Sunday, 12 February 2017

The Dark Of The Matinee


At the moment the film world is going ga-ga over 'La La Land' : a movie that celebrates the golden age of the Hollywood musical. Awards are raining down on it like Gene Kelly pirouetting in a freak shower proving critics and studios alike love little more than a good navel gaze. Yet in 1993 Joe Dante's 'Matinee' paid homage with equal love and nostalgia to an equally beloved era of film-making: the 50's B-movie that was staple of the Saturday morning matinee.

The film didn't do great business in 1993, critics were lukewarm, the studio wre sure how to sell it and it sort of sunk without trace despite having a similar vibe as Dante's 'Gremlins' with an equally great score from Jerry Goldsmith. The backdrop of the main action is the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis as the world stands on the brink of destruction, adults panic buy Shredded Wheat and boys think "If the world was gonna end, do you think that pretty girl in class would put out?" With such tension and fear in the air, the last of the celluloid showmen sees a chance to revive his flagging fortunes.


John Goodman's cigar chomping director and entrepreneur,  Lawrence Woolsey, is 20% Hitchcock with beautifully observed personalized trailers but 80% William Castle - a true imaginator who took Hitchcock's eye of film promotion and turned it up to 11. Patrons would be given life insurance certificates in case of being frightened to death, nurses and hearses would be on standby, a 'Cowards Corner' bathed in yellow light where

audience members could flee, skeletons on wires, actors in the auditorium and other gimmicks.

Most infamously he placed devices in cinema seats for 'The Tingler' which would be activated whenever the monster appeared on screen, causing random audience members to scream and jump out of their skins. This is just the sort of mischievousness that would fire the imagination of future schlock king John Waters.

At the heart of the film are fantastic performances from a young cast - new kid in town thrilled by Woolsey's tricks, a socially conscious nerdette, a sexually precocious nymphet with psycho boyfriend and wide eyed kid brother. These aren't annoying, smart mouthed brats but well drawn and acted characters with depth and pathos. Dante seems to have a great knack of picking such talent for his films and 'Matinee' is no exception. Even the crowd scenes of cinema going nuts with popcorn flying feel like genuine snapshots of a bygone era.

However the real love letter is to film itself, a wonderful trailer for 'The Shook Up Shopping Cart' featuring a 'Love Bug' type trolley that foils criminals and brings lovers together is taster for it's centrepiece: 'Mant!' - a perfect amalgamation of all those late 50's post war, nuclear paranoia, commie bashing invasion fear B movies like 'Invasion Of The Body Snatchers', 'Tarantula', 'The Giant Mantis' and 'Them!'.

Although dismissed as cheap thrills by the major studios, these films have often gone on to be far more influential and remembered that Oscar winners of the era. Dante picks some of the stars of those movies to appear in his spoof 'film within a film' as well as familiar stock footage only adds to the realism. It's tagline 'Mant! Half Man, Half Ant, All Terror' is funny but accurate a bit like the film itself which is played dead straight and all the more amusing as a result.

The themes of young love, nuclear panic, the last stand of a dying era - before JFK, before The Beatles, before the full horror of Vietnam are all woven into a fine comedy film that deserves to be re-evaluated and rediscovered. It's far smarter, sweeter and funnier than it was given credit in the nineties and has just been given a fresh lick of paint by Arrow Video. Their DVD & Blu Ray set features a fresh transfer and great supplementary material both new and vintage. The biggest treat is a 20 minute cut of 'Mant!' including Woolsey's introduction which really makes you appreciate the love and care that Dante poured into 'Matinee'.

Get yourself some popcorn and treat yourself


Saturday, 11 February 2017

Bridget Christie @ Leicester Square Theatre 03\02\17




‘I know you probably didn’t come here tonight to hear a rape joke but on the other hand you’ve all come out dressed like you wanted to. ‘
If that quip didn’t tickle you then I guess you’re never going to be interested in checking out this brilliant hour show from Bridget.  Tonight's audience may well be Guardian reading men hating remoaners to a man \ woman \ undecided that would disappoint her as she doesn’t just want to preach to converted. 

The show’s central conceit is she had written a show on how much she loves gardening but keeps getting dragged into using it as a metaphor for Brexit, Trump & feminism. Whether done at high speed, firing off thoughts and asides or using some brilliantly realised comic conversations with well drawn characters this is a deeply heartfelt, angry, exasperated but hopeful set.

Via being mistaken by The Daily Mail for Charles II, love of fuchsias and The Ladybird Book of Brexit used to teach children what happened in simple terms all the main players including the robot Michael Gove (He’s adopted isn’t he? Bit bloody convenient…) are all skewered by their own words and deeds.

If you are of the belief that name calling and the like helps no one and just builds division then certain gags in the set might not sit well but this is a comic routine not a lecture. Bridget also goes out of her way to make people from all sides of the argument feel welcome but then unleashes a brilliant joke about pedophiles in terms of those voting leave. The political classes and media come in for as much criticism as anyone and it’s all done by such an engaging and incisive person that it’s hard to resist loving her message.

Anyone who thinks she’s one of those unfunny moaning feminist types that the tabloids like to create are missing a very warm, funny, intelligent and cutting piece of art. She is awesome.

Stewart Lee - Content Provider @ Wycombe Swan 10\02\17



Stewart Lee seems to enrage people so much so that I have opted to review his latest tour show here rather than on the blog where I usually dump my opinions.

Stage decorated with the books and DVDs of other comedians , bought for 1p on Amazon 'making them the cheapest building material currently available' he's raging against the dying of the world he knew whether it be record shops, physical live releases, bookshops and one not populated by iPhone waving selfie young idiots. 'By young I mean anyone under 40 and I hope they are not in this audience'. His childish rage at the signifiers of that generation is heart-stoppingly funny, stretched out and exaggerated. 

Of course Stew has his fall-back stand-up devices - dividing the room between a) the stalls who got tickets early so are his real audience, get the more nuanced jokes and laugh at the right things v b) the circle who will just go and see anything, don't get him and he doesn't want their repeat business because they often bring friends who have never heard of him and resent every moment. On the way out I heard one such friend ask "Is he always so angry with his audience?".


It's an approach that you'd think might get tiring if you've seen him a couple of times but it does make you doubt yourself nonetheless. Seemingly an improv piece is cut short by someone leaving their seat, he admonishes us as an audience saying there is no point carrying on with that bit but he then admits that routine doesn't have an ending and so he never does it. Doesn't make the routine any less funny but again unbalances your expectations. It's that uncertainty and ironic balancing act that led to his infamous claim - "No-one is equipped to review me".

He jokingly trumpets his "four \ five star reviews" for this show as a warning that if it doesn't go well then he's not the one at fault. He is genuinely annoyed when a couple leave 3 minutes before the end of the set, wrong-footed by a piece of audience participation doesn't go as it should but then using that to riff off for 10 minutes. Those are the bits that he probably looks forward to the most and knows he is in a position where he can make us wonder if its all part of the plan.

If you can do all of the above and make it damned funny too (I have a sore throat today from laughing) then the world is your oyster.

I'm not good at life

That Stephen Fry line about feeling you missed that one day at school where they explained to everyone else how to cope with life and do the simple things that everyone else finds so easy but you struggle with - well, the older you get the more you realise that many people must have missed that day too.

But it doesn't help.

It's ok telling your close friends and family about your depression and anxiety - well it isn't, it takes time but the worst thing is how you think that impacts everyone else.


When you meet friends of your friends you stack the deck so high against yourself that you just close down. Your lack of eye contact, your inability to talk openly about your life, your feeling that they have been "pre-warned" about your mental illness which makes them wary of you or suspicious. You know you will seem weird and distant because you can't just relax

This is not reality but it's my reality.

Each time you go into a new situation you try and hold your head up and make that important first impression but end up mumbling, looking at your shoes and stabbing yourself in the brain over and over again.

I never said I was a nice person so don't be surprised when I come off callous, catty, rude or just plain dumb. But I am also kind, considerate, thoughtful and tactful.

I'm still here through luck more than judgement -terrified of death and petrified about life



Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Great music TV moments #2: Letterman In London (May 1995)


When the king of late night paid a visit to the UK in 1995 the shows were perhaps not vintage Letterman but they possibly contained the greatest entrance to a stage by anyone as Peter O'Toole rode in on a camel. Blowing cigarette smoke from his nostrils, the slyest of grins on his face, he dismounts and gives his "noble steed" a can of beer which it necks in one and then throws away.



David's chat show often was the place to see exciting and unique live music performances - think Dylan & The Plugz ripping through 'Don't Start Me Talking' & 'Jokerman', The Beastie Boys emerging from the subway, strutting down the street performing 'Ch-Ch-Check It Out' ending up on the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theatre, Bjork kicking 'Hyperballad' into the stratosphere, that whole Warren Zevon episode and frankly any time Tom Waits showed up or Darlene Love showed up to sing at Christmas.

So in when in London he had three musical performances that were  in turns unique, baffling, confrontational and great TV. And two by Elton John and Mary Chapin Carpenter that made no impression on my whatever)

Elvis Costello had been a regular visitor chez Letterman since 1982 and in the future would actually host the show when Dave was ill. This probably gave him a taste for presenting which led to the 'Spectacle' chat show and it's awesome musical guest roster.
Sitting in the house band on 16th May 1995 was one Richard Penniman aka Little Richard (as well as Chuck Berry). Elvis had just released his long delayed covers album 'Kojak Variety' which had been taped by an all star sessions line-up in 1990 at the height of "the beard years". The song he was performing on the show was Little Richard's 'Bama Lama Bama Loo' with its author sitting in front of him, just off 6ft to his right. A ballsy move I'm sure you'd agree.

Elvis gives it full throttle , backed by the reformed Attractions, Marc Ribot and other Elvis' sideman, James Burton who are doing he heavy lifting whilst EC, legs splayed like on the cover of his first album just howls the song. Ribot gives a blistering solo early on but Burton is effortlessly on the money when its his turn to shine. Steve hammers away at the keys, safely hidden from the Richard gaze at the back and under Emo Phillips style barnet. Bruce and Pete just keep things tight but loose. It easily surpasses the tepid studio version and Elvis is visibly giddy with delight at the songs end - putting his head on Letterman's chest. Dave's remark that "this isn't the first time you've played the guitar is it?" shows that he clearly wasn't paying attention to who was doing what but EC quickly gives credit where it's due.


As I said, Elvis had just released a new \ old album and was to perform selections from it with the same band as a worldwide radio broadcast. from the Shepherds Bush Empire. Unfortunately his enthusiasm whilst rehearsing and playing in front of Little Richard had got the better of him. The resulting concert featured the same rough vocals of his 1991 MTV Unplugged session and was dubbed 'The King Hoarse Show' by fans. While he was onstage, just up the road at the BBC studio things were getting weird.





Now we all know that Van Morrison can be an odd fella, enough to freak out Spike Milligan on one infamous occasion. The prospect of him singing one of his most well known tunes (raised in the general public's consciousness by a Rod Stewart cover) with Sinead O'Connor and The Chieftains - Irish music royalty must have been music to the producers ears. Didn't quite work out that way.



Now I would suggest he's either had a few liquid liveners backstage or is just being a bit of a sod. Sinead is clearly nervous, clutching onto her in ear monitor for dear life. The waving at the band during the instrumental section as if telling them to stop, the overbearing scatting, the 'blah-blah-blah' etc. The Chieftains are used to continuing in the face of anything but gunfire. When it ends with a comedy bump into the mic and O'Connor doubling up with laughter we see that rarest of sights - a broad grin across the face of Van Morrison. He's clearly been having a right old lark up there.
The astonishing thing is that the performance later appeared on a CD of music highlights from the show so all were clearly happy with how it went. And despite it all - it remains one of my favourite live music performances because its so bizarrely unique

The third and final performance may fascinate and annoy in equal measure but I love Annie Lennox. She's always been about the performance, the moment and a strong visual sense. Just think of that Sweet Dreams promo video, how alien that looked in the early 80s - a woman playing with gender, empowerment and above all that incredible voice. She performed her biggest solo hit 'No More I Love You's' on the last show from London and is such a perfect fit hat it was years before I discovered it was a cover of 'A Lover Speaks' song.


It's such a beautifully controlled performance, the grand entrance with crystal cut falsetto swooping into soulful prayer, the tight camera shots showing the joy, as she silkily sways like a diamante Minnie Mouse as her male backing singers similarly be-eared mime that distinctive vocal refrain. The spoken word \ acting bit may raise hackles and put teeth on edge but I'm just reminded of similarly barking bits like in Bowie's 'All The Madmen' and am of the opinion that here is no song that cannot be improved by a spoken interlude. Everything about this is what pop music should be - weird, celebratory, soulful and fun. She also attempts to stop Dave doing his usual 'shaking hands with the artist whilst looking anywhere else but AT them' shtick .

So there we are - a trio of unique music TV moments that YouTube need not preserve ecause they were burnt into my memory in 1995.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Daylight Music: Union Chapel Islington 28th January 2017



Union Chapel 28\01\17 (l to r: Michele Stodart, Emily Barker, Adem)

It's difficult to call the Daylight Music events at Union Chapel in Islington a hidden gem as when you walk up to the doors at noon on a Saturday, the queue of people is already stretching down Compton Terrace.

Even for a heathen child like me, the Union Chapel is a supremely relaxing and safe place to hide from the hustle and bustle of London on a Saturday afternoon.

This particular event had been created by Emily Barker and its theme was collaboration which meant the acts chopped and changed instruments and shared the spotlight when playing their songs. On a recent Afterword podcast, our guest Kathryn Williams, talked about how she had opened herself up to collaboration, how it effected her songwriting and many of today's artists had met at one of Kathryn's writers' retreats.

I'll just pick a few highlights from the 2 hours of warm, embracing music - Sylvie Lewis' imaginative idea of selling 'A Cup Of Songs' a hand crafted mug which gives the purchaser access to a folder of songs from Sylvie on the interweb. The track 'If Tears Were Like Diamonds' that she played set the tone for the afternoon perfectly with a gentle deep vibration that both soothed and moved the listener.



Romeo Stodart & Ren Harvieu
Ren Harvieu and Romeo Stodart admitted that they weren't used to daylight in general but they gave us a song so fresh that even sister Michele hadn't heard it before. 'My Little Raven' a song about depression and trying to gain understanding and appreciation of how tough life can be. The pair are due to go into the studio soon to put down these songs so I hope that particular one which hit pretty deep makes the cut.


Talking of unreleased songs that I loved from the moment I heard them, Michele Stodart's set opened with 'Tell Me' which she wrote & first played at one of the aforementioned writing retreats. Michele made one of my favourite albums of 2016, possibly only 2nd to Bowie's 'Blackstar', and live, she, if you'll excuse the technical term, emotes the fuck out of her material. The audiences you get at these events are terribly well behaved, whether through hangover, tiredness or good old fashioned politeness. Families are welcome but everyone of all ages sat in rapt attention. You can view Michele's performance of 'Come Back Home' here *




Michele Stodart, Adem & Sylvie Lewis
and if that don't get you kicking yourself for staying in to watch 'Saturday Kitchen' and 'Big Bang Theory' repeats then I can't help you.


The final section featuring Adem at the fore of the group was perhaps the most intriguing as it really showed the beauty of these spontaneous and dare I say it, under-rehearsed collaborations. It gave the songs a freshness and energy that would not have been there if it had been practiced to gain precision and perfection. Adem had to be schooled before the show on how to play the Chapel's organ, forgetting his tutor's advice to take his shoes off, but the sound created by musicians perhaps outside their comfort ones was hypnotic. I have rarely seen a xylophone player display the levels of sheer concentration that Michele gave throughout. It would be remiss of me to mention the role of bass player Lukas Drinkwater adding a depth an colour to all of the songs performed.

Summed up perhaps by Adem's 'These Are Your Friends' it really was a great example of people getting together and doing what they feel. I have attended quite a few Daylight Music events but this one shot straight to the top of my experiences there.

You'd be happy to pay six or eight times the suggested £5 donation to gain entry to see a show as good as this. So don't just lie in bed on a Saturday watching Netflix (not a euphemism), get out and live.


Emily Barker & Adem
  

* The Daylight Music Youtube Channel is yay close to getting a proper web address if a handful more people subscribe so please do so. They have videos from each of their events so you can get an idea of the wide range of music they present all year round.

To find out all about Daylight Music, What's On & how you can volunteer - go to to their Facebook page 
or here

Friday, 27 January 2017

T2 or Not T2?: That's the question, pal

HERE BE SPOILERS YA BASTARD


"Does the sequel have a lust for life?" you'll read and you'll want to be out there, pounding down the pavement with store detectives breathing down your neck, arms flailing - direct into the newspaper offices where they write about leisure for your pleasure. Throwing a glass Begbie style into the face of the hack who wrote that "Yous the kind of whiny faced CUNT who says "Costello's Aim Is Still True" a the end of live reviews." you'll be screaming. "it was the sub editor" they'll whimper but it's too late. The damage is done - your twentysomething memories have been shat on by a wee fucker.

OK Trainspotting may be better seen as a product of its times and where the audience that put the posters up on the wall were - at uni also purchasing Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Prodigy Fat Of The Land and Taxi Driver or Italian Job from the stall in the atrium every Wednesday. It's soundtrack was a nigh perfect mix of old and new with Pulp, Blondie, Brian Eno, Lou Reed, Leftfield and of course, Iggy Pop's with Bowie acolytes the Sales Brothers and Carlos Alomar kicking it skyward from the opening moments.

Maybe this could only disappoint but it seems after 20 years of rumour and rejected scripts the film is summed up in a line from Veronika (a poorly drawn tart with the heart, Eastern European of course, it is Brexit Britain after all) to 40 something Renton and Sick Boy as they eulogise about George Best - "You just live in the past, you are clearly so in love with each other its awkward spending time with you, you should just get naked and fuck each other". You can't deny a warm feeling seeing the old gang back together but I'm not sure there is much else here besides.

The plot is fag paper thin - Sick Boy is surviving by getting his girlfriend to bugger Absolutely's Gordon Kennedy, film it & then blackmail the public school headmaster with the film getting several airings in case the brain bleach is working too well. He then decides to open a brothel in his ailing pub with the recently returned Renton and dopey loser Spud. There are a few nice set pieces - Renton and Sick Boy being forced to sing anti Catholic songs at a club they are fleecing the wallets and handbags of is great stuff and Ewan Bremner still excels at slack jawed clowning.

But that's about it. Of course the spectre of Robert Carlyle's fearsome Begbie is hanging over the film as he escapes prison, seeks revenge on Renton who scarpered with the drug deal cash at the end fo the first film and trying to train his teenage son in the ways of the underworld. The best scenes in the film may well be those between Carlyle and Scot Greenan as Frank Jr as the former struggles with the idea his son wants to go to college to study hotel management - a phrase he spits like phlegm. Unfortunately their plotline also contains an arse clenchingly awful cameo by Irvine Welsh who must be so glad of the cheque. The conceit throughout the film that Spud is in fact, once off the smack, writing the novel Trainspotting is corny as hell.

The film recycles and refocuses scenes or shots from the first film and perhaps knowingly resorts to "Oh you want a bit of nostalgia, d'ya, well ya remember when?" as dialogue between characters but that's simply not a good enough excuse. You know that tension in Radiohead's 'Creep'? That feeling you have before Johnny Greenwood plays those exasperated broken guitar slashes and its all explodes beautifully into a million perfect sunsets? Well the film often builds up the suspense, characters slowly drawn together and then leaves you hanging. The climactic showdown with Begbie goes all Jack Nicholson in The Shining and almost a direct repeat of the endings to T1 and Shallow Grave.


All the cast put in great performances even if any real development in their characters is slight. he female characters really aren't given much to do with Kelly MacDonald given a cough and a spit alongside the aforementioned Anjela Nedyalkova  as Veronika who just stumbles off into the distance. She's the Renton of the piece but the act is given no build-up and scant motive other than the oft repeated - for the hard of understanding - "First comes opportunity, then a betrayal".
The original is not a perfect masterpiece by any means but it's is a great time bubble and really should have been left well alone. It's cheap nostalgia in other people's misery and if you don't expect any more than that then its fine. The final shot of Renton back in his bedroom dancing to a slight remix of 'Lust For Life' says something about the trap that these characters find themselves unable to escape before it pulls away into the distance a la Time Bandits. It's a rare visual flash and imaginative touch that put Trainspotting on the map in the 1990 but like a university reunion party, you realise your memories are preciously rose tinted and you've gone and fucked it all up