Arts and Entertainment

Sometimes, even the most hardened doubters of Gary Barlow’s MOR entertainer schtick have had to concede that he can write ’em. Cynics can relax, though, because no such concessions are required for his first solo album since 1999, which falls below Barlow’s best – “Patience”, “Rule the World” – at just the point when he needed to up his game.

Michael McIntyre, The O2, London

If there had been a spot for stand-up in the London 2012 closing ceremonies, it would surely have gone to Michael McIntyre.

Katy B was a flash of quality on a night when sponsors seemed to dominate

Olympic Torch Relay Finale, Hyde Park London; Public Service Broadcasting, Bul & Gate, London

Only Dizzee Rascal can save us from this mess

A new scientific model will help to predict EMI's star acts, such as Kylie Minogue, make the perfect song

The perfect pop song? It's the algorithm, not the rhythm, that counts

Predicting a No 1 song used to be a mug's game. But today a team of data experts and computer geeks will generate a scientific model which promises to help EMI's star acts craft the perfect hit.

Album: Cheryl, A Million Lights (Polydor)

Cheryl Cole here offers her most confident set yet, augmenting the familiar collaborators – will.i.am, Calvin Harris, Taio Cruz – with fresher talent like producer Panther, who brings a range of sonic exclamation-marks to the twitchy electro of "Girl in the Mirror".

Singer Chris Martin and the rest of the group are cashing in on the wristbands

The Coldplay gigs that are impossible to forget (for all the wrong reasons...)

Fans claim glowing wristbands given out at concerts are keeping them awake at night

Coldplay handed 2 million wristbands handed out on their Mylo Xyloto tour

Wristbands give Coldplay fans a late flash-back

Coldplay fans have been spooked after the coloured wristbands which turn stadiums into a spectacle of lights during the band's shows suddenly began flashing of their own accord, days after the event.

Album: Maxïmo Park, The National Health (V2)

There's a drive and urgency about Maxïmo Park's The National Health that perfectly matches frontman Paul Smith's dominant lyrical theme, of taking arms against a sea of troubles in order to forge a better life for yourself.

Coldplay, the Emirates Stadium, London

“Jump, jump with us,” Chris Martin demands before “Charlie Brown”, Coldplay’s Big Country-style stomp, and his adoring fans promptly obey, leaping in a sea of brightly lit, radio-controlled wristbands. There are numerous, very vocal Coldplay haters, but this slick indie quartet really do try awfully hard to please. Martin even apologises for “all the crap [travel, food prices etc] you have to go through to go to a concert these days”.

Tunbridge Wells' Forum scores NME top music venue award

Royal Tunbridge Wells may be the traditional voice of Middle England’s morality but the busybodies are in danger of being drowned out after one of its nightspots was named the best small music venue in the UK.

Rutter says: 'I probably don't listen to as much opera as people expect me to in my free time. Sometimes, I need to switch off from work.'

Cultural Life: Claire Rutter, soprano

Theatre: I went to see the ENO's 'Tales of Hoffmann'. There's some great singing from everyone. The production was very entertaining and a bit wacky in places, which appeals to me. It's quite a long opera, but Richard Jones's production didn't feel like it. I sat in the dress circle for the very first time – I usually sit in the stalls – and enjoyed champagne in the intervals. I think this production would also appeal to newcomers to opera. It was a worthwhile night out, and nice to be on the other side of the curtain.

Niceness rocks! Ballads take centre stage at the Brits

To some they're just the stars of the 'New Boring' but Adele, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay took the major awards last night

Critic's View: The Brit Awards, O2 Arena, London

It was crying out for Cocker, Ross... even Gervais

Britons rule in the album charts

Adele is at the forefront of a new British revival in the album charts with home-grown artists recording their best sales since the mid-1990s when Oasis and the Spice Girls ruled.

Album: James Levy & the Blood Red Rose, Pray to Be Free (Heavenly)

PTBF is an attempt by the Brooklyn singer-songwriter James Levy and one half of the Pierces (Alison) to create an orchestral pop-duet album in the spirit of Lee and Nancy. It is a near-total triumph: Levy's smooth baritone and Pierce's breathy vocals wrapping themselves around songs of love and loss (mainly loss).

Chris Martin's band are not allied with Spotify

Coldplay 'wrong' on download boycott

Legal action against illegal file-sharers has helped to bring an 8 per cent rise in global digital-music revenues, but an industry report claims stars should stop boycotting streaming services such as Spotify.

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Independent Travel
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – Five-star MS Swiss Corona 7 nights from £999pp
Lake Como St Moritz & the Bernina Express 7 nights from £809pp
Vietnam
Lake Maggiore, Orta & the Matterhorn 7 nights from £939pp
South Africa
Spain
Prices correct as of 19 December 2014
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there