Friday, 27 February 2015

Udderbelly is back!!!!

IT’S back. Yes, the purple upside down cow that has become a fixture of the South Bank for the past six years is about to be re-inflated once again.
Its arrival in its pasture next to the Southbank Centre on April 9 heralds the start of a seventh season of the Udderbelly Festival and three months full of an eclectic mix of circus, comedy and family shows.
Since its inception at the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Udderbelly has grown into one of London's most popular events on the cultural calendar and it has cemented its reputation for top class live entertainment at ticket prices that won’t break the bank.
"The original intention was to create a festival right in the heart of London with a laid back and accessible feel to it, something for all the family," says festival director Fi McCurdy.
"It has grown over the years, and developed each time but the essence remains the same and we try and make sure that the shows we offer are varied enough to appeal to all ages.
“This year is no different and in fact we have more family shows this season which is really exciting.
"We are also so pleased to be back as we love the South Bank. It's a the perfect place for us to be - right on the river, next to some amazing cultural attractions and it's really vibrant and buzzy which is exactly the atmosphere we want to create with Udderbelly."
This year's line up promises something for everyone with circus shows for grown ups as well as for the younger members of the family, plus comedy for all ages and plenty to eat, drink and do in the pasture.
This year's headline circus shows are Circus Geeks, which will be in residence between May 26 and June 21 and Bromance which will set up camp between June 24 and July 19.
“We are incredibly excited about being able to bring these two shows to Udderbelly,” says Fi.
“Bromance is a British group who are amazing. Frenetic, friendly, captivating and casual – it’s an incredible show and they are going to wow the crowd.
“Circus Maximus is also back again with a beautiful show which I'm sure will be a hit with audiences as it has been before."
To complement the circus will be comedy shows by both established comedians and those who are just making their mark.
Amongst the highlights will be star turns from the likes of rising stars Katherine Ryan and Max & Ivan not to mention Nina Conti, Jason Byrne, Sara Pascoe and Andrew Maxwell as well as Comedy Club 4 Kids - a chance for youngsters to try out their own jokes with help from top class comedians.
As well as the new there are some familiar faces back for another outing.
These include the ever popular Horne Section, Richard Herring, comedic conjurer Pete Firman and science comedy phenomenon Festival of the Spoken Nerd.
For the younger members of the family there are plenty of treats in store.
“The cow is an attraction in its own right and quite a draw," says Fi. "But it's really important we have a comprehensive programme of shows for kids because it's great for families to do stuff together.
"This year we have some really cool acts including the Amazing Bubble Man which is beautiful. He’s one man in a giant bubble who creates amazing shapes. It’s captivating, colourful and gorgeous to see and we are so pleased he's going to be with us.
“Morgan & West is a time travelling Victorian magic duo who will present a show where magic and silliness know no bounds – it’s absolutely brilliant and suitable for everyone,” she adds.
And if all that wasn't enough, a month after the start of Udderbelly, its neighbour the London Wondergound pitches its glorious spiegeltent once again to bring a spectacular slice of circus and cabaret to the centre of the capital.
“The Wonderground seems to go from strength to strength and we are delighted that it too is back,” says Fi.
“Our two headline shows are Scotch & Soda – which runs from May to August – and Briefs which runs from August to the end of September.
“Both are great, really exciting, full of daredevil and stunning acrobatics but both very different stylistically and in content!"
Among the other acts appearing are Al Murray, Tiger Lillies, Black Cat Cabaret, House of Burlesque and for the littlies, the brilliant Monski Mouse and her baby disco.
That the festivals have been such a success over the years is not just down to the programme of acts that the team bring in.
It is also down to the ticket prices which aim to be as competitive as possible.
"I think Udderbelly's success - and more recently Wonderground - has been due in part to the fact the ticket prices are good," says Fi.
“London is an expensive city. There are so many demands on the cash in our pockets – particularly for families – and we don't want people to feel as though they have spent the earth to see something. So it’s always been our intention, and still is, that we keep prices as low and as competitive as possible.
“Tickets start from about £10 – which also is keen enough for people to take a punt on seeing a show they might not otherwise have done.
"The festival has developed a lot since we first started and grown too – in fact it’s a huge site and this year we have more things to do in the pasture – you can eat and drink, chat and take in the atmosphere but there will also be more things for the kids to do which will be great - so it's very family friendly. All we need now is some spring and summer sunshine!"

Udderbelly is on at the South Bank between April 9 and July 19. London Wondergound is on from May 7 until September 27. Visit for full listings.

Review - Gods and Monsters, Southwark Playhouse


He may have been best known for his 1930s films Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein but Dudley-born Hollywood director James Whale was also responsible for plenty of others.
These include Journey’s End and what many widely consider the definitive film version of Showboat – something he is at pains to point out in Gods And Monsters, an imagined retelling of Whale’s last days by playwright Russell Labey.
The play, now on at the Southwark Playhouse, shows Whale to be a somewhat lonely figure - indeed a shadow of his former successful self.
Now abandoned by the studios, he is left alone, haunted by the ghosts – and monsters – in his head and by a series of strokes which have left him feeling at times feeble and frustrated at his failing health.
That is until a new gardener, Clayton Boone, turns up at the house. Whale, an openly gay man, can’t resist him or trying to seduce him and employs every subtle trick in the book to do so – including persuading him to be a life model for his painting.
Boone, played admirably by Will Austin, is all muscle and although somewhat sceptical initially of posing for his painting, eventually becomes a friend and confidante to Whale.
The play successfully mixes the fact and the fiction and intertwines the past with the present beautifully.
Indeed it is a funny, dramatic, clever and absorbing piece of theatre, well staged and beautifully acted by the five-strong cast – particularly by Ian Gelder as Whale.
He brings sensitivity, longing, intelligence and plenty of emotion to Whale in what is an incredibly moving performance.

Gods And Monsters is on at Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until Saturday, March 7. Tickets cost £18. Visit or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

REVIEW - Dara, National Theatre


RELIGION and sibling rivalries are at the centre of an epic adaptation of Shahid Nadeem's play Dara, now on at the Lyttelton.
Written by Tanya Ronder and directed by Nadia Fall it tells the story of the 17th century prince Dara Shikoh and his brother Aurangzeb, heirs to the Muslim empire, whose bitter rivalry helped shape modern day India.
Dara, played brilliantly by Zubin Varla, is the crown prince and a liberal who believes religious faiths can co-exist alongside one another. He also has the love of the people and of his emperor father.
His younger brother Aurangzeb, played by Sargon Yelda, fundamentally disagrees believing that it is Islam that is the only true religion.
Their disagreements boil over and come to a head when Dara finds himself arrested and tried for apostasy.
He is taken to court where he tries and fails to make a case for his beliefs and to convince them that he is no traitor to Islam or India.
The court scene is incredible and electric with Dara putting forward compelling arguments for his beliefs and ideals, wrong footing the prosecutor at every turn.
Indeed it is one of the most compelling, gripping and absorbing parts of the production.
The action takes place over many years following the princes' lives. It also jumps about between the past and present showing how and why events have unfolded in the way they have and offers suggestions as to why characters behave in the way they do.
Visually stunning and with a fantastic cast this is a fabulous production. The set is both beautiful and cleverly constructed with lattice effect screens which move across the stage not only symbolising the changes in time and place but also help to go from one scene to the next.
Ultimately it is a fascinating story of the faith, politics and history of India and its relevance to today's struggle against religious extremism is clear.

Dara is on at the National Theatre until April 4. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

INTERVIEW - Julian Ovenden

TWENTY years ago Julian Ovenden saw the original production of My Night With Reg at the Royal Court Theatre.
So good was it that it inspired him to become an actor. Now two decades later he finds himself in a revival of Kevin Elyot's award-winning play.
The production has just transferred to the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury after a successful run at the Donmar Warehouse last year where it received rave reviews.
The Peckham-based actor who was most recently seen playing Lady Mary’s suitor Charles Blake in ITV's Downton Abbey says the play has lost none of its appeal since its debut 21 years ago.
Set within London's gay community in the 1980s against the backdrop of the AIDs epidemic it follows the lives and loves of a group of gay men over a number of years.
However Julian insists it should no longer be considered a niche "gay play".
"It's about three old friends from university who meet up again in London after about 10 years at a flat warming party," the 38-year-old tells me.
"It charts their friendship over the course of four years but under the shadow of HIV and AIDs.
"It's not a gay play, neither is it about HIV although both are important to the piece.
"Really it's a study in the weathering of friendships over time, about unrequited love, loss, secrets, lies and grief. It's both very, very funny and quite sad and has a life affirming message."
That the play still holds its appeal 20 years on is testament to what Julian says is its "great writing".
“The writing is very succinct and articulate and there is a real depth and heart to it,” he says.
“The main themes of the play have great currency and will have currency in 20 years time – it’s still as relevant today as it was when it was written and hasn't dated at all.
"It was a topical piece at the time and the first gay play that wasn't about being gay or coming to terms with sexuality. It was about other things and that was quite refreshing and revolutionary.
“It’s rare to find writing that is so good.”
Julian says he was keen to take on the role of John not only because the play inspired his career choice but also because he likes a challenge.
"I thought it was really interesting piece and a challenging role because my character is the least likeable of those in it and one with the fewest jokes!" he says.
"He's a bit of a straight man really as all the other characters are quite funny. However everything happens to him.
"It's a challenge to play those sorts of roles which is what I like. With this it's because of the journey John goes on in terms of self awareness."
Another challenge was to appear naked during the show - the first time Julian has bared all on stage but it seems it was "no big deal".
"Being naked is not your every day thing," he chuckles. "You get asked to do all sorts of weird stuff as an actor and some of it is quite scary which this was to begin with.
"Initially I had to gear myself up for it but I've done it about 100 times now so I'm a bit blasé about it.
"That's about as scary as it gets though. And having done that I should think I could stomach anything so I can tick it off the list," he jokes.
So what else is on that list I ask.
"There are lots of theatrical parts I would like to do but I've never had a particular hankering to do Hamlet," he says.
Instead he lists Chekhov as a favourite playwright and a desire to do more of the classics but adds a nice meaty role on TV or film and “a musical in the next couple of years” are on his to do list.
"I don't like to be pigeon holed or boxed in but like variety and to do as much as I can,” he adds. “It keeps me fresh, engaged and inspired.”
And that has been true of his career so far. He was a choral scholar at St Paul’s, studied drama after reading music at Oxford University, has recorded albums and as well as having performed musically at Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center in New York, he also has several musicals under his belt.
But it’s acting that he says is his main focus and he clearly loves the mix of roles it offers both on stage and screen.
However, if his fans are hoping for his re-appearance as Charles Blake in the next series of Downton Abbey they will be disappointed.
“It was great to be part of the show but I think the time has come for me to leave the character behind,” he says.
“It was a great experience but I like to be in the centre of things so I’m now after bigger roles!”
And in the meantime he is more than happy to hang out with his family in Peckham.
“I’ve lived here for five years and I love it,” he says. “I’ve seen the area develop a lot over that time. It’s getting a bit trendy but it still retains an honesty and sincerity and is not too flash which is what I like. It's also still very family orientated and diverse and I like that.
“I grew up in North London which had a great community feel and it's the same here. Forest Hill, Nunhead and Peckham, they all have that little villagey atmosphere that bring people together.
“It's great for kids - for everyone in fact - when you live in a big city the green spaces are very important. I love it and I feel lucky to be here.”

My Night With Reg is on at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue until April 11. Tickets from £10. Visit for listings.

Women of the World Festival - Southbank Centre

IN the 21st century it is a sobering thought that there is not one country in the world where there is gender equality.
It is one of the many reasons why Jude Kelly established the Women Of The World Festival (WOW) in 2011.
What began as a three-day event to hear discussions on the big topics affecting women and girls — domestic violence, sexism in the workplace and equal pay – it has now become an established annual event in the Southbank Centre’s calendar and is part of its core commitment to promoting equality for women and girls.
This year it celebrates with an expanded programme of events – beginning on March 1 – and an ambition to present the festival in all 53 Commonwealth countries by 2018.
WOW has been curated by Domino Pateman, working alongside Jude, and has as its president, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, a long term supporter of the event.
Over eight days and across the entire Southbank Centre site, it will feature more than 300 speakers and performers appearing in more than 200 events, many of them free with organisers predicting more than 20,000 will visit and take part.
It will again coincide with International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 8 with a full day of talks, workshops and performances.
And proving its global reach and its success over the years, the line up brings together a stellar roll call of national and international names – from actresses to comedians, chief executives to emerging talent, representing sport to politics, fashion to education.
“The festival this year is going to be amazing,” Domino tells me. “It has grown over the years and we have an expanded programme with a real range of things on offer.
“This has in part been informed by a series of workshops and events we hosted where we asked people what they wanted to see and experience.
“We are very excited about it.”
The highlights of the festival are many. It kicks off on Sunday with The Woman’s Hour Debate in the Purcell Room and in the days following features a host of fascinating talks, debates and workshops, covering a multitude of topics.
Those taking part include the likes of novelist Kate Mosse, DJs Gemma Cairney and Lauren Laverne, journalist Caitlin Moran, singers Annie Lennox and Rebecca Ferguson, anti poverty campaigner Jack Monroe and civil liberties campaigner Shami Chakrabarti.
Sarah Millican and Sandi Toksvig will headline Mirth Control, the annual night of comedy and music inspired by great women and featuring the all women WOW orchestra and Liz Carr and Bird La Bird will present a one off night of cabaret and comedy.
As well as the fun side and the triumphs and promotion of women’s achievements there is an underlying serious side.
“Although we celebrate womanhood and all the good things that have happened over the years, we also need to investigate why there is still gender inequality in every country and what it is that stops women and girls achieving their full potential,” says Domino.
“Massive inequality still exists and this needs to change and we will be hosting workshops, talks and debates to explore that.
“For example, we will be looking at what the issues are that women in sport are facing through to some of the most awful things that can happen such as violence against women with talks by survivors of rape and domestic violence and a workshop on consent.
“Jude will do a talk on personal responsibility that really looks at this. Questions that will be asked include what level of inequality can women stomach?”
Elsewhere Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, will make the economic case for gender equality across the globe, Salma Hayek Pinault will present the UK premiere of her animation The Prophet and female MPs including Harriet Harman will go head to head at pre-election hustings.
There will also be the London premiere of The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe, a piece of verbatim theatre with four African women refugees to Australia recounting the true stories of how they survived civil war, kidnap and rape.
And proving that feminism isn’t just for grown ups or teenagers, there are Under 10s Feminist Corner workshops and How To Be Fearless seminars.
Many of what’s on offer will be free and on the last weekend there will also be a free children’s care zone available for day or weekend pass holders. Professional child care staff will be on hand to look after the little ones and a chill out film zone and arts and craft area will be available to keep them entertained.
"We are not surprised it’s been a success but this isn’t just for girls and women," says Domino. "Anyone and everyone should come along – men, women, boys and girls. It’s important that everyone is engaged.”

WOW Festival 2015 takes place across the Southbank Centre site between Sunday, March 1 and Sunday, March 8. Visit for full listings.

One Man - Gavin Spokes

CUTS and bruises, knackered knees and getting knocked out are all part of the current day job for actor Gavin Spokes.
The 36-year-old is starring as Francis Henshall in a nationwide tour of the National Theatre's award-winning production of One Man, Two Guvnors which comes to the New Wimbledon Theatre next week.
Despite the physical nature of the part, which Gavin admits is playing havoc with his body, he says it’s a dream role.
“It’s going stupidly, brilliantly well and all of us in it are having a great time,” he tells me. “I love every second - although it’s incredibly tough on me and the company - but the moment you get on stage it’s like being on the best roller coaster.”
The play is based on the farce, The Servant of Two Masters, by 18th century Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni.
Adapted by Richard Bean it is set in Brighton in the 1960s, and revolves around Francis who, fired from his skiffle band, becomes minder to Roscoe Crabbe – his first guvnor.
To make a bit of extra money Francis takes on another guvnor but in doing so, has to keep the two apart.
“It’s possibly one of the most convoluted, ridiculous plays known to the history of theatre,” Gavin laughs.
“Francis is the most lovable chancer and a bundle of joy. He’s the kind of chap you’d want to have a pint with. He’s not the sharpest knife in the tray but he’s brilliant fun and it is a real laugh out loud, joyful evening.”
The play was first staged at the National Theatre and starred James Cordon as Francis. But despite such big shoes to fill Gavin says he felt no pressure.
“It was created for James but since then three of us have played the role so we’ve had a chance to put our own stamp on the character,” he says.
“To be honest, it’s never really bothered me partly because I’m enjoying it so much. There are not many lead roles in theatre for someone who is my shape, size and build to get to play – so I feel very fortunate. I love it!”
The One Man, Two Gunvnors tour comes to an end shortly after the week in Wimbledon and Gavin admits he will be sad to say goodbye to Francis.
“I will be sad because it’s such a great role,” he says. “It’s lovely to go out on tour to visit all these places and introduce him to new audiences but I’m looking forward to seeing my wife for more than two nights in a row.
“I’m also looking forward to lying on a beach and letting my body take a break from all this physical activity.”
Talking of which he admits his body has taken a bit of a battering over the last year.
“It’s the most physical role I’ve ever done by a long way,” he chuckles. “The play is just over two hours long and I’m on for most of that time so it’s demanding physically and mentally. It’s really full on.
“My knees are shot, I’ve given myself a black eye and knocked myself out once,” he jokes. “In fact I think I’ve had more injuries than the others who’ve played Francis though I’m not sure why!
“When I’m in Wimbledon I’ll visit a physio called Warwick who will no doubt give me one of those hugs that cracks every bone in my body!”
Physio aside Gavin says he is looking forward to coming back to Wimbledon and to the theatre where he’s performed before.
“I like this part of South London – it’s got a lovely feel to it so it will be great to be back.”

One Man, Two Guvnors is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre, Broadway, Wimbledon between Monday, March 2 and Saturday, March 7. Tickets from £11.90. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.

Back to 95

FANS of old school House and Garage music are in for a treat this weekend with a special gig at the Great Suffolk Street Warehouse.
Celebrating 14 years of Back To 95, it will see a line up of more than 20 of the decade's favourite DJs and artists including Matt 'Jam' Lamont, Mikee B, Norris ‘The Boss’ Windross, Lifford and Denise Babes Fantastic performing at the Southwark venue.
Lining up for this milestone anniversary occasion and the first Back To 95 event of the year is one of the pioneering godfathers of the garage sound, special guest Todd Edwards, who will deliver a two-hour Oldskool set.
As well as Todd, Ivor Novello award winner Robbie Craig will also be making a star appearance.
Robbie, who was behind one of the biggest garage anthems, Women Trouble, says he's looking forward to the event which he describes as "one big reunion".
"Promoter Mikee Hughes is a friend from way back and I would do any gig he puts on as they are always a good big fun event," he tells me.
"Basically it’s an honour to be part of as the whole garage scene from the 90s is going to be there.
"We started it off and to be there in front of the crowd doing this 20 years later is such a buzz.
"Things have moved on but real ravers always want the pioneers that started it all on stage, so I’m very pleased to be asked to perform. I can't wait!"
The fact Robbie went into the music business is perhaps no surprise as his parents were part of a cabaret band.
From the age of eight he was their drummer and used to get up and sing with them.
"The highlight was me singing Ben by Michael Jackson," he chuckles. "I worked with them until I was 15 and then got noticed. They still do cabaret today in their 60s.
"I got my first record deal with Street Sounds and later on I met Jimmy Lowe.
"He was the head of Public Demand Records, who could do no wrong at the time and they notched up hit after hit.
"They were the strongest garage label of the time and also the most credible so it was great to be one of their leading artists along with Craig David and Artful Dodger."
Since then Robbie's had 11 recored deals and won numerous awards but says he still gets a kick out of playing to the crowds.
"I love it and to play in South London, where I live, is amazing and I'm really excited about this gig."
But he admits that there is still one thing he wants to do - work with Stevie Wonder.
"He's my idol. I’ve worked with so many great artists - Conner Reeves, Craig David, Artful Dodger, Go West, Toby Smith from Jamiroquai, Victoria Beckham and many more - but I'd love to work with Stevie Wonder."

Robbie Craig headlines with a live show at the Back To 95 14th Birthday Party on Saturday March 7 at Great Suffolk Street Warehouse from 10pm to 6am. Tickets cost from £20. Visit for tickets.

PREVIEW Wink, Battersea Theatre503

ACCORDING to comedian Jenny Eclair, the internet is the “biggest graffiti wall in the sky”. And it is this that has provided her daughter, Phoebe Eclair-Powell and director Jamie Jackson with inspiration and material for their first joint play.
WINK looks at the implications of chatting online, the perils, pitfalls and surprises, and whether we ever know who we are talking to when we do.
Using music, movement and dialogue, it follows the lives of John, a 27-year-old teacher and Mark a 16-year-old pupil and explores what happens when their worlds collide on the web.
It has taken Phoebe and Jamie two years to bring it to the stage and they will do so at Theatre503 in Battersea from Tuesday March 10 for a four week run.
“It’s been a real labour of love,” says Phoebe warmly. “It’s been a bit like a delayed birth as we’ve had this baby for a while, writing and researching it so we’re both nervous and hugely excited that it’s finally going to be staged!
"The story is told through the eyes of a pupil and teacher and how their lives end up becoming more intertwined than is appropriate.
"There are a lot of twists and turns so it’s dramatic and intense but there is also humour in it and we are really proud of it.”
Although the play looks at some of the pitfalls of going online, Phoebe insists it’s not about demonising the internet.
“It’s not a warning play,” she says. “We learn so much from using the internet - and it's such a great and immediate way of communicating and connecting with people.
“But the story is also about chance, fantasy and reality and about the disappointment that comes with the realisation that the reality never lives up to the fantasy."
And Jamie agrees.
“It felt like an opportunity to show to the audience what the reality of going online is like, rather than lecturing people on the dangers,” he says.
"When we did our research we wanted to find those who had had positive experiences of using the internet. We are all familiar with the negative stories but a lot of people who are using it are doing so as a force for good."
“It also shows what it is to be a teenager now and how we as a generation are flailing around finding solace on the internet,” adds Phoebe.
“I’m obsessed with Facebook and Instagram but technology is moving on so fast – some of the teenagers we spoke to are so much more technologically literate than we are and some of the sites they are going on are ones I have never gone on or heard about - it's frightening!
“There is part of you that’s aware of how mad it all is and there are horror stories to make you wary but how do you police a generation who are so adept at using that technology?
“The internet and social media have made communication so immediate and open - there's no privacy - my mum calls it the biggest graffiti wall in the sky which is so true."
Jamie who lives in West Norwood and Phoebe who lives in Camberwell met two years ago at a speed dating night for writers and directors after Phoebe had finished the Royal Court Young Writers Programme and “clicked” immediately.
“We realised we were on the same wavelength and began bouncing ideas off each other,” says Jamie.
“At the time there was a lot in the news about the Miley Cyrus twerking story, Ask FM and the dangers of being on the web, how much people discover by being on the internet and what’s real and what’s not.
"We began to do some research with teenagers – what forums they used, what they used the internet for – and the idea for the play went from there."
Phoebe was chosen to be part of the Battersea theatre's 503Futures programme where she wrote and workshopped WINK and the pair were also given help and support by the Old Vic New Voices programme.
Although it was two years in the making, they say the themes are still relevant.
"What I think is really important is that we are not trying to say you should get rid of the internet but that we all need to be more aware and educated because technology moves so fast it's hard to keep up," says Jamie.
“We can’t turn it off – it’s here and here to stay so we just need to be mindful of how we use it.”
And Phoebe adds: "We are not trying to impose a parable but the message is that it’s up to you as a person how you use what’s there.
“We are trying to show through two characters that it’s down to who you are and the motivations in you - and how the ordinary can end up being extraordinary."

WINK is on at Theatre503, Latchmere Road, Battersea between Tuesday, March 10 and Saturday, April 4. Tickets cost £15 or Pay What You Can on Sundays. Visit or call the box office on 020 7978 7040.

Monday, 16 February 2015

INTERVIEW - Nine Below Zero

THERE aren't many bands who can lay claim to the fact they are still going strong after 40 years in the business but one that can is Nine Below Zero.
Formed by guitarist and lead vocalist Dennis Greaves in 1977, they honed their craft in the pubs and clubs of South London before releasing a multitude of albums and touring stadiums around the globe.
Fory years on, and despite a few staff changes over the years, they are still gigging and writing music with their distinctive mix of blues, RnB and rock still as strong as it ever was.
Fans will be able to see two of them - Dennis and vocalist and harmonica player Mark Feltham - perform in a special stripped back set in Blackheath this weekend as part of comedian Arthur Smith's House of Fun extravaganza at Blackheath Halls.
"I've known Arthur for ages and he's a really lovely guy," Dennis tells me. "We did a gig in his house in Balham once. It was brilliant - we were in the kitchen but there was stuff going on all over the house.
"So I was more than up for us being in his show. Besides, it's home turf for me. We've played Blackheath Halls loads of times over the years and we love it. It's such a brilliant and impressive building and we're really excited to be part of it."
As well as the set from Dennis and Mark there will be comedy turns from Arthur, fellow comedian, novelist and actor Jenny Eclair and musicians The McCarricks.
It is the second such event Arthur has organised which he has described as a modern day variety show with him as the "compere beyond compare".
"It's going to be a fun night," says Dennis. "I think Arthur wanted a bit of this and a bit of that - we're one of the musical elements of it!"
And he says he is looking forward to it as it will be a chance for the fans to hear a slightly different musical side to them.
"I'm really excited because Mark and I have been working on a new album, Duo, and we'll be doing some songs from that," he says.
"The album will be released in March so people who come along will get to hear a sneak preview!
"It's an acoustic set and part of a tour we are doing. We've never done a proper acoustic tour before so we thought it would be good to come out from behind our amps - it's going to be lovely - scary but lovely."
The album has been a real labour of love for the pair and is what Dennis describes as a "masterclass".
"Duo is the essence of everything we've ever done," he says. "It's very much about going back to our musical roots.
"We love the sound of the harmonica and we've always been drawn to American blues and folk music.
"So this album is folky with a real emphasis on the harmonica and has been inspired by the bands and musicians we looked up to when we were starting out.
"People like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee were legends to us. When they played they had an original sense of rhythm. We never really had the guts or talent to play like they did until we finally sat down and studied them - and it's been a real study!" he laughs.
"In fact it's been like a three year university course in how to play it so we now want to show it off and show people what these people were like."
The gig at Blackheath is the first leg of the tour and Dennis is pleased it's happening on his doorstep.
Although born in North London, Dennis's parents migrated south to Elephant & Castle when he was a child. The original plan was to move to Australia but his parents "lost their bottle" and they stayed put.
"I'm glad we never went," he says. "I like being in South London - I've been here more than 30 years and now live near Greenwich Park and Blackheath. It's a great feeling to walk around the parks here. It's a very creative area too with lots of musos."
He went to Walworth School (now Walworth Academy) near the Thomas A Becket pub which was where he decided he wanted to get into music.
"I used to bunk off school and watch them unload the equipment into the pub," he chuckles. "I dreamt of being able to do that and knew very early on I wanted to be in a band. I never went to discos - just to see live music."
He admits it's been "hard graft" but says it's a passion that has never gone away.
"You have to work hard," he says. "But the rewards are great and I feel very lucky that after 35 years in the business we are still going strong and we still have the buzz to write and perform!"
So much so that he can regularly be found in some of the many pubs in the Deptford and Greenwich area that host music nights.
"I love gigging," he says. "I do blues jams around Greenwich promoting local bands and music events all the time.
"I also play regularly at the Duke in Deptford. It's these places where you learn your craft. I was inspired when I was younger by the bands I saw in these places so I hope I can inspire youngsters myself.
"Besides there's nothing better than playing live. The problem is so many of these amazing venues are closing down - even the Coronet at the Elephant is under threat - it's appalling - where are the youngsters going to get their inspiration from? The world's gone crazy.
"When there's live music in a pub or club, people always like to come in and have a nose, join in and have a dance - I don't know what we'll do if they close - we mustn't let that happen."

Arthur Smith's House of Fun featuring Nine Below Zero takes place at Blackheath Halls on Saturday, February 21. Tickets from £15. or call the box office on 020 8463 0100 for tickets.

REVIEW - Othello, Rose Theatre, Bankside

STRIPPING back Othello, one of Shakespeare’s meatiest plays, is not for the fainthearted but Pamela Schermann pulls it off with a new adaptation now on at the Rose Bankside.
Her stripped back production is a pretty decent affair although to begin with I was a bit unsure.
The cast is but five strong, dispensing with most of the characters and instead focusing on those at the centre of the story - Cassio, Othello, Iago, Desdemona and Emilia – and the central themes of jealousy, power and ambition.
It is a modern day production set in the cut throat world of business with James Barnes’ Othello more of a successful CEO than an army general.
Iago, played brilliantly by Trevor Murphy is his lackey, passed over for promotion by his boss for the younger Cassio.
Driven by ambition and jealousy at the way he has been overlooked, Iago begins to display his evil streak. And while he continues to schmooze Othello, when his back is turned, Iago changes to that of scheming villain and the way he manipulate's Cassio and Desdemona's demise is frightening.
Indeed one of the best scenes was him sitting back in Othello's chair in his office with a sickening smile on his face waiting for his villainous deeds to unfold one by one.
Murphy is ably supported by Ella Duncan as Iago's wife Emilia – in fact the two are the most absorbing and compelling in the piece.
In love with a man she knows is no good for her and up to no good, Emilia is clearly caught between doing Iago's bidding and that of being loyal to and protecting her boss Desdemona. When she realises her mistakes she is rightly appalled.
The cast use the small space well and even the cavernous expanse at the back of the stage where the original remains of the theatre lie under water is not left out.
In fact the dark, chilly and atmospheric venue is the perfect place to put on the production which is well staged and absorbing.

Othello is on at the Rose Theatre, Park Street until Saturday, February 28. Tickets cost £12. Visit or call the box office on 020 7261 9565.

REVIEW - Elephant Man, Jack Studio Theatre


THE story of Joseph Merrick is a sad and humbling one. Dubbed the Elephant Man thanks to his horribly deformed body, he has achieved legendary status having been the subject of books, plays and film.
A new play about the man and how he survives being a freak show attraction to being looked after by Dr Treves is now on at the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley. And it's an amazing piece of theatre.
Absorbing, gripping and captivating, it is a show that packs one hell of an emotional punch.
Indeed it is a testament to theatre company Fourth Monkey and the five-strong cast that at times it was almost too heartbreaking to watch.
Joseph, played by Daniel Chrisostomou, in what is a truly astonishing performance, is imprisoned not just in his cage at the freak show but also in a metal cage which surrounds his naked body.
It is a genius way to show the outline of his deformed spine and how he was trapped inside his body.
Throughout the play, Chrisostomou’s body is contorted but it his “lovely brown eyes” which the other characters are drawn to and to which they frequently refer.
He is "rescued" by Dr Treves, well played by Scott McGarrick, who decides to use him in his medical research. Over time the pair become friends until Joseph's death at the age of 27.
The production is both hard hitting and tender and is well acted by the cast.
The stage is minimally set with just a metal frame, muslin curtains and wooden board which doubles up as a bed, a carriage, a train and a cage.
But it is Daniel Chrisostomou's performance which is the stand out and worth the ticket price alone. In short it is a must see.

The Elephant Man is on at the Jack Studio Theatre, Brockley until Saturday, February 21. Tickets cost £14. Visit or call the box office on 0333 666 3366.

INTERVIEW - Ocean Colour Scene

IT hardly seems possible that it is 20 years since Ocean Colour Scene were riding high in the charts wowing their fans with sell out shows and a succession of hit songs.
Hailing from Moseley in Birmingham they fused blues, rock, folk indie and Britpop and, along with Blur and Oasis, were one of the bands of the 90s.
Since those heady days they’ve headlined stadiums around the world and amassed a mantelpiece full of awards, not to mention five Top 10 albums and six Top 10 singles. These included perhaps their crowning glory, the seminal The Riverboat Song from their 1996 album Moseley Shoals which was propelled further into the nation’s psyche when DJ Chris Evans chose it as the music to introduce the guests on his hit show TFI Friday.
And in an age when bands come and go OCS have weathered the industry storms, various line up changes and are still very much together.
Indeed they continue to tour and are currently preparing for a special show at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday, February 18.
It will be the first time the band has played on its stage and in another first they are doing so complete with a string orchestra.
“We are very excited,” guitarist Steve Craddock tells me cheerfully. “It’s a great venue – the ideal space. It looks perfect and suits what we are doing.”
What they – Steve, Oscar Harrison and Simon Fowler – will be doing is playing a selection of their hits in a stripped back acoustic set accompanied by the orchestra. And Steve promises this will include some material never heard before.
“It’s going to be a real mix,” he says. “We are going to revisit albums such as One From The Modern and Mechanical Wonder and some of the singles – it’s about going back to basics.
“However, it will only be those tunes that are less rocky 'cause we are giving them an acoustic twist.
“There will definitely be stuff we’ve not played before too which I hope the crowd will like.”
What they won’t be doing is The Riverboat Song – I suggest that might not go down too well with the crowd but Steve disagrees.
“It’s an acoustic set with an orchestra and that song just wouldn’t sound right if we did it,” he says. “It’s a bit too rock n roll really and not what this show is about.
“Songs like The Circle and The Day We Caught the Train – they will sound great but not all our stuff will so we have to leave those that don't out.
"We have kind of done acoustic before but it’s a first to do it like this. I think it will sound beautiful though – it’s not going to be a rock n roll gig!"
Maybe not, but then they’ve been there and done that – most notably the now infamous Knebworth gig in 1996 in which they supported Oasis at the height of the Britpop era.
“It was incredible, unreal and surreal,” he says. “We had a number 4 single in the charts and were supporting Oasis who were just amazing.
"It was amazing, extraordinary but it was a bit like a day out at the zoo. Knebworth wasn’t really us.”
And although they were at times labelled as a Britpop band alongside Oasis and Blur, for Steve this never sat easily.
“We were around at the same time as the others but I don’t think we were really Britpop,” he says. “I mean it was nice that we were added to that group because these were big bands and I’ve got a lot of time for Noel [Gallager of Oasis].
“Also we never felt part of Britpop because we were from Birmingham – not Manchester.
“Mind you we were called all sorts - 'baggy' and 'moon gazers' – loads! But you can call us anything you want really, we’re just us and still the same as we ever were.
“We are still doing what we have always done, are a bit older and a bit wiser, that’s all. And we still have the same passion and buzz and being out on the road is great.
“I think it’s amazing to still be here though,” he adds cheerfully. “It’s 25 years since we started out – that’s something.
“Bands should really only last six years and then go but we kind of stuck around, kept working and here we are.”
So how have they stood the test of time? What keeps them when others fall by the wayside?
“Oil of Ulay!” he jokes. “Seriously though, we are not in each other’s pockets. It always seems quite fresh when we are together. But ultimately we are just a little folk band like we were when we first started out and things haven’t really changed.
“I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing,” he adds. “But it’s just how it is.”
But he concedes that time away from each other to do separate projects helps keep that fresh feel. For Steve, breaks from the band have given him a chance to pursue solo projects as well as collaborate with other artists.
“I did a tour playing guitar with the Specials and I have worked with Paul Weller which was amazing.
“We supported him a couple of times in 1992 and recorded in his studio and kind of got to know him then and he asked me to come down for an audition. It was terrifying! I swallowed a lot of dope before I went in so my guitar looked like an anaconda,” he chuckles at the memory.
“I also did a single with Liam [Gallagher]. I like him - he’s got a great and very original voice. And I did a single with KP Arnold which was a dream. I have just found an old song we did together and I’m going to put it on my next solo record.”
Sadly despite their continuing appeal Steve says there are no plans for new OCS material.
“Maybe in a couple of year’s time,” he says when pushed. “It’s just sitting down and getting it done.
“We are still going to be touring though and I am recording some solo stuff this year. I would also like to get an album with a few guys – Paul [Weller], Terry Hall. That would be fun."

Ocean Colour Scene are at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday, February 18. Tickets from £20. Visit or call the box office on 020 7960 4200.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Interview - Howard Jones

EIGHTIES pop star Howard Jones has pushed the technological boundaries throughout his career. His latest project which he will debut at the Indigo2 aims to go even further

IF the pop music scene of the 80s was dominated by one instrument it was the synthesizer. And right at the forefront of it was singer songwriter and multimedia maverick Howard Jones.
It was in 1983 that he first burst onto the contemporary music scene with his catchy and thought provoking lyrics and infectious tunes.
His seminal song New Song which challenged listeners to "throw off their mental chains" was followed by a series of albums and a host of hits including Things Can Only Get Better, Hide And Seek, What Is Love? and Like To Get To Know You Well.
Technology has always been an important element of his career and 30 years on from New Song he is continuing to write, record, tour and experiment.
He is about to embark on his most ambitious project to date - Engage - which will be officially launched at a special one-off show at the Indigo2 on February 20, and he says he is both nervous and excited about how it is received.
"I'm going to be 60 in a few weeks and a couple of years ago I thought I really must push myself to do something really special to celebrate the fact I'm still going," he tells me.
"I've been lucky enough throughout my career to do lots of things but I wanted to do an ambitious project that combined all the things I love with all the things I have learned in the last 30 years.
"Engage was born out of that and it's going to be really exciting though it's a bit complicated to explain," he adds laughing.
It's certainly ambitious, combining apps for smart phones, audience participation, live music and visuals in a multi media CD and DVD.
The package will embrace electronica, contemporary classical music, cinematic and pop music influences which are fused with ballet and modern dance, all the elements of the arts that Howard says he has loved and been influenced by during his career.
"For me it's all about the live experience but I didn't want to do just another studio album or a DVD of a concert," he says.
"I wanted it to be different so it's a mix of films we made during one of my recent gigs as well as music both new and old.
"I also wanted to imagine what it would be like to be at a gig and see it from the audience's point of view - to make it a fully imersive experience. I want the audience to be involved in the show and have a role to play."
One of the ways in which he hopes this will be achieved is for everyone to given an app, which has been specially developed by a life long fan, to be downloaded on to their smart phones when they arrive at the gig.
The app will enable them to get images and clips from the concert onto their phones.
"The use of the apps will be exciting because it will be interesting to see what people do with it," says Howard. "It's ground breaking stuff and I'm super excited about it."
As well as ground breaking in its use of technology, the gig is also going to be fun.
"In the foyer we have make up artists for anyone who wants florescent make up so their faces light up. We've also florescent gloves to give away and people can get their clothing customised - I'm always thinking of different things," he says.
The gig itself will be in two parts. The first will be a live performance with the audience participating with their apps, florescent gloves and make up. It will be performed behind a kabuki curtain onto which there will be state of the art projections of films and images he has put together and will feature classical elements as well as sub base, dance and pop music.
The second half will be a retrospective live set with Howard performing his greatest hits.
"I love the Indigo2 - it's one of my favourite venues," he says. "It's got a really good sound system, one of the best in fact, and the space is just right.
"It is the perfect place for what I hope will be an incredibly imersive and interactive experience."
But is there not a danger that with all this participation, the audience might miss the music?
He laughs and says: "Yes I suppose there is though I hope they don't.
"However, if you go to any gig these days people are invariably taking photos or videos. A lot of the time when I'm on stage I see people holding up their phones recording it or taking pictures and so they aren't really there in one sense because they are looking at it through a camera.
"What's exciting is that I don't think anyone has done this before and it will be interesting to see what happens on the night and the crowd's reaction."
That Howard is still pushing the boundaries with technology in his music should come as no surprise given he's been doing it throughout his career.
In the early days he was an exponent of the Roland Juno 60, the Jupiter 8 and the Moog Prodigy and he pioneered the classic Roland 808 drum machine and worked closely with Roland on the development of Jupiter 80.
When he first started out he was triggering sequencers live on stage whilst playing and singing, something that had not been done before.
"I suppose my thing was always to use technology in a way that really engaged people and was breaking new ground with sound," he says.
"At the root of it though is music. I don't want to get so distracted by the technology that the messages of it being about communicating news and ideas and what it's like to be human are lost.
"I was born in an age where technology was developing so fast and it has been great to be involved in a way that I can use it to bring people together through music.
"When I started, artists could sometimes seem remote but these days we need to form a connection with our fans and a bond because there are so many other things competing for their attention.
"I hope what I'm doing with Engage, to keep that strong connection and break new technological boundaries, will excite and interest them as much as it has for me."

Howard Jones plays the Indigo2 on Friday, February 20. Visit for tickets.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

INTERVIEW Claire Sweeney - on her show Sex In Suburbia

IN a career spanning more than 20 years Claire Sweeney has unsurprisingly got a pretty extensive and varied CV.
The Liverpool-born actress has appeared in numerous roles on stage and screen and has co-presented on several daytime TV programmes.
She's also done stints in panto, been a contestant on reality shows and is about to add radio presenting to her list of talents.
But right now the 43-year-old is focusing on a very personal project - that of a show which she wrote herself with friend Mandy Muden and in which she stars.
Sex In Suburbia is a comic take on the mysteries of men, dating and motherhood and as part of a nationwide tour is coming to the New Wimbledon Theatre on February 20 and 21.
Packed with revealing and raunchy storylines set to a backdrop of popular musical anthems including I’m Every Woman, I Want To Break Free and Somebody Else’s Guy, Claire tells me the show is designed to make the audience laugh, cry and dance in the aisles.
"I'm really excited about it but very nervous," she says in a snatched break from rehearsals. "I've been working on it for about two years with Mandy so it's been a real labour of love.
"I had my baby Jaxon in September, who has changed my outlook on life, so I've been doing a bit of re-writing. I've changed one of the characters and have included stories on the perils of pregnancy and what happens when you have a baby."
The show features Claire as a working mum with a baby who joins agony aunt Penny Crowe (played by Lindzi Germain) on her late-night radio phone in.
The pair take calls about every date from hell and dish out relationship advice.
"It's all true stuff that we talk about," says Claire. "It's basically the eternal subject of love and romance and mixes stories about stuff that's happened to me and my friends - all the usual like disaster dating, finding Mr Right and so on.
"I've tried to make them as funny as possible and so that everyone can relate to them.
"There is also some great music in it with lots of fabulous songs including my all time favourite - Somebody Else's Guy which I get to sing! It's a lot of fun."
The idea was born out of a conversation she had with a producer she worked with while she was in a production of the musical Tell Me On A Sunday.
"I was telling the producer about funny things that had happened to me over the years and he told me to start writing them down," she says.
"At first, when Mandy and I started we weren’t even sure if we were funny so I was really nervous about putting it on stage."
The show was taken to Liverpool's Royal Court last year and Claire admits the positive reception she got was a surprise.
"The audiences really loved it," she says. "I really didn't know how they would react but they loved it and laughed so much so we decided to take it out on the road. It was amazing because I had never set out to write anything ever.
"What's been great is that although we thought it was more targeted at women, we have had groups of men coming to see it.
"It's absolutely not a man bashing show though - there are stories from both a man's and a woman's point of view. Basically it's just a great laugh."
And she's particularly looking forward to bringing the show to Wimbledon not least because she's currently house hunting in the area.
"I love it here," she enthuses. "I've been in London 13 years now and I feel at home. It's great we can bring it to Wimbledon - it's a fabulous theatre and I love the village."
Despite the fact she's proud of the show she has no plans to do more.
"I loved the experience of writing it but I am not sure I'll so anymore. I'm so busy with Jaxon and this show at the moment and I'm just been given my own radio show which I'm really excited about - but you know what they say, never say never!"
So now she has done most of the things on her career bucket list, what of the future?
"I would love to get a good part on Corrie," she muses. "I'd like a comedy part - someone like Elsie Tanner. That would be great!"

Sex In Suburbia is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre, Broadway, Wimbledon on Friday, February 20 and Saturday, February 21. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646 for tickets.