Archive for February, 2010

review of Ely Rotary’s Big Band Night in Ely

February 22, 2010

Opus 17, a band of phenomenal musicians, wowed the audience with their vibrant sounds in their concert presented by The Rotary Club of Ely in the Hayward Theatre on the 19th February. Although this was a fund-raising event, the listeners were in no doubt this was a good evening.

This seventeen-piece band knows its stuff. Trumpets, saxophones, trombones, piano, bass and drums evoked toe-tapping rhythms and luxurious jazz harmonies that swept the listeners along in an evening of sheer indulgent nostalgia. Popular items filled the programme including April in Paris, Sunny Side of the Street, Pennsylvania 65000, A nightingale Sang in Berkley Square, Tuxedo Junction, Stardust, Moonlight Serenade and In the Mood.    

Rotary compère, John Byfield eased events with his pertinent information and light banter, while band leader Graham Smith eased the musicians along with his cheerful leadership. The band gelled as the sexy saxophones, virtuosic trumpets, rich trombones, pulsating bass, dancing keyboard and stirring drums gave life to their performance.

Two singers joined the band: Helen Burnett and Tom Veasey.  Helen Burnett, an ex-pupil of the King’s School, shared in the nostalgia as she remembered her debut as a singer in that same hall when she was at school. Her performance of Skylark was particularly attractive while You belong to me was especially schmaltzy and nostalgic.  Tom Veasey gave a very good imitation of ‘Old Blue Eyes’ (Bing Crosby) when he sang Come fly with me and his interpretation of Mack the Knife and New York caught the imagination, transporting us into the elusive shadows of the darker side of life. His voice is exquisitely unique and he should go far in his new ventures in Missouri.

The evening was all the better for the slick organization of the Rotarians who made it a splendid night all round, especially in the knowledge that Rotary’s quest to eradicate polio worldwide will be aided by the funds raised from this event. Local organizations: Burrows Bookshop, J and J Wade Optometrists and the King’s School Ely, also assisted by giving their support.

Contacts:   Opus 17 – Graham Smith 01223 263171 and

Rosemary Westwell

review An Evening with Sara Paretsky

February 22, 2010

On TV, on the radio and moving from Topping’s charming bookstore in the High Street Ely to a larger venue – what is so special about Sara Paretsky that makes her so popular? There are SO many crime writers out there, why should she be any different?

It was not until I heard her speak at St Peter’s Church in Ely that it became obvious. Her wit, delight in irony and above all, her determination to root out and air the evils of her city Chicago, transfix your attention. You are left with a sense of admiration and awe. This woman is a formidable force and her writing compelling and instructive. 

Her latest book, Hardball, pulls no punches. The political corruption that Chicago boasts and past injustices that lie unpunished are presented directly in her story as her intrepid heroine, private investigator V I Warshawski , battles to find out the truth about a missing person. Prejudice, police torture and an intransigently corrupt society provide an almost impenetrable force for VI to overcome. You are compelled to empathize with her sense of injustice.    

When Sara worked voluntarily in Chicago in the summer of 1966 the city was one of the most segregated cities in America. African Americans were not permitted to rent or own houses in certain districts; they were banned from beaches and from certain jobs. Martin Luther King was asked to come and join the campaign for equality bringing with him the media that offered a certain amount of protection for the protesters.  Sara described how few people understand how violent it had been at that time. She had felt an urgent need to tell the story. This urgent need to explore depths of the corruption that few would dare touch makes her stand out as an inspirational person and stimulating author.

As a Jew she visited Germany and noticed the humility and shame felt by many of the Germans she met. Yet, in America, she senses little of this guilt about injustices of the past. It is no wonder her husband calls her a pit bull ready to take on anyone as long as they are four times her size.  Sara is indeed an indomitable force as a writer and campaigner for social morality. There are good reasons why her books published in over 30 countries are among the top best sellers.

The next author to feature at Toppings will be Ely writer Jim Kelly in St Mary’s Church on Thursday 4th March.


review Warren Mailley-Smith piano recital

February 16, 2010

A debonair pianist, candle light and champagne: what more could one ask? The Valentine’s Champagne Concert given by Warren Mailley-Smith in Ely Cathedral lived up to its expectations. With astounding dexterity, this sensational pianist wowed the audience with music that pulled at the heart strings. As candles flickered around him in the octagon, he performed astounding feats on the grand piano that kept the listeners spellbound.  

It was as if we were drawn back into the heady days of the popular pianists of a yester-year. The programme included pieces that displayed Warren’s phenomenal technique and his natural empathy with the greatest showmen of the Romantic era. It was as if Rachmaninov or Liszt had returned to the stage.

The opening Appassionata Sonata Op 57 in F minor was splendid. Beethoven’s impassioned outbreaks, his extreme contrasts and the flow of rolling broken chords never lost the thread of the deep-seated emotional of his style. Warren’s sensitivity and strength created amazing multi-dimensional fabrics. The main melodic themes were clearly and potently held, while underlying harmonies, pedal notes and trills were integrated seamlessly.  In the Presto, Warren played at break-neck speed with utter clarity and accuracy.

As expected, a favoured composer was Chopin, one of the most romantic composers of all. Reminiscences of Chopin’s piano concert no 1, in his Souvenirs de Paganini and his Ballade No 1, Op 23 in G minor were played to perfection, the cross rhythms, the highly demanding virtuosic flourishes and the heart rending sonorous melodies were beautifully expressed.

No evening of romantic music would be complete without Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata Op 27 in C sharp minor. Warren’s performance was spellbinding. His exact touch gave every note its correct weight. Warren’s fingers shaped the phrases beautifully and in the third movement, the Presto agitato, his fingers flew over the keys, with not a note missing and not a nuance forsaken.

In Liestraume no 3 by Liszt Warren made the unforgettable melodies sing, while accompanying material weaved seamlessly through the work, virtuosic flourishes and embellishments melting into the fabric.

Warren’s potent touch brought out every essence of the pain, power and anguish inthe haunting themes of Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G minor Op 23 no 1.

It was fortuitous that Warren’s own wedding anniversary fell on the day after the concert. His performance of Grieg’s Wedding Day at Troldhaugen was a fitting and attractive late addition to the programme.

The concert was brought to a close with a glittering performance of Gershwin’s piano arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue.  With real showmanship, Warren entered into the spirit of the work with amazing technique and understanding. Jazzy rhythms and cheeky interpolations, exquisitely delicate episodes were well contrasted with moments of overwhelming flamboyance.

Warren’s encore , a delightful arrangement of Spanish origin, added to the variety of this wonderful evening.

One of his next performances includes homage to Chopin when his birthday on 1st March will be celebrated in a concert at high Wickham.


review Viva’s Beauty and the Beast in Ely

February 6, 2010

There is no need to go to the West End for good quality productions. Soham-based Viva Company has got all that it takes to produce a sparkling and vibrant show packed with talented performers. Viva’s production of Beauty and at Beast at the Maltings in Ely filled the stage with a kaleidoscope of enthralling episodes as the familiar plot developed. The characters soon came to life as an array of ensembles swept across the stage or up the aisles, interweaving faultlessly with movements that captured the substance of the drama.  

Although I have seen many of these young performers appear in different productions over the years, it took some time to recognize a number of them beneath the cover of exceptional make up, costumes and most important of all, characterization. Their youthful shapes changed drastically in stature, movement, voice and gesture to become credible characters in this familiar story.

The Beast (played by Ralph Watts) howled and growled magnificently. Beauty or ‘Bell’ (Jessica Theobald) was a graceful, pretty and vehement young lady and with a strong affection for her inventive father Maurice (Oliver Ellerton). The developing drama swept the audience along as the spell that dehumanized the inhabitants of the Beast’s castle was eventually broken. The arrogance and vanity of Gaston (James Mellor) matched perfectly the highly entertaining antics and humour of Lefou (Daniel Bell). Lumiere (Joshua Schumann) made a deliciously sexy set of candlesticks with a perfect French accent; (I know this for a fact, because my companion was French). Lumiere’s  attraction to Babette (Naomi Rogers) certainly spiced things up and the straight-jacketed Cogsworth (Mikey Kowalczyk) was the epitome of frustrated officiousness. The thwarted attempts of faded opera singer Madame de la GrandeBouche (Ellie Gillett) and the amazing teapot (Mrs Potts played by Shellie Baigent) and her little Chip in a tea cup (Lawrence Whitworth) brought a touch of homeliness to the otherwise sinister castle. Other key contributors were the evil Monsieur D’Arque, Enchantress (Beth Henderson), Dance Captain (Kat Hickmott) and a bunch of ‘silly’ girls (Robyn Howe, Karina Locke, Lucy Bell, Susannah Martin and Debbie Olaifa).

The solo singing and choruses were first-rate and the choreography, stage movements and timing were impeccable. Gaston (James Mellor) had a particularly impressive voice. 

An excellent orchestra added to the overall impression that this was indeed a highly professional production thanks to the expert directorship of Dan Schumann and his team. Costumes, scenery, lighting, pyrotechnic effects and front of house were all magnificent contributions to a fantastic show.

It is no wonder that the three performances were fully booked. 

Aspiring performers should audition in March for Viva’s production of Godspell that will take part in the Edinburgh Festival from 7-14th August 2010. Contact: Martha at Viva tel (01353) 722228. For further information contact

Rosemary Westwell

review Ben MacIntyre and his book Operation Mincemeat

February 6, 2010

Toppings bookshop certainly knows how to choose its authors. The store was packed for an evening with Ben MacIntyre, bestselling author of Agent Zigzag. As a captivating raconteur and thoroughbred historian, he retold the story of his latest book Operation Mincemeat with the passion and excitement of a true enthusiast.  

Many members of the audience had good reason to attend. The brother-in-law of a member of the audience had been killed in the explosion of HMS Dasher off the coast of Scotland during the Second World War. His family firmly believed that ‘the man that never was’ had been a member of that crew.  Without referring to any notes, Ben was able to dispel this myth. His research had been so thorough and his knowledge so unfathomable that he could describe in full detail the circumstances surrounding the events of the highly secretive Operation Mincemeat.

Ben retold the tale, bringing to life the English eccentrics and highly colourful characters who had devised this famous World War 2 plan. The Germans were duped into believing that when the Allies attacked Southern Europe, they would land in Greece and Sardinia rather than the more likely Sicily.  

In a clever master plan of subterfuge and disguise, a dead body was planted with false papers that gave it a new identity and that implicated the feigned Allied attacks. The body was left in the waters off the coast of Spain to drift ashore and be discovered. His papers eventually found their way to the heart of the German military and the hoax worked. Hitler left Sicily vulnerable to the Allied attack while Sardinia and Greece were flooded with his troops. This had been a major turning point in the war.

As the listeners sat spellbound, Ben described how this amazing ruse had been born in a basement beneath Whitehall.  A host of fascinating individuals including a homeless Welshman, a famous forensic pathologist, a humorous coroner , a transvestite spymaster, a daredevil racing car driver, a beautiful secretary and even  Lord Mountbatten played a part in this amazing deception.  In his vivid description, Ben contrasted the unfettered English creativity that gave birth to this plan with the hierarchical homourless precision of the Germans that lead to their downfall.

Ben is a fascinating storyteller and source of information, humour and wit. His latest book is available from Toppings bookstore: or

review: Peace Child

February 3, 2010

Ely Cathedral was the ideal venue for Peace Child International to present “Peace Child – Alpha Omega”: a musical journey through faith by David Gordon.  

The combined forces of Ely Choral Society, choirs from Southfields Junior School, Witchford Village College, representatives from Turkey and Estonia and the Ely Festival Orchestra produced a very moving and powerful  sound.  This large gathering of musicians was inspired by the Musical Directorship of the renowned Andrew Parnell.

An excellent script by David Woollcombe and members of the cast brought into focus those unanswerable questions about religion, faith and the purpose of our existence that man has raised since time began.  Director Abdul Shayek and Producer Rosey Simonds should be well pleased with the fine acting of the cast: Gemma Craven (Storyteller), Cecilia Garcia (Maryam), Elizabeth Marnie (Charlotte), Regé Page (Christopher) and Joseph Vacher (Aaron). Notable representatives of different backgrounds and perspectives, chaired by Canon Peter Challen, were on hand to continue a discussion of the issues raised after the interval.

Choirs and soloists were splendid and the singing of soprano Lili Kirikal from Estonia and Regé Page were particularly impressive. The orchestra gelled superbly and the quality of the performance was unquestionable. There were many impressive displays by highly skilled instrumentalists. Other notable performers were solo treble James Farmer, organist Jonathan Lilley and pianist and Musical Associate Richard Sharpey .

Fascinating orchestration created a tremendous feeling of awe and suspense at the beginning and one of the most moving items of the evening was the opening song “Who am I?”. Other highlights were the compelling “I believe” and the final triumphant song: “Reach Out” which ended the performance with a rousing flourish.

Ely Choral Society’s next concerts will be Bach’s St. Matthew Passion on Saturday 27th March and on Summer Concert and the launch of Ely Youth Choir on Friday 18th June. Contact:

Peace Child International may be contacted on tel: 01763274459 or email: