Saturday, 27 February 2010

Buffy Sainte-Marie - 'Relocation Blues'

You could've heard a pin drop when Buffy sang 'Relocation Blues' by Floyd Westerman at Shepherd's Bush. Here's a video of Buffy singing it and 'Up Where We Belong' at a concert in 2009.

Buffy Sainte-Marie at Shepherds Bush

Another 'WOW' from me! Here's a short video of Buffy singing 'Starwalker' at Shepherd's Bush Empire on 30 January 2010 - the sound is a bit awful in this clip, but great to see her. And I was there, of course!

SLADE - 'Radio Wall of Sound'

All I can say is 'WOW'! I've never seen this before, SLADE performing live for the very last time on Top Of The Pops with their last hit (so far) in 1991. Even though Jim sings lead vocals for a change, Sir Noddy can't help but be noticed. Thanks to the 'SLADE are for life... not just Christmas' Facebook group for posting this.

That video has made me think, though... the effortlessness of their stage presence, the raucous guitars, pounding drums and, of course, Sir Nod's vocals ... wouldn't a reunion gig (or tour) be pretty damn fabulous? Sir Noddy must get fed up with fans telling him to rejoin the band, but if he and Jim got back with Dave and Don, and it was handled right, it would be one of *the* events of the year. A live CD/DVD package of the gig, repackaged 'greatest hits', a DVD of unseen telly footage from around the world (there's loads in the vaults) and maybe, just maybe, an album of new songs .... I can dream...

Friday, 26 February 2010

Suzanne Vega on Tour

The lovely Suzanne Vega is heading out on the road again to promote her new album, 'Suzanne Vega: Close Up, Volume 1: Love Songs' and will visit our fair shores in June. Once again, she's heading to Cadogan Hall in London and I've just booked tickets - they're selling fast so get 'em while you can.

It's always a pleasure and a delight to be in the presence of Miss Vega.



13 June 2010 Isle of Wight Festival, UK (TICKETS

14 June 2010 The Lowry, Salford, UK (TICKETS)

16 June 2010 London Cadogan Hall, UK (TICKETS)

17 June 2010 Anvil, Basingstoke, UK (TICKETS)

19 June 2010 Town Hall, Birmingham, UK(TICKETS)

20 June 2010 Sage, Gateshead, UK (TICKETS)

21 June 2010 City Hall, Glasgow, Scotland (TICKETS)

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

PiL Cometh!

Rejoice America, PiL cometh!

Public Image Limited hasn't toured the USA for 18 years but has just announced a series of gigs in May. This will be the 30th anniversary of the bands first tour of America. Head over to the website for details.

I loved seeing PiL at The Electric Ballroom just before Christmas and loved the mad cacophany of sound they generated. America, you are *so* lucky - book tickets now!

Monday, 22 February 2010

Sugababes: 'Wear My Kiss'

The new single from the Sugababes is out, 'Wear My Kiss'. It's a return to form after the past couple of singles that didn't quite cut it for me and seemed to just project the 'babes as sextoys rather than sexkittens - you can be sexy without being sexploited, y'know. I think this treads a nice middle ground. There's a bit of Britney in the mix somewhere, but it sounds good to me!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Meggan Mullally

Last night we went to see Meggan Mullally & The Supreme Music Program at the Vaudeville Theatre on The Strand. Far from being a vanity production for a telly star, Meggan has worked with this band for 12 years and appeared in various musical roles on Broadway. Meggan was relaxed, long hair, glasses, black cardy and jeans, a show of two halves, with the first half being made up of songs I'd never heard of but the second half had songs by Jagger/Richards, Randy Newman and the incomparable Bobby Gentry.

I didn't know what to expect or, to be honest, what I was seeing. Meggan's voice worked better with some songs than with others, but I never knew where she was going with the songs, whether they were meant to be serious or jokey, or where she was taking us. The band is clearly very professional, as are her vocals, it was just an oddly constructed show.

She gave good understated anecdotes, about meeting Mick Jagger and him not knowing who she was (before her excellent version of 'Backstreet Girl'), explaining 'Fancy' as being the song all women should sing to their mothers on Mothers Day (the Bobby Gentry song about making your daughter a whore), about a trip to Prague with a hellish guide called Olga, and how her mother thought she was playing to the Queen - to which she *had* to say she was playing to some queens, but not the Queen (which was a bit obvious).

Much as I enjoyed seeing Meggan on stage I have to admit my mind drifted a bit, particularly re-running meeting Amanda Palmer in that very theatre at the Alan Cumming show and wondering whether she should hire the theatre. She received a standing ovation at the end and, cynical old me, I wondered whether people were clapping Meggan or Karen (off 'Will & Grace'). I suspect the latter, and wondered how many of the ovationers even owned one of her albums.

On leaving, Chris pointed out that the group of loud, thin, (obviously gay) men we'd circumvented included Graham Norton going mad for Meggan. Well, good for her. I don't think I'll be paying hard cash to see her again.

Vanessa Richardson, BAFTA Fellow

Congratulations to Vanessa Redgrave on receiving the Fellowship of the BAFTAs at tonight's awards ceremony. It was presented by Prince William and Uma Thurman and she seemed genuinely overwhelmed by the affair. I suppose it's one thing to turn up expecting an award but it's another to see clips on the big screen of your performances from the '60s to the present day and to still be calm and collected. She is still beautiful.

The only question mark from my perspective was the deep curtsy she made to Prince William (who should bow to her - what's he done to warrant her obeisance?). I met his dad once, y'know. He presented me with my degree from the University of Wales many years ago. I didn't bow to him.

Winter Olympics 2010

I've been concentrating on getting my New York blogging finished before mentioning the Olympics, so I must award a belated congratulations to Amy Williams for winning gold in the 'skeleton' (a daft name, otherwise known as going headfirst downhill on a tea-tray). It was a bit mean for the USA to lodge a complaint about her helmet but it was rightly thrown out. That reeks of bad losers.

I've been watching the bobsleigh, skating, the curling, various skiing events and, tonight, ski cross, a fabulous high octane adrenaline rush of a sport that leaves me gasping at the sheer audacity of the gentlemen involved - it must be murder on the knees! Much as I love snow I've never been skiing or taken part in any winter sport (other than skating a few times when I was a young kid) and, to be honest, I don't much want to. But they look very exhilarating, much more so than sports in the summer games that all look like hard work. I'm looking forward to the rest of the Games.

Buffy Sainte-Marie: 'Listen To The Wind Blow'

A very happy birthday to Buffy Sainte-Marie for her birthday yesterday. Still strutting her stuff on stage as I saw a few weeks ago at Shepherd's Bush.

While browsing for Buffy-stuff online I found a new video on YouTube from her Sesame Street days with her singing, 'Listen To The Wind Blow', a song I've never heard before. I noticed another few new videos but here's 'Listen To The Wind Blow' in celebration of Buffy's birthday. Enjoy!

New York: Museums, Galleries and Stuff

New York is awash with galleries and museums, lots to see and do but, for some reason, we weren't in a museums mood this trip. Maybe there just weren't any exhibitions that sounded intriguing enough?

We went to the Metropolitan Muesum of Art to see the exhibition of painting in Jain manuscripts. I enjoyed the Garden and Cosmos exhibition at the British Museum last summer and assumed this would be something similar (there was nothing in the online description to make me think otherwise). So, after a big lunch in the restaurant (at which I discovered the simple delight of a screw-cap-that-looked-like-a-flip-cap rather than flip-cap Budweiser bottle) we started wandering the vastness of the museum to find the exhibition. The fact that no-one of the staff seemed to know where it was should have been a warning - all of them said versions of 'I'm not sure, but go down/up that way and ask there'. We eventually found it after waking throulgh a lovely reconstricted medieval Japanese garden and seeing some Buddha images in the distance. It was up some stairs to one room, roughly slightly smaller than my living room with, maybe, around 20 framed pages from Jain manuscripts with small illustrative paintings. To make it livelier, they'd added some small sculptures and big fabrics on Jain themes. And that was it - it was interesting as far it went but it didn't go far. The next room had some interesting Tibetan mandalas and Buddha images but that was it for the Jains. O well.

We also went to visit the National Museum of the American Indian (part of the Smithsonian) down at Bowling Green by Battery Park. I think the main museum is in Washington but the New York branch is based in the old Custom House, a building demonstrating the power of the USA to its new immigrant peoples and the main room still has the enormous oval desk in the centre that must have sat 50 or more customs officials at the same time waiting for people to decalre their wealth or poverty. It's a bit odd that this was chosen as the home for the museum. Unfortunately, most of the rooms were closed for renovation or for constructing new exhibitions but going in was a relief from the freezing temperatures and snow outside. There were two exhibitions running, 'A Song For The Horse Nation' and a corridor full of native American decorated skateboarding artifacts (ahem).

'A Song For The Horse Nation' was quite interesting, telling the story of native Americans and the horse since the first herd was brought over (or re-introduced, as we're told) by Colombus. It included storyboards, manequins wearing horse related clothes, saddles and other horse decorations and some machines that translated words into various native languages. There was some incredible antique beadwork on show and my favourite was a Cree saddlebag decorated with intricate beadwork flowers, still bright and alive.

Other than that, a trip to the MoMA shop on Spring Street is probably the closest we got to Art. I do find it odd that New York is home to some of the most iconic buildings in the world - the Chrysler Building, the Rockefeller Centre which is big fuck-off statement about personal wealth and power - but its public art is poor. Now, much as I like the Rockefeller Centre can anyone persuade me that the golden statue of Prometheus has any merit other than it's status of appearing on millions of cards and christmas cards? Mind you, public art in London isn't much better, mainly seeming to consist of long-dead 'war heroes' of Empire whose names few people recognise any more.

Friday, 19 February 2010

New York: Food 'n' Drink

You can eat and drink virtually anything in New York City if you know where to look. On this trip we went to some old haunts and some new places. I also discovered a new beer.

When I think of drinks in New York theatres I tend to think of JD & cokes in Studio 54 and that's not representative of theatres around Broadway. Studio 54 serves big glasses. most theatres don't. Enough said. And you can't drink at your seats. And why don't New York theatres serve ice-cream at half time? *So* uncivilised. This time I discovered a new beer in a bar as part of the sprawling Lincoln Centre complex - Sugarhill Brewery beer from Harlem. It was delicious, a nice light taste and colour and I will definitely look out for it again.

So, where did I like? We made return visits to Pigalle (a tradition by now even though there is only one thing on the menu for vegetarians), to the Chelsea Grill (open till 2am and it serves good food and Guinness, both round about W48th Street) and Niko's Greek restaurant with lovely salads (W76th Street). A new one for me was Balthazar's down on Spring Street where we went for breakfast one day which looked like it was from the '20s with a high ceiling and waiters and waitresses in crisp white uniform aprons. The food was nice too, as was the endless topping up of the coffee.

However, the Queen of Diners was the Red Flame Coffee House on W44th next to the Algonquin Hotel where we had at different times breakfast, lunch, pre and post theatre eats and I specialised in delicious omlettes and bagels with a smear (or rather a load) of cream cheese. Yumbo. Very business-like, coffee topped up regularly, food appeared quickly, no pretensions. The Red Flame gets five stars as my eatery of choice. Your job is go to there at every opportunity to keep it open and save it from being turned into yet another Duane Reade (like my previous diner of choice, the Art Cafe on Broadway). Long live the Red Flame!

Other than a light breakfast a couple of times, we never got to eat in the Algonquin so, perhaps, next time, we should have a night off from the theatre and dine in style. But the Algonquin does serve *proper* JD & cokes.

New York: 'South Pacific' at Lincoln Centre

A week ago tonight, Friday, I was watching 'South Pacific' in the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Centre, and what a joy it was. I've never seen it on stage and I've never managed to see the film all the way through so it was a bit of an eye-opener to see how all those famous songs fitted together on stage. The Vivian Beaumont Theatre is a bit like the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre, the audience seated in a big semi-circle around the stage except Vivian has a retracting stage that exposes the orchestra seated underneath - big cor to that when it first pulled back to expose the musicians.

It opened with two Polynesian urchins singing a song before running off to be replaced by our heroine and hero who've obviously just spent a day together with love leaking out of every pore and our heroine having to rush back to the USA navy base she works in as a nurse during World War II. Cut to the navy lads singing about their need for dames (I sniffed at this since some of them obviously wouldn't know what to do with a dame if one was plonked down in front of them!) and the lovely Bloody Mary trying to sell her native tat to the navy lads. We were off and running at high octane as the plot developed.

I loved it! It's an excellent production with a lush, full orchestra providing the tunes and great singers and actors up there on the stage. I surprised myself by deciding at half time that the oldest show we'd seen last week was actually the best. The plot worked, the songs were fabulous and the acting and singing were spot on. Laura Osnes was excellent as Ensign Nellie, David Pittsinger and his operatic voice worked wonders as Emile and Danny Burstein was great as the scheming Billis. I'd also throw big kudos at Loretta Ables Sayre for her Bloody Mary and the almost menacing 'Happy Talk' that I always associate with a happy Captain Sensible. I loved the ending when Nellie and Emile simply held hands underneath the breakfast table when he returns from duty to find her singing to his children at breakfast - I didn't blub, but I wasn't far off. Such a subtle and underplayed ending.

By Friday and 'South Pacific' I was very aware that the newest musical, 'Next To Normal', might have received great reviews but it didn't hold a candle to the oldest musical. 'South Pacific' is excellently scripted, it implies things without having to state them - we never see how Nellie and Emile meet, it's just natural for them to come on stage happy and laughing, pleased with each other's company - and that shows the quality of the writing. And the production was flawless. Needless to say, I bought the cast recording on the way out of the theatre and floated down Broadway (when I wasn't avoiding ice) on a cloud of Polynesian joy.

If I gave star ratings to theatre visits (which I might start doing) I'd rate my Broadway shows like this:

Next To Normal **
Hair *****
Fela! ***
A Little Night Music ****
South Pacific *****

It was a very enchanted evening and I'm very pleased I saw this production. Well done to everyone involved!

New York: Interlude: Algonquin Hotel

It's nice to have a New York 'base' that you return to on subsequent visits and for us it's the Algonquin Hotel on w44th street between 5th and 6th Avenues and a stones throw from Times Square. Nice and central, close to banks, delis and theatres, subway routes to everywhere and, of course, Matilda the Cat onsite (if she can be bothered waiting for strokes).

As you'd expect with an old hotel in New York, the rooms aren't very big but who wants to spend a lot of time in a hotel room in New York? The lobby/lounge is great, with a variety of seating making it more of a big living room than a corporate lobby and, of course, the restaurant includes the 'round table' of Dorothy Parker et al in their evenings of witty banter.

The wallpaper upstairs in the corridors ouside the bedrooms is made of cartoons of the hotel that have appeared in various magazines in the last century, which is a bit novel. None of the cartoons are particularly funny but that's not the point. Here are some pics:

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

New York: 'A Little Night Music' at the Walter Kerr Theatre

Our fourth Broadway show was actually a British production, yet another Menier Chocolate Factory production transferred to Broadway, 'A Little Night Music'. This was also the show with real stars in it - Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones. I saw the Choccy Factory production in December 2008 and enjoyed it so was looking forward to seeing what Broadway would do with it.

The thrills started when Angela Lansbury did the 'turn off your phones' announcement at the start, adding that it was annoying to hear people opening sweets so please do that as well ... That was a lovely touch and a ripple of excitement went around the audience - that was a real *star* speaking to us. And then the play started with Hendrick playing his cello and then spoiling it when he started speaking.

This was definitely a play of loves and hates and I'm afraid the two younger cast members who have a lot of interaction in the play fall into the latter category. Unfortunately, for both of them this was their Broadway debuts. The lad had an annoying Texas twang and the girl had shrieking down to a fine art. Everyone else spoke posh (apart from the maid) so how they've been allowed to continue like this is a puzzlement.

Leaving them to one side, the rest of the cast were excellent. Alexander Hanson reprised his role as the leading man with his understated suave charm. Special kudos go to Leigh Ann Larkin as the maid, who I saw in 'Gypsy' two years ago, for her great voice, great presence and great teasing of the annoying Hendrick. She really brough the part to life as, perhaps, the only realist in the play.

Catherine Zeta-Jones was a pleasant surprise to see live. I know she started in the chorus line but I think of her as a film star and she was really good. To give the part her mark she played it slightly on the bawdy side with lots of knowing entendres and she did a great 'Send In The Clowns'. She played the role of the actress and former lover perfectly. And then there was Angela Lansbury who was a star decades before I was born and she *knows* how to play a part to squeeze the maximum enjoyment out of it, and I suspect she enjoyed playing the part as much as we enjoyed watching. She played it for laughs, tipping into incredible sadness at the end - even though I knew what was coming, it was still a shock. Now, *that's* acting.

If you're in the area of Broadway, you really ought to see this show.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

New York: 'Fela!' at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre

It might've been snowy winter outside last Wednesday night, but in the Eugene O'Neill Theatre it was hot hot hot in the nightclub called The Shrine. The theatre was decked out with statues, images and lights all over the place to create the impression that we were in Fela Kuti's nightclub in Nigeria, and it's great that the production took the effort to transform the theatre, not just the stage. Even better, there was a leaflet in the Playbill encouraging us to get drinks from the bar and drink them at our seats, something banned in most Broadway theatres.

'Fela!' tells the story of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a Nigerian musician and political activist, set in his nightclub in the '70s. It tries to squash a lot in, from going to medical school in London and veering into music instead and creating the fusion of Afrobeat, his stand against corruption and battles with the Nigerian government. It's quite harrowing in places and includes the strangeness of him communing with his dead mother through ancestor worship several times through the show.

It's obviously a labour of love for the writers but I suspect they've crammed too much story into it and that makes it a bit difficult to follow in places. It's also quite selective in what it portrays - hardly a crime but it makes it all rather one-sided. Kevin Mambo played Fela and his Nigerian accent was so thick it would have floated in the slush rivers outside the theatre - perhaps softening it a bit for the purposes of greater understanding would help. But they are my only criticisms of the production - the music was outstanding and very well played, Kevin has a good singing voice and some ace moves and the women dancers were fab, gyrating and vibrating around the stage and up on the floating walkway, they were tiring to watch and I worried about them dancing in their bare feet.

Probably due to the snow outside there were quite a few empty seats so, at half-time we were moved forward into better seats. Yay for sensible seating management as well as being allowed to take drinks to our seats. And thanks to Kevin for the 12 o'clock gyrating hip movements. You can learn the strangest things on Broadway.

New York: 'Hair' at the Al Mirschfield Theatre

My second theatrical experience in New York last week was so much more fulfilling than the first - 'Hair'! I've never seen it on stage or film but know half the songs already as classics sung by everyone who wanted to appear cool in the late '60s/early '70s. And, of course, Alex Harvey was in the Hair Band in London and recorded some of the songs himself.

It's opening in London in the Spring with, I think, largely the same cast as on Broadway, so that's something to look forward to. To blend in with the hippies I wore The Most Beautiful Shirt In The World covered in roses and rosebuds - well, someone has to wear clothes that aren't black. grey or navy blue (New Yorkers, please note that clothes come in many colours). Anyway...

'Hair' is the story of a group of young friends in New York in the late '60s - the Tribe -and that's about as far as story or plot goes. There are scenes of being expelled from school, of hair, of drugs, of generational misunderstandings, of hippies and love, of lots of things held together because they happen to or are sung about by the Tribe. In that, it betrays it's 'performance' and audience participation origin, but I didn't notice it as something lacking at all. The one thing that kept returning, particularly in the second half, was the Vietnam war and the draft when one of the Tribe is called up. The others all burn their draft cards, but not Claude. I'll leave it there so there are some surprises when you see it (and see it, you should).

Even though the play and music are over 40 years old it was almost a breath of fresh air after seeing 'Next To Normal', with good singing voices, lack of pretension and characters I could have some sympathy with. I thought the cast were excellent, particularly Cassie Levy who has a great voice and presence and Gavin Creel as Claude. The hippy language and clothes rung the right bells but every now and then I swear they were wearing Ugg boots and stuff rather than period clothes. And yes, they took their clothes off at the end of the first half but in a dimly lit and understated way - I missed seeing most of them since I was watching Claude sing and he kept his clothes on.

There were lots of nice touches like having a badly copied pink leaflet stuck inside the Playbill inviting us to go to a 'be-in' to 'burn your draft cards' and remind us to 'bring your own pot'. The biogs in the Playbill were also written in truly awful hippy loveliness (noting the star signs of the cast and sending out love to everyone). During some of the several forays into the audience by the cast they brought more leaflets to hand out and flowers to throw at us. Much as I squirm at the thought of audience participation I loved it (partly because I was safe in the middle of the second row).

There was a nice touch at the end of the show with knowing references to snow (this was the eve of Snowmaggedon after all, and we all knew it) and snow fell on the stage. When we got outside it was snowing so, as far as I'm concerned, they must've opened the roof somehow to let in the snow. They also held a 'rave-up' at the end, inviting the audience to join them dancing on the stage which is videoed and you can log on the following day and send the video to your chums, a nice piece of free viral marketing (click here to see what happened on the night we were there).

I thoroughly enjoyed the show and, on the way out, promptly bought the cast recording. I'll be happy to join the be-in when it opens in London. Let your hair grow, man...

Evelyn Evelyn

A little diversion from telling you about my New York adventures, here's the true story about Amanda Palmer's discovery of the Evelyn Evelyn twins and how she got them to record their first album. The record is due out on 30 March. Read Amanda's blog about the twins and visit Evelyn Evelyn's MySpace page to listen to them. I'm looking forward to seeing the twins at Bush Hall in April. They're very shy, y'know.

Monday, 15 February 2010

New York: 'Next To Normal' at the Booth Theatre

Any trip to New York includes several trips to the theatre, more often than not on Broadway. This visit was no different with five shows pre-booked by Chris.

The first show was 'Next To Normal', a show that had a big build-up, the new hit pop-rock musical that has won lots of awards, the radical and original 'bi-polar musical' doing something new with the genre. I ought to point out up front that the leading lady was off the night we went so that might have affected the performance and my view of it but, on the other hand, I can only go by what I see. I entered the theatre hopeful and left it puzzled. What did the rest of the audience see and hear that passed me by?

It's the tale of a middling family set anywhere in America but the mother is having problems, a long-term depression that affects her behaviour. She is the centre of the piece, her experience as a mother, the medication, electric shock treatment, the lot. Yes, it's a fun story. It has a pop-rock score with some muscular guitar moments that give it balls, the staging is on three levels with the middle level at eye level with the balcony where we were sitting in the front row. At the start of the play I believed there were two children in the family but later realised that the son had actually died as an infant and was the reason for the mother's depression - she saw and heard him, but he was dead. That's the only thing in the play that surprised me - I didn't realise he was dead.

I wanted to like this musical, really, I did. But it started going wrong for me at the start when the actress playing the mother started doing odd things with her legs, stretching them out to emphasise the calf. Was she doing this because the proper leading lady did it? It's the kind of thing that would look good in an action photo but just looks naff when it's done in front of you.

And then there was the daughter, the poor little teenager that nobody understood or loved, all 'me me me' and you just know that under her shirt she's all tensed up with the effort of singing (usually looking at the floor or in somebody's face). What was worse was that she sang in that faux Alanis Morissette way of shortening the final vowel in the final word on the line, sounding like 'doctirrrrr' rather than 'doctor' (if you know what I mean). So many American singers seem to do that these days - what was original in Alanis is just annoying in others. And she compounded my misery by saying 'fuck' every 20 words or so - or so it seemed. That was clearly meant to be shocking but why not just throw in a 'cunt' now and then and leave the 'fucks' alone?

I'm afraid those two things alone lost me. The sheer pretension of it, the 'me'-ness of it, meant I had no emotional attachment to it at all. The daughter whinging on about herself when her mother is quite plainly ill and doesn't lift a finger to help was awful. If that was set in this country then I suspect most people would want to give her a slap and tell her to act her age. And perhaps that's the real reason it didn't resonate with me - that slight gap called the Atlantic Ocean. It was just too American for me.

The costumes were a bit naff, with the final scene making them look like they were in a Gap advert (maybe they were?). The characters were a bit stereotyped, the dad was nondescript in the extreme and the only one I liked was Henry, the daughter's nerdy boyfriend who was clearly in there for light relief but he worked for me. The set was pole-dance heaven with a scaffolding theme going on for the cast to swing round on a regular basis.

I'm not giving it a good review, am I? Maybe I should stop there...

New York Interlude 1

Walking back from the excellent production of 'South Pacific' at Lincoln Centre on Friday night I saw this poster on Broadway at about 52nd Street (or thereabouts). A large hoarding announcing to the world that New York has bed bugs with an artists impression of one of the critters (big buggers, aren't they?). That reminded me that, while watching coverage of Snowmaggedon on telly, I'd seen an advert about bed bugs and the bit I remembered showed a cleaning operative vacuuming a computer keyboard. Now, I'm not a sanitation expert by any means, but do bed bugs live in computer keyboards? I thought they had big love for soft furnishings.

I hasten to add that my nice hotel did *not* have bed bugs.

New York: Snowmaggedon

You may not have noticed, but I haven't been around for a week - I've been to New York. With great skill and cunning - and no little bribery of the Gods of Winter - I managed to be there for the great Snowmaggedon of 2010. I don't know where the term 'Snowmaggedon' came from, but it was used endlessly on the NY1 news station in New York, so I've adopted it as the official descriptor for this holiday.

The build-up to Snowmaggedon started on 9 February, with announcements that schools would close for the first time in forever and the world would end the following day. Naturally, my frolicsomeness increased with every mention of 'snow'. Then, later that night, a light dusting of snow began drifting down but didn't lie. The next morning I got up and peered out of the window to see... wet pavements and not the banks of snow I'd been led to believe would welcome me. It was still snowing but not lying.

After breakfast we decided to walk up to Lincoln Centre to get tickets for 'South Pacific' so started to wander up Sixth Avenue. And then the magic happened - the snow started to lie. It came down in jagged layers of hail and coated the ground, the hail biting into my face as we walked into it. Once it started to lie, the snow suddenly started to pile up and within a couple of blocks we were trudging through it, fresh and clean on the city streets, very few people were about and even the traffic largely vanished. Those sensible New Yorkers were all indoors leaving the city as my snowy playground.

After getting to Lincoln Centre covered in a thin layer of snow we decided a cab was in order to get further uptown for lunch so we endured being called 'limeys' by the old man cab-driver (he clearly knew no better - his ancestors might've needed limes, mine had a proper diet) for the sake of getting to Niko's Greek restaurant on time and without being soaked to the freezing skin. I sat watching the snow drift down and get deeper throughout lunch, my eyes full of snow and a yearning for Central Park.

After lunch we crunched through the snow to the park and entered a winter wonderland where everyone was happy with big smiles all over their faces and, it seemed, everyone had a camera. Snowmen were built, birds stood on the frozen ponds, trees weighed down with the snow on their branches and still it snowed, drifting down one moment, driving the next. Naturally, a few snowballs were exchanged. My beard got wetter and wetter (a very strange phenomenon) with the snow gravitating to it and my open mouth, tasting New York snow on my tongue.

With a photo opportunity round every corner I admit to taking loads of photos without knowing how they might look with snow drifting onto the lens but, hey ho, it's Snowmaggedon after all.

We wandered round in a circle trying to find the ice rink for suitable snowy photos but when we eventually found it there was no-one skating and it was closed. I have fond memories of being in New York at this time seven years ago and taking (what I think were) great photos with my pre-digital camera and wanted to repeat the experience with digital clarity. The gloaming was approaching through the snow and the park lights were coming on, so that was a signal to head out of the park and head down Sixth Avenue for the hotel. And guess what? It was *still* snowing.

I was very impressed with the New York Sanitation Department which has the job of managing snowfalls. The street sweepers were out all day and into the evening with mini one-man snow-ploughs, ice shovels and gritting machines to try to keep the pavements clear for pedestrians. The roads were kept clear by the traffic and by the big garbage trucks with their snow-ploughs fitted to the front of the trucks. It was all very professional and must've been a very long day for most of the cleaners, and I was most impressed. With the London snow in January the focus was on the roads, not the paths, so it was nice to see New York prioritising pedestrians.

After a theatre trip (to see 'Fela', about Fela Kuti and his hot, Nigerian, music) we trudged back to the hotel, alternately over snow drifts and, in other places, oceans of wet slush. And yes, it was still snowing, but only lightly. Walking through drifts in the park in the afternoon and then rivers of slush in the evening finally sounded the death knell of my big winter boots bought in wintry Toronto five years ago as they got soaked and so did my feet. A JD & coke helped my recovery.

The next morning I fully expected the snow to have vanished but it was still there in the form of large drifts along curbs and slabs of ice, and loads of cars and vans didn't bother to clear their roofs as they drove around the city. The snow was still there on Saturday night when we left. Being met by British grey skies and drizzle on Sunday was rather a let down.

Still, I survived Snowmaggedon!

And a few photos from Battery Park the day after Snowmaggedon:

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Long Powwow Nights

I received a nice surprise today, a copy of 'Long Powwow Nights' by David Bouchard and Pam Aleekuk, with paintings by Leonard Paul and music by Buffy Sainte-Marie. Buffy's contribution is the marvellous 'Darling Don't Cry' (written with Edmund Bull), her song about the pow wow trail criss-crossing the Canadian and USA border, a song I heard her sing live just last week.

The book is a slim volume, a poem about the pow wow keeping traditions alive written from the perspective of a boy talking about his mother, a pow wow dancer who inspires him to be proud of his heritage and the dance. She danced her magic in the pow wow, in feathers and beads, and now so does he, years after she died. With two verses per page in English and in Mi'kmaq with lovely paintings of pow wow dancers on each facing page, it's a well produced book. Inside the front cover is a CD with the poem read in English by David Bouchard and in Mi'kmaq by Patsy Paul-Martin, both readings ending with Buffy singing 'Darling Don't Cry', the perfect ending.

It's a lovely little book.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Boy George - 'Amazing Grace'

This is Boy George's new single, due out in March. I haven't heard anything about the new album yet but it seems like Mr O'Dowd is back in a dance vibe. There's also going to be a new play as part of the BBC2 '80s season later in the spring about his early life - should be fun! I assume the album will come out around then.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Alex Harvey - 4 February

I logged onto MySpace this evening to see what's happening to find a few messages from the Sensational Alex Harvey Band reminding us that it was today, 4 February in 1982, that Alex left us, on the eave of his 47th birthday. I've blogged about Alex a few times and make no apology for blogging again.

SAHB posted a link to a video of Hugh McKenna playing 'Anthem' on keyboards, the same version he played at Alex's funeral 28 years ago. I prefer hearing Alex sing that marvellous song so I've posted the video of a live performance of 'Anthem' below.

I count myself lucky to have seen SAHB play live in 1973 - the first band I ever saw play live - and regret not seeing them on their subsequent tours. But Alex is still part of my life in lots of ways. I will see 'Hair' next week in New York and Alex was one of the original 'Hairband' in the late '60s. I was delighted to track down the CD of the Hairband album 'Hair Rave-Up' a year or two ago, with Alex playing guitar on all tracks and singing lead on most songs.

I will raise a JD & coke to Alex in the half-time of 'Hair' next week. I think he'd approve.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Suzanne Vega - 'Close Up'

Did you know there was a new album from Suzanne Vega available? No, I didn't either - until tonight! And, of course, I've just ordered it. Click on over to the Suzanne Vega Store for details and order it.

According to the blurb:

Suzanne Vega is reinterpreting a majority of her catalog in an intimate and personal manner, creating 4 new thematic albums that will be released over the next 2 years. The first is Suzanne Vega Close-Up, Vol 1, Love Songs, which will include Marlene on the Wall, Caramel, Gypsy, Small Blue Thing and many more!

And, of the first album, Suzanne says:

These are songs that I have written over the years and now re-recorded. I wanted to give you, the listener, a small sort of gift. These are the songs I consider love songs, although they are also songs of attraction, flirtation, and confrontation. Thanks for listening.

With Love,


If you pre-order you get an instant download of 'Marlene On The Wall' which sounds excellent, with Suzanne's voice as beautiful as ever. New songs would be best, but I'm more than happy with re-interpretations, especially if they're all as good as 'Marlene'.

The frustrating thing is that Suzanne is playing way out in some town in New Jersey while I'm in New York - so near and yet so far...

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

'Six Degrees Of Separation' at The Old Vic

This evening we went to see 'Six Degrees Of Separation' at The Old Vic, a play I've never heard of by an author I've never come across before, so that should make for an interesting time. I was also thrown when Chris mentioned it was 90 minutes with no half time - no half time? What's that all about?

Anyway, it was a very simple set with a red carpet, a sofa and a table surrounded by moving oval walls painted a la Rothko in red and brown. Most appropriate for the home of an art dealer. As the blurb says:

When Ouisa and Flan Kittredge let an injured young man into their home in the middle of the night, they open the door on a new and enticing world. But is it really what it seems? Guare's witty play scratches beneath the surface of a world obsessed with money and fame – how can anyone be sure that people are who they say they are?

Inspired by the real life story of a flamboyant con artist who convinced wealthy residents in Manhattan that he was the son of actor Sidney Poitier, Six Degrees of Separation is a captivating study of society's pretensions exposed by one man's self-confidence and imagination.

The play originally debuted on Broadway in 1990 and in 1993 it was adapted as a film starring Stockard Channing - reprising her Broadway role - Donald Sutherland and Will Smith. This new production will be the first major London revival of the play in almost 18 years.

As Chris commented afterwards, it's one of those plays that you can read a lot into, to which I replied that that might say more about the person than the play. I am deep, sometimes. I don't think I read too much into the play - and possibly read not enough into it - but I quite enjoyed it. The first 15 minutes or so made me worry I might get bored or drop off but it then grabbed my attention and I started paying attention to what was happening - and what wasn't happening - on stage. The main couple were played by Leslie Manville and Anthony Head, with Paul (the fraudster) played by Obi Abili. I quite liked Obi but he was a bit hyper every now and then. On the other hand, Anthony Head seemed hyper throughout.

It was a bit dated by references to apartheid at the start and then references to HIV/AIDS and condoms later in the play but it was interesting to see the main character played as a gay black man and how the characters respond to this, particularly when he's caught on the couch with a shag for the night and the shag merrily parades around the stage waving his willy at poor Leslie. He certainly wasn't shy.

There was a lot going on in the play, comments on the generations, on poor little rich kids and their parents, on high society, on fake art lovers when it's really about money, etc etc. I felt sorry for the young people in the play who play rather two dimensional obnoxious rich kids in contrast to poor kid Paul who is nice, apparently educated and respectful of his elders, etc. A bit obvious but hey-ho, that's the way it goes.

In a way, I didn't much care that Paul was conning the rich people but when he took all the money from the poor young couple, seduced the bloke who then committed suicide, then the play took on a bit more of a moralising tone that I'm not sure really worked. It was rather an abrupt turn, probably meant to shock but it just made me think, 'aha, he's setting up the ending'. And he was.

Still, I enjoyed it enough to not whinge that it was short and I missed my half-time drink and ice-cream (some things are important). Would I see it again if the tickets were cheaper? Yes. I think there's enough in the play to get me thinking again.