16 September 2004: The Hound of the Baskervilles – Playhouse, Nottingham, England, UK

I know this is going to sound weird but it’s the truth; the cast for this play consisted of four blokes and three of those played Dr Watson.

It’s hard for someone like me – who is clearly out of his depth here – to describe how it all worked but I’ll do my best. For most of the play, Sherlock Holmes was talking to one or more Dr Watson’s simultaneously, who each took it in turns to respond. The exception was when, for instance, one of the Watson’s put on a pinny to play the housekeeper for a moment or a cowboy hat to play the American. Despite sounding like a schizophrenic’s fancy-dress party, it did seem to work and you soon became accustomed to this unusual delivery.

The story is a well-known one so I won’t say too much about it, nor will I mention the actors because they were all excellent, effortlessly balancing the (implied) horror with occasional humour. However, what I will mention is the venue. Since I last paid The Playhouse a visit a long time ago, it has now been completely refurbished and done to a very high standard. Whereas before it used to appear a little ramshackle and amateurish ( – remember the trip to toilets?), now it is superbly impressive and 100% professional, inside and out.

The Limelight’s bar has undergone a complete transformation into a gleaming restaurant and the old restaurant area has been replaced by a trendy bar/lounge, all of which is decked out in polished chrome, mirrors and wood. The décor continues seamlessly through inside to The Playhouse itself maintaining the feel. The seating is very comfortable, even for a fidgeting six-footer like myself, and the view of the stage faultless. If you ever fancy going somewhere different on a first date, try giving the impression of being cultural and suggest The Playhouse. It’ll work wonders.

The play itself lasted approximately two and a quarter hours with an interval halfway through allowing a quick visit to the bar, however I’ve heard that earlier performances have lasted half an hour or so longer for some reason. Despite this, the play didn’t appear rushed or cut short in any way. There were also some excellent special effects thrown in worthy of a mention, specifically motion and animated backdrops, surround-sound, and atmospheric lighting.

All in all, a great night out and certainly one to keep the other half happy. It makes a change from seeing The Wildhearts at any rate.

@Jimbob247247

15 September 2004: Rush – NEC Arena, Birmingham, England, UK

15 September 2004: Rush - NEC Arena, Birmingham, England, UK

“And you may ask yourself-well…how did I get here?”

1989 was the last time I was at the NEC (to see Marillion) and I swore that I would never go back. The venue is too big, you can see hardly anything, the sound isn’t all that good, you have to sit down, and I’ve been put off by various horror stories from other people that have been.

So what am I doing, 15 years later, at the NEC at a Rush concert? Well, it’s their 30th anniversary tour and, although it’s hard to admit, I’ve always quite liked Rush. So, when a spare ticket became available out of the blue to go and see them, I thought “Why not? You’ll never, ever, see them anywhere smaller and It’ll be good”. And it was.

I arrived at the car park at 7:30 (tickets said doors open at six. How are you supposed to get there for that? There were rumours that Marillion were supporting, but nobody seated near me knew anything about it and I doubt they would have finished by 7:30, so we shall assume they didn’t. Shame). As I got off the bus (short journey from the car park) I could hear some music coming from the venue. The ticket was checked at the door and I was told that Rush had just taken to the stage.

After being shown to my seat (there’d be no hope of finding it otherwise) the view of the stage was much better than I had expected. Alex Lifeson was at the left of the stage, with Neil Peart seated at his (massive) drum kit in the middle, towards the back (next to the vending machine and two washing machines, which someone came on stage and reloaded every now and then) and Geddy Lee on the right of the stage, closest (but not very) to me.

The sound, lighting and musicianship were all superb. You could tell that this was a band that had been doing their thing, very professionally, for a long time.

The first half of the concert seemed to fly by and at about 8:45 the band left the stage with Geddy saying “We’re off for a quick break, go and get yourselves something”. I didn’t. I sat in my chair and looked around. The majority of the audience seemed to be of the 40ish age group, with a few younger kids thrown in. I was pleasantly surprised to see how full the venue was. If it hadn’t sold out, then it very nearly had. And this was the second NEC date, “by popular demand”.

After about a quarter of an hour, in which I found that I was actually sat in row “N” instead of row “M” as it said on my ticket (I was told to sit there by the usher), the screen came up and we were shown a short video. I think this was the one with the dragon and the backstage pass (there were a few throughout the show as a backdrop), which he burnt and then proceeded to try and destroy the band by firing firebombs at the stage. It looked very effective with fire swooping out of the screens to explode on the stage near the drum riser. You don’t get that sort of stuff in Leicester Students’ Union and it made quite a change.

Somewhere in the middle of the video, the band returned to the stage.

I should probably mention some of the songs they played at this point. Obviously, the ones I enjoyed the most were the ones that I knew. This was hampered slightly by the fact that my Rush collection seems to have been lent to one of those nice people that fails to give anything back and therefore I had had no chance to refresh myself with any of the material. Here’s a brief list of some of the tracks played in the second half, “Between The Wheels” from the “Grace Under Pressure” album, “By Tor & The Snow Dog” from “Fly by Night” and “Secret Touch” from “Vapour Trails” and a cover of the Who’s “The Seeker” from the new “Feedback” album. “By Tor & The Snow Dog” seemed to have a bit missing at the end.

In my opinion, despite the first half flying by, the second half of the performance was the better of the two (with the exception of Neil Peart’s drum solo. I will not start ranting about drum solos, but while this was on I remembered why I stooped going to Rock gigs. Lets just say if you like Drum solos you’d have loved this one. To be honest this one was partially saved by the fact that it was different as there was a bit of a brass section there as well and it was more than just drums). Geddy spent more time talking to the audience between tracks and he and Alex exuded more of a presence on the stage, chasing each other round the stage and generally seeming to have more fun. Alex pretended to cry when it was getting towards the end, as this was the last UK date, and the light show got even better.

After leaving the stage and receiving a standing ovation for about 5 minutes, the band returned and Alex and Geddy emptied the two washing machines and chucked the clothes into the audience (I don’t know why). Then we got “Summertime Blues” and another track before Rush left the stage again, saying “thankyou, see you again soon and goodnight”, and the lights went up.

I left the venue at exactly 23:00 with the video showing a shot of Alex (I think) saying “what are you lot still hanging around for? Go home, I’m tired and I need my bed” from his armchair.

Three and a quarter hours of solid entertainment, including (I think) 31 tracks. A very good performance. “They gave their moneys worth” was a quote I heard later.

Last mention to the venue. That was the most uncomfortable chair I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit in. The NEC? Never again!

Until the next time…”Same as it ever was…same as it ever was…”

11 September 2004: Strangers on a Train – Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, England, UK

It’s been quite a While since I last saw a “proper” play. My last trip to the theatre was the Rocky Horror Show and the time before that was to accompany my old mum to see Singing in the Rain. So it was quite nice to do one of those spur of the moment things and go and see a play on the first night of our holiday in the lakes.

The story is probably best known to most people from the 1951 Hitchcock film starring Farley Granger and Ruth Roman, and is centered around two strangers who meet on a train (strangely enough), both of whom have obstacles getting in the way of their future. These obstacles are the unfaithful wife of one man and the controlling father of the other.

This version was staged in the rather quaint Theatre by the Lake in Keswick which as it’s name suggests is on the shore of Derwentwater.

We were a bit late getting tickets as it was a very last minute decision and ended up sitting on stools in the upper tier of the auditorium, this however was no real hardship as the view was excellent and it was only a short hop to the bar.

The stage design was excellent, the scene changes involved moving the same bits of the set to different positions on the stage and just watching how this was done was fascinating in itself, the lighting effects were also fantastic and I think that this simplicity really added to the dark atmosphere surrounding the play.

The cast were all pretty good actors no one really famous but a few TV and radio credits amongst them (is it just me or do all actors have bit parts in The Bill).

Overall this was good production well worth the ticket price.

Cheers.

Simon

04 September 2004: Ginger – The Rig, Rock City, Nottingham, England, UK

 04 September 2004:  Ginger - The Rig, Rock City, Nottingham, England, UK

Ginger, the legendary hard rockin’ hard drinkin’ frontman for the Wildhearts, has been doing these small venue acoustic sets for a couple of years now, but I’ve never been in the right place at the right time to catch one. Until now that is.

I have a copy of the album “Grievous Acoustic Behaviour” so I had a good idea of what to expect, and I was looking forward to being entertained with witty banter and some more laid back versions of some of my favourite tracks.

The rig isn’t a big place, so I knew the crowd wasn’t going to be huge, but arriving in the middle of the support act to find the place pretty empty was a bit of a surprise. The Support was supplied by a young lady on the acoustic guitar who did a few covers of some well known songs, very competent but not that thrilling, apart from a neat rendition of the New Order classic “Blue Monday” which I thought was very good.

Ginger took to the stage about 9:15, with Random Jon Poole and Hot Steve in tow, and the main event for the night began. The set consisted mostly of Wildhearts tracks, obviously as that’s why we were there, but the quieter nature of the gig meant that there was lots of opportunity to sing along. Even though the crowd was small they were in good voice and belted out the words. Some of the highlights were “So Into You”, “29 x The pain” (Always a crowd pleaser) “News of the World”, you get the picture.

In amongst these was a hearty rendition of “Unlucky In Love” (not the Leo Sayer one the other one, you now it goes “Unlucky in love, Unlucky in love, All of my lovers reside up above, I might as well face it when push comes to shove, I guess I’m unlucky in love”, don’t know who did write it though) (Edit; Unlucky In Love, Stop Thinking, Clam Abuse [2003]) given by Trace from the merchandise stand (cardboard box on a table) and another lass, the theme from Cheers and a very surreal version of Focus’s “Hocus Pocus”.

Apparently there was also something to do with an inflatable sheep and something else with a ladies shoe but as the stage is low I couldn’t quite see what was going on but Trace suggested that it was probably a good thing not to see it!!

The guys left the stage around 11:00 as the punters were turning up to rock the night away in the rig, leaving a small but appreciative crowd feeling well entertained, and not a little tiddly (because the crowd was small, access to the bar was not as restricted as normal).

So, a great night, well worth a tenner, shame about missing the football though.

Before I go though I have one thing to say to you all.

Potatas, potatas, potatas are new.

Cheers

Simon

04 September 2004: Ginger – The Rig, Rock City, Nottingham, England, UK

04 September 2004:  Ginger - The Rig, Rock City, Nottingham, England, UK

I don’t know why but there always seems to be a decent football match on the telly when I’m meant to be watching a gig at Rock City/The Rig. This occasion was no different, meaning that I missed most of the support act; a girl unknown to me doing an acoustic set of covers from what I did manage to hear. It was alright but the Alanis Morrisette number automatically got my back up a little.

And so on to the main attraction. The Rig was distinctly empty with barely enough people in to have a disco, let alone a gig. The stage set-up didn’t help the atmosphere either because only the people at the very front could actually see what was happening, despite the small turnout. Alongside the sight of apparently self-produced live CD’s being sold out of a cardboard box, it was a slightly surreal atmosphere as far as I was concerned. My perception could be wrong but I would have thought that the front man of a long-running band who had just supported The Darkness on a huge worldwide tour could have expected something a little grander. Instead, this was reminiscent of a band just starting out.

With Random Jon on bass and Hot Steve also on guitar, Ginger appeared on stage to start the ball rolling. The set consisted of a good mix of old, new, covers and random songs from The Wildhearts/Ginger’s back-catalogue. They started with “Shame on You” and followed this with (in no particular order); News of the World, Looking for the One, In Lily’s Garden, Inside Out, Re-inventing the Wheel, 29 x the Pain, Girlfriend’s Clothes, So Into You, There’s Only One Hell, Cheers, Nurse Maximum, Nothing Ever Changes, Two-way Idiot Mirror, and Geordie in Wonderland. Lots of great sing-along songs for everyone to join in with.

In terms of covers, after giving Random Jon an inflatable sheep with which he apparently performed an amusing act – which unfortunately I couldn’t see – they played “Unlucky in Love”, guest vocals provided by two girls willingly dragged up on stage. I could be wrong but I think this might be a Leo Sayer cover. Yup, Leo Sayer Edit; No, Unlucky In Love, Stop Thinking, Clam Abuse [2003]. They also played “Hocus Pocus” by Focus (a classic) and another number that “…might be The Darkness’s next single, but if it isn’t it bloody well should be!” Cue lots of melodramatic guitar-action and high-pitched warbling, not unlike “Hocus Pocus” come to think of it. And how could I forget the “Potatoes….” number? I wish I could, actually. Just imagine a few lines more-or-less repeated over and over again like a football chant in an attempt to lodge it in the subconscious part of your brain. The marketing people for King Edward’s could have learned a lesson, that’s for sure.

There’s not a lot else to say, really. The set finished with “Getting It” before the stage was hurriedly cleared to make way for the punters who were drifting in from the main part of the club upstairs. It was an abrupt end to the show, just a shame the band couldn’t stay for a proper round of applause and perhaps play an encore.

As always with anything related to The Wildhearts/Ginger, it was a great night and a relief to finally see one of his fabled acoustic gigs. Catch them whenever and wherever – while you still can.

Cheers
@Jimbob247247