Colors: Red Color

From passionate Latin dance to glorious classical music, rib-tickling comedians to the magic of live theatre, street parades to picnics on the cathedral lawn, Lichfield Festival has it all this summer.  Taking place between 4 and 14 July in the beautiful Staffordshire city, Lichfield has built a strong reputation as one of the country’s best and most vibrant multi-arts festivals.  This year is set to be bigger and better than ever with specially-created shows, resident performers and new work featuring through music, dance, theatre, literature and family events.

“It has been a great privilege to be entrusted with the artistic planning of this year’s 37th Lichfield Festival,” says Guest Artistic Director, Damian Thantrey.  “Within Lichfield’s trademark eclectic mix of classical music, folk, jazz, comedy, dance and theatre, we’re particularly delighted to have woven into the Festival a season of events to mark the centenary of women’s suffrage - #ExtraordinaryWomen - which will celebrate the craft of female writers, artists and composers, as well as works written specifically with a woman’s voice in mind.”

The opening Cathedral event (Friday 5 July) is an exclusive show from World Champion Latin dancers and Strictly Come Dancing stars Neil and Katya Jones. Designed especially for Lichfield Cathedral, Somnium – A Dancer’s Dream, is based on Neil and Katya’s own story and features exciting choreography, music and a company of internationally-renowned dancers.

Headline performers include the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, restaurant critic and jazz musician Jay Rayner, comedians Tom Allen and Mark Steel, Fascinating Aida’s Liza Pulman and return visits from the hugely popular Malachites Theatre Company and Ballet Cymru.  A theme of Extraordinary Women weaves throughout the Festival while community and family events include the ever-popular Festival Market and Britten’s children’s opera Noye’s Fludde coupled with Holst’s The Planets, preceded by a street parade of giant animal puppets.

Among music highlights are BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year 2017, Kris Drever with Gaelic songstress Julie Fowlis, a celebration of women in jazz from the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and exciting young trumpeter/composer Yazz Ahmed, and Afro-Cuban dance grooves from Son Yambu.  Innovative vocal ensemble The Cardinall’s Musick perform pieces from the Renaissance to the present day, and a world premiere from composer Nico Muhly features in a concert by baroque ensemble La Nuova Musica and world-renowned soprano Lucy Crowe. There are six Artists in Residence – Danny Driver (piano), the Carducci Quartet, Matthew Hunt (clarinet) Joo Yeon Sir (violin) and Jessica Walker (voice) and Joseph Atkins (piano) – who perform individually and collectively across the whole Festival.

The first Festival event (Thursday 4 July) is a poignant reminder of the contributions of ethnic minority soldiers during the First World War.  Performed in an outdoor setting at the National Memorial Arboretum, Trench Brothers features MOBO-nominated jazz singer Cleveland Watkiss, professional performers and 120 local schoolchildren.

The #ExtraordinaryWomen series includes a look at female pioneers, famous and forgotten names and events inspired by the women’s suffrage movement, such as the Malachites Theatre Company’s reworking of the Taming of the Shrew.  Judith Weir, the first female Master of the Queen’s Music, discusses her life and career, we’ll learn about the distinctive voices of women such as Margaret Thatcher and Marilyn Monroe and a one-woman show investigates the tale of Agatha Christie’s mysterious disappearance.  Fascinating Aida singer, Liza Pulman and her band pay homage to Barbra Streisand in her critically-acclaimed show Liza Sings Streisand, and two of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads are given a new production for Lichfield directed by Artist in Residence Jessica Walker.

Jessica Walker and pianist Joseph Atkins feature in several of the #ExtraordinaryWomen events: Soldiers, Sirens and Suffragettes is a 21st century cabaret celebrating girl power through song; A Century of Popular Song travels from the Victorian era to the Swinging 60s; and Pat Kirkwood is Angry, written by and starring Jessica Walker, charts the story of one of Britain’s greatest, now almost forgotten, wartime variety stars.

Among concerts featuring Artists in Residence, a celebration of Bernstein & Gershwin brings five of them together for a unique show of classics, new arrangements and a specially-commissioned West Side Story medley to mark Leonard Bernstein’s centenary.  Pianist Danny Driver performs Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the concert also includes the world premiere of a comic overture by Thomas Hyde inspired by the antics of comedian Les Dawson.  Joo Yeon Sir plays Paganini’s complete 24 Caprices in two recitals and, in a bespoke Festival event, joins specialist fine instrument auctioneer, Tim Ingles, for a fascinating insight into his career illustrated with live music performed on a selection of rare violins.

The Carduccis give four chamber music concerts featuring music from the minimalist composers Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass to Haydn, Shostakovich and Piazzolla as well as the European premiere of The Opium Eaters by Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade.  Cruttwell-Reade is this year’s Featured Composer and her music can also be heard in recitals by violinist Joo Yeon Sir and horn player Ben Goldscheider.  Vocal quartet, The Agnes Collective, include the premiere of a new work by her in their programme inspired by Mother Nature.

One of the UK’s finest orchestras, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra gives the Cathedral’s Saturday night concert.  Under their former Principal Guest Conductor, Edward Gardner, they’ll play Schubert’s Fifth and Eighth (Unfinished) symphonies, alongside music by Richard Strauss and a Mendelssohn rarity, Athalie.

On the stage, there are thrillers and chillers with a glimpse into the macabre world of nineteenth century science through Frankenstein 1899 and gripping story-telling and the magic of live theatre in a one-man show of H G Wells’s The Time Machine.

Restaurant critic Jay Rayner recounts some of his worst restaurant reviews in My Dining Hell and, the same evening, joins his colleagues as pianist with the Jay Rayner Jazz Quartet who play a food and drink-inspired gig, peppered with anecdotes from his childhood.

Lichfield Festival boasts some of the best events for the whole family.  The ever-popular Festival Market with its stalls, crafts, entertainment and activities remains a classic day out.  The opening Saturday also includes an Animal Parade of giant puppets, created by community groups, which will process through the city accompanied by music from local performers.  The evening continues with a family concert of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde and Holst’s The Planets featuring local schoolchildren and Chetham’s School Symphony Orchestra.

Young children will love The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark which combines story-telling and puppetry, while older ones will enjoy the musical comedy, the Ministry of Biscuits.  Hansel and Gretel (for ages 12+) features musicians, an actor-storyteller, shadow-play and projected puppetry to create a dark world of mystery and murder, and the finest classical ballet and circus elements combine for Ballet Cymru’s beautiful Cinderella.

With film showings, a host of literary and other talks, the annual Peace Lecture given by Rev Lucy Willett, history walks, pop up performances in unusual spaces, and a daytime recital series introducing some of the best new talent around, Lichfield Festival remains as imaginative and extensive as ever.

Roll on summer!

We caught up with Lovedale Harrison, Choir Director for the Sister Act Live Choir ahead of the show on Saturday to find out a bit more about the spectacle!

Sister Act has a great following, and obviously some amazing performances. What is your favourite song from the show?

My favourite song is “I Will Follow Him” I love everything about it. The lyrics, melody, harmonies… it has all the feels.

What can people expect of the show?

A great film and enjoyable performances! The film in itself is fantastic, it has a great cast, storyline, and message. But, the music is what really makes Sister Act so special. So, to be able to experience the songs live is extra special and to be able to sing along and dance with lots of other Sister Act fans makes for a great experience.


You’ve got a special guest performance by Gospel Singers Incognito, how has it been working with another choir?

It has been an amazing experience. Gospel Singers Incognito are a great addition to the show. I love listening to them while we wait to go on stage! They help us to get pumped for the show. It also helps that they are really nice people.


How did you get into Choir Direction?

I have sung in choirs my whole life and have always had fantastic choir directors.  I attended University of Roehampton and really wanted to join a Gospel Choir, but they didn’t have one, so I figured I’d just start my own one. I drew from my experience of being in choirs, as well as what I had seen from my previous choir directors, and I was fortunate enough to have 30+ amazing singers that were patient with me. Almost 10 years later now and I’m so glad that I took that leap of faith.


Any words of advice for someone looking to get involved in a choir or further their musical journey?

My advice would be, just get involved! Find out where anything musical is happening in your local areas and join in. Don’t be afraid, just go for it. Local choirs are particularly a great place to start,as you can learn so much about yourself and about music as a whole. 

Finnish symphonic metal gods Nightwish released their brand-new best-of compilation ‘Decades’ on March 9th through Nuclear Blast to celebrate more than two decades of their career. It's only right, then, that this milestone should be celebrated with an extensive world tour! Currently touring North America, the band are pleased to announce that they will be bringing the tour to the UK in December. This will also be the band’s first UK tour since 2012, so these shows are absolutely not to be missed.

They have also revealed that special guests will be up and coming heavy metallers and label mates Beast In Black, led by former Battle Beast guitarist Anton Kabanen.

Let's be honest; it doesn't take any overstated words to present this exceptional band called Nightwish to the world out there, for they are the undisputed pioneers of symphonic metal and the icons of a whole genre. Their virtuosity is consummate perfection, their inspiration lived passion! Nightwish truly understand how to captivate and enchant within seconds. Since the beginning of their career which started on a mild summer night in July 1996, they have been regarded as the epitome of the most demanding, compositional music art and innovative sound ventures.

‘Decades’ unites the most important songs of the band on two CD's in their original versions. The Suomi sound makers have always been recognised for their exciting journey of discovery and as a tribute to all that, this release presents a phenomenal cross-section of this formidable career through the lens of their grandiose evolution

Ahead of her Symphony Hall solo debut on the 12th April, we caught up with Ayanna Witter-Johnson to get a bit of an insight into the person behind the name.

How did you get into music?

At the very beginning I started learning the piano at 4, and I later picked up the Cello around 12/13 years old. Music was always in the house, my father was a DJ and an actor, and I always played an instrument.

What made you choose the Cello?

I was quite advanced at Piano and I wasn’t learning anything at secondary school and my teacher thought I should start something new so I had a bit of a challenge! I had a long instrument list, and I took it home one day and my mum was like “No drums, no brass, no woodwind in the house. Just strings.” So I was like okay, the double bass seems a bit big, I don’t know what a viola is really, and my hands seem a bit big for the violin!

How did you transition into the composition and arrangement side of what you do?

I had a passion for French and Spanish initially, and I missed my grades to get into my Uni of choice so I took a gap year, and during that time I ended up at a Jam session and felt like I wanted to take part but I didn’t do it. I went back after I had written this Nina Simone-esque song, and it went down really well, and I figured maybe I should pursue music in terms of my career choice.

I applied for Trinity College of Music at the time, now Trinity Laban, and again it was a process of elimination, I don’t want to be an opera singer, or a classical pianist, or a classical cellist, what can I do here that makes any sense? So I applied to the composition course to learn to write music and do what I wanted to do.

That was kind of the start of my career in music, where I made a lot of friends and contacts and really stepped out into the musical world.

How would you describe your style of performance, and your style of composing and arranging?

I would call it kind of eclectic orchestral R&B, very much singer cellist, percussive soulful songs.

Arrangement wise, a hint of reggae, contemporary classical, and elements of Jazz. It is a fusion and a half!

What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment to date?

A few really great things have happened. Realising I wanted to be a performer, and being the only non-American to win Amateur Night Live at the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York was one of the major turning points. Arranging for BBC Concert Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra. Touring with Anoushka Shankar and Courtney Pine were also amazing experiences.

I can’t pick, those can all go in the pot!

Have you had a standout performance?

I had the privilege of being part of a very special show at Southbank at the Royal Festival Hall to commemorate the life of Maya Angelou. I met her in New York one New Years Day. That meeting was life changing for me, and playing at that event was amazing. That show was everything.

Who has inspired you?

Maya Angelou, Bjork, Steeley Dan, Bob Marley, Nina Simone, Oprah, James Baldwin, Kendrick Lamar. Too many people to count!

What can people expect from your show?

They can expect powerful songs, you will probably see me play the cello like you’ve never seen a cello played before. Very kind of soulful and blues-led, bluesey cello playing. A rich sonic landscape of emotional textures.

What is next for you? Anything exciting you can share with us?

It was celebrating 100 years of Ella Fitzgerald last year, and I just released an EP of remixes of my favourite songs of hers. I am releasing my debut album this summer, and I’ll be back in Birmingham more importantly on the 14th August for the Flyover Festival! I did a support slot maybe 4 or 5 years ago in Birmingham, but that was the last time I perfomed in the city, this will be my first real headline show in Birmingham. I am so so excited! I cannot wait!

There is also a wonderful documentary on Radio 4 that is on iPlayer called Portrait of an Artist. It features my dad, the process of how to write a song and about being an artist.


Have you got any words of advice or encouragement for people looking to break into the creative arts?

I would say focus on cultivating your authenticity, explore who you are uniquely and embrace that!

A ‘murder mystery’ play that is so left-field of its genre, that by the end, it does a complete 360-degree – with a lot of bumps and barges along the way.

Playing at the Birmingham Hippodrome 'The Play That Goes Wrong' tells the story of Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s ‘Murder At Haversham Manor’ - while well established in its narrative – was refreshingly unique in its execution as everything that can go wrong, went brilliantly wrong.

With its Crossroads-esqe fragile and (in this case deliberately) wobbly sets their ‘Murder At Haversham Manor’ was a complete joy to watch – especially as its execution by its young, vibrant and ‘on-the-ball’ cast was so spot-on.

From the minute it was introduced by the arrogance and self-abasement Henry Shields, you knew were going to go on a ‘bumpy ride’ that, so much so, would leave Agatha Christie herself in the dark although chuckling in the aisles.

A typically Christie-style country-house whodunnit, but, in this case, you could well be leaving the theatre typically questioning; ‘Who actually did what?’

Such confusion, which began with the corpse of Charles - who couldn’t lie still – as a line-up of suspects; which included cast and crew, who so brilliantly put together this offbeat and very often very physical slapstick satire.

A University of Wolverhampton music lecturer has been composing and performing with national singing sensation, Jane McDonald.

Steve Cooper, Course Leader for Popular Music in the School of Performing Arts based at Walsall Campus, is featured as a guitarist on Jane’s new Channel 5 music show ‘Jane and Friends’ which is currently being aired weekly on Friday evenings at 9.00 pm (repeated on Saturday night).

Steve specialises in teaching guitar, performance, harmony and songwriting at the University and is an acoustic and electric guitar examiner.  He has also performed and recorded with international artists including Robert Plant, Lionel Richie, Journey South and Ben Mills from X Factor UK.

Steve performed with West End star Kerry Ellis and on forthcoming episodes showcasing The Overtones, Tony Hadley and Shayne Ward.

“This show is throwback to the great weekend music shows that were slowly replaced by talent competitions on the Saturday night schedules and is a chance to hear Jane sing and perform with her band, alongside some very special guests.

“The first show had excellent viewing figures and I was also featured as a songwriter in episode 1 - with a track I co-wrote with Jane, ‘I’ll be there’, which also features on her latest album, ‘Hold The Covers Back’.

“I've worked with Jane for ten years on many tours and previous albums and this has been another really exciting project to be part of, filming performances of over forty songs in front of a live studio audience. ”

As a guitar arranger and transcriber, Steve has completed more than fifty published works for Music Sales including album folios by Queens of The Stone Age (Songs for The Deaf), The Vines (Highly Evolved) and The Clash’s ‘Complete Chord Songbook’.  Other arrangements include tracks by Foo Fighters, Morrissey, System Of A Down, Velvet Revolver, The Killers, Funeral For A Friend, Maximo Park, Nine Inch Nails and Kaiser Chiefs