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The Singing Kettle Fancy Dress Party – A Review

For the uninitiated, the Singing Kettle is a singing group that performs musical theatre shows for children with a focus on traditional Scottish music. The Fancy Dress Party was my sons first concert and my first ‘children’s’ concert.  The group was formed in the 70s and quite a few of the audience members were 30-somethings bringing their kids as an excuse to enjoy the nostalgia of the show.The Singing Kettle promotional shot

The concert was all the more of an experience because it was in the Music Hall in Aberdeen. It’s a beautiful old concert hall and it was a pleasure to see the inside. The outside has distinguished granite columns (because in Aberdeen, what isn’t granite?), and the concert space has a beautifully painted ceiling and massive chandeliers.

The Music Hall was built in 1822 and was designed by architect Archibald Simpson, one of the main architects responsible for Aberdeen’s reputation as a city of granite. Originally built as a series of assembly rooms for the upper class people of both genders, the building was opened as a concert hall in 1859. Despite the grandeur of the building itself, the seating at the Fancy Dress Party consisted of metal folding chairs lined up on floor markers.

Today’s show was called the “Fancy Dress Party” and the audience was encouraged to wear fancy dress, and most of them (adults and children) did – there were cute pirates and princesses everywhere!  I was not planning to dress my son in a costume, but I shoved his train engineer costume into my purse, so when all of the other kids were dressed up I looked like a brilliant mummy having thought of the costume ahead of time.

Before the show started, the staff threw giant balls into the crowd and the kids pushed them up to float through the air with their hands, which was a huge hit.

The stage decoration consisted of a giant box (big enough to hold a person) surrounded by cut out backdrops of giant articles of clothing including bow ties, a cowboy hat and a fez, as well as a clown face with a light-up nose and two white-gloved Mickey Mouse hands that could swish back and forth on mechanical arms.  When the show started, the singers taught the audience a party song with actions that repeated throughout the show, as the stage fact lit up and the mechanical arms swished.  My son loved it!

The premise of the show was that the Singing Kettle group and audience were having a fancy dress party and hoped that the Mad Hatter would attend.  Throughout the show different guest characters would poke up out of the giant box in the middle of the stage and some would leave behind coloured kettles.  When a kettle appeared, this rhyme was chanted: “Spout, handle, lid of metal, what’s inside the singing kettle?” and the kettle would open to reveal a clue about what song to sing next. I can’t tell you if the Mad Hatter appeared (no spoilers here) but I will say that the audience was not disappointed…

What distinguishes the Singing Kettle from other children’s performers is their cheek. The songs are sometimes politically incorrect and there are moments of very childish physical comedy in the stage show. The show is for children, so this makes sense. To me, they are easiest to compare to a sillier than usual combination of the Wiggles, Raffi and Fred Penner. The themes of their songs are sometimes naughty, for example the lyrics of “Ye Cannae Shove Yer Granny”, but it’s all in good fun.

During the show there was an hilarious rendition of “Drunken Sailor” where they showed the sailor’s hair belly (a costume) and his anchor-tattooed nether regions.  I’m not sure other children’s performers would be so daring…perhaps they would not even sing about how to sober up seamen. I think this is the best part about the Singing Kettle – the silly fun that is not tempered by pointless positive messages.  That being said, there was a long skit about a gassy goose that I thought was only moderately funny and far too long.

During the show Bonzo the Dog made an appearance.  I have to say that I am not a fan of Bonzo, but I was in the definite minority. Bonzo sang the male part in a spirited duet version of “Oh Soldier Won’t You Marry Me” where he dressed up in all of the clothing mentioned, including ladies knickers.  Jock and Jeremy, the two chefs also made an appearance.

Overall I really enjoyed the performance and my son thought it was amazing but I think that many of the children in the audience were not old enough for a show that was 2 hours in length (including the intermission).  Quite a few people in the seats around us left at the intermission because their kids where whiny, crying or sleeping, just from sheer exhaustion. The pre-show excitement high seemed to catch up with some of the younger kids about 45 minutes into the show.

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Quick Reviews: Real Life, Alive…

Every week, one of our writers will be given five tracks – they could be unsigned, they could be international superstars.  Any genre could be included, and the writer gets one week to give their verdict on each song in under 100 words.  This week, Janice Jong takes her turn.  If you like what you hear, click on the band names to visit their website, and if you want your music to be included in the future, send an MP3, picture, short bio and link to music@camelshump.co.uk.

Wirescan, Amps, from the Album VectorWIRESCAN – “Amps”

I’m not usually a fan of electronica, but this track was a pleasant surprise.  It is a cheery song with a sunny disposition that reminded me of ‘80’s music without being cheesy.  At first, I thought this would be great music to play in the background at a party, but my kids both loved the track and it got them dancing – it’s definitely fit for centre stage.   This track is the perfect length – it is interesting the entire way through and there are no slow bits, even without any vocals.

Jo Hamilton – “Alive, Alive”

Jo Hamilton has a beautiful, haunting voice.  She sings like a human cello, with clarity and emotion.  I loved the first thirty seconds of this track where Jo Hamilton reminded me of k.d. lang with her soulful lyrics and serious temperament.  Then, the beautiful sounds were invaded with otherworldly alien noises.  This ruined the track for me – as soon as the strange sounds started, the piece took on a cartoonish quality and the delicate emotional balance was destroyed.  I found myself unable to focus on the lyrics – I could only hear the invasive sounds.  I kept thinking about Bjork and outer space and the entire experience was ruined.  Pity.

Pepper – “Running Rings”

This is a song that I would turn up to full volume in the car.  It is also a song that I would be tired of listening to after a couple of weeks.   (Ahhh…such is my fickle nature.)

“Running Rings” is a high-energy pop track with a repetitive and pervasive raw acoustic guitar backing.  It has a slightly angry vibe that showcases Pepper’s gorgeous voice as it intertwines with the choppy guitar.   Our local pop radio station loves to play chipper tracks like this; it would fit right in to their regular playlist.

Padraig Whelan – “Off & On”Padraig Whelan writing in the dark

I wanted to like this track.  It is exactly the kind of music I love to listen to – a folksy-slow track sung by a man with an interesting voice.  Problem is, I found the song boring.  At full volume, it barely seeped into my consciousness, the music and lyrics did not pique my interest, and the emotional effect of the track was entirely benign.  I loved the relaxed feel of the song and Whelan’s smooth voice with the pared down band and clean guitar notes.  It was just so boring…

Alonestar feat. Ed Sheeran – “Real Life”

Listening to hip-hop, rap or urban music of any sort is way out of my element, so I was not sure what to expect from Alonestar.  My impression of this track is that it is hip-hop “lite” – it is not particularly gritty or tough.  The “Real Life” lyrics are appropriate for an after-school special, with a peppy and utterly unconvincing hook about how “this is the real life and it will only get harder…” This track reminds me of the only old school rap I had any contact with – Will Smith in his “Fresh Prince” days.  It is easy to listen to and not offensive.

New Blues Anyone? Review of Stephen Dale Petit – The BBC Sessions

Stephen Dale Petit - The BBC SessionsThis week I received a treasure through the post – the Stephen Dale Petit (“SDP”) CD titled “The BBC Sessions.” As I do with any new album, I saved the first listen for the car. When I listen to music in my car it is at the forefront of my attention (just after driving safely – of course) while at home it tends to fall to the background. I loved the CD and I was soon singing and tapping along (and so were my kids!).

SDP is an American-born blues singer/songwriter/guitarist and this album is in the modern blues style. Despite his California roots, he is a pioneer and champion of the New Blues Revolution in the UK, where he has resided since the mid-80’s. SDP has performed with many of the blues greats, including B.B. King and Eric Clapton and he also famously busked in the London Underground.

The album “The BBC Sessions” comprises 11 musical tracks arranged in a sampling of 3 different BBC sessions from 2007 and 2009. There is a 12th track on the album consisting of a lengthy (nearly 16 minute) interview with SDP by Bob Harris. This interview outlines the musical life story of SDP and the history of the New Blues Revolution and was surprisingly interesting and informative.

My favorite session showcased on the album is the first and the oldest – the 2007 session. It starts with a breezy performance of “Steppin’ Out”, which is an amazing instrumental blues guitar showcase. My absolute favorite track of the 2007 session is Petit’s own “7 Cent Cotton” – an angry song with a rock feel….because who doesn’t love an angry song with a rock feel?

The middle session is from 2009 with special guest Mick Taylor, a former Rolling Stone. This session opens with the traditional “Goin’ Away Baby”. While I love the tune, I find some of the lyrics a bit unbelievable from SDP. The session continues with the slow, lengthy, rendition of “Love in Vain” that flaunts the guitar skills of SDP and Mick Taylor. This session ends with an extremely long (more than 9 minutes long!) version of “A Better Answer”. I found this track to be self-indulgent – the type of track where the musicians get lost exploring artistic possibilities and the listeners get bored. I much prefer the acoustic version of this song at the end of the album.

The last session showcases 3 original SDP songs. The tuneful “My Friend Bob” is a poetic story-telling song with a Bob Dylan feel and a blues-y harmonica solo. I did not, however, love the track “It’s All Good” with it’s initial growly vocals and hasty buildup to a chorus that is vaguely reminiscent of the Rolling Stones “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. The music portion of the album ends with an acoustic version of “A Better Answer”, which is a big hit in our household with it’s fun tempo changes and raw vocals.

All in all this was an enjoyable CD and I will definitely add it to my regular rotation. My only complaint about the album addresses more structure than content. There are short interviews with SDP interspersed between some of the songs. I find that this breaks the flow of the music; I would prefer that the interview material be saved for the beginning or the end of the album. There is a long interview at the end of the album; the other interview “snippets” are not necessary.

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