t know whether those girls are going to be able to handle a situation of stress.”

“And then there’s Donna from easyJet, who dreams of flying over water. She loves to go down to Heathrow to look at the real cabin crew, and she hopes and dreams that one day she’ll get onto a real 747.”

As for Pam Ann herself, one of her most memorable engagements was when she crewed a private flight for Sir Elton John and his friends.

“They loved the fact that Pam thinks she’s almost of the Elton ilk. They could be brother and sister, really. So she basically put them all in their places, sat them down, and verbally abused them the whole way to Venice.”

Despite the growing public awareness of environmental issues regarding air travel, Pam is doing precious little to offset her own carbon emissions.

“She’s not green at all. She likes a carbon footprint, especially if it’s wearing a Manolo Blahnik. She’d take out a forest in the Amazon to put in a fashion café.”

Anyone assuming a bond of kinship between Caroline and this year’s Eurovision entrants Scooch, with their “affectionate tribute” to the airline industry, might be in for a rude awakening.

“They’re rubbish! They look crap, they’ve got nothing good to say about themselves, and they’ve ripped everybody else off. I know that Eurovision’s about cheese, but that’s bordering on stupid. I liked those Finnish monster guys who won last year; there was something different about them. But as for these guys: they’re like a charter version of Steps. People have asked if they’ve modelled their uniforms on me – but excuse me, I do not look like that! They look like waitresses from All Bar One! People have been saying that I’ve got to support them, but no! I can’t stand them!”

After completing her marathon 41-date tour, which finishes in mid-June, Caroline will be taking her One World Alliance show to the Edinburgh Festival for the whole of August. In the meantime, you can catch her at the Theatre Royal on Sunday evening.

Marc Almond – Stardom Road

Posted in album reviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on June 1, 2007

In October 2004, a serious motorcycle crash left Marc Almond in a coma for two weeks. Following a lengthy recovery process and a gradual return to music-making,Stardom Road is effectively his comeback album.

Having vowed to turn his back on future songwriting, Almond has recorded just one original composition, the disappointingly mawkish Redeem Me. The rest of the album is given over to a selection of covers, mostly from the 1960s and 1970s, which trace a clearly autobiographical path.

The songs are given full orchestral arrangements, with no lingering traces of Almond’s electronic roots. Instead, he is reborn as an accomplished, almost conventional cabaret crooner, blending stately grandeur with high emotion.

Selections range from the familiar (Strangers In The Night, Dream Lover) to the obscure (London Boys, penned by a pre-fame Bowie, and a bizarre mash-up of Paul Ryan’s Kitsch with T.Rex’s Hot Love). Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell and Antony of The Johnsons make equally splendid guest appearances.

Although Almond’s intensely dramatic vocals will win few new converts, long-time fans will instantly warm to this intriguing and frequently affecting collection.

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