Friday, 30 August 2013

Amanda Palmer Does A Book

That Amanda Palmer is at it again. She's going to write a book and she's asking for our comments, suggestions, criticisms, love and hate, all around crowdsourcing, crowd-funding, whatever you call it. And who better? She is, after all, the Queen of Kickstarter and other miscellaneous titles, the doyen of TED talks and a raconteur in song to The Daily Mail. She explains it all here and asks us a question:

That Amanda Fucking Palmer always has something to say and because of that we sometimes assume we know what she'll say on any particular subject and that's where we can get it so wrong. In her latest blog she talks about being interviewed about Trent Reznor going back to a major record label from being independent. She wrote:

"when trent went from doing-it-himself back to using a major label a little while ago, i saw a lot of people bitching about it on twitter and calling him a “traitor” or whatever. i totally stood by and defended his decision to work with a label. he can do what he wants. why the fuck not? i know what it’s like to run your own label and you can NEVER do what an office of full-time label people can do. it’s all about help, time and energy. want more help? you may need to go to a label and share your profits. like everything else i find myself defending…crowdfunding, labels, etc etc etc: it all comes down to the same thing: IT’S THE ARTIST’S DECISION. LET THE ARTIST DECIDE.
even though i may never do it like NIN, or like radiohead, or like miley cyrus….i think whatever path they choose is fine. use a label. don’t use a label. make mainstream music. make loud dissonant noise. twerk your brains out. being an artist is about forging your own path (in content and in business practice) and following your own path."

That Amanda Palmer's first blog received over 600 comments in the first day after posting it - not bad I say. People discussing it, responding to her question and arguing. Amanda has that affect on people. She welcomes us into her world and gives us the honesty and trust you'd only get from a good friend or partner.

Follow your own path is so punk. Be yourself, do what is right for you. Punk cabaret is, after all, freedom. Or, at least, that's what it says on my Dresden Dolls badge.

Go on, tell that Amanda Palmer. What do you wish you'd asked for?

Poly Styrene Questions

This evening I went to see 'Sweet Bird of Youth' starring Kim Cattrall at the Old Vic Theatre and noticed that the play was directed by Marianne Elliott. Does that name sound familiar? Now, Marianne Elliott might be an Olivier Award winning stage director, but it's also the name of Poly Styrene whose full name is Marianne Joan Elliott-Said. Coincidence?

Then I look at the Poly group on Facebook and see a post I hadn't noticed before that repeats a set of questions she answered in March 2011 shortly before she left us. The questions were on The Anti-Room and here they are:

What’s the first record you ever bought?
My Sweet Lord by George Harrison.
What’s your favourite smell?
Rose oil.
Have you ever had a nickname?
Poly Styrene!
What is your favourite room in your house?
My bedroom.
What are your guilty pleasures?
What would people be surprised to know about you?
That cancer unknowingly crept up on me.
Who is your closest female friend?
My daughter.
Do you have any tattoos or piercings?
Where would you most like to live?
Where I am now, by the sea.
Who was your first kiss and where did it happen?
Can’t remember!
What’s the most unusual question you’ve ever been asked?
The last one you just asked.
What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?
A hotwire cutter that cut through polystyrene.
What is your favourite word?
Who was your first love?
If you weren’t doing what you do, what might you have become?
A secretary.
Is there a book you’ve bought several times as a gift for someone?
Gopi Gita.
What happens after we die?
Our soul leaves our body and reincarnates, or gets a complete spiritual form.
What female historical figure do you admire most?
Right now, Florence Nightingale.
Sum yourself up in three words:
Optimistic, Happy, Bubbly
And finally… What are you anti?
What are you pro?

I never knew that Poly's first record was 'My Sweet Lord' but how fitting it is. Keep singing Poly.

Monday, 26 August 2013

She Makes War - 'Butterflies'

The new ep from She Makes War is out and she's spent most of the last week crafting handmade packages for her backers through Bandcamp. I know because she's been telling us on Twitter.

I first came across Laura as the bassist for Viv Albertine at the Royal Festival Hall during Yoko Ono's Meltdown festival back in June. She was quite noticeable because she jumped around the stage and got into the music. As bassist, she was also filling some seriously big boots since the original songs were played by people like Mick Jones, Dennis Bovell, Tina Weymouth and Jack Bruce.

I'm going to see She Makes War for the first time as a solo artist on Friday when she supports Kim Boekbinder, aka The Impossible Girl. I shall take money for merch. And I shall take photos.

Here's the video for 'Butterflies' that's just been released....

Saturday, 24 August 2013

"Did you write the book of love?"

The other morning as I got into the shower a song came on the radio that I haven't heard in many years, I have no idea how many years, but many many years at least. And I found myself singing along to it, virtually word perfect even though I never bought that record at the time. I thought, 'how odd'.

This morning I went onto YouTube to look for it and listen again and heard the long version of the song, quite probably for the first time ever. I, of course, prefer the single version. But it also reminded me that someone else sung that song, a lot more recently, so I had to watch her video as well.

It's strange how some songs ease into the brain and stay in the memory. I couldn't have recited any of the lyrics or the tune without hearing it start to play on the radio but as soon as it started I knew the words and music. Why is that? Obviously, it was played to death in 1971-72 when it was a big hit and back then when I was an impressionable pre-teen and there was still space in my brain for things like song lyrics and music, it obviously found a spot and stayed there quietly until I got into the shower the other day.

It's not like there's a straight narrative to follow in the lyrics or anything, but there's something about it that is memorable. If I knew what it was I'd bottle it and get rich.

Looking in my iTunes library I'm astonished to see that I have another version of the song - well, just the introduction really in 1:40 minutes - a live version by Mott The Hoople. Stranger and stranger. How many versions of this song are out there?

I can't find any videos of Don McLean singing the single version of his signature tune so here is Madonna dancing in front of a flag with little vignettes of American life. You know the song - 'American Pie'.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Return of the Great British Bake Off

The Great British Bake Off (hashtag #GBBO) returned to our screens tonight on BBC2 with an incredible explosion of tweets on Twitter. I really don't know what it is about this programme that makes people explode with passion (me included). It's not a standard foodie programme or a standard reality TV programme but there's something about it that draws us in.

I had never done any baking at all, not with my Grandma or Mam when I was young, but there was something about the last series that made me try making angel cakes. They were pretty damn yummy too.

The hosts are Mel & Sue who I've always liked and they're now cemented as hosts of this show. They're more than happy to exploit the double-entendres of baking (soggy bottoms and all that) as well as agreeing they'll need bigger clothes by the end of the series because of all the cakes they'll have tried. Alongside judges of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, they're the perfect combination to present this show.

So, OK, this might be a restricted viewing sport but it really does have mass appeal. There's something about cakes and bread and pies that pulls us all in. How well will they do this week?  Can the contestants do more than their specialty? Could they feed me and the nation in the event of World War Three - okay, no pressure people....

Welcome back and I will be watching your progress every week - get baking!

Monday, 19 August 2013

Mutya Keisha Siobhan - 'Flatline'

At long last, here it is, the video for 'Flatline' by Mutya Keisha Siobhan, the original Sugababes! There ought to be a wave...

Sunday, 18 August 2013

The B-52's at the IndigO2

On Friday night I partied out of bounds with the good stuff that is The B-52's at the IndigO2. They're currently a three-piece of Cindy, Fred and Kate backed by a powerful band of bass, drums, keyboards and guitar and they make a great sound. And, of course, punk bongos.

They were supported by the Members who played a fun half hour set, a mix of songs I knew and others I didn't but it was nice to hear them. Their guest drummer was Rat Scabies (of The Damned) which got a big 'wow' from me. When I looked down onto the stage from the balcony bar I just thought, 'three old blokes', but that belied the noise they were making and made 35 years ago. Their final song was, 'The Sound Of The Suburbs', quite probably more true today than before. Old punx keep turning up and that is, of course, a good thing. Long may they continue do so.

We were all there to see those B-52's, the perennial party animals of yesteryear who just keep giving. The audience were clearly there back in the day since the vast majority were in their 40s and 50s and some older still. There were the odd younger people wandering round, possibly wondering who let their parents out for the evening. The age gap was very noticeable at the bar where all the bar staff were in their 20s and virtually everyone they were serving were old enough to be their parents. Hey, we were there back then and we're still here. I bought 'Rock Lobster' when it first came out y'know.

See? I'm rambling already. Where was I...

On came the band and then The B-52's took their place at the front of the stage, waving and smiling and kicked off with 'Planet Claire' from the first record. We were gifted with a mighty selection from across their career but sadly only one song from 'Funplex' (which Fred reminded us was available on iTunes). I remember buying 'Funplex' in the big Virgin store in Times Square, New York, before it was released here and not believing how slim they all were until I saw them at the Roundhouse in 2008. I was pleased to see that Cindy was wearing shoes this time and Kate wore a scarlet minidress to match her hair. It is, obviously, entirely natural.

Fred is still delightfully mad (as is right and proper) and asked us if we'd seen the article in the newspapers a couple of weeks ago that claimed they'd got older since the '80s - as if! He asked us if we'd downloaded the new volcano app before launching into 'Lava'. Introducing 'Love In The Year 300' Kate mentioned that Fred had just got back from the future and he told us that the guardians of the future were rude and all they cared about was rigging elections. He also told us that they spend so much time in outer space that it sometimes causes problems and gave us 'Is That You Mo-Dean?'. Fred reminded us that before they helped to invent new wave they were punks, at which point Cindy mentioned that her bongos were punk bongos (obv). Fred has his own wisdom.

Fred and Kate left the stage while Cindy mentioned she was going to do a song from 'Bouncing Off Satellites' and dedicated it to her brother Ricky before giving us a great version of 'Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland'. Ricky was an original B-52 and died while they were making 'Satellites'. That was a long time ago so it was extra nice for Cindy to remind us of him.

Kate then came back on stage for her and Cindy to give us a stonking 'Roam' and 'Legal Tender' before Fred came back from the future for 'Love In The Year 3000' (with his bootybots and erotobots). Cindy banged out '6060-842' on her punk bongos and Kate shimmied to 'Whammy Kiss' before a mammoth 'Love Shack' closed the show with everyone of their feet clapping and shouting for more. They came back and gladly gave us 'Party Out Of Bounds' and a raucous 'Rock Lobster' before sending us away into the south east London night wreathed in happy smiles. But not before I stopped by the Concert Live stand to pick up the live recording of the gig and I'm jolly pleased I did! I can now re-live that evening whenever I want to and remember that, somewhere in all that noise, is me clapping along. It's a really good recording and you should get it while you can.

The B-52's make me smile and make me happy. They gifted us with a most excellent gig and some of the great songs from their long career and I shall cherish more memories. I was strangely excited before they came on stage and then >BLAM< they were gone. They probably got beamed back up to their space ship to keep the party going ...

Come back soon!

Friday, 9 August 2013

'Titanic' at the Southwark Playhouse

Last Friday Chris took me to see 'Titanic' the Maury Yeston musical from the late '90s that has never been staged in London before. It was first produced in New York nine months before the film of the same name was released and tells the stories of some of the real people on the ship and what happened to them.

We see the first class millionaires going aboard and returning to their lives in America, the second class wannabes from both sides of the Atlantic and the third class emigrants seeking a new life in the new world. And, of course, the ships' crew. Most of the actors played multiple roles and it was confusing at first to see the same person walk on as a first class passenger in one costume and, a few minutes later, as a third class one in a different costume, but it soon settled down. It seemed to work out fine.

Their personal tales start unfolding like the boiler-room engineer proposing to his girlfriend through the telegraph and young Kate from Ireland who's found herself in the family way and heads to America to start a new life. None of the first class passengers get any real characterisation, it's the second and third class folks we get to know. And the thing is that we know what's going to happen and they don't, but we don't know if the individuals will live or die, and that's what keeps the dramatic tension going.

There's a great score to the play, with most of the tale being told through songs. The show opens with songs about the magnificence of the ship, it's size and the amount of food going aboard to feed the passengers over the week to reach New York. They move onto songs about the passengers and their hopes and dreams and then songs about what happens to the ship.

My favourite was 'Lady's Maid', a song started by Kate who wants to be a lady's maid, another Kate who wants to be a seamstress and other characters wanting to be an engineer or a constable or, in one case, a millionaire. That song really touched me with the bright hopes of ordinary people taking their lives in their hands to travel to the other side of the world in search of a better life and yet their dreams are so mundane, wanting to be a servant or open a shop. It's a song about the human spirit and makes me wonder where people in this century will head to now that the great centuries long migration west has ended?

It's a musical that stimulates big thoughts and questions as well as telling a narrative of a story we're all familiar with.

The theatre is a bit of an oddity, with unallocated seating meaning that everyone queues up at the door beside the bar to get in, not a good start to the evening. We then walk past the designer of the Titanic sitting at a desk to get to our seats, with banks of seats on three sides of the stage. I know you're an 'alternative' theatre but allocated seating solves so many problems for us punters.

The sound wasn't terribly good when I saw it. The actors were all mic'd but, when they sang away from me, I had difficulty making out what they were singing. That wasn't really helped by some actors hitting all the right notes in the right order at the right time but forgetting about their diction so I couldn't make out what they were saying (yes, Greg Castliglioni, I'm talking to you here).

We were lucky enough to be there on a night when Maury Yeston gave a talk after the show and the sound problems continued. He seemed to be talking to one side of the audience only and wasn't mic'd so I missed a lot of what he said, but it was good to see him anyway. He co-wrote one of my favourite musicals, 'Grand Hotel', that is rarely played and it was nice to hear him refer to it.

All in all, I'm thinking of going back to see it again ...

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

'Rivers Of London' by Ben Aaronovitch

I have discovered a new addiction in the books of Ben Aaronovitch. I was browsing in Waterstones at Covent Garden a few months ago and picked up 'Rivers of London' - in part, I must admit, because of the title and cover - and read a few pages before putting it back on the display table. But I remembered it and, when looking for a new Kindle book, downloaded it to read on my way too and from work.

It's an odd little tale of PC Peter Grant who discovers a flair for seeing ghosts and other oddities and joins the 'magic' unit of the Metropolitan Police Force, a unit of one other. The title comes into its own as he meets the personifications of the Thames and its tributaries, dangerous magic and starts to learn magic himself. It's fascination increases as it names names around central London, pubs and clubs in Covent Garden and Soho, branches of Paperchase and other shops and cafes. That's something I really like and that lends it an air of reality as Peter Grant travels around London and we can follow him. Obviously, Mr Aaronovitch loves London and relishes finding out little-known facts to throw into the mix in his books.

I devoured the first book far too quickly so I had to download the second, 'Moon Over Soho' which continues PC Grant's adventures as he delves further into magic and different aspects of London, particularly Soho. We're introduced in more detail to his family and the history behind the 'magic unit' in the police force, to the jazz vampires and more history of London. There's lots of running around, police procedures, magic thrown around and somehow hidden from mainstream news and a host of new as well as old characters.

There are two more books in this series so far (the fourth book was only published last month) so I'm now torn as to whether I download the third book immediately or put it off a while to keep the tension going. The next book apparently delves in the Tube tunnels and sewers of London so should be most illuminating given the number of tube stations that have been closed down and mothballed in the centre of town while others have opened since the last war. Decisions decisions.

What should I do?

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Sex Pistols at The National Portrait Gallery

I went to the National Portrait Gallery the other evening to hear David McAlmont talk about his fascination with paintings about English kings called Edward and their wars against the Scots and Welsh. It was, I think, the hottest evening of the summer so far so the air-con in the NPG was most welcome. But my reason for blogging is the postcard I saw in the NPG shop on the way out, a portrait of the Sex Pistols from 1990 that I've never seen before.

Here we have the original Pistols line-up of John Lydon, Paul Cook, Steve Jones and Glen Matlock. Sid replaced Glen in 1978 and that was his downfall. I saw the Pistols in 2007 and John referred to them at the end of the gig as the best band in the world and, that night, they were. And the loudest.

I've seen Glen around London a few times in the past few years, most recently back in January at Viv Albertine's gig at Bar12 and last year at the Marc Bolan celebration at Shepherd's Bush. Keeping it real, Glen.

The Pistols were also the poster boys for an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 2007 about photo-journalism called 'Daily Encounters'. I didn't see that exhibition but loved the poster on the railings outside the Gallery.

One of these days I'll have to have a browse through the Gallery's catalogue for pictures of other heroes and curate my own exhibition. A portrait of Poly Styrene is in the photo collection and that was shown as part of the Devotional exhibition in 2007 (that was a good year for punks, it seems). I wonder who else is in there...?