Friday, 29 April 2011

Radio 6 Tribute to Poly Styrene

There was a tribute programme to Poly Styrene on Radio 6 last night with some of her classic songs, including her very first single as Mari Elliot, 'Silly Billy'. It was Poly's last interview and it took place a few weeks ago. As well as playing songs from X-Ray Spex and 'Generation Indigo', it also plays two songs from 'Flower Aeroplane' that have possibly never been played on the radio before, 'Beautiful' and 'Airplane'.

Poly sounds quite delightful, with a touch of mischief and fun. Her voice is breathy but she's enthusiastic and positive, wanting to talk and mentioning that she's planning to re-write a couple of new songs with Youth. It's lovely to hear her reminisce about the early days and it's all quite touching. I hope there's more to come.

It's on the BBC iPlayer for a week, so listen to it while you can. Click here.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

"This One's For Poly..."

Goldblade paid tribute to Poly Styrene on Tuesday night in Seattle by playing 'Oh Bondage Up Yours', the classic X-Ray Spex song from 1977. The video isn't particularly good and the sound is awful, but it's heart-felt and that's what counts.

Goldblade was the support band for Poly's triumphant 2008 X-Ray Spex gig at The Roundhouse and she joined them on the Christmas single the following year, 'City Of Christmas Ghosts'. For the single alone, I thank Goldblade for making a new Poly song available, and it's a great song too.

Poly is reported to have said that if she's remembered, it'll be for 'Oh Bondage' and she'd rather be remembered for something more spiritual. I suspect she's right, at least by people who don't know her full and varied songbook. But 'Oh Bondage' was the song that made people first notice this girl with a clothes stall and an odd name. I first heard it on a 10" punk compilation in 1977, from the Roxy I think, and then tracked it down to see what was on the B side. And then came all the classic singles and the rest is history.

Also, here is Poly's last rendition of the song from the Roundhouse gig in 2008. It popped up on my iPod this morning and I couldn't help but break out into a big grin for the infectious fun in the voices and the raucous sax, so perfect. And, of course, as I will never tire of saying, I was there that night!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Poly Styrene - Channel 4 News 26 April

It's fitting that Poly leaving us was reported on Channel 4 News yesterday and here it is:

I'm not sure I'd have gone for Tom Robinson and Charles Shaar Murray as the talking heads but it's a nice piece.

There's also a nice article in the New York Times (that even name checks 'Conscious Consumer' but got the release wrong by 10 years). There are lots of articles and tributes from all over the world that show how important and influential Poly was, and how much she was loved.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Poly Styrene

Today has been a sad day. It started early with rumours flying round Twitter that Poly Styrene had died. Poly's been ill recently with cancer and was in a hospice on the south coast but I chose not to believe the rumours or join in spreading them - what if they're just the latest, stupid internet rumour? How would Poly feel to find out from the internet that people think she's dead? She's ill enough and needs support to get better, not depressed by thinking people have already written her off. So I didn't believe them.

But later this morning there was finally word from Poly's team which said:

We can confirm that the beautiful Poly Styrene, who has been a true fighter,
won her battle on Monday evening to go to higher places. PSTeam

Much as I was sad to see those words, I could appreciate what they were saying and the gentle and positive way of announcing her death. Such a thoughtful use of words and so typical of anything to do with Poly.

I listened to 'Generation Indigo' going to work this morning and listened to 'Flower Aeroplane' on the way home. I'm now listening to 'Live @ The Roundhouse London 2008' and I'm so pleased to be able to say that I was there the night it was recorded. That was the only time I saw Poly on stage. I never saw X-Ray Spex back in the day and I never met Poly. I would've liked to have had tea with her. Although I never met Poly I did ask her a question through Fanbridge about whether there were any plans to re-master and reissue her previous albums. The answer was, "Hi no plans as yet...thank you for asking." I hope someone picks up on this and re-issues the records.

Twitter has been alive with short messages of sadness all day and, no doubt, blogs are sprouting even as I write my own. I don't really know what I want to say about Poly. I don't particularly care about her influence on Riot Grrrls and all that stuff. I care about her influence on me. I care about her forward looking and challenging songs. I care that she's gone. Or has Poly really gone? Marianne Elliot Said has gone but Poly lives forever along with her legacy. As soon as she uttered those fateful words, 'Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard...' she entered musical and cultural history.

There is now a statement on Poly's website as follows:


Punk icon (X-ray Spex frontwoman) Poly Styrene passes away

Marianne Elliot Said
July 3rd 1957- April 25th 2011

Poly Styrene was a punk amongst punks. A groundbreaking presence that left an unrepeatable mark on the musical landscape, she made history the moment she uttered, "Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard but I think oh bondage up yours!" The influence of Poly and X-ray Spex has been felt far and wide ever since. Their landmark album Germ Free Adolescents is a landmark work and a primary influence on Britpop and Riot Grrrl. At the centre of it was PolyStyrene, a bi-racial feminist punk with the perfect voice to soundtrack rebellion. Poly never sacrificed the intelligence or the fun in her music and style. Her trademark braces and dayglo clothes were a playful rejection of the status quo and of conformity and complacency. She dissected gender politics, consumer culture, and the obsessions of modern life in a way that made us all want sing along with her.

At the core of Poly's work from Germ Free Adolescents through Generation Indigo, is a revolutionary with a genuine love for this world and the people and things in it. Her indomitable heart is all over the new material from her championing of cruelty free products ("I Luv Ur Sneakers") to giving voice to marginalized poor people worldwide ("No Rockefeller") to tackling racism ("Colour Blind"). Poly Styrene never stopped exciting us with her incisive world-view, amazing wit, and her adventurous sound. It is impossible to imagine what modern music would be like without her incalculable contributions but it's probably not worth imagining a world that never had Poly Styrene in it.

A thrilling work from a true pioneer and rebel in every sense, Poly Styrene's album Generation Indigo is out now through Future Noise Music and was produced by Youth (The Verve, Killing Joke, The Fireman, Edwyn Collins). The album received rave reviews from Uncut, NME, The Guardian and countless others across the Atlantic. The forward looking Generation Indigo showcases Poly's humorous musings on pop culture, the internet and fashion whilst also tackling heavier subject matter (war and racism) with her politically aware and intelligent lyrics all in the inimitable voice of a genuine icon. Listen to the full Generation Indigo record streaming on AOL Spinner.

Rock journalist John Robb recently interviewed Poly Styrene about her current album. This footage and track by track from Poly Styrene is available to watch here:

It's good to see the outpouring of love and respect on Twitter and Facebook, places that us ordinary folks can say our goodbyes. It's also nice to see messages from the likes of Viv Albertine, Billy Bragg and Amanda Palmer. I hope Poly's daughter, Celeste, takes some comfort from the love we all felt for her mother.

Poly was a devotee of Sri Krishna and I've been searching for appropriate words to bid her farewell. I couldn't find any other than the chant:

"Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare"

This chant is also the chorus to Boy George's 'Bow Down Mister'. Whenever I sing along to it in future I shall think of Poly. 'Electric Blue Monsoon' on her latest album is a beautiful love song to Krishna. I hope she has the chance to sing it to him.

You are beautiful and you enriched lives. You changed mine. Thank you for everything.

Farewell Poly. Farewell Marianne. You will be missed but not forgotten.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Kate Bush - 'Deeper Understanding'

It's nice to have some new Kate Bush music, even if it's a remixed old song. Here is 'Deeper Understanding' from the new album, 'Director's Cut'. It's an odd affair but seeing Robbie Coltrane with a rainbow in his mouth kill Noel Fielding can't be bad. Enjoy!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Rock Follies

Do you remember 'Rock Follies' on telly back in 1976 and 1977? If you do, you're probably of 'a certain age'. I bought the albums back then, 'Rock Follies' and 'Rock Follies of 77', and later the CDs and finally the DVDs. There was always some kind of copyright war over Rock Follies but I never paid enough attention really. I liked the music, the characters and the gutsiness of the show.

It was a strange time to produce a show about three women actresses getting into the "rock" business, with punk already gobbing its way through London and out into the rest of the country. The language and images in the show were all wrong for the time, and that was obvious even back then, what with all the hippyness, smoking joints and talk of drugs, ending sentences with 'maaan' and the like - that just didn't work. But we all forgave the details for the whole and for the Little Ladies, the name of the fictional group.

Julie Covington, Charlotte Cornwall and Rula Lenska meshed together nicely, each different but adding something to the whole. It made household names of Julie and Rula, and Rula is still going strong today and instantly recognisable with her mop of curly hair. Charlotte was always in a slightly different space, a bit more serious, more 'Play for Today' than sitcom. Julie made an album, had a couple of minor hits, sang the original 'Evita' (and I still think her 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina' is the best and most touching), went on stage and was part of the 'Guys And Dolls' revival cast (that has been drummed into me). I don't know what she's done since.

Anyway, the reason for posting is that I woke up this morning with the chorus from 'Biba Nova' in my head, the blast of 'We're all gonna live forever' that livens up the otherwise rather camp song. Here it is:

That's from the episode when they're taken up by a rich businessman who want to get into the "rock" business and hires image consultants to mould them into a different space. I do love the chorus though...

This is more the Rock Follies I loved and still do, silly dance routines and all.

It really was ground-breaking for its time, with the narrative of the show being broken up by the songs and video sequences - they were always the highlight. More money was spent on the second series but it was still studio-bound. Just imagine what it would've been like if they'd been able to shoot some of the live performances in front of an audience in a real venue. I would've gone. A series with the same actresses set now, having them meet up again after all these years and swap stories... wouldn't that be a great idea? With a few new songs as well, of course. We can always dream...

Friday, 22 April 2011

'Monty Don's Italian Gardens' on BBC2

Monty Don, renowned gardening expert has a short series looking at Italian gardens at the moment on BBC2 and, tonight, he focused on Renaissance gardens in Florence. Naturally, I had to watch it.

It started off with lots of street scenes around Florence, grand views of the (not so green) River Arno and the bridges over it, a short walk through Vasari's Corridor, wandering through the Boboli Gardens and then out into gardens in the countryside around Florence. It was thoroughly enjoyable as Monty explained the artistic principles of the Renaissance applying to formal gardens, the endless greens and the surprise of colourful flowers, the statues and the fountains and streams. It was gloriously sunny. And green. Naturally, there's a book to accompany the series.

It's always a pleasure to see Florence and it's magnificent architecture and art - and I'll now add gardens to that list. It made me wish I'd gone there years ago - decades before I actually did. I need to explore it more, there is so much to see and experience in Florence. The only disappointment with the programme is that it didn't try to analyse the Renaissance landscape and garden in paintings against the reality of the Renaissance garden. Still, it's thoroughly enjoyable and I'll be watching the rest of the series.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Elisabeth Sladen

By now everyone must know that Elisabeth Sladen has died at the tragically young age of 63. Lis played Sarah Jane Smith in 'Doctor Who' for many years in the 1970s and again in the latest incarnation of the series over the last few years, as well as in her own series of 'Adventures'.

I grew up with 'Doctor Who' in the 60s and 70s and, for me, the classic period was the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker years and Sarah Jane was companion to both Doctors. Her tenure coincided with my early teenage years and when I think of companions the only ones I can really remember are Sarah Jane and Leela (the warrior woman played by Louise Jameson). It was a delight to see Lis reappear as Sarah Jane in an episode of the re-invigorated 'Doctor Who' a few years ago and prove so popular that she got her own spin-off series. And, of course, the faithful K9.

It's strange how some people linger in the memory. I never met Lis and don't remember seeing her in anything else on telly but as soon as I saw her reappear in 'Doctor Who' I knew who she was. And was pleased to see her again. In part it's because I grew up with her on telly every Saturday evening for so long and her portrayal of a common sense and very sympathetic character has stayed in my mind.

It's sad when anyone dies at an early age and Lis touched so many lives. I hope her family can draw some comfort from seeing all the attention paid to her passing and the love and sadness expressed. Bye Lis!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Florentine Faces

There are faces everywhere in Florence, not just the people in the streets and restaurants but faces stare at you from the public statuary, from the walls of buildings and in museums and churches. There are faces of haughty gods striding through the streets, like Neptune:

There are coldly beautiful faces, such as Perseus as he kills Medusa:

There are influential faces like that of Machiavelli:

And the death mask of Dante:

Dante is also found in statuary, with his face based on the death mask:

And Leonardo da Vinci in a niche outside the Uffizi Gallery, along with dozens of other artists:

Possibly most touching is the self-portrait of Michaelangelo which he carved in his final Pieta, with the dead Christ held in his arms:

Thursday, 14 April 2011

'Flare Path' at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

On Tuesday night (an auspicious evening) we went to see Terence Rattigan's 'Flare Path' from 1942 when Britain was alone in the war against Nazi Germany and relied on its air-force. The play and production is very early 1940s in style, directed by Trevor Nunn at the rather posh and swanky Theatre Royal Haymarket. From the audience around us I have no trouble imagining that some of the audience saw this play when it was first performed... (and possibly flew the aeroplanes mentioned).

The play stars Sienna Miller as the romantic actress heroine and James Purefoy as the Hollywood actor hero - except he was off that night with the sniffles so we had Jim Creighton who gave a really credible performance in the role. The star turn for me was Sheridan Smith as the Countess, a sort of Gracie Fields barmaid-made-good, the tart with a heart, who acted everyone else off the stage. Just slow down on the patter Sheridan, sometimes it's difficult to follow what you're saying since you speak so fast and fling in lots of 'ducks' and 'dearies'.

The play is clearly of its time, with the horrors and tensions of war ever-present, over-laid with a few love stories and class prejudices, but it was thoroughly engrossing. It's quite a long play but I got lost in the story-telling as it evolved and the relationships developed so I didn't notice time passing - I just wanted to know what happens next.

The set was based around the foyer of a hotel near an aerodrome over the space of two days so there weren't many physical changes, but the lighting was excellent at showing us the movement of time and enhancing the atmosphere. When the British bombers take off they're projected on the walls above the set, a nice effect.

The whole play is a song of praise to the air force, those heroes in the dark days of the war when the threat of invasion was very real and all that stood against the Nazis was our brave boys in the sky. So much a song of praise that the actress who has an affair with a famous Hollywood star ends the affair to stay with her brave husband after he breaks down and admits his fear of flying. In hindsight, the jingoism is a bit uncomfortable in places but during the play I didn't give it a second thought. The only thing that didn't work for me was the final scene when the Polish airman appears after being thought to have died in a raid and we have an uncomfortably long scene that could've come out of ''Allo 'Allo' trying to translate the Pole's broken English - that's been done to death on shows like 'The Two Ronnies' and ''Allo 'Allo' that it seems very dated now, but may have been original back in 1942.

All in all, it's a good evening out with some great performances that kept me tied to the story. Sheridan Smith gave, as ever, a solid and believable performance - always good value for money is our Sheridan (I saw her cry in 'Little Shop of Horrors' a few years ago, y'know). Go and see it.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Amanda Palmer - Map of Tasmania: The Remix Project

Amanda Palmer has released the long-awaited remix album for 'Map of Tasmania' from her 'Going Down Under' album. It includes 12 remixes by a variety of names and fans and is called 'Map of Tasmania - The Remix Project Volume I: This Shit Is Wax!' (Amanda doesn't give short names, seemingly). It's available from her Bandcamp page for a Name Your Price price.

Go on, give it a listen and then download it. I already did.

And there's already a volume two with even more remixes:

Sunday, 10 April 2011

'Frankenstein' at The National Theatre

Saturday afternoon was an opportunity to shelter from the sun at the matinee performance of 'Frankenstein' at the National Theatre. It stars Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternating at the creature/Victor Frankenstein and we were lucky enough to see Jonny in the role of the creature. I hadn't expected him to be 'born' naked and stay that way for over five minutes on stage - that's the second unexpected willy I've seen on stage in the past few weeks (the other was in 'The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore' in New York) and I don't need to see any more, thank you.

The production is spectacular (and directed by Danny Boyle), with props and scenery rising out of the stage or falling down from the ceiling every few minutes, plus rain on the stage and a fire emerging to one side - you never know what might happen next. In that respect, it reminded me of 'Spider-Man', with an enormous budget being spent on the extravaganza on stage. 'Frankenstein' even had a fantastic train that ran on tracks on the stage, belching out steam and sparks and a cast that gave us a short song and dance number. What it was meant to be is anyone's guess but I loved it. And I think that sums up my view of the play - spectacular but where was the play?

I found it rather slow and ponderous, rather thin on characterisation and I didn't really care for any of the characters. The only time I felt any sympathy with the creature was near the end when he says he's been taught to lie by humanity. It's clearly written from the point of view of the creature and we see him slowly evolve speech, physicality and intellect. The slow start got some pace and it started rollicking ahead with snap scene changes from Geneva to Scotland and the glacial North Pole, all with equally nice scene changes.

I think the production is sold out but if you get the chance, go and see it. I thought the play was rather thin but the production is spectacular.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Ooops Florence

I've just realised that I've blogged six days worth of New York and haven't really told you anything about my trip to Florence in February. If you want to see Renaissance art then you either head for Florence or Rome and I chose Florence because of the San Marco monastery and it's glory of Fra Angelico paintings. I love Fra Angelico/Brother John/Fra Giovanni/Il Beato Angelico so it had to be Florence.

But, in Florence I also saw the wonder that is Giotto and his frescos in two chapels in Santa Croce. I couldn't help but blurting out that 'he invented art' to Chris as my eyes went moist. I also saw the colourful beauty of Gozzoli's 'Journey of the Magi' at the Medici Palace, a tiny space for such a big fresco that is so well known.

There is so much beauty in Florence - and so many American tourists - that I would happily go back to become more familiar with the art works. It's not all in the Uffizi y'know, although the first corridor galleries are magnificent. Art really does transport you to magical realms.

We also found the poshest conference space in the whole world in the Medici Palace, full of see through plastic chairs that wouldn't disturb the view:

The ceiling of the Baptistry beside the Duomo:

The cathedral (Il Duomo) and Giotto's bell tower:

The two chapels painted by Giotto, side by side, at Santa Croce:

Neptune striding through Renaissance Florence:

The Ponte Vecchio from the Uffizi, with Vasari's Corridor running from the side of the Uffizi and over the Ponte Vecchio:

The bridges of Florence taken from the south side of the green River Arno:

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Poly Styrene - 'Generation Indigo'

I've been listening to the new record from Poly Styrene, 'Generation Indigo', and feel ready to talk about it. I've seen various reviews saying it's her first album since the demise of X-Ray Spex or that it's her first 'pop' album since then. I have a need to put the story right.

Poly Styrene placed an advert for 'young punx' to join a new band in 1976 after seeing the Sex Pistols at Hastings and X-Ray Spex was born. There was a short string of hit singles and the magnificent 'Germfree Adolescents' album in 1978 (and yes, this blog is named after one of the songs on the album). After the band split there was the 'Live At The Roxy' album and that was it for X-Ray Spex.

Poly then released the album 'Transluscence' and the single 'Talk In Toytown', followed in the mid-80s by the 'Gods & Godesses' 12" ep with the excellent 'Trick of the Witch'. She then went quiet until the mid-90s X-Ray Spex re-union album 'Conscious Consumer', an excellent album that is far more poppy that 'Germfree Adolescents' and has some great songs on it. She then went quiet again, except for rumours of her arranging chanting on things like Boy George's 'Bow Down Mister'. She reappeared in the early-00s with 'Flower Aeroplane', a mix of re-recorded songs from 'Transluscence' and new age-y songs to Krishna. There's a lot more to 'Flower Aeroplane', which I love, but that's the short-hand version. She sang on a rather dismal Brian James Gang song and on the great 'City of Christmas Ghosts' with Goldblade before releasing the live album of her 2008 Roundhouse gig, which is marvellous. In November 2010 we had the great 'Black Christmas' single followed, in March 2011, by 'Generation Indigo'. There, I think I've got the chronology right for the records. What I haven't mentioned yet is that Poly has been diagnosed with cancer. Bugger.

Some of the reviews seem to think that Poly is - and should be - delivering the follow-up to 'Germfree Adolescents' to which I can only ask 'why?'. Why would Poly produce a follow-up to an album that's 32 years old? She's done a lot of living since then, as have we all. But the integrity of Poly Styrene is still there with commentary on consumerism, personal integrity and life in the modern age, ie now.

The music veers from electronica and thrash to reggae and dub with a hefty dose of dance-pop. Poly always could write a perfect three minute pop song and she's given us a selection of them to enjoy on this new album. The album opens with a slice of wry humour in 'I Luv Ur Sneakers' celebrating that animals haven't been killed for fashion-wear before moving on to 'Virtual Boyfriend' about developing and maintaining relationships through social media.

I'm not going to describe every song on the album - that would be pointless and I want you to buy or download it to listen for yourselves. This isn't an old punx last throw of the dice, this is a vibrant album full of hope and positive messages, written by someone who's experienced life and still believes in love and a higher spirituality.

One of my favourites (well, they're all favourites) is 'Electric Blue Monsoon' which I hear as a love-song to Krishna, although you might hear it as something else. I love 'No Rockefeller', an upbeat reggae skank reminding us that the majority of the world lives in poverty. I love 'L.U.V.' that tells us that love is all that really matters. I love 'Code Pink Dub' that tells us there must be a return of love and light and we need peace. I love 'White Gold' in which Poly wishes she could fly a plane of ice cubes to the desert. I love 'Thrash City', Poly's response to the madness that is modern London. I love the whole album. And so should you.

I am 'Generation Indigo'. I was back in 1978 and I am today in 2011. Generation Indigo never ages. Thank you for a great album - get well Poly!

Some Random New York

A few random thoughts about New York to round off the holiday blogging.

When we were in New York a year ago, drinking was virtually a sin in theatres and you weren't allowed to take drinks to your seats. Verboten! This year the theatre bars can't do enough to encourage you to drink, drink, drink and it's all down to the invention of themed plastic tumblers with rather chunky and inelegant anti-spill lids. Trust American ingenuity to find a way to make money in a dry desert. Dezur said that these tumblers were common in theme parks so it looks like they haven't so much been invented as imported. But hey, I don't mind. The trick seems to be that you pay an extra $5 for your first drink (which covers the cost of the tumbler) and then you get $5 "discount" on your second drink when you take it back to be filled up again.

I collected four in total from six theatre visits, so not all theatres do it. The best were from 'La Cage' with a purple 'La Cage' logo/motif and from 'The Addams Family', a black one with 'define normal' in white lettering on the side. Two of the others just used the logos of the theatre chains. Surprisingly, 'Spiderman' didn't have the tumblers which is, quite frankly, astonishing given that the theatre was milking every other avenue of making money from merch.

I discovered an all-year-round Christmas shop on 7th Avenue (between 55th-56th Streets). The Christmas Cottage is a small shop but is full of glitzy Christmas decorations and stuff, as well as a few Easter chicks for good measure. I was delighted to find it when we went for lunch with Suzanne at Molyvos, a Greek restaurant next door, and, since we were early, she intuited that we'd be in the Christmas shop. And we were. I obviously had to buy something so bought three ornaments for my next tree - they're still wrapped up and won't be unwrapped until 12 days before Christmas when they're put on the tree. I've been to the all-year Christmas shop in Toronoto, but didn't know that New York had it's own. I should've guessed really.

We walked all the way down Bleeker Street to find the Biography Bookstore only to find the whole block is now a housing complex. So we kept on going to the lower end of Broadway and found the New York University Bookshop, just along from Washington Square. Clearly, everywhere needs to make some money but this "bookshop" was full of clothes and seemed to have more floor space dedicated to racks of sports clothes and jackets and all things non-bookish than it did for books. I should've taken a photo of the thin racks of books down one side of the shop with the majority of the floor-space taken up with expensive NYU-themed clothes. Maybe the books were downstairs or upstairs or hidden underneath the clothes? I don't know.

When I got home from the airport I found that my suitcase was unlocked. Like everyone else on the planet, I always lock my case before checking it in and it's passed over to the baggage handlers. Don't you do that? At home I realised that the lock wasn't on the case and when I opened it, found a note from the Transportation Security Administration saying that, to protect me and my fellow passengers, my case had been searched and that, if my case was locked "the officer may have been forced to break the locks on your bag". Excuse me, no-one forced anyone to break the lock - you could've paged me at the airport and asked for the key. The note went on to say that the TSA is not liable for any damage. Of course.

Now, part of me is a bit miffed that someone has rummaged in my case without my knowing and has put me to the trouble of having to buy a new lock. But what really annoys me is the slap-dash way my case was searched - or rather, wasn't searched. I know that only the very front of my case was searched because everything else was in order at the back of the case and the straps that hold everything secure hadn't been touched. I could've had anything at the back of my case. Or maybe it was because dirty underwear and socks were at the front and top of the case and they didn't want to wade through my used smalls? Either way, I consider that to be highly unprofessional. And I will make sure dirty underwear is always the first thing that assails anyone on opening my case in future.

Now that I'm all un-packed and back to normal I've realised that the chilly New York weather has bestowed on me the blessing of a cold. So I am typing with a streaming nose and sore throat. I have my lovely big and glossy book about Fra Angelico (which weighs a tonne) from the Met Museum to leaf through while curled up on the couch. And I still have to download my photos so watch out, there may be more New York themed blogs to come. Maybe about the emergence of a late Spring with the drifts of daffodils and crocuses emerging in Central Park? Let's see...

Saturday, 2 April 2011

'The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore' at Stupid Theatre With A Long Name

The last New York theatre trip was to a matinee on Sunday to see 'The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore' by Roundabout at Laura Pels Theatre at Harold And Miriam Steinberg Centre for Theatre - phew, what a mouthful. It should've been called the Geriatric Centre for the Terminally Loud.

Why o why do I let myself be talked into seeing plays by Tennessee Williams? I never enjoy them, a couple I've 'appreciated' but enjoy? Never. Doom and gloom, endless wittering on in serious or shouty mode with no joy in life at all. O gawd. Never again, hear me? No, never again. I mean it.

This production starred Olympia Dukakis in the main role of a rich old woman hiding away in mountain-top villa in Italy, suffering from cancer and dictating her memoirs to an unwilling secretary who just wants to leave. Enter a young poet with a reputation for being near old rich people when they die. And yes, the old woman dies at the end but what a terminally dismal two hours it took for her to finally die. I didn't care in the slightest for any of the characters, they all left me cold. Olympia's Southern accent was sometimes so thick I couldn't make out what she was saying. And there was no reason whatsoever for the poet to get his willy out and shock the old dears in the audience. What did that add to the performance? What a dire thing it was - the play, I mean.

And the audience...? O my. Now, I recognise that we all get old and I'm no spring chicken myself but, other than a small gaggle of students, we were probably the youngest in the audience. It's public theatre so all the old dears probably have subscriptions and use Sunday afternoon as their weekly theatre trip. All of them. At the same time. Together.

I will stay away in future. To be surrounded solely by people of indeterminate old age was a weird feeling, everyone moving critically slowly with me afraid to try to squeeze past people in case they were too fragile, aarrggghhhhh! When I finally got outside I needed to move legs and arms as a sign of freedom. And the racket during the performance, bags being zipped and unzipped, paper being rustled, eternal whispers somewhere in the background. Enough is enough, I shall say no more. I'll be that old one day if I'm lucky enough to live so long and I'll be delighted if I can still get out and about - so good on 'em. I just don't want to go to the theatre with so many of them ever again.

Friday, 1 April 2011

'How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying' at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre

This is the new show on the block, a revival of a show from the early '60s with Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role. Can Harry Potter sing and dance? Can he hold a show together? Is this going to be the show that helps him shake off Harry and become a legit stage actor? The answer is a resounding 'yes'.

I can't help but think that this is what a Broadway show is all about - nicely paced, singing and dancing, colour and spectacle, swiftly drawn characters we care about and, of course, a happy ending. This show has it all, with some of the most energetic and best dancing I've seen in ages. We were lucky enough to score tickets for the final preview show so had the tested and finished show in front of us to enjoy.

It revels in its early 60s clothes and colourful, stylish set, the jokes about big business work perfectly for a 2011 post-banking crisis audience and it never stands still, it's a sea of movement, keeping going and full of energy. Have I mentioned that I loved it yet?

It's the story of J Pierrepont Finch, a young window-cleaner who wants to succeed in business so he gets hold of a self-improvement book and follows it to the letter, joining the mail room of a big company and working his way to the top. Of course, the love interest is Rosemary, a friendly and helpful secretary who he can't go out with because the book says a boss should never date a secretary. Everything goes well until ... well, you just know there's a downfall but is it our hero or someone else? I'll leave you to see the show for yourself.

Daniel Radcliffe is great as our hero and has a nice singing voice (not a great voice, but he'll develop). Rose Hemingway as our heroine gets more songs and she has a lovely voice - this is her Broadway debut and if this doesn't make her star then nothing will. The other actors are all equally great, in-character and thoroughly believable. I particularly enjoyed Tammy Blanchard as the vamp and the boss's bit on the side that wants a proper career - I thought she was lovely.

The production is incredibly professional and slick, even for a Broadway show, and at the half-time me and Chris looked at each other and agreed that *this* is a proper Broadway show. If I'd needed any convincing (which I didn't) then the final dance number to 'Brotherhood Of Man' with all the office lads dancing together in their suits would've persuaded me of it's quality - it was faultless and left me breathless. I half expected Daniel to do a few steps and then retire to the back of the stage and let the 'real' dancers do their business but he didn't - he was there at the front of the stage leading the troupe all the way, an excellent performance that won him his dancer credentials. And meant I *had* to join in the standing ovation at the end of the show - they'd earned it.

I suspect this is the show that will free Daniel from the Harry legacy. Of course, he's got to handle the mania he obviously suffers, from the squeals of the girls (and women) sitting behind us at the show every time he appeared on stage to the crowds that mobbed the stage door, but I hope he has the right people around him to help him manage it. I'd love to see the show again with him in the lead so maybe this will be another example of transferring the Broadway show intact to the West End - that happened to 'Hair', another show I saw at the Al Hirschfeld a year ago, so who knows? If any show deserves the full five star review score it's this one. Well done to all!

'The Addams Family' at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

Last Saturday was freezing cold in New York so we booked tickets for a matinee performance to keep out of the cold. The new hit show, 'Book Of Mormon' was sold out so we went for 'The Addams Family' on the basis that everyone grew up with them on TV and, if you didn't, then you loved the films. I did both. But, o dear.

I should've recognised the signs of a Saturday audience, with lots of bags of shopping, lots of kids on an outing, the buzz of chatter and people getting up and down on a regular basis. All very distracting. Anyway, the show.
'The Addams Family' opens with the classic TV music getting us in the mood and then we're introduced to the family we all know and love, all suitably costumed so there's no possibility of a mistake. The story is threefold: firstly, there's Wednesday who's now 18 and all grown up and has a boyfriend she wants to marry, so cue problems when the families meet and Wednesday and the boy have to fight for their love. Secondly we have Morticia who's now feeling old and unloved and middle aged, mistaking what Gomez says as digs about her until the end when she speaks French and all is right with the world. And finally we have the story of being yourself, your real self, with the boys' mother and father both discovering their freedom from social norms and deciding to start a fish tank business. So far so good, but it just didn't work for me.

I'm not sure why it didn't work - perhaps it was theatre-overload? the audience? I don't know. I wasn't engaged by the plot or by the acting. The songs seemed over-long and repetitious. Some of the jokes were current and targeted at an American audience so I didn't get them. I also got strangely weary of the number of front of stage songs with the curtain closed for a set change. It's clearly popular since the matinee was full but I just didn't get it despite wanting to. O well, can't win 'em all, I suppose.

Justin Bond - 'Dendrophile'

I'm pleased to pass on the news that Justin Bond's new album, 'Dendrophile' is now available to download internationally and I've done just that. It's $9.99 which is just over six quid so a snip at the price. And it includes the glorious 'Golden Age of Hustlers' by Bambi Lake so that makes me happy.

Download it from Justin's site here. The track listing is:

1. American Wedding
2. The Golden Age of Hustlers
3. Equipoise
4. The New Economy
5. Salome
6. Genet Song
7. 22nd Century
8. Crowley A La Lee
9. Superstar/Diamonds and Rust
10. In The End
11. Court and Spark