Tuesday, 31 July 2012

London 2012 Olympic Games - Day 4

The big news for Team GB is the silver medal won by our eventers Tina Cook, William Fox-Pitt, Mary King, Zara Phillips and Nicola Wilson. After three days of competition in rain and sun it's nice to see them get their reward on the medals podium, with medals being awarded by Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, who was a Team GB eventer herself back in the day. Well done!

Other highlights happened in the pool today, with Michael Phelps winning his 19th Olympic medal, the most ever won by one person. His 18th medal was a silver, coming second to a lad from South Africa who looked awe-struck by beating his hero. Michael was really gracious in defeat, showing the lad how to hold his medal, where to go for photos, encouraging him to enjoy the moment - that was all lovely to see.

There was also a delightful moment when Michael Philips and Andrew Willis both made it through to the 200m breaststroke final, with Michael coming first in his semi-final with a new GB record. That was quite thrilling, especially having two blokes in the final.

It was also great to see Steph Houghton scoring a goal against Brazil at Wembley in the first few minutes. Steph has scored in every match so far. I saw Hope Powell, the Team GB football coach, on breakfast telly yesterday an she came across as thoroughly professional and confident in her women. She said a rather strange thing, that the team had never played at Wembley before, but they have now - and won! Maybe this is the time for women's football to start growing?

The downside today has been the whispering campaign against Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen suggesting she's been taking drugs to provide her own personal best (and also a world record) to win a gold medal the other day, and another gold today. That's sad really and pulls away the pride from her young life. Winners are automatically subject to drugs tests so why not wait for the results of that rather than spreading rumours? It's not nice. The results of the tests say she's clean.

London 2012 Olympic Games - Day 3

Day 3 of the London 2012 Olympics and the big news is that Team GB has won its first mens' team gymnastics medal in 100 years. At first it seemed like they'd won silver but they ended up with a bronze and they were still over the moon! Congratulations to Daniel Purvis, Max Whitlock, Louis Smith, Kristian Thomas and Sam Oldham.

It was lovely to see their reaction to their historic success, both while waiting during the tense ten minutes of the Japanese appeal and on the podium. They were delighted and so was the crowd. After initial boos when the result was changed the crowd cheered the Japanese team, celebrating their excellent performance. But the stars are the five lads with bronze who couldn't believe they'd won an Olympic medal. Well done lads and good luck in the individual competition!

Other highlights of the day included Zoe Smith coming in 12th in the womens' weightlifting competition, setting a new GB record. Zoe featured in the documentary 'Girl Power' a couple of weeks ago, that followed three Olympic hopefuls over the past year and their training in weightlifting. Zoe was the one who went through to the Olympic trials to represent GB. She's only 18 so has a lot of years of competition ahead of her. Well done Zoe!

Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins broke the Olympic record in the double scull in rowing and are through to the final on Friday. Of course, that means the pressure's on them so lets keep fingers crossed...

I also caught the latter stages of the archery competition taking place in the Lord's Cricket Ground to see a tense competition being won by Larry Godfrey to take him through to the last 16. It was fascinating watching them take aim and fire to hit that target so far away and keep scoring 10 points in the centre of the target. How on earth do you do that? Taking into account the breeze buffering around Lord's, the distance, controlling the little tremors as they hold the bows and then whoosh! An arrow sticks into the yellow core of the target. I'll need to make sure I watch the next stage of the competition.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

London 2012 Olympic Games - Day 2

It is Day 2 of the London 2012 Olympic Games and I've spent most of the weekend watching the games unfold, watching astonishing performances and awful weather, watching young people being faster and stronger than ever before and reading a load of rubbish about the politics behind the Opening Ceremony. I say 'tosh!', that's what I say.

Athletes from China are currently ruling the roost with some really great performances but the ones that got me on the edge of my seat were Lizzie Armitstead in the road race this afternoon and Becky Adlington in the pool this evening. It was also nice to see Zara Philips in the dressage this morning (with mum and granda in the audience) and Beth Tweddle's performance on the uneven bars in the gymnastics this afternoon.

TeamGB won it's first medal when Lizzie Armitstead cycled through the rain to win a Silver Medal in the road race where the men's team was unsuccessful yesterday. Up and down Box Hill, through Richmond Park with the rain pelting down and into the outskirts of London, the three cyclists worked together, GB, Netherlands and Russia, to get closer to the winning line on The Mall. At the last minute Marianne Vos made a break for it and succeeded, with Lizzie being in Silver Medal place. Well done Lizzie!

This evening saw Becky Adlington trying to defend her 400m freestyle Gold and Olympic Record from Beijing 2008. 400m is not Becky's chosen distance but we all, naturally, expect her to win, which adds to the pressure. She tweeted this morning that she'd do her best but didn't expect to win. None of the pundits thought she'd win either. And she didn't. She finished in Bronze Medal position and that was such a great achievement - the first British swimmer to gain medals in consecutive Games. And she was on the medals podium - that's a great thing to do, and she crossed the podium to hug the other women as a great sports-person would do.  Well done Becky, very proud of you!

So, that's two medals we've won. It's nice to be on the medals table but I think we ought to remember that we're the host of the Olympic Games. It would be bad form if the host won all the medals - that would, quite frankly, be rude. It's the host's job to make sure everyone enjoys themselves and the goodies are shared out properly. Be proportionate... but some Gold would be nice ...

London 2012 Olympics - Opening Ceremony Rehearsal Photos

I was lucky enough to get a ticket to one of the rehearsals of the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games - part of me can't believe I've just written that. We were asked to #savethesurprise and I did. By now you'll have seen the Ceremony so I thought I'd share some photos.

The Opening Ceremony was spectacular and touching by turns. Beijing 2008 was amazing, with thousands of people all doing the same thing at the same time - London 2012 had thousands of people doing different things, telling multiple stories and I loved it. Wherever you looked around the stadium there was a different story and we only saw some of the them on the broadcast of the Ceremony.

That was particularly true of the pastoral scene at the start, and the move to the industrial revolution. The cricket, the football, the young ladies being blown along with their parasols, the Suffragettes throwing themselves in front of horses, the Jarrow Crusade... so much going on. The telly editors kept focusing down on the micro rather than giving us the macro picture, but it was a grand spectacle and full of surprises.

I loved seeing the lyrics to 'Pretty Vacant' spelled out by the lights in the crowd, the colour-washes across the stadium, the blasts of flame during 'Firestarter', light and spectacle everywhere along with very clear sound. There were still lots of surprises since we didn't get the full picture at the rehearsal so it was great to see the full show on Friday.

Here are some of my photos from the rehearsal. It's something that I will remember for a long time to come.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Three Nights of Art

For three nights in a row last week I went to see art. That's the way it happens, with weeks of no going outs at all and then they all come along together.

On Wednesday I went up to Sadler's Wells to see Matthew Bourne's 'Play Without Words'. I saw it on its original run at the National Theatre in 2003 and it's the same production that has been revived as part of Matthew's 25th anniversary celebration. 'Play Without Words' is exactly that - a play without words. It's easy to follow the narrative and you can follow the story as it unfolds in front of you. Or can you?

The thing I like about 'Play Without Words' is that there are multiple depictions of the characters on stage at the same time so you can almost choose which narrative you want to follow. The lead character is Anthony who moves into his trendy house (in Chelsea I'm guessing) and he's played by three dancers on stage at the same time so we get the authoritative Anthony, the weak-willed Anthony and the inbetween. They then react to their girlfriend in different ways (played by three dancers with different characters). It's fascinating watching the different couplings and how they interact together. It's a very clever mechanism.

The show is based on the film 'The Servant' from the early '60s so we have lots of swinging sixties dancing, covert homosexual liaisons and coyness about sex.  It's a very entertaining show and well worth seeing.

On Thursday I went to the Soho Theatre to see Geo Wyeth in the small cabaret space downstairs. I saw Geo at the Soho Theatre four years ago (with Justin Bond and Our Lady J) when he went under the name of Novice Theory and I decided he was someone to watch. Novice Theory was a little waif with an accordion but Geo has grown up and matured and is confident in his own art.

The show was a mixture of music and performance art. Geo came on with his shirt pulled up around his shoulders and his trousers round his ankles with a cushion tied across his face with a belt. He staggered round drunk and got down off the stage with his keyboards to serenade us with some sound. At one point he unfolded a large sheet of polythene that he then spread over us as a tent and kept moving the tent from one side of the audience to the other as he recited a poem.

Geo's words and music are often quite complex and he uses his body and voice to give them additional power. He's a bit of a fidgiter - he wasn't still for a moment. While playing the piano he kept moving to stand up and then sit back down and his legs couldn't keep still while he played the guitar sitting on a stool. He brought out some amazing sounds from the guitar.

He was only on for just over an hour for this show (there were two other shows after his finished, including one by Eddie Izzard) and it was well worth seeing him.  His new album, 'Alien Tapes' has just been released so it's worth tracking it down and giving it a listen.

My final show last week was Penny Arcade's 'Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!' at the Arcola Tent in Dalston. It's subtitled, 'A passionate celebration of sex, freedom and art' and has been on the go for 20 years in different cities around the globe. Penny is now 62 and unrepentant, free with tales of her past, people she's known, the tribulations of being a faghag and telling tales of the financial realities of being a whore. The four words of the title of the show punctuate the show to good effect.

The show started at 7:30pm with half an hour of erotic dancing from a group of dancers who could do amazing things with their bodies - my favourite was the pole dancer who just sat at the top of her pole without holding on at all. Clothing was in the style of skanty.

Penny came on at 8:00pm and was on stage more or less until about 10:45pm with a half-time break for a trip to the bar and dancing on the stage. I suppose the attraction of this show depends on your age and outlook. Penny is 10 years older than me and has lived the bohemian life - and still seems to from the sound of it. I liked her scene playing the receptionist in a brothel and then playing a prostitute discussing her motivations for embracing her trade. I liked her tirade against the 'Guardian' reviewer that dared to call the show old fashioned due to her section about HIV and AIDS in the '80s. That was part of her world in the '80s and shouldn't be lost simply because things have moved on. That seems to be something she's quite keen on, preserving the 'underground' landscape she grew up in and inhabited from the '60s till today. If you lose your shared history where are you? 

We were invited to dance on the stage and I didn't. In the last section Penny came on stage to dance and slowly remove her clothes while we heard and watched a video of someone quoting a Lenny Bruce sequence about censorship. When she removed her bra some of the gays behind me thought they were in an American talk show and started whooping so she silenced them with a wave of her hand and a thumb towards the screen - listen to what's being said, she signed. And her stripping continued till she was naked. It was at that point I thought, 'ok, I didn't dance. but if she asked us, would I strip?' and I'm not sure what my response would be.

I'm very pleased I saw this show.  It's not for everyone, I suspect, but it worked for me. I particularly liked the sequence when the lights were turned off and she gradually walked round the set blowing out candles as she told us tales and celebrated the freedom of all of us being equal in the dark. The show has now closed at the Arcola Tent but will re-open on 8 August in the Old Vic Tunnels. I think I'll go to see her again.

An added bonus was seeing @dawnamberharvey spin the choons for the show and get name-checked in the programme!

London 2012 Olympics - Opening Ceremony Rehearsal

On Monday evening I was lucky enough to have a ticket to see one of the technical rehearsals of the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games in the Olympic Stadium. We didn't see the whole opening ceremony, some scenes were kept as a surprise and some scenes weren't complete, but what I saw was pretty spectacular and nicely representative of Britain.

At the start of the show Danny Boyle, who created the Opening Ceremony, came on stage and asked us not to spread photos or videos of the event to avoid spoiling the surprise. I said to myself that I wouldn't. Except for this one photo. #savethesurprise

I was terribly thrilled to be in the Stadium and to be sitting quite close to where I'll be sitting for one of the athletics evenings in a couple of weeks time so I got a good idea of what I'll be seeing. I'm quite close to the Royal Box and the VIP boxes and will have an excellent view of the runners, jumpers and spear throwers.

The grounds looked excellent, all the recent rain followed by the glorious sunshine of the last few days makes the place both lush and colourful.  Getting through security was straight forward, with all the soldiers being very friendly, efficient and very professional about it, wishing me an enjoyable evening.

I bought an official programme and a couple of 2012 badges from the small souvenir shops that are dotted round the Olympic Park. When I go next time I'll go to the London 2012 Superstore near Bridge D and see the full range of merch - hey, if you go to an event you've got to get some merch. It's sort of The Law.

There are lots of food outlets, bar stands and toilets all over and no queues at any of the toilets that I saw. The queues were saved for the water fountains to fill water bottles since you're not allowed to take any liquids into the Olympic Park. Hopefully, someone will have noticed this and will arrange for more water fountains for when the Park opens properly.

I'd love to tell you about some of the spectacular scenes in the Opening Ceremony, about the Olympic Rings, the lighting and the excellent sound system but I won't. I'm so tempted but I said I wouldn't so I won't.  #savethesurprise

Monday, 16 July 2012

London 2012 Olympic Songs

With less than two weeks until the opening of the London 2012 Olympic Games there seem to be two main pop songs in contention to grab our attention and become part of our memories of the greatest show on earth.  The 'official' song is 'Survival' by Muse and the challengers are the Pet Shop Boys with 'Winner'. I'm not sure if it's a generational thing or a pop sensibilities thing, but I prefer the humanity of the PSB song. It works on a more human and inclusive level.

The Muse song has a great video of sporting achievement and builds as the song builds but I'm not terribly keen on the overall sound or sentiment of the thing. I think 'bombast' when I hear it and think of the prog rock of the '70s. The lyrics are very 'me generation' from the '80s - *I* will survive, *I'm* gonna win'. Very Thatcher. Whereas the PSB song is inclusive and says, 'I'm a winner, you're a winner' and tells the tale of an athlete working up to the Olympics and how we're all winners. It's more in tune with the original sentiment of the Olympics, that's it's about competing, not winning..

Here are both videos so you can make your own mind up.

Rain of Poems Video - Drop Poems Not Bombs

A couple of weeks ago I had the joyous experience of taking part in the Rain of Poems over the Southbank in London. I blogged about it here and said it was marvellous. I've just re-lived that experience watching this great, short video of the event. The excitement, the laughter, the competition is all in there, along with the simple joy of the event. I loved it.

The message is simple: drop poems, not bombs.

Monday, 9 July 2012

AFP & GTO - 'Want It Back' Video

Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra have done things today:

1. Put a %age of tickets for the autumn tour on pre-sale through Amanda's website;
2. Put the new album, 'Theatre Is Evil' on pre-sale; and
3. Posted the first video of a song from the album, 'Want It Back'.

So, naturally, it is my job as a fan to respond to Amanda's throw-down by:

1. Going to her site a mere half hour after the pre-sale started (that is, as soon as I got home from work) to buy tickets to the London gig at Koko to find it had already sold out. Tickets will be generally on public sale on Friday this week, so I'll simply hold my breath (metaphorically) until then.
2. Pre-ordered the album. I know I've already bought it through Kickstarter but that'll be a different version so I need to get the public version as well (that's what fans do). If you pre-order you get an immediate download of three tracks from the album, including 'Want It Back'.
3. Watched the video, loved it, and then posted it below for you to see and hear as well.  If you don't love the '80s synth riffs then you have no pop soul.

I should point out that the video includes both tittage and Tasmania-age and is well worth looking at and listening to. It was painstakingly filmed in stop-motion as the lyrics to the song are written over Amanda's body and then spread like wildfire. This was made in Australia after the album had been recorded and looks great.  Take a look and then head on over to Amanda's site to buy tickets and pre-order the record. You won't regret it, she and her lads give good gig!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

X-Ray Spex - 'Oh Bondage, Up Yours!'

A new video has been published on YouTube of X-Ray Spex playing 'Oh Bondage, Up Yours!' on a TV pop show called Twndish in 1978. It's an excellent quality video and it's great to see them all giving it some serious welly, particularly Poly in her pointy shoes. It starts off with Poly riding a bike in a park (an extract from the Arena documentary, also from 1978) with a voice-over of Poly reciting the opening lines of her song, 'Plastic Bag'. Click and enjoy!

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Harder They Come - The Concert

The Theatre Royal Stratord East is reviving some of its musical successes in 'concert' versions - I saw Ray Davies' 'Come Dancing' a few weeks ago, and on Friday was the turn of 'The Harder They Come'. A 'concert' version gives you all the songs and enough of the dialogue to make sense of the story without going the whole hog and enacting the full musical. Needless to say, 'The Harder They Come' was excellent!

I first saw the musical at The Barbican in 2008 before it transferred to The Playhouse in the West End. A year or so later it went on tour and I saw it for a last time in Oxford in 2010. I loved it every time I saw it and I still think there should have been a cast recording. There's still time. Please?

It was lovely to sit in the audience and see the actors come on stage in costume and start to chat and mingle, sitting down on either side of the stage. There was Ray Pierre, Miss Daisy, Hilton, Precious and, of course, Pinky. And even better, most of the cast were the originals including Chris Tummings as corrupt police chief Ray Pierre and Susan Lawson Reynolds as the glorious Pinky (fluffs up afro)! We had Marlon King as Pedro, the rastaman ("blessed love") who farms the hills outside Kingston to harvest ganja, Joy Mack as Miss Daisy and Matt Henry as our hero Ivanhoe Martin, the role played by Jimmy Cliff in the film. It was also nice to see new boy Delroy Atkinson as the nasty Preacher - Delroy was in 'Come Dancing' and played Gary Coleman in 'Avenue Q'.

Highlights of the evening were Pinky leading the cast into 'Women and Money', Ray Pierre's 'Pressure Drop' and Ivan's 'The Harder They Come'. Brother Pedro once again allowed us a 15 minute "ganja break" for the interval (there was still no ganja ice-cream though), Miss Brown sold hats in "international style at local prices" and Pinky and Precious gave us some dance-hall love.

I love this show and I'm proud to say so. Jimmy Cliff's great songs, along with Toots and others, conjour up a spirit of love and rebellion, music of its time and music for all times. I've said it before and I'll probably say it again, but I can't understand how Jimmy Cliff's music isn't bigger than it is - he's written some truly great songs and is still performing live (he played in London a month or so ago). I skanked my way home to Mr Cliff with those memorable characters playing out the show in my mind.

Blessed love, mon.