Simon McBride Trio give masterclass in the blues

Having appeared on stage with Queen at the age of 9 you could say that nothing fazes Simon McBride. He has drawn comparisons with the likes of Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore; his high tempo rock/blues palette has won him many fans the world over.

On Tuesday however it was to the University of Ulster’s Magee College campus in Derry that he appeared with his trio as part of the university’s ongoing music@one series of conserts; which is there for to broaden the musical horizons of student and general public alike.

Playing his own brand of rock-blues and backed up by Dave Marks on bass and Marty McCloskey? on drums it seemed at first as if the audience gathered weren’t sure how to react, many of them being sheepish music students who were perhaps beginning to tire from a morning of scholarly activity or perhaps eagerly anticipating their lunch, or (dare I say it) suffering the effects of some other student activity. In time though you could see the odd head bobbing or foot tapping.

Hard hitting anthemic rock would be the best way to describe McBride’s brand of music,  underlayered with the line of smokey blues. This is evident in many of the tracks played on the day including the opening song You Got a problem a number reminiscent of  what through time and musical evolution has become known as the power ballad; but what this particular reviewer would simply class as a great rock song. From the band’s playing and McBride’s singing it was soon clear that the students were there for a master class and didn’t realise it. The band moved swiftly on to a number with a familiar sounding title Down to the River but no, this wasn’t that classic and much underrated Bruce Springsteen classic (which is simply called The River). This was the sort of high tempo rock song with a catchy tune and lyrics you found yourself almost believing you had known all your life. The sort with guitar riffs you can sit back and admire and thumping drum beats that can’t fall to go unnoticed.

Down to the Wire ,  the next song on McBride’s reportoire is the sort of stuff that legends are made of, reminiscent of the likes of Gary Moore; by now the students were sitting up and taking full notice. From here we were taken forward about twenty years or so with a song called Change, a song with a kind of early nineties vibe about it; the sort of thing the Red Hot Chili Peppers might have produced but without the rapy bits. Dave Marks certainly could be compared to Flea, at least in playing stakes. This leads swiftly on to Fat Pockets, the type of song about someone down on their luck with next to no money that everyone can relate to. On this track the trio show that they really can blend elements of the classic and contemporary effortlessly. It’s also a track where Marty McCloskey on drums particularly comes into effect.

So Much Love to Give  is classic rock balled with a rip-roaring edge given to it by McBride’s boys.

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African Queen Kidjo Delights audience in Belfast

Before this particular reviewer commences this particular review a certain amount of bias must be confessed. In the mid-nineties; while a lot of my peers were listening to hardcore rave or grunge music, artists such as Angelique Kidjo could be found in my fledgling CD collection. Indeed given how long the Beninese songstress has been on the music scene it is hard to believe that this was her first visit not just to Belfast; as was the case on this occasion, but the first time that she has played in Ireland at all – quite a coup for the international arts festival in Belfast.

She’s a UNICEF good will ambassador, she’s an advocacy ambassador and multi-award winning recording artist and last Monday night took to the stage. The critically acclaimed singer was in town to show case some of her best known songs as well as those from her latest offering, a reimagining of Talking Heads 1980 album Remain in Light, which became known for such hits as Once in a Lifetime, and The Great Curve, and which it is said was inspired by many of the rythem found in African music. So it is only natural that one of Africa’s top recording artists brings those beats back home.

 The night began with an upbeat rythem. Born Under Punches was her opening song, the lines punch out like a great political statement, “Take a look at these hands, take a look at these hands” Kidjo has a power and range to her voice that makes her audience immediately sit up, pay attention and crave more still. “All I want is to breathe” she sings melodically. The whole time Talking Heads original disappears into the mists of time and what emerges is something fresh and different that makes the song sound as if it was meant to be sung by Angelique Kidjo. Next up on the process of transformation is Cross-eyed and Painless originally a funk disco vibes song, somewhere in the back of the mind the listener can still hear the original with the new version laid over it and appreciate how it has been made completely new.

As well as her music, Angelique Kidjo is also known for her advocacy work and her work to help young girls around the world, who would otherwise be married off at a young age, achieve their goals of a productive education. In tribute to this she slows down the tone and sings a heartstring pulling lament Cauri. Moving swiftly back into Talking Heads material came Listening Wind, a song Kidjo uses to illustrate the greed and corruption that is riddling both the African continent and the world.

The Great Curve is transformed into a afro jazz number with a fast paced drum beat, and pulsating trumpet sounds, high tempo afro beats and electric guitar blend. The world moves on a woman’s hips indeed, this is another song that seems made for Angelique Kidjo

Next song on the reportoire is one neither of hers nor Talking Heads but “If you don’t know this you have not been living on planet earth”” she declared to an enthusiastic audience before the familiar beat of Pata Pata starts up (CJ: put it this way, you do know it, you just don’t know that you know it, if you search for it on Google you’ll soon be thinking “ah that one!”)

The Overload, updated by Angelique Kidjo into a song with attitude. African drum beats slow paced, electro pop turned afro rock with a smooth brass line.

Next up was the ultimate in audience participation. Angelique at this stage had well and truly seeped into the spirits of her audience and she new it. Now it was time for them to join in, not one person was uninfected with the rythem and the beat that she was spreading. Within minutes not a member of that audience wasn’t singing “Mama se Mamá se Mama Afirika” The world is Africa and Africa is the world; and the world is above all else human.
After the excitement and euphoria had lowered just a touch the magic was continued in the form of the iconic Once in a Lifetime (not on the Into Light album but a welcome addition nonetheless). The song is familiar enough to be recognised but Kidjo gives it her own twist.

The tempo was kept high and the audience participation also kept to the maximum with Tumba, a high octane catchy tune that sticks in the memory. Then comes a song that began it all, that first brought the hostess for the evening to this particular reviewer’s attention – Malaika , a melodic and tender love song in Swahili from the archives of African folk music.

Angelique Kidjo rounded off the night with her funked up version of Burning Down the House, a song not on the current album, also famously covered by Tom Jones and the Cardigans.

On the whole, while some might have expected a more extensive back catalogue to be covered by Kidjo she was there to highlight her most recent recording and did so with flash and with flair. This particular reviewer isn’t in the habit of liking an album of cover versions, often thinking it lazy and a sign that an artist’s career is slowing down, however and I hate again to show bias (“oh go on”, I hear you all cry, “you know you want to”, oh ok then) this was an inspired transformation of songs and the most energetic and enjoyable show this particular reviewer has been to. The high enjoyed by this particular event is still being felt, well done Angelique!

Traditional music’s up and coming stars return home

World class traditional music came to Derry on Tuesday as two former students made a return visit to their old Alma mater at the university of Ulster’s Great Hall at the Mater campus.

The Great Hall was packed out to hear Jack Warnock and Eimhear Mulholland, two of Ireland’s freshest young talents, who only graduated last year and are already making a name for themselves. Jack Warnock is a recent nominee at the BBC Radio two folk awards.

It was obvious from the offset that these two musicians were used to each other’s company on stage and worked well together as they produced a series of high tempo jigs and reels more akin to a late night session than the exuberant hall of a university.

First up they played a few classics including Timmy Clifford’s, The Rambler and Malcolm’s New Fiddle, all on fiddle and guitar. They swiftly moved through to Óró Mo Bháidin before getting the crowd going by slipping in a few slip jigs on piano and whistle.

Both natives of county Derry, Maghera and Magherafelt respectively, the rich heritage of their hinterland and their pride in it was obvious as they went from jigs to The Braes of Moneymore before extending their depth of musical knowledge, (and the horizons of the audience before them) with a Breton Set entitled Boules et Guirlande.

The last section of the show featured a song with a Swedish flavour entitled Åstols Rokeri followed by a set on the whistle featuring traditional tunes such as The Curlew, The Fox on the Town and Castlerock Road.

The afternoon was rounded off on a high with a rip-roaring set that brought the house down in the form of a number of reels, John Pellerine’s, The Full set, Laurel’s and Hull’s Reel.

On the whole this was a fantastic afternoon and was a pleasure to witness two talents on home soil who are heading places, watch this space!

Music@one; organised by the arts and humanities department and broadcaster and musician Linley Hamilton, is quickly gaining a reputation for showcasing, not just the best to come out of the university of Ulster’s Magee campus, but also the best musical talent to come from both these shores and further afield.

Buaine na Gaoithe at Magee

It was perhaps meteorologicaly appropriate that there was a fresh autumnal breeze blowing and a multicoloured palate of leaves were rustling outside. The performance that was about to be witnessed by a generous gathering in the Great Hall of the University of Ulster’s Magee College campus is entitled Buaine na Gaoithe, which roughly translates as the swiftness of the wind. The piece has recently been described by it’s composer on the BBC’s John Total Show “A journey that allows you to get out of time”.

The performance was part of the Music@one at the Ulster University’s Magee College campus. Soprano Liz Pearse, Flutist Chelsea Czuchra and Harpist Lindsay Huffington, better known to some as The Damselfly Trio came together to perform the musical collaboration between composer Ryan Molloy and poet Martin Dyar. Given the weather on the day this piece was performed it was apt that wind and string instruments were brought together along with a voice that varied between a soft gentle breeze and a strong powerful storm.

Buaine na Gaoithe is broken into five movements, each one of these movements representative of each of the five poems written by Martin Dyer. The first one A Waiting Tree was comprised of the full trio, the second movement .\n. It wouldn\’t be recommendedIn Gortnagran was a simple vocal recital of the poem in question. The third movement A Merlin in the Sheefreys is a spoken word piece accompanied by the harp and the final movement Her Crossing comprises of the full ensemble.

It could be said that thqqqere’s something rather Avant Garde and new age about this piece as a whole. It perhaps wouldn’t be recommended to someone who is new to classical music. But as you are sitting there on an otherwise riotously blustery day, you can’t help but find yourself in a moment of peaceful serenity.

The performance is also part of an Irish tour which takes in Belfast, Portaferry, Athy, Dublin, Maynooth, Derry, Limerick and Castle are.

Don Quixote by Ulster Orchestra

Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare, like a matador in the bullring, lead and tamed the Ulster Orchestra, accompanied by cellist Alisa Weilerstein during their performance of Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote at a packed Guildhall on Derry on Thursday night.

The performance was the start of a season of performances by the Ulster Orchestra which will take it to various venues and audiences throughout Northern Ireland in order to extend its reach.

The orchestral piece is no less dramatic than it’s literary equivalent as wind and brass and string sections of the orchestra are brought together with flair and passion; each one visually appreciated by Weilerstein before she has to play her part. When she does there’s a bullishness and yet a style and grace that pulls the audience in and draws their attention to every note. This leading up to a dramatic climax of the piece.

In the second half of the concert, Shostakovich’s tenth symphony was given up as an offering, a piece often argued to be about Stalin himself given that Shostakovich was often hampered by Stalin’s censorship laws. However, given that both of them died on exactly the same day we will never know.

If this is only the beginning of the Ulster Orchestra’s season then there certainly is a lot of promise in what is offered ahead. However, given that among the audience were a sizeable amount of the elderly and disabled, if the Ulster Orchestra really does want to create as diverse an audience as possible, then perhaps it could be suggested that they review their ticket pricing structure. The only concession that seemed to be available was for under 16 and their attendance was sparse at best!

Rossini’s Hidden Extras by Northern Ireland Opera delights audience

The ornate surroundings of the Londonderry Arms Hotel in Carnlough on the Antrim coast was the setting for some afternoon opera on Saturday.

Rossini’s Hidden Extras otherwise known as La Cambiale Di Matrimonio) was performed by Northern Ireland Opera as part of the Festival of Voice which took place in various venues throughout the Glenarm area. Hidden Extras is a one-act operatic farce written by Rossini when he was eighteen. It first came to the attention of audiences in 1810 when it was performed during the carnival season in Venice.

Although the events revolve around the well-rehearsed theme of love, the plot was updated to situate events around the world of business and commerce.

Tobias Mill receives a mail order for a bride from a business colleague named Slook. Seizing the opportunity to make some personal gain from the transaction he proposes that Slook marry his daughter Fanny. Unbeknownst to Tobias Mill, Fanny has already promised herself to the love of her life Eduardo. What ensues is a plot of comical disaster and chaos surrounding the conflicting interests of each of the characters.

Tobias Mill, performed ably by Brian McAlea is a straight down the line businessman, who conducts all the affairs of his life; even that of love and the future happiness of his daughter, as a business arrangement. Slook, performed with wit as dry as a bone by Malachy Frame, essentially the buyer, see’s no problems with returning the product he has purchased back to where he got it from in order to get his money back.

Stuck in the middle of this transaction, namely Fanny herself, is a young modern woman who can’t quite believe what is happening to her. Jessica Hackett brings a wit and wisdom and the attitude of the modern woman to the part making it one of the undoubted highlights of the production. At one stage Fanny, in a moment of frustration “flips the bird” to gasps of astonishment and nervous laughter among the audience. At first it seems questionable why this is needed, but upon reflection is entirely in keeping with the character and is part of the refreshing approach brought to the part.

In supporting roles Dawn Burns and Nathan Morrison who allowed the narrative to flow around them and stayed involved throughout even when not called upon. It can be often difficult when you are on stage but not participating as such not to look out of place, however, they managed to play a part throughout the piece, even acting within their characters when not required to have any singing parts.

On the whole, this was an entertaining production and brought a new and refreshing take on a piece which was first performed over two hundred years ago.

Hidden Extras by Northern Ireland Opera in conjunction with Tinderbox theatre company will be shown in a number of venues soon, check local listings for details.