Music preview: Williwaw @ Mono Cafe Bar, Glasgow

Published by METRO

Whether it’s pop or rock concerts they’re advertising, gig posters tend to have a way with words. They’re supposed to be designed to target particular demographics, while subtly leaving the door ajar for curious outsiders.

I say ‘tend to’ and ‘supposed to be’, because it’s very rarely you see a musician billed as ‘the finest in amplified ukulele mayhem’. It’s a description that’s appearing next to this artist’s name on promotional literature around town at the moment, and it sounds strange, doesn’t it?

Yes, except this is no ordinary place. He might hail from somewhere an ocean plus another thousand miles away, in Illinois, but there’s something Williwaw has that belongs in Glasgow.

Not literally, of course – he’s not nicked someone’s Discovery pass – but in the sense that in this fair city, there’s always an audience that appreciates artists like him.

By that I mean ones who draw on unique musical influences, experiment with a broad spectrum of sound, produce work that overlaps many sub-genres and are not easily categorised.

If you’re going to push me, I’d say Williwaw is a blend of shoegaze and post-rock, but to try and pin down his style is probably missing the point. His music is supposed to be an enigma, an intriguing fusion of electronic and acoustic sound, which bemuses yet beguiles.

With an amplifier and some complex time signatures, his ukulele can generate a cauldron of noise, but it is also capable of transcending the chaos with a blissful melody. It can be heavy, while also ambient. Basically, no song is at all like the last.

Williwaw is fortunate that such musicians and performers find huge success when they move here, but with the talent and originality he’s unpacking from his suitcase, he’s certainly meeting the requirements of his lease.


Clubs preview: Colours @ the Arches, Glasgow

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It’s not difficult to understand why you’ll have a great time at this event.

Let’s start with Colours. It’s a night that holds a clique of superstar DJs – Paul Oakenfold and Pete Tong to name a couple – in its gravitational pull. Tick.

Secondly, the guy who’s joined the orbit this time around is at the top of his game. House supremo Afrojack has had a great year so far, winning a Grammy for his remix of a Madonna track and producing one of the summer’s biggest anthems – Give Me Everything. Tick.

Next, just look at the venue. The Arches is genuinely thought of as one of the best clubs in the world by sources that really know what they’re talking about. It’s certainly Glasgow’s favourite, partly because its unique structure offers a quality clubbing experience. Tick.

So, to conclude. It’s Colours. It’s house music. At the Arches. Any questions?


Theatre preview: Entitled @ Underbelly, Edinburgh

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I've just started to write a preview for a piece of theatre that's currently being performed at the Fringe. The words I choose will represent a unique mixture of nouns, verbs and other lexical categories. I also intend to employ a number of literary devices including metaphors and imagery, and I'll be doing so in the first person, primarily because readers can better relate to a story that has someone else in it.

I'm 24-years-old, my star sign is Virgo and I enjoy travelling, watching certain sports, and a few other things. I hate to see people fail to stand up for themselves. I don't very much like spiders, either. Today I ate a new kind of cereal for breakfast, and went to work wearing a shirt I'd never worn to work before. This made me feel differently for a while, beyond a purely cosmetic level, which was odd as I'm not usually so introspective at that time of the morning.

No, I'm not having a breakdown, I'm just trying to give you some idea of what to expect from a piece of theatre unlike any other you'll encounter this month.

You see, just like you, I'm a complex human being. You have your life and I have mine, but we don't tend to share them with one another. You're interested in what's going on at the Fringe, and I'm writing about it. That's our relationship, I understand. I guess I just thought it would be interesting to peer over this barrier between us, just for a moment.

That's the very logic behind Entitled. Its architects, a Salford-based group called Quarantine, create works that deconstruct the boundaries between performer and audience, and its previous efforts have involved shared meals and journeys in the dark for one spectator at a time.

This time around, you can't be sure when the acting starts and stops. In fact, you can be forgiven for thinking you've arrived at Summerhall too early. Cast members and technicians casually hang around the stage and explain their roles in the production, take us through rehearsals and sound checks, and talk about their personal lives.

As we are 'entitled' to see both how a piece of theatre is put together in a practical sense and know something of the people involved in it, there's nothing really separating us from the performance. This is a show that illuminates the gulf between our expectations and our disappointments, both in our own lives and as an audience watching a play.

Yes, this piece is experimental, avant-garde and audacious, but it's certainly not bonkers, and its messages will stay in your thoughts long after curtain call.


Theatre preview: Theatre Uncut @ Traverse, Edinburgh

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I’d like to cast your mind back, if I may, to earlier this year. I’m sure you’ll remember what happened in the House of Commons on March 23. No?

OK, I’ll tell you. That afternoon, Chancellor George Osborne announced in his Budget a package of public spending cuts, which he claimed needed to be implemented as soon as possible in order to reduce the nation’s deficit. I can see you rolling your eyes. That’s no longer news. After all, that was before the tabloid phone-hacking scandal, the assassination of Osama Bin Laden and the Royal wedding.

Well, it was probably also a day to forget if you were in the arts industry, as it was confirmed that funding for the Arts Council – which distributes money to hundreds of UK theatre groups, galleries and arts venues nationwide – would fall by almost one third.

In anticipation of such measures, an outraged alliance of theatrical talent presented their response in inspiring fashion the week before, when over 700 people simultaneously staged an event called Theatre Uncut.

Members of youth groups, university drama clubs, schools and amateur dramatics societies showed their solidarity by performing a piece with a very clear message.

‘These cuts are the turning point of a generation, undermining the welfare state, state higher education and the arts,’ read a statement by Theatre Uncut organisers. ‘We hope to create a theatrical uprising and play our part in the anti-cuts movement that is already underway.’

Their effort, which is coming to the Fringe in a one-off performance, breaks down into eight acts, with each describing a potential consequence of reductions in public spending. One focuses on a mental health worker who’s distraught at the closure of his centre. Another explains how a frightening proportion of the Greek bailout went directly to the banks.

In one sense, the subject matter is almost irrelevant. What’s intriguing about this piece is that it riles against some misnomers about the theatre. If you believe that going to watch a play is just the passive hobby of an ever-dwindling number of the middle and upper classes, then go and see Theatre Uncut, because it shows that the stage is a more than capable force of populist protest.

The Saturday following Mr Osborne’s Budget speech, over 250,000 people took to the streets of central London for a mass rally against the coalition government’s austerity measures. Many demonstrators were arrested, injured or simply ‘kettled’.

But what would you think was the best way to convey the stupidity of the funding cuts to the arts? Surely it was to write a bloody good piece of theatre about it.


Theatre preview: Heavy Like The Weight Of A Flame @ Underbelly, Edinburgh

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As you sit on the train on your way to or from work, let me ask you a question. Have you ever wanted to give it all up and go travelling? Leave behind the stressful job, extortionate bills and mundane routines for a life of excitement on the road? My assumption is that you and many others have.

However, R. Ernie Silva had more reason than most to dream such dreams. Born and raised with 13 siblings in an urban environment of crime, poverty and squalor – specifically the Bushwick neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York City – he’d learned to use the arts to transcend his blighted surroundings.

The literature of Jack Kerouac, the comedy of Richard Pryor and the music of Jimi Hendrix provided Silva with an important element of escapism while he was growing up there, but it was when his brother fatally overdosed on heroin in prison that it was definitely time to leave.

After rolling a dice to make sure he was making the right decision, Silva picked up his guitar and hopped on a freight train bound for the heartland of America. Over the following months, he shared many enlightening conversations with other travellers, spent time in a small town jail and experienced an epiphany on a mountain top.

Admittedly, it sounds like a tale we’ve been told by Hollywood time and time again. Except on this occasion, it’s its being told through a blend of stand-up comedy and theatre far, far away from Los Angeles. It will feel different, and accolades from the NYC One Festival and HOLA, as well as an LA Weekly Theatre Award nomination, say so.

‘People have told me a lot of stuff … called me a lot of stuff … mostly I get the world “unique” a lot,’ Silva has said.

‘Inspiring’ is probably another word that will be written and said many times in the same sentence as this engaging autobiographical piece.

Relying as much on the storyteller’s own charisma as it does on its plot, Heavy… witnesses Silva calling upon his skills as a compelling and athletic performer, sketching characters and recalling adventures with a sense of urgency as well as humour.

After spending many months swimming in the murky waters of various American subcultures, Silva has clearly come out cleaner on the other side, and he reflects on his very personal odyssey with a maturity that must surely have only come since his return.

It’ll take no more than ten minutes of your life to walk from Edinburgh Waverley station to see Silva at Underbelly, where you can be sure he’s come a long way further in his to see you.


Comedy preview: Mark Dolan @ Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh

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In order to arrive at a witty and intelligent introduction to this piece, I thought I would trace the origins of the names Mark and Dolan. I’ll be honest with you, the results were slightly disappointing, and after a few minutes of head-scratching, it was back to the drawing board.

I decided that I probably ought to leave the comedy for the experts, and just introduce you to Mark Dolan in a conventional way, like this: He was born in Camden in 1974, making him 37-years-old. He’s a writer, presenter, and of course a comedian, who’s treating us all to his second solo comedy show at the Fringe.

But then, I thought: Doesn’t it really seem a long time ago that people were saying a recession was about to begin? Well, that was the same year that Dolan last performed in Edinburgh. 2007, it was.

He certainly doesn’t seem to have fared too badly in this period of economic instability, being the face of such television hits as Balls of Steel and The World’s… and Me. Can this really be just a coincidence?

Dolan’s kept suspiciously quiet about this potential conspiracy theory, and is not giving much away about his new set either, recently describing it on Twitter as ‘designed to produce laughter’. What we do know is that he’s going to be talking about the preoccupations of the modern man, politics, married life, and why betting shops have those little pens.

But what else can we expect? Well, he’s clearly fond of interacting with the crowd, so there’s probably going to be some of that. He managed to make a whole show of it last time around, dealing with the personal problems of his spectators in I’m Here to Help!, which turned out to be a resounding success.

‘I’ve always liked having an audience,’ Dolan told Metro last year. ‘I grew up surrounded by large groups of people.’

That’s all very well and good, you might think, for a man who’s booked in at one of the Fringe’s largest venues. However, after a lengthy break from live comedy, during which time he’s been insulted by a 74cm-tall man and become a father of two, he might find that the problem is that he can’t quite share enough.

Oh, and by the way, Mark, or Marcus, refers to Mars, the Roman god of War, while Dolan is an anglicised version of a Gaelic surname, meaning ‘unfortunate’ or ‘unlucky’. Go on, see if you can work that into an amusing paragraph.


Comedy preview: Nick Helm @ Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

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Before I begin, please let me make one thing clear. This guy is absolutely not to be mistaken for the Reverend Nick Helm, author of A Short Course in Exploring Prayer and Finding Support in Ministry. If you’re disappointed, feel free to turn over the page, but if you’ve attended this performance as a consequence of confusing the two, then I’m afraid I can offer no refunds.

Yes, I know it’s true that the poster for Helm’s new show – in which he appears nude, angelically ascending towards the heavens – does allude to the divine, but really, any comparisons between these Nick Helms do not venture any deeper than this.

The Nick Helm I’ve been asked to write about is a comedian who – and this seems a general consensus among reviewers – shouts a lot. He’s bullish, confrontational, and brash.

Helm is also described in many sources as a ‘professional dick-kicker’ – which if you didn’t already know was the comedic term for a twisted punchline, would seem the likely occupation or hobby of a man who projects as much anger on stage as he does.

When Helm’s ever-so-slightly-unhinged persona approaches his audience in an extremely fragile and temperamental state, an environment more similar to a hostage situation than a conventional stand-up routine very quickly unfolds.

Heavily burdened by insecurities owing in part to failed romances, a determined Helm proceeds to bark some pretty appalling one-liners and read his heart-wrenching poems as he teeters on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Did I mention he shouts a lot?

Helm’s acoustic guitar makes an appearance for a few comedy songs, but it’s the interaction – and confrontation – he enjoys with unfortunate members of his audience that is the nucleus of his performance, and for this he has earned comparisons with the likes of Johnny Vegas and Al Murray.

Regarded by many critics as the best emerging comedian at last year’s Fringe, Helm was nominated for a number of accolades in 2010, yet somehow went away empty-handed. This time around, the self-described ‘multi-award-losing’ comedian will undoubtedly employ the strategy of shouting even louder to make himself heard.

The first time I’d seen Nick Helm perform was on Russell Howard’s Good News last year. From the moment he was introduced, I’d foolishly written him off as yet another safe, observational comedian soon to be been consigned to sporadic appearances on the panels of Mock the Week.

However, I quickly learned that his particularly chilling brand of humour wouldn’t really work for comedy quiz shows. Only the most thick-skinned of front-rowers could have survived that 15-minute set, but to put up with it for a whole hour? You have been warned.


Theatre preview: 7 Day Drunk @ Assembly George Square, Edinburgh

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We can probably forgive Bryony Kimmings for being a little confident ahead of her second outing at the Fringe. After all, last year’s Sex Idiot – her debut show at the festival – picked up a Total Theatre Award, earned an Arches Brick nomination and won widespread critical acclaim.

But scripting an entire piece of theatre during a week of binge drinking? Surely that’s ridiculously complacent. Except that’s kind of the point in this theatrical project, which examines the relationship between alcoholic intoxication and artistic expression.

We all know that Jack Kerouac, Jim Morrison and other pioneers of various art forms produced some truly groundbreaking work on cocktails of mind-altering substances, but did their indulgences genuinely open up new doors?

Curious to know if she was more creative while either drunk, sober or hungover, Kimmings carried out an endeavour that will turn out to be more topical than she could have possibly foreseen following the recent tragic loss of troubled singer Amy Winehouse.

Monitored by a team of medics, neuroscientists, pharmacologists and sociologists, Kimmings consumed controlled quantities of alcohol over a period of seven days as she devised her new piece for this year’s Fringe.

Four litres of vodka, 36 cigarettes and 14 text messages from concerned friends and relatives later, the result is an impressively original performance that is being billed as ‘two parts song-and-dance routine, one part breakdown’.

Kimmings will be stone-cold sober as she retraces the drunken steps of her at times emotional creative experiment, while the show will also draw on the recorded footage filmed at her live-in workspace.

So does alcohol act as a lubricant for the artistic soul? Writing this as I pour the last remaining drops of a bottle of wine into my glass, I’m still uncertain. I guess I’ll just have to head to Assembly George Square to find out.


Theatre preview: Ed Reardon - A Writer's Burden @ Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

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Weather forecasters are, as usual, predicting a mixed bag for Edinburgh over the course of the month. However, there’s one place it’s guaranteed to be raining, and that’s directly over Ed Reardon.

You’ll find this 50-something misanthrope (portrayed by Christopher Douglas) darkening the doorways of the Pleasance Courtyard, undoubtedly resentful at having to cross the border and leave behind the comforts of his one-bed flat in Hertfordshire and his cat, Elgar.

As if enough things haven’t gone wrong for him, the poor guy. You see, Ed’s one and only novel was dishonourably transformed into a poor Hollywood film, and he’s recently been forced to prostitute his writing services on classic works such as Kevin Pietersen’s Big BBQ Book and Shed 22lb In A Week The Vanessa Feltz Way to make ends meet.

Of course, he did write that episode of the short-lived wartime drama Tenko back in the 1980s, which makes him a writer of great talent and integrity. It’s the modern world that has continued to thwart his literary pursuits, after all, and those 12-year-old imbeciles in charge of everything who have prevented good things happening to him.

That’s what Ed will tell you, but he won’t stop there. He’ll let the many other forces that plague him be known, too. Only, such frustrations might be delivered with a little more gusto when he takes to the stage, because I doubt he’ll be allowed to smoke his pipe. He may, however, be consoled with some Chilean merlot during the show.

Aside from his Radio 4 programme, which is about to enter its eighth series, there’s no saying, really, what to expect. Ed’s never before taken his angst to the Fringe.

His debut run will be an attraction for his many listeners, and also perhaps young hipster sorts who wish to see what a variety of bohemian looks and sounds like.


Theatre preview: Mission Drift @ Traverse, Edinburgh

Published by THE METRO

At university, I used to really look forward to my American History classes. The professor who gave the lectures was a dour-faced and bitter man much of the time, but he would suddenly burst into life while telling us about Abraham Lincoln or Watergate, with wide eyes and manic gestures.

It seems that a similar enthusiasm grips Theatre of the Emerging American Movement (TEAM) whenever it too tries to acquaint us with America’s past, on a different stage.

The New York-based theatre company is known for exploring aspects of the American self by revisiting some of the country’s historical and cultural cornerstones through a framework of quirky and often surreal plots.

A woman who swallowed a television began to channel the personality of former President Richard Nixon in one of its previous Fringe performances. In another, aliens grew in cornfields, New Yorkers fell from the sky and the dead Kennedys came for dinner.

However, TEAM seems to have toned things down a little this year – not that it needed to, boasting three Fringe First awards – with an ambitious work of cohesion and purpose.

This new foray watches a young couple wandering east to west across America over a period of 400 years, in the juxtaposed settings of pre-Revolution New Amsterdam – the city that welcomed the first commercially-optimistic entrepreneurs – and contemporary Las Vegas – the one recovering painfully slowly from the housing crash.

The manner in which Mission Drift – a fiscal term – deconstructs American capitalism, is both avant-garde enough to retain the fans of its creators’ past offerings and sufficiently lucid to open itself up to a much wider audience.

Allegedly, Oscar Wilde once quipped that America is the first country to have gone from barbarism to decadence without the usual intervening period of civilisation. Well, if this highly sensitive piece doesn’t render that statement over-simplified, my former American History professor certainly would.