Sunday, 30 January 2011

Ancient Faces

I was looking through some of the photos I took when I went to Athens last year and I was struck by some of the faces on the ancient statues. The bodies were often remarkably similar but the faces were different. I assume they were modelled on real people. Here are a few of them, including the Roman emperors Augustus and Hadrian - can you guess who is who?

'An Ideal Husband' at The Vaudeville Theatre

My first play of the year was 'An Ideal Husband' by Oscar Wilde playing at the Vaudeville Theatre on The Strand, yes, the theatre famed for my receiving unexpected hugs from Amanda Palmer when she was lying on the floor being photographed by Neil Gaiman (yes, I have to work AFP into every blog post). It was a last minute booking so that Dr Theatre could see to Chris. I won't claim to be a great Wilde fan (I think I've only seen the Handbag play) but I was quite looking forward to seeing Alexander Hanson and Samantha Bond.

It's a play that should resonate quite nicely at the moment, a tale of dodgy financial deals and corrupt politicians, of the public versus the private face, a comedy of morals that never quite got going for me. Alexander Hanson played the politician who made his money selling a secret when he worked in the Foreign Office and has since gone on to be a highly praised minister. Samantha Bond is a rich widow who has money invested in a canal project and also has an incriminating letter that would end Hanson's marriage and career. And there you have the plot. Add in the posh wife, the miscellaneous friend Lord Goring and his father and the politician's sister and you have the full play plus sub-plots.

I wasn't terribly impressed with the writing or structure of the play. Something that should be so current with corrupt politicians, newspaper scandals and suchlike, and it failed to hit the target. I'm not sure why, whether it was the hit and miss acting, the production, the attempts at historical accuracy or whatever. But I wasn't impressed. I also failed to be impressed with the monotonous golden coloured set - it looked quite glam at first but soon became quite tiresome. It was a relief to see Lord Goring's turquoise library (yes, turquoise) in the second half but the unrelieved boldness of colour soon became a bit much as well. How rare is it to hear me complaining about bright colours? That says it all really.

I liked Alexander Hanson in 'A Little Night Music' but he seemed to be doing it by numbers in this play and his awful feet shuffling became rather annoying (he did that in 'Night Music' as well). I identified Elliot Cowan (who played Lord Goring) as 'the Noel Coward' figure immediately - there obviously isn't a Noel Coward character in an Oscar Wilde play but that's what he came across like to me - maybe he wants a part in a Coward play? Rachael Stirling played the stolid wife with the right amount of disdain for non-posh people but every now and then I couldn't help but hear her mother in her voice (Diana Rigg). The saving grace was Samantha Bond who I've not seen on stage before and who played the nasty blackmailing money-grabbing but oh-so-pretty and clever Mrs Cheveley. Her character has all the best lines and best put-downs and she delivered them to a T. Unfortunately she wasn't in the final scenes so I missed her.

So. It was nice to get to the theatre again and always nice to return to the scene of an Amanda Hug but I won't be seeing this play again. Once is definitely enough.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Amanda Palmer & Peaches - Map Of Tasmania (Club Mix)

A remix of the song and video by Amanda Palmer & The Young Punx with a rap by Peaches who seems to be into triangle jerking. It's available to buy (with the orginal version and two other mixes) from The Young Punx page on Bandcamp as part of a four-track package for a mere $2.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Fra Angelico Squared

On two occasions today I've thought about Fra Angelico, the early Renaissance painter. The first time was listening to 'Vegemite (The Black Death)' by Amanda Palmer when she sings 'you love art and books' and suddenly there, on an escalator in Victoria tube station I saw the Good Brother. And then tonight, going home after the theatre reading 'Just Kids' by Patti Smith and there in black and white in the book was his name. Two separate occasions and there was Fra Angelico.

I first learned of Fra Angelico and his paintings when I was 16 and took history of art classes at school. His name was one of the dozens we rummaged through in different stages of the Renaissance. Then, in 2005 we went to Florence, my first and so far only trip to that city. I wanted to wander round the Uffizi Gallery and see all those paintings I'd only seen in books, to explore that old city full of art on every corner and find the wrought iron pig in a old photo of my mother from her visit to Florence in the late 1940s or early 50s. I did all those things and more. We also went to the Dominican monastery of San Marco and saw the glory of Fra Angelico.

I was always in two minds about the work of Fra Angelico, with his delicate brush strokes and draftsmanship, the attention to detail and the sometimes stiff poses. I could see his place in the history of art as it developed through the Renaissance, but did I like them? When in Florence you see art so we went to San Marco and headed up the stairs to the Dormitory and suddenly, there at the top of the stairs was 'The Annunciation' by Fra Angelico, his most famous painting and I couldn't help but feel the tears fill my eyes as I gazed at it in awe.

No reproduction you see in books does it justice. The simplicity of the composition, the beauty and belief that are imbued in a painting on the plaster of a wall are astonishing. Fra Angelico had clearly seen his God and was trying to share that vision with us mere mortals. It is sacred by any definition of the word. I don't know why it affected me so strongly but it did and, as far as I'm concerned, that makes it important. He decorated all the monks cells in the Dormitory but it's 'The Annunciation' that kept drawing me back. Even now, my eyes can mist over at the thought of that painting. I bought a small print of the painting but have never had it framed and hung on the wall. I must put that right.

Why have I thought about Brother John the Angelic One twice today?

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Patti Smith at the Royal Geographical Society

Yesterday evening I went over to Kensington to hear Patti Smith in conversation with Geoff Dyer in a lecture room at the Royal Geographical Society. It's always interesting to see Patti and usually a joy, and it was both last night.

Now, Geoff Dyer is a 'famous' author but that doesn't make him a good host or a good interviewer. He'd obviously done some research but it seemed to be based on an old biography that Patti dismissed as full of inaccuracies and made up facts yet Mr Dyer seemed unable to move away from his script so, time after time, Patti was left in the position of saying, 'no, that's not what happened' and 'no, I didn't know about that'. When he tried to bring in his own anecdotes he ended up showing off rather than being the voice of the public on stage with his reminiscences about seeing Patti play in Charleston (I think) and Rome - um, have you never seen her in London where we all are? Mr Dire was not the best of hosts.

Patti was, of course, lovely. The theme for discussion was her book, 'Just Kids' that focuses on her early life in New York with Robert Mapplethorpe and it was nice to hear her talk about those days living in the Chelsea Hotel, working in a book store and meeting famous people. I saw Patti at a signing when the book first came out last year which was a bit of a scrum so it was nice to see her in more civilised surroundings. As ever, she was in her uniform of skinny jeans, baggy white shirt and black jacket (shopping must be so easy for her) with hair covering half her face.

She always comes across as a very nice person (which suggests that she probably is nice) and, even when dismissing books about her, exhorting us to make up our own minds about the books rather than just following her view. I liked her making excuses for Johnny Rotten calling her an old hippy, about meeting Paul Simonon and her love of The Clash, and how some lines of her poetry became the introduction to 'Gloria'. I liked her references to Virginia Woolf and her performance of 'The Waves', and how she chipped in with the fact that it was Virginia's birthday - only a fan would remember that and, of course, we were sitting only half a mile from where she was born. I liked the moment when she deflated Mr Dire who was comparing himself to Lenny Kaye by saying, 'No, Lenny's always over there' and gestured to her left since Mr Dire was on her right hand side. The questions from the audience were the usual non-event - why can't anyone come up with a question that might be interesting to someone other than themselves? And why do some people try to make the Q&A a dialogue? The audience isn't there to hear about *you* so please ask your dull question and then shut up.

There were, of course, references to Blake and, at the end of the talk, we were rewarded with a solo performance of 'My Blakean Year'. And then we headed out into the Kensington night ... or in our case to the pub.

And, just because it's *mine*, here's the photo I took of Patti last year at the book signing:

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Amanda Palmer - 'In My Mind'

I love this song from Amanda Palmer's new album, 'Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under'. Brian Viglione plays on the album version with Amanda. Buy the album (or just this song) from Bandcamp (do the clicky thing over there >>)

"I am exactly the person that I want to be..."

Words by Amanda Palmer:

in my mind
in a future five years from now
i’m 120 pounds
and i never get hungover
because i will be the picture of discipline
never minding what state i’m in
and i will be someone i admire
and it’s funny how i imagined that i would be that person now
but it does not seem to have happened
maybe i’ve just forgotten how to see
that i’m not exactly the person that i thought i’d be

and in my mind
in the faraway here and now
i’ve become in control somehow
and i never lose my wallet
because i will be the picture of discipline
never fucking up anything
and i’ll be a good defensive driver
and it’s funny how i imagined that i would be that person now
but it does not seem to have happened
maybe i’ve just forgotten how to see
that i’ll never be the person that i thought i’d be

and in my mind
when i’m old, i am beautiful
planting tulips and vegetables
which i will mindfully watch over
not like me, now
i’m so busy with everything
that i don’t look at anything
but i’m sure i’ll look when i am older
and it’s funny how i imagine that i could be that person now
but that’s not what i want, if that’s what i wanted then i’d be giving up somehow
how strange to see that i don’t want to be the person that i want to be

and in my mind
i imagine so many things
things that aren’t really happening
and when they put me in the ground, i’ll start pounding the lid
saying “i haven’t finished yet –
i still have a tattoo to get
that says ‘i’m living in the moment’.”
and it’s funny how i imagined that i could win this winless fight
but maybe it isn’t all that funny that i’ve been fighting all my life
but maybe i have to think it’s funny if i wanna live before i die
and maybe it’s funniest of all to think i’ll die before i actually see
that i am exactly the person that i want to be

fuck yes
i am exactly the person that i want to be

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Amanda Palmer - 'Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under'

I really like time travel. Amanda Palmer has released 'Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under' while she's in Australia and, luckily, Australian time is ahead of UK time so, although it's Friday in Oz it's Thursday in London so I get to download the new record a day early! Head on over to Bandcamp to download the album. Personally, I think she planned it that way so I could listen to the album before it's released. She's thoughtful like that.

Most of the tracks were recorded live on her tour of Oz last year with a few recorded in studios also in Oz, and one track was recorded with Brian Viglione so I'm treating it as a new Dresden Dolls song and I love it. The sound quality is excellent and Amanda's voice is in top form. I must listen to it several more times before bed tonight.

The record is available for download from Bandcamp, priced 'very fucking cheap' at 69 US cents plus whatever donation you want to give - if you only pay 69c then I won't speak to you. Pay what you would expect to pay for a new album and then make a donation. Amanda's earned it by being wonderful so pay up.

I also love the credit on the Bandcamp page that proudly states 'Amanda Palmer appears courtesy of Her Fucking Self' and ends with 'PUNK CABARET IS FREEDOM'. Which it is.


Monday, 17 January 2011

New Records

Despite having very little in the diary so far for music gigs, I'm getting quite excited about new records coming out in 2011. It looks like it's going to be a bumper year. So, what's in store:
  • Within a matter of days Amanda Palmer will release 'Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under', her antipodean themed masterpiece that includes the most magnificent 'Map Of Tasmania' (get your merkins out girls). I have high hopes for a tour later in the year (and an Amanda Hug, of course).
  • February sees the release of 'Last' by The Unthanks which is, apparently, 'more ambitious' than anything they've done before. The album is followed by a tour in March and April.
  • March sees the release of 'Credo' by the Human League, their first new album in seemingly forever. We've already had the tantalising single, 'Night People' but I'm hoping for a tour to promote the album and yes, I'll be there.
  • Poly Styrene releases 'Generation Indigo' on 28 March, her first solo album since the little known 'Flower Aeroplane' in 2004. We've already had the gloriously skanking 'Black Christmas' and 'Thrash City' (from the album) is currently streaming on Poly's Facebook page.
In, out or at least near the studio are:
  • Public Image Ltd but the sad loss of Ari Up means any new music is postponed but, I hope, not cancelled. There have also been tantalising quotes from Mr Lydon about possible new music from the Sex Pistols but I'll wait and see on that score.
  • Maximo Park are reportedly in the studio even as I type.
  • Kate Bush has confirmed some new music is likely this year but, her spokesperson pointed out, it might not be a full album.
  • Our Lady J has, hopefully, been finishing off her album - I can't wait for her disco version of Buffy Sainte-Marie's 'Little Wheel Spin And Spin'.
No doubt there will be lots more but this isn't a bad selection for the start of the year.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Amanda Palmer - 'Map of Tasmania'

At last, here's the video for the gloriously daft and addictive 'Map of Tasmania' by Amanda Palmer & The Young Punx. There are so many 'maps' on show that I can't decide which is my favourite. Well done to Michael Pope for the video and well done to Amanda for showing us her 'map' at the end. O yes!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Poly Styrene - 'Thrash City'

If you know what's good for you you'll scoot on over to Poly Styrene's Facebook page and listen to 'Thrash City', the new song streaming from her forthcoming album 'Generation Indigo'. It's very different to 'Black Christmas' but definitely Poly! Go on, you know it makes sense...

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Yo Ho Ho! Under The Black Flag

Avast there ye Internet-lubbers! Pay attention or face the plank!

I've had a thoroughly enjoyable time reading a book called 'Under The Black Flag' by David Cordingly. The book is subtitled, 'The Romance and the Reality of Life among the Pirates' and that tells you all you need to know. Mr Cordingly is a maritime historian and he jolly well knows his stuff since the book is bursting with end-notes, appendices and a bibliography, but the important thing is that it's written in very plain English that is remarkably easy to read so it's a cross between a history book and a ripping yarn.

The genesis of the book was an exhibition he co-curated in the National Maritime Museum in 1992, considering the fact and fiction of pirates. The book considers where our romantic view of pirates comes from - from Robert Louis Stevenson, JM Barrie and Errol Flynn - and compares it with the reality of the short and brutal lives of the real pirates, all told by reference to log-books, trial records and accounts of raids and hangings by those who were present at the time. And, take my word for it, you'd rather have the black flag than the red flag.

We learn about Grace O'Malley from County Mayo who visited Queen Elizabeth I at Greenwich, of Mrs Cheng whose fleet ruled the South China Seas in the early 19th Century and, of course, of Calico Jack and Mary Read and Anne Bonny. But most of the book focuses on the pirates that ravaged the coast of north America from Boston to Charleston, who plundered the Caribbean islands and those who sailed around the West African coast and into the Indian Ocean to raid the Mughal wealth from India.

Mr Cordingly explains the difference between buccaneers and corsairs, between pirates and privateers and, while noting that piracy still exists, takes us on a journey from the early days of modern piracy in the 16th Century through to the 'golden age' in the 18th Century. So we learn about the privateering of Sir Francis Drake raiding Spanish treasure ships in the New World and making his fortune, of the almost accidental piracy of Captain Kidd, and of Captain Teach better known as Blackbeard.

I've found it a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable read. As a commentary on the times as well as a book about pyrates, it's an easy and learned read at the same time. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about those characters from yesteryear that still fascinate and tantalise us in the 21st Century. Well done Mr Cordingly!

Monday, 10 January 2011

Buffy Sainte-Marie - 'Cho Cho Fire' (Live)

And here is another video of Buffy Sainte-Marie and her band giving us some heavy riffs and powwow to 'Cho Cho Fire', one of my favourite songs from her latest album, Running For The Drum'. Heya heya ha ha!

Buffy Sainte-Marie - 'Starwalker' (Live)

I've mentioned before how great Buffy Sainte-Marie sounds with her new band, driving rock guitars and drums with wild powwow vocals. Well, here's the proof. Give this video a look and a listen, a live version of the magnificent 'Starwalker' and enjoy the energy. I well recall Buffy singing this at Shepherds Bush Empire in January 2010 and leaving us all gobsmacked with the power of her rendition of a song we all knew.

And y'know what? This isn't a fan video filmed on a mobile phone with dodgy images and unlistenable sound. This looks a lot more professional to me and has had some nice editing. Might that mean a live album and DVD? Dare we hope?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Diaghilev and The Ballet Russe at the V&A

This afternoon we went to see the exhibition about Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Of course, since it's the last day of the exhibition it was rather crowded, ridiculously crowded.

There were some very nice exhibits on show, mainly costumes and drawings of stage designs and sets as well as a bit of a history lesson of Diaghilev's life. There were also a few sets of telly screens dotted around to show whatever they were showing - I ignored them (read on). It was quite an eclectic mix of exhibits and that's probably the best way to show something about Diaghilev since he wasn't an artist in the normal sense of the word - his art was in pulling together the right talent to create something spectacular and special.

There were some gorgeous costumes and, to be frank, some shabby ones. In a way, that's only to be expected since these costumes were worn every night on stage, sweated into, packed away in trunks to be transported to the next venue in the next country so it's hardly surprising that some showed the wear and tear. And I suspect that's where some of my frustration with the exhibition lies - the lighting. The whole exhibition was poorly lit, using spotlights and shadows too much, which I can only assume is because some of the costumes aren't pristine, otherwise, there's no reason for the generally dim lighting.

My favourite costume was the one designed for Nijinski's Blue God in 1912 by Leon Bakst for a ballet called Le Dieu Bleu based, I think, on stories about Krishna. The costume was gorgeous, with sunburst details and jewels and can't have been the easiest thing to dance in. I also enjoyed some of the set designs, particularly the designs for The Firebird by Natalia Goncharova that were beautifully stylised and colourful. Diaghilev used designs and pictures from the leading artists of the time, mixing the fine arts with the more mundane to create his own art.

The downside of the exhibition was the poor lay-out. I've already mentioned the poor lighting which was generally annoying. The use of video screens with a narrator to explain something or other (I ignored them all) could have been inspiring if the screens weren't sited to cause log-jams of people - some sitting and standing to watch the screen while others had to struggle to get past to see the next bit of the exhibition. Whoever planned the layout had very poor spatial awareness or understanding of the likely traffic flows. This led to people-jams every so often in some of the galleries and open spaces in others - a better design would have smoothed this out. The other disappointing thing was the merch in the shop - where were all the postcards of the costumes or the catalogue? No, I don't want to buy clothing or jewelry "based on" the designs of the costumes, I want to buy a catalogue or postcards of what I've just seen, thank you.

But, despite the crowds, it was an enjoyable exhibition that you can't now see because it closed today, sorry!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Alex Polizzi

Whenever I hear, "Born into the legendary Forte Hotel dynasty..." I know I'm in for a treat with Ms Alex Polizzi as The Hotel Inspector. I only discovered the programme last summer so I've been doing my best to catch up with all the programmes, especially all the repeats over the Christmas and New Year break.

It's a wonderfully simple format for a telly programme: failing hotel or guest house invites Alex to give them some advice, they think they know better and then we find out that Alex is (naturally) right and all's well that ends well. Of course, the road is never smooth and we see Alex exasperated, Alex frustrated, Alex swearing, Alex insulting ("Jonathan, you're polishing a turd...") and Alex being, as she always is, right.

I have learned a lot from Alex. Whenever I've walked into hotels in the past I've thought either, this is nice, this is bog-standard, this is so bog-standard I don't even notice it and so on and so forth. Now, I walk in with a trained eye, looking for the positioning and relative order of the reception desk, looking at the cleanliness, whether lighting is mis-matched, etc, etc, etc. And she is a good teacher. I'd love to have a cup of tea with her one day and ask her lots of questions, including why she favours long, dangly ear-rings.

I would strongly support a 'Hotel Inspector Goes Back' kind of programme where she re-visits hotels she's helped to see whether they've sustained her changes and how they've developed. It'll also be interesting to see whether any have actually closed by ignoring her advice.

Something I've learned since discovering the programme is that Saint Alex is always, but *always* right.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Congratulations to Amanda and Neil

I am pleased to pass on the news that Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman got married last night in San Francisco, a year after they became engaged. Congratulations to two very nice people.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

The Plastic Bag Awards 2010

Yes Dear Readers, it's that time again, the annual Plastic Bag Awards. As ever, there's been stiff competition this year which, to be honest, I'd expect since everyone wants a Baggy.

In 2009 I indulged in 39 gigs, 20 theatre trips, 6 films and 5 'entertainments' but that's turned around this year with only 22 gigs but a massive 48 theatrical performances, 12 films and 3 'entertainments' in 2010. 2011 is not starting off so well since I have a grand total of zero gigs booked and only two theatre trips so far. Anyway, there you have the big numbers but now let's get into the detail , starting with...

Best Film

At only 12 films seen this year, that's rather patchy viewing on which to judge the best film but the nominees are:
  • Nine
  • Avatar
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Nanny McPhee & The Big Bang
  • London Terminus
So no 'Harry Potter', no 'Inception' and no 'Alice In Wonderland'. Although four of the nominees are big blockbuster films, the fifth, 'London Terminus' represents some of the 'smaller' films I've enjoyed this year, such as 'Beautiful Darling', the documentary about Candy Darling, 'The Chalk Garden' and 'A Window in London' a film from 1939 that depicts a London strangely without pubs or shops but featured the building of Waterloo Bridge. 'London Terminus' is only 16 minutes long and shows us a day in the life of Waterloo Station in 1944, so different to today and yet so similar.

However, the Baggie must (and probably quite predictably) go to 'Avatar'. It has some deeply serious themes about corporate greed, invasion and empire, impact on indigenous peoples and more, all wrapped up in state of the art digital effects and great story-telling. Congratulations to 'Avatar'.

With 48 trips to the theatre over the past year - nearly once a week - the theatrical awards were always going to be a problem but the jury's back and I can announce...

Best Theatre - Drama

The nominees for Best Theatre in the drama category are:
  • The White Guard
  • Shirley Valentine
  • All My Sons
  • The Glass Menagerie
  • King Lear
These were all excellent productions and all held some secret surprise, delight or relief (such as not falling asleep during 'Menagerie'!) and all were performed by some excellent actors, not least Zoe Wanamaker and Derek Jacobi. And I'd add Meera Syal to that list of actors after seeing her as Shirley Valentine, by turns comedic and touching, stirring thoughts and tears as she plays a lost woman who gradually finds herself again. Meera's Shirley comes a close second to the overall winner, 'King Lear' with it's excellent writing and acting, the subtle pacing that kept it moving along and the spare scenery and props, putting the focus clearly on the actors and what they were saying.

Best Theatre - Musical

There have been some excellent musicals around this year and the nominees for the Baggy are:
  • Hair
  • South Pacific
  • Into The Woods
  • Five Guys Named Moe
  • Passion
'Fela!' just missed out on being nominated and I decided it would be unfair to nominate 'The Harder They Come' again this year. So we have two Sondheim musicals, one classic musical, one love rock musical and a most fun comic musical that keeps a smile on your face.

If the competition was less fierce I'd happily award the Baggy to 'Into The Woods', an excellent production in Regents Park as the sun set, great singing and acting and a great fairy tale. But, it is with no little pleasure that I must award the Baggy for best musical to 'Hair'. I saw this production in New York as well as in London, with largely the same cast, and I danced on the London stage as part of the rave up at the end. It helped give me a great summer - thank you to the hippies!

Best Theatre - Comedy

As well as being a good year for musicals, 2010 was also good for comedies, and the nominees are:
  • London Assurance
  • Avenue Q
  • Private Lives
  • Gutted: A Revenger's Tragedy
  • When We Are Married
I know it's cheating to include 'Avenue Q' but I don't care, it's a great show, is very rude and has the highest moral standards, o yes it does. And the Bad Idea Bears are an inspired creation. 'Gutted' is a show I hope we hear more from since the version I saw was a preview in advance of its run as part of the Edinburgh Festival - it would be good to see it again on a proper stage (and still with Mr Jimbob as the Pop Star please).

However, the award goes to 'When We Are Married' for best comedy, for the glorious cast with Michelle Dotrice and Roy Hudd, the elaborate set and the comedy of manners.

Best Gig

The nominees in this category are:
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie (@ Shepherd's Bush)
  • Blondie (@ The Indigo)
  • Public Image Ltd (@ Shepherd's Bush)
  • Mary J Blige (@ The O2)
  • The Human League (@The Royal Festival Hall)
I saw Buffy twice in 2010 but have gone for the Shepherd's Bush gig as the nominated show, with her jokes about holding a rodeo on Shepherd's Bush Green and the tremendous rock sound and energy filling the space that has been played by everybody over the years. Mary J Blige was a spectacular experience, with Mary alone on the front of the stage holding it together and powering the show forward by the strength of her personality and music, a most impressive sight. John Lydon and Public Image Ltd and Blondie, both blasts from the past and both demonstrating the longevity of their music and they still have the power to deliver high octane songs especially, in the case of Blondie, showcasing new songs that stand up well against the classics.

But, the award for best gig must go to the Human League for being fabulous, for Phil, Susan and Joanne being the same as they were 30 years ago and still pounding out those electronic beats, singing about love and dancing the night away. The Human League also won this award back in 2008. Well done people, I'm looking forward to the new album in March.

Best Live Performance

This is a very personal and subjective category - which performance touched me, took me out of myself, was something special? The nominees are:
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie @ Shepherd's Bush - 'Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee'
  • Suzanne Vega @ Cadogan Hall - 'Blood Makes Noise'
  • Public Image Ltd @ Shepher's Bush - 'Public Image'
  • Gavin Creel in 'Hair' (1 September) - 'I Got Life'
  • The Human League @ the Royal Festival Hall - 'Don't You Want Me'
Some performance have just missed out, such as Our Lady J's great delivery of 'Hurt' at the Soho Theatre and Ray Davies singing 'Lola' at the Royal Albert Hall with the audience joining in and raising the roof. But, not everything can win a Baggy.

I have to admit that the Human League is there for the moment when Susan holds out her mic to the audience to sing along to the line, 'I still love you' in her solo spot in 'Don't You Want Me' (she knows we still do). Suzanne's new version of 'Blood Makes Noise', an extended version with jittery guitar and bass dueling with each other was very special as was Gavin Creel's 'I Got Life' in his final performance as Claude, putting heart and soul into it and getting a very justified and spontaneous ovation, a definite high for the theatre.

PiL gave us a definitive version of 'Public Image' at Shepherd's Bush but it's another performance at Shepherd's Bush that wins the best performance award, and it goes to Buffy Sainte-Marie for 'Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee'. Pounding music, Buffy's words, the powwow singing building up to a mad crescendo and creating a sound and a feeling that Shepherd's Bush has quite probably never heard before sent a shiver of joy down my spine that sealed the award for Buffy.

Best New Album

This is a difficult category this year since I haven't indulged in too many new albums as in new music newly released - I've invested in a lot of new albums, but most have been around for a while or are re-mastered so don't really count in this category. The nominations are:
  • The Imagined Village - 'Empire & Love'
  • Suzanne Vega - 'Close-Up Vol 2: People & Places'
  • Amanda Palmer - 'Amanda Palmer Performs The Popular Hits Of Radiohead On Her Magical Ukulele'
  • Paul Smith - 'Margins'
  • Kim Wilde - 'Come Out And Play'
The Imagined Village collective worked its magic on updating some traditional English folk songs as well as creating some new ones and Suzanne Vega's second volume of stripped down and re-recorded classics was excellent. Amanda's 'UkuleleHead' record was a mad flight of fancy that worked and Paul Smith's first album showed another side to his song-writing.

But the winner of the best album award belongs to Kim Wilde's 'Come Out And Play', a feast of power pop, all new songs and new classics, with Kim rocking out just as she did 29 years ago when 'Kids In America' was released. The album has only been released in Germany as far as I'm aware so I got it on import - it deserves a proper release and a tour to promote it. Track it down and give it a listen, you won't be disappointed.

Best New Song

There are six nominees in this category - I couldn't whittle it down to just five:
  • Laura Marling - 'Devil's Spoke'
  • Paul Smith - 'Our Lady Of Lourdes'
  • Kim Wilde - 'King Of The World'
  • Poly Styrene - 'Black Christmas'
  • The Human League - 'Night People'
  • Amanda Palmer - 'Map Of Tasmania (feat The Young Punx)'
These are all great new songs, atmospheric and bouncy by turns and two herald the return of legends of yesteryear. Amanda comes a close second with the new sound for her latest single to celebrate her tour of Australia and New Zealand and new album. All the songs deserve to be nominated but I'll cut it short by declaring 'Black Christmas' by Poly Styrene as the winner, not only by the sheer amount of times I've played it since it's release in November but by it's quality and simplicity of the song-writing and performance and for what it hints at for an excellent new album in a few months time. Congratulations Poly, and welcome back!

So there you have it, the Plastic Bag Awards for 2010 finishing on a high with the much welcomed return of Poly Styrene. What does 2011 hold in store that might feature in the Baggies next year... ?