Monday, 27 May 2019

Rocketman (2019)




Director Dexter Fletcher (aka Baby Face from Bugsy Malone aka Spike from Press Gang) infamously came in to complete the Queen biopic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ after Bryan Singer was shown the door. Its hard to tell how much impact he had on the films tone etc but in ‘Rocketman’ he’s only made the film that Bohemian Rhapsody could have been.
The biggest problem I had with “Bo Rhap” is that it was dull. Not the factual innacuracies, not Rami Maliks prosthetics not the lumpen script that ticked every clichĂ©. The last thing, like them or loathe them, that Queen were was humdrum and ordinary – ok maybe John Deacon – but that film made their extravagant, outrageous, ego bomb of a frontman into a most ordinary man.
The main advantage that this Elton biopic has is that it isn’t one. The subtitle is ‘based on a true fantasy’ and if anything it is a musical based on Elton Johns life. You could easily see this leading to a show in the West end. It has characters singing at each other, expressing their feelings through lyrics that are anachronistic to the events portrayed – 2001’s ‘I Want Love’ sung by an 8 year old Elton, his mum, dad and nan.
Like the Queen flick there are set pieces like the infamous Troubador shows in August 1970, Dodgers Stadium in 1975, Royal Variety in 1972 but they aren’t faithful recreations like the Live Aid climax to the Queen film. There is an infamous shot from the Troubadour of Elton with legs flailing behind him like he is levitating. The film takes that moment and turns it up to 10 as Taron Egerton’s Elton takes in the moment in slow motion as the crowd rise off the ground with him before slamming back to earth into ‘Crocodile Rock’ . It doesn’t matter that he didn’t play that song at that gig and wouldn’t record it for 2 years – as part of the fantastical nature of the film which has already seen a ten year old Reggie Dwight banging out ‘Saturday Nights Alright For Fighting’ on the pub joanna
Edgerton is absolutely terrific as Elton – the little twitches, shy smiles and frowns are just as vital as the OTT concert performances and tantrums. I had a problem with Richard Madden as his manager / lover John Reid as I couldn’t get the comedian talk show host Craig Ferguson out of my head every time he appeared. Jamie Bell (aka Billy Elliot – Elton of course wrote the hit musical based on the film) does a fine job as Bernie Taupin desperately trying to stop his friend and himself from disappearing down the bottom of a glass.
Thankfully there are no people wandering on in dodgy wigs to be Freddie, Rod, Mick n Keef etc although Kiki Dee does show up. His homosexuality is not avoided or toned down for a mainstream audience and neither is his failings as a person, a friend, a son and a husband (although his marriage to Renate goes from meeting to divorce in less than 5 minutes) and as he says “I started being a cunt in 1975 and I just didn’t stop”. Neither is the sliding quality of his career with ‘Victim Of Love’ chosen as the nadir which is probably the lowest point of anyone’s association with Elton.
The film is framed around Elton in an AA meeting in 1984 – dressed in a red silk diamante devil costume complete with horns and wings which he slowly sheds as he confronts his past before he struts from the room in a faithful recreation of one his most iconic videos.
Yes the film has some corny n sappy dialogue, is sugary enough at points to give you Type II and it has the obligatory “Here I’ve written some lyrics, see what you can do” scene where Elton just throws together one of his signature songs. However you can forgive the film that for its fantasy sequences, playing fast and loose with reality and making the experience of being Elton John in the 1970s simultaneously wonderful and horrific.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

The Unthanks: Unaccompanied As We Are @ London's Union Chapel 2nd May 2019



This was my 15th or 16th time seeing Becky & Rachel Unthank and like other artists I have seen many times it's the fact that each time can be different which keeps me coming back and keeps their live shows fresh. Over the years I have seen them a 5 piece, ten piece, with an orchestra, the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band and The Army Of Generals. Their constant search for the new and unearthing their traditional folk roots to a wider audience brings Becky, Rachel with violinist Niopha Keegan sans fiddle to "one of our favourite places to play".

The Unthanks often joke onstage about their mournful and depressive reputation with songs of lost love, unhappy marriage and death but god I adore proper melancholy. Their opening trio of tunes are soaked in dark duende, sung in the half light of the setting sun through the chapels large stained window. Niopha takes lead on 'Weary From Lying Alone' showing off a deeper tone than the sisters - and as they point out as she intros the song "we don't usually let Niopha speak cos people realise she's nota  Geordie'.

The uptempo 'Sandgate Song\Greedy' was a glorious blizzard of northern slang that Becky admitted they perhaps should have done a glossary in a programme for - particularly in metropolitan Islington but the energy and joy was infectious even if you only caught every fourth word.   

The performance that stuck out for me was 'Honey Bee' where the slightly swing pop harmonies they produced were superb and unlike anything that came before. Throughout the night it was astonishing how their voices blended, the ebb and flow of sound and the seemingly effortless richness of tone. We ourselves got to sing a three part harmony during 'Sea Coal' with Union Chapels superb acoustics making us sound better than we deserved.

Despite having seen The Unthanks so many times I think only 4 or 5 of the songs in tonight's set I had heard them perform before. 'Poor Mum' from their album of Molly Drake tunes, the ribald 'Where You Been Dick?' and for Detectorist fans the bewitching 'Magpie'. The set like a reflection of
their and several generations of tales, songs and social history in the political 'Bread & Roses' as much a statement of women's rights and ideals than any Beyoncé hit.

Tim Dalling popped in to lead us in a gospel banger with The Unthanks as his soul sisters before it was 'back to the misery cos we wouldn't want to give you the wrong impression' and 'Underneath The Blackthorn Tree' with its mesmeric 'the wind, the wind, the rain, the rain' and welcome use of the word "squall". It was all over far too soon of course but we left that we'd witnessed something truly unique.

Shows on the tour were being recoded to produce an album and if it captures even a tenth of the magic of this gig then it will an absolute cracker. A suitably religious experience indeed.   



- Setlist -

Guard Yer Man Well
Walking In the Dark
Weary From Lying Alone
The Sandgate Song
Greedy
Rock A Little Baby Now
Newcastle Lullaby
Honey Bee
The Bee Boys Song
Grisly Bride
Seal Coal
The Sandgate Dangling Song
Poor Mum
Where You Bin Dick?
Magpie
We Picked Apples In A Graveyard Freshly Mowed
Bread & Roses
River In My Soul
Underneath The Blackthorn Tree

(sorry if I got any song titles wrong, done from scribbled notes) 




Friday, 10 May 2019

Ricahrd Hawley @EartH Hackney 6th May 2019



'It always makes us nervous playing new songs' says Richard about mid gig, ' I hope you don't mind'.

A wag in the audience suggesting they play some old is jovially called a 'see-you-next-Tuesday' before the band launch into 'Tonight The Streets Are Ours' after which Hawley gives the fella a thumbs up and grin. Its been two and a half years but at the opening night of his two night stand in the capital its very much business as usual

EartH, down one end of Stoke Newington High Street, was once a Savoy picturehouse which fell into disuse during the 80s cinema slump, faded into a snooker hall and then pigeon roost & toilet. A multi million pound grant has seen it reopen as a multi use venue although a bar & restaurant tacked on the side is the most obvious sign of where the cash has gone. The actual auditorium is shorn of any fittings, seats or facilities - beer is sold in cans and its £2 to hire a cushion to save your bum chaffing on the stone steps. However as Richard described it as "a bit like us, fucked up but somehow right" its turns out to be an excellent venue with great sound. Its easy to get up close whether sitting and standing and there are no bad sightlines. I truly hope they get the regular business they deserve as London has needed a venue like this since the death of the Astoria.


As suggested, Richard Hawley has his new album 'Further' and he plays all of it across an evening that goes from pin drop emotional ballad 'For Your Lover Take Some Time' - "this is the quietest song I ever wrote so if you could talk all the way through it that would be fuckin' mint" he kindly warns - to the psychedelic wig out squalling of 'Down In the Woods' from 'Standing At The Sky's Edge'. Indeed it is the title track of that album early doors that makes you catch your breath as Hawley's rich tones fill the room backed by a droning rolling sound.

The new material melts in with the old favourites quite seamlessly. 'Coles Corner' topped off with some gorgeously mournful mouth harp from Clive Mellor gives way to 'Midnight Train' which has that same wanting, waiting and everyday wonder that seeps through Richard's work. His regular band is joined by a female string section - "the Lads" - as well as horns. New un' 'Doors' has effortless pop touch and the aforementioned 'For Your Lover' backed by those strings and a lightly plucked guitar is simply sublime. Following that up with the driving guitar led 'Galley Girl' perfectly encapsulates the shifting energy of tonight's set with 'Time Is' being a sprawling beast of a thing. The new album is shaping up to be a belter

The encore opens with Richard's tale of his boy, Danny's 19th birthday, with a storytelling skill and sense of timing which would make any stand up comedian proud in which 'he and his mates, who are, to a man, absolute fuckwits, lovely but fuckwits" all drink 19 tequilas each to celebrate.  The melancholy 'Not Lonely' - "loneliness does mean being on your own" says much about aging, family and the future. A fan tosses a gift up on stage, a 'Fuck Brexit' badge which garners a 'Well you know, I say, fuck all of it' before a suitably moody and defiant 'There's  A Storm Coming' that is, lets face it - a glorious racket.


National bloody treasure - like the venue - ragged but right