Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Olympics Arriving in London

The Olympics are getting closer to London. There's less than a month to go before the opening ceremony and London has started to pretty herself up.  We have banners appearing on streets around London and Olympic rings hanging from Tower Bridge. It looks quite spectacular. I'm waiting for pink and purple hanging flower baskets to start springing up everywhere.

I've noticed new signage on the Tube network, at least in central London stations. Bright pink signs pointing the way to Olympic and other venues rather than to tube lines (a great improvement).

No doubt there'll be more to follow.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Rain Of Poems, London 2012

The Southbank in London is hosting the Poetry Parnassus, a celebration of poetry from around the world, as part of the London2012 Festival. The opening ceremony was as spectacular as it was fun - the Rain Of Poems over Jubilee Gardens.

The Rain of Poems was created by Chilean arts collective Casagrande and it pours poems over cities that have been bombed in previous military conflict. Poems are printed onto cardboard bookmarks in two languages (in this case English and Spanish) and thrown out of a helicopter at twilight. The event has previously been held in Berlin, Warsaw, Guernica, Dubrovnik and Santiago. According to the leaflet I was given, "This performance creates an alternative image of the past and is a gesture of remembrance as well as being a metaphor for the survival of cities and people." I thought it was marvellous.

It sounds quite serious but the whole event shrieked joy, followed by a fit of giggles. Jubilee Gardens was full of people of all ages at nine o'clock when the event was due to start and then at ten past nine a cheer rose as people spotted a helicopter approaching the Southbank and the cameras emerged, taking photos of the helicopter as it came closer and then the poems were thrown out into open air to float and flitter away in the breeze. It seemed to take an age for the poems to get close enough to see and then we could see individual bookmarks lit by the spotlights and people started getting really excited.

People were running here, there and everywhere to try to catch poems, big grins and laughter everywhere. Competitions started as to who could collect the most poems. People read their poems out to friends and strangers alike. People swapped poems and offered spare poems to others who didn't have any. It was a lovely atmosphere, there was daftness and happiness in the air, infectious smiles all over and everyone wanted a poem. Before the event started I'd wondered who would clean up all the paper afterwards. I needn't have worried, there was no chance of any stray poem being left behind.

Out of the 100,000 poems dropped from that helicopter I managed to secure four. One was mine by right (as in I reached it first), two were mine but were grabbed by others before my fingers could reach them but were then given to me as a mark of generosity, and one was from a security guard who collected so many he just handed them out. My poems are:

'Author's Prayer' by Ilya Kaminsky
'Cityscape' by Andrew McMillan
'In Search Of The Other' by Ashjan Al Hendi
'The History Of That Tree' by Dhabiya Khamis

If Shakespeare, Yeats, Byron or Marlowe had been there, I bet they'd have been running round grinning and trying to catch a poem or two. My abiding memory of the Rain of Poems will be joy and exhilaration.Well done Southbank and well done to Casagrande for a first class experience. I shall treasure my poems from the sky.

Monday, 25 June 2012

'Torch Song Trilogy' at The Choccy Factory

Last week I went to see 'Torch Song Trilogy' at the Menier Chocolate Factory. The Choccy Factory has a good track record of productions transferring into the West End and, sometimes, to Broadway ('Sunday In The Park With George', 'La Cage Aux Folles' and 'A Little Night Music') so it's always interesting to see one of its new productions. This was directed by Douglas Hodge who starred in 'La Cage Aux Folles' at the Choccy, in the West End and on Broadway.

'Torch Song Trilogy' is just that, a trilogy of short plays that focus on the life of Arnold, a drag queen in New York. It was written by and originally starred Harvey Fierstein so it's hard not to think of it as being at least partly autobiographical and with some of the phrasing you can almost hear his voice saying the lines. In this production Arnold is played by David Bedella, the physical opposite of Harvey and some of the lines could've been amended to reflect this (such as references to how fat he was when David is a skinny little thing).

I could also be terribly picky about the second play set on a giant bed with the four protagonists hiding under the duvet one minute and saying lines in different formations of the four characters the next. This isn't terribly enlightening or do much to carry the plot forward but I could've forgive much if it wasn't for the increasingly exuberant somersaulting across the bed. Rather than pay attention to the play I was worried they might bounce off the bed onto the hard floor.

Anyway, Arnold is gay and out in late 70s New York and we follow his life from finding Mr Right to being dumped in favour of a woman. Ed is bisexual, you see. Or wants to be. Arnold finds a young man while Ed marries, then the marriage flounders and Arnold's lover is killed for being gay. The final play sees Ed staying with Arnold as his marriage folds, along with Arnold's foster-son, when Arnold's mother arrives from Florida. Cue lots of misunderstandings and arguments. The play has obviously dated in parts but I can well imagine how shocking it must have been to theatre-goers in the early-80s, seeing aspects of gay life that weren't broadcast, particularly with HIV and AIDS just around the corner.  

I enjoyed it. I've seen David Bedella in 'Jerry Springer: The Opera' and in 'Roadshow' (at the Choccy Factory last year) and he carried off the lead role with a knowing nod to the audience. I also liked Joe McFadden as Ed and he clearly grew and developed during the three plays. My favourite though, was Sara Kestelman as Arnold's mother and she played it to a T. She knows her son is gay but can't understand it no matter how much she pretends she does. After a blazing row the night before she leaves as her son is filled with joy that his adopted son has a record played for him on the radio - her look as she closed the door clearly signalled that once tempers have cooled she'll be back to heckle her son again, the relationship is intact.

This is definitely worth seeing - it doesn't seem to be revived very often so take advantage while you can and see this quality production.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Yoko Ono - 'To The Light'

I went to see the exhibition by Yoko Ono at the Serpentine Gallery the other day, a retrospective called 'To The Light'. It includes a range of her older pieces from the 1960s alongside some more recent art.

As well as the physical works are aural pieces as a hawk screech welcomes you as you walk into the first gallery, followed by a heartbeat in the next room as it mingles with the hawk call. Yoko's art isn't always terribly serious and, I suspect, she likes to raise a smile and a chuckle, such as her 'Sky TV' piece that is a flat-screen TV with a static picture of clouds. The original piece was on a bulky TV set in 1966. The 2012 version is more elegant and developments since 1966 adds to its potential.

She recreates the step-ladder piece, 'Ceiling Painting', leading up to a magnifying glass that John Lennon famously climbed and looked through and saw the word 'yes' when they first met at one of her shows in the '60s. There are other Lennon references in the show, including video footage of his naked bum and, elsewhere, their footprints walking up a wall.

You've got to pay attention to what Yoko is doing with her objects. 'Helmets' is a series of 11 war helmets hanging from the ceiling but look inside each of the helmets to see small blue pieces of jigsaw with 'y.o.' printed on them.  I wonder what the jigsaw will show if all the pieces were taken from the helmets and put together on the floor? Tempting.

I didn't walk in 'Amaze' a see-through maze in one of the rooms but other people did and banged into the walls when they met a dead end. On the wall beside the maze are some plasma screens showing clips from her film, 'Fly'.

I liked some of the framed, hand-written short poems, such as 'The Room Without A Window I':

"Draw a window on the wall
to remind you of the sun.
to remind you of the rain that taps
to remind you of the sunset that makes you smile
to remind you of the moonlight that sneaks in your room
to remind you of the snow that covers the world."

The onochord is mounted on the roof of the Serpentine but you're not allowed up there. The onochord is a light piece so I assume is seen best at night. Outside by the entrance are four wish trees in big planters and beside that is a small stand with labels to write a wish on and tie it to the trees. A handwritten note in a frame says:

"Wish Tree for London

Write your wish
on a piece of paper
Hang the paper on the Wish Tree
Ask a friend to do the same.
Keep wishing.

Yoko Ono 2012"

I made a wish.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Amanda Palmer's Rock Show, 20 June 2012 in London

Amanda did a free ninja gig on Tuesday but I saved up my awe for Wednesday when I saw her full-on Rock Show at Village Underground in Shoreditch. The place looked very different from the bare artscape of Monday, with speakers and lights hanging from the rafters, a stage filling the back wall and, not least, a packed, sold-out house. The art was gone from the walls and Amanda was noticeable by her absence which was just as well since she would've been mobbed.

I got there at about 8:15pm with my name on the guestlist as a Kickstarter supporter, to find the place already well filled and the support acts about to start. Amanda came on stage in a kimono to introduce the support acts - once again we had the swirling strings of Jherek Bischoff who was followed by a comedian in a dress. Amanda seems to have a thing about men in frocks on this visit. I was happy to watch from a distance in the bar area and when the comedian left I got ready for the main event of the evening and scooted round for a much better view from the top of the few steps where Amanda had played 'Ukelele Anthem' at the Art Show a few nights before.

Once again introduced by the bagpipes, Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra took the stage and stayed there for about two hours. Amanda stripped off her kimono during the first song to reveal her black rock goddess gear underneath, black bra, basque and skin-tight trousers, long gloves and warpaint on her face, with a sparkly band in her hair. The band launched into 'Do It With A Rockstar', a great opener and the song Amanda had released to Kickstarter backers.

The band played mainly songs from the new album - that's what it was about after all - some of which we were already familiar with, others were brand new. After starting with 'Do It With A Rockstar' we were given 'The Killing Type', 'I Lost My Wallet', 'Trout Heart Replica' and 'Want It Back', all from the new record. For Dresden Dolls fans she played 'Missed Me', 'Half Jack' and 'Girl Anachronism' - who can believe guitar solos in those songs? and the band all swapping instruments three times during 'Missed Me'? She brought the songs to life again in a new reincarnation, no longer just piano and drums, but a full band.

The new songs from the record are all terribly good and work well both stripped back as at the Art Show and with full electric backing at the Rock Show. Rather special was hearing 'The Bed Song' with a full, trembling, backing and 'Berlin', a new song that involved a crowd-source horn section playing along - this seemed like a traditional Amanda song with loud parts and quiet parts but blown away when the horns blared for the chorus, a magical experience. Husband Neil Gaiman came on to sing 'Psycho' with two saws duelling to give him the best weird soundscape.

There were no songs from her first album, 'Who Killed Amanda Palmer', and I thought that odd until the encore that was made up of 'Astronaut' and a mad 'Leeds United' with the horns back on stage and a host of friends dancing and singing along on stage. Once again I regretted not getting up that Sunday morning four years ago to take part in the filming of the video for that song.

Amanda has evolved. She is now a Rockstar and is ready to be Rockstar. This record and these shows will move her up to the next level. Gone are the long, rambling stories and random commentaries and we were presented with an artist that knows how to give her audience what they want, a solid show with herself at the centre. Being at the front of a band brings different responsibilities. She's split herself in two - art Amanda and rock Amanda and I like both visions. She's going to go big with the new album and I suspect that means we'll lose the goddess who gives away free hugs at the end of gigs but if anyone can keep that aspect of her shows going, it's Amanda Fucking Palmer. Go get 'em Amanda, show us all what you're made of.

I will treasure my past hugs and celebrate the birth of a Rockstar.

Picasso's 'Vollard Suite' at The British Museum

The British Museum has recently obtained a complete set of Picasso's prints that make up the Vollard Suite and has put them on public display in a free exhibition. It's made up of 100 prints in different themes, sometimes side by side with the works of other artists that inspired him (such as Ingres and Rembrandt). The most famous of these prints is probably the blind Minotaur led by a girl and this is the first print that greets you when you get to the gallery rooms.

A large majority of the prints fall into the 'sculptor's studio' theme of the sculptor and his models and/or works. The majority of these are simple line drawings, outlines that create the scene. It's astonishing what a few lines on a page can create. These are, I think, my favourites, simple line drawings brought to life, given size and being in a simplistic but very powerful way.

We're given Picasso as sculptor, artist, minotaur, rapist and lover, naked and sprawled drinking champagne with his lover. The minotaur was the dark side of his personality and he uses it to explore possibilities. The rape scenes were massively cross-hatched, dark and brooding, bodies colliding and joined in violence. I preferred the minotaur at repose.

The exhibition includes two larger prints with nine panels each, titled 'Dream and Lie of Franco' part 1 and part 2. The small panels tell a story of pain and fear, being populated with Guernica-esque people and animals. Compared with some of the more classically inspired prints these are a wrench away from the sublime and into terror. I wouldn't want them on my walls.

The exhibition takes up two rooms on the fourth floor of the Museum and is well worth a visit. The strong vision behind these prints is both a delight and a dream, stepping into Picasso's world for a moment or two.


Amanda Palmer's Art Show, 18 June 2012 in London

Amanda Palmer graced London with her presence for a few days this week, firstly for her Kickstarter Art Show on Monday, a free art-viewing and ninja gig on Tuesday and then her Rock Show on Wednesday. I was there for the Art and Rock shows. Amanda gives good show.

All shows were at Village Underground in Shoreditch, an art and performance space in what looks like an old workshop, all brick walls and high ceiling. The art for the new album and book was hung around the walls along with a few photographs from Neil Gaiman's 'Bed Book' (photos of naked couples in bed). The artworks were mainly of Amanda, either portrait or whole body, with some reflecting songs from the new album, including the cover art with its evil pink background. They were in all sorts of media and sizes and some more expressive than others.

Doors opened about 7:00pm when Amanda's bagpipe playing cousin came out in tartan regalia to serenade us and we duly trooped in. We were given drinks tokens and a black AFP-GTO goodies bag. Mine included a copy of Brecht's 'Life Of Galilieo', a purple felt pen, stickers, a black mask and a flick-comb. Amanda later said that she and Neil had gone to Charing Cross Road that morning to buy 100 books to put randomly in the bags and that we could swap them with each other if we wanted.

Then it was time to get a glass of wine and wander round the gallery looking at the art nailed to the bare brick walls. My favourite was a portrait of Amanda in oils on wood by Cassandra Long. It looked real, a little piece of Amanda's spirit captured in that painting as she looks you straight in the eye. I also liked the multiple exposure photographs Neil had taken of Amanda with their vivid colours and Amanda wandering round topless (there's a theme building here). And then the entertainment began with Princess Hans and Jorg that she'd picked up in Berlin. Amanda announced them and stayed out to watch the show with the rest of us.

Princess Hans is a New Zealander transplanted to Berlin with a shaved head, beard and sparkly silver frock with Jorg playing keyboard. They're a cabaret act and had some nice moments but I've seen beardy men in frocks before. He certainly put a lot of effort into the act and was soon glistening with sweat. Jorg kept his jacket on.

Then we were given Jherek Bischoff and a string quartet he'd recruited from local musicians. Jherek is the bass player in The Grand Theft Orchestra and also does the string arrangements for the band. He's also just released his first solo record and played some of the songs from it. Some of the songs sounded very cinematic, grand and lush while another one sounded like it was string arrangement for the song without the song.

Just as the final notes from Jherek's last song faded there was a blaring and a wailing and a clashing and the lights went down as Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra strode into the room led by the piper and Amanda with a megaphone. They soon cleared a space in the middle of the room with people sitting on the floor shuffling around, some being handed torches to use as spotlights and the main lighting during the show. This was an acoustic show (other than the teeniest of baby amps for Jherek's bass), with Amanda's keytar, banjo and buckets and pans for drums. Amanda was in a cream silk dress with loose straps that kept falling down exposing her black bra (but we've all seen that before).

They opened with 'The Killing Type' from the new record with Amanda scraping a knife along a metal sharpener for some percussion while banjos were strummed an buckets thumped and Amanda's strong voice overlaying it all. It sounded great stripped right back. She then moved on to 'Trout Heart Replica' and used the knife to chop up a beetroot while Jherek's string quarter made the room swirl and her hands turned red with the beet juice. That was washed off with Amanda kneeling on the ground, hands together and she kept them together, almost tied at the wrist for her eerie version of 'Polly'... It was a very theatrical performance.

The theatrics continued with Amanda cross-legged on the ground one moment and then wandering round the crowd singing 'Walk On The Wild Side' with Princess Hans following with the megaphone. Amanda spread out sheets on the cold concrete floor to represent beds during 'The Bed Song', a touching song about a relationship growing cold and old as the participants grow and buy bigger and better beds but finally realise they left their love behind. It's a bit of tear-jerker as only Amanda can do. We were also given 'Idioteque', the 'Wallet' song and Neil Gaiman came on to sing 'Psycho' with Amanda leaning against his leg and lazily strumming her ukelele.

After the audience participation of 'Want It Back' Amanda ran up a few steps so all of us could see her properly and sang 'Ukelele Anthem' with a big grin all over her face. I was standing right beside the steps so had a great view. She then said she was nervous and would the reserved British take part in the next stage of the show... at which point she shrugged off her dress and undid her bra and was naked, raising her arms and asking us to take out the felt pens in our goody-bags and write on her. Of course we took part and, since I was already beside her, I was one of the first to write to my name on her left shoulder! She was giggling and jiggling away as more people crowded round to initial her, draw on her or just make a colourful mess. I moved out of the way to let others have their moment with a naked Amanda Palmer.

After the show she and Neil came out to chat, have their photos taken and sign stuff. As ever, there's never enough time to meet and greet everyone but I managed a few words with them and got the 'An Evening With...' CD signed and could wander off into the midnight streets to Old Street tube station. I didn't get a hug (drat!) but I'd written on Amanda's shoulder instead. How many people can say that?  A lot more after this tour, I'm sure!

The Rezillos - 'Out Of This World'

A comment on an earlier bloggie pointed me to this fun video from The Rezillos for their last single, 'Out Of This World' with fast drums and power chords all over the place. And Faye jumping round like a loon as ever. Go for it!

One of the comments on YouTube suggested they should tour with The B52s. This idea had never occurred to me before but wouldn't that be a fab line-up? I suspect The Rezillos would win the jumping round and making a noise competition but The B52s would get the wierdness medal. Mmmm I wonder ...

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Olympic Torch in Newcastle

The Olympic torch has reached Newcastle and has been travelling around Northumberland and Durham.

The Tyne Bridge has been decorated with the Olympic rings to celebrate the torch and the fact that Newcastle is a host city to the Olympic football competition. Jack Charlton carried the torch in Newcastle and Bear Grylls slid down a wire with it from the top of the Tyne Bridge. It's getting closer ...

Here are a couple of photos I've stolen from the internet:

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Maximo Park - 'Write This Down'

Here's the video for 'Write This Down', one of the songs from Maximo Park's new album, 'The National Health'. It's a great performance video with the band playing in a white space and then the pink appears - such a simple idea for a video and so effective. And a great song. Enjoy!

Geo Wyeth - Soho Theatre Residency

Geo Wyeth has a short residency at the Soho Theatre in July. You might know Geo better as Novice Theory and it's under that name that he appeared on 'Later... with Jools Holland' back in 2008. I saw Geo a couple of times back then when he was part of Justin Bond's 'Lustre' show at The Soho Theatre when he played a waif with an accordion and sang a mesmerising song.

After seeing him live I downloaded his album, 'At The End We Listen' by Novice Theory. It's a collection of great lyrical songs with simple musical backing. He followed that up with the 'Ordinary Death' EP which was a bit more musically adventurous. He then gave us the 'Blackone' EP by Jive Grave, a band of experimental musicians. And now we have 'Alien Tapes' by Geo Wyeth.

'Alien Tapes' is probably the least accessible of his records - or rather the least immediately accessible of his records, but it grows on you with each listen. It includes an excellent re-interpretation of 'At The End We Listen' from his first record. I hear new lyrical and musical twists and turns each time I listen to the record. I'm really looking forward to seeing Geo perform these songs in July when I see him at the Soho Theatre in July.

When I see him I'll also get hold of the physical copy of the record. I supported Geo's Kickstarter appeal to pre-order the record so he could make it. He's bringing my copy over with him from New York when he comes here in July - he's already sent me a Bandcamp download code so I can enjoy it and I've listened to it a few times.

It's important - as a point of principle - that artists like Geo are enabled to explore their musical, performance and artistic boundaries. Where artists like Geo go today, who knows, but maybe pop music will follow in five years time? I doubt it, to be honest, but it's important that someone pushes the boundaries and who knows what might result from that? Geo is an artist and writes astonishing songs. Give him a listen and maybe go to see his performances at the Soho Theatre or download his music?

Here is Geo's appearance four years ago on 'Later..':

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Fashion Statement

Dear readers, I had a surprise today when my uniform for my role as a London Ambassador arrived. And it is pink and purple.

Now, I've known it was going to be pink and purple since I first saw the design back in February on a training day, but it's another thing to hold it in your hand. It's bright but it's not as bad as it could've been. I won't be embarrassed to wear it (I probably should be but I won't be, I'm determined).

I received two polo shirts, a fleece jacket and a rain jacket, all in the same design and colours, plus a cap, a backpack and a water bottle, all themed to match the clothing. I also received the plain black cargo trousers that finish off the uniform. Unfortunately, I was rather aspirational when I gave them my measurements and my aspirations haven't been met. I'll have to get some, ahem, bigger trews.

I'm still waiting for the trilby hat but I'll pick that up nearer the time.

What do you think?

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Maxïmo Park - 'The National Health' in Heaven

Maxïmo Park have returned and are firing on full throttle, with gigs and a new album, 'THe National Health'. I went to see the lads at Heaven in London on Friday night and a good time was had by all, including, from the looks of it, the band up on stage.

Heaven is not one of my favourite venues and it turns into a nightclub later in the evening, so bands need to be off and out in good time. In this case, the Maximos said their goodbyes about 10:05pm after playing for a solid 1:20 minutes, playing loud and bouncy music that made me happy. They opened with 'The National Health' and 'Hips and Lips', both from the new album, 'The National Health' and that got us off to a great start. They've been streaming the album on their website but I've studiously avoided listening since I wanted to hear the album for the first time through proper speakers but they brought a smile to my face immediately - this is the Maxïmo Park I fell in love with.

The set was a good mix of songs from the new album as well as favourites from the last three albums. We were given 'Girls Who Play Guitars', 'Questing, Not Coasting', 'Limmasol', 'By The Monument', 'Graffiti', 'The Kids Are Sick Again', 'Parisian Skies' and a whole lot more. The main set ended with 'Our Velocity' and the encore with 'Apply Some Pressure'.

The lads looked really comfortable up there on that small stage and Paul even managed a jump-kick without kicking the others in the head (which was a feat). I felt so proud of them. The sound was good and the lights were excellent, adding punctuation and emphasis to the songs without taking over the set. Naturally, I forgot my camera but here's a photo I found online taken from about where I was standing to give you an idea.

The new album, 'The National Health' is released tomorrow, Monday 11 June, but was available for download from Amazon today so, of course, I downloaded it. It's a great mix of out and out punky-pop songs and pure pop, happily bouncing along with some killer riffs and lyrical turns. It even has a *slow* song. Yes, I said a slow song - 'Unfamiliar Places' - with the refrain of 'Don't be scared of the life you're living... making decisions on your own'. It's lovely and reminded me that the first album was about growing up and leaving home and this has altogether more adult themes, with more darkness invading our lives as we grow older but with space for joy as well.

It's a great selection of songs with something there for everybody. Give it a listen. The deluxe edition includes an additional disc with acoustic versions of songs and videos so I know what I'll be buying tomorrow.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

'Taboo' in Brixton

Someone's brave out there. A new venue in Brixton in south west London is going to stage 'Taboo', Boy George's musical about his experiences in the '80s. The Brixton Club House is making it's first foray into theatre by putting on 'Taboo' and you've got to give them credit for that.

I saw it a couple of times at The Venue off Leicester Square on its run over 2002-03 and enjoyed it (even though I cringed into a small, un-noticeable ball for the audience participation bits). Boy George was closely involved in the production and played Leigh Bowery in it. It'll be interesting to see how it's staged without George and with new actors. There are some very lovely songs in the show and it'll be nice to hear them sung again.

This new production is reported to run from 7 September to 23 December 2012 and I will definitely go to see it.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

'Shakespeare: Staging The World'

I like this video for the new exhibition about Shakespeare at the British Museum. I like it on lots of levels. A dramatic video showing Shakespeare's characters wandering round London carrying bloody knives and dead bodies, a troop of men of war crossing the Thames, Cleopatra with a snake circling her arm, all moving inexorably towards the British Museum. Moody, solemn and serious, unstoppable mythic characters climbing the steps of the museum and invoking the spirit of Shakespeare.

I have no idea what the exhibition will actually be about or what will be on display but this has intrigued me. I like this still from the video with the characters walking towards the museum. Take a look at the video by doing the clicky thing below.

Monday, 4 June 2012

'Come Dancing - The Concert' - Theatre Royal Stratford East

On Friday evening I went to Stratford to see a concert version of Ray Davies' musical, 'Come Dancing'. I saw the musical a few times on its run at Stratford in 2008 and loved the story and the music. The concert version is part of the Open Stage 2012 season that includes other concert versions of musicals, including 'The Harder They Come' at the end of June.

The stage was set with microphone stands across the front and a couple of risers for the cast to sit at tables when not singing. There was some dialogue to keep the story going inbetween songs but the star of the show was really the songs, some beautiful and some rousing.

I was pleased when the actors started filing the stage to see them coming on in their late '50s costumes and even happier to recognise some of the faces reprising their roles in the original production. That was a bit of a surprise and very welcome.

'Come Dancing' is a tale of change in the late '50s loosely based on Ray's childhood but with lots of invented family details. The local Palais dancehall was the focus of the community and everyone went dancing on a Saturday night. Ray's older sisters and parents go there regularly and that's where most of the action takes place. We're introduced to older sisters Rose and Brenda on the evening of their younger sister Julie's first evening at the Palais. We learn that Julie was disabled by polio, has difficulty dancing and is nervous. As the story progresses we learn more about the family and the community, dead-end jobs and a need to escape, of violence and love. We meet Tosher, the local Borstal boy, Frankie the owner of the Palais and part of the old world of the big bands and Hamilton, recently arrived from Kingston Jamaica.

It's a lovely story with a wistful ending when we learn what happened to the characters over the succeeding 30 years. It's the songs that make it work and they're all original Ray Davies compositions with the addition of 'Tired Of Waiting' and 'You Really Got Me'. In the original production Ray opened the show by strolling on singing 'Tired Of Waiting' but in this version Tosher sings it to Julie on a bomb-site outside the Palais, he's tired of waiting for Julie. 'You Really Got Me' is a new addition and used as Tosher's bands' audition to play at the Palais (it got a rousing cheer).

The songs written for the musical deserve to be recorded - maybe one day. I was mulling them over in my mind on the train home and decided that Julie's songs are personal, written at an individual level looking to the future and yearning for change. The lads songs are more aggressive and about social change and revolution, that things will have to change and they will. From personal to social. I'm not sure I can imaging Ray singing Julie's songs but it's a sign of his skills that he can write convincingly and tenderly for a teenage girl discovering love and freedom for the first time, knowing there's more to the world than her neighbourhood but not knowing how to reach out for it.

I remembered the ending of the play and was ready for it but still got moist eyed when Julie comes on after everyone else has told us what happened to them over the years. Julie went dancing.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Panda Eyes

If you mention 'panda eyes' to me then I think of three things: 1) pandas, 2) Dusty Springfield, and 3) Gaye Advert (Black).

Gaye Black is part of a new art exhibition titled, 'Pandamonium' at the Signal Gallery. It was the Signal that hosted the small but fascinating 'Punk & Beyond' exhibition curated by Gaye Black last year so it's nice to see Gaye involved in another exhibition there.

I've said it before (and will probably say it again) but in the punk late '70s everyone loved Gaye Advert. Before Debbie Harry there was Gaye Advert. I suspect she hated being the poster girl for punk but at least she was never seen in anything other than a tee shirt and leather jacket. And, of course, her panda eyes.

Here's one of the grown-up Gaye Black's artworks in the exhibition - I love the pirate symbolism:

The Jubilee

This weekend celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and today is the grand procession down the Thames, the Queen on the Royal Barge surrounded by one thousand other boats of all shapes and sizes. It's a shame about the weather and the grey sky, but London and the Thames is looking very pretty nonetheless.

I can't remember the Silver Jubilee at all. I have no idea what I did that day. I assume I stayed in my room and played records. That's what 17 year olds do, isn't it?

What did I think about back then? What were my hopes and dreams? I can't remember those either but I'm sure I didn't think I'd be sitting on the couch in my home watching a grand river pageant with the same Queen standing on her Barge 35 years later. I remember reading about The Sex Pistols playing a gig on a boat and being boarded and arrested by the police. It would've been a week later that I read about it in the NME. Who would've thought that Johnny Rotten would be a more mature John Lydon issuing his latest album with Public Image Ltd just a week ago and the BBC celebrating the occasion with a Punk Britannia series on BBC FOUR and BBC6 Music. For that matter, who would've thought there would be more than just two BBC telly channels?

I hadn't heard 'God Save The Queen' by The Sex Pistols at the time of the Silver Jubilee. I think I heard it for the first time when I bought 'Never Mind The Bollocks'. The record that turned me on to the Pistols was 'Pretty Vacant' later that summer. I can vividly recall sitting in our kitchen eating cornflakes for a late breakfast with the radio on. Kid Jenson played 'Pretty Vacant' and I was instantly converted. I finished my breakfast, grabbed my pocket money and got the bus into Newcastle to buy the single. I still have it.

Would anyone 35 years ago believe that I could carry a computer around in my pocket? Or that I could watch a Dresden Dolls gig live in Sydney in Australia in the comfort of my own home on a Saturday morning? Or that I would be going to the Olympics and that they would be in London?

There have been so many changes in the last 35 years, so many wonders and horrors. I have grown up and grown older but inside I'm the same. Moments of joy and moments of sorrow, little sadnesses. I can still reach for the ecstatic in the paintings of Fra Angelico and the simplicity of a beautiful flower display at the Chelsea Flower Show. And this afternoon, in the Jubilee pageant on the Thames, a moment of happiness seeing Joey from 'War Horse' canter across the roof of the National Theatre and rear up in salute to the Queen. He's not a puppet, he's a horse and a very brave one.

I'm sort of pleased that I live in a country where some mad people get their boats out and row down the Thames in the rain. That I live in a rather pretty city with a ridiculous number of people living in such a small area but, generally speaking, we all get along ok. I'm looking forward to welcoming the world to London for the Olympics.

Will I remember this Jubilee in a few years time? Probably not. But I will probably still be playing The Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd. I'm a big kid really...

Amanda Palmer Says Thank You

Amanda Palmer's Kickstarter had 24,883 backers and raised $1,192,793 in pre-orders for her new record, art book and tour. I pre-ordered, of course. And Amanda, as a polite, shy and retiring young lady, who was brought up properly to say 'thank you', has given us all a very sweet and genteel thank you.

Her latest update opens with...

we webcast thursday from around 8 pm until...2 am? later? i dunno, i lost track.
first, let's holy fuck together. 
HOLY FUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ok, gotta stop that, it'll get old.

to review the people-who've-called list:
rolling stone called, the new york times called, time magazine called, the new yorker called, the wall street journal called, billboard called, and the economist called.

they want their media back.

i might give it to them to borrow, but first i want a picture of 24,883 people holding my naked body aloft on the cover of LIFE. 
then we'll talk.


She announced the title of the new album yesterday, 'Theater Is Evil' and, shortly afterwards, changed it to 'Theatre Is Evil' when Twitter erupted in a spelling discussion and a poll on the Shadowbox. She's not only genteel and ladylike, she listens to her public.

To coincide with the closing of the Kickstarter on Thursday she threw an open party in Brooklyn, New York and invited everyone. Yes, everyone. She announced the location a few hours before it started on Thursday evening and about 500 people turned up. There was music and dancing and fire-eaters and a belly dancer and names, names, names. And then Amanda got naked by having the balloons that her dress was made of popped. She posted photos (of course). 

Amanda told us:

we had sharpie'd EVERY backer name on single pages of used phone books, filling up DOZENS AND DOZENS of books with the 24,000+ names.
yes, since you took a lot of people a LOT of time.

we hired a giant fish-tank-like enclosure and towed it to a parking lot in brooklyn. 
we got DJs, played crazy dance music, and threw a BIZARRE impromptu countdown party in which the band was more or less locked in the tank all night.
about 500 people showed up and helped us with the spectacle.

we wore swimsuits of the old fashioned variety.

from inside the empty tank, we SHOWED THE NAMES TO THE PARTY, AND TO THE WEBCAST as we counted down to midnight from 8pm...AND FILLED UP THE TANK WITH  ALL 24,000+ NAMES

My name was in that fish-tank.

And that is why we love Amanda and back her with our hearts and money. She's living her dream and, by extension, our dream, my dream. She talks to us directly, not through a management team, and shares secrets and photos with us, typos and all. She sends us new songs to play. And when we meet, she hugs us. I have a nice collection of hugs from over the years. I am looking forward to more hugs.

The world is a far brighter and braver place for having Amanda Fucking Palmer in it.