A few days ago we returned to the town of my birth – the careworn but wonderfully characterful channel port of Folkestone. Strolling along the cliff-top I spied the familiar sight of a truck loading equipment and scenery at the local theatre.
The load-in we witnessed was it transpired for a touring production of Aida being staged my old friend the opera producer Ellen Kent. The crew, who were having a cup of tea and a sarnie in the back of the truck, seemed decidedly bashful when we took a snap of an exotic prop being “rested” before making the journey into the theatre. I couldn’t help thinking that their reticent behaviour was completely unlike their flamboyant boss. A larger than life character, Ellen used to regularly contact me during my days as an Arts and Entertainments editor to regale me with astonishing tales of her latest venture.
In those balmy pre credit-crunch days her touring shows invariably displayed a headline-catching gimmick or three. She seemed to have a positive menagerie of live animals and birds taking part in her productions and there were also naked women, dancing fountains, walls of flame and various death-defying stunts.
Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings: Lighthouse, Poole. Friday 29th November, 2013
This should have been a fantastic show. In fact I’m sure it was. Unfortunately, despite superb musicianship, an eclectic mix of blues and R&B and a whole bunch of other gems, it sounded awful. Struggling from the outset with a decidedly soupy sound, Bill and the band battled gamely on.
This phenomenal show has been on the road for 25 years now. It has zig-zagged the world and been seen by a staggering 22 million people. It’s a superbly packaged piece of musical theatre telling the true rags to riches story of Buddy Holly, the boy from small-town Texas who in little more than 18 months back in the late 1950s, rewrote the history of popular music, scoring a raft of inimitable hits and soaring to unimaginable success before dying in a plane crash on a snow-swept night in February 1959. Also aboard that fateful flight – trying to make it through the blizzard-battered Mid-West to the next gig – were his fellow bill-toppers The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. They were the pop superstars of their day. No wonder Don McLean immortalised the tragedy in song as “the day the music died”.
It is this heady combination of high-energy musical, bitter-sweet rags to riches success and a tragic ending that gives this show its enduring appeal. An excellent cast, zip-along direction and the heart-stoppingly perfect Buddy Holly soundtrack just seals the deal. Glen Joseph is a charismatic Buddy. All geeky charm with his horn-rimmed specs and headstrong self-belief, he takes the audience on a roller-coaster ride of wonder and nostalgia as together with his band, The Crickets, he outsmarts the beasts of the music business and becomes a star.
With a unique fusion of country, blues and rockabilly he develops a sound that redefines popular music, confounds the critics and leaves us with classic songs like That’ll Be The Day, Oh Boy, Rave On, Peggy Sue, True Love Ways, Maybe Baby, Everyday, Words of Love, Not Fade Away. An astonishing output and a massively influential one too. Both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones included Holly covers in their early acts. The Stones first top ten hit was Not Fade Away and as Paul McCartney once remarked: “Without Buddy Holly there would have been no Beatles”. Even the name of the band was a kind of tribute to The Crickets.
With The Crickets, Holly established the template for a self-contained band writing and producing its own material. His experimental work in the studio with Norman Petty would be echoed a few years later by The Beatles and George Martin. The Buddy Holly Story may not deliver genuine cutting edge rock ‘n’ roll. These guys are actor/musicians. But the tale is a compelling one with a tear-jerking sub-plot about Maria Elena – the widowed bride he left behind just six months after marrying her. And the musical illusion is complete enough to have the audience dancing in their seats, singing along, utterly transported. But the best thing is that we all know that when Buddy’s plane went down, the music didn’t die. It lives on and, more than anything else, this show capitalises on that glorious fact.
Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story plays Lighthouse, Poole, until Saturday 23 November. Shows 7.45pm each evening and additional 2.30pm matinees on Wednesday and Saturday. Tickets & information 0844 406 8666 www.lighthousepoole.co.uk
Scott Fellowes is showing me his favourite sonic screwdriver. He takes aim and fires at his desk. There’s a burst of flashing lights and buzzing sounds and I’ll swear that, just for a moment, this 41-year-old Dorset college administrator and sometime artist actually turns into Doctor Who. OK, a moment ago he was wearing a kind of frock coat, long striped scarf and a button bearing the Gallifreyan symbol of the Time Lords – the mystical Seal of Rassilon – so perhaps the illusion is understandable.
One or two of my friends have expressed surprise that I haven’t commented on the sad death of Lou Reed. Clearly I was as influenced by his music as anyone else of my generation. But I wonder, what can I say?
Recalling my distant youth, The Velvet Underground arrived like a bolt to the brain. Dirty, subversive and directly connected to the late sixties counter-culture. It was compelling stuff.
Words: Jeremy Miles – Picture: Hattie Miles (Paris 2007)
He was the king of heavy metal – an apparent magician who could imbue sheets of steel and iron girders with a kind of weightless majesty. Sir Anthony Caro, who has died at the aged of 89, was a sculptor who could do amazing things with solidity. A few years ago he produced an astonishing entrance piece to a show at London’s Tate Britain exploring his 50 plus year career. Millbank Steps was a gargantuan piece designed to explore the relationship between sculpture and architecture. Weighing nearly 100 tons, the walk-through work filled more than half of the Tate’s vast Duveen Galleries. The floors had to be reinforced before it was craned in piece by piece.
Phew! I snuck in under the wire and managed to get to see Tate Britain’s big L.S. Lowry show before it closed. I’m glad I did. It provided ample evidence that Lowry – so long out of fashion – will one day take his place among the great observers of social history. Hugely popular but derided by many critics as a repetitive and even downright bad painter, Lowry was nonetheless a skillful and impressive portrayer of a world that seemed solid and dominant yet was changing so fast-changing that, by the time the paint was dry on the canvas, it was already all but lost. A post industrial world was beckoning. Somehow it seems he knew that the great factories would grind to a halt and the terraces of workers homes would be smashed by the wrecker’s ball. Continue reading “L.S. Lowry: painter of misery, misfortune and the collapse of the workshop of the world”
I can exclusively reveal that former London Mayor Ken Livingstone has something of a problem with cheese. Indeed the one-time fervent left-wing leader of the Greater London Council and controversial Labour MP won’t touch the stuff. Which is odd because back in the 1980s he used to advertise Red Leicester on the telly. Neat one eh? Red Ken loves a spot of Red Leicester!
Not anymore though and it’s all to do with composting, as he explained to me when I visited his North London home to talk to about his passion for gardening. As we sat in the Cricklewood sunshine discussing the contents of his three magnificent compost bins, Ken told me: “They say you shouldn’t put cooked food on a compost heap but that’s nonsense. I put everything in my compost including the remains of yesterday’s dinner. The worms, woodlice, bacteria and fungi will break everything down. Everything that is except cheese.”
What a treat it was last night to sit in Bournemouth’s hidden gem of a theatre at historic Shelley Manor and hear an evening of music and readings.This extraordinary performance space was originally built in the mid 19th century by Sir Percy Florence Shelley – son of the tragic romantic poet Sir Percy Bysshe Shelley.
The theatre is an addition to the country home by the sea that he had bought for his mother Mary – author of the classic gothic horror novel Frankenstein. Sadly Mary, who died in 1851, never lived to see the grand Boscombe Manor but Sir Percy, a keen thespian and playwright, took up residence with his wife Lady Jane and soon added the theatre to the property.
Saw this fascinating stage production of A Clockwork Orange the other day. With an all-male cast and a bi-sexual vibe it somehow worked. It’s a strange, if understandable, fact that violence against women, as portrayed in Anthony Burgess’s original book and later in Stanley Kubrick’s famous film, is so shocking and unacceptable now that, if portrayed on stage, it would utterly eclipse the underlying message of the play. Even though it is a fictional account. So we have a production in which they substitute male rape with a broken bottle and it seems to go down just fine. What a weird world! Queer as a clockwork orange in fact. The word queer is of course being used here in its 1950s/60s sense to mean ‘strange’. What a powerful re-reading of a masterful story. A play that really gets its point across. See my review below.
My lunchtime companions yesterday were head-turning to say the least. One was a crazed seven foot tall laundry owner with bright orange hair, outrageous frock and a basket full of cleaning products on her head. Another was an EastEnders hunk in a get-up that suggested Star Wars had launched an attack on the Arabian Knights’ dressing up box. While the third was a professional cheeky chappy who had turned Chinese especially for the occasion.
Yes it’s panto press-call time again. That annual foray into gentle madness when the media get invited to meet (and photograph) the stars of the forthcoming local pantomime. In previous years I have found myself being asked to hold Brian Cant’s wig, watched as Matthew Kelly in full piratical garb lent his hook to someone to for “technical reasons” and heard how Roy Hudd received a £6,000 bill after the private phone in his dressing room was accidentally confused with the main billing line for the entire local council.
In this case the pantomime is Aladdin which will play the Bournemouth Pavilion from Saturday 7th December until Sunday 5th of January. The principal stars were veteran entertainer and pianist Bobby Crush playing Dame – the inimitable Widow Twankey; Scott Maslen, who until very recently played Jack Branning in EastEnders, as the evil Abanazer and Cbeebies favourite Chris Jarvis as Wishee Washee.
Chris, who is also the show’s director and wrote the script, reckons his cast make a great team and all get on splendidly together. I can understand his enthusiasm. Unbridled bonhomie backstage isn’t always evident. However this bunch seemed to genuinely be having a good time as they posed for pictures and then gave lunchtime interviews to the attendant ‘meeja’.
Watch this space and several others to discover what great revelations were made. Hear how Scott is preparing to swap prime-time soap star adulation for the boos and hisses of outraged 10-year-olds. Learn what Bobby wears under his dress and how Chris, fed up with off-the-shelf adaptations, was determined to break the mould and write an all-new pantomime.
One little surprise for me was Bobby’s admission ( I didn’t ask he just suddenly blurted it out) that Orville the Duck pays his rent. Well some of it. For Bobby actually wrote Keith Harris and Orville’s early eighties hit Orville’s Song ( I Wish I Could Fly).
Now personally I’d keep quiet about something like that but Bobby told me: “I love the notoriety.” Ventriloquist Harris and his puppet released the song in December 1982. Irritating though it was it was incredibly successful that Christmas and peaked at number four in the charts in January 1983. “It ended up selling over 300,000 copies. I got a silver disc.”
Just to put that into perspective those sales were achieved at a time when there was still a thriving singles market and the recording industry was in rude health. These days you can get into the top ten with sales of just 5,000 or 6,000. A 300,000 selling record in 2013 would be eligible for platinum disc status. Quackers or what?
Bobby told me somewhat gleefully that Orville’s Song was recently voted one of the worst records to ever make the top ten. He doesn’t care. “ It’s money in the bank to me. It took me just five days to write and my accountant says it was the best five days work I ever did because the royalties just keep coming in.”
A number of my friends keep bees and it is largely through them that I have become aware of the project to reintroduce the short-haired bumblebee to the UK. Once commonplace across the south of England, they first stopped nesting some 25 years ago as their natural wildflower and grassland habitat started to decline. They were officially declared extinct in Britain in the year 2000.
Exciting news then that queen bees brought from Sweden have successfully produced offspring at the RSPB nature reserve at Dungeness. It’s a great reward for the conservationists behind the project who have been working with Kentish farmers to establish flower-rich meadows that will give the bees a sustainable habitat in Dungeness and Romney Marsh.
What a pleasure it was watching Marin Alsop strike a blow for feminism and, more importantly, prejudice-free meritocracy as she took the Royal Albert Hall rostrum on Saturday – the first woman ever to conduct the Last Night of the Proms.
I know Marin, a bit. We met a number of times during the six years that she was principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. I watched her rehearse, perform and interact with musicians. I interviewed her and, on one occasion, had dinner with her. There were only four other people around that table so it was an opportunity to observe at close-quarters what an extraordinary individual she is.
There was a great turnout for the opening night of the new exhibition of paintings by my good friend, drummer-turned-portrait-artist Gilson Lavis, at the weekend. Self-taught painter Gilson specialises in black and white acrylic studies of many of the famous musicians he plays with in the Jools Holland Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. Painted backstage, in hotel rooms and at his home studio, the works on show feature some great performers – Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Dionne Warwick, Paul Weller, Doctor John, The Rolling Stones, the list goes on.
Singer, songwriter, performer, poet and sometime monk, Leonard Cohen defies expectations… even for those who have loved his words and music for decades. The opening night of his UK tour in Bournemouth last night (Monday August 26) was a magical affair that left the capacity audience dizzy with admiration. They’d been expecting an exceptional concert but this was something else.
Jayd Johnson, David Morrrissey and Katherine Kelly in the BBC One 1980s set newspaper drama The Field of Blood
For all its flaws I thoroughly enjoyed the gritty Glasgow newspaper set TV drama The Field of Blood. It may have had some excruciating dialogue and a pulp-fiction plot but it was set in the early 1980s in a world that I instantly recognised. I spent much of the 70s and 80s working in newspaper offices just like the one portrayed on-screen as The Glasgow Daily News. When I first stepped into a newspaper office 42 years ago ( I can’t quite believe it either!) I entered a smoke-filled, booze-fuelled environment populated by a splendid assortment of grizzled old newsmen and keen young hacks.
So who’s Who? The impending revelation of the actor chosen to play the 12th Doctor Who has got the blogosphere in a right old two and eight. A bizarre list of names, seemingly based on a combination of wishful thinking, wild speculation and perhaps some very deliberate misinformation, has been being bandied around for months.
Will the new Doctor be a woman? Will he or she be black? Will they be young or old? Such questions seem to be of extraordinary importance to the obsessive Whovians following everything and anything that might offer a clue as to the identity of the latest incarnation of their time-travelling hero.
All will be revealed this evening when the BBC broadcasts a programme unveiling the identity of the actor who will replace departing Doctor Who Matt Smith when he regenerates at the end of this year’s Christmas Special.
OK, confession time! I rather enjoyed Alan Yentob’s Rod Stewart documentary Can’t Stop Me Now. It’s been accused of being an unashamed piece of hagiography. Well perhaps it did veer towards the uncritical. But it did the trick and it told a kind of truth. So I can’t help feeling that the claim from the man at Metro that Stewart had Yentob “slobbering all over him like an overheated spaniel” was perhaps just a little unfair.
Well you can dream! I really thought the Rolling Stones at Glastonbury were going to be special. In fact, despite the endless reviews claiming it to be one of the greatest live shows ever, it was actually something of a disappointment.
Yes OK, I know that it was probably an amazing experience if you witnessed it live but it actually wasn’t the concert it could have been. It was certainly a grand production but at times the music was patchy and poorly paced, the vocals were haphazard and Keith Richards – once universally acknowledged as the coolest man on the planet – looked like Andy Capp in a borrowed bandana. Unfortunately his reinvention as a pot-bellied granddad in skinny jeans seems to have coincided with a noticeable decline in his guitar playing. We’ll put it down to a bad night but frankly it looks like the turning of the tide to me. Continue reading “Smoke and mirrors: It’s NOT only rock ‘n’ roll and I don’t like it.”
It has not been a good week. I won an award and £150 from the National Union of Journalists the other day. Under normal circumstances this would have seen my mood swing from fair to sunny. Unfortunately the barometer of fate deemed otherwise.
First I was stricken with laryngitis – not good when a significant part of your working day is spent talking to people. All I could do was croak in a hoarse, rasping whisper which at best made me sound as though I was being strangled and at worst gave me the voice of a demented psycho killer. It was not good for business. Then, as I wallowed in my misery, dosing myself with a cocktail of honey and lemon, Ibuprofen and Strepsils, my computer – good as gold for the past three years – suddenly packed in. It didn’t just crash, it died. The hard-drive literally clattered to a halt with a series of pained clicking noises. My trusty iMac – sleek, proud and beautifully designed – appeared to have ended its life with a death rattle that sounded like a swarm of cockroaches trapped in a biscuit tin. Continue reading “The trauma (and cost) of clicking computer death”
It was Sir Thomas Beecham who issued the following cautionary advice: “You should try everything at least once…except incest and morris dancing.” Setting aside the inconvenient fact that Beecham has been dead for more than half-a-century, one can’t help feeling that the notoriously cantankerous conductor would not have been amused had he somehow contrived to be in Wimborne Minster at the weekend.
I finally said farewell to my hair a few days ago. After realising that my increasingly thinning barnet was beginning to look like a kind of candyfloss comb-over, a pathetic piece of tonsorial tumbleweed clinging to my sparsely covered dome, I instructed my hairdresser to “either shave it all off or crop it really short.” He chose the latter, reasoning that it would probably look OK without going for a fully shaven head. I’m sort of glad he did. We’ve been together for a very long time, my hair and me. To lose it all in one go might have been a bit much.
My mother tells me that when I was born the nurses on the maternity ward called me ‘The Poet’ because I arrived in the world with long black shoulder-length hair. It took me years to realise that far from being a luxurious rock star hairstyle my “shoulder-length hair” was made up of little more than a few straggly strands that almost instantly dropped out and were gradually replaced by a mop of slowly darkening golden brown curls that would serve me well for the next few decades. Back in the 1960s and 70s my long, flowing locks were a vital part of my visual identity.
In recent years however my hair has gradually turned grey, become thinner and in the past year or two has clearly given notice to quit completely. So it was that that a few days ago Antonio my Italian hairdresser, scissors and clippers in hand, delivered the coup-de-gras. Having finished he admired his handywork before explaining with a flourish in his inimitable Italian accent: “I have done a number two on your ‘ead” Seeing my raised eyebrow, Antonio was anxious to reassure, telling me. “Maybe I’ll do a number one next time.” I’m not often speechless but….
I am so looking forward to this. Have just booked our regular cottage in St Ives for a week’s holiday on the gorgeous Penwith Peninsula later this year. We’ve been staying in the same place, on and off, for more than 20 years now and it really does feel like a home from home. Nothing like a week of fresh-air, bracing walks, good food and some quality writing time to recharge the batteries. Anyhow in the time-honoured manner of Blue Peter and countless DIY and cookery programmes the picture above is one we did earlier.
We went to an incredibly smart dinner not too long ago (at someone else’s expense I’m delighted to say). It was a black-tie do. Country mansion, Michelin stars, five course banquet that kind of thing. I dug out my seldom worn dinner-jacket for the occasion. It looked incredibly suave. To complete the illusion I needed to add my most stylish black shoes. Sadly they had worn out long ago but, as luck would have it, were still to be found in residence at the bottom of my wardrobe. Polished to within an inch of their lives they looked the business even though the soles were completely worn through. Our table of six included a well-known Tv presenter, one of the wealthiest women in the land , two concert pianists and us. We had a great time. I enjoyed talking to the multi-billionaire sitting on my left happy in the knowledge that she need never know that I was literally on my uppers.
I was much impressed last night by Creative Cow Theatre Company’s new version of that perennial favourite Charley’s Aunt. Stripped back just enough to slip seamlessly into a 21st century mindset, the original blockbuster show which wowed the West End in the 1890’s retained its essential and timeless charm and, once it actually got going, fair romped along. I should explain. There was a considerable delay but it had absolutely nothing to do with the theatre company. Ironically perhaps for a fast-moving farce that relies on an ‘old lady’ to wrong-foot the proceedings, the opening night at Poole’s Lighthouse was held-up for nearly half-an-hour after an elderly disabled woman became stuck in a lift that was attempting to lower her and her wheelchair to a suitable front-row position in the venue’s Studio Theatre. Five minutes after the official curtain-up time a stagehand appeared to apologise for “a technical problem”. Ten minutes later he returned and admitted that the problem in question involved a member of the audience stuck in a lift. The unfortunate lady was eventually extricated, found a suitable vantage point and the play went ahead – 25 minutes late. During the interval she was heard telling fellow audience members that her ordeal had been quite an adventure.