Saturday, 31 May 2014

Matisse: The Cut-Outs at the Tate Modern

I visited the hugely successful Matisse exhibition at the Tate Modern the other day and so popular is it that even members had to join the queue to get inside. But it is definitely worth it. The first three rooms were very crowded but then space opened up in subsequent rooms and I suspect that's what it's like most days, particularly since the first few rooms contain the smaller works that people need to crowd around to see. There are also film clips of Matisse projected on the walls in a few rooms to demonstrate how he worked.

As you wander deeper into the exhibition the works not only grow in size but you can see Matisse experimenting with his art and pushing it forward - he might have been ageing but his art wasn't. In some of the cut-outs you can clearly see the scissor strokes as he cuts the coloured paper, sometimes jagged and sometimes smooth. You can also see the pin marks in some of the works as moved the shapes around to get just the right image to match what he sees in his mind.

After the large, wall-sized works it was nice to see the wall covered in relatively small pictures to bring everything back into perspective before more wall-sized works. The colour leaps off the wall in these pictures with the organic shapes twisting and turning as they evolve into something more that just bits of paper cut up and stuck to a backing paper. There's something very primal about some of these pictures, the raw shapes and colours flooding the mind. I knew what some of the pictures were with just a glance (like 'Fleurs de Neige' in its beautiful simplicity) and others needed to be puzzled over - what is Matisse really saying with this one?

'The Snail' is one of Matisse's central pieces and I remember it from the old Tate Gallery in the '80s before the Tate split into Britain and Modern. I've never quite understood it's name since it doesn't even vaguely resemble a snail in my eyes but that's not the point. It simply means that I haven't yet evolved sufficiently to be able to see with Mr Matisse's aged eyes.

Of course, his pictures don't always have to mean something. They can just be a joyously colourful experience or you can wallow in the glory of the shapes he cuts out as shapes. One of the signs explains that he cut out the shape of a swallow and thought it was too beautiful to throw away so he pinned it to the wall of his Paris apartment and then gradually filled the rest of the wall with random shapes he liked to create his own inspirational wallpaper.

Some of his Cut-Outs seem to be fun for the sake of it, and why not?. 'The Bees' is a great example of this with a hive of action made up of bits of coloured paper but expressing the busy-ness of the bees and their colours. It made me smile.

The pictures at the end of the exhibition are much bigger than those shown at the start - and from when Matisse was older - so there are fewer per room but they have no less impact. The pictures weren't all designed to be shown as such, some were produced as designs for carpets, book covers or ceramics - and even a chapel - but we see them in all their glory and hugeness.

It's astonishing that Matisse kept working up to the end of his days in his 80s. To have that passion, that vision and drive to continue to explore and challenge new boundaries rather than sitting back on his laurels is inspirational. How did he keep all that vision in his head and release it slowly on the page, sometimes going back to previous ideas to bring them alive again, in different form? How do you see a naked woman in a few strips of blue paper on a white background - how do you see that for the first time?

If you get the opportunity then go and see this marvellous exhibition - it's open until September so there's plenty of time. It was hideously busy when I went but it's definitely worth it. And the Tate has cornered the market on merchandise when you leave the exhibition, you're spoilt for choice.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Robert Mapplethorpe - Artists Rooms at Tate Modern

I saw a small exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs the other day at the Tate Modern as part of its Artists Rooms series. It's made up of three rooms of photographs, mainly portraits and one of the rooms is full of portraits of Robert himself.

Naturally, it started with three photos of Patti Smith, one from the 'Horses' session, one from 'Waves' and a photo of a naked Patti crouching beside a radiator. There were also three portraits of Andy Warhol with his white hair stark against the black background. I couldn't help but wonder what he saw while he posing for the photos.

After the first room there's a small sign at the entrance to the second room to warn of the sexualised theme of some of the photos in further rooms. There were the expected male and female nudes but I didn't think any were particularly racy. What wasn't expected was a room of self-portraits over something like a 20 year period, including one photo of Robert in drag. How the face changes with fluffed hair and lipstick on his full lips. Most of the photos are head and shoulders but one includes the artist bending over holding a whip to his bum as if is a tail. I suppose that warrants the earlier sign.

Something I liked about many of the photos on display is their clarity of line, very black and white and almost architectural, with little scope for shades of grey. There's also something distinctly New York about many of the photos that makes me think they probably couldn't have been taken anywhere else. Maybe it's the stillness (there is movement in only two of the photos) or the focus of the sitters staring straight into the lens?

If you're in the area it's definitely worth popping into on the fourth floor of the Tate Modern.

Angela Lansbury in 'Driving Miss Daisy'

Last Saturday we went to a special screening of a recording of 'Driving Miss Daisy' at the British Film Institute. It was followed by an interview with Angela Lansbury that was broadcast live to cinemas around the country. I first saw the play on Broadway in 2011 with Vanessa Redgrave and it was a delight to see it again, although it's rather different with Angela in the lead role.

The play was recorded with Angela, James Earl Jones and Boyd Gaines in Australia in 2013 while it was on tour and broadcast for our enjoyment from the BFI. The play looked good, was clear enough and with good sound but the lighting let it down since it was rather dark - fine for a theatrical performance but not quite right for filming.

It felt 'lighter' with Angela in the lead role rather than Vanesa, no less intense in places but played with a lighter heart and with Angela's comic timing. The war between the matriarch and the chauffeur gradually cements into a deep friendship, mediated every now and then by the son who pays the chauffeur even after he's no longer needed and can no longer drive because of his eyesight. It's a very touching play, not just about the civil rights movement but also about ageing and friendship. I liked the final scene when James feeds Angela cake in an old folks home after sending away her son to flirt with the nurses and she smiles up at James, a conspiratorial smile and one of love.

Then came the big question - I was watching a film recorded last year so do you clap or not? Is this theatre or film? Um...?

After a five minutes break and after the stage was reset, on came Angela Lansbury to be interviewed for around 45 minutes. She talked about doing the tour of the play, about her first professional performances in Canada and then going to school in New York during the last war before heading out to Hollywood. The discussion took in the highlights of her career, in films and on broadway before her long series 'Murder She Wrote'. The one question she demurred to answer was about losing out on the screen version of 'Mame' when she'd created the role on Broadway.

I was pleased when Angela said she'd loved being in 'Death On The Nile' because I'm convinced that her Salome Otterburn in that film is the template for her Madame Arcardi in 'Blithe Spirit' currently in the West End (that I saw a couple of months back). The audience also got audibly excited by mentions of 'Bednobs and Broomsticks' (a film I've never seen). It was also touching that she disparaged the terms 'star' and 'celebrity', saying that what she wants to be is a good actor. I think you've proved that enough times by now, Angela.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Shaking Women at the British Film Institute

I was taken to see two old films at the British Film Institute - aka the National Film Theatre - on the Southbank over the last week or two. One was British from 1948, 'Good Time Girl' starring Jean Kent, Dennis Price, Flora Robson and Herbert Lom and one was American from 1933, a version of Noel Coward's 'Design For Living' starring Frederic March, Gary Cooper and Miriam Hopkins. They were so different in so many ways and very similar in one - men shaking women.

'Good Time Girl' is the tale of a teenage girl who runs away from home in London after the war and falls in with a bad lot in the Soho club in which she finds work. She loses the job, winds up in court with Flora Robson as the judge and then is sent to a girls borstal school where she is the rebel and then becomes the bully. In no time she escapes and heads to the bright lights of Brighton where she becomes a drunken tart, runs down a copper in her car and gets entangled with two post-war GIs and ends up being sent down for 16 years. And her tale told by Flora Robson saves a very young Diana Dors from going off the tracks (if you can believe that).

The second film was 'Design For Living', based on Noel Coward's play about a new way of living between men and women in which the men capitulate to the needs of the woman. Mr Coward sardonically commented that they'd kept a few words from his play in the film and, having seen the play four years ago at The Old Vic, I'd agree with Mr Coward. Gilda falls for both artist and playwrite who love as a threesome without sex ("a gentleman's agreement") in Paris until the playwrite has a hit in London and goes off to enjoy it. Gilda and the artist live together until the playwright visits and then she runs off to marry her boss in New York and becomes a society hostess. Her artistic lovers then turn up and lure her back to an artistic life in Paris in some of the funniest scenes of the film.

The films are quite different in many ways. 'Good Time Girl' is anything but a good time, it's dark and threatening but isn't really a morality tale despite how Flora Robson treats it. There are none of the seedy aspects of Soho, the sex and drugs, and it's dressed up in swanky nightclubs and people in dinner suits and frocks but that world also includes slasher gangs and no-one is safe from a razor attack. Jean Kent was very good playing the girl in question as we see her escaping abuse at home to turning into a throughly bad lot through the circumstances she finds herself in. The film is unrelentingly bleak and dangerous, very different from the bright and - in places - sparkling 'Design For Living'.

The centre of 'Design' is Miriam Hopkins, a vivacious and fast talking blond who holds the film together. She can't decide whether she loves Frederic or Gary and decides she loves them both and why shouldn't she? The surprise in this film is Gary Cooper playing an artist in a garret in Paris without a cowboy or horse in sight. He's definitely playing against type quite early in his career and this film hints at what he might have done if Cary Grant hadn't appeared on the Hollywood scene. The film is part of the BFI's pre-censorship season and the references to 'no sex' and the menage a trios wouldn't have been allowed only a few years later. I enjoyed it and I particularly liked Miriam as the sassy leader and lover of the artists.

The thing that noticeably jumped off the screen at me was the tall men shaking the shorter women, grabbing them by the shoulders and giving them a good shake. As if shaking them will dislodge their poor little brains and make them understand and agree with the views of the tall men. The poor little ladies obviously need help to dislodge some unhelpful thoughts. I don't understand that and suspect that, in real life, Jean Kent (from what I heard at the screening) would've punched anyone who tried to physically assault her so why was it acceptable in film? I don't know anything about Miriam Hopkins but maybe she just liked Gary Cooper?

Of course, the world has moved on - well, at least some parts of the world - and this behaviour would no longer be acceptable or seen as the norm. Many parts of the world still have to take some rather large strides to catch up.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

'Other Desert Cities' at The Old Vic

Last week we went to see one of the final performances of 'Other Desert Cities' at The Old Vic. It's a new play and I wasn't sure of what to expect. I sort of thought it would be an American talk-fest but it was so much more and kept me guessing right up until the end. It's a new play by Jon Robin Baitz and this was it's premiere in Britain. For some reason the Old Vic was transformed into a theatre in the round for this production and I'm not sure why since it didn't need it.

The play takes place on Christmas Eve in Palm Springs at the house of a former movie star and his wife and opens with the family coming in from their tennis court, both parents and children. It all starts off bright and breezy with witty banter and laughter and this tells us the back story of the family and their recent pasts. The son is a TV producer and Brooke, the daughter, is a writer who's just getting over five years of writers block and depression but she has a new book ready to be published. And that's where the problems start.

It turns out that there had been an older brother who killed himself in his teens. He's never spoken about but the memory of him has been haunting Brooke and that is the subject of her new book, a memoir of her dead brother and the accusations against her family for not saving him. It is about now that the alcoholic aunt appears who has helped her niece with background to the book.

We have top of the line actors to play the older generation, with Sinead Cusack as the mother and Clare Higgins as her sister, a former TV scriptwriting partnership, and Peter Egan as ex-film star Dad. They worked really well together with the love and rivalries of people who've known each other for a generation and more. The children are played by Daniel Lapaine and Martha Plimpton, the only American in the cast and former child star. I really liked Martha who gives as good as she gets and stands up to her distraught parents with her strength of belief in her dead brother and her memories.

Of course, it's not as straightforward as it sounds and there are lots of twists and turns along the way that kept me engaged throughout and very surprised by the unguessable ending. The final scene is Martha giving a reading from her latest book several years later in which she talks about the death of her parents and refers to the death of her brother who she hopes will get in touch. Confused? You wouldn't be if you'd seen the play.

By half-time I was quite surprised at how much I was enjoying the production and, by the end, decided it was quality stuff. I liked all the performances but I think the praise goes to the three women who all delivered excellent and very individual performances. I really enjoyed the play and was pleased that I've seen it - I'll be happy to see the revival when it returns in a decade or so.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Kenneth Clark - Looking for Civilisation at Tate Britain

A new exhibition based around the collection of Kenneth Clark has just opened at Tate Britain. Kenneth Clark is famous as a former director of the National Gallery during World Ward Two, for commissioning lots of art and for taking art to the masses through his TV series 'Civilisation' in 1969. I was a bit too young at the time to have good memories of the series but I remember him sauntering through empty galleries expounding on good art.

This exhibition is, basically, a collection of his stuff and stuff he commissioned, so here are lots of paintings, some from the renaissance but mainly from the 20th Century, statues, ceramics, a couple of painted screens and even a carpet by Duncan Grant. It's quite a big exhibition and the final room is a collection of small video screens with headphones so you can watch him on telly. In that respect it was enjoyable and unexpected since you have no idea what might be in the next room.

The first room contained two portraits of Kenneth as a young boy, instantly betraying his privileged upbringing and access to art and artists from a young age. The paintings are nice enough but nothing special. After some Japanese prints and some small renaissance paintings (including a lovely drawing of a naked man by Leonardo) I found the first thing that grabbed my attention - a small painting by Samuel Palmer that seemed to glow from within.

Palmer was a disciple of William Blake and pops up in exhibitions every now and then, either his drawings, prints or paintings and they are always a delight. As a commentator on the arts Clark, of course, had his own views on artists and art movements and these are sometimes included with the signing beside the art works. For this painting the comment is that Blake was a natural mystic who saw the mystical around him in everyday situations but Palmer internalised his mysticism. Fair enough, I suppose, I just like his art.

Another room was dedicated to early 20th Century art that he collected and two of the highlights for me were self portraits by Vanessa Bell and by Duncan Grant. Clark was a friend to the Bloomsbury people, especially Vanessa, and the caption beside the self-portrait noted that, when asked to do something he was unsure about he wondered 'What would Vanessa do?'. The self-portrait was painted in 1958 when Vanessa was in her late-60s and a few years before her death but it's lovely to look her in the eyes and wonder at her life and those around her. The colours are a lot richer than in this reproduction.

I think this room, with paintings by Vanessa, Duncan and Stanley Spencer ('White Lilacs') was the last one I actually enjoyed. Not that there wasn't a lot of good art to come, but I feel I appreciated it rather than enjoyed. I'm a sucker for colour, after all, and that became increasing sombre and bleak as the exhibition headed into the war years.

As head of the National Gallery and influential within government at the time, Clark commissioned artists to capture the changes in the country brought on by the war and commissioned war artists like Henry Moore. There are eight of Moore's drawings of people sheltering in tube tunnels from the Blitz, all deeply drawn with harsh strokes depicting human survival and misery. Moore is generally thought of in the context of monumental and primitive statues but I've admired his drawings for many years, since seeing a documentary on TV years ago, and would love to see a proper exhibition of his drawings.

There is a wall of paintings (in watercolour, I think) of scenes of a passing British landscape, changed forever due to war, and others of bombed buildings and the destroyed Coventry Cathedral. These are important works but I didn't enjoy the pain and savagery they portrayed. The brightest painting in these rooms was a large painting by Paul Nash of the Battle of Britain showing smoke trails of the aeroplanes as they fought and died to protect the nondescript land below.

Then there are the post-war paintings, most noticeably a few small paintings by Mary Kessell, an artist I've never come across before but would like to see more of her work. She painted scenes of Belsen and refugees in the years after the war. Her paintings are bleak and washed out, hinting at hunched shapes through mists and poor lighting, shapes hinting at human bodies. Painful to see but worth looking at and experiencing. I wonder why I've never heard of her before? The things she must have seen back then and dared to interpret and paint.

It's quite a large exhibition in the downstairs space at Tate Britain and is well worth seeing. I was surprised at how relatively few people were there on a Sunday afternoon and put it down to the exhibition having only just opened. There is a lot of art to see so take your time. There's probably something to appeal to everyone and, like the Samuel Palmer I liked, you never know what you might find. I was surprised to see an unheard-of-before Seurat painting almost vibrating with his pointillist stylings and range of colours in the smallest details. Go and see the exhibition and enjoy!

Sunday, 18 May 2014

My Buffy Compilation Record

I was wondering what I'd do if I was ever asked to curate a Buffy Sainte-Marie compilation. To pick a mere 15-20 songs from her whole career? How could I do that?

Then I thought I wouldn't do that, there would have to be some limits placed around the project and for this project I'd limit myself to Buffy's post-Vanguard albums. Buffy was with Vanguard for a decade and there are already several compilations of her Vanguard years so it makes sense to look at her later albums, from the early '70s onwards. That gives me a much smaller selection to choose from but it doesn't really make it any easier.

Buffy released six albums after leaving Vanguard, three in the early/mid-'70s, two in the '90s (including the re-recorded best of 'Up Where We Belong') and one in the '00s. She released a few singles with new songs or re-recorded versions of old songs as 'B' sides and she helped out with the vocals on records by friends. Buffy has also been sampled by Kanye West ('Dead or Alive' by Cam'ron) and others in more recent years so she does pop up in unexpected places. Buffy's post-Vanguard albums are:

Changing Woman
Sweet America
Coincidence & Likely Stories
Up Where We Belong
Running For The Drum

I didn't know her 'Buffy' or 'Changing Woman' albums existed until the '00s and the internet popped along, but I bought an imported version of 'Sweet America' from Window's music store in the Central Arcade in Newcastle in 1976 or '77. I bought 'Coincidence' and 'Up Where We Belong' from HMV on Oxford Street in the '90s and bought 'Running For The Drum' on import from Canada before it was released in the UK (obviously) and then a UK version from HMV just in case any of the songs were different.

So, now I need to listen to all six albums - and extra songs - to decide what to include in my compilation. I want my compilation to open with 'Cho Cho Fire' from 'Running From The Drum'. I first  heard it played on an internet radio show from Hawai'i in 2007 and then on a CD from Oxfam in its world music series 'Think Global: Native America' in 2008. I used to check the Buffy CDs in HMV every month or so in the hopes that something new might be there and I couldn't believe my luck when 'Think Global' appeared. See? It is worth waiting and hoping.

So. I now have my work cut out for me. Watch this space...

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Les Triplettes de Belleville - Biography

I have not forgotten my promise to Celeste to record the various histories of those lovely sisters that made up Les Triplettes. From their early days working their way to the top of the bill in cabaret shows around the world, but particularly in the French-speaking world.  The sisters were multi-lingual but always sang in French.

The first thing you need to understand is that the sisters weren't really triplets, that was their stage name. Anna-Marie and Anna-Celeste (usually referred to solely as Celeste) were twins and Yvette was the older sister by 16 months. Anna-Marie was the youngest by 15 minutes. This does affect the dynamics of Les Triplettes and their sometimes complicated relationships, but that's for the biography.

Anna-Marie was always considered the sweetest and most gentle of the sisters with never a cross word or look. When war broke out and the Occupation began, Anna-Marie and Celeste continued starring in cabaret shows until Anna-Marie vanished one evening after one too many gestapo officers was found dead. Anna-Marie always carried a serrated knife in her jewelled handbag and she used her status as a musical star to great effect. Then she faded from sight, surfacing now and then to ruthlessly strike at the occupying force before vanishing again. Rumours were regularly spread that she'd been captured and tortured but she remained free until the end of the war and was declared a Hero of the Resistance. She rarely talked about her years of hiding and striking and accepted none of the honours she was awarded. She re-joined Celeste on stage and enjoyed great success.

Celeste is the sister we know least about. Despite keeping her career going and being almost permanently on tour, surprisingly little is known about Celeste. We know she accepted shows that would allow Anna-Marie to get close to the enemy during the war but always kept sufficient distance so that she couldn't be implicated. She funnelled the majority of her earnings during the war to Anna-Marie to spend as she saw fit. Celeste sang her way into the record books by having the first number 1 hit record with her painful version of 'Song of the French Partisan' immediately after the war which was dedicated to her sister.

Yvette was the wild child of the sisters, discovering early the highs and lows of chemical stimulants and eventually succumbing to the lures of heroin in the late 1930s. She stopped singing and eventually turned to prostitution during the war years and after to fund her habit. In one famous interview Celeste is quoted as saying she will feed and clothe Yvette but would not give her a franc in fear that it would be spent on the drug. Yvette was ever the mercurial sister and, seemingly overnight, decided to give up her habit and re-start her singing career and, through strength of will, that's exactly what she did. Les Triplettes were together again but Yvette also pursued a solo career that included a short season in Las Vegas in the mid '50s. It is thought that this is what led her to seduce Elvis when he was stationed in Germany a few years later to teach him what a mature woman wanted.

Les Triplettes continued their musical career well into the '60s and are photographed with The Beatles and Stones and Yvette is known to have been photographed with Dylan but those photos are yet to be released. There are rumours of a concept album but they remain rumours. They gradually stopped performing and recording as the musical landscape changed in the 1970s and age began to kick in. Even Les Triplettes must let age into their lives despite Celeste visiting London in 1977 specifically to check out the punk bands. There are a few grainy photographs of her in the audience for X-Ray Spex and the Sex Pistols.

Les Triplettes were last seen together at the trial of the mafia bosses who kidnapped Tour de France cyclists. There is no evidence to prove my assertions, but I suspect the spark was Anna-Marie's outrage at the mafia taking over a national sport when she heard Granny's suspicions. And, as ever, it was music that brought them together and formed the bond that broke the mafia. She is a brave one, that Anna-Marie. Watch out for the biography.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Our Lady J's 'Gospel of Dolly' at Soho Theatre

Our Lady J has been back to these shores to play her 'The Gospel of Dolly' show for three nights at the Soho Theatre. These were her first shows in London since playing 'Gospel for the Godless' (also at Soho Theatre) four years ago.

Dolly is, of course, Dolly Parton, a hero of J's and someone who helped fund her boobs. In the show we're told how Dolly got in touch one day wanting to meet, talk about the show and give her blessing, which was nice. Dolly also suggested she includes 'The Seeker' in the show which J duly obliges.

On came the Train To Kill choir for the night, clustering around one side of the baby grand piano. They were followed by Our Lady J who got settled at the keyboard and then, with her glittery hand, began playing with one of her electronic doohickies to create the sound of a type-writer to use as the intro to '9 To 5', the first song of the evening.

She ran through a series of songs, some of Dolly's and some were her own in which the choir sometimes sang and sometimes stood silently. Inbetween songs we were regaled with tales of J's youth growing up in a small town that was half Amish and others of her praying to Marilyn Monroe in odd scenes of witchcraft while putting on her make-up (hey, if it works ...).

J made a brief reference to the current debate about the word 'tranny' and said she doesn't care what we call her provided we do so with respect. She explained why she moved from New York to Los Angeles a few years ago in that she was fed up with cat calls because she dressed like a tart whereas everyone in LA dressed like tarts so she blended in. A wise woman she is! She also told us that her family finally accepts her as the daughter they never had while telling stories of what she wanted to do when she grew up and her mother telling her she couldn't be the clergyman's wife since she wasn't a girl.

As well as Dolly classics such as 'I Will Always Love You', 'Islands In the Stream' and 'Just Because I'm A Woman' J also gave us her own classics of the delicious 'Pink Prada Purse' and 'Picture Of A Man'. The encore was J alone on stage singing a piano driven 'Creep'. At one point she told us that she was pleased that London was so godless since it meant there was a lot of work for her to do, bringing her gospel to the godless. She also seemed quietly chuffed to have sold out her show!

It was nice to get the chance to say hello to her again at the end of the show at the merch table. I was delighted that she remembered me from the show four years ago talking about her disco version of Buffy Sainte-Marie's 'Little Wheel Spin And Spin' and recent tweets. I was also delighted with the badge she was giving away with her CD of 'Picture Of A Man' that bore the legend, "Not gay as in HAPPY but queer as in FUCK YOU".

At one point in the show I wondered at J's quiet calm demeanour and how that contrasts with her inner strength and courage, deciding to leave her little town for New York and deciding to transition while teaching music. To be so young and know exactly what she needs to be and wants and then doing it. What kind of strength is that? How brave to face the world having decided to become your real self, the self you were meant to be? Good on you J and come back to this godless city soon - we need your gospel electric.

McAlmont & Butler at Islington Assembly Hall

On Friday we went to see a rare McAlmont & Butler gig at Islington Assembly Hall. I say 'rare' since they have been known to get together in the years since they split ten years ago, such as David McAlmont's show at Leicester Square Theatre 3-4 years ago. But that was for a few songs, not a full gig. And gig it was, playing to Butler's guitar antics rather than McAlmont's vocals.

It was a show to raise money for Bernard Butler's chosen charity, The Bobarth Centre that works to relieve children's cerebral palsy. Bernard has just run the London Marathon to raise funds for it and M&B played their first show at Union Chapel the previous night. It sold out so quickly they arranged this second show. It was all terribly worthy and there was a good atmosphere in the hall. It was also David's birthday.

The evening got off to a wobbly start with The Magic Numbers singing a few miserably slow dirges that I couldn't understand at all. This reunion show should be joyful and got off to an upbeat start, not slowed down like this. Enough of them

On came M&B to roars of welcome as the largely 30s-40s audience prepared to relive their youth from the mid-90s when M&B first made their mark. Bernard on guitar and supported by keyboards, bass, drums and a seven-piece string set, with David roaming round the small stage with backing vocals from the Magic Numbers women. It was a rather crowded stage and the lighting and sound weren't too good - the lights all seemed to be towards the back of the stage rather than the front where M&B were, and the sound was a bit muddy, but none of that really mattered to the ecstatic fans, particularly the euphoric 'Yes'.

I was in the odd position of not being a fan but was there with a  fan so could be a bit dispassionate about it all. I was surrounded by people projecting so much love at the stage to see their heroes together again after all this time and I was looking round thinking, '...but this is just M&B who had a few hits years ago, where has this all come from?'. And I don't know, but the pair elicited waves of love with every new song, with people cheering their favourites and singing along (loudly). It was odd to be in the middle of that and not really understand it.

It was also nice to see David in a rock scene than the almost cabaret shows I've seen him play over the last few years (good as they are). He always comes alive on the stage but he was clearly having the time of his life on that stage with Bernard, playing off his riffing as he patrolled the small stage whipping up the audience. They work really well together and both them and the band were obviously well practiced. It was good to see them working off each other.

Given the number of people attending the two sold out shows makes me think they'd make a good fist of filling somewhere like Shepherd's Bush with some proper publicity. They could probably sell enough new records through something like Bandcamp as well if they did it properly. What do you think lads?