Review: ‘Simply Swing’ Big Band

Katey Robinson

Since it’s inception in the 1920’s, Swing music has continued to span generations, and it’s alive and kicking in the heart of Essex thanks to a new live show called ‘Simply Swing‘. The band was formed in 2015 by Richard Alcock who has had a life-long ambition to put together a big-band, and he hasn’t scrimped on the professionalism.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the venue in Braintree for a matinee performance but was very quickly tapping my feet and clicking my fingers to the music. Simply Swing isn’t just another set of songs thrown into 90 minutes of music. Instead, it’s a brief history of Swing from the 1920’s right up until today which are performed by some of the most talented musicians and singers in Essex. Although only a vocal cast of three, the performers have been chosen with excellent care and include Michael Hicks (who has been singing swing for over 15 years as ‘Mr Clementine’). I was especially drawn to the young lady who sang a number of songs, who looked and sounded as if she had just been plucked out of a 1930’s gig in New Orleans. She oozed the genre in every song she performed.

The Simply Swing Brass Section
The Simply Swing Brass Section

The show uses state of the art audio-visual effects on a back-of-stage big screen, and includes authentic narration to take you back to the beginning of the Swing genre eventually bringing you to the current day. You learn about artists including Bobby Darrin, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller and Peggy Lee in the first half of the show, and then progress into more current artistes such as Robbie Williams and Michael Buble for the second; all names associated with spreading Swing music across 9 decades. This is all directed and controlled by a man who has much experience in producing AV for theatre productions, and it shows.

michael-hicks-simply-swingAs well as vocal performances, Simply Swing also include a number of instrumentals. I was really struck by the quality of the performances. The band was tight and well rehearsed, but they added their own modern flair to the music. I particularly enjoyed their rendition of Glenn Miller’s ‘Moonlight Serenade’ and later the excellent medley’s which were included. Nothing about the performances felt sterile…it was all very natural.

I’ve seen swing bands before, and Simply Swing has to be one of the best sounds for show made up of just 10 members. The musicians are versatile, with some of the brass section switching from saxophone to clarinet and the drummer, Paul Codling, was extremely solid. The same can be said for the rest of the band which is mainly made up of professionals who share a passion for good quality live music.

If you are at all interested in Swing music, of just fancy something a bit different, you need to see Simply Swing live at one of their gigs across East Anglia. It’s a five star experience for any age group and even older childen who are interested in live music will enjoy this show.

Credits: All photographs used in this article are copyright Dave Denby Photography

Paul Hollywood sells his Bake Off soul to C4

Paul Hollywood

Part-time baker and Aston Martin driver Paul Hollywood has sold his soul to Channel 4 for an undisclosed sum, likely to be much more than a baker’s dozen [poor attempt a baking-rated humour right there].

As Mary Berry sits tight on her soggy bottom and the irritants known as Mel and Sue stand by the BEEB, Mr Hollywood is steaming off into the sunset with £ signs in his eyes. And who can blame him?

C4 will make Great British Bake Off a better show

Like most programs and sporting events that the BBC allows to slip through their fingers, Bake Off is destined for greater things. With a bigger budget (thanks to advertising) and Executives open to blue sky thinking, Bake Off can only get better. Just look what happened to Formula One coverage once Sky got their hands on it.

I’ll be honest I’ve only ever watched Bake Off a couple of times, the man reason being the uber irritating pair Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. I didn’t like them when they were on tele in the 90’s and I don’t like them now. I find their style of presenting tedious. In fact, you could go as far to say that I find them quite childish. Don’t get me wrong, Mel Giedroyc is a clever woman and extremely funny when I hear her on various BBC Radio productions, but as a pair? Meh.

And what is the UK’s obsession with Mary Berry?

I just don’t get it. In fact, I find her generally quite rude. She’s a bit like you mates nan who’s at that point in life where they don’t care who they upset anymore so say the first thing that pops into their head with no consideration of how rude they’re actually being.

It’s really sweet of her to want to “stay loyal” to the BBC, but at a time when the corporation is under constant attack from government (and the anti-TV license brigade), can she really afford to be?

So who’s likely to join Paul Hollywood on the new Channel 4 Bake Off?

As soon as the new was announced, Twitter was full of people making suggestions for the new hosts. Could Delia replace Mary? Maybe Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse could replace Mel and Sue? Even Jenson Button will have some free time next year.

Anyway, I must dash now. Got to go and find out about what’s really happening in the world. No doubt the Tories have tried to slip another bit of hellish legislation through parliament whilst all the Bake Off nonsense is taking the headlines…


Top Gear branded ‘Flop Gear’ by BBC critics

Top Gear

The new BBC Top Gear has been branded ‘Flop Gear’ by critics who have heavily criticised the brand on social media.

Complaints included criticism of Chris Evans’ “shouty” style of presenting, Matt Le Blanc’s “awkward banter” with the show’s host and Evans’ attempts “to be Jeremy Clarkson”.

Like many, I was highly anticipating the new Top Gear, hoping that new presenters and a new producer would bring a new format. Sadly, what viewers received was a very poor copy of a once great show.

I wanted the new show to do well. I found the original line-up of Clarkson, May and Hammond funny, but I didn’t care that they had left. I was sure that the BBC would bring back the show bigger and better than before…they utterly failed.

Chris Evans was the wrong choice as main host

chris-evans-top-gearThe problem with Chris Evans splits into three main area – he tried to copy Clarkson, he shouted too much and he isn’t a journalist. Whilst Evans has a fleet of expensive classic cars (including a $6million 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder), and whilst he had previously spoken of his passion for fast cars, it was clear from the program that he was struggling to be himself.

At times, he was clearly attempting to mimic Jeremy Clarkson style of presenting, and it felt cheesy. He felt like a poor quality photocopy to listen to, and he shouted far too often. Add this to the new set which two-tiered standing, and you’d be forgiven for thinking this new show was TFI Friday meets Top Gear; two programs that should never be mixed.

Matt Le Blanc was slightly better

Matt Le Blanc is a self-confessed car nut and was decent enough at presenting the VT’s, but his banter with Chris Evans was awkward to watch. The two men couldn’t be any further apart when it comes to presenting. Le Blanc was quieter and more self-controlled but at times it felt as if he was struggling to remember the script. Lots of dead air.

Where were the women?

Vicki Butler-Henderson would have been a great choice as a host
Vicki Butler-Henderson would have been a great choice as a host

Other than a quick VT featuring Top Gear regular Sabine Schmitz, the BBC clearly missed a great opportunity to get a woman into the show as a main producer. There were plenty of choices available to the BBC, including Former F1 driver Suzie Wolff, car nut and 5th Gear host Vicki Butler-Henderson, or even former BBC F1 host Suzi Perry.

There simply aren’t enough women presenting car-related programs on television and the BBC missed out on an opportunity to change that. If we’re going to get young women into engineering and motorracing then we need more women role models for them to look up to.

Why was Chris Harris relegated to the spin-off show ‘Extra Gear’?

Anyone who has watched Chris Harris on Youtube knows he’s an excellent presenter. He really understands cars. He’s a racing driver. His style of presenting is much better suited to the Top Gear format. He should have been a main host.

The BBC missed an opportunity to completely re-boot Top Gear

The BBC could have made the new Top Gear different, but instead have tried to hold on to the money-spinner which was Top Gear of old. They, like me, have to accept that it just isn’t the same without Clarkson, Hammond and May. I doubt the program will make another series.

Time to switch over to Amazon Prime and get ready for the new Clarkson show ‘The Grand Tour’, released Autumn 2016.


Songs you probably didn’t know were written by Prince

The late great Prince was an amazing singer-songwriter, but many people don’t realise that he also wrote a number of chart-topping hits for other artistes including Celine Dion and Chaka Khan. So I’ve put together a list of songs you probably didn’t know were written by Prince.

Here’s a list of just a few. Let’s be honest, once you’ve heard most of them it’s pretty easy to hear the Prince-esq vocal arrangements and electronica mixed with electric guitar:

Alicia Keys – ‘How Come You Don’t Call Me’

Released in 2002, Alicia Keys’ version of this song was a moderate success and reached the top 30 in the USA. It kicks off my list of Songs you probably didn’t know were written by Prince.



Apollonia 6 – ‘Sex Shooter’

Sex Shooter reached number 7 in the US R&B charts in 1984.



Celine Dion – ‘With this tear’



Chaka Khan – ‘I Feel For You’

This song has son much of prince in it, it’s difficult to image how anyone could expect it NOT to have been written by him.



Cyndi Lauper – ‘When You Were Mine’


Madonna – ‘Hung Up’



Martika – ‘Love… Thy Will Be Done’



Sheila E. – ‘The Glamorous life’



Sheena Easton – ‘Sugar Walls’



Sinéad O’Connor – ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’

Released in January 1990, this Prince-written song was a huge success. It spent 4 weeks at number 1 in the US and had teenage girls crying for months.



The Bangles – ‘Manic Monday’

Manic MOnday reached number 2 in the UK and US Top 40.


The Archers officially more popular than Eastenders and Coronation Street

Archers officially more popular than Eastenders and Coronation Street

The storyline of Helen and Rob Titchender has made The Archers officially more popular than Eastenders and Coronation Street this week. Well on social media, at least.

Millions tuned in and downloaded The Archers podcast on Sunday 3rd April to follow the attempted murder of Rob Titchner his wife, Helen Titchner (nee Archer). Avid listeners to The Archers were fully aware that something nasty was brewing between narcissistic Rob and his pregnant wife, whose confidence Rob has gradually eroded through a mix of mental and physical abuse. But it seems there’s nothing quite like a stabbing to grab the Great British Public’s attention; even those who have previously considered the program to be for the retired or farmers in tweed jackets.

According to statistics from the Telegraph, the show’s hashtag, #TheArchers, has been used on 101,831 occasions since March 5, compared to 63,554 for #‎EastEnders, 41,678 for ‪#‎Emmerdale‬, and 28,446 for Coronation Street’s official hashtag, #Corrie In April alone, #TheArchers has had 41,637 mentions, nearly eight times as many as the television soaps.


A new type of listener

According to the London Metropolitan University, the average age of a listener to the Archers is 56. I’m not the average age of an Archers listener. Now 36, I started listening to the program at 25 when my first child was born, usually while I was washing up or cooking. I found the program easy listening, factually interesting and also enjoyed to imagine the characters and location of Ambridge. Whilst I’ve been able to convert a few people to the program, many of my peers still consider it to be for old people.

I’ve also been a big fan of the new storylines, despite some fans whining that the story was straying too far into the dramatic, and in some cases making them “lose the will to live” (bit dramatic, David).

But it seems the new type of listener to The Archers is younger that the 56 average and usually watches TV soaps, and it seems many are suddenly finding the idea of listening to a story and using their imagination to picture characters, scenes and locations, something very appealing.

Time will tell if these people continue to listen once the story returns to the hum-drum of Berts pogonias and David’s poor milk yields, but it’s fair to say that many new people have begun to consider The Archers as a genuinely interesting radio soap. Let’s hope people turn to this brilliant program and that The Archers officially more popular than Eastenders and Coronation Street is a story we keep on hearing.


Glastonbury 2016: is this the best line-up ever?

The lineup of bands and musicians has been announced today for the 2016 Glastonbury Festival, and it’s a good ‘en. In fact, it might just be the best line up the festival has ever seen.

As well as the predictable acts such as Adele and Coldplay, festival goers will also be able to turn back time and see legendary acts such as Madness, rockers ZZ Top, Jeff Lynne’s ELO and the awesome Earth, Wind and Fire.

For those want something a little more up-to-date there will be performances by Jess Glynne, LCD Soundsystem, M83, Bastille and numerous others. And in the usual Glasto twist, there will be a performance by the Syrian National Orchestra (who performed alongside Damon Albarn and Gorillaz in 2010 before war broke out in the country in 2011).

A mixed reception

As usual, fans (or not) of the festival have been letting their feelings be known on Twitter. The general reception is positive but a few people are less than impressed. All I would say to the people who aren’t impressed is this: stay away.

The 2016 Glastonbury Festivals lineup - image (c) Glastonbury Festivals Ltd.
The 2016 Glastonbury Festivals lineup – image (c) Glastonbury Festivals Ltd.




John Schnabel star of ‘Gold Rush’ dies at 96

john schnabel

They say that respect can only be earned, and that was never truer of ‘Gold Rush’ star John Schnabel who passed away on 18th March 2016 at home with his family.

Schnabel was one of stars of the highly sucesful Discovery TV series ‘Gold Rush’ and without dount the most loveable charecter of them all. As viewers watched his young grandson, Parker, grow from a teenager to a young man viewers were constantly struck with the unconditional love and pride that John Schnabel clearly had for Parker.

It was, of course, John who gave Parker his first oppurtunity of running his very own mine when he handed over control of the Big Nugget Mine to Parker when he was just 17 years old.

For the viewer, there was never more love shown between the grandfather and his grandson. Every time John saw Parker his eyes would light up as if it were the first time he had ever seen him. Of course it’s difficult to lose a grandfather but I can imagine it’s one that will affect Parker and his siblings heavily for the rest of their life.

John was born on 11th February 1920, the son of a Moonshine bootlegger who fled from police to Alaska. He was one of 5 children.



Bradley Walsh singing at Hemsby Beach holiday park

Bradley Walsh singing

It was the summer of 2007 and I was performing at Hemsby Beach holiday park as part of my Blues Brothers tribute. We’d just finished our first set and were having a cigarette back-stage (one month before the smoking ban came in) and little did I know that I would soon see Bradley Walsh singing.

Suddenly, the door opened and in walked actor and gameshow host Bradley Walsh. We were a little surprised to say the least. Bradley asked if it would be OK for him to sing a couple of songs, which naturally we agreed to, as we definitely hadn’t expected to hear Bradley Walsh singing at a caravan park in Norfolk that night. He went on to sing a Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra number and I recall that he was actually very good.

It’s no surprise that Bradley Walsh has released an album, which you can buy here.

The next morning we popped for breakfast at Del’s Cafe just down the road (which is a great little food house officially called ‘Two Ways Cafe‘). Turns out that Brad is brother-in-law to the owner. Also turns out that there’s a West Ham -v- Arsenal battle between the pair.

I was just going through some old photos on a backup drive and found this photo of him which I took at the time.

Bradley Walsh Singing
Bradley Walsh singing at Hemsby Beach holiday park



Vince Gilligan and AMC: PLEASE bring back Breaking Bad

As the final scene of ‘Felina’ (the final episode of Breaking Bad) ended, I couldn’t believe there would never been another episode. With Walt left dying and Jesse driving away from the scene in a crazed scream of relief that it was all over, I felt a deep sense of loss. It was almost like a sensation of greif. That was it. The end. No more.

And it hurt.

Eventually, Vince Gilligan and AMC would release a kind of sequal to the Breaking Bad series, ‘Better Call Saul’, and whilst it was a great prologue to the Breaking Bad series, it wasn’t a patch on BB. That’s not to say it wasn’t good, but it just wasn’t Walt and Jesse good.

Since Breaking Bad I’ve never watch another program on TV which compares and I wonder if I ever will.

We don’t actually know walt is actually dead, so I’m pleading – begging infact – for Vince Gilligan and AMC to bring back Breaking Bad.

Some people say it’s impossible as Walt is dead. But is he? Sure, we saw him dying on the floor in an overhead shot surrounded by armed police, but how do we know that he wasn’t saved just moments after by paramedics to live up to his crimes and face the legal system?

How do we know that, after months of recovery, Walt was perhaps incarcerated for 20 years behind bars?

How do we know that he doesn’t get involved in a mafia ring and make promises to cook again?

It’s all possible and I won’t hear that Walt is 100% dead. I refuse to accept it. So, Vince Gilligan and AMC: PLEASE bring back Breaking Bad…you can do it!



Interview with Jonathan Woodrow, author of ‘Wasteland Gods’

Jonathan Woodrow

Wasteland Gods is the long awaited novel by British-Canadian author Jonathan Woodrow. Jonathan, who moved from England with his wife to Toronto Ontario in 2007 and began writing, is a father of three and family man with a passion for writing dark stories. Wasteland Gods will be his first major novel and will be published by Horrific Tales Publishing.

The story is centered around Billy Kingston, an alcoholic who is consumed with thoughts of revenge after the brutal murder of his son is broadcast on the internet. Billy moves to a remote town – Benton Lake – to escape his current situation and escape the clutches of a divine being, Dr Verity. But little does Billy know that Verity has plans for him and plans he can’t escape.

I was lucky enough to be invited to interview the inspiring author ahead of the release of Wasteland Gods. Here’s a transcript:


What inspired you to start writing?

Writing stories is something I’ve always done, to a certain degree. I recall putting together a short Dracula story when I was about seven or eight years old and trying to sell it to my parents. I designed a cool cover and everything. Then later on, at college, I wrote a couple of scripts that never went anywhere, of course. It’s really only been during the last ten years or so I’ve started to take fiction-writing more seriously. I kept it largely to myself at first, at least until I started receiving those acceptances, and now I have a novel coming out in a little over a month, which is overwhelming.

In answer to your question, though, I don’t really know what inspired me at first. There must have been something. I’ve always loved movies, books, opera, and theatre—anything that tells a good story. I can tell you what inspires me now, and continues to do so, and that is my love of the process. Every part of this job excites me. From the initial development stage, to getting to know my characters, to ploughing through that first draft, then tearing it apart again for the second and third.

In the case of Wasteland Gods, the structural editor gave a brutal analysis of sections of the book that had to go—entire plotlines and characters. All things that I had failed to see were dragging the story down. Hearing that at first was hard (they don’t call it killing your darlings for nothing) but after making the cuts I stood back and for the first time was able to see a lean, streamlined story that flowed at a good, steady pace. The whole thing was liberating, and the book wouldn’t be what it is now had it not been for her.


Which authors would you say most influence your work and why?

I grew up with horror. From an incredibly early age I would scour the TV guide and set the VCR to record anything with a title that even remotely suggested horror. Of course my parents would regulate this a little, but without total prohibition. What I ended up with was pretty much the entire Hammer Horror Collection. Films about Dracula, Werewolves, Witches, and all kinds of other monsters. They may seem dated now but at the time they were most terrifying movies I’d ever seen.

The authors who have influenced me the most haven’t always been horror writers. I read a lot of Clive Barker and Stephen King when I was much younger and I suppose the two of them have influenced me the most. I read a wide variety of books in all different genres and I probably take away a little something from all of them. My two favourite genres would be horror and mystery/thriller, and you can probably find elements from both in Wasteland Gods.


You’re married and have three children. How do you find the time to write as well?

Two answers there: With great difficulty; and because I have an amazing, supportive wife. Seriously though, I’ve found that you can always make time for something if you’re serious enough about doing it. Even if it’s just an hour or two a day. I finished my first draft of Wasteland Gods around November 2012. I had been trying to develop it for some time without much success, and I eventually just sat down one day and started writing it.

In the industry they say there are two ways a writer can write: pantsing or plotting. Some folks can sit down and outline and entire novel, scene-by-scene, then write it. And their finished product will hardly deviate from that original plan at all. They’re called plotters. Others, like me, can’t do that. Their muse doesn’t make an appearance until they’re actually writing something. So they sit down, start writing, and hope that they’re going in the right direction. Flying by the seat of their pants, so to speak. They’re called pantsers.

I found that when I sat down and started writing, I was able to hit a couple thousand words a day and was finished with the first draft in a little over two months. Plot ideas and future scenes came to me as I was working. Of course, I then tore it to shreds in the editing/redrafting process but at least I had something to work with.

What do you have planned next for your career in writing? Have you started another novel yet?

I’m working on a few different projects at the moment. A couple of novels still in the early development stages and one I’m actively working on right now. I’m hesitant to divulge any details (mostly because it could change quite drastically before I’m finished), but needless to say, it’ll be dark.

Wasteland Gods is available now to pre-order now on Kindle Edition.