Tollgate Village Takes a Step Closer

Plans have been submitted to Colchester Borough Council for the first phase of the long-awaited Tollgate Village retail and leisure park at Stanway.

An artist’s impression by Corstorphine + Wright Architects

Tollgate Partnership Limited, the Stanway-based family company behind the £70m scheme, have applied for full planning permission to make a series of improvements to Tollgate Retail Park, which will form the first phase of Tollgate Village. These would include external changes to shops, the creation of an additional retail unit between PC World and Office Outlet, the construction of a service road off London Road, alterations to the car park and road improvements.

Daniel Watts and Jayne Gee, Directors of Tollgate Partnership Limited, said: “We are very excited to have reached this milestone for Tollgate Village and be able to submit plans for the first of three phases.

“We are proud to be bringing economic benefits, jobs and sustainable facilities to the Borough of Colchester and we are grateful for the overwhelming public support for Tollgate Village. We will create an exciting place where people can work, shop, meet and relax.”

As part of its full planning application for phase one, Tollgate Partnership Limited has proposed carrying out highways improvements including road widening and the installation of a much-needed toucan crossing at Tollgate West and upgrades to the Tollgate West/Western Bypass roundabout.

Outline planning permission for Tollgate Village was granted by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on August 4 2017.

The next phase of Tollgate Village will be the “leisure hub” to be built on vacant land opposite Tollgate Retail Park. It is expected the third phase will see the development of the former Sainsbury’s site off Tollgate West/Tollgate Road.

Posted by Simon Crow

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for July 2018


FREE PUBLICITY! If  you are involved in music-making, we are privileged to offer a free publicity service to our local community with concert previews and reviews with weekly columns in printed publications such as the Essex County Standard and Colchester Daily Gazette and a monthly page in Essex Life. We also offer regularly contributions to websites such as Colchester 101.

If you have a concert of classical music you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.

The annual Thaxted Festival takes place over four weekends in June and July 2018. All concerts are held in the superb acoustic of Thaxted’s magnificent medieval church, continuing the tradition of Gustav Holst’s first Festival in 1916.

Thaxted Festival 2018 highlights include Sheku Kanneh-Mason, cello virtuoso and winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2016, accompanied by his sister Isata, in a recital of sonatas by Poulenc, Debussy and Brahms, internationally acclaimed pianist Freddy Kempf performs Etudes by Chopin and Rachmaninov, while one of the finest British string ensembles, the Endellion Quartet, presents works by Haydn, Beethoven and Dvorak.

Tickets: £12 for under 30. Enquiries (01371 831421), or email

Colchester’s Summer Organ Recital is launched by James Davy, the young Director of Music at Chelmsford Cathedral. James’ lunchtime concert takes place on Tuesday 10 July at 1pm in Colchester’s Town Hall, High Street, Colchester.

Entry is free with a retiring collection for the Friends of the Moot Hall Organ.

Next weekend, Jonathan Lilley, Director of Music at Waltham Abbey Church, will be performing on the organ at St Peter-ad-Vincula in Coggeshall. His programme includes a transcription of the mighty Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgky. The audience will be able to see Jonathan’s fancy footwork and keyboard chaos on a big screen.

This takes place on Saturday July 14 at 7.30pm. Tickets from £5.

Also at St Peter’s church, the Kelvedon Singers, presents a programme to suit all tastes with music by composers associated with World War 1, including songs beloved by the soldiers of the day right contrasting with madrigals and music from Broadway. This concert is in aid of Colchester Samaritans. Sunday July 8 at 6.30pm in St Peter-ad-vincula, Coggeshall.

Tickets are £16 including refreshments.

The Maldon Festival ends with Menotti’s comic look at two spinsters, desperate endeavour to find a man in his opera The Old Maid and the Thief. Saturday July 7 at 7pm  in St Mary’s Church, Maldon.

Tickets from £12 (01621 856503) or

Established in 1967, Hutton & Shenfield Choral Society is the largest choral society in Brentwood and performs in various venues and, from time to time, in Chelmsford Cathedral. This month it is doing just that with a performance of Poulenc’s Gloria with soprano soloist Alexandra Kidgel and accompanied by the Aurelian Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tim Hooper.  Also on the programme is a selection of Mendelssohn and Elgar songs. Saturday 14 July at 7.30pm in Chelmsford Cathedral.

Tickets: £17 (07540 087 220) or email

Liz Leatherdale

Colchester Classics & Classical Music columnist






FREEPHONE 0800 999 6994

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Click to hear more about Classical Music:

Follow us on Twitter here:  @ClassicalCDs

Follow us on Twitter here:  @ClassicalCDs

Vote for The Warm and Toasty Club to Win £50,000

The Warm and Toasty Club have made it to the final of The People Projects for the Anglia East region and we have the chance to win £50,000 of National Lottery funding for our project Memory Afternoons – and we need your VOTE to help us win.

Memory Afternoons are charming befriending and conversation events for older people with delightful live entertainment. These unique events are all about making older folk feel cherished and valued whilst providing development opportunities for young aspiring artists.

With your help, we can invite up to 100 older people every week for a year, to a local community hall to share positive memories of their lives, be entertained by singers and dancers and take part in a range of activities that will help them feel less lonely and isolated.

Memory Afternoons have proved to be extremely successful over the past 4 years with The Warm and Toasty Club having held these afternoon events at retirement establishments in Colchester and Essex.

Our team put their heart and soul into making these events special and we would love to be able to take these events out into the community – your vote can help us deliver a year’s worth of these delightful afternoons at a set local venue with community transport to help bring our less mobile guests in.

Memory Afternoons will support, develop and showcase young emerging artists and provide opportunities for community arts professionals to work directly with the older participants.

Young songwriters will be supported in writing and performing songs about the shared memories, artists will draw and make memento cards and singers, dancers and entertainers will perform as collectively we chat, we laugh, we share and we get happy.

We want to get people away from the TV to act as the catalyst for change by getting them chatting, laughing and making friends, as positive face to face engagement is so good for your physical and mental well-being.

Memory Afternoons also capture people centered positive stories of days gone by for future generations to access on the archives of Essex Sound and Video Archive and Colchester Recalled and via our online podcasts. But this isn’t a dry offering, oh no, this is face to face engagement that is full of fun, laughter, singing and dancing.

By sharing memories of lives well lived we turn the mirror back on participants to celebrate the rich and varied lives they have lived – our events have shown to really work in helping participants feel good about their lives and open up, they feel cherished and appreciated and we have seen that by doing so their loneliness is lessened, their social activities and circle of friends improved, their long term memory and their cognitive skills improve, they get out of the house and their self-worth and confidence greatly improves.

We’ve seen the real difference Memory Afternoons make – giving a new-found joy and confidence so that older folk blossom again.

Feedback from participants:

“Memory Afternoons are a tonic for the soul” 

“You’ve given me my sparkle again” 

“You delivered happiness” 

“We love it, it lifts our spirits high”

“This work wakes us up, makes us think and makes us appreciate what we have today”

“It eliminates loneliness doesn’t it”

“When I walk out of here I feel warm and I feel contented”

We will also hold public entertainment events at Colchester Arts Centre to showcase the worth of our older generation to the wider public.

Winning this money would make such a big difference to the lives of older people in our area and allow us to set up a central local hub which they can attend weekly to chat, laugh and have fun and which they don’t have now. Many older Colchester residents (both living in care homes and independently in the community) face a lack of engagement or activities available and/or relevant to them, particularly when faced with issues of health, mobility and finance, this project will greatly help with that.

This funding will pay for the venue, staff, community transport, food and drink, equipment, singers, dancers and songwriters and give so much back to our community with our people centred approach.

If we win we’ve got big plans to make a big difference to older people’s lives with these lovely afternoon events but we can only do it with your help-please vote for Memory Afternoons 

#MemoryAfternoons Where older folk come to top up their happiness batteries


Telephone: 07986837056

To vote click HERE

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Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for April 2018


FREE PUBLICITY! If  you are involved in music-making, we are  privileged to offer a free publicity service to our local community with concert previews and reviews with weekly columns in printed publications such as the Essex County Standard and Colchester Daily Gazette and a monthly page in Essex Life. We also offer regularly contributions to websites such as Colchester 101.

If you have a concert of classical music you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.




Colchester is Britain’s oldest recorded town and former capital of England. It has many visible connections and buildings from its Roman Heritage and the Siege of Colchester. In addition to being steeped in historical culture it has a thriving classical music scene with an abundance of musicians forming many choirs, ensembles and orchestras performing in beautiful venues such as the Old Barn at The Pimlott Foundation and St Botolph’s Church.

Roy Teed had been President of the Colchester Symphony Orchestra for over 20 years and much had been planned for a concert to celebrate his 90th birthday but sadly this was not to be as Roy passed away last year. His encyclopaedic knowledge of music was of great assistance to the orchestra for both concert repertoire and programme notes. He was a great admirer of Brahms and keen to promote young gifted soloists hence the choice of the Double Concerto with the young soloists Martyn Jackson (violin) and Rowena Calvert (cello). Given Roy’s considerable output as a composer (he was Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music), it is most appropriate that his Phantasy for Flute and Strings will be included in the concert. Flautist Debbie Rogers gave the premiere  of this work and will also be the soloist on Saturday 21 April at 7.30pm in St Botolph’s Church, Colchester

Tickets: £15 (01206 271128)

Founded in 1984, Colchester New Music’s original aim was to support performances by local composers and also the students and staff from Colchester Institute’s then acclaimed Music Department. Now independent of the Institute, and known as CNM it continues with its aim plus develops projects in partnership with local organisations such as Firstsite, Colchester Arts Centre and the Friends of the Moot Hall Organ.

CNM has teamed up with the world’s busiest early keyboard duo, Francis Knights and Dan Tidhar and launched an international competition for keyboard music. The winning pieces will be performed at 3pm on Saturday 28 April 2018 at The Old Barn, Old House, Old House Road, Great Horkesley, Colchester CO6 4EQ.

Tickets: or contact Daniela at The Pimlott Foundation (01206 271291)

Wrabness is a small village near Manningtree and is home not only to Grayson’s Perry’s  A House for Essex but also All Saints’ Church, a 12th century building with its bells temporarily re-located in the 17th century to a wooden structure in the churchyard, where they remain today.

Twenty-five years ago, Liz Connah and her husband Trevor started the Wrabness concerts in All Saints’ Church.  Sunday April 15  4pm there is concert in memory of Liz who died suddenly before Christmas. The Archaeus String Quartet performs works by Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Schubert.

Tickets: £12 (01255 880791).  All Saints’ Church, Church Road, Wrabness CO11 2TG.

Saturday April 14 The Pimlott Foundation hosts an afternoon with Der Kleine Chor, a choir of fifteen singers from Bielefeld in Germany. The choir will perform music by Fanny, Felix and Arnold Mendelssohn which will be interspersed with songs selected and performed by Daniela Bechly and accompanied by George Ireland, one of the Foundation’s sponsored students. Saturday, April 14 at 5pm. Old House Barn, Colchester Co6 4EQ. Next Saturday the same venue hosts Colchester’s New Music concert at 3pm.

More info next week and here or (01206 271291)

Back to Sunday April 15 when in St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Felixstowe, there is a Come and Sing the Mozart Requiem. Rehearsal is at 12 noon and performance at 3pm. Tickets: £12 for singers and audience. (01394 670633). The following Saturday evening, April 21, the Halstead & District Choral Society under its new conductor James Davey will also perform Mozart’s Requiem in St Andrew’s Church, Halstead at 7.3opm.

Tickets: £10 (01787 478789)

Look out for more news in my weekly Classical columns in our local newspapers for latest news on concerts in April including the Clacton Choral Society accompanied by the Kingfisher Sinfonietta on April 28 in St James’ Church, Tower Road, Clacton.

Tickets £10 (01255 221511)

If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994. You can also read more from Liz at

To ensure you never miss out on our news, follow this link to sign up to our regular newsletter. We will not add you unless you do this.

Looking forward to helping you hear more music in 2018.

Liz Leatherdale

Colchester Classics & Classical Music columnist





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Jumbo’s Restaurant in the Sky Takes a Big Step Closer

After decades of speculation and dashed hopes, plans to renovate Jumbo, Colchester’s unique Victorian water tower, have taken a huge step forward after the submission of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant application which will pave the way for residents and visitors to enjoy the spectacular views across Colchester and beyond that await at the top of the tower.

Photo: Darius Laws

Colchester and North East Essex Building Preservation Trust is working with partners, including the building’s owner Paul Flatman, on the multi-million pound project to conserve and renovate the Victorian Grade ll* listed landmark. The Trust’s plans will see the 34-metre Balkerne Water Tower, affectionately known as Jumbo, preserved and put back to use after 30 years of being vacant.

Trust Chairman, Simon Hall MBE, said: “Everything about the project is big and our Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) application is a step on what will be a long journey to save this magnificent piece of Victorian industrial heritage for Colchester and the nation.

“Jumbo is recognised as the most important municipal water tower in the country and is testament to the skills of the Victorian engineers who built it in 1883. Since it ceased to be used as a water tower in 1987, it has sadly been standing idle and in 1993 it was put on the national Buildings at Risk register.

CNEEBPT/Mike Cameron Photography

“We have received excellent support from across our communities, Colchester Borough Council and heritage experts as we start the process of seeking funds for our plans. Clearly, Jumbo has a big place in the hearts of many people. This first grant would allow us to develop the plans fully before we source additional funds for the conservation and restoration. A second HLF application could then be made next year to allow work to start. If the second application is successful, the owner will grant the Trust a long lease and we will have saved Jumbo.”

Darius Laws (Con) Councillor for Castle Ward, in which Jumbo sits, added: “I know that every single Colchester Councillor, regardless of political colour, is committed to promoting and enhancing our unique heritage, and Jumbo preserved with a restaurant, bar and hire space in the sky represents a massive opportunity for Colchester.

This also an exciting opportunity to work with the Mercury Theatre, the Church Street Tavern, the Arts Centre and other nearby businesses to deliver a brand new public square at the base of Jumbo – just by the original Roman City entrance to Colchester.”

CNEEBPT/Mike Cameron Photography

If everything goes to plan, it will be at least two years before building work can start to give Jumbo its new lease of life. The present proposals include a split level restaurant. The stunning former water tank, with its unrivalled views, will be used as an intimate hire space for dining and arts, as well as a heritage interpretation area. A new floor will be inserted above the top level of brick arches to house a reception area and small gift shop. Above this, the impressive space of the former engineers’ room will become a bar.

The Trust has pledged to work closely with many community groups, including schools and colleges, to ensure everyone has access to Jumbo and can be inspired by this unique piece of industrial heritage.

So hopefully, within the next few years, the dream for many Colchester residents of at last being able to take in the view from the top of this unique building will become a reality, and Jumbo will live on, restored to its former glory and with a new purpose for the generations of Colcestrians to come.

Simon Crow


Turtle Bay Colchester – Review


I make no secret of my love of the Caribbean and its cuisine, nor of my delight at the opening of Turtle Bay on Colchester’s High Street just before Christmas. Several trips to Jamaica have given me a taste for such local delights as jerk chicken, curry goat and beef patties washed down with Red Stripe beer and rum based cocktails.

So the chance to along to what has fast become one of Colchester’s favourite restaurants to enjoy some of Turtle Bay’s delicious food and let you know what I thought about it was not one I was going to pass by!

We booked for Friday night, traditionally one of the busiest nights of the week, and when we arrived the restaurant was already busy and the standalone ‘island hut’ bar was buzzing with the Friday night crowd enjoying classic cocktails with a Turtle Bay twist made from a choice of a staggering 40+ hand-picked rums from across the Caribbean, as well as a magnificent mix of their signature cocktails too.

The Caribbean laid back vibe is all around you in this beach shack themed restaurant, the design of which is unique to Colchester and includes an open ‘street kitchen’ and a raised veranda seating area at the back of the main dining area, along with reclaimed wood and chequer-plate, lights hanging from beer crates and giant paintings on brick walls to complete the look. And, of course, reggae music playing in the background!

We decided to skip the bar and went straight to our table where we ordered drinks from our waitress. I ordered a Red Stripe to recapture the feeling of that first beer at the hotel pool bar after a long tiring day of travelling to Jamaica, and my partner decided to try a Reggae Rum Punch which apparently “hit the spot.” Nuff said!

After changing our minds several times about our starters thanks to the mouth-watering choices which included my favourite, Beef Patties, as well as such delights as Duck Rolls and the very tempting Jerk Glazed Pit Ribs, which will of course mean further trips back to sample them, we decided to share a Seafood Platter. It did not disappoint and there was ample food for us both, which included curried fish roti flatbread, chilli squid, crispy panko whitebait, sweet corn fritters, mango mole with herb mayo and a green salad. This turned out to be the perfect starter, or ‘cutter’ as they call it down Turtle Bay way.

After a short interval to let our starters go down our main courses were brought by our cheerful waitress. It is so noticeable at Turtle Bay how enthusiastic the staff are, and how knowledgeable they are about the menu, and tonight was to be no different as they took exceptional care of us as usual. I had decided to try the Guyanese Curry Duck. As a big fan of any Caribbean curries, and duck, I thought this might be the perfect marriage. And it proved to be so with the slow braised duck leg perfectly complemented by the citrus fruit flavours of the curry and served with coconut rice ‘n’ peas and dumplings as good as any you will find in the Caribbean.

My partner had no complaints either about her Jerk Chicken with was also served with coconut rice ‘n’ peas with a sour orange chutney, coconut shavings & Caribbean slaw. She said it was amongst the best she has ever eaten. Praise indeed.

Desserts were up next, though with our appetites now well and truly satisfied these were an indulgence rather than a necessity. Caymanas Upside Down Rum cake for me, with just enough of the rum taste coming through to excite the taste buds but without overwhelming the other flavours, and Spiced Rum and Chocolate Pot for my partner which also did not fail to deliver.

So, as ever, a fabulous dining experience at Colchester’s Turtle Bay, one in which you can lose yourself in the tastes, smells and sounds of the Caribbean for an hour or two.

Simon Crow

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for March Part One


This month there is a chance to hear Richard Strauss’ famous Four Last Songs performed by young soprano Gemma Summerfield accompanied by the Essex Symphony Orchestra under its guest conductor, Philip Sunderland.

At the 2015 Kathleen Ferrier Awards, Gemma Summerfield won both the First Prize and the Song Prize. Having recently completed her studies at the Royal College of Music International Opera School she is now an active recitalist, with concerts at the Wigmore Hall, St John’s, Smith Square and on BBC Radio 3. The orchestra will also perform Rachmaninov’s Symphony No.2 on Saturday March 3 at 7.30pm in Christ Church, New London Road, Chelmsford.

Tickets £14 (01245 601418) or on the door. 

In complete contrast the following afternoon at the Ipswich Corn Exchange the Ipswich Symphony Orchestra presents its annual Family Concert. This year it is called Time Travellers with favourites including theme music from Doctor Who, Star Wars, The Planets and Star Trek. There is also an opportunity to try out musical instruments on the stage.

Sunday March 4 at 3pm.  Tickets:  £7 – £10.

Following last year’s performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Colchester Choral Society conducted by Ian Ray presents a programme of French music including Faure’s well-known Requiem. This popular work is more often sung with full orchestra but the Society will perform it with soloists Gillian Wilson (soprano) and Colin Baldy (baritone) and the Colchester Sinfonia in its original 1893 version edited by John Rutter.  The original orchestration uses a solo violin, played by Jesse Ridley, in two of the movements. Faure’s popular Cantique de Jean Racine, his Piano Trio, with Jessie Ridley, Ian Ray (piano) and his cellist son, Oliver, and Poulenc’s expressive Four Penitential Motets complete the programme. Saturday March 17 at 7.30pm in St Botolph’s Church, Colchester.

Tickets: £15 available from Mann’s Music or

The Tuesday before, Ian presents an organ recital of music by Alfred Hollins including his Trumpet Minuet and Song of Sunshine. The concert is called ‘Alfred the Great’ but is nothing to do with King Alfred and burnt cakes! Ian will perform on the magnificent Edwardian organ in the Moot Hall, Colchester Town Hall.  Admission is free with a retiring collection. Tuesday March 13 at 1pm.

The following day Ian will be accompanying local soprano Gill in a recital at the Lion Walk United Reformed Church in Colchester on Wednesday March 14 at 1pm.

Admission is free with a retiring collection.

Ian Ray has had a life-long commitment to stimulating the musical life of Colchester:  lecturer of music at the Colchester Institute for forty years, Director of Music at Lion Walk Church since 1969 including running the Wednesday lunchtime concert series, conductor of the town’s choral society since 1976 and the town’s Honorary Borough Organist since 1988, so it is no wonder that Ian recently received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Essex in recognition of his services to music in Colchester and the surrounding area.

If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music, you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.

You can also read more from Liz at

FREE PUBLICITY! If you are involved in music-making, we are  privileged to offer a free publicity service to our local community with concert previews and reviews with weekly columns in printed publications such as the Essex County Standard and Colchester Daily Gazette and a monthly page in Essex Life. We also offer regularly contributions to websites such as Colchester 101.

If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music, you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.

Twitter @ClassicalCDs

Start your love affair with Classical Music at and take a minute to watch their company video: 

Liz Leatherdale







Liz Leatherdale

Mystery Donor Stuns Rough Sleeper Group

Colchester Rough Sleepers Group’s plans to create a mobile homeless shelter to help the town’s rough sleepers have taken a gigantic step forward after a mystery benefactor contacted us and donated £25,000.

The money has now been used to purchase a second-hand vehicle which we took possession of yesterday, with enough left over to tax and insure it and possibly buy a support vehicle.

This incredible act of generosity came out of the blue after recent coverage of our plans in the Gazette and has stunned and delighted us all.  We had been planning to raise money over the coming months to buy a vehicle and had hoped to be in a position to purchase one in the autumn, ready to be converted and put into use next year. But thanks to our mystery donor we have been able to buy a vehicle we had been keeping an eye on and bring our plans dramatically forwards.”

The vehicle is a double decker touring coach, rather than a double decker bus as originally planned, which we have named Chariot 180. We decided a touring coach would better suit our needs. People will be sleeping on the coach so safety is of paramount importance and our coach has two flights of stairs and emergency doors which would aid evacuation in an emergency. Also, unlike a double decker bus, it already has a water storage tank and plumbing for a toilet, air conditioning and an entertainment system, and as a bonus there is a large storage area underneath to store supplies and residents’ belongings.”

One of the group’s founder members, Pete Hope formerly of GO4 Enterprises who run a pay it forwards breakfast scheme for rough sleepers from the Café on the Rec on Old Heath Recreation ground, said “Like many towns and cities Colchester has a rough sleeper problem and in spite of the amazing work done by organisations such as the Emergency Night Shelter and Beacon House there simply aren’t enough beds to get them all off the streets. Chariot 180 will help with that by working with and supporting existing services, and additionally we plan to use it as a drop in centre during the day. Chariot 180 will literally be helping people to turn their lives around.”

The group, which we founded last year to maximise the impact of the support and community spirit already in place to help rough sleepers, received another boost recently when The Right Reverend Roger Morris Bishop of Colchester offered to become its our patron. We are currently applying for charity status and fundraising will continue, initially to raise money to convert the coach, and long-term to support the project on a day to day basis. We believe we will be able to launch their mobile shelter ready for next winter.

Simon Crow, Vic Flores, Mike Clark & Pete Hope from the Colchester Rough Sleepers Group aborad the coach

Local signage company and vehicle wrappers Premier Signs are donating their time and materials to produce distinctive graphics for the coach which should soon become a familiar sight on the streets on Colchester, and the group would like to hear from any individuals or businesses who would like to make a donation or help raise money, and longer term will need sites where we can park the coach overnight and volunteers to man it.

Anyone interested can contact Colchester Rough Sleepers Group via our Facebook page, email or by phoning us on 07379 987181.

Simon Crow


Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

BBFC 12A 2hrs 32mins



Full disclosure: I have never been a Star Wars fan. I don’t own any toys; I have never read any of the extended universe novels; no posters adorn my walls; the prequels (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and The Revenge of the Sith) didn’t upset me, only bored me; I don’t own any of the dvd’s; I even had to look up the names of the prequels just now.

This, of course, does not mean I don’t recognise their value or, that in any way, I dismiss them as fan-serving fluff. The job of a film reviewer is to try to honestly convey to the reader what they’ve seen up there on the screen, to give a completely unbiased opinion based upon a number of criteria (such as storytelling, direction, acting and technical merits), to be as informed as possible and to try not to bore said reader in the process. Oh, and avoid spoilers… yes, definitely avoid spoilers.

I tell you all of this for one simple reason. I want you to know that Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is not just a great Star Wars movie, it is a really, really great movie in its own right: it achieves exactly what it sets out to do and does so in a way that never is boring, flabby or uninteresting; moves its characters and plot forward in a satisfying and, sometimes, moving arcs; it stays true to the series ethos and mythos whilst introducing new and interesting riffs upon them and, along the way, it corrects a course-direction that the prequels (and even The Force Awakens to some extent) managed to muddle and muddy.

Yes, The Last Jedi works… with a few caveats.

Picking up directly where Episode VII: The Force Awakens ended Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found the now reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on Ahch-To and seeks answers to not only her heritage but to her place in the universe. The Resistance, led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher), is on the run from The First Order and fiercely outnumbered. New alliances must be forged and old questions beg answers.

So far, so Empire Strikes Back.

Where The Force Awakens was basically A New Hope remastered, The Last Jedi shares a whole heap of DNA with The Empire Strikes Back. But, unlike its predecessor, Jedi manages to shine despite its familiarity and not because of it. It’s the difference between a Woolworth’s Top of the Pops collection and something like Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions… (the former being a cover version album, the latter taking the familiar and creating something new and exciting with it). Replace Ahch-To with the Dagobah scenes of Luke’s training; the neo-Vegas glitz of Canto Bight with Cloud City; the shock revelation of Rey’s true ancestry and cliff-hanger ending and you’ve got Empire 1.2. What writer/director Rian Johnson manages to achieve though is something always fresh, sometimes surprising and, ultimately, emotionally satisfying.

New layers have been added to familiar characters like Rey, Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and even Luke Skywalker. Existing characters are expanded upon giving them both motivation and weight, specifically General Hux (Domhall Gleeson), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) – a villain so repulsive he could easily have risen to power wearing a red “Make The Galaxy Great Again” baseball cap. New characters are introduced that will immediately become fan favourites like Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), DJ (Benicio Del Toro) and purple-haired Resistance fleet Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern). There’s plenty of spectacular battles, an all-timer light sabre duel, emotional highs and devastating losses. There’s even a new shade of grey introduced into what is, essentially, a universe of black hats versus white hats that, if carried forward and expanded upon, will move the Star Wars Universe in a deeper, more nuanced direction.

I’m desperately trying not to give too much away but I have to address the elephant in the room: That The Last Jedi is the slam-bang in the middle of a three act story and, as such, it struggles to be anything but the set-up for the final chapter. This is a problem that all trilogies face and, though it is probably the best instalment since Empire, it’s difficult to judge it as its own thing. The whole Canto Bight storyline will become clearer in the context of the whole, I’m sure, but here it feels slightly crow-barred in and excessive to the needs of the story despite introducing new characters Rose and DJ and that much needed shade of grey. It’s not that the Canto Bight sequences are bad, far from it, but here they tend to feel like something you’d get in an extended edition dvd rather than an essential part of the story.

There’s also a fear that new elements of the film have been added simply for their merchandising potential than as necessary plot points. I’m thinking specifically about the Porgs (cute rabbit/penguin hybrid critters, plushie-toy-friendly creations coming to a Christmas stocking near you) which add little to the plot but potentially enormous earnings beyond the movie.

The tragic loss of Carrie Fisher hangs heavy over The Last Jedi and it would take a hard heart not to break over her final scene as Leia, a scene that even without the actress’s death would have audiences reaching for the handkerchiefs. It’s the kind of emotion we should have had in the previous episode for Han Solo but were denied through awful writing and direction, but alas.

So, did Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi make a fan of me? Only for its two and a half hour running time, but during that time I was as thrilled and invested as any fanboy. It’s a transportive experience, the kind that only great cinema can offer and, trust me, this is great cinema.

Andy Oliver


Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for December 2017



Celebrate, rejoice, rise up and praise –  the festive season has arrived!

This month is full of music celebrating Christmas with a cornucopia of concerts – some crammed full with carols.

Here Comes Christmas is the popular annual concert of music for voices, brass quintet and organ held in the Edwardian splendour of Colchester’s Town Hall. Colchester Choral Society, conducted by Ian Ray, will be joined by children from both Birch Primary and Heathlands Primary Schools and accompanied by organist Dr Gillian Ward-Russell. After the concert there is a chance to pop to the Mayor’s Parlour for some mulled wine and festive treats. Sunday December 10 at 4pm in Colchester’s Moot Hall.

Tickets: £8 from Manns Music, Colchester.

Next Saturday (16 December), Gillian Ward-Russell will be conducting the Maldon Choral Society in a Christmas Carol Concert featuring the choir of Elm Green School.  Saturday December 16 at 7.30pm in All Saints’ Church, Maldon.

Tickets: £7 on the door.

Often considered to be the music for Christmas, Handel’s popular oratorio, Messiah, is sung in full or part at this time year. On Saturday 9 December, the Choir of St Mary’s Maldon will be joined by its favourite orchestra, Pegasus Baroque, in a full performance of the famous oratorio conducted by Colin Baldy. The performance is on Saturday 9 December at 7.30pm in St Mary’s Church, Church Street, Maldon. CM9 5HP.

Tickets are available from the Maldon Tourist Board (01621 856503) and on Eventbrite.

Also on Saturday 9 December Philip Smith will be directing the St Botolph’s Music Society Orchestra from the keyboard in music by J S Bach. Scarlatti’s Christmas Cantata and the world premiere of Nativity Thoughts, composed by the Society’s founder Colin Nicholson, will be performed by the society’s choir and orchestra.  Saturday December 9 at St Botolph’s Church, Colchester from 7.30pm.

Tickets: £12

Conductor Patrick McCarthy and his orchestra, the Colchester Philharmonic, will be accompanying Christmas concerts on the next two Saturdays.  On December 9 they will be at Witham Public Hall with Witham Choral presenting Sing Christmas! at 7.30 p.m. including excerpts from Messiah, audience carols and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols with baritone soloist Alastair Merry.

Tickets £12 and £5 (full-time education) at the door or phone 0345 017 8717.

On 16 December the Harwich & Dovercourt Choral Society will perform Messiah Part One with mezzo Elaine Henson and famous carols by Holst and Rutter plus carols for audience. The concert starts at 7.00 p.m. in St Nicholas’ Church, Harwich.

Tickets are £12 and £3 (full-time education) at the door.

If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music, you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.

Twitter @ClassicalCDs

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Liz Leatherdale







Liz Leatherdale