Monday, 30 December 2013

Classical Journey 10am Tuesday 31 December 2013 Memories of a very musical year

Mitzi Maybe & Patrick Taylor
Live on Phonic FM
Tuesday 31 December 2013

Guest Host
Sorrel Meechan
Sorrel Meechan
This Tuesday we celebrate the new year in style. Actress Sorrel Meechan, who has just returned from London, will be at Phonic FM to help introduce 'Classical Journey'.

(Read Sorrel's theatre review blog 'Stacked Actors' by following this link.)

She will also introduce two more special guests. Mitzi Maybe, who has just returned from Zambia, and called the studio last Tuesday for a chat, will be chatting to us in the studio and singing a few numbers. Patrick Taylor, choirmaster, baritone and song-arranger, will accompany Mitzi on the piano.

Sorrel Meechan
(Cooley & Blackwell)
Mitzi Maybe
"Puttin' on the Ritz"
(Irving Berlin)

Patrick Taylor
accompanies with his own
sensitive piano arrangements

Patrick Romer
Last week we were visited by the incredibly talented actor Patrick Romer - who appeared with Patrick Taylor in 'A Christmas Cracker' at the Bridge Inn Topsham (formerly 'Wassail!' at Aeolean Court).

He opened and closed the show with Shakespeare, and chatted about his career in the theatre. Patrick was a member of the Northcott repertory company for many years during the seventies and eighties. Talk turned naturally to the current production of 'The Incredible Adventures of Mr Benn' and the thrilling visit by 'Graffiti Classics', both at Exeter Northcott Theatre. (See last week's blogpost.)

Quirk Theatre: Simon Hall
Ben Simpson & Marie Kelsel
"Treasure Island"
Mitzi phoned in briefly to discuss shows she's seen with her little boy, since arriving in England, including 'Mr Benn'. She also gave a glowing account of an equally exciting production, showing at Exeter Phoenix, "Treasure Island".

Simon Hall has produced a riveting version of the Stevenson classic, specially adapted for children. The plot is simplified, but true to the original story. Simon's 'Long John Silver' would have been worthy of Robert Newton himself. Ben Simpson was his terrifying (but child friendly) henchman, Cut-Throat-Kevin, and also the more familiar Captain Smollett of the Hispaniola. Marie Kelsell's Jim Hawkins was endearing, while her pirate character, 'Arr Bob', was a work of comic genius. (It is amazing how much meaning she could inject into Bob's only line, "Arr . . .")

Full marks for inventiveness. The company managed to set the whole story in a garden. Many of the costumes were taken from the washing line, while garden tools were pressed into service as all the props. The Hispaniola, and subsequently the besieged stockade on Skeleton Island, were represented by the garden shed. The illusion never faltered and the pace was olympian. Families and children really do get a good deal at the theatre these days.

This week's 'Journey' will be through the year of 2013, starting with the 2013 traditional Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra 'Johann Strauss II Evening' for new year at the University Great Hall, and finishing with the new one for 2014 (this Thursday, 2nd Jan).

Was it only a year ago that Ellie Fagg and Tom Norris of the London Symphony Orchestra brought their Puertas Quartet to St Margaret's Church in Topsham? In the intervening 12 months there have been so many exciting events. Nonclassical at the Bikeshed has continued to flourish, attracting the attention of Soundart Chairman Sam Richards, who still hopes to start a Totnes subsiduary. Sam's 'Jazzlab' in Totnes has had equal success. Meanwhile Nonclassical founder Rebecca Willson continues to enjoy enormous success with the 'Zazou Cowboys', playing her classical fiddle in a western swing line-up.

At the University; Footlights, the G&S Society and the University Theatre Company continue to produce exceptional plays and musicals. Richard Gonski has conducted several major works with the University Symphony Orchestra. He took on the University Choral Society as well, to conduct the Verdi Requiem, following Marion Wood's move to Munster in Germany. The Choral Society is now directed by Roberto Gallo.

Marion, however, returns regularly to prepare and conduct the Exeter Music Group Symphony Orchestra. She also continues to sing in the 'Starling Octet' conducted by Ben Pennington. With their newest member, soprano Mary O'Shea, they repeated their profoundly moving 'candlelit vigil' at Pinhoe Church for Remembrance - singing Rachmaninov's 'Vespers 1915' in Russian, in near darkness.

Hilary Boxer's 'Tasty Music' has had another successful series - once again including the flute of Ruth Molins. Ruth herself has created her own series 'One flute, many voices' which, naturally enough, involved the 'cello playing of Hilary Boxer, but also some new collaborators - Emma Welton (violin) and Susie Hodder-Williams (flutes). Ruth teamed up with Rebecca Willson (playing the piano this time) for 'Another Country' in April, and joined her husband Jesse (jazz guitar), and bass-player Al Swainger for 'Silver Summertime' in June. Ruth gave a premiere performance of Michael Colquhoun's 'Speshal Birds', for flute and electronics, in the Phonic FM studio, and repeated the performance at Nonclassical night. As the year drew to a close, Ruth teamed up with flautists Sophie Brewer and Jennifer Campbell in a new trio, 'Flute Cake'.

Andrew Daldorph has been as busy as ever conducting both the Exeter Chamber Choir, and Tiverton's East Devon Choral Society. In May, the EDCS gave a glorious performance of Verdi's Requiem and, as Christmas approached, a sublime rendition of Morten Lauridsen's 'Lux Aeterna' and 'Magnum Mysterium'. Over the year, Exeter Chamber Choir put on three jazz concerts, including Andrew's 'Mass for Life' and 'Jazz Psalms' finishing the year with a huge collaboration with'AJs Big Band' at Exeter Cathedral, which included the sublime soprano saxophone playing of Chris Gradwell. On a smaller Scale, Andrew accompanied many South West Music School students in their showcase performances, and created showcases of his own for amazing new flautist Leonie Stevenson Jones and prize-winning soprano Lucy Bray.

There have been classical music festivals in Shaldon, Budleigh, Branscombe - and across the whole of Devon during the 'Two Moors Festival' in August. Penny Adie selected another four young musicians for the 'Platform Winners Concert', this time in dreamy Dulverton on Exmoor. Devon festivals always attract the very best players and ensembles from across the country, but the children stole the show once again. The high point of the Two Moors Festival was a performance of Sir Benjamin Britten's 'Noyes Fludde' by over 180 children from Devon primary schools.

Local theatre companies have been hard at work creating new productions. Rosie and Midge Mullins' 'Substance and Shadow' theatre company put on two runs of their emotionally charged play 'Skin Deep' and, with 'Four of Swords' theatre company, put on several performances of 'The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde' including two runs in the supremely appropriate setting of Poltimore House. Louis Ravensfield's 'Exeter Alternative Theatre' company broke from their tradition of presenting several short plays, celebrating Halloween with an extraordinary cabaret programme at the Barnfield Theatre, inspired as always by the burlesque of the late nineteenth century.

The Counterpoint Choir are never far from our thoughts. David Acres presented a series of awe-inspiring choral concerts at Buckfast Abbey, including a collaboration with their French counterparts from Quimper, 'Groupe Vocal Jef le Penen'. After crowning the year's achievements with a highly innovative concert at Buckfast with opera countertenor James Bowman, David flew off to Cleveland in Ohio. In the ice and snow, he has been singing with Trinity Cathedral Choir and 'Quire Cleveland' - and touring the United States singing at various venues. A wonderful new development.

Matt Cann's extraordinary project 'Antiphon' brought together Cathedral singers from around the UK for specialist concerts. Their beautiful 'Missa Papae Marcelli' at Buckfast was, sadly, their swan-song, but hard on the heals of 'Antiphon' came Michael Graham's 'Exodus'. This twelve voice choir brings together many wonderful Devon voices. Julian Rippon joins Matt Cann in the bass section.

Laurence Blyth, Exeter Cathedral events co-ordinator, has his hands full during his off-duty hours. He still directs three choral societies, in Exeter, Exmouth and Wellington, in addition to his own countertenor engagements. Concerts run by Laurence draw his musical colleagues from across the country, including the dazzling soprano Elizabeth Drury - who is often joined by her husband, countertenor James Armitage. Handel's 'Samson' with the Exmouth Choral Society at Holy Trinity was a stunning success. They start 2014 with another great oratorio: 'Elijah' by Felix Mendelssohn.

At Dartington Hall everyone works feverishly to bring great music to Devon. Sadly, there was no 'Home' festival this year. (Last year's festival was a sensation!) The Tagore Festival, and 'Ways with Words' are still firm favourites on the Dartington Calendar, but the biggest event by far is the 'International Summer School'. For five weeks in August, the entire estate is bursting at the seems with internationally renowned musicians leading workshops, and hordes of eager students. Two or three concerts are put on every day of the Summer School - and the number and variety of different top quality programmes can be bewildering.

Devon Baroque are still in business at the Hall, now directed (often from the harpsichord) by Jonathan Watts. Jonathan is also the director or the Dartington Community Choir, so collaborations between the two ensembles are rapidly becoming a regular feature of life in South Devon. In yet another innovative move 'Devon Baroque Voices' performed Handel's Messiah at Totnes in November. Eight Soloists sang the entire score accompanied by baroque instruments. Among that happy crew were - Elizabeth Drury and James Armitage!

For a low-cost or free introduction to classical music, St Stephen's and St Michael's Churches in Exeter have organised several lunchtime and evening concerts, which one can attend for little or no cost. Many thanks go to Professor Matthew Wright for setting up 'Music at St Michaels' this year. Meanwhile, in Exmouth, David Lee is keeping the spirit of classical music alive at Glenorchy United Reformed Church, where he organises a free concert every Wednesday lunchtime in the 'season' (September to May) while also singing bass with the Exmouth Choral Society. Keep an eye on the parish noticeboard at Broadclyst too. Organist John Scarfe is still at work organising his 'Coffee and Music' concerts on Saturday mornings.

Janet Macdonald has worked tirelessly to provide interesting and engaging programmes of opera highlights to draw in a new generation of opera lovers. Her 'Opera Glass' and 'QQuorum' concerts bring together talented amateurs and professionals from across Devon (and sometimes Cornwall as well). Recently Julian Rippon and Ed Woodhouse were joined by Alison Kettlewell and Rebecca Smith (plus Janet herself) in a seductive synopsis of Georges Bizet's 'Carmen'.

In Sidmouth the star of any musical evening is likely to be soprano Val Howels. Val seems to be at work non-stop organising and singing in musical events. In November Val was at the Sidholme Hotel with fellow songsters Cathy Moore (soprano), Keith Wainwright (tenor) and John Brindley (baritone) for a delightful evening of entertainment called 'Love is in the Air'. There was even a brief appearance by an interloper from Exeter - Luch Càise-Dearg! The pianist was Dorothy Worthington, a talented and reliable accompanist who works with many soloists and groups. Someone we are seeing more of lately is another of Dorothy's soloists - mezzosoprano Dorothy Ferrier.

In the Summer Fiona McLean's 'South West Camerata' were at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to play Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' at St Giles' Cathedral. 'The Joined Up Thinking Project, Music' (JUTP) run by Fiona includes  the senior ensemble, Camerata, and the introductory and intermediate groups 'Camaratinis' and 'Tutti'. Back in England they returned to their regular rehearsal evenings at Exeter School, Colyton Grammar School and Dame Hannah's at Ivybridge.

 JUTP Music have more exciting musical ventures planned for 2014, including a collaboration with the North Ayrshire String Ensemble over the weekend of 7/8/9 February including a lunchtime concert at Exeter Cathedral and possibly workshops at Buckfast Abbey.

Fiona's 'Four Seasons' string quartet, with Lindsay Braga, Cathy McCracken and Rebecca Allnatt, was recently at Powderham Castle. Fiona's place was taken by soprano Jeni Melia for an evening of baroque elegance and style in the eighteenth century James Wyatt music room. Professor George Pratt was there to direct the proceedings and play the newly refurbished 1769 Bryce-Seede organ. An unforgettable evening of Christmas entertainment.

The English Touring Opera have been here twice! In the spring they delighted everyone with Mozart's Italian classic 'Cosi fan Tutte', and then mellowed the tone with two more modern and tragic operas 'Simon Boccanegra' and 'The Siege of Calais' by Verdi & Donizetti. In the autumn they took us to countertenor heaven with an advance visit to Crediton to perform music by Vivaldi (as Vivaldi would have wanted it performed). Then in November they gave us three amazing performances of Italian operas, translated into English. Cavalli's 'Jason' was a comic masterpiece in the early baroque style, Monteverdi's 'Coronation of Poppaea' brought that bitter-sweet element of tragedy. Finally Handel's 'Agrippina', though also somewhat grim in subject-matter, was a delightful romp from start to finish.

The ETO even stayed a further day to entertain us all at the Cathedral with Handel's 'Carmelite Vespers', joined by members of the Cathedral Choir, Counterpoint, and Isca Voices. In May 2014 they will be here again for Mozart's 'Magic Flute' (three nights running!) They are also planning Britten's 'Paul Bunyan' and Tippett's 'King Priam'- all at the Exeter Northcott Theatre.

In October Chris Caldwell and his wife Susie Hodder-Williams got together once again for a 'Music on the Edge' concert, to mark the opening of a nautically-flavoured Exhibition by Barnstaple artist Ed Crumpton, coincidentally titled 'Mariners Way'. In November we celebrated three anniversaries. First Chris Caldwell's 'Delta Saxophone Quartet' were here in Devon for two nights (1st & 2nd Nov) to play concerts to celebrate thirty years in the music business. The following night (or rather afternoon, in Buffalo NY) flautist Michael Colquhoun and his band 'Unusually Different' were at the Montante Centre in Carnasius College Buffalo for Mike's sixtieth birthday celebrations and a retrospective concert called 'Dualities'. Finally, on 13th November Soundart Radio at Dartington Hall celebrated seven years of community radio broadcasting (two years more than our own 'Phonic FM').

One last word should go to Julie Hill and Emma Welton of 'Exeter Contemporary Sounds'. Together, they have created a new monthly musical event for parents and children on Sundays. The incredibly popular 'Family Fun Day' started at Exeter Phoenix in September, with 'Earworms' in the Voodoo Lounge at 2pm. Hundreds of parents and children packed themselves into the Phoenix to hear Stephen Tanner's 'Isca Voices' break through the babble of bawling babies with their sweet singing. Subsequent events, which have involved other musicians, all introduced by Mervyn Bedford, have become so popular that the venue has been moved to the more spacious (and definitely family friendly) Exeter Northcott Theatre.

The musical year ended, as always, with a beery Christmas celebration at the Bridge Inn Topsham. Many thanks as always to landlord Nigel Cheffers-Heard and to the public spirited 'Show of Hands'. Steve Knightly and Phil Beer were there to sing and play fiddle. Miranda Sykes, their double bassist, was there - but just to sing along. Warwick Downes played the bull fiddle, while Paul Downes brought his guitar, and Chris Hoban added a little special something with his accordian. (See below.)

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

'Show of Hands'
Phil Beer
Warwick Downes
Chris Hoban
One vital ingredient: beer
Another: audience participation
"Five Gold Rings!"
Joining the happy throng:
Louis & Emma Ravensfield

Monday, 23 December 2013

"A Christmas Cracker" comes to Topsham Patrick Taylor, Carolyn Harries, Ruth Molins & Patrick Romer at the Bridge Inn Sunday 15 December 2013 Hear Patrick Romer's magnificent voice live on Phonic FM: 'Classical Journey' 10am Christmas Eve

A Christmas Cracker
Piano: Patrick Taylor
Mezzo Soprano: Carolyn Harries
Flutes: Ruth Molins
Readings & Poetry: Patrick Romer

Following two successful performances, at Aeolian Court in Chudleigh and Lustleigh Parish Church, "A Christmas Cracker" came to the Bridge Inn in Topsham.

Patrick Taylor was at the piano, assisted by his wife Michal, while Carolyn Harries sang, Ruth Molins played the flute, and actor Patrick Romer performed readings and poetry.

The combination was perfect.

In the 'sitting room' of the inn the audience were very comfortable. The new wood-burning stove is extremely efficient and everyone was warm as toast. Drinks were served at the bar and there was a choice of straight-backed chairs or luxurious armchairs.

The music ranged widely, taking in Thomas Ravenscroft, Gustav Holst, J S Bach and, of course, Tchaikovsky. Carolyn Harries sang solo songs, and also sang with piano and/or flute accompaniment. Ruth Molins played two lovely pieces from Tchaikovsky's 'Nutcracker Suite': 'Dance of the Reed Pipes' for regular flute, and 'Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy' for piccolo flute.

Special guest for the evening was actor Patrick Romer. Patrick bacame a member of the repertory company at Exeter Northcott Theatre back in the 1970s and performed in over 60 productions before working with the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company.

Patrick's repertoire seemed endless. There was Shakespeare, of course. Thomas Hardy (Under the Greenwood Tree), John Milton (L'Allegro), Hilary Mantel (Bring up the Bodies), T. S. Eliot (Journey of the Magi), Walter de la Mare (The Listeners), Dylan Thomas (The Carol Singers).

After the interval Patrick really got into his stride. Hardy's 'Absent-mindedness in the parish choir' was utterly entrancing. The story of the village choristers falling asleep, and accidentally launching into a bawdy ale-house song during the Christmas day service, was a comic play in miniature - with just one actor taking all the parts. Carolyn Harries joined with 'The Devil among the Tailors' to give us the full flavour. 

Benjamin Zephaniah's 'Talking Turkeys!!' gave us food for thought as we prepare for Christmas dinner. There was also time for some D H Lawrence and Charles Dickens - and finally, and very appropriately, Prospero's speech (to Ferdinand) in Shakespeare's 'Tempest'. "Our revels are now ended. These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air."

The audience, who sang several carols as the show went along, finished the concert in style with 'We wish you a merry Christmas'.

What could be better?

To hear Patrick in action - tune in to this week's 'Classical Journey'
10am Christmas Eve
Phonic FM

Mezzo Soprano & Flute
Carolyn Harries & Ruth Molins
Mezzo Soprano & Poetry
Carolyn Harries & Patrick Romer

Dance of the Flutes
The Sugar Plum Fairy
Singing & Percussion

Patrick Romer

with passion

The Happy Band
Ruth Molins: Flute
Carolyn Harries: Mezzo Soprano
Patrick Romer: Poetry & Reading
Patrick Taylor: Piano

 And a couple of lovely shots by Chris Avis:

Patrick Romer regales us all

Ruth Molins wets the whistle

The Good-Times Girls check out Exeter Northcott: Cathal O'Duill's Graffiti Classics Friday 21 December "The Extraordinary Adventures of Mister Benn" Saturday 22 December 2013 (Run: 11 Dec - 4 Jan)

¾ of Graffiti Classics
Double Bass: Cathal O'Duill
Violin: Marian Givens
Viola: Stephen Kennedy

Visiting drama
Mitzi Maybe
It it several years since 'The Good Time Girls' (Mitzi Maybe and Sally Scrumptious) were in concert here in Devon. Mitzi teaches drama in Lusaka these days, and only gets back to the UK at Christmas each year.

Last year, Mitzi appeared on the Christmas day broadcast from Phonic FM. The year before, she and Sally were in concert at Pullabrook.

This year Mitzi is determined to take in as many shows as possible, starting with London's West End. but leaving plenty of time to see what Exeter and Devon have to offer.

Plus: Emma Blanco
This Friday the long-awaited 'Graffiti Classics' arrived at Exeter Northcott Theatre. On Phonic FM (and Soundart Radio) we have enjoyed several extracts from their shows, including their fabulous video performance (see Cathal O'Duill's YouTube site).

However, nothing can beat the real thing. Sally Scrumptious was there to see the curtain rise at 7.30pm. Four indistinct figures were visible through a pall of stage 'smoke'. As the mist cleared, their identities became apparent.

On the far left was baritone and 'violabloke' Stephen Kennedy. Stephen combines his 'Graffiti' work with singing engagements. In November he was at Brentwood Cathedral in Essex to sing bass in the Verdi Requiem with the Billericay Choral Society.

On Stage
Stephen Kennedy, Emma Blanco,
Marian Givens and Cathal O'Duill
Next to him was the familiar vivacious figure of Emma Blanco. Emma could be seen and heard in a 'violin duel' with Ruth Elder in the 'Ciocârlia' (Skylark) by Romanian composer Grigoraş Dinicu during the Graffiti Classics video. On Friday evening Ruth was not with us, but her place was taken by Graffiti classics regular, Marian Givens.

On the far right was the man himself. Cathal O'Duill is an imposing figure, playing and manipulating his double bass with incredible strength and skill. In fact, all the performers defied the laws of human physiology by playing and dancing simultaneously. Sally Scrumptious was at pains to point out how difficult this is to do - and how easy the musicians made it look.

The programme opened with Richard Strauss' 'Dawn' from 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' (from the ethereal fog), and continued, in total contrast, with a 'hoe-down' with Cathal dancing arm in arm with his bass - while playing! The audience were naturally inclined to clap along, but got the rhythm all wrong. Unfazed, the players kept perfect time, while Cathal managed to make a joke about it without breaking step.

Brahms' Hungarian Dance No 5 was extended with several variations and, after apparently finishing, restarted in a gentle relaxed mode.

Stephen strummed his viola while Cathal crooned the opening to the next number, Giovanni Capurro's 'O Sole Mio' (My Sunshine), set to music by Eduardo di Capua. Stephen sang the original lyric in his sensational baritone voice - immediately attracting the attention of the two women who knelt at his feet to accompany him. Not to be outdone, Cathal donned sunglasses and fake sideburns to sing 'It's Now or Never' (Elvis Presley's version of Tony Martin's 'There's No Tomorrow' from 'Two Tickets to Broadway' by Schroeder & Gold), in the style of The King.

The women repeatedly switch allegiance between the two men, before the two come together in the climactic "Mio"/"Never". Singularly ingenious invention and choreography!

Emma introduced the now familiar 'Ciocârlia', which Cathal described as their 'birdy song'. In the extended stage version, Cathal provides a clucking chicken on the bass, and Stephen a budgerigar on his viola. Cathal caps that with his version of 'Woody Woodpecker' and is shot (in pantomime) by an arrow from Stephen's bow.
'Dark Eyes'

To add realism, Cathal throws a rubber chicken, which lands on the stage with an unceremonious thump. Stephen cradles the poor fowl in his arms and introduces the next song, which he sings seductively, "Очи чёрные" (Dark Eyes). The Ukrainian words are by Yevhen Hrebinka, sung to Florian Hermann's 'Valse Hommage'. With the addition of Russian fur ushankas ('ear hats') the Soviet flavour was complete. The comedy element continued, however, with Cathal, his ear-flaps dangling in the style of Private Pike's forage cap, leaping like a cossack as the women danced seductively.

Emma introduced the next number as by the old boy himself - J. S. Bach. Cryptically, she described it as an 'ode to a piece of lingerie'. Not to be confused with Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy', this was of course 'Air on a G String'. The violins and viola provided the continuo, while Cathal played that unmistakable theme on the bass. As he played, the other musicians knelt down. Cathal felt he had to do likewise. This position made it very difficult to play the huge cumbersome bass, and Cathal drew sympathy from the audience for his valiant efforts.

Finally the musicians all put their legs out in front of them, and then lay down on their backs. Cathal was forced to follow suit - demonstrating even greater agility and strength.

Franz Gruber's setting of
Joseph Mohr's 'Stille Nacht'
Arnsdorf 1818
Emma's next piece related to another item of clothing: Maurice Ravel's 'Boléro'. Stephen provided the snare-drum rhythm by tapping his viola - the beat being taken up by Emma and Marian in turn. Stephen's playing of the ostinato was singularly mellow - until it was interrupted by Cathal playing his bass like a giant guitar. Impossible, surely! But there he was, standing with a concert double bass under one arm, playing with no apparent difficulty.

A bit of 'business' involving tuning the instruments gave way to a unique rendition of 'Silent Night'. Cathal somehow managed to play the tune without stopping the strings. Instead he found all the notes by turning the tuning pegs on his bass - amazing!

Graffiti Classics took things to the interval with a traditional sea shanty 'Drunken Sailor'. A little impromptu sing-along with the audience got a little out of hand when one or two came up with extra verses. (e.g. Sally Scrupmtious!) The instrumental version was introduced by Cathal's description of their exhausting experiences playing to audiences on cruise ships in the Bay of Biscay. They reproduced the sound of a creaking ship perfectly by screwing bows on wood and string, before slowly breaking into "Hee-roar and up she rouses!" before singing (some of) the verses heard earlier. Stephen's west-country/salty-sea-dog brogue was classic. Finally, the traditional Hornpipe.
Marketing Manager
Cathal O'Duill

While the other performers prepared for the remainder of the show, Cathal was in the foyer selling copies of their latest CDs. Where does he get the energy? Immediately the curtain rose after the interval, the group struck up 'Orange Blossom Special' by Ervin Rouse. This bluegrass classic was perfect for the ever-inventive Graffiti Classics team. With Cathal in the lead carrying his bass they steamed round the stage in a very convincing representation of a trip down the Seaboard Air Line Railroad from New York to Miami (via Jackson, Mississippi of course!)

Suddenly we were in South America - Argentina. Astor Piazolla's 'Campursita' was brought to life with audience participation. After several false starts, Cathal had everyone giving the peremptory double clap every eight beats. Once the tango was well under way, Cathal added a new element, by leading his double bass in the dance - while playing.

Alexei Tannovitsky
as Prince Gvidon Saltanovich
with the Mariinsky Opera
Stephen prefaced his version of Prince Gvidon's 'Flight of the Bumblebee' from Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Tsar Saltan' by suggesting it would be a viola virtuoso performance. When the moment came, however, he somehow managed to sing the tune, modulating his baritone voice by shaking his cheeks from side to side. No-one was quite sure how he managed it, but the effect was very impressive - and highly amusing!

Emma wore red horns, and Marian a cowboy hat, for the Charlie Daniels Band's version of Vassar Clements' 'Lonesome Fiddle Blues'. Up one octave and played at breakneck speed 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia' is the perfect vehicle for a virtuoso display by two first-class performers. Marian, as 'Johnny' wins the contest, of course, but Emma's playing ran a very close second. Special pyrotechnics even made it possible for her bow to burst into flames at one point.

All the instruments were piled up on stage, as depicted on the group's studio album, 'The Graffiti Classics'. This was a cue for Cathal's sincere prayer for everyone to buy a copy before they left. Also, it was a chance for him to sing a solo Irish song. "Which Irish song should I sing?" he asked. Above the tumult of voices calling out, "Danny Boy" one small voice broke through from the back. "Silent Night!" In the ensuing pandemonium, Cathal managed to persuade the owner of the mystery voice to join him on stage. Jack, aged nine, sang 'Silent Night' with Cathal, followed by 'Away in a Manger', so beautifully that he received his own round of applause before hugging the delighted Cathal and leaving the stage.

Jack, the ad hoc star,
sang 'Silent Night'
Cathal did sing 'Danny Boy' of course. (The tune is the traditional 'Londonderry Air', but the words are - dare I say it - composed by an Englishman, Frederic Weatherly K.C.) Stephen, Emma and Marian, sitting behind Cathal constantly upstaged him during the performance waving cigarette lighters and Ireland scarves, donning ludicrous St Patrick's Day Parade hats and downing pints of Guinness. Cathal never quite caught them at it, but their antics added something very new to a delightful traditional song.

Marian had another song for us - this time with audience participation. With a little help from Cathal everyone got the hang of the words. "Hava Nagila" is Hebrew for "Let us rejoice". Emma and Marian played the haunting Klezmer music and danced the grapevine, as the audience delivered the words with increasing confidence. "Hava nagila. Hava nagila. Hava nagila. La. La. La.", with appropriate hand claps.

The overture to Georges Bizet's 'Carmen' led (naturally) to 'Adeste Fidelis' which Cathal sang perfectly in Latin. The children were encouraged to sing Frederick Oakeley's version 'O Come All Ye Faithful' followed by James Pierpoint's 'One Horse Open Sleigh'. Any adults who could not manage to sing in descant, were permitted to whistle. Finally we returned to 'Carmen' for the ever popular 'Toreador's Song' - in Stephen's faultless baritone, naturally.
Stephen and Cathal
sign copies of their CDs
in the Northcott foyer.
Marian just looks glamorous!

To ecstatic applause, the quartet returned to the stage for an encore. They finished with the piece everyone was waiting for. The final 'Galop Infernal' from Jacques Offenbach's 'Orphée aux Enfers' or, put more simply, 'The Can-Can'. Emma and Marian danced a somewhat refined version of the Galop as they played, but Cathal's dance, round and round his double bass, was truly infernal. What a finish!

 Find out more: The Graffiti Classics Website

 More fun at the Northcott: 'Mr Benn'

Tall Stories Theatre Company
The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr Benn
Ellie Bell is 'Number Two'
Daniel Foxsmith is 'Mr Benn'
Duncan Macinnes is 'Number One'
Tim Hibberd is 'The Shopkeeper'
an (uncredited) extra player
translates every word into sign language

The Graffiti Classics concert came right in the middle of the extra long run of 'The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr Benn' put on by Tall Stories Theatre Company. The run continues until 4th January 2014, but with no performances on 25th December, 30th December, 31st December or 1st January, and only one performance on Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and 2nd January. There are two performances on every other day - 11am and 2pm.

Sally Scrumptious and Mitzi Maybe were both there, with Mitzi's seven year old son Eric, on Saturday for the 2pm performance. They were greatly impressed by what they saw.

Tim Hibberd's shopkeeper is utterly brilliant. His performance shines in every line. His character is always full of energy and life and holds the audience's attention like a magnet. His two assistants, played by Ellie Bell and Duncan MacInnes, although clearly his underlings are quite his equal in sparkling charisma.

Daniel Foxsmith as Mr Benn clearly leads a rather dull life. (Something which the other three are determined to put right.) However, Daniel's characterisation is anything but dull. He is more interested in wearing the right suit and tie (double Windsor knot!) than what to wear to a fancy dress party, but his every word and gesture fascinates and delights the eye and ear.

The simple set, which consists of three doors in frames on wheels, are skilfully manoeuvred by the other three to create Mr Benn's house, his train to work, the fancy dress shop, and the changing cubicle - not to mention the fascinating worlds to which he is transported. Children are entranced by the story, but adults watch in amazement as the players and props move in perfect synchrony to create a seamless sense of time and space.

There seems to be no limit to the skills of the actors. Conjuring tricks, puppetry, songs and dances all illustrate the engaging story of Mr Benn as he travels to exotic locations and solves the problems of the colourful inhabitants with his endearing common sense.

Every movement, every facial expression, every entrance and exit is perfectly choreographed and timed. The costume changes are slick and convincing, and all the off-stage 'business' is thoroughly and imaginatively done. One final 'ace' in this full house of theatrical skill is the addition of a fifth character (uncredited). She seems to be part of the plot, and even joins in some of the dances. All the while she translates all the words and sounds into sign language for audience members with hearing difficulties.

Sally and Mitzi were simply amazed by the work and imagination that had gone into this production, and the spectacular results on stage. Eric, quite simply, loved it.

This is thoroughly recommended for family entertainment over the Christmas period.

Tickets £12 - details on the Northcott Website

Box Office 01392 493493 or book online

Local school groups have been inspired by 'Mr Benn'
to make their own displays for the Northcott foyer:

The Deep Sea Diver
The Red Knight

And a carnival cut-out standee:

Mitzi Maybe: The Red Knight
Sally Scrumptious: Deep Sea Diver
Eric: The Cook
With more characters on the reverse
(a little bit scary actually!)

Opposite the Northcott
in The Forum
visitors can enjoy a coffee
and use the grand piano
Any requests?

(Hear Mitzi Maybe's music on
Tuesday's 'Classical Journey')

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Classical Journey: Musical Events Across Devon Soundart Radio 2pm Sunday 15 December 2013 Phonic FM 10am Tuesday 17 December 2013

Saturday 14 December
East Devon Choral Society
Morten Lauridsen: "Lux Aeterna"
Tiverton Baptist Church
(details to follow)
Friday 13 December
Four Seasons String Quartet
'A Baroque Christmas Celebration'
Powderham Castle

(see details)

This week's special feature:
Graffiti Classics
Viola (& Baritone): Stephen Kennedy
Violin: Ruth Elder
Double Bass: Cathal O'Duill
Violin: Emma Blanco
Northcott Theatre
Friday 20 December

Northcott Media Officer, Jenny Hogg, will be in the Phonic FM studio to discuss 'Graffiti Classics' and other musical events coming up at the Northcott.

Links: follow the links below to find out more about the public participation theatre projects being supported and hosted by Exeter Northcott Theatre in 2014 -

New Jerusalem

The Day We Played Brazil

Events for Christmas 2013:

Carolyn Harries
Mezzo Soprano
A Christmas Cracker
1. Lustleigh Parish Church
Sunday 15 December 3pm
2. Bridge Inn Topsham
Wednesday 18 December 7.30pm
Piano: Patrick Taylor
Flute: Ruth Molins
Reader: Patrick Romer
Mezzo Soprano: Carolyn Harries
- and audience participation.
Tickets: £7
Lustleigh: 01647 277345
Topsham: 01392 873862

Jonathan Watts
Dartington Community Choir
Dartington Community Choir
& Devon Baroque
Dartington Great Hall
Sunday 15 December 7.30pm
Director: Jonathan Watts
J S Bach: Cantata 191 (Gloria in Excelsis Deo)
A L Vivaldi: Gloria in D major (RV 589)
G F Handel: Gloria (HWV deest - found 2001)
Tickets: £16 (student/U16 £6)
Dartington Box Office: 01803 847070
Book On Line

Exeter Cathedral Choir
Christmas with the Cathedral Choir
Exeter Cathedral
Wednesday 18 December 6.45-for-7.30pm
Tickets: £8-15 ( student £6-12  U18 £5 )
01392 285983 or buy online
(repeat of concert on Sat 14 Dec)

Exeter Festival Chorus

Handel's "Messiah"

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
& Exeter Festival Chorus
Exeter University Great Hall
Thursday 19 December 7.30pm
Conductor: Christian Curnyn
Soprano: Rebecca Bottone
(Academy of Ancient Music)
Counter-Tenor: William Towers
(English Baroque Soloists)
Tenor: Samuel Boden
(English National Opera)
Baritone: Christopher Purves
(English National Opera)
Tickets: £16-£20.50 (reductions for groups)
Under 16s: £8.50-£10.50
Book using link on BSO website

Graffiti Classics
Graffiti Classics
Exeter Northcott Theatre
Friday 20 December 7.30pm
Tickets: £16 (group of 11 £160)
Standby: £8
Northcott Box Office: 01392 493493

Counterpoint Choir
Buckfast Abbey
Saturday 21 December 3pm
Admission: FREE
(Arrive in time for a good seat!)

Julie De'Ath Lancaster
The Sheldon Singers
St Paul's Church Honiton
Saturday 21 December 7.30pm
Conductor: Julie De'Ath Lancaster
Tickets: £12/10
01404 43805

St Stephen's Church Exeter
Exeter Chamber Choir
St Stephen's Church Exeter
Saturday 21 December 7.30pm
Ariel Ramirez: Misa Criola
Guitar: Andrew Barrett
Keyboard: Andrew Daldorph
and Christmas Carols
Tickets: £10 (student/U16 £5)
Keith Wainwright: 01297 553955
or online booking form