Archive for the ‘gigs’ Category

Best of 2013

[work in progress]

wolf-of-wall-street-jonah-hill-leonardo-dicaprio

Film:
The Wolf of Wall Street
The Way Way Back
Gravity

Male Lead:
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street

Female Lead:
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Judy Dench – Philomena

Male Support:
Matthew McConaughy – The Wolf of Wall Street

Female Support:
(Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine)
(Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle)

Director:
Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street
Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity

Writer:
Nat Faxon & Jim Rash – The Way Way Back

Single:
Love Me Again – John Newman
Down the Road – C2C
Children Go Where I Send Thee – Nick Lowe
Where Are We Now – David Bowie
Get Lucky – Daft Punk
Nothing’s Changed – Tricky (with Francesca Belmonte)
Hang Me, Oh Hang Me – Oscar Isaac

Album:
Quality Street – Nick Lowe
Cecile McLorin Salvant – WomanChild
Big Inner – Matthew E White
False Idols – Tricky
(Lee Perry presents – Candy McKenzie (1977 reissue))

Gig:
Van Morrison at Ronnie Scott’s

Bruce Springsteen at Wembley Stadium (Darkness on the Edge of Town)
The Rolling Stones at Hyde Park
Dexys – One Day I’m Going To Soar – Duke Of York’s Theatre

Play:
Othello at Olivier Theatre

Art Exhibition:
All that is Solid Melts into Air (Jeremy Deller), Manchester

Sport:
Andy Murray winning Wimbledon

Event:
My birthday party – incorporating The Box

Mick Jagger

Best of 2012

Best of 2011

Best of 2010

Best of 2009

The Man with the Boo guitar

Songwriters' Circle

I’ve long been fascinated by the relationship between musicians and their instruments – guitars especially, like Neil Young (now elder statesman) and his axe and BB King (with whom my older son shares a birthday, I share mine with John Martyn) and his trusty, curvy soulmate Lucille. I’m making my way back right now from a unique gig at Bush Hall in BBCland courtesy of Songwriters’ Circle (recorded for BBC4 broadcast in the autumn).

Chris Difford’s  (of Squeeze) guitar had a glittery border around the body and the hole (is there a special name for the big hole in a guitar?) They looked like old pals.

Boo Hewerdine (of The Bible and songwriter for the likes of Eddi Reader) had the most striking design of the evening’s six acoustic guitars – black with * BOO * inlaid on the neck in pearl. He had a very strong presence on stage, big and quiet but all his mots justes right. Had a brief exchange with him in Nandos after the gig, enjoying the balmy evening of the Uxbridge Road with my old pal JRT.

Justin Currie’s (of Del Amitri) had a morse code of inlaid mother of pearl around the Hole with No Name. Like Boo, a fine, strong voice but a touch lighter and more soulful.

Chris, Boo and Justin played the first session – a spectrum ranging from great lyricist to great voice, with Boo the lynchpin in the middle. Boo has composed with Chris and recorded with Justin.

Richard Thompson’s guitar was pale and functional, a work tool, with a couple of plectrums attached to the top. He proved a fabulous embellisher of his two fellow singer-songwriters’ tunes.

Suzanne Vega’s instrument was rich browns, in perfect condition, matching her hair. Between Richard and Loudon she provided a melodic female counter-balance.

Loudon Wainright’s axe had a cheeky bit of walnuty-wild cat pattern finishing. He appeared like Clint Eastwood meets Bob Dylan. Gifted with words, a streak of humour through everything, somehow making the sad even more poignant. The highlight of the night was the song about going through his dead dad’s closets. Another highpoint was the laugh-out-loud funny tale of a guitar he had to leave behind in Durrango thanks to Suzanne, an airline bitch.

12 feet away from those six in a tiny old venue was a once-in-a-lifetime music experience. Of the six, Boo and Richard Thompson seemed to have the deepest connection to their music-machines. Of the two, Richard seemed truly joined at the hip and totally living through his. I’m writing this paragraph walking home from the gig across the road to Muswell Hill from which the great man hails and where the origins of the Fairport Convention name stems. He struck me tonight as perhaps being the bearer of the John Martyn guitar-baton in the wake of the sad, sad loss last year of that even greater man .

Boo Hewerdine, Justin Currie & Chris Difford beating round the Bush

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."
...


The blue guitar
And I are one.

Wallace Stevens

Astoria La Vista baby

Music with minerals

Music with minerals

This week marked the sad demise of the Astoria in London’s Tottenham Court Road to make way for an expanded TCR station for the forthcoming Crossrail. It started life as one of four Astoria cinemas in London and became in latter years a music and dance venue. Like many others I have fond memories of it. Stand-out ones include seeing Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros there about a year before Joe died. I was surprised by how much of The Clash’s sound was centred on Joe’s voice, how reminiscent it was of the old days at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town – the main difference being that, twenty odd years down the line, after sustained pogoing I was starting to feel sick and my legs were getting numb. Seeing Atlanta’s Arrested Development there was also a kick – following chat and doobers round the corner in Mateo’s crapped up old Brixton Jag, the gig seemed simultaneously 3 minutes and 3 days long.

Coming in to town the other day I bumped into Feargal Sharkey of Derry’s finest The Undertones on the tube platform (I knew he lived in the hood but I’d never seen him around). I introduced myself and we chatted on the train about music digital and live, including the new emphasis on live gigs as an opportunity to make some serious dough. I guess it’s the grime and edge of the Astoria that will be most missed with the advent of super-corporate venues like the O2 (a venue named after a phone network, that says a lot in itself – where’s the magic and colour of names like The Music Machine, The Palais, The Electric Ballroom, The Marquee?). I think the O2 is very well done and there’s a place for it and such venues but the dirt and a bit of background fear added spice to my teenage live music experiences, and I’d hate to see that vanish. As a fairly sheltered 14 year old suburban Londoner meeting the Hardest Man in the World on the way to that Clash gig at the Electric Ballroom was all part of the rich mix of the experience. He was standing at the exit of Camden Town tube in army fatigue trousers, filling those huge khaki pockets with coins extorted from less hard passers-by (i.e. everybody).  He had the standard skinhead cut but was so hard that on his feet were not the de rigueur DMs but plimsoles – that’s how hard he was, he could pull off soft footwear and still terrify all-comers. Music needs a bit of that sort of edge and dirt for its minerals – if the diet is all too processed and clean the taste gets bland and it does nothing to strengthen your body or soul.

The Opposite of Digital

Camille at the Roundhouse

Camille at the Roundhouse

It started deep below Tate Modern. In three large circular spaces, formerly oil tanks for the Bankside power station, Will Gompertz, Director of Tate Media, mentioned he would love to do an event in the brick-walled space before it gets transformed into new gallery space for 2012. The acoustics were enchanting, a huge cylindrical echo chamber punctuated with iron pillars, and a low hum from the remaining generators which made me think of Le Fil, the album by London-based(?) French singer Camille. The name of the record – the Thread – comes from the single note which threads across the whole of it. So when I noticed Camille was playing at the Roundhouse I invited Will.

Le Fil I came across by chance. Just liked the cover. I was down in Brick Lane with the Enfants Terribles one weekend when I ducked into Rough Trade East. When we pass a record or book shop they habitually form up into a SWAT team to bar my way but on that occasion I was too quick for them. It was a good session of buying on instinct – I came across Burial’s Untrue for the first time that day too.

As things turned out Will couldn’t make it in the end (had to meet Steve McQueen of Hunger fame) and I ended up inviting James, my neighbour, on the touchline at Finchley RFC vs Harrow RFC U12s out in Stanmore on an autumnal Sunday morning.

Now James hadn’t been to the Roundhouse since ’69 when he saw Pink Floyd, of which there are colourful accounts in Joe Boyd’s White Bicycles, including a mention of Donegal’s own Henry McCullough, the only Irishman on stage at Woodstock (with Joe Cocker). So it was a pleasure to reintroduce them and resonant to be standing next to an iron column not dissimilar from that secret Tate space.

Camille‘s performance was the opposite of digital. In this age of easy copying, reproduction, recording, on demand, clones – it was a unique performance of an unpredictable singer in dialogue with the live crowd. She seems to have a thing about the colour orange which suits me as so do I (childhood bedroom colour at 2A Selvage Lane aka La Sirene, appropriately enough – lord knows why my parents called the house that (or anything) but the sign ended up being flipped around and having the even worse Popin added to the former reverse side at the next house where my mum still lives and Sirene still hangs hidden).

Camille in short hand is Bobby McFerrin meets Kate Bush with a bit of Swingle Singers, Marcel Marceau and Beardyman thrown in for a good measure of machine-free madness. So all voices and body beats with no instruments beyond a piano which she doesn’t really need.

The gig came to a collective climax and just to show how live it was she came on for one too many encores and an improv with Jamie Cullum which didn’t quite work and dissipated the hard-won energy. But that’s the beauty of transcending the 1s and 0s – you win some, you lose some, you can’t tell til you try, human fallibility seeps in alongside human spirit.

The best 0 of the night was when she came back on for the encore that took the performance to its high point. She’d changed from the LBD under her orange robe to a Longer Black Dress. Then at 1 point she turned around to reveal a large 0 cut into the dress at the base of her spine, revealing an expanse of back which recalled Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger and a delightful toppest bit of bum, an emblem of that mad French sexuality we know and love from the likes of L’Ete Meutrier (One Deadly Summer) and 37.2 degres le Matin (Betty Blue). That threat of madness, that touch of unpredictability, the moment of unevenness, the ambiguous attractions among the band are the undigitalness we all need from time to time.

Random poll brought to you courtesy of WordPress’ new alliance with Polldaddy – couldn’t resist having a quick go

What is it worth?

Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills

Holding Hands: Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills & Neil Young

We parked up by Goldhawk Road tube (always echoes of Jimmy the Mod for me) and walked back past the Pie, Mash, Liquor and Eel shop to my most unloved venue in London, the Empire in Shepherd’s Bush. Stephen Still’s blast from the past included his underground classic ’51.5076 0.134352′ and concluded with ‘For What It’s Worth’ which resonated in a particular way after another week of global economic disintegration. What is it worth?

There’s something happening here
[the day before yesterday rounds off a 20% FTSE fall]

What it is ain’t exactly clear
[although I think we’ve all got a good sense of broadly what territory we’re in – how we got there is a bit more confounding]

There’s a man with a gun over there
[currently a cold-hearted woman, life-long member of the NRA: “our leaders, our national leaders, are sending soldiers out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God’s plan.”]

Telling me I got to beware
[are they really going to elect a man who keeps calling the electorate “my friends” in a manner devoid of warmth or friendship?]

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound?

Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
[there’s a real opportunity here, with the merry-go-round ground to a halt, to get off the ride that goes nowhere]

Paranoia strikes deep

Into your life it will creep
[anxiety is seeping out of every opening crack]

It starts when you’re always afraid

[yet fear is what holds us back individually and collectively]

You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound?

Everybody look what’s going down

Stop, hey, what’s that sound?

Everybody look what’s going down

What’s that sound? It’s mud falling on a coffin lid. It’s ancient song shot through with deepest pain. It’s the sound of a single man burying 20,000 bodies one by one. On Tuesday Rev. Leslie Hardman MBE died. He featured as a key character  in a docudrama, The Relief of Belsen, commissioned by Channel 4 which was shown almost a year ago to the day (15.X.07).  He was one of the first Allied soldiers (an army chaplain) in to the Bergen-Belsen death camp in North-West Germany when it was liberated in May 1945. Auschwitz had been liberated by the Russians a couple of months of months earlier but it was Belsen that gave us in Britain our first terrifying view of what was going down. This was Richard Dimbleby’s report from the camp…

“Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which … The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them … Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live … A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms, then ran off, crying terribly. He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days.

This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.”

Leslie Hardman was a man who knew what’s worth what. He insisted on burying each of the 20,000 corpses that confronted him as an individual with an individual ceremony (no question of mass burial). He restored in death the dignity they had been denied in life.

In a tribute to him on Radio 4 this morning, a resonant phrase from Kierkegaard (via psychiatrist Viktor Frankl) was cited to capture the man he was : The door to happiness opens outwards. 

Leslie Hardman dealt with the chaos he experienced in the front-line by dedicating himself to the well-being of others.

As Jonathan Sacks (the Chief Rabbi of the UK) put it on the same radio programme: He Chose Life. Now I always thought  – and this was reinforced by the Glasgow office of Channel 4 which has the words engraved on the glass of the entrance – that “Choose Life” comes from FilmFour’s Trainspotting. But apparently it comes from Moses in the Old Testament: ” I place before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. … Choose life that you and your descendants shall live”

  (which echoes what his predecessor and my namesake was told:  “You may choose for yourself, for it is given to you.”)

Now Jim (the God, not the Mod), much though I respect him, summarised his approach as being to “get his kicks before the whole shithouse goes up”. As things fall apart, I’d say the rock-striking prophet is a better bet than the pose-striking rock god: Choose Life. Choose sustainable living. Choose actually creating something instead of gambling nothing. Choose holding hands not holding hostages. Choose what’s going up. Choose what’s of real worth.

Frock-coats and drama kings

Jason Isaacs

Sitting here in Carlingford, County Louth on a quiet evening in charge of sleeping children above, with my other half out with some of her dozens of cousins on the other side of Carlingford Lough in Rostrevor, County Down, with some godawful pseudo-american chatshow on RTE1 (Tubirdy Tonight – the name captures the height of shite it represents – a charmless, dull host behind a reproduction antique desk on the other side of which sits a fake nobody guest (the renowned Deirdre O’Kane?) with a D4 tango tan behind which are wooden window panes giving on to a fake cityscape unlike any part of Dublin I’ve ever seen, a lifeless photo devoid of dynamism or truth) and some two-bit boxing match on RTE2 with a ringside commentator with huge arched eyebrows and a forehead like the Mekon – jaysis, we’re blessed with our public service broadcasting back in Blighty, Ireland has much to offer the world but telly isn’t among its riches – I flick to a movie on Ulster TV, Joe Wright’s recent iteration of Pride and Prejudice with Ikea Knightley, as Mark Kermode (who popped up earlier this evening on the Culture Show) calls her on his weekly movie review show on Radio 5 with Simon Mayo. (How’s that, heavenly muse, for a Miltonian sentence?)

From this movie, which has somehow lost its appeal on a second, small-screen viewing, I drift off to an altogether more engaging gathering than the one before me with the dreadful Mr Collins showing off his lightness of foot. The other night I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Darcy himself, Matthew Macfadyen, and his charming wife Keeley Hawes (Cock and Bull Story, Ashes to Ashes, Spooks, The Bank Job) at the RTS Production Awards where he very deservingly won the best actor award for the excellent Secret Life in which he portrays a recently released paedophile striving for rehabilitation. This Channel 4 commission, written and (first-time) directed by Rowan Joffe (28 Weeks Later, Gas Attack), culminates in an astonishing scene in a fairground where the struggling ex-con brings his handsome Darcy-like features and non-Darcy-like charm to bear on an underage girl. Will he or won’t he? It’s painfully impossible to call.

I watched the drama as one of the twenty hours I went through as a judge in the Scriptwriter – Drama category in the company of the likes of Simon Cellan Jones (Cracker, The Trial of Tony Blair) and Kudos’ Derek Wax (Sex Traffic). For me it was the best film, alongside Mark O’Rowe’s Boy A, but the BBC’s adapted screenplay for Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford eventually won the category. Brilliantly crafted of course and a wonderful cast to deliver the lines with the greatest of expertise – but not brave in the Channel 4 way of Secret Life and Boy A. Too much Pride and Prejudice, too little Shameless for me.

I’d been introduced to the self-effacing (for such a tall man) Matthew Macfadyen by Jason Isaacs, who I hadn’t seen for some twenty years. On occasion we traveled together to school on the bus when he was a big boy and I an insignificant underling. I remember him being warm and open – most bigger boys just ignored you at best. He remembered himself as being unpleasant at that age and “driven by fear”. Mark Kermode – who says hallo to Jason Isaacs and David Morrissey every week on the aforementioned review programme – recalls Jason (who was in the same year as him) as very cool and collected. Jason recalls Mark as the cool one to be looked up to with his quiff and rockabilly persona. Which all goes to show the gulf between our perception of ourselves and how we actually come across to others, as well as the role self-confidence and fear plays in our formative years and beyond. Darcy has just walked out suddenly on a confused Elizabeth for just such reasons.

It was lovely catching up with Jason after so long, last time we met he was still in Capital City with Clive Owen et al. [Correction - see comment below: Make that Douglas Hodge - Clive Owen was in Chancer which aired the same year with Peter Vaughan and Leslie Phillips, written by Tony Grounds.] Since then he’s been to Hollywood (Mel Gibson’s The Patriot, Armageddon, Harry Potter, etc.) and back (to be able to raise his daughters properly) and the night of the RTS was playing Harry H Corbett in The Curse of Steptoe and Son on BBC4 to enthusiastic reviews. We chatted about the urban myth that was the Edgware Walker (as brought to the screen by the maverick Lee Kern), about mutual schoolmates including the legendary Laurence Gould, broader than he was tall, famous for launching two skinheads down the stairs at Stanmore Station, and that was another subject of conversation, the neo-nazi violence of the mid-70s which Jason recalls much more vividly than I can. My first gig was the Tom Robinson Band at the Hammersmith Odeon – TRB introduced me to Anti-Nazi League activism, as well as the notion of gay rights – but it was all a bit theoretical for me. It seems like the couple of years age gap between us made it all much more real for Jason. He also spoke insightfully about his own craft. Producer Vadim Jean (Leon the Pig Farmer, Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather) joined us for that bit of the convo – he held up Gene Hackman as one of the most consistently excellent screen actors. Watching Donald Sutherland as Mr Bennett does make you think about consistency – the man from Mash and Klute is also the winner of the all-time worst accent award for his role in Goldcrest’s disasterous Revolution. But in the end it’s all just make-believe. Jason’s older brother, a doctor, it turns out saved a man’s life by performing an emergency tracheotomy (with a biro!) on a plane heading to North Africa. In the light of that, Lydia running off with the perfidious Wickham seems to pale into insignificance.

A few years ago I was filming in Northern Ireland with Eddie McCaffery of Joose TV (then Emerald Productions) and Roddy Gibson (now a TV specialist course director at Middlesex Uni). We had a break from filming and headed up to Horn Head in Donegal. Whilst walking out on the bog of the headland we came across an older man collapsed with blood coming from his mouth, his distraught sister kneeling at his side. The three of us had recently spent weeks in an edit suite cutting a scene involving first aid and so were quite up on our life-saving. We did all the right stuff, got blood all over Roddy’s new jacket which served to cushion the old fella’s head, ended up carrying the prone body (surprisingly heavy) by stretcher back up off the bog to the ambulance which took him to Letterkenny hospital. We never heard a word from the man or his sister. Jason’s brother was given an airline voucher for £30 for his trouble. Elizabeth Bennett may be struggling a bit with her values here but those are both seriously out of whack. Jason’s brother was, however, invited to his emergency patient’s subsequent wedding where he came to see for himself what the act meant to the young man’s parents. Lady Catherine de Burgh (Judi Dench, who also featured in Cranford) has just been shown the door by the feisty Elizabeth, a frock-coated Matthew Macfadyen is striding through the mist, so wedding bells are just around the corner now as things trundle to their happy ending.

Oscar’s on the night train

Bon voyage to jazz great Oscar Peterson

Oscar Peterson

I only saw him once live, opening the show the first time I saw Buddy Rich, so he was instrumental in my intro to live jazz.

Apparently he came to jazz through listening to Benny Goodman – same for me, it was hearing ‘Sing Sing Sing’ and the drumming of Gene Krupa that got me hooked.

I remember seeing Martin Amis at a book reading in 1997 and him describing how he had written the whole of his eponymous novel listening to ‘Night Train’.

So all abooaaard to the Big Jam in the sky – where he can hook up again with his Montreal high school pal, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, a regular at Ronnie’s in his latter years with fantastic young bands (including the superb Stockton Helbing on drums who I had the honour of meeting there on a boys’ night out with my step-dad and younger brother), Maynard Ferguson who took an earlier train last year.

Godspeed, Oscar…

Now on the subject of jazz things passing, I’ve just watched a charming documentary on BBC4 about the sad demise of the Hammersmith Palais. I was only in it once but according to ‘Last Man in Hammersmith Palais‘ (specifically, a music promoter called John Curd) it was one of the best nights ever. It was 1980. I went to see The Clash. It was the first outing for my middle class black bondage trousers. It was with Nick Golson (who I’ve recently reconnected with thanks to David Baddiel, Nick’s an archaeologist now apparently) and Simon Hollins (who I’ve no idea where or what he is though I did bump into his younger brother Johnny a few years back at some publisher’s do). We pogoed. We heard ‘White Man in Hammersmith Palais’ – probably the best Clash song – right there in the Palais. At the end of the gig Paul Simonon chucked his towel into the crowd and I went home with a piece of it, presumably infused with the sweat and tears of the great man. It lived under my bed as a relic of The Greatest Era in Music History for a good while but probably got lost in a move. Or maybe it still lurks above my head right now in a box in the attic. The Clash only ever played two nights at the Palais.

Ian Dury mentions the Palais in the first verse of his wonderful ‘Reasons to be Cheerful part 3′, sandwiched between the Bolshoi Ballet and boats. This blog ultimately has its roots in that song as Simple Pleasures part 1 was a list of reasons to be cheerful.

Summer, Buddy Holly, the working folly,
Good golly Miss Molly and boats.
Hammersmith Palais, the Bolshoi Ballet,
Jump back in the alley and nanny goats.

The Palais de Danse started as a dance and music venue in 1919 taking over from a roller skating rink. The first stuff played there was some new fangled import from the States called ‘Jass’. The last gig there was The Fall on 1st April 2007 – a day when the fools triumphed. It’s an office block now. But deep below in that West London soil lurks dance, romance, energy, punk, roots reggae, spirit, love, youth, cultural mix, sex, laughter, London pride, simple pleasures and jazz.

the clash
Oscar Peterson photo – courtesy of Tom Marcello

Happy Christmas you arses

shane macgowan

With Channel 4 Radio coming over the horizon, what better reminder of why it’s sorely needed than Radio 1′s sacrilegious censoring of Shane MacGowan’s lyrics in the best Christmas song ever – Fairytale of New York. The people who failed to censure Fatboy Moyles’ dodgy use of the word “gay” have had the bare-arsed cheek to clumsily cut the word “faggot” from that bit we all love to sing-along with:

You’re a bum
You’re a punk
You’re an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it’s our last

And while we’re celebrating the genius of Shane’s lyrics (difficult to reconcile with the figure who showed up like a benign Bill Sykes at Adie Dunbar’s last gig at the Boogaloo in Highgate with the Jonahs), let’s wheel out the title track from his first post-Pogues album, the Snake:

The Snake With Eyes Of Garnet

Last night as I lay dreaming
My way across the sea
James Mangan brought me comfort
With laudnum and poitin
He flew me back to Dublin
In 1819
To a public execution
Being held on Stephen’s Green

The young man on the platform
Held his head up and he did sing
Then he whispered hard into my ear
As he handed me this ring

“If you miss me on the harbour
For the boat, it leaves at three
Take this snake with eyes of garnet
My mother gave to me!

This snake cannot be captured
This snake cannot be tied
This snake cannot be tortured, or
Hung or crucified

It came down through the ages
It belongs to you and me
So pass it on and pass it on
‘Til all mankind is free.”

Now there’s a song that will be sung in a hundred years time, long after Radio 1 is history. There’s echoes in there of the greatest London-Irish poetry…

I walked, with other souls in pain,
Within another ring,
And was wondering if the man had done
A great or little thing,
When a voice behind me whispered low,
“That fellow’s got to swing.”

Dear Christ! the very prison walls
Suddenly seemed to reel,
And the sky above my head became
Like a casque of scorching steel;
And, though I was a soul in pain,
My pain I could not feel.

Here’s to the wilde men of words! Mess with genius in your hole! Happy Christmas your arse! Slainte

The opposite of 9/11

Patti Smith, Philip Glass, Lenny Kaye

Shame it’s not November yet, specifically the 9th, because then I could characterise the gig I’ve just been to as the opposite of 9/11 i.e. 11/9. But life’s rarely that neat so let’s push on regardless…

Patti Smith, Philip Glass and Lenny Kaye performed a show of poetry, music and song in tribute to Allen Ginsburg at LSO St Luke’s in Old Street, London – and it was the quintessence of New York (New Jersey) creativity, the polar opposite of the vacant dead-beats who flew those planes into New York’s towers. Today I arranged my first trip back to NYC since I went to collect the Grand Award at the New York International Film & Television Festival in 1994 – with my mum, fiancee and sister-in-law-to-be in tow. In the foyer after the ceremony Richard Norley of Jump Design introduced me to a certain Peter Fincham who was then at TalkBack. I had to apologise for not being able to shake his hand on account of all the silverware I was carrying ;-) . Believe he went on to do quite well for himself – lousy bastard never even answered my letter when I wrote to him for a job before he went to the Beeb (probably still jealous about the big silver bowl from which we drank copious amounts of champers – that was a great night, said sister-in-law arrived at the party in her apartment on E14th St dressed in a black cat-suit draped in the stars and stripes, as she had gotten her US citizenship that same weekend – the official at the swearing allegiance ceremony had asked her if she would bear arms for her country – Bronagh’s reply: Honey, there ain’t no machine gun big enough!).

So Patti & Philip began with some poems by Ginsberg, then by her – she speaks poetry so well with that great Noo Joisey accent. Philip Glass went on to play solo on the piano Night on the Balcony, Piano Etude #2 and Piano Etude #10 – getting onto that pulsating thing he does like John Adams and Steve Reich. Patti & Lenny then took to the stage and performed a few songs including In My Blakeian Year and Ghost Dance.

We shall live again, we shall live again,
We shall live again, shake out the ghost dance.
Here we are, Father, Lord, Holy Ghost,
Bread of your bread, ghost of your host,
We are the tears that fall from your eyes,
Word of your word, cry of your cry.
We shall live again, we shall live again,
We shall live again.

She dedicated the song to the monks in Burma. The first song she had dedicated to Rimbaud, whose birthday it is today. I spoke to her briefly after the gig about Rimbaud’s time in London in College Street, Camden Town.

The three of them performed some more Ginsberg poems including Magic Psalm and On the Cremation of Chogyam Thungpa Vidyadhara:

I noticed food, lettuce salad, I noticed the teacher was absent,
I noticed my friends, I’ve noticed our car, I’ve noticed the blue Volvo,

I’ve noticed a young boy hold my hand
Our key in the motel door, I noticed a dark room, I noticed a dream
And forgot, noticed oranges lemons and caviar at breakfast,
I noticed the highway, sleepiness, homework thoughts, the boy’s nippled chest in the breeze
As the car rolled down hillsides past green woods to the water.

I noticed the sea, I noticed the music – I wanted to dance.

This very special, intimate performance – Glass and Ginsberg were pals, Patti and Allen were friends (both New Jerseyites), Glass and Patti were present in Ginsberg’s last hours in his New York loft (she lifted a book from his shelf at random and it was a volume of Blake’s poetry which Ginsberg had completely rewritten in every piece of available white space in the margins) – came to a close with the Footnote to Howl:

Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy!
The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand
and asshole holy!
Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is
holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an
angel!

Holy the sea holy the desert holy the railroad holy the
locomotive holy the visions holy the hallucinations holy the miracles holy the eyeball holy the
abyss!
Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours!
bodies! suffering! magnanimity!
Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent
kindness of the soul!

I love that word “kindness” – it’s the opposite of 9/11.

Back to the Stone Age

Rolling Stones

I was last in the Millennium Dome back in 2000 when it was full of empty stuff. Before that it was in 1999 when I was filming in the empty structure – someone had parked a double-decker bus in the very centre where the performance area was located (where Peter Gabriel’s show was performed on millennium night). It was necessary to have that red bus there to get a real sense of the scale. We were shooting from the top of a three or four storey building, one of several such structures already within the Dome, and it still felt pretty empty.

Courtesy of Yahoo!, the other evening I had the pleasure of seeing the Rolling Stones fill the Dome in North Greenwich with their charm and charisma. I had low expectations. I’d never seen the Stones live before, reckoned it would be a good idea to catch them before they died or had hip replacements, but assumed they were long past their prime. As it was, they turned out to be plenty hip.

Mick performed with the enthusiasm and generosity of the best of them – he was having a good time and he was giving 100% to make sure we did too, right from the first strains of Start Me Up as he followed Keef and his opening riffs onto stage. It’s always struck me what consistently great openings the Stones have to their songs.

It was my great good fortune that this particular performance, my first, was itself a closing – the very last night of a two year tour, the Bigger Bang tour.

Keef played up to his Captain Jack image, at one point eating an unlit cigarette to take the mick out of Greenwich Council who had given them a hard time about lighting up on stage the week before. He reaffirmed his deep commitment to the Blues by performing vocals on a couple of old blues numbers in the middle of the set. That they hadn’t strayed far from their roots in their love of the Blues was one of the most striking things of a great night.

Besides how much of their 19 year old selves they’d retained (if you averted your eyes from the big screen you could imagine it being their young sixties selves – Mick still has the moves, which is as astonishing as Bruce Springsteen’s elder statesman energy), besides that, Ronnie Wood’s immense charm was the other surprise of the night, adding a distinctive warmth to the perfect chemistry of the band.

The undoubted highlight of the night was Sympathy for the Devil. What was striking about the Stones live is that at moments throughout the set you really felt rock’n’roll as the devil’s music, a sense of that dark, chaotic, dionysian vibe. Paint It Black followed to complete the crescendo. I was transported and stoned immaculate.

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