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John Howe Presentations Showcase 2013 (day two, evening session) review at Riverside Caravan Centre Bognor Regis

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The final session of this year’s showcase at the Riverside boasts two comperes, the first being the always confident Chris Smeed.

A raucous, taped introduction announced the arrival of party band Trinity on stage. There’s a little more to this trio than just being a party/function band, not least attitude in abundance and a wide-ranging repertoire.

Vocalist Laura Glaves was the clear winner of this showcase’s best presentation award, looking stunning on stage, and with a quality, classical voice to match. This was an impassioned performance, though it did have some quirky moments that suggested a more eccentric side to her persona.

In truth, function band New Dimension offer little that’s really new. But, such experienced bands are the bread and butter of the function circuit, and their commitment to the entertainment cause is never in doubt. That was epitomised by a feisty, powerful performance from its leading lady in red on vocals throughout a varied set covering Maroon 5’s Moves Like Jagger, then less predictably, a slightly plodding version of Elton John’s Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.

If the future of light entertainment lies in the hands of young performers such as Jason Lee Howlett, then it’s in very safe hands indeed. He’s a bundle of energy when on stage, packs a fine, versatile voice and clearly loves being on stage and entertaining audiences – and the challenge of winning over those reluctant to join in. He’s also the executive booker for John Howe Presentations, and a confident compere as he proved later when he took over the microphone from Smeed.

It’s easy to take the superlative skills of speciality juggler Steve Arnold for granted if you’ve seen him before. But that would actually be quite criminal, as his multi-discipline juggling dexterity and sense of showmanship never cease to amaze. It’s true that he hasn’t varied his showcase set hardly at all over the years I’ve been watching him, but then again why should he? As a brief glimpse into the colourful, hypnotic and manic juggling world of Arnold, it’s just perfect.

Seeming initially a little nervous, south coast-based female vocalist, Rebecca Burge, took a few numbers to get into her showcase stride, which she finally did performing a bubbly cover of Sixties hit, Bobby’s Girl. Warming to the task, the audience then began to warm to her. If she’d had time for another couple of numbers, then I think we would have started to see the real Burge.

I’ve not seen anyone wear a crushed velvet jacket for about 20 years, but comedy vocalist John Gillan actually looks very dapper in his. A classically trained tenor, he gave full rein to his vocal chords in the opener number, then reeled off some decent gags, before returning to his musical roots with a Mario Lanza cover. It’s a mish-mash of an act, and its success ultimately hinges on the comedy sandwich. Thankfully, there’s enough meat on the comic bones to make the whole thing work pretty well.

It’s difficult to envisage how speciality act Emazing Illusion could pack any more elements into a showcase set. All the familiar illusion tricks of the trade are included, and they are very slickly executed, but what you mostly remember from this performance is a rather bizarre mind-reading, object-guessing routine which seemed to take forever, but was just about worth sticking with. It all seemed a lot of hard work and impressive as the finale was, their short time on stage could surely have been better spent.

If soul and Motown outfit New Platters was just an all-male vocal act it would probably be great entertainment, if a little predictable. But it’s not, because it has a trump card in the shape of a fabulous full-on female singer who bounces with energy and nails every cover she sings, including a fine Jackson 5 medley. She has an infectious on-stage personality and a real joy of performing.

Showcases can trip up even the most experienced acts, as here with ventriloquist, Paul Dumas. Everything that could have gone wrong did, but most bookers and agents present know how entertaining he usually is, and will just file this appearance under ‘bad day at the office’.

There seems to be a plethora of so-called crossover acts on the circuit at the moment and surely there is only a finite number of venues that would book acts like male/female combo, Epica Duet (Dean Alexander and KT Star). Like their peers, the vocal style of mixing covers in English, Spanish, French and, of course, Italian, is an acquired taste and needs a combination of right audience and a more sophisticated ambience. That, you suspect, is more likely to found at sea than on terra firma.

As tribute acts go, NYA King, as Whitney Houston, must be up there with the very best. Shimmering in a fabulous gold dress, this was a top-drawer set with a fabulous finale – a cover of The Bodyguard soundtrack, I Will Always Love You. Houston is a tough tribute to pull off and this was an impressive performance.

2 Minds Combined proves to be an innovative, creative and highly original act. The male/female duo began by creating some weird, some wonderful and a few, it has to be said, not so impressive shadows on a backdrop, backed with a fun soundtrack. The finale, the eventual creation of a celebrity image by combining three ‘images’ conjured from the imagination and a little mind reading, was a very slow burner, but worth the wait.

Nina Garcia, fiddle player and vocalist is a breath of fresh air and clearly revels in performing. She thrives on audience participation and struggled here to whip up the Riverside crowd, but her musical talents are clear for all to appreciate and it is a fine set.

If any act is going to get an audience on their feet, it’s full-on vocal entertainer, from LA, Ricky Zalez. There’s something very old school about him, but that’s part of his charm essentially and there’s plenty of more mature audiences out there with which he’ll go down a storm.

Given that some 15 acts were billed, the evening session had flown by. There was, to use a showcase cliche, something for everyone. The tribute talents of NYA King had really impressed, as Steve Arnold always does, while the originality and bizarreness of 2 Minds Combined is what makes visits to showcases always worthwhile – you just never know what you’ll witness.

Read Day Two afternoon session of this showcase

Production Information

Riverside Caravan Centre, Bognor Regis, November 5

Chris Smeed, Trinity, Laura Glaves, New Dimension, Jason Lee Howlett, Steve Arnold, Rebecca Burge, John Gillan, Emazing Ellusion, The New Platters, Paul Dumas, Epica Duet, NYA King, 2 Minds Combined, Nina Garcia, Ricky Zalez

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