Saturday, December 23, 2006
They are coming.... and I have tickets for an advance screening at the National Film Theatre at the end of January. I had a nice American woman in the shop today while I was playing my beloved Broadway cast recording cd. She had seen the original production on Broadway and says the film is great. I am getting quietly excited.
Friday, December 22, 2006
One afternoon this Spring I was looking through Owen's books and found he had Hermione Lee's masterly biography of my favourite author Virginia Woolf. Opening it my eyes fell on the book's publication date, 1996. I was gobsmacked. Could it really be ten years since I read it? And more importantly could it really be ten years since two of my closest friends, Martin Taylor and Steve O'Connor died? Since then I have been thinking about them a lot. If I had been asked before this memory-jog I could not have told you actually when they died - a few years ago would have been my best reply. But ten years? It seems like yesterday but as well of course, it seems like years and years ago.
Martin died in the summer as I recall and Steve died, we found out later, on Christmas Eve. Over that Christmas I was reading the Woolf biography and had reached the time when she was hit by the death of her sister Vanessa's lover Roger Fry following soon after the death of close friend Lytton Strachey as well as the suicide of Dora Carrington. I found the thoughts of Virginia at this time in her and my life strangely comforting... as if someone knew what I was going through and was expressing the particular loss I felt in a far more eloquent way than I ever could. In essence, Virginia likened the deaths of longtime friends to a walk on a clifftop which one takes every day. One day you turn around to find that your familiar path, so often walked, has crumbled into the sea and you are stranded on a promentary that you have to precariously edge along to get back to where you feel secure again. The loss of friends - particularly those you have known for a long time - robs you of your context and a whole shared history is gone. I felt this about Martin and Steve and I still feel it to this day. After ten years I still sometimes see a play or film and think "I would love to talk to Martin about that" or wonder would Steve still be crazy for Oasis and LOUIE LOUIE by The Kingsmen? How would he have responded to my Type II Diabetes diagnosis when he had always refused to talk about his Type I that he had known of since an early age?
I met Steve at secondary school and was indeed the only school friend I still kept in contact with, having moved away from the area the same summer as having left St. Edmunds. In 1978 I met Martin when he too started work at Claude Gill Books in Piccadilly. I was on the shop floor and he was the goods-in clerk and we soon struck up a friendship based on our love of film, a friendship that was shared too with a fellow-Geordie school friend of his, Judith who also worked there. I remember being vaguely jealous of him, his assured personality and unabashed gayness were traits I always aspired to. Steve had a strained family life, living with his Asian stepfather who he couldn't abide so would often invite himself up to Enfield for the weekend to escape that environment. This soon also included Christmas where we could run amock as my Ma used to go back to Ireland. The ritual was I get the food, Steve get the drink.
Down the years and changes occured to us all - I started work for Flashbacks and bounced along happily enough living for films, music and by then theatre. Martin worked in the Department of Printed Books at the Imperial War Museum and met and moved in with Peter, a gay policeman which dwindled into a marriage until he met and moved in with David an actor. He started working with me on Saturdays at the shop where we would yapp away all day - when he wasn't bobbing about at Marshall Street Baths. In 1989 he achieved a long-held dream when Constable published his anthology of love poems by the trench poets of WWI. Steve worked in various jobs until finally working literally around the corner from his block of flats on North End Road market on a stall selling bags. Occasionally a girlfriend would be on the scene but invariably that would peter out. Things didn't improve on the family front when he found out through an aunt that his mother who had died when he was young had been married before and he had a father and two step-sisters he had never met. Steve also became an occasional fixture at Flashbacks working the odd day - cash in hand of course. But through it all there they were: Martin for theatre and films, Steve for film and concerts, countless phone calls talking about everything and nothing. Misunderstandings would lead to a few weeks of not-speaking then we'd pick up where we left off. You know... friend stuff.
At the start of 1990 Steve had a bad motorbike crash about 5 minutes after dropping me off at Andrew and Freddy's flat in Abbey Road which took him a long time to recover from. A few years later Martin appeared one afternoon at Marble Arch where I was helping a friend run her actors agency and told me he was HIV+. Strangely I cannot remember how I reacted - I think I hugged him while trying not to cry in front of him. However he seemed to work out a way of living with it.
One day I got a call from Steve's aunt telling me that Steve was in hospital. He had taken tablets and tried to cut his arms when his latest girlfriend said she just wanted to be friends. I went to see him and found him in fine form - retelling the incident and laughing over the stupidity of it all. As I was leaving the girl turned up and looked genuinely distressed at what he had done. The job with my friend was slowly driving me mad through inertia and the unacknowledged stagnation of our friendship. Then a few months after our last theatre visit to see the National Theatre's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC with Judi Dench, Martin was admitted to hospital for pneumonia. He seemed to get better then had a relapse. He died aged 39. Andrew accompanied me to the touching humanist service held for his cremation where I had an emotional reunion with Judith.
Things went from bad to worse with the friend and after a blazing early-hours row I quit and started back at the shop again. In December Steve asked to borrow some money which of course I agreed to but told him I needed it by the next week for presents etc. A week went by and no money and no answer when I rang. Finally he called to apologise and to tell me he was in trouble. He had helped another stallholder chase a black guy who had robbed off his stall. They caught him and beat him up. The police were called, Steve was charged with assault and was due to appear in court in January. I told him he was a stupid bugger but that I was sure it wouldn't be so bad. I asked him if he was still coming up for Christmas and he said he would ring me nearer the day. Steve turned up at the shop on my last day off before Christmas and left the money that was owed but I never heard from him. I bought extra food in case and waited at the shop on Christmas Eve for the call. Nothing and no reply when I rang him.
Late on December 27th the phone rang. It was Steve's aunt telling me through tears that he had been found dead in the flat. The step-father had found him that afternoon when he had returned from the friends he spent Christmas with. It appeared he had gone into a diabetic coma before he could inject himself with his Insulin. He was 36.
She asked me what I knew of his movements so I told her I had expected him but I assumed he didn't contact me because he thought I would still be pissed about the money. She then dropped a bombshell. He had worked the stall on Christmas Eve morning and had double-checked before leaving that the step-father was definately spending the next 2 days with friends. He later told the other stallholders he was finishing early to go up to Enfield to stay a few days with his mate Chris so not to try and call him. The aunt was inconsolable that Steve should die as he did especially as he was always so careful with his injections. I remember putting the phone down and just sitting and staring at the wall, knowing Steve had done it deliberatly.
Unlike the celebration of Martin's life at his cremation, Steve's was utter vile. A stupid old bastard of a priest who I swear was drunk, dropping the pages from his prayer book and stumbling through a religious service that was totally redundant of any humanity or soul. The only consolation I had on that dark, dank depressing late winter afternoon was that Steve would have been pissing himself laughing had he been watching it. I had been collared by the aunt outside who told me that the official gathering afterwards was being held back at the house but she and all Steve's workmates were having an unofficial one at a pub in Earls Court. Amazingly I attended neither. I did however manage to have a few words with the girl he had once tried to top himself over and who had become, along with her mother, good friends to him. She told me that Steve had been scared he would be sent to prison at the hearing in January and she would never believe he had died through an accident. That makes two of us.
Some people are surprised when I tell them I don't mind spending Christmas alone. I explain it away as having something to do with once working on Christmas Day at First Call and that this had robbed the day of any particular mystique. But maybe it is because I remember when ten years ago my familiar clifftop walk was altered forever.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
From The Grauniad:
A gay man who was set to make legal history by becoming one of the first people to "divorce" by dissolving a civil partnership yesterday decided to delay proceedings to avoid entering the record books.
Darryl Bullock had planned to go to court today, the 12-month anniversary of the ceremony and the earliest possible date he could legally dissolve his civil partnership with Mark Godfrey.
But Mr Bullock, 42, has instructed his solicitor to hold off until new year. "I don't want to be the face in the Guinness Book of Records," he said. "I don't want to be the poster boy for the divorce generation. I am trying to end an unpleasant period in my life and move forward, and obviously that means I have had to instruct a solicitor to deal with my dissolution, but I am not trying to break any records."
Mr Bullock, who celebrated his union with Mr Godfrey in an 8am ceremony at Bath Guildhall before honeymooning in Torquay, said that, far from being put off civil partnership by his split, he is intending to tie the knot a second time.
But he and his new partner would not be "rushing" into anything, said the freelance writer and self-confessed "serial monogamist", who was with Mr Godfrey for three years before their legal partnership.
Not the Poster Boy for the divorce generation but possibly for something else...
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
I have been remiss Constant Reader in not posting for a while - the shock of returning to work after a week off threw me totally. So here is a recap of the cultural events seen. Seen?
On the last day of the vacance O and I went to Tate Britain to see the Hans Holbein exhibition.
It was just the right size, only 9 smallish rooms to meander through and each room contained at least one portrait I would happily have made a beeline for if they allowed me to do a 2 minute dash around with a shopping trolley. I would definately make off with a masterly chalk drawing of Sir Thomas More, an arresting Portrait of A Lady which is assumed to be Anne Boleyn, a saucy looking Herman von Wedigh a German merchant, the majestic small portrait of Henry VIII - looking not unlike Gordon Kaye - and a lovely drawing of an unknown woman who stares out at you from the portrait where Holbein immortalised her 466 years ago. I am sure a few of his sitters imagined they would be remembered for one thing or another but it is only through the artistry of a man destined to die aged only 46 that they managed it.
Then it was back to work. Absolute Hell. I think the next time I want a break from work I should follow Owen's advice and be off for two rather than a measly one week.
Sunday saw us in the wilds of Brick Lane in the former Trumans Brewery which is the temporary home for The Reindeer, a restaurant and cabaret space all done up in fake snow covered fir trees and log cabins surrounding the dining space. All very clever but a few signs showing the entrance and even more importantly the exit wouldn't have gone amiss. Still Justin Bond is worth seeing in any location.
This is my third time seeing him with his trio The Freudian Slippers and they get better with each show. The piano, flute and cello background work so well with this unique performer that one can only hope that the cd he might record next year will come to fruition. Justin's banter between songs is getting even more revelatory and out-there but the tales of his exs - the female-to-male transgender, the gigolo etc. - all just make you want to hear more from his life. While I am happy to stick on the three times I've seen his lounge-singing diva alter-ego in Kiki and Herb I look forward to seeing him again in performance soon. Let's put it this way... it's a rare talent that could make me forget I was sitting at the next table to Boy George.
Tuesday night found me and O at the Savoy Theatre for Trevor Nunn's musical theatre staging of the Gershwin masterpiece PORGY AND BESS.
I had been looking forward to finally seeing this landmark show having never seen it on stage or Otto Preminger's 1959 screen adaptation with four of the same actors from his CARMEN JONES. Trevor Nunn is to be applauded - not something I would say ordinarily! - for bringing the show into the west end as a musical rather than it's usual operatic form. This show deserves to be seen not only as a tribute to the awesome score by George and Ira Gershwin but also as a showcase for the richly talented cast of black British performers.
The story could not be simpler - the black workers of Catfish Row, South Carolina are hard-working and God-fearing. A drunken fight during a crap-game leaves one of the men stabbed to death, The killer Crown (Cornell S. John) flees before the police arrive but the community are left with his mistress Bess (Nicola Hughes), a good-time girl with a liking for the packets of 'happy dust' supplied by the oily pusher Sportin' Life (played by the bizarrely named O.T. Fagbenle). The only person willing to take her in is the neighbourhood cripple Porgy (Clarke Peters). Porgy, used to a life of rejection by women has admired Bess from afar but now falls for her completely and she too warms to this man who truly loves her, The others warily accept her but during a community picnic on a nearby island, she is confronted by Crown who has been hiding out there. He forces himself on her and she returns to the town a troubled woman, aware that her love for Porgy may not be enough to resist Crown's power over her. The community faces a hurricaine which ends several lives but when Crown arrives in the aftermath to take Bess, Porgy stabs him. The police arrive and want Porgy to identify the body but Sportin' Life - who witnessed Porgy's act - plays on his and Bess' fear that a murdered body bleeds afresh if looked on by the killer. The police force him to come with them leaving the way clear for Sportin' Life to work on Bess, supplying her again with 'happy dust' and convincing her the police will never let Porgy go. Porgy returns to find her gone to far-off New York. He sets off after her determined to win her back.
Yes there are a few faults - as striking a performer as Hughes is, she doesn't fully succeed in drawing your attention away from the contrivances the script forces on her - indeed most of her big scenes happen offstage - and occasionally the score could do with some of the musical largess an opera would give it - Porgy's final song "I'm On My Way" seemed to end too quickly, not so much starting a long journey as a couple of steps to the back of the set and occasionally the over-active singing made the lyrics a bit undecypherable but on the whole I really enjoyed it, it was great to finally be able to put those classic songs "Summertime", "It Ain't Necessarily So", "I Loves You Porgy" and "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'" into their proper context. The show is also illuminated by some very fine performances - the oddly named O-T Fagbenle makes a wonderfully serpentine Sportin' Life, Melanie Marshall gives Maria the shopkeeper real presence, my LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS friend Dawn Hope is a bit of a revelation as Serena, the religious woman made a widow by Crown's drunken violence and there is fine support from Lorraine Velez and Edward Baruwa as the married couple who are victims of the hurricaine. The ensemble sound great in the choral parts of the score.
The star of the show, and rightly so, is Clarke Peters as Porgy. It's so good to see this veteran of many shows being given such a showcase for his glorious voice and being so loudly cheered at the end. His unsentimental performance is nicely played against any obvious sympathy so his happiness in loving Bess is even more winning.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Friday, December 01, 2006
Definatly a case of read 'em and weep.
Alvin Ailey, Peter Allen, Nester Almendros, Emile Ardolino, Arthur Ashe, Howard Ashman, Isaac Asimov, Baltimora, Way Bandy, Michael Bennett, John Binden, Amanda Blake, Leigh Bowery, Geoffrey Burridge, Gia Carangi, Ian Charleson, Bruce Chatwin, Tina Chow, Cyril Collard, Patrick Cowley, John Curry, Brad Davis, Tony de Vit, Casey Donovan, Eazy-E, Denholm Elliott, Perry Ellis, Esquerita, Kenny Everett, Wayland Flowers, Howard Greenfield, Halston, John Hargreaves, Keith Haring, Dan Hartman, Ofra Haza, John Holmes, Rock Hudson, Sylvester James, Derek Jarman, Michael Jeter, Jobriath, Robert Joffrey, Larry Kert, Kris Kirk, Fela Kuti, Liberace, Charles Ludlum, Robert Mapplethorpe, Freddie Mercury, Jacques Morali, Cookie Mueller, Willi Ninja, Klaus Nomi, Rudolf Nureyev, Tommy Nutter, Al Parker, Anthony Perkins, Kurt Raab, Dack Rambo, Gene Anthony Ray, Robert Reed, Tony Richardson, Howard Rollins, Steve Rubell, Craig Russell, Michael Staniforth, Jermaine Stewart, Stephen Stucker, Michael Sundin, Ron Vawter, Ricky Wilson.
And on a more personal level, Martin Taylor, David Holloway and Alex Maxey.
The past two days have been all about two favourite ladies.
On Wednesday we went to Hammersmiff to see Beverley Knight rock da house. She was as excellent as ever, her combination of powerhouse singing and great personality make her a very special performer indeed. The set was slightly altered from earlier in the year - the 'stock' songs being Flavour of The Old School, Made It Back, Greatest Day, Get Up, Shoulda Woulda Coulda, Same (As I Ever Was), Gold, Keep This Fire Burning, Supersonic and Piece of My Heart. She slowed it down mid-way to sing three ballads with just backing vocalists, guitar and bongos: Shape of You, Sista Sista and Need of You. Amazingly the audience shut up! Invariably when the ballads come round, people start talking but during Sista Sista you could hear a pin drop. She also sang two much-needed new songs After You and Sweet Black Sugar (very Ike & Tina). The classic cover this time was Aretha Franklin's Rock Steady and she topped off the evening with a stonking version of Come As You Are.
As much as I clapped, stomped and sang along... I couldn't lose myself in it unlike the Shepherds Bush earlier in the year. Maybe I'm all gigged out for the year? I left the show feeling she was as excellent as ever... but. The new album is out early next year so hopefully the next show should offer a new setlist.
Maybe I couldn't really concentrate as before the show, gawping about the foyer while Owen was at the bar who should I see three people away from me but HOWARD TAKE THAT! My Eeek-o-meter went from 0 to 100. Despite Owen's "Who, that scruff?" comment I gawped and gawped til he suddenly vanished like the magical creature wot he is *sigh*
Thursday saw us on the mean streets of Kilburn, scuttling to get to the cultural beacon that is the Tricycle to see an advance screening of STRANGER THAN FICTION which we had seen previously at the London Film Festival. Seeing it a second time was certainly no chore, it's life-affirming in the best possible way and the performances of Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Dustin Hoffman deserve a re-visit. The main reason for going though was the post-screening Q&A with Ms. Emma Thompson. It turns out she was instrumental in getting the Tricycle Cinema started, helping to raise it's profile and get celebrity sponsers from Hollywood. She opened the cinema and as she is a Hampstead girl, it also serves as her local cinema too. She was in great form, talking with obvious love about the film and answering the sometimes lame questions with honesty, wit and insight. Owen kept nudging me each time the chap asked were there any questions and suddenly I found my hand in the air! There was heaps I wanted to ask her about but as all the questions had been pertaining to the film I quickly garbled out a question about the director Marc Forster. Somehow I phrased the question so it appealed to her as she said I had made an interesting point, news to me! After the time was up, a woman in the front row nabbed her to sign something so I was desperate to bomb down to the front of the stage, no mean feat when trapped in the middle of the fourth row with no one moving on either side of you!
Now the last time I saw Emma was way back in 1993 at the premiere of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOWT at the Empire. I had first met her when she was in ME AND MY GIRL in 1984 and was an out n out fan from the off. The actor's agent I knew was even more obsessed and had managed to get her flatmate chef into doing private parties for the cast so it was through one of these that I first met her. Up until her film career REALLY took off I used to see her around a lot and always got on great... now I was scared, would she still remember me? 13 years is a long time in this business we call show. I waited for a couple of girls to get her autograph and said "You won't remember me but I am the remnents of what used to be Chris Voisey"... How could I have been worried? Her face lit up and of course she remembered! And after all these years I finally got a photo with her... I had always been a bit shy in asking for one before but Owen was there with the camera. She said some really lovely things and I spent the whole journey home grinning from ear to ear.
And no I'm not uploading the picture. Some things are not for sharing... even with you, Constant Reader.