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reviews

Ron Sexsmith at the Robin2

The outstanding Canadian singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith came to the Robin2 with his band on 22 May 2017 for one of the most rewarding shows of the year so far. Sexsmith’s status as one of the finest songwriters of his Ron Sexsmithgeneration has never been in doubt from the moment he released his self-titled debut album in 1995. Since then the formerly Toronto-based singer has made made a series of outstanding albums working with celebrated producers such as Daniel Lanois and Mitchell Froom. For his latest his (thirteenth) solo album, The Last Rider, in tandem with his longtime collaborator Don Kerr, Sexsmith has taken matters into his own hands as a producer. For fans, that should heighten the listening experience in terms of getting to hear his complete musical vision for the first time. Over the course of 15 tracks, his most intimate and welcoming album so far is by turns romantic, bittersweet, uplifting and humorous. Most striking is how naturally the songs flow together and how at ease Sexsmith sounds, accompanied by his trusted touring band. Like one of his main inspirations, Ray Davies, he is a rare artist able to extract profound meaning from even the most mundane aspects of urban life, while simultaneously lamenting what remains of our simpler past. The Last Rider has got off to a great start, debuting at #5 on the UK Americana Chart as well as #19 on the UK Independent Album Chart. In Canada, the album is a top five digital hit and tour dates so far have been going great with Ron and the band hitting their stride. His excellent show at the Robin featured this legend of modern Canadiana music playing songs from the new album such as the single, Radio, as well as favourites from his extensive back catalogue, including the beautiful Secret Heart and classic Average Joe. Sexsmith’s warm, soulful voice and delicate guitar work made it an evening to remember. The excellent band featured Davey Matthews on keyboard, Kevin LaCroix on guitar and the rhythm section of bassist Jason Mercer and drummer Don Kerr (who has been with Ron for 30 years). Opening support was provided by the another Canadian singer-songwriter, Lori Cullen, who returned later for a duet with Ron.

Sunny Afternoon at the Grand Theatre

Sunny Afternoon, which opened at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre on April 18, is an irresistible musical that tells the captivating tale of how one of Britain’s greatest bands rose to stardom. The Kinks are one of the most important and influential British bands of all time, with millions of record sales and countless awards and accolades to their name. From their explosive beginnings as part of the 1960s British Beat movement to concept albums, stadium rock and acoustic ballads, The Kinks have left an unimpeachable legacy of classic songs, many of which form the building blocks of Sunny Afternoonpopular music as we know it today. The band was formed in Muswell Hill, north London, by brothers Ray and Dave Davies, with friend Peter Quaife on bass and drummer with Mick Avory. Music history was made when You Really Got Me, written by Ray in their parents’ front room, became a massive hit around the world. In Sunny Afternoon we discover how, thanks to a slashed amplifier, they discovered the definitive sound that rocked a nation and inspired garage rock, punk and heavy metal bands, as well as contemporaries such as The Who. We experienced the raw power of live Kinks performances and witnessed the band’s beginnings, their barnstorming debut on Top of the Pops, their infamous American tour and their triumphant comeback. Featuring iconic songs such as the thrilling You Really Got Me, Waterloo Sunset, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, All Day and All of the Night, a beautiful acapella version of Days, and the climactic Lola, this was a production full of energy and invention. With music and lyrics by Ray Davies, book by Joe Penhall and direction by Edward Hall, the exhilarating show featured fine musicianship and classic songs that together created a moving portrayal of The Kinks’ amazing journey. The large cast included Ryan O’Donnell as witty, sensitive Ray, Mark Newnham playing great guitar and stealing the show as the flamboyant Dave (literally swinging from a chandelier in one scene), and a touching performance by Lisa Wright as Ray’s lonely wife, Rasa. ‘A dazzling production!’ - The Guardian.

Stiff Little Fingers at the Robin2

The brilliant band Stiff Little Fingers were formed in 1977 in Belfast, Ireland. Along with the likes of the Clash, Sex Pistols, The Jam, Buzzcocks, Undertones, Sham 69 and Stranglers, they were at the forefront of the punk movement and a particular favourite of Stiff Little FingersRadio One’s John Peel. SLF’s signature style features lyrics that meld the personal and political - music that combines the energy of punk with infectious hooks and delivery that rings of honesty and commitment. Their many studio albums demonstrate their passion and anger, and newer bands often site Stiff Little Fingers as a major influence. Over almost 40 years, their live shows have continued to be special events of energy and power, and on 14 March 2017 they appeared at a sold-out Robin2 and showed why find themselves more in demand than ever. Though focused on their new material, they were happy to play such old favourites such as Alternative Ulster and Suspect Device. Using the band’s rich musical foundation as a building block, they also featured songs from the band’s latest studio album. Particular highlights included tributes to Phil Lynott (When We Were Young) and Joe Strummer (Strummerville), as well as the angry Guilty As Sin and a devastating version of Tin Soldiers. Founder Jake Burns, with his spotted shirt and emerald green guitar was in fine passionate form, augmented by the excellent Ian McCallum (guitar), Ali McMordie (bass) and Steve Grantley (drums). Around 700 fans with interesting hair styles and enthusiastic dance moves helped create a vibrant atmosphere in the packed room and made sure that Stiff Little Fingers came back on stage for two exciting encores. The opening band of the evening was the splendidly raucous Theatre Of Hate, featuring punk rock veterans Kirk Brandon, Stan Stammers, John ‘Boy’ Lennard, Adrian Portas and Danny Ferrani.

Anita and Me at the Grand Theatre

The charming Shobna Gulati (Coronation Street, Dinner Ladies) stars in this cleverly staged new production of Anita and Me, which opened at Wolverhampton The cast of Anita And MeGrand Theatre on 14 February 2017 before touring the UK until April. Produced by the Touring Consortium Theatre Company and Birmingham Repertory Theatre, the play is adapted by multi award-winning Tanika Gupta from the book by Meera Syal, directed by Roxana Silbert and designed by Liz Ashcroft, with original music by the Ringham Brothers. This coming-of-age tale follows Meena, a young girl growing up in the only Punjabi family in a 1970s Black Country mining village. Clever, high-spirited Meena spends her days happily getting into scrapes with the other local children until one day the impossibly cool Anita enters her life. Suddenly Meena knows exactly who she wants to be but is Anita all that she seems? Soon Meena’s world is turned upside down as she is caught between two very different cultures. Anita and Me paints a comic, poignant, compassionate and colourful portrait of village life in the era of flares, power cuts, skinheads, glam rock, decimalisation and Ted Heath. Aasiya Shah is excellent in the demanding role of Meena and Laura Aramayo plays her sexy friend Anita. Shobna Gulati is touching as Meena’s gentle mother Daljit, yearning for home. Robert Mountford is Daljit’s handsome husband Shyam - ‘the Omar Sharif of Tollington’. Rina Fatania is wonderful as Meena’s formidable Nanima, a force of nature visiting from India, and Black Country actress Therese Collins is touching as Meena’s neighbour, confidante and jam tart maker, Mrs Worrall. The professional company performed alongside eight actors drawn from the local community and playing the ensemble roles. Meera Syal said, ‘I’m delighted that Anita and Me is touring the UK. It is amazing to think of so many people engaging in this story - particularly young people, who like me as a child, may be wondering how they fit in!’

Aladdin at the Grand Theatre

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre’s biggest pantomime to date is now open and will run until 22 January 2017. This spectacular, fast-paced show stars Joe McElderry (popular winner of the X-Factor final) as Aladdin and Lisa Riley (of Emmerdale and Strictly Come Dancing fame) as Slave Of The Ring, with CBeebies ‘Mr Bloom’ Ben Faulks playing the Policeman, Britain’s Got Talent soprano Lucy Kay as lovely Princess Jasmine, Black Country Aladdin 2sensation Doreen Tipton as the Lazy Empress Of China, Ian Adams as a hilarious Widow Twankey, and the engaging Adam C Booth as Wishee Washee. Stefan Pejic is the evil Abanazar and Neal Wright plays a sexy Genie Of The Lamp. Lisa Riley is making her second Grand Theatre pantomime appearance, having played Fairy Bowbells in the 2000-2001 production of Dick Whittington. The wonderful Doreen completely sold out two nights of her own comedy show, Doreen’s Grand Night Out, at the Grand Theatre in July and is always greeted rapturously by her many fans in the audience. Choreographed by Matt Flint, the dancing is outstanding throughout, including the delightful and talented youngsters from Willenhall’s Classic Academy of Dance. Direction is by BAFTA-nominated multi award-winning Bob Tomson and this fabulous production has everything you might want from a traditional pantomime - larger than life performances, bad jokes, heart-warming songs, great comedy routines, enthusiastic audience participation and fantastic special effects, including a breathtaking magic carpet ride. The history of Wolverhampton pantomime was simultaneously celebrated with an exhibition at the Light House Media Centre throughout the run of the pantomime, looking at previous Aladdin productions, over 120 years of Grand Theatre pantomime history, and features a display of traditional Aladdin costumes. Watch the Aladdin trailer.

Roy Wood Rock & Roll Band at the Robin2

On 8th December 2016, the Roy Wood Rock & Roll Band came to a packed Robin2 in Biston for an exclusive show featuring one of the legends of the music scene. Born in Birmingham, singer-songwriter Roy Wood attended Moseley School Of Art during the early 60s. His first instrument was the drums and he went on to be hugely successful as a multi-instrumentalist in the 1960s and 1970s as member and coRoy Wood-founder with Jeff Lynn, Carl Wayne and Bev Bevan of the Move, Electric Light Orchestra and Wizzard. As a songwriter, he contributed many hits to the repertoire of these bands and the BBC described him as being responsible for some of the most memorable sounds of the Seventies, playing a major role in the Glam Rock, Psychedelic and Prog Rock movements. A party atmosphere was created at the Robin2 as the DJ played classic records from the 1970s and 80s before Roy and his band appeared to performing new songs as well as many hits from his long repertoire, including Fire Brigade, I Can Hear The Grass Grow, Flowers In The Rain, Blackberry Way, California Man, See My Baby Jive and, most appropriately at this time of year, I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday. Affable, funny and sporting an impressive pony tail, Roy was in fine voice and clearly revelled in the sound of his well-schooled band, which included an ‘ever so good’ four-piece horn section as a tribute to Little Richard. The support act for this Black Country Christmas special was the excellent young Telford-based trio Ember Weir, fronted by singer songwriter Louis Coupe. This was the band’s first gig under their new name. As The Rooz, they beat acts from across the West Midlands to be crowned Live Band of the Year at The Robin 2 in 2013. Louis also appeared on BBC One’s The Voice that year where he performed Great Balls of Fire. At the Robin he switched nimbly between piano and guitar and sang up a storm, backed by his cousin Tom Russell on drums and bassist Peter Davis. Altogether a memorable evening featuring one of the top names in West Midlands music as well as one of the most promising new bands around.

Katie Melua at Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Katie Melua

Katie Melua’s was born in the ex-Soviet country of Georgia, moved with her parents and younger brother to Belfast aged nine, and became a British citizen in 2005. Since then she has achieved immense global success as a recording artist, selling in excess of 10 million albums. On 1 December 2016, Katie Melua appeared at a packed Symphony Hall in Birminghan near the end of an extensive European tour with her band and the 24-piece Gori Women’s Choir. The acclaimed singer, song-writer and guitarist took on the role of co-producer for the first time for her album, In Winter, recorded with the Gori Women’s Choir was the spark for the record. The first half of the concert featured music from this a winter-themed record, centred around the Georgian choir’s unique polyphonic sound. The female voices blended to create a sound that was both powerful and delicate in its apparent simplicity. Among the songs was the album’s opening track, The Little Swallow (Shchedryk), a traditional Ukrainian carol sometimes known as Carol Of The Bells, as well as a fine version of Joni Mitchell’s River, a new Katie Melua song, Perfect World, and the beautiful Nunc Dimittis from Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil. There was also a delicate performance of O Holy Night, which Katie sang at her first school carol concert in Belfast. The music reflects the singer’s dual cultural identity and brilliantly fused personal songs with traditional music. In the secong half of the concert, the diminutive Katie returned to the stage with the excellent bass player Tim Harries and keyboardist Mark Edwards to reminisce about her early days in the UK and her early recordings, playing a selection of classic songs from the her musical catalogue. The choir rejoined her at the end for versions of beautifully arranged versions of Nine Million Bicycles, the lovely I cried for you, a Georgian folk song about seduction, and The Closest Thing to Crazy. Katie Melua proved that she is more than just a pretty voice, she is an artist who goes her own musical way, influenced by tradition, jazz, country and classics pop.

Joe Brown at Dudley Town Hall

Joe Brown MBE is well known for being one of the UK’s original rock ‘n’ roll guitar pioneers. More recently, since The Concert For George, he has become the leading light and staunch champion of the ukulele. But his history is unique and remarkable - from the days of music hall and growing up in an East End pub through the skiffle era of Lonnie Donegan then jumping, almost overnight, into Joe Brownrock’n’roll, Joe has been a radio star, a TV personality, an actor and, not least, the head of a musical dynasty. He has seen it all and has many an entertaining tale to tell on his UK Autumn tour tour, which kicked off on October 7th at Dudley’s spacious Town Hall. For the first time ever, Joe has taken to the road by himself with no band and no dancing girls (were there ever?) - just the brilliant Joe Brown, unadulterated, solo, upfront and personal, with stories and music from over 50 years in the business. His marvelous anecdotes and impeccably timed jokes were interspersed with some of the great music that has made Joe Brown such a popular performer and a legend in his own lifetime. We heard of his skiffle band days and the British rock’n’roll era when he narrowly escaped being renamed Elmer Twitch and saw Vince Eager, clad in gold lame, disappear into the orchestra pit. He reminisced about Teddy Boys, the Beatles (especially his great friend George Harrison) and Johnny Cash, who gave him a splendid pair of leather boots that he brought along to show us. As well as being a great storyteller, Joe is a master musician, playing superb guitar, lute, ukulele and a recalcitrant banjo. As well as much loved hits such as Picture of You, That's What Love Will Do and Sea of Heartbreak, there was music by Gordon Lightfoot, Eddie Cochran, Hoagy Carmichael and George Formby, as well as a Sicilian Mafia wedding waltz and the Harry Lime Theme. Joe was joined on stage most of the evening by an old friend - guitar maestro Henry Gross, singer and founder of hit US group Sha Na Na. Even though he has been a professional performer for 60 years, Joe showed in this two-hour show that he has lost none of his talent, perky humour or spiky hair, although ‘old age is a dirty trick’. The packed audience gave him a standing ovation after the closing rock’n’roll medley, bringing Joe back for a touching encore of I’ll See You In My Dreams, a favourite song of George’s. Truly a unique evening in the company of an enduring Rock Legend. www.joebrown.co.uk

Busted at Wolverhampton Racecourse

Busted were a breath of fresh air when they burst onto the scene in 2002 with the catchy single What I Go To School For, aiming to be the natural antidote to choreographed boy bands of the time. They went on to have four UK number 1’s and eight UK top 10’s to their name, including the smash hits Year 3000, Busted LiveCrashed The Wedding, Air Hostess, and many more. Almost 11 years after the mega-selling, double-Brit-winning pop-rock trio said goodbye, James Bourne, Matt Willis and Charlie Simpson are back together and performed a storming set at Wolverhampton Racecourse on 3 September 2016. The morning rain stopped in time for an enjoyable full evening of racing, with enough favourites winning to keep the racegoers happy. The band appeared on stage around 9pm to an ecstatic welcome from their fans, some of them having been waiting, complete with duvet, since six in the morning. Matt, James and Charlie were joined by regular touring members Cobus Potgieter (drums) and Nick Tsang (guitars) – ‘these dudes make us sound good every night’. Busted stormed through their catalogue of crowd-pleasing songs, including Coming Home, Dawson’s Geek, the excellent Sleeping With The Light On, What I Go To School For and their first number one hit single, You Said No, amid a spectacular light show. This was an infectious Saturday night party experience that had the audience jumping and calling for more - from the swaying, mobile phone torch-waving fans gathered in front of the stage, to those enjoying an elevated view from the stand and the woman dancing happily on her own in the middle of the concourse. ‘I've been searching high and low...Now I'm coming home.’

The Pretty Things at the Robin 2

For over fifty years, The Pretty Things have proudly, unapologetically and righteously scorched their own, unique trail through contemporary music. A half-century (plus) of the raunchiest white-boy rhythm and blues, of punch-ups, dazzling highs and epic Pretty Thingsstruggles, of innovation and exultation, lauded by their peers, vilified by authority, a crucial influence on successive generations of acts, The Pretty Things created some of the most exciting and innovative records of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and this epochal British rock ‘n’ roll band remains a significant, challenging force in Rock ‘n’ Roll. Despite their veteran status, their contemporary relevance, undiminished energy, and inspirational commitment were evident in the band’s outstanding performance at the Robin 2 on 25 August 2016. These days the Pretty Things feature original members Phil May (charismatic vocalist) and former Rolling Stone, Dick Taylor (ace lead guitarist), long-standing member Frank Holland (guitar and harmonica), and the dynamic young rhythm section of George Woosey (bass), and Jack Greenwood (drums). The audience was soon jumping and dancing to the irresistible raw level energy of classics such as Mama, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut, Don’t Bring Me Down and Midnight To Six Man, as well as album tracks from S.F. Sorrow Is Born and the Electric Banana days. Phil and Dick went back to their acoustic roots with a heartfelt tribute to Robert Johnson and another highlight was the band’s superb version of Bo Diddley’s Mona, with an awesome drum solo from Jack Greenwood. It was an unforgettable evening that made it easy to imagine former Wolverhampton-born Pretty Thing Brian Pendleton was there in spirit. Earlier we saw a set by the excellent Roz Bruce Infusion, a three-piece Midlands band combining psychedelia, folk riffs and punk elements. As well as powerful vocals and guitar from the engaging Roz, who has been described as a female Hendrix, Gaf Evans was on bass and occasional backing vocals, plus new drummer Lee Shaw. The trio played songs from their promising upcoming third album, Doctor Doctor, which musically, lyrically and visually explores the dark concept of a psychopathic psychiatrist. Many numbers were brand new, giving the performance an unpredictable and exciting edge.

Carina Round at the Hare & Hounds

Born in Wolverhampton and now based in Los Angeles, Carina Round returned to play upstairs at the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath, Birmingham on 4 August as part of a 2016 tour to promote her new abum, Deranged To Divine. The brilliant Carina Round - Deranged to Divinesinger/songwriter/guitarist received a warm welcome back home to a sold-out house – ‘the first time that’s ever happened.’ Emerging from the deep – The Secret Of Drowning – amid atmospheric lighting, she was soon into a powerful solo set. Though professing a certain initial nervousness, she looked and sounded as impressive as ever and had the enthusiastic audience’s rapt attention as she performed some of her greatest songs, such as Backseat, the devastating Pick Up The Phone, and the beautiful You And Me, with wonderful audience participation. The evening opened with a set by She Makes War, the gloom-pop solo project of Bristol based multi-instrumentalist and visual artist Laura Kidd. She Makes War…because love is a battlefield. Though still recovering from a broken foot, Laura featured full-bodied grungey electric guitar, angst-ridden lyrics, claustrophobic vocal loops, ukulele, marching drum, foot percussion and megaphone to captivating effect. Somehow she also incorporated the famous Charles Chaplin speech from The Great Dictator. ‘More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost....’

Mary Chapin Carpenter at Birmingham Town Hall

Mary Chapin Carpenter has always chosen her own path. From her first gigs as a rising star on Washington DC’s folk scene in the early 1980s, she has made a reputation as a singer and songwriter with a mind of her own. Mary Chapin Carpenter - BirminghamOver the course of a long recording career, she has won five Grammy Awards and made 14 albums, selling over 14 million records. She has achieved the same success as a live performer, touring nationally and internationally for more than two decades, and has remained immersed in humanitarian work throughout. The acclaimed singer-songwriter and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee returned to one of her favourite venues, Birmingham Town Hall, for a concert on 26 July 2016 as part of her UK tour. Accompanied by Jon Carroll on piano and Jonathan Trebing on assorted guitars, she received a rapturous reception with performances of from her latest album, The Things That We Are Made Of, as well as timeless hits from her expansive and much loved catalogue. These included the poignant This Shirt, the classic Stones in the Road, and a gorgeous slow version of Lucinda Williams’s song, Passionate Kisses. Mary looked happy and was in splendid form, clearly delighted to be back at the elegantly grand Town Hall with its great acoustics. Her newer songs included Oh Rosetta, a moving tribute to the great Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The evening opened with a set by Rose Cousins, an award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter born and raised in Prince Edward Island (‘I went to school with Anne of Green Gables’) and currently based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Engaging and witty, she noted that the audience’s recognition of her ran from zero to negative, but soon had everyone on her side with excellent songs, ringing vocals and fine musicianship on guitar and piano. Highlights were the beautiful Stray Birds and Chosen (with audience participation ‘ooohs’), as well as fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind. A standing ovation brought Mary Chapin Carpenter back on stage for an encore with Rose Cousins, including a rousing He Thinks He’ll Keep Her and the lovely title track from her new album.

Fotheringay at the Robin 2

The three surviving members of classic folk legends Fotheringay - Jerry Donahue on guitar, Gerry Conway on drums and Pat Donaldson on bass - have reunited with a new exciting line up. Joining them on 28 June 2016 at the Robin 2 were some of the very best Fotheringayof the best: PJ Wright taking over from singer-songwriter and guitarist Trevor Lucas while Kathryn Roberts and Sally Barker respectfully filled the shoes of Sandy Denny, providing silky smooth and harmonious vocals in this first working line-up of the band put together to tour since January of 1971. During the all-seated show the audience was treated to a set of old favourites such as The Sea, Nothing More, Banks of the Nile, Knights Of the Road, Gypsy Davey, a brilliant version of John the Gun and Late November, to name a few. At times Sally Barker sounded uncannily like Sandy Denny (a hard act to follow) and Fotheringays demonstrated why this genre of music is still so truly loved. Support for the evening came from a ‘stripped down’ Red Shoes. Two critically acclaimed albums to their name, along with numerous live shows has seen the Birmingham based group become a favourite on the folk club, theatre and festival circuit. Blending folk/acoustic roots/Americana music with beautifully crafted thought provoking original songs, they delivered a performance that was passionate and uplifting. engaging the audience with tales woven around chiming acoustic guitars, fine lead vocals from Carolyn Evans and melodic harmonies. Their set included a moving tribute to the great Dave Swarbrick.

Rhythm of the Dance at the Grand Theatre

On 4 July 2016 the Grand Theatre hosted a wonderful celebration of Ireland's rich history and the art of Irish dance, from the disciplined Celtic Step to the sensual, ancient Sean Nos dance style. ‘Rhythm of the Dance’ featured amazingly talented dancers, a traditional Irish band of virtuoso musicians, and handsome young Irish tenors. Internationally rated as one of the most popular and successful Irish Step Dance shows on tour, ‘Rhythm of the Dance’ has been acclaimed by critics, audiences and millions of fans around the world. The show was an inspiring epic, bringing together the contemporary and the ancient, combining traditional dance and music with up to date stage technology. This exhilarating show received a standing ovation from the Grand Theatre audience, who joined in enthusiastically throughout the performance. See more information at rhythmofthedance.com

Jane Eyre

With choreography by Cathy Marston, and a new score by Philip Feeney, Northern Ballet’s brilliant dance actors brought this ultimate tale of romance, jealousy and dark secrets to life when they returned to Wolverhampton Grand Theatre. The ultimate heroine, Jane Eyre’s journey to overcome the odds against her is one of literature’s finest love stories. Orphaned at a young age and cruelly treated by her Aunt, Jane is a plain but intelligent child who grows up Jane Eyreknowing little kindness. Sent away to a charitable school, she later accepts a position as a Governess at Thornfield, a gentleman’s manor whose master is the dark and impassioned Mr Rochester. In spite of their social differences, an unlikely bond grows between the pair but as their romance develops, it becomes clear that Mr Rochester has a hidden past that threatens to ruin them both. Coinciding with the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth, the ‘best dance actors in the world’ (Dance Europe) brought this enthralling tale to Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre on 10 and 11 June 2016. The audience gave a rapturous reception at the end of an absorbing evening that brought Charlotte Brontë’s darkly emotional masterpiece to life. Dancing and acting were excellent throughout, with Hannah Bateman and Antoinette Brooks-Daw outstanding as Jane and Young Jane. Javier Torres also impressed as the manly yet vulnerable Edward Rochester. Victoria Sibson was tragic Bertha Mason and Pippa Moore a delightfully skittish Mrs Fairfax. John Pryce Jones conducted the Northern Ballet Sinfonia and Patrick Kinmonth’s set and costume designs contributed effectively to the dream-like atmosphere. ‘Cathy Marston displays a novelist’s touch in layering characters in her wonderfully choreographed show for Northern Ballet.’ The Guardian.

The Russian State Ballet of Siberia at the Grand Theatre

The brilliant Russian State Ballet of Siberia visited Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre in March 2016 for performances of three popular ballets: The Snow Maiden, Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. Protected from the outside world by Father Frost, the exquisite Snow Maiden plays innocently amongst the dancing snowflakes in the enchanted Land Russian State Ballet of Siberiaof Frost. Based on a traditional folk-tale, set in the snow covered landscape of rural Russia, this seasonal sparkler follows the Snow Maiden as she dances into the human world. Captivated by the colourful village and the people who live there, she ventures too far and is swept up by feelings of love, temptation and betrayal. When finally she surrenders herself completely and warms to love, her heart melts in a tragic embrace. Sleeping Beauty is every child’s favourite fairy tale, and this classic story of love and innocence, mystery and magic is set to Tchaikovsky’s score. Stunning choreography, sumptuous costumes and evocative sets formed the fantasy world in which the Lilac Fairy struggles against the evil Carabosse. Swan Lake is the greatest romantic ballet of all time, brought to life by Tchaikovsky’s haunting and unforgettable music. From the splendour of the Palace ballroom to the moonlit lake where swans glide in perfect formation, this compelling tale of tragic romance has it all. From Odile, the temptress in black tulle as she seduces the Prince by spinning with captivating precision to the spellbound purity of the swan queen, Odette as she flutters with emotional intensity, the dual role of Odette/Odile is one of ballet’s most unmissable technical challenges. The Grand was packed for all three elegant and enthralling performances by the impressive troupe from Krasnoyarsk. Formed in 1981, the ensemble is one of Russia’s leading ballet companies and has an international reputation for delivering performances of outstanding quality and depth. Dazzling costumes, fine choreography and graceful interpretations by the gifted young dancers were matched by sublime music played by the orchestra conducted by Alexander Yudasin, who received loud applause from enthusiastic audiences. The soloists and the corps de ballet helped make this an enchanting experience, leaving those present impatient for the Russian State Ballet of Siberia to return.

The Blues Band and Rebecca Downes at Robin2

The Blues Band featuring Paul Jones, Dave Kelly, Tom McGuinness, Gary Fletcher & Rob Townsend played at Robin2 on Thursday 25 February 2016. The individual members of The Blues Band have been admired by generations of rhythm & blues fans Blues Band since they formed back in 1979. Almost two and a half decades and over 16 albums later they continue to add to their growing army of followers. The band are today acknowledged throughout Europe and beyond as being amongst the very finest purveyors of rhythm & blues. They have inspired numerous other blues bands, many of which have come and gone. The Blues Band have remained a constant, increasingly popular fixture, however, and all with only a modicum of help from the record business – as Gary’s oft quoted comment states ‘the music industry doesn’t bother us and we don’t bother them.’ These boys have real feel – for their music, for their audience and for each other, and playing with maturity and passion is second nature to all of them. Paul Jones has devoted much of a creative career spanning almost 40 years to this eternal, inspiring form. Dave Kelly, with his late, great sister, Jo-Ann, introduced a whole generation to the works of Memphis Minnie, Son House, Robert Johnson and Mississippi Fred McDowell. The blues bit Tom McGuinness in the late ‘50s and has never let go - the same sharp, tight grip which still holds Rob Townsend and Gary Fletcher within its spell. Together they Britain’s finest, most skilled practitioners in the art of the blues. A great evening of blues music was started off by Wolverhampton’s own Rebecca Downes, following up her outstanding set at this same venue in December 2015. Rebecca is fast establishing herself as one of the star attractions amongst the new vanguard of blues performers in the UK with her unique and powerful voice.

An Inspector Calls - at the Grand Theatre

An Inspector Calls is one of Priestley’s best known plays and a classic of mid-20th century English theatre. Its success and reputation has been boosted in recent years by a spectacular revival by Oscar-nominated director Stephen Daldry at the National Theatre in 1992. This explosive production of Priestley’s riveting thriller, which went on to enthrall audiences in the West End, on Broadway and Liam Brennan as Inspector Goole-1throughout the world, came to the Grand Theatre from 2 to 6 February 2016. Hailed as the theatrical event of our generation, winning more awards than any other play in history, this landmark production features raw emotion, lashing rain and unnerving suspense, with a wildly imaginative staging designed by Ian MacNeil and chillingly atmospheric music by Stephen Warbeck, When Inspector Goole arrives unexpectedly at the prosperous Birling family home, their peaceful dinner party is shattered by his investigations into the death of a young woman. His startling revelations shake the very foundations of their comfortable lives and challenge us all to examine our consciences. As well as an expression of Priestley’s Socialist political principles, An Inspector Calls is a damning critique of capitalism and middle-class hypocrisy. The play is as relevant today as it was when debuted in 1945 and this brilliant production was well served by an excellent cast that included Geoff Leesely as self-important industrialist Arthur Birling and Liam Brennan as the enigmatic Inspector Goole. Diana Payne-Myers was subversively funny in the crucial role of parlourmaid Edna. ‘If you haven’t seen it, you must. If you have, see it again’ - Mail on Sunday.

Rebecca Downes & Chris Bevington at Robin 2

Chris Bevington is a superb blues guitarist and singer from the Stoke-on-Trent area. After an amazingly successful year, Chris Bevington & Friends returned to the Robin 2 on 21 December to launch their long awaited second album, Better Start Cookin’, which brings together the talents of Chris and his band of outstanding musicians, including singers Sarah Miller and Kate Robinson, and features a fantastic array of musical guest artists such as Robert Hart, Steve Overland, Rebecca Downes, Pete ‘sarge’ Frampton, Fluff and Chris Aldridge. Chris & Friends saw the full band onstage at the Robin 2 playing tracks from Better Start Cookin’ as well as their chart topping eponymous first album. Highlights included Prince’s Purple Rain and a terrific version of the classic Crossroads. A brilliant evening of music began with a set by Wolverhampton’s own Rebecca Downes in fine vocal form with her band of talented musicians, performing some terrific blues that included tracks from her own forthcoming new album, ‘Believe’. Written by Rebecca with Steve Birkett, this is the follow up to her acclaimed 2015 debut album, ‘Back To The Start’. Since her debut, Rebecca has toured the UK and Europe extensively, selling out clubs in the UK and supporting the likes of blues rockers King King in the UK, and Norman Beaker in Europe, continuing to win the affections of her audiences and further establishing herself as one of the star attractions amongst the new vanguard of UK blues performers. Her set went by all too quickly but luckily Rebecca returned to the stage to join Chris and the band in this memorable dual header Christmas Show. ‘Blues, soul, jazz and rock are blended to perfection.’ - Vive Le Rock Magazine.

Slade Christmas Special at Robin 2

Christmas really began when the enduring Slade, featuring local musical icons Dave Hill and Don Powell, appeared in their ‘Ome Town Show at Bilston’s Robin 2 venue on 17th December. Top support on a great evening was provided by all-girl rock band JOANovARC and The Assist. The girls hail from London and the Home Counties and have built up their fine musicianship and strong representation of women in rock through performances worldwide over the last 10 years. JOANovARC combine influences from Motorhead, Metallica, Joan Slade 'ome town showJett, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Queen, the Foo Fighters and Kings of Leon to create their own unique powerful sound. Highlights included music from the band's new album as well as versions of Led Zepplelin’s Whole Lotta Love and Iggy Pop’s Wild One, recorded as a single with John Altman aka ‘Nick Cotton’ from Eastenders (currently starring in pantomime at the Grand Theatre). The girls all looked great, with lead guitarist Shelley Walker displaying Hendrix-like technique and Deborah Wildish a stunning presence on the drums. The evening began in fine style with The Assist, a multigenre quartet from Walsall, formed in 2014 and comprising of brothers Mikey Stanton (vocals) and Ryan Stanton (guitar), bassist Jak Baker and drummer Ben Faulkner. Angular and edgy guitar riffs effortlessly intertwined between funky bass lines and punchy yet often disco tech like drums to produce a colourful and unpredictable sound littered with infectious melodies, unexpected tempo changes, and anthemic sing-along choruses the music takes you on a ride like no other. Labelled as ‘Birmingham’s next big thing’ by XFM, the band will release of their debut E.P. early next year. Slade arrived on stage towards 10pm before a packed and excited Robin 2 audience that locked up its daughters before being treated to a host of classic hits such as Get Down & Get With It, Coz I Luv You, Look Wot You Dun, Take Me Bak ‘Ome, Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Gudbuy T’Jane, Cum On Feel The Noize, and many more. Slade proved again that they are still one of the best live bands around and had the audience hooked from the first crashing chord. Bilston’s own Don Powell was imperious on drums and Dave Hill - celebrating his ‘95th birthday’ - capered nimbly and demonstrated supreme showmanship to go with his superb guitar playing and infectious humour. Mal McNulty took on the Noddy Holder vocals and John Berry played fine bass guitar and violin a la Jim Lea. This was an irresistibly rowdy show and the perfect way to kick off Christmas festivities.

Tommy Steele in The Glenn Miller Story at the Grand Theatre

Music legend Tommy Steele’s new musical is a spectacular imagining of the extraordinary tale of the world’s most famous big band leader - Glenn Miller. Featuring a 16 piece orchestra plus sensational performers and high-spirited choreography, The Glenn Miller Story celebrates the life and music of one of the most iconic popular musicians of the 20th century. His music defined an era; his The Glenn Miller Story-001disappearance stunned the world. Did he crash? Was he shot down? Will the mystery ever be solved? Tommy Steele became Britain’s first rock ‘n’ roll star and had his first UK No.1 with Singing the Blues in January 1957, reaching the top spot before Elvis. His amazing career includes over twenty hit singles, twelve films and such award winning stage musicals as Half a Sixpence, Hans Andersen and Singin’ in the Rain. In recent years, he has starred as Christmas miser Scrooge in Bill Kenwright’s production of the festive musical which enjoyed two successful runs at the London Palladium This role made Tommy Steele the theatre’s all-time record breaking performer, with more headline performances than any other star in the history of the Palladium. His performance in the The Glenn Miller Story shows that, even aged 78, he still has all his abundant charm and charisma. Ever the trouper, he is onstage almost throughout and quickly won over the audience with his infectious enthusiasm, familiar winning smile and a rare twinkle in his eye.Bill Kenwright’s highly enjoyable musical transported the packed Monday night audience young and old back to the days of the big band and those glorious old tunes. Glenn Miller changed the face of music from 1939-1943, when he was the most popular recording artist in the world, and the orchestra here brilliantly recreates his unique sound. As well as the irrepressible Tommy Steele, the excellent cast also featured Sarah Soetaert as Glenn’s feisty sweetheart/wife Helen. Mike Lloyd played a fine trombone in the orchestra and provided a very funny scene-stealing cameo as outrageous music promoter Cy Shribman.

Fifty Shades of Fizzog

Sue Hawkins, Jacky Fellows and Deb Nicholls formed Fizzog Productions in 2000 and ever since they have poured their energies into bringing joy, laughter and drama into the lives of their growing army of fans. Based in Dudley, the Fifty Shades of FizzogBlack Country is their home and they are proud of this unique part of the world where they find their inspiration. After a YouTube clip of their Dancing Grannies routine went viral with 1.6 million shares on Facebook, The Fizzogs took their unique brand of irreverent comedy to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe for the first time, and followed this by putting on their biggest show yet at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre on 3 September 2015. Fifty Shades of Fizzog featured dance, song, films and most of all raucous comedy, ranging from The Kids’ Nativity play to Mags and Barb, a pair of Black Country gossips who have always got an opinion even when there is no need for one (‘it slipped!’). FABA gave a highly irregular tribute to Abba - with unfortunately revealing outfits - and Mr and Mrs Cadabra performed a naff 70s magic act. We enjoyed films such as Fifty Shades of Graham and of course the brilliantly observed Dancing Grannies, whose fame and risqué antics have made them a worldwide phenomenon. They were in fine form as they fan-danced wearing only feathers and joined in an energetic aerobics class. The packed and enthusiastic audience was encouraged throughout by a hilariously droll commère, Barbara Nice (‘Barbara as in Streisand, Nice as in biscuit’), aka Janice Connolly, fresh from the tour of Phoenix Nights. Others taking part included James Collins, the excellent Emma Rollason as Ruby and Chelsea, and the Eclectic Dancers with their exotic Bhangra style. The Fizzogs are used to performing at sellout shows and seemed to enjoy themselves every bit as much as the rowdy audience at the Grand. Find out more about the Fizzogs here

Martin Parr - Black Country Stories Exhibition

Award-winning Magnum photographer Martin Parr has worked all over the world chronicling everyday people and the way they live. In 2010, Multistory commissioned him to produce a photographic portrait and archive about everyday life in the Black Country by Martin Parrvisiting churches, football matches, Diamond Jubilee parties, dances, shops, factories and horticultural shows. People from all walks of life, including Wolves football fans and Wolverhampton Civic Hall ravers, star in the latest exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery at the end of the four-year project in which Martin photographed hundreds of people from Wolverhampton, Sandwell, Dudley and Walsall. ‘Black Country people are very friendly,’ he said. ‘The acceptance and pleasure with which people greet you is quite fantastic.’ The three-month long exhibition included larger prints of Martin’s work especially selected from the Black Country Stories archive as well as 400 archive images, oral histories and four outstanding documentary films he made (also available on DVD). Martin visited foundries, pubs, working men’s clubs, markets, temples, mosques, St George’s day celebrations, Royal Wedding street parties, dog training classes and much more, capturing and celebrating the unique mix of communities living in the area. Martin Parr’s work is close-up, intensely colourful, direct and uncompromising, resulting in a warm and respectful celebration of community life. Multistory’s Black Country Stories project was supported with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, The New Art Gallery Walsall and Wolverhampton Art Gallery, where the exhibition ran from 23 May to 22 August 2015. To coincide with the launch of the exhibition, Multistory and Martin Parr released a photography book, produced in partnership with Dewi Lewis Publishing, that features images from the exhibition. Multistory: www.multistory.org.uk/

Barbara Dickson at the Grand Theatre

‘It’s years since I last played live in Wolverhampton. Maybe twenty or thirty years? I used to play the Civic Hall regularly back in the 80s during my ‘pop’ years, so I’m really looking forward to coming back to the Grand on June 20th with my band. We’ll be doing a 20140312-DICKSON-B-337real mix of stuff - some songs from recent albums, some from the theatre - and of course I still do all the old hits like ‘Answer Me’ and ‘Caravans’. I’d get lynched if I didn’t do those! The most recent concert tour I did which finished in March was the best I’ve ever done I think and I can’t wait to get out there and play some of those songs again!’ Barbara Dickson’s special one-off performance with her accomplished band at the Grand Theatre on a warm evening in June explored her catalogue of songs at an intimate level. Letting the words and melodies take centre stage, she performed a wide range of material drawing on her folk roots, her recent exploration of music by her friend and fellow Scot Gerry Rafferty and of course her classic hit records, including Another Suitcase in Another Hall and the wonderful Caravan Song. The songs reflected her impeccable musical taste - from the Byrds Going Back (written by Carole King) and Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes to songs by The Beatles (Every Little Thing and Here Comes The Sun) and Bob Dylan (‘the greatest living person now that Einstein is dead’), as well as traditional Scottish folk tunes and a superb version of Winter Song by Lindisfarne’s Geordie poet, Alan Hull. Despite being in recovery from a touch of ‘dengue fever’ caught on the Grand Union Canal, Barbara sang beautifully and her warm, friendly personality came across as she reminisced about her early days performing at venues such as the Giffard Folk Club in Wolverhampton.

As a multi-million selling recording artist with an equally impressive Olivier Award winning acting career, Barbara Dickson OBE has firmly established herself as one of the most enduring and popular artistes in Britain today. Born in Dunfermline, Scotland, her love of music was evident from an early age - she began studying piano at the age of five and by twelve had also taken up the guitar. She developed an interest in folk music whilst at school which led to floor spots singing at her local folk club and she has gone on to become the biggest selling Scottish female album artiste of all time with hits such as ‘Answer Me’, ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’, ‘The Caravan Song’ and ‘I know Him so Well’. As she her great success as a pop star, she has appeared as an actress in the award winning theatre productions, ‘John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert’, ‘Blood Brothers’ and ‘Spend, Spend, Spend’. She was the original Mrs Johnstone and Willy Russell’s muse. Barbara has lately returned to her roots after a musical odyssey of 40 years creating music, playing guitar and piano, acting and songwriting.

Madame Butterfly with Perpetuum Mobile

The brilliant Northern Ballet performed two breathtaking ballets in one evening on 2nd and 3rd June at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre. ‘Europe’s leading dance actors’ captivated the enthusiastic audience through a mix of powerful storytelling and classical dance, starting with Perpetuum Mobile (Perpetual Motion). This doesn’t tell a story but shows off the dancers at their athletic best, revealing tnorthern ballet-001heir incredible strength and prowess. Choreographed by Christopher Hampson, the piece was inspired and set to Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major, beautifully played by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia, especially leading violinist Geoffrey Allan. Featuring soloists Abigail Prudames and Joseph Taylor, the ballet created an exquisite and timeless exploration of the dancers’ emotions. For the rest of the evening, Northern Ballet transported the audience to Japan as it presented its much-loved and heartbreakingly tragic Madame Butterfly, specially adapted to provide a more intimate experience. The inspiration for the world famous musical Miss Saigon, the story of Madame Butterfly tells of the doomed love affair between an American Naval Lieutenant and his young Japanese bride, Butterfly. Madly in love and prepared to sacrifice everything, Butterfly’s world falls apart when she is abandoned and betrayed. Set to authentic Japanese music as well as orchestrations of Puccini’s opera, Northern Ballet’s interpretation of this immortal story was designed and choreographed by the company’s Artistic Director, David Nixon. The result was a mesmerising and beautifully staged ballet with outstanding performances throughout, especially by Rachael Gillespie as the doomed Butterfly, Ayami Mayati as her attentive maid, Suzuki, and the scene-stealing Trouble, Butterfly’s young son. ‘Sumptuously designed and skillfully interpreted.’ - whatsonstage.com   Northern Ballet: http://northernballet.com

La bohème & The Siege of Calais

English Touring Opera returned to Wolverhampton with a new season of fully-staged Italian opera at the Grand Theatre from Monday 13 - Tuesday 14 April. The Olivier Award-winning ETO performed Puccini’s masterpiece La bohème as well as a rare Donizetti opera, The Siege of Calais. Both were sung in full costume, in Italian with screened English surtitles, accompanied by ETO’s chorus and 25-piece orchestra conducted by Michael Rosewell. This was ETO’s first season in Wolverhampton since the success last year of Zeppelin Dreams, the opera created especially for the city which explored the tragic events during World War I airship raids. It was also the company’s first season at the Grand Theatre since winning the 2014 Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera. One of the greatest and most moving operas of all time, La bohème is a story of young love, starting on Christmas Eve in a Parisian garret. On this festive, snowy ETO_LaBoheme110315_image-®RichardHubertSmith-4601-2night the lovers Mimi and Rodolfo draw close, but poverty and ill-health force them apart. This lively and beautifully sung production, directed by James Conway, featured the delightful Ilona Domnich as Mimì and David Butt Philip as Rodolfo - a role he sang for ENO to wide acclaim. Grant Doyle was outstanding as the painter Marcello and Sky Ingram tormented him as the free-spirited Musetta. A group of 12 young local singers from East Park Primary School, aged between 8 and 11, who took part in Zeppelin Dreams last year, was recruited by ETO to contribute an engaging children’s chorus of street urchins. La bohème also features the work of Linbury Prize-winning designer Florence de Maré. Donizetti’s The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) tells the story of the citizens of Calais who offer up their lives to save their city from the besieging English army. Their sacrifice culminates in one of the most moving ensembles in all of opera, the momentous O sacra polve, o suol natio (O Sacred Earth). The opera combines Donizetti’s sparkling score with a gritty depiction of the harsh realities of a city gripped by siege. The Siege of Calais was acclaimed as one of ETO’s greatest achievements when it had its first ever UK professional tour as part of the company’s spring 2013 season, and this was its first performance in Wolverhampton at the Grand Theatre. Images courtesy of photographer Richard Hubert Smith. James Conway, General Director of ETO, said: ‘This spring ETO’s opera productions are all Italian, and all sung in that beautiful language - even though not one is actually set in Italy! La bohème is the ideal first opera, and one to which everyone loves to return - a nostalgic look at the pathos and folly of youth. The Siege of Calais is a testament of extraordinary power and beauty to those who resist and recognise value in a city or a family under threat.’ English Touring Opera: http://englishtouringopera.org.uk/

Black Country Poetry Night

Black-Country-Poetry-ArenaOn November 26, 2014, the Arena Theatre celebrated the Black Country Echoes Festival with a sell-out evening of spoken word performance by some of the Black Country’s most popular poets, including the winner of the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection Liz Berry, Wolverhampton’s Emma Purshouse, musician and compere Dave Reeves and the brilliant Billy Spake Mon, a.k.a. Brian Dakin.

 

Originating from the area and with national profiles, these poets publish and have performed their work to wide audiences. They were joined on stage. for this outstanding event to celebrate Black Country identity and dialects by upcoming local talents, who included high school students and a prize-winning poet aged over 70.

 

 

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