Heckmondwike Comrades Club, Yorkshire
July 14 2016
Producer Rachel Hainsworth
Reviewer Mark Ritchie
Two sessions, one at lunchtime and another in the evening, made up the format of the first ever showcase produced by rising agency star Rachel Hainsworth. Rachel and her Dad Mike passed muster in terms of the welcomes and general bonhomie.
Singer and comedian Craig Harper is a true variety compere and he understands the role well. Harper was excellent, all day long and a very wise choice. Acts from the Flair stable and other associates were looking to get their feet wet and become cruise ship entertainers.
First up was Ultimate Tribute to The Spice Girls, whose backing track source was blighted with a dose of the dreaded gremlins. The girls returned later and emerged victorious, in terms of live vocal harmony quality and costuming. In short, a superior tribute act and surely one which is very much back in vogue right now.
I have heard the extraordinary voice of Natalie Wilson before and been hugely impressed. This young lady is special in vocal terms, but a number of presentational issues will have to be addressed, if Miss Wilson’s extraordinary voice is to heard further afield, than the narrow confines of the social club circuit.
Rock and Rose are a husband and wife, vocal instrumental duo, who gave an object lesson in how to play a trade showcase set. Eminently suitable for holiday park and ship work, however this act looks a bit lightweight for slugging it out in front of a club audience.
Robert Taylor was next, giving us a bit of Fast Love, as he emerged as a looky-likey to George Michael. There aren’t too many Gorgeous George tributes around, so Mr Taylor may be doing well. He has a sweetly textured vocal technique which, in my view, could be better produced in terms of pitch.
Singer Guitarist Andy Lee Marsh looks like the real deal, as he gave us a segment from his solo Total 60’s show. Mr Lee Marsh ticks many boxes for those looking for a genre tribute to the swinging decade. The business could well be copious and lucrative for an entertainer as well presented and supremely talented as this gentleman.
Before I proceed with the review of singer Martin Gough, as The Sound of David Bowie, I have a confession. In my eyes, as a song-writer and performer, the late lamented Mr Bowie held virtual God- like status. Mr Gough delivers a passable sound-alike at times, although many of the Bowie vocal inflections are missing here. A version of China Girl faded out incongruously, as did his version of Heroes. Karaoke style tracks are not acceptable to most higher-end bookers. I’m afraid Mr Gough’s take on the legend of the thin-white duke didn’t work for me
The tribute theme continued with singer Bonnie and her tribute to Debbie Harry of Blondie fame, which begin with hilarity as Bonnie announced to Compere Craig Harper of her urgent need for the toilet. Regardless of the urgency of her stated need to urinate, Bonnie is indeed blonde, but sadly that was where the resemblance to Miss Harry ends.
Things looked up immeasurably as Alan Becks walked on stage in the guise of Dean Martin. Mr Becks is well-known for his legends of Swing show and he was in fine fettle here in Heckmondwike. The vocal timbre of Sinatra followed, with a version the Sammy Cahn song Summer Wind. In short, here we have a top-drawer tribute attraction in all departments.
Equally impressive is singer Kevin Curtin, who gave us a segment from his Blue-Eyed Soul show, which will be lapped up by soul and motown fans. Mr Curtin is theatre-trained and it shows. A lovely mover and a dapper chap indeed, Kevin Curtin will be firmly in demand after this impressive showcase outing.
Memphis Pete is the unlikely name of a dedicated Elvis tribute artiste. A huge overblown recorded intro, certainly built things up and Pete soon arrived, complete with his rhinestone look. This Yorkshire Elvis should attract substantial tribute work, despite the hugely crowded market which exists for this particular subject. In my view, Pete is more a complete entertainer, rather than merely an Elvis tribute.
Pure Barlow is a solo tribute to Gary Barlow, expertly delivered by excellent singer Davey Nicholls. Vastly experienced as a cabaret artiste, Mr Nicholls knows his business and its sounds as though the Barlow vocal impression isn’t too much of a stretch for this fine artiste.
A lively male singer called Rojay came next. This colourfully dressed young man gave us a segment from his Inspirations of Bruno Mars show. Eye-catching and highly marketable, this artiste is sure to attract a tonne of business and not only from the tribute market.
Closing the afternoon session out was singer and guitarist Joseph O’Brien, who is a real rising star in cabaret circles. The superbly presented Mr O’Brien made the most impressive of entrances and his high octane vocal delivery was made to seem effortless. Relevant to the needs of a number of areas within the industry, I hear this artiste is starting to pop up on the radar of a number of higher-end bookers.
On the technical side, I’m sure the sound engineer Steve Paige will have been hoping for less gadgetry, in terms of track source equipment, during the evening session. Wires from phones and tablets can provide a bit of a technical minefield, as was all too frequently the case here.
During the gap between sessions, a young close-up magician, Paul Dawson, trawled the tables in splendid abandon, bewitching and bewildering one and all with his close-up and deflection skills.
After the bookers were suitably replete, consuming as they did a rather splendid buffet, it was down to superb Compere and entertainer Craig Harper to get the ball rolling all over again, with an opening song and a slice of witty banter.
The Moondogs are a live three-piece band, who do well as a function or cabaret band. This Middlesbrough based outfit are impressive in just about every conceivable way. Old fashioned rock and roll is what these boys are all about and I can see them performing successfully on themed nights, or even at sea.
With a look of an old-fashioned, front of cloth comic of yesteryear, comedian Garry Mac couldn’t really have got off to a worse start. A strobe light was inexplicably left on behind him and the lighting man seemed have gone awol. However, Mac recovered well with a song parody of shopping web-sites. Mr Mac finished with some dated impressions and, in my view, gave the impression of an entertainer making a return to the stage after an absence of some sort.
The Gatsby Dreamgirls entered in roaring 20’s, flapper style costumers, performing modern songs to a ragtime beat. I’m not totally sure where an agent would target an act such as this, but what the girls did- they did very well!
Next came Robbie Williams tribute singer Carl Briggs. The fact is that Robbie Tribute, market-leaders such as Paul Reason and Matt Byrne, in my view, sound a lot closer to the real thing. However. Mr Briggs is a natural entertainer who can certainly wind a crowd up, in true Robbie style.
Personality singer Ricky Starr came next and his rather camp delivery and line in crowd-approach was rather at odds with his business suit style stage attire. The singing voice is strong and well-pitched, but somewhere in there, in my view, there is a stand-up comedian struggling to get out!
Appearing again, after his successful earlier swing show appearance. Alan Becks emerged again with an equally stylish rock and roll genre tribute.
Comedy time followed, with the appearance of well-established Yorkshire funny man Zack Stevens. Safe, easy ground here from a seasoned pro stand-up merchant, clearly chasing the cruise cabaret market, judging at least by the squeaky-clean tone of the material.
Back to the tributes then, with the arrival of Bulsara, which for the uninitiated was the real surname of the late, great Freddie Mercury. A good quality solo tribute to Queen apparently is much more marketable then a full Queen band, so the business for Bulsara should be copious.
Paul Tayler took the opportunity to showcase a segment of his Ultimate Michael Jackson tribute. I hear that the ambitious and industrious Mr Tayler is soon to broaden this show out, by adding dancers to his travelling line-up. In terms of live vocal integrity, there are one or two dodgy Jackson’s around. Tayler performs the whole thing with a complete live vocal feel, with little need for augmentation from overly busy and intrusive tracks. This true show-man of an entertainer really knows his business!
An exceptionally strong, tuneful and well-presented singer by the name of Andy Jay came next. The scene looks rosey for this young man, however he may have to consider a name change. On my travels I have come across many other ‘Andy Jay’s’. Bearing all the hallmarks of a Clubland type entertainer, such was the reach of the vocal range here, that young Mr Jay was able to deliver a version of the Billy Joel composition New York State of Mind in the original copy key, which is no mean feat!
Blonde bombshell singer Bonnie had appeared earlier in the guise of Debbie Harry. Back having a second bite at the showcase cherry, Bonnie opened with a version of the Amy Weinhouse Anthem, Valerie.
Two of a Kind is the name of a two boy act, who deliver a fun music show. Both are hefty lads and sounded very out of breath, given the energy required to deliver such lively material. Both of these bonny lads possess the look of holiday centre style entertainers, who are taking a well-aimed stab at cabaret. Acts like this are constantly in demand during the summer months in holiday parks, but perhaps social clubs looking for a lively fun act may take a punt on them during the long winter nights.
Closing the whole event out was singer Daniel Fox, who we were informed had been in a judges house on X Factor. I have never seen X Factor and have no idea what this means, however no-one within the late night trade audience seemed awfully impressed, once armed with this information. This bonny young Mancunian possesses a nice sweet voice, but the sheer vibrato within the vocal delivery wasn’t all that easy on the ear at times. After Mr Fox’s telly talent show odyssey, it is now presumably time to launch himself at the cabaret market. I feel there is much to learn here.
And so…another showcase day over and plenty to interest visiting bookers, all presented with aplomb by the switched-on team at Flair.