Sunday, 26 January 2014

Edna St Vincent Millay

I was browsing through my 'Poems On The Underground' book the other day and came across this lovely poem by Edna St Vincent Millay:

What Lips Have My Lips Kissed, And Where, And Why (Sonnet XLIII)

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

I've not really come across Edna before and knew nothing about her until I googled her and she certainly sounds like someone I should know more about (look at her wiki entry). One of her poems that I am familiar with but didn't realise was by her is 'First Fig':

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -
It gives a lovely light.

Does summer sing in you?

David McAlmont sings Bowie at The Hideaway

On Friday evening we went to see David McAlmont's 'Wall To Wall: Bowie' set at the Hideaway jazz club in Streatham (i.e. off-off-off West End). The Hideaway is a great venue, very stylish and very orange and black. David first did his Bowie set in 2013 and, since it was the Hideaway's most popular show of 2013, he was asked to reprise it over three nights last week - we missed it the first time round so had to go on Friday.

We saw David McAlmont's Prince show last year (also at the Hideaway) in which he rearranged and sang his favourite Prince songs so I was expecting interesting re-interpretations of Bowie. And that's exactly what we got. He worked with Hideaway music director and pianist on the night Janette Mason to come up with some jazzy, chilled out versions of some songs and funked up versions of others. Backed by a pared down band of just keyboards, bass, drums and guitar and joined on stage for some of the songs with added vocals by Sam Obernik (who also had a few songs to herself) it made for an enjoyable evening.

David came on in blue suit (a la Bowie 'Life On Mars') covered in blingy jewellery, an enormous glam boa and a painted face (but not the lightning flash of Aladdin - that would be too obvious) and launched into 'Watch That Man' that he described as the song closest to the original arrangement. He went on to give us 'Suffragette City', 'Starman' and 'Changes' with Sam Obernik leading on 'Life on Mars' and 'The Man Who Sold The World'. David also gave us 'Let's Dance' and an electric piano funked up version of 'The Jean Genie'.

The second half of the show led off with 'Fame' and a torch song 'Lady Grinning Soul' with David walking round the tables in the audience after inviting us to stroke his boa if we wanted (I did). After 'Ziggy', Sam performed a lovely version of 'Kooks' and 'Wild Is The Wind'. 'Space Oddity' (in which David and Sam floated out in space). The show closed with a funky 'Young Americans' with David in dancehall mode towards the end. The encore was 'Modern Love'.

It was a great, fun show and a good end to a long week. David was on top form and I'd not come across Sam before and she's a bit of a find. Other than 'Let's Dance' and 'Modern Love' (and 'Space Oddity') all the songs were from the '70s and the first half of the '70s at that. That is classic Bowie territory but it might have been interesting to hear David's re-interpretaion of some of his later material, even something from the latest album perhaps? Or maybe that's for the next set of shows? Favourites of the evening were 'Starman' (with David doing Bowie's pointing thing), the funked up 'The Jean Genie' and the already funky 'Fame' and Sam's version of 'Kooks' (I like that song!).

And, to give you a flavour of the evening, here's a video of 'Young Americans' from the 2013 show. Enjoy!

Friday, 24 January 2014

'Putting It Together' at the St James Theatre

This evening we went to see the Stephen Sondheim review, ''Putting It Together'. a collection of his songs from various musicals loosely based around two couples at a cocktail party. We have David Bedella and Janie Dee as the older married couple and Caroline Sheen and David Humbley as the young couple, all narrated and kept moving on by Daniel Crossley who plays various roles. The six-piece band behind them made a nice noise to accompany the singing.

Songs are plucked from various Sondheim musicals up to the early '90s when he devised the show along with Julia McKenzie. We are given songs wrenched out of the context of the musical they were written for and plugged into the new context of the cocktail party and some seem to work better than others. We get songs from 'Sunday In the Park With George', 'Sweeney Todd', 'A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum', 'Into The Woods', 'Company', 'Follies' and more.

We have the jaded older couple and the younger all singing about love and life and, occasionally, each other. The standout for me was Janie Dee who seemed to get all the best songs and the most confident characterisation with songs like 'Ladies Who Lunch' and 'Not Getting Married'. I also thought David Bedella was on top form for his sinister 'Hello Little Girl' as the predatory older man (i.e. the wolf from 'Into The Woods'). I also liked the manic 'Buddy's Blues' by Daniel Crossley.

I'm sure Sondheim followers will be able to dissect the production far better than me but I enjoyed it and the cast of five singers. I enjoyed it and am pleased I've seen it. It's only on for a short run so see it if you can.

On a separate note, I think I have to take issue with Mr Sondheim's claim that 'art isn't easy' in the song that opens the show, 'Putting It Together'. Today I spent my travelling time listening to Amanda Palmer who, in her 'Ukelele Anthem' sings, 'stop pretending that art is hard'. Who is right?

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Maximo Park - 'Lydia, The Ink Will Never Dry'

The new album from Maximo Park will be out on 3 February and they've just released this video for one of the songs on the album, 'Lydia, The Ink Will Never Dry'.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Would you buy a used continent...?

It's Buffy Sainte-Marie's birthday in a few weeks time and, in the run up to the big day, I'm listening to all my Buffy songs. It's a good opportunity to remember old favourites and hear songs anew and afresh. Some songs make me smile and some make me cry. I generally hear something new every time I listen properly to Buffy's songs. A unique lyric or phrasing, something that whizzes me back in memory to another decade or something that just makes me think 'yeah'.

This evening I looked up this cover of the New Musical Express from 1976 with Buffy looking well righteous and the caption, 'Would you buy a used continent from this woman?'. 1976 was an eon ago and I can't quite remember, but I bought the NME back then so maybe it was this cover and the related interview that made me watch the BBC2 programme about Buffy that converted me to the true faith. Maybe.

I can't help but like the fact that the Sex Pistols graced the cover of the NME a matter of months after Buffy.

Buffy was probably promoting the 'Sweet America' album when this photo was taken. The record includes some of her early powwow rock songs like 'Starwalker' and 'I Been Down', creating a unique Native American sound on the one hand and, on the other, adding another sonic dimension to a rock sound. 'Sweet America' was my first non-compilation Buffy album and I still love it. It's one of my favourite Buffy albums and it was great when it was finally released on CD a few years ago as 'Buffy/Changing Woman/Sweet America - the Mid-1970s Recordings', three albums across two CDs.

Buffy has released new music in four of the last five decades, the '80s being the exception. But then again, she wrote 'Up Where We Belong' in the '80s and won an Oscar for it without even needing to record it. The only record missing from her collection is 'Many A Mile', Buffy's second album, and I don't understand why that is. It includes her mega-hit 'Until It's Time For You To Go' (which was recorded by everyone in the '60s) and 'Piney Wood Hills' that she still plays live at the start of her live set. It also includes 'Lazarus' that was sampled by Kanye West for a song by Cam'ron. Why isn't 'Many A Mile' available? Maybe there's a licensing problem? I bought it through eBay so have all the songs but it should be available on principle.

Buffy's latest album is 'Running For The Drum' and includes a great melange of songs in a variety of styles. She even includes her tribute to the late '50s skiffle bands (like Lonnie Donegan, as Buffy mentions) and Elvis with songs like 'Blue Sunday'. She still writes great love songs but she also writes great social commentary songs about environmental greed and 'the man'. She turns a complex social problem into a three minute pop song with ease and gets the message across with aplomb.

The last time I saw Buffy play live was during the London Olympics 2012 as part of Anthony Hegarty's Meltdown festival. She played with her band without any support act so we got two hours of Buffy, a longer set that meant she played some of the songs from her '70s albums. I was terribly excited when I heard the introduction to 'Generations', one of my favourite Buffy songs. That was delightful.

I was also privileged with meeting Buffy and her band after the show - I had to queue up, of course, since everyone wanted to meet her. Her band were excited to hear that I'd downloaded their Bruthers Of Different Muthers album (which is their band name when they're not with Buffy) and enjoyed it. You might too. Buffy was lovely and I thanked her for putting me on the guest list for the show (I'd already bought a  ticket in any case - I'm not missing an opportunity to see Buffy!).

I think we're about due for another visit to London, Buffy. Hint. Hint.

'Henry V' at the Noel Coward Theatre

We went to see 'Henry V' at the Noel Coward Theatre the other night and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I saw Adrian Lester play Henry a decade ago and now it's the turn of Jude Law to take the part. I've seen him on stage a couple of times ('Hamlet' which I enjoyed and 'Anna Christie' which I enjoyed less so, both of which were Michael Grandage productions) and this was, I think, his best and most immediate performance.

Why did I like it? Well, firstly, it was in period costume (Adrian Lester's version was in modern battle dress and modern weapons) and that worked really well. The acting across the whole cast was really good and the lighting and staging was superb. It all came together nicely to give us a really good production.

The smell of dry ice was in the air in the theatre and the stage was a plain wall painted as if grey timber that moved and opened up for different scenes but kept the background to the action largely the same. There was lots of movement on the stage so that provided some continuity.

I particularly liked Noma Dumezweni as Mistress Quickly - she really knows how to speak verse and kept all eyes on her, as did Ron Cook as Pistol, particularly when he captures a Frenchman for ransom (a truly funny scene) and when he eats leek (the leek nearly flew off the stage that night). It's probably unfair to pick those two out of an all-round excellent cast but I did enjoy their performances.

I also really enjoyed Jude Law's performance as well and the depth of his characterisation was quite impressive. Jude nailed the 'St Crispin's Day' speech

... And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Where's my sword? I'll fight beside you my King! It was a stirring speech and, if we weren't (mainly) British, we would have rushed the stage to join his army there and then. Watch out you French, we have 'Enerey Vee!

It was odd to see the ushers walking round with 'no photography' signs (that some people ignored) that suggested this wasn't a standard 'theatre audience'. I'm not too bothered about that though, if Jude is bringing in people new to theatre and new to Shakespeare. That's a good thing really.

If you get the chance you really should see this production. Bring your sword but leave your camera at home please.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

'Stephen Ward' at the Aldwych Theatre

Last week we went to see the new Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical, 'Stephen Ward' and I'm still not sure what I think about it. If you'd asked me a few months ago, before the publicity for the new show started, who Stephen Ward was then I would've answered 'no idea' and moved on. And that's part of my problem with the whole show. Unless you're older than me or fascinated by the Profumo affair then where is the immediate audience for the show?

The Profumo affair is all about the top knobs saying one thing and doing another, of sex scandals and hypocrisy. Set in the early '60s as society, Britain and the world were changing, it is part of the whole sex and drugs thing. So far so good but why the focus on Stephen Ward as opposed to Christine Keeler or anyone else? At least I've heard of Christine Keeler. Now that I know who Ward is the portrayal doesn't really endear him to me in any way and, while he may not have been a pimp, he hardly comes across as a dashing hero.

The 'who is he?' thing is played on in the first scene when we see a row of waxwork figures of people like Hitler and out steps Ward telling us he's relegated to the 'baddies' room in a wax museum in Blackpool. That's where his once infamy and fame have relegated him. We then see how he met Christine Keeler and the story unfolds, mixing the great and the powerful with his ultimate downfall since a scapegoat is needed to bring closure. I quite liked the scenes in his flat with the wallpaper, spindly sofa and coffee table (someone has done their homework).

The songs all seemed a bit long to me. Granted, they're taking the story forward but they could have been shortened to reflect the songs of the time. Scenes are changed with a swirly curtain moving across and around the stage exposing a country house one moment and a nightclub the next, Ward's flat and a courtroom amongst others. Maybe there were too many quick changes? There's also a rather odd orgy scene with a comic song in which the old men get their kit off to cavort with the young ladies and with each other (farce anyone?). The scene does rather come out of nowhere.

The real oddity is the rather downbeat closing of the show with Ward sitting in his flat singing to us while swallowing pills with whisky and then stands up, dons his jacket again and walks back into the waxworks. Hardly the uplifting send-em-away singing ending you get from most musicals. That was followed by a rather lack lustre curtain call when it seemed like the cast were puzzled at us for not clapping more and louder and me wondering whether they knew something wasn't quite right. The back third of the seats in the stalls were empty and I'd got tickets half price so it's obviously having problems filling the place.

The cast were fine, led by Alexander Hanson as the urbane and gracious Dr Ward, osteopath to the rich and powerful. I enjoyed Alexander in 'A Little Night Music' (which I saw both in London and New York) but this seemed like a more black and white part for him and needed more shade. Charlotte Spencer was good as Keeler (and, as such, required to get naked a couple of times) and Charlotte Blackledge had a nice mix of rebellion and tartiness as Mandy Rice-Davies (who also reminded me of Joanna Lumley in AbFab every now and then). No-one else seemed to be on stage long enough to make a mark due to the continual scene changes. Except for the over-long police interrogation scene that I hoped would end sooner than it did.

The most touching song of the evening judging from the applause was 'I'm Hopeless When It Comes To You' sung by Joanna Riding as Mrs Profumo. She sings this alone on stage after her husband has confessed to the affair and in which she reconciles herself to staying by him because she's hopelessly in love. It's a genuinely good song that isn't really needed to take the narrative forward since we don't see her again but it was quite touching. I can see it being sung totally out of context which is possibly a good thing.

I still don't know what to make of this show. I don't think it's fully formed yet and suspect that we might see a new production in a few years time.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Maximo Park Beer

What is it with those Maximo Park lads and beer? Not so much about drinking it, more about having it.

Back in 2007 they were awarded their own label on Newcastle Brown Ale bottles, making it Maximo Brown Ale for a short time. Paul Smith is in the centre of the label doing his famous scissor kick. Paul even wrote a blog for The Guardian about it. He starts off by saying he's not a Geordie and, technically, he's not. He's from Billingham which is about 25 miles or so away from Newcastle and it's the site of the famous Billingham Forum that included an ice rink. My dad took us skating there once many years ago when I was about 10 and that's the only time I've ever been to Billingham. I've just googled the Forum and I'm pleased to see that it's still there!

This time they've gone one better and not only have their own labels, they've got their own beer. It's described by Mordue Brewery in North Shields where it's brewed as "a slightly amber, 5% ABV, hoppy beer". I'm sure that'll mean something to connoisseurs of beer (I just drink it). It's to celebrate the Maximo's fifth album, 'Too Much Information' so they went for 5% ABV and it's called Maximo Number 5. It's nice to see the artwork for the beer reflecting the design of the record cover. It'll be available to try on their tour to promote the album which is released on 3 February. I shall have to try it.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

One Afternoon: Three Exhibitions

Sometimes one exhibition just isn't enough. The plan was to see 'Facing The Modern: The Portrait In Vienna 1900' on it's last weekend before closing. That's where we went wrong since the place was packed and, generally, the rule of thumb is the more people at an exhibition the less enjoyment. That was certainly the case with this exhibition.

It was an interesting concept, showing the portraiture over the years, how it was viewed in Vienna and how it changed over the years. The 'stars' of the show were Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka, all producing interesting portraiture and good art.

The first portrait that really grabbed my attention was Kokoschka's 'Portrait of Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat' with its use of colour and shapes. The hands seem to be something he was interested in as opposed to faces or anything else. Later in the show we also see his 'Portrait of Lotte Franzos' with a very different colour scheme but the same emphasis on hands, almost in hip hop stylee. Both paintings are dated 1909 so that might say something.

Another painting that grabbed my attention was the 'Portrait of Albert Paris von Gutersloh' by Egon Schiele. All of his paintings had vigorous, aggressive brush strokes and colour combinations and this portrait of a young man with his hands in the air was quite arresting. I like the detail of how the clothes fall and are exaggerated, of how one heel is higher than the other and the mystery of why both hands are in the air. It's a really striking portrait. I've no idea who Albert was but he is immortal.

The painting that made me stop and look again (and again) was the 'Portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl' that is used in the poster for the exhibition. It was painted by Klimt over 1917-18 and he died before finishing it. That is the first note of sadness about the painting. The second is that Amalie converted to Judaism to marry her husband and was sent to a concentration camp in the Second World War in 1942 and that is the last we hear of her.

I can't help but look into her wistful eyes and think that she's seeing her future. She sees what's going to happen to her and knows she can't do anything to change it. I see a brave and dignified woman.

I suspect one of the attractions of portrait exhibitions is that these were real people we're looking at, people with their own hopes and dreams and problems. Some would have been nice people, others not. But they lived their own way in their own time and we can look at them and wonder what they were like.

Just around the corner from the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square is the National Portrait Gallery on Charing Cross Road. It hosts our national portrait collection and, as well as endless portraits of Victorian grandees, includes photographs of the Sex Pistols and Poly Styrene in it's collection.

Over the next few months it's holding a small exhibition of photographs of Vivien Leigh as part of her centenary. There are a few dozen photos of Vivien throughout her career and anyone who's a fan of Vivien will enjoy it. While we were there a couple of old blokes seemed very excited to see a photo of Vivien in big sunglasses standing beside a rather mop-top Ringo Starr.

The third exhibition was about Stanley Spencer whose work I saw at the 'Crisis Of Brilliance' exhibition last summer. He's on at Somerset House for the rest of January and the exhibition is called, 'Heaven In A Hell Of War' and consists of his paintings from the Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burghclere, Hampshire, a purpose built chapel to house the paintings which were executed between 1927-1932. They are a mixture of war and domestic scenes, with troops in trenches and troops recovering from wounds in hospital.

The exhibition is free and is set out in three rooms, the first of which includes some paintings by Spencer (there's lovely painting of some poppies) and by his friend, Henry Lamb. There are two portraits of Spencer side by side, one a self-portrait and the other by Lamb. There are also two large war paintings by Lamb, one of soldiers bathing in Salonika and the other showing a camp of Irish soldiers being bombarded. Both are quite striking paintings with an interesting use of colour and shape. I haven't come across Henry Lamb before and would like to see more of his work.

The second room is laid out to reproduce the large paintings in the same way as they are in the chapel, with large arched paintings of war scenes on top and the more 'domestic' scenes of troops recovering in hospital below. It's very nice of Somerset House to give visitors a small and quite informative booklet explaining each of the seventeen paintings, especially since entrance is free.

We see scenes of the daily lives of troops in the First World War from wounded soldiers arriving in a truck at the gates of the hospital and soldiers getting washed and dressed in a bathroom to soldiers creating a 'fire belt' around their camp and soldiers relaxing while an officer on a horse reads a map. There is lots to see and puzzle at in the paintings, lots of detail to take notice of. For example, you'd never guess the officer was sitting on a horse if you didn't spot the horse's head sticking out the bottom from under the map.

None of the scenes are of battles or the blood and guts of war, that all happens elsewhere. The altarpiece from the chapel is in the third room. It's attached to the wall of the chapel and can't be removed so we had a photo of the painting projected onto the wall. It depicts the death and resurrection missing from the other paintings.

I think my favourite paintings were the more 'domestic' scenes of filling tea urns, having bread and jam for tea and changing the sheets on a bed while the occupant is bundled up in an eiderdown in a chair. Life wasn't easy or always pleasant in the hospitals for the wounded from the war and for every colourful painting of a bedroom there are also more grimy scenes of scrubbing floors and washing furniture, putting recovering soldiers to good use These days it would probably be more like physiotherapy.

It's an excellent exhibition, well laid out and managed. If you're in central London and anywhere near The Strand you could do a lot worse than pop along to Somerset House for half an hour and see these great paintings. You never know who might be visiting with you - Alan Bennet was there yesterday.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Poems On The Underground

As readers of this blog will know, I like the Poems on the Underground series - short poems or extracts from longer poems on various themes throughout the year. Rather than staring at adverts on the way to work you can read a poem. I received this lovely book for Christmas that collects many of the poems as part of the London Underground 150th anniversary celebrations.

The poems are collected by themes such as love, London, the natural world, families and dreams. I've decided to read one poem each day and the first section is about love. Poem number 5 caught my eye as one I'd like to share:

What He Said

                    What could my mother be
                    to yours? What kin is my father
                    to yours anyway? And how
                    did you and I ever meet?
                                       But in love
                    our hearts have mingled
                    like red earth and pouring rain.

Translated by A.K. Ramanujan

Apparently Cempulappeyanirar wrote 2000 years ago in Tamil and 'red earth and pouring rain' was his trademark phrase.

There's a lovely extract from 'As You Like It' by Shakespeare at the front of the book that states:  'There is a man haunts the forest, that hangs odes upon hawthorns, and elegies on brambles...'. I like the sound of that so I'll keep my eyes open for more poems to share.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

50th Anniversary for Don Powell & Dave Hill

Don Powell's website has announced the news that it's 50 years since he and Dave first played live together on 3 January 1964. Don's site tells us that he joined The Vendors in early 1963, Dave joined in December 1963 and the first live gig with both Don and Dave in the band was on 3 January 1964 at the Three Men In A Boat pub in Walsall. That's a pretty astonishing partnership considering they're both still touring together.



Noddy Holder and Jim Lea joined Dave and Don in 1966 and, after name changes, became the mighty SLADE and had their first Number 1 hit single in 1971. I bought that single, 'Coz I Luv You'. I first saw them live in 1973 and the last time I saw them play was in, I think, 1981. After that gig at the student union in Cardiff I was helping to get their equipment out of the hall and into the truck and Dave Hill offered me a cigarette, a Benson & Hedges, and I said 'no thanks'. How could I take a cigarette from a god?

I last saw Dave and Don's Slade on 18 December 2011 and they were in fine form, banging out a set of hit after hit after hit from the '70s and '80s. It was great fun to see them play again and sing 'Merry Xmas Everybody' a matter of days before the big day itself.

The gig was recorded for charity and is available as 'Slade - Live at Koko'.

SLADE are far more than just a Christmas song but it's a pretty damn good one. Of course, they've now had a new Christmas hit with 'Everyday' entering the lower reaches of the singles chart, peaking at No. 69 in December, on the back of being used in the Christmas advert for the Nexus 7. I hope it will start turning up on Christmas compilation records.

Congratulations to Don and Dave!

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Plastic Bag Awards 2013

Once again it's time for the annual Plastic Bag Awards, the Baggies 2013.

The Baggies offer a great opportunity to look back over the year and mull over things I've done and seen as well as enjoyed and been challenged by. I've seen a few films this year so that category has been reinstated and there's a new category for 'talks' since I've been to quite a few. So let's jump right in and see who wins the first award ...

Best Theatre - Drama

This has been an odd year for drama - I saw some great plays but didn't particularly like the productions ('Othello' and 'Edward II" both spring to mind at the National Theatre) and that narrows down the nominees quite a bit. After a lot of thought, the nominees for this category are:

  • The Winslow Boy
  • The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time
  • The Judas Kiss
  • Cocktail Sticks
  • The Audience

'The Winslow Boy' was really quite impeccable but failed to engage me with the characters as did 'The Curious Incident', both really good plays and well produced but didn't do anything for me. 'The Audience' and 'The Judas Kiss' were perfect for the respective leads and both were great productions but the award goes to another tour de force performance in 'Cocktail Sticks' by Alan Bennett.

I saw 'Cocktail Sticks' as part of the 'Untold Stories' evening brigaded with another short Bennett play, 'Hymn'. It is an autobiographical tale of Alan Bennett's relationship with his parents over the years as he finds a pack of cocktail sticks at the back of a kitchen cupboard when clearing out the family home after the death of both of his parents. I recognised so many things in the play that helped make it real for me and that's why it wins the Baggie this year.

Best Theatre - Musical

2013 was a great year for stage musicals with some great (and not so great ) revivals as well as new productions. I saw the new production of 'Merrily We Roll Along' back at the start of the year at the Menier Choccy Factory and it just didn't work for me. I know it's been doing well in the West End but it didn't draw me in. On the other hand, I loved  the Choccy Factory's 'Candide' which is well worth seeing. Other productions that just failed to make the nominations were 'Titanic' and 'The Scottsboro Boys', both musicals I'd love to see again.

The nominations for 'Best Theatre - Musical' are:
  • The Book Of Mormon
  • A Chorus Line
  • The Color Purple
  • The Amen Corner
  • The Light Princess
'The Book Of Mormon' was great fun and very rude and it was great to see Gavin Creel again. 'A Chorus Line' was a joy and I had to see it twice on its short run over the summer. 'The Light Princess' was a feminist fairytale with songs by Tori Amos and a sumptuous production at the National. Also at the National Theatre was 'The Amen Corner' which I saw a matter of days before seeing 'The Color Purple' at the Choccy Factory and it's 'Purple' that wins the Baggie.

'The Amen Corner' was a great mix of drama and song but it was the story and songs of 'The Color Purple' that swung it. Great acting and great voices melded in a great production that made me go back again to see it on its relatively short run. It should have transferred to the West End but a bonus prize is the Baggie for Best Musical.

Best Entertainment

I define 'entertainment' as a staged something that isn't a play or a musical. That makes it quite a wide ranging category. The nominations this year are:
  • Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty @ The New Theatre, Wimbledon
  • John Cooper Clarke @ The Palladium
  • Patti Smith - Words & Music @ The Purcell Room as part of Meltdown
  • A Christmas Carol @ Queen Elizabeth Hall
  • Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake @ Sadler's Wells
A Matthew Bourne production is almost mandatory in this category and it's nice to have two, one from the national tour in the spring ('Sleeping Beauty') and the latest Christmas show at Sadler's Wells, 'Swan Lake'. Both have won Baggies in previous years that clearly indicates their strengths.

I saw the mastery of John Cooper Clarke for the first time this year despite buying my first record of his 35 years ago. He is a master wordsmith and it was a joy just to hear him talking let alone reciting his verse. And it was the same with Patti Smith who mixed readings from her autobiography ('Just Kids') with stripped back versions of her songs played with her son and daughter. However, the Baggie goes to 'A Christmas Carol', an ensemble reading of the story a week before Christmas. It was enchanting.

Best Talk

This is a new category of award for 2013 and is included because I seemed to attend so many 'talks'. These included staged interviews to promote books or celebrate films and  reminiscences as part of the National Theatre 50th anniversary celebrations. The nominees are:

  • Tracey Thorn @ the Royal Festival Hall
  • Ray Davies @ The Purcell Room
  • Julie Walters & Richard Eyre @ the National Theatre
  • Rita Moreno @ the British Film Institute
  • Derek Jacobi @ the National Theatre
Sometimes it nice to just turn up and listen to people talk. They're generally set up in an interview format with someone interviewing the star - the best ones ask such open questions that the star can take flight and talk about virtually anything. The worst are where the interviewer has a script and sticks to it (a hideous Patti Smith interview a few years ago springs to mind where all the questions were based on a book she rubbished in the first five minutes - take a hint!).

Thankfully, all the talks I attended this year were good and the interviewers had actually read the book or done their homework. I'm going to single out Sir Derek Jacobi who gave a talk to promote his autobiography because he was so unexpectedly entertaining and human. I loved his stories about his parents and about him growing up as an actor.

Best Film

I've seen a few films this year for the first time in ages, old films and new films, documentaries and unexpected tales. The nominations are:
  • I'm So Excited
  • Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love
  • A Yank At Oxford
  • Saving Mr Banks
  • The Thirteenth Tale
I saw a not quite finished version of a documentary about Marvin Hamlisch as part of the London Film Festival that reminded me who he was and a delightfully twee 'Yank At Oxford' as part of a festival celebrating Vivien Leigh's centenary. I saw the impossibly camp and colourful 'I'm So Excited' by Almodovar and a preview at the BFI of the new Vanessa Redgrave TV film that was shown over Christmas, 'The Thirteenth Tale'. However, the Baggie goes to 'Saving Mr Banks' for its practically perfect magic.

Best Gig

I went to quite a few gigs last year, particularly over the summer with Yoko Ono's great Meltdown Festival on the Southbank. I saw the Pet Shop Boys bigging it large at the O2 with their new album and I saw Boy George and Marianne Faithfull (separately) at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of Yoko's Meltdown. I was privileged to see Siouxsie twice at the Royal Festival Hall, supported both times by Viv Albertine.  The nominees for the Best Gig Baggie are:
  • Siouxsie @ the Royal Festival Hall
  • Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band @ the Royal Festival Hall
  • Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra @ The Roundhouse
  • Viv Albertine @ The Purcell Room
  • Kim Wilde's Christmas Party @ Shepherd's Bush Empire
All the nominees are women of power who've been around for a while. Siouxsie majestic in white PVC and Yoko screaming into her mic, both at the Royal Festival Hall. Amanda Palmer the rock star at The Roundhouse with the kind of light show and professionalism that says she's moved to another level. Viv Albertine headlining her own show at The Purcell Room with a tight band and so different to her 12Bar Club show back in January 2013.

But the Baggie goes to Kim Wilde for her first full show in London in a  couple of decades and killing it - and us! Tight band, Kim striding along the front of the stage taking us higher then singing Christmas songs - it was her Christmas Party after all! Well done Kim!

Best Live Performance

The best performance award is for a one-off song that just hit it and sends you away with a marvellous memory of the evening. This years nominations are:
  • 'Dear Daily Mail' - Amanda Palmer
  • 'Spellbound' - Siouxsie
  • 'Warrior In Woolworths' - Celeste Bell
  • 'Still England' - Viv Albertine
  • 'Kids In America' - Kim Wilde
Amanda's 'Dear Daily Mail' was an internet sensation since, while singing a letter to the Daily Mail about her escaped tit at Glastonbury, she strips off her kimono and sings the song naked. Siouxsie delivered a magical 'Spellbound' and Celeste Bell (or Styrene to me) gave us a perfect acapella 'Warrior In Woolworths' at PolyFest. And who could fail to be excited by seeing Kim Wilde singing 'Kids In America' live 30 odd years after it was her first hit?

The Baggie goes to Viv Albertine for what I think of as the disco version of 'Still England' she gave us at the Purcell Room. Halfway through the song it changed into a disco beat and a glitter ball exploded to surround us all with light as she read out the names of people that mean England to her. It was magnificent and shows just how much she's grown as a musician and performer in the last year, from the D.I.Y. 12Bar Club show to her encased in lube and a PVC top. With a glitter ball. Well done Viv, a performance to stick in the memory!

Best New Album

There weren't that many new albums this year that made me go wow so it was relatively easy to list the nominees:
  • David Bowie - 'The Next Day'
  • Linda Thompson - 'Won't Be Long Now'
  • Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band - 'Take Me To The Land Of Hell'
  • Boy George - 'This Is What I Do'
  • Kim Wilde - 'Wilde Winter Songbook'
The biggest wow factor goes, of course, to Mr Bowie for releasing a new single out of the blue and then followed it up with an excellent album of new material. I still listen to it avidly. Linda Thompson and Yoko Ono take us back to another time and it's great that both are still producing excellent and challenging music. Then we have two '80s stars in the shape of Boy George and Kim Wilde and, while the Boy's new album is excellent, it's out-shone by Ms Wilde's Christmas record. 'Wilde Winter Songbook' is full of excellent songs for singing along to or listening to on a cold winters' day. Well done Kim!

Best Exhibition

This has been a great year for exhibitions from portraits of Native Americans at the National Portrait Gallery to one of the inventors of pop art, Lichtenstein, at the Tate Modern. The nominations are:
  • Light Show @ the Hayward Gallery
  • Man Ray @ the National Portrait Gallery
  • David Bowie Is @ The Victoria & Albert Museum
  • George Bellows: Modern American Life @ the Royal Academy
  • A Crisis Of Brilliance @ Dulwich Picture Gallery
All were excellent in different ways. I'd be really tempted to award the Baggie to George Bellows or A Crisis Of Brilliance if it wasn't for Mr Bowie. If you weren't in your early teens (or younger) in 1972 when Ziggy pointed straight at you through the telly box while singing 'Starman' then you won't understand the sheer thrill of seeing that costume in a glass case with the model pointing straight out at you. Again. Giant video walls, stage costumes and the keys to his Berlin flat, the exhibition had it all and was a joy to wander through. Well done V&A and thank you to Mr Bowie for blessing it.

And there you have the Baggies for 2013. I wonder what 2014 will bring?