Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground, Derngate, Northampton, February 17th 2012

Kevin Dewsbury

Another very full house last Friday night to enjoy the usual selection of three comics, two intervals and one compere, who this time was Kevin Dewsbury. He compered here last June, was excellent then and was excellent this time too. He has a very relaxed style of humour, coming across as rather caring and kindly, but still with very good material with proper punch lines! He did repeat a bit from last time, but it’s entertaining stuff and we enjoyed hearing it again. I love his observations about pompous people who speak normal English but then go into a silly foreign accent when they say “Sarkozy” or “Reichstag”. Guilty as charged.

 Alfie MooreFirst act was Alfie Moore. He had been on that “Show me the Funny” programme last year – the reality/ comedy programme that sounded great in theory and ended up being a damp squib as it was all background and no comedy. Anyway Mr Moore successfully eradicated any disappointing memories of that series. He was superb. He trades creatively – but not intimidatingly – on the fact that he is a serving police officer as well as a stand-up. He does a lot of un-PC comedy without causing any offence, which is a good trick. He had some great material about Postman Pat’s employment in the light of the Disability Discrimination Act; and I loved the line about how you are no longer required to state your sex on a job application form – ridiculous, how else are you going to know how much to pay them? Also his observation that he was in a same-sex relationship; well, it’s with a woman, but the sex is the same, always…. He was a complete hit and we would like to see him do a longer set in the future.

 Danielle WardIn a sense, everything went a bit downhill after that. The second act was Danielle Ward, whom we saw here in July 2010, and she was very good that time but this time she never quite took off. Quite a lot of her material seemed to just fizzle out without any real payoff at the end. I’m afraid her applause was only lukewarm. Perhaps she just wasn’t the right kind of comic persona to follow Alfie Moore.

 Steve BestFinal act was the rather manic Steve Best; again we’ve seen him at the Screaming Blue Murder before, almost exactly a year ago. He’s fast and furious and rattles through his almost schizophrenic material – it’s a constant battle within himself as to whether he agrees with himself or not. I think the whole act very much relies on his hitting absolutely the right tone from the start to keep the audience in touch with his nonsense. Again this time I don’t think he was quite as successful as his last appearance– but nevertheless it’s delightfully stupid, deftly performed and overall very funny.

 A great night out, as usual, and very rewarding to see the Underground absolutely packed again.

The Real Chrisparkle meets Nicki French!

Nicki FrenchIn the first of an occasional series of interviews, I recently had the pleasure to interview the one and only Miss Nicki French (Total Eclipse of the Heart, Eurovision, Annie, and much more) for the Home Composed Song Contest website and I hope you enjoy our chat.

RealChrisSparkle: It gives me great pleasure to introduce to the visitors to the Home Composed Song Contest website the one and only Miss Nicki French! Hi Nicki, how are you doing? Is this your first contact with the Home Composed Song Contest?

Nicki French: Hi Chris – lovely to be here, and thanks for asking me! Yes, this is ‘virgin territory’ for me, so please be kind….

RCS: Of course I will be kind! I guess, as a singer, you hold the skill of song writing in high esteem?

NF: Oh definitely!! I try to write songs, and have done a few that have gone out to the public, but I’m in awe of those who find it so easy! I’m better at co-writing I think – but it’s a great feeling when something works.

RCS: I bet it is – I certainly couldn’t do it! So when you’ve co-written songs in the past do you tend to do the lyrics or the music, or doesn’t it work that way?

NF: A bit of both – the rhyming tends to get a little beyond me from time to time!! But generally I think of a few phrases – of both words and music together – for a song, then work from that.

RCS: Do you have a favourite song that you wrote or co-wrote?

NF: Ooooh that’s difficult! There are a few on the ‘French Revolution’ album that I’m pretty proud of – but I wasn’t the main writer on those really. I don’t know – they all tend to be quite different I think – but hey, perhaps the best one is yet to come…. watch this space, as they say!

RCS: That sounds very promising! How closely do you work with songwriters in general? And have you worked with any Famous Names?

NF: Well Katrina and I did write a song together some years ago, which we entered for Eurovision! That was back in the days when anyone could submit a song to BASCA. It didn’t get past the first round though unfortunately! I’ve worked with Hussein Ramadan quite a bit in past years (I often use his studio to record vocals), and we’ve discussed recently the prospect of writing together. Hopefully that will happen quite soon.

RCS: Fingers crossed! Did you get to meet or work alongside Jim Steinman at the time of Total Eclipse of the Heart?

NF: Not then, no – although he DID send a message via the record company (Love This Records), saying he loved our version, and wished me continued success, which was amazing! A few years later though, just before Eurovision 2000, HE approached ME to record a couple of tracks for his new company, Ravenous Records. There then followed quite a surreal experience – I was recording the vocals in London, he was then listening to them over in the States via a ‘down the line’ type setup, making comments and suggestions, and we did two songs that way – ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’ and ‘Lovers Again’! It was strange having the executive producer commenting by remote – but it seemed to work! Sadly he couldn’t commit to working with me for at least another two years, so nothing really came of it. A great experience though. As my ex-husband said to me at the time, ‘You’ve always dreamed of being a backing vocalist for Meat Loaf – now you’re singing LEAD vocals for the man who MADE Meat Loaf’!!!

RCS: How fantastic to have that endorsement from such a major figure in modern music! It’s a shame nothing further came of it but it’s still a real honour. Maybe we have the new Jim Steinman lurking undiscovered in this year’s Home Composed Song Contest! Some previous contestants have gone on to extend their careers in song writing, maybe within the framework of the Eurovision Song Contest. Have you got any advice for aspiring songwriters?

NF: All I can really suggest is that they should never give up trying. We all know of so many people who have been writing songs all their lives, with limited success, then that one break comes – and everyone wants them to write for THEM! Also, accept that what may be the perfect song for one person or act won’t be right for another. That’s not to say you should write specifically for one style or act – but be careful you choose who you think it suits best. Then again, I’ve had times before where I’ve been given – or have written – a song that I think makes a great ballad, then someone else will take it on and it becomes a dance-floor filler, so I guess it’s always good to have someone else’s opinion too!!!

RCS: Total Eclipse is a good example of that – Bonnie Tyler’s version was always regarded as a classic, and then you came along and recreated it in a totally different style and showed how it can be done! Thinking back to the “older” songs – it’s now twelve years since you graced the stage in Stockholm and sang “Don’t Play That Song Again”. Do you still enjoy performing that song?

NF: Oh, always! I’m frequently surprised at what a great reaction it still gets – and I love singing it to an enthusiastic Eurovision audience particularly!

RCS: Don’t be surprised – it’s such a feelgood song! I think everyone knows you are a great supporter of the Eurovision Song Contest. How did you enjoy this year’s show? What did you think of the songs? Any favourite songs or performers from this year?

NF: I really did enjoy this year’s Contest, not least because I was there the night before the Final (performing on the Euroboat)! I thought it was all SO well put together this year, and the standard was pretty high too. I have to say, I absolutely loved Romania’s entry (‘Change’) – Hotel FM performed at the UK’s Preview Party in London, which I co-hosted with Paddy O’Connell, and I decided then and there that it was my favourite! There were some really good performances all the way through – I even have to hold my hands up and say I enjoyed Jedward!

RCS: I think Jedward surprised many! I did too, although I really didn’t think I would. Those preview parties are fun, aren’t they! Would you like to have another stab at performing in Eurovision yourself?

NF: Oh absolutely, definitely – just tell me where!!! I would dearly love to be a part of the whole Eurovision experience again. I hated being officially ‘the lowest ever placing’ for the UK until (thankfully) Jemini came along, and would love the chance to do better. I would LOVE a nice big ballad to get my teeth into….!

RCS: Well let’s get those writers out there onto it! So whilst anticipating your next Eurovision entry, what else have you been doing in recent years?

NF: Well, I’ve been trying to move more into the theatre world, as well as keeping up with the live singing gigs. I was part of the UK tour of ‘Annie’ the musical for nine months, which was great fun – playing seven different roles, most of which required me to wear varying degrees of hideous wigs! In previous years I have taken part in a couple of pantomimes in the UK, and this year am set to play the character of ‘Dandini’ in Cinderella at Kettering, Northamptonshire. Nicki French in BrazilHopefully I will be off to do a short tour of shows over in Brazil towards the end of October – I always love going there, as I get to work with a live band, and Nicki French is quite a big name over in Brazil, which is rather nice! Apart from that I’ve just been working on my house – it’s never-ending of course! Oh, and I suppose I SHOULD really say ‘and taking time to sit and focus on writing songs at the piano….’!!!

RCS: That’s a very varied output! Don’t worry about the house – as soon as you’ve finished DIY it all starts over again, like painting the Forth Bridge. Theatre is one of my main interests – how do you find the change from “straightforward singing” (if I can call it that) to performing in musical theatre?

NF: I absolutely loved singing in ‘Annie’ because it was I was required to do a more ‘classical’ style of singing. I was using my soprano voice, and could do that with a cold, fever – anything! As Nicki French the singing artist, I’m known as more of a ‘belter’ – but I enjoy both. I tend to warm up my voice in a more classical sort of style, but then – anything goes (ooh, cue for another show)!!!

RCS: Ah yes – I’m sure you’d be excellent in a Cole Porter show! So do you have any new songs out at the moment? Any records we can buy? (he says, showing his age!)

NF: Ha ha! Me too!!! Well there are two quite recent tracks that are available – ‘Love to Call My Own’ and ‘In the Heat of the Night’. The first is quite a solid, club-type number, and the second has quite a Latin-American, salsa-type feel. They’re quite different – but have both been pretty popular I believe. Both these, and I think all my previous releases, are available from Amazon/itunes etc. I’m hoping to go into the studio and record a few more tracks very soon – although with the trip to Brazil looming, then panto, I’m not quite sure when we’ll get the chance to sort it! By the way, thanks for the compliment – a stint in the role of Liz Imbrie in High Society would do me VERY nicely, thank you! Someone else mentioned about the possibility of putting on a production of ‘Gypsy’ recently – and wanted me to play Mama Rose – imagine that!!! WOW!

RCS: That would be great! And yes, I can definitely see you in High Society – or how about Kiss me Kate?! And as for Gypsy… that could lead to great things! Good luck for fitting all that in – I’m sure a tour of Rio will prepare you well for the audiences in Kettering! Finally have you got any message for the composers and indeed the voters in this year’s Home Composed Song Contest?

Dame Nicki FrenchNF: Well, first I’d like to thank them for reading this interview all the way through! Thank you as well Chris – you’ve been very patient!!! To the composers I would say I wish you all the very best of luck – and keep persevering! If you don’t win, it’s not the end of the world, and that lucky break IS just around the corner! To the voters – I recommend listening to a song at least three times. Some of the best songs I’ve sung and/or listened to have not grabbed me on the first, or even second, hearing – and many times my opinion has changed dramatically by the third listen. Don’t ignore your initial instincts, however give things a CHANCE!!! Good luck to everyone!!

RCS: Thanks very much Nicki for giving up your time to talk to us and we look forward to seeing you in panto and hopefully some new shows soon! And best of luck for Brazil too!

NF: Thank you so much!