Of Musings and Wonderings

IMAG0075I had been looking forward to this gig for ages. I got the tickets back in February, one for me and one for my brother as a birthday present. I defiantly inherited my music tastes from him. Without him, I don’t think I would have appreciated the music in Supernatural quite as much, and without me he never would have seen the show. I grew up with classic rock in the house, thanks to both him and my mum, and as one of his mates commented to me a few weeks ago, if my brother was not at this gig, there was something very wrong with the world.

Oh, and it was Bank Holiday weekend, which meant we could happily drink through the day and I didn’t have to worry about heading to work on the Monday. Good times.

Plus, the sun was shining. It was a nice, bright day, and my brother and I made our way around a couple of the nearby pubs, drinking in the beer gardens and meeting up with some of his mates before heading to Cardiff for the gig. Thanks to my brother’s dilly-dallying and insistence on getting a burger from McDonald’s, we actually missed the first half of Thunder. (boo!) But we did make it to Thunder in time for one of my favourite songs (we missed Castles In The Sand, unfortunately.)

What we did see of Thunder was brilliant. Energetic, with great songs (check out Ballads by Thunder, if you like the above), and it really made me not quite care that a beer for my brother was £4 and a double vodka and coke for myself was £5.50. (Gig prices always feel like a punch in the gut.)

Short break – we headed outside for a smoke, met up with a few more people and went back in – and then it was time for Whitesnake. Although I love both Journey and Thunder, it was Whitesnake I was most looking forward to. Whitesnake are simply amazing. Great music, and the gig proved they can still rock out even if they are now all eligible for bus passes.

IMAG0068For the first couple of songs, I did have my brother drunkenly screaming in my ear, “I love you! You’re the best sister ever!”

Anyway. Whitesnake were, as expected, amazing. The whole crowd was singing along, and you could tell the guys on stage were having fun. Each song was better than the last, and of course the main song was Here I Go Again. There is nothing quite like hearing a whole arena sing a song like that. Essentially, it was a strong set, and really left the crowd pumped up for the last band of the evening.

IMAG0074Which was, of course, Journey. I wonder how many people there were actually aware that the lead singer changed in 2007? I knew! And not just because my brother mentioned it before hand. Also, they’ve all had hair cuts. God damn it, guys! Look at Whitesnake. Look at them! They’re still rocking the big hair look and it’s amazing. You guys…

Okay, well, it doesn’t matter. You can still rock with short hair. And sometimes short hair is better. Especially if you’re at a gig and going to stand near the back of the crowd throwing your hair back every few seconds. I’m talking to you, dude who stood right in front of me. (I really hate getting other people’s hair in my face.)


IMAG0084Journey were great, of course. Like the others, they had a good set, and they played up to everything. They moved around the stage, lead singer going from one end to the other and drawing the crowd in. And you could tell the crowd loved it. They lapped up everything thrown out by the band, and the surge of energy right at the end was brilliant.

Of course, the last song was Don’t Stop Believing, and like Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again, the whole crowd joined in. Gigs have great atmospheres, when everyone is there to enjoy the same thing and united in a love for certain bands and music, and that night was no exception.

IMAG0100Overall, it was an excellent and fun night. The bands were great, the crowd was good and I walked out with an awesome Whitesnake t-shirt. Three great bands, still going strong after many years together. And, fingers crossed, there’ll be many more years to come and many more gigs like this.



00421667%20-%20449x485Last night, I went with my mum to see Blues Brothers: The Smash Hit. The show is a tribute act/review, dedicated to John Belushi’s and Dan Ackroyd’s characters Jake and Ellwood Blues. If you haven’t seen the film, go do it now because it’s brilliant.

You done? Good.

Okay so, this time, rather than being in the Upper Circle like we were for Save The Last Dance For Me, we down in the stalls. Yeah, posh! A good view, nice amount of room and we could have used the binoculars, if we so wished. I put on a nice top, Mum dressed smart, and we turned up and most people were wearing jeans and t-shirts, or shirts with hats and sunglasses.

You could tell this was going to be a good audience.

The show started with blue police lights, sirens and a voice-over from the film.

It worked really well to get the audience pumped up, as the band began to play Peter Gunn Theme. You could feel the energy in the room, could feel the audience getting pumped up as one of the cast, dressed as a policeman, pulled a tape across the stage. Brad Henshaw and Chris Chandler – Jake and Ellwood – appeared, and the audience burst into applause.

The two leads pulled off their parts brilliantly. You could tell that for them – and the rest of the cast – this was a pure labour of love, and I found myself wondering how often they must have watched the films to get so in character. The mannerisms worked well, and there felt like there was a real connection between the two. I saw one review mentioned that the fake Chicago accents were grating, but I didn’t feel they were. Admittedly, the American accents were pulled off better than in Save The Last Dance.

The band were brilliant, and entertaining, and it was fun to see them switch into different costumers. The Bluettes – the backing singers/dancers – were great, as was William Hazel, who in the programme is noted as ‘Understudy’ but on stage played a variety of roles. He performed a number of songs, including Cab Calloway’s Minnie The Moocher. He couldn’t quite match Calloway’s singing style, but he had the audience responding in all the right places and pulled off the moves very well.

Overall, it was a great show. We got to our feet when encouraged – some didn’t need that encouragement (I think alcohol was involved) – clapped and sang along, and a few rows in front of us was Cardiff’s very own dancing granny. (She was brilliant!) The crowd was a complete mix of ages, and everyone clearly enjoyed themselves. The cast were brilliant at encouraging everyone to join in, making everyone laugh and drilling up some sympathy when required. Plus, they threw in some nice Welsh-specific jokes too. (Mentioning Ely along with claiming Tom Jones’ It’s Not Unusual is the Welsh National Anthem. It’s not. That title goes to Delilah. But we let it slide.) It was overall a very fun experience, and I really hope they come back to Cardiff. I’d sure as hell go see it again.

Now, if you excuse me, I’m going to go watch The Voice.

{May 11, 2013}   Save The Last Dance For Me

11072_fullIf you can’t tell already, I love musicals. One of my favourite American Studies modules in Uni was The Hollywood Musical. Give me something where characters burst randomly into song, and I’m happy. Hence my love of Glee. And you know what? I’m glad that we have jukebox musicals. Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You, Rock of Ages…partly because it gives me hope that one day I might actually be able to write a musical, and not have to worry about the actual writing of songs part. (As a side note, I mentioned at the start of Year Twelve in school that I would only audition for a musical, which my school was very big on, if it was We Will Rock You. Guess what they announced for their musical. I can’t sing, I can just about dance, and I can barely act. But I had a hell of a lot of fun in the chorus.)

Anyway! Moving on.

Where I work, I pass the New Theatre in Cardiff, which means I usually see whatever they have playing from one week to the next. And Save The Last Dance practically forced me to walk in there during my lunch break and buy a ticket for me and my Mum.

And I am very glad I did.

Save The Last Dance For Me follows two sisters as they go on holiday without their parents. They meet an American, stationed at a nearby Air Force Base, and attend the dances put on by the military band. The songs are hits that anyone familiar with late 50s/early 60s pop will recognise, all written by the duo of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. Of course one of the sisters – the younger – falls in love with one of the GIs, but, although they spend a lovely week together, (I love how fast things happen in musicals) he tries to push her away at the end, thinking that no one can accept a black man dating a white woman.

Among this, the older sister briefly dates another of the military men, before realising how much of a scumbag he is and going with the local ice cream man Carlo instead.

The plot is…sort of weak. The racism angle feels like it’s put in just to have a serious edge, and there’s the feeling of pointing at American and going “Oh! So racist,” while showing the British to be more tolerant. (Mum’s comment was, it wasn’t like that at all) The only character who does say something racist ends up being actually quite a nice guy who was only pulling Curtis’ leg, and he still gets the girl. (That’s Carlo, by the way) If her parents tried to stop their relationship because of race, and not just because they’re trying to protect their little girl from over sexed men, it’s not clear.

Weak plots are not a new thing in musical theatre. It’s nice when a musical does have a solid plot to carry through, but in the case of Save The Last Dance, it kind of doesn’t matter. It’s less about the plot and more about the music, and that’s okay. Not everything has to be a masterpiece. Yes, it had its flaws but they were pretty much the same flaws most musicals suffer from.

It was fun. And a nice way to spend the evening, a great treat for my mum, and the cast were brilliant.

With any jukebox musical – and any cover song – it’s difficult to get a balance between your own voice, and matching the original. Especially as these songs are the kind that are well known, and versions of them will be all too familiar to the audience. The cast were clearly more than up to it. Especially outside of the main two. Curtis and Marie were great, of course, but I think the rest of the cast really added to that more than if the leads had outshone everyone else. Milton (Lee Honey-Jones, by the way, from Swansea and was in Mamma Mia. Mum kept asking me “Which one’s the Welsh one who was in Mamma Mia?) had some great songs, including Here I Go Again (not the Whitesnake version), Surrender and Tell Her. His voice worked nicely with the song choices. The big surprise, however, was Carlo (Alan Howell who, judging by the program, has done absolutely everything) basically blew the rest of the cast away.

That guy has a seriously good voice. When he started with Be My Baby, I think I wasn’t the only one who had a serious case of jaw-drop. Every time he sang, both me and Mum would be leaning forward. And at the end, when he did Viva Las Vegas, it was just brilliant. Powerful, and even with that Elvis tinge to it.

The girls all played their parts perfectly, right from the slutty Doris to the innocent Marie, they all managed to make the songs their own while not making them too different. The dances were great, but I would have liked to have seen more. A lot more. It would have been great to see more of the 50s/60s style dances in there for some songs, rather than having half the cast sitting around and doing nothing.

Like I said, we had a brilliant time, and the cast looked like they did too. I think it’s the sign of a good production when the cast make it look easy and fun, and not like they’ve probably put in God knows how many hours into rehearsing. Yes, the plot was weak and a little rushed at times, but it’s not the kind of thing you go to for the plot.

If you get the chance, it’s really worth seeing. Especially if you’re a fan of that kind of music.

As a side-note, and I found this out from reading the program last night, Pomus suffered from polio as a child,  leaving him wheelchair bound in later life. He wrote Save The Last Dance – at first glance a happy, romantic song – after being unable to dance with his wife on their wedding day, and watching from the side-lines as she danced with others. The song takes on a whole new feeling once you know that.


{September 26, 2012}   Time to Weep: Great Sad Songs

My taste in music has been largely informed and influenced by my family. Anyone who has seen my work on Fictionpress (or even at University) can see how important music is to me. The truth is, it’s important to my whole family. In this house, in the morning, there’s sometimes three radios on; Nation Radio playing in the bathroom and my bedroom, and Radio 2 in my parent’s bedroom as me and my mum get ready for work. As a kid, I remember the house always being full with music of various kinds. Trips to my great-grandparents (most likely about half hour, but back then it felt like it took half the day) meant Queen playing in the car, despite Dad’s objections. When we discovered Napster, Mum, my two brothers and myself downloaded everything and anything we could get our hands on. From that point, car trips meant playing the CD we had burnt for my dad, involving some of his favourite hits. Most of these were pretty sad – heartbreak and death being the main theme running through them. Thinking about the songs that were usually played when I was growing up, it’s no surprise really that I’m drawn, even now, to songs with real stories behind them. Maybe it’s partly the writer in me, too. Either way, I decided to compile a list of five songs with great stories to them, mostly from the sixties and seventies, and the ones that make up just part of my dad’s music collection. Enjoy!

1. Keith West – Excerpt from  a  Teenage Opera (Grocer Jack)

If you haven’t yet heard this song, or never really listened to the words, please listen now. I’ll wait. Done? Okay, good. This is one of those songs that I heard countless times as a child, but it wasn’t until I was a bit older – and hadn’t heard it for years – that the words really struck me. As a kid, I thought Jack had simply left town. In reality, his heart was weak and after years of working for the townspeople with no affection or thanks from them, he dies. It’s a sad, sad story, and one of the most powerful things about the song is the use of the kids. They don’t understand what’s happened to him, as much as I didn’t understand it years ago. It draws out a great emotional response, especially at the end.

Best line: Is it true what Mummy says, you won’t come back?

2. Bobby Goldsboro – Honey

One of the reasons I think this song works so well is because some of it does sound light-hearted, especially the parts in the song that talk of stories revolving around Honey, including her worrying about his reaction to the car, or being embarrassed that he will find her watching sad shows in the afternoon. Throughout it all, there’s such a sense of love between the two. Their story is told in just under four minutes and, yes, it is a much better love story than Twilight. Their relationship is revealed to the listener through little tales, and there’s a nice sense of subtly when he tells of coming home early one evening. It works because he has made you feel for Honey as much as he does, in the same way you would feel for any character in any book, and it makes it that much sadder.

Best line: I came home unexpectedly, and caught her crying needlessly, in the middle of the day.

3. Ricky Valance – Tell Laura I Love Her

Well, I had no idea he was Welsh. One up for us, I guess. Moving on…as the video explains, Ricky Valance bucked the tread for ‘death songs’, and did pretty damn well with this one. It’s a beautiful, haunting story of a man so in love with his girlfriend he risks his life in order to give her an expensive engagement ring. He doesn’t really even get to speak to his beloved one last time. The image of him riding to his death in a car race is simple but oddly powerful, and his echoes in the chapel as Laura prays…there’s also a bittersweet feel to it. I doubt Laura would have wanted something expensive. Of course, in songs like these there’s little we really get to know about the characters, meaning we fill in the blanks. Which means I can say Laura wouldn’t have minded a piece of rope for a ring, and someone else could say Laura was a selfish cow who wanted an expensive ring and therefore killed him, but we’d both be right. Yet I doubt it’s the second one. There’s too much love there, from Tommy, and as it says at the start, ‘he wanted to give her everything’. It’s sad because in love, you do want the person to have everything.

Best line: No one knows what happened that day, how his car overturned in flames…

4. John Leyton – Johnny Remember Me

This song is pretty haunting. The imagery is enough to make any writer jealous, in a over-the-top sort of way. Mainly because songs can actually do that sort of thing effectively, whereas in writing it would just fall flat. Anyway, the descriptions work to create a scene in a short space, important for any song. And the addition of the female in the background…again, haunting. You can imagine a lone man wandering through some woods, trapped in his own memories and trapped by his past. That’s what’s so sad about it; not just the death of his loved one, but the fact that she’s always there with him, reminding him. There’s almost a touch of hope in one line, where he sings about finding a new love, but you know any relationship he has in the future is going to be overshadowed by her death. It is, in essence, the story of a man who cannot move on.

Best line: Yes I’ll always remember, till the day I die, I’ll hear her cry, Johnny, remember me…

5. Meatloaf – Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

The only song on this list that isn’t about death. Instead, it’s about something that at times can be just as devastating. Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad has the ability to make me tear up every time I hear it. Anyone who has ever loved and lost can relate to the words. It’s the breakdown of a relationship, of a man who just can’t love the girl he’s with. And you can feel the pain, for both of them. Again, it’s easy to picture; him, reaching for her, her – curled up, perhaps – refusing to look at him or acknowledge him. The thing is, who’s to say what he feels isn’t love? And who’s to say you could stay with someone, if they’ve already told you love – as far as they know – isn’t something they can feel? It’s hard, and painful, because there’s so much emotion there. Let’s face it, Meatloaf’s love songs are powerful. He does have a great voice, and he manages to convey so much here. The saddest thing about this isn’t what’s happening during the song; it’s the before and after. It’s the creation of this vicious cycle, the idea that he’s still in love with a woman who’s still in love with somebody she used to know, so what happens to the girl he’s singing to here? Two out of three may not be bad, but it depends on what the missing factor is – it can easily outweigh the other two he – or she – can offer.

And, after being in any break-up, the song hits home even harder. That’s what makes it so God damn powerful. You can relate to it; you can see where he’s coming from and you can feel her pain.

Best Line: She kept on telling me, I want you, I need you, but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you. Now don’t be sad, ‘cos two out of three ain’t bad.

 Notable Mentions: Meatloaf – Not A Dry Eye In The House, The Shangri-Las – Leader of the Pack, Dr Hook – Sylvia’s Mother, Driver 67 – Car 67,  Johnny Preston – Running Bear

So, what about you? Any great stories, hidden in songs (sad or happy) that you want to share?

et cetera