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.
The original stage and screen production of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party caught the zeitgeist so perfectly that it is impossible to take it out of 1977.
What this revival by co-producers, Theatre Royal Bath and Chocolate Factory, achieves is a stunning re-reading of Leigh’s searing observation of the aspirations, hopes and lost dreams of suburban life.
Anyone who lived through the sixties will have absorbed something of Steptoe and Son into their entertainment DNA. You mess with that kind of thing at your peril.
Creating an intriguing and affectionate adaptation of the classic Ray Galton and Alan Simpson sitcom was a brave move by director Emma Rice. It was also a clever move because it works rather well. I know because I went to see it at Lighthouse in Poole last night.
One of the main strengths of this co-production from long-time collaborators Kneehigh and West Yorkshire Playhouse is that it steers well clear of imitation. Scheming and manipulative rag and bone man Albert Steptoe and his dreamer of a son Harold played here by Mike Shepherd and Dean Nolan are significantly different from the hapless pair as portrayed by Wilfred Brambell and Harry H. Corbett on BBC TV.
The cor blimey Londoners from Oil Drum Lane, Shepherds Bush, now have a light West Country brogue and an indeterminate geographical location. No matter. You still get two fine actors who combine striking physical performance and adept stagecraft to deliver a comedy drama that plumbs the very essence of the original show. With Kirsty Woodward as mother, lover, doctor, dancer and occasional object of passing fantasies – Rice has used four original Galton and Simpson scripts to explore the desperate plight of the Steptoes.
An impressive set and a musical backdrop that takes in, among others, Elvis, Cliff Richard and the Rolling Stones marks both their passage through time and the increasing hopelessness of their situation, Albert and Harold – scarred by war and battered by circumstance – are locked in a dance of doom, trapped in their junkyard world forever.
The result is a strange mix of tragedy and comedy. As Emma Rice herself commented after reading the original Galton and Simpson scripts: “The work is deeper, darker and more intricate than I’d ever realized, watching as a child.”
I had the privilege of discussing this production with Galton and Simpson themselves a few months back. They admitted they were excited at the prospect of Albert and Harold getting a new theatrical outing. Rice and Kneehigh were, they said, worthy temporary custodians of the Steptoe legacy.
The pair, now 82 and 83, respectively still seem a little bewildered at their good fortune when they talk of the chapter of accidents that originally brought Steptoe to the screen more than 50 years ago.
They had just split from Tony Hancock and the BBC, horrified at the prospect of losing their comedy dream team, came calling cap in hand. “It was extraordinary,” recalled Galton. “Basically the guy in charge of humour told us: ‘You can do what you like, write what you like, cast who you like, you can even be in it if you want. Just write something new for us.’ We thought ‘Hello, he’s gone bonkers!’ Anyway, we started working on this Comedy Playhouse piece The Offer about two rag and bone men.”
Rather than use comedy actors, the piece starred Shakespearian actor and exponent of experimental theatre Harry H. Corbett and jobbing character actor Wifred Brambell. It worked a treat and the BBC instantly offered Galton and Simpson the chance to turn The Offer into a series.
Tired and jaded after years of scripting Hancock and others, the pair tried to turn the BBC’s proposition down. “We really didn’t want to do a series,” said Galton. “We said no for six months and eventually we just ran out of excuses. To be honest we weren’t particularly worried because we reckoned that if we asked Harry and Wilfred – who were straight actors – if they’d be in it, they’d certainly say no. We couldn’t have been more wrong. They jumped at it.”
Ironically the comedy gold that was Steptoe and Son would lead to bitterness and misery for Corbett and Brambell who gradually came to loathe each other. Brambell was a curmudgeonly gay alcoholic desperately trying to hide his sexuality from the public. While Corbett was an unhappy womaniser trapped by his own success and frustrated by a professional partner who would frequently forget his lines after drowning his sorrows with too much gin. They ended up as dependent on each other as Albert and Harold but off stage or off set could barely bring themselves to speak to each other.
The multi-faceted career of Jonathan Miller has long been a source of fascination to the media. Doctor, satirist, author, sculptor, TV producer, populariser of science and director of theatre, film and opera – there seems no end to his talents but call him a Renaissance man at your peril.
It’s hard to believe that June Whitfield is in her eighties. For even though she was a pioneering performer during the golden age of radio and TV comedy working with everyone from Wilfred Pickles and Arthur Askey to Tony Hancock and Morecambe and Wise, she has managed to remain a constant presence on our screens. What’s more she’s bright, witty and razor-sharp.
I’ve long admired the work of the German artist Kurt Schwitters but had not fully realised how shabbily we treated this extraordinarily creative man when he sought wartime refuge in Britain from the Nazis.
This is made abundantly clear in the new exhibition Schwitters in Britain (Tate Britain until May 12) and shows how his pioneering work born out of European Dadism and a profound influence on future artists was largely ignored.
Some felt it was like marching into the lion’s den. ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone taking his new on-stage talk-show to true-blue Guildford. What could he be thinking of?
In fact An Audience With Ken Livingstone went down a storm. Not only did the former London Mayor emerge from the town’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre unscathed but he did so with rapturous applause ringing in his ears.
I’m delighted to see that people power has swung into action in a bid to pressure TV bosses into changing their minds about axing the BBC2 media drama The Hour.
More than 6,000 fans of the show – which focuses on a TV current affairs programme in the 1950s and stars Ben Wishaw, Dominic West and Romola Garai – have so far signed a petition on the Change.org website.
But will the powers-that-be listen? Intelligent drama providing a fascinating view of the rapidly changing social and political climate of post-war Britain makes a refreshing change from the routine dross we are so often fed on TV these days. Sadly it seems it simply doesn’t attract enough viewers. The opening episode of series two of The Hour attracted viewing figures of just 1.68 million viewers. Nowhere near enough to please BBC management.
Age plays curious tricks on us. A few years ago I wasn’t much bothered about watching detective dramas on telly. Even the admittedly wonderfully crafted Inspector Morse was of scant interest while its rather contrived spin-off Lewis left me cold.
Yet last night I was really rather sad to see Kevin Whately’s Inspector Robbie Lewis finally hang up his truncheon saying farewell to trusty sidekick DS James Hathaway (Laurence Fox) and heading off for a romantic retirement with pathologist Dr Laura Hobson. Typical! Just as I’ve started to enjoy the programme they’ve pulled the plug on it. Admittedly Whately is now 62-years-old and bit long in the tooth to be racing around murder scenes.
So it’s a sad farewell to Reg Presley who has died at the age of 71. He was one of life’s great characters, an inextricable part of popular music history and a presence in my life too. Our family were not only living in Andover when The Troggs rose to fame but the band used to practise at guitarist Chris Britton’s girlfriend’s house which just happened to back onto our garden.
They also rehearsed in a room over The Copper Kettle tearooms opposite my dad’s office in the High Street. By the time Wild Thing hit the charts we’d heard it played at least a hundred times. It only later occurred to me that had I had the forethought to get a tape-recorder and hang a microphone over the garden fence I might now be in possession of a particularly interesting bootleg.
A unique insight into the work of one of the most radical painters of the 19th century and the creative circles of Parisian society in which he moved is offered in Manet: Portraying Life, the first major UK exhibition to showcase Edouard Manet’s portraiture.
The show, which highlights Manet’s portraiture, opens at London’s Royal Academy of Arts on Saturday (Jan 26. It examines the relationship between his portrait painting and his scenes of modern life and is already set to break records. By casting his sitters as actors in his genre scenes, Manet guaranteed the authenticity of the figures that populate his paintings and asserted a new, more potent relationship between Realism and Modernity.
Manet: Portraying Life includes over 50 paintings spanning the career of this archetypal modern artist together with a selection of pastels and contemporary photographs. It brings together works from both public and private collections across Europe, Asia and the USA.
Determined to deal with his recent diagnosis of terminal cancer on his own terms, Essex guitar hero Wilko Johnson has announced four farewell concerts to say thank you to his fans.
Wilko, who found fame with trailblazing Essex pub-rockers Dr Feelgood in the 1970s, is best known for his rapid-fire machine-gun style of playing and his wild eyed stage persona.
He discovered he had inoperable pancreatic cancer late last year. Told that he may enjoy several months of reasonable health, he rejected the offer of life-prolonging but possibly debilitating chemotherapy.
His manager Robert Hoy says that 65-year-old Wilko, who also played with Ian Dury and The Blockheads and had long led his own Wilko Johnson Band, will play concerts in London, West Midlands, Yorkshire and Glasgow in March.
Hoy said the dates offered Wilko “an opportunity to express his sincere thanks to fans for all the support he has had throught his career.”
In addition to his work as a musician Wilko has also recently appeared as the mute executioner Ilyn Payne, in the fantasy series Game of Thrones.
Tickets go on sale on Monday (January 21). Contact the Box Office: 0844 478 0898, www.thegigcartel.com.
So Bob Dylan is ‘thinking positively’ about playing a centenary gig in honour of his hard-drinking near namesake, the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. And if you don’t believe me check out Hansard. For the matter has already been discussed in the House of Commons.
Talking about the concert, which will be part of a series of events being staged in Swansea next year to mark Dylan Thomas’ 100th birthday, local MP Geraint Davies said: “I have asked Bob Dylan whether he would be prepared to give a centenary concert in Swansea, in order that he could blend his music with Dylan Thomas’s poetry. Sony Music has come back and said that Mr. Dylan is thinking very positively about the idea.”
The honorable member for Swansea West added: “Bob Dylan named himself after Dylan Thomas.” This isn’t strictly true. It is well documented that the singer songwriter, whose real name is Robert Allen Zimmerman, actually named himself after the fictional Dodge City lawman Marshal Matt Dillon, hero the 1950s radio and TV cowboy drama Gunsmoke. However it widely believed that he changed the spelling after reading Dylan Thomas’s work.
It’s easy to see why the young Bob would have been impressed by Dylan Thomas’s extraordinary sense of literary rhythm and extravagant use of language. The Welshman was a larger than life character, writer of groundbreaking poems like Do not go gentle into that good night and radical plays like Under Milk Wood.
He was also a notorious boozer who died in New York after several reckless binge-drinking sessions during a poetry tour. He had lived fast and died young. In that respect he fitted neatly in with other tragic heroes of the era like Hank Williams and James Dean.
The end came for Dylan Thomas after he returned to the famous Chelsea Hotel very much the worse for wear after a heavy session at the Manhattan drinking hole, The White Horse, proudly claiming “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I think that’s the record!”
Unfortunately instead of just sleeping it off he became ill and within two days had been admitted to the emergency ward at St Vincent’s Hospital where he slipped into a coma. He was diagnosed as suffering from alcoholic brain damage and died a few days later on 9 November 1953 – just two weeks after his 39th birthday.
It’s noticeable that Bob Dylan has done markedly better commercially than his Welsh namesake. Despite enjoying considerable fame in his lifetime Dylan Thomas was invariably broke or looking for a loan. He died leaving just £100.
Bob Dylan meanwhile has a multi-million dollar fortune bolstered no doubt by deals with Starbucks and Victoria’s Secret. Remarkable for a man who once wrote:
Advertising signs they con You into thinking you’re the one That can do what’s never been done That can win what’s never been won Meantime life outside goes on All around you
What a difference 50 years makes! Back in 1963 The Profumo scandal shocked the nation to its very foundations. Now it looks likely to become the subject of a West End musical.
For those who may not know, John Profumo was a top politician and something of a socialite. Married to actress Valerie Hobson who had found a certain degree of fame in the 1930s in horror films like The Bride of Frankenstein and The Werewolf of London, he was the epitome of the smooth, urbane man about town. Crucially he was alsoSecretary of State for War in Harold Macmillan’s Conservative Government.
So when it was discovered that he had had an affair with model and showgirl Christine Keeler who was also the reputed mistress of an alleged Soviet spy all hell broke loose. It was the height of the Cold War. Questions were asked in the House. Profumo tried to lie his way out of trouble. It didn’t work. He had to resign.
The Government teetered on the edge of disaster as the unedifying details of his brief tryst with Keeler became public knowledge. Central to the stories that emerged was a house party attended by both Profumo and Keeler at Clivedon, Lord Astor’s palatial Buckinghamshire mansion.
Also present was friend of the aristocracy and networking supremo Dr Stephen Ward, a fashionable osteopath and society party fixer. Ward had introduced Profumo to Keeler. It was suggested that he might also have introduced her to Yevengy Ivanov, a senior naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy. Such connections appalled the nation. The security implications were unthinkable. The entire sordid story went into overdrive. East v West, Left v Right. Ward was caught in a firestorm of allegations.
Eventually he was charged with living off immoral earnings. He committed suicide taking an overdosing of sleeping pills on the last day of his trial. But did he actually kill himself? Conspiracy theories followed – that he was murdered by an assassin delivering a lethal injection, that he was working for the Russians, that he was an occultist dabbling in black magic.
Andrew LloydWebber believes that, whatever the truth, Stephen Ward was a scapegoat and stitched-up by the establishment. He has now been working on a new musical based on the subject for the past few months.
Whatever you do or don’t believe, Lloyd Webber points that the inside info on the Profumo affair will remain a closed file till 2046?” Intriguingly Cliveden , now a luxury hotel, seems rather proud of the role it played in the Profumo Scandal. It unashamedly uses it in its publicity including a mention on its website timeline alongside a short BBC video about the affair.
As I predicted a couple of days ago reports that David Bowie has said he will never play live again seem to have been somewhat exaggerated.
Amid the Bowie fever whipped up by the surprise release of Where Are We Now?, his first new single in a decade, there have been countless interviews with long-time Bowie producer Tony Visconti.
As the technical guru behind both the single and Bowie’s forthcoming album The Next Day (another bolt from the blue), Visconti has been acting as spokesperson for the Bowie camp.
Various press reports had suggested that though Bowie had emerged from retirement to go into the recording studio, he had indicated that he would never play his new music live. Not so. Visconti has now put the record straight saying that Bowie has simply said he doesn’t want to tour any more and certainly hasn’t ruled out playing a live show. I somehow thought that might be the case.
It’s been interesting hearing Visconti’s account of working with Bowie again. His association with the Thin White Ziggy Tomdust goes right back to Space Oddity days some 44 years ago. He also produced The Man Who Sold The World, Young Americans and the Berlin trilogy Low, Heroes and Lodger as well as producing The Idiot for Bowie’s friend, collaborator and Berlin flatmate Iggy Pop. So he was perhaps the logical choice for this ‘under-wraps’ comeback project. It took a while apparently with instrumental demo tracks being laid down in the studio and then given to Bowie to mull over, often for months, before a final track was developed. Visconti talks with some glee about walking around Manhattan listening to the new material on headphones, passing people in David Bowie t-shirts and thinking that they’d be amazed to discover what was on his iPod.
It’s an interesting thought but then Tony Visconti is an interesting man. I’ve never actually met him though I did have dinner with his ex-wife once. Many people don’t realise that Mary Hopkin, the young singer from the Welsh valleys who recorded the 1968 hit Those Were The Days for The Beatles then new Apple label was the first Mrs Visconti and sang on many song’s produced by her husband including material on Bowie Low album. Tony Visconti’s second wife was John Lennon’s former girlfriend May Pang. He’s a well connected man.
So David Bowie says he’ll never perform live again. At least that’s how a casual comment from his longtime producer Tony Visconti will be played across the pages of tomorrow’s newspapers. What Visconti actually said was that the 66-year-old singer is “fairly adamant he’s never going to perform live again”.
He was talking to the NME following the release of Where Are We No? Bowie’s first single in more than a decade and the announcement that a new album The Next Day will follow in March.
Recalling an exchange during rehearsals when one of Bowie’s band had asked how they were going to play the material live, Visconti reveals that the singer simply said: “We’re not”.
None of this actually adds up to Bowie never performing live again. He already seems to have ‘retired’ at least twice and decades ago showed no compunction in killing off his band The Spiders of Mars alongside his stage persona Ziggy Stardust.
Maybe he won’t ever appear live again. Maybe he will. It could just be that the unnamed studio musician that Visconti mentioned is simply not going to be included in any live band.