UK Soul Karaoke

Beverley Knight is a talented singer from Wolverhampton who has had considerable success over the years and is probably at this point in time the UK’s most successful female soul artist. Recently freed from the shackles of her label and now an independent, she decided to record a retrospective of the most influential soul tracks of the last 30 years emanating from the UK. A worthy project, you might think. And indeed, she chooses some absolute crackers for ‘Soul UK‘ and, united with some of the artists she covered on the album, gave a rather good account on why she chose to rerecord these ‘golden oldies’ in The Guardian.

So far, so dandy.

Today I got the album from iTunes and was pleased to see a digital booklet and some live cuts added to the covers. The tunes -as mentioned above- are indeed great. There is just no way that you can ruin ‘Southern Freez’, ‘Cuddly Toy’, ‘Round and Around’, ‘Mama used to say’ or ‘Say are your Number One’.


She doesn’t ruin them. Not as such. Her arranger does indeed does a good job taking some of these elektrofunk classic and re-gig them for classic soul sextet (plus strings). But by doing this, he sucks their manic energy completely out of them. As I am unfortunately old enough to remember all of these tracks being released, I remember being excited by how new and cool they then sounded, especially the electrofunk tracks by Freeez, Junior and (Stock, Aitken Waterman’s) Princess (yes, really). Now that they got the elegant winebar treatment, they completely lost their sparkle. Add to that Ms Knight’s vocal acrobatics and uncalled for ad-libs, this album grates quickly.

I am nevertheless sure that it will do well. You will hear it blasting out the Chelsea Tractors, out of posh wine bars, and I am sure Ms Knight will be invited to loads of corporate gigs, where she will be able to play these songs to the marketing team of private banks and will be able to crown the top-grossing broker of the year at the next CIB annual general meeting.

For the rest of us, dig out the crackly vinyl and listen to the original (or download the original from iTunes).

Honestly. What was the point?

Mezzoforte Live in Reykjavik

I have always had a soft spot for that most impossible of outfits, a fusion/jazz-funk quartet from Reykjavik called Mezzoforte. Since their first (and pretty much only) hit ‘Garden Party’ back in 1980 they have been hovering in this strange twilight zone between obscurity and the ‘oh, I think I have heard of them’ remarks. This of course proves my friend C’s point that I have a penchant for what he calls ‘elevator music’. Mezzoforte made some cracking albums in the eighties, full of impressive bass slapping, ‘oooo deee aaahing’ background vocals by barely post pubescent men from Iceland and some great melodies. Then there was a lull and they returned with some more albums that still had some bass slapping but less catchy melodies and more ‘adult’ jazzy bits (with other words, it wasn’t as good anymore). Because they’ve been around for a good thirty years now, they produced a 2 – cd live album (Live In Reykjavik) with the ‘deluxe’ version sporting an extra DVD, catching it all on video.

So far so dandy. Of course I had to have it, so when triple pack of digital goodness arrived I whacked the first CD into the player and was waiting for some good old sweaty musicianship with plenty of crowd noises and ‘Good evening Luton, er, Reykjavik’ shouts. Instead I heard what I thought was the studio versions. Checked the CD: nope, says ‘live’.  Popped the DVD in: yes, there they were, a bunch of middle aged men, nodding their heads, swaying gently, but not much else, surrounded by a couple of dozen appreciative listeners. But it still sounded like the studio versions of their songs, with the slight minute aberration from the original. Just not quite as good.

Bottomline: If you fancy Mezzoforte, buy the remastered versions of ‘Surprise Surprise’ and ‘Observations’. Stay clear of this rather luke warm collection that’s neither offering a live atmosphere nor the energy of the originals.

The Xperia X1. Useful.

I have been on the market for a new mobile phone for some time. I have been scouring the net for advice, read reviews, and ended up wanting a Nokia E71. Unfortunately this little machine wasn’t available for individual accounts at Vodavone here in the UK.  So, I had to think again. A Motorola phone was out the question after my V3x flaked out on me too often (mainly hardware problems with the USB port).  An Apple Iphone was an interesting choice, but too many of my fellow train travellers already had one and were obviously always struggling with emailing using the touch screen. On top of that I already own a Ipod touch AND resolved to get out of my “Apple only” policy that kept me locked in for too long in Steve’s steely embrace. With my reliance on Apple products gone, I was free to pick and choose anything that would work (i.e. synchronize) across the operating systems and machines I own (Ubuntu/OpenBSD/Windows/Ipod(s)).

With the E71, Motorola and the Iphone out of the question, there was really only Sony, LG, Samsung, HTC and the Android left. The Android – while geeky – is just plain ugly and rather enormous. As I wanted a ‘proper’ external keyboard (I never really achieved proper texting speeds on a numeric keypad), only some of the more exotic HTCs and the Xperia were left. I had a Sony before and was always impressed by its solid build, so the Xperia it had to be (yes, I know, built by HTC, but there you go) .]


Image courtesy of Paul at

First impressions: it’s much smaller than the ads make you believe. It’s also pretty good looking. The slide out mechanism of the keyboard is easy to use with only one hand and the keyboard is ok even with my enormous sausage fingers. I was a bit apprehensive about using Windows Mobile 6.1, but so far it seems to be doing ok. It is responsive, the email client Opera Webbrowser works well, and the panels are just gorgeous. The connectivity options are mindboggling:  GSM, UMTS, HSDPA, Wifi, Bluetooth, Carrier Pigeon (with an extra carrier bag). This baby does everything. The Camera is pretty spiffing and easy to use: just hold the phone horizontally between your hands and off you go. Autofocus works well.  Here’s a little pic I shot in Inverary:


Now that’s not bad for a phone camera. Not bad at all. It’s quite intuitive to use as well. There are plenty of apps out there for Windows Mobile, and thanks to DVD-Rip  and my built in 4GB MicroSD card I have 3 movies on there at any time. It also has an FM Radio.

Am I happy with it?

Yes. It has given me as much functionality as I need with some cool software, has not locked me into Apple and  plays my movies, my music, manages my contacts, does my email and even can take my phonecalls.

What else do I need?

A stunt and the subsequent letdown.

Back in 2007, Speights Brewery in Dunedin set a lovely idea in motion: transport a pub around the world to supply the Kiwis in London with their beloved Speights. Indeed, a pub was fabricated out of a container, put on a ship and before you could say ‘Good on ya mate’,  the little pub was plonked on the edge of the river thames, just around Temple station. Speights obviously thought this was a good idea, and later transferred the whole idea of a Speights pub in London into a ‘proper’ building in Essex Street, just around the corner from the High Court. Being an associated Kiwi living in exile I thought it would be a good idea to pop aorund and have a drink. I was dreaming of a nice, cosy place with some kiwi music and spirit where I could sit and reminisce about the penguins on my front lawn in Kakanui.

Well, I was obviously too optimistic. ‘The Southerner’ is a  pub in a basement with cheap looking furniture devoid of character, overlit and soulless. There are some rugby paraphernalia on the wall, and there is indeed the whole Speights range available  (and a Mac’s Gold for 3 pounds).  In the sixty minutes I was there the music was standard fare without any reference to New Zealand’s vast musical heritage.  Barstaff made themselves rare and were not particularly keen to come out and serve. On top of that screens everywhere.

Disappointing, to say the least.

The Steel City Tour at the Hammersmith Apollo

Last night the best girlfriend and I went to see ABC, Heaven 17 and The Human League for their inaugural Steel City Tour at the Hammersmith Apollo, that lovely hall next to a motorway in London’s sunny West. I din’t expect the place to be packed, but it certainly was: 5000 happy middle aged punters in a more or less exciteable state made the shabby old place vibrate with joy.

The gig started with ‘Heaven 17’:  the kernel of the British Electric Foundation were in good spirit with Glenn Gregory in fine vocal form and Martyn Ware happily plonking away at the keyboards. They were accompanied by a teenager behind a toy drum kit (well, one of those electronic drum pad thingies), an incredibly bored guitarist with two Macbooks  and two female background singers who could probably be their daughters.Let me go, Come live with me, crushed by the wheels of industry where all delivered in fine form, but unfortunately both ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ and ‘Temptation’ suffered from early nineties dancefloor treatment, making the original songs not quite unrecognisable but barely palatable. Unfortunately the mix was disastrous, with Ware’s keyboard chords completely vanishing behind the (admittedly excellent) vocal performances. So far so good.

ABC (or Martin Fry with a bunch of session musicians, to be exact) was in usual fine form: it seem that the bloke playing lead guitar for him and the percussionist/female lead vocalist have now been the same for the last 3 gigs I have seen them, so at least he doesn’t always have to get to get used to new twentysomethings in his band. As usual he had to get 3 tracks of his new album ‘Traffic in, but apart from that, it was the usual assortment of splendid hits from ‘Lexicon of Love’ and  Alphabet City
. Well deserved applause, even though there was no Gold Lame Suit in site.

After a brief reorganising of stages the headliners of the evening: The Human League in it’s third decade presents itself quite chipper, with a stage right out of a Kraftwerk gig, although what the weird little man in the pirate costume and the guitar was doing on stage I will never find out, but he certainly ruined the carefully crafted picture of understated elegance. There was plenty of things to shout about: the sound, the beautiful white instruments, the costumes and Phil Oakeys voice were all top notch. A good mix between crowd pleasures (Mirror Man, Electric Dreams, Don’t you want me, Being boiled) and some obscure fare delighted everybody. The only person not having any fun was poor Joanne Catherall, who obviously had a bad night: she looked unhappy in her corner of the stage, and I could have sworn she wasn’t well.

So, a bunch of middle aged people were entertained by a bunch of middleaged people on a stage. 3 hours of fun and sing a long. What else could you want?