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Opinion: Just a City Boy?

Living in a city is arguably an ideal way of life for many of today’s gay men. Clubs open all night, huge choice of quality restaurants and bars, lots to do at weekends, ranging from concerts and theatres to art galleries. All of it within walking distance or a short bus ride. Sounds great to me!

But what about those of us who don’t live in a city? The people who live in towns, small villages or even the countryside? These places are ideal if you’re raising a family, but if you’re not a parent is it possible for today’s gay man to settle miles away from their nearest city? I say yes, but let me explain why.

“I currently live in Eastbourne… friends in nearest city Brighton think I’m mad…”

I currently live in Eastbourne, after relocating down south eighteen months ago. I know a lot of friends in nearest city Brighton (where I sing in a choir) think I’m mad for choosing the supposedly old-fashioned seaside town over arguably the gay seaside capital. Why choose grey over gay, I’m sure they wonder.

 

Wigan Pier by night.

It wouldn’t be the first time. Until I was 29, I lived in Wigan: the northern mining town you may know for Wigan Pier (no, we don’t have a seafront!), Wigan Athletic football team or – more likely if you’re reading this website – Kym Marsh from Coronation Street. For many years I commuted to my job in Manchester, and like their Brighton counterparts, years later many of my Manchester friends wondered why I didn’t make the leap to city life (which I eventually did). Both of these viewpoints are understandable as neither Eastbourne nor Wigan seem like typically ‘gay’ places to live, but is there more than meets the eye?

“…elsewhere, there are only so many gays to go around.”

After all, both are among the many UK towns that have attempted to cater for gay nightlife in recent years. A few years ago, my best gay friend and I were excited to go along every Thursday to Wigan’s first gay night in the upstairs room of one of the town centre bars. However, after a month or so my friend announced he was bored of going and wanted to go back to Canal Street in Manchester; seeing the same few people each week (whose number you still didn’t want!) was getting boring. I think many others followed suit as there are now no gay nights – let alone gay bars – in Wigan at all. There lies an argument for living in the city: elsewhere, there are only so many gays to go round.

However, my current town Eastbourne has a lovely and very popular gay bar which has a good crowd at weekends, with its own small nightclub venue open til 2am Friday and Saturday. My partner and I don’t go there all the time, and also enjoy all the other town centre venues, but it’s nice to know it’s there when we need it. In fact, we only discovered it existed after we’d decided to move there, so it wasn’t a key factor in our decision.

This leads me to one of my key points. Wouldn’t it be superficial of me to choose somewhere to live based on the local gay scene (or lack of)? It may be important to some – particularly if you’re single – but it depends on what works for you personally.

“… I was itching to move to the bright lights of Manchester.”

In my late twenties and single, I was itching to move to the bright lights of Manchester. And it seems that decision paid off, as a week after I moved, I met my partner. Would I have still met him living in Wigan? As it happens yes, as it was through a work friend, but dating would have been much more difficult living thirty miles apart when neither of us drive.

That doesn’t necessarily neatly equate to single = city living and couples = living further afield. The friend I mentioned before who ditched the Wigan gay night actually bought his house in Wigan and wouldn’t change it for the world. He has all his family and friends around him and loves it (but bizarrely, despite the absence of ‘the city’, still declares himself the real life gay Carrie Bradshaw).

 

One of the beautiful views in Eastbourne.

I too had some of the best years of my life living in Wigan, and I love going back to visit there and also really enjoy living down in Eastbourne now. So why did I choose Eastbourne over Brighton when we relocated? Well, in addition to Eastbourne being much nearer to my job, it was much cheaper and is actually a lovely place in its own right. No, we don’t have a ready-made gay scene on our doorstep, and no, we don’t have all the benefits of living in a city. But we do have a beautiful seaside town, where there is still plenty of things to see and do every weekend: a gorgeous seafront, beautiful country walks, several nice bars, a handful of theatres, lots of nice restaurants. If not, then Brighton is only half an hour away on the train, but to be honest we like going out locally just as much.

“We all have different reasons for choosing where we live.”

I suppose it really is down to personal choice and what works for you. We all have different reasons for choosing where we live: close to work, family and friends around us, cost of housing, nice facilities in the area, and so on. Even the smallest village or rural area will usually have a pub to drink in, a takeaway to order from and bus or train links to go further afield when you wish to.

And I may be overly optimistic, but I believe that in 2013 LGBT people are integrated as such that the gay scene and/or lively city living isn’t our only social option; today’s gay man can easily slot in anywhere and be happy. Of course, the city still works for some of us, as it also works for many of our straight friends. Or it may just be a nice place to visit on the train every so often. One of the great things about our society is that there really is something for everyone.

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My Favourite Foreign-Language Track: Edith Piaf – Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

It’s not often that a foreign-language song becomes big in any music market other than in the one it was originally released. Occasionally we get song’s such as PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ or ‘Joe Le Taxi’ by Vanessa Paradis that manage to break into other markets and become commercially successful worldwide. Though these seem to come by once every so many years, one foreign-language song that became known worldwide and has also stood the test of time since its release over 50 years ago, is ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.’

The troubled yet endearing French singer Edith Piaf, whose other famous songs include the widely covered ‘La Vie en Rose’, sang the song. Piaf herself has received a little bit of a career revival over the last decade with the release of the film La Vie en Rose, a biopic about her life that won lead star Marion Cotillard the Academy Award for Best Actress.

However, despite the success of the film it’s the song that has become widely used in recent years. Many may be familiar with the song as it was the final one used in the film. Alternatively, you may have heard it on the advert for Specsavers, which was a strange choice to say the least. Some may also remember the cover of the English language version by Janey Cutler on Britain’s Got Talent.

The English language version translates to ‘No Regrets’ and has been covered by stars such as Shirley Bassey and Elaine Page, who also played Piaf in the stage show based on her life. But where as the English language version is good, it just doesn’t compare to the original by Piaf.

The song talks about having no regrets, and this being sung by a singer who struggled with morphine and alcohol addiction, endured several near-fatal car crashes, entered rehab multiple times to no avail and was seemingly unlucky in love most of her life, you can feel the passion and conviction in her voice as she sings, apparently about her own life, all the time letting the audience know they shouldn’t regret a single thing.

In a way, due to her fame and struggles, Edith Piaf is almost the French version of Judy Garland and this song is her version of ‘Over the Rainbow.’

Despite the translated versions being sung by great singers, which also means I can understand them better, when it comes to passion and conviction in a song it doesn’t matter whether you can understand the lyrics or not, you can hear it in the vocal performance and that is definitely true of ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’, which is why it is my favourite foreign language song.

‘Non, Je New Regrette Rien’ is available to download from Amazon and iTunes.

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Gig Review: Jessie Ware (The Institute, Birmingham)

Jessie Ware has been lighting up the UK’s music scene city by city as she began her tour last week. On Saturday 9 March she performed to a sold out crowd at The Institute, Birmingham. The tour supports her début album, Devotion, and continues her colossal success which ignited early last year.

Opening for Ware was brummie-starlet Laura Mvula, whose début album, Sing to the Moon, hit the top ten this week. Her ballsy blend of soul and jazz complemented the evening’s headliner, with speculation in the air that Mvula may follow in Ware’s footsteps to earn herself a Barclaycard Mercury Prize nomination later in the year.

The past year has been massive for Ware who has achieved a top five album, two BRIT Award nominations – including ‘Best Female’ and her aforementioned Mercury Prize nomination. If you had listened to Devotion in all its sophisticated pop ways and expected a snooze-fest of a show, then you would have been met with a sweet surprise. Her album is excellent and her show is equally exceptional, yet with added punch.
Beginning her set with ‘Devotion’ it soon became apparent that the laid back affair encountered on the album had transformed. Her live sound kicks up a fuss about her, on record, understated songs. Album tracks such as ‘Still Love Me’ and ‘Swan Song’ are vivacious numbers that keep up with her better known singles like ‘Night Light’ and the synth-soaked ‘If You’re Never Gonna Move’.

The best performance of the night, without a doubt, belonged to ‘Wildest Moments’, leaving us to question why she wouldn’t close with such an enormous crowd pleaser. Before her final song, audience applause lasted a good minute and a half; much to Ware’s modesty. With a set lasting little under an hour, Ware could perhaps have added album finale ‘Something Inside’ to sustain the delight of the crowd. The show felt quite well-rounded despite this.

Ware isn’t trying to be like any of her British female peers, say Emeli Sandé or Paloma Faith, and her success is largely down to the naturalness of her music. She knows exactly how she is presenting herself as she sips a hot lemon tea, in front of her microphone, like you’re sat in her own living room; summing up the gig perfectly

Visit Jessie Ware’s website for details of her other European tour dates.

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LLGFF Review: Out in the Dark

Nimr (Nicholas Jacob) is a Palestinian student who dreams of escaping to a university abroad. When he sneaks into Tel Aviv one night to see his friend Mustafa (Loai Noufi), he has a chance encounter with the handsome Roy (Michael Aloni), who makes him promise they’ll see each other again. When Nimr secures a student pass into the city, he and Roy see more of one another, and before long, they fall in love. But Nimr’s brother Nabil (Jameel Khouri) has a foot in dangerous waters, and when the authorities come down on Mustafa, it becomes clear that Nimr and Roy’s relationship requires both to make some hard choices in the way they live their lives.

Political contentiousness inevitably surrounds the bewitching Out in the Dark. Not only does it depict a gay love story in the Middle East, but it does so across the infamous Israeli-Palestinian border, including brave suggestions of corruption and terrorism within both camps. The gay community that Nimr is on the periphery of is shown with a remarkably casual freedom – he and Roy may receive catcalls from passers-by, but this is an Israel where the pair can fearlessly chase them down the street. Roy takes Nimr to dinner with his parents, which soon becomes a place where Roy’s outspoken pride conflicts with his parents’ conservative acceptance. Tel Aviv, like most cosmopolitan places in the world, is a multicultural, omnisexual metropolis.

But the familiar conflict in gay cinema between family and individuality remains Out in the Dark’s driving force, in the more traditional, repressive environment of Nimr’s family, where Nabil’s activities are an unspoken necessity and Nimr’s sexuality is purposely concealed. Maysa Daw gives Nimr’s sister Abir an innocent warmth that outdoes her underwritten role, but the family are mostly characterised in general terms as simple opposition to Nimr’s homosexuality. Understandably, Out in the Dark is enhanced by the handsome, engaging leads. Jacob plays his young innocent with a keen empathy, making the familiar dilemmas and panics Nimr goes through freshly appealing. Aloni, one of the most handsomely chiselled men you’ll see on-screen this year, superbly shades Roy’s more thoughtless qualities, and makes his attraction to Nimr a lustful but affectionate connection. Their moments together are the film’s most successful, feeding off the glowing twilight feel of the film to mix danger, sensuality and excitement together.

As you watch it, Out in the Dark doesn’t feel particularly daring, but that speaks more of a Western audience’s acclimatised attitudes to this type of narrative. Director Michael Mayer and his co-writer Yael Shafrir may follow familiar modes of storytelling, but this merely highlights how normal a story like this should be in a country where homosexuality is as contentious an issue as the internal religious divide. Beautifully photographed, strongly performed and gently captivating, Out in the Dark is as good a summation of modern gay cinema as you’re likely to find.

Out in the Dark screens at the 27th BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival as the Accenture Gala on Tuesday 19 March, and also on Sunday 24 March. So So Gay will be bringing you coverage throughout the LLGFF, which runs from 14 to 24 March. For more information on the festival programme and how to book, please visit the BFI website.

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Lost In Music: Wir Sind Helden – Die Reklamation

I had always wanted to move to Germany. I have no real justification for my desire, other than the fact that my Oma had successfully fled Nazi Germany and setup home in the UK. As a child, we would often revisit Meudt, the small village in Westerwald from which she hailed and since 1967 had held a three-yearly Holocaust Remembrance on the Jewish cemetery at the memorial my family had installed (the first ever installed in Germany), and I would be treated to a selection of German language CDs to add to my collection to ensure my bilingual capabilities. However, it was aged 16 that I first visited Hamburg, and I felt an instant connection – and it was to this vibrant second city that I had a hankering to move.

The year 2003 arrived, I was about to turn 21 and was finally ready to fulfill my wishes. I moved across to Hamburg, working as a language assistant while also acting in the prominent English-language acting scene, and simultaneously celebrated being engulfed by a wealth of German-language artists. While Christian Kreuz, Mia and Sportfreunde Stiller all had my ears pricking up to their irresistible tones, it was the Berlin based, Hamburg-formed quartet Wir Sind Helden that really had me captivated.

I first stumbled across the electro-driven pop rock troupe through their moving Holocaust driven tribute ‘Denkmal’, which dominated the radio waves in the January after my September arrival. Having recently learnt that I had, by chance, managed to move three doors down from the school which had hidden my Great Uncles, Hans (to whom I apparently resemble) and Edgar, during the early days of the Holocaust, the song instantly resonated with the real reason behind my need to relocate. I had come in search of myself, a subconscious need to  explore my roots and connect somehow with the mysterious figure who had lost his life as a teenager yet appeared to my family to continue through my very existence.

With my intrigue sparked, I instantly rushed to purchase Wir Sind Helden’s début album Die Reklamation, which was being hailed in the German press for its impressive lyrics and distinct originality. I was hooked. Lead vocalist Judith Holoferne’s characterful vocal shines throughout the album’s 12 tracks, while her surrounding musicians – Pola Roy, Mark Tavassol, and Jean-Michel Tourette – prove they are more than simply backing material.

While ‘Denkmal’ demonstrates the sensitive side to Die Reklamation, it is far from a melancholic experience. From the playful opener ‘Ist Das So?’ via their quirky lead single ‘Guten Tag’ to the stomping ‘Heldenzeit’, Die Reklamation is deservedly best remembered by many as their summer soundtrack for 2003.

Though Wir Sind Helden managed to follow Die Reklamation with three impressive studio albums (2005′s Von Hier An Blind, 2007′s Soundso and 2010′s Bring Mir Nach Hause) before their 2012 break-up, it is their début album which really epitomises, for me anyway, their peak output. A diverse combination of the infectiously addictive and the heart-wrenching, Die Reklamation is a perfect score on every account.

Die Reklamation is available at Amazon and iTunes.

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Newly elected Pope Francis I has history of anti-LGBT rhetoric

Pope Francis I, elected earlier today to succeed Benedict XVI as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, is a stated opponent of LGBT equality with a record of making strongly worded statements on the issue.

The newly elected pontiff, previously known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, once described same-sex marriage as ‘a lie aimed at confusing and fooling the children of God’ and ‘a destructive pretension against the plan of God.’

Furthermore, Bergoglio has described gay parenting as equivalent to discrimination against children. This earned the then cardinal a rebuke from Argentinian president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who described the church’s tone as reminiscent of ‘medieval times and the Inquisition.’

The election of Pope Francis I follows the abdication of Benedict XVI, previously known as Joseph Ratzinger, the first such resignation in 600 years. Cardinals had been voting for a successor since Tuesday.

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Book Review: Disunited by Anthony Camber

Having reviewed Anthony Camber’s first two books – ‘Till Undeath Do Us Part and The Pink and The Grey – and nominating him for Best Book in the So So Gay Awards, we figured it was only fair to take a look at his latest book Disunited.

The day of his transfer to a fantastic new club, Danny Prince gets papped in a gay bar. No big deal, so the club quickly arranges him a ‘beard’, but this proves fruitless and he ends up coming out on live National TV – and all he wanted to do was play football. After being dumped by his partner, fellow football player and ex-teammate Paulo, he finds a whole new world opening up to him as he uses the ensuing media storm to try and find a better boyfriend. As things progress, it becomes apparent that he is not the only homosexual in the team, and he tries to find out as much as he can before he gets canned for punching other players on the pitch. Dealing with homophobia from the fans is one thing, but this is compounded by the fact that he is barely allowed to play for the team by the club’s owner, who has to balance out his brother and fellow teammate/interim-manager’s bigotry. Add to this another question – why is the club’s owner creating dossiers on each of the players he has brought in?

Disunited is an outstanding treatment of the hypothetical consequences of a football player coming out in 2013. Whether that is likely in this day-and-age or not, this is certainly a credible tale of what could happen. Whilst we have Anton Hysen waving the LGBT banner in Sweden, no player has come out whilst still playing football in the UK since Justin Fashanu’s unfortunate suicide as a result of the widespread homophobia in the sport, combined with a ‘last straw’ sexual assault claim. Whilst rumours have circulated about many a high-profile footballer’s sexuality, with possibly the largest being concerned with Ashley Cole’s alleged ‘bisexuality’ (which remains unconfirmed by any source), none of have stepped forward, forcing openly-LGBT footballers to play in non-Premiership leagues. Anthony Camber illustrates this point with a hypothetical scenario of ‘what if a big name player came out’ – someone such as Frank Lampard, Jermain Defoe, or Ashley Cole. The answers posed are undoubtedly reflective of the current state-of-affairs in football at the moment – whilst homophobia is ‘officially’ outlawed, there are still plenty of occasions where it comes to a head

It is really interesting to see the two sides of the gay-footballer being highlighted in Danny and Paulo’s relationship – one inadvertently flies out of the closet and deals with the consequences, while the other is so far in the closet he has Aslan’s tongue wrapped round his particulars. Paulo’s argument, which is again reflective of the current attitude in the sport, is fairly sensible and is of the ‘keep your head down and everything will be okay’ school of thought, but such secrets are very difficult to keep in today’s modern age – just look at Cardinal Keith O’Brien, for example. On the other hand, Danny is a relatively good role-model for young gay men who are intimidated by the idea of entering an intrinsically homophobic sporting profession – yes, he has the odd escapade and media incident, but otherwise he is open, proactive in highlighting issues and good at spotting and cultivating positive working relationships.

The team that Danny gets signed to presents another important question – if on average LGBT people make up approximately 1 in 10 of the population, with that being higher in urban areas, what’s to stop an elite team in the Premiership from comprising many LGBT players? It’s an interesting supposition portrayed in Disunited for that exact reason.

Anthony Camber has come up with an intellectually stimulating, LGBT-orientated examination of sexuality in football and the wider social implications of such questions, which is refreshingly not erotic-based but still flamboyantly funny and expressive. To say that this is a feat of writing genius is an understatement – this book must be read. Regardless of whether you, like us, find football as entertaining as watching ceramic harden, there is something here for the social analyst, the equal rights activist, and the sports enthusiast in all of us. Excellently executed and well put together, we especially loved the aspect of the ending we managed to guess from the beginning (but rest assured that we would not dream of any spoilers).

You can buy Disunited by Anthony Camber from Amazon now

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Spotlight On: The cast of Beautiful Thing

It’s quite an exciting time for the West End at the moment, with the big city awash with exciting shows of every style and colour, but there’s only one that we are counting down the days for – Jonathan Harvey’s classic coming-of-age gay play Beautiful Thing. Set to hit The Arts Theatre in Leicester Square in April, before touring the country, this 20th anniversary production is shaping up to be one of the most anticipated plays of the year. We caught up with the stars of the show; TV favourites Suranne Jones (Sandra), Zaraah Abrahams (Leah) and Oliver Farnwoth (Tony), and hot young acting talents Jake Davies (Jamie) and Danny-Boy Hatchard (Ste). Let the excitement commence…

So So Gay: So what’s Beautiful Thing all about?

Oliver: Beautiful Thing is essentially the coming-of-age love story of two boys; Jamie and Ste. The play is set in a Thamesmead housing estate over the hot summer of 1993, and deals with the challenges, complexities, excitement and passion the boys face with coming-out, growing-up and falling in love.

 

Suranne has to sport quite the impressive wig for her turn as Sandra.

Tell us a little bit about your characters in the play.

Suranne: Sandra is a different role for me; she has had it hard, she’s a mother, but she’s fighting for herself and her son. She’s firey but has good qualities, and shows kindness in her generosity. She has to be hard working because she’s a single mother, but never finds it too daunting. I like her independence, her sense of humour and her quick wit. I feel that in every part you have to find something of yourself in the character. I’ll have to see what I can use and utilise as Sandra.

Zaraah: I play Leah. She’s a teenager with a big mouth but very sensitive. She loves Mama Cass and drives her neighbours mad singing at full range! She is best friends with Jamie and is very loyal when it comes to friendship.

Jake: My character, Jamie, is a sensitive, cheeky and intelligent young man who lives in a council flat with his mum Sandra, who he shares a love/hate relationship with. He accepts his sexuality a lot sooner than his neighbour Ste does. Jamie wears the trousers in the relationship that blossoms between them as he tries to encourage Ste to come to terms with his sexuality.

Zaraah, Leah is a feisty character, and so was Michaela the character you played in Waterloo Road– are you like them in real life?

Zaraah: I do have a feisty side, but I think it’s more internal than Leah and Micheala’s feistyness! I wouldn’t dare come out with some of the things they do, but it terms of sticking up for what’s right, I’m quite similar!

What attracted you to Beautiful Thing?

Suranne: Firstly, I got a very lovely phone call from Jonathan Harvey and he told me that this year was the 20th anniversary of Beautiful Thing. I’d seen the play at the Royal Exchange and I loved it, and obviously love Jonathan’s writing.

 

Danny-Boy and Jake are set to play the young couple discovering their sexuality for the first time.

Jake:  This production is unique because it appeals to everybody because it cleverly includes comedy, a love story, drama and even something that could make you cry. There aren’t many gay plays that explore the growing up of gay men in such a truthful and naturalistic way, making it easy to relate to.

Danny-Boy: The role of Ste is what attracted me to the play – his and Jamie’s journey together. Some of the most extraordinary scenes I have ever read in a play are in Beautiful Thing and I think any actor would be attracted to bring any of these characters to life.

This is your West End debut Danny-Boy, how nervous are you?

Danny-Boy: Very nervous! But more excited than anything, Performing in the West End has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember, so for it to actually come true, is an incredible feeling.

How are you preparing for the role?

Suranne: I’m still filming Scott & Bailey for ITV1, and will finish that at the end of this month. I then go straight into a two week rehearsal for the play. We’ve had a readthru and a workshop of the script, and it was good to meet all the other cast and get a feeling for the play. I’ll be wearing a blonde wig and I had a try out with my costume, it’s a strong look!

Oliver, a lot of Hollyoaks actors have made their way onto the West End, was that always a goal of yours?

Oliver: Being in the West End is a complete gift and was always something I wanted to achieve. My actor training prepared me for everything, Hollyoaks was my first job out of drama school but I’ve since been working lots in the theatre, both regional and West End, and have had the opportunity to work with some great people on some great plays. For me to work on an amazing script with an amazing cast, creative team and director is paramount. Combine this with being in the West End and I’m happy!

 

Dancing on Ice star Zaraah will be doing her best Mama Cass impression as Leah.

As an actor, how easy is it to tap into your experiences of growing up?

Jake: Due to only being 19 fortunately my memories of childhood are quite fresh, so I’m hoping it won’t be too much of a struggle to remember school life. Similarly to Jamie I can identify with being bullied and to an extent the feeling of not fitting it. I feel I generally have a lot of the same personality traits as Jamie, for instance I can be a bit cheeky and I am quite sensitive – although I’ve got a keen interest in sport unlike Jamie!

Girls, how easy is it to move from the screen to the stage? Which makes you more nervous?

Zaraah: It’s a challenging transition as the techniques for acting on screen are very different to acting on stage, but there are also huge similarities. I just try to focus on my character and what I’m doing by being truthful and honest. I’m in really safe hands with such an amazing piece of writing and the director and cast. I’ve done more TV than theatre, so for now I might be inclined to say TV but ask me again after this!

Suranne: Once you’ve been doing a run of TV programmes you miss the rehearsal process which allows you to understand the character, and interact with the other characters and find their journeys.  On TV, you have one moment to capture it on film, so you have to get it right and it has to be immediate. In the theatre you can grow and change your performance. After a year and a half on TV, I am really looking forward to getting back to the stage.

 

We already approve of Oliver’s costume for his character of Tony.

Do you think the messages of the play are still important today?

Oliver: Absolutely! I think the reason the play has stood the test of time is because anyone, straight or gay, can relate to the boys’ story. I’m sure most people can remember their first crush, or the first time they fell for someone – the giddiness, the excitement or the sheer anguish that the feeling may not be reciprocated! What makes Ste and Jamie’s story more pertinent is the context; they live on a tough estate, Ste’s domineering brother and father are violent towards him, and society as a whole at this time was seemingly less accepting. Section 28 was still in force, age of consent was unequal and gay marriage/civil partnerships unheard of. The play reminds us that whilst some progress has been made regarding equality in the last twenty years, society must keep moving forwards. The play is an important social indicator of the times and a beautiful love story.

Talking of the ‘L’ word, what was it like when you first fell in love?

Danny-Boy: Certainly an experience I will never forget.

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Gig Review: Beverley Craven (The Chapel, Stratford)

With the BRIT awards around the corner, it seems fitting to shine the spotlight back on to one of its previous winners. In 1992, following on from her biggest and most well-known hit ‘Promise Me’ – which helped to propel her self-titled début album up the charts (eventually selling over a million copies and spending almost the entire year on the album chart) – Beverley Craven won the BRIT Award for Best British Newcomer.

While, to many, the British singer/songwriter’s name may be synonymous with her biggest single – since repeating the success of ‘Promise Me’ has sadly eluded her thus far – Beverley Craven has in fact released three further studio albums over the years. Spaced out by the commitment of becoming a mother to her three daughters and battling breast cancer, the latter she thankfully seems to have overcome, Beverley released her fourth and most recent album, Close to Home, in 2009. Her current tour takes a selection of songs from all four albums.

 

The Chapel, Stratford

The Chapel in Stratford is a delightfully cosy performance space, attached to the No.1 Shakespeare Street bar & restaurant. A slightly raised stage awash with subdued lighting is surrounded by a number of tables and booths which, when we turned up a few minutes before Beverley’s 8.30pm start, were pleasingly full. Walking on stage in an unassuming manner, Beverley took her position at the keyboard and began chatting informally with the audience. Her brilliantly dry sense of humour was immediately apparent, which was an entirely unexpected but most welcome revelation. One of her opening lines to the audience was, ‘I know you’ve paid good money to be here tonight, but this is about me. This is my therapy’. Far from feeling forced or an act, trying to shoehorn witty asides into her performance, this was clearly Beverley’s naturally funny persona.

As tends to be the benefit of performances at smaller venues, virtually every song on the two hour set was given a little bit of back story before Beverley went on to perform it. Some were pleasing incidental details that added to the appreciation of the song – such as ‘Woman to Woman’ which was written about her friend Alison Goldfrapp who kept abandoning her every time she found a new man – while others were genuinely amusing. A particular highlight was the story behind one of our favourite tracks, ‘Love Scenes’, which exemplified Beverley’s way with words and comic timing. The song itself was inspired by an actor who broke her heart (‘I wanted to call it ‘You Complete Bastard.”), a gentleman who she has since Googled, ‘…but nothing came up… Which was nice.’ Cue much laughter from the audience. Her acerbic sense of humour juxtaposed with her smooth and easy-going compositions somehow worked perfectly.

Aside from the intimate setting giving an enjoyable window into Beverley Craven’s personality, the music – which is after all what gigs should really be about – was unsurprisingly top class. Beverley’s soft and soothing vocal delivery is just as good as it was on her début album, which is scarily 23 years old now. With all the songs being penned by her own fair hand, the performances were full of heart and soul. During touching moments, like ‘Mollie’s Song’ and ‘Without Me’, you can understand how songwriting is therapeutic for musicians, even if Beverley’s initial remark was slightly flippant. Beverley’s sense of humour once again appeared, this time to soften the seriousness of ‘Without Me’, which she wrote for her three girls just after being cleared of breast cancer: ‘This song is probably the saddest one I’ve ever written. I ought to be sponsored by Kleenex’, prompting some chuckling from the audience, ‘You may laugh, in 1993 I was actually sponsored by Tampax. … For a short period’, which was met with a mixture of laughter and amused groaning. ‘Yeah, I usually get a groan there.’

The 20-track set list was made up of an even spread of songs from Beverley Craven, Love Scenes and Close to Home, though Mixed Emotions was strangely under-represented, with only ‘I Miss You’ included. If forced to find fault with an otherwise perfect evening, this would be it. In particular, it was a great shame she didn’t include the excellent ‘Move On’ which is another firm favourite. That said, it was only a post-show review of the set list that unearthed the lack of Mixed Emotions content, so it didn’t detract from the show by any means, since Beverley Craven’s back catalogue is full of wonderful songs.

 

Beverley Craven & Frank Reid

Throughout the entire set, bar one or two numbers where she performed alone, Beverley was ably supported on stage by Frank Reid. Chop-and-changing between an assortment of instruments, he was like a one-man-band, though he particularly shone when performing on the saxophone. The pair performed effortlessly in sync. Beverley also graciously took a step back a couple of times during the set to let Frank take centre stage, subsequently encouraging the audience to applaud his musical talent – in particular after his breathless saxophone solo that drew the opening number of the second act, ‘Two of a Kind’, to a close.

In an age where the current big stars spend millions and charge millions for a show which is full of complex choreography and pyrotechnics, it was thoroughly enjoyable to bear witness to a high class evening of beautiful songs and impressive musicianship, tied together by a charming and witty artist. If you’re after a delightful and engaging evening of soothing music you will struggle to beat Beverley Craven on one of her tour dates.

Setlist:

Holding On

Love Scenes

Fun, Fun, Fun

Love is the Light

Woman to Woman

Make You Mine

Ready to Fall in Love

Mollie’s Song

Without Me

Rainbows

– interval –

Two of a Kind

Memories

Joey

Feels Like the First Time

Mr Know-It-All

I Miss You

Your Girl, My Man

You Never Did Love Me

Promise Me

Lost Without You

To find out where Beverley Craven will be performing next on her tour and buy tickets visit her official website.

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Valentine’s Day: 60 Seconds With… The Cut

Named after Saint Valentine, who was martyred, amongst other things, for his commitment to performing weddings for soldiers who were not allowed to get married, Valentine’s Day first came into existence during the High Middle Ages when courtship became the vogue. By the 15th century, the notion of gift giving had been incorporated into the tradition, with the underlying notion a celebration of love of all stages – the unrequited, the puppy and the established. While these days, Valentine’s Day has become heavily associated with the commercial marketing that surrounds the day of love – The Cut’s Kate Baxter still feels that pronouncements of commitment are central to a day based around romance. So So Gay grabbed a quick chat with Baxter to find out more…

So So Gay: The Cut is far more than a jewellery blog – can you tell us more…

Kate Baxter: Thanks! As well as featuring the best new jewels from independent designers, The Cut offers an engagement ring-finding service for those looking for something a bit different. We point you in the direction of London’s best jewellery designers to help you either get a bespoke ring made (which is a lot easier than you think) or buy something truly unique and unusual. There are a lot of jewellery designers out there which can sometimes feel daunting, so it’s really helpful to get a recommendation.

You describe yourself as a ‘design geek, gemstone nerd, jewel hunter’ – what is it about jewellery that makes you go giddy?

I love how jewellery is enjoyed and worn purely for its own sake; it has no function or purpose other than to look pretty. I’m extremely nerdy about gemstones and could gaze at piles of rubies and sapphires for hours…the fact that they aren’t man-made and are naturally existing products of the earth blows my mind when you see how beautiful they are.

What, in your eyes, are the key ingredients for the perfect ring?

The perfect ring for me would be a combination of beauty and originality in the design (I’d love a bespoke or vintage ring for this reason) and something that is easy to wear. How much it costs or how big the diamond is is not important – I love the idea that my partner has been brave and thoughtful enough to search out a great designer and really thought about what I’d like to wear – rather than just thrown money at the problem and gone to Tiffanys! That’s lazy in my opinion.

Talking rings – Valentine’s Day is upon us – what is The Cut doing to help out?

We have a huge selection of images on the blog, which are great inspiration for Valentine’s Day gifts – probably a bit late now though! And for all those who spontaneously popped the question today we can help you find the perfect ring!

Gay marriage is clearly a big topic in the country at the moment – have you noticed a sway in the jewellery world to match the demand?

At The Cut, we’re really looking forward to the gay marriage bill being passed as we’re hoping it will inspire a whole swathe of couples to tie the knot, and I’m sure the industry as a whole feels the same. Although to be honest, I wouldn’t say that the lack of equal opportunities with regards to marriage in this country has stopped the gay community from buying engagement rings – far from it!

Rather than opting for a ready-made ring, the site urges people to consider something a little more unique. How are you able to help with these choices?

We try and take the fear out of buying bespoke. We explain how it all works to our clients, and then point them in the direction of some of London’s top jewellery designers. Having a trusted, recommended jeweller really puts people’s minds at ease. When you’re spending so much money it’s often scary to go for something a bit different – but being involved in the design process means you can ‘build’ your dream ring, without compromise, and the result is beautiful, handmade and totally unique to you, and often costs no more than an off-the-shelf ring.

Can bespoke jewellery be done on a budget?

It’s important to realise the difference between bespoke and mass-made jewellery. A bespoke, hand made piece will probably cost a little more than a machine made design, but you get a lot more value for money – the craftsmanship that goes in to making it, as well as the personal touches you can add make it an invaluable choice.

For those anticipating popping the question, how long – on average – does The Cut’s service take?

Getting a bespoke ring made usually takes around four to eight weeks, depending on what stones are used and how easy it is to source them – although I’ve helped a few desperate people get a ring made in two weeks! This is quite stressful however, I wouldn’t recommend it!

And their next step should be…

They can email me for some free advice at kate@thecutlondon.com. Have a look at www.thecutlondon.com for some inspiration beforehand!