Sunday, 23 July 2017

Hannah Aldridge - a musical talent undiscovered (for how much longer?)

What’s the connection between Muscle Shoals, near Birmingham, Alabama, USA and Kings Heath, Birmingham, UK? A minor clue: go via Nashville. Yes, it’s music, and to be more specific, it’s a show in a small local venue last week. Few UK music fans may have heard of 29 year old Alabama singer songwriter Hannah Aldridge, but if Americana – a fusion of folk, country, blues, rock & roll – ever gains wider attention in the UK, she would surely be in the forefront.

Let’s start in Alsager, near Stoke on Trent. We’d found out that Don Gallardo and his band, who happened to be playing at Nashville’s celebrated Bluebird Café when we made it there 8 weeks ago, were on a UK tour. Their opening act, playing a half hour slot with no back up other than her own acoustic guitar, was Hannah Aldridge. There was something captivating about her, reinforced by her CDs Razor Wire and Gold Rush which she gratefully signed for us after her performance. When we found out that she would be at the Kitchen Garden in Kings Heath a week later, this time as a headliner, this was an opportunity not to be missed.

What about Hannah Aldridge’s music? OK, think of any Fleetwood Mac song led by Stevie Nicks. Think of songs from the Nashville TV series performed by Juliette or Scarlett – that’s high praise, by the way, the songs combine perfectly with the musical politics and family tribulations to make prime time TV. Add in her own main influence, Jackson Browne, and a complicated life story. That’s a lot to go on. But after listening to the two CDs in full, both with full conventional band support, how would she get on as a headliner when it would once again be only her and a guitar?

We needn’t have worried. The Kitchen Garden had certain similarities with the Bluebird – definitely a listening room rather than a bar with a stage. It was one of those up close and personal performances. And once again it was captivating. As she said in an interview, “I think people really enjoy that I treat my audience like we are in my living room.”

Best songs? OK, let’s take two from each album. From ‘Gold Rush’, there’s ‘I Know Too Much’, and ‘Burning Down Birmingham’, the latter definitely not a commemoration of the Handsworth riots or anything related to civil rights, but an old flame song enabling the audience to join in and chant the chorus. And from ‘Razor Wire’, let’s go for ‘Parchman’, where Hannah stood in the shoes of a woman on death row who had killed her abusive husband, and ‘Howlin’ Bones’, where she bravely abandoned her microphone and went entirely unplugged to close the show – and it worked.

If she does make it back over to the UK with her band, as she promised she would, she’ll hopefully be winning a whole new audience. And I’ll finish with a message to Simon Cowell. If you’re looking to find what could be the next well received trend for UK live music, you could do a lot worse than try Americana – and give Hannah Aldridge a slot on one of the X Factor’s live shows.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Nashville: Two Nights At The Bluebird – A View From The UK

For anyone in search of live music in Nashville, the possibilities are of course endless. The Grand Ole Opry will need no introduction, nor indeed should the Ryman Auditorium. Honky Tonk Highway on lower Broadway speaks for itself, and many hopeful buskers will be plying their trade.

And thanks to the Nashville TV series, there’s one venue that will by now have gained a far higher profile with the world at large – the Bluebird Café, out on Hillsboro Pike. No, it’s not an imaginary venue once dreamed up by an inspired scriptwriter. As the high profile artists who have performed there in front of an audience of 90 would confirm, it’s most certainly real. One key point from its website’s FAQ: “The Bluebird is a listening room. Too much conversation distracts listeners and is disrespectful to the songwriters who form the backbone of our music community.”

So when our recent USA holiday was all set to finish with four nights in Nashville, at the end of a scenic drive through Virginia and Tennessee, a night at the Bluebird was a must do. The only realistic chance of making it happen was to get in the cyber queue exactly a week ahead of the show, click on Book Tickets, and hope for the best…and it worked. Twice, to be exact, once for an orthodox stage performance, and once for an in the round session three days later (with Veterans’ Night at the Opry in between).

Now for the experience itself. The TV series might give the impression that the Bluebird is relatively spacious. When you arrive at the small and unobtrusive front door amid a row of shops, and take your first look inside, it’s time to think again. It’s almost a Tardis in reverse, especially when the occupant of the next table takes the trouble to introduce himself before his right knee accidentally does so of its own accord. But that’s no bad thing. It adds so much to the atmosphere, all the more so once we realised that our table was right next to the stage, almost within touching distance of the band.

Before the show, a decent burger and fries, good beer and cocktails, and friendly service. Then Don Gallardo and his band took to the stage. Four accomplished musicians with a repertoire of modern country songs. No familiar material to anticipate when hearing the band for the first time ever, but when they’re performing right in front of you, still at a comfortable volume, it’s quite an experience. Exactly like the TV show, in fact. Best song had to be North Dakota Blues – shades of Mark Knopfler. Once the set was over, they signed CDs for the audience, and Don told us that he’d be on a UK tour in the near future. See you at the Alsager Americana, Don…

So three days later, nursing memories of Trace Adkins and Charlie Daniels and others from the Opry show on the night before, we were back for the in the round session. Featured performers, Bruce Arntson, Michael Kelsh, Thom Schuyler and Jack Sundrud. Three guitarists, one keyboard player, seated in a circle in the centre of the Bluebird and alternating two hours’ worth of songs and anecdotes from their lengthy careers in the music business. One particularly memorable song, Thom Schuyler’s “My Least Favourite Things”, taking the Sound of Music classic and reversing its sentiments with a flow of biting satire. I can still recall the outburst of laughter for “most of the music of Andrew Lloyd-Webber…”

Four weeks on, and it’s still hard to believe we made it to the Bluebird, not once but twice. It has to be one of the great Nashville experiences.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Advice To Writers & Jon Winokur - big thanks

Belated shout out to Advice To Writers and its owner Jon Winokur for publishing my recent Q&A style interview, covering how I started out as a writer, my influences, my best writing advice to others and many more topics. It's always flattering to be invited to participate in promotional activities such as this, especially under a banner "Writerly Wisdom Of The Ages".

Here's the link: -

Monday, 17 April 2017

Another storming review - this time for Craven Conflict

Thanks once again to Jonathan S for another Amazon/Kindle review, this time for Craven Conflict: -

“Thoroughly Enjoyable

"If you are not interested in the workings of our legal system in general, civil litigation, skulduggery and disability discrimination at work in particular, then this book is not for you. If you don’t like the emergence early on of pompous and treacherous central characters who you just hope get their comeuppance, then this book is not for you. However, if any or all of these chime with what you look for in a novel then this book is most definitely for you.

"This is the third novel by David Cooper and each one presents real people facing very real but adverse legal situations, and is written with insider knowledge that makes every page thoroughly believable and involving. If you know someone with Asperger’s (as I do) you appreciate how even the simplest tasks and everyday situations can become overwhelming, and at one point you see it all unravelling for Paul Craven, but the way he battles with disability, the skill of a razor-sharp barrister, and an ending where justice prevails, make this a thoroughly enjoyable page turner. Can’t wait for the next one from this author.”

Once more, what can I say, other than “here’s the link”?

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Storming review for Hatred Ridicule & Contempt

Thanks to Jonathan S for posting the following review of Hatred Ridicule & Contempt on Amazon: -

"This was one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long, long time. You have to be interested in the legal genre but don’t need to be a lawyer to savour a story with two distinct but interwoven themes.

There’s a successful, mid-size provincial law firm run by a management committee that you just love to hate, butting heads with a newly appointed partner with the clarity of thought and purpose to cut through the pomposity and, ultimately, corrupt behaviour of his colleagues, and a thoroughly involving libel case which moves from running in the background to occupying a well-deserved centre stage position.This book moves along at a cracking pace and while there’s a lot of legal detail, the narrative is easy to read and makes for a real page turner.

As I got near the end of the book, I felt a genuine sense of loss that I would soon finish such a great read, so I consoled myself by buying David Cooper’s other two books which promise all the quality of his first novel. Really worthy of a 5-star review."

What more can I say, other than "here's the link"?

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

RIP Peter Sarstedt - and a Richard Littlejohn tribute

Farewell to Peter Sarstedt, the artist behind one of the most unlikely one hit wonders of the Sixties, combining acoustic guitar, accordion and the tale of a jet setter who rose from humble origins. There is no doubt that Where Do You Go To My Lovely will be a memorable legacy.

One jet setter who rose from less humble origins is of course our former Prime Minister Tony Blair. His claim to the contrary sits somewhat uneasily with the fact that his supposed football hero Jackie Milburn had retired long before Blair could have cheered him from the terraces at St James' Park. Likewise the public school education. But at least this has inspired Richard Littlejohn to portray Blair as the central character in a rewrite of the song, no doubt by way of tribute to Peter Sarstedt: -

You walk like George Dubya Bush does

In jeans ball-crushingly tight

You dance like Gordon Brown’s sidekick

On Strictly on Saturday nights.

(Yes, you do.)

You bought an overpriced mansion

In fashionable Connaught Square

Where you keep your Rolling Stones records

Even though you never go there.

(No, you don’t)

So where do you go to my lovely,

When you’re not in your Bayswater bed

Do you ever feel the slightest bit guilty

Over some of the things that you’ve said?

(Do you care?)…
Great. Make sure to read all the way to the end in the link if you want to find out where RL knows the lovely Blair goes to. But I still think that my Essex Girl version of the song from September 2013 is better by far: -

You talk like Denise Van Outen
And you dance nothing like Fred Astaire
Your clothes are all made by Primark
And there’s bling and fake pearls in your hair, yes there are

You live in a run down apartment
On a Brentwood council estate
Where you keep your R&B records
And you play them full blast when it’s late, yes you do

But where do you go to my chavling
When you've thrown up in your bed
Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I won’t find much inside your head, no I won’t

I see you’ve no qualifications
From the bog standard school down the street
And the picture you knocked off from Poundland
Your lack of taste stands out a treat, yes it does

When you go on your summer vacation
You go to Club Med for the booze
With your carefully designed string bikini
You show off your frightful tattoos, on your back and on your legs.

And when the snow falls you'll party in Essex
With the others of the chav set
And you neck down your Bacardi Breezers
You spill them and get your tits wet, yes you do

But where do you go to my chavling
When you've thrown up in your bed
Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I won’t find much inside your head, no I won’t

Your name is heard in low places
You know a baron from Tilbury Dock
He gave you a vajazzle for Christmas
And you keep it just for a shock, for a laugh, ha-ha-ha

They say that when you get married
It'll be on reality TV
And they’ll certainly know where you came from
So OK! will fund it for free, yes they will

But where do you go to my chavling
When you've thrown up in your bed
Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I won’t find much inside your head, no I won’t

I remember the back streets of Harlow
Two teenagers dressed in fake tat
Both touched with a burning ambition
To get pregnant and a new council flat, yes they were

So look into my face, Chardonnay
And remember just who you are
Then go live your mad life forever
But I know you still bear the scars, deep inside, from your tattoos

I know where you go to my chavling
When you’ve thrown up in your bed
I know the thoughts that surround you
`Cause I can’t find much inside your head.