Thursday, 30 July 2015

Buffy Sainte-Marie - 'Many A Mile'

In important Buffy news, her second album, 'Many A Mile' is finally available for the first time on CD. The blurb on Amazon says:

This is the last of Buffy Sainte-Marie's albums to make it into Ace's catalogue of her Vanguard releases. The delay was caused by the lack of a master tape and Ace did not want to dub it from disc. Thankfully a tape has now been discovered and they can fill the gap. Originally released in 1965 as VSD 79171. The album contains a fair percentage of traditional material including several Child ballads. Of her self-penned songs, Until It's Time For You To Go is the most famous.

Some of the songs on this album have been included on compilations over the years but the full album hasn't been available, at least in this country. I bought my copy from a record dealer in Italy and it came in a  reproduction cover but it'll be nice to have this new version.

Until recently, 'Piney Wood Hills' was a staple of Buffy's live set and, of course, she always plays the gorgeous 'Until It's Time For You To Go'. Other favourites are 'Los Pescadores' with her amazing and haunting voice banshee-wailing as the sea and the spine tingling 'Lazarus', just voice and hand-claps. And did you know that Kanye West sampled 'Lazarus' when he produced one of Cam'ron's albums? He did y'know, you can hear it plain as day on 'Dead or Alive' on the album 'Come Home With Me' (no idea if Buffy gets a credit).

I will get my pocket money out and invest in this record immediately! 

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Public Image Ltd - 'Double Trouble'

Fab new single from Public Image Ltd - energy and fun rippling through the whole thing. Looking forward to the new album!

Monday, 27 July 2015

'Three Days In the Country' at the National Theatre

Last week I went to see a preview of 'Three Days In The Country' in the Lyttleton Theatre at the National Theatre. It's a new version of the Turgenev play by Patrick Marber and it brings a nice comedic sensibility to the play which is otherwise full of broken dreams. So many broken dreams and lost loves that I lost count.

As the title suggests, it's set in a country house in Russia and the action takes place over three days one fateful summer. We meet the three generations of the family that lives there, their friends and neighbours, and their hired help including the maid and the young tutor. There are a lot of intertwined relationships going on and we watch as they develop and fall apart, and we see the history to some of them and can only guess at what happens in the future with others.

The play opens with Natalya, the bored lady of the house who's summoned an old friend of her husband's to the house to amuse her. Rakitin is in love with her and has been since they first met in Moscow years ago with her husband. She falls for Belyaev, the handsome young tutor for her son and so does her ward, Vera. Meanwhile, Belyaev is having fun with Katya, the maid. Already you can see this is destined to be no good for any of them. In a parallel tale, the family doctor Shpigelsky proposes to the household retainer Livaveta while trying to get Vera to agree to marry local neighbour SomebodyOrOther. It all gets terribly confusing and I won't tell you what happens because I don't want to spoil it for you.

The best scene was a double-header between Mark Gatiss as the doctor and Debra Gillet as the retainer in which he asks her to marry him by spelling out his worst habits and making clear what he doesn't want rather than what he wants. It's even better since he hurts his back, can hardly move, and regales his potential bride while crouching on the floor in pain. It really is an excellent scene and great comic performances from them both.

I also liked Amanda Drew as the lady of the house and John Simm as the long-time friend, along with Royce Pierreson as the tutor and Cherrelle Skeete as the maid (though I'm not at all sure why she kept breaking into song). The youngsters brought a lot of life and vitality to the play whereas their elders all seemed a bit angsty.

I was surprised by, and really liked, the sparse staging, a big open stage with a few bits of furniture and a mysterious red door hanging above the stage. The actors are in simple period costumes and the absence of clutter on the stage makes for a very 'clean' stage which transforms from drawing room to barn with a few deft shifts. Around the edges of the stage were chairs for the actors to sit in when not on the stage proper - given the sheer size of the Lyttleton stage then it was ok and they didn't intrude at all but that approach seems to be a bit on-trend at the moment.

The play is still in preview so I'm sure there's scope for tightening it up in a few places. It's light-hearted and tragic by turn and the overall message is don't throw yourself at your son's tutor because it won't turn out how you expect. O no. But, broadly speaking, I liked it so go and see it!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

'Cinderella' at The Coliseum

A couple of weeks ago I went to see a production of 'Cinderella' by the Dutch National Ballet at The Coliseum. I've never seen a 'classical' ballet so, after loving the ballet suite of 'Woolf Works' a couple of months ago at the Royal Opera House, I thought it was time to try one. And why not start with a fairy tale that we all know, a classic and timeless fairytale of love and how the under-dog (if you see what I mean) becomes triumphant? Cinders isn't a dog, obv.

It's largely the tale you know but with added Prince. Why do we need to know about the Prince's childhood and his friends? I can only surmise that it' because the prodiction needs a leading male role and that must be the Prince so he needs a larger role. But I don't care about the Prince, I care about Cinders so those scenes with the Prince were almost an annoyance. It's fine when he grows up and starts courting Cinderella but I don't really need to see him growing up.

You know the tale of Cinders, how her mother died and her father married again, a wicked step-mother and step-sisters, how she got to the ball and left her glass slipper, how the Prince eventually tracked her down and married her. Yes, that's all there, but it all about we get to that final scene. We see the mice periodically throughout the first half but they come into their own in the final scene, the magical transformaton into a coach and horses to take Cinders to the ball with her cape billowing out behind her in the coach. That scene was one of the highlights and was certainly magical.

We are invited to the ball, to the gloriously blue costumes of the dancers into which Cinders crashes in her silver and gold finery. No wonder the Prince was smitten. They dance and they twirl and then Cinders must make her way home before the magic evaporates as it inevitably must do. And in doing so she leave behind a precious glass slipper that the Prince can use to try on everyone who fits the bill of being 'female' to see if they are his beloved Cinders. You'd think he'd be able to use his eyes to recognise her but that would be churlish to suggest.

We then have the madatory scene about all and sundry trying on the glass slipper including wood gnomes and Thai princesses who weren't at the ball in the first place but why let spoil a good scene? That's an oddly sexist scene - why would everyone want to marry the unknown Prince? He might be an utter bastard for all they know. But tradition is tradition and that is that everyone must try on the glass slipper, including the ugly sisters, until he finally finds Cinderella and they get married under the tree that's planted above her mother's grave. O how sweet.

So there you have it, the bellet version of the fairytale we all know of Cinderella. It was fun enough and all that, full of glamour and glittery costumes, lots of movement and music but... so what? The family with three children in front of us all fell asleep other than the mother. That's a message I think, although it may be more about the attention span involved in popular culture these days.

I enjoyed the spectacle of it all but not really the artistry. What was missing - or rather, what didn't I see? I enjoyed some of the set pieces and loved the bits out in the woods when Cinders danced with the dryans and woodlands folk but the courtly scenes? naah. Some of it was exhuberant and life affirming and some of it wasn't. Maybe I need to see another ballet?

Matthew Bourne's 'The Car Man' at Sadler's Wells

Last week we went to see Matthew Bourne's 'The Car Man' at Sadler's Wells which was where I saw it (possibly in the same seats) when it was revived in July 2007. It seems like it's a summer show and it's certainly hot and steamy.

The tale is set in small town America, in Harmony with a population of some 370 souls, which is little more than a garage and a diner. The local lads work in the garage and the girls in the diner next door and the diner comes alive when the garage closes and everyone gets together for their night out.

Dino owns the garage and diner which is run by his wife Lana and her sister Rita. Lana makes it clear on numerous occassions that she doesn't want to be too close to her aging husband but has nowhere to turn. And then Luca appears, a drifter who is good with his hands and starts working in the garage and eventually starts an affair with Lana. At the same time, he's stringing Angelo along, the local geek who likes to read in his break in shifts from the garage and is supposedly going out with Rita. When Luca doesn't get his was with Lana because Dino comes home early, he lures Angelo into a car for rumpy-pumpy and the car rocks back and forth. Angelo is smitten. He's still bullied by the lads but at least he now has a friend.

The first half is all exuberance and full of a passion for life and love, for showing off and getting the girl, for being one of the lads. Endless movement, quick and focused with no stillness at all. And then it goes horribly wrong when Dino comes home early again. Lana and Luca have danced a most passionate dance, sizzling with erotic energy and then Dino finds them in an embrace on the floor and is enraged by this proof of Lana's infidelity.

She grabs a heavy spanner and slashes him on the head. When that fails to kill him, she gives it to Luca to finish the job and he does before running away when he hears the sound of police sirens. At that point in comes Angelo who holds Dino to see if there's anything he can do and gets blood on him and, just as the police arrive, Lana grabs Angelo to make it look like he's trying to rape her to frame him for killing Dino. And it's all over for Angelo who's life will never be the same again, innocence lost forever and all because of the scheming (and previously sympathetic) Lana.

The second half opens six months later in a swanky club (the Beat Route) in the nearest big city with Lana, Luca and friends all living the high life on Dino's money, gambling, dancing and getting drunk. And then Dino's ghost appears to spoil the fun. Switch to county jail and Rita is visiting Angelo before being scared off and the prison guard starts to abuse Angelo. He's had enough by now and fights back, knocking out the guard, stealing his gun and shirt and escapes. The scene switches back to a gloomy and obviously dying Harmony as Angelo meets Rita and pushes her away since he's been changed by his time in jail, tries to find Lana and ends up shooting Luca. Retribution is tough in Harmony.

Just as the first half is all about eneregy and life, the second half is about consequences. And they are dark. It's a marvel of storytelling through dance and lifts the spirits only to crash them down but it's clear why that happens. Happy and sad. That's life, right?

I had the impossibly named Zizi Strallen as Lana (I saw her sister, Summer, in 'A Chorus Line' a couple of years ago) and Chris Trenfield as Luca, along with Dominic North as Angelo, Kate Lyons as Rita and Alan Vincent (who created the role of Luca in the original production of 'The Car Man') as Dino. It's a really great production taking you up into the highs only to let you plummet to the depths of emotion shortly afterwards. That's powerful dancing and storytelling. Go and see it if you can!

'Everyman' at the National Theatre

Sometimes you see plays that make you laugh, bring you joy or make you wish you'd never bought tickets. And sometimes you see a play that makes you think and makes you wonder, and that's what I saw on Saturday night - 'Everyman' in the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre with Chiwetel Ejiofor in the role of Everyman. The text is a new version of the old story by Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, so it's thoughtful and lyrical by turns.

It's Everyman's 40th birthday and he has a flash party in a club with all his friends and ex-girlfriends and after the initial greetings the music starts pounding and the lights flashing. The bag of coke emerges and is spread out on tables for everyone to partake and get wild. Everyman has such a good time he passes out and his friends leave. Then God appears and summons Death. God wants Death to choose a representative human, an everyman, to justify humanity's existence and lo, there lies Everyman in a drugged-up stupor. So Death explains Everyman's challenge and sends him off on a journey to explore the soul of humanity.

Everyman calls on his friends to help him, help him travel to God and say he's a good man. But they can't do that. His ex-partner can't because he had affairs with other women and a man. They know him and his faults so friendship isn't core to humanity. He visits his family because they must have a good word for him - they're family after all. But Death comes a calling and Everyman escapes out the back door to protect his family. Money and possessions, yes, that's what everyone wants. So Everyman goes to a glitzy department store with everything for sale, including philanthropy on the top floor. He's spend tonnes of money in that store and they love him so he wants to buy the shop assistants to say a good word for him before God. But they can't do that, no, they're already on the other side of the glass wall that divides them from God. He can keep his credit cards since they can't be bought.

Down on his luck and despairing, Everyman finds himself with the down and outs and this is where he finds his 'conscience' in the form of a rough sleeper who used to be a whiz-kid but fell from her high place and now drinks vodka in back streets. She suggests he finds his good deeds during his life but Good Deeds is ill and bed-ridden because of the paucity of good deeds. He's swallowed by despair until a young boy appears on a scooter and he realises it's him and he can speak to his younger self.

Everyman's despair turns to revelation as we meet his senses and realises that man is a marvel to behold. He thanks God for his sense of smell, of touch, his sexuality, his successes over the years. O yes, man is a marvel. But we find out that it's too late and Everyman is already dead. Not so dead that he can't call Death a cunt as he leaves. Death is offended and says he's at his most dangerous when he's unpredictable and turns on the audience, choosing who to take with him and the lights go out.

All I can say is 'wow'. The play takes you on a journey and I bet all our journeys are different, a journey into our own soul exposing us to thoughts and concepts, situations that can only make you think. And I did.

The writing was superb and the production as a whole was great, with marvelous lighting, a minimal set and a pit at the back of the stage for characters to vanish into. A massive video-wall for projections and lights to sparkle when you least expect it made up the staging. Chiwetel Ejiofor was exellent as Everyman, marvelously controlled and underplayed and so powerful. Kate Duchene played God as a cleaning lady, suitably downcast and weary with mankind and her servant, Death, played by Dermot Crowley with a charming Irish brogue and implacable intent. I'd also single out Sharon D Clarke as Everyman's mother and singer to enhance the group singing with her great voice. I've seen Sharon in a few things now and always enjoy her on stage.

I had no idea what to expect with this play and that uncertainty continued for the first 10-15 minutes with Everyman's debauched birthday party with no words, just music and lights. Loud, pumping disco music and Donna Summer singing 'I Feel Love' with lights flashing makes me wonder what is it about disco that summons up hedonism and debauchery? 40 years after disco emerged and it's still considered to be the epitome of hedonism? What's that all about?

I was thinking medieval and this production is very 21st Century with Chiwetel Ejiofor as the perfect cypher for linking those changing eons with his calm and controlled delivery and that makes the scenes of despair even more powerful. It's an old, old story updated for the 21st Century and it works so well in 2015. Have we learned anything over the centuries since Everyman first strode the world searching for someone to speak for him before God? I don't think so. I didn't just buy the programme for the production, I also got the script.

Go and see it while it's on. You'll regret not seeing it and how will that fit with your ledger when you stand before God? 

Sunday, 19 July 2015

'The Beaux' Stratagem' at the National Theatre

Yesterday we went to see 'The Beaux' Stratagem' by George Farquhar at the National Theatre, part of it's new season of productions. I've heard of Mr Farquhar's Restoration comedy and am familiar with many of the themes but have never seen performed before. It was good to see it played in period costume and I got quite jealous of some of the frock coats on display.

It's the tale of two young gentlemen, the beaux in question, who have blown their funds in fashionale London and have escaped to the coutry in search of rich wives so they can return to the City. Mr Aimwell and Mr Archer (and the names say it all, really) pretend to be a lord and the other his servant when they arrive at the coaching inn, asking for their horses to be kept sadled at all times for a quick get way - and the intrigue starts. Who are the young beaux?

Not far away is the country house of Lady Bountiful, her daughter Dorinda and daughter-in-law Mrs Sullen (again with the names) and her drunken husband. All the talk is of love and Mrs Sullen making her husband jealous so that he'd pay more attention to her. She brought a dowery of £10,000 a year so is wealthy and Dorina will have a similar dowery when she marries so will be a good catch. And the plot is set for the high jinx ahead, the misunderstandings and reversals, the dashing round and the villainy.

The play is set in the inn and the country house, the same wooden set that with a few swift changes moves from one to the other, then spartan inn and the comfortable and colourful house. It was nice to see that they used all three levels of the house at different times with a lot of running up and down stairs. And with the gentlemen in frock coats and ladies and maids in floor-length gowns it 'felt' as well as sounded and looked right for the Restoration. But sometimes like it was being too fast and too knock-about with lots of running across the stage, lots of fast-paced speaking making it difficult to follow and sometimes the word-play was lost behind all the action.

All in all, I liked it! I liked Geoffrey Streatfield as Mr Archer and Susannah Fielding as Mrs Sullen, working well together and playing off each other as potential lovers. I liked Pearce Quigley as Scrub, the deadpan butler, and Jane Booker as Lady Bountiful (with her herbal remedies and, um, cordials). The country jigs and reels that supported the play and appeared every now and then with some great visual comedy moments and a great version of 'The Trifle Song' at the end got everyone's feet tapping before morphing into a more sombre solo my Mrs Sullen to finish off. 

It's a fun production and it's going to feature in one of the NT Live cinema events over the summer so even if you can't see it in person you can see it in on the big screen. And, of course, admire the gentlemen's colourful frock coats.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Suzanne Vega at Cadogan Hall

I went to see Suzanne Vega at Cadogan Hall a few weeks ago - she's played there several times and seems to like it. It was just Suzanne and Gerry Leonard's inventive guitar work, with no band this time. I love seeing Suzanne play live - she has a very calming voice and she replaces the cares of the day with her thoughtful lyrics.

The latest tour seems to focus on her first album release 30 years ago - is it really that long ago? I have vague memories of first hearing 'Marlene' by Suzanne on Ned Sherrin's Saturday afternoon Radio 4 show 'Loose Ends' and thinking, 'that's a voice I want to hear more of...'. And I have.

The Cadogan show was a mix of 'greatest hits' and showcasing songs from her first album, 'Suzanne Vega' as well as songs from the latest album, 'Queen of Pentacles'.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

'King John' at Shakespeare's Globe

We went to see 'King John' a few weeks ago, a play I've neither seen before nor read. King John isn't really on the radar at all and all I know about him is that he was Richard the Lion Heart's brother and signed the Magna Carta. Since it's the anniversary of the Magna Carta then I suspect that's why the Globe chose to revive the play. And I'm jolly pleased they did. I can see why it's not often performed but there are some smashing speeches hidden in that play and some wonderful poetry and it's great to see a production that's not scared to bring them out.

It's ostensibly the tale of John from coronation to death-bed but we also see Richard's son Arthur and his illegitimate son (known as the Bastard), power struggles with Eleanor of Acquitaine to her dynsaty (and power) intact, wars with France, Vatican meddling and all sorts of goings on. It's all over the shop so it was good to see it controlled and focused to tell an (almost) coherent narrative. I liked the staging that had most of the action taking place on red carpets laid out in cruciform shape on the stage which reflects the cross of St George on the English flag. It also controls the action.

My favourite characyers in the play were Lady Constance and the Bastard. They were consistent in purpose and, in the case of the Bastard, he developed into a loyal supporter of the crown which he can never have. Some of the other characters were very lightly drawn, like Arthur (the heir) who should have been a stronger character but it's not there in the play.

I've never seen Tanya Moodie before but she magnificent as Lady Constance, a queen determined that her son will inherit the crown and she has a stirring speech at the end of the first half that gets the blood boiling. The wronged wife, the legitimate heir, at odds with her mother-in-law Eleanor and the she vanishes and we hear nothing more about her. I want to see more of Tanya!

The other pleasant surprise was Alex Waldmann as the Bastard, Richard's illegitimate son. I saw him in 'Widower's Houses' earlier this year and it was nice to see him in a more powerful role. He was well good and I'll definitely be watching out for him in the future. He moved from illegitimate son on the make to loyal supporter and was a joy to see.

Jo Stone-Fewings played King John and definietly strayed into panto territory but it all worked and helped to make sense of the character. I can understand why this play is rarely performed but this production helped to make sense of it all. A bit of judicious editing might help future productions but I'm mighty glad I saw this production. Another thumbs up for the Globe!

Paul Smith - 'Break Me Down'

The video for Paul Smith's new single to introduce his new album 'Contradictions' due out later in August. Love it!

Monday, 13 July 2015

'Temple' at the Donmar Warehouse

There's a new play on at the Donmar and it is well worth seeing. 'Temple' is a new play starring Simon Russell Beale as the Dean of St Paul's during the Occupy protest a few years ago. The protest was meant to be outside the stock exchange but was moved on and ened up being outside St Paul's Cathedral at which point it closed it's doors to worshippers for the first time ever. The play takes place the morning after the decision to re-open the cathedral as the Dean prepares to take the morning service.

Of course, it's not that straightforward. We have the City lawyer wanting St Paul's support to evict the Occupy squatters and other church leaders not agreeing the decision to re-open the church to worshippers. The play is told through the interactions between the Dean and his new temporary secretary who arrives late and tries to do the right thing. She can't, of course, but she does present another narrative to the play as the daughter of a country clergyman with another point of view. Rebecca Humphries was great in this role, uncertain of what she could say but with the courage of her convictions.

I liked this play. It spoke to me. It spoke of fear and conviction, of belief and concern, of challenges and worries and trying to do the right thing even though that thing will be considered the wrong thing by many. An impossible situation. It tries hard to avoid too much theological debate but at one point the Dean refers to the cathedral as the parish church to the City (and all the global financial institutions it holds) and you can't help but think of Jesus and the money-lenders in the temple.  

Simon Russell Beale was great as the Dean, the man at the centre of the furore who never wanted to be a public figure. His passion for what's right and fear of making the wrong decision come across very clearly as he tries to navigate a path through contrasting views - and fails. St Paul's had stayed open during the Blitz and only closed under his tenure - the weight of failure must have been awful. I wonder if the real Dean has seen this and what he thinks of it? I thought it was a powerful piece of theatre but it left so much of the story untold. Maybe we'll see more?

Sunday, 12 July 2015

'The Motherfucker With The Hat' at the National Theatre

'The Motherfucker with the Hat' is the new American import at the National Theatre and it is fab! I suspect the title alone puts some people off going to see it but don't - you must see it. Despite the language, it's a very touching play about people who've made the wrong choice at some point in their lives - they're not bad people at all, just flawed, like most of us. And, by the way, it's not the motherfucker with the hat, it's someone else....

For some obscure reason I loved this play. I don't know why since by all accounts I should hate it and all the characetres but I don't. I empathise with them. And that's part of the joy of this play since it makes you think again. I haven't had a good time with 'working class' American plays this year ('View from the Bridge' and 'American Buffalo') but this was different. It was what it was and I enjoyed it all the more for being a straightforward story (or not so straightforward given all the twists and turns) with a sad ending. And yes, it is sad.

It's the tale of an ex-con who finally gets a job to keep his girlfriend happy but who suspects she's been sleeping with the bloke downstairs because he finds a hat and that bloke always wears a hat. We follow his jealousy for a few days only to find out that it's someone else who's been sleeping with her who she really doesn't want - I won't say who in case you're due to see it (it came as a big surprise). She wants him, her lover, but things have gone wrong. In the final scene he tries to win her back but ....

The whole play is about people who've made the wrong choices at some stage in their lives. My favourite character was cousin Julio who doesn't really like his cousin, the protagonist, but supports him for his mother's sake. And then he tells the tale of how they got high at the age of 11 and the protagonist went off with the cool kids leaving Julio alone only to reappear five minutes later with munchies. Not such a bad cousin after all, eh?

It's a sad tale of misunderstood people. The set is excellent with each scene being staged in a different apartments which slide on out of the darkness of the stage and change the atmosphere. The actors are all really convincing and even the British actors pull off a credible New York accent. The language is, of course, on the dirty side of foul but it's all in keeping with the play. I didn't expect to love it but I did. And you don't want to fall foul of Julio Van Damm!

Amanda Palmer at Union Chapel and Waterstones

How is it possible that I was graced with the presence of Amanda Palmer over a month ago and I haven't yet blogged about it? I don't understand that at all! So it's time to make up for it.

I saw Amanda at Union Chapel on 8 June, the show that was filmed in its entirety courtesy of the Patrons (of which I am one, through the Patreon system). It's available to watch on YouTube and is posted below - scroll in 35 minutes for Amanda walking on stage in all her shimmering and golden pregnancy.

I've seen Amanda play there a couple of times before so she knows the space and knows how to work it. I suspect that's why she starts out with a voice-only folk song and how great her voice sounds, powerful and sweeping as she sings out from the pulpit. And yes, it really is a pulpit since it's a working church that also hosts gigs, shows films and hosts performance events. And you sit on pews. On that night, I was up in the balcony so had a great view of the stage.

Amanda was on stage for over two hours playing a mix of Dresden Dolls songs, covers and her solo songs. Caitlin Moran came on as a guest to do a reading from her latest book and some banter and Le Gateau Chocolat did a song. It was a fun show but I worried about her being barefoot on that stage. Favourite moments included the lovely, heart-felt 'Ampersand', the minxy 'Map of Tasmania', the sad 'The Bed Song', 'Delilah' and a most fabulous 'Leeds United' as the closer. It was nice to hear 'Astronaut' for the first time in ages - that was the opening song when she toured her first album. A song I never enjoy is 'Bigger on the Inside', a song Amanda wrote during the bad times a couple of years ago when she was villified across the internet and starts off, 'You'd think I shot their children...'. It makes me angry. How dare they. It's at 1:57:00 in the video.

Watch the video and you'll get a much better feel for what the gig was like rather than anything I can write. I've seen Amanda many times now but this was a special gig that will linger in the memory. She is so much bigger than when I saw her early solo shows at places like Bush Hall and the ICA and the shows are slicker and more professional with better lights and sound. At one point she asked if anyone in the audience had been there back in 2009 for her last shows at Union Chapel and there weren't many of us. She has grown in stature since then. Maybe this show was special since it's been so long since the last live gigs? Maybe. But I wrote in my notebook after writing down the setlist,'I fell in love with AFP again tonight' and I did.

The way to experience Amanda Fucking Palmer is live on stage and I'm so glad she managed to come back to London before the baby comes since it'll probably be a while before we see her afterwards. Thank you Amanda.

But wait, there's more! A couple of days later Amanda was at Waterstone's book shop in Trafalgar Square for a signing and it's been so long since I've had an Amanda-hug (and I've never had a pregnant Amanda-hug). We joined the queue at about 6pm and it already snaked around the shop.So many people to see one pregnant lady. The queue continued snaking away behind us. And then Amanda appeared, walked through the queue smiling her head off and going into the back rooms to get ready and take her place at the signing table... Three and a half hours later we finally bask in the presence of AFP, so many times after a gig but those days are gone.

She has this amazing ability to focus on you and just you to the exclusion of everyone else - it feels like you are at the centre of the world for those seconds or minutes... or at least that's how she made me feel. And I got the long-awaited hug too! And she wrote 'Punk cabaret is freedom' in my copy of her book, the most important Dolls slogan. My cup runneth over.

It's ten years since I first saw Amanda play and sing at Patti Smith's Meltdown festival on the Southbank and that's when I got my first autograph and met her when I bought the Dolls' first album from the merch stand. Who'd have guessed I'd still be seeing her ten years later? As a wise man said to you in Waterstone's, Amanda, if the bad times come again just remember that you are loved. Because you are.

Was it worth queuing for three and a half hours to meet Amanda for a couple of minutes? O yes.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

'All The Angels - Handel and the First Messiah' - Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This afternoon we went to the matinee performance of the new play by Nick Drake about Handel's 'Messiah', 'All The Angels'. It's only on for a short season and closes tomorrow but I'm jolly pleased I saw it, even from really restricted view seats. It's the tale of how Handel came to write the glorious 'Messiah', from his failed opera season in London to receiving the words to writing it and ending up in Dublin for it's first public performance. And the rest is history.

It's on at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe as part of its 'summer by candlelight' series (and yes, it really is lit by candles). It's a small stage with minimal setting but it works really well, is warm and inviting and takes us back 300 years to when Mr Handel was frustrated by the critics reviews of his latest opera. He receives the libretto to 'The Messiah' and writes the music in a matter of weeks before heading to Dublin where he's been hired to perform but he's delayed  by a storm and can't cross the Irish Sea. The irascible old man meets a young music fan at the inn he's staying in and his mood softens.

He's now in Dublin training the local choirs to sing his great oratorio and he needs a soprano so he turns to Mrs Cibber, a London actress fleeing scandal and performing in Dublin who has a marvellous but untrained voice. He chooses her to train to sing some of the songs in his masterpiece and we follow the trial of his teachings and learn about the pair as we go. Lots of humour and lots of sadness. But great art emerges and after the premier in Dublin he asks her to perform again in Dubllin to recoup his expenses and also back in London where she can return in triumph. Such a simple story told so many times but so effective.

The tale is told by an anonymous Irishman called Crazy Crow, a porter at the theatre putting on the performance who's also a body snatcher for the Dublin surgeons. He's an 'everyman' character who tells at the start that he has a part in the story of the 'Messiah' and by the end we know he has. He's touched by it, his heart opens to its beauty and he can't escape it. He also plays various other parts in the play, switching accents and wigs in a flash. The acting is great and the minimal to non-existent set works so well with the raising and lowering candelabras.

We have David Horovitch as Master Handel with Kelly Price as Mrs Cibber and Sean Campion  playing Crazy Crow and all the other parts from grave digger and body stealer to lord in the blink of an eye. And, of course, we had the Portrait Choir singing exerpts from 'The Messiah'.

I loved it. It touched me in a place I didn't know existed. I booked tickets solely because it was playing its last weekend and if it was on at the Globe then it was worth seeing and how right I was. They put on good stuff y'know.  So good I'm going back for more tomorrow.

I now want to see 'The Messiah' live. In a cathedral. At Christmas. Go on ….