Wednesday, 30 July 2008

No Good Deed ...

'No Good Deed Goes Unpunished' is one of the better songs in the second act of 'Wicked'. Basically, Elpheba gets fed up with trying to help people only for that help to go wrong in some way.

This morning I gave up my seat on the Tube to a pregnant woman. I was clearly the oldest person in that part of the carriage. The woman wasn't heavily pregnant, maybe 5-6 months, but still clearly had a bun in the oven. No-one moved. So I did. The young woman gave me a look almost as if to say, 'why did it take you so long?' and sat down. No smile, no word of thanks. She took my seat.

Why did I do that? Why didn't others? Because of my slipped disc, then I often need a seat since every little jerk of the carriage can be agony but I always try to avoid sitting in the 'disabled' seat beside the carriage doors since there's probably someone who needs it more than me. But, more often than not. it's filled by a young person who bounds into the carriage as the doors shut, swing round the rail and sit down without thinking. I suspect they don't *need* that seat. It's not just young people, older people often take the 'disabled' seat as well whether they need it or not.

Earlier as I was getting on the Tube someone else just moved in front of me and got on. I was standing right in front of the door where the train stopped so there was no question about who should step on first. But the lad in the suit moved in front of me and got on. He said 'sorry' as he did so, but he did it. Pushed in front to get into an empty carriage. An *empty* carriage with space for everyone. But he had to get on first.

I suppose it's the unthinking nature of this behaviour that bugs me. What's happened to personal space? What's happened to people? What's happened to basic humanity and common feeling? What's happened to thinking that someone else might actually exist?

Saturday, 26 July 2008

'Song Of The French Partisan' by Buffy Sainte-Marie

A new video of Buffy playing 'Song Of the French Partisan' live (scroll in 30 seconds after she talks about Leonard Cohen).

Another aspect of war.

Friday, 25 July 2008

The B-52's at The Funplex

Tonight was the long awaited B-52's gig at the Funplex (as I re-named The Roundhouse for the night). It's been 30 years a-coming and they were well worth the wait. They are mad and gorgeous and glorious and the world is a much better place for their being in it.

I can't believe how excited I was getting and then there they were on stage, Cindy wreathed in smiles and barefoot, Kate tossing her red locks, both having activated their shimmy mechanism as soon as they stepped on stage, and Fred and Keith looking impossibly thin in skin-tight trews. The bassist (who's name I missed) fitted right in in her silver lurex mini-frock, plus drummer and keyboard/guitarist. And so the magic began...

They opened with 'Pump', the opening track from the new album, 'Funplex', and one of my favourites. Kate pumped her arms up and down, Fred declamed in true fashion and Cindy skipped around the stage (I worried she might step on something without shoes), while Keith was all guitar-hero. Kate didn't stop moving throughout the show, shimmying over to sing beside Cindy and back to her place again, arms up and moving, working the audience and being thoroughly gorgeous. I was delighted to see Cindy get a couple of bongo solos when she wasn't dancing around the stage and singing. They were all so *up* that it was a delight to see them. I was covered in smiles from the start, clapping and drumming along, singing and slipping further into the Funplex with every song. It was one of those gigs that should've just gone on and on.

Their whole career was represented tonight and it was a joy to behold. They're probably got three main periods - the new wave start in the late '70s beginning with 'Rock Lobster', their mainstream days with 'Cosmic Thing' in the late '80s and the present, with the excellent 'Funplex'. They played songs from each of those periods and proudly paraded a few inbetweenies, like 'Mesopotamia' and 'Private Idaho'.

Fred left the stage while the girls sang the new single, 'Juliet Of the Spirits' and (one of my favourites) 'Roam', and I think that's something I really like about the B-52's - they have three lead singers. Each of them can take the lead or they can share it out in almost call-and-response mode, and it all works. And they all have the stage presence to keep your eyes glued to whoever is leading at any particular time. They've been doing this for long enough to know what to do and they gave us the full package, full throttle, tonight. And I am so pleased that they did.

How can I possibly choose any favourites from a nearly perfect gig? Perfection would've required at least another two hours on stage... 'Pump' is a great opener and I like 'Juliet Of The Spirits', 'Hot Corner' (with its chorus that I hear as 'waiting for the bus from London to come'), 'Love In The Year 3000' with Fred's time machine and, after a truly great 'Funplex', Fred advised us not to go shopping at the local mall on pills and booze but I'm not sure anyone was listening to him... Of the oldies I'd pick out 'Roam' and 'Love Shack', both timeless glories. Going further back, I was gobsmacked to see and hear 'Planet Claire' and a euphoric 'Rock Lobster'. I bought the 'Rock Lobster' single back in 1978 (with the black and white plate-spinner picture sleeve) and never expected to see them play it live. But they did. And I saw Fred miming rowing to safety and bashing the lobster over the head so he could escape it's grasp. As I said earlier, mad.

This was a marvellous gig. If you missed it, shame on you. It didn't have a flash light-show or special effects but it did have four special people on stage who've written and performed some glorious music over the years. It was a thrill and a privilege to witness them in action tonight. Come back soon and share the madness and euphoric glory. Please?

Let's 'Keep This Party Going' shall we?

Wednesday, 23 July 2008


When I left work this evening I automatically plugged my iPod into my ears to drift away on the journey home. I decided to listen to the B-52's to make sure I'm word perfect for tomorrow's long-awaited gig. And then I had a shock - I couldn't recall my last gig. It was, of course, Mary J Blige at the O2 at the start of June. That seems so long ago for some reason.

I missed a few gigs during my sojourn to the wild North last month - the Yazoo reunion gig, Tom Tom Club at this years' Meltdown festival and Lou Reed performing 'Berlin' at the Royal Albert Hall. I'm seeing The B-52's tomorrow, followed by Macy Gray at the end of the month and then Amanda Palmer at the ICA in August. August is a quiet month...

September opens with a snarl from the Sex Pistols, X-Ray Spex and Madonna in just over a week, followed by Shelby Lyne and Ronnie Spector later in the month. October sees Amanda Palmer, Boy George, Beth Rowley and (um....) Alphabeat... Shockingly there's nothing in November but December opens with the Steel City Tour of the Human League/ABC/Heaven 17 triple bill and, of course, the Merry Xmas Tour with the mighty Slade!

No doubt more will be added - Blood Red Shoes are touring in Europe in October so I wouldn't be surprised if there's a mini-tour before Christmas.

I'm looking forward to all these gigs (well, nearly all) and it'll be great to see Amanda again (twice!) but you know what? The one I'm *really* looking forward to is X-Ray Spex - I want to see the world turn day-glo!

In the meantime, I want to hear Fred shout out that he's "a fully eroticised being" while Kate and Cindy do their shimmer thing. Watch out Camden - my funky thang will be shaken at the Funplex tomorrow night and no apologies offered!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Eliza v Santi

I bought two new records today, both very good in very different ways, or maybe not so different really.

'Dreams Of Breathing Underwater' by Eliza Carthy

Eliza last graced my CD player with her excellent work with The Imagined Village project so it was with some trepidation that I got her new solo record but it's instantly enjoyable. Different musical styles all united by her vision and voice (and violin), from the raw electric guitar on 'Follow The Dollar' to mariarchi brass on 'Mr Magnifico' via some more traditional folk sounds and Indian-tinged 'Lavenders.'

I don't know how the 'folk community' has greeted this album but I like it. There's something here for everyone who has vague folk leanings and I'd love to see Eliza perform these songs. I saw her a few years ago on one of the Meltdown nights that Patti Smith curated and it was great to see Eliza on that stage singing her traditional folk songs unaccompanied and joking with the audience, ' you didn't think I'd do a cheerful one, did you?'. This collection of songs isn't a set of dirges by any means and deserves lots of listens.

'Santogold' by Santogold

Santogold (Santi White) is in a very different place to Eliza. I've resisted listening to Santogold because of the hype until I listened to a few songs on the Pretty Much Amazing music blog and fell in love with two tracks - 'I'm A Lady', a very classy pop song, and 'Get It Up' (Radioclit remix featuring M.I.A. and Gorilla Zoe). 'Get It Up' isn't on the album but it's full of powerful pow wow singing and I've fallen for the sound of the track - I can't tell who's singing at any given time but that doesn't matter, it's the sonic experience that pulls me in.

So, what about the album? It's a big record, lots of styles and sounds that showcase Santogold, great pop songs with bits of hip hop, electronica and reggae thrown in for good measure (and can I hear a bit of Blondie in 'Lights Out'?). It's well worth a listen. Play it loud.

Monday, 21 July 2008

The Mummy: Tomb of The Dragon Emperor

This film has my name on it. It even has snow!

Suzi Quatro 'Unzipped'

Some of you might recall that I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Suzi Quatro twice last summer, firstly at a gig she played at a strange festival in Wimbledon and then at a book signing/talk to promote her autobiography on Charing Cross Road. The Wild One was in full rock swagger mode both times and it was a thrill to see her and meet her, even briefly. Leather was, of course, involved both times.

That's where the title of her autobiog comes from, unzipping her leather catsuit to reveal the real Quatro beneath. 'Unzipped' is Suzi's autobiography and I finally got round to reading it yesterday in one (long) sitting. It's a good read, telling the tale of Suzi from Detroit to New York to London to achieve fame and fortune, touring with SLADE and Thin Lizzie in 1972 (the tour I didn't see), having No. 1 hits and touring around the world, joining the Fonze in 'Happy Days', taking to the stage to escape her marriage and even writing a musical (o yes, dear reader) to re-marrying, perpetual touring, becoming a grandmother and making a 'come-back' album, the great 'Back To The Drive'.

The book is an enjoyable read, a good page-turner wanting to see what happens next. Suzi writes in two voices - 'little Susie from Detroit' and 'Suzi Quatro' and, occasionally, the two of them discuss a particular episode. Ever self-effacing and striving for honesty, for every 'good' thing or adventure there's a 'bad' one and she admits her faults and failings, both as a rock star and a mother. It's an enjoyable book and she wrote it herself (no ghost writer).

Suzi will probably never get the full credit she deserves because she made it in the 'glam' era and was part of the Chinichap stable but she changed music for women and provided a different role model. One of the best things she ever did was to team up with Andy Scott, another Chinichap survivor (from Sweet), and deliver the excellent 'Back To The Drive' album. C'mon Suzi, we need more...

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Nightclub School

I'm having a wierd weekend re-discovering the music of the early '80s and gradually remembering why it's not one of my favourite musical eras. Now, I'm all for a bit of electronica and some hedonism, but it all seemed to go just a little bit too far.

When I think of that period now I automatically see Boy George's 'Taboo' musical in my minds eye, Steve Strange and Marilyn doing their stuff, Petal flogging drugs to all and sundry and it all being a little bit sordid and selfish. I've just been listening to Visage's 'The Anvil' which includes the refrain, 'nightclub school' and that sort of sums it up for me - the view that the most important thing in the world is learning how to present oneself appropriately at a nightclub. Now, in part, that was all a reaction to punk, with people wanting to get dressed up and be different, and using the new electronic instruments to signal a sonic and visual difference. But it also partially led to the 'me me me' generation of Thatchers children later in the decade. Total self-absorption isn't pretty.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

'Crayons' by Donna Summer

I finally picked up Donna Summer's new record this evening, her first in 17 years. I've only listened to it once so far but I've no doubt that repeated listenings will be rewarding - she's still got the voice and she's sounding good. It will be loaded onto my iPod before the night is out.

I haven't seen any 'proper' reviews but the blogs I've seen all seem to comment on how she's trying out different styles in most tracks but I don't really hear that. It sounds like an album should do to me, with a bit of variety , some fast and some slow and very much in the 21st Century - having said that, two of my favourites hark back to late '70s classic disco Donna ('I'm A Fire' and 'It's Only Love' - mega-groovy long dance tracks).

A couple of the tracks sound like bog-standard 'girl singer' songs these days - the songs, the structure, the production, which is odd since she co-wrote all the songs. What makes them different is Donna's voice - still powerful and strong - and that's what sets them apart from the rest of the crowd.

'The Queen Is Back' is a quasi autobiographical song announcing that Donna is back in suitably dramatic style. And she is! 'Fame (The Game)' is, for me, the first punchy Donna track, electronic disco like in olden days that demands to be played loud and often. 'Driving Down Brazil' introduces some infectious Latin beats which breaks the album up nicely. 'Slide Over Backwards' is a lovely bit of swampy funk with an hypnotic chorus line. The final track, 'It's Only Love' is classic Donna with a slight hint of 'I Feel Love' to remind us who the Queen really is and it works excellently, especially the sudden ending which seems to suggest that it could go on forever or just stop.

'Who Killed Amanda Palmer?' Tracklisting

The tracklist for Amanda Palmer's solo record is now available:

1. Astronaut
2. Runs in the Family
3. Ampersand
4. Leeds United
5. Blake Says
6. Strength Through Music
7. Guitar Hero
8. Have to Drive
9. What's the Use of Wondrin
10. Melissa Mahoney
11. The Point of It All
12. Another Year

I've heard some of these songs before and some I've played for ages in live versions but it'll be great to hear studio versions. I'm particularly pleased to see the inclusion of 'Ampersand', one of my favourite Amanda songs. There's a new video for it on YouTube here where you can listen to it and see the visual depiction of the song ... but I'm not looking at it. I'll wait for the record to come out to listen to it for the first time in all it's new glory. I am *so* restrained....

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Lynsey de Paul

I had an urge this evening and I gave into it. I listened to my one and only album by Lynsey de Paul that includes all her hits and most of her first album ('Surprise' which I bought back in the day).

I made a 'Glam +' playlist on my iPod and listened to it on the way home tonight - there's over 1000 songs in the playlist so I only just dented it, opening with Gary Glitter, Mott The Hoople and Sweet, I was in retro glam heaven. And then Lynsey popped up with 'Sugar Me'. So here I am now, listening to the full album and enjoying it immensely.

Lynsey's first hit was with 'Storm In A Teacup' by the Fortunes in 1972, but she wrote it and I prefer her version. Then she had her own hit with 'Sugar Me' in the summer of 1972. There were a few songs I played endlessly that summer, on holiday in Scarborough or Bridlington on the north Yorkshire coast (one or the other), listening to 'Take Me Bak 'Ome', 'School's Out', 'Starman' and 'Sugar Me'. It hasn't had the longevity of the other songs but I don't care. Lynsey's second single was 'Getting A Drag' about glamrock and I love that one too.

But all this reminiscing does make me yearn for 'Central Park Arrest' Do you remember that song? Lynsey wrote it and it was a minor hit for Thunderthighs (what a name!) who were the backing singers on a couple of singles by Mott The Hoople ('Roll Away The Stone' and 'All The Way To Memphis' I think). Lynsey recorded it as the 'B' side to 'No, Honestly'. I know that because I had that single in my hand two weeks ago and wanted to save it from going to a jumble sale as my brother empties my Dad's house, but then again I wanted to save so many records that it would be daft, really. I'd listen to them once and then they'd collect dust. But, I'd love to hear it again. Just once. If anyone has an mp3 of it I'd love to hear from you.

There seems to be a few 'best of' and 'hits' CDs by Lynsey but some seem to be re-recorded or remixed so I'm pleased I got the CD that includes versions that sound like the originals. We must be about due for a re-appraisal of Lynsey - she even did Eurovision one year but that's my least favourite of her songs. She's done a lot of stuff over the years and, as far as I know, is still active in media areas. Mmmmm a nice box-set would go down well, I think...

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Miss Palmer

I'm sorry. I really must apologise. There hasn't been anything like enough about Miss Amanda Palmer in this blog recently. You must be suffering withdrawal symptoms at this rate - I know I am!

Amanda is filming the video for her first single from the new album ('Who Killed Amanda Palmer?') in London at the end of August and I think I know where... so there's a stalking opportunity in the making. The first single is called, 'Leeds United' and she sang it when I saw her at Bush Hall last August. I remember liking it.

Amanda's blogging has been intermittent recently as well but she's posted a couple of fab photos in the last week which I am shamelessly nicking and re-posting here:

Amanda is on the far right in this photo. I'm not posting it because you see her tits (you can see a lot more than that in the 'Dresden Dolls Companion' book she published a couple of years ago) but because of what the photo represents - art, her own form of art, and she's not afraid of it.

I blogged last year sometime about how I liked Yoko Ono, always have done, and even bought a couple of her records back in the '70s. Yoko is art, so, even though I may not like or appreciate something she does, that doesn't diminish her or her work - she retains her power. Same for Amanda, but in a different way and with a different cultural background and end product. Amanda is art.

I love this photo - a bit of drama, a bit of mystery, a bit of colour and, of course, Amanda in suspenders and stripey stockings - no pretence of art on my part here! Both photos were taken on her last tour of Australia earlier this year.

Long live the punk cabaret!

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Mamma Mia! The Movie

I saw 'Mamma Mia!', the stage show, in Toronto a few years ago as a post-Birthday treat after seeing Buffy Sainte-Marie in concert, and loved it. In part it's those great ABBA songs, but the story actually works with the songs and it's a very 'up' type of show. So, naturally, I had to see the film.

The story is, of course, the same, but it's the non-singing, non-dancing star cast that make this a bit more interesting than the norm. Can Meryl Streep dance? Can Pierce Brosnan sing? How gay is Colin Firth? Is Julie Walters a classically trained dancer? Does Christine Baranski play another sloshed vamp? The answer to all the above is ...

It was great fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it! It's clearly targeted at a girlie audience (made obvious by the selection of trailers before the film started) but I think most people who can suspend their disbelief for a couple of hours and like ABBA would probably enjoy it.

Meryl Streep was, of course, excellent, has a good voice and threw herself into the part as you'd expect. Pierce's singing voice made me wince a couple of times but he wasn't bad. And it was nice to see Colin Firth fight off his Mr Darcy image at last by getting his shirt off and dance with his boyfriend. Christine was excellent in her big number on the beach playing the worldly wise older woman singing 'Does Your Mother Know?' to her would-be lover who is half her age and she floors all the young lads on the beach. There's a nice generational thing going on in the show, with the old 'uns having fun as well as the youngsters.

Every now and then the inconsistencies came to the fore. Like, in the flashbacks to Donna as a young woman with three boyfriends, one is flower power and one is a punk and I can't help thinking there's 10 years between those eras, yet there's talk of the internet at one point and Donna's daughter is 20... the timeline doesn't work but does it matter? Not really, but it stands out more in the film than in the stage show. There are other bits that niggled or didn't quite work, but, actually, I don't care - it's no-nonsense fun and doesn't try to be anything else.

It was nice seeing all the sunshine and natural tans in contrast to this rubbish summer we've had so far, the great outdoors and splashing in the surf looks so temping. The cypress groves, the seascapes, the minimal clothing, the sun sparkling on the sea, all of it makes me want a holiday.

Just like in the stage show, the end is an encore of the three leading ladies dressed in full 'glam rock' regalia singing 'Dancing Queen' and finishing with 'Waterloo' with ... ah, but that would be telling! If you've seen the stage show you'll know what to expect, but I'd totally forgotten the ending so it was a nice surprise. The audience clapped at the end!

I enjoyed it! The subject matter was sometimes a bit close to the knuckle for me at the moment, the story of a girl with three potential dads, but it was fun nonetheless. Go and see it for a fun time with great tunes and some good laughs.

It looked like Benny and Bjorn has small cameo roles, but where were Agnetha and Frida? Now, the lads might've written the songs, but it was the lasses that brought them to life and who I hear and see in my mind whenever I hear an ABBA song.

'City Of Angels' at The Guildhall

Friday evening saw a trip to the Guidlhall School of Music and Drama to see the students end of year graduation show, 'City Of Angels', a musical I've never heard of let alone seen. Angela had fond memories of it in the West End 15 years ago so Chris enticed me along to see it and good fun it was too.

It's set in 1950s Hollywood and is the story of the script-writer and scenes of the film he's writing based on his best-selling book, so one moment we see the private dick and his shady life being acted out and then flash forward to the writer talking about the scene or - more often - why he doesn't want to change the scene to suit the producer's whim. But then, at the end of the first act, the private detective the writer has invented comes to life and interacts with the writer in a great end-of-act number to ensure we all go back for the second act. That was a nice, unexpected twist.

It's a complicated show, with all the characters playing two roles, both in 'real life' and a similar character in the 'the book'. In that respect it's a great choice for an end of year show for the students since it allows them to show off their talents, but that also has its drawbacks. The student who played the writer's New York wife and Bobbi, the LA torch singer in 'the book', was much better as the wife, with songs more suited to her register and more like the word-filled banter of their conversations. It was the same for a couple of the other players.

Since it was the graduation production, then the lighting people, musicians, set designers, costumers, etc, all had their day as well, which was nice, but sometimes less is more. The musicians were excellent in big band swing mode. It was also nice to have photos of the players on display and their CVs available for potential casting agents (and me) to browse, making it a showcase event.

The thing that niggled a bit throughout was that the players were all of an age, noticeably so to me, and that lack of age in the show bothered me. The producer character clearly needed to be older than the bloke playing him - he didn't have the life experience to really bring the character to life - and the exaggerated hand gestures sometimes made me think of a child playing an adult. That's one of the subtle things you don't normally even think about in plays since there's almost invariably a mix of ages on the stage,

The star of the show for me was the young lady who played both Miss Oolie/Donna, a secretary in both 'the book' and 'real life' - played by Robin Steegman. She had a nice presence on stage and a great, versatile voice, her accent never wavered and was believable throughout. Well done that graduate!

All in all, it was great fun and a good night out.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008


I went back to Newcastle last week to say goodbye to my Dad and part of that involved exploring the bits of the town I haven't seen in ages. I went down to the Quayside and over the Millennium Bridge to the Baltic, visited the Norman-built Black Gate, went into St Nicholas's to light candles, went shopping around Grey's Monument and Northumberland Street and got a taxi along Scotswood Road to Blaydon and beyond to the village where me Dad lived.

Here are some photos:

And can you see the young me in the old me? Even I was 21 once...

Monday, 7 July 2008

Rebel Yell!

OK, at my age I suppose I've got nothing to lose by coming out. After all, what's the worst that could happen? Regular readers will have been exposed to my oddities over the past few years and I think I'm ready to add to that list. >Deep breath<

I like Billy Idol.

Phew! That wasn't too bad. I ought to clarify that what I really mean is that I like *some* of Billy's earlier singles, not necessarily his entire cannon.

Billy started out as part of the so-called Bromley Contingent that followed the Sex Pistols, along with Siouxsie and Severin, and then joined Chelsea (I got their single 'Right to Work' back in the day). He then started and left Generation X before moving to New York to find his true self as the sneering, peroxide-blonde spikey-haired post-punkster we all know. He released a trio of great singles in the early-mid '80s - 'Dancing With Myself', 'White Wedding' and 'Rebel Yell' - and became one of MTV's first stars. He went global for a few years but never really earned any credibility in this country.

If you want a sneering, leather-clad punk to idolise, then look no further than Billy - he's trademarked the image.

I bought his 'greatest hits' in the HMV sale the other day and am enjoying it immensely.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

'There'll Always Be An England' by the Sex Pistols

After my mammoth self-indulgence last November of seeing the Sex Pistols on three nights at their residency at Brixton Academy, what better way to re-live and remember the experience than the new live DVD from the Pistols, 'There'll Always Be An England'.

The footage faithfully recreates the gigs and the power and majesty of those snarling, rabid monsters of yesteryear and I can't help but feel they've never been bettered in the teenage rebellion stakes. Their one album and handful of singles have stood the test of time and you get the best and loudest versions on this DVD, opening with 'Pretty Vacant' and closing with 'Anarchy In The UK'. What more could you want? If you go to the setlist section of the menu you also get a killer version of 'Roadrunner' which, on the last night of their residency, was dedicated to Denton the Bear.

There's also a great documentary as an extra that follows the Pistols around London as they visit their favourite haunts and talk about the old days. This is a great addition to 'The Filth & The Fury' documentary.

My only criticism of the DVD is that there's too much footage of the crowd at Brixton and, of course, it's always the wierdos that get camera time, those with old punk hair or snarling or making V signs at the camera. Why? It doesn't really add to the experience.

It's great to have this footage of the Pistols live and still dangerous after all these years. And I was there for some of it!

Yoshitomo Nara at The Baltic

I went to see an exhibition by Yoshitomo Nara + graf at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art while I was in Newcastle last week.

For the first time in well over a decade I walked down to the Quayside in Newcastle, the area running alongside the River Tyne which used to be a bustling port that became very run-down and was regenerated for the Millennium. It's all brand-spanking-new now and looking good. I walked over the Millennium Bridge (the 'blinking' bridge) to the Gateshead side of the river and the Baltic, the former flour warehouse that was converted into a 'modern art' gallery to add to the cultural life of the North-East. The Baltic isn't very big, but has one good sized exhibition space on each of the five floors available to the public, with scary glass-walled lifts and a great view from the top floor along the Tyne (including a new bridge that was being built from bamboo while I was there - I've got no idea why bamboo is being used).

I'd never heard of Yoshitomo Nara before but was quite taken with his images and presentation. In the one large exhibition space he built a small 'village' of five or six houses and you can look through windows and doors into the rooms. The rooms are full of drawings and scraps of paper on tables and chairs, pinned to walls and, in a few, finished paintings of his child-like characters. One room is full of fluffy toys strewn across the floor and in another, fluffy toys rammed into a peace/ban the bomb symbol. I liked the eyes of some of his children, a mesmerising, speckling rainbow of colours that brought them to hypnotic life.

The main rooms were built around a small raised walkway made of scraps of wood from which you could look into the rooms, almost like a peeping-tom peering into someone else's life. Another raised walkway led to a dark area with a large white plastic (?) head of one of his children. There were also some paintings and drawings hung on one wall near the entrance to the exhibition.

It was most strange and disconcerting, but interesting nonetheless. I'd like to see more of his work.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Buffy Sainte-Marie - The Mid-1970s Recordings

Buffy's 'new' record, 'Buffy - Changing Woman - Sweet America: The Mid-1970s Recordings' was released on Monday but I couldn't get it in Newcastle. Today, to celebrate the 4th July, I went up to my HMV of choice on Oxford Street, downstairs to the folk section and picked up a copy of the CD.

This is the first time that Buffy's three albums after she left Vanguard have been released on CD - 'Buffy' (1974), 'Changing Woman' (1975) and 'Sweet America' (1976). I bought 'Sweet America' back in 1976 or 1977 and it was my first or second Buffy album (I think my first was 'Native North American Child (An Oddysey)') but I only got 'Buffy' and 'Changing Woman' in the last few years on vinyl. I've had vinyl-to-digital recordings for a few years so I'm familiar with all the songs. There are no bonus tracks.

The sound quality is excellent, it's crisp and clean and I'm hearing some instruments for the first time, such as the electric piano doing twiddly bits in the background to 'Generation', the electronic effects on 'Eagle Man/Changing Woman' and 'Mongrel Pup' and the pow wow singing on 'Qu'Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan' and the magnificent 'Star Walker' (which is noted, on the vinyl album sleeve, as being dedicated to the American Indian Movement, but the dedication isn't noted on the CD). It's marvellous to hear these songs in proper digital format at long last, with Buffy's voice clear and strong.

The packaging is nice too. The cover is a version of the photo of Buffy on the back of 'Sweet America' and inside is a short essay about Buffy. There are only a couple of photos though - I was hoping for some new photos but I can't have everything. It includes all the credits for the individual records so somebody has done a lot of work checking studio records since the credits aren't on the original records in this detail. That's a nice touch. Well done to everyone involved in saving these three Buffy records and giving them to us to enjoy again. Thank you!

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Who Killed Amanda Palmer?

C'mon. Own up. Who did it?

The first album from the delightful Amanda Palmer is due for release on 15 September in the UK and the album cover has now been posted.

There's a new website for the album and you can hear the tracks in streaming audio on Miss Palmers MySpace page as one track is added each week. The tension mounts...