Thursday, 26 June 2008

Amanda Palmer in London

Miss Palmer, she who is half of the most fabulous Dresden Dolls, is in London at the moment. Tomorrow night Miss Palmer is a DJ at the Curzon Cinema for its pre-show party for the midnight filmshow. She's also (ahem) likely to join Ben Folds on stage at Glastonbury on Saturday and might (ahem) play a song or two from her new album (which, ahem, is produced by Ben Folds).

And then, let joy be unleashed, she's not just playing at the ICA on 21 August, she's also playing at Koko on 10 October! I already have tickets for the ICA (of course) and tickets for Koko go on sale tomorrow. Tickets will be obtained, you may rest assured. After all, it does have a nice ceiling, not that I'll be looking at the ceiling with Amanda on stage. I shall wear my new shirt - I am sure that Amanda will appreciate my new shirt.

UPDATE 27 June: Tickets secured. Naturally. The tour covers:

Thu 21/08/08 ICA London
Sat 27/09/08 The Academy Dublin
Sun 28/09/08 Auntie Annies Belfast
Tue 30/09/08 Cabaret Voltaire Edinburgh
Thu 02/10/08 King Tuts Wah Wah Hut Glasgow
Fri 03/10/08 The Custard Factory Birmingham
Sat 04/10/08 Brighton Concorde 2 Brighton
Mon 06/10/08 Manchester Club Academy Manchester
Tue 07/10/08 Thekla Bristol
Wed 08/10/08 Carling Academy Sheffield
Fri 10/10/08 KOKO London

The Most Beautiful Shirt In The World

One of the up sides of having time to spare is that you can do shopping, picking up and putting down and, occasionally, not putting down. That happened to me at the weekend as I went for a wander around Newcastle for the first time in ages. I meandered into John Lewis and saw a shirt. I looked at it, touched it, picked it up... then went to have lunch. But the shirt called out to me and I had to go back and pick it up again - and then go to the till to pay for it.

It's grand isn't it? It's the Most Beautiful Shirt in the World. That's official.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Land of the Prince Bishops

I've been away for the past week on a sojourn to my ancestral homeland, the Land of the Prince Bishops, or, in terms most of you will understand, County Durham in the North East of England. I was born in Newcastle in Northumberland and grew up in a small village just south of the River Tyne in County Durham. Both were proud counties that had bits nicked to become "Tyne & Wear" in the boundary changes in the early '70s.

Durham city is the home to a thousand year old castle and cathedral, and the cathedral is one of the best in England, resting place of the Venerable Bede of Anglo-Saxon chronicles and Ecclesiastical History of England fame. Durham was a political powerhouse back then, with bishops of the early church wielding the powers of princes, hence the name. Somewhere between Darlington and Durham the countryside magically changes and it becomes wilder and less tame and I love it. When the train pulls into Durham station you're on the top of one hill with a valley for the city and then, on the opposite hill, a glorious view of Durham castle and the cathedral. It's a great sight.

Then it's another 15 minutes to Newcastle, passing the wonderful Angel of the North by Anthony Gormley standing on a hill just south of Gateshead. I didn't like it when it was first erected, thinking it was a mis-shapen piece of rusty iron. But now I love it. You can see it from the train and it welcomes me home, the signal to start pulling my bits and pieces together and get ready to leave the train as it heads into Newcastle. It's the 10th birthday of the Angel and it is rightly being celebrated in Gateshead.

Many cities straddle rivers but, for some reason, the River Tyne isn't only the ancient boundary of the two counties, it also creates two different towns. Gateshead is south of the Tyne in (what was) Durham and Newcastle is north of the Tyne, the real city and home to Geordies. Lots of bridges cross the Tyne to Newcastle and it's another great sight. The train passes the old Black Gate of the Norman city and keep and pulls into the ever-so Victorian station of Newcastle Central. Us Geordies can be rightly proud of our industrial past, where Stevenson invented the locomotive engine and the railway, where our coalfields powered Empire and, unfortunately, where thousands died in poverty and appalling conditions while the ruling families grew rich. It's an interesting history. The Queen Mother was a Bowes-Lyon with a home in Alnwick castle (one of the 'Harry Potter' film locations). In the centre of Newcastle there's a statue on the top of a column to Earl Grey of the tea fame. It's all there if you look.

My great-grandmother on my Dad's side owned three or four pubs around Gateshead. That was rich in them days. The family lost them before the Second World War but one of them is still there and still a pub. My Dad was born in one of them.

The Northumberland coast is wild and harsh and beautiful. Lindisfarne, the Holy Island, is a windswept hide-away accessible by a causeway that is covered by the North Sea for half the day. The mighty castle at Bamburgh is a glorious sight, perched on a rocky hill overlooking the cold sea, placed and designed to protect the area against marauders from over the sea, the later Vikings. It's wild up there, a harsh landscape that's beautiful to my eyes. Give me the untamed lands of the North to the soft rolling downs of the south any day.

I probably won't be going back very often though. I'm a soft southerner myself these days. I've lived in London for 25 years, for more than half of my life and I'm proud to live in one of the world's great capital cities, but part of my heart will always be on the windswept coast of Northumberland. My Dad left us at the weekend and his ashes will join my Mam's at one of their favourite places on the coast.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Jane Aire/Jane Ashley

Some of you might remember my occasional mentions of Jane Aire & The Belvederes in this blog, including my entry about 'The Complete Jane Aire & The Belvederes' last summer. Every now and then someone comments on that blog, which is always a pleasant surprise. Today I received another comment. This time it was from Jane Ashley, otherwise known as Jane Aire herself!

Jane's message says:

Greetings All and Blessings!

A great gal I play with Rhonda Robinson told me about the website and I had to visit. I've also recently hooked up with a jane aire yahoo group too.

I'm delighted and amazed to still be remembered and touched to be regarded so fondly. You can see some more recent live footage of me singing on the Majesticsband. com website and I'll be performing some original material at a concert with the Spiritual Empowerment Center on Saturday, hopefully to be released as part of a cd later in the year. Thank you so much.

Peace, Love, Light and Prosperity

Jane Ashley

I was, needless to say, stunned. Jane Aire had sent me a message! I didn't know about the Yahoo group so scooted on over there and joined immediately. Jane recently uploaded the text of a recent interview which includes a paragraph about time in London:

During my ten years in London I spent a lot of time with the Boomtown Rats, Kirsty MacColl, she was my maid of honor when I married Pete, The Records, Anthony Thistlethwaite, The Ghastly Girls, Eddy Reader and Mark Nevin. I’ve sung, recorded and/or appeared with all of the above as well as with Robert Plant, Erasure and Def Leopard.

I wonder if Jane knows about and the Jane Aire pages there? Jane seems happy to just be remembered but if you go to you'll see that her music is still being played. I must post about to the Jane Yahoo group. The real challenge is to get her records properly re-mastered and released digitally. I feel a campaign coming on ...

'The Harder They Come' at The Playhouse Theatre

I saw 'The Harder They Come', the stage version of the Jimmy Cliff film, at The Barbican back in March and it has magically transferred to the Playhouse Theatre, so had to see it again.

It's largely the same cast (except Victor Romero Evans now plays the preacher and Marlon King plays the rastaman, Pedro) and they work excellently together. It must be very tiring for them since almost all of the cast are on stage the entire time, many are around the theatre and on stage as we all trooped in, making it feel like we're part of the event, and some are on stage during the interval watching a spaghetti western projected on the back wall. I was worried to see Chris Tummings as the police chief standing outside the door to the stalls, glowering at the theatre-goers as we entered and I avoided eye-contact - I didn't want him to pick on me in the second act and call me 'hugly'! He's got a great line in put-downs for hecklers when he confronts the audience in the second act for hiding Ivan and I didn't want it aimed at me! It was fun that they stayed in character throughout, like when Pedro said we could have a 15 minute ganga break at the end of the first act (but they didn't have any behind the bar).

The star of the show is Rolan Bell as Ivan (the Jimmy Cliff role), energetic and very likelable, bounding round the stage, singing and dancing, flirting with Pinky, rude boy and hero rolled into one. He's got great stage presence and a great voice. It'll be interesting to see what he does next.

The other star, for me, is Pinky, dance-hall queen and rude girl in her tiny red mini-dress, white boots and big afro. She knows she's good looking and makes sure you know she's good looking, flirting with everything in trousers. She's played by Susan Lawson-Reynolds (who is also credited as assistant choreographer) and she gets all the best moves. She bounces well off her co-rude girl, Precious (Karlene Wray) but it's Pinky all the way for me!

The rest of the cast and musicians are all excellent as well and it's a thoroughly enjoyable production, sending us out into the night at the end singing along to 'You Can Get It If You Really Want'. And that's quite odd in a way since the play is about violence and death and corruption and drugs, but the music and performances are uplifting.

Go and see it. If you like good theatre - go and see it. If you like good music and reggae - go and see it. If you like a good night out - go and see it. If you hate theatre and music - go and see it and it'll change your mind. The message is - go and see it! I will see it again and, if they do a cast recording, I'll definitely buy it! I hope it plays for a long time.

What am I saying again...? O yes, GO AND SEE IT!

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Happy Birthday Jim!

Today is the birthday of Jim Lea, the Lord of Noize now known by his full name of James Whild Lea. I feel a SLADEfest coming on...

Happy birthday Jim!

Combine Harvester hits Hammersmith

Now, I know I was bemoaning the absence of any Sex Pistols gigs in London in their current Combine Harvester tour and voila! The Pistols will play Hammersmith on 2 September! I need to be up bright and early tomorrow morning to get tickets to see what Mr Lydon called 'The best band in the world!'.

What a week that's going to be - the Pistols on 2 September followed by X-Ray Spex on 6 September. Punk heaven indeed!

Update 15 June: Tickets secured for the balcony, seated of course. I'm going to see the Pistols again!

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Bye bye Caxton

Tomorrow is my last day of working in Caxton House - my department transferred the lease a while ago but we had squatters rights while a new building was refurbished for us to move into. Tomorrow is our last day in the building. Government Departments change their names on an increasingly frequent basis but tend to stay in the same accommodation - I've been in Caxton under the guise of five departments of state. But no more after tomorrow.

Since so many people have worked in the building for many years we held a leaving party yesterday. I didn't go to it since I was engrossed in post-tender clarifications meetings for a supplier for a new computer system, but it made me think.

I realised that I first set foot in that building nearly 25 years ago. 25 years, gosh. I'd started working for ACAS shortly after arriving in London and, at that time, ACAS looked to Caxton as it's HQ so it housed it's finance section and I was sent there to pick up a giro for my first week's pay. It was the first time I'd set foot in a big office building, people bustling all around me who knew where they were going and there was poor little me, wondering where the cashier's office was... There's no cashier any more and hasn't been for a long time. The world has moved on so much.

I started going into Caxton a couple of times a week from 1990 and then was based in it for the first time in 1996. I've moved in and out of the building a few times since then, but this current move out of the building is a bit more permanent. I wouldn't be surprised if I turn up at the building for meetings or whatever, but I won't be able to just walk in, I'll have to report to reception and fill in a form for security. It won't be my building any more.

I've spent most of the afternoon packing stuff into crates ready for the move over the weekend. It's surprising what you find in drawers that raise a memory or a chuckle and then the thought, 'why did I keep this?'. Loads of stuff has been binned (the cleaners will hate us) and more will be binned tomorrow. I've got a couple of meetings tomorrow but, other than that, I'll be packing. Our computer system goes down at 2pm, we're chucked out at 5pm and I have a meeting in another building at 3.15pm so that gives me a timetable.

Tomorrow will probably be a strange day with a mix of memories. It's only a building.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

No Tom Toms

O dear. Me Dad isn't too good at the moment so I need to head up North for a little while to cover for me baby brother who's off on holiday.

This means I'll miss the Tom Tom Club/Gang Of Four gig as part of the Meltdown season. The ticket's on a first refusal basis to Mr WeeDonKerr. The last time I saw the Tom Toms Tina threw her warm knickers at me. I doubt that'll happen again but, hey, you never know.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Dresden Dolls Bonus Tracks

OK. You turn your back for 5 minutes and what happens? Those punk cabaret ragamuffins, The Dresden Dolls, sneak out bonus tracks on the digital download version of their new album, that's what happens. Head on over to your download store of choice and buy 'Glass Slipper [Live in St Louis]', 'A Night At The Roses' and 'I Would For You'. Like, cor!

I've got an older live version of 'Glass Slipper' on 'A Is For Accident', but this version was recorded on the last Dresden Dolls tour so is brand spanking new. 'A Night At The Roses' was originally released as the B-side to the 'Good Day' 7" vinyl and 'I Would For You' is a Jane's Addiction cover.

Go on folks, go and do the downloady thing and make yourself happy.

Monday, 9 June 2008


You might remember me blogging about a documentary about Buffy Sainte-Marie a couple of years ago, a documentary called 'A Multi-Media Life' that for some obscure reason is only available in North America. Luckily a good friend over there has sent me a copy and I had a viewing over the weekend.

It's great to see and hear Buffy across the decades with a great collection of photos and video clips throughout her life (which confirms my view that there's a lot of video about Buffy in the vaults - we need to get it out of the vaults). That's not what I'm blogging about today, though. How and why do we choose our heroes?

I first came across Buffy in 1975 or 1976 through a half-hour programme on BBC2 about singer-songwriters. For some reason I taped it on my cassette player. Another in the series was Dory Previn. It was a collection of videos accompanying each song, short films of people acting out the songs and I don't think Buffy featured in any of them. But for some reason they lodged in my head. I can't remember if 'Native North American Child' or 'Sweet America' was my first Buffy album, followed by the double Vanguard 'greatest hits'. The odd thing is that, in the '70s, that was around the end of Buffy's recording career and it wasn't relaunched until 1992's 'Coincidence And Likely Stories'.

But for some reason, Buffy said 'listen to me', 'hear me', 'think about my message' to my teenage self. And I did. And I still do.

What did Buffy have to say to me, a teenager in a small mining village outside Newcastle in the coalfields of the North East of England. I'd never met an "indian" and I only knew one black girl. Buffy spoke about individuality, about respect, about difference and history. She also spoke about reconciliation, a powerful message from someone who's people have suffered genocide.

Why is Buffy a hero? I don't know but I'll argue the toss till the cows come home.

Why are your heroes heroes?

Saturday, 7 June 2008

I Wanna Be Anarchy!

To celebrate the release of the Sex Pistols new DVD of the live shows from Brixton last November, there's a trailer on YouTube:

I was there y'know. You won't see me though since I was up in the balcony singing myself hoarse. They've also launched the first 'official' Sex Pistols website. Their Combine Harvester Tour kicks off tonight in Las Vegas, Birmingham and the Isle of Wight next week, and then off around Europe. But not London, unfortunately.

The 'There'll Always Be An England' DVD is released on 30 June 2008.

To remind yourself of the glorious filth and fury that will forever be the Pistols, do the clicky thing on these videos:

Friday, 6 June 2008

Number 3

A year ago today I went into Chelsea & Westminster Hospital for a discectomy (slipped disc removal), went in today and had the operation the next day followed by a few days on my back with drips and my morphine machine. How pleasant. You can read all about it here if you like.

So, how did I celebrate this anniversary? I went to St George's Hospital to neurology outpatients for the latest instalment of my long running slipped disc saga. The doctor was in surgical blues which was a bit odd for a start but he showed me the scans of my insides from back in January and my slipped disc looks impressive. I was expecting to be patted on the head and sent away with 'come back when it's worse' ringing in my ears but no, that's not what he said. I have all the recognisable symptoms and need another operation to remove it and relieve pressure on the nerves. And this time he wants to remove small bits of bone from my spine to make sure there's enough room for the nerves to move properly - the procedure has a name but I can't remember it, it's all a bit of a blur. And I've done it again, I've believed the magical doctors because they know best... and my experience last year has taught me nothing! Where does this reverence and faith come from? I must strive harder to be stroppy.

Anyway, I should get an appointment for about 8-9 weeks time to have Operation Number 3 on my damned disc. At least this time it'll be closer to home, just a mile or so away in Tooting.


Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Yoko Ono - 'Give Peace A Chance'

I'm sort of sure that everyone who looks at this blog has heard 'Give Peace A Chance' by John Lennon & Yoko Ono and The Plastic Ono Band. Well, there's a new version of that classic song - in fact, numerous remixes will be available later this month.

Go to the Imagine Peace site for more details and listen to one of the remixes.

Mary J Blige at The O2 Arena

Last night was Mary J Blige at The O2 Arena. I'm not a great fan - hippity-hoppity stuff ain't my stuff - but after last night she gets full kudos. She gave a fantastic performance, ripping out her heart and wringing it out on stage, flinging her soul into the air as she kept on stomping across the stage and draining us dry emotionally. At least she did me.

I didn't recognise many of the songs but that didn't matter, the band was great and Mary J was riveting. The band were on risers at the back of the stage leaving Mary lots of space to roam the front of the stage, a couple of times joined by two hip-hop dancers who only stayed on stage for a couple of minutes, so largely it was MJB alone at the front of the stage. There was a great light show and video wall behind her - and the occasional pyrotechnics - but she deserves enormous credit for her stage presence and, of course, her voice and songs.

I think there were three highlights for me: a big version of 'I'm Going Down' which got the crowd roaring, an amazing extended version of 'No More Drama' that ended with MJB on her knees on stage and me emotionally exhausted, and the great 'Just Fine' from the latest album with the line 'I like what I see when I'm looking at me when I'm walking past the mirror...'. Great stuff, and that reflects a lot of MJB's messages in her songs of empowerment and her rants at the the audience to be proud of who you are today, don't be ashamed of who you were yesterday, find what works for you and be proud. At one point she said she was happy being fat, being thin, with red hair or blonde and we should take her as she is, not as she used to be or might be. Good messages.

The crowd loved her, that was plain to see, and it was nice to see people cheering and welcoming the new songs as well as the oldies. I liked her version of U2's 'One' which she delivered as a personal MJB song and the wonderful 'Be Happy'. I'm still not a hippity-hoppity type of person but MJB has a new admirer here in my plastic bag. Good on ya, lass!

Sunday, 1 June 2008

An Unexpected Sundae

I had no plans for today except to be lazy but instead it turned into a bit of a Sixties confection with memories stirred and songs sung. What happened? The Supremes and Petula Clark happened all around me.

Talking about Sixties girl singers with Chris this morning, about Lulu and Dusty (we didn't get as far as Cilla, Clodagh, Marianne, Sandie et al) led me to look up Petula Clark since Chris thought she was touring over the summer and she is, this very evening saw the start of her tour at Cadogan Hall in Sloane Square. How fortuitous. And if we're heading up to Kensington and Chelsea then we might as well see the Supreme's exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum (cue hand gestures).

The Story of The Supremes from the Mary Wilson Collection

Doesn't everyone have some Supremes songs in their collection - if not, you really should. The best thing about The Supremes, though, was that they were a total package, the great songs, the moves and, of course, the frocks! And frocks are the centre piece of the latest exhibition at the venerable Victoria & Albert Museum, an exhibition drawn from Mary Wilson's collection of memorabilia from her years in The Supremes, the only one to be a member from the start to the demise of the group.

At once frivilous and serious, the exhibition places The Supremes at the centre of their times in the '60s and early '70s, in the context of civil rights and black consciousness. There's a nice quote from Oprah Winfrey about the power and inspiration of simply seeing The Supremes on TV in the '60s, the first black women to be seen proud and smiling in posh frocks and white folks being respectful. It's easy to forget about things like that but The Supremes and the rest of Motown played an important role in the '60s and deserve some credit for helping to change the world.

Returning to frivolity, of course, and it was fun to see a collection of their sequinned shoes with their names written on the inside in biro to make them easy to find, their wigs and ear-rings, their record covers behind glass and the others that you could pick up and browse. And the frocks. There were frocks from the whole period the group was together but my favourites were the psychedelic and glittery sequinned confections from the late '60s. You're not supposed to take photos but I took a couple without flash when no-one was looking. I am bad.

After browsing in the museum shop we headed down to the Kings Road and to My Old Dutch for pancakes and then headed along to Sloane Square for the evening's performance by a legend.

Petula Clark at Cadogan Hall

Petula has been on the go since the '40s when she was a child star on BBC Radio and then in films and on record, having hits across Europe and recording in various languages, particularly in French. But the '60s saw her go global, a major star everywhere and with a back catalogue to die for. For me she's one of the voices of the '60s, she's always been there, always smiling and always singing and, more often than not, in a sparkly frock (did you see what I did there with the frock segue?).

Her songs, many of which were written by Tony Hatch, sum up the optimism of the '60s and swinging London, they're gloriously 'up', three minutes of perfection and Petula was the perfect singer to embody that style and that era. She was never off the telly, particularly the Saturday evening variety shows and she was a regular visitor to my parents living room as I grew up. I was gobsmacked last year when I saw Petula in concert for the first time - I just kept thinking, 'wow, that's Petula Clark!'. And tonight I kept thinking, 'wow, that's Petula Clark!'. If anyone these days can claim the title of 'legend', it's wor Pet!

The show started at 7pm and Petula sung and entertained us for about 2 hours with an interval half way through. Her 9-piece band came on stage promptly and then she took the stage, Petula Clark in person. She sang a mix of the big hits from the '60s, some new songs (she has a new album out in two weeks time) and some of her stage and film songs, interspersed every second song or two with some reminiscences... and her reminiscences are worth hearing since she's met everbody! Name -dropping Fred Astaire, George Lucas, Sophia Loren, Paul McCartney...

This was the first night of her mini-tour to promote the new album and it showed to a degree. The horns were too loud in the first half and the lighting bloke could do with some lessons. Pet's voice wavered in some of the older songs and was better in the newer songs, although she sounded much better in the second half. Well, after all, she is in her 76th year! But she prowled the stage like a pro, making sure we all had a good view of her no matter where we sat, going to the front of the stage to hold hands with privileged members of the audience, played piano on some songs and shook her hair out for wig-out songs. Pet knows how to put on a show!

Highlights for me were the slow version of 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' with Pet playing piano, 'Don't Sleep In The Subway' (and I don't care if she couldn't quite sustain the notes!), 'Downtown', 'I Know A Place', 'The Song Of My Life', 'Losing My Mind', 'People Get Ready' and, for the encore, the glorious 'I Can't Live Without Your Love'. The whole concert was a bit of a thrill, really. Sigh.

What an odd and unexpected Sunday. I will do lots of listening to The Supremes and wor Chula this week. The only thing missing was ice-cream...