Friday, 28 September 2007

If it ain't Stiff...

I accidentally went into the HMV at Covent Garden yesterday after 'Lord of the Rings' and accidentally bought product. I couldn't help myself when I saw the new box set of Stiff records released by Salvo, 'The Big Stiff Box Set' with its tasteful cover.

Stiff was one of the saviours of pop music in the late '70s and part of the whole 'do it yourself' thing that came with punk - have an idea, record it and release it within days. Cheap 'n' cheerful and you never knew what kind of music would feature in the next release, but always worth watching out for. I think my first Stiff single was 'One Chord Wonders' by The Adverts (who can forget Gaye Adverts panda-eyes staring through the screen on 'Top of the Pops' when they played 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes'? and she played bass too). I went to see the 'Be Stiff Tour' with the marvellous Lene Lovich and Rachel Sweet which was a wonder to behold, half a dozen acts all playing on the same stage in the space of two hours.

The roster of Stiff stars is incredibly varied and we should all be grateful that Stiff gave them their break. With one or two exceptions, most moved on after a single or two so Stiff never enjoyed the mega-success of some of its artists, but that's not the point really.

Some of the names on this collection are: Nick Lowe, The Damned, Elvis Costello, Motorhead, Kirsty MacColl, The Pogues, Tracey Ullman, Ian Dury, Wreckless Eric, Jona Lewie, Lene Lovitch, Rachel Sweet, Madness, Tenpole Tudor, The Adverts, The Belle Stars, Department S and Alvin Stardust. And of course the wonderful Jane Aire.

Many of the tracks are new 'uns to me and some are barely remembered, like 'What Becomes of the Broken Hearted' by Dave Stewart and Colin Bluntstone, a lovely version of the song. From punk to swing and touching on everything inbetween, the Stiff catalogue is a marvel to behold. A new gem for me is 'Religious Persuasion' by Andy White (who? but see here) and Desmond Dekker's 'Please Don't Bend' is pretty damn fab. 'Do You Believe in the Westworld' by Theatre of Hate deserves many plays. At over four hours, 98 tracks on four CDs and a 60-odd page booklet, this is a bargain indeed. Click on the link above to see the full track listing of wonders and oddities.

As they said back in the day, 'If it ain't Stiff it ain't worth a fuck'. How right they were.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

'Lord of the Rings' at Drury Lane

This afternoon I went to see 'Lord of the Rings' at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. I wanted to see what they'd done to the book to turn it into a play with music and songs, especially after the films. I read the book for the first time when I was 16 and have a lot of emotional baggage associated with it. I didn't know what to expect from the play so it was a bit of a gamble.

Matinees are an interesting experience themselves - who goes to a matinee? Mainly old people and tourists it seems, and me. It's nice being served immediately at the bar for the mandatory diet coke and, for some reason, there's an exhibition of paintings by Ronnie Wood on the stairs and balconies. I walked into the theatre to find the stage infested with hobbits and some wandering round the seats in the stalls and the grand circle, chasing and catching fireflies (well, little lights, really). That kept going until the start of the play proper, which began with Bilbo's eleventy-one birthday party and where he vanishes. And he did just that, turned invisible. No idea how they did that, no sign of trapdoors or anything, he just vanished. Ooooo magik!

I won't repeat the story - you'll know it and if you don't why not and why are you reading this? When non-hobbit characters started appearing it was odd to notice that the hobbits weren't that small in comparison really. Some of the male actors wore platform boots to give them just that little bit more height, not really noticeable, and the women all (I think) seemed to wear big platforms hidden under their flowing dresses, only noticeable when they walked or bended. None of the actors really stood out as particularly good or bad, but the real star was the stage.

The stage was a big turntable that rotated and undulated at the drop of a hobbit. It was a marvel of engineering, bits raising and lowering to play the part of battlements, mountains, hills, bridges, you name an architectural feature and that stage could mimic it. Most impressive indeed (see the photo at the end for an indication of what it could do). There were also a few scenes when elves flew or floated with some nice wire-work. Orcs bounced round the stage on those 'leg extender' things that are becoming more common and Ents wandered round on huge stilts that made me feel vertiginous just watching. A nice set.

I felt a bit let down by the closing of the first act which should have been the big cliff-hanger of Gandalf fighting the Balrog in the mines of Moria. It was obviously going to be a big set piece, the wind machine starts blowing into the audience with some dry ice, 'leaves' fall from the ceiling to be blown into us and the music gets louder and wilder - great so far, but where is the light show? It cried out for some glorious pyrotechnics and we got a couple of fuzzy red spots. Or something. That could have been so much better.

Strangely enough, there was a second short interlude, the lights stayed down and it was only for a few minutes so I'm not sure what it was for. Just as hobbits invaded the theatre at the start of the play, now the orcs came into the audience to scare people. I kept my head down.

How on earth do you transform something with the broad scope of 'Lord of the Rings' into a two and half hour play? By choosing bits of the story to portray, ignoring others and merging characters and events. The bits chosen were all the more spectacular bits, as you'd expect, but it did seem like we were being moved from one set piece to another. I don't suppose there's anything they can do about that.

All in all, I enjoyed it. Nice special effects and some spectacular scenes. I wasn't keen on the speaking in Elvish - and especially not singing in Elvish which seems like a big cop out on writing good songs. I also got a bit irritated by the south west accents of the hobbits to signal they're a rural people (wonder what tourists make of that?) - they don't need accents. I can rise above the irritations.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

'Wicked' at the Apollo Victoria

I went to see 'Wicked' this evening, 53 weeks after last seeing it. I've seen it twice before, the first time in New York a few years ago and then last September at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. It's largely a different cast now, with Kerry Ellis as Elphaba and Dianne Pilkington as Glinda, but Idina Menzel's influence is still there in terms of vocal styling.

I'm quite familiar with the show and could look forward to the set pieces and appreciate the little changes resulting from having two new leads. 'Defying Gravity' is the big sequence but I didn't feel Kerry quite pulled it off compared to my memories of Idina (who is also on the cast recording), not delivering the same emotional impact. On the other hand, I liked her version of 'No Good Deed' which seemed a more more controlled and less fraught than Idina's. I think Kerry suffers from trying to sound like Idina, singing in the same style.

The pleasant surprise was Dianne who played the blond bimbo Glinda and played it for laughs as well as sympathies. She had great comic timing, particularly in her big piece, 'Popular', which was excellent, sounding good, funny and with lots of little 'blond' additions. After that sequence I liked her a lot - I think it just took some time for me to see her in the role, but she was very good indeed.

I enjoyed it immensely, grinning at the jokes and singing along under my breath in places. The Wizard's solo song still annoys me - it's unnecessary and only there for the older male lead to have something to do - but I can live with that. All in all, it was a good night out!

The Diabeatnic Club

The Diabeatnic Club has opened its doors for the first in my series of annual check-ups. It kicked off today and will continue on and off into November. Today was eyes and jabs.

I went to the Club at St George's Hospital to have eye-drops inserted and then the inside of my eye-balls viewed on a computer screen. As the eye doctor politely reminded me, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to blindness. Luckily, my eyes seem to be fine. Or at least they were until I went outside into the sunshine and wham! instant squint! The eye-drops open the up the retina so the doctor can see inside the eyeball and an open retina lets in lots of light. I walked to the bus stop with one hand over my eyes and squinted through my fingers to see where I was going. It was incredibly uncomfortable. I *must* remember to take sun-glasses with me next time (my appointment is on 24 September 2008).

This afternoon I strolled round the corner to my doctor for a flu jab (flu and its remedies play havoc with blood glucose). It was almost like a tea dance without the tea and without dancing, biscuits and orange juice on the table and lots of old folks (made me feel the sprightliness of youth!). Because I'm under 65 (and I am, thank you very much) I was also offered a pneumonia jab. So, pneumonia in my left arm and flu in my right.

My next appointment is in mid-October for the deep blood tests.

Siouxsie - More London Gigs

It's not just the Pistols that are adding more gigs to their autumn schedule, so is Siouxsie!

She's playing the Astoria on 19 October and then added the Roundhouse on 5 November. Now she's added 20 October at the Astoria and 24 October at the Electric Ballroom. I didn't win tickets to see her in Paris at the Eiffel Tower this Friday but I've got tickets for the first Astoria and the Roundhouse gigs so that'll keep me happy.

I like to see 'my' people doing well.

Trannyshack in London

You've got to admire enterprise and determination.

Dawn has somehow tempted the Trannyshack stars to travel to London from San Francisco to appear at her MisterSister club on 19 October. How she did that is anyone's guess. I hope it's going to be filmed.

Unfortunately that's the night Siouxsie plays at the Astoria so I suspect the early part of the evening is likely to be a bit quiet.

I don't understand the fascination with all things cross and trans but it's bound to be a fun night. And yes, I like the poster!

More Sex Pistols Shows

Those raggedy-taggledy Pistol lads are doing more shows - 12 November at Brixton Academy and 17 November in Manchester. There was a pre-sale for mailing list people for the Brixton show today but it had sold out by the time I got the email which is rather annoying, but at least they're trying to flout the touts.

A note on John's website on Friday said:

Ticket Touts: Never Mind the Parasites

JohnLydon.Com is saddened to hear that tickets for the Brixton shows have already fallen into the wrong hands; leaving many loyal fans frustrated. Unfortunately these are circumstances out of our control.

We genuinely sympathise with these fans, many of whom now feel they will be forced to turn to ticket touts. John Lydon in NO way condones ticket touts. Both he and everyone at JohnLydon.Com are completely against touts, ebay charlatans, and grasping ticket agencies. These people are parasites and should be regarded as such.

At least I've got tickets for the gig on the 9th!

Monday, 24 September 2007

Buffy Sainte-Marie in Belleville, 2005

I’ve mentioned seeing Buffy Sainte-Marie in Canada a few times but, since it was before I started the blog, I’ve never recounted the full tale. Listening to Buffy over the weekend and a few stray thoughts led me to the keyboard to spin a new tale of an old encounter. So sit back, dear reader, with a cup of tea since this will be a long ‘un…

Buffy has been a hero of mine since 1975-76 when I saw a half-hour programme on BBC2 about her music, just music with film clips to illustrate the songs (Dory Previn was in the same series). That programme led me to the record shops in Newcastle and I eventually found one record, ‘Sweet America’ in Windows Music Shop in the Central Arcade (and the shop is still there today). I loved it and began hunting for more, finding the double ‘Best Of’ and ‘Native North American Child’. I played those three records endlessly in my teens and 20s, including during the punk years (Buffy was a punk too, y’know), and they were quite influential on me.

The years passed and CDs were developed and in the early ‘90s while browsing through HMV I found ‘Coincidence And Likely Stories’ by Buffy. I got it as a reminder of the old days and it blew me away all over again, especially the magnificent ‘Starwalker’ and ‘Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee’. I slowly started amassing my Buffy collection as I found the CDs in record shops. Some were more difficult to track down and only became available in the last few years through searching the Internet.

The Internet is a powerful tool and that’s how I found out that she was still touring and lecturing, still fighting. And it came to pass, over Christmas 2004, that I found out that Buffy was playing in Belleville, Ontario, on my birthday. ‘Belleville Rendezvous’ was my top film at that time, with the marvellous Triplettes. It was a sign, I *had* to go, and Chris agreed to accompany me.

The next job was to get there. That meant a flight to Toronto (staying in the lovely King Edward Hotel) and a train journey along the lake shore to Belleville and staying in the one hotel in the middle of town for one night. The day of the concert dawned and I was up early in Toronto, checking for more snow but disappointed by the lack of white outside, and having breakfast in the lovely self-service market that is (or at least, was) the Movenpick Marche, bagels, fruit juice and a big mug of coffee. Onwards to Union Station where I’d been greeting with a questioning “Belleville? What you going there for?” when I picked up the train tickets a couple of days earlier. Queuing and hoping we were in the right queue, eventually getting on the huge train and finding spacious seats to get settled in. It started snowing as the train left the station, pulling out of Toronto and into the countryside along Lake Ontario, farmland covered in a layer of snow and a misty morning out over the lake obscuring the view.

A couple of hours later we climbed down onto the platform in Belleville, found the one-taxi taxi-rank and got the car to the Clarion Inn, a big square brick building of a hotel, plastic flowers in the foyer and hallways trying to brighten it up. I liked it. If you’re having an adventure this is the kind of hotel to be in, one that’s a bit different and full of faded atmosphere. We were in a suite of rooms that were obviously a suite because they were in the corner of the building with no other access to one of the rooms. We unpacked the few items we’d brought and went downstairs to the coffee-shop attached to the hotel, Cora's, brightly coloured and warm with big windows so we could watch the snow drifting down outside.

After lunch we wrapped up warm and went outside for a walk to get our bearings and find the theatre. The streets were empty of people and cars, very quiet in the early afternoon, but we found Front Street and the Empire Theatre with Buffy’s name on the sign outside. This was the place. Inside to pick up the tickets and I asked if it would be ok to look around, in part as an opportunity to warm up. The receptionist politely said the theatre wasn’t open but while we were chatting we’d caught the attention of Mark, the owner of the theatre, who came over to welcome his overseas guests (we’d corresponded by email while buying the tickets) and he showed us round the theatre, which was good of him. He promised me a poster of the event and would try to help me meet Buffy afterwards. Then we went back to the hotel to relax and keep calm for the evening.

That evening we went out into snowy Belleville, all lit up like Christmas with lights in the trees and along the roads and popped into Paolo's restaurant for pizza and Steam Whistle beer. It was nice to see some other souls in this town and the place was quite full. Then on to theatre and a drink in the bar (Chris knocked his bottle of beer onto the floor by accident) and into the auditorium to our seats on the left-hand side looking towards the stage. A local singer called, I think, Emily, played a set and then Mark came on to announce Buffy and mentioned that 'two guys from London, England' were in the audience and the audience went ‘whoo!’ in welcome.

And then on came Buffy. A drummer, a guitarist and Buffy alternately playing guitar, keyboard and piano. The setlist was:

Piney Wood Hills
Blue Sunday (a new song)
Fallen Angels
Cripple Creek
He’s An Indian Cowboy at the Rodeo
Big Ones Get Away
Until It's Time For You To Go
Up Where We Belong
New Orleans Song (a new song)
Children’s Song from Sesame Street
Universal Soldier
Dispossessed Blues (a song by or about a friend?)
Priests of the Golden Bull
Darling Don't Cry
Another new song
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (reggae version)
Goodnight (encore)

Wearing black jeans and a black bomber-type jacket and leather platform boots that she referred to as her moccasins, Buffy also welcomed the ‘two guys from London’. She went on to explain that when she recorded ‘Coincidence And Likely Stories’ in the early ‘90s she’d produced it on her computer in Hawaii and bounced it off a satellite to London for it to be mastered. It was great to see her pick up her mouthbow and play ‘Cripple Creek’, at which point she said, “If you can make music with a weapon we’ve still got some hope.”

She had no need of backing singers since the audience did that job for her. The majority of the audience were First Nations people and happily joined in the powwow singing, surrounding us with multiphonic powwow. I recall looking round briefly as the audience erupted into song, probably grinning like a loon. It was all over too quickly.

After the show people were milling in the foyer and a queue formed to speak to Buffy. We joined it and shortly Mark, the theatre owner, came over to me with a copy of the concert poster to ask Buffy to sign. I was, to say the least, excited. What would I say? I couldn’t possibly say anything to Buffy. Could I? Then there she was, at a table in the (now closed) bar, happily chatting and laughing with people. The queue edged closer and closer and then it was my turn to step forward…

I said 'hello’, explained we were the guys from London come over to see her as a birthday treat so she wrote happy birthday on the poster and signed a CD cover I’d bought in Toronto (her second Vanguard compilation that she said she only agreed to release as a contractual thing). She said she’d been invited to London the previous year by Morrissey for his Meltdown series but had to decline because she was so busy with her teaching work. Chris took our photo, my arm round her and she joked ‘Say Cree’ to get a big smile. I was over the moon.

Walking back to the hotel in the snow I protected the poster under my coat, floating on air beside the trees decked out in sparkling lights, catching snowflakes on my tongue. I’d had a magical evening and I'd actually met Buffy Sainte-Marie!

The next day we went to Cora’s for breakfast and saw it was snowing so I was all up for another walk in the snow to see more of Belleville. Up and down Front Street, a sex shop at one end and a sex club at the other, lots of empty properties and lots of craft shops. Into a bookshop for a browse and a chance to warm up. After buying a book and heading out, Chris pointed to a newspaper stand and there was a large photo of Buffy on the front cover of The Intelligencer so, naturally, I picked up a copy and went back inside to pay for it (the photo is above).

Back to the hotel to check out and head for the Sweet Basil restaurant for lunch with Chris’s friend Brenda, who drove to Belleville from Ontario that morning to see him for the first time in a few years. A couple of glasses of champagne later and we’re back on the train to Toronto. The next day we found a 'walk of stars' on one o the main streets in Toronto and there, amongst a load of names I didn't recognise, was a flagstone to Buffy.

I’d finally seen Buffy after all these years, not just been to a concert but actually met her. I’d bought tickets to see her again in New York in July but had to give them away since I was unable to travel after my operation. But next time? O yes, there will be another adventure to see Buffy…

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Squirrel Adventures

My house is surrounded by trees and in trees live squirrels. Grey ones, obviously, immigrants from the New World, rather than our own red squirrels. Irrespective of colour or country of origin, I *like* squirrels, even though I suspect they do more damage than good to the house.

When I was putting the rubbish out yesterday I saw a little squirrel trying to climb the wall and failing, falling down after he got up a few inches. The poor thing looked tired and was shaking. I don't know how to tell the age of a squirrel but maybe he was old? So I watched him (and no, I didn't get close - I don't want to be scratched or get fleas, thank you very much).

He made it up onto the window ledge of the ground floor flat and then eased behind the big vertical drain pipe to help him climb up the wall. Higher and higher he went and then I saw, up above him where he was traveling, another squirrel was sitting watching him climb up, maybe his partner? He made it up and then got into trouble, slipping down a foot or so before getting his grip again and climbing up to the horizontal drainage pipe. Phew, it was thrilling stuff!

Luckily I had my phone in my pocket and, naturally, with a phone comes a camera, so I was able to record the thrilling adventures of the squirrel. I wonder if he's going to be a regular visitor over the autumn? I might have to name him and leave out nuts and milk when it gets colder. Watch this space for more thrilling adventures...

Friday, 21 September 2007

Holidays In The Sun 2007

Imagine my distress yesterday when I tried for tickets to see the Sex Pistols at Brixton Academy on 8 November and failed. There was a pre-sale issue through the Academy mailing list so I was sitting there at 9am with credit card in hand and the Ticketweb site seemed to crash... 'O flippin' heck' I thought.

So this morning, there I was, all ready for the proper sale of tickets, several windows open for different agencies. Dead on 9am and I'm in there to purchase tickets ... and it's sold out! 'O fuck!' I said loudly.

There must be more dates, surely... and up pops tickets for 9 and 10 November so in I dive again and secure tickets in the circle for Friday 9 November. Phew! And just as well as 'sold out' appears when I go back to see if there are tickets for the Saturday. So I'm happy! And well done to the Pistols for selling out three nights in the space of 10 minutes or so. Needless to say, eBay is full of tickets for sale. They really should try to do something about that.

I deliberately haven't gone to any of the previous re-union gigs thinking it just wouldn't be the same and I want to remember them as they were. But now? I *want* to see them!

Thirty years on and I'll finally see the Sex Pistols. Cooo....

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Slava's Snowshow

I saw wonder and beauty tonight at the New Wimbledon Theatre when Slava showed me his Snowshow. It was whimsical, eccentric and downright mad.

Slava was dressed in his baggy yellow longjohns and his helpers in their long green coats and wide brimmed hats. I like the Green People. They're wierd. The gentle atmospheric music, the fuzzy-felt backdrop, balloons floating in slow motion (how do they do that?), bubbles cascading over the stage, giant cobwebs and, of course, snow...

I don't know how to describe the show. It was a series of scenes featuring Slava and the Green People, or just Slava or just the Green People. And sometimes a Green Person would randomly walk across the stage or run on stage and squirt water at the audience. It's all about atmosphere and moods, careful lighting matching the sound and the action on the stage. It's a wonderful sight.

The first act ended with Slava doing some spring cleaning on stage, finding a cobweb and gradually getting engulfed in cobwebs. Then a massive web fell to the stage and the Green People walked out into the audience pulling the cobweb over us all, raised hands pushing it backwards, webs clinging all over and getting in my beard... Returning from the bar at the and of the interval we found that the Green People had invaded the audience, clambering around the seats and accidentally squirting water at people - what mayhem had they been causing in my absence? I grinned and gawped at their antics.

Shall I tell you the secret of closing the show? Oh, ok. It's a scene I'd seen in 'Alegria' by Cirque du Soleil back in February with Slava cuddling an empty coat that cuddles him back, so sweet, so poignant... and then the lights explode into life pointed at the audience, the wind machine starts and snow erupts from the stage into the audience... wow! Applause, applause and then the Green People emerge... with enormous balls that they roll into the audience and we spend the rest of the show bouncing the huge balls from one side of the audience to the other as snow continues to fall. Strangely exhilerating.

I loved it! The show was over in about 1 1/2 hours and I'm still grinning. Slava came into the audience at the end and sat by the stage - I shook his hand and told him it was wonderful. Go and see it if you can - I'd happily go back for second helpings!

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

'Necessary Evil' by Deborah Harry

Debbie's back and on top form! Somehow this album sneaked under my radar and was issued yesterday so I dashed into my local HMV at Victoria and grabbed it on my way home this evening. 17 tracks at 64 minutes - that's a lot of Debbie to go round and how happy I am!

There are some excellent songs on the album and she doesn't play it safe at all, some have a definite edge to them that gives the whole set a shiver of anticipation and surprise. It opens with the excellent single, 'Two Times Blue' that's been available to listen to for a while and then moves on to 'School For Scandal' which has a touch of menace about it as does the title track (it includes a line about 'nerves on an edge' and that's the feeling it projects).

There are some almost experimental tracks - no, that's the wrong word, not "experimental" but in the olden days they would've been described as "new wave" as in not straight forward songs. Such as the glorious 'You're Too Hot' with industrial style drums banging away and guitars screeching with Debbie screaming out 'Don't touch me don't touch me don't touch me'. I'd imaging that would go down well in clubs with the volume cranked right up. Immediately followed by 'Dirty And Deep' with it's slightly more sedate dance rhythms with words harking back to the previous track ('don't touch me you're too hot').

The final three tracks are bonus tracks although they're not noted as such on the sleeve, but Amazon lists only 14 tracks and iTunes notes them as bonus. They're longer and don't have the same feel to them but they're interesting nonetheless. Debbie's in good voice as well, whether screaming 'Whiteout' or touching the more melodious and gentle 'Needless To Say'.

You need to buy this album. You need this in your record collection and on your portable music machine. You need to listen to it lots. Trust me.

Sex Pistols at Brixton Academy!

The latest news from Mr Lydon is below:


Sex Pistols live at Brixton Academy!

Maybe it's because we're all Londoners, but there would be no Sex Pistol without dear old London town.

See you all at Brixton with proper feelings and proper people all around.

From London Bridge to the Rose and Crown, all of Britain is welcome so come on down.

John Lydon.
The Horses Mouth.
September 18th 2007.

newsSex Pistols live at London, Brixton Academy, Thursday November 8th, 2007. Tickets go on sale this Friday, September 21st.


Apparently it's to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of 'Never Mind The Bollocks...'. There's an article in TimesOnline about it. I know where I'll be .... and there's bound to be merch...

Monday, 17 September 2007

Maximo Park on the Tube

No, not the old telly programme, the transport system.

Chris noticed a small poster in a train and then I started seeing them everywhere (drugs were not involved). This photo is of one of the posters on the curved, tiled walls of Tooting Broadway station. I saw posters on the Bakerloo line today. Big posters, medium posters and small posters. It's nice to be greeted by Paul in mid leap when you least expect it.

It's also nice to see Maximo Park finally getting some publicity to match their stature. I hope they win something.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

New Piccadilly Restaurant

The New Piccadilly Restaurant on Denman Street behind Piccadilly Circus closes next weekend and closing with it is a chapter in the life of Soho. It's been there for 50 years and still has the look and feel of a '50s coffee bar with its brash colours and formica tables. Chris introduced me to the New Piccadilly five years ago so we went back for a final time this afternoon to say farewell.

It's been a handy pre-theatre meeting place, having a cup of tea or glass of coke, often with an omlette, chips and either peas or beans. The omlettes were always too big and I usually left some. I liked the decor of theatre posters, picture mirrors and plastic flowers. It's cheap and cheerful, a haven in the midst of the bustle and madness of Piccadilly and Soho. I *like* the New Piccadilly, but, obviously, we need more offices and shops in the West End.

Here are some photos from my last visit today ...

Marc Bolan: The Celebration 1947-1977-2007

Last night was the long-awaited celebration of Marc Bolan's music at Shepherd's Bush Empire to mark the 30th anniversary of his death and his 60th birthday at the end of this month (hence the 47-77-07 tag line). And there was definitely an age thing going on - these were my people, or rather, my age group. The children of the revolution have grown up and grown old.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect so I went there with an open mind which was promptly slapped in the left lobe by how full the stalls were when we arrived. How on earth had all these people arrived first and surely, as more people continued to stream in, wasn't it over capacity? It was ridiculously full and many people were already, um, merry and barging round to the bar and toilets and back. We eased past a group of over-eager fans hugging Gloria Jones and shouting 'fuck' loudly (as in 'it's fuckin' you!', 'great to fuckin' see ya', which is such a nice greeting). Struggling to find somewhere to stand to see the stage was a problem until we managed to get space on the steps behind the bar, looking over the bar, not the best view, but at least the stage was visible in the distance.

And the music? The tribute band, T.Rextasy, with Marc look and sound-alikey lead singer Danielz, were on-stage most of the time playing T.Rex songs. That wasn't quite what I was hoping for (they're on the 'Merry Christmas Tour' with Slade, Mud II and Atomic Blondie later in the year) but they re-created Marc's sound quite well. The event came alive when the guest stars appeared on stage, usually backed by T.Rextasy, but they injected a different level of professionalism - they weren't simply copying Marc's music, they interpreted and re-presented it and I suppose that's why they are/were names. I feel uncomfortable saying it, but when Shakin' Stevens came on stage it was almost a relief... ah, the show is about to start!

So, who did what?

Ray Dorset came on stage to sing along to 'Debora' with T.Rextasy. Unfortunately he had to read the words from a folded piece of paper.

Andy Ellison of John's Children who did two songs, one I couldn't make head nor tail of and then 'Desdemona' with Danielz doing Marc's warbling in the chorus.

Eric Hall came on every now and then to talk and do the same joke about singing 'la la la' like in 'Hot Love' and then saying something like' don't you know the words...'. Luckily I could hardly hear a word where I was at the back.

Shakin' Stevens did a fabulous version of 'Chrome Sitar' (a song he's recorded, so I'll have to track that down) and 'Laser Love'. He brought his own guitarist so the riffs were spot on and a backing singer for the high notes so essential to so many of Marc's songs (though she didn't quite reach them).

Linda Lewis did a truly stonking version of 'Children Of The Revolution' and a less well practiced 'Metal Guru' during which she worked the audience getting them singing. She was looking good too, in a burnt-gold sparkly frock.

Dr Robert (who I've never heard of but I'm told he was in the Blow Monkeys) did an acoustic version of 'Hippy Gumbo' and something else - when will acts be briefed that they won't be heard more than half-way back if they just talk or do quiet songs? I could hardly hear a word above the buzz of conversation and drunken shouting at the back.

Tony Visconti came on for some talking (which was unintelligible but I think he said his son was going to Bolton University?) and play along with T.Rextasy on a couple of songs.

Clem Burke came on almost every few songs throughout the performance drumming or bongo-ing along with T.Rextasy to various Marc songs. When he was pounding the drums on a riser alongside the T.Rextasy drummer I couldn't help but think of the Glitter Band (synchronised drumming).

Marc Almond came on three times, firstly for a couple of acoustic songs, one of which I couldn't really hear but think was a Tyrannosaurus Rex song and 'Life's A Gas'. He came on again in the second half in a gold sparkly top, glitter eye-shadow and purple boa to do a fabulous version of 'Dandy In The Underworld' and a theatrical 'Teenage Dream', both of which you could almost imagine him miming along to in his bedroom in front of a mirror - he looked like he was having tremendous fun!

He came on again later to talk to the audience, introduce Gloria Jones and there was something about a raffle for a guitar (couldn't really hear anything that was said) but he went on to sing 'Tainted Love' with Gloria Jones! Now, he did most of the singing with Gloria just joining in the chorus, but that was a bit special.

Gloria mentioned that Rolan had lost his passport so couldn't be there.

And then the mandatory finale with all guests being introduced and coming on stage for the sing-along to 'Get It On' and the final song, 'Hot Love'.

The highlights for me were Shakey's 'Chrome Sitar' (wow for that one!), Linda's 'Children Of The Revolution' and Marc's 'Dandy In The Underworld', all of them great versions! The event was being filmed so you might get a chance to see and hear them at some point (no idea if it was being taped for TV or for a future DVD but it seemed to be being done on the cheap).

But did I enjoy it? For the early part of the show, it would have to be a resounding 'no'. I didn't think I was paying to see a sound-alike tribute band with a lead singer with corkscrew hair. The place was over-crowded, and uncomfortable, with people clogging up the front of the bar with no-one moving them away, the usual mass of empty plastic glasses and spilled drinks on the floor (and for some reason, wet newspapers). I was prepared to cut my losses and leave at half time. It got better when I could actually see some of the show and when the guests appeared to lift it.

Why didn't they show any video or concert footage of Marc? That could've filled in the interval nicely. Why weren't any glamsters there? Dave Hill or Andy Scott? Ringo and Elton were probably otherwise engaged. And where was Bill Legend, the only surviving member of the original T.Rex (I didn't realise that Mickey Finn had died)?

I think there were probably two reasons for my less than ecstatic response to the evening. Firstly, it's the Shepherd's Bush Empire as a venue, never one of my favourite places but I keep falling for it and going back. In future I will only go upstairs where I might stand a chance of seeing the stage and not be barged into by staggering people. Secondly, I was stone cold sober.

The children of the revolution have not only grown old, they've grown fat and drunk. Still, it was a great overblown party and Marc would probably have loved it.

I still can't get over Shakey doing 'Chrome Sitar'...

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Sugababes at IndigO2

I had the pleasure of seeing the delightful Sugababes at the IndigO2 this evening. Chris won free tickets for the show which was being taped for Channel 5 so who am I to turn down a free night out? Now, I like the 'Babes and have three albums ('Angels', 'Three' and 'Singles') but I've never really thought of going to see them live. That's been my loss as I found out tonight.

After queuing for ages to get in and then waiting about an hour, suddenly there they were up on the stage, beaming smiles and waving and launching into one hit after another. I had no idea what to expect but they were very professional, obviously practiced at the songs, not solely singing them but the whole presentation of them, co-ordinated movement across the wide stage, swapping places seamlessly and focusing on the audience. They seemed to be having a ball as well. Very professional indeed and that makes for an excellent show. I was very pleasantly surprised. And they sounded in very good voice too.

The show was a 'greatest hits + new album' affair with the 'babes promoting the new single and album inbetween reminding us all what great songs they've had in the past. The new single, 'About You Now', sounds catchy and should do well for them. It was great fun seeing them do all my favourites, 'Freak Like Me', 'Round Round', 'Hole In The Head', 'Push The Button' and 'Overload'. They also did a nice acoustic version of 'Ugly' and a rapturous version of Primal Scream's 'Get Your Rocks Off'.

As well as excellent songs and a thoroughly professional performance, two things stick in my mind. Firstly, how the girls sang along to each others' lines in the songs, looking round the stage and audience with microphone's down but still singing, which I found quite touching. And secondly, the sight of a deliriously happy and glowing Heidi, beaming smiles to all, flirting with the audience and holding us all in the palm of her hand. What a lovely girl she seems. Actually, they all seemed very nice.

I'm a convert. The Sugababies are my new favourite group! Roll on the new album...