BBC – Music – Review of Felix Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn was, famously, one of the most extraordinarily precocious composing talents the world has ever seen. Presented in this new Hyperion release, alongside his well-loved mature Violin Concerto in E minor, is the earlier D minor concerto, written when he was just 13.

The soloist is young Russian star Alina Ibragimova, 2007 graduate of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists scheme, partnered by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (on period-instruments) under Vladimir Jurowski.

Ibragimova adopts a historically-informed style on her 1775 Anselmo Bellosio violin, the sound lighter than we are used to hearing in Mendelssohn’s mid-19th century E minor masterpiece. But her svelte, unforced tone is just right in this context – and, with sparing use of vibrato, she conjures some beguilingly sweet tones. In the brooding opening movement she is marvellously fleet-footed, never underpowered.

Clear orchestral textures and crisp articulation heighten the intensity of the romantic sweep. The first movement brims with fervent passion – Jurowski driving forward excitingly, but also allowing space for reflection. Refreshingly, Ibragimova takes the sumptuous Andante at a genuine, gently flowing, “walking pace”, her violin singing eloquently and tenderly, followed by a daringly fast finale that she’s never in any danger of not pulling off.

Her absolute unanimity with the woodwind, which joins her in the scampering main theme, is breathtaking, and her occasional discrete use of portamento feels completely apt. This is a delightful, compelling performance from beginning to end, the equal of any in the catalogue.

The early D minor concerto, scored for string orchestra, is less distinctively Mendelssohnian, displaying, unsurprisingly, the juvenile composer’s classical heritage. But it is also forward-looking – there are shades of Weber in the cloak-and-dagger stalking motif that opens the first movement.

An attractive work in its own right, Ibragimova approaches the concerto with no less commitment than the E minor, and the result is a rewarding experience. With rhythmically taught OAE strings, the folk-like dancing finale is an exhilarating ride.

Sandwiched between the two concertos is an atmospheric account of the famous Hebrides overture, Jurowski tangibly evoking romantic Highland mists and an adventurous spirit with pungent woodwind, churning cellos and majestic brass.

BBC – Music – Review of Amit Trivedi

Charged with the task of composing the soundtrack to English Vinglish, the comeback vehicle for 80s Bollywood queen Sridevi, Amit Trivedi might have done the obvious. He could have given the album a retro feel, or stuffed it full of brash item numbers and pointless remixes.

Fortunately neither he nor the film’s director, Gauri Shinde, give into the temptation of producing such fare. Nor do they recreate the kind of histrionic numbers Sridevi mimed along to on Mr India, Chandni and Nagina.

By opting for a subtle score and a set of situational songs, Trivedi produces a mature soundtrack that is well suited to its graceful leading lady and the grown-up, multi-cultural drama that it accompanies.

The title track, English Vinglish, encapsulates the storyline of a woman’s confusion and excitement at learning a new language and discovering the fresh world it opens up. Shilpa Rao’s warm “Hinglish” vocals make this a likeable listen.

Rao also excels in Gustakh Dil, an emotive ballad that’s never melodramatic, mainly thanks to Swanand Kirkire’s stirring lyrics and Trivedi’s fine, contemporary rock-influenced composition. The result is a song that would feel at home in any international movie.  

Lending his own voice to Dhak Dhuk, Trivedi’s husky tone is inviting, complementing lyrics expressing the nervousness felt when leaving one land for another.

Less alluring is Manhattan, the only dud amongst a good collection. There’s a fine line between catchy melodies and an annoying song, and Manhattan oversteps it. The flat tune and quirky tourist guide lyrics, describing the city of towering skyscrapers and designer stores, stirs little but irritation.

The closest Sridevi gets to flexing her dance muscles on screen is to the cheerful Marathi wedding song, Navrai Majhi. Feminine and merry, the celebratory track features Sunidhi Chauhan’s perky vocals leading a number of supporting singers, one of whom is lyricist Kirkire. Cross-cultural touches add to its eclectic sound.

Having delivered hit albums like Ishaqzaade, Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu and Dev D, Trivedi proves here that he’s a talent unafraid of experimenting. He stands on the verge of big success.

BBC – Music – Review of Kate Rusby

In 1992 Kate Rusby was, you fondly imagine, a nervy teenager who couldn’t have dreamed of the outstanding career that lay ahead. The notion of a gentle young singer from Yorkshire with a mostly traditional repertoire lighting up a largely moribund British folk scene and going on to achieve substantial crossover success was way off the register.

Yet here she is, in 2012, celebrating 20 years as a performer by re-imagining some of the tracks that helped speed her remarkable journey. She’s joined on this double-CD set by some high-profile chums, notably Paul Weller, Richard Thompson, Jerry Douglas, Nic Jones, Chris Thile, Paul Brady, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Stephen Fretwell and Eddi Reader.

The same thing that seduced audiences in those early days – her exceptionally tender voice – still stops you in your tracks. And while her critics point accusingly at a string of albums that are seemingly interchangeable, her innate ability to connect with a wider audience with her disarming vulnerability undoubtedly played its role in Brit folk’s unexpected rebirth through the 2000s.

Despite an inexplicably drab sleeve, the album works on several levels. It’s a fine introductory calling card for interested new arrivals, as well as an enlightened and novel “greatest hits” collection. And then there’s the curiosity of listening to her interact with the various guests, sometimes revealing a dimension we hadn’t previously glimpsed.

The Paul Weller duet Sun Grazers, for example – the only song she hadn’t previously recorded – is exceptionally good, another indication of her gradual blossoming as a songwriter.

This is comprehensively verified by the melancholic spells weaved by Who Will Sing Me Lullabies (with Richard Thompson on electric guitar/vocals and Radiohead’s Phil Selway on percussion), Underneath the Stars (with Grimethorpe Colliery Band) and the more acidic Mocking Bird, with Sara Watkins.

She even takes the opportunity to record with some of her own defining influences, like Dick Gaughan, Dave Burland and Nic Jones, the latter making his own mark with glorious harmonies on The Lark.

Not everything works – the Paul Brady duet All God’s Angels sounds laboured – but this is a Rusby album with a different hue… and none the worse for that.

Kiddicare rolls out ZBD’s epaper system across UK superstores to strengthen multi-channel strategy

ZBD’s epaper system gains momentum in UK retail market

ZBD, the leading provider of fully graphic epaper display systems for retailers and industrial users globally, today announced that Kiddicare, the UK’s largest online baby equipment retailer, has chosen to roll out ZBD’s epaper system across its entire store estate.

ZBD logo

ZBD logo

Kiddicare initially trialled ZBD’s epaper system at its flagship store at its Peterborough HQ. The multi-channel model proved successful, giving Kiddicare the ability to synchronise pricing and information online and in-store. Following the success of the trial, Kiddicare has committed to a wider rollout across all new superstores.

Kiddicare has built its reputation as the UK’s leading baby equipment internet retailer by delivering an award-winning website and superior customer service. It was acquired by supermarket giant Morrisons in 2011 and has since taken over the leases of 10 former Best Buy stores to expand its physical store network. Kiddicare is in the middle of an ambitious store launch programme that will see 10 new superstores open over the next year.

Kiddicare’s first superstore opened in Nottingham in September 2012 with a variety of technologies to enhance the customer experience, including touch-screen ‘browse and order point’ technology with barcode scanning allowing shoppers to check product availability as well as choose from multiple delivery options, free WiFi, in addition to ZBD’s epaper system.

Scott Weavers-Wright, Chief Executive of Kiddicare commented: “As a multi-channel retailer, keeping store pricing in line with our website is one of our biggest challenges. ZBD’s technology removes the limitations of paper from the equation, allowing us to deliver a seamless, consistent experience to our customers, however they engage with us. The ZBD solution gives our in store teams the chance to focus on what’s important – wow customer service.”

“With ZBD’s fully graphic displays, we can now add QR codes to the shelf to provide additional information on customers’ mobile phones, or store assistants’ tablets. This information could include product demonstrations, customer reviews or anything else that will enhance the shopping experience. It’s all available via our free in-store Wi-Fi network.”

Shaun Gray, ZBD CEO, said: “As a company recognised for its innovative technology, it’s great to work with a pioneering multi-channel retailer such as Kiddicare and we are delighted that they have chosen us to be part of their growth strategy. Their shoppers can trust that Kiddicare can accurately deliver all of their corporate price policies in real-time.”

“Our partnership with Kiddicare shows that we are gaining momentum within the UK thanks to our multi-channel capabilities – and other customer announcements will follow.”

ENDS

Notes for editors

About ZBD:
Formed in 2000 out of QinetiQ, ZBD is a pioneering company with its own R&D, full IPR and scalable manufacturing processes that enable it to deliver an epaper solution with practical commercial advantages for retailers.

ZBD is a leader in the design and supply of electronic shelf edge labels and associated software solutions for the retail industry. The company has developed the next generation of LCD, creating high-contrast bistability that requires no battery power to retain its image. Its range of epaper displays provides retailers with a total store solution and the ability to manage and update pricing, product and promotional information at point of purchase, dynamically.

For further information on ZBD, visit http://www.zbdsolutions.com or follow ZBD on Twitter at @zbdsolutions.

Media contact at ZBD:
Sarah Hool
Tel: +44 (0)1344 292 110 or +44 (0) 7753 573 490 (mobile) | sarah.hool@zbdsolutions.com

Georgia Hanias / Judith Massey
Tel: + 44 (0) 207 6389571 | zbd@citigatedr.co.uk

About Kiddicare:

  • Baby specialist Kiddicare was established in 1974 and became part of the Morrisons family in February 2011.

  • Kiddicare has won multiple awards for excellence in online, delivery, product range and customer services from influentials including Mother & Baby, Which? and Retail Systems.

  • The first of ten new destination Kiddicare superstores to open on former Best Buy retail sites, acquired with parent company Morrisons earlier this year, was Kiddicare Nottingham in September 2012. Birmingham and Thurrock locations will open before Christmas.

  • By the end of 2013 over 1,000 staff will be employed by Kiddicare.

  • Over 1m customers visit Kiddicare.com each month.

  • Find Kiddicare on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+.

BBC – Music – Review of Show of Hands

Had they begun in the mid-1970s, a time when the public seemed rather taken with weathered-yet-fiery acoustic music, Show of Hands would surely have been as massive as Steeleye Span.

Instead, the duo of Steve Knightley and Phil Beer came along in the early 1990s, when mainstream tastes didn’t much care for such rootsy sounds. Thus, their audience has always been relatively compact. Yet there’s no denying that their fans are fiercely committed. They’ve sold out the Royal Albert Hall. Four times.

It would be very easy for Show of Hands to simply coast on this loyalty. Instead, they have deliberately evolved to challenge their audience. In 2004 they augmented the group with double-bass player Miranda Sykes, and with 2009’s album, Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed, they stripped back the Show of Hands sound, evoking a politicised post-folk, pre-punk grittiness.

Wake the Union has its fair share of overtly political moments. The cleverest one, and the album’s overall highlight, is Aunt Maria, featuring slide guitar from Martin Simpson.

It’s about the titular Aunt meeting song collector Cecil Sharp. Maria allows her song to be recorded and her history told, but is uneasy about the difference in class between herself and Sharp, and anxious that she shouldn’t be the only one to whom the collector talks. “There’s lots more folk like me, sir,” Knightly sings as Maria. “Why don’t you come and see, sir?”

There’s another notable guest star: Seth Lakeman. He pops up on a few songs, including a co-write on the album’s paean to stalkers, Haunt You, and he also totes his viola on the (rather pointless) cover of Bob Dylan’s Seven Curses.

More successful is Sykes’ vocal contribution to Coming Home. She interjects two verses from the traditional song, Bonny Light Horseman, subtly complicating this otherwise simple tale of a family’s bad seed.

There are certainly a few filler tracks, but overall this is a solid, sometimes great, set. It’s unlikely to win over many new fans, but those already under the band’s wingspan are, once again, richly rewarded with another thought-provoking collection.

BBC – Music – Review of Martha Tilston

As the title hints, Sussex singer Martha Tilston’s latest album is concerned with the complicated relationship between technology and the human condition. This theme is an easy one for folk musicians to bring up, but generally a hard one for them to tackle effectively.

Too often, folk songs with this theme settle for one of three acoustic stereotypes: happy Luddite ode, nostalgic ramble or sledgehammer protest. It is therefore to Tilston’s great credit that her album, while saturated with sadness and despair, adopts none of these positions. Instead, she explores these issues with eloquence and balance.

For Tilston, the personal is political. For example, in Silent Women, she links disquiet at modern warfare with the oppression of women’s intellectual voices, and then reflects on her own upbringing. While some might find this approach self-centred, it does give her concept a pure emotional heart, and means that her political points are never empty sloganeering.

There is someone else who is very good at doing this kind of thing: Joni Mitchell. And, boy, does Martha Tilston like Joni Mitchell. It’s hinted at from the beginning, but it is impossible to ignore on Blue Eyes and Staircase. On these two tracks in particular, Tilston imitates Mitchell’s distinctive phrasing to such an outrageous degree that homage becomes cheap impression.

Perhaps in an effort to make these songs seem less like outright theft, the penultimate track on the album, Butterflies, confesses the influence, as Tilston namechecks song titles and lyrics from Joni’s most iconic albums. Therefore, some may reasonably ask: why listen to Machines of Love and Grace when one can listen to Blue or Clouds?

The answer to that is in tracks such as the unusual Survival Guide, a sparse, rhythmic piece that somehow finds a middle ground between Mary Hampton and Adam Ant. When Tilston forges with her own musical iron – as she also does on the delicate More, and on the murky tangle that is Let Them Glow – the results are powerful.

Tilston shouldn’t settle for being an ersatz Joni, because the more she does so, the more she cheats the world out of her own unique voice.

BBC – Music – Review of Bellowhead

It’s all there in that name. Those three syllables suggest a hollering madman, and a ferocity that will – for the newcomer – seem far removed from folk music. But Bellowhead are one of the genre’s 21st century success stories.

An 11-piece group founded by duo John Spiers and Jon Boden in 2004, they’ve played Proms, won seven Radio 2 Folk Awards, and their last album (2010’s Hedonism) sold 60,000 copies, becoming the best-selling independent folk LP of all time.

Broadside sees the band decamp to Monmouth’s legendary Rockfield Studios, with their now-established producer John Leckie, more famous in pop circles for producing The Stone Roses. This is folk music obeying different rules without doubt, cast in wilder, brighter colours.

Broadside is no typical folk album, either. We’re more in the realm of The Pogues and Dexys, hanging out with a thinking-and-doing party band, who twist traditional tunes through rabble-rousing arrangements.

This can work, as their treatment of the drinking song, Old Dun Cow, reveals. Stirring into life with a sinister bass clarinet, a clattering snare drum soon promises menace. Then horns and strings arrive, creating the soundworld of a 1960s film thriller. For a song about boozing men stuck in a burning pub, it creates a very fresh kind of drama.

The sea shanty 10,000 Miles Away is also given a clever reboot. Its title promises travel, and the song delivers it, beginning with hints of tropicalia music before giving over to the jangles of a bluegrass banjo.

Elsewhere, Broadside’s mood remains one of dramatic excess, as much of the theatre as of the turntable. It’s there when Black Beetle Pies begins with a terrifying, gurgling laugh, and when Lillibulero sets a Henry Purcell tune against jaunty accordions, before screeching middle-eight string harmonics move us on.

But the stories can also, sadly, get lost in the volume. This happens literally in The Wife of Usher’s Well, where the ever-blaring horn section smothers the voices completely.

Live, this may not matter, but on record, it does. When Bellowhead’s mission is telling old stories in rousing new ways, sometimes the noise has to die down to make these narratives matter.

BBC – Music – Review of Yasmin Levy

Arriving three years after Israeli singer Yasmin Levy’s previous album, Libertad exudes careful craft and consideration. She’s now including a greater ratio of original material, and these arrangements are very elaborate.

Much of this recording has an aura of intimate communication, yet its sound is considerably expanded, with contributions from The Strings Orchestra Istanbul. Producer Ben Mandelson harnesses these forces, fine-tuning them, and directs a further roster of guests.

Throughout, Levy refines her fusions. Flamenco is her foundation style, but across it she smears elements from Argentine tango and Portuguese fado. Three songs are delivered in Levy’s Ladino tongue, the rest in pure Spanish, but two are translations of songs from Turkey.

This might suggest that Libertad is something of a patchwork, but Levy and Mandelson have effectively squinted their eyes so that a single, cosmopolitan style prevails. It’s a canny move, as followers of flamenco, tango and fado tend to be gathered into a single camp, at least within the UK.

The bulk of Libertad was recorded in Tel Aviv, with strings laid down in Istanbul. Levy’s father was Turkish, so this is a further exploration of her tangled roots. The core trio features acoustic guitar, upright bass and globally-aware percussion, but there are additional showcases for accordion, clarinet, trombone, flute, and more besides.

Levy’s delivery is characterised by a dramatic, emoting flair, but understated balance is provided by the measured moves of the band. The title track matches earthy cajón percussion with sleek strings. Flamenco is usually found fusing with Moroccan music, highlighting its own Andalusian roots, so it’s unusual to hear the disc’s Turkish or Persian flamenco mash-ups. But it all coheres in seamless fashion.

The Spanish singer Buika guests on Olvidate de Mi, her smokier, huskier depth contrasting well with Levy’s voice. Aman Doktor features haunting spaces in the music, Levy’s voice poised carefully, awaiting the strings towards its conclusion.

Shoef K’mo Eved also has a different feel, slinking with sparing bass and guitar picking, with strings crowning the song once again. The orchestra makes an even bigger impact during La Rosa Enflorece, imposing a strong Turkish feel, and almost heading all the way down to Cairo.