Saturday, 5 April 2014

"20 Feet From Stardom" at the Brixton Ritzy

Last week we went to see '20 Feet From Stardom' the new documentary about backing singers. It's only about a few really, mainly Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and Lisa Fischer with a few nods to a few other singers. We get to see and hear other singers of course, but it's these three at the centre.

We all sorts of tales during the film, how Darlene Love sang two songs for release as single that she subsequently heard on the radio attributed to The Crystals and that Merry Clayton sang her amazing vocals on 'Gimme Shelter' by the Rolling Stones in her pyjamas in the middle of the night.

The story I was most touched by was Lisa Fischer who started out as a backing singer, made the big time with an award-winning album before going back to singing with others, regularly with Luther Vandross and on every Rolling Stones tour since 1989. She tasted the big time and decided it wasn't for her. She has a beautiful and versatile voice but is happy to be in the background, stepping forward into the spotlight for a song or two before heading back and making other people sound good. It's a touching story of someone who knows what she wants and is content with where she is in life.

The film won an Oscar last year and seems to have universally rave reviews. I wouldn't say it was all that but it's a nice way to spend a couple of hours and see the ambition of some and the contentedness of others.

Friday, 4 April 2014

'Strange Beauty' at the National Gallery

This evening we went to a late showing of the 'Strange Beauty' exhibition at the National Gallery. Sub-titled 'Masters of the German Renaissance', the exhibition tells the story of the northern European renaissance when what we're used to seeing is the glories of Italy. But there are also glories of the north and it's nice to showcase them like this. It's not a big exhibition but it's certainly worth seeing.

The exhibition pulls together paintings from the northern renaissance in the National Gallery's collection, many I don't remember being on display so it's nice to see them hanging together. Some of these painting I've loved for a long time - 30-odd years for some of them - and others I've never seen before. Early on we see the 'Arnolfini Portrait' by Jan Van Eyck, a marvellous marriage portrait of Mr Arnolfini and his young wife, with slippers and a dog, a mirror with the backwards reflection and the chandelier with glints of metal. It's full of glorious detail from the carpet behind the wife to the fruit on the dresser behind the husband referencing the fecundity of his wife. The way the clothes hang, the folds and the drapery of the bed all bring a new and challenging realism to painting at the time. Mr Arnolfini might not have been the most handsome of men but he has how place in history forever and so does his demure wife.

Another painting I learned to love many years ago is Albrecht Durer's 'Saint Jerome'. This is the saint in his older years discarding his red hat and robe and going into the wilderness with his friendly (but rather snooty-looking) lion to reinforce his spiritualism and belief. This is a tiny painting, about six inches tall and it packs so much into that small space. One it's glories is the background that is reminiscent of a Leonardo landscape, all rocky outcrops, trees, flowers in the grass at the saint's feet and with an emotional sky and a hint of sunset. The colours are still vibrant after all these years (much more lively than they look in this picture) and another painting on the back which is also on display shows the end of the world in what looks like a massive explosion. I wonder how Durer imagined the world exploding all those years ago?

As well as Van Eyck and Durer, we also see paintings by Lucas Cranach who painted the poster girl for the exhibition - Venus - and Holbein with his great work, 'The Ambassadors'. Holbein is also  represented by a painting I've never seen before, 'A Lady With A Squirrel And A Starling', a lovely portrait with a simple composition and beautiful detail, such as the fur in the mink bonnet she wears and the glints of light in the feathers of the bird. The squirrel, of course, is just taking care of a spare nut he found.

One thing that irritated me about the exhibition was harping on about how ugly some of the people were, which is why it's a 'strange' beauty. There's even a room at the end of the exhibition where you can pin notes to a wall about what you think. I think that's silly. Yes, many of the people depicted in these old paintings aren't the idealised characters we're used to from Italian paintings but that doesn't make them strange or ugly, just another way of depicting human beings. There's plenty of beauty on show in this exhibition and plenty to enjoy.

 The exhibition is on until May so you have plenty of time to see it.

John Lydon is Herod

Wonders never cease - John Lydon has announced that he's playing Herod in the new touring production of 'Jesus Christ Superstar'. His website states:

We are proud to confirm John Lydon will be playing King Herod in the North American arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar this summer.
"I’m here to sing with the King of the Jews, who could ask for anything more?" - John Lydon

The 54-city tour will kick off in New Orleans’ Lakefront Arena on June 9th - taking in the likes of Toronto, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, New York City and many more cities - before closing at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Arena on August 17th. See the official Jesus Christ Superstar website for full dates...

John will be joined by Brandon Boyd of Incubus (Judas Iscariot), JC Chasez from NSYNC (Pontius Pilate) and Michelle Williams from Destiny’s Child (Mary Magdalene); along with British actor and singer Ben Forster (Jesus Christ) in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s new arena rock production of the long established stage show.

Set in the present day and updated for a 21st-century audience, Jesus Christ Superstar is a live two-hour rock concert with over 50 cast and musicians performing a dramatization of the last seven days in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Told from the point of view of Jesus’s friend Judas Iscariot, the original story from The Bible is reflected through our modern society to bring the Gospels to life using contemporary costumes plus arena-scale lighting and video effects that demonstrate the eternal power of this timeless story.

Tickets for the first 22 shows, New Orleans through Edmonton, will be on sale beginning Friday, April 11 via the Jesus Christ Superstarwebsite. Also see the JCS Twitter and Facebook pages to hear about exclusive pre-sale opportunities.
See the official Jesus Christ Superstar website for more info...


You know I want to see this don't you? 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Justin Vivian Bond ' 'The Golden Age Of Hustlers'

You may remember that last year I blogged about Justin Vivian Bond starting a Kickstarter appeal to make a video to immortalise Bambi Lake's Song, 'The Golden Age of Hustlers'. Well, I supported it and have patiently awaited the result. And I haven't been disappointed. Here's the video:

I first saw Justin perform this song about 8 years ago and I've been transfixed ever since. What is it about the song that draws me in? I've no idea, but it's a description of a world I'll never know but was so real at the time. Justin is doing the world a big favour by keeping it alive. And keeping Bambi alive. I think it's important that these glimpses into past worlds aren't forgotten. The world keeps changing and we need to keep track of these changes to prevent ourselves becoming lost.

Thank you Bambi and thank you Justin. Good stuff!

Monday, 31 March 2014

Hockney, Printmaker at Dulwich Picture Gallery

The perfect time to wander round an art gallery is a sunny Sunday afternoon provided it's not packed out with people doing the same thing. Yesterday we went to see the David Hockney exhibition of his prints over the last 50 years or so and it struck a nice balance between being busy and having enough space to see the pictures at your leisure.

I've never been a big fan of Hockney - he's always been a bit too famous for being famous kind of thing - but this exhibition shows us different sides to his art and his creativity. How many artists have tried making prints by using a photocopier? And who is still experimenting with techniques he first touched in the 1950s? That's dedication, particularly when he could simply paint the pictures he sees in his head.

His early works mostly seem to be line drawings, sometimes with a splash of colour and other times resting on their simplicity. We're given his series of prints from his visit to New York in the early '60s, his version of the Rake's Progress, and, later, his erotic series illustrating the poems of Cavafy with young men in states of undress and in bed together. The notes beside the series of printed questions whether this was his contribution to the campaign to legalise homosexuality in 1967. Possibly, but even Hockney isn't sure.

These are both interesting series of prints that help the viewer to grasp how he constructed his more narrative works. The relative simplicity of his early prints is attractive in its own way but I prefer his later and more experimental pieces.

We see some of the various series of prints he created while in California as well as portraits of the people he knew in those days, such as his 'Hollywood Collection' and 'The Weather Series'. From that section of his career I'd pick out the delightfully simple 'Coloured Flowers Made of Paper and Ink' with flowers in a vase and coloured pencils laid out on the table in front of the vase. It's sheer simplicity beckons me in.

I onder if that's it's attraction? I stood in front of it for longer than many of the other prints and I noticed other people resounding in a similar fashion. What is it about it that catches the attention and makes us look again? There's shape and colour but what else? Or is simply the coloured pencils in the foreground?

The final room of the exhibition is the most unforgettable, at least for me. The vibrancy of colour is astonishing, particularly from his 'Moving Focus' series of prints that capture the courtyard of a hotel in Mexico he only discovered when his car broke down. The complexity of the printing technique he was using and the astonishing colours make these impressive in anyone's language.

The pictures here don't adequately reflect the glory of the colour, the deepest, violent red and the calmest green, the imaginative perspective and the absence of humanity to declaim the architectural beauty of the place. I was aghast - how can these colours exist without me knowing? This reproduction bears no resemblance to the glory of the real thing. There are two prints of the same scene done at different times, one portrait and one landscape, both using the same incredible colours. If I could steal any of the prints and get away with it then I'd steal one of these.

 The exhibition is on for another few weeks so get yourself down to Dulwich and glory in the colours and shapes Mr Hockney creates.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Kate Bush - Before The Dawn

If you've been living in a box on the far side of the Moon then you might not have heard that Kate Bush is returning to the stage for live shows at Hammersmith Apollo (or the Eventim Apollo as it now seems to be called) between August and October this year. Hammersmith was the site of Kate's last live gig in 1979 so it's fitting that she returns there for this residency of 22 shows.

Kate is doing what she can to ensure that tickets aren't simply hovered up by ticket agencies and touts by limiting the number of tickets anyone can buy to four, all of which will have the buyers name printed on them and the buyer will have to provide photo-ID to get into the venue. It'll be interesting to see if this works or if it just leads to huge queues getting in but well done to Kate for trying.

This morning there was a pre-sale for fans on the mailing list and, luckily, that included me so I managed to bag two excellent tickets near the front and centre of the stalls. Excited? I should co-co! Then I thought 'what if the show is even more fabulous than I expect it to be and need to see it again' so went searching again and found great tickets in the balcony for a different night... and sat on them.... for five minutes... until it timed out. By buying more tickets means that someone else probably won't see Kate at all whereas I'd already bought excellent tickets. Is that foolish? Does anyone actually care?

I care. I usually feel guilty getting into gigs and show in advance of a general sale - well, I do after I've bought tickets, obviously - but that's the way these things are done these days. That's why I maintain my Southbank membership for things like Meltdown that go on sale to members a few days before general sale, just like this pre-sale. But it can mean that lifelong fans don't get into shows because they weren't on the right mailing list or something. I'm not sure what else can be done and that's partly why it'll be interesting to see whether the ticket restrictions for Kate's gigs will work and whether others will follow her approach.

Tickets go on general sale on Friday morning at 9:30am and you just know the Internet will be burning with people chasing tickets. At least, after selling out the pre-sale in half an hour this morning, another seven shows were added so there's more of a chance for people getting tickets. I might throw my hat in the ring again in the general free-for-all.

Good luck people and thank you Kate.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

#CockInASock 4 @BallsToCancer

Something strange happened on Twitter yesterday when loads of naked men and others with bare crotches posted photos of themselves with their willy modestly hidden within a sock. I did not join in - thought I'd say that right up front. I doubt the sight of a flabby white, hairy belly would do much for the cause but I do have the best socks in the world (obv). That's been proven on many occasions and is proven yet again below.

The cause was the male cancer charity Balls To Cancer. It hasn't been around very long but is making its mark by using social media and plain speaking messages. The sensible tweet from men showing off including text numbers to donate funding (text ball08 to 70070 to donate £2) but, whatever, it's raising awareness of the issue and that's a good thing. There seems to still be a thing about not showing the male body - or at least genitals - or talking about male-specific cancer or other illnesses. What's that about? Half of us are men and we know what we've got down there so what's the problem?

This weekend there also seems to have been a spate of #selfiewithoutmakeup postings on Twitter, with women posting photos of themselves without make-up. That then led onto a discussion about whether and why that was considered 'brave'. Amanda Palmer, who recognises no nudity taboo and who's naked body I have personally written on, was soon brought into the Twitter discussion and with killer precision posted:

there shouldn't be anything "brave" about looking like yourself. what kind of a fucked up world do we live in if that's true?
23/03/2014 16:52

It is a sad comment on us all that covering up is wrong and not covering up is wrong. Which one is right? Does it matter if either is right or should we all just go our merry way and be ourselves? The prude and the libertine have been warring for many years but I'd rather think we're all beautiful in our own way. Young people are all beautiful so are the wrinkly old couple walking along the street holding hands. And those of us in-between? Well, we're obviously the most beautiful of all!

So, here's a photo that was tweeted of the Ibiza Rugby Club doing the sock thing yesterday:

And here is a sample of my own socks (see? I told you... but no cock in them):

And here is Amanda Palmer singing 'Dear Daily Mail' at the Roundhouse in 2013 after the Daily Mail made an idiot of itself by commented on her escaped breast at Glastonbury (it has escaped many, many times before). I was there that night to clap along, enjoy the humour and joined in the final 'up yours!' at the end. Watch and enjoy!