Monthly Archives: May 2015

Heaven 17, The Waterfront, Norwich, 29th May 2015

h17wf29515-19Line-up:
Heaven 17:
Glenn Gregory (vocals)
Martyn Ware (synthesizer, vocals)
Berenice Scott (synthesizer)
Billie Godfrey (backing vocals)
Rachel Mosely (backing vocals)

Support:
Chris Pidgeon (vocals, guitar)

Venue:
The Waterfront
139-141 King Street
Norwich
Norfolk
NR1 1QH

h17wf29515-20Way back in 1980, during a rather routine music lesson at school, the teacher (a somewhat delectable soul called Daphne King) introduced us to the music of The Human League (in the dim and distant days when they were the “proper” League – i.e. no out of tune girls). Most of the class quietly died from lack of interest and/or teenage angst (yes, we had teen angst back in 1980 – it’s nothing new). However, a small core of us sat up and actually took notice. The album was “Travelogue” and the track that the lovely Mrs. King had chosen for us to listen was “Dreams of Leaving”, a curious sequence driven piece, almost but not quite Tangerine Dream, European sounding but at the same time very British. I was already into the EM thing, wooed as I had been by the likes of the afore-mentioned Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Jean-Michel Jarre, Isao Tomita, Walter/Wendy Carlos and the recently emerged solo offerings from John Foxx, but this amazing piece of the purest English electronic music captured not just my attention, but also my imagination and musical soul. And just as I got the League sound in my hormone saturated blood, two of the founding members, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh only went and bloody well left the band!!! As history has recorded, singer Phil Oakey and visualist Adrian Wright went on to recruit “the girls” and we had the album “Dare” which was basically great. I loved it, no really, I did (I even went to see them at the Ipswich Gaumont in December 1981 and they were really good), but for me the “new” League lacked the sound that I had found in both “Travelogue” and the debut album “Reproduction”. Anyway, I have seriously digressed. Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh went off to set up a new outfit called Heaven 17 (the name taken from a fictional pop group mentioned in the classic Anthony Burgess tome, “A Clockwork Orange” – if you haven’t read it, read it, it’s frighteningly prophetic) and a production company called the British Electric Foundation. Through the 1980’s they enjoyed a modicum of success with tracks such as “Let me Go”, “Crushed By The Wheels of Industry” and the seminal classic “Temptation” which featured the wonderful vocals of session singing favourite, Carol Kenyon. The 90’s were a much quieter time with the band members seeing themselves in h17wf29515-17various roles working with other artists, not releasing anything new as Heaven 17 until 1996 and playing their first live shows a year later (interestingly, the very first H17 gig was at the Waterfront in Norwich, the scene of this here review!!!) and it was at this time that the very talented vocalist Billie Godfrey started working with the band. Ian Craig Marsh left Heaven 17 in 2006-ish to return to university. Heaven 17 have been something of a regular feature on the gig circuit, developing and maintaining a solid reputation for their shows, joined in 2011 by keyboardist Berenice Scott (her dad is none other than Robin Scott, better known as M, who had a massive hit in 1979 with “Pop Muzik” – small world huh?) and in recent times by Rachel Mosely on backing vocals.

So, to the venue itself. This was my first visit to The Waterfront in Norwich (I’ve only lived in Norwich for 10 years!!!), situated as it is in King Street not far from Norwich’s busy city centre and Riverside leisure development. It has a 700 person capacity and is a standing only venue. It was originally built as a venue for local musicians to play in, however, after a few years, it suffered significant financial difficulties, finally failing in 1993. It was at this point that the Union of UEA Students approached the local council with an offer which was duly accepted and it’s safe to say that it has gone from strength to strength, playing host to some major music acts from around the worlds of pop and rock in the time since. The Union Of UEA Students still support local musicians, regularly holding events at which bands (and individuals) from the area can perform at. It’s quite an intimate place and I can see why it’s popular with audiences and musicians.

The evening was quite lovely with a late Spring sunset washing the venue with a warm light, the lighter evenings making for quite a lovely riverside scene and the prospect of some good live music ahead. My photo pass was ready waiting for me a the box office (huge “thank you” to Marc Wiles for that) and the staff were really friendly. Being a regular at other venues, particularly Epic Studios, I’ve come to know some of the security personnel, so it was nice to exchange “hello’s” and “how are you’s” with the guys who keep the venues safe for the rest of us, they have a tricky job and are often un-necessarily criticised by many, so I will always make a special mention for them.

h17wf29515-7Opening was a local muso in the form of singer/songwriter Chris Pidgeon – one man and his guitar playing a nice blend of acoustic rock with folky elements thrown in, some very strong Damian Rice influences in there. His songs are all about growing up, playing in bands, the joys of work and most recently about becoming a father, with clever lyrics that are easy to relate to. I really liked his voice, perfect for the cool material he was playing, strong without being harsh, smooth without being insipid. His half hour set came to an all too quick end, I could have happily listened on, he was that good. It’s always really good to see a strong support act and hopefully, the days of the major acts fielding below average bands with bad sound mixes are now far behind us. Keep an eye out for Chris, he’s well worth going to see performing.

Absolutely bang on time, it was the turn of Heaven 17.

The crowd was instantly engaged when the immortal words “well in just a few moments we’re off to Hawaii to join Steve McGarrett and the team for tonight’s adventure……” thundered out over the PA and the Human League classic, “Circus of Death”, pulsed us into the world of H17.

h17wf29515-2The line-up comprised of Martyn Ware and Berenice Scott on a pair of Roland V-Synths with Billie Godfrey and Rachel Mosely on backing vocals. Lead singer Glen Gregory appeared from stage right, tall and imposing, watching out over the audience with the most intense of stares before launching into the song with his commanding vocals – I read somewhere that he was to have been the original lead singer of The Human League but was unavailable, in these first few minutes of the H17 set, I saw why he was the first choice. This was a powerful opening, H17 took charge and we were basically theirs for the remainder of the set.

All too quick this first track was done, the Gregory smile came into play and we moved into “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang”. Real high energy stuff with the essence of the 1980’s sound wonderfully captured, but not coming across as dated. Looking at the audience, they were already up with it and feeling the groove, and Billie Godfrey’s bluesy vocal really added to the atmosphere. The pace didn’t let up, as soon as “FGT” finished, a small amount of great on-stage banter and straight into “Crushed By the Wheels of Industry” – a great live track allowing for audience participation and hands-over-heads handclaps a-plenty.h17wf29515-28The pace softened slightly with a great rendition of “Geisha Boys and Temple Girls”, the opening synth sequencing beautifully realised by Martyn Ware, followed by another crowd favourite, “Come Live With Me”, one of the evening’s many highlights as it showed the strength of Glenn Gregory’s voice with it’s meandering melody line. And then, perhaps my personal favourite of the evening, was the track that I didn’t see coming. Martyn Ware using the D-Beam facility of the Roland V-Synth to control the synth with hand movements rather than the keyboard and a small delicate sequence that heralded the start of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”. Martyn came out from behind the synth to join Glenn in a truly excellent duet, great harmonies throughout, playing the audience with banter and singing to one another (!!!). Fabulous.h17wf29515-11

“Pray” and “Dive” (and NOT “Dave” as someone had apparently thought it was called, according to Mr. Gregory) followed with great vocals from Glenn once again before the pace picked up once more with the brilliant “Sunset Now”, another personal favourite H17 song which came across  brilliantly live and once again demonstrating in performance how tight and solidly together Heaven 17 are as a live act. The up-beat tempo and fun element continued with the H17 single “Play to Win” – and another crowd pleaser it was too, great tempo and great vocal performances from all. Next up was perhaps my own personal favourite H17 song, “Let Me Go”, which sounded as good live as it does on record. Great vocals again, and Glenn’s voice was still sounding spot on this far into the set, not something many other performers of the same era who are on the live circuit can claim to be able to do (having looked at various videos of H17 live on YouTube since, I’ve seen this is a pretty consistent thing – up and coming performers please note this).

h17wf29515-25The penultimate song of the main set was next, a full on rendition of “Penthouse and Pavement”, again that certain 80’s vibe dominating without sounding dated, leading into the song that I suspect everyone was waiting for – yeah, “Temptation”. Billie Godfrey and Rachel Mosley absolutely nailed it good and proper, with Billie taking the principle lead female vocal. Featuring a new ending (according to the printed set list I stole!!!), a dynamite vocal from Glenn and a storming club beat throughout, it did exactly what Mr. Gregory wanted the audience to do – take the roof off. That, I feel with all levels of certainty, happened. I have to say again about Billie Godfrey, because she really belted out pitch-perfect flourishes and leads with that massive voice of hers, a perfect match to Glenn Gregory’s vocal. Audience participation was high on this one with Billie leading the audience over the thundering club beat. A brilliant ending to this part of the set.

The band left the stage and allowed a few welcome minutes to catch the breath before they returned for a two song encore. Now, the first of these was an interesting choice, and quite appropriate considering that Glenn Gregory is about to embark on a tour with acclaimed producer Tony Visconti and drummer Woody Woodmansey, performing in it’s entirety, David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” album. An absolutely belting version of Bowie’s “Boys Keep Swinging” pounded out of the speakers, Glenn’s voice still strong and easily up to the task. It was a great choice and the crowd loved it (as a side note, I’m hoping to get Review Elektro to the Visconti/Woodmansey/Gregory gig as they are playing in Norwich as part of the tour).

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How could this be topped? Simple. Finish with a classic Human League track and leave the crowd wanting more when they’ve left the stage after performing “Being Boiled”. They performed the newer version that was on the “Travelogue” album, and it was the perfect finish to what was a terrific night of live music.

So, once again, another “retro” act comes to town and seriously shows how it’s done. Heaven 17 perfectly lived up to my personal formula for a top class concert, the three simple elements of style, performance and presentation. They oozed style, they looked great and it was clear that looking good was as important as sounding good, too many younger/newer bands I see are not taking this into account. H17 performed and presented their show with the professionalism and ease of a band of their standing and years in the business and lived up to the title of an early BEF release – music of quality and distinction. I’ve not seen Heaven 17 live before this gig, but I had heard many good things about their concerts, so my expectations were understandably quite high.

Those expectations were exceeded.

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Links:
HEAVEN 17
CHRIS PIDGEON

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Heaven 17/Chris Pidgeon

“The Observatory” by The Voice Project, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, 8th May 2015

vpobs8515-3Line-up:
The Astronomy Choir Conducted by Sian Croose

Soloists:
Sianed Jones (soprano)
Sharon Durant (soprano alto)
Sian Croose (alto)
Greg Tassel (tenor)
Jonathan Baker (bass)

Instrumentalists:
BJ Cole (pedal steel guitar)
Joby Burgess (percussion)
Lewis Edney (trombone)
Stephen Saunders (trombone)
Adrian Lever (keyboards)

Music composed by:
Jonathan Baker
Orlando Gough
Karen Wimhurst

Venue:
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
University of East Anglia
Norwich
NR4 7TJ

Every once in a while, you come across a performance that simply leaves you completely spellbound, lost for words and wanting more. That was how the performance of “The Observatory” by Norwich-based open-access choir, The Voice Project, at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts as part of the annual Norfolk and Norwich Festival left me feeling. But before I heap every positive noun, verb and adjective I can find upon this truly excellent evening of contemporary modern music, a little bit of background about the project, it’s founders and what exactly it does.

As stated above, The Voice Project is an open-access choral project which offers members a chance to explore the many ways in which to creatively use the voice. It was conceived and brought into being back in 2008 by Sian Croose and Jonathan Baker. Since that time, The Voice Project has brought together literally hundreds of singers, publicly performing amazing new vocal works alongside workshops that aim to create, increase and build upon vocal confidence through the exploration of a whole range of uplifting and inspiring choral/vocal music.

Sian Croose has run choirs  and vocal groups for 25 years, singing on her own and with a cast of thousand as well as creating music projects in the  UK, Ireland and France and being a co-founder of The Voice Project.

Jon Baker is a founder member of alt-rock group, The Neutrinos, as well as being a singer, teacher and composer who has written extensively for TV, radio and theatre. He is also a co-founder of The Voice Project.

The Voice Project is enjoying something of a fast-developing and well-earned reputation for creating beautiful contemporary choral works that are designed to be performed in familiar places that they hope will (and I actually believe, do) inspire their audiences and performers (yes both) to walk through and see these places from a different perspective. As you might imagine, “The Observatory” has a space theme and it was felt that the open spaces, lighting conditions and modernist architectural lines of The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts would be the perfect place to give the performance form and inspiration.

So, to the concept of “The Observatory”. According to The Voice Project, it explores humanity’s relationship with space and the gradual attempts to understand and explore it, using the mediums of  poetry, science and music. Aspects such as weightlessness, distance, the unknown, infinity and astronomical geometry all act as parts of the puzzle to bring together this inspired and completely original work.

The three composers (Jonathan Baker, Orlando Gough and Karen Wimhurst) set texts from such sources as the metaphysics of George Herbert and the unbroadcast bulletins about Apollo 11, to name but a few, to a series of musical passages especially written for 150 plus choreographed voices and an ensemble of instruments including a full percussion set and pedal steel guitar.

The actual performance.

I can easily sum the whole thing up before I start. What I witnessed, nay, experienced, on this night was the glorious meeting of Star Trek with the love child of Ligeti and the Radiophonic Workshop. And yes, it was THAT good. Something I will no doubt say again during the course of this unashamed love-fest for The Voice Project.

vpobs8515-2As my partner was one of the 150-plus Astronomy Choir, I found myself as a member of the audience, supporting her by way of a change, instead of my usual place at the front, in the photo pit and/or lurking around the sides for the duration of the performance. And for this unique presentation, such a thing as “being at the front” was somewhat irrelevant because this was something of a promenade performance. I’ll explain. The audience gathered at a small shed-like construct some 100 metres away from the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (SCVA), and dead on the dot of 9.00 p.m., a voice boomed out welcoming us to the evening and to follow the ushers to the various parts of the performance. We were then guided around seven separate areas of the SCVA whereupon we were able to enjoy that which The Voice Project had to offer. It’s a really cool and very immersive way of doing things, keeping the audience engaged and instilling that sense of “what next?” A major plus point in the originality stakes. So, we were led to one of the walkways that criss-cross the University of East Anglia’s brutalist structures, at the far edge of the SCVA, and we walked the twilight path towards the site of the first piece to be performed (called “As Dark As Light”), the choir were lined up alongside the outside of the SCVA, all holding small blue lights, which I took to be stars. When we reached the walkway, we could see the silhouettes of other choir members along the said walkway above us – standing like silent sentinels in the half-light. And then a light came up as the singing began and the performance took off.

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We moved to the rear of the SVCA where we found another smaller choir, soloists and a chromatic percussionist (mainly vibraphone) ready waiting for us, blue lights scattered across the  grass and members of the company dotted about, standing statue-still and holding blue lights. It was a fantastic effect. They performed “Donne the Spaceman”, beautifully contemporary and blending so many influences from the kitsch TV soundtracks of the 1960’s and 1970’s (for me it was the original “Star Trek” and “Planet of the Apes”) to the curious musique concrete oft heard in the science programs of the era.

vpobs8515-7From here we were led into the ultra-modernist surroundings of the SCVA itself, the exhibits covered in white cloth and the wonderfully ethereal tones of the pedal steel guitar, played with perfect beauty and restraint by BJ Cole, as we took our places ready for the next part of the performance. As I looked around, I could see already waiting for us, across a high-up walkway, down a spiral staircase (where I spotted my good lady in a white lab coat) and forming a kind of a semi-circle around us audience types, what I thought was the full Astronomy Choir, all of whom were stood statue-silent. But no, as the next part of the performance started, a distant choir down the far end of the SVCA started to sing, before they all began the utterly beautiful “The Lakes of the Moon, leading into gloriously contemporary spoken word/choral piece “The Unknown Knowns”, then the amazing “Orbit” before the final piece for this section, “We Are Listening”. These four pieces ranged from beautiful to surreal, from contemporary to experimental, from tonal to dissonant. How could this possibly be topped? I was about to find out.

As the last bars of “We Are Listening” were performed, we were ushered to the next performance area via a series of exhibits that are a part of the SCVA’s current display. What was completely surreal, freaky and totally brilliant was that individual members of the choir were stood at an exhibit each, staring at it whilst whispering unintelligibly. Inspired!!! I loved that effect and couldn’t hide an appreciative grin – this was proper performance art.

vpobs8515-1Through now into the middle section of the SCVA. Instrumentalists and soloists at the front (can’t really comment on that bit as I couldn’t see a thing, but no matter), and the choirs appearing on two balconies that flanked either side of this section. The next part was for me, the high-light of the evening. This was where I found my personal definition of sublime, a suite of music so incredibly intense and rich in form and texture that passing out may have been the only other option. Dramatic percussion, avant-garde brass, inspirational readings and then the Ligeti inspired section. If I never see another concert or arts performance again, I will always have that Ligeti section. György Ligeti was a Hungarian composer of contemporary classical music, described as one of the most important avant-garde composers of the mid-late 20th century, and seen as one of the most innovative and influential progressive figures of his time. Most  people will probably recognise his work from the Stanley Kubrik film adaptation of “2001: A Space Odyssey”, which includes excerpts from four of his pieces, these being “Atmosphères” (the StarGate sequence with portions heard in the Overture and Intermission), “Lux Aeterna” (the moon-bus scene en route to the TMA-1 monolith), “Requiem” (the “Kyriewas used when the monolith appears), and an electronically altered version of “Aventures” (in the cryptic final scenes). Looking at the title of the piece, “The Great Darkness”, I could see exactly what Orlando Gough, the composer of this section of “The Observatory”, was trying to achieve. I hope he was pleased with it because he achieved it. Drama gave way to the most thrillingly sublime micropolyphonic choral music I have ever heard.  A crescendoing cluster of human voices morphing and evolving over a what I really wanted to be an eternity, such was it’s power, presence and intensity, which took me the edge of a great unknown, a truly dark place that ebbed and flowed fear, wonder and yearning. Powerful stuff and worthy of a larger audience. Even the lack of visual stimulus at this point (lighting was, at best, minimal, however I understand this was down to no fault of the organisers, but a result of a number of venue-related issues, the old health and safety chestnut no doubt) could not detract in anyway from the enormity of the delicate wall of sound that surrounded us. My smile grew exponentially.

vpobs8515-6From here we were moved to the opposite end of the SCVA to where we came in. Awaiting us were the choirs, who had silently moved away during the last part of the Ligeti bit to take their places on the balcony and in front of the massive windows, the instrumentalists and the soloists. This penultimate piece was called “A Report” and gave the audience a wonderful blend of sounds from the near operatic tones of the soloists, to the intricate and highly skilled percussionist. Once again, they pulled back the volume and pace, leaving only the soloists singing as the choirs (armed with their blue starlights) moved out of the SCVA, with the audience in tow, for the final and beautiful ending, out on the lawns, and under the stars (something of a special nod to the weather for performing so brilliantly on this evening), lit by three large flaming candles and performing the most lovely reprise of “The Lakes of the Moon” before the singing stopped, the choirs with their little blue starlights, turned away from us and it was done.

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I don’t have enough words to commend this performance. I wanted to spend £20 on another ticket for the following evening, but they were sold out (I’m not above a bit of blagging my way in either – I’ll get back to you on that one!!!). All I can say is, if you see that The Voice Project are going to be performing, don’t waste any time thinking about it, don’t umm and ahh, don’t hesitate, delay or procrastinate. Just get a ticket and go.

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LInks:
THE VOICE PROJECT
SAINSBURY CENTRE FOR VISUAL ARTS
NORFOLK AND NORWICH FESTIVAL

Performance Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
The Voice Project – “The Observatory”