Reviews from shows, plays, comedies and music events.

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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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Brick Up The Mersey Tunnels 2016

20160203-0731I had this horrible nightmare:

What if they were to brick up the Mersey Tunnels? We’d never get through to the Royal Court to see such fabulous comedies like… Brick Up The Mersey Tunnels!

Happily, the subterranean routes into Liverpool are clear, allowing theatre goers from the Wirral, Wales and beyond ample opportunity to see this hilarious play.

Written over a decade ago by Dave Kirby and Nicky Allt, “Brick Up” has been heralded as the play that kick-started the Royal Court’s return to glory. It keeps coming back and it keeps putting bums on seats, and has been seen by over two hundred thousand people since it’s Royal Court début in 2006.

20160203-0634The play explores, and exaggerates, the cultural differences between “The Wirral Set”, personified by Anne Twacky and her long suffering husband Dennis, and the Grafton going grafters from scouseland proper, such as Dicky Lewis.

It is more than the posh Mrs Twacky can bear to engage a coarse scouser to build her conservatory – but needs must and he has after all, built extensions for just about any famous name you care to drop. And Dicky does, at every opportunity!

The plot is simple. Just read the title. But the events leading up to that final deed are laced with some of the finest comedy cameos that have ever been written.

20160203-0665The cast are magnificent and it is no coincidence that, bar one, they are made up of the same actors who appeared in the very first showing a decade ago.  They got it right then – and they have stuck with it.

Eithne Browne and Roy Brandon play the posh Twackies to perfection, and you couldn’t ask for a more typical scouse scally than the former Scully, Andrew Schofield.

Schofield is so loved by the Royal Court audiences, a cheer goes up the minute he first appears on stage.

20160203-0700Carl Chase plays the part of Nick Walton, architect of the plot to block the tunnels, with Gerard Gardner (played by Paul Duckworth) completing the dream team that would go down in history as The Kingsway Three!

20160203-0702Much of the planning is done in a greasy spoon café run by the delectable Maggie (played by the delectable Suzanne Collins) who spends much of her time fending off the advances of her customers before falling for the dapper shrimp salesman Elliot Neston (played by shrimp-sized Adam Keast).

These actors just bounce off each other. The on-stage chemistry is magic and you can tell that they are so at ease with their parts, they can’t help taking every opportunity to wind each other up, making for some wonderful ad-lib humour. This is particularly evident in the scenes where the three “Wirral Ladies That Lunch” get together.

20160203-0663Andrew Schofield in a wig and dress is a sight to behold as he plays the part of Dee Estuary alongside Francis Tucker whose portrayal of the randy Liz Card was slapstick heaven.

The one member of the original cast who was unavailable for this run, Davey Edge, was in the audience on press night, and it was a lovely touch that he got an honorary mention from the stage during the curtain call.

Everything about this show, under the extremely skilled direction of Bob Eaton, is just wonderful.  The live music, both from the pit and frequently on stage too, is testament to the talents of Musical Director Howard Gray and his team.

It is a play I have seen several times over the past ten years and is one I would not hesitate to see again.

To give it any less than a 5-Star rating would be a travesty.

Brick Up The Mersey Tunnels runs until 5th March.  Tickets start at just £13 and stall tickets can be purchased with a meal for an extra tenner!

Click image to enlarge

By |February 8th, 2016|0 Comments

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Those Desperate Scousewives – Pulling a Christmas Cracker Again!

20160130-0552Desperate Scousewives 2 – Pullin a Christmas Cracker is a fast-moving, rawkus scouse comedy full of witty one-liners, hard hitting punchlines and, if you’ve spent any time in scouseland, totally believable characters.

Written and directed by Liverpool actress Lynne Fitzgerald, the story centres around a birth. Not quite a seasonal virgin birth, but nevertheless one that was not anticipated by the father whose time spent in prison has been a touch longer than the usual gestation period.

20160130-0592Hapless escaped convict Jay (played by body-builder Ronnie Orr) has escaped from Walton Prison to be beside his desperate scousewife in time for the birth of the child she is carrying.  And much to the delight of the women in the audience, Ronnie’s physique figures quite prominently on stage when you consider his character appears to have absconded from prison immediately after stepping out of the shower!

Playing the part of Vanessa, actress Charlie Griffiths carries her full-term theatrical ‘bump’ remarkably convincingly, and the birth scene – complete with ‘selfies’ – is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen!

20160130-0587Charlie and the other three desperate scousewives, played by Lynn Francis, Lindsey Germaine and the show’s writer Lynne Fitzgerald execute their roles superbly, with all the fast-moving hilarity, pushing, shoving and door slamming of a latter-day farce.

In addition to playing the residents of numbers one to four, these talented ladies change character twice during the show.  First as deaf, daft and batty pensioners and then, in total contrast, as a bunch of ne’er-do-well hoodie-wearing teenage lads up to no good in the back streets.

20160130-0580The play is a masterclass of character acting that will have you in stitches.  And that final scene – in which Vanessa gives birth, aided by the quite desperate midwives – is guaranteed to have your sides splitting!

Now in its third season, word is getting around about the Desperate Scousewives shows and it was heartening to see all the performances completely sold out at New Brighton’s Floral Pavilion.

The Desperate Scousewives are set to return to the Floral Pavilion on Thursday 14th July with Desperate Scousewives 3- “THAT MOMENT YOU REALIZE!”,   It’s a brand new comedy full of abrasive Liverpool wit written by Lynne Fitzgerald and tells the tale of Susan (Lynne Fitzgerald), Vanessa (Charlie Griffiths), Gayle (Gemma Brodrick) and Donna (Jenni Cartwright) and their hilarious Summer capers.

It’s gonna be a belter – don’t miss it!

By |February 2nd, 2016|0 Comments

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