Monday, 31 December 2007

The Plastic Bag Awards 2007

'Tis the season for looking back over the year and thinking about highlights and here are the first annual Plastic Bag Awards, or Baggies as I'll call them. So, without further ado, let's jump in with both feet and see how big a splash we can make.

Best New Album

... and the nominees are:

James Whild Lea - 'Therapy'
Siouxsie - 'Mantaray'
Maximo Park - 'Our Earthly Pleasures'
Suzanne Vega – ‘Beauty & Crime’
Linda Thompson - 'Versatile Heart'
Sugababes - 'Change'

There has been some great new music this year and this is a very difficult decision, particularly with the excellent new albums from Jim Lea and Siouxsie but, for the sheer number of plays on my iPod alone, the award goes to Maximo Park.

Best Gig

I've been to lots of gigs this year, possibly more than in any previous year. It's difficult to choose just one as the 'best' of the year since they're all good (or should be) in different ways and from different perspectives and some bands I've seen several times. Some just have that 'wow' factor (I'd put Prince in that category), some have a thrill factor (Sex Pistols and Siouxsie), some have an emotional link (Amanda Palmer and the Maximos) and others are all that and more.

I've narrowed it down to the following nominations:

Maximo Park - Shepherds Bush
Siouxsie - Roundhouse
Sex Pistols – Brixton Academy (9 Nov)
Patti Smith – Roundhouse
Suzanne Vega – Queen Elizabeth Hall
Beverley Knight - Royal Albert Hall
Amanda Palmer - Bush Hall
Sugababes - IndigO2

It's a toss up between Patti Smith, whose Roundhouse gig was one of those rare events that I just wanted to go on forever with no stray thoughts about the last Tube train home (not to mention her snarled challenge of 'You're not afraid of a fucking pop song, are you?'), and the Sex Pistols at Brixton on the first night I finally saw them after listening to their few records for 30 years. After long deliberation, the Baggie goes to the Sex Pistols!

Best Live Performance

Sometimes magic comes alive when you experience something rather special happening right in front of you. The live performance of a few songs have made sure that magic was afoot in 2007, from Siouxsie's magnificent 'Into A Swan' at the Roundhouse to Amanda Palmer's tender 'I will follow you into the dark' performed a few feet away from me as I sat painfully on the floor, from the joyful venom of the Pistol's 'EMI' to the relief and delight of Shakey's 'Chrome Sitar' at the Marc Bolan tribute in September that changed the evening for me.

Siouxsie - 'Into A Swan'
Sex Pistols - 'God Save The Queen'
Sex Pistols - 'EMI'
Patti Smith - 'Rock'n'Roll Nigger'
Human League - 'The Lebanon'
Amanda Palmer - 'I Will Follow You Into The Dark'
Shakin' Stevens - 'Chrome Sitar'

The winner has to be Siouxsie for that uplifting version of ‘Into A Swan’ at the Roundhouse, music booming, lights going wild and Siouxsie dancing madly in swan shapes... marvelous!

Best Theatrical 'Event'

I'm not sure how to describe this category, but it refers to theatrical events that aren't plays or musicals, so it's a mix of dance and spectacles - how else can you describe the magic that is Cirque du Soleil? I've only nominated five 'events' in this category since they're the only ones that really stand out for me.

Cirque du Soleil's Alegria
Slava's Snowshow
Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake
Matthew Bourne's The Car Man
Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker!

I saw three Matthew Bourne productions this year and they were all excellent. The one imbued with the most magic and therefore the award winner this year is 'Nutcracker!'.

Best Theatrical Drama/Musical

The year started off with a pantomime in Watford and was a theatrical roller coaster after that, with the highs of productions like 'Rafta Rafta' to the lows of things like 'Total Eclipse' and 'Treats'. I went to Oz visiting 'Wicked' again and went to Middle Earth with 'The Lord of the Rings', America with 'Rose Tattoo' and the Caribbean with 'The Emperor Jones'. The nominees are:

Rose Tattoo
The Country Wife
Side By Side By Sondheim
War Horse
Rafta Rafta
The Emperor Jones

The most harrowing visit abroad was to Flanders fields with the 'War Horse' and that wins the Baggie this year. Any play that can get me emotionally attached to the giant puppet of a horse has got to have something going for it. It was a magnifcent production.

Best New Singer/Band

The Baggies close with a look to the future and considers new bands and singers, or at least new to me. It's nice to experience good new music and new talent and I could have included Theoretical Girl and Blood Red Shoes but I have to draw the line somewhere. The nominees are:

Art Brut - supported Maximo Park, already released two albums
Alela Diane - found her through MySpace and saw her play live
Christian Silva - supported Amanda Palmer, album in the new year
Mamas Gun - Bedford Bandstand funksters supreme
Beth Rowley - rich voice and a single of the week on iTunes
Comanechi - supported Siouxsie, the future of rock'n'roll

How can one choose from such an array of talent? The Baggie goes to Alela Diane for a great first album, some haunting and thoughtful songs and a mesmerising performance at the small club I saw her at in NW London. I hope she comes back to London soon.

Looking back at these nominees I can only conclude that I had a good year on the entertainment front! Let's just hope that next year brings half as much joy and wonder...

I could, of course, add some additional categories, such as:

Best Slinky Hug - Amanda Palmer
Best Leather-Clad Bum - Suzi Quatro
Best Sista - Angie Stone
Best Motown Legend - Martha Reeves
Best After-Show Cardie - Janet Kay
Best Music Venue - IndigO2
Best Santa Hat - Dave Hill
Best Santa Beard - me!

... and on that note, Happy New Year!

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Top Twenty Christmas Tunes

Before I delete them I thought I'd report the top twenty most played Christmas songs on my iPod this year. Despite having a Christmas playlist of 434 songs I tended to listen to the 'easy listening' songs at home on the stereo and the pop songs on the move, so my iPod reflects this. So, in descending order...

Fairytale Of New York - Kirsty MacColl & The Pogues
Merry Xmas Everybody - SLADE
Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End) - The Darkness
Stop The Cavalry - Jona Lewie
In Dulci Jubilo - Mike Oldfield
Il Est Ne, Le Divin Enfant - Siouxsie & The Banshees
Sleigh Ride - the Spice Girls
Maybe This Christmas - Leigh Nash
Once In David's Royal City - Sufjan Stevens
Someday At Christmas - The Jackson 5
Listen The Snow Is Falling - John & Yoko
The Christmas Song - Marvin Gaye
We Three Kings - Sufjan Stevens
O Come O Come Emmanuel - Sufjan Stevens
New Year - Sugababes
A Marshmallow World - Brenda Lee
Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
A Spaceman Came Travelling - Chris De Burgh
Christmas Alphabet - Cliff Richard
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - Darlene Love

Listening on the iPod is a bit of a pick'n'mix and you don't know what might pop up next when it's on shuffle (which mine virtually always is). That list might be statistically accurate but it doesn't reflect what I think I've heard. Where's the wondrous 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day' by Wizzard? Now, that's a song I've heard with new ears this year, the lovely conceit of 'the Snowman brings the snow' implying that the Snowman brings it rather than it's here and he's then made of it. A small thing, but I've never really heard it that way before. If you see what I mean.

The more sentimental songs are in the 'easy' category, with Bing and Rosemary and Dean and Nat. My new favourite song in that category is 'Christmas Eve In Fairy Land' by Gracie Fields, a lovely little ditty from way back in the mists of time which she sings quite daintily. Another new favourite is 'Earth And Sky' by Nancy LaMott, a calypso-tinged song that drips so much happiness that I can happily forgive having children singing along to the chorus. I've listened to the songs from 'White Christmas' several times, both those from the soundtrack album (with Peggy Lee substituting for Rosemary Clooney because of contractual issues) and Rosemary's solo versions of the songs.

So many Christmas songs and so many memories and thoughts associated with them. I ration myself very carefully. A few days left to enjoy them and then the CDs will be bundled away again and the tracks deleted from iPod, until 1 December 2008. Now that's forward planning.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Sunday, 23 December 2007

The Magic Hat

For some reason my photos aren't doing the bigly thing when you click on them so, due to popular demand, here's a close up of *that* 'at... Isn't it just the best thing you've seen in an age?

Winter Wonderland - Hyde Park

Friday saw the end to work for the year at lunchtime followed by a trip to the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. I was sort of expecting it to be laid out like a village covered in snow which it wasn't, no snow in sight (sigh) and the rides and German market stalls were along the main path and around the bandstand. And, naturally, I go to an outdoors event on the coldest day of winter so far, my fingers soon freezing through my gloves. But that added to the charm.

First off was a trip in the Great Wheel to see the sights of west London before it got too dark. We'd timed it just right to avoid queues and see the sky begin to darken and change colour as dusk fell and the sky turned pink over Kensington, with the Serpentine reflecting the sky and the lights from the funfair below gradually becoming brighter as the world became darker. I'm not very good with heights at all but the little six-person pods were fine and we went round about four times (I think) seeing the sky and light change each time.

By the time we got off and walked round the icerink and small funfair it had become dark so we headed to the German market stalls around the bandstand. Selling fancy goods and food there was something there for everyone. We had a plate of fried sliced potatoes (real crisps) as we wandered round gawping at the lights, the decorations and the stalls and at the last stall I invested in some healthy, brightly coloured sweets that reminded me of Sweetieland from 'Nutcracker!'.

Scoffing sweets by the handful I accidentally went back to the hat stall to investigate the gloriously colourful hats and fell in love with a rainbow hat with earflaps and pigtails to tie it under the chin. My flat cap keeps the top of me head warm but not the back or sides or ears. And it was handmade in Nepal (always a selling point for me). I *needed* that hat. So I asked the lady to pull the tag off so I could wear it instantly. And I did. I'm looking it now, as I type, and can't help but smile - it's a magic hat and the world would be a much better place if everyone had a magic hat.

By this time it was freezing (so it's a good job I had a hat on) and my fingers were going numb inside my gloves so we headed to the refreshment tent for a warming drink - and promptly went to sit outside nursing the hot cup and watching the crowds mill around and the lights of the big wheel turning round. Watching breath mist, supping a hot drink, smiling and watching people enjoy themselves on all sides felt very Christmassy. And then came the carousel.

I like carousels, I like the idea of them, the colour, movement and lights, but haven't been on one for decades. Watching it go round with as many adults as kids enjoying themselves was a lovely sight, only bettered when I got on, chose Franky as my mount and hung on as it started to go round, pick up speed and Franky started rising and falling as she galloped around the carousel. I was grinning like a loon and singing along to John & Yoko's 'Happy Christmas (War Is Over)' as we whizzed round and round with me as a big kid in me magic 'at. I don't know what it was, but I had the time of my life on that carousel for five minutes - I loved it! *That's* what I want for Christmas!

And then it was time to leave, with lights twinkling in the trees, the sound of children and adults running round and making noise, heading out of the park and the sounds of traffic taking over. I was freezing, fingers feeling numb but with warm ears (me 'at at work), eyes a-sparkle with the magic of Christmas... I'd been in Wonderland and what a great way to jump into the festive season with both feet!

Later on, after visiting various shops for last minute picking up and putting down and in we go to HMV and I head straight to the back to pick up the latest Sugababes single. As I headed towards the till I heard the music in the shop for the first time, and they'd just started playing 'Up Where We Belong' by Warnes and Cocker, a Buffy song of renown, and Chris pointed out a big poster of SLADE under a star that I'd scurried past and not noticed. The poster showed the Lords of Noize in their heyday and there was an even bigger one behind the bank of tills. SLADE and Buffy together on a magical day? What could it mean?

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker!

This evening saw a return to Sadler's Wells with Chris to see another Matthew Bourne creation - 'Nutcracker!'. And what a treat that was, a perfect Christmas present all wrapped up in shiny paper with a large pink bow. There was a lot of pink on the stage. And cakes. And sweeties. Yum.

It tells the story of true love (naturally) and its path is never smooth (o no it's not). The tale opens in Dr Dross's Academy for Waifs and Strays on Christmas Eve, a horrid grey orphanage that pays lip service to the festive season. We meet our heroine and Dr Dross's awful children. Then the Nutcracker appears and we're transported to a frozen lake for skating and snow where our heroine loses her love. She follows him to Sweetieland and his marriage to her rival and then ... ah well, you'll have to see it to find out what happens next.

After the grey of the orphanage and the white of the frozen lake, the fabulous colours of Sweetieland are a psychedelic lure to the eyes and the palette. The audience - including me - spontaneously erupted into applause at the sight of the huge wedding cake. I wanted to jump into it.

I loved the characterisation of everyone on stage, not just the leads, which is something Matthew Bourne always seems to pay attention to. The leads might be twirling away up front but the others are always up to something in the background so you never know where to look. I loved the two blond cupids in their glasses and stripey pyjamas and also Mr Nickerbockerglory with his hair of cream topped by a cherry - he was also very purvy trying to seduce our heroine and licking everything and everyone in sight. He was even in character when he came out for his bow at the end, which was a nice touch.

I couldn't help smiling and grinning throughout the performance, eyes agawp and fingers twirling my beard into dreadlocks. I *want* a battenburg jacket. And cake.

I loved it. It was sumptuous, a feast for the senses and a wonderful way to celebrate the Christmas season.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Christmas Singles Chart

What's happening to the singles chart? The SLADE wires reported that 'Merry Xmas Everybody' was at No 22 in the singles chart so I meandered over to the BBC site to take a look and this is some of what I saw in the top 30:

27. Band Aid 'Do They Know It's Christmas' (the original)
23. Shakin' Stevens 'Merry Christmas Everbody'
22. SLADE 'Merry Xmas Everybody'
21. Andy Williams 'It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year'
16. Wizzard 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday'
14. Wham! 'Last Christmas'
8. The Pogues ft Kirsty MacColl 'Fairytale Of New York'
4. Mariah Carey 'All I Want For Christmas Is You'

Much as I'm delighted to see SLADE at No 22 I'm conscious that it hasn't been re-released this year so sales must be based on downloads and the number of downloads must be a fraction of what 'Merry Xmas Everybody' sold when it was first released. It's on virtually every Christmas compilation going so the whole world must have the song by now (I have it numerous times meself, including the rare green coloured CD single from last year).

It's also nice to see Kirsty in the top 10, especially with this song and at this time of year. There's been some ridiculousness over at Radio 1 today about banning the single or bleeping out some of the words due to the so-called offensive nature of the language. Luckily common sense seems to have broken out and it's not banned.

There are so many names in that chart that I've never heard of. Are they all big stars or flash in the pans? Do I care? Nope...

Go on - download Kirsty or SLADE and get one of them to No 1!

Monday, 17 December 2007

The Snowman & The Roxy Disaster

Yesterday evening saw a trip to see 'The Snowman' at the Peacock Theatre, the stage version of the animated film. Now, I expected some children to be there, but not many, that's what matinees are for, in'it? I like to see children enjoying the magic of Christmas, I go all paternal and go 'aahh' a lot. But not when I'm surrounded by 'em in the confines of a theatre and they're all under the age of 7. I grinned and bore it. Mostly.

My eyes lit up to see a merch stand selling tat but not just any old tat, this was Snowman tat and a lot of it lit up bright blue or green when you pressed buttons, so that makes it proper tat. And there was a join the dots game in the programme and pictures to colour in and when you get it home there's a little stage and characters to cut out (with an adult's help, of course) so you can recreate the event yourself. Wow, I'm breathless with excitement.

The production itself was ok but seemed to have lots of padding. I kept wondering why the Snowman and his snowchums all had furry costumes that made them look more like polar bears than snowpeople. But that's a detail I totally forgot when the Snowman and the boy went flying! They really did fly, too, it was magic.

My favourite snowperson was the snowscottishman (I know he was a man cos he wore a kilt) who nutted Jack Frost when he was bugging the snow princess. No stereotyping there, then. It was so unexpected that I couldn't help but laugh out loud and then glanced around furtively to check whether I was being a bad influence on the children. I also liked Jack Frost's jacket which was very glam rock.

My least favourite people were the ballerinas. Why do things like this always have to have a pretty young lady ballerina in them? What's that about? There were two in this production. Yawn. Give me a mad snowscottishperson any day. And Santa Claus wasn't very convincing (I suspect he was played by the same person who played a rather camp pineapple earlier in the production). He was obviously a thin person under the padding and didn't move right. I wasn't impressed by the beard.

O, and just in case you haven't seen the cartoon, the Snowman ends up as a puddle but the little boy doesn't seem to care because he finds a scarf in his pocket from Santa Claus. What a bummer. What message does that send to all the wee 'uns?

I got home and finished wrapping presents to post (today is last parcel posting day) when disaster struck - timmmmberrrrr and down comes my lovely Christmas Tree. Luckily I hadn't put too many ornaments on the tree yet, but two glass baubles shatter, including Roxy...

Roxy came home with me two years ago after seeing the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular in New York. Roxy was a Rockette and she sat on a nice red bauble, smiling and looking very professional waiting her turn to high kick. Roxy no longer has a bauble to sit on.

I have fond memories of that trip to New York and to Radio City and those were partly invested in that Christmas Tree decoration. After being initially despondent about it's loss I realised I still had Roxy and she doesn't need a bauble to make her a star. She's a real trooper and plastered that smile back on her face, eyes shining in the light and got back on that tree - no mere disaster's going to make her miss the once a year show! Good on ya Roxy!

Here's a photo of Roxy in younger days sitting proudly on her bauble. What a star!

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Slade 'Merry Xmas Everybody'

Last night I became 13 again and Slade wished me a merry Christmas.

Down to Croydon to the Fairfield Hall to see 'Merry Xmas Everybody - the Not So Silent Night Tour 2007' featuring Atomic Blondie, Mud II and the headliners, Slade! The Fairfield Hall has a strange atmosphere and was a rather odd place to go to on a Friday night, with it's faded glory, very '70s decor, empty corridors with groovy swirly carpets and staffed by pensioners apart from the tiny bar with what seemed like underage girls serving behind the bar, never having heard of smiling or customer service. Why were Slade here? I suppose, in part, because it was a Christmas 'show' rather than a rock gig.

We arrived too late to see Atomic Blondie (I naively assumed doors opened at 7.30pm, not that the show actually stared at 7.30pm) so, since we were sitting right down the front, decided to sit outside rather than disturb everyone. So we heard them, rather than saw them. Moving on. We also missed Mud II since Chris has a pathologic aversion to Mud. None of the original members are in Mud II so I wasn't bothered either. From the muffled thump thump thump we heard in the cafe I could tell they played 'The Cat Crept In' and 'Hypnosis' and ended with 'Lonely This Christmas', one of my least favourite songs and started my aversion to Les Gray's Elvis impersonations. Very cabaret. So on to the Main event - SLADE!

I always find it strange to think of Slade without Nod and Jim, but I'm pleased that Dave and Don keep the spirit alive by touring. Slade always were a great live band and they still are. And what a great back catalogue they've got to choose from. Last night, of course, was a selection of greatest hits but I'm always happy to watch and listen to a Slade 'best of' and from the first note we were all on our feet, hands clapping, boots stompin' and singing along word perfect. We were the converted and judging by the amount of grey hair in the audience, the long-term converted.

We were in the third row so had a great view and it was fun seeing Dave parade around the front of the stage, guitar riffing away and arms raised exhorting us to clap more and sing louder. I, of course, obeyed. Dave once offered me a cigarette in 1980 or 1981 when I helped out clearing their equipment away after a gig and I was so dumb-struck by the honour that I could only mumble a decline - that's the closest I ever came to one of the Lords of Noize. Towards the end of the show Dave noted that he'd played with Don for 45 years.

Don kept his head down, pounding away on his drum kit, never easing up at all. It was good to see him controlling the band at a couple of points, not just the pacing but also when to stop the riffing and larking about and start on the next verse or chorus with a little tap on the cymbal or drum and the others are instantly back into the right place in the song. Dave can have his fun up front because Don's in control at the back, a perfect partnership really.

And John and Mal did their part too, John gamely picking up the violin for a couple of songs and Mal singing. He's not Noddy and never will be but he's got a good voice - a few times I felt he should stop trying to sing like Nod since that just highlights the differences in their voices and sing the song his way. They were good and it was nice of John to introduce Dave and Don at the end (as if they needed it) since they are, of course, Slade, but he didn't name-check Mal or himself and he should have.

Highlights of the evening for me were a great, fast version of 'Gudbuy T'Jane' and a hard-rockin' 'Tak Me Bak 'Ome' (both favourites from 1972), the extended version of 'Run, Run Away' from the '80s and a glorious version of 'Get Down And Get With It', Slade's first hit from 1971, which closed the set and definitely ended on a high. Waving and moving off stage, Don came out from behind his kit drying himself with a towel, dropped the towel behind some amps and just went back behind the drums, eager for more and dragging the others back on stage for a stonking 'Cum On Feel The Noize' followed by the obligatory 'Merry Xmas Everybody' with Dave and Don in Santa hats, Don's having white pig-tails. I was hoarse by this time, singing along and admit to a drop of moisture in the eye when Mal sung, '...when you land upon your head then you've been slayed...' taking me back to Christmas 1973 and seeing my heroes at No 1 on the Christmas Top Of The Pops special.

There were a few disappointments - the absence of 'Mama Weer All Crazee Now', that it wasn't sold-out (one wants one's heroes to do well) and the lack of merch. I got a Slade tour tee shirt but that was it. Where were the photos? the badges? the re-issued CDs? the DVDs? Most of the audience probably has most of the CDs but you can always flog photos and badges and a wider variety of tee shirts. And I'd much rather see Slade at somewhere like the Islington Academy. Having been there a couple of days earlier to see SAHB brought it home that I was at a 'show' not a 'gig' and yet seeing them on stage and listening to that hard rocking sound and Dave's soloing and grand standing shouted 'rock gig' at me, so there's some mixed messages in there. Whatever, they sent me away with ears ringing to great music, some wonderful memories and a big smile on my face. It can only ever be a thrill to see Slade!

Keep on rockin'!

Thursday, 13 December 2007

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band 'Framed'

34 years ago I first saw The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, the first band I ever saw play live. And that was the last time I saw them, until tonight. I ordered my ticket for tonight's gig in March and the night finally came round. It nearly didn't due to transport disasters but I got there in time and was even offered discount at the merch stand because of my beard so that got the evening off to a good start.

Alex died 25 years ago and I wasn't sure what to expect - would Max, the new singer, just try to copy Alex or would he inject his own style? What would the band sound like, can they still play? Oh they can still play all right and put on a grand rock show. SAHB always did. And Zal is still wearing his harlequin warpaint.

SAHB had decided to play the whole of 'Framed', their first album from 1972. No idea why, but why not? So on they came to rapturous applause and launched into the deep '70s blues of 'Framed' (the opening track on the album) but in a 'remixed' version which supposedly tells an embroidered tale of how Max joined the band. Then they ran through the album, some tracks obviously more regularly played and practiced than others, but that was part of the fun. Stand out tracks for me were an energetic 'Midnight Moses' and the brooding 'St Anthony' which closes the album and tells the tale of the temptation and sexual torture of St Anthony (Alex's songs are always interesting). Both gave Zal opportunities to go wild with his guitar solos and we were in guitar heaven.

After 'Framed' they played a more normal set, firstly a new song, 'Hail Vibrania' with Zal on vocals, which I think they said was from the new album due next year? Whatever, it was heavy metal with additional hard rock and heaviness, the kind of sound you (or at least I) just don't hear these days. Thunderous. And then more classic SAHB, including 'Tomahawk Kid', one of my favourites. I didn't recognise it at first and then got into it but was a bit disappointed that Max felt the need to camp it up when he came to the lines about the Kid holding the pirate captain's hairy hand and skip across the sand - I can't imagine Alex feeling the need to do that at all.

They closed the set with 'Hot City Symphony', one of the Vambo songs, Vambo being an everyman-type character Alex invented. It started off quiet and slowly built and built and built until it was a magnificent mad mess of sound, guitars thrashing and wild and one word shouted out over the top of the sound, 'Vambo'! What a way to end.

And then back for the encore, with 'Faith Healer' and 'Delilah' (well, they *had* to do their biggest hit, didn't they) and it was great fun to see Chris and Zal doing their 'tip toe' dance to 'Delilah' just like when they did it on Top Of The Pops all those years ago. Those two were a great double act, coming together every now and then do some of their old antics of synchronised guitar swaying, their tippy-toe dance, and joint legs up on the monitor to lean over the audience, just like way back when. I wish I'd been closer to the stage. Of course, Chris has put on the beef since then, but, haven't we all? And the McKenna's kept it all together so the others could go off playing the rock star.

And the audience? You didn't expect me to blog about a '70s band gig and not mention the audience, did you? 95% male and 90% over 40 years old and a good few well over 40! Alcohol had been liberally imbibed (of course) but everyone was good natured and out to enjoy themselves. Mind you, there's nothing odder than seeing a 50 year old play the air guitar... I wonder what their children think when Dad gets home the worse for wear and playing air guitar with his mates in the kitchen with a cuppa?

The verdict? Yes please to seeing them again! I thoroughly enjoyed them, the songs sounded great and it was wonderful to see them on stage where they belong. Max must be quite brave to sing with the band knowing that every time he goes on stage everyone in the audience is thinking, 'He's not Alex'. And he's not, obviously, but he was good, trying to be as expressive as the songs demand while bringing his own personality to the mix. I didn't quite understand why he kept hitting himself with the mic, but we all have our quirks. A big five stars!

Oh, and when I went back to the merch stand I didn't get my beard-discount but I don't mind. The merch-men were having a merry old time and that's what the night was all about.

Vambo still rool!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Strangely Excited

I saw The Sensational Alex Harvey Band 34 years ago in July 1973. I never saw them again. I don't know why not, that's just the way it was. They were the first band I ever saw live. I bought the records and reveled in the hard rock and theatricality. The band split in the late 70's and Alex died in the early '80s and that was it really.

I bought the CDs.

SAHB without Alex got together and played a few gigs and then started touring again with a new singer. No-one could possibly replace Alex. And I'm seeing them again tomorrow night, 34 years and 5 months after first seeing them. And I'm getting strangely excited. Vambo rool.

Monday, 10 December 2007

March is S Month

It looks like March is turning into S month... In March 2008 I've ordered tickets to see
  • Siouxsie at Shepherd's Bush Empire (in the balcony, of course)
  • Sugababes at The Royal Albert Hall
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie at the Highline Ballroom, New York
Looks like it's shaping up to be a good month. Now, who else beginning with S might possibly announce gigs in March ... I can but live in hope ...

Incidentally, SLADE have entered the Top 40 singles chart this week at No 37 with 'Merry Xmas Everybody'. It must be the downloads!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Some Christmas Songs

I thought I'd share some of the Christmas music I'm listening to at the moment:

Siouxsie & The Banshees: ' Il Est Ne, Le Divin Enfant'
Marvin Gaye: 'Purple Snowflakes'
Kirsty MacColl & The Pogues: 'Fairytale Of New York'
Leigh Nash: 'Maybe This Christmas'
Eurythmics: 'Winter Wonderland'
Martha Wainwright: 'Merry Christmas And Happy New Year'
Kate Bush: 'December Will Be Magic Again'
SLADE: ' Merry Xmas Everybody'
Greg Lake: 'I Believe In Father Christmas'
John & Yoko: 'Listen The Snow Is Falling'
Wizzard: 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday'
Darlene Love: 'Marshmallow World'
Sufjan Stevens: 'C'mon! Let's Boogey To The Elf Dance!'
David Essex & Friends: 'I'm Goin' Home'
Essential Logic: ' Do You Believe In Christmas?'
The Ronettes: 'Frosty The Snowman'
The Polyphonic Spree: 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)'
Showaddywaddy: 'Hey, Mr Christmas'
The Waitresses: ' Christmas Wrapping'
The Jackson 5: 'Up On The Housetop'

Plus, of course, Bing, Andy, Frank, Dean, Sammy, Rosemary and all the easy chums with those classic songs of yesteryear. So many great songs, sentimental, sad, happy and plain daft, and I love 'em all!

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Noddy's Chuffed and Jim's Judging

The Lord of Noize himself, Noddy Holder, is getting his own star in Birmingham's Walk Of Stars. There's an article and video of the great man at a press conference the other day - love the coat and hat, Noddy! It's nice to know he still has his own style. And I love the idea of the 'glam rock barge' as part of the celebration today.

Jim Lea, Nod's partner in Noize, has been in the news this week too, judging a contest at the Robin2 (where his live album was recorded). It's nice that he's getting out and there's always the possibility of a gig...

And, of course, I'm seeing Dave and Don next Friday on the Merry Xmas Tour at Croydon. I'm *so* looking forward to that!

'Astronaut' by Amanda Palmer

One of the track's from Miss Palmer's new album due out next year. Magnificent as ever.

More Trees

It's very handy having a camera in my phone since it means I'm always ready to take a photo or two. Leaving work last night gave me the opportunity to take some more pics of festive trees, or rather, one festive tree with different backgrounds depending on where I stood.

This is the Tree outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre just opposite Westminster Abbey, so here we are with the Abbey in the background...

... and with Westminster Central Hall in the background (that was the first meeting place of the United Nations General Assembley as a plaque on the wall proudly notes).

I then wandered up a strangely empty Whitehall to see how the Trafalgar Tree had settled in now that the rain has stopped and it was getting chilly. Firstly, an attempt at an arty shot with one of the Grrr Lions in the foreground...

... and one with Nelson's Column (I like the cloudy sky) with a tiny Big Ben in the distance.

After doing some shopping on Tottenham Court this rather nice holly wreath on the front of this building caught my eye - I've no idea what the building is (and wasn't sufficiently interested to go over to look for signs) but I approve of the owners entering into the spirit of things.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Lights And Trees

Continuing my reporting of Christmas in London I thought I'd go to the ceremony in Trafalgar Square for the grand lighting of the Christmas Tree. It doesn't matter when the shops start putting up their Christmas decorations, the Trafalgar Square Tree is the start of the festive season.

Every year since 1947 the people of Oslo have gifted a tree to the people of London as a thank you remembrance for support during the Second World War. The King of Norway and the government spent the war years in exile in London while Norway was occupied. It's a nice gesture from one country to another and it's still going on. It always seems to be a tall, thin tree.

The guest of honour at the ceremony was the Norwegian Prime Minister who made a short speech reaffirming the thanks of his country for the support during the War. The lights were switched on by the Mayor of Oslo. The Salvation Army brass band played carols and the choir of St Martin's sang, Trafalgar Square was packed with tourists and it was all very nice - except for the constant drizzle. It's been raining all day and it continued this evening, which is a shame.

After Trafalgar Square I went for a wander and was lured into Leicester Square by the gleam of lights and stumbled on the fun fair set up in the square. I like fun fairs and I like the way that most of the rides are the same as when I grew up - dodgems, carousels - with something a bit more techy to prove it's the 21st Century. Candy floss, sugar dummies and all the rest.

Beth Rowley


Pop over to iTunes to download 'Nobody's Fault But Mine' by Beth Rowley for *free* (it's the single of the week this week). I've downloaded the whole EP and I'm loving it - loving her voice. My favourite is 'I Shall Be Released'.

I saw the lovely Beth at the IndigO2 when she was on the Bedford Bandstand bill supporting Kiki Dee and Carmelo Luggeri a couple of months ago. Here's a photo I took of her that evening.

Go on, download it - it's *free*. Then buy the EP.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

The Three Ages of Man

I met colleagues from the Family Matters Institute today and one had a seasonal story I will shamelssly nick about the Three Ages of Man.

You believe in Santa Claus [boy]
You don't believe in Santa Claus [man]
You are Santa Claus [dad]

At which point in the meeting I caressed my luxuriant Christmas beard and lightened the mood with some laughter. Beards are very useful things.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Important News From MaximoLand

'What could it be?' I hear you wondering. Is it news about the new single? Are they touring again? Have they won another award?

The Important News so far this week, unsurpassed by everything else is that MAXIMO PARK HAVE THEIR OWN BEER!

Now, that's what I call news!

Well, when I say the lads have their own beer what I really mean is that the Newcastle Brown Ale beer label will be redesigned for a Maximo edition available from 15 December. There's an article about it here. No wonder Paul's smiling.

I have a sudden yearning for beer...

Monday, 3 December 2007

Barbara Cook & Friends

Last night Chris took me to see Barbara Cook at The Coliseum. It was a World AIDS Day benefit concert with Barbara and some of her friends putting on a show which also coincided with her 80th birthday - and she's looking good on it. Now, Chris is the fan and the expert and if you want a proper, informed review, head over here. If you want my impressions, keep reading...

I don't know much about Barbara and I was only introduced to her a few years ago on her last concert shows in London, so I'm a novice, but I like her voice. She has a very pure voice and a simple singing style, no bells or whistles, no diva up and down the scales for the sake of it, and that might be one reason why she is such a good interpreter of songs - she lets the song tell its own story and we all sit rapt with attention listening to her voice as the song unfolds. I was so impressed with her voice when I first saw her that I had to go out and get her latest CD at the time, a collection of Broadway standards. And that's what we got last night as well, a lot of show tunes interspersed with Barbara's calm chatting inbetween songs, telling us about the songs or why she likes it or where she was when she first heard it.

Barbara came on to do some songs and then started introducing her friends for them to do turns. We'd already heard the voice of Nicholas Parsons as the compere and the first guest was Sian Philips who proceeded to do a comedy number (a Noel Coward song, I think) which was quite amusing. Others came on afterwards, most of whom I've no idea who they are despite being introduced by Mr Parsons as West End stars, one and all.

Daniel Evans came on and did a song - he has a nice voice and presence and is opening on Broadway shortly in 'Sunday In The Park With George' (which I saw him do at the Chocolate Factory). Unfortunately I also associate him with the run of nasty plays I saw earlier this year in one of which he was an unrepentant wife-beater. On the plus side, he was also a central character in 'Grand Hotel', a wonderful musical Chris introduced me to at the Donmar Warehouse in 2004.

The other 'name' was Elaine Paige who had the honour of two songs. The first one was ok (I think it was originally a duet with Barbara Dickson?) but then she did 'Cry Me A River' which didn't work at all. She did the big overacting thing in an attempt to wring emotion from it and, to my ears, fell totally flat.

As for the others, they were quite entertaining but I have no idea who they are. I also suspect that 'friends' is something of a misnomer - I wonder how many had even met Barbara before the afternoon rehearsal? There was a fun 'Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend' and a couple of big song and dance scenes with lots of leaping around. I got annoyed with her pianist a couple of times since he was also the conductor and kept leaping to his feet to wave his arms around and I found that rather distracting.

Barbara closed the show with one last song, just her and the piano and no microphone. At first I thought she'd forgotten to bring the mic when she came back on stage but no-one came running out with it. Just her voice in that large space, everyone silent and listening to the lovely sound she makes when she opens her mouth. That was a definite highlight. I hesitate to wonder how many of the others on stage that night could have projected their voices so effortlessly?

Then, of course, everyone came on for a final round of 'Happy Birthday' for the great lady with the audience on its feet joining in. Including me.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Maximo Park - 'Karaoke Plays'

'Karaoke Plays' is the new single from Maximo Park, released on CD and vinyl tomorrow (Monday 3 December). Of course, if you're clever, you go to iTunes and download it today.

Tracks available for download are:

Karaoke Plays (Radio Edit)
George Brown
Jean Baudrillard

Jonathan Cole
Karaoke Plays (Live at 1Live)

So that's three more 'obituary songs' to add to those from the other singles this year - on a first listen, I prefer 'Jean Baudrillard' with Paul's voice sounding good (the tender yearning of 'the more energy we burn the freer we become'). I wonder if we'll get them all collected together as an album at some point? 'Missing Songs' is the collection of 'b' sides from the singles from the first album.

I'll head up to HMV tomorrow to pick up the physical CD which also includes their magnificent version of 'Like I Love You', an 'Our Velocity' ringtone and other online content! In the meantime, feel free to watch and listen to the single here:

The lads' site gives full details of the single:

Released on 3rd December, the formats include 3 brand new Maximo Park tracks, the band's version of Justin Timberlake's 'Like I Love You' PLUS exclusive content on the CD and extra special numbered 7"s with silver print, coloured vinyl and free posters.

The obituaries series of b-sides continues with French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, 50's calypso singer George Brown and English painter Jonathan Cole.

The white and silver 7inches are very limited, numbered and come with free posters featuring handwritten lyrics – in fact they’re so good they’ve fallen foul of the chart rules! There’s al
so an enhanced CD to look out for.

The package is intended as a bit of a thank you to fans for the support in 2007. It's been a very busy year since OEP was released in April and the aim is to round off the year with something a little different!


Enhanced CD
1. Karaoke Plays (Radio Edit) 2. George Brown 3. Like I Love You Exclusive Enhanced Content: Karaoke Plays Video, Animated Lyric Booklet, Our Velocity Ringtone

7inch 1 (Numbered White Vinyl)
A. Karaoke Plays B. Jean Baudrillard + Free Poster

7inch 2 (Numbered Silver Vinyl)
A. Karaoke Plays (Live at 1LIVE) B. Jonathan Cole + Free Poster

Digital Exclusive 1 (Recordstore Bundle Only) 1. Karaoke Plays (Acoustic Version)

Digital Exclusive 2 (Recordstore Bundle Bonus Track)
1. Karaoke Plays (Live at 1LIVE)