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So far Chris Birchall has created 322 blog entries.

Musicians lost to 2016

Dear Grim Reaper.

You have been a greedy bastard. Now feck off, take a year’s sabbatical, and leave the world of music alone!

Yours sincerely

The Grim Roll Call

  1. David Bowie
  2. Dale Griffin (Mott The Hoople)
  3. Glenn Frey (Eagles)
  4. Colin Vearncombe, (Black)
  5. Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane)
  6. Signe Anderson (Jefferson Airplane)
  7. Maurice White (Earth Wind and Fire)
  8. Viola Beach (all four members)
  9. George Martin
  10. Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer)
  11. Andy Newman (Thunderclap Newman)
  12. Merle Haggard
  13. Jimmie Van Zant (American singer, songwriter)
  14. Prince
  15. Lonnie Mack (American rock, blues and country singer)
  16. Billy Paul (Me and Mrs Jones)
  17. Guy Clark (country and folk singer, songwriter)
  18. Dave Swarbrick
  19. Bernie Worrell (Parliament-Funkadelic / Talking Heads)
  20. Henry McCullough (Irish rock guitarist)
  21. Ralph Stanley (American bluegrass artist)
  22. Scotty Moore,(long time-guitarist with Elvis)
  23. Alan Vega (electronic protopunk duo Suicide)
  24. James Woolley (Nine Inch Nails)
  25. Matt Roberts (3 Doors Down)
  26. Rod Temperton (Heatwave)
  27. Pete Burns
  28. Bobby Vee
  29. Leonard Cohen
  30. Craig Gill, (Inspiral Carpets)
  31. Colonel Abrams (American singer/songwriter)
  32. Leon Russell
  33. Ray Columbus (and the Invaders)
  34. Bap Kennedy, (Belfast singer-songwriter)
  35. Sharon Jones (Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings)
  36. Wayne Duncan (Daddy Cool)
  37. Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake and Palmer)
  38. Rick Parfit (Status Quo)
  39. Joe Ligon (Mighty Clouds of Joy)
  40. George Michael

By |December 26th, 2016|0 Comments

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Scouse of the Rising Sun

“Scouse of the Rising Sun has the right amount of silliness and slapstick, blistering one-liners and a plot steeped in international espionage, all expertly woven into a wonderful patchwork blanket of musical mayhem that will have you laughing until you cry”

20161205-5625After a highly successful run of seven years with the same writer, surely it’s not possible that a change could be as good as a rest?

Many doubted it. In fact I wouldn’t mind betting quite a few reviewers had prepared the phrase “Come back Fred Lawless, all is forgiven” ready for use in this year’s Christmas show reviews.

In the event, such rhetoric would have been totally unwarranted. Scouse of the Rising Sun has taken to the Royal Court stage like a duck to water, and the audiences are taking it into their hearts.

20161205-5614To his credit, the script’s writer Kevin Fearon has resisted the temptation to deviate from the winning formula. As executive producer, he’s worked closely with all of Fred Lawless’s scripts over the years.

He has seen the way directors like Bob Eaton interpret them and how the actors, chosen for their unique brand of ‘scousness’, deliver the carefully crafted lines with precisely the right measure of innuendo.

Most of all he knows the Royal Court audiences, what they want, what keeps them loyal and coming back for more.

20161205-5664Scouse of the Rising Sun has the right amount of silliness and slapstick, blistering one-liners and a plot steeped in international espionage, all expertly woven into a wonderful patchwork blanket of musical mayhem that will have you laughing until you cry.

And what a patchwork… From disco to contemporary dance, from Shakespeare to James Bond, from Queen to Waltzing Matilda. Not to mention the zaniest version of “House of the Rising Sun” that you are ever likely to hear. All credit to musical director Howard Gray and his four-piece band tucked away in the upper reaches of the cleverly designed stage set.

All eight actors have an intimate knowledge of the Royal Court stage. Each one of them injects a uniqueness into their portrayal of their larger than life characters. There are no ‘bit parts’. They each share the lead with one another.

It’s not just me!
How ever much I am enjoying a show myself, I always take time to look around me and soak up the reaction of the rest of the audience. That mutuality was very much in evidence. The uncontrollable laughter, the cheers and jeers, and the enthusiastic applause was testament enough.

5-star-ratingEvery year I wonder how these Christmas shows could possibly get any better, yet every year that’s just what they do. And this one is no exception.

Get along and catch this wonderful show between now and January 14th. You deserve a treat!



By |December 8th, 2016|0 Comments

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Merry Hell at the Hermon


Hermon Chapel (picture – Barry Edwards)

Destined to be bull-dozed, the Hermon Chapel was purchased by social worker and Oswestry Town Councillor Duncan Kerr, whose vision and sheer hard work has transformed the building into a premises for public meetings, music performance and movie screenings.

Retaining the layout and furnishings of a traditional Welsh chapel, Duncan has added a tiny licensed bar, a sound system and stage lighting to create a performance space accommodating an audience of a little over 100.

There are some who might possibly play merry hell over the thought of  the former holy building being used for rock music, and that, figuatively speaking, is what happened last weekend. It was, of course, all good natured as those nicest of folk rockers, Merry Hell, descended from Wigan to perform their stuff.


Bob Kettle

The band’s six-piece acoustic(ish) line-up played two 45 minute sets that included many of their old favourites like Bury Me Naked and Drunken Serenade, and some from their newly released album Bloodlines, (a hairy review of which will follow soon).

The cosy atmosphere was fabulous and the band’s energetic enthusiasm for everything they do rubbed off onto the appreciative audience, many of whom where, quite literally, dancing in the aisles. Bob kettle’s new ‘alternative anthem’ Come on England, was one of the highlights for me. Another was his emotional and poignant song about refugees, Coming Home, sung by the entire band, a cappella.

The band were, as always, stunningly brilliant. If you’ve never seen them, please do! And if you can get to see them in a lovely little venue such as this, all the better.


By |November 29th, 2016|0 Comments

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Father O’Flaherty Saves a’r Souls (careful how you say it)

20161019-4802I can tell you from experience, that it’s one of the scariest things – to walk out on stage by yourself, in front of an auditorium full of expectant people. And I imagine it’s even worse when you are about to perform in the very first play that you’ve written yourself. So I wonder what the best tactic should be when that auditorium is full of journalists who have turned up especially to review your show.

In such circumstances, I guess you should choose your words carefully for your opening gambit. Well, how about, in your best drunken Irish priest accent, something along the lines of: “Ah. Press Night. Just look at you all, yer great shower of bastards”!

20161019-4905Haha! Only the inimitable Alan Stocks could carry off a stunt like that in front of one of the most critical of theatre audiences: The Reviewers. Not only did he get away with it, but every one of that shower of bastards spent the next two hours laughing until their ribs ached, before rising for one of the most enthusiastic standing ovations I’ve ever witnessed on a Press Night .

In The Beginning
Father O’Flaherty is a character originally conceived by Liverpool playwright Fred Lawless for “Merry Ding Dong”, his first ever Christmas show for the Royal Court, and Alan Stocks was cast for the part. I remember watching that play back in 2009 and thinking that this was the best drunken priest I’ve ever seen played by a stone cold sober actor.

20161019-4922He went down so well with Royal Court audiences that Father O’Flaherty was written into the theatre’s next Christmas show and the next, and the… Well I think you get the picture.  I get the feeling Fred Lawless came up with so many fabulous scripts by starting with a title and figuring how Father O’Flaherty going fit into this story line, before writing the rest of the script around him!

You Can’t Get Rid of the Good Father
Alan made the character his own. But with Fred Lawless taking a sabbatical from writing the Christmas show, it looked like it looked like the good father’s run was about to come to an end.

20161019-4895But the Royal Court producers were having none of it. They asked Alan if he would consider writing a new play himself, based entirely around the drunken Irish priest.

It was quite a challenge for someone who’d never actually written anything himself before, and he was the first to admit it was a somewhat daunting task.

Alan needn’t have worried, Having come to know Father O’Flaherty rather intimately through the five or six previous plays, the whole thing came to together – not only effortlessly, but rather brilliantly.

20161019-4870With the help of four talented fellow actors Paul Duckworth (Father Devlin and God), Clare Bowles (Mrs Ruby), Helen Carter and Keddy Sutton (who played the good Sisters, Harley and Davidson) and one of the best directors in the business, Bob Eaton, they have come up with one of the craziest comedies I’ve seen in a long time. And this is no mean feat in what has been a particularly good year for scouse comedies!

Paul, who we are used to seeing cast as the bad guy, played a devilishly phoney cleric and an almighty big bad God.

Being Irish, Clare had no trouble with the accent as the priest’s grumpy housekeeper. The grumpy bit was damn good acting though, because she’s a lovely lady in reality.

There were some cracking musical moments amid the comedy. Helen Carter, in particular, belted out some superb numbers.

And Keddy Sutton… Well what can I say… Playing the part of a nun with multiple personality disorder, she hilariously transformed into some wonderfully convincing characters, including Peggy Mitchell and Cilla Black.

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Alan Stocks’ ten minute monologue alone is worth the ticket price.

About to deliver a sermon, and having misplaced his bible, the good priest declares: “Feck it, I don’t need the big book”. His cleverly scripted ‘Ad lib’ of the Gospel according to ‘Cool Hand Luke’ left hardly a dry eye in the house – and the same goes for a few of the seats too, I wouldn’t wonder!

In the league of five star comedies, Father O’Flaherty Saves Our Souls is definitely a five star plus. Do yourselves a favour. Get along to Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre before the 12th of November. I promise you won’t regret it.


By |October 20th, 2016|0 Comments

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Twopence to Cross the Mersey

20160921-4429Adapted from the autobiographical book by best-selling author Helen Forrester, Twopence to Cross the Mersey tells of a family who return to Liverpool in the early thirties, having lost everything in The Great Depression that followed the Wall Street Crash.

In adapting the story for the theatre, writer Rob Fennah chose to have the actors narrate the story from the stage, taking it in turns to intersperse the narrative with the dialogue as they enacted the various scenes.

This  is not an easy technique to get right, and is one that could easily have left the audience lost and confused.

In this case however, Rob Fennah had tackled the script with text book precision, without losing sight of the emotion and compassion. And together with the masterful direction of Bob Eaton, and a dedicated and talented cast, they executed it to perfection and kept the audience attentive and enthralled throughout.

20160921-4424Certainly, watching the story unfold, made this reviewer reflect on the fact that however much we feel badly done-by under today’s austerity measures, we really don’t know we are born. It also gave me something of an insight to the lot of my dear late father who was born just fifteen days after Helen Forrester and was a young teenager in Liverpool at the very time in which this play is set.

Each of the actors conveyed the harshness of the situation and the desperation that families, especially the large families, must have felt. But as hard as the times were, the people of Liverpool still managed to find a little humour, and this was delivered magnificently by Royal Court stalwarts Eithne Browne and Jake Abraham, in measured amounts of comedy that didn’t take anything away from the drama.

20160921-4422Whereas the rest of the cast portrayed three or more characters throughout the play – and in Eithne Browne’s case no fewer than nine – Maria Lovelady played just the one, that of the central character of Helen Forrester herself.

And it was no mean feat. She was on the stage for pretty much a hundred percent of the time and she captured the hearts of the audience as she went through the extremes of emotions from sheer joy to the depths of despair.

The Royal Court is renowned for its rawkus comedies. This of course is a drama. But it’s not a dark and heavy drama. It”s a play about this family coped with hard times. And in fact, Twopence to Cross the Mersey ends with a light at the end of the tunnel, but at the same time, knowing that the Second World War was yet to come, you are left wanting more.

20160921-4440Well there is more to come. For Helen Forrester wrote four novels about her time in this great city and writer Rob Fennah is already working on the sequel “By the Waters of Liverpool”.

This play gets five stars from me.  And although it will continue on a tour of six other Merseyside and North Wales venues, you really should get to see it at the magnificent Royal Court before it departs on October 8th – and that, as they say, is my two penn’orth!

By |September 25th, 2016|0 Comments

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