On Stage: Madison Cunningham is more electric than she might seem

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Madison Cunningham

Madison Cunningham is a 21-year-old singer-songwriter from Southern California. If you look at publicity photos of her, you’ll see a pleasant-looking artist with long blonde hair holding an acoustic guitar.

So, you might be tempted to think – here’s another young, sensitive singer-songwriter ready to strum chords on her nylon-stringed guitar while singing heartfelt sings about almost anything.

Then, if you listen to her music, a light goes off inside your head and you’re reminded of the old adage – don’t judge a book by its cover.

Cunningham does play acoustic guitar, but she really shines when she plays electric guitar. Listen to her music and you hear rock and blues-influenced riffs that perfectly complement her complex, insightful lyrics.

Cunningham will make her area debut on July 23 when she shares the bill with Punch Brothers at Union Transfer (1026 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, 215-232-2100, www.utphilly.com).

Cunningham’s new single “Beauty Into Clichés,” is out now via Verve Forecast. The single is accompanied by a second track, “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright.”

Cunningham recently signed to Verve Forecast and is currently recording her debut full-length LP. Her new music follows the release of last year’s debut EP, “Love, Lose, Remember.”

The Orange County native first picked up a guitar at age seven, and by age 12 was singing and performing alongside her five siblings in church. By the time she was 15, Cunningham realized songwriting was a passion she wanted to pursue — citing Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan as key inspirations.

“I grew in Costa Mesa but I now live in North Hollywood,” said Cunningham, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Arizona.

“I grew up in a family for five girls and my father was a worship leader in church. The first time I sang was at church when I was four. By the time I was 12, I was singing at church three-to-four times a week – for four years.

“I really fell in love with guitar. I found it interesting and gratifying. I didn’t think of its as a career. It was a really fun hobby.

“When I was 16, my friends introduced me to new artists. I thought to myself – I’d love to do this. I got in the mode of trying to practice and have a deeper understanding of guitar.”

Cunningham worked hard at the craft and before long was ready to take it public.

“My first gig was with a friend at House of Blues Disney when I was 17,” said Cunningham. “One of my first L.A. performances was at a comedy club. I was playing coffee shops in Orange County. After a little while, I was playing shows in L.A. every week.”

Cunningham discovered singer/songwriters who became her primary influences.

“I was listening to a lot of 70s music and that influenced me,” said Cunningham. “I was listening to Jeff Buckley, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Neal Young.

“I recorded my EP when I was 16 at a studio in Burbank with my friend Tyler Chester. We recorded two days live in the studio and then released the EP on our own.

“I opened a show at Mollusk’s Surf Shop in L.A. The people there knew Mike Viola at Verve and arranged a meeting. When I sat down with him, it felt good. It fit like a glove, so I signed with Verve last October. The rest is history.”

Next on tap is her debut album.

“I’m just wrapping up the writing phase,” said Cunningham. We’re going to record the album live in El Paso, Texas in August at the Sonic Ranch Studio. It will probably take seven days.

“I already have 15 songs written. For me, something that launches a song is a riff or a melody. Then, I try to write the lyrics right away. I try to let my subconscious roll.”

Video link for Madison Cunningham – https://youtu.be/FJACaLQLQ_w.

The show at Union Transfer, which also features Punch Brothers, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35.

Other upcoming shows at Union Transfer are Raphael Saadiq on July 24 and Lucius on July 25.

July 25 is a good day to look to the past in music. There will be area shows by Tom Bailey, who was a founding member of the Thompson Twins in 1977; D.O.A., a Canadian punk rock band that had its start in 1978; and the Tartan Terrors, who have been making music for more than a quarter-century.

Tom Bailey

Bailey, who has established a solid solo career over the years, will be performing Wednesday night at The Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, 202-730-3331, www.thequeenwilmington.com)

The Thompson Twins had huge hits on both sides of the Atlantic, with songs such as “Hold Me Now,” “Doctor Doctor,” “You Take Me Up” and “Love On Your Side.” The band also enjoyed big success on the US dance chart with “Lies,” “In the Name of Love,” “Hold Me Now” and “In the Name of Love ‘88” all reaching Number 1.

In 1985, the band played Live Aid at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia where they were introduced by Madonna to a crowd of over 100,000 and an estimated global TV audience of 1.9 billion across 150 nations. They were later joined on stage during their performance by Madonna and Nile Rodgers.

“Philadelphia will always be special to me,” said Bailey, during a phone interview last week. “Live Aid – what an event and we were right in the middle of it. We were making an album with Nile Rodgers at the time. The three of us were in New York so we put together a live band for the gig. It was a superstar event.”

After many years away, Bailey returned to the live stage in 2014 with headline shows in the U.S. and Japan – including the Retro Futura Tour. He headlined six major festivals in the UK.  In April 2016, Bailey won the “Best Live Show 2015” award in UK’s Classic Pop magazine ahead of Duran Duran, Kylie and Kraftwerk.

“The Retro Futura Tour really got me back into playing Thompson Twins songs live again,” said Bailey. “Howard Jones asked me if I wanted to do the tour. I did – and, for some reason, it just kept going. I’ll still slip some Thompson Twins songs into my live set now – depending on how much time I have to play.”

Bailey released his first new music in 25 years earlier this month with a solo album – “Science Fiction” – that came out on July 13. The album is produced by Bailey along with production assistance from Hal Ritson (Chemical Brothers, David Guetta).  It was recorded all over the world (France, New Zealand, London) with the studio being Bailey’s laptop and set of headphones.

The songs on “Science Fiction” cover a variety of genres from synth-pop meets soca to stadium pop. All the new songs feature Bailey’s signature flair for hook-laden, radio-friendly tunes.   The first single from the album, “What Kind Of World,” recently had its premiere on AXS.

“I recorded the album in a lot of different places over the last few years,” said Bailey. “I was working on it using my laptop and headphones. I developed this way of working where I don’t have to use studios.

“When it comes to writing songs, it can start with a riff, a lyric, a melody or a story idea. It’s easier if a hook, line or lyric appear early in the process. If I spot something good, I go after it. The mood of the song informs me the way to play it.

“With this album, it was an umbrella idea – using images of looking up at the sky. When the song ‘Science Fiction’ came along, it seemed to be a good title for the album. It covers the area of the album – the mindset of looking at the sky. I’d been doing some work with songs about astronomy.

“Some of the songs were about cosmic relationships – the view out the window. As a pop writer, the make-up is to have songs that people can sing along with.

“The Thompson Twins made songs that people can sing along with. The 80s was a golden age of pop music. That music – including the Thompson Twins music – has withstood the test of time.”

Video link for Tom Bailey – https://youtu.be/uY44qxXuYfA.

The show at the Queen will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35.


D.O.A., Canada’s legendary pioneering punks who set the bar high for punk and basically invented hardcore, are ready to rip it up to celebrate their 40th anniversary. They have a brand-new album – “Fight Back” – and have embarked on a worldwide tour to support this impressive new effort. D.O.A.’s line-up features the “Godfather of Hardcore” Joe “Shithead” Keithley (guitar, vocals) along with the manic rhythm section of Paddy Duddy (drums) and Corkscrew (bass).

“We’re doing 22 shows in 28 days – 15,000 miles,” said Keithley, during a recent phone interview from his home in Vancouver.

One of those shows will be on July 25 at the Voltage Lounge (421 North Seventh Street, Philadelphia, 215- 964-9602, www.voltagelounge.com).

“We started writing songs last August and November and then did the recordings in February and March. It was up by May and then we had the tour coming up.

“We made the album with Cecil English. He has a great studio in his basement. He’s done it for ages and he’s 62 now. We’ve recorded five of our albums with him.”

Early reviews indicate that “Fight Back” is the most innovative D.O.A. album since “War on 45,” a seminal album that was released in 1982. D.O.A. has always been right on the pulse of what’s going on in our screwed-up world. ‘Fight Back” deals with what we have left.

According to Keithley, “When you really think about it, income inequality and disparity is at the root of a lot huge problems, like environmental degradation, war, sexism and hate.”

“Fight Back,” which was released on Keithley’s own label Sudden Death Records, is a scathing and timely piece. The album opens with acerbic “You Need an Ass Kickin’ Right Now,” rips right into the startling “Killer Cops,” and then smashes into the anthemic “Time To Fight Back,” which is street punk resistance at its fiercest. The vibe of the album is also obvious in other track titles – “Gonna Set You Straight,” “I Just Got Back From the USA,” “We Won’t Drink This Piss” and “You Can’t Stop Me.”

Keithley said, “”In our modern world that is stuffed with ever increasing episodes of racism, sexism, greed and warmongers, it’s time say enough is enough — time to fight back.

“We recorded the album when Trump was running for president. We took our old song ‘F***ed Up Ronnie’ and re-did it as ‘F***ed Up Donald.’ We had it out in about five weeks.

“I sensed that he was going to win. He’s been successful in everything he’s done – hook or crook – and he’s gotten away with it.”

D.O.A. was formed amidst a whirlwind of controversy and upheaval. In 1978, three guys fresh out of high school from the backwaters of Canada’s suburbs heard about the punk rock revolution. In February of that same year the band formed and started playing shows. They soon realized that there were no record deals coming in any time soon.

Keithley, who was working towards being a civil rights lawyer before he found punk rock, formed a fledging record label called Sudden Death Records and the label released D.O.A.’s first record — the “Disco Sucks” 7-inch EP.  The song soon became an underground hit and the band started touring from Vancouver to their newly adopted home base of California five to six times a year.

In 1980, Keithley coined the term “hardcore” and the band soon released its landmark album “Hardcore 81.” The album became a hit, the hardcore movement took off, and D.O.A. pushed that expression into common vernacular.

Over the last four decades, D.O.A. have released 17 studio albums, sold over a million albums, and played 4,000 shows on five different continents. The band’s albums, shows, and attitude have won over three generations of fans and influenced the likes of Green Day, Nirvana, Offspring, Henry Rollins, David Grohl and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

Keithley has also written two books – “I Shithead: A Life in Punk” and “TALK – ACTION = 0.”

“When I’m writing songs, I try to get the lyrics first – a couple lines of a chorus,” said Keithley. “If you have an idea, you can write the musical mood to suit the lyric. I love songwriting.”

Over the years, Keithley has had 16 different full-time members playing in D.O.A.

“The line-up we have now has been together since March 2014,” said Keithley. “The three of us have probably done 250 shows together. We’ve toured Europe three times and China twice. We play really well together, and the fans keep showing up.”

Video link for D.O.A. – https://youtu.be/Wr-yUWGpmX8.

The show at the Voltage Lounge will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

The calendar might say that the date is July 25, but it will seem like March 17 to the music fans inside the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com). On Wednesday evening, the venue is presenting a show by the Tartan Terrors.

Tartan Terrors

Based on Ontario, Canada, the Tartan Terrors are their own Celtic Invasion mixing rock’s energy with traditional folklore, dance, and humor. With an arsenal featuring classic pipes and fiddle, driving drum tones, and signature guitar styles, Tartan Terrors are winning over audiences everywhere.

The Tartan Terrors — Keith McGonigle, Chris Kerba, Peter Mc Arthur, Daniel Pentecost, Jake Saenz, Ellen Wilkes Irmisch, and her brother Ian Wilkes Irmisch –bring a kilted extravaganza of a two-time World Champion bagpiper, championship Highland dancers, comedic fun and a most of all a Celtic musical party. They are known worldwide for their performances in festivals, Highland games, theaters and for entertaining US presidents, British queens and TV audiences.

“This is our 26th year together,” said Ellen Wilkes Irmisch during a phone interview last week from her home in Burlington, Ontario.

“It all goes back to when our grandmother came to Canada as a war baby from the U.K. She wanted to keep the Celtic tradition, so she had her kids study Highland dancing. My mom continued it. She was a dance teacher and a Highland dance judge at the world level.

“I studied a lot of dance — tap, jazz, Highland — and musical theater. I went to Ryerson University and studied piano, percussion, dancing, performing arts and singing. That’s where the roots were planted, and it’s been growing ever since.”

A member of the British Association of Teachers of Dance (BATD), Irmisch is Fellow in Ballet, Stage, Highland, and a member Scottish National, Step Dance and Freestyle. She has taught for over 29 years and, until 2009, headed the Academy of Film & Performing Arts, a facility her mother started in 1961.

“The Tartan Terrors got started in the 1990s,” said Irmisch. “My brother and I worked the Ontario Renaissance Faire. I brought up two Highland dancers and we got great response. The owners of the Ontario Renaissance Faire also owned the Maryland Renaissance Faire and they hired us for that.”

The group continued to grow and expand its repertoire. Over the years, the Tartan Terrors became an act that was in high demand – for faires, festivals and concerts.

“We play a lot of Celtic festivals,” said Irmisch. “And, we’ve played the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire many times.

“We made our first album in 1998. We recorded our latest album – ‘An Tosu’ – in 2016. It means ‘the beginnings’ in Gaelic. We have a nice blend of instrumentals and vocals.

“In our live shows now, we try to play a little from each album. From ‘An Tosu,’ we play ‘An Tosu’ and two others.

“We also try to play a few traditional songs – self-written traditional songs – in our set. And, people always want to hear our instrumental version of ‘Amazing Grace.’ We have a lively show and we encourage everybody to get up – to sing, clap and dance.”

Video link for Tartan Terrors – https://youtu.be/KMjXxLt4F7s.

The show at the Sellersville Theater will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and $39.50

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