So right off the bat, I did not know anything about Mick Ronson prior to seeing Turn & Face the Strange last night; I could not understand Hull’s obsession with a successful session guitarist. So, what drove me to Hull Truck Theatre last night? My love for live music, especially my love for David Bowie. And, wow, did the production deliver!
Whilst taking our seats, we were greeted by the sounds of the Classical Ensemble, led by Musical Director, Phil Keech. They played beautifully, and as a fan of classical music, I wish they had been utilised more throughout the production. However, when they were utilised, they complimented the live rock band flawlessly, making the music sound colossal and almost making me feel like I was sat in an arena rather than a theatre.
The live band was comprised of some of Ronson’s friends and former bandmates, including Keith “Ched” Cheesman (Guitar), John Cambridge (Drums) and John Bentley (Bass). The rest of the band was made up of contemporary musicians Bobby Joyce (Guitar & Vocals), Kristian Eastwood (Lead Vocals) and Rachael Jarvis (Vocals). The band’s synergy was a real spectacle to watch and was obvious that they were well versed in their craft, as well as being fully prepared for the show.
Whilst at times it felt that I could have seen a band of similar quality at any tribute night, they often surprised me by taking their performance to another level and shifting the status quo, if you will. I felt that the band’s real strength was their adaptability to the set; Rachael Jarvis, for example, spent most the evening producing flawless harmonies on the side-line of the stage. However, when she took to the centre to sing Bowie’s classic Life on Mars, she was met by thunderous applause.
Related: See What’s on at Hull Truck Theatre
The real stand out performance for me was the band’s rendition of Moonage Daydream. Being one of my favourite songs of all time, I was incredibly excited when the first chord was struck. I must respect Kristian Eastwood because being centre stage, tackling any David Bowie song isn’t an easy feat by any stretch. Whilst Eastwood lacked that Bowie charisma, his vocals were strong and carried through the thrashing sound of the live band. The lack of a strong charismatic performer, however, was a benefit to the performance, as it let the eye wander across the stage and allowed me to observe what every single band member was doing without anybody demanding my attention. Keith Cheesman’s roaring guitar solo on this number blew me away and seemed to squeal on for what felt like five minutes; he completely made the track his own and was not afraid to show it.
Bobby Joyce was the backbone of the band as he spent most of the set performing rhythm guitar and harmonies. However, he ended the show by taking lead vocals and centre stage for one of the better performances of the evening.
The show was a number of things; part live performance, part documentary, part interview. The show was an overall celebration of both Mick Ronson’s life and Hull’s history conducted by co-writers and producers, Garry Burnett and Rupert Creed. Burnett and Creed, stood at podiums at either side of the stage, directing the production by delivering Ronson’s biography and asking questions to his friends that made up the live band.
These were some of my favourite sections of the show as Cheesman, Cambridge, and Bentley offered some great personal stories of Ronson, delivered with charm and quip; as they spoke about Ronson, I almost forgot I knew nothing about him, and it was like I was hearing stories about a family friend.
However, my absolute favourite performance of the evening was from Garry Burnett who delivered one of the most emotional monologues I have ever heard in my life. Recalling a story about his late father, the monologue was a refreshing change of pace that allowed me to take a step back from the thrashing live music and historical backstory. His delivery was spectacular, passionate, and unapologetically real.
The show spliced all kinds of productions together seamlessly with the flair of the Creative Production Team. The story was told with interjections of audio and video clips, alongside pictures on the projector which was manned by Eleanor Foody. The use of the projector managed to keep the biography of Ronson’s life linear, and aided Burnett and Creed’s narration.
The show was fantastic and definitely deserves your attention whether you’re a Mick Ronson fan or not. I got to learn about one of Hull’s heroes and listen to some of my favourite songs performed excellently by some great local musicians. Turn & Face the Strange is currently running at Hull Truck Theatre until Saturday 4th May.