Tuesday, 31 May 2011
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Tuesday, 17 May 2011
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
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?
'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
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
"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"
Anyway, Chris introduced me to
I admit to really enjoying the show and I’d like to have a drink with
Wednesday, 11 May 2011
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.
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.
Monday, 9 May 2011
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
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
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.