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Motivation Entertainments Premier Showcase 2006 review at BAWA Centre Bristol

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Having battled at a snail’s pace through the country’s largest unofficial car park, the M25, on a night that even penguins would have probably decided to stay in on, an unavoidably late arrival at the Motivation showcase unfortunately meant missing the first few acts. Our apologies that Leanne, Celtic Storm and Lenny Dee will not be reviewed on this occasion.

On entering it was clear though that a full house was well into the swing of things as Nigel Southway’s tribute act Halfway to Parody was just coming to a lively conclusion with a well received version of the Billy Fury classic Jealousy. Nostalgia for some older tribute artists is maybe not be what it used to be but there seems to be a lingering fascination with the likes of Fury and Cochran which should mean a steady flow – if perhaps not torrent – of work for authentic sounding acts like this.

The last time I saw comedy impressionist Drew Cameron was as a finalist in the respected New Act of the Year contest held at the Hackney Empire. His mix of irreverent characters taken out of context is mostly very funny, for example Ozzy Osbourne doing Chubby Checker’s Let’s Twist Again – using a variation on the original lyrics of course – and his quickfire set is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. He has certainly beefed up the content of his act since his Empire appearance but he is wise enough to stick with skits on instantly recognisable characters with a few bizarre twists thrown in. He may come across as mainstream some of the time, but there’s a sense of danger about him which makes his comedy compelling and silly at the same time.

Dubbed the Queen of the Stratocaster by fans in Brazil, young Zoe McCulloch certainly has a promising musical future at her highly flexible fingers. Unfortunately, showcase settings like this don’t really lend themselves to the talents of a solo guitarist and though this was a pleasant set, it served more as an interlude to the main entertainment than an act in its own right, which it deserved. Inspired to pick up the instrument at an early age on hearing the Shadows’ Apache guitar anthem, McCulloch has obviously been pretty busy over the past few years entering competitions, touring and not least, marketing her undoubted playing skills with professionally presented CDs. That sort of energy and commitment should pay off, though she needs to work on her in-between numbers patter.

Shaun Perry is clearly nothing if not versatile, having been a professional musician since 16, as well as listing the rhythm/lead guitar, bass guitar and keyboards among instruments he plays. On the night he only had to work the microphone though during a set which somewhat surprisingly included a Mario Lanza number from the musical Carousel and which was very nicely paced and certainly powerful enough to pay fitting homage to the original. Being the all-round entertainer he is – he’s worked supporting Jethro a fair bit – he also threw in a few gags before launching into Bridge Over Troubled Water. Not the easiest song to maintain the audience’s interest with given its subdued pace at times, this wasn’t the uptempo finish his set could have done with, but was still pleasant enough.

Vocalist Ruby Washington is the sort of seasoned professional it is always good to watch and who you know is unlikely to put a foot wrong onstage. She used to be part of a group called the Divas and there’s still much of the diva present in her onstage persona, the women in the audience in particular clearly warming to her girl power – or more accurately woman power – image. She works all the crowd well though and even if New York, New York was a somewhat hackneyed choice to finish with, her opening Alfie cover was splendid. Vocally, her gospel roots shine through and that mixed with a contemporary style makes for a highly watchable, sheer showbiz package.

Making his compering debut on the night, Swansea-based Steven J Taylor then took the opportunity to rattle off a few songs, his version of Labbi Siffre’s Something Inside So Strong being the pick, and also an interesting choice in itself. Thoughout the night he moved proceedings along professionally, proving that when pushed, experienced performers can turn their hands to anything, his talent for comedy obviously being an asset when filling any interludes in the running order.

Described as already being a veteran at her young age, female vocalist Rue is the sort of performer who some would probably dismiss as being the bread and butter of the club scene. But for starters, she is already an accomplished, confident vocalist at just 16 and will only improve in terms of her stage presence and presentation, both of which need a bit of work. She was also brave enough to present a mixed showcase set here – something many older vocalists don’t seem to worry about – her version of Dido’s White Flag being a fine version of a great song. Time, as they say, is on her side. It’s down to her what level success she wants.

There’s always room on a showcase bill for some naughtiness, as long as it’s genuinely funny, and country bumpkin adult gagster Greg Suggitt certainly is. Not so much near the knuckle as right on it for the most part, his saucy humour is done in a likeable way, his tongue being firmly in cheek and without resorting to using any four letter words – not those beginning with F anyway. His dyslexic version of Cinderella is a routine he has obviously done for a fair while and even though the gag wore a bit thin, it still got consistent laughs here. He didn’t labour the point either, knowing when to finish it, as all good comics should. Mostly fun and more to the point, quite original.

Young crooner Sean Scannell is no doubt in demand a fair bit on the circuit, as he is the sort of very competent, all-round vocalist that many venues could use. On the night though, this was a slightly, probably untypical, lacklustre performance and one which failed to whip up that much enthusiasm among the audience. That was partly due to having to follow the raucous laughter caused by Greg Suggitt which was still floating around the centre, but the set never really fired on all vocal cylinders, the opening Have You Met Miss Jones? being the high point. Robbie Williams’ Rock DJ – a song I’ve never particularly liked – was the finisher, Scannell’s cover not really helping me change my opinion.

Time then for the final act of the night, F.B.I. Tribute to Shadows, and which delivered all it promised with a tight, accomplished set covering some instantly recognisable tunes from the originals, plus a few which required a bit more introduction. Among them, of course, was Apache (Zoe McCulloch no doubt taking notes), plus Ghost Riders In The Sky, Eddie Cochran’s 20 Flight Rock and also Dancin’ Shoes. The authenticity test for such tribute bands can lie in the reaction from the older members in the audience and with a few needing no encouragement to take to the dance floor, they clearly passed. The younger people present also seemed quite happy to clap along to the retro sounds, making for a slick sounding set, just right to finish off proceedings.

On the night, considering that the organisers had seen three acts pull out, two more stuck on motorways until 8pm and even another rushing his wife to hospital, everything seemed to go quite smoothly, with the showcase still having enough variety of acts to interest regional bookers. A final word of praise should also go to caricaturist Christian Marshall who worked very hard drawing dozens of sketches throughout the evening, all received with applause and hearty laughter. Proof then that the ultimate success of a showcase isn’t down to just those appearing on stage – the words ‘team’ and’ ‘effort’ coming readily to mind.

Production Information

BAWA Centre, Bristol, February 23

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