Monday, 29 June 2009

From camp to cretins

Having never seen a live musical, it was with some trepidation I joined a friend at the Playhouse to see La Cage aux Folles last Friday. Filmed musicals have always seemed appallingly tacky, overblown and full of ridiculous plot contrivances which would be dismissed in even the most outlandish Hollywood summer blockbuster. Only Oliver! truly resonated with me because it's about London street urchins and has a career-best Ollie Reed performance.

LCaF was far better than I could reasonably expect and full of great one-liners such as, "If he loved me, he'd vacuum." A story about a gay couple who run a drag club will always be camp as Glastonbury but even for unreconstructed heterosexual men like me there's plenty to think about. Themes of identity and pride are key to the story. Drag queen Albin is eventually true to himself despite the initial efforts of partner Georges to hide his same-sex partner from self-appointed moral guardian Monsieur Edouard Dindon.
On one level this is a fairytale, because being yourself can often bring its own problems, but at some stage in their lives everyone has had to deal with disapproving parents. Never mind, eh? Love always finds a way. In fiction, at least.

A completely different cultural experience last night. Terminator Salvation. The fourth in a series of gradually diminishing returns. It was great fun, but Christian Bale should drop the portentous growl. It's all very well being the most serious actor of your generation, but the throaty bark was enough in The Dark Knight. In a Terminator sequel, fans appreciate a little humour. At least when they have to sit through a subtitled version of the film without warning from box office staff. When I went to complain (thus missing the bulk of the opening death row scene) a cinema employee who looked like a down-at-heel Grandpa Munster explained it was for the deaf and tried to lay some guilt trip on me. Of course the subtitles were for the deaf, I didn't doubt that, I just wanted warning before paying to get in. Grandpa said I could speak to the manager if I wanted my money back, but only if I saw him right now, thus missing the film. After making it clear I wouldn't be returning to the cinema again, I returned to my seat. Five minutes later a security man walked in the screening and the manager came to talk to me while I watching film. I told him I didn't want my money back so he finally pissed off. How stupid can you get? It's already inconvenienced me to complain the first time, without the old vampire trying to prolong the matter, now the manager interrupts the film.

Streatham Odeon staff proved themselves incompetent but I'll return. Although I love jammin' all over town at a moment's notice (and often do), I'm far more inclined to see a film locally. The Odeon is one of three cinemas within 25 minutes walk and there will be times when neither of the other two are showing an interesting movie, so there's no alternative when the mood hits - unless I want to draw my own damn film on the kitchen wall.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Two heroes gone in one week

“The thing that sometimes seems to get overlooked about Michael Jackson is what an absolutely phenomenal singer he was. He had one of the greatest gospel shouts of the 20th century, quite possibly the last of its kind. The outros of some of his songs especially, such as ‘Wanna Be Startin' Somethin’ were ecstatic, and, or, full of pain, like the one about the environment [‘Earth Song’] which Jarvis Cocker attacked him for. I like Jarvis, but I personally didn’t really understand the reason for that.”

Jerry Dammers, founder/main songwriter of The Specials
On the eve of Glastonbury word comes through that the inspirational Steven Wells has passed away. There couldn’t be any further big news for the twin worlds of music and journalism before the weekend could there?

In the end speculation counted for nothing. Michael Jackson couldn’t manage any of his 50 sold out London dates. Frail, financially uncertain and dogged by allegations of child abuse he may have been in later years, but the MJ that really mattered was a true entertainer. He could sing, write and dance better than almost any man alive.

He lived with a chimp, dangled his infant son from a window, slept in an oxygen tank, lived in a theme park of his own design and invented the moonwalk before dying at 50 years old.

Millions of fans around the world have been playing the King of Pop’s tunes since the news of his death was confirmed yesterday with some dancing and singing in the streets in Los Angeles. I sat through Off The Wall, ‘Thriller’, ‘Bad’, ‘Billie Jean’ and a handful of others.

We may never see his like again and it’s fair to say his influence on the world of pop, rock, rap and dance can’t be underestimated. You can’t have a decent house party without a few Jacko tunes, while remixes of his tracks are always surfacing in clubland.

Predictably tributes have been flying around almost too quick to even read. There's even a mass moonwalk at Liverpool St at 6pm tonight.

Can there be anyone else in the world whose death would provoke Gordon Brown, Martin Scorsese, Beyoncé, MC Hammer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Uri Geller to say words of thanks and loss?

Thursday, 25 June 2009

View from Brockwell Park towards central London

Dogs, joggers, kids playing football, stoners, sunbathers, drunks, swimmers in the park's Lido and paddling pool nearby but not in shot.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Noisettes provide homecoming delight

It may lack the scuffed charm of some Camden boozers, but The Edinburgh Castle is usually my default pub to meet in NW1. Refreshingly for the manor it lacks tourists, has a decent beer garden and serves Red Stripe (God's own lager) on draft. All of which should be essential qualities for a pub, especially in the summer.

From TEC it's just a quick stroll down to Koko, undoubtedly one of London's most beautiful popular gig venues. The grade II listed building was a complete toilet when it was named Camden Palace. Club night Peach was held there every Friday night and it's fair to say most of the punters got as messy and distressed as the interior. Once a friend of mine thought he saw two men were rolling on the floor fighting. They were in fact bin bags.

Last night Koko did not see the return of over 1,000 people yelling "oi oi" during the breakdown to a banging '99 trance anthem but it did see Noisettes smack out a typically captivating set. Shingai Shoniwa is one of the most charismatic frontwomen of her generation so it's especially pleasing to see she hasn't lost any of that formidable stage presence. Back in 2005 the trio threw together punkish stormers like 'Scratch Your Name' with vulnerable quiet moments like 'Monte Christo' to create thrilling shows. On last night's evidence they still excite and soothe like they were born to it. Given their recent No 2 hit with 'Don't Upset The Rhythm', things also look commercially bright for the south Londoners, while Top marks must also go to Shingai for utilising props. At one point a rope ladder was dropped from the ceiling, which she climbed and sang from while upside down.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Doing The Knowledge and digging The Knocks

Doing the knowledge is a much undervalued education. The best mate reckons it's harder than doing a degree. Although he's never embarked on one of those himself and I've never done the knowledge, I'm inclined to agree with him.

Given the extraordinary level of detail trainee cabbies are asked to recall at their appearances there can be little surprise it takes so long. There are even stories of some long-suffering cabbies taking a decade to complete what can take as little as two (it's unlikely anyone with full-time work has achieved this in recent years).

It's expected that cabbies learn roads and landmarks around town, but what if some destinations no longer exist? While waiting at the bus stop yesterday evening a baffled chap with a Polish accent asked me if I knew Dick Shepherd School, clearly marked on his map. He couldn't find it because it closed down in 1995.

Here's an infectious new-disco treat from New York production duo The Knocks. Apparently they gave themsleves the moniker because when they started recording irate neighbours would, yes, knock on their walls. Be wary of any act called The STDs.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Elton busy Furnishing new abode

LL will not be turning into the Evening Standard's property section any time soon, but news of a bricks and mortar nature has filtered through about Elton John's new pad.

Apparently the writer of mint tunes like Rocket Man, Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting and my own personal fave

is moving into a meaty gaff on the corner Graham Terrace, SW1. It's no surprise to report that it's the most imposing, expensive and coveted house on the street. The Duke of Westminster owns most of the manor but clearly doesn't mind flogging part of it it on to the nation's favourite toupee-wearer.

Sources tell me the Duke himself is a personable chap and what is in little doubt is how well he treats his staff. All manner of perks are available to his employees with some enjoying knock-down mortgages on Belgravia homes and pension deals the rest of us plebs can only envy.

Sure, he's worth a bob or two, but if he can take the sort of measures which ensure a decent degree of loyalty, what's wrong with the corporate world following suit?

Is it me or are there more flies about than usual this year?

Friday, 19 June 2009

Comprehensive Sleeve Notes

Actually, that could be a title for a book about the dying art of sleeve notes in the digital age. After all, when was the last time a label stuck an essay on an MP3? If music ever regularly gets released sold on USB sticks in any great volume, there could be a return to lyric sheets, essays and so forth.

As an obsessive tunehead who will always prefer the act of buying a physical product over a digital file (and more importantly the human interaction required to make such a purchase in a shop, with actual people) I take an interest in sleeve notes and any information available.

If the person who played that guitar or blew that kazoo or chopped up those samples was sitting in Hackney or Harlem or Helsinki, it may not make the tuneage any better, but knowledge is power. Even if it's just the power to triumph in the music section of the pub quiz.

One release this week with killer sleeve notes is Let It Roll - Songs By George Harrison. A decent biog from from Warren Zanes about the quiet Beatle and plenty of evocative portraits fill the CD booklet and accompany the 19 songs on the album fittingly. The music is mostly thoughtful, cheerful, fare from a man occasionally overlooked but undeniably talented.

While listening back to the album doing my ironing this morning it shocked me to hear just how influenced by Dylan George was. Perhaps this is patently obvious - after all the pair would share a stage in the Traveling Wilburys, while The Beatles were obviously big-time fans. Dylan never jammed about with Ravi Shankar, though. Perhaps that's for the best.

Most George fans I know swear by Here Comes The Sun, While My Guitar Gently Weeps and My Sweet Lord, but my personal fave is the James Ray cover, Got My Mind Set On You. It's pretty cheesy but is uncomplicated and fun in a simple, almost childlike way. It was also one of the first songs I ever owned (aged seven) and reminds me of a time far before bills, hangovers and recession. And it's impossible not to like a tune reworked by Weird Al Yankovic as (This song's only) Six Lines Long...

Thursday, 18 June 2009

I want my money, man

Unless someone steps to your friends or family in some heinous fashion, real-life violence is only really acceptable in the boxing ring. But in animation, even beyond cinema, all sorts of liberties can be taken. This is a scene from the Patriot Games episode of Family Guy first broadcast in January 2006 but it's still surely one of the funniest 62 seconds of TV around.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Unsettling music made by Belgians

Usually people who wear masks are twisted perverts but The Hickey Underworld (from Antwerp, geography fans) are also angry and, if the video to Mystery Bruise below is anything to go by, fans of Spongebob Squarepants.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Top Aussie electro sickness hits London

Grafton Primary are the latest Kangaroo-tying-down loons to try breaking London.

Just to get all the stereotypical stuff out the way quickly they don't work in shit pubs, sing Rolf Harris tunes or bang on about disgusting yeast-based spreads.

Instead they dance like chickens, play louder than the apocalypse and pretty much slap fellow top-rate Aussie dance crews including Pendulum and Cut Copy into the dust.

It helps when you dress like Mad Max's idiot nephews and rock mullets that even Billy Ray Cyrus would deem too silly, but damn this is squat-rave Oz-style and at Cargo last night, their first UK performance went down like a beaut' to the small band of expats and hopeful Londoners that bothered to attend. You dags.
, Cut Copy, Pendulum

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Do Al Qaida go fishing?

Because if the world's most wanted terrorist organisation aren't bang into reeling in the odd trout, why exactly are the London law getting their rods on expenses?
Shooting Stars producer Lisa Clarke tells me the hilarious new regular comedian on the show who impressed everyone at last week's recording is called Dave Skinner, who appeared in character as Angelos Epithemiou. Remember where you heard the name(s) first.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Fun times on the No 2

Did Thatcher really say that any man over the age of 26 who finds himself on a bus should consider himself a failure?

No one on the top deck of the No 2 southbound from Park Lane yesterday lunchtime cared. I was busy sending my friend a photo of my amazing new pink pants, just as the bus zoomed past her office on Vauxhall Bridge Road. Her conclusion was that they were too glam for the average toilet. They may yet make an appearance here.

A cheerful and funny black Londoner of West Indian descent to my right was busy talking about Ibiza, Pro-Plus, gym membership and various drug deals he was involved in while he built a skunk spliff. Two fellas of Portuguese origins two rows in front of me listening to some firey salsa on a mobile phone. But the most interesting bloke was directly in front of me.

While rolling a joint of his own, he kicked off by telling a woman on the phone that "sixty per cent of the music industry was gay" and that there was no way he'd be making "batty boy tunes" because there was "no need for that". Then he loudly explained that when he made love (he didn't say anything stronger than that) he didn't just make girls come, he made them squirt and that if the woman on the phone had not experienced this she had not had "GD", which he explained meant "good dick".

Unsettling stuff to hear on a bus and far too much information but no one hurtling around Vauxhall Cross complained to the dude.

On South Lambeth Road an attractive young woman dressed in tiny tight shorts and a snug boob tube walking slowly past the bus stop we had stopped at. Almost immediately the man in front saw her and alerted the Portuguese lads. Soon the spliff-builder to my right and guys around him lent over so half a dozen men of different races were soon perving on the unsuspecting girl. Laughter and acknowledgement that summer had definitely began followed, even if the whole scene felt sleazy and sexist.

To Greenwich for beers with an old friend who edits three magazines about cranes. He was having difficulty deciding which shot to order in The Coach and Horses, a pub we usually avoid because of its idiotic no-smoking area enclosed by clear plastic walls.
The friendly barmaid suggested a slippery nipple. I said, "No way, that's the kind of thing they drink in Essex." She was from said county and told me to fuck off.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Stars still Shooting?

It was arguably one of the funniest shows of the '90s but
the return of Shooting Stars earlier this year caused mixed feelings among its fans.

Were Vic and Bob doing yet another series for the cash or continued fame? Or had they struck a deal with the Beeb to make SS on the condition they'd be allowed to make another less commerical project? That's what they did in 2004 with Catterick.

Regardless of motive the silly, surreal but mostly hilarious pair were recording a new episode at Television Centre last night. As ever the team captains (Jack Dee and of course, longstanding stooge/all round good egg Ulrika Jonsson) played the straight men while Matt Lucas, dressed as a geisha in full-make up, retained his George Dawes persona in subversive style. After the monumental success of the much-less funny Little Britain he obviously doesn't need the money. Despite the relative calm of the recording and the slight feeling that people were taking the whole thing very seriously indeed, Lucas, Mortimer, Reeves and Jonsson all clearly have a great working relationship developed over many years of, well, pissing about in costumes with outlandish props.

Elsewhere the familiar TV parodies of old made an appearance but the two guests were slightly low-rent.

I mean. Some dappy old tart off How Clean Is your House and a bearded northener?

Incongruity has been a staple of V&B right back to their early stand-up days, so it could be deliberate. After all, what's a comedy panel show without ironic guests?

In one of the regular comedian guest slots Lee Mack said the odd good line, but most of which were vetoed by a lurking producer.

All BBC radio and TV producers have to work in an odd, oppressive self-censoring climate since the Ross/Brand incident was blown masively out of proportion by a frothing anti-broadcast print media. First time I've seen just how bad things are in a real-life situation, though. The show goes out after the watershed, so is it really not on to say "necrophilia"? It's not as though Lee defecated on Adrian Chiles during The One Show.

Undoubtedly the star of the show was Mack's opposite number, a hilarious up and coming comedian who stayed in character as a moronic and sartorially-challenged Anglo-Greek burger-van worker (not a less naive Stavros, more a rougher, London-accented take on Peter Baynham's Peter in Fist Of Fun).

Sadly the spelling of this character's name had at least five syllables so I slightly neglected the reporting duty (I'd only had an hour's sleep so failed to memorise it). A google search yields no results despite my guesses and those of two of my companions for the evening (comedian's real name wasn't revealed). But when I can get the info, it'll be here.

After the recording we strolled down Wood Lane past Westfield to find a shoplifter being arrested. As he was being thrown in a meat wagon by the Retroplitan Police it struck me this was either the dumbest or most desperate shoplifter in West London. The Australian developers spent £1.6 billion on the humungous mall. When you fork out that sort of wedge it's pretty obvious you'll install it with enough top-end CCTV cameras to keep Chuck Berry happy.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Egg-splattered BNP leader complains: "They could've separated the whites"

It was hard to know what was funnier yesterday. Unite Against Facism's attempt to make a Nick Griffin omelette on College Green:

Or going on my first proper "date" in about eight years.

Borough has arguably the best selection of pubs in London and is also my favourite overall area of the city. The former probably has some bearing on the latter. On the seemingly endless bus journey there I wondered if anyone actually does "date" any more.

Most relationships I could think of, including previous ones of my own, began as friendships that moved on when they took a physical turn for the better.

This is much easier, unforced way of doing things than the whole bullshit world of dating, which is often akin to a series of ghastly job interviews.

There's also the uncomplicated fun of the one-night stand but that's another kettle of bream entirely.

Conversation with my date flowed as hilariously as it did the night we met. On that occasion she approached my mate and I in Koko to claim we looked homosexual purely on the basis of an animated discussion we were having.

This night was less confrontational but far kinkier.

Credit where it's due: Headline paraphrased from a joke emailed by the best mate.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Insomnia exacerbates erratic time-keeping

No, nothing to do with one of the best dance anthems of the 1990s.

It was 5am before sleep came this morning. A kick in the cock that meant I didn't get up until 11.30. This in itself not unusual for me these days, but this morning was special because I decided to go for a jog around my rather beautiful local park.

A few weeks back I could only manage to complete a circuit of the perimeter path with three pauses. This time I got almost the entire distance before nearly collapsing. I sat down on the roots of a tree panting like Rik Waller on a treadmill. But I had to ignominiously walk the last 200 yards or so, even if I did feel better for having done some token exercise. Now where's that cake-topped lard and lager pie?

Gutted. Not only has the dog-tossing oven packed up but I can't go to some Red Bull-sponsored blag with a fellow ligger par excellence as I'll be in Norfolk. Still, how about a tune to up the mood?

Monday, 8 June 2009

What you sayin'?

Today licked tramp scrotum so enthusiastically it's better to think about the weekend's entertainment.

On Friday saw Junior Boys perform live @ The Arches.

They didn't really bang it out the way you want at 2am on a Saturday. In that respect they're similar to Hot Chip in a live setting (too much boo-hoo, not enough largin' it).

Both bands do that sorrowful, soulful, deep electro thing with consummate skill, just don't make enough big tunes.

The venue was fat, though. Aside from being on the correct side of the river as so few top class London clubs are, it was your typical open-brickwork, strobe and smoke-machine cavern: A cross between Fabric and Heaven, albeit on a smaller scale.

A decent night, particularly in Room 2 where the Greco-Roman soundsystem had a few interesting heads (including Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet) laying down dark breakbeat, twisted two-step and some brilliant music that defied categorisation but had psychedelia and afrobeat influences. Sweaty, vital fun.

Saturday was all about Stella during the England game before experiencing my first ever bike race in the flesh.

Hit Smithfield to see the whooshing majesty of lycra-clad bods travelling at unnerving speed with the trusty best mate. These days he prefers cycling to football. But then he does support Millwall.

He was also the first person to tell me about Critical Mass and ghost bikes. Both are important for cycling in the capital, the former a bold celebration, the latter a sober warning.

The day didn't finish at Smithfield but kebab minutiae, furtive phone calls and a tube conversation with a drunken Irishman aren't exciting to anyone but late-night novices.