Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bonkers - what an apt word for the London Olympics Opening Ceremony

Bloody hell Danny Boyle!  What dirt have you got on the Queen that she'd be prepared to spoof herself with James Bond for international humour?  What has she been doing with the corgis?!

We started the evening listening to Barenboim conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra doing Beethoven's 9th symphony - whacking up the volume as we approach the final part and the glorious choral excesses of the European Union anthem.  It was heart-soaring stuff.  It wasn't even the last appearance that Barenboim put in yesterday.

When we tuned into the TV coverage, there was the already surreal sight of Frank Turner, Eton scholarship boy turned rebellious protest singer, belting out folk-heroic rock 'n' roll to the masses from a recreation of the Glastonbury Tor.  This wasn't even the start of the event proper.  It would get more weird.

With Mark Rylance doing Richard III, we had the sight of Kenneth Branagh donning a tall hat and playing Isambard Kingdom Brunel saying the lines of Shakespeare's Caliban.  Heralding the end of twee greenery, wandering farm animals, scarecrows, cricket matches, songs from around the UK, the route of the Thames across England, a solo child sang up Blake's Jerusalem and the dark satanic mills were cue-d up, rising with fiery fearsomeness from the ground, uprooting the trees, pouring out worker bee human from the unlit caverns of the soil.  Heat and fire, welding and orange glow: the Olympic rings were forged from human toil.

Pandemonium indeed.

A potted history lesson ran through this early section, encompassing the Suffragettes and the arrival of the Windrush: heck, I half expected there to be a re-creation of last year's riots.  Instead there was a pause in the proceedings at one point to recall the low after the high of being awarded the Olympics - the murders of so many in the 7/7 bombings commemorated and remembered through silence, and then colour and dance as choreographed by Akram Khan to accompany Emili Sande singing "Abide with Me".  It was oddly moving.

There was humour throughout: some intentional, not all of the same degree.  Mr Bean with Sir Simon Rattle conducting the theme from 'Chariots of Fire'; the Queen exchanging lines with Daniel Craig as James Bond (and then her 'parachuting down' into the stadium).

Mostly, it was pretty funny that whenever the cameras hit a shot of Queenie during the ceremony that she looked decidedly unamused, picking her fingernails rather than watching Sir Chris Hoy: I'm standing by Boyle having evidence of Fifty Shades of Corgi to get QE2 to play ball on letting the crews film her and the palace, let alone stay up til 12:45am.  Looks like they had the required music license agreed since it matters less about annoying this part of London than Mayfair.

But across the ceremony there was weird and wonderful in bucketloads: a coming together of children's fiction (with JK Rowling no less) and the NHS complete with spectral Voldemort, child-catcher and Mary Poppins. The internet and music were celebrated with a hyperactive run-through of popular music from the Beatles, through Mud's Tiger Feet, po-go-ing puppet punks, Underworld, and into Dizzee Rascal's Bonkers.

Well, quite. A full list of the Olympics medley music is at the NME site.

After that, finding the Arctic Monkeys, complete with Beatles in Hamburg quiff, doing a barn-storming version of "I bet that she looks good on the dancefloor" followed by cycling winged monkeys doves accompanying a version of "Come Together", seemed positively obvious.

What was less obvious was having ginger-mopped Alex Trimble of Two Door Cinema Club doing a lovely specially commissioned song by Underworld called "Caliban's Dream" (sound only link, with percussion from a witchy and brilliant Dame Evelyn Glennie, Only Men Aloud, Dockhead Choir, and soprano Elizabeth Roberts).

We had a selection of interesting luminaries carrying in the Olympic flag - including Barenboim (God knows how he got from South Ken to the stadium in time). And there was a touching, if painful, moment of human frailty as the once powerful Muhammad Ali was assisted to hold the Olympic flag before it was taken to the flagpole.

The torch was taken along the River Thames by David Beckham (though I felt more for the lass at the front of the speedboat, hair horizontal from the speed) and he passed the torch on to Sir Steven Redgrave.  But it wasn't he who would light the eventual cauldron.  Instead, the torch flame was passed to young Olympic hopefuls for the future selected by the greats of the past, and with other greats there too watching the past hand over to the future.  The copper petals that each nation had carried in with them in the competitors arrival to the stadium formed a beautiful flower which was then lit by the seven flames and rose to become the Olympic cauldron flame.  Stunning.

There was inevitably an appearance by Macca - although hearing "The End" was nice, I did wonder if he may launch into the quirky and equally quick "Her Majesty" - and then there was (an initially sound-fluffed) version of "Hey Jude" complete with crowd sing-along.

Fireworks all the way of course.  You know what, it was kinda pretty good.  Barking mad. But rather good.

The copper petals come together beautifully to create the Olympic cauldron, lit not by past glories but a forthcoming generation of sporting hopefuls

A weird old week: life and death

What a strange week it has been: last weekend was singing on stage, partway through the week there were new arrivals for my boss (a granddaughter) and the lovely George and Sonia added a new son Max to the family to keep big brother Xavi company.

Then Thursday - in the midst of a temporary burst of summer - we had the long drive down past Abingdon to go to a friend's funeral: "the first of the gang to die" so to speak.  It was both wonderfully moving and utterly heartbreaking: seeing someone your own age being buried (albeit in one of the most bucolic and beautiful settings one could imagine) is a harsh reality check to our sense of immortality.

But as Andy would say: "hey ho".  Life goes on, so beautifully proved by new life arriving.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Surviving stage lights: BeVox at the Nottingham Variety Show

Well, it was an experience for sure.

Saturday was a frantic day: I was up relatively early for a weekend and in town by 10am.  The BeVox choir had to be at the Nottingham Arts Theatre by 10.45am to gather for a soundcheck at about 11.30am for the Nottingham Variety Show.

Packing around 60 people onto a small stage was no mean feat and I was glad I opted to trust my memory as I don't think there would have been room to have my music folder out as well! 

I met Helen and Neil for lunch at Edins and then we headed back to the theatre, and eventually I headed in to sit with other choir members at the back of the theatre (one way to pad out the audience!)

A variety show in this day and age is a tricky thing to do: should you go for nostalgia or for a mix of acts that all bring a contemporary feel to the proceedings?  How diverse should you go?

As BeVox were headlining and so were due at the end of the second half of the show, it was just the first half we could sit through - I'd have liked to see some of the acts that were in the second half (I heard good things about some of them), and inevitably the matinee and evening shows did host a slightly different bill.

Best act of the first half at the matinee: Josh Kemp by a country mile.  Erin Parker is clearly a professional performer as well, but there isn't that much variety in the style of 1940s songs (though it is always good to hear Minnie the Moocher).  Great voice and frock though.

Notes on performers:
  • Know the words: I shouldn't know the words better than you
  • Don't look at your feet
  • This isn't reality TV: we shouldn't like your singing more just because of your biography (though that can be valuable once you're established)
  • Know which is the best item to end on
  • Don't overstay your welcome
Due to a variety of issues, we ended up not going on stage until about 5pm - cue my nerves!

Once we'd lined up on stage - and Neil had finished being stooge for the compere's jokes (and passing on jokes for the evening performance!), it was time for us.  Behind the curtains, we tried to place ourselves as best possible.  My word, stage lights are intense!  I was frying on there.

Our songs were:
  • Take a chance on me (Abba)
  • One Voice (Barry Manilow)
  • Rosé (The Feeling)
  • Amazing Grace
  • Qonqgotwane [The Clicking Song]
  • West Side Story medley - Jet Song, Maria, Tonight Quintet, Somewhere, America (Leonard Berstein)
  • Animal Crackers - The Panther, The Canary, The Kangaroo (based on Ogden Nash's poems, set to music by Eric Whitacre)
  • Total Praise (Richard Smallwood, Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir version)
  • Do you know the way to Amarillo?! (a mash-up of 'Do you know the way to San Jose?' / 'Is this the way to Amarillo?)
  • Lean on me (Bill Withers - the BeVox signature song)

A good experience anyway: here's to the next time!

Talk about belated - Cosmo Jarvis on BBC Radio 4

Jeez, BBC Radio 4: your 'fluff' culture slot at 8.20am is always a bit cringeworthy.  But apparantly today was for 'the latest thing' - Cosmo Jarvis.

Erm: didn't I post about Cosmo Jarvis back in January 2011?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My new tee-shirt: thank you tee-fury for 'The Physician Unknown'

Jerry Bennett designed this t-shirt for tee-fury's tee of the day a couple of weeks ago.  It arrived in the mail last week!  Whee!!!!!  I love this t-shirt so much - steampunk doctor!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tomorrow - all being well - I will be singing

Ahoy BeVox: it's the Nottingham Variety Show at the Nottingham Arts Theatre.

I will be - all being well - singing with the choir.


(To show how good they can be see here: the promo video from BeVox at Magna)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

2900 posts on this blog

Just realised that I've done 2900 posts on this blog.  Admittedly many were done in a very productive blogging period near the start, but it's still (just) going!

I'll definitely aim to get past 3000 before the year is out.  However, it's worth noting that even 'lazy' twitterers can manage more than 3000 tweets - I'm slow....

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Claridge's and Bruce Springsteen

Since we were loitering in Mayfair yesterday, looking at the architecture and stuff, I suggested I would like a look at Claridge's.  What a yummy Art Deco building!

There was a small crowd of people outside, nothing too major, about 20 or so.  Eventually we plucked up to ask someone who they were expecting to see.

Bruce Springsteen.

Okay.  THAT is a person I can get why you would want to try and meet.  Is Bruce even going to want to come back after concert organisers switched off the power at his gig last night?  (It was emphatically NOT the Council of Westminster, though presumably a large fine would have had to be paid for the over-run).

Or maybe, since Paul Macca was on stage at the time, the organisers were solid Rolling Stones fans?

Virginia Woolf's service station commemorated

We ended our day in London with a meal at Olivelli - the lovely Pizza Paradiso of old.  Located on Store Street opposite what was reputed to be London's oldest petrol station, the Bloomsbury petrol station has been replaced with... well, some kinda office.  But at least they have a lovely artwork to commemorate Virginia Woolf topping up her car*.

* Woolf may not have done this: I'm just guessing :)

In praise of Elsa Schiaparelli and 1930s dresses

Oooh, I am a sucker for mid 20th century clothing.  1920s through to the 1940s (and shading into the 1950s) I am in my element design-wise.

So it was a real thrill to go to the V&A yesterday: not for the Ballgowns exhibition because that STARTS in the 1950s and I ain't so fussed about modern day ballgowns.  No, I was rather more interested in the new displays for the history of fashion, especially the early 20th century stuff.  Swoon. I feel glamorous just looking at such items.

Atkinson's Perfumier Old Bond Street

Opposite Tiffany's in London is the old Atkinson's perfumier shop: established in 1799 the building is memorialised for its carillion.  It was such a beautiful building, full of strange decorative details, that I couldn't resist taking several pictures!

London July 2012 - Mayfair and shopping in London's arcades (the art of NOT buying)

We found plenty of nifty arcades in London yesterday; all elegantly decorated and attracting those with wealth (and those like us just looking).

We initially saw the Arcade on Albermarle Street.

We then browsed the Burlington Arcade near the Royal Academy.

Finding Matthew Foster's there was the most wonderful - and awful - treat.  Wonderful because his art deco wares were just divine.

Awful because to have these things would break the bank (though aren't the banks already broken?  mmmm).  We've decided that if the number come up on the lottery that good, I'm just phoning Foster and buying the stock.  Everything.

There was a diamond and sapphire square ring priced at £11,500.  Well, THAT'S a sum of money everyone had down the back of their sofa...!*  The image below is of a similar ring that auctioned for around £1000 (a snip), but the Foster item has an unbroken square surround of sapphire with a square diamond in the centre.  Swoon...

*Note: if you have this sum down the back of your sofa, please send it on to me and I'll be buying a shiny ring with it. :)

London in July - part two Jenny Holzer at Spruth Magers

Neil had spotted that there was an exhibition of Jenny Holzer's work - the show is called Sophisticated Devices - at a private gallery.  I'm rather fond of Holzer's work. I came across her during my Art History studies (not Rat Hostiry as I just typed).

Holzer specialises in text-based conceptual art.  The work, the words and aphorisms are sometimes oblique, usually intentionally provocative (are we meant to agree, disagree or recoil in horror at the observation?), but always intriguing...

Spruth Magers Berlin London are the archetypal private gallery.  It's in Mayfair (not far from Cork Street, still historically centre of the art world in London) and it's staffed by pretty girls - with MacBooks - and there's not another visiting soul in sight when we go in.  Admittedly, it's a cold and VERY wet Saturday, but even so.  Neil and I have increasingly come to the conclusion that although not discouraging, the manner of private galleries is scarcely one of "come on in".  Getting the courage to walk up to the door, let alone to buzz to be let in, is hard.  In that light, this particular artwork from the show seems very apt.

It almost makes me sad, because Holzer is foremost a PUBLIC artist.  I don't mean that she makes public artworks only (though she does) but because her works function with regard to public observation.  They are about and for people.  How and why we think.  The world of consumerism, expectations, social mores and perceptions.

Her works are public provocations to think more about ourselves and the world.

I particularly liked the granite benches included here, their solidity reinforcing the harsh statements made on them.  This one really struck me:


London July 2012 - start of the day

We started the day at 5.30am with an alarm to get up; the train from East Midlands parkway was at 7.39 and we arrived in plenty of time for that and sat reading the Saturday Guardian before the train arrived.

We skipped having First Class this time around and it was fine - but I'd have preferred my seat to not have been broken as it made for a somewhat slumped and uncomfy journey down.

Anyway, once arrived we kicked off with a wander through St Pancras to get the Piccadilly line tube to Leicester Square - the square is now finished but doesn't look THAT different.  Nice railings, a curvy boundary, Shakespeare is still in the middle, but nowt that special and they haven't even weeded the outer edge yet.

We headed past Notre Dame de France (visited many moons ago on Open House Day) and then around to pick up Wardour Street and on to Bar Bruno where we were greeted with joyful enthusiasm by the ever-lovely Bruno.  He may be semi-retired now, but the place is such a lovely way to start a day in London.   A great welcome - we may only go about 3-5 occasions over a year but you feel like you've come back home when they greet you.  My mum would have LOVED this place.

After breakfast it was on to the NPG for the BP Portrait Awards 2012.  Always enjoy seeing the images here, and though I preferred a different image to the winner (bold and impressive though the winner was), it was a pleasure to see portraiture continuing.

Once we'd done the exhibition we started to head to Mayfair, but then Neil offered the idea of getting some Tim Tams from the Australia Shop in Covent Garden so we headed there first!  Yum....

Stratford - Shakespeare's Church

We may have driven through torrential rain to get there but once we arrived in Stratford on Avon last week, the weather was lovely.  As we'd never made it inside previously - yes, I know, terrible - we thought we should make a pilgrimage into Shakespeare's church: Holy Trinity.


The large organ at Holy Trinity

Shakespeare's tomb and statue

The seats had very amazing carvings on them.

And as we came out there was the most beautiful dappled sunlight through the trees as you walked from the church.

Malt Cross bands July 2012

Neil can sometimes really help bring the happy to a week - on July 4th he spotted that three bands were doing a free gig at one of our best local pubs in Nottingham.  The glorious Malt Cross Music Hall is a real hidden treasure in Nottingham, tucked on a small side street just off the main Market Square.

The building was built in 1877 and restored a few years ago.  The glass roof is a beauty:

Anyway, on July 4th we headed there from work to meet and have food (they do decent food at the Malt Cross too), 

We were so early that the bands were in the process of setting up on the balcony and rehearsing.  The three bands on were: Red Shoe Diaries, August Actually and topping the bill, The Lobster Boat Band, essentially Howard Hughes from the band Coming Home and David Tattersall from The Wave Pictures, plus other members from these respective bands.

Watching the bands rehearse was lovely - we had some extra tracks and therefore also had chance to enjoy a bit of extra music. 

In terms of the gig(s), I wish that August Actually would release some of their new vampire/werewolf flavoured tunes, but they were a real blast to see live - a kinda Jeffrey Lewis style collection but with added fun.  Love the trumpet playing and electric violin, but mostly loved them for their quirky lyrics and tone. And Red Shoe Diaries are always good - seen at Summer Sundae a few years ago and still entertaining even as a 3-piece (the rest of the band were unavailable).  They also did a nice line in loaning a guitar when things went awry, but mostly for me me this evening was about the fabulous Tattersall, Hughes and co - everything else was a gorgeously appreciated bonus!

It was especially nice given this was a free gig in a pub that Hughes still ventured from the balcony stage down into the pit to sing a cappella, quietening the noise in a lovely way.  His elegant swing beneath the railings, using his height to make the move look effortless, was a joy to see (he'd checked it's feasibility earlier to do this maneouvre!) 

Howard Hughes getting ready to test his theory that he can elegantly clamber from balcony to ground floor...

And Hughes a cappella singing was delightful, taking to a chair, ending by singing from the stairwell to the balcony. The Malt Cross is an odd venue because the balcony stage means you are looking DOWN from a height to most of the audience, with another section of audience looking DOWN on you.  Anyway, we had a fab time and here are some pictures of the occasion.

Red Shoe Diaries watched by David Tattersall

August Actually

The Lobster Boat Band

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Caesar in Africa - Julius Caesar @ Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, Friday 6 July 2012

I'm meant to be writing book reviews (and I am, honest: I just got distracted - I'm at least a quarter-way through doing each of them...). We booked to see this new production of Julius Caesar a while ago, and we were not sure at the time when this may be shown on TV (as we knew a TV version would be produced). We ended up missing the TV version, but as it came just a couple of weeks before we were due to see it on stage, we felt it was a screening we would not miss as much as some others (I've set to record the Hollow Crown series).

Well, we saw this African-set Julius Caesar last night and it was a joy. I mean we enjoyed the version we saw at the RSC (at the Courtyard) a few years ago, but this was in another league entirely.*

Paterson Joseph as Brutus was especially amazing to watch, especially when paired with Ray Fearon as Mark Anthony (there's a lovely mini-documentary on their roles at the RSC site).  But it does seem harsh to pick out individuals as this was such a great piece of collective performance.  The 'community chorus' that has been recruited to perform are fantastic, and wonderfully supplement the official speaking parts.  The music is fantastic, not least in the opening pre-play sequence, something of a growing tradition at the RSC and one I really enjoy as the stage fills with action.

And can I just say that Adjoa Andoh as Portia** more than matches Paterson Joseph's excellence in one of the play's rare female roles (this is a VERY male play on many levels).  What the women lack in lines, they make up for in compelling commitment to speaking truth, even though both she and Calpurnia (Caesar's wife) are ultimately unsuccessful at maintaining their husbands' grip on power or wisdom.

The African setting is exceptionally potent, and the linguistic rhythms of Shakespeare lend themselves well to these accents delivering the dialogue: there's plenty of guns and gunfire, but blades remain to the fore and there is a particularly disconcerting scene where Cinna the poet is mistook for Cinna the conspirator with deadly consequences echoing the internecine violence of arpartheid South Africa.

If you get chance to see this on tour, in London or elsewhere, then take the chance.  It's a stunning production and worth seeing on stage and not just on screen,

* I'd like to note that final line in my previous review about the monsoon we drove through to get to Stratford. What is it about Stratfordian monsoon rainfall and Julius Caesar?! It was pretty biblical driving from Nottingham to Stratford yesterday!

** Andoh is also stunningly beautiful, but Ann Ogbomo just shades it in terms of how she is costumed

Monday, July 02, 2012

Lost weekend... interrupted

Hey ho: ain't it the truth that life and death get in the way of things.

Never mind - we still had a good run at things this weekend.

Thursday night:

Fright Night (2011) - see a neat interview here with writer Marti Noxon, and another with David Tennant who plays Peter Vincent in the film
The Decoy Bride
- selected scenes from Harry Potter 4 (The Goblet of Fire)


French Film
If Only
- the shoot-out scene from The International (in the Guggenheim New York)

- the opening sequence from the Sherlock episode 'The Reichenbach Falls, and the end (*sob*)
Do You Remember The First Time? - Doctor Who Confidential for Blink
Primeval Season Two finale
Primeval Season 3, episode 3 (Dougie's final episode)
- selected scenes from Orphans

- listened to The Now Show

Hamlet (this took longer than the 3 hours to watch as we got distracted by Tennant's midriff and appendectomy scar - in no defense at all we had been drinking)


- the second half of A Good Year
- Tim's Story from Lawless Heart
- selected poems from 'Essential Poems to Fall in Love With'
- final 'year' sequence from This Year's Love (including the supermarket scene)
Final episode of Blackpool
- LA Confidential from when Exley asks Vincennes why he joined the police, and the story of Rollo Tomasi
- odds and ends (very short scenes from stuff)
- start of Anna Karenina episode one
Einstein and Eddington

.... and there proceedings were brought to a stop for this year.  It was good whilst it lasted and if H and I can get a day off together then who knows, we may yet get our annual pilgrimage to Venice and Casanova...