Fat Freddy's Drop.

7th August.
Plug.


Reviewer - Gordon Barker.


Fat Freddy's Drop - the New Zealand based, highly accessible, easy listening, dub ballad septet have been selling out tours worldwide since the release of their debut album Based on a True Story. Whilst mainly wooing crowds of grey-skinned Sheffielders at the larger, sun-drenched festivals abroad, this time around they decided to embark on a full tour, bringing them to Sheffield for the very first time.

Plug was already heaving when we arrived, filled with people who on the whole seemed to be of the same thought as me - "I've been waiting for bloody years to see these guys." I think the longest was won by one of my friends exclaiming ten years. So the atmosphere was most definitely already in the room before FFD even graced the stage.

The one and only support slot was given to Vadoinmessico, a London based five-piece who play warm psychedelic pop. These guys showcase an impressively tight set of charming, wistful and ultimately feel-good songs. Even though they fit the bill perfectly, it very much seemed that they were feeling the effects of supporting such a highly anticipated act. The smoking area was very busy and many people, myself unfortunately included, didn't seem to give them as much attention as they probably deserved.

Fat Freddy's entrance on to the stage was exciting. The crush towards the front was almost instantaneous as they breathed the first signs of life into their set with a brand new tune. Everyone started to dance exactly as they would continue to do so for the rest of the gig as the air filled with the old familiar smells.

The stage show from FFD is remarkable and captivating. You can certainly tell that they not only do this all the time, but that they are used to much bigger spaces than the Plug. This in no way hinders their effect, and as the show goes on the audience's focus is constantly shifted around the stage to each performer and element within their performance. Particular stand out moments include the particularly energetic trombone/tuba/harmonica/ bass player, who surreptitiously disappears as the band lull into a soft, tension building rise, only to reappear in an overly tight, glittery jacket, tight white shorts and knee high socks ready for his part when it all kicks back in.

FFD are a truly entertaining group who know their art inside out. Playing new and old songs, as well as solo sections and Kaoss pad loop improvisations, they manage to keep the whole two-hour set enthralling where most begin to waver.

Nicola Farnon Trio.

26th July.
Cubana.


Reviewer - Ben Jackson.


Have you ever been to a gig in what is ostensibly a restaurant? I'm not talking about being out for a meal where a well meaning warble wafts over an inoffensive piano, but a gig that people have clamoured to book a table for, with the food (excellent as it was) as mere accompaniment? I hadn't, so this was a pretty unique experience right from the get-go.

I did have an idea as to what to expect from Nicola though, having been told to see her by an old uni classmate who had seen her perform back in 2008 with her backing multi-instrumentalist, Piero Tucci, on piano and sax.

Piero was again present tonight on keys, with drummer Phil Johnson providing the brush strokes and Nicola up front on vocals and double bass.

The trio are pretty well renowned for their jazz and blues stylings, having played to a captivated crowd at Glastonbury. And even in Cubana, which is equally renowned for its vibrant mix of music, tapas and vast selection of fine rums, the room was absorbed and delighted by a gentle build of classic hits from Ella Fitzgerald to Chet Baker, interspersed by a host of new-to-me swing numbers.

Nicola's demeanour and stage presence was akin to that of a seasoned performer, completely at home on the stage, with all the charm and charisma of a speakeasy cabaret act but without any of the jazz-handed affectations. She spoke quietly but clearly in between songs, introducing her band to an audience response that signified just how many members of tonight's congregation were already fans. In fact, every time the last few bars were delivered, with that trademark tailing off in tempo, the trio were met with the sound of downed cutlery and rapturous applause. Restaurant? Not as we know it.

It was only after the show that I learned of Nicola's incredible musical pedigree and heritage, though it came as no surprise at all. She is in fact the niece of Robert Farnon, the world famous and much acclaimed arranger and composer for the likes of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett amongst many more, which presumably played some part in defining her love of this timeless style of music.

Although I like to think - as most do - that my appreciation of music is wide and varied, I have to confess that I came here tonight with a greater sense of intrigue than expectation. As I leave, however, I am compelled to get hold of the back catalogues of all of the greats to whom the Nicola Farnon Trio did incredible justice.

Private Lives.

18th august.
botanical gardens.


reviewer - rob aldam.


Noel Coward would be impressed with the matinee performance of his play, Private Lives. It had a mad dog, several Englishmen, and a smidgen of early afternoon sun.

Set in the beautiful surrounds of the Botanical Gardens, Heartbreak Productions put their own enigmatic spin on this comedy of manners, employing the device of having the cast also playing staff of the Deauville hotel where the play opens. As we await the beginning of the performance, the concierge J.J.Henry, who is also a professional magician, prowls the audience confirming reservations in faultless French, whilst selling a cleverly designed program in the style of a hotel menu. At the same time, we are serenaded by Gabriel the hotel singer, whose repertoire includes 'Dream a Little Dream of Me' and 'Le Vie en Rose'.

Staging Coward's drama is a difficult ask, as it is very much a period piece which relies heavily on the delivery of the four main actors. Whilst the underlying issues are timeless, the dialogue and humour is not. It doesn't have the grittiness or contemporary narrative of, say, Reza's God of Carnage or Marber's Closer. Although it was considered racy when it was first staged in the 1930s, Private Lives seems rather light in comparison, but what it does contain is liberal smatterings of Coward's legendary witty repartee and flamboyant style.

Private Lives focuses on divorced couple Elyot and Amanda (Stephen McLeod and Helen Terry), who find themselves honeymooning with their new spouses Sybil and Victor (Lindsey Crowe and James Edwards ) in adjacent rooms in the same hotel. They realise that they still love each other and not their new companions, abandoning them, and running off to Paris together. They may be older, but they are by no means wiser, discovering that whilst they cannot be apart, they also cannot live together.

The original cast consisted of Noel Coward, Lawrence Olivier, Gertrude Lawrence and Adrianne Allen. It would be an understatement to say that this is a nigh on impossible act to follow. As a four-handed piece, Heartbreak Productions' take on Private Lives doesn't quite click. Lines are not always delivered with the necessary vim and vigour, the timing is not always quite what it should be. The interactions between Elyot and Amanda, which form the centrepiece of the production, don't contain the necessary bite and sting, often lacking emphasis on the 30s exaggerated dialogue. Don't get me wrong, it is a highly enjoyable and well-acted adaptation, which provides great afternoon entertainment. It just seems to be missing a certain something.

The star and the crowd favourite (albeit not popular with our canine brethren) is J.J Henry playing the English bashing French concierge. His interjections and introductions add another dimension to the play and break up the longer stretches of dialogue. However, with a script this good, you have to wonder why there is a need for such a comedic device.

Private Lives is another high quality staging from Heartbreak Productions, who have consistently delivered excellent entertainment for many a summer.