George Michael – A New Chapter: Review, Nice 2011 Symphonica : The Orchestral Tour

23 09 2011

Back in 2008 when George Michael declared he would not be touring again, what he meant was he would never tour in the same rock n roll fashion of the past 25 odd years. He wanted to “close at the top”.

He’s been from a “teen heart throb” disco king, to A list rock star, to coming out as a gay man during the past 30 years. He has used his appeal to raise funds for the Aids hospice London Lighthouse appeal, Aids Foundation, Equality Rocks charity and the Rainbow Trust children’s charity and many more.

His most recent fund raising was in March 2011, in support of Comic Relief. George released his cover of the New Order hit, “True Faith,” and his fans responded in kind by purchasing the song and doing their part to help raise over £74,000,000 for this UK-based charity.

He is definitely one of the top global icons in the music industry, having sold over 100 million albums in the world. He has had his highs and lows and more highs. The conundrum for such a mega star who has achieved so much, is where to go from here?

Well you can either keep rockin, a la Rolling Stones style; hit the Las Vegas Boulevard and walk in the footsteps of the King Elvis; or do something different. George surprised some of his fans perhaps by teaming up with the The Orchestra Symphonica – to build something that is above your typical lounge bar crooner performance. The new tour will deliver over 60 concert performances across Europe. He is performing not only a carefully chosen selection of his songs, spanning all his remarkable near 30-year career, but also some of his favourite songs from other artists. It’s a punishing schedule and one hopes that his magic voice will hold out.

George has been working with the orchestra to present a new classical spin to each song that he will perform. As his publicity notices claim “It’s unmistakeably George Michael, but not as we’ve ever known him.”

NICE EVENT!
So this leads up to the concert in Nice, France 22 September 2011. I was one of the lucky people to secure tickets and here is my personal review of the show:

The Audience Await

The teasing continues

The 6000 plus, mainly 40 something crowd, waited expectantly for the grand new show. Sexy red shadows painted the long silk curtains with floodlit accents; then changed to icy Indigo blue at the sound of the distant orchestra commencing their musical repartee. To hoots and hollers George Michael emerged on the stage. Dressed in the de rigueur uniform of successful creatives, though with Armandi style black suit and matching tie. Wearing “bad ass” tinted glasses and sporting a short-cropped hairdo and refined beard, George commenced with Through. One was immediately presented with a very grown up George. His relaxed style and singing ease reflected the true power of his voice. He came across as a man who knew what he wanted to achieve and exuded pure class and confidence with every breath he took.

Visions of yesteryear crooners and Las Vegas style shows did enter in my head as I sat back to enjoy the show. George remained seated on a stool at the beginning of the show – a la Tony Bennet – but revved up his performance as the evening progressed. In fact, there were a number of obvious differences to other ‘rock” shows I have recently attended. During the first half of the two part set show, one could only see a few people holding up cameras or mobile phones to capture a souvenir shot. This was in stark difference to rock concerts where 90 percent of the crowd are all wannabee cameramen/women. Clearly this audience was not from the profile of X, Y or 2.0 Generation, who want to have most of their living moments recorded and shared online. As a result, it was quite a refreshing and liberating event to enjoy the clear sounds of George’s voice, minus screaming girls and absence of waving hands blocking one’s view with a camera phone.

U2’s Bono was urging his fans to put the cameras down and enjoy and dance to no avail during his Claw show back in 2009 – Clearly now he knows what he needs to do to achieve that goal!

George Michael - live Nice Sept 2011

During the first hour of the show, George moved through his eclectic list of songs. Including those songs that greatly influenced his own music and writing. This selection included My Baby Just Cares for Me – the famous 1928 jazz number by Walter Donaldson, as written for the Ziegfeld musical comedy Whoopee.
George’s performance of “Kissing a fool”, delivered real passion. He was sweating profusely as the hypnotic light show swirled behind. The lighting was in fact, one of the most high tech and imaginative I have witnessed. It included a huge 3D projection of George, thus allowing all the fans to get their up close and personal view of their star. As he pumped out the lyrics faultlessly – no auto-tune required for George – one reflected that he is finally true to his lyrics in this song:

But you’ll never find piece of mind, til you listen to your heart.”

No longer a music producers’ pawn, but able to choose when and what type of music he wants to work with and share with his fans.

On this note, I should mention the excellent musical arrangements performed by the Symphonica orchestra. Around 40 musicians serenaded the audience with the new nuances laid over the original songs that were then given a unique classical twist. I especially enjoyed the harp and cello performances.

This softer George, was clearly wearing his heart on his sleeve, as he acknowledged and sang tributes to his mother (You have been loved), a new song for his beau, Kenny Goss, as well as a tribute to Amy Winehouse during the second half.

Tribute to Amy

During the twenty-minute break, fans speculated on what songs would be shared during the second part. George had promised the audience that there would be the opportunity to sing and dance at the end of the show. It struck me it was like a father bribing his children to stay calm, go with the flow, to allow him to unveil his new baby of re-mixed music and then he would reward the crowd’s patience with some upbeat greatest hits. After all, the fan base had grown up with George, and whilst nostalgia is great, we did have to admit, that we perhaps couldn’t party the way we did back in the 1980’s!

The group at bar enjoyed also speculating on a potential costume change and the ability to hear more upbeat songs to tap along with!

Sadly no costume change materialised and the sleek, George, Clooney-style, continued to entertain for the remainder of the evening.

Humour was applied with his introduction to the “John and Elvis” number. Recounting that this song could apply to fading rock and roll stars such as Elton John and of course himself!

A wonderful montage of images from the 1970 – 80’s, played behind of the songs in the second set. These were clearly personal choices from George on people that have touched his life and indeed, the world (John & Yoko, Mother Teresa, Princess Diana, Mandella etc).

The tempo changed once again for the art deco inspired rendition of “You Changed”. The 1930-40 pin up girl imagery was spot on and it provided the crowd with a reprieve to the slightly heavier performance to-date.

He included his True Faith number that had raised 74,000,000 for charity. Here there was a heavy robotic effect placed on his voice. Whilst it was interesting to hear how George’s voice could sound with this effect, it was perhaps overproduced for my liking.

One poor ten-year-old sitting behind me, had fallen asleep, clearly dragged to the show by his mother, and I hoped that we would finally be rewarded with a good 30-minute dance period. Sadly, this was not to be. One can definitely feel for George who must be tired of requests to belt out the old numbers for the umpteenth time. But that is secretly why we all came…

The closing number, Feeling Good, from the 1964 musical “The roar of the Greasepaint” seemed a fitting tribute to George. Clearly a song he may have heard whilst lying in his pram (being a 1963 baby). It was immaculately delivered; sounding like the something one of the great jazz performers would have belted out.

For George, yet more pertinent lyrics that could resonate with his new musical direction:

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
For me
And I’m feeling good

And so, for the moment we had all waited for… the encore. George brought forward his backing group of four, tom-tom player and electric guitar musician. We had been patient, we had been promised the chance to sing and dance, and George finally delivered – but only just. Returning for the first encore, he rattled through a melody of three hits: Amazing, I’m Your Man and Freedom. Everyone was on their feet dancing, singing, screaming for George to take off his tie and boogie with us, as in the good old days. No matter that this is a period of austerity, for those brief moments, everyone had the opportunity to forgot about their personal problems and enjoy good old fashioned entertainment with a nod to nostalgia and those halcyon days when we were young and loved to rock!

However, he fled the stage but returned to finally close with I Remember You. We were now all warmed up, ready to party the night way, and sadly, like a disappointing sexual performance, it passed too quickly. We were left with a bitter-sweet moment –but ready to try again another day.

It was a great night. Well done George!

Playlist at Nice

• Through
• My Baby Just Cares For Me
• Understand
• Cowboys & Angels
• Going to a Town
• Kissing A Fool
• Let Her Down Easy
• You Have Been Loved
• Idol
• Brother Can You Spare a Dime
• Intermission
• Patience
• John & Elvis
• Roxanne
• Wild Is The Wind
• A Different Corner
• Where I Hope You Are
• You’ve Changed
• True Faith
• Love is a Losing Game
• Russian Roulette
• Praying For Time
• Feeling Good

• Encore

1. Amazing / I’m Your Man / Freedom

2. I Remember You

*Blog/Photography by Sandra S C Arthur

George Michael, Nice, France 2011

To read other gig reports click the “music’ tab on the right hand side.





The Road to Literacy: Strategies for Parents and the Pre Reader

20 09 2011

Sandra Arthur warmly welcomes this viewpoint from teacher, Angela Jackson (originally featured at www.SandraArthurBooks.com)

“So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray,

Go throw your TV set away,

And in its place you can install

A lovely bookshelf on the wall.”


“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by
Roald Dahl

Learning to read is the most important skill any child will acquire during primary education; if a child can’t read, he can’t do anything. He can’t read text books; he can’t read the instructions in a maths exercise: he can’t read a book for pleasure. His or her progress is compromised from the very beginning of his school life. As parents there are many, many strategies we can adopt in our daily lives that will ease the transformation from a non reader to a competent reader. Think caterpillars and butterflies!

1. The first tip is a no-brainer really. Talk to the baby; talk to the small child. I used to feel an idiot chattering away to my baby as we tackled the weekly shop but naming objects helps the baby and later the small child to acquire a large and rich vocabulary. Being familiar with lots of words on starting school, will give the child a great advantage.

2. From the age of 6 months, look at books with the baby. Point out objects; talk about what’s happening in the pictures. Babies enjoy bright colours and simple drawings and the warm, cosy parent-child moment will create the right associations in the child’s mind.

3. Think about singing songs and rhymes to increase a child’s vocabulary. Remember that children need to hear language from people. To a baby, television is just noise.

4. Point out written signs. Stress the importance of the written word

5. Another no brainer: show your child that you value reading, that books are important to you. Have books and magazines around the house. Let your child see you reading books, newspapers and magazines.

6. Treat books respectfully, reverently. Don’t allow the child to draw on reading books. Teach him to turn the pages carefully. Encourage him/her to keep the books and, later, drawing materials in a special place.

7. If there’s a library near you then it’s a good idea to join it. Many libraries and some book shops hold regular story hours and staff are often trained to advise readers on ways to use books creatively.

8. Find time to read a bedtime story every night. Apart from encouraging a love of books, it also sets the scene for a calm bedtime.

While committed, conscientious parents do all this on a regular basis, it’s also worth mentioning not to push too hard and to enjoy the voyage of discovery.





Do as I say, not what I do! – how to encourage kids to read.

20 09 2011

“Do as I say, not what I do” does not work when it comes to encouraging kids to read. If you NEVER read anything, how do you expect your own children to become avid book lovers?? Trying to get your kids to read from an early age should be something that not only you encourage, but also lead by example.

As a young girl, I can never remember my father without at least a book or newspaper – often both – in his hands. He encouraged my brother and I to visit the library each week, and we were given a free reign to choose any book to take home to read. He allowed us to select our favourite comics at the newsagent, and set up a regular home delivery each week, so that we did not miss out on our favourite stories or pop-world gossip.

From those early days, I recall my primary school headmaster also taking special interest in each child in our class. He would come into our classroom and chat with each child, to learn more about their interests in life. He would then disappear to the library and return with a selection of books, that he would encourage different children to read. I have him to thank for introducing me to The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien and The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis. From that moment I was hooked on reading and couldn’t find enough adventure, travel fantasy stories and later enjoyed all the detective stories by Agatha Christie.

By the time I reached high school I was required to read the books defined by the school education board: To Kill a Mocking Bird, To Sir with Love, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, Wuthering Heights and so on. I loved them all. I do recall being asked to read “Shane” and it was the first time I actually hated to read a book. Hard to recall why, but I remember my English teacher reflecting “perhaps it is a book for boys…”

By now, I was reading a wider scope of books from historical fiction, to love stories, adventure and spy and crime thrillers. The books I loved the most were the one’s that created many twists and turns and also offered adventure away from England!

What made them magical was the ability to close your eyes and imagine the face of the heroine. I found that if a book I had read was turned into a movie or television show, it ruined the experience if one re-read the book – all the magic was taken away as you could then draw on film images and ignore your own imagination.

That’s why I believe the experience to allow people to develop and come up with their own ideas when reading is so important. For those reluctant readers in our high school class, I recall one year we had a student teacher visit who arrived with some new ideas. This may amuse those younger readers, but I recall this student teacher bringing in a stack of 45 rpm records and playing David Bowie and other current music of the mid 1970’s to the class. We had to listen to the song, study the lyrics and then write an essay on what we thought the singer or songwriter was trying to say! It was a lot of fun and a new approach to getting kids to read, listen and provide review and feedback. That interaction was so important as it helped turn around some kids who had turned their back on reading.

That’s why I was so keen that I would follow my father’s example and ensure my kids took up his love – to read books. As soon as they could hold anything, I thrust black and white board books into their hands. I followed this up with the full range of wonderful look and feel books that exist, and ensured that they were read to each night. Now to my delight, they love books as much as my husband and I and of course, their Grandad.

A love of reading is one of the greatest gifts you can give to any child – take a moment to determine how you can pass on this wonderful gift to children in your life.

For more viewpoints on how to get kids to read visit SandraArthurBooks.com





New Reading Approaches to Appeal to the 2.0 Generation

19 09 2011

With so much of our lives now being shared online, it is no surprise that the young children of today need to be technically savvy and adapt at using the web. We are all being bombarded with more information, in one week, let alone one year, than our forefathers would have perhaps been exposed to in their LIFETIME. For an average person on an ordinary day, it amounts to 34 gigabytes of data or 100,500 words.

Input comes from a variety of sources unrelated to work/school, including movies, mobile phones, television, the Internet, video games, newspapers, magazines, books and music.

This to some degree is driving children to have a very short attention span. Thirty minutes of TV, ten minutes with DS Games, another twenty minutes with X-Box, fifteen minutes on social media sites, 5 minutes to catch the latest music online or on iPods or more!

You may be surprised to learn only 14 percent of people on the planet have access to the Internet (source: United News Center). The majority of Internet users (90%) live in industrialized countries, so internet laggards beware.

Currently, electronic games and mobile devices are generally static – so one can draw parallel examples with perhaps reading which is also static. However there is a new breed of dynamic, interactive, multi-player and networking games on the horizon. These are enabled by new platform technologies, higher processing power, improved graphics, virtual worlds and location-based technologies.

Their role in helping the young to read should not be dismissed, as they do require different levels of reading to understand game rules, answer questions and figure out complex games. It’s easy and fun for kids to escape “this world” and loose themselves as they text, email, surf the web or simply turn on the TV. It is therefore no wonder that kids have short attention spans: they find reading a traditional paper book “boring” and a “challenge” to wade through 150 + pages of plain text.

The “want it all now” generation are growing up in very different times, where less is left to imagination and more is required from media, on demand. It is therefore a tough challenge to kick-start reading in a fun way, that will then hopefully develop a lifetime love to read books (be it via eBooks or on paper).

When faced with a new book or novel, kids may encounter unknown vocabulary, they may have no background on the subject they are reading, and perhaps, they have no choice as to what they can read – being instructed by teachers to read a certain book. If we compare this to their free or hobby time, kids have a choice on what they want to do, they plan when they can devote time to their hobby and they determine how hard they wish to make their particular pastime.

These ideals can be applied to the reluctant reader. By allowing them to make some of the reading decisions: what, when, where. The result will be a more motivated and energised child.

With these factors in mind, I have tried to apply a multi-media approach to my own book writing.

First, for the early reader (4-7 years old) I developed some fun, environmentally themed stories and offered these free on YouTube. The mini series: Radio Ron’s Rainforest Adventures are believed to be one of the first early reader books (with narration, sound effects and original music) to be placed on YouTube. The HD feature in YouTube, makes an ideal reading experience on computer, TV or mobile phone screen. With a more technology-savvy generation, it is an approach that has appealed to youngsters. The stories have been hosted on a variety of charity websites, around the world, including the Australian Orangutan Project.

I wrote the Radio Ron’s Postcards from Borneo series to raise awareness on the plight of orangutans who face extinction in the Borneo rainforests. I’m hoping this work will stimulate interest in this topic and encourage people to donate funds to orangutan charities.

Learning to read is one of the biggest milestones young children face. By offering a fun approach to early reading practice, I hope my work may encourage a life long love affair with reading and books (whether on an electronic screen or paper). And, at the same time, an interest in environmental issues. Radio Ron has been a true family effort with illustration and voice over contributions by my, then young, six-year-old twin sons; plus voice over, music composition and performance and video creation by my husband, Richard Arthur.

With the success of this series, I am in the process of having the illustrations re-drawn so that an both printed and eBook formats can now also be supplied to the 2.0 generation!

Clearly, motivation varies from child to child depending on their mood, health, etc. My second writing project set out to offer a cross curriculum approach – embracing English, history, geography and music, and also offering an online multi-media angle in addition to the book reading experience.

The result has been Venice Escape – Maria’s Golden Gondola Adventures, a junior fiction book aimed at 9 to 13-year-olds. I have found out that it is also being enjoyed by older folks. They report they are remembering long forgotten history and being excited by the notion of hearing and seeing music clips online!

Blending the dual themes of music and Italian luminaries, I created a whirlwind time travel adventure of a young girl eager to learn about the world outside her cloistered Venetian surroundings. This junior travel fantasy paints geography, history, music and adventure on the canvas of a light-hearted voyage of self-discovery for a young heroine.

Venice Escape also contains an appendix where readers can learn more about the Italian explorers and Vivaldi featured in the story. There is also a companion multi-media website with music clips for each instrument and musical style.

My free online resource has been developed to offer readers of Venice Escape an improved reading experience, and at the same time provide teachers with the opportunity to use this material to trigger cross-curricular discussions in their classes.

My hope is that the book will be used in schools to assist discussion on music genres/instruments, history and geography. Alternatively, young readers can simply enjoy linking to the music sounds and reflect back on how Maria would have enjoyed hearing this music for the first time.

In conclusion, I urge you all to take your kids to the library or review the latest range of eBooks online – and let them choose a fun title or gently recommend something new or a title you know is a winner. Curl up on your sofa, grab your chosen book and let your imagination escape with a fantasy novel tonight – it could be the start of a lifetime adventure, offering your child (and you) the enjoyment and pleasure to read.

Venice Escape now available at Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk and Lulu.com
I provide early learning videos for children under six, teaching resources and music links to expand awareness on music styles. Head to my website for more on my new book and discover the free resources online – SandraArthurBooks.com

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Cloud Computing to save the world?

13 09 2011

Can cloud computing save us from going into the red?

In January 2011 at the Davos World Economic Forum, Switzerland attendees have indicated that via Cloud Computing services/technology the world will be pulled out of the current recession. Strong words you may think but the world’s economic leaders are apparently using the Cloud phenomenon as “the third industrial revolution”. Its’ importance to the future of the world’s economy cannot be understated.

A freelance editor, Frank Booty, on Cloud recently stated “The Centre of Economics and Business Research (CEBR) reckons that the expected upcoming Cloud adoption will bring the top five EU economies a €763 billion infusion over the next five years, creating 2.4 million jobs in the process. Back up confirmation can be found through analyst cohorts speculating that a fifth of all companies will not own their IT infrastructure by 2012, but be in the Cloud. The Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) emphasises the utility angle, indicating that in 2016 IT will become the next utility, being bought like electricity, gas or water.”

As a result, I believe strongly that Cloud Computing issues will continue to be “hot” and a valid topic for debate at industry events during 2011-12.

As reported on Cloud Vision, “In 2011 there will be some significant announcements about mainstream organisations adopting new Infrastructure as a Service propositions as an alternative to the Amazon Elastic Cloud. Last October HP announced that it was partnering with French alternative telecom provider SFR to offer competitive IaaS services to its 1400 business customers. The new services will utilise SFR’s datacentres and come with end to end Quality of Service guarantees and integrated billing. The opening of the infrastructure market and the introduction of new standard APIs such as OpenStack will make it possible for Cloud “spot pricing” where businesses can trade their excess computing capacity aided by Cloud Storage Brokers.”

The Telcos have been stung by the thin revenues gained from the “Over the Top” Cloud services such as Apples AppStore and want to leverage their own assets to generate new revenue streams from business Cloud services. These assets include reliable communications (the fixed and mobile operators can provide 24/7 end-to-end service monitoring backed by SLAs), long term billing relationships enabling Cloud services to be bundled with other services onto a single bill and customer location intelligence. The leading Telcos have been gradually assembling a team of IT specialists and are also establishing partnerships with the leading IT services companies.

What needs to be thoroughly thrashed out are the security and resilience pros and cons of community, private and public cloud services for public bodies. The ENISA report suggests that national governments and EU institutions should investigate the concept of an EU Governmental Cloud. For the report and recommendations go to: http://www.enisa.europa.eu/act/rm/emerging-and-future-risk/deliverables/security-and-resilience-in-governmental-clouds/

There is the opinion that a national Cloud strategy would have to address the effects of national/supra-national interoperability and inter-dependencies, and cascading failures. It would need also to include Cloud providers into the reporting schemes of articles 4 and 13 of the new Telecom Framework Directive. So much to figure out and a lot at stake. Who will be the winners and losers? Will the Cloud bring economic salvation?

All the signs are that 2011 will be a breakthrough year for Cloud Computing adoption by Enterprises, Telecoms and Government. It’s certainly got a good start with the Davos accreditation.