Tuesday, 31 May 2011

'Five Blue Haired Ladies Sitting On a Green Park Bench' at The Orchard theatre

On Saturday afternoon I went on a magic carpet ride to the Garden of England otherwise known as Kent. Unfortunately my destination was Dartford, with a nice dual carriageway driving through the centre of town, concrete and brick and a few ailing trees. On the train journey out there I really heard a lad on his phone saying, 'I didn't know he had previous...' (ie had been in prison) and learned that people do actually say things like that in real life. So, all in all, it was useful day out.

Of course, there was a reason for the trip, and that was to see one of Chris's old friends, Nicola Blackman, on the stage as one of the 'Five Ladies' in the title of the play. Nicola divides her time between New York and the UK these days but is on a six-week tour with 'Five Ladies'. It's a new play with an ensemble cast including Anita Harris, Lorraine Chase, Shirley Anne Field, Anne Charleston and Frazer Hines. Now there's a stellar cast to die for. For some peculiar reason, Nicola doesn't get billing despite having the most time on stage, the best lines and laughs and the only song in the show (and a sparkly frock).

The play is ... well, it's in Dartford for a reason. It's the tale of five elderly ladies in New York who meet everyday on two park benches in Washington Square to chat and gossip, and one by one they stop appearing. At the end of the first half we find out that they've died, and the second half is set in heaven. They're all rather stereotyped and fail to elicit any sympathy. The second half of the show could be cut in its entirety. It really was quite poor and the script could do with a re-write or two to give it some direction.

When we went round to the stage door to meet Nicola afterwards she introduced us to Lorraine Chase - I've now shaken Lorraine's hand - and Frazer Hines left while we were standing there. That's Frazer Hines y'know, an original Dr Who companion from the '60s and star of the original 'Emerdale Farm' in the '70s (now, simply called 'Emerdale'). Far from being a star, Frazer just signed out and left quietly. Lorraine had more life to her and I couldn't help but think back to her Luton Airport adverts back in the 70s. Oh, and to be factually accurate, none of the ladies have blue hair and the benches (plural) aren't green. You need to know that.

We went round the corner from the theatre with Nicola for some food at a Greek restaurant. It was hosting a hen party later that evening so was tastefully decorated with phallic-shaped balloons and a blow up doll with a hairy chest drawn on in felt pen... Tasteful, but it served good nosh so that's OK. After a good chinwag it was nice to get on one of the many trains back to London.

Nicola's latest venture is a pilot for a new sitcom in New York called 'Madame Manhatten' and you can see a clip below - I love the line, 'My eyes are up here...'.

Monday, 30 May 2011

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011

On Friday I made my way to the Chelsea Flower Show while the clouds threatened - but held off from - rain. It was as crowded as ever with couples and elderly ladies from the Home Counties all milling around and queuing up to see the show gardens over one another's shoulders. I don't have the patience to queue so I tend to spend more time in the Grand Pavilion with the gorgeous and imaginative displays of the flowers rather than the gardens. The few gardens I did see seemed to have more stone and brick than plants in any case.

The highlights in the Grand Pavilion for me this year were the Thai temple that looked like Wat Arun in Bangkok, made out of thousands of small flower petals; the displays of tiny Alpines and rockery plants; the strange carnivorous plants dotted around the exhibition (including a prize winner named after Johnny Marr); the many orchid displays and, as ever, the balls and pots of colourful chrysanths and daffodils that always bring a smile. There was also a stand of shirts decorated with flowers that made for interesting viewing.

I'd decided to keep my eyes open for a flower suitable to celebrate Poly Styrene, so I was looking at all the flowers in the broad blue spectrum (including, of course, indigo). I didn't see any that made an instant impression but when I saw the displays of irises I decided to go for the particular clump in the photo below, with interesting shapes and colours, a bit of this and a bit of that, a bit raggedy and a bit stylish. I smiled. I hope someone develops a real Poly Styrene flower for next years' show, just as a rose grower developed the pink 'Natasha Richardson' that won a silver prize. I don't see Poly as a rose - that's probably too stereotyped for Poly - so go on you nursery people, be creative and invent a new flower for Poly Styrene.

If you like these photos there are more in my Flickr stream.

Blondie - 'Panic Of Girls'

The long-awaited new album from Blondie, 'Panic Of Girls' is now available for download so, naturally, I've downloaded it and will get the fan pack when it's available on Wednesday (of course). Debbie and Chris have been over here doing the media to make sure we all know the album is coming out, and they have almost matching hair, which is an interesting look. Debbie is still one of the coolest and most beautiful women on the planet, just as she was all those years ago when I first saw her on Top of the Pops singing 'Denis'.

OK, that's the fanboy bit over with, so what about the album? My first taste of contemporary Blondie came two years ago when they gave away 'We Three Kings' for Christmas through their website. I loved it. Then I saw them last summer at the Indigo2 when they looked and sounded fabulous and played about half the tracks from the new album and the great thing was that they worked as individual songs and as part of a Blondie gig alongside the classics. There's punky powerpop and there's reggae, all overlaid with Debbie's voice and a great, full production.

There's the great new single, 'Mother' (see the video below), a classic Blondie song, along with 'What I Heard' and 'Love Doesn't Frighten Me' with guitars and drums blazing. I've never been a great fan of Blondie's reggae songs, but these songs work for me, particularly the happy, skanking 'Girlie Girlie' and I love 'Sunday Smile' with it's delicate trumpet line. The relentless latin-tinged song, 'Wipe Off My Sweat', is the dance-track from the album, with Debbie singing in Spanish and with a bit of flamenco guitar. To continue the language theme there's also 'Le Bleu' with Debbie singing in French backed with a Left-Bank accordion sound which slows things down a bit. They're all great songs and I need to listen to them lots. Of course, there's a couple of extra songs on the CD that comes with the fan pack, so there's still more joy to come.

Anyway, here's the video for 'Mother' with Debbie in full-on Blondie mode with glitter freaks and zombies - enjoy! Then download the album. You will enjoy it y'know. Trust me.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

'Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be' at Union Theatre

This evening Chris took me to see the Lionel Bart musical, 'Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be' at the rather bijou Union Theatre. Now, I suspect that everyone over a certain age will have heard the title song (or at least a version of it) sung by Max Bygraves but don't let that put you off.

It's a tale of old Soho in the late 50s, shaking off the past and looking forward to the 60s, a tale of tarts with hearts and goodtime gangsters, of love and violence and happy endings. I have to say that the first half hour or so didn't endear the show to me. Everyone was in their best cock-er-ney mode with lots of shrieking. It felt a bit forced, a bit false, with everyone shouting and acting in over-drive but it settled down and started drawing me in. I didn't expect to, but I liked it!

The theatre isn't that much bigger than my living room but the show had a huge cast and, once I'd got over the exagerated cock-er-ney stuff, I could start identifying the different (and many) performers. The lingo took a while to get used to, with "brass" apparently meaning "whore", an interior decorator who seemed to speak in polari (as all decorators obviously do) and, of course, East End gangster-speak. The brass all wore elaborate underwear and flowing robes, holes in all the right places, bosoms exploding and legs splayed, with the men in suit and tie. That's one of the oddities of the show, in a way, that the sympathy is with the female characters, probably because they transcend time, but the male characters are stuck in the late '50s with mysogonistic and sexist views. It doesn't travel well, but, on the other hand, it's a nice representation of inner city regeneration and re-growth and could easily represent the changes in Soho in the swinging 60s and again in the 90s. There's a lot in there and it depends on how you want to focus it. Soho ain't the same place I first wandered through in the late 70s.

There's a surprisingly large cast for the show and, for some unknown reason, the leading lady, Hannah-Jane Fox, reminded me of Julie Covington. I'm not sure why, but she did. The two actors who I'd single out are the lovely Suzie Chard as a tart with a heart and Hadrian Delacey as the police inspector. Suzie looked like she was going to fall out of her corset and bra at any moment but she made me pay attention to her and want her to escape the tarts life and make it big as she sings. The same with Hadrian who has a good presence and voice and aligns himself to the future.

I enjoyed it. It's rarely performed so if you're even vaguely interested then I'd suggest you get tickets. It's only on for another week or so, so don't waste any time.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Fever Ray - 'When I Grow Up'

I listened to Debbie Harry's 'Desert Island Discs' on Radio 4 this morning and it was lovely to hear her reminiscing and laughing throughout the programme. She also selected some interesting music including a song from Fever Ray.

Now, I've never heard of Fever Ray before but was quite taken with the sound so I Googled her and found this video on YouTube. For someone I've never heard of, it's a surprise to see this video has had over 4.5 million views. It's very atmospheric, both in sound and vision, so I'll need to explore her work more thoroughly.

Fever Ray is a side project of Karin Elisabeth Dreijer Andersson from Sweden, someone I shall probably have to find out more about. Thanks, Debbie, for introducing me to some new music.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Buffy Sainte-Marie - 'Still This Love Goes On'

Buffy Sainte-Marie is on the road all over the world at the moment and will be coming to the UK in late June. A side benefit is that videos of her shows are popping up all over the place and here is a video for 'Still This Love Goes On', one of my favourite songs from her last album, 'Running For The Drum'.

I love the sentiment behind that song and its deceptively simple but powerful melody. It paints a beautiful picture of Canada.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

London Ambassadors Olympics 2012

I like the big sporting events like the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games. Lots of sports all in one place to pick and choose and the added bonus of international competition. London hosts the Olympics in 2012 and, let's face it, it won't happen again in my lifetime so I want to be involved. I thought of volunteering to be part of the Olympics proper but decided I want to see it and not be stuck cleaning the dressing rooms behind the scenes. So I've volunteered to be a London Ambassador to help tourists over the summer find what they want and enjoy London. I thought, 'I can do that!'.

So, I volunteered. I filled in the rather obvious form and then went to a recruitment event last week. I was told that 30-odd thousand people had applied for the 16 thousand places available. Slight hint there. I stayed for the half hour assessment that was undertaken by really nice people who clearly had no idea about recruitment and selection processes and had simply been given their part to play in the process and been told to smile a lot. It finished with an "interview" which was, basically, someone reading out a questionnaire and filling it in for me - I could've done it in less than half the time. I left the recruitment centre with the clear view that these nice people had no real idea what they were doing and were merely part of a bigger plan to weed out people who wouldn't or couldn't be bothered to turn up to the event. Hey presto, a few thousand people instantly weeded out of the process!

The lack of professionalism of this process has been increased in my view by receiving an email today asking if I have any disabilities that might require special access requirements for my trip to the recruitment centre. Um, first of all, I went last week. You should know that.

Secondly, at the recruitment centre I attended there was wheelchair access but the ramp beside the few steps was blocked off at the bottom by a whiteboard on which we were invited to place stickers with our views on why people should enjoy coming to London. There wasn't really any other place to put the whiteboard but c'mon people, that's not rocket science. If I was in a wheelchair I would hardly feel very welcomed if my arrival meant I had to sit patiently behind a whiteboard while the furniture was reorganised for my benefit. It really doesn't take very much thought, really.

There must be cheaper ways of whittling the numbers down.

Blondie - "Mother"

I'm posting this for the sake of it since a new Blondie record and video is never to be sniffed at! It's great to see Debbie in full-on Blondie mode with leather boots, glitter freaks and zombies. Does this mean that the long awaited 'Panic Of Girls' album might actually be coming out at last? I hope so. I saw Blondie last year when they played most of the new album and it sounds great. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Patrice Holloway Compilation

You need to know that one of the great, lost soul voices of the 60s will finally have a retrospective album released, compiling her songs from yesteryear, most of which haven't been available before. Yes, my fellow admirers, Patrice Holloway is finally awarded her own album! And I love that photo on the cover.

Patrice sadly died a few years ago but this is a fitting tribute to her. You might not know her name, but you've probably heard her voice at some point, either through singing in the Josie & The Pussycats cartoon series or the many artists she sang backing vocals for (including Buffy Sainte-Marie). Or you may have heard her work covered by other people - she co-wrote 'You've Made Me So Very Happy' with her sister and that song's been covered several million times in the last 40 years.

Patrice's sister is, of course, the lovely Brenda Holloway who I had the honour to meet at the Divas of Motown spectacular in 2009. I got tongue-tied and shy (naturally) but she was most gracious. I have a photo of us together as proof but I'm not posting it on here. It's *mine*.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the record from Patrice, to have her work collected in one place and, I assume, re-mastered to boot. If you know what's good for you, you'll take a listen to it and then buy it. I will.

Monday, 16 May 2011


This morning on my way to the tube something shiny caught my eye - a gold packet of Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes in a rubbish bin. There it was, shining away like it was the last sliver of the sun. It reminded me that I used to smoke Stuyvesant tabs back in the day. Them or Dunhill International. Both were just that little bit longer than 'normal' tabs (half an inch or so, and we all know size matters).

Then I remembered that later this week will be my eleventh anniversary of finally giving up the dreaded weed. Giving up cigarettes is easy. I can say that with confidence since I gave up when I had my first operation for a slipped disk and had access to morphine and codeine tablets to help with the pain. The perfect opportunity. Easy peasy.

Then I thought that the fact I bought extra-long cigarettes must say something about my character. Not for me the ordinary length cigarettes, no, I had to get extra-long tabs. Not everything has to be about a penis extension. I suspect it's more about my addictive personality. Not for the first time did my thoughts fly back to when I used to work with drug addicts and others in the '80s and think that there I could be but for a few safer decisions. I am rather addictive and tend not to do things by halves. Perhaps that's where my addiction to fresh pineapple from the Strutton Ground market at lunchtime comes from? Whatever next?

Kate Bush - 'Director's Cut'

If you're around my age then it's almost mandatory that you like Kate Bush, it might even be a law. So, whenever there's new music from Kate it's quite exciting and quite tense. She has an incredible body of work behind her and will anything new match what she's done before?

'Director's Cut' is that strange thing, old songs re-imagined. The songs come from 'The Sensual World' and 'The Red Shoes' and Kate has kept the best bits but re-recorded the songs, all with new vocals and other new bits here and there. Some are significantly lengthened but none are what I feared most - knob-twiddling for the sake of it and self- indulgent - they all work effectively. They're fresh and breathe new life into the songs. My favourites on this record are 'Lily' (a favourite anyway), 'The Red Shoes' (ditto) and 'Top Of The City', a song I've never really 'got' until hearing this version. The most surprising song is 'Rubberband Girl' with it's indie guitar feel, almost like it's the 'live' version of the album track. And her voice is still a powerful and subtle weapon, and a joy to hear.

The record is beautifully packaged, with the standard edition coming in hardback book format with a glossy booklet inside with all the lyrics and a collection of photos illustrating the songs. The box set includes re-issued copies of the two source albums. I didn't realise it, but both albums have also been re-issued today, along with 'The Dreaming', but I don't know if they've been re-mastered or not.

Listening to Kate songs with fresh ears, listening for new bits and changes to the originals, just emphasises how bold and imaginative she was and still is. There hasn't been anyone else like Kate, a true original when she made us all sit up and listen that first time back in 1978, creating sounds we'd never heard before, using her voice as interpreter and instrument. If you like Kate then I suspect you'll like this record. Buy it.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Cerys Matthews - 'Sweet Magnolia'

It's nice to have some good news, such as a new record from Cerys Matthews. I've obviously been out of the loop as far as Cerys is concerned since I missed her gig in London last week and knew nothing about the new album, 'Explorer', which is out now. It would've been nice to see Cerys at the Leicester Square Theatre but that's old news now, but I've ordered the album so just need to wait for it to arrive through my letterbox.

I've also found the single from the album, 'Sweet Magnolia', a delightfully trippy song and a video to match. If this is anything to go by then I'll be more than happy with the album. Enjoy!

Friday, 13 May 2011

Poly Styrene: 'Code Pink (demo 2007)'

Here's a video of Poly Styrene singing a demo version of 'Code Pink', her powerful anti-war song, from 2007. It's directed by Richard Heslop and here's hoping there are more videos in the vault. This is a great version.

"How many trustafarians do you know?"

"Love and light have got to make a comeback
Don't you know we've got to get the hell out of Iraq"

Shelby Lynne at Cadogan Hall

I’ve been losing track of time here and falling behind with my blogging. It was shocking to realise that seeing Shelby Lynne last Friday at Cadogan Hall was actually my first gig of the year. It’s already May and this is my first live gig...

Shelby was excellent – I won’t say ‘fun’ since some parts of the performance were quite heavy, but she gives good show, does Shelby, and she has a lovely voice. But – and please pay attention Shelby – you’re too thin, you need a few good meals and a glass or two of wine (I somehow think that will be acceptable to you) and some pudding to feed you up. We’ll take you out for a slap up meal the next time you’re in London.

Anyway, Chris introduced me to Shelby when she was last in London three years ago at the Royal Festival Hall with a full band, whereas at Cadogan Hall it was just her on guitar plus her guitarist, very stripped down and bare and, you know what? I liked the sound. She has a lovely voice and the stripped down arrangements worked really well, almost hearing them as she composed them. The set covered her career with a few songs from here and few from there. One song sounded very early Michelle Shocked but I loved her two Dusty Springfield covers, with her pure voice soaring and the audience giving her the big ovation. Quite a few of the songs were from her latest album, ‘Tears, Lies & Alibis’ which is definitely worth listening to.

I admit to really enjoying the show and I’d like to have a drink with Shelby some time, I think she’d be very entertaining. The audience was definitely of the older persuasion, which I don’t quite understand, but they gave her a couple of standing ovations which is a good thing.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Dangers of a Ninja Gig

By now the news has flown around the globe at least twice that Amanda Palmer has been arrested for daring to play a ninja gig in Dam Square in Amsterdam. The reason for the arrest is still unclear but she was released after a short while on paying a fine. Most odd.

Amanda has a habit of playing ninja gigs, that is, just turning up and playing to a crowd, with short notice following a twitter alert. Amanda is currently on holiday in Holland to spend some time with her sister who lives there (so no, she is *not* on tour as reported in some press comments) but she felt the need to perform. And why not? Have ukelele, will ninja-perform.

At least she's out of jail now. Hop on a train to London, Amanda - I still wear my 'Punk Cabaret is Freedom' badge. And Amanda tweeted RIP to Poly Styrene so has a good grasp of the important things in life. Come to London Amanda, we'll look after you.

Poly Styrene: "Let's make the world a better place"

Tomorrow is the funeral of Marianne Elliot Said, better known and loved as Poly Styrene, the punkstress who brightened our lives by bringing us her day-glo and her challenge. It's strange to see the outpouring of love and respect for Poly from all over the world that's taken place since her death was announced two weeks ago. Strange since she was so quiet for so many years, but gratifying to witness the love.

I've tried to read most of the articles that have been published in the press and online. Some are analyses of Poly's impact on music, culture and gender politics and others are the simple and beautiful memories of fans like me. I've disagreed with some of what I've read and other times I've loved and shed a tear or two. But the important thing is that people, great and small, noticed and noted Poly's passing. She left her mark in this material world of ours, and on people like me and quite possibly you, and, through her work, she lives on. And in this Plastic Bag, will always live on.

As well as the millions of words that have been written and tweeted around the world, Poly's moving on to a higher plane has left a positive legacy for me. Through talking to people about her I've met some lovely people online that I hope will become friends through Poly. Another legacy are all the photos of Poly that have appeared online. When I set up the Last.FM page a few years ago for Mari Elliott (the name Poly used for her first single) I couldn't find any photos of the young Poly so used an X-Ray Spex photo, and now there are some lovely photos of her.

Back in 2006 I made an appointment with the National Portrait Gallery to see the portrait of Poly taken by Pennie Smith. It's not on display for copyright reasons, but is in the archives and is available to see if you book an appointment in advance. As soon as I saw it - it's the one with her standing in front of a Polyfilla poster - I remembered it from the NME in about 1978, with Poly dressed like her mam with a coy smile. It has subsequently leaked onto the internet.

Here are some of my favourite new photos of Poly that I've gathered from the web - if I'm breaking any copyright restrictions, sorry...

Fans on the Poly Styrene mailing list received a surprise gift today - a drawing by Poly. It's delightful in it's childlike innocence and naivety and bears the legend 'Generation Indigo ... Let's make the world a better place' and she signed it. It's the least we can do to follow Poly's wish.

So, tomorrow, smile at a stranger on your way to work, say 'hello' to someone, put 10p in a charity box, direct a tourist to where they want to go, but do something to make the world a better place. Do it for Poly. And at 3:00pm UK time send some love to Poly, chant or play one of her songs. Say farewell to Poly in your own way. I will.

Namaste Poly!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Poly Styrene Funeral

That's a title I never thought I'd write. Poly's funeral is a private affair for family and close friends only, but it takes place on Thurdsay 12 May at 3:00pm UK time. Send some love to Poly on Thursday.

And, according to a message on Poly's site from Future Noise, they're planning a tribute concert for September/October so watch this space for news. I'll be there.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Alex Polizzi is The Hotel Inspector

If you've been in Bhutan for the last three weeks then I can forgive you for not knowing that 'The Hotel Inspector' has returned to Channel Five on a Monday evening at 9:00pm. If you haven't been in Bhutan, then shame on you for not knowing and watching. The Hotel Inspector is, of course, Alex Polizzi of 'the world-famous Forte hotel dynasty' and it is her mission to seek out and improve the dreadful hotels and bed & breakfasts around the UK. As soon as she appears with her dangley ear-rings and big red overnight bag, you know you're in for a treat.

Some people seem to forget that, essentially, the programme is an entertainment - and a jolly good one at that - and take it a bit seriously. It's obviously serious for Alex and the hotels and B&Bs involved (it's their livelihood, after all) but I've gleefully joined in the tweet-storm every Monday night, commenting on the hotels, how dirty or mis-managed they are, Alex's latest ear-rings and, of course, when she swears. Alex encourages this through her own tweets and that says more than anything, that it's entertainment - it's fun, sit back and enjoy it. And enjoy it I do.

How she keeps her temper with some of the crass idiots she deals with is beyond me. How can anyone run a B&B and leave mould to grow in a communal shower? How can anyone think it's fine to have a blazing row in the restaurant kitchen with the door wide open so everyone can hear? How can a proprietor invite Alex in to help them and then ignore all her objective suggestions? It's all very strange and bizarre behaviour.

And that's the joy of 'The Hotel Inspector' programme. We see Alex's assessment, her initial discussion with the proprietor followed by all-out war and Alex eventually winning. It's a classic Jungian archetypal landscape in every one hour programme, in which our heroine always wins. Of course she does - Alex is *always* right. That is the sole rule of 'The Hotel Inspector' and ignore it at your peril.

Bring on the rest of the series!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Portrait of Poly Styrene As A Young Artist

In 1978 Alan Yentob directed a documentory about Poly Styrene and it's surfaced through DangerousMinds, so here it is:

X RAY from Zoltan on Vimeo.

The quality is poor and it looks like it's from an old video-tape recording, but it's great to see and hear the young Poly in the year that turned X-Ray Spex into pop stars with three top 30 hits (when that meant huge record sales) and their first album. It's a mixture of the camera following Poly around London and on tour, live footage from Liverpool (Eric's of all places) and Poly providing a voice-over. Who would have though Poly rode a bike around London? I like the short scene when she seemed genuinely pleased to be given a bunch of flowers.

Also on Vimeo is this live recording of the Spex at CBGB's in New York. It sounds better that the 'Live at The Roxy' tapes.

Poly from Zoltan on Vimeo.