Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Power Of Buffy (Part II)

After seeing Buffy Sainte-Marie's Queen Elizabeth Hall gig in London last year, strange events happened that I put down to the power of Buffy (read about it here). Well, it's happening again...

Channel surfing this afternoon who should pop up but Noddy Holder and his wife on 'All Star Mr & Mrs', a repeat of the show last night. I had no idea he was on it - or that the show even existed, although I remember it being a tea-time show in the '70s - so it was a nice surprise to see Sir Noddy. There are some clips on the show's website. They seem to be lovely couple and actually won the show, donating the £30,000 winnings to the NSPCC.

But there is more.

Chris was browsing the web and saw a reference on 'The Guardian' website to a new song that samples Buffy's vocals from her version of 'The Bells' and he promptly tracked it down. It's an odd track that seems to be a blend of The Glitter Band's stomp from 'Angel Face', snatches of the melody from Atomic Rooster's 'Tomorrow Night' and slightly speeded up vocals from Buffy's 'The Bells' from 'She Used To Wanna Be A Ballerina'. And you know what? It works. I like it. It's available to download on Amazon and iTunes and probably elsewhere.

Intrigued? I was! It's called 'Say Goodbye To What' by Bullion - give it a listen and then download it:

So, that's Sir Noddy and a new Buffy track. Now I just need to wait for the power of Buffy to bring Amanda Palmer to me in some form - maybe the tickets for the Evelyn Evelyn gig will be delivered tomorrow or something? I can hardly wait!

Buffy Sainte-Marie at Shepherd's Bush Empire

Last night was Buffy Sainte-Marie's gig at Shepherd's Bush Empire in London. I saw Buffy two evenings ago at The Sage in Gateshead and two Buffy gigs in two days is no bad thing. Tonight she is in Wolverhampton for the last night of her UK tour and then she's off to the Continent for a few shows before heading to Canada. It was a delight to see Buffy's name up on the marquee of Shepherd's Bush, it's just a shame they spelt it wrong.

Shepherd's Bush is an old theatre (opened in 1903) that has been various things in its existence (including the scene of the Terry Wogan Show for, like, ever) and in the last couple of decades has been a rock venue, with everyone from The Sex Pistols to Macy Gray to Paige & Plant strolling the stage. Whenever I think of Buffy playing in London I think of her at venues like The Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Royal Festival Hall or The Albert Hall, venues of respect and a bit of decorum. But after last night Buffy has proven (not that she needed to) that she can play anywhere - she *owned* that stage and she owned us, her audience.

We took our seats in the middle of the front row in the circle and I realised that for the first time I'd be looking 'down' on Buffy rather than 'up' from the stalls, and that I'd have a perfect view of the stage. I also realised how cold it was and how some people were sitting in coats, scarves and hats to keep warm! The stage was set up for the band and Buffy, a clean stage with lots of space for movement and a glitter ball hanging way up high above the stage. The music playing over the speakers while mics and guitars were checked was an odd selection and when it changed to pow wow drums and voice, it was clear that Buffy wasn't far off. On came the band and then on strode Buffy, no big announcements or anything, just a confident woman striding to the centre of the stage, smiling and waving and slinging on her guitar for 'Piney Wood Hills'. Tonight, rather than the sparkly black sequined jacket, she appeared as Admiral Buffy with black jacket (the opposite of the white jacket she wore last year) with gold epaulets and trimming, looking mighty fine.

The setlist was the same as at The Sage gig (not in the right order):

Piney Wood Hills
No No Keshagesh
Fallen Angels
Cho Cho Fire
Blue Sunday
Cripple Creek
Relocation Blues
He's An Indian Cowboy At The Rodeo
Still This Loves Goes On
Until It's Time For You To Go
Soldier Blue
Universal Soldier
Up Where We Belong
Little Wheel Spin And Spin
Priests Of the Golden Bull
Darling Don't Cry
Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee
Goodnight (encore)

In between each song Buffy told tales of the old days touring or people covering her songs, about what she is really singing about in the songs and about her life. She has a wry sense of humour and great stage presence, with all us waiting to hear what she might say next. Every song was awarded with rapturous applause and cheers (including from the balcony) which ably demonstrated how much we've missed Buffy on this side of the Atlantic.

A few highlights for me:

Buffy telling us that when she grew up she loved Lonnie Donegan and Elvis, skiffle and rockabilly, and that was the music she listened to, so she's written her own version in 'Blue Sunday'.

Introducing 'No No Keshagesh' by explaining that 'keshagesh' is the name of a greedy puppy who eats all his own food and then wants everyone else's, a metaphor for big business and the environment.

Buffy picking up her mouthbow from where it always hangs on her microphone stand and telling us that the smart one in the group always discovers at some point that you can make music with weapons, so we have a bright future ahead of us. Then playing 'Cripple Creek' bathed in purple light.

The nice touch of switching on the glitter ball and sending shards of light round the hall while Buffy sang 'Up Where We Belong' and making me go 'wow'.

Talking about pow wow and the pow wow trail to introduce 'Cho Cho Fire' and, later in the set, 'Darling Don't Cry', telling us to join in one if we ever get the chance since they're one big party, about the pow wow trail meandering back and forth across the USA/Canadian border and that 'we' pre-dated the border.

I loved hearing about 'Indian Cowboy' (one of my favourite songs) and Buffy telling us that we could have a Shepherd's Bush Green Rodeo competition. And, for a change, Buffy played it on her own keyboard rather than on the grand piano that has been present on stage every other time I've seen Buffy play live (another indication that this was a rock rather than a concert venue) and the audience response to the extended pow wow singing at the end of the song.

The thoughtful introduction to 'Universal Soldier' about how she came to her conclusions about the individual responsibility for war when travelling between Los Angeles and Toronto in the early '60s. There was a deep silence while she sang that song that erupted into heartfelt applause at the end.

The deep sadness of Floyd Westerman's 'Relocation Blues', just Buffy singing with her finger tapping hauntingly on the mic, a song of few words about the old residential schools in Canada.

The joy and power of the pow wow songs clustered at the end of the set, from 'Darling Don't Cry', the power of 'Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee' and finishing with the magnificent 'Starwalker'. Buffy reminded us that she was a teacher and gave us two books to read as our homework - 'Indian Givers' by Jack Weatherford and 'Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee' by Dee Brown (both of which I read after Buffy mentioned them at the Belleville gig five years ago). Buffy dedicated 'Starwalker' to all the people who never get recognised but do small but important things for their communities, and for all generations past and future, and it's been one of my favourites since hearing it on 'Sweet America' back in 1976 or 1977.

Buffy was excellent, in total command of the stage and audience, and the band was with her every step of the way, pounding drums and bass when needed for a particular song, skittering guitar to add light and shade in other songs. They were a powerful band and the sound was excellent, particularly in the rockier songs like 'Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee', loud guitars, drums pounding and wailing pow wow vocals making the hair stand up on the back of my neck, all in perfect time with Buffy. Buffy introduced them by name and by native people, reminding us that she is Cree. There's a photo of the band below (left to right) Jesse Green (guitar), Mike Bruyere (drums, who remembered me from Gateshead) and Darryl Mennow (bass) - well done on a fine show, lads.

Buffy got a standing ovation from virtually the whole crowd after 'Starwalker' and again after 'Goodnight', the encore, and that was it, the show was over, a show the like of which has possibly never been seen before at Shepherd's Bush, with a lady of Buffy's age giving it some hard rock sounds and moves, some radical politics and no little worship from the crowd. It's easy to put Buffy on a pedestal but, when it comes down to is, she is what she said she was during the show - a teacher - who uses her words and music to teach important lessons.

It was no surprise that a crowd gathered in the foyer and at the back of the stalls to meet Buffy after the show. It was a bit confused for a while and I was convinced she'd come to the merch stand in the foyer, which she and the band eventually did. When it came to be my turn to say hello I brought the photo of Buffy and me from The Sage to be signed and the booklet from the '70s albums which has the photo from the back of 'Sweet America' as the cover. I also asked Buffy to listen to a song on my iPhone, a song I taped on my cassette recorder from a BBC programme about her music in about 1975 or 1976 and that has never been released. At first Buffy looked puzzled and then intrigued by it, only vaguely remembering it, and saying she'd probably just made it up for the programme and asked me to send it to her, which I will. I still haven't got my stalking skills to a high enough level and, again, didn't want to take up too much of Buffy's time so when I moved on Chris asked Buffy to sign the leaflet for the new 'Soldier Blue' compilation for me and Buffy told him she was playing at the Winter Olympics in a couple of weeks time. When will I ever learn?

That's it, Buffy's tour is over for me and finishes at Wolverhampton tonight. After all these years of waiting patiently and I've seen her twice in the space of two days. I've needed today to recover from the experience. I've yet to take a good photo of Buffy (or at least one I think is good) but here is a selection of passable photos from the gig. Wonder when my next opportunity to see Buffy will be...?

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Newcastle in January

It was nice to be able to have a wander round Newcastle as part of my trip north to see Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Buffy was playing at The Sage, a strange looking building of glass and metal on the south bank of the river Tyne. I've never managed to find out why it's the shape it is but it looks impressive enough and is right beside the Baltic art gallery and the lovely Blinking Bridge (I've seen it blink on telly but not in real life - yet).

The next morning started off lovely and sunny, glorious blue sky providing the backdrop to Newcastle as we had breakfast overlooking the river and looking over to the Castle Keep that gives Newcastle it's name (well, it was new once).

But, between paying the bill and walking onto the balcony to take photos, it started snowing. Not just a few flakes, but thick flurries that whited-out parts of the opposite banks of the Tyne. That was, naturally, the signal to go out and walk across the Tyne Bridge to take photos. Yes, the white bits in the photo of the Sage below are big, fat snowflakes - I caught some on my tongue too.

The snow didn't last for long and soon it was just freezing cold and then, by the time we'd got into the centre of Newcastle, the blue sky was back. You know you're in the centre since Earl Grey proudly stands there on his column and surveys the city - you can see him from the opposite bank of the Tyne in Gateshead. I went up the column many years ago - there's a spiral staircase inside but it closed years ago. From up there he surveys the Georgian streets of the Newcastle that grew rich on coal and the industrial revolution and displayed its wealth in the glorious stone buildings that took over from the former city. And that growth is happening again today with lots of building going on, only this time it seems to be mainly in steel and glass.

A trip to the Laing art gallery and then lunch at 'Collectables'. Then we walked back to the train station via the Central Arcade (I bought my first Buffy record in Window's music shop in the arcade in the mid-'70s) and later walked past Mark Toney's ice-cream emporium. I remember being taken there in the late '60s-early '70s by my Mam for treats - we would eat delicious ice-cream in glass bowls while she had a 'proper' coffee (this was in the days before percolators and stuff). It's still there but in my day didn't have seats outside - that would've been common!

I always look out for Anthony Gormley's 'Angel Of The North' just south of Gateshead when I'm on that train, so, since we were playing with cameras on the journey south here's a photo of him. I've never been closer than this so one day I must actually visit the Angel. Later, the big full moon came out and it was nice to see the Rabbit in the Moon again - can you see him? I can, quite clearly...

Friday, 29 January 2010

Buffy Sainte-Marie at The Sage, Gateshead

I travelled to the town of Belleville in Ontario five years ago to see Buffy Sainte-Marie play live - my first experience of Buffy - and then, two years ago, went to New York to see her. Last year I saw Buffy's first London gig in 17 years at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. So, when I heard that Buffy was going to play The Sage concert hall in Gateshead, a mere ten miles or so from where I grew up and used to listen to her records in my bedroom as a teenager, I decided that a couple of days off work and a few hundred miles by train were well worth it. Chris, as ever, was charged with keeping me from exploding with excitement as we booked into the Hilton next door to The Sage. My little brother and my sister-in-law came round for a drink before the show and then we walked out into the freezing breeze to get to The Sage.

We were sitting in the middle of row F with a perfect view of the stage, a grand piano to the left, drums to the centre, keyboard just off-centre with two guitars standing centre-stage. On came the three-piece band (a new band), drummer, bass and guitar, followed by Buffy confidently striding centre-stage and slinging her guitar. Dressed in black velvet (or velvet-looking) trousers and mini-dress with a sparkly jacket, feathers and beads, looking fit and healthy and raring to go with a great big smile. I never dreamt, 35 years ago when I was sitting in my bedroom, that I'd be seeing Buffy Sainte-Marie a mere bus ride from my parents' old house.

Buffy picked up a guitar and opened with 'Piney Wood Hills' before running through (not in order):

No No Keshagesh
Fallen Angels
Cho Cho Fire
Blue Sunday
Cripple Creek
Relocation Blues
He's An Indian Cowboy At The Rodeo
Still This Loves Goes On
Until It's Time For You To Go
Soldier Blue
Universal Soldier
Up Where We Belong
Little Wheel Spin And Spin
Priests Of the Golden Bull
Darling Don't Cry
Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

Much as I love seeing and hearing Buffy singing her great songs from the last 45 years, it's hearing her talk about them that adds that extra thrill and extra layer to the experience, and Buffy talked about all her songs. She talked about loving Elvis and the rockabilly stars like Lonnie Donegan before launching into 'Blue Sunday' and talked about Joan Baez and her 400 year old Welsh folk songs while saying she sang them as well but had only written them a couple of weeks earlier, before admitting that she'd written 'Until It's Time For You To Go' (which I still think is one of the most mature and realistic love songs ever) after so many people had recorded it. Buffy spoke about touring the UK in the '60s and meeting people like Martin Carthy (who I'm seeing on Sunday this week as part of The Imagined Village) and having lots of time to learn new songs.

Buffy rightly guessed that we, in the North East of England, didn't have a lot of experience of the pow wow trail across the USA and Canadian borders, but we still loved 'Darling Don't Cry'. We had a heavy pow wow closure with 'Bury My Heart' and finishing with 'Starwalker' (dedicated to all generations, past and future) which has to be the best version of the song I've heard Buffy play. The band were fully engrossed in the pow wow singing, Buffy leading them every step with a belief in the song that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up - a tremendous performance that led to a standing ovation. Wow!

And then the band came on for a final bow before just Buffy with the bass player stayed on stage for the encore of 'Goodnight', Buffy's traditional encore from 'Coincidence'. And then outside to see where Buffy would do the traditional meet'n'greet for the faithful and we joined the queue to meet Buffy.

I'm a bit rubbish as a stalker. When it came to my turn to meet Buffy, I said hello, presented the photo from the QE Hall last year for signing and moved on quickly to the band to say how much I'd enjoyed the show. I have this stupid idea that I only have a moment with the star of the show and must move on because there are other people behind me that want to meet her. Chris was a bit more leisurely, chatting to Buffy, and found out that she wanted my email address so she could comment on my blog (which she reads - yes, she reads this). So, after quizzing Chris, I joined the end of the queue again to give Buffy my email address and have my photo taken with her. *Blush*. I really ought to learn to be more assertive. I'd not only seen but had met Buffy - again - and I was happy.

Of course, I'm seeing Buffy again on Saturday night at Shepherd's Bush Empire so I have another opportunity to have a favourite performance and, maybe, take some better photos. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Buffy Sainte-Marie - 'Soldier Blue' Compilation

The new compilation of Buffy songs arrived today, 'Soldier Blue: The Best Of The Vanguard Years'. I'm not sure how widely it's available (I ordered mine through Amazon) but it's clearly aimed at the UK market to coincide with the current tour. The headline on the back of the CD is, 'The best of Buffy's Vanguard recordings, including her biggest UK hit, 'Soldier Blue'.' That alone suggests it's targeted at the UK. I'd quibble that this represents the 'best' of Buffy's songs with Vanguard, but it's an interesting selection.

Let's get the negatives out of the way first. The cover is rather unimaginative - the photo of a young Buffy has been used as the 'artist pic' on for a few years now - there must be photos of Buffy we haven't seen before that could have been used. The songs don't sound like they're re-mastered, which is a bit of a disappointment, but not surprising really. It's also a bit odd that for someone who wrote most of her own songs, we have four covers on this album of 15 tracks.

But the positives make up for this. Firstly, there are some really powerful songs here, particularly 'Soldier Blue', and it works very well as a cohesive collection. There's a nice eight-page booklet in the jewel case with a new essay by Ken Hunt about Buffy with some extracts from reviews of the albums when they came out and some new tales of Buffy all those years ago. For cataloguers, the songs are listed with authors (when it isn't Buffy), the album the song is taken from (which is useful since there are sometimes different versions of the songs) and the year. The booklet also promotes Buffy's website and the video documentary 'A Multimedia Life' (available with Buffy's album of new songs, 'Running For The Drum'), neither of which it had to refer to since they're nothing to do with Vanguard.

There's nothing new here for a Buffy fan but, as Ken Hunt says in the booklet, this could be treated as a 'beginners guide to Buffy' to whet the appetite and encourage listeners to explore the original albums. I wonder if Vanguard will ever get round to a re-mastered boxset...?

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Events and An Award

Psst! Have you heard? There was a very colourful event held in London today, at the Business Design Centre in Islington, to launch the new Family Information Direct service. Well, it's not really a new service, but the name is new. How do I know this? It's my programme, that's why, I'm responsible for it. Here's a photo of the stage I took when no-one was around:

Obviously, other people did most of the work so I could just swan around looking smug. We had around 450 people at the event which showcased all the existing services and the four new services for families that were formally 'launched' today. I was pleased with the event and it seemed like everyone else was happy with it too.

Now, I'm not one to blow my own trumpet but I also found out today that the last event we ran for Family Information Direct - formerly known as Parent Know How - has won an International Visual Communications Association LiveCom Award. I'm not in that industry so haven't heard of it before, but the blurb says:

IVCA LiveCom Awards are the sector leading annual live and experiential awards. These awards celebrate the impact live events and experiential marketing can have on changing attitudes, shifting behavioursand altering attitudes. Live events and experiential marketing are powerful tools for communicators. IVCA LiveCom Awards have quickly become established as the leading sector awards

We were in the 'Seminars & Conferences' 2009 category here. They've kindly put up a short video clip of the event that I've never seen before - I'm not in it, but it's bright and colourful so some things don't change much ...

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Young People Music

Two of my favourite 'young people' have new records waiting to be released - Laura Marling and Blood Red Shoes.

Laura's first album was very well received a year or two back and her new album is due out in March - if this first single, 'Devil's Spoke', is anything to go by it represents significant musical development and sounds really exciting. Definitely bodes well for the album.

And Blood Red Shoes' new album is also released in March, I think. The first single, 'Light It Up' is excellent with drums and thrash guitar and, what do you know, a singalong chorus! Steven and Laura-Mary seem to have decided in which direction they want to go - this will definitely be a crowd pleaser. I love the burning cymbols in the video.

Go on, give them both a listen. I wonder if fire is this years' thing?

A Restrained Blog

I've been very restrained in my blogging this week. You'd never believe that I'm seeing Buffy Sainte-Marie in concert next week, not once, but *twice*. Firstly at the Sage in Gateshead and then at Shepherd's Bush Empire in London. And have I being going on and on and on about it? No, I haven't so you'll have to pardon this blog entry.

Yesterday I started a mammoth session of listening to all my Buffy songs over the weekend, compilations as well as individual albums and singles, famous songs and the not-so famous including obscure 'B'sides, songs I've found around the Internet and a song I recorded from a TV programme about Buffy in 1976 (I think) that doesn't seem to have been recorded but I love anyway, 'I Never Knew What It Was Like To Be An Indian'. This weekend, I will listen to everything so I'm well prepared if Buffy slips an obscure album track into her setlist. Now, I suspect the setlist will be a selection of her big songs and songs from the new album, and I'll be well pleased with that. But then I started thinking, Buffy has a huge catalogue and if I could pick one or two songs, what would they be? I don't think I could pick just one or two, so here are three that I've found clips of on YouTube for you to listen to.

'Song Of The French Partisan', one of the few recordings of other people's songs by Buffy, from the 'She Used To Wanna Be A Ballerina' album. I've no idea why Buffy recorded this particular song, but it usually makes my eyes go moist, a song of bravery and loss. Buffy starts and finishes the song in French in this recording from two years ago:

It would be fun to hear 'Better To Find Out For Yourself' from 'Illuminations', with its abrasive guitar and howling vocals, a very powerful song with a simple message in the title. It's on one of Buffy's compliations from the '70s and I used to play this loudly in my bedroom when I was young. Now, I play it loudly everywhere.

I'd also like to hear 'Qu'Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan' from 'Sweet America'. I got 'Sweet America' in '76 or '77 and played it in my bedroom, just 10 miles from The Sage concert hall so that would take me back in time with it's simple drum beats and pow wow singing. It's a song about Buffy's homeland where her family lived when she was welcomed back into the Cree nation after being adopted in America. It seems appropriate to me and a great homecoming song.

Of course, I also want to hear 'No No Keshagesh', 'Until It's Time For You To Go', 'Still This Love Goes On', 'Soldier Blue', 'Cod'ine', 'Piney Wood Hills', 'Fallen Angels', 'Indian Cowboy' and dozens more .... I'm counting down the days ...

UPDATE: more tracks later and I'd have to add 'Generation', 'Lazarus' (the song Kanye West sampled), 'Los Pescadores' and 'You Know How To Turn On Those Lights' (dontcha baby). So many songs.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Sherlock Holmes

To avoid the rush hour this evening (and my fear of someone swinging a bag onto their shoulders after slamming it into my stomach - unlikely, I know, but who said fears had to be rational?) we went to see 'Sherlock Holmes', the new Guy Ritchie film. I've never seen a Guy Ritchie film before since I'm not particularly interested in 'diamond geezer' East End gang films, or whatever his genre is, but 'Sherlock Holmes' looked very different in the adverts I've seen for it, if only because it's in period costume.

It's a gloomy film and surprisingly atmospheric, a London of the late 1800s with lots of period detail despite the characters being surprisingly modern in tone - the relationship between Holmes and Watson could easily be from the latest cop-buddy movie and the women characters were hardly demur Victorian damsells. Instead of incongruous I found that quite refreshing. I couldn't work out why the baddie's henchmen were French but it allowed Mr Downey to display a great French accent for a few phrases. I though Robert Downey Jr's posh British English accent was fine throughout and, strangely, more convincing than Jude Law's, or maybe it was the lines Jude was given as the witty, sarcastic sidekick? Whatever, I liked the chemistry between them and thought it worked really well except for seeing them both without shirt collars - I've seen dozens of Sherlock Holmes films (Basil Rathbone is still the definitive Mr Holmes) and I don't believe either of them *ever* took their collars off, that's just plain wrong.

Anyway, I liked the atmospheric shots of Victorian London, the mysterious Thames and the skeletal Tower Bridge (that's a great idea, showing it just being built). It would be churlish to point out that the chamber of the House of Lords doesn't really look like that (and didn't back then), that the sewer from the Houses of Parliament doesn't lead right to Tower Bridge (which is miles away) and that there isn't a river route into Parliament but, as I say, that would be churlish. That's just the liberties of a film trying to maintain excitement and pace. Which it does in spades, great pacing and no lingering shots of anything.

I enjoyed it, a 'Boy's Own' romp of a tale of the greatest superhero - Sherlock Holmes with his sidekick, Dr Watson. It's a fun film and I wouldn't try to read too much into it beyond that, an entertainment that does what it says on the tin - entertain. From the way it ended I'd say that we're in for a sequel (with Moriarty as the villain) and I'll certainly pay some good British pounds sterling to see it. It'll be fun!

More Amanda At The Globes

A couple of press photos of Amanda and Neil attending an aftershow party following the Golden Globes ceremony have turned up online. Whoever wrote up the 'Life' one below didn't know who Neil Gaiman was (describing him as Amanda Palmer's 'guest').

Now that the glamour is over for the time being, Amanda is heading back home to Boston for a couple of days before flying to France to start a few months of touring, culminating in the sold out Evelyn Evelyn shows at Bush Hall in London at the end of April. Click here to see if she's playing anywhere near you and then buy tickets.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Amanda At The Golden Globes

Amanda Palmer went to the Golden Globes awards ceremony yesterday with Neil Gaiman and, true to form, seemed to spend her time Twittering and taking pics. As ever, she's sharing her life with us and Neil is joining in by Twittering about her as well (can't wait for the wedding tweets!). Here are some photos of Amanda in her borrowed awards frock and I'm delighted that she took the opportunity to be dead on the red carpet - you've got to give her credit for consistency and for living her art.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Om Shanti Om

Last night I discovered one of the most colourful films of all time and one of the best, most infectious and joyful film songs I've heard in a long time. Yes, I watched 'Om Shanti Om' on C4 as part of its 'Indian Winter' season. Back in the early '90s C4 used to show Bollywood films and television series' so it was nice to see a Bollywood again, and what an epic film, lasting round three hours. The fabulous song is 'Deewangi Deewangi' by Shaan, Shreya Ghoshal, Rahul Saxe, Sunidhi Chauhan, Udit Rayan & Vishal-Shekhar and goodness knows who else (see below) - it's in Hindi but with a chorus in English of 'All hot girls put your hands up and say Om Shanti Om, All cool boys come on make some noise, say Om Shanti Om'. It's fabulous and was a hit everywhere that appreciates Bollywood.

'Om Shanti Om' is a film of two parts - the first is set in the '70s with the awful fashions and massive over-acting but it makes it the most colourful and daft thing I've seen in a long time. The second half is more serious, set in the present day and deals with the consequences of the action in the first half. Both aspects of the film have the mandatory big song and dnace numbers and they're great. The film's in Hindi (so I read the translation) but every now and then they'd drop an English word or phrase into the script which was most odd. 'Om Shanti Om' is a film within a film and, since it celebrates Bollywood, was packed with Bollywood stars doing cameos. The stars of the film are Shahrukh Khan as our hero and Deepika Padukone as our most beautiful heroine, both playing roles 30 years ago and today, with Shahrukh as the reincarnation of a film extra who loved the film star played by Deepika.

Anyway, you need to see and hear 'Deewangi Deewangi' the big number at the after-show party on the night our hero wins the best actor award (this is the HD version and doesn't have the translation). It's filled with cameos from thirty Bollywood stars including the most lovely Shilpa Shetty near the start in an electric pink and gold sari. I defy you not to dance around the room singing out 'Om Shanti Om' at the top of your voice - you have been warned. The only downside is that Deepika isn't in this sequence (although you do get some fleeting flashbacks of her at the very end after the baddie walks in) but I bet she was dancing along behind the scenes...

OK.. 1, 2, 3... OM SHANTI OM !!!!

Friday, 15 January 2010

Amanda To Get Married

Amanda Palmer has just announced she's geting married to Neil Gaiman. She did it via her blog and Twitter, of course, she shares so much of her life with us mere mortals via technology. Her last blog was about asking followers to choose her frock for when she attends the Golden Globes with Neil.

Whenever I think of them as a couple I think back to meeting them last summer after the Alan Cumming show and then seeing Amanda at Union Chapel a few days later and Neil remembering us as 'the gentlemen from the Alan Cumming show'. Not that I anticipate an invitation to the wedding or anything, but they're both nice people.

All the best!

Buffy Sainte-Marie Tour 2010

It's not long until Buffy starts her tour of Europe followed by a few dates in Canada. This is her first tour of the UK in I don't know how long - she's played odd gigs on the Continent now and then but her first gig in London in 17 years took place last summer at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and I, of course, was there.

I'm seeing Buffy twice on the upcoming tour, firstly at The Sage in Gateshead and then at Shepherd's Bush Empire in London. I grew up in a little village about 10 miles from The Sage, playing the few Buffy records in my bedroom that I could lay my hands on in the mid-70s. I've visited The Sage but never been to a concert there so I'm looking forward to it. It's a purpose built concert hall so I'm expecting great things from the acoustics.

The full list of dates are:

24 Jan 2010 19:30
The Anvil Basingstoke, London and South East
26 Jan 2010 19:00
Leamington Assembly Leamington Spa, Midlands
27 Jan 2010 20:00
Old Fruitmarket Glasgow, Scotland
28 Jan 2010 19:30
Sage Theatre Gateshead, Northeast
30 Jan 2010 19:00
O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire London, London and South East
31 Jan 2010 19:00
Wulfrun Hall Wolverhampton, Midlands
2 Feb 2010 20:00
Fabrik Hamburg
3 Feb 2010 20:00
Astra Kulturhaus Berlin
5 Feb 2010 20:00
AB Club Brussels
7 Feb 2010 20:00
Paradiso Amsterdam, Noord-Holland
8 Feb 2010 20:00
L’Alhambra Paris, Ile-de-France
10 Feb 2010 20:00
Bootleg Theatre Los Angeles, California
12 Feb 2010 20:00
Cultural Olympiad 2010: Aboriginal Pavillion Vancouver, British Columbia
6 Mar 2010 18:00
Exhibition Park Regina, Saskatchewan
23 Mar 2010 19:30
Orpheum Theatre Vancouver, British Columbia

Thursday, 14 January 2010


I think I understand what 'cabin fever' means. I've been holed up at home all year so far, kept indoors following my operation on 30 December and the snow and ice we've had for the last week or two - I've rarely ventured outside due to the fear that I might slip and undo my stitches, sad but true. I can count the number of times I've been outside my front door on the fingers of one hand and all but one of those adventures comprised a slow and very careful walk up the road to the High Road to Sainsbury's. Following the rain this morning, most (but not all) of the snow and ice has vanished and if you can understand my physical joy in being able to stride out while walking at last, then you've probably been in a similar situation at some time. It felt *so* good.

So, to celebrate being able to go outside without the fear of slipping I took myself up to my local moving picture emporium (opposite Sainsbury's, so not that adventurous) to see 'Avatar' in 3D. The last thing I saw in 3D - and, I think, the only thing I've ever seen in 3D - was Santa Claus throwing presents right, left and centre while flying in his sled down Fifth Avenue. And yes, I did raise my hands to catch a non-existent present. That was one of the opening sequences to the Christmas spectacular at Radio City Music Hall in New York a few years ago.

The trailers for the film seemed to all be for 3D films so we're going to be inundated this year with special glasses every time you go to the picture house. Doubt I'll see many of them but one of the trailers was for a new 'Shrek' so I hope to see that one.

Anyway, 'Avatar'. At some unspecified future time we discover a planet with incredible mineral wealth that is only spoiled by having indigenous humanoid life-forms. Isn't it annoying when that happens? So the very clever scientists grow false indigenous bodies and (somehow) transfer the mind of humans into the bodies to animate them so we can learn about the world and its peoples while we start mining operations. Naturally there's the scientific community, the business corporation and the military contingent.

Then along comes our hero, a young man in a wheelchair replacing his brother who has inconveniently died after his indigenous body has been grown and agrees to take his brother's place since they share the same DNA. The young man gets separated from the scientists on his first venture out into the forests of the planet, gets attacked and saved by a native, and eventually becomes part of the local community (that lives in a hooooj tree). Then the humans decide to blow up the tree since it sits on the biggest mineral deposit and it's total war.

It's a little far fetched and full of hokum but is, nonetheless, totally fab at the same time and, for a very long film, the pace of the movie kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what could possibly happen next. And the 3D and special effects were amazing. This is state of the art film technology folks, so who knows what we might be seeing in a year or two's time based on this. It is visually stunning and the 3D made me move a few times to avoid things flying out of the screen.

It was a typical 'noble savage' mixed with Gaia kind of storyline, with our hero going native when he understands that all the world is one and all things are linked. This is graphically demonstrated during the war at the end when the world turns all its creatures against the invading humans. It worked for me.

I'm quite envious of the creature-makers - they must've had the best time imagining outlandish creatures and then giving life to them. Loads of them had four front legs and two back legs, dragon/pterodactyl-derivatives, mega-rat-things and all sorts of creatures. I *want* to be a creature-maker. Imagine the power of dreaming up some weird creature and giving life to it the next day? I'm sure it took longer than that but it's a nice dream.

There were only three things that slightly spoiled it for me, in total taking, maybe, 30 seconds of the film, so totally insignificant but they stick in the mind. One was our hero in his indigenous body shagging his indigenous girlfriend - c'mon people, this was the cartoon bit, do they really need to have sex rather than simply joining their hair filaments or something (you'll understand the hair filaments if you've seen the film). The second was seeing Sigourney Weaver run like a middle aged woman. That is just plain wrong - Sigourney *does not* run like that and I fully blame the director. There was a nice nod to Sigourney's (and Cameron's) past glories by using the mechanised body skeletons (the 'Get away from her, you bitch!' scene from 'Aliens') as part of the invasion. But I repeat, that's *not* how Sigourney runs. The third was letting the heroic, plucky and spunky woman pilot (whose name I can't even remember) just get blown up without her moment of glory (she's obviously this film's Vasquez).

I'll happily give it five stars. I wonder if it looks very different in 2D? I might have to go back to see it again to check it out...

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Cynthia Schloss

Who? That was my first question when I came across the name - 'who is Cynthia Schloss?' Followed by 'and why haven't I heard of her before?'.

I was browsing through my iTunes library yesterday to delete little played tracks since my laptop is running out of memory , and I found 'Cha-La-La I Need You' by Cynthia Schloss on one of my Trojan box sets of reggae music. I must have heard the song before but it didn't register so, when I played it yesterday, it came as a bit of a surprise to hear this lovely voice on top of gentle reggae beats.

I did a quick Google search but didn't see anything informative about who this mysterious woman was. There were lots of misleading links to download sites and suchlike, but no real information about Cynthia. A slightly more thorough search told me that she died in 1999 at the age of 51. That's sad, that someone worked as a singer for 25 years, released her own records and had hits as well as singing with people like Peter Tosh, but there's so little information available about who she was and what made her the singer she became. She has a lovely voice and her recordings go on and bring her to new audiences today, years after her death. It's good that Cynthia is actively remembered in Jamaica with a memorial show last year.

There are two albums and various other songs available to download from iTunes so she made sufficient impact to be on there. I've downloaded one album and am happily listening to the sunny sunshine reggae vibes and her lovely voice while the snow lies on the trees and the ground outside.

There's so much music out there by undiscovered artists that I'm quite pleased to start the new year off by discovering Cynthia. Who next, I wonder?

If you know anything about Cynthia Schloss then please get in touch. I'd love to know more.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Fat, Beardy, Bald And Grey

Ok. Tonight has been terrible. So far. Well, today hasn't been too good either.

Not only did Gareth blog about ageing in terms of getting fat, beardy, balding and grey (which rung bells with me), but I accidentally saw the review of Sandra Bullock's new film and, liking Sandra, thought I'd look at her wiki entry. Then saw her age. How on earth does she look like she looks and I look like I look and yet she's only four years younger then me? There's something wrong there. Devil worship or simply mileage, I don't know. But something's going on here.

Of course, what Gareth failed to mention is the acquisition of scars as you age (Gareth will receive his the next time I see him). I told you about my latest operation last week and threatened to post a photo of my latest scar. Well, to counter-balance Miss Bullock's beauty I thought I'd show you my scar. I took all the dressings off on Sunday (while listening to the Human League - that was an important condition) and took this photo - it's not a bad scar (as scars go) and is about 1.5" but it seems to have changed the shape of my belly button. Once the hair grows back it shouldn't be too noticeable. It's quite sore at the moment, but hey, that's part of ageing...


My first trip out in the new year was to see 'Nine' at my local multiplex moving picture emporium. I don't really know anything about it and only found out it was based on a stage musical of the same name when Chris told me afterwards. But the clips I'd seen looked good, so decided it was worth a look. And it got me out of the house.

It's a big, brash musical mainly set in the studio with the same set, slightly changed, used for most of the big musical scenes, and that worked really well for the most part. It's the tale of a famous Italian film director (Daniel Day-Lewis) in the late '50s/early '60s who is days away from starting his latest film venture but he doesn't have a script or any ideas. The film shows his predicament and his agonies (allowing Daniel to 'act') as he suffers 'directors block' and then runs away to a spa on the coast to escape everyone - except they soon catch up with him. The film flashes backwards and forwards showing the past and present of the director and his muses and stars, moving at a nice pace.

The director's story was meant to keep it all going and link the different elements together but it didn't quite work for me - it was more of a sequence of spectacular song scenes with a bit of narrative in between. Daniel was suitably dramatic as the director and carried off his songs well enough, but he sounded like Maximillian Schell and I couldn't get that out of my head.

Of the ladies, I'd highlight Penelope Cruz as a sex kitten with some nice dramatic moments; Judi Dench made-over into a voluptuous siren with a sexy French accent in her song (but not in her speaking voice, which was odd); and Fergie, who surprised me with the power of her voice and presence on screen, showing off her 'lady bumps' to good effect as the local whore of the director's town when he was young. Her 'Be Italian' sequence was excellent.

Sophia Loren was a pleasant surprise and Nicole Kidman looked good and sang one song, but the real kudos should go to Marion Cotillard who was excellent, a gentle and under-played presence on the screen with two emotional songs which she sang with a good voice, particularly, 'My Husband Makes Movies'. I'd also have to mention Kate Hudson's 'Cinema Italiano' sequence with her in shimmery miniskirt and full-on '60s girl singer moves. Great stuff.

I enjoyed it, it lacked something in the storytelling department (like explaining the relevance of the title 'Nine' which, I'm told, is clear in the stage version), but it's a good way of spending a couple of hours.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Mrs Robinson

I don't often comment on current affairs but there's been a lot of stuff floating round the web and TV in the last week or so about Iris Robinson's alleged fraud and sexual shenanigans with a teenager 40 years her junior. Depending on what you read, the context varies from her "influencing" local building planning decisions and getting kick-backs to her moral hypocrisy in condemning gays as "abominations" and worse than child molesters and quoting Jesus and the Bible while, at the same time, having a sexual relationship with a 19 year old boy and giving him £45K raised from builders to start his own business and then demanding it back. It's a very convoluted story that I've just watched on the BBC 'Panorama' programme but it seems that adultery isn't a cardinal sin any more. When will Bible-bashers learn that it'll come back to haunt them one day? It also seems to now appear that she also shagged the lad's dad before he died two years ago.

Much as I'd like to say 'so what?' it's none of my business who a 59 year old sleeps with, the money is the problem and also the fact that she's a paid representative of the people spouting dangerous hypocrisy, paid for by me. Who does she think she is to raise money due to her position to buy a toy-boy when I'm paying her salary?

It seems she had three jobs - a Westminster Member of Parliament (whose salary I, along with every other tax payer, pays), a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly (not sure if I pay her salary for this but I suspect I contribute to it since Northern Ireland isn't fully devolved) and is a local council member able to make and lobby for planning decisions (I assume salary is paid locally for this). Her husband Peter is also a Westminster MP and Northern Ireland MLA and, on top of that, is the First Minister - except he's now had to step down. Between them, they're paid several hundred thousand pounds from the public purse, from tax payers money. As such, they have to sign up to codes of conduct, codes that obviously Iris (at least) didn't think really applied to her. Why are MPs allowed to have other jobs - or, at least, other jobs paid from the public purse? How on earth can they be expected to do all three in a professional way, no matter how good they are or how many hours they put in each day?

OK, we can all snigger at the sexual shenanigans and her name reflecting the story of 'The Graduate' when Mrs Robinson seduced a young student Dustan Hoffman. After the excesses of last years' expenses scandals, why on earth should we be surprised to find more politicians with their snouts in the trough? But the real issue here is the future of power sharing in Northern Ireland. The arrogance and lust of one woman steeped in her own righteousness and hypocrisy might cause the collapse of a government and, in the worst case, set back the peace process in Northern Ireland a decade or more.

I shouldn't laugh but I saw this on David's blog and thought I'd nick it...

Friday, 8 January 2010

The Frozen Island

I've been enjoying the snow, mainly from the warmth of my flat, but when I saw this photo on the BBC site I had an urge to go out. There are loads of beautiful snow photos everywhere on the web this week but none of them are mine. I need to remedy that as soon as I pluck up the courage to go outside and get over my fear of slipping on ice and ripping open the stitches from my operation last week (yes, I am a wimp). In the meantime, enjoy this NASA satellite photo from yesterday (7 January) of the whole country under a blanket of snow...