Sunday, 26 September 2010

Mark Ronson & Business International ft Boy George

This is one of the tracks from Mark Ronson's new album, with Boy George sharing lead vocals on 'Somebody To Love Me'. It's nice to see George wreathed in smiles and in great voice. Now, where is George's new album?

Friday, 24 September 2010

Suzanne Vega - 'Close-Up Vol 2, People & Places'

The second album in Suzanne Vega's 'Close-Up' series, in which she re-interprets her own songs, is 'People & Places' and it's due out on 12 October. Suzanne says:

Volume 2 of the Close-Up series are songs about people and places, some of them real and some of them mythic.

This album begins and ends in New York City, where I am from. In between we visit other lands, some of them imaginary. The songs in between are about goddesses, whores, unhappy wives, honest men, and forgotten kids. We end, of course, at Tom’s Diner.

I put the songs together in certain ways because they reflect off of each other. For example, there are two songs about children back to back in “Luka” and “Zephyr & I”; also two men battling something bigger than themselves in “Queen and the Soldier” and “Rock In This Pocket.” Each song leads into another one that relates to it in some way.

There is one new song here, "The Man Who Played God," which is based on Pablo Picasso. The original of this song is on the album Dark Night of the Soul by Sparklehorse.

These songs are the ones people have called “objective” or “journalistic”. Anyway I hope you like our journey!

The tracklisting is:

1 Luka
2 Zephyr & I
3 New York Is a Woman
4 In Liverpool
5 Calypso
6 Fat Man and Dancing Girl
7 The Queen and the Soldier
8 Rock In This Pocket (Song of David)
9 Angels Doorway
10 Ironbound/Fancy Poultry
11 Neighborhood Girls
12 Tom’s Diner
13 The Man Who Played God

If you pre-order through Suzanne's site you get an immediate download of 'Priscilla', plus there are five other bonus track downloads.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Athena, City of the Goddess

This blog has been quiet for the last week or so because I've been away on an adventure to Greece, to Athens, city of Athena, ancient protector of the city and goddess of wisdom. For some odd reason I've never been to Greece despite my fascination as a youngster with the myths of the ancient world, a fascination that's been sparked into life again.

There's a lot to say about Athens and the land around the city and it won't happen in one single long blog entry. I took 980 photos in just over a week and that's a lot, even for me, so this is a pictorial introduction to get you in the mood.

The centrepiece of Athens is the Acropolis, the rock plateau that rises up in the centre of the city and, if Athens wasn't so hilly, it would be seen from all parts of the city. On the top is the Parthenon, the great temple to Athena, which is undergoing some more renovation at the moment so parts were covered in scaffolding but that hardly detracts from its grandeur and magnificence, one of the most influential buildings ever constructed. We visited twice, once in the morning and we were surrounded by the massed ranks of American tourists from the cruise ships (it seemed like there were thousands of them) and again late in the afternoon so had the privilege of being there as the sun began to turn orange and set and turn the stone to all shades of pink and orange. It's a glorious sight.

At the foot of the Acropolis is Plaka, the old town of Athens, and the Agora, the remains of the ancient city with it's temples and ruins, the prime example of which is the temple to Hephaestus that was preserved by being turned into a church until early in the 19th Century. The temple is beautiful and surrounded by trees of a hundred shades of green. Most people walk past the front but go round the back for some perfect views and a much quieter time. It's easy to spend hours wandering round the ancient Agora, under the beating sun and the bright light that robs the world of colour other than green.

One of the glories of Athens is the National Archaeological Museum that houses so much of the historical wealth in terms of art of the ancient city. Magnificent statues that I've seen in books since I was about 9 or 10 and there they were before me. The magnificent iron statue of Zeus or Poseidon (the jury is out on who it is), statues of athlete's and gods, of emperors and their lovers, of Aphrodite fighting off a randy Pan with her slipper, it's all there. And, if you're talking ancient Greece, then you're also talking pottery and there is a whole series of galleries full of ancient vases, some whole but many made whole again from fragments. We saw most of the museum in about 4.5 hours but it would be easy to go back for another visit to see everything we just glanced at and walked on. It's very tiring on the feet. y'know.

Athens is close enough to some other ancient sites to make them do-able in a day trip and we paid homage to both the ancient city of Mycenae built on its hilltop and to the Oracle at Delphi. Mycenae is west of Athens, over the Corinthian Canal into the Peloponnese peninsula and out into the wilds of the rocky countryside, hill country with sparse vegetation other than olive trees that thrive in the parched environment. The countryside is beautiful in its desolate wilderness as the hills recede into blueness. All that's left of the ancient city are the outlines of walls as you trudge upwards in the scorching sun to the top of the city. In the time of Troy, Agamemnon ruled Mycenae, with his wife, Clytemnestra. Today, random solitary trees grow in what was once their palace.

Also in the area is Epidaurus where, along with temples to healing gods was the great theatre of Epidaurus where the art of theatre as we understand it today was slowly born over the years.

North West of Athens in the mountains is Delphi, perched on the side of Mount Parnassos, where the Oracle wove tales of what might - or might not - be in the future. It all depended on the interpretation of her chemically enhanced utterings. Being high in the mountains, we drove through a ski resort (Arachova) to get there (it never occurred to me that there would be ski resorts in Greece). The great Temple of Apollo that housed the Oracle is in ruins but retains it's feeling of the mysterious as people glance over it, wondering what really happened those millennia ago. It was abandoned in the Fourth Century AD as Christianity took hold but its remoteness has helped keep the basic lay-out intact until it was rediscovered 100 or so years ago.

Ancient wonders are a joy to behold, even in a ruined state, but happiness is much simpler and, for me, was brought on by The Happiness Train. The Train is bright red and pulls four carriages around the base of the Acropolis on a journey of about 50 minutes. It's the best thing since Daedalus invented wings for Icarus and I loved it. I saw it a few times wending it's way through the narrow streets of Plaka but couldn't work out where it started until Chris noticed it parked at the back of Syntagma Square in the centre of town. So on I jumped and was covered in a big ole smiley face - it's a great way to explore the base of the Acropolis and the only downside was that I couldn't ring the bell that warned tourists we were coming through. Wherever it went it brought smiles to faces and cameras out of pockets and bags - it's an excellent idea and, obviously, everyone who wasn't on the train was incredibly jealous of those of us graced individuals who were being transported around the Acropolis by the will of the gods.

Don't worry faithful readers, more to follow about Athens...

Ray Davies - 'See My Friends'

It's not that long ago that Ray Davies released an album of Kinks klassics with a choir ('The Kinks Choral Collection') and here he is doing it again with a range of musicians from Bruce Springsteen to Metallica via Mumford And Sons and Paloma Faith. The album is called, 'See My Friends' (a Kinks song, of course) and it's out on 1 November. The album even has it's own website.

The tracklisting and collaborations are:

1. Better Things - Ray & Bruce Springsteen
2. Celluloid Heroes - Ray, Jon Bon Jovi & Richie Sambora
3. Days/This Time Tomorrow - Ray & Mumford & Sons
4. Long Way From Home - Ray, Lucinda Williams & The 88
5. You Really Got Me - Ray & Metallica
6. Lola - Ray & Paloma Faith
7. Waterloo Sunset 0 Ray & Jackson Browne
8. 'Til The End Of The Day - Ray, Alex Chilton & The 88
9. Dead End Street - Ray & Amy MacDonald
10. See My Friends - Ray & Spoon
11. This Is Where I Belong - Ray & Black Francis
12. David Watts - Ray & The 88
13. Tired Of Waiting - Ray & Gary Lightbody
14. All Day And All Of The Night/Destroyer - Ray & Billy Corgan

You can hear a few samples on the website and it sounds intriguing to say the least. The short clip of 'Lola' sounds excellent - I think I'll like it.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Dresden Dolls Reunion!

I have a big ole smiley face on me - those lovable punk cabaret raggamuffins, Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione, are getting back together again as The Dresden Dolls and will celebrate their union in New York at Halloween. Here is how they announced it to the world:

Brian looks very cute in his frock.

The Dolls then do a short tour around America:


With Very Special Guests!


With Jason Webley
Nov 12th @ Tipitina's
A special gulf oil spill relief-benefit for BTNEP , an organazation that is working to preserve, protect, and restore the Barataria and Terrebonne estuaries of Louisiana.

With Lille
Nov 13th @ The Buckhead Theatre

With Chico Fellini
Nov 14th @ Buster's Billiards & Backroom

With Sleepy Kitty
Nov 16th @ The Pageant

With Mucca Pazza
Nov 17th @ The Vic Theatre

With Girl In A Coma
Nov 19th @ Granada Theatre

With Girl In A Coma
Nov 20th @ Fitzgerald's

With Girl In A Coma
Nov 21st @ La Zona Rosa

The trick is, of course, to somehow lure them onto an aeroplane to London and then kidnap them and force them to play a London gig. Or maybe two. And then lock them in a studio to record another album. Maybe a double-album. Stranger things have happened.

I am officially delighted with this news... Long live the punk cabaret!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Farewell to HAIR!

Last night we went to the final performance of 'Hair' at the Gielgud Theatre and, since it's already closed on Broadway, this was the final show of the production, and what a show! Every time I've seen it, the cast has put their all into the performance and no less tonight, despite tears and sad smiles at times, the entire cast should be proud of what they gave us last night.

I was looking in the booklet to the cast recording this afternoon, the record that I bought in New York in February this year, and I was pleased to see how many faces I recognised from last night. There have been a number of changes, but the bulk of the cast seems to be the same and that's good for us since these people know each other so well. The main change last night was Kevin Kern as Claude (since Gavin Creel left the show on Wednesday) and he filled some big shoes very well indeed.

Caissie Levy plays Sheila, Democracy's Daughter and a Protester, with a lovely powerful voice singing 'I Believe In Love', 'Easy To Be Hard' and 'Good Morning Starshine'. I love 'Easy To Be Hard' and, clearly, last night so did everyone else due to the standing ovation that sent Cassie off stage with tears in her eyes at the appreciation. She has a great voice and a lovely presence and I'd love to see her again.

Allison Case plays Crissy, the lovelorn hippy who misses the love of her life, 'Frank Mills', a song that sets Chris off crying and, last night, sent Allison from the stage in tears as she received her ovation. She is so in role, a gentle young woman, happy with almost anything, smiling and supportive but missing the love of her life.I love seeing Allison on stage - she is never out of character, even when in the background behind the mass of the Tribe, she is still Crissy and that's lovely. We met Allison a few visits ago and Chris had his photo taken with her so the task last night to find her and get her to sign the photo - which we did and she did, quite gladly. Allison seems quite lovely and I can't wait to see what she does next.

Kacie Sheik plays Jeannie who loves Claude but who is knocked up by some random speed freak on the Lower East Side. Kacie's big song is 'Air' during which she holds a gas-mask to her pregnancy bump and she commented that she was *still* pregnant. That was her ovation time at which she tried to calm us down to move on to the next scene. I always like Kacie's random inputs, like, at the start of the big drug-induced dream sequence in the second half she shouts out, 'As Mary Magdalen once said, Jesus, I am getting stoned!'. Classic lines delivered so well.

The fourth female lead is Sasha Allen as Dione, who opens the show with the magnificent 'Aquarius', with Sasha fronting the triangle of the Tribe behind her, a very powerful image and a great sonic wall of sound. Sasha also takes the lead for 'White Boys' and 'Walking In Space' and her voice and presence are always an asset. All she has to do is to open her mouth and you know you're in the presence of a singer. And it's Sasha's voice that echoes the show to a close with 'Let The Sun Shine In' as the hippies leave the stage with the the body of Claude being coated in snow... such a touching end.

Of the male hippies we have Steel Burkhardt at Berger, the hedonistic leader of the Tribe with his mane of hair, our host for the evening who leads us down the road to ad libs, sex and drugs. Berger loves Berger and wants to stay high forever, the archetypal hippy. His sheer naivety is part of his attractiveness - I'd like to have him as friend once a week, but that's about it.

Kevin Kern played Claude who pretends he's from Manchester when he's actually from Queens. He's Aquarius, destined for either madness or greatness and, in the end, death. Claude is the central character of the show and it's his journey we follow - we need a strong actor to take us through the rest of the show and Kevin did that perfectly well. He's clearly following in Gavin Creel's footsteps rather then creating his own, but it was a great performance for the final night.

Darius Nichols plays Hud, the sex-driven black power character with great presence whether it be his one-liner interjections or something more challenging. You can't help but notice when he's front and centre stage, playing his own game with the hippies, enjoying himself with Big Daddy or Little Daddy, rubbing his nipples trying to attract people to the Be-In and announcing a 'suck-in'. He crawled out over the seats to row J during 'Hair', right in front of Chris and, when he turned to move towards the aisle, he rested a hand on my shoulder and I put a hand up to steady him, touching his back through his tasseled waistcoat - I've touched Hud-flesh. He's a great creation and excellently played by Darius - I loved the 'Yes I's Finished On Y'All's Farmlands' and 'Abie Baby' sections, where one moment he's threatening with a spear and the next he's The Temptations. Excellent stuff!

Of course, we also have Matt De'Angelis as Woof, the perfectly straight hippy who wants to go to bed with Micky Mick, Mick Jagger. He's the third Woof I've seen but I liked him - he's got nothing to lose so he threw himself into it wholeheartedly. He's been in every other London performance of the show I've seen so he's a familiar face on stage and has a nice voice. He fit in perfectly with the rest of the Tribe, great presence and great howls.

We were ready at the end to help invade the stage when we noticed people from the back of the stalls already queuing to run up there so joined them - hey, I'm not going to be polite about it on the last night. And on to the stage we clambered to jump about, sing along and clap to the music from the Hair Band. It seemed so much busier up there than previously, but I didn't care. Then we had to track down Allison Case to autograph the photo I'd taken of her and Chris a few visits ago and, luckily we did so. She seems such a nice person, signing the photo and having a brief chat, me saying I'm looking forward to seeing what she does next.

And then we got down from the stage, exhilaration ebbing away as we went through the old corridors of the Gielgud and out into the fresh air of Shaftesbury Avenue to take a last look at the front of the theatre. Whatever's on next, it'll be a duller sight than 'Hair'. The lights, the posters, the smiles, the joy... it'll all be different.

I don't know how best to sum up the closure of this great production of 'Hair'. It has touched me in places I didn't know were available for touching. I love the joy it's brought into my life, the optimism, the hope for the future and the uplifting possibilities of having the right actors on stage in front of me with the right script and songs. *This* was the right cast for 'Hair' and I am so lucky to have seen them enjoy themselves and give so much to me on stage. I will treasure the memories and always think twice about cutting my hair - let it grow, man....

Bye bye hippies and thank you for the joy. Good luck in whatever you do next - I'll be looking out for you. Let the sun shine in!

And here's some footage of the last stage invasion - you might just be able to see my arm up in the air on the left behind Darius ...

Friday, 3 September 2010

The Runaways!

I saw an advert on telly tonight for a new biopic film about The Runaways - remember them? I do and I still *love* 'Cherry Bomb' as a classic of the time. Joan Jett and Cherie Currie used to be plastered all over the music press in the mid '70s and now there's a film about them with Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning in the respective roles. I don't know when it's going to be in cinemas but I'll be watching out for it.

In the meantime, here's 'Cherry Bomb' by The Runaways to give you an idea of what to expect:

Thursday, 2 September 2010

'Hair' and a Farewell to Gavin Creel

Wednesday 1 September was Gavin Creel's last appearance as Claude in 'Hair', so naturally we had to be there to say farewell, with Gareth only two seats away in the same row. We were smack bang in the middle of the row so I suffered some anxiety about exiting in time to reach the stage but, luckily, the hippies soothed my furrowed brow. We also had a new Woof tonight in the form of Matt DeAngelis giving it some good howl and Micky Mick moves.

Steel Burkhardt has really grown into the role of Burger and it's his now, flirting with the audience and, well, anyone with a pulse, picking on a blond bloke in the front row to be his 'mother' only to realise he was far too tall to kiss when
he stood up. Darius Nichols was, as ever, a sex beast ready to do anyone who lets their guard down and, amazingly crawled out to row L during 'Hair', fondling everyone in arm's reach - that's what I call stamina.

Of course, it was Gavin's big night and he got a great reception for 'Manchester England' and an even bigger response to 'I Got Life' that he clearly put his heart and soul into the song to the extent that he had to signal to the audience to stop clapping so the show could continue. And then, at the reprise, the rest of the cast stood to applaud him as well. The energy was flowing and he was at the centre of it. Then, with 'Hair', both he and Steel stripped off their tops to great applause and launched into the title song. Of course, that's what I look like without a shirt but I choose to be a bit more respectable.

It was going so well until we got to Gavin's next big song, 'Where Do I Go?' when Gavin got through the first line and then the emotion got to him and he couldn't sing. He got the Tribe to sing the next few lines to get him going and then he delivered a touching and heartfelt version of the song as the Tribe stripped behind him with all eyes on Gavin. After playing the role for so long it was obviously a difficult song to sing.

Since I've seen the show a few times before, it's easy to find the eyes wandering round the stage watching the other characters when they play supporting roles as members of the Tribe to make the whole performance work. I was really impressed with Kacie Sheik (pregnant Jeanie, goddess of the Lower East Side) and Allison Case (Crissy, originally played in London by Sonja Kristina) who never stepped out of character, even when at the back of the stage, still playing it for real. Allison delivers the definitive version of 'Frank Mills', so sweet and tender, and no, I wouldn't want the $2 back either.

Anyway, back to Gavin, who got through the rest of the show in solid fashion and got a standing ovation on his joining the rest of the cast at the end. But that always happens since it's such a great production. And then we all try to invade the stage, except we failed tonight since too many people were already up there (including Gareth) by the time we reached the steps - that's the problem of having great seats in the middle of the row. Still, we stood in front of the stage singing and clapping along and then Cassie Levy stepped forward to make an emotional speech thanking Gavin for being their leader in the show and in the cast while he was clearly touched and welling up. That was a nice touch. He came down from the balcony to join in the fun on the stage before, no doubt, leaving for the after-show party.

So that was my end to 'Hair' part 1. Part 2 comes on Saturday when the show closes. Luckily our seats are only two in from the aisle so we stand a good chance of being fondled by a hippy and getting a flower and invading the stage will be easy-peasy. I shall wear The Most Beautiful Shirt In The World, covered in hippy rosebuds, and sandals. I also need to weave some shiny beads into my beard and maybe some glitter. A final night must be celebrated appropriately.

Thank you Gavin, and all the best for the future.