Music related postings

Girls Don’t Play Guitars

When those words were uttered by John Lennon back in 1963, four young Liverpool lasses set out to prove him wrong by forming the world’s first all-girl rock ‘n roll group.

Mary McGlory, Pam Birch, Valerie Gell and Sylvia Saunders took the city by storm, performing at its many clubs including, of course, the most famous of all, The Cavern.

This wonderfully energetic and uplifting play charts their journey from Merseyside to the legendary Star Club in Hamburg and beyond. And it does so in true Royal Court style, through the medium of music and song, performed live on stage by as talented a bunch of young actors as you will find anywhere.

In fact, casting for this show couldn’t have been easy, because the producers had to find four girls in their teens or early twenties who could not only play the guitar and sing but also convincingly and faithfully reproduce those distinctive sounds of the sixties.

They also had to have convincing accents of course.

Molly Grace Cuttler, Alice McKenna and Sarah Workman drew upon their acting skills to achieve this, whereas for Lisa Wright the process was almost inverted.

Having trained at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, she found herself having to reverse-engineer the accent into the much softer dialect of sixty years ago. As a recipient of the LIPA Acting Prize for Performance, however, that was never going to be an impossible task.

The boundless energy on that cleverly designed stage was infectious, as they belted out song after song. Twenty-two in all, including many well-known earworms of the era such as “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Too Much Monkey Business”, Got my Mojo Working” and “Peanut Butter”. So infectious in fact, that the packed audience were not only clapping their hands and singing along, they were quite literally dancing in the aisles.

Although somewhat overshadowed by the girls, six equally talented male actors made up the rest of the cast, variously playing the parts of (among others) the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Brian Epstein and Manfred Weissleder, the owner of Hamburg’s Star Club, who went on to become the Liverbirds’ manager.

Just as the audience were about to relax back into their seats following the most animated standing ovation I have ever seen, the young Liverbirds beckoned two ladies from the auditorium to join them on stage. It was the original band’s drummer Sylvia Saunders (now Wiggins) and bassist Mary McGlory (now Dostal). And it was not just for a curtain-call either, for these two ladies, now in their seventies, took to the bass and drums to rock the Royal Court as if they were still in their heyday.

It was a fabulous way to bring the curtain down on a truly fabulous show, one I will remember for a long time. In fact, I want to get to see it again before the end of its run on November 2nd.

It gets 5 stars from me without any hesitation.

By |October 12th, 2019|0 Comments

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Freddy Starr at Ruthin Picture House

It was so sad to hear today of the passing of Freddy Starr. I met him back in the 1960s when, as a fledgeling pop star, he performed at the old Picture House in my home town of Ruthin in North Wales. He appeared here three times and my band, The Executioners, were the support act.

Freddy would have been about 20 or 21 back then and was already exhibiting the zany manic behaviour that would become his comedy forte.

On each occasion, he had a different band. I guess many of those young musicians just couldn’t stand the hectic pace. First, it was “Freddy Starr and the Flamingos”, then “Freddy Starr and the Starlights”, and on the third occasion “Freddy Starr and the Midnighters” – the band who eventually stuck with him and were taken on by Brian Epstein. The Merseyside band released a number of records before Freddy eventually burst into television, appearing as Freddy Starr and the Delmonts, and gaining national (and eventually international) recognition.

My memories of Freddy in those early days at Ruthin were that on stage he was a brilliant singer and, incidentally, one of the best Elvis impersonators ever. Offstage, he was what you would have called a bit of a lad. Never still, never quiet. He had us in stitches for much of the time and he drove the then manager of the Picture House to distraction.

I never saw him eat a hamster. 🙂 Basically, I remember him as being a nice bloke.

Rest in Peace Freddy.

By |May 10th, 2019|0 Comments

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Filming “A Certain Kind”

One of the nice things about being retired is that, to a certain extent, I can pick and choose what I do. And I can respond readily to requests such as “Dad, are you free on Sunday to manhandle the GoPro?”

The brief was to spend two minutes filming Isaac and his pal Andy walking along a path miming to the new single off their latest Cats and Crows album, Winter.

“We can do it in one take,” he said.  Yea, right!

The song, A Certain Kind” is actually four minutes long. The idea was to film him miming at double speed to impart a nice flow to the footage.

So it would involve walking quite fast but that was okay because the GoPro was to be mounted on a Gimble, effectively turning it into a SteadyCam which would iron out the bumps.

Ah… hang on… all this would need to be done walking backwards down a winding, uneven path littered with obstacles such as signs and fence posts. And all whilst Andy clowns around (literally) with water pistols, balloons and exploding Coke cans. Not quite so simple as the initial brief suggested but a lot more interesting nevertheless.

Isaac had made a detailed script for Steph to stage-manage and shout out the carefully timed cues. We had a couple of dry runs to rehearse, whilst Jayne broke out the face paints to complete Andy’s transformation.

When it came to the actual shoot, Jayne walked alongside me with a hand on my shoulder. She had to be the eyes in the back of my head, guiding me around corners and past the obstacles so I could concentrate on the framing, whilst Steph kept out of shot, timing everything, shouting prompts and handing the various props to Andy the clown.

We did it in four takes and I had the good grace to avoid falling arse-over-tit until right at the end of the last segment, much to the delight of the onlookers gathered at the windows of the nearby houses.

Then it was off to Isaac’s man cave where he carefully edited the footage. It was good to see his vision of the video come to fruition. And over 7,000 FaceBook views over the first three days was a great way to launch the single.

Video directed by Isaac Birchall, Filmed by The Hairy Photographer, Edited & Produced by Well Street Records.

A Certain Kind is the first single from the Cats and Crows album, ‘Winter’

Cats and Crows are Isaac Birchall & Andy Cooper.
(C) Cats and Crows 2019

Buy it here:

By |January 23rd, 2019|0 Comments

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There’s Something About Simon

Photo by Mark McNulty

There is something about the music of Paul Simon.  It was the sound of my generation. When I hung up the bass guitar that had accompanied my teenage journey through the clubs and pubs of the north-west, I bought myself a vintage EKO and a couple of songbooks. After six or seven years of thumbing out basslines to the  sound of the Mersey beat, I was ready for something a little more folkie and so it was the Paul Simon Song Book and later, Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, that helped me realise that one man’s ceiling really can be another man’s floor.

I didn’t get very far off that floor though, my efforts to learn fingerstyle guitar were thwarted by day-job, marriage and family, but I always loved those Paul Simon songs and am still crazy about them after all these years.

Gary, Skeet and Christian at Ruthin AllStyles

Fast forward several decades to the Spring of 2014 when a Liverpool lad, by the name of Gary Edward Jones, came to perform a showcase at my local folk club. I was knocked out by his music and we became good friends.

Soon after we met, I told him how much he looked, and sounded, like Paul Simon.  It appears I wasn’t the first, and in fact, it had become something of an annoyance to Gary that people kept pointing out these similarities. He was and still is, a brilliant songwriter in his own right, so why would he be interested in going down the route of covering another artists songs?

Photo by Victor Pennington

The Cabinet Maker
Gary’s first album “The Cabinet Maker” is a testament to just how good this man is. The album launch at Liverpool’s magnificent St George’s Hall that November was hands down one of the most beautiful musical events I have had the honour of being present at. The album was met with a huge amount of critical acclaim and enjoyed 17 weeks in the upper reaches of the Radio Caroline charts.

But as pretty much any unsigned musician will tell you, such success may well spawn recognition, CD sales and a lot more gigs but rarely does it go far enough to be able to give up the day job.

The Journey Begins
Then in the latter part of 2016, Gary sent me this clip of him singing Kathy’s Song. Testing the water maybe, and whether he really wanted encouragement or not, encouragement he got, from me and from most of his close musical contemporaries.

Having succumbed to all the encouragement, Gary was not going to “just sing and play Paul Simon songs”, he spent hours every day living and breathing Paul Simon. Formerly a “thumb and one finger” Travis-picker, he studied the unique style of the man himself, perfecting every sound and nuance. If he was going to do this, he was going to do it properly.

Over the years, I have seen and heard hundreds of people covering those same songs. Most far better than my own early strumbling efforts, but none who could actually play them in exactly the same style as the songwriter himself.

Photo by Anthony Robling. 

The Epstein Concert
And because Gary’s voice has a similar dynamic range and tone, he made a conscious decision not to attempt to copy Paul Simon’s accent, phrasing and diction. He would just sing the songs naturally in his own voice. The result is amazing. I have found it very easy to close my eyes and convince myself I was actually listening to the man himself.

The success of a ‘tester’ gig in July 2017 in front of 100 people was the thruster rocket that spurred him on and led up to this week’s concerts at Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre. Sitting in the auditorium on the first night, listening to the faultless performance, watching the audience’s reaction and joining them, every single one of them, in the enthusiastic standing ovation at the end, I knew It was the end of the first part of his journey and the beginning of what will surely be a much bigger one.

Photo by Anthony Robling. 

Something About Simon is absolutely not a tribute act. It is so much more. It is a show combining the music with a narrative that takes the audience on a journey tracing Paul Simon’s footsteps, from his first visit to Britain, playing folk clubs for beers, through his return to his homeland and subsequent rise to fame.

It is no accident that Gary’s repertoire leans heavily on Simons’ early songs, as many of them were written in England, some on Merseyside’s very doorstep.

A nice touch was the way he weaved into the show, during a narrative on how songwriters get their inspiration, two of his own songs. “Oceans” and “Walk You Home” were written way before Gary began flirting with the Paul Simon Songbook. Yet the similarities in the writing style are very apparent.

If like me, you never got to see Paul Simon perform live, you really have got to look out for the “Something About Simon” tour that will inevitably follow.

Gary Edward Jones is an endearing performer, an immaculate guitarist, and a beautiful singer. And the only other person who sounds more like Paul Simon is Paul Simon himself.

Photos are respectively ©Chris Birchall, Victor Pennington, Mark McNulty and Anthony Robling

By |November 13th, 2018|0 Comments

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Amy Wadge at The Clwyd Room

D’you know what… You can keep your stadium gigs.

Last night we just enjoyed the most fantastic night’s entertainment at Theatr Clwyd in the company of just a couple of hundred or so other lovers of live music.

First up was Martyn Peters who, since he played a belting floor spot for us at our local club, Ruthin AllStyles, has spent the last year or so making a name for himself in That London.

And wow, how he’s developed into an accomplished and professional performer, with a whole ruck of fabulous songs from his album “Veins” plus some new ones yet to be released. He played a flawless and polished set last night with fellow Denbighite Chris Walker riding shotgun on guitar and backing vocals.

Then came a solo set to knock your socks off from Kent musician Luke Jackson, before headliner Amy Wadge just totally blew us all away. In fact the two sets melded into one, with each providing backing vocals for the other, during many of their respective songs.

What a song-writer this diminutive little lady from Pontypridd is, and a fabulous performer too. Why is she not a superstar? As good as ‘That Song’ is (featured here in the video filmed by the venue’s event organiser Nathan Stewart), I find it sad that it takes the fact that you wrote a song for Ed Sheeran to shoot someone into the limelight, when their brilliant talent might otherwise well have remained undiscovered.

Congratulations to Nathan and the team at Theatr Clwyd for putting on such a terrific evening, where the atmosphere in the Clwyd Room, the lighting and, in particular the sound, were spot on, admirably showcasing these four talented musicians.

By |November 11th, 2017|0 Comments

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