Monday 29 October 2012


Live Review

Symphony Hall Birmingham

It was an understated entrance for Joan Armatrading, who was on her home turf, walking casually on stage playing acoustic guitar and singing Down To Zero as her opener, her distinctive voice filling the Symphony Hall even before she could be seen.

Joan Armatrading
picture courtesy of
Unless you happen to be a dedicated fan or actually seen her in concert you are unlikely to realise what an absolutely fantastic guitarist she is, playing both acoustic and electric with consummate ease and, when called for, strumming one with the gentleness of a mother caring for a child while, alternatively, being able to hammer out rifts like a seasoned rock star.
She funked it up with another of her familiar songs Show Some Emotion which moved smoothly into Single Life. Joan then laid down her guitars and used her wonderfully deep voice over the top of the lone keyboard for another of her most popular hits All The Way From America.
The pretty-much packed hall lapped up everything the Emmy Award winner threw at them including the heavier sound of Woman In Love which had a reggae back beat as Joan showed her prowess on the Fender. Even though it’s now more than 30 years old she couldn’t really get away without playing her biggest success Love and Affection into which she instilled the same depth of sound as though it was the first time she had sung it.
Throughout the set her guitar playing through her range of blues and soul numbers was superb and, with Tall In The Saddle, she showed skills that were equal to and evocative of the great BB King and Pink Floyd.
She brought a mellower sound in the title track of her new album Starlight which seemed almost trivial and wouldn’t have been out of place in a West End musical.
Joan showed real emotion in the haunting ballad The Weakness In Me which really projected the range and depth of her corduroy voice.
It took Me, Myself, I towards the end of the concert to get the crowd on their feet and dancing in the aisles and thankfully she didn’t go through the nonsense of going off stage and being recalled for the encore.
She gave the crowd what they wanted finishing with Drop The Pilot and the last track on her new album, the ballad Summer Kisses.


Live Review

Town HallBirmingham

When they handed out musical talent not only was Seth Lakeman at the front of the queue but he also went back for seconds. Before he even showed on the stage it looked like a music shop with such an array of instruments you would have thought it was a sales conference rather than a concert.

He came on to the thumping beat of More than Money then linked straight into Blacksmith’s Prayer using the bouzouki, picking up the tempo with his distinctive voice coming clear over the instruments.
Seth Lakeman at Town Hall, Birmingham
picture copyright Danny Farragher
The all-rounder Lakeman was then joined on stage by guest singer Lisbee Stainton for the ballad The Sender from his Tales From The Barrel House album.
With a change of instrument, one of at least 10 throughout the concert, Lakeman pulled out Solomon Browne, a song inspired by a shipping disaster which although it had a heavier back beat also had the feeling of a skiffle number.
Showing even more of his versatility for Apple of his Eye, a song about cider making, he took to his fiddle and played pizzicato.
There was another change of instrument for the White Hare ballad which really showed the depth and clarity of his voice and the group then moved to Blood Red Sky which had a Latin undertone. He moved back to the fiddle for The Hurlers and then made another change for the Take No Rogues, an up tempo sound which featured a banging solo from the double bass.
The Longest Day/King and Country slowed things down as a simple acoustic ballad.
On stage with him was his older brother Sean who will be appearing at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolverhampton with Kathryn Roberts on Saturday November 10.
Lakeman did his signature fiddle solo to end the set with his machine gun movements building up to a Vivaldi Four Seasons-style crescendo which looked even more impressive than usual under the two spotlights highlighting him on the stage.


Live Review

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

It’s remarkable that at 28, Katie Melua has slightly more than 10 years already under her belt. The Georgian singer, even when firing on only three cylinders, still has more talent and skill than many big names on the music circuit.

This said it’s not an excuse for not really putting in the effort. While her performance was solid and impeccable it was also somehow basic, clinical and lacked any real spark or wow factor.
Katie Melua
courtesy of
Katie is certainly being experimental with her latest album Secret Symphony the name of which alludes to a quartet which is on tour with her, consisting of two violinists, a viola player and cellist.
She came on stage dressed impressively in black and red looking something like a cross between a goth and a European gypsy and opened with the ballad Gold In Them Hills which is track number one on her latest album.
As you would expect she gave her appreciative audience a mixture of some of her signature hits, the Closest Thing To Crazy, and songs from her new album such as the title track which has a theatrical feel to it almost like Evita.
Also from the album was The Bit That I Don’t Get, a torch song which wouldn't be out of place in an old style, smoke-filled, underground club.
Katie also brought in rock, blues and jazz anthems and gave her audience a taste of her wide talent, although as clear and powerful as her voice is, she was occasionally drowned out by her musicians
She did give something new in the form of The Night I Dreamed I Was Awake, which has yet to be released, and seems like she is going for a more commercial sound. There were the more unique songs which are Katie's trademark such as the haunting and macabre love song I'd Love To Kill You and then there was the jaunty almost playful tribute to Mary Pickford and the track I always think should have been featured in a Hammer horror film A Moment of Madness which has that eerie sinister fairground feel to it.
Although Elkie Brooks had a hit with it many years ago, Katie brings a real freshness to Gasoline Alley. She also gave the audience an insight into her childhood in Georgia with If The Lights Go Out which was inspired by power cuts and is an up tempo number that could easily fit into Bruce Springsteen's repertoire.
Katie has a wonderful way of weaving theatricals with her voice which was perfectly executed with Shy Boy which evoked the beatnik era, French cafes and new wave cinema.
There is no two ways about it Katie is a fantastic talent who is denied the oxygen of the mainstream charts, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Although her concert in Birmingham was solid there was nothing really spectacular or mind-blowing about it.
Like last year she kept, her biggest hit to date, Five Million Bicycles, for the encore.

Sunday 28 October 2012


Live Review

Glee Club (Studio), Birmingham

Firstly let me say I am sorry for the big gap between posts, I have been out of circulation for a while but hopefully will be back in the swing of things now. I will kick off with this review of a cracking folk singer at the Glee Club (Studio) in Birmingham, which is a great, intimate venue.

Singer/songwriter Rachel Sermanni
I couldn't really say that Scottish singer Rachel Sermanni is unique but she does have a quality which is most distinct. In appearance, she is like a female Johnny Depp and even has the vulnerable quality of his character Edward Scissorhands and, when on stage, she has the sort of movement reminiscent of a Victorian automaton. However, don’t think this is a criticism it perfectly complements her voice which is strong, versatile, has seemingly unlimited power coupled with the clarity and quality equal to that of Katie Melua. She opened her set with Ever Since the Chocolate from her album Under Mountains, which I thoroughly recommend, when she displayed an almost childlike quality to her singing that belies the deep clear and powerful tones she can wield at will.
Sermanni uses her guitar sparingly, relying instead upon the range and confidence she has in her voice which has the adaptability of an internet search engine.
She easily moved from the light ballad to a more blues-style song, Bones, where the depth and rawness of her singing would have made Janis Joplin proud.
She gave the packed out Glee Club Studio a glint of her lighter side with the Burger Van Song which was inspired by a particularly irritating man who sprinkled sugar on his chips instead of salt and then blamed her.
Perhaps not the greatest premise on which to base a song but she made it work, scattering the lyrics with a pseudo-rap style which had hints of Kate Nash’s pre-punk reincarnation.
Sermanni has this ability to move her voice around a song like a light on a screen designed to test your reactions.
The perfect illustration was a rock beat, I’ve Got a Girl, which had a broken form that musically portrayed the bizarre nature of dreams and perfectly captured the disturbing way in which images can change with no real connection, rhyme or reason. It had a staccato quality like a vocal tango.
Such is the confidence Sermanni has in her voice that towards the end of the set she unplugged her guitar and moved from the mic to treat her fans to an unplugged version of Song to a Fox.
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