Monday, September 29, 2008

On Saturday Owen and I were in the right place for a blast of 60s joy - Islington to be precise.

Ronnie Spector was finally playing London to promote her LAST OF THE ROCK STARS album. I ain't going to say this was a bit delayed but the album has a 2006 date! But better late than never.

I must say I have never been a huge Ronettes fan per se.

I think this is possibly because, unlike the Motown girl groups, there has never been much available from their back catalogue. At any time the most that's been available is a "Best Of" - and even that isn't available at present. I presume this is due to the ongoing battle with the mad, bad and dangerous to know ex-husband. But their songs of teens either desperate to be in love or desperately out of love have always resonated with a particular magic.

Their was a bit of a generational thing happening at the Islington Academy. It wasn't exactly sold out either but that at least gave us space to frug and Owen didn't feel too troubled by crowds pressing near his still-recovering back.

Ronnie looked fierce - a huge mane of hair and a loose black shirt which was later unbuttoned to reveal a well-filled black bustier! She apologised early for having a painful leg so she sat down between songs but was up and at 'em during the numbers, tossing curves and hair like it was 1963 all over again. The occasional stray note can definately be forgiven.

She seemed to be unaware that her last album was actually available and in fact only did two songs from it - "There Is An End" and her cover of Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory". She also paid tribute to Frankie Lymon who was an early influence on her with a doo-wop song. She mentioned how she sees her influence in Amy Winehouse's hair and sang a Ronettes-styled "Back To Black" which morphed into a glorious "You Baby". She also sang the song George Harrison wrote
for her in 1971 "Try Some, Buy Some" and the classic "Say Goodbye To Hollywood" written for her by Billy Joel.

But primarily it was an avalanche of glorious pop as those classics just kept on coming: "Baby I Love You", "Is This What I Get For Loving You Baby", "So Young", "The Best Part of Breakin' Up...", "I Wonder", "I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine", "Do I Love You?", "I Can Hear Music", "Be My Baby" and "Walking In The Rain".

I must admit when she launched into the last one I found I had been moved to happy tears - there are some songs you just never expect to hear sung by the singer who sang them and these were among them.

To hear her sing those wide-eyed love songs that she immortalised at 20 after 45 years of ups and downs and proof that there are not always happy ever afters was a genuinely moving experience.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

One of the downsides of being a Motown fan is that reading obits can sometimes be a sad thing. Norman Whitfield one of the great producer/songwriters died on the 16th aged 68.
Like so many of the Motown team, he got a job there in his late teens just by
hanging around the office. It wasn't long before he was co-writing songs for Marvin Gaye ("Pride and Joy", "Can I Get A Witness", Too Busy Thinking 'Bout My Baby"), The Marvelettes ("Too Many Fish In The Sea") and The Velvelettes ("Needle In A Haystack", "Boy From Crosstown", "A Bird In The Hand", "He Was Really Saying Something"). Among my personal favourites from his songbook are "Lonely Lonely Girl Am I" by Tammi Terrell, "Think Of The Times" by The Velvelettes, "I Know Better" by Barbara MacNair, "It Should Have Been Me" by Kim Weston and the Yvonne Fair 1970s cover.

He also was a major player in the success of Gladys Knight & The Pips with "You Need Love Like I Do", "The Friendship Train", "End of The Road" and "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" which of course he also produced for Marvin Gaye. He also gave Edwin Starr his biggest hit with "War" as well as "My Weakness Is You".

His biggest triumph for the label was guiding Motown safely into the 1970s through his involvement with The Temptations. When his co-written & produced "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" was a bigger hit than Smokey Robinson's song "Get Ready" for the band, he was given the green light to oversee their career and slowly he introduced a more funkier, urban sound to the band giving them a new lease of life and becoming one of Motown's most important acts..

Norman Whitfield co-wrote and produced all of the following: “(I Know) I’m Losing You”, “You’re My Everything”, “I Wish It Would Rain”, “I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)”, “Cloud Nine”, “Runaway Child, Running Wild”, “I Can’t Get Next To You”, “Psychedelic Shack”, “Ball of Confusion”, “Just My Imagination”, “It’s Summer", “Superstar”, “Take A Look Around” and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”. A phenomenal body of music.

He found time to work with The Undisputed Truth, another group who brought a more urban sound to the label and whose biggest hit was the excellent "Smiling Faces Sometimes",
actually a Temp's b-side.

After leaving Motown in 1973 he had huge success with writing and producing for Rose Royce including all their "Car Wash" hits as well as producing "Wishing On A Star" and "Love Don't Live Here Anymore". He returned to Motown in the 1980s but his career dwindled and his later years were troubled with ill health and financial problems leading to a 6 month home imprisonment sentence for tax evasion.

But he will be remembered for making some of the most bold and distinctive soul classics of the 1960s and 1970s.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Owen asked me the other day which favourite singer I still had not seen in concert.

I have been lucky to see practically all my musical heroes on stage in some shape, form or fashion. The most obvious one I never saw was Dusty Springfield.

However there are still two singers I would love to see... Aretha Franklin and Carole King.

Apart from the obvious connection of (YOU MAKE ME FEEL LIKE) A NATURAL WOMAN, they are both 66!

Aretha still plays dates in the US - indeed she played Radio City Music Hall the week before my trip to New York in March - and cites a fear of flying as her excuse for not playing Europe.

Carole has no such excuses - she is playing 8 dates in Japan in November, a year since she was there last. To the best of my knowledge she has not toured in the UK since the early 1970s.

I was going to add a YouTube video of Carole and Aretha singing NATURAL WOMAN on the first "VH1 Divas" telecast - but in watching it again I forgot it also featured Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Mariah Carey and Gloria Estefan.

Poor Carole is drowned out by the melismatic caterwauling.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I have heard some cock in my time but this is takes the biscuit...

"Andrew Lloyd Webber is offering free theatre tickets to bankers who have lost their jobs in the current financial meltdown.

Between now and October 15th, bank employees who visit the West End box offices of The Sound of Music and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will be able to claim two free tickets for one of the shows on production of a P45 issued after September 1st, 2008.

Andrew Lloyd Webber said: ""Both The Sound of Music and Joseph are feel good shows and I thought that free tickets might offer some respite, albeit for a couple of hours, for some of those people who have sadly lost their jobs in the current economic upheaval. All you have to do is present your P45 as proof at the box office and two free tickets are yours."

The offer is subject to availability and terms and conditions apply."

Where's my ticket for a look at my P45 you goggle-eyed douchebag?

Just heard the following said by Pat Cash commentating on the Davis Cup match:

"There are brown patches on the baseline now from where the server follows through..."


Friday, September 19, 2008

Last night I flew solo to Hammersmith to see the one and only John Waters giving us his THIS FILTHY WORLD talk.

It was way mobbed because they had closed the circle bar - for the understandable reason that the circle was only half fu
ll - so while attempting to get a drink I missed the stripper at the start. But Dawn - who knows a thing or two now about the ecdysiasts of today - said she wasn't all that.

So up I bounded to the circle and took my seat and that's when the misgivings started. I presume he was booked in there as it is probably seen now as *the* place to play for stand-up comedians - you know those men whose careers are spent on 'ironic' quiz shows, slowly moving along the desk until they are given an 'ironic' news quiz show all of their own.

Anyways it was far too big a hall for our John. No intimacy at all - just him on stage with two enormous screens behind him showing us his every facial wince. It really was odd... I think I looked at him once then just watched the screens. Very wrong.

He also did 85% of the material that's on the dvd of the show so that too was a bit strange. I was sort of singing along with the anecdotes. Still he had some cutting remarks about the upcoming US election.... marvelling that Sarah Palin could almost be a character out of one of his films - played by Mink Stole of course! He also made an astute point that the reason his films have a longevity is because he "looked up to bad taste not down on it". Something few directors seem to understand.

Anyway it was nice to see him - despite the shocking lack of any merch on sale in the foyer.

I sadly but wisely passed on a drink with Dawn, Don, Toby and Don's American friend afterwards because it took me two hours - TWO HOURS - to get home from Hammersmith. No British Rail due to overhead power problems and the Piccadilly line had serious delays due to signalling problems.

Host the fuckin' Olympics? Don't make me larf.

Sadly any good feeling engendered by our Pope of Trash was gone by the time I banged the front door behind me finally.

Finally!! After 7 years of waiting I have finally seen Shelby Lynne live. And she was worth the wait.

After going crazy for her breakout album I AM SHELBY LYNNE - a week or so after she played a gig in London to promote it - I have waited and waited for her to come over again to promote any of the three albums she has released since but
nada. A tour was announced to promote her LOVE, SHELBY album but it was cancelled.

But a new album - her tribute to Dusty Springfield JUST A LITTLE LOVIN' - and here she was, actually walking out onto the Festival Hall stage on Friday. Shelby was lookin' pretty damn fierce with tight leather trews, stiletto leather boots, a black t-shirt with gold glitter detailing and a mane of tousled blonde hair. No wonder the Lebanons were hollering out like at a k.d. lang concert of old.
As I had only interviews to go on for the past few years I was a bit worried. In print she always seems testy and combatitive about her career, her frustration with record deals, under-performing in the charts, her liking for booze, her sexuality. She practically walked out of a Guardian one in 2001 when quizzed on her relationship with manager Elizabeth who left her husband Bill Bottrell (producer of I AM SHELBY LYNNE) and moved in with Shelby - and obviously does NOT suffer fools gladly so I was worried how she would be on stage but she had a great stage presence, chatty as all get out and giving out huge smiles for free and she seemed genuinely glad to be back. I hope she was because I don't want her to leave it so long again!

We had a six Dusty songs - "Just A Little Lovin", "Breakfast In Bed", "Willie & Laura-Mae Jones", "I Only Want To Be With You", "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" and "Anyone Who Had A Heart" (yes I know it's tainted with Cilla but Dusty *did* record it in 1964). She has wisely reinterpreted the songs and gives the three big ballads a hushed, after hours feel which works wonderfully. We got the same number of tracks from I AM SHELBY LYNNE - the magnificent "Your Lies", "Leavin'', "Life Is Bad", "Gotta Get Back", "Dream Some" and "Where I'm From". She didn't really have to sing the last one as she betrayed her Alabama roots when speaking in her honey-rich drawl.
The big surprise was she did so few from the other albums - maybe she thought the audience wouldn't know them? A song apiece from LOVE, SHELBY "Jesus On A Greyhound" - one of the few of hers I really dislike - and IDENTITY CRISIS "10 Rocks" and two from SUIT YOURSELF during the encores: her touching tribute to the Cash's "Johnny Met June" and "Iced Tea". We also got a surprise cover of "Polk Salad Annie" but I looked it up just now and it's by her friend Tony Joe White who also wrote "Willie & Laura Mae Jones" and with whom she duetted on her cover of his classic "Rainy Night In Georgia".

So there you go... another favourite singer I can tick off as having seen live and who did not disappoint. Shelby is a singer/songwriter who simply does not fit into the obvious Country pidgeonhole. With her bittersweet songs of love and loss she is out there on her own.

Y'all come back soon now y'hear?

Friday, September 12, 2008

She came, I saw, she conquered...

I had been so preoccupied with my unemployed state and Owen's back op that I had purposefully not been thinking about September 11th... Madonna Day! What... you thought I meant something else?

It looked like I was going alone as Owen was only out of the hospital on Tuesday but he reinvented
himself as an action hero and managed to get to Wembley by cab so we could see Herself together as planned.

We have been spoiled with the stadium taking so long to be rebuilt. That has meant M has played the Arena instead, giving more intimate - yes Arena and intimate used in the same sentence - shows, and more of them. Now I guess normal diva status has been resumed and she will be playing the stadium again....sigh.
Still the Icon pre-sale tickets were not too bad - halfway down on the side looking across onto the stage and runway. As usual I had the Mad Cow magnet on and was next to a creature who before it started apologised for all the times she was going to bump into me while she danced. "That's ok" sez I "I was just building up to saying the same to you". And sure enough, everytime she banged into me I banged into her.

They announced at 8:25pm the show was about to start. Yeah right... it's a Madonna show - sure enough we had a 9:10 kick-off. There's been bitching in the press today about this but I guess these people didn't go to any of her previous shows. I have been spoilt with the last two tours by having the chance to see them a couple of times but this was the only chance on this one so I was concentrating on the stage as soon as the lights went down!

Although it wasn't as good as the Confessions tour the show was still a vibrant, pulsing, colourful, extravaganza punched over with wit, thumping beats and vision. They can bitch about the prices... but I have never felt short-changed.
Kicking off, like the showcase gigs recently, was CANDY SHOP but that kinda whizzed past in the thrill of seeing her there - in the flesh - as big as a thumbnail! That slammed into BEAT GOES ON featuring a big white cadillac that drove down the runway while Kanye West rapped on the big screens. Next up was a bump'n'grinding version of HUMAN NATURE backed by CCTV footage of a hoodied-blonde trapped in a lift who answered Madonna's last "I'm not your bitch" with "It's Britany bitch" and it was! The Pimp section was rounded off with a delicious VOGUE deeply mashed up with the parping brass and ticking clocks of 4 MINUTES.

The Old School section was my fave - a wonderfully hip-hopped INTO THE GROOVE featured M rocking a go-go pole against a lovely vivid animated backdrop of Keith Haring's figures. As the song morphed into JUMP Maddy even showed us she is a Double Dutch champion! After HEARTBEAT she gave us a delicious surprise - BORDERLINE reinvented as a guitar anthem - and it worked! SHE'S NOT ME ended up with the coup-de-theatre of M confronting four dancers dressed in iconic outfits from the videos of Material Girl, Like A Virgin, Express Yourself and Vogue. She roughed them up and staggered back to the stage in time for MUSIC steeped in early 80s street beats with track-suited bodypopping dancers.
After a powerful DEVIL WOULDN'T RECOGNISE YOU - the latest of her great anthemic ballads - came SPANISH LESSON (still don't like the song) but then we got a great MILES AWAY. I take it back... *this* is her latest great anthem ballad! LA ISLA BONITA followed in the Romany style she previewed at the Live Earth show which was enormous fun, whirling and swirling with a gypsy band and dancers. This segment ended with the surprising inclusion of YOU MUST LOVE ME from 'Evita' which again found the audience stilled by another great vocal - needless to say at the end when she paused before the last word she got affirmation from us. By the way her outfit for this segment was my favourite of the evening,

A remix video of GIVE IT 2 ME came next with 'get stupid' sung over footage of Hitler, Mugabe... and John McCain - can't wait to see how that goes down in the US - especially as the forces of good include Obama... and Oprah!

The last segment started with an oddly lacklustre 4 MINUTES swiftly eclipsed by a stunning LIKE A PRAYER here transformed into a rave anthem. Madonna then strapped on the guitar again for RAY OF LIGHT and HUNG UP and the whole show was rounded off with a thumping, impassioned GIVE IT 2 ME.

I was left on such a high I didn't even mind having to wait an hour for the cab Owen had booked for 11.40 to crawl around the Stadium due to the total logjam of cars.

With a day to reflect on the experience I do have only two criticisms: my main problem with the show was I would have liked a little more engagement from Madonna. At times the show felt a bit soulless - true she did a little chat between RAY OF LIGHT and HUNG UP while giving us a quick version of EXPRESS YOURSELF to sing along to but it would have been nice for the tightly-scripted show to have been deviated from a bit - it's her adopted home town after all! I could also do with less of the rock goddess shtick now - it's ok for a couple of songs but each segment of the show featured a moment when the guitar was strapped on. It's odd that while the last two albums have been more dance-orientated that her concerts are featuring the axe more and more. Oh and this was the first Madonna gig that will not be represented in my t-shirt collection - they were all a bit blah.

But these niggles aside she still gave a fantastic show and she's still my idol. When's the dvd out?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

What with the flurry of activity that has surrounded Owen going into hospital for another back op I have not had a chance to rave about the glory that was the X-Ray Spex reunion gig at the Roundhouse on Saturday. Like.... wow!

Poly Styrene has always been a bit of a heroine of mine, a genuinely original voice and a living example of the punk
ethos that was liberation across race and gender. Of course it didn't actually pan out like that but it was a time when anyone could make their mark and was there a more day-glo mark than the Spexters?

In their world of shrink-wrapped, shiny, plastic disposable consumerism Poly was the focal point - a short, half English-half Somali girl with braces on her teeth with a voice like a police-siren singing songs of a wipe-clean world where emotions struggle to set
free. There was no one else like her.

The Spexters blazed brightly for three years before Poly left the group due to exhaustion. For such a short-lived band with 5 singles and 1 album - none of which made the top 15 amazingly - their memory has been fondly remembered and the album GERM-FREE ADOLESCENTS has always remained in print.

I saw them once at the first Rock Against Racism gig in April 1978 where Poly
surprised the crowd with a mumsy jacket and skirt and a scarf wound round her head so I was excited to see how they would present themselves now.

After the rather oppressive atmosphere at Hammersmith for the Sex Pistols the feeling at the Roundhouse was one of bubbling expectant excitement.
Out of the darkness a quiet voice said "Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard but I think.... OH BONDAGE UP YOURS!" and with a blaze of light we were off
on a non-stop charge into X-Ray Spexland!

Poly was resplendant in a black dress and a shocking pink scarf-belt, big clumpy boots and a pink sequined beret, full-figured and with long dark hair - she looked great! Both her and us spent the next hour or so grinning madly and belting out their classic anthems. She kept waving and saying hello and seemed genuinely happy to be there - as were we.

The band's sound was delightfully rough and chaotic and Poly's voice still had the power to knock down doors! My highlights were a mighty IDENTITY, a tranquil GERM FREE ADOLESCENCE, ART-I-FICIAL, LET'S SUBMERGE, I CAN'T DO ANYTHING was as gloriously balmy as ever, HIGHLY IMFLAMMABLE and a
storming version of I AM A CLICHE which had the crowd at the front of the stage seething, pogoing, moshing and surfing.

And of course she finished with THE DAY THE WORLD TURNED DAY-GLO. But we clapped and stomped for more so we were treated in true punk-style to OH BONDAGE and DAY-GLO again! If a song is worth doing....

So there you go, even a long schlepp home and an eternity waiting for a poke of chips did not dampen our pleasure at seeing and hearing Poly 30 years down the line, still as vibrant and now as ever!

By the way the good news is that Owen is possibly due to be allowed home today from St. George's in Tooting. So... in on Sunday, op'd on Monday, out on Tuesday. I'm sure if they could do the op through your letterbox they would.

Friday, September 05, 2008

I have looked into the heart of a murderer tonight and it was dark, glittering, frighteningly alluring... and a little like I expected.

Tonight Owen and I saw the London debut of Matthew Bourne's new production DORIAN GRAY at Sadler's Wells - which should be retitled Bourne's Wells as his revivals regularly pack the place to the rafters.

Adapted from Oscar Wilde's only novel this is just the latest incarnation for the beautiful but deadly Dorian - IMDB lists 16 film or tv productions, the latest filming right now with Ben Barnes (Narnia's Price Caspian) and Colin Firth (Rupert Everett must have a sicknote).

Bourne's GRAY is set in the London of Now. Dorian (Richard Winsor) has everything that is needed to succeed - the anonymous good-looks of a model, the Beckham crop, a body to die for (and some do) and no morality. Discovered by fashion photographer Basil (Aaron Sillis) serving drinks at a media party for the soignee fashion arbiter Lady H (Michela Meazza), Dorian is soon stripped and posing for the camera in Basil's studio. Soon he and Basil are locked together on the studio floor. Lady H moulds him into The Next Big Thing and soon he is the face of Immortal Pour Homme. A media sensation Dorian is the one everyone wants to be seen with and he is soon involved in a glacial relationship with Lady H, a waning relationship with Basil and a relationship with a pretty but shallow ballet dancer. Through it all Dorian glides, his face a blank, as everyone he meets is in thrall to the power of his celebrity. But when his dancer lover overdoses at a party Dorian watches impassively, his only response to pull the phone cord out of the wall as his lover dies across their bed.But time is moving on and Dorian is haunted by a doppelganger who he glimpses where ever he goes. Same clothes, same crew-cut, same face... only maybe less jaded, more innocent. Dorian's trajectory into his own dark murderous world culminates in him confronting himself before being immortalised forever one more time...

Matthew Bourne has said with this work he was looking to create something darker, something to prove he is not just the populist blockbuster creator of SWAN LAKE, NUTCRACKER! and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. He has certainly succeeded. It is a chilly, bleak distilation of Wilde's theme of the treacherous beauty destroying those who come too close and Bourne finds much to
reference in today's empty vacuum of celebrity worship and the cynical media world - the glitterball at the club Dorian goes to is a rotating sparkling skull.

Ultimately though I felt a trifle hollow too and unsure at times what I was watching - as there is no portrait as such apart from a peeling billboard of Dorian, there is nothing ultimately for Dorian to hide so his murders are just random - was it DORIAN GRAY I was watching or a dance version of AMERICAN PSYCHO? A strong first half leads to a rather muddy second half where I found myself hoping one of the main performers would speak - just to give their characters some defining purpose. Ultimately I was a bit disappointed in the choreography. There were lots of Bourneisms but they seemed remembered snatches from previous productions. There was a lengthy scene set in a club in the second act and I found myself thinking that it could in fact be a routine from a Kylie show while she had a costume change. Maybe I was expecting too much?

The star of the evening is of course Richard Winsor who is rarely off the stage and is certainly charismatic - I also liked him as the sexually confused garage worker in THE CAR MAN so it was good to see him in a larger role. Sadly Michela Meazza is given nothing to do as his powerful patron other than slink and drape over chairs and beds. Aaron Sillis was certainly energetic as the hapless photographer Basil but again I felt he was not strongly defined as a character. A special shout to Jared Hageman as Dorian's watchful doppelganger who had several moments in the second half to shine. The small company doubled and tripled up acordingly and were all fine. Lez Brotherston's revolving wall set was cleverly conceived and there was a nice slow reveal towards the end to show the extent of Dorian's descent into madness. Terry Davies' score was an intriguing mixture of dance beats and electronica with rock elements. I bet the Bourne doyennes had their denture rattled.

Ultimately I think that in his understandable striving to strike out into new more sombre areas, Matthew Bourne might have just overlooked that certain spark which makes him such a creative genius.

I have tickets to see it again in a week's time so maybe it will fall into place more with a second viewing.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Last night I was treated to another blast between the eyes from those loose cannons The Sex Pistols (am I overdoing this I wonder?)

They were playing Hammersmith Apollo as part of their COMBINE HARVESTER tour and Owen and I were in the relative safety of the third row of the circle. Having seen the sizes of the blokes in the foyer I was very happy to be up there... anywhere to be away from them when they started the pogo mosh.

I must admit I enjoyed them
more at Brixton last year - the sound was better and there was also the pure wonderment at finally seeing them live but Johnny was as taunting and as mesmerising as ever... the ultimate front man. He prowled and staggered Frankenstein monster-like around the stage - he even showed up his Union Jack boxers!

The crowd were also odd - as soon as the band left the stage instead of the cheers continuing for an encore they practically all stopped shouting! Maybe they just didn't
bother because they knew they were coming back on. Odd though..
The set-list, unsurprisingly, was largely unchanged but there were blistering versions of "Pretty Vacant", "Bodies", "EMI", "Stepping Stone", "No Fun" and of course the win double of "God Save The Queen" and "Anarchy In The UK". There was a raggedy version of Hawkwind's "Silver Machine" which was an odd way to end the show but the four Pistols were greeted with rousing cheers.

We got to sing Happy Birthday to Steve Jones, 53 today. John rightly hailed him as one of the survivors and indeed they are, still standing and still making a racket. I'd rather watch them than any number of the bands of today.