Mike Atkinson

Liza Minnelli, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Friday May 30

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on May 30, 2008

“Do you notice anything different about me?” asked Liza Minnelli after her third number, sucking in her cheeks and pouting for comic effect. Having recently shed 44 pounds in weight (apparently thanks to a diet program that she had seen advertised on television), the 62-year old diva looked in amazing shape: trim, toned, in radiant good health, and (as we were to discover during the second half) sporting a pair of legs that would have graced a woman half her age.

But it wasn’t only Liza’s outward appearance which confounded expectations. Not quite knowing what to expect from someone with such a chequered history and such an erratic track record, many of us had come prepared to make allowances for whatever eccentricities might be in store. As it turned out, we had no need to worry at all.

From the first number (a splendid rendition of Teach Me Tonight) to the final encore (a spellbinding I’ll Be Seeing You, performed a cappella), Liza was in full control of her voice, her performance and her audience. Every note was hit; every mark was struck; every nuance was attended to.

This was no booze-addled, pill-popping, delusional spent force, hamming it up and trading on past glories. Instead, what we witnessed was a bravura performance from a consummate artiste, miraculously restored to the height of her powers.

As was explained during a recent interview, Liza’s preferred interpretive technique is to inhabit a different character for each song: a “method acting breakdown”, as she called it. During the first half in particular, we saw this technique in full effect.

For George Gershwin’s The Man I Love, Minnelli’s lovelorn yearning was underpinned by a self-mocking wryness, as was only appropriate for a woman four times divorced. Taking an opposite stance, I’m Living Alone And I Like It was sung in the character of a feisty old lady dressed from head to toe in maroon, whom the singer had once met on a New York street corner. For My Own Best Friend (from the musical Chicago), Minnelli transformed into Roxie Hart: on trial for murder, and converting her fear into defiance. And for Cabaret, she once again assumed her Oscar-winning role as Sally Bowles in the film of the same name: laughing in the face of misfortune, with a survivor’s resolve to continue living life to the full.

The bulk of the show’s second half was given over to an extended tribute to Liza’s late godmother Kay Thompson: a key figure in the history of Hollywood, who had given vocal coaching to the likes of Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, and Liza’s own mother Judy Garland. Given that Thompson is a considerably lesser known figure in this country, this was a section that could easily have flopped. Instead, the lively, full-throttle recreation of her celebrated nightclub act, accompanied by a quartet of song-and-dance boys (The Williams Brothers), swept us up with its sheer energy, successfully evoking the spirit of a lost golden age.

As the two and a half hour show progressed, the standing ovations grew ever more frequent: starting with Maybe This Time in the first half, and climaxing with Minnelli’s signature tune New York, New York in the second half. (By this stage, the cheers were erupting even as the song progressed.) Liza rode these waves of adulation in the manner of someone whose stardom is written in their very DNA.

Let there be no doubt about it: this was a truly exceptional show, which will be remembered for years to come by all who witnessed it.

John Barrowman – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Wednesday April 9

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on April 9, 2008

Witnessing first-hand the squeals of female delight which greeted his every move, I suddenly realised that John Barrowman might be something unique: an openly gay heartthrob, whose unequivocal frankness merely adds to his appeal. If that sounds like a contradiction, then it’s certainly not one which bothered either the artist or his adoring audience, whose tangible rapport was wonderful to behold.

Drawing on his long experience in musical theatre, Barrowman delivered a highly accomplished performance, mixing pop standards and favourite show tunes with sparky quips and occasionally tear-jerking personal stories, all with the total self-assurance of a seasoned professional.

Although a gifted musical interpreter, Barrowman was canny enough to realise that, in his new incarnation as a Saturday night prime time TV regular, he would have to up the cheese factor: Barry Manilow numbers, Latino rump-shakers, I Am What I Am histrionics, the works.

Occasionally, he overstepped the mark: an over-familiar Amarillo was an end-of-the-pier gesture too far. But for the most part, the balance between showmanship and song craft was ably struck.

Highlights for the music lovers included fine renditions of Nina Simone’s Feelin’ Good and I Won’t Send Roses (from Mack and Mabel). Highlights for the fans included special appearances from Captain Jack’s greatcoat and the Elvis outfit from Dancing On Ice.

Who cared if the outfits got the bigger cheers? Certainly not the ebullient Barrowman, whose infectiously gleeful determination to make the absolute most of his “moment in the sun” may be his biggest asset of all.

Lorna Luft – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Monday February 11

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on February 11, 2008

Lorna Luft signs Mike's CD

For Lorna Luft, a show business veteran of over thirty-five years’ standing, Songs My Mother Taught Me – a two hour tribute to her mother Judy Garland – represents both a reconciliation and a celebration. Having spent years trying to outrun the shadow cast by Garland’s legendary status, Luft has reached a point in her life where she can publicly express her gratitude, and salute her late mother’s remarkable genius.

Backed by a ten piece orchestra, with British husband Colin Freeman directing the music, Lorna took us on a journey of fond remembrance. The show started with Garland serenading her young daughter on the screen, before a beaming, effusive Luft took to the stage in a sparkling silver gown.

In less capable hands, performing a live duet with one’s dead mother could have could have been a recipe for toe-curling tastelessness. Thanks to Luft’s experience and judgement, the risk paid off, the two voices harmonising deftly and tenderly.

The show’s accent remained firmly on the positive, as Lorna regaled us with comic anecdotes that revealed Judy as quite the outrageous prankster, rather than the tragic figure of popular imagining (a misconception which apparently drove both mother and daughter “nuts” with exasperation). Tribute was also paid to the “Rat Pack” – a title which Garland bestowed upon them in jest – and in particular to Luft’s godfather Frank Sinatra and surrogate uncle Sammy Davis Junior.

The highlight of the second half was a marathon medley which traced Garland’s journey from inauspicious beginnings (Born In A Trunk) to her 1961 triumph at Carnegie Hall. Finally, and in preference to appropriating Judy’s signature tune Over The Rainbow for herself, Lorna opted to intertwine the archive recording with her own Shining Star, to richly moving effect. It was a fitting climax to a bravura display of classic show business values, lovingly staged and beautifully sung.

Boy George, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Friday February 8th

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on February 9, 2008

“You came here tonight not knowing what to expect, and that’s what you’re going to get”, announced Boy George at the start of his show, midway through his first UK tour in a decade. “It’s an intimate show; it’s not X Factor. Do you like the hat?”

Perhaps in order to encourage that feeling of “intimacy”, the stage was stripped bare of all props, with no backdrops and no special lighting. George’s four piece band played a sparsely arranged, mostly acoustic-driven set, aided by two backing singers who occasionally provided lead vocals. A special mention was given to the drummer, who was playing his first night with the band after just a day’s rehearsal. Given George’s well-documented turbulent relationships with former drummers, one couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to the old one.

George has stated that the purpose of the tour is to “re-establish myself as an artist”, and to “re-establish my reputation as a human being, which I think has been pretty torn apart over the last few years.” Despite various recent run-ins with the law, and long periods away from the public spotlight, he still retains a special place in our affections, attracting a broad cross-section of ages and backgrounds in his audience. The goodwill was still there. All had to do now was deliver.

And here, unfortunately, is where the problem lay. Perhaps because of those long absences from stage performing, the O’Dowd pipes are not altogether what they used to be. Gone was the honeyed sweetness of his 1980s recordings, replaced by a gravely rasp which, although still not without soulful expressiveness, lacked both range and finesse. Far too many of his best known numbers were sung without reference to their original melodies, as George improvised awkwardly phrased harmony parts that, in terms of pitch, kept him safely within his comfort zone. (During Do You Really Want To Hurt Me and Karma Chameleon, the melodies were so comprehensively abandoned that the crowd struggled to sing along.) More annoyingly, he displayed an over-fondness for interrupting himself with a series of repetitively high pitched whoops, which added nothing to the interpretations.

This could simply have been down to lack of practice, but George betrayed more nervousness than his articulate, waspish public persona would have you believe. Perhaps he was simply scared of pushing for those higher and lower notes, having convinced himself that his voice was no longer up to the job? On the strength of last night’s show, the problems that we witnessed were nothing that a skilled vocal coach couldn’t help put right – provided that George is genuinely prepared to re-dedicate himself to his craft, and to put long, hard hours of work in.

That said, there were still flashes of the old brilliance, particularly towards the end of the set (two hours, with a badly timed interval after the first 35 minutes). A beautiful duet with Lizzy Dean on the old Culture Club ballad That’s The Way, backed by a solo piano, played to all his strengths, as did the gospel-flavoured rendition of the old civil rights anthem This Little Light Of Mine which followed. 

Best of all, an unscripted final encore of Generations Of Love, as requested from the audience, was little short of dazzling. Fully warmed up by now, and singing on “extra time” purely for the love of it, George gave one of his finest compositions the performance it deserved, stepping to the front of the stage and singing out to the whole hall, instead of relying on the usual foot-shuffling and general diddling around. 

All he needs to do now is build on those still remarkable strengths, and find the confidence to overcome his self-imposed weaknesses.

Alison Moyet, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Wednesday January 23

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on January 24, 2008

Following a wretched eight year struggle with her old record company, Alison Moyet emerged from the musical wilderness in 2002. Three albums later, with full artistic control firmly established, she has never sounded happier, more confident, or in better voice.

Last night’s set began in subdued style, with a selection of smouldering ballads that ranged from a cover of Windmills Of Your Mind to a sultry, stripped down, bitterly accusing All Cried Out. The pace quickened for a rapturously received Love Resurrection, making a welcome re-appearance after many years in mothballs. An audience request for Dorothy was instantly and cheerfully granted, with characteristic disregard for the strictures of the set list.

Current album The Turn was well represented, with seven selections. The more intimate, theatrical numbers worked best of all, particularly a heart-stopping rendition of The Man In The Wings. In stark contrast, a messy attempt at It’s Not The Thing Henry was stopped short after the first minute. (“I just didn’t feel like it” explained Alison, with a casual shrug of the shoulders.)

The twenty-three song set covered the full extent of Moyet’s career, stretching back to her early days with Yazoo. Of her solo albums, only 1987’s Raindancing was given the cold shoulder — a snub which suggested that she was never too happy with the bland MOR pop direction that was being foisted upon her at the time.

Perhaps the highlight of the whole evening was an all-acoustic “unplugged” version of Whispering Your Name. Like many of the strongest performances, it benefited from the absence of the drummer, who struggled to quell his desire to rock out during some of the quieter numbers.

An extended encore started with a Jacques Brel number, sung in the original French, and ended with a rip-roaring, triumphant Don’t Go.

Set list: One More Time, Wishing You Were Here, Windmills Of Your Mind, All Cried Out, Fire, Can’t Say It Like I Mean It, Ski, Love Resurrection, Dorothy, The Man In The Wings, Only You, Love Letters, The Sharpest Corner (Hollow), This House, Whispering Your Name, Footsteps, It’s Not The Thing Henry, Come Together, Momma Momma, La Chanson Des Vieux Amants, Smaller, That Old Devil Called Love, Don’t Go.

The Ken Dodd Happiness Show, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, December 27th 2007 — A Survivor’s Diary.

Posted in comedy reviews, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on December 27, 2007

19:06. Brandishing his trademark tickling sticks, Ken Dodd comes bounding onto the stage, greeting us with a cheery “Ey-up!” This week marks his fiftieth anniversary in show business, we are soon told. This is a little strange, as Dodd’s first ever professional engagement was actually in 1954 — at the old Empire Theatre, where the Royal Concert Hall now stands. But this is no time to sweat the details.

19.13. Ken has long been known for his marathon shows, and he wastes no time in taunting us with the prospect of being stuck in our seats until the small hours. “Don’t worry about the buses and taxis — there’s always the milk floats!”, he quips, milking our unease for maximum laughs.

19.25. Noting the average age of his audience (which is somewhere well in advance of sixty, despite a sprinkling of younger faces), Ken promises us two intervals: “One for lager, and one for Complan”. We should be so lucky…

19:47. The keyboardist has yet to arrive, having been held up on the A50. (“Don’t worry, we’ll add it on to the end of the show.”) The drummer is holding his own, though — even prompting his boss on a couple of occasions, when the odd word slips his memory. Unable to take his scheduled musical breaks, Dodd is having to busk it a bit, making the show up as he goes along — and although he’s mostly doing OK, the strain is starting to show. Last month, Dodd turned eighty. Is the onset of old age finally starting to get to him?

20:05. Finally the keyboardist arrives, the stage hands setting up the equipment around him. With music on the agenda at last, Dodd leaves the stage, and a group of children perform a selection of Christmas carols.

20:14. After a very short burst of comedy, Dodd departs once more, leaving the same children to perform a singalong “wartime” medley. Without much in the way of audience participation, it all falls rather flat — and with the appearance of his long-term partner Anne Jones, who performs a seemingly endless series of well-worn chestnuts, the evening sinks further still. So Ken gets a twenty-five minute break, even if we don’t? You can feel the restlessness building in the aisles.

20:45. He’s back, and things aren’t going too well. “It’s an educational show. When you get out of here tonight, you’ll go: well, that’s taught me a lesson.” My companion rolls his eyes knowingly.

20:53. “There’s a special name for what I’m doing now: struggling.” You said it, Ken. His delivery is faltering — not helped by a troublesome and rather fruity cough — and the laughs simply aren’t coming. He’s trying to win us back, but it’s an uphill struggle. When’s the interval, anyway?

21:10. Ken is swapping banter with a poker-faced French maid of advanced years, who speaks with a local accent. The skit goes well enough, but there are still an awful lot of ad-libbed cracks about how quiet we all are. He even starts to take his frustrations out on the venue, “a Portakabin with a hint of mock-Wimpey”.

21:19. Ye Gods, it’s the Diddymen! We grin and bear it. Spirit of the Blitz, and all that.

21:32. Ken is threatening to cancel the interval and lock the gents’ toilets. Frankly, I wouldn’t put it past him. There’s madness in those eyes tonight.

21:39. A musical tribute to the old masters of 20th century comedy — Cooper, Chaplin, Askey, Groucho Marx, Max Wall and all the rest of them — is marred by fluffed lines and ragged delivery. All around the auditorium, legs are being crossed just that little bit more tightly.

22:00. Nearly three hours in, the long awaited interval arrives. We stumble around the surprisingly uncrowded bar area, un-numbing our backsides and generally feeling a little shell-shocked. The beers might not be shifting, but the coffee stand is doing a brisk trade.

22:20. We’re back in our seats, along with around 90% of the audience from the first half. The house lights go down, and on comes… a magic act! My companion and I look at each other aghast. Is this how they reward our loyalty? There is a routine with a disappearing lady, which I can’t work out — and a routine with swords and a cabinet, which I work out in seconds.

22:37. The great man is back — and this time, he’s brought a Thermos flask and sandwiches. “Most of you have been reported missing by now”, he cries, before engaging various members of the front two rows in conversation.

22:45. “How many children have you got, missus?” It turns out that the lady in question has eight of them. He wasn’t expecting this, and seems to dither for a while — before coming back quite brilliantly. (“It’s a good job you sewed that hole up in your husband’s pyjamas. Well, you know what they say: a stitch in time saves nine!”) The gag brings the house down. Hey, this is more like it.

22:54. There is something of a mini-exodus, as people rush off to catch their last buses, or get out of the car parks before closing time. Undeterred, Dodd is in the middle of a bizarre operatic routine about haddock. It’s fast and wordy, and requires split-second timing. To our delight, the old boy pulls it off without a single hitch, to sustained applause. That interval seems to have done all of us the power of good…

23:10. The material is rather more “adult” in nature by now — but it’s merely risqué, and far from smutty. As the subject matter shifts from love-making to hospitals, so the material gets ever more considered and clever, playing to our intellects rather than going for endless quick-fire gags. We’re into late night, after-hours territory, and the belly laughs are rolling around the room. Behind me, one lady has almost completely lost it, roaring hysterically at every other word. Next to me, my companion is dabbing at his eyes with a handkerchief. Four hours in, and the octogenarian comedy legend is in peak form at last. Perhaps the people who left during the interval had got things the wrong way around — instead of leaving early, they should have arrived late.

23:25. Dickie Mint, the ever-popular ventriloquist’s doll, is sporting a guardsman’s uniform tonight. Some of his routine is still fresh in our memories from BBC2’s Christmas Eve “Ken Dodd Night” — but plenty of the gags are new, and no-one really minds. With all the quick-fire word-play between Dodd and his cheeky dummy, the famous “no bad language” rule comes very close to being broken — but in the end, our blushes are spared.

23:40. In between quips (“You know you’re entitled to an attendance allowance for staying here?”) Ken is reading out dedications from members of the audience. (“We’re one step away from turning into sheltered accommodation!”) The banter is flowing freely between the performer and the front two rows. The laughs are still rolling, and strange as it might sound, we feel like we could happily stay here all night. Two hours earlier, we couldn’t wait for the interval. Now we don’t want to leave.

23:55. Looking and sounding twenty years younger than the man who first stepped onto the stage, Dodd is working his way through some of his old hits — Love Is Like A ViolinTears — and working in the odd Johnny Cash impersonation along the way. A final semi-operatic skit sees him in fine voice, every inch the ageless master of his craft, the last member of the music hall generation still standing. We shall never see his like again.

00:06. Bang on the five hour mark, an unashamedly sentimental Absent Friends brings the night to a close. Suddenly, Ken sounds older and frailer again, as he reluctantly ekes out his final moments on stage, not yet quite ready to step back into the shadows.

00:09. A quick burst of his signature tune Happiness, and it is all over. We feel as if we have just scaled the comedy equivalent of the North Face of the Eiger. He’ll probably be back this time next year, just as he has been almost every year since 1954. Good old Ken. For many of his ever-loyal audience, the holday season just wouldn’t be the same without him.

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Monday November 12

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on November 12, 2007

Almost exactly seven years since his British live debut at The Maze, Ryan Adams returned for his fifth Nottingham show, backed once more by the four-piece Cardinals. Backlit and shrouded in mist, the players cut shadowy, enigmatic figures, with the formerly garrulous Adams struggling – and mostly succeeding – to maintain an equally enigmatic silence. (“We shouldn’t talk; we might break up.”)

Once a workable balance had been struck between the rock-based material and the comfortable sit-down surroundings, the band delivered a fine, musicianly two-hour performance. The mostly languid, nocturnal mood was bolstered by Jon Graboff’s atmospheric pedal steel, and punctured by occasional wig-outs such as the raucous “Shakedown on 9th Street”, and the experimental free-form jam which closed the main set.

Having conquered the addictions which threatened to derail his career, Adams has enjoyed renewed success with this year’s Easy Tiger. Album opener “Goodnight Rose” was a particular highlight, successfully blending influences from Roy Orbison to the Grateful Dead.

Initially swapping between guitar and piano, Adams gave up on the latter halfway through: although easy to play in his “wasted” days, he now finds it too “mathematical”. Set against such a welcome return to form, this was a small sacrifice indeed.

Donny Osmond – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Thursday October 18

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on October 19, 2007

There comes a point in every teen idol’s career where the hits dry up and the fans drift away, leaving the former idol with some tough choices. It’s a testing time, and many – if not most – never quite recover. Donny Osmond, on the other hand, is one of the great survivors. As last night’s show demonstrated, he has evolved into a seasoned, natural performer who strikes just the right balance between unashamed nostalgia and age-appropriate maturity.

Anyone expecting a syrupy schlock-fest was in for a surprise, as Donny based much of the two-hour set around his most recent album, an intelligently selected array of classic 1970s covers. Highlights included the funky opener Will It Go Round In Circles, a polished How Long, and the astonishing show-stopper Sometimes When We Touch, whose impassioned sincerity held the audience spellbound.

But of course, with most of the overwhelmingly female audience eager to roll back the years, those old teenybop hits had to be aired. Puppy Love was played for laughs (“just because we’re… pushing fifty!”), One Bad Apple was preceded by a wicked Michael Jackson impersonation, and The Twelfth Of Never was seemingly selected from an onstage iPod.

The hysteria peaked when Donny left the stage, strode right through the stalls by perching on seat backs, and then emerged at the front of both upper tiers, singing all the while. Thirty-five years ago, he would have been torn to pieces. Judging by his relaxed smile, he no longer misses those days at all.

Erasure / Onetwo – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Tuesday September 4th

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on September 5, 2007

Despite his many visits to the Royal Concert Hall over the years, few in last night’s audience appeared to recognise OMD keyboardist Paul Humphreys, now performing with Propaganda’s Claudia Brücken as part of Onetwo. Despite some initial nervousness, their brooding, dramatic synthpop was politely received, with the warmest applause reserved for the instantly recognisable Propaganda classic Duel.

Although they have never won the critical acclaim of fellow Eighties survivors the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure have achieved a similar level of success, on their own terms, without ever bending to musical fashions. You can always spot an Erasure song – but you might struggle to guess the decade in which it was recorded.

For this reason, the duo – Andy Bell as enthusiastic as ever on vocals, Vince Clarke as impassive as ever on keyboards – can easily switch between old and new material on stage, without anyone noticing the join. The new songs may not sell quite as well as they used to, but last night’s capacity crowd lapped them up as readily as the old hits. Opening the set, recent single Sunday Girl (no, not the Blondie number) got all three tiers on their feet, where they remained throughout. Not even the Pet Shop Boys managed that, when they played here in June.

But then, Erasure have always been more Pop than Art, and they’ve never been above letting their audience know that they’re having fun too: the three impeccably glamorous backing singers struggled to keep straight faces during Chains Of Love, and Andy performed old favourite Oh L’Amour as a duet with a fake fur stole called “Mint Sauce”. For beneath all the costumes and camp (paint-splattered suits, ridiculous Andy Warhol wigs, army fatigue cocktail dresses), there lies an unassuming generosity of spirit, which welcomes everyone to Erasure’s party. Long may they party on.

Andy Williams, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Thursday July 5

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on July 8, 2007

With less than five months until his eightieth birthday, Andy Williams is almost the last vocal artist of his generation still out there, performing on a regular basis. Even now, the first cracks and frailties in his singing voice are only just appearing. Strong as ever on the “big” notes, it was only during the softer, lower passages that you noticed any difficulties.

Looking trim and dapper in his dinner suit, and backed by a fine ten-piece band and four-strong chorus, Williams radiated a genial, assured charm, making it all look, as his old hit put it, “so easy”.

For those on a nostalgia kick, the old favourites were present and correct: a sassy, snappy Music To Watch Girls By, a tenderly yearning Home Lovin’ Man, and the evergreen classic Moon River, which drew a standing ovation. Can’t Take My Eyes Off You knocked spots off the version performed here recently by the Pet Shop Boys, and Smokey Robinson’s Just To See You set a high standard for the Motown legend to follow on Sunday evening.

While some covers worked better than others (Robbie Williams’ She’s The One was a bold but ill-advised choice), a thrilling rendition of MacArthur Park was the absolute musical highlight: adventurously arranged, and with Andy’s voice magically restored to full power.

The show ended with a historic announcement: not only was Nottingham the final date of the tour, but it was also Andy’s final tour. There had been something of the farewell lurking throughout the show – particularly during a slowed down Breaking Up Is Hard To Do – and now we knew why. With a minimum of fuss, Williams strolled casually off stage and, as Days Of Wine And Roses so poignantly put it, “towards a closing door, a door marked “nevermore” that wasn’t there before.”

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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Buena Vista Social Club – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Thursday March 22

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on March 23, 2007

Despite the recent loss of its three biggest names – Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González and Compay Segundo – the Buena Vista show rolls on, with star billing passed to four other key members. All are respected elder statesmen of the Cuban scene, who have enjoyed a new lease of life following the remarkable explosion of worldwide interest in their music.

Leading a frisky three-piece brass section, with a nice line in nifty (if occasionally shaky) formation dance steps, we had veteran trumpeter Guajiro Mirabal. Over on double bass, Cachaito López bears the unique distinction of having played on every track on every album in the Buena Vista series. Trombonist Jesús “Aguaje” Ramos – a spirited, commanding presence – doubled up as band leader. Clearly suffering from some unfortunate finger trouble, guitarist Manuel Galbán kept a low-key profile, only once taking centre stage.

The twelve piece band – natty in their double-breasted suits, and with an average age of at least seventy – also featured a younger pianist called Orlando, whose comparatively youthful vigour added an important extra dimension. His pounding, emphatic solos were rapturously received.

With no unifying backbeat to rely on, the rolling, fluid rhythms folded into each other, underpinned by rump-shaking basslines that all but begged you to get up and dance. In the overly reverential confines of the Royal Concert Hall, this proved impossible until the closing numbers – at which point, urged to our feet by the band, the whole atmosphere loosened up. If only we had lost our British reserve a little earlier.

The Musical Box: Selling England By The Pound – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Thursday March 8

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on March 8, 2007

Unlike other tribute bands, Genesis disciples The Musical Box take their devotion to the absolute extremes of historical accuracy. Every last detail of the band’s 1973 Selling England By The Pound tour is faithfully reproduced: not just the music, but also costumes, masks, backdrops, slides, and Peter Gabriel’s eccentric little speeches between songs.

The problem with this approach is that it kills any chance of spontaneity. Consequently, the show felt frozen in time, as if we were watching moving waxworks. However, for the real Genesis, the 1970s were a period of experimentation. This was, after all, “progressive” rock. To have their music portrayed in this way felt oddly regressive, and perhaps against their original spirit.

There again, as one of the old songs has it, “I know what I like, and I like what I know.” Thirty-four years on, the prog-rock crowd has inevitably become more conservative. There’s a comfort in hearing the familiar, and rolling back the years. And in any case, classic epics such as Supper’s Ready still deserve to be heard live, where their full power can be unleashed.

This crowd certainly knew what they liked, giving the band a standing ovation and roaring their appreciation.

Journey South – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Tuesday October 3

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on October 3, 2006

With a third placing in The X Factor and a surprise Number One album already under their belts, Middlesbrough brothers Carl and Andy Pemberton are now headlining their first major tour. This is a crucial, make-or-break time for the duo, who must be all too aware of the ever-growing string of reality TV casualties around them. From all the talent shows of the last few years, only three acts – Will Young, Girls Aloud and Lemar – have gone on to sustain long-term careers. The odds are stacked against them, and the stakes are high.

Judging by the opening medley – an embarrassingly clod-hopping lurch through The Boys Are Back In Town, My Generation and All Right Now – it seemed that all our worst suspicions were to be confirmed. This was bargain basement, lowest common denominator stuff, as emphasised by lead singer Andy’s clumsy over-eagerness, and his constant grandstanding to the crowd. Matters weren’t improved by the self-composed I’ll Be Your Desire, which merely demonstrated that no-one outside Eurovision should ever rhyme “desire” with “fire” and “higher”. A potentially decent rendition of U2’s One was massacred by a wholly unnecessary 1980s jazz sax solo.

However, all this changed with an “unplugged” She’s Always A Woman, which Carl and Andy dedicated to their parents in the audience. Suddenly, the evening clicked into place, as the brothers abandoned the cheesy covers and turned to the music they loved. Andy calmed down, Carl’s already strong voice moved up a notch, and a real sense of emotion was generated. The warm and tender harmonies of Bryan Adams’ Heaven were a highlight, and a funky Slow Train Coming showed that not all the up-tempo material need be a disaster.

Towards the end, signs of increasing maturity and assurance emerged. Billy Joel’s lengthy, complex Scenes From An Italian Restaurant was a bold risk which worked, and Carl demonstrated his guitar prowess with some fine bluesy licks on Bon Jovi’s Bed Of Roses. Perhaps these showed the way ahead – into adult contemporary soft-rock, appealing to the albums market rather than the singles charts.

Andy and Carl are delightfully unaffected, genuine lads, unashamedly grateful for their success, with solid singing talent and bags of charm. As their proud parents embraced each other during Desperado and the crowd rose to their feet around them, only the most hardened of rock snobs could remain unmoved, and fail to wish them continuing success.

David Essex, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Friday September 29

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on September 30, 2006

David Essex last played Nottingham in 2005, on the Once In A Lifetime package tour. Unlike the other former 1970s heartthrobs on the bill, there was nothing of the comeback-chasing faded star about his performance, which was easily the most assured of the night. For despite his long absence from the singles charts, Essex has never really gone away. As well as the string of stage musicals and TV appearances, he is still recording and releasing new music via his web site, for the benefit of his ever-loyal fan base.

And then there are the massive tours, which see Essex filling decent sized venues such as the Royal Concert Hall, year after year. Once again, he has chosen to start this year’s 48 date, three month marathon in Nottingham.

His audience splits into two groups: the nostalgia brigade, rolling back the years and partying like it was 1975, and the die-hards, who are clearly familiar with the newer material. The die-hards were mostly in the stalls, where they remained standing all the way through the show, even during the slower numbers.

At the age of 59, Essex looks every inch the “silver fox”, radiating an easy-going, twinkle-eyed charm which can still get the girls squealing: even the simple act of removing his coat earned him yelps of delight.

In recent years, he has adopted a back-to-basics style, performing with a simple four-piece backing band on an uncluttered stage. The set opened with a couple of songs from the forthcoming Beautiful Day album, before leaping straight into an extended run of hits: the atmospheric Rock On, the quirky Lamplight, the throbbing Silver Dream Machine (complete with vintage motor-biking film footage), the trenchant Imperial Wizard, and the amusingly corny If I Could.

After such a strong, crowd-pleasing start, the second half of the set inevitably came as something of an anti-climax. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the newer stuff – mostly mainstream, middle-of-the-road pop/rock – but equally, there’s little that reaches out to new listeners. Sequencing the show in this way was a bold move – but for the less committed amongst us, it also became something of a slog.

Nevertheless, all was forgotten by the end of the show. Hold Me Close woke everyone up, and the enduringly fantastic Gonna Make You A Star sent us home smiling. Based on the sheer warmth of his reception, you sense that this teen idol turned elder statesman still has plenty of successful years ahead of him.

The Osmonds, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Friday March 10

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on March 10, 2006

Having thrilled the Arena last summer on the “Once In A Lifetime” tour, former 1970s idols The Osmonds returned to an equally rapturous welcome. Were all these respectable (if rather flushed) ladies in their forties (with the occasional sheepish husband in tow) really the screaming, fainting teenyboppers of nearly 35 years ago?

As for the four brothers, each had aged differently.

“Joker” Jay, goateed and tightly waistcoated, bore an inescapable resemblance to Jeremy Beadle. “Crazy” Wayne, his parting shifted noticeably leftwards, was the most visibly elderly – but also the most energetic, radiating enjoyment throughout. As for “Distinguished” Merrill, his sleek silvery mane and thick beard brought Kenny Rogers to mind.

With older brother Alan retired through ill health, and with chief heartthrob Donny enjoying a revitalised solo career, the line-up was completed by the artist formerly known as “Little” Jimmy, who hammed gamely through his hokey childhood hits.

Despite a varied stylistic repertoire – from Motown to country, pop to rock, funky soul to schmaltzy balladry – the brothers’ performance style remained essentially pitched at the same level throughout. The smiles never let up for a minute – and, yes, those famous teeth glowed as brightly as ever.

However, this lack of emotional range meant that at times, especially during the challengingly hit-free second half, the effect was rather like being beaten around the head by a Hallmark greeting card. These guys may briefly have been pop stars – but with 49 years of experience behind them, they remain anchored in traditional showbiz values.