Female of the Species; Deadlier in Seend!

A glass half-full or half-empty scenario, to be at Seend Community Centre. The optimist in me ponders least it’s central, bang tidy between the Sham, Vizes and Trowvegas, or even if it matters if it is a wholly Seend affair, whatever; their Community Centre sure is a village venue to be proud of.

Neither am I here to dabble in petty town council politics. What’s been held at Melksham’s Assembly Hall for so many years and raised so much wonga for apt local charities, the local all-female supergroup Female of the Species’ outing now packed out the new place last night for their annual extravaganza, and as always, it’s a beautiful, highly entertaining shebang.

This time in aid of teenage advice organisation TeenTalk, the girls were adorned in costumes in a manner superior to anything gone before. With corresponding stage decor, they were looking absolute dynamite; gothic halloweenish, to suit the theme, and they knocked a series of sublime covers out of the park.

I mean yeah, with the look of celebrity divinity they charged the stage, opened with a more Bangles’ Hazy Shade of Winter than Simon & Garfunkel’s, followed it with Sledgehammer, but stars really came out on the third tune, with saxophonist Karen Porter’s matchless riff of Baker Street. Here the penny dropped for those not-in-the-know; Seend was aching towards a party in a calibre of magnitude, though I suspect many there were fully aware and prepped, the anticipation was positively buzzing.

The lesser capacity of this hall only breathing more atmosphere into their performance than ever previously. Yet either way in either hall, the frontwomen of these local bands, Jules of Trowbridge’s Train to Skaville, Nicky Davis from People Like Us and The Reason, Julia Greenland from Soulville Express, Claire Perry from Big Mamma’s Banned, and solo artist Charmaigne Andrews, never have a Jagger and Bowie moment of Dancing in the Street. That upstaging yearning simply doesn’t compute with them, and with every year which passes sees them more harmonious and in solidarity, save perhaps the customary saucy banter! It’s the reason why it’s as firm a fixture on my calendar as Christmas.

A covers night it maybe, but one of the highest qualities, with each singer adding their own genre preference into the cauldron. The method is this combined acquaintance, the magic is in the pop diversity they nimbly execute together. An example came quickly, when Jools led a floor-filling blast of Dawn Penn’s reworked rock steady classic, No, No, No. Through slight Halloween themed Hungry like Wolf and People are Strange, each tune was building into a continuingly improving pop compilation, arriving at an apex with a breathtakingly soulful version of The Faces’ Stay with Me, verging on Aretha-level of greatness.

But none of this happened before a superb support set of originals by young Trowbridge country-pop singer-songwriter Becky Lawrence, who, donned in a tiny witch’s hat and accompanied by warlock-looking guitarist Dylan Smith (more on this chap at a later date) treated us to her crystal-clear vocals and acute observational wordsmithing. Particularly poignant was her single, Loud and 17, even if seventeen is a long-vapourised recollection for me personally! Such was the performance; both these musicians are bleeping promptly on my radar.

With the thought of Jools returning with her band, Train to Skaville for New Year’s Eve this year, as The Female of the Species blasted through their catalogue of wonderful covers, it draws a double line under Seend Community Centre as a seriously contending venue and their lively and diverse range of events. Quality night, as to be expected based on past experience, but with an added bonus of a Halloween spooky theme and in a new venue; enough for me to don some zombie slap, which promptly melted off my face in the heat of the dancefloor moment!


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Entertainment events in the county blossoming out of lockdown came to a pinnacle this weekend. We were spoiled for choice, and without cloning technology the decision would’ve been a toughy for me, if it hadn’t had been for the no-brainer; the sixth annual outing of local supergroup, The Female of the Species at Melksham’s brilliant Assembly Hall.

From the moment I was pinged the lowdown on this event my heartstrings spasmed, five band’s fantastic frontwomen in their own right united for the rare, Community Civic award-winning, fundraising bonanza which has become somewhat equal in legend around these parts as a Spice Girls reunion. And perhaps what is more, the proceeds this year were directed at another personal superheroine, Carmela Chillery-Watson.

Super-heroic is a term I don’t use lightly, and not out of sympathy for Carmela’s rare strain of muscular dystrophy. Over the past two years I’ve followed the progress of Carmela and her family’s fight against this muscle-wasting condition, since mum, Lucy sent Devizine a fundraising event poster and I figured I could do more, which consequently saw me take to my milk-round dressed in my Spiderman onesie! For, now at seven years old, Carmela’s zest for life and amiable charisma is an inspiration to everyone she meets. I found it rubs off on you with immediate effect, something hordes of international celebrities have also now discovered.

Bringing this celebrity herself now back home to Wiltshire for a fundraising event, I was not only delighted to meet her and her family again, but mightily impressed with her handling of fame. Carmela responds accordingly to mounting attention, never excluding or shunning any individual yet finding the time to address them all equally; a skill many a celeb could learn from.  

With a bombardment of unfortunate planning episodes, Jools of the reggae-ska band Train to Skaville confessed, “it was a nightmare trying to get this event off the ground,” it truly became a sense of it’ll be alright on the night, and the party went off with an explosive boom. The amalgamated wealth of experience, proficiency and professionalism of The Female of the Species shone through; they are deadlier than the male.

Dedication too, to overcome obstacles, apexed by performer and musical director, Nicky Davis of bands People Like Us and the Reason, who took a fall during rehearsals to personify the performance idiom, break a leg. Frustrated by her vocal restrictions slouched at the keyboard, the second half of the show proved too tempting, and Nicky manged to make it onto her feet to sing behind the keys, rather more like Jerry Lee Lewis than Elton John in style!

But we are getting ahead of ourselves now, for full credits have to be awarded to support act, Melksham-based Plan of Action. Unbeknown to me, this male trio with a female bassist took me by surprise. Based on previous FOTS supports, I was expecting soothing acoustics, yet Plan of Action done what it suggested on the tin, and executed said plan in a hard rock fashion akin to the Foo-Fighters covers they blasted with certain precision. They then beseeched their benchmark, rather than redefined their style, to cover Wilson Pickett’s Mustang Sally in hard-edged blues fashion, and finished more retro than they started with rock classics such as Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell.

Not only did they fire up the audience superbly in preparation, but their fanbase also resolved the terror of who would be first to break the dancefloor reservations. Now there was no stopping the crowd, as Female of the Species drummer, Pip Phillips of People Like Us was first to appear, foot-peddling the bass drum to build anticipation while the girls came onstage under an impressive light show.

Second tune in, Nicky Davis led them in an accomplished cover of Hotel California, and solo soul singer Julia Hanratty followed lead on Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, as is the Female of the Species code of conduct; memorable pop covers ranging the spectrums of their individual tastes. That said, we had none of the two-tone of Jools’ Train to Skaville, although she did an outstanding lead on Deacon Blue’s Real Gone Kid.

With affections towards uncompromising rock, Charmaigne Andrews’ AC/DC Highway to Hell boosted the crowd, but not before an early highlight for me; Julia’s absolutely outstanding cover of Aretha Franklin’s Respect, something I’d not advise any singer to attempt, as with Nicky last time, who gorgeously portrayed Heard it Through the Grapevine, Julia clearly knocked this one clear out of the park.

Claire Perry of Big Mama’s Banned not only brings range to the repertoire, but witty if saucy repartee to the show, unsurpassed during the break where Carmela joined her to announce raffle prize-winners. Sporting Wonder Woman headgear for the second half, they raised the roof of the Assembly Hall, as much as they raised serious funds for the cause.

Aforementioned, Nicky stood for the second half despite her plastered leg, as they played through memorable covers, dancefloor fillers, and perfected songs you’d be excused from thinking, oh my, they’re covering that? Bohemian Rhapsody, Grease Lightening, Oh, Sweet Child of Mine, and Jacko’s Beat It for examples. Jool’s cover of Kirsty MacColl’s New England, Claire’s I’ll Put a Spell on You, Charmaigne leading on Republica’s Ready to Go, the show continued past my bus time, but I could faintly hear Mr Blue Skies while I waited!

Yeah, here’s a thing I hadn’t thought of before; escaping the Devizes westwards for the evening is surprisingly possible via public transport, and it wasn’t a drunken fallout zone, like the Boot Hill All Star’s hilarious song, Night Bus, which I imagined, rather a mediocre and tranquil bus journey!

The last bus on the 273 route leaves Bath at 11:30, and gets to the Sham at ten-to-midnight; blooming marvellous, for Melksham have a real gem with the Assembly Hall. Drinks are affordable, the service well-staffed, the atmosphere is hospitable and they’re continuing to bring outstanding shows and events to the Sham.

All in all, this show was professional yet communal, absolutely fantastic and spellbindingly electric; if another comes along, I suggest you don’t miss out. But I must finish in thanking the Female of the Species and all involved for supporting such an amazing cause, and local girl; and to Carmela, you are a superstar.


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No Surprises Living in Devizes: Exchanging Preconceptions

Ah, nights at “the Bin,” I remember them……erm…. well, I remember them. The aptly dubbed “Corny Bin,” for those out of town and few who care not to venture the rough streets of Devizes at night (they can be irregular,) is Devizes’s only real nightclub, situated at the basement of the Corn Exchange, hence the name, see?

 
Subject of ridicule for many a decade, (ha-ha, as if Devizes would have nightlife,) it never did itself favours. One night I recall I paused to observe that while the blokes were having a pint and laugh at the bar, the girls were fighting on the dancefloor. A flying knee-length boot flew past my eyes and broke my concentration, I ignored the sentiment; this is Devizes.

 
Could a £45,000 renovation, removal of chewing-gummed carpets, conversion of the DJ booth and bar, and an identity change cleanse its reputation and wipe away the title “Bin?” Manager Ian Mathews believes in time it will; it certainly looks the part.
Essentially, I always liked the layout of the place, meek as an amphitheatre, it’s simple design with the bar across the rear and a square dancefloor with seating looking onto it, is functional and practical. The issue was the clichéd and formulated entertainment on offer for the past decade, something which no matter how much silver paint you lick onto walls is going to benefit.

 
So, the last Friday of the month embraces an under 16’s disco, or “nappy night,” as adults used to dub it when I was a nipper; our generation had to endure their patronising smears, I don’t see why you kids should get off so lightly. Scot free you already are with the old blackboard rubber launch, you don’t even know what a flipping blackboard rubber is. Teachers nowadays sacred to throw a reprimand at a child through fear of a lawsuit, let alone an oak-edged armament; they say it doesn’t hurt so much if you don’t know it’s coming.

 
Whereas, other Friday nights bring us tribute acts and themed nights. This Friday, 29th, is a night for new romantics, as leading synth-pop covers-band, Paul Dodson and Andy Randle, aka BINOMIAL and top international tribute act Keith George, alias ‘The Boy George Experience’ share the stage, sure to redefine the club’s reputation and send a signal to Devizes that times a changin’.

 

Keith George and Binomial Facebook[153].png

 

Amusingly, the only comment on the Gazette’s article on the revamp was, “It’ll take quite a lot to shift the name corny bin;” defining Devizes to a T. While we yearn alteration and updating, we crave our traditions and values too much to fully embrace change, undoubtedly because perpetually mocking ourselves is the backbone of our sense of humour; and why not shagger?

 
Take the public meeting on Thursday at the Town Hall, “a vision for Devizes; the next conversation,” sounds like a poor sequel to a movie franchise which was okay to begin with. Organised by The Trust for Devizes and Devizes Area Board, chairing the meeting is none other than Claire Perry, who said, “I’m really looking to being part of the next conversation about the vision for the future.” (Unsure if the word “forward,” is missing from that.)

 

new look devizes
new look Devizes

 

Now don’t get me wrong, I think there’s far worse a right-wing politician to be our spokesperson for Westminster; Enoch Powell, Napoléon Bonaparte, Alan B’Stard, to name a few. Yeah, make no mistake, I like some things Claire says to the community, but she’s hardly a worthy contestant for Catchphrase; “say what you see.”

 

Being a method of attaining affordable housing is key subject, Claire Perry, really? Who during the “bedroom tax” outrage, voted for reducing housing benefit for applicable social tenants? Claire Perry, who unswervingly voted for phasing out secure tenancies for life, and charging a market rent to higher earners renting a council home? (theyworkforyou.com)

 

With the political ethos in which Nick Clegg leaked the Tories refused to build social housing, because it would ‘create Labour voters’, can they really risk a torrent of affordable homes in such a safe consistency? Especially while May annoys Brexit leavers and remainers alike, in one swift goof.

 
Minister Gavin Barwell confessed to Inside Housing Magazine, they were scheduling to build higher rent homes, and supplying socially rented council housing was just a giggle. Upon being asked if homes planned would be of lower-level council rents, the minister said, “No, I think the idea is that they are what you’d call affordable rents in housing terminology, but they are social housing.” Shamefully, what’s “affordable” to a minister, far out-stretches what’s affordable to most.

 
So, a meeting to discuss future housing in our town, with an MP who, according to theyworkforyou, “has never rebelled against their party.” A parliament which can’t guarantee safety in existing social housing, and u-turned their flagship pledge to build the “a new generation” of social housing announced in their manifesto? Okay, I’m not holding my breath; preparing for a winter of discontent like a Tory; I’ve got my badger-skin hat on already.

 
I’d rather take my chances with a Boy George tribute act, than a hag like May from the church of the poison mind. Good luck to the Exchange, we’re gonna need to let our hair down.

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