Sunday, 28 June 2009

Ray Davies at Kenwood House

As part of the English Heritage series of concerts at Kenwood House, Ray Davies played a one-off concert last night with the Crouch End Festival Choir to showcase his new record, 'The Kinks Choral Collection'. After the joy of seeing him in his musical, 'Come Dancing, last year, we had to go.

A hot, humid day suggested sandals, shorts and summer shirt, so, duly attired, off I go to get the tube to Archway and a bus to Kenwood. Things are never that simple. While I was sweltering on the tube, above ground Mother Nature decided that north London needed a clean (and, let's face it, it does) and promptly sent a deluge of rain. My train was stuck at Kings Cross for about 15 minutes and we were given garbled messages about trains being cancelled and stations closing due to floods. Half an hour late I got to Archway to meet Chris and the weather had changed, overcast and cooler, signs of the deluge everywhere, and me in sandals and shorts. O well. Then the only bus route to Kenwood decided it didn't want to play and the supposed buses every 8-12 minutes turned into only one in 35 minutes. But we got on and crawled round the leafy lanes of Hampstead to Kenwood.

Everything was soaked at Kenwood, of course, and an outdoors concert in the park started to sound amusing. We were late so joined the queues for food and beer - the only food available seemed to be burgers (so I just had an empty bun) and the queue for booze was huge so we settled for cans of diet coke from the burger stand. Chris spotted some see-through plastic bin bags so I grabbed some to sit on if the deck chairs were wet. The concert started while we still waiting to be served so we missed the first couple of songs by Ray and his band, but I yearned to be in front of the stage as I heard the opening song, 'I'm Not Like Everybody Else' drift over the rolling parklands. Buns and cans in hand, we scrambled through the wet grass to the deck chair area and found our seats (red and white striped deck chairs) and settled down for the concert.

So, after all these years, there was Ray Davies on stage in front of me with his band, not The Kinks, but they were playing Kinks songs and just as they started 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashioner' I felt the first drops from the sky. That was the signal for me to remember my past and use my punk sensibilities to develop my own fashion-wear from the plastic bin liner I'd grabbed earlier. Ripping down one side of the bin liner I made an all-weather see-through raincoat-with-hood proving that I am, indeed, a dedicated follower of fashion. So there I am, sitting on a deckchair on a hill in Kenwood park, head under a brolly and the rest of me covered by a big plastic bag, dressed in sandals and shorts, my back soaked from the accumulated drips from the brolly - it was all terribly laughable, trying to enjoy the concert, keep our spirits up and keep dry. And singing along to 'Sunny Afternoon' and 'A Well Respected Man'. But, with help from Mr Davies, we succeeded - I had a great time!

It must've been awful for Ray looking out on empty deck chairs as people scurried off to get out of the rain and a sea of umbrellas. This was his big public presentation of his new record and he was great, joking about the rain and encouraging us to sing along and well done to the brave folks down the front who ignored the rain and just danced and sang throughout the set.

The set started with Ray and his band playing Kinks classics and then on came the Crouch End Festival Choir to sing the songs from the new album. They then left and we were treated to a finale and an encore, and, ah, what a finale... The songs with the choir worked really well live, and I was singing along to the beat of raindrops on my brolly. I couldn't always see very well because of the enormous brolly in front of me but hey-ho. When he opened the 'Village Green' section Ray mentioned that the photo on the cover of the album was taken just up the hill from where the stage was.

I particularly liked the very tender version of 'Days' (Chris was singing along in Kirsty MacColl vocals), 'You Really Got Me' was electric, a marvellous 'Waterloo Sunset' and a storming 'All Day And All Of The Night' closed the choral part of the set. By that time we had to stand up and ignore the soaking rain and stop worrying about the sight-lines of people behind because of brollies. It's a good job we did because the first chords of a familiar song were strummed as the choir left the stage and Ray ripped into 'Lola', the first 7" single I ever got, way back in 1970.

Waving and saying goodnight, the band left the stage but came back immediately to play a fun version of 'Low Budget' before sending us away happy and smiling. I was smiling in particular because I'd finally seen Ray Davies sing 'Lola' on stage in front of me - all the damp frustrations of the evening were worth it for that one song. I still feel elated at the memory of singing along to 'Lola' with Ray - it's only been 39 years...

Then came the joy of getting home but rather than trust the bus and tube services in deluged north west London I ordered a taxi. To continue the traffic mayhem, the taxi seemed to get stuck in a traffic jam every few miles, particularly on Park Lane where something had obviously been happening in Hyde Park judging by the people streaming out of it. Ah well, I'd had a fun night, laughing in the rain, singing along to some classic songs and seeing a legend on stage. Um, next time, let's just play a boring old concert hall, eh, Ray?

Friday, 26 June 2009

Motown Legends

Last night we went to see the 'Motown Legends' revue at Wembley Arena. On the way home Chris texted to say that Michael Jackson had died. That was a bit of a downer so soon after seeing legends from the '60s strut their very funky stuff. Michael was the biggest Motown star even though it all happened after he left the label, but all the Motowners left at some stage.

The Motown Legends revue is touring the UK this week, different arenas each night for a week and last night was time to touch down in London at Wembley. I was a bit nervous about how full the arena would be but I shouldn't have worried - it wasn't sold out (boo!) but it was full, with a sprinkling of girls in their 20s and the majority of punters being aged 40+ determined to partay!

First up was Junior Walker's All Stars who did a few songs and then left the stage while swathes of the audience were still trying to find their seats (including us) in the darkened arena. Junior died in the '90s and I don't know who any of the current band are but they belted it out nonetheless. Next up were The Miracles, without Smokey (obviously) and with only one surviving original member who sat on a stool doing the arm movements but none of the dance moves (and I don't blame him at all). They were fun and a good act but a little bit tribute act. Then the real stars emerged...

Martha Reeves and The Vandellas were, it has to be said, utterly fab (as ever)! Martha was, of course, centre stage, flanked by sister Lois (who became a Vandella in 1968) and baby sister Delphine (a Vandella since 1980). They are utterly professional, curtsying at the end of each song, graciously accepting our applause and being delightful. Lois was being a bit flirty with the front rows and Delphine looks a bit sleeker than when we saw the lasses before Christmas and Martha was, well, Martha, commanding the stage and audience with astonishing show-womanship and complete confidence. I've seen her do it before, but I love the way she reels off big names who've covered 'Dancing In The Street' and repeats, 'But it's *our* song!'. It is indeed!

In an appalling lack of judgement on behalf of the musical director, Martha only had four songs - with their back catalogue that's a significant error. But they sang the biggies - 'Heatwave' (very appropriate at the moment), 'Jimmy Mack', 'Nowhere To Run' and 'Dancing In The Street', all classics. All the lasses were on top form, I just wish we'd been closer to the stage. I have fond memories of their show at the Bloomsbury Ballroom just before Christmas and the pleasure of meeting them afterwards.

Then it was the turn of Mary Wilson (billed as 'of The Supremes') to take the stage in a no-captives manoeuvre, striding back and forth in a figure-hugging red dress and using her powerful voice to amazing effect. She may have 'oo'd and ah'd' on the Supremes records, but this lady really can sing! Her voice is very different to Diana Ross's so her take on the songs sounded really fresh. She's also the only member of the Supremes who was in all the different incarnations through the '60s and '70s.

She sang a range of Supremes hits and medleys, packing in as many as possible - it's odd to think how many hits they had back then that I could sing along to without thought. There was a lovely moment in the last few songs when she mentioned the 'Dreamgirls' film and said it wasn't the story of the Supremes but that some of the stories were close, such as the character of Effie being close to Florence Ballard who died in the '70s. She then said she was sure that if Florence was alive she'd join her on stage and then sang 'I Am Changing'. That was very touching and received a much deserved standing ovation. She proudly said that she was 65 years old and Motown was celebrating its 50th year. She looks good on it, too!

Then there was a half-time so we headed to the bars to have a drink before leaving - the Commodores were headlining but I've never been that interested in them so I was happy to leave early. It was also a testament to the age of the crowd to have a queue for the men's toilet full of men in their 50s and 60s with (I assume) problems 'down there' - mind you, I was in the queue as well ...

Getting home is always the problem, with tubes and trains and buses, most of which seemed to have difficulties last night, so, after nearly two hours I was on the bus on the final leg and received the text about Michael Jackson. That was a damper on the euphoria generated by the Motown lasses.

I won't claim to be a fan because I wasn't. I preferred the Jackson 5 to the Osmonds in the early '70s and I liked the re-emergence of the Jacksons in disco heaven later in the decade. I liked Michael's singles but I didn't get any of the albums (no, not even 'Thriller'). Irrespective of the massive sales and global superstardom, Michael and Quincey Jones changed the face of pop music in the early '80s and we're still reaping the whirlwind of that and should be grateful that he opened up and explored new avenues for music. I may be in a minority (of millions) but I actually like songs like 'Scream'.

His death is sad. Let's hope that his legacy is about music and video and invention and re-invention rather than the more personal stories that have dogged him in recent years. I haven't read enough to have a view on whether any of his strangeness is real or not. I will remember Michael for 'ABC', 'Rock With You', 'Thriller', 'Bad' and 'Scream', for dance moves and strange vocalisations, for killer beats and stage presence. The rest of it I'll ignore. It was nice to hear the tribute on Radio 4's 'Today' programme this morning that ended with 'I Want You Back' and then silence.

Michael was born two years before me. Look at what he achieved and marvel.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Buffy Sainte-Marie - 'Cho Cho Fire'

After a long day at work I had a great message on the Buffy wires about a concert to celebrate Canada’s National Aboriginal Day on 20 June at The Forks, Winnipeg's historic trading post. And some kind soul filmed Buffy singing 'Cho Cho Fire' and posted it on YouTube - thank you Fearless13Z!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Druids and Peace

Today is the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, and that means the druids head to Stonehenge for ancient celebrations, joined by about 36,000 people (I assume hair and beards were well represented). Unfortunately, the lovely British summer meant overcast skies obscured the sun, but that doesn't dampen the spirits - we're a hardy island breed.

On the other side of the Atlantic there's a different celebration today. It's the 40th anniversary of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's bed peace and the World March For Peace is inviting people to go to Central Park in New York to create a giant peace symbol. Yoko has sent a message of support:

Message from Yoko Ono
To meditate on - as you are in bed!
“Imagine all the people living in peace” - as John said.
Remember, each one of us has the power to change the world.
Power works in mysterious ways.
You don’t have to do much.
Visualise the domino effect
And just start thinking PEACE.
The message will circulate faster than you think.
It’s Time For Action.
The Action is PEACE.
Spread the word.
Spread PEACE.
I love you!
Yoko Ono
21 June 2009

If you're in New York why not go along? Wear white.

OK, that's enough of this hippy stuff. Luckily I'm listening to The B-52's as I type and their sonic madness is saving me from the brink of hippydom. Phew! That was close...

Happy Solstice!

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Pet Shop Boys at The O2

The final night out in our Gadding About Week was a trip along to Docklands to the O2 arena to see the Pet Shop Boys and their Pandemonium Tour.

First up was Frankmusik who was, um, well, he was. The sound was quite thin and echo-y so he probably sounds a lot better on record, but I wasn't impressed. His voice and phrasing made me think of the '80s and the way he dressed (skinny jeans, light jacket and garish shoes) and moved (jump up and down and jump to the side) made me think of Plastic Bertrand... Lack of stage presence didn't help. He did one song, about 'your boyfriend' or something that sounded quite fun. Then out to the bar for the interval before the main event.

The backdrop was two walls of big boxes/cubes and when the PSB lads walked on stage they had cubes over their heads, with Neil singing 'Heart' and an animated heart and veins projected onto the walls. The cubes came off the PSBs but the walls stayed for the first half dozen songs or so with various things projected, including the colour tapestry of squares that features on the tick on the cover of 'Yes', the latest album being promoted on the tour (the same design effects covered Chris's dj booth). Then the wall was pulled down and the cubes re-arranged loads of times into different sets with the backdrop behind becoming the display wall for the barrage of lights - it was a great idea for a set and I loved the men in white coats and caps coming on every few songs to re-arrange the boxes that made them a part of the show as well as the four dancers that often wore the cube-heads.

The sound for the PSBs was much better, much fuller, and Neil could clearly be heard. The focus was on songs from 'Yes', at least in the first half of the show which is understandable, but I think I'd have preferred some of the songs to come later in the set. 'Love, Etc', 'Did You See Me Coming?' and 'Pandemonium' (the name of the tour) would have been better coming later in the set as highlights (they're all excellent songs) rather than in the first part of the set when you're still getting into the experience. All three were highlights and great fun live.

With a back catalogue like the Pets there's always going to a problem in constructing a setlist to please everyone but I thought it worked really well, with lots of light and shade, joy and drama. A couple less slow songs would work for me and I'd hoped for 'The Sodom and Gomorrah Show' but my hopes were dashed. On the other hand, there were fab versions of 'It's A Sin' with the set flooded in red lights, a frantic 'Suburbia', a majestic 'All Over The World', a joyous 'Se A Vida E', a touching 'Being Boring' and a mad 'Go West'. There's something for everyone in the PSB songbook.

I had been nurturing a quiet little hope that Neil might introduce a special guest at some point to duet on a song ... okay, to be blunt, I wanted Phil Oakey to walk on stage to sing 'This Used To Be The Future' with Neil and Chris but they didn't play it. It was a silly hope, but a hope nonetheless. My spirits rose with this possibility with the first few synth-chords of the final encore song, harsh electronica from the '80s that turned into a hard (and fab) version of 'West End Girls'. No Mr Oakey but a great version of their classic hit that was impossible not to sing along to.

The Boys turned in a very confident and powerful performance, an evolving set changing behind them and a great light and projection show. Neil loved his black coats and hats while Chris was bit more sparkley in a Noddy Holder inspired mirrored jacket at one point. Chris also won the hat competition in the encore songs by wearing a tropical garden on his head (see the photo above with Chris in the white dj booth) - I *want* that hat!

And yes, I've already scored tickets for their show back at the O2 just before Christmas - I'm hoping for Christmas trees and carols... in a PSB-stylee of course.

Amanda in London

If that minx, Amanda Palmer, thinks she can sneak into London, play a gig and escape again without giving me a great big hug then she's got another think coming. Tickets for her gig at the Union Chapel on 12 September have been duly acquired.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Patti Smith at The Royal Festival Hall

Back to The Royal Festival Hall for the second time this week for a date with Patti Smith. I didn't really know what to expect since she was billed as playing with The Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra rather her own band. Tickets sold so quickly that the best I could get was half-way back in the balcony.

The lights went down as Patti walked on stage, adjusted the mic, picked up a book and started reading 'Piss Factory'. Now there's a thrill. And that set the tone for the rest of the evening, more a recital of her poems with sonic backing than a concert, with a few songs thrown in for good measure. I like listening to her, her voice is mesmerising and she has undoubted skill with words, conjuring up images and emotions before discarding them and moving on. She was accompanied variously by her daughter on piano, by the guitarist from Portishead, by a Tuareg pipes and drum band from North Africa, by Flea and by the Mt Zion Orchestra.

I was delighted that one of the few songs she played was 'My Blakean Year' which instantly sent me back a few years to when Patti curated the Meltdown festival and held two Blake inspired nights based on his 'Songs of Innocence and Experience'. I went to the 'Experience' night which was made up of Brecht and Weill songs sung by a variety of people from different traditions. One of the artists that night was a band called The Dresden Dolls that performed one song and then, later, a certain Amanda Palmer sang one song. The Dolls performed a short set after the show in the bar area and after that I bought their CD and Ms Palmer signed it for me with a flourish and twinkle in her eye and I was entranced forever. So, thank you Patti, for introducing me to the Dolls.

The encore was made up of two songs, 'Pissing In The River' and 'Ghost Dance', both of which sounded great with the added strings from the Mt Zion Orchestra. It was a great ending to the show and Patti even got down from the stage to roam around the crowd in the stalls, which was nice. A few more songs would've been welcomed but I enjoyed the evening anyway - Patti always gives good show and it's a pleasure to be in her presence.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Two Legends

I bought two new albums from two '60s legends on Monday and I'm pleased I did.

Ray Davies - 'The Kinks Choral Collection'

This is Ray's new album of Kinks classics with The Crouch End Festival Choir and it's a great record. He's re-recorded some great Kinks songs with the choir adding a new dimension to the songs - it's not pretending to be the Kinks of the '60s, it's definitely Ray in the '00s with more voices behind and beside him.

It opens with 'Days', one of my favourite songs, and I love the way Ray's voice almost cracks a couple of times, like a man looking back on his youth remembering the glory days. And he probably is. 'Waterloo Sunset' is marvellous and I loved listening to it last night walking along the South Bank by Waterloo Bridge.

It's a lovely selection of songs plus a 'medley' of five songs from 'The Village Green Preservation Society' and 'Working Man's Cafe', the title track from Ray's last solo album. All have the choir doing their stuff in and around Ray's voice and the music. The only track I have second thoughts about is 'You Really Got Me' where the guitar is so obviously not played by Dave Davies - I've heard that song thousands of times over the last 30 years.

I'm seeing Ray in two weeks time with the choir and I'm really looking forward to it. The album runs to just under one hour so I'm assuming the live show will have more songs and it'll be interesting to hear what they are. I'll be playing this album a lot over the summer.

George Harrison - 'Let It Roll: Songs By George Harrison'

George died nearly eight years ago and we finally have a new 'best of' - it's worth the wait. I've always had a soft spot for George - I bought 'All Things Must Pass' and 'Material World' back in the mid-'70s and have been investing in CDs over the last couple of years. Ringo brought out his 'best of' last year so it's about time we had a proper George 'best of'.

It's a nicely package CD in a cardboard cover and a thick booklet with previously unseen photos and a new essay. More importantly, it's a nice selection of songs, and not just the obvious ones - some I have, some I remember hearing and others are totally unheard. That's the sign of a good 'best of' - it tells me that's there are more great George songs to hear on albums I don't have, at least at the moment.

The record includes the obvious songs of 'My Sweet Lord', 'Got My Mind Set On You', 'Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)' and 'When We Was Fab'. But it also includes songs that I didn't know like 'Any Road' and 'This Is Love' which are new to me. And all of them sound excellent in remastered format. I'm quite pleased that the three Beatles songs by George are live versions from the Concert for Bangladesh (the originals are available in so many different formats already) and they sound excellent, the crowd in the background and George's voice and guitar up front.

It makes for a great listen and a reminder of how talented Mr Harrison really was - everyone should have this CD in their collection. Something I was pleased to see when I scanned the back cover of the CD, under the track listing, is the statement, 'All Glories to Sri Krsna'. I say all honours to George.

'The Winter's Tale' at The Old Vic

Last night we went to see another Shakespeare play, 'The Winter's Tale' at The Old Vic. Now, I know The Old Vic is a venerable old theatre and has been there in various incarnations for nigh on 200 years, but it's not one of my favourites, the seats are far too low and wonky and one of them attacked me. O yes, I was attached by a theatre last night. Read on for the thrilling climax (as 'twere).

Anyway, back to Shakespeare. I read the play three decades ago and bits of it were familiar but I've never seen it performed. When almost the first voice in the play had a distinct American accent (I've no idea whether the actor is American or not) I was a bit thrown. Closely followed by a plummy female voice that was a bit difficult to follow (diction dear, practice your diction). And then, later, the hillbillies wandered on stage. Hillbillies? In an Elizabethan play? Surely not... was I in the right theatre? All of this after a group of young people wandered noisily into the balcony just when the main actor was starting his spiral into jealousy and despair and he paused to let them settle... well, it was an interesting night.

Anyway, back to Shakespeare (again). The play is part of a double bill with 'The Cherry Orchard' (which I am *not* seeing so don't ask), both directed by Sam Mendes as part of The Bridge Project, between London and New York and funded by an American bank (which presumably explains the hillbillies). The only name in it for me was Simon Russell Beale (as King Leontes) who I enjoyed immensely when he played opposite Zoe Wannamaker last year in 'Much Ado About Nothing' (in fact, it nearly won a Baggie!).

It's the tale of the loss of an old frienship between two kings, one the king of Sicilia of which we only see the court, and the other is the king of rustic Bohemia. Leontes, the courtly king, falls jealous of the frienship between his pregnant wife and his best and oldest friend and he convinces himself that the child is not his. Totally irrational, as jealousies tend to be, and Mr Beale describes the descent into green despair very well indeed. Disaster follows (of course), the babe is born and rescued and the mother dies. Only then does Leontes recognise his own grave errors. It's all quite harrowing and very effective. And then the babe is discovered on a hill in Bohemia and her saviour is killed by an actor in a bad bear costume... c'mon, he didn't even go 'ggrrr' or anything. And the first of the hillbillies emerge...

The second half is most unsatisfying, with hillbillies singing and dancing in the most stereotyped way imaginable. There is a long scene with the 'rustics' which takes place 16 years later when the babe has grown up and fallen in love with the prince of Bohemia and I can see how this leavens the deeply serious first half, but there are so many ways this could be played and we were given hillbillies. Now, I don't mean to be nasty about hillbillies and if you're one, then good on ya, but I'm afraid it really grated on me and I kept looking at my watch. I really wanted to like it - it was brash and colourful, the prince had a great scarf and it had loads of balloons tied to the backs of chairs - normally ingredients designed to make me happy. But it was a relief when we finally make it back to courtly Sicilia for the final few scenes.

So, did I like it? Um, no, not really. Some of the audience gave the players a standing ovation while I looked on bemused and hoping they'd stop clapping soon so I could politely leave. The production just didn't do it for me. Why were the royals barefoot much of the time? I am puzzled.

I'm trying not to be influenced by being attacked by the theatre but that might affect my judgement in a teeny tiny way. All I'd done was buy some vanilla ice-cream. Squeezing past people who remained seated to get to my seat in the middle of the row the pocket of my trousers somehow caught a sharp bit on the seat in front of my row and ripped my trousers open at the top of my thigh. A few inches in the other direction and that could have been potentially painful. So there I am, with a three inch rip in my trousers exposing a hairy thigh. O dear, how common, how... hillbilly. And to cap it all, I thought I'd be clever and get the tube to Brixton followed by a bus to the end of my road rather than the longer but easier journey home down the Northern Line and what happens? A police roadblock at the bottom of Brixton Hill stopped all traffic for about 10 minutes - I've no idea what the problem was, but it rounded off my evening nicely. Hummm.

On the way to the theatre I was joking about hoping there'd be snow in the play - it's got 'winter' in the title after all - and I think it would've been so much more satisfying if it did have snow. And maybe David Essex singing 'A Winter's Tale'. I'd pay to see that.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band at The Royal Festival Hall

This evening Yoko Ono and her Plastic Ono Band played a concert at the Royal Festival Hall as part of this years' Meltdown festival. I saw Yoko sharing a stage with Patti Smith a few years ago but have never seen her in a full concert of her own material. So tonight was the night.

The tickets sold very quickly so we were sitting in the rear stalls with an odd crowd around us, loads of middle aged interspersed with young studenty-types. I had no idea what to expect and then suddenly there was a band picking up instruments, a few chords and then on came the tiny figure of Yoko Ono, dressed in black with a big white cap. We were in the presence of a legend.

Thunderous sound erupted, solid bass and drums, three sets of keyboards, vicious guitar riffs and the wailing scream of Yoko, alternating with speaking and singing, great percussion. How to describe the music? I can't.

Yoko sang a surprising number of old - really old - songs, like 'Open Your Box,' 'Don't Worry, Kyoko' and finished the show with 'Mindtrain' (with Ornette Coleman on sax). She was surrounded by names, with Mark Ronson on bass for a few songs, Anthony Hegarty singing a couple of songs with Yoko (including a lovely version of 'Toyboat') and, of course, Sean Lennon was her band-leader doing his best to re-create the mad guitar sounds of her early records and, later, his own band supporting Yoko on songs from 'Rising'. She also sang a couple of songs from the next album (due in September) including the title track, 'Between The Sky And My Head' (also the title of her exhibition at the Gateshead Baltic gallery last year). She mentioned a couple of times that she was booed when she played London 40 years ago and that made her nervous about tonight. She also said that she had to look up the words to the old songs since she forgets them to create space in her head for new songs.

In true avant-garde style, about three quarters of the way through the concert a big screen unfurled and we were treated to a fly crawling over a woman's naked body, up her leg, around her pubic area and then into her ear and over her lips while Yoko and band merrily continued the sonic barrage. At the end, the screen was also used to show us how to use the Onochord, a small light we were given on the way in that Yoko uses as part of her art shows and installations and she showed us how to say 'I Love You' with light flashes. I *love* my Onochord and flashed it liberally during the concert.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - love her or hate her, the world is better for someone like Yoko in it and I'm delighted and honoured to have seen her tonight.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Amanda Palmer - The DVD!

A little bit of excitement has run around the Plastic Bag at the news that Amanda's long-awaited DVD of the 'Who Killed Amanda Palmer' video series will be out on DVD, possibly within days.

I'm not entirely sure what's happening since Amanda hasn't said anything about it but Roadrunner says it'll be available on 16 June (which I assume is in Americaland) and Amazon has it for release on 29 June. Whichever, I will, of course, track it down and then wallow in the video glories of Miss Palmer.

Poly Styrene at Love Music Hate Racism 2008

The most marvellous Ms Poly Styrene singing 'Oh Bondage!' at the Love Music Hate Racism festival in 2008. I've only just found this clip and it's making me yearn for the DVD of the Roundhouse gig last year. The sound isn't great but that's hardly the point...

Thursday, 11 June 2009

'All's Well That Ends Well' at The National Theatre

Verily, I prithee, twas fab, o yes, twas fab. As part of my I-must-see-more-Shakespeare hobby, we went to see 'All's Well That Ends Well' at the National Theatre, a play I've never seen or read, so it was nice and fresh.

As soon as I walked into the Olivier I knew I'd be entranced - the set said it all. This would be a magical experience, with towering castle turrets surmounted by weedy trees, golden doors, mist and atmosphere a-plenty, not to mention the giant beetles crawling over the projected background (that later turned into wolves and a blinking owl). I was immediately reminded of the Gormenghast world created by Mervyn Peake (the books, not the TV series), the gothic wierdness perfectly suiting the play. The National Theatre should sell postcards of the sets and performances - I'd buy some of this production. It was gorgeously designed and lit, the king's crown sparkling like a disco ball, the stylised costumes, the minimal props set off my the elaborate sets. I kept my eyes open for the next subtle change in the magical world on the stage.

The queen of the play was Michelle Terry as Helena, the lowly doctor's daughter who dares to fall in love with a young count. She gave a great performance at the centre of the play and had great sparkly shoes for the wedding scene. But, as ever with Mr Shakespeare, I yearn for a bit more morality - Helena is such a strong character yet she does the usual thing of forgiving the count for his atrocious behaviour towards her as soon as he smiles at the end (and so does everyone else). She should kick him in the groin and walk off, obnoxious twat that he is.

If you've never seen 'All's Well' then I'd recommend this production, which is really excellent. Just don't go on a night when there's a tube strike - getting home afterwards is a bit of a pain!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Love Unedited

Dear Reader, would you mind if I vent my spleen for a moment? It should've been me, o yes, it should've been me...

What am I talking about? You mean you don't know? My Amanda Palmer, I mean, *my* Amanda Palmer, has just announced that she's dating (yes, you know what *dating* means) Neil Gaiman.

Now, I hate to parade my dirty linen in public, but the way I thought this story worked out is that Amanda married *me*. I'm the one that got the special hug at the Electric Ballroom gig in the snow - was I reading the signs wrong? Should I write an internationally best-selling book? What do I have to do?

Amanda says (in her latest blog):

we've been dating for a while, and while not actually keeping it a shut-up-shut-up secret, we've been not advertising it because....errrr, why do that? but it's at the point where it's just dumb so: yes. i'm dating neil gaiman. and moreover, he's dating me. (very handy).
and more than that, i truly love him. i do.

the man makes me so, so, so, so happy. finding someone who understands me...really, really understands a miracle. it's never been this easy. we don't need to change each other at all. it may sound absurd but he's the only man i've ever met who's willing to love me unedited, to take me as i am, completely, utt
erly. it's been a bitch of a life, this one, running around and touring and working and trying trying to figure out this job and also trying to find real love that works. it's near impossible. neil gets it. he gets what i do, he gets who i am, he gets how i work, inside and out, and as my friend anthony would say: he loves me despite knowing me. and i get him. i love every inch of his self. and so that's that. i think i should keep him around, eh? he can also write, cook, sing, drive stickshift, beekeep and give great neckrubs. but the man cannot play a tambourine in rhythm to save his LIFE. can't have it all.

I can live with it, Amanda, so long as you're happy. But woe betide that Gaiman bloke if he makes you unhappy...

Buffy Sainte-Marie - 'No No Keshagesh'

Go on, take a look and a listen. This is Buffy's new video for 'No No Keshagesh', a new type of protest song for the new millennium, an attack on corporate greed and environmental rape, with Keshagesh as the greedy-guts puppy who keeps eating and eating and putting nothing back. With pow wow drums and singing, looped tapes and some great guitar work. I love the pow wow dancing at the end, heightening and building to a climax. I am *so* looking forward to seeing Buffy perform this live at the end of July. With thanks to Michael for posting this first (again!).

Not got tickets yet? Shame on you - click on over to the Queen Elizabeth Hall site to buy the last few while you can.

PS: I just wish her record company could spell her name right in the title...

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Euro Shame

It's a shameful night for the country when the British National Party wins it's first ever seat in the European Parliament for the Yorkshire & Humberside region.

The BNP has been making ridiculous statements about wanting to go back to how the country was in the post-war days, pulling together and showing one face to Europe which also, in a not very subtle reading between the lines, means before the mass immigration from the Commonwealth in the '50s. It's rather galling that the BNP is a fascist party and the last war was all about defeating the cancer of fascism but they're playing on it.

There's little doubt that this is a protest vote against the Government, just as Wales voting Conservative rather than Labour or Plaid Cymru, is a protest. This does not bode well.

Can we rely on the Government to do anything about this, about fascism and a party of hate? Perhaps we need to learn the lessons of the late '70s again, where people got political and took matters into their own hands and organised movements like Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League. Perhaps we need to do so again.

UPDATE 9 June: Astonishingly the BNP later won a second seat, this time for the North West where they polled less that in the 2004 election but, because of the drop in the number of people who voted, they actually won a seat since their share of the vote increased. That is appalling.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The Kinks Choral Collection

We're going to see Ray Davies at Kenwood House at the end of the month as part of the English Heritage series of concerts. He'll be accompanied by the Crouch End Festival Chorus and I've just found out why.

Mr Davies has a new album out in a weeks' time, 'The Kinks Choral Collection' by Ray and the Crouch End Festival Chorus. It's made up of new versions of Kinks classics which sounds intriguing. I will, of course, watch out for it but I'm slightly disappointed that Ray didn't follow the theme of Kinks' '60s albums where any word that could take it began with a K - this should really be called The Kinks Khoral Kollection. Or maybe not...

Still, it should be fun reclining in a deckchair for the concert. I just hope it doesn't rain...

Friday, 5 June 2009

'Goodnight Jim Bob' by Jim Bob

I've been reading 'Goodnight Jim Bob', subtitled, 'On The Road With Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine' by Jim Bob, aka Jim Morrison (not the Doors one, the Carter USM one). And it gives you what it says on the front, the tales of the road with Carter, not about being in the studio or anywhere else. It's drawn from Jim Bob's diary from the late '80s to late '90s and includes a list of virtually every gig they played.

There are no tales of sex or drugs, but lots of stories about alcoholic excess and being drunk, amazing gigs and god-awful gigs, bed and breakfasts to posh hotels, meeting stars and being stars. We're regaled with stories about travelling around Europe and America, festival washouts, physical injuries, frustrations and joys.

It's a jolly good read and if you like Carter USM then it's a must. Jim Bob instantly won me over with his references to Streatham and meeting Fruitbat for the first time in what became a carpark under the old Safeways supermarket beside Streatham Station. And the revelation that the band broke up over a cup of coffee at the Rookery on Streatham Common. I like it when books get local. I remain astonished that he's the same age as me and lives a couple of miles away from me.

Jim Bob has a great way with words and a nice writing style, the book is full of wit and puns, just like his Carter songs. Speaking of which, I'd be happy to read more by Jim Bob and, now that I know they exist, I'm going to explore his post-Carter records of which there seem to have been lots. Got to support a local boy made good.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Sandra Bernhard at Leicester Square Theatre

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Sandra Bernhard's 20th anniversary revival of her show, 'Without You I'm Nothing' at the Leicester Square Theatre. On the way downstairs to the theatre I passed Chrissie Hynde on the stairs who Sandra referred to later in the show.

Sandra was looking good and in fine form as she ripped into the show, a mix of 'today' and 'yesterday', referring to people on 'Britain's Got Talent' one minute and then seguing into a scene from 'Without You'. She was effortlessly leaping backwards and forwards in a well constructed, no holds barred verbal barrage of wit and words plus the odd song to break the flow or emphasise a point. Talking about Twitter and her celebrity friends, cupcakes, her girlfriend, her daughter, world events and London, it was all in there somewhere.

One of my favourite sequences was when Sandra confided in us about her affair with Brad Pitt - she was the rebound after Jennifer Aniston and before Angelina Jolie. It ended with Angelina self-harming on Sandra's bathroom floor and she left when Brad arrived, saying farewell forever. She then launched into a great version of Dolly Parton's 'Joline'. Sandra was, of course, heartbroken and still isn't over it. As if!

Sandra came on for an encore of a couple of songs dressed in the tightest leather trousers I've seen in a long while she gave us good rock chick lope back and forth across the stage, pacing and tossing her hair.

The show lasted for two hours and I'd have been quite happy for it to have continued for another hour or so. Sandra's been around for long enough that she has the experience, the stories, the mad life adventures, the celebrity connections ... everything really ... to go on for hours. She was on top form and gave excellent verbals. If you get the chance, go and see her - she's well worth a couple of hours of your life.

I went on with Chris and Dawn afterwards for a glass or two of chilled wine which is how I was so late getting home - and met Reynard. But that story's below...


I live in the leafy suburbs of South West London, lots of open spaces in this part of London and lots of greenery as well, but we also have our denizens of the night. They stalk the streets looking for easy prey.

I was stalked as I made my home after midnight from a debauched evening in the West End (I wish). The creature appeared at the gate at the end of the drive and looked at me as I closed the front door, he was in the dark and I was in the light. I could almost see him licking his lips and wondering if I'd make a tasty snack. He obviously decided I wasn't worth the effort and trotted off. My potential nemesis was a fox.

I've seen foxes around my road a few times, usually in the mornings, but not had one just stand at the open gate and watch me. I wonder where he lives? I will keep my eyes open for him. I've already named him Reynard.