Thursday, 21 July 2011

Twelfth Night @ Little Moretone Hall 14/07/2011

* Theatre review originally printed in The Sentinel 16th July 2011

FOR over a decade Alsager Community Theatre group has been performing open air productions of classic plays within the warped black and white walls of nearby Little Moreton Hall. Performed in the courtyard with minimal stage props, the setting lends an instant Elizabethan feel to this, one of Shakespeare's most enduring comedies.

Central to the plot is Viola, played by Deborah Smith, who disguises herself as a man to serve the noble Duke, but attracts unwanted affection from the countess Olivia. Meanwhile, her twin brother is also at court, leading to frequent cases of mistaken identity, which climax in an on/off fencing fight scene.

The sub plot, featuring Malvolio, who is tricked into thinking that the countess is in love with him, is also handled very well. Initially, Johnathan Hutchins plays Malvolio as a cold puritanical figure, but as soon as he is consumed by the midsummer madness and dons yellow stockings, the play swings into farce mode.

The comedic pairing of David Bryan, as a drunken Sir Toby Belch, and Rory Poole's flamboyant dandy, Sir Andrew, steal the show as far as laughter is concerned. In comparison, Matthew Bateman's Feste, the classic Shakespearean fool, almost comes across as the straight man. He is reserved a couple of songs however, accompanied by a three-piece folk band, which catapults this production into another level.
Alsager Community Theatre may not have done anything different with the material, but this production is well executed and the unique surroundings create a warm, intimate feel.

Sherry Counsellors - Tear Me To The Core

*originally printed in The Sentinel on the 3rd June 2011 


Local five piece, Sherry Counsellors are relatively new to the scene but already they have proven to be very productive and generous in how they are promoting their music. You can download their EP Dance of the Birdman for free via their facebook page along with new song Tear Me To The Core, which is being released as part of their ‘one song per month’ policy. This would mean nothing if it wasn’t so good. Tear Me To The Core is a straight up ballad with the Manic Street Preachers being a clear influence. The bittersweet Brit guitar melody reverberates serenely over delicate acoustic rhythms and understated percussion. It has a very chilled out vibe despite the clear emotional compromise that the lyrics are embattled with. It may not be the most original release in the world but it still works as a slow burning ballad and I, for one, definitely look forward to hearing more from this band.         

Mr Will Music - Sing For The Moment

*originally printed in The Sentinel 16th June 2011

Along with his trusty guitar, Mr Will has long been a key member of the local music scene, promoting the many sounds and styles of world music to a wider audience through the Planet Sound Community Arts program. Recently he has gotten back into recording and playing music as part of his band, Mr Will Music, releasing new single Sing For The Moment. The result is an eclectic mix of African and Latin genres that definitely succeeded in brightening up my day. Instantly, I was won over by the dueling guitar melodies and the frenetic finger picking madness of it all. The rhythm section is fast and funky and the harmonizing vocals provided by Seby Ntege and Hassan Kayemba sing out an infectious chorus. Lasting just over three minutes Sing for the Moment is a literal whirlwind of joy, which I would thoroughly recommend to everyone.     

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Gears of War 3 Beta impressions

*Originally written for

Spring 2011 was originally supposed to be the release date for Gears of War 3, the next game in the Xbox’s grisly third person shooter series, one of the few franchises aside from Halo Microsoft can truly call its own. Unfortunately, for all us eager xbox fanboys the game was pushed back to Autumn on grounds that more time was needed to polish the game. Nothing to do with Microsoft filling a rather empty void in its Q4 release schedule you understand. The consolation prize for its delay was the obligatory beta… The faithful fans who pre-ordered the game were invited to take part in a three week Multiplayer Beta. If you purchased the Epic Edition of Bulletstorm like I did then you would have of course unlocked it a week earlier. I’ve been playing it for four weeks, here is what I thought.

The Gears of War 2 multiplayer seems to have been the real beta for Gears of War 3. Fans may remember the lengths at which the MP in Gears 2 changed since its release, beginning with a broken matchmaking system, the fan outcry in response to the impotent ‘gnasher’ shotgun and finally the inclusion of a call of duty styled ranking system. Stepping into the Gears 3 beta, the game feels significantly more polished than other betas I have played in. More to the point, having never really got into the MP in the previous games, though lavishly putting more than a couple of hours into horde mode, I can report that the Gears 3 multiplayer is pretty darn good and easily up there with the best.    

Much of the core game remains the same of course. Two teams of six are pitted against one another, the amalgamation of armour and muscles that are the COGs versus the subterranean dwelling bogeymen forces of the Locust. The game is still very much a team game, lone wolves need not apply, the game mechanics of cover and roadie running perfectly usher in a level of co-operation where covering fire, taking ground and falling back are all vital to victory reinforcing the feeling that you are actually fighting a battle with its own ebb and flow. Players will fight each other in medium sized maps clinging to cover, providing covering fire, rushing and incapacitating foes before unleashing a range of brutal finishing moves upon one another, usually involving boot to face, etc. Gears 3 introduces an array of new finishers which will make any mild mannered English gentleman spit out their tea in disgust. One move has you bash an enemies face in with the handle of your gun another involves ripping the arm off a fallen foe and beating them to death with it. I’m not complaining. Violence has always been spectacularly well done in the Gears of War games, its uber masculinity perfectly compensated by its schlocky silliness.     

The biggest change to Gears3 is the rehaul of the weapon selection system, which now accommodates for a greater amount of combat styles. Players can choose between three different assault rifles as their primary weapon. The lancer returns as the series’ standard issue, covering mid range combat; spewing out a concentrated stream of bullets whilst still allowing for the trademark under barrel chainsaw for close quarter decapitation, a particular flourish that once again proves to never get old. For long range shooting, Epic have revamped the semi-automatic Hammerhead with an iron sight which allows for greater accuracy, firing bullets as fast as the player can pull the trigger. A new addition to the Gears arsenal is the Retro-Lancer. Supposedly an older model of the standard issue chainsaw lancer, the retro-lancer has a slower rate of fire and a furious recoil, but improved stopping power makes it perfect for bullet spraying from close quarters and blind firing from cover, dropping those shotgun chargers like flies. It is also equipped with a bayonet which allows you to do a cavalier styled forward charge attack, which is immensely gratifying when pulled off successfully.   

Freud would say...
Players also have a choice on which secondary weapon to take, either the old faithful gnasher shotgun or the new double barelled sawn off shotgun. The gnasher remains a staple for many players, being highly effective at mid and close range, sometimes bringing about an instant kill with a well aimed head shot. The Double barrel shotgun feels like more of an insurance policy against the over eager players that will try to rush you. The weapon is only effective at extreme close range and is burdened by a very slow reload speed, but when it does work it proves to be a super effective display of meat fireworks. I did find myself getting used to a new class of player, the single player who comes up behind you and scatters your bodily composition before you even realized he was there.

Weapons can be switched on the fly during matches, whilst waiting to respawn. Although you can pull off instant kills via headshots or explosions, most of the time you will be incapacitating enemies (or getting dropped to your own knees) and providing the coup de grat finisher or just finishing them with bullets. Incapacitated enemies can crawl around in the hopes that comrades will revive them, but if you can make it to cover, you can revive yourself by hammering the A button, which places more of an emphasis on finishing crawling enemies. Over zealous players may find themselves putting themselves into unnecessary danger should they feel so compelled to go after you to perform that highly satisfying curb stomp.

Dom has a beard now. Beards are cool.

The Beta has seen three game modes fought over a total of four new maps. The usual team deathmatch puts teams of six against one another. Each side has a total of 15 respawns which are depleted with each kill. When respawns have depleted, the deceased will be forced to spectate on the final moments of the match, which can lead to some tense moments as you watch your outnumbered team mate getting rushed from all directions. I believe that scene from the original Alien, when Dallas is negotiating the air vents springs to mind. On the other hand, King of the Hill, is your usual territory holding match, which works extremely well with the game’s mechanics as your team are forced to take ground and defend it. The one game mode that doesn’t seem to work as well is Capture the Leader which elects a ‘leader’ on each team which must be incapacitated and taken hostage by the opposing team for a certain amount of time. However, with both sides having a leader, teams will either have to band together to defend their leader or split their forces to both defend and capture. All too often the situation leads to bitter stalemates, which can of course prove to be tense but are more likely to have the tendency of going on longer that they should. Luckily the weapon selection does allow you to adopt different approaches to break the situation.

As for maps, Old Town is a seaside market town that feels distinctly French. It is a different style of environment to the oppressive colours that the series is usually associated with. Pumpkins sit on market stalls just waiting to be shot at making the obligatory gears headshot noise. The Checkout and Thrashball maps take the more conventional gears approach with their grey chipped stone post-apocalyptic aesthetic. The former takes place in a dilapidated shopping centre, with firefights emerging between rows of shelves and the frozen food section as well as the checkout meaning there has never been a better time to say ‘cleanup on aisle 6’ after you’ve splattered an enemy via shotgun surgery. Thrashball takes place upon a sports field within a stadium, an obvious and long overdue nod to Delta Squad member Cole Train, who played professionally before the war. The map comes complete with a score board that hangs precariously over the heavy weapon spawn point. A couple of shots administered to the connecting cable is enough to bring it crashing down upon the field and hopefully an enemy or two scrambling for the torque bow. 

Trenches is the fourth map which takes place in an arid desert environment. The map usually ends up being a battle for the central hill which is the spawning point for the oneshot, a new scoped heavy weapon which destroys enemies in, you guessed it, one shot. There is also a mortar that spawns in the middle of the map which can be picked up so long as you aren’t reduced to giblets by the one shot. The map is made more interesting when you hear the sounds of primordial horns which heralds the coming of a giant sandstorm which engulfs the entire map greatly reducing visibility, allowing for tense moments of close quarter shotgun/chainsaw skirmishing.

Aside from your two equipped weapons, a single smoke grenade and bog standard pistol, there is the usual variety of weapons peppered strategically throughout each map. Epic have included a couple of new additions, the best of which is undoubtedly the digger which provides a great advantage to players fighting against heavily dug in enemies. The weapon fires off a grenade that burrows underground bypassing whatever cover may stand in the way between you and the enemy before exploding in mid air. It leads to a frantic scramble as enemies leap out of the way of the grenade’s dirt trail in the hopes to avoid the explosion often or not being reduced to sticky crimson pulp in an instant. It certainly throws a spanner in the works of a carefully entrenched team. Most maps have been thought out clearly containing at least one super weapon, more than likely this will cause frantic fight scenes early on in the game.

Gears of War 3, now with girls...

As is the industry standard, Gears 3 includes all the progressive leveling up action of its peers. You will gain experience points for kills, assists or other team based objectives. There is also a robust list of ribbons and medals to collect, which range from easy achievements like assisting over 5 times during one match or dying the most in a round. Mid range achievements give satisfaction like performing the most headshots in a match or being somebody’s nemesis. There are plenty of harder achievements of course, being the fabled MVP is always a nice badge to have but charge killing three enemies with the retro lancer in succession will take a lot of focus. Experience, will unlock a wide variety of cosmetic changes like weapon skins or new characters to play as. Those who participate in the beta get to unlock a series of unique skins such as the gold retro-lancer and Cole Train in his Thrashball kit, which is a nice incentive.           

Overall, the Gears of War 3 Beta proves that Epic have improved on the series formula with little touches to make a multiplayer experience that stands up with the best. Having never really warmed to Gears MP, I have to say that I found it far more accessible than the previous games, thanks to its weapon selection options and a new layer of customization. On the whole however, Gears 3 beta does what all good MP does working on so many different levels, be it the feeling of satisfaction of a perfect headshot, the tension that occurs in the third act of a close game, or just plain laugh out loud moments when you rip off a guys arm and beat him to death with it. Then of course there is the point that the MP is only going to be a small part of the final game. Gears 3 will also, finally have a four player co-op campaign as well as the return of the absolutely brilliant horde mode and the all new ‘beast’ mode. September simply cannot come soon enough.   

Snake Eyes Jonnie - Surburban Dropout Blues

You cannot be in a band by the name of Snake Eyes Jonnie without making the kind of music that will make people want to take a shower after listening. In this respect, Snake Eyes Jonnie succeed with their hard rocking garage grime that immediately sounds familiar to the music of The Stooges and The White Stripes. Suburban Dropout Blues is a decent no nonsense opener with a good guitar hook, whilst closing track Nobody’s Fool has illusions of being a hard rock monster. Second track, This Song, is a slower burn and is probably the best thing on the EP as you can actually hear the bass supporting the distorted ‘wall of sound’ guitar tone which too often feels as if it is overwhelming everything else. On the whole, Mark Mason’s self loathing vocals do a good job to compensate the melodies and style of the music, but he does waver a little more than necessary, sounding like a bleating lamb at times, which does grate on you. Snake Eyes Jonnie do demonstrate a lot of potential but there is room for improvement. 


Monday, 9 May 2011

A Visit to Jodrell Bank's Brand New Discovery Centre

As part of my ongoing adventures with Moorlands Radio, I was lucky enough to attend a press day at Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire to have a sneak peak of their new state of the art, three million pound discovery centre before it was formally opened to the public. Bringing along my trusty pocket camcorder, I prepared to boldly go where only a couple of journalists had been invited before...

Jodrell Bank has been putting British astronomy on the map since the 1940s, but this new centre marks a series of changes to the visitor dimension of the landmark observatory. There are two new buildings, the Planet Pavilion visitor centre and the Space Pavilion live science building which houses a multitude of hands on displays and exhibits.

Whether it be printing out a 30 second feed of data collected by the telescope or initiating the sound of the big bang at the press of the button, everything has been designed to educate children young and old about the day to day operations of a working observatory as well as the cosmic phenomena it observes. I speak to the centre's director Dr Teresa Anderson and Manchester University's Dr Tim O'Brien

This is only phase one of Jodrell Bank's regeneration, there is to be a live music event in July headlined by the Flaming Lips and supported by British Sea Power and OK Go. A space themed garden will also be opening up later on in the summer.

I would like to express my thanks to all the staff at Jodrell Bank for letting me run lose through their brand new buildings repeatedly hitting the big bang button and generally getting my grubby mits on the touch screen table.

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Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Portal 2: The best fun you can have from a first person perspective.

Platform: Xbox360, PS3 and PC
Certificate: 12
Developer/Publisher: Valve
Genre: First person puzzle platformer

The single most defining moment of Portal 2 comes fairly early on in the game when you are navigating the incinerators deep beneath the Aperture laboratories. Leaping from walkways to conveyor belts you will see unwanted debris and detritus falling into furnaces along with the familiar softly spoken gun turrets and weighted storage crates. As you walk across one of the conveyor belts you come across one of the turrets sitting on its side heading towards the glow of a most fiery demise. In one pathetic moment, as you pass on by, it whimpers pathetically “I’m different”. It practically killed me, the thought of this little robot designed for the singular purpose to shoot bullets at whatever crosses its laser sights, somehow finding itself on a conveyor belt, elected for incineration, pleading to be spared from its fiery fate on some notion that it believes itself to be worthy of salvation on some notion of a higher purpose. I mean, when was the last time a video game made you feel like this? 

To begin pretentiously enough, I would like to make a literary reference, because this is Portal we are talking about, one of the greatest games ever made. Perhaps one of the few games that is viable proof of just what gaming as a medium is capable of doing aside from the commercial dollar dimensions boasted by some of the biggest entertainment releases in the history of culture ever. I would like to draw a comparison to Edgar Allen Poe, a master of the short story. He wrote an essay on ‘The Philosophy of Composition’ a beat by beat explanation of how he wrote ‘The Raven’ a short story in the form of a poem designed to be read in a single sitting without interruption from daily interferences to create a wholesome unity of effect to maximize the reader’s immersion in the story. First released in Valve’s generous Orange Box in 2007 Portal was a similar exercise in composition as The Raven, albeit in video game form, a highly focused gaming experience that was so singularly perfect in its form. The very thought of a sequel seems to urinate on its memory.

Accompanying the vast Half Life 2 experience and the many hours provided by the Team Fortress 2 multiplayer, Portal was a first person puzzle platformer with a terrific sense of dark humour. Once you started playing you couldn’t help but be sucked into the game, from the addictive thrill of puzzle solving through portals to the dry wit of GLaDOS as she promised you cake, to the immediate story drip fed to you at the end of each of the test chambers and the more mysterious story implied through the feverish wall scrawlings of a supposed madman telling you the cake was a lie.The biggest challenge facing Portal 2: this time released as a standalone sequel, was whether Valve could break through the limited constraints that helped define the original so perfectly and make a longer more involving game. The result is utterly tremendous. Let me explain why.     

Once again Portal 2 puts you in the long-fall boots of silent female protagonist Chell. After destroying GLaDOS and escaping the claustrophobia of the Aperture laboratories, you were dragged off to another installation by the party escort bot. Portal 2 begins confined to what first appears to be a cheap motel room, it is not long until you find out that it is actually a cryogenic holding pen deep within the labyrinth that is Aperture laboratories. After several years, you are reawakened and are busted out of frosty incarceration by a neurotic though kind hearted robot by the name of Wheatley (voiced by Stephen Merchant). Once you are sprung, you reacquire the portal gun and start making your way through a dilapidated series of test chambers in an attempt to once again make a break for the surface. Things do not go to plan of course as you soon see yourself accidentally rebooting GLaDOS, who is just thrilled to see you again after you murdered her at the end of the last game. If it is any consolation, she does have more reason to remain buoyant as she faces the prospect of repairing her facility whilst obsessively putting you through a series of diabolical tests that require you to once again think with portals. All in the name of science. 

The bitch is back.
This is the mere setup for Portal 2’s storyline, a narrative that travels far into the depths of the Aperture laboratories. To reveal anymore would simply spoil the experience. This isn’t like other games where the story is predictable and conventional, where its excruciatingly generic plot is a cause for criticism (I’m looking at you Crysis 2!). Though Portal 2’s story will take at least 6-8 hours to complete, there is no downtime in the story, no flabby mid section or rushed third act. It is perhaps to be expected from Valve, who have long been champions of storytelling in games, even Left 4 Dead had narrative nuance but Portal 2 is easily the industry darling’s greatest achievement thus far. The story keeps moving forward, masterfully varying environments and expertly changing the dynamic of the plot.   

As with the first game, Portal 2 continues to be very funny and although Chell remains a mute, there are more characters this time around who will do all the talking for you. There are so many memorable lines of dialogue that will undoubtedly be turned into memes and quoted between fans for years. GLaDOS returns of course, voiced by Ellen McLain and continues to be ‘explosively indignant’ and coldly menacing and sarcastically bitch but the story will take the AI to new places that will affect you on an emotional level. Newcomer, Wheatley one of GLaDOS’s defunct emotional cores is also a great addition to the cast. Fans of The Office and Ricky Gervais will undoubtedly recognize Stephen Merchant’s southern country bumpkin vocals and bumbling convoluted delivery. I have read criticism that Merchant is merely doing what he has always done in comedy, which is true, but the same can be said for J.K. Simmons who provides the voice for Aperture’s founding father Cave Johnson. Just like every character Simmons has always played, Johnson is a tough talking, no nonsense ball breaker. An advocate of the more imperfect duct-tape methods of scientific investigation, the kind of experimentation that is more concerned with firing the rocket into space than it is concerned with the well being of the monkey test pilot. It brilliant foregrounds the ideology of Aperture science and GLaDOS herself.   

Pro tip #1: Lasers give nasty burns.
As far as the actual gameplay is concerned, Portal 2 expands on the formula of the first game by introducing a host of new elements. Blue Repulsion gel allows Chell to bounce off of the floor. The orange propulsion gel is essentially a lubricant which accelerates the player at high velocities. When combined the two gels will usually work to form a kind of runway designed to propel and catapult you across bottomless chasms. Other new additions include the light bridges which effectively serve as solid surfaces to walk upon or absorb turret bullets and of course the excursion tunnel, an antigravity energy tunnel which allows you to leisurely float in a particular direction. My favourite new addition is undoubtedly the aerial faith plate, a kind of acme styled catapult which when stepped on hurtles you across the room at bewildering speed. As with the first game, Portal 2 introduces each new element, each new twist to the gameplay on simplistic grounds, building up your puzzle solving repertoire so that when you tackle some of the harder problems you should be able to identify solutions. The puzzles that require you to build up momentum to soar through the air like a graceful swan (‘or an eagle piloting a blimp’) are usually the most enjoyable in terms of visceral thrills but working out a puzzle to its logical conclusion is again, thoroughly satisfying.  

The puzzles are of a particular nature that will at first seem dizzyingly daunting, but as you pick them apart and process each individual element , they become easier to figure out. I never found myself getting stuck to the point of hopelessness in Portal 2. Sometimes I would find myself overthinking puzzle rooms only to be left slightly disappointed that the solution was actually easier than expected. I had some real facepalm moments when I realized that the solution to clearing a particular chasm required placement of a portal on a neglected wall above me rather than the wall I had been using for the last ten minutes. It is a half assed point of criticism to note I suppose, would you rather have an easy game to progress through or a game that requires you to rely on only the most difficult methods, something that could potentially spoil your relationship with the game itself?

Pro Tip #2: Repulsion gel - don't get it on your skin
Though the campaign is great, there does seem little point in replaying it. There are a couple of juicy secrets to find throughout that will reveal backstory but apart from that you could criticize Portal 2 for being too linear and not accommodating for the level of immersive exploration that say Arkham Asylum or Bioshock had. You would think Aperture laboratories would be a perfect fit for this style of gameplay, though it is perhaps difficult to accommodate for the sheer freedom that portaling would give the player if the environment was a bit more open. It is definitely too big for me to demand something as trivial and shallow as collectables but with that said, the first Portal did have time trials and therefore a reason to come back and perfect the art in some of the more challenging puzzles. This is nothing DLC wouldn’t fix of course, which is fine so long as you have the PC or PS3 versions which will incorporate Steam (and accepting that the PSN isn’t experiencing downtime).    

Of course, Portal 2 also comes with a seperate co-op campaign, which is of a generous length somewhere inbetween the length of the first game and the single player story. Designed for two players, you take control of a robotic Laurel & Hardy styled duo by the name of P-Body and Atlas. Together, you and your friend take on a whole series of tests designed for completion by two players. You each have two portals that are connected to each other but not to the other player’s, placing the emphasis on integrating each other’s portals in such a way that they flow into one another. Communication is vital, and it will make it easier if you play with a friend rather than a random stranger. Valve have implemented several helpful additions to the controller interface such as markers, allowing players to indicate places of interest or perhaps where to pop a portal. There are also count downs which allow players to synchronize their maneuvers, which become increasingly important towards the end of the campaign. As in the single player, the feeling of working through a puzzle to its logical conclusion is thoroughly satisfying, perhaps even more so in collaboration with a friend. 

P-body and Atlas - will test the limits of friendship.
As far as cosmetics, Portal 2 makes use of Valve’s source engine once again. After six years it is still going strong even if there is perhaps little in the game that requires that intense level of graphical fidelity that the CryEngine displays. Lets just say that the Source Engine does deserted science laboratories very well, and there were definitely more than a couple of instances where I was wowed over by the particle effects as my surroundings collapsed and were ripped apart around me. The game does look brilliant and Valve have really opened up the location of Aperture science, varying the environments with great aplomb where other games would just administer the feeling of boredom as you walked down another subterranean corridor. Building on the promise of the first game, the game alternates between the normal test chambers and the environments existing outside and inbetween giving a fuller appreciation to the size and history of the installation that is Aperture Science. It also experiments with the formula, in the early stages of the game, you traverse old test chambers which have now have signs of nature poking through. Like Black Mesa, City 17 and Ravenholm or even the levels from Left 4 Dead, Valve enriches the environments of Portal 2 with an unparalleled level of detail and atmosphere. There are certainly more than just a couple of ghosts wandering around the Aperture labyrinth, and you do feel this throughout some of the lonelier sections of the game.

In conclusion, Portal 2 is the most fun you can have from a first person perspective and yes, that does include your real life as well. Whilst we have had our fair few of decent games as of late, we rarely get ones as original, as intelligent as genre bendingly bar smashing. Valve have taken the concept of the original Portal and expanded on it in a way that feels like a natural evolution of the first game. Portal 2 manages to occupy a bigger world whilst still supporting it with plenty of substance unlike the ‘bigger more badass’ mentality that usually defines the practice of sequel building (I’m looking at you Gears of War 2 and Dead Space 2). The only problem in my mind is that once you have waltzed through both the single player and co-op campaigns there is little to come back to, aside from secrets and the sheer quality of the game’s writing and humour (if that wasn’t enough already). Portal 2 can be completed in a weekend, and whilst it may feel as if it is all over too soon, it will be an experience you won’t forget. The only question you are left is where Valve will go next.       

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Sheena Bratt - Fire In Your Eyes

*Article was originally written and published within The Sentinel (08/04/2011)

Love for the music has gotten Cheshire based singer songwriter Sheena Bratt far in life, from busking and performing in various different countries, to hosting a radio show in Thailand. Ahead of the release of these two live tracks she is globetrotting once more to play the Earthday festival in Rio, Brazil. First track ‘My Muse and I’ is a short and sweet introduction to Sheena as an artist singing about her mixed relation with her muse and the giddy creative energies that keep her from sleeping at night. Second track ‘Fire in Your Eyes’ comes with the full backing of a band and for the most part it is hard to find anything to disagree with. The music is sunny, the tempo is upbeat, the lyrics reflect motion and bustle and Sheena’s voice is distinguished enough to keep her from falling on the wrong side of country.

All The Young - The First Time

*Parts of the following article were published in The Sentinel (25/03/2011)

Formerly playing as New Education, four piece All The Young are a new band that Stoke on Trent can truly be proud of. A debut album is in the pipeline, to be released later this year after the band secured a six album contract with Warner Brothers. New single The First Time is nothing revolutionary in musical terms, but it is a solid and rousing dose of anthemic indie guitar rock that you can easily imagine blasting over the summer festival fields. Similarities can be drawn to The Enemy or The Twang, and other bands that have followed in the footsteps of Oasis. It follows a tried and tested formula to great effect; an energetic drum beat drives the entire song forward, giving way to a breezy bass line, massive lead guitar melodies and big sing-along choruses. It all paints a picture of a band who know the music they play and how to do it well. Definitely worth checking out.