Book and CD reviews – Paradise Lost, West End Goes Mad, Michael Ball and more…

NICK WAKEHAM casts an eye over some of the latest CD releases– perhaps a few belated Christmas presents?

PL_CD_12pp_Booklet_v2.inddPARADISE LOST – Various Artists (SimG Records – SimGR-CD023)

Inspired by the epic poem by John Milton, this new version of Paradise Lost is an intimate love story set against an impressive war taking place in Heaven.

Built around three angels: Angelis (young and ambitious), Michael (the captain of the army) and Lucifer (the evil one who stalks the Heavens boiling over with resentment and a plan!), this is a story of a love triangle with a twist – whoever Angelis chooses to share her life with will have a huge influence on the future of mankind on earth.

Playing the three lead characters we have Charlotte Wakefield, Ricardo Afonso and Matthew Wycliffe – all doing a sterling job, as do the other artists on the recording. Music is by Lee Ormsby with book and lyrics by Jonathan Wakeham.

I have to admit when I got this album to review and saw the 24 tracks and read the description of the plot, I had a dreadful feeling that this was going to be 2014’s answer to Which Witch, but how wrong I was.

It is a powerful piece of writing, both musically and lyrically. I can only hope that the title Paradise Lost doesn’t put people off – that would be a huge shame as this is one musical to keep your eye on. Methinks it may get a really spectacular theatrical production one day. Meanwhile – get the album.


MADTHE WEST END GOES MAD FOR CHRISTMAS – Various Artists (Auburn Jam Records – MADCD)

A Christmas album without ‘Silent Night’ or, heaven forbid, ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ – wouldn’t that be a luxury? Well, it has arrived and is not only a welcome treat but is also a really enjoyable album.

It’s also released by The Make a Difference Trust, who fundraise to help those living with, or affected by, HIV in the UK and Southern Africa. So a double whammy there – a great album for a fantastic cause.

The tracks on the album are performed by West End artists – one is actually performed by Killian Donnelly and the cast of Les Misérables. Others appearing on the album are: Stuart Matthew Price, Chloe Hart, Sophie Isaacs, Harriet Thorpe, Christopher Howell, Geronimo Rauch, Nadim Naaman, Gina Beck, Janie Dee and Alistair Brammer. The album is a mixture of genres, so one minute it can be a pop song and the next a semi-classical piece.

Tracks, all written by up-and-coming songwriters, include: ‘I Love Christmas’, ‘The Little Match Girl’, ‘A Soldier’s Christmas’, ‘Together We Can Make It’, and others.

I have a couple of favourites on the album: ‘A Soldier’s Christmas’ is so heartfelt and melancholic, ‘Reindeer Wives’ is a delightful spoof put over in excellent style by Sophie Isaacs, Harriet Thorpe, Christopher Howell and ‘Together We Can Make It’, sung by Killian Donnelly and the cast of Les Misérables, could very easily become a Christmas classic, given enough airplay.

So, why not do yourself a favour this Christmas and by an album that will not be lining the pockets of well-known groups and artists, but will be helping others in need.


Use this oneIF EVERYONE WAS LISTENING – MICHAEL BALL (Union Square Records – USMTVCD009)

Okay, so those who follow my reviews will know that Michael Ball is not my favourite artist of all time. He’s very much the Marmite of the musical world – you either love him or hate him. And, luckily for his career, the former seem to have won out over the years. But I never review anything on my personal preferences, but rather on the material I have been handed. Then I give my very humble opinions. So here they are:

I was very pleasantly surprised by this album. An eclectic mix of genres and, with the exception of a couple of tracks, I have enjoyed listening to the album a couple of times before writing this review. It would be wrong of me to mention those ‘couple of tracks’, so instead I would like to mention some of the numbers that I thoroughly enjoyed. My favourite has to be ‘Let It Be Me’, on which he is accompanied by the Overtones. It has been pared back and is a really beautiful rendition of the song. Other favourites on the album are: ‘Stuck Like Glue’, ‘Jessie’, ‘Simple Love’, ‘I Won’t Give Up’ and ‘You Needed Me’.

The arrangements and orchestrations are excellent, as usual and, again, I have to say I was more than pleasantly surprised by the album as a whole. Therefore, I would recommend all those Marmite haters to give this album a try – it might just give your taste buds a bit of a shock!


Julie AthertonRUSH OF LIFE – Julie Atherton (Theatre Bench Records)

A new album from Julie Atherton called Rush of Life. Now, I’m more than 100% positive that all Julie Atherton fans will be clamouring over this, or at least having it on their Christmas wish list.

Tracks include: ‘Trail of Behaviour’, ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’, ‘Say Something’ and ‘Planet Me’ to name a few. I have to say I prefer her singing the slower ballad numbers to those such as ‘My Own’ which is a bit rocky – but that is only my opinion.

The CD itself comes with a colour insert which I thought was going to give me lots more information, not only on Atherton, but also on the tracks, but sadly that is not the case. I can only assume that producers cut back on these things due to more people buying albums from the web and downloading them – I’m of the generation that loves to read a bit about what I am about to listen to.

I have to be truthful and say that I didn’t really enjoy this album, but I asked a younger friend of mine to listen to it and he loved it. In fact he loved it so much he went online and bought her previous two albums. So, what do I know!


stage9037aWORZEL GUMMIDGE – Original London Cast Recording (Stage Door Records – STAGE 9037)

Another wonderful slice of nostalgia from Stage Door Records. This time it is the 1981 London cast of Worzel Gummidge starring Jon Pertwee and Una Stubbs, based on the classic novel by Barbara Euphan Todd and the subsequent popular TV series.

Originally staged at the Birmingham Rep in 1980, it opened at the Cambridge Theatre in London on the 22 December 1981 and played through until the end of February the following year. The cast, on both occasions, featured Jon Pertwee, Una Stubbs and Geoffrey Bayldon, along with full company and orchestra. As an added bonus on the CD there are four tracks from the 1980 TV Christmas spectacular A Cup O’ Tea an’ a Slice O’ Cake, in which Bill Maynard also makes an appearance.

The stage version of the show was written by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, with music by Denis King, and through this recording you can see why the stage version was such a success. The brilliance of the three lead actors combined with the wit of Waterhouse and Hall are served in no mean measure by the snug fitting songs of King.

There are a few recordings of stage musicals where, even if you haven’t seen the show, it seems to come alive straight out the speakers – and this is one of them. Okay, the ‘musical theatre elite’ may turn up their noses at the sheer joy created on this album. But that is their loss! This is what family musicals are all about. Something that, in my humble opinion, has been lost in the recent years. An absolute delight to listen to and a reminder of the comic brilliance of the much missed Jon Pertwee.


You Can't Rush SpringYOU CAN’T RUSH SPRING – Celia Berk (Gramercy Nightingale Music Co GNM1401)

I could very easily just write: ‘Put this CD on the player, turn the lights down, curl up on the sofa with a glass of your favourite drink, close your eyes and start the CD player and be prepared to drift away.’

I hadn’t heard of Celia Berk before and that is a great shame. This lady has a voice like velvet – reminiscent in many ways of Rosemary Clooney and Peggy Lee. The songs are mostly all ballad-style but in a very laidback jazzy sort of way. And don’t think for one minute the CD is simply packed full of the usual suspects in that genre – it isn’t! There is such diverse styles from Sondheim to Kander and Ebb, from Bach to Ann Hampton Callaway.

Tracks include: ‘I’ve Been Waiting All My Life’, ‘Sometimes I Dream’, ‘Sand’, ‘The Folks Who Live On the Hill’, ‘The Broken Record’ and, the title track, ‘You Can’t Rush Spring’.

The whole album is beautifully produced by Scott Lehrer and Alex Rybeck. The orchestrations are superbly realised by a small but very excellent band.

I would love to see this lady live in one of her cabaret outings, and one day she may well come over to the UK, but in the meantime I can’t give enough praise for this CD and, if like me, you are a great admirer of the voices and styles of Peggy Lee and such, then you will LOVE this album. You can get it on CD or through Amazon or iTunes. To be honest, I don’t care how you get it – just get it!


AnatevkaANATEVKA – Fiddler On the Roof – Morbisch SeeFestSpiele (OEHMS Classics – OC437)

This is the cast recording of Fiddler On the Roof, called Anetevka, from the Morbisch Lake Festival in Austria. Of course, as you would expect, it is sung in German and, since I don’t speak German, I can’t really tell you what the translation is like, but I do know that certain of the orchestrations have been changed – nothing drastic, but you do notice it if you know the show well.

The cast includes: Gerhard Ernst (Tevye), Dagmar Schellenberger (Golde), Bele Kumberger (Zeitel), Rupert Bergmann (Lazar Wolf) and Erwin Belakowitsch (Motel). They are accompanied, in stunning fashion, by the Morbisch Festival Orchestra and Choir, conducted by David Levi.

The CD contains all the music from the production (unlike some other cast albums of the same musical through the years) and anyone who has either had the pleasure of seeing the production, or is an avid collector of cast albums no matter in which language they are recorded, will love this CD.


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