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Tuesday morning update

I have two announcements to make this fine Tuesday morning.

    1. Take a look at my published article on why we need more video campaigns for male domestic abuse victims
    2. I’m doing book reviews now! Take a look at my new and shiny book review website, and if you are an author or looking for new books to read this summer click on the ‘book club’ banner for lists of cheap books and the opportunity to list your own book and gain a wider audience.

For more information on Alter Ego by Tory Allyn (the book I’m currently reviewing) check out it’s Amazon listing here.

I’ve been quite busy writing about weird topics for minimal pay (latest includes sewing machine sergers, karaoke machines, and milk frothers) but I promise to update again soon with a longer and very exciting post.

Book Club Reading List

Cheap eBooks

Cheap eBooks

Cheap Kindle Books

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I’m in Australia! I have a separate travel blog, so if you’re interested and like the pictures below take a look at https://theflyingvegetarian.wordpress.com

Nimbin

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Murwillumbah

Brisbane

Gold coast

More coming soon. Just to think two weeks ago I was working in my office

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The Winters Tale Review at The Garrick theater

So yesterday I went to see The Winters Tale, a Shakespearian play directed by Rob Ashford and Kenneth Branagh, starring Kenneth Branagh and Judy Dench. The show had full star reviews from several major publications so one would assume it would be a pretty good show.

It was not.

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I think because The Winters Tale is in itself a confusing and I believe badly told story that makes absolutely no sense, that meant the actors found it hard to engage with the play and portray their characters properly. I’m not really sure if the acting was bad because of the play, or if they play was bad because of the acting, but something was definitely wrong.  I am not sure if Kenneth Branagh has a unique acting style or if he was genuinely forgetting his lines throughout the play, but there were several awkward pauses and sometimes it really felt like the actors were just saying words and didn’t really have any idea what they were saying, which would have made sense as most of the time I had no idea what they were saying either.

I vaguely managed to get the gist of the story, which involved a seemingly normal guy turning into a crazy and jealous monster within the space of a few minutes and then doing a complete 360 before the end of the first act, people dropping dead for no logical reason, being turned into statues and then being revived by Judy Dench, and some rather surprising but very welcome folk dancing. I was confused that the actors were dressed in Victorian attire and had a Christmas tree on set whilst the story was meant to be set in Ancient Rome; the play started with the actors walking through the audience singing a Christmas song, and yet the play was also vaguely set in Ancient Rome with the characters visiting an oracle and believing in multiple Gods. That alone would have been okay if the acting was convincing, but a lot of the soliloquy’s made no sense, partly because sometimes the actors spoke too quietly to be audible  (keep in mind we were on the bottom level so were closer to the stage than most of the audience) but mostly because through several quite large chunks of the play there didn’t seem to be a connection between the actors and the text. Sometimes they seemed a lot more like people reading a script than actors portraying a character. They did use different voice levels, sometimes whispering and suddenly screaming, but it wasn’t effective because as there wasn’t a great sense of character and so it was hard to feel the emotion. I didn’t really understand why they were randomly screaming and whispering. It was hard to understand or relate to the random bursts of emotion, especially as they seemed quite sporadic.

Kenneth Branagh did have a few strong moments, but for most of the play I literally thought he kept forgetting his lines. Judy Dench gave a good performance as she is a great actress, but even she couldn’t force the story to make sense. The actress who played Perdita, the abandoned royal baby who miraculously survives a bear attack when the men who left her there are torn to pieces, was actually pretty good; she was lively and the dancing scenes in the second act was one of the significant high points  of the play.

The play wasn’t a complete disaster. However, the play itself ended on an exceptionally weak note, which was a fault of the actual play rather than the production although I do feel they could have executed it better.  Hermione, the wife who suddenly drops dead just after the gods say she is innocent is somehow brought back to life by Judy Dench’s character and they all presumably live happily ever after. It was quite sudden and not particularly well explained, you don’t even see Branagh’s character meet his long lost daughter. This is probably not the fault of the directors of this play as I imagine it was quite close to the original. What this play has confirmed for me is that Shakespeare really isn’t all that. Whilst some of his plays are very good, i.e Macbeth and Midsummer Nights Dreams, that doesn’t mean every single thing he ever wrote was fantastic. If the play I saw yesterday was anything close to the original written by Shakespeare, it really is not a very good play. It felt like two different stories pushed together with a very hurried happy ending that was not properly explained, and as Shakespeare goes I wouldn’t really recommend it.

And yet somehow this play got a standing ovation. I feel this is because it was Shakespeare, and people assume that Shakespeare is both very good and very hard for us modern people to understand. Therefore, the more difficult one of his plays is to understand the more authentic it must be. However, this is not true. A Greek tragedy or a Shakespearean play can have challenging language, but if the original play flows reasonably well and if the actors deliver good performances you do not need to be a scholar to appreciate and understand it. This story in itself was, to me at least, very badly written, and the fact that the actors performances tended to suggest they didn’t understand the text either left me very underwhelmed and slightly bemused. Shakespeare can be good, but it is definitely not always good. In total, I would give it 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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London’s free outdoor theatre: Captain Show off and Women of Troy at the Scoop, 27/08/2015

Last Thursday I went to see some fabulous and free outdoor theatre in the heart of London Bridge. Every August since 2002, a fabulous theatre group named Gods and Monsters has performed classical Greek and Roman theatre at the Scoop, London’s free outdoor amphitheatre. The Scoop is surrounded by precarious looking glass offices, and is right next to the river Thames and Tower Bridge.

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Because of its location many people stumble upon it by chance and have the option of taking some time to enjoy free entertainment, and because it is free it can encourage people who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre to come and see these performances and benefit from them, because theatre is good for the soul and everyone should be able to see it.
The Scoop is used all year round as a space for free music, drama and dance shows; years ago when I was fifteen I performed at the Scoop as part of a youth dance performance with Laban, its a great space that visitors can just come along to without needing to worry about booking, and if you have a spare evening you should come down to London Bridge and see what’s going on, find out more at http://www.morelondon.com/

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Every August  theatre company Gods and Monsters are able to stage, with the help of their sponsors and audience donations,two plays adapted from Ancient Greece and Rome, one is often a light hearted family friendly comedy, and the other tends to be a Greek tragedy. This year the comedy was Captain Show Off!, which was about two long lost twin brothers who end up in the same town and get mistaken for each other, often with extreme and humerus consequences. It featured musical theatre and live music, S&M  and two gloriously chavvy slaves  called the Shiftichics who were working for ‘Wonga’, a Roman loan shark. It was very tongue in cheek, set in the town square of ‘Tescgoss’ in the province of ‘Ev’ryliddle-helps’ and was full of these not so subtle cultural references, but it was also interesting as it was adapted from the Roman comedies of author Plautus, and under all the farce it serves to remind us that situation comedies haven’t changed much in the last two thousand years, and that we have quite a lot more in common with the Romans than we may think.
The Scoop is an outdoor theatre, and we were unfortunately reminded of that when it started to rain and we had to huddle under our umbrellas and hope for the best, and although the performance had to stop until the rain lifted I was really impressed by the level of professionalism of the actors who gave no indication they noticed the rain and carried on in high spirits, despite the fact they must have been very cold and wet. The weather cleared up, however, and we got to see a very happy ending for all the plays characters, most who end up getting married. Slightly un-realistic, but very cheerful and energetic, the first play was great for all members of the family and put the audience in a good mood.

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A mood that would be shattered an hour later in the second play Women of Troy, which was adapted from the several plays on the subject written by Euripides, who in turn was inspired by the Illiad. The play was split into two parts, the first centring around the Greeks before the  Trojan war and the second focusing on the ruins of Troy and the fate of the women after the Greek victory. Both parts focused on the female characters, and the horrors that war can inflict upon them, and how they may deal with it. The director of Gods and Monsters states in the Programme that he aims to each year showcase an ancient play that has current significance, and Women of Troy was chosen to reflect the women that are currently in war town countries.  The play was atmospheric; even though there were few props the darkening sky (the play started at 8pm and its getting uncomfortably close to Autumn) mixed with the stage lighting and occasional live music created a natural gloomy setting, and the actors did the rest. It was a depressing, upsetting and gut wrenching play, but it was also gripping, engaging and compelling and I would recommend it to anyone who can handle some Game of Thrones style tragedy for two and a half hours straight.

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The play starts with an introduction by Helen of Troy (impressively played by Emily Sitch) who is the reason for the war as she ran away from her Greek husband Melaneus with a handsome Trojan prince. Emily Sitch portrayed her in a really interesting way, Helen is sometimes seen as a victim in the story but she came across here as a shallow, vain and un-interested individual who doesn’t seem to notice or care the turmoil in Troy’s aftermath except where she is explicitly concerned, you find yourself really hating her and getting annoyed that she is the only one who will have any resemblance of a ‘happy ending’, and any actor who can have that effect is very talented in my book.
The Greeks are enraged, and the only thing that was stopping them from launching into a full on attack  is that their is no wind to sail their ships, and apparently the only way to appeal to the gods and change the weather is for Helen’s husbands brother, and the king Agamemmnon to sacrifice his eldest daughter, the innocent and childlike Iphigenia. This part of the play was incredibly moving and disturbing in equal measures, and the strong, emotional and convincing performance by actress Hannah Kerin had me hooked for the next act.

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The next act introduces the Greeks deception and defeat of the Trojans with the use of the famous Trojan horse trick, and shows the women of troy in anguish. Their husbands and sons have been killed, and they are about to be shipped off to Greece to be slaves and concubines for their husbands murderers. In their time of need they turn to Queen Hecuba, the mother of  recently deceased Paris (Helens ‘abductor’), but she has problems of her own when she discovers that the treacherous Calchus, a merchant who has flitted between sides throughout the play killed her last surviving son when the Trojans started to lose the war. Maddened with grief, she and the other women trick the merchant to bring his sons and go on an adventure for treasure, which ends in Calchus being blinded and all his sons being murdered, an act that is barbaric, but weirdly understandable in the circumstances.

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The women of Troy continue to suffer. Their remaining children are murdered to stop the bloodline, and all the while they wait their enslavement. The actors gave emotional performances which invoked horror at the idea of having to serve those who killed your families and Hecuba suggests what is in store in the future when she  states that the women of Troy would not forget, that they will have their revenge and the war is not really over.  It was a troubling and addictive play, and it definitely inspired me to learn more about Troy, Euripides and Ancient Greece.
This is theatre you would pay to see, and the fact that you can just stumble upon it shows how diverse and exciting entertainment can be in London. Check them out and come along to one of their performances next year, bring tissues, cushions and a pillow and get ready for a theatrical roller-coaster, you might even learn something.

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Birdeatsbaby at Vigfrid von Underbelly of Hoxton, 14/08/2015

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On Friday night I went to a gloriously intimate gig at the slightly hipster and very bohemian venue Zigfrid Von Underbelly in Hoxton, East London. I went to see the fiercely unique and wonderfully dark indie band Birdeatsbaby, who was supported by two fabulous bands named Zara and Hana Piranha.

The weather that day was abysmal and I ended up wandering around Hoxton Square in the pouring rain for far too long due to my inability to read maps, but when I finally got to the venue it was warm and colorful and the bar staff were very friendly. The gig took place downstairs in the venues room, which had the appeal of being intimate and yet surprisingly roomy, it also had a seating area which was great as most of the time you can’t even dream of sitting down during a gig, especially not in comfortable plushy chairs. It gave the room a great relaxed and chilled vibe, which went really well with the general attitude of the night. The room had snazzy wallpaper, a glittery disco ball, atmospheric lighting and lots of Birdeatsbaby merchandise, including a rather fetching ‘human’ skull.
The stage was small, but still large enough to separate the band from the audience and give them space to jump around, and the venue really reflected the dark yet quirky image of Birdeatsbaby and their supporting bands.

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I got downstairs just in time to hear the first band Zara begin their set. Zara has three band members, a lead female singer on vocals and guitar and two males on guitar and drums. I hadn’t seen or heard them before tonight but I was instantly intrigued by the lead singers voice and outfit.  They had a loud rocky sound and very loud guitars and at first I was a little worried because the instruments were drowning out some of the singing (which would have been a technical issue, not the fault of the band), but it got a lot better as their set went on and I ended up really enjoying their later songs, especially ‘Pretty please‘ and ‘Screaming‘, which had a really good beat and strong lyrics.
I also particularly remember their song ‘Honey inside‘, which had a catchy and memorable chorus and I will definitely need to look up that song and add it to my collection. The lead singers voice was sometimes drowned out by the instruments, but it got stronger and stayed strong during this song and it ended up being a really memorable and energetic start to the night. Check them out and listen to ‘Honey Inside’: https://www.facebook.com/ListenZara

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Next up was Hana Piranha, whom I already really like so am probably a little biased, but I very much enjoyed their set. They are very at ease with the audience, always have great energy and stage presence, and are fun and engaging to watch. They are lively and seem to really get into their songs and give it their all, which in turn makes their audience and fans more engaged with the music. Hana Piranha also has a fantastic, strong and raunchy voice which gives their sound that bit extra and works very well.
I love Hana Piranha’s use of violins in otherwise heavy rock songs, that touch of classical music really adds to the sound and feel of the music and gives it a depth and uniqueness that is missing from a lot of other rock bands (although I am also just a sucker for a violin). They are able to convey a lot of emotion in their songs and often delve into dark themes that you can relate to and empathize with.  As per my last review I again have to mention the song ‘Chipping myself away‘, which I’ve heard several times live but always strikes me as one of their best and most popular songs, and one that I can imagine being played on the radio and attracting a large crowd at an alternative music festival. Another song I have to mention is ‘Blue Sky’s‘, because it has the best violin intro and is instantly recognizable, its another song that you would recognize anywhere as being unique to Hana Piranha and anyone who hasn’t heard it really should.
We also heard some of their newer songs, including ‘Fishing with dynamite‘ which, although I hadn’t heard it before, I can still remember some of the lyrics and ended up humming the tune in my head on Saturday, it was really catchy and I definitely need more of it in my life.
They played several covers on Friday, and I loved how they put a Gothic twist on several well known songs, my favourite being their rendition of ‘Sweet dreams’ by the Eurythmics’. They incorporated the violin to really make the songs their own and give them a unique sound, I definitely ended up preferring their rendition of ‘Sweet Dreams’ to the original. All in all it was a really strong performance that the audience really responded to, and I can’t wait to see them live again. Check them out: http://www.hanapiranha.com/

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The previous acts were fabulous in their own right, but Birdeatsbaby was definitely the main attraction. Featuring their wonderfully ethereal singer Mishkin Fitzgerald, their set was packed with old favorites and much anticipated new songs from their upcoming album which will be released next year. Mishkin is the lead singer of this band and is fantastic both in Birdeatsbaby and as a soloist, but the other band members didn’t disappoint either. Hana Piranha returned to the stage to sing and add her violin to the mix and guitarist Gary seemed to be a favorite with the crowd seemingly just from being himself, throughout the night you had many audience members crying out “Garry!”.
They have been together a while, and you can tell because they have great chemistry together as a band and really seem to enjoy playing together on stage, which is great from an audience point of view as it is much more fun to watch. They played old favorites such as ‘Bullet’ And ‘Drinking in the Day‘ that most of the audience already knew word for word and could sing along to, and as an extra treat they also played some brand new songs including a very enchanting song called ‘No Mirror‘ which I am very excited about and can’t wait for the release.
Mishkin Fitzgerald has a very natural, soft yet powerful voice that gives Birdeatsbaby its unique and slightly otherworldly sound. I have never been disappointed by one of their gigs and definitely plan to attend more in the future.
What I love most about Birdeatsbaby’s live shows is how informal they are, that many of the audience members are friends with the band and the band will watch the previous acts and support them in the audience rather than hiding behind the wings and disappearing straight after their set. They support each other and have a good enough relationship with the audience that we want to support them, that the audience is more like friends then fans. It was a great night, if you are in the London or Brighton area you should try and come along to one of their shows: http://www.birdeatsbaby.co.uk/, if you want to get a real feel of Friday’s show check out some video footage from the night: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-k1mM9vV5k

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Penny Dreadful review

I will admit it now, I have a TV problem. As I work during the day and try to be a social member of society  its not too much of a problem, but deep down all I really want to do is drink beer, lie in bed and watch TV shows. Last night I finished my latest TV obsession, the often ridiculous and yet strangely compelling Victorian Gothic horror show Penny Dreadful, so I thought I would write my first TV review on it. This show brings together several well known Victorian horror characters (Frankenstein and his monsters, several characters from Dracula and, best of all, Dorian Gray) as well as the intriguing and often possessed original character Vanessa Ives, a few devils and demons and an American werewolf. Whilst I love Victorians, I’m intrigued by horror and I have an unnatural obsession with Dorian Gray (and Oscar Wilde) I thought at first that Penny Dreadful was going a bit too far, that the story was too random to be good. But I was wrong. You have to suspend disbelief, but for such an array of characters and such an outlandish story (the first season involved, among others, Egyptian hieroglyphics, vampires and the Devil) it actually works really well.

I love the fact that there are no good characters, that they are all complex and have all done quite bad things in their lives, it seems to be a trend recently that people aren’t so much looking at ‘good and bad’ anymore but at ‘human’ and ‘bad’, which I find very refreshing. The most dislike able character, for me at least (although the second season makes him a little more human) is Sir Malcom Murray, a colonialist whose selfishness was partially responsible for his sons death in Africa, although I find the inclusion of colonialism (and a description of some of its horrors) refreshing in a story about Victorian London, as many times it seems to be downsized quite a lot despite being extremely important to the time. Victor Frankenstein is intriguing in a kind of lost, little boy way and his creations are the most interesting and philosophical Frankenstein monsters I have encountered thus far, Vanessa Ives is awesome, is a great, strong and messed up female character and plays being possessed very convincingly (whoever starred in the exorcist should be jealous). Billie Piper is great as the Irish Consumption ridden prostitute and perhaps even better in her new role in season 2 (watch it, I won’t tell you what happens) and I may be biased but I love that Dorian Gray is a character in this show, and especially that he is shown to have multiple male and female partners (the days of ignoring Wilde’s obvious homoerotic references in that book are officially over) although I do hope if they ever show his back story they don’t deviate too much from the original. The show is quite sexually explicit in a Game of Thrones style way, and I am very happy that it is inclusive and doesn’t appear to see sexuality as an issue. The sexual explicitness and often foul language is refreshing to see in a Victorian setting, and it doesn’t hurt that several of the characters are very attractive.

All in all, if you want something simple, realistic and normal don’t watch the show, but if you want to disband disbelief, expand your knowledge of victorian horror and become severely addicted, you need Penny Dreadful in your life.

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Indie Noir at The Islington 17/07/2015

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Last night I went to an Indie Noir live music event at The Islington in Angel, London. It was organised by the fabulously unique and talented Mishkin Fitzgerald and featured live music from four diverse singers and bands from the dark side of indie music, as well as art work by my friend and uber talented artist Audrey Bishop who draws the best and weirdest faces, and stunning masquerade-esque masks and merchandise by costume designer Hippy Poppins. The night was dedicated to celebrating independent artists who explore the dark and melancholy side of life through music, art, fashion and film, and the atmosphere was set by the black drawn curtains and a showcase of clips from black and white horror films which was displayed in the background throughout the night, the artwork was displayed on the walls and everywhere you looked there was something ‘noir’ going on.  Some of the audience came dressed for the occasion in dark and gothic clothes which I loved as I adore goth fashion, but there were also people in jeans and t-shirts and everyone was equally accepted.

The great thing about intimate live music shows as opposed to large overcrowded gigs is that the performers and audience are so much friendlier and relaxed, you all have something in common just by being there and it is such a laid back and accepting environment. You genuinely feel more like friends than fans, and for someone of my height you can actually see the stage most of the time! It was a really good night, I highly recommend each and every one of you check out the following performers regardless of whether you normally listen to gothic rock or not, because last night there really was something for everyone.

First to perform was Mishkin Fitzgerald, the lead singer of BirdeatsBaby who last night played an acoustic solo on the piano. I am a big fan of her and her band and I’d seen her perform several times, but I’d never seen her soloing before and yet again she exceeded expectation. This woman’s talent is truly something else. she has an incredible voice and the ability to perform songs in a way that is otherworldly and yet totally relatable. Her first song of the night titled ‘Sailors Wife’ tells a melancholy story with powerful imagery that,although she may be singing about abstract far away characters, you feel you can personally relate to and understand. Her songs convey real and often tragic emotion and have the power to move you, sadden you and even make you angry, and her writing style is elaborate and filled with dark and thought provoking imagery that is truly timeless and sometimes even has a neo Victorian feel.
Its hard to pigeon hole her into an exact style of music, some that come to mind are dark caberet, dark wave and orchestral rock but she has a really diverse set of songs and has something to offer pretty much anyone who likes deep, powerful, imaginative lyrics and beautiful female vocals. We also got to hear three brand new songs from her tonight that I am very excited about and can’t wait for the release. I honestly can’t rave about her enough, she is fabulous and you really ought to check her out :https://mishkinfitzgerald.bandcamp.com/

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I’d never actually seen or heard of the next band in the running order before, and Sumers loud metal guitar music was quite a change from Mishkins accustic ballads, but I definitely got into them and found myself dancing along to the music. They had a diverse set  of songs that were lively, full on and exciting and were excellent to head bang to, the audience really seemed to like them and they had a great attitude.
Again, their sound was hard to pinpoint into one genre and having looked them up they refer to their style as “post metal and progressive rock” which sums them up pretty well., some of their songs reminded me of some of Muse’s better work, and I especially enjoyed their song ‘The Animal you are’ (check it out!). They were a lot of fun to watch on stage, had great energy and a great repertoire with the audience and were very likeable, plus one of the guitarists was a beautiful, beautiful man, and I’m definitely going to listen to some more of their stuff.  Look them up:  http://www.sumerband.uk/

The third band of the evening was female fronted Cherry White, who were instantly likeable, had great energy and had great stage presence, especially the lead guitarist. They seemed really confident and at ease with the audience, and they talked to and joked with the us and seemed really at home on the stage. They performed like they were having a great time and really immersed themselves in their songs, and it was great to see.  Cherry White played a mixture of blues, rock and even had a slight country sound at one point and often had the audience dancing away.
They played an anti austerity song, which although it may not be entirely consistent with my own views was very catchy and honed in on Camerons often dubious claims that we are “all in this together”,  and I really loved their song ‘Staring at the Sun’. They played a mixture of upbeat and foot tapping blues and more melancholy, angry rock songs and I loved how versatile they were. I think with a slightly better sound technician they could go really far, as the one negative thing I would say for them is that the instruments were a little too loud so you couldn’t always understand the lyrics, which was a shame as they were well written. All in all though, they had great energy and charisma and you should definitely look them up:   http://www.cherrywhitemusic.com/

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The fourth and final act was Hana Piranah. She is an extremely talented gothic rock singer and violinist, and I love how the violin was incorporated to the more rocky sound of some of her songs, it was a great mixture of classical and rock and sounded awesome. She has also mastered the violin and I hear that is rather difficult. They were passionate, professional and a lot of fun to watch
She has a very powerful and strong voice, and even though she said it was her first time playing guitar on stage she really stood out as one of the best acts of the evening, and I can’t wait to hear her more of her songs. One of the three band members bared quite a resemblance to Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance which although it may have looked like a gimic looked really good on him, and as I love men in those kinds of clothes I wasn’t about to complain.
.One of the songs from their set  titled ‘Chipping myself away’ was so catchy that I still have it caught in my head! It was clearly a favourite with the audience and I can see it being played on the radio and tv, its a really good song and you people shouldn’t miss out on it: http://www.hanapiranha.com/

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I would seriously recommend  that anyone in the London area who appreciates good music and art regardless of whether they normally listen to these genres of music should come along to the next Indie Noir night and celebrate the strange, the sad and the beautiful side of indie music and art.

Check out Hippy Poppins: https://www.facebook.com/hippypoppinsshop and http://www.etsy.com/shop/hippypoppins

Audrey Bishop’s fabulous art work: http://audreybishop.co.uk/, https://www.facebook.com/audreybishopart?fref=ts