Stream some traditional Irish music for St Patrick’s Day

Irish Music in London PubsIrish Rebellion AlbumIrish Songs of Resistance Irish Folk Songs and BalladsIrish Traditional SongsTraditional Music of IrelandIrish popular dancesIrish Folk Songs for WomenIrish Dance Music

The Mikado: A very modern comedy

People people-watching in bustling New Regent Street, folks out and about in their finery, and a sea of black and white as those carrying black instrument cases make their way towards an unassuming looking back entrance off Gloucester Street – New Zealand Opera is back at the Isaac Theatre Royal, and this time it’s for their 2017 production – Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.

Set in Japan, and first performed over 120 years ago in a theatre in London, it might be difficult to see how this comic opera could appeal to the sense of humour of people here in 2017 Christchurch. Sitting in the audience last night, and hearing all the laughter around me throughout the show, I can tell you that this production has updated itself fantastically. Harajuku girls, the use of cellphones as a plot device, and references to Donald Trump and theatre etiquette mean you’ll forget that this opera has been around for long enough to become a theatre classic, and will enjoy it even if you aren’t a regular opera-goer.

Jonathan Abernethy as Nanki-Poo bribes Poo-Bah as played by Andrew Collis.
Jonathan Abernethy as Nanki-Poo bribes Poo-Bah as played by Andrew Collis. Image credit: David Rowland

The Mikado‘s story follows Nanki-Poo, the son of the Japanese Mikado (or Emperor), in his journey to Titipu in search of his sweetheart, Yum-Yum. Unfortunately for him, Yum-Yum is now engaged to her guardian Ko-Ko, and the woman Nanki-Poo was intended to marry is not overly happy at being left behind so unceremoniously. … Also, Ko-Ko isn’t that keen to have a rival love interest, either. What follows is an hilarious story of love, loyalty and power, and a reminder that sometimes even the best-laid plans don’t work out quite the way you’d expect.

This show was a delight to watch, and by the end of it my cheeks hurt from all the grinning and laughing. While I thought that all the cast members did a great job portraying their characters, I particularly enjoyed Brendan Coll’s version of the character Ko-Ko. With his wide range of facial expressions and various voices, I don’t think I have ever spent so much time laughing at someone with the job title ‘Lord High Executioner’!

Helen Medlyn as Katisha and Byron Coll as Ko-Ko.
Helen Medlyn as Katisha and Byron Coll as Ko-Ko. Image credit: David Rowland

I also thoroughly enjoyed watching Andrew Collis as Pooh-Bah – he’s the epitome of pomposity in this show, but he’s spoken to Moata and it looks like in reality he’s a really nice guy.

Along with the cast, members of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and the creative team involved with The Mikado have created a production that has a combination of visual, verbal and physical comedy, and is accompanied by an instrumental arrangement that adds to the overall enjoyment of the show. I highly recommend going to see it – the Isaac Theatre Royal is a beautiful venue, and this is an opera that will appeal to more people than just the usual opera crowd. With sensuous left shoulder blades, aunties with moustaches, and wandering 21st century minstrels peddling their CDs on Marine Parade, why not make The Mikado your introduction (or re-introduction) to Gilbert and Sullivan?

You only have until Saturday March 11th to head along and see this great show, so grab your tickets and get ready for a fun night out.

Cover of The Mikado sound recordingTo prepare for the show, or to relive the experience afterwards, jump into our collection and check out what Mikado-related material we have in a range of formats.

Chatting with a Poo-Bah

A NZ Opera production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular comic opera, The Mikado, opens this week in Christchurch at the Isaac Theatre Royal.

Australian bass-baritone Andrew Collis has performed all over the world and appears in this production in the role of Poo-Bah. I chatted with him last week about the world of The Mikado, humour, and the family link to W. S. Gilbert that fostered his interest in opera.

How would you describe The Mikado to someone who has never been to see the show before?

The thing about The Mikado is that it is first and foremost a comic piece of musical theatre. It is a piece that has a lot of energy. It’s melodic. It’s a nineteenth century piece so it’s not modern in that sense. It’s an acoustic piece so we have no microphones, we just perform on stage.  I think the proof of the pudding is in the eating – so far audiences have laughed a lot, which is great because it means that the jokes still work and that audiences can still get something out of it 130 years after the event.

It may be a nineteenth century work but many people still go and see Shakespeare plays which are much older so jokes can have a long life span…

You get someone like Oscar Wilde who was also writing at that sort of time – The importance of being Earnest – that sort of humour still works as well, and the Mikado is not a thousand miles away from that. It’s the same sort of witty banter that Wilde was so good at that that Gilbert also did well, so it’s a similar sort of thing to that, I think.

Tell me a little bit about the character that you play.

Without going into the story too much, he is “The Lord High Everything Else”. The main part, Ko-Ko, sung by Byron Coll, has been appointed to the title “Lord High Executioner” and Poo-Bah, in his government, has become “Lord High Everything Else”… Poo-Bah lists all the jobs that he has and basically he has become the encapsulation of a kind of overly pompous, titled bureaucrat who’s also on the take…It’s actually become a term in the language for that sort of character. He’s a real Poobah, he’s got his finger in every pie and is on the make and is somewhat corrupt.

I think that’s a concept that modern audiences can relate to, definitely. Do you have a favourite part of The Mikado that you particularly enjoy?

I love the role that I do. I think the best song on the night is The Mikado song – the emperor of Japan comes in and joins the show about half way through the second act. That’s a great number and …I listen to it every night from the wings. It’s sung by a fine baritone, Wellington resident, James Clayton.

And Byron Coll, the Christchurch born Ko-Ko in the piece, he has some wonderful numbers particularly a duet that he does with Helen Medlyn, who sings Katisha, is tremendous.

Tell me a little bit about the costumes. They seem to be a break with the traditional in a lot of ways.

Andrew Collis as Poo-Bah
Andrew Collis in costume as Poo-Bah. Image credit: David Rowland.

Mine is a kind of fusion. An oriental, nineteenth century fusion complete with top hat. They’re very inventive costumes. I think they’re trying to bring in various different references and influences. The school girls are all dressed in a Harajuku style costuming. And a lot of the men are sort of half Japanese, half not which I think is trying to encapsulate something about the piece that, although it is set in Japan, it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Japan. It’s really a piece about the mores and functionings of nineteenth century English life set in the context of Japan, which was very fashionable at the time. In the 1880s it was a very fashionable part of London life. [Note: A Japanese Village exhibition opened in Knightsbridge, London in 1885]

It’s a reference to its time, really. And the Harajuku thing is a way of breaking a connection of it being particularly nineteenth century in that obviously [Harajuku] is of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries – and there’s a reference to modern technology in there too.

It’s essentially a modernised version of a traditional piece which still, I think, hopefully takes the piece seriously and doesn’t ridicule it too much and that just tries to make it a bit bouncier and more fun for a modern audience.

I hear that you are descended from the Gilbert half of Gilbert and Sullivan…

My maternal great grandfather was Gilbert’s first cousin and he and his brother and sister came out to New South Wales and Sydney in the mid 1850s, I think, and in the family (although I didn’t join the family until some time after that) it was always part of the folklore that Gilbert had been a cousin with whom they kept in some touch but they didn’t see much of him after that period of course because they were living in Australia. So it was very much a part of growing up – my family was not particularly musical or theatrical but Gilbert & Sullivan always played a role in our lives because of this connection.

It’s a bit sad to think of a fifteen year old boy being into Gilbert and Sullivan but nevertheless I was, and that’s why I got into music theatre and opera as my career because that’s what opened the door to it for me and from that I started to listen to other sorts of classical music and opera….

If you hadn’t become an opera singer what direction to you think you would have gone in your career?

I did a law degree when I finished school because lower voiced males, well they usually take a bit longer for their voices to mature before you can start trying to work. So I did a history/law degree… and then worked for a couple of years as a legal bureaucrat which is quite Gilbertian in lots of ways… And then decided that I would have a crack at seeing how I would go and that was in 1990 and I’m still going…

So I’m very grateful for the whole Gilbert connection because it’s given me a sort of direction in my life which has been a lot of fun and very interesting.

Have you performed in Christchurch or at the Isaac Theatre Royal before?

No. My first time. I’ve done a bit on the North Island in Wellington and Auckland but not in Christchurch yet so I’m looking forward to that very much… but I hear great things about [the Isaac Theatre Royal] so I’m looking forward to seeing it.

I haven’t been to Christchurch since the earthquakes so it’s going to be fascinating to see it but I’m sure also quite moving and disturbing to see what’s happened. I’m certainly looking forward to doing the shows and I hope that it brings the citizens of Christchurch a bit of enjoyment, I hope anyway.

…We’ve noticed in our audiences that there’s been a good presence of young kids and that they’ve actually enjoyed it and there’s been a lot of laughter — it is, at the end of the day, a family entertainment and families so far have enjoyed it and I hope they will in Christchurch as well.

Further information

Modern Māori Quartet & NZSO and Pixies ticket winners

Recently we ran not one but two competitions giving away tickets to concerts here in Christchurch. The lucky winners who have each scored a double pass are…

Pixies

  • the Pixies
    Pixies 2017 lineup. Image supplied.

    D Fernandes

Modern Māori Quartet & NZSO

  • G Caughley
  • F Brooker

Congratulations! We hope you have a wonderful time.

The Gig Guide: March 2017

Planning on attending a concert, show, or gig in Christchurch? Then why not take a look at what we’ve got of that artist’s back catalogue?

Comedy

Kids

Music

What gigs are you looking forward to in the near future? Anything we’ve missed? Do let us know in the comments.

Win tickets to see the Modern Māori Quartet and NZSO

Excellent news! The NZSO Summer Pops tour arrives in Christchurch this week, not only bringing this amazing orchestra to town but also the irresistibly entertaining Modern Māori Quartet.

These guys were the hot ticket at the 2015 Christchurch Arts Festival and they’re back again at their crooning best at Horncastle Arena, Friday 3 March at 7pm.

Check out their YouTube channel for a taste of what to expect.

We have two double passes to give away but entries close 5pm on Wednesday 1 March so you need to be in quick! Fill out the entry form on our competitions page to be in with a chance to win.

“Here comes your band…”

The iconic and legendary Pixies are well and truly back and we are giving away tickets for their Christchurch show on 9 March.

In 2014 they returned from a 23 year hiatus amid much anticipation with their comeback album Indie Cindy, which was met with thunderous applause & critical acclaim (…from myself, at least!) and if they’d stopped there I would’ve felt completely satisfied as a lifelong fan. Having waited since 1991 for an album of new material (Trompe le Monde), it’s clear that they’ve picked up right where they left off – melodic, lyrical, grunty, and with bucket loads of their signature explosiveness.

Pixies
Pixies 2017 lineup. Image supplied.

It’s now the early stages of 2017, they’ve got a new bass player (Paz Lenchantin), and I’m stoked to be readying myself to see them live right here in Christchurch, on Thursday, 9 March at Horncastle Arena, as they tour their latest album Head Carrier.

Released late last year, Head Carrier is yet another example of their signature sound and songwriting styles, and if you’ve never heard them before then this album is well worth a listen if you like bands such as The Stone Roses, Smashing Pumpkins, or even The Jesus & Mary Chain – another 1990s indie band due to make a comeback this year.

If you’re keen to win a double pass to the Christchurch Pixies show just answer the simple question on our competitions page.

Good luck and see you on the night!

We need to talk about America…

Not that we haven’t been doing just that for the last few months, but there’s so much to say. America fascinates and repulses me. I couldn’t live there – not just because I would eat all the food – but it is a fascinating place to observe, and we are fortunate to generally be able to enjoy its cultural output, both high and lowbrow. So naturally I was intrigued when I spied Claudia Roth Pierpont’s American Rhapsody in a bookshop in Auckland. I immediately went to the nearest library, hopped on the wifi and requested a copy (btw – aren’t libraries great?).

Cover of American rhapsodyIt’s a funny book, endeavouring to “present the the kaleidoscopic story of the creation of a culture.” Lofty intentions indeed! However, it is more of a collection of biographical and critical essays about a range of major players in American culture. The first two-thirds of the essays – which include Wharton, Fitzgerald, Hepburn and Gershwin are perfectly okay, but it’s the final third where, for me, the book truly comes alive. Orson Welles‘ and Laurence Olivier‘s (not from the US but that’s not the point) approaches to acting and Shakespeare are compared and contrasted. What is naturalism, how – and should – America tackle Shakespeare? These themes of naturalism and an American theatrical tradition are continued in an essay on Marlon Brando.

Cover of James Baldwin: Early novels and storiesWe are reminded that Brando was a supporter of the Civil Rights movement, and the last two essays cover novelist James Baldwin and singer Nina Simone who – to my shame – I didn’t know much about at all. Reading about these two African-Americans and learning more about the the nuances and iterations of the wider Civil Rights movement is inspiring me – to read their words and listen to their music and make an effort to further understand America’s painful history.

So, I’ve come away from this book thinking about acting and how we express our country through our cultural creations, and also with some new inspirational figures to look to. We need them.

The Gig Guide: February 2017

Planning on attending a concert, show, or gig in Christchurch? Then why not take a look at what we’ve got of that artist’s back catalogue?

Comedy

Kids

Music

What gigs are you looking forward to in the near future? Anything we’ve missed? Do let us know in the comments.

Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses

CoverWith sales of over 100 million records, God knows how many downloads and sold out arena tours from the late 1980s until today, Guns N’ Roses are long overdue their definitive biography.  Mick Wall, a former writer for Kerrang, Sounds and Melody Maker has finally written one – The Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses.

Mick Wall became close to the band during their ascent, gaining access to their dark inner world until he angered the band’s singer, Axl Rose. This earned Wall a name check and a vicious put down in the Use Your Illusion II track, Get in the Ring. Despite this, Mick Wall takes a very even-handed and sympathetic look at the band and their enigmatic lead singer. The focus is on the personalities and music, as much as the eye-watering tales of rock and roll excess, violence and insanity – of which there are many.

Wall describes the dizzying rise of the band from the L.A. glam metal scene with the accuracy of someone who was actually there, charting their beginnings in tiny, sleazy clubs while living in poverty and squalor. Their rapid ascent is described by industry insiders who helped them, with former managers telling detailed and brutally honest stories of brilliant live shows and dreadful behaviour.

The band’s many controversies are dealt with – from the death of two fans at an English show, to the heavily criticised lyrics to the song One In a Million. Wall has the clarity and insight gained by 25 years’ worth of hindsight. While there are no new interviews with any of the band members, Wall has drawn from a wealth of interviews from the era and new interviews with many who were there at the time. The splintering of the original line up is detailed in all its depressing, drug-soaked inevitability, and he lists the factors and pressures that broke the band at the peak of their fame.

While all members of Guns N’ Roses have their story told in full, including several chapters on the short-lived but popular supergroup Velvet Revolver, Wall does focus on the temperamental figure that is Axl Rose. We hear his story from his abusive childhood, his unwavering determination to make Guns N’ Roses the biggest band in the world, and his perfectionism and desire for control that ultimately broke the original line up. The subsequent revolving cast of musicians that make up Guns N’ Roses are covered with an in-depth and surprisingly enthusiastic review of the much maligned Chinese Democracy album. In fact his obvious fondness for the album made me give it another go and he is right. It is a better album than I remember it.

Wall makes the case that Guns N’ Roses were the last great band of the “Rock Era” – a time when a rock and roll band could be a truly subversive cultural force while reaching a huge audience.  It’s a hard theory to argue with when you start trying to list all subsequent contenders. Cobain?  Too depressing. Eddie Vedder? Too populist. Jack White? Too niche and he arrived a little too late.  Eminem? Perhaps, but do genre definitions and his arrival as popular music stopped being the dominant cultural force disqualify him?

What is impossible to argue with is the story of Guns N’ Roses as one of rock’s most absorbing and fascinating tales.  Drugs, sex, violence, controversy and great music are all there in abundance and Wall’s insider knowledge and palpable love for the both the band and the era make Last Of The Giants a cracking good read for anyone who misses the glory days of rock and roll.

More Guns N’ Roses

Guns n" roses

The Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns n’ Roses
by Mick Wall
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781409167228

Simon H
New Brighton Library