Sunday, 14 July 2019

Paul Weller Moves On Up at the Castle

Photo: @paulwellerHQ
Like so many people of my generation I grew up listening to The Jam. The ‘angry young man’ that was lead singer Paul Weller produced songs that resonated with my teenage years. Modern World, News of the World, In the City, That’s Entertainment, Town Called Malice – a song that resonated with me during my time in Aberdeen - these and many more made such an impact on me and millions of others all around the world…

It’s one of my regrets that I never got the chance to see The Jam live. Weller split from the band in 1982, the year I first got married but after a spell with The Style Council, his solo career has taken off. Thankfully, I’ve now seen the great man live three times in recent years – with his gig at Edinburgh Castle last Thursday the latest.

The weather forecast for that evening had not been promising. I had been keeping a weather watch in the days leading up to the event; heavy rain had been forecast which then moved on up (do you see what I did there?) to thunderstorms from mid-afternoon to late evening. That literally threatened to put a dampener on things. However, the weather Gods must also be aficionados of Mr Weller because the rain didn’t materialise, and Thursday evening saw the clouds part and the sun shine on the majestic Edinburgh Castle.
The support act   - The Sound Foundation – set the tone with a Welleresque set before the great man himself appeared around 8.30pm. A truly sublime two hours followed. 
In his recent gigs I’ve attended, Weller has tended to focus more on his solo compositions and latest album releases, with the odd Jam number thrown in. On Thursday, Weller played far more songs from The Jam – Man in a Corner Shop, Precious, That’s Entertainment to name a few – as well as some numbers from The Style Council (Shout to the Top has always been my favourite Style Council song) 
He also performed some of his more memorable solo numbers such as Wildwood, From the Floorboards Up and the heart-tugging You Do Something To Me.
Naturally, Weller’s well-deserved encore just had to include Town Called Malice. His adoring audience simply lapped him up. 
Paul Weller never disappoints. On Thursday at the magnificent setting that is Edinburgh Castle he excelled yet again. 
Long live the Modfather.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Review: The Bodyguard - The Musical

I headed to the Edinburgh Playhouse on Wednesday evening not sure what to expect from The Bodyguard: The Musical. The premise of the show is a star singer, Rachel Marron, who is threatened by a fan who is infatuated by her. Enter Frank Farmer, a bodyguard with a past hired to protect her. Not the kind of thing to be taken lightly. However, there are comedic and touching moments in a show that turned out to be hugely enjoyable.
Produced by Michael Harrison and David Ian, The Bodyguard is based on the 1992 Oscar nominated film which starred Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner.  
Former X Factor winner Alexandra Burke plays the part of Rachel in the evening performances (Jennlee Shallow plays this part in the matinee shows). Burke certainly has a singing voice and has done well to cultivate an American accent. Her rendition of ‘I Will Always Love You’ was particularly impressive and an array of instantly recognisable songs such as Queen of the Night, So Emotional, One Moment in Time, Saving All My Love, Run to You, I Have Nothing, I Wanna Dance with Somebody ensure the show hits the heights.
Benoît Maréchal plays the bodyguard Frank Farmer and he and Burke seem the perfect pairing. The story of the show is the relationship between the pair. Each expects to be in charge but what they don’t expect is to fall in love. The show concentrates in Marron’s relationship with Farmer but also touches on Marron’s family’s reaction to their flowering relationship. Catching some considerable attention are Micha Richardson as Nicki Marron - who, herself, falls in love with Farmer - and Archie Smith who is one of six youngsters playing the part of Marron’s young son Fletcher.
The ingenious use of sets allows the stage to transform in every scene although the use of lights in the more upbeat numbers does tend to dazzle rather too brightly.  However, the sets and impressive dance numbers ensures The Bodyguard is a spectacular show. It will make you laugh; it will make you cry but, at the end of the night, you feel thoroughly entertained. 
The Bodyguard is on at the Edinburgh Playhouse from 9th to 20th July 2019. 

Monday, 1 July 2019

The Neighbourhood Ain't Bad

The Auld Reekie Ranter and she-who-must-be-obeyed aka Marion moved house recently. It's farewell to Leith and hello to Abbey Lane, in the heart of Scotland's capital. We're just a few yards away from these scenes:

The neighbours were in this afternoon. Stick the kettle on, Brenda...

We're lucky to have such a stunning environment on our doorstep.  

Friday, 28 June 2019

Automatic Schmuck

Back in the mists of time – circa 1985 – my manager at my place of work in Aberdeen told me our office was getting a personal computer.

‘A what?’ I cried. ‘There’s no chance of me using it’ I protested. ‘I know nothing about computers and I ain’t using one’

A thin smile crossed his face. ‘You’d better get used to it, Mike. In years to come computers will rule the world’ Alas, my old boss has proved to be correct.

Now, computers are nearly everywhere you go – resulting in the depersonalisation of society.

You go to the supermarket. At the checkout, there are rows of self-service tills, all with the same annoying voice and all ‘thanking you for shopping at Tesco’. I steadfastly refuse to use these things, preferring the human touch, even if it is a grouchy woman on the till checking her mobile phone in between scanning my goods purchased.

If you’re travelling by train and are brave enough to use ScotRail there’s no escape. The automated tannoy announcements at Edinburgh’s Waverley Station spit out which trains are departing from which platforms.

‘The-next-train-to-depart-from-platform-14-will-be-the…..0930-hours-service-to…. Glasgow-Queen-Street-calling-at-Falkirk-High-and-Croy…’ The human touch of someone actually reading this in ‘real-time’ (another phrase I deplore) has long since been shunted into a siding.

To purchase a ticket, you can still go to a manned desk but it’s clear the rail authorities would much rather you use one of the countless ticket machines dotted around the concourse.

Even on the train, automation takes over. Another loud and obtrusive automated voice will bawl ‘This-train-is-for-Glasgow-Queen-Street-the-next-station-is-Falkirk-High’ followed by ‘Please-mind-the-gap-when-alighting-this-train’. Occasionally, the ticket inspector will trawl the carriages asking to see tickets and passes and it’s almost a relief to see a human face.

Domestically, if you need to phone the gas/electric/broadband provider/insurance company etc inevitably you are giving a plethora of menu options to navigate first.

‘Press 1 for billing enquiries; Press 2 for order status; Press 3 for service information; Press 4 if you wish to tell us about a change of address…or, if you really have to, press 5 and one of our agents will deal with your enquiry.’ But if you think pressing 5 will immediately put you in contact with a human, think again. ‘Thank you. Our agents are very busy right now and you are in queue position number…5. You may wish to call back when we’re less busy…’

Even a mundane task such as visiting your GP – and, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this but I’m not a well man, although I don’t like to talk about it – has now succumbed to the robots. When visiting the surgery, I no longer need to converse with the friendly receptionist behind the counter. I just tap a large screen attached to the wall and confirm my date of birth (I’m not saying I’m old, but it takes a few moments for me to scroll down the year field on the screen). ‘Are you Michael Smith?’ displays an on-screen message? Tap yes and another message tells you to take a seat. I despair.

I know we’re in the digital age and businesses are always looking for much more efficient ways of doing things aka to save money. But it seems to me that social exchanges in everyday life are becoming more of a rarity these days. And while I suspect some people may run a mile rather than converse with me, to me this is a sad reflection on today’s impatient, far-too-busy society.

Now, for feedback on this post please comment with:

1-     If you’ve enjoyed it

2-     If you feel you’ve just wasted the last few minutes

3-     If you think it’s been the usual tirade of tiresome rubbish

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Musical Review: Club Tropicana

There seems to be something of a 1980s revival these days which, given some of the music and fashion from the decade that style forgot is something of a surprise. But if you still hanker after the days of legwarmers, white tee-shirts adorned with huge slogans and mobile phones the size of a large brick then Club Tropicana the Musical is for you.

It’s a show that’s been described as the Love Island of the 1980s (don’t ask, that’s lost on me too) and it bounced into Edinburgh on Tuesday evening for the first of a run of shows that end on Saturday. Innuendo abounds; camp is all around; and there’s love stories with rather predictable endings. But for all that, I loved it!

The main character is Garry, played with such energetic style by former X-Factor winner Joe McElderry. The story is set in Club Tropicana, a hotel for which the name chaos could have been invented. McElderry hams the action delightfully and has developed a comedic persona which comes to the fore in this entertaining romp through the 1980s.

Alongside McElderry is the brilliant Kate Robbins who plays the hotel maid Consuela. Robbins, of course, made her name as an impressionist of some ability, having contributed to one of the top sketch shows of the 1980s, the puppet satire that was ITV’s Spitting Image. Robbins has not lost her mimicry skills and she revels in ‘doing’ stars such as Tina Turner, Shirley Bassey and Liverpool’s singer turned prime-time 80s telly presenter Cilla Black. Robbins, for me, is the star of the show and she had the Playhouse audience in hoots of laughter.

The role of Serena, the hotel manager, is played by Amelle Berrabah, once of The Sugababes (who, I’m reliably informed, were an all-girl pop band) and while she isn’t as prominent as McElderry and Robbins, still provides one of the highlights of the evening with a spine-tingling version of the Yahoo classic Only You (Berrabah overcame a small technical issue at the start of the song quite brilliantly) Serena has her eyes on Rob, who was due to be played by Neil McDermott, a former EastEnders actor, but, on Tuesday’s performance was played by understudy Nye Rees.

During these troubled times, Club Tropicana will take you back to more innocent days and it’s clear the cast love performing and stomping out the instantly recognisable numbers from three decades ago. Like all good shows this is reflected in the feel-good factor that envelopes the show and there’s every chance you’ll leave the theatre with at least one of those 1980s hits buzzing around in your head for the rest of the evening. 

Girls Just Want to Have Fun, She Drives Me Crazy, The Look of Love, Don’t Go, Jump, Making Your Mind up (with a wee twist on the legendary Bucks Fizz tearing the skirts away routine) and many others will have you looking out your old Sony Walkman when you get home.

Club Tropicana is literally a blast from the past. It’s on at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday 15th June 2019. 

Thursday, 6 June 2019

A Message for the Missus

This should get me some Brownie points...

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Theatre Review: The Mousetrap

The Mousetrap has made it name as the longest-running West End show ever, having run continuously since 1952 – before even I was born! So, when it was announced that this iconic theatrical production was heading to Edinburgh’s Playhouse, it was an event that I felt had to be seen. And, let me say at the beginning, I wasn’t disappointed.

It’s entirely appropriate that Agatha Christie’s classic ‘whodunnit’ has come to Edinburgh. The legendary author married her second husband Max Mallowan at St Cuthbert’s Church at the foot of Lothian Road in 1930 so there has always been an association with the author to Scotland’s capital city. 

Given the nature of the play, I won’t spoil things for those who haven’t yet seen it. The plot is the aftermath of a murder in London. Monkswell Manor, a guest house run by young married couple Giles and Mollie Ralston, welcomes five guests who, upon first impressions, don’t appear to have any connections with each other. Some of the guests are expected, some are not, due to a heavy snowstorm. 

Then the telephone rings. A woman has been murdered in London and the murderer is on the run. The police are warning there is a killer in the vicinity of the guest house and the newly arrived guests are in danger. Who will escape the clutches of the killer? Who is the killer? Is it one of the newly arrived guests?

You’ll need to see the show to find out. 

The characters are, as you might expect, an eclectic bunch with a cantankerous elderly woman, a retired army general and a superbly camp young bachelor. Fans of the classic BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses will recognise the elderly woman, Mrs Boyle, as Gwyneth Strong who played Rodney Trotter’s wife Cassandra in the hit show.  Geoff Arnold gives a strong performance as the army general as does Lewis Chandler who plays Christopher Wren but the star of the show, in my opinion, is David Alcock who plays the mildly eccentric Mr Paravicini, a character who offers more questions than answers.

As you might expect with an Agatha Christie story, there are no gimmicks or elaborate production features. It’s just good, old-fashioned, edge of your seat quality acting which keeps you hooked throughout. Without giving too much away, the killer reveals themselves to the audience towards the end of the show – and asks the audience to keep the revelation to themselves! I will say nothing more other than, given the characters and one of the cast involved, there’s more than a hint of irony!

The Mousetrap is a high-quality production of a classic Agatha Christie story. It flits between dark humour and suspense and is well worth a visit. But you’d better be quick – the show is only on until this Wednesday!

The Mousetrap is on at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Wednesday 29th May.