Friday, 31 January 2014

The Jennifer Crook Trio Pledge Music Project: Nearly There!

The Jennifer Crook Trio Pledge Music project is nearing completion.

When we last reported on the project, it was up to 75%. Now, with just a couple of days to go, 85% of the target has been reached.

Time is running out to be involved in this exciting project! Head for the pledge page for further details.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Bridie Jackson And The Arbour On Tour

Not to be missed!

Head here for further details.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

New Tour Dates

Further to the tour dates for The Stray Birds, given here yesterday, comes news of a plethora of other dates for acts under the Brookfield Knights umbrella, including:

De Temps Antan (click on the name for the full UK dates, including The Sage, Gateshead on 30 January).

Petunia and The Vipers (click on the name for the full UK dates, including the Jumpin Hot Club, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 27 February).

Keep up to date with lots of tour news over at the Brookfield Knights homepage.

(Images copyright Brookfield Knights)

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Stray Birds On Tour

We featured The Stray Birds here at Marsh Towers last April.

They are now touring the UK, with shows on the following dates.

Tour Dates


Wed 29: House concert. Edinburgh

Thurs 30: Jumpin Hot Club, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Fri 31: The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal


Sat 1: Playhouse 2, Shaw, Oldham

Sun 2: Victoria Hotel, Menai Bridge


Tues 4: The Green Note, Camden, London

Wed 5: The Atkinson, Southport

Thurs 6: Norwich Arts Centre

Fri 7: The Ropery Hall, Barton upon Humber

Sat 8: The Forge, Anvil Arts, Basingstoke

Sun 9: The Live Room, Saltaire

Tues 11: Red Room, Cookstown, Northern Ireland

Wed 12: The Black Box, Belfast

Thurs 13: Raheen House Hotel, Clonmel, Co Tipperary

Fri 14: The Lodge, Mallow, Cork

Sat 15: Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny, Co Donegal

Sun 16: Whelan’s, Dublin

Head to the official Stray Birds website for further details.

To whet the appetite, here's a performance for the current Celtic Connections festival.

Monday, 27 January 2014

The Jennifer Crook Trio Pledge Music Project: Five Days And 22% To Go!

We have already mentioned the Pledge Music project for the Jennifer Crook Trio (here, with an update here).

There are just five days left to pledge, but the good news is that the project has now raised 78% of its target amount.

All is ready for the final push! Head for the official homepage for further details.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Eat Pray Laugh!

Eat Pray Laugh!
Barry Humphries' Farewell Tour
Newcastle Theatre Royal

Just one month short of his 80th birthday, Barry Humphries spent five nights entertaining packed houses at Newcastle's Theatre Royal. We went to see him on the penultimate night of the Newcastle run and even now, a couple of days later, we are still laughing at the memory.

Barry Humphries seems sincere in his desire to bid farewell to the world of touring. Ticket sales were predictably healthy; I couldn't spot any empty seats in the theatre and the pre-show atmosphere crackled with anticipation of a special evening.

The unmistakable sound of Men at Work's Down Under heralded the arrival of Sir Les Patterson, billed here as ''Australia's answer to Nigella Lawson.'' Indeed, Sir Les has reinvented himself as a TV chef, determined (he said) to put on a good show to impress representatives of major TV stations who were (apparently) dotted around the stalls.

Ah, yes - the stalls. Normally I like to book tickets as close to the stage as possible but after just a couple of minutes I understood the wisdom of choosing the Grand Circle. Sir Les has what could be described as overactive saliva glands (and then some). From our privileged vantage point it was clear that nobody in the first four or five rows of the stalls was safe from being drenched by projectile spittle. Nor were the meatballs that Sir Les proceeded to create and barbecue...and which, later on, two poor members of the audience were ''invited'' to come and eat (I'll keep you guessing as to whether or not they were ultimately obliged to do so).

Bad taste abounded - obviously in more ways than one - as Les imparted his eternal wisdom, sharing his opinion of a whole range of subjects as he dribbled, cooked and produced enormous amounts of wind (or ''trouser coughs'' as he so delightfully put it). ''If you were expecting a politically correct show, you may as well **** off home right now'' he said. Hardly a country or race was safe from the acerbic tongue of Sir Les. I'm not sure how he gets away with it, but I suppose the authorities are all too busy arresting octogenarians for different reasons at the moment.

Unbelievably, the humour worked. There was only one way to laugh at such innuendo-laden material: long and hard. I've never known a show produce so many belly laughs per minute. In the hands and flatulence of most other performers, such material simply wouldn't work. We were witnessing a master at work.

Just when the level of grotesqueness didn't seem able to be raised, Sir Les disappeared for a noisy toilet trip and his creepy brother Gerard (a tagged man of the cloth) appeared and promptly raised the bar a couple more notches.

There was a sudden change of pace and tone towards the end of the first half, with the deceased Sandy Stone delivering a monologue from the other side. The humour became a lot more on the subtle side and there were a few genuinely touching moments in the narrative.

The second half of the show belonged solely to Dame Edna Everage. Arriving on an elephant, all trace of subtlety was immediately trumpeted away, never to return. If we thought we were well off avoiding the stalls for the first half, Dame Edna confirmed it - well and truly - in the second. Nobody down there was safe. Dame Edna started to pick on people as only she can (although she claimed she was ''empowering'' them). The set culminated in two unconnected members of the audience being brought onto the stage to take place in a bizarre wedding ceremony. From a safe distance, it was hilarious.

There followed the traditional custom of throwing gladioli out the audience (Dame Edna managed to hurl some all the way the Grand Circle) prior to a gladi-waving finale.

Barry Humphries came out as himself at the very end of the show to thank everyone. He seemed humble and genuinely appreciative, in stark contrast to the characters he plays.

Wonderful entertainment, but easily offended or nervous people beware!

Keep up to date with the tour dates over at the official Eat Pray Laugh! website.

Monday, 20 January 2014

The Blockheads: Return To The Top 40(?)

This time last week, we posted about The Blockheads and their quest to return to the top 40.

The single is now available for download. It costs just £1.29. If enough people buy it between now and the end of the week then The Blockheads will break into the top 40 and finally ''earn'' the radio airplay they deserve.

Here's a link to the relevant iTunes page, and here's the extended video for Boys Will Be Boys.

The Facebook campaign page remains active and would appreciate your support.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Blockheads: Same Horse Different Jockey

Same Horse Different Jockey
The Blockheads
The Blockheads are back!

Same Horse Different Jockey is the long awaiting follow up to 2009's Staring Down The Barrel. That's a considerable gap, but The Blockheads have been far from idle. They have been touring regularly and crafting the 10 new songs in between.

Track List

Look The Other Way
Boys Will Be Boys
Express Yourself
Are You One Of Those People
Frightened Man
Sorry I Apologise
What's The Deal Mama
Tommy Gun

Staring Down The Barrel is one of my favourite albums so I was eager to see what the new album was like. More of the same, a complete change of direction or something in between?

Look The Other Way is very much in the style of Staring Down The Barrel, with Derek Hussey's trademark understated vocal delivery contrasting nicely with the song's growing feeling of urban menace. With talk of mysterious shadows, deals going down, broken glass and bodies, it's reminiscent of No Go Central. It's a very strong opener and, at five minutes and 26 seconds, the longest track on the album by nearly a whole minute. The length gives the song plenty of time to breathe and allows the group to keep the groove going.

Boys Will Be Boys is a faster number and one of the two most immediately accessible songs, along with Express Yourself. No coincidence, then, that they were both selected to be released as singles. Both are upbeat, feel good numbers. We will have more to say about Boys Will Be Boys tomorrow.

Undercover starts with a Reggae-type beat, greatly enhanced by the introduction of some sublime clarinet playing, courtesy of Gilad Atzmon. The jaunty surface sheen belies the content of the song; it's all about the overuse of surveillance and the heavy-handed tactics forcing people to conform. Undercover is one of the most thought-provoking songs on the whole album and - just like Look The Other Way - represents a continuation of the themes introduced on Staring Down The Barrel.

The funky Are You One Of Those People is an angry rant against those ''who don't return their calls'', questioning ''how come your time is precious and mine means nothing at all?'' For the modern Blackheads, it's an unusually personal approach to one of life's frustrations, almost certainly based on direct experience.
Norman Watt-Roy
Confused is another step in a new direction. A slow ballad of regret, it reveals a different side to Derek's repertoire. Instead of inhabiting the persona of an onlooker to the action portrayed in the narrative, Confused puts the first person at the centre of the song. A sample of the lyric should be enough to sum up the ethos of this sensitive song:

''Don't have to look too far to know where it went wrong
The reason wasn't hard to see;
But now I know
I was the one who changed...''

The tempo picks up again on Frightened Man. Johnny Turnbull's guitar leads the charge of a man running from unspecified dangers. The relentless pace of the song matches that of the character's flight. A good one to play live, methinks.

Sorry I Apologise is pure vaudeville, with Mick Gallagher's keyboards well to the fore. Documenting a series of comic adventures, it represents the comic highpoint of the album.

Mick Gallagher
Derek Hussey - Vaudeville Style
British Rhythm and Blues - Dr Feelgood and Wilko Johnson style - gets a foot in with What's The Deal Mama, with Johnny Turnbull's rock 'n' roll guitar leading the charge through the albums fastest - and shortest number. In pace and style it reminded me strongly of the oft-covered Don't You Lie To Me, which is no bad thing, of course.

Norman Watt-Roy and Johnny Turnbull
Tommy Gun is (ironically) the album's only misfire. It's a simple enough tale of a young lad signing up:

''He's one of the crowd and he's doing us proud
Perhaps people think that he's crazy;
Without a bye or a leave one dull winter's eve
He decided to enlist in the army...''

However, I think the current ''heroes'' campaigns are a little too widespread, and the song a little too cliched to have the special qualities enjoyed by the other nine tracks on the album.

Same Horse Different Jockey is a delight, with cleverly crafted lyrics, enhanced by an unusual and distinctive delivery, fused with exemplary musicianship. It has been well worth the wait and I'm looking forward to hearing the new songs played live some time in 2014.

Blockheads Personnel:

Chaz Jankel
Norman Watt-Roy
Mick Gallagher
Johnny Turnbull
Derek Hussey
John Roberts
Gilad Atzmon
Dave Lewis
Terry Edwards

Chaz Jankel
Chaz Jankel and Derek Hussey share the songwriting credits on the majority of songs, the exceptions being: Undercover (Derek and Norman); Confused (Mick, Derek and Chaz); Frightened Man (Johnny and Derek).

As mentioned earlier, the cover of Same Horse Different Jockey has proved too controversial for some. Well, compare the image of a couple of ginger nuts with the cover of Staring Down The Barrel, which shows an oversized gun pointing at a child - which escaped the wrath of the censors - and one could draw a few pertinent conclusions over what we deem acceptable in 2014...

For album ordering details, please head for the Block Shop.

We've been covering The Blockheads all week. Here are links to earlier instalments:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

There will be one more Blockhead posting tomorrow...

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Blockheads: Live

Seeing The Blockheads live is quite an experience. I saw them once in 2010 and also in 2012; I'm hoping to see them again some time this year.

It's only when one sees them on the stage that one can see just how hard they work and how much of a cohesive musical unit they are.

They currently have gigs scheduled for Wolverhampton, Deal, Balcombe, Wakefield and Wallingford. More dates will surely be added soon.

Further details - including an online booking facility - can be found here.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Blockheads: Solo

While you are catching up with any gaps in your Blockheads collection, it may be worth keeping in mind that the personnel in question feature on many non-Blockhead projects too. Here's the lowdown on a few choice cuts. Why not expand the horizons of your musical selection? Give them a try - it's a simple as that!

John Turnbull has played with a huge array of artists, including Eurythmics, Bob Geldof and Paul Young.

His excellent Quantum Frolics album (reviewed here in 2013) deserves to be much better known.

Chaz Jankel never seems to stop working. I particularly like The Submarine has Surfaced, which can be purchased directly from Chaz's website. Derek Hussey makes a notable guest appearance on the album.

Norman Watt-Roy's legendary bass has appeared on many records, including some which may be surprising. Those who remember Frankie Goes to Hollywood telling everyone to Relax will have heard one of Norman's bass lines.

He has recently released Faith and Grace and has being touring the album between Blockhead and Wilko gigs.

Former Blockhead drummer Dylan Howe has a new album out soon too. Subterranean: New Designs on Bowie's Berlin sounds a very intriguing project. Further details can be found here.

Norman and Dylan continue to appear with the extraordinary Wilko Johnson (himself a former Blockhead, of course). The trio can be seen on the brand new DVD, Live At Koko, which is available from various places including Cadiz Music.

Our Blockhead week continues tomorrow...

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Blockheads: Post-Dury Albums

It's Blockhead week here at Marsh Towers as we take a look at various aspects of the band's career.

Prior to the release of Same Horse Different Jockey - which will be reviewed here in full at the end of the week - The Blockheads released two albums of post-Dury material. Here's a quick look at those...

Track List

Funny Farm 
My Own Rules
Feel The Funk 
Bad Blood 
Shut Up And Dance 
Where's The Party? 
Spread It 
Work To The Bone
I Wish It Was The Days 
Moving On 
Just Another Story

Released in 2004, Where's The Party? is an album from a band going through a transitional phase. The songs span a number of different styles, some of which work better than others and as a whole it lacks a of shade of cohesion

Highlights include Funny Farm, Just Another Story and Mona. The first two, in particular, display the quirky lyrical nature of The Blockheads at their best, while Mona's bass riff plays to another great Blockhead strength.

Another highlight represents a pivotal moment in the band's post-Dury development: consecutive tracks Where's The Party? and Spread It both feature Derek Hussey on lead vocals. Suddenly, the final piece of the post-Dury jigsaw falls blatantly into place. Derek's softly-spoken delivery offers a warm counterpoint to the otherwise generally funky sound. Those two songs quite clearly point the way for the next album.

Songs from Where's The Party? are rarely played live; the material isn't as inherently strong as the best of the Dury years or from what was to follow, five years down the line.

Track List

Roll Over 
A Little Knowledge 
George The Human Pigeon 
No Go Central 
Prophet Of Doom 
Hold Tight 
Life In Your Hands 
Dirty Money
Elegant Style

2009's Staring Down The Barrel is where the new direction of The Blockheads all comes together.

When I saw The Blockheads live for the first time they were touring Staring Down The Barrel and the quality of the new songs took me aback. Derek takes lead vocals (and shares the writing duties) throughout the album, giving it a very cohesive feel. He has a vocal style of his own, which is an important feature (going with a Dury sound-a-like was never going to be a sensible option).

Several themes recur throughout the album, all anchored by the state of the modern world. Love of money, greedy bankers (not necessarily rhyming slang), social misfits and ecological disasters are all on the Blockhead agenda this time around, as is modern urban menace (as witnessed in the startling No Go Central).

As always with this band, the songs are all self-contained stories. One big difference between the two Blockhead eras manifests itself via the perspective of the 'narrator' of these stories; Ian Dury's anger and frustration often erupted from within, whereas now it's the outside world creating the confusion and chaos.

Musically superb, with thought-provoking lyrics, Staring Down The Barrel rewards repeated playings. All killer, no filler. Yes, The Blockheads are on top form on Staring Down The Barrel. It's my favourite Blockhead album from any era.

We have been waiting patiently for the follow-up. Same Horse Different Jockey has a lot to live up to. Find out in my review at the end of the week if it lives up to my expectations.

Head for the official Blockheads discography for a full listing and links to buy the albums from iTunes.

Monday, 13 January 2014


There may some people who believe the Blockheads disbanded for good after the death of Ian Dury back in 2000. Not so; they have continued to write, release and perform ever since.

This week at Marsh Towers we are focusing on the post-Dury era of one of the UK's most consistently underrated rock 'n' roll bands.

First of all, here's a news item just in from The Blockheads themselves:

Calling ALL Blockheads!

Do you want to get The Blockheads back into the Top 40 ?

If so...

On January 20th 2014, we will be releasing 'Boys Will Be Boys', as a download only single, with the 'Dr Rubberfunk' remix of 'Express Yourself' as a B-Side, along with a pdf booklet, and our very cool cover art...

...all together for the single price of £1.29.

This is a campaign to get our single 'Boys Will Be Boys' airplay.

There's a Facebook page for the campaign.

The single is taken from the brand new Blockheads album, Same Horse Different Jockey.

The cover art - by Sarah Lucas - is proving too controversial for comfort in some quarters. (I don't know who is posing there but clearly he needed plenty of bottle.) If one downloads the album from iTunes, the cover is rather different.

iTunes cover
My full review of Same Horse Different Jockey will appear here at the end of the week.

If you can't wait for the review and would prefer to order the album immediately, then just head straight for the Block Shop

Friday, 10 January 2014

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour: Second Album Launch

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour
To Launch Second Album

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour are currently in the studio working on their second album. Their debut album, the extraordinary Bitter Lullabies, was launched almost exactly two years ago in a sold-out show at The Sage.
Launching the first album, January 2012
Bitter Lullabies
Just over a year later, they launched their very successful Scarecrow single at The Cluny.

Scarecrow CD Single
Launch at The Cluny, February 2013
Today we received some exciting news: the new album will be officially launched at the Gateshead Old Town Hall on Saturday 26 April 2014, at 8.00 p.m.

I am absolutely certain that it will be a fabulous evening and that the new songs will be entirely worthy of the occasion. Tickets are now on sale and are sure to sell out fast, so make sure you order sooner rather than later to avoid disappointment.

Further details, including an online ticket booking facility, are available over at The Sage website and on Facebook.

Monday, 6 January 2014

The Jennifer Crook Trio Pledge Music Update

We posted something about the The Jennifer Crook Trio Pledge Music here a couple of days ago.

With 19 days left, 28% of the goal has already been met.

Here's a video of the Trio in action to whet your appetites.

The Trio need your help to make the next album a success! Please head for the pledge page to read about the different packages on offer. Think of it as a pre-order with very tempting extras!

Friday, 3 January 2014

Chess Reviews: 232

From GM to Top Ten
By Judit Polgar
392 pages
Quality Chess
Volume 2 of the Judit Polgar's trilogy is now available. The first volume - reviewed here - took her chess story up to 1991 and the breaking of Fischer's record to become the world's youngest Grandmaster. This time, the period covered is 1992 - 2000.

Explaining the layout of the book, Judit says: ''I chose to structure the material as a manual rather than an autobiography. This way, it would be instructive for young players or amateurs aspiring to progress, but also offer a guideline to their parents or trainers. True, there would be a wealth of autobiographical stories, but they would pop up without respecting a chronological order.''

The material is split into the following chapters:

Reminiscences from my Childhood
Solving 1
Dynamic Pawn Play
Positional Sacrifices
Thunder from a Blue Sky
Fluid Attacks
Solving 2
My Matches
Solving 3
My Memorable Games

Judit Polgar's games are rarely - if ever - dull. Back in 1992, Smyslov even went so far as to describe her as ''Tal in a skirt''!

''I have always treasured beauty in chess'' admits Judit and the games in this volume certainly support the statement.

J. Polgar vs. Garcia
Dos Hermanas 1993
Here's one for you to solve. There are two ways for White to force checkmate in four moves and both lines start with a big sacrifice. Can you find both paths to mate?

Judit's results were as spectacular as her games. The very first chapter - starting with the year 1992, when she was still in her mid-teens - sees her beating Korchnoi and drawing with Karpov. It's not all one way traffic though, as a crushing defeat at the hands of Shirov demonstrates. Not many players like to show their defeats in their own books, but in this respect Judit is following in the footsteps of the great Bobby Fischer.

Indeed, the 11th World Champion makes a significant appearance towards the end of chapter 10, My Matches. The Polgars spent time with Bobby while he was in Hungary and Judit offers some revealing snippets about their days together and his personality.

''His behaviour was rather childish. He used to laugh a lot and tried to make jokes all the time. This is the reason why we never took him too seriously when he expressed anti-Jewish views or accused the Soviets of pre-arranging games at the highest level. Somehow, his words did not seem to match the way in which he said them, neither did they fit with the general ambiance.''

Of course, there never was a Fischer vs. Polgar match, but Bobby's temporary return to chess in 1992 had the world speculating on the possibility for a while. Meanwhile, Judit did to get to play a 10-game match with Boris Spassky (as a direct result of the second Fischer vs. Spassky match), which she won. A Rapidplay match victory over Anatoly Karpov followed in 1998. During the fifth game of the match, Karpov reacted to Judit playing on in a lost position.  ''At some point Karpov looked into my eyes and said: 'It is not nice to play on!' .'' Later, Karpov blundered into a stalemate...

Karpov played 75 Qf3?? stalemate!
 ...and ''he was so upset that he left the board without shaking hands.''

I enjoyed the little stories just as much as the sparkling games. We even get the inside story of the infamous clash with Kasparov (Linares, 1994), in which the 13th World Champion let go of his knight, saw that his move would lose the exchange and then quickly picked it up and played another move (and won, 10 moves later). It all happened so quickly but there were people watching and the champion got away with it. Judit's prose coverage of the incident is well worth reading.

The book is beautifully produced, with a hardback binding and numerous photographs (some of them full-page - a real rarity in chess books).

There are only two things I would have preferred: 1) All illustrative games to be complete scores and not starting from a position, as some do; 2) More anecdotes!  I know they are present throughout the book but I'm sure there must be lots more. There must, for example, be far more to say about the time spent with Fischer. Maybe a full-length autobiography will follow at some point.

Incidentally, Judit has been the No.1 ranked female chess player for 25 consecutive years. The FIDE lists, released on 1 January 2014, provided confirmation. An amazing achievement.

Oh, and one final note...despite my enthusiasm for the French Defence and the DVD and books I recently reviewed on the subject, I definitely wouldn't recommend meeting Judit's habitual 1 e4 with 1 ...e6! Based on the evidence presented in this book, it really would be asking for for trouble...

Extremely entertaining and highly instructive, this is a truly a book to savour. Hopefully, Volume 3 - A Game of Queens - will be available very soon.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Chess Reviews: 231

The French Defence 
for the Tournament Player
By Nicholas Pert
7 hours
ChessBase continue to release products at a relentless pace. I've selected some to review over the next few columns or so.

The French Defence for the Tournament Player seems a good place to start, as I very recently reviewed three excellent Quality Chess books on the same opening and it's an opening I have been interested in for a very long time. How would Nicholas Pert's repertoire compare to the others? Here's a quick summary of the main lines he recommends.

1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Bd7

1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nd2 Nf6

1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4

White's less ambitious options - such as 2 d3 and 2 d4 d5 3 exd5 - are also covered, of course.

23 lectures explaining the repertoire, via illustrative games, followed by 12 test questions. There's an additional database of 682 games, with the depth and usefulness of the annotations varying from prose to brief, language-less symbols.

We won't find out what Emanuel Berg advocates against anything other than 3 Nc3 until the concluding volume of his trilogy on the French Defence is released later this year, but there is an obvious area for comparison, as both he and Nicholas Pert are fans of the main line Winawer Variation (3 ...Bb4 and allowing White to enter the Poisoned Pawn labyrinth with a subsequent Qg4 and Qxg7). Even better (for comparison purposes); Pert uses two of Berg's games for his lectures. One of them focuses on a particularly tricky line of the Winawer.

After the moves 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Qxg7 Rg8 9 Qxh7 cxd4 White has an unusual king move at his disposal with 10 Kd1.

Nilson vs. Berg
Sweden, 2012
The game continued: 10 ...Nbc6 11 Nf3 dxc3 12 Ng5 Nxe5 13 Bf4 Qb6 14 Bxe5 Rxg5 15 Qh4 Rg8 16 Qd4 Qxd4+ 17 Bxd4 Bd7 18 h4 Nf5 19 Bf6 Rg6 20 Be5 f6 21 h5 Rh6 22 Bxc3 e5 23 g4

...and in this position the players agreed to a draw. Berg and Pert both give 23 ...Nd6 as the best move for Black here, with the latter questioning why the former didn't play on against ''a weaker player.'' Both agree also that 17 ...Nf5!? is a perfectly valid alternative (only Berg correctly credits the idea to French Defence pioneer John Watson).

However, Berg goes further in his analysis of the line, flagging up an improvement on move 19.

In the game, Berg played here 19 ...Rg6 but he now believes it a dubious move, because White can improve with 20 Bxc3!, which is ''slightly favourable for White, for instance: 20 ...f6 21 h5 Rh6 22 Rb1 White has obtained a slightly improved version of a familiar position type.'' Berg's suggested improvement is 19 ...Nh6!? when he says, ''By threatening to invade on g4, Black hopes to provoke weaknesses in the enemy camp.'' He goes even further, analysing 20 f3 Nf5 21 g4 Rg6! 22 g5 Rxf6! 23 gxf6 Ne3+ 24 Kc1 Nxf1 25 Rxf1 Bc6 ''Intending ...Kd7 and ...Rh8. Black's extra pawn and better pawn structure offer full compensation for the sacrificed exchange.''

Pert himself is happy to describe the DVD as ''a very thorough work'' and firmly believes he is offering the best variations for Black, giving the second player every chance of fighting for the win in every line. He makes a fine presenter, with a good delivery. He very rarely fumbles his words and it is quite clear he has put a lot of time and effort into researching the subject thoroughly. It all helps to instill confidence in the material. In fact, he goes big step further along the road of confidence and says to learn all about the French Defence ''This DVD is absolutely the best thing that's out there on the market.'' Possibly so, but personally I would rate the Berg books a shade higher (at least in terms of the Winawer Variation).

There are certain issues with the striped shirt in the early lectures. The resultant strobe effect is a big distraction. Fortunately, the issue is corrected as we head towards coverage of the Tarrasch Variation - with a switch to a white shirt - but it would have been better not to have allowed the problem in the first place. ChessBase have been making DVDs long enough to know how to advise their presenters on what not to wear.

The presenter makes a very good point that he is usually higher rated than his opponents and as such he really does need to win with Black on a very regular basis. That means the lines he presents - which have been his own anti-1 e4 repertoire for a very long time - should be suitable for club players and experienced tournament players alike. There's not much point winning with White and drawing with Black if one would like to win tournaments; games with both colours must be pushed to the maximum. Pert's consistent approach is to eschew lines in which Black wins material but has to allow White serious counterplay. Instead, he prefers to be the on doing the attacking. Fighting stuff!

I can recommend this DVD to ambitious players who are looking for success against 1 e4.  Keep in mind, though, that the Winawer is very hard work and definitely not the sort of opening one can try without serious preparation. Students of the French Defence may want to do some further reading too and I would point them firmly in the direction of Emanuel Berg's fine books.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

New Year - New Music

The Jennifer Crook Trio are working on a new album for 2014 - and they need your help.

Jennifer's last album, Merry-Go-Round, was very well received and it was reviewed here.

For the new album, due out later this year, The Jennifer Crook Trio (Jennifer Crook: guitar, harp and vocals; Bethany Porter: cello and backing vocals; Mike Cosgrave: guitar and backing vocals) have started an appeal over at the Pledge Music site, offering various reward packages in return for a financial pledge towards the project.

Pledges, Kickstarters and similar appeals have been promoted here at Marsh Towers several times before, most notably for The WiyosTwo Man Gentleman BandAmy Speace and Rachel Harrington and the Knockouts. All of those projects came to fruition and I'm sure the same will be true for the Jennifer Crook Trio's campaign too.

Please head over to the pledge page for full details regarding the various available packages. There are 24 days left to pledge support for the project. There's more information at Jennifer's official website too.

We will return to the project soon to check on the progress made. Meanwhile, to show the trio in action, here's a video filmed by Andy Richardson at the 2013 Village Pump Folk Festival.