Something About Simon

Having been a fan of his music since the very early days, it has irked me somewhat that I never got to see Paul Simon perform live during any of his UK tours.

The one I would love to have caught, of course, would have been that very first one when, during the 60s, the then unknown singer songwriter toured the folk clubs of Britain, allegedly writing “Homeward Bound” on the platform of Widnes Train Station after appearing at Chester Folk Club just 30 minutes down the road from my home town.

Although I never met him, a friend of mine did. John Finnan was a regular at that club back then, and had let the visitor use his guitar. During that impromptu floor spot, Simon hit a chord a little too enthusiastically, causing the bridge to detach from the body. During the apologies that ensued, and the promises to send money to pay for the repair (which never actually materialised), Paul Simon ended up missing his connection at Chester Railway Station. Another club member, Geoff Speed, drove the singer to Widnes, arriving just in time for him to jump onto his train. So whatever station the song “Homeward Bound” refers to, it was never written sitting on the platform at Widnes.

When I taught myself to play guitar, my bible was the Paul Simon Songbook. All I ever did was strum. Back then, I considered finger-picking to be one of the dark arts.

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

During his many years as a singer/songwriter in his own right, Gary Edward Jones has oft been compared to Paul Simon, due to his stature, his appearance, and his singing voice. And over the years, this had the effect of causing him to avoid covering Paul Simon songs, like the plague.

With a successful debut album “The Cabinet Maker” under his belt, Gary decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about, and explore the music of Paul Simon. He immersed himself in it and very soon came to love those early songs.

Now, Gary is no strummer but is the first to admit he was a thumb-and-one-finger player,Travis Picking at its most basic, which is how Paul Simon himself started out.

For over a year, Gary lived and breathed Paul Simon. He carefully learned all the intricacies and subtleties of his new-found hero’s advanced finger style technique, to the extent you can close your eyes and convince yourself you are listening to those riffs trickling off the fingers of the man himself.

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. And the result is amazing.

With eighteen early Paul Simon songs in his repertoire, Gary felt the time was right to put them in front of an audience.

With a billing of “Gary Edward Jones sings Paul Simon“, the pressure was on. The bar was set high. After all, a huge proportion of the one hundred people packed into the Burton-on-Trent’s Brewhouse Cafe Bar, were there because they were Paul Simon fans.

He opened with “The Sound of Silence”. From the moment he began that unmistakable opening riff, you could have heard a pin drop. And as the last note was played it was met with rapturous applause. Any doubts had been dispelled. No one was going to leave that night saying “it wasn’t bad”.

The songs kept coming and the audience was transfixed. “I Am a Rock” was next, followed by “Kathy’s Song”, the first that Gary had attempted in earnest over twelve months earlier.

The performance was in the form of a concert with a narrative, with Gary imparting snippets of information that he had gleaned during his journey, about the background to each of the songs. After “April Come She May”, Gary introduced “Homeward Bound” with that very tale that I eluded to at the start of this review.

Just before finishing off this first ten-song set with “America” and “The Boxer”, Gary treated the audience to a taste of his own compositions, which sat with surprising ease alongside Paul Simon’s 60s and 70’s classics.  Entitled “Free Falling”, it is a song he wrote as a tribute to a friend who’d been a fan of the Tom Petty song of the same name, who’d tragically taken his own life during a bout of depression.

Mingling during the break, I heard nothing but praise as these Paul Simon enthusiasts compared notes and opinions.

“The Only Living Boy in New York” was the opener for the second half of the evening, and half way through the set of seven, Gary sang another of his own, the beautiful and poignant “Oceans”.

“Fifty Ways…”, Slip Sliding…” and “Hearts and Bones” took is to that point where everybody bays for more.

Gary obliged with an encore of “Walk you Home”, a song he’d written for his friends Alan and Dawn Rutherford (who were actually instrumental in setting up this first “Gary Edward Jones sings Paul Simon” gig).

And to round off the evening, he made what I considered to be a risky choice by singing “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” – not one of the best known Paul Simon songs, yet one that required a fair degree of audience participation. My fears were unfounded. The ladies obliged with the repetitive chant and the gents kept the hand-clap going right up to the end, when it exploded into a full blown enthusiastic applause.

Something About Simon Facebook Page
Gary Edward Jones Website

 

By |August 6th, 2017|0 Comments

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Brick Up 2 – The Revenge of Ann Twacky

If you were wondering what gave Donald Trump the idea for his Mexican Wall, well I reckon he must have been amongst the 175,000 people who came to see the original “Brick Up The Mersey Tunnels” at The Royal Court.

So successful was Dave Kirby and Nick Allt’s comedy, that it enjoyed no fewer than six runs of up to six weeks each, becoming the theatre’s signature play, and introducing thousands to the very special brand of scouse humour for which the Royal Court is known and loved.

Quite apart from the fact it was brilliantly written, its success was based on the fact that – using a footballing analogy – it was something of a local derby, attracting fans from both sides of the Mersey. The posh Wirralites, with their CH post codes, loved the play just as much as the down-to-earth scousers on the L side, even though the ‘first round match’ was won by the scallies across the water.

It became the perfect scouse comedy, and you can’t improve on perfection …or can you? Move over Brick Up, make way for Brick Up 2 – The Wrath Of Ann Twacky. Maybe this time the tables have been turned.

The story picks up where the first “Brick Up” ended, with the mayhem that had been caused by the sealing-up of the tunnels and the explosive demise of the Runcorn Bridge.

It tells of the joy and the despair resulting from these acts of “terrorism”; of the joy and despair that followed the tunnels reopening; and of the joy and despair in the plot to do it all over again.

Sticking to the tested and successful formula, the producers chose not only the same writers, but pretty much the same cast. The only changes were to bring in Danny Burns to play entrepreneur Elliot Neston, and Emily Linden to make a brief appearance as a gun-totting anti-terrorist cop.

The excruciatingly posh Eithne Browne (she’s not in real life) returns as Ann Twacky, partnered by Roy Brandon as her formerly down-trodden husband Dennis, who has finally kicked over the traces and grown a pair.

Andrew Schofield is back as the archetype scally and cowboy builder Dicky Lewis. His facial expressions and the way he delivers his lines with perfect timing and comedic inflection, would have you in fits of laughter even if he was reciting from the phone book. And when he dons a frock to transition into the part of Wirral Ladies Group member, Dee Estuary, you can see what a master of comedy this man is.

The third Wirral Ladies character, Liz Card, was played to perfection by Francis Tucker whose wonderful facial, as well as vocalised, innuendo often result in his being cast as the Pantomime Dame, not withstanding his wide ranging appearances on stage, film and television.

The lovely Suzanne Collins showed us that her character Maggie, was something of a turn-coat by becoming an imperfectly posh Margaret who had difficulty keeping up both the pretence and the accent, hilariously slipping back into “The Queen’s Scouse”.

Along with Dicky Lewis, Gerard Gardner and Nick Walton are The Queensway Three, responsible for the tunnel campaign. Gerard is played by seasoned Royal Court comedy actor Paul Duckworth, with the face that launched a thousand laughs, and the part of Nick Walton is played by Carl Chase, who also steps up throughout the performance to narrate via the medium of song in his wonderful baritone voice.

All credit to Director Bob Eaton for his visualisation of a great script, and Musical Director Howard Gray for bringing the show musically to life via the talented musicians in the pit and on the stage.

It had crossed my mind that to ‘get’ this play, one would have had to have seen the original Brick Up, but thanks to the way “the story so far” has been cleverly woven into Carl’s mellifluous narration, Brick Up virgins can enjoy this fab comedy just as much as the Brick Up groupies who’ve spent the past decade coming back for more.

To sum up… a highly enjoyable and entertaining comedy, regardless of which side of the Mersey you come from. It even trumps the hilarious one-liners we are currently hearing on a daily basis from the farce that is being played out at The White House!

Undeniably Five Stars. Don’t think twice – go and see it!

By sheer coincidence, line improvements by MerseyRail have resulted in a suspension of the Wirral to Liverpool train service for a six week period exactly matching the duration of the play’s run. This prompted the producers to commission a brilliant piece of P.R. in the form of a huge billboard advert at the approach to the Kingsway tunnel, featuring actress Ethne Browne, as Ann Twacky, looking motorists straight in the eye, with the words: The tunnels are next! 

Click image to enlarge

By |February 3rd, 2017|1 Comment

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Pharaoh ‘cross the Mersey

20151208-9944This latest offering from writer Fred Lawless has all the hallmarks of the type of show that has had audiences rolling with laughter in the Royal Court aisles for the past seven Christmases.

Most theatres go for the time-honoured option of choosing a classical pantomime and then reworking the script for topical and regional purposes. This particular theatre, on the other hand, has built a reputation for dishing up something different. Back in 2009, Fred Lawless presented them with a script about two neighbours, one an avid Everton fan and the other a staunch Liverpool supporter.  Merry Ding Dong was an instant success and it set a Royal Court precedent.

20151208-9927Each year since has seen a brand new Christmas comedy which such titles as Scouse Pacific, Nightmare on Lime Street and Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fazakerley; shows that encompass the sublime predictability of a panto but with a totally original storyline.

And whilst “normal” pantomimes are aimed primarily at children, whilst at the same time laced with double entendre that will go over tender young heads, the Royal Court Christmas Shows are unashamedly adult humour gift-wrapped in scousness.

This year I was unable to attend the official press night due to prior commitments, so my review is a good week later than normal. So although I make it a rule to never read other reviews before writing mine, I’m sure most of what needs to be said has been said by now. And if there is any justice, this show will have racked up a whole bunch of 4 and 5 star ratings.

20151208-9914First, let me add a little perspective. As it was Jayne’s birthday, we left wet Wales to spend a couple of days in an equally wet Liverpool and on the first night treated ourselves to a “psychological thriller” at The Playhouse. I deliberately put that description in parenthesis because the most thrilling part was Jayne’s phone going off –unsilenced! In the end, we only managed 35 minutes of The Haunting of Hill House before becoming comatose with boredom.

20151208-9999Walking out of The Playhouse mid way though the first half, cemented what I already knew: Home-grown Royal Court productions, drawing from a pool of talented Liverpool actors, writers and directors, have hit upon a magic formula that puts bums on seats and keeps them coming back again and again. Real down-to-earth scouse humour is what makes the Court great and sets it world’s apart from your typical “luvies” theatre.

From the very second the curtain goes up on Pharaoh ‘cross the Mersey you are drawn in to a fast-moving musical comedy wonderland that doesn’t let up until the final curtain call.

20151208-0029They have a knack of getting it right. Excellent comedy, lots of action, fun puns, great songs.

It was just perfect. From Andrew Schofield’s (much flaunted) raggy underpants to Hayley Hampson’s lovely legs; from Mickey Stark’s magnificent stage presence to Lindzi Germain’s powerful singling voice; from Michael Fletcher’s rolling Russian accent to the expressive tom-foolery-in-a-fez of Danny O’Brien.

But if I just made the aforementioned sound like pantomime clowns, I can assure you they are all far more than that. They are talented actors with perfect comedy timing, the ability to take a scripted part and make it their own, great singing voices, and many of them fine musicians too. And they all truly understand Royal Court audiences.

20151208-9963As in previous years, the music, performed live on stage, forms a thread which ties the whole show together.  Songs we all know, often with suitably changed lyrics, seem to leap out of every pun. Songs that fill the whole place with energy and have you bouncing along in your seats.

I mentioned sublime predictability earlier. Well when Andrew Schofield answered “eight” to the question “how many love potions have you tried making up to now?” you just know what song the band are about to strike up!

Alex Smith has cemented his position as musical director since stepping up to the mark when Howard Gray took on the role of director.

If you’ve been to any of the Royal Court’s previous Christmas shows, Pharaoh ‘cross the Mersey is everything you’ll want it to be – and more! If it’s your first time, I promise you it won’t be your last.

The show runs until January 16th and you can book on line at the theatre’s Box Office. Do yourself a favour – do it now!

5/5 – This is definitely a five star rating for the six actors on stage and for the dozens of off stage production and theatre staff who make it all possible.


Click  to enlarge and let the pictures tell the story

 


Footnote:  It was great to see the new foyer and box office taking shape. All credit to the theatre staff for keeping this lovely Art Deco style theatre functioning through all the alterations.

By |December 11th, 2015|0 Comments

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Waiting for Gateaux

150428-5797When it comes to fitness the Mo-tivators gym is the worst gym in the world …but the best place for belly laughs!

And there are laughs aplenty in this comedy at the charming little Epstein Theatre on Liverpool’s Hanover Street. Written by Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood, the play is set in a health and fitness club where everyone seems to have a healthy appetite and the fitness routines include running out for pizzas and lifting really heavy chunks of cake!

150428-5788The only person actually losing weight is Donald (Andy Ford) who is shaping up to make a move on gym owner Maureen, played by Pauline Daniels, who also directed the show.

There are several mini storylines woven into the script. Jackie, played by Lynne Francis, is eating her way through a failed marriage whilst trying to keep her goth sister Whitney on the straight and narrow.  Emma Lisi plays the part so well, it’s hard to believe she doesn’t actually live the life of a goth outside the theatre!

150428-5813Lynne Francis and Pauline Daniels, both seasoned comedy actresses with a string of theatre, film and TV credits to their names, keep the fun, frolics and fabulous one-liners flowing throughout the play.  As does Andy Ford whose 30 years of stand-up made him the perfect choice for the part of Donald. He reminded me of a cross between Jim Davidson and Alan Carr, but without the Concord teeth, as he minced around the stage.

150428-5803The villain of the plot was the scheming Sophie – a reality TV show researcher with a hidden agenda. This “posh totty” character was cleverly portrayed by the beautiful Suzanne Collins who has trodden the boards in Liverpool and far beyond since her acting debut as Nikki Shadwick in Ch4’s Brookside. During this time she’s totted up an impressive list of film parts too.

This was a fun play that proves you can have your cake and eat it too. The talented cast kept the slapstick and humour flowing seamlessly with lashings of fun and frolics.

Waiting for Gateaux is on at The Epstein Theatre until Saturday May 2nd.

By |April 29th, 2015|0 Comments

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Faces

071129_048Looking back through the archives to this time five years ago it is interesting to see some of the faces we photographed and wonder how much people might have changed since then!

By |April 26th, 2013|0 Comments

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