Saturday, 1 November 2014

'Waterlillies' at The Orangerie

I visited the Musee De L'Orangerie for the first time while in Paris last week. I've been outside the Orangerie before but never inside and what a glory it is. There was some kind of security alert going on when we first got there there, with people being ushered away from the building but, later, we joined the queue to get in and waited patiently. And waited. And then got in and through the security and could see the glory that awaited us.

Les Nympheas - the waterlillies - are a sight worth seeing. I knew the paintings were big but didn't realise just how big. They're huge!

Two oval rooms with four enormous paintings in each around the walls. The waterlillies ponds in the morning, in the evening, during a rainstorm, at sunset… it's all there in marvellous glory and I have to admit to getting a bit teary. This old man, Claude Monet, going blind and insisting on painting what he sees how he sees it. What's with these old French artists that keeps them going, keeps them creating and making us gasp at the wonder?

I was in awe of the majesty of what I was seeing in the flesh for the first time. We've all probably seen reproductions of some of the waterlillies paintings ht seeing the reality of then is really quite stunning. Seeing the rain drops in the ponds, the willow trees and the waterlillies themselves floating in the shimmering water… it's all quite stunning. And the size of them - wow!

The museum is in the Orangerie in the Tuileries and is much bigger underground than it looks on the surface. The original building has been converted into a space to house Monet's paintings in two large oval rooms but it's been expanded underground as a gallery to show off more French paintings. The waterlillies alone are worth the entry price and I see everything else as a free extra.

There was an exhibition of paintings by Emile Bernard that I didn't find terribly inspiring but the exhibition of paintings from the collection of Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume was well worth wandering round.

The exhibition included works from every post-impressionist you could ask for but I was particularly taken with paintings by Soutine, Derain and Rousseau.  There were some great paintings by Picasso and Cezanne to marvel at but for some unknown reason I loved Andre Derain's 'Le Gros Arbre' (the big tree) and loved Matisse's 'Odalisque a La Culotte Rouges'. Sometimes you've just got to go with the flow. The Orangerie should be on everyone's list of places to visit when they go to Paris.

I will certainly go back and enjoy wallowing in the glory of M Monet and whatever exhibition is going on in support of his waterlillies. It's so worth it!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Le Perugin at Musee Jacquemart-Andree, Paris

Last week we went over to Paris to visit the marvellous Musee Jacquemart-Andree to see the exhibition of works by Perugino, who was a student alongside Leonardo da Vinci and, later, was Raphael's master. He's in an odd place in the history of art because I've only ever come across him in the context of other people (like I've just described in relation to Leonardo and Raphael) rather than in his own right. So when I was told about the exhibition I thought, yes, let's find out something about the man.

I went to the Musee Jacquemart-Andree three years ago to see the great exhibition of works by Fra Angelico. On that occasion I immediately joined the queue to get into the exhibition and paid little attention to the standing collection at the musee. This visit was a bit more leisurely and I at least looked at some of the collection and I'm jolly pleased I did.

I found two panels by Carlo Crivelli of three saints each and my favourite is this one with a grumpy looking Saint Jerome wagging his finger at someone.  Don't you just love it when you find a great - and fun - painting when you're least expecting it? The colours are vibrant and the poses lifelike. There were some lovely Renaissance paintings on display and some day I really must look round the standing collection at the musee, it seems to house some fascinating stuff.

Unlike the Fra Angelico exhibition, there wasn't a queue to get in but it was reasonably and comfortably full. There were lots of paintings of the Virgin and Child in various poses (including a very sly looking Virgin with wafer thin red lips) and virtually all of the paintings were religious in theme (Saint Sebastian being pierced by arrows seemed quite popular). But I didn't fall in love with any of them. It was good to see them, especially those still glowing with vibrant colours but none helped me understand the man or see where he was coming from or where he was taking me.

One of my favourite paintings was an altarpiece with three scenes, beginning with the adoration of the Magi, which is a lovely piece. I love the composition and the colours but I can't help feeling that the perspective is wrong. If Mary stood up she'd dwarf Joseph who's standing behind her. It has a lovely Italian landscape background, changing colour as it moves into the distance and I like the gentlemen posing in their Renaissance tights. So lifelike!

The painting that realy stood out for me was the 'Battle of Love and Chastity' that I suppose should really be translated as sex and virginity. We have cupids shooting arrows to kill and centaurs killing virgins, all trying to get the upper hand in the battle. I've not seen (or heard of, for that matter) a painting like this before so it was really interesting to see it as part of the 'profane' element of an otherwise religious exhibition. Bloodshed and sex, what more could a patron look for?  How odd!

The visit to the musee ended by stepping into the  Cafe Jacquemart-Andree and lunch. In turn this ended with a glorious patisserie that was most yum. And yum indeed. If you're in Paris and have some time to kill you could do worse that going to Boulevard Haussmann and visiting the Musee Jacquemart-Andre to see the winter garden, the glorious staircases, the 18th century furniture and standing collection - and whatever exhibition happens to be on at the time. I shall certainly go back!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

'Henry IV' at The Donmar Warehouse

I went to see the latest version of Shakespeare's 'Henry IV' at the Donmar last week, the all-woman version set in a prison. I had no idea what to expect so went with an open mind that, sadly, closed as the evening wore on. Rather than go into the theatre we're instructed to meet in a club opposite and wait for instructions. Um, ok. Then we have supposed prison loudspeaker announcements about what to do and we have, quite frankly. scrawny theatre ushers dressed as prison guards escorting us inside and shouting at us. I'm afraid my initial response was 'fuck off' until I realised they were just doing as told and became quieter. Don't shout at me in somewhere I've paid to be or I might get upset. I doubt your scrawny little ushers can handle an upset me.

Sitting watching the stage while waiting for the thing to start and all I could think was, 'this is cheap'. It's probably totally in character for a women's prison but it struck me as cheap as chips and ugly. OK, points scored for realism, but let's see what happens next.

Later than billed and the prisoners are led in through a locked door and they line up. Is this the start of the play? I dunno, but we get a speech and then the prisoners spread round the place. Am I watching a play put on by prisoners or a play put on by prisoners for an audience of prisoners? I dunno. What am I watching? It seems like they're putting on the play and then every now and then there's something that makes me question, such as when Mistress Quickly walks off saying 'I thought we'd agreed not to do this bit' and is then escorted back on by an usher/guard. The play is asking me to think but is it asking me to think the right things?

Harriet Walters played Henry IV in a splayed legs stance and reminded me of Noel Coward in 'The Italian Job', the cock of the prison in charge of everything and can do as he pleases. I thought she was better in the death bed scene. This sort of illustrates what I felt was missing - some light and shade in the characters. Neither Hal nor Hotspur did anything for me, being fully 'on' the whole time and I found Clare Dunne's brash Northern Irish accent very difficult to follow, far too full-on and in your face.

On the other hand, I loved Ashley McGuire as Falstaff, the anti-role model for the prince, and she seemed to revel in the role as well she should. I loved the tension when she strikes the tray in anger that's carried my Mistress Quickly after she's stormed off stage in protest about lines she thought they'd agreed not to say. That fleeting moment of tension added so much to this production. I also liked Cynthia Errivo, particularly her ninja battle with the king's forces, striking them down with every kick and arm flung wide. Cynthia played Celie in 'The Colour Purple' at the Menier Choccy Factory so it's good to see her add another string to her bow.

Did I enjoy the production? No, not really. It looked cheap and employed cheap effects that didn't really work for me. But I'm pleased to have seen it.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Alvin Stardust

The passing of Alvin Stardust can't go unmentioned in the Plastic Bag. Alvin was one of the glamrock heroes of the early 70s that took a different path and introduced a whole generation to the idea of leather as clothing (as opposed to just shoes). He wore black leather on black leather with some black leather gloves just in case we'd missed the hint.

Alvin has, of course, been around since the 60s trying to make it and it was the 70s glam scene that helped him finally do that. I vaguely recall his first TV appearance as Alvin on some kids programme back then painted half pink and half blue singing 'My Coo Ca Choo' to vanish without trace and appear a few weeks (or months?) later as the black be-leathered glam god we know today.

He didn't have many hits but he remained in the forefront of the brain of anyone who was around at the time. For me, his main hits were 'My Coo Ca Choo' and 'Red Dress', both of which I still play. Other hits included 'You You You' and 'Jealous Mind' but they always seemed a bit too rock'n'roll derivative for me. Alvin went on to feature in 'green cross code' adverts about how to cross the road safely and in various Christian programmes on Sundays. To me, he will always be the man in black leather.

I only saw Alvin play live once and that was at the Marc Bolan 35th anniversary celebration in 2012.  I knew he was on the bill but had no idea what he'd be like and I was stunned. He was easily the act of the night (after Lynsey de Paul and Sir Noddy Holder, obv), effortlessly manipulating the crowd and making us love him all over again. His professionalism was consummate on that stage and that's how I will remember him.  At 70 years old you showed the rest of the acts up on that stage with your sheer professionalism and ability to please a crowd. Well done Alvin, that's how I'll remember you.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

John Holt

I was sad to hear that John Holt has died.  He was one of the early international proponents of reggae as part of The Paragons in the '60s and as a solo singer in the 70s. The headlines today cite him as the writer of 'The Tide Is High' (a global hit for Blondie) but I still think of him as the singer of the reggae version of 'Help Me Make It Through The Night' which was a hit in 1974.

The single came from '1000 Volts of Holt', his reggae covers album of songs like 'Baby I'm A Want You', 'Killing Me Softly With Her Song' and 'Mr Bojangles'.  John's is possibly my favourite version of 'Mr Bojangles' and I have versions by various people over the years. '1000 Volts' introduced most people to his gentle reggae style, a style that almost certainly influenced and helped create the lovers rock genre.

I never saw John Holt play live, which is a regret since those early reggae pioneers created some great sounds. Although he's famous for his cover versions (and he did a skanking version of Greg Lake's Christmas epic, 'I Believe In Father Christmas') he created some amazing songs. He moved away from his gentle love songs to heavier songs like 'Police In Helicopter' about the police crackdown on ganga in Jamaica in which he sings that if the police continue to burn fields of herb then the people will take revenge and burn down the sugarcane fields.

There were lots of sides to this under-rated artist who should've been bigger than he was. Do yourself a favour and listen to some of his songs in celebration of his life.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A Sea of Poppies

To commemorate the beginning of the First World War, the 'war to end all wars', the old moat of the Tower of London is being planted with thousands of ceramic red poppies. This is the latest photo of progress taken by the MPS in the sky (the helicopter bobbies) and it looks pretty complete to me. I think the aim is to have it totally planted before Armistice Day and that should be achieved with ease from the looks of this photo.

The moat covers a huge area and I was in it a few years ago for a world music festival so have walked most of it - it's big! I think there are places where you can get into the moat to see the poppies up close and take photos but suspect that'll be closing in the run up to the day. I'm also vaguely sure that someone said you can buy the poppies after the event for something like £20 each, monies going to the British Legion (I think, but don't take my word for it).

I'd quite like to see the moat covered in red poppies if I can.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Amanda Palmer - to pay or not to pay?

That Amanda Palmer has posed us, her fans, a new question: would we be willing to pay her a wage for her work? She's come across this new thing called PATREON where you pay the artist of your choice by month or by piece of content for their art. This is what Amanda says in her latest Facebook post:

I WANT TO GET BACK TO MAKING ALL THE THINGS AND I NEED YOU TO TELL ME HOW WE ARE GOING TO DO THIS. this is really important, so please leave comments. i will be reading everything.

just got off the phone with eric (@southships) and the team. things are afoot. we make a Thing.

i've been recording new music, slowly but surely, in the cracks of my schedule. i've also been working on ideas for new videos, and thinking about what to write next, post-book, and how to make a living, money-wise, post-kickstarter.

i've also been going back and forth with a few big newspapers about doing an "ask amanda" column, which is actually quite a bit of work to actually put together (fielding the questions - holy fuck there are a lot - and actually sitting down and writing.) the newspapers are slow to work with. i think i'm just going to do it myself. i'd need help and time.

this brings me to Patreon, which is a platform you've probably seen me talking about in the past few months. it's basically like kickstarter, but ongoing. as a backer/patron, you pledge to be charged by your artist: either per month or per piece of content.

go look at, for instance, the founder Jack Conte's patreon page.
he's making VIDEOS, has 1377 patrons who back him at various levels and makes about $5,300 every time he puts out a video.

mind you: the videos he puts out are free to the people of youtube. he backers back him because they.....want to support him and give him a budget, which is how it works over there. see comic artist Jeph Jacques: he's charing his patrons Per Month instead of Per Comic (you can d it any way you wanna).

he has 3214 patrons and is paid $9,700 per month to make his comics. no middleman. it's pretty wonderful. also, you can CAP your monthly backing so you don't go overbudget. which is to say: if you decide to back be at $5 per song and i go HOG WILD and release 10 songs that much, your credit card would be charged $50 at the end of the month. IF, however, you limit your budget to $15, you'll just be cahrged your maximum. i think that's important - it prevents anxiety. also, if you don't like the way things are going ("why is amanda charging us for these awful recordings of herself and her friends farting into a microphone? why is she posting essays of one sentence pasted to a single document 6,779 times? she thinks this is ART? fuck this") - you can simply cancel your backing before the end of the month hits and your card is charged.

i've been supporting about 5-6 artists on patreon for just about a year, and it's pretty awesome. they send me emails with their new videos and recordings. i likeee.

ok now breathe.

the thing about kickstarter is that it is amazing for huge projects but for artists who jyst want to get regularly paid and crank out content again and again (and again and again and again), coming up with a kickstarter, running it, doing rewards, and then starting frm the beginning and doing it again isn't the best solution for REGULAR work. it's great if, say, i want to try to fund an art book of dresden dolls photos, or make a one-time film, or even try to record and release a phsycial vinyl album. kickstarter is PERFECT for that because it gives me an idea of how many people want The Thing Itself. 5,600 people want this book? great. i'll print 10,000. 4,500 want this vinyl record? great, i'll manufacture 5,000. everybody happy.

but if i want to stay OFF a label and just hop into the recording studio when i feel like it and record songs, or write a column, and NOT put them out through the system but instead, give them straight to the world and the fanbase, kickstarter isn't the tool.

I WANT TO RELEASE THINGS FOR FREE. but as i've learned, offering 100% of everything for free on my site hasn't yielded very much business. people will help me when i ask (see: kickstarter) but they won't just wander to my music tip jar and throw in money. we have watched and learned.

so i think i'm going to try patreon. i'd use it to release All The Things: song recordings, interview recordings/podcasts, essays, videos, weird artwork, basically anything That You Will Enjoy i feel i've put enough Time and Energy into to get paid for. it's a huge trust fall, in both directions. you need to trust me to charge you for art. i need to trust you to pay for it.

BUT FIRST, before i do this, i want to know what you guys think about the details.....

the whole thing is going to be a massive experiment and i'm sure i'm going to tweak and fiddle with the levels and rewards a bit as we roll along.

TELL ME HOW THIS LOOKS. too much/too little/fair/not fair...
AND do you have any other ideas for reward levels?

important: THIS IS NOT A MERCH WAREHOUSE - part of what we want to AVOID is sending people shit in the mail every month. hardcore fans, i love you, but i don't think even YOU want be to have to slave away at sending you Shit/Posters/Shirts In The Mail every month. it's a waste. and it's not music. it's Stuff.

$1 (per month? or piece of content?) - "backer" - would give you access to my patreon stream/page where we discuss shit. it's a little social network and it's nice. i will hang out there, esp to get ideas and feedback.

EITHER $3 or $5 (per month? or piece of content? talk to me) - "downloader" - we'll send you actual files when i release songs/videos/podcast interviews/blatherings/artwork/essasy/material that comes in emailable-format.

$10 or $25 (?) (per month? or piece of content?) - "living room" -
-access to a google hangout/check-in/webcast-y kind of thing we'll do about once a month from wherever i have good lighting and wireless. i'll take questions, check in about the state o htings, talk about life, do my AFP webcast thing-thang.

$10 or $25 (per month? or piece of content?)- another thing? what

$100 - "The Medici" - (per month? or piece of content? that's a damn lotta dough. then ago, there are some really nice rich weirdos out there, hi guys!)(important: limited to 15 people only) - i will draw/send you a postcard and write you the inside-of-head message about a month, from wherever i am. consider it a postal tweet. i'll either design the card myself, or have a friend do it, or buy it at an antique shop, or a gas station, or.... y'know. also, i'll keep your phone numbers on me and if i'm too burned to post or lonely, i'll call you instead. we'll also guest list you at any shows, and list your name on any content we put out.


how do these look?

is there anything you'd be PISSED about paying for, content-wise. do you think charging for the "ask amanda" content to be posted is lame - seeing as it's going to be posted to the world for free (as pretty much EVERYTHING is, unless i have a really really rough demo that i just want to share with the fanbase)? would you feel that way if it was just bundled into "all the shit i'm putting out this month"?

and yes HERE'S THE BIG QUESTION. should we charge per piece of content, or per month?

pros? cons?

I LOVE THE IDEA of per content because i am an instant gratification freak and i love the idea of getting Paid to Make a Thing - it's sort of motivating. i can totally see myself in my underwear at 5 am going "ABBA COVER? why NOT?" and staying up til 9 am making it just because i can hit SEND at 9:01 and fall down in a pile of my own vomit feeling like i Put A Thing Into The World. i can also understand how it would feel anxiety-producing for the backers. there limit is built in there, but it does complicate things a little. i dunno. on the fence.

talk to meeeeeee.

also: if you have any other IDEAS of non-physical shit we can add to these tiers, TELL ME. it can't be something that takes so much time and energy that i spend 5 days a month delivering it. i cannot make phone calls to 899 people. i cannot sing birthday songs to 247 people. i've done that. it is awesome but it takes forever. the idea here is that i want to spend my time MAKING ART, WRITING, RECORDING, PUTTING THE CONTENT FREE OUT INTO THE WORLD and getting PAID FOR IT because some of you out there think it's worth it.

i'm wide open. i'd love to launch this within the next few weeks. i have (amazing) new recordings burning a hole in my pocket and i'd love to get this launched before book drop and tour on nov 11th (dates here: so i can talk about it to the community while i'm on the road.

sorry so long. this is huge for us and i want to get it right. talka to me.
the whole team is going to be reading these comments to get a feel for how to do this.

also....go poke around patreon and see what other people are doing. it may inspire.


So. What do you think? I'd deffo pay per content so long as there was lots of music, videos and photos. And, ideally, guaranteed hugs when Amanda was in the country.

What about you?