Tuesday, 28 January 2014

David McAlmont & Friends present: Wall to Wall Bowie


I really wasn't aware of the deep North \ South divide until I attempted to get Londoners from the north of the city to make the trip across the river for a gig. Sure they'd made it as far as the Royal Festival Hall, some had tales of the muddy swamps of Brixton but this was pure madness. Even the mention of the name 'Streatham' drew puzzled looks, scratched heads and questions about whether it was on the Central Line.

We 'out-of-towners' are made of sterner stuff and I was more than prepared to make the journey to the Hideaway club tucked round the back of Streatham's main drag to hear one of the greatest voices this country ever produced perform the songs of arguably our greatest living songwriter, Dame David Bowie. 

The club is indeed a little gem, set out in cabaret style with much gnashing of teeth and gobbling of grub. The sound in the place was absolutely perfect, well balanced and clear. After stomachs were sated and plates cleared away the show began with a suitably jazz instrumental arrangement of 'Ashes To Ashes' with just a hint of 'This Is Not America' during the coda.

In a snappy turquoise suit (a tip of that hat to the one Bowie wore at the Freddie Mercury Tribute in 1992?) with a black boa draped round his neck David McAlmont swings into a funky 'What's That Man', his entrance and performance raising the energy levels. 'Starman' started sedately before the band kicked into a rock n roll groove. This was no mere 'tribute' night with the fresh arrangements and playful phrasing casting fresh light on old favourites.

David had the perfect vocal foil in Sam Obernik, matching him in stage presence and so swishy in her satin and tat. Her take on the iconic 'Life On Mars' bought to mind what the tune would have been like if Edith Piaf had given it the full torch song treatment. The pair complemented each other superbly particularly on the flamenco tinged 'The Man Who Sold The World with the familiar guitar line taken by accordion sounds. If Prince hasn't covered 'The Jean Genie' then this band have the sound down already, a funky soul number rather than a blues stomp.

I had suggested to David on that there Twitter (@davidmcalmont) that he should include 'Lady Grinning Soul' as part of the show because I could instantly see him singing it in my mind's eye - for me Bowie on that track just sounds like Mr McAlmont rather than the other way around. Apparently i wasn't the only one who requested this and he did not disappoint - he absolutely nailed it. Sashaying around the tables, feather boa unfurled it retained that unique atmosphere that sets it apart from Bowie's other material. Just magic.   

Sam brings a little of an Eartha Kitt vibe (not rhyming slang) to a wistful 'Kooks' and then performs a devastating 'Wild Is The Wind' teasing out its longing and desperation to dramatic effect. real "hear a pin drop" stuff. They appear to be having a ball and play wonderfully off each other in 'Young Americans' before a joyful encore of 'Modern Love' closes the night.

Joyful, passionate and adventurous are the words I would use to describe the experience and its always great to discover a new venue that is prepared to put on events like this. If this happens again I urge you to go whether it's Bowie or not as it was a real treat.     

David McAlmont - Vocals 

Sam Obernik - Vocals
Janette Mason - Piano\ Synth
Dave Ital - Guitar
Simon Little - Bass
Jack Pollitt - Drums

Set I

Ashes To Ashes 
Watch That Man
Suffragette City 
Let's Dance 
The Man Who Sold The World 
Life On Mars 
Jean Genie 

Set II

John I'm Only Dancing 
Lady Grinning Soul
Ziggy Stardust 
Wild Is The Wind
Space Oddity
Young Americans
Modern Love

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Who's Afraid Of the Big Bad Wolf?


It seems that Martin Scorsese's latest mini marathon picture 'The Wolf Of Wall Street' is really dividing people down the love \ hate axis. Mark Kermode particularly took against the film which he outlines in his Kermode Uncut blog. Yes, he's an old trot student at heart (Socialist Worker! Smash the bosses! etc) but I fail to accept his notion that he dislikes the film due to the impenetrable and unsympathetic nature of DiCaprio's character, Jordan Belfort. 

Leonardo DiCaprio's performance is possibly a career best as the swaggering cock with eyebrows, his fingers rarely without rolled up 100 dollar bill, a septum bombarded by bugle, bloodstream diluted by herpes busting penicillin and suits rarely costing less that $5,000. Quickly moving from bottom of the pile worker bee he rises to the level of Wall Street phenomenon by using dodgy practices selling penny stocks to people who can't afford it to swindle millions from those who could. His OTT speeches, his gluttony for wine women and money, it is all vulgar, distasteful but I found it impossible to HATE him in the ways that others have.

If the film has a major flaw its in its depiction of women. They are either wives and girlfriends to be drooled over, fucked and then married at which point they become the root of all evil and the destroyers of all joy. The rest are eye candy and whores - literally and figuratively.  There is a strange point in one of Leo's grandstanding speeches when the hitherto sidelined senior female member of staff is revealed to have been helped out in the early days by Belfort because "I believed in you". Its as if Scorsese is seeing "yes he's a misogynistic asshole but he cares about people". I would have preferred that we had got her take on the macho, drug filled, hooker shagging and locker room fun. It is very strange that in the time of AIDS and 'don't die of ignorance' that all this copious humping of hookers doesn't lead to an office wide culling. 

Let's face it, Scorsese has always made "men's films" - the opening scene of 'Mean Streets' with its scenes of male bonding in a bar, the macho idiocy of 'The Deer Hunter', the male trust and loyalty of 'Goodfellas' & 'Casino' - its testosterone-tastic stuff! Women characters are rarely well fleshed out with Sharon Stone's Ginger McKenna and her slow descent into madness during 'Casino' being a rare exception. 

Joanna Lumley has a cameo role as Naomi's posh aunt which also means we get a short trip to London (Houses Of Parliament (tick) double decker red bus ((tick), guardsman in bearskin (tick) but NO Gherkin (faints)) and a wonderful scene which you feel may end in Leon and Lumley appear in post-coital glow. Sadly she is there mostly to provide sage advice, a little twinkle and a narrative device.

That isn't to say that the lead female character in TWOWS isn't a strong willed and intelligent woman. OK you can forget about the Bechdel Test (for those unaware this examines a work of fiction to see if it has two women having a conversation about something other than a man or men) yet Belfort's second wife, Naomi (Margot Robbie) is not a stock gold-digging strumpet. In the opening monologue from DiCaprio - hey it's Scorsese of course it opens with a long monologue! - she is introduced alongside shots of his house, his cars, his helicopter, setting out clearly that she too is regarded as result of his hard work. 

Belatedly as their relationship goes wrong we see her more than hold her own in arguments with him, the tricks and power he uses at work fail him at home. She uses sex and her beauty to bring this monstrous Wall Street presence to the level of a groveling little boy. In one memorable scene she bringing him to his knees only for the tables to be turned, leaving her humiliated.  

SO, why, despite all these misgivings, did I enjoy this film so much, its 3 hours flying by with not a moment of boredom?

The film won the Golden Globe for "best Comedy or Musical" and admittedly it does have some very funny sequences. Matthew McConaughey as his messianic first boss and guru, an attempt to sleep through a trip to Switzerland with various medicinal mixtures descends into chaos. Rob Reiner's turn as Jordan's father dealing with expenses bills for what the music biz used to call "fruit and flowers". Jonah Hill is brilliant as Donnie, the overgrown child of a man involved in a scene with DiCaprio when they OD on Quaaludes and Leo demonstrates some previously hidden slapstick skills. Its maybe not a comedy in teh traditional sense but the surreal situations and behavior does produce some laugh out loud funny stuff. I think the makers are a bit nervous that people laugh at what they are supposed to (or they want them to) rather than some of the more reprehensible actions. 

The macho, drug snorting, prossie pumping school playground that is the office norm just heightens the unreality of the picture with its sheer decadence washing over you like toxic skin peel. There is one short scene where a member of staff has all her hair shaved off for $10,000 so she can, as Leo tells us, get breast implants. I found the spectacle of this really disturbing. I'm not sure it was the slightly stunned and devastated look on her face as her long hair fell into her lap. Or that it so much reminded me of film of French women who had had relationships with Germans during WWII getting this done to them in public. I'm sure like many things from the film it did happen in reality but it just felt wrong. 

And perhaps that is the point. 

You are not supposed to enjoy or envy these people in their world. If the film has you applauding DiCaprio and pals for their immoral and repulsive attitudes. When Leo literally blows his nose on a $100 dollar bill or throws money adding to a years wages at an FBI man, you are right to be disgusted. It might be a ghoulish fascination but it certainly isn't an aspirational life on display here. It's a film which those cocks and cockesses from 'The Appentice' would see as their ultimate playground - that's how odious, self centered and downright deluded it is. 

It's a film that doesn't apologise, doesn't judge, doesn't moralize, just presents thing how they were and leave it up to the viewer to take it how they will. Of course some morons will applaud the more serious and thuggish actions but not all films are straightforward and clean cut as that. 

I can understand why people may find its 3 hours running time a turn off, its gleeful relishing of the idiotic behaviour that plunged us into our current financial mire and for its endless gaudy parade of sex, money and materialism but I say this is Scorsese's best film in many a year and love it or hate it, you need to see it. 

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Film recommendation: I Know That Voice

If you're a lot like me, then your name is Dave, you are reading yet another book about Bob Dylan and were conflicted about 'The World Of Wall Street'

If you're a bit like me then a significant amount of your childhood and far more than you'd care to admit of your so-watching cartoons \ animation. If so, then I have a little gem for you.

The brainchild of John DiMaggio this loving indie documentary sets out to honour some of the most famous and yet anonymous people in the entertainment history - voice actors. For instance, you may be thinking, "John Di - whosi-what? - never heard of him, pal". Well he's the man behind the loveable drunk robot 'Bender' from 'Futurama'. Note that I didn't say simply "voice" as the film makes clear - this ain't just about doing a funny voice.  

As James Arnold Taylor, the current voice of Fred Flintstone and Obi Wan Kenobi from 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars' points out anyone can give you a 'What's Up Doc?', a Daffy, Tweety-Pie, Sylvester or Porky Pig but what's special about voice actors is that they can take anything and read it as that character. Whether it be The Bible or Shakespeare they can stay in voice and character throughout. Taking on the mannerisms, physical traits and attitude of imaginary characters with animation is no different from any other acting except that you don't see it in the finished product. You begin to realise why the cream of their crop deserve and demand pretty handsome salaries.

And as I pointed out right at the top - they can be world famous as the people behind Spongebob Squarepants, Bart Simpson, Batman, The Joker but walk the streets with only proper nerds hassling them. With the added factor that nerds are often too nervous to do speak to them. No wonder many of them regard it as the best job in the world.

I paid just 99p to rent this from i-tunes and it's a great watch.  It celebrates a much loved bunch of voice actors and shed light on their previously unknown world. 

Friday, 10 January 2014

Ringo, Frogs & Gnomes or How To Spot The Musical Sheeple

Comedians do it, journalists do it, even people on internet forums do it, let's do it, let's spout some received wisdom. 

We all know about Sod's, Godwin's and Boyle's Law (which is either "The absolute pressure exerted by a given mass of an ideal gas is inversely proportional to the  volume it occupies if the temperature and amount of gas remain unchanged within a closed system" or "if there is a handicapped child in the room then I must take the piss") but there should be a name for the way people always jump to the same subject when they want to denigrate the musical talent of a musical great.

I'm going to call it Deayton's Law.

Former popular news quiz's former popular quizmaster Angus  Deayton regularly used to drop in asides about Ringo Starr being a crap drummer. This continued until Paul Merton pulled him up on it. 'I think Ringo's an excellent drummer." Deayton replied that it's just something most people say to which Merton replied "No, it's something you always say, for years you've said these things about Ringo's drumming but its patently not true. His drumming on the track 'Rain' for example I think is extraordinary'. 'Rain' in itself is the straw everyone grabs to defend Ringo but the point stands that in popular culture it is 'an accepted fact' that Ringo Starr was a poor drummer who just happened to be lucky enough to be surrounded by 3 geniuses. 

Of course, like most things in life, it's all John Lennon's fault. Despite scouring the internet I can't find the original interview or press conference where Lennon replied to the question about Ringo being the world's best drummer with "he isn't even the best drummer in The Beatles". Yet it was clearly a joke part of the combative cruel Lennon wit and humour within the group. Yes, Paul briefly played drums for the band on a couple of occasions during the pill propelled nights in Hamburg but the gag remains. Anyone else parroting it all these years later is just dumb.

The same goes for Lennon's erstwhile partner in song, Paul McCartney.  Despite having a massive 2nd wind of success with Wings and a patchy but inventively aspirational solo career people appear to think that "The Frog Song" undoes all this proving that McCartney is a sentimental old fool who is only good enough to write children's songs.

Well let's examine that - firstly, 'We All Stand Together' was written for a Rupert The Bear animation. Around the time that the song was released Disney Films were not in a good place - lacklustre and devoid of fresh ideas. I'm saying they would have given Mickey Mouse's back teeth to have a song as catchy, joyful and melodious as 'We All Stand Together' in one of their flicks.  

I've seen it claimed that 'We All Stand Together' is a sign that McCartney's songwriting talents were on the slide but I think this is music fan snobbery, pure and simple. WAST is a perfect fit for its purpose which appears to get a kicking for being aimed a younger audience as if that is an easy option. Writing for children, whether it be music, films or books is damned tricky. An assumption that they lack our mature critical faculties so will accept any old rubbish put in front of them. The baffling success of shows like TOWIE, Made In Chelsea and Big Brother suggest that adults acceptance of pure garbage on their plates is far higher. 

Another collaborator of Lennon's was David Bowie. People appear to believe that his Achilles heel is the 1967 song 'The Laughing Gnome' - they are so very, very wrong for one reason.....

Because its very, very good. There was that rumour that Bowie hated the track and wanted to \ did burn the master tapes in a big bin. Naturally when it resurfaced during his Ziggy pomp in '73 it was an embarrassment because it upset the carefully constructed image he and his management were trying to project. However when asked why he recorded the song, the Dame replied

'Because I could! Because it was there. Cos it was silly and I like silliness. And because we had the technology and had fun slowing tapes down and speeding them up'

Indeed I would go so far to suggest that 'Gnome' is a snapshot of its time that nestles nicely next to the inventive psychedelic pop of Syd Barrett's The Pink Floyd and the studio trickery of The Beatles. With its varispeed vocals, childlike backing and Newleyesque tone its a fine pastiche as well as being catchy as hell. Its the close cousin of 'Bike' and with a bloody ace B-side as well The Gospel According To Tony Day' - check it out. 

NME's Charles Sharr Murray described it as "Undoubtedly the most embarrassing example of Bowie juvenilia" showing once more that your proper rock critics have absolutely zero sense of humour. CSM called his two goldfish, Rhythm and Blues. I think we need go no further. Bowie's genuine laughing on the record is also part of its charm and the awful puns are only the icing on the cake. Yes its juvenile but that's not necessarily a bad thing, is it?

And besides, if Scott Walker sees fit to cover it for his latest album then who are we to argue?


So next time you are discussing the majesty of Bowie's Station To Station and some wag says 'Yeah, but The Laughing Gnome eh?' you watch them smugly chuckle and slowly drawl 'You Deayton'

We can make this happen, people, if We All Stand Together