Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Transports, by Peter Bellamy - A Norfolk Love Story?

I have lived in Norwich now for over thirty years, yet still this city throws up new stories, and new places for me to visit. Take Kett's Heights, for example. I knew the story of Kett's Rebellion against land enclosures back in 1549, and knew that Robert Kett's rebels marched upon Norwich and besieged the city. The high ground which they used to make camp to the East of the city is now known as Kett's Heights, owned by Norwich City Council but supported by the Friends of Kett's Heights who aim to maintain the area as a welcoming space for the local community and visitors to Norwich.

I first made my way up to Kett's Heights only a few months ago. There is a gateway on the right hand side as you ascend Kett's Hill from the roundabout at the junction of Gurney Road, Barrack Street, and Bishop Bridge Road. Passing through this gate, and climbing the stepped path through the trees, brings you to an open area that was might once have been an orchard. This open area is perfect for outdoor theatre performances, and is indeed where I saw local company The Common Lot perform their history of migration show, 'Come Yew In', back in July. Proceed slightly further, and you arrive at the beacon installed in 1988 to mark the anniversary of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. At this point one is treated to panoramic views of the city of Norwich, including the castle, both cathedrals and the city hall and clock tower. It is now a vital destination on any tour for my visiting family or friends.

On Sunday August 13th this year I was back again, this time to watch a performance of Peter Bellamy's legendary ballad opera 'The Transports'. Written in 1973, and released at the end of the golden age of concept albums in 1977, 'The Transports' featured such folk luminaries of the time as Martin Carthy, Mike Waterson, Norma Waterson, June Tabor and Dave Swarbrick. It tells the true love story of Henry Cable and Susannah Holmes, who were separately tried for theft in 1783.

The death sentences are commuted to transportation to the Americas but, because of the American War of Independence, they remain in Norwich Prison for a period of three years, during which time Henry and Susannah start an illicit affair, and bear a child. When transportation commences to Australia instead Henry and Susannah are destined to be separated, and Susannah is told to give up the child. A public campaign taken to Lord Sydney, the then Home Secretary, results in permission for the threesome to travel together, and for Henry and Susannah to marry. They are even donated a bounty of £20, raised by public subscription, to establish their new life in Australia.

When Henry and Susannah arrive in Australia in 1788 they become the first convict transportees to be married in Sydney, and the first to successfully sue in court (Their 'bounty' of £20 was plundered by the captain of the ship, but Henry managed to win damages of £15 against him). Henry becomes a successful businessman in New South Wales, and he and Susannah had another ten children. Two hundred years on there are literally hundreds of descendants of Henry and Susannah who can trace their ancestry directly back to that early convict ship. The story remains today as much a part of the history of New South Wales as it does of Norwich.

Whilst 'The Transports' has been performed many times since 1977, local amateur theatre group Crude Apache are one of the only companies to fully dramatize it. This year's tour has seen their production performed at various locations around Norwich over the last ten days, as well as at Wymondham, Whitlingham Park and the Geledeston Locks. This swansong performance on a Sunday afternoon at Ketts Heights was my chance to see Crude Apache's cast of ten singers and twelve musicians bring this story to life.


At just over an hour in length this is a challenging project for any amateur company to achieve, but musical director Tim Lane and director Panda Monium have managed to create a magical performance that holds our attention from start to finish. Admittedly some of the performers' voices are stronger than others, and the band occasionally falters in maintaining momentum, but for the largely seated audience on the grass at Ketts Heights, the enchantment is clear to see, helped by the dappled sunlight shining through the surrounding trees. No narrator is needed to guide us through the storyline - Bellamy's words and music and the commitment of the cast mean that we are totally engrossed in every detail of this poignant and reflective love story. Of particular mention are Gillian Dean (who plays Susannah Holmes) and Leo Oakley (who takes the part of Henry Cable).

Thank you to Crude Apache for such a scintillating and enlightening afternoon, and to the Friends of Kett's Heights for their continued work in restoring the beauty of this iconic location.

Crude Apache Theatre Company Facebook page -

Friends of Kett's Heights Facebook page -

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Sonic Youths Celebrate Three Years of Showcases at Norwich Arts Centre

What a day for a third birthday party! It is August, but the rain started about lunchtime and just got heavier and heavier and heavier as the afternoon progressed. Even by early evening it was still coming down so hard that I had no option but to get the car out if I was going to attend the celebrations organised by Annie Catwoman at Norwich Arts Centre to celebrate three years of her Sonic Youths Showcases.

Open to all musicians of any genre, as long as they are between the ages of 14 and 19, Sonic Youths has provided a regular platform for young acts with original material who are either looking to make the move from practice and rehearsal to performing in front of a live audience, or just want to experience the atmosphere of playing in this prestigious venue.

Submission of demos in either audio or video format is invited by Annie, who then curates a lunchtime showcase in the Adnams Mission Hall Bar every three months or so. And once she has gotten her claws into you, you will probably be invited back to take part in further Sonic Youths events, either back at NAC or at various festival stages across the region. So far this this year Sonic Youths have had a stage in Norwich city centre as part of YNAF for the Lord Mayor's Celebrations, organised a couple of #ICYMI ('in case you missed it') reunion shows, and also curated a stage at Latitude. And as her sonic youths ultimately grow and fly away Annie continues to follow them all, posting updates and news via the Sonic Youths social media pages.

So tonight we have five acts performing, three on the main stage and two in the Adnams Mission Hall Bar. First up on the main stage is multi-instrumentalist and singer Hydra Lerna, known to many of us as Abigail Blake. Still playing her trademark harp, but now with a sound that capitalises on her growing production and studio skills, Abigail's new material seems to be advancing away from her earlier fusion of dubstep beats overlaid with twinkling loops, and is now entering a phase of self-exploration and new sounds. However, the harp has not yet been abandoned, and we are also treated to a recently composed instrumental piece that seems to take inspiration from her own personal hero, Agnes Obel.

In the bar Flora Pechey is already on stage and waiting to go. She has a confidence that defies an appearance of vulnerability, a voice that is gentle yet is clearly capable of reaching the big notes, and a songwriting style that is peppered with moments of unique phrasing that seem to possess almost hip-hop etymology. 

We'll Be Detectives perform tonight on the main stage as a three-piece, fronted by guitarist and lead singer Jonny Briggs. They are grungey, but without falling into the trap of trying to be or sound like Nirvana. Their own description of 'alternative rock bangers for everyone' seems to sum them up perfectly. Great songs executed with real stage presence.

Back in the bar one of the most talented of the new wave of Norwich singer-songwriters is setting up. Finn Doherty is a record company A&R person's dream - chiselled good looks, confident and personable - and possessing a sackful of songs deftly performed on guitars backed up with an array of pedals, samples and loops. As he plays, a group of girls move forward to surround him and begin to dance. Blend the musical DNAs of Ed Sheeran and Declan McKenna and you could create a singer more valuable than a bumper bag of bitcoins. But do it quickly, before this guy makes it big. 

The final act nearly doesn't make it beyond the first two lines of their opening number when Peach Club vocalist Katie Revell suddenly and without warning hits the stage, leaving the rest of the band not knowing quite what to do. Apparently the band had been throwing some shapes in the dressing room earlier when Katie had twisted her knee. Hopefully it is nothing more serious. The way she went down it looked as though a ligament might have snapped. A chair and an ice-pack are quickly located and rushed onto the stage, and Katie bravely re-starts the set from a seated position. But it isn't long before once again the energy and sounds of Peach Club prove impossible not to get up and dance to, even if you are the injured lead singer. Getting better and better with each and every performance, Peach Club have a defiant riot-grrrl politic and attitude that the music business desperately needs. Just take it easy in those pre-show warm-ups.

Hydra Lerna website -

Flora Pechey on Soundcloud -

We'll Be Detectives on Bandcamp -
We'll Be Detectives Facebook -

Finn Doherty on Soundcloud -

Peach Club on Soundcloud -

Sonic Youths Twitter -

The next Sonic Youths showcase will take place at Norwich Arts Centre on Saturday 9th September. Check out for further details.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Is This The Machine They Are Secretly Building, or is it just a Proto-Type?

Big Brother is watching? Ever since 1949, when George Orwell published his dystopian novel, 1984, conspiracists and libertarians alike have continued to warn us of a society that unwittingly allows itself to be scrutinised and monitored in minute detail. A database of recorded conversations, messages and images held for our own benefit. To protect us. For our own good.

Tonight, sixty eight years later, and with the horrors of Manchester and London Bridge fresh in our minds, Lincoln-based performance company Proto-Type brought their acclaimed show A Machine They Are Secretly Building to Norwich Arts Centre.

Within the space of just over one hour, and with the aid of a series of projected images and graphics, performers Rachel Baynton and Gillian Lees take us on a journey that begins in Whitehall in 1943 and propels us into the near-future, as our government and their security services' role in protecting us from perceived and potential enemies is put under the microscope.

As technology develops exponentially, then so does the storage capacity of the databases required to contain the bank of intercepted images, telephone conversations and online footprints of our daily lives. All unwittingly gifted away by our acceptance of the T&C's of our internet providers and mobile phone companies.

There is so much information presented within this show that you will almost certainly want to buy a copy of the script. Fortunately this is available at the end of the performance. But even if you try to wing it, and head off home with the image of Rachel and Gillian's balaclava-clad challenging resonating within your consciousness there is still much to stimulate thought. 

Why, for example, do we appear so keen to purchase dashcams for our cars, and download apps onto our mobile phones that allow us to check up on everything from intruders on the drive to the nursing care employed to look after our ageing relatives, and to monitor the childcare to whom we willingly delegate our parental responsibilities?

If you had the opportunity to view footage of a deceased loved one, or remember what you looked like fifty years ago, would you not log on to a retrospective version of Google Street View?

This is a brilliantly presented and thought-provoking show that I would urge you all to see. Agree, disagree, or just sit in the middle ground and allow this data be collected and catalogued, you will not leave without your mind buzzing with food for thought. 

And maybe a little bit of concern.

Proto-type Theater will be presenting There's A Machine They're Secretly Building  at the Edinburgh Fringe from 15th - 27th August. 

Monday, 5 June 2017

It Was Never Going to Be an Easy World - David Ford at Norwich Arts Centre

Back in January 2003 I took my then fourteen year old son to Norwich Arts Centre for one of his first ever experiences of a live music gig. The band was an Eastbourne trio by the name of Easyworld, and we both came away from the evening as big fans of the band, and also of the venue.

Alas, Easyworld were not to survive beyond 2004, although I would still recommend their two albums from that era, 2002's This Is Where I Stand and its excellent follow-up Kill The Last Romantic.

Although the band split, lead singer David Ford went on to release a string of solo albums, beginning with 2005's I Sincerely Apologise For All The Trouble I've Caused and culminating with 2014's The Arrangement. Critical acclaim followed, with return visits to Norwich Arts Centre in 2006 and 2007, and an appearance at 2010's Latitude Festival, being included among my re-acquaintances.

Despite collecting a loyal fanbase, receiving rave reviews from The Sunday Times, Word magazine and The Daily Telegraph, and writing a hit song for French superstar Johnny Halliday, commercial success still eluded Ford. He even went on to write an autobiographical account of his experiences in How To Nearly Make It In The Music Industry.

Anyhow, I digress. It is 2017, and I am back at Norwich Arts Centre. It is a Saturday night, and David Ford is here for one of ten UK dates in June accompanied by Michele Stodart (of The Magic Numbers), and New York City singer songwriter JP Ruggieri.

And it is JP Ruggieri who opens the evening with a gentle set of self-penned songs, mostly from his forthcoming album - of which sneaky advance-of-release copies were available at the merch stand. Ruggieri plays his guitars and sings, whilst Michele Stodard accompanies on bass and Ford is on keyboards. And this is what proves to be the formula for tonight's show. Each of the three artists has taken the time to learn and play each others' material, apparently with very little rehearsal time, but in so doing deliver a collaborative performance brimming with warmth and mutual respect. Some in the audience clearly remember JP from his appearance here just a couple of months ago supporting Jarrod Dickinson. Others will be queuing to buy tickets for his return to The Bicycle Shop on the 27th of this month.

JP Ruggieri

After a short break the trusty trio return to the stage, this time with Michele Stodart performing from her catalogue of material - open and honest songs with lush melodies and heartfelt lyrics. Quite different from songs written with brother Romeo for The Magic Numbers, Stodart abandons the bass to accompany herself on guitar whilst Ruggieri and Ford play alongside. Like that other 'gurning' bass player, Esme from Haim, Stodart pulls some awesome expressions out of the bag as she works through her set, but the voice is stunningly beautiful. As well as knowing her from The Magic Numbers, some of the audience will have seen her appearance at Norwich Arts Centre earlier this year alongside Ben Watt and Bernard Butler.

Michele Stodart

David Ford, as well as being a brilliant musician, is also an engaging and eloquent host, and we are not long into his set before we are hearing his views on the music industry, and also on the state of the global economy. The latter is borne out of an explanation of ideas and themes from his as-yet-unreleased new album -  it is the consequences of the way in which our banks were bailed out with public money that seems to irk him most.

David Ford

Like many other visiting artists who play the Arts Centre, Ford seems impressed with Norwich, even if St Benedicts Street is the yardstick being used to reach that conclusion. A suggestion from the audience that he explores Prince of Wales Road is given short thrift. But what again comes out of this set is the cameraderie and connection that clearly exists between these three musicians, and also with Irish drummer Phil Wilkinson. Although the posted set times suggest a one hour headline set and two thirty minute support slots, these four musicians have, to all intent and purposes, played for the entire evening with just the briefest of intervals, and the quality has been superb throughout.

David Ford is one of a growing number of artists who find the whole process of 'the encore' to be fake, and insulting to the intelligence of the audience. 'Why else', he asks, 'would a performer deliberately hold back their greatest hit or latest single on the assumption of receiving sufficient applause to justify an encore. Instead, and with the curfew approaching, Ford, Stodart, Ruggieri and Wilkinson choose to end the evening with a hugely fun version of The Knack's 1979 hit 'My Sharona', probably the least expected song ever with which to finish this evening of beautiful music.

Nobody said it would be an easy world.

Didgeridoos and Didgeridongs - Sonic Youths at Norwich Arts Centre

This was certainly one of the most intriguing and varied of  the Saturday afternoon Sonic Youths showcases that I have had the pleasure of attending at Norwich Arts Centre, and it was good to see the Adnams Mission Hall Bar buzzing on this, the first weekend of Summer.

And, as I settled myself at the bar with a pint of Wolf Brewery's Golden Jackal (3.7% ABV for all you real ale nuts - a honey-ish pale brew with a deceptively moreish flavour), Annie Catwoman's megaphone trill called the house to order and welcomed our first act to the stage, with a warning about anticipated volume levels, and the offer of earplugs to those with sensitive ears. 

For this was Ten Wxlves, the alter-ego of fourteen year old electronic bedroom composer Harley Riecansky, whose set features a blistering barrage of beats, samples and dub-step bass that is totally engrossing and hugely enjoyable. Referencing everything from Daft Punk to Pendulum to Fatboy Slim, Harley makes the whole process seem so slick and easy. And that is not just idle praise from an old-timer who still has serious problems setting his i-Pod to 'shuffle'. This was the sound of a young man who had had every foot tapping, as well as a few dance steps thrown by the youngsters present. Hugely impressed.

Ten Wxlves

Next up was possibly the most bizarre act to grace the Sonic Youths Showcase, ever. I would suspect that sound engineer Conor has never been asked to mike up a didgeridoo before, but that is exactly what was required for the next act. Featuring three guys whose busking is familiar to many around the streets of Norwich, and whose 'Just Doo It' t-shirts leave no doubt about the good-time vibe and dominant instrument employed, The Didgeridoods are exactly what it says on the tin - CiarĂ¡n Skipper swapping his trombone for something a little more antipodean, and augmented by Oskar Beckley on African drum and Izaac Adam on cajon, cowbell, and anything else he can hit his sticks on, which apppears to include chairs, tables and bar surfaces. The 'doods' take us through a free-form set happily seated on the floor, which is possibly another first for Sonic Youths, before inviting former Lobster sax-man Dominic Trevor to accompany them on the final flourish to their set, the imaginatively titled Didgeridong. Free-form and respectful Aboriginal-inspired jazz on a Saturday afternoon. Just love it. If you see these 'doods' busking around the city please drop a polymer-based fiver into their hat, although I am assured that nickel, brass and copper based products are equally acceptable.

The Didgeridoods feat. Dominic Trevor

Third act up is local singer songwriter Finn Doherty, and someone who I have seen perform several times before. Very confident, and very accomplished. Not only in his singing, playing and songwriting skills, but by his ability to embrace technology, and loop his own voice and rhythms into performances. I love his own material, and would certainly recommend his Heritage and Parenting EP. Particularly like the Jaztec remix of Bruv, and the Stevie Wonder cover of  So What The Fuss. Look out for Finn appearing alongside Leaone and Hydra Lerna at The Owl Sanctuary on June 15th.

Finn Doherty

Finally, and certainly not least, is Wymondham-based five-piece Tuesday Club. Never seen them before, but see lots of summery potential in their sound, which seems to include Wham!, Vampire Weekend and Friendly Fires in their influences. You'll get a chance to see them again at Bury St Edmunds' Homegrown Festival (9th - 11th June).

Tuesday Club

So, as we filter out into the summer sunshine, the sound crew are already prepping for the evening's show - a triple header led by ex-Easyworld frontman David Ford, together with The Magic Numbers' Michelle Stodart and Connecticut-based guitarist JP Ruggieri. A gig which I will share with you later.

And don't forget that Sonic Youths will be hosting acts on Norwich Arts Centre's Stage outside The Forum on July 8th, part of this year's Young Norfolk Arts Festival. Lineup is rumoured to include Cabrakid, Lobster, Midnight Zoo, and Maya Law & Allergy Kid.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

This is The Age of Anxiety - PIXX at Norwich Arts Centre

Showing once again just how astutely Pony Up keeps a finger firmly on the pulse of everything that is happening in the world of music, my first gig of June sees me at Norwich Arts Centre on the very day that PIXX, 21 year old Brit School graduate Hannah Rodgers, releases her debut album 'The Age of Anxiety'.

The band has a few more live dates before the festival season kicks off, and this was a first chance for me to see PIXX live before she re-appears in the DIY Alcove Stage on the Friday at Latitude.

The evening starts a few minutes late - traffic problems mean that bands have been late to arrive at the venue, and soundchecks have been delayed. It is Leeds-based trio Caro that open, and I am initially just about on the right side of lukewarm about them. There's a bit of Two Door Cinema Club and a bit of Little Comets, but nothing to really get excited about. However by the end of their set I have warmed to them quite a lot. There are some really interesting lyrics, and an almost folky texture going on with the guitars. Best tracks were 'Cold Comfort' and 'Closet Lunatic'.


Next up were old friends of Norwich Arts Centre - they even played at a friend's wedding reception here last year. Manningtree four-piece Superglu are always so energised and seemingly up for a good time that you know you are going to enjoy their performance wherever they play. They even headlined the Soapbox Stage at last year's Folk East, with a chaotic acoustic set that was a sheer delight to watch. Tonight was no exception. Superglu are also booked to play this year's Latitude Festival.


PIXX is touring with a three piece band consisting of guitar, keyboards and drums, leaving Ms Rodgers free to concentrate on vocal duties. The band are tight, and the sound is slightly louder and less ethereal than I remember from the album. Those expecting nothing more than an effervescent blend of electro-pop along the lines of Little Boots are immediately caught off balance by a moody, almost menacing, first number which PIXX delivers with an intensity that contrasts sonically as much as does her combination of patterned dress and black rubber-soled biker boots. But underneath lie layers of really beautiful words and melodies that demand your attention. Once again, there is a folk sensitivity in the lyrics, and an honesty and approachability that draws you in to the performance. Whilst you can hear rhythmic influences of bands like Lemon Jelly in 'I Bow Down', and more than once I am reminded of the palette of Peter Gabriel's earlier albums, there is also a really strong narrative throughout songs like 'Baboo' and 'Fall In' that remind me of the late Kirsty MacColl.


PIXX's performance is very much one of yin and yang - there is a side of the music that is light and almost fizzy in a danceable way, yet balanced against a worldly-wise cynicism and concern for the world that is almost worrying in one so young.

Because of the late running of the evening there is no time for an encore, but this has been a performance of quality that has already filled the tanks to overflowing. To hear more we will have to return to Henham Park in Suffolk in July and make a beeline for PIXX's Latitude appearance.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Sink Ya Teeth into Norwich Arts Centre

It is the last day of May, and I am at Norwich Arts Centre to see Sink Ya Teeth celebrate the launch of their new single 'If You See Me'. They recently signed to 1965 Records, and label-mates include Nadine Shah who played the Adnmas Spiegeltent in Norwich just over a week ago.

Sink Ya Teeth are Norwich musicians Maria Uzor (previously Girl in a Thunderbolt) and bass player Gemma Cullingford. Both are well known on the Norwich circuit, but it is since teaming up together that Maria's distinctive vocals and Gemma's intense bass playing  have sparked a chemical reaction of unstoppable force. They return to Norwich Arts Centre after supporting Californian dance-punk band !!!

Those who remember Maria from her Girl in a Thunderbolt days will still recognise those stripped back beats, and vocals reminding you of Grace Jones but also of Nadine Shah as well. Now, with Gemma adding a pulsating bass, Sink Ya Teeth become the fusion of previous incarnations but with dance rhythms and synth lines intensified and distilled and reminding at times of Joy Division and electro-pop darlings Goldfrapp. This is music that grabs you by the throat but also makes you want to wrestle free and dance.

Highlight of the set is when Maria invites onto the stage friends who danced on the video for the single 'If You See Me'. There follows a glorious three minutes of freestyle movement behind the band's concentrated and obviously joyful performance. This is a triumph and the reward for Sink Ya Teeth - a huge crowd to welcome them home to Norwich Arts Centre, a record deal with a national label, and a debut single that sells out on vinyl even before the gig has ended.

The encore is a song called 'Substitutes', but the truth is already out there. There is no substitute for Sink Ya Teeth.

Painted Heathers

Support came from Painted Heathers, a three piece led by guitarist and vocalist Brandon Jacobs. This is the third time that I have seen the band, and I have always been impressed by Jacobs' playing, vocals and stage presence - a bit like Graham Coxon and Damon Albarn morphed into one multi-faceted persona. What has come on in leaps and bounds, though, are the contributions made by drummer James and bass guitarist Lauren. The threesome are now looking and feeling like a cohesive band, and their final track 'Messed Up' is a real climax, with the band walking off stage as guitar feedback continues to fight and force its way through to the speakers.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Los Campesinos! Welcome Back to Norwich

There are some bands that tell you how much that they love touring, and how great it is to be back in Norwich (some even pronounce it correctly - it's not Nor-witch, but Norritch). And there are some bands that appear to behave on stage like a bunch of buddies but actually hate the sight of each other. They simply cannot wait to get off stage and back to their separate rooms at the Premier Inn. But very few manage to exude such joy and cameraderie, both to each other and to their audiences, and in such generous amounts as Los Campesinos!

Formed at Cardiff University in early 2006 as an eight-piece, the band released five albums between 2008 and 2014, during which time I saw them play Norwich Arts Centre twice and again at Festival No6 in Portmeirion. Yet they were never what I would call one of my 'favourite' bands. You know, one of those that you bang on about to all your friends, and always vote for in any on-line poll. The first and third albums are in my collection, and I listen to their stuff at home occasionally, and yet they are an act that I would still hate to miss if they came to town. Hence, on Saturday night, I was back at NAC to see them for the fourth time, and looking forward to hearing tracks from their latest album, Sick Scenes.

By the time I first saw Los Campesinos! back in 2010 the line-up had already changed slightly, and there have been a couple more departures and arrivals over the years, but that team spirit persists - all band members - Gareth, Neil, Tom, Kim, Rob, Jason and Matt continue the tradition of referencing their surnames as Campesinos! 

They line up on stage with vocalist Gareth and keyboard player Kim at the centre and drummer Jason to the rear. They are flanked to the right by bassist Matt and guitarist Tom, and to the left by Neil on guitar and Rob on keyboards and percussion. Gareth informs us that the previous night's gig in Brighton had been followed by an extended drinking session, and managed to get in the first football reference with a gentle tease about Brighton's promotion and their manager Chris Hughton (He later went on to wish us well in our next day 'totally pointless' match against Queens Park Rangers). The bonhomie continues with references to the night's WWE wrestling bout at Epic Studios, and with the news that the band much prefer Norwich Arts Centre to yet another well-known city venue.

But what of the gig itself, I hear you ask? Well, it was everything and more that you would expect from this committed and thoroughly entertaining outfit. Starting at 9:30 and playing right up until the 11:00pm curfew, Los Campesinos! start with Renato Dall'Ara (2008), the opening track off the new album, but then plunder the back catalogue mercilessly to bring us all the favourites - songs like My Year In Lists; We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed; Romance Is Boring; and Hello Sadness. It is a set that reminds you just how much this band has developed in its ten-year history, moving from the realms of indie twee-pop to something at times much darker and socially-aware. Whilst still not overtly political, Matt's pro-NHS t-shirt and Gareth's introductions to new songs like A Slow, Slow Death, demonstrate exactly which mast their colours have been nailed to.

It is a lively, at times, boisterous crowd that is whipped up into a frenzy, and at one point Gareth has to remind the 'big boys' to watch out for the smaller ones at the front. But this is really just a reciprocating appreciation by this Norwich crowd for one of their favourite returning acts. And, whilst exhuberant and energetic, it is worthy of mention that the band are still happy to perform without stage barriers, and even given security staff Annie and Jordan a special shout-out for their subtle, yet effective, stewarding.

The encore, which takes us right up to the wire, curfew wise, is a delightful trio of numbers - The Fall of Home (from Sick Scenes), the obligatory You! Me! Dancing!, and finally one of my personal favourites I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed, Just So You Know.

We are all Campesinos! tonight.

Support came from impressive punk-trio from Exeter, Muncie Girls. Fronted by bass-playing vocalist Lande Hekt, and accompanied by guitarist Dean McMullen and drummer Luke Ellis, the band presumably get their name from a line in the Coen Brothers film, The Hudsucker Proxy, where Tim Robbin's character , the naive Norville Barnes from Indiana, disbelieving finds out that undercover reporter Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a Muncie girl.

Muncie Girls

Muncie Girls have been together since 2012, and last year released their debut album From Caplan to Belize. With its Sylvia Plath referencing, this band is obviously influenced by American literature, although lyricist Hekt states that she was not well-read at school. They remind me a lot of Norwich's own Claws, although with Ellis' drumskins tightened to a blistering tautness their sound is incredibly percussive. Political, earnest and well worth listening to.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Calan on Tour - and there's Some Welsh Folk in Town

It's been a busy day, and I have had to process a quick turn-around in order to get down to Norwich Arts Centre in time for tonight's appearance from Welsh contemporary folk ensemble Calan. I've been over at the University of East Anglia to take some pictures of Anthony Gormley's recently installed 'Another Time' figures, and then spent the afternoon invigilating at this year's Norfolk and Norwich Open Studios taster exhibition at The Forum. It's been a funny old day. I have been snowed on, hailed on and rained on, and this is the last week in April. But neither weather nor tight schedules is going to make me miss this gig. If these five youngsters can endure the journey across from Wales to Norwich the least I can do is clamber onto my motorbike and drive the six miles to the Arts Centre.

I arrive just as opening act, Dan Wilde, is performing his first number. Although now living in Cambridge, Dan arrives in Norwich as support act to Calan on all English and Scottish dates for this tour. However, it is clear that many of tonight's audience are familiar with Dan's music, remembering him from the Cambridge Folk Festival, or from appearing with The Willows last year at The Portland Arms.

Dan Wilde

Casually dressed, and delivering a set of personal and honestly written songs, Dan appears relaxed and at ease with tonight's seated audience. Each number is preceded with an introduction that contributes a few more insights into his back story and experiences. There are songs about life's setbacks - like getting a £50 parking ticket after spending all day delivering telephone directories ('Abusing My Position'); there are songs inspired by his wife's literal translations of native Russian expressions ('Windy Head'); and there are hearwarming stories of meeting his two-year old niece for the first time. There's even a story about how his grandmother met her grandfather ('Hammersmith Palais'), although even he is now unsure of its voracity.

There has never been a shortage of guitar toting folk singers, but few do it with the charm and sharp observation of Dan Wilde. Not surprisingly, Dan is doing a brisk business on the merch stand during the interval as I make my way to the bar to get a beer.

My grandparents used to live in Swansea, and I remember what a long journey it was as a child, making our way from Lowestoft on the epic journey to reach Wales. Half a century on, and the roads may be slightly better, but it hard to think of a music venue further away from Calan's spiritual homeland.

Five youngsters who met originally whilst students at Cardiff University, Calan have released three albums since 2008, and are now touring to promote their fourth, 'Solomon', released less than two weeks ago. Their blend of traditional Welsh folk music, played on a mixture of accordion, guitar, harp, welsh bagpipes, fiddles and pipes, and supplemented with gorgeous vocals and displays of step dancing from accordion player Bethan Rhiannon, brings folk music bang up to date with rock and hip-hop influences from guitar player Sam Humphreys. Harpist Alice French gives her instrument an almost rock and roll credibility wearing it slung from her body via a shoulder strap, and Sam beats out hip-hop rhythms on his guitar body that are then fed through a loop. Yes, this is contemporary folk at its best.

But then Patrick Rimes produces a traditional Welsh pibgom, a reeded wooden pipe grafted onto a bull's horn, and switches from bagpipes to fiddle to whistle, all within the space of one song. Fiddle player Angharad Jenkins rues the fact that there are no Welsh speakers in tonight's audience, but includes a moving extract of poetry written by her father Nigel Jenkins that beautifully describes the Welsh landscape and culture. I instantly feel proud to claim my grandmother's Welsh lineage sown amidst my East Anglian roots.

There's a medley of tunes called Ryan Jigs, dedicated to Wales' success in last year's European Championships, beautiful lullabies dedicated to a friend's baby, stories about being held in a cell at Chicago airport, breathtaking step-dancing, and a tragic tale of a young Welsh girl taking her own life rather than bring shame on her family - sung beautifully in Welsh by Bethan. Her voice reminds me of Annie Haslan, from the seventies classical prog-folk fusion band Renaissance, and the rounded vowels and fricatives are as contemporary as, but smoother than, Cery Matthews of Catatonia.

The only slight criticism of tonight's performance was the absence of any space to get up and dance. Somehow, hand-clapping alone cannot not deliver sufficient or adequate expression in response to the energy of Calan's playing, and whilst many of tonight's audience would not have wanted to give up their seats, it was also clear that many felt constrained by the inability to get to their feet.

It was nice to see the members of the band happy to chat and sign CD's at the end of the show, and once again sales seemed brisk. Calan certainly won Norwich over tonight. Hopefully we will not have to wait too long for a return visit.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Getting Ready for Summer with Quarantine and Norfolk and Norwich Festival

Quarantine present 'Summer. Spring. Autumn. Winter.' at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival - May 13th and May 14th, The Space, Roundtree Way, Norwich.

I have always loved May. And not just because when I was working full-time it meant two Bank Holiday Mondays. In fact, as anyone who works in pharmacy will tell you, we end up doing exactly the same amount of work in those weeks, but in one day less and with twice the stress. No, the reason I love May is that it truly acknowledges that Summer is on its way. The days are longer, the air is warmer and life somehow just seems more wholesome and special.

Four years ago I walked out on my job as manager of a community pharmacy, and for the first three or four months I simply concentrated on getting my head together. Then, at a friend's suggestion, I decided to volunteer to become a part of the 120 strong stewarding team that assembles each year to assist the smooth running of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival (NNF). It is an annual arts extravaganza that can trace its beginnings way back to 1772 when it was suggested as a fund-raiser for the original Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. It is now one of the largest annual arts festivals in the country.

During that first year, what I thought would be a standard stewarding and signposting duty turned into an almost life-changing experience. Not only did I throw myself enthusiastically into every shift that I was initially offered, but I ended up doing extra shifts, and attending as many of the shows and performances as possible. It sowed the seeds not only for my return in future years, but for other festival duties, and led to my becoming an all-year-round member of the volunteer front-of-house team at Norwich Arts Centre, and also a writer for Outline, the local listing and review publication. How I ever found time to hold down a full-time job is now a mystery to me.

Whilst many of the volunteer team at NNF are happy to work behind the scenes as driver or runners, or to watch the performances from the sidelines whilst doubling up as stewards, I am always on the look out for opportunities to become more involved with the shows and projects themselves. In my first year, back in 2014, I helped out with the construction of a giant model of St Peter Mancroft church tower made entirely out of cardboard boxes. 'The People's Tower', designed by French artist Olivier Grossetete, was finally assembled underneath the canopy of The Forum in Millenium Plain, before being ceremoniously demolished in front of a huge audience.

2014 - The People's Tower

In 2015 I became a 'firefighter' in theatre company Periplum's outdoor interpretation of the Ray Bradbury book Fahrenheit 451, a spectacular show complete with music and pyrotechnics and performed by the river on a redevelopment site behind St James Court.  I also helped create chaos on the streets of Norwich as part of French company X-TNT's 'De-Driving Code', a slightly anarchic interpretation of our own Highway Code as well as an antidote to rules in general.

2015 - Fahrenheit 451

2015 - 'The De-Driving Code'

Last year, 2016, did not throw any opportunities in my direction to participate in productions, so I threw myself instead into seeing as many shows as possible, in between my stewarding duties. The highlight was undoubtedly festival director William Galinsky's production of William Shakespeare's 'The Tempest', performed in the historic Hippodrome Circus at Great Yarmouth, a show which I was able to see not once, but twice, having been charged with escorting audiences in coaches on the trip from Norwich.

2016 - The Tempest

And so to 2017. The volunteer rotas have been released, and I am really excited about being programmed to steward a selection of events, including Theatre Fragile's 'We Meet In Paradise'; IOU's 'Rear View', a moving (literally) show which is part-viewed from the back of a specially-converted double decker bus; and the jazz concert at St Andrews Hall from the Brad Mehldau Trio. I will also be present for both days of the free 'Garden Party' entertainment which is once again taking place in Chapelfield Gardens. 

And I have made sure of my place at the unique chance to see musical legends Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson on stage together at the Theatre Royal. Yes, I have actually bought a ticket for that one! Wild horses were not going to drag me away from the chance of seeing two of my all-time musical heroes perform live in Norwich.

And then there was the small matter of  'Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring.' This is an epic 7-hour production from acclaimed Manchester theatre group Quarantine. Performed as a quartet of four seasons, it looks in turn at Life in the now, reflections on Life, preparation for Death itself, and finally the potential of New Life. The call-out for 50 volunteers to come forward and participate in 'Summer' was accompanied by a search for 15 willing women in the various stages of pregnancy prepared to be involved in 'Spring'. Obviously I was ruled out of the latter, but being on stage with a whole bunch of strangers for an hour and a half during 'Summer', without any idea of what to expect, kind of appealed to me, so I threw my name into the hat.

We had our first proper rehearsal on Saturday morning. Just as the shops in Castle Mall were beginning to buzz with customers, the volunteer cast members for 'Summer' were assembling in an empty shop unit within the mall. A couple of people I recognised from previous NNF campaigns, but the rest were, to me, completely new faces. Not that I needed to worry. Richard Gregory and Renny O'Shea, Quarantine's two artistic directors, together with Sonia and Kate from the company, and Tanner and Becky from the festival team, made us all feel very welcome and, once the formal introductions were completed, we all began the important process of the rest of us getting to know one another.

And that seems to be an important factor in being part of the cast for 'Summer'. For the production to work successfully we will, over the next couple of weeks, need to learn about each other in a way that will allow us to function as a cohesive unit, yet leave us with the freedom to behave and perform as individuals. Part of this familiarisation process involves us just chatting informally, including over food - each rehearsal provides the chance for us all to eat together. Richard then leads us in a series of basic non-verbal floor routines that begin to get us accustomed to behaving as a team - one in particular reminded me of the manner in which a murmuration of starlings will form, and change leader, direction, and shape as they amass and swarm in the evening sky.

We have another three rehearsals this week, and then another three in Castle Mall before heading over to The Space, in Roundtree Way for final preparations and then performances on May 10th, 13th and 14th. I do believe that, as I write this, it may still not be too late to apply to join the cast of either 'Spring' or 'Summer'. Anybody interested should get in contact 'asap' with Otherwise, put the dates in your diary and buy a ticket to come and see what will surely be an extraordinary piece of work about living, dying and our relationship with time.

To buy tickets go to , or telephone the box office on 01603 766400.

'Summer' - photo from The Stage