Friday, 27 June 2014

CD Review: Nick Ward - World In Reverse

Nick Ward has built a strong catalogue of original material in recent years, particularly specialising in catchy 3.30 minute mod inspired pop. 

His live performances are to be marvelled at, not only for his excellent guitar playing but also thought provoking lyrical delivery. 

Therefore World In Reverse finds Nick in the confines of a recording studio but still retaining much of his live edginess. There are some stand out tunes, My Good Friend features shades of Beatle pop and Elvis Costello while Loser Street rivals the lyrical poetry of Ray Davies.

Nick really shines however on the ballad Paris It's You and the album closer Jade and Sapphire (which features a neat instrumental break). 

For more on Nick and his music visit his official website

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Retro Vinyl Find: Vikki Carr - Hey Look Me Over

Here's my third Vikki Carr vinyl discovery in a charity shop, following vinyl finds of her albums Anatomy of Love and Ms Amerca last year.

Hey Look Me Over appears to be a late 60s compilation of mid 60s tracks on the budget Sunset Records label.

The tracks featured on the LP are as follows:
  1. The Surrey With The Fringe On Top
  2. Moanin'
  3. Bye Bye Blackbird
  4. I Wonder
  5. Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars
  6. Hey, Look Me Over
  7. Somewhere In The Night
  8. I Cry Alone
  9. I've Got Your Number
  10. Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive
  11. Bluesette
  12. Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Stars On 45RPM: Petula Clark - My Friend The Sea / With All My Love (Pye 7N.15389, 1961)

Pye 7N. 15389, 1961
Here's a retro vinyl find from 1961 by Petula Clark, the follow up to her hit Romeo,entitled My Friend The Sea.

Released on Pye records, My Friend The Sea  covered with With All My Love reached a respectable No.7 on the UK charts.

This find from a Newport Charity Shop has remarkably clean surface on it despite its age, and appears  in its original Spin With The Stars paper sleeve.

Another interesting addition is the stamp on both sides of the sleeve from the record  retailer, Paul Gibbs, Records and Electrical based at the time in Clifton Street, Cardiff. It was quite common for many record stores to stamp sleeves at the time and adds a little more to the personality of this vintage vinyl!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Retrospace Pin-Up: Marc Bolan


Following on from last weeks review of 20th Century Boy, here's a pin-up of the 20th Century Boy himself, Marc Bolan, found amongst the pages of an edition of TV Action from 1973...

Was good to see my review of the show while it was on its run at the New Theatre, Cardiff  remained one of the most shared stories over on the South Wales Argus website last week.

For more news on the 20th Century Boy musical, visit the official website.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Theatre Review: WarHorse, Wales Millennium Centre

Its a skill in itself to successfully bring elements of drama, song, puppetry and animation together on stage, yet that is what the National Theatre have done with their production of WarHorse, currently playing its UK tour at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff.

The tale begins on British farmland on the eve of the First World War where a young farm boy Albert, has to break in his beloved hunter as a plow horse at the pains of a bet set by his father.

Albert's devotion to the horse, which he calls Joey sets the pair off on the ultimate journey of adventure when Joey's father sells the horse to the British Cavalry to participate in front line battles against the Kaiser.

WarHorse scenes shift effortlessly from rural farmland to the battlefields of World War One depicting every emotion from beauty, despair, glory and destruction via an animated  backdrop of torn paper ripped from the sketchbook of the Cavalry Major who takes charge of Joey.

The sheer madness and despair of the situation of a war is brought to life on stage by a talented cast and a creative team of puppet operatives that control the on stage horses (and farm geese!)

 Dressed in period costume as farmhands it is easy in the beginning to watch how each puppeteer handles the horse from every twitch, snort, trot or curl of the ear. However the focus soon drifts on to the horses themselves as they magically come to life leading characters into battle and majestically ride the boards of the stage.

For the cast, Lee Armstrong embraces the role of Albert Naracott with sensitivity and great belief establishing a convincing relationship with his beloved horse on stage and subsequently beginning a search for him on the battleground.

Martin Wenner gives a moving portrayal of Hauptmann Friedrich Muller who takes charge of Joey when he crosses enemy lines. Muller's questioning of why everyone (including the horses) are caught up in such a terrible war is handled beautifully.

There is also strong support from David Fleeshman as Albert's father Arthur, struggling from old war wounds and attempting to run a farm inevitably making a series of wrong decisions that help the story unfold. Sean McKenzie, on the other hand adds a touch of comedy to the dramatic story line as the effing and blinding Sergeant Thunder who characteristically has a duty to perform but still shows some sensitivity.

Finally Bob Fox atmospherically weaves folk songs of a traditional air between the scenes of the ongoing action adding a beautiful lilt to the narrative.

Ultimately amongst such a talented actors taking on dual roles and technical operatives there are obviously many name-check omissions here, but all those taking part can be certain that they have contributed to a mesmerising moving and truly magnificent  theatrical experience.

War Horse continues at Wales Millennium Centre until July 19, 2014 visit Wales Millenium Centre's website for booking details.

Andy Howells

Saturday, 21 June 2014

CD Review: Roy Orbison - Mystery Girl Expanded (Sony Music)

It's 25 years since Roy Orbison's final studio album Mystery Girl was released, a  promising comeback featuring collaborations with among others George Harrison, Bono and Jeff Lynne. The Big O sadly died of a heart attack before this album achieved full success.

With key tracks including You've Got It and I Drove All Night, Mystery Girl is now perhaps recalled as Orbison's best known album. Many of the songs are still in the classic early 60s Orbison mode, still retaining the heartache vocal tones but with tighter heavier guitar breaks than before.

With so much energy, its hard to even imagine this would be his last album, but one wonders how he could have even surpassed the beautiful poignancy of the track A Love So Beautiful (We let it slip away).

The expanded release features five additional songs including studio demo's of The Only One and She's A Mystery To Me. Certainly worth acquiring as a companion to The Monument Singles Collection of a few years back.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Retro Vinyl: More Hits By Cliff (Columbia, 1965)

Prior to The Beatles arrival in 1963, Cliff Richard was undoubtedly the most popular home-grown talent on the UK charts.

Following his debut hit in 1958, Move It! was followed with numerous top ten hits including several UK number ones , album and EP releases, and several box office movie hits.

Cliff's first hits collection entitled Cliff's Hit Album was released by Columbia Records in 1963. By then, Cliff had been on the music scene  for five years. Cliff's Hit Album was quite a tall order to pull together as Cliff had averaged out around four single releases a year (and in some cases the singles were double A sides), so obviously there were a few omissions.

Columbia Records didn't wait as long to release a follow up hits album. More Hits By Cliff subsequently followed in 1965. This time featuring pretty much all of Cliff's single releases from 1962 to 1964 (including 4 cuts from Summer Holiday that were released as double A sides).

Despite the fact that Cliff's Hit Album had reached No.2 in the UK album charts in 1963, More Hits By Cliff didn't climb quite as high, only reaching No.20.

The album itself does feature some great Cliff recordings however, many of which feature The Shadows accompanying him. Its also a good example to see how Cliff managed to keep his head above water in the UK during the onslaught of bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones arriving in the charts.

From the musical tracks of Summer Holiday and Wonderful Life there are also rocking covers of songs such as It'll Be Me (originally recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis) and Lucky Lips (originally by Ruth Brown), ballads  including Constantly and The Twelfth Of Never) plus classic Cliff and The Shadows recordings Don't Talk To Him and I'm The Lonely One.

I knew the mono album version of this well growing up as my mother owned it, this one (located in a Newport Charity Shop for a Pound) is in stereo featuring the cut of On The Beach in which Cliff coughs under Hank Marvin's guitar break - shame on you Cliff!

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Stars On 45RPM: The Belle Stars - Iko Iko (Picture Disc, Stiff Records, 1982)

Iko Iko was the fourth release by The Belle Stars on Stiff Records and their first UK chart entry when it was released in 1982.

Formed in 1980 by ex members of The Bodysnatchers, guitarists Sarah-Jane Owen,and Stella Barker, saxophonist Miranda Joyce, keyboardist Penny Leyton and drummer Judy Parsons were joined by vocalist Jennie Matthias and bass player Jenny Shone to form The Belle Stars.

They were distinctive by not only playing their own instruments but delivering very charismatic and colourful performances and usually looking like they were having lots of fun!

The Belle Stars would go on to score big hits with their cover of Mary Ellis' 1965 hit The Clapping Song (UK, No.11, 1982) and their biggest hit A Sign Of The Times (UK, No.3, 1983).

Iko Iko (written by James Sugarboy Crawford under the title Jock a Mo in 1953) was a big hit for The Dixie Cups in 1965, evidently The Belle Stars hoped to emulate this success in 1982. 

However, their release coincided with another version released by Natasha. Natasha's version of Iko Iko scaled into the UK Top 10 , while The Belle Stars version peaked at No.35. Seven years later, the single would be featured on the soundtrack of Rain Man, which prompted a release in the US as a single where it peaked at No.14. Evidently, it was all a matter of timing!

I recently uncovered this picture disc version of Iko Iko in a Newport Charity Shop for 50p.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Theatre Review: 20th Century Boy, New Theatre, Cardiff

Like most rock musicals that tell a story, the hook is usually the tragedy. Marc Bolan’s death in a car crash in 1977 is no exception for 20th Century Boy, but the tragic episode unfolds into a celebration of the rock icon’s life rather than a lament.

15 years later, Marc’s teenage son Rolan sets out on a journey to London to discover the truth about his father’s life. When Rolan meets his Grandmother the Marc Bolan story begins to unfold weaving effortlessly from the present day back to the 1960s and 70s.

Bolan’s compositions are used in the narrative from the ensemble cast recreating an early 60s dance hall event with We Love to Boogie to Marc’s wedding in which he duets Life s A Gas with his bride June.

The surrealism makes way for Cosmic Rock as the 70s dawn and T Rex perform Get It On and Metal Guru all tinged with the colour of a classic Top of the Pops performance.

Warren Sollars encapsulates Bolan brilliance as the troubadour poet turned electric warrior while Luke Bailey gives a sensitive performance as Rolan, the pair even sharing a magic moment dueting across the decades on Cosmic Dancer.

Similarly Lucy Sinclair as June, Sue Jenkins as Phyllis and Donna Hines as Gloria Jones create another powerful moment when they join together on Whatever Happened to the Teenage Dream?

The ultimate 70s music show, 20th Century Boy was an electrifying hit on its opening night with the audience. It continues until Saturday.

Monday, 16 June 2014

DVD Review: Where There's A Will Starring Will Hay (1936)

For the best part of ten years between 1933 and 1943, Will Hay made no less than 20 comedy films and was one of the biggest box office draws in the UK alongside George Formby and Arthur Askey for homegrown comedy talent.

I was of the generation that caught several of Hay's films broadcast on television during the 1970s and 1980s, when the trend of recalling films from the 1930s and 1940s was still a welcome early evening pastime on BBC2.

I was quite thrilled a few years ago to pick up a few Will Hay movies. As I still hadn't seen them all , I thought I'd try and have at least a 90 minute chill out on a Saturday afternoon each month to re watch a few of these classic comedies.

I had no recollection of seeing Where There's A Will before. The 1936 feature finds Will Hay as incompetent solicitor Benjamin Stubbins with everything to prove to disapproving relatives and a doting daughter.

Stubbins however has fallen on hard times, unable to pay his rent or the wages of his inefficient office boy (played here to full comic potential by Graham Moffat).

He inadvertently falls in with a band of American crooks who plan to rob the bank that's placed below Stubbins office and its there the chaos ensues...

Will Hay is a delight to watch throughout as Stubbins. His wryly combination of pomposity and terseness mixed with an affection to please his daughter and actually do right against the protagonists display complexity but great fun.

There's some fabulous comic moments too, a drunken attempt to play Billiards with a tee-total butler (Gibb McLaughlin) and an insolent exchange with an office boy (Graham Moffat) on manners. Moffat's chemistry with Hay no doubt paid off for the young actors future career in films (and forming a partnership with Hay along with Moore Marriott in several films).

Hartley Power injects a subtle amount of craftiness as American crook Wilson throughout the proceedings while Peggy Simpson undoubtedly makes the most of her moments as Stubbins daughter Barbara. There's also some lovely comic interplay by HF Maltby as the pompous Sir Roger Wimpleton who is clearly having an indiscretion with the corrupt Goldie Kelly played by Gina Malo.

There are a further comic high-points for Will Hay in this film, his unwitting interference with the crooks during their heist and later his intervention in preventing a further crime as Father Christmas.

All in all Where There's A Will is an enjoyable Will Hay picture and worthy to check out and watch if you want to sample some retro comedy!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

The Story Of Marc Bolan Comes To Wales With 20th Century Boy - The Musical

20th Century Boy a brand new musical inspired by the life of rock legend Marc Bolan explodes onto Cardiff New Theatre's stage, this week nearly four decades after the iconic star’s tragic death.

Featuring some of the greatest pop songs ever written, 20th Century Boy tells the story of Marc Bolan and his band T.Rex. Exposing some of the myths and taking the audience on a journey through Marc’s fascinating life, this smash hit musical is a celebration of glam rock at its colourful best.

Rocker, poet, electric warrior, king of glam and godfather of punk, Bolan was arguably the biggest rock star the UK had ever seen. Before his tragic death in 1977, just days short of his 30th birthday, Bolan lived life at breakneck speed, creating a series of iconic images, a string of number one hits and an army of obsessive fans.

20th Century Boy is at the Cardiff New Theatre from Monday 16 – Saturday 21 June.  Tickets are on sale now with prices from £9.00 to £29.50. For further details about the show or to book tickets* visit the New Theatre website or call the Box Office on (029) 2087 8889.

For more information on the 20th Century Boy tour visit the shows official website.

Look out for a review on this blog soon.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Retro Vinyl: Reach For The Stars - Shirley Bassey (Columbia DB 4685, 1961)

Reach For The Stars
Back in the early days of 45RPM some single releases gained popular airplay for both sides of the record rather than just the A side.

Such was the case for Tiger Bay's songstress Shirley Bassey  who scored a No.1 hit on September 19, 1961 with Reach For The Stars and Climb Ev'ry Mountain (Columbia DB 4685) .

The single interrupted the Joe Meek produced hit Johnny Remember Me by John Leyton run at the top of the UK charts after three weeks.

Shirley Bassey would hold the top spot of the UK charts for one week only with Reach For The Stars and Climb Ev'ry Mountain. Leyton's Johnny Remember Me would return to number one for a further week on September 26, 1961.

Climb Ev'ry Mountain
One of the best vocal performances of 1961, the double A sided single still remains one of Shirley Bassey's career high points over 50 years after its initial release.

Reach For The Stars was written by Austrian song writer Udo Jurgens with English lyrics by Norman Newell while the Rodgers-Hammerstein composition  Climb Ev'ry Mountain was from the 1959 musical The Sound of Music.

The inspirational lyrics of both songs are fantastically matched with the vocal energy of the young Shirley Bassey delivering a powerhouse single release for 1961 and a much loved chart-topper for many years to come.

Was pleased to locate this single in a Newport charity shop today for 50p.

More Shirley Bassey Singles

Friday, 13 June 2014

The Beginnings Of The Merseybeats - Tony Crane Interview

The Merseybeats
in The 1960s
Over the many people I've interviewed over the last few years, Merseybeats front man Tony Crane remains one of the most sincere and nicest I've come across. I chatted with Tony on the bands 50th anniversary last year and he went out of his way to chat to me when we met up during the bands played St David's Hall last year...
Merseybeats front man Tony Crane’s  interest in music goes back even further to the 1950s: “I saw Eddie Calvert on television, the man with golden trumpet,” says Tony, who hails from Anfield “I thought, ‘God that looks good, I bet he’s got all the girls after him’.

Tony pleaded with his parents to buy him a trumpet, but instead they suggested he join the church band as they couldn’t afford one. 
“When it came to rock n roll starting, I remember going to the cinema to see Elvis in Love Me Tender and the trumpet got thrown away.” Tony continues “I pleaded with my parents to buy me a guitar. They bought it 2/6 week from the back of The Reveille. I just wanted to be like Elvis, but I was still too young to do anything about it.”

On leaving school, Tony joined Liverpool’s Royal Liver Building as an insurance clerk, but despite his good job he still yearned to be a musician. A colleague subsequently introduced Tony to schoolboy Billy Kinsley. Then things really got started: “I met Billy and we realised we could sound just like The Everly Brothers and that was the beginning of the band. We got two friends in and called ourselves The Mavericks.”

A meeting with Cavern Club DJ Bob Wooller got the band their first professional booking at the Aintree Institute, but not before a name change: “The local paper came out, we ran down to The Cavern because we lived within running distance.  I said, ‘You said you were booking us on this, there’s some other band on called the Merseybeats who are they?”  Bob said: ‘No that’s, yourselves’, and we went ‘Oh no, you might as well have called us The Liverpool Echo!’ Mersey beat was only the name of the paper, the music was never called Mersey beat we thought music was the Mersey sound, the beat came in much later on”.

The newly named Merseybeats along with another band called The Beatles became resident at The Cavern Club. “We hold the record for playing on the same bill with the Beatles,” says Tony, “We became very close and when they went outside Liverpool they always wanted us on their show with them.”

The Merseybeats signed to Fontana records in 1963 and as the Mersey Sound scaled the British charts they began a succession of hits across the world including I Think of You, Wishin' and Hopin' and Sorrow. The bands success even landed them a regular TV series in Italy .

I ask Tony if it seems 50 years since The Merseybeats charted with their first hit?, “Not at all, it seems like 5 years,” he replies, “trouble is, I cant tell people I’m 37 anymore. Inside your head you still feel about 18 when you made your first record. It was such an amazing time, the sixties go on forever. What’s the secret in that? I say it’s the songs. Memorable, easy to remember and they’re good tunes above all else!” 
The Merseybeats are still going strong featuring both Tony and Billy Kinsley at the helm. You can find out all the latest news about them at their official website.

Read my review of The Merseybeats performance at St David's Hall Cardiff in 2013 along with Mike Pender's Searchers and Dave Berry at Mike Pender's Searchers website

A version of Andy Howells' interview with Tony Crane appeared in The South Wales Argus supplement The Guide in March 2013.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Retro Vinyl Find: Break-Through With Music For Pleasure

Last weekends 20p find was this introduction to Studio 2 stereo album released on Music For Pleasure in 1969.

The release featuring Norrie Paramor, Franck Pourcel, Manuel & The Music Of The Mountains, Joe Loss, Norman Newell and many others was originally released on EMI in 1967.

MFP made little effort to rework the original cover, in fact they reduced it in size to add a track list and their own logo.

This is one of several LP releases that focused on stereo music.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

CD Review: Holland Dozier Holland - The Complete 45s Collection

Coinciding with the 45th anniversary of the launch of Invictus, Hot Wax and Music Merchant labels, the complete 45RPM output put out by the music masterminds of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland are now available for all purveyors of Soul.

Although the trio had already parted company with Berry Gordy's Tamla Motown label by the time these recordings were produced, the quality of material was paramount and decades later still remains timeless.

From Freda Payne's Band of Gold via Holland-Dozier's classic Why Can't We Be Lovers?  to Chairman Of The Board's Give Me Just A Little More Time the listener can revisit some  fabulous material that provided the backbone of soul in the early 70s across 14 CD's and a detailed booklet.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Still Into Something Good - Herman's Hermits Barry Whitwam Celebrates 50 Years

Herman's Hermits Are Celebrating 50 years in Showbusiness
Herman's Hermits will soon celebrate the 50th anniversary of their hit I'm Into Something Good reaching Number One in the British charts. Last year, I interviewed drummer Barry Whitwam who still tours with the band who recalled the time he joined the group...
Barry Whitwam with Elvis
“IT WAS a fantastic feeling doing something right for once in my life,” Herman’s Hermits drummer Barry Whitwam tells me as he recalls the point in 1964 when the Manchester band reached Number One in the UK charts with their debut single I’m Into Something Good.  
Barry was 17 at the time and had only been a professional drummer for a year having previously juggled his career as a ladies hairdresser with playing in numerous bands 
“In 1963 it was Herman and the Hermits and they’d been down to London to try and make a record with (producer) Mickie Most,” says Barry, “Mickie had said “You’ve got to find some more Hermits” and the manager Harvey Lisberg had already seen the band that I was in with Derek Leckenby.”  
Harvey Lisberg approached Barry and Derek to back singer Peter Noone in the band. “We said “we’ve seen them and we don’t like them,” laughs Barry. “Harvey said ‘Well have a look at the diary’ and they were working seven days a week. I said I’m turning professional then, I’m having some of this!” 
 “We said, ‘Ok we’ll join them as long as you change the name to Herman’s Hermits’. Herman and the Hermits had a tremendous following and that’s why we changed the name so the fans knew it was something a little bit different.” 
Barry Whitwam in 2013
So Barry on drums, along with Derek on lead guitar, joined Peter Noone and existing members Karl Green and Keith Hopwood to form the classic Herman’s Hermits  line up. 
Between 1964 and 1970 Herman’s Hermits scored a multitude of chart hits in Great Britain, including No Milk Today, There’s A Kind Of Hush All Over The World and My Sentimental Friend. Herman’s Hermit’s (whose Herman name was inspired by the Sherman character from the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon series) had even greater appeal in the United States.  
Their single Mrs Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter gained advanced sales of a million shooting it to no.1 in the Billboard charts. “We were the kids next door,” says Barry, “our fans were usually much younger than those of the Beatles and the Stones. The parents liked us as well, we were a different image.” 
Herman’s Hermits also topped the bill on The Ed Sullivan Show and were one of the few British bands to get an invitation from Elvis Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker to meet the King of Rock N Roll. 
“We’d just finished a tour of America in Hawaii and were going home the next day,” remembers Barry. “Elvis was there filming Paradise Hawaiian Style. Peter and I changed our air tickets and the other three went home and regretted that for the rest of their lives! We went down the following day and had a couple of hours with Elvis on the film set. The guy had so much charisma. We think Colonel Tom Parker wanted to know why five lads from Manchester were selling more records than Elvis, although we were about 10 years younger.”
Barry counts his meeting with Elvis as one of his personal highlights from his career with Herman’s Hermits. Another one was performing at the 1970 Royal Command performance which was a “nerve-wracking experience, because we were dancing as well as playing. We had 12 dancing girls on with us and did a theme on the musicals. We were on stage for about 12 minutes in front of the Royal Family.” 
Despite changes in line ups (which have seen Peter Noone set up a US version of the band across the water) Barry has remained constant with Herman’s Hermits since the 1960s, and is currently celebrating the bands 50th anniversary.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Recent Music Finds: Mr Acker Bilk, The Seekers and Danny Kaye

Stranger On The Shore - Acker Bilk
Here's a few more of my recent music finds from charity shops. A stop off in Carmarthen last week turned up two 60s releases at a pound each. The first was Mr Acker Bilk's 1961 album on Columbia in stereo Stranger On The Shore, which shared the name of his famous Number One hit.
Live At The Talk Of The Town - The Seekers
A find in the same shop was The Seekers 1968 live album  Live At The Talk Of The Town. Coincidentally, The Seekers end their current UK Golden Jubilee tour today at the Royal Albert Hall.

The Best Of Danny Kaye
Finally here's a CD I found in a Newport charity shop for 99p featuring The Best of Danny Kaye, featuring such classics as Minnie The Moocher and Ballin' The Jack.

Monday, 2 June 2014

A Classic Taste of Great Food At PizzaExpress

Family food - testing the quality
PizzaExpress menu
Incredible as it may seem PizzaExpress has been obsessed with pizza ever since its founder Peter Boizot opened the first PizzaExpress restaurant on Wardour Street in London’s Soho in 1965, nearly 50 years on, I checked out Newport's new PizzaExpress restaurant at Newport's Spytty Park.

I have to admit, I am not the biggest pizza fan in the world. Infact my experience of enjoying pizza is rare. It’s a food, my family experiment with no end, usually taking me as a passenger with a  non committal “well I’ll eat it if everybody else wants it”.

Dough balls proved a favourite
with the children
So I can honestly say I was hardly excited about visiting Spytty Park's PizzaExpress accompanied by a few other equally fussy eaters (two of my children) one Sunday afternoon recently, especially fuelled with the memory of not so successful recent visits to other pizza restaurants.

The first thing that dawns on you when visiting PizzaExpress however is that you are presented with a more up-market dining experience. Clean tables and neat presentation are always a plus but as friendly staff members guided us to our seats even the children felt they were visiting somewhere special.

Romana Menezlana
Our starter was a delightful selection of roasted tomatoes bringing a touch of savoury to the proceedings, something the parents definitely enjoyed and that the children weren’t too afraid to try.

The children enjoyed the dough balls served with, garlic butter and n’duja, an Italian favourite of spicy softened sausage and olive oil. A delightful way of sampling new tastes and scoring full marks for pushing the boundaries of "I don't want to try it" resistance.

Keeping The Heat - The Calabrese
The Bruschetta Originale "PizzaExpress" was a winner with parents and children alike comprising tomatoes, red onions, garlic, fresh basil and pesto. Rachel opted for the Romana Menezlana as her main course, a mild but tasty combination of Red onions, capers, olives, sultanas, pine kernels.

For the main course , I fancied something with a bit of heat and our waiter Caladin suggested Pizza Express’s own Calabrese inspired by food from guest chef’s Francesco Mazzei’s home town in Calabria.

The Calabrese features Spicy Calabrese sausage D.O.P, hot soft n'duja sausage, finely chopped red chillies, roquito peppers, red & yellow peppers, mozzarella, rocket, pesto, oregano, topped with a Gran Moravia cheese. I found the Calabrese very satisfying keeping its heat with an onmipresent kick that allowed you to enjoy the food without having to cross the pain threshold.

Dessert
There was lots to choose from too for the children with the great value Pizza Express piccolo menu and all three of our children were pleased to encounter a menu with choice  featuring Baked dough balls, side salad, pizza or pasta, with a choice of dessert.

On completion of a very pleasant meal I was startled to note everybody including the children had cleared their plates and were ready for dessert. Rachel finished with chocolate fudge cake, while I sampled the Banoffee Pie, very tasty and a perfect follow up to the Calabrese.

The PizzaExpress experience is something I certainly intend to repeat on my next weekday off with  tasty soups to perfectly proportioned pizzas, forming the new menu has been designed to give busy people an excuse to escape for a quick and inexpensive lunch. All items are available to eat in or take away from
Monday to Friday and main dishes range from £3.45 to just £5.95.

Big Splash 2014 - Day 3 - In Pictures

The children getting in The Big Splash spirit

The weather was great in newport for the third and final day of Big Splash events which included a sessions takeover, Parklife  and for us a backstage tour of The Rivefront Theatre and a screening of The Lego Movie.

Argus cartoonist Tim Harries designing
book marks

The boys watch Tim get creative
The Sessions included lots of stalls including cartoonist Tim Harries' art work and music going out live on the Riverfront Terrace.

The children learn how to work the spotlights

The children were particularly enjoyed the fun informative backstage tour conducted by Riverfront technicians Helen, Owen and Clive, which gave us all a rare insight into how the the shows are put on behind the scenes.

Jon becomes a sound technician

The children at the sound desk

Hazel and Henry
 Before we caught The Lego movie we were entertained by the incredible Hazel and Henry who displayed incredible tricks and stunts with a lot of fun and humour.

I can't quite believe I got to help Hazel
and henry out with their act
Big Mac's Wholly Soul Band
Big Mac's Wholly Soul Band finished off a fabulous afternoon of fun on The Riverfront Terrace.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Newport Festival Big Splash In Pictures Day 2

Thingummy Bob in action
Saturday's are usually big day's for us as a family what with swimming, dance and shopping commitments but we were determined to at least grab some of this years Big Splash experience and I think we were glad we did! Thingummy Bob certainly kept the audience involved with his interactive show on the outskirts of the Riverfront Theatre this afternoon!

Danielle Lewis
As we had stayed in New Quay, West Wales this week we felt we had to catch one of their own singer/songwriter's Danielle Lewis who performed an impressive set of self composition's and welsh folk songs - I hpe to hear more from Danielle in the future!

Dodo at The Big Splash
I love the weird and wonderful acts The Big Splash presents to participants including a pair of DoDo birds who entered The Riverfront Theatre earlier this afternoon.

The boys getting creative!
Both Jon and Tom got involved with preparing a heart theme for next weeks Maindee Festival!

Georgia Patterson Live On Stage
Quality music continued on The Riverfront terrace with singer/songwriter Georgia Patterson performing a cool mix of original and cover material on stage.

Big Splash Balloons

Tom gets creative again!
 While Seren and Jon were creating hulahoops downstairs Thomas was getting busy upstairs making a seaside themed hat and lollystick!

Tom with finished Hat and Lollystick

Seren with own hula hoop

Jon with Hula Hoop

Burning Ferns take to the stage
Burning Ferns took to the terrace stage this afternoon with an impressive set, I'd featured them in The Guide Meet The Band section last November so it was good to catch them live!

Burning Ferns entertain the crowds
Futuristic creative hairstyles going on outside the
Riverfront Theatre
We had to leave midway through the events today but still heard the Firework display over in Duffryn at 10pm tonight - only wishing I was till lapping up the Big Splash fun!

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