Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Plastic Bag Awards 2009

The end of the year and, in this case, the end of a decade, always leads to lots of awards and it's no different here in the Plastic Bag - time for the Baggies! There's some stiff competition this year since I've been to 39 gigs, 20 theatre trips, 6 films and 5 'entertainments' - that's a busy year! So, let's jump straight in...

Best Film

Once again this year, I haven't seen many films - not sure why but I haven't been particularly attracted to very many films this year. The nominees are:
  • 'Milk'
  • 'The Watchmen'
  • 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine'
  • 'Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince'
  • 'Broken Embraces'
  • 'A Christmas Carol'
This represents my total cinema-going this year. I liked learning about Harvey Milk, the daftnessness and special effects in the sci-fi films, the darkness in 'Harry Potter' and the sheer traditional sentimentality of 'A Christmas Carol', but the award goes to Almodovar's storytelling in 'Broken Embraces'. It's yet another classic in the making by Almodovar with some of his usual cast playing excellent roles, with no little sly humour as well as sadness. And Penelope Cruz not only looks gorgeous as ever but works her own bum in this one rather than a prosthetic. Well done to all!

Best Theatre - Drama

I added four Shakespeare plays to my list this year, only one of which I'd seen before (and that was 30 years ago) so that's not bad, and two productions make it into my top five. The nominees in the drama category are:
  • 'The Pitmen Painters'
  • 'All's Well That Ends Well'
  • 'Hamlet'
  • 'A Doll's House'
  • 'Time & The Conways'
The only new play in these nominations is 'The Pitmen Painters' and that's the one that wins the Baggie this year. I loved the fairy-tale setting of 'All's Well' and 'Hamlet' is one of my favourite plays but this production was a bit too much of a star vehicle for Jude Law. 'A Doll's House' was an eye-opener seeing Gillian Anderson up close and on stage and 'Time & The Conways' was a great introduction to the storytelling of J.B. Priestley (of which I'd like to see more), but 'The Pitmen Painters' touched me on a number of levels and deserves to be seen more widely. Well done to all involved in this great production.

Best Theatre - Musical

It's been an odd year for musicals, with a few opening based on films ('Sister Act' and 'Legally Blond' spring to mind) and others have been revived, but I haven't seen many - one of the ones I did see, 'La Cage' was nominated for a Baggie last year. The 2009 nominees are:
  • 'Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert'
  • 'La Cage Aux Folles'
  • 'Into The Woods'
  • 'Sweet Charity'
All the nominees deserve their place in the list but the award goes to the draftest, most camp and over the top show, with brash costumes and big performances, in other words, it goes to 'Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert'. Some of the set pieces were so over the top they didn't even physically touch the stage, such as the Divas descending and floating mid-air while they did their bit and the selection of disco music made this drag-queens-a-go-go in the most colourful and mad costumes ever seen. It's not a bit of fluff, but it is fun!

Best Theatre - Entertainment

This is my catch-all category for bits of theatre in its broadest sense that aren't drama or musicals. The nominees this year are all comedy shows, some with music as well:
  • David Benson: 'To Be Frank' (Frankie Howerd)
  • Justin Bond: 'Rites Of Spring'
  • Sandra Bernhard: 'Without You I'm Nothing'
  • Janeane Garofalo
The award goes to Janeane Garofalo who I saw at the Bloomsbury Theatre over the summer. I'd not seen her live show before and was delighted by her random flights of fancy, un-pc views and her general stage-presence that made her very watchable. I'd happily see her play live again.

Best Gig

I've seen 39 gigs this year so that gives me a wide selection to choose from, but it makes it very difficult to narrow the scope down to just five nominees and one outright winner. I've seen some of the artists more than once over the year and I've changed my mind several times in the run up to announcing the Baggies but I'm going to stick with:
  • Grace Jones at The Roundhouse
  • Madonna at The O2
  • Pet Shop Boys at The O2 (December)
  • Ray Davies at Hammersmith Apollo
  • Public Image Ltd at The Electric Ballroom
'What?' I hear you cry - no Buffy Sainte-Marie? no Amanda Palmer (despite seeing her three times over the year)? no Divas of Motown? I know, I know, but harsh decisions have to be made and, oddly, I've picked Grace Jones at the Roundhouse, my first gig of the year and three of my final four gigs of the year from just before Christmas. Madonna is there for spectacle and classic songs. But who, in my view, deserves the Baggie for 2009?

I'm pleased to announce that the Baggie for Best Gig of 2009 goes to Public Image Ltd. I've waited 30 years to see and hear some of those great songs played and John and the lads played for over two hours, mining a great selection of songs and presenting them in a tight and forceful way. I hope there is new PiL material next year and a new tour. I'll be there.

Best Live Performance

This category is for the best individual live performance of a song and previous winners include The Human League (2008) and Siouxsie (2007). The nominees this year are:
  • Grace Jones: 'Hurricane' at The Roundhouse
  • Pink: 'Sober' at The O2
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie: 'Soldier Blue' at The Queen Elizabeth Hall
  • The Unthanks: 'The Testimony Of Patience Kershaw' at Shepherd's Bush Empire
  • Pet Shop Boys: 'It Doesn't Often Snow At Christmas' at The O2 (December)
Narrowing down the hundreds of individual performances I've seen this year at 39 gigs is a hard task, and narrowing it further to just one is even harder - the drama and madness of Grace Jones, the aerial acrobatics of Pink, the powerful performances of Buffy and Rachel Unthank, and the smiling, happy and daft joy of the Pet Shop Boys with their dancing Christmas trees.

Simply for what it was and when it was, I must award the Baggie for best performance to the Pet Shop Boys and 'It Doesn't Always Snow At Christmas' at the O2 just before Christmas. A very happy memory indeed!

Best New Album

There's been a bumper crop of new albums this year, many re-mastered/re-released and loads of new compilations. This year I'm sticking to new albums in the sense of new music and previously unreleased music. The nominees are:
  • New York Dolls: 'Cause I Sez So'
  • The Unthanks: 'Here's The Tender Coming'
  • Maximo Park: 'Quicken The Heart'
  • Pet Shop Boys: 'Yes'
  • Ray Davies: 'The Kinks Choral Collection'
All of these are great albums packed with great songs, some charming and some challenging. I could easily have added 'Between My Head And The Sky' by Yoko Ono Plastic Band but awards need to follow rules (even self-imposed rules).

The award for Best Album 2009 goes to 'Yes' by the Pet Shop Boys, an unrelentingly positive album even when dealing with difficult and tragic subjects. The extended version includes the great 'This Used To Be The Future' with Phil Oakey which is a big plus. The sheer bouncy joy of songs like 'Love, Etc' and 'Pandemonium' make this, for me at least, the best album of 2009.

Best New Song

This category attempts to single out the best new song of the year, not necessarily best new song released this year, but the best song I've heard for the first time this year so I include discovering 'old' songs for the first time. How do you narrow down thousands of new songs to just five nominees? Here's my attempt:
  • Grace Jones: 'Williams Blood'
  • Pet Shop Boys: 'Love, Etc'
  • Julie Felix: 'Masters Of War'
  • Maximo Park: 'The Kids Are Sick Again'
  • Blondie: 'We Three Kings'
I heard the Julie Felix version of Dylan's 'Masters Of War' by accident on a programme about folk music and have been captivated by it, not solely by Dylan's vitriolic lyrics but by Julie's interpretation. Same with the glorious 'Williams Blood', the bouncy 'Love, Etc' and the power pop of 'The Kids Are Sick Again', but I must single out Blondie's 'We Three Kings' if only for the sheer number of times I've played it in the past few weeks in the run up to Christmas. If the new album is anything like this freeby single downloadable from Blondie's website then it'll be a landmark indeed. Well done Blondie!

Best Legend

Once again this year, I've seen a good selection of legends from the '60s and '70s, particularly with the Motown 50 celebrations going on this year:
  • Grace Jones
  • Buzzcocks
  • Marianne Faithfull
  • Yoko Ono
  • Patti Smith
  • Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
  • Mary Wilson
  • Ray Davies
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie
  • Gladys Knight
  • Brenda Holloway
  • Chris Clark
  • Lulu
  • Chaka Khan
  • Steeleye Span
  • John Lydon & PiL
I loved seeing Yoko and Patti, meeting Buffy and being astonished when she said she reads my blog, seeing and meeting Brenda Holloway and Chris Clark (who I never expected to see singing live), seeing Ray Davies sing those classic Kinks songs in the pouring rain and, of course, the ever entertaining and challenging John Lydon telling me not to be so shy in front of him.

The Baggie for Best Legend goes to Chris Clark for her sheer delight at singing to a big live audience and her happiness that people still want to hear her sing - we do Chris, so please come back soon!

And there you have it, the Plastic Bag Awards for 2009. Congratulations to all the nominees, to the winners and, indeed, to everyone I've seen, whether nominated or not, for making it a very entertaining year.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

'Swan Lake' at Sadler's Wells

Last night we went to see Matthew Bourne's 'Swan Lake' at Sadler's Wells as a final Christmas treat of the season. We had seats right in the middle of row K so had a perfect view of the stage and the swans.

I've seen 'Swan Lake' before, the last time was nearly three years ago, so was familiar with the plot and could enjoy some of the details of the performance, the lighting and the action taking place in the background - no-one is ever still and there's always something going on. The basic premise is of a Prince growing up in a cold household with rigid attention to duty and no love from his mother and, when it all gets too much for him, he goes to a park to commit suicide but is saved by a flock of swans that fill him with the joy of life again. The second act sees the lead Swan in human form seducing all and sundry at a royal ball that sends the Prince over the edge and he attempts to kill his mother, throwing him into hospital. On release, his bedroom is invaded by the flock of swans that kill the Swan and the Prince dies, presumably from a broken heart. The final scene shows his mother coming into his room and, finding him dead, finally holds him while above, through a window, we see the Swan with his Prince in his arms, together at last. It always makes me shed a tear and I've no idea why.

It goes without saying that the dancers, the sets, the costumes and the lights were all excellent. The elegance and grace of the dancers is astonishing, the smallest movement being perfectly choreographed, a beautiful performance. There's no lack of visual fun either and I *still* want a pair of swan trousers. I can't help but think they should play Siouxsie's 'Into A Swan' at the start of the performance - she pulls good swan-shapes as well.

It's a very touching and beautiful performance and not exactly what you might consider as 'ballet' - an overheard comment on the way out was that someone thought there would be "more ballet" in it. I'm not sure what it is, it's contemporary dance and whether that's ballet or not, I don't really care. If you get the chance, go and see it and feel the beauty, the joy and the terror, and live in a different world for a few hours. It's well worth the adventure.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Boy George at the Leicester Square Theatre

Boy George is in the middle of his 'Up Close And Personal' residency at the Leicester Square Theatre (the site of the London run for 'Taboo') and we were very close indeed last night, in the middle of the fifth row with a great view of the Boy and his usual band and singers.

It was a show of two halves, two hours with an interval, a mix of old, new, borrowed and blue songs although, sadly, not the new 'White Xmas' single (but, then again, it is after Christmas now). He didn't have a big costume change at half time, but he did change hats from a pink one to an orangy one. George was looking good, smiling, joking and moving round the stage, and was in good voice too. George and the band were all decked out in his B-Rude clothes with scarabs and skulls (as Chris pointed out, the skull on George's shirt sported an Aladdin Sane lightning flash).

Old and borrowed songs included 'Blue Moon, 'Summertime', 'This Little Light Of Mine' and 'Down By The Riverside', with a selection of new songs that all sounded good, including 'Light' (for a dead friend), 'More Girls Just Like You' (one of the 'White Xmas' b-sides and available for download) and 'Pentonville Blues', a reference to his recent stay in prison (and a blue song).

The big response was for the old Culture Club songs that included 'Do You Really Want To Hurt Me', 'Karma Chameleon' ("the famous one" as he called it) plus 'Victims' and a couple of others. There was also a big welcome to his solo works including 'Everything I Own', 'Il Adore', 'The Deal' (that led into Dylan's 'Knocking On Heaven's Door'), 'Unfinished Business', and, from 'Taboo', 'Stranger In This World' and 'Petrified'. The encore was, of course, 'Bow Down Mister' a great song and as euphoric as ever.

I don't think he's doing the same setlist every night since 'Summertime' seemed to be an ad lib but it was a great selection of songs to show off his range, his back catalogue and his voice. And to set some seeds for a potential new album. He was open about how poor 2009 had been for him with his spell in prison and was happy to look forward to 2010. Like many of us, I suspect.

It was a great show and great to be so close to the stage for a change, a lovely break from Christmas festivities and nice to be in town with so little traffic. Thanks for a great Christmas treat George, and here's looking forward to a new record in 2010.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

'A Christmas Carol'

It was Christmas Eve and all was quiet in the house, not even a mouse (well, except for Public Image Ltd live blaring out of the stereo most of the afternoon) so what better way to celebrate the day than go to see the latest Disney Christmas offering, 'A Christmas Carol'.

Now, as I'm sure you all know, 'A Christmas Carol' is set on Christmas Eve when the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future visit Ebenezer Scrooge, a nasty old skinflint of a businessman counting his pennies in the City of London, and transform him into a kindly old fellow who sees the error of his ways. Some links there with what's been happening this year on the financial meltdown front, I think. Anyway, you know the story and this film is pretty loyal to the original story although it does make a few tweaks and additions to make the film work, particularly the 3D bits (I saw it in 2D but it was obvious that some sequences were there for the 3D effects).

The cinema was lovely and warm, only about 1/3 full and only one child in evidence since this was the evening viewing and it was a lovely way to spend Christmas Eve with a big portion of popcorn and coke. The film is really good, top notch animation (as you'd expect from Disney) with the characters taking on the physical aspects of the actors who voiced them and kept up a good pace throughout. The only bit I wasn't keen on was the chase sequence as Scrooge shrinks, clearly there for the 3D effect. I was immediately struck by two things about Mr Scrooge: firstly, how he looked like Albert Steptoe (and I couldn't shake that link throughout the film); and secondly, how I'd never know it was Jim Carey providing the voice if his name wasn't above the title, he was very good.

It was also nice walking through the near-empty streets on the way home afterwards, few people abroad and little traffic, even in my little corner of London Town. The snow and ice had vanished but it was cold and Christmassy, and was nice to get back through the front door to be hit by warmth and see the glistening Christmas Tree... yes, a lovely way to spend Christmas Eve.

I love the Dickens story so it would have to be a pretty awful film for me not to like it, and like it I did. I look forward to adding the DVD to my Christmas DVD collection when it's issued. The film is well done, well crafted and paced, well voiced, and strikes a nice balance between being true to the tale and being a modern film. There's no syrupy sweetness at all and it's not necessary a film for children. If it's showing near you and you have a couple of hours to spare and you're still feeling Christmassy, then go and see it.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Pet Shop Boys at The O2

It was the Monday before Christmas so it must be the Pet Shop Boys at the O2 that I'd bought tickets to way back in the summer. Of course, nothing at the O2 seems to go smoothly, either the tube line is shut or something and Monday afternoon was no different with the weather joining in and dumping an inch or so of snow in about an hour onto poor old London town and we don't have the infrastructure to cope with it.

Slipping and sliding to the bus stop to get to the tube but there were no buses for some reason so, after waiting for 25 minutes I slipped and slid to the nearest mainline train station to get to Victoria to get a tube only to find that the tube faced its own problems with not enough trains and too many people so the Jubilee line entrance at Green Park was closed to let crowds disperse. When I finally got to the O2 the snow had turned to slush and started to freeze and the German Christmas market was looking quite sad. Because of ice, they'd even closed the big 'O' entrance to the dome - that's *my* entrance, that is. Anyway, all was well after a feast of chips and pint of beer.

First up was Bad Lieutenant, Bernard Sumner's new band, energetic rock led alternately by guitars and by keyboard beats. They played songs from the first album, 'Never Cry Another Tear' as well as a few New Order songs and finishing with Joy Division's 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'. That was a thrill in itself. The band were solid and it was good to see them, just a shame the lights were limited to the small space they had at the front of the stage. I liked what I heard and have already downloaded the album.

Then the walls were exposed and the lights dimmed and on came the Pet Shop Boys with colourful cubes on their heads for the first song, then off with the cubes and on with the show. It's the 'Pandemonium Tour' and the show was virtually the same as the one we saw back in June (almost six months to the day). Again, most of the fab songs from the new album ('Yes') were in the first half of the show and the second half was greatest-hits-central. The Boys were excellent, on top form, and the dancers were great too. Considering it's called the 'Pandemonium' tour it's odd that the song comes so early in the set.

How to choose some highlights from a show that's full of highlights? 'Love etc' and 'Pandemonium' were great, as were 'New York City Boy', 'Se A Vida E' and 'It's A Sin'. The magic started with 'What Have I Done To Deserve This' with the face of Dusty Springfield projected bigly on the back wall, singing her part from their duet from 20 years ago and lovely to see Neil still doing homage to Dusty. Although I'd seen the show before it still came as a surprise to see the main wall come tumbling down again and the blocks suspended in mid air. The staging and lights were excellent.

They came on for an encore of 'Being Boring', always a tender song of hope and joy, sadness and death, their great new version of Madness's 'My Girl' and a dancetastic version of 'West End Girls'. Chris wore his 'tropical garden' hat again - I still want that hat. The applause continued so back they came for a second encore with 'It Doesn't Always Snow At Christmas', their Christmas song that's just been generally released. Chris was in a white fur hat and multicoloured scarf, Neil in black fur hat and, to top it all, the four dancers were in Christmas Tree outfits - that made me grin widely and was a nice fun way to end the show. "Bing Crosby, are you listening to me..." and then the snow started to fall on the stage to match the snow outside. That was a great sequence, and probably something we'll never see them play again unless they tour at Christmas in future. I loved it and that sequence alone made up for all the problems getting there (and the problems getting home too)! Thanks, lads!

The Pet Shop Boys put on a great show so if you get the chance, go and see 'em!

Public Image Ltd at The Electric Ballroom

I'm just back from seeing Public Image Ltd at the Electric Ballroom in Camden and I'm still buzzing from the experience. The gig was originally meant to be at Brixton Academy but was switched to the Electric Ballroom and I'm sort of pleased it was since there's no way I would've been able to be so close to the stage at Brixton. I bought the first PiL single - 'Public Image' and it's one of my top ten singles of all time - and first album back in the day, bought 'Metal Box' with it's three 12" records, and have enjoyed John Lydon's band ever since. I never thought I'd see them live though. Until tonight.

The lights dimmed and the speakers thumped out 'The Rabbit Song' as an introduction and then on strode Lu Edmonds, Scott Firth and Bruce Smith followed by John Lydon and the thrumming bass announced 'Public Image', their first single played first in the set and I was in heaven. Heavy heavy bass, drums pounding, guitar skittering over the top and John's manic vocals making a perfect cacophony of sound. And that continued throughout the set which went on for over two hours with, more often than not, one song flowing into the next.

As always, John was a picture of sartorial elegance with his trademarked long shirt in a sort of tartan pattern, hair spiked up and a bottle of brandy on the drum stand for gargling and spitting out to keep his throat clear. The guitarists had keyboards to play when needed but it was all a seemless affair, the band very tight and the perfect dynamo for John's often vitriolic vocals.

They played songs from the full cannon, from 'First Issue' to John's solo album in the late '90s, 'Pyscho's Path', all with thundering bass and a great light show, flooding the stage with colour. John castigated Blair for the war, us for allowing non-smoking, and politicians the world over for making a mess of things.

Favourite songs for me were, of course, 'Public Image', one of the best singles ever, 'Albatross', 'Poptones', 'This Is Not A Love Song', 'Careering'... well, all of them really! I loved, 'Tie Me To The Length Of That', a song I never thought they'd do (but one of my favourites) and 'Annalisa' and 'Religion' from the first album. 'Death Disco' and an elongated 'Flowers Of Romance' were both special, as was 'Warrior'. The whole gig was special.

I saw John last year with the Sex Pistols and now with Public Image Ltd, both great bands with great songs and the common denominator is Mr John Lydon. Wouldn't a knighthood be great? Sir John Lydon has a certain ring to it and it's about time a punkster got a gong (I don't count Bob Geldoff).

My ears are still ringing from the gig tonight and I have memories to last a long time. The gig is a great Christmas present - thanks John! I hope for more in future.

And, of course, you can buy your own souvenir live album here.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Ray Davies at Hammersmith Apollo

Last night we went to see Ray Davies at Hammersmith Apollo (or 'this old barn' as he referred to it). We saw Ray six months ago at Kenwood House and got rained on so I nervously looked at the art deco ceiling of the Apollo for any holes that might lead to dripping, but it looked ok. We were sitting right in the middle with a great view of the stage which was set for a band and a choir - the Crouch End Festival Chorus. There was a definite 'age thing' going on, with a goodly proportion of the audience being old fans from the '60s and '70s, with a smattering of younger people in the audience.

Shortly after eight o'clock on strode Ray and his guitarist to start the show as a duo and, as he perched on a high stool, he opened with 'You Really Got Me', just the two of them on guitar. Then followed what seemed to me like a live version of my first Kinks LP, 'Golden Hour of The Kinks', with every song a classic. Ray's been singing some of those songs for 45 years and, to stave off any boredom, kept getting the audience to sing along, which we did. After about 40 minutes the rest of the band walked on mid-song, keyboards, bass and drums to add to the two guitars already on stage, and the volume increased.

Another half an hour later and it was time for an interval - 45 years worth of songs gives Ray ample choice of songs and a set as long (or as short) as he wants. We got a great version of 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion' with a final verse in the style of Johnny Cash and 'Autumn Almanac', a song I never thought I'd hear played live. We also got Ray's newer song 'The Morphine Song' about his time in hospital in New Orleans after being shot a few years back and 'Vietnam Cowboys'. We were given a hard 'Dead End Street' and a rock-out version of 'Till The End Of The Day'.

After the 15 minutes interval on came the Chorus, settling into their seats at the back of the stage behind the band and then on the band came as well, with Ray sprinting to his place in the centre to open with 'Shangri-la' and 'See My Friends', continuing the 'Golden Hour' theme. Ray's latest album is made up of choral versions of Kinks songs and that's what we got, sweeping through 'Days', 'Waterloo Sunset', 'Victoria', the 'Village Green' suite and a great 'Celluloid Heroes'. We were also given a lovely version of Ray's new song 'Postcard From London' (which he was adamant wasn't a Christmas song), with Ray singing all the lead lines (no Chrissie Hynde) and 'Working Men's Cafe'. We were treated to another version of 'You Really Got Me' before ending with an electric 'All Day And All Of The Night' that got everyone out of their seats and into the aisles.

The final song of the evening as an encore was 'that old faggot song', (as he'd earlier referred to it when talking about how he was known when he lived in New Orleans, as the writer of 'the faggot song'), the magnificent 'Lola'. 'Lola' has a special place in my personal discography as the first 7" single I ever owned and I sang along lustily, even when, to my shame, I got one of the lines wrong. But who cares? That's Ray Davies on stage singing 'Lola' so all was right with the world.

It was a great gig and, at over 2.5 hours long, a great evening out. Classic songs, nifty banter and stories in between songs, a powerhouse of a band and choir all thrown together for our enjoyment. Ray said he'd see us again next year which hopefully means another tour and maybe another new album.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Alela Diane - 'White As Diamonds'

The last few mornings have made me think of this beautiful song from Alela Diane that starts with the phrase, 'I've known mornings white as diamonds...'. It's a lovely winter song.

Linda Thompson's New Album

I mentioned back in May that Linda Thompson is raising funding through the Hector Fund to record her new album. She's in the studio in London now and the album will be released some time in 2010.

Despite good intentions, I never got round to investing in the album myself so I've done so this morning at the 'Bond Street' level which means I'll get a signed advance copy of the album (with download) and be listed in the 'thank you' section of the booklet, and all for just $50. That's not bad, and equates to just over £30 in real money. That's a Christmas present to myself and an investment in what I am sure will be some great new songs from Linda.

The last song that Linda sang on - as far as I'm aware and at least the backing vocals - was last year's Christmas song in support of Amnesty International, 'Christmas' by Teddy Thompson & Family. The Thompson Family did a show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last Christmas that I missed - I was hoping there'd be a repeat performance this year but it's not happening. Maybe next year?

If you've liked any of Linda's work in the past then why not give yourself - and Linda - a Christmas present and invest in her new record? Then you can claim to be a record producer - I am!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Amanda Palmer - 'Gaga, Palmer, Madonna'

The delightful Amanda Palmer wrote a song, performed it on webcam and posted it to YouTube - voila, we have art! It's about Lady Gaga, Amanda, Madonna, women in pop music generally and about art. She calls it "a kitchen-ukulele-blogsong" and I'd be happy to have more.

And the very good news is that Amanda is back in London at Bush Hall on 23/24/25 April as part of Evelyn Evelyn, her project with Jason Webley and Sxip Shirey. Have I got tickets? 'Course I have! (what a daft question).

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

'Nation' at The National

I'm falling behind with my reporting of my doings and sayings (have I mentioned that it snowed for a few hours today?) so apologies for that, but I went to see the theatrical version of Terry Pratchett's 'Nation' at The National Theatre.

I'm a big fan of Terry's Discworld books, but haven't read 'Nation'. From the play, I assume it tries to stick pretty close to the narrative of the book which may or may not be a good idea. It was slick and professional, with good sets and lighting, but my abiding memory is the sheer volume of naked flesh on display throughout the production and the rather shouty female lead. I don't think I'm a prude but I'm not sure I've ever seen so much flesh on stage - no naughty bits, obviously, just acres of skin, male and female and a pretend baby.

I wanted to like the play - it was a Christmas treat, after all - but I'm really not sure if I did or not. This would definitely benefit from a second viewing. I liked the sections with people from two very different cultures trying to talk to each other, smiling and just agreeing that they didn't really understand, but is this the best way to explain that message? And is that what the play is really trying to explore?

I do feel rather uncharitable when I look back at the play and leaving the theatre is my best memory, not because it was bad, but because I realised that Terry Pratchett himself was seated a few rows behind us and was busy signing autographs. Is it a theatrical experience or a Pratchett love-in? And does that matter?

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Blondie - 'We Three Kings'

An early Christmas present from Blondie - how fab is this? I've been pogoing round the room to it, a great song guaranteed to bring a smile and some energy to your Christmas music. Go and get it now - it's a free download from as a prelude to a new album in 2010. Thanks Debs - and a Merry Christmas to you too!

Boy George - 'White Xmas'

Another entry in the new Christmas songs stakes is Boy George's 'White Xmas' which is now available to download. It starts off with classic Christmas bells before introducing speeded up reggae beats with jazzy trumpet and George's smooth voice occasionally going a bit jazzy as well. It's a great version, happy and up rather than the usual slow and melancholy versions of the song people often record to show how sensitive they are. I *like* this, it's a happy, smiling song for Christmas that you can dance along to, and George is in great voice.

There are two new songs as the 'B' side, 'Lousy Substitute' and 'More Girls Just Like You'. Any new work from George is welcomed, especially after the year he's had, so here's hoping these are the first songs to emerge from some time in the studio that will lead to a new album. I saw George play live three times in 2008 (each time at the Shaw Theatre) and am seeing him after Christmas as part of his season at the Leicester Square Theatre (where his musical, 'Taboo' was staged).

Go on, do the downloady thing right now and have a white Christmas with George.

Here he is singing 'White Xmas' on the Alan Titchmarsh Show last week:

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Ray Davies - 'Postcard From London'

Ray Davies has a new single out just in time for Christmas, 'Postcard From London', a gentle Christmas song with Chrissie Hynde and a choir of children. It's a gloriously sentimental song, a song of love for London set at Christmas, with references to building snowmen in Hampstead and walking down to Waterloo... It's a very different song to his previous Christmas record with The Kinks, 'Father Christmas'. I think I love it.

Chrissie sounds in good voice and here's hoping she'll join him on stage when we see him at Hammersmith next week.

And here's the video, with some great scenes, including the Pink Reindeer in this years' Carnaby Street Christmas decorations.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Justice For Kirsty Campaign Ends

I've seen an article on the BBC News site announcing that the Justice for Kirsty Campaign has closed. Kirsty was killed in a boating accident in Mexico in 2000 while saving her sons - I heard the sad news on the BBC telly news so it's appropriate to hear about this on the BBC website. The official announcement is here.

It's probably hard for Jean, Kirsty's mother, to accept but it looks as though the campaign went as far as it could and succeeded in getting the case re-opened and re-investigated. December must be doubly hard since the accident was just before Christmas and, of course, Kirsty's voice is all over the radio and played in shops with the perennial Christmas favourite, 'Fairytale Of New York' with The Pogues. That's also a good thing, since it means her voice and name continue.

I'm having a bit of a personal Kirsty-fest tonight in Plastic Mansions.