Monday, 31 May 2010

'Rhoda' Season Two

Last night I finished watching series two of 'Rhoda'. If you remember 'Rhoda' then you are probably of a certain age and remember the mid-70s...

'Rhoda' was a spin-off from the 'Mary Tyler Moore Show' featuring the adventures of Rhoda Morganstern (who became Mrs Gerard) in her native New York. All terribly exotic to my 15 year old self living in a small former-pit village in County Durham. The first series saw Rhoda leave Minneapolis where she lived in the same building as Mary Tyler Moore to move to Manhattan and marry Joe Gerard and set up her own business as a window dresser. The second series develops these themes, of 'modern' marriage, of Rhoda as a business-woman and, of course, wise-cracking New Yorkers.

It's all great fun, and great to see Julie Kavner (yes, the same actress who voices Marge Simpson) as Rhoda's younger sister and Nancy Walker as the stereotypical Brooklyn Jewish mother. Some of the early episodes almost make Rhoda as a hostess for the minor characters in the series rather than the star but she makes up for it as the series progresses. And her flares get wider, bandannas more extravagant, fringes longer and the fashions just get, well, more '70s.

I'm looking forward to series three.

'Hair' 40 Years On...

It's sad to hear that 'Hair' is closing in September - I will, of course, be seeing it again before it closes. As part of the show, the hippies invade the audience to hand out flowers and leaflets inviting us to join a be in and burn our draft cards. They also did this 40 years ago as part of the original show. How do I know? Well, I got hold of an original programme on eBay from the London run of the show from about 1970 and inside was a copy of the leaflet handed out to the audience.

The 1970 version has a big sun and a 'yip yip yip' and the 2010 version is a bit more obviously flower power. It's nice to see them both together - stylised hippy goods 40 years apart.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Amanda's Radiohead Record

The news has been buzzing that Amanda Palmer will release a record of Radiohead covers played on a ukulele over the summer. And it's true because she says so herself at the start of this clip in which she sings 'High And Dry'. Can't say I'm a Radiohead fan myself, but I'm looking forward to new songs from Miss Palmer.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Ray Davies at The Royal Albert Hall

On Sunday evening we went to see Ray Davies (Sir Ray as he should be) at the venerable Royal Albert Hall in ye olde London Towne. Since it was a lovely, sunny afternoon, we walked from Victoria through the embassy-laden land of Belgravia and through Chelsea to Kensington and the Hall. And, to be honest, I headed straight for the bar for a drink after that long walk in the sun and missed the support band but was safely in my seat for the man himself.

I got my first Kinks record - the single, 'Lola', in 1970 - and somehow didn't see Ray play live until 2008 when I saw him in his musical, 'Come Dancing' at Stratford East. Then I saw him play in the rain at Kenwood House in June 2009 and at Hammersmith Apollo in December 2009. And then at the Royal Albert Hall. I'm not a big fan of the Royal Albert Hall and the stage isn't really very flexible and the sound isn't always very good, but it's a prestige venue with the enormous pipe organ filling most of the wall behind the surprisingly small stage. Anyway...

On came Ray and his guitarist to start the show with an acoustic set, just the pair of them sitting on the stage surrounded by band equipment and some lighting stands. With a catalogue of songs like Sir Ray's it must be difficult to decide what to leave out and he has great scope in deciding what to include. On Sunday, he said he was starting out with old Kinks 'B' sides but I've never thought of the songs as 'B' sides. It was great to hear some of the songs stripped back, playing 'This Is Where I Belong' and 'Set Me Free' before moving on to some of the biggies.

It was nice to hear the songs played simply and very effectively but it was even better for an acoustic set to turn into full-on rock gig in the middle of one song when the band ran on stage and started pounding away on drums, electric guitar going wild and rock lights filling the stage as it headed to a mad crescendo. Annoyingly I can't remember which song saw the transition - was it '20th Century Man'? Whatever, it was excellent and ably demonstrated that Ray can still effortlessly rock the joint with a flick of the wrist and a few chords.

Ray then left the stage to remove his suit and return in what looked like Teddy Boy jacket and drainpipes for the rock set. It comprised largely of his solo works in the last few years, mainly from 'Working Men's Cafe' with a few Kinks songs thrown in for good measure. And then off he went, only to return for two encores before the lights were switched on while he was still saying goodbye to the crowd at the front that rushed the stage during 'All Day And All Of The Night' (at the start of which he praised brother Dave's innovative guitar work).

This was the third time in under a year that I've seen Sir Ray and I'm not tired of him yet. Along with a catalogue of music to die for, he didn't stop talking, joking or exhorting us to sing along. He's been on stage for enough decades now to have developed a fine line in stagecraft and he's effortless with it.

Highlights for me were 'Victoria', 'Waterloo Sunset', 'I'm Not Like Everyone Else', 'Well Respected Man' and the great 'All Day And All Of The Night', 'Morphine Song', 'Vietnam Cowboys' and 'Working Man's Cafe'. A couple of surprises were 'David Watts' and 'Celluloid Heroes'. 'Low Budget' was an encore and so was the glorious 'Lola'. I couldn't help but think that here was a concert hall full of middle aged, middle class people singing a song of praise to a tranny called 'Lola'. And I *love* Lola.

Thank you, Sir Ray, for a great gig. I look forward to the next time - but I'm also looking forward to the cast recording of 'Come Dancing' so get that sorted please.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Ten Years After

I can't let this weekend pass without comment. No, not football or theatre or gigs, two things far more personal to me.

Ten years ago this weekend I gave up smoking. I was a natural smoker, going from none to 20 a day almost instantly, and then increasing from there. I was probably on about 30 a day when I gave up on 22 May 2000.

I remember it well since that's the day I was admitted to Atkinson Morley Hospital in Wimbledon and had my last cigarette after dinner at about 6pm the night before my operation. That was the first night I'd spent in hospital since I was born and was my first surgery, a microdiscectomy for a slipped disc. I've since had another two operations on the slipped disc and another operation on my stomach. I see all of this as a sign of age rather than a badge of honour.

Still, ten years, eh?

'Paradise Found' at the Menier Chocolate Factory

On Saturday night we went to the Menier Chocolate Factory to see 'Paradise Found', the world premiere of a brand new musical produced by Hal Prince. It opened last week and has only been running for a few days so it still has a 'new' feel to it.

It's based on an Austrian book with the rather preposterous tale of the ageing Shah of Persia losing his mojo and going to late 19th Century Vienna to try to find it, which he does by falling for the Empress of Austria and ending up having a very noisy session with a look-a-like in the local brothel. That's the rather long set-up to the play with the second act exploring the immediate and longer-term consequences 15 years later. It's an American production and everyone associated with it seems to have a gazillion awards on Broadway and elsewhere so rather than pretend I know anything about them really, I'll point you to Chris'n'That who'll do the job for me. Oh, and the music was all in waltz time by some jobbing musician called Strauss.

The story hangs together around the character of the Chief Eunuch played my Mandy Patimkin as we move from Persia to Vienna and back again 15 years later. Much as it's fun to see the star of 'The Princess Bride' just a few feet away and see him sweat under the lights in the rather warm small theatre, I wasn't always entirely sure what I was watching and, I think, in part that was down to Mandy.

I don't know why he's decided that a eunuch walks in small footsteps rather than striding out like anyone else, but it instantly made me think of Gilbert & Sullivan and something like 'The Mikado' where the geishas take lots of tiny footsteps to move around the stage. So, that plus the eastern clothing and turbans sent me off down the wrong route. Then towards the end of the production when all the characters came on stage dressed for a trip to Persia I just thought of concert party let loose with a dressing up trunk.

I know I'm being a bit petty but it didn't have a 'feel' of it's own, it was a bit of this and a bit of that and the gray perspex set made me think of Studio 54 so that was a trifle distracting as well. There was an absence of spaces for the audience to clap and respond to what was happening on stage so I don't feel I fully embraced the production.

Clearly, it's only been on for a few days and the thing is still finding its feet and I hope it does. I quite like the idea of seeing it on Broadway in a year or so when the actors start living the characters.

Raise the Roof with Lola

I'm back from seeing the great Sir Ray Davies play at the Royal Albert Hall tonight (Sunday night) - a review and photos to follow tomorrow when I'm wide awake. As ever, it took an age to get home despite it not being very far (I never understand that, but it's a law of nature). While waiting for the train to pull out it occurred to me that several thousand upstanding middle class people had stood up, jigged their funky stuff and raised the roof while we sung along to a song in praise of a tranny called Lola.

Now, far be it from me to presume that even half of the audience was in favour of gay, let along transgender, rights. But for those four minutes or so, we all loved Lola.

It was quite poignant in a way, given the publicity in the last couple of weeks about a gay couple in Malawi who've been sentenced to stiff prison sentences for nothing more than expressing their love by getting engaged. I quite like Madonna's statement about it (given that one of her charities supports Malawian children):

Madonna released the following statement in response to a Malawi court's decisions to jail two men for 14 years for the "crime" of homosexuality. After reading the statement, be sure to add your name in support of equal rights.

I am shocked and saddened by the decision made this week by the Malawian court, which sentenced two innocent men to prison.

As a matter of principle, I believe in equal rights for all people, no matter what their gender, race, color, religion, or sexual orientation.

This week, Malawi took a giant step backward. The world is filled with pain and suffering; therefore, we must support our basic human right to love and be loved.

I call upon the progressive men and women of Malawi—and around the world—to challenge this decision in the name of human dignity and equal rights for all.

Won't you join me by signing this statement?

Who knows if anything will change because of this but we've got to have hope. There is so much wrong with the world and yet all too often we pick on the weakest and most disenfranchised in society. We can, at least, do the easy thing and add our names to a petition in the hope that someone might notice.

And just for a few minutes in London, one of the worlds great capital cities, in one of the most august and venerable concert halls, the Royal Albert Hall, a load of people at a rock concert sang out loud and proud of their love for a transsexual who haunted Soho 40 years ago , if only in myth. Thank you, Sir Ray, for introducing us to Lola - long may she reign.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Bits n Bobs n Thom - Half Full

My mind has been elsewhere for the last couple of weeks and I've not been keeping up to date with my blogging duties, for which many apologies. Not that you've noticed. So I thought I'd bung a load of random stuff into a Plastic Bag half-full blog and clear my conscience.

Sandi Thom - 'Merchants and Thieves'

Sandi's new album is doing well and being touted as a blues album which seems to be important to her. I just like having new Sandi songs and a new record to listen to.

I came across Sandi via a Google alert for Buffy Sainte-Marie when a reviewer likened her voice to Buffy's (there's little comparison really) and I sought out the song 'I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker'. I liked it and went to see her at Islington Academy Bar, just Sandi with a bloke on guitar and another tub-thumping. A month or two later she got to No1 in the pop chart with the song and, later, I saw her at Bush Hall. I've not managed to see her since then but still follow her with interest.

I like the songs on the new album, well crafted and well played with a full band and a full sound. I'd only categorise a couple of the songs as 'real' 'blues', so don't let that put you off. A few of them sound like they could've been recorded in her first flush of success and are in the same vein as 'No More Heroes', her cover of the old Stranglers hit.

The only downside is the cover of the record - I don't like this anorexic Sandi look and it doesn't look like her at all. In any case, buy the CD or download it - there are some great tunes on it.

Punk Cabaret Ragamuffins

If you're a fan or friend of Mr Brian Viglione on Facebook you'll have seen that he's been posting the most marvellous photos of The Dresden Dolls on his Facebook page. I know one needs to look forward and not backwards but I miss the Dolls and that weird energy and love they created through plonking on a keyboard and thumping on a drum. Miss Amanda Palmer referred to Mr Viglione in a tweet today and, coincidentally, Brian posted some new photos of her on Facebook. Here's one of my favourites:

Brian also says he's playing on seven - count 'em *seven* - albums due to be released later this year, including one by Margaret Cho. Margaret compered the Roundhouse shows by The Dolls a few years ago and I have a great photo of her with a fake penis. Some people around me at the time thought it was real. Anyway, I'm looking forward to hearing some thump-thump-tish from Mr Viglione. It's been a while.

Andy Scott

If anyone says 'who?' I'll have to shake my fist at you! Andy Scott is the guitarist with The Sweet in the '70s and one of the Great Glam Gods. Of course, he's gone on to do lots since then and still tours with his own version of The Sweet. He also recorded and produced Suzi Quatro's excellent last album, 'Back To The Drive'.

I never had the joy of seeing Sweet back in the day (to my everlasting shame) but I think I saw Andy just before Christmas. I *think* he was sitting at the end of my row of seats in the stalls at Hammersmith Apollo when I went to see Ray Davies. I hummed and haa-ed, should I shouldn't I go over to say hello, and by the time I'd decided 'yes', on came Mr Davies.

Anyway, I mention Mr Scott because I found a new site of his last week and the video for 'Kruggerands', the only solo single of his available for general download on iTunes. Take a browse round his site and you'll see he's released loads of music over the past three decades (including a version of 'Gotta See Jane' by R. Dean Taylor) but it's not available to buy. Someone should sort out the licensing and release it all as a double cd (are you reading this Cherry Red Records?).

I also found this fabulously awful mid-80s video for his single 'Krugerrands'. Andy with (relatively) short hair doesn't look right but enjoy the song!

Monday, 17 May 2010

Polar Bears and The White Guard

Last week we had two trips to the theatre, firstly to see 'Polar Bears' at the Donmar and then a last-minute booking to see 'The White Guard' at the National Theatre.

'Polar Bears' is not, unfortunately, about a troop of polar bears and their witty and amazing adventures. Rather, it's about the bi-polar condition and the fluctuation in mood swings and mental capabilities of someone with the disease. Of course, since it's a play, there needs to be an engaging story and, almost, a full kitchen sink of plot. In this case, it's the story of John and Kay, John being a philosophy lecturer (for no reason that I could see) and Kay is the daughter of an artist who develops a children's book and is the one with bi-polar. Or is she? There's also a mother and a brother and, at the end, a teenage daughter.

The stage is empty and there isn't really much to look at. The actors talk and stride back and forth, but there's not a great deal going on on the stage except talking. Perhaps is should be a radio play? But, despite the lack of anything to look at - other than people talking - it kept my attention throughout. I'm not entirely sure why, but it did. The leading roles were taken by Richard Coyle and Jodhi May as the star crossed lovers and I found myself becoming increasingly interested in their characters and, sadly, less interested in Celia Imrie as the mother. In the middle of the play Jodhi plays a long scene by herself telling the dark fairytale of a twin brother and sister and she had me in the palm of her hand - I wanted to know what was going to happen to them and whether they really could fly.

I won't spoil it by telling you what happens in the end (or possibly what doesn't happen). I'm pleased I've seen it but don't go expecting a happy night out or some cuddly fluffy polar bears. It's quite harrowing in places but it might get you thinking.

'The White Guard' is a different kettle of fish entirely, set in the Ukraine in 1918 with nationalist rebellions on the right and the Bolshevik expansion on the left, no-one in poor little Ukraine can win this one though they bravely try. It's a new version of the Mikhail Bulgakov play by Andrew Upton acted out on the vast expanse of the Lyttleton stage at the National Theatre with three main sets, impressively using the stage and its trickery for all it's worth.

It's the story of a small family group and their friends who are loyal to the dead Russian Tsar but who are let down by the ruling Ukrainian Hetman who caves in to the Germans and leaves the Russian White Guard to its fate. Naturally, loves and loyalties are intermeshed to create a solidly plotted play with some believable (but not necessarily like-able) characters. I loved the sets, especially the expansive apartment the 'domestic' action takes place in, the family and friends having dinner, drinking vodka (lots of vodka) and a mighty impressive Christmas tree.

I didn't find any of the characters particularly like-able other than the older brother who seemed to have a mind of his own and a deep humanity. The others were a bit cardboard, especially some of the mindless White Guard who lived only to follow orders and die with honour. I can't help but compare this to the horrors of 'Oh What A Lovely War' that we saw a couple of weeks ago that focused on the Western Front of the First World War whereas this focused on one small part of the Eastern Front. They're very different creations but I couldn't help but contrast the horror of the trenches with a war that, at least in this play, was observed from the windows of a spacious apartment.

That's not fair, of course. We were shown the paranoia and fear of the Ukrainian nationalists who killed people because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, the shell-shocked younger brother and the officer who tries to commit suicide for doubting his commander. On the other hand, there is comedy and love and vodka, lots of vodka. There's a lot going on in the play and a lot of themes to latch on to. If you wanted to latch on to them. I think I would've been happier with some more sympathetic characters that I cared about.

Still, that's two very different plays on succeeding nights and I don't think I could pick a favourite between them. You choose.

The Wild Elephant Herds of London Town

I am very behind with my blogging. I want to tell you about theatre trips and new records and all sort of fascinating stuff, but I'll start with elephants.

As soon as I heard about the Elephant Parade project I decided that hunting down wild elephants in London would be my summer project this year. These wild elephants get everywhere (except near where I work, of course) so you've got to keep your eyes peeled. Their camouflage abilities need to be worked on a bit - they don't seem to get the 'blend in' message at all.

Anyway, here are some elephants I found at Trafalgar Square, in Covent Garden and on the Southbank last week:

I do like this final elephant, outside the National Theatre on the Southbank since it depicts the lovely Buddhist tale of the rabbit in the moon.

Have you found any elephants yet?

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Monday, 10 May 2010

Would You Buy A Used Continent...?

You know how memory works, how a sight or a smell or a sound can transport you back in time? For me, last week it was Cushie Butterfield (see the post below) and tonight it is Buffy Sainte-Marie on the cover of the New Musical Express from 1976 (see the eBay advert).

I used to buy the NME in 1976 (along with the occasional Sounds and Melody Maker, but mainly the eNeMEy) but I don't recall Buffy being on the cover which suggests that this was before I discovered her on a BBC2 programme about her songs. When I talk about discovering Buffy I usually say it was in 1975 or 1976, so this cover helps me identify it as 1976. I suspect the interview coincided with the release of 'Sweet America'.

I might not remember the cover or the article, but I do remember the headline, 'Would You Buy A Used Continent From This Woman?' and that's what caused my non-LSD-induced flashback. Perhaps reading the article made me want to watch the BBC2 programme? Who knows? But I *like* the photo.

Should I bid?

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Me Bad with Election Fever and Love for Cushie B.

My overseas readers might not have noticed, but I've been conspicuously silent about the General Election in the UK. I haven't tweeted, updated Facebook or blogged about the election but I can't let this historic election pass with no comment in the Plastic Bag.

Thursday was polling day and I voted at about 8.30am on my way to the station to get the train to work. I always vote in the morning on my way to work rather than in the evening on my way home from work (on the basis that I might not bother if I'm tired after work). Of course, it doesn't take a genius to work out who I would vote for - I'm a Geordie and we have long memories.

Imagine my delight when the results started coming through on Thursday evening and the first few results were from Sunderland and environs - southerners, of course, to a Geordie, and a traditional footballing enemy, but sufficiently northern to say 'yah-boo sucks' to the extreme southerners nearer the Equator, y'know, Birmingham and places like that. Then it went quiet for ages before results started dribbling in.

So, we've had an election and now we face the aftermath of the election. And the last month was riddled with election fever that I couldn't join in with, so what did I do? I stimulated the economy of course, in my own small way. I seem to have bought a seemingly endless string of theatre tickets but not many gigs, more books to add the pile I have yet to read, DVDs and music. In other words, I seem to have reduced my living space at the expense of having more *things* in the house. Even digital downloads take up space, y'know. And today I added to it with the new albums from The New Pornographers and Adam Lambert (yes, some indie pop with some glitter-smashed pop).

I can just about walk from the kitchen to the bedroom without knocking over piles of books and CDs (ok, a slight exaggeration there) but will my addiction end with the election fever? New books include 'American Gods' by Neil Gaiman (well, if he's going to be Mr Amanda Palmer I ought to see what he's about), 'Block Buster', a biography of The Sweet by Dave Thompson, and 'Storage Stories' by Jim Bob (autographed, of course). New DVDs include the boxset of the second series of 'Rhoda' with Valerie Harper (imported from America since Amazon UK doesn't stock it). Hard copy CDs include Evelyn Evelyn and Jason Webley's records along with Alice Cooper's rather splendid 'Billion Dollar Babies' (my original 12" album is long gone). Download albums include Bronski Beat's 'The Age Of Consent', Jim Bob's 'Goffam' and three Malcolm McLaren albums as well as the pop noted above and a range of other stuff.

I also have another addiction to confess - I'm doing so well at listing my sins I might as well get it all off my chest. I have fallen in love with Cushie Butterfield and, as you must know, she's a big lass (with no falsies in sight). But my love is unrequited. I can't find a decent YouTube version of the song to post and neither can I find the right image. In my head I have a very clear picture of what she looks like but can I find it online? No.

When we went to see 'Oh What A Lovely War' last week the Geordie soldiers sang the start of the verse to 'Cushie Butterfield' and the song imploded my mind, bringing back memories from years ago when the song was used to advertise a beer in the late '60s or early '70s (either Newcastle Brown Ale or the Federation Brewery, I can't remember) and I just had to have the song. I found several versions online, none particularly good (there's a disgracefully trite one by erstwhile Geordie boy Sting who has surrendered his heritage for mullah if that song is anything to go by) and downloaded the least awful.

'Cushie Butterfield' is a really great song by George Ridley - or Geordie Ridley - who lived a tragically short life in the middle of the 19th Century and who wrote the classic 'Blaydon Races' (I grew up only a few miles from Blaydon so it's special to me). The main pub in Blaydon shopping centre was called the Geordie Ridley in his honour with another pub at the end of Scotswood Road being called The Cushie Butterfield (it closed years ago). I consider that a desecration of Cushie's name and have no doubt that she was based on a real woman that Mr Ridley knew, a woman bursting out of her dress with voluptuousness (the line 'She's like a bag full of sawdust tied round with a string' says it all for me).

Ms Butterfield was from Gateshead (well, she would be, wouldn't she?) and the chorus to the song sums her up:

She's a big lass and a bonny lass and she likes her beer
And they call her Cushie Butterfield and I wish she was here

I need to do more research (and I *will* find a picture of her) but, for the time being, here are the words to this great song - there are versions of the lyrics in Geordie dialect but I'll give you the more standard English version. You don't mess with Cushie!

I's a broken-hearted keelman and I's over head in love
With a young lass in Gateshead and I call her my dove.

Her name's Cushie Butterfield and she sells yellow clay,
And her cousin is a muckman and they call him Tom Grey.

Chorus: She's a big lass and a bonny lass and she likes her beer
And they call her Cushie Butterfield and I wish she was here.

Her eyes is like two holes in a blanket burnt through
Her brows in a morning would spyen a young cow
And when t' hear her shouting Will you buy any clay?

Like a candyman's trumpet it steals my heart away

You'll oft see her down at Sandgate when the fresh herring come

She's like a bag full of sawdust tied round with a string

She wears big galoshes too and her stockings once was white
And her petticoat's lilac and her hat's never straight

When I axed her to marry me she started to laugh
Now none of your monkey tricks for I like ne such chaff
Then she started a blubbing and she roared like a bull
And the chaps on the quay says I's nought but a fool

She says the chap that gets her must work every day

And when he comes home at nights he must gang and seek clay

And when he's away seeking she'll make balls and sing
O well may the keel row that my laddie's in.

Don't you love Cushie?

Fay Weldon Plays Buffy

Fay Weldon was on Desert Island Discs this morning on BBC Radio 4 and her third song (out of the eight she is allowed) was 'Little Wheel Spin And Spin' by Buffy Sainte-Marie (the original version, not the updated version from Buffy's latest album, 'Running For The Drum'). I'm not an avid listener to the programme, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was the first time a Buffy record has been chosen (although I'm sure songs by Buffy have been chose, but performed by other people).

It's nice to hear Buffy on the radio, so well done Ms Weldon.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Amanda Palmer in 'Cabaret'

"There was a cabaret, and there was a Master-of-Ceremonies and there was a city called Berlin in a country called Germany. It was the end of the world...and I was dancing with Sally Bowles and we were both asleep..."




The American Repertory Theater

in Kander & Ebb's hit Broadway Musical


Now, this is something I'd like to see! I saw Amanda sing 'Mein Herr' with The Dresden Dolls at the Roundhouse a few years ago (and you can too on the DVD) and I have a recording of her singing the EmCee's 'I Don't Care Much', but I want to see this.

The musical director is Lance Horne who has worked with loads of people and who I saw with Alan Cumming at his 'I Bought A Blue Car Today' show in London last year. And, coincidentally, Amanda went to see the show on the same night as me and gave me a great big Amanda-Hug afterwards.

Choreography is by Steven Mitchell Wright of The Danger Ensemble who toured with Amanda on her 'Who Killed Amanda Palmer' gigs and it's directed by Steven Bogart who worked with Amanda last year. The 'official' information is on the American Repertory Theatre site, but Amanda says she's also agreed that she can use the theatre for various after-show ninja-style events. I *need* to book a trip to Boston in September...

Amanda sings 'Mein Herr' at The Roundhouse in 2006:

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Belinda Carlisle at the Jazz Cafe

Last night we went to see Belinda Carlisle at the Jazz Cafe up in Camden, a small and rather odd venue for someone of Ms Carlisle's stature, but, after she cancelled a show at the Shaw Theatre a few years ago, I'd be happy to see her anywhere. Or so I thought.

Belinda came on shortly after 9pm, bedecked in black jumper and trousers, flawless skin and silky hair - she's always had good hair and cheekbones - and a great pop voice. She was backed by a small band of two acoustic guitars, piano and percussion, so no big guitar riffs or pounding drums tonight and, you know what? It worked. They made a great sound and just right for the confines of the Jazz Caff, removing the big '80s sound from the records and giving us a slightly stripped back version that amply demonstrated what great songs Belinda has in her back catalogue.

We were treated to a one and a half hours worth of greatest hits with Belinda singing virtually everything you could want her to, including a couple of Go-Gos classics ('Our Lips Are Sealed' and 'Vacation') and two songs from her latest French album. The rest were pure gold. 'Heaven Is A Place On Earth', 'La Luna', 'Circle In The Sand', 'Runaway Horses' and the rest. My favourites were 'Live Your Life Be Free', 'Summer Rain' and the mighty 'Big Scary Animal'.

Belinda has a great stage presence, not quite aloof, but far from gushing. I loved it when with a short 'Sshh' she shushed some rowdies at the back inbetween songs. Sparse of words but when she spoke she said something worth listening to, not just mouthing platitudes to the audience. She said she's on tour with the Go-Gos for one last time in America over the summer and invited us over. She played a great set and received a rapturous applause. I'd love to see her again, but a bigger venue would be better.

The problem with the Jazz Cafe is it's size and it's name - it's quite small and there's nothing to do downstairs while you wait except gradually get more confined to one spot as people pour in and the loudspeakers play the dullest ball-less "smooth jazz" you could ever want to miss. It's endless and relentless. For a venue that hosts more '80s nights than you can shake a stick at you'd think it would get some '80s music out to celebrate the gig of one of the brightest stars of the late '80s. But no. I was jazzed to within an inch of my sanity. And standing in a confined space with little space to even shuffle my feet made my back ache. Almost every time I've been there in the past we've sat upstairs in the restaurant balcony and when I go back it will be upstairs again or not at all.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Macy Gray - 'Beauty In The World'

This somehow passed me by, the latest single from Macy Gray that's been out for a couple of months now. The new album, 'The Sellout', is available in June 2010.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Elephant Parade in London

Last summer my unhealthy habit was for the Plinth, the sixth plinth in Trafalgar Square that was transformed into a public performance space. This year it is elephants.

This weekend, painted elephants have been dotted round central London to raise the profile of the danger to the Asian elephant and to seek our support to saving them. I have ridden several Asian elephants on their home turf in the last 20 years and anything that might save the elephant is good by me.

As the Elephant Parade blurb says:

Elephant Parade is a conservation campaign that shines a multi-coloured spotlight on the urgent crisis faced by the endangered Asian elephant. Brought to you by, the event sees over 250 brightly painted life-size elephants located over central London this summer.

Each decorated by a different artist or celebrity, the elephants brighten and beautify the city, enhancing every park, street corner and building they grace. Running from May to July 2010, this is London’s biggest outdoor art event on record. With an estimated audience of 25 million, we aim to raise £2 million for the Asian elephant and benefit 20 UK conservation charities.

All of our elephants are for sale by auction and every bid you place is a bid for habitat. Mini elephants are available at Selfridges, 80 Regent St, 36 Carnaby St and Greenwich Central Market or at the online shop. Happy elephant spotting!

Go on, I dare you, seek out and photograph as many elephants as you can and then post them on your Facebook page or your blog, or tweet them. The more elephants the better. I will be hunting elephants with my camera from now on...

Buffy Sainte-Marie Lifetime Achievement Award

Buffy Sainte-Marie has received yet another award, the latest is the Canadian Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement this past weekend in Ottawa. The award is Canada's foremost distinction for excellence in the performing arts. The group of distinguished past winners includes Bruce Cockburn, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Anne Murray, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Oscar Peterson.

Well done Buffy!

'Oh What A Lovely War' at Richmond Theatre

On Saturday afternoon we trekked out to Richmond in Surrey to see 'Oh What A Lovely War' at the delightfully charming Richmond Theatre, a play Chris wanted to see for some unknown reason. I've never seen the show before or managed to sit through the film from start to finish so I wasn't sure what to expect. When we went into the theatre the toffs were playing cricket on the Green opposite the theatre in what could have been an Edwardian pastoral scene, with locals wandering round the Green - all that was needed was crinoline, parasols and top hats rather than jeans.

It's a Northern Stage production and has some nice Geordie voices reflecting the massive death toll of Geordies in the First World War. The blurb about the show suggests it aims to parallel the current state of affairs in Afghanistan in terms of the stalemate in the country with neither side making much progress. That's a big challenge and I don't think the show really achieved it.

It's not so much a play with a linear narrative, it's more a series of set pieces with the small cast playing multiple parts, moving from music hall song and dance to comedy pieces with bits of social commentary thrown in for good measure (such as a speech by Emily Pankhurst in the second half). The stage was largely empty with musical instruments dotted around the stage as well as some ladders and planks of wood as props. Our host for the show was Gary Kitching who moved from the cheeky-chappy comedian of the first half to the grim General Haig of the second half very convincingly with a nice line in patter changing to unflinching earnestness as the General who threw so many lives away. The rest of the cast revolved around him, fast paced and light on their toes except for when there was a need for heavy boots. And there begins my problem with the show.

There was a lot of noise, lots of stomping of heavy boots on the wooden stage, lots of drums of various sizes, and the noise kept obscuring the words and songs. Clearly, they've performed the show in the same way in lots of venues around the country so perhaps there's something about Richmond that led to the drums and boots obscuring the actors voices but I found it rather irritating. The not-so-subtle use of drums to reflect the sound of gun-fire is fine but not when it means you can't hear what people are saying and that kept happening, or at least it did for me. The other annoyance was the rather impenetrable accents that erupted from the stage whenever the cast played French, German, Belgian, etc, people that meant I didn't quite catch what Johnny Foreigner was saying some of the time - it was too much effort to pay attention.

On the plus side, I liked the minimal costumes, with actors donning a hat to reflect that he or she was now a general or grabbing a parasol to depict a genteel Edwardian lady. I liked the projections against the brick back wall, the ticker-tape effect from the BBC news with the time section reflecting the year. I liked the minimal set and props and also liked some of the actors (particularly Gary Kitching). But, overall, it didn't really engage me and all too often I was wondering what would happen next rather than focus on what was happening now.

It did, however, evoke many thoughts about the First World War, the War to End All Wars. So, in that respect, it was very successful. I rejoiced to hear a rousing rendition of the chorus of 'Cushie Butterfield' at one point when some brave Geordies took enemy trenches and found themselves too far forward and were killed by 'friendly fire'. The sound of 'Cushie Butterfield' took me back to the late '60s or early '70s when it was used as the music to a beer advert (I think - if you know better, then please tell me). It also reminded me of my Granda who survived the war but lost an arm. And one of the final songs struck me as so true, about how, when the young soldiers returned home they wouldn't speak of the horror they lived through. My Granda never did.

Coming out of the theatre, the toffs were still playing cricket. How the world moves on and yet stands still. The train back home was full of rugby fans from Twickenham drinking from cans of beer, but I had 'Cushie Butterfield' in my head - more about her later...