Monday, 31 October 2011

Amanda Palmer ' 'Ukelele Anthem'

Welcome to the new song from Amanda Palmer, 'Ukelele Anthem', that was previewed at her show at The British Library a couple of months ago.  It's now available for download at a price of 'name your price' from Bandcamp so go on, people, download it now and pay a generous price. Play your ukelele!

To read Amanda's blog about this song, visit

sid vicious played a four-string fender bass guitar and couldn’t sing
and everybody hated him except the ones who loved him
a ukulele has four strings, but sid did did not play ukulele
he did smack and probably killed his girlfriend nancy spungen

if only sid had had a ukulele, maybe he could have been happy
maybe he would not have suffered such a sad end
he maybe would have not done all that heroin instead
he maybe would’ve sat around just singing nice songs to his girlfriend

so play your favorite cover song, especially if the words are wrong
‘cos even if your grades are bad, it doesn’t mean you’re failing
do your homework with a fork
and eat your fruit loops in the dark
and bring your etch-a-sketch to work
and play your ukulele

ukulele small and forceful
brave and peaceful
you can play the ukulele too it is painfully simple
play your ukulele badly, play your ukulele loudly
ukulele banish evil
ukulele save the people
ukulele gleaming golden on the top of every steeple

lizzie borden took an axe, and gave her father thirty whacks
then gave her mother thirty-one, and left a tragic puzzle
if only they had given her an instrument, those puritans
had lost the plot completely
see what happens when you muzzle
a person’s creativity
and do not let them sing and scream
and nowadays it’s worse ‘cause kids have automatic handguns
it takes about an hour to learn how to play the ukulele
about same to teach someone to build a standard pipe bomb

so play your favorite cover song, especially if the words are wrong
‘cos even if your grades are bad, it doesn’t mean you’re failing
do your homework with a fork
and eat your fruit loops in the dark
and bring your flask of jack to work
and play your ukulele

ukulele, thing of wonder
ukulele, wand of thunder
you can play the ukulele, too
in london and down under
play joan jett, and play jacques brel
and eminem and neutral milk hotel
the children crush the hatred
play your ukulele naked
and if anybody tries to steal your ukulele, let them take it

imagine there’s no music, imagine there are no songs
imagine that john lennon wasn’t shot in front of his apartment
imagine if john lennon had composed “imagine” on the ukulele
maybe folks would have more clearly got the message

you may think my approach is simple-minded and naïve
like if you want to save the world then why not quit and feed the hungry
but people for millennia have needed music to survive
and that’s why i’ve promised john that i will not feel guilty

so play your favorite beatles’ song
and make the subway fall in love
they’re only $19.95, that’s not a lot of money
play until the sun comes up
and play until your fingers suffer
play LCD soundsystem songs on your ukulele
quit the bitching on your blog
and stop pretending art is hard
just limit yourself to three chords
and do not practice daily
you’ll minimize some stranger’s sadness
with a piece of wood and plastic
holy fuck it’s so fantastic, playing ukulele
eat your homework with a fork
and do your fruit loops in the dark
bring your etch-a-sketch to work
your flask of jack
your vibrator
your fear of heights
your nikon lens
your mom and dad
your disco stick
your soundtrack from “karate kid”
your ginsu knives
your rosary
your new rebecca black CD
your favorite room
your bowie knife
your stuffed giraffe
your new glass eye
your sousaphone
your breakfast tea
your nick drake tapes
your giving tree
your ice cream truck
your missing wife
your will to live
your urge to cry
remember we’re all going to die
released 31 October 2011
Written and performed by Amanda Palmer
Artwork by Shepard Fairey

Chris Tummings & Victor Romero Evans' 'Big People Show'

Last Friday I visited The Hideaway in Streatham for the first time to see 'The Big People Show' from Chris Tummings and Victor Romero Evans and I'm so pleased I did.  It was great fun and the perfect way to close down the week and welcome in the weekend. To make it even more special, Chris came up to our table to shake hands and say 'hello' which was a very generous touch.

'The Big People Show' is, basically, for old people who remember and still enjoy the old songs so I was perfectly at home!  Chris and Victor were supported by the excellent Skaaville All Stars playing some heavy heavy skaa that got the feet tapping and head nodding instantly.  They came on around 9:15pm and stayed till about midnight with a 20 minute or so interval (shame it wasn't a ganga break).  That's not bad by anyone's standards.  Chris and Victor traded lead vocal on songs all night and both have excellent voices.  They also work well together, as they have since first meeting and becoming friends in 1979, and their on-stage banter could only be that of long-term mates who find it impossible not to say outrageous things about each other.

I last saw them both in 'The Harder They Come', a show I blogged about many times and even went out to Oxford to see it when it was on tour - an excellent show that deserved to stay in the West End much longer than it did. Victor played the pastor who lusted after his ward and Chris played the corrupt police chief who called us all "huggly". Both scary in different ways and a far cry from the blokes on stage wreathed in smiles and jokes and singing some classic songs.  Chris raised my spirits immediately by talking about John Holt's '1000 Volts of Holt' and saying it was played at every family gathering.  I bought that record years ago and am listening to it as I type.

Chris fulfilled a lifetime ambition by playing guitar with a band on stage and Victor sang his hit, 'At The Club' and then at midnight it was all over.  I had a big smile on throughout, enjoying them being daft up there on stage and then singing some great songs with great voices and great music.  They should make a record. It was a lovely way to end the week and I'd be more than happy to see them again - smile and be happy! 

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Buffy and Flamenco

Imagine my surprise when I check Twitter this evening on the train home and see a tweet with a link to an article in the National Post about Buffy Sainte-Marie and her band exercising and showing off gym clothes (click here).  In another article in the National Post Buffy talks about exercise (click here).  I don't know why it struck me as noteworthy, but it did.

Buffy puts me to shame.  An extract from the exercise article:

Q: What’s your secret for staying in such great shape?
A: I do lat pull-downs and leg presses and use the Gravitron and do upper-body weights, but that’s not my secret.
Q: OK, we’ll bite. What is?
A: I dance flamenco. It helps me build my core.
Q: What do you think about running?
A: I hate running! I find it so boring. I get on a treadmill, and it’s like, Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! All these ideas take over my head.

Can you claim to do as much?  I certainly can't.  I think I'm more in the territory of Elvis, as Buffy says,

A: Like Elvis. Poor thing. Besides lifting a sandwich, I don’t think he lifted anything.

Well, good on her and keep it up!

PS: I must start exercising...
PPS: I don't think Leroy knows what he's doing with that twist...

Monday, 24 October 2011

'The Playboy Of The Western World' at The Old Vic

Last week we went to see 'The Playboy of the Western World' at The Old Vic - I've been waiting for 30 years to see this play and it was well worth the wait. I did my dissertation at university 30 years ago on the works of JM Synge and the Celtic twilight (including Yeats and Lady Gregory) but I've never seen the play.  And, y'know what? I'm quite pleased I waited until this production to see Synge's masterpiece, for masterpiece it is.

I love the words, the lyrical quality of the phrasing and placing of the words, the poetry of everyday language in Synge's careful hands.  I'd downloaded the play onto my Kindle so I was reading the play both before and after seeing it and the language is great, both poetry and everyday speech at the same time that you don't notice when it's spoken in front of you. The poetry I've been used to when reading it is very different when it's part of fluent speech on the stage. And I was lucky enough to have three Irish people in the three lead roles of Christie (the Playboy, Robert Sheehan), Pegeen (the love interest, Ruth Negga) and the Widow Quinn (Niamh Cusack).

It's a very disfunctional play at one level, a play that glorifies a young lad that kills his father to the extent that the owner of a little pub on the coast of County Mayo is happy to leave him as protector of his daughter while he goes out to drink at a wake.And that's the premise throughout, that Christie has killed his father and is to be celebrated by the young women of the village and the old codgers wanting some refreshing gossip.  Of course, it's not as simple as that, and when Christie's supposedly dead dad turns up there are problems and Christie has to kill him again, this time in front of a baying crowd.  And that makes it different, now that they've witnessed a murder they need to make sure he's hanged... except there are more twists to the tale.

Niamh and Ruth are both consummate stage actresses that I've seen before (Ruth was Ophelia in 'Hamlet' last year) so it was Robert who was the unknown quantity.  He's the star of 'Misfits' on E4, one of my surprise likes of last year and, when I heard he was playing this role I thought, 'yes, Christie.' He has the right level of bullshit and arrogance, the can-do blarny, but lacks the acting credentials.  This is his first stage role and it's a pretty challenging one at that.  He needs to learn from his co-stars and then come back and do something really out of character to get us all gasping in surprise.  I think you can do it, so surprise us.

Put simply, I loved it.  The story-telling is excellent (well, it would be, wouldn't it) and the acting was engaging.  I loved the set, with the cottage pub that turned 360 degrees on the stage.  The playboy of the western world isn't who you think he is but he's someone to remember.  Go and see this production if you can, it's well worth it.

Friday, 21 October 2011

The Superions - 'Batbaby'

I have seen the future of the music video and it is daft. But also epic.

The Superions have returned with 'Batbaby' just in time for Hallowe'en and they've produced a ten minute video to go with it. Part 'B' movie and part music video, it's ever so slightly fab and great fun. Go on, take a look and then download the single. But, if you see a bat in a nappy, beware ....

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Mixed Britannia

I've been watching 'Mixed Britannia', a documentary series by George Alagiah about mixed race life in Britain. Previous episodes have been historical, looking at the start of mixed race marriages in the sea-ports of the 1900s which has been fascinating, but this week's episode brought things right up to date, to things that I can recognise because I grew up in the 60s and 70s. From the Limehouse docks in London to Tiger Bay in Cardiff and to Liverpool, most of this country has taken part in the story of a mixed race Britain. George ends the final programme by saying that he is proud that Britain is one of the most mixed race countries of the world and so am I.

George is best known as a newsreader for BBC News but, based on this series, he's wasted doing that.  He has a great ability to talk into the camera and make you think he's talking to you. In this series he draws on his own family and his own mixed race marriage to make his points more personal. And it works. He tackles a difficult subject and humanises it.  He should do more of this.

This final episode took me back to my school days and reminded me of a school friend I haven't thought of in years.  I grew up in a small mining village in north Durham and went to the local grammar school.  And so did T, a black girl that lived half a mile away.  She wasn't just the only black girl in the village, she was the only black anyone within a 15 mile radius, brought up by adoptive white parents. I hadn't thought of T for years - we were friends at school but lost touch 30 years ago - but some of the stories I heard in the programme this evening made me think of her and wonder. I'd love to meet up again.

I was on the bus going down Brixton Hill the other day and thought to myself that I loved the colour I saw.  Not skin colour, but cultural colour with women in veils and saris, men in muslim hats and Nehru jackets, white lads with blond dreadlocks, a bloke in a turban and denims and a little old lady in the most floral of floral frocks you can imagine. I loved it. That's the ultimate diversity, it's people being who they are and who they want to be and I'm quite pleased that in my world people can be who they want to be. 

Who called the British a 'mongrel race'?  I don't know, but it's true.  Since we're on the edge of Europe, and there's a history of peoples moving west, so this little island has seen a host of peoples coming here.  The Celts, the Romans, the Angles and Saxons, the Vikings, the Normans, Jews escaping the pograms, Jamaicans and Indians in the 50s to help the country grow after the war. None of us are 'pure blood' as the far right would want us to think, we're all bit of a mix.  I am Northumbrian and Irish and probably some Scots in there as well and I grew up in the land of the Prince Bishops. I claim my Native American blood through Buffy Sainte-Marie and my Caribbean blood through Jimmy Cliff.  I am a citizen of the world and claim you all as brothers and sisters. You don't really have any say in it.

I'm with the mighty Poly Styrene when she sang, "When it comes to my bretheren, I and I, Jah simply choose to remain colour blind".  Poly was mixed race herself, part Somali and part British white. And she was perfect.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

'Crazy For You' at The Novello Theatre

After a less than pleasant week at work it was a delight to realise that we had tickets to see 'Crazy For You' at the Novello Theatre on Friday night.  'Crazy For You' is billed as "the smash hit Gershwin musical" and it's the ultimate feel good song n dance spectacular - I loved it!

It's adapted from 'Girl Crazy' with more songs added and story that wouldn't stand up terribly well if you held it up yourself, but since when has a well-crafted plot been essential to a joyful musical extravaganza? It's the tale of Bobby, the rich kid who wants to be a dancer on Broadway who is sent to a dead-end hick town in Nevada to close a theatre-cum-post office who falls in love with the daughter of the owner and decides to put on a show to raise money to pay off the bank.  All sorts of mayhem and confusion ensues in a careful and knowing way which was great fun.  I particularly liked the line when challenged about putting on a show in a decrepit old theatre when Bobby said that Mickey Rooney does it all the time...

Our heroes are Sean Palmer as Bobby and Clare Foster as Polly Baker, the girl he falls for.  Both have a lovely stage presence, throwing themselves into their roles with abandon and having great chemistry as the star-crossed lovers with lovely voices and killer dance moves. They're ably supported by David Burt as Bela Zangler, the Broadway producer.  David has great comic timing and a good voice but, y'know what?  I'll always think of him as Petal from 'Taboo' with his too-short miniskirt and flambouyant knickers with a sock stuck down the front (I assume there was padding down there). It was great to see him again, particularly in the slapstick drunken scene in the second half.

I was conscious of having a smile on my face for most of this play, seeing the massed ranks of synchronised tap-dancers and singers making me astonished at how they must've practiced to deliver such a slick performance.  Well done people. And the cannon at the end shooting sparkly strips into the audience was the icing on the cake.

I'll definietley want to see this production again while I can. It's full of happiness and joy and you can never have too much joy in your life. Gimme more!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Buffy Sainte-Marie - 'Universal Soldier'

This is a video of Buffy singing 'Universal Soldier' on the BBC4 programme 'Songwriters Circle' that was recorded at Porchester Hall back in June and first broadcast on 14 October 2011.  This song got the biggest ovation of the evening - thanks to whoever downloaded it and posted it on YouTube.

Buffy sang 'Until It's Time For You To Go', a harrowing 'Cod'ine', 'Little Wheel Spin And Spin', 'I'm Gonna Be A Country Girl Again', 'Up Where We Belong' and 'Universal Soldier'. She also sang along with Roger Cook on 'You've Got Your Troubles' and with Donovan on 'Colours'.  That means that the BBC has high definition video of Buffy singing 'Piney Wood Hills' and 'Still This Love Goes On' that, hopefully, we'll see at some point.  How do I know this?  Because I was there for the recording.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

'The Killing Of Sister George' at The Arts Theatre

The other night we went to see 'The Killing Of Sister George' at the sweatbox that is the Arts Theatre, a theatre I didn't even know existed until recently despite having walked past it many times. I'm aware of the film with Beryl Reid in the title role but I wanted to see what Meera Syal would make of the part. I was deeply impressed with Meera as Shirley Valentine at the Choccy Factory last year.

The set was a bit of a talking point while waiting for the play to start, with a big wireless speaker (that is wireless as in radio, not as in Internet) covering the stage, with the furniture of George's flat at the front. The decor made me thing 1950s rather than 1960s and I'm not sure whether that was a mistake or deliberate.

Sister George is a character in a radio series who is about to be killed off to try to boost ratings. We pick up the story when George (played by Meera) finds out the news until after the programme is broadcast about the characters' funeral and she's offered the role of a cow in a children's series. There are only four characters in the play, all female, George, her girlfriend Alice (Childy), her downstairs neighbour (played by Helen Lederer) and the proper Mrs Croft from the BBC. It's not so much a play about lesbians as about the desperation of people being forced out of their comfort zone.

The play seemed terribly dated in places and full of stereotypes, with George sitting with legs wide open as the butch one and Alice in girly-girly mode, playing with dolls or putting on a teenagers voice and actions. I couldn't quite imagine them living together for six years or so without killing each other. George perpetually poured herself glasses of gin and Alice made pots of tea while their world collapsed around them.

I can't quite put my finger on it but I didn't really enjoy the production. It was lovely to see Meera again, but I suspect I'll enjoy seeing her more as Beatrice in 'Measure for Measure' (I'm looking forward to a powerful Beatrice).

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Kate Bush - 'Wild Man'

Kate Bush's first single from the new album was released yesterday and no-one told me! I've just downloaded it, the 4 minute radio edit and 7 minute album version, and i have to say I prefer this to the lead (only?) single from the last album, 'King Of The Mountain'. It's moody, challenging, atmpospheric and questioning, Like every good Kate song. And, unusally for me, I think I prefer the 7 minute version. Go on, download it from your downloady site of preference.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Punk And Beyond by Gaye Advert

'Punk and Beyond' is an exhibition curated by Gaye Advert of paintings by punk rockers from the '70s at the Signal Gallery in London between 25 Nov - 17 December 2011.  Gaye curated a similar exhibition last year that I missed, but this time I must attend since there will be a small series of tribute portraits of Poly Styrene.

Gaye is, of course, the magnificent bass player with The Adverts in the '70s, the first punk woman of note with her big panda eyes and leather jacket. Before Debbie Harry we all loved Gaye Advert.  She's now an artist and curator of the punk heritage which is a very worthy and important role.

I shall be there.

John Martin's 'Apocalyse'

Yesterday we went to see the first dedicated exhibition in over 30 years of the paintings and prints of John Martin - 'Apocalypse' at Tate Britain.

John Martin is from Northumberland so is a local boy done good and the Laing Gallery in Newcastle has a good collection of his works.  I went to the Laing a few times in my teens and only remember a few Pre-Raphaelites and a few John Martins - I can't remember the names of the Pre-Raphaelite painters but I remembered his name.  I visited the Laing again a couple of years ago and headed straight for the two Martin's on display at the time - he may not be the best painter ever to pick up a brush but he makes an impression. 

The first painting you come to is 'The Bard' (on loan from The Laing) and this epitomises Martin's works for me - grand scale, impossibly dramatic and romantic, and peopled with the teeming millions of people, tiny against an immense background. On the right on top of a mountain is the last Welsh bard and on the other side of the gorge is the army of Edward I hunting him down.  The scene is dramatic and is the perfect still from a blockbuster film to draw you in.  In reality, of course, it's made up.  The mountains in Wales aren't like that at all and the army wasn't anything like that, winding round and up and down the mountain passes. But why spoil a good scene? 

The word 'blockbuster' kept cropping up in the exhibition and it accurately reflects a modern take on the paintings - they are blockbusters.  The leaflet you're given on the way in suggests how Martin has influenced films, record covers, fiction and music and, if you squint slightly, there's a clear route from Martin to a Yes album cover.  The domes of his new Jerusalem could easily be at home with our modern visions of living on the Moon or on Mars.

One thing 'The Bard' lacks is the colour red, a colour Martin obvious fell in love with for some of his most dramatic paintings.  The red of Vesuvius exploding and raining down hell on Pompeii or the red of 'The Destruction of Sodom and Gomoraah'.  'Sodom' depicts a fire burning out of control, wreaking havoc and destruction in all directions and you can almost feel the heat radiating out at you.  Then there's the darker red and black of 'Pandemonium' when Satan's city rises intact from the lava with an endless army ready for the final battles.  I told you he was dramatic.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is a sound and light extravaganza for his 'Last Judgement' triptych, three giant canvases the size of one of the walls of your house (yes, *your* walls) that went on tour in the 1850s around Britain and America. It's a great idea to try to replicate the experience with the three giant paintings side by side, illuminated and darkened to a soundtrack of someone explaining the subject matter with real showmanship.  The show last about 15 minutes and is held every half hour and is a great way to see the paintings.

It's a grand exhibition in all senses of the word.  A good selection of his works, enough of them to be substantial and a good experience but not including every last sketch he ever made and watering down the experience.  We were there for about one and a half hours which felt about right to be wowed and over-awed but not too long and not pummelled to the our knees by the sheer weight of the drama.

 If you get the chance then go and see it - I'd recommend this exhibition any day!  John Martin may not be the best painter of people but is unsurpassed in drama! 

Friday, 7 October 2011

Buffy Sainte-Marie on BBC Four

You need to know that Buffy Sainte-Marie will be on BBC FOUR next Friday (14 October) at 9.30pm in 'Songwriter's Circle', along with Donovan and Roger Cooke.  I was lucky enough to be at the recording of the show at Porchester Hall earlier this year and it was great fun.  You might even see me in the audience.

Here's my write-up of the show.  It'll be interesting to see which songs they include in the show - I'm assuming it'll be four or five songs each. 

Buffy is also featured in the programme immediately afterwards called 'Singer-Songwriters at the BBC'.

If you're going to be out next Friday night then I recommend you set your machine of choice to record mode from 9.30pm onwards, you won't regret it!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Buffy Sainte-Marie - 'Still this Love Goes On'

Buffy Sainte-Marie has perfected her own version of the 3 minute pop song, often dripping with imagery on top of a simple and memorable melody. One of my favourites is 'Still This Love Goes On' from 'Running For The Drum'. It packs in the seasons in Canada with animal tracks in the snow and summer running up and down the mountainsides. She sings about powwow singing, the drum and the Jingle Dancers, painted ponies and sweet grass burning.

I love this song and it's not just one of my favourites from 'Running For The Drum', it's one of my favourite all-time Buffy songs. It's simple and complex at the same time, and here's a lovely video of Buffy singing it live earlier this summer. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Indigo Girls - 'Beauty Queen Sister'

Yes, the Girls have done it again. What's that, you ask? Release a record without really telling anyone about it. I'm sure they think they've covered their fan base but it's passed me by. 'Beauty Queen Sister' is available to download from iTunes now (plus one bonus track) and will be available from Amazon next Monday. I've downloaded it.

I first came across The Indigo Girls with their first record and the single, 'Closer To Fine'. I have fond memories of walking across Clapham Common listening to the song being played on breakfast radio in 1989. It's worthy and wordy but it works. Then I bought the album. And most albums since then. I've only seen the Girls once, four years ago, at Shepherd's Bush. I'd love to see them again, particularly promoting this latest album.

Their last album was the Christmas record, 'Happy Holly Days' and before that, 'Poseidon'. This latest record makes me think more of the previous album, 'Despite Our Differences', and this develops the sound and songs on that album. The overwhelming feeling of the songs is of calm. This is a carefully measured record with very thoughtful, gentle songs.

I'll choose a few early favourites in 'Share The Moon', 'John', 'War Rugs', 'Feed And Water The Horses' 'Damo' and 'Able To Sing'.  No doubt that list will change as I listen to the record again.  Amy and Emily swapping lead vocals and song-writing duties as ever makes for an interesting mix. 

The production is sparse with the focus on the song, the words and the music, with no stray effects audible. I like it. It's not a record I'd listen to on the tube going to work, but I'd definitely listen to it at night when I get home and need to relax. This record will do it, relax the body but stimulate the mind. Go on, give it a go.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

SLADE - 'Them Kinda Monkeys Can't Swing'

I have no idea where this video comes from but it's pretty fab. At the end of the song Sir Noddy mentions they're in San Francisco so it's from one of their American tours but the number of different camera angles suggests this concert was filmed, so where is the film?

Dave still has his 'SLADE in Flame' haircut so I assume this is from late 1974 or '75. We don't see much of Jim or Don in this clip, the sound isn't great and the visuals could do with an edit but y'know what? If the concert was released on DVD I'd buy it anyway, and so would thousands of others. It makes you wonder what else is in the vaults.

This clip was posted on Facebook today by Slade in England so enjoy!