Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Well that was an odd time.

Constant Reader, my 10 months of being unemployed ended when I signed off this afternoon.

Yes I am back, to help swell the nation's coffers with my hard-earned tax pounds. I am expecting a thank you note from Gordon Brown by the end of the week.

A few weeks back I covered the old office in Borehamwood for a fortnight while the ex-boss had a holiday with the family. On his return he asked on what basis would I return to work full-time.

I said that due to the 90 minute journey each way - which was my reason for leaving last August - and because of the recent fortnight too, I could only do 3 days a week there.
He countered with an offer of 3 days in the office and 2 working from home.

This coincided with me getting very down about the whole benefit life. I was beginning to feel that I was being asked to jump through hoops, fill out meaningless forms time and again... and for them to give out the wrong information at the jobcentre and cut off the benefit at a whim.

Their adline is "The job you want, the help you need". Believe me, I received neither from them.

I also had to weigh up the stats (you can tell I have been watching Wimbledon):

10 months out of work

155 job applications

10 interviews

So I accepted his kind offer and start tomorrow again - how's that for a quick turn-around in fortunes?

I feel a bit odd to be honest - the usual back-to-work nerves I guess.

But it means I won't feel like I'm slowly vanishing into myself on the couch.

So come on... who needs some furniture?

Buy now from The Great Furnishing Trading Company and beat the Christmas rush!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Saturday dawned warm and sunny, growing more and more humid during the day - the perfect conditions for seeing Ray Davies in an outdoor gig at Kenwood House in Hampstead. Ha.

While on the train, the clouds started forming like in a Harry Potter trailer and by the time I got to Finsbury Park the heavens had opened. The Northern line was all upsy-dutch with stations closed due to flooding and we then had to wait at Archway station *35* minutes for a 210 bus to take us to the bloody place.

Like... Ray I know this is your manor but why not play somewhere adjacent to a bloody tube station? Needless to say by the time we schlepped over the muddy grounds to the stage I had a face on me - not helped by the Candice-Marie & Keith types who were there with their picnic hampers, scraped-back hair and sandals, golfing umbrellas etc. who made up most of the audience.
Ray Davies appeared on stage without announcement while I was queuing at the burger stand and Owen was in the lengthy bar wagon queue. Finally grabbing a burger for me, a bun for Owen - so much for Hampstead being a vegetarian paradise - and a couple of cans of Coke we managed to plonk ourselves in our centrally located deckchairs about 10 rows back from the stage. I was just getting into the swing of it... when I felt the raindrops.

I toughed it out as long as I could in my lovely new Pet Shop Boys cap but as it got heavier and the umbrellas started popping up I had to concede defeat and shelter under mine. Owen proved necessity was the mother of invention by ripping open his polythene rubbish sack we had nicked from by the burger wagon and fashioned himself a very punk all-in-one rain cloak but eventually he too had to give in and get the brolly out.

So the rest of the evening was spent doing one or all of the following:
a) rearranging my polythene rubbish sack over my legs to keep them dry

b) try and arrange my brolly so it didn't dribble all over Owen's shoulder

c) laughing hysterically at the sheer absurdity of it all...

Yet despite all this I enjoyed Ray Davies a lot! He gamely carried on with his set which combined songs with his band and a selection backed by the Crouch End Choir as heard on his new album "A Kinks Choral Collection".
It somehow seemed so appropriate... listening to Ray singing his caustic but loving songs of plucky Little Englanders as we huddled under umbrellas in the rain in the grounds of a stately home.

And what an amazing set list - "I'm Not Like Everybody Else", "Where Have All The Good Times Gone", "Come Dancing", "Celluloid Heroes", "All Day And All Of The Night", "Sunny Afternoon" - ha!, "Shangri-La", "Victoria", "See My Friends", "Dedicated Follower of Fashion", "A Well-Respected Man", a medley from "The Village Green Preservation Society" and "You Really Got Me".
I sang along with "Days" - singing the Kirsty MacColl version of course - and despite the rain, despite the absurd surroundings, when he sang about Terry & Julie crossing over the river in "Waterloo Sunset", I happily blubbed. I have no idea why that song effects me so strongly.
He followed all of these with a great version of "Lola" which we happily sung along with.

After all this we couldn't face the journey back so Owen called for an Addison Lee cab which whisked us home - well until we hit the crowds leaving Neil Young's show at Hyde Park!

I know which Sixties icon I would rather sit through... rain or no rain.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What an extraordinary night... I have just seen the news flash saying that Michael Jackson has died of a suspected heart-attack.

Before the hysteria... before the furore about the scheduled O2 concerts... before the frantic re-writing of the final scene of the THRILLER stage show... before the tabloids switch from ridicule to head mourners...

I will commemorate him as I will always remember him... as the captivating centre of the Jackson 5ive. One of the first singles I bought for myself was ABC by the Jackson 5 which was also the first Tamla Motown record I bought. After that I bought the following album...and my heart was lost to Hitsville USA. I adored the Jackson 5 and still play them for the sheer infectious joy of their recordings. I parted company with Michael Jackson around "Thriller" - just as the madness started - and although there has been the occasional track since which has struck a chord (no pun intended) I have felt it to be a case of "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
By coincidence in two weeks time there is a 3-cd collection of his solo Motown albums being released called HELLO WORLD which might be worth investigating.

Ironically I had just returned home from Wembley Arena where I had seen the ONCE IN A LIFETIME - MOTOWN LEGENDS LIVE, a celebration to honour 50 years of Motown music.Needless to say there was a generational thing going on in the audience. We arrived as Junior Walker's All Stars were taking the stage - sadly Junior himself died in 1995 - and some of them had played with Junior in the 1980s. They were ok, made a good solid noise. Gerald Noel tried to fill Junior's shoes but there is a difference between a tenor sax player and a great tenor sax player.

After that it was the turn of The Miracles to take the stage. I should call them Bobby Rogers' The Miracles as he is the only original member left... you could spot him easily, he was the one with the walking stick and the chair! The four women in front of me were on their feet from the get-go... the only ones in the whole Arena so moved... so I didn't see a lot of them but again it was nice to see Bobby Rogers in person.

After that it was time for *me* to get to my feet to hail the arrival onstage of Miss Martha Reeves and sisters Lois and Delphine as her Vandellas. In a criminally short set of only 15 minutes Martha still managed to get the whole Arena on it's feet with "Heat Wave", "Jimmy Mack", "Nowhere To Run" and of course "Dancing In The Street". Owen and I saw them just before Christmas at the Bloomsbury Ballroom - right by the stage - and they tore it *up* - hopefully they will be back soon!

If the Diva geigercounter wasn't already wobbling it went off the scale with the appearance of Mary Wilson of The Supremes.

Mary reminded us that when she and The Supremes first arrived in London in 1965 they played the Motown Revue "ghost" tour - so called by the artists as they looked out on to half-empty houses! Happily the Arena was very full with just the back wall curtained off.

She was ultra-professional and looked Fierce - imagine a better-looking Tina Turner. She tore through songs and medleys and what a back catalogue - "Love Child", "Reflections", "Come See About Me", "Back In My Arms Again", My World Is Empty Without You", "You Keep Me Hanging On", "Someday We'll Be Together", "Stop! In The Name Of Love" and "Baby Love". I was a bit disappointed that we only got "Bad Weather" from the 1970s as that was the era I grew up knowing them from so no "Nathan Jones", "Floy Joy" or "Up The Ladder To The Roof" but it was great to see her on stage - the last time was with fellow-Supremes Jean Terrell and Cindy Birdsong in 1971!She also sang a fantastic version of "I Am Changing" from DREAMGIRLS and in the introduction to the song acknowledged the similarities between the storyline of the show and The Supremes and paid special tribute to Florence Ballard, saying that if she had lived she knew she would be up on the stage with her, which received warm applause. She also acknowledged that yes, she was 65 - which also earned her a huge round!

After that it was a toss-up between leaving on a high or staying to see two of the original Commodores. No brainer!Just in...

Madonna says:
"I can't stop crying over the sad news.

I have always admired Michael Jackson. The world has lost one of the greats, but his music will live on forever!

My heart goes out to his three children and other members of his family.

God bless."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I have yet to blog about my last theatre trip so let me rectify that right.... now.

Last week Owen and I braved the wilds of The Cut and went to see Sam Mendes' production of Shakespeare's A WINTER'S TALE at the Old Vic, one of the two plays playing in rep there by the rather self-importantly named The Bridge Project. This is the company formed by Mendes' own company, The Old Vic and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. All very auspicious... is it any
cop?All the publicity for the company has been about the amalgamation of British and US actors to serve plays by Shakespeare and Chekhov. Not a new idea... Kenneth Branagh foistered the Anglo-American idea casting idea through his Shakespeare films and Mendes' final productions at the Donmar were - you guessed - Shakespeare & Chekhov.

Well, it's a production of two halves - but not as you would expect. For all the talk of creating a harmonious mix of talents, THE WINTER'S TALE has the austere court of Sicilia peopled by British actors and the neighbouring country of Bohemia is full of American accents. I preferred Sicilia and I think Sam Mendes did too.
Simon Russell Beale is - unsurprisingly - the focal point of the evening as Leontes who finds himself wracked with a consuming jealousy over the friendship between his pregnant Queen Hermione and his oldest friend Polixenes, the King of Bohemia. Russell Beale was excellent, charting Leontes' slow, creeping jealousy with his usual lyricism and wonderful ear for the verse. However his clear and precise reading rubs uneasily against the sing-song delivery of Josh Hamilton - whose strident American accent jarred enormously in the opening scene - and Rebecca Hall's slightly over-emphatic Hermione.

His fine performance is equalled by Sinead Cusack as a fiercely loyal Paulina (although not eclipsing memories of Deborah Finley at the National a few years ago) and Paul Jesson's sympathetic Camillo. However when the action moves to Bohemia the production falters badly. Although Richard Easton and Tobias Segal had some nice moments as the shepherds and Ethan Hawke certainly lent some Johnny Depp-style Hollywood glamour to the conniving Autolycus, Mendes plays the festival sequence like an am-dram production of "Oklahoma". There is also a dance routine with balloons used as boobs and willies which left the audience looking like the one in "The Producers". How it managed to make it from the rehearsal room to the stage is beyond me.

On the whole I enjoyed it when Simon Russell Beale and Sinead Cusack were on stage - Beale truly breaks your heart in the famous revelation scene at the end of the play with the line "O she's warm!" when he touches Hermione's hand - and I suspect the uneven tone would be absent from the companion play "The Cherry Orchard".

Sunday, June 21, 2009

After seeing two lady legends in the week, on Friday it was the turn of the boys... namely the Pet Shop Boys.

Finally... after what seemed an eternity of waiting for the day to come round, there we were at the O2 sitting in quite good seats at the side looking across onto the stage, bag of merch safely stowed under the seat - yes expect me in your area in a new PSB shirt!

It's a trifle odd that with 25 years in the business PSB still feel the need for a support act, this time it was yet another electro 80s act Frankmusik. He was ok I guess... won't change anybody's life. I agree with Owen who thought he probably sounds better on cd rather than in the echoey cavern of the O2.After a break the lights went down on the set of two small walls of white boxes with a smaller white booth for Chris' keyboards. The walls came to life with flashing colours on each box and out strode the lads themselves - with boxes on their heads! It's always nice to know what the theme will be from the get-go.No Sylvia Mason-James this time but two backing girls - later revealed to be two blonde twins - sang at the side of the stage also in boxed heads... you watch, this time next year...

The show was divided into four sections - they started with a storming HEART which led into the new single DID YOU SEE ME COMING? "Nooooo" I said "Not so early in the setlist"... and it got worse... They followed this up with PANDEMONIUM and LOVE ETC!! These great songs were wasted right at the top of the show while the audience - and me - were just getting warmed up. As they started BUILDING A WALL their faces appeared on the walls, slowly being covered up by blocks of colour. When the colours reached the top, the walls collapsed backwards revealing a huge empty stage strewn with white boxes of all sizes and another big wall of boxes at the back as the stage lit up with colour and light to the strains of GO WEST - wow!This propelled us into a re-visit to the electro/hip-hop 1980s era with New York skylines projected on the boxes, the backing singers and two dancers dressed as NY skyscrapers and fantastic versions of TWO DIVIDED BY ZERO, WHY DON'T WE LIVE TOGETHER - much eekage - and a delirious double-whammy of ALWAYS ON MY MIND and LEFT TO MY OWN DEVICES.

We then got into a moody section with Neil looking very spiffy in evening dress which included KINGS CROSS, THE WAY IT USED TO BE and JEALOUSY which gave the two dancers a chance to throw themselves around the stage with wild abandon.After that it was time for anthems with SUBURBIA, ALL OVER THE WORLD, SE A VIDA E and IT'S A SIN - there was even a bizarre segue of Neil sweeping around the stage in a crown and cloak singing what turned out to be a cover of Coldplay's VIVA LA VIDA - I am proud to say I didn't know what it was. The show ended with the back wall of white boxes blowing up and leaving boxes floating in mid-air - a great visual effect!After that we had an encore of BEING BORING - and yes I was moisty-eyed - and a fantastic WEST END GIRLS sounding as fresh as the day it was released.

Apart from the slightly disorganised start I loved the show. Es Devlin's design was always a joy to watch, the dancers were energetic and fun and of course... he was Chris Lowe, he was Neil Tennant and they were the Pet Shop Boys.

I cannot wait to see them again in December.

Thank you to the good brothers of Flickr for the concert photos.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Meltdown visit #2 was to see the majestic Patti Smith. We were a bit unsure what to expect this evening as there were conflicting reports of what the line-up would be but we sat out the support act and took our places for Herself.

The lights went down and there she was in her standard Patti costume.... long jacket, pale shirt, skinny jeans and boots "They are worth more than me". She was accompanied not by the hoped-for Lenny Kaye, Jay Dee Daugherty and Tony Shananhan but by Tom Uttley (not Ugly as I thought she said) from Portishead and a drummer whose name I didn't catch. She said she was happy to be back - Patti curated an excellent Meltdown in 2005 - and launched into an unaccompanied version of her mighty poem "Piss Factory", 35 years old and just as blistering.

After that all bets were off as she admitted that in the true nature of Meltdown she would be doing things unknown to her with people she hadn't even met! She gave us a two-hour show - part-gig/part-recital - singing a couple of lesser known songs from her back catalogue and quite a few poems with a musical backing. The only songs I knew in the entire set were "Wander I Go" and "Wing" - neither of which would make her Greatest Hits cd - and she closed with "My Blakean Year". Now an improvised set isn't the best thing to sit through when you realise halfway through that you need a wee and you are stuck in the middle of the row but if anyone can keep you hooked it's Patti. She was joined occasionally by daughter Jesse - very fine pianist - and Red Hot Chilli
Pepper guitarist Flea and to close the first 'section' she was joined on stage by The Master Musicians of Jajouka for a long number which sounded like having your head in a beehive while Patti picked up her Clarinet - always a worrying sign - and Flea rocked out. It bordered on insanity but toppled over into hypnotic.

She was later joined by the Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra - aka 6 Canadian electric string musicians - who honked and sawed away behind her poems in memory of Mother Theresa and a topical one about the green flag-waving protests in Iran which segued into the chorus of "People Have The Power".

As usual she was caustic but charming to the punters who hollered their inane thoughts at her including an obviously pointed comment towards the end of the show "Do you do requests?" She threw us some welcome bones for the obligatory encore - huge powerful versions of "Pissing In A River" and "Ghost Dance".

Occasionally maddening but she is never less than mesmerising.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The age of the Meltdown is now... and it's all a bit drear thanks to the veteran jazz blower Ornette Coleman being the curator this year. However it is going to afford a gawp at a couple of legendary female trailblazers... Patti Smith and first off the rank, Miss Yoko Ono. When Owen first suggested going I was a bit hesitant - he's a fan but I can't say she wobbles my jelly. However the thought of her doing WALKING ON THIN ICE had me thinking again. Needless to say the contrary mare didn't do it. But an intriguing evening was had...

She started suitably late - which had me wondering whether we were all part of a big art installation - Audience Staring At A Stage - but the Plastic Ono Band du jour appeared, followed by the legend herself in a neat little black trouser suit, shades and an enormous white cap that Andy Capp would have given his fagbutt for.
It was the first London concert for The Plastic Ono Band in 40 years.

First off was her composition called "Why".
The lyrics were dead easy to remember.




There she was in all her howling Banshee selfness. I had to laugh when about halfway through the number she took a slug of water... and went back at it with added volume!




"Oh my days" I thought "It's not all going to be like this surely - and me with the beginning of one of my 'heads' too".
So just as I was getting reconciled to an evening of staring into the middle distance and blocking up my ears... she played one I knew! "Open Your Box" was on the b-side to my 7" of "Power To The People" and I always liked it, I suspect 'cos I thought it was filthy. It turns out I wasn't the only one as afterwards she said it was nice to play that as it was banned in the USA at the time.

After that I relaxed a bit and started enjoying it. Yes, enjoyed Yoko Ono.
The band sounded ferosh under her musical director, some bloke called Sean Lennon and with a special guest bassist, some other bloke called Mark Ronson. There was a delightful interplay between mother and son on stage, Sean saying that he and Mark Ronson had grown up only a block apart in New York to which Yoko interected "Yes they, um, were cute babies" and later, when saying he had written the next song for her when he started a band at 17, as he beamed behind her she quickly added "He was a very arrogant 17 year old"!

She played a mixture of old and new tracks - some I would be more interested in hearing again than others - and we even got her film FLY from 1970 projected. 25 minutes of a fly crawling over a naked woman... I was verklempt.

However I have
saved the best til last... another special guest was Antony from Antony & The Johnsons.

The sight of 6'24" Antony standing next to 3'2" Yoko was worth the price of admission alone and the thought of the two of them singing together was enough to cause panic in cat homes across London - but the two songs they duetted on - "Toyboat" and "I'm Going Away Smiling" - were hold-your-breath stunning.

Yoko said at the end that she had been nervous about playing as the Plastic Ono Band had been booed all through their show 40 years ago and also because a reporter had asked her about the love/hate relationship she had with Britain to which she replied "To me it's always been a love relationship". Her words were greeted by a huge heartfelt ovation and her final song "The Sun Is Down" featured her flashing a torch into the audience, playing the Onochord - a sequence of 1,2,3 flashes which means "I Love You" - luckily we had all been handed little pocket torches to flash back - which made the darkened Festival Hall auditorium glitter like a goldmine.

Totally mad, quite magical.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Finally! The wait is over... I can now say I have seen "All's Well That Ends Well"!

It had been one of the few remaining Shakespeare plays that I have neither seen in performance, on film or even bothered to read so I was determined to get to the National Theatre on Wednesday - underground strike or no underground strike.

Despite it being billed as one of his 'problem' plays I had picked the right production to see it for the first time, Marianne Elliott's production is wonderfully accessible, lucid and with a wicked sense of fun mirrored in Rae Smith's delightful fairy-tale setting.

I can see how Elliott arrived at the idea for her production as the plot has it's own internal logic just like a fairy tale - a good deed done by a servant girl results in her being granted a wish by the King to marry whoever she wants and she chooses the prince-like character who is the son of her stepmother-of-sorts. This leads to a challenge being set her before she can have her Happily Ever After.

Helena is a physician's daughter who since his death is part of the Countess of Rossillon's household. She secretly pines for the Countess' son Bertram and is saddened when he leaves to take up a place at court. She seizes her chance when she hears the King is seriously ill and journeying to the palace in a red cloak (nice touch), she cures him with one of her father's old medicines.

The King grants her a wish of choosing any of the men at court as her husband. She eagerly chooses Bertram but there's one small catch... he doesn't want her, even if it displeases the King. With his bragging but cowardly friend Parolles he flees to fight in Italy but not before he informs Helena that he will be hers when she presents to him his father's ring which he wears on his finger and she is pregnant with his child. But Bertram has not counted on the determination of our heroine...

Michelle Terry was a delightful Helena - the character could be played as a bit of a whiney doormat or as a symbol of Downtrodden Woman - but instead she gave us a resourceful heroine who immediately engages your sympathy. Clare Higgins is wonderfully tigerish as the Countess, prowling the stage full of righteous anger at her son's behaviour, and she is matched by Oliver Ford Davies as the King - Owen was particularly taken with his shiny, glittery crown.

Conleth Hill was great fun as the preening, boastful coward Parolles - although a little more venality might have been nice. George Rainsford has the hardest role as Bertram is such a nasty sod but he kept the interest in the character alive. In the supporting roles Michael Thomas had great fun as the King's main councillor and it was great to see the fine Janet Henfrey as an Italian matriarch. Sadly Hasina Haque as Diana, the second woman used and abused by Bertram was a bit too insistent in her line readings and, in this company, gave her performance a whiff of the am-dram.So much of the success of the evening is down to Marianne Elliott. The production is shot through with a style and vision that marries up any of Shakespeare's more ropey plot-twists with a brio and a panache for good story-telling. She is unafraid of the Olivier stage as anyone who has seen WAR HORSE will testify and here she makes full use of it - making the intimate scenes and the larger set pieces equally believable. She even pulls off the trick of combining the two - at the delirious wedding scene at the end with confetti showering down, the revellers posing for group photographs freeze and we are focused on the faces of Helena and Bertram... troubled and full of doubt as to whether this really is Happily Ever After.The design by Rae Smith is inspired - Owen identifying a definite Gormenghast vibe going on - with towering Gothic turrets turning into spindly branches bracketing a sweeping staircase, and all encompassed by a video-screen cyclorama which shows a Grimm landscape, alive with insects, wolves and big hooty owls.

All the way through I was imagining how great a Marianne Elliott/Rae Smith production of Sondheim's INTO THE WOODS would be as it too deals with the darker side of fairy tales, what happens when you get your wish and whether there really can be a Happily Ever After. Make it happen Mr. Hyntner....

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Beverley Knight is looking a bit fierce with a new sleek look for her new album "100%".

I snapped up some tickets today for Bev's showcase for the new album at the ICA in September - will be a bit different from the last time we saw her at the Albert Hall!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Musings...What does becomes a legend most... you, lady, you!

Congratulations to Angela Lansbury who won her fifth Tony Award this weekend. Her acclaimed performance as 'Madame Arcarti' in the revival of Coward's BLITHE SPIRIT has earned her another dangling disc to put alongside those she won for MAME (1966), DEAR WORLD (1969), GYPSY (1974) and SWEENEY TODD (1979).

A nice insight on a life, spotted on a Borehamwood bus in the late afternoon: written on his hand was "Mam's Birthday" and "Tesco".

Oh well that's the end of my year, THE APPRENTICE is over! We have next year to look forward to but sadly we will not have the presence of Margaret Mountford who is standing down as Suralan's "eyes and ears" on the tasks to finish her degree in the studying of Ancient Greek papyrus documents. You will be missed Margaret!

A tiny section of the first night brayers for BIG BROTHER 10. You would have thought hitting such a milestone they would have actually made an effort putting in housemates who brought something new to the Diary Room and not the ones here who almost disappeared off the screen as you watched them... copies of copies of copies of previous housemates.

And returning to the subject of Legends... Mother Kelly's Doorstep is empty now as Danny La Rue has left to strut his wigs, beads, feathers and chiffon on a bigger stage. I wrote an appreciation of this very special star a few years back... do the clicky here

Saturday, June 06, 2009

It's time for a new hero picture so ladies and gentlemen I give you... Miss Mary Wells.

Mary was only 17 when she saw Berry Gordy in a Detroit nightclub and knowing him to be Jackie Wilson's songwriter, she approached him and said she had written a song which would be perfect for him. A skeptical Gordy made her sing it for him there and then - he was so impressed he got her into the recording studio. Her naturally smooth voice was strained and rough after 22 takes but that suited the rough-house lyrics of BYE BYE BABY and it was a big hit on both the r'n'b and pop charts in 1960. Although not the first woman signed to Motown, her hit records made her the official "First Lady of Motown".

True alchemy happened when she was paired with Smokey Robinson as her composer and producer. He molded a sound and production style for her and soon the hits just flowed: THE ONE WHO REALLY LOVES YOU, YOU BEAT ME TO THE PUNCH, TWO LOVERS, YOUR OLD STANDBY, WHAT'S SO EASY FOR TWO IS SO HARD FOR ONE, ONE BLOCK FROM HEAVEN, YOU LOST THE SWEETEST BOY and of course her biggest hit MY GUY.

1964 has her peak year with the release of MY GUY, her successful duet album with Marvin Gaye and she also toured with The Beatles on their UK tour. However this was also the year she felt she was being cheated by Motown, being tied to a contract she signed when she was 17. Legal wrangles muddied the waters and she eventually left after a payout and moved to 20th Century Records.

The move however stalled her momentum and she then drifted from label to label where initial promise always led to unsuccessful sales and another move. Whatever the label however she always turned in vocals of the highest quality.

A 1990 comeback signed to the UK label Motorcity Records revealed troubles with her vocals and she was diagnosed as having throat cancer, a cruel twist of fate. Treatment ruined her voice and wiped out her money. She was helped by her peers and also won a six-figure sum from Motown over unpaid royalties. Sadly the cancer reappeared and worn down by treatments and allied illnesses, she died at the tragically young age of 49.

Mary's music is alive however and despite occasional Greatest Hits reissues her memory would be best served with a proper multi-disc retrospective of her courageous and groundbreaking career.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Another Op'ning... Another Show....

I have been covering for my ex-boss in the depths of Borehamwood for the past week & a bit so have been a bit lax with blogging due to being knackered.

But to keep you up to speed...

I went with Owen to see one of his favourite bands Maximo Park at Brixton Academy.
They were supported by The Noisettes who certainly made an interesting noise - definite rockabilly echoes - but I enjoyed their set and in particular the charismatic frontwoman Shingai Shoniwa.

Maximo were promoting their new album "Quicken The Heart" and it seemed to go down well with the fanbase. But sadly their music just doesn't connect with me, to me it sounds like they have written one song and just changed the title. Indeed when front man Paul said for the nth time that the next song was about "getting away" I had to smile. There was a change of pace for the first song of the encore.. an actual ballad. Afterwards Paul Maximo said he wrote it in a Berlin club... which he then acknowledged were also the opening lines of the song. Which kind of sums up how I feel about the songs - too literal, too earthbound, too insular. They do however have good lights for the show so that's a plus.

On Saturday it was time to Bounce!!

Along with Motown, another iconic record label Island is 50 this year and all last week there were gigs at Shepherds Bush celebrating the label and the eclectic artists it has signed. Some people were under the impression that Keane were the headliner... but any fule no that the mighty grintastic Tom Tom Club were the real deal!

Most of the audience seemed to be hand-holding, dullish, couples in their mid-thirties who I presume are the Keane demographic but at least it made for a nice happy vibe - and we got a nice free booklet on Island's history.

First up was Ladyhawke who I had just lumped together with Lady Gaga, Little Boots and all the other electro poptarts. However the day before I had played her eponymous album on Napster and liked it a lot. Her set featured the best of the album and it was only marred by the band overpowering her vocals. There was also the slight problem that from where I was sitting she kept reminding me of Judy Tzuke! But apart from that I enjoyed her 80s-flavoured set.
Then it was time to take off to Planet Joy with the musical genius of Tom Tom Club. It was great to see them again in London so soon after their last visit around this time last year but this time they were sadly without their guest vocalist Mystic Bowie who gives their songs some extra top-spin. Otherwise Chris (who survived a sprawling stumble up onto his drumkit riser) and Tina (resplendent in bunches, silver high heels and a glittering black cocktail dress) were joined by old friends Victoria Clamp on guest vocals, the human whirlwind Bruce Martin on keyboards & percussion and Robby Aceto on guitar. Oh and Kid Ginseng on the decks!
They bubbled, bounced and shimmied their way through their standard support of "Suboceana", "Punk Lolita", "Who Feelin' It", "L'Elephant", "The Man With The Four-Way Hips" and "Happiness Can't Buy Money". Despite the musical alchemy created on stage, most of the Keaneits around me simply clapped politely then sat on their hands again. They finally started to give it up with the last three songs - "Genius of Love", "You Sexy Thing" and a titanic "Wordy Rappinghood". It was fantastic to see them again and hopefully next time Mystic will be with them again and they will play to an audience a little more
engagé.Having cheered them off the stage there was really no point to stay to watch Keane... you don't need to see another supporting act after the stars have gone eh? I must thank Nick Hider for his concert photos by the way.

Which brings me to Tuesday and the one and only Sandra Bernhard.
Sandra was appearing at the Leicester Square Theatre - one-time home to Boy George's musical TABOO - with a 20th anniversary celebration of her ground-breaking one-woman show WITHOUT YOU I'M NOTHING.We saw her last year at the Shaw Theatre and - although it's always great to experience her - I felt the show was a bit too random, a bit lacking a core. No such problems tonight. Interspersed between some of her classic WITHOUT YOU... monologues were her barbed, insightful, hilarious observations of high life and low culture.

As usual Madonna came in for a bit of a skewering but how fantastic was it when Sandra let rip at BRITAIN'S GOT TALENT! Not as you might suspect at the omnipresent Susan Boyle but at the British Baby June... Holly Steele. That frightening child got the reading she deserved... and her pushy stage mother too.

It was great to see her perform the WITHOUT YOU... monologues. I was quietly hoping we might get the straight man in 1970s San Francisco gay disco - and she did it! To watch her assume her uber-rock chick diva persona at the end was all the more fun knowing Chrissie Hynde was in the audience!

Watching her on stage interweaving the old and new material made me realise just how influential a performer she has been so it was fantastic to see her at the top of her game.

And always remember Constant Reader, without m... without you I'm nothing.