Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The Plastic Bag Awards 2008

It's the end of another year so welcome to my own personal gong ceremony with The Baggies 2008. It's been a pretty awful year on the personal front but there have been some spectacular highs and some marvellous shows and gigs so let's jump straight in!

Best Video

The nominees are:
  • The B-52's - 'Funplex'
  • Amanda Palmer - 'Leeds United'
  • Boy George - 'Yes You Can'
  • Pink - 'So What'
  • Amanda Palmer - 'Oasis'
I must give a special mention to The Imagined Village for their performance of 'Cold, Hailey Rainy Night' on Jools which wasn't a video but should've been. And the award for best video goes to Amanda Palmer's 'Leeds United', a fun video and even better, one I could have been in if only I'd gotten out of bed a bit sooner that Sunday morning.

Best Film

I didn't get to see many films at the cinema this year and missed all the summer blockbusters since I was otherwise engaged so the nominees reflect those that I saw rather than a more objective 'best':
  • 'Sweeney Todd'
  • 'The Golden Compass'
  • 'Mamma Mia!'
  • 'Hellboy II'
  • 'National Treasure: Book Of Secrets'
I also saw 'White Christmas', of course, but it would be unfair to include a film of such longevity and class in the nominations. The Baggie goes to 'Sweeney Todd' for being a dark adventure and for the excellent performance of Helena Bonham Carter.

Best New Song
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie - 'Cho Cho Fire'
  • The B-52's - 'Funplex'
  • Amanda Palmer - 'Leeds United'
  • Rachel Unthank & The Winterset - 'Fareweel Regality'
  • Boy George - 'Yes You Can'
This is a difficult category since there have been some marvellous new songs this year, too many to include in the nominees list (I would've liked to include Pink's 'So What' for it's glam stomp, Sugababes' 'You On A Good Day' for it's Sweet intro and Goldblade & Poly Styrene's 'City Of Christmas Ghosts' for being the best new Christmas song in years but that's too many). The award for best new song goes to Buffy Sainte-Marie's 'Cho Cho Fire' for it's pow wow stomp and lyrics that call us into a bigger world.

Best New Album
  • The B-52's - 'Funplex'
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie - 'Running For The Drum'
  • Amanda Palmer - 'Who Killed Amanda Palmer'
  • Sugababes - 'Catfights And Spotlights'
  • Blood Red Shoes - 'Box Of Secrets
It's been a good year for new albums with excellent new records from the likes of Donna Summer and Cyndi Lauper, from Madonna and Britney Spears, from Oasis and The Dresden Dolls. Records from oldies and newies and all exciting and fresh. This is an especially difficult category this year so the award is shared between Buffy Sainte-Marie for her first album of new material in 16 years and Amanda Palmer for her first solo album. Congratulations to the joint winners!

Best Theatre - Drama

My year at the theatre started and ended with Shakespeare plays in two vibrant productions and both are nominated in the shortlist:
  • 'Much Ado About Nothing'
  • 'War Horse'
  • 'The Year Of Magical Thinking'
  • 'August: Osage County'
  • 'Twelfth Night'
The award goes to 'Much Ado About Nothing' and the excellent partnership of Zoe Wannamaker and Simon Russell Beale - who can ever forget them both falling into the same pool of water on stage? The theatre seemed to visibly lighten whenever Zoe Wannamaker arrived on stage and she and Simon fed off each other throughout the play. Well done!

Best Theatre - Musical
  • 'The Harder They Come'
  • 'La Cage Aux Folles'
  • 'Xanadu'
  • 'Come Dancing'
  • 'A Little Night Music'
This is another difficult one, especially since I saw 'Harder' five times, 'Come Dancing' three times and 'La Cage' twice. I would've liked to have seen 'Xanadu and 'Night Music' again. So, overall, a good year, at least for the things I like. If only because I saw it the most, the Baggie must go to 'The Harder They Come' and I will expect the exquisite Pinky to pick it up personally.

Best Theatre - Entertainment

This is, essentially, an odds and ends category, theatrical entertainments that aren't really plays or musicals. The nominees are:
  • Cirque Du Soleil's 'Verakai'
  • Adele Anderson at VauxhallVille
  • Justin Bond's 'Lustre'
  • Matthew Bourne's 'Edward Scissorhands'
  • Monkey: Journey To The West
And the winner is Justin Bond's 'Lustre', a melange of variety show, gender politics and odd frocks. I like hearing Justin talk and go off on his flights of fancy (yes, the recession really is all his fault). I loved it and went twice.

Best Live Performance

This category is all about that one individual performance that sends you into the stratosphere in joy or into the depths of pain - it affects you.
  • Mary J Blige - ' No More Drama'
  • Ray Davies - 'Tired Of Waiting For You'
  • Macy Gray - 'Creep'
  • Boy George - 'Bow Down Mister'
  • The Human League - 'Being Boiled'
I've seen some spectacular performances this year, from the emotionally draining and wrecking of Mary J Blige's 'No More Drama' where she was on her knees and draining the audience of all emotion to the euphoria of Boy George's 'Bow Down Mister' and its Krishna chanting. But the Baggie goes to The Human League and 'Being Boiled' for the drama and electronic beats of yesteryear, red-lighted stage and Phil Oakey in full on rock god mode. Big wow.

Best New Artist

I haven't seen that many new artists this year (unlike last year) so there are only three worthy nominees:
  • Novice Theory
  • Our Lady J
  • Laura Marling
The Baggie goes to Novice Theory (Geo Wyeth) for great visual performance, excellent songs and so much potential. The songs on his first album are personal, tales of his family and sexuality and it'll be interesting to see how he develops. I have high hopes for Mr Theory.

Best Legend

This is a new category of the Baggies simply because I've seen so many legends from the 60s and 70s this year and all are nominated:
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie
  • Ronnie Spector
  • Linton Kwesi Johnson
  • Linda Lewis
  • Ray Davies
  • Poly Styrene
  • John Lydon
  • Petula Clark
  • Alan Price
  • Martha Reeves
That's a pretty impressive list but the award goes to Ray Davies for strolling on stage and singing 'Tired Of Waiting For You' at the opening of his 'Come Dancing' musical. The first time I saw the musical I was a mere 10 feet or so from Mr Davies and I couldn't help but be thrilled.

Best Gig

I've seen about 30 gigs this year, a goodly number and most were really good and enjoyable but they can't all be nominated. Narrowing it down to five is so difficult.
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie
  • Amanda Palmer
  • X-Ray Spex
  • The Human League
  • The B-52's
Special mentions must go to Buffy Sainte-Marie who is always a thrill to see since it happens so rarely, and especially since she sang the magnificent 'Cod'ine' and tracks from her new album; to Amanda Palmer for performing with her broken foot in plaster; for Poly Styrene and X-Ray Spex and waiting 30 years to see her; and for the magnificent B-52's for being mad but the world is better for their being in it.

The award for best gig of 2008 goes to The Human League as part of the Steel City Tour. Every song was a classic, a fabulous light show, the thrill of seeing the three of them again and those atmospheric electrobeats - what more could you ask for? A big wow for that show!

So that's The Baggies for 2008. Well done and thanks to all - and many not mentioned - for a great year. Here's looking forward to 2009...

Monday, 29 December 2008

Amanda's Christmas Present

Amanda Palmer has just delivered my Christmas present (slightly late, but that's my fault). People who pre-ordered her 'Who Killed Amanda Palmer' album also received a free gift of a downloadable 'alternate album' which was due on or before 24 December. Amanda's been having problems with the record company and all sorts recently so there's also been problems with the alternative album but those nice people over at AmandaPalmer.Net made the album available for download late on Christmas Eve and I've just found it. Thank you and a half!

The tracklisting is:

The Point Of It All
Night Reconnaissance
Runs In The Family
Blake Says
Strength Through Music
Guitar Hero
Boyfriend In A Coma
You May Kiss The Bride
I Will Follow You Into The Dark
Have To Drive

Amanda says:

I recently went through all the demos for the record and put together a wonderful "alternate" album. Almost all of this stuff is raw, one-take stuff that I recorded at Ben Folds' when we were deciding which tracks to put on the record. Happy holidays, and thanks for being so patient...

I'm enjoying it as I type.

There's also a version of Amanda's ukele version of 'Creep' available for download. It was played on the Howard Stern radio show a couple of weeks ago so that's good promotion. It's the best version I've heard of it, a live version, of course. I well remember Amanda playing it from the balcony at Bush Hall wearing a tutu and then walking through the crowd to the stage. That was one of those special moments.

And (almost) finally... Amanda made the top 10 solo artists in The Guardian's readers poll of music in 2008. Well done Amanda!

Most of Amanda and The Dolls videos have vanished from YouTube in some dispute over money claims against YouTube from Warner Brothers, so enjoy 'Leeds United' while you can:

Eartha Kitt

I was sad to hear of the death of Eartha Kitt on Christmas Day. She was one of those 'names' that always seems to be there and her name will live on. Eartha is mentioned regularly in articles about Buffy Sainte-Marie as one of the select few who were blacklisted in America in the late 60s for their anti-war stance. Until the obituaries started to appear I'd forgotten her dance hits in the '80s but that shows her range and capacity for spanning the decades.

I have two specific memories of Eartha Kitt:

1. As Catwoman from the '60s Batman telly series. She purred her way into history as one of the first superbaddies.

2. Appearing on one of those late '60s early evening variety shows doing a piss-take of herself singing 'Inkley Moor', Eartha singing a Yorkshire dialect song with her inimitable pauses and purrings in her voice, moving elegantly around the stage in full-on cabaret mode. I'd love to find a clip of that somewhere.

Eartha will continue to be played every Christmas - at least by me - with her marvellous 'Santa Baby', later covered by Madonna. Gone but not forgotten, I hope she's slinking around on a cloud purring at passing angels.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

'Twelfth Night' at Wyndham's Theatre

Over Christmas I've been in self-imposed exile, all snug and warm at home, eating and drinking too much, having shut my front door on Christmas Eve and said goodbye and Merry Christmas to the world. I'd stocked up on food and drink sufficient for any eventuality. And presents. And a sparkling, gleaming Tree. My exile ended today with a festive trip into town this afternoon, courtesy of Chris, to see the Donmar West End production of 'Twelfth Night' at the Wyndham's Theatre with Derek Jacobi as Malvolio. I first saw Derek Jacobi on the stage way back in 1977 or 1978 when he was playing Hamlet.

My first stop was Trafalgar Square to see the big tree, a gift from Oslo to London in thanks for support during the last war, a towering tree but with rather unimagitive lights in straight lines up and down the tree. Still, it was nice to see it and nice to see the families of tourists enjoying the sunny, brisk afternoon, clambering around the lions and avoiding the freezing spray from the fountains. Then up Charing Cross Road to Wyndam's and culture.

I've not seen 'Twelfth Night' before (but have read the play) so it was nice to see it, particularly so close to twelfth night itself. The set was very simple, wooden floor and wooden slatted blinds as a backdrop, lots of atmospheric lighting and some interesting costumes. Mistaken identities and cross-dressing, some gender confusion, drunken hilarity and some, let's face it, rather nasty characters all pushing and pulling together to give us a Christmas entertainment.

Derek Jacobi played the older man's part of Malvolio, the kill-joy who is made fun of and locked up for being mad. When he was on stage you really noticed him but, every now and then, although I was watching Derek I thought I was listening to Frankie Howerd (ooer missus). I liked Derek's yellow socks.

My favourite was Indira Varma as Olivia who started off pure as the driven snow and ended with some of the best rude moments and pulled them off excellently.

Now, I know one needs to suspend judgement and let imagination fly but I really had difficulty accepting Victoria Hamilton playing a boy - her feminine attributes stood out a mile so how on earth the other characters thought she was male is beyond me, especially when she and her identical twin brother stand side by side.... naah, she's not a boy!

It was good fun and very well played. A good re-emergence into the world after my mini-hibernation and a welcome Christmas treat from Chris.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Christmas Treats

It is the day before Christmas Eve and that means it's time for treats, treats because I'm not at work and treats for Christmas.

Chris had awarded me the singular treat of seeing 'White Christmas' on the big screen at the National Film Theatre on the South Bank. I've seen the film loads of times, of course, but never on a screen bigger than my telly. Since this is a 'proper' film venue then there's no popcorn and coke to buy before-hand (which is half of the fun of going out to see a film) but I sneaked in a bottle of coke anyway.

I loved it! It was great seeing it on a big screen and every now and then I noticed things I don't think I've seen before, such as the nosey housekeeper switching on and off the telephone extension and a light on the wall beside her blinking on and off - I'll need to watch the DVD again but I don't recall that. It was a bit odd seeing it with a roomful of strangers and hearing their laughter at different places. It also meant I had to be extra careful not to loudly criticise Danny Kaye's 'Choreography' sequence (I've never understood what that section has to do with the film other than giving him another showcase moment - pah!). I slag off that sequence every time I see it - it's the law, don'tcha know. But I kept my mouth shut.

And you'll never guess how it ends! Yes, with snow floating down and a handy sleigh looking very picturesque in the background as they open the barn doors. Who'd have guessed?

I know it's a sentiment-fest but I don't care. I *like* 'White Christmas' and I loved seeing it on a big screen for the first time. So, thank you for that great treat.

Afterwards, we wandered along the South Bank and explored the Christmas market as it got darker and the lights shone brighter. It wasn't too cold today but we still found space for some warming hot chocolate with extra cream (I had to remember to clean the 'tache afterwards...). The highlight was a trip on the magic roundabout, all gleaming and golden and with views of Big Ben and Parliament all lit up. My horse was called Robert and he was very strong to carry my weight.

All the eateries were full with lengthy waiting times so we went back to the National Film Theatre to try its restaurant and I left suitably impressed. It's a little bit poncy (well, it would be, wouldn't it?) but the service and food were excellent so I'll add that to my list of trusted places to eat. It also had a very lovely Christmas tree, which is obviously important at this time of year.

Then it was time to hit the exceedingly crowded National Theatre next door to see 'August: Osage County'. I'd heard good things about this production but deliberately haven't read any reviews so I can see it fresh. It's the story of an eventful few weeks in the life of a family in Osage County in which the mother is addicted to pills and the father commits suicide and leaves the rest of the family to work through the results of that act. Joy to the world and all that....

There are lots of twists and turns which I won't spoil for you but I enjoyed it. Other than a narrative of a disfunctional family, I couldn't guess what's it really about (although towards the end there were hints that the family were a metaphor for America). I liked the set - a three-storey house in which the action takes place and the acting was generally fine. A couple of the women let it down through their voices that simply didn't carry well (and yes, I know this is the same cast that played on Broadway) such as the youngest daughter whose voice was mainly in shriek mode. She also looked and played it like someone in their 20s rather than mid-40s.

The eldest daughter, played by Amy Morton, has (at least in my view) all the best lines and plays them perfectly. As eldest, she has a leadership responsibility but seems to be a rubbish mother to her own daughter, she attacks her own mother and does a drugs sweep of the house for the mother's over-prescription of medication. I liked the character, a strong woman taking control and managing her own life (at least on the surface) but was disappointed to see her slobbing out in a dressing gown in the last act, almost as if she's let us down.

I quite liked the generational thing going on in the play with the three generations with the middle generation being my generation - 40s with kids of their own, parents beginning to be a problem and grasping at a last chance to be happy themselves.

It's a powerful play and, at over three hours with two half-times, a trifle long. It's a tour de force but I'm not entirely sure where it took us and I'm puzzled by the ending with the mother seeking solace from the Native American housekeeper. A too-obvious image of modern America? Who knows?

So, treats aplenty followed by tube trains and a bus on demand when I needed it - what more could you ask for? Now, into the serious business of Christmas Eve!


I've just seen an advert on Five for a new magazine,'Tractors and The World Of Farming', inbetween the text-sex adverts. The big selling point is that with every edition you get a free model tractor. Now, if I was into tractors I think this would be the magazine for me. If I read magazines. Which I don't.

The odd thing isn't so much that there's such things as tractor magazines but that they advertise on terrestrial TV. I must live somewhere strange. Or in the country. Which I don't.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Christmas Is Cancelled

Waaaaaaah! Disaster has struck. The Merry Xmas Everybody Tour 2008 gig at Shepherd's Bush tonight has been cancelled "due to illness" and a new date will be announced in 2009. I say again, Waaaaaaah!

The official notice reads:

Shepherds Bush Empire
Original Date: Mon 22 Dec
Due to illness, this show has been postponed until 2009. A new date will be announced in the near future. Original tickets will remain valid. Refunds are available from point of purchase.

I *wanted* to sing along to 'Merry Xmas Everybody' a few days before Christmas, not at some odd date in the spring or whenever. I *wanted* to see Dave in his spectacular Santa hat while riffing like the rock god he is and while Don pounded the drums into submission. I *wanted* to sing myself hoarse.

That's it. Christmas is cancelled.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Martha Reeves & The Vandellas at the Bloomsbury Ballroom

Out of the blue a couple of weeks ago those Reeves sisters announced in a very low key way that they were playing at the Bloomsbury Ballroom - I haven't seen it advertised anywhere but got hold of tickets and duly turned up waiting to be blown away.

I've not heard of the Ballroom before so had no idea what to expect but it's quite nice in a sort of 'ballroom', grown-up kind of way, glitterballs reflecting purple lights around the room and a well staffed bar that meant no waiting to be served (a good thing). My only worry was whether enough people would turn up to fill the room given the lack of publicity but a couple of hundred people of all ages duly made a respectable dent in the space of the ballroom.

The eight-piece band trooped onto the smallish stage and excitement mounted as people started gravitating to the stage. The band wasn't the Funk Brothers but they made a respectable fist of it, especially the four-piece brass section (it's nice to hear brass live for a change). Then on came Martha, Delphine and Lois Reeves, aka Martha Reeves & The Vandellas! And we were off and running!

They didn't have much room to move on the stage but they made the best of it, still giving us good hand gestures and gracious curtseys, Martha with her ever-present tamborine (with the set list and band names inside). The girls glittered from head to toe, with sparkly shoes to match the frocks. We were standing near the front of the stage so had excellent views and since we were within the glow of the stage lights I made sure I was seen to be singing and clapping along. Gotta give the girls a gee-up!

I've seen a few, ahem, older singers this year but Martha is probably the oldest and you've got to give her her due for keeping going and putting on a great show - that's true professionalism. And the audience loved her and her sisters - it was good to see a wide range of ages which shows her music appeals to all sorts and in acquiring a new, younger audience, keeps her in the limelight. They were great fun and special kudos goes to Lois for all the carefully choreographed arm gestures and movements.

Highlights of the evening were the big hits - 'Nowhere To Run', '(Love Is Like A) Heatwave', 'Jimmy Mack', 'Third Finger, Left Hand' and 'A Love Like Yours (Don't Come Knocking Everyday)'. The final song was a great version of 'Dancing In The Street'. Martha started off by saying she was going to make a video with David Bowie and Mick Jagger, and Niel Diamond and an endless list of stars (but didn't mention The Kinks) before finishing with, 'But it's my song. It was written for me - it's *my* song' - and so it is Ms Reeves. What is better than seeing the originals singing one of those iconic songs like 'Dancing In The Street'? They were fab!

They also did an extended version of 'What's Going On?' that allowed all the band to have a solo spot and a name-check. The encore was a great Motown megamix, a medley of Motown songs, and then they vanished again.

They reappeared at the back of the ballroom in a smaller room to meet and greet and sign things, all three of them. It was lovely to meet them, shake hands and chat for a few minutes - what lovely ladies they are! Before leaving, I took Chris's photo with them, shook hands and told them that tickets to see them in June on the Motown Legends tour had arrived yesterday. They must have to smile nicely at every odd punter after their shows but they do it so well, so warm and friendly, really shaking hands not just tentatively touching. They all had glasses of champagne and Lois had a bag of crisps. I like humanity in my stars as well as glitter. Wow - I've spoken to Martha Reeves and The Vandellas and shaken their hands! That counts as a good night out. Come back soon girls!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Live Spex

I've been taking a browse around my blog to see what the contenders for The Baggies 2008 might be and I found my excited blog from 10 January about X-Ray Spex playing the Roundhouse in September. I burbled on about hoping for a live CD, DVD and merch.

Well, there was lots of merch at the gig, but I haven't mentioned that there will be a live CD and DVD from the gig. I don't know if they'll be issued separately or as a package, but they should be out early next year since they've almost finished post-production work.

Watch this space for updates.

War Is Over (If You Want It)

A new video from Yoko, pulling together clips of John Lennon talking about peace and ending with 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)':

WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) from Yoko Ono on Vimeo.

'A Little Night Music' at The Chocolate Factory

Tonight I was treated to seeing 'A Little Night Music' at the Choccy Factory with Chris and Angela (continuing my education in Sondheim). I've never seen it before and only know 'Send In The Clowns' so I didn't know what to expect at all. I was pleasantly surprised, firstly by the Choccy Factory actually having numbered seating for a change (and what low benches they are) and then by the play itself which was really quite charming in an understated way.

It's a story of lost loves and lusts set in turn of the century Sweden, based on an Ingmar Bergman film and directed by Trevor Nunn. The set design was simple, with mainly an empty stage but with screens that acted as doors or walls on three sides, facilitating a lot of fluidity and movement, and an occasional bed or rug evoking a room or a lawn. I also liked the title artwork in the motif of a Christmas tree, perfect for this winter season which is already sold out till it closes in March.

I liked the interplay between the leading couple of Alexander Hanson as Frederik (the middle-aged, middle class lawyer) and Hannah Waddingham as Desiree (the slightly shocking actress and femme fatale he loved 14 years ago) who meet again when her play comes to town. They worked well together and I can easily see them as lovers - I was convinced. I was less convinced by Frederik's 18 year old second wife and Desiree's crass army lover. And Frederik's son just seemed like a manic Hugh Lawrie on a bad day going into one of his more stereotyped comic turns.

I quite liked the generational thing of having the children (all the teens, including Frederik's wife), the adults (the main characters) and the third generation represented by Desiree's mother, played by Maureen Lipman in a wheelchair (not sure why she was in a wheelchair). I liked Maureen, with her perfect timing, playing a woman who slept with Kings and Dukes and secured her fortune at the expense of true love and happiness. She might have been the oldest character but she has the wit and wisdom to keep them all in their place. She has great comic timing and made me smile.

I enjoyed it. There are some very tender songs and some thought-provoking themes. It was quite calming in a way and sedately paced at least up to the final farce scenes of people running round looking for one another (and yes, we did get a trousers-falling-down scene). If it wasn't already sold out then I think this is a production I'd quite like to see again since I'd probably spot nuances I didn't see tonight. Well done to the Choccy Factory on another excellent production.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Matthew Bourne's 'Edward Scissorhands'

Last night we went to see Matthew Bourne's 'Edward Scissorhands' at Sadlers Wells. I like Sadlers Wells, it always seems so civilised, and seeing a Matthew Bourne production has almost become synonymous with 'Christmas treat' in recent years.

I've never seen the film so didn't really know what to expect. I went with eyes wanting to expand with wonder and adventure but, unfortunately, that didn't happen too often. I wanted to like the production and I did, but I didn't love it. Not like Matthew's 'Swan Lake' or 'Nutcracker'. It felt like narrative rather than emotion and there didn't seem to be much dancing as opposing to rhythmic movement.

The first half seemed to be entirely scene setting and rather slow. There were some nice pieces but it seemed over-long and slowly paced. The second half picked up big time and was far more enjoyable - mind you, I couldn't help but think the townsfolk were simply stupid - I had difficulty suspending judgement! I'm afraid one of the most memorable pieces for me was when Edwards wanders on stage at the end, snips his scissors in the air and snow erupted over the audience. That was a nice touch and sends you away on a high.

Overall, I'm pleased I saw it but I wasn't as wowed as I'd expected to be. It made me want to see 'Nutcracker' again, so I think I'll hunt out the DVD over the weekend.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

A Thompson Family Christmas

The Thompson family - Linda, Richard, Teddy and Kamila - have released a new Christmas single called simply, 'Christmas'. It's supposed to be available on iTunes but I can't find it so maybe it'll surface tomorrow. It's in aid of Amnesty International. I'm sure it'll be well worth the listen.

The annoying thing is that Teddy Thomspon is doing a one-off Christmas gig tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with his mam as special guest. I've been a fan of Linda Thompson since the late '70s but never seen her live. I like Teddy's latest album so seeing him and the wonderful Linda would've been a treat - even more of a treat since it's billed as a special Christmas show with guests including Justin Bond and Rachel Unthank & The Winterset.

But I won't be there. I'll be seeing Matthew Bourne's 'Edward Scissorhands' at Sadlers Wells. I ordered the tickets back at the start of the year, long before Teddy's show was announced. Ggrrrr. 'Scissorhands' had better be *good*!

Monday, 15 December 2008


O God! I *thought* I was so organised but this Christmas is going the same way of every other Christmas. Actually, it's worse.

I haven't written a single card yet which means I've missed all the international postal deadlines (sorry if you were expecting one). I *think* all presents are safely bought but they're not wrapped or posted and there's no way I can do that tomorrow due to work meetings, so I won't post anything until Wednesday. It'll all be first class so should arrive before Christmas but it still leaves me uncomfortable since I'm a public Christmasoholic...

My tree appeared yesterday. It's about 6.5 feet tall and has a distinct list which gives it a certain rakish, devil-may-care kind of look. I put some lights on it to help the branches spread out and to check that it would still be standing after a day (after last year's disaster when it fell over). It is still standing and looking mighty proud but still just has two sets of lights on it. I'll do that on Wednesday as well.

My *special* present arrived in the post from Santa (who runs an eBay site these days) on Saturday so I need to wrap that and put it under the tree. I've desisted looking at it so far and want to gawp at it properly on Christmas day.

I've got food and drink on order from Sainsbury's Online to be delivered on Friday so I'll have a full larder (unless you want meat). Friday is my first full day of Christmas holiday so I'll be well busy wrapping stuff and placing it under the tree. Short of an emergency at work, I'm off until after the New Year which will be nice.

I've got a full calendar of stuff to see and do over Christmas - Chris is taking me to see 'White Christmas' on the big screen at the National Film Theatre next weekend and to see 'Twelfth Night' with Derek Jacobi after Christmas; Slade are headlining the 'Merry Xmas Tour 2008' at Shepherds Bush on Monday; trips to Sadlers Wells and the National Theatre and Martha Reeves in concert this Saturday.

Phew! It's all go. I'm also reading 'A Christmas Carol' for the first time in ages to help me get in the mood.

Right, what do I need to do now...?

Saturday, 13 December 2008

New Christmas Songs

Each year it's fun to track down and discover new Christmas songs, often covers of old or traditional songs, but occasionally, a real new 'un!

A few years ago I added, 'I'm Going Home' with David Essex on vocals and various stars of Christmas hits in the '70s playing and singing along (including Dave and Don from SLADE, of course). A couple of years ago I discovered Sufjan Steven's Christmas box and Leigh Nash and her Christmas ep, particularly her lovely 'Maybe This Christmas'. I also discovered Martha Wainwright's 'Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year'. Last year my big find was 'Christmas Eve in Fairy Land' by Gracie Field - that song just tickles my Christmas bone.

This year has seen a bumper crop of Christmas songs headed by the punktastic 'City Of Christmas Ghosts' by Goldblade and the mighty Poly Styrene (those 'la, la la-las' get me every time). If only it was released in hard cd copy then that's what everyone would get for Christmas from this particular Santa.

Other finds include:

~ 'It's Christmas Time', another new one, this time by Status Quo with their familiar chug chug guitar boogie and random Christmas sentiments;

~ 'Ghost Of Christmas' by the Manic Street Preachers which sounds exactly like you'd imagine it would, and definitely in the spirit of SLADE's classic 'Merry Christmas Everybody';

~ 'A Christmas Duel' by The Hives & Cyndi Lauper, another new 'un, which is worth it for Cyndi's opening line alone;

~ 'Warm This Winter' by Gabriella Cilmi which is actually from her album released earlier this year but which is perfect for a Christmas song;

~ 'Father Christmas' by the Kinks - how on earth have I missed this one over the years and why isn't it on every Christmas compilation album? It's not your standard 'isn't Christmas fun' song, but it's got some great sentiments in it about the loss of the spirit of Christmas.

A couple of oddities I've found are 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' by Coldplay (the only track by Coldplay in my library) and 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)' by Death Cab For Cutie. I haven't heard the Killers new song yet, with Elton and Neil Tennant, but I'm not getting my hopes up.

One of my favourites is another new song, 'Still This Love Goes On' by Buffy Sainte-Marie. It's not a Christmas song at all but it conjours up images of snowy-frosty mornings and roaring fires and jingle dancers, and, with Buffy's haunting voice, that's enough for me.

Amanda Palmer should do a Christmas song - I bet it would be fab and she'd do a great video for it as well. C'mon Amanda - what're you waiting for?

I'll keep looking for new Christmas songs so watch this space...

Thursday, 11 December 2008

The iPod Pixie

Y'know when you put your trusty portable music machine on shuffle and it throws up all sorts of unexpected music? That's the iPod Pixie that is and today mine was truly inspired.

He's obviously been doing some homework and practiced spinnning the platters, working up to his masterpiece. This evening the pixie threw together a magnificent trio of 'Strength Through Music' by Amanda Palmer followed by 'Just A Little Lovin'' by Dusty Springfield followed by 'Cuz I Can' by Pink. Go on try it - it works.

Sometimes I love my iPod Pixie - mine's better than yours!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The End Of Childhood

The sad news that Oliver Postgate has died has finally reached me despite it being all over the news. I should think that most people between the ages of 30-60 probably grew up with their favourite characters from kids telly and Oliver created Bagpuss, often noted as the most favourite of all kids telly shows.

I'm a bit too old to have any fondness for Bagpuss - he appeared about the time I considered myself to be too old for programmes like that. My allegiance goes much further back, back to Noggin The Nog, Ivor The Engine (and yes, I can still make sound of the steam train), the mythic Pogles Wood and those mad aliens, the Clangers. The true artistry of these series isn't state of the art animation or anything like that, it's the power of story telling and characterisation. You don't need flash whiz-bang stuff to make me believe in Noggin and his Viking world or Ivor in the valleys.

I pop on over to the Dragons' Friendly Society every now and then to see what's happening in that rather charming and old fashioned world. It's nice that sites like that exist in the web.

It's only when something like Oliver leaving that starts people thinking and remembering, or at least that happens to me. It takes me back to sitting in front of a roaring coal fire on a chilly afternoon as it got dark, curtains twitching and closing, and watching Noggin or Ivor on our black and white telly. Very sentimental, I know, but that's allowed sometimes.

Thank you, Mr Postgate.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Steel City Tour

The Steel City Tour reached London last night, with Heaven 17, ABC and the Human League playing Hammersmith Apollo, all bands hailing from Sheffield (steel city) in the early '80s. We were in the front row of the balcony so had a perfect view of the stage for a change. After gorging on chips (a carbohydrate meal for the gods) we took the plunge and joined the snaking queue to get inside. Astonishingly, there wasn't a crowd round the merch stall and neither were there huge queues at the bar, very unlike my last trip to the Apollo to see the Sex Pistols. It was with a little thrill that I took my seat and gloried at the view - Heaven 17 were on and played their final song, 'Temptation' (of course). But I wasn't there to see Heaven 17...

I was strangely fascinated watching the roadies dismantle the set and re-build it for ABC, draping red velvet around the podiums and huge red curtains to form the backdrop. I've never seen ABC before, not even back in the day, so it was a great thrill when Martin Fry finally walked on stage, all smart and proper in a grey wool suit - alas, no gold lame suit but hey, you can't have everything. I don't know who the rest of the band were, but ABC is, essentially, Martin, so I was happy.

Martin opened the set with 'The Very First Time' from the latest album, 'Traffic' (with the line, 'I'm not arrogant enough to suffer for my art), which was brave of him but it also signalled that this was a proper set and from a band that had new music to sell as well as doing the crowd-pleasing greatest hits. And that was fine by me since the new album is excellent ('Ride' was played mid-way through the set). The big applause was, of course, reserved for the hits, for 'Poisoned Arrow', 'When Smokey Sings', 'How To Be A Millionnaire' and the glorious 'The Look Of Love', which closed the set. It was great to see and hear ABC live after all these years.

Tension mounted as the roadies dismantled the set again, removed the red velvet, the risers and even the carpet to reveal the white flooring belonging to the Human League... Darkness but no silence greeted the first chords of the overture, and then lights appeared and massive blaring, atmospheric sound, courtesy of the technology pioneered by the original League in the late '70s that helped them create the new sound of pop music in the '80s.

As the seconds ticked across the massive light screens on stage, Phil Oakey appeared in a long coat singing, appropriately, 'Seconds'. What a great opening song. As Phil left the stage on came Susan and Joanne in billowing dry ice (yay for the '80s!) with the opening 'ooo's of 'Mirror Man' and off we go on a journey of discovery and memory and sheer fabness! Hit after hit assaulted us from the stage and we had a perfect view as Phil prowled and ran across the stage and the girls oooed and aahhed and struck poses in their glittering fancy frocks (Susan looks too thin but very striking).

I was forced to sing along and I managed to get the 'Love Action' rap word perfect again so I was pleased with myself. I know it's not difficult but I always get a word wrong somewhere, but not last night. Highlights included ... well, everything really! They played a great set with a great light show, one of the best I've ever seen. I loved '(Keep Feeling) Fascination', 'Louise', 'The Sound Of The Crowd' and the marvellous 'The Lebannon', with an encore of 'Being Boiled' and 'Together In Electric Dreams'. Particular kudos goes to the opener, 'Seconds', the thrill of 'Empire State Human' with Phil singing the first half on his knees and the grandeur of 'Being Boiled'.

Phew! That was some adventure last night! Thank you Martin, thank you Joanne, thank you Susan and thank you ever so much Mr Philip Oakey. Wow!

Friday, 5 December 2008

'City Of Christmas Ghosts' - Out Now

The marvellous Christmas single by Goldbade and Poly Styrene is available for download on iTunes. Shout 'La, la, la-la' and head on over there to download it immediately. It's The Law!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Suzanne Vega - 'Daddy Is White'

Suzanne Vega writes an occasional blog for The New York Times and her latest entry is about growing up thinking she was half Puerto Rican only to find out that her father was white. She writes:

my last blog post I mentioned that I was raised in a half-Puerto Rican family and spent five years in East Harlem as a young child. At some point, when I was about 9 years old, I learned that my birth father was actually English-Scottish-Irish. Or white, as we used to say in my old neighborhood. Actually, anybody looking at me could probably tell that this was the case, but I felt I was the last to know, partly because I was treated by my Puerto Rican abuelita and my aunt and uncle as one of their own. I was proud, and still am proud, to be a Vega.

She's written a thought-provoking blog about this and the potential for change that comes with the election of Obama. Also included in the blog is a link to a demo of a new song, 'Daddy Is White'. Click on over to have a read and take a listen.

Don Powell on 'Buzzcocks'

The mighty Don Powell was on 'Never Mind The Buzzcocks' tonight and I'll see him in a couple of weeks time at Shepherds Bush heading the 'Merry Xmas 2008 Tour'. Much as it's great to see Don on telly, I can't help feeling he shouldn't have done it. He wasn't on the panel - his righful place - he was the subject of the 'guess the former star' where they show a clip of someone in their heyday and then have a line-up of four people and you choose who the former star, the has-been, is. They poke fun at them and give them 'funny' names.

Don isn't a has-been. For a couple of years back in the '70s SLADE were as big as the Beatles had been in the '60s, three singles shot in at number 1 in the charts in one year when that meant selling 250,000 singles in a few days, not like now when a tiny portion of that secures a chart place. He's been in Slade for 40 years and is still playing. He's one of the great drummers in British rock.

I've no idea why Don agreed to be on the show in that slot. He should've been one of the panel guests, not the comedy turn.

Electric Amanda

Amanda Palmer is playing at the Electric Ballroom on 4 February and guess who ordered tickets this evening? Of course I did! Amanda is back with The Danger Ensemble so a mad night is in store for one and all.

But, and this is where I put my stern face on, why did I hear this news from Live Nation rather than from Miss Palmer? She's probably too entranced by all the belly love to remember to send out the blog...