Friday, 29 February 2008

New Rekkids & A Retirement

I mentioned the new Dresden Dolls record due out in May a few weeks ago which got me excited, but I've just heard that Maximo Park are heading into the studio to record their new magnum opus - it will be magnificent, I have no doubt. They've been writing lots of new songs and Paul says that his lyrics are full of place names, so that should be interesting. A new Maximos album will, of course, mean a tour. And maybe some promos. And merch. Watch this space!

The delightful Blood Red Shoes drop their first album in April, an event I'm looking forward to (I hope there are no ballads on it). They're playing the London Students Union place in Bloomsbury in a few weeks time and, much as I'd like to see them in all their redness I don't think I want to be surrounded by stoodents. BUT, their surprise guest at a gig in Germany this week was none other than the future of rock'n'roll themselves, Comanechi! What a fabulous gig that must have been. *tempted*

Beth Rowley is also due her first album in, I think, May. With a voice like hers it'll be a pleasure to listen to - I'm still enjoying 'Violets', her debut EP, especially her reggae version of 'I Shall Be Released'. It'll be interesting to see what songs she's chosen for this album and how she'll be promoted. She deserves to be big.

News Flash! *Zal Cleminson retires!*

This might not be news to you but it is to me. Eh? I hear you cry, the mighty axe warrior from The Sensational Alex Harvey Band retiring? Last I heard he was starting up a new band as a side project to SAHB. It's sad that he's retiring but good luck to him. At least I saw him one last time at the SAHB 'Framed' gig before Christmas, painted face and loud guitar riffs and all. All the best, Zal!

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Linton Kwesi Johnson

I blogged about the ear-opening experience of listening to Linton Kwesi Johnson as an 18 year old a long time ago (click here to visit the past) so you'll understand if I'm just the teeniest bit excited to report that I have ordered tickets to see him at the Barbican in a couple of weeks time. I'm not entirely sure what to expect but neither do I care much... I want my fillings to vibrate with the reverb -erb -erb -erb... I hope there's some time travelling that night!

I was terribly disappointed this morning when I got on the bus, got out my iPod to plug in and while away the journey when I realised that somehow or other I only have three (yes, count 'em, a paltry THREE) Linton tracks on iPey! How on earth has that happened? I am ashamed. I am, even as I type, copying my Linton CDs so I can transfer them to my iPod.

So, instead of a Linton morning I embarked on a Jimmy Cliff festival to celebrate also ordering tickets to see the stage version of 'The Harder They Come'. Why on earth isn't Mr Cliff bigger? Irrespective of his musical genre, he wrote some very good pop songs over the years - why aren't his songs covered right, left and centre? They should be. Jimmy played the Jazz Cafe last year but it was sold out before I found out about it.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Vanity Fair at The National Portrait Gallery

This afternoon Chris took me to the Vanity Fair exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. I'm full of cold so not on top form, but it was nice to see the exhibition - well, it would've been nicer if they'd included the photo of Buffy Sainte-Marie and Richie Havens...

It's an odd exhibition, in a way, photos of the great and good next to photos of the merely famous next to photos of rich people's daughters and suchlike. It was also a strange selection of photos - why include a huge blow up of a pretty bog-standard photo of Maggie Thatcher or a large photo of Jennifer Aniston with half her face obscured so she could be any reasonably good looking young woman? A mixture of the iconic and the so what? Still, it was a nice way to fill in a damp Sunday afternoon.

My favourite photo is of our table in the cafe after the exhibition with muffins scoffed and coke and tea waiting to be drunk. This is my contribution to art of the future.

Was that Fenella Fielding?

I *think* I saw Fenella Fielding on the tube the other day. Those cheekbones, those lips, that hair... could it have been anyone else? There's an article in The Independent on Sunday today that ends with her getting on a bus, so she's not averse to public transport.

When I think of Fenella I think of 'Carry On Screaming' in which she plays the vamp sister to Kenneth Williams' mad scientist, and that's the film in which he utters the immortal Carry On line of 'Frying tonight!' as he sinks into a heated vat of gloop. And Fenella's big line is 'Do you mind if I smoke?' while lying on a couch and then clouds of smoke emerge from around her as she lounges and goes a bit orgasmic. You have to see it really.

If it was Fenella, then all I can say is coo!

Friday, 22 February 2008

BuffyFest Five

Day five of my own personal Buffy Sainte-Marie festival to celebrate her birthday. It's been nice listening to the different styles of music over the years but the thing that seems to have been constant is her stance on war, personal freedom and love. I blogged about 'Moratorium' last year so I won't blog again, but a similar type of song is 'Song Of The French Partisan'.

Song Of The French Partisan

I don't know why Buffy recorded 'French Partisan', a song about the second world war but I imagine it's a metaphor for what happened to the native peoples of North America, with Europeans invading the land and gradually hunting down the native peoples. It's a very sad song, of bravery and loss, the soldier/warrior losing his family and losing his friends as one by one they're killed. It's an emotional black hole depending on how you choose to hear it.


From Buffy's experimental 1969 album, 'Illuminations', a song by Richie Havens that I don't pretend to understand but love the sound. On 'Illuminations' Buffy played around with the technology trying to find new sounds and 'Adam' is one of those songs that stands out for me, marrying a traditional song structure to a more radical sound. It works for me.

For Free

Buffy's version of a Joni Mitchell song on her 1973 album, 'Quiet Places'. I like this song, a tale of a busker playing for free on a street corner while Buffy (at least in theory) plays for 'a fortune' in a concert hall, a song about 'the biz'. Buffy was an early supporter of Joni and recorded a few of her songs early on.

My Baby Left Me

I'll finish with a song that Buffy recorded that was also recorded a few years later by SLADE, my other heroes. Of course, the sound is very different but the similarity is the pace of the song that does it for me every time. Buffy and SLADE link here ...

There you have it, dear reader, a selection of the Buffy songs I've listened to this week. There have been a lot more, of course, but this selection might help give you an idea of the range of music Buffy has recorded over the years. And continues to record, with a new album due shortly!

Thursday, 21 February 2008


It's odd, the thoughts you have waiting to cross a road. I had a thought this morning while I waited for the lights to change at Victoria (that's code for 'it was a long thought because it takes ages to cross a road on Victoria Street'). I am one of the most privileged people in the world.

What I really mean by that is that I am one of the most privileged in terms of being in the top billion people in the world. That's because I'm a middle aged, middle class white man. My privilege points start stacking up when I add my education, my job and position (that puts me firmly in SEG B territory), my access to health and other support and, of course, I'm British and can turn on a reasonably good RP accent when needed.

I've had some very uncomfortable moments abroad, particular in places in India and Sri Lanka and, to a lesser extent, Thailand and Singapore. The sometimes deference has been awful and that's based solely on what I physically look like - a white male - without any knowledge of my accomplishments or skills or background. It's not like that in Africa, in my experience, where it seems to be a bit more egalitarian.

My world isn't perfect by any means, but, compared to the vast majority of my fellow human beings, I am privileged. And so, in all likelihood, are you, dear reader. That's a humbling thought. I suspect it's Buffy Sainte-Marie making me think these thoughts...

Jesus Of Cool - Nick Lowe

Just in case you thought I was lost in Buffy, it's my job to alert you to new records and things. In this case, the 'Jesus of Cool' himself, Mr Nick Lowe.

I went to a conference yesterday in Russell Square (and ended up speaking from the stage, but that's another story) so I rewarded myself with a browse round HMV. As ever, I entered the store, turned right to look at the new releases and staring back at me was the distinctive cover of 'Jesus Of Cool' by Nick Lowe ('Pure Pop For Now People' in America). Now, I've been picking up and putting down Nick's 'greatest hits' for a couple of months now (an imported doubler full of titles I've never heard of) but, including the bonus tracks, 'Jesus' actually contains all the songs I want.

For a couple of years in the mid-'70s everything Nick touched turned to gold, helping with the birth of Stiff Records and the many artists it unleashed on the world and he had a few hits himself. So I snapped it up - it's good to hear these songs again, catchy 3 minute pop songs. The packaging is a joy itself, with the pack folding out into cruciform style with a young Nick in a stained glass window. Go on, treat yourself!

BuffyFest Four

Day four of my adventure with Buffy Sainte-Marie, listening to her complete works on my iPod as I travel round London.

Qu'Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan

From 1976's 'Sweet America', this is one of the first 'pow wow rock' songs I ever heard with Buffy marrying pow wow sounds to pop/rock songs. It's quite a short song, limited words repeated and Buffy leading a pow wow chorus - I love it. Qu'Appelle Valley is where Buffy was born and in the song she invites us to walk the old way with her. I'd love to, heyo ha heya.

The Big Ones Get Away

A story of corporate greed and the rich men who can buy their way out of legal problems while the minnows are caught, one of the singles from 'Coincidence And Likely Stories' in 1992. Buffy produced a very simple but powerful video for this song that plays to the warrior in her soul when she sings the words,

And if I had a way to reach the sky
Grab that crescent moon
Wield it like a knife
Save you from the lies
From the ropes that bind you...

and you see her reach up to the moon and slash her hand down double-handed as if cutting ropes, a very potent image. Buffy is a poet and artist and seer, but she's also a warrior.

Darling Don't Cry

Another pow wow song from 'Up Where We Belong' in 1996. It's about what happens on the pow wow trail along the border between Canada and the USA and what happens when young people get together, a singer to the heartbeat drum and a dancer, and Buffy is the dancer. I like the closing lines, 'If you like I'll take you home, When I go back to Canada' because that's where I saw Buffy perform this song and the audience erupted, joining in the pow wow singing which was a wonderful experience and a privilege to be in that company.

Samples of all these songs are available on the Buffy tribute site so head on over and take a listen.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

BuffyFest Three

It's Buffy Sainte-Marie's birthday today, so happy birthday, Buffy, and thank you for singing to me again as I traipsed round London. Today I listened to some of the first Buffy songs I ever heard and to some of her latest songs. My iPod has impeccable taste, y'know!


I've mentioned before that I first came across Buffy in a half-hour programme about her music on BBC2 in 1975 or 1976 and one of the songs they played was 'Generation' from the 'Buffy' album in 1974. It was partly that song that entrapped me, but I didn't know what it was called. Years later, when Buffy's Vanguard records appeared on CD the 'Buffy' album remained unknown and still isnt available on CD.

When talking about Buffy to Chris I'd mentioned this song that stuck in my mind over the years with a chorus that went something like, 'Goodbye stars of Hitler and goodbye bankers trust, Aquarius is shining and your son is one of us...' (not quite the right lyrics, but that's what I thought I'd heard). He tracked down the vinyl album and burned it to CD for me for Christmas a few years ago - now that's a present a half! It features a soaring guitar solo but I've no idea who played it.

Native North American Child

Another song I heard on that BBC2 programme was 'Native North American Child', a song I simply must sing along to, even if it's under my breath on a crowded tube train. What do I like about it? I don't really know. But I *must* join in the chorus of,

Sing About your ebony African Queen
Sing about your lily white Lily Marlene
Beauty by the bushel but the girl of the hour
Is a native north American prairie flower

And Buffy is a prairie flower.

I also pride myself on singing along word perfect to the middle verse which lists the native nations but for some reason I always get the last verse wrong...

He's An Indian Cowboy In The Rodeo

This is the best song I've ever heard about a teenage crush - or unrequited love at any age. It tells of the excitement of a young girl who's going to see her hero again that afternoon, and he's an Indian cowboy taking part at the rodeo.

I *love* this song, it's perfect. It bounces along with the girl getting excited, getting ready to see her hero and then there he is with his big wide smile and big white hat ... It's lovely. I like the version on 'Up Where We Belong' that closes with some pow wow singing. I've seen her do this song live - coo!

We all have our own Indian Cowboy.

Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

A serious song, Buffy in full-on radical mode. The book of that name tells of the injustices of the native American nations in the nineteenth century but Buffy uses that to tell us that those injustices continue today except that the enemy isn't the cavalry, it's now the energy companies who want tribal lands for uranium. It's a harrowing tale with rock beats and pow wow voices.

Bury my heart at wounded knee
Deep in the earth
Cover me with pretty lies
Bury my heart at wounded knee

Happy birthday Buffy! And thank you for the music! As far as I know, this is the latest photo of Buffy (from a 'Vanity Fair' photoshoot):

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

BuffyFest Two

Buffy Sainte-Marie has been singing to me again today in the build-up to her birthday. I've had a lot of love songs on my iPod today, some country style songs and some experimental electronic music from the late '60s.

The Hashishin

This is an interesting track from the soundtrack to 'Performance' (yes, the Mick Jagger film). It drips drugs, a hippy-trippy melange of sitar and mouthbow that conjours up images of swirling dope and incense smoke in a room full of Indian shawls and stoned hippies... perfect for the film. It's a very atmospheric piece.

97 Men In This Here Town Would Give Half A Grand In Silver Just To Follow Me Down

That's possibly one of the longest titles to any song but part of me just loves this song. It's Buffy as sex kitten telling her man that he's lucky to have her, a tongue-in-cheek joke that I can almost see being part of a sketch on the 'Sonny & Cher Show' with Buffy teasing all the men dancers she'd be surrounded by and flirting with the audience. It's all just another aspect of the human condition that Buffy writes so eloquently about. I'd love to see her play this song live.

It's My Way

'It's My Way' is the title track to Buffy's first album from 1964 and it seems to be an ongoing manifesto for how Buffy lives her life. Buffy is still an activist and hasn't mellowed with age and it's still her way. It's a brave way too, leading to being blacklisted.

'I've got my own sword in my own hand
I've got my own plan that only I can know...
... Your day will come, your day alone...'

I like the way that Buffy turns it round to say that we too can have our day, that we too are a bit special

Sons & Daughters by The Neville Brothers

Buffy collaborates with other artists every now and then and one of my favourites that popped up on my iPod today was 'Sons & Daughters' with the Neville Brothers, a moody piece with Buffy singing in excellent voice in the second half of the song. It's a collaboration to die for.

Again, scoot on over to the Buffy tribute site to hear samples of '97 Men' and 'It's My Way'.

Monday, 18 February 2008

BuffyFest One

It's Buffy Sainte-Marie's birthday this week so I'm having a bit of a BuffyFest on on my iPod. To celebrate the birth of a great woman I thought I'd share my thoughts about some of her songs I've heard today and each day this week.


The first song that popped up on my iPey was 'Lazarus' from Buffy's 'Many A Mile' album from 1965. I don't know much about the song and assumed it's an old spiritual about a runaway slave (but if you know differently, then please tell me). The thing about 'Lazarus' is that it's just Buffy's voice and hand-claps and that's it. No other instruments or backing, a stark, harrowing and powerful sound, with Buffy's voice ringing out above a slow hand-clap.

It's an astonishing sound, so astonishing that Kanye West "sampled" it a few years ago for a track he produced for Cam'ron called 'Dead or Alive'. The "sample" is basically just Buffy singing the phrase, 'dead or alive', with her voice fed through a computer but still recognisably Buffy. Even feeding her voice through a computer isn't exactly original since Buffy was doing that herself back in 1969 on her experimental electronic album, 'Illuminations'.


'Starwalker' is from Buffy's 'Sweet America' album from 1976, and, as noted on the album sleeve, is dedicated to the American Indian Movement. It's a very poetic song with some powerful imagery and pow wow sound, with each verse about a different traditional archetype and the overall message to 'Aim straight, stand tall'. We're introduced to Starwalker, Wolf Rider and Lightning Woman and invited to 'pray up your medicine song' to pounding drums and pow wow singing.

This has been a long time favourite but my take on it changed last year when I finally read 'Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee' while I was in hospital. I read a short reference to Buffalo-Calf-Road-Woman who rode out in a hail of bullets to save her brother from ambush by the US cavalry while the warriors of the tribe watched. A woman of such bravery must have done more with her life but that one sentence in a book is all we seem to know about her. I think of her when I hear 'Starwalker', one of the many unknowns lost to history, she is Wolf Rider, the Dog Soldier, Lightning Woman, Thunderchild and a host of other archetypes.

Wolf Rider she's a friend of yours
You've seen her opening doors
She's a history turner
She's a sweetgrass burner
And a dog soldier
Ay hey wey hey wey heya

Scoot on over to the Buffy tribute site to listen to some samples of these tracks (click 'discography' and then the title of the album to hear 30 second samples). More Buffy tomorrow...

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Down the Dilly

Have you ever actually met someone under the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus? Obviously, this question is targeted at Londoners. It's a bit of a cliche, I know. In all my years in London I've never met anyone there or even stood on the steps of the monument. That's for tourists.

My little brother and his wife arrived in London for a couple of days and I actually said I'd meet them in Piccadilly Circus. I thought it would be easy for them to find and not far from the theatre I'd got tickets for. In the end I met them at Cambridge Circus instead, but before doing so I walked up the steps to Eros and it really is a fountain. I didn't know that. It's all carved and engraved with words and stuff. I've learned something. I quite like my photo of Eros using the moon as a football.

Piccadilly Circus today is a far cry from my first experience of it when it was haunted by drug addicts, prostitutes and rent boys and was the gateway to deepest, darkest Soho... Now, of course, it's firmly on the tourist trail and I was stopped by two sets of tourists and asked to take photos of them. Which I did.

Dresden Telegram

More news from The Dresden Dolls wires...

... >stop< ... new album provisionally titled, 'No, Virginia' ... should be released in late May... >stop< ... Amanda singing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in June ... >stop< ... EdgeFest with the Boston Pops... and the orchestra conductor asking if he'll have to wear make-up... >stop< ... Amanda's throat operation in March means no singing for weeks so she'll sort out the artwork for her solo record after the op ... >stop< ... the Dolls have done cover versions of songs for Johnny Cash and Jonathan Richman compilations due out later this year ... >stop< ...

Phew! And I can't even find time to get to the gym...

The Imagined Village

Did you see 'Later... with Jools' on Friday night? It was a good selection of music but I was particularly taken with The Imagined Village collective - whoever thinks folk is boring clearly needs to see that performance of 'Cold Hailey, Rainy Night'. I was most impressed with it and immediately had to download it and listen to it on repeat.

A six and half minute song is a bit unusual on any music show (as Jools noted) but it's more than worth it, mixing the fiddles and voices of traditional folk with sitar and bhangra beats creating a wonderful melange of sound that had me gawping at the telly with eyes and ears wide open. You *need* to see it. Watch with an open mind and prepare to be amazed.

Now, that's what I call a performance and a half! It's great to see Eliza Carthy bouncing round and that's a marvellous duet on voice and fiddle with Chris Wood.

The blurb on The Imagined Village site tells us that it's:

A daring mix of ancient and modern, The Imagined Village fuses fiddles and squeezebox with dub beats and sitars. To do so it has gathered an extraorinary array of talent: Martin Carthy, Eliza Carthy, Sheila Chandra, Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, Tunng, Transglobal Underground and Benjamin Zephaniah among others.

Emmerson has a history of ground-breaking fusions, as founder of jazz-soul group Working Week and The Afro Celt Sound System, and as a Grammy-nominated producer of world acts like Manu Dibango and Baba Maal. After travelling the world I thought it was time explore my own roots, he says Simon, to look at the earth under my feet.

The resulting album is arguably the most ambitious re-invention of the English folk tradition since Fairport Conventions Liege and Lief back in 1969. Favourites like John Barleycorn and Cold Hailey Rainy Night are given radical new soundscapes, the magical ballad Tam Lyn is retold as a tale of urban clubland amid a parade of great voices and wonderful playing. Paul Weller duets with Martin Carthy and Tunng bring their quirky inventive young folk sound while Sheila Chandra sings a heart-breaking ballad with beauty and elegance.

Martin Carthy: "The only harm you can do to traditional music is not to play it or sing it."

Simon Emmerson: "Englishness is the final frontier of world music."

Billy Bragg: "In any village theres a meeting between the custodians of the past and the architects of the future, and The Imagined Village reflects just that"

I have, naturally enough, ordered the album. You should do the same.

Gabrielle at the Royal Festival Hall

Gabrielle's 'Always Tour 2008' hit the Royal Festival Hall tonight so it was a good opportunity to check out the lady. I wouldn't say I'm a fan - I like the singles and I got 'Rise' (didn't everyone?) - but when the new album, 'Always', came out last autumn I got it and liked it so booked tickets. She's known as a bit of a soul-pop diva and that was highlighted by the warm up music playing as people took their seats, a nice selection of '60s Motown that allowed me and Chris to do backing vocals to some old favourites as well as funk on down to The Temps 'Cloud Nine'.

I've never seen Gabrielle live before so didn't know what to expect, but the rather minimal staging gave a pretty good clue, especially when a helper brought out a pot of tea and a mug to place on a stool beside the central mic. As Chris pointed out, that's a slight hint that we weren't in for a song n dance spectacular. Still, it was a bit of a thrill when Gabrielle walked on stage - that's *her* that is, I thought.

On she walked in black suit and huge shades, confident and ready for a bit of banter with the audience, starting slowly rather than with a stomper. It seemed a bit like a 'greatest hits plus new album' type of show and that was fine by me, with every song a toe-tapper and most were songs I'd join in the chorus. I was surprised that she played 'When A Woman' in the middle of the set but it got people moving down to the front and dancing, so it served it's purpose.

She played all the songs you'd expect and a nice selection from the new album. She did a great version of 'Falling' that segued into 'Heartbreaker' which has a similar feel and worked excellently as an extended piece (and also one of my favourites from the new album). I'm pleased she sang 'Ten Years Time', one of my favourites that always makes me think. It was quite a thrill to see and hear 'Rise' and 'When A Woman' being performed right in front of me, two songs that have been in my favourites playlists for years now. 'Closure' closed the main show and an extended version of 'Dreams' finished the encore on a high.

I really enjoyed the show and it was great to actually see her play live but I'm not sure that the Royal Festival Hall was the right venue for her - the lay-out encourages sitting down rather than getting up and moving and I got the feeling a couple of times that she wasn't getting the response she needed to feed off to project back to us. The audience was an interesting lot, with loads of old people (ie older than me) as well as the expected 30-somethings. But what I did like was the love that everyone seemed to have for Gabrielle. I'm not sure how else to describe it - it wasn't the mindless fan-worship of other stars, this seemed to be genuine love and wanting her to do well. Which was nice. And she did do well. I hope she's pleased with herself after tonight - she should be.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

New Dresden Dolls!

There's a big ole smiley face here in the Plastic Bag - those delightful punk cabaret ragamuffins, The Dresden Dolls will release a new record in the spring (and 'spring' is almost here already).

Amanda writes in the latest Dolls newsletter:

Brian and I are proud to announce that we've just spent the last week together in the studio (with the esteemed producer of Yes, Virginia, Sean Slade) recording a bunch of older Dolls? songs that never got put to tape. We're maniacally happy with the way things turned out. Our current plan is to package these new songs with the unreleased material we kept from the Yes, Virginia sessions and give y'all a whole new happy CD. We'll keep you posted on release.

Sheri Hausey came by to take some photos and whipped out a video camera - and then the illustrious Bill T. Miller edited it - and voila! We had a wonderful, unplanned but AWESOME documentary of our recent studio exploits! Check it out HERE.

We're currently looking at putting out the new Dolls' album sometime this spring. Yes, ma'am, BEFORE the solo record. So don't ask, it just worked out that way. We won't be touring on the record but we will hopefully do a handful of shows and maybe even make a ridiculous video involving lawn ornaments (and we might ask for help, so get ready).

O happy day!

And here's the video so you get it from the horses mouth (in a nice way, of course):

Seven Inches

Now, call me an old fuddy-duddy (yes, please do) and hose me down with whipped cream and custard, but why oh why have bands started releasing 7" vinyl singles? Have I missed some announcement about a shortage of whatever shiny material CDs are made of?

Now, clearly, there's a marketing angle to all this, much like punk bands in the '70s released records on coloured vinyl to make them a bit different and collectable. There's also the elitist angle that claims music sounds better on vinyl, but that's just snobbery really. There's possibly a retro, anti-digital thing going on too. I suppose there's also something about vinyl being a 'real' record.

Do the youngsters who buy vinyl really have turntables at home?

Now, I love my old records and, let's face it, 12" covers are much more attractive for album art than the tiny pictures in a CD case. But I also love my CDs. I do download music - I downloaded the Human League's 'Secrets' the other day since I couldn't find the CD anywhere - but I'd much rather go into a record shop and browse, picking up CDs, scanning track listings for those elusive songs of yesterday that I need to find and leaving the shop with a new treasure or two in my bag. But I don't really want vinyl because I no longer have a record player and don't particularly want to get one. How many formats do we need music in? I have a turntable to digitise vinyl records but if it's available digitally then that's the format I might as well buy.

What's started me off? Well, Theoretical Girl's new single is a 500 run of vinyl only, Blood Red Shoes new single is in CD + 2 x vinyl, all of Comanechi's recordings are in vinyl only so far. What's this about? Mind you, Maximo Park do the CD + vinyl thing and the Sex Pistol's re-issue of their singles last year were in vinyl only format as well. Clearly I must be an old fuddy-duddy. Point me in the direction of the cream and custard fountain...

Monday, 11 February 2008

Psychological Damage

After the adrenilin-fueled nonsense that is 'National Treasure' I went to see 'Sweeney Todd' with Chris yesterday, this time at my local Odeon rather than in the comfort of the National Film Theatre. Having stocked up on popcorn and coke we relaxed back into the film which, on second viewing is still excellent. If you haven't seen it yet, you should, y'know.

I was particularly impressed by Helena Bonham-Carter again, and more so since I expected a good performance this time. The wit she brings to the part provides some much-needed lightening on the continual blackness that surrounds Johnny Depp's Sweeney. I was totally engrossed towards the end when she holds the boy and sings the refrain of 'Not While I'm Around' and you can see the bleak despair in her eyes since she knows she's got to kill him to save Sweeney and herself. That was almost painful to watch and most impressive acting.

The downside was the two sets of talkers behind us, a couple of women to the right and two teenagers canoodling in the backrow to the left. They were both a minor, intermitent annoyance and not worth commenting on except that when I got up to walk out I glanced over to the corner where the teenagers' noise came from and they were still there, girl sitting on the lad's lap and when they looked over at me (and I imagine a look saying 'old people can't possibly understand' but in reality it was too dark to see any expression on their faces) I couldn't help but burst out in a fit of laughter about kids in the backrow of the movies. I do so hope I haven't inflicted psychological damage on either of them...

Sunday, 10 February 2008

National Treasure: Book Of Secrets

I had a rip-roaring adventure-fueled evening last night with Nicholas Cage, Helen Mirren and John Voight in 'National Treasure: The Book Of Secrets'. The Book is, of course, so top secret only one person every few years even sees it as it's passed personally from one President to another. Anyway.

It's one adventure sequence followed by another, a modern day Indiana Jones, with set pieces and jokes hitting hard and fast, paying scant attention to history or fact - apparently Queen Victoria supported the confederates in the US Civil War. Gosh. And at one point in the film it talked about a Spanish seaman being shipwrecked in Florida and being taken to a golden city in Dakota to recover - have the writers ever seen a map of America? And the golden city is full of Inca and Aztec type of images built under Mount Rushmore, a couple of thousand miles north of the most northerly point where they ever lived. Um. OK.

So, leaving aside the ever so slight historic and geographic inaccuracies, it was good fun. Whizzing from New York to Paris to London to Washington to goodness knows where else, shoot-em-up car chases in the London streets (did you know there's a Georgian mews right in front of Buckingham Palace? Obviously they've built over the Mall and Green Park without me noticing), conspiracy theories and plot twists galore and the mandatory comic character and love story.

Nicholas Cage was fine running round and being out-of-breath but every now and then looked a bit gaunt to me. John Voight played his old man role quite nicely but why was he stooped and a bit feeble - age doesn't have to be played as that stereotype at all and certainly not the way Helen Mirren played it. Helen did her sexy older woman thing as Nicholas Cage's mother and John Voight's ex-wife who he hasn't seen in 32 years (eh?) as a feisty, aggressive college professor who is one of the few people who can read the lost native language on a plank of wood. Um, was that a metaphor for something? She had nice tangled hair and clambered round on rocks very well indeed.

It was good mindless fun in lots of respects but I have a slight niggling worry that some people might have left the cinema last night thinking that Custer really was killed for trying to find the lost city of gold and not as part of a war with native Americans, that Britain supported the slave trade in America despite having abolished slavery decades earlier and that the real reason for France giving the Statue of Liberty to America was to hide a clue to a secret treasure map in Liberty's torch. Or maybe that's all true and I've believed the wrong conspiracy theory all these years...?

Electrickery Digitalis

My electricity bill is soaring with all the new technology I've been acquiring in recent weeks. It's going to increase again with my latest acquisition (a gift, no less) - a digital photo frame! It is fabulous, crystal clear and perfect colours but, like all technology, took an age to set up!

Not only does it display as many photos as I can fit on the memory card, but it also plays video and music. Is there no end to the bits of technology I can put the same sound and vision on?


[PS: this bloggie comes courtesy of my wireless Baby Poota which also is in the process of being loaded with favourite pics and music]

Friday, 8 February 2008

VauxhallVille Virgin

Last night I went to see Dawn Right Nasty do her first stand-up thingy at VauxhallVille. Now Miss Dawn is far from virginal in terms of supporting turns and spinning the tunes, but she was up there on stage with mic and poota for the first time doing *talking* to the audience. Oooer. I was distressed to see her brand new (and shiny) laptop perched atop a rickety stand but it survived it's outing.

Dawn gave us her history of her favourite subject, drag and transgender stuff, showing clips of Dick Emery and Les Dawson in drag, the '80s gender bending of Boy George and Marilyn, the mandatory reference to Kiki & Herb and closing with Trannyshack (and a sneaky poster for the defunct MisterSister club with Heklina). You can get a feel for the presentation here.

The evening's entertainment was cut short by the Victoria line curfew (the annoyance of the Victoria Line shutting down for maintenance shortly after 10pm seemingly forever) and Chris heading off home, but it was nice to see Paul talking about his new job and Gareth excited about his New York trip and booking tickets for 'Xanadu'. We left just after Timberlina's 'carving root vegetables into interesting shapes' competition which, oddly enough, was won by a San Franciscan who'd just got off the plane that morning. The world gets smaller every day.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Blood Red Shoes

The new single from Blood Red Shoes, 'You Bring Me Down,' is out for download and in hard copy in different formats. I got the three track CD this evening - I love the energy of the single and the repetitive call of 'nothing can stop this creeping fear...'.

I came across Blood Red Shoes when they supported Maximo Park in October 2007, enjoyed their set and downloaded the couple of tracks available at the time. They're a guitar and drums duo who make a lot of noise and I thought they sounded a bit like a cross between The Fall and The Dresden Dolls (but they don't really), a minimalist sound with strident voices. I'd quite like to see them again.

I hope the single does well for the scallywags - that would bode well for the album due later this year.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Varekai - Cirque du Soleil

Tonight I saw wonder and magic in the shape of Cirque du Soleil's 'Varekai' at the Royal Albert Hall. The spectacle was astonishing, the energy flowing from the stage along with visions of beauty and grace. Hyperbole? Probably, but it was a joy to behold and I was almost breathless by the end of the show.

How to describe Cirque du Soleil? Extreme circus? Acrobatic ballet? Acrobats, tumblers, jugglers, contortionists, clowns... all this and more wrapped up in magical costumes to inhabit a magical world for a couple of hours. I loved it.

The stage was built out into the auditorium with an aerie built above the stage reached by a rickety walkway and this meant that the space above the stage could be used just as much as the stage itself, with the aerial artists using the vast space. Some artists fell from the aerie, others emerged from a forest of metal poles and others surfaced from below the stage. Many of the costumes were based on an insectoid theme and all contributing to a glorious extravaganza of colour and shape, with slinky lizard creatures moving in fits and starts around the stage and the tumbler troupe in red being portrayed as army ants. The designers must've had great fun.

No doubt there's a story behind the spectacle but I'm not too bothered about that, I prefer to make up my own. An angel falls from grace and tumbles to earth where he loses his wings and then falls in love with the lizard princess who is kidnapped and taken to the aerie where she later emerges as a shiny creature and they get married and live happily ever after. Something like that.

Inbetween scenes with them we are introduced to the strange world with army ants tumbling through the air and around the stage, lizards creeping over each other, graceful birds flying through the air and the comic creations slowing things down and providing some pacing to the spectacle. The only bit that was totally out of synch was the magician and his assistant who re-emerged later as a cabaret singer chasing the spotlight as it moved around the auditorium. Strange but quite fun in its own way.

If you get the chance, go and see Cirque du Soleil perform any of its shows. Leave reality at the door and enter a world of wonder.

Monday, 4 February 2008

X-Ray Spex

You *need* to see this:

I, of course, already have tickets. It will be fabulous at Poly's Punky Party!

Laura Marling

I noticed that 'Night Terror', a track from Laura Marling's new album, is the free iTunes single of the week this week. It's been available to play on her MySpace site for a while so I've heard it before, but it's well worth downloading. I like the imagery around her waking up on a bench on Shepherd's Bush Green (must be a tough life to sleep on a bench there!).

Her actual new single is 'Ghosts' which is available in hard format from all good record shops as well as for download. Her first album, 'Alas I Cannot Swim,' is available next week and I'll be getting it. I like her voice, her words and her sound. And she's only 19, I think, so there's a long future ahead of her.

Go on, download 'Night Terror' - it's free so what do you have to lose? Then try some more Laura next week when the album's available.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Alex Harvey

Yesterday I finally received Alex Harvey's 'Roman Wall Blues' album on CD from Germany and it's been well worth the wait. Alex was shaking up a storm with his first band before I was born and his first records are from the early '60s but I came across him in the early '70s when he set up The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and released a string of excellent hard rock albums. SAHB was the first band I ever saw, supporting SLADE in 1973. I've blogged about Alex and SAHB before but here I go again since over the last year or so I've been tracking down Alex's solo work and 'Roman Wall Blues' takes me that much closer to a complete set (or as complete as I'm likely to get).

I have a collection of his earliest recordings on 'Alex Harvey And His Soul Band' which is full of rock and blues and soul songs given the inimitable Alex Harvey treatment, with his unique phrasing and sound. The odd thing is that some of those songs sound like they could well have been recorded in the early '70s which suggests that Alex's vision and sound remained intact during his ups and downs in the '60s, teetering on stardom only to become part of the 'Hair' houseband in the late '60s. That's a powerful vision.

A record I have yet to track down is the 'Hair Rave Up' album from the late '60s which features some original Harvey songs and he provides vocals and guitar to most of the tracks. The Hairband sounds a lot of fun ('Hair' and The Beatles 'Birthday' by the Hairband are on the 'Considering' compilation). I've seen one copy for sale on eBay which went for silly money. I'll keep my eyes open.

'Roman Wall Blues' is from 1969 and opens with a no-holds-barred 'Midnight Moses', horn fuelled rock that must be played loud. SAHB recorded that song a few years later. The album is full of great songs and sounds fresh and alive. The song 'Roman Wall Blues' is an atmospheric poem set to music and makes me think of walking along Hadrian's Wall when I was younger with a howling wind blowing over the bleak landscape. There's also a fabulous verison of 'Jumping Jack Flash', again with horns blaring in the background, a sound you don't hear at all these days.

Alex went on to co-found the Rock Workshop and released an album that is now available as 'Ice Cold' under his name even though he only sings on a few of the tracks. He then went off to record the hard rocking 'The Joker Is Wild' with a backing band that, a few months later, became SAHB and greatness followed.

After SAHB split, or rather Alex left, he recorded 'The Mafia Stole My Guitar' under the title of Alex Harvey - The New Band. There are some nice tracks on this album but it's the least satisfactory for me, almost Alex-by-numbers in places. His final album is 'The Soldier On The Wall' (a line from 'Roman Wall Blues), recorded shortly before he died in 1982 and not issued for years, but I think this was a return to form and all the sadder because of that. 'Billy Bolero' is one of my favourite Alex songs. If he hadn't died he'd probably still be on the circuit even though he'd be in his 70s now - I can quite see him having a week's residency at somewhere like Ronnie Scott's.

My Alex collection is rounded off with two compilations. 'Teenage A Go Go' is a great collection of rare recordings from the '60s which took 10 years to put together and 'Considering The Situation' is a double album with one CD full of '60s material and the second CD a 'best of SAHB'. There are some excellent tracks on both these records that aren't available elsewhere which makes me think there must be more Alex gems in the vaults somewhere.

I don't think I could properly explain why I like Alex Harvey. His voice is in the mix and his phrasing, his consistent rock and blues credentials, his willingness to write and perform unusual and challenging material, his wild man image in stripy shirt - the whole package is what I like and admire. His songs and performances mix theatre and rock, unafraid and determined to be heard, a passionate cry for life.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Baby Poota

My lovely blue Vaio is growing up fast, memory filling up and handy programs being added, and now that he's all wireless it feels like he's grown up. But my paternal instincts are strong. So I have assisted in the birth of my real Baby Poota. He is tiny. He is an Asus Eee and he is lovely.

He's 9"x7"x1", light as a feather, good speakers and screen and even has an integral webcam. Mine is white and I've invested in an additional memory card since the internal memory is only 4Gb, but that should keep me going. He's small enough to slip unnoticed into a bag, is wireless, surfs the web like a dream and has music and photo software for us multi-media people. He is a glorified toy, of course, and probably too small to any serious work on, but that, in part, is because I'm not used to working on that size keyboard. After a few weeks, who know what I might be capable of while sitting on the train or in a cafe filling in some spare time.

I got it for train journeys and holidays really. It'll be so useful being able to upload photos from my camera while on holiday and free up the memory card in the camera, tell you all about my latest adventure on holiday from my wireless hotel room rather than finding an internet cafe, keep up with the news and all sorts of things. The world belongs to me and Baby Poota.

Wires? What Wires?

Dear World

I am speaking to you from my new wireless internet connection here in Plastic Mansions. After angst a-plenty, it works. Of course, I now have to unplug the router and plug it in closer to the telephone socket and sort out the wire between the telephone and the router so they're out of the way and this means that the next time I log on I anticipate problems. But it can be done. We have the power!

Mind you, I'm not entirely wireless at the moment. It took me so long to get it working that the battery on my laptop had run low so I'm plugged in and charging up again. *Then* I'll be truly wireless.

Yours sincerely


Friday, 1 February 2008

The Sea at the Haymarket

Tonight we went to see 'The Sea' at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, a nice posh venue for an evening's entertainment.

It was shite.

Oh? You'd like more? Midway through the second scene I realised I was just staring at the stage, aghast at how dire it was, not believing my eyes, not understanding how 'name' actors could be involved in it and think it was good and, unfortunately, thoroughly understanding why the theatre was half empty.

The first hint came when our tickets for the upper circle were changed to royal circle since the upper circle was closed, and the royal circle wasn't very busy either. An interesting start in a storm at sea with atmospheric lighting and sound resolved into an Edwardian draper's shop in a seaside town with the leading lady buying material for curtains from the leading man. That went ok until the end of that scene when the draper started talking about aliens from space invading the town and drowning in the sea... Um, ok, that's an interesting slant on things, but it was downhill from there.

The writing was all over the place, characterisation was inconsistent, it changed tack from one minute to the next and I was wondering whether it was supposed to be some kind of experimental piece. There were cringe-inducing moments when the leading man slowly went mad in the throws of a breakdown and parts of the audience were laughing - were they laughing with or at the play? or was it to relieve the tension? It just made me terribly uncomfortable and want to be elsewhere.

I'm sure more seasoned theatre-goers will see things in it that I missed and will appreciate the writing. The acting was probably wonderful or something like that, but I thought the best acting was when the cast came on stage for the bows at the end and they wore beaming smiles. Now, *that* was acting! Me, I thought it was shite.

If anyone involved in that production or anyone related to anyone in that production ever reads this blog, then I can only apologise. I hate writing bad reviews. People have put a lot of effort into things, both on stage and behind the scenes and some might see it as their big opportunity. I feel guilty. But my opinion stands. Sorry. I quite like the poster though.