Monday, December 31, 2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Newcastle Cluny Gig Review

Dick Whittington at the Hackney Empire

It had to be a trip to the panto this year so I looked at the reviews... The Thetare Royal Stratford was cheaper but all booked up so off we went to Hackney. From the start, the omens were good. I have honestly never been part of such a mixed audience in a theatre before; all ages, all nationalities, big family groups, solo flyers, the lot. The atmosphere was wonderful and there was a welcome lack of pompous 'been there, done that' types.
Our first character was a mildly annoying Hindu fairy who looked so fabulous that she was instantly forgiven; from then on we were introduced to the various characters:  a proper thigh-slapping Dick, a tumbling cat, a totally camp and gigantic dame complete with regular outrageous costume change, Idle Jack who fell asleep and had to be woken up by a lot of yelling by the audience, a wise-cracking Alderman who specialised in sub-cracker-joke humour, a fiendish King Rat whom we booed loudly, and a beautiful leading lady who was a tomboy adventurer. The action didn't falter for a second; one minute you were groaning at a terrible joke and the next you were standing up singing a really corny song about paws and claws.
There were proper musicians in the orchestra pit, and touchingly the backstage crew were invited on to the stage at the end to be applauded along with the rest of them.
Completely cathartic! This panto could not have been better: the singing was faultless; people my age guffawed at some (ruder) parts, and the children in the audience gurgled with glee at other parts. The gorilla was scary enough to give the lot of us a fright when it turned up close to the end. We celebrated the birthdays of tinies and also a 73-year old grandmother.
For the first time in my life I felt like a Londoner, sitting in the middle of such diversity with my loved ones, watching an English institution that has managed to adapt itself so readily to cultural differences while still keeping a completely traditional atmosphere.
If you've never been to a pantomime before, this is the place to start. Forget about the glitzy star-vehicles. Choose Hackney or Stratford and you are guaranteed a jolly good night out!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Peotry: The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Abridged

I am Lord of the Snords
I am King of the Pings
Watch out for them goblins
In Lord of the Rings

There once was a Hobbit
With pointy pink ears
That's the end of the story
So goodnight my dears

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Lord of the Rings

How many thousand times have I watched it? I still don't know what on middle earth is going on. Every time I look up another famous chap is standing in a cave with stringy hair, spouting nonsense and thinking 'That's another five grand in the bank, then'.
We're on to the fiftieth animated monster who gets limbs cut off with a clashing sword. Bring back The Killing. It's got some females in it. Just because Frodo's pretty, that doesn't count!
That's the Christmas rant over with. You can get back to your selection box now. Save the Lion Bar for me, please.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cowboy Shirts

Well it was cowboy shirts at the Newcasle gigs- we raided Flip and outdid each other.
Which was the best Cluny night? The second one, just like last year; the audience was huge and very good natured. The psychotic man who interrupted the Friday gig wasn't there on the Saturday one, although a milder shouty man occupied the same place. Mir did a great couple of gigs. Chris Mordy came up to play bass on 24 Hours which I played on the first night but not the second. the second night was new song night for me.
The Daintees played really well both nights with Martin giving more than his all.
Great gig guys!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Brudenell Social Club

Amazing venue! Sound engineer has fantastic ears, the Meekats were top notch and the Daintees played a stonker as always. Roll on the Cluny tonight, Mir's on her way. Who cares about the rain?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Well, it's been busy; on Sunday I went to se Mike and Em in Briton. They have brought out a new listings mag called Brixton Buzz ( which is a snazzy little item with a great layout and a good independent vibe. Being handed out at a tube station near you every month, Brixtonites!
On Monday was the Under the Influence Christmas do; Lester Square came down from St Albans to be in the choir for Christmas Queen and he was joined by Nat and assorted audience members and I think we still managed to be rousing.
The Anti Poet put in a grand set, and so did Miranda Quammie, whose CD I will be reviewing in the New Year. The whole lot was topped off by a rousing singalong set by Nat's band, The Reverse.
Always worth going along to!

Last night I was given tickets to see Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick at Cecil Sharp House. I took Martin along as I was tour-managing him for the night. The room was decorated beautifully and I really enjoyed the set especially when Martin Carthy was singing songs by Marina Russell. I'm not used to listening to such pure folk music and sometimes find it difficult on the ear as recordings, but this was a great performance with two musicians so in tune with each other that they played as one and it was a real pleasure to see and hear. Thanks to the Musicians Benevolent Fund for the tickets and for their support for musicians in need!

Then we went to Radio Two for Martin's interview with Janice Long. He gave her a lot of music from the Highlands to play- Dave Fleming, Andy Gunn and Jill Hepburn tracks. So much good music from the Barbaraville label: Eliza P got a mention, and Mir Davey Cowan and Ally McLeod were cued up to play but there wasn't time.

It was a lovely interview- Janis Long is a sweetheart and a long time Martin Stephenson fan.
Leeds tomorrow- see you there!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Under the Influence Christmas Show at the Boogaloo Tonight

 £3.00 to get in, The AntiPoet, me, Nat the Hammer, lots of great acts in a great venue.
I'll have copies of Voxpop Puella with me.
I'm off to interview a very interesting person for my next bit of research.
Stuff about Mike and Em's party later...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Southwark Cathedral Crisis Carol Service

Every year my Champagne Friend and myself go to a carol service. This one was hidden, rather; it wasn't on the Southwark Cathedral website but I had seen an ad on a tube train and I got us a couple of tickets.
It was a wonderful combination of the Secular, the the Spiritual and the Christian; there were some painfully moving accounts from people that had been helped by the charity and some lovely singing from the choir (and congregation). One story was funny: a woman described being given a free Christmas tree as a child, the last one on the stall, and dragging the massive thing home on a piece of string with her sister. They'd taken all their not-much-money to get one to try to cheer up their mum after their dad left home because he'd gambled away all their money. As the tree became wedged in the stairwell of their block of flats, their mum was furious. But eventually she borrowed  a saw and after what seemed like an age managed to saw off enough of the tree to get it into their flat, where the sisters made decorations for it. And mum was happy. The Crisis Skylight Choir, which featured a solo cameo from each singer, were so touchingly brilliant that the congregation broke protocol and gave them a huge round of applause. Perhaps the most grave speech was from the man who has been volunteering for 30 years after going along because he needed help himself after  a terrible family upset (he didn't tell us what it was). Voice cracking with the combination of a sore throat and passionately-felt emotion, he ended his talk with the words: 'This is ordinary people, helping ordinary people'.
He described working at the food counter last Christmas alongside a Jamaican brickie and a Dutch investment banker, all working together to make sure that single homeless people felt loved and cared for when it is so cold and bleak outside.
The youngest volunteers, two children, marched down the aisle with Christmas puddings with sparklers poked into the top that went out as soon as they were lit, which in itself was a rather symbolic moment.
The Merbecke Choir ('retired' child choristers) and the London Philharmonia Orchestra injected energy into the carols- the descants whammed into the final verses of the carols in a congregation-versus-choir competition that was oddly uplifting.
Somehow, this morning all the money-and-party thing doesn't seem to matter very much. I came away moved to the core by the kindness of the Crisis volunteers, and horrified by the face that in the last five years homelessness has increased by 43% in London. And we are still one of the wealthiest countries in the world, in spite of the recession.
Winter is vicious on the streets. I am putting their link here in the hope that if any of the people that read this blog can afford it (and only if) some of you might be willing to donate to them today:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas Tree

I've just bought a Christmas tree, I just couldn't resist it. It had to be skinny to fit in the little house.
'Is it heavy?', I asked the man.
'Use a shopping trolley', he suggested.
So I clanked home, snagging the knitted white Christmas tree shroud on every single privet hedge all the way home.
I am conscientious, so I had to take the trolley back to the supermarket. I lobbed the tree into the house, and the trolley took off across the road as soon as it lost its load, clanging and bouncing and ending up on its side in the middle of the road that was, thankfully, empty.
It's got the lights on it now and I'll decorate it tomorrow. It smells perfect.

V & A

The Victoria and Albert Museum is a fantastic place to meet a friend or take the kids of whatever age. I met Caroline and we went to look, supposedly, at Prints. However, the print room was closed and we wafted through Silverware into Tapestries and sat basking in the glow of Henry IIX's gorgeous Dutch-woven wallhangings with their depictions of recognisable wildflowers (drifts of cowslips and thistles) and storyboard-like vignettes. In one of them a pond full of swans was attacking some poor serfs; a gnashing beak was attached to a pasty arm and a little fellow's mouth was agape in agony. Another swan had tipped over a small boat and was about to start tucking into a terrified fellow, with gusto. Romances, scandals, hunts; pheasants, ferrety things, dogs in little jackets; it was all there in perfect faded glory, probably more aesthetically beautiful and impressive for the aged dulling of the original rich colours. Inspired, we went to look at the Raphael room and the tapestry in reverse of a painting that faced it on the opposite wall.
The museum is full of exciting moments and just before we left we came across this Cornelia Parker sculpture, made of squashed brass instruments. We went for Green Tea Cake and Jasmine Tea and talked politics and scandal to finish off our restorative day: roll on the next one in January!

Thursday, December 13, 2012


When you're inundated with so many critical comments that you find you can't defend yourself...
you could try agreeing.

Barbaraville Compilation

This is a brilliant compilation of lots of stuff from Martin's label (including a new skiffle demo Sugar Hill by yours truly plus the instrumental from The Cafe of Tiny Kindnesses, Beachwalk). One of Martin's best instrumentals is on there too, General Custer, plus The Streets of San Sebastian by The Daintees and Martin's new solo track, Ride.
There's a song by Eliza P, a song by Mir, a song by Jill Hepburn and a song by Ali MacLeod- Go Girls!
You can buy the whole lot or just one or two tracks. The proceeds go towards recording more music.
I also tried to upload this to Blogger yesterday but she wasn't keen, moody creature. It's the song Temptation played by Helen and the Horns.
Finally the song Christmas Queen is a free download on Reverbnation

Monday, December 10, 2012

Filled Baguettes

Five colleagues and myself have been grading student presentations today. Almost unconsciously, we graded our filled baguettes in our snatched lunch break according to the criteria we had set for the assessments.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Buckinghamshire Kestrel

Ahh... housework... listening to Martha and the Vandellas Come and Get These Memories.
You see, I went out and got shopping number one, popped it into the house and went off for shopping number two; when I got to the Oxfam shop to buy Christmas cards I realised that I'd locked my keys in the house.
I phoned Offsprog One in Brighton and set off to the tube station, trying to buy a ticket by phone. I'd put the shopping in the boot of the car to keep cool till I got back.
But at the tube station: had I locked the car?
Urgggh! Two years ago I left the car unlocked when I had a similar key crisis and had the Satnav and my vintage iPod stolen.
So I went back up the hill, and decided to drive to Brighton instead. It was a  beautiful wintry day and in the only slow bit of traffic somewhere around Heathrow, a small kestrel hovered above us looking for mice on the roofs of our cars.

The Offsprogs had arranged to meet for tea anyway so the three of us sat down for a late breakfast and key-exchange before I drove back through a still-beautiful day.
The kestrel was still there, floating about on the thermals that rose from the traffic and living in hope, incongruously etched against the navy blue afternoon sky.


Monday, December 03, 2012

Rrrants at the Camden Eye

It was a great night out at the Camden Eye: the Rrrants events are always interesting. I can take or leave the smut (leave it, preferably, as I had it all and more drilled into my head over seven years of touring with guys both in my bands and with King Kurt) but I absolutely adored Lobby Ludd's set which made me guffaw like a penguin choking on an Arctic Roll, especially when his fabulous musical instrument made of shop dummy's arms, a trumpet, a microphone stand and a shower hose emitted a pathetic squeak when he tried to play it. The smut, I have to say, is extremely popular with the punters, but I suspect that they haven't had the same level of immersion as I have! The Anti-Poet were well on form, Jennie Joy sang beautifully and the banjo player was excellent. This was a charity gig and the Horns agreed to do it to put poetry books into school libraries, so here we are (photographed by Martin) deciding on a set list. Martin filmed some of the songs on his iPhone and I'll put them on Youtube when he sends them to me.
Last up was the Sentimentals, who featured what can only be described as a 'show-off' between Paul Eccentric and Den Hegarty from The Darts, all wrapped up in some truly lush doo-wop harmonies that were frankly terrifying in their accuracy and precision. My favourite song was 'Two Heads' but they did some catchy numbers and were promoting their Christmas single which I'll have a listen to when I have decided whether my dinner (in the oven) is so past its sell by date that it is poisonous, or not.
Den is a consummate showman, but Paul challenged him for the crown last night, not least by holding the whole evening together with his master of ceremising. I was so glad that I stayed to see them because they were really entertaining and exceptionally well rehearsed, showing just what a good double bass player Ian is. Thanks to the Horns for some brilliant playing, and to Donna and Ian for inviting us to play.