Sunday, 24 July 2016

Althorp Literary Festival 2016

Althorp House was the venue for the 13th Althorp Literary Festival a celebration of the written word. In its first 12 years the festival has hosted great names from; actors, politicians, sportsmen and tv personalities. Such names as; Boris Johnson, Michael Palin, Darcey Bussell, Sebastiam Failks, Julian Fellowes and Sir Tom Stoppard.

Althorp was built in 1508 by the Spencer family and as it does now for over 500 years. It is a lovely walled 550 acre parkland in unspolit Northamptonshire countryside. It is also the final resting place of Princess Diana. The actual area for burial is on an island in an ornamental lake known as The Oval An ancient arboretum stands nearby, which contains trees planted by Prince William and Prince Harry, other members of her family and the princess herself


Althorp houses one of Europe's finest private collections of paintings, furniture and ceramics. I was impressed with the staircase leading to paintings of family members past and present. A recent addition is the painting of 'John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer' which was done from a photograph and not still life. I happen to know that the current Earl Spencer is particularly pleased with the result.

The big names at the Festival this year I suppose would be Bill Bryson, LoydGrosman, Anthony Horowitz and the biggest of them all in every sense Brian Blessed. Lots of others too of course over the four days including; Conn Iggulden who I am a big fan of and John Suchet who is an expert on Strauss. Unfortunately as luck would have it the two speakers I wanted to see where both on at the same time on the same day! Paul Gambaccini the hugely successful radio presenter and Simon Hughes 'The Analyst' and ex cricketer. In the end I opted for Paul Gambaccini although he wasn't here to talk music , instead his wrongful arrest as part of 'Operation Yewtree'. The interview was conducted by Earl Spencer himself in the splendour of the State Dining room. It was fascinating I have to say and there is no doubt that the powers at the top of the Metropolitan Police were after scapegoats after missing out on Saville.

 I have to say 'Gambaccini' is an excellent orator, and that voice, he could read the telephone directory and make it sound interesting. Had a brief chat with him afterwards about music , he was telling about about an interview he once did with 'Ritchie Blackmore'. I told him that I thought RUSH were the best band in the world and I got the impression he didn't disagree?

It was a real bonus to catch up with Simon Hughes as well. We had a lovely chat about all things cricket, in particular Northamptonshire. He was telling me about how he hated bowling to 'Allan Lamb' and what a character 'Wayne Larkins ' was. As with most of the speakers he was staying the night for Dinner and Breakfast although he was definitely tempted to join me for a pint in the local village pub.

It was a lovely way to spend a late afternoon and I look forward to seeing who is on the bill for next years Literary Festival which is slightly later in September.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Ritchie Blackmores Rainbow - Birmingham

This was the concert I had almost given up hope of ever attending. I've seen the great man 'Ritchie Blackmore' several times but always with wife Candice (Night) in Blackmores Night performing Renaissance music. There have been the odd tantalising electric interludes but all too short. In fact you have to go back to 1997 and the 'Stranger in us all' album/tour for the last time he unleashed the famous cream Fender Stratocaster in anger.

I suppose you can always rely on 'Ritchie' to do the unexpected such as putting together a band of little know artists to re-create Rainbow. Many would have at least expected a well known singer, but no, plucked from semi obscurity Ronnie Romero, originally from Chile and now fronting Spanish metal band Lords of Black. Described as a cross between Freddie Mercury and Ronnie James Dio he had a lot to live up to. At 71 there were those posing the question whether Ritchie could still cut it ? The Man in Black, The man who plays by his own rules. , with a band that has never played live before. But hey Rainbow never recorded two albums in a row with the same line-up such was his penchant for firing those deemed not up to the task. Back in 1993 he even refused to take the stage and when he eventually did go on launched a water bottle at a cameraman

. When the details of the tour were announced at the back end of 2015 only three shows were announced. ‘Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow’ but featuring a new line-up, with songs from both Rainbow and Deep Purple. Two shows were in Germany, with the Birmingham NEC being the other and sold out immediately. There is a chance that more could follow but the priority is with Blackmores Night. The rest of the band is made up of, Stratovarius keyboardist Jens Johansson drummer David Keith (from Blackmores Night, and bassist Bob Nouveau (formerly of Blackmores Night). A rather low key promotional photo was issued and that was about it until the music started up.
Before the review of the songs I must mention support band 'Mostly Autumn'. I have seen a couple of times previously in their own right and have been mightily impressed. They put out a great set in front of an audience who most would have been unfamiliar with their music. We sat to the right of the stage and had a good view as the atmosphere rose to the anthemic 'Land of Hope and Glory' followed by the clip from Wizard of Oz and 'Over the Rainbow' pure theatre folks!

It's a low key stroll out on to the stage and we are straight into the 'Purple' classic 'Highway Star'. The vocals are good, very good and then Ritchie hits that solo that is etched in rock history. 'Spotlight Kid' before the epic ballad 'Mistreated from the 1974 'Burn' album. Originally sung by David Coverdale (who replaced Ian Gillan) and Romero did a great job with the vocals. Would he be able to hand the 'Ronnie James Dio' classic songs I wondered ? We were soon to find out as 'Since you been gone' halted disappointingly shy of the guitar solo and went straight into 'Man on a silver mountain'. Romero was rising to the task rapidly and blasted out in a fashion that Ronnie would definitely have approved. 'Difficult to cure' gave drums and keyboard the stage to showcase their talent while the others nipped off for a break. I was pleased that 'Perfect strangers' from 1984's come-back album of the same name got an airing as it is a favourite of mine as well as Blackmores. 'Long live Rock 'n' Roll from the 1978 3rd album and last to feature Ronnie got all the crowd singing along. Two epics in every sense were to follow in the shape of 'Child in time' and the haunting 'Stargazer'. Both amazing songs and Romero does a great job with both again. Ritchie is more than happy to stay in the background no frills apart from offering someone in the crowd a pint of beer. Last song of the set was the first ever 'Purple' single in 1970 'Black Night. Romero absolutely “nailed” every single song from the Ian Gillan and David Coverdale eras of Deep Purple, through to the Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet and Joe Lynn Turner versions of Rainbow was amazing given his lack of experience and playing a venue of this magnitude. The first encore was a pulsating 'Burn' that I thought was one of the best delivered songs of the night. It riproared along and by now nobody was left seated in the whole arena. Second encore and no real surprise with 'Smoke on the water' which fitted perfectly with the evening. This wasn't the Blackmore of old, oh no but at 71 I don't suppose I will be either. This was a different Ritchie Blackmore and all eyes were transfixed on the enigma throughout the entire gig, watching his every move. It was a surreal and emotional experience watching a genius a living legend who has inspired millions worldwide. A man who divides opinion for sure but someone who fans will always marvel at. 

My only criticisms would be we never did get the solo in 'Since you've been gone.. also it would have been lovely if 'Kill the King' had been squeezed in somewhere perhaps at the expense of one of the 'Purple' songs? For me the show was more about celebrating Blackmores legacy and music rather than watching a new incarnation of the band. From rock staples like 'Highway Star' , 'Burn' and 'Smoke On the Water' , to melodic ballads like 'Catch the Rainbow' , 'Solider Of Fortune' , to epics like 'Stargazer' and 'Child In Time' , its astonishing to think that they were all written at least over 40 years ago!
Finally thanks to Ant May and Michael Dewsnap for use of additional photos , much appreciated.

 Highway Star (Deep Purple song)
 Spotlight Kid
 Mistreated (Deep Purple song)
 Since You've Been Gone
 Man On A Silver Mountain
 Soldier Of Fortune (Deep Purple song)
 Difficult To Cure
 Catch The Rainbow
 Perfect Strangers (Deep Purple song)
 Long Live Rock 'N Roll
 Child In Time (Deep purple song)
 Black Night (Deep Purple song)

Burn (Deep Purple song)
Smoke On The Water (Deep Purple song)