Friday, 29 July 2011

'Roadshow' at the Choccy Factory

We went to see 'Roadshow', the new Stephen Sondheim musical, at the Menier Chocolate Factory the other night. I've never heard it before and (obviously) haven't seen it, so I had no idea what to expect.

It's based on the true tale of the two Mizner brothers striking it rich in Alaska in the early part of the 20th Century and who then go their own way. Each has adventures and both have good and bad luck before meeting up again later when one of them is a famous architect to build and sell a city in Florida. Which obviously doesn't happen. And then they die (sorry to give away the ending, except it's not the end).

Anything new from Sondheim is worth a listen and any new production of Sondheim at the Choccy Factory is worth a gawp - both 'Sunday In The Park With George' and 'A Little Night Music' started off at the Factory before transferring into the West End and then to Broadway, so there's good history there. Whether this will do the same or not, I don't know, but it's certainly a warm and engaging production and cast.

David Bedella and Michael Jibson make engaging brothers, good voices, acting and stage presence. I also liked Gillian Bevan as the mother and Jon Robyns as the lover of Addison Mizner. The rest of the cast play multiple parts and act as the chorus. It's an enjoyable romp through the lives of two brothers in the get-rich-quick era of the gold rush and expansion, but it has it's tender moments, such as the gay love song of 'The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened' and the love-hate relationship of the brothers.

My favourite bits of the show (showing how shallow I can be) is when the brothers or, in some cases the cast, throw money into the air to see it flutter down and gradually cover the stage and the first few rows of the audience (that included me). It's a lovely motif and, of course, it wasn't real money, but I nicked a few stage dollars anyway. I'm thinking of seeing it again...

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Kim Wilde - 'It's Alright'

Here's the video for the first single from Kim Wilde from her new album, 'Snapshots'. Hopefully, it'll be out in the UK later this year.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Amanda Hugs (And Tweets)

I hope you don't mind me saying (or bragging) but Amanda Palmer replied to one of my tweets last night. I was, of course, thrilled.

I tweeted (in response to one of Amanda's tweets about tour merch): "Not bothered about tee shirts - will you be giving away hugs at gigs?"

And Miss Palmer replied: "oh FUCK yes. free for all people, unlimited supply"

I am, of course, very pleased with the 'unlimited supply' comment since I will be claiming two hugs when I see Amanda in September.

I've had quite a few Amanda hugs in the past (since first meeting her in 2005) and have decided on these as my top three hugs:

1. Bush Hall in 2007: I met Amanda after her first solo gig at Bush Hall in 2007 and got a lovely hug as well as a signed photo. I'd only recently got out of hospital (and allowed a beard to grace my chin) so it was quite special (see below).

2. Electric Ballroom in 2009: I was (amazingly) first in the queue to meet Amanda at her Electric Ballroom gig so I not only got a hug, I also got genuine Amanda-straight-off-stage-sweat all over me before walking out into a snowy Camden night.

3. Vaudeville Theatre 2009: My favourite hug is the most unexpected of all since I just happened to meet Amanda after we were both in the audience for an Alan Cumming show at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2009. It was lovely meeting Amanda when I least expected it. And getting a special hug of course.

I'm seeing Amanda at both of her London gigs in September - at Heaven and at the British Library - so I have high hopes of adding more hugs to my collection. I will report additional hugs but here's a photo of me and my hugee from 2007 - be jealous, be very jealous.

Friday, 22 July 2011

National Portrait Gallery - BP Portraits

I went to the National Portrait Gallery yesterday to see the 'Glamour of the Gods' exhibition of portraits of Hollywood stars. It was nice as far as it went, but it didn't inspire me. Some of the portraits were film stills (probably taken as promotional photos) and others were rather mundane portraits of stars that we've all seen better photos of. There were even two portraits of Joan Collins, neither of which were particularly inspiring (there are two better ones in the main collection). It's a relatively small exhibition and accompanied by a big book that's for sale. More interesting to me was the BP Portrait exhibition.

We visited this exhibition due to queues at the Hollywood exhibition and I quite enjoyed it. It's a mixed bag of styles and humanity and I suppose that's what makes it interesting. The first one that caught my eye was a portrait of Glenda Jackson, no holds barred on how she's aged. Glenda was never the prettiest of actresses but that wasn't the point - she was an actress and could act beautiful without being beautiful. And that makes her beautiful. She's been a Member of Parliament for years now and it's brave of her to sit for this warts and all portrait. Another one that caught my eye was the colourful portrait of Boy George in his usual B-Rude garb and with platform shoes. It's at an interesting angle but it's the use of colour that really drew my attention, almost metallic in feel.

I was also taken with the portrait of the woman prisoner in prison orange and handcuffed before being led away. I've no idea what the background to this painting is but the woman stares straight out at the viewer, no shame at all. As does the self-portrait of Fiona Scott in which she stares out of the painting at the viewer. I've no idea what she's asking for in this portrait - why is she holding a mug? It's not particularly dramatic but it caught my attention.

You can take a look at 50 of the portraits on the NPG website here. Go and see it if you can - it's free.

Poly Styrene - 'Ghoulish'

I was thinking about Poly Styrene yesterday when I went to the National Portrait Gallery to see the 'Glamour of the Gods' exhibition. There's a portrait of Poly by Pennie Smith in the collection but it's rarely on display for some reason. I saw it as part of the 'Devotional' exhibition in 2007 and, before that, I'd arranged a viewing with the NPG archives (you can do that y'know). I do find it rather irritating that portraits of the likes of Blur and Susan Boyle are on the walls but not Poly.

I looked her up on the NPG catalogue and it notes her year of death (so it's been updated) but the text suggests her work ended with 'Gods & Godesses' and there's no mention of 'Generation Indigo'. I might have to write to them about that. Since I saw the photo in 2006 it's leaked onto the Internet but I took rebellion in my hands and took a photo of the catalogue screen anyway, and here it is.

So it was with a sense of righteousness that I heard about the video for a new single from 'Generation Indigo' which has a remix of the song by Hercules & Love Affair as a 'b' side. Poly spoke about this song as being inspired my Michael Jackson so the video picks up on that theme and we see various Michael's doing their stuff at a rehearsal room. It's lovely to see the Michael's mouthing Poly's lyrics. It's a very clever video, a bit fun and a bit poignant, and if the spotlight message at the end doesn't make you shed a tear then you're either (a) not a punk or (b) not human. The single is out on 8 August - wouldn't it be great if it charted?

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

De-cluttering and Re-cluttering

Clutter. What's it good for? Absolutely nothing ... except to attract dust. I've been increasingly becoming frustrated with the amount of stuff I've accumulated over the years, more so since clearing out my Dad's house and importing more clutter. Too many books and CDs, too many knick-knacks picked up on trips, art gallery catalogues and theatre programmes. So much stuff.

So, enough is enough, I will re-cycle what I can and the rest will go in the bin. I've been making trips to my local British Heart Foundation book and record shop, donating piles of books and CDs, shelves are being emptied of things and either packed away, donated to Oxfam or, in some cases, end up in the bin. I've made a start, but there's a long way to go. At my age, it's nice to have things around me that remind me of my personal history but you can have too much.

I brought a load of stuff from my Dad's house - my parents were hoarders and I follow in their footsteps. I've been through a pile of papers and old photos this evening and about half of it is now in the waste bin. But some things must be saved, the best of the family photos, photos of me when I was unbelievably skinny (yes, even I was thin back in the day), my graduation photo (that I've never liked), my students union card and, of course, my SLADE programmes.

Back in the olden days most bands had tour programmes as a matter of course. I am proud to still have the tour programmes for SLADE from 1973 and 1974 and these will be kept. Of course. Some things are important. On the inside back pages is an advert for the Sensational Alex Harvey Band's 'Framed' album - SAHB was the support act in 1973 and the first band I ever saw. In 1974 the support act was Becket and I can't even remember who they were.

As well as the tour programmes and a lyrics and photo book for SLADE, I also found lots of sheet music. It's not like I can read music or play an instrument, but it's a fan's job to support their heroes and buy stuff. So I did (and still do). It's lovely to see the sheet music covers again. I won't use them for anything, of course, so they'll all go into a folder and back into a cupboard until the next time I have a clear out and find them again - and it'll be a surprise again.

So, some things are going out and some things are staying. SLADE materials are staying. Some of the lacquer boxes I got in Thailand in the '80s will be going, the big tribal wooden busts I got from Senegal or The Gambia in the '90s will be going, a lot of theatre programmes will be going, more CDs and DVDs will be going... but not everything. No, some things are too important to let go.

'The Cherry Orchard' at The National Theatre

Earlier in the week we went to see the new production of 'The Cherry Orchard' at The National Theatre with Zoe Wanamaker. As well as being a new production, it's also a new translation of the Chekhov play, updating the language.

I've not seen the play before but I was soon familiar with some of the themes that are common in Russian literature, about how the land belongs to the peasants, the rich will be swept away come the revolution, etc. Chekhov was closer than most to his predictions coming true since this play was first performed in 1904 and the revolution came not long after. It's the tale of the landed gentry in their twilight, debts mounting and no sources of income without some radical thinking which they're not capable of, they must hang onto the past at all costs, even if it means losing their home and land. And they do. And worst of all, they lose it to an upstart peasant who wants to be one of them but can't be accepted on an equal footing. Of course, there's a lot more going on in the play, but that gives you the gist.

Zoe Wanamaker plays the grand lady who's been living a dissolute life in Paris for the last ten years and squandered her fortune, nothing left except her family home in the cherry orchard in a rural part of Russia. The play opens with her arrival with her daughter who went to seek her out and bring her home. We meet the peasant-made-good who worships her, her brother who lives in a world of his own, her other daughter who has kept the house going despite financial hardships and a range of friends and hangers on. There are old happinesses and tragedies to face, not least of which is that the mortgage on the house and orchard is due to be paid and no-one (except the former-peasant) has any money. Yes, you can see where this is going.

I liked this production, it floated along nicely, well-paced and with something to say that's worth listening to and thinking about afterwards. The overly-long student speech at the end of the first half about how the revolution will sweep everything away before it could have been cut by about 10 minutes (or more) since it doesn't really add anything for a 21st Century audience and just droned on. And on.

The lead was taken by Zoe Wanamaker with Conleth Hill as the upstart peasant who worships her. Unfortunately, both in appearance and in some of his vocal mannerisms, Conleth just reminded me of his namesake, Benny Hill and I sort of expected a trio of busty blonds to appear at any moment to chase him round the stage. I also liked Claudie Blakely as the daughter who stays at home to manage somehow and who is secretly in love with the peasant. She has a poignant scene with him at the end in which neither can express their love and end up going their separate ways. That was quite a heart-breaking scene.

If you get the chance, go and see it.

Amanda Palmer - 'No Surprises' and 'Polly'

To celebrate the first anniversary of Amanda Palmer's UkeleleHead project (otherwise known as the record, 'Amanda Palmer Performs The Popular Hits of Radiohead On Her Magical Ukelele') Amanda has released the animated video for 'No Surprises'.

The video is based on the original Radiohead video and she filmed the sequence last year in New York as the basis for the animators. It's been available for a while now but it's never been the right time to release it, so what better time than its birthday? Read Amanda's blog about the background to the video here.

UkeleleHead is available to download from Bandcamp for a minimum donation of $1 or, if you're seeing Amanda on her autumn tour, you'll be able to buy the CD from the merch stand.

A new song by Amanda has also just been released as part a SPIN tribute to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's 'Nevermind', her version of 'Polly'. It's free to download from SPIN's Facebook page and here it is...

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Pirates! Band of Misfits - Official Trailer

I'm a sucker for pirates so I'm ever so slightly thrilled at the thought of a new, historically accurate, film to drool over. It looks like it's not out until next year, but I can wait. I approve of having The Ramones in the soundtrack. Ooo arrr!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

'The Beggar's Opera' at Regents Park Open Air Theatre

Last week we went to see 'The Beggar's Opera' at the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park, and thankfully it didn't rain. I've never seen this play before so it was good to see it in its original early 1700s setting.

It's a tale of debauchery and corruption set around Newgate prison, where cash and self-gratification is everything. Women are not to be trusted and are treated as playthings, and men are thieves, especially those in positions of power where bribery really does mean the difference between life and death. Parents call their daughters sluts and hussies and men count the notches on their bedposts. Highwaymen mix with prostitutes and all know the lawyers and jailers. Such is life in London in the 1720s. And this production brought it all to life.

It also came to life in the forms of Jasper Britton, Phil Daniels and Beverley Rudd. Jasper and Phil are the fathers of the two young women who both have the hots for the highwayman Macheath and they both treat their daughters abominably, threatening them and calling them sluts. I'm not sure whether this was meant to be a reflection of the times or meant to make them look even worse than they do, but I suspect a parenting class would be helpful. Beverley was in excellent voice, humour and physicality and made me remember her in 'Into The Woods' last summer in the same theatre in which she played Little Red Riding Hood. She makes a good poisoner in this play, as well as bouncing round the prison cell fighting with her rival, the limp drip Polly (played by Flora Spencer-Longhurst).

I liked the set with two gallows prominently displayed (and they're used at the end to my shock) but the park setting didn't really help to generate the urban landscape of Newgate. It was a nice, open stage, but something a bit grittier might have been better. The costumes were spot on and the few props made it look authentic.

It is venal and it's cruel. It's dark and it's funny. It's archetypal 18th Century London. I'm pleased I didn't live then, but it's fun to see.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Joan Jett and The Blackhearts - 'I Love Rock 'n' Roll'

Here's Joan Jett's classic song from 1982, 'I Love Rock 'n' Roll'. Joan was, of course, one of The Runaways in the '70s before going solo and bursting onto the television with this song, a cover of an old Glam Rock song by The Arrows. And she made it a great song.

Joan was on the 'Secrets of The Pop Song' tonight on BBC2, when the theme was 'anthems', and she looked good! Joan is older than me but looks good. Say 'Joan Jett' to me and I think of 'Cherry Bomb' by The Runaways' and then I think of 'I Love Rock 'n' Roll'. She has class. Rock on Joan!

Kim Wilde's new album - 'Snapshots'

Kim Wilde has a new album out in Germany at the end of August, 'Snapshots'. Her last two albums were only available in the UK on import and it looks like this will be the same, which is a great shame but I suppose that's the economics on the music biz these days. It would be great to release it here properly and tour to promote it - who knows what might happen? Apparently the album packaging is full of photos, probably from across her 30 year career so far if the cover is anything to go by.

Friday, 15 July 2011

'Devotion By Design' at The National Gallery

I went to see the 'Devotion by Design' exhibition at The National Gallery this afternoon. It's free to get into the exhibition in the space underneath the Sainsbury Wing and it's well worth visiting if you like 15th Century art.

The exhibition fills about 6 rooms or so with a video about the exhibition on loop in the small cinema next door. The exhibition is dimly lit to try to re-create the atmosphere and lighting of the paintings when they were originally on display - in other words, dim churches lit solely by random streams of sunlight and candles. It's a hymn of praise to the altarpiece, both full sized altarpieces and fragments from altarpieces, including a couple that we could walk behind to see how the panels are physically held together.

It's not a major exhibition with illuminating pieces but, for me, it introduced me to two small works by Fra Angelico that I've never seen other than in books or online. The two pieces are in the National Gallery collection (one on loan from Her Majesty) but are not on display in the main galleries. The first is 'Blessing Redeemer', a small piece that is probably the top of an altarpiece made of lots of panels, a Christ figure holding a book open at the Alpha/Omega page. It's probably something like 8" or 9" high with a bright starburst behind Christ which you can't really see in this photo. I can't decide if his robe is deep, dark purple or brown - in this photo it looks brown but I'm not sure. The frame draws to a point at the top above Christ's head and you can see the outline of that in this photo.

The second piece was a small depiction of Saint Romulus, about %2 square and remarkably similar in design to the painting of 'Saint Alexander' that I saw in the Met in New York earlier this year. Although he's clean shaven, the slight colouring of his chin makes me think he needs a shave - is this the Good Brother trying for realism? Whichever, it's a lovely little painting and it's nice to see it at last. I wonder why Fra Angelico paints the Bible with a red cover - he does that in several paintings.

I said farewell to the exhibition and walked up three flights of stairs to visit the lovely San Domenico Fiesole altarpiece in the main collection. It's always worth seeing this glory in the flesh and I see new details each time I see it. It's all down to Fra Angelico's glorious vision.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Amanda Palmer and the David Lynch Foundation

Amanda has donated 'In My Mind (The Sweet As Mix)' to a new record raising funds for the David Lynch Foundation, 'Download For Good'. This is what she says about the song:

I wrote this song in Otford, Australia. I was about to begin a one-week yoga retreat with a bunch of like-minded, friendly Australian yogis. My mind was churning and spinning with chatter and judgement. I took myself down to a grove in the rain, ukulele in hand, and sat down at a picnic table to write this self-deprecating and yet (hopefully) truthful homage to the difficulty of accepting what and where our minds take us. I find it so hard to accept myself and my over-distracted shortcomings... sometimes just reflecting on THAT itself feels like a herculean accomplishment.

It's a beautiful song from her 'Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under' album. Here's the video:

Monday, 11 July 2011

New Records

There's a few new records, either just been released or will be shortly, by some of my favourite women.

Suzanne Vega has just released volume three in her 'Close-Up' series in which she re-interprets and re-records some of her classic songs. This one is called 'States of Being' and includes, as Suzanne says herself, some of her 'freakier songs'. My favourite on the collection is the new version of 'Blood Makes Noise' that she performed on her last tour, with jagged, aggressive guitar as well as the usual bass accompaniment - it got me really excited when I saw her play it at Cadogan Hall last year, an excellent version. If you download the album from Nimbit you get two bonus tracks, 'Anniversary' and 'Language'. The album also includes a new song from Suzanne's recent stage musical, 'Instant of the Hour After'.

News of new records includes Patti Smith releasing a new 'best of' later in the year and a record of new material by Laura Marling called 'A Creature I Don't Know' (she always has odd titles).

Eliza Carthy has recently released a new record that I've only just found out about, 'Neptune'. Now, I'm partial to a bit of Eliza and have followed her doings since she appeared in Patti Smith's 'Meltdown' in 2005. I still remember her coming on stage and joking with the audience that if we were hoping for a cheerful song we'd have another think coming! I really liked Eliza's last album , 'Dreams Of Breathing Underwater', and the samples I've heard from the new album sound excellent. I'm going into town tomorrow so will buy it then.

There's also the expectation of a new record from Amanda Palmer. Her last album, 'Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under' (click over there to buy it >) was excellent and she's been in the studio recording demos, so that's a good thing. I expect we'll be treated to new songs on her European tour in September and maybe get a record next year. I'll wait - she's worth waiting for.

The new record from Beverley Knight, 'Soul UK', entered the national album chart at number 13 this weekend, which is good for Bev. This is Bev's 'covers' album where she records soul songs from the '80s that influenced her and she draws a wide ring around what she means by 'soul'. She's been getting a lot of media attention, which is good, so let's hope it continues. You get a DVD of a 'launch' gig for the album if you buy the hard copy and one of my regrets is that I had tickets for the gig that night (at Porchester Hall) but didn't go in the end. O woe is me - it looks like it was a great gig and I missed it! Still, I've got the record.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Fra Angelico in Paris

I am partial to the works of Fra Angelico, Brother John the Angelic One, and I accidentally found out that there's a major exhibition of his art in Paris between 23 September 2011 and 9 January 2012. It's at the Musée Jacquemart-André, a gallery I've never been to in the centre of Paris and details are here. Needless to say I'll be going (and buying the catelogue).

It looks like the gallery is bringing together Fra Angelico paintings (and drawings?) from all over the place, like the 'Coronation of The Virgin' from the Uffizi in Florence (where I saw it earlier this year). Presumably there'll be more works from the Uffizi and from San Marco, so it'll be nice to see them again, with what I hope will be a host of paintings I've only ever seen in books.

Lynsey de Paul - 'Surprise'

Sometimes it's the little things in life that make me happy, like seeing a puppy frisking and discovering he has a tail to chase, a beautiful blue sky or sometimes a new record. Or in this case, an old record rediscovered.

Do you remember the summer of 1972? Of course you don't, you're too young (or lying). Well, I do. Early that summer we had T.Rex with 'Metal Guru' in the charts, David Bowie's 'Starman' and SLADE's 'Take Me Bak 'Ome'. Then in deeper summer we had Alice Cooper's 'School's Out'. What a great summer that was, a great time to be young and discovering music. There's one other memory and that's Lynsey de Paul's 'Sugar Me', her first (and biggest) hit single. I remember being on holiday with my family at Scarborough or Bridlington or somewhere like that and 'Sugar Me' being played endlessly on the radio along with Alice's 'School's Out'.

I bought 'Sugar Me' and the follow-up single, 'Getting A Drag', and then I bought Lynsey's first album, 'Surprise', when it was released in 1973. As far as I know 'Surprise' has never been released on CD or digitally for some reason, maybe because it was on the long-vanished MAM record label and no-one can be bothered to sort out the rights? It's not even available through Lynsey's webstore (that I just discovered yesterday).

For some reason I went a-hunting yesterday for Lynsey songs. I have six of the ten songs from 'Surprise' on Lynsey's 'Greatest Hits' but I want the whole album. In the most obvious place you can imagine - iTunes - I found the four missing songs on a collection issued in 2009 called 'Sugar Me'. One of the reviews claimed loudly that they were re-recorded versions but other reviews said they weren't so I took a listen to the samples. And downloaded the four songs. And rejoiced because they're just as I remember them in the far recesses of my memory. I now have all the songs from 'Surprise', in the right sequence, and can listen again to a record I haven't heard in (probably) three decades. All things come to those that wait.

If all you know about Lynsey is 'Sugar Me' or 'Rock Bottom' (her Eurovision song) then you'll probably be surprised (ahem) with the songs on this album. Not quite singer-songwriter songs since Lynsey always had a good ear for a great commercial hook, but not far off. Opening with 'Mama Do', all swampy with an everglades sound and then the introspective 'Ivory Tower' instantly says there's more to Lynsey than the hit singles. Listening to the songs again made me wonder whether I saved 'Surprise' when I cleared my stuff from my Dad's house and guess what? I did! For some reason, Lynsey's was one of the records I've kept despite not having a record player. I've just hunted it out and remembered it had a gatefold cover and look what's inside:

I'm not sure why I kept Lynsey's record but I'm delighted that I finally have all the songs from 'Surprise'. I probably won't listen to them very often but every now and then it'll be nice to go down memory lane and visit the past again. Well, I did say I'm pleased by the little things in life.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Suzanne Vega - 'States Of Being'

Suzanne Vega does it again by releasing an album without telling anyone. Suzanne, that's not how social media marketing works. Trust me on this.

The third of her 'Close-Up' series of records re-recording some of her own songs is called 'States Of Being' and, in her own words, is 'the freakier side of her songwriting'. The record is out on Monday 11 July and this is what Suzanne says about it:

This is Volume 3 of the Close-Up series, called States of Being. I used to call these the “Mental Health” songs. They express a state of mind, but also more than that. I wouldn’t call them personal songs, but descriptions of a place deep inside. Anyone can feel like the narrator in Penitent, or Cracking, depending on your mood.

The new song in this collection is called “The Instant of the Hour After”. It’s a song from a new theater piece with music, “Carson McCullers Talks About Love”. I have written the book and lyrics and I am collaborating with Duncan Sheik on the music. It is based on the short story by Carson McCullers, which is loosely modeled after the author and her husband Reeves McCullers, featuring two alcoholics at the end of a long night of drinking.

Hope you enjoy what I think of as the freakier side of my songwriting…

Of course, if you want it sooner you can download it from Nimbit including two bonus tracks. It's nice to have a new Suzanne song.

It's actually quite odd finding out about this record on Facebook a few minutes ago in the middle of listening to my Suzanne Vega playlist. God moves in mysterious ways (whoever she might be).

'Ghost The Musical' at the Piccadilly Theatre

Last night we went to see 'Ghost The Musical' with the lovely Caissie Levy in the role of Molly. Caissie played Sheila, Democracy's Daughter, in 'Hair' and has a lovely and very versatile voice. She also has a nice stage presence - you know she's there. And Caissie has the first words in the play and opens the first song (which is as it should be).

'Ghost' is a new musical with a score by Dave Stewart (yes, The Eurythmics Dave Stewart). It's based on the film and is remarkably faithful to the film so you know what's coming next. That is the challenge of the show - how to keep you interested despite knowing the story. In a way, it's the special effects that keep us all guessing and they are quite special. We're all used to CGI in films but how do you transfer that to the stage where it's all live action right in front of you? The set is made up mainly of digital walls that can transform into almost anything and they're part of the trick, walls moving and transforming into different sets and an effective use of lighting and 'scrim' screens. And, of course, the actors and songs.

But before I go on I must mention the audience. Women. Lots of women, many 'of a certain age'. In 'girls night out' mode. A bit shrieky, a bit loud and, inevitably, in tears at the end. 'Ghost' knows its audience. Oh, and Dame Judi Dench was there and, I'm told, Biggins. And me, of course.

The four main characters are Caissie as Molly, Richard Fleeshman as Sam, Sharon D Clarke as Oda Mae and Andrew Langtree as the evil Carl (he got booed at the end). They all have their moments to shine and for me it was the two lead women who shone the brightest. Caissie has a few good songs that show off her vocal talents and Sharon had a great, flash, show-biz song after she gets the cheque and dreams of how she'll spend the money. The men were both ok but a bit, um, ho hum? Richard has a good voice but didn't blow me away - it was a bit samey without the versatility of someone like Caissie. His voice sounded good but there was no personalisation, no light and shade or texture, and it could've been anyone up there singing. The same for Andrew really (and he needs to work on his accent a bit more - I thought he sounded like Choo Choo out of 'Top Cat' - no disrespect to Choo Choo intended).

All the songs were new (other than 'Unchained Melody' of course, one of my least favourites ever) so I can't really comment on the score without hearing it again, but there were some nice songs in there. A couple of times Dave let his inner Eurythmic out and I could imagine Annie Lennox singing a couple of the songs and there's nothing wrong with that. The cast recording is out in a week or so and I'll be buying it.

It's a well constructed play, with the highs in all the right places to keep it well paced and moving forward at a nice clip. The sets and lighting were spectacular, the big dance numbers were very well choreographed (I particularly liked the mass leaning to one side in a couple of the sequences) and the details were nice, such as the umbrellas all having lit shafts to add a bit or spectacle. A lot of money has obviously been spent on this and it's paying off. It has all the right bits from the film, like 'ditto' and the potters wheel sequence. It presses the right buttons, especially towards the end when the quiet sobs can be heard before the mass applause when Sam seems to vanish on his journey to heaven. Calculated sentimentality that works.

The ticket prices are a bit steep but if you want to see a full-on musical with all the trimmings I can recommend 'Ghost'. And here's the trailer...

'Doctor Faustus' at Shakespeare's Globe

Last Sunday we went to see the new production of 'Doctor Faustus' at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. It's over 30 years since I saw 'Dr Faustus' and I've never been to the Globe before so I was looking forward to the experience. Luckily I'd booked cushions along with the tickets for the hard wooden benches.

I liked the experience of the Globe, with its roofless space, the audience being so close to the stage on three sides, the wooden structures and the very big stage. Above the stage was the musicians area where we could see them playing, rather than being hidden away behind the scenes. The main downside (other than the benches) was the aeroplanes flying overhead with depressing regularity.

'Dr Faustus' is a big play - big ideas, big cast of characters and it takes place over 24 years in the life of the good (or bad) doctor. We all know the story - he sells his soul to the devil for demonic powers and the services of Mephistopheles and who eventually is carried off into hell by a host of devils because he despairs of salvation. It gives Christopher Marlowe loads of opportunities to show off his university education with the discussions of different philosophies in the early scenes before Faustus decides to dabble in the black arts and summon a demon. And he gets the best in Mephistopheles.

We then witness his descent into damnation. From his early ambitions of wanting to create an empire, build a bridge across the Atlantic for his armies and build a wall of bronze around Germany, he descends into playing tricks on local farmers and eating all their hay. The message is clear that with great power comes corruption and failed ambition. The downside, of course is that this means we have to suffer with the traditional rustic and supposedly 'comic' characters, but I think they work better in this play than with most Elizabethan plays.

'Dr Faustus' is a two-header play - Faustus and Mephistopheles - with almost unlimited scope for more characters. I vaguely recall that when I saw the play in 1978 that Helen of Troy was an invisible character that Faustus talked to, whereas in this production she was a voluptuous actress that we could see. There were lots of characters running round the stage with most actors taking two or three parts and that added to the dynamism of the play. What I wasn't sure about was the generic chorus of 'students' dressed in black and wearing sunglasses that seemed to run about all over the place for no real purpose other than to show the size of the cast and fill the stage.

Faustus was played by Paul Hilton and Mephistopheles by Arthur Darvill (yes, from 'Dr Who'). They worked well together, striding around and twirling their cloaks, with matching skull caps and moments of anger and despair. I liked the depiction of Lucifer as a broken and damaged angel and I loved his wings in the final scene. I also loved the angel and the devil having sword fights every now and then for possession of Faustus's soul.

I enjoyed this production and my visit to the Globe. I may well read up on Marlowe now.

Blackfoot Sue - 'Standing In The Road'

This song popped up on my iPod this evening and woke up a whole load of memories from back in 1972 when this glam stomper was a big hit. I think this was Blackfoot Sue's only big hit and, let's face it, they weren't the prettiest of bands but they made a nice sound. And I'm a sucker for some glam stomp and twirling drum sticks. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

SLADE - 'Mama Weer All Crazee Now'

I've come across this new video of SLADE performing 'Mama Weer All Crazee Now' on Facebook and had to share it. Not only is 'Mama' one of my favourite SLADE songs (from 1972 before SLADE went mega in 1973) and one of my all-time favourite songs (played loud, of course) but I've never seen this video before. It looks like it's a promo video but it's been hidden away somewhere.

It's clearly from 1972 but what gives it away for me? Noddy's hat? No, he used the mirrors on his hat to direct beams from the lights into the audience for a few years. Dave's silver garb? Well, by 1973 he was the mirrored nun and all sorts so no, that's rather tame for him. Don? No, Don started wearing shiny waistcoats in 1973 but he was never that far out. The thing that says 1972 to me is Jim - in 1973 he started wearing his trademark red lurex suit! Now that was style. He's not wearing it, so it must be from 1972.

In the words of the great Sir Noddy Holder, 'Keep on rockin'!'

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Poly Styrene's Electric Blue Monsoon Birthday

Today would have been Poly Styrene's 54th birthday. My day started with a lovely blue sky and white fluffy, cotton wool clouds that made me think of 'Electric Blue Monsoon', the final song on Poly's last album, 'Generation Indigo'. It's a lovely song with just Poly's unaccompanied voice, a love song to Krishna and to the world.

To celebrate her birthday, Poly's people have released a playlist of favourite songs she came up with in December and this is now Poly's birthday playlist. Here it is:

Joni Mitchell - 'Woodstock'
Janis Joplin - 'Mercedes Benz'
David Bowie - 'Suffragette City'
The Slits - 'Typical Girls'
Stevie Wonder - 'Pastime Paradise'
Duke Ellington - 'Take The 'A' Train'
The Rolling Stones - '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction'
Sex Pistols - 'Submission'
Marilyn Monroe - 'Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend'
Queen - 'Bohemian Rhapsody'
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - 'Foxey Lady'

Kaiser Chiefs - 'I Predict A Riot'
Billy Idol - 'White Wedding'
Leonard Cohen - 'Suzanne'

Lou Reed - 'Perfect Day'

Listen to some music, think kind thoughts and raise a glass to Poly Styrene.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Public Image Ltd - 'Public Image' Then and Now

To celebrate the news that John Lydon is now in the sudio with Public Image Ltd working on a new album, here's the first time we saw the magnificent PiL - the video for 'Public Image'. And after that, a great clip of PiL playing the same song live a few weeks ago in Preston. Excellent stuff.