Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Linda Thompson New Record

Back in 2009 I heard that Linda Thompson was going to make a new record and fund it through what we now call crowdsourcing and I backed the project. A few updates later and a free download song and then it all went quiet. For years.

A couple of weeks ago I got an email out of the blue telling me that Linda's record was finished, would be called, 'Won't Be Long Now' and will be out on 15 October. The email went on to say that I'd be sent a download link "very soon" and physical copies of the record would be sent out after that.

I'd sort of given up on the record but clearly Linda hasn't. I'm looking forward to this record very much indeed.

I fell in love with Linda's voice back in the '70s when I got 'First Light' by Richard & Linda Thompson - which I still listen to - and her solo records - which I also still listen to. Her last record was 'Versatile Heart' from 2007 so it'll be good to hear some new songs. I will, of course, keep you up to date with any developments.

Amanda Palmer is the queen of crowdsourcing but Linda doesn't give up even when it takes four years! 

The Olympic Stadium #1YearOn - The Anniversary Games

On Sunday I went back to the Olympic Park and the Olympic Stadium for the Anniversary Games and the parathletics.  It was a great to see so many people on the train heading the same way, with loads of them decked out in Olympic clothes with Olympic bags, old folks and youngsters all going back to relive the memories. For some, it was probably their first trip, taking the opportunity to go to the Stadium while they still can. A little frison of excitement went through the coach as we passed the Stadium and we all knew where we were.

Once we'd got through the ticket barrier and the searches it was time to look around as we got closer to the Stadium. The 'wings' on the aquatic centre have been removed and it's being re-built but it still leans out over the walkway to the Stadium. What I wasn't prepared for was the desolation on the other side of the park where it's all been flattened and buildings and landscaping removed as they prepare to rebuild the area. That was a bid sad but I'm sure it'll delight us all again.

The Stadium is missing its external decoration, the vinyl stripes that covered the outside of the structure and we're left with the bones of the place. That was a bit of a surprise since it looks very different with no decoration but it's still fully functional and still so easy to get in and out of. It's great piece of design. And on Sunday it seemed even better since our seats were just in front of the finishing line so we had a great view of the climax of all the races. Wherever you sit in the Stadium you get a great view but sitting over the finishing line provides a spectacular view.

And what races and competitions. I saw people doing their thing who were on Royal Mail stamps last year! I saw Hannah Cockcroft, Jonnie Peacock and David Weir win Gold last year and they were there again yesterday. Hannah won and then commented that she could go faster and David Weir won an astonishing One Mile race with him speeding out ahead of the field and finishing with nearly half a lap between him and the rest of the race. Jonnie didn't win but he was beaten by two world records so that's nothing to worry about. I also saw Richard Whitehead win the 200m, zooming past from the back as ever to win wearing his golden blades and with his arms raised. In the post-race interview he told us about running from Lands End to John O'Groats for charity. He'll do it too.

On the field we had Dan Greaves (with the excellent Twitter name of @DiscusDan) and Aled Davies on shot-put and, of course, many others. I was proud of all of them and cheered everyone, especially those coming last since they finished the race and deserve praise. The cheers were shared out across everyone by a crowd excited to see extraordinary performances right in front of us.

A little moment of joy was scanning the track to see where the Olympic rings had been painted on the track and seeing them again. The television coverage makes it look like there's nothing there but I could clearly see the marks of the rings on the track and, a little nearer the finishing line, the marks of the agitos Paralympic sign. They're very faint but a year later and they're still there! You can't get rid of all signs of the Olympics from the Stadium no matter how hard you try. As far as I'm concerned it will always be the Olympic Stadium.

All too soon it was over, the races had finished and the final medal ceremony was completed and it was time to leave. A last few photos and out into the park again, over the exit bridge and walking through the building site outside the Stadium, saying a farewell to so many memories of London 2012 and now, of course, 2013. The Olympics is the Games that keeps on giving.

And, of course, I wore my London Ambassadorial trilby. Some things are important!

Monday, 29 July 2013

Poems On The Underground - 'Buses On The Strand'

A new series of poems has started to appear on the London Underground to celebrate its 150th anniversary. I saw a nice one yesterday on the Victoria Line - 'Buses On The Strand' by RP Lister:

The Strand is beautiful with buses,
Fat and majestical in form,
Red like tomatoes in their trusses
In August, when the sun is warm.

They cluster in the builded chasm,
Corpulent fruit, a hundred strong,
And now and then a secret spasm
Spurs them a yard or two along.

Scarlet and portly and seraphic,
Contented in the summer's prime,
They beam among the jumbled traffic,
Patiently ripening with time,

Till, with a final jerk and rumble,
The Strand tomatoes, fat and fair,
Roll past the traffic lights and tumble
Gleefully down Trafalgar Square.

I like the imagery and the fantasy of buses as tomatoes clustering and ripening, tumbling gleefully and, in a certain light, that's so true as the spill out into Trafalgar Square. I shall have to watch carefully.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

London 2012 #1YearOn

One year ago today London became the centre of the world with the grand Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games. Here's a short reminder:

I shall watch the Opening Ceremony all over again tonight to celebrate. I'm also going back to the Olympic Stadium tomorrow for the Anniversary Games. Happy memories.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

One Year On ... Rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games

One year ago tonight I was lucky enough to attend the first public rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games and blogged about it here.  I saved the surprise and only posted photos after the ceremony had been broadcast.

I remember it like it was just last month, a sunny Monday with an endless blue sky and leaving work early to head off to the Olympic Park at Stratford. I remember the happy crowds, everyone excited at being able to go into the Olympic Park for a look round and then go into the Stadium to take our seats. Many of the audience were friends or relatives of the thousands of volunteer performers or, like me, one of the other Olympic volunteers. I was a London Ambassador and proudly wore my Ambassadorial trilby to the event.

The rain we'd had earlier in the month, followed by glorious sunshine, made sure that the grass was green and the flowers all in bloom. The whole place was new and sparkling and mighty impressive.

And then I was inside the Olympic Stadium. I never thought I'd be able to say that. I remember David Hemery in Mexico and Mary Peters in Munich, Seb Coe and Steve Ovett in Moscow, Sally Gunnell in Barcelona and, of course, Kelly Holmes in Athens. The Olympics was something I watched on TV, not attended. But there I was, in the Olympic Stadium in London.

I remember thinking back to Beijing and wondering how we could possibly compete with the cast of thousands involved in that Opening Ceremony. Would ours be embarrassing? All I'd seen about the ceremony was the pastoral scene at the start and that's what was going on as we gradually took our seats, looking across the stadium at a leisurely game of cricket, the May poles and milkmaids with pales. Then Danny Boyle asked us to #SaveTheSecret and it all started...

The pastoral landscape changed as the hoards emerged from under the World Tree and marched down to roll back the grass and destroy the houses as the industrial revolution took over and we saw chimneys spring up out of nowhere and the Olympic Rings were forged and raised up high. We had the homage to the National Health Service, we saw Lord Voldemort defeated by dozens of flying Mary Poppins, we saw our musical legacy from the Beates through the Sex Pistols to The Prodigy. I *loved* seeing the words 'Pretty Vacant' spelled out in the crowds on the other side of the Stadium from me. And we were introduced to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Internet. And so much more.

That was all one year ago tonight as the sun set in east London and I was in the sparkling new Olympic Stadium.  The Olympics would start four days later. I watched the Opening Ceremony on telly and then watched the Olympics as often as I could. I did my shifts as a London Ambassador on the sunny Southbank. And then I went back to the Olympic Park and the Olympic Stadium to see the Olympics! I saw David Rushida break the world record for the 800m and win Gold and I saw Usain Bolt win the 200m and another Gold to add to his collection.

I went to the Olympics, y'know, and, in my own small way, was part of them. I will never forget. London was pretty in the sunshine with Olympic banners flying in the breeze and was one of the most friendly places in the world for a few short weeks. I remember the pink signs on the Tube, Boris's announcements on the buses, the excitement mounting and the sighs of relief when we won our first Gold Medal courtesy of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, followed by Bradley Wiggins.

I'm going back to the Olympic Park on Sunday for the Anniversary Games and the Open East Festival. I know it'll have changed by now but in my mind's eye it will be the same. The Greatest Show on Earth will just be starting again...

Do you remember the London 2012 Olympics?

Monday, 22 July 2013

'The Color Purple' at the Menier Chocolate Factory

My second exploration of America last week was 'The Color Purple' at the Menier Chocolate Factory. This is the first production of the musical outside America and I hope  it follows previous Choccy Factory productions such as 'Sweet Charity', 'Sunday In The Park With George', 'A Little Night Music' and 'La Cage Aux Folles' into the West End ... and maybe back to Broadway? That might be going a bit far but it is an excellent production and deserves a long run and to be seen by many more people than will fit into the Choccy Factory on the current run.

I suspect that most people will know the plot from the book or the film, of young Celie suffering abuse from her step father and then her husband, working on the farm as well as looking after the house, with no-one lifting a hand to help until her husband's long-time lover, Shug Avery pays a visit and they fall in love. Shug gives her some letters from Celie's long lost sister who is a missionary in Africa and that, along with Shug's support means she finally stands up to her husband and leaves him to begin a life of her own. And it ends with ... well, I'll leave that for you to see for yourself when you go to see the musical.

There's an awful lot of plot to get through and it fairly canters along from one scene to the next with no props other than set of chairs hung on the back wall and a sheet that acts as a baby on moment and a sofa covering the next. Its sparseness isn't really noticed because of the energy of the cast on stage and no-one ever seems to be still apart from Celie who stands and watches as life goes on around her until she wins her freedom from men and suddenly she's the one wearing the trousers.

It's a great ensemble piece with the cast, other than the leads. swapping roles and appearing as jailers and boxers and ladies of the town as needed. I particularly liked the trio of ladies who appeared every now and then almost as a classic chorus to help the story along, repeating each others words in a slightly different tone to different parts of the audience.

As with 'The Amen Corner', this is another play in which the lead roles all belong to women with men definitely taking second place. Cynthia Erivo was marvellous as Celie, a quiet still centre for most of the play with a great voice and when she came alive you knew it. The moment when she finally has the confidence and power to confront her husband and curse him really made people sit up - you could almost see it across the audience. I've not seen her before but I'll definitely watch out her in future.

I also liked Nicola Hughes as Shug Avery, Sophia Nomvete as Sofia and Abiona Omunua as Nettie both for their performances and great voices. I particularly liked Nicola's big show-stopper as a nightclub singer and Sophia's adamant 'Hell no!' to being beaten by her husband. Both were well staged with the cast crowding round Nicola standing on a chair for her nightclub belter 'Push Da Button' to make it feel small and crowded and Sophia and the cast's use of the chairs to create a line in the sand on the stage, this far and no further, hell no!

The male characters were generally unloveable, particularly Christopher Colquhoun, as Celie's husband, but I liked his son and Sofia's husband, Harpo, who demonstrated that men can change. Harpo was played by Adebayo Bolaji who seemed unable to be on stage without smiling but he was so refreshing compared to the other male characters. I hope Christopher won't mind me saying I preferred him in 'Five Guys Named Mo' when he played an altogether nicer role! Hey, so I believe what I see on stage, so sue me! Or, to quote Sofia, hell no!

Needless to say, I loved this production and, for once, I joined in the standing ovation at the end without taking time to think about it. It's such an uplifting end that you have to celebrate it. The cast earned that applause and they deserve to reprise their roles in the West End well into 2014 and I sincerely hope they do. I've already bought tickets to see it all over again in a different part of the Choccy Factory for a different viewpoint. The great singing and the great songs will be the same and I'm looking forward to seeing Cynthia, Nicola, Sophia, Abiona, Christopher and Adebayo again with the rest of the cast.

PS: any chance of a cast recording?
PPS: You have no idea how hard it's been writing 'color' without the 'u'. Honest.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

'The Amen Corner' at The National Theatre

This week I went to see two plays set in America in the 20th Century. The first was 'The Amen Corner' at the National Theatre thats focuses on an evangelical church in Harlem in the 1950s. 

The tale centres on Sister Margaret who leads the church with her firm moral views and dictates about what God wants from his followers. She rules her grown up son who plays piano in the church in much the same way. The world changes when her estranged husband turns up, ill from the excesses as his life as a jazz musician and who accidentally lets the cat of the bag that he didn't leave her, she left him and took their son with her. That little snippet of information is the start of Sister Margaret's world beginning to unravel and sees the elders of the church start plotting against her so that one elder can take her place and another will be able to take a lucrative job driving a liquor truck for a living. 

It's a tale of the little lies we tell to create our own lives, of power, no matter how small, and the problems it brings, of hypocrisy and honesty. Marianne Jean-Baptiste gives a powerful performance as the no-nonsense Sister Margaret, a powerhouse for the love of God and her church - her God and her church - who brooks no challenge to the way she rules her church. She has an answer for everything and Marianne plays her with utmost confidence - it's impossible for her to be wrong about anything since her God is on her side.

She is ably countered by Cecelia Noble as Sister Moore with her carefully contrived comic performance and impeccable timing moving slowly towards taking over the church. Cecelia gets the only laughs in the production and the audience can't help but show its appreciation. At the first chink in Sister Margaret's armour Sister Moore nags away at it, undermining and supporting at the same time who can cry out 'victory!' at the end.

The other outstanding performance was Sharon D Clarke as Margaret's sister, Odessa, who plays the only warm character in the play, the only truly human character. She cares about and looks after Margaret and her son and she's made them the focus of her world. She gives a very strong and touching performance. Don't mess with Odessa.

I'd also give a shout out to Naana Agyei-Ampadu who plays Ida Jackson with a sick baby she wants Sister Margaret to heal. It's a relatively small, but telling, part in which Naana plays a worried but composed woman in the first half and a ravaged and borderline mad with grief part in the second half after her baby has died. It was the first sign of humanity we see from Sister Margaret who has lost a baby many years ago and that started her on her path towards the church. Naana gave a harrowing performance and is someone to watch out for.

The men in the play get lesser and less developed roles. We have Brother Boxer who wants to take the job driving the liquor truck but who is silenced each time by Sister Margaret, one time by placing her hand over his face. This simple act says so much about Sister Margaret's arrogance and seeming power. Margaret's husband Luke and son David are rather stereotyped as a jazz musician and a wannabe jazz musician out in 'the world' and there are lots of shouted arguments (too much shouting really).

We get lots of gospel singing, both loud and proud and quiet as background noise since the set places the church hall above Sister Margaret's apartment. It was an interesting set, with steps - even just one - depicting different levels in the building leading to different rooms. Much of the action takes place in the cramped apartment, the family living on top of each other. That is where the play ends after Sister Margaret finally sees the truth that God wants her to love all his creations, all of them, and she quietly breaks down over the body of her husband who she realises she has always loved despite leaving him and now it is too late.

That final scene gives Marianne the opportunity for an affecting performance and she gives it to us in an emotionally raw scene. She crumbles as she confronts her parishioners with total honesty, her formidable strength draining away and she goes back to her apartment to fall into a sobbing heap as she cradles her husband's body and realises what she's lost. And the lights go out.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Don Powell - Look Wot I Dun

It's been a few years in the writing but Don Powell's book about his life is due out later this year. Written with Lise Falkenberg through a series of interviews, it's subtitled 'My Life In SLADE'. Don Powell is, of course, the drummer with SLADE!

His journey started in the '60s and continues today since Slade, in the form of Don and Dave are still touring and still putting on a great rock show. I'm looking forward to reading this!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Kim Wilde - Every Time I See You I Go Wild

This is the new video from Kim Wilde for the song 'Every Time I See You I Go Wild' by B.E.F. featuring Kim Wilde. With vampires, zombies and a PVC encased Ms Wilde with superpowers, what more could you want? Go get 'em Kim!

B.E.F Feat Kim Wilde - Every Time I See You I Go Wild on MUZU.TV.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra at The Roundhouse

Last night I communed and got sweaty with Amanda Palmer and her Grand Theft Orchestra at the Roundhouse, a venue she last played in 2006 with The Dresden Dolls. I was there in 2006 and I was there in 2013. Some things are *important*.

As ever with an Amanda gig, she invites half of north London to have a support or guest spot during the evening - she is a very sharing person, after all - but I was there for the main event and she burst onto the stage with 'Do It With A Rockstar'. And by the first chorus she vanished into the crowd at the front of the stage, wandering round and singing about being a needy rock star before climbing back onto the stage. She was off and running, giving us a series of great performances of songs from 'Theatre Is Evil'.

The band made a marvellous noise on stage and Amanda sang up front or to the side with her keyboard and, later, alone with her ukelele. The huge light show made a great backdrop - I couldn't help but think of previous, smaller shows over the years at places like Bush Hall and the ICA with minimal lighting and here was Amanda, the Rock Star, being flooded in all the colours of the rainbow. We were at the back of the hall so had a good view of the lights, less good view of the stage due to tall people but it was lovely to see Amanda commanding and confident and having fun.

She gave us a good range of songs, old and new, including 'The Killing Type', 'Missed Me', 'Girl Anachronism', 'Astronaut', 'Want It Back', 'Delilah' (with Georgia from Bitter Ruin) and 'Bottomfeeder' during which she sang while crowd-surfing almost as far as where we were standing at the back before being passed to the other side of the hall and back to the stage. She told us about meeting Liam Gallagher at Glastonbury before launching into the bouncy 'Oasis'. The cover song for the evening was 'Common People', a great, powerful version with everyone singing along.

About two thirds of the way through the set the band left the stage and it was just Amanda and us again for some ukelele and piano magic. Amanda played a new uke song, 'Bigger On The Inside', a hauntingly beautiful and sad song sharing her feelings over the last four months or so of being misunderstood and attacked in the media. It was very raw and painful. That's something I love about Amanda, she shares herself with us with an almost brutal honesty.

We also had a rousing version of 'Map Of Tasmania' with the whole place joining in the cries of 'Fuck it!' in the chorus. Amanda moved back to her keyboard for 'The Bed Song' that always gets my eyes moist.

The encore saw Amanda come back on stage alone in her kimono to tell us about how the Daily Mail had published an article about her show at Glastonbury that didn't mention her songs but was just about how one of her tits had come free from her bra (I blogged about it at the time, see here). She played, in waltz time, her response to it, 'Dear Daily Mail' in which she points out that if they'd only used a search engine they'd have seen that her tits were used to being in the limelight. Half way through she dropped the kimono and continued the song naked while commenting in a very funny way on the Mail's misogyny about what was, after all, just a woman's body. What a great way of making a very good point! The whole audience cheered as she played and there's a video of the moment below - listen and watch! It's great fun!

And then the band came back with all the various guests of the night to give us a stomping version of 'Leeds United' - whenever Amanda plays this I can't help but regret missing being in the video because I slept in that Sunday morning (drat!). And with bows and waves, after over two hours of playing the most excellent music, they left the stage leaving a hall full of happy, sweaty people to slowly exit and go out into the warm London night.

I was very happy with a great gig and more memories to sift through and add to my existing collection - another Amanda gig, Amanda Fucking Palmer the Rock Star.

Come back soon!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Amanda Palmer at The Roundhouse 2006

I took this photo of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione, aka The Dresden Dolls, at the Roundhouse on 4 November 2006. They were playing 'Mein Herr' from 'Cabaret' at the time and you can see the performance in the DVD of the show, 'Live at The Roundhouse'. I have the show poster framed in my hall with the legend, 'Fuck the Rock'n'Roll Circus, this is the Punk Cabaret' - the Rolling Stones' 'Rock and Roll Circus' was filmed at The Roundhouse in the '60s.

I mention this morsel of information for two reasons:

1. This is one of my favourite photos of Amanda that I took myself; and
2. Amanda returns to The Roundhouse tomorrow night for her first gig there since 2006 and I shall be there (obv). She won't be with Brian, but she'll be surrounded by the Grand Theft Orchestra and they make a fine noise.

I'd better charge up the battery for my camera...

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Age Of Kali

Kali sprang to mind this evening on the way home. Not an everyday occurrence, I grant you, but it sparked memories of Poly Styrene singing 'Melancholy' in the Age of Kali, of William Dalrymple's book 'The Age Of Kali' and of my first encounter with the goddess.

Kali the Hindu goddess is an aspect of Durga, wife of Shiva, and is not the same as the demon Kali whose name is associated with the last age in the cycle of times. In Hindu teaching, the Age of Kali, or Kali Yuga, is the final age when humankind turns away from spirituality, the age of vice and discord, and we're in it now. The world will end in fire and a new, fresh age will begin.

I first met Kali, the goddess, in a wonderfully colourful Hindu temple in Singapore in the early 90s when she was  eating the heart of a virgin. It was all blood and entrails and I moved on. It was a bit like this photo but more colourful. A year or so later is my first strong memory of Kali when I went to Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh in Northen India.

I was visiting the Hindu and Jain temples in the UNESCO World Heritage Site and came across a couple of smaller temples that were still used occasionally. One was to Kali. I took a few steps inside and it was pitch black, no windows or light reaching inside to let me see what was inside. I thought, OK, I'll take a photo with flash and then I'll see what it's like when I have it developed (this was pre-digital, younger readers). So I did. The flash exploded and then the air exploded around me with shrieks and a rushing of wings all charging at me. I took the hint and got out of there quickly.

Now, once I was out in day light again part of me realised that the sound of shrieks and wings must be bats and I'd disturbed their sleep. Another part of me wondered...

I think it was also on that trip across Northern India that part of Kali's nature was explained to me by one of my guides.  She has a reputation for violence and drinking blood but there is a reason for that. In ages past she and other gods were fighting the demons to protect mankind and she saw that every time a demon was wounded or killed and a drop of their blood touched the earth then another demon sprang up to join in the war. Her way of preventing the demon hoardes from ever-increasing was to eat the demons and make sure she drank all their blood. It obviously worked since we're not overrun with demons today.

Since that time I've always been a bit more respectful to Kali. I have encountered her several times since that journey and I always bow my head slightly at her image. I think of brave warrior Kali rather than blood-thirsty Kali.

When I returned home from that journey and got my films developed and printed I found an odd photo of a dark, blood-daubed statue of what looked to be a goddess. It was very grey and mirky but the splashes of rust on it indicated red. I couldn't remember taking that photo and then I remembered the Khajuraho temples. It was the photo of Kali.

I shall have to hunt it out from the boxes of photos I found last week and remember my first encounter with Kali.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

One World One Voice

Do you remember seeing a television programme back in 1990 called 'One World One Voice', a nearly one hour-long visual album of world music conceived and directed by Kevin Godley? I do and I bought the cassette when it came out on Virgin records.

I distinctly remember watching it on my little portable telly and remember four sections in particular: Robbie Robertson (why not Buffy Sainte-Marie?) quoting Chief Seattle at the start, the 'One Voice' section, the Dave Stewart section in a Hindu temple (nice to see you've all got your shoes off people) and the Kodo Drummers backed by an orchestra at the end. There are many more memorable bits but those are the ones that stick in my memory.

I found my cassette of the music yesterday and, today, I found the actual programme on YouTube. It's 52 minutes long so you'll need to set aside some time to watch it but it's worth it. A lot of it is a continuous loop of music with changing themes and emphases and then, every now and then, a new theme or song is introduced.

It includes great musicians from all around the works, most of whom I don't know. But I do know Peter Gabriel, Sting, Andy Summers, Joe Strummer, Suzanne Vega, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, Eddie Grant, The Kodo Drummers, Dave Stewart, Shakespear's Sister, Bob Geldoff and, of course, Kevin Godley. There are lots more in there if you care to look.

I suspect the reason this has never been repeated is due to licensing and other 'biz' issues but it deserves to be seen again. Or for someone to remake it for the 21st Century? 

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Buffy Sainte-Marie Tape

I've mentioned before that I first came across Buffy Sainte-Marie through a half-hour programme of her music on BBC2 in 1975 or 1976. What I don't think I've mentioned is that I taped the programme, as in recorded onto a cassette by holding the microphone against the speaker on the little portable telly in my bedroom. I don't know why I did that, but I did.

The programme was made up of Buffy's songs played over short films that were quite literal. One that springs to mind was of a happy couple claiming native American heritage holding a dinner party with folks chatting and smiling while 'Now That The Buffalo's Gone' played, a song calling for support for native peoples. I don't recall any footage of Buffy in the programme at all.

'What's brought this up?' I hear you ask. Well, I'm having a bit of a clear-out and I found two boxes of old cassette tapes (that's an old form of technology for the younger readers)  buried away when I thought I'd long got rid of them all. And guess what? Despite getting rid of most of my cassette tapes years ago, I seem to have kept the tape with the Buffy programme. From the other music on the tape it looks like the programme was broadcast in 1976 so that clears up the timing question. The case is a bit battered but the cassette looks ok. I can't play it of course, because I no longer have a working cassette player, but I've still got the tape. I'm quite pleased by that and will keep it anyway.

I can tell it was before punk exploded just by some of the songs I taped on the same cassette:

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band - 'Boston Tea Party'
Bryan Ferry - 'The Price Of Love'
Rod Stewart - 'The Killing Of Georgie'
Twiggy - 'Here I Go Again'
Kiki Dee - 'Loving & Free'
Manfred Mann's Earthband - 'Blinded By The Light'
David Dundas - 'Jeans On'
Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel - 'Here Comes The Sun'
5000 Volts - 'Dr Kiss Kiss'
Bee Gees - 'You Should Be Dancing'

... and so many others (it was a C120 tape after all - if you don't know what that means then you're definitely under 35).

Of course, the problem with having a long-needed clear out is that all work stops every time you open another drawer or another box to investigate what gems I thought were important enough to hold onto. That means work is progressing slowly. In one box I found a load of ceramics - bowls and plates - that I gathered on trips to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia in the '90s. Some are obviously meant to be decorative but what's the point in letting them collect dust in a box?

I've also found box on box on box of photos. Literally, thousands of the things going back 30-odd years. I, obviously, need to look at every single photo to see if it evokes a memory. And decide what to do with them all.

At least I'll have more space after this to collect more stuff to replace it with!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at the Apollo Theatre

I went to see 'The Curious Incident' the other night, not really knowing what to expect other than it's been getting rave reviews. It was first staged at the National Theatre before moving to the West End so it's obviously got something going for it.

It's an odd tale adapted from a book, the tale of a 15 year old boy somewhere on the autistic spectrum who hates to be touched but who loves maths and space. He finds a neighbours' dog killed with a garden fork through its body and decides to find out who killed the dog.

That leads him on a journey to discover that his mother isn't really dead and that his dad's been hiding a secret stash of letters from his mum to him. He overcomes his fear of other people and noise by travelling to London from Swindon to find his mother and returns to Swindon to take his maths A-Level. His reconciliation with his dad comes when he's given a dog (ok, the cutest puppy I've seen in a long time). It's an oddly compelling play that doesn't really go anywhere but we do get an insight into the lad's life and autism.

The staging is really quite novel and seemed to be inspired by an old Human League set with lights coming on and off when needed. I suspect it's meant to help define aspects of the lad's brain firing when he's thinking and experiencing things or some such. I particularly liked the depiction of the escalator to the Tube at Paddington Station. You never know what might be the next part of the stage to light up. I thought it was great fun and was almost a character in its own right.

Throughout the play the lad lays out a toy train set, gradually spreading across the stage, adding buildings and trees to make it more realistic. At the end the train and the set comes to life, choo-chooing around the stage and, as the buildings wake up and start to glow I realised it was a depiction of the journey by train from Swindon to London, complete with London monuments. Very clever.

I liked the optimistic ending when the lad gets his maths A-level result of an A* (naturally) and he goes on to say he'll take another exam next year, go to university and get a first class degree and have his own flat. Somehow, in his own erratic way, I think he'll mange it.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Mutya Keisha Siobhan - 'Flatline'

Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Siobhan Donaghy, the original Sugababes, are back together and planning to release their first single, 'Flatline', on 1 September. They've published it on Soundcloud as a teaser and you can listen to it here. It seems to be all over the internet and twitter today (which is how I found it) with everyone loving it. That  bodes well for the album.

They've been recording for a while so, presumably, they're ready to release the new music and do all the promo stuff that goes with it. They're going under the name Mutya Keisha Siobhan - or MKS - which makes sense to me. Although Siobhan left after the first album, the first few 'babes albums were classics and I'm looking forward to the new record.

Welcome back girls - back in business indeed!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The Impossible Girl - 'Stellar Alchemist'

The first video from The Impossible Girl (aka Kim Boekbinder) to promote her new album, 'The Sky Is Calling', was released today - 'Stellar Alchemist'. Watch it here:

We see Kim dancing in the raging heart of the Sun as she transforms into the Stellar Alchemist. I'm looking forward to seeing Kim in London for the first time on 30 August.

'A Crisis of Brilliance' - Dulwich Picture Gallery

The new exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery is called, 'A Crisis of Brilliance' and is a collection of works by young British artists at the start of the 20th Century who all attended the Slade School of Art in London. They were Paul Nash, CRW Nevinson, Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler, Dora Carrington and David Bomberg. The exhibition was inspired by David Boyd Haycock's book of the same name from 2009 and features 71 works from between 1908-1922 chosen by Haycock.

It's an inspired decision to have a group exhibition so we see the artists experimenting with different subjects and media, from early student works to finding their own styles. The period covers the First World War and included are some war paintings, depictions of ravaged countryside and ravaged humanity. Some are quite painful to look at. Early student sketches and portraits give way to increasingly individual paintings. A sketch of a naked standing woman by Carrington is really quite special showing that from an early age she was an astonishing draughtswoman.

The surprise for me was Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, an artist I'd never actually heard of. He seems to have had a checkered life but I liked his angular paintings and shied away from his disturbing war paintings like the bombardment of Ypres and 'La Patrie'. 'La Patrie' depicts dead and dying soldiers lying on straw in a barn, left (in all likelihood) to die since there were so many of them on the Western Front. It is a dark painting in so many ways and made me think of my Granda who was there at the time and wounded.

Two of my favourite paintings were by Mark Gertler, both due to the rich colours and shapes on the canvas - 'The Fruit Sorters' and 'Gilbert Cannan and His Mill' with Gilbert and two huge dogs in the foreground. 'The Fruit Sorters' is an interesting composition with barefoot workers carrying fruit and I peered at the woman with the fruit basket 'hat' to work out where her hair ended and the basket began. I wonder - is it based on reality or just a whimsy of Mark's when he began it? Whatever, it's a nice antidote to the pain and destruction in Nevinson's war paintings.

Gertler also painted a lovely portrait of Dora Carrington, titled 'Portrait of a Girl in Blue Jersey' and the title describes it perfectly. Carrington is shown with her severe haircut wearing a blue jersey and sort of smiling. The colours are  a lot richer and deeper than in this version. I like that painting in all its simplicity.

Carrington is probably the most sympathetic of all the featured artists and the only woman. I saw a rare screening of the film about her life and love for Lytton Strachey a few years ago (with Emma Thompson as Carrington) so am vaguely familiar with her life  but what has never been fully explained is her apparent reluctance to be an artist - an exhibited artist. She was quite prolific in some ways and produced a sound body of work but she drew and painted for herself and for Lytton, for her friends, not for the public. She was an astonishing portraitist, finding the detail that makes a portrait come alive and we see that in her portrait of 'Mrs Box', a farmer. It's the fine detail of very gently sketched lines around the mouth and eyes that made me look twice - elegantly depicting age and weary labour over the years.

Her masterpiece is her portrait of Lytton Strachey which is part of the exhibition. She focuses in on a few details that make the portrait come alive and you need to see it in front of you to see the details. At first glance it's the oddly elongated fingers that draw the attention but up close you can see the carefully painted glasses, his ear and nose, the nails on both hands with the rest of the image being sketched in. It really is marvellous to see it up close, particularly surrounded by the other paintings in the exhibition to give a context in time. After the exhibition it will, I expect, return to the National Portrait Gallery.

Carrington killed herself shortly after Lytton's death from cancer. She wrote, "Everything was for you... I see my paints & think it is no use for Lytton will never see my pictures now, & I cry".  That's a terrible sadness. Everything was for Lytton

Dulwich isn't in the centre of town but it's easy enough to get to - if you get the chance go and see this great exhibition and marvel at the works and dreams of a set of young artists that we should hear more about.