Monday, 28 February 2011

The Human League - 'Never Let Me Go'

Out of the blue it seems like The Human League has released the new single a few weeks early - 'Never Let Me Go' is available to download from iTunes and Amazon, along with various remixes.

It's an odd record in some ways - a new sound, Susan and Joanne on lead vocals rather than Phil but it is obviously and instantly a Human League song - it couldn't be anything else and I love it. Buy it now.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Poly Styrene B-Conscious

I heard the bad news this evening that Poly Styrene has cancer. Apparently it emerged in an interview with the Sunday Times over the weekend and I've just caught up with it.

This can't be right, I thought, she's just come back to us, she can't leave already. That, of course, is a stupid thought. Poly is a punk goddess and goddesses don't just leave. Like Kali, Poly would take a city with her when she left and that's not likely. More likely is that Poly will take us pogoing like mad on her flower aeroplane, chanting the name of god, or, I suspect, the name of our goddess.

I'm sending out karmic vibes while listening to the mantra-beats of 'Flower Aeroplane'. That will be followed with some manic punk goodness about the world turning day-glo. Let's remember, as Poly said, 'it's just a trick of the witch, she flicks the on-off switch'.

Take care Poly, be strong and beat it. You can do it - just B-Conscious. I believe.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Fra Angelico at the Uffizi

Just over a week ago I went to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, a dim, grey day that needed the light of art. I'd been to the monastery at San Marco a couple of days earlier to see the glowing paintings of Fra Angelico and was sensitized to his glory. The Uffizi is a treasure trove of Renaissance art and in one room I found three paintings by Fra Angelico, two gleaming with the gold of heaven.

The first painting I found was entitled 'The Thebaid - Scenes From The Lives Of The Hermits From The Province Of Thebes', was completed around 1420 and based on medieval tales of hermits in Greece. It has only recently been attributed to Fra Angelico as one of his early works. I immediately re-named it as 'hunt the hermit' since all over the panel were little scenes of hermits in their chosen abodes, from those who bricked in their homes or lived in caves to the rather more exotic.

The second painting was across the room, a glorious Madonna and Child with the baby Jesus nuzzling his mother while she looks contentedly into the middle distance. This is the best version I could find online but it doesn't do the real painting any justice. It really is beautiful, with delicate skin tones and blushes, with gorgeous pinks and blues. It's about two feet tall and gleams with gold and belief.

The third painting was beside the Madonna and Child, a Coronation of the Virgin painting with Jesus crowning his mother as queen of heaven, flanked by angels and saints, with, of course, some of the human figures looking out of the painting towards the viewer. I'm sure it is possible to decipher this painting in terms of the emblems held by the various figures and their clothes, but that's for another day. It really does glow when you see it in real life.

Fra Angelico is a master at his art. His art is not solely painting, carefully applying wet colours to frescoes or panels, but rather to depict belief. This is the man who declined a bishopric but painted his meditations on the walls of a chilly San Marco. His vision was pure.

Happy Birthday Buffy

Today is Buffy Sainte-Marie's birthday and I'm celebrating the day with a mammoth BuffyFest of 100 of my favourite songs of hers. The beauty of having a long career is a lot of records to choose from (even if the 80s did pass by with no Buffy music at all). It's 47 years since Buffy's first album, 'It's My Way!' was released, and she's still doing it her way.

I've been listening to all sorts of music today, from experimental electronic sounds from the late 60s to lush, orchestrated love songs, with powwow and country and folk and dance and rockabilly and pop music all in there somewhere. Buffy keeps on moving, keeps developing.

It's also nice to hear songs I don't often hear since they're not on albums or on CD, like the version of 'Until It's Time For You To Go' from 1965 that's only available as a UK single, which I always think of as a French version because of it's left bank sounds. It's a memory-jogger sometimes to really listen to the words and become re-acquainted with songs, such as realising again that 'Soulful Shade Of Blue' is a tender song of young love and hope, and as such is doubly beautiful. As well as lush sounds Buffy also does sparse, such as 'Lazarus' which is just her voice and hand claps in an echoing studio, but oh so powerful. I'd love to hear her sing that song one day.

Buffy is coming back to the UK in the summer to play the Cornbury Festival in Oxford and Union Chapel in London - I will (of course) be at Union Chapel. I've been wondering if Buffy knows it really is a working church with the acoustics to match and whether she'll have her full band or treat is as an acoustic set? A powwow chorus in that venue will be spectacular. Either way, I'll be happy.

And here's Buffy from last year playing 'Cho Cho Fire' with her great band. Enjoy!

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Amanda Palmer's Ninja Goodness

Here's a lovely short film of Amanda playing 'GaGa, Palmer, Madonna' on a ukulele at a ninja gig in Sydney last week. And it's going to be played on national telly in Oz plus an interview. She seems to be going down a storm down under. As 'twere.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Amanda Palmer - 'On An Unknown Beach'

Here's the latest video from Amanda Palmer for a song from her latest album, 'Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under'. The song is 'On An Unknown Beach' originally by Peter Jefferies and a favourite of Amanda's from her teenage years. The video is very atmospheric and dramatic - give it a viewing.

Viv Albertine Album

I received a really nice message from Viv Albertine today.

Viv, as I'm sure you know, was an original member of The Slits back in the day (the day, or the era, being the late 70s) and has recently started playing music again. She released an EP last year ('Flesh', available for download) and has an album in the pipeline for which she needs funds to finish off - see here for details of the pledges and the various goodies you can get. I've pledged so you should too.

It's a lovely message from Viv:

I am so excited that there is a way to finish my album without having to compromise anything about it, from the art work to the music to the lyrics.

As soon as money from some sort of organised body is involved, the investors feel they have a right to have a say and make suggestions.

It did not happen to us too much in The Slits because we were a very forceful gang and in a way, record companies did not have much experience with bands who had their own ideas. The industry was so taken by surprise by the ‘punk’ thing that we could say what we wanted and they had no clue if we were right or wrong. So we got away with it.

Because of the internet, it feels similar. Everyone taken by surprise again. I love that. I work best in that environment. And the fewer people having a say in your work, the better. It’s unadulterated.

So, thank you to everyone who has pledged. At first I was embarrassed to ask, but now I feel moved and privileged to have people around the world who believe that this album is worth supporting.

Viv has also posted a short video of herself in a Sid Vicious leather jacket telling a story about the old days ... a cute boy indeed!

After I read the message I had a short meander round my mind about exactly why I pledged money to help Viv finish her record. I think there are a few reasons:

1. I never saw The Slits back in the 70s and am unlikely to see them now that Ari Up has left the gig early. But I still relish their early songs that I taped from the John Peel show in about 1978 and are on their first album 'Cut'.

2. I accidentally came across Viv before Christmas when I was searching for new Christmas songs and found and downloaded her 'Flesh' EP from last year, which I like.

3. Most strangely, I think it's my job to support artists rather than download their work for free. I've blogged before about the deal I have with artists - it's their job to tell me about new records and tours and it's my job to buy tickets and records. Amanda Palmer has taken this to the utmost degree with asking fans to give her food and lodgings on tour and I'd be most happy to do so. So there's no difference with me pledging money I'd be happy to spend buying a record from Linda Thompson or from Viv Albertine - I'd buy the record anyway so I might as well pay up front to help make it.

4. And Viv is a punk original so, as a fan from way back when, it's my job to support her. And I do and will. She's earned it the hard way and music wouldn't be the way it is today without her contribution all those years ago. We may be getting on but we can still be punks! I just might not pogo so energetically these days...

I'm really looking forward to Viv's record. Go on, download her EP and then pledge some money to help her finish her album. She deserves money if only because of the line 'I love Marc Bolan because of all his curls' in 'Never Come' - how true!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Congratulations to Laura Marling

Laura Marling has just won the British Female Solo Artist at The Brit Awards this evening and I am seriously pleased. She's just 20 and has two albums behind her already and is recording her third for release later this year. She looked totally gobsmacked by the award (presented by Boy George). I look forward to her winning more Brits in the years to come.

I've missed seeing her play live every time she's played in London except once when she sang a song with the Mystery Jets at a benefit concert a couple of years ago. She writes the most interesting songs and her last album saw her branching out and experimenting and I have high hopes for the next album.

Here's a song that was nominated for a Plastic Bag Award in 2010 and I first blogged about in January 2010, 'Devil's Spoke' from her album 'I Speak Because I Can'. Go on try it.

Well done Laura!

Monday, 14 February 2011

Poly Styrene - 'Virtual Boyfriend'

With apologies for the delay in posting this, but here's the video for the new single from Poly Styrene, due out in March. She's taking a pop at the new media world with a video full of hard drives munching on hearts as she sings "I'm looking to the future and I'm not looking back". A lovely gift for Valentine's Day.

Click on over to Poly's website to join the mailing list and to see some great photos of Poly from yesteryear that have never been published before.

Friday, 4 February 2011

'Twelfth Night' at the National Theatre

Last night we got return tickets to see the new production of 'Twelfth Night' directed by Peter Hall at the Cottesloe Theatre in the National Theatre. It's one of those productions where the tickets sold out to members before they went on general sale so we were lucky to get tickets at all. Or so I thought.

'Twelfth Night' is one of Shakespeare's daft plays about mistaken identity, about shipwrecked siblings who are so alike that no-one can tell the difference, and that's where the fun starts. But it takes a long time for the fun to start. There is the pretty lady that everyone loves, the drunken comic figures, the fool and, of course, the noble duke who, unfortunately sported a mullet hair-do. O dear.

The opening scene made me wary, with the Duke lounging around and his courtiers all in doublets and hose, with lace collars and awful lank-haired wigs. I know it's superficial of me, but I really didn't like the costumes and wigs. We then meet Viola in a dress who becomes the youth, Cesario, in a red doublet and hose affair, who joins the court of the Duke and quickly becomes a favourite and is sent to woo the beautiful lady on his behalf. We meet Sir Toby Belch and yes, the name says it all for the drunken cousin of the lady, his friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek, the servant Maria and the steward Malvolio. It's a relatively large cast with some interesting characters and that, in part, keeps the momentum going forward. It should be a roaring success but I was sorely disappointed.

Simon Callow played Sir Toby and much as I enjoyed his performance his drunken scenes were difficult to follow - enunciation, Sir Toby, enunciation, even when you're drunk. But the main problem was Rebecca Hall (Sir Peter's daughter) who played Viola/Cesario. Considering that the costumes are all period and everyone acts in period mode, she acted like she was in 'Glee' and would do the W ('whatever') sign any moment. Her sing-song delivery, talking with a cynical teenage laughing voice throughout, with her head tilted to one side really made her stand out, but for all the wrong reasons. Why her acting style was so different to the rest of the cast is anyone's guess, but it didn't work. I was sorely tempted to leave at half time (after my pre-ordered glass of Merlot, of course) but stuck through to the end.

There were some highlights, and I'd single out Charles Edwards as the daft knight Sir Andrew, the coward and braggart who brings much joy and levity. I also liked Finty Williams as Maria, the lady's bawdy servant who got the balance between servility and dirty humour spot on - I think I'd like her Maria as a chum. For the rest, I think I could leave it and not worry. I wouldn't dream of seeing it again.

Hint to future producers of 'Twelfth Night': make sure your siblings wear matching wigs as well as clothes to make them identical.

The Human League - 'Never Let Me Go'

You will be delighted to hear that the Human League will have a new single out on 21 March - 'Never Let Me Go'. That's all I know. No doubt there will be a drip-feed of information and sound clips in the run-up to the release. More news to follow when it's available.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

'Gutted: A Revenger's Musical' at the Leicester Square Theatre

On Monday night we headed up to Leicester Square Theatre to see a concert version of 'Gutted: A Revenger's Musical', the new comedy musical we first saw in Hammersmith in its pre-Edinburgh Festival run. As Chris commented at the time, it's a cross between 'Kind Hearts and Coronets' and 'Rocky Horror' if such a creature can be believed. Whatever, it's great fun with some rather rude songs and a deeply moral message (ok, that last statement might not be entirely true).

After seeing it at Hammersmith I decided I'd love to see it in a proper production so quickly booked tickets to the one-night-only Leicester Square Theatre production but this was to be a concert version of the show. So the actors were there going through the motions, but no costumes or sets and the stage was filled with a 20-piece orchestra rather than the 3-piece backing band we had at Hammersmith. There was only just enough space to fit the cast on stage let alone anything else. But, you know what? I still enjoyed it far more than the mega-bucks version of 'An Ideal Husband' I saw last week at the Vaudeville. Sometimes seat-of-your-pants works so much better if the spirit is willing and the jokes are sufficiently rude. And, of course, this had one of my favourite ex-pop stars and local boy made good in it playing an ex-pop star, Jim Bob of Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine. We're talking Oscar level performance here.

'Gutted' is great fun, with Colin Hoult playing Mr Bewley (and the other five members of his family, hence the 'Kind Hearts' reference) who marries Sorrow. Unfortunately he seems to have killed Sorrow's parents 15 years ago and she's out for revenge. O dear. That's not a good start. So Sorrow gradually works her way through his family until ... but that would be telling.

Colin Hoult was excellent as the main (and related) characters and so was Michael Legge as the Vicar putting lots of oomph into it. The Penny Dreadful's were good fun as the ghosts in the first half and the police in the second half. I was less impressed by Isy Suttie as Sorrow whose voice didn't sound right for Sorrow. And, of course, the cast was bolstered by a genuine pop star in Jim Bob who gave it a sprinkling of magic as Buddy Stardust.

I have to say I would much rather have seen a properly staged version of the play but the concert version put a smile on my face. What more can I ask for? There was a Q&A after the performance but I was too tired to stay to listen to it. Hopefully there will be more productions of the play and I aim to be there - it's great fun and quite daft and a good use of an evening. Well done people! And the photos are courtesy of DiamondGeyser on Flickr.