Saturday, 5 October 2013

Review: WOMAD 2013

WOMAD 2013 … or to give its full title ‘World of Music, Arts and Dance’ is an international arts festival.
The central aim of WOMAD is to celebrate the world's many forms of music, arts and dance. Now in its 21st year, having been started by Peter Gabriel, musician and artist, and Mark Kidel, a music documentary maker, the UK festival is held in Charlton Park, Wiltshire. The main arena holds four stages, with a further four in the Arboretum – including the BBC Radio 3 stage.
An old fashioned steam fair, global market, children's area, and wellbeing section are also found on the WOMAD UK festival site. As you would expect there is a diverse selection of food from all over the world, including Italian, Australian, Indian, Philippine, Greek, Mexican, French, Caribbean, Thai, and the usual burgers – although they are made from top quality organic beef.
In the market area there are many stalls selling New Age jewellery, scarfs and bracelets, flower garlands, Saharan arts, Eco gadgets, reed baskets and mats. Of course, flower power shirts and dresses are also available.
The World of Wellbeing is set in a beautiful and tranquil section of the site shaded by the trees in the Arboretum. There are various massage tents and variety of soothing therapies, to help you relax and recover from all of the dancing – or you can simply enjoy some tea and cakes away from the busy arena.
Carminho, a young Portuguese singer who is following in the Fado tradition of music, played in the Siam Tent, supported by the usual acoustic backing of classical guitar, acoustic bass guitar and a traditional Portuguese guitar. Like many of the performers at the festival she does not sing in English, however her clear and crisp voice swoops and soars with optimism conveying the emotion in her songs. After the first, very emotional, song she paused and spoke in careful English saying that ‘this (festival) was a spectacular moment in the life of everybody who loves music’.
While exploring the ‘market’ area in the centre of the main arena it was hard to miss the irresistible African beat of Dizu Plaatjies and the Ibuyambo Ensemble. Their influence had the crowd bouncing and dancing. Between the songs there was a tribal hunting dance which finished with a great round of applause.
Yesking Live, originally formed with Mark Rae and Rhys Adams, play a blend of hip hop, dancehall, ragga and skank–ska. The band is backed by lead and bass guitar, trumpet, saxophone, drums and keyboards (played by Rhys Adams). Their set opened with guest vocalist Mystro for the first two songs – ‘Run Boy Run’, ‘Friends Like Mine’, bring his hip hop flavour to the group.
With Mel Uye-Parker and Ríoghnach Connolly taking over the vocals the mood shifts to a more mellow tone with ‘Just Like Me’, ‘Devil Inside’, ‘Overproof’ – the group’s first single, ‘Hardground’, ‘Chicken Chops’, ‘Rainbow Country’ - a Bob Marley song, was sung by the bass player Kodjovi Kush. The set finished with ‘Circles’, and ‘Secret King’ whereMystro re-joins the group on stage, swelling their number to 9.
Fimber Bravo is a famous steel drum artist. He has toured with Blur, worked with Electro-pop band Hot Chips and was a pivotal member of the 20th Century Steel Band whose mid-seventies hit ‘Heaven And Hell Is On Earth’ has been sampled by many of the hip-hop elite – even appearing on Jennifer Lopez’s hit ‘Jenny From the Block’. His music breaks the stereotype of what you would normally expect from a Jamaican steel band, with support from Electronic keyboard, electric guitar, rock drum kit and the new addition of an African Kora.
The set was very lively, with Fimber playing the steel drum with amazing speed and passion – the whole audience responding to the beat from the very strident drummer and guitarist. Fimber, paused for breath, saying although it was his first time at WOMAD he was enjoying it, as the feel of the festival was good.
Babylon Circus, are a SKA and reggae group who mix punk, rock, swing and jazz influences into their sound. This is their second time at WOMAD - they remember how good it was last time and said they planned on helping everyone enjoy this festival as much as they did on their last visit. This flamboyant French group is headed by two singers, a brass section with a trombone, trumpet and a saxophone, keyboard, drums, bass and lead guitar. Their energy and enthusiasm flowed from the stage and into the audience in the tent and dancing spread out into the arena.
WOMAD is truly a multi-national musical experience and if you are open to new forms of music and appreciate the passion and energy of talented performers, whatever the language, this is the festival for you. It is a vast and well organised festival, but the people and the ethos of it, make you feel like you’ve been invited to an intimate gathering of people who just want to share their music.
Review by Michael Butterworth

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Review: Bleech at Barfly, Camden - 2012

Barfly is situated in Camden just down the road from the Roundhouse. It's a small pub with an upstairs venue which features live music every evening. The evening opened with Night Business whose striking lead singer has vocal tones and delivery like his hero David Bowie. Although they do convincing covers they play their own compositions including ‘Lets Out’ and ‘Moving On’. The latter having a sound reminiscent of what was good in the 80's.


Gaoler's Daughter, fronted by John Sterry, played a combination of good rock songs like ‘Invisible Man’ and mellower songs such as ‘Three Days Rain’, followed by ‘Cordelia’. ‘How to Make Time’ was musically the most interesting. The audience really got into ‘When We Were You’, their most recent single, encouraged by its staccato rhythm.



Eyes On Film, with five members, a drum kit and keyboards had difficulty fitting on the small stage. Fronted by Dan Mills, with Libertines singer Carl Barat on guitar, they played an energetic set with aggressive lyrics and delivery.




Back from their successful German tour and in front of a home crowd, Bleech: Jennifer O'Neil - Lead vocals and guitar, sister Katherine - Backing vocals and bass guitar, and Matt Bick - Drums and backing vocals; gave the audience what they came for, a rousing and powerful rock/grunge adrenaline fuelled set.


They opened the set with an extended version of 'Dancing Without You', that fans of the group and their debut album 'Nude' know and love. Before playing some new songs they powered through, five more songs from their album including their last single 'Break My Nose', a cover of David Bowie's ‘Is It True Boys Don't Cry?’ and the self-affirming, often mis-titled, ‘I Want to Be Me’.


New songs included, ‘Here I Am’, ‘Taking Over’ and ‘Control’ - taken from their current EP. I found ‘70's Child’ very reminiscent of Elastica with Jen singing in a much higher key than usual. As Jen announced that this would be the last song there were shouts from the audience that they wanted more. Jen pointed out that 'you are supposed to say that when we have left the stage' much to the amusement of the crowd.


As the fans so enthusiastically requested an encore they were treated to an acapella version of ‘Flower Hands’ and closed with one of their first recording, ‘Are You Listening’ - which has a great combination of bass and lead guitar.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Review: Mastering Apple Aperture 3.X

I've not read a whole book electronically before, so I downloaded to eBook and the PDF version. 

I found the PDF a better format because this is a technical book and not a novel so the layout and links to the screen shots were consistent. With the eBook the structure fell apart as the font size was changed and the initial layout had very few paragraphs per page.

The author makes a very important statement at the start of he book outlining the target audience should be comfortable with using a Mac, shooting in RAW and have already used Aperture. I fit in to this category and hoped that I would discover some of Apertures less obvious features and unlock them to enhance my experience.

I found the book very approachable, although the pace is quite quick this is because the writing style is succinct and does not waste time padding out the text with irrelevant or really basic information. It gets right into the product and explains what features it has and gives insight into what gives the products it's performance.

The structure of the book is well thought out and the first few chapters cover key theories about Aperture itself and the digital image processing.

I have done a lot of importing into Aperture and the first chapter revealed some features that I had not seen before. The default import process is very good but the author demonstrates what more can be done just by simply adding some of the extra functions into the import panel.

There is a good explanation of how the import process works, how to handle shooting RAW+JPEG, shooting with the camera tethered and filtering the import to only import RAW, JPEG or Video files. The guidance extends into the pros and cons of importing into Apertures Library or linking the files from your local storage. As in many of the other chapters in the book there are tips and recommendations on how to organise your photo imports and real world examples to aid the reader in applying the knowledge to their own processes.

After the images are imported the next obvious thing to do is to teak and edit them. The book reinforces the fact that Aperture is primarily a management application, however it does have some very good features making adjustments to images and more importantly that these are split between ones that work on the RAW data and others that work in the RGB colour space. There is a discussion on how these differences affect the changes to the images but most significantly that Aperture makes changes using 32-bit math, no matter what the source image is and as such these changes are much smoother than other applications. Equally significant is the reminder that some of the tools are only adequate and other programs do some of the adjustments better.

Building on the topic of adjustment tools there is a whole chapter devoted to the subject of using the curves function to archive various adjustments and how in some cases, with knowledge of how they work, they can do some types of adjustments better than the more obvious adjustments. The explanations of what curves can do and how to use them is not only discussed in detail, but practical examples are given to put this into context, aid the understanding of the principles and how to archive great results.

Once you have been guided as to what you can do the product the author brings all of the knowledge bought to you from the beginning of the book into further real world examples.

In spite of pointing our some of Apertures shortcomings, the author points out that there is a great number of plug-ins that can augment the process of enhancing the images in the library. He then guides the reader through some of the most useful add-ons, gives details of where they can be purchased from, as well as illustrating their use and scenarios where you may want to pop outside of the main program. In an unbiased way, which is visible thought the book, the author also points out the possible pitfalls of this side of the product.

Obviously it is all well and good taking a lot of images and organising them well, but unless you do something with them it dies not matter how good a program is. With this in mind two of the chapters explain, in good detail, how to export images for the web, social networking and photo sharing - this can be done from within Aperture. The author also goes into detail about how to watermark your images and the pros and cons of direct publishing or export and upload. The second chapter goes through, in detail, on how to print your images the way you want, the quality settings and how to set profiles for more accurate printing.

Finally the book examines, in much greater depth how to make Metadata work for you. He goes through the extra options you have in managing your library of photographs as well as how this can enhance the visibility of your images on the web. There is also mention of other areas where you might need to add special or custom data to your images, say for stock libraries or publishing houses.

All-in-all this is a great no frills guide to Aperture, but it is also a great tutorial in the essential understanding of digital imaging and management that I feel would help even if you we're not using Aperture. It is also apparent the author really understands the subject and is very capable at expressing his knowledge in a clear and understandable way.

Review: The Big Feastival - 2012


The Big Feastival or to give it its full name - Jamie Oliver presents the Big Feastival with Alex James – a, perhaps aptly, mouthful of a name.

Last year saw the inaugural, very successful; Big Feastival launched by Jamie Oliver and held on Clapham Common. It also saw the short-lived and somewhat notorious Alex James Presents Harvest Festival promoted by the now defunct Big Wheel Promotions Ltd Company. The latter being held on the west Oxfordshire farm of Alex James the Cheese maker, and Blur bassist.



Both were billed as the perfect music festival for a foodie and their family. This year’s Big Feastival combined the two with Oliver’s festival relocating to James’ farm. The site layout has changed since last year; the old arena is now the car park and the festival is in the field next door, a big improvement during the event but not so much before and after.



The car park entrance being moved from its original back road to the train station has slowed traffic down considerably. However, the boredom of sitting in your car is significantly reduced by trying to identify the wonderful aromas that drift towards you from the site. Some areas of the site were a little too soft underfoot but efforts had been made to address this with bark chips or areas being cordoned off. Overall it seemed much busier than 2011, a positive note given the current economic lows.



Usually at a festival you have a number of stages offering music, the Big Feastival is slightly different, one music stage, two food stages, an artisan food market and an onsite fairground. The Big Kitchen ‘stage’ has big name chefs known to the majority of the audience through their television or newspaper appearances. On the Chefs’ Table ‘stage’ less well known but nevertheless accomplished chefs offer tips and answer questions from the punters.

Also at festivals you can expect a selection of food and drink. This is where Feastivalexcels, aside from the usual suspects of tea, coffee, soft drinks and beer a wide selection of wines and spirits were available. On the food side the usual was accompanied by organic deli, chocolate, ice cream, gourmet burgers, Asian, Australian, Spanish and Italian pies and pastries. A few of the outlets even had chefs cooking the food, freshly prepared on site, and its quality showed. Although expensive compared to the usual fare available at Festival the higher taste and quality of the food made its pricing reasonable – you get what you pay for.



Over the weekend the weather was mostly dry and, on Saturday at least, a bit sunnier than you would expect at the beginning of September. The only downside was the noticeable chill in the air as the nights drew in. Food wise Saturday’s highlights offered Simon Rogan, best known through his achievements on the Great British Menu, and one of only two chefs to achieve a perfect 10 from the Good Food Guide; the other being one Heston Blumenthal.



His demonstration to an eager audience was of great grouse roll faggots with baked beetroot. Great chatter and cooking made simple. Australian Bill Granger opened Sunday’s Big Kitchen with an oiled and spiced rump steak fried in six minutes with pepper, chilli and pineapple salsa. He reminisced about his childhood food experiences back in Australia and how his liking for spicy food came from his parents. His main focus was to give meal ideas that were quick and tasty to help families to eat great food without spending hours in the kitchen or resorting to mass produced, highly processed, convenience food.



Next came Jamie Oliver and John Ralehan from ‘Fifteen’, Oliver’s chef training scheme, produced his signature BBQ sauce and pulled pork with a fresh slaw with apple, cabbage, and onion. This was followed by Jia, also from ‘Fifteen’ - vajora mista – peppers, zucchini, asparagus and aubergine. Finally, Gennaro Contaldo came on with Spaghetti Vongole, anchovies and clams Neapolitan style. GennaroJamie’s Italian Cooking mentor, has a great stage presence with his wonderful Italian mannerisms and kept the youthful exuberance of Jamie in check.

Musically Saturday offered a mixed selection of musical styles starting with the winner of a competition for unsigned acts, Sahand, and topped off with the eclectic dynamo that isPaloma FaithSweet Lights, from Philadelpia, a lone musician surrounded by equipment - providing a backing track and apparently popular with DJs in the know, offered a reasonable set. Alas for him it didn’t receive the full attention of the audience due to a certain Mr. Oliver being on stage elsewhere.



Next were the Cuban Brothers with a quirky comedy music routine including risqué jokes and over the top dancing to a backing track. Despite the backing track the lead performer had a surprisingly good voice. They drew a big frenetic crowd, including Jamie Oliver who really enjoyed this unusual act. Following on were the Producers, a supergroup who are all musical royalty in their own right – Lol CrèmeTrevor HornStephen Lipson, and Ash Soan.



Their set consisted of songs they wrote, recorded or produced during their individual careers or have developed together for their new joint album as Producers includingCounty Jail by Godley & CreamSlave to the Rhythm by Grace JonesAll the Things She Said from Russian duo Tattoo (with fabulous singing from the backing singers); Frankie Goes to Hollywood's - The Power of Love.



The Producers main vocalist, Ryan, did not have the roundness of Holly Johnson’s but a great rendition nevertheless and the crowd sang along. He did, however have hints of Rod Stewart/Robert Plant on their last album track. The last song of the set was the classic Buggles song Video Killed the Radio Star. They stayed on stage and were joined by Alex James, on bass guitar and Jamie Oliver, on a second set of drums, creating 'The Farm Loving Criminals' to perform the infamous FGH song Relax.

Gaz Coombes, one time front man for Supergrass, arrived on stage to perform tracks from his new album Here Comes the Bombs alongside this was an interesting cover of The Beat’s track Mirror in the bathroom'. Then the musical tempo and enthusiasm from the audience really began to climb with the Noisettes’ performing a of a string of recognisable hits including That Girl’s in Love With YouDon't Upset The Rhythm and ending with a rousing rendition of Remember Me.



The audience showed their appreciation with loud applause while Paloma Faith watched from the pit, supporting her fellow Brit School graduates. J P Cooper then quietened things down with a special extra three song acoustic set while the stage was set for headline act of the day - Paloma Faith. Her set had songs from both her albums. She started the set standing on a miniature grand piano that was being played by one of her backing group.



Once off the piano she shook what she termed “what my Mama gave me” for all she was worth. Watching from the pit was Shingai Shoniwa, lead vocalist of the NoisettesFaith closed with 'New York' and 'Streets of Glory'. If Paloma and Shingai are truly representative of the talent that can be found at Brit School long may it help shape our future performers.



Sunday opened, at least for me, with a rather loud rock band called the Chevin. I much preferred the next act, Josh Osho from south London, an up and coming performer who has performed with both Tom Jones and Jessie J. He delivered a mostly acoustic guitar based set with a hint of the blues in a soulful and deep toned voice. Australian actor come chef, Adam Garcia was introduced to the crowd by Kirsten O’Brien, as a celebrity chef of a slightly different kind.

Guillemots followed producing a rousing set. Before Razorlight took to the stage Jamieand Alex came on to thank everyone for supporting the festival and by doing so helping raise money Jamie's charity by simply buying tickets and even the food. Razorlight started their set with 'Back to the stars' and continued with great energy. They did an up tempo cover of Edwin CollinsNever Met a Girl Like You. They played the intro of America and the crowd erupted.



Texas opened with I Don't Want a Lover to cheers from the crowd and bopping, in the wings at the back of the stage, from a new stage dancer in the lanky form of Alex James. Recently, they have been recording new material – their return to the studio being delayed by the brain aneurysm and subsequent recovery of guitarist Ally McErlaine.They played 'Detroit City', one of their latest songs, this being well received by the audience.



An upbeat rendition of 'Black Eyed Boy' really got the crowd bouncing. Followed by 'Summer Son' which was, or at least sounded, fitting as the weather held and the sun was setting to the right of the stage. With the crowd demanding an encore, the band returned to the stage with 'Inner smile' and, as Sharleen Spiteri put it ‘the best song ever written’River Deep Mountain High. Once Texas’ encore was over Alex came on stage with Kirsten O’Brien, with a big grin on his face and said he'd do it again next year – “it’s a keeper!”

Review: Newark Festival - 2013

The Newark Festival is a 3 day festival based in the centre of the Nottinghamshire town. When it has been held and who has played has varied from year to year. Initially a tribute acts line-up this year it’s reached the pinnacle of proper headliners.
Saturday was Madness night, heralded by a significant number of Fez wearing two toners in the audience. The evening opened with Siblings a four piece of drum and guitar who are one of the acts being promoted by the BBC under their BBC Introducing scheme promoting unsigned acts. Siblings’ set was a mix of lively and mellow songs closed with ‘Colours’.
Next up were By the Rivers, a young reggae band from Leicester consisting of guitars, keyboard, drums and even a brass section. They opened with One Word and also offered a dedication of Don’t Say You Love Me for a lucky lady called Sarah. Delivering great reggae helped ensure the steadily growing crowd warmed to them.
Also enjoying the set from the stage pit were members of Yes King – the next band up.Yes King, effectively the warm-up for Madness, started their tour at the festival. They are an eclectic mix with nine members who are not all on stage at the same time covering vocals, bass, guitar and brass section.
They started with Mystro (Digmund Freund – not a typo) as front man, giving his distinctive hip-hop flavour to the first two songs. Next to lead were Mel Uye-Parker and Ríoghnach Connolly providing vocals to a mellower musical vibe ranging between smooth reggae and upbeat SKA. Mystro returned for the closing song.
Finally what most of the crowd were there for Madness. One of the original bands when SKA emerged in the mid 1970’s, all seven members mostly from Camden, North London. They opened their set with two classic Madness songs One Step Beyond, featuring Chas Smash’s instantly recognisable introduction ‘Hey you, don’t watch that watch this…..’ andEmbarrassment.
Unfortunately, it soon became apparent there was something wrong with the sound. As they left the stage Suggs said they would be back when the problem was sorted out. Returning to the stage Suggs said they’d reboot the set. To refresh themselves for a new start both Suggs and Chas produced a bottle of their recently launched ‘Gladness’ ale brewed lager.
The new drink follows the launch of ‘Trooper’ ale, introduced recently by rock’s Iron Maiden. Following on from Embarrassment they followed with the song that made them famous, The Prince, and NW5 from the mid- noughties. After singing My Girl, from their very first album they introduced, Oui-Oui-Si-Si-Ja-Ja-Da-Da, the title track from their 2012 album.
The crowd were loving it, singing along to With the Wings of a Dove and many others. They played the crowd well, offering a practised set cover many well-known songs meant the false start was soon forgiven and forgotten.