Jollity, Jumpers and Jingle Bells

As it is every year, Christmas is happening on December 25th, whether we are ready for it or not. It hits November and the time just seems to disappear. It’s hardly a surprise when Christmas is here, yet somehow, here it is next week and I am totally not ready and thoroughly unfestive.

So it was feeling rather flustered that I left for the Christmas with…Friends gig. Held on Battersea Barge, I didn’t really know what to expect other than that it was on a boat moored somewhere near the famous Battersea Power Station. It was a longer walk than I expected from the tube but eventually I saw it signposted and followed a small path where at the end I saw a boat adorned with Christmas trees and lights.

Battersea Barge was as it said on the tin. But it was the perfect setting for the evening. Despite being narrow, there was a permanent stage at one end and a bar at the other, and in-between were several tables. Every one of the beams was decorated with a pine, fairy lit garland and even the stage was dressed with a further garland and Christmas tree. It looked stunning and with the festive tunes being played as we entered it was difficult not to get into the Christmas spirit.

Every table had crackers and menus (it was possible to order a full three course Christmas dinner) and the bar was serving all sorts including mulled wine and warm mince pies, which it would frankly have been rude not to sample! Simon Greiff, producer of the evening and MD of SimG Productions was in charge of admissions which meant everyone got the chance to have a chat with him.

Simon Grieff introduced the four ‘cast’ members who appeared wearing the most fetching Christmas jumpers and with sparkles on their eyes and ears (the ladies, anyway). Immediately the cabaret kicked off with all four singing ‘We Need A Little Xmas’ a catchy and most Christmassy number. Annalene Beechey was the main compere, and she began by introducing the musicians who consisted of a pianist (Inga the MD) and a cellist (Liv). This was followed by Annalene singing ‘Xmas Cliches’ which I had not heard before, but the title certainly summed it up.

Two of the other ‘Friends’ were up next – The gorgeous Simon Bailey (who did not look in the least bit self-conscious in his Christmas jumper *ahem*) and handsome Simon Thomas in a super reindeer one. Simon B was introduced – Ms Beechey had googled the names of each guest to see what other professions and lifestyles they had (a priest and a Police Constable were among them). A nice touch, this was an unusual introduction followed by a little about the ‘actual’ performer’s history and career. The two Simons sang ‘I Believe’ and made a marvellous boy band effort as they stood from their stools for the final chorus. This went down very well following the discussion about Teatro (a musical theatre ‘boy band’) which Simon B had previously been in.

Here are the above ‘boyband’ pros performing ‘I Believe’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-YsfeiR57w

Rebecca Lock then came forward after her introduction to sing ‘Something about December’. Ms Lock (childminder in Leicester and technology consultant in Toronto among her namesakes) has many years of theatrical experience having performed in Martin Guerre at the age of just three and been in a huge variety of roles since, from Kate Munster in Avenue Q to Carlotta in ‘Phantom’. She is soon to be found performing in ‘Dear World’ at the Charing Cross theatre.

Simon T joined her for ‘As Long As There’s Christmas’ and after plenty of banter (and a microphone adjustment, due to Simon T being about a foot taller than Annalene) this was followed by a beautiful song called ‘Flight’ a duet which the two girls sang together. A non-Christmassy song, I’m so glad they included it as it really was lovely and they sounded stunning.

Simon T (who when Googled is a British TV presenter whose fanmail often goes to ‘our’ Simon T) returned to the spotlight with a version of ‘Santa Baby’, a song I’d only ever heard sung by females but the words were adjusted accordingly and it worked well. He and Annalene met during a production of ‘Marguerite’, though all four performers have been in Phantom at one time or another.

Simon B then took a turn and performed his own ‘Goodbye’. I have written about this song a few times and it never fails to move me. This was a particularly emotional rendition for Mr Bailey as his sister was present but he got through it incredibly well, though I always have to bite back the tears, as I think quite a few others were.

The first half closed with a ‘Boogie Woogie’ style version of ‘Jingle Bells’ – Sung mainly by Simon T, with the girls backing made this great fun, really catchy and fantastically harmonised. A special mention must go to Simon B for his marvellous accompaniment of the hand-held jingle bells!

Great fun – hope you enjoy this. ‘Jingle Bells’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5wLv7oA9Hs

During the interval we were all treated to some baked goods, hand made by Rebecca and Annalene earlier in the day. Little gingerbread men and biscuit angels came complete with some traditional candy canes and a party popper. As well as the pot of goodies being delicious, I thought this was a really lovely touch.

Once again we had the Christmas songs throughout the intermission to keep up the spirit of the evening but everyone was feeling most entertained and I know I had found the first half to fly by. I cannot fault the singing, every one of the voices on that stage were pure and true and despite the banter (which I know the folks sitting around my table – myself included – thoroughly enjoyed) making it all so light-hearted, they sounded fantastic.

Act two began with ‘Mistletoe and Wine’. We were told we could join in, so by the second chorus, a few rather tentative folk were joining in. Simon T again took the lead but the other three backed him, complete with instruments (a triangle, sleigh bells and a maraca) to put a not entirely sincere twist on this Cliff Richard classic.

Mistletoe and Wine as you’ve not heard it before!: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iipUhLRvCoM

Beautiful Annalene then sang ‘Scarlet Ribbons’, a song which I had forgotten all about and have not heard for many years. I almost felt moved as it was so lovely and brought back some memories. Just lovely. A favourite of mine has long been ‘O Holy Night’ and I was not disappointed when both girls harmonised their way through it. It sounded stunning and despite the evening being full of laughs, this was performed in a very calm and choral way.

A gorgeous song sung by two very gorgeous girls – ‘O Holy Night’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9H9T-j8g3xs

Simon B, who does, occasionally, like to make rather flippant comments, found himself playing the guitar and singing along to ‘White Christmas’ after one such remark. Despite his joke that ‘it could go one of two ways’ it actually sounded great and I really enjoyed his slightly upbeat take on this famous number.

Next was quite possibly the funniest version of ‘Fairytale of New York’ I have seen and am ever likely to see. Aside from the fact that Simon B and Annalene were struggling to sing through the laughter, the accents left rather a lot to be desired and ranged from Irish to farmer to pirate (not sure if it was the influence of the gig being held on a boat!). Absolutely hysterical from start to finish, this made my night!

The stunning and also very funny Rebecca came back on to sing ‘Christmas Dreams’ and then she was joined by the other three to sing ‘Snow Song’. The finale was ’12 Days of Christmas’. Except it was re-written to become ’12 Days of Phantom’. As I mentioned earlier, all four have been in Phantom at one time or another, the two Simon’s both playing Raoul at the moment (Thomas on the West End and Bailey on the UK tour), Beechey was previously Christine; Lock, Carlotta. Another very amusing song, this talented bunch pulled off a brilliant end to the evening, just slowing it down a little with ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’.

After the final number the performers came to mingle with everyone, so we had a chance to chat and to purchase the CD’s (both produced by SimGProductions) which were on sale (‘Looking Up’ by Simon Bailey and ‘Close Your Eyes’ by Annalene Beechey). See my previous post for a review of ‘Looking Up’. Sadly I have not yet got a copy of ‘Close Your Eyes’ but I fully intend to get one after the singing I heard last night. Also Rebecca appears on one of the tracks so the quality of the vocals, as with ‘Looking Up’ will be top notch.

I left feeling thoroughly festive. I thought the venue was superb, I wouldn’t hesitate to go to further events there and the entertainment was most enjoyable. Simon Greiff is a brilliant producer, if you see anything by him I recommend you book it or buy it as he sees talent and gives people a chance. He’s also a top bloke! All the performers had super voices and an excellent bond meaning that banter was plentiful.  I love intimate and more ‘casual’ gigs such as this one, so it was the perfect way to kickstart my Christmas.

Myself and my friends Holly and Ali with Simon B, post gig and post removal of Christmas jumper! : https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/v/702065_10151289843722649_279019980_n.jpg?oh=d8b8082d2710dc1b0bcd74941b950b06&oe=50D17E34&__gda__=1355929798_256ecfdad9a4f345dda45b09f0242338

If you would like more information about the people involved, then here is how to find out:

Simon Greiff/ SimG Productions – http://www.SimGProductions.com to purchase albums and learn more about their background.
Follow him on Twitter @SimGProductions

Simon Bailey – buy ‘Looking Up’ at http://www.simonbaileyonline.com
Follow him @SimonBailey1210

Annalene Beechey @AnnaleneBeechey
Rebecca Lock @RebeccaLock22
Simon Thomas @TheStingo

SimGProductions albums can also be bought at Dress Circle Shop in London (@DressCircleShop)

YouTube videos are all my own, you can subscribe if you wish to MusicalsMad1. There will be new videos added wherever possible and there will also be one for White Christmas, Fairytale of New York, Snow Song and ’12 Days of Christmas/Phantom’ as soon as they load (next couple of days). Apologies for the video/sound quallity on some, not sure what was going on with my phone during the recordings.

 

Now, here’s to Christmas (and to my 22nd visit of the Phantom tour next Saturday).

If I do not post before I hope it is a FABULOUS and happy one for you all.

Keep Dreaming,

Naomi x

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Things are…’Looking Up’

Finally! The day I have been waiting for for what seems like an eternity is here! In actual fact, I have only been waiting since the official announcement was made on October 12th 2012 that there was to be an album, but it seems so much longer. This morning ‘Looking Up’ by Simon Bailey landed on my doormat. In actual fact, three copies did, but we won’t be fussy about details!

I’m sure anyone who has read my previous posts will know that this is terribly exciting for me, but as a huge supporter of the performer Simon Bailey, the release of his debut album is as if all my Christmases and birthdays have come at once. Needless to say I have had it on a continuous loop since it arrived at 10 am and it was so worth the wait.

Looking Up is a collection of songs ranging from classic tunes through to self penned compositions but the one thing which is overwhelmingly apparent is the emotion and honesty which fills the entire album. The focus throughout is on the vocals (and rightly so). It begins with ‘Sing For The Angels’, one of Simon’s own songs and one which had been previously released (in the extrememly basic form of Simon plus his guitar in a hotel room) on YouTube. This new version has a lovely melody, you almost want to sway to the tune.

Here is that original rendition : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pFlgZ7js2s

Second is ‘Dance With My Father’, a song previously released by Luther Vandross. It is clear through listening to it, that although he had no input into writing Dance with My Father that Simon means every word he sings.

Katie Hall (who appears alongside Simon in The Phantom of the Opera as Christine) joins Simon on track 3, a duet by Jason Robert Brown called ‘I’d Give It All For You’. What a voice she has! The two voices work well together and make for a very (surprisingly) catchy tune. The diction from both is excellent – something I often find lacking within albums – meaning you can understand every word.

This video is a portion of the song from when it was performed at ‘West End Fests’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-3YndaWoR4&feature=g-crec-u

‘The Distance You Have Come’ is next. This was penned by Scott Alan, a writer who I very much admire and it suits Simon’s vocals perfectly. It also seems very appropriate for lots of reasons, not least because he is currently touring with ‘Phantom’. If you get the chance, check out Mr Alan’s ‘Live’ album, it is well worth a listen.

Another of Mr Bailey’s own compositions is next, this one titled ‘The Everchanging’. As with Sing for the Angels, this also had a version relesased on You Tube. I adore what Tom Deering has done with arranging these songs. He has taken something lovely and made it beautiful This applies to everyone of Simon’s originals, but I also love what he has done with the others.

The link to The Everchanging (performed when the poor chap had a chest infection!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxSGPilIqw0

One of my all time favourite songs has an airing on this album. The Evanescence version is soulful, almost haunting and sung by a female. This rendition has all of those attributes and while remaining as the song I know and love, Simon has also made it his own. It really is stunning, I particularly like the addition of the strings.

Ramin Karimloo is the next of the special guests. His version of ‘Murder In The City’ is becoming quite famous among his supporters, but he and Simon also released a rough version (again in a hotel room with a single guitar) which went down a storm. Much to the delight of many, the two collaborated a couple of weeks ago when Simon joined Ramin on stage at his Broadway to Bluegrass…Ish gigs to sing this number. I’m so glad it is on the album, even if it does get stuck in your head!

Once again, the very basic form of ‘Murder in the City’ : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQBx9vKo-PE

Simon’s third song is next. Looking Up contains four songs which he wrote himself. As with the others, this is tuneful, thoughtful and honest. I thoroughly enjoy his writing style and Tom Deering really has added something with his musical prowess. I had not heard ‘I Can’t Stop The Rain’ before but I’m delighted it has been included here.

I have wanted, for quite some time, to hear Simon sing ‘Tears In Heaven’. Better known as the song Eric Clapton wrote for his son, I have long thought that Simon’s vocals would suit this song. I couldn’t have been more thrilled when I heard this was going to be included. And I was right. It works. So well it is as though it was written for him. What I particularly love about it is that it is raw. Vocals and piano. That’s it. And that’s all it needs. I am an absolute blubbing mess but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Words cannot even express how absolutely stunning this is.

‘Once’ the Musical is coming out in London’s West End during 2013 and it has been well publicised and well awarded. ‘Falling Slowly is a lovely song taken from the show and Sasbrina Aloueche joins him for the female parts. The two have voices which work so well together and although it is not a song I know well I think it is a great choice and fits in well with the others.

A surprise inclusion is ‘Travelin Thru’ by Dolly Parton. When you hear it you can see why it was added and it is not really that random, but as a female Country star, Parton would not be the obvious choice. I am a but of a Dolly Parton fan anyway, so was curious to see how this would turn out, but it’s great. Of course it is!

Rounding the album off is ‘Goodbye’. I have written about this song before and some of you have seen Simon perform it first hand. Songs don’t get much more personal than this one and you can hear the emotion in every word. Written following his Father’s death last year I defy anyone not to be moved to tears by this. Words aside, it is a lovely melody, but the lyrics break my heart. I cannot thank Simon enough for sharing something so deeply personal.

Once again, I know I have added it before, but here is ‘Goodbye’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJDZA0jfNPs

Complete with an autograph and booklet this album is a triumph. Credit must go to Simon Greiff (SimG Productions) for bringing this into fruition. To Tom Deering who is quite simply a genius. A wonderful choice of guest singers – Katie, Ramin and Sabrina – and a fantastic band, compllete with Hadley Fraser and a string quartet from ‘Phantom’. The tracks have been left with the vocals exposed, an almost raw sound, but this works. The accompaniment is there, just as much as is needed, and for certain songs just a simple piano or piano and strings is absolutely spot on.

I won’t lie, I had massive expectations for Looking Up. I wasn’t, however, expecting it to knock me for six as it has done. I’ve smiled at the beautiful melodies and I have cried at the words. I have been on a rollercoaster of emotions. I am so very proud of Simon for what he has acheived. This is an absolute work of art and without a doubt it should be on everybody’s Christmas lists. No matter which musical genre you are into, this should appeal. If you aren’t moved by this then you must be very hard hearted. I hope the attached videos will help with your decision to purchase this.I can guarantee you wont regret it.

Purchase Looking Up here:
http://www.simonbaileyonline.com

Check out his facebook page:
facebook.com/simonbaileyinfo

Check out his Producer’s other projects here:
http://www.SimGProductions.com

Follow Simon on Twitter – @simonBailey1210
Follow Katie Hall – @Katie1Hall
Follow Sabrina – @sabssnowglobe
Follow Ramin – @raminkarimloo
Follow Scott Alan – @ScottAlanNet

And if you like what you have read, please follow me @JustSamssister

Keep Dreaming, I’m off to listen again’
Naomi x