3 December 2016

Memento at The Old Moot House got me dancing

On almost any other night Memento would have been my first choice band but on this evening there were three good bands to choose between and Memento came a very close second to Nursery Cryme. Luckily the two gigs were close to each other and one was due to finish an hour earlier so I was able to see all of Nursery Cryme at The Oak before dashing to The Old Moot House to catch the end of Memento.

I arrived just as they were into Child In Time, which was an astoundingly good time to arrive. This was followed by Stargazer and I was singing along. It did not take much to get me dancing too.

There were a few familiar faces there and I had some pleasant conversations in between the songs. I went for the music and the social element was a nice bonus.

All too soon it was over. Memeno were, of course, called back for one more song and they finished with Highway Star. An excellent way to close an excellent set.

Nursery Cryme at The Oak

Nursery Cryme are obviously doing something right.

When I saw them play at The Oak in July the fans were enthusiastic but not that numerous and I our group of five easily got good seats at the music end of the bar. This time the place was packed and the best two of us could do was grab the final stool at the beer end of the bar, where we could hear but not see the band, for the first half and then stand at the far edge of the music end for the second half.

Those two halves were long halves too with Nursery Cryme playing from 8:30 to 9:30 and then from 10:00 to 11:00.

The Oak played its part too. I have had unfavourable experiences with their beer in the past but I had no complaints this night. They had four bitters on with a genuine choice to make (and something I would not dream of touching). I settled for the Adnams Southwold and that proved to be a good choice and one I repeated a couple of times over the evening.

Having seen Nursery Cryme twice before I had a good idea of what to expect though there were some new songs, including one from Wind and Wuthering (1976) which we referred to as Wuth and Windering at university for reasons that made sense at the time. My roommate and I also recorded a version of Your Own Special Way which was called Your Own Obvious Way and was dedicated to Mr Obvious who won that nickname for standing next to the pinball table (Big Ben) and saying obvious things. One lyric that I recall was, "I'm almost there my score's 53, He tells me I just need a G".

Nursery Cryme also seemed to have done a little on their presentation with the lead singer dressed all in white and everybody else all in black. Note a massive change but a noticeable one and it helped.

The Nursery Cryme mission is to play early Genesis songs as they were originally recorded and that requires skillful musicianship in all departments, which they have, and part of the joy in watching them perform is seeing the way that they play together and flourish individually. They play (generally) long complex songs to people who appreciate that sort of thing, not everybody does but those who do had a great time. And the growing following that they have quickly established shows that there are lots of fans for this sort of music played this well.

Nursery Cryme are obviously doing something right.

1 December 2016

Martin Turner ex Wishbone Ash at The Eel Pie Club

Somehow it had been a year since I last saw Martin Turner's version of Wishbone Ash play (at the Boom Boom Club in Sutton) and that was so good that I was clearly going to see them play at an even close venue, The Eel Pie Club in Twickenham.

I had been to The Eel Pie Club a couple of times before and found it something of a frustrating venue with its sunken stage area and restricted view for people of modest height. Knowing that I got there a little before the doors opened at 8:30pm.

Even so, all the prime seats had been taken by the time that I got in but I was not interested in seating and I was pleased to get a good standing position by the top of the stairs down to the pit. You can tell how good my view was from the photos.

With the doors not opening until quite late that gave me time to do a few things first. My evening started with a walk to the Eel Pie pub (nothing to do with the club) to meet a friend before we went to a curry house nearby for a couple of vindaloos. A good start to the evening.

I quickly came to appreciate my vantage point not just because of the uninterrupted view but also because I was well positioned to hear the band being a little way back from the stage. Normally I have to sacrifice the sound for the view but this time I had both.

The top photo shows what Martin Turner ex Wishbone Ash are all about, three guitars playing off each other while the drums keep them in order. The sound they made was the one they always have, blues inspired rock, whether it was a classic song from their 1972 album Argus (which Martin wrote most of) or a song from their most recent album Written in the Stars. These were long songs with plenty of guitar solos and we all loved them.

Somewhere along the way they played the whole of Argus, as they had done on a previous tour but not the last time that I saw them.

There were few surprises, even the joke Martin told was one he had told before, and that was as it should be. We had gone to hear classic Wishbone Ash and that is what Martin Turner ex Wishbone Ash delivered with panache and good humour. A happy band is a good band and they were both. I was very happy too.

28 November 2016

Aida at Richmond Theatre was greatly entertaining

Somehow in many years of opera going I had never seen Aida so when it came to Richmond Theatre is was an easy decision to make to go and see it, despite this coming at the end of a busy week that included three other visits to theatres, a formal annual dinner and a night out on the beer and curry with friends. On the night it was almost tempting to stay at home and rest but I made the effort to go and was well rewarded for doing so.

I was late booking because of the other commitments that week and that meant that I could take advantage of a ticket offer which landed me Dress Circle  Row A  Seat  1 for £18.75. Row A is my favourite place but the seats at each end (1 and 26) have a handrail that obscures the view slightly. Luckily with Aidi the action was very much front and centre so that did not matter.

This was a touring version of the opera and the producers obviously felt that it needed beefing up a little for audiences more used to musicals and family-friendy plays. This came in the form of some extras just on stage to add a touch of glamour, a group of young cute dancers and a circus artist swinging balls of fire during the one tune everybody knows, the Grand March. I found all of that slightly distracting, but only slightly.

I was pleased to see that there was a live orchestra and quite a good sized one too. I was also pleased to see that the singers were not using microphones, nor should they being decent singers. With a full orchestra to be heard over the singers had to have good powerful operatic voices and most did, only Amneris (the Egyptian princes) struggled a little at times but most of her pieces were to quieter sections of music so, again, no real problem. The two stars of the show, Aida and her lover Radam├Ęs, did most of the singing and did it very well.

The plot was unknown to me. I was expecting something very operatic and I got that. Aida, a captured Ethiopian slave, was in love with an Egyptian guard who lover her back, He was also loved by the Egyptian princess. Then to make matters even more interesting he led the Egyptian troops in a battle against the Ethiopians were Aida's brothers were killed and her father was captured. Cue some heavily divided loyalties. It was clear not going to end well and the only real question was how many would die and how. The final death scene was a surprising twist and it all ended conclusively if not happily.

The staging was simple in construction and decorative in appearance, as was fitting for a grand opera pretending to be a family musical.

The only negative of the evening was having fooled some people into thinking that they were at a family musical they behaved like that and I head quite a few conversations during the show and several small voices asking questions. Again there was enough disturbance to be noticed but not enough to spoil the experience.

Aida entertained me greatly for the best part of three hours (including two intervals). It was a fitting end to a demanding week.

Visiting the Huf Haus UK Show House

The success of Peter Huf's talk to Ham Amenities Group (HAG) was such that we were invited to visit the new Huf House UK Show House in Brooklands on a day that it is not normally open to the public and Peter Huf was there to guide us around.

The talk had been very good but it was far better to see the reality and to have Peter there for two hours, with his colleague Jack Eddy Architectural Technologist and Environmental Advisor, to go into more detail about the approach and the philosophy and also to answer all the detailed questions that we had.

The wide entrance hall set the scene beautifully. It was spacious and bright and you could see right past the dining area to the garden beyond. Just behind that hedge was a busy road but we could only hear the traffic when Peter opened a window to make a point about the sound insulation.

A Huf Haus connects with its setting and this was most obvious in the master bedroom suite with its large windows and the trees almost in touching distance.

The Show House was arranged as a three bedroom house with the master bedroom taking all of one side of the upstairs (to the right) and two good bedrooms on the other side.

The dining area was double height which produced this impressive view. The dining table is a good size with eight chairs around it yet it almost looks small in the space allocated to it. No squeezing past chairs here.

The landing was far more than a corridor. There was space for a substantial wall unit along one side and sitting areas with several chairs at each end.

The Show House is on an industrial estate, The Heights, and part of it faces on to a car park. Most of the house looks the other way and on the car park side there is the kitchen and an office.

The section of wall hides the plant room. This would normally be in the basement but this house is close to a stream and is raised above normal ground level to keep it safe from flooding so a basement was out of the question.

One corner of the house had this outside area. That is the main living space on the other side of the glass wall. The river is just off to the left, as indicated by the trees.

Looking the same way but from inside shows how wonderful that living area is with its natural views and huge spaces. The dinning area is just off to the right.

Beyond the wall with the paints on is a conference room which, with the office on the other side, enables the house to function commercially. If this was a wholly domestic property then those two rooms could have been more bedrooms or something like a gym or music room.

Huf Haus is designed to make you happy with good light and views and with all the annoyances, like heat and noise, dealt with by state of the art technology. This house operates without mains gas or electricity and because it is so efficient it only need around 10 Kw to keep it going.

We spent a lot of time talking about the technology of the wood and the glass and the energy systems while also appreciating the way that the design of the house makes the most of the sun and the least of the rain. That is why it can claim to be the best house in the country.

23 November 2016

Drones, Baby, Drones at Arcola Theatre was good politics and great theatre

While the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen get some media attention it is normally only when a massive mistake is made, such as blowing up an innocent wedding party, and so a play about drones was always going to interest the political animal in me. Particularly when it came with the Arcola brand behind it.

I was a little worried beforehand that this would be a trivial play over simplifying the issue, something along the lines that these are all young men playing war games but with real victims. I was happily wrong on both counts, this was good politics and great theatre.

The two plays told one story, the before and after of a specific drone strike. In the first we met the people making the decision to strike and in the second the operatives who piloted the drone. Focusing on the people, rather than directly on the politics or the technology, gave a fresh perspective on drone strikes and also made for better theatre.

The strike decisions are made early every Tuesday morning and we saw the people in the hours leading up to that meeting; one had been called to a hospital because her daughter had been in a serious accident, another was with his mistress and a military man was being urged by a colleague during a gym session to go for a incursion force instead to grapple control back from the CIA to the Army. All of the people had personal issues that impacted how they approached the strike decision they were about to make. The mistress summed it up best is saying that her lover was about to make a life or death decision yet could not decide whether to walk to work or take a taxi.

At the end of the first play they all went into their room to make their decision and I went to the bar to get the now traditional bottle of Foundation Bitter from East London Brewing Company.

After the short break, the second play looked at the aftermath of the strike. This had been heralded as a big success as the high profile target was killed and at a time and place when he was on his own. Apart from a kid. Or, as one of the operatives put it, "It was a kid. Now it's collateral". There was much more to this part of the play than just the impact on civilians as the two operatives and their partners reacted to the incident, and other big events in their lives. The play ended with a monologue from the wife of one of the operatives putting an argument that I could not possibly agree with but she gave it with sincerity and emotion. These are the people who voted for Trump.

Another injection of politics came at the start of each play with an introduction by Reprieve giving some of the context. My main take-away from this is the the USA tries very hard not to kill American citizens but the UK only targets British citizens. I'm not proud of that.

Drones, Baby, Drones managed to inform, entertain and provoke. That's proper theatre.

18 November 2016

The Magic Flute at Normansfield Theatre

The opera events at Normansfield Theatre have been good to me in the past so it was an easy decision to go and see The Magic Flute there.

I chose to go on a Friday as it was easy to walk there after work. I took a slight detour via the Tide End to get something to eat and their Asian Vegetable Burger came up trumps again.

The evening was sold out, all three evening were, and I did well to get a seat in the second row. A bargain at £15.

This was an amateur performance so I was not expecting that much and, to be honest, a few of the singers were a little off tune at times and/or lacked the strength of voice required to fill the room. The star of the show, Pamina, was either professional or professionally trained and her performance was sparkling. The Queen of the Night also had the power to suggest she had good credentials and while the male lead, Tamino, started a little weakly he grew into the role and his solo later on a highlight of the show.

The orchestra was also amateur but hid that well and their fine playing meant that the music easily carried the opera and made any weaknesses in the singing irrelevant.

There was an interval of course and that was an opportunity to give more money to charity, the Down’s Syndrome Association, by buying a glass of Prosecco. It was also an opportunity to say hello to some old faces, Richard who ran the chess club that the boys went to when at Primary School and Roger and Lucy who abandoned the beauty of North Kingston to live close to the A3 about twenty years ago.

After the performance I went to The Anglers for a final drink only to find it ridiculously shut at just after 11pm on a Friday. The Tide End was still open so I had a pint there instead. I prefer it there anyway.

This production of The Magic Flute was never going to compete with the likes of Glyndebourne but that was not the point. This was a very pleasant night out with some excellent music and some decent singing.

12 November 2016

Madama Butterfly by Ormond Opera was magnificent

Madama Butterfly is a genuine classic so I was obviously interested in seeing it performed locally even though I had seen an excellent production of it at ENO not that long ago. I had only recently come across Ormond Opera at a local charity event and I was keen to see them in a more formal setting.

This production was obviously going to be a somewhat different deal with an amateur chorus supporting professional singers in a small church hall. The price tag was different too, this was only £20 and that price I could afford to take a risk but with this being Madama Butterfly it was not much of one.

I was almost the first person to arrive, because the buses were kind to me, and that gave me a seat in the middle of the long front row (of two). There was further seating along the two sides but even then the venue held only around seventy people.

I do not know how Ormond Opera gets its singers but I suspect it is from a small pool and that would explain some of the casting; Madama Butterfly looked nothing like a fifteen year old Japanese woman/girl, her maid (Suzuki) looked even less Japanese and the American Counsel was too young. And none of that mattered in the slightest.

What did matter was the singing and that was superb. All of it.

Butterfly is slow moving and emotional and so it relies heavily on the singing of the four main characters and when they work the opera works. I will give a special mention to Caroline Carragher as Suzuki for the beauty of her voice but only on the understanding that there was not much to choose between all of the main roles.

A surprise, only because I had not read the details beforehand, was that the music was all provided by one piano and one pianist, Jakob Rothoff. That worked exceptionally well and I did not miss the orchestra at all. I do not know the opera well enough to comment on the score but I thought that some bits were shorter (e.g. Prince Yamadori's proposal to Madama Butterfly) and others longer (e.g. the waiting overnight for Pinkerton to return) than in the production at ENO.

The other big difference was the language. ENO performs in English (hence the "E") while this was sung in the original Italian with a helpful translation displayed on the screen above and behind the performing area; in the picture above it says, "Madama Butterfly Giacomo Puccini".

I was expecting this production of Madama Butterfly to be a bit rough and ready, and I would have been very happy with that, but it was so much more. The professionalism oozed over all aspects of the show adding to the strengths of the fabulous music and the sweet singing. It was a complete joy for me and a triumph for all involved in making it.