Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Suzi Quatro - 'A Girl Like Me'

Suzi Quatro's new album, 'In The Spotlight', seems to have been released with no lead video or anything but here's Suzi playing the first track live a few months ago, 'A Girl Like Me'. It's hard and it's raw and it's pure Suzi Q!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

'The Skin I Live In' by Almodovar

At the weekend we went to see the new Pedro Almodovar film, 'The Skin I Live In' at The Ritzy at Brixton. It has its own website here if you want to take a peek before seeing it. The film was featured on the 'Today' programme on Radio 4 last week so I know I shouldn't give away the plot twist and I won't.

I was a late-comer to Almodovar but have learned to love his films - even if I have to read them (ie subtitles). He creates some interesting films with strange twists and turns, some lush photography and surrounds himself with some great actors, usually women. In this film however, the star is Antonio Banderas who hasn't worked with Almodovar for 20 years or so but has left Hollywood for Spain for this film. And that was the first surprise.

As a Hollywood star Antonio obviously looks after himself but in this film he looked his age (ie the same as me!), still fit and toned but no pretence at looking anything other than a middle aged man. Oddly enough, I thought that was quite brave of him. But you've got to be brave in an Almodovar.

The other two stars are Elena Anaya ( the face behind the mask in the film posters) and Marisa Parades. I have to say that it was Marisa who drew my attention - she may be older than Elena by several decades but she really is quite striking and knows how to throw a look.

I enjoyed the film, with it's lush colours and panning from panoramic to close-up, heightening the melodramatic moments. The pace is slower than I expected with several 'mad scientist' moments, but it all contributes to the tension. I won't spoil it for you by giving away the plot twist but, since I knew there was one, and was looking out for it, then I got it straight away. It's still quite clever - and frightening - though.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Suzi Quatro - 'In The Spotlight'

Suzi Quatro has a new album out, 'In The Spotlight' and she's got her rock jacket on again, harder and edgier than she's been for a long time. I loved her last album, 'Back To The Drive', particularly the title track, a homage to 'Devil Gate Drive', that started off with her chuckling, 'I'm back!' before letting rip with guitars. The new record isn't as immediate as 'Back To The Drive' but if you like rock Suzi (and I do), she's all here for you.

Of the eleven songs on the record, ten are of a piece, spare production, with an almost 'live' feel to them and hard drums and guitars. It has classic Suzi vocals, dripping with attitude that take no prisoners. The bonus track is 'Singing With Angels', Suzi's hymn to Elvis that was released as a download single in 2010.

The immediate highlights for me are the opening track, 'A Girl Like Me', with driving guitars and Suzi telling us we want her. 'Strict Machine' (yes the Goldfrapp song) with a cheeky little riff from 'Can The Can' subtly telling us the origins of the song. 'Breaking Dishes' reminds me of Little Jacky or maybe Santogold - no, it doesn't sound like either of them but has hints. 'Rosie Rose' starts off with the refrain, 'Do you love me...' in its hard rocking thrash of drums and guitars and Suzi's bass notes thrumming and vocals drawling away. 'Rosie' might be my favourite. She then moves into a gentle reggae rhythm with brass in the background for 'Hurt With You' and back into adrenaline fueled rock with 'Hot Kiss'.

Suzi toured as support to SLADE in 1972 and had her first hit single in 1973 ('Can The Can'). She was in 'Happy Days' on telly and on stage in 'Annie Get Your Gun'. There's a portrait of her in the National Portrait Gallery collection. She will always be Suzi Quatro, the little lady in leathers with the big bass guitar who influenced loads of people and showed that women can rock just as well as men. She still tours the world and I saw her play at Wimbledon a few years back and met her afterwards. I met her again when I attended a talk when she launched her autobiography, 'Unzipped'.

This is a great album with Suzi at her rocking best. I hope it gets the press and radio coverage it deserves and shows the world that Suzi Q still has it long after others have slowed down. As Sir Noddy Holder would say, keep on rockin', Suzi!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

'South Pacific' at The Barbican

Last week I was privileged to see the Lincoln Center production of 'South Pacific' at The Barbican Centre in ye olde London Towne. I saw - and loved - this production at the Lincoln Center when I saw it at the end of Snowmaggedon week in New York in February 2010.

I booked the tickets months ago when they first went on sale so didn't realise that last night was the opening night, red carpet and all. There were probably lots of famous people there last night but I only saw Barbara Windsor and Rolfe Harris (both true and long-lasting stars) and Miranda Hart. There was lots of luvvy-luvvy kissing on two cheeks going on at half time and at the end that suggests a lot of people knew each other in one way or another. Journalists or corporates. I was there with the fans of one of the greatest pieces of musical theatre of the last century.

Before seeing it at the Lincoln Center I hadn't seen this show either live or in film so it was a revelation seeing how all the well known songs fit together to tell the narrative of the story. If you're not aware, the story is quite simple. Ensign Nelly is posted as a nurse on a south Pacific island in World War II and falls for an ex-pat Frenchman with a shady past. When she finds out that he was married to a Polynesian wife and has two children she rejects him so he helps spy on Japanese ship movements on an isolated island. He survives to arrive back home to find Nelly looking after his children. End of show. Of course, there's a lot more going on in the show than the basic story and it tackles some difficult themes.

Some of the reviews of the show pick up the racism theme and criticise it for not being stronger but this is a show from 1949 and I think 'You've Got To Be Carefully Taught' is a powerful indictment of institutional racism. It comes down hard on nurture rather than nature. It's quite hard seeing the delightful Nelly suddenly turn cold because her love had previously married an islander.

Ensign Nelly is played by Samantha Womack who, we were told at the start, had broken a toe in rehearsals earlier in the evening. She has a delightful stage presence and a nice, if not particularly strong, voice. Her lover, Emile de Becque is played by Paulo Szot, the voice of Emile on the CD and original Emile at Lincoln Center. Seabee Luther Billis, the spiv and unlikely hero, is played nicely by a chubby Alex Ferns (who was killed in Eastenders) who throws himself around the stage and gives good accent. All the cast were excellent, signing and dancing their hearts out.

Loretta Ables (also from the from the original production) has a great part as Bloody Mary and throws herself into it with abandon in the first half as the islander determined to make as much money as she can while the navy is there. She's darker and more subdued in the second half when all she wants is for Lt Cable to marry her daughter, she'll even work to keep both of them. The object of her attention, Lt Cable, was played by Daniel Koek, who has a great voice and is worth watching out for. He's released 'Younger Than Springtime' as a single (take a listen here).

The production isn't quite as lavish as at the Lincoln Center, in part because the Barbican stage isn't as big and it's designed to go on tour so needs to be flexible enough to fit lots of different theatres, but it's still immensely enjoyable. As soon as the lights go down and overture starts, you know you're in for a treat. How did I manage to live so long without hearing this musical? It really is quite special and if you get the chance then do go and see it. I'm going again in September before it leave the Barbican.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Two Plays With Accents

In the last couple of weeks I've seen two plays in which voice and accent was key, 'Pygmalion' and 'Anna Christie'.

First off was 'Pygmalion' at The Garrick Theatre with Rupert Everett as the bonkers phonetics 'professor', 'Enery 'Iggins. I've never seen or read the play but I'm familiar with the story (and not just from 'My Fair Lady') and what an excellent tale it is. Shaw's Edwardian tale of class, education and gender politics is an enormously fun romp through every stereotype imaginable and ends with a delicious ambiguity - do they or don't they?

The fast pace of the production keeps it moving forward with no fat or filler and the cast play it to a T. I must admit, I think of Rupert Everett as a film star rather than as an actor but seeing him on stage changed my opinion - he was excellent and this role could've been written for him. Alistair McGowan has now taken over the part but I'm pleased I saw Mr Everett. The other actor who impressed me was Roberta Taylor as Mrs Pearce, the housekeeper and voice of reason. I vaguely remember Roberta from 'Eastenders' years ago and she was a steadying presence on the stage with Prof Higgins ranting on and being self-centred. Kara Tointon was a very pretty Eliza Doolittle - her East End accent seemed to wander all over the place (and was almost unintelligible in places) but she was great speaking posh with the odd bit of slang thrown in for good measure.

However, I must retain most praise for Diana Rigg as the good professor's mother. Diana will always be Mrs Emma Peel from 'The Avengers' to me and I just *know* she was wearing a black leather cat-suit and high heels under her period costume. She was great as the mother who's had to endure her son embarrassing her for far too long and now treats him almost as a joke and Diana and Rupert made it look so real and engaging... then again, he's of an age to remember Mrs Peel so maybe he was scared of being kicked into submission?

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the production and am delighted to have seen Rupert and Diana on the same stage. Take my advice and go and see it.

The second play with accents was 'Anna Christie' by Eugene O'Neill at The Donmar Warehouse. The cast is English but we get Swedish, American and Irish accents thrown together. Now, I've never heard of this play or seen the film so had no idea what to expect (I like to be surprised). It's a powerful, but a shouty, play. I'm not keen on shouty plays.

Its central character is Anna, a young woman from the American plains who travels to New York to see the father she's never really known since he was away at sea when she was young and her mother moved from Sweden to cousins in Minesotta when she was five, at which point her mother died. She slaves on the farm and is raped by one of her cousins before running away to live (and work) in a brothel. After a spell in prison she travels east to find her father who now runs a coal barge between New York and Boston and it's here that the play starts. Anna joins her father on his next voyage and they rescue a shipwrecked crew during a storm and she falls for an brash Irish stoker with plenty of good words for himself. Clearly, there's a lot more going on in the play but that clues you in.

And that's what leaves me puzzled about the plotting of this play. Anna has had a harrowing life so far, raped by cousins and living in a brothel for two years with, I assume, abuse right, left and centre, yet she falls for an aggressive and violent man. How does that happen? At point she shouts at her father and suitor to stop trying to tell her what to do because she'll do what she decides, not what some man tells her what to do. She's clearly been there before but this time she seems to willingly go for the potentially abusive man who threatens her and screams in her face. Is this meant to be a 'love conquers all' thing? I somehow doubt it, particularly the ambiguous ending. It has some powerful messages for its original American audience, with tales of immigration and hardship, of violence and poverty building the nation.

The shouty Irish navvy is played by Jude Law (who's clearly been hitting the gym to bulk up for the part). He's got a great Irish brogue going on but, at least in his first scene, it was a bit too thick for me to follow. I loved it when he strayed into a West Indies accent every now and then - he must know he's doing it, he must hear it himself, and it made me grin. Ruth Wilson's accent was pure Brooklyn and David Hayman has a great (if terribly stereotypical) Swedish accent as Anna's father, cursing that Old Devil Sea. I also liked Jenny Galloway as the old sailors' woman friend who's ejected when his daughter appears, a nicely played role.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

"Blockbuster!" by Dave Thompson

I've just finished reading 'Blockbuster!' by Dave Thompson, the biography of Sweet. I've been reading it on and off over the past few weeks and it's been a revelation and a disappointment by turns.

Sweet were an early 70s band that had songs written for them by the Chinnichap partnership, some great songs and I think my first Sweet singles were either 'Co-Co- or 'Wigwam Bam' (I can't remember). But it's really their triumvirate of singles in 1973 that cement them in my favourite bands list with 'Hellraiser', 'Blockbuster' and the magnificent 'Ballroom Blitz'.

The book is a straight chronological narrative - this happened then this happened. It's full of long quotes from each of the four members of Sweet and it's great to read their views of the latest single or album, but that's also one of the disappointing aspects of the book - they all hated their early music or at least said they did and they don't come across as particularly likable. I, and many tens of thousands, loved their early singles. I sort of recall from the music press of the day that they wanted to be a 'serious' band, that they were more than a singles band, but it's quite disappointing to read them dismissing their early work. I think it's godlike and Brian Connolly had one of the great rock voices of the 70s.

Some of the hyperbole in the book just doesn't work. Portraying SLADE as Sweet rivals in 1973 just doesn't wash - SLADE ruled 1973 with three records going straight to No 1, something Sweet never managed.

Nothing seemed to work for Sweet, even when they had hits in America with songs they wrote themselves they seemed to conspire to ensure that things went wrong. A catalogue of disasters followed Sweet around and the descent of Brian into drink and drugs signalled the end. They just can't win. I wish I'd seen them play live back in the day but I didn't.

Brian Connolly, Steve Priest, Mick Tucker and Andy Scott - I salute you. Andy is still active - he co-wrote and produced Suzi Quatro's last (excellent) album and Steve lives in America. Unfortunately, both Brian and Mick have left us but the band still plays regularly on my iPod and their work lives on. "Blockbuster!" is a good reference book for Sweet fans, with lots of lists of tours and discographies and loads of photos.

"And the man at the back said everyone attack and it turned into a ballroom blitz!"

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Mel & Sue's 'The Great British Bake Off'

I have just watched 'The Great British Bake Off' on BBC2 and decided I *love* baking.

Now, I'm not a foodie and have never baked in my life - food, to me, is fuel. Shovel it in as quickly as possible and then ignore it. This programme has changed my mind, all the things you can do with a cake mixture and some icing... And it's great to see Sue Perkins back with Mel Giedroyc - I actually started watching it because I'd seen that Sue was presenting without realising that Mel was involved as well. It also seems like it's been on before and this is a second (or third?) series.

This evening's show was a cake bake-off, with three tests: firstly a cup cake, then a Battenburg and then a layered cake. I would've eaten all of them except for the courgette cake (so disgusting). My favourite would've probably been the Guinness cupcake. I'm easily pleased.

What I can't quite understand is how a programme about baking has drawn me in. I don't recall my Mam doing much baking but my Dad was proud of his Yorkshire puddings. I do remember my Grandma baking and taking me down to Delafield's farm on a Wednesday afternoon (baking afternoon) to sample Mrs Delafield's baking (the farm has been a housing estate for over 30 years now). I preferred my Grandma's brown bread, cut into slices and slathered with real butter to make cheese and onion sandwiches while still warm .... yum! My Grandma could bake!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Buffy Sainte-Marie - 'He's A Keeper Of The Fire'

Have you seen this month's edition of 'Mojo'? The one guest edited by Noel Gallagher? The one with a Buffy Sainte-Marie song on the free CD given away with the magazine? The CD compiled by Noel Gallagher? Unfortunately, I haven't. It seems to be out of stock in every newsagents I go into.

I've definitely been blind-sided by this one. I like to think I'm, if not ahead of the crowd, at least up with the crowd when it comes to Buffy stuff, but this has totally passed me by. The free CD includes Buffy's 'He's A Keeper Of The Fire' from 'Illuminations', her experimental album from 1969 that started playing with electronic effects and studio twiddling to see what new sounds she could produce. 'Keeper' has been one of my favourite Buffy songs along with 'Better To Find Out For Yourself' (also from 'Illuminations') since I first heard in on Buffy's double 'Best Of' album in 1976. It's full of aggressive, wailing guitars, screeching and yowling with Buffy's voice soaring to the top over it.

I'm still going to try to track down the magazine. I want to see what Noel says about the song and whether he explains why he's included it on the compilation CD. I'm nosey like that. It's potentially opening up new audiences for Buffy and they need to know she's still recording and performing, and is still as challenging and active as she ever was. They need to know that she played in London just a couple of months ago and will, hopefully, return in the not-too-distant future.

I've never seen Buffy play this song live and I'd love to. That's why finding this performance on YouTube has made me happy. This is Buffy back in the day giving it a great performance - 40 years after this was filmed and she's still got the moves.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra

It seems that Miss Palmer has settled on a name for her new band, The Grand Theft Orchestra. And that means it's time to promote her tour of the UK and Europe. Not really a tour, more a set of dates but I don't care because I've already nabbed tickets to see her at Heaven and at the British Library in September. Both London gigs sold out very quickly which is why, presumably, there are no tour posters for the London shows. But here are two versions of the posters/promo for the Brighton gig.

Of course, it wouldn't be a proper blog entry about Amanda without a photo or a video, so here's new photo of Herself. I'm looking forward to my hugs...

Friday, 12 August 2011

Ray Davies at the British Film Institute Part II

Back in June I blogged about a talk I went to in which Ray Davies picked some of the films that influenced him and, behold, it's now appeared on the British Film Institute's website. It doesn't include the film clips but it's still interesting to hear Ray talk about his past and his influences. Take a look at it here.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Lifestyle Looting

I woke up this morning to find out that the Tottenham riot had somehow jumped on a train south and arrived on Streatham High Road in the small hours of Sunday night. Looting is not a political act, it is thievery.

I found out about it from Twitter. The news was full of rioting in Brixton but no mention of Streatham. Twitter told me what happened in several versions of the 'facts'. So I decided to see for myself and walked up to the High Road to see what the damage was. Two mobile phone shops had been broken into (3 and T-Mobile), JD Sports (with a random car outside left on the path) and, further up Streatham Hill, the computer repair shop. Luckily, that was it. A corner shop owner had been beaten up protecting his shop and was in hospital. This isn't rioting, it's looting, it's lifestyle looting as someone commented on Twitter.

Brixton was worse, with the entire high street cordoned off with police tape - traffic could go through but no-one on the pavements and the tube station was closed. Random windows were either smashed, cracked or boarded up, like Marks & Spencer, Body Shop, McDonalds and Gamesmaster.

Going home this evening was a strange experience, walking down the High Road with police vans with sirens blazing, screaming down the High Road towards Croydon (which is on the news at the moment with a block in flames). There was an eerie moment when I came out of the chemists on Streatham Hill to complete silence - no traffic at all either way on the High Road. Just for 20 seconds or so and then the usual stream of cars and buses started again, but for a heartbeat or two, something was wrong. Exacerbated by some shops closing early, just in case.

One of the odd things is that local communities are destroying themselves. In a recession, this isn't helping people find work or businesses thriving. I was quite heartened this morning seeing tweets supporting the computer repair shop, a local business suffering. Diane Abbot has been on TV saying the same thing about riots in Hackney. This will affect local economies and local communities for a long time to come.

The news has now switched to looting in Clapham Junction with Debenhams (formerly Arding & Hobbs) being looted. Where is the political act in that?

This is all incredibly sad, especially given the successes in the athletics over the weekend in preparation for the Olympics. Whatever the underlying reason for the riot in Tottenham, I can't believe that that's the reason for disturbances in Enfield, Hackney, Streatham and Croydon. This is all copy-cat stuff. This is about looting and disturbance for the sake of it.

And where is the Mayor of London and the Prime Minister?

Friday, 5 August 2011

Make Me 13 Again

It's always nice to see members of SLADE in the news again and there was a fun short interview with Sir Noddy Holder in the Mail Online today with the glorious title, 'Noddy Holder: People are genuinely disappointed if I'm not wearing platform shoes and a top hat with mirrors'.

Personally, I'd be gutted if he didn't have the hat... I've seen him in that hat, y'know.

Anyway, it's one of those short answer-lots-of-questions-quickly type of articles and it's quite fun. I like his answer to favourite film being 'Cabaret' - I remember him being on a Radio 1 programme back in 1973 called, I think, 'Brian Matthews My Top 12' on a Sunday when he chose Liza's 'Mein Herr' as one of his favourite songs. That's the first I'd ever heard of the film. He also chose 'Clean-up Woman' by Betty Wright and 'Speed King' by Deep Purple - how's that for memory?

The one disappointing answer is to the question:

The unqualified regret you wish you could amend...

That I can’t get the four members of Slade to be mates again. I got us together three years ago but it was a disaster and all the old grievances came out, like money and things that were said years ago. We’re in our 60s now and it’s sad we can’t laugh about our amazing 25 years together.

That is so disappointing. It's quite sad that they were together for 25 years and all that shared history is lost. I was listening to Jim Lea's live album today and at one point inbetween songs he says that in all those years he only spent two Christmas's at home because they were perpetually on the road.

This year should've been the year of the reunion. It's 40 years since their first hit and their first No. 1 and now is the time to celebrate, but it's not going to happen. 'SLADEST' is due to be reissued in September, re-mastered and with bonus tracks (including a previously unreleased studio version of 'Hear Me Calling') so that will have to keep us happy.

C'mon guys - Noddy, Jim, Dave and Don - try again, one more time. We need another live album and a live DVD and all the merch that goes with reunions. Get in your time machine and make me 13 again.