Monday, 30 June 2014


Live review

Acoustic Night, Beach Party, Newhampton Arts Centre.

The Newhampton Arts Centre in Wolverhampton proved once again it is a hotbed for local talent with the third Baddies' Boogie acoustic night peopled exclusively with impressive and varied artists from the Midlands and Black Country.

Megan Reece
Chris Nicholls
This time with a beach-themed night complete with garlands, plastic flamingos and an exotic cocktail bar the temperature was raised both by the hot performances and the army of customers who packed the centre's theatre out.
The upside of having an eclectic bill of performers is you get a better insight into the wide range of real talent which is often right under our communal noses, but is often overlooked. 
The downside is the fans of the performers not on stage at any particular time tend to be ungracious and talk, often quite loudly, through the performances.
Opening proceedings with all the confidence of a pro was Megan Reece from Wolverhampton.
Reece is a businesswoman who owns a beauty salon on top of which she finds time for a singing career around the local venues and has been writing songs for 10 years since she was 17. It has to be said, Reece looks great on stage and has a powerful voice which is full of soul. She has real passion in her singing and has a superb range, even the big notes she makes sound so easy. The only thing she doesn't have is a definite vocal identity.
There is real talent there, a real and an impressive voice but she is like a mixture of Imelda May, Paloma Faith, Adele and handful of other many other soul singers you could mention. Even on her own compositions it's hard to know who or what the real Megan Reece sounds like.
This is a genuine shame because she is the sort of singer who could put many who have found fame to shame and she does it with the simple and solid accompaniment of Chris Nicholls' acoustic guitar.
She launched straight in with a cover version of the Noisettes' Never Forget and from the first note you think wow this woman can sing.
Reece showed even more talent with her own-penned song You, a gentle ballad which again showed how soulful her voice is. This was followed by Big Bad Handsome Man from one of her obvious influences Imelda May and which kind of proves the point as it was more like a tribute act than Reece letting her own personality and voice shine through.
When she does perform her own work, such as Dreams, you realise just how talented she is. Her version of Just Want To Make Love To You from Etta James was pretty impressive but her voice seemed to lose direction on occasion.
Jose James's Come To My Door was an interesting choice and one she executed extremely well, her voice adding real colour and vibrancy to the tune.
Reece finished her set literally on a high with a song of the same name, which is an obvious favourite of hers.
Timothy Parkes
She gave up the stage to one of the Black Country's more enigmatic performers, Wolverhampton's Timothy Parkes who is a bit like the Jack Dee of acoustic music.
He tentatively describes himself as an angry folk singer and he comes across as such. But he also appears genuine, honest and self-deprecating. He displays a vulnerability in his lyrics and playing and yet there is deep passion and emotion in his songs.
Just by listening to him you know he has experienced the emotions, highs and lows he has put into song. To cap it all he is also an impressive guitarist and singer. He has the same approach to guitars as the great Christy Moore and that is to hammer them to get the best out of them.
He was unfortunately fighting against a crowd which had grown and become increasingly noisy. He has a distinctive voice which, at times, harkens back to the experimental sounds of the 60s.
Parkes' songs are solid music and the amount of feeling he invests in a couple of minutes of playing is incredible. Looks Like Rain is a perfect example which involves Hari Krishna, his ex wife and a stolen guitar, listen to Parkes and somehow it all makes sense.
There is a real integrity about Parkes' playing and he pushes his lyrics as hard as he does his guitar.
His songs are about everyday events that are mundane until he puts them into song and his talent is making the ordinary of caravans, parents and "stuff" interesting. Parkes isn't the easiest of singers to listen to but he certainly is worth the effort.
The subjects of his songs are as eclectic and eccentric as his style and include falling in love with belly dancers, hiding emotions behind trinkets, and spirituality. Parkes, who now lives in Stourbridge, is definitely original and hopefully will stay that way, there isn't quite anything like him on the acoustic circuit at the moment and that's a good thing.
He finished his set with the wonderfully titled Holes which in his own words is about finding holes in things, you can't be more direct than that.
Parkes was replaced on stage by Sophie Watts from Stourbridge and Jack Cleaver who brought an interesting slant on the well-known anthem Teenage Dirtbag. Watts was one of the standout voices of the night. Her voice was so clear and tuneful and had definite individuality.
Sophie Watts
Jack Cleaver
With her own song Careless Lives she proved without doubt that not only can she sing, her style reminds quite a lot of Dolores O'Riordan, but she is a pretty good songwriter too. The ballad carried along perfectly by Cleaver's strumming was easily good enough to be in any chart.
She even put her own slant on Pharell Williams' Happy keeping the gist of the song but putting her own spin on it, they followed this with another cover from Maroon5-This Love.
Watts' showed the depth and strength her voice has on this track as it just soared over the noise of the packed venue. Flames, which had a Rosemary Clooney-retro feel about it, was another of her own songs, and was a real treat and, based purely on the two examples of their work on the night, the sooner they put an album together the better. She put her own stamp on the cover version of Paolo Nutini's Scream, who was making a big impression at Glastonbury over the weekend. Watts and Cleaver are an impressive duo and with her songwriting talents they can only go on to better things.
Daniel Beckett
Daniel Beckett, another Stourbridge musician, brought his bluesy rockabilly sound to the stage next and launched into his set with real enthusiasm sounding like he had taken lessons from Jake Bugg and Seasick Steve especially when he changed pace, he hammered the strings of his guitar and stomped the board on stage.
From his opener, Is The Grass Greener On The Other Side, he never stopped for breath and as he moved into his second number of the set, Fly, his impressive guitar playing built up and made a good job of fighting against the noise of the audience.
Beckett has a good voice, which at times sounds a little like John Lydon in his PIL days, without doubt but his real strength lies in his guitar playing. His cover of the legendary Johnny Cash's song Stripes certainly did the man in black proud. It was also good to see the new generation of musicians paying homage to the past greats.
During his set he proved he can handle soft ballads as well as the harder blues numbers. He does need to work on his stage presence and engage a little more with the audience. However, when it comes to raw energy and enthusiasm he has both in bucketloads.
Shannon Wheatley
Shannon Wheatley, from Dudley, appears to be becoming a regular at these Baddies' Boogie nights and it's easy to see why. She has a really distinctive voice which is both strong and vulnerable sounding.
Her voice is clearly different. She portrays a sense of shyness on stage and still possesses a raw freshness. It's almost as if she hides behind her long tresses but nothing can hide the lovely richness of her voice which doesn't change whether she is doing a cover version or singing her own creations.
She shows her versatility too in covering tracks as diverse as Radioactive by Imagine Dragons and The One That Got Away by Katy Perry. She uses her guitar sparingly keeping to simple chords but her voice is where her real talent lies.
Her own composition such as Typical of You brings shades of Kate Nash or Lily Allen, with the straightforward narrative of the problems of love told in a down to earth way. Wheatley has a quirky and endearing way of singing and it really comes out on her version of Kodaline's All I want. Her voice has a childlike quality to it which could melt the coldest of hearts. She pulled one of her own renditions out, again hot of the press, Fiction Books, which is a soft ballad and is just lovely to listen to. It's not going to be long before Wheatley is going to be doing the rounds of the festivals watch out for her.
Phillip Madeley
Philip Madeley, from Birmingham, took the night out opening his set with a strong and throbbing blues beat. Madeley does cut a figure similar to a young Mick Jagger in his movements when he is on stage. But his boyish looks belie his powerful and mature sounding voice.
Madeley's skill with a guitar is evident from the moment he started strumming for the cover of The White Stripes' Dead Leaves and Dirty Ground. He does have something of a retro feel that isn't a million miles away from Jim Morrison of The Doors.
He is another who believes in making his guitar work for a living. Madeley exudes energy and throughout his set never really came up for air and showed he is an exceptional guitarist.
Promoters Baddies' Boogie have tapped into something rich and deep with the seam of local talent it continues to dig into and remarkably the arts centre theatre was filled, and the event a success thanks almost exclusively to social media.
Young talent, of which there seems to be plenty in the Midlands, needs venues where they can cut their teeth and learn the ropes and the business, the traditional and sometimes the hard way. Venues such as the Newhampton Arts Centre which is fighting against severe cuts to arts funding, financial pressures and bureaucracy are the sort of places where this can happen and to lose them would be a great shame.
Baddies's Boogie are back again on Friday July 4 at the Dunkley Street centre starting 7.30pm. Entrance is £5. On the bill are Silhouettes, Jen Robins, Richard Wellington, Olly Flavell and Charlie Boswell.

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