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

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This agency, run by John and Dot Howe, unlike some has kept faith with presenting an annual showcase, and estimates that it has, to date, presented some 750 acts to clients and fellow agents. One thing the hard working, popular couple knows all about is the value of a good compere, and in the ever cheeky and confident, Tim Ames, they have one of the best on the circuit, as he was to prove again here, introducing the very first act appearing at the three session, two-day showcase.

London-based, six-piece function and party band The Soulmates serve up a set containing just the right blend of feel-good tunes and party anthems to get the event off to a solid, musically energetic start, the band being driven with some style by a livewire female lead singer.

Solo vocalist Mike Carnell is a performer new to John Howe’s books. He has a go at just about every music genre, ranging from some Jersey Boys material through to rock and roll covers, so he’s clearly a versatile vocalist who puts in an energetic set. Just standing out from a crowd of similar, more charismatic male acts will be his only problem.

Male vocal instrumentalist duo Bravado is an act that can get audiences on their feet without even trying if their set list here is anything to go by. Best of all, it wasn’t the usual hybrid mix of party favourites; they started with The Jam’s Town Called Malice and finished with Johnny B Goode. Not content with just belting out some top tunes, this fun Kent-based duo adds in some impressive tomfoolery, one somehow playing the other’s guitar from behind him. Slapstick and some serious fret slapping makes an entertaining, full-on act and each clearly loves being on stage. With vast experience on the holiday park and club circuit this duo is apparently looking to break into new areas of entertainment so good luck with that. Time then for the Tim and Tony Strange show, a routine I’ve seen a fair few times, but which never ceases to amuse. Tim Ames teams up with Tony Harris who takes on the persona of a downtrodden but ambitious Albanian waiter. The result is a few minutes of delightful comedy, deft improvisation and comic invention. Harris’s character might be on minimum wage, but he provides maximum laughs.

Magic and musical trio D’Illusions (featuring Mike Carnell) has a fair bit going for it, not least a pace that never flags, but in the final analysis it offers pretty standard illusion fare, and audiences need to see something different and more original if this kind act is to win them over. This is a very professionally put together, stylish illusion act, but this showcase set, admittedly being limited to just a few minutes, wasn’t really different enough to stand out from many others around. The pirate-themed illusion section though is bound to go down well with younger audiences, and it’s maybe something this act should look to expand.

Singer/songwriter from London, Kelly Pepper, released a debut single back in July to some acclaim and encouraging support from radio stations. It’s always great to hear of a young artist actually writing her own material and, on this evidence she’s clearly a talented vocalist with focus, ambition and vocal power. She thinks outside the usual showcase box too, here performing a great cover of the song from the Avenue Q musical, There’s a Fine Fine Line, before cranking it up to finish with Rihanna’s We Found Love. According to the programme notes, Britain’s Got Talent 2013 finalist ventriloquist Steve Hewlett, wasn’t appearing at the Riverside because he needs the bookings, but because the showcase would have been too short without him. In truth it was as a way of saying thanks to the agency as a John Howe showcase was one of the very first he performed at in the late 1990s when starting out. He’s setting off on a theatre tour of the UK in 2014, and as ever, his audiences are in for a treat. I don’t think I’ve seen a set from him that’s been anything less than totally professional and great fun, and this was no exception.

Ultra Violet acts can leave you in the dark as to what they are trying to achieve on stage, and certainly Groovy UV left me wondering just where, creatively, the act was heading early on its set. But, once a huge, multi-coloured squid appeared and a delightful music box ballerina, then best of all, some sketches of pin people came to full-size life, I warmed to this act and it was all quite charming. It needs a much stronger first few minutes though – children especially are not known for their patience.

Described as a lady with a strong voice and personality, Helen Ward-Jackson is clearly a very versatile artist, performing music from the 1940s through to present day, including Motown and musicals. She also offers an Adele tribute, performing Rolling In The Deep here, and on this evidence, that show looks guaranteed to please fans of the original. You need to be a strong, assured vocalist to pay due credit to Adele, and Ward-Jackson clearly has the required vocal experience.

Billed as the UK’s youngest professional swing singer, Tom Fitzpatrick’s stage presence and bubbly personality certainly doesn’t disappoint. He looks intent on entertaining from his very first note. His only problem will be in trying to cut a definitive image and style in a market flooded with performers of his ilk. He’s charismatic enough though to carve out a decent rat pack reputation.

I’ve seen the excellent Sophie Causbrook before – and I’ve certainly seen her perform better. The description ‘cross-over’ artist always conjures up images of Danny La Rue to me, being used a slightly clumsy term for vocalists with a liking for mixing classical covers and more contemporary material. She always looks stunning on stage, and there’s plenty of female artists on the circuit who could do with taking a few pages our of her presentation book. Compared with her performance here last year, this set sounded tentative and even a little nervous, her finale being a slightly uninspiring cover of Nessun Dorma. Even class acts, of which she is certainly one, can have off nights.

Ollie Collins Magic, an eye-boggling mix of magic, illusions and UV effects, is an imaginative act with plenty to entertain most ages and tastes. It’s energetic, visually creative and, not least, pretty clever and you can’t ask for much more than that being packed into a short showcase set. There were lots of elements you tend to see in just about every illusion act on the circuit, but there’s also plenty of original, if fleeting, touches too. A full-length set is, I imagine, thoroughly entertaining and good value for any holiday park bookers.

Sussex-based, four-piece party band, Reload, boasting a full throttle lead female vocalist who also performs her own solo cabaret spot, has all the key ingredients to entertain any corporate function or party. Vital to any such act’s success is an ability to cover just about request, and this set fully illustrates ‘juke box’ musical talents – just push a button, choose a cover and away they go.

Being the last on at a long showcase can be as tricky as being the first, but female rock and roll duo The Lipsticks were to prove a retro musical treat. Joanna and Sophia are apparently both performers in their own rights, and that vocal pedigree certainly shows through. Sometimes, rock and rollers take themselves and their preferred music a bit too serious, but with this act, there’s an underlying cheekiness to what they do, and actually do very well.

Once again, John Howe had come up trumps with a varied, interesting showcase line-up. It maybe wasn’t as strong as the opening session last year, but Kelly Pepper, The Lipsticks, and of course, Steve Hewlett helped make it a thoroughly entertaining one for sure.

Read about the other sessions from this showcase:

Day two afternoon session

Day two evening session

Production Information

Riverside Caravan Centre, Bognor Regis, November 4

Tim & Tony Strange, The Soulmates, Mike Carnell, Bravado, D’Illusions, Kelly Pepper, Steve Hewlett, Groovy UV, Helen Ward-Jackson, Tom Fitzpatrick, Sophie Causbrook, Ollie Collins Magic, Reload, The Lipsticks

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