Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Wyfold Road in the '80s

For some reason, my previous bloggie about 'The British Be-In' to support HIV/AIDs sufferers reminded me of when I first came face to face with unthinking discrimination about AIDs in the '80s.

In the second half of the '80s I worked in an unemployment benefit office in Fulham, Wyfold Road to be precise (I think the UBO closed many years ago). I was a Claimant Adviser and it was my job to run a caseload of people who had been claiming unemployment benefit for over six months. In the recession of the late '80s there were lots of people on well over one year, let alone six months. Fulham covered claimants from Kensington, Chelsea, Putney and Roehampton as well as Fulham, so it had lots of different types of people, from former city whizz-kids and showbiz types, to people from the sink estates in the area. We also had lots of drug addicts and ex-offenders as well as a sizeable proportion of people with HIV/AIDs who moved to the area because of St Stephens Hospital which was one of the few places that specialised in the disease at the time.

I was good at my job and my area manager (several grades above me at the time) came to Fulham UBO to sit in on some of my interviews to get a feel for the challenges we faced and how we dealt with them. That day was arranged with all new interviews so I had no idea who might walk through the door or what problems they might have. One bloke came in, sat down, me sitting at the side of the desk and my boss's boss sitting safe behind the desk. We chatted and then I asked why he thought he was finding it hard to get a job. His response was that he had HIV and was on treatment every other day at St Stephens and that meant no-one would offer him a job.

As soon as he uttered the the phrase 'I've got HIV' my boss's chair flew as far back from the bloke as he possibly could, obviously and noisily putting distance between him and the plague carrier. To try to offset this, I leaned closer and asked about his treatment, how long it took, etc. We continued in this vein for a while and then I said I'd get back to him, shook hands and said goodbye. My boss immediately said that I should have stopped his benefit since he obviously couldn't work - I pointed out that he plainly could work since he was relatively healthy, he could possibly do re-training or could transfer to sickness benefit. He suddenly had another appointment and left the room as quickly as he could, as if the germs were still in the air. Leaving me there, obviously. I felt awful about that blatant display of fear and ignorance in front of someone who suspected he was dying. People did in those days.

I saw the bloke a couple of times again and his health and appearance was like a yo-yo - one visit he looked fine, the next he looked awful. Then he didn't turn up. I don't know if he signed off and found a job, moved to another area or maybe just gave up and died. I never found out, and I feel guilty for that. He was only a couple of years older than me and it's such a sad loss of life, or at least I assume it was. My only excuse is that at one point I had so many people with HIV on my caseload it was all I could do to keep my head above water. And druggies. Lots of druggies.

This isn't the happiest of blog entries but how do you control memories? I'm pleased I worked at Fulham and pleased I worked with such a great team - I still see a couple of former colleagues every now and then. I learned a lot about 'real life' in that job, face to face with some of the most disadvantaged in society in the recession of the late '80s, being threatened with violence and sparring with DSS colleagues on whether they should pay benefits (as far as I remember it was Me 100%/DSS 0% - they didn't know the regulations that covered their own benefits and I suspect it's the same today). I grew and I learned a lot, and that's helped make me who I am today.

The British Be-In

Have you heard about 'The British Be-In' on 11 July, a night of music with the cast of 'Hair'? It seems to be arranged by Gavin Creel to get his fellow hippies from 'Hair' to do a good deed before the show closes since it's in aid of HIV/AIDs charity, The Make A Difference Trust. It's a night of cabaret fun and frolics and who knows who might do what?

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Elephant Parade at Chelsea

A fine, sunny Saturday afternoon was a fine time to go elephant hunting. 'But you don't have elephants in London' I hear you cry. How wrong you are - we've been invaded by colourful elephants for the last few months, with herds of them appearing here and there and lone elephants wandering round. They've been rounded up and set free to graze in the grounds of Chelsea Hospital.

As the Elephant Parade website 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 www.elephantfamily.org, the event sees over 250 brightly painted life-size elephants located over central London this summer.

The migration of the elephants is underway! Whilst a lot of the elephants are off for a pamper and touch-up, find the indoor herd starting their move to Westfield Shopping Centre from 21st to 30th June and see the rest of the herd at our official viewing days at the Royal Hospital Chelsea on the 25th, 26th and 28th June, from 10am to 7pm. Admission is free and open to the public. Please use the London Gate Entrance on Royal Hospital Road, nearest tube being Sloane Square. No dogs are allowed. For information on our viewing days, download the infosheet (pdf) here.

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, 6 Foubert’s Place and Greenwich Central Market or at the elephant parade online shop.

I spent a couple of hours happily wandering round the collection at Chelsea and took a mere 300 photos - exactly. Here are a few to give you a flavour of the elephants and what it was like. I was quite surprised at how big and how busy it was - a good thing.

Ray Davies at Glastonbury

No, I'm not at Glastonbury, I'm watching it on telly from the comfort of an arm chair with the windows open, a fan on and a glass of Arthur 'Killer' Kane's favourite drink, Newcastle Brown Ale. Ray's playing on a crowded stage backed by the Choir on a sunny afternoon in Somerset, all very English, particularly on the afternoon we're knocked out of the World Cup.

It was a nice picture of the crowd from the stage, acres of bodies singing along to 'Lola' and 'Waterloo Sunset', 40-odd year old songs that enough people knew to make a nice noise from the crowd. Unfortunately the set was being strictly timed so Ray couldn't just keep on going the way he does at his own gigs. He dedicated 'Waterloo Sunset' to Pete Quaife, one of the original Kinks who died this week, which was a nice touch and finished with a glorious version of 'Days' with the collective voices of the Choir swelling in the background. A great final song.

Friday, 25 June 2010

'Spring Storm' at The National Theatre

On Wednesday night I was dragged to the National Theatre to see 'Spring Storm' at the Cottesloe in the National. Or rather, round the corner from the National. Chris seems to have an odd theory that the more Tennessee Williams plays I see the more my antipathy will lessen.

You see, I don't have a good history with Mr Williams. The first play of his that I saw was 'The Glass Menagerie' in Toronto a number of years ago and I fell asleep in the front row, in the middle, right in front of a table with a glass menagerie on it. I found it uninspiring. A few years ago we saw 'The Rose Tattoo' which I quite liked, but that might've been down to Zoe Wanamaker being in the lead role. We saw 'A Streetcar Named Desire' last year with Rachel Weisz in the lead and I sort of didn't quite like it since all the shouting and simpering put me off... so, what about 'Spring Storm'?

Mr Williams sticks with his usual theme of The South, white trash versus money, family history versus nothing, the poor white girl with a good family name falling for trash but being groomed for the rich boy in town. Add in poor librarians, families with an exaggerated sense of their history, outdoor parties and storms and lots of Southern accents and you probably have the play in a bottle.

I couldn't quite decide what the play was really trying to say. There's the obvious story of the genteel mother without money wanting her daughter to marry well which the daughter sees as a form of prostitution since she loves the white trash in town. Every now and then that came across as a very strong message and then it was ignored as the girl seems to actually fall in love. So which is it?

The main characters were all women - lots of women in the play but only three men and none of them had particularly strong roles. The lead character was young Heavenly, played by Liz White who gave it the right kind of humour, passion and hopelessness as she considers her potential fates. Also impressive were her mother and aunt, rather stereotype roles, one harsh and the other more sympathetic, both playing off each other in the continual domestic battle of the widowed aunt living in her brother's house with the family. Jacqueline King and Joanna Bacon were excellent in these sparring roles.

I wasn't too keen on the set - initially it was quite interesting being designed to look like debris from a Mississippi flood under which a load of furniture and props were stashed but it ultimately looked a bit showy and unnecessary. It made for an interesting interlude when the cast built a bookshelf on stage and threw books at each other but what was that meant to suggest other than they had a designer who presumably wanted to amaze but ultimately fail? I found the lads coming on to re-build the set by pulling chairs from under the wreckage or carrying on tables every now and then rather irritating and slowed down the momentum of the play.

Truth to tell, I didn't dislike this play and it had some interesting things going on in it. Certainly better (to me, at least) than that 'Glass Menagerie' thing.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

'All The Fun Of The Fair' at The Garrick Theatre

After one of the shittiest days I've had at work in a long time I scurried up Whitehall to see the new musical, 'All The Fun Of The Fair' at the David Essex Fan Club, sorry, at the venerable Garrick Theatre at the bottom of Charing Cross Road. I was late so there wasn't time for food before the show so I grabbed the only thing I can eat from Pret (egg and cress sarnies) which really put me in the right mood. I needed to be lifted out of myself and I was looking for Mr Essex to do just that.

When we got there I expected to head upstairs to the cheap seats but was told we'd been reallocated to the stalls and it turns out we were in premium seats that normally cost £75 (a price I wouldn't pay). The two circles had been closed and everyone was redirected to the stalls, and even then it was less than half full. I felt bad about that - what would the cast think when they leap onto the stage and see, instead of a crowded audience, something more patchy and bald. I couldn't help but worry.

Then the lights dimmed and the show started, and there was David Essex. Can I make a confession? It's not like I was there to see a stage show, a new musical or whatever, I just wanted to see one of the stars of my youth and David Essex was big back in the day. And he actually had some good songs - I've blogged about him before. We were clearly surrounded by the David Essex Fan Club too!

It's definitely a play of two halves. Because I was still in work mode I spent much of the first half thinking about work problems and, just as I'd decided what I will do tomorrow, the first half closed. It only lasted for 45 minutes and then I headed to the bar for a red wine (it was Merlot, I think). The second half lasted about the same time (or slightly longer) but I paid more attention to it.

It's the story of a travelling funfair in which the boss's son falls for the local thug's daughter and you just know there'll be trouble and there is. But it allowed David to dress in his traditional waistcoat and jeans. It's not the most in-depth plot to wrap David's songs around but it worked for me. And I loved the 'Silver Dream' effects at the end (but won't spoil it for you).

The show also starred Christopher Timothy as the local thug who duets with David on 'Rock On' (duet in the broadest sense of the word). It wasn't the best written role I've ever seen but it was nice to see him play a villain. The others I'd pick out were Louise English as the fortune teller, Susan Hallam-Wright as her daughter (who has a lovely voice - I'll watch out for her) and Nicola Brazil who also had a nice voice but was actually a bit of a hussy.

I couldn't help worrying about how empty the theatre was, though. I don't think it's the show - it was good fun and didn't challenge the brain cells - it's the ticket pricing policy. The tickets are just too expensive - reduce prices and people will appear.

Anyway, I don't care. I got to see David Essex (yes, *the* David Essex) sing 'Rock On' and 'Gonna Make You A Star' on the stage in front of me. That counts for something. And he's not ashamed of being grey and baldy so good on him.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

'After The Dance' at The National Theatre

After a leisurely lunch in the Mezzanine Restaurant at the National Theatre on Sunday (courtesy of Sharon and Eamon, for which thanks) we were also treated to a performance of 'After The Dance', a Terence Rattigan play that I think Chris mentioned hadn't been put on in London since the original production in 1939.

It's the tale of the bright young things of the '20s who have grown middle aged by the time of the play in 1939, on the brink of a war they missed when they were young and will miss again now they are older. I lost count of the number of times the words 'gin', 'drink', 'boring' were used, but in the wealthy class before us on the stage, time seems to be measured by the number of drinks and there are a lot of drinks on the go. They're all terribly adult about everything, including the breakdown a marriage as a younger woman replaces an older and is still invited to a party because it would be boring not to. All the superficiality falls away as the wife collapses in the arms of the friend and admits she really loves the man she married 12 years earlier for a laugh. Later that night at the party she commits suicide and the third act looks at the consequences of that sad and wasted act. There's a lot going on in this play.

The play is in three acts with two half-times and majestically sails through a day in the life of the rich writer and his wife with the third act taking place six months later, with war declared and the former bright young things struggling to glow as they plan a 'gas-mask party'. The cut glass accents would need a sharpened diamond to split them and the period was brought to life on stage in a great set with a spacious living room with a rather distressed and abused sofa at a focal point. The set was the same in the first two acts and then totally different in the third - the same room, but the glasses and bottles were cleared away, the piano shut and other touches made it feel very different.

I thought the performances were excellent and I particularly liked Nancy Carroll as the older wife and Adrian Scarborough as the live-in hanger-on, posh but lacking funds. They both gained more sympathy as the play progressed, adding depth to their performances as we got to know and understand them. They played superficial but had real depth. I had less sympathy for Benedict Cumberbatch who played it on the level throughout until the final scene. But the one I disliked - and, let's face it, there's always one - was Faye Castelow who played the fiance of the main character's ward and who falls for the main character... or does she? or is it the money she falls for?

Y'see, I believe what I see, there's no suspension of disbelief with me, it's all or nothing, and Helen, the character played by Faye, was a superficial little cow, thinking everything is ok because we'll be adult and open about it. The fact that she's using the ward to get to the rich older man doesn't dawn on her as vaguely wrong and manipulative. Even though the older wife commits suicide on the evening that she's told by Helen that her husband will divorce her and marry Helen, she doesn't show any guilt or remorse. I don't like her. She's a pretty young thing with a heart of mould.

It was an excellent production and I'm pleased I've seen it. I don't think I've ever seen a Rattigan play before so maybe I ought to see more? I'd certainly like to see Nancy Carroll and Adrian Scarborough in another play.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

'The Harder They Come' at the New Wimbledon Theatre

OK. So there I was on holiday in Kingston, Jamaica, and this country bwoi comes to town to become a pop star. He falls for the Preacher's ward, buys a pimp-hat and gets involved in the ganga business so he can save up to make his first record. Next thing I know is that Pinky and Precious (dancehall queens to perfection) ask Numero Uno to play the record on his radio show and the police intervene and start shooting so this country bwoi called Ivan shoots back to protect his fans. Then it all falls apart and Ivan goes on the run. Me? I'm caught up in a minor revolution or gang war in West Kingston with the police Inspector banning ganga and controlling the pop chart and hunting for Ivan. Last I heard, they killed Ivan but his music lasts forever. Then I got the bus back home, the 57 from Kingston (West London) that goes through Wimbledon... Phew, home safely from that adventure!

Long-time readers will recall my love for the stage musical, 'The Harder They Come', based on the 1972 film of the same name, the film that took reggae to the world. I saw it at The Barbican and then four times at The Playhouse in the West End (including a cheer-up session before going into hospital). It's currently on tour and I caught the last night at Wimbledon (yes, where they play tennis). I'm so pleased I did since it's an excellent production and I loved it throughout.

It's not the same cast as The Playhouse, but some of the main supporting roles are played by familiar faces. It was great to say hello again to Chris Tummings (who played record magnate Hilton rather than Inspector Ray Pierre), Victor Romero Evans (Preacher), Marlon King (as rastaman Pedro), Joy Mack (as Miss Daisy, Ivan's mam) and Jacqui Dubois (as style-guru Miss Brown). And Pedro still allowed us a 15 minute ganga-break at half-time (but there was no ganga ice-cream).

We had a new Ivan in the shape of Matthew J Henry, Elsa was played by Alanna Leslie and Pinky by Janine Johnson. They have the difficult job of filling big shoes for anyone who has already seen the West End show, and that's where my problem with this cast lies. Matthew didn't convince me that he was Ivan in the first half, looking more like an understudy to Rolan Bell's Ivan as he went through the stylised dance moves but he really came into his own in the second half as he crawled from the floor to sing 'The Harder They Come' for the first time - he totally won me over during that song and made the part his own. Neither Alanna nor Janine had strong enough singing voices to convince me they were the characters, and this showed up quite strongly during the megamix at the end when the women's lines in the songs lacked any real power (an off night?). Leaving that aside, it was thoroughly enjoyable and everyone should see the show.

Matthew clearly put his all into the performance and did the exaggerated dance steps proud, skanking away with Pinky and running round the stage like a thing possessed. Mind you, Craig Stein was a bit of a wuss as Ray Pierre - he didn't call us 'huggly' or anything! Chris Tummings was to be feared when he played the role - don't catch his eye or he might pick on you - but anyone could set up a ganga-farm under Craig. For shame!

The basic message is go and see the show if you possibly can - it really is excellent! The cast are on stage for virtually the whole show, either singing up-front or singing at the back of the stage, sitting supping rum or smoking ganga. It's a hard life... Oh, and if Derek Elroy (who plays Longa and Numero Uno) comes anywhere near you at the start of the play or at half time, look away and hide any bags of sweets or crisps and say quite firmly that you can't dance. Otherwise he'll make you part of the show whether you want it or not. I looked away whenever he came near. I'm no fool...

Friday, 18 June 2010

Suzanne Vega at Cadogan Hall

On Wednesday evening we went to see Suzanne Vega at Cadogan Hall, the same place I saw her on her last tour in 2007. It's a nicely grand venue and not at all rock'n'roll, and neither was the audience - an awful lot of suits around. Mind you, Suzanne was in a suit as well and wore a big necklace, but she's allowed.

I've seen Suzanne with a full band and with a stripped back set, and tonight it was just her, her regular bassist (Michael Visceglia) and a guitarist (Gerry Leonard), and that combo really worked. Being backed by two virtuoso players is inspired, with each of them in turn showing off, playing together and then going into all-out war as they vie with each other for the biggest sound and fastest notes. I've seen Michael Visceglia play with Suzanne several times before and he's always excellent but I was really impressed by Gerry Leonard who created massive sound-scapes that floated over and under the bass and Suzanne's voice - every now and then I looked over at him wondering how on earth he was creating that sound with just a guitar. That's something I really like about Suzanne - she's doesn't treat her songs as sacred but rather recreates them every now and then, almost creating new songs. My favourite in this vein was 'Blood Makes Noise' which I'm used to hearing with the rippling bass as the only sound, let alone the jittering and scittering lead guitar swooping around the song - it was marvellous.

As well as the two guitars, Suzanne also had The Millennia Quartet to add some string texture to some of the songs. They came on initially for 'New York Is A Woman' and 'Pornographer's Dream' and then popped on and off periodically throughout the set. Suzanne said they were special guests for the London show only so I don't know if other string ensembles join her for other dates.

I like listening to Suzanne sing and just talk, telling us about her songs and chatting to the audience. She got us to vote on the gender of London as a city and decided it was a woman, then commenting that London and New York could swap make-up tips. She also told us about her mother giving the family cat a Viking funeral when it died and how that wasn't the way she wanted to be sent off. Which was a nice way to introduce 'Tombstone'.

Suzanne played a goodly selection of songs and part of the set was for songs from her first album, 'Suzanne Vega', which is 25 years old this year. She played a new song, 'The Man Who Played God', her contribution to the new Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse collaboration record, 'Dark Night Of The Soul' that is released next month. She also played two songs I don't think I've seen her perform before, 'Tombstone' (which she said was her happiest song!) and 'Harbor Song'.

Favourite songs were 'Marlene On The Wall' (the opening song), 'Luka' (of course), 'Frank & Ava', 'Small Blue Thing', the magnificent version of 'Blood Makes Noise', 'In Liverpool', 'Solitaire', 'The Queen And The Soldier', 'Gypsy' and 'Rosemary'. About half-way through the gig I realised I was just sitting there with a big smile on my face, enjoying Suzanne singing and her lads playing, totally relaxed. I didn't even take any photos until the last few songs. Tickets to a Suzanne Vega gig should be available on the NHS, the simple pleasure and relaxation is positive health thing, sinking into her beautiful voice and words, dreaming of 'Caramel'. Another excellent performance from Miss Vega!

On the way out we noticed there was a table with an area roped off for a queue - was Suzanne going to do a signing? I've not noticed her signing after previous shows but, on the other hand, I've never looked out for a signing table or merch, so this might be a regular end to her shows that I've missed. I always get shy at this point - join the queue and then worry about what to say to a hero or go home and miss the opportunity ... we joined the queue! I bought Suzanne's new record, 'Close Up' a few months ago from her website and it arrived signed, but I bought another copy from the merch stall for her to sign tonight and I'm pleased I did. We didn't have to wait long and suddenly there she was and the queue started moving. I didn't say much, just thanked her for a great show as she signed the inside of the CD cover. Some people were having their photos taken with her which was nice, but I'm happy to have simply met her at last.

I always leave a Suzanne gig with a smile on my face. This time I went out into Sloane Square to get the bus home with an even bigger smile than usual, clutching my CD she signed just for me and with her songs echoing round my head. Thank you very much - please come back soon!

An Evening of Political Song

This evening I went to see 'An Evening of Political Song' at the Royal Festival Hall, part of Richard Thompson's Meltdown festival. It's a bit disappointing to say that this is the only show in the Meltdown series that attracted me and even more disappointing to see so many empty seats. I booked a ticket ages ago when I saw that Eliza Carthy was part of the line-up (well, she would be, wouldn't she?) along with Tom Robinson, someone I've never seen live.

The format was one of those shows where people wander on, do a song or two, wander off, then wander on again later with someone else. But the show lasted about three hours so there's no question of not getting our money's worth.

It opened with Jez Lowe doing a couple of songs with Martin and Eliza Carthy supporting, along with the band, and then on came Harry Shearer as a sort of compere to introduce Neil Hannon (Divine Comedy) doing a couple of solo songs, just him on the piano. That set the tone for the evening. As well as songs we had poetry from 86 year old former Chilean refugee Claribel Alegria (who I bet is fascinating to chat to over a cup of tea) who read her political poems and, in the second half, read the same poem in English and in Spanish so we could hear the music when read in the original language, and I could.

Highlights for me were seeing the lovely Eliza Carthy in her peppermint green shoes - whether she's singing about Soho dancers or creating sparks with her fiddle playing, it's always a pleasure to see her live. Her mam and dad were also on the bill, Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy, and as soon as Norma started singing it was obvious where Eliza's voice came from. It was great seeing the three of them together. Martin played his song, 'My Son John' from The Imagined Village's last album ('Empire & Love'), updating an old song to refer to Iran and Afghanistan and legs replaced by carbon-fibre blades, a very touching song.

I enjoyed the song by Camille O'Sullivan in the first half, her version of Jacque Brel's 'Next' which started off quiet and built and built most effectively. Of course, the definitive version for me is by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band which I saw them perform in 1973, but it was nice to see and hear her performance.

Tom Robinson, like all the others, had sessions in both halves of the show. In the first half he played two songs I didn't recognise, one of which was a hip hop song that sounded really interesting. He started by saying that people ask him where are the contemporary protest songs and he usually responds that we simply don't hear them since they're hip hop songs. And that's probably true - the audience was definitely on the folky side of the musical spectrum. I've tweeted to ask Tom what the song was called. But in the second half he played 'Glad To Be Gay' his hit from 1978 (or thereabouts) with the verses updated to reflect the last 30 years. He did point out that his domestic circumstances had changed since writing the song but he stood by every word of the song. And everyone joined in.

We were also treated to Richard Thompson himself, playing a couple of songs to open the second half and then joining some of the other artists on stage. The song that sticks in the mind is 'Dad's Gonna Kill Me' with 'Dad' being short for Baghdad. Political indeed. Just guitar and vocal, it sounded really powerful. I was an admirer of Richard & Linda Thompson back in the late '70s and I still follow Linda, so it was nice to finally see Richard play live.

So there you have it - my Meltdown experience 2010. I still think back to Meltdown 2005 which was curated by Patti Smith and she introduced me to The Dresden Dolls and Amanda Palmer. The rest is history.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Public Image Ltd - 'Happy?'

I've never understood why all Public Image Ltd's albums are available except for 'Happy?'. It includes 'Seatle' and 'Rules & Regulations', two of the better PiL tracks from the mid/late '80s but Virgin deleted the album and left it deleted for years. Second-hand copies appear now and then for silly prices.

I've found it on Amazon for download for £7.12 so I grabbed it with both hands and ripped it through the internet wires and onto my laptop. I now have the complete set of PiL albums and I am, indeed, happy!

Go and download it now before someone at Amazon realises it's been deleted.

Public Image Ltd - Seattle

Prince Of The Rodeo | MySpace Video

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Hawkwind - 'Quark, Strangeness and Charm'

I've given in to the space-rock gods that are Hawkwind, a band I never listened to in the '70s (other than for 'Silver Machine', obviously) but my ears now find their music quite pleasing (or at least some of it).

One of my favourite songs of theirs that I've discovered this weekend is 'Quark, Strangeness and Charm' that sees the band in mid/late-70s pop mode and this could've been done by one of the emerging power-pop or punky bands. The first verse tells us that Einstein wasn't a handsome fellow and he probably never had a girl, and then goes on to tell us about Galileo, so they were still in a future/space place even though this is pop.

I've chosen this clip to post even though the sound and quality is poor because it's taken from 'Marc' - yes, Marc Bolan's tea-time pop show in 1977 and Marc introduces the band as his 'best friends'. Go on, take a look!

La Pedrera, Barcelona

Take a look at my short video of the roof of Gaudi's La Pedrera in Barcelona. With its ups and downs, its chimneys and air vents in the shape of medieval knights, its stunning views over Barcelona, you've got to love it. It's one of the most wonderful places in the world and I love scampering about the rooftop...

And here are some photos of the Wibbley-Wobbley building:

Carrer de Montcada, Barcelona

Do you have favourite places that you like to return to when you're in the area? I do, and when I go to Barcelona one of those places is Carrer de Montcada in the old town, a street of marvel and wonder. It's a narrow, pedestrianised street with tall Gothic buildings on either side built with large chunks of grim stone, fitting for the palaces and homes of the Montcada family it's named after. I always reach it by walking along Carrer de la Princesa and taking a right into the cool and shady Montcada Street.

It's a street of museums that have taken over the palaces of yesteryear, the main one being the Picasso Museum. It's made up of 15 galleries spread around the first floor of the palaces on one side of the street and includes many of Picasso's early drawings and paintings from when he lived in Barcelona. It also includes 'Las Meninas' and many studies for the painting. It's quite fascinating seeing Picasso's early works as he dabbled in a variety of styles until he discovered his own. It also houses a big art shop and a lovely cafe in one of the courtyards, dotted with umbrellas to keep the sun off.

There are other museums and galleries along the street, including one dedicate to textiles and another about native South American cultures.

Further down the street used to be a great little pizza place, Pizza Nostra, that found great favour with me by serving 'half and half' pizzas, pizzas with different toppings on the same base - one half this, the other half that. Unfortunately it seems to have closed just when I was looking forward to lunch. Building work was going on inside so I hope it's just being re-modelled and will re-open.

Further down the street is a shop called Artesania I Coses, which translated from Catalan means 'crafts and things'. It is a marvellous little shop that sells the most gloriously colourful ceramics, bowls, plates, mugs, vases, jugs and other decorative stuff. On every trip I buy more bowls for use in the kitchen and on the table - they are gorgeous and cry out to be used in daily life rather than being put away in cabinets. On this trip I bought seven bowls of different shapes, sizes and colours. Prices are very reasonable and they wrap them up well for travelling, in three layers of several sheets of newspaper and then in brown paper for security. I'd happily buy more but there's a limit to how much I can get into one suitcase. Of course, I'll get more on my next trip to Barcelona - there's always space for more.

At the bottom of the street is long narrow square, ideal for sitting under the shady trees with an ice cream bought from the little ice cream shop at the end of Montcada Street. I had a large coconut ice cream eaten with a tiny plastic spoon they give you. Yum.

On the way back up the street it's nice to visit La Princesa 23 on Carrer de la Princesa, a great restaurant/bar that serves excellent food and drink, including Newcastle Brown Ale. La Princesa is decorated in a Moroccan style, all arches and tile-work, wrought iron lampshades and big sofas at the back for lounging on with a cool drink. The food is cheap and plentiful, the staff are always friendly and on-hand when you want them but don't pester, and I'm always happy to leave a big tip. On our last afternoon we went there for a farewell glass of Cava that came with a cherry bobbing in the bubbles as we sat on the big red sofas at the back. It feels very relaxed and comfortable and I'd recommend it to anyone.

So there you are, my tale of just one street in Barcelona, and there are so many more...

Friday, 11 June 2010

'All My Sons' at The Apollo Theatre

Last night we went to see 'All My Sons' at the Apollo Theatre, right beside 'Hair' on Shaftesbury Avenue. It stars the excellent Zoe Wanamaker and David Suchet as a couple who've been married for 30-odd years and have two grown up sons, one of whom has died on active duty during the Second World War. The play takes place in the garden of their nice suburban house on one sunny afternoon and later the same evening as family and neighbours stroll through and their world slowly spirals out of their control and the family falls apart.

The play is by Arthur Miller, someone I'm not very familiar with other than his play, 'The Crucible'. 'The Crucible' is a powerful claustrophobic monotone but this play has so much light and shade that you don't know what's coming next. The depiction of family life - and family life under stress - was very believable, seeing the honesty between the older couple when they were alone change into them playing matriarch and patriarch when the younger people appeared, still treating them as children.

Zoe Wanamaker and David Suchet were both excellent, showing their class and craft, so much more believable and effortless than the younger cast members. They made me believe they were the couple, but the others were acting, striking a pose or projecting voices. Both Zoe and David are best known for their TV work (and that was probably reflected in the make up of the audience) but they can also act the socks off most people, and certainly everyone else on the stage. I last saw Zoe in 'Much Ado About Nothing' when the stage seemed to visibly lighten every time she set foot on it and she was on top form last night as well.

I won't detail the twists and turns of the plot but I enjoyed the play and would recommend it to anyone. It's a class act and a very well constructed play - go and see the experts do it in the form of Zoe and David and, of course, Arthur.

Amanda's Magical Ukelele

Amanda Palmer has released more details about her forthcoming album of Radiohead covers. It is called, 'AMANDA PALMER PERFORMS THE POPULAR HITS OF RADIOHEAD ON HER MAGICAL UKULELE' which is, obviously, a glorious title. And here is the most marvellous record sleeve >>

The track listing is:

1. fake plastic trees
2. high and dry
3. no surprises
4. idioteque
5. creep (hungover at soundcheck in berlin)
6. exit music (for a film)

AND a special digital only bonus track:
7. creep (live in prague)

She says:

* the album will be available on bandcamp for a minimum donation of 84¢…some stuff i’d like you to know about that 84¢:
- 54¢ of it is going directly back into radiohead’s pockets (the cost of selling my covers of their songs)
- the remaining 30¢ will be going to paypal to cover the transaction fee
- should people (like YOU) choose to donate MORE than that, it’ll come directly to me - no label, no nothing

- i really would love for people to see this release and love it but maybe hopefully learn something from it about how artists get paid in this type of situation

She also says that we are now her record label and marketing division and I, for one, am both pleased and proud to be in that position. I've said it before and I'll say it again - it's the job of my heroes to produce art and product and it's my job to buy it and promote it.

Can't wait for the record!

Amanda Palmer - 'Idioteque'

Amanda has just released the first song from her Radiohead covers record, 'Idioteque'. It's available to download from her Bandcamp page so you need to click on over as soon as.

As Amanda says:








I hope you'll al head over there and at least give it a listen and, if you decide to buy it, pay at least what you'd pay on iTunes or Amazon or whatever your favourite download site of preference charges.

I'm looking forward to the full album.

There's an excellent article about the new album here, along with a photo of the cover.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Booze Adverts

Much as I hate to let my Wesleyan Methodist side out of the box, but I really can't help it when it comes to booze adverts on telly, especially targeting a World Cup audience.

We have Alan Shearer promoting cheap booze for Morrisons (for shame) and Sainsberries matching the cheap beer offer in the next ad break. Sainsberries will obviously claim that they were also advertising 'soft' drinks as well, but that was an hour later on a minority channel (ie, E4).

The health and crime message is that we drink too much and the supermarket chains agree there's a problem. But they then pay £Ks for adverts for cheap booze. Who can believe the two-faced nature of invested interests? Let's be honest, eh?

Blaydon Races 9 June

Today, 9 June, is Blaydon Races day. You might just think it's just a world-famous Geordie song, but the races at Blaydon actually took place in the 19th Century and the last race was in 1916. It started again in the '80s as an athletics race along the route described in George Ridley's narrative song. Here's a painting of the event from Shipley Art Gallery.

As well as being a Geordie anthem it's a bit special to me since I grew up a few miles from Blaydon. I vaguely remember the old town of Blaydon before the centre was pulled down and re-developed into a shopping centre. In the mid-70s I worked part-time in Laws Stores, one of the two supermarkets at Blaydon. It made me feel very grown up as a young teenager.

My Granda lived in Blaydon in the last few years of his life and he used to take me to the local club and buy me too many drinks while he told me about *his* granda who was a navvy and changed the course of the River Tyne at Blaydon. My Uncle Ted and Aunt Rhoda lived in Blaydon all their married lives and both died there - my cousins still live there.

There's not much to shout about in Blaydon these days but it does have a pub called The Geordie Ridley in honour of the writer of the song, 'Blaydon Races'. To celebrate the day, here's the video to the latest version of the song that Jimmy Nail, Tim Healy and Kevin Whately recorded to raise funds for Sir Bobby Robson's cancer charity - go on, download the song and make a donation.

Maximo Park - 'Quicken The Heart' Remix Album

News on the Maximo Park website and picked up from Twitter:

Remix Album Announced!
9 June 2010 / Posted by dg1982 / Posted in Release-news

We are very pleased to announce the release of our first Remix Album. It consists of nine tracks taken from our most recent LP, Quicken The Heart, which have been warped, shaped and moulded into entirely different pieces of music. However, this is a remix album with a twist. All the tracks have been produced by new, underground North East based artists and a CD of the tracks will be available free only with a copy of the July issue of NARC., a free north east based music and listings publication.

All the nine tracks featured on the CD come from a project we started earlier this year, when we streamed all the material from Quicken The Heart online and using local websites and magazines, asked any north east based artists who felt like it to have a go at reworking the raw material. The results have been amazing, and in total we have received over thirty remixes.

Although the CD will only be available to a certain few who manage to get their hands on the July NARC., we will be putting all the remixes we have received up on our website where anybody can stream and download the tracks for free. We are aiming to launch all this on June 30th.

Meanwhile, if you want to know a bit more about the remix project you can go to www.Generator.org.uk and www.NarcMedia.com

from Lukas and The Park

I'll be watching the website from the end of this month...

Monday, 7 June 2010

Marc Almond - 'Varieté'

Marc Almond's new album, 'Varieté', is just out and this song is the title track. I love the glam stomp that underpins the song along with hints of cabaret. The video is a mini black and white film set in early '60s Soho with smoke and booze and clubs and sex. Give it a listen.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Corpus Cristi Barcelona

Have you heard of the celebration of Corpus Cristi? No, neither had I. But it's celebrated in Barcelona. One of our favourite places in Barcelona is the Cafe D'Estiu (Cafe of Summer) in the courtyard outside the Museum of Frederic Mares and it's a must-visit place. It's a lovely little outdoors cafe with parasols to protect you from the sun and serves pots of tea with the biggest tea-bags I've ever seen.

The feast of Corpus Cristi runs between 3-6 June so I was lucky enough to see the odd ceremony of balancing an egg on the jet of water in the small fountain in the courtyard and watch it dance. The ceremony appears to date from the 16th Century and no-one has an exact definition of what it's supposed to mean, except a reference to spring and fertility. It was a big egg in the fountain so I decided it must be from the geese that live in the pond in the grounds to the Cathedral (which is just next door).

The floral decorations around the fountain were delightful and certainly dragged in the tourists to have a gawp (I would've gone in anyway so don't count myself as a tourist). It must've taken an age to get the egg *just right* so it bounced on the jet stream of the fountain.

Barcelona Brown Ale

I've just got back from Barcelona, City of Light and Art, City of Gaudi, of grace and culture. After a leisurely stroll round the rather splendid Picasso Museum and looking at early works from Picasso including some amazing pencil drawings he made as a teenager and ceramics from when he was older, I felt the need for replenishment of the body, for food and drink. It might be shady and cool in the environs of the Museum in the Gothic Quarter, but outside it was bright and hot. A short stroll to the top of the road, turn left and there it is, La Princesa 23, one of my favourite haunts in Barcelona.

La Princesa 23 feels relaxed and comfortable, like walking barefoot in a comfy room decorated in Moroccan style with wrought iron light fittings, Moorish arches and bright mosaics. It also serves excellent food at a very reasonable price. And Cava - o what Cava it sells. And the latest addition to the menu is Newcastle Brown Ale. Alongside all the premium imported beers is Newcastle Broon, where it belongs and served not just chilled, but frozen. Mmmmm yum. Needless to say, I indulged. Twice.

Friday, 4 June 2010

The Human League and PiL

I've been quiet for a few days having an adventure in Barcelona, city of light and art and no little sun, but it's my duty to pass on some news gained from chums on Twitter (because I haven't been checking emails).

That the Human League will play the Royal Festival Hall on 10 December is great news, but even better, they'll play tracks from their new album, their first since 2001. That means the new album will be out in time for Christmas, and, I suspect, new CD and DVD compilations. All to be celebrated. The Royal Festival Hall is a bit soul-less at the best of times, so let's see what the League can do with their amazing lightshows...

You also need to know that Public Image Limited is playing a few more dates around the UK, including Shepherds Bush on 19 July. The shows before Christmas and the recent tour of America have gone so well that John Lydon and PiL are back for more. I can feel the bass pounding already...

Now, I'd better get back to my adventure in hot and sunny Spain...