Music preview: John Foxx & the Maths @ the Arches, Glasgow

Published by METRO

To some, he’s among the pioneers of electronic music. To others, he’s someone once seen on Top of the Pops playing it extremely cool during his performance of his 1980 single Underpass. But to many, he’s simply unknown.

It seems like a wonder John Foxx isn’t more famous than he is. After all, he was once the lead singer of Ultravox, had a fairly successful solo career, and dabbled in acid house just before its explosion in the early 1990s.

It might be because he’s indulged himself only in projects he’s wanted to, as opposed to ones for the sake of being mainstream, that Foxx never quite became a household name. Indeed, such artists usually acquire, and in most cases prefer, a dedicated cult following instead.

And in his fourth decade in the music industry, the silver-haired Foxx doesn’t look like making any U-turns. The result of this latest collaboration – with synthesiser collector Benge – is more than a match for musical quality and experimentation than any of his career highlights. What’s more, their debut album Interplay has managed to win critical acclaim among an electronic music press extremely wise to ageing has-beens and new pretenders alike.

Foxx’s swoony vocals, set to Benge’s minimal beats and melodic grooves, evoke completely the New Wave synth-pop that came to define Foxx as the man who invented ‘retro-modern’.

Aside from playing his newest material at the Arches on Sunday, the fantastic Mr Foxx will be revisiting tracks from his classic 1980 electro-pop album Metamatic and also from his earlier days with Ultravox (which will see him perform with former Ultravox guitarist Robin Simon).

The acoustics for this event have been perfected to an excellence you’d expect a music lecturer – yes, Foxx is today part of the London College of Music’s teaching staff – to insist upon. Fret not, however, as the overall show – which will feature striking live visuals and plenty of on-stage energy – has an edge necessary to entertain a modern crowd.


Music preview: The Overtones @ Royal Concert Halls, Glasgow

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Whenever I come across vocal harmony groups – and I never have – I prefer them to have broken into showbiz the fairytale way. At a barbershop, where they’ve been singing while simultaneously cutting hair for so long it’s become an incredibly dangerous place to get a trim. Where, one day, a customer turns out to be a cigar-chomping record company executive, pays for his short back and sides by offering the staff a recording contract, and the whole place explodes with rapturous applause.

Well, you know what, the Overtones aren’t that far removed from such a magical story. In London’s West End, a Warner Brothers talent scout happened to catch five lads belting out a tune while they worked as decorators in a shop. After being invited to audition at the label, they were offered a deal, and the rest is history.

The quintet soon made an appearance as the house band on ITV’s Dancing on Ice and featured on Britain’s Got Talent. Possessing the ability to make classic numbers their own in an endearing doo-wop style, as well as write their own material, the group’s debut album Good Ol’ Fashioned Love reached No.4 in the charts. However, it was while performing on tour last year that they discovered the hit they’d become, and Glasgow in particular holds some happy memories.

‘Our Glasgow gig was the craziest we’ve ever played,’ said band member Mark Franks. ‘People threw bras and knickers at us on stage, while others were jumping up and down and singing along with us. It was absolutely amazing.’

This time around, however, the group’s show has been tailored to the larger venue. Mark explained that although the vocal performance will remain the most important factor when they take to the Royal Concert Halls stage, more hard work has gone into the wider production than ever before.

Tonight’s concert follows Monday’s release of the Platinum Edition of Good Ol’ Fashioned Love that, along with the twelve tracks from the original album, includes three brand new songs. Fans who buy the record will also be treated to three additional bonus tracks, which are cover versions of numbers by The Four Seasons, Adele and Rihanna.

If this isn’t enough to get their dedicated Glasgow fans going again, Mark revealed that the band might even be tempted to head out on the town once they’re done on stage.

‘Hopefully we’ll have time to go out for a few drinks, explore the nightlife a little, and perhaps even try a deep-fried Mars bar!’ he said.

So, they send crowds wild, they’re at the top of their game and they’re very excited to be performing in Glasgow again. What more could you ask of this five-piece? Well, maybe don’t try to book them for any painting jobs till after the tour, OK?


Theatre preview: Apocalypse: A Glamorously Ugly Cabaret @ Traverse, Edinburgh

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Sorry to bring the tone down, but the world is going to end. One day. The world is going to end one day, is what I should have said.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that, from the strange-looking old men holding ‘The End is Nigh’ placards on busy Saturday streets to the good-looking young men trying to save the world in Hollywood blockbusters, the world is obsessed with its own demise.

However, while so many have embraced the entertainment factor behind our paranoia, the theatre has by and large kept its hands over its ears. Until now, that is, when what has trickled through from the mainstream on to the cabaret stage is a predictably warped and chaotic affair.

Armed with warnings of the imminent rapture, Gdjet and Lulu emerge from the gutters and swamps of society to invite us along for humanity’s last night on earth. Our hosts navigate us around times past and present to inform us of the apocalypse, claiming they possess knowledge above our own comprehension. But is their talk to be believed, or are they just another couple of charlatans playing another con?

This question is posed by new Scottish theatre company Occasional Cabaret, recently established by former Benchtours artistic directors Catherine Gillard and Peter Clerke.

‘In amongst all the apocalyptic talk – from the Mayans to Harold Camping, from global economic meltdown to environmental collapse – this is just our take on it all; cabaret style,’ Clerke said of the piece.

Apocalypse was written by New York City’s Off-Off-Broadway supremo John Clancy, whose triple-Edinburgh Festival Fringe First award-winning Clancy Productions will be joining Occasional Cabaret in taking the work on a Scottish tour.

Indeed, the end of the world sounds like the perfect occasion for a piece of really dark comedy cabaret, and as the show so brilliantly interweaves its plot around satire and song, there could be worst places to be should Gdjet and Lulu’s predictions materialise.

Actually, what am I saying? If I was forewarned of such a scenario, which would have to be supported by the scientists and politicians of the world for me to believe it, I’d swill a bottle or two of red wine, gorge on a few hundred grams of strong cheese, and probably have a little think.

The world will not really be ending after any one of Apocalypse’s three dates at the Traverse. But as for the performance in Glenrothes, which coincidentally falls on the same date the aforementioned US evangelist Harold Camping predicted the rapture, I really wouldn’t like to make any promises.

You’ll be alright in Edinburgh, though, so you should head to this performance while you’ve still the time.

Comedy preview: Stephen Merchant @ Edinburgh Playhouse

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Stephen Merchant: stand-up comedian. It doesn’t quite read right, does it? Indeed, the giant may have raised his profile in recent years, but he’s just a guy who appears on the telly and the radio with writing partner Ricky Gervais, isn’t he? Of course he’s funny, but does he seem like someone who stands alone on stage and tells jokes to a crowd of people for an hour?

Well, somehow we’ve got to get used to this idea, because Merchant’s 6ft 8inch frame will be darkening the doorways of the Edinburgh Playhouse for three such performances, starting tonight.

The multi-Bafta, Emmy and Golden Globe-winning writer, director, actor and presenter has enjoyed many successes in the past decade, yet he is apparently no better at wooing the female of the species than any other lanky, spectacled British man. No, it seems not even being the voice of the Barclays adverts prevent Merchant suffering some epic romantic failures, which take centre stage on his first stand-up tour.

But with the latest series of An Idiot Abroad (which he co-produced) currently gracing our screens and new sitcom Life’s Too Short (which he co-created) on the horizon, you have to ask: what has comedy’s most basic format really got to offer someone with his schedule?

Well, conquering the world of stand-up is part of Merchant’s unfinished business. Before joining Gervais on Xfm in 1997, the Bristolian’s efforts received a mixed reception on the circuit in his neck of the woods, and he clearly feels he has something to prove.

‘I want people to think “he’s good at that” rather than “he’s cashing in”,’ Merchant told Metro last year as he was preparing material for the tour. Thankfully, it’s the former that the critics are reckoning as he nears the border and the halfway point of his time on the road.

Stephen Merchant: stand-up comedian. Go on then, get me a ticket.


Music preview: Rita Hosking & Michael Chapman @ Mono Cafe Bar, Glasgow

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So I was burning a couple of Rita Hosking CDs to my computer, and couldn’t help but notice that my unbranded music library had identified one as ‘country’ and the other as ‘folk’. ‘Nice try, but you clearly aren’t aware of “Americana”,’ I told it, shaking my head. “Which marries the musical styles of those two genres, but defines itself primarily by their more authentic tradition – story-telling for, of, and by, the people,’ I continued on, in a patronising tone.

That tale isn’t entirely true, but what it says about this singer-songwriter is. Hosking’s voice carries a grace and her lyrics a dignity that are a testament to the integrity of American roots music.

You might sooner associate California with beaches and A-list celebrities in Hollywood than with county fairs and logging communities in the mountains, but after listening to a few of her songs, you’d soon realise the error of your ways. Drawing heavily on her upbringing, Hosking’s material elevates blue-collar Americans from their worn pick-up trucks and dirty dishes to the pedestals of heroes.

But although her words simply describe ordinary folk going about their ordinary lives, her characters come to represent the American spirit. They evoke an imagery that takes on an odd transforming power of its own when set to the sound of a soothing harmonica or a sorrowful steel guitar.

It’s for this aspect of her performance that she’s earned comparisons with Woody Guthrie – the legendary American folk musician who inspired a young Robert Zimmerman – as well as today’s alternative country starlets Diana Jones and Gillian Welch. High praise indeed, you might think, for a mother-of-two who was until recently a teacher.

OK, but if she’s so American, why doesn’t she just stay where she is across the pond? Well, her bagpipe-playing, tenor-voiced great-grandfather migrated to the US from Cornwall back in his day, so her gig in the West Country later in the tour will mark a pilgrimage of sorts for Hosking.

What’s more, she’ll be sharing the Mono stage with Britain’s very own Michael Chapman. Admired by musical legend John Peel, this veteran singer-songwriter’s sound takes folk away from its conventional parameters and into the respective realms of jazz and blues.

Drawing on a wide spectrum of material that encompasses 30 studio recordings from nearly four decades on the circuit, Chapman will provide a musical gravitas to the pair’s 12-date tour, which offers much expectation and intrigue.

As the days become darker and the weather more wretched, an evening of mellow roots music with a warming mug of tea or dram of whiskey certainly wouldn’t go amiss. So thank goodness you’re going to Mono, where all three are available tonight.


Music preview: Boxes @ King Tut's, Glasgow

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King Tut’s was once described to me as ‘the Arsene Wenger of Scotland’s music venues’. If you understand that this person was referring to either’s ability to identify the cream of the crop of unsigned talent and make them into stars, then the metaphor won’t be lost on you.

Really, though, a King Tut’s gig can be a major turning point in an artist’s career. Just ask Biffy Clyro, Oasis, or any of the other top groups that have made a name for themselves on its modest yet magical stage.

Thinking about its proud history makes this particular performance all the more intriguing, because the man behind Boxes is no stranger to the dizzying heights of arena tours and summer festivals. Carey Willets is the bassist from Athlete.

I toyed with revealing that information, which could lead people into making premature and inaccurate musical assumptions. In reality, Boxes takes Willets’s previously understated abilities as a multi-instrumentalist to impressive new levels.

With synth-laden melodies that uplift, looped guitar rhythms that bedazzle and heart-felt lyrics that inspire, Boxes is an acoustic-electronic hybrid that provides the perfect soundtrack to while away one of your dark and contemplative autumnal evenings. Like the Postal Service and Bright Eyes, the overall sound packs a fair emotional punch – no pun intended.

And when you can, you should watch the video for the debut single Throw Your Stones – taken from the recently-released Silent Alarm EP – which features Dermot O’Leary, Zoe Ball and Heston Blumenthal.

So, why did I decide to mention that Willets is a member of Athlete after all? Well, I think it illuminates an important quality – he could quite easily rest on the stardom of a band in which he’s musically restricted, yet he’s going back to music’s humble origins to show us what he’s capable of. Now, if he isn’t a musician worth seeing, I’m not sure who is.


Theatre preview: Calum's Road @ Tron Theatre, Glasgow

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We often associate our roads with misery, don’t we? And with good reason, too – traffic jams, fuel prices and potholes aren’t much fun.

Never mind though, eh – you’ll be fine! You take the train every morning. You just pick up a Metro, take your seat, and relax.

But imagine what it would be like if there were no roads at all. Sure, you can still theoretically have your daily commute by rail, but think about how impossible it would be visit relatives in rural Dumfries and Galloway, go on a Highland road trip, or tour the distilleries of Islay.

Hold that thought. Now let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, in late 1940s, on Raasay – an island between the mainland and Skye – there lived a man who wanted a road built to serve his community. The local authorities refused, despite his pleading for more than 20 years, so he decided to take matters into his own hands. The man’s name was Calum, and with his pick, shovel and wheelbarrow, he started to make a road all by himself. A two-mile track was the fruit of his labour, but by the time of completion – a decade after he began the project – almost everyone had left the area.

However, it wasn’t all in vain. His efforts have not only merited a place in Scottish folklore, they’ve now been written for the stage in a joint production by the National Theatre of Scotland and the Communicado Theatre Company. Adapted by David Harrower and directed by Gerry Mulgrew, there’s something fitting about the fact that this tale is touring the whole country. At it’s core, it illuminates a truly Scottish grit. It will also start and end its life where its hero did – beginning its run in Glasgow before finishing up in Raasay itself.

With winter arriving, this might be just the thing to warm your heart.