Monday, 29 October 2012

Kim Boekbinder - 'The Sky Is Calling'

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

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

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Cerys Matthews - 'Baby It's Cold Outside'

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 26 October 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra at Koko

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 19 October 2012

AFP is Bump-Into-able

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Dawn Amber Harvey's Charity Box

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

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

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

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

Ray Davies at the Fairfield Halls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alphabeat - 'Love Sea Remixes'

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

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

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Rolling Stones - 'Doom And Gloom'

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

Saturday, 6 October 2012

'Taboo' at the Brixton Club House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buffy, Sandi and Patrick

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 5 October 2012

Pre-Raphaelites at Tate Britain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 4 October 2012

National Poetry Day 2012

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

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

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

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

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

What did you do for National Poetry Day?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

'Much Ado About Nothing' at the Noel Coward Theatre

Last week I went to see the hugely enjoyable new production of 'Much Ado About Nothing', the new Indian version by the Royal Shakespeare Company that is part of the World Shakespeare Festival 2012 and part of the London 2012 Festival.  It stars Meera Syal as Beatrice and Paul Bhattacharjee as Benedick.

The last time I saw this play was in 2008 at the National Theatre with Zoe Wannamaker and Simon Russell-Beale in the lead roles at the National Theatre and I thought it was a great production. It was fun, it was frivolous and it was serious by turns, with both stars falling into a pond at different times. I loved it and I even chuckled a bit. But, this new production went one better - it made me laugh out loud. At a Shakespeare play. At a Shakespeare comedy no less, and I never laugh at Shakespeare comedies. I blame Ms Meera Syal for that.

This great new production blurs (as theatricals will say) the fourth wall, in that the cast engage directly with the audience as we troop in and, occasionally, during the play, and that brings a new lease of life to it, making it real to us. The cast explode from the doors into the stalls and up the steps to the stage as well as entering from the stage and walking down steps from the Indian-style compound that makes up the set. The staging was excellent as was the really atmospheric and carefully judged lighting.

It was also lovely to see half of the 'Goodness Gracious Me' cast on stage together. As well as Meera Syal we also had Kulvinder Ghir as the rogue Borachio, who, by the end of the play was stripped down to just a pair of boxers as he was convicted of high crimes and misdemeanours. Before the play started I met him outside the gents toilets when he was interacting with random people. When he came up to me I put my hands together, bowed my head and said 'namaste' and that shut him up! Phew I escaped....

This is quite possibly the most enjoyable production of a Shakespeare play I have ever seen. I mean that. It made me laugh out loud and Meera and the rest of the cast wrung every possible laugh out of it with a raised eyebrow at just the right moment, a nod or a shake of a scarf.  It was all timed to perfection and I count myself lucky to have seen it.  It's only on for a few more weeks so grab a ticket while you can.

As well as Meera, Paul and Kulvinder, I'd pick out Madhav Sharma as Leonato who trikes the right balance between subject and offended father with many witty asides, milking it for all it's worth. I also liked Simon Nagra as Dogberry and Sharti Patel as Verges who both had great comic timing and engaged with the audience at the start and during the half-time. The only let down was the bloke who played Claudio as a block of wood.

If you get the chance, go and see this production. I don't think we'll be treated to anything like it for years to come so enjoy it now. And thank you to Meera for making me laugh at Shakespeare!

Sufjan Stevens - 'Silver & Gold: Songs For Christmas Vols 6-10'

The latest news from Asthmatic Kitty is that Sufjan Stevens is releasing a new Christmas collection on 13 November, 'Silver & Gold: Songs for Christmas Volumes 6-10'. Things like this always put me in a quandary - why am I talking about Christmas at the start of October? On the other hand, if we don't know things are happening how can we plan a good Christmas. O well.

The first song available to hear on Bandcamp is 'Christmas Unicorn', a delightful song  that builds and builds and turns, almost naturally into 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' at the end. Click to listen for yourself. If the rest of the songs are anything like this then it'll be a corker of a record! I already love the cover:

Anyway, the blurb from the Kitty says:

Happy Holidays! On November 13, 2012, Asthmatic Kitty will release (another!) Christmas box-set extravaganza by Sufjan Stevens—Silver & Gold: Songs for Christmas, Vols. 6-10, a compilation of 5 EPs recorded between 2006 and 2010.

Expanding on the tradition of the first box-set (Songs for Christmas, Vols. 1- 5 from 2006), Silver & Gold is a generous document of five more years of holly-jolly jubilee undertaken by Sufjan and his various musical cohorts. There's a veritable feast for the eyes of content in the CD and vinyl boxsets. Click here to see all the contents.

Your local record store will be carrying both the CD and Vinyl boxsets. We are offering a special Mail Order edition of the vinyl boxset, which will come with extra goodies shipped especially for you.

  PLEASE NOTE: Vinyl Box Set may not arrive in time for Christmas. Manufacturing for this product is quite elaborate, to say the least; everyone's doing his/her best to facilitate a timely arrival.

Listen to the first single from the boxset, "Christmas Unicorn," on Bandcamp by clicking here. And we've released a page from the coloring book, illustrated by Stephen Halker, right here (share your coloring with us by tweeting #colormexmas).

Monday, 1 October 2012

Some Day All The Adults Will Die - Hayward Gallery

I went along to see 'Some Day All The Adults Will Die: Punk Design 1971-1984', a small exhibition at The Hayward Gallery last week to see the roots of punk design and how it evolved but I think it's over-selling itself somewhat. Bill it as an exhibition of posters, fanzines and limited-edition 7” singles and I'm with you all the way. 

It's only two small rooms plus a corridor upstairs at the Hayward but it was packed with memories and smiles for me. There were lots of references to the Sex Pistols but I saw nothing for The Clash or X-Ray Spex, and only one mention of The Jam. Lots of the names of bands meant nothing to me (but probably meant everything to the curator) since we were in the territory of bands coming together for a few gigs and then splitting into various off-shoots but it was the energy and enthusiasm that seeped from the posters and records that entranced me. This was DIY culture writ large.

I loved glancing around the wall of fanzines and spotting an edition I'd actually bought back in the day. Then looking over the wall of 7” singles and seeing a rather battered cover for the Swell Maps whereas mine is rather more pristine. I also loved looking in a glass case at some cassette singles – were they in a a glass because they were cassettes (a now lost technology to anyone under 30) or because they were rare? I don't know, but it made me smile.

The whole exhibition made me smile. It's rather incomplete in that there's nothing about fashion or any of the other visual or tactile arts – it really is about posters, record covers and fanzines and there's nothing wrong with that. Maybe one day we'll get a more all-encompassing exhibition about punk, but not today. If you're at a loose end on the Southbank with half an hour (or less) to spare the head on over to the Hayward Gallery and take a look.

'Bronze' at The Royal Academy

I went to see the 'Bronze' exhibition of, um, bronzes, at The Royal Academy last week and it's well worth a visit. The blurb on the RA website says:

Arranged thematically, Bronze brings together outstanding works from antiquity to the present. Different sections focus on the Human Figure, Animals, Groups, Objects, Reliefs, Gods, Heads and Busts. The exhibition features stunning Ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan bronzes, through to rare survivals from the Medieval period. The Renaissance is represented by the works of artists such as Ghiberti, Donatello, Cellini, and later Giambologna, De Vries and others. Bronzes by Rodin, Boccioni, Picasso, Jasper Johns, Moore, Beuys and Bourgeois are representative of the best from the 19th century to today.

Bronze has been employed as an artistic medium for over five millennia. It is an alloy consisting mainly of copper, with lesser amounts of tin, zinc and lead. Due to its inherent toughness and resistance, the material’s uses over the centuries have been remarkably varied. A section of the exhibition has been devoted to the complex processes involved in making bronze, enabling visitors to explore how models are made, cast and finished by a variety of different techniques. The exhibition offers a unique exploration of artistic practice, an understanding of the physical properties and distinctive qualities of bronze, and the rare opportunity to see the very best examples in one place.

So there you have it from the horse's mouth. Personally, I prefer to gawp at the art rather than get too precious about it (unless it's worth getting precious about, of course).

The first thing you see on going into the exhibition is the huge 'Dancing Satyr' on a plinth in the middle of the first room. He was pulled out of the sea by fishermen a few years ago and rose head-first, like he was rising from the seabed to revisit the world he last knew a couple of millennia ago. He really is quite impressive and a fitting start to the exhibition.

We then move into a room full of figures, of people cast in bronze from across the centuries and continents, all clustered together in one room. There was something there to suit everyone but I picked out a monumental copy of Cellini's 'Perseus and Medusa' re-cast by Clemente Papi in 1844 for big wows and a tiny figure in a glass case of a naked acrobat performing a handstand by Prieur from around 1600 for the sheer fun and joy of it.

The exhibition then moves on to animals and the first one we see is a chimera from about 400BCE with a lion's head and paws, a snake for a tail, and antelope growing out of his back and all sorts of other weirdness melded together as one animal. The star of this section, though, was the magnificent 'Il Porcellino' from Florence, better known to me as Piggy! A lovely statue of a bronze pig used as a fountain with water dripping from his mouth and surrounded by pond creatures. This is the original that now lives in a museum but I've stroked the snout of his counterpart outside the market in Florence and that means I will go back one day.

In other rooms there was a rather large statue of Shiva Nataraja dancing in his wheel of cosmic fire, Lord of the Dance as he destroys and creates the world, destroying ignorance and welcoming the flame of wisdom. In this room of 'gods' there's also a life-sized statue of Jesus, a pot-bellied Ganesha and one statue of Buddha. Elsewhere there's a small statue of 'Yashoda Nursing the Infant Krishna' which is quite a domestic scene until you notice the baby Krishna has his lips to one nipple and his fingers to the other, tweaking his foster-mothe's nipple.  Well, he is Krishna after all.

Two of my favourite pieces were 'Untitled' by Anish Kapoor from 2012, a big, polished bronze dish hung on the wall in which you can see yourself upside-down as you approach and leave and a bust of Catherine d'Medici from about 1590, an imperious and scary lady. While I loved the Anish Kapoor for its simplicity and fun and kept going back to move around in front of it to see what might happen, I wouldn't want to go to visit Catherine.

So there you go. There's something for everyone at the exhibition and it's a good way of spending a couple of hours out of the rain (and it was pouring down when I went).

Remember Olympic TfL?

The joys of the Olympics and Paralympics may be fading as we move into autumn, but you can still enjoy the memories.

Do you recall those cartoon posters Transport for London plastered everywhere, particularly on the Tube, reminding us not to travel, to travel by different routes, to walk, to cycle, all rather than use public transport as normal? Well, you can now download them if you want and keep as a reminder of a great summer.

They're on the Get Ahead Of The Games website so pop on over there and have a chortle at your favourite (or least favourite) poster. You won't be seeing them again any time soon!