Friday, 21 October 2016

Divine Comedy - Cambridge Junction: 20th October 2016

Can I assume that everyone who thinks Neil Hannon is a too clever by half coconut head won’t bother reading this in order to discover the current live form of this incarnation of The Divine Comedy? OK then, hello everyone else….

The beauty of supporting one of yer fave artists these days by ordering their album or bankrolling it in some way with signed or special editions is that you get access to the resulting tour tickets first. So I was delighted to get a double for me and m’colleague Hannah to pootle up the M11 and the intimate Cambridge Junction venue for The Divine Comedy’s ‘Foreverland’ initial tour dates. At half the price of next years run of shows at the London Palladium, a more than decent spot in the crowd despite a late walk up after a 5 Guys burger bomb and crystal clear sound, well, it really was a marvellous party.

Hannah has a theory that TDC are best experienced live and something is lost on the actual records which I can certainly see as Neil Hannon is a most charming and likeable chap with his bumbling stage patter and gleefully hammy acting style. He dons a bowler for ‘The Complete Banker’ and ‘Bang Goes The Knighthood’ tonight “dedicated to Sir Phillip, I mean, Phillip Green” and uses his umbrella for emphasis.

It’s a good hour before we get any of the new stuff with glorious treats like ‘Our Mutual Friend’ and a fine cover of ‘Alfie’ which he announced with everyone expecting the hit. The long outro of the former allows him to exit stage right to reappear a minute or two late in full French Revolutionary uniform complete with tricorn hat (“This should be interesting when we get to France”) but rather than reasonably lead track on the new album ‘Napoleon Complex’ we get the stomping ‘Sweden’ in all its overblow sturm und drang majesty. First new song, ‘How Can You leave Me On My Own’ is classic TDC – witty lyrics with an infectious pop melody as Neil laments “When you leave I become a dickhead / A couch dwelling, foul smelling dickhead”.

Support artist, Lisa O’Neill joins him for ‘Funny Peculiar’ as they swap compliments and quick swigs of wine and .’Catherine The Great’ celebrates the heroic woman but also happens to be his current squeeze’s name. The new songs fit seamlessly alongside ‘The Frog Princess’ and surprises like ‘Count Grassi’s Passage Over Piedmont' – you simply don’t get songs about the pioneering days of ballooning anywhere else these days

From there is a rockier romp via ‘Weekend, the other ‘Alfie’, taking a trip on the National Express, with Songs Of Love until Tonight, We Fly off home very happy that we few, we happy few, were here this sold out night

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Museum Of Childhood / The Dresser / Luke Haines : 8th October 2016

I was suited, wearing a polka dot mod shirt beloved by Bob Dylan and Lennon in 1966 and ready for a day bombing around town making full use of freedom to do as I damned well please with a day off work.

My first stop was the Museum Of Childhood in Bethnal Green, a wing of the V&A but most importantly it was the penultimate day that lads n lasses of all ages could getup close and personal to Smallfilms creations. If that name doesn’t give you an existential shiver then baby, you already dead. or too young / old to have had your life shaped as a nipper by the work of Peter Firmin & Oliver Postgate. I was fortunate enough to see them give a long lecture on their work at the NFT a few years back but never got close to their creations. In a single glass case was Madeline The Doll, Gabriel The Toad, Professor Yaffle, The Marvellous Mechanical Mouse Organ with Charlie Mouse, Jennie Mouse and Lizzie Mouse and Bagpuss himself. I was genuinely a bit choked up to be confronted by the actual characters from my kiddie TV screen. Alongside them were the Clangers, the Iron Chicken and the Soup Dragon – and I’m sorry if none of this means anything to you. There was also an exhibition of board games through history as well as a Raleigh Chopper but the day had already reached its climax with Yaffle.

After a visit to Fopp (Blu-Rays of Invasion of The Body Snatchers & The Day The Earth Caught Fire plus some weird 1994 Eels semi legal KRCW radio session on CD) I was down St Martin’s Lane to Duke Of York’s Theatre for Ronald Harwood’s play ‘The Dresser’ with Reece Shearsmith in the title role and Ken Stott as ‘Sir’. I hadn’t seen the BBC adaptation at Christmas with Patrick Stewart & Sir Ian McKellan (who were in another play up the road) or the 1983 film but wanted to see Reece & Ken act up a storm. The film is dominated by their relationship, Reece as Norman, an over attentive dresser to ‘Sir’ an increasingly dilapidated Shakespearean actor during WWII in London as he is cajoled into a performance of King Lear. It’s funny as it is tragic and of course with parallel’s to Lear as three women compete for his attention and Norman very much plays the Fool. I would not be surprised if awards are in the offing for this production.

And so the evening wends its way to Walthamstow, a room above Ye Olde Rose & Crown pub where author, songwriter and indie misanthrope Luke Haines performed a set celebrating his new album ‘Smash The System’. Its was billed as an acoustic show but when he reached for his electric guitar halfway through the evening , shouts of ‘Judas!!’ filled the air which made Luke laugh, no doubt pleased to have such a musically literate audience. The kind that would laugh at lyrics like “The Incredible String Band were an unholy cat Sang like a couple of weasels trapped in a sack”, & would enjoy the ‘Yewtree Medley’ of ‘Bad Reputation’ (Glitter) and ‘Leeds United’ (Savile) that caused Ricky Gervais’ audience to tell him to fuck off as one voice. Mr Haines’ many projects and bands were all covered tonight with ‘New French Girlfriend’ and ‘Child Brides’ from the Auteurs, his tribute to 70’s wrestling greats, Baader Meinhof and Stanley Spencer. You want songs about using menstrual blood to make your garden grow, buying a bomber jacket, marauding gangs of Morris Men & Alphabetti Spaghetti? Then you really should been here tonight – we had a ball.

Home before midnight to avoid turning into Billy Corgan – a quite tired but very happy young pup.

I’d never want to actually live in London but at striking distance for a £15 Travelcard its hard to top for a grand day out if you are footless and fancy free. That and days off work are great and to be used for more than slumping on the sofa

Saturday, 1 October 2016

You Say You Want A Revolution?: Records & Rebels 1966-1970 (V&A Museum , London)

A free afternoon in the greatest city in the world so why not nerd out over bits of paper, film stock, soundwaves and cloth that represent a tumultuous era in popular culture and history?

A slightly unwieldy titled exhibition in the same space that the record breaking Bowie one took up with a similar large room dominated by video screens. Based mostly on popular culture of the times and how it reflected Vietnam, civil rights, gay liberation, feminism, religion, war, fashion, business, the Cold War, technology and politics.

It could be said to be fairly lightweight in trying to cover so much but it does really summon up a flavour of the times through artifacts, video and most importantly – sound. As is common these days the visitor is provided a listening device and Sennheiser headphones which relays music, speech and soundtracks to video as you move round the exhibition. This can sometimes be a bit glitchy but it really does add to the experience.

Highlights – well, handwritten Beatles lyrics, those psychedelic gig posters in all their glory, iconic images and costumes, the worlds first computer “mouse” which I basically a block of wood. Physically present items that you’ve only previously glimpsed in documentaries.

There is plenty to read and examine, vinyl covers the walls and there are even a few racks of shellac to browse like one of those old fashioned record shops you’ve heard about. I also liked the section on the European counterculture and the draft dodgers in the USA.

The last main room with the huge video screens is centred on Woodstock and the other final great gatherings of the era (although Altamont not mentioned). There were beanbags to slouch on and watch. Then it’s on to the giftshop with a lot of overpriced gear/tat but quite a few books that I made a note of to ask for from Santa.