Tuesday, 29 January 2008

'Assassins' at The Landor Theatre

As part of my ongoing education about Stephen Sondheim, Chris took me to see 'Assassins' with Angela at the Landor Theatre in Clapham (I like the idea of a theatre in a room above a pub, it makes it so much more real in some ways). Anyways, a musical play about American assassins and would-be assassins of American presidents? Um, OK I thought.

As it turned out, I loved the idea behind the play, biographical pieces about the assassins, their stated motivations and speculations about the real them strung together by the 'spirit of assassination' who pops up every now and then to support and inspire his fellow assassins. The 'spirit of assassination' is the first man to kill a president, John Wilkes Boothe who killed Abraham Lincoln. I don't know enough about American history to know how accurate (or not) the biographies of the assassins are but it kept my attention. The final scene is, of course, with Lee Harvey Oswald where the spirit and the other assassins, past and future, all plead with him to forget suicide and kill the president instead since that will validate them and ensure their names live forever.

The start of the play seemed a bit strained with a bit of over-acting going on and voices needing to settle, but people seemed to calm down and get into their roles. I'd single out Jeff Nicholson for particular praise who was excellently cast as Mr Charm himself, Charles Guiteau who killed President Garfield for not making him ambassador to France. He came across as a charming rogue and jack of all trades with a streak of madness and a most excellent voice. I'd have made him an ambassador. I'd also praise the double act of April Small and Jenni Bowden as the mismatched would-be assassins of Gerald Ford (yes, they failed). They were borderline comic relief but worked well together, one scowling and one always smiling.

I have to admit to not having heard of some of the presidents (not too surprising) and no, contrary to popular mythology, I can't remember where I was when Kennedy was assassinated - I am, actually too young for that! But I do remember the attempt on Reagan and I never knew his would-be assassin was a Jodie Foster fan. I was at a national students union annual conference in either Blackpool or Margate (I think) when it was announced from the platform that Reagan had been shot and we'd be updated on progress. The roar that erupted around the hall with around a thousand voices cheering was very strange. That was back in the deep dark days of Maggie and Ronnie ruling the world and Labour on its Militant witch-hunt, a very strange time to be even on the fringes of politics. Even stranger to think that most of the cast and audience were too young to even remember it.

So that's another thumbs up to Mr Sondheim, starting the month with 'Sweeney Todd' and ending it with 'Assassins', both blood soaked musical inventions. As Angela pointed out in the tube station, I now have to see everything that she and Chris have seen over the past 25 years. Now there's a challenge!

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Boy George at the Shaw Theatre

This evening was the long-awaited Boy George show at the Shaw Theatre, he's been there all week and tonight was the last show. I was hoping I'd chosen the right night and, with much gratitude to the Boy, I had! He was in top form, excellent voice and humour and he looked like he was having great fun on the stage, smiling and joking (and, shockingly, I don't think he swore at all). I certainly had great fun in the third row of the audience.

On the stroke of 8pm, on walked the band followed by the Boy in his B-Rude finery of black suit encrusted with gold scarabs and silver safety pins with matching shirt and hat and he launched into a couple of reggae songs I didn't recognise followed by 'Everything I Own'. I like his brand of lovers rock reggae, gentle beats, and good to start off with. And then came 'Do You Really Want To Hurt Me', his first hit, and having it so early in the show made me wonder what was to come. And what came next was an excellent show, great songs and great performances, songs from 'Taboo', songs from his own catalogue and some new ones. He also let his women have a song each, with the first half of the show closing with Liz (the backing singer) giving a powerful version of 'Talk Amongst Yourselves' from 'Taboo' and, in the second half, Zee Asha did a great interpretation of 'Time (Clock Of The Heart)'.

The second half of the show opened with a stonking version of 'Church Of The Poisoned Mind' (one of my favourite Culture Club choons) followed by 'Suffragette City' and some accoustic versions of songs to slow the pace down before encores with a countrified version of 'Karma Chameleon', a moody 'Summertime' and an ecstatic and extended 'Bow Down Mister' with the backing singers throwing flowers into the audience and the audience joining in with the 'Hare Krishna, Hare Ramas'. A great way to end a great show, definitely sending us home on a high.

I was pleased that he did songs from the 'Cheapness And Beauty' album and from 'Taboo' as well as Culture Club hits. Favourites were 'Cheapness And Beauty' (the song), 'Stranger In This World', 'Unfinished Business', 'Losing Control', 'Ode To Attention Seekers' (which George said he'd never performed before despite writing it for 'Taboo'), a new song called, I think, 'Everybody Vote For Love' and, of course, 'Bow Down Mister'.

The last time I saw George was at Koko last year when he was (ahem) feeling no pain and hidden behind bad lighting. Tonight was a total change, a seasoned performer enjoying himself on stage, and thrilling his audience with the expected and the unexpected. It was such a relief and such great fun. Time for a new record from the Boy, I think. Thanks for a great night, George, and nice to see you smiling!

How To Fly - Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono's blog on MySpace sometimes includes some interesting words and images. Her latest one is entitled 'How To Fly' and seems to be a piece from the Museum of Modern Art in 1971. It intrigued me so I've copied it below:

by Yoko Ono, 1971

1) Make sure that your mind is not clogged with heavy burdens such as: resentment, anger, secrets and the past. They can be heavy.

2) Make sure that your body is not clogged with excess fat and excrements.

3) Make sure that your wings are light and free. This is the most difficult proposition. Your wings cannot be free unless the whole world is free, because you are part of the world. However,
there is a way for the whole world to be free. Just like your body, all it needs is to be unclogged and have good circulation. Circulation is the secret to freedom and the key to fly.

5) When the whole world is in good circulation we will all fly together.

6) Meanwhile, give wings to things around you so they will circulate.

There's no ownership in beauty.


from Museum of Modern (F)art Catalogue, New York, NY, Dec 1971.

I like Yoko. I want to fly.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Tom Robinson

I'm not sure where it came from, but yesterday I had a yearning to hear Tom Robinson's 'War Baby', with its lovely rolling drum and bass lines with the sax wailing in the foreground, a very '80s sound. So I did what anyone does and headed over to iTunes to find it's not there. So I tried Napster and it was there, but only a live version and I wanted to hear the song I recall in my head. So I asked Mr Google and he pointed me to Tom's website, I went *click* and there it was.

Now, Tom was a young radical, a gay and social activist back in the day, and all I know about him now is that he does stuff on the radio for the BBC (he used to fill in for John Peel on things like 'Home Truths' when it was running). It's nice to see that he's still a bit of a radical and his albums from the '80s onwards are available for free download from his site.

He says:

Free Downloads: iTunes downloads cost 79p per track. Writer/publisher get 6p, Performer 6-8p, Visa/Mastercard 7p, Apple 12p, and Record Company almost 50p. Sod that. Help yourself to my songs & share them with your friends: right-click (Mac: ctrl-click) on titles to download. Optional: if you'd like to help with hosting costs, click below [to donate].

There's a button to click to make a donation via PayPal but that's optional. So I downloaded 'War Baby' and others and left a donation in the virtual hat.

His first album as the Tom Robinson Band, 'Power In The Darkness' isn't available on his site but is on iTunes, so I downloaded it. It's good to hear those tracks again for the first time in decades - 'Glad To Be Gay', 'Don't Take No For An Answer', 'Up Against The Wall' - the sound of an angry young man. Where are the angry young men and women these days? Thankfully some middle aged ones are still carrying the flag.

Anyways, why not stroll over to Tom's site, listen to some music and leave something in the virtual hat - there's bound to be something you'll like.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Present Laughter at the National Theatre

Tonight saw a trip back to the National Theatre to see Noel Coward's 'Present Laughter' with the intriguing set I'd seen last night for the reading of 'Still Life'.

It was all terribly, terribly witty, with lots of word play and quips, endless cigarettes and whiskies, the sparkling chattering theatrical class with their openness about sex and each other's lives. It was great fun and Alex Jennings was excellent as the world weary actor obviously based on Coward. In a way it was a good old-fashioned drawing room farce (without trousers falling down) lifted by Coward's writing.

Alex along with Sara Stewart as his (ex) wife and Sarah Woodward as his secretary made a fun triumvirate at the centre of the play, having known each other for years and comfortable with sharing intimate secrets and trusting one another. The word play was quick and deftly handled by each of them in clipped '40s fashion, closing ranks on outsiders daring to try to get into their clique. I'm not sure I'd like to know the characters in real life, but they were a dream to watch.

The only disappointment was that the ushers packed away the ice-cream too soon so I had to do without at the interval. Drat.

And here's a photo of the set that so intrigued me last night - it looks better at the start of the play when there are piles of books all over the room but you get the idea.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Nice People in Still Life

After the disappointment of last night at The Roundhouse, Chris treated me to a reading of Noel Coward's 'Still Life' at the National Theatre. I was slightly delayed by a late meeting at work so missed the opening and had to sit up in the balcony but I'm pleased I made it, out of breath from scurrying along the south bank as I was.

I've never really bothered with Noel Coward and he's never said anything to me, either through his plays or songs or films. I don't think I've ever seen 'Brief Encounter' (the film of 'Still Life') all the way through so I'm not really familiar with the plot but it was an eye-opener to see the original play tonight.

The actors read the play from scripts while acting it out on stage. The stage was set for the performance later this evening with bits of furniture moved and the actors were in their own clothes, not costumes. I didn't have any idea how this would work but either their performances or the writing made it irrelevant really, as I got pulled into the story.

As with all good writing, there were several stories going on at the same time. The young lovers flirting with each other, the nice middle class strangers meeting in a station and the older station workers with a relaxed approach to their companionship, different classes and generations. There were also stories of the station staff living their colourful lives amidst the monochrome transient travellers, interacting but not relating. I'd never thought so before from what I recalled of snatches of 'Brief Encounter', but it's quite a complex piece of writing.

There was a poignant moment in the latter half of the play when the Trevor Howard character complains that he and Laura are 'nice people', an almost damning statement. They are nice people living in a nice world, removed from the problems of drunken soldiers making life difficult for tea room workers, but their very nice-ness means they lack colour and life. When passion enters it threatens to destroy their nice, protected world and they can't respond naturally to it, not like the tea-room lady who flirts with the station guard or the young waitress who happily gets into trouble with her mother for a few minutes of fun. The very niceness of the central characters is what ruins their lives.

The ending was so tragic, when Laura's gabby friend appears at the station meaning that Laura and Alec can't say goodbye and all they can do is touch hands as he leaves to catch his train. How unsatisfying. The nice people can't even say a proper goodbye, it's simply not allowed by the rules and conventions of their lives. Especially when contrasted with the station staff dismissing them as 'Romeo and Juliet' and Laura's friend gossiping about people they know having affairs and getting divorced. And our hero and heroine can't even hold hands properly. It was touching.

Harriet Walter played Laura and Alex Jennings played Alec, both very good indeed. The older couple working in the station were played by Sheila Reid and John Burgess who were equally good, full of the life and sparkle so missing in the tortured Laura and Alex.

I'm very pleased to have seen this performance. And also pleased to have had a tantalising glimpse of the set for the performance scheduled for later in the evening... but that's another story.

Morrissey at The Roundhouse

Tuesday saw a trip to see Morrissey in his residence at The Roundhouse. I approve of The Roundhouse, I approve of the idea of The Roundhouse, its history, its shape (it really is round) and it hosts a wide range of shows from rock to circus. I approve of that. In much the same way I approve of Morrissey, the principle of him, the fact of him, and I'm pleased that he's still around and still successful. But I didn't really enjoy the experience last night.

I'm not a fan. I liked the early Smiths stuff and I've liked a few of his records since then, but I'm definitely a 'greatest hits' rather than 'album' person. Some of the people there seemed to know every song and make a lot of noise when they recognised songs, so must, I assume, be fans. So why did so many of them spend the evening wandering round, chatting, getting out their phones to text or make calls, spill beer and wander back and forth to the bar and toilets? And then whoop and holler and whistle at the end of the song they've talked through and were facing away from the stage? It is a puzzlement.

And that's probably a goodly part of why I didn't enjoy it. Tall people all over the place moving in to stand in front of people to get a better view and then blocking everyone behind them. Don't they realise how tall they are? I know they can't help it and they have every right to enjoy themselves as well but it's the grumpy old man in me coming out. I'm fed up with paying good money to see shows and then not seeing them. And I'm allowed to be grumpy - with age comes some privileges.

Another reason for my not enjoying is probably to do with the setlist. I didn't recognise most of the songs. I thought we'd be treated to a 'greatest hits' type of show where I'd probably at least recognise most of the songs and, last night, I recognised less than half a dozen. That's because I'm not a fan so I can't blame Morrissey for that, but it meant I can't say that my first gig of the year was a success.

I've seen some great bands at The Roundhouse since it re-opened - the wonder that is The Dresden Dolls (fuck the rock'n'roll circus, long live the punk cabaret!), the magnificence of Siouxsie, the colour and energy of Ojos de Brujo and the saviours of rock that are Comanechi (you read it here first). Last night's show doesn't come close to any of those.

Morrissey was fine, I wouldn't criticise him although there didn't seem to be any sparkle or threat in the performance. Maybe it's just me.

The journey home was a journey through hell. Typical, isn't it, a lacklustre evening brought further down by London Transport. It took 1 hour 40 minutes to get home on a tube system that decided it had done enough creaking and would just give up. Unfortunately so did the staff, either through incompetence, laziness or just down right lying, they seemed unable to tell a consistent and coherent story. Why problems on the City branch of the Northern Line should affect southbound trains from Edgware getting to Chalk Farm is a mystery (just look at a tube map). The train that was advertised as due in 9 minutes was, after we'd waited 10 minutes, changed to being due in 5 minutes and then after further waiting was announced as due in 7 minutes... and all this when the train was supposedly two stops away. Then when I finally got to Kennington we were told to change trains to a southbound train on the next platform and, seemingly as soon as everyone was off and the train doors were shut, we were then told there were no southbound trains and we had to leave the station. Followed by pandemonium getting out and hoardes of people at bus-stops. I was not a happy bunny.

So, no, it wasn't a great night out really...

Monday, 21 January 2008

The Big Polo Mint

Despite the operation last year, I'm still having problems with my back so turned up at St George's Hospital this evening for an MRI scan, or a lie down in the big polo mint as I think of it. I think this was my third scan but it's still a strange experience. It's also a bit odd how I'm seeing stripping to briefs and wearing a backless gown as somehow a natural state!

You lie on a bench that moves in and out of the scanner as needed so it's not like you've got to do anything. They put padded headphones on you to muffle the sound (which is incredibly loud) and give you an emergency button to press and then move you into the scanner - that's a bit claustrophobic since there's not much space but do-able.

I decided that the weird loud sounds the machine makes were from a 1970s TV sci-fi show like 'Dr Who' or 'Blake's 7'. It's difficult to describe but imagine a few '70s zap guns going off and you're close. I would've thought they'd have found a way to make it quieter by now.

I was in the mint for about 20 minutes and during that time felt the odd tingle and it felt like my back was warming up. That might've been psychosomatic though.

It'll probably be a few weeks before I hear the result but I'm used to that by now.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Yazoo Reconnected

Gosh. Yazoo? Reuniting? A box set? Re-mastered albums at last? Eh?

Yes, that's just what I thought too. News has slipped out that Yazoo - Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke - are getting together for a few gigs to celebrate the issue of a 4 CD box set of their catalogue. I got both their albums on vinyl when they came out in the early '80s and have a 'best of' CD, but it would be good to have re-mastered versions plus all the extras. 'Upstairs At Eric's' was a breakthrough album in more ways than one. Now, I'm not their Number 1 fan or anything, but I wouldn't say no.

I remember seeing them on Top Of The Pops back then when Alison always wore a long black skirt or long coat and Vince just stood here pressing buttons on the keyboard. Not the most dynamic of stage presences but that sound was both wierd and wonderful.

The blurb says:


June 2008



“Whoever said synthesiser music has no feeling can start eating their hearts out now”
5* - Truly Fab - Record Mirror– 28th August 1982

“Created somewhere inside the brain of Vince Clarke and the soul of Alison Moyet in a spaced out time between Georgio Moroder and James Murphy” – Paul Morley 2007

YAZOO - Vince Clarke & Alison Moyet - have announced that they will reunite for the first time in over 25 years for Reconnected, a UK tour in June, starting in Glasgow on the 4th and culminating in a headline show at London’s Hammersmith Apollo on the 18th. There will be an exclusive on-sale opportunity at www.alisonmoyet.com beginning 25 January for one week only. General on-sale begins 1 February.

The tour is preceded by In Your Room a 4 disc box set which includes remasters and 5.1 mixes of both Yazoo’s classic albums ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’ and ‘You And Me Both’, b-sides and remixes and a DVD featuring a new short film containing exclusive new interviews with Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet and the promo videos for Don’t Go, The Other Side Of Love, Nobody’s Diary, Situation (1990) and Only You (1999).

The joyous, unlikely coming together of Vince Clarke, who had just left Depeche Mode, and Alison Moyet lasted for only 2 albums, saw them performing only 24 concerts worldwide, but left an indelible mark on pop. Yazoo released ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’ in July 1982 then parted company just 12 months later on release of the second album ‘You And Me Both’, which reached Number 1 in the UK. Vince and Alison have since gone on to have their own successful careers, Vince with Erasure and Alison as a solo performer, both releasing critically acclaimed hit albums in 2007. The Reconnected Tour will also see Yazoo perform material from ‘You And Me Both’ for the very first time as well as pop classics Only You and Don’t Go.


Wed 4 June Glasgow Clyde Auditorium 0870 040 4000
Sat 7 June Manchester Apollo 08444 777 677

Thu 12 June Wolverhampton Civic 0870 320 7000
Sun 15 June Brighton Centre 0844 847 1515

Wed 18 June London Hammersmith Apollo 08448 444 748

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Springtime in New York

Where are my manners? I can only apologise for not keeping you fully up to date with my doings. I'm off to New York at the end of March with Chris to see Buffy Sainte-Marie in concert at the Highline Ballroom. I was supposed to see her play there last summer but went into hospital instead, so I'm pleased to have another opportunity (and I'm hoping that's when the new album will be released). I've never been to New York in springtime so that should be nice.

We're staying at the historic The Algonquin Hotel near Times Square, so will be nicely central. Going to New York means doing stuff so, although I don't like planning too much ahead of a holiday, it's always useful to book a few things in advance, particularly for the evenings. I've ordered tickets to see 'Curtains' which looks like it should be fun and, courtesy of Mistress Duzur (who lives round the corner), we have tickets to see 'Sunday In The Park With George' on the Sunday afternoon at Studio 54 (this is the production that I saw at the Chocolate Factory a year or two ago). I'm sure it will be most odd going into Studio 54 in daylight, given it's history, but I have fond memories of seeing a sleazy 'Cabaret' there years ago and drinking giant JD and cokes.

I'd like to do something a bit more rock'n'roll one evening but am out of ideas now that CBGB's has shut, so any suggestions (nice ones!) will be welcome. I'm quite looking forward to browsing in Virgin Times Square at midnight, y'know, shopping at a sensible time!

Friday, 18 January 2008

Baby Poota

I am the proud custodian of a new addition to the family - Baby Poota.

Baby was acquired today with minimum fuss but the stirrings of much love. He's a Vaio, deep blue on the outside and silver inside. He's not broadbanded up and all that yet (I'll do that at the weekend when I've got time) but he's lovely.

He's shiny.

Monday, 14 January 2008

The Temptations

I have a need in me to express my love for The Temptations, the grooviest group that Motown ever had.

I had a bit of a Motown weekend, here in Plastic Mansions, or more precisely, a Motown lads weekend, with the Four Tops, the Contours, Marvin, Smokey, Junior Walker and a host of others including, of course, The Temptations. After listening to a load of tracks I had to top it off with a viewing of The Temps' 'Get Ready' DVD, a collection of their TV performances of their greatest hits. It features the classic line-up with David Ruffin and then the metamorphosis into pyschedelic soul and radical sounds when Dennis Edwards was brought on board. And they all sang lead at different times, either whole songs or those tracks when they swapped the vocal around the whole group with each of them taking different lines. One of my favourite Temps songs is 'Just My Imagination' which was one of Eddie Kendricks' final songs with them.

Presentation was married to their vocal powers, looking good and having dance routines to liven up their stage presence and make it a more complete experience. The coolest group around and just look at those moves, with Ruffin dropping to his knees in 'Ain't Too Proud To Beg' while the others moved around him. A lot of this was down to Paul Williams who also took lead vocals with his rich voice. And Melvin with his cheeky bass and Otis, the 'glue' in the centre. Every group has a history, disagreements and fights but I'm not interested in that - The Temps were close to perfect and that's all that matters.

So, all you hippity-hoppity wrapper type lads with your jeans falling down and hands never far from your crotch, take a look at The Temptations to see the real meaning of cool and wallow in those glorious voices.

Chickaboom, y'all!

Wotchadoin' Thursday?

Well? Just what are your plans for Thursday? Yes, Thursday this week. Thursday 16 January at 8.30pm to be precise. Ok, I'll tell you what you're doing - you're switching on BBC Four because ...

SLADE IN FLAME is on telly for the first time in an age of ages (if indeed it's ever been on telly before?). You know you need to watch it.

It's part of BBC Four's Pop Season and is followed by 'Pop on Trial' featuring "tracks from glam icon Marc Bolan, funkmeisters Parliament, punk pioneers The Sex Pistols and disco diva Donna Summer, and a 1971 performance of David Bowie singing Queen Bitch". That'll be worth seeing for Bowie alone - I've never seen him sing 'Queen Bitch'!

So, SLADE IN FLAME, one of the great rock films of all time with one of the best soundtracks which is also one of my top five SLADE albums, with the glorious 'How Does It Feel?' as the theme song. Featuring Tom Conti, Alan Lake, Johnny Shannon (reprising his trademark 'nasty' from 'Performance'), a young Tommy Vance and even a short clip of the mightly Emperor Rosco in his hippy finest. What a line-up, and directed by Richard Loncraine with his first film. And topped off with those great thesbians, SLADE, who was robbed at the Oscars. You know it.

I remember going to see it at the big Odeon in the centre of Newcastle when it was first shown in 1975 and sneaking in my cassette recorder to tape the songs to keep me going until the album came out.

If you've seen it then you'll know the joy to come. If you've never seen it before then it's not what you might expect. Get some popcorn and coke or a beer, switch on and relax into it, feet tapping to those great songs and admire the fashion statements.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

The Sleep Monkey & his Mallet of Slumber

Have you met the Sleep Monkey? I haven't been formally introduced but occasionally see him flitting about the room out of the corner of my eye and I've certainly noticed his power.

You know when the alarm goes off on these cold, damp, dreary mornings and you turn over and think 'I'll just have five more minutes...'? And then *bonk* an hour somehow speeds by. That's the effect of being bashed over the head by the Sleep Monkey's Mallet of Slumber. How the Monkey manages to swing around the room without dropping his mallet is beyond me since it must be quite heavy, but it's a mighty powerful tool.

He doesn't just do it in the morning either. He could well swing up behind you while relaxing on the couch and then *bonk* an hour or so whizzes by.

*Bonk* zzzzzzzzzz....

Friday, 11 January 2008

Sweeney Todd at the NFT

This evening I was treated to a preview of 'Sweeney Todd' at the National Film Theatre (a nice way to end a long week). I saw the musical performed in the West End a few years ago, the production involving pouring buckets of blood all over the place that transferred to Broadway (I wasn't blown away by it and recall the tiniest seats with no leg room in the theatre). Anyway, with Tim Burton directing and Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter as the leads, it has to be worth a viewing.

It opens as it means to go on, very dark and brooding, oppressive atmosphere and Johnny and Helena incredibly and painfully pallid (I suspect the sun was banned from London back in those days). Both had interesting east end-type speaking and singing accents and, within a few words of his first song I couldn't help but wonder if David Bowie ('Laughing Gnome' period) had dubbed Johnny's vocals. He pulled it off though and so did Helena (I was quite impressed with Helena).

Johnny was almost painful to watch some of the time, all haunted eyes and obsession - I'd definitely cross the road to avoid him if I saw his Sweeney in the street. Helena was excellent and helped to lighten the tone every now and then with a quip or a look. Of course, she was all hair and lips and big frock. Alan Rickman was suitably pervy, Ali G was oddly built in the trouser department and Timothy Spall was nicely creepy (I liked his cane-work, must have done lots of practicing and had sore hands for a while).

Apart from the seeming physical relief when the almost-monochrome transformed into much-needed colour every now and then, the only problem was that the sound mix sometimes didn't work for me (unless my hearing's going dodgy) - in a couple of songs the music was too far to the front, partially obscuring the vocals. Overall it was a good marriage of sound and visuals even though I looked away at a couple of the throat-slashings and ouch-inducing body dumpings ...

I enjoyed it and Chris and Angela (both Sondheim fans) agreed that the right songs had been cut to make it work as a film. So thumbs up all round.

As a surprise treat, Tim Burton went up on stage after the film for a short interview and then some Q&A. It was interesting to hear him talk about the film but the Q&A from the audience was a bit predictable as these things often are. So that made for an interesting Friday evening!

Thursday, 10 January 2008

X-RAY SPEX Live at The Roundhouse!

Can it be true? How over has my cup runneth? It's gone splurge over the sides, into the saucer and dribbled onto the floor even as I type with excited fingers.


X-Ray Spex will play The Roundhouse on 6 September 2008. I'm speechless, one of my impossible dreams is coming true, just like seeing the Pistols last November. It's the 30th anniversary of 'Germfree Adolescents' this year so that might be the reason. My blog is, of course, named after her magnificent song, 'Plastic Bag', on that album.

There are no details of which of the original Spex will be there, but I'm hopeful Lora Logic will grace us with her sax.

I'm ever so excited and instantly bought tickets. Might there be a live album and DVD and lots of merch and reissues and all sorts in the pipeline? I'd better start saving my pennies just in case. O gosh... Poly and the Spex on stage! I am *so* looking forward to this gig!

The Roundhouse website announces:


Poly Styrene and co prepare to rock London’s Roundhouse on September 6th 2008.Who could forget Poly Styrene’s rallying cry of ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours’? Well, get ready to yell along once more as punk icons X-ray Spex are back to celebrate over 30 years of punk rock in style.

Poly and the band will be giving a plethora of X-ray classics an airing, including ‘Germ Free Adolescents’ from their hit 1978 album of the same name, ‘I Am A Cliché’, ‘I Am A Poseur’ and of course, ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours’.

And with the Camden Roundhouse being a venue, which has not hosted an X-ray Spex gig since the height of the punk rock era, In 1978. The venue witnessed some of the most iconic bands of what was to become a worldwide movement (it’s the place where Patti Smith sang to an audience consisting of, amongst others, The Clash, the Slits before they were the Slits and many other burgeoning punk luminaries,) it is the perfect venue to stage an X-ray Spex celebration of 30 years of Germfree Adolescents.

Over time Poly Styrene and X-ray Spex featured a number of musicians in a co operative, some playing on live shows, others on record, but the legacy remains and has influenced many bands right across the globe ever since. A truly iconic British band.

X-ray Spex were one of the first bands, labeled as punk to get signed to a major label – Virgin – and despite not being considered a radio-friendly band at the time, rapidly built up a massive worldwide following, from their blistering live performances and sessions on John Peel’s legendary Radio 1 show in the late ‘70s. They also landed a residency at the iconic punk dive CBGBs in New York – making a deep impression on New York’s New Wavers such as Blondie and (a rather smitten) Richard Hell, later onto kurt Cobain. Independent and determined to be taken seriously alongside her male counterparts, Poly Styrene once stated she would “shave her head” if anyone tried to make her a sex symbol. And she did. So there.

Being a female of mixed race at a time of much political and social unrest, X-ray Spex took part in the unification of British youth in the rock against racism events of the mid 70's turbulent London.

After X-ray Spex disbanded in 1979, Poly joined the Hare Krishna movement, being very active in food for life, both with fund raising and physically feeding London's homeless. And musically, worked on solo material, culminating in 1980 album ‘Translucence’ and the EP ‘Gods and Goddesses’ in 1986.

Fast forward to today, and the band which brought us that raucous, high octane sound are firmly ensconced in our hearts as punk legends with Poly at the helm, fighting sexism and consumerism with her famous lyrics and feisty persona. ‘I made a commentary of society how I saw it, and I thought it was getting really plastic. Most songs for women then were very romantic and I wanted to write about other things. So I wrote about genetic engineering.” Inventive, original, fiercely bright and fun, X-ray Spex are back to shake us up and show us how it’s done.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Punk Cabaret Ragamuffins

Those delightful punk cabaret ragamuffins, The Dresden Dolls, are on tour in Americaland and that means new pics and dribbles of news.

Fairytale Vegas has posted some great photos of the Dolls' New Years Eve gig in New York on her Flickr site (so go and look at them now) and, in a review of the Chicago gig on his blog, Zeroskilz reports Amanda referring to a new Dolls 'B sides' album due later in the year. Now that's news worth having.

May the gods of cabaret forgive me, but I've shamelessly nicked this pic from Fairytale Vegas because I *like* it.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

La Cage Aux Folles - Chocolate Factory

Spent a very enjoyable afternoon at the Menier Chocolate Factory theatre seeing the excellent new production of 'La Cage Aux Folles'. I like the Choccy Factory (even if they do hide the chocolate) as a venue, small and intimate, but why oh why won't they start numbering the seats and having proper seats? Agony on the back after a while and everyone's squeezed together most uncomfortably. Whinge over and on to the show...

'La Cage' is a high camp farce that got off to an excellent start with the energetic dancers in sparkly frocks and too much make-up having a right old time with the opening number before moving upstairs to the tired romance of Georges and Albin who've been together for 20 years and no-one is getting any younger. We then learn that Georges' son is getting married and off we go with the roller coaster of songs and intrigue, of Albin feeling too old and fat to keep Georges even though Georges obviously still loves him... it's the story of two love affairs and two generations, of Georges and Albin and of Jean-Michel and Anne.

The sexual orientation doesn't really matter and is only overtly mentioned in the heat of argument or as insults. In the first half when Georges and Jean-Michel are arguing about whether Albin can be present at a planned dinner the ultimate attack Georges throws at his son is that he's heterosexual. In the second act Anne's right-wing father accuses Georges and Albin of being 'two homosexual transvestites' to which Albin holds up a finger and says there is 'one transvestite' and Georges does the same saying 'one homosexual'. Jean-Michel sees the error of his ways and acknowledges that Albin has, in reality, been his mother and they all live happily ever after - sort of.

It was all great fun. Philip Quast and Douglas Hodge were great as Georges and Albin and it was quite fun seeing Una Stubbs as Anne's mother. I particularly enjoyed the drag/tranny dancers and winced whenever they did the splits (where on earth do they put their bits?). I thoroughly enjoyed it! Go and see it if you can.

Previous Chocolate Factory productions have transferred to the West End ('Sunday In The Park With George' and 'Little Shop Of Horrors') and one even to Broadway ('Sunday In The Park') so here's hoping that 'La Cage' follows suit. I'd certainly go and see it on the big stage.

The Golden Compass

I finally got round to seeing The Golden Compass last night, and it was worth the wait. I haven't read the books or seen the play but, of course, I'm aware of some of the basics from press reports over the last few years. I'm pleased I saw it with a relatively fresh pair of eyes and a reasonably open mind.

The production looked gorgeous and the effects were seamless and excellent. I loved the design of that world's version of London seen from the air. Nicole Kidman was beautiful in an ice queen kind of way but I was particularly taken by Eva Green as Serafina, the flying witch who radiated Pre-Rafaelite beauty with the nose, cheekbones and cascading locks that shrieked Rossetti and Burne-Jones at me (take a look at Rossetti's Persephone to see what I mean). She radiated some very powerful imagery and archetypes as witch, wise woman and warrior.

I also liked Dakota Blue Richards (fabulous name, by the way) as Lyra, our young heroine with the odd estuary accent playing it as rebellious privileged-child-turned-street-urchin, a wild girl without parents who likes sitting on rooftops. Her interactions with the icebear were really good and given that the icebear was CGI I wonder who she acted with in his role to get that kind of performance?

Anyway, I liked it and look forward to the next installment. Of course, by then I will probably have read the books since this film has hooked me.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

'Much Ado About Nothing' - National Theatre

Tonight got the New Year off to a good start with an excellent production of 'Much Ado About Nothing' at the National Theatre with Zoe Wanamaker as Beatrice and Simon Russell Beale as Benedick, the unlikely (but most likely) lovers. It also featured Mark Addy and Trevor Peacock (reprising his Dibley role) as the comic turns (there's always a comic turn). And it featured music and dancing and rip-roaring jest and wit! Oh, and dodgy morality (of course).

I've never seen it before, either on stage or film and haven't read it (that I recall) but I'm familiar with the story. I want to see more Shakespeare on the stage so this was a good opportunity to start the year off with some culture. Throughout the first half I kept thinking to myself that some of the word-play and wit would have been totally lost on me reading the words on a page - they come alive when spoken from the mouths of experienced actors in a good production. It was also interesting to have more, ahem, mature leads rather than youngsters which adds another dimension to the play, both in terms of happiness for them when they finally get together at the end but also a drop of sadness for the lost years.

It's the story of two sets of lovers, the 'anti-lovers' Beatrice and Benedick who despise all things to do with marriage for themselves and any notion of romance, and Hero and Claudio, the young lovers whose love falls apart over false accusations of harlotry (a nice word) and infidelity. It's a testament to the power of Shakespeare's writing and the production that, 400 years after he wrote it, I was still engaged and outraged at the treatment of poor Hero (an odd name for a girl). Her father believes the accusations of Claudio and the Prince before even hearing what his own daughter has to say by hoping she won't wake up from her faint following accusations of being a tart.

At least Beatrice has the guts to want revenge on foul Claudio. And I'm fully on her side in that. My outrage went up a notch at the end when Hero's father is still happy for her to (foolishly in my view) marry him because he was duped too... Duped? The bastard had already planned to expose her during their wedding ceremony in church in front of everyone before he even had any 'proof' of her tartiness. I dislike him, the beardless, callow youth, and I don't care if it was only a play! I'll give him a piece of my mind if we ever meet in the street - that's no way to behave and just because you're a Count doesn't give you any moral superiority. Ooops, pardon me, but back then it did...

Anyways, it was excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The actress playing Hero annoyed me a bit by lack of projection and diction (I could hardly make out what she was saying a few times) but she was ok - I preferred the feisty Margaret, her sidekick. The Prince was suitably pompous and full of himself and Claudio deserved to be horsewhipped and then hung, drawn and quartered (am I reacting too much, I wonder?). I loved the music and songs, very mariarchi and very well delivered on stage and from the balconies.

The stars of the production were Zoe and Simon, the stage almost visibly brightening virtually every time Zoe came on. They both played it for laughs big time and were excellent. The sheer unexpectedness of Simon jumping in the fish pond to avoid being discovered overhearing people talk about him and then having it duplicated only slightly differently by Zoe was a stroke of genius, that feeling of 'no they won't do it again' with Zoe and then in she goes was wicked! And it was with no small measure of pleasure at the end when they finally agree to marry and go dancing round the stage - that was wonderful. I'm a big ole softy.

But what was it with beards? Lots of references to beards on-stage and insults to Claudio about being beardless and when I looked around at half time the audience was awash with beards! Well, the male part of the audience, particularly over a certain age. How odd. And why do people simply *have* to cough during the quiet bits? I really felt like shouting 'shut up' at one point.

It's an excellent production and Zoe and Simon were a joy to watch. Go and see it if you can. You don't *have* to have a beard to be allowed in (but it helps).