Friday, 25 September 2015

Vasari's Corridor, Florence

Vasari's Corridor is the not-so-secret passageway between the Palazzo Vecchio on the north side of the green Arno river and the Pitti Palace south of the river. It was commissioned by Cosimo di Medici in 1564 and was designed and built by Georgio Vasari whose main claim to fame is that he is the biographer of all the artists of the Renaissance (see his 'Lives of the Artists'). He was also a painter in his own right and he has a large work in Santa Maria Novella.

The Corridor is exactly that - a corridor dotted with square and round windows. It's about three yards wide and four yards high and is just over a kilometre in length. It starts in the Palazzo Vecchio, crosses over to the Uffizi Gallery (which was originally government offices) and then runs along the north bank of the green Arno until it crosses on top of the shops over the Ponte Vecchio bridge, through the church of Santa Felicita (with a private balcony for the Medici's to attend services) and on into the Pitti Palace. On the south side it passes around some buildings where their owners refused to have holes knocked in them. It was originally a means of passing unseen between the different buildings with escape doors every so often in case the Medicis and their chums needed to get out quickly. Today it is an exclusive art gallery, an extension of the Uffizi. It's not generally open to the public but you can book to go on short tours with a guide and security guards to keep the paintings inside the Corridor safe.

The tour starts at the Uffizi entrance so, after going through security and up in the staff lift to the second floor, we were escorted through some of the corridors of the Uffizi to stand before a nondescript wooden door that was unlocked and opened to reveal a staircase heading downwards and we joined the Corridor with the wooden door locked behind us. This early section of the Corridor suffered bomb damage by a Mafia bomb in 1993 and some of the damaged paintings are still on display as a memory of the event.  Our guide, Lucia, explained the history and pointed out the interesting paintings. The place is full of them so you can't see them all in any detail.

The early paintings are a collection of 16th and 17th century works, none particularly grabbed my attention but there were some nice pieces. The real interest comes with the collection of self-portraits by artists from the Renaissance through to the modern period, a great collection of varying standards but it's interesting to see how different artists chose to portray themselves. They're hung in roughly chronological order filling all the available space. They're not all necessarily what they might appear - the self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci apparently has another painting underneath that uses paint that wasn't available until 100 years after Leonardo died. Ahem.

Strolling through the Corridor is a kind of time travel, seeing the faces and clothes change every few yards, seeing when beards and 'taches came in and out of fashion, ruffs making an appearance, wigs appearing and vanishing again, gradually moving forward in time. It was nice to see a surprising number of self-portraits of women artists, none of whom I've heard of, but they're represented in the collection. Many artists gave their self-portraits to the collection over the years so they'd feature in it even though their main works would never be part of the Uffizi collection. So many unheard of artists whose image is now part of the gallery.

In the middle of the Ponte Vecchio bridge section of the Corridor is a big window that gives a great view down onto the bridge itself and up-river to the other bridges spanning the Arno. It was apparently put in on orders of Mussolini to give Hitler a grand view when he visited Italy and so has the unfortunate name of Hitler's Window.

I was lagging behind the group when I heard Lucia mention a self-portrait by George Leighton who has his own gallery in London and my ears pricked up - that's Leighton House Museum, I thought, so let's have a look at the man himself. It's okay as far as it goes but of far greater interest was the self-portrait hanging beside it - Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema whose work I first saw in Leighton House earlier this year. What a coincidence! He did several self-portraits but this is my favourite, showing himself as any other man of the time wearing glasses and with creases around his eyes. I didn't realise that this is where the painting is. He looks like the kind of person you could sit down with a good cup of tea and have a nice long chat about anything.

Alma-Tadema and Leighton were mid/late-Victorians so we were speeding up in time by now and round another corner in the Corridor began the home straight of modern self-portraits from the early 20th Century onwards. Hung close together to cram in as many as possible, Lucia told us that it was around then that the Uffizi started to refuse to accept portraits that weren't of a suitable standard since it already had more than it could comfortably display or house.

The most famous self-portrait was one by Marc Chagall but it wasn't the weirdest by any means. Apparently he asked the Uffizi to choose one of several he presented them with and this is the chosen painting.

The Corridor continues into the Pitti Palace but the tour ends at the exit to the Boboli Gardens behind the Palace. It was quite warm in the Corridor so it was nice to exit down a few steps into the sunlight and gentle breeze beside the Grotto with some of Michelangelo's 'slave' forms writhing in the stone. The Grotto is closed to the public at the moment but I wandered into it ten years ago. Looking back to where we'd just exited all I could see was a closed grey door, a nondescript door that could lead anywhere or just be a storage cupboard. But I know it leads to treasures.

What a great adventure that was, to wander through time for an hour and a half, gradually moving forward until you meet the modern day again. So many paintings seen by so few people (relatively speaking). I thoroughly enjoyed the journey and would recommend it to anyone with some free time in Florence. Vasari's Corridor is one of Florence's many wonders.

Fra Angelico at San Marco and San Domenico, Florence

I first went to the former monastery of San Marco in Florence ten years ago and I still remember it well, that first baptism in Fra Angelico, Il Beato, first known as Giovanni of Fiesole. The monastery is now a museum and gallery celebrating the works of Fra Angelico next to the church of San Marco, just ten minutes walk from the Medici Palace and slightly further away, Il Duomo in the heart of the city. It's an inconspicuous place that looks, from the outside, like many other churches in Florence, no fuss or fanfare, no big signs or anything to suggest the wonders that are inside. But this is Fra Angelico central, for the sheer number of paintings all in one place. The sun shines on San Marco and the sky is blue.

You go in through a door to the side of the grand entrance to the church, buy a ticket and walk into the cloister with faded frescoes on the walls. First stop is the gallery of paintings  largely by Fra Angelico, some grand altarpieces with vibrant compositions and colours. You can now take photos without flash so people cluster to take their snaps. The first surprise was that the first altarpiece wasn't there, instead it was replaced with a sign that said it was being restored following weather damage in 2014. A couple of other works by the Fra were out on loan to exhibitions but the amazing Madonna and Child altarpiece and the Deposition altarpiece were still on show along with many others.

In another room further around the cloister is a huge fresco of the Crucifixion with an extended cast by the Fra. It's in the Chapter Room and it takes up the whole of the wall facing the door and is a big wow experience. To the left side of the painting we see the people we're told were at the Crucifixion while on the right are latter day and contemporary saints and monks mourning their Lord as if to say we were there too, if only in spirit. It's quite affecting to see this huge painting that you can't escape, the poignancy of Christ in the middle of the two thieves all suffering the same fate.

In contrast, on the right wall of the Chapter Room, is a small fresco of a saint holding his finger before his lips for silence and I couldn't help but smile at this sign. Even back then people had to be reminded to be respectfully quiet and the Fra found a lovely way of putting out that message.

There are other rooms around the cloister with other, later paintings but they're not by the Fra so are of lesser interest to me.

Another door off the cloister leads into a corridor and you turn right and start up a wide staircase, heading away from the 'public' areas of the monastery and up to the more private area for the monks. Up that first flight of stairs, turn right again and up another set of stairs and there, right in front of you on the landing is the Annunciation, probably the Fra's most famous fresco. It really is quite astonishing to be faced with this painting as you ascend the stairs, out of nowhere there's the glory of the Angel and the Virgin foretelling the birth of the Christ. It's much larger than you might think and is both a surprise and a welcome. I can only wonder how it was received by visitors 500 years ago who had probably never seen anything like it in its humanity and vibrant colours.

On closer inspection you can that the Angel's wings glitter and sparkle - was this a trick of the paint or is it the base rock of the wall shining through the paint? I've no idea but the wings sparkle and attract attention. Along the bottom of the painting, on the marble of the loggia the Virgin sits in, is writing in medieval Latin - is this the Fra's writing or was it added later?

Moving further into the upstairs area is the most private part of the monastery, the monks' cells. All are small and unfurnished but all include a small devotional painting by Fra Angelico on the wall beside the small window. There are various scenes from the Bible and the life of Christ, with many crucifixion scenes and scenes of him rising from the tomb. Most of the crucifixion scenes include one or more saints from monastic orders, the predecessors of the monks sleeping in these cells. All of the scenes are dominated by Fra Angelico's personal interpretation and vision of what is happening before him, created by his brushes and paints.  What must it have been like to wake up in the morning and the first thing you see is one of these paintings? Right there in front of you every morning and every moment you're in that room is a scene of your Lord. Can you image being assigned one of these small cells at random and waking up after your first night in the monastery to see a depiction of your risen Lord in all his glory shining from the wall in front of you? What does that do to the soul?

The scenes cover the whole life of Christ and there's even one of him leading the souls of the dead into Heaven. Here's a selection of some of what you can see, all painted in the same space in the cells on the wall beside the small window:

At the end of the corridor is the cell that houses some of the furniture used by Savonarola, a rebel friar of visions who established a republic in Florence for a short time. He was later hanged and then burned in Piazza Signoria with two other friars. This is a suite by comparison with the other cells, with three interlinked rooms. At the end of the corridor the other way is a cell for the Medicis' that includes an altar room up a few steps from the floor. There's also a large light and airy library for the monks which was also the workshop where they - including Fra Angelico - produced their illuminated manuscripts.

San Marco is a marvellous place and has a quiet, peaceful feeling to it - or at least it has each time I've visited. I can't imagine the mad scramble of tour groups in these spaces but it probably happens. It's not in the heart of Florence and there's nothing major to visit beyond San Marco so you need to want to visit to be in that part of the city. 

In the square in front of San Marco are the bus stops of some of the main bus routes north of Florence and it's the terminus for the Number 7 bus. That bus route goes up into the hills outside Florence to Fiesole, Fra Angelico's home town. The route also drives right past the church and monastery of San Domenico in which Giovanni first became a monk. The church is still open and holds regular services and it is still a Dominican monastery for the monks in their white robes. These days they use mobile phones as I know since there was a group of them coming from a coach they'd been on to attend the beatification of one of their former monks at a church in Florence.

It's a quiet little church with a lovely altarpiece by Fra Angelico in a small chapel not far from the door. It's just one of many paintings not signposted or singled out in any way other than having a switch on the wall to switch on the lights for three minutes so you can see the painting.  

The predella to this altarpiece is now in the National Gallery in London and I've seen it often, made of five small and very intricate paintings with Christ as king of heaven in the centre, surrounded by his biblical ancestors and prophets as well as saints of the Christian era.

On the wall to the left of the altarpiece is a plaque that commemorates the beatification of Fra Angelico in 1982 by Pope John Paul II.

Fra Angelico was born near Fiesole in 1395 and died in Rome in 1455. He was buried in Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. That his works are still vibrant and still treasured says a lot about him and his vision. His epitaph is reported to read:


When singing my praises, don't liken my talents to those of Apelles.
Say, rather, that, in the name of Christ, I gave all I had to the poor.
The deeds that count on Earth are not the ones that count in Heaven.
I, Giovanni, am the flower of Tuscany.


Thursday, 24 September 2015

Where Do Artists Rest?

Have you ever wondered where your favourite artists - writes, painters, sculptors, musicians and more - are laid to rest when they leave us to create elsewhere? I've never really thought about it before. We have Poet's Corner as a place to lay some of our writers in Westminster Abbey but that's a drop in the ocean of past creative people who made a significant contribution to all our lives whether we realise it or not. With the majority of artists we know their names and works, probably very little about their lives and very little about their deaths. With a minority, we know a lot.

On my recent sojourn to Florence I found the resting places of two great artists. The church of Santa Croce holds many treasures and is the resting place of many prominent Italians over the years. It holds the tombs of Galileo, Machiavelli and Rossini to name but a few. It also holds the ornate tomb of Michelangelo Buonarroti.

Michelangelo's is the largest and most ornate tomb in the church, a great big marker in marble and paint that shouts out to the world that here lies an important person waiting for his Lord to raise him up into the glory he depicted in his art. It was nice, in a way. to stand there watching group after group of tourists troupe to the tomb, stand for a few minutes listening to their guide or read their guidebooks and then move on. Everyone has heard of Michelangelo and it's nice that, for a few moments, he's uppermost in people's thoughts.

Not all artists are buried in the great places of the world on the tourist trails. Some rest in smaller, out of the way churches that most visitors don't have time to see. One of the big draws at the Uffizi Gallery is Alessandro Botticelli and the room that temporarily houses some of his works was packed out with tourist groups when I visited the other day. I could hardly move for the crowds and certainly couldn't see much so I moved on to less crowded rooms. Botticelli's resting place is far less busy and far more peaceful. He lies in the church of Ognissanti (All Saints) a mile or so from Santa Croce. His tomb is marked by a round  marble marker on the floor of a small side chapel and it was nice to see that someone had left some flowers for him.

It was quite odd to see a little cardboard box with the name 'Botticelli' written in capital letters in blue marker pen on the front sitting beside the marker for his tomb. Inside were lots of bits of paper left by visitors with messages to Botticelli, wishes or hopes, in all languages. The topmost was from someone wanting to be a footballer when he grows up. I don't really understand this since Botticelli isn't a saint but people clearly think he has the power to intervene in their fates. That is a strange but touching tribute to a painter. His art has touched people.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Barbara Hepworth at Tate Britain

I don't know much about Barbara Hepworth so the latest exhibition at Tate Britain, 'Sculpture for a Modern World', was a chance to find out more. I sort of expected to see monumental works like Henry Moore and that's precisely what I didn't see. Yes, there were lots of works I wanted to touch, to feel their smoothness and curves but maybe I was just expecting the wrong thing?

The first room is made up of a dozen or so small sculptures by a variety of artists and that's what made me puzzled - why show other artists with the same ideas and styles as the introduction to an exhibition about only one of them? Was this meant to show Barbara as part of a movement or just one of a tribe of artists following each other? I've got no idea. I quite liked some of the works, particularly two doves by Epstein, but it started me wondering what the exhibition was about and I'm still not sure.

I didn't see any monumental works but I saw some very touchable works protected by glass and by little signs that said the exhibits were alarmed so no touching. They're all very organic, very naturalistic, and the final room is a reconstruction of an outdoor pavilion Barbara designed for an exhibition in the 60s with the whole thing placed in it's own landscape. The gallery walls and shiny wooden floors made it a bit of an odd room, pretending to be outdoors and one wall covered in a big photo of the edge of a forest, but it was good to walk round a space that she originally created years ago.

I don't think I've learned much about Hepworth or her art. I quite liked her paintings of surgeons at work (an odd subject) and liked most of the sculptures on display but the glass boxes were a bit of a barrier to appreciating them properly. Maybe next time.

And here are the Epstein doves I liked...

The Jam - 'About The Young Idea' at Somerset House

What are Saturday afternoons for if not to re-live your youth and marvel at the passing years? Yesterday we went to the exhibition about The Jam at the venerable old Somerset House, 'About The Young Idea'. It was full of middle aged men reliving their youth (as I was) and showing off to their families - 'look! I used to have that tee shirt!' - as well as a surprising number of youngsters who weren't born when The Jam split.

I couldn't quite get past the niggling thought that all this stuff I was surrounded by was about my past as well as about rebellious youth, about fighting the establishment and yet here it was as an exhibition. My memories and history are now nostalgia and worthy of an exhibition. When did that happen? I went to The Clash retrospective exhibition a few years ago in Soho and loved reliving the experience and this exhibition is four or five times bigger with so much more stuff. Badges, clothes, records, posters, music paper covers and fanzines, guitars, video walls, and all sorts.

It was fun reading some of the little snippets of Jam history that littered the display, much of which was new to me. Such as Paul Weller seeing the Sex Pistols and deciding to take the band in a new direction. Like The Jam's first review was of them playing at Berwick Street market with The Clash in the audience. Lots of interesting stuff.

The clothes all looked so small. Were we all that skinny back then and of course we were because we were young. I wouldn't even dream of trying on the Union Jack jacket these days - the seams would split if I even looked like I was going to try it on. It was nice seeing the jackets - and even the shoes - that featured in videos and TV appearances. The Jam always had a specific image that made them stand out.

It was also nice to see all the badges - badges used to be important. They demonstrated your beliefs and which tribe you belonged to but don't really seem to exist these days. I still proudly wear my Poly Styrene signature badge on jackets and coats just as I wore my original X-Ray Spex badges from 1978 when I say Poly at the Roundhouse in 2008. Some things are important.

But I loved seeing the old tour  posters, music paper covers and leaflets and recognising the names - some of which I remember buying back in the day. Siouxsie & the Banshees featured a few times but also lesser known lights like The Saints and Patrik Fitzgerald who also supported The Jam on tour.  I have almost as many songs by The Saints in my collection as I do for The Jam and I have more Patrik Fitzgerald (the 'punk poet' I've blogged about before). Siouxsie outnumbers them all of course.

It's a good exhibition, nicely displayed and filling the maze of rooms, along with videos of the band playing and guitars hung all over the place. It was very busy yesterday so looks like it's been a success. It's on for another couple of weeks so go and take look if you can.  It's not in the same league as the 'Bowie Is…' exhibition a couple of years ago (that's still touring the world) but it's more evidence - if any was needed - that recent popular culture is worth collecting and looking at again.  I wonder what the next one will be?

'The Oresteia' at Shakespeare's Globe

'The Oresteia' is the name of a trilogy of plays by Aeschylus, one of the earliest plays that have survived down the years from when it was originally performed in 458BC. The three plays are 'Agamemnon' in which the hero returns to his kingdom of Argos from the Trojan War and is killed by Clytemnestra, 'The Libation Bearers' which takes place years later and Orestes is grown up and comes to take revenge on his mother Clytemnestra, and finally 'The Eumenides' in which Athena bestows laws and democracy on Athens during the trial of Orestes. 

This is primal stuff. It goes back to the roots of civilisation, to the old blood gods and the new, more enlightened gods. At one level there's lots of blood n guts, lots of revenge and tragedy, but it's also a philosophical treatise on an emerging civilisation that believes man has a place and can carve out a future. Part of me was watching as the ideas mounted up through the dialogue on stage, thinking Aeschylus is treating this as a dramatic debate and he's going to win. 

It's a powerful tale of revenge and consequences, of how one action can set up a series of disasters, both personal and for the state. Ten years ago, when Agamemnon set sail for Troy, he sacrificed his own daughter Iphigenia to guarantee good winds to reach Troy. That sets the seed of revenge in the heart of Clytemnestra who can't forgive her husband. He arrives in his chariot, still covered in blood from his many battles and he leaves blood stains on the cloth Clytemnestra lays out as he enters his palace. And that's the last we see of the general and king since she butchers him in the bath. It's only then that we learn that she's been plotting with Agamemnon's nephew who wants to steal the crown and they've been lovers.

The next play opens at Agamemnon's tomb where his daughter, Electra, is taking libations to ease her father's spirit when she meets her long-lost brother who was sent away to grow up in a neighbouring kingdom. Orestes vows vengeance on their mother and cousin and the citizenry rejoice. They've been treated as slaves by the royal couple and yearn for the good old days. What's more, Orestes was sent there by Apollo's oracle at Delphi with instructions to punish their mother. He kills his cousin and confronts his mother who he kills off-stage. He's then haunted by the Furies who claim the soul of kin-slayers and he runs for his life.

The final play sees Apollo intervening and helping Orestes evade the Furies so he can reach Athens and seek judgement from Athena. Or Sparkling Athena as she will now be known since she appeared in the most sparkly frock since 1973 sending off shards of light in all directions - glam rock meets disco decadence at Studio 54 at the Acropolis. But she is a wise goddess and sets up the first court made up of Athenians to make the judgement. Orestes is set free to take up his place as king of Argos and the Furies become the protectors of Athens. A happy ending (sort of) but, phew, what a slog to get there!

Three hours (including two half times) is a long time, particularly on the hard benches of the Globe but I'm pleased I've seen the plays and I enjoyed this production. The second play reminded me very much of 'Hamlet' but, unlike our sweet prince, Orestes doesn't hesitate. Also, I thought the production couldn't quite decide what it was, with the citizenry in modern clothes along with Orestes and Electra, Agamemnon in ancient Greek armour, Clytemnestra in a Biba outfit and the Furies as straggly haired Goths staring at their feet. The brass band annoyingly drowned out Cassandra's predictions of doom with the silly, jazz twiddles on the oboe. But, hey ho, it all seemed to work in the end.

The plays are all about Clytemnestra - she is the powerhouse behind them, her passion, her vengeance and her distain of other people's morality. She even rises from the dead in the third play to chastise the Furies for not hunting down her murderous son. You don't mess with Clytemnestra who was regally  played by Katy Stephens, being entirely reasonable and blood-thirsty by turns. I also liked George Irving as Agamemnon and Apollo and Joel MacCormack as Orestes.

The final 'party' scene left me a bit puzzled, with the giant golden phallus and dead goat on a stick but you can't have it all. With the nights drawing in and the temperatures dropping the outdoor Globe theatre will be closing shortly but if you want to see the dawn of drama and tragedy then pop along to the Globe. It's an eye-opener!

Another angle to this series of plays is that I've been to where they're set. I've been to Agamemnon's tomb in Greece, to his hilltop city and Clytemnestra's palace at Argos, to Apollo's oracle at Delphi and to Athena's temple at the Acropolis in Athens. If, or when, I go back, I'll look at them with new eyes and a fresh mind.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

'Kinky Boots' at the Adelphi Theatre

We went to see 'Kinky Boots' at the Adelphi last week and, although it's in preview at the moment, it's obviously going to BIG and run forever. If you like a story that actually goes somewhere, great songs and great staging and lots of laughs - not to mention a troupe of drag queens - then you'll love it. Trust me on this one and book your tickets now! I couldn't help but smile throughout the show and shimmy along in my seat.

It's the tale of a shoe factory and how two young men find themselves and realise their dreams. There's Charlie from Northampton who's Dad runs the family shoe factory and there's Simon from Clacton who is better known as Lola in the drag clubs of Soho. Charlie was brought up to run the family business after his Dad but moves to London with his fiancé to escape and Simon is brought up to be a boxer but prefers red shoes and chooses a different life.

Charlie's Dad dies and he has to go back to sort out the factory but finds it's running at a loss and about to close. He grew up with the workers there and can't let them lose their jobs without a fight so goes to London to sell some of the shoes and he bumps into Lola. He finds out that a man's weight simply breaks the heels of boots made for women and enlists Lola to design boots built for men, a rather niche market that he intends to exploit at a shoe show in Milan. We follow the ups and downs in their lives up until Milan … but I'll let you find out the details when you go to see it rather than tell you here. Why spoil the surprise?

It's written by Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper - Harvey the book and Cyndi the songs - and they're a great partnership. Harvey wrote 'Torch Song Trilogy' and 'La Cage Aux Folles' so knows what he's doing. And Cyndi Lauper is Cyndi Lauper so enough said. There are some great songs in different styles from Cyndi. It's a great and imaginative production, using the factory as the backdrop but changing the front of stage to a drag club, a boxing ring and an old people's home as scenes change.  The photos in this blog are from the Broadway production since production photos haven't yet been released for London.

The show stars Killian Donnelly as Charlie and Matt Henry as Lola and, if this show doesn't make them big names, I don't know what will. I also liked Amy Lennox (especially with the fun 'The History of the Wrong Guy') and Jamie Baughan as the macho Don who learns acceptance. I also liked the troupe of drag queens who accompanied Lola for most of her songs - they were called the Angels but should've been called the Kinkettes (obv). It's been playing for a couple of weeks and hasn't properly opened yet so I suspect there's still bits to tighten up as the cast grow into their roles and learn where the laughs are but the whole cast was great.

I look forward to seeing it again in a few months time when they've all settled into their roles. It'll be even fabber then!

Culture Club at Hammersmith Apollo

This evening we went back in time to visit the '80s with the Culture Club reunion tour at Hammersmith.   I was never a big fan of Culture Club back then - I liked a few of the singles and that was it, I didn't explore them any further. It was only after I was taken to see Boy George's musical 'Taboo' and loved most of the songs that I started exploring his work and found much to enjoy. I still prefer his solo work to the Club songs but this was an opportunity to see the original four back together again - Mickey, Jon, Roy and George - so who was I to say 'no thanks'?

As soon as we got there it was obvious that the old tribes were gathering and the place was flooded by middle aged couples (heteronormative and others more interesting) and groups of friends on a Saturday night out in their best casuals. There was a sprinkling of old copy-cat fans in the hats and clothes of a younger George, some of the (chubby, let's be honest) men still remembering their skills with make-up. There was even a couple wearing matching silver-white suits and big blue wigs that they thankfully took off when they sat down otherwise the people behind wouldn't have seen much. I heartily approve of the dressing up!

The lights went down and the video wall at the back of the stage started showing short snippets of people introducing Culture Club over the years (including Bruce Forsyth) and clips of their career and then that stopped and on they walked with George joining them last and launched into 'Church of the Poison Mind', one of my favourites. The band was augmented by keyboards, brass, extra guitar,  percussion and three backing singers in colourful hats. It was nice to see John Themis and Kevan Frost in the larger band since they're regular songwriting partners and performers in George's band.

It was great fun to see and hear Culture Club live - who would've thought that I'd ever say that? - but they were really good, a tight band putting on a great show. All using the stage to best effect, parading around, soaking up the applause and latter-day adulation except for Jon stuck behind his drum kit. There was a great light show and the video wall switched from showing old Culture Club videos and other bits of film to then change to show pretty patterns while the overhead lights bathed the stage in one colour after another. George had four costumes, starting with bright red, moving through two variations of black and ending up in white. At least he's finally despatched the black scarab suits to the dustbin.

They all seemed to have good fun, especially Mickey who was born in Hammersmith and still lives in the area so he's the local boy made good. George was, of course, in his element and in very good voice too, dancing round the stage like he was 30 years younger and teasing the people in the front of the crowd.

The setlist was a mix of Culture Club classics and old favourites, a selection of songs from the new album and a couple of Boy George solo songs. My favourites were 'Church of the Poison Mind', 'I'll Tumble 4 Ya', 'Victims', 'Time (Clock of the Heart)' and the inevitable 'Do You Really Want To Hurt Me' and 'Karma Chameleon'. I also liked a song I hadn't heard before, 'Move Away'. George's songs were 'Everything I Own' and 'The Crying Game'. I liked the new songs from the latest album - they sounded great! I've got no idea when it'll be released but I'll get it.

After singing 'Poison Mind' at the start George quipped about David Bowie singing there back in 1973 - I'd predicted he'd mention the Ziggy gig since he's a fan. But imagine my surprise in the encore when he says it's always good to 'keep a little Marc in your heart' and launched into a great version of 'Get It On' by T.Rex. That got the crowd singing! Especially when followed by 'Starman' as an extra gift! My only slight disappointment was no 'Bow Down Mister' since I hoped to do the Hindu chanting for Poly Styrene.

So there you have it, my time warp back to the '80s and then forward to this year for the latest album. I've seen Boy George quite a few times on stage but I never thought I'd see Culture Club and now I have. They were great fun and very professional. I hope the album comes out soon.