Sunday, 27 April 2014

"Allow Time To Be Cool" - Benjamin Zephaniah

I came across this poem by Benjamin Zaphaniah today, 'The British'. It nicely digs at the concept that everyone not born here of white Anglo-Saxon stock is an immigrant and not British whereas it's the mix that makes us British. Most of us are immigrants, whether from 100 years ago or 1,000.

I'm currently reading a book about the history of Northumberland in the Middle Ages - 'The King In The North: The Life And Times of Oswald Of Northumbria' by Max Adams. St Oswald lived around AD 604-642 way back in the mists of time and is remembered by the Venerable Bede in his histories and it's notable that even back then this island is colonised by peoples from all over, from Ireland and Scandinavia, from northern France and from Italy. St Augustin came from Rome and through France to bring his people to Britain and so began the slow war of Roman versus Irish Christianity in this island. It's daft to think of immigration as a new thing since it's been going on for a long, long time.

I blogged about this a few years ago after George Alagiah did his 'Mixed Britannia' series. That bloggie received some hate responses that I deleted and it's quite sad that some people still think there's something 'pure blood' about being British. People from all over the place have been coming to this little island for thousands of years and we, collectively, seem to have done ok from it.

Anyway, here's Benjamin's poem - my favourite line is 'Allow time to be cool':

The British

Take some Picts, Celts and Silures
And let them settle,
Then overrun them with Roman conquerors.

Remove the Romans after approximately 400 years
Add lots of Norman French to some
Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Vikings, then stir vigorously.

Mix some hot Chileans, cool Jamaicans, Dominicans,
Trinidadians and Bajans with some Ethiopians, Chinese,
Vietnamese and Sudanese.

Then take a blend of Somalians, Sri Lankans, Nigerians
And Pakistanis,
Combine with some Guyanese
And turn up the heat.

Sprinkle some fresh Indians, Malaysians, Bosnians,
Iraqis and Bangladeshis together with some
Afghans, Spanish, Turkish, Kurdish, Japanese
And Palestinians
Then add to the melting pot.

Leave the ingredients to simmer.

As they mix and blend allow their languages to flourish
Binding them together with English.

Allow time to be cool.

Add some unity, understanding, and respect for the future,
Serve with justice
And enjoy.

Note: All the ingredients are equally important. Treating one ingredient better than another will leave a bitter unpleasant taste.

Warning: An unequal spread of justice will damage the people and cause pain. Give justice and equality to all. 

Shakespeare at 450

Last week saw the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, poet and playwright. Everyone knows his name but we know very little about him, including his actual birth date. He was baptised on 26 April 1564 so, presumably, was born a few days earlier and he died on 23 April 1616. He would have had no inkling that people all over the world would still be talking about him, reading his words and seeing his plays all these years later. I wonder what he would have thought?

I've seen and read many of Shakespeare's plays and poems but not all by any means. I used to have a hardback 'complete plays' when I was at university (it had a red cover I seem to recall) as well as individual editions of the plays I was studying. Some of his plays come round again and again on the stage while others seem to be rarely touched. I haven't seen many of the history plays because I've never been terribly interested in them but I ought to see them if only for the sake of completeness.

I've seen great productions of Shakespeare plays and others that were a bit ho hum. Sometimes it's the interpretation, sometimes it's the direction or the acting. And sometimes, frankly, it's the play that's the problem. Why, for example, have the daft wooing scene at the end of 'Henry V' and am I the only person in the world that doesn't like Bottom in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (or any of the rustics for that matter)? I'm sure there's a very valid reason for all the things I'm not keen on in Shakespeare plays but  that won't make me suddenly like them.

I have favourite productions and sometimes I leave the theatre elated and sometimes depressed. Productions that I should have liked have been very disappointing and it's sometimes difficult to pinpoint why that is. Last year's must-see production of 'Othello' at the National Theatre with the double-header of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear (who won an Olivier Award for his performance) was an example of a production that left me cold. It should have been a massive favourite bit it wasn't, partly because of the staging and costumes even though the acting was excellent. I felt terribly let down by that one.

On the other hand, two versions of 'Much Ado About Nothing' live on in my mind. Firstly there was Zoe Wannamaker and Simon Russell Beale's version at the National Theatre which I will always remember for them both falling into the same pond. Then, a couple of years ago, the production billed as the 'Indian' version with that great Shakespearean actress Meera Syal who showed us no mercy by milking every possible laugh from every scene and laugh we did (even me). It most ably demonstrated that Shakespeare can be transplanted to any age or culture and it still works. I loved that production and wish I'd seen it again.

My first ever Shakespeare production was 'Hamlet' with Derek Jacobi in, I think, 1978. Other than a few panto's that was my first trip to the 'serious' theatre with 'serious' actors. Mr Jacobi was, of course, hot property at the time off the back of 'I Clavdivs'. His star status helped fill seats but I went because I was doing 'Hamlet' for 'A' level English. The most recent production that I'd praise is 'Henry V' with Jude Law who delivered an excellent St Crispin's Day speech (I saw Adrian Lester deliver this speech 11 years ago when he took the part). Jude is my king and my sword-arm is his, at least until I see another production of the play.

The most disappointing play was 'Timon of Athens' at the National Theatre a couple of years ago with Simon Russell Beale. It was a great productions, with excellent acting, direction and sets but what disappointed was the play. I'd never read it or seen it before so didn't know what to expect - I wanted to experience it raw and direct as a first time experience so I wasn't prepared for the downbeat ending. Why didn't Timon triumph over adversity at the end instead of crumbling? I don't want to see that play again.

The beauty of Shakespeare is that the plays can be interpreted in many different ways to suit the current mode and productions can mirror life in any way they want, from the prosaic to the magical. 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and 'The Tempest' should always be done as magical in my mind, anything less is an insult to the text and to the audience. I want magic and wonder.

The current big Shakespeare production is 'King Lear' at the National Theatre with Simon Russell Beale in the title role. I saw another production of this a few years ago with Derek Jacobi (yes, the same names keep cropping up) and the excellent Gina McKee as a triumphant Goneril. You don't take her on lightly.

There's always another Shakespeare production and actors ready to step up and make their names in these classic roles. A play I'm looking forward to - and again, that I haven't seen or read before - is 'Titus Andronicus' at The Globe in a couple of months time. The Globe has a lovely big stage but the wooden bench seats are a challenge even with the cushions you can hire in the yard. Something else I'm looking forward to is a reading of all 154 sonnets by Simon Russell-Beale, Harriet Walter and others at the Royal Festival Hall. That's going to be an intense evening and I'm sure there'll be smiles and tears that night!.

There is always another side to Shakespeare and that is why he's great. There's a Sheakespeare for every age and every mode, you just need to dig. Happy birthday William, you'd be astonished at the shop at The Globe Theatre but I suspect you'd have a wry grin at the souvenirs when you walked round.

Monday, 21 April 2014

'Sunny Afternoon' at the Hampstead Theatre

There's a new musical on the block and this time it's about The Kinks with the original story, music and lyrics by Ray Davies. At one level it's another jukebox musical but this seems to work if only because it's not trying to shoe-horn the songs in to fit the story since Ray has written songs for every mood and every eventuality.

'Sunny Afternoon', named after the song that was at No 1 in the chart in 1966 when England won the World Cup, is the tale of the Kinks in the '60s as recalled by Ray. It says in the programme that it reflects Ray's memories rather than 'the truth' (whatever that might be) and that Dave remembers things slightly differently in some places. It's nice that Dave plays such a large part in the play from the schoolboy with a guitar to the rock star drunk and in a dress after nights of excess.

The majority of the play deals with the early Kinks carer between 1963 and 1966 - their rise and getting banned in America - before re-surfacing with new management in the form of Alan Klein and ends with 'Lola' in 1970. I have no idea how many Kinks songs are featured in the play since, in some scenes, we get a verse and chorus rather than the whole song or two or more songs mashed together so a lot of music is included, maybe up to 25 songs? Some songs are played in full, of course, with the actors behaving like a band as they blast out some of those klassic Kinks songs.

The staging is interesting, with a catwalk out into the seats to make the setting more three dimensional and more stage space (and I was sitting at the end of the catwalk, afraid I'd trip up the actors as they ran around). The stage had a background of a huge bank of amplifiers that set the scene instantly and these were only covered in the first part of the second half with a giant American flag while the Kinks were being busy being banned from America.

The background of amps made for a really powerful scene when Ray played the riff to 'You Really Got Me' on the piano and Dave played it on his guitar and the brothers agreeing it wasn't right. So they plugged the speaker into an amp and again shook their heads. Still not right. So Ray stuck a screwdriver into the speaker to make a dirtier sound and Dave went TWWAAAAANNGGG and it worked! Then Dave starts bouncing on his bed and riffing away as the rest of the family runs in and so do their managers. The play is full of little moments of humour like this.

Which is just as well because that's when business enters the picture, everyone wanting a piece of the action and the naive youngsters just going along for the ride. And this is where it differs from being a jukebox musical into being a proper musical since Ray and Dave's dad and family sing 'Dead End Street' while they deliberate over signing a contract on Dave's behalf since he's still a minor. The songs don't come in chronological order, they appear when they're needed to take the story forward and that's a good thing.

We see the lads gradually rise and appear on Top of the Pops, Ray getting married against almost everyone's wishes (the publicist points out that John Lennon has been married for years) and the stresses that brings.

The second half kicks off when they're on tour and hassled by musicians union people wanting their cut. The stress mounts on Ray and, to clearly demonstrate this isn't your standard jukebox musical, we have a scene with Ray sitting in his hotel room on the phone to his wife singing 'Sitting In My Hotel' to which his wife replies with a quiet version of 'I Go To Sleep'. That was quite touching.

The stresses of the American tour and law suits against rip-off managers take their toll as Ray hides away at home with exhaustion and re-surfaces to celebrate the World Cup with 'Sunny Afternoon' at No 1 in the chart. The song is played in full with the actors being the band and, at the end, the World Cup is lowered and showered with paper fluttering from the ceiling. That got a rousing applause.

We then see Ray and Dave arguing about whether to sign with Alan Klein as their manager with Ray arguing that they'll just be signing their lives away again. Dave argues it's the only thing to keep the band together and that's all he's got. In a touching moment Ray signs the contract against his better judgement. But that's what brothers do.

The other big hits played in full are 'Waterloo Sunset' and 'Lola' as time flies past in the late 60s and the band suddenly discover flared trousers in 1970! We then get a final song to close the show, a mash-up between 'Lola' and 'You Really Got Me' that got everyone up on their feet and singing along. Yes, even me.

It took a while to get going but the show won me over. Whether it's the lads pretending to be the Kinks or the girls changing for almost every song to be groovy go-go dancers or taking one of the roles. I think I saw the actor playing Ray's dad take four different parts - there are a lot of characters in the show and the actors take multiple roles. I liked seeing Ray's wife who sings backing vocals on the records finally get her wish to appear on stage with the band singing and strumming away - no idea whether this really happened but it worked a treat in the setting of the play.

John Dagleish played Ray and George Maguire was Dave (with a classic Dave haircut too) and I liked Lillie Flynn as Ray's wife, Rasa. I also liked Tam Williams and Dominic Tighe as the original upper class managers Grenville Collins and Robert Wace - the only problem was that Dominic looks just like Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet, particularly in his sharp suit so I kept confusing the decades when he was on stage!

It's great fun and it's lovely to hear those old songs played live again, even the three I'd never heard before. The majority of the audience were of the age to be original fans (and good on them) but it was also nice to see some younger people in the audience, presumably there out of curiosity or friends of the cast. It would be nice to see this transfer into the West End for a run and see if it can find an audience. Most people will probably recognise most of the songs and there's certainly more of a story behind the show than something like 'Jersey Boys' that's been on in the West End for years now. The Kinks were London lads and Ray wrote about the changing world around him, around all  of us, so, in a sense, it's as much our story as his.

I claim part of the story. 'Lola' was my very first 7" vinyl single and at the tender age of 10 years old I had no idea what it was about but liked it. I recall asking my Mam what a 'dark brown voice' meant. My second or third 12" LP was 'Golden Hour of the Kinks', a compilation of all those great 1960s songs in 1971. The show cries out for a CD of the Kinks songs featured in the show.

The show is only on for another six weeks so book tickets now if you want to see it. It's a good night out and will remind you of those excellent songs that still resonate today. 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Fra Angelico at the Courtauld Gallery

Imagine my surprise to find seven small paintings by Fra Angelico in London that I'd never heard of before. They're in the Courtauld Gallery collection in Somerset House on The Strand in three sections of a predella, the small paintings underneath a main altarpiece. They're in the dark medieval room on the ground floor near the ticket desk, the room I don't go into since I usually just head upstairs to the exhibition rooms and the main collection. Glory under my nose and I never noticed.

The round paintings are about 4" in diameter against a gold background. The first two paintings are of a Dominican nun, possibly the Blessed Sibyllina, and St Cecelia; the second panel shows Mary Magdalene, Christ and St John the Evangelist; the third panel shows Catherine of Alexandria and St Agnes. The paintings are very delicate and small but, if you look closely, you can see a small blush to every cheek (other that the dead Christ).

When you look at Mary Magdalene it's almost as if she's gesturing 'look what you've done' as she points to the dead Christ and John looks on, almost in tears. I also like Catherine leaning on her spiky wheel, serene and confident in her Christ to save her. They're lovely little paintings.

The Courtauld is a bit of a gem in the centre of London, with a great collection of classic paintings, including some rather famous ones by Cezanne and Van Gogh, with a few Kandinsky's and Maurice de Vlaminck, some Samuel Palmers and even a large Botticelli. And, of course, some Fra Angelicos which puts it much higher up the list of must sees.

If you've got an hour or two to spare in the middle of town then you could do worse than going to the Courtauld. I know what I'll be looking at the next time I go...

'Blithe Spirit' at the Gielgud Theatre

Have you been to see 'Blithe Spirit' with Angela Lansbury yet? No? What on earth are you waiting for? Scoot on over to the Gielgud Theatre as quick as your legs (and public transport) can carry you and get prepared for some big ole laughs, chortles and general jolliment. Yes, I enjoyed it - I even laughed out loud!

Miss Lansbury hasn't played in the West End for decades so that alone makes this worth seeing and she is well worth seeing. We managed to get tickets in the sixth row right in the middle so had an excellent view of the proceedings. I've never seen this play on stage but saw the film years ago so, although not terribly familiar with it, am reasonably aware of the central plot. Having said that, I totally forgot the surprise ending so won't spoil it for you.

It's the tale of a writer and his wife (Charles Edwards and Janie Dee) who live in a nice country house with the requisite servants for the late 1930s. They're hosting a small dinner party after which the local medium (Angela Lansbury) has been invited to demonstrate her powers. Unbeknown to her, he's going to write a book about a fraudulent medium so wants some first hand observations to include in the book. She accidentally summons the ghost of his first wife (Jemima Rooper) who only he can see or hear which leads to all sorts of confusion and mayhem. Then the medium is invited back to try to undo her work... and that's where it gets complicated.

I don't know why I'm always so surprised when I enjoy a Noel Coward play but I am. I should have learned by now really. There are the usual witty exchanges between characters who are all terribly urbane and worldly, of course, as well as some more knock about fun when the ghost appears and vases start floating in the air. It's all really good fun and a well constructed play with a nice set of a country drawing room with comfy-looking furniture and big curtains just waiting to billow in the ghostly breeze.

Janie Dee (who I saw a couple of months ago in a Sondheim show at the St James's Theatre) was on top form with an accent that wouldn't just cut glass, it could easily cut a diamond or two. Her timing was excellent as she milked every scene for every laugh as she swished around in her evening dress and day-time skirts. She looked right in character and would fit into a 1930s drawing room effortlessly. Charles Edwards was also good but a little restrained next to the perfect pitch of Janie. She also out-acted Jemima Rooper who was flouncy and pouty throughout - her character as the ghost of the first wife, obviously - but Jemima didn't quite stand up against the rest of the cast.

It was also nice to see the rather portly Simon Jones as the Doctor. To me, of course, he will always be Arthur Dent in his dressing gown in the TV series of 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'. Nice to see him again.

Angela Lansbury was, of course, terrific as the dotty medium with her over the top wardrobe and facial expressions. She's played this role before of course (and I don't mean on Broadway) when she played the drunken writer of salacious novels in the film 'Death on the Nile'. This was Angela having fun and enjoying herself going slightly over the top in a role in which she'd not only allowed to go over the top but is positively encouraged to do so. Whether going into a trance or talking to thin air thinking she's talking to the ghost who's actually behind her, she did it all with great comic timing and cheeky sparkle. She knows she's over the top and is sharing the joke with us. She's a delight!

I'd forgotten about the ending so won't spoil it for you if you plan to go - and you should.  It's a great production with a lavish set and costumes, all designed to entertain. A nice touch when the final curtain went down was to project a portrait of Noel Coward onto the  curtain as we all left. Well done whoever thought of that.

An added bonus was that I was definitely in the younger half of the audience on the night. Some old-time fans of Miss Lansbury were obviously out in force to see her again, such as the white haired geezer behind me who laughed every time she raised an eyebrow. Now that's loyalty.

'Good People' at the Noel Coward Theatre

'Good People' is a new play put on at Hampstead Theatre which has transferred to the West End for a month or two at the Noel Coward Theatre. It's set in Boston and stars Imelda Staunton as Margie, the mother of a disabled daughter who is desperate to pay next month's rent on their small apartment.

It starts with Margie getting fired from her job at the tills at a dollar shop, and then, talking to a friend, she finds out that an old boyfriend is now a fancy doctor and she goes to his office to see if he has a job she could have. He doesn't have a job to offer but she wangles an invitation to a party at his house in the suburbs on the off-chance that one of his posh friends might have a job and that is where the problems really start.

It's an odd play in a sense, a small cast of six people telling a rather small story of a desperate woman needing to earn some money. On the other hand, that's probably the biggest story there is, the need to survive and keep a roof over your head and food on the table. Her life is work and going to bingo with her loud, opinionated friends and, compared to them, she comes across as the nice one. Being 'nice' is important to Margie and is played on later in the second half when she claims to be nice but the doctor's wife challenges that. And, strangely enough, in the last few lines of the play, it turns out she really is nice.

It's not all desperate and serious. There are some nice comedy moments thrown in to lighten the tension, such as Margie responding with 'How the fuck would I know' when asked if the wine is good since she's never tasted it before. And then there are the hideous bunnies one of her friends makes to sell for $5 each. But the centre of the play is class, ambition, the gap between rich and poor and the lack of choice forced on some people. We learn that the upper middle class doctor's life would have been very different if his father hadn't stopped him killing a black kid back in his teens. The now urbane doctor gradually frays at the edges until he almost attacks Margie in the heat of argument and we see that nothing really changes.

One of her friends suggests early in the play that she tells the good doctor that he fathered her disabled daughter in their summer romance before he left for college and medical school, something Margie doesn't want to do because it's not 'nice'. Later on she says exactly that and explains that she didn't say anything years ago because she didn't want to hold him back from escaping their poor neighbourhood. Then, in the heat of argument, she retracts it.

In almost the final lines of the play, back in the bingo hall when she finds that her boss at the dollar store has paid her rent from his own bingo winnings, we find out that her story is true and her friends have known all along.  Her life will go on living hand to mouth and have a very narrow focus of being trapped in her small neighbourhood but she's done the right thing in her own mind. She's still independent and still optimistic that she'll get another job. That's a powerful scene and confirms that Margie is, indeed, good people.

Imelda gives good Margie and Angel Coulby was good as the doctor's wife (yes, Guinevere from 'Merlin') but I'm less confident of Lloyd Owen as the doctor. It's an interesting play but I left puzzled that the producers had left it in its American setting when it could easily have been placed in any town in Britain. After all, we have enough pound shops of our own these days. 

Friday, 18 April 2014

"Peak-Beard" or Beard Love?

Y'know when you're sort of listening to the radio but not really paying attention and then something makes you go 'whaaaaat?'? That happened to me the other morning while listening to the 'Today' programme and they had a daft article about the evolutionary imperative around beards. Yes, real science and stuff.

Let me explain. The 'Today' programme is a news magazine programme on BBC Radio 4 at breakfast time and I and millions of others listen to it every morning. I share everyone's irritation about the interviewers talking over the interviewees, the annoying 'Thought for the day' section and the failed horse racing tips. I can put up with that for the sometimes spot on interviews, breaking news and announcing the new David Bowie single in January 2013.

So there I was, in yawn-some mode and still half asleep when they start talking about beards and introduce an evolutionary scientist from the University of New South Wales talking about how we'd reached 'peak-beard' and men were starting to shave them off. Honest, that's what they said and you can listen here if you want to. It seems like there are so many beards around that there's no longer any evolutionary advantage to having one so men are shaving again. It's nice to know that scientists are on the ball and giving us the latest scoop on facial hair.

Now, I didn't know beardage was a global phenomenon. I've seen lots of beards around town and have, on occasion, wondered why. It makes sense in winter to have that extra bit of covering but I've never really thought of the beard as a fashion accessory. I was in Covent Garden the other day and lost count of the beards and, thankfully, the over-sculpted variety seems to have vanished in favour of just letting it grow (maaan). Here's a handy picture posted by the BBC to help you know what a beard is (isn't the Beeb thoughtful?).

I have a beard and have no intention of shaving it off. I'll trim it a few times during the year to keep it in prime condition and then stop trimming in October to allow me to move into full Santa Claus mode by Christmas. I shampoo it and sometimes condition it on special occasions, but that's it really.

I never meant to grow a beard - that implies a conscious decision to grow one. I simply stopped shaving for a few weeks and there it was. I was in hospital for a week and didn't shave and then, when I got home, couldn't move terribly well and couldn't lean forward over the basin to wet shave so didn't. Et voila! A beard was my reward. I'd never had a beard or more than a few days of stubble before so didn't know what to expect. I was surprised at the colour but. other than that, liked the natural shape that means I don't have much to do to keep it looking good.

Beards can be a good talking point on occasion. I shared the beard love with Woof (aka Luther Creek) in 'Hair' a few years ago when I danced on stage for the love-in at the end and that was nice. It was even nicer that *he* came up to *me* to compliment the beard. There's even a word for beard love - pogonophile.

You shave yours off if you want to, I'm keeping mine.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

"20 Feet From Stardom" at the Brixton Ritzy

Last week we went to see '20 Feet From Stardom' the new documentary about backing singers. It's only about a few really, mainly Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and Lisa Fischer with a few nods to a few other singers. We get to see and hear other singers of course, but it's these three at the centre.

We hear all sorts of tales during the film, how Darlene Love sang two songs for release as singles that she subsequently heard on the radio attributed to The Crystals and that Merry Clayton sang her amazing vocals on 'Gimme Shelter' by the Rolling Stones in her pyjamas in the middle of the night.

The story I was most touched by was Lisa Fischer who started out as a backing singer, made the big time with an award-winning album before going back to singing with others, regularly with Luther Vandross and on every Rolling Stones tour since 1989. She tasted the big time and decided it wasn't for her. She has a beautiful and versatile voice but is happy to be in the background, stepping forward into the spotlight for a song or two before heading back and making other people sound good. It's a touching story of someone who knows what she wants and is content with where she is in life.

The film won an Oscar last year and seems to have universally rave reviews. I wouldn't say it was all that but it's a nice way to spend a couple of hours and see the ambition of some and the contentedness of others.

Friday, 4 April 2014

'Strange Beauty' at the National Gallery

This evening we went to a late showing of the 'Strange Beauty' exhibition at the National Gallery. Sub-titled 'Masters of the German Renaissance', the exhibition tells the story of the northern European renaissance when what we're used to seeing is the glories of Italy. But there are also glories of the north and it's nice to showcase them like this. It's not a big exhibition but it's certainly worth seeing.

The exhibition pulls together paintings from the northern renaissance in the National Gallery's collection, many I don't remember being on display so it's nice to see them hanging together. Some of these painting I've loved for a long time - 30-odd years for some of them - and others I've never seen before. Early on we see the 'Arnolfini Portrait' by Jan Van Eyck, a marvellous marriage portrait of Mr Arnolfini and his young wife, with slippers and a dog, a mirror with the backwards reflection and the chandelier with glints of metal. It's full of glorious detail from the carpet behind the wife to the fruit on the dresser behind the husband referencing the fecundity of his wife. The way the clothes hang, the folds and the drapery of the bed all bring a new and challenging realism to painting at the time. Mr Arnolfini might not have been the most handsome of men but he has how place in history forever and so does his demure wife.

Another painting I learned to love many years ago is Albrecht Durer's 'Saint Jerome'. This is the saint in his older years discarding his red hat and robe and going into the wilderness with his friendly (but rather snooty-looking) lion to reinforce his spiritualism and belief. This is a tiny painting, about six inches tall and it packs so much into that small space. One it's glories is the background that is reminiscent of a Leonardo landscape, all rocky outcrops, trees, flowers in the grass at the saint's feet and with an emotional sky and a hint of sunset. The colours are still vibrant after all these years (much more lively than they look in this picture) and another painting on the back which is also on display shows the end of the world in what looks like a massive explosion. I wonder how Durer imagined the world exploding all those years ago?

As well as Van Eyck and Durer, we also see paintings by Lucas Cranach who painted the poster girl for the exhibition - Venus - and Holbein with his great work, 'The Ambassadors'. Holbein is also  represented by a painting I've never seen before, 'A Lady With A Squirrel And A Starling', a lovely portrait with a simple composition and beautiful detail, such as the fur in the mink bonnet she wears and the glints of light in the feathers of the bird. The squirrel, of course, is just taking care of a spare nut he found.

One thing that irritated me about the exhibition was harping on about how ugly some of the people were, which is why it's a 'strange' beauty. There's even a room at the end of the exhibition where you can pin notes to a wall about what you think. I think that's silly. Yes, many of the people depicted in these old paintings aren't the idealised characters we're used to from Italian paintings but that doesn't make them strange or ugly, just another way of depicting human beings. There's plenty of beauty on show in this exhibition and plenty to enjoy.

 The exhibition is on until May so you have plenty of time to see it.

John Lydon is Herod

Wonders never cease - John Lydon has announced that he's playing Herod in the new touring production of 'Jesus Christ Superstar'. His website states:

We are proud to confirm John Lydon will be playing King Herod in the North American arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar this summer.
"I’m here to sing with the King of the Jews, who could ask for anything more?" - John Lydon

The 54-city tour will kick off in New Orleans’ Lakefront Arena on June 9th - taking in the likes of Toronto, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, New York City and many more cities - before closing at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Arena on August 17th. See the official Jesus Christ Superstar website for full dates...

John will be joined by Brandon Boyd of Incubus (Judas Iscariot), JC Chasez from NSYNC (Pontius Pilate) and Michelle Williams from Destiny’s Child (Mary Magdalene); along with British actor and singer Ben Forster (Jesus Christ) in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s new arena rock production of the long established stage show.

Set in the present day and updated for a 21st-century audience, Jesus Christ Superstar is a live two-hour rock concert with over 50 cast and musicians performing a dramatization of the last seven days in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Told from the point of view of Jesus’s friend Judas Iscariot, the original story from The Bible is reflected through our modern society to bring the Gospels to life using contemporary costumes plus arena-scale lighting and video effects that demonstrate the eternal power of this timeless story.

Tickets for the first 22 shows, New Orleans through Edmonton, will be on sale beginning Friday, April 11 via the Jesus Christ Superstarwebsite. Also see the JCS Twitter and Facebook pages to hear about exclusive pre-sale opportunities.
See the official Jesus Christ Superstar website for more info...


You know I want to see this don't you? 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Justin Vivian Bond ' 'The Golden Age Of Hustlers'

You may remember that last year I blogged about Justin Vivian Bond starting a Kickstarter appeal to make a video to immortalise Bambi Lake's Song, 'The Golden Age of Hustlers'. Well, I supported it and have patiently awaited the result. And I haven't been disappointed. Here's the video:

I first saw Justin perform this song about 8 years ago and I've been transfixed ever since. What is it about the song that draws me in? I've no idea, but it's a description of a world I'll never know but was so real at the time. Justin is doing the world a big favour by keeping it alive. And keeping Bambi alive. I think it's important that these glimpses into past worlds aren't forgotten. The world keeps changing and we need to keep track of these changes to prevent ourselves becoming lost.

Thank you Bambi and thank you Justin. Good stuff!