Concert Review: R and B Superstars Valentines Special – Wembley Arena London – 15th February 2014

Is there anything better to do on Valentines weekend than to go and see some live music with your partner? For me that is a rhetorical question as both my husband and I are crazy about the music that we love. So it was inevitable that when The Show Tour announced a 90’s R&B valentines line up that we would be present.

I have to admit that although I was already a fan of En Vogue & Blackstreet, it was not until the late 90’s early 2000’s when I really began to get deeply into music. Because of this my husband has been my main educator of the era before that. As we have been together for a decade I have had time to develop an appreciation for the other artists on the billing also.

On the day, we set off early for Wembley Arena  as we thought the show might start promptly due to the number of artists in the billing. However once we reached the arena we had to wait until after 6pm to be let in to find our seats as sound-checks were still going on. Whilst this is not unusual when multiple acts are billed, it meant the show was definitely not going to start on time. It did however give us a chance to get some drinks in!

Eventually some music blasted to life from the sound rig and Frisky DJ and Rampage appeared on stage to warm up the crowd and introduce the first act. Comedian Eddie Kadi was supposed to be doing the warm up with them but he is notorious for being late and this night proved no exception to that rule.

Frisky and Rampage handled initial hosting duties well, including the difficult news that Silk would not be appearing as they had not travelled to the UK as expected and it was not long before Changing Faces were on stage.

It is never easy to be the first act on stage and as the ladies were accompanied only by a backing track it meant that they were quite exposed.  The crowd, some of whom were still arriving, took a little while to get into the occasion despite the duo opening with hit record G.H.E.T.T.O.U.T. They persevered however performing other hits such as Fooling Around as well as some new material and the atmosphere really got going after they invited one tall muscled guy on stage to perform Stroke You Up with them to hilarious effect.

By now the arena was filling up and Eddie Kadi finally arrived to some good-natured ribbing about his time keeping skills. As soon as he walked on stage with Frisky and Rampage his natural charisma and skills for working a crowd were evident. The hosts soon had us all laughing whilst the set was rearranged for Kut Klose. This would continue to be the format for the night in between acts although Eddie’s dancing techniques should be restricted to his house for everyone’s safety.

Kut Klose followed a similar format to Changing Faces by singing to backing tracks yet seemed to receive a warmer reception from the crowd who no doubt appreciated their unique throwback dress sense also. They completed a relatively short set that included I Like and both Twisted & Get Up On It that were originally collaborations with their mentor Keith Sweat.  

By now the crowd was ready for the show to really get going and the stage had been set up for Mint Condition’s instruments which were sure to impress. The volume of the music audibly went up a notch with real instruments in play and it certainly would have woken up any audience member that was feeling too relaxed after the opening acts.

Lead singer, and multi-talented musician, Stokley Williams impressed everyone by getting the crowd to join in as well as playing a variety of instruments. The whole band seemed jazzed to be on stage and threw a lot of energy into their performance. Their set encompassed of a wealth of tunes including I Want It, U Send Me Swinging, Forever in Your Eyes, You Don’t Have To Hurt No More, Girl Of My Life, What Kind of Man Would I Be and their finale was Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes) which had the crowd on their feet.

At this point there was definitely an excited atmosphere in the place which would continue thanks to a fabulous turn from Tony! Toni! Toné!.

Even without soul maestro Raphael Saadiq, Tony! Toni! Toné! put in a flawless enthusiastic performance that had the crowd happily singing along to songs like the new jack swing inspired If I Had No Loot & It Feels Good and the soulful goodness of It Never Rains (in Southern California) & Let’s Get Down.

Next up was a highly anticipated set from Total. A lot of the crowd had never had the opportunity to see these ladies perform live so there was definitely a peaked interest.

Some were disappointed that original member Keisha Spivey was not present and felt that this took away from the performance. Personally I thought that, despite the ladies being in amazing shape and singing in good voice, their performance paled in comparison to the two acts that had come before them. But many of the crowd seemed to be enjoying the medley of tunes including What About Us & If You Want Me and Notorious B.I.G collaborations Hypnotize & Can’t You See as well as catchy new song You Don’t Have to Worry.

It was with a mixture of trepidation and excitement that I awaited the penultimate act, En Vogue, to grace the stage. Trepidation because I knew that they were without vocal powerhouse Dawn Robinson but excitement as having seen them live before I knew the crowd was in for a real treat.

The ladies did not disappoint. Terri, Cyndi and Rhonda belted out hit after hit such as Free Your Mind, Never Gonna Get It and Don’t Let Go that had the audience singing loudly and dancing wildly. The also provided a medley of retro covers including Got To Be Real and Lady Marmalade. For me they were the absolute highlight of the entire night and they were not afraid to call out a couple of idiots in the crowd who decided to start a fight for some reason.

Unfortunately by this point, thanks in part to the late start of the night, time was running out for the event. Blackstreet 2 (or BS2 as they are known) were the headline act and it was evident that they would not have as much time for their set as they would perhaps like.

With this in mind it made little sense that they chose to keep in time-wasting videos about Teddy Riley’s career (a pointless history lesson of which most of the audience would already be well aware) and added many unnecessary pauses into their songs. Long time fans also felt disappointed that this was, with the exception of Teddy Riley and Dave Hollister, an almost entirely different band. The sound just was not the same as when founding members Teddy Riley and Chauncey Black worked together and it left many longing for the good old days. With the new line up they need new songs in order to create an identity that the fans can relate to.

The group managed to get through a few well-known songs such as I Like It & Don’t Leave and a solo mix of Teddy’s production hits before Wembley Arena pulled the plug and they were forced to vacate the stage. By this point many of the crowd had left anyway in order to catch the last underground train home so it would have been pointless to go on any longer.

Overall the show was an enjoyable way to spend valentines weekend and we certainly felt like we got our money’s worth. When a concert has a multi-act line up such as this there is always likely to be some acts that the crowd will enjoy more than others but it does also mean that time is of a premium for each act. It is a delicate balancing act which, in general, the organisers handled well. It is just a shame that it overran to the point at which the venue cut the power.

However I thank The Show organisers for a good night and I’m already looking forward to what they might host next.

~Kat

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Our Wedding: Planning, Details and Vendors

One thing no one ever tells the blissfully unaware newly engaged couple is that they are about to take on a herculean task when they finally begin to plan their wedding.

At first it seems simple, venues are amazing, details are pretty and shiny and you think that once you’ve chosen your theme that you are good to go.

Truthfully planning is mostly fun and it is an opportunity to unleash your creativity on all of your friends and family but it can also become overwhelming as there are lots of details to think about and so many vendors to choose from. Despite it being very much worth all the work on the day you will need help to stay sane in the run up to it.

Because of this my best bits of advice to anyone planning their wedding are as follows:
1.) Enjoy it. This is a rare moment in life where you can do anything you want your way.
2.) If it stops being fun take a break and come back to it later or it will drive you crazy.
3.) Try not to get carried away buying pretty shiny things that you don’t really need.
4.) Go to local wedding fairs with your bridesmaids or groom to find vendors.
5.) The internet is your friend for bargains, especially for decorations.
6.) If you’re good at crafts (I’m not) go for it but ensure you have time to do it.
7.) Buy realistic wedding magazines like Wedding Ideas for great tips and timelines.
8.) Choose and secure your venue as early as possible.
9.) Ensure that you finalize any necessary legal paperwork well within time.
10.) Keep a schedule of payments made and to make in order to keep on top of budget.

The first two things that we did when planning our wedding were booking our venue and registering our intention to marry with our local council.

Our venue was The Cavendish Country House in Eastcote, Middlesex. We chose it because we loved the Tudor style architecture, its proximity to public transport near to where we live, the fact that whole house is privately yours for the day, the friendliness of the family and staff that run it and the amazing selection of food on their catering menu.

Food was always going to be high on our agenda because my husband’s parents are originally from the Caribbean island of Grenada and have very particular tastes. Not many venues in our local area carry any Caribbean food on their menus so, once we saw jerk chicken with rice and peas as an option in the catering brochure, the deal was sealed.

We signed up for one of their wedding packages which included drinks for arrival and for the wedding breakfast, canapés for after the ceremony, main meals of jerk chicken and lamb cacciatore and mini puddings. Also included in the package were the services of their in-house DJ John Bell from G.P. Discotheques who catered excellently to the extremely varied tastes of our family and guests (Soca, 90’s New Jack Swing, R&B and Cheesy Pop Music) and some lovely chair covers and bows for the ceremony and reception from Julie at Cupid Chair Covers.

We also attended a couple of the venue’s hosted wedding fairs where we also found our wonderful photographer Louie Donovan, Classic Wedding Cars who provided of the beautiful 1956 Siddley Limousine that brought us to our wedding and brilliant cake makers Heriot Catering.

As for a theme, this didn’t really fall into place for us until we ordered our wedding stationery. We knew that we wanted something a bit 1950’s retro with blue in it somewhere but that was as defined as we got until we discovered the butterfly themed stationery by the ever helpful and patient Jen at The Pattern Boutique. It was perfect for us as not only because it fit the colour scheme and butterflies are beautiful but the butterfly is also a symbol for those of us, like myself, who fight daily against from Thyroid disease. So despite my head bridesmaid having a fear of the real thing, butterflies it was for the theme. I stopped short of releasing real ones at the wedding as I did not want my lovely friend to have a heart attack.

To match the now defined theme I commissioned a handmade wedding post box from Lisa Bowerbank at BeSparkled and we really loved the outcome. So much so that we are using it for our keepsakes from the wedding now. We also ordered a butterfly covered guest book and shaped trivia cards from Confetti as well as the wooden blocks with our name painted on them and some 3D butterfly table confetti from Not on The Highstreet.

To add to the fun at the wedding breakfast and reception I also bought some vintage styled camera’s from Party Packs. However most of our guests forgot to use the flash so the quality of the photos from them was not that great sadly.

For favours, after searching wedding magazines for unique ideas, we finally settled upon some personalised jars of retro sweets tied with a blue ribbon from The Sweetie Jar. These were a storming success and probably one of the most photographed bits of decor on the day.

Our tables were planned around world landmarks that we have visited during our time together. Because of this I used photographs that we took of each landmark as the table numbers and put them in some silver photo frames from Wilkinson’s.

Two of the landmarks also had meaning for the guests that were seated at those tables. We deliberately placed my husband’s Grenadian family on the Fort Frederick table and we placed our friends from Sweden on the Drottningholm Palace table. This brought a few smiles from them all.

One of the last big purchases that we made was the flowers. Despite the fact that I come from a family with quite green fingers, I do not seem to have inherited that gene and my husband doesn’t have an interest in it either. Because of this we were both a bit clueless. I assembled a few magazine cuttings of flowers I liked the look of and took them to local florist Susan at Floral Art in South Harrow, who had been recommended to us by a friend.

She talked us through our needs and eventually guided us to choose our bouquets and table flowers. I absolutely loved my bouquet which had some picture charms, from Charm Supplies, of my late grandparents tied to it and I also appreciated the little touches Susan applied to the centerpieces which we kept simple with cut flowers in a jar. She tied blue ribbons around the jars and finished them off with some coloured water which worked really well.

As you can see it takes a lot of people and a lot of time to make a great wedding. Ours truly was fantastic but it would not have been so without the care and attention given to us by our vendors.

I feel I have to make a special second mention of The Cavendish’s management team and staff including both Richard Arens, senior and junior, and Gina Ford. Without their care, attention and professionalism we would not have enjoyed it half as much. Both ourselves and our guests were well looked after and nothing was too much trouble. I very much appreciated the fact that they always made sure that my aunt, who has trouble walking, always had somewhere to sit and that the DJ, John Bell, gave us such a fantastic reception where the dancing continued to the very end.

Weddings are a lot of work, make no mistake. But if you pick your vendors carefully they can be a very magical experience. Ours was and I plan to proudly keep reliving it for a while yet.

~Kat

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