Updated: 5 Nov 2007
Never Take Sweets From A Stranger
Skip To My Lou
Across The Borderline (Miller Anderson)
Wish You Were Here
I Had A Dream (Howard Werth)
The Orange Blossom Special
Part Of The Union
Falling In Love Again
ASTOR THEATRE, DEAL, 3 NOV 2007
Once again Dave Cousins the impresario (looking ever bit the part in red and black - great red shoes and jacket!) gathered together a fine posse of entertainers for his second spectacular variety show at the Astor Theatre in Deal. The highlight of the evening was inevitably a blistering performance from the Blue Angel Orchestra, but before that we had a number of treats in store.
Local band The Far Away Tree were intriguing and unusual - what to call them - "power pop" maybe ? An energetic drummer at the back laying down some quiet Latin American rhythms, and a lead singer/guitarist with an Elvis Costello velvet jacket "uber-geek in specs" look and thrashing out a fairly punk-style rhythm on first an electric guitar then a miked up 12-string (a touch of the Wilko Johnson movements too). To his left the girl bass player, to his right the girl fiddle player, both of whom joined in on harmonies, sometimes of a slightly atonal nature, akin to Native American chants. The lead vocals may have suffered a bit from the poor microphone which was replaced part way into the Blue Angels' set. Interesting and inventive material, but quite challenging to take in on first hearing. I bought the CD in the high street the next day so will report back when I've had a listen to that.
Next to take the stage was drag torch singer Pussy D'Amour, whose unusual act we also experienced last year. Pussy has an extraordinary voice and vamps it up to 110% singing through a hand held radio mike over a background of pre-recorded backing music. During an instrumental passage, she supped her alarming red cocktail, commenting that she wasn't allowed to light up her cigarette these days. She slinked down into the audience for one song, then sat on the stairs back to the stage for another. A very visual and accomplished act, though not to absolutely everyone's taste.
Next, a first: painting to numbers! Granville D Clarke, well known landscape artist (aka Danny Clarke from the 70s band Foggy, which had close links to Strawbs) played a couple of gentle acoustic songs first then turned to the easel which was set on stage left with a camera high aloft projecting the easel onto the large projection screen at stage right. Danny kept up a stream of amusing banter with the audience as he produced several pictures. First a tree, sharing some of the tricks of his trade. Next a painting to order - cliffs, Barnsley Cathedral and some other landscape features shouted out by the audience. Then he meandered over to the piano, but was pipped at the post by Chris Ball from the Deal Hoy who sent him back to his easel, where he did a stunning midnight scene whilst Chris played, plenty of water and watercolours, fascinating to watch the picture take shape. Not quite finished as Chris was obviously drawing to a close, Danny asked for a little water music as he completed the stippled water below the moonscape. And as a finale, Dave Cousins came on stage to play a fairly stately version of "A Glimpse Of Heaven" (ultimately to have two verses reprised as Danny needed more time to complete his work - next time The Battle or Vision Of The Lady Of The Lake!). A thoroughly enjoyable and unusual segment of the show.
But of course the Blue Angel Orchestra was, for most of us at least, the main attraction of the night - and they certainly did not let us down. Hard to believe that their first performance was only a year ago - their show tonight was tight and polished, even when they confessed that they had not played one of the songs together before ! A class act to be sure, and benefiting from the shared experience of recording the Boy In The Sailor Suit material which was the focus of the show.
Starting out slightly hesitantly on "Never Take Sweets From A Stranger", which didn't have 100% of he punch it has on album, they warmed up well with "Mellow Moon" with DC's mic having been replaced. Third up "Skip To My Lou" - a song which I put in the second division for Boy, but live, this fiddle showcase has leapfrogged up to one of the top 3. Absolutely spectacular, everyone's feet tapping: Miller had no difficulty in getting us all clapping along.
Next DC leaves the stage to allow Miller to take lead vocals on "Across The Borderline", prefaced by the warning that the band hadn't played this before. No problems however. Cousins returned to sing his Deal-inspired "Wish You Were Here", before again stepping back again to let Deal-resident Howard Werth of Audience-fame sing his "I Had A Dream". Howard stayed with the band as play resumed for a fiddle-tastic "Orange Blossom Special" with virtuoso Ian Cutler pulling out all the rock fiddle stops. And, during this, out came Danny Clarke again to produce a fantastic picture of a train heading out from under a viaduct, with an orange tree in the foreground, whilst the musicians bopped away.
Final song was "Hellfire Blues" - a very very powerful performance from all, with Cousins particularly on fire on vocals, though we lost some of them in the mix as everything else was pretty loud too. Again, something which I think will be a huge live favourite, as it comes over even better live than on album.
A brief respite then they returned for some encores. First up, a surprise, "Part Of The Union" interspersed with fiddle tunes from Ian ("Grand Old Duke Of York" was one, I didn't clock all the others). And after that bit of jollity, the final encore, Dave's interpretation of Marlene Dietrich's "Falling In Love Again".
A really very very good gig indeed and a nice weekend down by the sea to boot. Other highlights of which included:
Look forward to the next BAO show (apart from the Christmas party of course) - a free one in Deal on the afternoon of Sun 16 December, 3.30 onwards at the Clarendon Hotel. Hope that with a bit more time and a full setlist we might hear a few of the Two Weeks numbers that were in the earlier set and "The Young Pretender" a song that needs to be heard live; and maybe even their eponymous epic - the "Blue Angel" itself.
A few pics from Ali as a stopgap - more to follow
My attempt at a picture postcard from Deal. Had a wonderful time. Wish you were there.
To celebrate the fact that the Blue Angel Orchestra were playing for the third time, many people in both Surrey and Kent lit up the sky with fireworks. Deal, especially, seemed to be commemorating the event with some pretty spectacular displays. Feeling very guilty at leaving our dog alone in the house with all of the fireworks going off outside, Calli and I drove down to Deal to find many others of the Witchwood contingent already queuing outside the theatre.
When we saw the Strawbs at Deal just before Cropredy the sound system was awful. I am pleased to report that it was much improved last night, though still not as good as it could have been. Quite a lot of buzzing, feedback, crackles and distortion still, but not to the extent that it ruined the performance.
DC was in his element as Master of Ceremonies. I'm afraid that I didn't ever see him at The White Bear in Hounslow, but he learnt his craft well there. Wearing a poppy red jacket, with shoes to match, he introduced the first act of the evening, a local Deal band called Far Away Tree. They comprised a lead singer/guitarist, who looked a bit like half of the Proclaimers (no idea which half). His trousers were too long for him, overhanging the heels of his shoes, but presumably intended to compensate for the unseasonal lack of trouser length that the bassist and the violin/keyboard player were sporting. (Didn't notice the drummer's attire).
This was the first time that Calli and I had seen Pussy D'Amore. Neither of us are hugely familiar with drag acts, but we both agreed that we had been expecting her to look slightly more feminine. However, we were both stunned with what a wonderful voice she had.
In my personal opinion, the next act went on a bit long. Granville D Clarke is quite a well known watercolour artist, even I had seen him on the telly. Rather bravely he agreed to come on and paint live on stage to music, but in addition to that he also did two additional pictures in charcoals. I think he should have concentrated on simply painting rather than singing and reciting poetry as well. To me it made it seem to drag a bit. The most impressive painting, in my opinion, was a moonlit seascape painted entirely in blue, accompanied by Chris Ball (landlord from the Deal pub The Hoy), who improvised suitable wavy sea like sounds in time with the painting.
He also painted a view of Branscome whilst DC accompanied with a (slightly extended) version of "A Glimpse of Heaven". DC's explanation as to the influence behind this song, I suspect, may be just ever so slightly exaggerated.
I don't know anyone who hasn't heard "The Boy in the Sailor Suit" and not be bowled over. Really fantastic to hear some of the tracks live, and I think the Blue Angel Orchestra were pleased to be able to play them. DC admitted that they hadn't rehearsed, but that they had all played the songs a few times when they had recorded them. They played them perfectly, with no evidence that they hadn't played them thousands of time before.
Pleased to report that they played my favourite track, "Wish You Were Here". Strangely DC changed one word in the song, which completely altered the entire meaning. I'm sure he did it on purpose, but I'm intrigued to know why. On record, the song ends with him thinking of the ghosts that he has laid. I guess that this line is partly jocular, to reflect the story in the first track on the album ("Never Take Sweets From a Stranger"),but mainly because WYWH is not the first song that DC wrote that was inspired by Deal. "Down By The Sea" was also inspired by a visit to Deal. Now that DC lives there he has laid to rest those ghosts. (At least, that is my view of the song).
However, instead of "ghosts" DC sang "girls", so, coupled with the saucy postcards, this puts a whole new slant on the song!
Granville returned for Ian Cutler's showpiece, "Orange Blossom Special". Part with charcoal and part with watercolour he painted a view of a train crossing a viaduct, with an orange tree in the foreground.
During the final song, "Part Of The Union", I turned to look at the audience. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the concert and people were even dancing at the back. Might have been fun to stick around afterwards with the rest of the Witchwooders, but we really did feel that we needed to get back for the dog.