I was introduced to the Welsh alt-rock trio, The Joy Formidable, a couple of years ago when they were playing an intimate venue in north London, by a friend, who offered me a free ticket and a warning that the ‘formidable’ part referred to their music and magnified sound level. He was right. They formed in 2007, when school-day pals, lead vocalist and guitarist Rhiannon ‘Ritzy’ Bryan and bassist Rhydian Dafydd Davies were joined by drummer Justin Stanley, who was replaced by ‘sticksman supreme’ Matt Thomas two years later. Described as ‘titans’ of the indie, alternative music scene The Joy Formidable have also been labelled ‘shoegazing’ or dream pop, a sub genre, which is a mixture of obscured vocals, guitar distortion and overwhelming volume. They have released four studio albums, with most songs written by Ritzy and Rhydian, starting with ‘The Big Roar’ in 2011 and their latest ‘AAARTH’ in September 2018, before supporting the Foo Fighters on a short tour.
They returned to north London for one night only at the Islington Assembly Hall last November, before crossing the Atlantic to do a few pre-Christmas Stateside gigs. I past by the venue a few hours before liftoff, hoping to catch them in person, but they were in the middle of an intensive sound check, which I heard (and felt) behind the heavily bricked and mortared walls of the refurbished 1930 Art Deco Grade II building. Their sound technician came out to get something from the van, parked at the stage door, and kindly promised to get my drawing signed for me, which he obviously did, because it was returned a few days later.
One of Ireland’s most compelling musicians, folk singer and songwriter Christy Moore has released over 25 solo albums in a career spanning five decades. He was one of the founding members of the hugely popular and influential band Planxty and Moving Hearts.
In 2007 Christy was named Ireland’s Greatest Living Musician in RTE’S People of the Year Awards. His political and social commentary reflects a left-wing, Irish republican perspective, supporting the unity and independence of Ireland. His songs have covered a wide range of subjects, including the Maze Prison H-Block protests and hunger striker Bobby Sands, to the Irish socialist volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War against Franco and the 1972 ‘Bloody Sunday’ Bogside massacres in Derry.
Some songs have been banned, such as ‘They Never Came Home’, about the Stardust nightclub fire in Dublin in 1981 where 48 people died, which the judge ruled was prejudicial to the court case determining compensation with lyrics such as “hundreds of children are injured and maimed, and all just because the fire exits were chained”, or ‘The Time Has Come” about the last meeting of a hunger striker and his mother, considered subversive. In October 2004 he was detained at the Welsh port of Holyhead by Special Branch Officers and interrogated for two hours about lyrics of his songs.
A regular performer at London’s Royal Festival Hall, Christy returned in May this year, where he signed my sketch for me.
Gloria Maria Milagrosa Fajardo Garcia was born in Havana, Cuba sixty-two years ago and became the lead singer and headliner for the Miami Latin Boys-later to become the Miami Sound Machine, established by her future husband Emilio Estefan in 1975. She achieved international recognition with her signature song ‘Conga’ in 1985. The winner of many accolades, including three Grammy Awards, Gloria and the Miami Sound Machine scored their first No.1 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 with ‘Anything for You’, which she wrote, in 1988, followed by a string of singles success with ‘Rhythm is Gonna Get You’, ‘1-2-3’, ‘Bad Boy’, and ‘Get On Your Feet’.
She has sold an estimated 115 million records worldwide, 31.5 million in the US alone. In 2015 Gloria and Emilio received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour for their contribution to American music.
Gloria and Emilio wrote the Tony-nominated jukebox musical ON YOUR FEET! THE LIFE OF EMILO AND GLORIA ESTEFAN, which premiered at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre in 2015, before moving to the Marquis Theatre on Broadway. It transferred to the UK earlier this year with an initial run at The Curve in Leicester then to a limited two-month residency at the London Coliseum, followed by a national tour.
Gloria signed my sketch at Wogan House after appearing on Graham Norton’s BBC Radio 2 show in early June this year.
The legendary composer, producer, arranger and guitarist Nile Rodgers was the curator of this years MELTDOWN Festival at London’s Southbank Centre. It’s been 40 plus years since he and his prized ’59 Fender Stratocaster, aka ‘the Hitmaker’, first started filling dance floors across the world. The multi-Grammy winning NewYorker co-founded CHIC, the slick disco pioneers with the late Bernard Andrews in 1976. They launched a string of hit songs, including ‘I Want Your Love’, ‘Le Freak’ ( the largest selling single in the history of Atlantic Records) and ‘Good Times’, which sparked the advent of Hip-Hop.
Niles work the CHIC Organisation and the production for artists such as David Bowie, Diana Ross and Madonna have sold over 500 million albums and 75 million singles worldwide. His innovative, trendsetting collaborations with the likes of Daft Punk, Disclosure and Sam Smith reflect the vanguard of contemporary music. In its press release announcing Nile as the MELTDOWN curator, the Southbank Centre said, “He is constantly traversing new musical terrain and successfully expanding the boundaries of popular music.”
Last year he released a new album with CHIC, the Top Ten ranked ‘It’s About Time’ featuring Elton John, Emeli Sande and Lady Gaga amongst others.
Nile signed my sketch for me at the Royal Festival Hall after he and CHIC kick-started the nine-day MELTDOWN festival in early August.
Popular British jazz musician Jamie Cullum paid for the production of his first album, ‘Heard It All Before’ with £480 out of his own pocket in 1999. His second album ‘Pointless Nostalgic’ became a best-seller. It’s success grabbed the attention of the mainstream broadcasters, including Michael Parkinson, who invited him to make his first television appearance. As a result, Universal beat Sony in a bidding war, offering him a £1million, three album contract.
His first CD album under their label, ‘Twentysomething’ (2003), a mixture of standards, originals and adaptions sold over 2 million units. While primarily a jazz musician, the mostly self-taught 40 year-old is often regarded as a ‘crossover’ artist, incorporating a wide range of styles and his jazz compositions are heavily influenced by contemporary popular music. He has played at all the major festivals, including Montreal, Montreal, New Orleans and Glastonbury, winning numerous awards Including the British Jazz Rising Star accolade and collecting the Artist of the Year at both the BBC Jazz and Jazz FM Awards. He has also been nominated for three Brit Awards, a Grammy for ‘Twentysomething’ and a Best Original Song Golden Globe Award for Clint Eastwood’s 2008 film GRAN TORINO.
Since 2010 Jamie has presented a weekly evening jazz show on BBC 2 Radio, which is broadcast from its studios in Wogan House, where he signed my sketch for me last year.
Peruvian opera superstar Juan Diego Florez is considered by those who consider such things as the best tenor on the planet and certainly the most sort after at the world’s finest venues since making his international breakthrough in 1996 at the age of 23 at the Rossini Festival in the Italian city of Pesaro (Rossini’s birthplace) as the leading tenor in MATILDE DI SHABRAN. He made his Covent Garden debut a year later as Count Potoski in the Royal Opera’s world premiere concert of Donizetti’s ELISABETTA.
Standing ovations are the norm when he performs. The Telegraph’s opera reviewer Rupert Christiansen calls him the “Roger Federer of Opera… an exceptional virtuoso with an immaculate technique, who has enjoyed an exemplary career, free of scandal or disaster and marked by sound decisions, vocal consistency and a serious commitment to a charitable foundation back home.”
Coincidentally he said Roger, a fellow Rolex Ambassador, inspired him along with Pavarotti and incidentally he also likes to play a bit of tennis. Juan Diego has just finished his latest Covent Garden engagement, performing the title role of the Royal Opera’s third revival of Massenet’s WERTHER, described by The Guardian’s Tim Ashley as “hugely moving as the obsessive romantic.” He kindly signed and dedicated my sketch at the Royal Opera House.
One of my favourite singers with her distinctive ‘bluesy contralto’ ( yes, I did research this) voice is Alison Moyet and her debut solo album ‘Alf’, which I had on a cassette tape in 1984, that wore out through excessive play in my native New Zealand, where it not only went to No 1, but reached platinum eight times over, with memorable singles such as ‘Love Resurrection’, ‘All Cried Out’, and ‘Invisible’. It also climbed to the top spot in a number of countries, including the UK, where it reached quadruple platinum and won Alison her first of three Brit Awards. ‘Alf’ was Alison’s punk-era nickname.
She also released a single, ‘That Ole Devil Called Love Again,’ not featured in ‘Alf’, which went to No 2 and remains her highest charting UK single. Alison’s nine studio albums and three collaborations have all charted in the UK Top 30 and have sold over 23 million copies worldwide with over 2 million singles sold.
Alison has also appeared on the London stage. She made her West End debut as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton in CHICAGO in 2001 and again in SMALLER opposite Dawn French at the Lyric Theatre.
She kindly signed my montage sketch at London’s Royal Festival Hall last week where she was performing for the Michel Legrand tribute.
Another legendary violinist returned to London this year. Pinchas Zuckerman was both soloist and conductor in an all-Beethoven concert at the Royal Festival Hall in March with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
After being discovered at the age of fourteen by Isaac Stern and Pablo Casals on their tour of Israel in 1962, Pinchas moved to the US to study at the Juilliard School, tutored by Isaac and Ivan Galamian, making his New York debut a year later. Since then his celebrated International career encompassing nearly six decades has seen him become one of the worlds leading violists, violists and conductors, working with some of the major orchestras with over 110 recordings which have garnered 21 Grammy nominations, winning two. He was also nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for his performance in Isaac Stern’s 60th Birthday concert at the Lincoln Centre. Pinchas has won numerous other accolades, including the National Medal of Arts from President Reagan in 1983.
In July this year Classical-music.com conducted a poll of 100 leading players to list the 20 greatest violinists of all-time. Pinchas was 12th.
He kindly signed and dedicated my drawing at the Royal Festival Hall.
Hailed as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, self taught Mark Knopfler’s career as lead guitarist, singer and songwriter for the British rock band Dire Straits, followed by nine solo albums and nine film scores, including LOCAL HERO, THE PRINCESS BRIDE and THE COLOUR OF MONEY, has resulted in excess of 120 million album sales, four Grammys and three Brit awards among other accolades. His songs such as ‘Money For Nothing’, ‘Sultans of Swing’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and ‘Walk of Life’ have become standards.
Dire Straits was formed in London in 1977. The name referred to the band members’ initial financial situation, but they went on to become one of the best-selling music artists of all time. They disbanded in 1988, regrouping in the nineties for five years. Their trademark sound was produced by the frontman’s unique fingerpicking and laconic singing style influenced by Bob Dylan. Dire Straits spent 1,100 weeks on the UK album charts ranking fifth all time. Their 1985 album ‘Brothers in Arms’ was the first album to sell more than a million copies on the CD format, eventually reaching 30 million.
What’s equally cool is that Mark has an asteroid, 28151 markknofler and a species of dinosaur, that lived 65 million years ago, Masiakasarus knopfleri named after him. While left-handed, he plays the guitar right-handed.
Mark embarked on supposedly his last tour earlier this year. Entitled the ‘Down The Road Wherever’ tour, it included two nights at London’s Royal Albert Hall in May where he kindly signed my drawing for me.
One of the world’s most beloved tenors, Roberto Alagna returned to London’s Royal Opera house for his 100th Covent Garden appearance in the title role of Giordano’s greatest opera, ANDREA CHENIER. Born in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois fifty-six years ago to Sillian parents, Roberto was discovered singing for tips in a pizzeria. Largely self-taught, he switched to opera and made his professional debut as Alfredo Germont in LA TRAVIATA with the Glyndebourne touring company, a role he would sing more than 150 times throughout his illustrious career.
He won the Luciano Pavarotti International Voice completion in 1988, making his Royal Opera debut in 1992 as Rodolfo in LA BOMEME and has been a popular regular ever since. In 1995 Roberto won the Olivier Award for his performance as Romeo in ROMEO ET JULIETTE, which catapulted him to International prominence. He was appointed a chevalier de la legion d’honueur in 2008.
I left this drawing at the ROH, of Roberto as Don Jose in the Metropolitan Opera’s most recent production of Bizet’s CARMEN, which he kindly signed and returned.