Friday, December 10, 2010

Part 2 of the Big Week(end-ish): Hamlet NT Live! @ Broadway Cinema Thursday 9 December 2010

From bitterweet tunes, to a smoking prince.

Hamlet - NT Live! Broadway cinema, Nottingham Thursday 9 December 2010

Second Hamlet this year, and you can easily see how the Sheffield production suffers for running alongside the National Theatre's majestic version. Proximity of versions can be a hinderance, because it can highlight limitations that are no where near as glaring as they appear under the spotlight of a more successful version. Sheffield's production had some wonderful moments, not least those offered by a less-than-aware audience of the nuances of the plot, so that reactions were all the more acute and revelatory.

Here, the revelations come particularly from the direction and staging: this is a very 'police state' version of Elsinore, spies everywhere and nearly every role inflected by that decision --- though there are laughs, this is not a mecurial and funny Hamlet (either in terms of the play or the character). There is a weariness, a bitterness here befitting of the surveillance everyone exists under/operates on others. No wonder Hamlet describes this earth as a "sterile promentory". No wonder too that Calder's Polonius seems more distracted by what should be said, can be said in front of the ever-present spies, than by any humourous diminishing of his faculties. This Polonius may prattle, but it is in the context of a watchful state, where protecting one's position is all.

I'm trying to not give too much away about the direction/staging, because the production tours next year and I'd like it to be as fresh as possible for those audiences. For example, there are a number of elements regarding Ophelia which make what happens to her through the play narrative (her opening conversation with her brother and father; the nunnery scene; her death) possibly the most fascinating construction of the character I have seen. But I don't want to tell those here. Still, these choices are important to mention as they probably compensates for a performance that didn't quite come together for me: then again, Ophelia is really tough role to inhabit.

Clare Higgins is as wonderful as ever: she is such an incredible actress. Her Gertrude is one who sees/understands more than she lets on, who understands her own vulnerabilities far earlier in the play than is usual. She is incredibly expressive in her interactions with Hamlet, not least in the closet scene. One does wonder though what she sees in Claudius (as this production moves away from the trend of having a single actor play both King Hamlet's ghost and his brother Claudius). Malahide brings his usual and prefectly balanced portrayal of oiliness and ambition to the stage, but it is hard to see what any widow would love in him (except perhaps protection of her role as Queen).

Kinnear nevertheless manages to make a real impact as Hamlet; his delivery really comes into its own after the players arive and develops from there. He isn't princely, but rather an everyman who just happens to be the position of prince (an accident of birth that can be as easily usurped as sanity may be challenged).

One choice of the staging/direction that DOES rankle though is to make Hamlet a smoker: whilst this gives ample opportunity for certain breaths and pauses to be emphasised, it comes across more as an excuse to allow the actor TO smoke on stage. (The smoking so irritated Cloud that he was near cheering for Laertes to win the duel at the end, and this performance didn't deserve such empathy as it only really sparked when Laertes returns and attempts to overthrow the palace/Claudius after Polonius's death).

Others have praised Kinnear far better and more eloquently than I could manage: it IS a wonderful performance and much deserving of his reward from the Evening Standard Theatre awards 2010. A definite triumph and worth seeing.

Big Week(end-ish) 2 (part 1): The Wedding Present @ Rock City Wednesday 8 December 2010

From thrashy guitars and the most bittersweet lyrics, to a bittersweet prince of Denmark: it's been that sort of week.

Wedding Present play Bizarro: Rock City, Nottingham Wednesday 8 December 2010

I heart The Wedding Present anyway - I still tingle at the glorious couplet from their song "I'm from further north than you" (from 'Take Fountain') --- "And I admit we had some memorable days / But just not very many". Awh.

But Bizarro has to be one of the most perfect and bittersweet albums ever made.

And you’re so right, they don’t miss a thing round here
And how do you think I feel?
Oh, you can try but you’re not getting out that way
You’re just as much to blame

And if it didn’t mean a thing
And you’ve told him to go
And if you’re as sorry as you say
Why didn’t you just say no?
It's album full of such pain and heartbreak (a point well made in the sleeve notes for the re-release a few years ago). What makes it so breathtaking is that all this anguish could easily get lost in amongst the breakneck speed and exhuberance of 'Brassneck' and 'Kennedy' --- let alone the distinctively more upbeat 'Take Me!' (a song whose 9 minutes NEVER drag and still thrill: "warm hands and the things you say, you get lovelier every day"). The observations of Gedge are always acheingly poignant, but there is something especially great about this particular album, where lyrics capture the hurt and the bite of relationships so acutely:

Oh no, I don’t know her name and no, it’s not just the same
I just thought she looked quite pretty
What do you want me to do, smile at nobody but you?
Well, if you’re going to be that petty
I’m not being unfair
OK, I am, but who cares?
Well, now at least we’re talking
And what about all of those friends and all those letters they send?
They can’t all be that boring

Why can't I ever say what I mean?
Ouch: that's a relationship on the brink right there, played out in brutally honest lyrics.

Another live video: and here's one of my other favourite heartbreakers from Bizarro: the sublime "Bewitched" (and whose heart can fail to be moved by the integration of the sample from the Tin Pan Alley ballad in the original album version).

You don’t know me but I’m still here and, God, the last time I saw you, you were, oh, this near
And there’s a thousand things I wish I’d said and done but the moment’s gone
Sublime. We had all of Bizarro, preceded by selected other tracks from their vast catalogue (and new party favourite a version of the theme from Cheers), plus the most brilliant John Peel / Wedding Present tribute you could ever hear: a loop of Peel's introductions to the Pressies. the songs have never all sounded the same (whatever my new t-shirt says) but they are as delightful as ever.

And to top it all, you can rent David Gedge's Santa Monica apartment (when he's away on tour etc). Very tempting since we love SM so much!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Shoe envy: Irregular Choice

Irregular Choice make the most amazing shoes!

Sadly, heels are tough on my feet (too much running about!) so they are very impractical - but I do love 'em!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Scientists as pandas: just WEIRD!

If the pandas can see what's going on in pic 4 they'll be more traumatised than if they'd seen humans to start with...

Sunday, December 05, 2010

My birthday - belated photo of Rullsenberg (in summer stripe legs)

In this weather the stripes are difficult to have on show (legs covered to keep warm!) so I thought I'd demonstrate it isn't THAT long since I had summer candy stripes on show!

Our neighbours built a snow bear!

You have to admit that building a snow bear as the snow disappears is awful cute?!

Fashion and not fashion: Rullsenberg and Cloud

Guess which one probably meets 'fashionable' better?!

Snow moments - Pictures from December 2010

Snow can look lovely can't it?

And at night it can be especially enticing!

So lovely that when tipsy I am tempted to head out into it!

And the light makes it look very spooky!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Live Music Review: Thursday 2 December 2010 - Bill Bragg, Rock City Nottingham

Swiss Toni got in ahead of me with a great review of Billy Bragg from last night (hello! sorry I was not confident enough to say hi!)

Good job that I read ST's first, or I would have been spitting even more feathers for reading the miserable f***ing review from This is Nottingham. Thanks for nothing Mr Belbin.

I mean, come on: we walk in as Billy Bragg takes the stage and he does 'The World Turned Upside Down' (a song which always brings a tear to my eye) and he ends on the mass Rock City choral version of 'A New England' (the guy never has to sing the words to that ever again: it is truly a modern standard, sung with passion and verve by every Bragg audience I have ever been in).

Because to criticise Bragg for talking is to miss the point: he's a political and social raconteur as much as a musician/songwriter. Those who go expecting 'only the songs' have probably largely missed the point OF those songs. Bragg teased us for being "softies", for responding so fondly to his more romantic balladeering (and he is indeed a fine balladeer), but Bragg is what he is in all his guises because of his politics, his opinions, his talking --- and that means that his love songs reflect the anguish of trying to reconcile social realities with ideals.

Of course, there are always people who go to any gig expecting to simply hear albums/songs - bizarrely, there are also people who seem to want to talk all the time, AND complain about Bragg talking.* I'm a bit baffled by such people: why are they at a gig? Why not play your selected tracks/preferences at home? Talking is part of the Bragg package: love it or loath it, he ain't going to do it differently. He's notorious for it, and as he noted last night, he can't help himself - especially when he's enjoying a gig so much. And frankly, you do have to wonder about people attending who are not only anti-Bragg talking, but especially about WHAT he talks about: how have they missed noticing/appreciating Bragg's political standpoint. Again, as noted, they're integral to him as a performer. But it is important to note that any complainants appeared to be a very small number last night.

And Bragg can stir a crowd so effectively: on topics as connected as the Nottingham University sit-in to campaign against student fee rises, to the problems of cynicism on challenging social problems (and on that note: all hail the dense pedantry of Belbin for sticking to the ancient Greek - and now scarcely comprehended - definition of Cynicism rather than the widely accepted and understood modern definition. We get you can wiki google the original concept: very impressive. Not.)

Members of the audience may have worried about getting buses home due to the weather, and may have urged Bragg to "talk less, sing more!" but I never got the sense that this was delivered with anger: Bragg instead acknowledged it was a reasonable request in light of the context (after all, he started at 8.20pm - and not just because there was a disco immediately afterwards) and then Bragg moved on. There was still talking from the Braggmeister, but I didn't get the sense of a rising tide of anger at him still talking. He was taken to task for his own errors - to which he freely admitted ("I supported Tony Blair in 1997 and voted Lib-Dem in the last election to keep the Conservatives out: if anyone has a right to be cynical..."). But this was an audience that sang with gusto to 'There is a Power in a Union' - for surely in the current climate it has never been more vital to support collective action and challenges to rampant Conservative cuts. It wasn't just about the love songs and wearied reactions to Bragg's polemic exhortations: 'To have and have not' was equally rapturously received.

Anyway, it was as ever a delightful and uplifting gig and I was personally delighted that Bragg performed several of the songs from Pressure Drop, the performance event that ran in London (but which we unfortunately missed). I'm looking forward to playing that CD soon.

It's always worth seeing Bragg: and given how much he likes Nottingham, he's sure to be back soon. We need him more than ever.

* I did my bit to challenge the 'coming to gigs to talk' mentality and kindly asked a couple of guys who had failed to read all our intensive disapproving glaring to please be quiet so we could hear what Bragg was singing/talking about. They at least didn't get worse or throw beer at me... A small triumph.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Supposedly today is 'Light Snow' - The sky is only JUST breaking

Well, it looks lovely:

But the sky here at the uni has only JUST started to break to show pale blue (as opposed to pure white, and falling snow-flakes)

It is Not Siberia (I do appreciate this) but even so: it's been a bit 'fun'! At least we know Billy Bragg has made it to Nottingham!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Big Weekend Number 1: Friday 26 Nov-Sunday 28 Nov 2010 - Bellowhead, The Clock (take 2), Stackridge, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

From the sublime to the ridiculous: We're tearing ourselves in all directions over the coming few weeks --- and the logistics are getting scary. I'm getting really cross with myself that I can't actually do all the things I want/need to. Sometimes I look at the maps and the time things take (crucially factoring in the 'Neil and Lisa sense of direction') and it makes me weep.

Still: we've had a good weekend and I can't complain.

Friday: BellowheadIf ever there was something DESIGNED to bring cheer and bounce, the Bellowhead are the ones to do it.

It was like a (almost) two hour workout really, since Bellowhead irresistibly get you dancing (in my case bouncing up and down and jigging about). Third time seeing them, and just as delightful (see previous reviews).

Saturday: The Clock (take 2)It had to be done: we had to go back to see the excellent installation The Clock by Christian Marclay (scroll). Since the logistics of getting to central Brum in the snow (and more crucially back again) in time for our evening commitment was iffy, we were able to offer a friend a much needed trip out and indulged ourselves in both lunch at NAE (Nottingham Art Exchange) AND several hours of the movie extravaganza.

Brain-thrilling stuff.

Saturday: StackridgeTo coincide with friends' wedding anniversary, we attended a gig in Lowdham (that's the other side of Nottinghamshire: can you see why the logistics were getting knotty?).

Stackridge have been around for ages - and that's no bad thing. They're tight players with an excellent sound. They'd played at the first Glastonbury and you may find their song 'Dora The Female Explorer' especially entertaining, depending on your age.

For those unfamiliar with Stackridge, you may nevertheless know this track by the Korgis:

James Warren and Andy Cresswell-Davis formed The Korgis after Stackridge initially disbanded in the late 1970s, but Stackridge has since reformed, taking in a performance at Glastonbury in 2008 and they are currently continuing to tour. With two female fiddle players (who offer much more besides) they're well worth seeing live.

After the gig, it was over to said friends for coffee/tea/mince-pies etc before a later night drive home.

Sunday: The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest (film and book)
I've really enjoyed reading the Larsson trilogy, and although the second two films suffer from being made-for-TV (and the inevitable problems of being 2nd and 3rd installments) it was a very satisfying finale to the filmic versions.

In Swedish.

No, I still am not enticed by the big US version forthcoming next winter.

Rapace and Nyquist were as excellent as ever, and it was a very exciting way to spend a Sunday pm.

I then promptly went home and re-devoured the book in one sitting (reading mostly to remind myself of the differences between film and book versions).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Mummers - rescheduled to exactly when I can't attend. GRR!

Drat: had hoped to have alate 'get ass in gear' moment getting last minute tickets for The Mummers gig, due in Nottingham this coming week (it was to have been Wed 24 Nov 2010).

What do I find?

Bloody rescheduled to be the weekend of BAAS when I'm stuck at UCLAN.

Drat (and other stronger words).

Still, on upside (and though I can't believe this had by-passed me before) I have just realised I've been following performer Raissa -- singer with The Mummers -- for longer than I thought.

Her single 'Your Summertime' has been entrancing me since its release in 1996!!!

Raissa - Your Summertime

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Apologies: it's been that time of year when I get ill

Bah. Shiver me body (for that's what I've been doing since Tuesday). Need to head back to work though, despite having the throat of snotness. Bleurgh.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

In Praise of Ian McMillan on Desert Island Discs

A perfect mix of down-to-earth anecdotage and educated cultural awareness, poet Ian McMillan may be accused of being a professional Northerner, but he is a delight.

McMillan's Desert Island Discs today (Sunday 7 November 2010) was a real pleasure.

Most brilliantly, he chose Cage's 4' 33'' as his selected disc from the eight: because it would always sound different (which is true).

UK listeners can probably catch either the iPlayer broadcast, the Friday morning repeat on R4 OR download the podcast version (which limits the music but does have his great stories).

In particular I was very enamored of McMillan's mother who sounds wonderful: she was jailed during the war for going AWOL in order to marry her penpal sweetheart. Awesome and romantic.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Habit of Art - NT touring: Tuesday 2 November 2010 Nottingham Theatre Royal

Sell-out performances meant that I missed seeing The Habit of Art when it was at the National Theatre in London; however, judicious booking of plays at Nottingham's Theatre Royal means such potentially missed opportunities are not entirely lost.

The touring version of The Habit of Art arrived in Nottingham last night and runs till Saturday and I would certainly urge people to attend, either here or at one of the following venues (it continues to Leeds, Newcastle and Glasgow).

I never used to like Alan Bennett: I think that earlier in my life I found his work too domestic (the monologues never really connected with me). Looking back, I probably just missed the biting edge that his work - with hindsight - I now he has always had. But I do believe that his later career has brought that viciousness to the fore --- and in a good way.

The first piece I truly fell in love with was A Question of Attribution, which I still vividly recall watching on TV. It was about art - though not really of course - which was why I loved it. From that point I felt I was beginning to 'get' Bennett's wicked humour, his misanthropy, and of course the swearing and attitude to sex.

The Habit of Art is a real tour de force: enormously clever in its staging (wonderfully transferred from the capacious National to the more intimate confines of Nottingham's Theatre Royal), it is a truly 'meta' play --- with actors playing actors working through a rehearsal of playing their roles. There's also an especially satisfying and entertaining link to "the production of Uncle Vanya next door". With an engaged audience as well, there's even opportunity for breaking the fourth wall - particularly well exploited by Malcolm Sinclair, whose arch Henry made some beautifully timed glances out to the enraptured attendees.

The play, which dramatises a fictional encounter between the poet Auden and composer Britten, is more than just funny though. It is also incredibly moving and rather profound about a number of issues --- art (in all its forms), relationships (friendly and taboo), and the stages of life (from innocent 'childhood' to old age).

It is a wonderful cast (they were also remarkably charming afterwards as well as I was lucky enough to attend a 'meet the cast' event afterwards) and testament to the talent that the National can draw upon for its touring productions. Desmond Barrit, Selina Cadell and Sinclair head the cast in the three key roles, but EVERYONE plays a great part in the overall tone of the production of this great play. I hope they enjoy the rest of their time in Nottingham and for the remainder of the tour.

If you can, go see this if you haven't been lucky enough already..

Sunday, October 31, 2010

In Praise of... Christian Marclay: The Clock (exhibit at the British Art Show 2010, Nottingham - New Art Exchange)

Nottingham has currently gained quite an artistic coup: the opening exhibition of the new British Art Show 2010 BEFORE it comes to London (or anywhere else in the UK).

Spread across three venues - New Art Exchange, Nottingham Contemporary and Nottingham Castle Gallery and Museum - the show provides a snapshot of contemporary art practices (last time we ended up not wearing our own shoes).

So far, we've made it around two of the three venues (you get into the Castle for free if you visit the other two venues first: usually the Castle is a paying venue for non-Nottingham residents, and we live just outside the city limits).

Still, my highlight by a country mile is sadly a work not being exclusively shown in Nottingham (though I really hope that Nottingham residents and visitors take full advantage of it):

Christian Marclay: The Clock

Also available as a WHOPPING 720 page book, The Clock is a magnificent video installation showing... well, clocks. And watches. And time passing. All constructed from thousands of film clips --- in 'real time'. It is an utterly addictive experience -- we did approx. 11.25am to 12.15pm, and then approx 12.30-1pm. And then headed back for 4.10-4.45pm. You sit and find yourself physically Lost in Time (scroll for picture). I could have easily stayed for the day. If only the day long screening wasn't a work day...

What's annoying is that most of the reviews around focus on its current screening in London rather than the Nottingham installation. Even the Huffington Post reviews it -- but AGAIN, no mention that Nottingham is getting its fair share of the fun.

Which is a real shame because I would really like more people to take advantage of seeing this magnificent work in Nottingham while they can. Nottingham's New Art Exchange describe The Clock thus:
[Marclay's] new work, The Clock, features thousands of found film fragments of clocks, watches, and characters reacting to a particular time of day. These are edited together to create a 24 hour-long, single-channel video that is synchronised with local time. As each new clip appears a new narrative is suggested, only to be swiftly overtaken by another. Watching, we inhabit two worlds; that of fiction and that of fact, as real-time seconds fly inexorably by.

These clips from several thousand films, are structured so that the resulting artwork always conveys the correct time, minute by minute, in the time zone in which is it being exhibited. The scenes in which we see clocks or hear chimes tend to be either transitional ones suggesting the passage of time or suspenseful ones building up to dramatic action.
But to my mind, this is all just a fancy way of saying 'spot the clip!' because frankly this was the most fun I've had in ages in an art gallery.

There is a charming interview with Christian Marclay from the Economist - acknowledging both the team of assistants in his film watching, and his editing technology - but mostly I urge you to see the installation.

What I found so enchanting is that alongside the expected - indeed, essential clips - such as 'High Noon' at noon and the Robert Powell version of 'The 39 Steps' with THAT scene hanging off Big Ben...

... you also get less expected snippets such as quick glimpses of 'The Quick and the Dead' (which also has noon as a key timing point).

But there are also some nice clips from non-film sources such as John Simm as Raskolnikov pawning his watch in the TV adaptation of Crime and Punishment. Some scenes pass in a second, others are languidly included but the main feature is that time keeps passing. I would happily spend my days dipping into this fascinating work and if you see nothing else from the diverse range of artworks included in the British Art Show, make sure you see this.

Upshares CD received!

Oh bliss: the insanity that was Radio 4's PM programme slot 'Upshares, Downshares' -- with its various musical versions of the old Upstairs Downstairs theme --- lives on in CD form.

At last my CD has arrived from the BBC -- well worth £10 of amusement to anyone like me.

For those who remember the TV series, it sounded like this:

But for listeners of Radio 4's PM show with Eddie Mair, the music is now indelibly associated with the credit crunch coverage with Nils Blythe and the radio listener response to calling the slot 'Upshares Downshares' --- namely, a multitude of versions of the Sandy Faris theme. Sandy himself even joined in the fun.

Of course, not everyone approved, but frankly sometimes you just have to develop a sense of humour about it. Especially when you get a special 'BBC Radiophonic Workshop version' (Murray Gold, just redo the Doctor Who theme this way and we'll ALL be happier).

Monday, October 25, 2010

In praise of... The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger

Famed and appreciated for the heartbreaking novel 'The Time Traveller's Wife' (and less for the not as satisfying film version made from it), I nevertheless think that 'The Night Bookmobile' by Audrey Niffenegger is possibly my favourite of her works.

Originally published in the Guardian Review, it tells a magical and moving tale about reading and life and living and death.

Everything you could want really.

Thanks to coverage on the World Service, I've now discovered this gem has finally been published (thanks for nothing the rest of you!).

So you can now buy the shiny visual treasure that is The Night Bookmobile.

Truly a thing of great beauty: and worth getting hold of from somewhere like Gosh!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Theatre Review: Hamlet @ Crucible Sheffield Saturday 16 October 2010

It is perhaps more than a little unfortunate that timing meant I saw this production a comparable two years on from seeing Tennant's storming performance at Stratford.

But I'll try and shy away from direct comparisons at the moment and try and assess the production on it's own terms, even though pretty much no one else has... The Telegraph even begins it's sub-heading "In comparison with David Tennant..."

So what did the Crucible production give us? Well, Simm is very watchable - boyishly attractive (though I know not to everyone's taste) and I'm not sure it's ever possible to produce a really BAD Hamlet. There is too much to appreciate in the text and the plot to feel disappointed at spending time with this play.

Additionally, this was clearly an audience that was much less familiar with the play text than is often possible after so many Hamlets have graced our stages and screens. This was most noticeable in the end scenes when Gertrude *SPOILER* drinks the cup of poison (apologies: I'm assuming you know this!). Both Helen and I noted that the extremity of reaction - truly horrified gasps at what she was doing - was nowadays pretty unusual to experience, but was actually rather refreshing. If this production got in some newcomers to Shakespeare and to Hamlet, then that's no mean feat after so many others have crossed the public sphere, and has to be a positive. Certainly I really enjoyed being part of such freshly felt audience emotions.

I also liked the wintry setting, a chilly, austere - almost barren set, with a balcony area that allowed characters to look down onto the rest of the stage. Occasional snow added to the chill, for this was definitely not a Hamlet for excessive emotions (Though I'll tackle Nettles performances as Claudius and Ghost later).

Mostly I liked Simm's performance - a bit over-crisp in pitch at times (diction isn't everything), but he was an interestingly irked Prince nonetheless. Simm does a neat turn in malevolent smiles and bewilderment and there are flashes of these scattered through the play, most especially around his supposed friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, those faithless pals from University. Simm was also particularly good in the 'get thee to a nunnery' scene where his inability to disguise the love he felt/once felt for Ophelia is touching - a portrayal that captures his desire to get her away from him, if she knows what's good for her. It was noted by Kate Bassett in the Independent at least:
"John Simm's Hamlet is most touching in his tenderness towards Michelle Dockery's Ophelia, kissing her as if forgiving her paternally enforced aloofness without a second thought. "
Unfortunately, for me, Michelle Dockery - freshly in people's mind's from Downton Abbey (which I haven't been watching) - wasn't the most convincing Ophelia. She was suitably fragile, but perhaps too flat in her emotions to my mind. Still, she carried off some lovely outfits.

That doesn't sound good, does it? I don't want to be too harsh on her, because getting the balance of madness and youthful affection for both family and Hamlet is no easy task and it's probably one of the roles hardest to pull off because it gives so little to do in the normal range of emotional expression. But Dockery's lack of expressiveness occasionally undermined some of Simm's better work in the play.

Because as good as a Hamlet needs to be, the role can stand or fall on what else - who else - is around him. Because what Hamlet depends on is the relationships that are established, demolished, undermined, destroyed around him.

Why else would we care how harshly Hamlet acts towards Ophelia if we can't believe in the idea that once he DID love her? There's an early moment in the production, after Claudius makes his obsequious claim of possession on Gertrude, his new-ish Queen, when the guests depart to leave Hamlet alone --- here, Ophelia hesitates, both she and Hamlet in anticipation of spending time together, but she is disappointedly forced away by her father Polonius. (Hugh Ross is fast-speaking Polonius, verbose but not distracted: a dutiful royal servant with strict ideas of propriety). And Hamlet looks far more broken by this abandonment than by the revelation of his uncle's callous murder of his father. It suggests there could have been a far more emotional Hamlet here than we are eventually allowed, and I think the fault lies less with Simm's Shakespearean inexperience than in the rest of the casting.

For example, Colin Tierney, last seen by me as the alternately chill and passionate Ejlert Loevborg in the touring production of Hedda Gabler, here makes for a rather chill Horatio as well. There are a few moments where he comes across as a wry model of what perhaps Hamlet would want in a sibling - smart, observant, willing to be there for him - but a lot of the time you can't quite see what either party get from the friendship. Whilst the duplicitous Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can be forgivably false in their level of friendship with Hamlet, it is surely crucial that Horatio is demonstrably emotionally committed to Hamlet --- confused as to whether to believe in the madness for sure, but nevertheless loving and trusting in his old friend's dilemma. Here, Horatio seems almost on a par with R&G for presenting a level of friendship that baffles why Hamlet would ever spend time with this person, let alone that they would come to offer comfort and remain to support Hamlet through his madness AND bring him back from near murder in England back to court.

So again, whilst there are sparks of something more interesting underneath, the lack of an emotional core to the relationship damages the production.

The show yesterday wasn't helped by a Laertes that sounded as if poor James Loye had a frightful dose of flu (if his voice lasts out the final work, I hope he gets a good rest after that). Still, it was a lively sword-fight. And Barbara Flynn is sexy and maternal as Gertrude in her closet scene with Hamlet, and it is a solid reliable performance from her overall: certainly she conveys a suitably mortified fury at Hamlet's accusation that she's too old to be interested in sex. But she does not seem wounded enough by Hamlet's mourning, his distance. Again, one would not want the play to be pitched too much as melodrama, but this IS a drama of heightened events and as such there does need to be some sense of emotions.

And the real problem for the play is that the one person who DOES bring heightened emotions is John Nettles as Old Hamlet and Claudius. He plays both roles with villainous relish and lascivious venom, bringing to the ghost of Old Hamlet a rasping anger (I'll ignore less charitable accusations of asthmatic wheezing) and to Claudius a hands-on grotesque delight in having captured his brother's wife and his power. This is a sour Claudius whose movements bring a little too much of the pantomime to mind -- Abanazar in Aladdin anyone?

Still, there is a perverse cruelty in Claudius that brings a nice edge to the play, but it isn't quite enough to compensate for the grimaces and shoulder shuffles as he revels in the pleasures acquired by being the usurping brother.

So overall this is an interesting but not entirely convincing Hamlet. It works, but not quite, and not as well as one might hope. With more time to settle down, and a slightly different tone to a few of the performances, this could have been far more enlightening of the endless nuances the play can offer. A 4/5 mark if I'm feeling generous, but realistically 3.5. Nevertheless worth seeing.

Friday, October 15, 2010

How not to start Friday -- water mains burst cuts off 17,000 homes


Cloud gets up: groan goes the taps.

No water.

Us and around 17,000 other homes it seems without water on this chilly Friday autumn morning.

Richard McRae on Facebook has some photographs of the incident.

By about 1pm, it seems as if water was being restored according to Severn Trent:
Burst water main, Nottingham – Friday 15th October, 1pm.

Central Networks has now secured the electricity main and we are able to make the repairs to the burst water main on Ilkeston Road in Nottingham. We will continue to work closely with Central Networks on site.

We have bought water into the areas affected using an alternative network of pipes, which means approximately 13,000 properties now have their water supply restored. Some of these properties may experience temporary poor pressure.

We are continuing to deliver bottled water to our vulnerable customers and we will have two tankers with tap bars parked in the car park at Bramcote Leisure Centre from 2pm, for customers to use if they wish.

We would like to apologise to our customers in the Bramcote, Stapleford and Toton areas of Nottingham who have been affected by this loss of water supply and to those that are still without water. We’d like to thank our customers for their patience while we carry out the necessary repairs.

Unfortunately, Ilkeston Road continues to be closed at the junction with Coventry Lane whilst we carry out the repairs.

From Severn Trent Water

Though, interestingly, HLW on the other side of Stapleford has had no problem with water at all - perhaps I should have gone over there for my shower...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Birthday walk and stripes

Especially for fans of stripes, here's some pics of Neil and I out for a walk on my birthday on Sunday.

Cloud striding up the hill.

Rullsenberg pausing on the hill.

Neil in his Billy Bragg Marmite t-shirt.

I got a bit hot --- so off came the coat and cardigan!

And here are my new stripes: courtesy of lovely Chrissie.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Film Recommendation - Skeletons

Skeletons - a FABULOUSLY quirky and yet moving British film.

Buy it.

See it.

Love it.

Two 'psychic cleaners' get caught up in a missing person investigation.

No summary can do justice to this lovely film.


"The author Jasper Fforde has said that he's yet to find the right person to tackle a film of one of his Thursday Next books. I think he and Whitfield need to have a talk." (courtesy of Neil)

Single Father -- first thoughts

I didn't sleep last night.

Neither did Cloud.

I'm not sure if this was related to anything we did/ate/watched yesterday, but either way I didn't sleep.

So frankly I feel TRASHED.

But still: a hour of David Tennant being lovely, and romantic, and frustrated and weeping - worthwhile in my books.

The ratings were... okay, given Downton Abbey held firm and it was a competitive slot for attention from largely the same sort of audience.

But I think that Tim Dowling (incredibly - he's normally a bit glib for my liking) taps into the sharpest nerve for this drama: whether you can commit to such emotionally draining material.

For all sorts of reasons, various people I know watching Single Father found it hard. Frankly, I pretty much lost the plot only a few minutes in when Rita's lips move as she falls from her bicycle in her horrific and fatal collision with a police car, and Tennant - busy at his photography studio - (randomly, simultaneously) says "I love you too", out loud and to the bafflement of himself and those being photographed. That may have struck Tom Sutcliffe as melodramatic, but for me it worked.

If anything, the worst element of the whole piece - heightening melodrama in the worst possible way - was the music.

Blimey, made the worst of Murray Gold in Doctor Who seem positively subtle in his underscoring.

I wasn't the only one disturbed by the music:
The horrible background music, sort of sub-rock desperately trying to sound expressive, frogmarched you unceremoniously to whichever point of the emotional compass the director had decided he was trying to convey in each scene.
And again on the music:
However, quite a bit of the action was marred by blaring intrusive music, which obscured bits of dialogue and distracted from the measured direction and performances.
Anyway, by the end of the show I had a splitting headache from trying too hard not to cry. I should have just crumpled as Tennant so expertly portrayed.

At least it would have come without an over-done music score.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I'm 44 you know!

Birthdays hey? Still: I've had a weekend of culture (a play - 12th Night; a Spanish film - The Night of Sunflowers) and music (more than I can calculate!)

And tonight...


My phone will be off.

Don't even THINK about it!

Friday, October 08, 2010

42 Day and 'Single Father' starts: nice of them to notice my forthcoming birthday

Nice isn't it, that the whole world* is counting down to my birthday on 10.10.10 aka 42 Day.

Almost a pity I'm not actually turning either 10 or 42.

Clue: Unfortunately, my age is also not a number between those two either...


Still, at least I know my birthday brings me a treat - the lovely BBC will start broadcasting 'Single Father' on Sunday 10 October. Ah, lovely Mr Tennant. What a nice present.

*I could be exaggerating there a little...

Friday, October 01, 2010

The long and the short of Television Series Dramas: a Medium Rob debate

Medium Rob's Question of the Week has spawned an extensive debate about the differences and merits of US vs UK television drama series formats.

One of the examples much quoted in the discussions has been Buffy - a series which long-term readers will know is close to my heart, not least because it was the impetus to the name I adopted here. Willow Rosenberg: shy and kooky, emotional and tough; when addicted, she is dangerous, but she's smart and cool ("nerds are still in, right?") and a redhead. Lisa Rullsenberg isn't a natural redhead, but she's a redhead by temperament and adoption. I HEART Willow.

ANYWAY: Buffy started as a mid-season replacement of 12 episodes and eventually ran for 7 series. A mighty 144 episodes. Were they all of equal quality? Don't be ridiculous. But for me, I can find something good, wonderful, true, emotional, and/or funny in every episode. Even 'Beer Bad'.(1)

As Rob rightly notes, even 'filler' episodes contributed value -

Didn't they explore the characters or move on story arcs a bit, something you might not want to do in other episodes because it would have diluted their focus?
Why was this possible? And is it related to the length of series?

My suspicion is that the writing, directing, scheduling and broadcast structure of American TV works differently to in the UK.

In the UK, work isn't ongoing DURING broadcast - leastways, not for the current season. Things may be in flux until filming happens, with writing and changes and new scripts being brought in etc (the RTD seat-of-pants DW 2005 season strategy) ... but things tend to be - special effects aside - 'in the can' by the time the series starts to air. This is probably a chicken and egg thing: because UK series are generally shorter, they tend to be 'done' before broadcast; because US series are longer, things will unfold and change over the course of a season whilst it is still being made.

What are the benefits of a longer season? Simply, more time. This can be both a blessing and a curse depending on the writing set-up. With a long series you are forced to develop longer, more complex and layered narratives. That isn't to say short series cannot do that, but there will be inevitable limitations of what you can do in 3 hours (essentially a 'play' structure) and in 13 hours or 22 hours (allowing for ads: a topic I'll pick up in a moment).

I always say to students, think about how LONG this has to be before you start gathering too much. Tailor at least some of your research or development of the narrative you want to tell to the length required: because writing something shorter that contains the same breadth as something longer --- and doing it justice (getting depth) --- is bloody hard and most writers can't make it work. Something has to give: detail, clarity of structure, range of materials covered, context.

So it simply becomes impossible for most TV writers to make something that is intended to be 6 episodes work over 22 episodes without a substantial re-think. So substantial that it can barely be the same thing. Being Human was the example given by Craig Grannell and it seems a fair point. It isn't that you can't make a good series on a similar premise but the shape makes the dynamic different: it also generates a different audience relationship.

There was a good battle in the comments between SK and Rob about the role of advertising and channels in the US (that is, differences with the subscription model). The thing is the UK is different from HBO etc, even if both have a lack of 'need' for ads. It's always interesting to see how UK TV transfers to the US (when the eps need cutting, restructuring; when the ad breaks appear and for how long). By and large, home-grown UK drama builds itself for its environment - whatever that may be.

In the US, the stretched out runs of mainstream coast-to-coast channels, with re-runs, season-breaks - not forgetting the sweeps process of course - all both generate and respond to audiences dipping in and out of long-running, attractive narratives.

And sweeps play a vital role for many TV series in the US. Almost without fail, I've picked up when a US series airing in the UK was hitting a sweeps point in its narrative (besides the obvious 'heading to season finale' thing).

So what can work about a shorter series? Punch. Focus. Attention to a smaller range of detail. That won't necessarily mean a smaller story, but it fits the shape given.

What happens when the shape changes? Well, sometimes you can end up with The Bill, which has probably tried as many formats as Doctor Who over the years (and not all successfully - in both programme's cases).

Rob remarks that
...Paul Abbott's argument isn't about quality - and the latest series of Shameless have been 16 episodes a throw, remember, so clearly he knows a thing about maintaining a certain degree of quality in long running shows. It's about familiarity.
Unfortunately, my response to that would be 'and is Shameless as good as when it started?' (2)

ANYWAY: what I'm saying is that I don't mind WHICH model is used as long as it works for what is being done (narratively). The shape itself doesn't have to be a problem as long as narratively the format works for whatever it is. Torchwood was a bit batty, and patchy, too often uncertain of its audience or purpose, but 13-eps in its first two seasons was fine by me. Restructured to 5 -- and screened appropriately (over 5 nights) -- it was a revelation of brilliance.

Some things are just a narrative that works perfectly over 6 episodes. Some want, need, should have 13. Or 21. Should we dismiss the usefulness of commissioning longer series? Not if that is what the great narrative a TV writer proposes deserves. Besides, has no-one ever heard of cancelled series? And a cancelled series doesn't have to mean it doesn't work - look at how Firefly revived sufficiently to generate a MOVIE for goodness sake from its cancelled/DVD sales.

Anyway - those are my thoughts.

(1) FYI I just howled with laughter reading this gem about Beer Bad from Wikipedia.
This plot was written with the plan to take advantage of funds from the Office of National Drug Control Policy available to shows that promoted an anti-drug message.[8] Funding was rejected for the episode because "[d]rugs were an issue, but ... [it] was otherworldly nonsense, very abstract and not like real-life kids taking drugs. Viewers wouldn't make the link to [the ONDCP's] message."[9]

(2) Mind, I have never really subscribed to the 'OMG-Shameless-is-BRILLIANT!' brigade. Not funny. Not weirdly heart-warming. Even if Abbott is writing from personal observation/experience as his starting point (though that was quite some way back now - Shameless has been running since 2004), the show has long since become a comfortable form of pornography about working-class life.

If people are bothered, I can probably expect some abuse about those remarks.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

xkcd - often a source of cheer

Cloud often sends me an xkcd cartoon to cheer me up, and as I only get chance to follow them up occasionally, it's nice to rummage about and find further goodies.

Here are some I've enjoyed today

Conspiracy Theories

Thoughts (especially of amusement to anyone who has watched Secret Smile and a certain line said aloud)



Nighttime Stories

I Know You're Listening

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

London pictures - Eltham Palace - Art Deco Heaven Saturday 11 September 2010

Eltham Palace in Kent London, definitely in LONDON, ine the lovely borough of Greenwich, is just DIVINE. Taking a medieval palace and making it an Art Deco heaven was a stroke of genius on the part of the Courtauld family.

London pictures - The Red House

Thames Festival Fireworks - Sunday 12 September 2010

The Mayor's firework display went off with a bang near the end of our London trip.

A slightly less professional filming but with a bit more atmosphere - and nearer to our vantage point (though we were clearly below this filmer as we were down at Gabriel's Wharf -- the fireworks definitely felt as if they came a bit closer as they exploded)!

Visiting London - William Morris and the Red House, Eltham Palace and the Globe Theatre

Makes sense if you actually bring in your memory stick WITH the draft post and pictures on it to post online.... *you bloody dolt Lisa*

Apologies people: it's been a demented start to term.

Shine on Harvest Moon

Tap, tap. Is this thing on? There was a Harvest Moon last night.

Pretty wasn't it?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The hiccups continue

Neil started with hiccups on Friday night (UK time) not long after the Christchurch NZ earthquake hit (their Saturday morning).

He STILL has hiccups.

With a Wicked Willow hat on I say "bored now", but mostly I'm just worried that the doctor's warning that someone had hiccups for around 60 years will come true with us...

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Showtime meme

I've been tagged by Persiflage (an LJ friend) to identify my favourite performances by the following - relatively randomly chosen - actors. This means there are some where it is easy to choose some favourite performances, and others where there was an obvious favourite, and others where it was 'depends on my mood' (e.g. some days you just want to indulge ins something you shouldn't...) and others where I was pushed to think of a choice.

Hmm. Here goes:

  • David Tennant - Casanova /Hamlet - Doctor Who/Blackpool/Einstein and Eddington but I can watch/listen him in anything - does an addiction to the Hiccup audio books count against me?
  • Ben Daniels - Conspiracy (because everyone in that was incredible) Law and Order-UK (because he nails the Sam Waterston righteous liberalism
  • Paul McGann- Our Mutual Friend /Doctor Who (esp. on audio)
  • Mark Gatiss - Funland (evil stuff, but everyone is brilliant in it)
  • John Thaw - Kavanagh QC (which I think I like more than Morse)
  • Douglas Henshall - Anna Karenina / This Year's Love / Primeval (especially s1) - The Crucible / Coast of Utopia - Voyage, and on radio 'Fragile!'/ 'The Long Farewell'/ Bampot Central, but again, anything will do. He's never less than worth turning up to watch/listen to - most particularly when that delicious Scottish voice comes through.
  • Derek Jacobi - Cadfael, Breaking the Code, and anything on stage that I WISH I had seen him in (plus he was awesome in Doctor Who)
  • John Simm - The Devil's Whore --- probably followed by Life on Mars, State of Play and Crime and Punishment
  • Kevin Whately - Lewis (and he's certainly better in this than in Morse: room to breathe and plays well against Mr Billie Piper)
  • Martin Freeman - Sherlock (because I couldn't bear The Office: though he is well sweet in Love Actually)
  • Judi Dench - Mrs Brown /A Fine Romance/As Time Goes By (but I wish I had seen her on stage)
  • Kate Ashfield - WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?! --- sorry, that makes more sense if you read anything written on Marie Phillips's previous blog (Struggling Author) or read subsequent writings here. Otherwise, Shaun of the Dead
  • Freema Agyeman - Doctor Who/ Law and Order UK
  • Saskia Reeves - Butterfly Kiss (just a stunning performance, as was Amanda Plummer)
  • Lalla Ward - Doctor Who
  • Karen Gillan - Doctor Who
  • Claire Ashfield - who??
  • Hermione Norris - Wire in the Blood/Cold Feet/Spooks (though I never quite forgave her initial actions in the last of these)
  • Maggie Smith - Tea with Mussolini (I must be the only person who doesn't mind her heartstrings being shamelessly pulled by this film)
  • Julia Roberts - The Pelican Brief (because I love a conspiracy thriller)
Blimey, that was a fairly random list!!!!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Earthquake hits South Island New Zealand

A massive 7.4 earthquake has hit South Island New Zealand.

To pre-empt questions, everyone seems to be okay - mother-in-law spoke to Neil's bro and family shortly after it happened, although power and water supplies are out at present.

The damage looks pretty bad and I know the place which was the epicentre (Darfield).

Robert Burns - readings worth listening to

Oh sweet weekend, thank you for bringing me readings of Robert Burns writings.

And look who is on the list of lovely readers: lovely Dougie Henshall reading Burns.


Thanks as ever to the Douglas Henshall fan website for passing on the tip.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Film Review: The Girl Who Played with Fire 29 August 2010

Bless the Broadway in Nottingham; even when a film like The Girl Who Played with Fire has advertising everywhere I still wouldn't want to see a Swedish movie any where else in Nottingham.

For a Sunday 2pm screening, there was a fair number and I think I can safely say that all had avidly read the book and I doubt many are looking forward to the English language remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo with Daniel Craig (who is utterly wrong for the role in my mind).

ANYWAY: to the second of the films in the book trilogy.

We've the main actors back - Nyqvist, Rapace - and therefore a degree of continuity from the first film. Its a shame that cinema production values couldn't be provided, but I've grown to love YellowBird productions being an addict of the Wallander dramas (interestingly Nyqvist turned up as a villain in the Wallander episode that turned up on BBC4 on the Saturday night -- it wasn't one we'd seen and it was a cracker [Mastermind was the episode]).

As the middle of a trilogy, the narrative inevitably suffers from a degree of incompletion largely avoided by the first (more self-contained storyline) and the finale (to round things off, at least at that point). But it is a cracking narrative: yes, there are omissions, sidelines and sub-plots that get excluded, but the thrust remains the same. Only one element disappointed both Cloud and I -- and that was failing to include in the dialogue any of Salander's infuriated references to Kalle Bastard Blomkvist or Kalle Bastard Practical Pig Blomkvist. Ah, those made us laugh so much when we read the novel.

The UK trailer only part captures the movie, and distractingly it uses the music used for Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Weird. I almost prefer watching the Swedish trailer.

But the point is that I'm really waiting for the finale to come out in the cinema later this year.

I came home yesterday afternoon and promptly re-read 'The Girl Who Played with Fire'. I'm waiting till I see the finale - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest' - to re-read that volume.

Theatre Review: final performance of Morte D'Arthur - RSC, Courtyard Theatre, Stratford Saturday 28 August 2010


The Greg Doran and Mike Poulton production of Morte D'Arthur was certainly something I had wanted to see. But we were far too tardy for our own good in booking for the current season at Stratford and it seemed likely we'd therefore miss out.

Whilst reviews were best described as 'mixed', I felt in this case I could trust Billington's enthusiastic Guardian review. And I felt even more loss at missing the chance to see the RSC production.

Thankfully, help came from an unexpected source - the combination of 'erring on the side of caution' from a friend (who felt the production was unlikely to be suitable for a young girl) and a lovely family of grandma, daughter and granddaughter that Helen and I had met back in October 2008.* And so it was, that at the last minute Neil and I got the chance to go and see Morte D'Arthur.

Neil and I travelled down and arrived in a storm of drumming from a troupe of Chinese drummers: a welcome for us only just about topped by the delightful sight of two of the family that H and I had befriended. I felt rotten that we were depriving grandma and granddaughter of their tickets (since it would be the mum who was accompanying us) but with such an enthusiastic welcome it was hard to feel bad for long. The excitement of the drumming performance set our hearts racing - and our youngest member even more so when she realised how many of the actors had come out to enjoy the lively performance. There was an especially giddy delight in spotting JonJo O'Neill (no NOT the 1980s jockey, despite Neil's poor jokes!) as he was a firm favourite and one that the family had already delighted in running into the previous evening out shopping.

JonJo is utterly charming - how could he not be with such a delightful Belfast accent - and the pleasure our youngest companion got from standing next to him was positively radiant. Of course, this had to be the day where we had NO CAMERA with us (doh!) so at last we frantically pulled out my phone and I passed it on to grandma who scuttled over to take a picture of the two of them. I watched on, only to be determinedly waved over to join the shot!

(I'll let my friends keep the full image as private as I'm very aware of how photographs can be misused - but the smile our youngest friend had was infectious).

We knew it would be a long production, the show was not much under 4 hours even with a break and pause, and I did fear that years of 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' / 'Spamalot' would have tainted the narrative too much. But we needn't have feared; the production came with plenty of intentional laughter, but it was also incredibly beautiful - the costumes were fantastic - and the music was incredible. (The RSC musicians must be some of the most talented working in theatre anywhere - their range and skills are breathtaking to listen to). Forbes Masson again proved that he has the most incredible voice - the heights his vocal range can hold are the sounds of angels (and it was especially nice to tell him so after the performance).

Sam Troughton (Arthur) and Forbes Masson (Merlin)

Split into three sections, the play covers revenge, magic, adultery and religion in almost equal measures. There is a devil (quite terrifying), there are family feuds that make soaps look straightforward, and there is love in all forms -- unrequited, cuckolded, transgressive, and pure. No character is truly without flaw - though the charming Gareth, who arrives as a bear before winning over the court to become a knight, comes pretty close. At the other end of the spectrum is the nigh irredeemable Mordred, played with great relish by Peter Peverley as an oily, tell-tale, conniving weed. And the actor seems such a nice bloke! But he does a great job with a wicked part since for all his evil, the audience can't help but laugh at his nastiness (for example when he's trying to arrange it so he can marry 'widowed' Guenever, his efforts to look pleased at hearing Arthur isn't dead as expected -- 'I had letters to the contrary' -- doesn't convince anyone, but it's mighty hilarious nonetheless!)

Of all the characters in the winding tale, Launcelot is the most deluded; he believes his love for Guenever is pure but it is hard to deny that he is 'naked' with her in her bedchamber (though not as naked as some maybe thought possible). The hapless Elaine -- Mariah Gale as a quintessential teenager in full-blown crush-mode -- inevitably falls for Launcelot's looks, charm and politeness, completely missing that his heart belongs to another. And in pursuing the Grail, it is Launcelot's heart that sees bewinged angels.

Jonjo O'Neill as Launcelot and James Howard as the Grail Angel in Morte d'Arthur. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

I feel so incredibly privileged that we got to see this show - it was spectacular and beautiful on every level. But there were other aside pleasures: besides reuniting with our friends of the Saturday October 2008 matinee, I also ran into a couple who had sat near Helen and I on the Friday October 2008 evening performance. And then, in a lovely reversal of the Saturday afternoon of October 2008 when I had encouraged our youngest friend to the stage door, grandma encouraged me to do my own autograph gathering. I ended up speaking to and getting autographs from 15 of the cast and crew - including, to my great delight, Greg Doran. Everyone was utterly delightful as we chatted about hot weighty costumes, desperate thirst, loving the chance to sing, the chaos of stage door chatter, the art of signing in mid-air and much more. I wouldn't have dared do all that without encouragement - I kept automatically lurching back into helping smaller people forward, and loaning my pen out - so it was a real treat to end up with so many signatures.

A total delight and a day I will treasure for quite a long time.

*You remember October 2008? When Love's Labours Lost and Hamlet ruled our every activity...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Word Verification - spammed to oblivion and sick of it

Apologies to those who have left legitimate comments that I haven't responded to at the moment: you may have spotted that in recent days I have been getting hellishly spammed. So back on goes 'Word Verification' which should hopefully prevent the worst of the spamming.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Medium Rob - Guardian star!

No mention of Joanna Page, or the Random Acts of Ali Larter, or - bafflingly! - Doctor Who - but there mentions for our favourite Medium Rob feature, Sitting Tennant.

Shame his hosting site decided today was a good day to drop functionality (albeit temporarily) but well done Medium Rob for his Guardian Internet site pick of the week!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Summer Sundae 2010 - Sunny Sunday! 15 August

***Still a Work in Progress! (but nearly done!***

Bliss! The sun is out! - BBC pictures here for Sunday at Summer Sundae 2010. We start the day with breakfast at the Landsdowne bar which serves around 30+ people a much deserved sit-down breakfast in the midst of the festival.

With sunlight greeting the final day of Summer Sundae, it was definitely a day for enjoying the sun as much as the music. Nevertheless, we kicked off things with most of the set of David Gibb [and the Pony Club] putting in a charming local performance (he's from Derby!) and setting the folk-esque tone for the day. This was followed up with the Red Shoe Diaries, more local music as they;re from Nottingham. Getting the right balance of local music and those from further afield is hard: it could go too far, but its nice to hear good music from the local area. Very inspired by Camera Obscura and Belle and Sebastian but I'm hardly likely to complain about those influences am I? So I offer up my money for a very home produced CD and am very pleased about lending a hand to local talent.

As the sun continues to shine in fearsome defiance of the previous days rain, we revel in cider/beer and sitting about. The Guthlaxtones pump out some mighty and fearsome covers of classic soul/funk/pop from the 70s and 80s, the Summer Sundae Choir rehearse for the last time, and we enjoy the hilarious spectacle of a 14 year-old girl locating and berating her father.
Girl: "Dad! What do you think you're doing?!"
Dad (had been sitting reading his Observer newspaper)
Girl: "You were supposed to meet us at the Rising Tent!"
Dad (starts to get up, calmly and casually folding his paper)
Girl: "God! You can be such a child!"
Ah, the moral certainty of the 14 year old girl...

We peer in through the back of the Musician Tent to watch the crowd whooping it up the YMCA from The Guthlaxtones (I really think they should have had the big stage)

Anyway, after that fun, we took in the pleasure of Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit, sadly without Laura Marling (who he duets with on his recent album 'Been Listening') but its clear evidence of his style. Perfect for the summer sun.

Megafaun had come over from South Carolina (as we were reminded often), but they were GREAT fun. Bearded, folky, rocky, and generally just great entertainment. From the same stable as Bon Iver (which may give some idea of their style. They would randomly go acoustic in the middle of their songs and wander around and into the audience much to our general delight. They had a a great 'devil-may-care' attitude about many things, not least their records. "We have an album out... but we don't have it for sale here because we couldn't afford to get it through customs. You can just steal it from the internet. That's fine. Unless you;re our record company, in which case, but it. But mostly you can just steal it. You can always buy it from iTunes, which is kinda halfway between the two..." Genius!

After such excitement, we couldn't really be bothered with Junip (but then Jose Gonzales has singularly failed to capture my imagination on any of his previous turns at Summer Sundae). Instead we ducked indoors for a brief encounter with Errors (previously watched with the George at Summer Sundae). Fine, but we were getting in gear for one of our anticipated highlights - The Low Anthem.

From my first hearing of 'Charlie Darwin', it was hard not to love The Low Anthem. When their rockier hoe-down side came to light via the album it was both a shock and pleasure. So we were really looking forward to seeing them at Summer Sundae.

We planted ourselves near the stage: a good thing as at one point the mike stopped working (Ballboy suffered a similar fate at IndieTracks) but it didn't really deter The Low Anthem who just promptly moved into acoustic mode. Beautiful for those of us close to the stage who dropped to a hushed attentiveness to capture their talents. Gorgeous.

It was a stunning performance, even though at the end the band apologized for their "sloppy performance", but I knew what would get to me, and that was when they sang 'Charlie Darwin'. I'm sorry but it is SUCH a wonderful song: the harmonies are like angels. Not ashamed to say I had tears rolling down my cheeks at that.

I didn't think much would top that before the magnificent Mumford and Sons hit the finale, but I was pretty much proved wrong.

David Ford first hit my radar via a Word magazine compilation - it featured the heartbeaking 'A Long Time Ago' and from that I was sold. I've played the song MANY times. So I wasn't going to miss the chance of seeing him here. We got far more than we bargained for, thanks to a grumpy local church causing the postponement of his performance with the band. But this is David Ford. He doesn't let that hold him back despite the fact that one of his songs is called Cheer Up (You Miserable Fuck): it's actually a heartening song!

Anyway. Having been infuriated into walking away - "hopefully we'll be on in an hour" - I stumbled back from the toilets to find... he's just sitting there singing! He proceeds to sing his way through several songs, roping in the audience on tambourine etc for percussive effect and some gentle bongo playing from one of his band members. He nevertheless gives the impromptu set real vigour: we're an addicted crowd, many knowing his work.

We even had a sing-a-long to 'kumbaya' ("what do Christians sing?") and much amusement at his delight when the compere (from the Musician venue of Leicester who sponsor the tent) offered to make him a coffee.

He ended his acoustic set by coming down into the crowd and proceeded to sing 'Stephen' which he acknowledged as 'probably the saddest song ever' -- I couldn't help spotting a couple just by where he stopped: he with his arms around he, she near tears. Understandable as it is truly one of the most moving tracks you could hope to hear in such a setting (it was dedicated to Kate Carroll and her husband Stephen who was a Catholic policeman murdered by the Continuity IRA earlier in 2009. David has said that he was moved to write the song after hearing Stephens widow talking in a TV interview where she said "I hope these people are listening and if they just realised that we only get one chance at life and a piece of land is a piece of land.)

(I spoke to the couple who had been so moved by his performance of "Stephen" - I knew it must have made their festival, not just the acoustic set, but to end on that particular track. A lovely moment. They'd only seen him when he supported The Low Anthem on tour earlier this year, never having heard him before then. But they won't forget Summer Sundae in a hurry).

After that, David Ford took a well-deserved break before - he'd done an acoustic set for the best part of 40 mins and then he came back to do a shortened full-set with his band. What a bonus. Okay, so he had to reject requests for songs already done in the acoustic performance (we'd had a spikey 'State of the Union' for example) but I don't think anyone left that performance unimpressed. A real festival highlight.

(even worth missing Los Campesinos!)

Frightened Rabbit (25 mins)

Mumford and Sons are one of those bands whose time has been coming for a LONG while: another 6Music find (of course), they were inevitably many people's highlight. Indeed, they were no doubt a big reason why the Sunday tickets sold out first.

Arty photo of Mumford and Sons!