Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Viv Albertine @ the 12Bar Club

As you might remember, I backed Viv Albertine's PledgeMusic campaign to fund her first solo album and it was released in November 2012. I was more than happy to support Viv and was delighted with the result. Viv offered us the opportunity to support her at a showcase to promote the record and the autobiography to be published later this year and I jumped at the chance. The showcase was last night at the 12Bar Club on Denmark Street (also sometimes called Tin Pan Alley) in London.

After a long day at work I finally left for the gig and arrived at Denmark Street just before the start time, gave my name at the door, had my hand stamped with the date (it's a long time since that's happened) and the bloke on the door said to go straight on through. So I did. 

My heart fell slightly when I walked in since the place was dingy and small, but I went to the bar to order a Guinness to celebrate seeing Viv, my first Guinness of 2013. The bar staff just talked to each other in Polish paying no attention to customers so it get's a minus mark for service. Then I walked on and found a small maze of rooms with bare walls and walls covered in ska and TwoTone posters and found the gig room which is about the same size as my living room with bare brick walls and a teeny stage. I stood at the back, roughly in the centre so I'd have a good view.

At first I thought, 'o dear' but then I travelled back in time to the late 70s/early 80s and remembered this is exactly the kind of club I used to go to way back when - small rooms, brick walls - this one just seems to have survived over the last 30 years! It was perfect for a showcase for Viv and I felt strangely comfortable. The stage was about 3 feet tall and just big enough for four people. The room probably holds about 50 people and it was full. It was gloomy with a few lights on the stage and that was it, with the band setting up their instruments (keyboard, violin and a bloke sitting on a wooden box as drums).

Shortly after 7:10pm, someone got on stage in a coat and scarf, carrying a few bags, someone with shoulder-length brown hair. Off came the scarf, coat goes on the stage at the back with her bags and up stands Viv, putting on her guitar before turning round to say hello to the crowd. She wore a white pleated skirt, orange shirt with big collars and a tight suede jacket and said she hoped we didn't mind that she was dressed as a yummy mummy. I didn't mind at all.

The three-piece band came on and, just as they were about to start the first song, Viv's mobile phone went off! She said 'It's probably just Mick...' and crouched down to rummage for her phone and switch it off.

Viv and her band played four songs: 'Don't Believe', ' Becalmed (I Should've Known)' (a song for when you've cocked up big time), 'I Want More' (which is what Viv thinks about before bedtime) and 'Confessions Of A MILF' (I love the line when the little wife sings 'I chose being an artist over being a wife so now I'm going to lead a very lovely life'). They're all favourites so I was happy. I sung along and tapped my feet and nodded my head in time to the beat (man).

There was a slight moment of annoyance during 'I Want More' when a late arrival decided to push past behind me to get to the other side of the room and the bloke politely said 'sorry'. Co-incidentally, Viv fluffed the words and stopped the song to start it again and do it properly so I got the full song and could focus on it and thoroughly enjoy it, joining in to sing, 'No compromise, I want more!”. The bloke? O yeah, that was Mick Jones. I've never met a Clash before (I know it's not quite meeting, but y'know...).

After the four songs the three-piece band left the stage and Viv picked up her MacBook to read from her forthcoming autobiography. She joked that she'd increased the size of the text (and showed us the screen to prove it) to avoid having to go to Specsavers. She then read out the chapter about the White Riot tour with the Clash in 1977 with references to Mick Jones and how they split up at the end of the tour. It's remarkably honest and Viv is terribly brave reading it out knowing that he's in the audience. She also got a lot of laughs as she told the tale of Norman, the tour bus driver, refusing to drive if the Slits were on board and having to be bribed, of locking Ari Up in the toilet so she didn't dance in the aisle of the bus, and the support bands getting together on the final night of the tour to jam a version of the Velvet's 'Sister Ray'.

Part of what Viv read aloud was to do with the gig in Newcastle. Viv recalled it as being and looking poor and grey. My memories of Newcastle in the '70s are definitely on the grey side, lacking in colour and life, so I share her views. I found this blog about the gig (that I didn't attend since I wasn't a student but I bought the record) and it shares some of Viv's recollections.

Then it was all over. Viv said goodnight and we did the clap-clap-clap thing until the background music started playing again and Viv put her laptop away. People started moving away, space cleared and that was it. I didn't take any photos since it didn't seem right.

I moved to the side of the stage thinking, 'I'm not leaving without saying hello' and, of course, Viv was chatting to someone she seemed to know, then someone else came up and someone else for a hug. I'm standing there. Then I thought, if I don't say something I'll miss my chance so I said, 'Hello Viv, loved the show' and she started chatting to me. Asked my name and, after I told her she replied with 'O yes, you're one of my backers, thank you' – I was quietly delighted to be remembered!

I said I was pleased she'd played 'I Want More' since it's one of my favourites and that I agreed with what she'd said about Newcastle on the White Riot tour. She told me to pick up my freebies (that I think of as presents) from the desk at the front and told me to get a poster, a handwritten setlist and a CD single. I said 'bye' and she said 'bye'.

On the way out I had to squeeze past Glen Matlock. I think he's stalking me … After meeting him a few times at gigs over the last year or so I've decided he seems to follow me round (the cheeky fellow, but he obviously knows that I know the best places to go).

Then I went up to the front desk to pick up my presents, carefully rolled up the (numbered) poster to carry home as a trophy and left the club with a big smile on my face and lots of memories to cherish as I headed to Tottenham Court Road station. I felt a bit like a teenager again, seeing a hero and rushing home holding my trophies carefully. I listened to Viv on my iPod on the way home (a big difference from being a teenager), thinking and reminiscing.

Viv was fab. She sang songs, she did riffing, she did chatting, she did reading, she did laughing, she did intense honesty and she did loveliness. She is a hero. She's playing at Nambucca, a club on Holloway Road on 23 February so I've bought tickets to see her. It is my job as a fan.  As I've blogged before, it's the job of my heroes to tell me about new records, books and tours and it's my job to get them, attend gigs and tell everyone I can about them. It's a sacred deal, y'know.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Plastic Bag Awards 2012

It's time for the annual Plastic Bag Awards, the Baggies 2012.

2012 has been a special year for us in London with the Olympics and Paralympics over the summer and, before that, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. So much has been going on from Shakespeare plays being acted by actors from all over the world in their own languages at the Globe to pop-up themed musical festivals all along the Thames. As every year, there are revivals and tours, new records released and exhibitions of the great and beautiful. In other words, a lot to choose from.

Best Theatre - Play

The five nominees for best play are:
  • She Stoops To Conquer
  • What The Butler Saw
  • Timon of Athens
  • The Last of the Haussmanns
  • Much Ado About Nothing
Three of the nominees were from the National Theatre ('She Stoops', 'Timon' and 'Haussmanns') and, of these, I'd pick 'Haussmanns' as the best production, both cheeky and funny with great characters. That came close to winning but the Baggie goes to the wonderful 'Much Ado About Nothing' starring Meera Syal in the innovative Indian version of the play that made me laugh out loud (and I never laugh at Shakespeare, especially the comedies). Meera showed her true acting skills once again, a great actor as well as comedian and writer, wringing every little bit of humour and emotion from the piece. This was the fourth time I'd seen Meera on stage and she keeps getting better. Well done!

Best Theatre - Musical

I didn't see many musicals this year and some of those wouldn't be nominated for a Baggie (such as the time vortex that was 'Starlight Express'). The nominees are:
  • Matilda The Musical
  • Torch Song Trilogy
  • Come Dancing - The Concert
  • The Harder They Come - The Concert
  • Taboo
'Matilda' was a joy and it was lovely to relive happy memories with the concert versions of 'Come Dancing' and 'The Harder They Come'. It was also good to see 'Torch Song Trilogy' but the award goes to another revival, 'Taboo'!

I saw 'Taboo' a few times in its original run so it was good to see the current revival at the Brixton Clubhouse since it's the Broadway version with some subtle (and not so subtle) changes.  The cast were excellent and it was a delight to see Paul Baker in the role he made his own years ago, playing Philip Sallon. Sam Buttery was great as Leigh Bowery and Katie Kerr delivered a heart-wrenching 'Il Adore' as Big Sue. The production was due to close before Christmas but it's been extended, with a new cast, until March. A hugely enjoyable show with some great songs and performances. See it if you can.

Best Theatre - Entertainment

This is sometimes my favourite Baggies category for all the 'performances' that don't really fit anywhere else and this year was particularly rich in performances.  The nominees are:
  • Matthew Bourne's Early Adventures
  • Geo Wyeth @ Soho Theatre
  • Rain of Poems
  • The Unthanks - Songs From The Shipyards
  • Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty
Matthew Bourne features twice with his 'Early Adventures' as part of his celebration of 25 years of his New Adventure company and with his new production of 'Sleeping Beauty'. Geo Wyeth is a New York singer, composer and performance artist and had a short season at the Soho Theatre in early summer. The Rain of Poems was a terrific event - and great fun - on the Southbank with poems printed on cards being thrown out of a helicopter in an artistic/political performance about dropping poems on cities rather than bombs. The Unthanks gave a marvellous live performance playing the soundtrack to a film about the growth and death of the shipyards on the Tyne.

All of these have their own merits but the Baggie goes to the magical Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty and its gothic tale of faeries and vampires. The sumptuous design, the story-telling and the twists and turns in the plot made it a joy to behold. I've already got tickets to see it again...

Best Gig

I didn't go to that many gigs in 2012 but did seem to go in multiples - three Amanda Palmer gigs, two Maximo Park gigs and two Buffy Sainte-Marie events (gig and a talk).
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie @ Queen Elizabeth Hall
  • Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra @ Koko
  • Ray Davies @ The Fairfield Halls
  • Maximo Park @ Shepherd's Bush
  • The Human League @ The Royal Albert Hall
It's always a joy to see Buffy, particularly when she does an extended set and plays some of the songs we rarely hear. Amanda moved to a new level at Koko with her most professional gig yet and Ray Davies and Maximo Park both produced the goods as ever. But, the Baggie has to go to the Human League for their sheer professionalism, the amazing lights and staging, great sound and a set full of hit songs from the last three decades. From the second song the whole audience - including me - stood, clapped and sang along. Well done to Phil, Susan and Joanne - again!

Best Live Performance

I like to single out that special live performance, a performance that brings a song to life adding something above and beyond the recorded version. The nominees are:
  • Maximo Park - Hips And Lips (@ Heaven)
  • Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra - The Killing Type (@ Art Show)
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie - Generation (@ Queen Elizabeth Hall)
  • Ray Davies - Come Dancing (@ 'Come Dancing - The Concert' at Theatre Royal Stratford)
  • Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra - The Bed Song (@ Koko)
Paul Smith's playing along to 'Hips and Lips', acting out the song for the first time at the launch at Heaven made me hear that song differently every time since then. Amanda opened her Art Show at Village Underground by scraping two knives together as the opening to 'The Killing Type', a perfect opening to a show. Buffy was magnificent singing 'Generation' a song I've never seen her play live before, with her band (aka Bruthers Of Different Muthers) adding an electric backing. Seeing Ray Davies sing 'Come Dancing' is always worth a trip out.

The Baggie goes to Amanda Palmer for her astonishing and emotional performance of 'The Bed Song' at Koko. The band left her on alone on stage as she played her piano and she told us her tale of unsatisfied love down to not talking. It's a tender song and that was a special performance. Thank you Amanda.

Best New Album

This was a very difficult category to judge - how can you compare the first PiL album in 20 years with the first ever record from Viv Albertine or the latest from Maximo Park, an album from Joey Ramone 10 years after he died or the latest crowd-sourced album from Amanda Fucking Palmer? It's impossible, right? We've had a goodly load of great new music this year - and I'll include new albums from Madonna, The Unthanks and Alphabeat in there too - but someone has to win the Baggie...
  • Public Image Limited - This Is PiL
  • Joey Ramone - Ya Know?
  • Maximo Park - The National Health
  • Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra - Theatre Is Evil
  • Viv Albertine - The Vermillion Border
The judging panel decided to award the Baggie by a smidgeon to Viv Albertine for the excellent 'The Vermillion Border', full of innovative songs, a slight sideways look at life and a great under-produced sound.

Best New Song

Out of the thousands of new songs this year I've picked just five:
  • Madonna - Give Me All Your Luvin'
  • Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra - Do It With A Rockstar
  • Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra - The Bed Song
  • Tom Tom Club - Downtown Rockers
  • Viv Albertine - I Want More
There's a tendency to either love or hate Madonna and me, I go for whether I like the songs or not, and I fell for the leading single from her latest album 'Give Me All Your Luvin', a great return to danceable pop rather than dance music. It was a treat to finally have some new songs from Tom Tom Club and I love 'Downtown Rockers' that name-checks the late 70s punk scene in New York (I also love how the girls pronounce it 'rockerzzzz'). Viv's album opens with the powerful 'I Want More' - 'no compromise, I want more!'.

The panel shortlisted two Amanda Palmer songs from 'Theatre Is Evil', 'Do It With A Rockstar' and 'The Bed Song'. The latter is a well constructed and emotional journey through a relationship that is beautiful and heart-felt and 'Do It' is a raucous and mad tale of need and threat and desperate lust. Amanda gave away 'Do It With A Rockstar' to people who'd backed her Kickstarter campaign back in May and, later, to anyone in exchange for your email address. I've listened to it countless times and then thoroughly enjoyed the video. So naturally it wins 'best song' since it ticks so many boxes. I would.

Best Exhibition

There's been a mixed bag of exhibitions this year with two great Picasso exhibitions and 'Bronze' at the Royal Academy and a rather ok-ish Pre-Raphaelite exhibition that didn't work for me (and so isn't nominated). Luckily I managed to catch the fascinating Yoko exhibition at The Serpentine and the small but perfectly formed punk exhibition at the Hayward, 'Some Day All The Adults Will Die'.
  • Picasso and Modern British Art @ Tate Britain
  • Yoko Ono To The Light @ Serpentine Gallery
  • Picasso's 'Vollard Suite' @ The British Museum
  • Bronze @ The Royal Academy
  • Some Day All The Adults Will Die @ Hayward Gallery
The Baggie needs to go to either one of the Picasso exhibitions or to 'Bronze' and the panel decided it should go to 'Bronze' for the wide range of exhibits, the interesting way of collecting them together into themed rooms and for including ancient and modern works together. It lost points for the lighting but gained points for including the magnificent Piggy from Florence.

Olympics and Paralympics London 2012

2012 was an astonishing year for London and the whole country with the Olympics and Paralympics. The summer started off gloomy and wet and then the sun came out for the Olympics and stayed till the end of the Paralympics before the rain returned. It was a magical time in which London changed, people smiled and talked to strangers and I became a London Ambassador dressed in my pink and purple uniform.

I can't possibly choose a single Olympian or Paralympian to receive a Baggie so, instead, have nominated different aspects of London during the Olympics and Paralympics. These are:
  • Transport for London Signage
  • London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony Rehearsal
  • The Olympic Stadium
  • London Ambassadors
  • The Gift of the Gods - Shot-put
  • Olympic Rings on Tower Bridge
  • Beverley Knight - I Am What I Am
I loved the way Transport for London plastered pink signs everywhere in the Tube network and stations pointing the way to Olympic venues rather than signposting to different Tube lines. I loved those pink signs. I was privileged to see one of the rehearsals for the Olympics opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium  and will treasure that memory forever, just as will my experience of being a London Ambassador on the Southbank, walking up and down the south of the Thames handing out maps and guides and directing people to wherever they wanted to go.

London was dotted with art and oddness over the summer and one of my favourites was the 'Gift Of The Gods' installations around town in the strangest places. The 'gifts' were giant shot-put balls dropped from a great height that cracked the pavements and stood there as a testament to the powers of the gods ... all an installation of course, but great fun. I couldn't help but tear up the first time I saw the Olympic Rings hanging from Tower Bridge - that meant it was all finally real and was going to happen, the Olympics in London! I was both surprised and delighted by Beverley Knight appearing at the end of the Paralympics opening ceremony singing a newly arranged version of 'I Am What I Am' that worked so well and put Bev on the world stage.

The judging panel knows it's being a daft and a bit out there but it's gone for the London Transport signage if only because it was there every day, right in front of anyone travelling around London. I miss it.

And there you have it, the Baggies 2012.  I wonder what's in store for 2013....?