Friday, 30 November 2012

Broadway To Bluegrass...ish (Monday 26th Nov - Club 229 Great Portland Street)

poster design by Rachel Suzanne

This gig was organised by Ramin as a small, intimate one to say thank you to his fans who have joined him on the road to find out this year. He, very aptly, named it ‘Broadway to Bluegrass’ as this encapsulates the areas he’s explored so far – musicals being his break into the business and bluegrass and folk being his true passion.

I’ve been on my own, personal road to find out this year too, discovering who I am as an individual again. This involved actually doing things alone which has been scary but exciting. I’ve been to West End shows, stayed at hotels, gone to big public events like West End Live and eaten at restaurants (which I still don’t particularly like doing on my own, truth be told, but one has to eat). Of all the things I’ve done this year, though, going solo to a gig made me the most nervous. I would never normally go into a club or bar without being with a group of people. This was different, though. The one thing I’ve said this year is I don’t want to miss out on things anymore - just because friends from home have different interests, doesn’t mean I should miss out on mine, especially since theatre is such an important part of my life.

There are two factors that made it easier though. For one, there’s something different about being in London. The easy anonymity that it naturally lends; many people pass by but each are in a private world of their own. The second is the portal to a pool of likeminded people called Twitter. Although I would surely have met these people along the way, the introduction is made more fluid having already communicated online. Twitter has been the cement holding my road together this year – for meeting people & for finding out about events/shows/gigs.

Right. I’m going to get onto the gig itself now, I promise.

Upon entering the venue, it strikes me how understated it is. Not dissimilar from my local gig venue (though not quite so grimy). I hear the excited hum of chatter drifting from the venue. I turn up just before the 8pm start time, at 7.50pm, as I’m nervous about waiting in a bar too long on my own. It’s okay, though, the view is still great and I end up standing with Heather from Eastenders to my right and Ramin’s guests behind me (who these were, I’ll reveal later).

Just as I’ve got a vodka and lemonade from the bar, Ramin walks onto the stage to the excited applause from the eagerly awaiting audience. He immediately kicks off the show with ‘Broken Home’ from his album and the atmosphere is vibrant with people immersed in admiration for this man.

**To the right, you’ll find the picture of the set list for Monday evening. I’m not going to do an expose on each song on the list because that would be boring for us both. Instead I’ll touch on what I felt were the highlights of the evening (in no particular order, because that’s the way I roll)**

Near the start was one of my personal favourites – ‘Constant Angel’. I always like to hear him play it live. For me, it makes me think of my dad watching over me. For some, it may have religious or spiritual connotations; others may just like it for the beauty of the music alone. Whatever the reason, a lot of people feel drawn to this one.  

There was a song from the musical ‘Ragtime’ which I’m not too familiar with and only vaguely know because I think Ramin performed it at St David’s Hall earlier this year. It’s a song called ‘Make Them Hear You’ and gave me goosebumps when he sang it.

Another musical theatre number Ramin performed was from Jonathan Larson’s lesser known musical ‘Tick, Tick, Boom’. The song’s called ‘See Her Smile’ and the way Ramin sang it, with the rock tinged musical theatre voice, I could suddenly picture him as Roger from Larson’s slightly better known musical ‘Rent’.

To end the first act he called Lee Mead (Joseph & the Technicolour Dreamcoat) and Stephen Rahman-Hughes (Teatro) to the stage from where they had been watching toward the back of the venue. Together they sang an impromptu, very upbeat version of ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Morning’ that was a lot of fun to watch and join in with.

There was a little Sheytoons reunion on this evening also, with Hadley Fraser joining Ramin on stage for a few of their own songs, including ‘Broken’ and ‘Driftwood’ .There was also talk of getting together in January and February for a Sheytoons gig. I’m not sure if this was just a bit of teasing, but watch this space.

I also really enjoy watching Ramin perform songs by the artists that have influenced him such as Johnny Cash (‘Folsom Prison Blues’), Avett Brothers (‘The Once and Future Carpenter’) and Mumford & Sons (‘White, Blank Page’) and the harmonies in 'Closer Walk With Thee' are always stunning to hear and this song often goes round my head days later.

Ramin’s other guest was Simon Bailey, currently playing Raoul in the Phantom of the Opera 25th anniversary tour. He performed a beautiful song called ‘Goodbye’ from his new album ‘Looking Up’. It’s a poignant message to someone he’s lost and I think that’s something we can all relate to which is why it struck a chord with most people there that evening.

Ramin ended on his song ‘Coming Home’ which is perfect as a last song both for lyrics and the powerful music.

Except it wasn’t quite the last song. I think none of us wanted to leave and so we cheered on until Ramin and co came back on stage to do a few more encore songs, finally ending with his rendition of Greenday’s classic ‘Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)’. Which, I think it’s safe to say, everybody there most certainly did.

I also want to acknowledge Ramin’s band without which the evening wouldn’t have been quite so dynamic – Katie Birtill providing back-up vocals and beautiful harmonies, Ruth Clarke-Irons on violin, Sergio Ortega on guitar, Steve Young on guitar and vocal harmonies. The other members of the band I only know first names for which I found on Ramin’s twitter timeline -  Kenny on keyboard, Phil on Drums and Dave on Bass. 

I couldn’t leave the venue on this occasion without meeting Ramin. I’m not particularly one for needing to meet the people I admire but since I had the opportunity for once (since I didn’t need to rush for a train or battle weather conditions or leave because a friend has aching feet) I decided I should take it. He was very much the gentleman that I’ve heard he is, shaking my hand and thanking me for coming. 

As nervous as I was about attending this gig, I’m glad that I did. I had a lot of fun, the atmosphere was exhilarating, the music breathtaking and it was nice to meet some people I chat to on twitter. A very memorable evening, indeed. 

Talking of people from twitter, I’m going to direct you to some of their blogs/ you tube channels now for some pictures and videos from the event, rather than post them all individually, which would result in a ridiculously long list. I always think it’s nice to read several peoples experiences of an event too – it paints a more detailed overall picture:-

Ignited by a Dream - Blog post with videos (both nights) 
Thoughts of a Blue Eyed Girl - Blog post with pictures & videos

below are some good youtube channels belonging to some very reliable people who often film these events. It's quite beneficial to subscribe to them on youtube if you don't like to miss out on theatre events but can't always be there.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

John Owen Jones Unmasked Live at Swansea Grand Theatre (Saturday 17th November)

It was quite a strange feeling having a big musical theatre performer choose my local theatre as the venue to showcase songs from his albums. In the weeks leading up to the show, there was a buzz from people all over the uk on twitter and for once I didn’t need to get train tickets or book a hotel or do the dreaded packing as I was already here.

As someone who is often at the Grand Theatre (in fact I’m there this week as stage crew for Abbey Player’s Sound of Music) I can tell you that I haven’t experienced an atmosphere here quite as electric as it was for John Owen Jones. The audience were made up of many familiar local faces, some familiar twitter faces (such as his biggest fans – the Archer family) and coach loads of completely unfamiliar faces. 

The reason he chose Swansea is, of course, because he hails from a nearby town called Burry Port. This meant that all his family could attend, most of whom sat in one of the boxes on the left (or, to use the correct jargon, stage right... the stagey part of me won’t let that go).

This made for a few special moments, most prominently when he dedicated the song ‘New Words’ from his self-titled album to his son, at the end of which I could see his wife wiping away a tear or two.

He opened the show with his powerful version of ‘Thunderball’ from his most recent album ‘Unmasked’ then took us through the back catalogue of songs from both this album and his previous self-titled one.

John Owen Jones didn’t spend the evening alone on that stage, however. He was accompanied by a large orchestra who sat on stage with him and produced a beautiful wall of sound for his powerful vocals.

He’d also invited along some special guests including one of his Christine’s, the beautiful, talented soprano Katy Treharne who soared through a rendition of ‘Think of Me’ and dueted with Mr Owen Jones singing ‘All I Ask of You’ (during which John Owen Jones made an “on purpose” mistake.... to check we were listening properly, of course).

His next guest was a young boy called Jack Sullivan who toured with Oliver! last year and the beginning of this year and treated us to a performance of  ‘Where is Love’ from the aforementioned musical as well as an Eva Cassidy style version of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. You can also catch him singing again with John Owen Jones next week in Edinburgh at The Usher Hall.

The last guest was the real surprise as he wasn’t even listed in the programme. This is a man who can challenge John Owen Jones for the crown of king of the Phantom’s, having been described as the definitive Phantom and clocking up an impressive 2750 performances. The final guest was the one and only Peter Karrie. It was a real treat hearing the pair do a specially arranged duet of ‘Music of the Night’. To see my Gramps’ face light up when Karrie came on stage was worth so much more than the price of the tickets (don’t worry, this is just a rare soppy moment and it won’t happen again.... probably).  

Owen Jones left till last his two ‘most requested’ songs, both of which follow a similar theme and run nicely into one another. First the very moving, poignant ‘Tell My Father’ from a musical I’d never heard of called ‘Civil War’ by Frank Wildhorn (whose shows ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ and ‘Scarlett Pimpernel’ you might know) and ending with a song from one of the most loved musicals that he owes a lot to – that is, of course, ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserables.

It wasn’t just an evening of serious songs though. A couple of comedy songs were thrown in, including a song where John Owen Jones called two audience members to the stage and had them blow raspberrys at various intervals, then asked all the audience members to join in.

Another was a song he claimed he’d never been able to get right and that the MD, John Quirk, had bet him £50 he couldn’t do. It was a song written to Chopin’s Minute Waltz (I think – please correct me if that’s wrong) which got a little faster each time it was played. By the end the lyrics were little more than a blur – very amusing yet impressive all at once.

There was good banter between John Owen Jones and John Quirk – you can tell that they get on really well and are friends as well as colleagues and there was even a nice moment where Quirk sang the harmony for a song the Owen Jones really wanted to do, but couldn’t have otherwise (I’m not going to tell you what the song was, though..... because I can’t remember, not because I’m mean)

At the end, John Owen Jones did a signing and luckily I was quite near the front of the queue and didn’t have to wait too long. As the queue was so long, however, we were rushed through a little.

It was a very enjoyable evening with a fantastic atmosphere full of people who were all there to celebrate John Owen Jones’s voice. If he tours this show, I feel it could use a little polishing as some bits seemed a little clunky and disjointed and he could, perhaps, have thrown in some more anecdotes as these are what make an audience warm to a performer. Overall, though, I had a really good time and my grandparents seemed to really enjoy it too.