Monday, 31 March 2008


Got a spare 80 minutes and fancy some daft, camp fun with lots of glitterballs? Then go and see 'Xanadu'. To call this a spoof on the film is an understatement - it takes the basic premise of the film and then dips it in 100% proof campery and mercilessly laughs at itself. Any show with that many glitterballs in it must be good.

The show opens with Sonny, the epitome of the thick but happy Californian drawing on a pavement and telling us of his dreams to unite all the arts and sport into one thing - a roller disco (naturally). Then the Muses appear and Clio, the head Muse takes on the name of Kira along with the most ridiculous Australian accent to help him. As you'd expect, they fall in love, cursed by the two evil Muses, and then the trouble begins. The story doesn't really matter though, just give up and let yourself slide into the nonsense and it all falls together.

It's a piece of fluff, it takes the piss out of itself and the '80s film and goes for a ride on rollerskates. At one point it's commented that 1980 saw the end of art and in future Broadway shows would be based on bad films... The Oracle has spoken truly! But it's great fun, the actors looking like they're enjoying it, being daft on stage and camping it up, and the grand finale has everyone on their feet, as the cast appear on rollerskates whizzing around and the mass of glitterballs desend from the ceiling - it has to be seen to be believed.

Don't go for high art because you won't get any - go for the sheer fun of it! I've already invested in the cast recording!

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Buffy Sainte-Marie at The Highline Ballroom

Friday 28 March was Buffy Day, with her long awaited gig at the Highline Ballroom on West 16th Street. Buffy played there last year but I wasn't able to attend. We got the subway down to West 14th and wandered over between 9th and 10th Avenue to find the Highline, a bit off the beaten track surrounded by warehouses and blocks of apartments, the predominant smell in the icy breeze from the river being fish.

When I went in to pick up my tickets at around 3.30pm, Buffy was doing her sound check, but had gone by the time I got my tickets from the box office and glanced into the main room. It was a strange sight, that fleeting glimpse inside, with what looked like formica tables and the overall impression of a Northern working men's social club. My heart sank. A venue in the middle of nowhere with a box office clerk asleep in her cubicle and a social club... o dear. But so many big names have played here since it opened, there must be more...

We walked down into the Village to kill some time and find a diner to eat in and warm up a bit. Needless to say, chips helped. We walked back up to the Ballroom and got there at about 5.30pm and a queue had started to form, perhaps 20 people already queuing outside the doors. That was more like it. There was a definite whiff of grey hair in the air and beards on the men, a mix of aging hippy and the more well-to-do reliving their youth.

The doors opened just after 6pm and we were allowed in, being escorted to tables set to sit six people each. The venue looked much better with atmospheric lighting and what I now realised were table covers removed, revealing nice shiny walnut tables underneath. I was delighted and alarmed to be right in front of the stage, sitting to the right as you look at the stage, nice and close but would that be bad for photos? I *had* to take some photos.

We ordered beers - I took it as a good sign that they sold Guinness - and the nerves started as the Ballroom filled up and the noise levels increased with people talking. A couple on our table had been to college with Buffy in 1959 and told us about the long parties they used to have at which Buffy would sing.

Uncle Monk, the support act, made up of Tommy Ramone and his partner, came on stage shortly after 7pm and gave us some bluegrass twangings for about 40 minutes. I quite liked what I heard but his partner sang too quietly and timidly and could hardly be heard above the murmur of poeple chatting. Tommy was wandering round after the show (and had been taking photos of Buffy during her show) and I shook his hand and said I enjoyed his set.

The stage was re-set for Buffy and the tension mounted every time doors opened by the side of the stage or people walked on stage to do something. Two microphones were set up to the left of the centre mic which suggested backing singers (the last time I saw Buffy she sang alone). On came two women, one looking vaguely familiar, and Buffy later introduced them as Ulali who I have on a pow wow rock DVD from when Pura Fe was a member. Buffy had a three-piece band (drums, bass and guitar) and she played guitar (two guitars standing to the right of her mic), keyboard to the left and another keyboard (a larger Kurtsweil) to the far left of the stage. The lights dimmed and there she was all in black, black stack heel boots (not the platform mocasins I remember), black trousers and top, bead necklaces and feathers in her hair. Buffy was on-stage.

Buffy opened with 'Piney Wood Hills', a nice gentle start to the show, all smiles and getting eye-contact with the audience, including me a few times. She was in good voice and good humour, joking with the audience, talking inbetween each song, either a few words about the next song, it's context or why she wrote it. She's a delight to listen to. Swapping guitars as appropriate, moving to the central keyboard for the some songs (those from 'Coincidence') and using her mouthbow for 'Cripple Creek', commenting that at some stage in every civilisation the smart people eventually learn that you can make music with weapons. She only used the large Kurstweil once, for 'He's An Indian Cowboy', where she can plonk away to her hearts content for the ultimate lovesong about a teenage crush, one of my favourites. It was also a delight to hear her sing a tense, harrowing version of 'Cod'ine', another one of my long-time favourites.

Buffy sang four tracks from the new album (due to be launched at the Montreal Festival in June) and they sounded excellent, full of energy and alive. Three upbeat songs that would do great in the current re-mix stakes and a slower song full of beautiful imagery that Buffy described as a 'new folk song'. 'Cho Cho Fire', 'AIM Elijah' (the Keshagesh song) and 'Working for the Government' were fast and furious, rock beats and pow wow choruses, with 'Still This Love Goes On' as a slower, tender love song to the land (Buffy said it was a song she sings to remind herself about Canada). The new songs work excellently live and if these are a sample, it'll be a great album!

The full set-list was:

Piney Wood Hills
Fallen Angels
Cho Cho Fire
Cripple Creek
Little Kids (That's What Little Kids Do)
He's An Indian Cowboy At The Rodeo
Relocation Blues (by Floyd Westerman)
Up Where We Belong
AIM Elijah (Keshagesh song)
Little Wheel Spin And Spin
Big Ones get Away
Working For The Government
Darling Don't Cry
Until It's Time For You To Go
Universal Soldier
Still This Love Goes On
Priests Of the Golden Bull
Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee
Goodnight (encore)

And I know that's the setlist since Chris got it from the stage when they were packing the equipment away after the gig while I was waiting and hoping for Buffy to come out for a chat. Which she did, and kindly signed the photo of me and herself taken three years ago after the Belleville gig. She said she hoped to tour in the autumn, so here's hoping. Of course, I also had my photo taken with Buffy again but that one won't be blogged. What else can I say?

Buffy played for about 1.45 hours (not sure, I was too busy enjoying meself to time it), she was in great voice and gave some of the songs, especially the new ones, some heavy pow wow singing, which was wonderful to hear live. The audience didn't join in the pow wow singing like in Belleville, but this was New York not a town surrounded by native homelands. It was great to see Buffy, especially sitting so close to the stage and, of course, to chat to her briefly afterwards.

Then came the walk back to the subway station with pow wow in my ears and the few stops back up to Times Square and the hotel.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Radio City Music Hall

How do you fill in time before seeing a great hero in concert? You go to Radio City Music Hall, of course, and become immersed in the history of that business they call show (yes, I know it's a cliche). And have your photo taken with a Rockette.

I have very fond memories of seeing the Christmas Spectacular - and, trust me, it was *very* spectacular, including everything you could imagine and real snow falling from the ceiling- at Radio City a few years ago, so taking the back stage tour seemed like a good idea. Our guide was Heather, a nice, fast-talking New Yorker with 70s disco permed ringlet hair. Our Rockette was Tara, all smiles and legs, who emerged from behind a door with a blue star painted on it.

It was an interesting tour but I wish we'd been warned about the (approximately) 4,874,659 steps that were involved. Tired afterwards? I should co-co!


The first theatrical performance for this trip to Broadway was 'Curtains', the musical starring David Hyde Pierce of 'Frazier' fame. It's a theatrical whodunit set in a Boston theatre in 1959 where one by one the people get knocked off in diabolical ways. There's also a traditional 'let's put on a show' storyline with the lyricist becoming the star. And, of course, there's love, laughter and music.

Walking to the theatre was a little bit odd, with queues outside all the theatres we passed. I couldn't make out why. Why were people queuing along the streets and round the blocks? When we met Dezur later for dinner she thought it was the mid-week coach trips and out-of-towners having their night out in town. We just wandered to the front of the queue and went in through a door the queuers weren't using.

The show opens with the last act of the performance in the play, a musical about a wild west Robin Hood character, with the leading lady all done out in uber-vamp wild west get up, singing and dancing out of tune before she dies, the first to be murdered. But not the last. The show is panned by the critics which is the perfect opportunity for a song about critics. And then the lyricist takes the starring role to keep the show from closing (which must happen all the time, obviously). The rest of the musical is all about seeing them rehearse with the new leading lady as more people get bumped off and people fall in love until, *ta-da!* the killer is revealed! Or is he? I'll leave the ending dangling a bit...

I thoroughly enjoyed it! It's not a great musical in a classic sense, but it's fun, brash, nice songs and the actors are all good. I kept wondering whether the spoof of a whodunit was a bit too obvious as I could sometimes tell what the next line would be and whether it was being really clever and knowing in that respect or whether it was just a trifle lazy. I'm not sure, but I'm not really bothered either - it was a good evening's entertainment. All the theatrical and whodunit cliches are there in spades and that's part of it's glory, even down to the final bow where the whole cast comes on in cowboy outfits with David Hyde Pierce riding a horse that he promptly falls off, entirely in character.

David was really good as the star-struck police cop leading the homicide enquiry who is an am-dram actor in his spare time, helping the director improve the show. He falls for the understudy who sounds (deliberately or not?) like Shelley Long and their love blooms amongst the death around them. The lyricist and star is played by Karen Ziemba who has a good voice and lots of energy for the dance routines and the producer (who had a stream of knob jokes) was Debra Monk. Also worth noting was Edward Hibbett, as the camp British director with his pithy one-liners such as shouting out 'I did it!' when the cop explains how someone was murdered, only to follow it with, 'I'm the director, I'll take credit for everything'. I was taken by blond Shannon Lewis, the real-life understudy who was filling in for the actress who usually plays Bambi, the producers' daughter - I thought she was excellent and good fun.

All in all it was a good night out and I will be acquiring the soundtrack on my next trip to Virgin.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Flowers and Food

After a very filling breakfast at the Red Flame Diner next door to the hotel, off we went for a walk around the New York streets, first stop being Bryant Square just down the road (the last time I was there half of it was under a temporary ice-rink) with its tables and chairs, moveable bookcases for reading materials and cafe booths dotted round. Then down 6th Avenue, the Avenue of the Americas, to Macy*s.

I like Macy*s. It's just a shop, a department store, but it's such a big store, taking up an entire block all of its own, and there's always something there to make you wonder or exclaim at, capitalism gone mad. Today it was flowers.

For some reason Macy*s has decided that March is flower month and the display windows were decked out in flower displays of famous models over the years dressed entirely in clothes made of flowers and surrounded by flowers - a most fabulous sight. The 60s' were, of course, represented by Twiggy doing her bit for swinging London and flower power. And inside was even grander, with all the spaces on top of shelves, behind sales counters and in dsiplay areas being full of glorious blooms. Everywhere was covered in flowers and my photos really don't do it justice. I thought they were fake at first but then disobeyed the signs and touched some and, no, they were all real. The ground floor of Macy*s was turned into a vast conservatory that just happened to sell stuff as well. There were even a couple of guided tours going on telling people about the various plants and blooms. It was a wonderful - if slightly mad - sight.

Then, of course, came the serious business of shopping. O yes, straight along to the 7th Avenue side of the building to the men's departments, acres of clothes to choose from and the purchasing began... And then a sit down and something to eat and drink before heading back to the hotel to dump bags and set off again to pound the hard streets of New York City.

First stop: Radio City Music Hall, just up the road from the hotel, then food at the Majestic Diner, chosen because it was there when I needed food also because of the bright pink flourescent lights spelling out words in the window. Walking back from picking up the tickets for this evening's performance of 'Curtains' we passed the theatre where 'Gypsy' is opening and it was all ready for a grand Broadway opening night, with a red carpet outside, TV cameras and loads of people standing round gawping.

Leaving Broadway behind and diving back into consumerism via an extended browse around the Virgin Store in Times Square lookin for bargains and stuff not available in the UK. Then the fun of 'Curtains' (more later) followed by dinner with Dezur at a little restaurant called Rachel's on 9th Avenue. I was in for a surprise when I opted for beer and the waiter reeled off a load of beers including Newcastle Brown Ale... so I just had to have one! It came in a smaller bottle (a half pint) and tasted sweeter than it should so I wouldn't have guessed what it was but it was quite nice. The label proudly proclaimed 'Brewed in England'. We then spent a couple of hours gossiping and were the last to leave the restaurant (much to the annoyance of the staff, I should think, who were full of smiles and cheerful 'goodnights') at 1am. Oops.

We walked back to the hotel along W44th Street through a surprisingly empty Times Square - for the city that never sleeps there must've been a lot of people sleeping for the streets and roads to be that empty...

Thursday, 27 March 2008

New York, New York

This blog comes to you from New York, from the refined, although bijou, atmosphere of the historic Algonquin Hotel, with it's interesting cartoon wallpaper (of which examples will be shown later) and just two blocks from Times Square, so nice and central.

Yesterday saw a very early start to get the flight over here from Heathrow. I'd checked in online through so just had to drop off the luggage - that's the first time I've tried online check-in but it worked fine, even down to getting vegetarian meals on the flight. Take off was delayed by one hour which was yawnful and we had a pilot with an interesting driving technique that involved finding every air-pocket going and a swervy landing style. En route I watched 'St Trinians' - how had I missed this great film? An hour to get through immigration (fingerprints and photo) and then a half hour taxi ride to the hotel.

Unpacked and then out into the crowded streets of New York. I instantly went into 'London mode', dismissive of tourists gawping around them and getting in my way and looking down on the out-of-town suburban coach parties in town for a show ... and then remembered where I was and what I was. If anything, I'm more out of town than the coach parties will ever be.

Since we had nothing booked we found the Tckts booth (temporarily moved from Times Square) to see what cheap tickets were available, but there was nothing we fancied so, after a wander, walked up to 52nd Street to the Art Cafe for food only to find it's been turned into yet another Duane Reed (USA version of Boots) - I was distraught! I *love* the Art Cafe and have fond memories of bagels and endless coffees on my first visit while the snow drifted down outside. Wandered down to the Milford Plaza Diner and that is gone as well... so we went to the Italian restaurant along from the hotel (that we'd tried last time in New York) and stuffed ourselves to make up for the airline meals during the day.

Chris then suggested doing one of the sacred duties of Times Square, browsing in the big Virgin records. I prefer doing that midnight (I love the idea of buying records at midnight, something that's impossible to do at home). i didn't last long since by then my body was telling me it was 2am UK time... Picked up provisions at a deli and returned to the hotel. Dezur had left a message so Chris rang to make arrangements for tonight while I slowly drifted into a doze on the very squelchy-sounding chair.

And there you have it, dear reader, day 1 of my long-awaited holiday. After something like 10 hours sleep I am now raring to go! There's a diner next door for breakfast and then New York is my playground!

Monday, 24 March 2008

Easter Snow

We've had a load of snow this morning. It didn't lie but I can live with that for the joy of walking in the snow flurries. As soon as I noticed it was snowing the big kid in me decided that now was the perfect time to go to the shops, so on goes the scarf, coat and hat and out I go for a wander up the road in the blizzard (ok, it wasn't *that* heavy but give me some poetic license please). I was sure it would stop at any moment but it snowed for over an hour before easing off and then stopping.

The weatherman the other night said that we were statistically more likely to have a white Easter than a white Christmas. Really? If only this snow had fallen three months ago then I'd have been happier. Yes, I *like* snow.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Easter Hail

What is going on with the weather these days? Lovely blue skies one moment, rain the next, the temperature's dropped and then I go out of my front door this afternoon to face piles of hail stones in the garden. Bbrrrr but it's chilly. And it's Easter.

Now, I know some people will point to global warming, icebergs melting and the ocean tides changing as affecting the weather, but they're all new-fangled blameworthy things. I'm an old stick in the mud and I blame Chernobyl. That was the start of it all. O yes.

The end of the world has been nigh since the reactor went critical back in 1986 and us CND type bods suddenly had our moment of justification in Thatcher's Britain. It didn't last long, of course, even though the people of Chernobyl and surrounding regions are still living with the effects.

Aren't we going to build new reactors or upgrade existing reactors in the next few years? I vaguely recall something like that from the one day last year when there wasn't a WAG or Big Brother or X-Factor story on the front page of the newspapers.

Anyway, it's Easter and I've got a vase of daffs on the table and an Easter egg in the kitchen (ok, eggs plural) and I'm snug and warm so all must be right with the world.... mustn't it?

Friday, 21 March 2008

Uncle Monk

This time next Friday I'll be in the Highline Ballroom grabbing a space near the stage to see Buffy Sainte-Marie.

But before I see Buffy I'll have to watch the support band, Uncle Monk. And who is half of Uncle Monk? None other than Tommy Ramone of The Ramones! So, nearly 30 years after first seeing Tommy, I'll be seeing him again. Check out his MySpace to listen to his music these days - I quite like what I've heard.

Uncle Monk is an alt-country/indie-bluegrass duo featuring Tommy Ramone on vocals, mandolin, guitar, banjo and dobro, and Claudia Tienan on vocals, guitar and bass. Uncle Monk's music is rooted in old-time and bluegrass influences. To this mix they have added unique musical textures to create a sound with a new sensibility. Tommy Ramone began his musical career as Tom Erdelyi an engineer at the Record Plant recording studios. In the musical doldrums of the 70's he, along with the great Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee Ramone, formed the rock group Ramones and participated in the birth of New Wave, Punk Rock, and Alternative music. As manager, producer and drummer for the band, Tommy Ramone helped create the sound, style and ideology for what was to become modern rock. Claudia Tienan, formerly with the group The Simplistics, is a partner with Tommy Ramone in Uncle Monk. Her penetrating lyrics and haunting vocals add facets and dimension to the songs. The music of the two artist complement each other. There is a Yin and Yang sensibility at work, a touch of light and dark, of bitter and sweet.

Sugababes at The Royal Albert Hall

This evening I became a teenager again as I paid homage to those three princesses of pop, the Sugababes! I saw the 'Babes last year at the IndigO on a free ticket and they were such a breath of fresh air that, when I heard about the Albert Hall gig, I just had to get tickets. And I'm so pleased I did - what a great way to end the working week and start my holiday!

The 'Babes were on for 1.20 hours of non-stop music, movement, colour, dancing, smiles and great songs. The 'Babes were in great voice, synchronised movement sharing the front of the stage, weaving in and around each other and the band kept it tight. It's not the biggest of stages but the 'Babes made the best of it with great staging and backdrop, exploiting the height of the Hall and giving us a spectacular show to remember.

Firstly, the frocks. There were loads of frock changes, sometimes off stage and sometime onstage, either removing one frock to reveal another underneath or, sometimes, the 'Babe-dancers helping them en-robe onstage. The 'Babe-dancers were three lithe lookalikee dancers who were well practiced and strutted in time as they brought on and took off props and 'Babes clothing. Colour and sparkle was the order of the day and I'd single out their glitter-ball glam rock frocks (courtsey of Noddy Holder and Dave Hill via Madonna), their Macy Gray inspired long frocks and the gloriously scarlet red dresses they wore to sing 'Red Dress'. The lasses certainly kept us guessing.

The music was tres fab. Considering how young they are they've got a significant back catalogue that makes it seem like they've been around forever. Favourites were 'Freak Like Me' morphing into 'Virgin Sexy' and back again, a lovely sequence, 'Round Round', 'Stronger', 'Overload', a great version of 'Denial' (the new single), rocky versions of 'My Love Is Pink' and 'Three Spoons of Suga', and a lovely emotive version of 'Ugly' (while the 'Babe-dancers tarted themselves up like models in the background).

Highlights were using the intro of Frankie's 'Two Tribes' to morph into 'Red Dress' and The Who's 'Baba O'Reilly' intro morphing into 'Push The Button', both being great sequences. Big wow moments, especially to the accompaniment of flame throwers in the background, cannons shooting sparklies into the audience and fireworks going off all over the place. WOW. And finishing with 'About You Now', one of the best pop songs in recent years and the place was awash with people singing and clapping along.

The award for the biggest smile goes to Heidi, as ever. That girl has the loveliest, most infectious smile and she couldn't stop smiling tonight. Amelle gets the award for most hand-shakes with the crowd and Keisha gets the award for keeping looking the other way whenever I took a photo. Keisha, pay attention please! They all sounded great and looked like they were having a ball - I hope they really were since we were!

Here are a few photos of the fabulous 'Babes - thanks for a great evening, lasses!

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Universal Soldier 2008

I've been trying to find out what Buffy's webcast was about and found the following in the Houston Chronicle about protests on the fifth anniversary of the Iraqi war:

The marchers' first stop was the National Museum of the American Indian, where they were met by singer Buffy Sainte-Marie, who sang her Vietnam-era peace anthem "Universal Soldier."

45 years on and Buffy is still singing her anti-war message and still being sought out and still being listened to. Now *that's* integrity. Good on ya!

Wednesday, 19 March 2008


Wouldn't you know it but I missed the BuffyCast from the National Museum of the American Indian tonight. I was on Firefox and seeing nothing so switched over to Internet Explorer and there she was! I must be missing a plug-in or something in Firefox - so annoying!

I just caught the last few minutes of the webcast, but Buffy's looking good. She mentioned that she was hoping to tour all over Europe later this year with, I think, Richie Havens. Buffy was in Denmark or Norway last year, so hopefully 'Europe' will include London this time - or, let's face it, anywhere in this country and I'll be there!

In just over a week I'll see Buffy for myself at the Highline Ballroom in New York. I am looking forward to that immensely...

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

The Harder They Come - The Barbican

Spent a very enjoyable evening at The Barbican to see the stage version of 'The Harder They Come'. Strangely, I've never seen the film (not sure how that happened) but I suspect it was faithful to the film. From the opening words of Victor Romero Evans to the finale sing-a-long it was a joy to behold and, considering the subject matter, very uplifting with fab songs (obviously) and some really good acting and singing.

The stage is very wide at The Barbican and it was almost empty of props and scenery, with the band dotted around and the whole cast being on stage for virtually the whole time, just moving to the back when they're not part of the action. They're all mic'd up so it was a bit odd for the first five minutes or so seeing someone speak or sing centre-stage and the sound coming from the amps at the edge of the stage, but I soon got used to that. The cast were in early '70s splendour, especially the magnificent Pinky in knee-high shiny white boots, tiny red mini-dress and enormous afro, and she could shake it some as well - right on sista! The Jamaican accents lost me a few times but it wasn't a problem really since it was always obvious where the play was going.

The play tells the story of Ivan going to the bright lights of Kingston from his country home to become a reggae star and the inevitable adventures he has in finding his city feet, the closed shop of the music biz, corruption of the local cops, getting involved in the ganga trade to earn money to make a record on his terms and, of course, the love of a good woman. The morality of the play is sometimes a bit suspect but I can forgive all that for the sight of Victor - in his role as Pedro, the rastaman - lighting a huge spliff on stage and skanking away to his hearts content. Strangely, it's Pedro, the ganga-merchant who emerges at the end with his integrity intact.

The music was excellent, the band and singers were excellent and the songs, of course, were excellent. The Jimmy Cliff songs were the main highlight for me - 'The Harder They Come', 'Sitting In Limbo', 'You Can Get It If You Really Want' - but there was a fun version of 'Pressure Drop' by the police chief who kept breaking up to ask the audience why we're hiding Ivan fom him and calling us 'hugly' (cheek!). All the songs were great really.

I'd single out Rolan Bell as a very charming Ivan, Susan Lawson-Reynolds as Pinky and Victor Romero Evans as Pedro for special praise. I thought Rolan was very good in the lead role and had a nice voice, a big challenge to play the Jimmy Cliff role, and Susan played Pinky to a tee as the good time girl up for a good time. Victor was just all round excellent as the rastaman (I've shaken his hand, y'know). I was pleased to join in the standing ovation at the end and then joining the singing and skanking to the cast finale singing some of the hits from the show.

It's only on for another couple of weeks so if you hurry you might be able to get tickets - if you possibly can, go and see it!

Monday, 17 March 2008

Theoretical Girl Responds!

The power of the internet is astonishing.

Regular readers will know I've mentioned Theoretical Girl a few times since seeing her support Maximo Park last year. Well, this evening, the Girl published a MySpace blog asking if we wanted to hear some new music so I just clicked reply and said 'yes please'. I'd obviously timed it just right so within minutes I had a reply pointing me to her media player and a new song. How's that for service and interaction with fans?

So, go on over and listen to it here.

Albatross Of Doom

Amanda Palmer's latest blog opens with the immortal words, "you fucking people are radical" and goes on from there. Amanda writes very interesting and personal blogs with an individual use of capitals and grammar and it's that that gives an insight into her character. She's still recovering from her throat surgery and still (at least technically) silent so she has to use her creativity somehow, and the last few days have focused on chucking stuff out of her apartment, stuff she's collected over the years, been given on tour, things put aside to wear or look at or read later. And later never really comes. She refers to these as her albatross of doom... such as the tee shirt on the photo below.

We all hoard stuff, don't we? I do. Things that might be useful one day. I have all sorts of potentially useful junk that I really ought to throw out or recycle. I might have a destructo-session when I get back from New York (because I'll almost certainly collect new junk over there).

I've got a few days off work after New York so I can also introduce you to my Buddha image collection... didn't you know I had one? I've been collecting Buddha images for years, only from the land of their origin, of course - I wouldn't dream of buying one in this country, it wouldn't feel right. They're all lovely and all have a story attached.

Watch this space.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Blood Red Shoes 'Say Something, Say Anything'

This is the new single from those scallywags, Blood Red Shoes. 'Say Something, Say Anything' is due out in three weeks time, followed the week after by their first album, 'Box Of Secrets'.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Buffy Webcast

Buffy Sainte-Marie is doing a webcast on Wednesday 19 March from the National Museum of the American Indian at 6.30pm Eastern Standard Time (or 10.30pm to you and me). I don't know what it's about but I'll be tuning in!

Sports Relief

I'm not a great one for these celebrity fund raising shows but I've caught a bit of Sports Relief (I wanted to see Kelly Holmes) and was so upset by Annie Lennox's film that I had to give. Annie went to South Africa and met a 7 year old girl dying of AIDS. Her mother had AIDS when she was pregnant and the girl was born HIV+. She was painfully emaciated and, at 7 years old weighed the same as a 1 year old baby. And she was smiling. It was heartbreaking and, obviously, she was dying.

After an interview with Annie we were shown the second half of the film and we met a healthy looking 7 year old 5 months later. She'd been on the relevant medication and her life had turned around in the space of 5 months. She was still HIV+ of course, but has a chance of a more normal life.

I was reminded of when I worked in Fulham UBO in the late '80s and had a comparatively high caseload of HIV+ unemployed men, some of whom had moved to the area to receive treatment at St Stephen's Hospital. I suspect that most of my former 'clients' are now dead since the medication back then wasn't what it is today. I never got used to the massive changes in weight, appearance and health that could happen in the space of 2 weeks. That was the height of the 'gay plague' fears when people were scared of coming too close to HIV+ people 'just in case'.

The world has moved on and HIV+ is no longer a virtually automatic death sentence. The illness can be managed - not cured, unfortunately, but managed. And that makes it so appalling that a 7 year old is allowed to become so ill when medication is available. It's down to political will and money.

I might not be able to do much about the politics in places like South Africa but I can donate some money - donate here.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

125th Anniversary

Many years ago when I was young and lovely I was a student. I went to the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology in Cardiff (Caerdydd). In my second year at UWIST I was a member of the students union executive. I didn't do much academic work that year. Anyway, UWIST no longer exists since it merged with other Cardiff university colleges in the late 80s or early 90s and is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year and there's going to be a President's Dinner in October.

I've had two blasts from the past in the last couple of days. Rhian from UWIST, who I got in touch with through Friends Reunited a few years ago, emailed me yesterday to warn me about the event. And today Gregor got in touch through Facebook to ask for my address so he could invite me to the dinner. Damn Facebook! I have a profile on there (doesn't half the world?) but I don't use it. How wierd. Gregor was the union president the year before me and a Tory, and I was the token lefty filling a part-time post on the executive.

Part of me thinks it might be interesting to find out what's happened to everyone since then and the other part thinks I'll know no-one since I didn't really hang out with the union clique and even those I might know I won't have anything in common with other than having gone to the same college many years ago. If it was a reunion of my academic course then that would be a different matter, I'd quite like that, but a students union reunion...?

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Siouxsie at Shepherd's Bush Empire

Last night was the long awaited Siouxsie gig at Shepherd's Bush, with us seated upstairs, of course. We got there early to get good seats with a great view of the stage. And we waited as it gradually filled up.

First on was Blood Red Shoes, a two-piece band I first saw supporting Maximo Park last year, enjoyed their set and started tracking down their music. Laura-Mary on guitar and Steven on drums, trading vocals between them which is a nice touch and keeps it fresh. They make an awful lot of noise for two people, so it goes without saying that I like 'em!

They were at the front of the stage since Siouxsie's bands' kit was set up, and this meant that the lights were largely behind them so I didn't get any good photos of the Shoes in action but the sound was excellent. They played a couple of my favourites, 'You Bring Me Down' (the recent single) and closed with 'I Wish I Was Someone Better'. I merrily sang along to both. The set wasn't very long but it was great to see them again (I'm tempted to go to the students union gig now). Their first album is out in four weeks time so that's something to look forward to.

More people started arriving and who should be sitting in the wings a few yards away but Morrissey... The interval music was an odd mix but lots of early Bowie and T.Rex. And then the lights dimmed...

On strode the band and a goddess dressed in gold topped off with a mane of black hair, and the audience began to worship as 'They Follow You' opened the set. Siouxsie was on top form and seemed to have a ball on stage. Her voice was powerful and better than the last time I saw her, looking lithe and fit in her golden catsuit, arms flying everywhere, legs kicking in the air, hopping round the stage and giving us a show to remember. And the band were great too, tight and hitting it just right.

The emphasis was on the new songs from 'Mantaray' (of course) but she sprinkled the set with some oldies. When introducing 'Hong Kong Garden' she said that it was the song's 30th anniversary this year. 'Hong Kong Garden' (punk song and her first single that I bought back in the day) was the start of a nice trilogy, followed by 'Right Now' (her first hit with The Creatures) and followed by 'Nightshift' (the Banshees goth classic). She salsa'd all over the stage to 'Sea Of Tranquility' and created a hive of insect activity with 'Drone Zone', conjouring up an image of bees swarming the stage. She also sang 'Heaven And Alchemy', one of my favourites from 'Mantaray' that she didn't sing at either of the two gigs last year, so that was a treat. And finished the set with a magnificent version of 'Into A Swan', arms entwining and creating images of swans on stage as the industrial magic of that music soured and swept us up in the rebirth that is Siouxsie. I loved it!

And then we went into encore heaven with 'Israel' and 'Arabian Knights' (clap clap clap more more more) followed by a return to the stage for 'These Boots Are Made For Walking' (o yes!) and a stonking version of 'Kish Kash' (clap clap clap more more more) and then a final return with 'Spellbound'. Phew!

I'm so pleased I saw Siouxsie again, it was a great gig and she was on top form. And I'm proud of her. She was in great voice, looked good, a tight band, and a great show. I was thinking, during 'These Boots', that if she ever went into cabaret she'd be a flop. She'd do radical interpretations of the classics, turn the bass up far too high and have the volume set at 11. And I'd pay to see her flop like that! Siouxsie was there at the birth of punk and she's still there at heart. Nothing's safe and nothing's sacred. She's an icon, a role model and a great hero. I'll remember the golden goddess from last night for a long time. Now, when's the next album...?

A Swan & A Shoe

I've been in the presence of magnificence tonight, the marvellous Siouxsie at Shepherds Bush Empire. Unfortunately, the wonder that is London Transport is up the creek in that part of London so it took an age to get home and I'm too tired to do my usual apres-gig blog, so that will have to wait until tomorrow. My day started in pain with my back playing up and ended with the ecstasy of Siouxsie.

And Siouxsie was on top form, in excellent voice and humour and dressed to kill in a slinky golden catsuit. And she did THREE encores!

After the gig while I was gawping at the merch Chris pointed out that a Blood Red Shoe was chatting at the side of the merch stand. I was overcome with shyness for a few moments and thought, 'sod it, I'll probably never have this chance again' so went over to Steven to say hello and tell him I'd enjoyed the show. I've no idea how old he is but he looks *so* young. He asked if I wanted to join their emailing list and I said I was already on it, I'd seen them supporting Maximo Park at Brixton and he punched the air saying, 'yes! someone's heard of us!'. Of course we have, my lad, and we'll all hear more of you shortly when the album's out. That was a bit of a thrill - they really are very good y'know.

It was also nice to chat to Tall Paul again, a Siouxsie fan of the goth era, while waiting the mandatory several hours for a Hammersmith and City line tube train after the show...

I took some photos of the show (obviously) so, to whet your appetite, here are a few pics of the goddess that is Siouxsie!

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Linton Kwesi Johnson & Friends at The Barbican

Tonight I spent a thoroughly enjoyable evening with Mr Linton Kwesi Johnson and his friends, the Dennis Bovell Dub Band, Winston Francis, Jean 'Binta' Breeze and Zena Edwards, along with Chris and a couple of thousand people at The Barbican.

The first half of the evening was for Zena and then for Jean and Winston who were both backed by Dennis's excellent Dub Band. I was particularly taken by Jean's dub poems with exciting backing tracks and bought her CD from the shop afterwards but they gave me the wrong disc in the right cover so I'll have to wait to listen to her until after I've exchanged it for the right CD.

The second half opened with Dennis's Dub Band doing four tracks and showing their worth - a really good band and I thought Dennis's bass-playing was outstanding and effortless, a wonderful sound that got me skanking in me seat. And he wore good shirts. And then on came the man himself, launching into a fast, heavy version of 'All Wi Doin' Is Defendin'' and his cry of "righteous righteous waaaaaaar!"

I liked the pacing of the show, a couple of songs then some talk and then more songs. It's the 30th anniversary of 'Dread Beat An Blood' and Linton took us on a journey through the decades, talking about the Brixton riots, the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism, Toxteth, Blair Peach (how many years since I heard someone talk about him? but it's nice that he's not forgotten) and moving up to the present with concerns about stabbings and guns. He's still political and good for him. I liked that he referred to his songs as poems.

At one point he mentioned that for people over 40 this evening was probably nostalgia, and it was in a way. But it's good that he's still a rebel, still standing up for what's right and highlighting injustice. I was puzzled by the audience, massively white but nicely all ages, so Linton still speaks to the young, which is a good thing.

It was odd in a way, there was me skanking away in me seat to the glorious music while Linton talked about riots and murder and racism, but that's also the beauty of his poetry and music. It draws you in. He should talk to Buffy Sainte-Marie - a collaboration would be fab (Buffy did a dub version of 'Fallen Angels' back in the early '90s).

I didn't recognise all the tracks by any means but favourites were, 'All Wi Doin' Is Defendin'', 'Want Fi Go Rave', 'Making History', 'License To Kill' (with a great violin solo) and 'Reggae Fi Peach'. He then came back for a two-song encore including the great 'Sonny's Lettah', his anti-suss poem. And he got a standing ovation.

I bought his 'Live In Paris' CD after the show and I'm listening to it now. I'd be happy to see Linton again, but preferably somewhere with a bit more soul than The Barbican.

Thank you Linton - yes, in part it was nostalgia but I've now got some 21st Century memories to add to the nostalgia. Keep going!

Siouxsie and Blood Red Shoes

I've just learned that Blood Red Shoes are supporting Siouxsie at Shepherd's Bush tomorrow - that should be fun! Apparently Siouxsie asked them to join the show. Siouxsie obviously has excellent taste since I first came across Comanechi supporting her at the Roundhouse.

Blood Red Shoes' album is due in April with a single from the album and new 'b' sides also available.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Rebel Music

In preparation for the treat of seeing Linton Kwesi Johnson tomorrow I've been listening to a lot of his songs. As you'd expect from a poet, his words are strong. His themes are political, both black politics and class politics, telling of his life and times and explaining why 'Inglan Is A Bitch'. The music veers from heavy dub to reggae-tinged jazz.

Despite the politics and heavy dub he can also pen a tender courtship song in 'Lorraine' who he meets standing in the rain at the bus-stop one day. The heavy skies outside suggest rain today so maybe I'll watch out for her and any shy, courting couples at the bus-stop.

Friday, 7 March 2008

The Temptations on Ross

The Temptations have just been on Jonathon Ross, the original and best boy band ever. Only Otis is still in the group from the original Temps but the spirit is there, and the music. They're old men but still make the sound and do the moves, just not quite as energetically. And those marvellous songs.

Coo! The Temptations!

Thursday, 6 March 2008

The Lovely Amanda

All turn west and pray to Boston please. Amanda has survived her throat surgery but a few prayers might help her recover sooner. I was pleased to read that Brian turned up at 5.25am yesterday morning to drive her to the hospital (isn't that sweet?). She was done and is back home now, creating mischief probably. She's been eating ice cream and watching 'Twin Peaks' and googling art and arguing whether Madonna is a feminist (you *need* to know these things).

I love what she says about Brian drumming on the latest Nine Inch Nails album, "i'm so proud of him i can't tell you. he is a force of nature." That's lovely.

Just as importantly, it seems like her concerts with the Boston Pops orchestra in June might be filmed (a DVD?) and that she's planning an extensive tour to promote her solo album, 'Who Killed Amanda Palmer?'. Just show me the way to the ticket booth!

Get well soon, Amanda!

Do I Look Stupid?

Well, do I? Or do I write stupid? I made a complaint to Barclays Bank on 9 February and I've just received a response today. Great customer care. Basically, my debit card expired on me before I had a replacement and I only found out when it was refused in a shop (it had, in theory, not yet expired by the date on the card). When I rang up to find out what the problem was I was told that a new card had been issued in January and that my current one automatically expires after 28 days, irrespective of whether I've received the new one apparently.I suggested cards should expire when there's activity on the new card.

The reply today tells me that the delivery agent tried to deliver it and then wrote to me. Um, did they? News to me. SMS delivery have done this to me before, saying they've tried to deliver stuff when I'm at work and not leaving a card or anything so it's then me that has to run around trying to get something delivered. So irritating.

I'm just not sure I can be bothered pursuing this. What will I get from it? Barclays clearly don't care, it's just crap service from a large multinational so why should it bother? Gggrrrrr...

I've just sent the following message through the offending bank's website - yes, I *am* angry!

Your Ref: XXXXX

I received your letter today and didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Your letter didn't address all my comments which is rather disappointing. Lots of expressions of sincere apologies and passing my comments to your management team instantly make me not believe any of it. Is it worth using your complaints process to then wait 4 weeks for a response that simply fobs you off? I've been with Barclays for nearly 30 years and this is the first time I've complained about anything and I get a fob-off letter? That's designed to make me angry rather than anything else.

If SMS tried to deliver the card they why didn't they leave a card asking me to contact them? If SMS wrote to me then why didn't I receive a letter? My card was delivered only after I'd spoken to someone in your call centre who helpfully gave me their number so I could arrange delivery myself.

I am, quite frankly, appalled that anyone could think your letter was even vaguely acceptable. My initial response was to think you were calling me stupid. A second reading made me think you didn't mean that simply because you didn't mean anything by sending me a letter so long after I contacted you. You don't care. What else can I assume? You've happily taken my money for nearly 30 years but you can't even provide a decent explanation that addresses my points and gives me a believable apology.

Please send me details of your formal complaints procedure and any form I have to fill in. I will also write separately to the Ombudsman.

Thank you.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Brian Viglione and Nine Inch Nails

Brian Viglione, one half of the Dresden Dolls, has been doing some guest-drumming on the latest Nine Inch Nails album, 'Ghosts I-IV', available now to download from

Brian features on tracks 19 and 22. On one he plays a 'drum kit' he made from waste bins and water coolers and the other features a full, traditional rock drum kit. I was mighty impressed when I saw Brian drumming for Jesse Malin last year so the NIN tracks will be worth a listen when they're available individually (at the moment it's a case of downloading the whole album).

As the man himself says,

When I got back home from the afternoon of recording,Trent mentioned that he liked the sound of the junk kit recordings from the day before and would I mind doing a little more. So I went back into the room and put on the headphones and they said to me, "We're just going to give you a tempo on the click, play whatever comes into your head and improvise on it after you establish the basic groove."

I finished and hadn't even realized that I had just completed the drum
part to a song that they had already finished up. The next morning they integrated my part into the song and it was a crazy feeling hear myself integrated into the music of a group who've I've been a fan of for years.

It was a great experience and hope you all enjoy the music.

Well done, Brian!

Madonna - 4 Minutes

Madonna's new single, '4 Minutes To Save The World', is starting to leak more liberally through the Internet world. I heard it through PrettyMuchAmazing and quite like it (even though it features Justin Timberlake). She sounds in good voice.

I don't know if this is the real version of the song or just one that's been leaked to start to drum up interest, but it sounds good. It'll be interesting to see how they translate it into a video.

'The Rifle' by Alela Diane

I'm pleased to report that 'The Rifle' by Alela Diane is this week's free single of the week on iTunes so go and download it. It's a track from her album, 'The Pirate's Gospel' which is now available to download with the bonus tracks previously only available on the UK CD plus an entirely new song, 'Pink Roses'.

'The Rifle' is a strange song about a dream or nightmare but beyond that I don't much care what it's about - it's a sonic poem with rich words and hypnotic finger-picking guitar. Who is coming from the woods and who wears the brown shoes?

I saw Alela play live last summer at The Luminaire and thoroughy enjoyed the evening. You can hear more of Alela's songs on her MySpace site. Go on, help yourself to a free download from iTunes and hear the marvellous Alela whenever you want. Then download the album - you know it makes sense.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Deliriously Gorgeous

Yes, that's Miss Amanda Palmer. There's a lovely new photo of her on her MySpace page so I had to steal it and show you. She's going in for surgery on her nodes on Tuesday so we must all wish her all the very best.

While she's recuperating she'll be working on two books, firstly 'The Virginia Monologues', a companion piece to 'Yes, Virginia' and 'No,Virginia' (the new record due in May) and secondly, a companion book to her first solo album (due later in the year). Such bountifulness.


It's late and I'm channel hopping and there, on telly in front of me, is the NME Awards 2008 outdoors show on some channel or other. Lads on stage with guitars and drums and a singer shouting into the mic in an out-of-tune aggressive stylee, music by numbers and lots of lights. Big spectacular lights. Lots of lights.

It makes me think of my 'Born To Boogie' DVD by Marc Bolan and T.Rex with the bonus material of the concert footage that was edited and included in the 'Born To Boogie' film. Just Marc, Mickey and the lads on stage playing and he is a mesmerising sight, eyes riveted on Marc as he moves across the stage... and no lights worth speaking of. Marc had charisma and talent and wrote and performed some of the best songs ever. A light show would probably have detracted from the Bopping Elf.

And SLADE? Have you seen any of their live footage? They didn't need lights - they still don't. It's the music and their presence and, at least back in their heyday, the sound of Nod's voice telling us to stamp our feet. Who needed lights?

Punk wasn't well lit, it was gloomy in little venues, but it had power. In their fabulous shows in November the Pistols had minimal staging and lighting. If you've got the music, the power, you don't need the lights. Lights can enhance and add excitment but don't rely on them.

Oh. It's the Kaiser Chiefs, the band on telly with the big light show. Who'dathunkit?

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Two Music Telly Moments

Did you see 'Jools' last night? It was an odd show with an odd mix of acts and the Diamond Hoo Ha Men, those quirky Supergrass lads, stood head and shoulders above everyone else. They've discovered early 70s hard rock and do it loud (as is right and proper), hard rocking guitar music, fast and furious. I loved them! The rather anaemic sound of new kids on the block, Vampire Weekend, didn't even come close - Supergrass blasted them away in power chords and volume.

The new album, 'Diamond Hoo Ha' is out in a few weeks time and I think I'll be acquiring it.

Tonight saw the beginning of Eurovision 2008 where we, the great British public choose the next act to lose in the real competition. I'm not exactly a Eurovision fan but thought I'd watch it tonight. My response to the first two acts was wondering why people who couldn't sing in tune were involved in a song competition, but it came down to Michelle Gayle (songstress of yesteryear) and Andy Abrahams (from X Factor or something).

Michelle's song, 'Woo (U Make Me)', is quirky, fun and funky with a catchy chorus and nice dance moves (with hints of OutKast) so what did we do? We voted for Andy with his '90s sounding song that was a bit like Simply Red. It sounds old. Michelle was robbed!

I hope Michelle releases her song anyway - I'd buy it!