Saturday, 1 November 2014

Neil Sedaka

Neil Sedaka
The Sage, Gateshead

Neil Sedaka played a very impressive show at The Sage earlier this week. Just one man and his piano...and some prime cuts from his 900 songs, of course.

Before he emerged, a large video screen showed clips of other stars singing his songs and the range was incredible: Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Patsy Cline, Elvis, The Carpenters...the list just seemed to go on and on.

He has been writing hit songs for an incredible 60 years and, at 75 years of age, still shows no sign of stopping. He did take a break for a decade though - at the same time as The Beatles emerged and cornered the market.

Hit followed hit: Oh, Carol, Calendar Girl, Amarillo, Solitaire and Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen merely formed the tip of a very large iceberg of songs.

All three levels of The Sage looked packed out and the audience couldn't resist breaking into song on numerous occasions.

Neil Sedaka gave three encores and seemed genuinely thrilled by back on the stage, performing his songs and connecting with his fans.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Midge Ure: Return to The Arc

Midge Ure
The Arc, Stockton
The weekend brought a relatively swift return to The Arc for Midge Ure, following up his sold-out show of last year. Arriving on stage with a cry of ''It's good to be back!'' he launched into his latest solo acoustic set to the delight of a particularly animated audience.

There was the occasional piece of banter - quite often at the expense of X-Factor - and a little bit of shouting out from the audience too. ''****ing **ll!'' bellowed one vocal local yokel in praise after Midge hit the heights with Call of the Wild. ''Are you a critic?'' he replied; ''I have reviews like that...''

Anecdotes punctuated the songs, such as the one about the German interviewer who asked, ''Who is Lorraine?'' in reference to mis-heard lyrics from Fade to Grey (''Feel Lorraine'' instead ''Feel the rain...''). ''I couldn't imagine Steve Strange singing that...''

Midge invited everyone to join in with singing The Voice - ''but only if you know it'' - and later on he repeated the invitation for Hymn. Elsewhere he jokingly bemoaned the fact that despite ''desperately, desperately trying not to write love songs'' he often somehow ends doing so anyway. This was a precursor to the double hit of Light in Your Eyes and Guns and Arrows. 

It wasn't all about love, of course. It's interesting to note how the (unlikely) Ultravox song All Fall Down appears to be even more relevant now than it was back in the 1980s. There was even a very rare outing for Do They Know It's Christmas?, albeit a little early in the year.

Set List

Waiting Days
Call of the Wild
Brilliant (dedicated to Jack Bruce, who died on this day)
Fade to Grey
No Regrets
The Voice
Light in Your Eyes
Guns and Arrows
Man of the World
All Fall Down
One Small Day
Dancing With Tears in My Eyes
Love's Great Adventure
If I Was


Cold Cold Heart
Do They Know It's Christmas?

If anything, the set list - strong as it was, with it's mix of classic Ultravox, solo and cover songs - was a shade on the safe side, with just two songs from the new album, Fragile (the title track and Become) and even then they had to stick very close to Vienna in the set list, almost as if they were afraid to stand up alone. We could have done with more of the new songs, especially as Fragile has been in the pipeline for 12 years.
Come back soon, Midge!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Yes2Chess Promotional Video

Towards the end of the summer term we took part in a day of filming at Brambles Primary Academy to promote Barclaycard's Yes2Chess project.

The short promotional video is now available for your perusal.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Beat

The Beat
The Arc, Stockton
The Arc pulled off another notable coup when they booked The Beat. It led to a particularly memorable evening with a real feel good factor.
The Style Selektors
First, we had The Style Selektors to warm up the audience, as they did at the ill-fated From The Jam concert earlier in the month. They ran through a lively set of Ska classics from the likes of The Specials, augmented this time by some from the Jam themselves.

The Style Selektors were energetic enough, but once The Beat burst on to the stage the tempo immediately cranked up several notches higher - and it stayed there approximately 100 minutes more.
Ranking Roger and Ranking Jnr never stopped dancing and running - from one side of the stage to the other, crossing in the middle, as they were both still singing.
The floor was absolutely packed with people, all dancing away. I've never seen The Arc so full and everyone was having a great time. Ranking Roger repeatedly stressed the importance of having a good time and he was definitely leading by example.

I'd definitely like to see The Beat again. In fact it's a case of the sooner, the better. What a fabulous, uplifting evening!

Monday, 27 October 2014

Jack The Ripper

Jack The Ripper
A 21st Century Investigation
Middlesbrough Theatre

Trevor Marriott's talk on Jack The Ripper proved gorily instructive. The former murder squad detective has been investigating the infamous case of the Whitechapel murders since 2002 and he presented his findings and theories over the course of a two-hour talk. Numerous gruesome images were displayed on the big screen as Trevor guided the audience through the shocking series of murders.
Without wishing to give too much away, it is safe to say that many of the established ''facts'' can now be discarded as false trails and it is clear numerous of the well-known suspects can now be dismissed from the case. Even the stereotypical image of the Ripper - hat, cloak, black bag - is based on a falsehood (such a well dressed gent would have been mugged repeatedly on Whitechapel) and many other aspects of the case which have lodged in the public consciousness are equally fictitious. Indeed, separating fact from fiction was the great strength of the presentation and I found the whole thing very revealing.

Although the theatre was not full, the audience was certainly more sizeable than the one which recently greeted both Sikes and Nancy and Dr Feelgood. Maybe, down Middlesbrough way, Jack The Ripper is simply more popular than Dickens and rhythm and blues.

Please head for Trevor's official website for further details and tour dates.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Seth Lakeman

Seth Lakeman
The Sage, Gateshead
Seth Lakeman put on a great show at The Sage as part of his Word of Mouth tour. The venue was packed out and it was a very appreciative audience that met Seth and his very hard working band.

The evening started very well with Kim Churchill playing a very strong set in his role of support act. He somehow managed to play guitar, drums and harmonica - and sing - all at the same time. The queue to meet him during the interval stretched all the way down the corridor - easily the longest I have seen for a support act. He would return to join in with Seth and the band later in the evening.

It's the first time I've seen Seth, although I've seen his brother Sam several times with Cara Dillon.

The core of this evening's set list came, naturally, from Word of Mouth, which was released earlier this year to great acclaim. It's a strong album and the songs came across very well indeed on the live stage.

Most of the set was played at a frantic pace, building to a double-header hoedown for the finale, which had most of the audience on their feet and dancing the night away.

This was a very impressive and highly energetic show. Seth Lakeman has now been added to the ''must see again'' list.


Saturday, 25 October 2014

Chess Reviews 248: ChessBase Magazine 162

ChessBase Magazine 162
The jubilant Chinese players grace the cover of the latest issue if ChessBase Magazine. Their smashing success at the Tromso Olympiad was well deserved and Russia, the pre-tournament favourites, even managed to finish out of the medals leaving Hungary and India to take silver and bronze respectively.

The Olympiad receives excellent coverage here, with a plethora of annotated games and video presentations. The most enjoyable of the latter comes in the form of Daniel King's 'Game of the Day' features.

As usual, I recommend reading Rainer Knaak's editorial piece. The theme this time is an investigation into the possible reasons Russia - fronted by former world champion Vladimir Kramnik and still the top seeds - fail to win Olympiads. Rainer examines five percipient key points. It's a reminder that ChessBase Magazine doesn't just offer important, topical games - the written word is worthy of scrutiny too.

The other major highlight in this issue is the coverage of the Sinquefeld Cup, won by Fabio Caruana ahead of a stellar field that included Magnus Carlsen. This was a fabulous success for Caruana. Arguments will rage over the status of the event, from the historical point if view. Was it the strongest tournament ever played? Traditionalists will be appalled at the notion and will doubtless cite counter-evidence based on AVRO 1938 and other such classic events.I doubt Caruana will mind either way.

The ''secret'' of Caruana's success was simply to play moves of a consistently high level throughout every one of his games. His efficiency and desire to invariably head for wins instead of settling for draws will bring the inevitable comparisons to Fischer. Playing through the games via ChessBase, when one can easily summon numerous engines to world alongside the magazine's annotations, brings out the finer detail of the games. It's easy to explore alternative variations to see what could have happened. The engines usually refute - brutally - virtually every variation one tries, but the assessments also make one realise just how strong the world's elite players are, as the majority of their moves still skip through the engines unchallenged.

Here's a interesting sequence from one of the tournament's key games.

Caruana vs. Aronian
Is Black's e5-pawn really weak? The direct attempt to prove it so with 29 Nxe5 Nxe5 30 Qxe5 fails to impress after 30 ...Rxf2, uncovering an attack on White's queen by the bishop on g7. Caruana plays an altogether more impressive sequence.

29 Na5! Nxa5 30 Nxe5! Nb7 31 Nxg6! when he was able to start pushing his e- and f-pawns, with a building advantage (1-0, 50).

So, what of the World Champion? It was interesting to see Caruana exploit Carlsen's errors, starting with being able to achieve rapid equality as Black against the Bishop's Opening. Later on, the game was decided when Carlsen lost his footing under pressure.

Carlsen vs. Caruana
31 Nh2? (31 Qh2 looks more passive and compliant, but it should last longer) 31 ...Rd1+ 32 Rxd1 Qxd1+ 33 Nf1 Qxf1+ 34 Kh2 Qg1+ 0-1 (due to the potentially dangerous e-pawn falling after 35 Kh3 Qe3+). As Carlsen didn't have the most successful Olympiad either, it all should encourage Anand in their forthcoming title match.

In amongst all of the regular ChessBase features there's the usual amount of thought provoking opening surveys. This time they cover the following:

Stohl: English Flohr-Mikenas Variation
Rotstein: Old Indian with 2.c4 d6 3.Nc3 Bf5 4.Nf3 c6
Antic: Benoni Fianchetto Variation 11.Bf4
Havasi: Modern Defence 4.f4 a6 5.Nf3
Krasenkow: Closed Sicilian
Postny: Sicilian Paulsen 6.Nxc6
Szabo: Sicilian English Attack
Müller: King’s Gambit à la Quaade – Part 1
Breder: Ruy Lopez Four Knights 4...Nd4
Kuzmin: Queen’s Pawn Game 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bf4
Marin: Nimzo-Indian 4.e3

Three surveys are presented as videos, namely:

Ftacnik on the Anti-Grünfeld: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3
Marin on Bird's Opening:1.b3 Nf6 2.Bb2 e6 3.e3 b6 4.f4 Bb7 5.Nf3 Be7 6.Bd3 c5 7.0-0
Shirov on the Reti: 1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Bg4 3.Bg2 Nd7

ChessBase Magazine 162 keeps up the high standard we have come to expect. I'm already looking forward to the next issue, which should dissect the Carlsen vs. Anand title match in admirable fashion.