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December 21, 2006

East Side Story

Writing about web page

5 out of 5 stars

Will I lose my dignity?
Will someone care?
Will I wake tomorrow,
from this nightmare?

It’s a shame and a blessing this song is so utterly depressing, as it means we’ll never do it in Rev.

RENT is anything but depressing. Unfortunately I’ve been too late with my career moves [1] to see the stage version, but with widescreen and surround sound and an amazing adaptation, the film takes away the need to spend a fortune to watch this live. Instead, after having seen it 3+ times in one week, I can honestly say it doesn’t lose any of its impact.

Apparently, I’ve been informed, the film gains its strength from the director’s approach. Chris Columbus – famous for directing and producing such great films as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Stepmom, and Home Alone – managed to attract some of the original Broadway cast, and as such kept some of the stage elements of the screenplay, hardly focussing on a single person, but showing the interactions between the characters. It seems to draw out the similarities between the characters, rather than their differences, which is a good thing when we’re talking about seasons of love.

I’m not too sure why I love it so much. Usually I try to find a reason to give less than 5 stars in a review, but I’m actively trying to have everyone I know to see this film. It’s got characters for everyone to enjoy – although most of them are artists (bohemians) to some extent, there is the geek, the introvert, the extrovert, the madwoman, the businesswoman – and it’s got diverse musical influences with 80s house, gospel and soul, 90s rock, though mostly in a musical flavour.

Earlier today, I told someone it’s about New York, love, bills, and AIDS. Rich (my other housemate) thought he’d elaborate and said he appreciated the juxtaposition [2] of the wealthy, moneymaking individuals, and the poor but loving and funmaking group of tenants. I appreciate that it isn’t a musical just about a romantic story, but that it shows so much about the society of the setting.

I was a bit worried after seeing the placid film adaption of Phantom of the Opera, which seemed to have combined the worst parts of stage and cinema. However, RENT is simply wonderful, so let me know when you want to see it! [3]

1 Most tragically, being born too late to actually be aware of this musical in theatres in a place I could easily get too at a later stage in my life.

2 He didn’t actually say juxtaposition I think, but Alice of Vicar of Dibley used it earlier today and it got stuck in my head.

3 But please wait until I’ve actually managed to leave the country despite the fog, and then wait till I have come back in the new year.

November 28, 2006

Oh. His. Word. Part II

Follow-up to Oh. His. Word. Part I from [TBA]

Between all the queueing, there was some gospel.

Ever been to what used to be Soul Nation? It was a bit like that inside, but then not as sweaty. And not as smoky. And not as aggressive. Basically a massive Christian dancehall party. Well. And with gospel songs. The DJ and compere played the impatient crowd (having paid 30 quid and already waiting 2 hours for the main act) just about right, having them sing one of the most uplifting and groovy gospel songs (In the sanctuary, by Kurt Carr) as one massive gospel choir. The support didn’t do too bad either, though apart from an great upcoming voice (Roger Samuels) lacked in quality what it had in energy.

Then there was Kirk.

Kirk Franklin is probably the most successful gospel artist alive. Not related to Aretha as far as I know, and mainly working behind the scenes and letting his lyrics and choir do the work for him. He has worked with many famous artists such as Stevie Wonder, Mary J Blige, R Kelly, and U2’s Bono. Anyway, if you’re interested I’m sure you can find out all the good bad and ugly about this man. Or if you’re more interested in what he does, here’s a clip of one of his most accessible stuff.

I’m actually not sure how to review what happened between Kirk entering the stage, and us breathing fresh air. Not having had any proper food all day nor having had much sleep this weekend kind of put me in some standby mode to begin with. I remember grooving lots and thunder clapping Bajan style and holding hands with random people and having a group hug with more random people and holding A Lovely Day for lots of beats over and over again and freaking out another random person for coming in with the Melodies from Heaven harmony. And I remember trying to take a photo with Ali’s phone but being so not with it that once I was happy with the everchanging composition I realized I had my thumb on the wrong button. And I remember the pianist singing in the singing contest whilst no one was paying attention. Even he could sing. And I remember miming the piano bit and Kirk jumping into the crowd and everyone singing bye bye bye bye bye, bye bye bye bye bye bye bye etcetera. It was great. Wish you were there. Low battery now though.

November 27, 2006

Oh. His. Word. Part I

Follow-up to Israel & New Breed from [TBA]

Once in a while I listen to Premier – a Christian radio station that plays some good funky gospel between 11pm-1am. It was there I found out about Israel Houghton playing London. It was there I found out Kirk Franklin was playing London. It was Thursday night when I found out. The concert was last night. Maybe not exactly impulsive, it was one of the crazier things we’ve done in the house.

Spent the weekend with Rev in Olton, Birmingham, doing the usual: singing songs (quite a lot actually, for a weekend away), sleeping and freezing on church floors. I taught a song I wasn’t too sure about, but everyone loved it, though according to Ali it might be because of my chicken on drugs performance, or my face lighting up whenever the tenors (i.e. Jonny and two girls) came in with their harmony.

Got back 1pm on Sunday, ready to leave for Hammersmith, London, 2.30pm. I cheered when tomtom said we would take the M40, but then it guided us along the M4 for some reason as well, where we spent the larger part of our journey down. Through some miracle we managed to find a parking space a 5 minute walk away from Hammersmith Palais, yet we could practically join the queue there. The doors were bound to open 6.30pm, but that’s about the time we joined the queue. That is, the queue to pick up our tickets. Which we didn’t get till 8pm.

We queued a lot actually. To get to Hammersmith, there was only one exit lane which was crammed. The fact that some thought they were too good to queue and do some last minute merging didn’t help. Similar problem in the ticket queue. So what do you do? It seems like most people just hope someone else says something about it. I thought I’d use my Dutchness and loudly proclaim my dilemma with people jumping queues. At least the people behind us knew we were on their side, so helped them stay ahead of the sneaks.

On the way back, tomtom had the great idea of sending us up the M1. She forgot there were roadworks. Even beyond tired, Ali used mathematical wit and picked the outside lane. Indeed, it was the fastest. Mainly because eventually all 3 lanes were supposed to merge on the inside lane. It was worth it though. We saw 3 Noonoos and a man with a fire spitting machine.

June 12, 2006


3 out of 5 stars

The wonders of iTunes are slowly conquering my music buying behaviour. I noticed this band in the top downloads and following results in the past, I know that I usually appreciate music by bands called The .... The sound snippets predicted a nice album for the summer and with MTV showing Naive every second I zapped by there was no way I could resist.

The three stars say it all. It's definitely not a waste of money, and the album is very coherent – not a selection of singles like the Kaiserchiefs' work nor fluctuating quality in the tracks that Snow Patrol have. As a result there's nothing exceptional about this album. Summer evening music. That's all I can think of.

April 25, 2006

Israel & New Breed

Live in London
5 out of 5 stars

Scene setting

Methodist Central Hall, Westminster. Capacity of a couple of thousand. As beautiful from the inside as the outside. Spot the 5 white people in the queue. No strip searching. No bag searching. No limits on photography (just a "no flash please"), just a small one on illegal recordings:

If you're caught making a sound or video recording of the concert, your camera will be confiscated. Hold on. No, you can keep your camera. We will confiscate your tape and use it for our radio shows!

Support acts

As we enter, the Hill City Mass Choir are singing a couple of well known worship songs with a gospel flavour. Despite a low early attendance – Ali worries as there is no one sitting in front of us, prompting her cause for concern being picked out to give her testimony on stage and talk about "christians" again – the choir give their everything and set the enthusiastic mood for the rest of the night. Turns out this was only their warmup…

Then we're urged to silence even as people are still coming in, as upcoming hot UK gospel artists Four Kornerz are about to perform. As we're all in a good mood and they're dressed with style, we give them a big cheer and enjoy their gig. Imagine Outkast singing about their love for God instead of you and your girl in your caddy, and you get the idea. The balance wasn't quite right yet (as with Outkast, I could hardly understand the lyrics), but the musicians were great, and yes, the dress sense was good smooth.

The compere of the night was Muyiwa of Premier Christian Radio – if you're interested in gospel or any chilled RnB soul music (that sings about a slightly different kind of love than Usher) then it's a good listen from 11pm onwards. He also performed with his backing singers to keep us entertained, but they lacked the energy of the previous two acts. They had humour though. HCMC came back for a few more songs now with the whole audience joining in – the night was organised by House on the Rock for their 10th anniversary, and both the choir and most of the audience were members. We were more than happy to be part of their celebrations!

Main performance

It's Israel's first performance in the UK (save the one in Birmingham the night before) and he must have been well surprised to get so much enthousiasm from the audience (congregation?). The opening act was a seemingly endless medley of his "greatest hits", his funkiest songs and just one big happy feast of recognition and praise and dance. Let's just say I was happy I brought a bottle of water!

For Nikki: I recognized Another Level; Who Is Like The Lord; Trading My Sorrows; Again I Say Rejoice; New Season; and highlight All Around.

And then I lost track of what happened. It involved lots of amazing solo performances of both band and singers. Whereas I'd expected a few more people, Israel worked with only one singer per part(!) but all so competent that the four of them sounded like 5 million Rev choirs together. After all the hype and funk and dance and oh yes gospel – cue Lord You Are Good – the reflective moment couldn't have come at a better time.

So yes, suddenly Mr Houghton was left on stage by himself (though not after the synth dude helped him sort out his keyboard) to tell us the story of his life. Cue lots of borderline cheesy humour – but who cares? we're having a great time! Also cue lots of audience cheering for recognizing themselves and a rendition of One Love as his Jamaican heritage is being welcomed by the island descendants in the audience.

Eventually, he got to his point and the second half of the concert. Again, my mind wandered off (in the first half it was just me being delirious with all the excitement, this time it was just taking the chance for contemplation) so I'm gonna guess and say Israel was going through some psalms and spontaneous worship. All by himself. By the time I woke up from my deep thoughts, the rest had rejoined him on stage for the finale.

I should say grand finale. I just checked with Ali and Rich and indeed Friend of God was the song to start the dance towards the end. By this time Israel's guitar was working properly as well, and he got to showcase another talent whilst the crew lead us through song. But the London talent got a shot as well, when during Alpha and Omega the band went mute and the hall was filled by the chanting and worship of 3,000 great singers at the height of their worship feast. Now there must have been 2 or 3 more songs here including an encore (after the audience kept on repeating their ooh-ooh-oohs for one song) but the final showpiece of gospel extravaganza was Not Forgotten – some kind of Arabic melody and breakbeat mixture, aka Ali's favourite song.

The Verdict

It's hard to compare a gospel concert to any other, and even within its own genre, this concert was unique. I've seen LCGC (London Community Gospel Choir) perform twice, and they're always engaging, and quality. But in this case I felt part of the concert. The concert was great because I was there (if that makes sense at all?) and took part.

Okay I'll try and explain. I've had the same feeling after seeing Lauryn Hill live ages ago at Pinkpop Festival; Manu Chao 4 years ago at Lowlands Festival (Me Gustas Tu had just been a big hit in the Netherlands); Basement Jaxx last year at the Carling Academy. These artists, and Israel last weekend, seem to welcome you to their ground, their home, and ask you to join in and party with them. I think Lauryn Hill only sang one of her own songs – the rest was just a big DJ hip hop music battle – yet I wasn't disappointed. Israel cut quite a few of his songs short, but I didn't care because it was my party too.

For the untrained spirits or souls there might have been too much worship and praise in this concert. Actually, it was just one massive praise and worship session! But that's what gospel stands for, so it's what you would expect from such an event. Even so, there was so much musical talent and so much energy from both the stage and the audience that there should have been enough to enjoy as long as you accept being welcome.

January 29, 2006

Newly found glory

3 out of 5 stars

Had a great day today, but don't really feel like blogging about it. Well, ok then, first the day, then the CD.

Had a wee bit too long a sleep in, but was on time to have a shower and buy some milk before getting in the car to get to Ramphal for our Rev concert/busking session. We were singing for a NAGTY conference - imagine 30 people with keyboard and guitars standing on the upstairs hallway [or imagine that on any upstairs hallway - yes, it was one of the more special concert locations in the choir's history!] - i.e. lots of bright young kids tired of mingling and networking all day. Not sure if they really enjoyed listening to us instead, but we had a good time singing and later enjoying the snacks! Ended up 'singing' the solo bits for Trouble Don't Last myself, which is quite hard on an empty stomach and when trying to reach the people the floor below with your voice.

After some more snacks [the best donut since I came to England!] I went to Foleshill with Ali and Rich to get some fabric and shiny sparkly things for decorations for our Rev concert [4th March]. Whilst there, we got so excited by fruit being stalled outside that we entered a shop and cancelled our trip to TESCO Extra. Eventually, we left the shop only 7 quid poorer, but with a life supply of turmeric and other bulk stuff that would cost a fortune at a better known place. On we went to Central Six where I finally found the generic black stretch [small...] long sleeve T that will increase my clothing options by 50%. Also had to wait for Ali for 30 mins – but I'll let her explain on her blog why it took her so long to pay for a cute grey coat.

Sorry – the CD only comes up at midnight, and I still have to mention the 3 [?] episodes of 24 series 4 we watched. Now, series 2 and 3 seemed more of a necessity to watch - Kiefer Sutherland was always good as Jack Bauer, and it was just about interesting enough to see which episode Sherry Palmer or Nina Meyers would pop up - but this series is amazing so far! It's gotten a bit more cheesy [especially funny with lots of irony and sarcasm] without actually losing much credibility or pace. Go watch it when [if?] you get the chance!

And now I'm listening to the Ataris. A quick shallow glance with blog search gives me only one earlier mention – a warning that listening to them before going to bed will cause you to wake up in a melodramatic mood. Great. Though I think I'm already there. The title, So long, Astoria actually already sounds melodramatic. It's not a bad thing though - it's a good CD to have on whilst writing a blog entry or something else relaxing. It makes me smile. It's never annoying, or childish [never got round to getting a Sum41 album for that reason], or cheap. Maybe just a bit simple. It all sounds a bit the same, though it doesn't get boring. I won't say it's nice though – it's not that bad!

Not ground-breaking. Not mood-lifting. It's a I'm happy with how I feel right now kind of CD. Also, it feels like the generic teenage slapstick [American Pie, Road Trip] or prom flick [Never Been Kissed] or The OC kind of album. Which I don't think is a bad thing! For me, it reminds me of the friends I go to gigs or festivals with, which is enough to make the CD worthwhile. For you, I can't find a reason why you would mind this CD, or it would be that – like Ali – you can't hear the melody through the guitar sound.

November 03, 2005

And I don't even like cars

4 out of 5 stars

So much to talk about - maths conferences, blog style updates, almost early mornings - but I thought I'd pick something you might actually care about.

[Warning: this is the anecdote. Feel free to skip this paragraph and start reading the review from the next.] A long long time ago, I bought a CD at Morisson's [I shall never use consistent spelling for that store's name on this blog. Yes, that's a declaration.] long before they had a special CD issue desk and once I got home, to my shock there was no CD in the case. Due to a sudden change in daily regime I didn't end up in Morrison's [OK, that one's on purpose] for a whole month and only decided to take my chances last weekend. Lo and behold I say, I got my money back and as a true materialist, I traded the shiney metal for a new record, and now I am the proud owner of a masterpiece. I think.

[Warning: this paragraph doesn't say anything about the music. You might want to skip just one more paragraph.] Main reason for giving this album only 4 stars, is because I can't believe it's brilliant. After a week of listening, I haven't recognized a gem like Twentysomething or All At Sea, but then again those songs wouldn't fit on this album. For some reason, I like buying CDs [I know that was a jump, but trust me, I'm getting somewhere] for usually, someone has put effort in the artwork, and I'd like to think that the artwork tells you something about the CD (**). In Jamie Cullum's case, Twentysomething's blue and relaxed cover, gave the album a very 'blue' feeling, not as in 'feeling blue', but rather chilled and distant, not really sure of a direction (think of the title track). Catching Tales is more of a statement. Jamie Cullum stands bang in the middle almost looking at you. The red, jazzy font stands out and predicts a more certain direction and warmer feeling. Extra natural patterns give the sense of richer material, in song and lyrics. Those great chilled hits from Twentysomething would not fit in with the warm feelings this album produces.

[Actually, skip this one as well. No music talking here.] So is warm good or bad? Doesn't a great album need great songs? See, that's where I got stuck, and why I don't dare giving it that 5th star [unlike every other reviewer on the blogs - but I'll leave a rant about reviews for later.] - I've been listening to the album while typing this entry, and haven't had the slightest temptation to skip a track. Maybe because they're equally class tracks, or maybe because they're all just mediocre but form something wonderful when played together. Maybe I'm just waiting for the speedy bit in 7 Days to Change Your Life or the word 'grandmother' in Fascinating Rhythm – the word doesn't fit there, but does it make the song better or worse? It hasn't annoyed me yet, and the fact that it stands out and makes me think about it is something good, I guess.

The big change is that his voice is now actually part of the music. Unfortunately, there is no brilliant scatting on Catching Tales, but instead, Jamie's voice has gotten more tuneful and playful, and can you don't have to listen to the lyrics to get the song, as there is more music to help you understand. I don't know any music theory, but I can count, and I'm pretty sure there are more different tones and more 'fascinating rhythms' to be found on this album than any of his previous work. Despite the lack of scatting. Listen to Our Day Will Come and you'll hear everything this album has to offer in one song.

No great recognizable piano fiddling from All At Sea, hardly any scatting [while listening to Fascinating Rhythm, which is all about scatting and rhythm, but it's the penultimate track. Bear with me!] and no great covers you'd love to hear him sing ala High and Dry. Why on earth should you buy this album? It's jazz for the masses. Ali can't stand jazz and she managed to stay in the room and actually listen to the album [granted, her bf Rich had just cooked another amazing meal, but hey, there are more rooms and still she chose to sit with us keep listening!] The last song has just come up and I'm actually sad it's almost over. It's got the joy Maroon 5 songs or Scrubs bring to some of you. It's got the loveliness of Norah Jones but is too cool for the O.C. [seriously!]. Jamie's still Twentysomething but has found his direction and it's a good direction. Music for the masses is not necessarily a bad thing.

June 11, 2005

Another Level

5 out of 5 stars

This CD announces a new season of worship. Did that put you off? No? Good. No need to be a Christian to enjoy gospel music (see Revelation, or the Rev audience)! Also, you'd miss out some of the best funk of the last few years if you don't give this a chance!

I'm not really sure about this, but gospel music seems to be getting more popular in Britain. Not that it attracts huge crowds, but with the help of the Love Actually opening scene, and small gospel like backing for Natasha Beddinfield and Joss Stone, people have become more aware of it. Especially soon-to-be-weds simply need a gospel choir for their perfect day.

Although we're not specifically a gospel choir, we do sing a lot of gospel in Rev, and so you get to know quite a few different styles and artists. Some, such as Mary Mary (from Shackels) or R Kelly (though not purely a gospel artist, he has worked with many, and his latest album contains a gospel CD) are better known to the pop loving public than others. Those others will only surface in commercials (I Wish in the Coca Cola commercial) or with a chorus in a hiphop song (Lovely Day) and then still only when the Christian message is latent. Or the public needs the likes of Whoopie or Beyoncé to spread the word.

And then if you really care or if you're really obsessed about the music you dig deeper (search credits of aforementioned artists, pick up any gospel sounding line in films you hear and google it) and find this CD. I was excited about the Snow Patrol CD I got the other day, but this is truly on another level. Basically this CD makes any chore bearable.

I could describe every single song and its amazingness, but I do have other things to do. Really, I do, like listening to this CD again! OK then, first song Who Is Like the Lord is the perfect accompaniment for washing vegetables, and then later towards the bridge in the song, it works with chopping as well! Followed by You Are Good you can start heating the oil in the pan and create some heavenly food with this uplifting music! Could there be more exclamation marks? Well, there are 14 songs so get ready! By Trading My Sorrows it should be about time to lower the heat but keep on stirring. In the mean time set the table so that by the time of I Lift Up My Hands we've arrived at a perfect and lovely song in the background for your dinner! For dessert there's some more lush harmonies ending with the first song which again helps you washing up – in case you need more time, the music is great enough to repeat all!

Okay that might not have helped, but I hope you understand that I'm excited about the CD, and that I think you should be too if you like any uplifting music and love funk and big bands and lush harmonies. If you ever want to obtain such a gospel CD, I suggest you order it from the .com Amazon website instead of the UK one. CD's are cheaper in the US, and even with postage you'll end up more affluent than doing it the UK way. Actually, if money is your thing, I'd suggest you leave the UK for good as this is the most expensive country ever (and no need to be so expensive, island syndrome being a bad excuse) but that's material for another entry.

May 20, 2005

But I like…

Eels! Not the fish. But the band. I've only seen them in rock formation, one of which times they were rubbish as the lead singer (the only permanent member) E was on a low (this was Lowlands 2001 or 2 for anyone who might remember). Always been jealous of my friend who managed to catch a more intimate performance with string orchestra and what not - but tonight I was lucky [and so were the other zillions of people in Butterworth Hall].

10 Years ago I thought I'd heard the best songs ever. The Eels were then in a classic formation with guitarist whose name I forgot and drummer Butch (who was still in the band for lovely and funn Daisies of the Galaxy). But then guitarist guy left, E's family fell apart (not through human nature but through nature nature) and there was enough tragedy to produce the magnificent Electro-shock blues.

I thought I didn't care about the rest. Got Daisies... which is funny and lovely and actually got my pop-minded friend more excited about Eels, but it lacks the genius dry pop rock sound of Beautiful Freak and the blues of the second album. I bought Souljacker but was so appalled by the lack of enthusiasm that at the moment it's somewhere in Eindhoven in a dusty cupboard (as my mom stopped cleaning my room – rightly so).

First, the OC (of all media) brought back some faith. Love of the loveless just stole the spotlight of the show and caused me to download I mean copy I mean acquire Shootenanny, and a man who seemed to have been drained from all his lyrical talent got it all back!

Then tonight [note actual topic of this entry]. Started off not so good – half an hour wait turned into stop watching time it gets boring late [though a free trip to the Mead Gallery helped me understand the Coriolis effect better – more on that later] and when we finally got in we ended up with the only seats with blocked view. You know in Butterworth Hall where the balcony has a barrier? Yeah? I was right behind it. Yuck. Note to self: never get tickets online from the Arts Centre.

Show started. Support Act? Big white screen with Russian Wallace and Gromit. Wonderful idea – would sober up the early drinkers and get people in the right mood for a gentle and intimate set (which was bound to happen in a seated concert). We were building... and we were building... and then we built it! Hurrah! Sorry. Should have been there. Another support act? No – just an odd view on Eels propaganda… Rock hard times… Coming soon. Yeah – I didn't get it either, but it was the only time we would hear rock songs.

The actual concert. No idea what to say about it. It was amazing. It only involved 1 rock song (though some original rock songs had been converted into nice melodies with E's voice on top). It was sparked by the presence of the most talented people in the universe – a man who ended up playing an improvised drumkit, a howling guitar, a piano, an actual guitar, some blowing piano type thing, a saw, and probably many more. Oh and he could sing as well! Amazing string quartet [though there was a guy playing the contra bass (is that what you call it?) so I guess it was a quintet] who knew exactly when to stop and start playing. Oh and they could play the tamborine and shaky egg too! Ooh and scream!

Glad to have friends who are friends with stewards. After 2 encores, the lights came up and it was time to leave. Hah! Not for those in the know who sheepishly approached the doors but slowly turned around hoping for (knowing there was going to be) more. Only one song. But surely it was the best song! OK not really… This was the best song. The best song. Ever. Goodnight!

October 18, 2004

Soweto Gospel Choir – NEC Symphony Hall

I had already seen this choir perform in Edinburgh during the festival when they did a one-hour-gig in a church. That performance stirred so many emotions (good ones, that is) that I just had to see them again – even despite the exorbitant price of £23… I'd persuaded a bunch of people from Rev who had no idea what they'd got themselves into!

Was a bit worried when I entered the NEC Symphony Hall – such an enormous space, and most songs are acoustic :S but these people can fill any space with all the energy and enthusiasm they got! Anyway, can't really be bothered to describe the whole concert, but let me just say that fortunately (for me) they had a completely different setlist from what they did in Edinburgh (don't worry, I'm positive it was the same choir!) so I enjoyed it as much as I did the first concert – and 3 out of 5 people who went bought their CD afterwards (I already had one) so I guess it must have left a positive impression! :D

The Soweto Gospel Choir has now finished its tour of the UK, but I'm sure they'll be back seeing the support and enthusiastic response they received from their audiences. So look forward to their next tour!

P.S. I only gave em 4 stars as I'd been listening to their CD a lot before I went and I noticed them speeding up at some points – also, the concert in Edinburgh was better but I guess this music sounds better in a smaller venue than at the enormous Symphony Hall.

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