Well, what a month this has been! When I published my August Favourites at the start of September, I had just left my first job due to my redundancy, and Liz Truss had just become Prime Minister. But then 2 days after I’d made that post, the ultimate career change took place at the top of our Royal Family, and normal life in the UK was disrupted for the best part of a fortnight as a result. I’ve written a separate post saying farewell to Her Majesty The Queen and reviewing the coverage, as it’s not really suitable for a Favourites post and there was quite a lot to talk about.
Apart from that though, and despite my redundancy, I’ve still been pretty busy this month. I’ve attended a Derren Brown show and a couple of tribute concerts, listened to an audiobook I got for my birthday, and enjoyed new episodes of my favourite comedies on TV once the schedules had returned to normal. So there are still plenty of nicer things to mention in this post and the short video I’ve made to go with it, none of which is sponsored or gifted, and I hope you enjoy my latest roundup!
- Birmingham – Derren Brown & ELO Experience
- Hammersmith – Queen Machine Symphonic
- Roger Taylor – Outsider Tour Live
- Josh Widdicombe – Audiobook Memoir
Birmingham – Derren Brown & ELO Experience
This month I’ve been to a few shows, a couple of which took place over a weekend in Birmingham. I stayed in the New Street Premier Inn by the railway station where, as usual, the staff were friendly and helpful, the room was comfortable, and their tasty cooked breakfast filled me up nicely each morning. I also had a couple of nice meals at the nearby Wetherspoons pub The Square Peg over the weekend, and a nice dinner at Pizza Hut just down the road from the hotel. I got some nice nibbles to have in my room from the local M&S as well, and spent a bit of time wandering through the Bullring & Grand Central shopping centre.
Also, while I was having a general wander around the local area, I was able to find the huge animatronic bull from the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, that they had put in Centenary Square for a while. It wasn’t moving around, it was just really impressive to look at, and I’ve shared some photos over on Instagram. They’ve since taken it away to do some restoration work on it, but my understanding is that it will be going back on display at some point.
Anyway, the shows I saw were at The Alexandra, which is a nice little theatre. Granted, the signage inside is awful if you’re visually impaired, as it doesn’t stand out clearly at all, so I got rather lost the first time I went in there. But when I eventually found out how to get to the stalls by following everyone else, and saw a member of staff for the first time, they were great from that point onwards. The staff on both days I attended were really friendly and happy to help, as they guided me to my seat, checked in on me during the interval in case I needed anything, and made sure I found my way out of the building at the end. I also had lovely chats with audience members next to me on both nights, who expressed polite curiosity about my need for assistance or the fact that I was using my monocular. So that led to friendly discussions about other shows we had all been to, how accessibility is such a benefit to me, and other stuff. It was great to be able to have a friendly natter and raise a bit of awareness in the process.
The first show I saw was Derren Brown: Showman, which is very difficult to review as everything that happens needs to be kept secret! But basically, for those who don’t already know, Derren Brown is a mentalist and illusionist, and during his stage shows he uses magic, psychology, suggestion, misdirection and other techniques to read minds, make people act in unusual ways and do other tricks.
I’ve got some of his previous stage shows on DVD, as well as some of his TV programmes, and there are more of his shows online too. They’re all very impressive, and I’m currently rewatching a lot of them, so I’ll be reviewing them here in my blog at a later date. But as a fan of his shows I was very keen to see him live, so I’m really glad I’ve finally done so.
Of course, Derren’s act isn’t designed with visually impaired people in mind, and I went in fully aware of that. As fun as it would be to go on stage with him, I knew that wouldn’t be a viable possibility, as you have to be able to focus on his eyes or whatever tasks he gets you to do, as well as be able to navigate the stage safely. But in terms of just watching him, I had booked a seat close to the front, and had my monocular with me, and sometimes it’s clear what’s happening from what Derren is saying, along with footage from an on-stage cameraman that is sometimes projected on the back wall. So I was able to pick up on a lot of what was going on, certainly enough to understand and enjoy everything. But if you have severe or total sight loss, you would certainly need someone with you to explain things.
Anyway, while I can’t tell you exactly what happened, I can say that the show is really good. It isn’t anything particularly unusual in terms of what Derren is known for, and he doesn’t do anything really exceptional or extreme. But what he does in the show is still extraordinary and extremely clever, and it’s very entertaining, with a decent variety of tricks that range from light-hearted and humorous to sweet and moving.
Some of it does mess with your head a bit too, especially what he reveals during the finale, which leaves you wondering how on earth he did it as you leave. Once I’d got back to my hotel and thought it over a little, I did have some idea about how it must have been done, and then did a bit of Googling to find a fan theory that verified my thoughts and filled in the gaps with details I’d missed, so it made a lot of sense. And that’s fine, I don’t mind knowing how certain things are achieved, it just made it all the more impressive knowing the effort involved in it. But there are still aspects of that particular routine, along with several other tricks throughout the show, that I just cannot explain. And it’s good to go away with a sense of mystery and wonder, that is after all the whole point.
So I’m very glad I went to see one of his shows at long last. While it’s not something I could take part in myself, it was still a lot of fun to experience the atmosphere and his showmanship in person.
Then the other show I saw was a concert by The ELO Experience, a tribute band for the Electric Light Orchestra. When I was booking my ticket to see Derren, I saw that they were on the following night, so figured I would give them a go. And credit where it’s due, they’re really good. They’re very faithful to the sound of Jeff Lynne’s iconic band, and they played lots of their big hits for a couple of hours, pretty much all of which I was tapping along to.
The audience were often encouraged to clap or sing along a bit as well, or wave colourful glow sticks in the second half that you could buy in the interval. There were also some visuals projected on to the back wall of the stage here and there, including a Lego animation for The Diary Of Horace Wimp, and clips from the London 2012 Olympics during Hold On Tight, which I couldn’t see very clearly, but that didn’t matter. It was the music that counted. The lighting was also used to good effect, and the sound was at a decent level – i.e. sufficiently loud but without being ear-damaging. So I enjoyed the show, and I can recommend them if you’re an ELO fan.
Hammersmith – Queen Machine Symphonic
I also made a return visit to Hammersmith’s Eventim Apollo this month, having been there for the first time earlier this year to see a stand-up gig by Sarah Millican. And, just like that time, the staff were again really friendly and helpful.
The concert combined 3 acts all coming together:
- Queen Machine – These guys are a 5-piece Scandinavian rock band who perform all over Europe, and this was the penultimate date of their first ever UK arena tour, which lasted a fortnight altogether. Lead singer Bjarke Godske Baisner looked a little bit like Freddie, doing some of the legendary frontman’s trademark moves and poses while making full use of the stage, ensuring everyone could see him. And guitarist Peter Møller Jeppesen was using a replica of Brian May’s Red Special guitar. But apart from that they didn’t look like Queen. And naturally they didn’t sound exactly like the original band or perform as well as they did, because nobody can easily do that. However, they’re not trying to be a lookalike and soundalike band, and I didn’t go in expecting as such. So, taking the appropriate expectations into account, they did perform very well and stayed true to the songs, and I was tapping, clapping and singing along happily throughout. They had a great energy, as they clearly enjoyed playing in such an iconic venue, where Queen themselves performed on several occasions (one notable example being A Night At The Odeon from 1975).
- London Symphonic Rock Orchestra – Although sat at the back of the stage in semi-darkness, this group provided excellent backing for the band, lifting things up a level throughout the concert, all conducted by Matthew Freeman. They were heard more prominently on some songs than others of course, as on heavier numbers they could be a bit drowned out by the rock stars in front of them. That said, however, the overall sound mix seemed to be better during the second half of the concert anyway, as if something had been fixed in the interval. The first half was still good, and the lead singer could still be heard, but he seemed clearer in the second half, and it felt as if the bass and percussion had been dialled back a little bit, because everyone came through better.
- Kerry Ellis – This incomparable West End star inevitably blew everyone out of the water. Kerry’s in a class of her own, and has toured and performed with Brian May himself on several occasions (as noted in my previous reviews of her albums). I’ve been wanting to see her live for a long time, so I couldn’t resist this opportunity. She wasn’t involved with every number, but she came on stage in stunning sparkly bodysuits for about 4 or 5 songs in each half of the show. There were occasions where she sang by herself, with gorgeous renditions of No One But You and Love Of My Life, but most of the time she duetted with lead singer Bjarke on songs including Don’t Stop Me Now, Save Me, Under Pressure, Who Wants to Live Forever? and These Are The Days Of Our Lives. She was clearly the more gifted performer, but Bjarke was well aware of that and gave it his best, and they complemented each other nicely as a result.
The setlist naturally contained lots of Queen’s biggest hits, though not necessarily in the order you’d expect. Just as they weren’t trying to look or sound exactly like Queen, they weren’t trying to mirror a Queen setlist either. They started with One Vision and Tie Your Mother Down, similar to how Queen opened gigs during their Magic Tour, but then they did We Will Rock You, followed by a medley, and then a random jukebox of other Queen songs. There was also a moment during the show when singer Bjarke played a Freddie-style call-and-response game with the audience, which was fun, as was a similarly interactive section during Another One Bites The Dust. Then at the end of the second half they did a good job with Bohemian Rhapsody, even singing the operatic section live to the best of their ability, before Kerry joined them for the encore where they did Somebody To Love and We Are The Champions. So it was a great selection of songs altogether, and a very entertaining evening overall.
Incidentally, I stayed at the new Premier Inn in Shepherds Bush Road for this show (having previously stayed in their Ravenscourt Park hotel nearby when I saw Sarah Millican). It’s easy enough to get to, once you get your bearings and know which road to go down at the complicated junction outside the Broadway shopping centre. I got a bit lost inside the hotel when I first arrived, as the lifts are tucked away behind a door that’s around a dark corner immediately to your right as you enter. But once staff had pointed me in the right direction, I was fine. My room was quite small, but enough for what I needed. And again, the staff were perfectly happy to help me out at breakfast time. And for tea before the show I went to the nearby Wetherspoons – The William Morris – where I had a lovely big plate of fish and chips, along with a pint of Thatcher’s Gold cider. So it was a comfortable mini-getaway.
Roger Taylor – Outsider Tour Live
Also on the subject of Queen-related gigs, a new live album from Roger Taylor’s Outsider Tour has just been released, following on from last year’s Outsider studio album. It features 22 performances recorded at 8 venues during his 14-date tour in October 2021, edited together to sound like a single concert. Surprisingly it’s his first ever live album as well – a few live tracks were included on singles and thus appeared in his box set The Lot, and there’s a video of his 1998 Cyberbarn concert, but this is his first live LP.
As I’ve said before, I’ve never rated his solo stuff quite as highly as Freddie’s or Brian’s, but this is still good, with a fun mixture of Queen hits, his solo material, and covers of songs by Little Richard, Led Zeppelin & David Bowie. For example, there’s an amusing introduction to his great performance of I’m In Love With My Car, he notes how much fun the tour has been after singing Foreign Sand, and he does an enjoyably rocking version of Tutti Frutti.
Josh Widdicombe – Audiobook Memoir
For my birthday in August, my friend Claire very kindly bought me an audiobook by comedian Josh Widdicombe called Watching Neighbours Twice a Day…: How ’90s TV (Almost) Prepared Me for Life. As a fan of Josh’s stand-up comedy and his work on The Last Leg, and as I also spent my childhood in Devon during the 90s like him, it’s one of the titles I’d had on my Audible wish list and had been intending to get for a while. So I listened to it during my weekend in Birmingham this month.
Josh basically talks about a wide variety of 90s TV programmes & events – from those he loved to some he hated, and others that are just significant – and uses them as a springboard to talk about his own childhood, family, school life, and so on. It’s often very relatable and humorous, it’s lovely to hear him mention places in Devon that I’m familiar with, and there are several interesting stories that I hadn’t known about him before, such as his first visits to the Glastonbury Festival and his attempts to hide his vegetarianism from his mates.
And his extensive discussion of 90s TV & other culture is a wonderful nostalgia trip, including children’s programmes, Saturday night entertainment shows, classic game shows, anarchic comedies, sports programmes, scary dramas, soaps, music culture, lad culture, reality TV, major news events and more. He packs a lot in, discussing some shows in detail and mentioning others with passing references, but it never feels rushed. It was great to be reminded of programmes that I also enjoyed in my youth, and even the shows I wasn’t into or never saw were still interesting to hear him talk about.
The audiobook also includes several bonus features, which make it worth getting even for people have the print version. In particular there are fun interviews with Pat Sharp from Fun House, Diane Youdale (known as Jet) from Gladiators, Dave Rowntree from Blur, and producer Will Macdonald from TFI Friday (which proves to be so interesting that a second part is included at the very end of the book). And Josh himself is interviewed about the book and his love of 90s TV by good friend and fellow comedian James Acaster for almost an hour, which is an enjoyable discussion. And there’s a PDF of photos included as well, featuring adorable snaps of Josh as a child, along with images of a few locations and programmes he mentions in the book. So it’s a decent and thorough package that I really enjoyed going through.
And talking of audiobooks, it’s also quickly worth noting that the latest novel by Richard Osman came out this month. It’s called The Bullet That Missed, and is the third part of his acclaimed Thursday Murder Club series. My mother and I enjoyed the previous 2 stories, so we’ll get around to listening to this latest audiobook at some point soon too. And for those of you who are visually impaired like us, you might also like to know that all 3 books so far are available to borrow for free from the RNIB’s Talking Books service, which is wonderful.
Richard has announced that there will be at least 3 more books in the series – with Book 4 already being written for next year – along with the upcoming movie that’s being made, plus a brand new series of books as well. It’s all keeping him sufficiently busy that he’s now left Pointless to be replaced by guest hosts, but he’ll still be co-hosting Pointless Celebrities and presenting House Of Games as usual. I don’t watch those game shows myself very often, unless I have some spare time and there’s someone I’m really interested in, but Mum watches them regularly.
Quite understandably, several comedy shows had episodes delayed or cancelled during the first half of the month due to the death of The Queen. But, despite that, there was still plenty for me to watch and enjoy overall.
- The Last Leg – This show has deservedly celebrated its 10th anniversary during its latest series, and I recently wrote about their 2012 Christmas special during my series of posts about the London Olympics & Paralympics. They also did a nice tribute edition about The Queen as well. And because of their anniversary, along with the fact that I’ve recently written about Josh Widdicombe’s stand-up comedy shows and his audiobook above, this month I’ve also done a post reviewing several stand-up shows by Adam Hills if you want to check that out.
- Have I Got News For You – The latest series of this show started with a special edition saying good riddance to Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. His earlier appearances as guest host had helped to make him more popular with some viewers, but many people (including team captains Ian Hislop and Paul Merton) saw through his bumbling act and were well aware of his political and journalistic history, so it was clear to a lot of people that things wouldn’t go well if he became PM. I think people just assumed or hoped that he wouldn’t get that far!
- Cunk On Earth – This is the latest spoof documentary series by Charlie Brooker, with the return of Diane Morgan as the clueless Philomena Cunk. She’s an uneducated amateur presenter who attempts to tell us about the history of civilisation, religion, art, revolutions, industrialisation, conflicts and more, while walking through beautiful scenic locations and looking at lots of wonderful artworks and objects. She also tries talking to some clever historians and professionals who are very bemused by her, though a few do get the joke and they’re all good sports for taking part. There are even a few moments where Philomena inadvertently asks quite a good question that her guest picks up on. And there’s a running gag in all the episodes where they shoehorn in a reference to Pump Up The Jam by Technotronic, playing a long extract from the music video with silly and false trivia notes on screen. So it’s quite an amusing series.
- And as usual I’m also enjoying the new series of Taskmaster (including Sarah Millican & Dara Ó Briain among the contestants), Never Mind The Buzzcocks (including the legendary Nile Rodgers in the opening episode), Family Guy (in its 20th season), and Mock The Week (for their final series on the BBC).
- Finally, given the talk of 90s TV earlier, I will also give an honourable mention to the Eurotrash DVD box set that’s come out this month, featuring the complete series and specials (with just a few minor contractual edits). I’m not interested in buying it myself nowadays, but this utterly bizarre Channel 4 show about the weirder people and activities out there in the world was a compellingly surreal slice of naughtiness, the like of which has never been seen on British TV before or since. Just hearing the theme tune (Saint-Tropez, composed by Frances Lai and sung by Brigitte Bardot) instantly brings back memories of when I used to watch it as a teenager. So I figured I’d point it out for the sake of nostalgia, as it’s perhaps been the most unusual and unexpected DVD release this year!
So that’s it, I hope you enjoyed this latest roundup as usual. I’ve also got a lot in the pipeline for October, so there’s plenty more stuff to come.
For a start, I recently recorded a few clips for Enabled Living’s Alt Text awareness campaign on Twitter, which they’ve started publishing, and I will explain more them here in the coming days. But it would be wonderful if you could follow Enabled Living and myself on Twitter, and share those videos and some other related posts.
I’ve also just taken part in a fun research project at the start of October, doing something I’ve been wanting to try for ages, but I’ll tell you about that later as well. And over the next few weeks I’ll be seeing another couple of stand-up comedy shows, exploring a new museum exhibition, and flying away for a short holiday in Guernsey. So do stick around to hear about all of that and other stuff very soon!