Tag Archive | Music

iTunes Festival 2014: Mary J. Blige steals hearts with timeless hits at the Roundhouse

This review was originally written for the Daily Star, found here.

R&B queen Mary J Blige can always be counted on to pack out a concert — and fans both new and from her 90s heyday packed in to see her at this year’s iTunes Festival.


The stunning singer songwriter has a platinum-covered history of 11 albums since 1992 and she clearly knew that the audience at the Roundhouse in Camden, London craved some soulful nostalgia.

She strutted out in her iconic glam style, massive shades, miles of gold-studded leather and stiletto shoes sharp enough to kill a man.

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A Jazz Interlude: Interview with George Simmonds of The Squintet

This article can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

It’s difficult being 22. For most of us, it’s the point where we struggle to balance adulthood with the aftermath of university. But for George Simmonds there’s a jazz quintet to lead and a music agency to run. And astoundingly, both things are rapidly gaining momentum.

A Londoner through and through and presently based in Tottenham, George has taken his love of jazz music from a young age and formed his band, The Squintet, with childhood friends and other budding artists.

George himself leads on trombone and vocals, his old high school friend Jamie Hone on saxophone, Mike Cuthbert on keyboard, and Jack Polley on bass guitar.

Rob Hervais is the newest member of the band, on the drums, replacing Bryan Taylor who left.
With them, he’s shared his jazz passion all over London (including Soho, Islington and the famous The Rivoli Ballroom in Lewisham) and also abroad in Istanbul and Norway.

Over time their sound has changed – starting out with a strong swing feeling, before moving to a more funk-focused, New Orleans-style sound in recent months. The change was sparked by the drummer Rob, and George says that the band has definitely become more comfortable since.

At the start of performances with The Squintet, George likes to open with ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ by Fats Wallop, a piece played to him by his grandfather as a child. The version he was familiar with was performed by Acker Bilk, and the memory has always stuck with him. 

His musical influences include J.J. Johnson, Jimmy Knepper (both trombonists), and Charlie Parker. More recently he’s been taking on the funk-based influences of James Brown and Fred Wesley.
During a period of taking an interest in composing, Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus’ jazz orchestras were a major factor.

For the last two months, George has also plunged into the world of business with the Maxwell Barrett Music Agency. Christened after his middle names, he uses it to both set up his own gigs and those of his steadily increasing client list.

After playing music professionally for three years, he felt that to go into conventional employment and have less time for his music was not an option.

Running a business in your early 20s is a fairly daunting task, so he co-runs it with his father.
New gigs are being planned all the time, and George is definitely looking to perform more in the South West London area.

You can find out about future gigs at www.maxwellbarrett.com or on his Facebook page.

My Big Mouth: Save Our Subcultures

This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

Violent attacks against subcultures like punks and goths are now being considered as hate crimes by the Greater Manchester Police (GMP).

What was once only the territory of politically-established social minorities (so race, religion, disability, sexuality or transgender identity) is now broadened to alternative music scenes and subcultures – at least by the GMP.

The plan to record attacks in this manner was sparked by the murder of Sophie Lancaster back in 2007. The 20-year-old goth was attacked in a park in Lancashire along with her boyfriend, Robert Maltby, simply because of their style of dress. While the boyfriend managed to survive, Ms Lancaster was not as lucky.

Because this attack was motivated by judgements about the victims’ identities, a pretty strong parallel can be drawn between attacks of this nature and existing hate crimes.

You could replace these goths with queer people or people of colour, and I could most likely find an existing news report to match. Hell, in March last year there were reports of emos in Iraq being murdered by militia, partially because the subculture is heavily associated with homosexuality there.

The crux of attacks like these is ignorant fear of identities that differ from the ‘norm’. Why the scare quotes? Because in Western culture, to be anything other than a straight white man with a taste in Top 40s pop is an ‘other’, someone to be changed or removed. It’s an awful way to think of things, really. That demographic may not be the most prevalent in terms of numbers, but social dominance counts for so much more than manpower.

Society has progressed just enough to cut some minorities some slack. You’re allowed to be, for example, black in a public place in much of the world without pulling much ire (Though sometimes it doesn’t feel that way). 

But often, our identity as minorities is displayed in ways that aren’t physiological. There’s nothing in terms of body type that separates straight men from gay ones, but there’s a laundry list of ‘coded behaviour’ that society decides is indicative of being gay, or religious, or yes – belonging to a subculture.

What raises the hackles of violent bigots is that people who differ from the ‘norm’ have the temerity to express themselves openly, and think that beating them will change that in some way. That seems very much like hate crime to me.

That subcultures are largely tied to musical tastes, rather than biology may cause some to feel that they aren’t appropriately equitable to the other minorities, but I have issues with that.

Most notably, there are some subcultures that are heavily involved in socio-political struggles. Punk as a movement revolves around being non-conformist, and as such features heavy streaks of anti-racist and anti-sexist ideologies. 

The emo scene, while considered rather male dominated, embraces emotional openness (hence the name) and androgynous fashions, making it a social safe haven for many queer teenagers.

The workings and intricacies of subcultures is just as fascinating to me as learning about feminism, racial history and queer theory, and deserves to be respected in a similar manner. For a glimpse of just how vastly different subcultures can be, take a look at Urban Tribes. Hours will fly by.

The official consideration of subcultures as being part of the hate crime demographic is a while off – England’s courts cannot recognise its legitimacy, and the GMP are the only police force that are recording it.

But all is not lost. By bringing the idea up as a point to be seriously considered, the public are also forced to think of those who are part of alternative scenes as people, not targets.

What this news hopefully won’t do is get people arguing over which minority has it worse, and flinging mud at whatever groups might have it easier. These kinds of ‘Oppression Olympics’ aren’t helpful to discussion; those who try to start them require immediate defenestration.

Note: Simon Price’s entry on The Guardian’s Comment is Free gives a great break down on different subcultures, as well as detailing his own experiences of being targeted.