Thursday, 30 June 2011

Buffy Sainte-Marie at Union Chapel

My second audience with Buffy Sainte-Marie this week was at Union Chapel tonight. I've been there a few times before and was wondering how Buffy would sound in that space - it really is a Victorian chapel. When we arrived there was already a long queue so I immediately gave up any hopes of being close to the stage but we weren't too far back, so that was ok.

I felt part of the 'in' crowd when I saw Mike come on stage to check his drum kit and open up his Mac because I knew who he was and had met him last year, and then Jesse came on to check his guitars and then Buffy's guitars, re-tuning them, and a new face, Leroy, checking his bass. All in black and beads that said 'we are different, we are Buffy's band'. They're all big lads and could look intimidating but they all wore big smiles and it was lovely to see how they responded to Buffy and looked after her throughout the show, especially Leroy (who Buffy said was 'Cree like me') who straightened Buffys guitar strap and quickly sorted out her guitar leads when she changed guitars.

On came Buffy and her band, all wreathed in smiles and waving, strapped on her guitar and launched into 'Piney Wood Hills' and we were off and running. Next up was 'Cho Cho Fire' with the wild powwow chorus, with both Jesse and Leroy banging on their guitars to amplify the powwow singing of the chorus and we loved it! The setlist included (not in the right order):

'Piney Wood Hills'
'Cho Cho Fire'
'Until It's Time For You To Go'
'No No Keshagesh'
'Little Wheel Spin And Spin'
'Up Where We Belong'
'Universal Soldier'
'Soldier Blue'
'Still This Love Goes On'
'Blue Sunday'
'Darling Don't Cry'
'Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee'
'He's An Indian Cowboy In The Rodeo'

It was great to hear Buffy chat about the songs and contextualise them and tell us that she received 18 yellow roses from Bobby Darin when he recorded 'Until It's Time for You To Go'. As a teacher she is still setting us homework in referring to the 'Indian Givers' and 'Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee' books, both of which I've read following past instruction from Buffy (and both are available from Amazon).

I heard some great songs this evening. 'Cho Cho Fire' is one of my alarm songs ('Hey you better wake up...') and one of my favourites from the latest album, 'Running For The Drum'. 'Still This Love Goes On' makes my eyes go moist through the beautiful imagery and melody. I was delighted with 'Bury My Heart' and 'Starwalker', both of which received huge applause, and I love 'Indian Cowboy' (the ultimate 'crush' song). 'Indian Cowboy' was the encore song, extended by powwow singing and drums on tape as the band put down their instruments and danced with Buffy around the stage, particularly Mike who danced from one side of the stage to the other with all the audience on our feet applauding - a great way to end the show! Buffy looked delighted to be bringing a little bit of powwow to London.

The set wasn't as long as usual and there was no meet'n'greet afterwards since a photo-shoot was scheduled but what a treat to see Buffy and her band in such fine form. They make a great noise and Buffy's songs are always worth listening to. Thank you Buffy!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Buffy Sainte-Marie at Porchester Hall for the BBC

This evening we were lucky enough to score tickets to see a recording of the 'Songwriters Circle' programme for BBC4 at Porchester Hall in west London. The show puts three songwriters together to sing their songs one after another in rotation and on the bill tonight were Buffy Sainte-Marie, Donovan and Roger Cook.

I've been to one of these BBC recordings before and this was a mirror of that time with lots of BBC staff running round but no-one seeming to know what's going on and no-one telling us what's happening, just herding us from one place to another and then squeezing as many people as possible into a small space. Oh, and reserving the best seats at the cabaret tables for what I assume were BBC and music biz execs since many of them seemed to know each other. Still, I was happy with my view of the stage and when I saw Buffy arrive and walk through to the backstage area the excitement mounted.

Roger walked on stage, followed by Buffy and Donovan and they sat down and picked up guitars - Donovan was acoustic, Buffy was electric and Roger had a ukulele. And that's the order in which they sang for an hour and a half or thereabouts, chatting about the songs, how they came to write them and who covered them. Donovan opened with 'Sunshine Superman', followed by Buffy and 'Until It's Time For You To Go' and Roger singing his song 'Somethings Gotten Hold Of My Heart'.

Buffy's setlist was:

'Until It's Time For You To Go'
'Piney Wood Hills'
'Little Wheel Spin And Spin'
'I'm Gonna Be A Country Girl Again'
'Up Where We Belong'
'Universal Soldier'
'Still This Love Goes On'

All the songs got a great reception but 'Universal Soldier' received the longest applause of all the songs of the night, a really powerful version. I'd also single out the harrowing 'Cod'ine' with Buffy's excellent guitar playing, creating a big sound as if she was playing several guitars, every now and then adding a trippy almost psychedelic riff under the main chords. It really stood out for me, just Buffy's voice and guitar had the audience mesmerised. After the applause Roger Cook said, 'How do you follow that?'. And he was right. But, quite sensibly, having him follow Buffy was the perfect thing to do so he could lighten the mood with songs like 'Melting Pot' (I cringed inside at the line' 'Little bit of red Indian boy') and 'I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing' (it was great seeing Buffy sing along to that one!).

I'd also single out Buffy's 'Still This Love Goes On' as a highlight, one of my favourite songs from her latest album, 'Running For The Drum'. It paints a lovely picture of the seasons in Canada and Buffy's love of the land - a true love song. I want to see Jingle Dancers one day. It was also nice to hear Roger Cook say he thought it was the most beautiful song he'd heard in years. It is.

Donovan had to sing two songs again because there was something wrong with the recording of his guitar (I won't say which). He commented at one point that he only ever recorded his own songs with the exception of recording two of Buffy's ('Universal Soldier' and 'Cod'ine') and it was nice to see them holding hands a few times - they've known each other for a long time. I was wondering whether they'd duet on 'Universal Soldier' but, given Buffy's extraordinary version, I'm pleased they didn't. Donovan went through his big songs, like 'Colours', 'Mellow Yellow' and 'Lalena' but didn't do 'Hurdy Gurdy Man' or any of the more trippy songs.

All in all, it was a good night out. It will be interesting to see what stays in the final edit and what will be cut. I might be in it as well - cameras were panning over the audience and at one point one camera stared right at me knotting dreadlocks into my beard. O dear. I think it's meant to be screened on BBC4 in the autumn so watch out for it.

Tomorrow night I see Buffy with her band at Union Chapel, so I'm on a Buffy overdose this week!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Meera Syal at the Purcell Room

This evening we had the distinct pleasure of listening to Meera Syal being interviewed about her career as part of the 'National Treasures' series at the Purcell Room in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank. She was interviewed in a very intelligent and no-frills way by writer and broadcaster Bidisha, which was such a relief and nice to have a change from the usually self-centred interviewers at these types of things. Anyway, it was all about Meera.

Meera is a delight to listen to, witty and serious by turns, with some belly laugh stories and some quirky observations. She's an excellent speaker and not at all like the actors and famous people who seem to need to say 'um' or 'err' every other word to make it look like they're thinking - Meera opens her mouth, goes for it and hits the target every time. Sometimes in her normal voice, sometimes with her Wolverhampton accent and sometimes in the stereotypical British Indian accent. Switching between them all at will and carrying us along with her narrative.

She told us about growing up in a small mining village in the Black Country, going to university and planning to train as a teacher since she thought her acting ambitions were a pipe-dream until she's offered a job and Equity card, lots of theatre work in the '80s, how she met the others in the 'Goodness Gracious Me' ensemble and went on to do the 'The Kumars'. It was a fascinating romp through her career - a play here, wrote a book there, 'Bollywood Dreams' (that was mentioned but not elaborated on - I walked past that theatre every day for over two years but, sadly, didn't see the show), multi-award winning TV series, wrote a film then wrote another one .... it's all there. And, looking at it collectively, what an achievement! She's done so much and such a wide variety of stuff - off the top of my head I can't think of anyone else who's done the variety of stuff she's done and had the success at her age. But... There's always a but.

Circling in the background but never quite asked was the question, 'Why aren't you bigger?' in terms of more famous or more influential. Meera contextualised it for us a few times in that she is part of the first generation of British Indians born here of immigrant parents and as such had no role models, no-one to look at and think, 'I could do that'. She sounded deeply proud of her parents, leaving the Punjab for the English Midlands to start a new life, and she seemed conscious of having to make her own way with no-one having gone before her to show her the way. She mentioned that at university she could put on shows every week but when she looked at the theatre and television she couldn't see anyone like herself. It was interesting that she never referred to herself as Indian or British Asian or any of the other labels, but she did say 'people like me' a lot, and in a way, that's exactly the right thing to say since she's not a stereotype.

In discussion there were a few comments about the number of hoops her and the 'Goodness Gracious Me' gang had to jump through before they were allowed a TV series. After that phenomenally successful series, she and Sanjiv had to jump through all the hoops again to get 'The Kumars' on telly. Other writers/actors of successful programmes are often nurtured and offered new opportunities but not Meera and co. She said she didn't put it down to racism, more down to lack of imagination about what to do next with the gang. That's probably quite generous of her. What struck home for me was when she mentioned that around 80% of her work on radio - an anonymous media that works solely on voice - was playing an Indian woman. That's ridiculous.

After the interview there was an opportunity for some Q&A with the audience and, for a change. we had some interesting questions that took Meera down different routes to the main interview. Chris asked her about 'Rafta Rafta' that she starred in at the National Theatre a few years ago and was excellent in, and learned that it's been made into a film due to be released next year. She'd love to be at the National Theatre but would prefer it not to be in another 'Asian' play. She can, after all, play a load of other roles. We learned about her new book, also due out next year. She's in 'The Killing of Sister George; later this year and will play Beatrice in 'Much Ado About Nothing' next year - next year is looking busy for Meera.

I wracked my brains to try to think of an interesting question if the opportunity arose, gave up and decided I'd ask if Meera had been a punk in the 70s (she's a year younger than me so is the right age). I didn't get the chance.

After the talk Meera was doing a signing so we both bought books to be signed (I already have Meera's books, so there's now a spare one for Oxfam). It was nice to meet Meera and have a brief chat. I told her I'd loved her 'Shirley Valentine' and that she made me cry, we talked about why she didn't have a proper website, she mentioned Twitter and I asked if she was on and she said 'no' and finished with seeing her in the autumn in 'Sister George'. She was lovely and very patient with random fans. But I now have an autographed book and she let me take a photo for this blog. And here she is...

Thank you very much, Meera, for a very interesting evening. I'm looking forward to the play, the book and the film and whatever else you decide to spring on us. I *like* you being a National Treasure - because you are!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Buffy Sainte-Marie - 'No No Keshagesh'

To celebrate the start of Buffy Sainte-Marie week in London, I thought I'd post the video for 'No No Keshagesh' from Buffy's latest album, 'Running For The Drum'.

I'm lucky enough to be seeing Buffy twice this week: firstly at a recording of 'Songwriters' Circle' for BBC4 and then at her London gig at Union Chapel on Thursday. Donovan is also on the bill for the BBC4 show, so it'll be interesting to see who sings 'Universal Soldier', Buffy's anti-war song that was a big hit for Donovan - maybe a duet? Wouldn't that be something! I think the show is due to be broadcast in the autumn.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

David McAlmont at The Fairfield Halls

On Thursday evening we traipsed down to Croydon to see David McAlmont at the Fairfield Halls, not in the main hall, but in one of the smaller venues with a dance floor. Now, I've been to the Fairfield Halls before and my abiding memories of the place are that it's terribly 70s, rather provincial and very brown. It still is. Clearly, Mr McAlmont feels the same since he attended in a smart - but brown - suit and brown brogues. He is, of course, a Croydon lad so this was a 'homecoming' of sorts and the last gig before going to Ireland to write a new album.

I was quite keen to see David following his great performances at the 'Ready Steady Go' show at Meltdown a couple of weeks ago when he brought the house down. I hadn't seen any publicity for the show so it wasn't surprising that it wasn't terribly well attended but it is to his credit that he performed as if it was packed out. It was a mix of some new songs, old songs and favourite covers, interspersed with chat to the audience and telling stories of his day in Croydon.

It was nice to see him again and it'll be interesting to see how the song-writing pans out. No doubt we'll see more of him in the autumn.

Friday, 24 June 2011

X-Ray Spex - 'Identity' x 3

I am delighted to post a video I've never seen before of X-Ray Spex playing 'Identity' at the Spex reunion gig at Brixton in 1992. I didn't know there was any video footage (OK, it's not terribly good quality but I don't care). Poly pogos and jumps around the stage in her white robes and how I wish I'd been there that night ...

I *was* there 16 years later for the next Spex reunion gig at The Roundhouse in 2008 (I wouldn't have missed it for the world). Poly was on top form and blasted out all those classic X-Ray Spex songs plus a few from 'Conscious Consumer' and the new 'Bloody War'. Buy the live CD and DVD and enjoy it!

And to round off the incarnations of X-Ray Spex, here is the original video from 1978 with, of course, Poly Styrene doing her thing. This is when I fell in love with Poly.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Alela Diane - 'Desire'

This is the video for Alela Diane's new single, 'Desire', from her recent 'Alela Diane & Wild Divine' album. The video was filmed in Soho in London but I wouldn't have recognised her on the street if I'd been wandering past. Unfortunately I missed her on her recent visit to London, but I'll be there next time.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Human League - 'Love Action (I Believe In Love)'

To celebrate the news that the Human League will have a new single - 'Sky' from 'Credo' - plus a hatfull of remixes released on 17 July, here's a video of Phil, Susan and Joanne in Barcelona on Friday night playing 'Love Action'. You've got to love the Human League.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Kathy Griffin at The Palace Theatre

This evening Chris took me to see Kathy Griffin at The Palace Theatre (normally the home of 'Priscilla'). I sort of know who she is and have seen her on telly a few times but that's about it. She's lithe and fit looking and, surprisingly, the same age as me (I've obviously gone wrong somewhere). She's rude and seems to like the disingenuous 'ooo did I really just say that?' pose. Well, yes you did Kathy, we all heard you.

Waiting in the bar before taking our seats I marvelled at my fellow audience members and 'fellow' is the right term. 80% male, terribly thin, size 0 tee shirts and odd haircuts on the younger fellows, with the odd beard on show here and there with a bit more flesh. Yes, that audience. There also seemed to be quite a few Americans with loud voices dotted round.

Kathy had no support act (good for her) and came on at about 8:10pm and stood there talking to us for two hours - now that's good value in anyone's book. She's got a great way of delivering her jokes, jumping from story to story, mainly about celebs and stars, people she's met and people who avoid her, dishing the dirt in a gossipy style. This wasn't simply the same act she does everywhere since she'd clearly had her eyes and ears open over the past few days in London to tell us choice tales about her hotel and running into eastern Europeans everywhere she's been. Everyone is fair game and she had some choice words to say about Sarah Palin and Oprah, and that's what makes me think of the audience tonight as a bit like a braying Oprah audience.

I enjoyed Kathy but I thought my fellow audience were awful. Shut up! Chattering away, seeing who could laugh the loudest, whistling, explaining jokes to others in their party - shut the fuck up! It probably sounds great to Kathy on stage - she's connected - but I missed quite a bit of the show because of the noise. And the cheers and jeers for names of people famous in America that I've never heard of - do people spend their lives glued to YouTube or something? People getting up to go the bar and all that - this is a theatre not a rock gig. Maybe I'm getting old and grumpy (um... I am) but that selfishness of the audience annoyed me. Look at me, I *really* get this joke because I'm laughing louder than anybody else....

Leaving that to one side (I'm being grumpy), Kathy was excellent. She seemed to revel in being able to say things that would get her into trouble in America, such as the death threats she gets from Palin fans and the Tea Party in America. I nearly went into one when she talked about making rain (ie throwing money at crowds) and explained that that was what rappers did when they weren't in prison - that touched my funny bone for some reason. She talked for two hours and clearly could have gone on longer. She's a very clever woman and knows how to use words like weapons. And that's a good thing. Come back soon, Kathy.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Ray Davies at the British Film Institute

This afternoon we went to our final Meltdown events, both at the British Film Institute (the National Film Theatre to you and me) and both featuring Ray Davies.

First up was a talk between Ray and Julien Temple about the films that influenced Ray and his songwriting. It was a mixture of chat, anecdotes and film trailers from a '50s Italian film about a stolen bicycle to the late '60s 'Performance'. There was a fair sprinkling of European 'art' films but the ones I enjoyed seeing trailers for were closer to home - 'Passport To Pimlico', 'The Ladykillers', 'The Vikings' and 'Carry On Cleo' (I've never seen any of those on the big screen).

Ray told us how he first started seeing films when his sisters took him to the local cinemas as their chaperone on dates with boyfriends, and then he started going himself. He and a friend set up a film club at art school and even tried their hand at making an 'art' movie on Hampstead Heath. He said he liked watching the old films since you could see things and buildings that simply aren't there anymore, such as almost all of Pimlico having been re-developed since the film.

The last two films talked about were 'Blow-Up' and 'Performance', both swinging '60s films and both of which Ray dismissed as being after the 'revolution' (such as it was) was over. He said the 'revolution' was over by 1965, after which the old guard and America started grabbing it back from British youth culture. Throughout the discussion he was very conscious of class and his working class background. He commented at one point that his father was slightly to the left of communists. He seems to have seen the '60s as a time of breaking down class barriers for a short time before they reasserted themselves again in slightly different form. I've never thought of Ray as a class warrior before, so maybe I need to listen to some of his lyrics again. He also commented that 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion' was his angriest song yet it made people laugh and smile, so people hear what they want to hear.

He returned a few times to 'Performance', which he's never seen, and Mick Jaggers' (ahem) performance. He said he though Mick should have stuck to acting, which the audience took as a dig, until he said he thought Mick would've been an excellent Fitzcarraldo in the Herzog film of the same name. I didn't mind since I think I heard a bit of 'Dyed Dead Red' by Buffy Sainte-Marie in the film trailer.

The talk began with a re-edited video by Julien Temple for 'You Really Got Me', which was excellent, and ended with the full video for 'Come Dancing' which I've never seen before. Just before then one of the questions from the audience was about the future of the 'Come Dancing' stage musical (which I loved) and it seems that Ray hasn't given up on it yet. There may be more to come.

The second event of the evening was a screening of two of Ray's television performances from the early '70s, a BBC Play For Today, 'The Long Distance Piano Player' from 1970 and Granada's 'Starmaker' from 1974. At this point I need to get something off my chest - I hate Play for Today. My abiding memory of the endless Plays for Today that I saw were that they were all incredibly earnest, serious and endlessly dull. All of them. Every single last one of them. Well, there might have been *one* sparkly one but I didn't see it. Why my parents watched them - and therefore I watched them - is a mystery...

'The Long Distance Piano Player' started life as 'Marathon Man' and is, how should I put this? Tripe. Absolute and undiluted tripe. It's in black and white (for which read various shades of grey), small and claustrophobic (like all Plays for Today), set in a stereotypical northern town with northern accents (apart from Ray, of course). He's a piano player who, for some obscure reason is playing non-stop for four days in a village hall and somehow this will get him bookings to play big shows in America. Right. So that's how to break America. Easy-peasy.

In his introduction to the screening he apologised for his acting (his first proper acting job) but I'd say to Ray - stop apologising, all the acting in that play was awful. As was the script, the lighting and the filming. I cringed. It was awful. I covered my eyes a few times to avoid watching it. The basic idea is obviously based on the book behind 'They Shoot Horses Don't They' but whoever thought the sound of increasingly bad piano playing throughout the play would be a selling point needs a new job. Let's move on...

Next up was the shorter play for Granada, 'Starmaker' from 1974, in colour and Ray in full Gary Glitter glitter suit and platform shoes. I loved this play, written by Ray with songs that went on to become the basis for the 'Soap Opera' album. Ray starts off as a rock star and ends up as an accountant in a pin-stripe suit. It's very clever and manipulative and it's great to see the original play it all came from.

This play was far better that the 'Piano Player', probably because Ray knows his own strengths and wrote to them. It's also a far more interesting idea, more creative and experimental (it experimented with the idea of reality TV before anyone had invented the term). Unfortunately for Ray it documents him stripping down to his skimpy paisley boxers and donning a one-piece three-piece suit (you have to see it to believe it). He's still as thin as he was back then. Of the two plays, Ray's 'Starmaker' is far superior.

Just as the talk ended with the 'Come Dancing' video, here it is for you as well, an excellent song and an excellent stage-show that I hope I'll see again.

And with that, I bid farewell to Ray's Meltdown. I think it closes tomorrow with another show from Ray with an orchestra and the Crouch End Chorus, but I'll be elsewhere. I've enjoyed the shows I've seen. Wonder who will curate next year?

Friday, 17 June 2011

Beverley Knight - 'Mama Used To Say' Live

Here's Beverley Knight's first single from her 'Soul UK' album, 'Mama Used To Say' played live at Porchester Hall. She's looking and sounding fabulous and I'm kicking myself for having tickets for this gig but not going. More fool me!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Alan Price at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

This evening we went to see Alan Price at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as another gig in Ray Davies' Meltdown Festival. I saw Alan in 2008 at a pub in Barnes as part of the London Jazz Festival and decided that if I had the chance to see him at a 'proper' venue then I would. So I did. You can't get more 'proper' than the QE Hall on the Southbank.

Alan strode out onto the stage in black shirt and trousers with a white jacket and sat down behind his keyboards, playing as he introduced his band who were all the same blokes I saw three years ago with the addition of a trumpet and a sax player. Zoot Money, Alan's perennial foil, was there and he'd played the support spot before Alan came on. Just as at the previous gig, Alan makes sure each band member has their own chance to shine at some point during the show, whether through a song or a solo, including a drum and a bass solo. They're all excellent musicians so that's fair enough. They gel together really well and are clearly used to playing together.

I was there to see Alan, the original Geordie boy made good, and it was a pleasure to see him. His voice is as good as ever as he plonks away on his keyboards and he's got a nice line in patter in between songs - I'd quite happily hear him talk and develop a few yarns over a pint or two. He blames his mother for forcing him to sing 'Hi Lili Hi Lo' and he's had to sing it for 48 years and he tells us how Zoot Money's dad invented surf boarding. He also tells us that he understands that the age of his audience means that the women will need to go to the toilet and the men will need to doze off during his medley of four songs from 'O Lucky Man' and he won't be offended. Nobody dozed, Alan.

Favourite songs included, 'Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear' (I still couldn't see any bear), 'O Lucky Man', a great version of 'House of the Rising Sun' and a big 'I Put A Spell On You' that filled the space with great noise, as did 'We Gotta Get Out Of This Place'. The highlight for me was 'Jarrow Song' even though we didn't get the full song, it's a powerful piece of narrative with stonking musical backing. I love the class-war line, 'Then Geordie with my blessing burn them down!'. I always think of my Grandma at that point - she lived through those times and the Jarrow Crusade and you don't mess with a Geordie lass.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show, great songs played by excellent musicians without any fanfare or pretension and what's wrong with that? Alan hasn't lost any of his charm or wit and his voice is as good as ever. If you get the chance then go and see him live. I'll be more than happy to spend another couple of hours in his company. And thanks to Ray for getting him to play as part of Meltdown.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Ready Steady Go! at the Royal Festival Hall

On Saturday we went to my second Meltdown Festival event on the Southbank - a re-creation of the Ready Steady Go! telly programme from the early/mid-60s as part of Ray Davies Meltdown. At this point I need to mention that I was at the ripe old age of six years old when the show closed and never actually saw it until repeats of specific shows (usually about Motown) in the '90s and '00s. So, I know what it was and its importance but I was too young to experience it.

The show was exactly the kind of thing I look forward to at Meltdown - an ensemble piece with people coming on stage to sing a few songs, being replaced by someone else and then coming back later to do some more. They're always themed in one way or another and my first one was when Patti Smith curated Meltdown in 2005 and held a 'Stand Bravely Brothers' evening with the songs of Brecht and Weill and she brought over those punk cabaret raggamuffins, The Dresden Dolls (who stole my heart). So I had high hopes of this evening's entertainment.

First on stage were The Manfreds with Paul Jones on vocals. If you'd ever said I'd be seeing The Manfreds I'd have laughed in your face but I must admit that they were great fun and Paul Jones is an expert at working an audience. They played two songs that everyone knows and one that only fans would know - '5, 4, 3, 2, 1' and 'Doo Wah Diddy' (and yes, we all sang along to 'Doo Wah Diddy'!). Next on was Dave Berry (yes, he was in 'Are You Being Served? in the '70s) who sang his big hits, 'The Crying Game' and 'Little Things' along with a song written for him by Ray Davies. And he did his funny walk thing (I can't describe it). Both Paul and Dave have excellent stage skills coming from several decades of working an audience, so credit where it's due.

Paloma Faith was on next, singing one of her own songs and then 'Ain't No Sunshine' as her Ready Steady Go! song (except it was written after the show closed). She wore a strange brown ensemble and I'm afraid I didn't warm to her or her tales of how Sandie Shaw ruined her mothers' feet. But then we had Carl Barat (ex-Libertines, current Dirty Pretty Things) in black jeans and leather, introduced in the context of RSG was always "edgy" so this continues that tradition. I liked him, he had good stage presence and a nice voice, a vicious guitar style and good hair. He played 'Bang Bang You're Dead' and 'Hanging With The Boys', both his own songs. I don't know what the audience felt about him but I need to hear more of Mr Barat.

Next up was the most wonderful Sandie Shaw who had her first hit when I was aged four and she's looking good. Dressed in a floor length coat made out of pink Union Jack's with tasseled sleeves and pink hot pants and NO SHOES, she looked fabulous! (I worried about her bare feet on that stage). Sandie is the legend I wanted to see, someone I've never seen and never thought I'd see, and yet there she was in front of me. And she was having the time of her life from the look of her, bouncing all over the stage and showing off her bare feet, sitting on the edge of the stage and teasing us, all with the biggest smile of someone who's enjoying herself. She sang her classics, '(There's) Always Something There To Remind Me' and 'Girl Don't Come'. I was breathless at the end of her songs - that was Sandie Shaw!

Then we had David McAlmont (of whom more later) singing his 90s hit 'Yes', followed by the magnificent Nona Hendryx. Nona used to be in LaBelle and opened her set with 'Lady Marmalade', one of the originals singing a song we all know. She sang an extended version of her song 'Winds of Change' and then got some audience members on stage for 'Sweat'. She was excellent, working us and kneading us in the palm of her hand and looking pretty damn fab! She can do her wiggle anytime. She had a nice long section in the middle of the show ('Winds of Change' was the extended 12" version) that got us settled down before we had two songs from Loick Essien, a new artist who sounded a bit Craig David to me.The next goddess was Ronnie Spector who strolled on to serenade us with 'Be My Baby', 'Walking In The Rain' and 'Baby I Love You', all classic Ronettes songs. Ronnie strode from one side of the stage to the other while singing to us, big hair and big smile saying it all. She had the audience in her hand and used us to good effect.

The final section was a Dusty Springfield tribute, with Nona Hendryx singing 'I Only Want To Be With You' (and forgetting some of the words), David McAlmont singing 'You Don't Have To Say You Love Me' and Paloma Faith's version of 'Son Of A Preacher Man'. The highlight for me was David McAlmont's song (depsite the out-of-tune horn intro - for shame!). Ray Davies then came on to sing 'Lola' with Paloma who sings it on Ray's latest album, 'See My Friends'. And that was the signal for the whole ensemble to appear for a mass rendition of 'Lola'. They were all there on stage (apart from The Manfreds) and looking and sounding good, with Sandie Shaw keeping the chorus going at the end - she looked like she just didn't want to leave the stage while Ray was happy to wander round, chatting to the artists and slapping Nona's arse (yes he did).

If I had to select three performances I'd pick Sandie's '(There's) Always Something There To Remind Me', David's 'You Don't Have To Say You Love Me' and Nona's 'Lady Marmalade'. I've seen David McAlmont a couple of times in the last few years and each time it's been 'small' - David needs a big sound, a big band for his voice to soar above and I thought he sounded excellent! Forget the small gigs, David, just do big ones with a big band in future. It was a fun show made all the more funner by having a short chat with Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols who was sitting in the row behind me and how he thought Carl Barat did really well. I talked to a Sex Pistol - that is *something*!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Ray Davies at the Royal Festival Hall

Ray Davies is curating the Southbank Meltdown Festival this year and he kicked it off in grand style with a sold-out gig of his own at the Royal Festival Hall on Friday evening. I saw Ray at the Royal Festival Hall just before Christmas last year when he brought on the Crouch End Festival Chorus in the second half of the show for his choral versions of Kinks songs but this time it was just Ray and his band for about 2:20 hours. He's doing a separate show with the Chorus next week.

Ray took to the stage with his guitarist to open the show with an acoustic set, playing a dozen songs or so before the rest of his four-piece band appeared mid-way through 'Dead End Street' to make a lot of noise. You know it's the acoustic set because Ray sits down on a stool throughout it and he stands up for the full band. It's always entertaining to see and hear Mr Davies, with a story or joke for every song, and he has a lot of songs. An awful lot of songs and most people know most of them, and he invited us to sing along to lots of them. He can still spring a surprise by playing a song from his later albums, such as 'Full Moon' from 'Sleepwalker'.

Most of the songs were from the classic Kinks period of the mid-60s to early 70s plus some great songs from his more recent solo albums. A mixture of rockers and more thoughtful, gentle songs, Ray has them all with guitar playing a prominent part in most of them, due his brother Dave. Ray tells the story of writing 'You Really Got Me' on the piano in the front room of his parents' house and yet we all think of this as a guitar-based song due to the riff invented by Dave that propelled him and The Kinks into rock history.

Favourite Kinks songs from this gig were 'See My Friends', 'Apeman' (the first time I've seen Ray play this - I bought the single back in the day), 'I'm Not Like Everybody Else', 'Well Respected Man', 'Victoria', 'Set Me Free' and 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion' (which Ray introduced as a traditional English folk song). Of his solo songs, I'd pick out 'The Morphine Song' and 'Vietnam Cowboys', both of which sounded excellent. He didn't play any of the 'Village Green' songs, presumably because he's playing them with the Crouch End Chorus next week.

Ray played three encores and that's where we got some of the greats, including 'You Really Got Me', 'Waterloo Sunset' and the final encore of 'Lola'. I think there's something interesting about a hall full of ordinary people chanting and singing along to a song about a tranny (there's some interesting psychology there). I love 'Lola' and, clearly, so did most of the audience with the hall erupting into a mass sing-a-long.

It's always great to see Ray Davies play live - there aren't that many people still playing that could go on for hours and not need to repeat any songs. He's been writing songs for 50 years and, no doubt, there's more to come. I must admit that I had a slight hope that Dave might walk on for one of the encores, pick up his guitar and blast out some power chords but that was not to be. I expect we'll see more of Ray over the Meltdown week so watch this space...

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The Adverts - ' Gary Gilmore's Eyes'

I think this was the first punk single I ever bought - if not the first, then certainly one of the first. Before Debbie Harry there was Gaye Advert - I love the way she deigns to sing the chorus half way through this clip. Gaye was and is an icon. I think she's doing art now in the East End. TV Smith still plays now and then. 1977 is so far away...

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Patrice Holloway - 'Love & Desire: The Patrice Holloway Anthology'

OK Dear Reader, you need to know something important. *You* can download a total of seven songs by Patrice Holloway from iTunes and only five of those songs from Amazon. *I*, on the other hand, have a total of 25 songs by Patrice blasting out from my stereo even as I type. Jealous? You should be!

My copy of 'Love & Desire' arrived today from Amazon and there was rather a lot of excitement in the Plastic Bag when I placed it in the player to get my first listen to songs I've never heard before from the 60s - there's always that frisson of 'will I like them?'. The answer is simple: I do! The songs come from her Capitol and Motown years but most have never been issued so it's great to have them at long last - thanks go to Keith Hughes and Mick Patrick for tracking them down. It's just a bit sad that Patrice isn't alive to see that she finally has her own album.

Patrice has a lovely voice and it's a mystery why she wasn't one of the Motown greats in the mid/late 60s. The songs are a bit of a mixed bag, coming from different periods and labels, but all are well worth the wait. I was particularly surprised by 'That's The Chance You Gotta Take' that sounds like an early Jackson 5 song.

The CD comes with a nice, thick booklet with a few new photos of Patrice (there aren't that many around) and a nice write-up of her career. She made her first record in 1963 when she was 12 years old (a local hit in LA) but never had her own big hit. Despite that, everyone over a certain age will have heard her singing backing vocals or heard songs she's written. She sang on Joe Cocker's 'With A Little Help From My Friends', on Diana Ross's 'Some Day We'll Be Together' and was one of Barry White's first backing singers. There are nice snippets in the booklet from Brenda Holloway (big sis Brenda), from Gloria Jones and Thelma Houston and others.

Obviously I need to listen to the record multiple times to love it, but it's great to have so many of Patrice's songs in one place at last. Hopefully it'll be available to download soon!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Noo Moozik?

I bought the NME (the New Musical Express for the long-handed) for the first time in, maybe, a decade or so, a few weeks ago because it boasted a tribute article about Poly Styrene on the front page. I read the article and put it to one side. On Sunday I thought I may as well look at the rest of the magazine so I leafed through it. I soon realised that I hadn't heard of about 80% of the bands and artists named. I thought I was reasonably up to date but clearly I'm not. I'm now an old fogey and part of the eNeME (as the Pistols sang).

It made me think about how people keep up to date with new music - how do you discover new music?

For me, new music has always been a bit random - hear something on the radio or in a shop or site and think, 'interesting', then track down more. Or maybe enjoy the support acts from gigs - that's how I discovered Blood Red Shoes, Theoretical Girl, Art Brut and Comanechi. I found Sandi Thom from a random search that likened her voice to Buffy Sainte-Marie so I had to listen and then liked. Similarly, I found Alela Diane from a Buffy search that led to Marie Sioux and from Marie to Alela (who are friends). I then went to see Alela at a small club in Kilburn at which I bought the first album and then became a fan. My love for Operator Please comes from accidentally seeing a video of 'Just A Song About Ping Pong' but I can't remember why I watched it. I saw Laura Marling on 'Later... with Jools' before her first album and have followed her ever since. I found the magnificent Dresden Dolls and Amanda Palmer at the Patti Smith curated 'Meltdown' festival on the South Bank.

My latest discovery is Two Door Cinema Club. OK, I may be behind the times since they've received over 14.6 MILLION listens on Last.FM. How can they be that popular and yet I'd never heard of them until Sunday when I found the intriguing name in NME and googled them? Give 'em a listen...

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Viv Albertine - 'Confessions of a MILF'

Thought I'd share this song by Viv Albertine while waiting for her album. This is the song her Christmas song was based on last year. I hope it's on the album.

If you'd like to support the creation of the album, you can contribute on her PledgeMusic page.

Viv's writing her memoirs at the moment with the aim of publishing the book next year, so that's something else to look forward to. She's doing live shows as well so I must try and catch her live one of these days.

Viv has also written about visiting Poly Styrene a couple of weeks before she died. She went to Poly's funeral, mentioning that it was attended by Youth, Paul Cook, John Robb and some Hare Krisha devotees amongst others.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Google Chrome: It Gets Better

In one of the advert breaks for 'Xmen: Last Stand' on Film 4 tonight they showed an anti-bullying advert targeted at gay teenagers sponsored by Google Chrome. It's a response to the spate of teenage suicides in America last year. I think it's the first pro-gay advert I've ever seen on mainstream telly, so good on Chrome and good on Film 4 for showing it.

Czeslaw Milosz - Poems On The Underground

Some new Poems on the Underground are appearing on tube trains in London and one that caught my eye this morning was by the Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz, which he translated into English with Robert Haas. It's called 'Blacksmith Shop' and finishes with the lines: "It seems I was called for this: To glorify things just because they are." That speaks volumes. Here it is:

I've blogged before about the Poems on the Underground series when poems have caught my attention and I hope to do so again. Nice one Czeslaw!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Some Thoughts On Poly Styrene

On my way to work this morning I decided I needed something to listen to that would be an upper and get me ready for a challenging day so I listened to 'Generation Indigo' by Poly Styrene. I love that record and have done so since I first listened to it the day it was released and I was in New York - I was travelling back to London the next day but I had to download it straight away rather than wait. I think I listened to it four times on the flight back to London and I've listened to it lots of times since. I've also bought the limited edition and standard records just for good measure.

I listened to the album this morning on shuffle so I didn't know which song would pop up next but when 'Electric Blue Monsoon' played my eyes misted over for a moment, just a moment, as I thought of Poly. Weeks after the death of her body and I still react to Poly, I welcome every new photo of her that's been added to the Facebook page (and so many are emerging that weren't available online before) and read the various reminiscences from people who knew her or met her.

I never met Poly. I would have loved to, but I didn't. Well, I say that, but I always shy away from meeting my heroes - I'm not worthy, other people are waiting to talk to them, I'm boring, etc etc. There's always a reason for not meeting. I'm sure some fans turned up to her funeral - it would've been easy enough to guess the location - but I wouldn't. The people at the funeral saying a last farewell should know her as Marianne, not as Poly. To me she is Poly.

And do you know what the annoying thing is? I could've met Poly. I had her home address and could easily have got in touch, we could've corresponded and maybe met for a cup of tea when she was in town. That could so easily have happened but it didn't.

I ordered 'Flower Aeroplane' through the website a few years ago and Poly put the return address on the back of the padded envelope in case of any delivery problems. As soon as I saw it was from Hastings I knew what I had - the address of one of my heroes. I toyed with the idea of sending a birthday card or a note but decided that might seem a bit creepy, a bit fanboy, but who knows where something like that might lead? We could've gone to the Krishna restaurant off Soho Square (to which I really must go).

On the way home this evening I listened to some of Gil Scott-Heron's last album, a powerful and heady mix of poetry and music. He died a couple of weeks ago but rather than thinking about him, he focused me even more on Poly and the loss she leaves in so many lives. Perhaps because, as I've already said, she was a hero of mine, just a couple of years older than me but she was on Top of the Pops when that meant something. She wrote and sang songs that resonated to my generation way back then and have echoes to others throughout the intervening years. Some of the write-ups have stressed that without Poly 30 years ago there wouldn't be a Lady Gaga today. Personally, I'd rather not link Poly to Gaga - Poly is fire and ice and Gaga is a yogurt.

I suppose what I'm really thinking about is how Poly's memory and work can continue to inspire and energise people even though she's no longer around. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Blondie 'Panic Of Girls' Fan Pack

The long-awaited new record from Blondie was officially released today as part of the limited edition collector's pack and I popped into WH Smith on the way to work this morning to get it. The album was available for download on Monday but it's not the same thing as having the hard copy in my hand. When was the last time you got excited about a new album coming out, I mean really excited like when you were a teenager? This package from Blondie does that, in these days of impersonal downloads and bits of plastic, somehow this fan pack puts the excitement back into record buying, makes it an event.

The pack comes in a cardboard envelope and includes a 132 page magazine full of photos of Debbie and the band, articles about the songs and albums, a load of Chris Stein's personal photos and loads more, a poster, a pack of four postcards of Debbie back in the 70s, a pack of six badges and, of course, the album. The CD is in a hardback book format with a 10 page booklet inside along with the CD with two bonus tracks not available for download. I love it. Why don't all albums come like this?

Amanda Palmer Alert!

The ever-arrestable Miss Amanda Palmer will visit these shores over the summer for music and, I hope, hugs. She'll be at the Edinburgh Fringe with Jason Webley and the Evelyn Evelyn twins and then play a few gigs around the place, with two in London. I'm proud to say that I've see Amanda on every musical visit to London since 2005, both with Brian and the Dresden Dolls and her solo gigs, and that tradition will continue. Some things are *important*.

Evelyn Evelyn dates:

DOORS: 9PM | AGES: 16+ | TIX: £12-£13


DOORS: 9PM | AGES: 16+ | TIX: £12-£13


DOORS: 9PM | AGES: 16+ | TIX: £12-£13


DOORS: 9PM | AGES: 16+ | TIX: £12-£13


DOORS: 9PM | AGES: 16+ | TIX: £12-£13

Amanda solo shows:

DOORS: 9PM | AGES: 14+ | TIX: £14

DOORS: TBA | AGES: 18+ | TIX: £14
TICKETS (on sale 6/9 at 9am) | RSVP


DOORS: 7PM | AGES: 14+ | TIX: £14.50
TICKETS (on sale TBA) | RSVP
(under 16s with adults over 18)


DOORS: 7PM | AGES: 14+ | TIX: £16.50
TICKETS (on sale TBA) | RSVP
(under 16s with adults over 18)

LONDON @ ???

SAVE THE DATE (and the night before)
secret-mystery-gig info coming soon! RSVP for info


TICKETS (on sale 6/10) | RSVP


DOORS: TBA | AGES: ALL | TIX: £16.50
Tickets on sale 6/10 | RSVP

Because she's a bit of a minx, there'll also be some secret gigs to be announced on Twitter nearer the time.

It looks like we'll be treated to some new songs for a new album at the gigs so that's good news. Heaven is a bit of a barn but has a nice high stage so should be good for photo opportunities. I shall, of course, be there to avoid being square.

Punk cabaret is freedom!