Wednesday, 26 February 2014

'What Is Renaissance Art?' at the National Gallery

I took the afternoon off work yesterday to attend a lecture on renaissance art at the National Gallery by Gill Hart. I wasn't expecting anything in particular from this 'taster' session but thought I'd try it out. I 'did' the renaissance - Italian and Northern European - at school in the '70s so I was familiar with the main themes and wanted a refresher. And that's exactly what I got.

Gill open by explaining the main themes to renaissance art and, briefly, put it in the context of Europe at the time, exploring the Americas and the Far East and using the vast wealth to invest in a new found interest in antiquity and art. Then she showed us a series of paintings on a big screen to illustrate the development of painting during the renaissance. She kept repeating that the renaissance wasn't the pinnacle of perfection, it was a time of experimentation - which it definitely was. The exploration of perspective along mathematical lines to make paintings more real and the study of anatomy.

I was a bit silently smug to note that none of the paintings she introduced us to were new to me, and that wasn't really the intention anyway. For me, it reminded me of my school days and the paintings Miss Robinson enthused about as she took us through the renaissance when I was 16, hearing her roll her tongue around some of the names, such as Pollaiuolo (a lovely sound to wrap your tongue around). We looked at pictures in Gombrich and the Phaidon series of art books and, what I have since learned, is that there's nothing to compare with looking at the paintings in the flesh. It is so much better to look at the real painting.

All of the paintings Gill showed us are in the National Gallery collection so we can see the real thing for free whenever we want. I noted down the paintings and the rooms they're in - including those that are in the current 'Strange Beauty' exhibition - so I can go back and look at them at my leisure.

After a tea break (that I wasn't expecting) and a chat with a nice lady who'd come down from Nottingham specifically for the lecture we started the second half of the lecture. This covered off portraiture of men before heading into a more detailed look at three of the paintings we'd already seen: 'The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian' by Antonio and Piero del Pollaiuolo (1475), 'Bacchus and Ariadne' by Titian (1523) and 'The Ambassadors' by Holbein (1533).

It was fascinating hearing the discussion of the paintings, the details and the reasons why one type of painting might be popular in one Italian state and not in another. The patronage of the Medici was, of course, touched on as indispensable to growth and influence of Florentine art. There was, sadly, no reference to Fra Angelico even though he has a painting made up of five panels in the National Gallery.

Something that sprung to mind when I was shown the Titian is that it was the cover painting on a glossy book about the National Gallery my mother bought in about 1976-77 and that I'd totally forgotten about. It was an early example of a coffee table book that she got because I was doing history of art at school and I never imagined I'd see these paintings in the flesh. And, indeed, I have seen them and have become terribly blasé about many of them and that's the wrong reaction. I should be glorying in them.

If there's anything the lecture has taught me it's to not become blasé, to look at the detail in the paintings - it's all there for a reason - and to try to understand what an ostensibly  pretty painting is trying to tell me, what is the historical and artistic context? Question it and try to understand it.

I really enjoyed the lecture and will be happy to go back for more. The level of detail was right for a 'taster' session, just enough to draw us in for more. Thank you Gill, that was fascinating!

Monday, 24 February 2014

'Ellen Terry with Eileen Atkins' at Shakespeare's Globe

This evening I was lucky enough to see Eileen's Atkins' last performance of her show about Ellen Terry at the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in Shakespeare's Globe (where else could it be?). Build with lovely light wood, an ornate stage and lit with chandeliers of candles (and a couple of spotlights) with a painted ceiling, it's a lovely new theatre and I hope Zoe Wanamaker likes it on behalf of her dad.

Ellen Terry was a Victorian actress and great interpreter of Shakespeare and she wrote lectures about Shakespeare with Sir Henry Irving. Eileen Atkins pulled these together along with stories from Ellen's life to give us one of her lectures, striding the stage and telling us how to play and interpret Shakespeare. To illustrate her points she played scenes from some of the plays, taking all parts herself. She picked some great lines to use, such as how an actress who looks the right age for Juliet clearly can't play it properly as it requires a mature actress at the peak of her powers. Obviously. Her rendition of Juliet's speech before swallowing the poison was wonderful and demonstrated that a more mature actress can, indeed, bring more to the role.

Eileen took us on a journey through some of the more interesting women in Shakespeare, recounting why they were important and were meant to be so by Shakespeare. Characters like Beatrice and Rosamund were obviously large physically while Ophelia was a little waif. I think my favourite segments were Cordelia from 'King Lear' with Lear asleep in bed so she can be bold without her shyness and Emelia from 'Othello' transforming from a minor, comic character to a storming valkyrie of vengence for her slain mistress. Yikes, there's a power in that there woman and I mean Eileen here.

It was a mighty treat to hear Eileen play Ellen and I can't help wonder how much of what was said really reflects Eileen's own views.  This was a marvellous one-woman performance in the perfect place for a lecture about Shakespeare. If Eileen does this again then I'll certainly be in the queue for tickets.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Paul Klee - 'Making Visible' at the Tate Modern

I went to see the Paul Klee exhibition, 'Making Visible', at the Tate Modern a couple of weeks ago and was mightily impressed. It's a large exhibition taking over 17 rooms. I didn't know what to say about the exhibition and still don't but I thought I'd share some of his paintings anyway.

This is a big exhibition, not just in terms of importance but also in the sheer number of works on display. His paintings are all quite small so there are lots on the walls of the various rooms used for the exhibition and it was joy to find room after room filled with his marvellous paintings. He was master of colour and shape, of composition, of knowing how to evoke a response from putting carefully placed daubs of colour on paper to elevate the spirit or give us a glimpse into another world.

There is a tranquility and spirituality about Mr Klee's paintings, the way he places colours and shapes together to create a meditation that can draw you in. It would be nice to have the peace and quiet to just stare at some of his paintings and sink into them. What is it about putting this shade of red beside that shade of green that just works? That says, 'trust me, I am good for you' and you can disappear into the colours forever.  I'd love to see where I end up.

Mr Klee painted all sorts of pictures, from flowers in a garden and fishes in a fish tank or pond to the top of a hill that includes all the kind of things that you might find on the top of a hill. A moon or two, a sun, a cross, a reflection of a castle, o yes, it's all there to see and to imagine. I like the primitive mountain shapes that make up the colourful border to the painting that bring a bit of fun to the painting. What else do you see?

Although many of the paintings in the exhibition are abstract, every now and then there's a figurative painting of a prehistoric couple or a future man or a witch in a forest.

I like the 'Forest Witches' painted in earthy, woody colours and textures, splitting them up into their constituent parts and displaying them in all their wild abandonment. They are undoubtedly in the middle of some magical mystical ceremony, deigning to share some of their magic with us. There's something about that painting that kept drawing my eye from across the room, calling me to walk right over their and immerse my eyes. So I did. The magic worked.

The final room of the exhibition is strangely joyful and sad at the same time. Paul Klee was a bit of a cataloguer at heart and he carefully catalogued all his works. It was nice to have them displayed in chronological order so you can follow his development as an artist, sometimes going back to a previous style and approach to enhance it in some ways.

In the same year as he painted his witches he also painted 'Park Near Lu', a joyful pastel coloured vision of a park near Lucerne with a happy tree in the centre. Trees covered in blossom in all colours celebrating life and happiness. I suspect he'd had a good day when he worked on this painting. I hope he did.

One of the difficulties of seeing his work in chronological order is that the last paintings on display are those he completed before he died. Paul Klee suffered from a degenerative disease so knew he was dying. He kept painting as long as he could and three of the paintings in the final room are painful to look at. Just as Klee expresses joy in many of his works, these express pain and fear, particularly 'Catastrophe in a Dream' which shows the turbulence and pain he was living through at the time. It's an uncomfortable painting that I don't want to see but makes me appreciate his artistic integrity even more, making another side of life visible.

One of the last paintings in the exhibition is 'Twilight Flowers' from 1940. Some of his early works were of flowers and gardens and it's nice that he returned to that theme. Paul Klee died later that year, in the summer when the flowers would be doing their piece to brighten up a world at war.

Thank you Tate Modern for putting on such a great exhibition of the work of an astonishing artist. Klee famously said that drawing was taking a line for a walk - in his hands it's so much more.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

'Finian's Rainbow' at the Union Theatre

This evening we went to see 'Finian's Rainbow' at the bijou Union Theatre in Southwark. I've never seen it on stage - it hasn't been performed professionally in London for over 50 years and I missed the Broadway revival a few years back by a week or so. I have, of course, seen the film with Petula Clark, Fred Astaire and Tommy Steele. I saw it in the early '70s and it stayed with me. I wonder why it isn't a daytime staple? It should be, it's a lovely film.

It's the tale of Finian McLonegan who takes his granddaughter Sharon to America to find his fortune in Rainbow Valley, close to Fort Knox. His secret comes out quite early, that's he's found the crock of gold belonging to leprechaun Og and he's going to plant it in the good soil of America to grow more gold. Unfortunately it's loss is turning Og mortal but it still has it's power to grant three wishes. Sharon finds the man of her dreams and they settle in Rainbow Valley while her grandfather heads off to bring hope and joy to other places... taking the crock with him, obv.

Okay, so the story isn't the deepest but it's lovely and magical with some great songs to take it along at a nice pace. I'm delighted to have finally seen it performed.

And on to this production. Um. It doesn't seem to be doing terribly well with less than half of the seats taken for tonight's performance (maybe Tuesday is a quite night?). It almost seemed like there were more people on stage than in the audience (there isn't actually a stage as such). Despite that, the cast gave us their all tonight, smiling away, singing and dancing, thrusting their energy and enthusiasm at us. I did lots of loud clapping to make up for the lack of audience.

James Horne played Finian and Christina Bennington was Sharon with Joseph Peters as the love interest, Woody. I quite liked Raymond Walsh as the energetic Og who was all over the place. There were 23 cast members plus a small band of three people so that was a lot of people on stage. The majority were young and just starting out on their careers and I congratulate them all on their professionalism in the face of poor ticket sales. Well done people! Keep looking to the rainbow and follow the fellow who follows a dream... I will.

If you have any magic in your soul then you'll want to go and see this. Book tickets now!

Monday, 17 February 2014

'Censored Scenes From King Kong' at the British Film Institute

Never heard of it? No, neither had I until Chris mentioned it was a BBC telly play from 1973 by Howard Schuman with Julie Covington in the cast and then it was firmly on the radar. Is that enough of a clue as to why I might be interested? No? Well Howard Schuman wrote 'Rock Follies' in 1976 and 'Rock Follies of 77' in 1977 and Julie Covington starred in both series along with Rula Lenska and Charlotte Cornwall. I'm sure all three ladies are probably fed up with people keep harking back to 'Rock Follies' but it was a classic. Oh, and Andy McKay of Roxy Music wrote the music. Added cred points there.

The BFI has a series on at the moment about cinema/television techniques and this play was being shown as part of the series. This was (supposedly) an early example of the technique of having your actor in front of a green or blue screen and projecting whatever you wanted on the background. The BFI people explained it but it went over my head since I don't really care, I just wanted to hear from Howard (who was in the audience) and see it. Sadly, all I heard of Howard was him shouting out that the BBC exec in charge of the play series thought it was camp like 'Rocky Horror' and didn't want to show it. No introduction or anything.

It was part of a series of plays shown at 11:00pm on the BBC that was cancelled during power cuts or something. So it wasn't banned by the BBC, just a case of bad karma (man). It's only been screened two or three times before so only a hundred or two people have ever seen it. Including me.

'Censored Scenes' is a bit of fluff really. It opens with a bloke being all Buddhist in Japan and then he turns up in London after a few years of having vanished from his hospital bed. His friends somehow find him and they've become a singing group. In the meantime he searches for the missing film cut from 'King Kong' that show the ape making love to Faye Wray. He thinks he finds the film but it turns out to be a heroin stash (as you'd expect in his topsy-turvy world). None of it makes any sense and harks back to the late '60s rather than the early '70s but that doesn't matter (man). The main thing is that this was the playground that led to 'Rock Follies'!

Yes Julie Covington was in it but I got excited when I saw she was on the rehearsal stage with Beth Porter! Beth played Kitty Schrieber in 'Rock Follies'. And who was their manager? None other than Michael Angelis who was the manager of the Little Ladies in 'Rock Follies'! Three 'Rock Follies' stalwarts three years before that show was even written and I was thrilled. Every now and then were little tricks and phrases that reminded me of 'Rock Follies' and this was surely part of the inspiration for the later series (sugar mountain anyone?).

Derek Fowlds played three parts in it and it was lovely to see him from back then. He played Basil Brush's sidekick and then starred in 'Yes, Minister' and 'Heartbeat' but it was fun to see him do some 'arty' acting early in his career.

The wow factor of the afternoon was increased to stellar proportions by having Fenella Fielding sitting behind us - yes, *that* Fenella Fielding! The lovely Fenella is now 86 but still getting out to frequent cinema and television events. I didn't say anything, obviously, but I was secretly delighted.

There are exactly two bad photos of Howard Schuman on the internet (how can he be so invisible?) and none of 'Censored Scenes' so here's a photo of Fenella instead!

'King Lear' at The National Theatre

This afternoon we were treated to a performance of 'King Lear' at the National Theatre with Simon Russell Beale in the title role, a production I've been looking forward to. Simon is one of the big stars of the National Theatre and I've seen him there lots of times but I thought he might be a bit young to play Lear. Not at all. He became the right age in front of my eyes as he moves from a vigorous and dynamic king to a physical and mental wreck who sees his family die around him. It's a painful play that, in the right hands, can elevate the spirit. It's a long play and you need stamina to get through it.

I was very admirationous of the set that used every trick and treat afforded by the Olivier stage, with it moving round and up and down, different screens coming down to create different atmosphere's and a surprising lack of obvious props. It was a very busy stage fit for an army (which appeared at a couple of points) with all sorts going on, including a dead stag on a white tablecloth at one point (although I'm not sure why). The lighting was excellent and the sound was haunting, with storms in the background and birdsong.

Simon Russell Beale was, of course, excellent, a cold and distant king forcing his daughters to explain their love of him before he descends into madness and horror only to realise his error as his life leaves him. It's an exhausting performance as he goes through the massive range of emotions on his road to madness and back. He gives himself over to the performance, an unlikeable man eventually stripping down to his underwear and later a hospital gown before finding himself again along with some sympathy as he realises what he's done. It's a brave performance.

Other performances of note were Stanley Townsend as Kent and Stephen Boxer as Gloucester along with Tom Brooke as Gloucester's wronged son and Sam Troughton as Gloucester's bastard son who wreaks havoc in the kingdom through lies and deceit. It's Kent's last lines that get to me, spoken over the dead body of his king, "I have a journey, sir, shortly to go; My master calls me, I must not say no". Loyal to the end, my lord Kent. This speaks of a Lear we don't see, a Lear before the events of the play in which he's a good friend and king, before we see his descent. It's one of the puzzles of the play - before it starts he's obviously a loving father, doting on his daughters and they love him but then it all goes wrong and we're left to puzzle about it.

I wasn't terribly impressed with the women in the play but that might be comparing them to the production I saw at the Donmar Warehouse a few years ago that had the strength and calm of Gina McKee as Goneril. Kate Fleetwood just seemed to shout a lot. I quite liked Olivia Vinall as Cordelia, the wronged daughter who eventually rescues her father and returns from France at the head of an army. She fails, sadly and is killed, carried onto stage by a distraught Lear.

The military motif in plays in the last few years is starting to wear a bit thin and this production has 20-odd soldiers in it, no real lines, just uniforms and guns and lots of stomping round the stage. The black uniforms were, at least, a relief from khaki but, along with the long, swirling black leather coats was a little bit camp (and a bit third reich). And I didn't approve of the dead stag at all.Putting aside these minor foibles I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to see a play of power and substance, well produced and well delivered.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

'UPROAR!' at The Ben Uri Gallery

The 'UPROAR!' exhibition at the Ben Uri Gallery celebrates the first 50 years of the London Group of artists over 1913-1963. The title comes from the furore created by Mark Gertler's 'The Creation Of Eve' (opposite). Looking at the painting today it's difficult to imagine why it created so much outrage but it did. It shows God lifting Eve by her hair out of Adam, surrounded by lush grass and huge flowers. Shocking, I know.

The Ben Uri Gallery is just off Abbey Road (yes, Beatles fans, *that* Abbey Road) in what I assume was once a small shop. It's bijou, with the walls hung with paintings upstairs and downstairs in what was probably the storeroom. It's a small space but it's big enough in ambition to take on this exhibition and produce a heavy, glossy programme with all the paintings in the exhibition reproduced alongside short essays. Each artist represented in the exhibition has one painting or other work on display in chronological order, with the later works downstairs. One of my favourites of the later paintings was 'Kitchen Interior' by John Bratby from 1956 that I really wanted to touch to feel the splurges of paint layered on top of paint, ridges of paint behind the glass.

I really liked Duncan Grant's 'Window, South of France' from 1928 that is just that, an open window looking out on a lush and rolling landscape of fields leading down to the sea in the distance. The wall inside the house is covered in wallpaper with rich roses, bringing the garden inside the house, and a vase of poppies reflected in the open window.

This picture doesn't do it justice. The colours are much more vibrant when you see it in front of you with deep reds of the flowers and the greens of the fields are made up of many shades. It's a lovely painting and I'd love it on my living room wall.

It was nice to have Duncan's painting hung next to a small painting of a still life by Vanessa Bell, a bowl of apples a la Cezanne. Other Bloomsberries are represented in the exhibition, including Roger Fry's 'Portrait of Nina Hamnett' from 1917 (below) that I instantly saw was really Suzanne Vega - the resemblance was instantly noticeable to me, possibly because I was seeing Ms Vega that evening at the Barbican.

Another painting that drew my eyes was 'Rue Fontaine de Caylus, Marseilles' by Edward Wadsworth from 1922. It's quite a simple painting in one sense, with washing hung up to dry between the houses on either side of the street. The street descends as it goes deeper into the painting, with a single woman in the street. Who hung up all the washing?

The colour and shapes are what draw me in - sheets and shirts and pants, all hanging out to dry in the breeze. It must have been wet underneath those lines and lines of washing when they were first hung out. Again, I'd be quite happy to have that painting on my wall.

Another painting to name check is 'Self-Portrait' by Claude Rogers from 1938, a painter I've not heard of before. He's dressed in shirt, tie and jacket, looking out at the viewer and he could do with a shave. The interesting thing about it is that it could have been painted yesterday - the hair-cut, the clothes, the attitude, all could be from a hipster now. The only thing that dates it for me is the glasses. I can't find a copy of it online so you'll just have to go an see it for yourself.

All in all, it's a great little exhibition so you can dip your toe into the London Group. It's a brave move by the Ben Uri Gallery and I look forward to seeing what it does next.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Suzanne Vega at The Barbican

On Friday Ms Suzanne Vega came to town to sing songs old and new and take us into the realm of the Queen of Pentacles (her new album). Suzanne played at the Barbican in London where her live album from 2012 was recorded. It was mainly just her and guitarist, Gerry Leonard, on that wide stage, joined for a few songs by Alison Balsom on trumpet. It was a very stripped back set, even with Gerry's inventive guitar playing.

With a new album to promote for the first time in about seven years we had a 'hits' plus new songs kind of setlist and it worked really well with the new songs blending in unobtrusively with the classics. That, of course, meant that some of the songs I love hearing Suzanne play live had to be dropped to make space for the new ones but that made it quite intriguing trying to guess what she'd keep in the set. It was also good to hear the new songs played live, some of which will undoubtedly stay in Suzanne's repertoire long after this tour to launch them is over.

Suzanne came on, dressed in black and holding a black disc that she hit and it turned into a black top hat which she put on to open with 'Marlene On The Wall', the first song of hers I heard back in the '80s. We were then taken back and forward in time with old favourites and new songs from the latest album. Old favourites included 'Caramel', 'Gypsy', 'The Queen and The Soldier' and 'Left Of Centre'. Her voice is as soothing and powerful as ever and continues to draw me in as she unfolded the lyrics to her songs. We also had two of my personal favourites, 'Solitude Standing' and 'Small Blue Thing'.

From the new album, 'Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Tentacles' we were given  'Fools Complaint' (that introduces the Queen of Tentacles), 'Crack In The Wall', 'Jacob and The Angel' (which Suzanne introduced by saying she was brought up as a Buddhist), 'Don't Uncork What You Can't Contain' and 'Song of The Stoic'. This latter song is a sort of follow-up to 'Luka' that tells us what happened later in his life. Alison Balsom came on to add trumpet to 'Horizon' and, while introducing the new favourite 'I Never Wear White', Suzanne explained that a different version of the album had to be released in the Bible belt in America because the song contains the word 'virgin'. It's a dark song with dark riffs and tells us why Suzanne always wears black.

The set ended with the almost mandatory 'Luka' and 'Tom's Diner' with Suzanne once again wearing her top hat as she moved around the stage. The encore was a surprising version of 'Walk On The Wild Side' in memory of Lou Reed followed by 'Some Journey' and 'Rosemary' and then on she came again for a second encore with 'In Liverpool'.

It was a very enjoyable evening with Ms Vega sharing her songs with us. It wasn't just me that enjoyed her either, the gig was sold out and she received standing ovations several times. The new songs work really well mixed into a setlist with the older songs - they're all her creations, afar all, and there was no jarring between old and new. It'll be interesting to see which songs stay in the setlist for future gigs. That means I'll just have to keep going to see Suzanne play live whenever she's in London. And I will.

Thanks for a great evening Suzanne!

Friday, 7 February 2014

'The World Goes Round' at Union Theatre

Last Sunday we went to the matinee of 'The World Goes 'Round' at the Union Theatre in Southwark, a review of the songs of Kander & Ebb.

You might not know the names but you know their work - they wrote 'Cabaret' and 'Chicago' (and many more shows, such as 'Curtains' and 'The Scottsboro Boys', both of which I've seen). This review is something they put together in the early '90s to showcase their songs in another way. As far as I know, this is the first time the show has been put on in London since the '90s so it was worth seeing.

The Union Theatre is a small venue and I've been there before. It's another one of those little venues that seems to glory in not having seat numbers and investing in odd habits. Would it really detract from your artistic integrity to be a trifle more professional? Still, it puts on little played shows so that's a good thing.

Five mature singers and five young dancers present the show. There are no themes to try to pull the songs together, just a series of good songs sung by good singers. The show pulls together a range of songs from Kander & Ebb's career up to the early '90s so doesn't show their full repertoire, but it's a pretty damn good set of songs.

My favourites were 'My Colouring Book' and 'Maybe This Time' sung by Susan Fay and 'Class' sung by Susan and Emma Francis. Another favourite was about the end of the world with 'Coffee In A Cardboard Cup' sung by the whole ensemble.  The final song, acting as an encore, is 'New York, New York' in which the initial verses are all sung in different languages.

It's a great show (despite the theatre and having iron girders obscuring the action) so, if you've got the time, go and see it. It's only on for another few days so see it.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Patti Smith at Cadogan Hall

Patti Smith declared her gig at Cadogan Hall on 5 February as her William Burroughs Centenary Concert to tie in with the centenary of his birth. The gig was billed as an evening of words and music with Patti, Tony Shanahan (guitars and piano) and her son Jackson on guitar. It was a mix of songs, readings from Patti's 'Just Kids', some of her poems and a reading from Burroughs' 'Wild Boys'. Patti kept the Burroughs theme going throughout the gig as she kept referencing him, her chats with him way back when and which songs of hers he said he liked. Patti said she used to stalk him and wait for him to come out of the bar next to the Chelsea Hotel in New York.

The start of the gig was delayed due to the Tube strike to allow people to turn up and then on came Patti, greying hair tied in pigtails, regulation black jacket over white shirt and jeans messily tucked into black boots. She had arrived. She carried various books, papers and her glasses to the lectern and started telling us that people kept asking her what she would do to commemorate the birth of William Burroughs and her response was that she had to work and was booked on a tour, so that night was her commemorative concert. Later, she told us that his best advice was to keep her name clean and to get a gold American Express card.

We were given readings from 'Just Kids', Patti's book about growing up and meeting and sharing her life with Robert Mapplethorpe. It was similar to her gig at the Purcell Room last year as part of Yoko Ono's Meltdown festival and she gave us some of the same readings, her favourite readings. I love the short tale of Patti and Robert travelling up to Times Square on Christmas Eve 1969 to see the 'War Is Over (if you want it)' poster from John and Yoko and deciding that the '70s would be their decade. Which it was.

As well as the readings, Patti also gave us songs, a goodly mix over the years but with a slight emphasis on her early work. She dedicated 'Beneath The Southern Cross' to Lou Reed and her other friends who've left in the past year and gave us the perennial 'My Blakean Year' as well as the hits, ''Because The Night' and 'Dancing Barefoot'. It was nice that she said she wrote 'Because The Night' with a 'nice New Jersey man' and the lyrics were written for Jackson's father.

Patti did two covers, 'It's a Dream' by Neil Young and 'Beautiful Boy' by John Lennon. I'm not sure why she chose those songs but they seemed to fit in with the rest of the set nicely.

The stand-out songs for me were 'Birdland' (that she read from her lyric book until a couple of minutes into the song) and a great 'Horses/Gloria'. The slow build to the manic rock beats and all the while her voice and words taking us forward. I loved seeing Tony and Jackson both looking at her at one point clearly having no idea where she was going and waiting for Patti to give them the cue for the guitars to pile in again. That was performance art going on in front of us.

After much clap-clap-clapping we were given 'Banga' and 'People Have The Power' as an encore, with much howling and woofing going on during 'Banga'.

This was Patti at the peak of her powers, little girl giggles at one point and powerful, growling vocals at another, ad libbing her own lyrics. At one point I distinctly thought 'this is art happening in front of me', an artist in full control of her art and her audience. It was a most impressive performance. Patti left me elated, having glimpsed something bigger than myself, almost breathless, and that is what an artist does.

Thank you Patti, I'm looking forward to next time!

PS: I took this photo at Foyles on the Southbank in London when she came to read from 'Just Kids'. Patti's hair is greyer now but her artistic integrity is intact. And that's what matters.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Dancers Dance!

I was listening to Suzanne Vega's new album, 'Tales From The Realm Of The Queen of Pentacles' this morning and one line of 'I Never Wear White' really made me think. Suzanne sings that she doesn't wear white because it's the colour of virgins and rides in the park, she wears black because it's the 'colour of secrets, outlaws and dancers...' and that line took me back to seeing 'A Chorus Line' in the summer last year.

In 'A Chorus Line' Cassie (played by Scarlett Strallen in the revival at the London Palladium last year) sings 'The Music and The Mirror' that starts off with 'God, I'm a dancer and dancers dance'. That's what dancers are for, what they do, they dance. It's the same with any artist - writers, artists, actors, dancers, whatever - since the core of their being is to create and to perform.

This is sort of getting back to the 'who are you?' question I've blogged about before and it's a recurring question for me. If dancers are meant to dance and writers are meant to write and painters are meant to paint then what does that leave for the rest of us mere mortals? It chimes with the 'be whoever you are' message and it affects all of us. I am whoever I decide I am. It's my choice, not yours.

Who are you? Who am I?

Monday, 3 February 2014

Maximo Park - 'Too Much Information'

I don't often blog about individual records but in the case of Maximo Park's new one I must make an exception. On a first listen I am suitably stunned. This is not the album I was expecting or was hoping for. It's so much more. It is not a follow up to 'The National Health', the lads' last album, full of rampant guitar and keyboard and Paul's voice soaring and almost but never quite cracking. I should have guessed from the teaser songs they published in the last month or so. I didn't listen to it streaming over the past week. I was patient and waited for the record to come out.

There are two versions of the album and, obviously, I went for the deluxe version with more songs. The title of the album is, as ever, a line from one of the songs (in this case, 'Midnight On The Hill') and I have no idea what the artwork is meant to be. It's their fifth album (if you discount 'Missing Songs') and ably demonstrates their strength and vitality, a fearless approach to producing new music and experimentation. This isn't a record produced to formula or to please, this is so much more.

So, what is it?

Maximo Park has torn up the 'how to make a Maximo record' rulebook and started afresh. This is a band we're familiar with and there's enough 'old' Maximo to keep us happy but there's more to explore. The lyrics have gone to new heights and complexity with imagery flowing in intriguing directions that will take several listens to get a grasp. The music is far more experimental than on previous records and explores different avenues - there are a couple of indie-guitar driven pop songs but most are a quieter affair.  We even get harmonica on an almost folksy 'I'll Be Here In The Morning' (although it might also be an early demo for a Faces rocker?). We also get a cover of Nick Drake's 'Northern Sky' which sounds so different with Paul's accent.

There is so much in this record that it'll take me a while to unpick it but I know I'm going to enjoy the adventure. There are Paul's trademark literary songs about poets and people and his 'Middlesborough Man' is possibly the most poppy song on the record and 'My Bloody Mind' is almost Stooges-like. They effortlessly move through different styles while being thoroughly original all the way.

I fell in love with Maximo Park again today, with an older band with more experiences to sing about and musical routes to explore. It's a great listen and I look forward to delving into the subtleties of this record and joining them on what will be a really interesting journey going forward. I am most impressed and already loving the songs.

Well done lads!