Monday, 31 December 2012

'Sleeping Beauty' at Sadler's Wells

My Christmas treat was Matthew Bourne's new production of 'Sleeping Beauty' at Sadler's Wells. As ever, Sadler's Wells was in festive garb with the trees outside covered in lights and a giant Christmas Tree inside that, sadly, no-one seemed to pay any attention to. I did, I gave it big lookings over a glass of red wine.

I've seen most of Matthew Bourne's works at Sadler's Wells except for 'Highland Fling' which I hope to see soon. His 'Swan Lake' and 'Nutcracker' are firm Christmas favourites and I'm happy to add 'Sleeping Beauty' to that list, just as Tchaikovsky did.

I loved the production, lush staging and lighting, impressive dancing that elegantly told the tale of Princess Aurora and her suitors and the hints of danger throughout. The good faeries and the bad faeries with hints of vampirism, both Victorian fantasies. So appropriate to a tale that starts in 1890 with the adopting of the Princess and, in1911, by her Edwardian coming of age birthday. Folklore and magic rule the day, even when the story shoot forward 100 years to characters in jeans and hoodies.

The tale is easy to follow through dance and drama. The good faeries brining happiness and joy to the new baby princess, flying through the open window to dance around her cot. Sadly, the bad faerie godmother can also get through the window to curse Aurora to be caught by the good faeries who try to mitigate the curse.

At Aurora's coming of age party she meets the son of the bad faerie godmother who holds a black rose. After dancing with her young love, the gardener, Aurora picks up the rose and pricks her finger and the curse falls on her. The only way to save her is to take her to sleep in faerieland behind locked gates that will remain locked for 100 years. To ensure her lover is there to save her, the good faerie prince bites his neck as the curtain falls on the first half. You could almost feel the collective intake of breath across the audience as the faerie prince exposed the young gardeners neck ready to bite...

The second half opens 100 years later and presents the battle for Aurora's soul, the battle of good over evil and a life-affirming continuation of fantasy. I won't tell you what happens since it would be far better for you to see it when it goes on tour after the current Sadler's Wells run. It is, needless to say, excellent.

I loved the characterisation of the dancers, the simple moments of joy and happiness of Aurora and her love, the reek of evil around the dark godmother and evil faerie prince (played by the same dancer). The valiant good faeries defending the young princess and then taking care of her during her long sleep in faerieland. The battle between the good and evil faerie princes in the penultimate scene filled with faeries in black and red, with red lighting bathing the stage in gothic horror.

It's a magical telling of an old tale, beautifully presented and performed and perfect for Christmas and the dark winter months. Make sure you see it if the tour comes anywhere near you. I've already booked to see it again.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Noddy Holder on Tour in 2013

It's amazing what you can find out during a lazy Sunday afternoon browsing the internet. Today, I found out about a new album from Sweet (New York Connection, issued earlier in 2012) which was instantly downloaded and rocked along to. While listening I went browsing and found out that Noddy Holder - Sir Noddy, as should be - is going on tour in May 2013. Not gigging, sadly, but a spoken word tour, but talking's good too.

It's billed as 'An Evening with Noddy Holder in Conversation With Mark Radcliffe' and is only eight dates and all are in the north of the country.  The dates are:

Thursday 9 May 2013 - Oakengates Theatre (The Place), Telford
Friday 10 May 2013 - Pavilion Arts Centre, Buxton
Saturday 11 May 2013 - Gala Theatre & Cinema, Durham
Sunday 12 May 2013 - Albert Halls (Festival Hall), Bolton
Thursday 16 May 2013 - City Varieties Music Hall, Leeds
Friday 17 May 2013 - Palace Theatre, Redditch
Saturday 18 May 2013 - Preston Guildhall & Charter Theatre, Preston
Sunday 19 May 2013 - Harrogate Theatre, Harrogate.

I will, of course, keep my eyes peeled in case any more dates are announced.

I saw Sir Noddy last Christmas at Union Chapel when he played the Narrator in a new version of 'A Christmas Carol' and it was great to see and hear him again after so many years. I also saw him back in September at the Marc Bolan celebration at Shepherd's Bush.  My next rendezvous with Sir Nod will be on Friday 21 December on SLADE Night! on BBC4.

This has been a public service announcement from the Plastic Bag.

'True Colours' - the Paraorchestra, Kaos Choir and ParalympicsGB Athletes

Twitter has many uses. I follow @ParalympicsGB and they posted a link to a video on YouTube for a new version of 'True Colours' (the Cyndi Lauper song). This version is by  the British Paraorchestra, the Kaos Choir and ParalympicsGB singers. The aim is to raise funds for the Paraorchestra and Kaos Choir and to help train ParalympicsGB athletes for the Games in Sochi.

I'm more than happy to support it. Watch the video, listen to the song and then download it from iTunes - it's only 79p. The legacy grows.

Invasion of The Polite Snowmen

If you look anywhere in this blog in December you'll see that I'm a card-carrying Christmas-oholic. I like seeing the Christmas lights around London and, closer to home, on Streatham High Road. They're always a bit cheap and cheerful but I like them. I always watch out for The Polite Snowman standing high up a lamp-post with his big smile and polite manners. I call him The Polite Snowman because he raises his hat whenever I approach and then pops it back down on his head. He may well do the same to you.

The Streatham lights were put up a few days before they were switched on and I was delighted to see The Polite Snowman outside the Horse and Groom pub as I walked home from the station after work. Good, he's back, I thought. The first evening after the lights were switched on, I came out of the station and turned right and there, in the distance, I could see him shining away and raising his hat - what a polite snowman he is.

And then it happened. I realised there were two Polite Snowmen! Cor, The Polite Snowman has brought one of his cousins to Streatham. I, naturally, raised my cap and said, 'Good evening Mr Snowman' as I walked underneath his cousin and then again under the original Polite Snowman. I'll get a chilly head in this cold weather but I must be polite in return to the Snowmen. After all, the Snowmen bring the snow.

Walking further down the High Road and, as I glanced on down the road at St Leonard's, what did I see? No less than two more Polite Snowmen beside Streatham Green, more cousins joining The Polite Snowman for Christmas. I couldn't help but break out into a big silly grin. I wonder if that means we'll get even more snow?

And here he is, The Polite Snowman being polite:

Friday, 7 December 2012

The Human League at the Royal Albert Hall

I was privileged to see The Human League at the Royal Albert Hall on their current tour and they were glorious - as if they could be anything else? Phil did his usual manic running about the stage and the girls danced with their arms above their heads (which is the law). Susan and Joanne have been dancing like that for over 30 years and you know you're in for a good show when you see those arms go up for the first time. But I'm leaping ahead...

The Royal Albert Hall is a big barn of a place and it was full, all ages, not just those who remember the League from back in the day but there was definitely a tendency for the older folks to be having a night out. As ever, the Human League take care in their set design and excellent lighting, with different colours bathing the stage and spotlights on Phil and the girls. There were clothing changes, sticking to their monochrome palette although Susan went a bit glam and sparkly at the last change.

The show opened with lasers flying around the stage and into the audience as we listening to a stirring orchestral piece called, I think, 'Explore', and then the screen in front of the stage rose and there they were in all their haughty glory leading off with 'Sky' from 'Credo' (the last album). The applause was interrupted by the opening chords of 'The Sound Of The Crowd' and, row by row, everybody got to their feet, clapping and singing along. And, quite frankly, I didn't stop singing along, as we moved through 'Open Your Heart', 'Heart Like A Wheel', 'All I Ever Wanted' and the great 'These Are The Things Dreams Are Made Of' which always makes me smile when The Ramones are name-checked in the chorus.

We then had a Phil moment with him pacing the stage to 'Seconds', followed by 'The Lebanon', 'Louise' and 'One Man In My Heart'. A couple more songs from 'Credo' followed, 'Night People' and 'Electric Shock', an then were back to the classics of 'Love Action', 'Tell Me When', 'Fascination' and 'Mirror Man'. And that was it, all over. All over? Surely not, as the mad clapping and stomping raised the roof and back they came for 'Goodbye Bad Times' (from Phil's '80s album with Georgio Moroder) an amazing 'Don't You Want Me' and finished off with 'Together In Electric Dreams'.

When you've got a songbook like The Human League you can pick and choose how to fill a setlist and this was a good 'un even if we didn't get 'Being Boiled'. This is billed as the XXXV Tour celebrating how long they've been around and 'Being Boiled' was the first song of theirs I ever heard, and that was on the John Peel radio show back in the late '70s.

The whole gig was nothing short of magnificent. They tamed the barn that is the RAH and brought sense and order to the stage, defining their space and lighting it perfectly. The sound was perfect. The Human League were perfect. I can easily say that this was the best gig I've ever seen at the RAH.

Highlights for me were a tender 'Louise', a dramatic 'Open Your Heart' and 'The Lebanon' which is always a firm favourite. I was secretly delighted to be word perfect for the rap in 'Love Action'. The songs of the night, however, were 'Don't You Want Me' and 'Together In Electric Dreams' in the encore. It's lovely seeing Susan take the lead vocals and holding out the microphone so we sing her line back at her, "I still love you". And we do.

The whole place was singing along to 'Don't You Want Me' and, with the acoustics of the RAH, it was an amazing, shiver-inducing sound. I've never heard a sound like it. It must be amazing to be in the band and see and hear the audience take wing with that song. Finishing off with a euphoric 'Together In Electric Dreams' was perfect to follow 'Don't You Want Me', taking us to the edge and pulling slightly back, leaving us in a comfortable and happy space.

Philip, Susan and Joanne deliver perfect pop, always and forever. They were gods in the '80s and they still are. Phil striding back and forth across the stage, the lasses wiggling their hips and raising their arms and that amazing sound they collectively make. I love your love action...

Come back soon!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

SLADE Night 21 December 2012

I mentioned back in September that there was going to be a SLADE Night on BBC4 at Christmas. Further details are emerging that you need to know about.

It's going to kick off at 9:00pm on Friday 21 December with the "It's SLADE!" documentary from the '90s followed by "SLADE at The BBC" that features archive material not seen since it was originally broadcast back in the day. That's followed by "SLADE in Flame", often referred to as the best rock music film ever made (it is too). That's a lot of SLADE!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Alphabeat - 'X-Mas (Let's Do It Again)

Those scallywag Viking popsters have just released their new single, a Christmas single, 'X-Mas (Let's Do It Again)' and it is good.  It starts off with Anders singing but when Stine joins in with her first "Oooo baby..." you know you're in safe hands. It's a lovely slice of optimistic, cheerful pop music and perfect for these chilly, damp and dark days. Go on, download it now!

One of the bands tweets earlier today read, "From the six of us to all of you ..." to which I can only say thank you!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Maximo Park at Shepherd's Bush Empire

I saw Maximo Park at Shepherd's Bush Empire as part of their tour to promote their new album, 'The National Health'. They were, obviously, much fab. I quite like Shepherd's Bush as a venue, it has rock'n'roll roots, a bar that sells Guinness and perfect sight-lines from the balcony.

As soon as the lads came on stage to a mass of lights I knew we were in for a treat and a light show to envy. Maximo Park seem to have a 'take no prisoners' mentality when they play live - wind them up and set them free and the power and energy streams from the stage to energise us all. I couldn't help but break out into a big smile when they started playing some of my favourites and I was singing along (my voice thankfully being drowned out by the volume) and giving them solid claps at the end with a few 'wooh's too!

I do like some Maximo at full volume and the new record is perfect fodder for energetic punky pop sung in a Geordie accent and blasted out through the speakers. While the band focused on the music Paul leapt around the stage like a thing possessed, singing his heart out. He kept thanking us for being there - no, Paul, *thank you*.

The Maximos always give good gig and favourites that night were drawn from their four albums over the last ten years.  I always moan that they don't play 'A19' but they played 'Acrobat' from the first album and a song I don't think I've ever seen them play live, so that was good. We also had 'Going Missing', 'Limassol', 'Apply Some Pressure' (of course) and the lovely 'The Coast Is Always Changing'.

Highlights from the second album were 'Our Velocity' (for the encore, naturally), 'Books From Boxes' and 'By The Monument' (and I know which Monument Paul refers to) and, from the third album, 'Questing Not Coasting' and 'The Kids Are Sick Again'.

It was the songs from the latest record that got me excited. I saw the Maximos at Heaven over the summer playing some of the new songs and it was great to see the lads play them again as they've grown into them as live songs. They were all terribly impressive.

I think my favourites were 'The National Health'. 'Hips And Lips', 'The Undercurrents', 'This Is What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted' and 'Wolf Among Men'.  There are so many good songs on the latest record it's difficult to choose just a  few. If you get the chance to see the Maximos play live then grab it with both hands - the waves of sound and energy that flow from the band are astonishing - they're an experience. Thanks lads!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Amanda Palmer at Koko - Moshcam Video

Those lovely folks over at Moshcam have posted the song by song video of the whole show from Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra at Koko in London on their site. Just click here for some joy!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra - 'Do It With A Rockstar' Video

'Do It With A Rockstar' was the first song I heard from Amanda Palmer & GTO when she sent it out to Kickstarter backers as a gift back in May and it's still one of my favourites from the 'Theatre Is Evil' album. After my first listen I knew I wanted to see the video. With such tremendous material I knew Amanda would make a video worth watching. I have waited patiently and seen her perform it live a couple of times and, finally, here it is. The video.

Every rock star cliche has been thrown in here as well as the band's own rock star fantasies. They are vibrant, they are alive and they are sweaty and covered in glitter.

It starts off with disparate AFP fans and haters talking about going to the gig - drag queens and hipsters - arriving at the gig for the performance of their lives and the after-show party backstage. *This* is how a rock star lives!

As well as Amanda and the GTO, the video stars a real life porn star called Stoya who (naturally) seduces Amanda (not that she plays hard to get) and they end up in bed as does the rest of the band. Michael ends up with the hater, Chad with a drag queen and Jherek with his bass guitar (after stomping a melon in lots of socks... um...). You can read the background to the video in Amanda's blog along with photos and gossip.

Do you wanna dance?
Do you wanna fight?
Do you wanna get drunk and stay the night?

What more can I say? Watch the video!

Friday, 2 November 2012

Viv Albertine - 'The Vermillion Border'

I am delighted to tell you that Viv Albertine's first solo album will be available on 5 November. 'The Vermillion Border' has been made available to her PledgeMusic backers (such as me) as a download for the last few days and, today, I received the hard copy along with the booklet of lyrics. It is fab! And even better, Viv sends her love to me on the back of the CD (which is replicated, Viv).

It kicks off with 'I Want More' with a riff to peel your face off as Viv sings, 'No compromise, I want more!'. It's followed by 'Confessions of a MILF' and the tales of the little wife in her home sweet home. Viv adds notes to each song in the booklet and tells us that the song was recorded in Mick Jone's mobile studio. Jack Bruce joins her on 'In Vitro' with a relentless bass line thrumming away under and over her vocals. Other guest bassists include Tina Weymouth, Glen Matlock and Dennis Bovell, all of whom I've seen play live. And, of course, Dennis produced The Slit's first album, so they've got shared history.

Viv has a lovely way with words and I love the start of 'Hookup Girl' that opens with, 'In another town You would be a whore, But in North London You are just a bore'. 'Don't Believe' contrasts the things Viv believes in and doesn't believe in, from love to trilobites (how often do you see that word in song lyrics?). 'Still England' closes the record and lists all the things that make England the place it is.

I was delighted to hear Poly Styrene name-checked in 'Still England'. Viv knew Poly and it's lovely to see her include Poly in her list of iconic Englanders, along with Virginia Woolf, Dusty Springfield, Keith and Mick, The Kinks and T.Rex. She also includes,' Sid The Vicious, John The Rotten, Alfred The Great, Dot The Cotton'.

In one sense, this is exactly the kind of record you'd expect from Viv - post-punk for the 21st century, jagged guitar, challenging, no-prisoners, looking back and forwards at the same time. In other words, a classic album. It is art in a real sense. I also like the attention to detail in the booklet in which every 'v' is coloured vermillion. Give the record a listen and download it - even better, get a proper copy with the booklet. Riffs to scrape your face off and words to make you smile. You won't be disappointed.

And I want to know when I can see and hear these songs played live... I want more!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Charity Box - The First Half

I told you about Dawn Amber Harvey's Charity Box a few weeks ago and it happened tonight. I was here. Well, I was there for the first half before the effects of a long day set in and I disappeared at a break in the proceedings.

It's quite a feat to draw together some of the names of alternative cabaret for an innovative event to raise money to continue a masters degree. That in itself deserves a round of applause for being brave enough to even try, let alone pull it off. Also worth mention is that I had a pint of Guinness for, I think, the first time this year. Well done me.

Our hostess for the evening was Eve Ferrett who sang some songs and delivered some patter and got us all singing along to the chorus of 'Crazy Horses' by The Osmonds (luckily I knew the words). We had Dexter Clark telling us about his glamourous celebrity friends and their hairstyles and the glitter-face of Marcus Reeves singing his new single, 'Black Tears', available to download on Monday. We had Sharia Law singing songs to the audience and singing the first few lines of 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' to me and saying I looked like Santa (yay! mission accomplished early!).

We also had the very tall Jonny Woo singing 'Dressed As A Girl' and inviting the audience on stage with him (I, obviously, declined). I liked this electro-ditty and look what I've found courtesy of YouTube:

Congratulations to Dawn for pulling all this together. And congratulations for getting on stage in a blue wig (to match her red hair) to join in Jonny's backing dance troupe! How dd I miss that photo opportunity? If you like innovation and a daring attempt to fundraise, you can put a few pounds in the coffer by clicking here.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Kim Boekbinder - 'The Sky Is Calling'

Have you backed Kim Boekbinder's Kickstarter appeal so she can make a record about space? If not, why not? Her first album was 'The Impossible Girl' which had some great songs. If you pledge you get her first single, 'The Sky Is Calling', for free.

Watch the video and then scoot on over to her Kickstarter page to do the pledging thing!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Cerys Matthews - 'Baby It's Cold Outside'

I know it's rather early to talk about Christmas but you need to know that Cerys Matthews is releasing a Christmas album. It's due out in mid-November and can be pre-ordered at earthquake records.

It's full of standard Christmas carols and songs (including one in Welsh) that are spiced up with some exotic instruments such as Chinese temple blocks. Less exotic are the coconut shells in the background to 'Little Donkey'.

I have, naturally, ordered the record. I'm looking forward to listening to it on 1 December (since it's illegal to listen to Christmas songs before December).

Amanda Palmer and Richard O'Brien - 'Time Warp'

For those of you unlucky enough to miss out on the Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra gig at Koko last week at which Richard O.Brien joined them on stage, the magic that is YouTube will grant you the boon of watching it on your internet-enabled device. Here is the performance for your delectation:

Friday, 26 October 2012

The Unthanks - 'Songs From The Shipyards' at The Purcell Room

This evening I went to see those Unthanks lasses perform their new record, 'Songs From The Shipyards' live at the Purcell Room in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. It's the soundtrack to a documentary made up of film clips over the years since 1910 about the shipyards on the River Tyne. The Unthanks - Rachel and Becky, Niopha, Chris and Adrian - sat underneath a big screen that showed the documentary and they sang and played along to it.

It's a collection of songs that describe the ups and downs of shipbuilding on the Tyne, of the men who built those ships that sailed the world and created trade routes that fed the country, defended our island  and went to war in the Falklands. The skyline of cranes, of ships being built beside the back to back terraced houses of Wallsend, the closure of Swan Hunter and Scotswood Road. I remember some of the scenes shown in the film, vague memories of skeletal cranes on the riverside and factories with walls black with coal dust and smoke. It's all so very different today.

I was particularly taken with the song 'Big Steamers' about those ships that roamed the oceans of the world bringing food back to our little island. It reminded me of my Dad who was in the merchant navy in his younger days, travelling round the coasts of Africa. He left the merchant navy to be an apprentice engineer and he then built the machines that built other things. None of my immediate family worked in the shipyards but they're part of the proud heritage of every Geordie.

There was also a touching version of 'Shipbuilding', the Robert Wyatt song made famous by Elvis Costello in the '80s. They sang it against footage from the Falklands war and groans at the sight of Maggie Thatcher. That sets the tone for the rest of the film and the record as the decline sets in and the shipyards close, with the refrain of 'You might steal our future but you'll not steal our glory'.

If you get the chance to see them on this current short tour then you should. And get the record. It's a melancholy feast and one I'll play for the memories. The Unthank sisters grew up on the banks of the Tyne in the same little village as me. I remember things that they won't because of the age difference, but it's lovely to hear them sing of things that mean something to me even though it's history to them. Thank you, lasses, it was lovely to see you again. It's a great record.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra at Koko

Last night I saw a thing of rare beauty and power. I saw Amanda Palmer both lead and be part of her band, the Grand Theft Orchestra, comprising Jherek Bischoff, Chad Raines and Michael McQilken. They gel, they're one unit, they're four great performers and artists in their own right. Led, of course, by Amanda Fucking Palmer.

OK, so Koko isn't one of my favourite venues - unless you're near the front of the stage or balconies, then you don't get a very good view of the stage or the performers, but the sound is fine and it's quite nice being surrounded by the red and gold baroque of what was called the Music Machine and the Camden Palace back when punk bands ruled there. The plus side is that it has a nice long bar and the bar staff are very attentive and friendly (which always helps). It also has a giant glitter ball hanging from the ceiling (which is always a good thing). But most of all it has Miss Palmer on stage.

The last time I saw Amanda there was in 2008 for the 'Who Killed Amanda Palmer' tour. Back then she went on stage by walking through the audience - or on that night, hobbling through the audience on a crutch with her foot in plaster after a car accident in Dublin. That didn't hold her back, though, it just gave the Danger Ensemble more scope for their performance art.

Last night the ticket touts were out in force and I just couldn't help but grin at the sight of them. When they turn up to gigs you know you've arrived. There was Koko with its facade all lit up with pink and purple lights blaring out into the Camden night,  and a huge queue snaking round the side of the building. I joined it with a private smile remembering when I saw Amanda years ago without having to queue.

Amanda came on stage in a kimono and general's cap to introduce the first support band, Jherek Bischoff and  a crowd-sourced string quartet to do a few of the songs from his new album.  Jherek was followed by Chad Raines and his band, The Simple Pleasure, which played some really dirty '80s synth riffs and rocked us with some pink flamingoes. They were great fun and Chad is a good frontman. I downloaded their album from Bandcamp a month or so ago and it's well worth listening to. It must be handy having your support bands led by members of your own band. Michael McQilken doesn't have a record out or a band but a record is coming out shortly, so he was given the honour of playing one of his songs during the main set. Equality for all has always been Amanda's approach to these things and praise up anyone on the bill.

After a break (and a trip to the friendly bar), on came the Grand Theft Orchestra in white suits, all nicely different but similar at the same time, along with Amanda in a slinky posh white-gold frock. They launched into 'Smile' from the new record, 'Theatre Is Evil' and stayed on stage for most of the next two hours. Amanda has moved onto a new level with a big light show and a screen filling the back of the stage with both crowd-sourced and custom made projections, spotlights following her around and great sound. This is Amanda Palmer the Rock Star and she fit the bill perfectly. Her frock even stayed on for the first few songs before falling down to reveal a black bra (that's the AFP I know and love!).

Most of the songs were from 'Theatre Is Evil' and they sound great live. We had 'Missed Me' (during which the band swap instruments) and 'Girl Anachronism' from her Dresden Dolls days and 'Astronaut' from 'WKAP', all of which sound amazing with a full band behind them, adding volume to very familiar songs. We had cover songs (including 'Careless Whisper, accompanied by a great sax player) and guest stars including Scroobius (doing 'Letter From God') and then Neil Gaiman with his Sawchestra performing 'Psycho'. We had a light show and I knew I was at a punk/rock/cabaret show.

Favourites included a really powerful 'Smile (Pictures Or It Didn't Happen)' and 'Bottomfeeder' during which Amanda crowd-surfed around the crowd, even getting close to where I was standing at the back. 'The Killing Type' sounded great live as did the lovely 'Trout Heart Replica' with Jherek's string quartet adding to the swirling feel of fish swimming hypnotically round and round as Amanda sings and tells us what she wants from the Wizard.

My favourite of the evening was 'The Bed Song', a beautiful and tragic song about the loss of communication in a loving relationship - why didn't you say something? It's a tender song performed by Amanda on her own on stage with no light show, just Amanda doing it old school.

My second favourite was her cover of Yazoo's 'In My Room' (yes, *that* song!) if only because it was so unexpected.  Complete with all the weirdness and synth-sounds, a faithful rendition with Amanda standing at the front of the stage with the projection of all the things you'd find in an '80s bedroom projected onto her and the screen behind her. I loved it but I think I was probably one of the few in the hall that recognised it. When it finished the crowd didn't seem to know whether it was a deliberate gap or the end so I started the clapping to help them realise it was over. Yes, mine were the first hands clapping and a second or two later everyone joined in.

My third favourite was a stonking version of 'Time Warp' from 'Rocky Horror' with guest star Richard O'Brien on lead vocals. Amanda sung Magenta's lines and Chad sung the Little Nell part. It was great fun, especially seeing all the middle aged people suddenly going into sweet transvestite mode and doing the dance.

It ended after 11:30pm with Amanda and the band in one of the theatre boxes at the side of the stage doing an encore of 'Want It Back', getting us to stamp out the beat on the wooden floor of Koko before gathering everyone back on stage for a final applause. On the way out I picked up a poster of Amanda's drawing about 'The Bed Song' (I saw the original at her Art Show over the summer and it's included in the GTO Art Book).

I had a lovely evening, thank you, with some great songs and sights. Amanda has quite clearly moved to another level with this album and tour. That makes me sad that hanging out after a show isn't going to be the same as it used to be but it also makes me proud of her. And she's still Amanda Fucking Palmer.

She's coming back to London in March to play the Roundhouse with GTO. The Dresden Dolls played there two nights running and recorded their live DVD there so it holds some nice memories. It was also the site of Poly Styrene's last gig so is a special place. I've already ordered tickets. Have you?

Friday, 19 October 2012

AFP is Bump-Into-able

The delightful Amanda Palmer is in London again and that means she is bump-into-able so I must polish my 'Punk Cabaret Is Freedom' badge. That badge earned me a hug and chat a few years ago when I bumped into Amanda (and Neil) unexpectedly in the foyer of the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand after an Alan Cummings show. Who knows where you might bump into her as she's out and about.

Amanda was on Women's Hour on Radio 4 on Thursday morning and on Steve Lamacq's Roundtable in the evening and I'm quite proud of how she didn't say 'fuck' once! She did say 'shit' on 'Women's Hour' but that's because it's in the lyrics of the song she sung, 'The Killing Type'. I loved how Jenny Murray said after Amanda had played it, almost in awe, that it was the most 'physically energetic' performance she'd ever seen in the studio. Yes, that's the Amanda we love! Listen to both on the BBC iPlayer while you can.

She's been to Paris today but will be back in London for Tom Robinson's show on Radio 6 on Saturday night. Tom was a guest at Amanda's show at Heaven last year when he sang an updated version of 'Glad To Be Gay' so it's nice that she's returning the favour.

Next Tuesday she'll be playing at Koko in Camden again and I'll be there. I'll also be there at the Roundhouse in March next year to see her triumphant return. The Dresden Dolls live DVD was recorded at The Roundhouse in 2006 and I was there for both gigs. It'll be great to see Amanda back on that stage. I hope it's filmed!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Dawn Amber Harvey's Charity Box

Calling all you London socialites that scour the listings mags to see what trendy things might be happening. Have you noticed Dawn Amber Harvey's Charity Box on 1 November at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern?

Mx Harvey has decided to put on an evening of music, cabaret and comedy to raise money to continue her further education doing odd-themed essays and projects and bothering us all on Facebook and Twitter with her cat porn (please note how I avoided saying pussy, which would have been inappropriate). The last time I attended an Amber Harvey Production event I got splattered with tranny-blood so I've learned my lesson.

She has an array of artistes signed up to provide the entertainment including Al Pillay, Mzz Kimberley, Marcus Reeves and Dexter Clark and others so it should be fun. It's ages since I've been to the RVT so I may as well pay a visit and line Mx Harvey's coffers with silver (I wonder how many words of an essay the entrance fee will buy?).

If you're at a loss for what to do that night you could do worse that turn up for the show - it's only £6 to get in after all. And I'm sure she'll play a classic SLADE track for those of a certain age...

Ray Davies at the Fairfield Halls

Last week I travelled to the internationally glamorous Fairfield Halls in Croydon to see Mr Ray Davies (yes, the bloke who got out of the taxi to sing 'Waterloo Sunset' at the Olympics Closing Ceremony). He reminded us that he'd gone to the technical college in Croydon in the early 60s that used to be opposite the venue.

I've seen Ray a few times - with his band and with the choir - and never been able to take a good photo of him and it was the same in Croydon. His show generally follows the same same format with an acoustic set followed by a break, a change of shirts and the full band coming on to rock out. On Wednesday, this happened during 'Dead End Street', with the song gradually becoming more electric as it progressed. The good thing is that although the show follows the same format, the songs change. He's got so many to choose from after all.

We had all the '60s classics of 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion', 'Autumn Almanac' and 'Sunny Afternoon', Ray's hits with The Kinks. His tales of England (and London in particular) that he just can't help but sing about. He's a London boy after all. There were no 'Village Green' songs but we were gifted with an electric version of 'Apeman' that I bought back in 1971 and the environmental message is just as relevant today.

Every now and then he'd coax us into singing and clapping along, even though he can't clap in time and he dances like your dad. But he's Ray Davies and things like that don't matter, they just make me smile that he's having a whale of a time up there on the stage. He was clearly energised in the last third or so of the show when people started congregating at the front of the stage, dancing and singing along - his people - including some young people, not just the middle aged and older fans.

My favourite songs included 'I'm Not Like Everyone Else', 'See My Friends', 'Tired Of Waiting For You', 'This Is Where I Belong' and a massive sing-along 'Victoria'. I sang along quietly to 'Days' with a tear in my eye (and hoped he'd mention Kirsty MacColl who had a hit with the song in the '80s and was from Croydon, but he didn't) and to the exceptional 'Waterloo Sunset'.

But it was 'Lola' that got me to my feet and singing along, his final encore song. There's something about his tale of passion in a sleazy Soho club with a tranny that people have fallen in love with and it's great to hear the middle aged middle class audience sing their love for Lola. Everyone was on their feet and singing along as he took us through his tale of a lost Soho. And then he was gone to hand his guitar to the roadie and wandered across the front of the stage shaking hands with adoring fans as the lights went on and we all started leaving.

It's always a pleasure to see Mr Davies and guess at which songs he might play. I don't think he played any songs from his solo albums (he has every other time I've seen him) but focused on his Kinks years (not just the hits). He also mentioned there'd be a new album of 'private songs' in 2013 and called 'Waterloo Sunset' one of his 'private songs' even though it was a huge hit. Let's see what 2013 brings, shall we?

Alphabeat - 'Love Sea Remixes'

Those bouncy people at Alphabeat have released a FREE remix EP on their single, 'Love Sea'. I'm not usually a great fan of remixes but there are some really good ones on this that exposes different sides to the song. It's free so why not go and download it? Click on the cover to be transported to their Facebook download page!

Or you could watch the video they released a few weeks ago for the single. Go on, you know you want some happy, shining pop music in your life...

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Rolling Stones - 'Doom And Gloom'

Pssst, those Rolling Stones chappies have released a new single and it is good. It reminds me of their early 70s stuff, dirty rock'n'roll with drawled words and killer guitar riffs. Go on, take a listen.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

'Taboo' at the Brixton Club House

I went to see the revival of 'Taboo' at the Brixton Club House last week and I'm jolly pleased I did - it's just as good as I remember it from ten years ago when I first saw it at The Venue (now the Leicester Square Theatre). It's gaudy, brash, outlandish, full of fun and freaks and some great songs. It's 'Taboo'!

It's always billed as 'The Boy George Musical' and that's what it is, but this version is slightly different to the version that I saw years ago. This is the Broadway version of the play and has some new scenes and songs. The focus is shifted from Boy George and Leigh Bowery to make Billy, an aspiring photographer, the centre of the play along with his relationship with Kim, George and Marilyn. I first noticed the difference when Billy's mum mentioned he knew Kim from the sixth form at school and that he had a grant to go to college. So, he's no longer the teenager running away from home and knowing no-one, he's running to his old girlfriend as a way out. Kim is dressed as a Siouxsie goth-clone rather than the spiky haired punkstress.

It was in the second half that I noticed the bigger differences when Billy gives away photos of George on junk and makes it plain (and loud) that he doesn't want money, this is to help George. And oddly, Billy's dad doesn't beat up Philip Sallon, he's restrained while three blokes do the job and he then runs after them after making sure Philip is all right. He then re-appears covered in blood having been stabbed by the queer bashers and dies a hero. I'm not really sure why that change was made or what it adds.

The biggest change was that George and chums don't go to India at the end of the play when he becomes a Krishna kid. There was a moment of disappointment there since I'd planned to sing along to 'Bow Down Mister' and chant for Poly Styrene (as I'd promised in my blog when she died). Instead there was a happy ending ensemble song that led into an abbreviated 'Karma Chameleon'. 'Bow Down Mister' was played over the speakers as we left, but that's not the same.

Overall verdict? I loved it! The story's changed, a few new songs and scenes but it's still 'Taboo' and it will always have a special place in the pantheon of plays and musicals I've seen over the last ten years.

The cast were excellent and so many of them are young and in their first professional jobs - it'll be interesting to see what happens to them. Many weren't born when the characters they play were faces and stars. Of course, it was a joy to have Paul Baker walk on stage at the start as Philip Sallon, the role he made his own years ago, still irreverent and rude by turns, wearing his outlandish clothes and knowing everyone and everything. It's hard to imagine 'Taboo' without him.

The two key roles of Boy George and Leigh Bowery were played by first-timers Matthew Rowland and Sam Buttery (who was, according to the programme, on 'The Voice'). Both have great presence and great voices but kudos must go to Sam in full Bowery drag appearing from behind the bar as Leigh and later appearing naked to be painted by Lucien Freud. It was a very confident and professional performance and he deserves all the praise he's getting.

I'd also single out Katie Kerr as Big Sue who I saw a few years ago in 'The Little Shop Of Horrors' at the Choccy Factory. She has an excellent voice and actually got my eyes moist singing her excellent version of 'Il Adore' as Leigh dies (off stage). She brought happiness and tragedy to a song she sings as she remembers her friend and love and she deserved the huge applause she got for that song. Well done Katie!

The show is getting universally rave reviews so I strongly advise you to go and see it while you can - it's on until Christmas so there's time but don't leave it too long. The audience is small since it's set in a real nightclub that isn't very big, so tickets are limited. It has a small central stage with two runways off stage and they even make do with performing on the bar and the tables scattered near the stage. That brings something different to it, another atmosphere, a show about nightclub life played out in a real club. I shall see it again!

Buffy, Sandi and Patrick

Buffy Sainte-Marie has been around for a while and been working with and influencing people since the '60s (including Kanye West who sampled 'Lazarus'). It's good to see she's still doing it today, specifically in new albums released by Sandi Thom and Patrick Wolf.

Sandi asked Buffy to sing with her on 'The Big Ones Get Away', one of Buffy's songs from the early '90s and  favourite of Sandi. It's nice to hear a new version of the song which, as you'd expect, sounds quite different to the original and two voices gives it a slightly different emphasis. It has an acoustic feel as instruments gradually appear and Buffy starts to sing.

Buffy met Patrick Wolf in Barcelona earlier this year and co-wrote a new version of one of his songs. On his website he says:

I would like to thank Buffy St Marie who co-wrote the new version of Hard Times with me. This is the only cowrite on the album, we met in Barcelona during the recording session and after some amazing discussions about war, peace and revolution she channelled a new message and edition of the song for me. 

That's nice. I look forward to hearing it.

Sandi's new album, 'Flesh and Blood' is already out and Patrick's album, 'Sundark and Riverlight' will be released on 15 October.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Pre-Raphaelites at Tate Britain

Last week I went to see the new Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood exhibition at the Tate Britain.It was quite busy and reminded me of my dislike of those audio-tour headphone sets but it's well worth a visit.

The Pre-Raphaelites occupy an odd position in British (and world) art since so many of the works associated with the movement have made their way onto greeting cards and biscuit tins that we're all terribly familiar with the 'stars' of the movement and have seen little of the 'lesser' paintings. And, I think, that's part of the problem with the PRB in that if familiarity doesn't quite breed contempt, it breeds familiarity, and that removes any potential for the 'wow factor'.  I assume that's why the curator of the exhibition chose to present it as the Pre-Raphaelites as Victorian avant-garde. The blurb says:

Combining rebellion, beauty, scientific precision and imaginative grandeur, the Pre-Raphaelites constitute Britain’s first modern art movement. This exhibition brings together over 150 works in different media, including painting, sculpture, photography and the applied arts, revealing the Pre-Raphaelites to be advanced in their approach to every genre. Led by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) rebelled against the art establishment of the mid-nineteenth century, taking inspiration from early Renaissance painting.

The exhibition establishes the PRB as an early example of the avant-garde: painters who self-consciously overturned orthodoxy and established a new benchmark for modern painting and design. It will include many famous Pre-Raphaelite works, and will also re-introduce some rarely seen masterpieces including Ford Madox Brown’s polemical Work 1852–65 and the 1858 wardrobe designed by Philip Webb and painted by Edward Burne-Jones on the theme of The Prioress’s Tale.

I think I suffered from the 'been there/done that' syndrome of seeing all these familiar paintings on the walls. O yes, another nice painting but so what... I think the first thing that excited me was a bust of Dante by Alexander Munro and that's because I'd seen the death masks in Florence.

I was, strangely, delighted to see 'Isabella and the Pot of Basil' (above) by William Holman Hunt and 'Laus Veneris' by Edward Burne-Jones, both on loan from the Laing Gallery in Newcastle. These were the first Pre-Raphaelite paintings I ever saw in the flesh and it's always a delight to see them. My other influence from the Laing is the work of John Martin who painted vast panoramic scenes whereas the next generation focused on the detail of the PRB.

The one painting that I came away with in my mind is Rossetti's 'Annunciation' that reminds me of the simplistic paintings of Fra Angelico in the cells at San Marco. The same pale pallet, the same dramatic pose and the overall intensity.

Something I wan't expecting was a portrait of Sophie Gray by John Everett Millais which is really beautiful. This photo doesn't really tell the full tale but it shows a young woman who recognises her own beauty and is ready to grow into the power that brings. The colour tones don't quite work since her dress is green, not black, and that affects the colour of the whole picture. The pose is quite modern and could be seen in any 'glamour' magazine today.

If you have an interest in art then you've probably already seen most of these paintings, or at least the paintings you're interested in. But I'd still say go and see the exhibition - paintings are always different when you see them in front of you.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

National Poetry Day 2012

Did you know that today was National Poetry Day? No, I didn't either until I heard it on Radio 4's 'Today' programme this morning. I decided I would contribute by reading some poetry on my way to and from work today from my new collection of poems, 'The World Record', published as part of the Poetry Parnassus festival.

The Poetry Parnassus was part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad and was launched by the Rain of Poems event back in June. Poetry was all over the Southbank if you chose to look at it - written on walls and on placards hung on the railings by the Thames. There was poetry from each of the 204 countries competing in the Olympic Games and, I think, that's what attracted me to to the collection. I went into Foyles and asked if they had the poems on display along the Southbank and that is where I found 'The World Record'.

Of course, as soon as I got on the bus to work I realised that I'd forgotten the book. How can I contribute to National Poetry Day? I decided the answer was to write a poem and tweet it to the world. This is what I wrote:

Where the wild things are
Is the place to be
With flames and snow and wind and hail
And a storm brewing out at sea

That's all. But I now consider myself to be a published poet. Of course, no-one commented on my poem or retweeted it but I choose to believe that's because everyone was stunned by its literary merit, its philosophical conciseness and its depth of meaning. I believe.

What did you do for National Poetry Day?