Wednesday, 20 December 2017

'A Christmas Carol' at The Old Vic

This evening was another Christmas in a visit to The Old Vic to see the new version of 'A Christmas Carol' which is one of my favourite stories so I can't help but be a harsh judge of any production of it. The problem in trying to do a blog is that The Old Vic asked visitors not to share the many surprises and moments of wonder in the show so we don't spoil it for others. I'll do my best to avoid spoilers and only mention anything that's already been mentioned in reviews.

The first surprise was entering the auditorium to see it split in half by a runway from the stage to the back of the stalls. I knew there were seats on stage but the auditorium has virtually been remodelled for this show. In various places around the auditorium (and, I assume, in the circle) were actors dressed as market traders handing out oranges and mince pies to any who wanted them. I thought that was a lovely touch for the season.

With no scenery and minimal props it's quite an accolade to consider how the acting and the imaginative lighting created such a warm spectacle and drew the audience into its magic. I loved the hundreds of lanterns suspected above the stage to help create the atmosphere. The first 'wow' moment for me was when Marley walked onto the runway and proceeded to walk the length of the stalls dragging behind him a huge chain that went on and on and on - dead spooky!

It's not perfect and there are downsides to this new version. Too much is made up! Surely everyone knows that we never meet Scrooge's dad, that Mr Fezziwig wasn't an undertaker, that no-one made eulogies over Scrooge's coffin and that Scrooge celebrates Christmas at his nephew's house not with the Cratchits. It's not rocket science guys, there's a book where the story is all written down for you. I know you can't have all the story on stage but why make up so much when there's already a perfect story to explore?

Anyway, leaving that to one side (I *am* an 'A Christmas Carol' purist after all) there's more than enough magic in the show - and not a little daftness in the second half - to make it a magical experience. There was when .... um and then there was when ... and then, um.... No, I won't spoil it for you, you need to see it for yourself. I can tell you that snow erupts over the stalls to gasps of wonder, excitement and surprise (I got snowed on so was happy). It was also nice to hear so many Christmas carols woven into the story. I liked hearing sentences from the book spoken every now and then, mainly by the chorus.

Rhys Ifans was good as Scrooge, a bit mean to start off with (of course) and gradually finding his comic bone as the play progressed. It's clearly a star vehicle for him but he played it as part of an ensemble cast that took all the other parts, changing roles and costumes every few minutes. They were excellent and I wouldn't single any of them out as ether particularly good or bad - they were a solid cast.

By the end of the play we see the truth in Dickens' words that close the story in that, " was always said of him [Scrooge], that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge." Mr Scrooge is surely the Spirit of Christmas. I loved it and bought the programme.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

'A Woman of No Importance' at the Vaudeville Theatre

A year of Oscar Wilde plays has started at the Vaudeville Theatre so it was time to jump in and get all Wildean. An additional draw was a cast headed up by Eve Best, Anne Reid and Eleanor Bron with the additional delight of William Gaunt having a small role as a local clergyman (I last saw him play John O'Gaunt, his namesake). With that cast and a Wilde play, what's not to like, especially when we were seated down the front of the stalls with perfect views?

The play opens at the country house of Lady Hunstanton who has invited a range of different people in the hops of having an interesting weekend. We have a young lady from America, various members of the aristocracy that seem to go from one country house to the next, a young clerk that Lady Hunstanton has taken an interest in, a politician and various others. A late Victorian play is, of course, full of morality and preaching and very so often you can clearly hear Wilde's Irish views spouted by the young American lady, a cypher for his own views on 'society' and the upper classes.

When Lord Illingworth offers the young clerk, Arbuthnot, a job as his secretary everyone is happy for him. It's a good step, after all. And his mother is invited to join the party for dinner. And that's where the tone changes since Mrs Arbuthnot ran away to live with Lord Illingworth when they were both young but he refused to marry her when she became pregnant. She doesn't want her son to have anything to do with the father who did nothing to help them all those years ago and we see her explain that Lord Illingworth is actually his father. That's where the twists and turns become ever more sharper.

It's a very enjoyable production, excellently delivered. Eve Best is a safe pair of hands as the 'woman of no importance', independent and strong whose only flaw seems to be her relationship with her selfish son. The son annoyed me - that's partly the writing of course, but mainly his stupid 'Ed Sheeran' hair style that was all over the place while everyone else was in character. It was a delight to see Eleanor Bron on stage who was imperious and, well, she played Eleanor Bron really well.

A very pleasant surprise was seeing Anne Reid on stage for the first time. Not only did we get a great performance but she came out in-between acts with some of the 'servants' to sing appropriate songs that helped the story move forward and she has a lovely singing voice. She was a friend of Barbara Cook so that's hardly surprising.

Once we got over young Arbuthnot's tantrums at the end of the play he finds a glove in his mother's drawing room, not knowing that Lord Illingworth had visited earlier and his mother had slapped his face with that glove. Her response to the question of whose glove it was was a very satisfying ending when she said it belonged to 'a man of no importance'. Take that!

Well done all, I really enjoyed this production and I'm looking forward to the next one now. Seeing a Wilde play every few months seems like a nice thing to do. Thank you Vaudeville for taking the plunge and committing to a Wilde year!

Fra Angelico 12/12

This year I've been posting a photo of a painting by Fra Angelico that I've actually seen on the 18th of the month to celebrate his feast day of 18 February. This month, in the run up to Christmas, it's right to post a nativity scene from San Marco in Florence.

In this scene we see Mary and Joseph praying to their son while St Peter Martyr and St Catherine also pray to their lord. I like the angels on the roof (they get everywhere) and the donkey and the ox in the stable. Despite all the characters in the painting it's actually quite sparse, with a bare ground for the babe to lie on and bare walls to the stable. There's also no real reason for the saints to be there.

I've enjoyed sharing my year of Fra Angelico paintings and I'm looking forward to seeing more 'new' paintings by the good brother next year at the exhibition in Boston. 

'The Box of Delights' at Wilton's Music Hall

This evening we went to see an epic battle of good and evil to save Christmas in 'The Box of Delights' at Wilton's Music Hall. I've never been to Wilton's before but it had a Christmas Tree in the (rather small) auditorium so it gets a thumbs up from me. It's actually the perfect setting for a play like this and it helped create a lovely atmosphere.

We had wolves (oh yes we did), magicians, magical boxes with the power to shrink you down to the size of a mouse, a witch who flew, a master jewel thief, a deluge and, best of all, Toby, a really clever dog who definitely wasn't a puppet.

Our hero is Kay Harker who is on the train to his guardian's house for Christmas when he meets an old Punch & Judy man who has a mysterious Box of Delights. The old man is being hunted by wolves in human form and he must ensure the box is protected at all costs. The wolves want the box for their lord who is an evil magician and wants to use it to time travel and wreak havoc (which is what evil magicians do). The evil magician needs to stop Christmas happening to save himself so he arranges for all the clerics in the cathedral to be kidnapped and imprisoned so there's no-one left to celebrate Christmas. And the clock is ticking, getting closer to Christmas Eve...

It's a dark tale of dastardly dealings and despair until Kay plucks up his courage to confront the evil magician to save his friend and save Christmas. A roller-coaster ride of ups and downs that I won't spoil for you here - you'll have to see it for yourself.

The best things about it were Matthew Kelly as the nice magician (he also played the evil magician) and Josefina Gabrielle as the evil witch who can fly (and she does). Both were on top form and a joy to behold (I'd cross the road to avoid that witch, just in case...)

There were some lovely, imaginative scenes, like when the old man opens the Box of Delights and we see a golden, be-jewelled phoenix flying around the stage before it smolders in its own embers. The designers have clearly put some thought into how to make this work in a magical way on that small stage. And, by and large, they succeed. It wasn't perfect by any means but I really enjoyed it. It made me leave the real world outside and slip gently into this magical world and share the perils and joys of this strange 1930s world.

Well done all, I really enjoyed it! And thank you for saving Christmas!

Sunday, 17 December 2017

'Pinocchio' at the National Theatre

This years' Christmas show at the National Theatre is 'Pinocchio', the Disney version rather than sticking to the book. I've been looking forward to this one: will it have the Disney magic? how will his nose grow? what will the transformation from puppet to boy be like? It's not the easiest story to transfer to the stage but I thought it was done rather splendidly.

The first surprise was that the 'humans' in the story are actually the puppets. Heads and torso for the 'humans' were carried round by the actor playing the part plus helpers to move the arms and it worked really well. It also added another level of menace in some of the scenes, with giants looming over poor little Pinocchio.

You do, of course, already know the story. Geppetto is a toy-maker who makes a puppet boy as his son and Pinocchio has a series of adventures that help him to become a human boy. He's handily given a cricket as a conscience to help explain the story and, in this version, Jiminy is a lady puppet so doesn't have the top hat and spats I was expecting. The 'star fairy' - when not played by a human - is a flame that flits about the stage and I have no idea how they did that. I suspect it was magic.

Since the 'humans' are puppets, it makes it easier for Pinocchio to be played as a real life human dwarfed by the puppets he interacts with. The scene when Pinocchio is carved out of a tree trunk is a surprise I won't spoil here but it made me sit up and take notice. What I didn't understand was why Pinocchio had trousers and braces but no shirt? Of course he wears a shirt and should be given one immediately. The poor thing must've been freezing in this weather.

The only section I wasn't keen on were the Pleasure Island' scenes that seemed over-long and a bit obvious. It was nice to get different voices and sounds on stage by that point in the play - and nice to have the stage full of scenery and props that kept being moved and changed - but I felt those scenes could easily have been shortened without affecting the overall play.

I'm pleased they included the main songs from the film - 'When You Wish Upon A Star' and 'I've Got No Strings' - and I couldn't help grinning like a loon when they were sung (and I was singing along in my head), In that scene the 'puppets' (played by humans, of course) were dangling on the end of strings while Pinocchio danced around freely. I loved the patchwork costumes in these scenes which helped with the overall illusion. It was nice that both musical themes kept swirling back very now and then amongst the other music in the play.

Was it perfect Christmas viewing? No, not quite, but it was full of spectacle and surprises that keep even older children like me happy. I bought the programme but probably won't do the colouring in and other games it included.

Well done to Joe Idris-Roberts as Pinocchio, Audrey Brisson as Jiminy, Mark Hadfield as Geppetto and Annette McLaughlin as the Blue Fairy, with a special shout to David Langham as the evil Mr Fox who got his just desserts by cutting off his own tail. That's what happens to baddies, you know.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

The Tale of The Christmas Goose

Way back in the olden days, Horatius was sitting on a small hillock which was his favourite place to observe the woodlands around his lake. He was watching an old man dressed in rags collecting firewood in the forest on the night before the special celebration. The old man didn't seem to be very good at this task, and, thought Horatius, those sticks are all damp and won't help make a fire for anyone. Horatius was a goose of all the colours of gold and sand and had often seen the villagers collect wood for their fires. The villagers didn't have feathers, after all, and needed something to keep them warm in the depths of winter, especially in the snow.

The goose turned his head to look at the old man from a different angle and then flew off to gather his brothers and sisters to help the old man. The geese collected dry branches and sticks and dropped then at the feet of the old man who stood and looked at them in astonishment. When there was a goodly pile of dry tinder Horatius landed back on the hillock and went 'Honk' and bowed to the old man before flying away to a tree a bit further back in the forest to see what happened next.

The old man bowed to the golden goose in thanks and gathered up the sticks and created three bundles which he left outside three hovels in the village and went back to his own shack on the edge of the village. Horatius followed the old man to see what would happen and did't understand why the old man gave away all the dry twigs rather than build a nice fire to keep himself warm. 'Humans' thought Horatius and, when he returned the next day, saw that the old man had gone.

Spring and summer passed and Horatius had his own brood of goslings who were, generally, scamps but in a good way. Then, as the leaves had fallen and the snow and frost appeared, he saw the old man again and called on his children to collect a pile of firewood for the old man and stash it under a fir tree to keep it dry. Then Horatius issued a loud 'HONK' to the old man to alert him to his gift and the old man came over in wonder. He sat beside the golden goose and stroked his neck and his wings and said 'thank you Master Goose' with a low bow.

So it happened every year afterwards when the snow appeared and the special day drew near. Horatius was to be found waiting for the old man with a pile of dry kindling with his children and grand-children watching from deeper in the forest. The old man would bring a bag od seeds of the highest quality so his friend could have a snack while they comforted each other in a friendly silence.

The old man grew older and so did Horatius. Until one year the old man found a pile of dry twigs under a tree but there was no sign of his friend. He left the bag of seed for Horatius's children and shed a tear.

The King's castle wasn't far from the wood and on the day of the big celebration the old King, resplendent in his best holiday robes was looking forward to the new treat he'd been promised by his hunters. They entered his banqueting hall with a cage with a rough shape inside with the colours of dull bronze.

As the cage was put down the shape stirred and a final, defiant 'HONK' issued from the cage.  The King instantly recognised the voice of his old, winter friend from his trips into the woods disguised as a poor man in his annual penance. He jumped up and demanded that the cage should be opened and the bedraggled goose set free. The king picked up the body of his old friend and, with tears in his eyes. said 'It's me, Horatius, my friend' . Horatius recognised the old man's voice and rested his head on his shoulder which was covered in fine silk and damask.

The old king carried his friend to the table and sat him down in the place of honour on a soft cushion, ordering water and high quality seeds for his friend. Then he issued a proclamation that never again should golden geese be hunted in his kingdom. Horatius issued a loud 'honk' and his children, and grand-children and great-grand-children appeared at the windows to honour the old king and their treaty. And then he nipped the king's finger to remind him that they were still a free people and not subject to the whims of humans. And the old King giggled.

Centuries passed and we remember good King Wenceslas and the firewood but we rarely hear about his friend, Horatius. The golden geese remember him, though, and celebrate him when the snow falls and humans search for dry sticks on that special night. Keep your eyes peeled and you might see Horatio honouring his ultimate grandfather, standing on a small hillock with lots of dry sticks waiting to be claimed by anyone who needs them. Some things are important.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

'Network' at the National Theatre

We went to see 'Network' at the National Theatre a couple of weeks ago at a preview performance to give it the once over and afraid it'll remain once with me. I saw the film decades ago and haven't really given it much thought since then. I suppose it's quite topical at the moment with the power of the media being used to distort reality than than report it - fake news and all that, media companies trying to manipulate audiences and a USA president that lives on Twitter - and that alone can justify a play like this. But a play based on a film? I don't know, where are the original ideas?

I'm obviously out of the loop here, but since when did one third of the Lyttelton stage become a restaurant with the kitchen at the back of the stage? Am I missing something here? And why are so many people wearing black wandering round the stage with lots of cameras and mics? The set is meant to be a TV news studio - that much I get - but what about the rest? And the huge video screen at the back of the stage to show off-stage scenes and close-ups of action on the stage - I was there to see a theatrical production not a semi-cinema thing. Honest folks, sometimes less is more.

So. The basic story is that a veteran news broadcaster has a breakdown on screen and that creates a whole new audience for him that the network wants to exploit, His catchphrase - I'm mad as hell and won't take it anymore - becomes the theme of the show and we see how things spiral out of control. Something I really didn't like was the cast treating us like a pants audience, getting us to shout out the catchphrase at various points in the play. Um, no thank you. And please get that bloody on-stage camera-man out of the way of the acton please!

No. I didn't enjoy it. If I want to watch a screen I'll go to a cinema thank you. It's all too clever by half. It seems to be doing well but I won't be returning for a second look.

'42nd Street' at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

I have history with '42nd Street'. It's the first show I saw on Broadway way back when and I saw it on (wait for it) a theatre on 42nd Street itself.  That might've been the reason I booked to see it but I can't remember. And here it is, back in London at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane where it first ran back in 1984. Things come full circle. As you'd expect, it's the glitziest, sassiest, biggest show in town at the moment and can outshine the sun in pure wattage from the costumes alone... This is show biz writ large!

The story's been done a thousand times in different ways, of out-of-town girl arriving on Broadway to make it big and she does. In this case, we have Peggy Sawyer who can sing and tap like nobodies business managing to get a job in a show, accidentally knocks over the star who breaks her ankle and can't perform. Peggy is fired of course but, when the cast realise the show will close before it's even opened, they all want Peggy to play the lead to keep the show going and make her a star. And that's what happens. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work that out.

I think that's the strength of the show, really. It's not about complex plotting and characterisation, it's about spectacle and having a good time, an escapist fantasy with some great songs and some astonishing dancing, particularly the ensemble tap dancing scenes. There's a cast of thousands in the brightest, sparkliest costumes imaginable. And, if you're reading this blog, you probably know about half of the songs already. Honest.

The star name on the bill is Sheena Easton - yes, *that* Sheena Easton - as the has-been star who breaks her ankle. Initially it took me a while to work out who she was since I wasn't there to see Sheena, but every now and then her voice reverted to her true voice that niggled at a memory and then there she was, Sheena Easton on stage. It's was her slow version of 'I Only Have Eyes For You' that made me sit up and realise who I was seeing on stage. The real star, however, was Clare Halse as Peggy Sawyer, tapping and singing her way to becoming a real name on the West End stage. She was an impressive sight indeed.

The real star of the show, however, was the ensembled chorus that danced and sang their way through the show, quick costume changes and ever-more sparkle. They were step perfect in all their dances - with so many dancers on the stage at the same time you'd think it would be easier to hide a mis-step but it actually stands out like a sore thumb and this cast didn't put a step wrong when I saw them. Most impressive indeed! How on earth did they manage the rehearsals with so  many on stage at once?

If you want a feel-good show that doesn't engage too much brain power but is full-on show biz then I've no hesitation in recommending '42nd Street'. Turn up expecting to be entertained and you will be. I guarantee!

'Young Marx' at the Bridge Theatre

'Young Marx' is a new play being performed in a new theatre so we had to go, obviously. The Bridge Theatre is right beside Tower Bridge (City Hall side), hence the name. It has a nice big open foyer and cafe/bar, lots of bare wood and, for a change, lots of toilets. The auditorium has good sight lines and feels comfortable, with the seats on the sides angled towards the stage. It'll be interesting to go back and see it all settled down - it has a 'new' feel to it with everyone settling in and on best behaviour so it'll be good to go back when it's properly relaxed into itself.

The play itself is great fun, telling a tale of Marx's early years before he'd settled down to being the great political thinker he became. He's in London, living with his family in Soho, penniless but still managing the odd pint here and there, surrounded by spies and rivals, but also surrounded by admirers and his good friend Engels. Money is a problem, keeping his family together is a problem, hiding in cupboards from his creditors is a daily occurrence but, we don't see him climbing up a lamppost as shown in the poster. After the madness of his life I liked the final scene where he finally buckles down to begin to write his first great work.

It's a knock-about comedy about Marx and there's nothing wrong with that. I really liked the set which was on a revolve on the stage, moving round to give us a different setting for each scene - a pawn shop, a meeting room above a pub, Marx's living room and the setting for a dual for the honour of his wife. All sorts going on here.

I really liked Rory Kinnear as Marx - he's really becoming one of our must see actors despite the supporting roles in James Bond films and elsewhere. He worked the floppy wig really well and was suitable manic and serious by turns, giving a great performance as a man of goodwill down on his luck with no idea how to turn his life around. Nancy Carroll was fine as his wife, the calm centre that keeps the family and his life together and I liked Oliver Chris as Engels, Marx's chief cheer-leader who gets frustrated that his hero refuses to prove what a great thinker he is and prefers booze to ink.

I liked this play and the performances and it's a worthy early play for a new theatre. It's going to be broadcast through NTLive on 7 December so you will be able to see it all over the place. I'm going back to the Bridge Theatre in the new year to see 'Julius Caesar' and I'm looking forward to that.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Fra Angelico 11/12

In a change to the theme of my monthly blogs about works by Fra Angelico that I've actually seen, this month I'm going to mention a work that I haven't seen but which I hope to see next year.

'Heaven and Earth' is the name of a new exhibition of Fra Angelico's works to be held at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, USA. A press release is linked to from here:

It's not everyday that a new Fra Angelico exhibition is announced so this is definitely newsworthy. There's nothing on the museum's website yet but the catalogue is available to pre-order on Amazon. I'll post more details when they're available.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

'Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World'

Last week I went to see the documentary film, 'Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World' at the Curzon Soho as part of the Doc'n'Roll Film Festival. I'd heard a lot about it and wanted to see it.

It tells the story of the influence of Native Americans and their music on blues, jazz and rock music and virtually all modern music. It was fascinating to hear about the old bluesmen and jazz women who were Native American or of part native heritage and how their styles were reminiscent of the tribal music of their heritage. I can't remember who said it but someone mentioned that in some states in the south of America Native Americans weren't allowed drums to stop them communicating but they played guitars using the same beats and timing as they would for a drum. Pure Fe played an old jazz record and talked us through the 'native' elements.

It was also nice to see Buffy Sainte-Marie indirectly weaved through the film, seeing the Neville Brothers (who she's sung with), Ulali (who have provided backing vocals for Buffy) and Buffy's old friend Taj Mahal as well as others. There's a nice interview with Buffy with her sitting in front of one of her digital paintings ('Elder Brother'). There was also a lot of talk about Jesse Ed Davis who played guitar for so many bands, including on one of Buffy's albums.

The title of the film comes from Link Wray's classic song 'Rumble' and features contributions from all sorts of people. It was lovely to hear Redbone again and see a clip of them on an American TV show in full regalia. The trailer is below to give to an idea.

The final song in the film before the credits belongs to Buffy Sainte-Marie with some footage of her singing 'Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee' at a gig spliced with film of the current Standing Rock protests. 

I'm really pleased that I've finally seen this film, it really is fascinating and I learned so much. There are many worse ways to spend a couple of hours.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

'Jim Lea - For One Night Only' DVD by Jim Lea

Jim Lea, also known as Jimmy Lea and James Whild Lea, was the bass player and multi-instrumentalist in SLADE and co-wrote the songs including all those hits in the '70s and early '80s. The SLADE wires on social media were buzzing last week after Jim hosted a special screening of his new DVD at the Robin 2, took part in a Q&A and then brought on his guitar and played four songs to send the crowd away happy. I wasn't there but I have his DVD and it's wonderful to see Jim on stage again after all these years - I last saw him on stage in 1981.

Since leaving SLADE Jim has only performed one proper live gig and that's the subject of this DVD. He did a one-off gig at the Robin 2 in Bilston in 2002 and the 'launch' screening of the DVD was also at the Robin 2. The DVD wasn't professionally filmed but some really good fan footage came to light and that's what this DVD is based on, with additional shots of Jim talking about each of the songs earlier this year. The live music is very familiar since the live albums first released as a download only a decade ago and then again last year as part of the re-release of Jim's album 'Therapy'. The live album is excellent, full of energy and is best played loud.

The gig footage in the DVD is new and has never been seen before. It's a bit rough and ready, a bit wobbly in places since it's fan video, but I think that actually enhances it. This isn't a professional gig - the two band members only met the afternoon of the gig - but the raw energy brings it all to life and is a great credit to Jim, the 'non-showman' in the band who puts on a great show that is thoroughly enjoyable. I had a huge grin of happiness on my face throughout this gig.

The excitement and video footage following the 'launch' last week made me want to see this DVD *now*. It was on my Christmas list for Santa but I decided I needed to see it *now* and I'm so pleased I did. Jim is still fighting off cancer and didn't want to promise to play live if he did't feel up to it so it was a great surprise that he played at all last week. Let's send best wishes to Jim Lea and hope for a full recovery... and then some gigs please!

Once a Lord of Noize always a Lord of Noize!

Thursday, 26 October 2017

'Medicine Songs' by Buffy Sainte-Marie

Buffy Sainte-Marie's new record, 'Medicine Songs' will be released on 10 November and is available to pre-order - pre-order on iTunes and download the first song now. The new song was  written in the late '60s for a film but not recorded and is here newly recorded with Tanya Tagaq, 'You Got To Run (Spirit of the Wind)'.

The CD includes 13 songs and the download has another six bonus tracks.

On her website Buffy says,

This is a collection of front line songs about unity and resistance – some brand new and some classics – and I want to put them to work. These are songs I’ve been writing for over fifty years, and what troubles people today are still the same damn issues from 30-40-50 years ago: war, oppression, inequity, violence, rankism of all kinds, the pecking order, bullying, racketeering and systemic greed. Some of these songs come from the other side of that: positivity, common sense, romance, equity and enthusiasm for life.
I’ve found that a song can be more effective than a 400-page textbook. It’s immediate and replicable, portable and efficient, easy to understand – and sometimes you can dance to it. 
Buffy is in righteous mood!

The track listing is:

Medicine Songs Tracklisting:
1. You Got To Run (Spirit of the Wind) ft Tanya Tagaq
2. The War Racket
3. Star Walker
4. My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying
5. America the Beautiful
6. Carry It On
7. Little Wheel Spin and Spin
8. No No Keshagesh
9. Soldier Blue
10. The Priests of the Golden Bull
11. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
12. Universal Soldier
13. Power in the Blood
Digital version includes:
14. Disinformation
15. Fallen Angels
16. Now That The Buffalo’s Gone
17. Generation
18. Working For The Government
19. The War Racket (Unplugged)
Take a listen to 'You Got To Run' below. As Buffy sings in 'Starwalker', 'Pray up your medicine song!'

'The Last da Vinci Exhibition' at Christie's

Christie's, the auction house, has put on a short, three-day exhibition showing the last painting by Leonardo da Vinci to still be in private hands before it's auctioned in New York. The painting is called 'Salvator Mundi' (Saviour of the World) and shows Christ with one hand raised in blessing and a crystal orb in his other hand. The painting has already been on show in Hong Kong and San Francisco and heads off to New York on Saturday to go on show before being auctioned. The estimated price is $100m so I don't think I'll put in a bid.

It's only recently been authenticated as a Leonardo painting, one of only 20 known paintings by him rather than by his workshop or pupils. It was 'rediscovered' in 2005 and, after six years of research, was unveiled as a Leonardo in 2011 at the National Gallery, London.

That painting will have been x-rayed, studied in infrared, paint samples tested to check the chemical composition matches the paint made around 1500 when it was painted, brush techniques will have been examined and lots of paper records will have been examined to find written, historical provinence. According to Christie's, the earliest reference to it was being in the Royal Collection of Charles I and hung in the private chambers of his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, in her palace at Greenwich.

 It's only on show in London for three days so I made it along to Christie's in St James's on the last day. Inevitably, there was a queue out the door and around the corner - the lady in the black suit (all employees seemed to be in black suits) said the waiting time was about 30 minutes. In the end, it was probably only 20 minutes. Let in in small groups there was a very orderly British queue through a doorway into one room, then into another, and then, round another corner, there it was on the wall with a single spotlight and two guards either side. Surprisingly, we were allowed to take photos without flash so I did.

The painting's not very big, probably about life-sized of head and shoulders, and there's a definite touch of the 'Mona Lisa' in the face. The painting is delicate and precise, with Christ's hair in ringlets and he seems to be wearing some kind of tunic rather the robes he's usually painted in.

We weren't allowed to stand in front of the painting for very long - almost close enough to touch - before being asked to move on so others could have their 30 seconds. I used some of my time to look at the frame which reminded me of the frame for the Fra Angelico 'Virgin & Child' in the Rijksmuseum in Amersterdam - it's obviously a different colour, shape and design but I couldn't shake the lingering memory.

I'm pleased I saw it since I'll probably never have the opportunity to see it again. I hope it goes into a public collection somewhere and not just some rich person's bank vault. Thanks for the show Christie's.