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

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

Dr Hook Starring Dennis Locorierre ~ Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Dr Hook are continuing to tour into 2018 – all information can be found here: Dr Hook Tour Dates

Star rating: *****

Dr Hook are a band who’s music has stood the test of time regardless of the various incarnations that have taken place as the years have rolled by. Dennis Locorierre remains at the helm, his voice in as fine a form as it has always been in and he has a fantastic band behind him, all of whom are exceptional performers and musicians in their own right. Together they provided us with a varied evening of music that the majority of the packed house were familiar with and there was a good bit of banter from Locorierre too.

When I think of Dr Hook I immediately recall ‘Sexy Eyes’, ‘Better Love Next Time’ and ‘Sylvia’s Mother’. However, their back catalogue boasts other incredible hit songs such as; A Little Bit More, When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman and Sharing the Night Together. To experience these hits live is special, to see Dr Hook sing live is akin to listening to one of their albums. In fact hearing their music in a concert setting makes them sound even better if that were possible.

One of the highlights of the evening for my husband and I, personally was ‘Shine Son’ which neither of us had heard before, as parents to a small boy ourselves, the lyrics resonated. What’s true of this song and indeed each of Dr Hook numbers is that there is always such an intricate yet basic story at the heart of each one. Ballad, rock, country – they do it all and their ability to switch genres so extraordinarily is commendable.

A special mention must go to ‘Freakin’ at the Freaker’s Ball’ which was certainly a crowd pleaser!

Symphony Hall was rocking with fans of all ages in attendance and an electric atmosphere. Go and see these guys on tour if you can, it’s understandable as to why most of their tour dates are sold out. Dennis Locorierre has stage presence to rival his peers and his vocals are out of this world.

Shane Filan ‘Love Always’ Tour ~ Town Hall Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Shane Filan is on UK Tour and you can catch him at any of the venues on this list: Shane Filan Tour Dates

Star rating: *****

Well-known as the frontman of boyband, Westlife, Shane Filan is currently on a solo tour off the back of his new album ‘Love Always’ and he was certainly well received when he appeared at Town Hall in Birmingham last night.

The excitable crowd were entertained with a selection of original solo numbers having opened with ‘When You’re Looking Like That’, my personal favourite which is a great upbeat song and had the audience on their feet. It set the tone for the evening.

Supported by a four piece band, we were treated to some amazing cover versions: Eternal Flame, Uptown Girl and Hey Now Hey Now (Don’t Dream It’s Over) to name a few. He offered the right mix of slow ballads and numbers we could all get up and dance to.

Considering that he is so well know as a boyband singer, he held the stage brilliantly as a solo artist. I’m a self-confessed Westlife fan anyway, but what stood out for me last night was the overall format of the concert and the verve of the atmosphere that Shane created effortlessly. His popularity never wanes and his fan base remains as strong as ever. The defining moment for me was ‘Beautiful In White’ which is my all-time best loved ballad and one of my over-riding memories of the evening.

Catch Shane Filan on tour while you can, I’d go back to watch him again if I could!

Reviewed by Guest Reviewer: Jenny Woodward 

Texas on Tour ~ Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Texas are on a worldwide tour and dates can be found here: Texas Website

Star rating: *****

Texas punctuated my teenage years and their classic hits have followed me into my twenties and thirties. The opportunity to see them in concert was one I clutched with both hands and to coin their lyrics, the entire two hour gig ‘touched my inner smile’.

The band have a new album out called Jump On Board and I think it showcases some of their best work to date – however if you’re off to see one of your all-time favourite bands live on tour, you want the old hits in the mix too. I am happy to report that I was not disappointed, with Ms Spiteri bounding onto stage and kicking off with ‘Halo’, I think that memory will stay with me for a long time to come. The classics kept on coming, from more recent track ‘Conversation’ to one of my personal highlight ‘Summer Son’ and of course they had to play ‘Black Eyed Boy’. To hear the band live is akin to listening to one of their albums and none of their unique sound is lost. Symphony Hall lent itself superbly, the acoustics were absolutely perfect and the full house were mostly on their feet from beginning to end.

Classic tracks aside, I loved ‘Midnight’ from their latest album, it’s catchy with all of the elements that Texas are renowned for. It’s easy to spot a Texas song a mile off, yet they are all so markedly different.

Spiteri has a down to earth warmth and engaged brilliantly with the audience, more than happy to She’s a natural comedian as well as an exceptional vocalist and guitarist – and she certainly knows how to make you feel as if you’re part of the ‘family’.

There were encores, many encores and two hours flew by in the blink of an eye. With mostly original material in the set, I was quite satisfied – but when they do a cover, they REALLY do a cover. Suspicious Minds blew me away, it rivalled Elvis (and it’s not often I say that).

I’m still buzzing from a night of music de force from a band who have enjoyed twenty successful years, here’s to the next twenty and many more amazing concerts from them.

 

Spotlight On… Andrada Maria Brisc from Leapfrogtown

Andrada Maria Brisc plays keyboards in the band, Leapfrogtown – Break A Leg have been following the band closely as they develop new tracks and prepare for future gigs and festivals. Here, Andrada talks to Break A Leg about a typical rehearsal and her advice for budding musicians. 
Thanks for talking to Break A Leg.  Tell me why you joined  Leapfrogtown, what is/are your favourite track/s and what brings this/those to the forefront of your mind?
 
I have many favourite tracks, that’s why I joined the band! If I had to pick a favourite, Chris will hate me but it has to be ‘Better Than This’. The new tracks are quite exciting so they are on the list. I’d never joined a band before and in this I’m not just playing the piano, I’m playing effects and adding atmosphere to the instruments, it’s very new but I love the music. It was Chris’s idea for me to join the band and I love their vibe.
 
Describe a typical rehearsal to me…
Rehearsals are crazy, it starts with coffee and then we try either going through the old set or working on the new songs. It depends on the day and it’s very spontaneous!
 
 
Who are your musical influences?
I’m classically trained, although I listen to modern music, I’d never joined a band before. All my influences are classical composers like Beethoven. Basically I’m in a new field now discovering a new world and new influences.
 
 
When you connect with a piece of music, how does that make you feel?
I’m in a completely different world and I follow the emotions of the song. It depends on the song but I usually get carried away.  
 
What is your advice for any budding musicians?
With my experience of going from classical music to Leapfrogtown I would say have no barrier, follow the music and go where it leads you. You’ll get there, follow the feelings and the music.
 
 
Finally, sell the band to me, why should everybody listen to Leapfrogtown’s sound?
Leapfrogtown is very different from the other bands, not just because of the music which is very uplifting and positive but because of the vibe each musician from the bands gives. Leapfrogtown is special because of what each musician brings to the band and the music.
Thanks so much to Andrada for her time, here is a clip of Leapfrogtown’s in-house gig from March this year…

Spotlight On… Florin C Pascu from Leapfrogtown

Florin C Pascu is drummer in the band, Leapfrogtown – Break A Leg have been following the band closely as they develop new tracks and prepare for future gigs and festivals. Here, Florin talks to Break A Leg about a typical rehearsal and his kind of music. 

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, Florin, What is/are your favourite track/s and what brings this/those to the forefront of your mind?

‘Somebody Said’ is my favourite track as it has an optimistic melody line and comes straight in with a verse and great groove/feel. “Come on we can do better than that, bury the hatchet cut that crap. Free the love and be this thing together” That is beautiful!  I can’t wait until that song is next to play in the set list. 

‘Better Than This’ is also a song I like a lot, especially that is a reggae beat to it and it makes you dance. I like the phrase “all my enemies, they don’t exist” in this song. 

Describe a typical rehearsal to me…

In a typical rehearsal I talk a lot! We usually chat for a little while before starting. We play the usual set list and we work on some new material. It is good that Chris does not take the whole thing as a strict leader, he is open minded and lets the others come up with ideas regarding structure especially.  Generally speaking they are productive rehearsals.      

Sometimes I am on the phone/texting while we rehearse, Chris likes that!!

What is your personal style of music? Both as a musician and as a listener?

I like Rock and Funk but if I look at myself in future events I would see myself on big stages playing Rock music. When it comes to listening I really like everything from Classical to world music, reggae, afro Cuban, jazz, electronic music, trip hop.  Most music I like including Byzantine (which is so great).

What do you find the most rewarding part of being a musician? 

That you can free yourself from everything and just be with that moment, be present. It gives joy. If I am happy I play, if I am sad I play.

What do you think your life would be like without music?

I think I would have chosen to be a footballer or tennis player if no music was around. It is hard to answer as I was in situations when I didn’t listen to music for a long time and I was enjoying the quietness but when I got back I got really happy and appreciated it.  I could not go too long without music though!

Finally, sell the band to me, why should everybody listen to Leapfrogtown’s sound?

The band has a great vibe and of course we are tight. The music has something commercial in it and it is easy to listen. It is catchy and uplifting. Danceable with great chords and rhythm. A strong reason for why I think people should listen to it is the fact that we do put a lot of passion, work and we are serious about it.

Thanks Florin! A great interview… Here’s the video footage from Leapfrogtown’s live in-house gig back in March. 

 

Spotlight On… Kosmas Mylon from Leapfrogtown

Kos Mylon is bass guitarist in the band, Leapfrogtown – Break A Leg have been following the band closely as they develop new tracks and prepare for future gigs and festivals. Here, Kos talks about his career in music and what life would be like without music.

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, tell me about Leapfrogtown and what the challenges and highlights are of being part of the band.

First of all I’d like to thank you for inviting me for the interview.  It is great to be part of the band. We have spent a good time together working on songs and recordings in the studio and we have played a few shows. We are working hard in updating our repertoire with new material as we want our fans to get updated regularly with Leapfrogtown music. Apart from playing music, a typical Leapfrogtown day consists of having endless conversations about every little thing that can be possible. You have to come and join us for a day in the studio to understand what I’m talking about! There is a good relationship and understanding between the band and that’s the most important reason for me to be happy being a part of the band.

What is/are your favourite track/s and what brings this/those to the forefront of your mind?

My favourite Leapfrogtown track is ‘Love you more’ from the latest band’s EP, I can easily listen to it 40 times in a row and I cannot get bored. It touched me straightaway from the first time we played it together in the studio, it has something about the melody and of course the great lyrics by Chris.

What key elements must a piece of music have to inspire you?

Whatever the style, the arrangement or the structure of the piece-it has to talk to your soul straightaway. You definitely get these vibes when you’re listening to an artist that really enjoys what he/she is doing. On the other hand, it is also subjective, so I can say that for me it’s easier to listen to a song there’s lot of guitar playing inside because I was raised listening to music in which the guitar is prominent within the songs. So it is automatically becoming a standard for me because of that reason. This is not always the case though, for example, if I want to get away at times I love to listen to Indian traditional music.

Who are your musical influences?

I was raised listening to Blues, Country and Rock music and mainly those styles have influenced my approach to guitar and music over the years. I have to mention Duane Allman, John Fahey and Jimmy Page as my first guitar idols and Iron Maiden as the band that got me into the guitar for the first time.

What led you to become a guitarist? Did you learn to play from a young age?

I first picked up the guitar when I was 11. My friend’s brother who was 18 at that time was a big fan of Rock and Metal music. So it happened that way and I ended up listening to Iron Maiden CD’s and video cassettes. When I first saw them live on the video I was ecstatic. How did this band have that huge sound and how would it be possible to learn how to play like them? My parents bought me an electric guitar and that’s how it started. I can still remember buying the Metal Hammer magazine and looking in the ‘musicians wanted’ section of it, I wanted so much to play in a band but I was very young back then. 2-3 years later I was very lucky to have lessons with a very good Rock guitar teacher, who I owe a lot to in my career and I played in a band as a guitarist for the first time when I was 15.

What do you think your life would be like without music?

Sometimes it works good for me to take a break out of music for a small period of time. Then I can get back stronger physically and mentally. But for living without music generally-well I haven’t tried it but I’m sure it will be weird!

Finally, sell the band to me, why should everybody listen to Leapfrogtown’s sound?

If you like authentic Rock bands then you must listen to Leapfrogtown. And if you like seeing adrenaline high live bands then you should come and see us in our next show!

Thanks to Kos for his time and a great interview, here is an example of that adrenaline, watch the live in-house gig played in March this year.

Visit the band’s website to find out more and keep up to date with their news: Leapfrogtown Website

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