Friday, May 29, 2009


Das Fenster 26/5

I'm always a bit sad when the Festival ends as it's quite an anticlimax after a month of buzzing round town. So I thought I'd stretch it out a bit by popping into the Holmbush Records launch night at the Brunswick.

Holmbush describe their roster as 'folk step, poetronica and kittencore' – well I get the first two, but not too sure about the third. Maybe it was epitomised by Steve Elston, who sang quirky sweet songs about being treated 'like a horse', with a neat guitar style, charming the audience with his delivery.

Harry Neve combined electronics, sampled soundscapes and guitar with an engaging set, and Kopek impressed with a solo set of amazing guitar work and melancholy songs.

I'd only heard Das Fenster's demo but thought I'd pop down on the strength of that, and they far surpassed my expectations. A five-piece of German, Dutch and British origin, they comprise female vocals, double bass, violin, bassoon, guitar and sweet, sweet harmonies. The set of beautiful dreamy summer songs kept the audience enthralled throughout. Quite marvellous.



Copperdollar 23/5

The amazing Speakeasy at the Blind Tiger Club at the start of the festival set a high bar for cabaret nights – a venue transformed into a sleazy barely-legal dive with stuffed animals, a poker table, kissing booth (where I spent an almost indecent amount of time...) and ballsy house band. Trouble was, it was all a bit illegal and got raided and closed down....

But Copperdollar at the Black Lion rose to the challenge and met it with panache. I'd never normally set foot in the Black Lion, drinking in the Lanes being one step up from West Street, but the venue was rendered unrecognisable with Mexican Day of the Dead decorations, a coffin, giant skeleton and staff dressed in amazing Mexican outfits with painted skull faces.

Every aspect of the night had been thought through meticulously, with a house band playing amazing rock n roll versions of songs like Don't You Want Me and Stayin' Alive, and sporadic outbreaks of cabaret performance – two skeleton people dancing a raunchy tango, a funeral parade passing through, a conga snaking round the bar.

They call it 'immersive theatre' and that's a great description, happening all around you, constantly surprising and with attention to every last detail. It was just a pity that they only ran for two nights, but with the amount of work and participants involved, I don't really blame them. Copperdollar were worthy winners of Best Cabaret in the Latest Brighton Festival and Fringe awards, and I look forward to future events if they're only half as good as this one.

Oh- and the Blind Tiger Club didn't come away emptyhanded – they won Most Groundbreaking Event, so I hope to see them again soon too, when the dust has settled.


Monday, May 25, 2009


Antony & The Johnsons 21/5

This concert with Antony and the Johnsons was even more of a magical experience than I'd anticipated. With a superb six-piece band variously playing cello, violin, drums, guitar, clarinet and sax, Antony Hegarty sat at the grand piano in subdued atmospheric lighting, his astounding voice soaring across the Dome and leaving you swooning. Hegarty's hilarious banter with the audience between songs belied his sometimes aloof image, cracking jokes about his home town of Chichester, Catholic upbringing and the 'fruitiness' of Brighton.

The preponderence of songs from recent album The Crying Light highlighted their qualities in a way I've not got to grips with on CD, displaying a pastoral character almost in the English folk song tradition, and two rousing standing ovations showed the audience was in no doubt we'd been witness to a truly extraordinary performance.



Group Doueh, Omar Souleyman/ Marina Celeste, 20/5

This was an evening of North African/ Middle Eastern music at the lovely setting of St George's Church in Kemptown. Doueh is a self-taught guitarist from Western Sahara who plays both ordinary electric guitar and traditional stringed instruments, augmented with keyboards, percussion and vocals.

The guitar playing verged on the psychedelic at times, but the harsh sound mix proved a less than pleasurable listening experience, and the band never seemed to get into a groove. Syrian Omar Souleyman was a different proposition. The sound sorted out, he started with a long vocal intro before the rhythms kicked in and his mojo started working on the eager audience, inspired into bursts of 'ethnic' hand-dancing to his infectious Arab pop.

Then it was a nip onto a bus for Marina Celeste at the Speigeltent. Marina is one of the multutide of breathy French female vocalists to add her talents to the three albums by Nouvelle Vague, who re-work punk, new wave and 80s classics into a bossa-nova style. She's now working on solo material, and her elfin charm, cheekbones and sexy French accent wowed a packed house as she slunk and skipped her way through impressive original material and Nouvelle Vague classics. Lovely.


Monday, May 18, 2009


Eric Walton Esoterica, 16/5

Saturday afternoon saw an enjoyable magic and mind reading show with suave and sophisticated master of sleight of hand Eric Walton.

A dapper New Yorker, his entertaining show at St Andrew's Church combined a raffish wit with tricks that just left you wondering how on earth he did that? He's on again next Saturday afternoon at the same venue, and appearing nightly as Mephistopheles in And the Devil May Drag You Under, an entertaining late-night musical comedy revue.



The Art of Not Looking Back 15/5

A world premier from this Brighton Dome-based dance company, led by affable Israeli Hofesh Shechter, this was a stunning piece of work for six female dancers. Opening with a spoken narrative of childhood abandonment by his mother, the dancers performed faultlessly in unison in a tightly choreographed piece to a soundtrack of cut-up electronica, Bach and spoken word.

The physicality and precision of the dancers' moves was astounding in a beautiful piece with an underlying darkness. It's always hard to impose a narrative or decide what a work like this is 'about' but debate raged in the pub afterwards with fellow audience members as we'd all interpreted it in different ways – probably all of us wrong!

This is the first time I've seen Shechter's work and while modern dance is often a 'difficult' medium, I'm sure he'll be winning hearts and minds through amazing works like this.

**** UPDATE: This show won 'Best International Act' at the Latest Festival and Fringe Awards



Lady Carol of the Moon 14/5

You know you've just seen a special show when you leave the venue too stunned to talk.

That was everyone's reaction last night after a staggering performance by Lady Carol of the Moon, a vivacious Irish musical comedian with a ukulele and one of the biggest voices you'll ever hear. Despite the comic interludes, delivered with an easy charm and engaging verve, this was a dark, unsettling show, opening with a version of Nirvana's Heart Shaped Box which perfectly set the tone for the rest of the evening. The take on Radiohead's Creep genuinely sent a shiver down the spine, and The Show Must Go On was almost heartbreaking.

The couple of hundred of us in the audience were left in no doubt that we were surely privileged to have witnessed this startling one-off performance at St Andrew's Church, and if Lady Carol returns to Brighton, I'll be first in the queue.

However, the same couldn't be said for the Raymond and Mr Timpkins Review show later that evening at the same venue. Raymond and Mr T deliver a hilarious wordless physical comedy performance, using fast-cut snippets of songs which they mime to using placards with mis-heard lyrics, in a high-energy performance.

Unfortunately the acts in between their sketches were frankly appalling: a woman who wouldn't have lasted two minutes in an amateur open mic night and a man who made noises from the Battle of Britain until you wished the Stukas would appear and put us all out of our misery. Final stand-up Noel Brittan almost saved the day and was genuinely funny, but one out of three ain't good.
***** UPDATE: Lady Carol won 'Best Music Event' at the Latest Brighton Festival & Fringe Awards, seeing off Antony & the Johnsons in a close-fought contest!
Review of Lady Carol in Hastings, 4.7.09



Erpingham Camp, Palace Pier 13/5

My top pick of the 'main' Festival so far has got to be The Erpingham Camp on the Pier.

One of notorious writer Joe Orton's lesser knows plays, the play is set in a Butlins-style holiday camp, and deals with power and pomposity and what happens when you lose your grip on absolute control. But there's a twist - the audience are actually part of the show, divided into three groups and joining the action as it races up and down the length of the Pier from three different perspectives. An electric performance from all the actors, and a theatrical tour de force to perform three plays in one and hold it all together.

Not for the fainthearted who can't cope with a bit of audience participation, this is an astonishing show and very funny to boot.
***** UPDATE: Erpingham Camp won 'Best Outdoor Event' at the Latest Brighton Festival & Fringe Awards


Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Janis & And the Devil May Drag You Under 11/5

A stunningly good performance from Nicky Haydn in Janis, a one-woman show at St Andrew's church about the last hours of Janis Joplin. Set in a lonely hotel room, Haydn creates an imaginary dialogue with the audience about Joplin's rollercoaster life, never letting on where the boundaries of doped-out fantasy and reality lie.

One minor criticism is the lack of amplification, as the church's acoustics occasionally swallowed the more intimate moments of the piece, but the sheer energy of the performance itself more than carried the event off. If you missed it, there's another performance on the 16th of May.

Late-night at St Andrews is And the Devil May Drag You Under, a deliciously camp cabaret with musical comedy from Frisky & Mannish (pictured above), stunningly fit acrobats and aerialists and the obligatory hula hoops and nipple tassels, all in the most inappropriate setting. A special mention for Devil Des O'Connor, whose panache, comic songs on the uke and cheeky humour soon perked up a smallish Monday night crowd.
***** UPDATE: Nicky Haydn won 'Best Female Performer' and Fiona Fletcher won 'Outstanding Contribution to the Festival' for her brilliant programme at St Andrews, at the Latest Brighton Festival & Fringe Awards



Legless & Harmless, The Haunted Moustache, Aviator Club & Voodoo Vaudeville, 9/5

The second weekend of the Brighton Festival and Fringe was packed with some corkingly good events. Surely the most right-off show of the Fringe is Legless and Harmless at the tiny 3and10 theatre. Featuring a pair of useless Scousers who are trying to put together a show about two flatmates, one of whom has lost the use of his legs and the other his arms, this is laugh out loud anti-PC which leaves no target untouched. The surreal dance with the blow up doll will have you gasping with shock at the sheer tastelessness of it. They're back on again on the 23rd and 24th of May.

Dave Bramwell's Haunted Moustache was an entertaining monologue about the weird (and true) experiences Bramwell had when he was bequeathed a Victorian moustache in a glass case from his great-Aunt. Funny and engaging, St Andrew's church was the perfect setting for a quirky and very Brighton show.

It was hula girls, 20s hot jazz and nipple tassels all the way for the last night of The Aviator Club at the Speigeltent and Voodoo Vaudeville finished a marathon evening with surreal comedy, odd films and a star turn from the hit of the Fringe, 75-year-old cabaret artiste Lynn Ruth Miller, whose show Ageing is Amazing gives us all hope that there's plenty of fun to be had even if you don't have all your own teeth.
***** UPDATE: Dave Bramwell won 'Best Male Performer' at the Latest Brighton Festival & Fringe Awards


Monday, May 11, 2009


Spacedog at the Marlborough 8/5

Where else would you find a Victorian seance, ghostly theremin and mournful songs of death and decay but in the company of Spacedog?

Coming on like a bunch of science teachers putting on an end of term show, Spacedog charm, beguile and surprise with their collection of home-made electronic instruments, including a rack of small bells programmed to work automatically, and an odd construction of steel tubes stroked with a bow to produce eerie other-worldly tones. And of coursethere's a musical saw in there too.

Taking in songs by Brel and Weill as well as originals including a tribute to the original spacedog, the hapless Laika, Jenny Angliss’s soaring vocals augmented by her sister Sarah's electronics, Spacedog's Marlborough show provided a magical escape to other worlds.

The second part of the show was a re-creation of a Victorian seance, conducted by Professor Wiseman. We sat in the darkened room, having contemplated a number of objects which would invoke the spirit of a long-dead music hall star. Holding hands in a circle, the collection of objects before us identifiable only by luminous strips to make them visible in the dark, there were gasps and screams as the wicker ball flew into the air, and the tambourine clattered on the table, sending the candlestick flying. All Victorian parlour tricks of course, but you could see how a gullible audience of a previous era could willingly believe the spirits truly were amongst us.



Lynn Ruth Miller at the Quadrant

Incontinence pads, smoking crack and checking the obituaries to see who's newly available to date are just three of the subjects Lynn Ruth Miller shared with us in her surprise hit festival show, Ageing is Amazing.

With no buildup, Lynn Ruth's week long late-night residency at the Quadrant's Laughing Horse club became a word of mouth success, pulling in audiences from twenty-somethings to slapheaded oldies, drawn by the sheet quirkiness and charm of this musical comedy show.

By turns shocking, filthy and touching, Lynn Ruth has an innocence in her performance which leaves you gasping incredulously “Did she REALLY say that??”. Taking up comedy four years ago at the age of 71 after a career as a writer, she's showing that her life experience is a rich mine of hilarious comic potential and I hope she achieves her ambition to pop her clogs onstage at the age of 99. I'm sure she'll get what she wants.
***** UPDATE: Lynn Ruth won 'Star of the Festival' at the Latest Brighton Festival & Fringe Awards



The Oyster Princess, Brighton Dome 6/5

I'm a huge fan of live soundtracks to silent or old films, and there's usually one on the menu in the Brighton Festival. Last year there was Henry V, previously Asian Dub Foundation played along to La Haine, and this year saw German director Ernst Lubitsch’s 1919 silent The Oyster Princess with a soundtrack from Belgian combo Flat Earth Society.

Unfortunately the words “Belgian” “jazz” and “silent film” don't necessarily draw in a crowd, and sadly the Dome was only half-full for this treat of an evening.

The first half was disappointing, a 20s film about a femme fatale 'exotic' Chinese dancer in the dance halls of Piccadilly with plenty of smouldering glances and lively dance sequences. unfortunately it was cut up tediously repetitively as if by an over-enthusiastic VJ, and the improvised soundtrack bore no relation to the film's movement or spirit.

However The Oyster Princess was a different matter. A genuinely funny film with a ludicrous storyline of a spoiled rich girl who wants to marry a prince, this time the soundtrack perfectly complemented the film's action, adding to its comic potential. Disappointing that events like this don't have a wider appeal as it was a thoroughly entertaining evening with plenty to smile about.



Breaking News, Theatre Royal Brighton

This was always going to be one of those shows where you never quite know what to expect, and you suspect the people onstage don't either.

Set in the plush surroundings of the Theatre Royal, Breaking News stripped the stage back to the bare walls, with a bank of TV monitors, cables and racking to bring us a riff on today's news from around the world.

Real-life journalists from Russia, Germany, India, Syria, Iceland and South America took us through that night's 8 o'clock news from their own country, describing the top news stories, stopping and rewinding to return to noteworthy stories, changing channels around the region to find something more interesting (it was s slow night for news), bouncing back and forth between each other.

This was interspersed with autobiographical details about each individual's career in the media, and readings from ancient Greek texts about the Persian wars, the context the modern parallel with the war in Iraq, and being a story of the bringing of bad news.

However, coming in at more than two hours in length with no break, the show could have done with some judicious editing, requiring as it did extreme concentration from the viewer. The Persian war readings just reduced those sequences to a snail's pace and added an extra unnecessary layer to an otherwise challenging show with an original and fascinating premise.



No Fit State Circus at the Brighton Festival 28/4

Forget your lions and tigers, this is circus which celebrates human strength, daring and acrobatics.

Originating in Ireland with the aim of training people in the community in circus skills, NoFitState features an international cast of aerialists, trapeze artists, and even a clown, whose spectacular mishaps from on high provide the laughs in the show.

The action takes place in and above the audience so you're constantly moving around the big top, as performers swoop above you, or bounce from one side of the tent's roof to the other. The performers have an astonishing level of fitness, providing an entertaining and impressively physical experience.


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