Saturday, 28 April 2007

Petula Clark - A Sign Of The Times

Petula Clark - Downtown

Petula Clark - Fairfield Halls, Croydon

Went to see Petula Clark on Thursday night at the Fairfield Halls down in Croydon. Yes, Petula Clark!

I've always had a soft-spot for Petula, her songs from around 1965-1968 are so evocative of the time, with her clear voice and production, optimistic and joyful. Whenever I think of those '60s pop girls, it's Petula for me every time. I remember early Saturday evenings in the late '60s and early '70s with Cilla and Dusty and Lulu and Petula and they all wore long sparkly frocks for the big song. Marianne Faithfull was the bad girl who didn't appear, Sandi just wasn't big enough to really register beyond Eurovision and Clodagh Rodgers? But Petula epitomises that time for me and how I think of her.

Her voice is wonderfully clear and songs like 'Downtown', 'Don't Sleep In The Subway', 'I Know A Place', 'I Can't Live Without Your Love', 'Colour My World' and a host of others helped make London (and the world) swing and made London the place to be. Great, simple songs that stick in the mind. She was a star long before I was even born and that makes it a bit odd that she's not more of a legend than she is. I kept thinking to myself, 'That's *Petula Clark* on stage', not quite believing it...

Croydon is the start of suburban commuter-land in Surrey but you'd be hard-pressed to see where London ends and Surrey begins. I met Chris at Victoria for the trip down through saarf London and out into the big world. I've been to Croydon lots (it's just about 5 miles from my house) but I've never been to the Fairfeld Halls before. I'd always thought of the place as being a bit posh but that illusion dropped as soon as I entered the building. It would've been fab in the '70s, but now just looks a bit worn out, threadbare and a trifle grimy (and, ahem, provincial). The concert hall shriekd '70s at me, lots of wood paneling and brown. Just brown. A simple stage.

The band walked on, a nine-piece with three horn players at the back. They started playing 'Who Am I?', a voice floated in from the wings and, a few bars later, on walked Petula in a sparkly long red frock with a lace coat on top. Wow. There was Pet Clark in a sparkly frock and I whizzed back in time! She looks good, moving round the stage, engaging with the audience and the band, working it like the professional she is. But, I mean to say, that's PETULA CLARK!

She played for about an hour, doing a couple of songs and then telling a few stories of the old days, singing a couple of new songs, sometimes at the piano, sometimes wandering along the stage singing to the front few rows and then throwing back her head and giving us all some welly! She did a great version of 'I Know A Place' where she really wigged out, man. She can still do it! And then she said a few words, went off and the lights came up. 'Eh?' I thought and realised we were having a half-time. More Pet to come.

The second half opened with Pet re-appering in black sparkly this time and starting off with a couple of jazzy big band numbers, the music of her youth. Then launched into more favourites, she recited a poem she wrote on the Eurostar about the theatre, sang a Piaf song in French accompanying herself on piano, and more favourites. An hour later and it was all over to a standing ovation. And then back she came again for a fantastic, 'I Can't Live Without Your Love', the audience on their feet singing and clapping along and Pet in charge from the stage. It was a great ending, she shook hands and accepted flowers and that was it for the evening.

She has an astonishingly large catalogue of songs to choose from and she did all the biggies from my perspective. She sounded in excellent voice. She sang songs from some of the shows she's been in over the years, 'Blood Brothers', 'Sunset Boulevarde' and 'Finian's Rainbow'. She sang a few of her new songs which sounded good and probably more gentle on her voice as it is now. I thoroughly enjoyed the show - just over two hours, a load of memories and the knowledge that I've been in the presence of a great star.

Friday, 27 April 2007

The Rose Tattoo - National Theatre

I am officially on holiday as of tonight so went to see 'The Rose Tattoo' to celebrate. My recent run of plays hasn't been too successful, but (phew!) this bucked the trend in unpleasantness and was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

A play with love, despair, anger and hurt, humour, claustrophobia, shame, love and joy, the range of human emotions. A bit of light and shade, some humanity.

I don't have a very good track record with Tennesee Williams. My claim to fame (and everlasting shame) is falling asleep during the first act of 'The Glass Menagerie' sitting in the front row right in front of a small table on which was laid out a glass menagerie. It was in Toronto a couple of years ago, freezing snow outside, warm and cosy inside and my head nodded ...

Zoe Wanamaker is excellent as Serafina, the main character who's on stage for almost the whole time. It's not a one-woman show by any means but the production probably stands or falls by who plays that part. She's a social climber who starts off dressed to the nines in a colourful frock and gradually descends into a grimy slip as despair and loss affect her before dressing up again for a night of passion and ends up running after her new love in her dressing gown. Not the most physically flattering role for her to play but she did it so well.

It's not the most subtle of plays and you could see where it was heading but I wanted her to open her eyes and find love again in a cruel world. Zoe made me want that rather than the writing, I think, which is a demonstration of her power as an actress. There's a sort of parallel story going on with Serafina's daughter finding first love but that didn't engage me so much.

There was a nice motif of a watch that Serafina buys for her daughter's graduation from school that she keeps failing to give to her. The watch doesn't work while she's still in the rut of loss and still mourning the death of her husband three years earlier and then, once she's found a new love, the watch is working again. But she still fails to give it to her daughter.

It was an interesting production as well, with Serafina's house on a turntable on stage, turning round for every other act, a gaggle of women as neighbours, a gang of children running round at odd moments and, my favourite, a massively horned and shaggy brown goat! O yes. All life is here.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was moved, I had a chuckle, I struggled with the odd Italian-American accents, I admired Zoe in tight-fitting frocks and lose slips, I felt strangely embarrassed for the lover on stage in his boxer shorts, I was outraged when the goat didn't join the cast on stage for applause at the end. And I had a beer at half-time followed by ice-cream. What more could one ask?

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Influencer of Idols

I'm enjoying reading the biography of Marc Bolan by Mark Paytress. It's rather densely packed with facts and anecdotes as he recounts Mark Feld growing into Marc Bolan, along with analysis and speculation. There's lots of name-dropping of course, which is as I expected. But I didn't expect to see the name of Buffy Sainte-Marie in these pages.

He's still only 19 at the moment (I'm up to 1966) and about to join John's Children but he's already done some unsuccessful solo demos. One of his first demos was a song called, 'A Song for Soldiers' which is dismissed as a take on "... Donovan's song." This must refer to 'Universal Soldier' which is a Buffy song that Donovan covered.

Then, a few pages later, the author notes that Marc's voice changed and he developed a new style of singing, the style we know and love today. In his early years Marc imitated Cliff Richard and Bob Dylan, a sound I can't begin to imagine, but sometime in 1966 his voice changed. The author writes,

It was a remarkable transition with no obvious precedent... Comparisons have been made with Bessie Smith's blueswailing, though a more likely contemporary influence was Buffy Sainte-Marie, the Amer-indian folksinger whose dramatic and lachrymose vocal flutters would have reached Marc's ears during the mid-sixties.

I've never really thought of Buffy and Marc together. Buffy's voice is far stronger than Marc's but maybe Buffy's vibrato influenced Marc's warble? Something the book makes clear is that Marc wasn't reticent about 'borrowing' influences.

Not that it really matters. It's fascinating to see how Buffy pops up in all sorts of places. I wonder if she knows about this and whether she even knows who Marc was? Anyway, it's an excuse for another photo of Buffy.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Small Items Of News

Do you like my new colour scheme? I'm not sure myself but thought I'd give it a go.


I hate wearing my uniform - in my case, that's a suit. Generally it's medium-dark grey or navy blue (they're all variations on that colour scheme) so the colour comes out in the shirt, tie or socks. Or, ideally, all three. The 'suit' is so dull, boring, middle-class and nondescript, but at least it means not really having to think about what to wear.

I've had a suit day today and another one tomorrow (I'm seeing one of our ministers in the afternoon). Until I became fat I used to wear a suit everyday. Or rather every work day. I need a new job this year so I ought to start 'looking the part' again. What a pain.

Jim Lea

My rather shy and bashful comment on Jim's MySpace site has been accepted and published. I am comment number 3. And I'm still thrilled!


Amanda Palmer is back from her yoga retreat with a vengance. Lots of news is being blogged but her solo album won't be available until next year. Sigh.

Last 10 iPod

I've left my iPod on shuffle for the last few days so who knows what might pop into my ears? Here are the last 10 tracks:

English Summer Rain - Placebo
Love Is In Contol (Finger on the Trigger) - Donna Summer
Dedicated to the One I Love - Bitty McLean
Honey (Chile Sessions) - Moby
I'll Know - Ian Charleston & Julie Covington
Following Me - Steeleye Span
Ticket to Ride - the Carpenters
Too Much Heaven - the Bee Gees
I'd Be Far Better Off Without You' - Sandi Shaw
Live To Tell - Madonna

Even if I say so myself, that's an odd selection!


Went to see 'Treats' tonight at the Garrick Theatre.

Um, you want to know more? Ok...

Well, Billie Piper was having a night off (I joking said she was probably off while waiting at the bar - I must be psychic). Probably got fed up with being slapped around every night. So, this play is meant to demonstrate that sometimes the girl chooses the bad guy over the nice one, but do they have to be so unpleasant about it?

That's two Hampton plays in less than a week ('Total Eclispse' and 'Treats') and the abiding impression is that either he doesn't know any nice people or he's a mysogynist. Has he written anything upbeat or joyful? Probably, but I haven't seen it. Two plays that include wife beating. Two plays with aggressive men getting what they want. Two plays that should've been written in the Thatcher 'me me me' '80s. It all leaves a rather sour taste.

Now, I know that living in a Mary Poppins nice world would be sheer hell, but I quite like some light and shade, some "nice" to leaven the harshness of much of the world. Maybe that's one reason why Hampton is so highly thought of, that's he uncompromising? That things are black or white? I don't know. 'Hamlet' isn't cheerful or nice but it's not relentlessly unpleasant either, there is light and shade, we have rounded characters that make it thought provoking, challenging and uplifting. This isn't. I won't be going back (and, thankfully, these were cheap late-booked tickets).

And why does the Garrick stalls bar smell of drains?

'Treats'? I'd rather have a packet of treets, thank you. (Yes I thought of that on the tube home).

Monday, 23 April 2007

THUNK (the sound of me fainting)

Now that I've picked myself up off the floor I'd better explain how I ended up down there...


Dontcha just lurve MySpace? Jim Lea is a recent addition to the site and as soon as I saw he was on there I *had* to apply for friendship. It's the LAW dontcha know?

Anyways, I've been approved so the race was on to leave an early comment on his site. I had to compose carefully so I didn't appear as a wierdo and this is what I submitted:

I love the album - well done! Favourite tracks are 'Great Big Family' and 'Dead Rock UK' (I approve of giving Marc the honorific of 'Mr Bolan'). I played 'Go Out In Style' at an open-decks DJ night in a pub off the Strand a month ago and it went down well. We need more Lea music!

I am officially a little bit thrilled.

It's also nice to see that the album is now available for download through iTunes. I emailed iTunes as soon as the album was available through it's 'suggestions' facility. I doubt that I got it listed on iTunes but I hope I helped. Go on, try a few tracks - you'll love it!

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Curse of the Golden Flower

Went to see 'Curse of the Golden Flower' last night and my eyes are still recovering from the sheer scale and colour of the film. It was gorgeous beyond measure, sumptuous with added sumpt (as described in another blog), impossibly beautiful, etc etc... The size of the production was incredible, with more people on screen last night than I've probably seen in the last three months of travelling round London. The logistics of housing, clothing and feeding that many people must have equated to the trenches in the First World War. You can get an idea of the colour and size of the production on its website and the trailers.

The plot was quite thin and the pace very slow. Perhaps 'slow' should equate to 'stately' but I just wished they'd hurry up in a number of places. Basically, the Emperor returns from a war and everyone wants the throne. Throw in some poison to turn the Empress mad because she's having an affair with the Crown Prince (from the Emperor's first marriage) and the Emperor's first wife turning up who was supposed to have died 20 years ago and you have the usual tragedy mix. There are little twists and turns, but that's basically it. The film rests on how the story is told.

I love the way that the women are martial arts and weapons experts without any overt training and jump around unhampered by their flowing robes, that the Emperor is still a supreme swordsman despite getting no physical exercise and being carried everywhere, that no matter how many people are killed there are always more servants and army fodder.

One of my favourite extended scenes was when the Emperor's assassins go to kill the Emperor's doctor, his family and entire household in an inn in a mountain gorge. Rather than just battering down the front door, they fly down ropes from the cliff-tops (how they got up there must have exhausted the poor darlings) and then when they escape on horse-back the assassins follow by flying through the gorges again on ropes that come from nowhere and attack them. It's an incredibly spectacular scene and just a little bit silly. I loved it. I also loved the way the black-clad assassins kept popping up all over the place when least expected (no-one expects the Spanish Inquisition).

The massive battle scene was just too big to take on board, mind- numbing in size and scale, just having that many men all running in the same direction at one time must have been a health and safety nightmare. And where did the fields of potted yellow chrysanthemum's come from? And all that silk and golden thread? And what's happened to it all now? It's just unbelievably BIG.

The fact that I'm blogging at such length means it impacted on me in some way. I'm pleased I've seen it on the big screen - it wouldn't have the same impact seen on my telly from a DVD. Go and see it while it's on the big screen, sit back and relax into it, free your imagination and enjoy!

Friday, 20 April 2007


Remember my short bloggie about going to the National Portrait Gallery to see the photo of Poly Styrene by Pennie Smith? The photo wasn't available anywhere for some reason so I arranged for a private viewing courtesy of the helpful people in the gallery archive.

I've just been having a browse and imagine my surprise when up it popped when I was doing a Google image search. I won't reproduce it here - Poly or Pennie don't want it shown and I'll respect their wishes. It's much darker than the original, but it's the same photo. Maybe it's been scanned on from a book or newspaper?

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Amanda's Volvo

Amanda Palmer is selling her blue Volvo stationwagon on eBay. Wanna buy it?

As she says:

I bought this car in 1999. It has about 168,000 miles on it. I love this car. But its time to go car-free. I am a globe-trotting, plane-taking, train-taking motherfucker. Plus my parents are getting irritated that the thing is sitting in their driveway. The poor car, all Sad and Alone.

Ok, it won't start (which is why I ditched it there before the last tour) but I am guessing, in my most honest of estimates, that it doesn't need more than $500 of work to get it running and then it will be good for another life. volvos are SWEDISH and they are built to LAST. I know fellow-volvo owners who have driven theirs up to 250k. the deal is: you buy it, you tow it away (and probably see my parents, who will probably be nice to you and offer you a cup of coffee, and maybe see me and get a grateful hug as i bid a sad last farewell to my beloved car).

She is *so* brave.

Amanda goes on to say that:

"As Brian points out, The Volvo has been featured in many pieces of Dresden Dolls Media, including the paradise DVD (in which a piece falls off of the side and Brian curses it), the panic! video, and more. It is my dream that if nobody actually gets it fixed to use as their car for the next few years then somebody will buy it and use it as a flower planter, a piece of burning man kindling, or a writing desk. It's a lovely color!!"

I'm sold. Anyone want to buy it for me for Christmas?

Tyrannosaurus Rex

I've started reading a biography of Marc Bolan (a thick one with titchy writing so I'll be reading it for a long time to come) and accidentally got it out in the pub after our awayday yesterday and before I went to the Choccy Factory for my absinthe-less experience. Bill, my colleague, noticed and today handed me two CDs by Tyrannosaurus Rex when Marc was young and one of the beautiful people.

I love the titles of the records:

'For The Lion And The Unicorn In The Oak Forests Of Faun' and
'My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair... But Now They're Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows'

The titles alone give a pretty good indication of what you're in for.

It's really old stuff from the '60s that I wasn't aware was available. I'm listening to 'My People Were Fair...' at the moment and my face lit up when 'Child Star' started playing and then 'Strange Orchestra', both of which were on one of my first ever LPs from 1971. It was a T.Rex compilation with a purple cover and "T.Rex" spelt out in lightbulbs with a small black and white photo of Marc on the back - I think it was titled 'Debora' but it probably won't be found in any of the T.Rex discographies. I recognised the song titles but had forgotten the sound. Wow! Let's see what other memories are in store.

I've decide Bill's an old hippy. Come to think of it, I'm sure his hair would cover his ears if he combed it down rather than along the side of his head... That proves it.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Total Eclipse

No, not Bonnie Tyler's classic '80s track, the play at the Menier Chocolate Factory. A re-telling of the relationship between Rimbaud and Verlaine sounds good to me but the worries started when we got there and the place was virtually empty. By showtime there were 29 people in the audience - it's not a large venue but the seating would have been for at least twice as many as that.

I don't want to bad-mouth the thing, but I wouldn't want to sit through it again without some of the absinthe so liberally poured on stage. There was no warmth at all, the characters played as rather distasteful and offensive, far too serious with no ebb and flow of emotions, just a relentless intensity that wouldn't give up. Over-long speeches that seemed wordy for the sake of it. And why were Rimbaud's trousers so short? Yes, he's young and presumably grew out of his trousers when we first meet him but he wears the same clothes for three years while everyone else changes costume.

No I'm not going to do it. I'm starting to criticise it and pointing to niggley annoying things. The people involved must have put a huge effort into the production but it's not for me. I actually suggested leaving at half time and I never do that.

The play succeeded in one thing - it's made me want to find out more about the poets and whether they really were so relentlessly unpleasant.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Plastique Baggette

Patti Smith - Twelve

I've invested in Patti Smith's new record, 'Twelve,' made up of twelve cover versions with her personal interpretation of the songs. It's an interesting selection, from 'Are You Experienced' and 'Gimme Shelter' to 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World' and 'The Boy In The Bubble'. I like it, but I keep waiting for her to let rip with the vocal and she doesn't, it's an almost restrained re-telling of the songs. Where is the passion, the anger? A number of the songs are accoustic (or almost-accoustic) which might explain it. It'll be interesting to see her perform some of these songs live when we see her in May.

Donovan - The Hurdy Gurdy Man

I've been reading Donovan's autobiography recently. I've always liked Donovan, or at least, I've always liked his hits which pander to my hippy-trippy side. He's back there in my consciousness along with The Monkeys and others from the '60s. He was born in 1946 and 'retired' from the music biz in 1970 at the age of 24 and yet he'd achieved and seen so much by that age - world tours, massive single and album hits, millions of pounds, met the most creative people of the decade, etc. He paints an interesting tale of his version of the mid-late '60s, the famous names, the songs, the events and his own inner turmoils and loves.

I, obviously, kept my eyes open for references to Buffy Sainte-Marie who gets two mentions. Firstly when Donovan sings 'Cod'ine' as part of his original demo to get a record deal and then again when he records 'Universal Soldier' and refers to Buffy as "another great lady of folk", but that's about it. He talks about Joan Baez a lot, and Dylan, but that's it for Buffy.

He's been an entertaining read but I'd actually like to know what's happened since 1970. I hope there's a follow-up volume to tel us what's happened since his glory days. He was supposed to go on tour in the UK this spring but it's been cancelled for some reason.

The final paragraph of the book reads:

"I finish writing shortly after the second war in Iraq. I look around me and see that the peace and love my friends and I called for in the 1960s are needed now more than ever."


Do you like 'awaydays' at work? We've got one tomorrow and part of me is dreading it. There's only going to be about 15 of us there but that's not the point. I've got to lead a couple of the sessions and that's something I hate doing. It's in Westminster Central Hall which isn't far enough away from the office for my liking.

Suzanne Vega - Beauty & Crime

Suzanne's new album is out on 5 June, called ‘Beauty & Crime’. Her website tells us that it’s:

Inspired by the city where Suzanne grew up and still currently resides, Beauty & Crime revolves around Suzanne's experiences in New York. Her gift for storytelling is evident on 'New York is a Woman', which personifies the city as a hard-luck lady whose beauty still shines.

I'm looking forward to this record.

Amanda Palmer

Amanda's been a bit low profile recently, partly due to a health scare and partly being overseas doing a yoga course. But she's back now, in fine fettle, and doing a solo album with Ben Folds. I'm still hoping for the Dresden's Roundhouse DVD in June to coincide with the American tour but let's wait and see, shall we? Brian's currently bashing away on the Humanwine tour.

Monday, 16 April 2007

A Benediction of Noize

I visited the temple today, did an act of contrition and received four benedictions for my evening meditation and contemplation of Noize. O yes, it's SLADE Day again! There they were in the 'new' rack waiting to be harvested, four lovely re-mastered CDs. And they seem to be pre-programmed to automatically set the volume dial to 11... That's a good thing, by the way.

First up is 'Whatever Happened To SLADE', their 1977 album on return from a couple of years in America and the last SLADE album I got straight away when it was released. So I did the same thing today. I still think Nod looks like a thug on the cover in his skin photo but there's a lovely photo of him inside to make up for that. And the music? Clear as a bell, lovely to hear the guitar and bass lines rather than a mess of loudnosity. It's full of wild guitars and some virtuoso riffs,a tight sound from a band that knows what it's doing and is doing it loudly.

There are 11 tracks on the original record plus 9 bonus tracks on this re-released version, covering all the singles and 'B' sides over 1977 and 1978. A hard rockin' collection if ever there was one and it includes the magnificent 'It's Alright Buy Me'.

Next up is 'We'll Bring The House Down', SLADE's 'come back' album celebrating their success at the Reading Festival in 1981. It's made up of the tracks from the 1979 album, 'Return To Base' and the newer songs that made Reading a triumph and the start of their second life. I didn't see them at Reading but I did see them in Cardiff later that year (when Dave offered me a tab... sigh... and I declined - how can one accept a tab from a god?).

The record is full of relatively short rockers, all two or three minute gems (the longest track on the record is 'Sign Of The Times at 3.58 minutes). This album is slightly less relentless then 'Whatever Happened' and sounds more relaxed, well, that is, if a SLADE record can sound relaxed ...

What makes this record quite special is that it includes some songs I haven't heard before. This is obviously a failing in me, not having tracked them down before, but it's wonderful to hear new songs! I love 'I'm Mad' and the rockabilly-esque '9 To 5'

Then comes 'Till Deaf Do Us Part' with my least favourite SLADE cover (the previous version of this album just had a photo of the four Lords but this is the original cover). There's a great photo of Dave on the back cover standing on a platform on stage, arms raised and the hordes of Reading going back into the distance as far as you can make out, and him conducting them all singing along to his music - such a classic photo and what a fantastic memory for him.

The record opens with 'Rock 'n' Roll Preacher', a classic SLADE opener with Dave and Jim singing, 'Hallelujah' in the chorus. It then launches into 'Lock Up Your Daughters', 'Till Deaf' and 'Ruby Red', a great collection of tracks that gets the album off to a roaring start. This is classic SLADE, with the tender finger picking on 'A Night To Remember' with Don's drums pounding in and Jim on the organ. It also includes Dave's solo extravaganza 'M'hat M'coat' that adds some gravitas to the album. This is a truly great rock album.

The last of the SLADE benedictions is the new double compilation, 'Rockers'. I'm not entirely sure what this record is for other than as a showcase for SLADE the rock band rather than the pop group of the hits. It's a selection of some of their rockier tracks between 1969 and 1987, from the studio version of 'Born To Be Wild' (I think I'd rather have had the live version from 'SLADE Alive') to the wonderful 'You Boyz Make Big Noise' in 1987 (I love the ending of this song, a perfect ending to any SLADE album). The blurb on the back of the CD pack reads, 'An unbeatable collection documenting one of the UK's greatest bands doing what they do best - rockin' and rollin'!'. How true. Few bands can rival SLADE in their element, which is on stage with amps turned to 11. It's nicely packaged in bright red to complement the red of 'SLADE Alive!'.

Of course, as a compilation, everyone will have a different track listing - with such a tremendous back catalogue there's bound to be one or two personal classics missing but I can live with that. This is a *good* selection and if you like hard, guitar-driven rock songs, then this is the album for you. Buy it. Now.

I am sated. For the time being. More to come over the summer!

Sunday, 15 April 2007


The big pharmaceutical companies spend millions developing new drugs and wonderful cures for diseases. In part we should be pleased at the curing aspect and despise the profit margins. I've discovered a cure I'm willing to give to the world for free.

For the last few weeks my blood sugar has been consistently high but - miracle of miracles - this morning I had my lowest reading for weeks. What could have caused it? Oh, I know - Guinness and chocolate with a couple of glasses of merlot for good measure. Clearly, chocolate and Guinness get a bad press in diabeatnik circles and yet here they are, the saviours of excess blood sugar.

I freely give this cure to the world and if you see me in a pub in the next few weeks, yes, mine's a Guinness please.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Boeing Boeing (boing boing)

It was Chris's birthday today so after taking him for a slap-up, no-expense spared meal of chips, beans and sausages at my supper-club of choice in Soho we meandered round the streets and tourists of the West End, wending our slow (and increasingly nervous on Chris's part) way to the Comedy Theatre for his birthday surprise - Boeing Boeing! It's a revival of a '60s farce that he's mentioned a few times but I'd never risen to the bait.

Once you get over the 'swinging '60s' setting in which a playboy juggles three fiances who are all air hostesses with the obvious problem of them all having a stop-over at the same time, then you can just sit back and relax into the play. It's laugh-out-loud funny and even had me chuckling away to it. The cast were excellent and were obviously having a good time up there on the stage, the staging was well thought out, even down to the discreet lighting reflecting the three colours of the lasses uniforms.

The star of the night was Frances De La Tour as the playboy's maid, not because she's the main name on the titles but because she was excellent. She was a perfect example of how a play isn't just about reading someone's words out loud, it's the actor interpretting it, voice inflections and pauses, moving the body in certain ways to emphasise words or situations - she made me squirm in my seat a couple of times when she deliberately exercised power over the timid and hapless friend of the playboy, embarrassing him and he's too polite to tell her to go away. It was a masterclass. And the howls of laughter from the audience only encouraged her. A mistress of the one-liner.

The other star for me was Michelle Gomez who played Gretchen, the Lufthansa hostess, who out-German's even the most stereotypical German. She was magnificent in a Wagnerian Valkyrie way, aloof and cold but smouldering with passion and fervour, changing moment to moment with an indomitable will. A fantastic performance.

Tamzin Outhwaite was good as the cheeky American hostess with a passion for practicing her kissing technique as was Daisy Beaumont as the smouldering Italian who pouted and sneered with such grace and style. All three hostesses were very good, maintaining their distinct accents throughout and looking good in the skimpy colourful uniforms. The men were ok too, but I saw them more as foils for the women than anything else.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and, luckily, so did Chris!

No Frying Tonight

Phew! We came close a couple of times but, luckily, we escaped being fried by the lighteningbolts that can fly from the Galactic Emperor's fingertips when he's in one of his moods. Know what I mean?

I made the mistake of watching 'Star Wars' episodes 1-3 on Easter Sunday, watching the mere senator becoming president and taking over as the evil emperor. And, of course, he's played by Ian McDiarmid who was also playing the title role in this evening's entertainment, 'John Gabriel Borkman' at the Donmar Warehouse.

I was told 'JGB' was good, that I'd enjoy it, that the evil emperor was in it along with Penelope Wilton and I thought, 'oh, that sounds ok...'. What I didn't quite realise was that this was by Ibsen. I must've been told but it didn't quite go in, if you know what I mean. Now, I like a good song'n'dance routine with a bit of stand-up but you tend not to get many of them in Ibsen.

The first act was all that I feared, doom, gloom, despondency, despair, claustrophic niggling by sisters who loved the same man and same son ... not a barrel of laughs. But it was nice seeing the snow fall through the set windows (remembering the rain on Mary Tudor I can only conclude that the Donmar likes 'weather'). And I waited for the wolf to appear (the play's motif).

The second act introduced Ian as JGB and he injected a nice note of cynicism, humour, self-centredness and downright arrogance. A pleasure to watch his character unfold. And watching Penelope and Ian work off eachother was excellent, especially when she shouted at him a mere couple of yards in front of me (the Donmar is compact) and I thought, 'that's a good shout, that is!'.

I won't go any further since there's bound to be a far more objectively critical review appearing in a blog near you soon. Suffice to say, I enjoyed it, it wasn't at all what I expected, the acting kept me enthralled most of the time but I didn't have an emotional attachment to it. A good night out! The only downside was that the actors didn't leave footprints in the snow when the snowy white carpet was unrolled - us snow people notice things like that.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Enemies of Civilisation

I’m sure we can all come up with the Great Nasties, those that spell the doom of the world in unpleasant ways, and those Niggling Little Hitlers that lead the march to destruction. One of my Great Enemies is the unholy alliance of Parcelforce and Amazon.

Separately I’m sure they’re lovely and are kind to animals and young children and all that stuff. But, Enemie, I Name Thee!

John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)

I'm not sure how many different versions of 'John, I'm Only Dancing' by David Bowie I have but I've acquired another one - 'John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)' on the 'Young Americans' album.

I love the original, which made no sense to me at the time since I was so young (shut up! yes I was), but, now that I've heard it, I love this funked up version as well. It sounds like mid-'70s funk, which it is, but the energy and exhileration just pour out of the speakers.

This song must go onto my iPod!

Monday, 9 April 2007

Iggy at Chelsea

I'm browsing round the RHS website while I try to decide whether to get a full day or afternoon ticket to the Chelsea Flower Show at the end of May and I notice that Iggy Pop's 'Lust for Life' is the inspiration for a small garden by The Children's Society.

The article goes:

Wild man of pop Iggy Pop is the inspiration for one of the small gardens at this year’s show! Lust for Life by the Children’s Society takes inspiration from the song Lust for Life by Iggy Pop and is an optimistic and invigorating space.

The innovative design uses the space to represent children's dreams through vibrantly coloured planting and 'thought bubbles' representing the dreams of children and their manifestation into reality. An arc of water, representing the power and triumph of the human spirit, traverses the garden in rhythmic bursts to the beat of Lust for Life.

Iggy said: "Lust for Life is full of optimism as young people should be...but too many aren't. I'm honoured that The Children's Society's garden is inspired by my music and wholeheartedly support the work that they do - they rock!”

This surely proves that gardening is the new rock'n'roll.

Here are a few memories of my trip to Chelsea last year:

Sunday, 8 April 2007


I make no apologies for liking daffodils, they’re the flower that says spring is here. I love seeing clumps of them popping up all over the place, a bright, cheerful yellow in various shades. They’re happy and cheerful, flutes surrounded by petals. I prefer the ones with darker flutes and light yellow petals – they seem a bit more traditional and ‘right’ to me. A lot of these new varieties don’t shriek spring as loudly as they could.

I have two vases full of daffs on my table, brightening up the room no end. The only downside is that they don’t last for long. They’re buds one moment, open into full bloom for a couple of days and then start turning. I don’t care. My photos are a bit misleading since the petals aren't as pale as they look, they're a nice rich shade of yellow.

In part, they make me recall driving along Scotswood Road with my Mam and challenging each other to count the banks of daffs growing where houses and workshops used to be in the olden days.

I like flowers anyway. I was pleased that I finally made it to the Chelsea Flower Show last year to see blooms of all descriptions (and some there are few words for). Now that I’ve properly discovered it, I hope to go again this year.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Maximo Park at HMV Oxford Street

I left work early to go up to Oxford Street to see Maximo Park play a promo gig at HMV.

The shop seemed empty when I got there and it was only when I noticed people coming in from the side of the shop that I realised there was a queue outside in the alleyway so I scuttled outside. I have to admit I hesitated before joining it - I haven't seen so many teenagers in one place since I last visited a school... but I was brave and joined it, iPod loudly playing in my ears and book of Sir Thomas Wyatt poems clutched tight to make me invisible.

After what seemed like an age me Geordie lads took to the stage and belted out 'Girls Who Play Guitars' from the new record (it's the first track and they opened The Astoria gig a month or so back with that song) before launching into 'Our Velocity'. I had a big grin plastered over my face as they played for just over half an hour, songs from the new record (including 'Books From Boxes' and 'Nosebleed') as well as Maximo classics ('Going Missing', 'Graffiti' and 'Apply Some Pressure' which closed the set). Jumping round the stage, belting out loud music and filling the barn that is HMV with energy - they looked and sounded superb, a tight band that know what they're doing and they're doing it so well.

I hung around for the signing afterwards, self-conscious and seeking solace in Mr Wyatt again but, as Chris said, they're my Maximos as well as anyone else's. After hanging around for an hour I finally had my 15 seconds with them. They sat at a table so each could sign records, CDs and booklets. All I could say was, 'it's a great record'/'love the new album' as I moved along the table and was rewarded with lovely smiles, beaming eyes and 'thank you's. Paul and Duncan in particular have very white teeth. They must've been on autopilot by the time I met them but they seemed genuinely grateful that people had turned up, that I said I loved the record and the beaming smiles and 'thank you's made the wait worthwhile. They were polite and came across as nice lads. Their Mam's would be proud of them.

Monday, 2 April 2007

SLADE in Flame - The DVD

'SLADE in Flame' was re-issued today and it almost sold out on its first day of release. I went up to the giant HMV shop on Oxford Street and there were no 'Flame' DVDs in the new releases racks or the SLADE racks. I went up to the counter to ask about it to to be told it was 'virtually sold out' and I followed the sales assistant round the various racks to eventually find three copies of the DVD - I took one, leaving two left for the rest of London.

'Flame' is SLADE's 1974 film that surprised us fans and has, over the years, garnered praise as a great rock film. The DVD is a new version from the original print and includes a new documentary of interviews with the band and a copy of the soundtrack CD. The packaging is excellent, with a gatefold sleeve and a 16 page booklet. It's a lovely package.

I haven't seen the whole film yet, I've focused on the documentary and interviews with the band. It's lovely to see Jim, Dave and Don talking about the film, alongside Noddy, although Nod's bits seemed to be from an interview included on the previous DVD edition of the film. I don't really care about that - it's great to see them all on the same DVD chatting about each other and the film. They were such a great band.

'SLADE in Flame' will receive it's grand viewing at the weekend. I'm listening to the accompanying CD at the moment - such great music. Be there or be square!

'Our Earthly Pleasures' by Maximo Park

How does one deliver an objectively critical review of perfection? The new Maximo's album is, quite simply, magnificent. It's full of driving energy, the music pushing forward and lyrics challenging pop conventions, with Paul singing in Geordie. They're in a league of their own.

She goes out/She gets drunk/She gets off/She goes home

It opens with 'Girls Who Play Guitars', a great opener, with girls living the lads life and enjoying themselves without a thought for tomorrow and why should they? As the sonng concludes, 'It's her life, And a life worth living'. Give up your prejudice and puritanical views and accept equality in all things. Why not? It's the same kind of feel to 'Karaoke Plays' a few songs later with personal freedom as a priority rather than convention.

In a way, this is a symbol for the album. It's more grown up than the first album, more 'adult'. The first album was a glory of songs about growing up, falling in love and leaving home. Since then, the Maximo's have travelld the world, felt the adoration of thousands at a time and seen and done things they probably couldn't even dream of when they wrote the first album. This record is more mature and powerful as a result of the last couple of years.

Have we become the Unshockable or the Saddened?

It's nice to see the Maximo's being self-aware of what's happening to them - are they becoming cynical of the world they see in front of them, which is, after all, quite a controlled world? 'The Unshockable' is a driving track, fast and menacing with clever lyrics in a sort of question and answer format to challenge the listener and move them forward like the motif of late-night transport.

You don't have to deny your urge / It doesn't make you bad

The opening lines to 'Your Urge' say it all really. Be who you are and don't be scared, accept you might be wasting your time but 'another useless fumble/another useless stumble' might still be worth it. On the other hand, you need to be sensible. 'Nosebleed' comments that 'He changed his look for you/You changed your life for him' and questions whether it was worth it. 'Did we go too far/ Is that why your nose is bleeding?'

Love is a lie, which means I've been lied to...

I'm pleased that, on this record, the song-writing credits are clear, with Paul credited to all songs, presumably for the lyrics. Co-writers are usually Duncan (guitars) and Lukas (keyboards), with one co-credited to Archis (bass), although Paul is credited with writing 'By The Monument' himself. Without being divisive it helps to show where interests lie.

You spent the evening unpacking books from boxes...

Literature and books in general are a constant theme in Maximo songs - I don't know much about the background to any of the band members but does this suggets that Paul was an English student at some point? With songs like, 'Books from Boxes' and 'Russian Literature', it makes you wonder. There's a short quote from 'Tender Is The Night' (F. Scott Fitzgerald) on the inside cover of the CD booklet. He obviously likes words, the texture of words on the tongue and the play with meanings by putting words together.

Actually, y'know, I don't care. It's a magnificent album and I love it. It's fast, it's punky, it's intelligent and it's by the Maximos. I'm seeing me Geordie lads twice in May and I want to hear these songs live. They're playing a 'secret' gig at the 100 Club tonight and I wish them well. Practice the songs, lads, so you're perfect for when I see you in May. I have no doubts you will be!

'When you tend to travel at such speed/It's wor velocity!'

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Cerys Matthews broke my computer

Regular readers will know of my trials and tribulations with my laptop. It's been loyal throughout it's short life but nearly four years on it's showing distinct signs of aging. The screen doesn't always flash into life without careful bumping (lifting it off the table a short way and dropping it) to jog it along, the fan whirs loudly like an aircraft and increasingly it gets stuck on log-out and doesn't switch off (removing the battery helps with this).

But then came along Cerys Matthews. I enjoyed her last album ('Never Said Goodbye') so thought I'd check out her first (solo) album, 'Cockahoop'. So I got it and liked it and wanted to put it on iPod to enjoy wherever I am in future. But would it give up it's music? Would it buggery! The CD drive whirs and then stops, the CD isn't recognised, it doesn't exist. I try to open it manually and it's there, I can see the file icons on screen but can't open them, import them or add them to my music library. The songs are coded as .cda files (whatever that means). Then when I give up the damned disc won't exit. I couldn't get the drive to open for some reason. O woe. So Cerys broke my laptop. Although to be fair, it's her record company or CD manufacturer that's done it really. I give up and try again the next day and out it slides. Phew!

But why is the CD protected anyway? I've bought it, I've bought the right to listen to the music and if I choose to listen to it on the move rather than statically in my living room then that's my right isn't it? What's the point of protection when it's available for download on iTunes?

Beverley Knight - 'No Man's Land'

Beverley's new single.