Thursday, 29 December 2011
First up was 'The Comedy of Errors' at the National Theatre starring Lenny Henry, a play and a performer I've never seen before but which I wanted to see. It's the tale of twins separated shortly after birth along with their twin servants (as normally happens, of course) and the confusion and hi-jinks that occur when they're finally in the same city at the same time and get mistaken for each other (as you do). With a dramatic set and clever lighting, I was looking forward to this play. Unfortunately, that's where I went wrong.
I liked what I saw, I just couldn't follow the dialogue. The actors were attempting to speak Shakespeare's verse in different accents and that just threw my ear for most of the first half and I found it very difficult to follow the plot. Why were the leading ladies acting and speaking like Essex girls when no-one else in the play was? Even Lenny used his basic west African accent for some reason (which I could follow since he's used it so often on telly). By the second half I was getting used to the accents but I'd still missed - and guessed at - setting up the plot in the first half.
The first half was also marred by some of the scenery not moving when the scene changed, leading to someone coming out on stage to say they'd start the scene again when the scenery could be moved. The second half had some odd Keystone Kops moments, with silly chases round buildings, people jumping out and surprising others, police arresting the wrong twin, everything you'd expect. But it didn't gel for me, it didn't work. Throw all the ingredients into the pot and stir briskly but something was missing...
In recent years my annual Christmas treat has been the latest Matthew Bourne production at Sadlers Wells and this year was the turn of 'Nutcracker'. I last saw this production in 2007 (see here) and it was a great thrill to see it again. It starts off in a grim orphanage and moves into Sweetieland before the final surprise but I'll leave that for you to find out for yourself.
Matthew Bourne's productions are a joy to watch as the story unfolds and the dancers do their stuff, each with a character of their own irrespective of their role in the performance, as much actors as dancers. The temporary happiness and ongoing wretchedness of the orphanage was summed up by throwing the spindly Christmas Tree out of the window at the end of that scene, such a tiny yet poignant statement. And then the Nutcracker appears and wrecks the orphanage, showing the children the road to ice skating, snow and then to Sweetieland where everyone is made out of sweets. Yum.
Sweetieland is a mass of colour and tastes (judging from all the licking that goes on) with bonbons, Mr Nickerbockerglory, the gobstopper lads, Battenburg cake and everything else. And, of course, a giant cake. Yum again.
The dancing and characterisation were all excellent, taking us all on a trip to wonderland, eyes sparkling and hearts pounding and we want our heroine to get her heart's desire. I got mine and thoroughly enjoyed it, especially being just a couple of days before Christmas.
Just after Christmas was the ideal time for 'Slava's Snowshow' at the Royal Festival Hall, guaranteed to put a smile on your face and a bounce in your step. I saw Slava at Wimbledon Theatre four years ago and it was a joy to see him and his colleagues again - I had a silly grin all over my face from start to finish. Clowns aren't my favourite form of entertainment but Slava goes so far beyond that word with the beauty and simplicity of his show that it is thoroughly inadequate. Rather than the faux violence of slapstick, Slava's show is gentle and warm. And very daft indeed.
The first half ended by being covered in a giant cobweb as we passed it back, back, overhead and yet further back in the audience as it went on and on and on. I was picking bits of webbing off my and out of my beard throughout the interval. When we got back to our seats the People in Green Coats were playing with the audience, running over the tops of seats, spraying bottles of water accidentally over people and generally making a fuss - and they were lovely.
The finale is, of course, the most magnificent scene, with snow falling, clouds of dry ice forming on stage and then, suddenly, a blinding white light and a wind machine blasting the snow out into the audience and I loved it. I was giggling like a loon as I was covered in snow. And as the snow stopped, the balls started, giant bouncing balls being boinged around the auditorium by the audience as more balls of all sizes arrived to be thrown around. There were lots of kids in the audience but it became full of kids as us adults regressed into big kids to bounce the balls all over. I loved it! Miss it at your peril!
My final entertainment - and final entertainment of the year - was Ken Russell's film of 'The Boy Friend' at the British Film Institute (or National Film Theatre if you prefer). I've never seen it before so it was with an open mind I took my seat, expecting Twiggy to introduce it (as noted in the handout) but the film started Twiggy-less.
I assume this was the full, original version of the film, lasting for over two hours with some very lengthy dream sequences that I assume were edited for the cinema release back in the early 70s. It's a simple love story in which Twiggy is the assistant stage manager in a provincial theatre who has to take the lead role in a truly awful musical when the leading lady (a rather glam Glenda Jackson) breaks her ankle. Twiggy is in love with the leading man and, guess what? It seems he loves her too...
Much as it's fun to see Twiggy in her film debut after all these years, the secret joy for me was seeing Georgina Hale as one of the vampish chorus girls and Barbara Windsor playing the less-than-servile servant. It was lovely to see Barbara in something other than a Carry On film but as soon as I realised I was watching Georgina my mind fled back to the early 70s and the series 'Budgie' with Adam Faith in the title role.
Monday, 26 December 2011
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
Tuesday, 20 December 2011
Monday, 19 December 2011
The gig at Koko was a benefit for The Lords Taverners and was filmed for a DVD release next year. Mike Read introduced Slade who bounded on and roared into 'We'll Bring The House Down'. Then followed a set lasting about 90 minutes alternating between hits from the 70s and hits from the 80s. It's easy to forget that SLADE had two bites at the cherry with a string of mega-hits in the first half of the 70s and then again in the early 80s. How many bands have managed that kind of longevity?
They were in fine form last night, Don pounding away on his drums virtually without stop, finishing one song and starting straight in on the next, and Dave doing what he does best, posing with his guitar and getting us doing anything he wanted. Back in the day Dave said that Nod and Jim would write the songs and he'd sell 'em through his costumes, his antics and his show biz. He sold them back then by the million and he's still doing it now. It was a pleasure to see him running across the stage, pose during a solo, jump on the riser to be seen above the crowd, run back to the mic for his vocals, still full of energy, humour and cheeky smiles.
It was a show of the hits - that's all we heard, hit after hit after hit, so many great songs and all the audience knew them. And it was a funny audience - I sort of expected the audience to be largely blokes in their 50s (and there were lots of them) but there was a healthy sprinkling of women and young people, some seemed to be with the oldies (presumably their parents?) but there was a goodly load of youngsters with each other, which is a good thing with a new audience for Slade.
It must be strange for John Berry and Mal McNulty to be part of the band but not the part we want to see - we want Nod and Jim. They were more than happy to name check Dave and Don but I don't think they were named at all through the gig. That's a shame really, since, without them, we wouldn't be seeing Dave and Don. I couldn't help but think a couple of times, that, although this wasn't SLADE, that was the original guitar and the original drums to all those songs I grew up with and loved. There in front of me were two of the heroes of my youth and yes, they ended with a rousing version of 'Merry Christmas Everybody' with them all in Santa hats.
I shall still believe that a proper reunion of SLADE is possible but until then I'll be happy with what I can get. And, of course, I can't wait for the DVD!
Friday, 16 December 2011
This is a new production updated to the internet age and a set that reminded me of the film, 'Tron' from the 80s. You walk through Pippin's bedroom to get into the theatre and then through a lazer display and that really sets the scene. The play is structured by the different levels of a computer game and geek Pippin needs to advance through the levels in his alter ego as th son of Charlemagne in the middle ages. Pippin goes on a personal journey (as they say on the talent shows) to find himself and instead he's saved by the woman he loves... at a price...
I loved this production with lazers and lights all over, people crawling through walls all over the set, Bob Fosse poses and dancing, revealing costumes and Charlemagne's annoying dreadlocks. I loved the loud rawk guitar in a few of the songs in the first half and they could've built on this in the second half but didn't.
The star of the show in more ways than just playing the lead character was Harry Hepple as Pippin. Harry has a lovely voice and his speaking voice occasionally has the added charm of belying his North Eastern roots. I saw Harry in the 'Spelling Bee' at the Donmar earlier this yearbut much preferred this production. His voice has lovely tone and expression and I look forward to following his career.
If you get the chance, go and see this production - it's great fun! I quite fancy paying a repeat visit myself.
Eddie Scrooge is a record company executive who releases any old pap to make money. His PA, Roberta Cratchet, lives in Tooting, the Ghost of Christmas Past is a sullen 70s punk and he meets the Ghost of Christmas Present in CBGBs in New York. The core of the Dickens' tale is all there, just transported to 2011 and set in the music industry. The narration of the tale was supplemented by renditions of modern Christmas songs such as 'Stop The Cavalry' (Jona Lewie), 'Fairytale of New York' (The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl), 'I Believe In Father Christmas' (Greg Lake) and the mighty 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday' (Wizzard). There were 14 songs in all plus an encore of 'Do They Know It's Christmas' (Band Aid).
The event was designed with Christmas in mind. When we went in we were given programmes like Christmas cards, the chapel had a big Christmas tree all lit up and tinsel wound around the mic stands. The band and singers came on stage and then Noddy climbed the stairs into the pulpit in a red tartan coat and Dickens top hat with a red ribbon (everyone wore a mix of red and black). And then he started reading the story, putting on voices and accents for the different characters, ad libbing about Rod Stewart never buying him a drink, and every now and then stopping for a song. Sadly, Nod didn't sing, but he was there on stage in front of me, for the first time in 30 years and that's enough for me.
This was the first time they'd performed the show and it showed but, irrespective of that, it was a very enjoyable night out. Nod was great fun as the Narrator, we had some great songs and performances and it was all in the spirit of Christmas present. Knox from the Vibrators sang a few songs, my favourite being The Kinks' 'Father Christmas' (it seemed appropriate somehow). The best voice of the evening was Marc Atkinson who has a smooth, clear voice and his version of 'I Believe In Father Christmas' was lovely.
At the end of the show, someone was introduced over the speakers as 'Norman' and on came a middle aged bloke to sing 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday'. According to the programme he's Norman Baker, a LibDem MP and a junior Transport Minister. He didn't sound too hot to me.
Noddy came down from the pulpit and stood at the back of the stage clapping along to Wizzard's hit (which was kept off the top spot by SLADE's magnificent 'Merry Christmas Everybody' in 1973). When it was time for the encore of 'Do They Know It's Christmas' Nod came to the front of the stage to clap along to the song and sing although he wasn't standing close to a mic and I couldn't hear him at all - bet he was just mouthing the words! I don't care, he was there and he shouted 'Merry Christmas' at me (well, at us all, I suppose, but in my mind it was for me).
The performance was filmed but I don't know if it'll be released or whether the aim is to use it as the basis for another show next Christmas. I'd love to see it again. I'm very familiar with the tale of 'A Christmas Carol' and read the story most years in the run up to Christmas but Nod brought it to life in a new way. I'd love to see it again!
Monday, 12 December 2011
This is a great, fun and ever so slightly daft play with a great cast and set and some lovely self-knowing jokes. The main set is Mrs Lopsided's house with every door and wall at an odd angle to reflect the subsidence and the house turns round a few times so we see outside. My favourite outside view was for the daring robbery enacted by toy cars on the wall of the house, very unexpected and very daft.
Marcia Warren plays Mrs Wilberforce (aka Mrs Lopsided) with great aplomb, a moral and principled lady born in the Victorian era and living through two World Wars with the sad quality of trusting people she doesn't really know. Peter Capaldi plays Professor Marcus, the Alec Guinness character, who rents a room in Mrs Wilberforce's lopsided house as the perfect cover for the perfect crime. He plays the role to a T, beguiling and smiling, wrapped round with a huge scarf and relentlessly taking advantage of his victim. James Fleet plays the posh criminal with a penchant for wearing lady's dresses and Clive Rowe is excellent as One-Round who creates the name Mrs Lopsided and is the muscle in the gang. I also liked Stephen Wright as the likely lad either too up on blues or too down on reds and who likes cleaning furniture.
This is one of those rare plays that makes me smile throughout and every now and then break into a broad grin and a chuckle. I enjoyed it. Immensely. If you have a few hours spare and happen to be on Shaftesbury Avenue then this is the place to spend them.
Wednesday, 7 December 2011
I was quite intrigued by what I'd heard about the production being set in a hospital, with the audience walking through hospital corridors to get to their seats, people wandering round in hospital uniforms and suchlike. Claudius was king and head doctor handing out prescriptions and tablets, doors were locked at night to keep the patients inside and Polonius was a psychiatrist with a dictaphone to record his interviews. The concept didn't quite work for me and seemed over-laboured, like Ophelia handing out tablets instead of flowers in her final scene. That seemed too contrived.
It also failed for me in the characterisation of Hamlet. I'm in two minds about this since I thought Michael Sheen was excellent in the role and he was clearly giving his all to his impressive performance. Two things in particular didn't work for me: Hamlet seemingly being possessed by the ghost of his father rather than having a separate ghost; and Hamlet was clearly on speed or whiz from the performance whereas if he was in an asylum of some kind he'd be on downers. Any doctor seeing his manic performance would get the prescription pad out and prescribe something more calming. It's not the performances I criticise, it's the concept and delivery. It didn't ring true to me. It reeked of 'student'.
Michael Sheen was excellent, if a bit too manic, as Hamlet. The part I was impressed by was Horatio, played (unusually by a woman) by Hayley Carmichael. She played it very downbeat, very much the old friend - the only friend really - is with Hamlet when he dies and seems to mean it when he says, "Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." That touching moment was spoiled by arrogant Fortinbras kicking Hamlet's body into the sand-pit rather that the usual speech of honour.
It was an interesting and worthy experiment but it didn't work for me. Some of the performances were excellent while others seemed to be from student theatre. The concept was interesting but didn't follow through with a solid production. Too much unlikely running about, too many pills, too many bits that didn't ring true. Having said that, I'm pleased I've seen it, another version to add to the collection. 'Hamlet' is a great play with some beautiful poetry and deserves to be on every year. It would be boring if every production was the same...
Go on, get loud and make some noise!
SLADE were my first heroes. They bestrode the world of pop music like mighty gods of yore in the early '70s, brash and loud, in your face and great fun. Noddy and Jim wrote the songs, Dave provided the spectacle and Don pounded away at the back of the stage. They kept going until 1991 and since then Dave and Don have continued to tour as Slade, mainly in Europe, with new band members, Noddy has done acting and presenting and Jim has surfaced a few times with new music, most recently under his real name of James Whild Lea. I've seen Dave and Don play live a couple of times in the last few years and I've seen Nod on telly but not in real life, and not seen Jim at all.
The last time I saw SLADE was in 1980 or 1981 at the students union in Cardiff. The abiding memory from that gig was afterwards, when I helped the roadies load the kit onto the lorry, and Dave offered me a cigarette - a Benson & Hedges - and I nervously said 'no thanks'. How on earth could I accept a tab from a god? I would've self-combusted when I lit it. I didn't meet Noddy though.
So, next week I have tickets to see Noddy Holder - sorry, *Sir* Noddy Holder as he should be - at Union Chapel on 14 December when he takes the part of the narrator to a new version of 'A Christmas Carol' updated and set in the world of the music business. It sounds like fun and will be filled with Christmas songs so I'll be happy. I doubt that Noddy will sing, but who knows?
Then at the weekend I'm seeing Dave and Don's Slade at Koko on 18 December. I'm looking forward to that and to singing along to 'Merry Christmas Everybody' mere days before the big event itself.
Now all I need is to somehow get Jim Lea back onto a stage before Christmas ...
Miracles *can* happen. Believe, people, believe.
Tuesday, 6 December 2011
The Signal Gallery isn't very big but it crams a lot in there without being overwhelming. There was no-one there when we arrived but three people joined us so that's not bad for a Tuesday afternoon. There are six portraits of Poly plus two large black and white photos and Gaye Black has a half dozen works on show. There was a self-portrait by Marco Peroni from 1976 on some tattered brown paper and it's nice to know that someone cherished it enough to keep it in such good condition. I think my favourite was a small painting by Paul Simonon of an autumn scene looking out of his window at a dog in the road.
The most surprising exhibit was a photograph of The Adverts on stage at the Rainbow supporting Iggy Pop on his 1977 'Lust for Life' tour. The reason for the surprise is that Chris mentioned earlier that he'd seen The Adverts at that very gig, so to find a large photo of them in the exhibition made us smile (and become teenagers again).
It's a nice exhibition and I'm pleased I got round to going. I'm slightly proud that the old punks are still being creative in their own way and in different media. They're still doing something that I'm not and good on 'em!
The exhibition is open until 17 December so pop along if you can.
The friends in question were Richard Hawley, The Puppini Sisters, The Mummers and Gregory Porter. With Carole King, of course. The Puppini's were great fun (I will have to look out for their Christmas record), The Mummers were definitely interesting and I will have to explore their work, Gregory Porter was a great find with a lovely smooth voice and again, I need to explore his work. Richard Hawley was, I'm afraid, a bit dreary and monotone (anyone that starts with a dirge-like 'Silent Night' needs to re-think the set). And Carole was amazing, sitting at a white grand piano. She only sang three songs and I won't spoil the surprise by saying what they were - watch the programme!
The BBC had made an effort to make the place look Christmasy, with Christmas trees and lights everywhere, Chinese lanterns hanging above the stage and an enormous glitterball in the middle of the ceiling. The room was set out cabaret style and all the tables had black table cloths with glitter sprinkled on them and candles to add atmosphere (I'll probably find bits of glitter on my coat for weeks to come). As ever at these things, they didn't tell us what was happening until the show began so I sat there bored for ages, taking photographs of my glass of wine (see below) and of the glitterball.
Anyway, the main thing is that I have finally seen the elusive Carole King play live. That's a good thing. Watch the programme on BBC4 on 22 December and watch out for me twirling my ever-lengthening Christmas beard in the audience.
Thursday, 1 December 2011
I listened to a lot of my favourites on the way to work and coming home tonight, and then up popped 'City of Christmas Ghosts' by Goldblade featuring Poly Styrene. This was Poly's first new song in ages and came out in December 2008, a few months after her glorious X-Ray Spex gig at the Roundhouse at which Goldblade was the support band.
I loved this song when it was released (and still do) for getting Poly recording again, for its energy and its punk simplicity. It includes the line, "Raise a toast to the ghosts of the friends we lost last year" and that made me pause. We lost Poly this year. I won't stop listening to it and I'll think of her smiling and singing and bouncing along to the song.
I shall raise a glass and sing "La la la-la Christmas Ghost" most loudly!
Friday, 25 November 2011
It's a short play about the last days of the Duchess of Windsor in her mansion in Paris. We don't see the Duchess, but we do see her lawyer, a mature woman who considers herself to be the protector of the Duchess and a younger journalist whose job is to get an interview with the Duchess. It's based on the true story of the journalist going to Paris in the 80s to interview the Duchess but ends up interviewing the lawyer and arranging for Lord Snowdon to photograph her. For some light relief we have Lady Mosley, also an exile in Paris, who visits the Duchess and who knows Lady Caroline, the journalist, and they have an oddly endearing chat.
I wasn't sure what to expect at all but I most impressed by the construction of the play, the simple set and the great acting by the three leading ladies. We had Sheila Hancock as Mme Blum, the fierce French lawyer and Anna Chancellor as the journalist with the drink problem, plus Angela Thorne as the gossipy Lady Diana Mosley. All three ladies were excellent, fully convincing and appalling and endearing by turns. It was one of those rare plays that I wanted to go on for just a little bit longer so I could learn some more about the characters.
Go and see it if you can - and have the chips!
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
We are pleased to announce the winning remix of No Rockefeller, chosen by the record’s producer Youth, is the Wass n Burls by Miles Highson.
Celebrating Poly’s mix race background, the remix will be released on December 4th as part of a digital only single, in aid of the Somali refugee appeal with all proceeds being donated to UNHCR – The UN Refugee Agency to help directly with their Somali campaign.
More than 1.4 million people are internally displaced in Somalia and over 600,000 Somalis live as refugees in neighbouring countries. After Afghanistan and Iraq, Somalia is the third largest refugee-producing country in the world.
Also included in the EP will be Poly’s Black Christmas, a non-album track originally released last November when Poly announced her return, along with a brilliant remix of this song from Kahn, a fast rising new Bristol blood.
Poly was half Somalian, so this is a worthy charity. I'm looking forward to hearing the remix. I loved Poly's 'Black Christmas' last year and am intrigued to know that there is now a remix by Khan - should be interesting. I'll be downloading the single and I hope you will too.
Tuesday, 22 November 2011
When I walked in it was obvious that this was a lads gig. I'd guess that 90% of the people there were men, probably aged between 30-45 and probably a bit worse for wear. The talk in the bar queues was about getting a 'late pass from the missus'. The smart hair-do's let some of them down, despite the jeans and tee shirts, clearly with nice middle class jobs during the week and this was their chance to let their hair down. And they did. Jim Bob tweeted the next day that they'd broken the record for the sale of beer at the gig (not sure whether that was a record for Carter USM or for the venue) but it felt comfortable with blokes just wanting to have fun, none of the aura of violence you can get at boozy gigs.
As the lights dimmed they played 'Two Little Boys' by Rolf Harris before the two lads appeared with the power chords of 'Surfin' USM' and the blinding white lights shone from the stage into the audience. We were off and running with Jim Bob and Fruitbat, aka Carter USM! I love the various photos that have appeared on Twitter of the heads of the audience blinded by the light from the stage.
They played for around two hours, blasting out a host of fabulous songs including '24 Minutes From Tulse Hill' (more like 10 minutes these days), 'Lean On Me I Won't Fall Over', and the fabulous series of 'Glam Rock Cops', 'Do Re Me So Far So Good', 'Blood Sports For All' and 'Only Living Boy In New Cross'. The encore included 'Down In The Tube Station At Midnight' and, of course, 'Sheriff Fatman'.
And that's it, Jim Bob, Fruitbat and the tape machine playing loud n proud for two hours, lights blinding the audience and everyone singing along to the choruses. Everyone slightly tipsy (or more) and having the time of their lives. I loved it.
Where is the thrash today? where is the risk and danger? where is the threat to the establishment? Come back Carter, we need you.
Monday, 21 November 2011
Beverley is promoting her latest record, 'Soul UK', which is a collection of British soul songs from the 80s and 90s that either Bev likes or influenced her. While I can appreciate her devotion to the genre, I was slightly puzzled by the enormous Union Jack flag that unfurled behind her later in the gig. Her band was augmented with a three-man brass section adding a different sound to some of the songs.
I've seen Bev lots of times in different venues and have to say that the least favourite are when she's at the RAH. It's a soul-less venue, too big and with a totally ambient-less stage. Bev stalks the stage like a big cat hunting, back and forth and challenging us in the audience but even she can't fill that stages' emptiness. I hope her next London gig is somewhere else. I loved her a couple of years ago at the sweatbox that is the ICA on The Strand, an intimate gig that introduced us to the '100%' album. And , on that note, where were all the songs from that album?
Bev had four costume changes as she prowled the stage, alternately singing her own hits and those featured on the latest record. She made me tired with her energy. I preferred the older songs, particularly 'Come As You Are' (with a brass section), 'Gold' (a beautiful song by anyone's reckoning), 'Made It Back' (because she did) and 'Queen Of Starting Over'.
This tour will be a success - it can't be anything other with Bev's boundless energy and commitment. But can I please make a plea for another London venue? There's lots to choose from and you don't have to go for the prestige venue every time.
Sunday, 20 November 2011
The exhibition is a smash hit judging from the posters all over town and the queues outside for tickets. We'd booked tickets in advance but still had to take our place in the slow-moving queue as people were slowly let into the crowded exhibition. All was worth it to stand in a room and be surrounded on all sides by the magnificent works of Fra Angelico.
I first became aware of Fra Angelico when I was 16 and doing history of art at school. I loved the early Renaissance painters from around Europe but Fra Angelico was one of many. It wasn't until I saw his frescoes in San Marco in Florence that I saw his true greatness. It's important to see original paintings whenever you can - reproductions lose much of the colour and intensity of paintings and are a poor substitute for the originals. That's why I went to Paris.
The exhibition is a mix of the paintings of Fra Angelico and those artists who influenced him and those he influenced. I counted 23 paintings by the Angelic One and a glory they were to behold, most of which I've never seen before. Out of these I shall pick three highlights:
The Virgin and Child that is the face of the poster advertising the exhibition, glorious blues and golds with the fully realised faces of the Virgin and the child. It is the centrepiece of a small room with other depictions of the Virgin and Child but this is the one that caught me, with the child gazing out peacefully at the viewer. To be surrounded by Fra Angelico paintings is special feeling.
The triptych of 'The Ascension, The Last Judgement and Pentecost' with its bold and gorgeous colours, protected over the years in the vaults of the Vatican. The colours are unbelievably deep and rich and this photo doesn't give any hint as to how rich the painting really is. It has to be seen to be believed.
The 'Coronation of the Virigin; is from the Uffizi in Florence and I blogged about it earlier this year when I first saw it. It's on loan for this exhibition along with the 'Theabaed' from the Uffizi. This painting is gorgeous, dripping with gold and belief as Christ enthrones his mother in heaven with the choirs of angels and the great and good watching. I like Fra Angelico's crowds of people because they all look different, they look at each other and out of painting at you, they're you and me in the court of Heaven. This is a magnificent painting and you must, if you get the chance, see it in the flesh.
Fra Angelico was not a rigid stylist. He experimented with perspective, with foreshortening his characters to display different bodily movements and add reality to his paintings. At the same time he painted Heaven. He painted his sincere beliefs, his vision, his hopes and dreams and, as far as I'm concerned, he succeeded. I glimpse a tiny part of his vision when I see his paintings. He makes me share a small portion of his belief which reaches out to Heaven. He makes his belief real for me and that's the power of his paintings. That's what makes my sight blur with tears.
The exhibition runs until 16 January 2012 so there's plenty of time for you to order tickets. The catalogue is entirely in French with no English translation but it's full of glorious paintings. It also weighs a tonne. But a tonne is good when it's made up of Fra Angelico.
She's also posted a long blog about her thoughts and experiences of visiting and performing at Occupy sites over the last few weeks. Read it here.
" i feel excited and sad for my generation, for the world, for my country. excited because i am so happy to see people mobilizing. trying.
waking up and going out and doing.
sad because it’s also underlined how jaded and difficult we are."
It's the tale of Johnny Byron who lives in a caravan in the woods at the edge of town, with new housing developments coming ever closer. He's drunk and high throughout the play, the local source of whiz and other stimulants, gets banned from all the local pubs and is the centre of attention for the local yoof (and not so yoof) for his drugs.
For all that, his is a traditional role, the mischief-maker, the pied piper and the teller of tales and what tales he spouts! He tells his hangers on about the Byron Boys, his ancestors who are all buried in and around the woods with their eyes open and about meeting the giant who built Stone Henge (when asked how tall the giant was he replied that he couldn't tell because he was sitting down) and who gave him an earring as big as a drum to beat if he was ever in trouble. At the end of the rambling and delicious story of the giant I decided I believed him. Johnny Byron has, indeed, met a giant and is one himself (albeit of limited growth).
Mark Rylance gave a magnificent performance as our bumbling and drunken hero (I have great sympathy for his understudy if he ever needs to go on) who draws us into his little world in Little England where anything beyond the borders of Wiltshire is foreign. One of the young hangers on is heading off to Australia the next day and the big part of the journey is getting the bus to Chippenham, not the flight to Oz. Mark's main side-kick is Mackenzie Crook who plays Ginger, one of Johnny's former hangers on who hasn't managed to break away as he grows up. They make a fine and believable pair of rogues and Johnny casts him off at the end.
Johnny's way of life is coming to an end with his eviction from the land his caravan sits on and a raid by the police for his drugs activities. He's beaten up by locals who used to hang with him but grew away as the police start to arrive at the woods. A beaten and bleeding Johnny grabs the giant's drum and starts beating it, howling for his Byron Boys to rise up and for the giant to appear to help him in his hour of need. It's a harrowing scene and the play closes with the sound of giant footsteps approaching... I believe.
This is a marvellous play and production with some lovely, poetic lines (particularly form the Professor) and a gloriously messy set with chickens under the caravan and trees covering the stage. If you get the chance, go and see it while you can.
Monday, 7 November 2011
I saw 'Hair' on my birthday on Broadway in 2009 on the eve of snowmaggedon. I wanted to see it because Alex Harvey played in the Hairband in London in the late 60s. I was stunned by it, great fun, great messages and great love. I was at a be-in and got a love flower all without leaving my seat. My one regret is not getting up on stage to join in the love-in at the end of the show. When it transferred to London with most of the Broadway cast I made a point of seeing it and dancing on stage as often as I could. At one performance when I'd joined the cast on stage Woof said that he liked my beard which was a truly great compliment.
I saw Gavin Creel (who played Claude) at the Jazz Cafe last year doing a show of his own songs. Caissie Levy is currently playing the lead in 'Ghost' in the West End and is well worth a visit. Some of the original cast are still touring the show in America. I can't help but think it'll be a sad day when the show finally closes. We all need some optimism in our lives, some hope and joy. And some hair!
Friday, 4 November 2011
Thursday, 3 November 2011
Viv has the Pledgemusic ethos at her core. She sends us updates every few weeks about what she's doing, what she's writing and who she's working with. Today she sent a lengthy email about recording with Jack Bruce - yes, *that* Jack Bruce. It read like an excited fan having met a hero and having that hero exceed every expectation. That's what I like about Viv - she's real. She emails about a tee shirt she got from Johnny Thunder and about a particularly good gig the night before. That's important. She involves us pledgers in her life and being a fan means we get a little bit of her even though it's at a distance.
Viv released a four-track EP last year called 'Flesh'. My favourite song from the EP is 'Never Come' that has the classic line, 'And I loved Marc Bolan because of all his curls'. I defy you to make a more generation-defining statement than that. We all loved Marc's corkskrew hair.
I am really looking forward to Viv's album. I'm also looking forward to seeing her play live some day. I keep missing her London shows but I will see her. And I will clap loudly. I might not pogo like in the olden days, but I'm sure she'll understand.
Make a pledge for Viv here - what do you have to lose?
The last time I saw 'Sweeney Todd' on stage was a few years ago in the dire production when the actors filled and emptied endless buckets of blood. Why? Who knows. It certainly didn't work for me. Of course, since then we've had the film with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter so 'Sweeney' is a bit more mainstream and you all probably know the tale by now. The tale of Sweeney returning to London to wreak revenge on the judge who split up his family and sent him to overseas to a penal colony. Of course, revenge is a strange dish and strange things can happen on the way.
Any production needs to get the right actors to play Sweeney and Mrs Lovett, one is dark and brooding and the other brings some light and shade and no little much-needed humour. I've never seen Michael Ball before but can appreciate his voice and abilities now that I've seen him as Sweeney Todd. Imelda Staunton is the perfect foil, never ending talking, perfect comic timing and just the right hint of repressed sexuality wanting Mr Todd. Imelda is the pink-on-pink teacher in the 'Harry Potter' films so you've probably seen her before, and I saw her on stage a few years ago as the repressed middle age woman in 'Entertaining Mr Sloane' (including seeing her virtually naked in a see-through nighty).
The set has been moved forward from Victorian London to the London of the 1930s, mainly signalled by the length of the frocks and the cute little van used for the shaving competition. Sweeney's barbershop was a detached piece of the set that came forward across the stage with sufficient space underneath for the dead bodies to accumulate.
This is quite a harrowing show. There's a bit of everything in there, from old loves to new love, evil and revenge, hope and despair, and some of the scenes of throat slashing and blood spurting got a few odd laughs from the audience but I suspect that was more about relieving the tension than any comedic effect. I thought it was an excellent production and was happy to join in the standing ovation at the end - they've earned it!
As a postscript, I've never been to Chichester before but it seems to be a nice little town near the Sussex coast with a nice cathedral, about 1.5 hours from London. It's built with roads very descriptively and geographically named North Street, East Street, etc, just like a compass. The audience was rather odd but then again it was a matinee and matinees the world over seem to comprise older people in their best theatre-going garb. I don't know if the show was sold out but it was certainly very full, and that's encouraging.
Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Boudica, a mere provincial queen, took on the might of the Roman Empire and came so close to winning. A woman to inspire Victoria and Empire. Should we be ashamed of the pure nationalism of the statue on the north bank of the river? I say no. Two thousand years ago Boudica was my queen.
Boudica was queen of the Iceni and, when her husband died, the kingdom was annexed under Roman rule, she was flogged and her daughters raped. Is it any surprise that a queen would seek revenge and a return of pride? Stupid Romans. Boudica raised an army and destroyed the then capital of Roman Britain, Colchester, before heading to London and then north to fight the usurping Romans. She ultimately failed but she was a bright light in ancient Britain.
We know very little about Queen Boudica but I choose to believe the legends. If you get down to the river then look out for her. You'll hear her charriot racing towards Parliament as a modern day rebel.
- the busiest month so far was April 2011 with 3635 visits and 5417 page views;
- as of today, I'm averaging 95 visits per day with a visit length of 1:39 minutes;
- most people find my blog through a google search;
- the most viewed post is the one about my para-umbilical hernia from January 2010.
This blog has been going since 2005 and I think it's time for a makeover, a bit of a re-fresh and maybe make it even more plastic. Watch this space...
Monday, 31 October 2011
To read Amanda's blog about this song, visit bit.ly/blog102711
- sid vicious played a
four-string fender bass guitar and couldn’t sing
and everybody hated him except the ones who loved him
a ukulele has four strings, but sid did did not play ukulele
he did smack and probably killed his girlfriend nancy spungen
if only sid had had a ukulele, maybe he could have been happy
maybe he would not have suffered such a sad end
he maybe would have not done all that heroin instead
he maybe would’ve sat around just singing nice songs to his girlfriend
so play your favorite cover song, especially if the words are wrong
‘cos even if your grades are bad, it doesn’t mean you’re failing
do your homework with a fork
and eat your fruit loops in the dark
and bring your etch-a-sketch to work
and play your ukulele
ukulele small and forceful
brave and peaceful
you can play the ukulele too it is painfully simple
play your ukulele badly, play your ukulele loudly
ukulele banish evil
ukulele save the people
ukulele gleaming golden on the top of every steeple
lizzie borden took an axe, and gave her father thirty whacks
then gave her mother thirty-one, and left a tragic puzzle
if only they had given her an instrument, those puritans
had lost the plot completely
see what happens when you muzzle
a person’s creativity
and do not let them sing and scream
and nowadays it’s worse ‘cause kids have automatic handguns
it takes about an hour to learn how to play the ukulele
about same to teach someone to build a standard pipe bomb
YOU DO THE MATH
so play your favorite cover song, especially if the words are wrong
‘cos even if your grades are bad, it doesn’t mean you’re failing
do your homework with a fork
and eat your fruit loops in the dark
and bring your flask of jack to work
and play your ukulele
ukulele, thing of wonder
ukulele, wand of thunder
you can play the ukulele, too
in london and down under
play joan jett, and play jacques brel
and eminem and neutral milk hotel
the children crush the hatred
play your ukulele naked
and if anybody tries to steal your ukulele, let them take it
imagine there’s no music, imagine there are no songs
imagine that john lennon wasn’t shot in front of his apartment
imagine if john lennon had composed “imagine” on the ukulele
maybe folks would have more clearly got the message
you may think my approach is simple-minded and naïve
like if you want to save the world then why not quit and feed the hungry
but people for millennia have needed music to survive
and that’s why i’ve promised john that i will not feel guilty
so play your favorite beatles’ song
and make the subway fall in love
they’re only $19.95, that’s not a lot of money
play until the sun comes up
and play until your fingers suffer
play LCD soundsystem songs on your ukulele
quit the bitching on your blog
and stop pretending art is hard
just limit yourself to three chords
and do not practice daily
you’ll minimize some stranger’s sadness
with a piece of wood and plastic
holy fuck it’s so fantastic, playing ukulele
eat your homework with a fork
and do your fruit loops in the dark
bring your etch-a-sketch to work
your flask of jack
your fear of heights
your nikon lens
your mom and dad
your disco stick
your soundtrack from “karate kid”
your ginsu knives
your new rebecca black CD
your favorite room
your bowie knife
your stuffed giraffe
your new glass eye
your breakfast tea
your nick drake tapes
your giving tree
your ice cream truck
your missing wife
your will to live
your urge to cry
remember we’re all going to die
so PLAY YOUR UKULELE
- released 31 October 2011
Written and performed by Amanda Palmer
Artwork by Shepard Fairey
'The Big People Show' is, basically, for old people who remember and still enjoy the old songs so I was perfectly at home! Chris and Victor were supported by the excellent Skaaville All Stars playing some heavy heavy skaa that got the feet tapping and head nodding instantly. They came on around 9:15pm and stayed till about midnight with a 20 minute or so interval (shame it wasn't a ganga break). That's not bad by anyone's standards. Chris and Victor traded lead vocal on songs all night and both have excellent voices. They also work well together, as they have since first meeting and becoming friends in 1979, and their on-stage banter could only be that of long-term mates who find it impossible not to say outrageous things about each other.
I last saw them both in 'The Harder They Come', a show I blogged about many times and even went out to Oxford to see it when it was on tour - an excellent show that deserved to stay in the West End much longer than it did. Victor played the pastor who lusted after his ward and Chris played the corrupt police chief who called us all "huggly". Both scary in different ways and a far cry from the blokes on stage wreathed in smiles and jokes and singing some classic songs. Chris raised my spirits immediately by talking about John Holt's '1000 Volts of Holt' and saying it was played at every family gathering. I bought that record years ago and am listening to it as I type.
Chris fulfilled a lifetime ambition by playing guitar with a band on stage and Victor sang his hit, 'At The Club' and then at midnight it was all over. I had a big smile on throughout, enjoying them being daft up there on stage and then singing some great songs with great voices and great music. They should make a record. It was a lovely way to end the week and I'd be more than happy to see them again - smile and be happy!
Thursday, 27 October 2011
Buffy puts me to shame. An extract from the exercise article:
Q: What’s your secret for staying in such great shape?
A: I do lat pull-downs and leg presses and use the Gravitron and do upper-body weights, but that’s not my secret.
Q: OK, we’ll bite. What is?
A: I dance flamenco. It helps me build my core.
Q: What do you think about running?
A: I hate running! I find it so boring. I get on a treadmill, and it’s like, Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! All these ideas take over my head.
Can you claim to do as much? I certainly can't. I think I'm more in the territory of Elvis, as Buffy says,
A: Like Elvis. Poor thing. Besides lifting a sandwich, I don’t think he lifted anything.
Well, good on her and keep it up!
PS: I must start exercising...
PPS: I don't think Leroy knows what he's doing with that twist...
Monday, 24 October 2011
I love the words, the lyrical quality of the phrasing and placing of the words, the poetry of everyday language in Synge's careful hands. I'd downloaded the play onto my Kindle so I was reading the play both before and after seeing it and the language is great, both poetry and everyday speech at the same time that you don't notice when it's spoken in front of you. The poetry I've been used to when reading it is very different when it's part of fluent speech on the stage. And I was lucky enough to have three Irish people in the three lead roles of Christie (the Playboy, Robert Sheehan), Pegeen (the love interest, Ruth Negga) and the Widow Quinn (Niamh Cusack).
Put simply, I loved it. The story-telling is excellent (well, it would be, wouldn't it) and the acting was engaging. I loved the set, with the cottage pub that turned 360 degrees on the stage. The playboy of the western world isn't who you think he is but he's someone to remember. Go and see this production if you can, it's well worth it.