Rewind to 2011 and Ben Howard was exciting stuff- he’d toured our summer festivals around the country and was rumoured to be the up and coming star of the year. One year on, Ben Howard and co. have a worldwide following, have covered insanely popular songs on the radio, including their live lounge version of Carly Rey Jepson’s ‘Call Me Maybe’, which has had over six million views on Youtube and his debut albumn Every Kingdom has been nominated for the 2012 Mercury prize after a successful tour in the US.
But more importantly, this well respected and highly talented musician came back to Bournemouth to bring his biggest headline tour to a sold out show at Bournemouth’s O2 academy this November.
In the long queue, hoards of fans braved the wind and rain to make it to the show and upon entrance, it was clear by the sheer amounts of people that his initial loyal following of surfers and music lovers had swollen to a huge sea of Ben Howard enthusiasts. Depsite the numbers of people, there remained still a calm and common minded atmosphere. Everyone was there to bask in the beautiful melodies from his debut albumn Every Kingdom.
Guests were welcomed by the raw folk rhythms of Willy Mason on arrival and pleasant sounds from the stage were the signature of the American folk musician who was rumoured to be Ben’s warm up act. A few lively country tunes later and excitement oozed throughout the place as a curious energy filled the room. The three layered hall of the academy filled up to the gods, had eager ears listening and awaiting the first appearance.
A spotlight hit the stage and a familiar figure strolled casually and cooly onto stage with fellow bandmates India Bourne, and the Bond brothers. Ben begins with famous favourites and echos of Old Pine and Diamonds linger as the crowd awaits some of his unreleased Eps.
Burgh Island and Esmerelda have a slightly darker feel to them and the academy listens intently to the world premier of White Lights, written at the same time as Esmerelda.
Ben comments: “I don’t remember it being this big here.”
An encore encourages the last couple of tunes out of the band in which an impressive version of Promise plays out to backdrop footage of driving home. Ben salutes a satisfied and mesmirised ocean of supporters who will come back again again to hear the therepeutic tones of this unique and inspiring artist.
I have just been to arguably one of worlds best restaurants. And I am not exaggerating. Andres Carne de Res was fine down to every last detail and yet it was not the posh ¨best restaurant in Bogota” I was expecting. It was better.
I was told all week that my friend Tatiana and her family wanted to take me to experience Andres and experience it I certainly did as this is not your normal restaurant experience. In fact we arrived at 2pm (Colombian time) for lunch and didn´t leave till gone 7pm!
The place was incredibly authentic from the beginning with fresh strawberries on entry and after an hour of being there I felt like I was in my own conservatory if not a lot bigger and a lot quirkier. With open plan kitchens dotted in between the maze of different dining areas inside/outside, there was an aroma of hearty food being grilled on open fires and fresh ingredients you could see being prepared all around. The food was simple, tasty and traditional and served in rustic non-matching crockery, which I loved.
The atmosphere was simply ecstatic! After ordering our first few dishes, chicharon (which was basically like fresh pork scratchings- incredible) Colombian chorizo and arepas a grand band attended our table and accosted me to join them in a photo as an honorary guest of the house, after singing and playing to “the English girl”. I was flattered if not a little embarassed as one of the hispanic trio grabbed my leg for a rather sexuale photo!
There were also actors and actresses strolling around, posing as affluent guests and the basics of my Spanish understanding was that there was some kind of Alice in wonderland story going on for the kids, suffice to say it was all a little crazy and- quirky doesn´t really do it justice but it was amazingly endearing and I really did feel like I´d stepped into a fairy tale.
The service was impecible as I noticed an awesome amount of staff that were working there. Apparantly between the restaurant in Chia (just outside Bogota) and the one in the city centre there are approximately 1,500 staff members and as we popped outside for some fresh air mid dining, we witnessed another restaurant next door that served as the servers dining area.
I asked if this restaurant was located anywhere else in the world but apparently the owner Andres wanted to keep it unique to Colombia and despite generous offers from multi-million investors he was stubborn in maintaining these two restaurants as the only ones in the world like it and this is why, although feeling like I have just been on an epic journey to some alternate world rather than a restaurant, I am quite confident in stating that this was quite possibly the best dining experience I have ever had.
The decor inside the place was just unfathomable, with trinkets and odd bits and bobs all over the shop this could never be replicated in the same way anywhere else in my opinion. With the popular interior design of bringing the outside in, there were trees growing by our tables that had clearly been there years and years before our table and at night they lit up with fairy lights to create a whole new atmosphere to the day! Suddenly the relaxing cafe music died out and new energetic Latin American music started to drum underneath.
By this point, after various traditional regional dishes such as patacon con queso (like a tortilla with cheese but made from green plantain fried) and hogao (chopped tomato, onions and spices) morcilla (like English black pudding but much better), chunchullo (not quite sure what this was, a little weird), chicharon (the previously mentioned fresh pork scratchings), arepa de choclo (like a sweet pancake with cheese in the middle) and of course the mazorca (which is like corn on the cob barbecued but again better and something I´ve been wanting to try here for a while as they sell it on the side of the road and streets but I haven´t quite been brave enough)!
There was even a gift shop inside, so that mesmerised guests like myself could take a little piece of Andres away with them. I bought my sister a little crafted milk jug with all the Colombian colours painted on and Tatiana completely surprised me with a beautiful frame inside which was the lovely photo we´d had taken after dinner by the resident photographer. I think it is safe to say I will never forget my day at my now favourite restaurant ever, which I noted in the little comment slip our waiter Hussain kindly left us to comment on our time at Andres!
If Andres was my boyfriend he would be perfect: exciting, energetic, a little bit crazy and tastes great!
I arrived to Santiago at 7am from Madrid and waited for my Spanish stallion of a boyfriend, Carlos for two hours to touch down from London. As I excitedly awaited that familiar face to come through customs I noted the happy faces greeting happy faces at the arrivals lounge and couldn´t help thinking back to the opening scene of the film – Love Actually.
Soon we were off. Carlos´parents and grandmother fondly greeted us and swept us off to Santiago de Compostela.
The cathedral borders the main plaza of the old and well-preserved city, which Carlos´parents insist we explore. Legend has it that the remains of the apostle James were brought to Galicia for burial, although Carlos´father isn´t convinced this is the case but seems to know the entire history of the city and it´s legends.
Apparantly, according to medieval legend, the light of a bright star guided a shepherd who was watching his flock at night to the burial site in Santiago de Compostela. The shepherd quickly reported his discovery to the bishop of Iria, Bishop Teodomiro, who declared that the remains were those of the apostle James and immediately notified King Alfonso II.
To honour St. James, the cathedral was built on the spot where his remains were said to have been found. The legend, which included numerous miraculous events, led to the growth and development of the city and the Way of St. James, a leading pilgrimage route from the 9th Century.
Rewind 14 days and Carlos and I are making dinner back at our student house in Bournemouth. I say: “Can we watch a film?” and Carlos says: “sure, I have the perfect one but you can´t look.” I don´t quite understand what he means but sit down with my dinner to watch his “surprise film”.
A simply wonderful American drama about an American ophthalmologist (Martin Sheen) who goes to France following the death of his adult son, killed in the Pyrenees during a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James).
Tom’s purpose is initially to retrieve his son’s body. However, in a combination of grief and homage to his son, Tom decides to walk the ancient spiritual trail where his son died, in an epic adventure that will make you want to donne your walking boots and set off on a journey of meaning and healing.
While walking the Camino, Tom meets others from around the world, all looking for greater meaning in their lives. He reluctantly falls in with three other pilgrims in particular. Joost is an overweight man from Amsterdam, who says he is walking the route to lose weight to get ready for his brother’s wedding and so that his wife will desire him again. He is a warm extrovert who is the first to start walking with Tom. Tom meets others along the way, each attempting to quit a vice or be inspired to achieve and aspire. Certainly the film hopes to inspire one in the wake of mourning and puts a spiritual, footloose and refreshing spin on a sad tale exploring the universal themes of loss, companionship and faith.
I now realise the meaning of where I am and what exactly the meaning and significance of this beautifully spiritual city is.
Over 100,000 pilgrims travel to the city each year from points all over Europe and other parts of the world.
SOLD out across the country for weeks before the gig, it was almost nigh on impossible to get tickets to see new up-and-coming folk star, Ben Howard, last night in Bournemouth. I now know why.
The 24-year-old singer songwriter, from Totnes in Devon, had Bournemouth’s Student Union, The Old Firestation, transformed; with fans queuing to hear songs from his recently released debut albumn, Every Kingdom, which went straight to number seven in the albumn charts.
Touring till mid December, Ben and his close knit band have been travelling around the country, playing to a close following of fans, some inspired by his flowing folksy rhythms and some attracted to his music and surfing lifestyle.
Tom Farr, 19, came from Portsmouth with his family and younger brother, George Farr, 16, who are both surfers and massive fans: “we’ve been listening to Ben for a few years” , says older brother Tom.
He said: “One of my friends whose seen him live said it’s one gig you have to see before you die.”
“His lyrics are really good, really meaningful and really different, which is quite hard to find nowadays.”
Finally the background jazz/hotel foyer music dies down and the side door opens as the security guard donnes his earphones. Ben enters wearing an oversized white t-shirt, that says ‘All down the line’, baggy jeans and blue plimsoles, with a white ceramic tea mug and guitar in hand. I can see this is going to be for want of a better word, one ‘cool’ gig!
Himself and his three man band, consisting of Plymouth based Holly Bourne and Chris Bond, who are both multi-musically talented, bringing out violins, cellos and maraccas into the musical mix.
Ben jokes half way through, saying: “Wow, the student union in Bournemouth is nice – you guys did well. We played in Plymouth last week and it was a rubbish. Sorry Holly and Chris – they come from there.”
The two hour gig consists of mainly songs from the new albumn including best known, ‘The Wolves’ and ‘Old Pine’ as well as some older Eps such as ‘London’, the band decidedly play for their encore.
In between his amazing guitar tapping, merging chord progressions and incredible vocals, a slightly awkward stage presence makes him all the more charming and when asked what he had for breakfast he recoils and says he can’t remember that far back: “It’s been mental, these last few months have been crazy. Thank you Bournemouth, you’ve been a wild bunch.”
A final sing along with the audience and salute off stage and its over, but I could listen to it all again from the countless videos I took on my camera.
After the show, I catch a few words with Ben and the Band:
Daily Echo: How was it playing in Bournemouth?
Ben Howard: Bournemouth’s cool, it’s been amazing so far. Tonight was wicked.
If you’ve seen Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, Phantom of the Opera, at Her Majesty’s Theatre you may have seen one of the most spectacular operas on the West End. Perhaps then you may not be expecting a local village amateur drama group to deliver quite the same entertainment quality.
In a quaint little town in the Oxfordshire countryside last week you may have seen something entirely different.
The Sinodun Players’ rendition of Terry Practchett’s Maskerade, adapted for the stage by Stephen Briggs, was not quite as thrilling, nor as magnificent, nor as spectacular as the actual Phantom of the Opera but Prachett’s parody of this famous story was quite simply fabulous!
In the opening scene a shreiky Christine (Natalie Lester) didn’t quite resemble something of the beautiful Christine at Haymarket. Her slightly fuller co-star Perdita (Samantha Fields) or Agnes Nitt (her alter witch ego) and Cinderella-like chum who unlike the affected pre-madonna Christine who could not hold a tune, Perdita proves to be the actual star of the show when she belts out one of Dr. Undershaft’s operatic favourites, holding her tune perfectly.
When the Ankh-Morpork Opera house owner and befuddled former cheese Merchant, Seldom Bucket (Peter Smithson), starts to receive letters signed from the Opera Ghost his nose ruffles. Unbenounced to him the Opera house had always had a ghost but it didn’t used to kill people.
When Granny Weatherwax (Dida Moore), the indomitable and inquisitive first half to the duo of the Witches of Lancre, (minus one), accompanied by the curious and crude Nanny Ogg, (Ginny Avery), spend their time causing mischief trying to unravel the mystery which echos the storyline of the Phantom of the Opera, they find out that at this theatre, the producer really “hates opera”!
Salzella, (Graham Watt) the mysterious, supercilious and sadistic producer succeeds his counterpart opera lover, Dr Undershaft (John Jones), after he is found strangled and strung up! In more spine-chilling yet patronising and rather amusing notes the Opera Ghost strikes again with messages saying “Beware! hahaha…. Signed the Opera Ghost.”
Directed by Paul Cleverly, this stage adaption was highly professional, with an ever changing set, including clever adaptions of classic stage props as well as a digital screen backdrop used for special effects for when Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax embark on their coach journeys. Accompanied by fantastic costumes and a slight hint of song from the actual musical the play was a well-rounded culmination of humourous satire alongside a more serious moral of hiding behind invisible masks and seeing through the seems.
Although, some of the acting at times could have been over done and pantomime-ish the performances given were mature yet appropriate to their roles whilst the storyline, mirroring the Phantom of the Opera was set in Pratchett’s fictional, fantasy Discworld, quite rightly explained within the play as, “Fiction- where reality meets fantasy”. Nanny Ogg, especially held her own in delivering a crudely comic role, contrasting with Granny Weatherwax’s serious demeanour and quest to “Do good!”
Nanny Ogg: “They were rattling their knobs”
Granny Weatherwax: “Not at our time of life Nanny Ogg.”
The underdog character of Walter Plinge, (Joel Webster) finally triumphs towards the end to uphold his new position, standing up straight as the new Operatic producer. A suspiscion falls on him at the beginning of Act Two that perhaps he is the Opera Ghost until Granny Weatherwax unmasks him – revealing things are not always as you see them.
In a tense yet hilarious fight scene between Walter and the actual baddy of the story, Salzella, the latter is stabbed and reveals that actually he doesn’t really like Opera at all in his final, fake, knife-stabbing moments.
The engaging parody of the theatre within the theatre helped create the atmosphere in the wings of the Corn Exchange in Wallingford. The chandelier hung, as the audience waited for the terrible moment it came down. It remained stable till the end of the show, that was perhaps my only disappointment. But could it really beat the Chandelier at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Probably not. But then this was not the Phantom of the Opera. This was simply great acting, a fantasticly delivered storyline in one of Pratchett’s fabulous fantasy worlds and quite frankly, downright good entertainment!
The final evening saw Steven Briggs in the audience to watch his stage adaption unfold and all ticket sales and donations went to the Alzheimer’s Society (inspired by Mr. Pratchett himself and the reason for the performance). For further donations, please go to www.justgiving.com/maskerade. Alternatively visit the Corn Exchange Website on www.cornexchange.org.uk/PublicPages/