West end entertainments annual showcase 2014
Liner Hotel Liverpool
Producers Barbara Brown and Pete Pinnington
Reviewer Mark Ritchie
In a continuation of the business built up by the late and great Tony West, Barbara Brown and her merry crew always push the boat out at their annual event. Those in the cabaret room at this nautical themed hotel, may have imagined they were actually at sea given the design of the facilities. The aim was to attract interest from cruise ship cabaret bookers and it has to be said that the show going up almost half an hour late hardly constituted a promising start.
Steering the showcase ship in production terms was a shouting DJ type of presenter called Pete Pinnington. An events manager by trade, Pinnington’s take on the art of the compere was to shout his greetings and introductions over a pumping pre-recorded drum beat. Audience contact was minimal and the effect was as far removed from traditional cabaret show values as you could get.
I saw the very beautiful instrumentalist and singer Jo Ashcroft at the JMA showcase in Yeovil. As the talented Ms Ashcroft delivered the same showcase set, I would simply refer readers to the other showcase review in this issue of UK Cabaret to read all about her. However I was mystified as to why a vocal effect was left on throughout the entirety of her set.
Chirpy cockney comedian Johnny Tate is associated with this publication as a contributor and reviewer. Therefore I will limit this review to stating this was his debut showcase for cruise work and he should have attracted considerable interest.
Next came mother and daughter duo The Lee Dells. It was difficult to spot who had given birth to whom, such was their joint glamour. Appraising the talents or otherwise of this act was made virtually impossible by a piercing and toppy P.A sound. The backing tracks contained some harmonies, but of course live musicians on a cruise ship stage would not be able to provide this.
Tenor Nile Jordan began with some nifty guitar work, before rendering a version of the Mario Lanza classic Because You’re Mine. This larger than life character has all the witty chat required for the club market. However, I’m not sure if the performance contains many of the attributes required for a cruise ship cabaret audience.
After more shouting over the pumping drum beat and untidy striking of the stage whilst setting for the next act, it was time to enjoy a truly appealing act. The Queens of Rhythm are a three girl motown vocal harmony act. A lovely a cappella rendition revealed sweet close harmony work and the girls look as good as they sound.
Show business luminary for all occasions Andy Eastwood premiered a segment of his Spirit of the Blitz production cabaret. There are many who suggest that Eastwood, AKA The ukulele man, could be one of the UK’s busiest and most versatile entertainers. He is joined in this production by show-girl style vocalist Lucia Matisse, who evokes memories of Ann Shelton and Gracie Fields. As ever the charm offensive orchestrated in any show involving Andy Eastwood shines through. It is a pity the stage lighting did not, as Eastwood’s smiling face was barely visible in the gloom. Another string to Eastwood’s already impressive bow was played with charm and assurance nonetheless.
I had hoped the woefully inadequate stage lighting, which seemed to make the room appear at times like a discotheque, would improve after the interval. Sadly the acts involved continued to stare through the semi-gloom and position themselves in front of a lone static spot presumably to be at least semi-visible. The acts also continued to battle with a sound engineer who seemed to grapple with the basics of turning on and off a vocal effects switch while the singers were talking. The shouting DJ Presenter compere from part one was replaced with another shouting DJ type, who went by the amazing moniker of Reece Lightening. A frankly odd and totally incongruous recorded announcement reminding us for the umpteenth time that we were attending the West end entertainments showcase 2014, truncated each link and marred the flow of the show immeasurably.
I have heard much about Gemma Louise Doyle, but up until this evening I had never seen her on a stage. Doll-like and ravishingly beautiful to look at, I would suggest that perhaps it is young and developing artistes like this lady who make a mockery of the self-proclaimed importance of the Cowell TV talent machine. Glamorous crossover singers are highly sought after on cruise ships. Such was the impressive nature of Ms Doyle’s set, I would suggest what we witnessed here was a very special talent indeed.
Sounding remarkably like the great Lou Rawls, singer Irie J encountered some fairly elementary radio microphone signal problems. However he emerged triumphant, with a quite superbly delivered soul crooning set. This truly great singer of classy songs even managed to spread a little love by inviting one gushing female member of the audience onto the dance floor for a dancing cuddle. Irie J really is one smooth dude!
Next came comedy speciality entertainer Matt Grindley, who entered alongside two leggy show- team dancers, also grabbing a ‘volunteer’ from the audience en-route to the stage. Problems with a head-microphone and a soundtrack that refused to play, rather marred the opening few minutes and sadly it all went downhill from there onwards. Grindley’s approach all looks a little ad-hoc and ad-libbed, which may be perceived as risky to cruise bookers due to the scattergun nature of the delivery, which was largely devoid of any kind of discernable structure.
Bravissimo is the name of another classical crossover act, this time consisting of a tenor and two contrasting sopranos. More sound problems were again responsible for making the review job more difficult than it should be. There was easy on the ear vocal quality to enjoy here, but the act did look under-rehearsed. However the talent and appeal is unquestionable.
Visual comedy entertainer James Brandon is an ideas man, whose prop-based comedy act is a busy attraction. Brandon has recently changed direction and joined the acclaimed Grumbleweeds comedy act, after the sad death of one of the founder members Graham Walker. I’m sure that his solo appeal will continue after this showcase outing.
One of the most impressive solo multi-instrumentalist and singers currently out there on the cabaret scene just has to be Dean Stansby. Piano and vocal numbers and a bit of nifty saxophone work were all on offer here from a young man who is, in my view, one of the most outstanding new entertainers of his type in the UK.
Closing the entire event out was a tribute attraction called The Boys from Jersey. No prizes for guessing these guys chosen tribute is Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I have witnessed one or two similar acts whose vocal integrity I have doubted, due to the intricacies of their backing tracks. In fact one particularly misguided member of just such an act made the classic mistake some time ago of making threats against me for daring to suggest such a thing in print. That was while I was still working for The Stage, while that publication used to cover significant amounts of light entertainment coverage. However, this particular act is a totally live all singing/ all dancing treat. Superbly tight harmonies here from four young guys who are evidently trained dancers and possess a genuine feel for the music. The Boys from Jersey are what modern show business should be all about. No faking, no lip synching, just sheer talent.
A more accomplished sound engineer, stage crew who actually looked competent and better stage lighting would have helped this event along immensely and immeasurably. However Barbara Brown and her team always devote much time and effort to their showcase events and this factor alone should be applauded above all else.