Echo and the Bunnymen at the Royal Albert Hall review *****

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Echo and The Bunnymen: The Stars, the Ocean and the Moon

Royal Albert Hall, 1st June 2018

  • Rescue
  • Villiers Terrace – (Roadhouse Blues)
  • All That Jazz
  • Stormy Weather
  • The Somnabulist
  • Nothing Lasts Forever
  • All My Colours
  • Angels and Devils
  • Bedbugs and Ballyhoo
  • Lips Like Sugar
  • Rust
  • In The Margins
  • Bring On the Dancing Horses
  • Seven Seas
  • How Far?
  • The Cutter
  • The Killing Moon
  • Never Stop
  • Ocean Rain

No real point if reading this if you want an unbiased opinion of EATB’s latest gig at the Royal Albert Hall. In their pomp they were, in the Tourist’s humble opinion, the greatest band of all time. And their pomp was so transcendently gorgeous that they still are. Even when they’re not if you get my meaning. And, the last few times, they haven’t been. Yet the songs still make up for it. Well most of them do.

I am delighted to report though that this time they were, actually, in pretty fine fettle and, to their credit, seemed to have got over the disappointment of the Champions League defeat. Mac’s voice seems to have settled down a bit. The soaring, crooning pyrotechnic baritone of the early days is long gone but so, it seems, is the gravelly booze and fags croak of more recent years. He still picks pointless verbal fights with innocent punters and mumbles incoherently in Scouse but we wouldn’t want it any other way. Will doesn’t get up to much as ever but can still turn on the licks when required. The rhythm section now has a bit of spring in its step; none of the lumpen pedestrian plod of the early noughties. Stephen Brennan on bass is no Les, but he now has his own way with the classics even if he can’t recreate the Pattinson trademark loops, and Nick Kilroe handling the sticks is more comfortable than any of his predecessors, especially in the middle period stuff. No-one has ever drummed like Pete GRHS, and I mean ever, so I will, all my life, remain bereft but best not to dwell on it. Jez Wing on keyboards is a fine musician and the Cairn String Quartet provided string arrangements as sympathetic as any I have ever heard.

The tour is billed as EATB with strings so it was as well that the sound mix here didn’t completely leave the strings high and dry as is so often the case. EATB could play Crocodiles and Heaven up Here back to back as loud as you like and I would, literally die and go to heaven, but any subsequent arrangements, the Ocean Rain material and the few decent songs from the grey album, Evergreen and WAYGTDWYL need a bit more care and attention. The addition of Kelley Stoltz’s guitar made a big difference vs previous incarnations though for this material.

The Albert Hall, with its imposing grandeur, suits the lads, as anyone who remembers the Ocean Rain revival, will know and the light show was spot on. Now then I always have an uneasy relationship with a EATB audience these days. A) it is old(ish) reminding me of me own mortality. B) there are wall-to-wall middle-aged couples, with a smattering of young ‘uns, making us single saddo blokes stand out. The SO has done her fair share of manoeuvres putting up with EATB (and other post punk legends) and no longer feels sorry for me, so she’s a no, and other chums literally couldn’t be less interested. C) There are way too many people only there for the “hits”, Cutter, OR and the post OR singles from the grey album. There are enough “first three album”diehards/”occasionally they’ve still got it” benefit of the doubters, like me but it still makes for a strange experience as the buzz focuses on stuff that, whisper it, isn’t really all that good (Bedbugs and Ballyhoo/Bring on the Dancing Horses being the worst offenders). When I say not that good I actually mean it is brilliant just not anywhere near Bunny sublimity.

So, dropping the sanctimonious “I was there from the start”, “it was all downhill from Porcupine” pose, what were the highlights I hear you ask. Well obviously the three openers, with the Doors tribute, from Crocodiles, the standard intro give or take. In an ideal world I’d open with Going Up and squeeze Do it Clean and Simple Stuff into the list but I get that a couple of near sixty year olds trotting out an album from 40 years ago might not seem cutting edge. BUT Crocodiles was, and still is, since it takes the best of post punk rhythms, with a bit of punkish attitude, lays on top Mac’s most personal lyrics (the low rent Homeric epic poetry was leavened with the everyday), most of Will’s best melodies ever and filters this through a history lesson of their coolest ever predecessors, Velvet Underground, Doors, Television, Bowie, Modern Lovers, and, for Mac at least, Scott Walker. Many have followed Crocodiles, none have bettered.

Still, even then, Heaven Up Here is the perfect Bunny. album Sadly all you get nowadays is the stripped bare version of All My Colours, which, lovely as it is, is no substitute for the thumping Zimbo/ original, or previous arrangements, and means nothing from Side One of the original album, the greatest side one of all time, period as you Yanks say, and no Disease or Turquoise Days. Just one of Show of Strength, Over the Wall or With a Hip would be a start. Broke My Neck as long they cared to play it, a life enhancer, but the sad fact is they can’t play any of them now. So none appears. Boo hoo.

So the Tourist has to sit tight before closing his eyes for Angels and Devils, Rust, of course, and yes since I am not a complete poseur, Cutter, a stunning Never Stop and an exquisite Ocean Rain, the last two as encores. And this Sinatra-esque version of Killing Moon is, just maybe, about the most emotionally intense ever. I would still pay good money to hear any of Clay, Back of Love, Higher Hell or King of Kings, Burn For Me, Everything Kills You, Scissors in the Sand, Shroud of Turin or Market Town, but I don’t get a vote and they have been playing this set moreorless for a decade now. I’d even welcome a bit of the Electrafixion experiment but I am probably alone in that.

As for the new songs, well I will have to wait for the new album to decide. Not possible on one listening with my crappy ears and all those people milling around. The Stars. the Ocean and the Moon seems a worthy title given that these three words alone make up probably half of Mac’s lyrical output and the album will mostly rehash and pimp up the classics above with the strings on show. Still if you are want wordplay, punning, sarcasm, heroic, monumental, natural, grand, doomy etc, etc then Big Lips and Floppy Fringe are still your men. And when you are a slightly odd, though by no means unpopular, late teenager THESE LYRICS MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE SPECIAL. They still do decades later. Though true enlightenment only comes with the original line-up and the panoramic production of the first three, OK four, albums.

Still best gig I’ve been to for a couple of years, excepting Wire, and partly because Dave Gedge hasn’t recently volunteered the Wedding Present back catalogue, and MES (tears welling up) wasn’t on top form for the last couple of Fall outings. On that note a reminder that the only rock ‘n’ roll heroes are a) the ones that deliberately f*ck it all up and thereby never go near a stadium and b) have a Peel Session. EATB fit that bill. Like a glove.

 

 

Mood Music at the Old Vic review ***

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Mood Music

Old Vic Theatre, 30th May 2018

Joe Penhall is definitely on to something with his new play Mood Music. But having found it I am not entirely sure that he then took the time to develop it. Well worth seeing, some fine performances and some thoughtful debate, but, after a terrific set up, a little disappointing and not as satisfying as, say, Blue/Orange.

Ben Chaplin plays louche, supercilious music producer Bernard, a part that could have been written for him, though it wasn’t as Old Vic favourite Rhys Ifans had to step down. Irish actor Seana Kerslake plays gifted young singer/songwriter Cat. From the get-go it is pretty obvious that something has gone horribly wrong between the hit making svengali and the precocious artist. They are each shadowed by psychiatrists, the diffident Ramsay for Bernard, (Pip Carter who played opposite Ben Chaplin in the original cast of Nina Raine’s superb Consent at the NT), and the similarly purposeful Vanessa played by Jemma Redgrave. They are subsequently joined on-stage by their respective entertainment lawyers, animated Seymour (Neil Stuke) and acute Miles (Kurt Egyiawan).

The combination of Bernard’s production experience and Cat’s talent and appeal is expected to produce a sure-fire hit. Initially there is no dialogue directly between the two, just between them and their respective professional advisers. The dialogue is temporally fluid with the thrust stage and design from Hildegard Bechtler, overhung with loads of mics, also shifting between music studio, consultation rooms and lawyers’ offices. When we finally get flashbacks to the beginning of Cat and Bernard’s working relationship we see there were some signs of affections and musical appreciation and mutual learning. As Bernard gets to work on “improving” Cat’s songs the musical boundaries blur and the “ownership” of the creative ideas is confused.

Bernard is plainly an egotistical, sexist bully locked in the past whose musical Midas touch is fading. Cat worships her amateur musician father, is warily truculent and won’t be pushed around. Even so Bernard slowly undermines her and her work claiming it as his own. The direction of travel in terms of the relationship is predictable, though still very illuminating, and made more fascinating by not being too black and white. Bernard, at least in Ben Chaplin’s shoes is not irredeemably evil, though he comes pretty close and is blissfully unaware of the damage he does to Cat, whilst Cat herself, thanks to Ms Kerslake’s acting skill, is not completely sympathetic and certainly not a helpless victim. This is smart writing as you might expect from Mr Penhall.

The relationship between art and life and the wellspring of the creative process is a theatrical staple. Putting this in the more contemporary context of popular music, (rather than writing), makes for a less academic experience than some classic plays which plough this furrow. The economics of composition and performance are also highlighted. Modern music seems to unite the age old artistic divide between creator and performer. This shows us that this is often an illusion. The play has obviously been made more relevant as the scale of male abuse of female artists, notably in contemporary film-making, has been laid bare.

I liked the structure of the play with the interweaving dialogue, “musical’ if you will, and Roger Michell’s direction served this admirably, as he always does (he directed Consent brilliantly). So what’s the Tourist’s beef? Well having set up the arguments we didn’t really move on. Just around and in between them. At a couple of hours or so the play didn’t outstay its welcome but it might have been more effective with some dislocation or shift in perspectives. The pace was quick-fire enough but apart from the scene at the awards ceremony, the uncomfortable height of Bernard’s boorishness, the drama didn’t really branch out. Still Ben Chaplin is magnetic, Sean Kerslake is a genuine real talent (as she plays a real talent) and there are cracking lines and insight.

 

 

 

Caroline, or Change at the Hampstead Theatre review *****

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Caroline, or Change

Hampstead Theatre, 18th April 2018

How many exceptions does it take before the rule is unproven?

I don’t, as a rule, like musicals, as I have oft repeated on these very pages. I absolutely adored this though. That might be because it isn’t your classic show tunes, jazz hands, fake emotion overload. It might be because Jeanine Tesori’s eclectic score ranges across the history of African-American music, (with help from Jewish American music, and plenty more besides), and reminds us how lost contemporary human culture would be without it. it might be because CoC is operatic in intent and form. It might be because it is through-composed with no awkward recitative exposition. It might be because it is formally inventive, what with its singing appliances, swinging moon (!), split level and revolving stage, courtesy of Fly Davies, and repeated metaphors. It might be because Tony Kushner is a playwright, and here book and lyric writer, of fierce intelligence, politically engaged, unafraid of tackling big issues, or incorporating his own, real, experiences into his work. It might be because Sharon D. Clarke is just about the most powerful actor to be seen anywhere on the British stage. There are moments in this where her entire body quivers under the weight of Black American history. And when she sings. OMG as the young’uns would have it. And she’s not the only one knocking it out the park. Abiona Omanua as Emmie runs her a pretty close second in her own way.

This production was praised to the skies on its original outing at Chichester. I believed the hype, but ummed and ahhed about booking for the Hampstead transfer, trying to rope in some chums. No takers, the SO didn’t bite, her aversion to musicals being ideologically sounder than mine, so I ended up taking the plunge on my tod. In the end it was probably more the urge to collect productions of Mr Kushner’s work that swung it rather than these reviews. At times I was engrossed by both Angels in America at the NT and IHO here at Hampstead even if, ten minutes later, I baulked at his indulgence. His translation of Mother Courage was also used in the so-so recent production of Mother Courage at Southwark Playhouse. I can see why he likes Brecht.

Well I only need to have paid attention to the 5* reviews, and so should you now that this is transferring to the Playhouse Theatre, from late November through to early February next year. I strongly recommend you get tickets. And don’t skimp. It is rubbish upstairs in the Playhouse and you need to take in all the set. I also see that the prices for decent seats, whilst not cheap, are not eye-gougingly expensive.

Music first. Jeanine Tesori’s score is magnificent. I assume it was composed for the orchestral forces on show in this production, 11 strong, with Nigel Lilley conducting. They are certainly put through their paces with Haydnesque chamber passages, a Jewish klezmer dance, hymns and folk tunes wedded to gospel, blues, soul, jazz and spirituals. And still room for a couple of show-tunes. If this all sounds a bit rich, it isn’t. The rhythms are simple and infectious and the melodies and motifs clear and recognisable even to this untrained ear. Ms Tesori doesn’t waste a note. What is most extraordinary is how she renders Tony Kushner’s text so immediately musical, as, presumably, he doesn’t write that way. There is a good interview in the programme, as there always is, from Will Mortimer of the Hampstead Theatre, with TK and JT where they describe their creative process. They seem to like working together. There is also an article written by TK setting out the genesis of CoC and a helpful essay on domestic workers in the US from slavery through the civil rights movement to the present day The HT programmes are always excellent in this regard, with material directly relevant to the production and not too removed or abstract as can sometimes be the case.

Whilst all of the orchestra sounded terrific to me I would highlight the brass and woodwind contributions of Alice Lee and John Graham. Their instruments were always likely to get the lion’s share of the expressive lines, given Mr Kushner is unafraid of emotion, but they sure know how to deliver them. In total I counted 53 songs. Like I say there is no filler, but you can work out for yourselves that, across the couple of hours of performances this means nothing outstays its welcome, so we have dynamism to match the musical invention.

So what’s it about? It is the 1960s in Lake Charles, Louisiana. It is hot and humid.. Caroline Thibodeaux is an African American mother of four kids, Emmie, whose consciousness is being raised by the Civil Rights protests, Jackie and Joe (I am really sorry I don’t know which young actors where in the hotseat on the day of the performance I attended), and an elder son in the army. Caroline’s drunk, abusive husband is long gone. She works as maid to the Gellman family, Stuart Gellman, his second wife Rose Stopnick Gellman, and young Noah (based on Tony Kushner himself). We also get to meet Caroline’s friend Dotty Moffett, trying to “better herself” through night school, and the Gellman grandparents and Grandpa Stopnick, in various imagined scenes, and when they visit Louisiana from New York.

Oh and we are introduced to a singing washing machine, a dryer, a Supremes style trio representing the radio, a moon on a swing and a bus. As you do. These fantasy elements make perfect sense in the context of the story Kushner and Tesori are telling, and provide further contrasts to the already rich mix created by Ms Tesori’s music and by Mr Kushner’s sharp, poetic, lyrical, emotional, analytical, metaphysical and often very funny lyrics. One detail in particular, the illuminated red ring around Ako Mitchell’s neck, to simulate the dryer, but suggesting something way more horrific from America’s past, shows just how many ideas are at work here.

In 1963 self-absorbed Noah is 8, (sorry, as with the boys, I can’t be sure who played Noah), and prone to bothering Caroline, and lighting her cigarettes, as she launders in the Gellman house basement. Noah’s mum recently died of cancer and the relationship with step-mum is delicate. Stuart, still grieving, and Rose’s relationship isn’t perfect either. Caroline gets paid $30 a week. Rose offers her food rather than a raise, and later, condescendingly suggests she take the small change the family leave in their pockets, especially Noah. This idea of change, (both personal for Caroline, and politically for her family and community), and of the unequal economic relationship between the Gellmans and Caroline, of which they are all acutely conscious, is central to the drama, and presents an extraordinarily powerful metaphor.

The assassination of JFK, and his legacy, and the destruction of a statue of a Confederate soldier at the local Lake Charles courthouse, provide wider social and political context and, in the case of the latter, acute contemporary resonance, given, for example, the ugly events last year in Charlottesville. The politics ramps up before, during and after the Chanukah party in the first half of Act 2, which, for me, served up half an hour of the most vital theatre I have seen ever seen anywhere. The aftermath of the party, and an elusive $20 bill, prompts a bust up between Caroline and Noah and then some sort of spiritual epiphany for Caroline, culminating in the passionate song Lot’s Wife, which made me, and half the audience, quietly blu. Emmie though has the last, defiant, word.

Caroline is angry, sullen and resentful at the hand that life has dealt her, but her faith, her dignity, her conditioning and the stark fact that she needs to feed her family, means she cannot fight back. Emmie, from the next generation, can though. Mr Kushner points out in the programme how damaging the failure to resolve issues of race and poverty has been to the American politic, but he also offers a message than change is still possible.

The Hampstead stage is just about big enough to contain the set, though I gather it was more expansive at Chichester, but small enough to let us savour every line and note. I don’t think I missed a word and Michael Longhurst’s direction was exemplary (if you’ve see Amadeus at the National you’ll know what he’s about), ably assisted by Ann Yee’s intricate choreography.

In my own little fantasy world of reviews on this blog site I dole out stars like candy, largely because I get so excited with how much marvellous culture London offers that I really do feel like I am in the proverbial sweet shop. This though is a brook no argument 5* masterpiece.

The best thing I have seen this year. And I was perched up in the gods wishing I was much closer and had booked sooner.

You must see it.

 

Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle at Wyndham’s Theatre review ****

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Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle

Wyndham’s Theatre, 9th November 2017

Everyone’s at it. The “science” play. Science, whether directly through using theory to inform plot, or indirectly, often through the impact of ecological or other catastrophe, has underpinned many of the best new plays I have seen in the last couple of years. Steff Smiths’s Human Animals, Nick Payne’s Constellations and Elegy, The Forbidden Zone from Schaubuhne Berlin, Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone, Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children and Mosquitoes and Christopher Shinn’s Against all have a healthy dose of science in the mix.

Mind you this is nothing new. The brainy playwrights have been at it for decades. Think of Stoppard’s The Hard Problem, even Brecht’s Life of Galileo, the mighty Caryl Churchill’s A Number and Love and Information. Lucy Prebble’s The Effect, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s After Darwin. Indeed Michael Frayn in Copenhagen even took Werner Heisenberg himself as the subject for his play. Nor is it really surprising given the importance of mathematics and physics to our lives. After all it is the role of theatre to comment on, engage with and maybe even influence the big ideas that underpin our world. But it does take a fierce intellect to make this sciencey stuff work.

It was probably only a matter of time before the prolific, eclectic and clever Simon Stephens came up with his own variation. Like Lucy Kirkwood in Mosquitoes he takes a big idea from theoretical physics to create a metaphor for the actions of his characters, though I am not sure he is as successful. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle states that if we measure the position of a particle with ever greater precision, then at some point we have to accept a correspondingly increasing imprecision in our measurement of the particle’s momentum. (Thank you Wiki and the programme – I would be lost without you). When we look at the little stuff, like electrons, its behaviour sometimes emulates a particle bouncing around but sometimes it is like a wave. Apparently “vagueness” is built into nature at the quantum scale. Yet we humans are always deluding ourselves that we have control and that there is order around us. We live at a larger scale than the quantum so see the physical world obey laws and we can trust the effect of statistical averaging.

Allied to the Uncertainty Principle is the idea of the observer effect. The act of observing will influence the phenomenon being observed. At the quantum scale for us to “see” and electron, a photon apparently must interact with it, thus changing the path of the electron. You can see why this concept might appeal to the inventive playwright. 

(I will refrain from opening up to the idea that some neuroscience even suggests our concept of “free will” is an illusion. “Free won’t” maybe, but the electrical activity in or brains that prompts an action seems to come before our “conscious” realisation of the intended action. Get your head round that). 

Anyway this randomness is the idea Mr Stephens builds into his play. Unpredictability is built into our lives. When forty something garrulous, and dissatisfied, American expat Georgie Burns (Anne-Marie Duff) randomly kisses, on the back of the neck, mid seventies lonely butcher Alex Priest (Kenneth Cranham) on a bench in St Pancras station, no-one, least of all them, could have predicted where this would lead. As it happens it leads to a beautifully observed affair which brings happiness and lashings of extra life to both

Now I guess that, at the end of the day, you might be able to take any other boy meets girl (or boy meets boy, or girl meets girl, or other feasible combinations) stage double hander and overlay the same idea. Nick Payne’s Constellations covered similar territory albeit with a very different formal structure. Indeed if you jettisoned old Heisenberg and just took the play on its own merits you wouldn’t lose much. You would ask yourself why would Georgie ever approach Alex in the first place, but might soon be persuaded as to why, and indeed would be offered some alternative explanations. The question of the age gap would loom large but fairly soon be dismissed, as it should be. Some of the twists in the romance might seem a little contrived but then you could say the same about all romances, real or imagined.

That the play works independent of its big ideas is down to the performances, and to a lesser extent, the sure direction of Marianne Elliot, the much praised set of Bunny Christie and the lighting of Paule Constable. In Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham we have here two actors at the top of their game. In fact they are so at the top of their game that they are both banging in hat-tricks on a weekly basis like the love-child of Harry Kane and Cristiano Ronaldo. Ms Duff is always better than the play she leads, even when the play itself is perfect. Saint Joan, Cause Celebre, Strange Interlude, Husbands and Sons, Oil, the unfairly maligned Common. In her every major London stage role in the last few years she has, to overwork the sporting metaphors, banged it out the park. Of course, there may be some cause and effect here, as I will see everything she stars in. Even so, for my money, she is on a par with the theatrical dames of the prior generation. I am literally wetting myself with excitement at next year’s NT Macbeth with her and Rory Kinnear.

Now I was not as impressed as the smart money with Florian Zeller’s The Father thinking it a bit too tricksy, (mind you I had an uncomfy perch on the night of performance so my view might, literally, have been guided by arse), but there was no doubting Mr Cranham’s sterling performance. Here his Alex starts off, unsurprisingly, a little discombobulated by Georgie’s approaches. As the relationship unfolds, and he opens up, we see the joy fill first his face and, eventually, his whole body. Ms Duff similarly is as skilled in bringing Georgie to life through her movement as much as her words. Together their timing is perfect with the interplay of lines, and pauses, perfectly modulated. As Alex explains, when talking about his love of music, it is all about “the space between the notes”. They get it.

My guess is that, in lesser hands, this might all be far less effective. Simon Stephens is a wise man I think because he seems to know how important is the rest of the collaborative eco-system. Whether this be the writers whose works he has adapted (Chekhov on multiple occasions, Mark Haddon for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Bizet for Carmen Disruption) or directors (Marianne Elliot, here and many times before, Carrie Cracknell, Katie Mitchell and, successfully, the erratic Ivo van Hove).

More importantly he is a very wise man because, as he says in the programme, “I think I only write plays because I’ve never been in The Fall”. There are those of us who recognise that the most important artist in the world is alive, well (hopefully) and using his free over 60s bus pass in Prestwich, and those of you who don’t.

The Wedding Present at Cadogan Hall review ****

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The Wedding Present

Cadogan Hall, 14th October 2017

Regular readers of this blog (remember chums, the best clubs are exclusive) will be aware that the Tourist doesn’t really do “gigs”. It is all a bit loud for his aged ears. The number of bands/artists he would pay money to see is severely limited and dwindling in number thanks in part to the Grim Reaper. Many venues are beyond the pale on the grounds of comfort, excessive booziness (the Tourist has taken a vow of abstinence following many happy years of excess) or claustrophobia. Festivals need friends and time, both of which the Tourist seems unable to cultivate.

Here though was a rare, and, as it turned out, wonderful exception. Even the most casual observer of the pop panoply  will know that, to paraphrase the immortal JP, “the boy Gedge has written some of the best songs of the Rock n Roll era”. He has also written some of the best tunes, and created some of the greatest guitar melodies. The latest Wedding Present double album, Going, Going …, is, I admit, maybe not their finest work, but it is still, like the albums The Fall and Wire churn out, light years ahead of anything the youth can create. I pray Gedge has finished yet.

It does begin in a strange vein with four post-rock instrumental tracks, Kittery, Greenland, Marblehead and Sprague, with slower tempi and expansive dynamics. A small choir and a classical ensemble (strings and a trumpet) are used to grand effect. Given that this concert was a run through of the album, said choir and players were up there on stage with the band. The contrast between Dave Gedge’s and Marcus Kain’s driving guitar rhythms, Charlie Layton’s thumping drums and Danielle Wadey’s swirling bass, and the wordless choir and soaring strings, maybe works a bit better on the recording than live but it is still a worthwhile departure. The good news is that from Two Bridges onwards, we get back firmly into classic WP territory, with professional Yorkshireman Gedge muttering the usual maudlin, but somehow still intensely moving, poems on failed relationships and unrequited love over the pumping (less jangling) rhythms we know and love.

Smashing stuff. A few pretentious black and white landscape films to add to the mix, some proper cranking up to 11 of the guitars in parts, and even a couple of encores, Perfect Blue from Take Fountain, and, as the reward for the patient enthusiast, the classic fugal Bewitched from Bizarro. What a racket at the end. Now I have to say of all the varied material from Going, Going …, which looks back to a lot of Gedge’s previous songs, my favourite is Rachel, which is a preposterously catchy, innocent pop masterpiece. I am also partial already to Little Silver, Birdsnest, Bells, Broken Bow and Santa Monica (the final track which culminates with some painful but exquisite chord progressions).

Best of all it was at the Cadogan Hall. One of my favourite venues (though my last visit was to hear some Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues and a capella Poem settings – pick the bones out of that contrast). Nice little perch in the balcony. Loud enough but not deafening. Lots of room around me. And what seemed like a nice crowd with just enough distinctive quirkiness and maturity.

Now there was a time kids, in 1990 I think, when the Wedding Present churned out Top 40 hits at breakneck speed. I appreciate that is likely pre-history to you, but if you were to listen to Grandad’s ravings, (me not Gedge though the vintage is comparable), here are 10 you might start with. (Hopefully they are on that Spotify).

  • Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft from George Best
  • What Did You Last Servant Die Of from George Best
  • Shatner from George Best
  • Brassneck from Bizarro
  • Kennedy from Bizarro
  • Take Me from Bizarro
  • Corduroy from Seamonsters
  • Octopussy from Seamonsters
  • Don’t Take Me Home Until I’m Drunk from El Rey
  • You’re Dead from Valentina

 

 

 

Pink Floyd exhibition at the V&A review ***

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Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains

V and A, 4th August 2017

Now I have always been slightly suspicious of Pink Floyd. I was only a nipper for the first few “psychedelic” albums pre and post Sid and whilst the classic trio of Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and Animals, could and should have featured in the musical palette of me and my friends in the mid to late 1970’s, they just didn’t really. That is not to say we didn’t have diverse musical tastes with, I seem to remember, champions of Genesis, Yes, Hawkwind, Kiss, ELP, Rory Gallagher, Todd Rundgren, and even, through my mate Sparky who always exhibited the most developed musical taste, Krautrock. but the thing that held us together was heavy rock, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple (and the various offshoots) and, best of all, Led Zeppelin. No namby pamby pop or disco for us, or any of that suspicious androgynous stuff like Bowie, and certainly nothing bang-on cool like the Velvets.

As for me, well I was even more devoid of taste. Lank, long greasy hair, velvet loons, cheesecloth shirts and a penchant for the likes of Rush, the Eagles, Barclay James Harvest and Wishbone Ash, with the only saving grace a bit of reggae and soul. Now, of course, in the late 1970’s our salvation came along in the form of Punk and Peel and I was able to selectively erase this woeful past and successfully complete a course of cultural re-education. So, whilst I can’t pretend that some of the 1970s excesses haven’t found their way back into the CD collection, (yes kids, I know, CDs – what are you thinking granddad), I have also filled all the canonic gaps from first time around. Which includes those three classic Floyd albums.

Yet I still don’t really listen to them, nor do I particularly like them. Which is strange as I have a moderate passion for the likes of Porcupine Tree whose architect Steven Wilson has drawn on Floyd in the past, a developing interest in psychedelia from the late 60s and I get fairly excited when I play Genesis (obviously avec Gabriel not the novelty outfit they became after he left) who I couldn’t bear first time around. But Floyd, no, not really.

One more anecdote before some comments on this exhibition. It is August 1980. I seem to remember it was pretty warm. Me and some of the aforementioned mates have come up to London from our lairs in Yokeland. I think by now I am sporting a passable haircut and have ditched the flares but I might still be guilty of re-writing history to hide my shame. Anyway, we have been to a giant record shop (only vinyl kids though obviously you know all about that now). I have purchased two albums, Joy Division’s Closer and Echo and the Bunnymen’s Crocodiles. These will literally change my life. I cling to the bag all through the afternoon and into the evening. As we go to ….. would you believe it, Earl’s Court to see Pink Floyd as part of the Wall Tour. I probably enjoyed it, though the footage from this very exhibition of the start of these very gigs suggest it was all a bit daft what with the inflatables and the like. But I know that the future is in the carrier bag and not the old hippies droning on on the stage.

Please Tourist, enough of the cut price Salinger and tell us about the exhibition. Well it follows the well-tested V&A formula used in the marvellous David Bowie Is from 2013 and the You Say You Want A Revolution which ended earlier this year. Slip on the headphones, hear the music, listen to the interviews and then soak up a wealth of material, posters, album covers, artworks and the like. And in this case an awful lot of instruments and technology and, as the pomposity ramped up, a lot of stuff explaining how the certifiably over the top live performances were created.

Things are, unsurprisingly arranged in rigid chronology and tied to the official albums, studio and live. Now I have to say the first seven albums, the poppy, psychedelic stuff, was of most interest, firstly because I don’t really know it, and secondly because the mythology of Syd Barrett is just so powerful. The period of the three classic albums along with The Wall is given all due ceremony though it does all feel a bit grandiose. The last few albums are as dire as I thought they were so I upped the pace here. It is a mystery to me why progressive rock groups, who were at the forefront of electronic music technology in the 1970s, with Pink Floyd right in the vanguard, then went on to balls it up in so spectacular a fashion when this very technology became more mainstream in the 1980s. Think Genesis, Yes, even Rush as well as Floyd. Especially surprising in their case as, unlike many of their peers, they disdained shifting units (though they certainly possessed that knack. TDSOTM still sells several thousand copies a week even now).

Now to be fair my chum TMBOAD who came with me put in a lot more effort, as is his wont given his intellectual curiosity, but he formed broadly the same opinion with the first part holding his attention more than the rest. There is no doubt that this exhibition gives a comprehensive view of what, when and how PF produced their music though there is a little less insight into the why. And they do come across as anally retentive and sententious as received wisdom demands. If there is one thing I love about all these ancient old bands, it is their ability to hold a grudge. It’s just work lads. You will fall out. Lighten up eh.

Right I can see that sarcasm has got the better of me. Despite my snarkiness there is no doubt you should get along to this if you have any interest in the band or indeed the history of popular music. There is much excellent material to digest and the curation is off the scale superb. It is bloody crowded though, as the other similar exhibitions have been, which can be frustrating. We tried the early evening Friday slot but that didn’t seem to help. I personally think the aforementioned Bowie exhibition (GRHS) was better because he was a way more interesting bloke, as too was the Say You Want A Revolution just because they was way more social and political context to chew than here. Music and performance alone, which is what was being documented here, can only go so far in terms of enlightenment.

One day I am sure the V&A will get round to something major on Punk and its descendants (I don’t think this has happened yet). Then I suspect I really will wet myself with excitement. I note there were a couple of twats jigging around to the music here and generally getting in the way. It would get a bit tasty if we had some “silent disco” pogoists at any future punk retrospective !!

My Top 10 progressive rock albums

Just for a bit of fun and in the spirit of the exhibition I thought I would list my favourites from the genre. Not sure there is anything here (with one exception) that should surprise. This is ranked but only one entry per band/artist. See what you think. If anything.

1. Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

There was a time when when I wouldn’t have been caught dead saying this, but it turns out that Genesis are my favourite progressive rock band. Well at least the Genesis that genuinely were a prog band. Which means Messrs Gabriel and Hackett still alongside Collins, Banks and Rutherford. And The Lamb is Gabriel at his bonkers best with its “conceptual” story of Raul in NYC, plainly made up as Gabriel went along. No matter. Everything about this is terrific, with some tight arrangements, banging tunes, and the minimum of meandering, the classic tic of prog rockers everyone.

2. Rush – A Farewell to Kings

I was terribly keen on Rush when I was a nipper. No one else I knew was. Never fashionable but never properly unfashionable, and one of those outfits labelled “the world’s biggest cult band” of which there are now thousands. They have matured into grand old rockers and ambassadors for Canada and I own, but don’t really care for, quite a lot of the 1980s and 1990s stuff when the synths got too involved. For me though the quartet of 2112, A Farewell To Kings, Hemispheres and Permanent Waves, represent the sine qua non of the boy’s oeuvre with Farewell the best. Obviously Geddy Lee’s squeaky voice takes a bit of getting used to and Neil Peart’s lyrics are very, very dodgy, (all those Ayn Rand references), but his drumming and Alex Lifeson’s guitar playing are about as good as it gets. I know all this muso stuff about just how technically proficient they are is another prog rock tic but it still amazes me just how much sound three badly dressed, dodgy haircutted Canadians can rustle up.

3. Supertramp – Crime of the Century

It would seem I am determined to embarrass myself further for Supertramp, like Rush, were a big favourite before Punk came along and set me on the path to righteousness. It took many years before I allowed them back into my ears and heart but I am glad I did for, at their best, when Rick Davies and Rodger Hodgson weren’t at each others throats (another prog rock tic – the personality clash – true of other pop/rock genres but prog turns it up to 11), they were wonderful. Probably not definitively prog. In fact dangerously close to pop. No matter, just great songs. Once again the mid/late 1970s quartet of this album, Crisis What Crisis, Even in the Quietest Moments, and, just about, Breakfast in America, mark the high point. After that they really did balls it up.

4. Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet

Most middle aged blokes with poor dress sense and questionable grooming habits will be all over Porcupine Tree and the brains behind it all, Steven Wilson. Self taught, genius, carrying the British flag for prog for more than three decades with PT and other projects and now his solo work, he is hugely important but largely unknown outside his field. And all kicked off by his listening to Dark Side of the Moon in his bedroom. If you happen to read this because you went to the Floyd exhibition, and are not up to speed on PT, please seek out Fear of a Blank Planet. I guarantee you will love it.

5. Soft Machine – Third

Now I don’t really know what all those bearded, Shoreditch hipster types listen to. But if they really want to impress their mates they should learn to fall in love with Soft Machine. At first all the alarming shifts in texture and doodling around, with the permanent threat or actuality of some jazz jamming, takes a bit of getting used to. You might even be tempted to laugh. It is well hippy. But it will get under your skin and I warn you that repeated listening will eventually lead to a permanent love-in. And it will make you feel so cool. Third is normally taken to be the best of the bunch but there is something in most everything they recorded. Now there have been multiple line-up changes and the latest line is soldiering on but the reality is that Soft Machine proper needs the mighty Robert Wyatt in the band to be the real deal.

6. Robert Wyatt – Rock Bottom

Robert Wyatt is just about the only rock/pop performer I will see live these days. Most music is just too loud so its classical for me now all the way. I don’t believe in God but Robert Wyatt is the closest thing to what I imagine people who do believe think God is. He lies right at the beating heart of prog. Though frankly his music is entirely his own. Just try it. It may take a few listens but once you get it you will never look back.

7. King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King

The granddaddys of prog. No list would be complete without this. Still going, still experimenting. Robert Fripp is probably the cleverest man in the history of popular music since the 1950s.

8. Can – Future Days

I saw this in a list of progressive rock best of albums. Obviously it isn’t prog. But I am taking some dodgy punter’s opinion on the web as qualification, so here it is. Without Can and Kraftwerk most modern popular music would be even worse than it is. Simples.

9. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon

See above. I am still not entirely persuaded but it would be extremely churlish not to include this. And generally I am not churlish. Rude, misanthropic, curmudgeonly, opinionated, yes. But churlish, no.

10. Yes – Close to the Edge

So the final piece of the jigsaw. Once again this appears more because of Yes’s reputation than any real passion on my part. Don’t get me wrong, there are passages of Yes that are wonderful (from the first few albums up to Relayer – after that you take your chances), but equally there is some grim stuff with all those overworked time signature changes. Still it would be churlish once again not to see them on this list and this is my fave of their albums.

 

 

 

My top 10 greatest ever albums

Right. My cursory examination of the world wide web suggests that there are probably more top 10 album lists than there are certain kinds of sub-atomic particles. It seems that any bloke of a certain age, with too much time and access to Amazon and/or I Tunes, will have attempted to impose/show off his taste in music. and it’s obviously always 10 until he gets greedy, with 25 seemingly the next most popular integer.

Still undeterred by the utter pointlessness of the exercise, and keen to really show off my taste and knowledge, I am determined to add to the digital trash-heap.

Now regular readers will be aware that I am a) getting on a bit and b) fancy myself as a bit cultured. This will therefore colour what follows and the keen-eyed will notice there is a quite constrained chronology in my choices. This is because, in my view, the music that stays with you is the music that hits you in your most formative years when you have most time and when your are most selfish which surely is late teens/early adulthood.

Now I am talking about proper pop/rock/indie music not the chart shite that is an unfortunate by/waste product which has been there since the 1950s. I am also, in this blog, focussed solely on my pop/rock/indie identity. The classical side of my nature has been there from a fairly early age but has expanded apace in recent years. I am now pretty clear on the boundaries here and therefore continue to go deeper not broader into the classical world. And the only live music I listen to is classical. There are very infrequent gigs but it is all a bit loud for me now I fear.

Anyway back to today’s sermon. So the period of deepest engagement for me coincided with the rise of post-punk which happily for me produced most of the greatest pop/rock/indie music ever made and the best bands, a few of which soldier on to this day. I am not accepting any argument here – it is a simple fact. When it comes to musical taste I simply will not permit any collapse into some sort of hopeless, wishy-washy relativism. From this starting point I will no doubt bore you in future with stuff prior to these fertile period (it is called the 1960s and 1970s kids). But, having set my entrenched boundaries, it does mean that from the late 1980s through to the last few years I don’t really know what I am talking about, and have wandered around aimlessly trying to find exciting new stuff. And to be fair there have been some successes. Still I am grateful for any tips.

Right I have rambled on enough ahead of something no-one will ever read anyway. So with thanks to John Peel, the NME in its heyday and assorted independent record labels, here goes.

1. Echo and the Bunnymen – Heaven Up Here – 1981

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So Echo and the Bunnymen are the greatest ever band. Period. There are other contenders; Joy Division but there just isn’t enough material to draw on, the Fall, obviously, but there might just be too much (and it is impossible to draw out one album for this list), Wire, but maybe a bit too clever by half, the Wedding Present, but even I accept if you’ve heard one of theirs you’ve heard them all. and other contenders from other periods which will be revealed in time. But the reality is the Bunnies were, and remain, my first love, and the first 4 albums, Crocodiles, Porcupine, Ocean Rain and this, their masterpiece, are just what I know best.

I will keep buying anything the Bunnies create as there are still nuggets to be found and I will still try to see them on very rare occasions where I can tolerate the noise. But I know they will never again create the uplifting maelstrom of the heyday as Les’s loopy basslines and Pete’s (RIP) magnificently creative drumming propped up Will’s shards of guitar genius and Mac’s preposterous but utterly convincing lyrics (last night he played in a local theatre in Henley on Thames – mind-boggling).

It is therefore fortunate that I can listen to this – not every day but nary a week passes without a happy reminder. Thanks lads.

2. Joy Division – Closer – 1980

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So, if the Bunnies are ultimately a swaggering, anthemic post-punk rock band (Mac has observed that if they hadn’t been so lazy they could have beaten U2 to the prize), then Joy Division are the mournful antithesis. The father of innumerable progeny this really is music for late teenage boys to listen to in the bedroom whilst wallowing in a sea of self-pity.

The thing is though that this album goes far beyond that into some really dark places. This largely reflects Ian Curtis’s lyrics (I won’t bang on about this standing as the ultimate self epitaph – it’s nonsense) but also Martin Hamnett’s extraordinary production. The fact is that I don’t think any of the contributors to this album had any idea what they had created. No surprise really that when Curtis exited stage left the rest of the band sought sanctuary in dance rhythms.

Anyway I assume any self respecting fan of popular music of the last half-century or so owns this even if they may not always be in the mood required to listen to it. If not get on with it.

3. Kate Bush – Hounds of Love – 1985

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Right I know she is a genius. You know she is a genius. And this is still as amazing as it was on the day of release. There is not a musical idea, phrase, a note, a word, a sound that isn’t perfect. I get that Katie elsewhere very occasionally lets the side down with a misplaced idea but not here. This is Art.

“I’d make a deal with God”. Indeed. That can be the only explanation. Except there is no God. But you know what I mean.

I was too ill to stay for all of Before the Dawn so missed the Ninth Wave and A Sky of Honey. No matter. Six songs. It was enough to last a lifetime. What a sentimental old duffer I’ve become.

4. Gang of Four – Entertainment! – 1979

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The discerning reader of this blog might have guessed this was coming. Funky, arty, post-punk replete with Marxist analysis. It’s like a focus group was tasked with delivering up the perfect soundtrack for the late teens Tourist. So tap the feet, engage the brain and turn it up nice and loud.

“He fills his head with culture …..”

5. Neil Young – Harvest – 1972

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Evidence that I am not completely tied to the music of my youth.

Now most of the individual creative giants of popular music (Bowie D, Morrison V, Bush K, Mayfield C, Franklin A, Prince TAFKA, Marley B, Harvey PJ, Wyatt R) have let themselves down on occasion, none so persistently or so wilfully as the irascible Mr Young. Yet on those albums where it all came together no-one gets closer to the emotional heart of the matter.

I get why you kids today might regard this as an embarrassment. Then again you listen to Ed Sheeran. No more witnesses your honour, I rest my case.

6. Human League – Dare – 1981

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I am so glad the synthesiser has made a comeback. It has restored my faith in contemporary pop music. But none will ever come close to the pristine perfection on offer here. I daresay there will never be an 80s party without Don’t You Want Me Baby on the playlist but for once familiarity breeds joy not contempt.

Normally when a band sells out (mind you I was happy with the prior incarnation of the Human League) it spells disaster; in this case Phil Oakley’s lust for lucre was the impetus for this classic.

These are the things that dreams are made of.

7. Dexys Midnight Runners – Searching for the Young Soul Rebels – 1980

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OK so there are times when Kevin Rowland gives the impression of being one Scotch egg short of the full hamper but his musical vision, at least what there is of it, is inspired. The first three Dexys albums represent the apogee of Celtic Soul which, on and off and in a different way, has proved fertile territory for another musical genius in Van Morrison.

There are those who believe Dexys were/are a novelty outfit. They are idiots and can be safely ignored. Please own and cherish this.

8. Talking Heads – Fear of Music – 1979

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Back to 1979 and perhaps the finest example of the period when punk/new wave met the funk of the 1970s against the backdrop of the New York art scene and with lyrics of real intelligence. Fortunately there are bands today experimenting with rhythmic structure but TH remain the masters to my ears.

“This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around … ” though it sometimes sounds like it.

9. Wire – 154 – 1979

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You would think I would tire of this art punk thing. You’d be wrong. Most of my favourite bands are still making new music but Wire are probably the most vital. It is clear to me that my musical brain thrives on repetition. Wire understand this.

So stop reading about them being name-checked as a “seminal influence” on all sorts of white boys who have picked up guitars and go and actually  listen. In this case Granddad knows best.

10. Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth – 1980

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There isn’t much of this. Alison Statton’s ethereal voice over the bass and clipped guitar of the Moxham brothers and a bit of drum machine and occasional electronic organ chords. It couldn’t be simpler. But it will get to you. I promise.

This is all they ever did. It’s all they ever needed to do.

11. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II – 1969

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Hold up Tourist. You said Top 10.

Well I did but guess what. I’ve turned it up to 11. And what better what to do that than Zeppelin. Obviously the greatest heavy rock band of all time. And this for me was their finest hour.

Anyway if you are a serious student of popular music you already know this.

Knebworth 1979. Still one of my greatest memories.