Claire Richards ~ Town Hall, Birmingham

Star rating: *****

Claire Richards has long been my best-loved member of of pop band Steps, her vocal ability is so extraordinary that waiting for her signature ‘belt’ to make an appearance in the back catalogue of Steps hits has become rather customary. When I knew she was planning to go solo it was quite a moment, I was so excited to hear her album and the tour has been on my hit-list since back in the summer. The album ‘My Wildest Dreams‘ has been delayed until 1 February 2019, but she promises it will be worth the wait – and from the sound of the various numbers the singer treated us to during her solo gig, it definitely will be worth the wait!

Looking the epitome of chic elegance, Claire sang us through numerous songs from her album, some I was familiar with and already love listening to and the others that were new to my ears I already know I will want to play over and over. This incredible lady has created a perfect first solo album in my humble opinion. She was nervous, at least that’s what she told the audience, but she’s the master of hiding nerves if she truly felt that way! As one number rolled into another the atmosphere buzzed and every member of the crowd was on her side willing her to be as brilliant as she absolutely was.

With Christmas just around the corner, ‘My Heart Is Heading Home (This Christmas)’ was a welcome choice on the set list, you can download that ready for the festive season too – I highly recommend you do. ‘End Before We Start’ which already has an official video was sensational live, ‘On My Own’ is equally moving and I feel it represents the star’s solo journey. The title track ‘My Wildest Dreams’ is also lyrically heartfelt and yet another song which was performed beautifully live. ‘Deep Waters’ is gloriously upbeat and upped the vibe in the venue. ‘Brave’ is the only self-penned tune and possibly one of my overall favourites, I can identify with the message and it’s a fitting tribute to her children and to motherhood.

Of course there was a nod towards Claire’s ‘day job’ as a member of Steps with stripped back versions of ‘Deeper Shade of Blue’ and ‘One for Sorrow’ which were a welcome addition to the set. However, it was her performance of Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ which was the biggest revelation of the night and rocked Town Hall, Birmingham.

If you have the chance to see Claire Richards performing her solo gig, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that you go. It was an amazing evening of wonderful music and there’s no doubt that this path is right for her, it’s about time!

Check out Claire Richards’ website for all the latest news: Claire Richards Website

Pre-order the album ‘My Wildest Dreams’ here, just click the image:

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Sixties Gold Tour ~ Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Star rating: *****

Sixties Gold landed at Symphony Hall, Birmingham last night and it was an exceptional evening to bear witness to. As a number of amazing singers and instrumentalists who mostly made their names in the swinging sixties took to the stage to play their signature tunes and number one hits to an enthusiastic crowd. The venue was in the most part populated by the fans who heard these popular tracks the first time around, however there was a minority who grew up on the classic hits courtesy of their parents and I think and hope I speak for that cluster when I say that it was as glorious for us as it was for the longer term enthusiasts.

The Searchers

I was brought up on the songs that topped the charts in the fifties, sixties and seventies and one of my all-time favourite bands is The Searchers. I’ve seen them in concert on a previous occasion and they are still phenomenal, even though there’s a slightly altered line-up. Frank Allen and John McNally remain and they’re at the heart of what the band can produce. Their back catalogue of hits rocked Symphony Hall as they generously gave us the most thrilling finale to a wonderful evening of fantastic music. From ‘Sweets for My Sweet’ to ‘Don’t Throw Your Love Away’ and even a side-step towards Buddy Holly tracks, we were spoiled, truly spoiled. They’re retiring next year so be sure to catch their farewell tour, I expect it will be an epic farewell – and hopefully not really their final hoorah…

The Fortunes opened the show in style with the likes of ‘Here It Comes Again’ and ‘Storm in A Teacup’ delighting the audience. The temptation to be on my feet singing along from the very beginning was piqued! There’s no denying that the talent possessed by the plethora of musicians is boundless. Their energy is also quite extraordinary. Vanity Fare followed with one of my all-time favourite songs ‘Hitchin’ A Ride’ and they provided the backing for the legendary Steve Ellis, as soon as I heard the opening bars of ‘Bringing On Back The Good Times’ I was transported back to happy family memories. It wouldn’t have been a Steve Ellis set without ‘Everlasting Love’ and he also paid tribute to Small Faces. PJ Proby (also backed by Vanity Fare) who will be embarking  on a farewell tour ably continued the high standard of music, ‘There’s A Place For Us’ was a magical experience to behold. The Merseybeats were the first to really get the venue rocking and by the time they completed the set with ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ we were well and truly ready for the big finale. Their sound and banter was one of the highlights of the evening in my humble opinion.

The Merseybeats

I only wish I’d come along to one of these tours sooner, I will be talking about this for a long time to come and I can’t wait for next year’s – rumour has it that Herman’s Hermits are set to appear. Something tells me I’m into something good!

Check out the tour dates here: Sixties Gold Tour

World Premiere of Rapture by Kerry Milan

On Sunday 30th September I attended the premiere of Stafford based composer, Kerry Milan. Kerry has previously collaborated with one of my favourite Opera singers, namely Yvonne Howard and I was keen to see his latest composition performed by my best loved performer.

This recital was a celebration of Staffordshire music and poetry and a chance to bring together three formidable singing talents all of whom spent their formative years in Stafford.
Dame Professor Carol Ann Duffy grew up in Stafford as did Yvonne Howard, international opera singer and Professor at the Royal Academy of Music. Kerry Milan is a Stafford based composer, violinist and teacher. Edward Robinson won the inaugural Staffordshire Young Singer of the year in 2013 and has been studying at the Royal Northern College of Music and Alice Dix won the same prize in 2015 and is at Leeds Conservatoire.

Kerry Milan studied violin at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama with Louis Carus (and Margaret Evans for piano), then in Brussels with Maurice Raskin, and later privately with David Martin. He is a Fellow of Trinity College London, and an Associate of London University Institute of Education.

The Staffordshire Young Singer of the year competition was founded in memory of John W R Taylor, former Staffordshire County Director of Music and is supported by FOSYM. Tickets for sale will be limited to 80. The event is supported by Kerry Milan, FOSYM, North-West Midlands Music Education Hub and Entrust Music Inspiring Futures Service Staffordshire.

Yvonne Howard

The programme opened with the wondrous sound of Baritone, Edward Robinson and Soprano, Alice Dix. Between them they performed a variety of pieces from Henri Duparc, Schumann, Schubert, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Korngold, Debussy, George Butterworth and Mozart. The duet from Mozart’s Don Giovanni was the highlight of this particular section, the pair sang La Ci darem la mano beautifully and their interaction was superb.

After the interval we received the World Premiere of Rapture and it was astounding to hear Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry put to music as Yvonne Howard accompanied by pianist, Dr Roy Wightman, melodically led us through 20 of Duffy’s poems from her 2005 book of poems. Yvonne was extraordinary, giving heart, soul and character to the song cycle. The selected order of poems followed in a sensical way, each appearing to blend with the one before it. Carol Ann Duffy’s poems have often appeared lyrical to me and to hear them performed in such a manner was a real eye opener in the very best sense. Just a few of the poems in the cycle are: River, Row, Give, Grief, Night Marriage ad one of my personal favourites, The Love Poem. Kerry Milan has composed an exquisitely fitting tribute to the penmanship of one of Stafford’s most celebrated writers and in doing so he’s gained a new fan…. me! I believe that Rapture has been recorded and copies will be available, so watch this space.

 

Entertainment Views Interviews: Soprano, Eleanor Dennis

Soprano, Eleanor Dennis arrived on my radar when I attended Three Choirs Festival at Worcester Cathedral. Her voice is so exquisite that it still resonates almost a year on. Since then I’ve been keeping an eye on her career and have thus far been unable to make the requisite journeys see her on stage. However, I am delighted to be seeing her next month when she appears in Three Choirs Festival again, in Hereford. 

I’m delighted that she’s allowed me to chat to her about her career to date, so without further ado…

Thanks so much for talking to Entertainment Views, Eleanor. First of all, tell me what inspired you to pursue a career in Opera.

I grew up in a very musical household in Aberdeenshire. My parents were both involved with the Haddo House Choral and Operatic Society, who put fully staged operas on every year. They couldn’t always find a babysitter, so my brother and I usually ended up onstage in the big chorus scenes. My first operatic memory is being in the Peter Grimes opening chorus, aged about 4, and having the time of my life! From then on, opera just became the thing I loved.

Earlier this year you appeared in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with ENO, tell me about the experience and what you enjoyed most about playing the role of Helena?

I absolutely loved being involved with this production – it’s so iconic. Helena is immense fun to play – she has some glorious music to sing, and is so feisty! I really enjoyed the physical challenge presented by this particular staging, I came offstage feeling like I’d done quite a workout!

Last year I saw you perform at 3 Choirs Festival at Worcester Cathedral, what were the challenges of singing Mendelssohn’s St Paul?

St Paul is quite unusual, in that the soprano role is mostly accompanied recitative, rather than arias. This can be tricky, as in recit, you’re responsible for conveying the story to the audience. I think the main challenge for me was making sure my text and intention were clear enough to get the message of the work across to the audience.

What do you find are the main differences between performing Oratorio and Opera? Do you have a preference?

They are two very different beasts, both as dramatic as each other, but in very different ways. With opera, you can really lose yourself in a character, with the costumes, set and distance from the audience. With oratorio, it feels more intimate to me, it’s just you in front of a chorus and orchestra, creating a piece of drama, with words and music alone. I love both equally – although you do get some wonderful frocks in opera!

Eleanor Dennis with Kitty Whately in Cosi Fan Tutte at Opera Holland Park –
Photo Credit: Robert Workman

You’re currently appearing in Cosi Fan Tutte, tell me about the production and the character you’re playing. 

It’s a really beautiful period production, set in Naples in the 1790s, when the opera was written. I play Fiordiligi, one of two sisters, who have a very cruel trick played on them by their fiances… she goes through a real rollercoaster of emotions, and I’ve found it fascinating to play her. It helps that she has the most sublime music to sing!

What are your personal highlights in Cosi Fan Tutte?

My absolute favourite part of the opera is the duet Fiordiligi sings with Ferrando in act two, where she finally gives in to her feelings for him. It is so perfectly written – it conveys the tumultuous emotions so clearly. I also love singing her act two aria “per pieta” – for me, it’s Mozart’s finest soprano aria.

What are your ambitions for the future? Any roles you’re keen to play, in particular? 

I’d love to take on some of Strauss’ great heroines – Arabella, Marschallin – and maybe even dip my toe into some Wagner… All in good time, though! My favourite opera is Peter Grimes, so I’d also really like to play Ellen Orford.

Who are your favourite composers and why?

I think Mozart will always be my favourite to listen to, and to sing, he had a real understanding of the human voice. I also love Britten, for his amazing word painting, and you can’t really beat Puccini when it comes to high-emotion arias.

What’s coming up for you next?

I’m heading to Madrid next week to do Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the Auditorio Nacional de Musica, which I’m really looking forward to. It’ll also be great to head back to ENO next season, where I’m doing 1st Lady in Magic Flute.

Cosi Fan Tutte has completed its run as we go to press, however, as you can see there are plenty of opportunities coming up to see Eleanor performing. Another great big thank you to her for a superb interview. 

Travis ‘The Man Who’ in Concert 2018 ~ Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Star rating: *****

Over twenty years ago a band burst onto the scene who offered music which resonated with every aspect of my teenage life and lyrics which to this day are so poignant to a myriad of life experiences. The Scottish-bred group were indeed, Travis and last night, thanks to Birmingham Symphony Hall – I finally saw one of my all-time favourite bands live.

The tour is based on their break-through album ‘The Man Who‘ which is perfectly timed given the decades that have passed since Travis became what I would call ‘mainstream’. Therefore, the most part of the evening is dedicated to the band playing that entire album all the way through. With no audience interaction to begin with, simply moving seamlessly between album and single hits with multiple guitar swaps, if you closed your eyes you would have been led to believe you were merely listening to the album. In fact, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Fran Healy made a joke along those lines! The line-up still includes Dougie Payne (bass guitar, backing vocals), Andy Dunlop (lead guitar and backing vocals) and Neil Primrose on drums and percussion. With the introduction of Dave on keyboards/piano – if you were there or you’ve seen this show, you’ll know why Dave’s introduction is a key moment in the gig! No spoilers!

As a whole, the band’s charisma is ever-present whether they’re communicating directly with their fans or immersed in playing their hits. Their genre varies which is one of their many strengths and it was also a treat to have an extremely extended encore following completion of the full album. Selecting highlights is not easy, however my personal favourite numbers from the album are Driftwood and Turn and of course, Why Does It Always Rain On Me, which raised the roof and then some. I was absolutely beside myself when they proceeded to treat us to Side, Flowers in the Window and Sing. One criticism? my all-time favourite hit is Re-Offender and we weren’t privy to a live version of that immensely emotive tune. However, there were still plenty of old faithfuls played for Healy and the gang to have the audience in the palm of their hand. When’s the next one, boys? This was by far one of the best gigs I’ve had the privilege of reviewing!

Catch Travis on tour for yourselves, follow the link and book your tickets: Travis Tour

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