Gig review- Gary Barlow, Hull, April, 2018

Gary Barlow

Hull City Hall

When you’re married to the world’s biggest Take That fan, it’s inevitable that you’ll see them live at some point.

For me it should have happened in 2006, but a travel trip came up. So while my other half went to every tour the band and Gary Barlow staged, I missed out. The queues, the obsessive fans, and the hype put me off, though on TV, that’s perfectly fine.

Finally I see the seasoned singer/songwriter on the second Hull date of his tour, and it’s worth the wait.

But first, the best support act I could hope for: KT Tunstall. I first saw her live 10 years ago (almost to the day) in Grimsby, and my feet were so sore from standing, it took me an hour to recover.

A decade later and little has changed. She is still one of the best singer-songwriters of her generation, and as live performers go, she takes some beating.

The main attraction isn’t bad either. Okay, even if you’re not a fan, you have to admire Barlow’s showmanship. He works a crowd beautifully, sounds incredible and even manages some of the moves from those early days.

And what a wealth of songs, including the solo stuff, the Take That classics and some tracks from musicals such as Finding Neverland.

The man works his derrière off, so little wonder the fans go wild from minute one to the final song.

His band are also phenomenal, including Donavan Hepburn, probably the best drummer in Blighty today. His work with ELO and Take That underlines the fact with heavy strokes.

I walked two miles in the rain to see the gig, and it was worth every sodden footstep.

Barlow might have his critics, but I defy any of them to do what he does on stage for 90 minutes. The man is an entertainment machine, whose up tempo tracks and heart-wrenching ballads are so well crafted and performed, it’s a joy to see live.

The fact he plays Hull so rarely means it was extra special for the fans who first saw him and Take That at LA’s nightclub all those years ago.

Every gig-goer wants value for money, and this more than delivers on that score.

With assorted shows in this neck of the woods in the coming months, I doubt he’ll have much trouble selling tickets. But if you are going, safe to say you’re in for a treat.

Move over Hugh Jackman. A greater showman just stole your title.


Theatre review – Champions of Magic

Champions of Magic

Grand Opera House, York

“Five world-class illusionists. Sold out shows across the globe. Five star rave reviews and a run in London’s West End.”

Well, I’ll give the Champions of Magic marketing team this: they know how to hype a show.

I really want it to work as I settle into the Grand Opera House, York. I love sleight of hand, sorcery and giggles as much as the next person.

And there’s plenty of those thanks to Young and Strange, the duo whose ’sawing a woman in half’ gags are pretty impressive, as is their banter. It’s matey fun where you don’t take things too seriously.

I can’t help but be reminded of Magicians, the Mitchell and Webb comedy movie from years ago that did a successful vanishing act despite being okay.

There’s a young Mexican illusionist whose levitating girl routine is effective, and he throws an escapology spot in there which elicits a whoop from me, despite a few dead moments that need more showbiz glamour.

There’s also a sassy American lady whose routines involving cards and rubber bands are fun, but as I’m sat in the gods and most of her act takes place downstairs and out of sight, I have to watch the routine on camera. A necessary evil maybe, but magic on video is not why you pay your money.

The whole thing is fun but a little awkward. A master of ceremonies is desperately needed to introduce the acts and segue between them. Instead they just sort of merge together.

Best of the bunch is a guy who has the mannerisms of David Tennant, the patter of Joe Lycett and looks like Declan Donnelly. His routines are often hilarious, well staged and he’s hugely likeable. He also knows what you’re thinking, and chances are you won’t mind a bit.

At times I feel like I’m on a cruise ship, watching a show that ticks the boxes and exploits well-worn magic gags, but needs something extra, like a race car desperate for a turbo charger.

So yes, it’s great fun, I laughed a lot and though it felt like I saw a tenth of the action on video, it proved great entertainment for a Friday night.

Would I rush back to see it again? Probably not. Maybe a bloke in a box apparently being perforated with sticks is awesome for those who’ve never seen this sort of thing before.

It is good family entertainment, and kids should love it. I’ve never forgotten the escapologist I saw as a youngster, so I’m guessing some of the young ’uns in the audience will be gobsmacked by what they’ve seen

And full marks to them all for effort.

It might not all work, and may not be the mind-blowing spectacular the adverts promise, but it is a fun night out even if at times it feels like a dry run for a bigger show.

To wrap things up, I’ll leave you with this old classic: Think of a number. Add 101. Subtract 51. Now add seven. Finally, take away the number you first thought of. The answer is 57, right?

And if you don’t know how that’s done, chances are you’ll love the show.

Film review – Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs

Starring (The voices of) Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray

Directed by Wes Anderson

Certificate PG

Wes Anderson’s latest offering is so gloriously arty, I half expect someone to serve me a £5 bowl of cereal and give my beard a hipster trim during the screening.

I can only imagine what the handful of kids present made of it. It’s not marketed as a children’s film, but, you know – ’Dogs and animation’. It goes with the stereotype that lazy film schedulers use to attract an audience.

What it actually is is a movie for grown ups who love original cinema, and boasts so much detail, I’m pretty exhausted by the finale.

The plot: all canine pets of Megasaki City are exiled to a huge rubbish dump called Trash Island. Atari, a 12-year-old lad, flies there alone in search of his bodyguard-dog, Spots. With the assistance of a pack of mongrel friends, he undertakes an extraordinary journey.

And that’s about it plotwise, but this is more than that. A glorious mix of stop motion and anime with a great Alexandre Desplat score. All thumping drums and portent.

With Anderson’s usual rep company of vocal artists, including Bill Murray (naturally), Edward Norton and new addition Bryan Cranston, the movie unfolds with various flashbacks, typically witty deadpan one-liners and a wealth of obligatory nods to Hokusai’s The Wave and other iconic Japanese art.

At times it feels like an animated coffee table book, bursting with detail and rich artwork.

As someone who’s been hooked on Anderson’s work since Rushmore almost 20 years ago, it’s an inspiration to see him and his army of creatives pushing the realms of animation and traditional storytelling to breaking point.

And oh those dogs. Every shape and type, including the sort of mechanical hounds last seen in Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

At 101 minutes, it’s at least 10 minutes too long. Comedies, even as deadpan as this, should be 90 minutes or less, but it hardly matters. There’s so much wit, charm and self assured storytelling here, that it’s worth several viewings.

I look forward it seeing it again, because the adventures of Chief, Rex, Atari, King and Duke get under your skin, and Greta Gerwig’s exchange student Tracy Walker is equally compelling.

Like Anderson’s previous animated offering involving Mr Fox, this is just as fantastic.


Film review – Ready Player One

Ready Player One

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Simon Pegg

Certificate 12A

It’s a couple of years since I read Ernest Cline’s best selling novel Ready Player One, a glorious homage to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It boasts a similar set up: young impoverished protagonist gets a shot at owning a magical corporation, not via a golden ticket but three keys hidden in a digital wonderland called the Oasis.

Following the death of creator James Halliday, the hunt is on to find said keys to his kingdom. Of course the quest is not easy, and as orphan ghetto-dweller Wade Watts, a mysterious young woman and assorted mates take on the quest, they attempt to outsmart corporate bad guy Nolan Sorrento, who uses slave labour to find the keys.

The book was bursting with pop culture references, many of which were films directed or produced by Steven Spielberg. So who better than the geek master himself to helm the lavish conversion?

The fact I share the same birthday as Watts; was weaned on the films of Spielberg and Atari 2600 games, and heard countless Rush albums booming through my brother’s bedroom wall at a formative age means for the first half of the film adaptation I feel like it was made just for me.

Remarkably portions of the movie were shot in Birmingham, just round the corner from where I went to college, and like Wreck-It Ralph, there’s a feeling of wallowing in the countless knowing references.

Thankfully it’s been long enough since I read the book that I’m not too precious about what’s been left in and what’s been removed. So yes, this is an adaptation of the book, but it’s also very much its own beast, a little like The Hobbit movies which used the novel as a springboard into something bigger and more elaborate.

I can see how Spielberg managed to go off and direct The Post while he was waiting for the endless special effects and CGI to be completed by an army of visual effects artists. There’s so much dazzling eye candy on display, I’ll be going through certain scenes frame by frame to spot all of the references.

There’s the pulse rifle from Aliens; Han Solo’s belt and holster with a Thundercats buckle; the incantation from Excalibur, and scenes from The Shining are splendid.

As an uber geek, I get that fuzzy feeling of spotting stuff others are bound to miss, but though it doesn’t all work, it comes so close to hitting the bull’s eye, it’s hard too quibble with the shortcomings.

As it’s a Warner Bros movie, obviously most of the references are from their back catalogue, but there are also some great references to Star Trek and other none-WB properties.

Tye Sheridan does a good job as the hero while Rogue One’s Ben Mendelsohn is a fine villain. Good support comes from Simon Pegg and Mark Rylance as the thinly veiled Jobs and Wozniak types.

However, it’s Oldham’s own Olivia Cooke who steals the movie, with a near-perfect American accent, as both the real world heroine Samantha and her avatar alter ego ’Art3mis’, she has that star quality that ensures every scene she’s in levels up.

(And as she proved during Press interviews, she’s even more entertaining as herself).

Obviously there are sub plots which barely get a mention or feel glossed over. That’s often the way with movie conversions; epic spectacle usually takes precedence over character development, but it is remarkable how close Spielberg comes to matching some of the source material, such as the zero-G dance routine I recall from the book.

Sadly the Iron Giant, which was an anti-war droid in the classic cartoon, is now anything but, even if he is a weapon in a virtual battle.

And while key book nods to Blade Runner and Rush are either ’overlooked’ (unintentional The Shining pun), or just referenced as posters and tee shirts, it doesn’t affect things too much.

I’ll happily watch the whole thing again and judge it on its own merits instead of comparing it to the book.

RPO is a tribute to the thousands of artists who helped Cline and Spielberg’s vision come to life, and it’s hard not to be dazzled by that gobsmacking race in which the Back to the Future De Lorean and Kaneda’s bike from Akira race at breakneck speeds against a wealth of obstacles and competitors.

At 71, Steven Spielberg still delivers the sort of dazzling escapism most directors half his age can only dream of.

Do your eyes a favour and see it on a huge screen with great sound. It’s worth every penny.


Sent from my iPad