Ad Libitum ~ St Mary-le-Bow ~ 02.06.2016

In the spirit of transparency, I ought to mention that I was invited to attend this concert by a lovely colleague of mine who sings in the Ad Libitum choir, so the chances are that I was going to enjoy myself, being able to support him.

This is the second Ad Libitum recital I have been to now, in all honesty I rarely know the music (being more familiar with classical orchestral works than vocal arrangements) but I always leave having learned something new, and enjoyed myself thoroughly.

Let’s start with the venue itself – a curious blend of history and modernity following a post-war rebuild – the latest in a long line of corrective restructuring including being completely destroyed and rebuit following the Great Fire of London. Fantastic acoustics in the church which famously is the measuring point from which people ascertain whether they are a true cockney.

The choir is an auditioned amateur choir and typically perform 3 or 4 times a year, with a mixture of secular and sacred music, ranging from early Renaissance to modern composers – all ably conducted by Julian Collings and accompanied by Colin Spinks on what is a truly impressive church organ on display at the back of the hall.

On this occasion, the organ and choir were joined by harpist Daniel De-Fry and James Bower on percussion, as they took as through a set which included West Side Story composer Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, and Missa Brevis by Zoltán Kodály.

For me, however, the highlight of the evening was a choral representation of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings – I have often enjoyed listening to the orchestral piece, but had never before heard the choral Agnus Dei version. What an immense joy! I’ve discovered that the piece is so soothing in either form and it’s one I look forward to listening to again and again.

Every visit to see this choir has brought me something new to take away – do keep a look out for future dates, it’s guaranteed to give you two hours of soul nourishment and add to your musical education.

Details of upcoming concerts can be found on the Ad Libitum website.

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Pentatonix ~ Albert Hall, Manchester ~28.05.2016

As this was a surprise to me, courtesy of my sister and an upcoming birthday, I did no prep prior to this gig and had nothing to write notes on, so in terms of reviewing this won’t be the strongest.

I’ve long admired the work of Pentatonix since discovering their videos on YouTube. I’d never seen the US Reality Show which propelled them to fame, but their recreations of classic hits in their inimitable style has been something I’ve enjoyed watching for a few years.

Prior to the main event, we were entertained by husband-and-wife team Us The Duo – also known as multi-instrumentalists Michael and Carissa Alvarado. These two were amiable enough, playing a selection of instruments and singing well, but I wasn’t especially grabbed by the music itself. Nice enough to have in the background, but didn’t leave any lasting imprint in my mind.

Then it was time for good old PTX to take to the stage at the Albert Hall – which is a converted Wesleyan chapel and a phenomenal venue for a music gig. Beautiful structure and wonderful acoustics.

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For those who don’t know, Pentatonix are a five-piece a cappella band – a beatboxer, a bass and three additional singers who provide fantastic harmonies. They came to my attention through a series of intriguing cover versions they released on YouTube, most notably one entitled Evolution of Music, whereby they catalogued musical history from 11th Century Gregorian Chanting to the present day chart hits (admittedly they skate through the first few centuries pretty quickly!)

Whilst appreciating their talent, I haven’t much followed their own musical output so the evening was split pretty evenly for me in terms of entirely new music and some firm favourites, but the rest of the crowd appeared to be fully immersed in each number, singing along with the harmonies of the three main vocalists. Personally, the main draw for me is the combination of bass and beats – vocalist Avi Kaplan’s range is incredible, such a rich sound he produces. And Kevin Olusola’s beatboxing skills keep breathing life into the songs throughout the night.

Their Michael Jackson and Daft Punk medleys stormed the night, as one expected they would. Covering the entire career of an artist like MJ in a five minute segment is pretty impressive, but the stylistic delivery of his various musical changes throughout his life is equally wonderful. The Daft Punk medley is cleverly done, attributing vocal performances to electronic music is no mean feat, and they achieve a rich sound and give songs like Technologic a whole new feel.

For me, the highlight of the night was a pretty low key but special solo moment, where most of the band left the stage for a short break, leaving the group’s beatboxer Kevin Olusola to take centre stage with his cello for a rendition of the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No.1. A single spotlight, a cello, and a beatboxer might not sound the most electrifying event but the atmosphere was incredible. Whilst initially providing an intimate contrast to preceding events, the piece built up to a thunderous applause at the finish. I could gladly listen to that over and again.

Pentatonix are currently continuing their tour around Europe throughout May and June, and will tour the USA from September.

 

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The War Of The Worlds ~ Dominion Theatre ~ 21.03.2016

I’ll admit, I’m a recent convert to Jeff Wayne’s masterpiece, having missed this growing up, and then later upon seeing the Hollywood film, not really being inspired to track back and read HG Wells’ classic or listen to the album. However, a chance mention on the Vitriola Music podcast at Christmas – where Robin Ince led a choir of bemused audience members in a rendition of ‘Spirit of Man‘ – piqued my interest enough to lead me to listen to the album, and head along to the live show.

< Note: Do have a listen to the Vitriola Music podcast. Robin co-hosts with fellow angry man Michael Legge, as they discuss up-and-coming bands, classic records, and share random stories between themselves. >

So after having heard the album and being inspired to head out to the live show, I still had no real idea what to expect. I understood there was to be a live band – a rather stunning mix of string orchestra and rock band, but as to what degree the show was a sung-through concert or full theatre production I had no clue.

It turned out to be a glorious mixture of both. An absolute delightful audio-visual experience. Background projections took us to the many geographical locations with ease, and filmed sequences projected behind and amongst the onstage action helped magnify large battle scenes. The films, live action, puppetry and special effect set pieces combined to great effect to amplify the dramatic moments,and the energy emanating from the live band placed central stage really drove the show from start to finish.

Be warned that the show’s special effects such as strobe lighting may have adverse affects on some people, so do check with the theatre beforehand. But if you are fine with that, then the lighting and pyrotechnics add such a thrill to proceedings.

It was a superb ensemble cast – Michael Praed and a filmed Liam Neeson shared the role of the protagonist, the Journalist. The story shifted between his older self recalling his diaries (Neeson) and the live action portrayal of the Martian invasion (Praed). Madalena Alberto as Praed’s wife had little stage time, but shone during those moments nonetheless.

David Essex as the voice of humanity was superb in his role, and notable mention to Jimmy Nail and Heidi Range as the Pastor and his wife Beth. Nail’s descent into madness at the invasion and his wife’s pleas to return reason to him was particularly captivating.

However, it has to be said, the man who won it for me on the night was Si Shorten. Stepping in for an absent Daniel Beddingfield, Si took the role of Artilleryman and absolutely wowed the audience with his vocals, particularly during ‘Brave New World’. I’ve never had the opportunity to see Si taking on some of the larger roles he has understudied for – including Jean Valjean and the Phantom – but I’d seen him perform various ensemble roles at Les Misérables and he has such an incredibly powerful voice, he deserves more recognition for his work. It looks like he has stepped up on a number of occasions for this limited run, so the chances of seeing him perform are high. Of course, do check with the cast listings on the day.

Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds is playing at the Dominion Theatre throughout March and April.

 

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An Evening With Hadley Fraser ~ Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond ~ 10.01.2016

A long-awaited public return to the acoustic guitar for Hadley Fraser, and once again he doesn’t disappoint.

It’s been two years since his last showcasing of original works and exquisite selection of covers back at the St James Theatre in February 2014, but the excited chatter pre-show from the crowd showed that time has not dampened enthusiasm for his music gigs.

No doubt many present at the Orange Tree Theatre – a lovely venue in Richmond and one which I will be dropping in on again – will have been able to see Hadley in the various productions he has been involved with since his last music performance, most notably City of Angels at the Donmar, and the soon-to-be-ending run at the Garrick, where he is involved in both productions the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company are performing in rep – The Winter’s Tale and Harlequinade. But despite the appreciation of his deserved success as an actor in a string of high-profile shows, there is more than ample demand to see him perform onstage as himself with guitar – mic is optional, as he proved with a fantastic unplugged finale, wandering around the stage area, performing to the audience surrounding him on all four sides.

As a solo performer he served up a number of his well-loved self-penned songs from his EP, Just Let Go, effortlessly blending in some Ray Charles and Bob Dylan to the delight of the audience. When joined by his guests, Dougal Irvine and Ramin Karimloo, the combination of the three was an absolute delight. Pairing up with old Sheytoons partner Ramin to perform several of their original songs, additionally surprising the audience with an unexpected duet of Bring Him Home, provided some of the high points of the evening.

The easy chat between the three as they discussed what songs to perform next was almost as enjoyable as the music. Listening to people play because they love to play is one of the great joys. It felt like a low-key jamming session at someone’s house, and the vibe really suits Hadley’s style. Couple that with a few stories shared from their youth (Dougal and Hadley were at university together) and professional theatre experiences (Ramin and Hadley have crossed paths several times – notably perfoming as nemeses in Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables).

The night, as always, ended too soon, but the audience trailed out happy. I’ve long been an admirer of both Ramin and Hadley separately, but in harmony I cannot think of any superior pairing. Their original pieces suit the strength of Ramin’s vocals and the richness of Hadley’s. Just perfection, and I could listen to those two play all day. Dougal Irvine is someone relatively unknown to me until now, but I will be keeping an eye on his projects coming up – such as his new piece Buskers Opera at Park Theatre this Spring.

For those who enjoy the work of Ramin, he himself is hosting two shows in Islington (19th and 20th January) and Hadley will be appearing as a guest on the second show. This promises to be much fun too.

 

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An Evening With Scott Alan ~ Kettner’s ~ 26.10.15

This is a man whose music I have adored for years, but have only been able to see perform live since moving to London last year. He is worth the wait, and I was grateful to have the opportunity to see him again, as he staged a last-minute concert to announce his goodbye to London and prepared to return home to New York.

No, wait – not just to London, as we found out on the night. He is taking an extended break from music to pursue the things in life he feels his career is preventing him from enjoying. Nobody could ever fault someone from doing that, but it is sad news for music all the same.

Set in a cosy room in Kettner’s brasserie and champagne bar, the candelabra-decked piano to one side, and a series of microphones lined up – all looked set for a wonderful evening of song. And he doesn’t disappoint. Not ever. With an endless supply of singing talent – both established and new – lining up to perform his most-loved pieces, the night was a resounding success.

Every song of Scott’s comes with a story, with context and he performs and introduces each one with such heart and honesty it’s impossible not to completely lose yourself in them. It’s terribly difficult for me to ever select a favourite – each song taps straight into my emotional core, so it often depends on how I am feeling on any particular evening. However, it’s very easy to say that all the performances were highly enjoyable. From Jodie Jacobs’ star turn, to Richard Fleeshman’s acoustic guitar cover of The Lazy Song/The Distance You Have Come, or the exquisite harmonies brought to Easy by upcoming girl group, Houston.

Scott’s devotion to nurturing new talent has been one of the most enjoyable things about watching his career. He could quite easily sit onstage and perform each and every song perfectly himself, knowing he has the voice and can entertain a crowd. But his traditions of matching songs with singers who are so aptly suited to each piece ensures these songs remain as fresh and new as when first written.

Scott’s absence will temporarily rob upcoming musicians and singers the opportunity to be mentored by one of the best in the business, but no doubt he will be back again before we know it. And the audiences will welcome him back with open hearts and arms.

 

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