Thursday, 31 May 2012

This Is PiL Ya Know

I bought two new records this week (well, I actually bought three but that spoils the story) by icons fron the '70s. I got 'This Is PiL' by Public Image Limited and '... Ya Know?' by Joey Ramone, both of which are very fab.  

The first song on 'This Is Pil' is called 'This Is PiL' and it's lyrical content is basically, "This is PiL... Public Image Limited... You are now entering a PiL zone... This is PiL..." and so on and so forth. The music builds from a simple drum track to add swirling guitars that gets more hypnotic by the second with John shouting the lyrics in an echo chamber. It's very simple and powerful and I like the sheer hubris of just repeating 'This is PiL' in various combinations for three and a half minutes. A challenge as well as a welcome. This is PiL indeed.  

Joey’s album is all that you’d expect. It seems to be getting mixed reviews which I don’t quite understand since it’s full of three minute pop songs, some with buzzsaw guitar and some not. It closes with ‘Life’s A Gas’, an acoustic song that at first I thought might be a T.Rex cover but it’s not. It finishes with the lines, ‘Life’s a gas, so don’t be sad cos I’ll be there, don’t be sad at all’ which brought a tear to my eye given that Joey was dying when he recorded it.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Amanda Palmer > $1,000,000

Miss Amanda Fucking Palmer has exceeded the magical $1,000,000 landmark with her Kickstarter for her new record, art book and tour and she's closing in on exceeding 21,000 backers. This is astonishing. I did my little bit to help.

Here's a screen-grab from about 7:15pm this evening:

As with virtually everything else in her life, Amanda is sharing her excitement about this project with us and tweeting and blogging updates and letting backers have advance songs and sight of artwork. Her last blog included some of the pictures that will be in the art book and shared a naked painting of her that was completed last week. Amanda knows no taboos about nakedness and was photographed naked in the first Dresden Dolls book (which is, of course, in my collection). So what better way to celebrate reaching the magic number than be body-painted and photographed?

Well done Miss Palmer!

You have two days left in which to support Amanda so go on and get a new record in your life. All it costs is $1. 

Friday, 25 May 2012

Matthew Bourne's 'Early Adventures' at Sadler's Wells

Matthew Bourne's 'Early Adventures' is on tour at the moment and this week the production called in at Sadler's Wells so, naturally, I went to see it. It's a collection of three short plays: 'Spitfire', 'Town & Country' and 'Infernal Galop'. All are great fun and I sat there with a silly smile on my face for most of the time, wondering how dance can make me smile...

'Spitfire' is the tale of four young gentlemen posing in their underwear, making moves of putting on clothes but somehow failing to become clothed.  Yes, lads in pants. They can't help pulling poses as they dance, very aware that an audience is watching them and playing to the audience during the ensemble as well as solo pieces. There's the unspoken rivalry of who looks best in their clean, white underwear (not the oft-washed and fading things most of us wear), the comparing of biceps, the flexing of thighs and contorted poses they find themselves in.

Because it's lads in pants then they tend to feature in the posters and suchlike but the performance only lasts about 15 minutes, the shortest of the evening.

'Town and Country' is just that - a sequence of dances in a town environment then a sequence about the country (the first half-time splits town from country). 'Town' begins with a group of friends arriving at a train station, getting to the townhouse, a couple being bathed and dressed for an evening out and a lovely sequence of the friends whizzing about the stage on scooters. I particularly liked the scene of the couple being bathed - him by the butler and her by the maid - when they seemed to not want to get dressed but the servants somehow manage to get them into clothes.  There's also a great skit (or homage?) to 'Brief Encounter'.

After the interval we were given 'Country', with country yokels and milkmaids and even some (rather elaborate) clog dancing. At one point the universal tongue of dance attracted some country creatures (in the form of glove puppets behind fences) - a fox, a hedgehog and a bunny rabbit - to watch the goings on. Unfortunately the hedgehog got stamped on and, when the brave bunny tried to revive it realised it was dead and slowly removed it from the stage to rousing laughter. To continue the theme, we see a solemn funeral procession for the hedgehog later in the performance that had everyone laughing. The bunny is the real hero.

Just as 'Town' ended with the urban phenomenon of scooters, 'Country' ended with a riding scene, with the dancers riding imaginary horses very effectively. It was all very chortlesome.

After a second half-time we had 'Infernal Galop' set in Paris in the 1940s (or '50s) with Piaf-esque women in knee-length skirts dancing around Paris. There's a very strange sea-scape scene with odd, fishy dancing to 'The Sea' song. The main scene here is an attempted seduction at a pissoire with one lad being the seducer and another in boxer-shorts wanting to be seduced. Just when they reach the point of consummating their lust a band in red berets jump on stage to serenade them. That rather puts a damper on things. After a few attempts and few coitus interuptus moments, the seducer gives up and walks off with boxer-lad's jacket.

I thoroughly enjoyed all three performances, all by the same troupe of nine dancers (six lads and three lasses). I think the tour is continuing around the UK so, if you get the chance, go and see it. I'd happily see it again!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Theatre Time Travel

In the last week I've time travelled twice courtesy of two theatrical productions - 'Starlight Express' to the '80s and 'What The Butler Saw' to the '60s.

I went to see 'Starlight Express' at the New Wimbledon Theatre last week - I never saw it back in the day so I was catching up. Of course, back in the '80s it was staged at the huge theatre at Victoria and I was seeing it in the more bijou surroundings of Wimbledon so I expected changes. The main change is the big race scenes which are now done on film (rather than roller-skating above the heads of the audience) and we're given safety goggles to watch it (ie 3D glasses). That didn't really work for me, but that's a detail.

The skating was excellent and they were all over that small stage, full of energy and showbiz sparkle. I've got no criticisms on that score (although Rusty could've had a stronger voice). My problem with it was really that it hasn't aged too well, the music reeked of the '80s and (to be blunt) the plot was written by a five year old. Some of the songs were so bloomin' obvious that I was mentally predicting the next line and getting it right. High art it's not but an evening of fun it certainly is. High octane sparkle, lights and movement, great skating and great posing.  Yes, I enjoyed it. Will I see it again? I don't need to.

Yesterday I saw 'What The Butler Saw' at The Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand. First off, there isn't a butler since it's set in a mental health hospital. Secondly, it's very '60s.

It's a tale of confusion from start to finish, a farce with trousers coming down and naked girls (well, sort of), of mad shifts in direction and loud declamations about rape, of 'society' and personal morals, of almost everything you can think of. I can't help but think that what might've been shocking and challenging in the '60s isn't in the 21st Century.The writing is dense and full of some brilliant one-liners but it needs more than one-liners to make it work.

The star of the show for me was Samantha Bond who does the best - the very best - drunken lady-like walking in the world (she won the Oscar for it last night). I also liked the manic, quick wittedness of Omid Djalili injecting humour into his performance (and, I suspect, a few ad libs). I didn't rate the performance of Tim McInnerny in the central role - he seemed to be channelling John Cleese some of the time and the rest he was playing himself (as he does).The three supporting characters did what they needed to do to keep it moving ahead, dashing on and off stage in various states of undress.

It was great fun and had me smiling at the one-liners and cringing at some of the out-of-date sexual politics cliches. Mind you, without Orton venting his spleen on the stage '60s then they might still be real issues rather than cliches. Who knows? 

Sunday, 20 May 2012

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

The first single from the newly rocked-up Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra is 'Do It With A Rockstar'. Amanda shared it with Kickstarter backers on Friday and then let it loose on the world today to anyone who signed up for her email list - isn't she generous?

It is a magnificent blend of... of ... of everything that's magnificent! It has the knowing seriousness and humour of 'The Jeep Song' wrapped up in glam pomp with thunderous drums and guitars and synth in there somewhere. This is not the Amanda of ukulele simplicity, this is a rockstar at the peak of her art, confident, powerful and unafraid.

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

But then we hear all sorts of excuses from the suddenly reluctant fan who has pets left alone all evening, who needs to charge their phone and check messages, who has a DVD about swinging in the 70s to watch... I'm terribly unimpressed with this so-called fan who has the chance to do it with a rockstar.

Mind you, the rockstar seems a bit too keen and needy as well. 'Wait, wait, wait... I'll be fine in a minute' says the rockstar who comes to terms with the fan not wanting to jump in the sack and bemoans his/her loneliness. Life is tough at the top.

I lurve this song. The first time I heard it my face broke into a giant smile as I gently rocked along to it, then I listened to it again and again and again... I want to see a video. I'm looking forward to seeing Amanda play it live at the acoustic session on 18 June (at the Art Show) and in full rock out mode a couple of days later at the Rock Show. 

Listen to it here:

Friday, 18 May 2012

Donna Summer

I was sad to hear the news this afternoon that Donna Summer has died.  I was listening to my Donna playlist only last week, a playlist with her 'best of', 'Bad Girls' with all the 12" versions and 'Crayons' (her latest album from 2008). I bought 'Bad Girls' back in the day, the double album in gatefold sleeve with Donna as the tart with the heart posing and seductive. That album stands up well today, a class album from a class act.

I've always liked Donna's voice. She was incredibly versatile and powerful and, although she'll always be labelled as 'disco' she was so much more. She wouldn't have lasted so long if she was solely a disco singer. I've just looked her up on EveryHit and she entered the UK chart 29 times between 1976 and 1996. That's impressive by any standard. I bet you can't name them all - I couldn't.

I first noticed Donna with the groundbreaking 'I Feel Love'. OK, that amazing, never heard before sound came from Giorgio Moroder, but Donna was the voice and face of that song and she sold it. Would we have heard it without her fronting it? I don't think I'd ever heard anything like it and she deeply impressed my 17 year old younger self.

The next song that made me sit up and pay attention was 'MacArthur Park' with her ecstatic screams livening up those odd lyrics. Whenever I hear it I remember being 18 again and it takes me back to the Oranges & Lemons pub in Oxford and its eclectic jukebox. Inbetween banging out The Sex Pistols, The Clash and X-Ray Spex that jukebox also played 'MacArthur Park' by Donna and 'Love Don't Live Here Anymore' by Rose Royce.

The following year I indulged in 'Bad Girls', which, looking back, is clearly her grand masterpiece of an album. She was on top of her game with that record.  Then we had the classic singles of 'No More Tears' with Barbra Streisand, 'State of Independence' and the lovely 'Dinner With Gershwin'. And loads of others of course.

Then she released 'Crayons' just a few years ago, her first new album in 17 years, and the voice was still there along with the creativity.  I still listen to it and enjoy it, the different styles of music and Donna's voice.

Farewell Donna.You live on in my record collection and my playlists, in my memories and in my youth and middle age. I am always 18 when I hear 'MacArthur Park'. Farewell Diva.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Whatever Happened to Bobbie Gentry?

I listened to a documentary about Bobbie Gentry on Radio 2 this evening presented by Roseanne Cash. I've always had a soft spot for Bobbie with her deep, soulful voice and play her 'best of' every now and then. I bought it years ago and it was virtually the only album of her songs I could find at the time- I've found out tonight that over the past few years all of her albums have been re-issued so I have lots more music to explore.

Bobbie shot to fame with 'Ode To Billie Joe' in 1967 and had another three to four years of success before falling out of favour, popping up on TV now and then until her last appearance in 1981 and vanishing from sight. I can only vaguely recall Bobbie's TV series for the BBC in the early 70s which was the usual fare of song-comedy routine-guest-song, just like Cilla and Lulu's series. The format was the same - and some of the songs - but it was the voice that was different and Bobbie's was very different and special.

The documentary was a fascinating reminder of Bobbie's talent and it was great to hear snatches of songs that I've never heard before. If you get a chance you should listen to it on iPlayer. In the menatime, I'll be exploring her albums on download.


Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Dresden Dolls at 'Stand Bravely Brothers', Meltdown 2005

The first time I saw Amanda Palmer was when The Dresden Dolls performed at Patti Smith's Meltdown festival on 23 June 2005. I've mentioned this before but I've now found a video of the evening on YouTube. Some of the Meltdown events were filmed but have never been released - I well remember Patti's performance of her first album, 'Horses', being filmed by Don Letts in the Royal Festival Hall and Patti jumping off the stage and running into the audience just a few feet away from me. 

The Dresden Dolls performed as part of the 'Stand Bravely Brothers' evening of songs as a homage to Bertold Brecht, Amanda banging away on her piano and Brian thumping his drums and zinging his cymbals. They played 'The Ballad Of The Soldiers Wife' in the first half and Amanda came on in the second half to sing another song but I can't remember what it was. The bill that night included Marc Almond, Martha Wainwright, The Tiger Lillies, the Finn Brothers, Sparks and, of course, Patti and others.

After the show there was a free gig by the Dresden Dolls in the open performance space in front of the bar at the Royal Festival Hall. It was crowded - there must've been a couple of hundred people sitting on the floor waiting for the Dolls to appear. I was curious - I liked Amanda's voice from the two songs I'd heard her sing in the Brecht homage and wanted to hear more. On they came on, settled down and opened with 'Good Day'. That was the first Dolls song I ever heard. They played a short set including 'Girl Anachronism' and 'Coin Operated Boy' and I remember Amanda swigging beer during 'Amsterdam'.

After the gig I headed to the merch stand to buy 'The Dresden Dolls' album on 8ft Records. Amanda was wandering round greeting people and she signed the record for me, adding an extra flourish under her name and giving me an arch look. That was the first time I met her and, even though I didn't get a hug that night, it sticks in my memory. 

I've seen Amanda play every time she's performed in London since then and met her afterwards most times. I've even met her coming out of a theatre on the Strand with Neil Gaiman when we just happened to be at the same performance of an Alan Cummings show. I shall meet her again in June when I attend her art show to celebrate her new album. I'm hopeful of an Amanda Hug that evening.Click the link on the right to get your ticket to the show.

Anyway, here's the video of 'Stand Bravely Brothers' I mentioned - scroll in to about 4:45 minutes to see the Dresden Dolls.  Leave it running and you'll also see Patti Smith raise her skirt to do a little dance to 'Mack The Knife'. Enjoy.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

'I Sing Of Change' by Niyi Osundare

I saw another World Poem On The Underground today that caught my attention, 'I Sing Of Change' by Niyi Osundare.

I think it works on several levels, both simplistic and complex, some beautifully lyrical phrases and some distinct oddities. Whatever it is, it trapped my eyes and I read it three times on the way to work, savouring the words, the construction and my perplexity at the final part of the poem, with the sun bringing ignorance... I've not come across that before.

I sing
of the beauty of Athens
without its slaves

Of a world free
of kings and queens
and other remnants
of an arbitrary past

Of earth
with no
sharp north
or deep south
without blind curtains
or iron walls

Of the end
of warlords and armories
and prisons of hate and fear

Of deserts treeing
and fruiting
after the quickening rains

Of the sun
radiating ignorance
and stars informing
nights of unknowing

I sing of a world reshaped

Niyi Osundare was born in 1947 in Nigeria and currently lives in America. He's a poet, dramatist, literary critic and university professor. Sing up, Niyi!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Buffy Sainte-Marie at Meltdown 2012

Buffy Sainte-Marie is coming back to London in August to take part in Anthony Hegarty's Meltdown season on the Southbank. Meltdown is an annual season across the venues on the Southbank where a famous musical name curates a series of events - Bowie, Patti Smith, Morrissey and loads of others have curated over the years. Anthony has somehow persuaded Buffy to come back to these shores for not one, but TWO, events. Morrissey invited Buffy to play in 2004 but she was too busy at the time (she told me so when I had the honour of meeting her in 2005) so it's nice that she's able to make it this year.

Buffy will do an 'In Conversation With ...' session at the Purcell Room in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 6 August. It'll be good to hear Buffy talk about her life so I hope whoever is doing the interviewing will have done their homework and not simply ask banal questions.  On the other hand, if they do ask obvious questions I suspect Buffy will extend her answers into more interesting territory anyway. There's always an opportunity for the audience to ask some questions at these affairs so I will need to think up something a bit unusual to ask if I get the opportunity. I might ask about this cover of the NME in 1976 before they found punk. I probably bought it!

There will also be a concert on the main stage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall the following evening on 7 August. That is the site of Buffy's return to London in 2008 - I was in the audience that night and met her afterwards. I don't know whether Buffy will be solo or with her rockin' band but we'll find out.

The tickets for both events go on sale tomorrow to Southbank members (which I am, phew!) and generally later in the week. I aim to be at both events. They are, of course, slapbang in the middle of the London Olympics so I'll be in my London Ambassador uniform which isn't the ideal clothing for a gig but at least I'll stand out in the audience in the pink and purple design.

There's also a good interview with Buffy in this month's 'Record Collector' magazine in which she confirms that she'll be collaborating with Sandi Thom on 'The Big Ones Get Away' from Buffy's 'Coincidence And Likely Stories' album. I assume that's for Sandi's next album which is due out in late summer so that'll be some new Buffy music to look forward to.

Looks like it's going to be a good summer for Buffy fans!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

AFP and The Ten Thousand

Amanda Palmer launched her Kickstarter appeal on Monday 30 April, her birthday. Today, six days later, she's achieved over TEN THOUSAND backers and raised over HALF A MILLION DOLLARS. In six days. At the time of writing this (10:00pm on Sunday 6 May, UK time) she has 10,127 backers pledging $557,906.  Not bad, eh?

Amanda seems to be over the moon to have exceeded the 10,000 backers mark. She sent out an excited tweet and a photo to note the fact that said simply:


 I think that counts as 'over the moon'?

Amanda and The Grand Theft Orchestra are currently in New York doing photo-shoots for the album packaging and doing the final mixing/sequencing of the album.

The year of madness and touring starts on 12 June in Berlin before coming to London on 18 June and then hopping over the Atlantic to various bits of America.  For a mere $300 you can be part of the art:

{LONDON: ART OPENING/BACKER PARTY} JUNE 18th | 7-10pm (or later) | 16+ | VILLAGE UNDERGROUND: the local london VIP throw-down for UK-area kickstarter backers! a unique evening showcasing the original artwork created for the record, plus an intimate acoustic performance by me & The Grand Theft Orchestra. this bundle includes beverages/surprise gifts/whatever special london-based shit we can dream up at the event! also includes: the album on compact disc OR vinyl, PLUS a SIGNED copy of the art book, PLUS a digital download & thank-you card. in addition to all of this, we'll guest list you for the open-to-public rock show in london on June 20th at Village Underground. PLEASE NOTE: The Village Underground rock show is 16+ (under 18s require an adult 18+ to enter either Village Underground show).

$300 might sound a lot but at today's prices it's only (um, *only*) £183.  That's less than a reasonable ticket to see Madonna. I consulted my musical and financial adviser today and he said, 'oh, ok'.  What price an Amanda hug?