Reviews from shows, plays, comedies and music events.

Golden Oldies at The Royal Court

…Talkin ‘Bout My Generation!

20160420-0300When the invite came through for The Golden Oldies, I read the synopsis with interest and more than a little amusement, because I identified with it in more ways than one.

The story is set in a music club for the over-sixties, where the likes of “Jerusalem” are about as ambitious as their repertoire gets. Until, that is, the arrival of ageing rocker Benny armed with electric guitar, Hendrix hair and wah-wah pedal.

20160420-0329I always look forward to the fantastic musical comedies that have become the Liverpool Royal Court’s raison d’être, but this particular story line grabbed my attention because Jayne and I ourselves run a music club which, whilst not exclusively for the over sixties, does have a good percentage in this age group, including myself. And during our club’s twenty year existence, it too has gone from purely traditional folk, to appealing now to much broader and eclectic musical tastes.

The irascible Benny is played by Paul Kissaun, a genuine ageing rocker who is not only a fine actor but an accomplished musician too, having served his time as a member of 80’s band The Flying Pickets. Benny’s nephew Matt, played by Greg Fossard, is his partner in crime – not that broadening the oldies’ musical tastes to embrace rock n’ roll can be called a crime.

The plot takes us on a predictable but pleasant journey with plenty of great music and a lot of laughs. And interwoven, there are the inevitable love interests, not only within the elderly contingent, but also between Matt and the young Faryl (played by Hayley Hampson) who’s been assigned to the oldies’ music club courtesy of a community service order.

As well as being one of the theatre’s up and coming young actresses, the lovely Hayley is also an accomplished singer/songwriter, and her performance in this show has certainly made the most of all her talents.

20160420-0289Of the club’s original choir members, the character of alzheimer’s sufferer Beryl soon took centre stage, and Dave Simpson’s script dealt accurately and sensitively with the way that dreadful disease takes the memory but how the music is the last thing to go.

The producers could not have cast a better actress to play this part. The talented and wonderfully hilarious Eithne Browne’s portrayal of the sad Beryl brought a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye, whilst her singing voice left you spellbound.

I’m not going to spoil it for you by telling, but do look out for her performance when The Golden Oldies end up in the finals of a talent show. What the hapless Beryl blurts out during “Talkin ‘Bout My Generation” has been responsible for me randomly laughing out load every time I think about it.

If you are a lover of music and of comedy, I cannot recommend The Golden Oldies highly enough.  It runs at Liverpool’s fabulously refurbished Royal Court Theatre until the 14th of May and you can get hold of tickets from the on-line booking office.

5 star entertainment.

By |April 22nd, 2016|0 Comments

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Henry Priestman and Elfin Bow at the Black Park Chapel

20160415-0105H.P. sauce was on the menu last night. Sauce, banter, gags, giggles …oh yes, and some belting music too!

All this was served up by Henry Priestman and Les Glover at the very first gig to be held at the newly refurbished Black Park Chapel in Halton near Chirk, a community driven project with the aim of protecting our heritage and encouraging expression, confidence and creativity through music.

20160415-0111Since leaving Merseyside band, The Christians, Henry has forged himself a solo career playing venues all over the country, from Festivals to Folk Clubs, grand Theatres to humble House Gigs. Tonight he was performing with trusty sidekick Les Glover. They make a great double act, music’s answer to Morecambe and Wise. And yes they did “bring me sunshine” on a dank cold evening. Highly entertaining, with lots of laughs between the songs as they ribbed, teased and bounced off one another.

20160415-0078But if H.P. and Loved-up Les were the main course, we were served up a tasty starter in the form of Elfin Bow.

Having been a backing singer in many bands, including that of her husband Gary Edward Jones, the deliciously diminutive Elizabeth Ann Jones has recently struck out on her own, forming Elfin Bow, comprising Oscar South on bass and electronic wizardry, and with Maz on backing vocals.

20160415-0064-2Their performance was so polished it was hard to believe this was only their third or fourth live gig.

Their set opened with a beautiful, haunting, almost choral-like number, sung a-cappella, save for some very subtle synthesized backing produced by Oscar’s box of tricks.

And as the set continued, it was easy to see that this flame haired songstress is set to establish a firm foothold on the music scene with a unique and refreshing style all of her own. I can’t wait for the release of Elfin Bow’s first album, which is currently in the making.

20160415-0058The whole evening was a musical treat that did far more than just whet the appetite for the subsequent monthly concerts that have been planned by godfather of the local music scene, Mark Holdsworth (right) as an adjunct to his popular Narrowboat Sessions.

One of my favourite moments was when Elizabeth joined Henry on stage the lovely ballad Valentine Song that Henry co-wrote with Lotte Mullan.

Let’s hope the Black Park Chapel will become a sought after and well supported music venue, and fulfil its aim to raise money for good causes. The next concert features Gary Edward Jones on May 21st.



By |April 16th, 2016|0 Comments

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A Yurt Holiday in North Wales

Our Yurt, Rhiannon, with its magnificent view

Our Yurt, Rhiannon, with its magnificent view

We’ve all seen those spammy posts on Facebook that say things like “Share this picture of the New Mercedes (or whatever) and we’ll pick a winner on Friday”. And we all know – or at least we should all know – that they are just click-bait scams and that nobody ever wins the car!

Well last Autumn a “Win a Yurt Holiday” post appeared in my news stream. I skipped past it. But as I did so, I noticed it was a North Wales Yurt Holiday, and it just didn’t seem fit into the usual scam category. This one was for real!

The beautifully decorated door, Mongolian style

The beautifully decorated door, Mongolian style

It was a post by a small concern near Llanrwst that was trying to spread the word about their new venture.

Now, I know just how hard it is to get the right kind of publicity, so spread the word I did. I clicked “Share” popping the post up in front of fifteen hundred friends and followers, some of whom would hopefully share it with theirs. That’s where social media can be really useful, publicising the little people who might not have huge advertising budgets.

Good deed for the day done, I closed Facebook and got back to my real life – which since I retired seems to involve music, running a folk club and doing theatre reviews more than actual photography.

Hey, we are winners!
A couple of weeks later, a message appeared in my inbox telling me I had won a long weekend break in a Ffrith Galed Yurt.

A wheelbarrow provided to ferry your belongings

A wheelbarrow provided to ferry your belongings

I must confess, all I knew about Yurts was that they are basically posh tents. We’d already had our annual quota of “weekend breaks”, but what the heck. Late September still had a tenuous grip on the fading summer’s warmth, so we gratefully accepted the offer and headed to the Conwy Valley.

As we approached, we found Ffrith Galed nestled on the hillside above Llanrwst, with the high peaks of Snowdonia to the west and the moorlands and valleys of Hiraethog to the east. The west facing location of the farm offered breath-taking views and stunning sunsets.

Two of the Yurts concealed from on another by the adjoining hedge

Two of the Yurts concealed from on another by the adjoining hedge

Because we live in North Wales ourselves, less than fifty miles away in fact, we sometimes take our surroundings for granted. But at that moment I realised that this long weekend would be spent like tourists and enjoyed to the full.

Jayne and I have been campers for the last twenty-five years, so we were quite surprised to find a distinct lack of tents and caravans. This is absolutely not a campsite. This is literally three Yurts placed in three separate fields, each discreetly out of sight of one another. The view from our ‘home for the weekend’ was of unspoiled countryside and the sounds were minimal and rural.

In fact our lovely hosts Jo and Dylan later told us that one of the biggest stumbling blocks when applying for planning permission had been that the authorities didn’t believe they weren’t intending to fill up the three fields with tent pitches and caravan standings.

At night the plexiglass roof offers a view of the stars

Welcoming warmth
We arrived to find Jo had lit the wood burning stove. It was early evening and the warmth made the Yurt cosy and inviting against the descending chill.

It had been a long and busy day for us, so even though the Yurt had basic but adequate cooking facilities, we decided on a pub supper and headed off to the nearby village.

It was dark when we returned to Ffrith Galed and on opening the door of the Yurt we were greeting by the most magical sight. The entire circumference of the Yurt had a string of fairy lights, charged up by a solar cell and automatically switching on at dusk. Along with the beautifully decorated interior structure, the warmth of the wood and the coconut matting, and the amber glow of the wood burner all these things contributed to an ambiance that fair took our breath away.

You couldn't ask for a cosier bedroom

You couldn’t ask for a cosier bedroom

The bed – a proper bed – was comfortable; I mean really comfortable. There was a chair and a futon couch, a little two ring cooker and a basket full of logs. Camping was never before like this!

We lit candles and sat drinking wine well into the night, mesmerised by the fairytale atmosphere, before closing the damper on the stove and crawling off to bed.

Beautiful vista
In the morning, the full impact of the location revealed itself. We looked down upon a valley shrouded in clouds.

Early morning mist over the valley

Early morning mist over the valley

The sun, coming up over the horizon, gently kissed the tops of those clouds and delineated the rolling slopes of the hillsides opposite and cast long shadows of trees that were preparing to exchange their green capes for red and gold. And whilst our eyes feasted upon the vista our ears were met by the distant bleating of sheep and the call of a buzzard, and the only acknowledgement of modern times was the distant sound of a John Deer tractor doing its morning rounds of the fields.

The facilities block

The facilities block

Each of the three Yurts are situated a hundred and fifty yards or so, in opposite directions, from the car park and facilities block. This purpose built timber block houses a small communal kitchen area with dish washing facilities and a fridge.

And there is a separate private shower room and toilet for each Yurt. It is clean and well kept with lots of nice little touches such as clean new wheelbarrows, provided for the purpose of ferrying your belongings from the car park down the footpath to your Yurt.

All you could hear was sheep - oh, and some bloke warbling!

All you could hear was sheep – oh, and some bloke warbling!

A perfect away from it all holiday
If you fancy a break in the solitude and seclusion of the countryside, whilst being within easy reach of the North Wales Coast and Snowdonia with all its tourist attractions, then for your perfect holiday I can’t recommend Ffrith Galed Yurts highly enough.

You can enjoy great outdoors without compromising on comfort. Glamping at its best. It’s like camping but without the creepy crawlies.

You can contact Jo and Dylan on 07851 019 218, via their website or on Facebook

So what is a Yurt?
A traditional yurt is basically a round tent covered with skins or felt and used as a dwelling by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia.
These at Ffrith Galed are more akin to the Mongolian Ger whose structure comprises a cylindrical latticework wall with a door frame, wooden poles forming the rafters and a steam-bent wheel crown as the top supporting a Plexiglas dome.
Unlike tents which have a thin outer canvas and an inner skin, these yurts have a covering of thick felt inside a waterproof membrane to keep the warmth in and the wet out. They are built on a wooden platform carpeted in jute.

Enjoy our pictures (click to enlarge)

Early morning mist over the valley

Early morning mist over the valley

By |March 20th, 2016|0 Comments

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Down the Dock Road

_DSC2624Back in the day, when Ted Heath was getting tough on pay and tough on trade unions, a newly qualified teacher in Liverpool by the name of Bleasdale was struggling on seventeen quid a week. So much so, that he found himself moonlighting for a fiver a day as a security guard down on the docks.

And whilst the other security guards had learned to ‘turn an blind eye’, this young man kept an ever watchful eagle eye on the comings and goings. Not for reasons of actual ‘security’ however, for although he may not have known it at the time, Alan Bleasdale was learning all about the scally culture, the pilfering, the humour and camaraderie of the dockers, and their fractious relationship with authority. It was a unique insight and an opportunity to amass a stockpile of characters, yarns and witticisms that would form the basis of the stage play he wrote six years later.

20160316-1574And now, on the fortieth anniversary of the play’s première at the Liverpool Playhouse, it is back on stage at The Royal Court to remind us just how much things have changed between then and now Down on the Dock Road.

The cleverly designed set realistically replicates the cargo hold of a ship docked in the Port of Liverpool. And with no fewer than eleven cast members, the producers were tasked with choosing the right men for the job. For although the play is laced with humour, more specifically scouse humour, it does have a more serious side with moments of poignancy and drama. It is a departure from the rawkus slapstick silliness that the Royal Court faithful have come to expect, but it will certainly not leave them disappointed.

20160316-1565One obvious choice of course, was the scully of all scallies, Andrew Schofield, who has had a long association with Bleasdale’s plays and is always a joy to watch in action.

Michael Ledwich and Paul Duckworth are another two actors who have earned their stripes in front of Royal Court audiences and tonight’s performances only served to cement their position.

And there were some great performances too from Royal Court virgins James Duke, Derek Barr, Conrad Nelson and Daniel Taylor.

20160316-1564It was a stroke of genius bringing in the Coronation Street double act, Les Dennis and Oliver Farnworth. There was certainly no need to ask Les whether he was any good at heart attacks – they’d only have had to watch him playing the hapless Michael Rodwell in recent episodes of the soap! Not that Liverpool born Les would have had to audition for the part of Grandad; his last appearance at the Royal Court earned him the Daily Post Best Actor Award for his part in “Jigsy”.

Oliver Farnworth, who plays a barman at Nick’s Bistro in ‘The Street’ was perhaps less convincing as a 1970s docker despite having a fair crack at the accent.

But as a whole, the entire cast did justice to Bleasdale’s excellent and insightful script, and as a nice touch, the entire run has been dedicated to the memory of Liverpool’s godfather of comedy, Micky Finn, who past away this month. Micky had appeared in the play’s first airing forty years ago and in the words of Alan Bleasdale: “was a wonderful, natural comic performer on stage who deserved the standing ovation he received every night”.

Down the Dock Road runs at The Royal Court until 9th of April.

By |March 18th, 2016|0 Comments

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Merry Hell at the Altar with a very Grateful Fred


Merry Hell rocking it out at the Nordic Church

Can you just imagine the telephone conversation…

“Hello, This is Grateful Fred …No not dead, FRED …Yes, we’d like to play Merry Hell in your church”.

Well Colin Maddocks (aka Grateful Fred) and Merry Hell’s Virginia Kettle obviously managed to convince the powers that be, that their intentions were good and that the request had nothing to do with Zombies or Satanism, because the Concert For The Refugees went ahead this week at The Nordic Church in Liverpool, raising over £1,300 for  “Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)” who undertake amazing work throughout the world helping refugees.


The Good Intentions

It was a great night of music at this magnificent venue, with Wigan-based folk rock band “Merry Hell” in the headline spot, supported by ‘The Grateful Fred Ukulele Trio” and “The Good Intentions”.

And that’s how the evening started – with Good Intentions. Or at least two-thirds of them. Peter Davies on guitar and Gabrielle Monk on accordion, opened with a lovely set of Americana Country songs from the band’s extensive repertoire.


The Grateful Fred Ukulele Trio

Then it was over to the Grateful Fred Ukulele Trio.

I’d heard good things about these guys but …Wow! this was not the sort of sound I was expecting from three blokes strumming ukuleles!

This was largely because there was little or no traditional uke strumming going on during their fantastically entertaining set. And definitely no leaning on lamp-posts!

These guys have transformed my perception of that humble little instrument forever! Colin has put together a band in the classic lead, rhythm and bass formation – but using ukuleles instead of guitars!

Yes, that’s right, I did say bass!  Halfway through their first song I found myself wondering why they had a bass player hidden away somewhere out of sight.  But no. It was Colin, stage centre, with a tiny (in bass instrument terms) bass ukulele, who’s 21 inch scale was producing a sound as deep and rich as you’d expect from a full scale bass guitar.

20160223-1129His right-hand man Vince Gillespie made a tiny uke sing like an electric guitar, with lead riffs at times reminiscent of those heard on Elvis’s Jailhouse Rock album.

The Rhythm section came in the animated form of Pete McPartland performing on a six stringed uke and sharing lead vocals with Colin.

Their set was varied, lively and highly entertaining, with Pete and Colin ripping through the instrumental solos with the rock ‘n roll style face-offs normally reserved for Quo rockers Parfitt and Rossi.  Magic stuff!


Folk Rockers, Merry Hell

And the rock ‘n roll continued …with the gusto and fervor that comes with every Merry Hell performance. The infectious enthusiasm, the rousing melodies and the catchy meaningful lyrics  had the whole audience tapping, clapping, singing along and (quite literally) dancing in the aisles.

You never see a glum face at a Merry Hell gig.

The old favourites were there, including the likes of Drunken Serenade, Crooked Man, Baker’s Daughter and Bury Me Naked, and some new favourites too like the title track off the “Ghost in our House” album. There were moments of  poignancy, and a sense of outrage even, on their the anti-war song Old Soldier.

20160223-1156Then, at the end of the evening, just before their usual rip-roaring finale, they silenced every tapping foot and touched every heart in the room with the most beautiful a cappella rendition of a brand new Bob Kettle song, Refugee.  All six band members took a verse each. How they did it without choking up on the touchingly beautiful sad lyrics is testament to their professionalism.

All in all, a fabulous evening thoroughly enjoyed by the capacity audience who all gave generously to the worthy charitable cause. And it was all down to the organising skills of Virginia Kettle and Colin Maddock.

We are ALL grateful Fred!20160223-1173

By |February 25th, 2016|4 Comments

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