Sunday, 5 July 2015

'All The Angels - Handel and the First Messiah' - Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This afternoon we went to the matinee performance of the new play by Nick Drake about Handel's 'Messiah', 'All The Angels'. It's only on for a short season and closes tomorrow but I'm jolly pleased I saw it, even from really restricted view seats. It's the tale of how Handel came to write the glorious 'Messiah', from his failed opera season in London to receiving the words to writing it and ending up in Dublin for it's first public performance. And the rest is history.

It's on at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe as part of its 'summer by candlelight' series (and yes, it really is lit by candles). It's a small stage with minimal setting but it works really well, is warm and inviting and takes us back 300 years to when Mr Handel was frustrated by the critics reviews of his latest opera. He receives the libretto to 'The Messiah' and writes the music in a matter of weeks before heading to Dublin where he's been hired to perform but he's delayed  by a storm and can't cross the Irish Sea. The irascible old man meets a young music fan at the inn he's staying in and his mood softens.

He's now in Dublin training the local choirs to sing his great oratorio and he needs a soprano so he turns to Mrs Cibber, a London actress fleeing scandal and performing in Dublin who has a marvellous but untrained voice. He chooses her to train to sing some of the songs in his masterpiece and we follow the trial of his teachings and learn about the pair as we go. Lots of humour and lots of sadness. But great art emerges and after the premier in Dublin he asks her to perform again in Dubllin to recoup his expenses and also back in London where she can return in triumph. Such a simple story told so many times but so effective.

The tale is told by an anonymous Irishman, a porter at the theatre putting on the performance who's also a grave-digger, H halos plays various other parts in the play, switching accents and wigs in a flash. The acting is greta and the minimal to non-existent set works so well with the raising and lowering candelabras. We have David Horovitch as Master Handel with Kelly Price as Mrs Cibber and Sean Campion  playing all the other parts from grave digger and body stealer to lord in the blink of an eye. And, of course, we had the Portrait Choir singing exerpts from 'The Messiah'.

I loved it. It touched me in a place I didn't know existed. I booked tickets solely because it was playing its last weekend and if it was on at the Globe then it was worth seeing and how right I was. They put on good stuff y'know.  So good I'm going back for more tomorrow.

I now want to see 'The Messiah' live. In a cathedral. At Christmas. Go on ….




Thursday, 18 June 2015

'Power In The Blood' on Billboard

Buffy Sainte-Marie has just posted a link to an interview she did with Billboard which starts off by asking about the song, 'Power In The Blood'. After crediting Alabama 3, she went on to say: 

"My version [of Power In The Blood] is a laundry list of contemporary issues that are challenging everyone right now. It's the age old racketeering problem that's been going on since before the Old Testament. The Roman Empire, the Inquisition -- the whole notion of rackets, where a few guys make a fortune and everyone else is exploited. And it's everything -- it's in the banks, it's in the tanks, in the military, the food supply, the college of business.... The business model at the moment is kind of fraud: Take as much as you can get and give back the least you can.

"It's a big, huge racket that everyone is seeing with new eyes now. "Power In the Blood" is a double entendre. On one end, it's the power of the feudal system to hurt and exploit us. The other power is the power in our brains to survive and evolve beyond this. To balance that with what we need -- common sense and respect for nature and each other."

Don't you wish that all your heroes were this strong, this powerful, this righteous?

And here's a video for the song, 'Power In The Blood' from her album of the same name.



#NoNoNoToWar!

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

"Never let her go..."

O yes, that's easy for you to say but you did, Emile, you did you fool. You let her get away and look what happened. Luckily, you got her back.

What? O yes, I'm talking about one of the greatest love stories ever, the tale of Emile and Nellie in 'South Pacific', in one of the greatest musicals ever. I saw the Broadway revival at Lincoln Centre in New York five years ago and fell in love with the show. I'd never seen it before or heard it but I knew the songs from the '60s and '70s telly shows that they featured in. And seeing them together told the story I needed to hear. I bought the cast recording on the way out of the theatre and it echoed in my head as we walked out into the snow and ice of the New York winter night and back to the hotel. I floated on a Polynesian breeze...

The production transferred to the Barbican in London in 2011 and I was there to see it again. A different stage and a different cast (other than Bloody Mary) and it was still marvellous. So I got tickets to see it again. And when it went on tour in 2012 I bought tickets to see it at Wimbledon. It was still wonderful and I bought a fridge magnet to remind me of the joy. Listening to the cast recording brings it all back. Sometimes things just click and you get it.

I love this show. I love the songs and the structure, the repetitions of the themes and phrases from the songs. It works as a complete whole with no need for a prequel or sequel. It opens with Nellie and Emile appearing after a lovely day together and we don't need to know how they met, we just know that they've discovered love. It's self-contained and I like to think of Nellie and Emile living their lives quietly in the hills of their Polynesian island, hosting occasional parties and bringing up children and grandchildren with visits to the USA now and then. Nellie would keep up to date with nursing practices in the local hospital and Emile would generate money for college scholarships for local children.

Life goes on y'know.

Badges! Protest!

I  took advantage of the lull in the rain the other afternoon to pop round to my local Tecso enormo-store (yes, a new compound word) to get some provisions in for the week ahead. While I was browsing and trying to remember why I came in the first place (shower gel *tick*, radishes *tick*, rice *tick* ...) I suddenly decided I was pleased I was the age I am. I'm 55 and that means I'm in my sixth decade of life, and I marvel at the changes I've seen and wonder what changes are still to come.

Not all is rosy, of course. With age come health problems and changes that I doubt anyone is prepared for but that's part of growing. I suppose I'm an adult but I still don't think I've grown up - there's still some way to go before I'll accept that insult. My politics haven't mellowed as often seems to be the case as we age and my frustration with the right wing only increases. You see, I remember the '70s when everyone had a cause. Even the right-wing, obvs, except their cause was always 'me'.

I proudly wore my 'Save the Whale' badge in the late '70s and early '80s until I lost it. The '70s and '80s were a great period for badges, badges of all sorts and I still have some of mine, original badges I wouldn't dream of wearing today in case they fell off and were lost. I wore an original X-Ray Spex badge from 1978 when I went to see Poly Styrene at the Roundhouse in 2011 but not since. Today, I wear a Poly Styrene signature badge on all my jackets and coats. Some things never change.

I am currently also wearing my 'Punk Cabaret is Freedom' badge since Amanda Palmer is in the country for a month. That badge wins free hugs from Amanda if you meet her in the street or the theatre lobby and that's not something to miss. I got the biggest hug from Amanda a few years ago for wearing that badge and meeting her after an Alan Cummings show at the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand so I'll not take the risk of not wearing it. O no.

I wore it last night to see Amanda play at the Union Chapel and I'll wear it tomorrow at her book signing session. You never know, I might get another hug.

Thinking back also made me remember the 'Protect and Survive' campaign. That was when the Cold War came into our houses with leaflets posted to every home in the UK and adverts on telly about what to do in the event of a nuclear strike. Today they would probably be laughable but it was dead serious back then. I never quite understood the ideas behind it though. If there's going to be a nuclear holocaust then I'm not sure I want to survive it. Why would I want to go through those hardships and die a slow, painful death? A moment of obliteration seems preferable. A definite case of, 'Bye world, nice knowing you...'.

I vaguely recall 'Protest and Survive' badges from the time but can't see anything online. Change one letter and change the whole meaning. Am I making that up or is there a gap in internet and wiki history?

I don't see many badges worn these days, no proclamation of what we believe in or support. I've blogged before about seeing young people in Joy Division, The Ramones or The Clash tee shirts, bands that disappeared before they were born, and wondered whether they know what they're wearing or maybe they just think it's a good design? I'll probably never ask any of them but it's good to see the images are still current.

Mind you, *some* people still have badges. Amanda is selling badges at her merch table on her current tour so, naturally, I had to have some. They're a new design and I really like the ampersand paint-brush slash AFP design. 'Ampersand' is one of my favourite songs from 'Who Killed...?' and it's a bit more arty than simple the letters AFP. I have a small 'AFP' badge that I wore until I was asked three times in a day what it meant - I got offended looks when I said it stood for Amanda Fucking Palmer. O dear. Well, you shouldn't have asked in the first place.

One of my favourite badge references is in the liner notes to Kim Wilde's 'Snapshots' record in which she states, 'I wear my Pop Star badge with pride'. Kim clearly understands badges. And she is a Pop Star.


Now that Buffy Sainte-Marie finally has some merch to sell at gigs (tee shirts with her looking righteous) she needs a badge line in '#IdleNoMore', 'No No No to War' and 'Cho Cho Fire!'. Let's get some politics back into badges and spread the message.

What do you think?

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Five Plays

Last week I saw five plays. I know that's a bit much but I saw three of them in the space of 55 minutes so it wasn't really that extreme. I saw 'High Society' at The Old Vic, 'American Buffalo' at Wyndham's Theatre and the trilogy of short pieces 'Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby' by Samuel Beckett as part of the Beckett festival at the Barbican.

First up was 'High Society', the stage version of the classic film with Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra. The stage is set in the round for some obscure reason which makes the stage even smaller, especially when they do some big dance pieces. It's nice that they use the whole space but I couldn't see why it was needed. I liked the minimal staging with grand pianos rising and falling through the stage at different times and the only constant was a small bar that doubled as a breakfast bar and trebled as a cupboard to display wedding gifts. For, of course, this is about a wedding.

Tracy Lord used to be married to Dexter, a rich playboy and yacht designer but is now going to be married again from her parent's home on Rhode Island. And Dexter turns up the day before the wedding with news that two journalists will arrive to cover the wedding as part of a deal to keep her father's latest affair out of the newspapers. Tracy decides to play the outrageously privileged daughter of wealth and go over the top for the journalists before getting sloshed at the evening's party and swimming naked with one of the journalists when her husband-to-be appears. Could it get any worse? O yes, of course it could.

It's fun as far it goes, lots of music and movement, lots of laughs and dancing. But it didn't make me interested in the characters or like them or care what happened to them. I don't particularly care whether a rich heiress marries the journalist, the bore or the yacht designer and I should. Why was that? I like the film and the characters but that didn't follow through to this play. It wasn't helped by Kate Fleetwood's accent being unintelligable some of the time so I couldn't follow what she was saying or by the loudness of Jamie Parker as the journalist - a bit of subtlety goes a long way sometimes. Something that really irritated me was the long dance sequence that opened the second half - all dancing with little of the main characters to help the story along.

Yes, it was ok, and I'm pleased I've seen it but I won't be going back for a second glass.

The second play was 'American Buffalo' at Wyndhams with the star turns of Damian Lewis and John Goodman. It's a small story set in a neighbourhood junk store in New York or Brooklyn or somewhere where the shop owner has just sold an old coin for a comparative fortune that makes him plan to steal another one from a house around the corner to make another good sale. And that's sort of the story but there are lots of twists and turns along the way along with some laughs.

John Goodman is the amiable store owner with a good word to say for everyone, including the local junkie kid who hangs round the store. Then in comes Damian Lewis as the typical loud-mouth with his 70s porn star moustache and cheap suit. He'll help with the robbery and brings along a gun. But it all goes wrong when the junkie needs money.

I suppose that's the whole story. I didn't get any more really and I wasn't terribly impressed. It was ok but... and that's where I get stuck. The continuous repetition of phrases and questions got irriatting after a while (y'know, the Robert de Niro 'you talking to me?' thing) and that's all Damian Lewis's character seemed to do. I'm sure I missed a lot of very clever acting by being distracted by the repetition and that's the play, not this production or the actors. Wyndham's seems to specialise in working class American plays, with 'A View from the Bridge' a few months back and now this. I'm tired already.

It was good to see John Goodman and I really liked his cool, gentle portrayal of the junk shop owner with his basic trust in humanity. His is a nice character in poor circumstances. I was less keen on the rapid-fire and repetitious porn star of Damian Lewis and the annoyance of Tom Sturridge's junkie.

The third was a trilogy of plays performed as part of the Beckett Festival at the Barbican. Now, I'm not a particular fan of Beckett but sometimes it's worth seeing things you wouldnt normally go to see if ony to open up the mind a little bit and that's what these plays did - illustrate that the theatre and the stage can be many things and don't have to be the same old same old. The trilogy was 'Not I' followed a few minutes later by 'Footfalls' and then by 'Rockaby' all performed by Lisa Dwan and completed in 55 minutes.They were staged in The Pit theatre, many levels underneath the Barbican - so many stairs going down means we must have been close to the centre of the Earth. I was slightly conscious of the sheer weight of building above us.

We were let in to a dimly lit theatre with no lights on the stairs and with emergency exit signs covered up. It's to be seen in pitch black with very few lights, sensory deprivation and atmosphere, just words and some movement. First up was 'Not I' with a totally blacked out stage with a spotlight on lips and teeth spouting words high up above the stage. Speaking at an incredible rate, so fast that I couldn't follow what was being said and, every now and then, she'd slow down and then speed up again, a chatterbox just needing to get the words out. A stream of conscious internal monologue taken to extremes. How on earth could she learn so many, many words and spew them out so quickly? Most impressive!

Beckett had obviously used up his quota of words and the second play, 'Footfalls', replaced many words with the character of Amy pacing slowly back and forth as she carried on a slow dialogue with her (dead?) mother. Pacing back and forth, back and forth, setting up a conscious rhythm to the play. There was slightly more light in this one as Lisa paced across a lighted strip on the floor and her shoes echoed.

The final piece was 'Rockaby' with Lisa in a rocking chair rocking slowly back and forth while listening to her life retold by either herself or someone she knows, I was never sure, every now and then shouting out for 'more!' that keeps her story and her life going and developing until ... the end.

My favourite of the three was 'Not I' and that was also my favourite of the week's worth of plays. It did it's job admirably. It challenges the convention of the play and the stage, the glam and glitz that are totally absent, even the actress is absent other than her mouth and voice. It was most impressive - and so was Lisa Dwan. I'll be watching out for her name in future.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Phones in Theatres

O dear, it happened again, and this time at the venerable Old Vic Theatre. What happened? O yes, sorry but you weren't there were you? A woman decided it was fine to get out her phone to check for messages in the middle of the second half of the play. Admittedly she did it during a boring bit (and I have to say it was a boring song) but that's not really the point. At least she had the decency to apologise and put her phone away straight away.

When she got her phone out I initially kept calm for the few seconds it took to open her messages app and see there were no new messages but, when she closed that and opened another app, that was the sign for my tapping finger to become active. *Tap Tap Tap*. She said sorry and immediately put her phone away. But why did she feel it was OK to get her phone out in the first place and think it's OK to do so in the shared space of a theatre?

 I may be wrong, but I don't recall hearing any 'turn off your phones' announcement in the theatre and, even if there was an announcement, maybe it should be stronger? Maybe ushers out to be trained how to ush properly? There were two ushers behind me so they must have seen the light from the phone but neither stepped forward to say anything.

This happened to me in March and here we are at the start of June and it's happened again. What's suddenly changed in 2015 that people feel able to do this in a darkened theatre? At least she apologised immediately unlike the woman back in March that tried to justify it by saying she was a mother. *sigh*

Monday, 1 June 2015

Paul Smith 'Coney Island (4th of July)'

Today's important news is that Paul Smith announced his new solo album and released the lead song and here's the video for it:



Paul Smith is, of course, the singer, jumper and wordsmith with Maximo Park. The album is credited to Paul Smith & The Intimations and is called 'Contradictions'. It's released in August and is available to pre-order here. Oops, my finger slipped and I accidentally seem to have pre-ordered the record!

It also looks like he might be touring the album so that's something else to look out for. I missed his tour of 'Margins' (his first solo album) so I will need to try especially hard not to miss this one.