Wednesday, 31 March 2010

'Avenue Q' at Wyndham's Theatre

What do you do after a long day? You wander down to Avenue Q of course - all life is there. I first saw the show in New York in 2005 and then twice in 2006 when it came to London - I can't believe it's four years since I last saw the show. It's full of life and laughter and no little wisdom (in the shape of the Bad Idea Bears, my heroes).

I don't know what it is about the show but I had a big ole smiley grin on my face throughout, learning how it sucks to be me, about Lucy The Slut, about racism and the true purpose of the Internet. And, strangely, we were in Row Q of the stalls. In front of us was row upon row of young men in suits - was it some kind of conference evening out or something? and why did they have a stuffed badger? Um... moving on ...

The stars of the show are, of course, the puppets, but some of the characters are actually human and I was pleased to see Delroy Atkinson playing Gary Coleman - Delroy played Hamilton in Ray Davies's 'Come Dancing' at Stratford East, one of my favourite theatrical experiences in recent years. I also liked Jaqueline Tate who had a nice presence and a nice voice as Christmas Eve. Of course, I couldn't possibly comment on Kate and Princeton having sex on stage, rather loudly I might add.

Lucy The Slut always makes her mark with swaying hips and swinging bosoms and Trekkie as the porn king, but it's the Bad Idea Bears that I love. They are full of advice on how buying more beer makes it cheaper and, if you need to commit suicide, they helpfully have a rope, and always with a smile on their faces. Luckily I have my own Bad Idea Bear.

Everyone should see 'Avenue Q' at least once in their lives.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

'Sister Act' at The London Palladium

Last evening I was treated to a performance of 'Sister Act' at The Palladium. I've been meaning to see it for ages but not got round to it until last night. You know the story - no, I won't believe you if you say you've not seen the film - and the stage show is close enough to the film that you'll know what's happening but I didn't find that a problem at all. If anything, I kept wondering how they'd do the next scene...

They generally did the next scene with a massive set change, with different sets appearing and disappearing seemingly with every blink - this is a show that needs a *big* stage, with gothic columns appearing from above the stage, disco scenes twisting round on a turntable, a giant madonna figure popping up amidst massive stained glass windows - the producers certainly didn't stint on scenery. And the costumes got ever more elaborate as the show progresses until the nuns end up dancing round in silver and gold lame habits. Yes, it's all in there somewhere, although I didn't notice a kitchen sink.

And it was great fun! The sets, the costumes, the singing and dancing - all were excellent. It's an entertainment, a piece of fun escapism, and its foolish to expect it to be anything but that. What it does, it does very well and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And so did everyone else judging from the applause and standing ovation.

The stars are Patina Miller as Deloris the disco singer hiding away in the convent, with Sheila Hancock as Mother Superior and Ian Lavender as the local priest (who's cassocks became ever more sparkly). Chris Jarman as Shank, the baddie, was superbad and got booed when it came to bows at the end, which he seemed to love, Julia Sutton was excellent as the feisty old nun with a nice line in rapping, and Katie Rowley Jones was good as the young nun who doesn't know whether she wants to stay or go. I thought they were all great fun, and the baddie's cronies had a nice Moments and Whatnauts moment with their seduction song ripping off 'Girls' to good effect.

The message is: don't mess with nuns!

There was a goodly array of merchandise to choose from but I restricted myself to a programme and the cast recording (even Sheila Hancock sounds good).

It's not high art but it's great fun. Last night the audience seemed to be made up of overseas school groups on a trip to London and older women on coach trips to the theatre - the place was full. If you want a fun night out, lots of big songs and lots of dancing, some comic moments and some sentimentality, then go and see it!

Monday, 29 March 2010

'Shirley Valentine' at The Menier Chocolate Factory

On Saturday afternoon we ventured up to London Bridge to see the matinee of 'Shirley Valentine' at the Menier Chocolate Factory starring Meera Syal. It's playing in repertory with another Willy Russell play, 'Educating Rita', and both have just opened. It's nice to see new seating in the Choccy Factory which is much more comfortable than the usual padded benches.

I've seen the film of 'Shirley Valentine' (with Pauline Collins) but never seen the play on stage so it was a pleasant surprise to realise it was actually a one-woman play with Shirley - Meera - speaking directly to the audience for the whole play. At least when she wasn't talking to the Wall or the Rock. Meera comes on stage into the kitchen set and starts talking to us, telling us about her life and family, drinking a glass of white wine to help the day flow and casually makes chips and fried eggs for her husband's dinner, and she does make the dinner on stage. We gradually learn that somewhere along the line the vibrant human being called Shirley Valentine has married, become domestic, had children and lost that spark of life that makes her a unique human being. Shirley is 42 and life has passed her by. But her friend, Brummy Jane, has bought her a ticket to Corfu for a holiday ... and the second half is set on the beach in Corfu where Shirley rediscovers the glorious human being who is Shirley Valentine.

Meera is excellent. You'd expect her to get the comedy lines and timing just right but I found the introspective sections very moving, when she realises her age and wonders where her life has gone and how little she seems to have lived. When she lowered her voice you could have heard a pin drop, we all hung on her next word. She could have made us laugh or cry with a few words, and that's a powerful actress with a powerful script and the ability to hold us all in the palm of her hand and keep us there for the duration of the play. I was very impressed.

Of course, there were some downsides. Like the kitchen set which was a perfect mid-80s recreation except it looked a lot like mine ... the cupboards were the same as I have in my kitchen. I need to upgrade at some point but thanks for rubbing it in! The other is that I'm going to be the cause of her divorce. I swear that when Meera was talking about meeting her holiday romance on Corfu and repeating him saying 'You think I want to make fuck with you' that she was looking right at me. Perhaps it's because I was stroking my beard at the time (does she have a beard fetish?) but I have no doubt I was the focus of that scene... Sorry Sanjeev!

There were some unscheduled light moments too, like when Meera walked to the back of the stage when it's laid out as a beach and something went *crack* and Meera quipped, quick as you please, 'Oops, I think I've killed something' looking at her foot. The audience was in gales of laughter at that. And at the end while we're applauding and she directs some of the applause to the Rock at the front of the stage.

I thoroughly enjoyed the play and enjoyed Meera's performance. I'd happily go again. The play is on for a month or so so get tickets while you can - runs at the Choccy Factory tend to sell out quite quickly so do yourself a favour and buy tickets now.

Thanks Meera!

Friday, 26 March 2010

Alphabeat at The Garage

This evening we went to The Garage to see the shiny poptastic Alphabeat. This was one of those 'buy our new CD from HMV and get a free ticket' type of gigs and there's always a question mark around the value of a free ticket. Walking in we were greeted with dry ice, purple and blue lights and a peculiar smell.

The place was half-full, which was a bit of a disappointment, but also good for us since it meant the evening was much more comfortable, particularly for Chris who could sing and dance along to his pop group of choice. I worry about Anders SG since he has a strange habit of slapping himself (instead of clapping) and banging his tamourine off his body, rather odd behaviour while he bounces around on stage.

They played nine songs over 40 minutes (including the encore) before leaving because Stine was feeling poorly. They put on a good show but I can't help but feel that their last two songs were their best - 'The Spell' ended the set and the extended version of 'Fascination' was the encore.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Mary J Does Led Zep

I'm a late-comer to the Mary J Blige party. I went with Chris to see her at the O2 a couple of years ago, curious as to what I might see and hear and in the space of two hours she converted me and I've been exploring her work ever since.

Mary J's new album, 'Stronger withEach Tear' has just been released in the UK and seems to be getting mixed reviews. I'm just listening to it for the first time and it works for me, a mix of styles and sounds unified by her voice and themes. The surprising thing is that it includes TWO Led Zeppelin covers - 'Whole Lotta Love' and 'Stairway To Heaven'. What's that about? Is there some kind of Led Zep revival going on that no-one's told me about (not that I'd care too much, to be honest). Mary J with two songs on the album, Pink playing a Led Zep in the 'Funhouse' tour ... what next? And can I say that I *love* her version of 'Whole Lotta Love'? She takes it to places it's never been before and her performance is flawless.

I need to listen to the album again to get a proper feel for it but I'm enjoying it on a first listen. Give it a try.

An abiding memory is seeing MJB give the performance of her life with 'No More Drama' at The O2, draining me of emotion, down on her knees and singing her heart out. The video is powerful too.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Laura Marling - 'I Speak Because I Can''

Laura Marling's new album was released yesterday and I picked it up this evening on the way home - I am *seriously* impressed. Well crafted and mature songs delivered with confidence by someone who's just turned 20 - and this is her second album.

I've just looked on and she's had nearly 6 million listens. That's big time. Have you heard of her? If not, you should. It's been about two years since her first album but it's well worth the wait. The video for the new single. 'Rambling Man' is on her website.

Go on, take a look/listen:

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Patti Smith at Foyles, Southbank

This afternoon I met Patti Smith. She was doing a signing of her new book, 'Just Kids', about her and Robert Mapplethorpe in the 70s, at Foyles on the Southbank underneath the Royal Festival Hall. A few minutes after I met Chris outside the shop who should amble over but Patti Smith herself with her camera and took a photo of the window display before being ushered into the shop. I managed to get a photo of Patti's back as she walked into the shop. And then Dawn arrived, just missing the slight excitement.

We bought the book and got a number for the signing queue and then went upstairs to the Royal Festival Hall for a sit down and drink to pass some time until the signing. Half an hour later the shop was mobbed with people standing in a vague queue so we roughly found our places and waited. And waited.

Shortly before the advertised time, Patti went to the microphone at the front of the shop and said a few words of welcome. I was so far back I couldn't see her at all. Then she sang three songs, just her on guitar and vocals for the first song, 'Grateful', then she read a short passage from the book about 'Because The Night' and then sang it unaccompanied except for the crowd joining in for the chorus, followed by 'My Blakean Year', again with herself on guitar. I couldn't see a thing so I leaned on a bookshelf and just listened.

And then the signing started. After what seemed ages, the queue started moving and we were soon at the front. I had my camera out and Patti asked if I wanted to take a photo - I, of course, said 'yes' and the photo is below. She signed the book to me with a big smile, happy to give me my few seconds with her before moving on. And I was happy with my few seconds.

That was Patti Smith y'know.

And, y'know what? She gives good signing. The songs and signing started at 3pm and, when we wandered back along the Southbank at 5pm, Patti was still there signing. She's playing live tomorrow night but the gig sold out before I could get tickets.

I think back to seeing her perform the album 'Horses' at the Royal Festival Hall in 2005 (when she introduced me to The Dresden Dolls) and a couple of years later at The Roundhouse when she shouted into the audience, 'You're not afraid of a fucking pop song, are ya?' and launched into 'Rock'n'Roll Nigger'. The Roundhouse gig was magnificent. I also think back to buying her albums in the '70s and wondering who this exotic creature was. And today, I met her.

Friday, 19 March 2010


It seems like there's a game of swapsies going on between the West End and Broadway. Or at least swapsies with shows I've seen in New York.

We send over 'A Little Night Music' from the tiny Choccy Factory to Broadway and it reciprocates with 'Hair'. It then sends over 'Fela!', the show about Fela Kuti and his afrobeat sound which I'm told will open at the National Theatre in November. I'll be there.

That just leaves 'South Pacific' and (ahem) 'Next To Normal'. The former is brilliant, the latter less so.

Still, I'm looking forward to welcoming the hippies from 'Hair' to these shores - we need a new love generation (maaan). Buy tickets now!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

'Beautiful Darling' at the NFT

This evening we went to see 'Beautiful Darling' at the National Film Theatre, a new documentary film about Candy Darling. If you haven't heard of her, she was one of Andy Warhol's film superstars and subject of one of the verses of Lou Reed's 'Walk On The Wild Side' - that should help you place her in context. But, to paraphrase Lou Reed, she was a he.

The film is clearly a labour of love from Jeremiah Newton who was Candy's friend back in the '60s and early '70s before she died of cancer at the age of 29 in 1974. The film is set around the rather odd premise of Jeremiah burying Candy's ashes along with those of his mother who recently died. The film looks back at Candy's short life, a boy in the suburbs of Long Island who reinvents himself as Candy Darling in New York in the mid-'60s and she goes on to become an actress of stage and screen.

It includes film clips and interviews with a wide range of people, from Jayne County (formerly Wayne County of Electric Chairs fame) and Penny Arcade to clips of interviews with Andy Warhol and even footage of a young Lou Reed. She was a staple of the early Factory films and a glamour-puss to boot. Her delicate bone structure only needed a hint of make-up to transform her, and blond hair completed the transformation.

The film included excerpts from her diary and letters which, if they're representative, indicate a very literate and thoughtful person, very self-aware that she is her own creation. I'll need to track down a copy of her diary, I think. The film ends with a quote from Candy: 'There is one thing I must tell you because I just found it to be truth...You must always be yourself no matter what the price. It is the highest form of morality.'

Jeremiah was on hand to do a Q&A after the film and he sounds like a nice guy with a whole history himself. The film was obviously a labour of love for him, keeping Candy's name and memory alive and supporting the hard choices of transgendered people. In the normal, run of the mill, lives most of us live it's nice to know there are some exotic creatures out there who we will probably never understand or meet, but who find another way to live. I don't want to find another way to live - I'm quite happy with what I have at the moment - but I admire those brave souls who live life on their own terms.

I don't know if there are any plans to release the film more widely but do go and see it if you get the chance. It's on in London for a couple of days, I think, and then plays in New York as part of a film festival. Hopefully you won't be subjected to an enhanced 12" remix of the Velvet's 'Venus In Furs' before and after the film.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

'Mrs Warren's Profession' at The Comedy Theatre

This evening we went to see 'Mrs Warren's Profession' at the Comedy Theatre off Leicester Square, an old theatre with the stage and stalls so far underground that you could hear the tube trains rattling in the depths. The audience was also rather old and deeply home counties. But that's ok because Felicity Kendal was the star of the show. I've been a fan of Felicity since I fell in love with her as Barbara Good in 'The Good Life' oh so many decades ago.

I'm not a big Shaw fan and his plays always feel very wordy - why use 10 words if 20 will make it longer? It's the tale of Mrs Warren who is a rich madam with 'hotels' dotted around Europe and her Cambridge-educated daughter who has no idea what her mother does or where the money comes from. Until, that is, the mother comes clean about her past, her humble origins and how she and her sister used their charms to build a business. What she doesn't explain is that the business is still thriving and that's what causes a rift between mother and daughter, with the daughter heading off to London to make her own way in the world. There's a love interest (of course) and other characters, but that's the nub of the story. The play is about money and capitalism, about society's double-standards, about the rotten core of the upper classes, about dignity and morality. Oh, it's about lots of things.

The cast was excellent - they've been on tour so are well rehearsed and knit together well. The leading roles are Felicity as Mrs Warren and Lucy Briggs-Owen as her daughter, played with a rather brittle exterior that doesn't let you see the churning emotion beneath. It was great to finally see Felicity on stage and she played the part with a mix of knowing cocquettishness and middle aged world weariness - until the final scene when she announced she couldn't give up her job since she craved the excitement of it, and that summed up her character and explains the flashes of anger or annoyance she displays at various points during the play.

Some of the twists and turns of the plotting were a bit obvious but, then again, the play has probably been plagiarised quite a bit over the years so I can forgive that. It was also a brave attempt at the time at an early feminist tract - how else could a woman make money except by selling her body? I'm sure there were lots of other ways, but this is the obvious (and most theatrical) one.

I enjoyed it and wished we'd been closer to the stage. The staging was a bit awkward with long lulls between acts (which seemed odd since the changes to the set weren't that drastic) but that's ok. Most thing are ok when you know you're going to see Felicity. She did good swish of her floor length skirts (knocking over a chair at one point - now, that's good swish!), much better than the men in the mandatory late-Victorian linen suits.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Why I Love Amanda Palmer No 73

If you've ever looked at this blog before then you'll know that I admire Amanda Palmer as Art and as Life and as a total MadPerson. A hug from Amanda can soothe the cares of the world as I know first-hand and her songs can make you laugh and cry. Amanda is, as she says herself, far from perfection, but why let factual accuracy get in the way of a good blog?

This morning Amanda tweeted a link to her latest blog in which she describes the pits of her depression in New Zealand which, unfortunately, coincided with her fiance (Neil Gaiman) being with her after she'd spent a few weeks of joyful gigging and recording in Oz. This is part of what I love about Miss Palmer. She doesn't feel that she has to be on top form all the time - she can tell us when she feels the walls are closing in and doesn't have to worry about how we - the fans - will react. That also means that her blogs are from her, not some anonymous PR-person. That instantly makes me trust Amanda.

I don't like hearing that she's not having fun. She's my hero and I much prefer the Amanda that travels the world, makes up songs about Vegemite and takes the piss out of the Golden Globes by posing dead on the red carpet in a see-through dress. But you have to respect the integrity. And I do.

I will see Amanda again in April at the Evelyn Evelyn gig at Bush Hall and will do all in my power to engineer another Amanda-hug. They are life-affirming - get one if you can.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Sugababes - 'Sweet 7'

It was with some trepidation that I first bought and then listened to the Sugababes new record, 'Sweet 7' this evening. This is not the Sugababes I'm used to - not the same faces, the same sound or the same amount of clothing (there's more flesh on display than ever before) - and I'm not keen on the cover, but it's the Sugababes so I have to give it a go, if only for Heidi.

The album opens with the three singles to date, starting with the awful, misogynistic, 'Get Sexy' for which I chastised the 'Babes last year so I won't go over old ground. Then we have the superior stomper 'Wear My Kiss' and the more standard 'About A Girl' that sounds like it should've been released in the early '00s. Then we're into new territory.

The 'Babes hit their stride with 'Wait For You' and stay in the same vibe until the last few songs, some relentless dance electro-pop designed for clubs and dancefloors and, y'know what? I think it works. I'll need to listen a few more times but it gets the thumbs up.

I like 'Thank You For The Heartbreak' but I'm not keen on 'Miss Everything' that feeds the 'Babe's voices through a vocoder (why? they've got perfectly good voices) and features Sean Kingston - who? - singing more than the 'Babes. 'She's A Mess' is a bit formulaic but 'Give It To Me Now' sounds like classic 'Babes. It slows down with 'Crash And Burn' and the following tracks which is an odd way to sequence an album, rather than finishing on a high, but maybe I just need to listen to it more. I think 'Sweet And Amazing' will grow on me.

Anyway, well done 'Babes! But please remember that you don't have to be semi-naked to be sexy and powerful women.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

'Requiem For Detroit?'

Last night I watched Julien Temple's documentary, 'Requiem For Detroit?' about the city of Detroit. And what an astonishing film it is, full of what could easily be post-apocalyptic images of the 20th Century. Vast open and empty spaces of the inner city, majestic freeways with no cars compared to film from 50 years ago with the same freeways log-jammed with cars, and trees growing on the top of empty sky-scrapers. Images of a city reverting back to nature with buildings being eaten by greenery and debris covered streets beside burnt out buildings. What has happened to Detroit and why didn't we know about it before?

People started leaving Detroit in the '50s to live in suburbia, in satellite towns, that means they no longer need to go into the city, and the ultimate effect of this has meant businesses close down, shops move out of the city and then the infrastructure starts to break down since there aren't enough people paying taxes to keep public services going. According to the film, something like 47% of people still living in Detroit are illiterate and schools are closing. For those left in the city, where is there to send their kids to school and where can they buy food? The film ended with scenes of gardens being turned into allotments to grow food.

There's a highly complex web of explanations behind all this - the impact of the car and capitalism are key - but the saddest is the casual and institutionalised racism that seems to have dogged Detroit throughout the 20th Century. The industrial explosion attracting workers from the south also brought segregation that led to Detroit facing race riots in the '50s and '60s. As white people exited the inner city for the suburbs they've left a city with a population 80% black and in ruins. How has this been allowed to happen to what was once America's fourth biggest city?

It's a very thoughtful film with the central narration coming from the images of the city and current and past residents talking to camera. Peppered with some of the music from Detroit's past (notably Motown and The Stooges) and a snatch of Bowie's 'Panic In Detroit'. It was nice to see an interview with Martha Reeves who is a member of the city council. It was also one of the oddest scenes, with Martha walking through a vast hallway with an endless expanse of carpet in what I assumed was city hall, with no-one else in sight, a huge empty space that should have been buzzing with people, and then in the distance, finally, we see another human being. Most odd. Try Googling 'Detroit ruin' and you get nearly one million results - take a look at some of the images.

Julien Temple wrote a far more eloquent article about his film for The Guardian so take a look at it. Is Detroit dying or evolving? Who knows, but if you get the chance, watch the film.

Saturday, 13 March 2010


A great performance of 'Hair' by the the Broadway cast of 'Hair' - this brought back some happy memories. The show opens in London in a few weeks time and I hope there'll be a lot of fuss and spectacle - and sold out shows every night.

And yes, the hippies do invade the audience!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

'Anyone Can Whistle' at The Jermyn Street Theatre

I continued my Sondheim education this evening with Chris and Angela when we went to see 'Anyone Can Whistle' at The Jermyn Street Theatre. I'm afraid the lesson learnt was to be wary of early Sondheim.

I used to work in St James's Square, just round the corner from the theatre, but I've never been to that theatre before. Bijou is being complimentary, with maybe seating for about 70 people, so we were all very close to the stage. Sometimes it's better to be further away than too close.

I had no idea what the play was about and am not familiar with the songs but my worries started when it was clear that 'the band' was actually the actors who occasionally picked up instruments to play. I consider that to be a worrying sign. And I'm afraid it went downhill rapidly from there, with its almost adolescent plaintiveness, the starchy performances, the poor musicianship and the, well, daft story that strings the songs together. Whether it's Sondheim or the director, I don't know, but I didn't get the whole uniformed sub-Nazi thing going on that just made it a bit of nonsense.

I'm sorry people, I know you've poured sweat and blood into the production, but did you have to be so earnest about it as well? Would it have ruined the thing to smile once or twice? It's not your fault that Sondheim does the whole 'mad people are sane, it's the sane who are mad' '60s thing but how you interpret it is down to you. And I was not impressed. I had to cover my mouth to prevent laughter at the end when the stage was invaded with the cast as grim faced sub-Nazis - what on earth was that all about?

I'll think of Sondheim in the context of seeing 'Sunday In The Park With George', if you don't mind, and consign this to the list of things not to revisit (like 'The Sea').

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

A Grand Experiment

I am conducting a grand experiment. I am trying to understand Twitter.

I first joined Twitter a couple of years ago when I was told it was going to be the 'next big thing'. I joined and sat there waiting for something to happen. It didn't, so I didn't bother with it. I re-engaged a few months ago to follow the doings of people like Amanda Palmer (of course) but didn't really do anything else. Then, last weekend, I decided I ought to either get with the programme or give it up as a bad job. So I've started twitting or tweeting or whatever and have sent more tweets onto the vast online space in the past few days than I have in the past two years.

I just don't *get* it. So, by trying to actively engage with the thing, I'm hoping to understand how different people use it, what they get out of it and what the benefits are. I've been doing it for a few days so far and it still makes no sense to me but I will persevere. I'm brave like that, y'see.

So, if you use Twitter, please get in touch and help me understand the thing.

Follow OheMCee on Twitter

I've made my life more complicated by setting up a new 'work' account. A lot of the excellent services I work with, like Netmums and DadTalk have active Twitter feeds so I've joined those in my 'work persona' (I keep work online separate from 'me' online to avoid any blurring of the boundaries). That means I have two feeds to check and contribute to - but it also means that I see a different side to Twitter than if I was solely 'me' (if you see what I mean).

I doubt I'll get a thesis out of this experiment, but I might get another blog. Let's see what happens.

Evelyn Evelyn Pre-Order Bundles

Ta-da! The Eveleyn Evelyn record is just around the corner and the Twins' producers, Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley have kindly sent a note round the wires to let the world know:


Comrades! (and curious bystanders!): We are proud, at long last, to announce the OFFICIAL LAUNCH of the EVELYN EVELYN DEBUT ALBUM!!!! Below, you'll find options galore. We've tried to make things as interesting as possible... please select your package carefully.

All packages come with a download code for the whole album, which will be delivered via e-mail before the album is officially released on March 30th. Packages will ship one week prior to this date, and should be in your hands well before the record hits stores (foreign orders may take longer to arrive.)

To thank-you for supporting us by pre-ordering, we will randomly choose one lucky person for a free upgrade to the Benefactor Bundle (valued at $1,111)! Eleven others will be chosen to receive copies of the original sold-out Evelyn Evelyn 7" vinyl single, (released in 2007 in a limited edition of 1,111 - these have sold on eBay for more than $100.)

Pop on over to the Evelyn Evelyn Webstore for details of the pre-order bundles. I am *so* tempted by the 'Over The Moon' bundle - a trip to the moon with the Twins for a mere $11,111,111. Sign me up now (while I sort out mortgaging my soul or something).

I think Evelyn Evelyn is going to be a fun adventure...

'London Assurance' at the National Theatre

This evening Chris treated me to a viewing of 'London Assurance' at the National Theatre. It sounds a bit like a play about an insurance firm but that's not it at all. The play by Dion Boucicault first opened in 1841 but it still has a lot to say to us today, particularly about actively taking the piss out of pretentious people.

It portrays a few days in the life of the extended family of Sir Harcourt Courtly, a rather portly 57 year old gentleman who considers himself to be the height of fashion, despite being reliant on marrying the 18 year old daughter of his former neighbour to pay his debts. His son is a bit of a rake but whom he believes is pure and virtuous. The play moves from London to the country seat of Sir Harcourt's friend and guardian of his future wife where the action really starts, since the son and his friend are also invited to the country house where we meet Lady Gay Spanker and things start to get interesting.

I thoroughly enjoyed the play and the performances with a drop of foppishness here and a bit of feminism there, the obvious jokes about the Spankers and, of course, the almost perpetual ridicule of poor Sir Harcourt the over-age fop and dandy played to a T by Simon Russell Beale. Fiona Shaw was Lady Gay Spanker, Mark Addy was the squire and the ever-delightful Richard Briers was Mr Adolphus Spanker (Dolly Spanker). I also liked the youngsters in the cast, Michelle Terry as the knowing 18 year old and Paul Ready as Sir Harcourts son (both of whom have been in National Theatre productions in the last year or two). I'd also single out Nick Sampson as the rather too-knowing valet spinning tales to keep his masters happy.

I liked the set which was mainly the revolving inside and outside of the country house of the country squire. The costumes were great, with the aging dandy of Sir Harcourt having more costume changes than the women, allowing Simon Russell Beale to fully explore the character and give us lots of laughs. He was great fun. The whole production was fun, nicely timed and nicely presented. I liked the rat!

There was an odd age thing going on in the audience - we were definitely in the lower third of the age range, maybe even the lower quarter. Was it just a Tuesday night thing, or is there something 'old' about the demographics of the audience for this type of play? Go on, buck the trend and go and see it irrespective of your age - it's well worth it.

Monday, 8 March 2010

'Finian's Rainbow'

Have you ever seen 'Finian's Rainbow', either on stage or the film? I saw the film about 35 or so years ago on telly and all that I recall was Petula Clark and Fred Astaire wandering through sunny fields and Petula singing about Glocca Morra. But its stuck in my mind so I asked Santa Claus for the DVD last Christmas and he obliged. It's definitely a Sunday afternoon film so the grand viewing was yesterday afternoon, with nibbles and drinks within reach of the couch. And what an odd film.

I didn't really know what to expect but I dearly hoped that my vague memory of Petula singing about Glocca Morra wouldn't be sullied and, thankfully, it wasn't. I've seen Petula on stage twice and each time she'd referred to working with Mr Astaire on that film so I'm pleased that she has happy memories of the project.

The film tells the tale of an immigrant Irish father and daughter (Fred and Petula) walking across America on a quest, the dad's mad get-rich-quick scheme. They end up in Rainbow Valley near Fort Knox where we learn that Fred has somehow got hold of a leprechaun's crock of gold from the old country. Add in the complexities of the racial divide in America, the rich white folks and the poor black and white trash, the depression, menthol cigarettes, Sears catalogues and credit, all building up to burning Petula's character as a witch, and you have a mighty fine and weird film for 1968. All directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

The film is obviously from the late '60s, with the hippy-ish leading man with his guitar, songs about happily living together, the nods to the supernatural with the leprechaun and the racial tensions of a post Martin Luther King equality stirring in the south. And then I learn the original stage show is from the late '40s. Which makes it very weird if the racial overtones reflect what was actually on the stage o the late '40s. That was rather uncomfortable and I can sort of understand why it hasn't been repeated on telly every other year like most old musicals.

The musical was revived on Broadway last year and, unfortunately, closed just before we went there a few weeks ago. As Chris pointed out, it's probably easier to forgive some things happening on stage in front of you than things immortalised in film. I would certainly have gone to see it if it was on.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed most of the film. Fred was great (as always) and had his traditional moment of dancing on 'things' (on this occasion, packing crates of stuff from the Sears catalogue) and Tommy Steele was watchable as Og the Leprechaun (but he was, obviously, playing Tommy Steele). Petula stole the show as Sharon, the loyal daughter who finds love. Hers was also the most steady of the Irish accents in the cast.

I don't think I'll watch the film very often but, now and then, when I need some magic and daftness and moist eyes, I think I'll try to find Glocca Morra with Petula and Fred and (ok, I'll say it) Tommy Steele. If only for the memories. I immediately downloaded 'How Are Things In Glocca Morra?' and 'Look To The Rainbow', both of which sum up the film for me.

Buffy Sainte-Marie: 'My Heart Soars'

This evening I downloaded a *new* song by Buffy Sainte-Marie! Well, not exactly new, I think it's from the mid-'90s but it's new to my collection - 'My Heart Soars'.

I found a 30 second clip of this song a few years ago, a song Buffy recorded for a Ba'hai album but it was only available in Canada. I'd never heard it all the way through, so it was great to hear it on YouTube. That sent me scurrying to my friend, Mr Google, to try to track it down again and, guess what? It's now downloadable! So I did. It costs $1.24 to download (and since I paid through PayPal I also had to pay VAT at $0.22) which is nothing for a new Buffy song. Download it here.

So, with thanks to David for posting about it on the Buffy email group and to Annie1844 for posting the video on YouTube, guess what I'm listening to tonight?

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Gil Scott-Heron - "Me And The Devil"

From his excellent and powerful new album, 'I'm New Here'.

Amanda Palmer: New Record

The delightful Miss Palmer is in Australia at the moment making people happy, doing shows, appearing on telly and, importantly, making a new record. Or, at least, recording songs. She invited people to pop into the studio last night to watch and join in. It was a bit short notice for me to jump on a plane and head down to Oz so I will not feature on her new record. I think she tweeted that she'd recorded something like 20 songs so there's plenty to choose from. No idea when it'll be released but it's good to know she's been back in the studio.

It's only a few weeks until the 'Evelyn Evelyn' record will be available and then, a short time later, Amanda and the Evelyn twins will be at Bush Hall at Shepherd's Bush. So it won't be long until I see her again. That makes me happy. Click the record cover to visit the Evelyn Evelyn MySpace page and listen to some music.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Heavy Metal Britannia

How do I spend a Friday night in one of the world's great capital cities? Watching 'Heavy Metal Britannia' on telly on BBC4, that's how.

I've never been a fan of metal and probably only have half a dozen or so songs in my iTunes library that would really be considered metal... until I downloaded 'Deaf Forever' by Motorhead last year. Well, Motorhead were sort of punk-friendly (Lemmy's speed-freak approach to music), so that's ok. But I thought it would be interesting to see what the 'Britannia' music series made of heavy metal.

It kicked off with a short interview with Dave Davies about him creating the first metal riff with 'You Really Got Me', meandered through the '60s blues bands, progressive rock, hard rock and then stumbling onto heavy metal through a circuitous journey, the onset of the punk wars and then the rediscovery of metal in the early '80s with Iron Maiden. It was quite fun seeing clips of early Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, the bloke from Uriah Heep who couldn't stop smiling (possibly because he's finally on telly talking about the glory days) and all the rest. Two blokes from Judas Priest were interviewed throughout but didn't really fit into the programme properly except for a comment about the leather and stud homoerotic link. The stunning thing was that when Ian Gillan was first featured (as in now with short hair, not then with a mop) I thought 'what's Richard Burton doing on a heavy metal programme?' - the resemblance is uncanny.

Would it be terrible if I said I enjoyed it? Loud guitar and drums, screaming vocals, pulling poses, o yeah! And all the old blokes on it that, in their heyday, were metal gods. It comes to an end one day for all of us and they were revelling in it - and good on 'em! But don't worry, I won't be downloading back catalogues like crazy or start wearing leather or spandex. I hope...

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Who Are You?

I've been invited to a posh black tie thing through work and I was mulling it over this morning on my way to work and decided that black tie offended my punk sensibilities. And then I thought, hang on, my "punk sensibilities"?

You see, I can't help but associate black tie with the worst of the '80s excesses, with braying hooray Henries and too much champagne and cocaine and that's not the world I move in. And have never wanted to move in.

And that started me wondering whether that's who I think I am, the ultimate me, a punk? Punk was a long time ago but it's also now. Punk was never about wearing the uniform and having the hair, it was about being yourself, actively being yourself. But we all turn 'being yourself' into being one of the herd. Even the most individualist of us is part of a herd, a herd of individualists who gather together to poke fun at other herds. I'm no longer 17 (thankfully), don't have the hair to spike up and never saw the point in bondage trousers so why did my subconscious throw up 'punk'?

I started listening to The Ramones on the way home this evening. New York punk is sufficiently distant from my roots to allow some thinking space and that started me thinking of when I saw Buffy Sainte-Marie in New York with Tommy Ramone's new bluegrass project as the support act (Uncle Monk). I shook Tommy's hand and said I enjoyed his set - I shook the hand of a Ramone. But, if you look on Buffy's MySpace even she is part of a herd in terms of the bit of blurb beside her name - 'after the beatniks and before the hippies'. Replace 'Sheena' with 'Buffy' and you have 'Buffy Is A Punk Rocker'.

It's strange really. To look at me you'd think I was a mild mannered middle aged gentleman but, obviously, deep inside (very deep) I'm a mass of raging hormones, rebellion and rather odd principles.

Who are you? Yes, you over there. Who are you really, deep down? Do you even know?

Michael Foot RIP

I don't know where today's gone but I've just realised that Michael Foot has died at the age of 96. 'Who?' you younger and overseas readers might ask. Michael Foot was a giant in the Labour Party and was leader for a few years before Neil Kinnnock. His leadership coincided with my student years in Cardiff (when Kinnock used to speak to the Students Union Labour Party group, in English, not Welsh) and the start of the Thatcher years that led to so much bad news later in the '80s.

I recall reading a book of his essays many years ago and quaking in awe at his intellect and at the way he could get across very complex theories in relatively simple language. I remember him attending the Cenotaph in a duffle coat and being savaged in the press. I remember CND and marches through London.

Michael Foot was one of those relatively few people who lived their convictions throughout their lives. He was always a radical. All too often the radical of youth becomes the conservative of middle and old age. Not Mr Foot. A "conviction" politician indeed, and that is why so many people supported him and believed in him as a barometer of political opinion. He was part of my youth.

I haven't thought of Michael Foot in years but I'm sad to hear the news of his death.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Talk To Me

Oh, yes, I meant to remind you to talk to me. Yes, that's you I'm talking to, Mr Ray Davies.

We have this deal you see - I buy your records and gig tickets and you tell me when you've got a new record out or are playing in my town. What's the point of signing up to your email list and suchlike if you don't talk to me? Well, I find things out anyway and I've booked tickets to see you at the Royal Albert Hall on 23 May. You tried to sneak that one past me didn't you?

I will expect a rousing rendition of 'Lola' ("that fag song").

And after this tour please prepare a cast recording of 'Come Dancing' or record the songs yourself. Thank you.

'Smile Piece' by Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono's been busy on Twitter today sending out messages about her Smiling Face Film project.

As she said in 1967, "My ultimate goal in film-making is to make a film which includes a smiling face snap of every single human being in the world." Rather than doing a film, she's asking people to upload a photo of themselves to the Smiling Face Flickr group which supports an ongoing slide show of photos of people smiling from all over the world.

I love this idea and will upload one of the rare photos of me with a big ole smiley face on me.

Yoko also includes some words on the smile site and I like 'Smile Piece', pasted below:


Send a smile to your friend so he/she can smile, too.

Think of a way to do it.

You could send a photo that says 'smile',
or a picture, a story, or a piece of pie,
but specify that it's a smile you're passing on.

Ask him/her to do the same:
to pass on the 'smile' in his/her own way.

Consider this blog as my smile that I pass to you. Please pass on a smile to someone else, someone you love or to a complete stranger. Smile.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

'Private Lives' at The Vaudeville Theatre

This evening we went to see 'Private Lives' at the Vaudeville Theatre on The Strand. A technical problem on stage meant we were a bit late getting in but, once we took our seats I could breathe a sigh of relief at the sheer luxurious leg-room in the seats - luxurious compared to Broadway theatres in any case. Plus a bar and ice-cream at half-time - sheer decadence!

Anyway, the play. 'Private Lives' is, of course, by Noel Coward and the leading man suffers slightly from having to be Coward-ish in his delivery since some of the lines, particularly the one-liner repartee, is pure Coward. It's the tale of two divorcees who were previously married and who are in adjoining rooms in a French coastal hotel with their respective new spouses, who decide they love each other really and run off (or, in the parlance of the play, "orf") to Paris together, leaving their new spouses alone and none the wiser. The tale continues in Paris with the inevitable consequences.

After about 15 minutes I lost all my critical faculties and, surprising myself, decided I loved it. A clever and witty script that was dated in places but every now and then threw something at the audience that seemed incredibly original and current. The simple set for the first half of the play was the hotel balcony which I found rather annoying a few times since there wasn't enough space for the cast to move without brushing past the net curtains which I found rather distracting. I much preferred the Parisian flat of the second act with the odd shaped giant goldfish bowl and luxurious couches.

It's the cast that makes or breaks a play like this and Lisa Dillon and Simon Paisley Day were excellent as the hapless spouses who find themselves deserted by the leading characters. Matthew Macfadyen has the task of trying to 'be' the Coward character and he did this with ease most of the time but occasionally fell into the trap of seeming to do an impersonation. He's only being doing the play for a week or so, so I'm sure he'll get the right balance. The star of the show (in many senses) is, of course, Kim Cattrall who was excellent. A flighty madam of shifting morality who seems to love everyone but not quite as much as she loves herself, she was compelling and totally believable as Amanda, with the right mix of vulnerability and challenge as a modern woman (for the '30s). There was some nice chemistry between Kim and Matthew that made me wonder whether their relative real-life partners had already seen them together and given their approval. Kim commanded the stage with her acting, not with her star gloss.

I had a grin on my face for most of the play and that can only be a good thing. Go and see it - book tickets now to avoid disappointment.