The Wytches – Live

13 Aug

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Green Door Store: Thursday, August 8, 2013.

For 40 minutes tonight The Wytches frontman Kristian Bell screamed, screeched and occasionally sang with scant regard for the long-term well-being of his vocal cords. He’s either a reckless hardnut or routinely fills up his rider with packets of Lockets and vats of honey to make amends. Whichever, it was a thrilling spectacle.

With his bandmates providing an accompanying cacophony of dark, psychedelic slabs of rhythm to boot, it’s no shock that the Brighton-based, Peterborough-raised three-piece are enjoying a well-earned dose of media hype. As soon as the distorted bass of the opening instrumental morphed into an almighty wall of noise – with the three of them seemingly in worlds of their own, yet moving in perfect unison – it was blindingly obvious they weren’t as much up for this as already halfway there.

For the remainder of the set, those crammed into the venue were subjected to a full frontal sonic attack. At times it was like the rabid offspring of Future of the Left letting loose in the midst of a particularly bad acid trip, at others their brooding hooks and masterful melodies – seemingly more prominent than at their much talked about Great Escape outings earlier in the year – scythed through your skull with unnerving precision.

The Wytches really do concoct a potent brew. It’s surely only a matter of time before an even wider audience comes under their spell.

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Jam Tarts: Tart Attack – Live

1 Jul

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The Old Market, Hove: Friday, June 21, 2013

Brighton’s Jam Tarts are a sonic sugar rush for those who crave mass harmonies, but want them free of sickly religious sentiment or the saccharine emotions of West End stage shows.

In their first show of the year, the 55-strong ensemble soared and swooned through 21 of choir leader Li Mills’ inimitable interpretations of songs by artists as diverse as Billy Bragg, Nirvana, Beyoncé and Nick Cave.

After a nervy start with The Teardrop Explodes’ Reward and Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know, they struck gold with their first ever outing of Echo & The Bunnymen’s Silver – a version so joyous that it would make notorious curmudgeon Ian McCulloch throw off his Parka and swing from a chandelier.

The Tarts’ appeal lies in the fact they are not simply 55 people singing en masse; instead they perform cleverly constructed pieces that spectacularly reveal their depth and range.

No more so was this evident than on a genuinely spine-tingling version of Bat For Lashes’ Laura which then seamlessly segued into Bowie’s Changes.

Musically, the Tarts were bang on the money, but it was never at the expense of a giggle or a good time, as a clever and comical finale of O Fortuna showed.

Bearing in mind their name, it’s no surprise this lot are decidedly moreish.

Comedy review: Henning Wehn – Live

1 Jul

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Bexhill De la Warr Pavilion: Saturday, June 8, 2013

Somewhat appropriately for a comic who delivers an act in his second language, there are very much two sides to Henning Wehn’s “rallies”.

Having honed his persona over the last 12 years in the rough and tumble of the comedy club circuit, it’s no surprise he can freely wheel out a steady stream of German puns, war references and sarcastic comments about British tardiness with supreme efficiency during the full-throttle opening half.

So while the assertion that the Germans don’t have a stereotype for the British “because you aren’t important enough”, a rousing condemnation of the “lazy Greeks” for needing German bailouts and his conclusion that he knew he’d been assimilated to life in the UK when “having a laugh outweighed logic” successfully mocked the audience and himself – it was the second half airing of his Henning Knows Bestest show that raised the bar by supremely shattering the stereotypes he’d cleverly teed up.

Aside from lampooning the British-German relationship with wide-eyed innocence and sharp observational insights, Wehn also swiftly dismissed the debate around Scottish Independence with withering accuracy, ruthlessly tore apart those people who raise money for charity by growing facial hair and brilliantly belittled the bizarre political correctness that dictates what uniforms are acceptable at Second World War re-enactments.

Like his homeland’s economy, Wehn’s comedy stock is in rude health.

Brighton Fringe Review: Darren Walsh – I am Giant

4 Jun

DarrenWalsh(Picture by David Price: www.davidpricephotography.co.uk)

Hobgoblin: Saturday, June 1 2013

Darren Walsh’s I Am A Giant set was only 30 minutes long but not a second of it was wasted as he crammed in scores of quick-fire gags, visual tomfoolery and an array of exquisitely timed sound effects.

There was no gentle build up or needless chit-chat, just a full on assault on the funny bones as he unveiled an array of daft cartoons complete with killer punch-lines – look out for an off-the-wall appearance by Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash, a priceless play on words about Weston-super-Mare and a painstakingly created Nazi dolphin for oozes of surrealism and epic proportions of silliness.

After exhausting the images, he showed he’s a dab-hand at daft impressions too by seamlessly switching between Bowie, Morrissey and Schwarzenegger, before showcasing some impressive physical japes, complete with synchronised sound effects, by having a scrap with, erm, a horse.

With a set bulging with ideas, it was almost inevitable that the odd rapid-fire quip was going to be wide of the mark – and a few of his more cheesy puns have been around the block more than once – but Walsh’s overall strike rate was of Top Gun proportions.

The tall fella’s going far.

Brighton Fringe Review – Joe Wells: Night of the Living Tories

3 Jun

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Caroline of Brunswick: Friday, March 24, 2013

He doesn’t mind being called pudgy and he’ll tolerate being classed as well- spoken; just don’t tell him he looks like a Tory boy.

It’s fair to say Joe Well’s visceral hatred of the Conservative Party is as strong as his aversion to dropping his aitches or hitting the cross trainer.

In the debut outing for his Night of the Living the Tories show, Well’s showed why he is one the finest young political comics doing the rounds; he’s bold, cutting and, at times, ruthless.

At his peak he was unstoppable, especially when it came to race. He turned Bernard Manning jokes on their head – cleverly swapping the butt of them from black people to Conservatives – while later brilliantly belittling the ‘The ain’t no black in the Union Jack’ chant so favoured by the BNP and EDL.

The set wasn’t without fault though, not least because Wells had a tendency to resort to simplistic attacks on individuals – Michael Gove and Nick Clegg in particular – that have often been heard before.

And while the finale – a laugh-out-loud take on the voice adopted by so many performance poets – was bang on the money, it felt more like an add-on than a finely crafted conclusion to an hours’ political rabble rousing.

Well’s is well worth keeping an eye on, even if he isn’t quite the full-blown comedy revolutionary just yet.

 

 

Brighton Festival Review – Luke Harding: Mafia State

24 May

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Brighton Dome Studio: Sunday, May 12 2013

Despite the end of the Cold War and the establishment of a so-called democratic system, in many respects the Russian security services still act like the Iron Curtain never fell.

That was the experience of the Guardian’s man in Moscow Luke Harding.

Harding – promoting his book the Mafia State – said he made one crucial ‘mistake’; he sought to write the truth as he saw it about Vladimir Putin and the security services.

The reaction of the state’s henchmen was both predictably intimidating yet at times surprisingly comical.

During this hour-long talk, Harding revealed how he would be put under surveillance when meeting friends, claiming the “pasty-faced” security men were more “keystone cops” than serious operators.

More concerning, however, was the repeated break-ins to the flat in which he lived with his wife and two young children; the point being not to steal anything, but to repeatedly remind them they were being watched.

While being the first Western journalist to be expelled from the country since the end of the Cold War brought him lots of attention, Harding was modest about his journalistic achievements.

The real heroes, he rightly maintained, are the Russian journalists and human rights activists who courageously stand up to Putin and his ruthless regime every day. For them, there is nowhere else to return.

Brighton Fringe Review – The Dying Days of Blair

24 May

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Hove Town Hall: Thursday, May 9 2013.

Six years to the day that Tony Blair announced he was standing down, Brighton-based writer Chris Henry’s one man show was given its first outing.

Set in the office of newspaper editor Andrew Harding (played by Matt Cotton) it followed the hack’s increasingly desperate and comical attempts to stand up his story that Blair was set to resign – after it had gone to press.

While this show might have its roots in reality, much of what followed was far fetched.

Cotton played the part with gusto, but the role of a panic-stricken editor, lacking any semblance of self-control or conviction, just didn’t ring true.

That said, it was the absence of credibility – such as Harding not being able to pull a front page five minutes after the presses started rolling – that laid the play’s comic platform.

Henry was then merciless with his withering treatment of Harding and the likes of Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson and Cherie Booth – with the hilariously crafted text messages and emails that pinged between them flashing up on a big screen as the ‘will he, won’t he go’ plot unfolded.

As a concept and a feat of presentation, this was an undoubted success – albeit one tempered by a less than believable central character. Not too dissimilar to New Labour then.

Brighton Fringe Review – Phil Kay

7 May

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The Temple Bar: Sunday, May 5, 2013

It says a lot about the free-spirited nature of veteran comedian Phil Kay that he started his annual fringe appearances with an hour-long bike ride for willing participants.

It says even more that he didn’t have a bike, hence numerous tweets throughout the afternoon from promoters asking if he could borrow one.

Anyone who’s seen the Glaswegian’s frenetic, rambling comedy routines will know he takes the same haphazard approach to stand up as he does to bicycle procurement; he’s far more inclined to wing it and hope for the best than come equipped with something that’s been expertly crafted for his particular needs.

And that’s why he’s one most of exhilarating performers around.

The only thing you can legitimately expect is the unexpected – as was the case here with an hour-long mishmash of inane waffle, out-there musings and booze-soaked recollections loosely hooked on the good old bike.

He regaled the crowd with tales about numerous cycle-related scrapes, run-ins with the old bill, falling victim to thieves and the joys of free-wheeling at night while tanked up – not to mention frantically careering off at numerous unrelated tangents whenever the mood took him.

Kay is the ultimate comedic easy rider; you have to hop on the back of his rattling tandem and be prepared to go wherever he fancies. You won’t be disappointed.

Brighton Fringe Review – Jonny and the Baptists

7 May

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Komedia: Saturday, May 4, 2013

High octane musical comedy rabble-rousers Jonny and the Baptists don’t conform to stereotypes.

Not only does self-confessed posh lad Jonny Donahue sound like an old Etonian while looking like a Cockney wide boy in his flat cap, but they are one of very few acts whose politically motivated songs don’t ever grate with even a hint of right-on indignation because they are expertly infused with biblical proportions of sillyness and surrealism.

Their opening number about saving libraries sought to put the “oo” back into “books” by persuading people to have sex in said premises – although “not in the children’s section”; Scottish independence was tackled with the ‘love song’ Scotland Don’t Leave Me which compared devolution to a trial separation and concluded that England “can’t bring up little Wales without you”; while their lament to the diminishing number of traditional pubs rightly revealed a visceral hatred for those establishments which flog wasabi nuts instead of pickled eggs.

The musical offerings were interspersed with bucketfuls of bluster and bonhomie from the infectious Donahue whose seemingly unlimited confidence was countered by some essential self-deprecating charm – even if they have “been on Radio 4 you know”.

If they carry on like this, their congregation will soon stretch much further and wider than that.

Adam Green and Binki Shapiro – Live

19 Apr

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The Haunt: Monday, April 15 2013

It’s a sad state of affairs when most of the hype around this gig centred on whether Macaulay Caulkin – whose only claim to fame since Home Alone appears to be escaping unscathed from Michael Jackson’s bed – would again join Green and Shapiro on stage.

He finally appeared for the climax – a chaotic cover of the Beach Boy’s Kokomo – which judging by the number of camera phones that were whipped out was probably the highlight for two thirds of those here. Which was a shame, because the NY (him) and LA (her) duo don’t really need cheap or wacky stunts to attract attention – they’ve already got enough quirks and quality to stand out from the crowd.

The set was interspersed with several of Green’s anarchic solo offerings, allowing him to ditch his acoustic guitar and unleash his hyped-up Cocker-esque moves, complete with flailing limbs, cheeky shimmies and hand gestures like a deranged puppeteer – but the undoubted highlights were when they combined to perform songs from their first collective, self-titled, release.

The dual vocals on the classical 60s pop noir of the likes of Pity Love and Just To Make Me Feel Good were perfectly complimentary – with his deeper burr a perfect foil to her winsome peaks – while their toing and froing on Casanova would make a fine soundtrack to a deliberately hammy prom night movie.

Just keep Caulkin out of the camera shot, though, or it would probably end up going straight to DVD.

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