Monday, July 27, 2009

I am Loving this...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Last week I accompanied Owen to the Linbury Studio Theatre - aka the basement of the Royal Opera House - to see a group he has been raving about since the end of last year called Rachel Unthank and The Winterset. Now I must admit that name put me off, it sounds like something falling down a flight of stairs. Added to that it was a folk quartet of four women - the two Unthank sisters, a tall, stern violinist/accordionist and a blonde pianist... and all sung in a Geordie dialect. Constant Reader.... you can just imagine my heavy heart can't you?

My first impression when they walked on was "Chanel that you should be alive at this hour". I mean to say... when you are playing Up West you would think they would frock up a bit and not just wear something you are comfortable in? My ears also clanged shut when the younger Unthank sister Becky started standing on one leg while singing - conjuring up the worst excesses of Jethro Tull - and also singing in a voice that to me sounded like a more breathy version of Dolores O'Riordan from The Cranberries. Not a singer whose vocal chords are on my Christmas Card list.
So imagine my own surprise when I found myself not falling asleep! Now don't worry... I'm not going to go all Nuts In May on you, singing about innumerable maids "who went out one day a-walking" and getting up the stick by some heartless soldier boy etc etc. but I remained engaged through their set, mostly due to their down-to-earth personalities.

I must say the songs themselves seemed to be a bit interminable - maybe it's just because I had never heard them before but they did seem to always launch into yet ANOTHER verse just as I was about to start clapping. There were a couple of nice ones that I remembered hearing Owen playing but more often than not I tuned out and enjoyed listening to the deeply textured harmonies the four voices made.

The backing of a piano and violin lent most of the songs a moody, introspective air which was intriguing and there was the occasional strange quirk - Steph the pianist plucking the piano wires like a harp or Becky Unthank clicking out a heel-toe rhythm for a song - to give them an individual sound. In truth there weren't too may 'up' songs but one afforded the two sisters to do a clog dance in the middle of it and that was fun.

It was obviously an important gig for them as Steph the pianist is leaving soon to do a phd - it's that sort of a group - so there was a definite 'end of an era' feel to the show and towards the end she was presented with flowers from the band and from the audience too so there was nary a dry eye in the stalls or on the stage.

So all in all, not a gig I would have seen ordinarily but one that I was engaged by and that afforded me an hour or so to drift off on interwoven harmonies.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Ok so the good news is that Madonna's title track for her new greatest hits compilation CELEBRATION is already getting some seriously positive word-of-mouth and that said album will be a 2 cd retrospective of her brilliant career. There will also be a dvd released at the same time including several videos that have never been issued before on dvd.

All well and good...

The bad news is the album artwork... this is the best they could come up with for an artist whose imagery have played so strong a part in her career? A Warholisation of a 1990 Vogue photoshoot??

Friday, July 24, 2009

Earlier this week Owen and I saw ladies in the nip on stage - oh yes, real t & a! I hasten to add it was all done in the best POSSIBLE taste... sadly.

Tim Firth's stage version of his CALENDAR GIRLS film script coasted into the Noel Coward Theatre with a huge box office advance after a hugely successful regional tour. It opened in Chichester last year and both there and in the west end it has been greeted with lukewarm reviews but if the audience on Tuesday was anything to go by, it is obviously critic-proof.

Owen said it reminded him of those cosy, Yorkshire-set TV shows that play around 8pm on Sundays - group of lovable stock characters, little dramas sorted each week with a cup of tea and a sponge finger, cosy, safe. It reminded me of STEPPING OUT which surely we are due a revival of soon although maybe it has been toured to death. A group of disparate women meet each week in a church hall for a common cause and in the process of a big endeavour, learn about each other and themselves.I had been looking forward to seeing this as it co-stars three favourite actresses - Patricia Hodge, Sian Phillips and Julia Hills - but despite valiant playing by most of the cast, I found the whole enterprise hampered by a script which was both pedestrian and predictable.

The fine cast were given roles that were mere cyphers - moist-eyed widow, warm-hearted go-getter, flirty younger woman, bossy humourless organiser, game old dear, ribald single mother... it's slightly sad that in seeking to celebrate women who were happy to show their individuality that their story is reduced to such stock characters and plot devices.

I felt sorry for actresses of the calibre of Phillips, Hills and Brigit Forsyth having to wrestle any life into their two-dimensional roles on one of the cheapest sets I have ever seen on a west end stage. I know it's been touring but for Christ's sake a re-design for the west end wouldn't have gone amiss.
For all it's faults director Hamish MacColl moved the plot along at a good rate and the staging of the famous calendar shoot just before the interval builds up a momentum and is enjoyable until the obvious pay-off of the bossy WI organiser arriving with the lady of the manor. However this robs the second half of any momentum at all.

There were occasional moments when the production showed a sliver of humanity amidst the sitcom - there is a nice moment when the WI women are literally showered with letters from people who have been affected by their story and the final few scenes have an undeniable poignancy - it's just a pity that these are mostly submerged by the relentless cosiness and punchlines that raise a smile at best.

The production gives one the rare opportunity to say that the men's roles were totally thankless - sadly they were played as such. The character of John, the husband whose death galvanised the women into action, was sketched so perfunctorily by Firth and played so anonymously by the actor that it's hard to believe he could be the spur for any action.

That said I did enjoy seeing such a wealth of talent on the stage at one time, in particular Sian Phillips grabbing any laugh going as Jessie the oldest of the models, Julia Hills as Ruth and Patricia Hodge giving a thoughtful and muted performance as Annie the widow. For me however the star of the show was Elaine C. Smith who effortlessly stole the show as the loud and caustic Cora.

With a cast change imminent featuring Jerry Hall, June Brown, Anita Dobson and several other TV names, I suspect we could see this CALENDAR being reprinted for some time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On Monday it was time to experience the particular pleasure that is Marianne Faithfull in concert. She was appearing at the Royal Festival Hall to promote her album of idiosyncratic cover versions EASY COME EASY GO. The last time we saw Marianne at the Festival Hall was during Patti Smith's Meltdown Festival when she was a guest in one of the great 'theme' shows staged.

We saw her earlier this year at St. Lukes Church playing with her band for the first time and it was an edgy, wary affair. What a difference 5 months playing together can do! Marianne and her musicians meshed tonight marvellously and in particular, they gave her BROKEN ENGLISH classic tracks - THE BALLAD OF LUCY JORDAN, WHY D'YA DO IT? and the title track - an intensity which made one hear them as if for the first time.It took a couple of songs for Marianne to find her feet vocally but soon she was laughing and relaxed and as usual, stopped midway for an urgent re-application of Chanel lippy.

We had great seats about 8 rows back in the centre so were on eye-level with her and of course, she was as hypnotic as ever. No matter how good the solo her band member is playing, you can't take your eyes off her.

Surprisingly the show started at 7:30 and was over by 9:15! How nice not to have to endure a support act - if a performer who has been singing for 45 years can't do a full show then someone is taking the piss.

My favourites from her 17 song set were BROKEN ENGLISH, IN GERMANY BEFORE THE WAR (with it's sleazy Weimar "Mack the Knife" intro), KIMBIE, THE BALLAD OF LUCY JORDAN, SISTER MORPHINE, AS TEARS GO BY (and yes of course I joined in!), WHY D'YA DO IT?, SING ME BACK HOME and DON'T FORGET ME.

I have been seeing her in concert for the last 14 years and as she gets better and better it becomes more apparent that she remains criminally under-valued as a performer.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Last night Owen and I went to the last night of A DOLL'S HOUSE at the Donmar.

Somehow I have never managed to catch a staged production of it before although I read it years ago and have also seen the rather dull Joseph Losey film from the early 70s with Jane Fonda as a far-too-modern Nora.

We seem to be going though an updating vibe with Ibsen at the moment: the National Theatre recently staged MRS. AFFLECK, a re-write of LITTLE EYOLF which set the action in 1950s England - for no good reason as most of the critics attested - and the Donmar's production used a version by Zinnie Harris who has moved the action from 1879 Norway to 1909 London, again for no discernible reason.

Nora is the cossetted, spoiled wife of a seemingly doting politician husband but she hides a secret. Years before when her husband was struck down with an illness that could have jeopardised his career, she borrowed money from Kelman, a colleague of her husband - faking her dying father's signature as a co-signee - so she could take her husband away to recuperate. Since then she has repaid the debt silently with money she has saved from scrimping on the housekeeping money and doing small jobs for friends behind her husband's back. Nora's world is thrown into chaos however when Kelman is demoted from the Cabinet on charges of fraud and is replaced by her husband. Kelman calls on Nora secretly and, although she has one payment left, says he will not return her IOU unless she manages to get her husband to intercede on his behalf. If she doesn't he will tell her husband about her secret loan. Nora is all too aware of her husband's loathing for Kelman and the danger this poses to her marriage. Even with the help of the dying family friend Dr. Rank and her recently re-discovered schoolfriend Christine, ultimately Nora must face her husband and expose the truth not only of her predicament but of their marriage. Despite an accent that sometimes sounded like Fenella Fielding was her vocal coach, Gillian Anderson was a fine Nora, a woman with hidden abilities trapped in the roles of wife and mother. Her realisation of her worth in her husband's eyes at the end of the play was admirably played, growing in strength and steely determination making her famous act of defiance fully believable. She also managed to find the humour in the character, none more so than when dropping one of her smuggled-in Macaroons on the stage, she snatched it up, played with it, then wolfed it down.

Toby Stephens played her politician husband and while he certainly found the right hypocritical air of the character, he ultimately was unable to make him more than a hiss-the-villain caricature. He also had the really annoying habit of walking across the stage skiffing his feet - I look forward to him one day playing the role he was born to play - Steppin Fetchit. No such worries with Anton Lesser as Dr. Rank, a subtle performance of humour and resignation.

Christopher Ecclestone played Kelman, the disgraced politician and Nora's nemesis and he didn't really manage to do much with the part. I suspect he suffered more than anyone at the unnecessary tinkering with the plot by Zinnie Harris. In the original his character works at the bank where Nora's husband is made manager which certainly work better as a plot device for him giving the money to her for the secret loan. He worked well with Tara Fitzgerald as the standard Ibsen 'other' woman - here a schoolfriend of Nora's who once loved Kelman but who had to marry another man for financial security for her family. An updated version of A DOLL'S HOUSE in which an MP's wife is possibly involved in fraudulent action and the MP himself is seen to be only interested in protecting his image as a good husband and honest man can't help but raise cynical laughs at this time but I lost count of the amount of times I flinched at the clunkers in her text - surely even the most distressed 1909 ex-cabinet ministers would probably never have said "I have your husband by the testicles" as Kelman says to Nora.I liked the empty towering bookshelves and rotunda skylight in Anthony Ward's library set - Owen has visibly itching to clamber down onto the set and show them how to decorate the large Christmas tree in the corner! Hugh Vanstone's lighting came into it's own during the final confrontation - changing from an icy blue moonlight through the overhead skylight to a white light of a cold winter morning as Nora left her Doll's House for good.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sometimes exterior events can impinge on a trip to the theatre.

By the time I arrived in the west end last night I was in a mood due to something happening during the day and I was greeted with a glum Owen who had spent so long trying to find the Vaudeville Theatre that he had no time to find something to nosh for dinner - and it was raining.

Not really the best background to see the Almeida revival of Tom Kempinski's DUET FOR ONE which is playing at the elusive Vaudeville Theatre with Juliet Stevenson and Henry Goodman.

The play has not been seen in the west end since 1981 when it played at the Duke of Yorks with Frances de la Tour and David de Keyser. Kempinski wrote the play while married to de la Tour and he certainly wrote her a barnstorming role for which she won the first of her three Society of West End Theatre Awards. It is the classic fringe play success - it opened at the Bush Theatre in Shepherds Bush in 1980 and quickly moved to the west end where it stayed for a year. It didn't fare too well in New York with Anne Bancroft and Max von Sydow - it only lasted 20 performances! - but at least von Sydow got to reprise the role in the 1986 film with Julie Andrews in the lead role.

It's a bit surprising it has taken over 25 years to reappear as it does feature a stonking female role but I guess Frances de la Tour lingered still in the collective memory and I could hear her dolorous tones still. Matthew Lloyd's production does have the distinct advantage of having two actors who can hold their own with the best.

Juliet Stevenson plays Stephanie, the high-flying violinist who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and Henry Goodman plays Dr. Feldmann, the analyst her offstage husband has suggested she visit to deal with her depressions. Stephanie confronts Feldmann with a clear-eyed brashness - she is ill, she understands that... her life will be different but she can teach students or help her composer husband with his work. Feldmann however is not so easily brushed off and senses the underlying anger that her polished exterior is struggling to hide.

Prescribing a treatment of medication he ensures she will revisit to report on it's progress and soon her carapace cracks and the real Stephanie starts to appear... angry, caustic, despairing, frightened. She lacerates Feldmann with her anger which he refuses to respond to, just probing deeper into her past, her musician mother who died early and the abusive father who refused to believe in her talent.

You could tell Stevenson and Goodman have been playing the roles for some time. They are very comfortable in their character's skins and I wondered occasionally whether it would have been more effective to see it early in it's run at the Almeida when there might have been more uncertainty in their playing. As Jude Law said a few days back "The play's the thing" and at times the play seemed to be marking time before the ultimate obvious ending but Lloyd kept the balance between the protagonists taut even if the argument sometimes wandered.

Lez Brotherston's set perfectly conjured up the analyst's study and the visual wardrobe clues to Stephanie's descent into despair through the play were finely chosen. Juliet Stevenson gave a monumental, fiercely intelligent performance slowly coming apart before reaching an acceptance and Henry Goodman - apart from a rather embarrassing moment when he started bouncing around the floor - made their scenes a real duet. I wonder if it will be another 28 years before it's staged again?

Monday, July 13, 2009

All things must come to an end and with Jude Law appearing in HAMLET, the Donmar season at the Wyndhams Theatre comes to an end.

Bringing the Donmar's signature style into the west end has obviously been a successful endeavour along with it's affordable pricing policy. But the lure of big marquee names starring in each play obviously played it's part as well as the season having the typical default setting - Chekhov (IVANOV) and Shakespeare (TWELFTH NIGHT, HAMLET). But then they might have a point as the fourth play, Yukio Mishima's MADAME DE SADE was the one that received the more damning reviews.If anything HAMLET encompasses what has been good and bad about the season. Michael Grandage, who has directed each of the plays, has directed HAMLET in a very clear, no-frills production which certainly focuses on the performances and the text. Although it worked well during the first act (this production's interval came after the "To Be or Not To Be" scene) about halfway through the second act I was yearning for something new, some insight into the play's particular power, some changing of the directorial style as we neared the final cataclysm. But none came and on it stepped steadily as if slightly in awe of the text, ultimately casting a safe and - oh all right I'll say it - dull air over the proceedings.

Christopher Oram again came through with a defining look for the play. His Elsinore was an uninviting cold castle of thick stone walls and flagged floor but he was less successful in his modern dress costume design of black on black. I felt most sorry for Gertrude, she must have known something was rotten in the state of Denmark when for her opening court scene the dressers of Elsinore could only provide her with a long cardigan. I'm sure it was very expensive but a cardigan is a cardigan.

The only chromatic shift was for the Players who performed the Murder of Gonzago is white costumes and Ophelia playing her mad scene in white flannels. I can only presume that this costume choice was the reason that Gertrude's magnificent speech on Ophelia's drowning was curtailed of it's final 8 lines including the poetic imagery of her garments first bearing her then pulling her down. If it was, it was a particularly stupid idea.
The performances were fine for the most part. Peter Eyre was a sonorous Ghost/Player King but in the key roles of Hamlet's contemporaries Matt Ryan was too emphatic and pulled the focus too much (I suspect to make up for the fact the he is the understudy Hamlet!) while Alex Waldmann was a tad milquetoast as Laertes.

As Ophelia Gugu Mbatha-Raw was less turbulent than her name. Although she hit some nice grace notes, Grandage's take on the character was far too nimminy-pimminy with hardly any internal life hinted at all. Her mad scene floated away like a soapy bubble although the Neil Austin's lighting was particularly impressive. Ron Cook followed up his fine performance as Sir Toby Belch in TWELFTH NIGHT with a sly and oily Polonius, the best I have seen since Michael Bryant in the 1989 National Theatre production.
Kevin McNally was a very fine Claudius, for once played as an all-too-human man rather than as the pantomime villain so often before. He was particularly good in the prayer scene, trying to find a salvation long since gone. Penelope Wilton - despite the damn cardigan and loss of most of her Ophelia speech - gave an equally nuanced performance as Gertrude, suggesting the subtle shift of her character away from Claudius when she realises the consequences of her actions.

I have always suspected the boy actor who played Gertrude originally must have been hired only for his looks and Shakespeare dropped the big speech where she explains her point of view. So you need an actress of a particular quality to give the character the depth the text doesn't give her.And that leaves us with the melancholy Dane. Jude Law is an actor who I have seen twice before on stage LES PARENTS TERRIBLES and TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE and both times he has played a man falling victim to a dangerous passion. Hamlet is of course in the thrall of a passion of revenge but I never actually felt that from Law although there was much in his performance I enjoyed. He is certainly a charismatic stage actor, much more so than in the films that have been crafted around him to little effect. He spoke the verse well and it must be said that the production slackened when he was not on stage.

But I never felt for Law's Hamlet. Most of his soliloquies seemed to come more from a hard-edged cynicism than from a genuine grief or contemplation and certainly he was more effective in the scenes where he confronted those he felt had let him down - Gertrude, Polonious, Ophelia, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, Laertes, Claudius. He finally lets down the combative guard during the "Let Be" speech and in his final moments but it would be a particularly bad actor who couldn't touch you in these scenes. The good news for Law is that after a few performances at Elsinore Castle, the production will relocate to New York in September for a limited run.

However the greatness of the role means that there are as many valid ways of playing the role as there are actors to play it. It is now amazingly 20 years since I saw the performance of Hamlet that for many reasons I doubt I will ever see bettered. Ian Charleson was already suffering from the later stages of the AIDS virus when he agreed to take over from Daniel Day-Lewis who spectacularly walked out of Richard Eyre's production at the National Theatre. Despite fears for his own health Ian was determined to play a role he had always wanted to re-visit.

I can still remember the chill that crept over the auditorium when the audience collectively held it's breath in realising that the unrecognisable cast member with the swollen face was none other than Ian as he started Hamlet's rejoiner to his mother in the first court scene. All the published rehearsal shots had seen him in shades so to see the ravages of not only the illness but the medication was such a shock one felt it would ruin the evening. But he pulled us back to the play by quite simply turning in a performance as courageous as it was heartbreaking. His verse speaking was phenomenal, making the most well-known lines sound fresh with intelligence and clarity just as his verbal swordplay with Michael Bryant's Polonious sparkled allowing him to use his great comic timing.

As Jude Law started the "We defy augury" speech I felt myself welling up as I always hear Ian's voice saying those lines of stoicism in the face of death:

There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.
If it be now, 'tis not to come;
if it be not to come, it will be now;
if it be not now, yet it will come:
the readiness is all:
since no man has aught of what he leaves,
what is't to leave betimes?
Let be.
At the curtain call he seemed totally drained - the sustaining power of Dr. Theatre over for the night - but was enveloped with cheers from a standing ovation. In less than three months the rest was silence.

How appropriate then that in 1994 Jude Law won the 'Best Newcomer' for LES PARENTS TERRIBLES in the annual Ian Charleson Awards. These have been awarded since 1991, the year after his death, to the best stage performer under 30 in a classical role, a fitting tribute to a great actor taken from us too soon.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

To see Grace Jones once is an event... to see her twice in one year is proof there is a higher power!
On Thursday Owen and I made for the palatial surroundings of the courtyard of Somerset House to see The Empress Jones with her touring show promoting her fierce last cd HURRICANE. The week had seen unsettled weather but if anyone could take on the elements it was Grace.

We wandered around for a while trying to find the best vantage point to see the stage clear of tall people's heads... sadly the one thing the courtyard doesn't have is a rake. We settled on a spot about halfway back and waited. And waited. And waited. Grace was definitely taking a page out of Madonna's timekeeping book. At about 9.35 the black curtain at the front of the stage dropped and there she was atop her workman's crane singing "Nightclubbing" and all grumbling was instantly forgotten.

It was the same show that she appeared at the Roundhouse in January with and for my review of that you can click here but suffice to say that Thursday's show was louder and Grace even more untamed! She growled, she purred, her offstage conversation as she changed between numbers got more lascivious as the evening went on but also she became more and more vocally powerful.

It's criminal how under-rated she is as a performer and
musician - one suspects if she was a male she would be compared to Prince as a real pioneer working within her genre. However it was great to be part of a crowd who were so responsive and genuinely blown away by her show.

It was fun to watch the birds swooping in circles over the audience's heads as the Sly & Robbie-esque drum and bass lines thundered around the courtyard and Grace belted out her setlist of new songs and classics. I hope somewhere along the line the show is filmed.

The new songs WILLIAMS BLOOD, THIS IS, DEVIL IN MY LIFE and LOVE YOU TO LIFE are as powerful as her 'standards' LA VIE EN ROSE, PULL UP TO THE BUMPER, LIBERTANGO, MY JAMAICAN GUY, SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM (and yes, she hula-hooped her way throught the entire song again!) and LOVE IS THE DRUG.

The title track HURRICANE again closed the show with Grace facing a huge wind machine as her huge billowing cloak stretches out behind her. It was great to see again but the effect was slightly better at the Roundhouse when the wind swept around the auditorium making it a totally
theatrical moment.

Even if she finished around 11.20pm leaving a mad scramble for the loos and then the transport system, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I hope I can experience The Devil In Miss Jones again.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

How appropriate that on American Independence Day I should get a chance to see Madonna's STICKY AND SWEET show again. We saw it last year at Wembley Stadium and while I enjoyed it I also felt a real disconnect from the show after having seen her last three tours in the more 'intimate' surroundings of the indoor arenas of Wembley and Earls Court.

No such disconnect this time.... not only were we in the front row of the block nearest to the stage... we were in the first two seats of that row! I kept telling Owen "I won't get excited till I actually see her".... then I saw her....and screamed!!!

This is the third time I have been so close to her in performance -
first was in the front row for the play UP FOR GRABS at the Wyndhams when she not only addressed one of her monologue lines right to me but during the following scene change looked down at me and smiled! I think it was because I was the only person in the front row wearing a tour t-shirt!! The second time was when we were in the centre-block about three rows from the stage for the RE-INVENTION tour. I tried to take some shots with my mobile's camera but I have never worked out the best settings for a gig (advise anyone?) so the few that I took came out like this one on the right... perfect apart from a glow where Madonna should be... ah well at least it shows how close we were. Owen was snapping away like mad but I was happy just to experience the show full-on.

Oh how I laughed when I saw the O2's schedule saying Madonna would be onstage at 8.15 - you can tell she has never played there before! Try 9.15... Madonna obviously believes London to be a truly 24-hour capital and that the punters would have no trouble finding their way home after the show finished at 11.20 from North Greenwich with no Jubilee line running!

We were next to the stage-side entrance to the backstage area so when Stella McCartney & Valentino walked past us I knew the show was due to start and sure enough... the lights went down on the slow-handclappers and we were launched into the opening video animation for "Candy Shop" - when she was revealed sprawled over her M throne and I saw just how close we were I started clapping and singing... and didn't stop til she left the stage two hours later.

The show is a lot tighter and more cohesive than the show at Wembley and I'm not just saying that because I had a better view! There have been some set-list changes which are all for the better. The first section still runs:
  • "Candy Shop"
  • "Beat Goes On" with Pharrell Williams & Kanye West on video and a big white car on stage!
  • "Human Nature" - with Britney Spears on video
  • "Vogue" - mashed up with the parping horns of "4 Minutes"
But the 80's NY section - my fave part last time - was even greater this time:
  • "Into The Groove"
  • "Holiday" - always my favourite live M song replaces "Heartbeat"
  • "Dress You Up" - replaces "Borderline" as a 'rock anthem'!
  • "She's Not Me"
  • "Music"
The addition of "Holiday" and "Dress You Up" really lifted this part of the show making it more upbeat and life-affirming - all the more so last night as in the middle of "Holiday" one of her dancers appeared in full Michael Jackson drag and threw some MJ shapes in a spotlight to beats from "Billie Jean" and "Wanna Be Starting Something"! The audience went utterly crazy and rightly so - the dancer was great and it was the perfect tribute from one legend to another.

Into the East meets Romany section of the show - still my favourite outfit from the show with:
  • "Devil Wouldn't Recognise You"
  • "Spanish Lesson"
  • "Miles Away" - a real crowdpleaser with a mass sing-and-clap-along
  • "La Isla Bonita" - yep, it must be her favourite - it's been in every tour I've seen!
  • "Doli Doli" - M sitting it out while the Romany group do their ethnic singalong
  • "You Must Love Me" - a fantastic vocal performance
Owen got a great shot of Madonna during this section of the show which I think deserves repeating tho' it's on his blog... Then it was into the final section:
  • "4 Minutes" - with Justin Timberlake and Timbaland on video
  • "Like A Prayer" - in it's delirious Euro rave version
  • "Frozen" - replacing the guitar-heavy version of "Hung Up" which didn't work for me
  • "Ray Of Light"
  • "Give It To Me" - with M and her dancers all wearing a sparkly white glove each!
and that was it... Game Over as the screens told us - now that I got a good photo of!All that was left was for us to get home! It was all a bit desperate - our plan for a quick and painless getaway were thwarted when Addison Lee told us they had no cabs free to pick up from the O2 so we wandered around for a bit with me sinking into despair with the idea of cramming onto one of the too-few buses to Waterloo for too-many people when Owen tried Addy Lee again - and they had an elusive cab ready to collect us in 20 minutes! It's always nice to sit and watch the world go by when you know you have a ride home eh?

Apart from the late finish - which turned out not to be so bad after all - it was a night I will remember for a long time. Hopefully Madonna liked the O2 so much she will play there again... I am sure she feels she must play stadium gigs as befits her status in the music business... but nothing beats being able to experience her under a roof!
Here is another of Owen's great pictures... she obviously remembered me from the front row of the Wyndhams!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Half way through the year and time for a new legend of
Ladies and germs I give you Martha Reeves and The Vandellas!

Martha had been singing with some girl friends - including Rosalind Ashford - in High School and later started singing solo in the nightclubs of Detroit. It was while singing in the Twenty Grand that she was spotted by songwriter and Motown A&R man Mickey Stevenson who told her to come to Hitsville USA for an audition. When she turned up he told her she had come on the wrong day - Thursdays were audition day! - but could she keep an eye on his office?!

So Martha became his secretary including booking in artists and singing backing vocals with old friend Roz Ashford and Annette Beard - they can be heard distinctly on Marvin Gaye's STUBBORN KIND OF FELLOW and HITCH HIKE. When Mary Wells didn't show up for a Stevenson session he gave the gig to Martha and her friends who impressed Berry Gordy so much he signed them... and Martha and The Vandellas were born!

The hits came almost immediately with COME AND GET THESE MEMORIES, (LOVE IS LIKE A) HEAT WAVE and QUICKSAND. Betty Kelly replaced a pregnant Annette Beard and The Vandellas line-up most recognised was in place and in 1964, Stevenson allocated them a song which his singer wife Kim Weston had passed on and as soon as the world heard Martha sing "Calling out around the world..." they joined her in DANCING IN THE STREET making it one of the biggest hits of the Sixties.

With the departure of Holland-Dozier-Holland and Mickey Stevenson, The Vandellas foundered like a few other Motown acts, surviving on the odd big hit and some minor ones. In the late Sixties Martha battled with addiction problems and defections from the group but that meant she could recruit her glamorous sister Lois. The group disbanded in 1972 as Motown headed to Los Angeles and Martha remained in Detroit.

Despite the changing fashions in music it is great to be able to say that Martha and the Vandellas, Lois and younger Reeves sister Delphine, are still working - and working it! Although Martha's voice isn't as strong and as raucous as it was, she can still get an audience worked up to fever pitch by her stage presence and sheer enjoyment of her craft.

I have now been lucky enough to see Martha and sisters three times on stage in the past few years. A favorite memory being when we saw them at the Jazz Cafe a few years ago and Martha signed autographs on stage. As I sat with her at the table, the d.j. played one of their greatest songs MY BABY LOVES ME and Martha started singing it softly... how could I resist? I chipped in the required backing line of"Oh yeahhh" so here is a photo of Martha and her honorary Vandella!