Review: R5 @ The O2 Academy, Birmingham

Stood amongst a sea of 11 year old girls in homemade t-shirts at 7pm on a Sunday night made me feel like I had taken a wrong turning. I'd meant to arrive at an R5 gig yet I seemed to have ended up at one of my old Year 6 discos where we'd stick a disco ball to the roof and decorate the hall with tissue paper and pipe cleaners. Although Birmingham's O2 was lacking in the arts and crafts we did have a disco ball to send dots of light across the room which, in addition, decorated the young girl's faces as if the glitter smeared across their foreheads was not quite enough.

Surprisingly enough, I wasn't actually there to rock out to the YMCA. I was there to listen to some proper music (no offence to any fans of the Village People, if any actually exist) in the form of R5. The American 5 piece were kicking off the UK leg of their tour in Birmingham and my friend Mollie and I were not going to miss out. Having released their new album Sometime Last Night previously this year they've spent the last few months touring America and Europe and despite the fact I can only name about 2 people who are aware of their existence they had quite a turnout. Due to most of their time being spent in America it is easy to forget that you're not the only people in the country that listens to their music.

However misleading the young fans may be- R5 isn't just for youngsters. Their music is a blend of both rock and pop and captures energy at is fullest. Their new album has taken a more mature approach to music than the last with a majority of songs written or contributed to by the members. The album is based upon real life stories and focuses on the idea that life is something you should experience at it's fullest. The band, consisting of Riker Lynch, Ross Lynch, Rydel Lynch, Rocky Lynch and Ellington Ratliff, all play their own instruments and contribute vocally. Their voices are complimented by a mixture of rhythm guitar, bass, keyboard and drums.

After 4 hours in the back of a car, we arrived in Birmingham at half past 5 expecting nobody to be queueing at such an early time seen as the doors didn't open for another hour and a half. How naive we were. From the small forts of blankets and pizza boxes strewn across the floor it gave the impression that the clusters of people outside had been waiting for quite some time. By the time we got inside out of the cold we were situated about 10 rows back and the smell of perfume and sweat seemed to waver in the air. These girls had really put the effort in an attempt to bag a date with lead singer Ross Lynch- who, may I add, was almost twice their age.

Support came from Ryland Lynch, brother to four of the bands five members, who showcased his DJing abilities through a range of charts songs. Most people who know me well are aware that the thought of listening to the majority of chart songs makes me shiver and I can barely sit through even the chorus of Maroon 5's Sugar. However, the way he had adapted them had me singing along too. The fact that the range of songs were current meant the crowd could scream the words to their full potential and it became clear that a room of 11 year old girls did have it's perks- they weren't afraid to enjoy themselves and they weren't stupidly tall. Result.

At about half past 8 R5 walked on stage. This small action was reciprocated with screams so loud I had to physically block my ears in fear of having to attend college the following day with failed hearing. Glancing around there were a mixture of eyes full of both tears and admiration, but don't be tricked into thinking these 11 year old fans are innocent. They're far from it. It wasn't until part way through that they unleashed their full potential. Screaming "Take your top off!!!" and "Daddy!!!" not only made me gag a bit but also made me sad. A favourite song of mine, Repeating Days, finishes with a solo piece from Ross that has so much emotion carried through it. It was a moment I waited for in anticipation but squeals and obscene shouts muffled the sound. I can't really complain because we all know I was once 13 years old at a Midnight Beast concert crying with happiness into my own homemade top but I just wish they'd allowed themselves to enjoy the music a bit more.

Despite the crowd, the night was just as wonderful as I thought it would be. The actions of those around us were ultimately seen as a bit of pre-show entertainment and we were really there to listen to the live music. R5 filled the room with sound for about 2 hours. Their 17 song set list consisted of a mix of songs from their new album, some older favourites and a cover of Kings of Leon's Sex On Fire. They opened up with All Night, the first track from their new album, which set the scene for what was to come.

I'm never one to pick a highlight with ease but Repeating Days and Dark Side did stick out to me. Another treat was when Rydel left the safety of her keyboard part way through the evening and took to centre stage to sing Lightning Strikes where she was full of effervescence, a feeling that was shared with the crowd. The night came to a close after a two piece encore of Aint No Way We're Going Home and Smile before the band proceeded to chuck guitar picks, set lists and Riker's sweaty towel into the crowd. If anyone has any information on which of the seven 13 year old girls won the towel please get in touch with me because I would love to know if they stood their shouting at each other and yanking it for long after I left. Mollie and I stood watching (and filming) them for a good five minutes as they screamed abuse at each other in a never ending game of tug of war. Why they wanted a towel covered in sweat is beyond me when they could probably pick up a decent clean one for a couple of pounds in Sainsburys.

As the night drew to a close, Mollie and I stood outside dancing around in the dark waiting to be picked up, and it was clear in my head that R5 really was the best year 6 disco I'd ever attended. What an achievement.

Review: Jack Savoretti @ Sin City, Swansea

With both his guitars and tambourine to hand, Jack Savoretti filled the small venue of Swansea's Sin City with both joy and wonderful music last Sunday.

After watching Jack live at Beautiful Days this August, both my bus journeys and nights in have been filled with his voice. I knew I had my priorities in order when I purchased his album on return from the festival before I had even showered off the mud that seemed to cling to my skin, hair and clothes. Saying that, I'd already given my friend Beth my money for a ticket to his show in Swansea before I'd left the festival site. I now write this having seen him on Sunday for the second time and I keep reliving the memories in my head feeling ever so bittersweet. It was one of those nights that made me feel ridiculously happy and fulfilled, and I'm so glad I could have experienced it again with one of my best friends, but ultimately I'm full of sadness that it's over.

Having never been to Swansea before the surrounding area to the venue was quite a contrast to living in North Devon. With the sound of sirens filling your ears with every corner and a fight as pre-show entertainment down an alleyway opposite to where we were queueing, I wasn't as at ease with it all as I would have liked. Entering the venue, however, and fully discovering how small it was compared to what I was used to filled me with glee. Walking through the doors I was faced with a bar area to my left and merch stall to my right (I am bloody chuffed with my tour top for a justifiable £15!!) and I assumed this was a bar area adjacent to the main room. It wasn't until Beth pointed to a barrier at the end that I realised this was it. We were stood in the main room. Being two of the first people to enter, we were able to walk right up to the middle of the barrier and I've never been in such a good position at any of the shows I've been to previously. A small slightly raised stage lay ahead of me, the main microphone so close I could almost stretch out and brush my fingertips against it. The floor was sticky, the room was stuffy and smelt of musk, yet I couldn't have been happier.

With support from Max Jury, I began to realise just how intimate this performance was going to be. Turning my head slightly it was clear that the room was cramped full and people extended out to both sides and out to the very back for as far as I could see. A not so charming aroma of sweat and alcohol just contributed to the experience and the atmosphere was calmed by a compilation of Max's raw voice and his complimenting keyboard skills.

At 9PM the members of Jack's band walked on stage and played an intro on their range of instruments to cries of appreciation. Jack then strolled on and was met by loud shouts from across the room that seemed to bounce of the walls. With his guitar in hand and red and blue scarf wrapped around his mic stand we were graced with Written In Scars and I was able to balance my phone on the barrier without spending the whole show looking through it. I love to record whole songs that can be watched over and over again to help cure early morning boredom on the bus to college but there's no way I'd miss out on living the night in its full form in comparison to watching it through a screen.

Over the next 2 hours we were treat to a 21 song set list. A set list that, with a lot of shouting post-performance to get someones attention, I got to keep a version of- industrial tape and all. It was full of old favourites and new discoveries and I enjoyed every second of it. It was so surreal to have Jack straight in front of me and as incredible as his music sounds through my phone, watching it live was on another level.

As the night excelled, the floor seemed to get stickier and stickier. So much so that I became unable to stomp my feet and dance around due to the real effort it took to split up the relationship my shoes had developed with the floor beneath me. This led to an awful lot of clapping and hitting the barrier in time and although I was too captivated on what was going on in front of me to look behind, I liked to think Beth and I danced more than the whole room combined. There is nothing wrong with singing along and appreciating what is good music.

As difficult as it is to pick a favourite, the night came with various highlights. One of these being the cover of Bob Dylan's Nobody 'Cept You; a song that is performed by Jack alone. With a brief description of how it came to be and what the song means to him, Jack then went on to share it to the rest of us. It's one I clearly remember from Beautiful Days before I even knew his music well purely because of how it made me feel. I was fortunate enough to catch it on video with very good sound quality (which doesn't normally happen with my phone, what a treat) and it's also picked up the combination of voices of the majority of the room singing the song back at him. Of course, as I've mentioned in previous posts, the night wasn't lacking in the gruff voices that I always imagine to be belonging to middle aged bald men who seem to appear at every concert with loud masculine shouts of affection. Where do these people come from?! Speaking of loudness, the only disappointment was people talking during a number of songs, especially Soldier's Eyes which Jack performed with John Bird on the double bass. But, as Jack rightly said, if you've gone there to talk you've wasted 20 quid.

Come Shine A Light, Sweet Hurt, Knock Knock and of course my all time favourite Not Worthy were the real deal for me. You don't get much better than those songs. I also enjoyed the tambourine action throughout The Other Side Of Love. In all, I'm sure you've gathered by now just how much I enjoyed the entire evening. It was the type of thing that I would have travelled even further than Swansea for, purely because the rush of both adrenaline and happiness blocks out everything other than how great I was feeling. Thank you so much to Beth's mum Louise for driving us there and sitting in the car for the evening I really appreciate it!

Jack is currently on tour and if I am correct a few dates still have tickets left. It fills me with misery sat here in Exeter College to know that at the end of the month he will be just round the corner at the Exeter Phoenix and that the night is SOLD OUT. If anyone has a spare ticket please feel free to get in touch with me!! As greedy as it may seem I'd love to see him a third time, and a fourth...and a fifth- you get the picture. I just love live shows and this one topped the lot.

Elounda & Mochlos - Greece

I've arrived at that point of the year where I want to go on holiday again. I've only been back from Greece for a month and I'm already craving the weather, people and scenery as if it's just as much a necessity as food and water. It's time for the final instalment in this year's three holiday posts and writing this and staring out of the window at the gloomy UK provides little satisfaction.

The fishing town of Elounda along the northern coast of Crete first appealed to me after discovering that the island of Spinalonga (you can read my post on it here) sat happily just across the water only a boat ride away. If you've read my previous post you'll already know that after reading a book about Spinalonga and the lepers that once inhabited it, it became one of the many things that I found myself really interested in. Before visiting Elounda I spent more time looking up the island adjacent to it rather than the place itself. I am actually very grateful to myself for this because waking up the morning after our arrival and seeing the view that lay ahead of me topped anything my eyes had witnessed previously.

Due to my parents love for Greece I am lucky enough to have been to some incredible places across the country that I too have learnt to love. I've seen the blue waters of Zante's Shipwreck Cove and ran around on Kassiopi's sandy beaches on the northern easterly coast of Corfu. All these experiences are ones I will treasure and are equally beautiful but Elounda was somewhere that topped them all.

Everywhere you looked there was something worth capturing. It was one of those places that only your eyes can do it the real justice it deserves. The camera just wasn't enough and I struggled to snapshot its true wonder through a lens. Whether we ate in a selection of lovely (but slightly pricey) Tavernas along the waterfront or in a tradition Taverna up in the mountains there was always the lovely view of water complimented by the moon. One night we were visited by a white moon, other nights a blue moon or a red moon and its colour seemed to adjust as the days went on.

I always struggle to pick a favourite part to my holiday but this year I actually managed to narrow it down to about two. A night in Pano Elounda and the Greek Night hosted by the apartments we were staying at.

We like to stay out quite late in the evenings in Greece and I often find that without an afternoon sleep or a "siesta" (not to be mistaken with fiesta) I can't quite make it. I'm often known for my early bed times and I take no shame in that whatsoever because I'd be a much grumpier person without them and I'm sure many of you think I'm grumpy enough already! My parents, on the other hand, like to go on a walk whilst my brother Craig and I sleep (or I should say whilst I sleep and Craig plays on his phone). During one of their walks they found themselves in Pano Elounda, Pano meaning High or Upper in Greek. Pano Elounda is, as the name states, situated slightly elevated up in the hills. It is full of older style buildings and traditional looking streets with cats of every colour lurking in shaded doorways. They returned to Pano Elounda in the evening with Craig and I to a very traditional Taverna run by a local man and his son. It was here that we had one of the most delicious meals of our lives. There was no menu and the man came to our table to read off a list of meze dishes and would wait after each one for us to say "yes" or "no" if we wanted it or not. Of course we said yes to about 90% of the food and it was one of them nights where you really could have done with an extra table. The smell of calamari and fried courgettes soon wafted around the room and our table was full of homemade chips, tzadziki, sausages and a selection of our favourite Greek delicacies. Each dish came out as soon as it was ready, giving us time to eat without having to stuff our faces all at once. The food kept coming and the drinks kept pouring. The bill was what made it very special. It came to a total of about 38 euros. On a normal night we would end up spending around 60 euros and would eat and drink far less than we had in our night amongst the villagers. We ended up leaving a much larger tip than usual because it felt almost as if we were robbing the man and he had provided us with the most amazing night full of the most delicious food. It's making my mouth water just thinking about it. The look on his face after we left him the tip made it so worthwhile and it's nights like this surrounded by the wonderful Greek people that make my time there so special.

A holiday in Greece isn't a real holiday for us Huxtables without a Greek night!! It just so happened that the apartments we were staying at hosted one every Sunday. The area of Elounda wasn't the only 'best' in the history of our holidays- the apartment was another favourite. We are used to very basic showers with little water power and having to hold the shower head over us and although that might bother other people it's all a part of the experience. Hiona Apartments were run by the most welcoming family and Manos, who was behind the bar in the evenings, made the most incredible milkshakes it was as if I was drinking a strawberry flavoured cloud. On Greek Night Kosta, Eleni and Manos along with their family and the majority of people staying in the apartments all come together for a BBQ, a lot of dancing and some fire. We spent the whole evening twirling around, stuffing our faces with the most incredible potatoes (maybe that was just me... I love Greek potatoes) and everyone was constantly smiling. I got trapped into dancing with some professional Greek dancing man for what felt like half an hour but my fear of having two left feat was quickly forgotten as I was span round and round and round. The floor was set on fire and everyone danced among the flames. I have a feeling that there may have been a hangover or two the morning after.

Both Elounda and Hiona impressed us so much that my Mum was on the computer the morning after we arrived home booking our return for next year.


Although the area we stay in is always wonderful it is always an aim for us to see a little more of the island before we leave. And what better way to do it than in an open top Suzuki Jimny- unless it's raining of course. Surprise surprise, that's exactly what happened. It wasn't cold or miserable and there was so signs it was coming but suddenly I could feel large splats of water pounding down upon me. We happened to be in the middle of quite a busy road and with no where to pull over Craig and I resorted to shoving towels over our head in fits of laughter. By the time we managed to pull over it had passed just as quickly as it had arrived and all we had to remember it was some very wet towels and a selection of photos taken by my mum in the front of me resembling ET.

Before the surprise downpour we were advised to take a trip to the village of Mochlos in eastern Crete. Here small houses were suffocated in the spreading of a plant covered in pink flowers. Every street you turned to these bright fuschia colours seemed to explode out of every corner. I'd spent the start of my summer working in a flower shop and the thought of more flowers made me want to cry. I was having flashbacks to weeds, soil and mud. These flowers on the other hand looked like a blanket and I just wanted to wrap myself up in them. We found a small waterfront cafe with a view over the blue water which sparkled in the light. There were locals swimming and I had yet another freshly squeezed orange juice as my mum and dad plotted to buy a house out here when they retire. They have so many plans for their retirement they ideally need a whole life to complete it all.

No matter where our travels seemed to take us we always appear to be greeted by the loveliest people and this year the inhabitants of Crete welcomed us like we were old friends. The media spent a lot of time making Greece out to be somewhere awful and when I mentioned it to people they made jokes about how we would get mugged. This couldn't be further from the truth. In Athens there is a problem, but the smaller islands and tourists destinations are getting on with their lives just fine and are relying on us to keep them going. If you're hesitating to book a holiday to Greece due to their financial situation there really is no need to worry.

After a walk along along the front and an exploration of the surrounding village we returned to our jimny and went for another long drive to see what we would find. Ultimately, we ended up at ANOTHER waterfront restaurant eating ANOTHER meze. I bet you didn't expect that did you. Yet again we feasted on just about everything and it still surprises me that I didn't return to the UK with an extra kilo of baggage... in the form of myself. How I am not now obese still confuses me everyday!!

So that's the end. Once this blog is up my holiday will officially be over as I won't be able to re-live it through my words. I know the extent of my posts on Greece this year contained a lot more content than last year and I hope this was a good thing. I've really enjoyed looking back and it's nice because I often like to read my previous posts on places I've been to remind me of how I felt and of the little things I had forgotten. I think this is quite possibly the longest post I have ever written and I hope you're still awake and breathing- that would be ideal.