Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Dresden Dolls & Richard O'Brien - 'Time Warp'

My punk cabaret raggamuffins of choice, The Dresden Dolls are touring down under at the moment and have done Oz and Tasmania and are now in New Zealand. Amanda Palmer was wandering round Auckland yesterday and popped into a juice bar for refreshment. A bloke noticed her eyebrows and asked her if she was going to see The Dresden Dolls that night. The bloke turned out to be Richard O'Brien who is opening his own show in Auckland. So he joined them on stage and here's the result - 'Time Warp'!

This made me smile and I couldn't help but grin when Brian channelled Little Nell for her lines in the song. Amanda doesn't know it but her job is to make me happy and she's doing it nicely. Magical things happen around her and she generously shares the magic. Thank you.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Gabba Gabba We Accept You, We Accept You One Of Us

Are you one of us? Were you there in the '70s when Glam rocked, disco danced and punk rebelled? Three great musical traditions in one short decade.

Someone I follow on Twitter had a fifty-something birthday today, Older Than Elvis, and she wasn't happy. She started me thinking though, and I realised that every now and then I still think that people who are 50 are old and then I remember that I'm 51 and I don't consider myself old at all. One rule for me and one rule for everyone else.

I'm still seeing and doing new things, experiencing new things (hey, I baked cakes for the first time two weeks ago!). I haven't settled into the kind of routine I saw my parents enter and, presumably, every generation before them. I'm not old, but I'm older. I still think in terms of 'when I grow up' (and only sometimes I'm joking), when I settle down, when I buy the cottage in the country or by the sea... and it'll probably never happen.

I'm deeply proud of some of my heroes. I was browsing through some old blog posts to find something about the Blood Red Shoes and found my post about Siouxsie playing at Shepherds Bush four years back and noted then that I said I was proud of her. It's an odd thing to say, that I'm proud of someone I don't actually know, but I am. Those old punks are still doing things. The onus is on us to still be worthy of them.

One song that always gets me going is 'Quickstep' by The Adverts from their 'Crossing The Red See With The Adverts' album that includes the line, 'Pretty soon you're gonna see what punks can do...'. And we all did - you changed music, you changed culture, you changed me.

Young people are beautiful, all of them. And so are older people. We are all beautiful. Look into my eyes and guess what wonders they've seen, Look at my feet and wonder which paths they've wandered. Have you seen what I've seen? Have you done what I've done? Have you sat in a theatre with tears running down your cheeks with emotion or pogoed all the energy out of you to ear-splitting music?

Yasmin Limbert tweeted last week asking about things to do before you're 50. I replied seeing the orange/pink dawn over the Ganges at Varanasi. I could have added wandering down jasmine-lined country lanes in Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka. Or danced with ghosts at Karnak? Or be taught to use chopsticks by an old Japanese couple in a restaurant in a little town outside Siem Reap in Cambodia. Or be shown how to see the rabbit in the moon in ruined temples at Kandy? I could add lots of things. I've seen wonders.

I wouldn't have seen those wonders - or appreciated them - if I was 20 or 30. Wisdom may not come with age, but experience certainly does. So does death, sadly.

I was strangely affected by the death of Poly Styrene last year, one of the great heroes of my youth and a hero of my older age by releasing 'Generation Indigo' last year. Poly came back to us in a flash of glory and then left to join Krishna. I never met Poly and I wish I had.

I also never met The Ramones but I saw them play back in the day. The founding Ramones all sadly died, but Tommy Ramone is still going and I had the joy of meeting him and shaking his hand when he supported Buffy Sainte-Marie in New York a few years ago. I *had* to go up to him and say I enjoyed his set as Uncle Monk, I just *had* to.

For me, the real punks were always just being themselves, not what anyone else thought they should be. And that's a key message for all of us. Don't be homogenised, don't be the same as everyone else. Walk your own road and be you. You might not be terribly radical but that doesn't matter. I always wear mis-matched socks as a choice. I'd rather not wear socks at all, but the weather doesn't always allow that. I have glitter in my bureau to comb into my beard when needed. I can see ballet one night and raucous punk the next night. That's all part of me.

Be you. Are you one of us?

Blood Red Shoes Are Back

At long last, Blood Red Shoes are back with some new music! They tweeted a link to their new site to promote the album, 'In Time To Voices' and it fell over with the volume of hits. So they tweeted a link to a sound-only video on YouTube for the first single, 'Cold', and here it is with both Laura-Mary and Steven sharing lead vocals. No doubt there'll be a proper video appearing over the next few weeks. Give it a listen and enjoy.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Matilda The Musical

Last night Chris treated me to a late booking to see the new musical on the block, 'Matilda The Musical' at the Cambridge Theatre. I'll pre-empt a lot of wittering on by saying it is excellent. It really is. And great fun.

As soon as we got inside it started to draw me in with the chalk boards all over the walls with kids drawings, silly jokes, comments on school dinners and suchlike, getting us all in the mood. My favourite joke as 'Why is 6 scared of 7? Because 7 8 9' (geddit?). I'd be scared too! Inside the theatre proper and the stage and surrounds are also decorated with chalk boards and building blocks with letters scrawled on the side, flooding the place like a big primary school. It worked really well, not too over-powering but just enough to get us all in the mood.

It's the story of little five year old Matilda Wormwood starting school. Her parents didn't want a child and, if they did, wanted a boy not a girl. She's a genius in a humdrum household of a ballroom dancing mum and a used car salesman dad. But Matilda can tell stories and can challenge authority in the shape of the evil headmistress and help the nice teacher get her inheritance. O yes, Matilda is special all right.

I was terribly impressed with the professionalism of the child actors singing and dancing their hearts out, choreographed to a T and no flagging at all. The child actors change regularly but I was very impressed with James Beesley as Bruce with his love of chocolate cake, Jemima Eaton as Lavender who must tell us everything and, of course, Cleo Demetriou as Matilda. She gave a masterful performance, striking all the right poses, tugging at out heart-strings and successfully speaking Russian at the end. It'll be interesting to see where she in in 10 years times.

Of the adults, I liked Peter Howe as Matilda's dad - he usually plays her brother but was stepping up due the normal dad being off - and Josie Walker as her selfish mum. Lauren Ward was lovely as Miss Honey, the nice teacher (naturally) and Bertie Carvel was magnificently menacing as the creepy and evil Head Mistress, Miss Trunchbull, the former Olympic hammer thrower.

The songs are by Tim Minchin and they stand up in their own right with no hint of his voice singing them. I loved 'Loud' sung by Mrs Wormwood in praise of make-up and hair-dos and being loud as opposed to the mousey Miss Honey but my favourite song was 'When I Grow Up', the proper opener to the second half. It's a lovely song of hope and aspiration from the point of view of a small child and it transported me back an awfully big number of years to when I might have sung that song. I bought the cast recording on the basis of that song and I'm enjoying listening to the whole show again.

I also bought a badge at the merch stand that reads, 'The Bigger The Telly The Smarter The Man'. That is so *wise*.

Go and see it as soon as you can. And then see it again. I shall.

Monday, 16 January 2012

The Slow Demise of the Record Shop Lesson 15

There are very few record shops around these days. There are some brave independent shops fighting the good fight in various nooks and crannies but the only high street shop is the venerable HMV that's been around forever. It had a poor Christmas season and doesn't seem to know what to do to increase sales. Its days are probably numbered, at least as it is now, so I try to support it by shopping in my HMV of choice on Oxford Street. It is a huge shop with two floors full of music and one full of DVDs and I love browsing there, picking things up and putting them down, then picking things up and heading to the till to pay for it.

One thing I like about the big HMV shop is that it's virtually guaranteed to have every record on the day of release and, as a fan, that's when I want to pick up the new music from my heroes. Or, the re-released and re-mastered records from my heroes. So, since today, all the records from Public Image Ltd were re-released in re-mastered form (except 'Metal Box' that we re-released in 2009), I hopped on a bus to my record shop of choice and headed for 'P' in the racks and there they were - lots of shiny PiL records!

I was busy harvesting my records of choice without really paying attention, just checking they were all the re-mastered versions, when I suddenly noticed the price - £13 per CD. £13?!?! Eh? Single CDs don't cost that much these days - double albums maybe, but even then I'd think twice. I put the records back, all except for 'Happy?', a PiL album that was deleted back in the 90s and a record I never had until a year or so ago when it was finally available for download. I couldn't leave without any records, after all.

I've just taken a look on Amazon and all the PiL re-releases are priced at £6.99. Amazon is undoubtedly making a profit from selling the records so what kind of mark-up is HMV expecting to get from these records? For a company that's already in trouble, why is it going out of its way to alienate customers with a silly pricing policy? I'll buy my PiL albums from Amazon, thank you.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Butterfly Cakes

Today I took my first steps into a bigger and tastier world. I baked my first ever cakes!

Over the summer last year I found myself becoming more engrossed each week by a telly programme, The Great British Bake Off presented by Mel & Sue. I'm not a great one for cooking shows (or cooking generally) but I like Sue Perkins so I tuned in to see what the programme was about and fell under its spell. Then last week there was a celeb version of the show for Sports Relief. That was it, it tipped me over the brink into wanting to try baking myself.

Today I went out to buy some cooking scales and a load of ingredients and then started making cakes. I'd picked the easiest recipe I could find in the Be-Ro cookbook online and this was for Butterfly cakes baked with a straight forward Victoria sponge recipe. Butter, caster sugar, eggs and flour, carefully mixed in the right order, spooned into 16 paper cake cases and then baked for 15 minutes. I was astonished to see them change colour and rise as I watched them in the oven - the magic was working!

Then I made the buttercream icing with butter, icing sugar and a few drops of vanilla essence. Cut the top off the cakes, spoon on some icing and then put back the cake top cut in half to make wings. I used the plain icing for most of them and then added red stuff to the icing so the last few were more colourful. I need more practice, obviously, but an hour after I started and I was eating my own cakes.

I know it's not the most amazing thing in the world, to bake some simple (but yummy) Butterfly cakes, but I'm quietly proud of myself. There's now a messy kitchen to clean up but that's nothing compared to the glow of pride and the yum in my tum!

The T.A.M.I. Show

Last night I watched the T.A.M.I. Show on DVD, the Teenage Awards Music International (or sometimes the Teen Age Music International). It's a live music show filmed over two nights in Santa Monica, California, in 1964 and then released as a film across America. It was released on DVD only in 2010.

The film is compered by Jan & Dean and includes great live performances from the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Lesley Gore, Billy J Kramer and The Dakotas, The Miracles (with Smokey, of course), the Supremes and the Rolling Stones. An odder line-up will be hard to find. It was full of go-go dancers (on speed from the looks of it) that included a young Teri Garr and Toni Basil and John Landiss (later to become a film director) was in the audience and provides a short commentary on the DVD.

If you're a fan of any of the bands you'll love this DVD - they all look so young. Except, of course, Chuck Berry and James Brown and, in all honesty, Mr Brown stole the show with his consummate professionalism and showmanship, falling to his knees in exhaustion only to get up again and drive the show forward. It was a case 'ouch' for his poor knees followed by 'wow' for the recovery. It must've been awful for the young Rolling Stones to have to try to follow that performance since they topped the bill that night. The Supremes looked a little bit lost in their nice evening frocks and big wigs standing next to the Stones (that Jan & Dean introduced as "Merseybeat").

The performance that made me think and wonder was from Billy J Kramer with his rocker hair and big white smile. Billy was big in 1964 and the decline started the next year. He was 21 and his career peaked with this show - he had more hit singles but none were as big as his 1964 hits, especially 'Little Children' and 'Bad To Me'. I'm not a fan of Billy but he has a nice voice, a big white smile and looked so young in the film, starting out on his career without realising that the biggest hits were already behind him. That's not to say that the best times were behind him - they probably weren't - but it must be odd to think that nothing will ever be the same again when you're only 21 years old. Of course, you don't necessarily know that at the time.

On the other hand, that's a great way to start your adult life, all the travelling, the people he must have met, the places he's been and things he's seen. He lives in America now and still performs now and then. He still has an impressive mane of hair.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

The Dresden Dolls Live On Tap

Last week I watched Their Holinesses The Dresden Dolls play live in Australia over a webcast on Party On The Internet. The full show is now available online courtesy of those nice folks at Moshcam so here it is for you to enjoy:

Watch Enmore Theatre and other great gigs on Moshcam.

The gig starts with an acoustic 'Cosmic Dancer' before launching into Brian's thumping drumming for 'Sex Changes'. I saw The Dolls play 'Cosmic Dancer' years ago at the Astoria and still remember the buzz of conversation while they played since so few people knew the song (it's by T.Rex, of course) but good on Amanda and Brian for still playing it.

You can also see the encore in which a drunk twat gothgirl gave Amanda a nasty hickey and The Dolls play Black Sabbath's 'War Pigs', another old school song. Now I have live Dresden Dolls in high quality video available on tap whenever I need a fix.

Thank you Amanda and Brian and thank you Moshcam and Party On The Internet.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Vinnie Jones hard and fast ...

This is a new advert from the British Heart Foundation that is being shown on telly throughout January - forget the kiss of life and go for hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Let Vinnie Jones show you how...

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Dresden Dolls Live in Sydney

Yesterday morning I saw The Dresden Dolls live on stage from the Enmore Theatre in Sydney, Australia, through the wonder that is the internet. The gig was filmed by Moshcam and broadcast through Party on the Internet. The quality of video and sound was excellent and it was great to see Amanda and Brian together on stage again.

They played an old school Dresden Dolls concert with a mix of their own songs, covers and surprises and it was fun to see Amanda take over the drums while Brian picked up his guitar hero axe for 'You've got to fight! for the right! to paaartaaaay!'. Starting with 'Cosmic Dancer' and finishing with 'War Pigs' was like the olden days returned for a re-run and it was great to hear Amanda's solo song 'Astronaut' with Brian bashing and clashing and tishing away most creatively on his drumkit. It sounded excellent.

The only bit I didn't like was during the first encore song of 'Mein Herr' when Amanda went up into the theatre balcony to sing and some drunk or stoned goth girl latched onto Amanda and wouldn't let go until she was prised off by a security bloke. Standing at the edge of the balcony looked dangerous. Afterwards Amanda tweeted a pic of her throat that the twat of a gothgirl had been sucking on and it looks nasty (see below or avert your gaze).

'Mein Herr' took me back to seeing the Dolls for the last time at The Roadhouse in 2008. They played two nights and I went on both nights. The gig was filmed for DVD and it's widely available. I still have fond memories of lighting up a sparkler to wave during 'Sing' at the end - little things make me happy.

Anyway, I took a few screen-grabs during the broadcast so here are a few pics of the Dolls live and kicking in 2012. Love at ya!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Official Photographer To A Legend

Imagine my surprise when, scrolling through Facebook updates after a long day at work, I came across a photo I recognised. I thought, hang on a moment, isn't that one of *my* photographs? I clicked on the link and took a look at the photo, then looked at my pictures folder on the laptop and yes, it was mine. It was a photo of Buffy Sainte-Marie from her gig at the Union Chapel in London on 30 June 2011 and it was used in Buffy's blog! Now, I've no idea whether Buffy looks after her own blog or whether there are 'people' for that and I don't really care - I take it as official endorsement and shall now consider myself to be Buffy's official (London) photographer.

Buffy's blogpost reproduces an article from 'The Guardian' a few years ago (click here) and ends with my photo of her from last year. I originally published that photo in my blog about Buffy's Union Chapel gig last year (click here). And here is the photo:

I have to say that I've never been satisfied with any of the photos I've taken of Buffy in concert. I always wish I'd taken them a second earlier or two seconds later, or when the spotlight was one her or a thousand other things. I have a couple of very nice ones of me being the fanboy and posing with Buffy but I'm not publishing those anywhere, they're *mine*.

One day I *will* take a good photo of Buffy on stage. She's playing the Highline Ballroom in New York next week and I'm now kicking myself that I didn't book time off to go there. I saw Buffy play there in 2008 (click here) before 'Running For The Drum' was released. One day, o yes, one day ...

Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Plastic Bag Awards 2011

It's that time again, The Plastic Bag Awards 2011 or, in other words, the Baggies! I've dropped the 'Best Film' category this year since I've seen so few in the cinema but that didn't spoil the enjoyment of the judging panel. So, here we go ...

Best Theatre - Play

There are five nominees in this category:
  • Flare Path
  • Clybourne Park
  • Doctor Faustus
  • Othello
  • Jerusalem
I could easily have added 'The Last Of The Duchess' to this list but the panel is limited to a maximum of five nominees. It's a difficult category to judge since all the nominees excelled in one way or another and, in the case of 'Dr Faustus', it's a play I've waited 30-odd years to see again. 'Othello' was an eye opener, 'Clybourne Park' had its twists and turns and 'Flare Path' had its excellent writing and single-mindedness. But the award goes to 'Jerusalem' for the magic and mayhem, the celebration of life and England and the magnificence of Mark Rylance in the lead role.

Best Theatre - Musical

I saw some excellent musicals this year but the nominees have been narrowed down to:
  • How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
  • South Pacific
  • Fings Ain't What They Used T'Be
  • Crazy For You
  • Sweeney Todd
One of the highlights of this list was seeing Daniel Radcliffe in his first singing and dancing role and he wasn't bad at all. It was a joy to see after seeing so many mediocre productions in New York earlier in the year. 'Fings' was produced in a tiny studio theatre under the arches in Southwark (most appropriately) and was a show I've heard of but not seen before. 'Crazy for You' was a tap-dancing joy to behold and 'Sweeney' excelled with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton.

The judges have quite rightly awarded the Baggy to 'South Pacific', the production I first saw at Lincoln Centre in 2010 with a foot of snow outside the theatre and I trudged and slipped my way back to the hotel in a south seas dream. Seeing it at the Barbican had a lot to live up to with Samantha Womack as Nelly Forbush, and it fully lived up to my expectations. An excellent production I went back to see again at the Barbican and have tickets to see the touring production at Wimbledon. A worthy winner.

Best Entertainment

This category picks up any performances that aren't plays or musicals and this year the nominees are:
  • Meera Syal at The Purcell Room
  • 'Big People Show' with Chris Tummings and Victor Romero Evans
  • Noddy Holder narrating 'A Christmas Carol'
  • Matthew Bourne's 'Nutcracker'
  • Slava's Snowshow
Despite the fun of seeing Sir Noddy Holder narrate a new version of 'A Christmas Carol' the judges unanimously awarded the Baggy to Mr Slava Polunin for his magnificent Snowshow. Anything that can bring such joy and have me giggling like a loon while being pelted with snow in a theatre deserves an award and this is my humble offering to a great clown.

Best Gig

I haven't been to as many musical gigs this year as in previous years but I saw bands, solo artists and collectives, such as the Ready, Steady Go! show and Carole King and Friends. The nominees this year are:
  • Jimmy Cliff @ The Indigo2
  • Amanda Palmer @ The British Library
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie at Porchester Hall (with Donovan and Roger Cooke)
  • Alan Price @ the Queen Elizabeth Hall
  • Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine @ Brixton
Jimmy exhausted me with his energy, Amanda exhorted me to should 'Fuck It!' in the British Library, Buffy was the star of the Songwriters Cirlde recording I attended and Alan Price was a genuine star appearing in Ray Davies' Meltdown over the summer. However, the award goes to those Carter USM lads for the glorious music after a 20 year wait, a great atmosphere and a blinding light show (literally). Well done chaps!

Best Live Performance

I always like to pick out a few live performances from the gigs I've seen that stand head and shoulders above the rest for adding that something else to the overall experience. The nominees are:
  • Shelby Lynne - You Don't Have To Say You Love Me
  • Sandie Shaw - (There's) Always Something There To Remind Me
  • Ray Davies - Lola
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie - He's An Indian Cowboy At The Rodeo (@ Union Chapel)
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie - Cod'ine (@ Porchester Hall)
Shelby was in great form over the summer as was Sandie Shaw in her pink Union Jack coat and bare feet. Ray Davies brought the roof down with the crowd singing along to 'Lola' and Buffy Sainte-Marie has earned two nominations from different gigs. This one really was a difficult decision for the judges but the winner is 'He's An Indian Cowboy At The Rodeo' by Buffy Sainte-Marie and her great band.

I've seen Buffy perform 'Indian Cowboy' several times and it's one of my favourites, especially with the powwow singing at the end of the lovely song about a teenage crush. This time she took it further with not only extended powwow singing but also powwow dancing, with Buffy and the band dancing round the stage in front of the pulpit in the chapel, a glorious sight! A well deserved Baggy for a joyful experience!

Best New Album

Most of my new albums this year have been from 'old' bands and it's been a bumper crop. The nominees start off with the only 'new' artist:
  • Amanda Palmer - Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under
  • Poly Styrene - Generation Indigo
  • Blondie - Panic Of Girls
  • Kim Wilde - Snapshots
  • Kate Bush - 50 Words For Snow
New albums from Blondie, Kim Wilde and Kate Bush was great news, particularly the new 'un from Kate which wasn't expected at all given the release of 'Director's Cut' earlier in the year. Amanda's album was, in part, a filler until she gets round to a new studio album but it's packed with great songs. However, the album I downloaded in New York and listened to endlessly on the flight back to London and then endlessly over the summer and autumn is the magnificent 'Generation Indigo' and the Baggy goes to Poly Styrene.

This is especially poignant since Poly left us in April just weeks after the new album was released. Poly died of cancer and never had a chance to promote the album or play the songs live - something she tweeted she was looking forward to doing - and what great songs they are. The songs are still a staple on my playlists and 'Generation Indigo' is my most played album of 2011 according to Last.FM. Namaste Poly!

Best New Song

There have been some great new songs in 2011 and the nominees are:
  • Amanda Palmer - In My Mind
  • Poly Styrene - LUV
  • Blondie - Girlie Girlie
  • Cerys Matthews - Sweet Magnolia
  • Kate Bush - Snowflake
'Generation Indigo' is the best album of 2011 and I could've picked any of the tracks to nominate but I chose 'LUV for its simple and heartfelt message. Any song that can make me cry on a first listen is great in my book and that's what 'Snowflake' did to me, just as Blondie made me smile and Cerys made me sway with pleasure. However, the Baggy for best new song goes to Amanda's 'In My Mind' for it's gentle simplicity and brutal honesty, a beautiful song.

Best Exhibition

I've been to various exhibitions this year and the nominations are:
  • Diaghilev & The Ballet Russe - Victoria & Albert Museum
  • Devotion By Design - National Gallery
  • John Martin's Apocalpse - Tate Britain
  • Fra Angelico et Les Maitres de La Lumiere - Musee Jacquemart-Andre
  • Punk And Beyond - Signal Gallery
It's not fair to beat about the bush since the winner is obvious - the Fra Angelico exhibition in Paris, a glory of light and colour bringing life to the pure vision and belief of the wondrous Fra Angelico.

And there you have it, the Plastic Bag Awards 2011. Let's see what 2012 has in store for us ...