Thursday, 27 December 2012

R.I.P. Gerry Anderson

R.I.P. Gerry Anderson (1929-2012)

Thank you for a lifetime of entertainment!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Class of '77: From the Jam

Class of '77:  From the Jam
The Sage, Gateshead
Class of '77 reached it's conclusion with the headline act - From the Jam. ''Come on, up you get;  you don't want to sit down all night'' was the instruction as they took to the stage in determined fashion and unleashed the bug guns right at the start with Eton Rifles, swiftly followed by Going Underground.

From the Jam started life as two thirds of The Jam, but now that Rick Buckler is no longer with the band they are down to one third, namely Bruce Foxton. He was joined by Russ Hastings (vocals and guitar), Mark Brzezicki (drums) and Tom Van Heel (keyboards).

A new CD - Back In The Room - was released earlier this year featuring the same personnel (plus a guest appearance by Paul Weller). Two of the new songs - Number Six and Window Shopping were included in the set list. They both sounded faithful to the authentic Jam sound.

Set List

Eton Rifles
Going Underground
The Modern World
Slow Down
Pretty Green
Number Six
Non-Stop Dancing
David Watts
Window Shopping
That's Entertainment
When You're Young
Strange Town


Down in the Tube Station at Midnight
Beat Surrender
Town Called Malice

It was a performance big on energy, with Russ Hastings looking and sounding not too dissimilar to Paul Weller to change the essence and flavour of The Jam.

After 65 frantic minutes, Bruce Foxton left us with the words: ''Thanks for coming to this venue. It's a bit of weird one, isn't it? But we made the most of it. See you in the New Year!''

Was he reacting to the reduced audience, or the unique ambiance of the wood-panelled Sage? It's unclear, but hopefully they'll back in the North East some time soon.

Follow all the From the Jam news on their official website.

Class of '77: The Blockheads

Class of '77:  The Blockheads
The Sage, Gateshead

''We are The Blockheads and we go like this!'' came the announcement, a split second before the group bashed out the opening to Sex And Drugs And Rock and Roll. There followed 50 minutes of hits from their classic years, with a couple of latter day songs thrown in.

Two years ago I saw The Blockheads produce an excellent performance at The Arc so I knew what to expect from them. With Derek the Draw on vocal duties (or, as his website biography puts it, ''vocals, percussion and ambience co-ordinator''). The Blockheads have undergone a degree of reinvention, keeping the spirit of Ian Dury very much alive while evolving into a group with a fresh new identity.

Derek the Draw
There was just one change in the personnel from the Stockton gig, with John Roberts haven taken over drumming duties from Dylan Howe, with the latter now in a seemingly permanent tour with Wilko Johnson. Elsewhere, there was Chaz Jankel (guitars and keyboard), John Turnbull (guitar), Norman Watt-Roy (bass), Mickey Gallagher (keyboards) and Terry Edwards (saxophones).

Chaz Jankel and Mick Gallagher
Norman Watt-Roy and John Turnbull
Chaz on guitar
The shortened set didn't leave much room for much post-Dury material, with only A Little Knowledge making it from Staring Down the Barrel (incidentally, a must-buy CD).

Derek pointing out that Terry is playing two saxophones at once

Set List

Sex And Drugs And Rock and Roll
I Want To Be Straight
A Little Knowledge
Wake Up And Make Love With Me
Sweet Gene Vincent
Clevor Trever
What A Waste
Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 3)
Jack S*** George
Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick

John and Terry
John Roberts takes the applause
The Blockheads were the highlight of an excellent evening. They engage, they entertain and their music is just as vibrant and relevant now as it ever was. Try and catch them on their 35th anniversary tour; the dates are on their official website.

A review of John Turnbull's solo album, Quantum Frolics, is in the pipeline.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Class of '77: The Boomtown Rats

Class of '77:  The Boomtown Rats
The Sage, Gateshead

The Class of '77 tour was to commemorate the 35th anniversary of debut album releases by a trio of important groups, namely The Boomtown Rats, The Blockheads and From The Jam.

Their respective fortunes have fluctuated over the decades and none of them have their original lead singers among their current personnel but it was good to see them all in action over the course of a very entertaining evening.

The Boomtown Rats have been reduced to two original members: Garry Roberts (guitar) and Simon Crowe (drums). Bob Bradbury (vocals and bass guitar) and Darren Beale (guitar) complete the four-man line-up.

I was very surprised to see that The Sage was considerably less than full, especially as the tour had completely sold out at other venues. Maybe nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

''We're what's left of the Boomtown Rats'' they said, as they took to the stage. ''We're going to play a few tunes you might remember and, you never know, we might remember them as well.''

The Rats were only for 40 minutes and they sensibly performed a set that was essentially a greatest hits package. They played with energy and the time flew by very quickly.

Although their glory days are long gone, they fitted in well within the context of this celebratory show. In short, they made for a good opening act.

Set List

Mary of the Fourth Form
Neon Heart
Someone's Looking At You
Diamond Smiles
Like Clockwork
Rat Trap
She's So Modern
I Don't Like Mondays

The highlights were Someone's Looking at You, Rat Trap (the pick of the bunch) and the new, rocked-up version of I Don't Like Mondays.

Keep up to date with their latest news and tour dates over at the official website.

My reviews of The Blockheads and From The Jam will follow later in the week

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Quantum Frolics

Quantum Frolics, the solo album by John Turnbull, has arrived at Marsh Towers.

A full review will follow in the near future.

John Turnbull (right) with fellow Blockhead Norman Watt-Roy

Friday, 21 December 2012

Further Reading

My reviews of Beating 1 d4 Sidelines by Boris Avrukh (Quality Chess) and Crash Test Chess Volume 2: Thinking Outside the Box by Simon Williams (GingerGM DVD) can be found in the latest issue of CHESS magazine (January 2013).

For ordering details, head for

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Bus Driver Gets The Sack

I wasn't expecting this gentleman to be driving the early morning 17B bus the other day.


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

New Music

Two new CDs have arrived at Marsh Towers.

Reviews should follow soon.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Chess Reviews: 209

Time to round off this year's coverage of Everyman chess books with a brief look at three recent titles.

Kramnik: Move by Move
By Cyrus Lakdawala
416 pages
Everyman Chess

This is Cyrus Lakdawala's ninth book for Everyman and his seventh in the Move by Move series. I included his book on Capablanca in my round-up for CHESS magazine a couple of months ago.

Kramnik: Move by Move is very similar to the Capablanca book, with complete illustrative games presented with lucid and instructive annotations. Questions are asked, directly to the reader, at regular intervals throughout each game. Occasional exercises punctuate the notes also.

Following a short biographical introduction, the meat of the book comes in five chapters:

Kramnik on the Attack
Kramnik on Defence
Riding the Dynamic Element
Exploiting Imbalances
Accumulating Advantages
Kramnik on Endings

Queenless middlegames are a recurring feature in Kramnik's games, thanks largely due to his penchant for the Berlin Defence against the Spanish Game, which drew the teeth of Kasparov's opening weapons so effectively back in 2000 and played a major part in Vladimir's successful world title challenge. The Berlin is giving very good coverage, so fans of 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 Nf6 will be pleased, as will Catalan players and King's Indian slayers.

People who labour under the serious misapprehension that Kramnik is simply a dull player will have their eyes well and truly opened, especially when it comes to Kramnik on the Attack.

The book has a couple of weaknesses. I don't like the name contractions (e.g. 'Topa' for Topalov) which are a shade too familiar. There's also a tendency towards flowery language, with an abundance of similes giving the prose an overwritten air.

Nevertheless, it's an entertaining read and strong club players will find the annotations of great use.

The Greatest Ever Chess Strategies
By Sam Collins
176 pages
Everyman Chess

As the author puts it: ''This book is my attempt to make sense of the chess concepts which are floating around in my head.''

The concepts are split into four main chapters:

Dynamic Factors

The author looks at some instructive examples of chess strategies in action and presents numerous games of his own to show how he has been influenced by the greats.

It is written in a chatty style and improving club players should be able to pick up enough tips to improve their strategical thinking.

I do feel it has been rather bolted on to the 'Greatest Ever...' series, rather being an integral part of it. Somehow it lacks the cohesion of previous volumes, such as The Greatest Ever Chess Endgames, which I still think is the pick of the bunch.

The Complete Chess Workout II
By Richard Palliser
335 pages
Everyman Chess

Richard Palliser is back with a sequel to his first volume of the Complete Chess Workout. As the subtitle puts it, we are presented with ''Another 1200 puzzles to train your brain!''

I was surprised to find it was way back in 2007 when the first volume appeared. Time flies; a phenomenon confirmed when I tried to review this book quickly and ended up spending far more time than I had originally put aside trying to solve some of the puzzles. You know how it is; one can quickly polish off several of the easy starters, feel inspired and then dive into the harder puzzles whereupon several other pressing matters need to be put on hold.

The chapter titles show what to expect:

Warming Up
Opening Tricks and Traps
Skill in the Endgame
Loose Pieces and Overloading
Fiendish Calculation
Test Yourself

Richard has left no stone unturned in his desire to create an original collection of positions. There is very little overlap with other puzzle books, or even the puzzle pages of CHESS magazine (of which Richard is the editor). So readers wishing to subject themselves to this tough workout will have an abundance of fresh material to try.

The solutions are annotated (I know of quite a few puzzle books that don't bother) so they are more instructive.

OK, enough prose! Here are three of the puzzles for you to try. As usual, I won't give the answers. Give them a go!

From Warming Up.

Hawkins - Mah
British League 2012
White to play

From Attack!

Adams - Zhukova
Gibraltar 2012
White to play

From Fiendish Calculation.

Padurariu - Go
Amsterdam 2012
Black to play

Further details of all three books can be found on the Everyman Chess website.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Mark Harrison: Crooked Smile

Crooked Smile
 Mark Harrison

Mark Harrison's Crooked Smile presents 12 self-penned, up-tempo blues songs with a modern twist. 

His website provides a neat summary of what to expect: ''Mark's songs cover a wide range of non-standard themes, from observations of the way we live today to imaginings of the era of the early blues greats. They all have something to say or a story to tell. They'll make you move, make you think, make you smile.''

Mark's catchy guitar riffs - augmented by Will Greener's exemplary, bluesy harmonica - drive the songs along very nicely. Toes will be tapping after the first couple of plays of Crooked Smile.

Each song unveils a self-contained story, with subjects including: the contrast of a son's easy life as compared to that of his father (Bombs Coming Down); the perils of alcohol (The Demon Drink) and the changing of attitudes towards life (Reckless). The storytelling aspect ensures a strong folk streak runs along inside the blues exterior, an approach accentuated by the laid back vocal delivery.

Track List

Georgia Greene
Pearly Gates
Crematorium Blues
Mexican Gardner
Bombs Coming Down
Lay Your Burden Down
The Demon Drink
The Original Dawg
Smiler John

Stand out tracks are Pearly Gates, Bombs Coming Down and Smiler John.

Find out more over Mark Harrison's official website.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Scrooge at the London Palladium

London Palladium

With the Dickens bicentenary celebrations drawing to a close, I was pleased to be able to fit in one more event. So it was off to the London Palladium to see the legendary Tommy Steele.

Tommy has headlined at the Palladium more times than anybody else. At the age of 75 (76 tomorrow!), he shows signs of stopping either. He last played Scrooge in 2005 (also at the Palladium).


It has to be said right from the start that Tommy Steele makes a magnificent Scrooge (in a good way, of course). He has the necessary stage presence on which to pin the entire show (Scrooge is visible for virtually every minute of the two hours) and his voice is easily strong enough to handle the musical element.

I'm sure all readers will be very familiar with the story of A Christmas Carol and of the visiting spirits and their lessons, which turn Scrooge from a grumpy misanthrope into a benevolent gentleman. This musical version was penned by Leslie Bricusse and first saw action at the cinemas back in 1970, with Albert Finney as Scrooge.

The special effects are particularly well done. For example, Jacob Marley (played by the excellent Barry Howard, last mentioned by Marsh Towers here) made an appearance so dramatic it drew gasps from the audience. We also saw the Ghost of Christmas Past materialise in a revolving armchair and then, when she returns to the spirit world, disappear into a mirror.
I recommend this wonderfully entertaining version of one of the greatest stories ever told to everyone with an interest in Dickens (in particular), the theatre (in general) and, of course, the spirit of Christmas (or, indeed, spirits)...

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra: Money Isn't Everything

Money Isn't Everything
Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra

According to their website notes, ''Rob Heron and The Tea Pad Orchestra play an eclectic and original musical brew of 1930’s swing, gypsy jazz, hokum blues, cajun, and country, all with similar themes of debauchery, dandyism, disasters and drink.''

Indeed, it seems the swing era of 1930s is coming back with a vengeance. 

In recent times I have reviewed CDs and shows by Meschiya Lake and The Little Bighorns, The Wiyos and the Two Man Gentleman Band and all three are, to some extent, proponents of the genre. Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra inhabit a similar world.

Musical influences aren't the only roots showing;  the group's Newcastle heritage is apparent in the track list, with the Great Fire of Byker (about a fire in a scrapyard in June 2011) enjoying a name-check.

The songs were all written by Rob and the Orchestra apart from Danse de la Lemonade (Leroy Broussard, translated by Rob Heron), Bairro Alto (Rob Heron/Sofia De Castro) and Bank Failures (Bob Miller). The latter, with its obvious subject matter, is particularly interesting, as it is a very old hillbilly-style song which is just as apt today as the day it was written.

The songs are generally up-tempo toe-tappers. Musically, the whole album is a treat to the ears. Alongside the expected guitars, drums, double bass and harmonica, we find a mandolin, accordion, cornet piano, washboard and even a Sousaphone.

Track List

Danse de la Lemonade
Great Fire of Byker
Money Isn't Everything
Quaich Keeper's Blues
Bairro Alto
Bank Failures
Hot Bath
Rich Man Now
Steamboat Blues
Hangover Blues
She Don't Like the Fish

The stand out tracks are Money Isn't Everything, Hot Bath and She Don't Like Fish, all of which display the quirky side of the artistes compositions merging very well with their accomplished musicianship.

Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra have only been together since 2010. It will be interesting to follow their progress, because on this sort of form they are surely going to become much better known before too long.

For further details pop along to their official website and keep up to date with their tour dates over at the Brookfield Knights site.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Chas & Dave at the Indigo2

Chas and Dave

No trip to London is ever complete without a show of some sort. This time it was off to the Dome... see the legendary Chas and Dave.

Dave announced his retirement a couple of years ago, leaving Chas to tour with his own band, but he has since changed his mind (more tour dates will follow in 2013).

The audience featured a huge range of people, from the elderly (some of whom, struggling with sticks, had to be helped to their seats) to skinheads. Flat caps, braces and Fred Perry shirts were to be found in abundance. 

I was pleased I was in the seated balcony area, as the standing 'mosh pit' downstairs was a shade too much on the rowdy side, with beer being flung in every direction.

There were two support acts. More Tea Vicar were particularly quirky, with two thirds of the band appearing to be auditioning for a Heavy Metal outfit and a lead singer with an eccentric keyboard style.

Buster Shuffle were next up, with their authentic 1980s 'nutty' sound.

It was around 9.15 p.m. when Chas and Dave finally took to the stage (the doors had opened at 7.00 p.m.). The first part of the show saw them run through a large number of songs during a bullet-paced medley off 1983's Jamboree Bag No. 2. 

Set List (Part 1)

Come Round and Hear My Gramophone
Rye House
I’m Not All There
Anniversary Waltz (Oh How We Danced)
Hot Meat Pies, Savaloys and Trotters
Rufus Rastus Johnson Brown
Billy Muggins
I’m an Airman
Black and White Rag
I Wanna Say Hello
Aunty Skinner’s Chicken Dinner
Hard up and Happy
Oh It’s a Windy Night Tonight
End of Me Ol’ Cigar
Eleven More Months
How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm?
While London Sleeps
Alabamy Bound
Pickin’ All the Big Ones Out
Proper Cup O’ Coffee
Beer Belly Banjos
Sideboard Song
Breakfast in Bed
Sweet Violets
Slap Bang
Walla Walla
What Happens After the Ball
Wait ‘Til the Sun Shines Nellie
Down Fell the Pony in a Fit
Ya Can’t Help Laughin’, Can Ya? 
Come Round and Hear My Gramophone
Sling Your Hook

There followed a short intermission, before they came back to play ''all the hits!'' And that's exactly what we got.

Set List (Part 2)

I Wonder in Whose Arms You are Tonight

London Girls
Banging in Your Head
My Blue Heaven
That Old Piano
I Wonder Why
Snooker Loopy
That's What I Like
Sideboard Song
Ain't No Pleasing You


Sideboard Song (reprise)

All in all, it was a very spirited and enjoyable evening, with Chas and Dave producing the goods in the fine style.

Here are a few more photos to finish with.

Keep up to date with all the news and tour dates over at their official website.