Monday, July 30, 2018

Review: Orphaned Land, Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs

Why, why, why, have I never heard Orphaned Land before??? Why? And what is it, about certain music, that at the very first note you know... this is special?

(You may recall that I asked the same question, the first time that I heard another band, a few years back. Same effect. Hooked from the very first note. More on that later.)

Orphaned Land's latest album, Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs, is a gigantic, gorgeous, over-the-top musical feast. On hearing them for the very first time, it's like a festival where Blind Guardian and In Flames are dancing together to the beat of the heaviest, double-bass-laden-metal drumming, with twenty Fiddlers on the roof and vocals that range from a deep growl to something from your own personal heaven. It's a fusion of western rock, northern metal, middle-eastern melody and rhythm, and a message or twenty of peace. Steve Hackett makes an appearance--you recognize his timeless guitar in a moment--and there are some very telling, poetic snippets, the final one perhaps the most famous, from George Orwell's 1984:

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever.

And then... how to stop it happening.

Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs is such a musical feast that I now have to go and gorge myself on their back catalog... and to try to catch Orphaned Land live, sometime soon. They will be here in the UK next weekend, performing at Bloodstock Open Air at Catton Park in Derbyshire.  All other tour dates are here.

Orphaned Land promo photo, 
But why, you might ask, did I only hear Orphaned Land for the very first time, today? They've been around, in one form or another--always with vocalist Kobi Fahri and bassist Uri Zelcha--since 1991. And yet... only today. I'm sorry I missed so many years. It's going to be fun catching up. Yes... the reason I heard them today: I went to vote in the 2018 Progressive Music Awards. One of the categories is Video of the Year; one of the nominees in that category is Orphan Land's Like Orpheus, from Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs... and I noticed that it features Hansi Kürsch, so I had to watch it, seeing as Hansi is one of my favourite vocalists (and the singer with Blind Guardian, the band mentioned above where I asked, why have I never heard this band before??)

Here's the video: there's an important message, at the very end. Don't miss it!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sheringham carnival: Newfoundland Working Dogs Display

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
Newfoundland Working Dogs Display at Sheringham Carnival, Norfolk, 2018
One of the many things that is wonderful about the North Norfolk coast is how dog-friendly the towns are--and how friendly the dogs. There's always a dog to say hello to (and I do), or to watch enjoying the beach. Whether a family retriever chasing a ball in the waves, a tall-and-graceful retired racing greyhound, a sedate corgi taking a stroll, or a springer spaniel determined to swim to Spain, dogs are welcome here. You don't, however, often see a beach entirely populated by Newfoundlands!

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
Newfoundlands, waiting for their turn to rescue someone

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
That's what happened this morning, in Sheringham. As part of the Sheringham Carnival, a group of Newfoundlands and their humans gave a demonstration of the work that these gentle giants are capable of. With their webbed feet, strong muscles, huge size and double coats for buoyancy and waterproofing, they swim, pull, tow and rescue.

The dogs swam out from the beach, and pulled people back. They carried them a lifeline. They jumped from a boat and did the rescue. Two dogs pulled in a boat carrying three humans. And two of them towed back a chain of seven people each!

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
And while each of the demonstrations was happening, all of the other dogs sat on the beach, watching intently, occasionally barking as if to say, I want to help, I want to rescue, here I am, I'm ready too.

A seriously-giant breed, Newfoundlands usually weigh between 50-69kg (110-152lb). They are black, brown, or black-and-white (the black-and-white ones sometimes called "Landseer" rather than Newfoundlands). They are like giant retrievers with a little mastiff mixed in. Gentle, protective and kind to children too. Did you read J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan? The dog, Nana, was a Newfoundland. They can swim a long way, and in cold water and strong seas, too. Did that springer disappear over the horizon, yet? We might have to send a Newfoundland to rescue her, too!

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
Newfoundlands, working dogs display on the beach, Sheringham Carnival
You can see the Newfoundland Working Dogs Display again soon, at Happisburgh next weekend and at Cromer Carnival, starting on Sunday 12th August on the East Beach (but check the carnival program for other times), and then in Hemsby. You can find all their events here.

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
Newfoundlands and crowd alike, watching the demonstration
Find out what else is happening in Sheringham during the carnival here. And for Cromer's carnival here!

Many more photos of the Newfoundlands here in the photo gallery. Just click!

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
One dog, many people rescued!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Fairs and carnivals and circuses

Wave Swinger ride, California State Fair
Wave Swinger, California State Fair
I have been missing the California State Fair this year, after attending and covering it for so many years, and I will miss the California Capital Air Show too. This weekend is the last weekend of the state fair--have fun if you are there, say hi for me! But... I have only just found out how much happens here during carnival weeks on the North Norfolk coast in England. It's huge!!! And there are all the elements that I love from both the State Fair, and the air show!

First, the circus set up, between Cromer and Sheringham, and Circus Fantasia is set up and running from 18th July until 5th August. Then today, Sheringham Carnival begins! To keep up-to-date with everything that's happening, follow the Carnival Week on Facebook. Things are happening every day: from the Harley Davidson ride into town today, the Yak 52 air display tomorrow, the carnival parade on Wednesday... right through to fireworks next Sunday, August 5th!

Patriots Jet Team
Patriots Jet Team, California 

And then it's Cromer Carnival! With kids events beginning this week too, the main events can all be found on the Cromer Carnival Facebook page -- follow that one too! Carnival Day and The Red Arrows on August 15th!!! It's a huge week for the town... so much going on. There are signs all around with lists of the events; something for everyone.

Both Sheringham and Cromer carnivals have programs available around town--look out for them. And I will see you there!

Jack in the Box Freestyle Motocross
Motocross, California State Fair 
(And yes, there is motocross here too.)

Friday, July 27, 2018

Rebirth of the protest song: Otep and Marillion, new releases

North Norfolk seascape
I do a lot of thinking on the beach. No, really. I have an ancient iPod Classic with about 30 days of continuous music, to which I'm adding constantly, and I average about eight miles walking a day. No, the knee cartilage hasn't regenerated yet due to self-imposed-heavy-wear-and-tear, but the theory is still in it's early months of testing.

Last week, I rediscovered an old playlist--one of the songs being Ritchie Haven's wonderful What About Me. Probably the ultimate in civil rights and protest songs, it's timeless--and just as valid today. If you don't know it, take a listen and read the lyrics. Released in the early 1970's on The Great Blind Degree, an album which is unexplainably difficult to find today, it was the time when America was protesting a lying, warmongering president--Richard Nixon, the only US president (so far) to resign from office. So I was walking along the beach, listening to Ritchie Havens over and over again, and wondering: where the hell are the protest songs for this year, this time, these days? Where are this generation's Havens, Baez, Dylan?

I work in your factories and I study in your schools
I fill your penitentiaries and your military too
I can feel the future trembling as the word is passed around
If you stick up for what you do believe in, be prepared to be shot down

Then I remembered: Marillion's F.E.A.R.
Then I remembered: Otep's promised release, Kult 45.

You won't often see Marillion and Otep written about on the same page, nor see many of their fans at the other's shows (though they should be). They are, by all accounts, very different. But let's imagine, for a moment, that the labels are removed; there's no such thing as 'prog' or 'nu-metal' or 'rock' or anything else. There are words, and heart, and soul, and thought and intelligence and the music that brings it all together. Then it all makes sense.

Today, both Otep and Marillion released new albums: Otep's Kult 45, which arrived on my doorstep this morning in full, blood-red, vinyl glory, and Marillion's live album, All One Tonight, recorded at their sold-out performance at the Royal Albert Hall, which includes all of F.E.A.R plus more.

We are the new Kings 
We had the keys to Old Russia's locked doors 
We are the new Kings 
Here on the corporation's top floor 
If you cross us we'll buy you and you can retire 
Your children set up for life 
Think about it... 
Greed is good... 

Kult 45 is, as its title suggests, very much a protest against Donald Trump, the USA's 45th president, and the terrible things that are happening, right now, in the USA. At a time when, as in 1972, there are protestors outside the White House and an elected president intent on enforcing hateful policies, these songs are the voice of protest--a megaphone for what so many people are thinking. Always known for speaking out--hard--against social injustice, vocalist and poet Otep Shamaya hits out with Kult 45 against racism, rape culture, white privilege, school shootings and just about everything that's wrong with the USA (and to a lesser but no less important extent, with other countries where the extreme right feels free to emerge--nowhere in the world is immune).

When was America greater?
When it was criminal for women to vote?
When was America greater?
When slaves were bought and sold?
When was America greater?
Before the Natives lost control?

Otep's songs are 'explicit' and yes, that means they contain words that my mother won't like. (But... I can't think about Trump without being explicit. I cannot hear his voice or see his orange face, without my middle finger coming up. It's automatic. What is happening is so very, very wrong. Whatever your views on people claiming asylum, surely you cannot condone the forceful separation of families. Whatever your views on gun ownership, surely you cannot ignore the almost-daily assassination of children in American schools. Whatever your views on law enforcement, surely you cannot agree with the blatantly different approach to rich white men versus minorities. Surely... )

How many people have they taken?
How many doors have they broken down?
How mny more till it makes you
feel less like an impotent coward?

If Jesus was a refugee
He'd be a target of I C E
They'd send him back to Galilee

But in the middle of so many strong, angry, hard-spoken and very strong resistance to #45 and all he stands for, is a beautiful and unexpected gem: I held my breath the first time I heard, 'Be Brave'. Made more poignant by the songs surrounding it, and in turn, making them even stronger by its gentleness. Like Marillion's White Paper, in the middle of Fuck Everyone And Run.

Two albums, both available today: Kult 45 and All One Tonight. Listen to them both. Both vocalists and lyricists are poets. Hear the message... and for goodness sake, stand up and be counted. Because if each and every one of us does not stand up for what we believe in, and speak out against what we believe is wrong, then these musicians who are putting themselves out there--right out there--and voicing the protest, then if we too do not use our own voices, then their words are just words in the sand. And in the words of Ritchie Havens: If you stick up for what you do believe in, be prepared to be shot down. (Hopefully by words. Not by some Russian NRA fiend with a Stepford wife. Use your words. Use your vote. Make a difference.)

There is a bonus track on Otep's Kult 45 digital version--it's a set of messages left by people who have heard the band's music, talking about what Otep means to them. Yes, they are messages from fans, but more than that, they are a reflection of the influence that people in the spotlight can have. In Otep's case, for the good. There are some very moving testimonies. It speaks to how important it is for any performer, celebrity, politician--anyone in the public eye--to be a power for the good. And it contrasts, once again, with what the current President of the USA is all about. One of the most moving comments? Something like, "it's amazing how much healing one tweet can do for years after". Trump should learn that. But he won't. WE ALL NEED TO SPEAK OUT.

It's OK to look at a performer as giving you a voice, but... even better if we also find our own.

Think about it. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and others from the sixties and seventies' protest movements are legends. They are legends because people, like you and I and so many others, listened to their words, and shared them. If you hear the message in Otep's words, in those of Marillion, or of any other performer who is today speaking out against injustice, then share them. Tell your friends. Have them listen. Because despite unlimited access to music, it can be really, really difficult to find what is meaningful within a constant stream of auto-tuned, reality-TV-unreal, top-twenty-fodder sounds. Please: spread the word. And join the #resistance.

More info:
- Video about the making of Kult 45 from Otep
- Video: F.E.A.R. and making a protest album, from Marillion

(I hope that fans of Otep will now discover Marillion. And that fans of Marillion will now discover Otep. Together we can build a better world. We are all immigrants... we are all refugees. Cross the musical borders and make some new friends. We are all human.)

P. S. I forgot to mention Ministry's AmeriKKKant among recent protest songs... earlier review here!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Cromer Pier Show: show two! Phantom of the Opera, Madame Butterfly and... Potato Wave???

Cromer Pier Show 2018
Cromer Pier Show Two, 2018
Cromer Pier's summer show has two versions: Show One (review and photos here), and Show Two, which I saw this week for the first time. (There's also an end-of-summer best-of-both Ultimate version in September.) It's the same cast performing, every evening and matinee throughout the summer, and in rep theatre style they bring a host of characters to life with every show.

Show Two, like Show One, is a huge variety of entertainment--it's called a "variety show" for a very good reason--and includes pop, opera, classical ballet, modern dance, musicals and magic.

Cromer Pier Show 2018
Emily Yarrow, Cromer Pier Show
Show Two begins with the day's news, read by compere-comedian Steve Terry. Seriously funny... and it just keeps going from there. Entertaining, funny, beautiful and inspiring. Did you get your tickets yet?

Emily Yarrow is spellbinding as she sings songs from Madame Butterfly and pop classics alike, with Harvey James as the male vocal lead, and with gorgeous choreography for scenes from The Phantom of the Opera.

Cromer Pier Show 2018
Phantom of the Opera, Cromer Pier Show 2018
The young ladies from Cromer's Marlene's School of Dancing are delightful, and the dance team of Gemma, Jazzy, Connor, Mason, Sian and Emily have a huge repertoire of styles. And they can jump!!! At the end of both this show, and Show One, I came away astonished that so much dancing was done so magically by just six dancers. Entranced by the show, I didn't notice until the finale, when I counted the people on stage. Wait. Was all that show, all that entertainement, provided by just this wonderful group of people? Yes, indeed, every night and matinee show, throughout the summer.

Cromer Pier Show 2018
Marlene's School of Dancing on stage at the Cromer Pier Show 2018
In Show Two, Zooka and Suzie Q are pure magic... together with white doves, escapes, quick changes and never-ending string (just how did they do that???).

Cromer Pier Show 2018
Zooka and Suzie Q and a dove, Cromer Pier Show
There is a hilarious, cheeky, naughty comedy routine when G (the man of a thousand voices) and Steve Terry do some bird-watching. Their timing is natural, perfect and so very, very funny. I want everyone to see this and laugh: like Morecambe and Wise, like the Two Ronnies, like Fry and Laurie, they bring out the funny in each other until both they and the audience alike are crying with laughter. It's infectious, its happy and it's not to be missed. It's like they've been working together forever--and maybe they should.

Cromer Pier Show 2018
G and Steve Terry, and the birds. Cromer Pier Show 2018
The show finale has the entire cast sharing a set of The Village People's music, on a ship, with flags and dancing and singing and... watch out for that smokestack!

(Note... I will never, ever be able to listen to La Bamba again, without remembering one part of Show Two: G's version of the Spanish song sung by Ritchie Valens and Los Lobos. G's version has to rank way, way up there in the top ten list of "misheard lyrics", right next to Potato Wave. You know... Potato Wave. Life will never be the same again... thank goodness.)

Cromer Pier Show 2018
Cromer Pier Show 2018
Find tickets for the Cromer Pier shows here on the pier website. And, if you book an adult seat before the 4th August--either online, with the code holidays, or at the box office on the pier--you can also have a child's ticket free! What a real opportunity to introduce the family to so much entertainment... and to sow the seeds for enjoying music of all styles, dance and comedy for the rest of their lives.

I'll see you at the show!

Many more photos, from both shows One and Two, here in the Cromer Pier Show gallery. Click!

Cromer Pier Show 2018
Harvey James and dancers, Cromer Pier Show 2018

Friday, July 20, 2018

New from the Soft White Sixties... The Overpass

The Soft White Sixties at the Assembly, Sacramento
The Soft White Sixties
New from one of my favourite California bands, who I first saw in a small-and-now-closed venue in Sacramento, supporting another excellent band, but from whom the 'Sixties absolutely stole the show (it was, indeed, an excellent evening of music): The Soft White Sixties. This is The Overpass, from their upcoming album, Alta California:

Wonderful, both live and on album. Take a listen to this, to previous release Brick By Brick, and check out some of their live videos too.

More info: see The Soft White Sixties Facebook, and their website too.  You can preorder Alta California here.

Maybe we'll get to see them over here in the UK one day soon... you never know. Let them know if you feel the love!!! (For those of you in LA, Santa Cruz, Boise, Reno, Seattle and San Francisco, check out some tour dates here. Then point them over the pond, please!)

(Think of me as your mid-Atlantic music connector... bringing US sounds to the UK. Sending UK sounds over there. Because good music has the power to bring us all together. Right now, this world needs all the good music it can get.)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Review: The Bloodshake Chorus at Cromer Social Club

The Bloodshake Chorus
Mann Slaughter, vocals, The Bloodshake Chorus
My first, happy memories of rock concerts are from a social club, Syston Working Mens' Club in Leicestershire, England, to be precise. A dark room with a bar in the corner, a badly-lit stage at one end, lots of seats around small, wonky tables that spilled fizzy drinks and booze onto the carpet. Young mothers dressed up for a night out; men with glasses of beer, happy to be at the end of a working week; the older, purple-rinse crowd waiting for the bingo and the raffle, and we kids dancing in front of the stage. The band played 50's and 60's covers, and if they didn't already include it, by the end of the night there was always a group of young women shouting for the Shadows' Apache. So last night's show at Cromer Social Club was a bit like a time-warp and going home, right down to the kids dancing. Almost.

Until, that is, it comes to the band.

The Bloodshake Chorus
The Bloodshake Chorus
The Bloodshake Chorus do, indeed, play 50's and 60's covers, with the occasional 70's hit thrown in... but not in any way that you've heard before. They look nothing-at-all like a throwback to mid-century modern: they're a team of blood-drenched zombies with Ivan-Moodyesque handprints, and they turn these wonderful, classic songs into hard-rock-metal masterpieces. Vocalist Mann Slaughter's voice is huge. It's like Hallow'een at an Elvis convention, without the Elvis but with every other musician from his era. I loved it.

The Bloodshake Chorus
Frank Ensteinway, keys, The Bloodshake Chorus
The Bloodshake Chorus have been on stages much bigger than this, supporting and with artists including Madness, Toyah, Skunk Anansie, The Slaves and many more. I could easily see them entertaining a huge crowd at big rock-and-metal festivals... seriously good!

The Bloodshake Chorus
The Bloodshake Chorus, Cromer Social Club
I'm not sure that the regular patrons of the Social Club were quite ready for this, but by the end of the evening, the entire room was singing along. And not one person called for the Shadows.

The Bloodshake Chorus
The Bloodshake Chorus at Cromer Social Club
(Most surreal part of the evening? An intermission... for a raffle. Yes, a raffle. Seems that all shows in Cromer, whether for a pier show, a tribute band, or a group of hard-rock-metal-zombies-playing-exquisite-unique-covers has to have an intermission. Is that just a Cromer thing, or have I missed something during my many years overseas??? No bingo though... that's on Thursday!)

The Bloodshake Chorus

The Kinks. Shirley Bassey. The Animals. The Zombies. Dolly Parton. Tom Jones and many more... all given the Bloodshake Chorus treatment. Here's an example:

A few more photos (grainy, very 60's because... zero light), here, in the photo gallery from last night: 

Catch The Bloodshake Chorus if you possibly can... well worth a trip! Find dates all over East Anglia, here on their Facebook. They'll be back in Cromer for the Carnival and to perform at The Welly in August... next weekend at the Brickmaker's in Norwich, which looks a bit more like a regular concert venue. (See, I'm starting to find the local music scene.)

Saturday, July 14, 2018

GoGo Hares: beautiful hares, all around the Norwich city centre and the county of Norfolk, England

GoGo Hares in Norwich
GoGo Hare, Norwich
I'm loving the GoGo Hares!

In Norwich yesterday for the anti-Trump protest outside City Hall, I was able to find a few of the fifty city hares around the town centre, and see a few of the 164 leverets, too (the little guys I found were mostly in shop windows). In addition to the fifty city hares, there are another eighteen GoGo Hares around the county of Norfolk, including a beautiful chrome, stargazing hare here in Cromer.

GoGo Hares in Norwich
GoGo Hare, Norwich
Celebrating 50 years of the Norfolk children's charity, Break, and in partnership with Wild In Art, the hares are all unique: colourful, symbolic, cheerful and inspiring. Each one has a story to tell.

GoGo Hares in Norwich
GoGo Hare, Norwich
Find out all about the GoGo Hares here, on their website--there's a trail map to download so that you can find them all, and an app too.

GoGo Hares in Norwich
GoGo Hare, Norwich
The hares are here until September 8th. See if you can find them all! They are all numbered, and you can read all about the individual artists here. And if you want a GoGo Hare to call your own, all of the city hares, and a few of the county hares, will be auctioned in October! Information here! The proceeds will go to support Break in their work with children.

More photos of the hares here (and I will add more as I find them). They are not numbered and I have not included their locations: you have to go track them down yourselves!

GoGo Hares in Norwich
GoGo Hare, Norwich

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Out-of-sorts and all behind-hand... catching-up in the UK, and bad awakenings

English lavender
Lavender, to help me sleep tonight
I woke up rudely this morning, launched from a deep-and-dream-filled sleep to bolt-upright-and-wide-awake without a fraction of a moment between; no eye-rubbing, yawning, stretching, just a gut-wrenching explosion of sound as some idiot decided to roar and rev his or her clanking, rattling and damaged motorbike through the centre of this calm-and-silent 5 a.m. Sunday seaside town. I never feel anger towards bikers--I have my own fair share of bionics and metalwork and have tasted hot tarmac far too closely for that. But forgive me: the word that has been going through my head every few minutes since that moment is "clothesline". So not only did you wake me up, you w*nker, you have had me thinking appalling thoughts all day, grumpy, out-of-sorts, muttering at people who don't wash their hands after using a public loo... May you read this and sober up before you get on your bike again.

It's been a busy, exciting, hard-working and intriguing week, much of which will become evident later in the year (my lips are sealed until then)... part of which has me once again hankering and yearning for a garden to care for (which was not the intended outcome), and which sent me to Heacham to the beautiful Norfolk Lavender farm on Friday (may have made the yearning worse, not better); and wandering around the town listlessly today rather than doing anything constructive, like sorting out a list of festivals and concerts to go to and to review. I have been here in this lovely part of the world for six months now, and I still feel so way-behind-hand in catching-up-with and learning-about all the wonderful UK festivals and events. It's not that there is a shortage, far from it: there is so much going on, in so many different places, and with so many different musical and artistic styles, I hardly know where to begin, and then allow another long walk on the beach to distract, because each day and each hour is new and different by the sea.

For example, this is what is displayed in a local shop window:

All local to this pretty town... which is under an hour from the county town, with county town events and big-name concerts... and a couple more hours from London, where I went just a few weeks back for a show and where I will be heading much more frequently as the year edges on.

But this summer, I am playing catch-up, chasing my own tail; it feels like this year is going to be one of experiments and of finding the way in the music environment that is the UK. It's a learning experience...

(And of other events... I wanted to see the horses training at Holkham beach, but found out they were there, two days too late. That is in the diary for next year. Maybe this is how the year will play out, filling in the dates for the next?)

Don't you dare wake me up tomorrow. Don't you dare.