It really doesn’t get more impressive than Koko – red velvet walls, tiered balconies and old grandiose theatre feel – could there be a better live venue in London? Well its even better tonight, as they welcome to the stage the incredible and talented Alice Russell.
Opening proceedings tonight is Andreya Triana; a young singer with a rich and tender blues voice, backed up with unassuming accompaniment from drums and guitar, giving her performance the impression of a classic jazz trio. With a voice akin to Amy Winehouse’s in tone and character, she breezes through a set of velvety blues numbers, in a laid-back, relaxed style which perfectly warms up the crowd.
By the time Alice Russell reaches the stage, introduced by her ensemble band dressed in pure white, the building is buzzing with anticipation. Every person present waits with barely contained excitement – and they are not left disappointed as you couldn’t pack a performance with more energy and spirit.
Her band is just outstanding, with drummer, backing singers, two guitarists, a superb brass section and a pianist who looks more like a mad scientist atop a podium. However, it’s worth making special mention of Michael Simmons. Sharing centre stage throughout the show, his presence is as commanding as Russell’s and he compliments her with his gentle and soulful voice, and brings a touch of genius to the show with his violin.
As the set weaves through a range of sounds ranging from soul to ska and rock, songs like ‘Turn and Round’ allow Russell to demonstrate her inner soul diva. Possessing the ability to be gravelly and sweet while at the same time filling the room with gospel power, her voice is quite simply spectacular and on par with such greats as Aretha Franklin and Beyonce. At one point she performs an amazing fast-paced version of ‘Single Ladies’ and the band get the audience clapping along in unison.
Her set includes a fantastic array of original songs and covers, and the pace of the evening is relentless. At one point Russell is picked up and carried off over the shoulder of Simmons. The crowd is left wondering where she is, but a quick wave of applause greets an instrumental version of ‘Thriller’ in tribute to Michael Jackson, and before we know it she’s back on stage having under-gone a complete costume change to perform her classic cover of ‘Seven Nation Army’ by the White Stripes.
At the end of the evening, with the audience simply refusing to leave the venue, the band happily come back on for a long encore, performing an amazing version of Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’ which far surpasses the original.
Russell has once again proven herself to be a star, capable of both the powerful and the delicately sublime. The pure embodiment of sass and style.
This article was originally written for Spoonfed.co.uk here: http://www.spoonfed.co.uk/spooners/samgould-5043/alice-russell-at-koko-1581/
The real-life Moe Szyslak plays live at the Hammersmith Apollo tonight, armed with his dry country drawl and splenetic humour, to deliver another scathing condemnation of society.
Playing to a packed house (it is the filming of his live DVD tonight), Rich Hall walks out onto the stage to the applause of an admiring crowd, and in true curmudgeonly fashion looks around as if he’d rather be somewhere else.
Tonight he performs as the warm-up act to, well, um, himself. That is, to his comic alter-ego Otis Lee Crenshaw, and anarchic country band the Honky Tonk Assholes. But I’m getting ahead of myself, for the first hour he serves up a characteristic slice of vitriolic ranting.
Hall shouts about the state of America’s 7 trillion dollars of debt and how easily you can attain credit, screaming ‘all you have to do is push a pencil across the table with your nose, and congratulations, you’re now a home owner’. His material lays out a cutting indictment on the hypocrisy of society, television, politics, popular culture and particularly Tom Cruise, who he refers to as ‘that four-foot scientology midget’.
His best stuff bites at Barack Obama’s ‘Audacity of Hope’ which he picks apart with the sarcastic lines ‘Whoa Barack, stop being so audacious. I mean come on how audacious can you be. Isn’t that just below wishful thinking, and just above performing a rain dance?’
He then mocks Kanye West’s pathetic publication of self-help ‘Thank You and You’re Welcome’ (a 52-page pithy pamphlet which required a co-author to write), wherein Kanye states he doesn’t read much because ‘books be so wordy and shit’. I’ve noticed that too Kanye.
But something is missing here. His act doesn’t have the surreal edge that I expected from his television persona. Sure, his material is still passionate and angry, but his delivery is more akin to shouting into a microphone than delivering a carefully cynical tirade, and misses the timing which would have you laughing when you least expected it.
Thankfully the evening gets better from the second half when we welcome to the stage his sharper, quicker, less inhibited bandana-wearing alter-ego Otis Lee Crenshaw, as Hall lets himself go in a character he clearly feels very comfortable playing. The rapport with the crowd is great, as Crenshaw writes an entire song on the spot about a biology student in the front row, complete with sardonic verse and perfect rhyme, and cries to another: ‘So you’re a civil engineer ay? Well better than those damn renegade engineers’.
The pace and energy of the second half is a lot sharper, and the band are great, promising to turn everyone in the audience on to country music by the end of the night. They are certainly accomplished and stand out above most musical comedy which can often feel banal. To the backing of rapid banjo Crenshaw announces: ‘they say you should write songs about the things closest to you, so this is about my neighbour’.
Hall is certainly quick, as his interaction with the crowd shows, but most of his act is just rambling. I get the impression that if you were the screechy and annoying American sitting behind me shouting ‘Oh my god that’s so funny’ every five minutes, then it was probably exactly you’re kind of thing, but for me it just lacked any real personality.
The second half of the show certainly redeemed it as Hall’s persona turns from grumbling malcontent to a character with real attitude, and we leave the theatre still smiling.
Sitting in the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, I’m looking forward to a varied stand-up bill this evening. The night is hosted by the insightful Richard Herring who ambles out on stage looking like a London university student, despite his 42 years of age, and proudly announces that he was voted the Worst Comedy Experience by the Daily Telegraph in 2005. His wry smile and glances at the crowd draw the audience into his confidence as he sneers at such an accolade.
Always smart and intelligent, Herring fills the space between each act with a quick wit steeped in irony, playing on his image as a dirty forty-year-old man as he lechers over a young woman in the crowd, before declaring that he is of course joking, and that he believes ‘women should be treated as if they were equal’. He then goes on to introduce the first act saying ‘I don’t want to do too much pratting about. I think I’ve pretty much succeeded in whipping you up into a frenzy’, and welcomes impressionist Alistair McGowan to the stage.
McGowan made a return to stand up at the fringe earlier this year after a 13 year absence, so Im looking forward to seeing how his work fares away from the comfortable set-up of television. Immediately he comes across as an engaging and likeable character who’s comfortable in front of an audience.
Taking off Michael Parkinson, Dylan Moran and Richard Herring’s ex-comedy partner Stewart Lee with a startling likeness, his impressions are uncanny and immediately enjoyable. However, overall his material did rely too heavily on a knowledge of sport. Perhaps this was more favourable than venturing into politics, as his Gordon Brown seemed more like an impression of an impression, in imitation of the talented Rory Bremner. While the impressions are good, some of his jokes are fairly weak, and his transposition of characters to different settings is slightly too similar to David Brent’s failed attempt at comedy in The Office.
Newcomer Naz Osmanoglu bursts onto the stage with enthusiasm and a twitchy energy about him which raises a smile. He has some funny material on his Turkish father and his obsession with his son growing a beard, but an odd routine about the multiple uses of a towel leaves the audience a bit cold. Despite this the young comic has a confidence about him which I’m sure will see him do well.
One of the biggest names on the bill, Al Murray, is the same as ever. Though his act is supposed to be ironic, you can’t help feeling as you watch him on stage yelling at an old man for being old, shouting ‘What’s that Granddad, it’s not the same as it was in your day? Can you hear me?!’ that after 15 years on stage this character has somewhat run its course.
By far the highlight of the evening is Wilson Dixon, a character comedian who performs as an American country singer. Straight away, his strange presence has the audience intrigued. He announces that he comes from Cripple Creek in America, asking in a country accent whether ‘there is anyone from the United Kingdoms in tonight?’. He then introduces a song off his first album (‘The Very Best of Wilson Dixon’), saying: ‘It goes a little something like this’, before pausing and correcting himself: ‘actually it goes exactly like this’.
Dixon has a great and original persona, delivering farcical one-liners similar to Demetri Martin and jokes which deteriorate into nothing after convoluted explanations. Accompanied by his guitar, he tells the story of a man who rolled into town one day, singing: ‘he came on a horse as big as a bus, in fact it could have been a bus, I didn’t see him arrive. He had no name… so we called him the man with no name… which ironically then became his name’. His slow and droll delivery has the audience laughing at every line.
Overall it’s been a great night of comedy in a fantastic venue. This gig is the first to welcome Richard Herring back to the Lyric Theatre for another season of laughs, as he continues to showcase his pick of stand-up talent throughout the autumn.
This article was originally written for Spoonfed.co.uk here: http://www.spoonfed.co.uk/spooners/samgould-5043/richard-herring-alistair-mcgowan-naz-osmanoglu-al-murray-and-wilson-dixon-at-the-lyric-theatre-1503/
Tru Thoughts has come a long way since its days under founding member Robert Luis stairs back in Brighton ’99. The past ten years have seen them sign some of the very best funk and jazz acts, and create a name for themselves as pioneers of originality and soul. Today the guys are taking over Vibe Bar for festivities lasting a massive twelve hours, with a great line-up of past and present Tru Thoughts artists here to lift the party.
For a spot on Brick Lane – the heart of London’s trendy east-end, the crowd is surprisingly devoid of pretension. No one seems stuck up, self-important, or appears to be wearing a tiny little stupid hat. The atmosphere is inviting, friendly and laid-back, with people sitting around in a sunny courtyard drinking beer, laughing, mingling, moving around tables, and generally being inclusive, chilled-out jazz types.
People swarm around a great Caribbean BBQ cooking all sorts of marinated meat that fills the air with sweet scents, while a range of beers and unusual cocktails helps keep everyone merry. Amid the crowds are also several stalls selling merchandise, records, CDs and posters. DJs and collectors dig eagerly through the troves of records on offer trying to find a bargain, discussing music and talking to the artists and people from Tru Thoughts.
After an afternoon spent lounging around enjoying the last of the summer sun and listening to a host of great DJ sets from the likes of Nostalgia 77, The Bamboos and Flevans, the live music part of the festival finally kicks off with a great acoustic set from Lizzie Parks who delivers soulful jazz vocals to funk guitar accompaniment.
The highlights of the evening however are sets from Alice Russell and Belleruche, both amazing live performers who wow the happy crowd. Russell in particular is outstanding, exuding soul and power, her voice quite literally fills the room. Her performance is both classic and modern, with a style that is bluesy and smooth, but has the force to make you move like good gospel or funk.
North London three-piece Belleruche follow it up with their own brand of trip-hop driven turntable soul music, delivered with depth and feeling. Their music, influenced by everything from vintage blues, through jazz and hip hop, to rock, perhaps best exemplifies the Tru Thoughts sound and ethos and makes for a great closer to the evening.
Today has been a great party which has felt welcoming and inclusive throughout, and has seen most of the punters stay from start to finish. Here’s hoping Tru Thoughts can keep it going for another 10 years.
Portico Quartet have been riding a pretty high wave recently. Having been hailed as one of the most exciting bands in a new wave of contemporary music and as ‘a phenomenon in the making’ by the Independent newspaper, they’ve enjoyed continued success over the past couple of years with a unique sounding take on classical, London jazz and world music.
In just a couple of years they have gone from unknown buskers in London, to widespread acclaim and success, and have just finished recording their much anticipated second album. Their debut album ‘Knee Deep in the North Sea’ was crowned Time Out’s Jazz album of the year in 2007, and was subsequently nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.
I caught up with them to chat about their new album, busking and the sound of the Portico Quartet to come…
Your first album ‘Knee Deep in The North Sea‘ was received with great acclaim. Was the album‘s success and your nomination for the Mercury Prize a surprise? Did you think you had a chance of winning?
We’ve always had a strong and positive reaction to our music, which stemmed I think mainly from having a different and unusual sound, so the Mercury nomination was the continuation of a response that started a couple of years earlier when we were busking on the south bank. In this respect it was a gradual progression and after a while you begin to think ‘yeah, why not. Why couldn’t we win?’
You busked for a long time down at the Southbank before recording the first album. Was this an important process in developing your sound, and what sort of progression did your music take? Was it an important aspect in moulding the band into a cohesive group?
Absolutely. We would play one or two ‘normal’ gigs a week and then do maybe 5 hours busking on a Saturday. This, in terms of hours playing, is like 7 gigs a week! So it got us really tight and instilled a good work ethic. Busking is a no-expectation performing environment and so was a fertile space for us. It dissolved the boundaries between practice and performance. We also sold over 10,000 copies of our home-made demo and played to many more people, so when we gained some media coverage, some seeds were already sown.
So you‘re currently recording your second album at Abbey Road Studios. Are you feeling any of the alleged pressure of the difficult second album?
There’s definitely more expectation. Recording at Abbey Road with John Leckie amps things up somewhat, but that’s more exciting than anything. The pressure increases but so does our ability to deal with it. It’s been a really exciting experience that we’ve all been able to enjoy.
How would you describe your second album? Is it similar to the first or have you made any conscious effort to expand?
The new album is deeper than the first. There are less catchy melodies, but it’s more adventurous and feels a lot heavier. Having said that, it’s still very much us and our sound. We all want to keep expanding as musicians and want to keep challenging ourselves. The production is a lot better on this record and we all think it sounds amazing so we’re really happy with the direction the album has taken.
The hang was such an alluring instrument and considered such a central feature of the Portico Quartet sound. Does it still feature heavily in the work on the new album?
The hang is still a big part of what we do. It remains an exciting instrument and one that we can use to create backing sounds and rhythms, as well as to create building harmonies.
Is there any method to which you are approaching the production of the second album? Has it come about largely though experimentation and jamming, or has there been a strong element of ‘song-writing‘?
There has been a strong element of both. We spent December 08 to April 09 playing in our rehearsal space at the bottom of our garden. We would often play quite free, just jam ideas and then craft some structure to them afterwards. Sometimes we would find a nice melody or tune and then experiment with that on different instruments. There was also a lot of in-between too, where we would create parameters for us to improvise within, and thus it would alter our relationships to one another.
You have been described as part of a new wave of jazz groups that are reportedly taking jazz in a new direction and reinvigorating its image. How do you feel about this? Is it something you‘ve been aware of?
Not really. I don’t feel the association very strongly, though I take it as a complement. We just make the music we feel like.
I‘ve heard you say before that you are deliberately not playing in a‘jazz‘ way. In many ways you‘re a tighter band with all elements contributing to the unique sound of your music. What is it do you feel that makes you distinct?
It’s not that we are ‘deliberately’ not playing jazz. We just play what feels obvious and follow our own threads and it’s just not really jazz. Certainly not in a rigid, static definition. The hang is really a sound that makes us distinct, and by combining this with contemporary and classical influences, alongside jazz and dance and world and rock etc. we just create something which we feel really happy playing.
Have you considered using a vocal element in your music and how do you feel this would work?
It is something we have considered. The right vocalist will work a treat. That’ll happen when it happens. There is something ‘unsaid’ about our music which is important, so a voice could work amazingly, but lyrics and narratives I feel would ‘fix’ our music. I like the open interpretation non-lyrical music has. But it all depends on who’s doing it and how they do it. There’s no reason why it couldn’t work.
This article was originally written for Spoonfed.co.uk here: http://www.spoonfed.co.uk/spooners/samgould-5043/portico-quartet-1462/