Tuesday, 27 September 2011

'Othello' at The Crucible

On Saturday we made the trip north to Sheffield to see 'Othello' at The Crucible theatre starring a great double act of Clarke Peters and Dominic West.  Both are from 'The Wire', of course, a series I didn't watch but which got rave reviews.  I've not seen Dominic West on stage before, but I've seen Clarke in 'Porgy and Bess' and in the great musical he wrote in the '80s, 'Five Guys Named Moe'. It was well worth the 300 miles round trip.

The staging was sparse, with characters carrying out the props at the start of each scene and setting them on the almost stage in the round.  The careful lighting was great, but this production relies on the actors to give it momentum and mood. And it worked.  I've never seen 'Othello' performed and this set a high benchmark under the careful direction of Daniel Evans.  The writing is, of course, astonishing, my new favourite Shakespeare play.

If ever there was a double-headed play this is it - a wonderful interplay between Othello and Iago, with Clarke Peters as Othello and Dominic West as Iago.  Clarke plays it in his best West African accent and Dominic uses his native Yorkshire accent as the lowly Iago rising through the ranks.  I've seen Clarke Peters on stage before and expect a grand performance, particularly the arms-wide expansive moments, but I was impressed by Dominic's wily Iago, the bluster and honesty of the character while being thoroughly dishonest.  If you know Dominic then I'd advise against playing poker with him - you'll lose based on the performance I saw. They make a great double act and work well together. 

Of the rest of the cast I must mention Alexandra Gilbreath as Emilia, servant to Desdemonia.  Chris reminded me that we'd seen her in 'Assassins' at the tiny Union Theatre last summer and here she was again.  The early scenes paint her as a minor, almost comic character, but her confrontation of Othello at the end was magnificent, the emotion pouring from her as she accused her lord of murder and wept for her mistress, finally confronting her husband.  I was most impressed.  She made me think that that is what actors are supposed to do... and how few achieve it.  Well done Alexandra, that's a performance worthy of the West End and I hope to see you reprise the role some day.

Imperial War Museum

This morning I went to the Imperial War Museum in London for the very first time.  I've been past the building thousands of times but never ventured inside until today. I listened to Buffy Sainte-Marie on my way there to fortify my mind, bearing in mind her comment that the USA has five institutions dedicated to training people how to wage war but no institutions to teach peace.

The large hall at the entrance is filled with aeroplanes hanging from the ceiling and tanks, rockets and associated cannon on the floor.  Further inside, and upstairs and downstairs are the galleries and exhibits along with some interactive exhibits, like the Blitz and Trenches experiences. There were themed rooms to wander through with all sorts of exhibits, from photographs from the time of the wars, uniforms, posters, advice on how to eat during rationing, gas-masks, medals and charities operating at the time.  All sorts.

The war machines were astonishing and surprising by turns.  I had no idea that Spitfires were so small - I wouldn't fit in one.  Some of the machines were incredibly complex and ram home the fact that the technology that helped invent them eventually comes to us civilians a decade or so later in the form of kitchen or other domestic gadgets.  There are also reconstructions of an air-raid shelter and a 1940s house to wander through - I remember my grandparents still had similar-looking furniture in the 1960s.

I had no idea what to expect and was a bit anxious that it might seek to glorify or justify war.  Instead it made me think about war and our stupidity for letting it happen. This was particularly strong in the galleries about war since the Second World War, the many armed conflicts we've been through since then and are still suffering.  It begs the question why?

If you like the big war machines and want to ogle them then there's plenty to choose from.  If you want to consider the implications of war then there's plenty on the small scale to make you think and wonder how people survived. The scale stretches from war-mongers to children in the back streets of any city anywhere.  The tales of children who died in the Blitz are truly sad, lives cut short through long-distance and impersonal war.

The museum clearly does a roaring trade with school trips and tourists and it has a good shop.  It's free to go in, which is just as well.  Would I go back?  I think so, when I have more time to wander around, preferably without crowds.

Monday, 26 September 2011

'Ganesha Goes To Lunch'

I've been reading a great little book on my way to work over the past couple of weeks called 'Ganesha Goes To Lunch - Classics From Mystic India' by Kamla K Kapur.  I bought it a couple of years ago when I saw the 'Garden and Cosmos' exhibition at The British Museum and finally decided it was the right time to read it and I'm so pleased I did.

At the risk of offending any Hindus reading this blog, it's a re-telling of traditional stories, myths and legends from India and, probably, religious parables and tales. And, like parables from all faiths, they generally have a religious or moral tone and ending.  Of course, these deal with the vast Hindu pantheon of gods and deities, so probably aren't what you'd expect.  Hindu deities range from revelling in the austere to burning in the passion of sex and whatever else you fancy.  It's all part of life, after all.

There are 24 tales, all illustrated with lovely drawings, divided by the triumvirate godhead of Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva, followed by tales of Krishna, and stories from The Ramayama and from The Mahabharata, so it covers all the main areas of Hindu belief.  I first read a version of The Ramayana when I was at junior school and it captured my imagination. It was a delight to see, inside the Grand Palace and Temple in Bangkok a couple of decades later, wall frescoes telling the whole tale, with Rama and Sita and wily Hanuman and I delighted that I could 'read' quite a lot of it as it sparked memories.

Some of my favourite stories are:
  • 'Ganesha Goes To Lunch' in which Lord Ganesha accepts a luncheon invite in place of his mother, Parvati, and literally eats his host out of house and home;
  • 'The Bird Who Fought War' in which a little bird seeks to persuade Lord Krishna to stop the great war of The Mahabharata and Krishna's first arrow severs a bell on an elephant's neck to safely cover the bird's nest;
  • 'The Toad Who Didn't Croak' who is accidentally killed by Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu) which ends with the words from the toad, 'There's only one thing sweeter than dying by Rama's hand... To die in Rama's hands.'

It's a lovely book, very thoughtful and thought-provoking.  I'm pleased to have bought it and to have (finally) read it.

Friday, 23 September 2011

'South Pacific' at The Barbican v2

Last night I bathed in the joy that is 'South Pacific' at The Barbican for the second time, this time celebrating the 82nd birthday of a little old lady who likes whisky and ginger (who, oddly enough, sat in seat 29, the year of her birth).

I love this musical, it speaks to me in music and words and it makes my eyes go moist every now and then. There's something magical about those chord sequences and those words that make me respond whether I want to or not. I saw this production at the Lincoln Center in New York in 2010 and then again at The Barbican a month ago and decided I needed to see it again while I could. So we did.

I was very impressed with it, particularly with Samantha Womack who has clearly grown into the part. Her voice has strengthened and her accent was impeccable - who'd have thought she was in 'EastEnders'? The cast is largely the same, with the same energy and joy spilling off the stage into the audience. I smiled, I laughed and I cried to those wonderful songs and touching story.

It's on for another week at The Barbican and then goes on tour. If you get the chance, do go and see it. You won't be disappointed.

From The Vaults ...

A most wonderful photo was tweeted this morning by @venturax and, for someone my age, I just have to wonder how on earth this hasn't surfaced before?

Here we have Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry, Viv Albertine, Siouxsie Sioux, Poly Styrene and Pauline Black, an elite if ever there was one! And I've seen them all apart from Viv and I have high hopes of putting that right in the near future.

I saw Chrissie in the audience at a Sandra Bernhart show (she walked past me on the stairs and sat a few rows behind me), seen Debbie on stage with Blondie (naturally), seen Siouxsie on stage and met her at a signing, saw the lovely Poly Styrene at the X-Ray Spex Roundhouse gig in 2008 and saw Pauline when she introduced Reggae Brittania at the Barbican a few years ago (but not seen her sing).

Might I say *wow*?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


My copy of SLADE's 'Sladest' (remix 2011) arrived today and it is a lovely record. Originally released in 1973 when SLADE bestrode the world of pop and rock like gods, it's part greatest hits and part look-what-you-missed, with earlier songs from 'Play It Loud'. It's a great album and this reissued version includes a never-before heard song, a studio version of 'Hear Me Calling'.

'Sladest' comes in a tri-fold cardboard cover which, when you first open it, has close-up photos of Sir Noddy and Jim, then open Sir Nod's cover to reveal close-ups of Dave and Don, a nice touch. There's a booklet with a long write-up by Chris Ingham with loads of photos. As ever, with the Salvo re-issues, the packaging is excellent and so is the sound quality on the re-mastered songs. The original album ended with 'Mama Weer All Crazee Now' but this version includes a previously unreleased studio version of 'Hear Me Calling' plus 'My Friend Stan', 'My Town' and 'Kill 'Em At The Hot Club Tonight', all from 1973 to keep it all in character.

I love the studio version of 'Hear Me Calling'. As all SLADE fans know, it's the opening track on 'SLADE Alive!' and a song we're all familiar with. This version includes a background of hand-claps recorded in an echo chamber (probably a toilet or stairwell, I suspect) when the lads were trying to re-create their live sound. It's excellent! The whole album sounds excellent, lovely re-mastering.

If you want a taster of SLADE from the glory years then this is the album for you, with all the hits and a few early songs to let you see how the band developed into the Lords of Noize. I am currently worshipping at the altar of Noize...

Poly Styrene Interviewed by John Robb in 2009

John Robb has just posted a 50 minute video interview with Poly Styrene in 2009 on Louder Than War. The video is in two parts and Poly ranges from her childhood to the gig at The Roundhouse in 2008.

It's lovely to hear Poly chatting away about being a hippy before being a punk, being friends with John Lydon at the break-up of the Sex Pistols, the Krishna movement, wearing Biba clothes and talking about her beliefs. The interview is punctuated with laughter and Poly's thoughtful humour. It made me smile and reminisce.

Put aside some time to watch it. Click here.

And here's a great photo of Poly back in the day from Spex Cliche on Facebook...

Sunday, 18 September 2011

John Martin: Apocalypse Is Coming

There's going to be a rare exhibition of John Martin paintings at the Tate Britain with the homely title of 'Apocalypse'. There's even a short video trailer for the exhibition that isn't what you might think it is - take a look. A title and a video like that can only raise expectations, so I hope you live up to it Mr Tate.

I first came across John Martin back in the 70s in the Laing Gallery in Newcastle which has two nice pieces permanently on show - 'The Bard' and 'The Destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah' - both on an epic scale and both madly romantic and over the top. This exhibition is in partnership with the Laing so I'm expecting them to be part of the show. That means they'll also be in the glossy brochure that accompanies the exhibition so I'll finally be able to get a good quality reproduction of the paintings.

I'm quite looking forward to seeing this exhibition which is just along the road from where I work. I shall take an afternoon off over the autumn and indulge.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Pink Floyd? No Thanks

Y'know, sometimes you've just got to say 'enough is enough'. This much I can take and no more. Well, I actually switched over to watch Newsnight (yes, *Newsnight*!) tonight to avoid being corrupted or just plain annoyed. I went through the punk wars to fight against this.

What am I talking about? O yes, Pink Floyd night on BBC4. All I ask is 'why?'.

I watched the documentary - I'm a music fan and want to understand all sorts of music. I had to switch over when the 'video' programme started, though, when the third song threatened to go on forever. I'm a fan of the three minute pop song, not a ten minute dirge (I delete them from my iPod if any sneak on). Now, good on the Floyd lads for their early ambitions of trying to do something new with music - I can appreciate that - but self-indulgent nonsense isn't fun at all. At least not for me.

And we had Bob Geldoff talking about their greatness to justify their inclusion in Live 8 - Bob, be honest, you just thought they'd sell tickets or whatever. Your job is to raise money, why is it is a problem to say that?

Anyway, all I can say is thanks for the memory Pink Floyd, I don't own any of your records and don't intend to, but at least you're part of the grand melange that is pop music. I'm sure there are lots of people out there that love you, but I'll stick to pop stars, thank you.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Kim Wilde - 'Snapshots'

Ladies and gentlemen, I now have Kim Wilde's new record, 'Snapshots'. It's an import from Germany (which seems to be the only place it's been released) but, after seeing the video for 'It's Alright' I decided I had to have it and ordered it through Amazon.

It arrived today with a red sticker on the front announcing, "Das Erste Cover Album Ihrer Karriere!" which even I can translate. So, yes, it's a covers album with 14 songs and the snapshots theme is continued into the booklet with a few pages covered in small photos of Kim over the years, with fans and with stars (like Michael Jackson). There are short paragraphs about each song from Kim but they're in German so I can't read it. The introductory text from Kim is in English (which I can read) telling us how the record came about and how she enjoyed it, ending with the lovely phrase, "... [I] wear my Pop Star badge with pride!". I *like* that.

Anyway, what about the songs? They all have Kim's 'powerpop' sound and some sound remarkably like the originals with the same arrangement, just updated, while others sound quite different. One thing I like about this album is that I haven't heard of some of the songs before, so, although it's a covers album, I'm still hearing some songs for the first time. 'To France' for example, is a song from 1973 by Mike Oldfield and Maggie Reilly, that stirs not a single memory so, to me, this is the original version. Kim seems to have picked a collection of songs from the last 50 years that she likes and has made an impression on her and that's a sound enough reason.

Favourite songs after a first listen are, 'It's Alright', 'Sleeping Satellite', 'They Don't Know About Us' (the Kirsty MacColl classic), 'Beautiful Ones' and the evergreen 'Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone)' (that I'm sure Kim bounced round her bedroom to in 1978 - I did). There's the brave take on 'Anyone Who Had A Heart', the first pop song she remembered from when she was four years old and the lovely version of Bowie's 'Kooks' sung with her husband (as is right and proper). The only song that doesn't work for me (on one listen) is 'About You Now' but, then again, I love the Sugababes version so I'm biased.

Kim is still big in Germany but it would be great to release this album in the UK - along with the last couple of albums please - and re-launch her career here. She still tours on the 80s revival scene but I want to see a Kim Wilde gig in London in which she plays the new songs from 'Come Out And Play' and 'Never Say Never' as well as the classics and the new covers. What an incredible set that would be. C'mon Kim, you were brave stepping onto that first Top Of The Pops stage all those years ago, you can do it again with your name blazoned across the stage and a Pop Star badge on display. You were after Debbie Harry and before Madonna - a great place to stand in history.

Here's 'It's Alright':

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

SLADE - 'Gudbuy T'Jane'

Here's a great video of SLADE doing 'Gudbuy T'Jane' on some (German?) TV show. I've never seen it before so that's justification enough for posting it let alone that it's had over one million views so far. All I can say is 'wow'!

This was their last single of 1972 before they went mega in 1973 and had three singles go straight to No 1 in the years when doing that meant some serious sales. Nowadays everybody does that with the right advertising campaign but SLADE sold hundreds of thousands of records on their name alone. I bought them.

And Slade are playing Koko in London on 18 December - be there or be square daddy-o.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Slade at Koko 18 December

Breaking news: the mighty Slade will play at Koko in Camden on 18 December. I *must* be there despite Koko being one of my least favourite venues.

A mere week before Christmas and we will have Slade. Not the classic line-up of course, no Sir Noddy or Jim, but I must support Dave and Don and sing myself hoarse. And I will. Tickets go on sale on Friday this week and tickets will be mine!

It's 40 years since their first No 1 hit single - who knows what might happen?

Laura Marling - 'A Creature I Don't Know'

Today sees the release of Laura Marling's third album and she is still only 21 years old. I first heard of Laura on Jools Holland's 'Later' in, I think, late 2007 that made me watch out for her first album in 2008. I saw her sing live with The Mystery Jets in 2008 but haven't seen her play live since - I've always been in the wrong place to see her.

Words and melody are central to Laura's songs and sound, with lyrical flights of fancy taking off when you least expect it and that's a central characteristic of this new record. It's an album that will, I have no doubt, grow with successive plays. After an initial listen, I'd vote for 'The Beast', 'Sophia' and 'All My Rage' as favourite songs. No doubt that'll change after a day or two as I love different songs.

Do yourself a favour and give it a listen.

New Kate Bush Album - '50 Words For Snow'

I've just seen that Kate Bush will release an album of new material on 21 November called, '50 Words For Snow'. Clearly, Kate has been reading my blog and knows of my love of the white stuff. Full details are here.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

'Richard III' at The Old Vic

I forgot to mention that we'd been to see 'Richard III' at The Old Vic a week or so ago - it was the first in a series of nights out and the last to be blogged. I'm not sure why. I've never seen the play before and never read it, I'm not even clear in my own mind about the backdrop of history it plays against, so I must take it at face value.

It's the last in the series of 'Bridge' productions at The Old Vic with a joint British and American cast, ignoring the difference in accents with actors speaking as they would in any other play. I can cope with Shakespeare in various American accents, what I can't cope with is plain bad acting. More of that later.

Kevin Spacey plays Richard, starting out in modern clothes and seemingly regressing wardrobe-wise. The guards are in suits and it starts out with a vaguely JFK 'Camelot' feel to it. That swiftly evaporates as dire deeds are done and a prince is drowned in a vat of cider in his boxers. Richard is clearly one sexy bugger since he kills a lady's husband and father and still manages to seduce her. I was like, 'eh?'. I suppose power overcomes all. He then cuts a swathe through the court and royal family and brings England to the brink of disaster before being stopped by a bad actor... ooops, did I say that out loud? Anyway...

I liked the sparse sets and the use of technology in a reality TV world. I thought Kevin Spacey was excellent as the malevolent king but he seemed to move from originality into stereotype baddy towards the end - is this the writing or the direction or the acting? I dunno. I liked Gemma Jones as mad Queen Margaret who wandered round the set every now and then putting large Xs on doors and being melodramatic. I also liked Haydn Gwynne as deposed Queen Elizabeth in a no-win situation. I must (yes, I really must) pour scorn on the actors who played Lord Stanley and the Earl of Richmond (both American) who, and let me find the right words here ... o yes, who couldn't act for toffee! C'mon guys. you're fighting for your lives, at least have some tone and inflection to your voices! Wooden or what, I can't even be bothered to look up their names to publicly shame them.

Anyway, other than the aforementioned gentlemen, I must recommend this production. I enjoyed it and I'm pleased to finally see one of Shakespeare's history plays with actors worthy of the parts. Well done!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Celeste Dos Santos & The Tabloid Queens

My latest favourite new band is Celeste Dos Santos & The Tabloid Queens. They've published five demo tracks produced by Youth on reverbnation that sound pretty damn fab to me.

I think my favourite songs are 'Cheers! Sweet Melancholy' with it's opening line of 'I'm going to drown my sorrows in a big fat glass of beer!' and 'The International' with it's fast punky guitar and drums. It would be great to hear these tracks properly recorded and released.

The band was previously called Debutante Disco but they've added some new members and changed the name and are about to be unleashed on London on 22 September in their first gig at Alley Cat on Denmark Street. I won't be there, sadly, but I'm looking forward to the reviews and YouTube clips. If you get the chance go along and support Celeste.

The band is even more special to me personally since Celeste is the daughter of the mighty Poly Styrene and a clear example of great talent running in the family. Like mother like daughter.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Four Seasons

Today, even I have to admit that summer is over, what little we saw of it. Yesterday was full of rain, include a monsoon sequence, and today is just plain chilly. Luckily, I delight in having four seasons to savour.

I love a hot summer and a freezing winter, and I love the changing of the seasons, moving from hot to cold and cold to hot. Or at least that's the plan. I really hope we have a good summer next year for the Olympics. London looks beautiful in the sunshine, with old buildings and hanging baskets of flowers and its lovely denizens.

I occasionally think of living somewhere else in the world, like Sri Lanka. Much as I enjoy visiting there and it's green lushness, I'm not sure I could live there. I'd probably love it for a year or so and then I'd start missing the seasons and the cold, bundling up in coats and mufflers, wearing gloves to go to the shops and all that. Lovely to visit but not to live - I rejoice in change.

Where I live is surrounded by trees and greenery and for the last couple of weeks I've noticed the trees become laden with apples and fruit and berries. All over the place. And conkers are starting to fall. The old wives tales say that this predicts a long and bad winter since nature is providing food early for the birds and animals to eat and hibernate. I hope that's true. There's nothing worse than a long, dreary and damp winter - I want extremes.

I should be used to the changing seasons by now but it always surprises me how the world changes. Just a couple of weeks ago it wasn't getting dark until around 9:00pm, now it's dark at 8:00pm. It happens every year but it's always a surprise.

I worked from home today and wore shorts. I think that's the last time. I will now welcome Autumn with open arms and wear long trousers. And socks (mis-matched, of course).

By the way, I nicked the photo from Cherie's Place.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Amanda & Neil Kickstarter

Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman are doing a short tour of the West Coast of the USA in November and, because we don't all live there, they're recording it for our pleasure and using Kickstarter to raise the funding. In the 12 hours since they opened the Kickstarter they've raised $44,000 and they were hoping for a total of $20,000 by early October. Saying 'not bad' is an understatement.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Amanda Palmer at The British Library

This evening we were lucky enough to be part of a small gathering at The British Library to see a special show by Miss Amanda Palmer. There were only 200 tickets or so, so it was quite special to see her in a small venue and, what's more, in a venue with seats - the first time I've been to an Amanda gig with seats.

She came on in a canary yellow suit, a knee-length dress and matching jacket, handbag and the essential pearls round her neck, bought from a charity shop in Scotland, giving a regal wave. She looked most odd in old/older womens' clothes and commented that they made her feel strange and thought our reaction to her was changed as well. Still, it didn't stop her starting the show with her Australian ukulele by singing a Niggaz With Attitude song that influenced her own song, 'Do You Swear To Tell The Truth'. After a few songs she needed to change clothes and Neil Gaiman helped her unzip the dress to reveal one more to her style underneath.

Most of her songs were with the ukulele even though a piano was on stage with her (which she didn't think was a very good one). We also had two songs which she played with a mandolin (she said she didn't know how to play it). We were given a nice range of her ukulele songs, including 'Map Of Tasmania' (during which she delighted that we were shouting out 'Fuck it' in the chorus in the British Library), the beautiful 'In My Mind', 'Fake Plastic Trees', 'Inbetween Days' (cover of the Cure song) and ''Black Boys On Mopeds' (Sinead O'Connor cover). The penultimate song was a new song that was meant to be a ukulele anthem but had too many words and too many chords but was excellent! During the song, Neil kneeled on the stage with the words on paper for Amanda to read - it's so new she hasn't learned it properly yet.

We were given three songs with Neil Gaiman, 'The Problem With Saints' from the 8in8 project, 'I Google You' (the song he wrote with Amanda three years ago) and the final song of the set, Wreckless Eric's 'Whole Wide World' - I was one of the relatively few people in the audience who could sing along and, I suspect, the only one who's seen Eric sing it live.

Amanda was most excellent, chatting away quite happily, answering questions and being lovely. She was on for about 1:30 hours and then came out afterwards to sign things. As the officious little librarian bloke (who obviously has always dreamed of being a bouncer) kept telling us - don't talk to her, don't take pics with her, everyone move forward, you've got to be out by 9pm, etc. Neil gamely wandered down the queue happy to sign any books that anyone had while I asked Amanda to sign my 'Amanda Palmer Down Under' and 'UkuleHead' CDs and she did. It was a short but sweet meeting, no hugs but at least I had a few words with her and congratulated Neil on a great show as we were leaving.

So. That's two excellent doses of Amanda Fucking Palmer over the weekend and I'm happy. I do, of course, want a new album from Miss Palmer, like, now please. And we need a live DVD please. Oh, and more shows as well (obviously). Thank you for a very special evening.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Jimmy Cliff at The IndigO2

Last night we went to see the legend that is Jimmy Cliff. OK, some of you might think you've never heard of him but if you've ever heard a reggae song by someone other than Bob Marley, then it's probably by Jimmy. I've been a long-time fan of Jimmy Cliff, going back to the early 70s, but I've never seen him before. When I heard he was playing at the IndigO2 I made sure I got the best seats I could, and, for the first time, managed to nab seats in the Kings Row section of the venue with it's own private bar and lounge. Well swanky before the skanking began.

Jimmy started writing and making music in the mid-60s Jamaican ska scene before rising to international prominence by writing most of the music for and starring in the film, 'The Harder They Come'. Regular readers will remember my glowing reviews of the stage play a few years ago when I saw it more times than was good for my wallet, even heading out to Oxford to see it on tour. The soundtrack album is widely credited as taking reggae to the world - before there was Bob Marley, there was Jimmy Cliff.

Jimmy's music is sunshine and happiness, anger and righteousness, careful lyrics married to a reggae sound to draw you in and dance, letting his words into your head. He's a sadly overlooked songwriter - probably because his genre is reggae - who has finally been inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame. He has a soothing and gentle voice and a nice way of phrasing lyrics, whether his own or other peoples'.

On stage he gave us 1:45 hours of great reggae from his big band, beautifully paced and getting us all on our feet every now and then. He's been in the biz for 40 years so knows how to work a crowd and I'm pleased that he told us we'd made him i-rie! He took us on a journey from his early ska singles through reggae to the more dancy/disco of the '80s and beyond. And the man never stood still, dancing from one side of the stage to the other, skanking, arms and legs all over the place, a bundle of energy on the stage in his gold headband and golden trainers.

We had 'Miss Jamaica' and 'King of Kings'. We had 'The Harder They Come', 'Wonderful World, Beautiful People', 'Many Rivers To Cross', 'The Harder They Come', 'Sitting In Limbo' and 'You Can Get It If You Really Want It'. We had 'Wild World' and 'Sitting In Limbo'. We had 'I Can See Clearly Now' and 'Reggae Night'. Jimmy always has another song to throw at you from different stages of his career. He gave us his anti-war anthem 'Vietnam' but nowadays it's called 'Afghanistan'. He gave us 'Treat The Youths Right' in response to the riots and looting in London and elsewhere in August. He gave us a bongo section when the band all played bongos and percussion for 'Bongo Man'.

If you get the chance to see Jimmy Cliff don't think twice, buy tickets. He gives good show and killer music. Thank you Mr Cliff, come back to London soon!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

AFP @ Heaven

Tonight we had the pleasure of seeing Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra (plus special guests) at the box that is Heaven. The special guests were Neil Gaiman, Tim Minchin, Tom Robinson (yes, Mr TRB himself) with support bands Bitter Ruin and The Jane Austen Experience, a great violin player whose name I missed (sorry) and SuperKate doing belly dancing and aerobics. Plus a horn section that she hasn't rehearsed with. Yes, that sounds like an Amanda Fucking Palmer gig to me.

It's well over a year since I last saw Amanda play live - the Evelyn Evelyn show at Bush Hall in April 2010 was the last time - so I've been looking forward to this gig for a while. Heaven is an odd venue for a gig but at least it has a high stage so, unless you're very unlucky, you will see the star of the show. Of course, it's also a club so that meant the gig started early so it could be finished and emptied before the place re-opened as a club for the Friday night club crowd. Even so, we had 2:20 hours from Miss Palmer and what a great time it was.

Amanda has a game going with fans to crowd-source her clothes for live shows and tonight's theme was "sparkly" so she (and the band) wore sparkly clothes donated by kind fans. It wasn't the best ensemble I've seen her wearing but that adds to the surprise.

She played a good, crowd-pleasing selection from The Dresden Dolls and her solo works, from 'Who Killed Amanda Palmer', 'UkeleleHead' and 'Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under' as well as some covers including a great version of Simple Minds' 'Don't You (Forget About Me)'. She included 'The Problem With Saints' from her 8ini8 project with Neil Gaiman on vocals.

It was great to hear Amanda with a band behind her again. It makes her sound so much bigger and, although the drummer wasn't Brian, he still sounded good, filling in the gaps in her piano playing and keeping the rhythm going with the extra addition of guitars. Amanda announced that she was also using a synth on her new songs, so her sound is evolving. And evolving in a great way. She played four new songs that aren't finished yet and they all sounded great, upbeat and dancey, particularly 'Lost Wallet' and 'Massachusetts Avenue'.

It was also nice to see Amanda step out from behind her keyboards to stand centre-stage and command the place with her presence. She sang a few songs up-front with others playing keyboards, such as the dramatic 'Delilah' with the bloke from Bitter Ruin playing the keyboards and the girl singing opposite Amanda, both of them pulling dramatic poses. There's nothing wrong with singing out front Amanda, you should do it more often.

I think this is possibly the best gig I've seen Amanda play (the jury's still out). She had nothing to sell other than her own awesomeness (as she joked) so she had a freer hand in deciding the set list than normal and strolled through her back catalogue to pick songs that kept us all focused on her. 'Astronaut', 'Guitar Hero' and 'Runs in the Family' from WKAP, 'Idioteque' from 'UkeleleHead', 'Missed Me', 'Delilah' and 'Girl Anachronism' from The Dresden Dolls, 'Map of Tasmania' and the great 'In My Mind' from 'Down Under'. A lovely surprise was segueing from 'Oasis' into 'Twist and Shout' and back again. Oh, lots of songs! I had a silly smile on my face for most of the gig.

The appearance of Neil Gaiman (aka Mr Amanda Palmer) is becoming standard but it was nice to hear him sing. Tim Minchin came on in the encore to sing one of his songs and then vanish. Tom Robinson came on to play with Amanda and her band, firstly singing 'Glad To Be Gay' and then a new song about bankers. The applause was hesitant when he first came on - clearly, most of the audience was a bit young to know who he was - but they soon got with the chorus in 'Glad To Be Gay', which was great fun (new verses, same chorus).

The final song of the encore was 'Leeds United' during which the crowd went mad - it's one of my favourite songs as well and I wished I could join in the pogoing around me but that would've been foolish. I was delighted when Amanda played 'Map of Tasmania' and 'In My Mind' since there was no hint of the Australian record in the set so far, and it was lovely to hear 'Astronaut' with drums . The only thing that kept it from being perfect was no 'Ampersand'.

If you get the chance to see Amanda Palmer then do so - you won't regret it!