WATCH: Rihanna shares stunning new video for Star Trek theme song Sledgehammer

rihanna sledgehammer

Rihanna has taken a break from twerking and packing out stadiums across the world to record the soundtrack to the new Star Trek film. (I know, we’re shocked too) And today, she put out the video.

Sledgehammer, which comes from the new Justin Lin-directed Star Trek Beyond -the third film in the new rebooted franchise of the space saga – is a soaring ballad co-written by Jesse Shatkin and an unknown songwriter by the name of Sia.

It’s a different direction for the Bajan beauty, and definitely has Sia’s stamp on it – ironic as it was the Titanium singer  who hit headlines earlier in the year when she revealed RiRi was one of a number of singers who turned down tracks she wrote – tracks which eventually formed Sia’s wild successful album, This Is Acting. Dreamy piano and synths and backed by a pounding beat on Sledgehammer and it sounds like a ready-made hit. Lesson of the day: Always listen to Sia.

The video sees Rihanna gyrating on a big rock, on what looks like Mars. She’s surrounded by all manner of trippy kaleidoscope effects, rocking a Shaolin monk-esque outfit. She even make monk robes look high-fash. Is there anything she can’t wear? It’s a stunning video by all accounts and it’s always refreshing to see an artistic pop video.

Watch the video below:

 

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INTERVIEW: North East performer Jonmichael Samuels aka Miss Dixie Swallows on being a fighter and her fabulous one-woman show

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From teetering in his mother’s heels as a child to becoming one of the most-loved performers currently on the North East drag circuit, Jonmichael Samuels has managed to come back from the brink of ill health to make his name known. Well, maybe not his name. He’s better known as Dixie Swallows, the camp, musical-theatre loving drag queen who in 2014 romped to the final of Drag Idol Newcastle. Now, he’s branching out, bringing his ‘one-woman show’ to Sunderland’s Quayside Exchange this Friday.

Seeing Dixie Swallows up in her ‘box’ as she calls it (a DJ booth to you and I) you wouldn’t believe that this was someone who once lacked confidence. But before turning his hand to performing, the man behind the make-up lived quite a different life.

“Before I did drag, my health wasn’t too grand,” he tells me. “I was unable to work due to ill health. But I’m not going to turn this into a sob story!

I’m jokingly known locally as ‘Deaf Dixie’, but there’s a little bit more to it than that. I suffer from arthritis and I’m also epileptic.

To cut a long story short, I never thought I’d be able to work.”

But when he heard about the Drag Idol competition, he decided to try out something completely new. “I was a fan of Drag Idol but never once did I think it would be something I could do as a career. But, I’m very much a ‘live in the here and now’ kind of person so I pushed myself to give it a go.”

And give it a go he did, reaching the final and becoming a firm favourite of head judge, Miss Rory. Dixie’s eclectic performance style ranged from a take on Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques: The Musical to Mrs Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances. He become the ‘comedy queen’ and had audiences in stitches week after week. “The competition was very difficult, both technically and physically. However, the enjoyment of meeting new people and the sense of escapism outlawed any of the difficulties.

I came first runner up and it was a totally overwhelming experience.

Before Drag Idol, the only experience I had performing was playing the piano once at a school music festival when I was 15. Oh, and trotting up the garden path in my mother’s stiletto boots as a child,” he says with a laugh. “Goodness knows what the neighbours though.”

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After finishing Drag Idol, Jonmichael bagged job as a DJ in various bars and clubs across the North East but it’s this show that he’s most excited, and nervous, about. “There’s a little bit of magic that happens when I step out in front of an audience. There’s nowhere to hide.

I think nerves are good, though. I don’t think I would carry on doing it if I wasn’t, as nerves make the performance real. They show we are human and bring a little something extra to the show.”

The show will take place in the Quayside Exchange, a historic, Grade II-listed building on High Street East, in Sunderland. Tickets are £2.50 for general admission or £10 for VIP, which will get you table service, a sharing platter of food and a glass of fizz. “The show is a night out for all. It’s a chance for me to have some fun and you to have some giggles along with me, all whilst enjoying some fabulous food and a glass of something nice.

The night is jam-packed with cabaret and lots of little surprises along the way.”

Any spoilers?

“Without spoiling too much, you can definitely expect musical theatre, a little Disney, the occasional diva and the odd bit of audience participation.

It’s going to be fabulous.”

dixie poster

Dixie Swallows’ One Woman Show starts at 8pm on Friday July 1. Doors open at 7pm. Tickets are available by calling 0191 514 4574 or by emailing events@quaysideexchange.com

Photo credit: LAH Photography

INTERVIEW: The man behind Boulevard’s Miss Rory on being ‘the pits’, ‘the People’s Princess’ and the star of the show

rory and ophelia

Anyone who has been to a show at Newcastle’s premier cabaret venue Boulevard over the years will know that there are two things guaranteed.

The first is a show full of talented performers, doing the very best to entertain their audience. The second is the acerbic wit of the show’s host and compere, Miss Rory. Those unlucky enough to be caught in her crossfire aren’t likely to forget it in a hurry. Dan Cunningham brings the acid-tongued one to life, and as the summer show continues it’s successful new run, I chatted to him about everything from being hailed ‘the people’s princess’ to finding a new headliner.

“I certainly never thought I’d do it for a living – or indeed to such public acclaim,” he says of his career in drag. “I’m often hailed as the People’s Princess. Naturally I’m far too humble to listen.” It’s clear he’s only half-joking and It’s this mixture of humour and faux modesty that has helped make Miss Rory one of the most popular – and most successful – entertainers in Newcastle. Whilst Rory is known for her cutting put-downs, I’ve always got along famously with Dan. A stalwart of the gay scene, he began performing in bars like Switch and The Bank, years before Boulevard.

“I started when I was about 18, as something of a party piece. Then I got offered little bits of work. Safe to say everybody starts somewhere – and I was the absolute pits.

But when I started out I was probably the only person starting out in Newcastle at the time – there was no Drag Idol or suchlike. I was ‘mentored’ by the living legend Greta La More (a famous Newcastle drag queen) and it all went from there. So if anyone’s to blame – it’s her!”

rory

The Drag Idol competition he’s talking about is an annual contest held to find ‘the next big thing’, in the vein of the US television show RuPaul’s Drag Race. He is one of the judges, and year after year continues to bring punters back. He often jokes the competition should be renamed Rory Idol. But, it’s Boulevard where he has found infamy.

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So how did the show come to him?

“I had a ‘real’ full time job as a manager in Debenhams and something of a normal life. I think I was the go-to to host events in Newcastle because my gob set me apart.” I can attest to this.

“So when the idea to create this brand new show bar in town was being conceived, I was taken over to the building and given a sort of guided tour. It was just a shell of a building at the time, and I was basically ‘told’ that I’d be standing up there doing what I now do. So I had to go away and decided if this was what I wanted to do. I’d have to give up the normality of a somewhat mundane job to start this new adventure.

Obviously it didn’t take me long to decide. And nearly 6 years later – here I am. I can honestly say it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”

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As the Spring show neared the end of its run earlier this year, it was announced that Betty Legs Diamond (above), the show’s creator and star, would be leaving to return to Blackpool’s Funny Girls venue. So, who would be the one to step into the limelight and become Boulevard’s new headline act?

A few names were banded about but Dan had only one person in mind for the job.

Yorkshire-born, London-residing dancer Danni Dee (below) had been a friend of Betty’s and was the star of a successful night club act in the capital, so when the time came, it was clear who to call.

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“I’ve known Danni for years and always admired her work, as well as valuing her friendship – although she does go on a bit,” he says, clearly excited about the new direction of the show. “That’s why he was my first choice as Betty’s replacement – and as soon as I took the producers to London to watch the show they agreed.”

Danni has debuted to sell-out shows and the summer run is picking up speed. “He knows exactly how we work – and if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Our cast are highly trained and professional dancers; our production team know what they’re doing to create the most elaborate, but accessible, shows for our audiences. It doesn’t just happen over night. Nowhere else in the North East can do what we do, on the scale that we do it – and that’s testament to all of the above.”

The ticket sales seem to have put paid to any worries about a successful show, but will Danni alienate Boulevard’s clientele?

“I don’t think so, no. For a start, I’m still there – and let’s face facts here, I’m the main attraction. I mean I can dance, but I thought I’d give Danni a shot.

But seriously, I think the sterling work that Danni is doing will most certainly keep our regulars coming back, but I reckon because it’s all kind of ‘new’ again there’ll be a fair few more people through the doors…we’re certainly the talk of the town at the best of times, but with this new show, I think we’ll be the talk of quite a few towns!”

The LGBT community was rocked recently in the wake of the shootings in Orlando that left 49 innocent people dead in a gay nightclub. Communities across the world gathered to remember the lost lives and Newcastle was among them. It’s important to remember that drag and cabaret shows like Boulevard only exist because of a proud community. “That vigil was amazing. Naturally, we should never have had to gather like that – and I never thought I’d be asked to address the scene, on behalf of the scene, like that. But it just goes to show that a community can pull together, even if it’s just for half an hour and say ‘yes, we’re in this together – this is us’.”

The summer show at Boulevard is running until September 17. Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling 0191 250 7068 or online here

Photo credits: LAH Photography 

WATCH: Acapella group Voctave perform an AMAZING epic movie medley

They gained well-deserved notoriety earlier this year when their stunning Disney medley went viral (watch that here) and now acapella group Voctave are back with a new video. And this one is just as major.

A tribute to composer John Williams, the video begins with well-loved songs from Harry Potter, E.T and Star Wars, but the performance also has a few surprises. Let’s just say, when we saw Kevin from Home Alone run down the stairs to embrace his mother in the famous Christmas scene, we got a little bit choked up. Then came the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park and finished us off.

A truly talented group of vocalists and an emotional tribute to one of the greatest composers in music.

You can download the medley on iTunes, Apple Music and Google Play.

INTERVIEW: Boulevard’s new leading lady Miss Danni Dee on being ‘intimidating’, the summer show and getting recognised in Starbucks

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As the crown jewel in Newcastle’s vibrant gay scene, Boulevard has seen cast members come and go over the years. But, no exit was more of a shock than that the recent departure of Betty Legs Diamond, the cabaret venue’s star turn. Announcing he would be returning to Blackpool’s Funny Girls, Simon Green, the man behind Miss Diamond, left fans of Boulevard wondering who would fill Betty’s heels. Step forward Miss Danni Dee.

Danni was unveiled as the new leading lady of the venue and she and her Broadway dancers premiered their summer show this past weekend to packed audiences. They say behind every great woman is a great man (or something to that effect), so we grabbed the creator of ‘the bitchy showgirl’, 31-year-old Lancashire-born performer Danny Molloy, for a chat about her crowning as the new queen of the scene.

So first things first: Who is Danni Dee?

“Oh my god, Danni Dee is over-the-top, leggy, very goofy at times and always up for laugh. But like any diva she has an opposite side which can be a bit intimidating at times,” he says with a laugh. Unlike his alter ego, Danny seems anything but.

Born in Preston, Danny attended the Northern Ballet School. After graduating, he toured the world dancing professionally in theatre productions and on cruise ships before landing in Blackpool, where he danced at Funny Girls, the famous cabaret venue.

“Shortly after moving to London after two years with Betty at Funny Girls, I found myself joining a corporate dance/drag troupe doing big events all over the UK and abroad,” he tells me. “After that I decided to branch out and create Danni, and set up The Danni Dee Show at Freedom Bar Soho, which is now in its 7th year of residency.”

His residency at said London bar is extremely popular, attracting a following of celebrities and West End performers. “This is really cringe, but I admire all my West End friends so much,” he says genuinely. “They are all extremely talented people and supported me from the get go. I doubt I would be where I am with out them, I’ve learnt a lot from them over the years, and can’t thank them enough!”

Thanks to the popularity of The Danni Dee Show, he was approached earlier this year with an opportunity to join Boulevard. A phone call from the show’s host and compere, Dan Cunningham AKA Miss Rory initially left Danny feeling nervous.

“I’d been to Boulevard a couple of times to visit Betty, who I’ve known and worked with for about 10 years now and I met Miss Rory through her.

Funnily enough Rory was in London watching my show and then called me the next day to tell me the goings on (Betty’s departure) and when I got the voicemail I honestly thought I’d upset her or embarrassed her at the show.”

You can tell that there is a firm friendship between the three performers.

“From that initial phone call, me and Betty met up for lunch in London and put a show together…it all happened so fast it is still a little bit of a blur, even more so with still touring the UK with my solo show whilst putting a show together and rehearsing it in Newcastle.”

I ask him about Newcastle. It must be a change from Soho, the famous gay quarter of London. “Newcastle seems great. I haven’t ventured around much yet though because of a hectic schedule.” He recounts a story about already being recognised in a Newcastle Starbucks (“which made me giggle!”) but alludes to one particular cast mate as a bad influence. “I’m going have to get the cast to show me the sights. I would ask Rory but she’d just take me to the gay bars…”

In the past Boulevard has been known as an all-singing, all-dancing classic musical theatre revue. Everything from Fosse to Wicked and Les Miserables to Liza have been performed on the stage of the venue, which was last year named Newcastle’s Best Bar by the Chronicle. What can we expect from this new era?

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“In the summer show we take you from where Betty left off, with a great traditional musical theatre opener. Then the pace and energy of the show takes you on a journey of different genres, ranging from musical theatre to a full arena concert-style diva routine, which people have been going crazy for. I love to see the audience up on their feet dancing with us!

My dream number to perform is actually in this show so if you wanna know what that is then get your booties to come see us!”

Danny seems cool, calm and collected – the exact opposite of what one would expect someone with a show of this stature in his control to be. He must have some fears. “LOTS! The main one is a costume change which happens on stage in the finale where I have less than 10 seconds to change,” he tells me. “It’s tight as it is and any slip ups and everything could go badly wrong! But if it does I’ll just blame (fellow dancer) Candy!”

The Boulevard Summer Show runs until September 17. For tickets, visit the box office in person, call 0191 250 7068 or click here

REVIEW: Jumpy. “This production will have you pondering life’s questions long after you leave the theatre.”

ALL Tilly, Lyndsey, Mark, Cam, Hilary, Josh, Bea, Frances, Roland

Seeing a new play in the West End is always a thrill, but seeing a play in its North East premiere in a venue as intimate as Newcastle’s People’s Theatre is just as, if not more, exciting.
Hilary (Rye Mattick) is struggling with not only a mundane existence and a slight dependence on a bottle of Chablis nightly, but with the very real loss of her daughter, Tilly (Amy Herdman) who, approaching 16 years old, has decided it’s time to become a woman. The age-old power struggle between mother and daughter ensues and issues as far between as teenage pregnancy and the menopause are touched upon in Jumrpy, by April De Angelis.
It is the one of the dilemmas that has been met by marriages throughout history: stay in a relationship, going through the motions for the sake of the children and the fear you’re too old to meet anyone else, or cave to the attraction of a handsome stranger and let the marriage crumble. Maybe it’s time to let it crumble? Maybe the grass really is greener?
The play raises these questions and more and is a frank look at family life and growing older.

As someone hurtling past their mid-20s, I’m in the unique (terrifying) position of remembering the angst-ridden teenage years drawing battle lines against one’s parents at any given opportunity, as well as being fearful of what my impending 30s, 40s and beyond will bring – or rather what they may fail to. Hilary is constantly dealing with loss: the loss of her youth, her sense of radical fun, and the loss of her daughter, then husband. The writing although dryly funny in parts never shies away from being sad. It is this that makes the play work.
Hilary is in a sort of mourning for her old life; as a young woman, she was a faux-radical, protesting at Greenham Common and her sometimes juvenile life choices in the play are a role reversal ‘acting out’. Subjects like this are rarely chosen as fodder for a hit play, so Jumpy should be applauded for that from the get go.

Mark & Hilary
Mattick (above) is warm and engaging as the woman-on-the-edge character at the centre of the story. Believable as the neurotic mother, the disheartened wife and the, quite frankly, sexy object of affection, she holds both the play together, and the audience’s gaze.
Mark Burden (above with Mattick) and Colin Jeffrey are also both highlights in their respective roles as Hilary’s laid-back husband Mark and the new man in her life, hunky actor Roland. Herdman as Tilly and Rhiannon Wilson, who plays pal Lyndsey, have the hormonal teen act down a tee and are a reliable source for laughs.

Frances (Melanie Dagg)
My favourite performance came from Melanie Dagg (above). She is high camp as Frances, Hilary’s extroverted friend. Sexually-charged and fully aware she is fabulous at 50, Dagg is a scene-stealer. Her star turn involves a burlesque routine, a horny teenager and a premature explosion – I’ll leave it at that.
Director Kevin Gibson’s rapidly changing scenes give the audience time to ponder each of life’s great mysteries and the simplistic set design by Stuart Taylor is there to give a very ordinary back drop to an extraordinary set of circumstances.
Jumpy is a great piece. A slow-burner, yes, and one with a second act which comically trounces it’s first, but a wonderful play. Any play that isn’t scared of using the f-word (feminism) as a gimmick is one worth a look, in my eyes. Expect to leave asking yourself a lot more than ‘where do I know her face from?’ This production will have you pondering life’s questions long after you leave the theatre

Jumpy runs until Saturday June 18. Click here for tickets

Jumpy to premiere in Newcastle

ALL Tilly, Lyndsey, Mark, Cam, Hilary, Josh, Bea, Frances, Roland

A play by April De Angelis will make its Tyneside premiere next week.

Jumpy premiered at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in 2011 to rave reviews and subsequently transferred to the West End, starring Tamsin Greig and Doon Mackichan. This production is being staged at the People’s Theatre in Newcastle.

Hilary (Rye Mattick) once protested at Greenham Common. Nowadays, her protests tend to focus on persuading her contemptuous teenage daughter to fully clothe herself when she goes out. A marriage in ruins and a career on the rocks only add to the perils of life for a middle-aged mum in Walthamstow. Where did it all go wrong?

It has been described as an exploration ‘the life, the worries, the strength, and the vulnerability of the post-feminist urban woman.’

£1 from each ticket sale will go towards The People’s Theatre Redevelopment Scheme, which has been shortlisted in a national competition. Volunteers at the theatre are appealing for votes from the public to help them win £150,000 towards its redevelopment (plans pictured below)

It is the only theatre shortlisted alongside 12 other schemes across the country.  The volunteer run theatre stands to benefit from £150,000 towards its redevelopment.

peoples theatre

For the People’s Theatre Tony Childs said, “We are proud to be the only theatre in the country to have made it as one of 12 projects in the national shortlist, competing against 1,800 other projects.

We’ve had a great voting response from our audience and membership.   What we now need is for the wider community to show support for what will be a great asset to Newcastle and the North East.”

Read more about the plans here.

Jumpy will run June 14 to June 18 at 7.30pm. You can buy tickets in person at the box office, by calling 0191 265 5020 or online here.

Boxing icon Muhammad Ali dies aged 74

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One of the most famous sportsmen of all time, and an often polarising figure, the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, has died.

The sporting legend passed away yesterday aged 74 after being hospitalised with breathing problems last week. He leaves a wife, Lonnie, and nine children.

Ali had been hospitalized several times in recent years, most recently in early 2015 when he was treated for a severe urinary tract infection, initially diagnosed a month prior as pneumonia. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease since the 1980s, when he brought high profile attention to his diagnosis of the disease.

On April 9 this year he appeared at the annual Celebrity Fight Night dinner in Phoenix, which raises funds for treatment of the disease. He was photographed wearing sunglasses and looking frail.
His last public appearance prior to that was in October of last year when he appeared at the Sports Illustrated Tribute to Muhammad Ali at The Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

He was joined by former opponents George Foreman and Larry Holmes at that event.

His third wife Veronica Porche also said in an interview on Friday that her two daughters with Ali, Laila and Hana, were on their way to see their father.

‘My daughters have both flown there and I will be hearing from them when they arrive at the hospital,’ Porche told Radar Online.

‘I can’t comment more than that but I will say it is not so great, I’ll just say that much. He’s a real hero. It’s a sad situation.’

Ali’s second wife, Khalilah, also said that one of her daughters was rushing off to see the boxer in the hospital.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on Jan. 17, 1942, Ali took up boxing at age 12, when his bike was stolen and he wanted to find and whip the culprit.

He was introduced to Joe Martin, a police officer who coached boxing at a local gym. Ali flourished in the ring, becoming a top amateur and Olympic gold medalist. He made his professional debut in Louisville and arranged for a local children’s hospital to receive proceeds from the fight. His decision alienated Ali from many across the U.S. and resulted in a draft-evasion conviction. Ali found himself embroiled in a long legal fight that ended in 1971, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favour.

He lost his first bid to regain the heavyweight crown when Frazier knocked him down and took a decision in the ‘Fight of the Century’ at Madison Square Garden in 1971. Ali regained the heavyweight title in 1974, defeating Foreman in the ‘Rumble in the Jungle.’

A year later, he outlasted Frazier in the epic Thrilla in Manila bout. Ali’s last title came in 1978 when he defeated Leon Spinks.

After retiring from boxing in 1981, he devoted himself to social causes and travelled the world on humanitarian missions, mingling with the masses and rubbing elbows with world leaders.

Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005.

Writer Joyce Carol Oates said he was one of the few athletes in any sport to “define the terms of his public reputation”. He is famous for quotes such as, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” and “I don’t have to be what you want me to be.”

He has been voted Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated and BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Rest in peace, champ.

NOW PLAYING: Alicia Keys – In Common

alicia keys

She’s been away from the spotlight, and those ivories, since 2012’s Girl On Fire. But, she’s back with an altogether new vibe – and we are FEELING it.

In Common sees Ms Keys bring a more chilled sound to the table. Opening with a gentle piano, the song builds into a more clubby sound – it reminds us of Take Care by Drake. Throw in some tribal drums and dreamy harmonies, all harnessed by her (as always) phenomenal vocals, In Common has all the makings of a major summer jam. The lyrics are somewhat more serious, though. She purrs, “If you could love somebody like me, you must be messed up too.”

Speaking on The Graham Norton Show, the 35-year-old said she was feeling very comfortable with herself. “I’ve been feeling really connected to myself. We’re all works in progresses and when we can admit that and just own that, then we set ourselves free. I’m feeling good.”

Aside from an upcoming album, Keys will be joining season 11 of The Voice US, alongside fellow newbie Miley Cyrus. And if anyone is in the position to judge singers, it’s this Grammy winning diva – and whether it be on TV or the radio, we’re just glad to have her back.

Watch the video below:

In Common is available to buy and download now