Thursday, 30 December 2010

'King Lear' at The Donmar Warehouse

Last night we went to see my last play of the year, 'King Lear' at the Donmar Warehouse. Now, shocking as it might seem, I've never seen 'King Lear' on stage or (and it's at this point my shame rises and blushes my cheeks) read the play - I am a virgin when it comes to Lear. We'd booked tickets to see Derek Jacobi in 'King Lear' back in the summer and it was nice to finally have it come round at last, especially since we were in the second row of the stalls.

I have history with Mr Jacobi. Yes, I watched 'I Clavdivs' when it was first broadcast (I did Latin at school y'know). I saw him on his tour with 'Hamlet' in 1977 or 1978 . I've seen him on stage in supporting parts a couple of times and in the audience at the Donmar and elsewhere - it's nice to see an actor that actually likes to be part of the audience for live theatre as well as it being his profession. But I've not seen him with the weight of an entire play on his shoulders since 'Hamlet' 30-odd years ago and, last night, he excelled.

'King Lear' is not a one-man show, of course, and, as well as Derek Jacobi in the title role, we also had the excellent Gina McKee as Goneril, Justine Mitchell as Regan and Ron Cook as the Fool, as well as a dozen other characters. It's the first time I've seen Gina on stage (but have seen her loads on telly) and was most impressed with her cool portrayal of Goneril in comparison with the almost manic playing of her sister and rival Regan. Cordelia was played by Pippa Bennett-Warner in, what I think is her first big role, and she was very good, a nice, subtle performance. I was also impressed by Michael Hadley as Kent, Paul Jesson as Gloucester and Gwilym Lee as 'young' Gloucester, spending much of the play in loincloth and dirt but delivering a subtle performance. It's a quiet joy to see a cast with such consummate acting skills playing off one another and clearly putting so much into their performance.

At some point in the first half I remember thinking that this was both excellent writing and excellent acting, bringing Shakespeare's thoughts to life in front of me on a bare stage. It might be quite a bleak play but the writing and intent are clear and easy to understand and that's partially what gives the play it's power and why it's still regularly performed. It must give the actors headaches though, trying to pitch that level of emotion for every performance. There were no frills or fancies, simple costumes, a stage empty of props most of the time and the direction led to a speedy play, bringing it in in under three hours.

The final scenes are, of course, full of blood and death - it's a tragedy, after all - most of which is off-stage. Lear dies on stage at the end of the play, an excellent death scene by Derek Jacobi, not over-played or over-long, but which, for me, was trumped by the last words from the Duke of Kent as he holds Lear's dead body, "
I have a journey, sir, shortly to go; My master calls me, I must not say no." After the way he's been treated by Lear throughout most of the play it's odd to think that Kent still wants to follow his liege, but this suggests there are years of friendship before the play begins to warrant such devotion. It was very touching and excellent craftsmanship.

If you get the chance to see this production then do so - it's a reward to see it.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

'Cinderella' at Sadlers Wells

My pre-Christmas treat was to see Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella' at Sadlers Wells. Seeing one of Matthew's productions has now become a firm Christmas tradition, heading up to Sadlers Wells to inspect the Christmas tree and mingle in the always over-crowded foyer bar, wondering what sights were ahead of us and whether it would hold the imperceptible magic of his other Christmas treats.

The performance starts with the cast watching a short newsreel about the London blitz that places the show in time and space and then we shift to the house where a grey and speccy Cinderella lives with her family, disabled dad, odd collection of siblings and the ultimate Cruella De Ville step-mother. The first act is an extended introduction to the characters through dance and a few small props, and ending with the family all going to a ball at the Cafe De Paris except for poor little Cinders. Until her guardian angel intervenes.

The second act opens in a blitzed Cafe De Paris, with people and tables strewn across the stage in the bombed out wreckage of the Cafe, and then the angel dances back time and the glitzy Cafe takes shape before us and the colour explodes to wipe away the grey drabness of the first act. A glammed-up Cinders and her RAF pilot dance the night away until Cinders must rush off and is caught in the blitz, picked up by first aid workers and leaves a shiny glass slipper behind.

The third act tells the tale of the wounded RAF pilot searching for his Cinders in bombed out London, through the rent boys and prostitutes haunting Oxford Circus tube station and the toughs and posh people down on the Embankment. Eventually he ends up being taken to the same hospital as the now grey again Cinders. The nasty step-mother tries to kill Cinders for some reason, is caught and led off, the pilot and Cinders are reunited, get married and say farewell to her family in a train station in a small tribute to 'Brief Encounter'. It is also at the train station that the angel finds his next charge, another lonely young woman to help.

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this show. The chronology was a bit odd but it's the characterisation that I love. The brother with the shoe fetish going round trying to sniff ladies shoes, the other brother who's gay and meets a random soldier in the Cafe who turns out to be Mr Right that he then says goodbye to at the final railway station scene, the haughty and nasty step-mother (boo!), the soldier coming down the steps in the Cafe doing up his flies, the menacing toughs on the Embankment - great story-telling through dance. I wasn't too engaged by Cinders and her pilot since you know what's going to happen to them, it was the minor characters I watched. It was also touching to see the woman at the train station waiting for her love who never arrives and she wanders off to be found sitting alone at a table at the end when the angel walks up to her and touches her shoulder and you know that a new story is about to begin as the lights go down.

It's the little touches that Matthew Bourne devises that I love and that pull at the heart strings or the comedy bone, like the Swan and his Prince looking through the window at the end of 'Swan Lake' or the characters going round licking each other in 'Nutcracker'. His mass dance scenes are excellent, with every couple dancing their own dance within the whole rather than a load of people doing exactly the same dance, each having their own characters and movements. And, as has happened a couple of times before, Mr Bourne was out in the foyer chatting to friends and supporters as the audience left at the end of the show.

There's something rather magical about walking up to the Angel tube station after seeing a Matthew Bourne production on a freezing winter's night with Christmas lights in the air, speculating on what happens next in the world I've just glimpsed and why this character did this and that character did that, and then the long ride home mulling it all over. That means it must be Christmas...

Friday, 24 December 2010

Advent 24 - Merry Christmas Everybody

What could my advent song possibly be on Christmas Eve but the classic 'Merry Christmas Everybody' by those Lords of Noize, SLADE. I loved it instantly back in 1973 and bought it the day it was released. I still love it and bought it again last weekend with a great live version and Noddy shouting out 'merry Christmas' to the audience.

And with that, all I can say is, Merry Christmas!

Advent 23 - Christmas Wrapping

One of the most original and fun Christmas records, 'Christmas Wrapping' by The Waitresses - I can't find a video of the band performing this song but this is quite fun. Whenever this pops up on mu iPod it puts a smile on my face and a jaunt in my step but I can never keep up with the words...

Viv Albertine - 'Home Sweet Home ( Christmas)'

I'm very pleased to have found this new song just in time for Christmas, Viv Albertine's 'Home Sweet Home (... at Christmas)', available to download from Viv's website for the grand total of 0 pence - go and download it now. Apparently it's a re-working of a song that will be her new single in the new year, 'Confessions of a MILF'.

I didn't know that Viv had started making music again - how are you supposed to find out about these things? For the last 28 years or so since the demise of The Slits Viv has been a film director and artist but released her first four-track EP earlier this year, 'Flesh', and has a cover of 'Letter To Hermione' on the latest David Bowie tribute album. And, delightfully, both are available to download from Amazon and iTunes. If you liked The Slits or just like alternative takes on what music could sound like, then go on and download Viv's songs - I'm thoroughly enjoying them.

I also like the potted biography of Viv on the home page to her website (such as Joe Strummer taught her to tap her foot and play guitar at the same time) so click on over for a read!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Advent 22 - Black Christmas

The message went, 'Poly's back!' and lo and behold, Poly Styrene did emerge with her new single, the free download of 'Black Christmas' and the angels did skank along to it. And what a return, Poly and her daughter, Celeste Styrene giving us a different take on Christmas.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Advent 21 - We Three Kings

Blondie's 'We Three Kings' was last years' winner in the 'new song' category of the Plastic Bag Awards and it justly features in my Advent Calendar. Play it loud and bounce around the room!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Ray Davies at The Royal Festival Hall

My pre-Christmas gig this year was seeing Ray Davies at The Royal Festival Hall on Sunday night, accompanied by his chums over the last couple of years, the Crouch End Festival Chorus. I saw Ray at the Royal Albert Hall back in May and, before that, last Christmas, at Hammersmith Apollo. So he's fast becoming a Christmas tradition.

The format of the gig followed the same format as when he played Hammersmith, opening with Ray and guitarist doing an acoustic set and then the band joining in followed by a half time break. After that, the Chorus joined Ray on stage for versions of Kinks songs from the 'Kinks Choral Collection'. Ray was on top form, happily joking, exhorting us to clap and sing along, telling tales of the old days and improvising every now and then, responding to shout outs for the audience and launching into a rendition of 'Harry Rag' and then of 'Father Christmas' (how does he remember the lyrics?). When you've got a back catalogue like Ray's it must give him tremendous scope to play with songs and, in a way, that's what he does in his acoustic set.

Ray opened with 'This Is Where I Belong' despite saying later that when he saw Chuck Berry at the Royal Festival Hall ten years ago that he swore he'd never play in the place - I know what he means, though, it's not the most rock venue in London. We then had lovely renditions of 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion', 'Dead End Street', 'Autumn Almanac' and band joining the acoustic duo on stage to fill out the sound.

The second half kicked off with the Chorus taking their places, followed by the four-piece band and then Ray. We were treated to most of 'The Kinks Choral Collection' and particular favourites were ' Celluloid Heroes', 'See My Friends' and 'Working Man's Cafe'. It was great fun to listen to Ray explain how he'd written 'You Really Got Me' and how Dave had invented the classic guitar riff. The set closed with a great series of songs: 'Postcard From London', 'Days' and 'Waterloo Sunset', a trilogy of songs that worked really well. And a single encore of 'All Day And All Of The Night' which had everyone on their feet and loads of people dancing down the front of the stage. My one disappointment was no 'Lola' - how is that possible?

It's great to see Ray and it's great to see him re-interpret and re-present his old songs, but you know what I'd like? I'd quite like a straight rock gig - he proves he can do it every time I see him, letting the band rock out and Ray singing on top of the wild rock sounds. He's a great performer and has nearly 50 years of showing us how to respond to his gigs - long may he continue!

Martha Reeves & The Vandellas at The Jazz Cafe

Last Thursday we went to see the marvellous Martha Reeves & The Vandellas on the last night of their short residency at The Jazz Cafe up in Camden. I first saw Martha and her sisters Lois and Delphine at the Jazz Cafe so it was nice to see them on that little stage again. Martha fills the stage with her presence let alone with her sisters and the band.

With Martha you're guaranteed a 'greatest hits plus' show with all the goodies from the '60s, 'Heatwave', 'Nowhere To Run', 'Jimmy Mack' and a host of others plus some gems like an extended version of 'What Going On' and a 'best of Motown' medley (I particularly liked the 'Sugar Pie Honeybunch' section). Martha's voice isn't what it was but it's easy to forget that when she's on stage - she's been around for nearly 50 years, for virtually the whole history of pop and soul music, one of the originals and still one of the best.

It's not just the songs, with Martha and her sisters it's all about the show, about giving the audience a fun time and sending us away with a smile. I love the way that Martha, Lois and Delphine still observe the old Motown rules of a low curtsy after every song and Lois in particular sticking to the old dance routines she's been doing since 1968 (Delphine's a relative new-comer, only joining the Vandellas in 1980). And what lovely, gracious ladies they are, giving us a show to remember.

One of the highlights was Martha singing 'No-One There' a song I've not seen her perform before and which got Chris excited, a lovely, gentle song. I also loved (of course) 'Dancing In The Street' which she preceded by listing some of the big names who've recorded it and ending with, 'but it's *my* song' and so it is. Another favourite for me was 'Nowhere To Run', with all the running round the stage as best they could in the small space.

It was a scrum to queue up to meet Martha afterwards, not the best organised of signings, but Martha sat there with a pint of Guinness happily signing whatever her fans gave her (including piles of records) and not just signing, but writing a message. She then passed them to Lois and Delphine to sign as well. They were there for ages directly after the show - I know, because we were there for ages, patiently waiting our turn to say 'hello' and 'thank you'. While Chris chatted to Martha I said a few words to Lois and Delphine, reminding them of the great show at the Bloomsbury Ballroom a couple of years ago at which these photos were taken.

Advent 20 - City of Christmas Ghosts

We're getting closer to the Big Day and that means it's time for the big Christmas guns to come out. And here are those nice Goldblade lads with Poly Styrene and 'City Of Christmas Ghosts', my Christmas joy in 2008 when it was released. It's not a high tech, high quality video, but what it lacks in slickness it makes up for in raw power.

La la la-la, Christmas Ghost!

Advent 19 - White Christmas

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without some Bing Crosby and what could be more Christmasy than 'White Christmas'? I've chosen the music box version from the opening army scene in the 'White Christmas' film since the emphasis is on Bing's voice rather than anything else. Enjoy.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Advent 18:It's Christmas Time

With less than a week until the big day, here's Status Quo's 'It's Christmas Time'. It's only fair to let the old geezers have a look in at Christmas - they've been banging away with their no-nonsense boogie for over 40 years. It's taken them long enough to come up with a Christmas single and, y'know what? I like it!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

'The Glass Menagerie' at The Young Vic

Now, I have form with Tennessee William's 'The Glass Menagerie'. When I saw it in Toronto five or six years ago I was sitting in the front row right in front of a small table holding a glass menagerie of animals and... I fell asleep. Not snoring, falling over asleep, just nodded off from the warmth in the theatre after the snow and cold outside and a long journey to Canada. But still, I fell asleep. So, it was with trepidation in my heart that I braved the play again, this time at the Young Vic. And I'm pleased I did.

It's quite a depressing play with little joy in life, all the characters having failed to make the most of their lives or done much with their potential. The mother yearns to re-live the gentility of her youth, her son yearns to leave home and leave his life behind him and the gentleman caller yearns to better his life through evening classes. Only the daughter seems content with her life, hiding away at home with her menagerie of glass ornaments. Until one breaks.

It's a very intense play and this production brought that out by having a very shouty lead in Leo Bill with a more subtle performance by Deborah Findley as the mother and a very tender performance by Sinéad Matthews as the disabled sister. Kyle Soller played the young gentleman caller. I was most impressed by Sinéad who made me believe in her disability and complete shyness, her moment of hope and her magnanimity in defeat and accepting her fate. Her performance was very touching. Go and see it if you can.

Advent 17: Happy Christmas (War Is Over)

One of my favourite Christmas songs, John & Yoko's classic from 1972. I love everything about this song and it works for me, the words, the sentiment, the choir, the whispering at the start, the posters with the legend, ' WAR IS OVER! If You Want It, Happy Christmas from John & Yoko'.

Happy Christmas Yoko!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Advent 16: Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End)

The Darkness appeared, played some power chords, dropped a Christmas single with a fun video and then vanished. And here it is:

Advent 15: Yelling At The Christmas Tree

My 15th Advent song is a little known Billy Idol gem, 'Yelling At The Christmas Tree' with his rather modern take on Christmas and its association with booze. Billy recorded a proper Christmas album a few years ago which I haven't heard - it seems somehow wrong for Billy to sing the Christmas classics, but I don't have a problem with him creating new classics.

Amanda Palmer - 'Map Of Tasmania'

The important news is that there is *new* music from Amanda Palmer in the shape of a new single, 'Map Of Tasmania'. It is available to download now from Bandcamp and features the Young Punx, a mix of ukulele and tribal electronica (or Phat Beats in the parlance), a different sound that I fell in love with immediately. And, being from Amanda, are you surprised to learn that it's about her pubic hair? Of course you aren't. It also has rather fab cover art so download it and enjoy it if you know what's good for you.

And there's more... Amanda's new album, 'Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under' will be available in late January with 'Map Of Tasmania' and eleven other new songs. If they're anything like 'Map' then we're all in for a treat!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Advent 14: 'Gaudete'

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without Steeleye Span giving us some 'Gaudete'. I may be wrong but I think this is the only song in Latin to make it into the top 20 singles chart and I remember them walking onto the stage of Top Of The Pops holding candles back in the '70s.

This video is from a concert in 2004 and shows that they still have it. Maddy's voice is still pure and piercing and my one sadness is that they didn't sing the song when I saw them at Christmas last year, but I forgive that cos they were fab anyway.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Advent 13: We Need A Little Christmas

Advent 13 is an unusual one for you, but I like Angela Lansbury singing 'We Need A Little Christmas' from 'Mame'. The cast recording has a lot of joy and life imbued into it and the words say it all for me. This video is of Miss Lansbury a few years ago with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in a concert performance. Sit back and enjoy!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Advent 12: I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

One of my favourite Christmas songs is 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday' by Wizzard. It's such a happy and optimistic song that it deserves to be in everybody's top ten of Christmas songs.

The Human League at the Royal Festival Hall

Way back at the start of June when I was on holiday in Barcelona I bought tickets to see the Human League at the Royal Festival Hall. It's been a long wait but it finally ended on Friday when I saw Phil, Susan and Joanne once again, and closer than ever before since the tickets were in the fourth row.

The stage was covered in white flooring with three solitary white microphone stands and a black curtain hiding the rest of the stage, a clear sign that the Human League were in the building. The lights dimmed, the background music went quiet and then the first electronic chord started, the black curtain fell, the light show started and there they were, all dressed in black. Striding down a few steps in front of a video wall, Phil started pacing the stage while the girls went to their respective microphone stands and they belted out a new song, 'Electric Shock' from the new album due in March. And it works as a great opener, getting them moving but it was the second song that got the whole auditorium to our feet, singing, dancing and clapping along. And then we were granted wall-to-wall hits for the next hour and a half.

Phil never stood still, pacing back and forth across the stage; Susan was wreathed in smiles, flirting with the audience and having the time of her life; Joanne was all cool and aloof most of the time, breaking out into a big smile every time she forgot to be sullen, with both girls waving their hands above their heads, wiggling their hips and doing the little dances they've been doing for nearly 30 years, and they were perfect. The three-piece band created an enormous sound with their various synths and Mr Oakey even joined in at one point. The costume changes went from black to white to black again, all monochrome except for Joanne's flashes of red.

The time went by so quickly and before I knew it we were into 'Don't You Want Me' which always signals the end of the show. I can't pick out a few highlights from a gig that was full of highlights but I always like 'Being Boiled' and 'Empire State Human' with Phil on his knees, 'Tell Me When', 'Love Action', 'Mirror Man', 'The Sound Of The Crowd' and the great 'The Lebanon'. And , of course, a glorious 'Together In Electric Dreams'. They also played the new single, 'Night People' with a weird collage of Hitler and nuns kissing on the video-wall.

The Human League were, of course, magnificent, and they all looked very well indeed. Phil was whip-thin as ever from his endless pacing across the stage, Susan was looking slender and gorgeous and not over-thin, and Joanne has lost weight since I last saw her and is now looking well voluptuous. I (obviously) had to indulge in taking some photos and a selection are below, I even got a couple of Phil smiling.

If you get the chance to see the Human League in concert then don't miss 'em - they give great show and you'll know all the songs, oh yes you will.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Advent 11: Santa's Disco

Christmas is not just about sentiment, religion and presents, it's also about fun and being silly. Finally we have a Christmas song that is just plain daft and a little bit glorious. It is, of course, 'Santa's Disco' by The Superions (and yes, that is Fred Schneider). C'mon, let's party tonight!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Advent 10: Hey Mr Christmas

Christmas can bring out the best in people and this song proves it. I was never very keen on Showaddywaddy, those drainpipe wearing annoyances, until they did this song and I learned the valuable lesson that everyone has a good side. Even Showaddywaddy.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Advent 9: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

It's time to celebrate some 'new' Christmas music and I'm enjoying the new album from Annie Lennox. When I heard about the album I was expecting something well produced and worthy with Annie's excellent vocals on top, but 'Christmas Cornucopia' is so much more than that - it's original and has some excellent re-workings of songs we're all familiar with. I like this version of 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' and recommend you listen to the whole album.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Advent 8: Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant

Siouxsie & The Banshees is probably a strange pick for a Christmas playlist except that they actually have a Christmas song recorded way back, 'Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant'.Their version is the first time I'd ever heard that song, a song I've since heard by various other people. The only version that rivals Siouxsie's is the version by Petula Clark on her latest album.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Advent 7: Baby It's Cold Outside

Just because it is, I give you 'Baby It's Cold Outside' by Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews.

Advent 6: I'm Going Home

A couple of years ago Justin Lee Collins set himself the task of reviving the Christmas single and tracked down performers from the big Christmas singles of the 70s to help him - and this is the result. I watched the programme and liked it immediately, downloaded it from the Channel Four site and have enjoyed listening to it every Christmas since.

The song has a tremendous Christmas pedigree:

> written by Rob Davis of Mud (Christmas hit: 'Lonely This Christmas') who also co-wrote 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head' for Kylie
> sung by David Essex (Christmas hit: 'A Winters Tale')
> guitar by Dave Hill of SLADE (Christmas hit: 'Merry Christmas Everybody')
> drums by Don Powell of SLADE (Christmas hit: 'Merry Christmas Everybody')
> other musicians/vocals from Showaddywaddy (Christmas hit: 'Hey Mr Christmas').

Not bad, eh? Give it a listen!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Advent 5 : Christmas Was Better In The 80s

Day 5 in my advent calendar and it's a song that hasn't even been released yet, 'Christmas Was Better In The 80s' by The Futureheads. This is fab and will be my first Futureheads record when it's finally released on 19 December.

Let's get something straight here, Christmas was not better in the 80s - Christmas is always perfect for all times. I recall long, five - seven hour coach journeys to Newcastle for Christmas with the family before I could afford train tickets. I also remember trying out my first Walkman when my neighbour in the next seat let me listen to Bowie's 'Let's Dance' on his Walkman and I was amazed by it.

I recall Christmas Eve in the Cricket Club and then going again at lunchtime on Christmas Day, a tradition that continued largely unchanged, although with fewer in attendance, until my Dad left us. We also got one of those new-fangled video recorders in the early 80s - doesn't technology change quickly? And, of course, we had Band Aid that revived the Christmas single.

Other decades brought similar highs and lows but I'm happy to include this song in my advent calendar.

John Waters at Queen Elizabeth Hall

On Friday evening we went to see John Waters speaking at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank. Of course, at this time of year the Southbank also hosts the Christmas market so that was an added bonus. The setting was a reading by Mr Waters followed by an interview with Philip Hoare who immediately annoyed me with his long and rambling introduction about how he first met John years ago (please note that when I go somewhere to hear someone speak it's them I want to hear, not the interviewer - short questions, long answers please).

Once the interview got going it was great fun, with John telling us stories about his past, the people he knew and the situations in which he met some of them, all based loosely round his new book, 'Role Models'. He has a story for every situation and knows the most weird people ever invented, real or imaginary and, in his case, all very real. It must be very strange being John Waters but he has a nice take on fame and recognition, noting that the only people who would possibly recognise him in the street are the people he'd be happy to be recognised by.

After an hour and a half we said goodbye to Mr Waters and left to join the queue for the book signing - Chris had bought the new book so, naturally, wanted it signed. Dawn and Toby were ahead of us in the queue so once they'd had books signed they popped back to gloat (which is rather unattractive). Mind you, it took an hour to get to the front of the queue so any interlude was welcomed. John was happy to sign things, shake hands, have photos taken, the whole fan thing, which was good of him.

The Polite Snowman

It is with deep sadness that I report the demise of The Polite Snowman. No, not the thawing of the snow, but rather the absence of the snowman from the Christmas lights on Streatham High Road. For the last few years, The Polite Snowman stood at the top of streetlights flashing on an off and, whenever I passed, would raise his hat. He was a very polite and gentlemanly Snowman. I say 'was' because it seems he is no more.

The Christmas lights were switched on yesterday so I wandered through the slush and ice up to the High Road to see Santa outside the Odeon cinema along with (for some reason) a stilt-woman, a fire eater and a steel band. There was a goodly crowd and it's nice that we still make a bit of a fuss about Christmas. Lambeth is clearly cutting things though, since the lights only seem to go from Streatham Hill Station to the Odeon rather than continue down to St Leonards and beyond which they usually do, and the lights seem to be more spaced out which means fewer of them, but at least they're there. There's no sign of Christmas trees yet, but there's still time.

But I mourn the passing of The Polite Snowman - he always brought a smile and a twinkle to my eye. I will keep watching out for him since you never know, he may well appear by himself as a result of the magic of Christmas ... I believe.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Advent 4: Fareweel Regality

The fourth song in my advent calendar is 'Fareweel Regality' by Rachel Unthanks and The Winterset (now re-named The Unthanks).

It's not so much a Christmas song as a winter song, conjuring up images of frost and log fires as you leave home for an uncertain future away from all you know. It was written by Terry Conway but I love this version by Rachel, Becky and friends. The chorus goes:

"We'll cry fareweel Regality
And cry fareweel the Liberty
To honest friends' civility
To winter's frost and fire
And there's nowt that I can bid ye
But that peace and love gan with ye
Never mind wherever call the fates
Away from Hexhamshire"

The setting for the song is Hexham, a county town of Northumberland which in olden days was a shire in its own right with areas called the Regality and the Liberty, and with a lovely old abbey. I grew up about 15 miles from Hexham and used to visit it every so often. My mother was in and out of Hexham hospital for many years and my older brother lived in Hexham for a few years. It's just up the road from Corbridge, with it's old Roman fort of Corstopidum, built on the banks of the Tyne, a mere juvenile river that far up from the sea. It's a lovely area - or at least is in memory since it's years since I was last there. And that's part of the power of this song, evoking old memories and bringing them to life again, along with images of loss and leaving, but also with hope, on a freezing winters day.

I had the pleasure of meeting both Rachel and Becky Unthank last December after their gig at Shepherd's Bush and they're a nice pair of lasses, lovely pure voices and an aptitude for story telling. And clog dancing.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Advent 3: December Will Be Magic Again

It's still snowy and icy out there so it's appropriate for the third window on my advent calendar to open with Kate Bush and 'December Will Be Magic Again'. This early snowfall has certainly made it more festive with the snow covering the ground and bowing down the trees, brining it's own magic.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Advent 2: I Believe In Father Christmas

It's time to open the second window on my personal advent calendar and I've found Greg Lake's 'I Believe In Father Christmas'.

I've loved this song for 35 years, since I bought the single when it first came out in 1975, but I've never been too keen on the video that went with it. The words and music make me yearn for snow and sleigh rides, not the deserts of the Middle East. This isn't a particularly good quality version of the video but it's still worth watching and, most certainly, listening to. And I do believe in Father Christmas.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Advent 1: Postcard From London

To celebrate the festive season and the snow lying outside my front door, I thought I'd post a video each day in the run-up to Christmas to get into the seasonal spirit. This is my own advent calendar.

I'm starting with the lovely and sentimental 'Postcard From London' by Ray Davies - what could be more appropriate? It has scenes of Carnaby Street with it's swinging '60s themed Christmas decorations, grand old Regent Street, a glimpse of Piccadilly Circus and Chrissie Hynde on vocals.

From me in London, to you in the World, I give you 'Postcard From London'...