Thursday, 30 October 2014

Le Perugin at Musee Jacquemart-Andree, Paris

Last week we went over to Paris to visit the marvellous Musee Jacquemart-Andree to see the exhibition of works by Perugino, who was a student alongside Leonardo da Vinci and, later, was Raphael's master. He's in an odd place in the history of art because I've only ever come across him in the context of other people (like I've just described in relation to Leonardo and Raphael) rather than in his own right. So when I was told about the exhibition I thought, yes, let's find out something about the man.

I went to the Musee Jacquemart-Andree three years ago to see the great exhibition of works by Fra Angelico. On that occasion I immediately joined the queue to get into the exhibition and paid little attention to the standing collection at the musee. This visit was a bit more leisurely and I at least looked at some of the collection and I'm jolly pleased I did.

I found two panels by Carlo Crivelli of three saints each and my favourite is this one with a grumpy looking Saint Jerome wagging his finger at someone.  Don't you just love it when you find a great - and fun - painting when you're least expecting it? The colours are vibrant and the poses lifelike. There were some lovely Renaissance paintings on display and some day I really must look round the standing collection at the musee, it seems to house some fascinating stuff.

Unlike the Fra Angelico exhibition, there wasn't a queue to get in but it was reasonably and comfortably full. There were lots of paintings of the Virgin and Child in various poses (including a very sly looking Virgin with wafer thin red lips) and virtually all of the paintings were religious in theme (Saint Sebastian being pierced by arrows seemed quite popular). But I didn't fall in love with any of them. It was good to see them, especially those still glowing with vibrant colours but none helped me understand the man or see where he was coming from or where he was taking me.

One of my favourite paintings was an altarpiece with three scenes, beginning with the adoration of the Magi, which is a lovely piece. I love the composition and the colours but I can't help feeling that the perspective is wrong. If Mary stood up she'd dwarf Joseph who's standing behind her. It has a lovely Italian landscape background, changing colour as it moves into the distance and I like the gentlemen posing in their Renaissance tights. So lifelike!

The painting that realy stood out for me was the 'Battle of Love and Chastity' that I suppose should really be translated as sex and virginity. We have cupids shooting arrows to kill and centaurs killing virgins, all trying to get the upper hand in the battle. I've not seen (or heard of, for that matter) a painting like this before so it was really interesting to see it as part of the 'profane' element of an otherwise religious exhibition. Bloodshed and sex, what more could a patron look for?  How odd!

The visit to the musee ended by stepping into the  Cafe Jacquemart-Andree and lunch. In turn this ended with a glorious patisserie that was most yum. And yum indeed. If you're in Paris and have some time to kill you could do worse that going to Boulevard Haussmann and visiting the Musee Jacquemart-Andre to see the winter garden, the glorious staircases, the 18th century furniture and standing collection - and whatever exhibition happens to be on at the time. I shall certainly go back!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

'Henry IV' at The Donmar Warehouse

I went to see the latest version of Shakespeare's 'Henry IV' at the Donmar last week, the all-woman version set in a prison. I had no idea what to expect so went with an open mind that, sadly, closed as the evening wore on. Rather than go into the theatre we're instructed to meet in a club opposite and wait for instructions. Um, ok. Then we have supposed prison loudspeaker announcements about what to do and we have, quite frankly. scrawny theatre ushers dressed as prison guards escorting us inside and shouting at us. I'm afraid my initial response was 'fuck off' until I realised they were just doing as told and became quieter. Don't shout at me in somewhere I've paid to be or I might get upset. I doubt your scrawny little ushers can handle an upset me.

Sitting watching the stage while waiting for the thing to start and all I could think was, 'this is cheap'. It's probably totally in character for a women's prison but it struck me as cheap as chips and ugly. OK, points scored for realism, but let's see what happens next.

Later than billed and the prisoners are led in through a locked door and they line up. Is this the start of the play? I dunno, but we get a speech and then the prisoners spread round the place. Am I watching a play put on by prisoners or a play put on by prisoners for an audience of prisoners? I dunno. What am I watching? It seems like they're putting on the play and then every now and then there's something that makes me question, such as when Mistress Quickly walks off saying 'I thought we'd agreed not to do this bit' and is then escorted back on by an usher/guard. The play is asking me to think but is it asking me to think the right things?

Harriet Walters played Henry IV in a splayed legs stance and reminded me of Noel Coward in 'The Italian Job', the cock of the prison in charge of everything and can do as he pleases. I thought she was better in the death bed scene. This sort of illustrates what I felt was missing - some light and shade in the characters. Neither Hal nor Hotspur did anything for me, being fully 'on' the whole time and I found Clare Dunne's brash Northern Irish accent very difficult to follow, far too full-on and in your face.

On the other hand, I loved Ashley McGuire as Falstaff, the anti-role model for the prince, and she seemed to revel in the role as well she should. I loved the tension when she strikes the tray in anger that's carried my Mistress Quickly after she's stormed off stage in protest about lines she thought they'd agreed not to say. That fleeting moment of tension added so much to this production. I also liked Cynthia Errivo, particularly her ninja battle with the king's forces, striking them down with every kick and arm flung wide. Cynthia played Celie in 'The Colour Purple' at the Menier Choccy Factory so it's good to see her add another string to her bow.

Did I enjoy the production? No, not really. It looked cheap and employed cheap effects that didn't really work for me. But I'm pleased to have seen it.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Alvin Stardust

The passing of Alvin Stardust can't go unmentioned in the Plastic Bag. Alvin was one of the glamrock heroes of the early 70s that took a different path and introduced a whole generation to the idea of leather as clothing (as opposed to just shoes). He wore black leather on black leather with some black leather gloves just in case we'd missed the hint.

Alvin has, of course, been around since the 60s trying to make it and it was the 70s glam scene that helped him finally do that. I vaguely recall his first TV appearance as Alvin on some kids programme back then painted half pink and half blue singing 'My Coo Ca Choo' to vanish without trace and appear a few weeks (or months?) later as the black be-leathered glam god we know today.

He didn't have many hits but he remained in the forefront of the brain of anyone who was around at the time. For me, his main hits were 'My Coo Ca Choo' and 'Red Dress', both of which I still play. Other hits included 'You You You' and 'Jealous Mind' but they always seemed a bit too rock'n'roll derivative for me. Alvin went on to feature in 'green cross code' adverts about how to cross the road safely and in various Christian programmes on Sundays. To me, he will always be the man in black leather.

I only saw Alvin play live once and that was at the Marc Bolan 35th anniversary celebration in 2012.  I knew he was on the bill but had no idea what he'd be like and I was stunned. He was easily the act of the night (after Lynsey de Paul and Sir Noddy Holder, obv), effortlessly manipulating the crowd and making us love him all over again. His professionalism was consummate on that stage and that's how I will remember him.  At 70 years old you showed the rest of the acts up on that stage with your sheer professionalism and ability to please a crowd. Well done Alvin, that's how I'll remember you.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

John Holt

I was sad to hear that John Holt has died.  He was one of the early international proponents of reggae as part of The Paragons in the '60s and as a solo singer in the 70s. The headlines today cite him as the writer of 'The Tide Is High' (a global hit for Blondie) but I still think of him as the singer of the reggae version of 'Help Me Make It Through The Night' which was a hit in 1974.

The single came from '1000 Volts of Holt', his reggae covers album of songs like 'Baby I'm A Want You', 'Killing Me Softly With Her Song' and 'Mr Bojangles'.  John's is possibly my favourite version of 'Mr Bojangles' and I have versions by various people over the years. '1000 Volts' introduced most people to his gentle reggae style, a style that almost certainly influenced and helped create the lovers rock genre.

I never saw John Holt play live, which is a regret since those early reggae pioneers created some great sounds. Although he's famous for his cover versions (and he did a skanking version of Greg Lake's Christmas epic, 'I Believe In Father Christmas') he created some amazing songs. He moved away from his gentle love songs to heavier songs like 'Police In Helicopter' about the police crackdown on ganga in Jamaica in which he sings that if the police continue to burn fields of herb then the people will take revenge and burn down the sugarcane fields.

There were lots of sides to this under-rated artist who should've been bigger than he was. Do yourself a favour and listen to some of his songs in celebration of his life.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A Sea of Poppies

To commemorate the beginning of the First World War, the 'war to end all wars', the old moat of the Tower of London is being planted with thousands of ceramic red poppies. This is the latest photo of progress taken by the MPS in the sky (the helicopter bobbies) and it looks pretty complete to me. I think the aim is to have it totally planted before Armistice Day and that should be achieved with ease from the looks of this photo.

The moat covers a huge area and I was in it a few years ago for a world music festival so have walked most of it - it's big! I think there are places where you can get into the moat to see the poppies up close and take photos but suspect that'll be closing in the run up to the day. I'm also vaguely sure that someone said you can buy the poppies after the event for something like £20 each, monies going to the British Legion (I think, but don't take my word for it).

I'd quite like to see the moat covered in red poppies if I can.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Amanda Palmer - to pay or not to pay?

That Amanda Palmer has posed us, her fans, a new question: would we be willing to pay her a wage for her work? She's come across this new thing called PATREON where you pay the artist of your choice by month or by piece of content for their art. This is what Amanda says in her latest Facebook post:

I WANT TO GET BACK TO MAKING ALL THE THINGS AND I NEED YOU TO TELL ME HOW WE ARE GOING TO DO THIS. this is really important, so please leave comments. i will be reading everything.

just got off the phone with eric (@southships) and the team. things are afoot. we make a Thing.

i've been recording new music, slowly but surely, in the cracks of my schedule. i've also been working on ideas for new videos, and thinking about what to write next, post-book, and how to make a living, money-wise, post-kickstarter.

i've also been going back and forth with a few big newspapers about doing an "ask amanda" column, which is actually quite a bit of work to actually put together (fielding the questions - holy fuck there are a lot - and actually sitting down and writing.) the newspapers are slow to work with. i think i'm just going to do it myself. i'd need help and time.

this brings me to Patreon, which is a platform you've probably seen me talking about in the past few months. it's basically like kickstarter, but ongoing. as a backer/patron, you pledge to be charged by your artist: either per month or per piece of content.

go look at, for instance, the founder Jack Conte's patreon page.
he's making VIDEOS, has 1377 patrons who back him at various levels and makes about $5,300 every time he puts out a video.

mind you: the videos he puts out are free to the people of youtube. he backers back him because they.....want to support him and give him a budget, which is how it works over there. see comic artist Jeph Jacques: he's charing his patrons Per Month instead of Per Comic (you can d it any way you wanna).

he has 3214 patrons and is paid $9,700 per month to make his comics. no middleman. it's pretty wonderful. also, you can CAP your monthly backing so you don't go overbudget. which is to say: if you decide to back be at $5 per song and i go HOG WILD and release 10 songs that much, your credit card would be charged $50 at the end of the month. IF, however, you limit your budget to $15, you'll just be cahrged your maximum. i think that's important - it prevents anxiety. also, if you don't like the way things are going ("why is amanda charging us for these awful recordings of herself and her friends farting into a microphone? why is she posting essays of one sentence pasted to a single document 6,779 times? she thinks this is ART? fuck this") - you can simply cancel your backing before the end of the month hits and your card is charged.

i've been supporting about 5-6 artists on patreon for just about a year, and it's pretty awesome. they send me emails with their new videos and recordings. i likeee.

ok now breathe.

the thing about kickstarter is that it is amazing for huge projects but for artists who jyst want to get regularly paid and crank out content again and again (and again and again and again), coming up with a kickstarter, running it, doing rewards, and then starting frm the beginning and doing it again isn't the best solution for REGULAR work. it's great if, say, i want to try to fund an art book of dresden dolls photos, or make a one-time film, or even try to record and release a phsycial vinyl album. kickstarter is PERFECT for that because it gives me an idea of how many people want The Thing Itself. 5,600 people want this book? great. i'll print 10,000. 4,500 want this vinyl record? great, i'll manufacture 5,000. everybody happy.

but if i want to stay OFF a label and just hop into the recording studio when i feel like it and record songs, or write a column, and NOT put them out through the system but instead, give them straight to the world and the fanbase, kickstarter isn't the tool.

I WANT TO RELEASE THINGS FOR FREE. but as i've learned, offering 100% of everything for free on my site hasn't yielded very much business. people will help me when i ask (see: kickstarter) but they won't just wander to my music tip jar and throw in money. we have watched and learned.

so i think i'm going to try patreon. i'd use it to release All The Things: song recordings, interview recordings/podcasts, essays, videos, weird artwork, basically anything That You Will Enjoy i feel i've put enough Time and Energy into to get paid for. it's a huge trust fall, in both directions. you need to trust me to charge you for art. i need to trust you to pay for it.

BUT FIRST, before i do this, i want to know what you guys think about the details.....

the whole thing is going to be a massive experiment and i'm sure i'm going to tweak and fiddle with the levels and rewards a bit as we roll along.

TELL ME HOW THIS LOOKS. too much/too little/fair/not fair...
AND do you have any other ideas for reward levels?

important: THIS IS NOT A MERCH WAREHOUSE - part of what we want to AVOID is sending people shit in the mail every month. hardcore fans, i love you, but i don't think even YOU want be to have to slave away at sending you Shit/Posters/Shirts In The Mail every month. it's a waste. and it's not music. it's Stuff.

$1 (per month? or piece of content?) - "backer" - would give you access to my patreon stream/page where we discuss shit. it's a little social network and it's nice. i will hang out there, esp to get ideas and feedback.

EITHER $3 or $5 (per month? or piece of content? talk to me) - "downloader" - we'll send you actual files when i release songs/videos/podcast interviews/blatherings/artwork/essasy/material that comes in emailable-format.

$10 or $25 (?) (per month? or piece of content?) - "living room" -
-access to a google hangout/check-in/webcast-y kind of thing we'll do about once a month from wherever i have good lighting and wireless. i'll take questions, check in about the state o htings, talk about life, do my AFP webcast thing-thang.

$10 or $25 (per month? or piece of content?)- another thing? what

$100 - "The Medici" - (per month? or piece of content? that's a damn lotta dough. then ago, there are some really nice rich weirdos out there, hi guys!)(important: limited to 15 people only) - i will draw/send you a postcard and write you the inside-of-head message about a month, from wherever i am. consider it a postal tweet. i'll either design the card myself, or have a friend do it, or buy it at an antique shop, or a gas station, or.... y'know. also, i'll keep your phone numbers on me and if i'm too burned to post or lonely, i'll call you instead. we'll also guest list you at any shows, and list your name on any content we put out.


how do these look?

is there anything you'd be PISSED about paying for, content-wise. do you think charging for the "ask amanda" content to be posted is lame - seeing as it's going to be posted to the world for free (as pretty much EVERYTHING is, unless i have a really really rough demo that i just want to share with the fanbase)? would you feel that way if it was just bundled into "all the shit i'm putting out this month"?

and yes HERE'S THE BIG QUESTION. should we charge per piece of content, or per month?

pros? cons?

I LOVE THE IDEA of per content because i am an instant gratification freak and i love the idea of getting Paid to Make a Thing - it's sort of motivating. i can totally see myself in my underwear at 5 am going "ABBA COVER? why NOT?" and staying up til 9 am making it just because i can hit SEND at 9:01 and fall down in a pile of my own vomit feeling like i Put A Thing Into The World. i can also understand how it would feel anxiety-producing for the backers. there limit is built in there, but it does complicate things a little. i dunno. on the fence.

talk to meeeeeee.

also: if you have any other IDEAS of non-physical shit we can add to these tiers, TELL ME. it can't be something that takes so much time and energy that i spend 5 days a month delivering it. i cannot make phone calls to 899 people. i cannot sing birthday songs to 247 people. i've done that. it is awesome but it takes forever. the idea here is that i want to spend my time MAKING ART, WRITING, RECORDING, PUTTING THE CONTENT FREE OUT INTO THE WORLD and getting PAID FOR IT because some of you out there think it's worth it.

i'm wide open. i'd love to launch this within the next few weeks. i have (amazing) new recordings burning a hole in my pocket and i'd love to get this launched before book drop and tour on nov 11th (dates here: so i can talk about it to the community while i'm on the road.

sorry so long. this is huge for us and i want to get it right. talka to me.
the whole team is going to be reading these comments to get a feel for how to do this.

also....go poke around patreon and see what other people are doing. it may inspire.


So. What do you think? I'd deffo pay per content so long as there was lots of music, videos and photos. And, ideally, guaranteed hugs when Amanda was in the country.

What about you?

Sunday, 12 October 2014

'Sunny Afternoon' - Harold Pinter Theatre

'Sunny Afternoon' is the story of The Kinks in the 1960s. The play has transferred from the Hampstead Theatre to the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End with the same cast. I saw it at Hampstead earlier this year and enjoyed it so much I had to return and I'm pleased I did.

It's billed as being 'based on the music of The Kinks' but it's really the story of Ray and Dave Davies and portrays Ray as an almost reluctant pop star while Dave embraces it and lives up to his nickname of Dave the Rave. Ray is credited as being responsible for the original story (as well as for the songs, of course) and, given that he likes to keep us guessing about what really happened in the past, I suspect some of the episodes aren't necessarily 100% accurate, but it's all good fun anyway. It has the same cast and staging as at Hampstead and if anything that means it's better and tighter since they're more used to each other by now.

The play opens with The Kinks as a backing band for a toff singing a toff's party until Dave lets rip with some energetic guitar and the toff and his friend become their managers. We see Dave inventing the riff to 'You Really Got Me' in his bedroom with Ray, making it dirtier by destroying the speaker and then their struggles in the studio and on tour. Ray gets married and has a daughter while the band want more songs out of him.

The second half opens with The Kinks on tour in America and getting banned, while Ray has a breakdown at home. He sues the management and writes 'Sunny Afternoon' to be sung on the terraces at Wembley for the World Cup in 1966. They return to Number 1 with 'Waterloo Sunset' and we jump forward to 1970 for a closing version of 'Lola' (with the audience on its feet, singing along) mixed with 'All Day And All Of The Night'.

The beauty of a musical based on Ray's songs is that he's got a song for every mood and every circumstance so nothing is strained or bent to make it fit. There are some lovely scenes and one of my favourites was Ray singing 'Long Way From Home' to Dave before signing the contract with Alan Klein that he didn't want to sign.

The cast were excellent and, having performed together at Hampstead, are already tight and on the ball.  John Dalgleish and George Maguire were excellent as Ray and Dave, playing off each other nicely even though they don't look at all like brothers. John does tortured genius very well and George lives up to the Rave nickname effortlessly.

The play is quick paced and keeps going at a gallop from scene to scene, packing in the action and the  music. There's still a runway out into the stalls and this gives the cast a lot of space to play and run around. The set is the same as Hampstead with mainly the amplifier background for most of the scenes, with an American flag for the American tour. There are approximately 2,357 costume changes for the girls, from fans at concerts to go-go dancers on telly shows and I applaud their quick-change skills.

It is, all in all, great fun and should be seen by anyone who appreciates music or some good sibling rivalry. The audience was definitely of a certain age to have seen the Kinks the first time around and it was great for the whole audience to get to our feet to sing along to 'Lola' (just as everyone does at Ray Davies shows). What is it about that song that drags people to their feet and sing a love song to a transexual? It was, of course, as I've mentioned before, my first ever 7" single.

I loved it. I even loved the lady behind me and a few seats over feeling the need to sing along to a few of the songs (especially 'Days'). It's the music, as well as the play, that's opening her mouth and making her sing (and she had a nice voice). The only downside was there was no programme and no merchandise. A West End theatre that runs out of programmes? What? And please, 'Sunny Afternoon' management, get some Kinks and Ray and Dave solo merch in - people will buy it y'know. Audiences like having something to take home as a memory. A cast recording with, I think, 28 songs, will be available at the end of this month so I'll certainly be getting that.

I hope this show runs for a long, long time. I'll be going back again, maybe a few rows nearer the stage so I get showered in confetti when… well, that would be telling. Go on people, go and see this excellent show. Keep it alive, keep it vibrant and keep it Kinky!

Lord of the Flies - Sadler's Wells

I last read 'Lord of the Flies' by William Golding 38 years ago but the new stage production by Matthew Bourne and Scott Ambler brought it all back to life for me. 'Lord of the Flies' is the latest New Adventures production and is currently on tour around the UK and we caught it on its London stop at Sadler's Wells last week. It was surprisingly easy to follow the storyline and I even remembered the name of the lead character.

'Lord of the Flies' tells the story of a group of schoolboys abandoned on a desert island with no adults in sight and is the tale of their learning to survive. It's also the tale of their descent into tribalism and barbarity without the civilising influence of the adult world around them. When I read it as a teenager I was never sure whether it was a children's story or a story about children, and I'm still not. I suppose that's one of the beauties of the piece - what is it really about?  It's all terribly middle class and wonderfully energetic.

It begins with the boys (and men) coming on in school uniform and grey shorts, with angelic choir voices and military precision movements, all neat and tidy with the blazers and backpacks. It's downhill from there, of course, as clothes become worn and torn and discarded and the tribalism takes over. Boys will be boys and the fights and face-offs take over as they struggle to survive in a hostile environment with no adult guidance.

I well remember the woollen grey shorts the schoolboys wore and wore them myself until I started grammar school. I remember wearing long trousers when I was a child but had to wear those awful shorts for junior school.

We see Ralph trying to lead the boys in a reasonable way and struggling against the lads that bully and dominate. How can he do this? Ultimately, of course, he wins and he fails.

I loved the energy of the piece, with movement all over and never a dull moment, always something happening to watch and marvel at. I loved the wildness and the thoughtfulness and I loved seeing the non-professionals (I was going to say 'amateurs') on stage alongside the main dancers.

That's one of the really good things about this production. Since it needs boys of all ages it can't rely on a standard touring cast so it recruits local talent wherever it goes with about half the cast being recruited and trained specifically for the show. All these lads and young men joining a professional cast of dancers as part of an intense show must be an incredible experience for them and a wonderful thing to add to their CV. It must also be exhausting for the standing cast to work with a new set of colleagues in every city on the tour. But it works, and works well.

What a treat! It has finished it's London visit for now, but if you get the chance to see it I recommend that you do so. The production is on tour for a while yet so there are still plenty of opportunities to glory in this re-telling of a classic tale. The energy on stage alone is worth it!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

'Doctor Scroggy's War' - Shakespeare's Globe

This evening we went to see a new play, 'Doctor Scroggy's War' at the Globe. The weather was very different to last week, all chilly and damp and, at one point, rain coming down on the groundlings and extended stage. Luckily we were seated and covered but it didn't keep out the chill.

'Doctor Scroggy's War' is a new play from Howard Brenton specially commissioned by the Globe to commemorate the start of the First World War in 1914. So much has been written about the 'war to end all wars' that it must be very difficult to come up with a new angle and it looks like Howard has managed to do this with his focus on the plastic surgery developments needed to deal with the injuries coming out of the trenches and the developments of modern warfare. And that's where Dr Scroggy comes in.

Every now and then there were elements of 'Oh What A Lovely War' (which was revived at Stratford earlier this year) and Chris mentioned there were shades from Pat Barker's novels but, I suppose, that can't really be helped these days.

It's the story of Jack Twigg, the son of East End working class people who gets a scholarship to Oxford but quits to join the army when war is declared. He mixes with toffs and is promoted to captain in an intelligence unit but really wants to be on the front line. When he manages to get to the front line he is shrapnel-damaged and left for dead until Dr Scroggy's nurses find him, see that he's alive and send him back to Sidcup in Kent to Scroggy's hospital to have his face reconstructed. In the meantime Jack (obviously) falls for the posh bird he has a one night stand with and she then falls for him so there's a love element to ruin before the end. And, of course, who is Scroggy?

The centre of the play is the tale of Howard Gillies, the pioneering plastic surgeon who helped  to reconstruct the faces of soldiers ravaged by shrapnel. He is also Dr Scroggy who roams the wards at night with a bottle of champagne in kilt and ginger beard to cheer up the wounded young men. The sadness is that so many of the men he 'fixes' return to the front to continue the fight. And that's the problem with Jack Twigg, that he feels called to return to the front despite his parents telling him, at the end, that he's half-German himself.

And, I suppose, that's where my problem with the play chrystalised, the whole returning-to-the-front thing. My Granda had his arm shot off when he was aged 19 in that war - the same age as Jack - and I can't imagine him wanting to return. Why on earth would you want to? A lot is made of Jack playing with toy soldiers when he was a boy and idolising the cavalry charge but, having seen the horror of modern warfare, why on earth would he want to go through it again? I've got no idea.

The big positive about this play is that it depicts young women  on the front line as nurses trying to save the wounded. At last, a play that shows the bravery of women in those dark days. Well done for that.

There's a lot more going on in 'Scroggy' than I mention and it's a good play that gets people thinking (or, at least, me thinking). It's only on for another few days so see it if you can before it closes.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Julius Caesar - Shakespeare's Globe

I went to see the new production of 'Julius Caesar' at Shakespeare's Globe the other evening and was stunned. It's a great production - yes - but it was the play that stunned, the language and poetry, the plot and storytelling and the sheer artistry of the thing. The play's the thing … I mean, wow!

I know the start of the 'friends, Romans, countymen' speech and some of the other famous lines but I've never seen the play or read the text so it was marvellous to hear those lines of poetry spoken aloud for the first time and wonder how on earth Mr Shakespeare manages to manipulate my emotions with his words. It really was quite stunning and I was almost in tears a few times with the beauty of it several times. It might be 400 years old but it's new to me. And I want more.

It's not so much about Julius Caesar as it is about Marcus Brutus. It's his tragedy really. Julius comes, he sees and he conquers and then he gets knifed lots of times. But why? What's it all about? And for that, you need to know your Plutarch, like Shakespeare did. Brutus's family had a long history of opposing kings and tyrants and supporting the republic and that's the background to the play. A man conflicted with his own tradition, his belief and the reality of politics happening in front of him. The play brings this out very clearly and so does this production.

Brutus is drawn into the conspiracy to get rid of Caesar by playing to his fears that Caesar will become king whereas the other conspirators clearly have less lofty reasons. The first half takes us from Caesar's triumphant return to Rome to the Ides of march and his energetic multiple stabbing. Mark Anthony whips up the people of Rome to seek revenge for Caesar's slaying through a superb speech in which he denigrates himself and his oratory compared to the noble Brutus. Listening to that speech ('Friends, Romans, countrymen…') for the first time in whole was astonishing - a masterclass in speech writing and political speechwriting at that. And it was delivered superbly.

The play continues after a break with the fall-out from the deed with danger in the city and civil war ranging in the country. The conspirators versus the newly formed triumvirate of Mark Anthong, Octavius Caesar and Lepidus (and we see Lepidus deposed in 'Anthony & Cleopatra'). A series of fast-moving events leads to Brutus committing suicide by running onto his sword and his enemies declaring him the most noble of Romans. We see the ghost of Caesar visiting Brutus one night and imagine the gasps from the audience when we see that the servant who holds Brutus's sword for him to run onto is the same actor who plays Caesar. Oo-er!

I was blown away by this play and the production and would single out Tom McKay as Brutus and Luke Thompson as Mark Anthony for special praise, if only because they had the best speeches and delivered them perfectly. I liked the Jacobean costumes (even when wrapped around with mini-togas), especially the big boots most of them wore (I want boots like that). Oddly, I didn't take to Octavius Caesar at all and didn't take to him in 'Anthony & Cleopatra' either - too up himself for my taste.

I left the theatre with a programme and with the Penguin edition of the text. I've never read it before but I will now, I want to savour those words on my tongue. Well done on a most fabulous play, Will, and well done to all at the Globe for a great production!

Friday, 3 October 2014

'Central Park Arrest' - Thunder Thighs (and Lynsey de Paul)

I've mentioned Thunder Thighs and 'Central Park Arrest' a few times in this blog. I have Lynsey de Paul's version but not the single by Thunder Thighs. It's a song by Lynsey from 1974 that isn't available on any CD or digital channel but I remember from 'Top of the Pops' back in 1974. According to Wikipedia it reached Number 30 in the UK chart.  It's one of those mythic songs that exist in my memory but nowhere else… or does it?

I thought I'd do a google on the song and imagine my surprise and delight to find that it has finally been released on a compilation album from 2010 and is on iTunes for download. A picture search also showed up loads of photos of the picture sleeve that weren't available the last time I looked. What happened four years ago to make this song and pictures surface online? I've obviously missed something…

Thunderthighs have a great history as backing singers. They were the 'coloured girls' on Lou Reed's 'Walk On The Wild Side' going 'doo de-doo' and were on Mott The Hoople's 'Roll Away The Stone'. I also suspect they were part of the inspiration for 'Rock Follies'.

So, what did I do? I downloaded 'Central Park Arrest' and their follow-up single 'Dracula's Daughter' instantly, of course. What else could I possibly do? 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Lynsey de Paul

I was saddened to wake up to the news that Lynsey de Paul has died. Lysey will always have a special place in my 12 year old heart and I listened to the 2xCD collection of all her music between 1972-74 on the way to work and returning home this evening. Some great and truly under-rated pop songs. I've blogged before about Lynsey and will probably do so again when the mood strikes.

Whenever I hear her first hit single, 'Sugar Me', I whiz back in time to the summer of 1972 when my family was on holiday in Scarborough or Bridlington (I can't remember which) and 'Sugar Me' was played endlessly on the radio, along with Alice's 'Schools Out' and Bowie's 'Starman'. Yes, that's the company she was in. I remember not wanting to go out and play because I wanted to listen to pop music on my tiny transistor radio. I loved 'Sugar Me' then and I still do - it's elegant simplicity is a slice of perfect pop.

She was the only solo British girl pop star that wrote her own songs back then and, from that first appearance on 'Top of the Pops', she was definitely a pop star. What I didn't realise, of course, was that I'd already heard her songs, such as 'Storm In A Teacup' by The Fortunes, 'Crossword Puzzle' for Dana and the songs she wrote with Barry Blue. A year or so later she wrote 'Central Park Arrest' which was recorded by Thunder Thighs aka the backing vocalists for Lou Reed and Mott The Hoople. I loved that song with its police sirens  but I've never managed to find it anywhere (I have Lynsey's version of the song, obviously).

Lynsey followed up 'Sugar Me' with 'Getting A Drag' about Glam Rock and how men wearing make-up was causing lots of confusion ('I kissed a mister just as pretty as a sister'). Her next big hit was 'Won't Somebody Dance With Me', a slow song about being a wallflower until her prince arrived that she won her first Ivor Novello Award for (the first women to do so). I wasn't too keen on that song but I loved her first album and I still have it on vinyl. 'Surprise' really is a surprise, introducing us to Lynsey's range of songs, from the pop of 'Sugar Me' to swampy 'Mama Do' to the introspective 'Ivory Tower' to the plain odd 'Just Visiting'. That record proves there was a lot more to Ms de Paul than a 3 minute pop song and still stands the test of time.

Imagine my joy when I heard that Lynsey was going to co-host the Marc Bolan celebration at Shepherd's Bush in 2012 along with Sir Noddy Holder. Lynsey on stage? O yes! She didn't sing, sadly, but she joked with Noddy and looked splendid in a little sparkly cocktail dress. Noddy cheekily talked about chasing Lynsey round the 'Top of the Pops' studio back in the day. Bet he didn't really but Lynsey played along. Here's a photo I took of Lynsey with Sir Nod and Danielz from T.Rextacy who provided the music on the night.

Lynsey obviously did more than I'm telling you but this is my blog and my memories and, if you want a fuller picture of Lynsey, then start off with the BBC article. You'll find out lots about Lynsey with a judicious search. But this bloggie is about me and Lynsey.

I was delighted to hear of two new double CDs issued last year that collect all Lynsey's recorded works between 1972 and 1979 and I bought them straight away. My favourite is, obviously, 'Sugar And Beyond - Anthology 1972-1974' which covers the peak years of my listening to Lynsey. This is what I've been listening to today. It includes the singles, the 'B' sides (remember them?) and the first two albums, 33 songs in all. The second double CD covers 1975-79 and has another 29 songs including her Eurovision song with Mike Moran, 'Rock Bottom'.

Farewell Lynsey, you were and are well loved. I hope that's some comfort to your family. I've been listening to you for 42 years now and that will continue, at least in this small part of the internet.

Kate Bush - The Second Sighting

I was lucky enough to get tickets to see Kate Bush's penultimate concert at Hammersmith on 30 September. I saw Kate at the start of September and had tickets in the fourth row from the stage so I was quite happy to have tickets in the fourth row from the back this time, still central and with a great view. I liked being able to see the whole stage without having to move my head to follow Kate across the stage. It's quite a spectacle and it's great to be able to relax into the show and drink it in since I know what to expect.

Kate played the same set as the earlier show but she seemed even more smiley and 'up' if that's possible - whether it's the 'up' of being familiar with the adulation or the 'up' of knowing she only had one more show, I don't know. But she seemed to be having a ball! And still barefoot! (I shall have to have a word about that).

The show was made up of the 'hits' to open the show followed by 'The Ninth Wave' and then, after a half-time break, the 'Aerial' sequence. Even though I knew what was happening next I couldn't help but be attracted to the details I hadn't noticed previously, to the subtle activities of the backing singers/actors doing stuff just out of sight of Kate, the musicians getting into it again and giving it some heavy welly.

What were my favourite moments? O, I don't know… Opening with 'Lily' is transcendent, a song about magic opening a magical concert, followed by 'Hounds of Love' with the backing singers imitating the yelps and barks of hounds and the sublime 'Running Up That Hill' that had my eyes moist. Then the 'King of the Mountain' that built and built until the bull-roarer took over to welcome the storm and the thunder of the cannon shooting Tennyson's words into the audience to herald 'The Ninth Wave' suite. O wow!

It started me thinking about how much rehearsal time went into this show, to perform songs Kate's never tried to re-create live before without the studio wizardry. Of course, 'Hounds of Love' was released 29 years ago and technology has come a long way since then. But what a brave artistic vision, wanting to re-create song cycles with visuals that she laid down a long time ago, and the second half of the show creating the second part of 'Aerial' with birdsong, magic and wonder centre stage. It's the vision that's astonishing, thinking 'I can do this' and pulling it off and making us all go 'wow'.

Listening to the songs Kate's chosen for her first shows in 35 years highlights some themes and for me it was how often she sings about being up high - up on the roof, on a hill, on the angel's shoulders. There's something here to think about, particularly with all the bird imagery in 'Aerial: A Sky of Honey'. What is it about being up high that Kate likes? Is it the freedom? The security of being able to see people approaching? I don't know.

The final song of the show proper is 'Aerial' in which Kate sings that she wants to be up on the roof and in the performance she transforms into a blackbird and duels with the lead guitarist in bird-form, challenging and teasing as the song mounts to a crescendo, trees crashing down onto the stage and through the piano and the stage blacks out. And then, for a split second, the lights focus on where Kate is about to be and we see her fly! But, of course, Kate Bush can fly! Why would anyone doubt that?

The encore is Kate on piano playing 'Among Angels' and the sing-a-long version of 'Cloudbusting'. She knows what we've been waiting for! I loved it, being an *official* backing singer for Ms Bush. I must also include a shout-out to Jacqui Dubois as one of Ms Bush's backing singers/ actresses who played the role of Miss Brown in 'The Harder They Come' a few years ago ('international styles, local prices').  I mean, 'wow' (again).
What happens next? After a month of live shows after 35 years this can't be the end. There'll be the DVD of course, and, I hope, a live album. But what else? We'll just have to wait patiently and see what Kate decides to do…