Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Kate Bush

Kate Bush
Before the Dawn
Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith

A Kate Bush concert is something we thought we would ever get to see. Earlier this year, the shock announcement of 22 impending dates at the Eventim Apollo led to frantic attempts to secure tickets. With a seating capacity of just over 3,600, even 22 shows were never going to be enough to allow all interested people to attend.

Why the Eventim (formerly Hammersmith Odeon) Apollo? It seems there were two main reasons. First, according to the programme notes, a much larger venue was originally intended but the dimensions left Kate Bush feeling ''physically sick'' at the prospect and realised a more intimate venue was necessary to stage the show. The Apollo - not too big, not too small - was selected. There was a historical reason too. The Tour of Life - the only prior Kate Bush tour - concluded there, back in 1979. Ziggy Stardust had retired at the same venue in 1973, with the words: "This show will stay the longest in our memories, not just because it is the end of the tour but because it is the last show we'll ever do." For 35 years it looked very much as if the words could have applied equally to Kate.

Queues had already formed when I arrived at the Apollo around 5.30 p.m. The name of Kate Bush did not appear outside. In fact, there was little to suggest that such a great show was about to happen.

There was no chance at all of getting into the venue before the official door time of 6.15 p.m. Tickets had to be checked against names and photo IDs before anyone was allowed to join the queue. Yet there were still plenty of very blatant ticket touts out and about, buying and selling. I don't know how anyone buying tickets that way would gain entry (the same applies to tickets bought from Ebay, where they were going for £1,500 earlier this week), given the strict checks, but fortunately that was not my problem. Meanwhile, a crazy guy was making a nuisance of himself, shouting obscenities and climbing on top of bins and the like. He eventually drifted off, clearly worse for wear.

Once inside, the scramble for the merchandise stall was somewhat unseemly but the event programme is well worth picking up. It's a beautiful presentation, featuring lots of Kate's notes about the genesis of the show, plus photographs and hidden content. Not bad at all for £15.

The Programme
It had not been possible to avoid all mentions of the set list during the week before the show. As the whole thing has been crafted so well, it seems unlikely that there will be any changes over the course of the 22 evenings. That means there will be nothing at all from five of her albums and all of the content comes from Hounds of Love, The Red Shoes, Aerial and 50 Words for Snow.

There was no support act. That would have strained the patience a little too much. Instead, at approximately 7.45 p.m., with the atmosphere crackling with excitement and expectation, the band emerged, began to play and were joined very shortly afterwards by Kate Bush, who was immediately greeted by a standing ovation (the first of a steady series of such demonstrations of delight throughout the evening).

I wonder if anyone on the first night had guessed the opening song? Lily, from the much-maligned The Red Shoes album, must surely have been a major surprise.

There were four parts to the show. The first was - more or less - a straightforward concert, with six up-tempo songs. The end of an excellent rendition of King of the Mountain segued into the second part, an extraordinary performance of The Ninth Wave (side 2 of Hounds of Love back in the original vinyl days), a themed piece about a drowning woman. This is where the lines between concert and theatre blurred, with large pieces of extraordinary scenery swinging in and out of the action, a helicopter (sort of), video footage of Kate in a massive water tank, singing And Dream of Sheep (as the distress light on her life jacket blinked and beeped poignantly away), some very peculiar, silent fish people and various other dream-like occurrences. Stage effects were utilised too, with everything from the impression of massive waves to trapdoors.

A 20-minute break followed the Ninth Wave. As extraordinary as that had been, the best was still to come in the form of A Sky of Honey. This is the second CD of the 2007's Aerial. It is, for me, the pinnacle of all Kate's work. Her son Bertie - a key influence on the decision to create this run of shows - takes on the role of The Painter (Rolf Harris was the original, on the CD). Puppetry entered the show during this set. There was even a new song - Tawny Moon - sung by The Painter. With videos of birds and beautiful skylines filling the backdrop, A Sky of Honey flowed magnificently from start to finish.

The encore was the fourth and final part of the show, starting with Kate, solo, on the piano performing Among Angels (the only song from 50 Words for Snow) before bringing the band back on stage for a storming version of Cloudbursting.

Set List

Hounds of Love
Top of the City
Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)
King of the Mountain

The Ninth Wave
And Dream of Sheep
Under Ice 
Waking the Witch
Watching You Without Me
Jig of Life
Hello Earth
The Morning Fog

A Sky of Honey
An Architect’s Dream
The Painter’s Link
Aerial Tal
Somewhere In Between
Tawny Moon

Among Angels

Kate's voice was strong throughout the evening. The 35 years of not touring had not taken their toll. The band and cast were uniformly excellent (at one point there were at least 20 people on the stage). The new material - both in The Ninth Wave and Aerial segments - came, at times, dangerously close to outstaying its welcome. The Astronomer scene at the start of The Ninth Wave (written by David Mitchell) could have been tighter. It was during this that numerous members of the audience decided to visit the bar and toilets, rather breaking the spell for the rest of us who had to constantly stand up to let them through. The same happened during the sit-com sofa scene, which was definitely overlong. On the plus side, such on-stage activity enabled Kate to rest and build up her energy for the next songs (the show was three hours long). 

The evening provided an unforgettable and deeply moving experience. What next for Kate Bush...?

Incidentally, when in London don't forget to visit Snap Galleries, which is a short walk from the Piccadilly tube station. They currently have an exhibition with two sets of photographs featuring Kate Bush, by Gered Mankowitz and Guido Harari respectively. There is no entry fee and the atmosphere is very friendly. The exhibition will conclude at the end of the scheduled Kate Bush Apollo shows, so don't miss out by leaving it too late.

Well, well...this year I have seen three acts I never thought would tour again (Dixie Chicks and Monty Python were the other two). One wonders if David Bowie is currently limbering up for some sort of special announcement...

Sooty Selfie

Sooty is reported to be 'furious' that this naked selfie has been leaked from his hacked iCloud account.

The puppet bear, born in 1948, is anxious to discover the culprit. 'I'm sure a work colleague must have had a hand in it,' he fumed.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Further Reading

The latest issue of CHESS Magazine includes my reviews of Grandmaster Repertoire - 1.e4 vs The French, Caro-Kann and Philidor by Parimarjan Negi (Quality Chess) and Bent Larsen's Best Games by Bent Larsen (New in Chess).

Ordering details can be found here.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Batsford Book of Chess: Further Information

Further information on my book, which is due for release on 4 September 2014.

From the Batsford website:

The Batsford Book of Chess is a landmark, full-colour chess instruction book, authoritatively written and beautifully designed. Arranged in the form of a course, it will take you all the way from tentative beginner to formidable chess player. 'Quick Start' reference pages help you retain the information you've learned, and puzzle sections let you test yourself as you go. To illustrate more advanced strategy and tactics, the author uses world-class 'chess heroes' such as Bobby Fischer and Mikhail Tal to bring the concepts to life.

Essential topics include:

• Pieces and Moves: the very basics, covering the chessboard, notation, the names of the pieces and how they move, plus an overview of chess etiquette

• What Chess is All About: an exploration of chess culture and history

• Winning, Drawing and Losing: Covers the various ways of winning at chess, and how games are drawn

• Six Openings for Life: Coverage of six of the best chess openings, each illustrated by a different 'chess hero'

• Tactical Weapons: An examination of forks, pins, skewers and other tactical devices, followed by illustrative games from Tactical Hero Mikhail Tal

• Positional Play: Looks at good and bad positions, plus the art of planning, seen through the games of Positional Hero Tigran Petrosian

• Human Factors: Typical mistakes and blunders you'll need to steer clear of

Easy to follow, yet more thorough and more challenging than other chess instruction books on the market, this book is an essential companion for all budding chess champions.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014


Review copies have been distributed and events are being planned.

The big release date is 4 September 2014!

Friday, 22 August 2014

Glenn Tilbrook in Saltburn

Glenn Tilbrook
Spa Hotel, Saltburn
Having enjoyed Glenn Tilbrook's excellent show at The Arc last December, I was delighted to see he was returning to Teesside so soon. Not that the advertising poster was much help, which somehow managed to get the date wrong by a few days.

I'd only been to the Spa Hotel once before and that was to see Nine Below Zero (Glenn's collaborators on The Co-Operative album). On that occasion it had become clear that bagging one of the front tables was preferable to taking a chance with the outer seats, because some members of the audience preferred to talk to each other - very loudly - instead of watching the band. With that in mind, front row seats were duly grabbed - although it didn't solve all the sound problems of the evening.

Indeed, from the very first number, Glenn spent a significant part of the first half of the show struggling to fully communicate various issues regarding the on-stage monitors. Even though everything sounded fine from our side of the show, things were clearly not right on stage. Eventually, the problems led to him abandoning an acoustic version of Black Sheep and taking an unscheduled break of five minutes. He returned and started Black Sheep again, this time with electric guitar rather than acoustic, which he kept for the rest of the show.

Less experienced artistes may have suffered a lot more but Glenn remained ultra-polite throughout the problems. Fortunately, he works without a written set list and he can adapt his repertoire according to circumstance. On this evening we were treated to a fine selection of Squeeze classics plus songs from The Co-Operative and his most recent solo album, Happy Ending (by the way, both of those are definitely worth picking up) and other eras, and even a few unexpected covers.
Set List

Ter-wit Ter-woo

(At this point, talented guitarist 11-year-old Leon Tilbrook - Glenn's son! - took to the stage and after a couple of blues numbers there followed a duet on the next number - Take Me I'm Yours - before leaving Glenn solo again for the rest of the show.)

Take Me I'm Yours
Up The Junction
The Truth
Black Sheep acoustic, abandoned
Black Sheep with electric guitar
Chat Line Larry
Black Coffee
Another Nail in My Heart

Annie Get Your Gun
The Elephant Ride
Love Potion No.9
Melody Motel
Some Fantastic Place
I Hear You Knocking
Oh Well
Slap and Tickle
Everybody Sometimes
Is That Love

''What would you like to hear?'' asked Glenn, as he emerged for the encore, whereupon he was met with a deluge of requests. Cool For Cats was a popular choice, but one he had to decline (he wasn't confident about getting anywhere near Squeeze-mate Chris Difford's trademark vocal delivery). Nevertheless, he pulled out three popular choices to conclude the evening's entertainment.

Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)
Ice Cream (with semi-obligatory audience sing-along)
Goodbye Girl

Little anecdotes occasionally punctuated the songs. The best concerned a Scottish barber who had convinced himself he had talent, even though his sample song was nothing more than a poor version of Lola. This was why Glenn now wears his hair longer than he did when we saw him at The Arc.

Long hair!
Elsewhere, we heard about Beach Boy Dennis Wilson (about whom the song Dennis is about) telling Squeeze not to split up at the end of their Jamaican tour of 1982 (advice they didn't follow) and the way to gauge a person's age (it depends on whether they call festivals ''pop festivals'' or not), which led into Persephone (with its Bolan Deborah roots clearly showing).
Sound issues aside (which should have been ironed out pre-show), this was a very entertaining evening. Hopefully Teesside won't have to wait too long for a return visit.

As usual, Glenn was on hand for a quick chat after the show.
Follow the latest Tilbrook news and tour dates over at his official website.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

New Music

More new music has arrived at Marsh Towers.

Reviews will follow soon...