Sunday, 11 June 2017

Ward Thomas -Roadmender Northampton

Nice to have a local trip in Northampton for a change ! In fact this gig should have taken place last week but was cancelled as a market of respect following the Manchester terrorist attack. I wasn't sure quite what to expect as it was Marina who was very keen to see Ward Thomas. But before more about them let me tell you about the support band 'The Wandering Hearts'. They are a new band and have signed a record deal with Decca Records it has been announced. The group will release their debut single 'Wish I Could' on 5th May 2017.Mixing folk and Americana into their music, The Wandering Hearts – AJ, Chess, Tim and Tara – keep their British roots at the heart of their music. Their harmonies and pop sensibility has seen them compared to Fleetwood Mac. They went down well with a very mixed age audience playing about seven songs. Looks like a busy time coming up for the band with a new debut album being recorded and playing at many festivals during the Summer. They looked like they were having a great tome too and look destined for a bright future. Ward Thomas are a British modern country music duo, composed of 23 year old twin sisters Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas (born 28 March 1994) from Hampshire. They have a distinctive American sound yet still remain indefinably British. The only song of theirs I was familiar with prior to seeing them live was 'Cartwheels' which has been getting airplay. The album 'Cartwheels' was released 2nd September 2016 and reached number 1 in the UK charts. On 9th July 2017 Ward Thomas can be seen supporting Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in London's Hyde Park. Before that they are at Glastonbury along with a host of other high profile festival dates during the Summer. For me, Ward Thomas really come into their own and find their strengths with the ballads and they have an undeniable talent which will see them fill much bigger venues than the Roadmender. Which incidentally was as packed as I can ever recall it! Towards the end of the show, the band congregated in the middle of the stage for an acoustic section, inspired by 'The Dixie Chicks' who they saw perform a similar thing in Australia. which included performances of ‘Proof and ‘I Believe In You’ which definitely worked for them too.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Rockingham - Track Day

Europes fastest racing circuit at Rockingham Northamptonshire was the venue for Marina's track day driving an Aston Martin ! Rockingham has 13 configurations of track, which can be used for anything from touring cars to motorcycles to rally cars. The Oval circuit is American in style and is 1048 miles in total. It is only one of two in Europe.

Marina, privately a little worried?
Construction of Rockingham started late in 1999,it opened for business on Monday 15 January 2001 and was formally opened by the Queen on 26 May 2001. Unfortunately after weeks of dry weather in which 'drought' had already been whispered quietly we met with a deluge of rain. In fact it was with us for the whole day making for a wet experience.. We were not on the Oval Circuit today thankfully, using the inner racing track instead. Before and driving tough a full briefing was in order detailing the safety aspects and the spec of the cars available. These cars included; a Mclaren, 3 Lamborghini's, Porsches, Nissan GTR'S, Aston Martins, BMW's and Ferraris. First up was the Aston Martin Vantage a car Marina has always had a soft spot for. It seemed as though everybody had decided that today was the day when they were going to have a drive. As the numbers swelled the rain came harder and the drive in the Ariel Atom was cancelled because it was deemed too dangerous. Unfortunately with so many people waiting for their rides the queues were long ... probably at least an hour wait between cars. It was a matter of staying dry and warm as much as possible. Next in the firing line was the Lamborghini and things were not going to go well and end in disappointment. Thankfully no harm was done but due to the windscreen constantly steaming up it was virtually impossible to drive at any speed. At least that was her story ..... Our last ride involved both of us in BMW M3 in what was called a 'drift experience'. This is a driving technique where the driver intentionally oversteers, with loss of traction in the rear wheels or all tires, while maintaining control and driving at high speed through the corner. With all the water on the track it enhanced the experience and made it easier for the professional driver. The first lap was 'hairy' enough and actually quite enjoyable from my position on the back seat. The second lap he definitely upped it a bit ! It was strange, a bit like a roller coaster ride that is exhilarating but at the same time you are glad to get off. I don't think I could have done a third lap, my head was starting to go a bit under the helmet and being thrust from side to side. A great experience though.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Ely Cathedral

Bank Holiday Monday and a little trip out to the picturesque City of Ely in Cambridgeshire. The landscape is completely dominated by 'The Ship of the Fens'The Anglican Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity or 'Ely Cathedral' .The cathedral has its origins in AD 672 when St Etheldreda built an abbey church. The present building dates back to 1083, and cathedral status was granted it in 1109. Built in a monumental Romanesque style architecturally it is outstanding both for its scale and stylistic details. Its most famous feature however is the central octagonal tower, with lantern above, which provides a spectacular internal space and, along with the West Tower, gives a unique exterior landmark.

The Chapel is 100 feet (30 m) long and 46 feet (14 m) wide, and was built in an exuberant 'Decorated' Gothic style. You can't help but be impressed by the sheer vastness once inside and it does feel like being on a ship. I always enjoy a good stained glass window as well as savouring a feeling of spirituality that you don't get anywhere else. Leaving the Cathedral we headed down towards the river where we were treated to some live operatic music from one of the narrow boats. It is the River Great Ouse that flows through the southeastern boundary of the city. The riverside and Jubilee Gardens host a variety of events throughout the year from the annual Eel Day which includes the World Eel Throwing Competition ....Anguila Anguila is the scientific name of the remarkable fish that is best known by the name that gave Ely its name – The Eel. The type of eels that live in the river in and around Ely are European Eels and they have a fascinating life cycle which is spent partly in the ocean and partly in freshwater rivers like Ely’s Great Ouse.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Sonata Arctica - Wolverhampton

Another different venue in Wolverhampton, this time in the shape of 'The Slade Rooms'. Named of course after the 70's Glam Rock band featuring Noddy Holder. The venue holds 550 according to its website and hosting an eclectic program. Headlining tonight are old favourites from Finland 'Sonata Arctica', supported by fellow Finns 'Thunderstone' and first up from Canada 'Striker'.

We were quite lucky to even see Striker as a few days earlier in Belfast they were unable to perform due to their singer losing his voice! Even tonight he struggled and was helped out by the rest of the band. I think a few in the crowd had turned up just to see the next band 'Thunderstone'. They were impressive enough and very much in the mold of 'Avantasia'. Another example of a very good Finnish power metal band. Must admit to be feeling excited at seeing Sonata Arctica again , a band I have a lot of time for . I did have a cheeky glimpse at previous set lists on the tour so had a good idea of what to expect. I suppose if you are promoting a new album (The Ninth Hour) it is bound to be top heavy with songs from it.The truth being we just want to hear the classic tracks we know so well. While their music is seriously technical, there was a light atmosphere throughout the small venue the use of a light up mic stand for Toni Kakko and keyboardist Henrik Klingenberg use of a keytar helped add some fun features to the performance. A superb night , the highlight being 'Full Moon' from Sonata Arctica oh and not forgetting we also had a marriage proposal from a fan on the front row to his future wife. Beautifully handled by Toni and i'm pleased to say the young lady did say yes. iT would have been great to hear some favourites such as ; 'Replica', 'The Cage' 'Kingdom for a Heart', 'San Sebastian', 'Victoria's Secret' , 'Flag in the Ground, or even 'Las drop falls' but it wasn't to be. 

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Loreena Mckennitt - The London Palladium

First ever trip to the world famous London Palladium built in 1910 and someone i've been waiting a long time to see. Just walking into this magnificent theatre you can feel the culture oozing out of the walls. Inside the ghosts of those who have been before circle high above the stage and into the upper circle looking down approvingly. A perfect setting you might say for the delightful Loreena Mckennitt and her 'trio' companions 'Brian Hughes (Guitars,Bouzouki)and Caroline Lavelle (Cello, Recorder and Vocals).


  From our perch on Row A of the Royal Circle we had a perfect view of the stage. it’s very easy to see why Loreena McKennitt is a twice Grammy-nominated artist. Third night of this 26 date European tour that started in Glasgow and ends in Eindhoven. A stunning performance, utterly magical. I went through all the emotions and was moved and utterly enthralled (some songs I think I forgot to breathe). To say her voice is haunting is an understatement. Not everything went strictly according to plan however... There were hiccups in the show. A harp string broke, a 'D' string I believe and a very rare experience Loreena told us. You wouldn't have noticed though as she continued playing like a true professional. There was also a hint of embarrassment as the words to Greensleeves slipped her mind but the audience filled in the blanks. The set list took a shuffle as the harp got re-strung and yet the concert still flowed beautifully.While all this was going on there was a bit of fill in and a couple of jokes too
 McKennitt has made the study of the Celts her life’s work and has shared it with the world via both traditional ballads and her own original compositions. The emigration section was very powerful. With diary extracts from those at Grosse Isle in Quebec, tending to the Irish refugees, to Loreena’s own musings on her journey to discover the Celts. It was a history lesson, a musical journey and a spiritual experience. Whatever you say I know that I almost floated down the steps of the theatre emotionally and spiritually uplifted.

Set List (First Half) 
Samain Nights All Souls Night
Annachie Gordon
Penelopes Song
Morrisons Jig
The Wind that Shakes the Barley
Down by the Sally Gardens
The Emigration Tunes
The Lark in the Clear Air

(Second Half)
 On a Bright May Morning
 Stolen Child
 Bonny Portmore
The Bonny Swans
 The Lady of Shalott
The Old Ways
 Dante's Prayer

 Encore 1 
The Mummers' Dance

 Encore 2
 Full Circle

Friday, 17 March 2017

London - A few sights

Managed to get down to London early ahead of the Loreena Mckennitt concert  on what was a beautiful early Spring day. Perfect weather for having a wander and a few pints while the skies were blue and the sun was shining. Always like to visit Covent Garden to get my bearings and visit the Moomin store. As mentioned it was nice and warm so a thirst had been worked up so a perfect time to call into The Lamb and Flag on Rose street for a pint of London Pride.A  pub has been on the site since 1772and was a favourite watering hole of Charles Dickens amongst other literary greats.

Decided to catch the Tube down to Westminster and have a slightly closer look at the Houses of Parliament that we see so much of on the news just lately. The Houses of Parliament is the Palace of Westminster, the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords of the United Kingdom. They stand right on the North bank of the River Thames. Across the other side of the bridge are views of the London Eye. Couldn't resist taking a quick selfy in front of The Elizabeth Tower, often better known by the name of its main bell, Big Ben. Seemed to be a lot going on and as I approached its near neighbour Westminster Abbey I soon understood why. There was a big celebration being held there to mark Commonwealth Day. Her Majesty The Queen, the Head of the Commonwealth was joined by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Harry, The Duke of York and The Earl of Wessex. The Abbey bells were in full cry , you could hardly hear yourself think.It was at that point all the traffic was suddenly stopped and a Royal car went right past my nose. I took a picture and you can just about make out Camilla in the back if you expand it a bit. All the crowds were getting a bit much by now so I made my way off towards Trafalgar Square passing the famous bronze statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square. The statue was installed on the north-east corner of the Square in 1973. Commissioned in 1971, it was sculpted by Ivor Roberts-Jones (1913-96). As you walk through Whitehall you can't fail to spot the entrance to one of the most famous streets in the world 'Downing Street'. All very heavily policed of course so no chance of a stroll up to the PM's place. Continuing the journey past Horseguards Parade where 'The Queen's Life Guards', mounted on immaculately groomed horses with breastplates shinning in the sun, present a stirring sight as they prevent unlawful entry of all carriages and cars through the Arch of Horse Guards.

Time for another pint just before Trafalgar Square in the Lord Moon of the Mall, and very well it went down too. Being a Wetherspoons it was much cheaper than the £4.50 paid previously (£3.40). By now it was nearly 4pm so after a quick walkr around Lord Nelson I made my way up to Oxford Circus in tome to meet Mrs A. Being a bit early I had to wait in the Argyll Arms which meant another London Pride. Upon her arrival we move on to The Cock in Gt Portland St a Samuel Smiths pub. Easily the best pint of the day in the shape of Sam Smiths Old Brewery Bitter. A cracking london pub with grand Victorian interior and a large bar upstairs and a full range of bottled beers.