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things I have reviewed

Review: Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys

Venue: Shoreham Ropetackle, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
Date: 5 December 2017

Much has been written about the extraordinary talent that is Sam Kelly, but this was the first time I’d managed to catch him live, along with his band The Lost Boys, and it was definitely a tingle down the spine experience.

With the crowd nicely warmed by a short set from trio The Jellyman’s Daughter (exquisite harmonies from Scots duo Emily Kelly and Graham Coe, backed by the extraordinary lead banjo of Jamie Francis), it was a straight 90 minutes of rollicking shanties, blistering musicianship and cheerful on-stage banter as Sam and his cohorts worked their way through their debut album Pretty Peggy.

At times conjuring up the complexity and groove of Bellowhead, but mostly creating a powerful musical blend all their own, it was a live performance that allowed every musician to shine, but delivered something even more wonderful together than the admittedly prodigious components promised.

Outstanding of course was the warm and stunning voice of the main man, as much at home on roistering whaling shanty Greenland Whale, Appalachian call and response Angeline the Baker, or a touching Chasing Shadows on the tricky subject of depression. And the good humoured between song chat was hugely endearing.

Band members switched instruments with aplomb, and the arrangements had heads a spinning with the flying fingers and imaginative layers built up. Everybody sung and the harmonies soared, yet when drummer Evan Carson kicked in they rocked like a good ‘un.

Whether it was the dextrous pipes, flutes and whistles of Toby Shaer, the willowy fiddle of Ciaran Algar, or the glorious melodeon of Archie Churchill-Moss, there was lots to admire. Virtuoso banjo? Step forward Jamie Francis. Spine-tingling cello with echo and percussive drive? Graham Coe, of course.

And their doomy, Eastern-tinged take on Dylan’s Crash on the Levee, sounded for all the world like it belonged on Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. Outstanding.

Massively respectful of the traditions and depths of English folk, but totally unafraid to drive it into the modern world and the future. A collective gem.

Here’s a cracking video of Greenland Whale to whet your appetite, and you can find out more about the band at www.samkelly.org

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Spamalot – Python silliness is a knowing feast of fun

Theatre Royal, Brighton: Spamalot, starring Marcus Brigstocke, Jodi Prenger and Todd Carty

The word ‘romp’ is probably a bit overused in theatre reviews. But absolutely on the button for this touring production of Spamalot, the stage musical “lovingly ripped off from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, by Eric Idle and John Du Prez.

Knockabout tomfoolery: Jodi Prenger as The Lady of the Lake and Marcus Brigstocke as King Arthur

It’s a hoot from start to finish, and it works for three key reasons: Idle and Du Prez have successfully kept the funniest bits from the Holy Grail film (and wisely chucked in Life of Brian signature song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life); it has some killer tunes and a cast that ham it up with relish and energy.

Marcus Brigstocke does a decent job of being a very British King Arthur, including a much better singing voice than I expected; I’d Do Anything star Jodi Prenger is a loveable comic turn as well as a real belter of a singer; Todd Carty is spot on as the loyal oaf Patsy and the ensemble cast ham, glam and flim-flam their way through the Python silliness with fun and pzazz.

The costumes are great, and the band do a great job in driving the music along, from the oh-so-knowing musical spoof The Song That Goes Like This to the camp disco of His Name is Lancelot, the daftness of He Is Not Dead Yet to the mock grandeur of Find Your Grail.

Choreographer Jenny Arnold deserves a mention for some great set piece routines, where even the silly hoofing holds together, and director Christopher Luscombe keeps the pace going well considering the slightly bitty nature of the storyline.

All in all, it’s a hugely fun show that had the packed first night crowd up on their feet singing and clapping along at the end. It’s very silly in the best Python tradition and leaves you with a smile on your face. You’ll love it.

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Mark Watson: funny stuff that makes you think

Brighton Festival Fringe, Royal Albion Hotel: Mark Watson

It was a rare treat – and unbelievable value – to catch comedian Mark Watson in action road-testing new material for his forthcoming Do I Know You? tour at the Five Pound Fringe.

Mark Watson: thinking out loud for our entertainment. Photo: Dan Thompson

Watson’s late inclusion didn’t make the festival programme and was publicised mainly via social networking sites, but even so it was a surprise there were some empty seats in the intimate room at the Royal Albion for a real comic off the telly.

The lanky Bristolian’s stock in trade is self-deprecating insecurity, and his observations on fatherhood, making your life count for something, and the ups and downs of life as a touring comedian kept the crowd highly entertained during his 60-minute show.

He’s a fast talker, and at times his material could have done with a little less pace but I suspect it’s partly the nervousness of a man still working with his material, coupled with a brain that is always thinking furiously, while his delivery tries to catch up.

Watson’s comedy is intelligent and questioning, always probing behind the way we behave as human beings, and looking for answers as well as humour. His honest assessment of his TV ad campaign with Magners – and the flak he received from fans – showed the pressures and expectations of a working comedian trying to earn a living, but was a hoot as well.

A veteran of more than a dozen Edinburgh Festival shows, Watson at 30 is fast becoming one of our most inventive and entertaining observational stand-ups – I’d strongly recommend catching him when he’s back in Brighton at The Dome on 20 October (tickets are available at http://www.brightondome.org/)

You’ll also find more on Mark at www.markwatsonthecomedian.com and book tickets for comedy for just a fiver at www.fivepoundfringe.com

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Jus’ Like That – Tommy Cooper show does the trick

The Hawth, Crawley: Jus’ Like That with Clive Mantle and Carla Mendonca

It took a while to get the audience going in this warm-hearted tribute show to comedy legend Tommy Cooper, but by the end Clive Mantle had them where he wanted them – laughing uproariously.

Clive Mantle as Tommy Cooper

Mantle is best known for his role as Simon Horton in The Vicar of Dibley, as well as regular appearance sin Casualty and Holby City.

When he first walked on, after the usual ‘business’ finding his way through the timeless red velvet curtain, my first reaction to his take on the bumbling conjuror was ‘that’s not him’. But by the end of the show, I was simply watching Tommy.

The mannerisms, the bumbling patter, those sudden elegant balletic gestures, and that infectious chuckle were all spot on and reminded us of a character who really didn’t need to do much to get a laugh – he simply was funny in himself.

Part one of the show was Tommy’s stage act, complete with highly skilled tricks made to look fluffed (Mantle was coached by magician Geoffrey Durham, aka The Great Soprendo), the usual stream of daft one-liners (including a few pinched rather knowingly from contemporary stand-up Tim Vine) and constant whispered conversations with backstage staff.

After the interval, Mantle and Carla Mendonca (playing his mistress and stage manager Mary) took us backstage to get an insight into the tears of a clown: the often lugubrious Cooper with a drink problem and a handful of pills to get him through. Post war he was doing 52 shows a week at The Windmill Theatre but still suffered with terrible stage fright.

His final appearance – a live TV show entitled Live From Her Majesty’s – was re-enacted (Cooper died from a heart attack in the middle of his act) and the final section had a bemused but Tommy arriving in heaven clad in a white tuxedo for a playful finale around a white piano with Carla Mendonca as his angelic accompanist.

It’s a great show (written by John Fisher and directed by Patrick Ryecart) that recaptures both the magic of one of Britain’s legendary funny men – and the price he had to pay to achieve it. See it.

Jus’ Like That is touring all over the UK until mid-June, including Worthing Pavilion on 21 May. Full details are at http://juslikethat.co.uk

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Genius and silliness from the original urban spaceman

Neil Innes: A People’s Guide to World Domination – The Ropetackle Centre, Shoreham

Neil Innes is charm personified, and a delightful entertainer. He’s also a bit of a musical genius, although much of that has been hidden over the years by the consummate silliness of much of his output.

Neil Innes - nice guitar, but someone has stolen his shoes and socks

His pretty much two-hour show at Shoreham’s intimate Ropetackle Centre was a reminder that while much of his stuff is gentle satire and musical parody, he has a genius for hummable tunes and sharp, witty lyrics.

Billed as A People’s Guide to World Domination, Innes’ show amiably ambled through his 45-year career from the jazz nonsense of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (Urban Spaceman, My Brother Makes The Noises For The Talkies etc) to Monty Python (Brave Sir Robin from Monty Python and The Holy Grail, plus Run Away – one song that landed on the cutting room floor), The Rutles (a glorious medley of Fab Four spoof numbers including Doubleback Alley and Cheese & Onions) and TV’s Innes’ Book of Records.

He spun stories from the past, dropped some cheerful one-liners into the mix, and moved from a variety of guitars/ukulele to keyboard and back. The odd mistake, duff chord and forgotten lyric just added to the charm and he easily had a mature crowd joining in and doing impromptu Mexican waves.

More modern songs like Real World (about being a silver surfer), the cheerful reggae You’re Never Alone At The Bottom of The Pile, the silly rebelliousness of Ego Warriors and the call-and-response gospel spoof Slaves of Freedom demonstrated he still has a decent voice, and touching encore How Sweet To Be An Idiot was a fitting tribute to his mix of innocence, tunefulness and joy.

An enduring and original talent – still going strong at 65. Catch him while you can – you won’t be disappointed.

Check out http://www.neilinnes.org/

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Yeasayer get the blood moving in seafront sell-out

Digital, Brighton: Yeasayer

There was something distinctly underground about Yeasayer’s gig at Digital. It was more than the atmospherics provided by the King’s Arches venue, formerly the Zap Club – maybe it was that shared sense of being in on a kind of music that defied categorisation, swooping across boundaries like a gleeful swallow.

Chris Keating and Ira Wolf Tuton in action

Showcasing material from their 2007 debut All Hour Cymbals and plenty from new release Odd Blood, the band struck an immediate rapport with the crowd, that had lead singer Chris Keating bantering with the front row and bigging up local cult eaterie Bill’s.

Yeasayer’s music is propelled by the precise, tight drumming of Ahmed Gallab, coupled with the sinewy bass of Ira Wolf Tuton, and the foundation these two lay down that allows the music to hop from electro-rock to dub, from psychedelic wigout to gospel-style chants.

Chris Keating provides a charismatic front man, all waving hands and jerking torso snaps one minute, minutely adjusting his box of tricks the next. Standing where we were, guitarist Anand Wilder was a hidden voice and presence, but the effect of the whole was electrifying and at times hypnotic.

The harmonised and at times almost falsetto chanted choruses on some songs tipped Yeasayer towards Polyphonic Spree and even Fleet Foxes territory, but just when the pop idiom threatened to take over, something left field popped up and dragged it back to the edge. A good place to be.

Inevitably, the well-loved Sunrise was part of the encore (“we don’t usually do encores”) and the sold-out crowd drifted out onto the seafront with smiles on their faces. One solid bass note went through my entire body – now and again it’s the kind of therapy you need.

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Hammersmith Apollo: Delirious – the final gig

Hammersmith Apollo: Delirious (+ The Cutting Edge Band)

Part of the spectacular lights and backdrop show

It’s hard to overestimate the impact that Littlehampton band Delirious have had on at least a couple of generations of young Christians.

From the early days of The Cutting Edge Band, excitedly heading up a growing youth event in a sleepy Sussex coastal town, to the days of high profile, high impact gigs at Wembley, Willow Creek, Greenbelt, top UK venues and packed stadiums around the world, the band have always had hearts for God, and a strong sense of community.

So it was fitting that the final gig at the Hammersmith Apollo last night felt like a family gathering. Albeit with a storming lights show and a crowd of 5000 packed in.

Kicking off as The Cutting Edge Band, it was the early to mid Nineties incarnate as the d: boys revisited their early back catalogue, bassist Jon Thatcher sporting what looked like a Beatles moptop wig. It was great to hear classics I Could Sing of Your Love Forever, Did You Hear The Mountains Tremble?, I’m Not Ashamed (of the Gospel), I’ve Found Jesus and Thank You For Saving Me again, with a number long established as standards in many churches.

There was even an exhilirating outing for perennial Cutting Edge Band favourite The Happy Song, a country stomp that the band had apparently sworn they’d never play live again. It had the whole place bouncing.

For the second part of the show, as Delirious, the band hopped from album to album, plundering classic live tracks along with memorable singles, and several changes of stage attire.

It was a reminder of the sheer quantity of memorable songs the band have delivered over the years, from modern worship songs like Majesty, My Glorious and Jesus’ Blood to indie anthems Rain Down, Solid Rock and Paint the Town Red. Rock gig or passionate worship gathering? As ever with Delirious, it was both.

It was great to hear King of Fools again, with Stu G delivering the bluesy refrain on a guitar “as old as my mum – and it’s great to have them both here tonight”. Martin Smith delivered a heart-stopping version of It’s OK, another reminder of a man who combines a great voice with real songwriter’s craft.

While drummer Paul Evans, keyboard maestro Tim Jupp and bassist Jon Thatcher kept a bit more in the background and let Martin and Stu G get on with the showmanship, they put in fantastic performances – testament to what a tight and punchy live band Delirious have become with the years of touring.

Much loved former drummer Stew Smith also put in a guest appearance to team up with Paul Evans on a blistering version of Investigate. Other highlights included cracking takes on Deeper and Historymakers, Martin in white cape and crown for a timely reminder of the spiritual poverty of materialism with King of Comfort, and a straight voiced rendition of the Lord’s Prayer – not a regular chorus for the Apollo, one suspects.

Thank yous were effusive, the Delirious daughters appeared on stage a couple of times for energetic dance workouts and all the families came on at the end of the final encore, a heartfelt My Soul Sings (“this is what we do when we run out of words” said Martin).

Video clips reminded us of the band’s history, and on screen goodbyes came from each band member. Martin’s reminded the audience “it’s over to you now” backing up his words from the stage: “it’s always been about you rather than us”.

Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life boomed cheerily out from the PA as we filed out.

An end of an era – but what a legacy. The dancers who dance upon injustice have only just begun …

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