Bearded Theory Festival has got its mojo back. Not that it ever really went away, it just went through a dip last year with the new site to adjust to, coupled with relentless rain. But for 2015, the weather smiled down on Bearded Theory, the festival site was looking all new and improved and the confidence was back.

Arriving at Catton Hall on Friday, it’s apparent just how much development has been going on: The Pallet main stage and sound system are impressive and there are more food choices and stalls. Fancy dress theme is Pirates, and from the start a number of swashbuckling types are strolling the site in full regalia; beards too are in evidence and of far more originality than your standard hipster. The bar is Thornbridge Brewery again, with their excellent Festival Ale, and all at decent prices.

The piece de resistance is the Woodlands. More like an add-on last year, it is now almost a mini festival in itself. Tucked away behind the arena in a wooded area, with dappled sunlight filtering through the trees, is the stunning new stage of sculpted oak, the setting for mainly folk-related artists who play from noon till late. It has its own bar, and Nana’s Kitchen, a cosy cafe where revellers queue for home-made roasts, chips and the most delicious cakes, baked daily on-site by Adele.

Woodland stage Bearded Theory

Woodland Stage

A great deal of effort has also been put into the extensive Children’s Village where there’s a daily timetable packed with events, many pirate-related, and the new Bearded School offering school lessons with a festival twist. And even the toilets have been upgraded and noticeably kept clean for the festival’s duration.

toiletsign

kids area

Children’s Village

Alabama 3 are on early Friday evening – a band I’ve seen many times and this is one of their best performances. Aurora Dawn coolly struts her stuff, and Larry Love and Rev D Wayne Love keep everyone entertained with their amusing and somewhat rude banter. Woke Up This Morning, Up Above my Head, Hypo Full of Love (with the low-down dance moves), and Too Sick to Pray are on the setlist. There’s nothing precious about A3 and this was a definite crowd-pleaser festival set.

A3 Aurora Dawn

Alabama 3

Saturday afternoon’s Pallet stage showcases some excellent folk-rock outfits – the opening band Three Minute Heist play an Americana-influenced set features some strong bluesy numbers. Skinny Lister are adept at getting the audience into full afternoon drinking and dancing party mode before Irish Canadians The Mahones take over the stage with their high-powered punk folk. Still on a folky theme, the Woodland stage is host to The Leylines, who produced one beautiful song after another, and whose fiddle player will have you playing air violin (not in public, though).

The Mahones at Bearded Theory

The Mahones – Katie “Kaboom” McConnell

Early evening and it’s British Sea Power’s first time at Bearded Theory. One of my favourite bands, British Sea Power possess a very British charm and quirkiness and their stage shows are known for – well unpredictability and bears. Maybe the unpredictable here was that the bear didn’t appear. The rousing and uplifting Machineries of Joy opens the set, followed by Apologies to Insect Life, then Waving Flags. A powerful version of Silver Machine finishes the set, Jan Scott Wilkinson repeatedly throwing his guitar in the air, looking increasingly as if he isn’t going to catch it. Sliced in between an afternoon of foot-stomping folk and the all-out rock of New Model Army, BSP offered a more cerebral transition to the evening’s entertainment – a welcome must-see for some, but not maybe of universal appeal.

British Sea Power

British Sea Power

A surfeit of festival-goers sporting New Model Army t-shirts are an indication of the numbers waiting to see these long-term rockers. I caught the end of their storming set at Bearded Theory two years ago and, as the programme blurb says, it is a set “still talked about in hushed, reverent tones”. The band undoubtedly deliver a powerful set, Justin Sullivan a mesmerizing figure among the blue smoke, his voice still powerful and full of portent, opened with Stormclouds, taking the band through a mix of numbers and finishing with I Love the World.

New Model Army

For Sunday at Bearded Theory (beards, pirates, The Beat, Transglobal, James and more…) click here

Bearded Theory Lego beard

If you’ve enjoyed reading this review, please ‘like’ my page or leave a comment. Thanks :)

Sunday is unabashedly fun day at Bearded Theory. Proceedings kick off with Mr Motivator and a mass exercise session at the Woodland stage at the unearthly hour of 12 noon, and the place is packed out – Mr Motivator’s appeal is clearly undimmed. There’s so much to celebrate today. Firstly those threatening rainclouds are beating a retreat. It’s also Pirate dress-up day, beard competition, and a day of great music stretches before us. pirates3 Pirate At Magical Sounds dance tent at lunchtime I meet Bruce with a stylish beard made of Lego. He’s also carrying a Lego mug and a Lego phone cover, so this appears to be a genuine obsession. I predict a winner.

Bearded Theory Lego beard

Lego Beard

The competition kicks off at 2pm, with Mr Motivator taking charge of the proceedings. Beard competition And Bruce does indeed win! Mr Motivator Magical Sounds on Sunday is a global feast, with dance sounds from the Scottish Highlands down to the Indian subcontinent. Grousebeater Soundsystem have a touch of the Monster Ceilidh Band’s Celtic/dance fusion going on, and inexplicably appeal to the women present, who are all dancing with much enthusiasm. Dr Trippy presides over a compulsively dancey set of ‘Punjabi swamp’ Indian dub mix (this was our driving home music). Heading back to the main stage I get a welcome text from a friend: THE PUPPETS ARE IN THE DANCE TENT! At last… so it’s back to the Magical Sounds for more dancing action with Bearded Theory’s puppets, who have been a bit elusive this year. Later, the tent plays host to a wonderful set from Transglobal Underground collective. puppets in dance tent The Beat perform a stunning set, with Ranking Roger and his son on vocals, energising the Pallet stage with a mix of numbers old and new, such as Hands off She’s Mine and Doors of Your Heart Ranking Roger The beat Sunday’s headliner is James. There’s no time for a slow build, it’s straight into it with the first number Sit Down (taken off the set list for a couple of years, so Tim Booth tells us), and he wastes no time in rushing to the front of the stage, almost disappearing into the clearly adoring crowd. How is he going to follow this? I ask myself. But the hits.. and the power of the new album overcome any misgivings. The second song is Curse, Curse from the latest album in 2014 La Petite Mort. As Tim Booth says, “this is no nostalgia tour”. Tim Booth Tracks from the new album reveal a band in full second flowering. Numbers range from more recent work to back in time. And as we reach the final numbers, a giant firework display kicks off. We’re singing “Sometimes when I look deep in your eyes, I swear I can see your soul…‘, the fireworks are bursting into the sky, and suddenly I realize we’ve almost reached the end of the festival. Yep, a lump in the throat.. oh pull yourself together. James, Bearded Theory There’s always a magic ingredient that defines the best festivals, and Bearded Theory has whatever it is. This year felt like a special one with the new site now feeling like home. It’s a mix of the music – a mix of old-school bands, new acts and a psychedelically groovy dance tent – plus the fancy dress and beards, and the great family entertainment, but what seems to define it more than anything is the most fun, kind and friendly people I’ve ever encountered at any festival. Here’s to Bearded Theory for 2015… and onwards till the next one.

There were loads and loads more bands… too many to mention here, so I’ll be adding more photos of Bearded Theory to the site soon…

Festivals are going through big changes and the newer breed of events are more often taking place in the very cities we’re usually so keen to escape from.The formula we’ve traditionally enjoyed, three days or so camped out in the fields of an obliging farmer with enough bands and DJs to keep you happy, has shifted to encompass a new upbeat trend of urban revitalisation that promotes music, food, craft beer, culture, art, new venues, startups and popups. These events don’t just push their brand either, they leave a legacy which benefits the city in a multitude of ways.

Field Day Festival 2012

Field Day festival, Victoria Park, London

Festivals are going through big changes and the newer breed of events are more often taking place in the very cities we’re usually so keen to escape from.The formula we’ve traditionally enjoyed, three days or so camped out in the fields of an obliging farmer with enough bands and DJs to keep you happy, has shifted to encompass a new upbeat trend of urban revitalisation that promotes music, food, craft beer, culture, art, new venues, startups and popups. These events don’t just push their brand either, they leave a legacy which benefits the city in a multitude of ways.

So why are city-wide events making such headway? There are a number of reasons. One is due to the sheer cost of festivals, which can rival that of a long-weekend city break in Rome. Urban festivals work out considerably cheaper, either offering day tickets or a wristband system whereby you can choose a certain number of events. The other reason is the make-or-break weather aspect. We can put a brave face on it, but three days standing in squelchy wellies and sleeping in a damp tent, does – well – dampen the atmosphere. A proportion of older festival goers have bobbed along the festival treadmill for many years but are starting to fall away, however they are still keen to attend performances and often have more funds and time on their hands. So it’s no wonder that promoters are opting for a more urban experience, to rub alongside the traditional festivals. Beacons Festival, which which had established itself as a three-day summer event in picturesque north Yorkshire is making the leap to become a tri-city multi-eventer, and is currently organising music, art and culture events in Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds for October. What’s going on now in a city near you? Here’s a few events to tempt you:

Leeds Indie Food Festival to 24th May

Gin tasting

Gin Tasting at The Lazy Lounge. Ifty Patel

At one time, Leeds seemed to be lagging behind on the food scene, but it has caught up in a big way and has now really made its mark. And to celebrate this is the inaugural Leeds Indie Food Festival, offering a ton of exciting food ventures, workshops, special tasting menus and lots, lots more all around the city. The festival is creating a real buzz, and It’s already getting great reviews.

The Reliance

Five-course food and wine pairing at The Reliance

It finishes on the 24th so if you want to join in, check out their website

Dot to Dot  22nd May

There’s a line-up that’s almost as long as War and Peace at this Manchester event celebrating its10th birthday. A host of bands are appearing primarily in the Northern Quarter. Buy yourself a wristband and help yourself to 14 hours of music from the likes of Saint Raymond, Swim Deep, Fat White Family, Laura Dogged and Hinds. Nottingham and Bristol to follow. Buy tickets to Dot to Dot

Sound City  22nd to 24th May

BelleandSebastian

Stuart Murdoch, Belle and Sebastian

Liverpool’s well-established city festival this year is on its own bespoke site at Bramley-Moore Dock, completely surrounded by water. Arts and music with Belle & Sebastian, the Flaming Lips, Blossoms, The Bohicas and more. Sound City tickets here

Grillstock BarBQ and Music Festival   30 – 31st May

Grillstock, LockJaw BurgerVeggies beware. In Albert Square Manchester, this is the festival of “meat, music and mayhem”. Appearing are Grandmaster Flash, Levi Roots, The Heavy, Rev Peyton and more.  Later in the year there are Grillstocks taking place in London and Bristol.

Grillstock 2011

Ealing Festivals. Blues Festival 25-26th July

Walpole Park is the setting for the annual Blues jamboree. It costs £5 per day, £8 per weekend (with wristband ), has a choice of stages, lots of food outlets, the obligatory clothes and jewellery stalls plus a clairvoyant or two, a decent-ish bar, spotless portaloos with no queues. Ealing Blues Festival tickets. Also see Ealing Jazz Festival, Ealing Comedy Festival, Ealing Beer Festival and more.

VISIONS  August 8th

Now in its third year, Visions takes place across different warehouse venues and outdoor areas in London Fields. It is also using the beautiful St John’s At Hackney Church and Space Studios outdoor courtyard. The line up for Visions is as eclectic as ever, including Fat White Family, Shamir, Merchandise, Peaking Lights, Toy, Hinds and more. There will also be an ale and food festival hosted by local pub the Adam And Eve, screen printing classes, record and art markets plus AV installations. Tickets to Visions festival are available for just £30.

Liverpool International Music Festival  27th – 31st August

is to return for a third year with a totally free packed programme of events all around the city, culminating in a free show by Echo and the Bunnymen and the Philharmonic Orchestra in Sefton Park. Basement Jaxx, Labrinth, Katy B, Naughty Boy, Laura Mvula, and Becky Hill star. The itsliverpool stage will celebrate local talent with 1970’s soul group The Real Thing and acts from LIMF’s  music academy.There will also be four specially produced commissions including: Routes Jukebox led by Grammy winning producer Steve Levine and BBC Radio 2’s Janice Long with filmmaker and photographer Mark McNulty, exploring the cultural impact of music from the AmericasThe Revolution will be Live: A Tribute to Gil Scott Heron curated by Malik Al Nasir and Rich McGinnis. Read about Liverpool International Music Festival here

Have you decided which festivals you’re heading to this summer? It’s almost make-your-mind-up time. Some have just released their final wave of artists. Here’s a selection to help you on your way  – all have tickets remaining.

A Cornbury morning Ben Phillips

A Cornbury morning / Ben Phillips

Wychwood 29th to 31st May

This very family-friendly event just gets better and better. The setting, at Cheltenham Racecourse, doesn’t exactly have a ‘getting away from it all’ vibe but it’s a practical location and easy to get to. A great deal of thought has been put into the curation, with a good mix of bands and children’s events that pulls this festival up a notch. UB40, The Proclaimers, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, The Undertones and Boney M feature. The Kids Literature Festival tent features authors, illustrations and activities, and to emphasise the literary traditions of Wychwood, there will be a performance from a band made up of authors. Adult tickets are a very reasonable £129. Buy tickets to Wychwood.

Cornbury 10 – 12th July

Cornbury2013_Balloons 2 Nestled in the Cotswolds in the Great Tew Estate, Cornbury Festival combines beautiful scenery, a gentle ambiance and a friendly, community vibe. It caters well to small children – the well organised Children’s Zone has more going on than most festivals, and includes kid’s yoga, circus skills and Bhangra Fever Dance. Every year, Cornbury seems to quietly set about curating a well-rounded musical line-up – Supertramp’s founder and vocalist Roger Hodgson is appearing, plus Tom Jones, Martha Reeves and Welsh alt-folk outfit Paper Aeroplanes.  Buy Cornbury tickets

Deer Shed Festival 24th – 26th July

Set in Baldersby Park, North Yorks, this is an event which puts children on an equal footing with the adults, as far as entertainment is concerned.  Deer Shed proves that science can be fun – it’s a staple part of the festival, and ‘Up in the Air’ is this year’s theme. On the music side, top acts include The Felice Brothers, Billy Bragg, The Wedding Present, Dutch Uncles and the Unthanks. On the Literary side there is a huge amount going on, but for me, Viv Albertine’s appearance is not to be missed! Tickets are on the fourth Tier now, at £129 for adults, buy tickets

Science workshops in the Machine Tent at the Deershed Festival from the 19th till the 21st of July 2013 in Topcliffe, Yorkshire.

Science workshops in the Machine Tent at the Deershed Festival from the 19th till the 21st of July 2013 in Topcliffe, Yorkshire.

Ealing Blues 25th – 26th July

Imagine a festival that only costs £5 per day, £8 per weekend (with wristband ), has a choice of stages, lots of food outlets, the obligatory clothes and jewellery stalls plus a clairvoyant or two, a decent-ish bar, spotless portaloos with no queues… ok no camping, but then you can’t have everything. This is what’s on offer each year at Ealing Blues Festival, held in Walpole Park, a stone’s throw from Ealing Studios. Kings of Wonderland, Devil Drives, Jump 66, Ben Waters and more will be performing. Ealing Blues Festival tickets

Green Man 20th – 23th August

Super Furry Animals and Hot Chip, Slowdive, super-DJ Midland, and the very entertaining St Vincent are appearing at Green Man, set in the beautiful Brecon Beacons. What I love about this festival is the sense of occasion: the burning of the Green Man at the end is a spectacular finale on Sunday night, and stops that anti-climatic feel of people packing up and drifting away during the day. A popular choice is to stay at Green Man for the week which gives you time to explore (we walked in the Black Mountains and visited Hay on Wye). Green man The cinema programme includes Pride, the 2014 film about pioneering gay campaigners in Wales 1984, and The Lodger, which will be scored live by Minima. Buy tickets for Green Man.

Two folk festivals for (almost) the end of summer…

Towersey Festival  28th – 31st August

Big changes this year for Towersey Festival. Last year was its 50th Anniversary, and this year sees it moving to pastures new – the Thame Showground. No doubt it will be more streamlined but hopefully not lose its sense of quirkiness. Joan Armatrading alone makes this almost worth the ticket price, but in addition there’s Stornaway, Treacherous Orchestra, and that popular Towersey act, The Spooky Men’s Chorale.

Spooky Men

Spooky Men’s Chorale

Camping is always a very civilised affair at Towersey, nice and quite, so a full-night’s shut eye is almost guaranteed. Read about Towersey 2012. Tickets are on a Tier system this year: Buy Tickets to Towersey

Shrewsbury Folk Festival is on at the same time: 28 – 31st. Kate Rusby, Amadou Diagne, Blowzabella and The James Brothers are on the line-up. Buy tickets here

Festival No 6   3rd to 6 September

Festival No 6 beachMetronomy have recently been announced and complete the lineup which includes Belle & Sebastian, Hookworms, Gaz Coombes and Stealing Sheep. Good to see a return of the Brythoniaid Male Voice Choir – they perform each evening, their voices filling the main village square is a spine tingling experience. As Portmeirion is where 60s series The Prisoner was filmed, this year they are celebrating it with an immersive soundscape. Elaine Constantine, who made the brilliant Northern Soul film and Brix Smith with DJ Andrew Weatherall are highlights of the ‘Talks’ section. Read my review of Festival No 6 2014. Buy tickets to Festival No 6

Dancing at Festival No 6

On Blackheath 12 & 13th September

One last blast of summer … strictly daytime though, as we won’t be camping out on Dartmouth Field. Anna Calvi, Elbow, Manic Street Preachers, Laura Mvula star, plus Heavenly Recordings will be hosting their own stage featuring acts from their diverse roster of bands such as Temples, Eaves, and Stealing Sheep (it’s also Heavenly’s 25th anniversary year – in January they hosted an uplifting anniversary weekend in Hebden Bridge). Buy tickets for adult weekend £89.00, day £54.50.

Which festival or festivals will you be going to this summer? Have they become too pricey? I’ll be writing about the burgeoning number of city festivals which offer a cheaper (and drier) way to experience a weekend of music

Reader Recommends:

Glass Butter Beach August 12 – 15th, Abersoch, North Wales.

* All prices are correct on the date of posting

For Free Tickets, and info about gigs etc go to Hot Tickets

“What good is sitting alone in your room?” sang Liza Minnelli. Accompanied by a laptop and dodgy Wifi she might have added.

The numbers of home workers rose in 2014 to 4.2 million and many of these are working on their own with little human contact, so it can be a comfort to wander out and enjoy the buzz of a cafe and the burbling of the Gaggia machine. Leaving aside the negative connotations of Starbucks, it did establish popularity with freelancers due to free WiFi back in 2011 – and because the staff didn’t seem to notice or care that you had spent four hours monopolising their best sofa. 

 A new Russian concept named Ziferblat, has taken things one step further. There are now two branches in the UK – one in London (near Old Street) and the one I’m familiar with, on Edge Street in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

Ziferblat mug

The concept is simple – you pay for your time, not what you drink and eat. After being buzzed in, you head upstairs to the first floor reception desk. Once logged onto the system, you are free to make full use of the space, and when it’s time to leave, you pay for the time you’ve spent. Currently, payment is 5p per minute. For this, you can use the space as your own. Oh, and help yourself to as much coffee, tea, cakes, cereal and fruit as you wish – but just remember to wash up before you leave.

The Manchester Ziferblat space is a huge warehouse-sized room, light and airy, with a pleasing array of mismatched furniture. Tables and chairs are grouped hither and thither. Big squashy sofas, chintzy grandma-style armchairs, bleached pine worktables, there’s even a table and chair combo that looks like it came from a cheesy 1970s hotel. Board games are heaped on a shelf, there’s a piano (which no one was playing), and even a little balcony for smokers.

The kitchen is somewhat like a student set-up, and is kitted out with bread and cereals, a variety of spreads (Marmite etc), a toaster, Kilner jars stuffed with biscuits and Bombay mix. On a table are heaps of biscuits and – the piece de resistance – sliced cakes – lemon and walnut, which seem to be regularly restocked due to being regularly snaffled. A fruit bowl gets rather less attention. There’s a multitude of tea flavours, and a coffee machine dispenses the usual latte, espresso varieties. You can help yourself to as much as you want of anything, the only proviso being that you wash up your stuff at the end.

Ziferblat ManchesterThe purpose for my initial visit was to get some work done, but maybe because it was my first time, I found all the goings-on mightily distracting. Everything happening around me seemed utterly riveting – the people, the conversations (two nurses discussing their shifts). Jenga here (is that about to fall??), Monopoly there. And… just how many cakes has he piled onto his plate??

Distraction aside, I loved Ziferblat for its homely, cosy atmosphere. I ate 3 slices of cake, a Marmite sandwich, and drank two good cappuccinos (coffee is supplied by the Ancoats Coffee Co.). I was further tempted by their schedule of events posted on the wall, such as yoga, knitting, and even laptop sessions.

For some home workers, local “Laptop Sessions” are a lifeline. These have been in existence all over the country for several years, and offer a great way for solitary workers to get together and either work singly with the reassuring presence of others tapping away nearby, or with a supportive network.

Social media consultant Jonathan Pollinger co-founded weekly, free laptop sessions known as Laptop Friday with Belinda Wilson around five years ago, utilising supportive venues in their home town of Cheltenham. I asked Jonathan what people like about these get togethers.

“There are a number of benefits. We have many people locally working on their own, staring at four walls, and sometimes it can be hard to find motivation.Some laptop sessions just offer a co-working space without much interaction but we always make sure our events are welcoming, and we always introduce new people to the group. If people just want to come along and work on their own then that’s fine, but we also have a lot of networking and support – for instance if someone has a design for a new business card or a website and they want feedback.”

Local cafes have been keen to host the sessions too. “The best venue locally has been Smokey Joe’s cafe. There’s plenty of space to walk around, and they have their own separate area for the sessions, although anyone is welcome, it’s not exclusive to us.

JPollinger

Jonathan (in blue stripes) gives a talk at a recent laptop event

Recently, Jonathan has noticed a change in the composition of Laptop Friday sessions. “Although the sessions are pitched at home workers, there is a new trend emerging – we find more employees are being given time away from the office and they like to come to sessions. Hence the relevance of running a Friday morning session as this is when they are most likely to have time off.”

In the capital, home workers are spoilt for choice. One inviting space which welcomes freelance workers is Ace Hotel in London’s Shoreditch. The vast lobby has been subtly carved into sections in order for the space to serve various functions. Except during daytimes it seems to serve one function really which involves sitting hunched over a laptop. Sofas and low tables are arranged round the space, and there’s a long, communal work table in the middle of the room. Concerned waiters bob about from time to time, fetching you drinks and snacks from the bar; there’s also a coffee shop to one side of the room which serves a healthy lunch of soup, sandwich and coffee for around £8.

Do you have a favourite spot where you like to work?

Ziferblat coffee

On Friday 15th May, reformed 80s band Blue Zoo are set to appear at Nambucca on Holloway Road – it’s a one-off gig so if you’re a fan, this is an event not to be missed.

Blue Zoo made their debut in the 80s and produced three hit singles (including Cry Boy Cry), tours including supporting U2, and an album. The band dissolved three years later and the members all busied themselves with new careers away from the music business, so one could be forgiven for assuming that “Blue Zoo Two” was not going to happen. But things can bubble under the surface for many years. Andy describes the reforming of the band in 2010 as a sort of ‘telekenesis’ – for their long-term fans, it was a welcome surprise.

It’s strange to think that Blue Zoo have been together for longer this time round than in their 80s incarnation. Since reforming, they’ve supported T’Pau in 2013 (ex Blue Zoo guitarist and co-songwriter Tim Parry was in the audience and was delighted with how the band were sounding), and 2014 saw a Blue Zoo mini-tour including a gig at Islington 02, and one in Andy O’s home town of Braintree. The newest member of the band is Tom E Morrison who, apart from playing in several bands, composed and produced the music for a corporate film which won two awards at the New York Festival 2015. A Japanese short film that he composed the music for won an award at the Houston Film Festival.

Bluezoo

Andy O is still the band’s front man – a charismatic figure, tall, lean and retaining his youthful looks. He’s blessed with a magnetic stage presence and voice to match. What first strikes you when you speak to Andy is how incredibly balanced he is. He’s been happily involved with other successful projects away from the music industry, and bringing Blue Zoo back into his life is quite clearly an enjoyment, but there’s no sense that he has anything to prove. My first question is to ask him what has been occupying his life since the original split. I discover that he’s into mushrooms. Before images of a burnt-out middle-aged band member floating on a permanent cloud of the magic variety hover into view, I should add that I’m talking about an altogether more seriously culinary and educational path – as one glimpse of his website Fungi to be With, reveals.

Andy: “I’ve been doing doing the mushroom thing for 20 years… I started back in the early 90s and I started hosting walks around London, under my business called Fungi to be with. The world of mushrooms and toadstools is fascinating and I’ve been educating people about them ever since discovering this interest. And I’m currently in the process of writing a book about the mushroom and toadstools – of Greater London!

Blue Zoo on stage

Tom E Morrison (left) and Andy O. Photo: Steve Lavoie

How did the band get back together after so long?  Mickey Sparrow and I had a spontaneous ‘calling’ of sorts. We both felt it was time for unfinished business. So we arranged a meeting, and got the others, including Tim Parry, to come along. We met at The Ship in Wardour St in the summer of 2009. Tim wasn’t interested in being a part of the revival. I then procured the services of Graham Noon on keyboards and his brother-in law Neil Pyzer on guitar & sax ( he’s now playing with The Selector). Then Tom E Morrison joined in 2013 when we visited the Philippines.

Who else is in the band now, and who is going to be going to be playing at the gig in May? Apart from original members Mike Ansell (bass) and Mickey Sparrow (drums) we have Tom E Morrison on guitar and Graham Noon joins us on keyboards.

Have you managed to find time to write any new material?  I come up with ideas, but seeing them through to something concrete is more of a challenge. I’m waiting for a point when it feels natural for the band to do new songs, but we’ve been so on and off that it’s not quite happened yet. You need to have a focus, and then you start bringing in new songs. So for now, we’re concentrating on playing the old favourites.  And incidentally, Cherry Red re-issued 2×2 in 2013 – it’s an extended version that includes B-sides and the original single version of Love Moves In Strange Ways.

How often do you get to play together… and how easy, or hard is it, to make sure the band are sounding good?  We get together to jam, and get our stage act together. I felt that last year we were sounding at our best, at the Islington gig. And then we disappeared for a year! Making sure that Blue Zoo sound really good is hard work. And of course it gets harder as you get older. The voice is a muscle which gets weaker, and it takes a lot to build it up again, to the point where you feel you are ready to be on stage. We really need to keep the momentum going.

So what can we expect at the gig in May?  Well, I’ve decided to delve back in to the original stuff, right from the beginning. I listened to the old demos seeing what I felt worked, and refreshing them up a bit. There will be a few from 2 by 2 – original numbers like Cry Boy Cry, Something Familiar, John’s Lost, but I don’t want to recreate the flavour of the album, so I’ve gone back to even earlier stuff like Nights like this and Affection. Both were sung by myself and original member Dave Woolfson’s wife, Angie and we would like to dedicate a song to her memory.

Are younger people picking up on your music?  It’s a good mix, obviously lots of older people, but we do have some young fans.

So we shouldn’t expect anything new for a little while then…  In November 2014, Tom offered to re- produce our song Somewhere in the world there’s a cowboy’s smiling in his North London studio and also got German DJ Hein+ Klein involved to remix the track and release it on his label https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/somewhere-in-world-there-is/id944186504.

But as far as new material is concerned, we don’t want to disappoint anyone but that will take time. For now we enjoy playing we like to play but we aren’t thinking “there’s a career here, let’s write a new album”. We enjoy playing what we have written and taking it out there. We will know when the time is right.

Blue Zoo are at Nambucca, 596 Holloway Road, N7 6LB on 15th May 2015. Doors 7pm, music 8pm.
Early bird tickets £6 plus booking fee or 2 for a tenner. To buy tickets

Support: Plexiphones, Thomas O’Brien, The Reflections

Blue Zoo poster

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Put together Steampunk bands, cabaret artistes, Electroswing and Goth DJs, plus a mystery guest. Add tea-duelling competitions and the outrageous compere known as Dis Charge, coax your guests to dress up in suitably retro style and you have the ingredients for a party on a slightly dark and decadent side. For extra impact, set the event in the faded glamour of Hornsey Town Hall, a grand Modernist building, mothballed for a number of years and now temporarily back in active service as an arts venue. This unique event, named DecoDanse, is the creation of Sharon Robinson, and it is happening as part of Crouch End Festival which runs from the 5th to 14th of June. The occasion promises to be grown-up and divinely decadent, rounding off the final Festival weekend in style. Tickets are available at the bottom of the page.

I’m not surprised Sharon has dreamed up this extravaganza as she’s a fountain of ideas. Mention to her a vague plan you’ve had for an event – any event –  and you can almost see her mind click and whirr into action as ideas tumble out, one more fanciful than the next. Only they’re not purely fantasy as she’ll whizz into action and make it happen. I asked Sharon about her influences, and what lead to the creation of such an imaginative occasion:

For Crouch End Festival 2014, you organised a literary event – was that the catalyst for DecoDanse?
Yes. I really enjoyed organising the Clocktower Desert Island Book event which I’m repeating this year as part of a literary day on Tuesday 9 June (details will be up on the Crouch End Festival website soon). I got chatting in the pub after the first Festival meeting for this year and the idea for doing a Steampunk/Cabaret event was born. I think all the best ideas start off as conversations in a pub!
Sharon Robinson

Sharon Robinson

How did you get involved?  Since volunteering with Crouch End Festival last year I’ve met many interesting local writers, artists, musicians, café and venue owners, and of course the festival directors and volunteers. My background is in communications and I’ve organised conferences and events – dealing with politicians, authors and commentators. But I’ve never put on a cabaret or music event before. And the lovely people at the Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre where DecoDanse is being held are super supportive.

Do you go to a lot of events around London?  I love immersive theatre – Punchdrunk is a favourite. I saw an adaptation of Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales for Young and Old which I thoroughly recommend and am soon off to see Alice’s Adventures Underground at the Waterloo Vaults.
There are so many strange and interesting things to do around London. I’m trying to improve my drawing at the moment and go to life drawing classes at the Exotique Drawing Salon http://www.exotiquesalon.com/ in Shoreditch where famous burlesque artists often model. I’ve also learnt a lot about the unusual and hidden histories of London at the monthly Salon for the City http://salonforthecity.blogspot.co.uk/ at the Westminster Arts Library. I go to a lot of cabaret – London Wonderground at South Bank, House of Burlesque, La Soirée, Black Cat Cabaret, the Boom and Bang Circus and Late Night Shop Cabaret.
Of course Gourmet Gigs wants to know about your musical influences…
Well due to my mum, I’m a big fan of Ray Davies and the Kinks who have their roots in North London. David Bowie obviously, but I think he is for most people. And 70s Roxy Music. I recently met Brian May from Queen and was lost for words in the presence of a guitar legend.
I was quite young when punk started but remember being fascinated – especially after the Sex Pistols swearing on Bill Grundy’s Today show (with an early appearance from Siouxsie Sioux though I didn’t know it at the time). But I’m really a post-punk girl and still maintain that 1978/79 were the best years for music! Even though the music industry was very sexist back then, there were some really strong female role models around – Patti Smith, The Slits, Poly Styrene from X-Ray Specs, Kate Bush, Pauline Black of The Selector, Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry and of course Siouxsie. Later on I got into New Romantic, goth and Indie music and was obsessed with David Sylvian and Japan for a while. Oh and I had a rave phase in the 1990s! Though my taste in music is now hugely diverse, those early influences have stayed with me.
What floats your boat at the moment?   I’m into all things gothic. A recent horror film course I took has further spurred my interest. I love early silent movies such as Metropolis, Dr Mabuse, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Nosferatu (who incidentally is putting in an appearance at DecoDanse courtesy of Arran Shurvinton) and my favourite book is The Bloody Chamber – feminist gothic fairytales by Angela Carter. I like the graphic novels of Neil Gaiman and also Alan Moore, which led me on to discovering Steampunk literature and I started attending Steampunk events to see my favourite chap hop stars Professor Elemental and Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer. I’ve been standing on the periphery of the Steampunk scene for a while now but have decided to jump right in and become more active.
As DecoDanse is being held in an art deco building and due to my love of 1920s flapper fashions, Tamara de Lempicka’s art and Weimar Cabaret – the obvious theme that emerged was fusion Steampunk and Art Deco. A little research revealed that Decopunk already existed! A sleeker and chrome-plated version of Dieselpunk. And it also give me the excuse to add Electroswing to the programme (a fusion of jazz age and 40’s swing tunes with electronic dance music). There’s a lot of crossover between cabaret, Steampunk and electroswing – it really is a winning combination.
Jay and Kye Mysterious Freakshow

Jay and Kye Mysterious Freakshow

Can you reveal one or two acts on the lineup at DecoDanse who you are extra thrilled about?
We have such a tremendous line-up that it’s impossible to single anyone out. I have to give a big shout out to Miss Von Trapp who was instrumental in getting all the acts on board. It’s also great that Fay from the Mysterious Freakshow grew up here as did Mel Hadland from The Copperfield Ensemble Project. And Robin Stevenson, who runs the café at Hornsey Library and is a very talented artist, will be DJing and organising Tea Duelling competitions.
We’re lucky enough to have the gin-drinking darling of dark cabaret, Joe Black as our special guest. Another star of the show is the venue itself, The Town Hall which is being restored by the Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre and being brought back into community use. DecoDanse is going to be so much fun. I really can’t wait!
Mr Joe Black - special guest

Mr Joe Black – special guest

DecoDanse is part of the Crouch End Festival.
Saturday 13 June 7pm til late, Hornsey Town Hall
Tickets £9.50 can be booked at http://buytickets.at/hthc/24826
Twitter: @DecoDanse
And if you’d like a preview of what’s in store, one of DecoDanse’s stars, Miss Von Trapp will be performing with The Wattingers at Hornsey Town Hall on Saturday 2 May. Come along and sample this intriguing combination of dark vaudeville folk and steampunk slaughterhouse blues:
Go to Hot Tickets page for Free tickets
wattingers
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