My copy of Tapestry sits uneasily beside Give ‘Em Enough Rope and Love Bites. It wasn’t really where I was at in the 70s. It was given to me (by way of legacy) by my friend Steve whose birthday it should be today. That’s him at the top.
This was taken by my friend Judyth at the SchluperBowl – an occasional soft ball game Steve, Stu (Toronto) and I organised on the Heath. The lime green shirt I’m wearing was bought with Steve and/or Stu at a shop in Middle Lane, Crouch End after a Saturday morning gathering at Wisteria cafe. We all bought a green jacket there and I wore mine today in honour of Steve.
Stu’s is now history. And of course Steve’s is lost in time. I was particularly conscious of Steve’s presence two evenings ago when I went to see Beautiful, the Broadway musical about the life and times of the great songwriting partnership of Carole King and Gerry Goffin. When Lewisham’s own Katie Brayben (playing CK) sang Natural Woman, that’s when the dust got in my eyes. I laughed, I smiled, I shook a leg. What an uplifting, entertaining production – way beyond anything I expected. I had been told by Jonathan Shalit a few days before (at a breakfast at The Ivy thrown by his agency ROAR) that it was a good show, but I was largely going as a treat for my other half, who has You’ve Got a Friend as her party piece. She grew up with Tapestry because they were doing hippy in Eire when we were doing punk here in London.
What the show made you realise is what an amazing array of brilliant songs Goffin-King wrote – from The Drifters Up on the Roof to The Shirelles Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow – across a number of years. The backbone of the story was the craft of song-writing, played out in the friendly rivalry between Carole & Gerry and Cynthia Weil & Barry Mann, either side of a thin partition in the Brill Building song factory.
Tonight my mum gave me a clipping about the performance the night before. Seemingly Carole King was in the audience unbeknownst to Katie Brayben and joined her in a rendition of You’ve Got a Friend after the show. That’s a moment I’d have loved to have witnessed – Katie seeing Carole emerge from the audience.
I remember hearing in a podcast – I remember exactly where I was, jogging along a field at the edge of Beit Chananyah – how James Taylor sort of nicked You’ve Got a Friend to put on Mud Slide Slim. They were recording in the same studios and sharing musicians – that’s how come JT appears on Tapestry. He did a kind of “I hope you don’t mind but…” on her and she was too polite to say anything. He scored a Billboard No. 1 with it. Joni Mitchell also appeared on both albums (her own Blue came out that same year). Carole said of You’ve Got a Friend “The song was as close to pure inspiration as I’ve ever experienced. The song wrote itself. It was written by something outside myself, through me.”
Talking of writing and inspiration, the whole experience the other night gave me an idea for a book. I went to write down a note about it when I got home from the Aldwych and found I’d already written the very same idea a while back in the same place. Meant to be. I started to work on the idea there&then and ploughed on through the night. Made the next day at work …interesting.
I’m listening to the record now as I write and Natural Woman, which has just come up, reminds me that Carole King first entered my life (I’m not counting the 8-track in my step-dad’s car, as I wasn’t paying attention, other than to the picture on the cover) thanks to Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill, one of my favourite movies. It accompanies Harold and Meg as they make a baby.
I had a conversation about Carole King when my sister-in-law Bronagh wanted to find a song for her own funeral and asked for my advice. I suggested Way Over Yonder and we listened to it together. She was lying in a bed upstairs at my other sister-in-law Bernadette‘s house in Carlingford, overlooking the lough, preparing us for her impending death like Jesus preparing the disciples. It’s now just finishing playing Beautiful as I writes this, and has just segued into Way Over Yonder.
Way over yonder is a place that I know
Where I can see shelter from hunger and cold
And the sweet-tasting good life is so easily found
Way over yonder, that’s where I’m bound
I know when I get there, the first thing I’ll see
Is the sun shining golden, shining right down on me
Then trouble’s gonna lose me, worry leave me behind
And I’ll stand up proudly in a true peace of mind
Way over yonder is a place I have seen
It’s a garden of wisdom from some long ago dream
Today I hope the sun is shining golden on Steve, Bronagh and Bernadette in the land where the honey runs in rivers each day…
Here’s a brief video summary of the Channel 4 multiplatform / transmedia project- Don’t Stop the Music featuring concert pianist James Rhodes – whose nomination for an International Digital Emmy was announced this week in New York. It is one of 4 nominees in the Non-Fiction category, one of 12 nominees in total.
Here’s what the warehouse looked like where the 7,000 instruments were gathered in their journey from people’s attics to 150 primary schools across the UK. Entering this warehouse and seeing this sight was one of the highlights of my career.
I’ve just been re-watching this TED talk by TV presenter Rick Edwards, stalwart of E4 and Channel 4, about young people and voting.
It’s an interesting enough watch, clear, addressing a critical topic, not least just a few weeks out from a hard-to-call general election. But I’m having my own mid-life election crisis. I’ve managed to get to my silver fox period without missing an election but without ever having a vote that truly counts. I’ve lived in constituencies that are not marginal and I’ve voted for neither of the two big parties because neither represents my views. I’m having a crisis this time out and for the first time ever I’m going to vote tactically because I can’t take 5 more years of Toryism. Our MP seems to be hard working but that just makes him a hard-working cunt. He still comes from a mind-set that would sell its own grandmother. Does sell its own grandmother. Does sell the city I love. Does want to sell the library I love. Does sell the electoral roll data. Does sell the ground underneath my house and your house. Does sell our national health service.
…Ok, I just took a little rest after that rantette and watched this – it was made in 1976, just watch the first 30 seconds – nothing’s really changed in 40 fucking years…
I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!
Actually I probably will, like the rest of you schmucks. We’ll all get loaded up with debt from the minute we’re old enough to open our own bank account and be turned into wage slaves.
So here’s what I want help with – How is this Democracy…
- I get to vote once every 5 years (in a general election)
- I’m voting in a constituency and borough which is not marginal – so one party I loathe impacts on my life both locally and nationally
- When, in the past, the constituency was under other control, it was the other main party that doesn’t represent my views or philosophy either
- The two parties I’ve voted for have Big Fat Zero chance of being elected nationally, a bit more locally though it’s never happened so far
- I didn’t want to vote tactically on principle – I wanted to express what I actually think by voting for the representative closest to my views
- So my vote has made no direct impact on anything in over 30 years, both in the general and local elections
- Now I’ve cracked – I’ll be voting for the Lesser Evil – how rubbish is that as an option?
- So how is that Democracy? How can a first-past-the-post system be fair or genuinely democratic?
I genuinely would value your thoughts on this…
Rick Edwards’ and others’ ambitions to get young people to vote are laudable but while the UK system is like this for the many citizens in situations like mine (i.e. all non-marginal seats) it really does beg the question what’s the point?
Sad to hear about the death of actress Anita Ekberg today, all the more so as she died in poverty after having lived the dolce vita during her movie-making days. This is what she did for me…
I’m flying home with my family on a cheap flight which means picking up a connecting flight in Rome. I balls up the time because of a combination of variable time difference between place of departure, place of transit and place of arrival together with shift to British Summer Time while we were abroad. So we miss our flight back to London and it’s the last flight. We end up going into the city for the night as I’ve never been there. My Mrs is frazzled, Enfant Terrible No. 1 is feeling under the weather, so they hit the sack. Meanwhile Enfant Terrible No. 2 and I decide to see what the Eternal City’s got to offer. It’s already past midnight when we head off along the Via Veneto (Fellini’s hang-out). I think of the first famous site of Rome that comes to mind: the Trevi fountain. I don’t even know really what it looks like. I know the name mainly from Holly Johnson’s Love Train. We make our way through the warm night city navigating as best as I can manage with a crappy hotel map, passing various minor fountains along the route. Eventually we come round a corner to see the fountain that matters. There are loads of people hanging out there, all very chilled, bit of a hippy vibe. The air is pleasantly warm. We drink in the atmosphere and absorb the magic of the place at that time. A man offers to take a photo of us both on my camera (above). It’s all an extended moment of magic. I’ve never seen La Dolce Vita at this point.
We get back to London and I rent a DVD of Fellini’s masterpiece. I find the movie captivating but that scene truly magical. The design of the audio really strikes me, the not using the sync sound of the fountain. Seemingly this is because Fellini was shouting directions while they were actually shooting. Whatever the reason, it helped create one of cinema’s greatest moments and Anita Ekberg was central to it. That enchantment she created somehow elevated what was already a beautiful experience in my life.
That’s what Anita Ekberg did for me and I’m grateful. It’s a shared experience I’ll never forget – and nor will my beloved son.
You’re a work of art, you’re the Trevi fountain
You’re a golden heart, you’re the highest mountain
You bring me flowers every day of my life
You save me from the worry and the strife
Take me in your arms
Baby, baby, I’m on a winning streak
When I met you I reached my peak
Your perfect view makes me feel brand new, yeah
Well, you’re just right to keep me up all night, up all night
Working all the time to make you mine, all mine, yeah
Riding the love train, stroke it up, riding the love train
Lovin’ all the time to keep you feeling fine, yeah
Riding the love train, stroke it up, riding the love train
I haven’t written about my book When Sparks Fly since Train of Thought back in June. That’s around the time I begun commissioning what amounted by the close of the year to 17 series of short form video for Channel 4 Shorts, including Tattoo Twists and Futurgasm. So I was a busy boy and writing had to take a bit of a back seat for the tail-end of the year. My attitude was that I needed to be patient with myself and accept that space would re-emerge.
I managed to get odd snatches of time to work on the book. Another train of thought to the Edinburgh TV Festival afforded one such opportunity, six or so hours of chuff chuff. I spent a fair amount of time around Jamie Oliver’s various companies doing interviews for the Business chapter of which he is the protagonist, culminating in an interview with the man himself. I’d expected relatively short shrift but he was strikingly generous with his time. Most recently, when I was over in Northern Ireland for work, I did an interview with Aidan Murtagh of Belfast punk band Protex for the Terri Hooley section of the Music chapter. But it’s only this week, with the advent of 2015, that I managed to get back to writing in earnest – and it feels good.
I went back to the Business chapter and picked up from where I left off, enjoying the process of tuning back in, just slightly back-tracking to get back into the flow and dive in. It’s a different kind of chapter, the first I’ve written with a living central character so the research is more focused on the original interview material. I’ve set myself October as a deadline to finish the whole she-bang so let’s see how it pans out…
20,000 Days on Earth
The Theory of Everything
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
David Oyelowo – Selma
Nicholas Cage – Joe
Tom Hardy – Locke
Benedict Cumberbtach – The Imitation Game
Ralph Fiennes – Grand Hotel Budapest
Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything
Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
Tim Roth – Selma
Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Tom Wilkinson – Selma
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Sienna Miller – American Sniper
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard – 20,000 Days on Earth
Christopher Nolan – Interstellar
Pawel Pawlikoski – Ida
Paul King – Paddington
Yann Demange- ’71
Paul Webb – Selma
Paul King – Paddington
Wes Anderson – Grand Hotel Budapest
Anthony McCarten – The Theory of Everything
Grand Hotel Budapest
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
(John Newman – Love Me Again)
Morning Phase – Beck
Tribute – John Newman
With The Artists – Rhythm & Sound
Liquid Spirit – Gregory Porter
(WomanChild -Cecile McLorin Salvant)
Van Morrison on launch night of Nell’s Jazz & Blues Club
Michael Franti & Spearhead – Islington Assembly Hall (with D)
John Newman – Empire Shepherd’s Bush
ABC – Lexicon of Love – Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Peter Gabriel – So – Wembley Arena
A Taste of Honey – Shelagh Delaney – National Theatre, Lyttleton
Fiesta – adapted & directed by Alex Helfrecht – Trafalgar Studios
Oh What a Lovely War – Joan Littlewood & the Theatre Workshop – Theatre Royal Stratford East (Joan Littlewood centenary – with D)
Fings Ain’t Wot They Used to Be – Frank Norman – Theatre Royal Stratford East
Egon Schiele drawings: The Radical Nude – Courtauld
John Craxton – Fitzwilliam, Cambridge
Richard Hamilton – Tate Modern
Abram Games: designing the 20th Century – Jewish Museum, Camden Town
MALBA – Buenos Aires
Museum der bildenden Kunste – Leipzig (with N)
Book: (that I read this year)
Rabbit at Rest – John Updike
Germany crushing Brazil at the World Cup (7-1 semi-final)
Jonny May’s try for England against the All Blacks at Twickenham
Philae probe from European spacecraft Rosetta landing on a comet
Screenwriter Colin Welland famously proclaimed “The British are coming!” when he picked up the original screenplay Oscar for Chariots of Fire in 1981. Then the drought followed. Then Film4 (the movie-making bit of Channel 4) helped correct that with prestigious Oscars for The Last King of Scotland [Best Actor], Slumdog Millionaire [Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and 5 others] and last year 12 Years a Slave [Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, and 6 nominations] and for the first time a black hand clutching that Best Picture statuette. Which brings us neatly to Selma, the powerful new movie about Martin Luther King and the break-through protests he led at Selma, Alabama which ultimately secured the vote for African-Americans. So an American icon (the only modern American with a public holiday named after them – this coming month you can join in on the 19th [January]) and a very American subject yet the 4 lead roles are filled by Brits.
I went to a BAFTA viewing last week attended by the film’s main lead, David Oyelowo. I didn’t know anything about him, not having been a Spooks fan – that’s a UK drama on BBC about spies (= spooks) for any American cousins reading this, I’m pointing that out because spooks means something else that side of the water (= derogatory term for African-Americans). They changed the title to MI-5 in the US for just that reason. So I almost fell off my perch when he started talking in a South London accent. Much like when I first heard Eton-educated Dominic West speaking after watching The Wire - BTW McNulty’s partner The Bunk (Detective Moreland) shows up as a token American actor in Selma, Wendell Pierce plays the Reverend Hosea Williams who leads the first Selma to Montgomery march in MLK’s place.
1. David Oyelowo plays the big man himself, Dr Martin Luther King Jnr
David was born in Oxford and trained at LAMDA in London. His portrayal of MLK certainly makes him a Best Actor contender in the forthcoming awards season – I thought Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking was way out ahead of the pack before I saw Selma. He’s done the whole African-American story at this point with roles in Lincoln, The Butler and The Help. He also appeared in the aforementioned The Last King of Scotland as well as a small part in fellow Brit Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.
He puts the success of British actors down to their training which he characterises as focusing on building the character from the inside out, diametrically opposite The Method. His accent in the movie is flawless, King having a very particular mix of accents with an equally distinctive preacher’s inflection.
He felt fated to play this role (it took eight years to get the movie made and he was cast early on). Shooting on location in Selma and Montgomery, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge which was the frontline of the protest (the bridge being named after an Alabama senator and general who also led the Alabama Ku Klux Klan – surprisingly (to a Brit at least) it retains its name to this day), shooting on location in the places where the civil rights history played out made for some very powerful experiences for the actor. One Twilight Zoney story he told was how when they came to shoot the final speech in front of the Capitol building in Montgomery the Production Designer was unhappy with the rostrum and podium. He went over to the nearby church, where MLK had preached, and asked to borrow a lectern. The pastor went down into the basement to look for anything suitable and found one covered in dust. When the Production Designer got it cleaned up and onto the set he checked back against contemporary photos and found it was the actual one used in 1965.
2. Carmen Ejogo plays Coretta Scott King, MLK’s wife
Carmen was born in Kensington (London, England) of a Nigerian father and Scottish mother. She’d already played Coretta in the HBO TV movie Boycott thirteen years earlier. She met her current husband, actor Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter in the Daniel Craig era Bond films), on the set of that movie but was previously married briefly to British trip-hop artist Tricky. She met Coretta King when making Boycott. She captures the dignity of CSK well and has a good scene with Malcolm X as well as a key one confronting her husband about his infidelity.
3. Tom Wilkinson plays LBJ (President Lyndon Johnson)
Tom lives up the road from me in Muswell Hill. He’s great as Mr President, a touch crude and ultimately concerned with his legacy. He was born in Leeds and trained at RADA. He is in a strong tradition of Brits playing US Presidents including Anthony Hopkins as Nixon and Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln.
4. Tim Roth plays Governor George Wallace
Tim is from Dulwich, South London and studied at Camberwell Art School. He is in a strong tradition of Brits playing evil baddies. Wallace qualifies as indicated by the assassination attempt which left him in a wheelchair from 1972. Roth set out to play him as a despicable monster and pulled it off pretty well, you really want to hiss every time he appears. Roth came from a left-wing/Communist household and the Selma-Montgomery Marches were well known to him from it.
It’s a really striking movie and very well acted by the Brit Pack. What makes it particularly resonant though is that recent times have made it abundantly clear that the race issues that dog America (not least because it’s a nation founded on a genocide) are still here #ICantBreathe