Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Long Live The Punk Cabaret

Sometimes you don't necessarily believe news even when it's true - or especially when it's true.

They brought glory and wonder - long live the punk cabaret!

Amanda On Drugs

Amanda Palmer kicked off her 'Who Killed Amanda Palmer' tour in Dublin and Belfast this week and in true Amanda-stylee something had to happen. She got knocked over by a car.

'O no!' I hear you cry. O no indeedy! Amanda is nothing if not a trooper and was back up on stage after a trip to the hospital. Amanda is reported as saying:

“I had an accident today,” said Palmer. “I did what most stupid Americans do and walked on the wrong side of the road and ended up getting run over. I have to say I’m very grateful for the free health care that you have in Northern Ireland and that this is the first show I’ve played where I’m completely on drugs.”

You can read the full article here.

What a star. Makes me a total wimp being off work after a mere operation with no car involved at all. That's probably going to mean no climbing about at venues with here ukelele singing 'Creep', but the main thing is that she's largely ok and on lots of drugs.

I'm looking forward to seeing the vaudeville-inspired vixen (as the article refers to her) in a couple of weeks in London.

Buzzcocks - Another Bites Tour

News from the front is that the Buzzcock's are touring in January and will perform their first two albums, both including many of their classics. I was lucky enough to see the Buzzcocks do a promo at HMV on Oxford Street a couple of years ago and that was a great thrill.

The blurb says:

We're happy to announce a brand new tour for 2009! Tickets go on sale this Friday, Oct 3rd, for the ANOTHER BITES TOUR. We will perform our first two classic (so they tell us!) albums Another Music In A Different Kitchen and Love Bites in their entirety + other hits.

We've never done this sort of thing before, so don't miss these perhaps one-time-only opportunities to hear all of these songs performed on one night! The confirmed dates are:

Tue 13, UK, Exeter, Lemon Grove
Wed 14, UK, Bristol, Academy
Fri 16, UK, Manchester, Academy
Sat 17, UK, Leeds, Academy
Sun 18, UK, Newcastle, Academy
Mon 19, UK, Glasgow, ABC
Wed 21, UK, Nottingham, Rock City
Thu 22, UK, Wolverhampton, Wulfren
Fri 23, UK, Leamington Spa, The Assembly
Sun 25, UK, Norwich, Waterfront
Tue 27, UK, Oxford, Academy
Wed 28, UK, Southampton, The Brook
Thu 29, UK, Cambridge, Junction
Fri 30, UK, London, Shepherds Bush Empire

Duncan Lloyd - 'Suzee'

Duncan Lloyd's first single is out, 'Suzee', available from all good download sites now. It's a slice of upbeat indie guitar pop, a simple song that reaks of sunshine and the great outdoors. The 'b-side' to the single, 'I Can't Decide', is a slower, darker, more introspective song. Both tracks are simple and uncluttered and, interestingly, Duncan avoids singing in a Geordie accent which marks a difference between him and Paul Smith. His album, 'Seeing Double' is out next week.

Duncan is, of course, better known as lead guitarist with the great Maximo Park.

You can watch the slightly mad video for the song or listen to 'Suzee' and other tracks on Duncan's MySpace page:

Monday, 29 September 2008

The Creatures

I've been re-discovering The Creatures over the past couple of weeks. Siouxsie and Budgie created some of the most unusual and experimental music over the past couple of decades, fusing different musical styles to create their own unique sound. They burst into the public with 'Mad Eyed Screamer' from the 'Wild Things' EP (1981) and followed that with the 'Feast' album (1983), recorded in Hawaii and using a range of mad percussion instruments. I got 'Feast' back in the day and loved the exotic gamelan sounds that I finally got to hear for real a decade later when I went travelling. I don't think 'Feast' has ever been released digitally but it's included on 'A Bestiary' which includes all the early Creatures songs from the album, ep and singles.

The Creatures went quiet for a few years and then re-emerged with 'Boomerang' (1989), recorded in Andalucia this time and with a very different, although still percussion driven, sound. I like 'Boomerang' but only had it on cassette - it doesn't seem to be available either in hard copy or for download so I resorted to eBay to refresh my memory of the songs. The two singles form the album, 'Standing There' and 'Fury Eyes' are wonderful slices of avante-guarde pop, at once jittery and different but then wonderfully playable.

More silence from The Creatures for a decade before emerging again with three albums in the space of a year or so, all based around the marvellously dark 'Anima Animus' (1999). Far more electronic in sound and texture rather than percussion but still unmistakeably The Creatures. As well as the album there was also the 'official remixes' album, 'Hybrid', with remixes from 'Anima' and from the various limited edition EPs that were issued around the same time which were also released as 'U.S. Retrace'.

A mere four years later and 'Hai!' (2003) was sprung on us, a return to a percussion-base, particularly mad Japanese drumming, big drums and big sounds. And wonderful songs like 'Godzilla' (who eats cars, by the way) and 'Attack Of The Supervixens'. Siouxsie used 'Hai!' - the songs, the sounds and the themes - as the basis for her 'Dreamshow' shows which were also fimed for DVD.

And that is the last of The Creatures. Siouxsie and Budgie separated and Siouxsie emerged last year with her latest magnificent creation, 'Mantaray'. I've seen Siouxsie three times on her ongoing Mantaray And More tour and tonight see the final show at Koko which, sadly, I'm not attending but which is being filmed for DVD.

Siouxsie is one of the true originals and keeps emerging in one guise or another. Long may she continue - I look forward to the DVD and to the follow-up to 'Mantaray'. I'm sure both will be fab.


'2nd Floor':

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Ronnie Spector at Islington Academy

Last night I went to see Ronnie Spector play at Islington Academy, one of the original 'rock chicks' who's seen rock and pop develop first hand over the last five decades. It was nice to see her at the Academy which I think of as a 'rock' venue and that's how she played it. She was looking good, big hair, big red lips, tight outfit shown off with lots of poses and lots of energy even though she sat down every now and then due to a leg problem. Luckily she avoided the 'rock chick' steroetype of leather jacket or trousers.

Ronnie was backed by a six-piece band to build the 'wall of sound' as she sang some Ronettes classics - 'Baby, I Love You', 'Be My Baby', 'Walking In The Rain' - and, of course, we all sang along too. She had a nice line in name-dropping patter that amply demonstrates she's been adopted by all every bit of the music biz over the years and all the bad boys love Ronnie - the Stones, New York Dolls, the Ramones. And Billy Joel wrote ' Say Goodbye To Hollywood' for her, which she sang last night.

She only did a couple of songs from the latest labum, 'Last Of The Rock Stars', but it was good to hear the Johnny Thunders song, 'You Can't Put Your Arm Around A Memory' and the Patti Smith collaboration, 'There Is An End'. She sang George Harrison's 'Try Some, Buy Some' which I didn't realise but she had a hit with it back in 1971 before George released it on 'Living In A Material World' a couple of years later.

It would've been nice to hear more from the latest album, demonstrating where she is now rather than where she was, but she was doing a crowd pleasing set for the old guard, with lots of her oldies and some doo-wop thrown in for good measure.

I liked her chatting between songs, anecdotes a-plenty and a lovely New York drawl of an accent, not a dainty little voice at all. Little woman with a big voice. It would be churlish to mention that she wasn't always in tune but that's live performances for you and the joy of seeing someone in the flesh, dodgy notes and all. Ronnie was performing before I was born and she's still going strong - and she kept all eyes on her last night without even trying.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Lynsey De Paul - 'Central Park Arrest'

The power of the Internet and the blogosphere never ceases to astound. Just when I get jaded about it something happens...

Last year I blogged about Jane Aire & The Belvederes and every now and then someone leaves a message about Jane, one of which pointed me to what Jane is doing now and then, a while later, I even had a message from Jane herself. Isn't that great?

Well, it's happened again, but this time following my blog about Lynsey De Paul earlier this summer. I plaintively asked for anyone with an mp3 of 'Central Park Arrest' by Lynsey to get in touch and what happens? Someone has. And I'm listening to the song now!

Thank you Wayne!

To celebrate, here's a photo of Lynsey in a park from way back when and an advert for the Thunderthigh's version of the song that was released as a single in 1974 - "Thunderthighs are gonna crush ya!". Isn't it amazing what you can find on the interweb thing if you ask the right question?

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Butter Wouldn't Melt...

Y'know, I can forgive my heroes virtually anything and in the case of John Lydon I suspect there's always a tongue near a cheek. The blogosphere has been a-buzz for the past week with the news that John will advertise Country Life butter and all the jokes have already been made ("God Save The Cream"). I've ignored it really - if John wants to advertise something why shouldn't he?

This evening one of the latest tidbits was on mad.co which outlines the theme of the campaign. It reported:

Country Life has revealed images for its television campaign featuring former Sex Pistol John Lydon.

Lydon was revealed as the new face of Country Life by mad.co.uk last week. The Dairy Crest-owned brand has devised a £5 million relaunch campaign with Grey London that debuts on Wednesday (1 October).

The TV ad sees Lydon, once called Johnny Rotten, travelling around Britain questioning why he enjoys Country Life butter before deciding he buys it because he thinks it tastes best. The strapline is “It’s not about Great Britain, it’s about Great Butter”.

Aw, isn't that nice? John traveling round talking to the camera... hang on, that's like the documentary he did as one of the extras on the Brixton gigs DVD, travelling round London and telling us why London used to be so great before property developers got involved. Deja vu, n'est ce pas?

Still, if it's a £5m campaign then I really hope he's pocketing at least £1m. Go for it Mr Lydon!

More about killing Amanda ...

Amanda's website to support the album, 'Who Killed Amanda Palmer', is now up and running so click on over to read the story of the making of the album (and see lots of photos), watch the videos and listen to some of the songs and get excited about the book - yes, there's a book written by Neil Gaiman and full of photos of a dead Amanda. It's not out yet. Neil writes a short fictional piece on the back of the album about Amanda's 'death'.

Amanda Palmer - 'Guitar Hero'

... and i could save you, baby, but it isn’t worth my time.

SAHB - 'Hot City - The 1974 Unreleased Album'

Strange as it may seem, but a 'new' album from The Sensational Alex Harvey Band from 1974 is due for release in March 2009 called 'Hot City'. All but one of the songs were re-recorded and issued on later albums, but 'Hot City' includes original versions of the songs and one previously unheard track.

The blurb on Amazon says:

In early 1974, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band were planning to record their upcoming third album. The band, had been constantly touring and were well rehearsed when in late Janauary, they went into Advision studios in London with legendary US producer: Shel Talmy to record their biggest album to date. By April, the sessions were finished and the album was mixed. However, after completion the band and management had some reservations about the overall sound and amazingly they decided to scrap the entire album. Shel Talmy the returned to Los Angeles with his tapes.

Most of the song titles eventually showed up on the official album 'The Impossible Dream' later that year with a different producer on board and the songs changed dramatically. You can now hear how the album sounded with the original versions of these songs. SAHB fans will be totally surprised and amazed at the different styles, delivery and lyric arrangements of well known SAHB songs such as Vambo & Man In The Jar. There are also two versions of both Anthem and Tomahawk Kid and an previously unreleased song `Ace In The Hole' which has not been heard even by the band since those sessions in 1974.

As SAHB became the biggest band of 1975, these recordings were quickly forgotten about. Now after 34 years, MLP have re-discovered the fully mixed unreleased album by a rock group on the verge of stardom. The recordings were re-assessed by both Shel and the band and an agreement was reached.

Now re-mastered and with the band's full approval, you can hear how songs like Vambo, Man In The Jar, Anthem and Sgt Fury originally sounded. This CD release features 11 tracks and comes in a deluxe package which includes a 20 page booklet with rare photos and extensive liner notes from the band with track/track comments and opinions.

The track list is:

1. Vambo
2. Man In The Jar
3. Hey You
4. Long Haired Music
5. Sergeant Fury
6. Tomahawk Kid Version 1
7. Ace In The Hole
8. Weights Made Of Lead
9. Last Train Version 1 (Aka - Anthem)
10. Tomahawk Kid Version 2
11. Last Train Version 2

I know what I'll be buying in March.

Monday, 22 September 2008


Two weeks ago today I had my back operation and I'm feeling so much better as a result of it. I'm moving better and I'm getting my flexibility back. That's a good thing. I'm also tired whenever I leave the house. But I'm bored. I'm fine indoors and that makes me think I can do more than I really can. And then I regret it. I forget that one reason I feel ok is the pills. It's the lure of being well and the freedom to do things. Then reality crashes in.

I've been here before and suffered as a result. It's partially about boredom. There are only so many hours I can sit looking out of the window before I get stir crazy.

It's about balance.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Amanda Palmer - 'Who Killed Amanda Palmer'

The first solo album from Amanda Palmer was released this week in physical format but has been available digitally for a couple of weeks as part of the pre-order packages. Naturally, I pre-ordered so have been enjoying the songs as part of my convalescence. Some songs are immediate and others are slow burners, gradually growing on me and the process is now completed. I've been meaning to blog about the album but didn't know what to say about it except I want to say more than a fan-boy 'wow, it's amazing'. It is amazing, but then you already know that, don't you?

Songs of joy and sorrow, laughter and melancholy, they're all here with Amanda's marvellous voice and words, all piano based but often enhanced with strings and brass and even guitar. I've had the pleasure of seeing Amanda play some of these songs and have listened to live versions of a couple of them for a year or so. The production is spot on with some great string arrangements that bring a bit more light and shade to the songs but it's very delicately handled and not intrusive at all.

There are manic stompers like 'Leeds United', 'Runs In The Family' and 'Guitar Hero' alongside more introspective and calmer songs such as 'Ampersand', 'The Point Of It All' and 'Blake Says'. Drama and frivolity, it's all here. And it wouldn't be an Amanda album without some oddities like 'What's The Use of Wond'rin'' and the juicey 'Oasis' that tells of schoolgirl rivalries in the '90s (don't worry, I'm sure you're not a crack whore, Amanda). Images tumble from the record along with sensuous melodies and some wonderful piano passages, particularly the beautiful introductions to 'Ampersand' and 'The Point Of It All'.

If you get the pre-order then, as well as the album, you get two bonus tracks: 'I Google You (Live)' and 'Straight (With Strings). If you look on iTunes you can also download 'Leeds United (Lounge Version)' and 'Guitar Hero (Alternate Version)' - both are well worth downloading and enjoying. 'Leeds United' is supposed to be the first 'single' from the album so there may be more songs available to download as 'b-sides'. Another downloadable CD will be available before Christmas with demos and out-takes from the album as part of the pre-order package.

I haven't had the physical record in my hands yet but when it arrives it should be signed by Amanda - that's part of the pre-order. It may be one of these:

I still don't know what to say about the record. It makes me happy. It makes my eyes moist. It makes me smile. Thank you Amanda!

And if you'd like to listen to a song from the album just click below and wallow in the glory that is 'Ampersand'.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Shelby Lynne at the Royal Festival Hall

Chris introduced me to Shelby Lynne tonight - I was aware of the name but not the music. Sort of nu-country recently tuned into Dusty Springfield, southern USA accent and steel guitar riffs calling up images of endless highways through the desert. Shelby's got a good voice and a nice stage presence but I wasn't in the right place to appreciate her fully.

I don't know why, but I was incredibly tired and dozed off twice on the tube on the way to the Southbank despite being rattled around. Maybe it was because I'd already been out for the longest time today since coming out of hospital (doctor this morning and then up to the post office and provisions this afternoon) or maybe it was because I'd taken my painkillers before leaving to cushion me against being shaken about by London Transport? Whichever, I was bone-weary and not receptive. I need to work on the stamina thing.

The crowd loved her and were hers as soon as she walked on stage in tight leather trousers and shiny stiletto leather boots. The people around us seemed rather posh and there was definitely an early middle age thing going on (or that might just be the Royal Festival Hall effect). Shelby played a mix of old and new, with a nice segment of Dusty Springfield ballads from her new album early on in the show - 'Just A Little Lovin'', 'The Look Of Love', 'I Only Want To Be With You' (for some reason this conjoured up the version by The Tourists...) and 'Anyone Who Had A Heart' (and I, naturally, thought of Cilla). They were all around the same tempo and had me thinking more of a supper club show than a gig.

I quite liked some of the more up-tempo songs with more energy in them, like 'Willie And Laura Mae Jones' and 'The Day Johnny Met June'. I also liked her version of 'Polk Salad Annie' (a song I haven't heard in a couple of decades at least!).

The sound quality varied - sometimes I couldn't make out what Shelby was singing, since she seemed to get lost in the mix somewhere (I was at the edge of the hall in the stalls so that might be partly to blame). She certainly seemed to have a good time. She told us this was her first gig in London in seven years and seemed really grateful that people had turned out to see her - she needn't have worried on that score since her people loved her and gave her two standing ovations. I can't say I did but I'm open to be converted. When I'm not so tired, that is...

The Creatures - 'Standing There'

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Back Office Supplies

Today was a milestone in sorting myself out after my operation last week, the day the clips come out. Instead of stitches I had clips which, when I asked what they were, was told they were 'like staples'. Uh huh.

So, this morning I merrily trotted round to the doctors (metaphorically speaking, you understand) to have the clips removed by the nurse. There was some ouchness involved in this as I stood leaning against the bed and trousers daintily lowered slightly. I asked to see the clips, imagining they'd be slim bits of plastic used to hold the skin together over the wound. I surprised to see that the clips aren't 'like staples', they really *are* staples, small metal staples. The only assurance I have that the surgeon didn't just nip into the hearest office at the end of the operation to borrow a stapler to close me up is that the staples have a little dent in the middle that make them look other than normal office supplies... That makes me feel so much better.

The nurse counted them before removing them and counted them again when they were out to make sure she got them all out - 11 in total (correct). And a bit of blood, of course. She then covered it in a pad to protect it as it heals but used a ridiculously small amount of surgical tape to hold it in place. When I got home to check everything was ok the pad was clearly held in place by the waistband of my trousers. And I don't wear my trousers all the time so that's not a very good means of keeping it in place.

Luckily I'd got some water-proof dressings on my way home so removed the pad and had a look at the wound. Nicely red and raw, about 2" long and looking quite healthy (if you see what I mean). At the base of my spine and just above my bum, so perfectly placed for whatever I wear to rub against it. It took quite a while and was fiddley, trying to put the dressing on so that the padding was over the wound and not the sticky bit (imagine pulling that off and ripping open the scar....) but I did it and was quite proud of myself for it being such a neat job. Now I can have a proper shower again! I need to keep the wound dry for another 10 days for some reason (I'm sure I didn't last time, but hey ho) so I've got a few waterproof dressings. I'm a nurse now.

Amanda Palmer - 'The Point Of It All'

Oh, what a noble, distinguished collection of fine little friends you have made...

The Paralympics 2008

The Paralympics has closed today amid the expected splendour of Beijing and the embarrassment of the British bus again at the closing ceremony. To say our contribution was low key is an exaggeration - we can't compete with the mass synchronisation and the amazing spectacle of fireworks of the Chinese but do our ambitions have to be so small by comparison? Get yer fingers out people!

The Paralympics started the day before I went into hospital so I never really engaged with the event and that's my loss. We came (gulp) second in the medal table after China - an astonishing 42 gold medals and 102 medals in total. Well done to all in the team, that's an incredible result and should stand us in good stead for London in 2012.

It's amazing what people can do when they really want to.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008


I've been in total wimp mode since Thursday and have only left the house once, yesterday afternoon, to go to the doctor's surgery for a prescription for more pills and a medical certificate. Pills control the soreness (which isn't as bad as after last year's operation by any means) but only sleep and general doziness helps with the bone-weary tiredness. I've also had two days of cold/fever/shivering that sent me to bed to sweat it out (how pleasant). I suppose it's a reaction to being generally 'under the weather' following the op. Anything that kept me quiet and away from the laptop for two days must've been serious...

I'm feeling much better today, thank you, and looking forward to having the clips out tomorrow - I asked the doc what clips were and he said they were like plastic staples to save on stitching. So the surgeon couldn't be bothered to sew me up with a nice plain stitch (nothing fancy for me, thanks) so got out his staple gun to hold me together? Can't wait for the dressing to come off tomorrow and the nurse to un-staple me with the implement the hospital gave me. Watch out - there may be photos...

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Madonna - Sticky & Sweet at Wembley

I did something foolish on Thursday night. I went to see Madonna at Wembley. Not that seeing Madonna is foolish per se, but going to Wembley a few days after an operation is a bit daft to say the least. But I did it and I survived. Won't be doing it again though!

I ordered a nice, comfy cab there and back, grabbed my walking stick (newly decorated with silver stars) and dosed up on pain-killers but I still felt every twist and turn of the road in the rush-hour traffic, not to mention the speed-bumps (ouch - I said not to mention them) ... I regretted it almost immediately. Due to massive hold-ups around the north circular it took 1:45 hours to get there. At least arriving comparatively late meant that the crowds were already inside so it wasn't too bad walking into the stadium and finding our seats. We had a good view of the stage and the catwalk but Madonna was going to be *small*...

The advertised 8.30pm start time slipped and slipped until the lights went out after 9.00pm and then the razamataz started and the stage lit up and there she was, a tiny enthroned Madonna opening with 'Candy Store' surrounded by dancers. I've definitely been spoiled seeing Madonna up close at Wembley Arena on her last two tours - once the dancers got moving with Madonna weaving in and out I sometimes lost her and couldn't make out which writhing shape was her. Still, it made for a fine, sticky spectacle.

The emphasis was on the latest album, 'Hard Candy', but with a 25 year career behind her there were lots of old favourites as well and some standard Madonna moments, like the visual documentary culminating with Obama and McCain. It's always interesting to hear what she does to older songs, rarely playing them straight but a heavy metal (-ish) 'Borderline' was unexpected. Lights flashing, racing along the catwalk and around the stage, dancers appearing and disappearing, massive video screens and a great sound system all proclaimed a Madonna show.

The show wasn't as spectacular and showy as the 'Confessions' tour with it's great set pieces, but she can't keep doing the same kind of thing - that's not what she's for. It seemed more like a flashy gig than a 'show', and very guitar heavy. Because I kept half an eye on the video screens and half on the stage then I kept missing bits - where did the car come from? Suddenly a white car was on stage and moving down the catwalk at one point, then it was gone. And when will people realise that wearing black in a stadium means you vanish every now and then since people simply can't see you from a distance?

Madonna had her share of guest stars on video doing their part in various songs - Justin Timberlake on moveable video-columns during '4 Minutes', Kanye West and a delightful snapshot of Britney Spears saying, 'It's Britney, bitch' from a massive video screen, which was a nice touch. I thought Madonna looked better than on the 'Confessions' tour (or maybe it's because I was so far away) but she looked lithe and lean rather than over-muscley and sinewy. And she seemed to be having a ball, too.

I wasn't that keen on the version of 'Vogue' but loved 'Into The Groove' and 'Borderline'. The was a great latin/romany section with 'Spanish Lesson' and 'La Isla Bonita' that finished with a touching version of 'You Must Love Me' (it was odd that the crowd didn't respond until Madonna reached the chorus when, I assume, many people realised what the song was). That section was performed with a small band of 'gypsy' performers playing guitars while the dancers frolicked around them.

This section led on to the finale with Madonna in a space-age costume whipping it up for '4 Minutes' (but I'd seen that part of the show before on telly from the 'Hard Candy' gigs), 'Ray Of Light', 'Like A Prayer' and, of course, a guitar-based 'Hung Up'. But no 'I Love New York' (one of my favourites from the last tour). And it ended with an extended 'Give It 2 Me'. Two hours passed very quickly.

And what was the exit music after the show? 'God Save The Queen' by the Sex Pistols! O yes, hearing that pumped out into Wembley Stadium was a mini aural joy in itself.

We let the stadium largely empty before attempting to leave, me keeping just far enough away from people to avoid anyone accidentally touching my back, almost no steps (a great design innovation!) and using my stick to signal to people to keep their distance. Gingerly getting merch on the way out and swallowing more pain-killers for the taxi ride home while the madness of Wembley after an event swirled around me. The roads were gridlocked for ages and even after traffic started moving our taxi was still a mile away - it arrived a mere 50 minutes late but got us home in good time and, thankfully, due to the near-empty roads of the wee small hours, didn't need to take roads with speed-bumps!

It was great to see Madonna but I wouldn't travel again in this state - I couldn't have done it by public transport, strapped into a proper, comfortable cab was bad enough. I got home rather sore despite the pills and very tired, and I'm still feeling like that today (plus I lost my voice yesterday and am full of cold today). I don't even have the solace of the great close-up photos I took at the 'Confessions' tour... At least I was there!

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Amanda Palmer - 'Astronaut'

My friend, the Astronaut...

Amanda Palmer - 'Ampersand'

I'm not going to live my life on one side of an ampersand...

Amanda Palmer - 'Guitar Hero'

You're *my* guitar hero!

St George's and The Great Escape

In and out of St George's for a microdiscectomy and laminectomy in record time. In on Sunday, operation on Monday morning and out on Tuesday afternoon. And the surgeon didn't even do anything to my slipped disc, rather he cut out as much of the scar tissue as he could from previous operations which was clogging me up and 'cementing' against the spine, nerves and other organs, and cut off some bone (the laminectomy) to create more space for the nerves to move. And that was it.

I went in on Sunday afternoon, to Brodie Ward in Atkinson Morley Wing, which was odd since I'd been in Brodie Ward in Atkinson Morley's Hospital (when it was a hospital in Wimbledon) for my first microdiscectomy in 2000. The ward is split into bays with a different number of beds in each and I was in a bay of two beds, just me and another bloke who became the bane of my life what with his moaning and attention seeking at all hours of the day and night (mainly the night when he couldn't yammer away on his mobile to someone).

After a night of not much sleep I was woken at 6.40am for some tests, measured for some fetching white thigh-length stockings, showered and got into a backless ward-gown. Various doctors came to see me, check that I was me (repeating my name and date of birth endlessly), the anaesthetist came to explain what's what and check I could be sedated and then, about 8.15am I was wheeled through to the theatre. Again, they checked I was me, started putting needles in me and .... suddenly ... I was in post-op with a nurse leaning over me telling me it was all over and was a success. That was quick! Except it wasn't, it was a couple of hours later and I was wheeled back to the ward shortly after mid-day. All done, clipped together with 11 clips (instead of stitches), given pills (but no morphine machine, which was a disappointment) and lay in bed with a drip in my wrist and a drain out of my back taking away bits of scar tissue and debris.

I was full of drugs and they gave me pills every so often to keep me floating nicely, drifting in and out for a while, not too sore at all but not able to move because of the drip and drain. I even had a bit of late lunch and a cuppa. The surgeon came to see me to tell me what had been done - and that they hadn't accidently opened the nerve channel to let out nerve juices so I wouldn't need to lie in bed like last time, so that was good. Chris came in with supplies to keep me going and was there when the nurse became worried that I wasn't peeing despite drinking lots (they'd scraped scar tissue from around my bladder so had to be sure it wasn't affected). She came back with a portable scanner and proceeded to scan my belly to check my bladder and found it was full. Hey, I can't help it if I don't want to pee... I made up for it later though and filled two bottles - the night nurse was proud of me.

Despite being full of drugs I didn't get much sleep because the blokey started whinging as soon as visiting time was over, wanting the nurse, wanting his stockings (then wanting them off), huffing and puffing and getting himself into a right state until around 2am they gave him something to knock him out - he wasn't doing himself any favours by getting so stressed. The nurses kept apologising to me about him, which was nice of them, less so of him. He was obviously in pain and his way of handling it was to make a noise and make people run round after him. If I hadn't been stuck in bed I would've got up and left.

After a few hours sleep I was subjected to a few more tests in the morning, had the drip and drain removed, the wound re-dressed and was allowed up. Sitting up that first time is a painful experience I've had before, when all my body weight and the weight of the world focuses down on that wound where I've had bits of instruments and fingers in me... but it was so nice to sit up as well, and then, very gingerly, stand. Yay! I was up. A bit weak and light-headed so I held onto the frame of the bed as I moved round it to test my legs. Shortly afterwards I risked walking into the corridor to see how it felt to walk unaided (and partly to get away from loud blokey who was happy to be the centre of attention with the doctors this morning and then ringing everyone he could on his mobile to tell them the news).

More pills and lunch and I'm ready to leave. Staying in another day would've been for resting after the operation but I wasn't getting much of that so said I'd rather leave. Loaded down with pills and a letter to my GP to take the clips out in 10 days time and I was away! Stopping only to get some synthetic morphine pain-killers to dull the pain so I could get home. Chris came to get me and I was free again!

Of course, it took an age for the taxi to arrive and then the driver thought he'd be helpful and take the back streets to avoid the traffic and, naturally, all the back streets have speed-calming bumps so I was 'ouch! ouch! ouch!' all the way home as I was shaken, rattled and rolled all over the place. But at least I'm home! And I've finally slept like a baby.

I felt fine at first this morning, then the soreness started and I swallowed some pills. I'm getting about the flat ok but will leave it a day or so before trying the stairs to go out and start my daily walks as part of the recovery. I have a load of exercises to do and I'll start them this afternoon while lying on the bed. When I get the clips out and the dressing removed I'll start going swimming again and exercising more - I need to get fit again and lose a lot of weight so I don't end up going in for a fourth time... o no, I'm not!

And that's the tale of my operation this year. Hopefully the last one!

Sunday, 7 September 2008


Amanda Palmer's new record, 'Who Killed Amanda Palmer' is available for pre-order that includes instant access to download the album on Monday, a week ahead of the physical release, and lots of other goodies. Just click here to see the details...

So I went all zen... and had a ganga break

The chronology of my blog is starting to fray at the edges (a bit like me). A disaster struck on Friday and that's screwed with my personal time-space continuum. My iPod broke.

I'm powerless without my iPod. I can't remember the last time I went to work (or anywhere for that matter) without my own music shutting out the rest of the humanity and allowing me to arrive at work peaceful and contented (yeah, right). My iPod thought I had no music on it so wouldn't play, and no music was showing. But I've got over 15,000 songs on the damn thing, I thought! I tried a re-boot and nothing happened. So I went all zen and ignored it...

After work it was time to play again and what better way than a trip to see 'The Harder They Come' - yes, again! This was my fifth time of seeing it, seeing Ivan and Pinky and Elsa (mon), and Pedro telling us to have a ganga break at half time, of Ray Pierre telling us we're all 'huggly' during 'Pressure Drop' for not telling him where Ivan was hiding and a whole lot more. Derek Elroy who normally plays the bumbling Longa and smooth DJ Numero Uno also ended up playing the gun runner and the photographer due to absences so he was never off the stage. I know I only saw it last week but I wanted to squeeze in one more viewing before I go into hospital and it closes. Of course, if it goes on tour (and there is talk of that happening) then I'll probably be able to see it again at Wimbledon.

What a marvellous cast, singing and dancing to perfection. That show has certainly brightened my life recently and Pinky is one of the great stage creations in my eyes. Well done to all!

Of course, the first thing I did on getting home after the show was to plug my iPod into the laptop to see if I could fix it that way but, alas, that was not to be. So I restored it to factory settings and lost all my music... So, since then I've been burning CDs like crazy to fill it up before I go into hospital (likely to be this afternoon) so I've got something to listen to - and some choice of what I listen to. This time I'll leave the digital files on my laptop! Sigh.

X-Ray Spex at The Roundhouse

Tonight saw the long-awaited X-Ray Spex gig at The Roundhouse finally arrive - it was announced ages ago and I instantly bought tickets but I've actually been waiting 30 years for this gig and the chance to see Poly Styrene sing those magical songs. And I did see her right in front of me on stage in a black dress with a sparkly pink hat on the side of her head and pink scarf for a belt, Doc Martins on her feet. And what was the opening song? "Oh Bondage! Up Yours!" and heaven arrived on earth and it was loud.

We arrived at The Roundhouse and bombed up the stairs (well, -ish) to check out the merch stall. Purchases made, we headed upstairs to the bar and to lean over the banister people-watching and letting the excitement mount. This felt like a punk gig, lots of different people, all ages and genders wearing everything from weekend casual to pink and green mohicans in leather. It felt comfortable, more comfortable than the Pistols gig the other night which was just full of middle aged, fat beery men.

We didn't see the support band, Goldblade, but they sounded bog standard punk tribute band. Also didn't hear much of Don Lett's DJ set... but then the lights went down and over the speakers came those immortal words, "Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard..." and there she was, Miss Poly Styrene herself! X-Ray Spex always was Poly but it would've been nice to see Lora Logic on sax but, alas, that was not to be. Poly was all smiles and waves and seemed to be having the time of her life on stage with the surging and pogoing hoardes worshipping her from the floor of The Roundhouse. I worshipped from the balcony.

It's 30 years since 'Germfree Adolescents' was released and Poly played the whole album except for 'Age' and 'Plastic Bag' (my blog is named after that song). She also played a few songs from 'Conscious Consumer' - 'Cigarettes', 'Melancholy', 'Crystal Clear' and 'Junk Food Junkie' but not 'Party' (which I think is a great pop song). Poly is no longer the young punkstress of yesteryear (and who is?) but can still belt out a killer song - I was singing along and ran out of breath in some of the longer lines but she went at it like an old pro. I wonder what it feels like to be on that stage with the hoardes in front of you and wanting to hear those 30 year old songs that mean so much to many of us? She hasn't really done much publicly for a long time so it must be an odd feeling to step out on stage to all the cheering.

In true punk stylee, the encore was 'Oh Bondage! Up Yours!' with Poly's daughter up on stage singing and dancing along. Much clapping and shouting and on they came for a second encore with 'The Day The World Turned Dayglo'. Both songs had already been played in the set but that doesn't matter, they're both classics.

Normally I try to pick out the most memorable songs or performances from gigs to remember them by but in the case of X-Ray Spex I have to say that the whole gig was marvellous from start to finish. Poly Styrene was there in front of me and the world was right. I've waited 30 years for this gig and it didn't disappoint. It has that same kind of aura around it as the first time I saw at the Pistols at Brixton last year - that elated feeling of 'at last'! And I was 18 again. Only for a short while, but Poly worked her magic.

I've seen Poly sing 'Oh Bondage!', 'Dayglo', 'Identity', 'Poseur' and a host of fabulous songs that still have the power to speak to us today. Classic lines about teenage angst and more sophisticated views on consumerism and ecology (very forward looking for 1978) all backed up with raunchy and raw guitar and sax driven music. Who but Poly could write "Freddy tried to strangle me with my plastic popper beads but I hit him back with my pet rat..."?

Poly was and is an original. And it's been a privilege and an honour to see her on stage. And no little fun too!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Matthew Bourne's 'Dorian Gray'

Dorian is a waiter at a private party who is seduced by a photographer and then rockets to fame as a glamour model advertising a new aftershave ("I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar..." springs to mind). Lots of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll later and he's a dissolute rake involved in murder and death - queue the paparazzi. All the stereotypes are in here, all very meedja and the cult of the celebrity, the glory of beauty and youth, rampant mansex on vodka (the drugs were introduced in the next scene) and everyone dances round and poses in their pants at some point (except the leading lady).

Sadler's Wells is the venue for this brand spanking (ooer) new production from Matthew Bourne and the man himself was there tonight in the foyer. Sadlers Wells is a great venue and everyone gets a good view of the action on the stage. The staging was quite simple but effective, a turntable on stage changing the background scene almost every few minutes. This led to the main characters doing lots of walking and posing around the turntable - there was an awful lot of posing on stage.

The messages about media, celebrity and debauchery were drummed in with little subtlety. A short scene with Dorian on the Jonathan Ross Show with Four Poofs and a Piano was quite amusing but by that time I'd already got the message. There were lots of trademarked Bourne moves, with dancers sliding over one another and pulling odd shapes but I don't mind recognising some of his standard moves since they're good anyway. The music was a bit so-so in places - I didn't like the techno at the beginning for the photo shoot (itself a bit of a stereotype) but some of the more raucous guitar-driven rock tunes were good.

I won't spoil the ending for you by rehearsing it here but the *real* ending came after the dancers made their bows and the house lights came up and out from the speakers boomed Adam Ant's 'Prince Charming', a perfect way to end the show! The chorus of, "Ridicule is nothing to be scared of ... Dont you ever stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome..." is a wonderful note to leave the theatre to, a final joke from Mr Bourne!

Since it's a new production then there aren't many photos available yet so I've been on Matthew's New Adventures website and found some photos from Edinburgh by Bill Cooper to give you a flavour of the pants-filled sex-obsessed production. I invented a new word for gay rampant mansex at half-time over a beer - gampant!

Much kudos to Richard Winsor as Dorian, Michela Meazza as the lady PR exec and sometime lover and to Aaron Sillis as the photographer who makes and ultimately breaks Dorian as he descends into meedja hell.

'Dorian Gray' doesn't have the joy and elation of 'Swan Lake' or 'Nutcracker' but I'd like to see it again. I've got no doubt that I'll see lots of things on that stage I didn't see tonight - multiple viewings usually pay dividends.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

'Yes We Can' - Boy George

I *like* this!

Sex Pistols at Hammersmith Apollo

"Two cocktail sticks and two cocktail drinkers" is how Mr Lydon described the Sex Pistols in response to unkind chants of 'you fat bastard', saying that the audience had a choice of who they meant. Glen and Paul are thin, John and Steve are, um, less so... I describe them as magnificent!

This was the final night of their Combine Harvester tour (yes, I bought the tee shirt) and the Pistols were on top form, savage guitar-driven songs with John's vitriolic lyrics spat at the audience. The lights were better than Brixton last year but the sound mix wasn't as good. But they were loud.

Onto the stage they strode while Vera Lynn's 'There'll Always Be An England' faded in the background and they started playing the 'country' version of 'Pretty Vacant' before exploding into guitar riff heaven with the proper version. And then they were off and running, playing all their classics and all playing their roles, with John as front man in all his sartorial elegance (although I liked Steve's jacket). John teased and taunted us, skipping across the stage pulling grotesque shapes and keeping us entertained and focused on him.

'Pretty Vacant', 'Holidays In The Sun' and 'God Save The Queen' were, of course, played, along with excellent versions of 'New York', 'Stepping Stone' and an excellent extended version of 'No Fun' that just got faster and faster during the long outro. We sang happy birthday to Steve (or Fatty as John called him) whose birthday is today. A total surprise for me was that they played 'Belsen Was A Gas' with new verses about oil and Iraq and George Bush. Further surprises were in store.

The first encore was 'Bodies' and an extended version of 'Anarchy In The UK'. The second encore opened with 'Silver Machine' (many of the audience seemed to have no idea what the song was) and 'Roadrunner'. Truly excellent stuff!

I had a great time, singing myself hoarse into the bargain. The downsides to the gig were, as ever, the venue and the audience. All those lithe young speedfreaks of yesteryear are now fat, middle-aged, half-pissed men having a night out away from the wife and kids. The audience must've been 90% male and middle-aged. Why do some idiots feel they have a right to throw bottles and glasses at the stage (and at John in particular)? It's pathetic.

But I have witnessed glory. I have no idea when they might re-surface again but, if at all possible, I'll be there. A benediction of Pistols is not to be missed!