Sunday, 31 August 2008

'The Harder They Come' with Jimmy Cliff

Here's a very special clip from 'The Harder They Come' with Jimmy Cliff joining the cast on stage - wish I'd been there that night!



That's Pinky giving Jimmy the mic. The sound's a bit odd - the cameraman was obviously standing a bit close to the guitar speaker, but it gives a good idea of the atmosphere by the end of the show. Go and see it while you can!

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Skankin' Stars!

Look what I found on the Slade fan club page on Facebook! Three great stars together - Jimmy Cliff with Jim Lea and Don Powell of SLADE all skankin' away!


It looks like it's a photoshoot for something, maybe a promo for a record or somesuch. What a find - thank you to whoever posted it!

Friday, 29 August 2008

Scarey Thursday

Yesterday (Thursday) was an odd day, starting off with nearly 2 hours in hospital and finishing with a 2 hours show about Kenneth Williams (well, in part).

I expect to go into hospital next weekend for another operation for my slipped disc. Yes, it's been playing up again so this time they'll cut out the offending disc and also trim back the back-bone to create more space for the nerves to run up and down my spine. O the fun I have!

I spent nearly 2 hours yesterday morning been prodded, swabbed in intimate areas, answering the same questions several times, having 3 ECG readings and 1 x-ray, blood taken, reflexes checked ... the works! Being told to take my diabetes pills before the op, then told not to take them, then being emphatically told I had to take 'em.... o well. I'll either go into a diabetic coma or I won't.

In the evening we went to the RVT to see David Benson's show about Kenneth Williams, 'Think No Evil Of Us'. It was an odd and strangely powerful show - he's got Mr Williams down to a 't' , in all his self-obsessed singularity, but it's when he was being 'himself' that I warmed to him. His strange tales about his mother's mental health, his days at school in Brum and his mother telling him that masturbating his partner won't make babies....

Kenneth Williams is a strange character - one of the stars of yesteryear but not a nice person. He pulled good face and make nice double-entendre quips but not really someone I would've liked to meet in real life. The image and film record is much nicer. I found some of David's scenes as Kenneth quite painful, the petty jealousies, the pretentions, the faux-humour... and he had it spot on. He was so good that I found it cringe-worthy, shrinking away from the phantasm he re-creates on stage. David's tales of his youth were equally as disturbing (and singing along to 'All Things Bright And Beautiful' was most odd) but more acceptible to me at least. It reminds me how lucky I've been in my life.

I think I'd rather have the physical pain to the mental pain portrayed in the show. Ideally, I'd have neither.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

"'im was 'ere but 'im disappear..." sing Pinky & Precious

I experienced the singular joy of seeing 'The Harder They Come' again tonight for the fourth time. It is a magnificent production but it's closing in a couple of weeks, so it was a fond farewell to the show.

Ivan, Pinky, Pedro, Precious, Ray Pierre, Miss Daisy, Numero Uno, Hilton and the rest of the characters start to populate the consciousness after a while - when we saw the Jamaican girl win the Olympic 100m both Chris and I imagined Pinky in that race in her white kinky boots, stopping half-way to ring the DJ and fluff up her 'fro before finishing the race and winning in record time. That's Pinky for you!

The show started at the Stratford East, transferred to the Barbican (where I first saw it) and then to the Playhouse Theatre but, from tonight's performance, you'd think it was the opening night from the energy and commitment of the entire cast. Two and a half hours (including the ganga break) of singing and dancing, with the entire cast (except Ivan) on stage for the entire time. That's pretty good going. It must be exhausting but I, for one, really appreciate it.

I've seen the show three previous times so that's three reviews already blogged, so tonight I'll give the marvellous cast a name check:

Ivan - Ivan is the Jimmy Cliff character played by Rolan Bell with wit, energy and dollops of charisma, he's got a great voice and presence. He jumps around stage like a thing possessed, singing and dancing and acting up a storm. He should go far!

Elsa - the hapless girlfriend who gets caught up in Ivan's life and dreams and problems, played by Joanna Francis, great voice and comic timing.

Pedro - rastaman and ganga farmer, ably played by Marlon King with the great skill of keeping a massive joint alight in the ganga song that ends the first half. He's got a lovely understated way of playing the character. Blessed love, Pedro.

Pinky - dancehall queen and all-round gorgeous person, played by Susan Lawson-Reynolds who also co-choreographed the show. I was disappointed to see Miss Daisy tell Pinky to pull her miniskirt further down to cover her thighs tonight and Pinky did so - so much for radical chic Pinky! Pinky is a great hero of the revolution and make-believe radio reporter. A great character!

Miss Daisy - she's Ivan's mam who left the countryside for big city Kingston and ably played by Joy Mack. My favourite bit isn't when she's grilling Ivan abouit her mother's estate, it's when she attacks the armed police with an empty rum bottle (well, you wouldn't fight off police with a full bottle!).

Hilton - oooo slimy, slimy Hilton, Mr 10%, who runs the music biz in Kingston, played to a tee by Marcus Powell, except he plays him to 90%!

Ray Pierre - the police chief played by the great Chris Tummings who has a wonderful audience participation moment in the second half while he sings Toots' 'Pressure Drop' where he calls us all 'huggly' for hiding Ivan from him. He's a scary thing on stage and is totally undone when he comes on for the encore all wreathed in smiles.

Preacher - Preacher is a scary character played by the marvellous Victor Romero Evans in an awful wig but whose eyes dart daggers at Ivan every time he's on stage throughout the play. He wants Elsa but it's never gonna happen.

Precious - the sassy Precious is Pinky's side-kick, ably played by Karlene Wray, teasing the audience and introducing us to the queen of the dancehalls, Pinky. Precious and Pinky bring the second half to life as pretend radio journalists during the hunt for Ivan.

Longa/Numero Uno - Derek Elroy plays two comic parts bring some much needed light relief to the plot, as the Preacher's gardener Longa, and as DJ Numero Uno who Pinky rings up now and then to ask for music. He's got excellent timing and a face that tells a thousand stories (just not all at the same time).

Sergeant - played by Christopher JA Murrell, a violent personage with a huge smile and voice.

Jose - drug dealer extraordinaire, played by Joe Speare (except for tonight when an understudy played the part whose name I didn't get).

Photographer - played my Matthew J Henry

Miss Brown - played by Jacqui Dubois, putting her all into the dance moves and singing and selling the most fabulous of hats!

Singer - played by Kirk Patterson.

The band is shit-hot too, playing on stage for the entire performance and afterwards as we troop out of the theatre: Perry Melius, Wayne Nunes, Darren Benjamin, Gregory Assing, Adrian McKenzie, Alan Weeks and Peter Lee. Well done chaps!

It was written by Perry Henzell and directed by Kerry Michael and Dawn Reid. They deserve massive credit for this show but it's the actors and the wonderful music I'll remember. I've said it before and I'll say it again - why isn't Jimmy Cliff a huge mega-star singer and writer outside of reggae? He's written some timeless masterpieces and they should be recognised as such.

Thank you to everyone involved in this production - it's a most wonderful night out at the theatre and I'm just puzzled about why its not sold out and running for the next year. I want a cast recording please - the choir version of 'Higher and Higher' is magnificent - and a DVD. I have the programme and the tee shirt with the legend, 'I was here, but I disappear'. That's what Ivan says when he's on the run - the hero doesn't die until the final reel of the film.

I love this show and will remember it for a long time to come... I want it to go on forever.

Monday, 25 August 2008

'Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee'

I watched the television drama, 'Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee' on More4 tonight which is, I think, the first time it's been shown on TV over here. It's the tale of the downfall of Sitting Bull and the Sioux nations in the 1870s/1880s in north America. It's based on about one chapter in Dee Brown's book of the same name so misses so much of the mass genocide of the native nations.

I read the book last year in hospital and it's a painful read. What you see in this TV drama is the least of it. It's odd in a way, to think that these characters actually lived - yes, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse and Red Cloud were real people but they've passed into mythology. Canada treated them with respect to a degree but still deported them across the border to America. Mass genocide and broken treaties that are still in the law courts today.

Buffy Sainte-Marie delivered a powerful song of the same title back in 1992 which updates the tale of the book to include theft of land rich in uranium. Why isn't this song in the film? It would've been the perfect outro, showing that the themes of the drama continue today. But that might be a bit risky. I'll listen to Buffy, thank you.

Read the book for the full story.

The 2008 Olympics, Beijing

The Games are over for another four years and when they re-open in 2012 it will be in London. And I will be there.

I've been blogging over the last couple of weeks about the wonderful haul of medals we've won this year - congratulations to all - but there's a lot more to the Olympics. Not least the amazing Birdsnest stadium and other stadia and monuments around Beijing. From the fabulous opening ceremony to the more modest (but still dazzling) closing ceremony last night, there was a huge range of human drama, of athletes trying their best but only a few succeeding. Heartache and tears of athletes not achieving medal status, especially those who came fourth by a small margin.

The human tale of the German weightlifter who held a photo of his wife beside his gold medal at the ceremony with tears streaming down his face since his wife died in a car crash a year ago driving to see him compete. Michaela Breeze, our sole woman weightlifter who came 15th and competed nonetheless. Tom Daly, the 14 year old lad who came 7th in the diving final, not expecting to win but wanting the experience of a Games and, well, you never know, do you? India winning its first individual gold medal despite the billion population and the great distance runners from Ethiopia and Kenya. So many great tales of personal bravery played out on the international stage and with billions watching around the world. The pride of those Kenyan runners must shine like the sun on their return to Africa. The personal achievements are unimaginable to most of us, including me.

Yesterday's closing ceremony once again used the skills of China to put on a grand spectacle that we can't compete with. We need to take a different tack to stamp London and GB on the world in 2012. But not what we saw yesterday. The eight minute segment for London as part of the closure of Beijing and handing over to London was a trifle embarrassing. From Boris being the only one with an unbuttoned jacket and keep putting his hands in his pocket to Beckham in a dull (but probably expensive) tracksuit kicking a ball into the crowd, It was hardly spectacular. Since when was Leona Lewis a world-class mega-star, how many people under 30 will know who Jimmy Paige is/was and why on earth choose a 30-odd year old Led Zep song as the signature tune for London? That's not where we are today. And the bus? Why were the dancers pushing people out of the way to board it? What impression does that leave? It was ok, I suppose, and I did like the harsh sounds of the guitar riff exploding into the stadium, but the riff could've been from Oasis or Maximo Park or almost anyone still creating music rather than living in a time warp. A lost opportunity is how I think of it.

The strategy is reasonable - play up what we have to offer, the iconic monuments, the world-class mega-stars and music we've produced, the cultural icons, and all that, but make it relevant to the 21st century and where we're going, not where we've been. Look forward not back.

It was great to see the homecoming heroes touch down at Heathrow this afternoon - they deserve every honour we can give them. But why did the BBC feel it was appropriate to field their seemingly least experienced interviewers, repeating the same inane questions? It made for awful telly, only enlightened when the heroes appeared. It probably hasn't dawned on them yet what their status really is - I'm sure the 2012 people will want to use them and milk them as much as they can to whip up interest and excitement. I hope they surround themselves with trusted advisers.

I'd like to be involved in the 2012 Olympics and already have put my name down to be a volunteer. From the looks of it they won't be actively seeking volunteers until a recruitment drive in 2010. I'll be here, waiting.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

'They're Playing Our Song' at The Chocolate Factory

A bank holiday Sunday and what better way than to see a little performed musical at the Menier Chocolate Factory, 'They're Playing Our Song' with Alistair McGowan and Connie Fisher. Well, actually, I can think of many other ways of spending the afternoon.

It got off to a bad start with the noise of an all-dayer open air club next door with the repetitive thump-thump-thump from an unimaginitive DJ. The Choccy Factory called in the police and Southwark Council to try to silence it for the performance since it didn't have a licence but the best they managed was to turn it down a bit my moving some speakers - better than nothing but still intrusive. So the play started late, stopped after the first scene to see if they could be persuaded to turn it down some more, and then continued. We were offered the option of leaving with a refund or a ticket for another performance, but virtually everyone stayed. It must've put the performers off quite a bit but, on the other hand, they're supposed to be professional, so suck it up and get on with it.

It was written by Neil Simon, Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager in the late 70s and then when it's set. And, for me, that sentence encompasses all it's downfalls. It's full of Simon's New York "witty repartee" that isn't really witty, littered with references to psycho-analysts and not very good accents (Connie sounded like a watered down Tyne Daly a la 'Cagney & Lacey'). And the late 70s were evoked by topical references which simply date it now and by the overdone props and awful frocks and wigs.

At one point a long curtain filled the stage as a backdrop, orange and brown circles - as soon as it appeared I was transported back to the '70s thinking of curtains in our house when I was a child except that was the early 70s, not the late 70s of the play. In the late 70s the curtains should've been purple. Because I was puzzling over whether the curtains should've been orange or purple and how large the concentric circles were on my family curtains, I missed an entire song by Connie - couldn't tell you what it was about at all. That's a bad sign.

The over-intrusive props struck again when the scene was in a recording studio in New York and one of the dancers walked on with a copy of 'Sounds' with a full page advert for The Stranglers' single, 'Walk On By' on the back - why on earth would 'Sounds' magazine be in New York? It should've been 'Rolling Stone' or something.

This probably says as much about me as it does about the play and this particular production, but if I'm focusing on props then I'm not focusing on the play or the music or the songs.

I won't bother recounting the story (you've seen it in one form or another anyway in any Neil Simon film) since unless you're a fan of the writers or stars then I won't recommend you go. There was no real sparkle, no engagement (although the thumping music in the background might explain this), no chemistry between the stars and, I'm afraid, I don't think the songs were that good really. Well, if I'm more engaged by a curtain than by one of the songs then you can make up your own mind.

I hate doing a bad review of something I've seen - the actors, musicians, director, etc etc, have all put in a lot of effort to entertain me - but this time I can't put any kind of positive spin on it. Sorry people, but it did nothing for me...

Saturday Medals

Saturday saw us win a final three medals:

James DeGale won gold in the middleweight boxing in a tense match that saw him being bitten and pulled around rather than boxed with, but he kept his cool (mostly) and won in the end.

Sarah Stevenson won our first ever Olympic taekwondo medal, a bronze in the kick-off after not getting into the final. There was a lot of drama around her when the semi-final place was originally given to the Chinese kicker and then the decision was reversed and Sarah went into the semis. She didn't look ready after all the hanging round for the appeal to be announced and lost that match, so it was good for her that she won the bronze in her final match.

Tim Brabants won his second medal of the Games, adding a bronze in the 500m K1 kayak flatwater canoe to the 1000m gold he won on Friday.

Well done to all!

Our participation in the Games ended in the wee small hours this morning with Dan Robinson coming 24th in the men's marathon. The final events are taking place this morning with sports like volleyball and rhythmic gymnastics. There are still some medals to be awarded but our haul for this Games in 47 in total, putting us in fourth place in the medal table.

Country
Gold Silver Bronze Total
China
49 19 28 96
USA
34 37 36 106
Russia
21 21 28 70
Great Britain
19 13 15 47
Germany
16 10 15 41

Well done to all our medalists and to the whole team! It's been a thrill!

Saturday, 23 August 2008

More Olympic Medals

I've been remiss in the last couple of days in reporting GB medals - there are so many it's difficult to keep up with them.

Gold medals go to Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson (no, not for swearing on breakfast telly) for the sailing keelboat (star class) and to Tim Brabant in the 1000m kayak competition (our first ever canoe gold).

Silver medals go to David Davies for the 10km marathon swim (it could have so easily been gold, but he seemed happy with the result since it was something like his third ever swim at that distance), to Phillips Idowu in the triple jump and to Heather Fell in the modern pentathlon.

Bronze medals go to Tony Jeffries and David Price in boxing.

Well done to all!

Friday, 22 August 2008

'Piaf' at The Donmar

Tonight I was treated by Chris to a performance of 'Piaf' at The Donmar Warehouse. I've never seen this play before and I didn't see the film last year, so I'm coming to Edith Piaf afresh.

It opened with the middle-aged Piaf coming on stage to sing at her last concert, collapsing and being picked up and whirled about by the rest of the cast as they disrobe her and re-dress her as the teenage street-singer Piaf about to be 'discovered' and the play begins, a play with music. It's a strange production in a way, with lots of changing costumes on stage, lots of movement and pace, very picaresque with one short scene rapidly following another short scene - as a whirlwind tour of Piaf's life it's ok but I think I would've preferred something a bit more measured, affording the opportunity to explore aspects of her life in more depth.

And what an interesting life she had. I don't know much about Piaf but the play has made me want to find out more. The mystique and legend she and her friends grew around her, the pain of her life, addictions, lusts and love affairs and her death at the tragically young age of 47 after too much booze and drugs and car crashes...

In part, I suspect this is a play of it's time. The frequent use of the word 'fuck', the sex scenes on stage and the scenes of Piaf shooting up before performances cry late '70s to me, the 'let's shock' brigade which at the time probably did shock - or at least came across as raw and gritty. Tonight, as I watched, I wondered whether I was getting middle aged (I am) and conservative (I hope I'm not) or whether the gratuitous sex, swearing and on-stage costume changes were essential to the performance. I don't know, but I think I feel slightly manipulated into how I respond to the play.

Big cheers must go to Elena Roger who played Piaf, transformed from drug addled woman to teenager and back in the blink of an eye, strong voice ripping up Piaf songs (in French) and keeping all eyes on her. In the latter part of the play she was perpetually bent over and walked oddly through car-crash injuries and it was a relief (to me anyway) to see her for the applause standing up straight again. The raw emotion of her performance must be incredibly tiring, night after night, so well done to her.

Amanda Palmer at The ICA

The long awaited gig from the marvellous Amanda Palmer happened tonight at the ICA. She was supported by a band and by the Puppini Sisters but I didn't see them, only one song by the band and then the bar beckoned. The theatre is a bit bare and soulless, turned into a concert hall for the night, but with great lights and sound.

Miss Palmer appeared at 9pm in her best underwear, miming along to a Ben Folds song doing the Dylan thing of having words on bits of paper and and then got behind her piano to open the set with the gorgeous and moving 'Ampersand', one of my favourites. She was off to a grand start with that song, plonking away on her piano and her fearless voice filling the hall - I love the way Amanda sings and the sound of her voice, one of the most expressive and powerful voices I've heard in a long time.

She spent the whole gig behind the piano (until the final encore) treating us to some Dresden Dolls classics, some covers and songs by friends (such as 'I Google You' by Nial Gaiman), and half a dozen or so songs from the new album (due out on 15 September). She chatted inbetween songs, swigged from a plastic pint glass half full of red wine, regaled us with anecdotes and even held an 'Ask Amanda' session with questions submitted by the audience before the gig started. Oh, and she said 'fuck' was one of her favourite words and said it a lot, so that's ok. She's not afraid to admit she'd forgotten the words to one of the covers and, when someone shouted out the next line, started the song again to get it right. This was a very confident and mature performance from someone who's played all over the world in the last few years and is comfortable with herself on the stage and comfortable with handling an audience.

Amanda came back for two encores, the first one including a touching, long version of 'Hallelujah' during which a girl had her long hair cut by the EmCee, and the second encore was Amanda's trademarked version of 'Creep' with her strumming a ukelele. Someone made the mistake of saying he didn't like Radiohead and became the focus of the performance. Amanda got down from the stage, meandered through the crowd (and right past me!) and climbed onto the sound mixing desk at the back and finished the song. Then jumped down and moved past me (I patted her back and got sacred Amanda-sweat on my hand) to rework the last verse with the Radiohead guy before climbing back onto the stage, saying goodbye and vanishing backstage after entertaining and thrilling us for two hours.

Favourite songs included 'Ampersand' (of course), the great 'Mrs O', 'Coin Operated Boy' and 'Half Jack' from the Dresdens catalogue, and 'Leeds United', 'Guitar Hero' and 'Astronaut' from the new record. After a stonking version of 'Leeds United' she said she was looking for volunteers to be extras in the video for the song to be filmed next Sunday... I accidentally picked up the contact details at the end of the gig and might accidentally get in touch...

Amanda was lovely and put her all into the show and her performance. I'd forgotten how small she is - she's a giant on record and in her videos. The new songs on the album sound excellent and I'm so looking forward to listening to it for the first time - and then watching all the videos for the songs she's been posting everywhere. It's always a delight and a privilege to see the wonderful Miss Palmer and she was on top form tonight. I look forward to seeing Amanda perform for decades into the future.

And the gold medal for marvellousness goes to Amanda Palmer!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Women's Medals Day

More medals today, and this time all won by women.

Keri-Anne Payne won silver and Cassie Patten won bronze in the 10km open water marathon, the first time the event has featured in the Olympics. Swimming outdoors in a lake, feeding stations, swimmers bunching and opening up as they do in distance races, it's an odd event to watch and they completed it in just under two hours of non-stop swimming.

The ending was very tense with Keri-Anne and Cassie leading most of the way and then the Russian world record holder just slipping past in the last couple of hundred yards and Keri-Anne putting on a spurt to try to keep the lead but just being pipped at the last minute. In the interview afterwards they sounded like a right couple of fun characters too!

Bryony Shaw won bronze in windsurfing and was over-whelmed in the post race interview after being pulled out of the water - she was very emotional and seemed over the moon! I like that - all too often bronze is seen as a runners up medal but it really is a tremendous achievement to win one in the Olympics.

Tasha Danvers also won a bronze in the 400m hurdles, always a stirring race, and she looked so proud afterwards. She was closing down on second place - a few more yards and she would've had silver. We haven't won many track and field medals yet so it's great that Tasha added to the haul.

Well done lasses!

Duncan Lloyd - 'Seeing Double'

Duncan Lloyd, yes, Dunc, guitarist and writer with the most wonderful Maximo Park, is about to release his first solo record, 'Seeing Double'. I didn't know anything about it until I got an alert via the Maximos. The first single, 'Suzee' is due on 29 September and the album follows a week later on 6 October (various pre-order bundles are available from The Recordstore).

Three tracks from the album are on Duncan's MySpace page to listen to and if you want to listen to the single then click the video below (the video's a bit of an oddity but I'm enjoying the music and you get a brief glimpse of Newcastle Central Station).



Good luck with the album, Duncan!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Best Haul Since 1908

Something is definitely going right in sport for us at the moment - four golds and two silvers today giving us our best medal haul since 1908.

Chris Hoy won his third gold in the cycling sprint with silver going to Jason Kenny, another all-GB final. Three golds is pretty good for anyone and he's the most successful Scottish athlete ever in the Olympics and a great role model. Victoria Pendleton won the gold in the women’s sprint, so that's a nice double for GB.

Christine Ohuruogu won the 400m gold getting our first track medal, so she now holds the Olympic, world and Commonwealth titles. It was great to see her come from behind, gradually overtaking everyone and winning. What a great come-back for her. Germaine Mason won silver in the high jump earlier in the day (but he really ought to tuck his shirt in).

On the water, Paul Goodison won our third sailing gold medal when he won the Laser class.

There was an interesting discussion on the radio this morning about our medal haul and noting that most of them are in sports that require equipment of some sort - boats, cycles, horses. Anyone can run and anyone can swim, but buying equipment is expensive and that cuts down on the number of countries that can take part. There must be truth in there somewhere - as well as a few dozen other theories - but you can buy all the equipment in the world and still be rubbish. Athletes put in the hours practicing, athletes go through the pain and athletes win medals. I'm proud of ours.

More Gold and Silver

A quick peruse of the Olympics sites tell me that I'm falling behind in congratulating our latest medal winners.

The cycling pursuit team of Ed Clancy, Paul Manning, Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins won gold which is, apparently, the first time we've won gold in this event since 1908. That's a second gold for Bradley at these games.

We also got another sailing medal today, silver in the 470 crew for Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield,

Congrats chaps!

Monday, 18 August 2008

Alela Diane at The Roundhouse

Another trek up to Chalk Farm to the Roundhouse to see Alela Diane. I only found out she was playing a week or so ago so snapped up tickets straight away. I saw her for the first time last summer at the Luminaire in Kilburn - the Roundhouse is much bigger even though it had curtains hanging between the columns to make it a smaller space, tables laid out and a few levels of tiered seating.

The opening band was The Cave Singers from, I think, Seatle. A singer who played various instruments, a guitarist and a drummer and they made an interesting sound. The problem was that I couldn't make out a word of the lyrics so I've no idea what they were singing about. Still, they were an interesting opener.

I was quite taken with all the lights, the star-curtain and even (gasp) two mirror-balls! I think this show was part of a series, hence the decor but it's quite fun to see someone like Alela in these surroundings. She even dressed up for the event in what looked like a black frock rather than the country-floral I was expecting.

Alela came on, put her set-list down and picked up her guitar before the lighting bloke noticed and shone the spotlight on her. She opened with 'Clickity Clack', just her on stage, voice and guitar. A couple of songs later her Dad joined her on stage to play guitar and then a few songs further on they were joined by another guitarist followed a song or two later by a drummer. Alela has a band! The album is accoustic and so was she when I saw her last year so it was a surprise to hear some of those familiar songs with a band behind them. And it worked. Alela has a nice stage presence but she does just stand there and strum and sing so it was a good addition to have the combined sound of more guitars and drums behind her, fleshing out her sketches with more layers of sound. I loved it and, in particular, the fully rounded sound of 'My Brambles'.

The setlist was made up mainly of tracks from 'The Pirate's Gospel' (yo ho ho!), some 'new' songs available in live accoustic versions from Daytrotter and two songs I'd never heard, 'The Cuckoo' (described as a traditional American folk song) and one other. Favourites tonight were the marvellous 'To Be Still', 'Oh My Mama', 'White As Diamonds', 'Pirates Gospel', 'Pieces Of String' and the firm favourites, 'The Rifle' and 'Dry Grass And Shadow'.

Alela's voice was in good form and she seemed to enjoy herself, which was nice to see. She's heading home to California in the next day or so and I hope that signals some time in the studio, We need another record. And then another show, of course. She's a very peaceful person to watch and listen to, with her voice and thoughtful lyrics, backed by a clear guitar sound. I'm pleased I managed to see her. And congratulations to Chris for surviving a folkie night!

Sunday, 17 August 2008

A Year On Last.FM

I joined Last.FM a year ago, the music based social network site. I quite like looking at what I've been listening to and what others listen to. It's a good way to explore new music. It's changed a couple of times in the last year and doesn't accurately reflect what I listen to since it (obviously) only picks up music played on my laptop or on my iPod, but it's a reasonable reflection of my musical taste.

In the last year I've listened to 674 different artists. My most played artists and number of plays over the year are:

1

439
2

389
3

371
4

299
5

289
6

288
7

278
8

269
9

245
10

241
11

235
12

213
13

212
14

208
15

199

Just outside of the top 15 are T.Rex, the Pet Shop Boys, X-Ray Spex, Public Image Ltd. Jimmy Cliff, Boy George, The Temptations, Macy Gray and the Indigo Girls. So watch out for the top 15 to change in the next few weeks.

In the last week, my most played artists were:

1

40
2

32
3

26
4

25
5

16
6

14
7

11
8

7
9

4
9

4
11
ABC

3
11

3
13

2
13

2
13

2

What does that tell you about my listening habits? It changes regularly and I'm not sure it tells you an awful lot. Like, this week for instance, I just fancied hearing Linda Thompson, but it's not like I listen to her every week (that's one of the joys of carrying so much music around on my iPod).

So, what are my most played tracks?

1

40
2

30
3

29
4

26
5

25
5

25
7

24
8

23
8

23
10

20

Louis Smith - Congratulations!

Our final medal of the day went to Louis Smith who won bronze for his performance on the pommel horse in the men's individual gymnastics. The astonishing thing is that it's our first gymnastics medal for 80 years and the first individual in 100 years. We compete every Olympics and get into finals but I hadn't realised we hadn't won anything in so long.

In the interview afterwards, Louis was very modest and spoke about hoping his win might stimulate others to get involved in gymnastics. Well done Louis!

By Boat, By Cycle and By Foot

More medals on Sunday for Team GB on the water:

Ben Ainslie won sailing gold in the single-handed dinghy (Finn class) (that's his third consecutive gold);

Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb & Pippa Wilson won sailing gold in the keelboat (Yngling), the Sarahs repeating their win in Athens;

Mark Hunter & Zac Purchase won gold in the rowing double scull (lightweight).

The women’s rowing quadruple scull won silver for Annie Vernon, Debbie Flood, Frances Houghton and Katherine Grainger. In an exciting race they led until the final couple of hundred metres when the Chinese team eased ahead. The British team looked so disappointed when they were interviewed afterwards - that's silver in three consecutive Olympics, with gold ever-elusive.

The men's Eight's also won silver in another exciting race with Canada racing out in front and staying there, with the British team inching forward all the time, but just not enough. Well done lads!

Back to the velodrome for a guaranteed gold and silver in the women's 3000m individual pursuit since the final was between two Britons - Rebecca Romero and Wendy Houvenaghel. Rebecca won silver in the women's rowing quadruple in Athens but switched to cycling after injury and that gave her the spur to press for gold. Rebecca won gold just ahead of Wendy, so congratulations to both!

I stayed up into the wee small hours to watch the women's marathon and the ongoing saga of Paula Radcliffe. Paula hasn't been well recently and it was questionable whether she should even run, but this is the Olympics and, after Athens, she needed to finish, which I'm pleased to say she did. She looked a bit doubtful a couple of times but she pressed on with a slightly limping gait and finished 23rd. Mara Yamauchi finished 6th and Liz Yelling finished 26th despite a tumble that left her back and side badly bruised. Well done to all three!

Now, I don't want to throw a jinx or anything, but when was the last time that, after a week of competition, we were third in the medals table? Considering the size of our country and the size of our team, that's not bad going!

Country
G S B T

China

27 13 9 49

USA

17 18 22 57

GB

11 5 7 23

Germany

9 5 6 20






Australia
8 10 11 29

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Fastest Man In the World

I've got to take my hat off (if I was wearing one) to the magnificent win by Usain Bolt of Jamaica in the 100m final this afternoon. He won it half way through and started powering down ages from the line and still managed to set a new world record. He was miles ahead of the other runners and made it look so easy. Should I make a witty comment about his surname and bolting to the finish line? Naah.

Go on, find the video online somewhere - it'll take all of 9.69 seconds to watch. There'll be a-skankin' in Kingston tonight!

Well done Usain!

Chris Hoy & Bradley Wiggins - More GOLD!

It's been a great day in the velodrome with two more gold medals, a silver and two bronzes.

Chris Hoy won gold in the track cycling Keirin race with Ross Edgar getting silver in the same race. It's great to see Chris overtaking the field and moving away at incredible speed, making it look so easy.

Bradley Wiggins won gold in the individual pursuit with bronze going to Steven Burke. Chris Newton also won bronze in the track cycling points race, so well done to him as well.

Well done, lads!

Men's Fours GOLD!

And another gold won just a few minutes ago by the Men's Fours rowing crew, a great race with Australia in the lead most of the way until the GB crew just eased up and passed the Ozzies. The annoying commentator did the usual thing of talking us up before we'd won and I was cursing the screen - shut up until it's in the bag! But they did it!

Well done to Tom James, Steve Williams, Peter Reed and Andy Triggs-Hodge, a great, tense and breath-taking race!

We also got two rowing bronzes this morning, firstly Elise Laverick and Anna Bebington in the women’s double scull, and didn't they look like they'd explode with joy at the medal ceremony, and also Matt Wells and Stephen Rowbotham in the men’s double sculls (they'd been tipped for gold so they were a bit disappointed). Gold is shinier, but bronze is still a tremendous achievement.

Well done to all!

Rebecca Adlington - Congratulations Again!

That's another gold for Rebecca Adlington, this time in the 800m freestyle and she smashed the world record in easy-peasy stylee! After the first few lengths she started pulling away in front and kept on doing it, the rest of the field falling behind. What a great race!

Well done Becky!

Friday, 15 August 2008

Chris Hoy & Team - Congratulations!

Another gold today, this time in the velodrome (a nice word). Chris Hoy, Jason Kenny and Jamie Staff won the team sprint cycling gold.

Well done to Chris, Jason and Jamie!

I've also seen bits'n'bobs of the rowing and it's nice to see that we're in 10 out of the 14 rowing finals, and that's without Redgrave and Pinsett for the first time in many years.

I'm also enjoying the start of the track and field events in the Birdsnest.