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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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Spike Milligan’s Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall

Chichester Festival Theatre: Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall by Spike Milligan

How does he DO that? Milligan (Sholto Morgan) admires the ability of Edgington (Dominic Gerrard) to conjure up a cuppa in the most unlikely places

How does he DO that? Milligan (Sholto Morgan) admires the ability of Edgington (Dominic Gerrard) to conjure up a cuppa in the most unlikely places

An interestingly mixed crowd of older and younger Goons fans filled much of the Festival Theatre on Thursday night for Bristol Old Vic’s sparky production of Spike Milligan’s classic war memoir.

Adapted for the stage by Ben Power and Tim Carroll, it was a strong mix of knockabout bawdy barrack room humour, Milligan’s surreal yet poignant story-telling and some classy jazz numbers from the Forties.

A talented cast, led by Sholto Morgan as Milligan, did an excellent job in a show that mixed a mock ENSA show for the troops, direct excerpts from the book, and vignettes that captured superbly the gallows humour, humanity and tragic sacrifice of wartime.

As co-adapter Ben Power writes in his programme notes, the show’s spontaneity and looseness owes as much to the ragged nature of Spike’s surreal writing as the way the action has been put together, and mirrors the freeform nature of the jazz Spike loved to play as lead trumpeter.

Giving sterling support to Sholto, as the boys of Battery D, were Dominic Gerrard (Edgington), William Findley (Goldsmith), David Morley Hale (Kidgell) and Matthew Devereux (MC), and they delivered some superb instrumental and vocal performances, handling piano, drums, saxophone, double bass, guitar and trumpet between them.

A fun night that will have prompted many an audience member to dig out those old paperbacks again, and revel in the tortured genius of Milliganism.

Ends Saturday night (24 October) before travelling to Watford, Liverpool and Nottingham. More at www.spikeswar.com

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Review: Oli Brown Band, Worthing Assembly Hall

Oli Brown Band – Worthing Assembly Hall

It’s an irony that in a genre where artists get better the older they are, blues newcomer Oli Brown is turning heads while still in his teens.

Oli’s power-packed three piece – the Oli Brown Band – delivered a powerful set at Worthing Assembly Hall last night, although it was really the wrong kind of venue for this stage in his career.

Oli Brown Band on stage in Worthing

A crowd of less than 150, spread thinly around the auditorium at tables, mustered plenty of enthusiasm, but what you really wanted was a smaller, intimate club atmosphere with sweat running down the walls.

Much of material the centred around the band’s highly acclaimed 2008 debut album Open Road, with a few blues classics such as Every Day I Have The Blues and Black Betty thrown in for good measure.

Inevitably it was Oli’s blend of powerful, mature vocals and guitar heroics that dominated. Tall, thin and with a shock of shoulder-length black hair, he was a charismatic focal point, strolling around the stage playing with the casual insouciance of a veteran. Astonishing, considering he’s only been playing the instrument for seven years.

Style-wise, there were shades of Stevie Ray Vaughan in his fluid, melodic runs, and other blues masters such as BB King and Buddy Guy (the band delivered a blistering version of his Steppin’ Out, Steppin’ In), as he cranked up the tone and the drama. At times on the slower numbers his jazz-inflected tones even touched on the likes of Joe Pass and a guitar version of Oscar Peterson.

Freddie Hollis on 6-string bass was a rock solid rhythm unit with quality drummer Simon Dring, and the pair added welcome harmony vocal back-up at times, as well as having their own solo slot to show off their virtuosity.

Standouts included album opener Psycho, the rocking title track Open Road and an impassioned Stone Cold (Roxanne) which had Oli yelling his vocal refrain sans mic to the back of the hall.

When during the encore the young guitarist sauntered out among the crowd to solo at length and up close, it was just a reminder of how blues can connect at gut level. The future’s bright for this power trio. They’re great now – give them time (and they’ve got plenty) and their potential is frightening …

Further dates lined up in the south east:

4 Dec – The West Coast Live, Margate
5 – Wingspan Club, Crawley
9 – Plaza Suite, Sevenoaks
10 – The Maltings, Farnham
15 – The Brook, Southampton
16 – The Jazz Cafe, London

More at www.oliselectricblues.co.uk

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Anish Kapoor – Royal Academy of Arts

Svayambh – red wax monster shaped by the building

Svayambh – red wax monster shaped by the building

Royal Academy of Arts: Anish Kapoor (Exhibition 26 September – 11 December, 10am-6pm, Fridays 9.30pm)

Wandering around the press preview of this major solo exhibition by 1991 Turner Prize winner Anish Kapoor, I couldn’t help but be struck by the sheer sense of fun this influential sculptor encapsulates in his work.

Rather than try to tease out ‘meaning’ from each piece – a mix of new work and previously unseen items – I just found myself delighting in the physical appeal of each one, and the way they made me think about them.

First up is the monumental Hive (2009), built in a shipyard in Holland using Corten steel. It impacts you immediately as you stare into its hidden depths, and then walk round what for all the world seems like an alien submarine, left to rust on a distant, abandoned planet.

Greyman Cries etc - serious playdo, this

Greyman Cries etc - serious playdo, this

Gallery two yields the enigmatically titled Greyman Cries, Shaman Dies, Billowing Smoke, Beauty Evoked (2008-9), consisting of dozens of pallets piled high with cement sculptures generated via a computer-controlled three-dimensional printer. The result is a mix of almost fossilised geological strata plus dinosaur poo put through a mincer. You want to grab a handful of it – it looks fantastic fun created by grown-ups let loose with a vat of modelling clay.

The writhing marble monster Slug (2009) seems almost alive, contrasting a sinewy intestinal feel with a towering female organ in an unlikely metallic red.

Non-object (wall) - concave reflections

Non-object (wall) - concave reflections

There’s a fascinating gallery of ‘non-objects‘ full of concave mirrors throwing back distorted and often upside down reflections. Shiny chrome always brings out the magpie in all of us, and Kapoor maybe asks us how we appear to others compared to how we see ourselves with this cavalcade of end of the pier distortions.

A gallery of Pigment works flings deeply coloured geometric shapes at us, tempered with a powder sprayed almost soft texture, and including the wonderful When I am Pregnant (1992), a swelling bump that pops out seamlessly from the white walls, playing tricks with the light.

Yellow - you might just dive in and disappear

Yellow - you might just dive in and disappear

Piece de resistance when it comes to impact for me was the awesome Yellow (1999) – a cavernous splash of yellow that dives deep into a wall and leaves us grasping for a means to take it in. The curve of its shape makes it impossible to tell how deep it goes, and the result is something you just have to stare at and enjoy.

Heart of the exhibition is the powerful Svayambh (2007), taking up five galleries at the RA. A massive block of red wax chugs slowly along tracks, oozing through the Academy’s white and gilt doorways, leaving a sticky residue behind. The title comes from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘self-generated’. It is bizarre, fascinating and mystifying all at the same time.

And the same red wax becomes a weapon in Shooting into the Corner (2008-9), as cannon fires 20lb plugs of the material at 50mph through another doorway and against a wall. Some 30 tons will be fired through the exhibition. Described by RA chiefs as a “psycho drama”, there is a real tension as we wait for the plug to be fired, supervised by a black boiler-suited assistant. There is something visceral and disturbing that we share in here, and the experience is strangely engrossing.

For those who don’t ‘get’ modern art and sculpture, Kapoor’s work may not make much sense. But maybe that’s because it shouldn’t be approached as a puzzle which needs to be solved, rather than created works that evoke a response or cause us to think.

You may respond or think differently to me. But you should go – it’s exciting stuff.

Tickets are £12, bookable at www.royalacademy.org.uk or on 0844 209 1919

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Review: Hay Fever – Chichester Festival Theatre

Chichester Festival Theatre: Hay Fever by Noel Coward

If you’re in need of a lift, make sure you catch Hay Fever at Chichester – it’s a hayfever1delight.

First of all, there’s the script. It doesn’t matter a jot that there isn’t really any plot to speak of in this Twenties romp, when you have Coward’s elegant, witty dialogue to entertain you.

Second, and very close behind, there’s the cast. It’s quality from start to finish with Diana Rigg (as ageing actress and flirt Judith Bliss) and Simon Williams (grumpy writer David Bliss) leading the way, and receiving sterling support from experienced performers Guy Henry (stiff and awkward diplomat Richard Greatham, who daughter Sorel admires), Sue Wallace (put-upon housemaid Clara) and Caroline Langrishe (socialite Myra Arundel, mooned after by son Sam), alongside newer faces Laura Rogers (daughter Sorel Bliss), Sam Alexander (aspiring artist Simon Bliss), Edward Bennett (hopeless goof Sandy Tyrell, yearning for Judith) and Natalie Walter (flapper Jackie Coryton, who David plans to ‘study’).

The interplay between the characters provides much of the entertainment, as a quiet weekend at the Bliss household’s country home turns into a manic relationship mix-up as each has an uninvited guest coming to stay. Whatever the hopes and dreams each had for the stay, they are soon turned on their heads by the determined eccentricities of the Bliss family, at times almost oblivious to their guests.

They row, they argue and show appalling manners all round. Yet they are as quick to make up as a family as to fall out, and the family unit’s strength is clear by the end – despite the effect they have on their guests.

Coward’s writing touches on a number of deeper questions, from class to the search for truth, and while the brilliance of the dialogue and the relationships between the different characters at times disguises this, there is much to be savoured in a production that lifts the spirits – and give you plenty to think on.

Nikolai Foster’s direction is high quality, as you’d expect, and the production features a superb set by Robert Jones.

The production runs until 2 May and you can book tickets online at www.cft.org.uk or by calling  01243 781312.

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Review: Brief Encounter – Brighton Theatre Royal

Brighton Theatre Royal: Brief Encounter

I’d love to know what audiences make of this imaginative, entertaining production of a romantic classic.

There was a huge amount to enjoy: high quality performances from a versatile, talented cast; imaginative staging that saw performers step into and out of backdrop film projection; jaunty and sometimes unexpected arrangements of classic Noel Coward songs; and much more comedy than I was expecting.

We felt thoroughly entertained by a Kneehigh Theatre production it was very hard not to feel charmed and captivated by. The staging and sets effectively took us back into wartime Britain, and excellent musicianship and harmonies on display made it a musical treat as well.

However, I do wonder whether the romantics in the audience drawn along because of the classic David Lean film with Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson will feel slightly hard done by. The comic tone of many of the cast performances – which were hugely entertaining – at times threatened to pull the rug from under the tender, yearning scenes between principal characters Laura (Hannah Yelland, complete with terribly cut glass English accent) and Alec (Milo Twomey, all flapping raincoat and doctorly charm).

brief-encounter-51Because of this the choreographed moves of the ensemble complete with film backdrop of crashing waves became almost parody-like due to being repeated just a little too often.

Maybe I’m nitpicking though, because it was overall a thoroughly entertaining show – with standout performances from the whole cast, particularly Joseph Alessi, as both cheeky chappy Albert and dull-but-kind husband Fred, and Beverley Rudd as teabar giggler Beryl.

With the musicians mingling with the audience before the start and setting the tone with some jazz-lite Coward songs, the ambience was excellent throughout, mixing vaudeville and music hall with fast-moving storytelling.

I do wonder, though, whether the romantics would have liked to have laughed rather less and cried rather more.

Book until Saturday (25 April) on 08700 606 650 or online at www.theambassadors.com/theatreroyal

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Gethsemane: power, politics and piety pack a punch

Brighton Theatre Royal: Gethsemane by David Hare

Trenchant, clever writing with lines to relish, powerhouse performances from a quality cast, a striking and creative set – there was so much to enjoy about David Hare’s Gethsemane last night. And yet …

It was hard to put my finger on exactly what it was about Gethsemane that left me less  thoughtful than I expected. Hare’s insightful, at times scathing writing exposes the seamy underbelly of politics in today’s Britain – spin, management, damage limitation, hypocrisy and media manipulation.

Tamsin Greig is superb as the harrassed Home Secretary Meredith Guest – a mother who loves her wayward daughter Suzette (well portrayed by newcomer Jessica Raine) but is married to her job; agonising over her entry into politics to “make a difference” and despairing that “they hate us whatever we do”. Micro-managed by civil servant fixer Monique Toussaint (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), she is pulled deeper into trouble by her rebellious daughter’s attempts to get herself noticed.

Shady money man Otto Fallon (Stanley Townsend) is the cheeky chappy sifting everyone’s motives and finding them wanting, recruiting naive Whitehall greasy pole climber Mike Drysdale to his “fund-raising” operation, but failing to convince his pricipled wife Lori (Nicola Walker). Supported by suave assistant Frank Pegg (Pip Carter), he calls the tune that all but Lori must dance to.

Anthony Calf is Prime Minister Alec Beasley, sketched very strongly as Tony Blair with just a few details changed (he bashes away at a drum kit instead of the Blair Stratocaster) and talks firmly if vaguely about his religious faith.

Adam James revels in his role as Geoff Benzine, the Fleet Street hack preparing to break the story of the Home Secretary’s daughter’s shameful secret. When Meredith calls in Lori – Suzette’s former teacher and mentor – to try to straighten her out, the emotional depth of Hare’s writing starts to tell.

At times, it’s very funny, and there are some great lines:
“There’s only one safe place for a politician to live and that’s in ignorance …”
“It’s an organised hypocrisy and it’s called democracy …”
“The more sceptical the people become, the more devout are their leaders.”
“When journalists write about themselves, they finally write about someone they admire.”

Tamsin Greig’s opening to the second half, where she addresses the audience on the terrorist threat, outlining everything that she can’t tell us, and concluding “Sorry, but you’ll just have to trust us” is priceless. And the scene between her and the PM soon after is superbly played.

As for Gethsemane, referred to on a couple of occasions as “the dark night of the soul” – with many of the characters having wrestled with their callings and plans, is finally pinpointed as Suzette admonishes Lori “Jesus didn’t give up – you’ve missed the whole point of the story”.

Maybe the slight lack of engagement I felt at the end was down to the fact that none of the characters really attracted my sympathies – all were flawed but seemed trapped by the system. I won’t spoilt it by revealing the final scene, but a larger dose of hope would have helped. Human beings may be flawed, but not all are doomed to corruption and compromise – the redemption that lay beyond Gethsemane was only hinted at.

And these days, we can really do with being reminded of Easter too.

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