Thursday, 24 January 2019

Tower Theatre Presents: King Charles III

Constitutional crisis with a female PM struggling to see a way through an impossible situation. A leader of the opposition whose motives are unclear, intrigue and meetings that pick at the fabric of our democracy and pull the thread in a multitude of directions. Tower Theatre's production of 'King Charles III' could not be more timely if it featured ridiculous cartoon toff Jacob Rees Mogg in a cameo.

Mike Bartlett's play - set in an immediate Lizless future with Prince Charles no longer the longest serving heir to the throne - is not an attack or ridicule of the monarchy although it does question their role from the point of view of those within and without. Rather it is a classic political drama with Charles cast as a Lear like figure - still clinging to the past and old traditions as his power and influence fall away. This is a man who finally got the job that he always wanted, was literally born to and finds that his office is smaller than he thought and no one is knocking on the door.

Martin South, quite wisely doesn't attempt an impression of the Prince of Wales but subtly suggests the man through little touches, the way he stands, his hand movements and terse tone when riled. He actually reminded me more of the Prince's father, 97 year old stunt driver, Phillip with the same irascible  cantankerous manner and growl of a man who has felt shackled by protocol for too long. Expressing the dignity and conflict in Charles to be the ruler he feels he should be, that the country wants and his dismay as the world turns against him is key to play's success

The staging is simple but effective with tiny changes allowing for the space to represent throne room or kebab house. The younger royals, Wills, Kate and Harry (played by a strikingly similar Ben Grafton as a pre Meghan lad-about-town) also struggle to adapt to this new family setup with Daniel Draper's Duke Of Cambridge demonstrating the sensitivity and common touch inherited from his mother. The language of the play is of an earlier era than the setting, with Charles' self justifying addresses to the audience a particular highlight. Yes, there is a Shakespearean feel but also modern mob and club scenes skilfully produced by director Ruth Sullivan and her team aided by an excellent soundscape.

Robert Orchard, possibly due to observing politicians up close as a former BBC parliamentary correspondent, is wonderfully oily and smarmy as Tory leader - equal parts Blair, Farage and Cameron as he wheedles his way towards the throne whilst always looking out for No.1 or No.10. In comparison the labour leader (Jess Hammett) has no love for the monarchy but tries to save Charles from himself, striking a more sympathetic yet determined stance.

This all makes for a captivating and entertaining production in the new permanent home for the Tower Theatre Company. The King is in the title but the courtly intrigue, struggle with tradition and political manoeuvring is at the heart of the tale

King Charles III runs until 2nd February 2019 @ Tower Theatre, Stoke Newington, London - get your tickets here

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Eels @ Brixton Academy 2nd July 2018

Eels* - to use John Peel's well worn phrase about another band led by a wilfully outsider visionary - are always different \ always the same. You never know the kind of show that you are going to get even from the latest album they are here to promote. 'The Deconstruction' is a meditative and considered record but we find ourselves at the most rock of venues. This is (as the posters trumpet) the triumphant return of Eels after a four year absence that E felt could have been permanent but thank god it wasn't as they bought the rock with one of the best, if not THE best show I have seen them play. 

So no strings, horn section etc - just the four piece taking the stage to the Rocky theme before launching head first into two wonderful covers of The Who's 'Out In The Street' and Prince's 'Raspberry Beret'. That's a ballsy move right there - the sort of thing lesser bands would leave to a crowd pleasing encore but shows the confidence E has in his own songs following slam dunk classics.

Perched on his lead singer riser, dressed in a slight variation to the uniform taken by guitarist The Chet, bassist Big Al and drummer Little Joe, E is in fine raspy rock bellow mode, howling for salvation on (yes) 'Dog Faced Boy' and snarling 'Bone Dry' from the newie. The setlist for the tour appears to be pretty set, aside from the odd variation but the deadpan on stage quips and pronouncements feel spontaneous even if they are scripted.

The reason Eels are always an entertaining live act is simple - they don't play it like the rekkid. I don't mean in a Dylanesque "guess the song from this melody before the chorus" way but 'My Beloved Monster' is slower and moodier, the plinky plonky rhythm of 'Novocaine For The Soul' (probably most people's entry point to Eels world) exchanged for more ominous tone but retaining the guitar wig-out. There are delicate sweet oasis of calm with the peerless 'Climbing To The Moon' but the driving groove of 'Souljacker' is where the band are located right now. 

Now a Freeman of the City of London (he is presented with his ceremonial tie and cufflinks) E & Eels have always enjoyed a unique relationship with the UK It's the humour, the pessimism mixed with hope as typified in set closer 'PS You Rock My World'. E and Prince return for a take on 'When You Were Mine' which easily could be mistaken for one of the artist formerly known as Mark Oliver Everett's own lyrics. The rock is bought one last time for a murderous 'Fresh Blood' but, in his own words, we are left with something more uplifting, an unexpected cover of Brian Wilson's 'Love & Mercy' that segues into snatches of 'Blinking Lights' and 'Wonderful Glorious'. That last tune possibly summing up what took place in Brixton tonight when everything clicked into place and the big bad world outside fell away.

(* for me it's always EELS , not The Eels, they are like Pixies in that regard)


Out In the Street
Raspberry Beret
Bone Dry
Dog Faced Boy
From Which I Came \ A Magic World
Daisies Of The Galaxy
Dirty Girl
Rusty Pipes
Open My Present
You Are The Shining Light
My Beloved Monster
I'm Going To Stop Pretending That I Didn't Break Your Heart
Climbing To The Moon
I Like The Way This Is Going
Band intros \ Little Joe!
Today Is The Day
Novocaine For The Soul
Souljacker Pt 1
I Like Birds

PS You Rock My World

Encore 1:
When You Were Mine

Encore 2:
Mr E's Beautiful Blues
Fresh Blood
Love & Mercy \ Blinking Lights \ Wonderful Glorious

Sunday, 24 June 2018

The Unthanks @ Camberley Theatre 22nd June 2018

If The Unthanks are nervous in their stripped back return to the stage after a well earned break following the orchestral tour another projects in 2017 then it doesn't show tonight. The six piece - or eight if you count the future members that Becky Unthank and violinist Niopha Keegan are carrying - presented a set that really emphasised the diversity that has flowered in their career of late

'We spent a month in Hull which is a long time for us to spend in one place' admits Rachel recalling the pubs, shortbread and hairdressers encountered during their stint appearing in Maxine Peake's play ''The Last Testament Of Lillian Bilocca' which covered her campaign for new safety measures in the fishing industry after the loss of three ships in 1968 and the public vilification that came when the industry began to die and jobs lost. The songs produced for the play will be released later this year on an EP.

They fit seamlessly alongside other nautical tales - 'The Romantic Tees' & a cover of 'Shipbuilding' from their Shipyards project, Robert Wyatt's 'Sea Song' from their album of his work, the Molly Drake material - all these diversions and adventures have broadened the appeal and imagination. The aforementioned Lillian Bilocca songs have a real cinematic sweeping feel to them along with the trademark melancholy that draws you in like an enveloping fog.

A cheer and great reception is given to 'Magpie' which no doubt bought the band to some of the audiences attention when it featured in the stunning BBC series 'The Detectorists' and it is eerie and foreboding in this hushed hall. A lot of times tonight the spine tingles and heart moved by primeval and ethereal moments. Song For Syria and its 'We should take them all' refrain is still relevant despite the news media having focussed on other matters

Yes there is clog dancing, self depreciating jokes and warm asides but most of all there is a feeling that The Unthanks are constantly respecting the old ways while bringing in the new. With other EPs planned on Emily Bronte's poetry , WW1 writings tonight's show was the perfect demonstration of The Unthanks really challenging expectations and that's so many tales are waiting to be told. 

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

When I was here before, couldn't look you in the eye

So anyone who has met me knows where this is going

I can't do it

I know it's a major flaw and the older I get the more I realise the value people place on eye contact. 
A lack of it:
  • it's untrustworthy
  • it makes people uncomfortable
  • you appear to be disinterested in the person you are talking to
  • you are rude
  • you are self obsessed
  • you are bored
I'm sure you could add a few of your own.

From the point of view (arf!) of someone who can't hold eye contact for more than a couple of seconds with friends or even family I have known for years it's hard to pin down why.

Of course it's a lack of self confidence, difficulty with being the centre of anyone's attention but it's not like I am trying to hide something, that I feel uncomfortable being with you.

Is it a habit that I have got into that like anything needs dedication and practice to overcome?
Should I ask you all to try and get me to maintain eye contact with you more when we meet?
Does anyone have any tips on overcoming this?
Should I just grow the fuck up?
Or as always am I overthinking things and should just use my shy moody and aloof image to my advantage?

If it has ever annoyed, upset or made you mad then I am truly sorry but does it bother you as much as it bothers me?

Sunday, 10 June 2018

My smile's there just to fool the public

Reporting on suicide of the rich and famous is so often crass and wrong headed that it is hard to find anything positive in the press about the two events this week. \One thing that was common in both of these sad news stories was in the reported statements by loved ones that the person seemed happy and content shortly before they took their own life.

However I have learnt with my anxiety and depression that a period of elation or good carefree life can bring on a dip in mood which unchecked can quickly spin out of control. Those particular mood swings have been fairly nasty to me over the past couple of years. I now try and anticipate those downturns and find a way of not letting the morbidity take hold.

I still have such a sense of shame over it though

A recent example was when visiting with friends, we had a long day out of eating , shopping n boozing (not me but them) but on going to bed I found that I was really on edge for no apparent reason. When I put my head down to try and sleep all I could hear was the blood pumping in my ears, my inability to take my mind off my breathing with my attempts to keep it natural just increasing it's shallowness.

All manner of panic was rising in my head and the only way I could do something about it was to go to a different place, crawl up into a ball and ride the feelings out. Despite my friends who are totally aware of my condition being footsteps away I simply could not bring myself to ask if they could sit with me and perhaps make the experience less intense or head it off completely. The shame and helplessness that takes you over (even thou it is totally within your control) makes you regress to childhood. Your mind has all the information you have read in books, learnt at CBT sessions and been told in internet forums but sometimes anxiety and depression slams through all that. It grabs you by the throat, chokes you and all rationality is gone.

I should have just said something to my friends but I felt at that moment they would be annoyed, frightened, disgusted and ridicule me even thou in the cold light of day I know that they would have been caring, kind and understanding. I know the shame and guilt over my inability to cope is something we are told it's lessening the more people speak up about their conditions but its not easy to shake. I stayed there balled on the floor until I felt calm enough to climb back upstairs and sleep which I was able to do after what felt like all night but was probably an hour or so. I tried not to let it get me down and for the most part I hope I was able to stay pretty positive. I wish I could be more open about it with people but when it comes to the crunch I guess it is still a dirty little secret.

So when I read a lot of messages this week in response to the sad news events saying that it was important that people know that they can reach out and ask for help - we know. We know we can but all those voices telling us that we're pathetic, that we are pitied more than loved, that we will be resented and shunned are so hard to ignore when you are in a flat spin. We know people care but our inner shame and lack of self worth is tearing us harder towards keeping it hidden and letting it build until it breaks or we do. 

The only way forward for me is to be as kind as I can and look out for people at all times, not just when they are down or hurt but reach out just to say 'hello mate, how are you?' in some other way than a tweet or other social media way. Let people know that you are thinking of them. It really does make a difference to how people feel about themselves to get a friendly pat on the shoulder. Sometimes it can be a matter of life and death. 

Friday, 1 June 2018

Black Box Recorder : Life Is Unfair

The day that Black Box Recorder were creating the title track of their debut 'England Made Me' Tony Blair's New Labour Party came to power in a shower of 'thank god that's over' as 17 years of Tory rule slumped into a bin bag, an acid soaked satsuma ejected from it's mouth. The country had drunk Blair's brew and were high on Britpop vibes. The band and music they produced which makes up this 4 CD & 1 DVD box set was not part of that sad burlesque.

I've always loved version of England that Luke Haines, John Moore and Sarah Nixey present - it lives in a suburban idyll like a episode of Terry & June where the bank manager who is coming to dinner is Syd Barrett and directed by Shane Meadows. There's an eerie atmosphere among the twitching net curtains, peeping over the fences and hedges - dreamlike and erotic mixing with the growing unease. At the heart though is a unique sound and vision with Nixey giving voice to concerns and neuroses of "the boys" (as she calls them in her notes). 

The backstory of the three albums - England Made Me, The Facts Of Life & Passionoia is vividly told by the band via individual essays in the accompanying booklet (with Luke borrowing the opening line from Elvis Costello's liner notes to Goodbye Cruel World to discuss their final album) . England Made Me feeds off an urgency to escape, to be fabulous in a grey world, sneering at the mundane and ordinary topped off with a cracking cover of Uptown Top Ranking (vocals by a barely awake Sarah). The quiet horror of 'Girl Singing In the Wreckage', 'Child Psychology's perfectly pitched mix of dialogue and disdain 'life is unfair, kill yourself or get over it' Sarah Nixey's detached vocals with Luke often acting as counterpoint like a devil on the other shoulder.

On the opening track of The Facts Of Life - 'The Art Of Driving' opinions from male & female perspective are given on the best 'driving' technique like a modern 'A Guy That Takes His Time' on an album tumescent about love and sex. The first flushing on the sweetly innocent 'May Queen' and title track hit single, fantasy and lust 'Sex Life' & 'Goodnight Kiss' but the unrest and mystery is still lurking under the patio of 'Gift Horse'.

Despite Luke's misgivings 'Passionoia' is a fine electronic pop album with 'The New Diana' a biting satire on celebrating the banal, a love letter to the other one in Wham with a great nod to the golden age 'this is Sarah Nixey talking.....' , 'British Racing Green' continues to commemorate and burn sown the most English of dreams. 'There are traps in the grass for the working class' echoing that vibe all visitors to the countryside get about the true feelings of those who live there in my personal favourite 'When Britain Refused To Sing'

The band stopped rather than split - it appears from all sides that was to maintain their relationships and stop while it still felt like fun. Two tracks from aborted 2008 writing sessions unveiled at a handful of live gigs at the time plus B-sides and remixes makes up a '#BBREXIT' CD. The only niggle being the addition of a half dozen others would have made the set complete with no need for 'The Worst Of Black Box Recorder' but perhaps that title explains why they aren't here. Maybe 'Seasons In The Sun' inclusion may have been a cover too many but its a cracking version.

The set is rounded off with a DVD of the promos and rare film of the band live at Nick Sanderson tribute gig at Kentish Town Forum in 2008 supporting the recently reunited The Jesus & Mary Chain who lent the band cash to fund their early recordings way back when. Makes you wish they would pop up for a gig or two more often as they were captivating.

All housed in a suitably sturdy black box with poster and sleevenotes that stand up to reading more than once this is an excellent way to experience or revisit with one of England's smartest, driest and beautifully tuned pop combos. 

If Chris Morris' Blue Jam was a band - this is what they would sound like

Black Box Recorder: Life Is Unfair (4 CD\1 DVD)
is out on One Little Indian on 8th June 

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Recent gig round-up #2: Ben Folds & A Piano - Basingstoke Anvil 2018

'Take it easy,
take it slow
oh get on with the fucking show'

The first time I saw Ben Folds live I wasn't there to see him. He was doing a co-headline tour with The Divine Comedy and I was there to seem them at Shepherds Bush Empire, never heard of him. They were ok that night, between albums and a bit tired whereas Ben was extraordinary - just him and a piano. It's been a good decade and a half and maybe a dozen or shows but I finally get to see him play a complete solo set.

As a regular gig attendee I booked tickets according to his standard stage setup to ensure I would be dead level with him and able to see his furious fingers at work. Basingstoke Anvil is a very modern, bit antiseptic but great venue sound and view wise. Strolling on to Nilsson's 'One' he begins with a track from the criminally ignored last album 'So There' with the fitting couplet outlined above. The tune always muses on his life being good for music and lyrics but possibly not for him personally as is the singer songwriters lot. 

First laugh of the night comes from 'All You Can Eat' - 'Son, look at all the people in this restaurant, what do you think they weigh?' with plenty of foot movement sounding akin to tap dancing which Ben admits is probably due to the good construction of the stage. The setlist covered most bases tonight - although would have loved to hear something from 'Lonely Avenue' - with the histrionic 'Erase Me' a highlight. 'Steven's Last Night In Town' was prefaced by a long anecdote about the titular character complete with cod British accent. At the songs conclusion he wander stage right, sits and hits a single drum while the crew assemble a full kit around him which he slowly takes over. To get applause he walks back to his stool; muttering 'Well that worked, always wanted to try that'

The audience are enthusiastic but restrained throughout but as always with Ben's shows we are required to participate at key moments in the night. Those of us who know the words (about 1\3 on tonight's evidence are chomping at the bit to provide Regina Spektor's vocal lines and responses in 'You Don't Know Me', we are schooled in the three part harmony for 'Not The Same' and expected to know and take the requisite parts of our choice to recreate the horn section for the closer, 'Army'. Must be a bit baffling for first timers but I can't imagine it was any less fun.


Phone In A Pool
Annie Waits
All U Can Eat
Uncle Walter
Erase Me
Steven's Last Night In Town
Drum solo
Fred Jones Part 2
Selfless Cold & Composed
So There
You Don't Know Me
Don't Change Your Plans
Zak & Sara
The Luckiest
Not The Same
One Angry Dwarf