Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Music for Pleasure

I've been mulling things over and, all thing considered, 2007 should be good for music - at least for me. Let's count 'em...

'Therapy' by James Whild Lea, aka Jim Lea of SLADE! An album by a Lord of Noize already released this year and it's only January!

A new Buffy Sainte-Marie album being made even as I type.

A new album by Amanda Palmer (aka Amanda Dresden Doll) of her solo material is in planning according to her blog which will be fabulous. Unfortunately, little seems to have happened to the video material shot at the Roundhouse in November so that might not be available as a DVD anytime soon.

A new Maximo Park album released in April (tickets go on sale tomorrow for their tour in May - three gigs in different venues in London).

And I'm enjoying the 'Dreamgirls' soundtrack and Madonna's live 'The Confessions Tour' CD.

More SLADE re-issues due in phases between February and August.


'Therapy' - James Whild Lea

I had to log-on this morning to try Jim Lea's website again to see whether I could download his new album and voila! Instant music, instantly burned to disc and copied onto iPey for listening on-the-go. I was so happy doing this that I forgot to go to work... Well, I can't be expected to remember everything.

This is a good album, 13 tracks and all with a dense, full sound and crisp production. He's not trying to do SLADE by the back door, this is original and thoughtful work (although he includes his version of 'Universe', SLADE's last single which he wrote). It's a mature rock album. Lots of rock guitars thrashing but combined with orchestral backings - lots of music and only his voice (I don't think there are any backing vocals).

There are lots of hints of various influences - the Beatles and Oasis (he out-Liam's Liam!) and even a hint of the Beach Boys in there. It's a delight to listen to.

Favourite tracks at the moment include:

'Dead Rock UK' - I love it when Jim lists dead pop stars that Marc gets the honorific of "Mr Bolan", a nice nod of respect to an old rival.

'Great Big Family' - this should be a single.

'Why Is Youth Always Wasted On The Young' - the age-old question!

No doubt I'll have different favourites the next time I listen (I am, of course, listening as I blog).

My only worry is how is the album going to be promoted? How will anyone know it exists if it's only available through Jim's fledgeling website? Promoting it to SLADE fans is one thing but how does everyone else get to hear about it? I must ponder this.

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

James Whild Lea - Therapy

And the angels rejoiced and sang hosannahs in three-part harmony. I have looked on the face of a Lord of Noize and he was good. I have heard the voice of a Lord of Noize and he was good.

James Whild Lea has released his first solo album 15 years after leaving SLADE and it is good. 'Therapy' by James Whild Lea.

Well, from the short clips on his website it sounds good but I've yet to hear a full song. I have no doubt that all the songs are excellent, of course. They couldn't be anything else. Loud, brash, guitar-driven rock music that brought a tear to my eye. O yes, I'm going to enjoy this!
The glorious news came wafting to me down the SLADE wires so I scooted over to his site and went straight to the shop to listen to a few clips and then buy the album. Unfortunately delivery is 'within 28 days'. That's no way to treat a fan, I want it now! So I chose a few tracks to download to keep me going but every time I tried to download I got the same error mesage: "Unfortunately, this purchase cannot be made. The provider has supplied erroneous data. Please contact the provider." Huh! I'll simply keep going back until it's fixed.

Cor! A new record! I am thrilled! Go on, do the clicky thing on Jim's name above in red and take a listen, I dare you ...

Monday, 29 January 2007

Jimmy got, Jimmy got, Jimmy got soul!

The day began with a visit to the Huh Muh Vuh Store on Oxford Street and what was right in front of my eyes but the soundtrack to 'Dreamgirls'. It wasn't available last week (and neither was it available for download) but suddenly there it was. I grabbed it off the shelf, the 2xCD version, and I've been wallowing in it this evening. It's great. I could live without the few 'dance mixes' at the end of disc 2 but that's being churlish. It's got everything on there that you could possibly want. The only annoying thing is that it seems to have been rush-released since the track details aren't on Gracenotes so when I taped it onto poota to put onto iPey I had to type in the track details. Yes, I want it all on a plate, obviously.

It sounds so good, so powerful and so full of sound. Jennifer Hudson still stands out as 'the voice' but all the others are also excellent, with Eddie Murphy ripping it up as a funk and soul master. Jamie Foxx's songs sound much better than I remember them, maybe it was his stare-into-the-middle-distance mode of acting that made me doutful?

I had to be very careful what I said to Jeannine at work today since she's really looking forward to seeing the film on Friday when it's released. I *had* to rub it in that I'd seen the preview but we can discuss it properly next week when we've both seen it.

The real reason for the trek to HMV was to pick up Madonna's 'The Confessions Tour' DVD and CD which was duly scooped up. I'm listening to the live CD at the moment and will watch the DVD later. I was there when it was recorded y'know.
The live CD is excellent - and that's coming from an afficiando of 'SLADE Alive!' as the best live record ever. Air guitars at the ready for 'I Love New York' with herself doing feedback against the amps and all sorts! The sound quality of the CD is excellent (as you'd expect) and I'm hearing stuff clearly that was a bit fuzzy on the night. As well as 'I Love New York' much kudos go to the swampy-drunk version of 'Let It Will Be' (with Glitter Band influences) and the magnificent 'Music Inferno' sequence. I can't wait to see the DVD!
"Just watch me burn!"

Saturday, 27 January 2007

Come On Now Social

I ordered 'Come On Now Social' by the Indigo Girls from Amazon what seems an age ago and, since it still hadn't arrived, I checked up on it this afternoon. I contacted Amazon and had an almost instant reply along the lines of there are problems with the supplier, sorry, please accept a £3 gift token and if you want to cancel the order, here's the link. How sweet. I checked a few other online stores and no-one seems to have it (including which is odd) so I cancelled the order and then downloaded the album from my good friends at iTunes.

I'm sure the CD must be available from somewhere but how much effort do I really want to put into finding it when it's right in front of me in the iTunes store? I download individual tracks but when it comes to albums, I prefer to buy the hard copy - that way you get all the packaging and booklet and stuff. On the other hand, I only ever really look at the booklet once so does it matter? Downloaded and burned in about 15 minutes and now belting out of my CD player.

I'm seeing the Indigo lasses for the first time in a couple of weeks so I need to refresh my lug-holes with the full range of their sounds and, although a few of these tracks are on compilations, I haven't heard the full album before. It's excellent, harder than their ususal sound, a very robust performance. There are different styles on this album and that's a good thing. That may be as a result of working with a number of guests, including Sheryl Crowe, Joan Osborne and Me'Shell Ndegeocello. I'm enjoying it.

And the £3 from Amazon? That'll almost pay for the Blue Mink 'best of' CD I've been looking at recently...


Chris took me to see the preview of 'Dreamgirls' at the National Film Theatre tonight. He was apprehensive because he loves the original cast recording from 1982 or thereabouts and I was apprehensive because, well, I didn't - I've only heard it once and it was very '80s. Leaving that to one side, it's nice to see a film at the NFT on the big screen with excellent sound, especially a musical, so I settled back into the comfy chairs waiting to be entertained. And I was.

The story is one most people who like music will at least be familiar with, loosely based on the rise of Motown and the career of Diana Ross and the Supremes. Of course, bits of the story are changed, with Hitsville being set in a car dealership with the sign reading 'the sound of tomorrow' rather than ' the sound of young America' and all that. And some of the characters seem to merge at different points with Eddie Murphy starting off as a James Brown character morphing into Marvin Gaye (complete with crochet skullcap) doing a 'message song'. But that always happens in films like this so it would be churlish to dwell on it.

More amusing was the borrowing of iconic images of Diana Ross in the latter stages of the film - at one point it got to be a 'guess the song from the picture' with Beyonce photographed imitating Diana images from the late '60s through to late '70s disco diva. That was great fun!

I had to get that out of my system but it's not really what the film is about and doesn't relay its emotional intensity at various points. It was bright and brash and colourful throughout with excellent music (which sounds much better to me than the cast recording) and visuals. The excellent set pieces and clothes, the perfect sound and perfect choreography. I bet a lot of practice went into those scenes, including the throw-away clips that were used to show the passing years.

I didn't actually recognise Beyonce at first since she was very much the enthusiastic little girl with a big smile and big eyes. A happy and permanently excited naif. She was ok, I suppose, but playing the lead singer character meant she couldn't give vent to her real voice except for a new song added at the end. And Jamie Foxx played a very strange character who didn't actually do much except look menacing and stare into the middle distance. I didn't notice much acting at all and he was strangely inarticulate. Where was the charming rogue he must have been to achieve what he did? Why did people follow him? Where was the charisma? Maybe I should practice my middle-distance staring...

Two people deserve a special mention. Eddie Murphy was excellent. I'm not a great fan of his - he seems to have played the same character for much of his career but he really won me over in this film. He can sing, he can move and he can act. At one point when his hopes of a new career had just been demolished by the Jamie Foxx character he gets out his syringe kit so shoot up despite people around him trying to talk him out of it and you can almost feel the desperation and lack of hope and dreams dripping from the screen. He doesn't do or say much, maybe it's the expression of hopelessness on his face? And his set piece stage songs were some of the highlights for me with an excellently staged 'Steppin' To The Bad Side' (I think) with him out front, the Dreamettes behind and all of them flanked by a dozen or so dancers on platforms behind them all.

The other person is Jennifer Hudson who played Effie, the Dreamette who was dropped. What a voice and what a presence. She had a few set-pieces that were excellent but the one that'll be shown on all the film reviews is 'And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going', the song where she's told she's out of the group and her lover (the Jamie Foxx character) is leaving her. It was heart-rending and painful. What a voice she has - I know that Beyonce was playing a character with a softer voice but she was totally blown away by the powerhouse of Jennifer. She's definitely more in the school of Aretha than Diana where voices are concerned and this was reinforced by the imagery later in the film where she dressed in the colourful ethnic clothes and head-scarves of Aretha in the early '70s. I'll be watching her with interest.

I enjoyed it. A film I definitely want to see again and I want the soundtrack and probably the DVD when it comes out. I wonder if the success of this film will re-launch soul music?

And to finish it off I got a free bottle of Guinness afterwards since Guinness is launching a new version of the classic drink and sponsoring the current season of films. Could an evening out get any better?

Friday, 26 January 2007

Car-Crash Cabaret

Went to the Madonna tribute VauxhallVille cabaret this evening. As ever, it was a delight and a puzzlement - was it *really* meant to be like that? A few technical hitches were encountered but I don't think anyone minded. Hosted by Nathan DeVille and Timberlina with Dawn Right Nasty spinning the platters and the in-house dance troupe of Bearlesque providing the all-essential moves.

The evening started off so well with the vocalisations of the lovely Scales of the Unexpected, a barbershop triplette, doing a medley of Madonna classics, and very well done too. They've obviously practiced, practiced, practiced and were note and movement perfect. The evening started to go a bit downhill with the 'sex book' sequence which was a bit random and then (the former Princess) Dawn got up on stage to have sex with Timberlina ... shocked, I was! It went further downhill with the Madonna karaoke when a rather drunken anti-Madonna singer and an altogether out of his head (possibly chemically enhanced) singer took the stage for a rather painful 15 minutes or so with poor Timberlina trying to manage it all. Lots of laughs all-round but painful at the same time.

Luckily the bears in all their chunkiness, our dance troupe of choice, rode to the rescue with a dance routine set to the tune of 'Vogue'. Starting off on the stage they then moved to the poles to vogue around the red poles of destiny. We weren't being treated to the Viking pole dance this evening so this was the next best thing.

All in all, an enjoyable evening during which several pints of Guinness were consumed... that place is bad for me.

Let It Snow

This was the view from my bedroom window yesterday morning... and this was the view of my house . I *like* snow but we don't get much in London so we must celebrate it when we can.

Monday, 22 January 2007

The Mighty Maximo Bag

The mighty Maximo Park are returning in renewed glory on 19 March with a new single, 'Our Velocity'. Their new album, 'Our Earthly Pleasures,' is released on 2 April. Excited? Wey aye man!
I am still ticketless for the Astoria show next month but, luckily, a full UK tour will be announced shortly. Me Geordie lads are back! ... well, almost...

True Grit

I had an odd experience walking down Mitcham Lane in the freezing breeze this evening. The gritters were out. Of course, the news has been full of a change in the weather and it looks like winter is finally arriving - that's generally a good thing in my book, since I like winter. I like all the seasons (we're so lucky in this country to have four of them) but I like them to act as they should - summer hot/winter cold sort of thing. Not the murky, damp squib we've had so far this winter.

What I don't understand is why the gritters were only sprinkling the grit at bus stops. What's that about?

Still, it's a suitable sign for me to get out my big clumpy shoes from Toronto - they're the best slip-proof shoes I've ever had and I'm not risking anything with the state of my back.


Walking up Streatham High Road the other evening I noticed that Lambeth Counil had taken down the Christmas lights and replaced them with colour banners reading, 'Welcome to surprising Streatham'. What's so surprising about Streatham? What am I missing? I must investigate this further.


After my expereince with Steve Treatment - assuming none of his work would be released on CD and then finding almost a full back catalogue had been released on a double CD in America - I should probably assume that every piece of music has been released somewhere in the world. The fun is in finding it. In the meantime, of course, one can always 'tape' old records and magically digitise them courtesy of new-fangled technology.

I'm currently listening to 'New Wave', a collection of (largely) American punk or proto-punk from 1977 or 1978. It's great to hear it in its entirity again. Some of the tracks are, of course, available on CD, such as the two New York Dolls tracks, the glorious 'Piss Factory' by Patti Smith and 'Love Comes In Spurts' by Richard Hell and the Voidoids (I've eyed his 'best of' CD a few times recently). But what about the rest of this hotch-potch of a collection? What about 'Horror Movie' by Skyhooks? 'All This And More' by the Dead Boys? 'All Or Nothing' by Little Bob Story? And for some obscure reason it also includes 'Lookin' After Number 1' by the Boomtown Rats.

I'm enjoying strolling down memory lane at the moment.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Shilpa Shetty

This years' Celebrity Big Brother didn't start off well with the odd collection of celebs. Last years was mandatory viewing but this year? Not really. I caught a couple of episodes and turned over through boredom. Then Jade Goody went in with her odd mother and vacuous toyboy - I heard about it but didn't watch. Then I caught the eviction episode last Friday and an episode earlier in the week which was full of Jade and the girls ganging up on Shilpa Shetty and bullying her endlessly for no obvious reason. I couldn't work out what the problem was meant to be. Then I realised there was no problem. This was the politics of the schoolyard and the mentality of the gang. No more and no less. Plain old-fashioned bullying but with disturbing overtones of race. It was deeply uncomfortable to watch and yet I watched it. What does that say about me?

Jade, of course, got her come-uppence last night and was evicted in favour of Shilpa staying in. That is perfectly right and proper, but Jade only had 82% of the vote - it should have been over 90% of the vote. She seemed genuinely upset and apologetic when she saw some of the footage of what she was saying and her often aggressive actions. There now seems to be a gang mentality to get at Jade and pull her down, the same bullying tactics she's being vilified for. I can't be bothered with that. Jade has no impact on my life other than seeing her on the covers of trashy celeb-magazines I wouldn't dream of picking up let alone reading. I don't really care about Jade but part of me thinks she doesn't dererve to be let off the hook after the hell she put Shilpa through for a week - some things shouldn't be forgiven or glossed over. What kind of message does that send to others of her ilk and the 'get away with it' mentality? There are consequences to our actions and that's what Jade's seeing right now. No doubt the other two girls in the gang will feel the pain as well when they're evicted.

What I found quite odd throughout was that it happened at all. These are adults we're talking about here, not 'Lord of the Flies'. Jermaine Jackson intervened once that I saw but Dirk Benedict didn't seem to get involved at all - for both of them, why should they care? They'll be back home in a week or two and will never see or hear the celebs again. Cleo Roccas tried to intervene and be a go-between but wasn't strong enough, and neither was Ian 'H', but at least he supported Shilpa. It all seemed a very odd set-up with poison flowing through the house and no-one doing or saying anything. That's a wierd dynamic.

Throughout it all, the one I felt sorry for and admired was Shilpa. Admired for her restraint and her control, not responding to all the petty little jibes and actions. Admired for her grace and poise and elegance - which, along with her obvious beauty, is possibly why the girls ganged up her - she effortlessly outshines them all. She gave Jade the benefit of the doubt and even apologised in the diary room for -once only - saying she felt the actions were racially motivated and withdrew the comment. And this was all well before Jade knew something was up and went to apologise. I don't think I would've been so magnanimous.
Shilpa is an admirable woman and it'll be interesting to see what happens to her when she leaves the house, hopefully as the winner if there's any justice. Obviously there'll be more Bollywood films - there are always more Bollywood films. But where will her career go next? Hollywood?

Thursday, 18 January 2007


I've been in a bit of a SLADE mood today so thought I'd share some news on my listening habits...

The ten most played SLADE tracks on my iPod are:

Nobody's Fool
Hi Ho Silver Lining
It's Alright Buy Me
Run Runaway
How Does It Feel
We Won't Give In
Pouk Hill
Mama Weer All Crazee Now
Cum On Feel The Noize [live]
Let's Have A Party

Ten Last SLADE

The ten last SLADE songs played on my iPod:

Kill 'Em At The Hot Club Tonight
Mama Weer All Crazee Now
Wild Winds Are Blowing
Radio Wall Of Sound
It's Alright Buy Me
Let's Dance '88
Ginny Ginny
Leave Them Girls Alone
Pouk Hill
Let's Call It Quits

Ten SLADE-on-iPod Facts

1. There are 170 SLADE tracks on my iPod.
2. The oldest track is 'Delighted To See You' by the N'Betweens (as they were back then) from about 1967.
3. There are four versions of 'Get Down And Get With It'.
4. The longest track is 'Ready To Explode' at 8:31 minutes, closely followed by 'Born To Be Wild' at 8:12 minutes.
5. The shortest track is 'Let's Have A Party' at 1.47 minutes.
6. The track I'm listening to now is 'You Boyz Make Big Noize'.
7. Most tracks are from 'The SLADE Box'.
8. The quietest song is 'Coz I Luv You', an accoustic version by Noddy Holder on 'The Grimleys' soundtrack.
9. 81 tracks have yet to play on iPod.
10. Tracks begin with every letter of the alphabet except Q, V, X and Z.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

SLADE Day 2007

SLADE Day 2007 will be 12 February - actually, that's just the first SLADE Day of the year.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Shell Shocked

I'm pleased to report that Michelle Shocked's back catalogue on her own label (ie all the albums) is now available on iTunes. I never understood why they weren't available but I had a round-robin email from her website today saying they're now available. When I first looked the search wasn't working but it all went live earlier this evening. I must download a song or two to show to the false gods of iTunes that she's popular ... but which songs?

She's also working on a new album for release in August. That's a good thing.

Monday, 15 January 2007

A Pirate Bag

A little bit of bagism to keep you going...

Pirate Jenny

Last year I made a CD of all the different versions of 'Pirate Jenny' I'd found, about 20 of them from all sorts of people from Lotte Lenya and Marianne Faithfull to Steeleye Span (yes, honestly, their version was called 'The Black Freighter'). I don't know why, but I've been fascinated by that song for ages and it was relaunched in my brain by Patti Smith's Brecht evening at her Meltdown in 2005. I have a good version by Ellen Greene on her 'It's In His Eyes' CD from last year but I now have another version by her (courtesy of Christopher) from the 1976 cast recording of 'The Threepenny Opera' which I'm listening to at the moment. Ellen's 1976 version is much rawer and emotive. And speaking of Ellen ...

Little Shop Of Horrors

Spent a very enjoyable evening at the Menier Chocolate Factory on Saturday seeing 'Little Shop Of Horrors' for the second time. The first time was when it was in preview and by now they've all grown into their parts and it shows - they're tighter and more relaxed at the same time (if you see what I mean). I was most impressed with Sheridan Smith as Audrey (the role created by Ellen Greene) who was excellent throughout the show and who has a very good voice and presence. It was also a nice link with Nicola Blackman who we saw in 'Aladdin' last week since she played Ronette in the original London cast way in 1983 or thereabouts. It's a small world. I hope the show transfers to the West End - it would be nice to see it bigly on a big stage.


Another show at the end of last week was the delightful Bearlesque, balloon-dancing, Viking pole-dancing, Madonna virgin-ing and shorts-popping Bearlesque. Let's face it, they don't really have enough material to fill a whole evening themselves but I don't really care - they're fun! I thoroughly enjoyed the evening (especially as it came at the end of my weekus horribilis) and would love to see them again. I failed to get a photo of Freddy's 'splashdance' moment since my camera batteries died on me just at the wrong time. I won't try to compete with Chris's photo homage but here are a couple of mine...

The Viking pole-dance is such a good image that they should trade on as the troupe grows in experience and expands the repertoire. A bear flying round a pole with a horned helmet and cape billowing in the breeze works wonders for the audience, getting them all attentive and ready for the next act. I certainly wouldn't have the nerve to do it!


Yesterday was full of happiness and joy. Firstly through booking tickets to see the Cirque du Soleil's show, 'Alegria', at the Royal Albert Hall on my birthday. Secondly by making a ringtone of Kirsty MacColl's excellent song, 'Alegria', which builds and builds until it explodes into 'Us Amazonians'. It took an absolute age to make it, editing down the original track with music software into a 15 second segment, but it was worth it. It sounds excellent.

What other ringtones could I make ....?

Saturday, 13 January 2007

Electric '80s

My nice postman is delivering the goods this week. A barrelful of Steve Treatment the other day and now a triple CD of early '80s electronica - 'Electric '80s'.

The '80s isn't fully represented in my record collection - I didn't really 'do' the first half of the '80s what with all that new romantic dressing up and make-up which thankfully removed itself as the '80s progressed (I don't think my punk principles approved). I have lots of '80s music but not the sheer density of my '70s collection (glam, punk and disco) or even the '90s (with britpop). This collection is a good addition.

I recognise most of the songs in the collection but could put a name to very few - when they play I think, 'o yes, I remember that one...' with no recollection of the name of the song or the band. The songs got into my memory somehow - probably because many of them were played to death at the time, I suspect. Some of the tracks are 12" or alternative versions of the songs so that adds an extra frisson of uncertainly when I first hear them. I'm enjoying it.

Ragamuffin Alert

It is much to my shame that this is my first Dresden Dolls blog of the year - I must've been very distracted indeed not to have followed the adventures of Amanda and Brian during their sojourn through The Onion Cellar. Tomorrow night is the last performance so it'll be interesting to see what shows up in Amanda's blog afterwards. Her recent blogs haven't been the most upbeat but, looking on the bright side, she should get a good song or two out of the experience.

I don't know what's in store for the Brechtian punk ragamuffins this year. There hasn't been any news about the DVD filmed at the Roundhouse shows in November but I assume that should be out in the first half of the year. A tour perhaps? Maybe a new album (please)? How to feed the addiction?

In the meantime, I think they've probably earned a holiday. But not for too long, of course.

Friday, 12 January 2007

The Hippy Posed Engrossment

Those lovely people at Topplers Records have brightened up the end of my week by sending me a barrell-load of Steve Treatment CDs. I contacted them and bought a copy of '25 "A" sides + Your Friends Are In The News', a two CD set of all Steve's music from the '70s and '80s. It's on Hyped2Death Records and the blurb runs:

140+ minutes of brilliant DIY'n'roll from including all of Steve's singles (1977-1979), plus later highlights of his incredibly colorful career, including almost all of the songs that were headed for Steve's never-released LP. We couldn't afford the full-color 16-page booklet we were hoping to bring you, but it's all really handsome anyway. The bio, meanwhile, covers not just the music but also Steve's varied interactions with Marc Bolan, the Swell Maps, the Moors Murderers, Derek Jarman, and Paul McCartney's brother-in-law...among others. Essential DIY. "All my songs are 'A' sides."

Not only did Topplers send the CD but they added two more CDs for free - a CD-R of material Steve recorded for them recently and a compilation CD of their other bands from last year which includes a new Steve song. How nice of them!

It's all an overdose of Steve Treatment, really. The song I wanted and that's stuck in my mind for nearly three decades is 'The Hippy Posed Engrossment', 1 minute and 37 seconds of Bolan-inspired madness. I got Steve's first single - '5 "A" Side 45' when it came out in 1978 and it's nice to have those songs again.

Thanks to Topplers and, of course, to Steve.

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Weekus Horribilus

This is my 'weekus horribilus'. The second week of January heralds in the Moving Young Minds international ministerial seminar from Sunday-Wednesday and the BETT Show at Olympia from Wednesday-Saturday. Immediately after Christmas/New Year, such perfect timing.

This week I've hosted Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, Education Secretary Alan Johnson (three times), International Development Secretary Hilary Benn, Minister for Schools Jim Knight (four times), Minister for Higher Education Bill Rammell (twice), Minister for Children Beverley Hughes (although I was late which is unforgivable), former Secretary of State Charles Clarke (who tapped me on the shoulder in congratulations), Bob Geldoff, and some astonishingly gifted children from around the world from the Yehudi Menuhin School Of Music.

I've met ministers of education and their advisers from all over the world, from Afghanistan to Tonga, people from South Africa to the Caymen Islands, the USA, Cuba, Bahrain, Iraq and Japan. And yes, I did mention Buffy Sainte-Marie when I met colleagues from Canada (and showed the photo of Buffy on my phone). One of the things that unites all these people is how nice they are and how friendly they are and how committed to education they are. How many UN/UNESCO meetings receives this kind of turn-out? It's a privilege to meet such people.

We had a reception in Kensington Palace and a formal dinner at the Royal Garden Hotel, packed out the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre and descended on Olympia for BETT. My dinner companions on Tuesday evening were from Cuba, South Africa, Canada and the man who invented Smartboards. Bob Geldoff spoke passionately about Africa but I was fascinated by his brown checked suit and shoes with no heels. Children from the Yehudi Menuhin School provided the after-dinner enterainment and they were astonishing - 14 children including a 12 year-old violinist from Singapore playing Paganini and an 11 year-old from Malaysia playing piano - truly wonderful.

It's been an incredible week so far and I've met many delightful and dedicated people. Moving Young Minds ended on Wednesday and it seems to have gone so well, with lots of praise from our overseas guests. Bigger and better than in previous years, we hosted about 67 overseas ministers from around the world and over 200 guests in total. The event is 'closed' so that's about all I can say about it really. But it's an event I'll remember. And, in traditional manner, here is my MYM 2007 rose, which is white this year.

Although Moving Young Minds ended, BETT started on Wednesday, so it was a tricky logistical problem getting our guests from MYM to BETT. It was particularly awkward for me since I not only lead on MYM but I'm one of the policy leads in the ministerial speech at BETT. It can be a tricky state of affairs at the best of times without the complications of running the MYM event as well. That's why I was briefing our press office at 1.42am and in work at 7.50am the following morning to brief and be de-briefed by my boss - yes, we do actually do more than just drink tea. Despite all this, I'm proud of this event. We did something that no-one else in the world has the nerve to try and we pulled it off.

Now, of course, it's BETT at Olympia and continuation of the 'weekus horibilus'. Luckily, this year, my week ended on Thursday with a meeting in the afternoon and then I was free to see something of the show. Since BETT is about educational technology then it's ideal for ministerial announcements. My part of the announcement was about providing home access to computers for all children although that's not quite the way it's being portrayed in the press (here's the BBC version).

I hosted a seminar this morning for potential industry partners. It was pulled together very quickly to take advantage of people being at BETT but I was pleased with it. People from Intel, BT and a range of other potential partners were there to hear how they could contribute and they all seemed positive about working together to deliver universal access to ICT so I was relieved. We also showed four new videos for the first time which I hadn't seen myself but they seemed to go down well. Of course, this all means lots more work ... what's that old cliche? 'Be careful what you wish for...'?

Our stand at BETT is smaller than usual but it's full of giant photos and I think it works really well. It's noticed. We're in the middle of the photo which was taken from the balcony in the National Hall at Olympia.

I'm exhausted now. Physically and mentally tired and feeling borderline ill - all the rushing round, strange hours, missing meals and eating posh stuff at the 'do's' means I haven't been taking my tablets this week (I really must carry spares round with me) and I'm feeling it. It's going to take a few days to get my body 'balanced' again. The adrenalin's wearing off. I'm taking tomorrow off so I can sleep.

Sunday, 7 January 2007


The last vestiges of Christmas are vanishing now that 12th night has passed. My living room is far less bright and shiny now that the tree has been undressed and the lights have dimmed. I dislike the week or so after the tree comes down, with rooms looking drabber and darker and, as always, still finding pine needles everywhere. Dressing the tree is fun. Undressing it is sad and a chore, packing the baubles away, wrapped in tissue paper and placed in special boxes. Sigh.

Saturday, 6 January 2007

Bit Of A Bag

Having a little bit of a shake-up of the bag ...

SLADE Re-releases

The next batch of re-released CDs from SLADE are due in February. 'Flame' and 'Nobody's Fools' are due along with a double 'B' sides collection, so that means some new SLADE songs for me to enjoy (from the late '70s and '80s singles - I know all the earlier ones). Panting with anticipation here, especially for the re-mastered 'Flame' songs like 'How Does It Feel'. I'm not sure whether the DVD of the film is being released then or not - I hope so.

Steve Treatment

The more observant of my anonymous readers may have noticed that I've name-checked Steve Treatment a couple of times as someone who released very limited edition singles in the late '70s that I enjoyed and which just aren't available on CD. How wrong I am!

I Googled Steve's name and he appeared on Toppler Records site. How could this be? Not only is there a Steve microsite on Topplers but he's actually recorded for them in the last few years. Even better, all his recordings from 1977 onwards have been pulled together and released on CD by American label Hyped2Death. How on earth someone who only sold a few hundred singles in the late '70s has been recently released on CD in America is beyond me. But I'm pleased he has! I hope to receive the CD next week...

The song I really want to hear is 'Hippy Posed Engrossment' but if you go to Topplers you can download 'Negative Nights' (for FREE) which was on the same single back in 1978. And if you don't think that's Marc Bolan singing then you've never heard T.Rex!

Last Ten iPey

The last 10 songs to play on my iPod were:

I Want Your Love Tonight - Dusty Springfield
Pretty Boy - Fox
Ashes To Ashes - David Bowie
My Johnny Was A Shoemaker - Steeleye Span
Fire And Rain -Cher
Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Have Fallen In Love With) - The Buzzcocks
Animal Nitrate - Suede
(I Know) I'm Losing You - Gladys Knight & The Pips
Land Of A Thousand Words - Scissor Sisters
Garden Of Serenity - The Ramones

First Light

I'm so pleased to have the USB turntable so I can record records not available on CD. A record I've listened to several times over the past week since recording it is Richard & Linda Thompson's 'First Light'. It's excellent, despite what critics, fans and the Thompsons themselves actually say. Some of these songs are hauntingly unforgetable and deserve to be treasured.

Aladdin Daft

I've never been to Watford before - I've been through it on the train, but never actually pounded the quiet, dark and oddly empty streets. Until tonight that is, when we ventured out of London to see one of the last performances of 'Aladdin', this season's panto featuring Nicola Blackman who was also the reason for the trek since she's off to America soon to try her luck over there.

Now, I haven't actually seen a pantomime since I was about 10 but it soon comes flooding back since they all follow the same formula, and that's probably part of the fun of panto - you know what you're going to get. The cast put their all into it, hamming it up no end with melodramatic poses and exagerated gestures, laying it on thick. Widow Twanky had ridiculous dresses (but ended up marrying the Emperor anyway), Wishy Washy was very energetic and great fun, Abanazar was suitably distant but I thought he could have been far more evil and nasty (if you're gonna hiss it needs to be worth it), the Genii had baggy trousers and a turban and a nice pot belly (all three are mandatory) and Aladdin and the Princess were exactly what you'd expect, young, pretty and not very interesting - it's what goes on around them that is most exciting!

Nicola played the role of the 'Spirit of the Ring' (a new one on me) and Lotus Blossom, the Princess's handmaiden who, in this production, was also her personal security officer. She seemed to be having great fun and it was obvious as soon as she sung her verse in the opening song ('Downtown') that at least one person on the stage was a proper singer.

I happily joined in with the 'behind yous' and was suitably vocal when we stood up to sing along with Wishy Washy (and doing the actions as well, of course):

Hats, jackets, pants and socks
pants and socks
Hats, jackets, pants and socks
pants and socks
Dry clean only frilly party frocks
Hats, jackets, pants and socks
pants and socks

... to the tune of... well, I'm not sure, but you know the tune (o yes you do!). The words were written on an enormous pair of underpants suspended from the ceiling.

Every cliche in the book was not only included and fully exploited but in some cases was detonated across the stage. The comic policemen were, of course, called Ping and Pong and Pong seemed to have personal hygiene or intestinal problems since every other mention of his name was associated with a reference to smell. What could that mean, I wonder? Actually, the only cliche missing was any joke around the name of the town the action is set in - Ying Tong. I immediately expected a rendition of the Goons song but we were spared that. Obviously, the kids in the audience wouldn't recognise it but I suspect neither would their parents...

After the high art of 'Swan Lake' this theatrical experience was a little different - brash, colourful, loud (in every sense), silly and just plain daft fun. I enjoyed it immensely and couldn't help grinning quite a lot. Yes, I'm a big kid at heart!

It then took what seemed like 347 hours to get back into and across London...

Thursday, 4 January 2007

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake

I've returned home tonight on a high from seeing Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake at Sadlers Wells (what a culture-hound I am). It was excellent. I've never seen the 'normal' version of Swan Lake and I don't particularly want to - this is the standard against which all other versions must be judged.

It's the story of a prince who grows up in his mother's shadow, pulled close to her but pushed away from all affection at the same time. The royal routine and his mother's aloofness becomes too much for him and he finds himself in a park about to commit suicide in the lake. But then the swans appear, glorious swans, beautiful swans scattering happiness and joy around them and he is entranced, particularly by the lead swan who, in Matthew Bourne's version, is played by a man, as are all the swans.
Later at a royal ball, the swan re-appears in human form and seduces all the women in sight and the prince, who is distraught, tries to kill his mother, who also has been seduced. The ballet ends in his bedroom where he's been taken after a cruel medical exaination to cure him of his mania and the swans come to visit. No longer full of joy they turn wild and attack him. The lead swan tries to protect him but the swan is killed by his own band of swans and the prince too dies, of injuries or heartache, I don't know. His mother enters to find him dead on his bed while in the window above we see his swan carrying him off to paradise.

A precis will never describe the story properly, with dances of joy, seduction, madness and despair meaning different things to different people. I loved it. I loved the swan-trews the dancers wore, the stylised set and costumes, the extreme lighting and the precision of the dancers. I know nothing about ballet so for all I know the thing could have been full of mistakes, but I loved it all the same. I loved the joyful, daft swans of the first act, the movements all bird-like, jerky and elegant. The vicious creatures of the second act left me scared and broken. Wild passions can do that.

You can see a clip of the show here. Watch it and then buy tickets if you can.