Monday, November 26, 2007

It's official. I'm in mourning. But, Constant Reader, the joy before the pain.

On Saturday night Owen and I had one of the tables overlooking the Jazz Cafe stage to see the Queens of Lovers Rock Janet Kay and Carroll Thompson. After seeing them earlier in the year at the Barbican for the BBC SOUL BRITANNIA concert we thought it would be good to see them in a smaller venue and here they were.

Backed by an excellent band they took turns singing several short sets and as both have sustained careers over 25+ years it was great seeing and hearing them. The nice thing to see was how while one was taking their turn, the other sat to one side behind the backing singers - singing along! Neither appears to have a UK recording contract although Janet has been signed to Sony Japan for a few years so it can't be easy maintaining careers. What they do have are two wonderful voices with great stage presence, a catalogue of swoony love songs and a devoted fan following. Oh and Janet's partner Victor Romero Evans doing a great job selling the promo versions of their new albums!

Carroll sang most of her HOPELESSLY IN LOVE album from 1980, a landmark record which was recently voted by The Guardian as one of the 1,000 Albums To Hear Before You Die. My favourites were included, "Hopelessly In Love", "Yesterday", "I'm So Sorry" and "Mr. Cool". As well as these she also sang some tracks from her latest album MOOD FOR LOVE including a delightful Lovers Rock version of "Breakfast In Bed".

Janet treated us to "Feel No Way", "Lovin' You" (first recorded by her aged 19), "Love You Always", Dennis Brown's version of "Silhouettes" and a great "You've Made Me so Very Happy". Oh and "Silly Games" - and yes she hit the note! She also played the drums for the first verse so we could sing it to her! She also sang a lovely cover of Anita Baker's "Sweet Love" from her last cd LOVIN' YOU... MORE

Afterwards we swung by Victor to buy some cds - and shake his hand - then trooped upstairs again to be ushered into the presence of these two gracious Queens who were very friendly and happy to chat - it was hard to believe they had just come off-stage after playing an hour and a half of solid soulful reggae.

They even showcased a young singer called Wayne Marshall who sang a rather overly-tortured version of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come". Hopefully he will drop the James Brownisms soon and let his fine voice carry the song. Here is a shot of them listening to him.

Janet said they are going to be performing again next February at Hackney Empire so I am already looking forward to seeing them again!

So if I had a wonderful time... why am I in mourning?

When I got back to Owen's I realised I had left my lovely chocolate brown Cressida Bell velvet scarf draped over the back of my chair.

I called the Jazz Cafe today and yes you guessed.... no scarf was handed in.

My lovely scarf... gone forever... *sob*

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Every so often I see a production that reminds me just how powerful true theatre can be.

On Wednesday evening Owen and I saw WAR HORSE at the Olivier Theatre. It has been adapted by Nick Stafford from the 1982 novel by Michael Morpurgo. I didn't feel particularly fired up to see it when it was announced as I didn't know the book but after it opened to out-and-out rave reviews we managed to get tickets in what is now a sell-out production. I was mesmerised from the start and was held by it until it's cathartic ending.

The simple tale is of a colt who is caught and sold in auction to a poor farmer who entrusts it to his teenage son Albert. They have an immediate connection and Albert names him Joey, raising him to be a fine handsome horse. He even manages to train the thoroughbred into being a plough-horse to save losing him in a bet his father has made with a hated brother-in-law. However it is 1914 and even Albert cannot save his beloved Joey being sold to the Cavalry as a war horse. A young Major has noticed the two of them in the days leading up to the recruitment drive in the village and promises Albert he will have Joey as his horse and will return him by Christmas "when the War's over". Two months later Albert receives news that the Major has been killed in action and, stricken with anxiety for Joey, runs away from home to sign up and find him in the killing grounds of the Western Front. The play then follows the ghastly trials both boy and horse are subjected to over the course of the war to end all wars. The highly emotional story tugs on all possible heartstrings with fate and coincidence sometimes too much at hand. However one goes along with the plot contrivances as the production is so wonderfully involving. Co-directed by Tom Morris and the-always interesting Marianne Elliott the tone never waivers and the clarity of the piece is a hallmark of Elliott's best work. The large company serve the piece well - there are noteworthy performances by Angus Wright as a kindly German officer who saves Joey and another proud stallion Topthorn by using them to pull a German ambulance, Luke Treadaway is an understandably panicky Albert and Thusitha Jayasundera as his fiery but loving mother.
The real stars however are the actors/manipulators who work the life-size puppets of Joey and Topthorn - there should be another word for them as they transcend the name puppet. The horses are worked by three performers - one working the head, one as the chest and front legs, one as the back legs. The metal, wood and canvas frames move sinuously with the movements designed by Toby Sedgwick (who also plays Albert's father) that soon they really do become characters in their own right. Indeed their very stripped-down look helps in your sympathy when you see the horses exposed to the dangers of battle - when one is 'killed' the shell is left on the stage and immediately it connects to images one knows of wasted horses seen in WWI photographs. The design work is truly excellent: Rae Smith (stage), Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler (puppet design for Handspring Puppet Company) and Paule Constable (lighting) deserve all the praise received in the press. Indeed Handspring have also given us swallows, children, crows and a scene-stealing goose! Special mention too for Adrian Sutton's lush musical score and John Tams' evocative folk songs.
The real joy of this production however is the collaboration made between the audience and the performers/production team. The true alchemy of theatre is here, when the leap of imagination asked of the audience is overcome and a real shared experience is created not only between performer and audience member but within the audience itself. The stillness in the audience during the final scenes was palpable, a wonderful feeling. There wasn't a dry eye in the house... even mine, Constant Reader. The explosion of sound during the curtain calls was a welcome relief... and yes that was Stephen Sondheim a few rows in front of me clapping broadly and enthusiastically.

A performance like this evening happens rarely but when it does it is what makes theatre the greatest of the arts.
Just before the lights went down Owen asked where, all those 25 years ago, I had usually sat for "Guys and Dolls" and I pointed out the front-row just off centre. As I've explained before in this blog, that production was the first time I felt that alchemy, when the power of the performers is bounced back to them by the audience's responses and concentration.

There seemed to be quite a few parents with children attending tonight - how wonderful if even just a handful of the young people attending now realise how exciting real theatre can be.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Okay I have calmed down enough now to blog about the pure fabness that was Beverley Knight last night at the Royal Albert Hall.

She was the best I have seen her - and this was my 8th time.
The last time I was a bit disappointed... it was coming to the end of the VOICE tour and maybe even she was a bit tired of singing her "Best of.." however last night she was showcasing songs from her MUSIC CITY SOUL album and seemed absolutely On It. The fact Owen and I were also in the centre of the 2nd row from the stage also added to how good the show was - we got full-force Bev.

She appeared to be channelling an early 70s Tina Turner - long hair swirling, a vibrant short wraparound dress showing off her great fishnetted legs, spikey heels - and didn't stop working the audience or that amazing voice. We were all up for it too... indeed several times she was visibly moved by the rapturous reception she received.

The set list consisted mostly MCS - "Ain't That A Lot of Love", "After You", "No Man's Land", "Queen of Starting Over", "Time Is On My Side", "Back To You", "Saviour" where she recruited us all as her backing singers and it sounded pretty fierce, "Every Time You See Me Smile" and a stomping version of "Black Butta".

Of course Beverley dipped into her back catalogue - a great "Flava Of The Old School" which also incorporated snatches from "And The Beat Goes On" and "One Nation Under A Groove", a deep soul version of "Sista Sista", "Piece Of My Heart", "Made It Back" which she now does stripped down and with a Latin vibe which didn't *quite* work, a thudding "Keep This Fire Burning", an anthemic "Come As You Are" and again had us all as her backing singers on "Shoulda Woulda Coulda".

She sang a magnificent version of "Gold" wringing every ounce of soul from this great song and ended with my all-time Bev favourite "Greatest Day" that had everyone in the house screaming for more. She left the stage in floods of grateful tears.

I'm sorry I made you cry Bev!

There have been constant rumours for a long time now of record company problems and indeed the choice of singles and general promotion of MUSIC CITY SOUL have been dubious.

If anyone from Parlophone was there then I hope it made them realise what a fantastic performer Beverley is and start to give her the backing she deserves.

When she sang in Gold "You're looking at the real thing" I thought damn right. Beverley is the real thing and needs to be given her props as such.

Oh there were enormous signs everywhere about no photography. Indeed the usher told us the same when he showed us to seats.

Hope you like my photographs - for once mine came out good!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

For 27 years the BBC has been doing this... you would think by now they would have worked out a way not to make it toe-curlingly crap.

Terry Wogan is truly a walking - waddling - car crash. I have never understood how he keeps getting the gig. The missed cues... the alzheimer stares as he has no idea what to say leaving so much dead air hanging... the sheer preening awfulness of someone who thinks he is charisma personified. This year his care assistant is the vacuum that is Ferne Cotton, a fine example of the tv presenter WHO! SPEAKS! LIKE! THIS! AND! REACTS! LIKE! A! FEEB! IN! A! HALL! OF! MIRRORS!

There are usually specially-filmed riffs on BBC shows - there was an absolute hilaire one of HOTEL BABYLON being taken over by Sybil Fawlty and other stragglers from 80s sitcoms.. Paul Shane, June Whitfield, Vicki Michele et al.... They cut back to the studio and at least Prunella Scales had the grace to look thoroughly ashamed. The nadir of the evening must have been a NEVER MIND THE BUZZCOCKS special betwixt Radios 1 & 2... jokes about Terry Wogan's recent airing of his basket on tv died the death of eight dogs with a stony-silent audience and he didn't look too happy either. A total dog show. The Sparse Girls comeback single was the official CIN single so they appeared on film from LA miming. Sums it all up really. The BBC were obviously so thrilled with this they didn't even include it in the round-up compilation although they did have them miming STOP. Indeed.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What better way to round off a week of seeing acts whose work I was unfamiliar with than seeing a band whose work has resounded down 30 years?

I am not the biggest card-carrying member of The Sex Pistols fan club but back in the day I bought the singles and album while following their meteoric rise and tawdry demise through the pages of the then-obligatory NME. It was with a growing nervousness that the day of accompany Owen to the 2nd of their latest reunion gigs came closer. Would they walk through it basking in the knowledge of immediate sell-out shows and an acquiescent audience? Would the audience be as drunk and lacking in spacial awareness as has been my experience at some 70s band gigs?

All I can say is Never Mind That Bollocks - they were fantastic!

Owen is getting to know his way round the Brixton Academy so it didn't take long to get from main door to seats about 6 rows back on the aisle in the circle with a good vantage point of the stage and also the purple lights raking the auditorium. The nerves started to give way to genuine excitement as the moment of them appearing got nearer... like, DAMN I was going to be seeing the bloody Sex Pistols!!

The lights went down and the darkened auditorium was suddenly lit from the two large scenery doors being opened in the back of the stage and in a blaze of white light four figures walking downstage... and there they were, a swaggering theatrical entrance fully befitting their legendary status - and despite the half-arsed attempts of the security to get everyone in the circle to remain seated it wasn't long before we were standing singing and cheering them on.

Was there ever a greater front man - outside of Moz - than our Johnny Rotten Lydon? Panto came early this year as he worked the crowd better than any number of old-pro dames or villains, eternally disappointed in us but also saying that seeing us all there made him so happy. His amazing presence meant I couldn't take my eyes off him, a genuine 100% legend.

What surprised me was how great they sounded - Paul Cook kept his drumming fierce and propelled making the songs everyone knew backwards as exciting to hear as the first time while Glen Matlock and Steve Jones kept up a solid wall of guitar noise - even if it took a while to work out which was which! What also surprised me was their virtual anonymity, none of them spoke or were even referred to by John. I guess he has enough personality for them all!

Playing all of NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS and various b-sides and live favourites, they left some great sonic memories none more so than those four classic singles - PRETTY VACANT opened the show and after a while Johnny conducted us in a sing-song to "Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside" before the guitar slides and fierce drumroll hurtled us into HOLIDAYS IN THE SUN - that drum roll was one of the most exciting things EVER!

GOD SAVE THE QUEEN closed the main set against a backdrop of stamps bearing the classic single sleeve - oh the joy of singing NOOOO FUUTURE again and again at the close left me grinning from ear to ear - one of them was for you Steve where e'er you be. The two encores included great versions of EMI and BODIES... and of course, ANARCHY IN THE UK. Possibly the greatest British rock song ever it sounded as vibrant and thrillingly alive in their hands as when they first recorded it.

They were quite simply magnificent and how drab and neutered the British music scene of today looks in comparison.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Oh no... not another gig where I have no idea what I'm going to see or hear!

Wednesday evening Owen and I went to the Roundhouse to see Barcelona's own OJOS DE BRUJO. The venue was packed (which I hadn't been expecting) for this collective of musicians who blend the styles of flamenco, jazz and hip-hop with other world influences notably from Africa, Cuba and India.

As enjoyable as it was it was also a bit overpowering - the rhythms were so dense at times and the extended jams so long I wondered would I ever see daylight again! I recognised one or two songs from
their album "Techari" that Owen has but on the whole I let the music swirl around me.

They said that they were missing Ramon, guitarist and one of the originators of the group, but they still provided a solid wall of sound and they all had their chance to shine.

We had Marina the lead singer in her gold flecked long jacket, 2 feather boas and dreadlocked hair piled high, Maxwell (not the most Catalan of names - it turns out he is American born in Paris) on percussion and at times almost a human beatbox he rapped so fast, DJ Panko on beats, Javi on bass - now that was some solo!, Sergio on drums, Carlos on congas - great afro, Xavi on tabla and percussion and Paco on flamenco guitar.

Other musicians - brass players, another congas player, an on-stage backing singer as well
came and went as needed but they also had two stand out guests.
Faada Freddy had travelled from Sengegal to join them in a "Techari" song he had featured on and to do a great cover version of GET UP STAND UP (finally something the audience could join in with!) - he was great fun bouncing all over the stage, dreads flying.

And then there was Sonia Poveda. She opened the show with the first of several dynamic, fiery flamenco solos that were riveting to watch, none more so than in the number where she trades moves with Marina and Maxwell's vocals - which you can see here through the grainy glory of YouTube.
I have nabbed Owen's fine performance photo as all mine were crap as per.

So all in all it was a memorable experience - only slightly distanced by the obvious barrier of language and the obvious pillar of Roundhouse (see top photo!)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Music, as Madonna opined, makes the people come together. But it can also baffle you if it's a form that leaves you cold.

Tonight Owen and I went to see Jesse Malin at the Islington Academy. Now I must admit that up until a few months ago I had never heard of him but when it was announced that his GB tour drummer was going to be none other than power thumper Brian Viglione from The Dresden Dolls we thought it would be good to see him with someone other than Amanda Palmer.

Jesse Malin hails from Queens NY and seems to be cut from the same blue collar cloth as Bruce Springsteen. The songs were certainly put across with a passion and commitment and one or two I enjoyed while listening to them but on the whole it sounded like so much white boy guitar rock. It was odd to physically and mentally stand to one side and watch the audience singing and clapping along and wonder what on earth can inspire them about these songs. Oh and he kept standing in the way of Brian.

Now I can honestly say I've never been to a gig just to see a member of the band before but Brother Viglione is no ordinary musician. He created a sound and a fury behind the songs that propelled them along and he was fun to watch with his dramatic swooping arm movements and seeing him rise up from behind the kit as he build to yet another thundering finish.

Afterwards Brian quickly posed for photos with some young shaggers in the front row but disappeared off to the back of the stage and we thought we had missed our chance to say hello. Malin was signing at his merch stall (which was nice of him) but this blocked the exits so we stood for a while by the auditorium doors. Owen then saw Brian inside talking to a woman. By the time we raced back up the stairs he had disappeared again and a security guard asked why we were coming back in "He's behind you signing stuff" to which I replied with amazement "We don't want him... we want the drummer!" Frustrated again we desolately put our cds away.... just as the security guard appeared at the door pointing us out to Brian who came out and, despite being shirtless in the draft of the open exit doors, signed our cds and shook our hands thanking us profusely for coming to see him.

It's official... Brian Viglione is my favourite drummer of all time.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Carrying on a sad tradition...

Writer Peter Viertel has died only 21 days after his wife actress Deborah Kerr.

In the over-hyped world of Unfitney (thank you Perez), Kylie and The Sparce Girls... watch Mary J. Blige WORK it!