Hmm, been doing a bit much waving around of opinions & reminiscing, and not enough recounting of what in the Dickens I’ve been up to lately, so here’s a roundup (in reverse chronological order).
29th : Night of 400 Billion Stars / Robin Ince & Friends – returning to the Bloomsbury (the scene of Ince’s Atheist Christmas gig), we (Housemate James, Trudy, Dancing Dave & I) settled in for another Rationalist-sponsored gig. Again, an eclectic mix, with some excellent performances (Simon Singh and his pickle demonstration, the incomparable Gavin Osborn, and the ebullient Chris Addison, and the disarmingly charming Josie Long), and some more mystifying ones (Peter Buckley Hill always makes me laugh, but I wonder every time whether he’s ever performed before – this time abandoning an ill-considered monologue partway through to launch into an unaccompanied song about Schrodinger’s Cat). Robin Ince is still one of my favourite comics, both for his viewpoints and his execution, however top act for the night I feel was Lucy Porter, who Housemate James & I both declared crushes on and spent the walk home trying to decide which of us should ask her out. She read a love poem she’d written at the age of 14 which contained the names of 31 chemical elements.
27th : Late night cabaret with Hannah Waddingham – Belinda & Tom joined me to watch West End diva Hannah Waddingham (star of A Little Night Music and Spamalot) in The Delfont Room in the Prince Of Wales theatre sing to an audience of friends an punters, with musical guests ranging from her opera singing mother, to former musical colleagues like Ben Goddard from Sunset Boulevard, and various other friends & contemporaries. She’s got a great voice & amazing presence, and she deserves to go far. Favourite performances of the night were an arrangement of Madonna’s “Time Goes By So Slowly” by a couple of HW’s talented mates whose name I didn’t catch, and the finale of the combined ensemble singing “Seasons Of Love” from RENT – a song which previously I was convinced I’d heard enough of for this lifetime, but which these guys absolutely nailed.
26th : An evening with Michael Palin – Kat, Dave & I trekked out to the awkwardly named IndigO2 for a charity gig comprising a chat with former Monty Python member and globally recognised nice chap, Michael Palin. The first half was made up of stories from his world travels through his various documentary series, and the second half was a journey through some of his memories from Python days. The travel stuff was breathtaking, and I think the audience was united in a combination of joy at hearing/learning this stuff, and jealousy that this lucky bugger was able to travel to all these places as his job. Among the exotic and bizarre travel tales recounted to the eager crowd, Palin surprisingly turned up a photo of himself riding a cow in South Australia’s “Mt Compass Cup”. On the way out we also spotted the makeshift shrine to Michael Jackson thrown together by fans, as his hotly anticipated concert series was to be next door at the main arena of the O2. Amid our chortling that as well as leaving flowrs & candles someone had thought to pay tribute to The King Of Pop in the form of a large Starbucks latte, we were interrupted by an argument largely propogated by a loudmouthed slapper over the exact degree of reverence that MJ should be shown: in her (incredibly audible) opinion nothing short of her interlocutor admitting Jackson’s absolute musical supremacy and excellence was acceptable. Dave summarised this far more capably over on Flickr.
24th : Morris dancing in Belgravia – as is customary at this time of year, the Westminster Morris Men toured the Belgravia Estates, stopping at 3 excellent pubs – The Nag’s Head, The Grenadier, and The Star. Enthusiastic audiences (cheers to Dan, Pamela, Brett, Rach, Belinda & Gemma for dragging about after us!), nice beer & sunny weather made for a grand night’s dancing.
20th : Daniel Kitson: Stories from a Starlit Sky – Daniel Kitson & Gavin Osborn have collaborated again on one of their now trademark story shows in Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, only this time held at midnight. The bleary eyed but expectant crowd (which included Wenz, Pablo & I) crammed in through the stage door, and were rewarded for their staying up past bedtime with yet another beautifully crafted tale of love & humanity – this year’s centred on a couple who worked the graveyard shift together in a shadowy government filing department, cataloguing a card for every act of love that ever takes place. To try to explain it any futher than that would be to try to retell the story, and that’s near-impossible to do as it relies on Kitson’s carefully considered wordsmithery, and Osborn’s musical backing & interludes. It’s every bit as good at his previous story shows, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing it again in August. An afterthought & footnote to this description is that contrasting with Kitson’s (also excellent, IMHO) standup work, it’s interesting that there’s no trace of the casual torrent of abusive obscenity that usually spews from his lips, which I think some punters were a little crestfallen about (I overheard snippets of “It wasn’t much like his last gig… not enough jokes or swearing!” on the way out), but to me just cements his talent.
20th : Charpentier concert – at Rupert’s invitation I went along to Canonbury Chamber Choir’s “Surrounded By Sound” concert, comrpised of an ambitious selection of music by Charpentier, Mendehlsson, and Purcell – some written for 4 choirs, which the CCC executed in the titular style whereby they split into 4 x 4-6 person groups and took op place at each corner of the room, creating a sort of surround sound effect. I won’t profess to having any understanding or indeed recollection of the works, as I largely just let the sound wash over me (I’ve never been much of a lyrics-obsessive…) – overall very good, although judging by the facial expressions of some of the choristers it wasn’t without its minor cockups. Still, a very talented ensemble I thought.
19th : Mark Thomas: The Manifesto – HC kindly gave me her spare ticket to the recording of South London comic, political activist & agitator Mark Thomas’s new radio show. The premise is that audience members suggest policies, and over the course of the evening they’re discussed and then at the end one is voted on for inclusion in Thomas’s manifesto. Not sure what happens after that. Seizing the opportunity to possibly air one of my favourite UK irritations, I improvised an extrapolation and put forward that Londonders should be issued a weekly ration of “Sorry” tokens, and instead of constantly saying that word they could just hand over a token in lieu, and it also included ideas on education programmes to teach Londoners more meaningful & relevant alternatives, such as “excuse me”, or “may I please momentarily have your attention”. Not hugely popular with the audience judging by the response, but Mark Thomas clearly liked it because he tried to bring it in 6 or 7 times as a running gag.
17th : Bobby McFerrin in Royal Festival Hall – It would be fair to guess that I’m a bit obsessed with Bobby McFerrin, and might even stretch as far as being accurate. Mitch, Joy & I capitalised on a rare London appearance by the dreadlocked vocal gymnast and rocked along – I had a feeling I knew the structure of the evening, having seen him in Paris the previous month. Sure enough, structurally it was the same, but as McFerrin improvises so heavily no two gigs are ever in any way alike (well, other than him singing “Drive” and getting the audience to sing “Ave Maria” while he arpeggiates over the top). This evening’s gig featured a section by tubaist Oren Marshall – never have I heard the tuba played like THAT before… Wow. Awestruck. McFerrin then casually & informally asked if anyone wanted to come up on stage & dance, perhaps expecting that British reservedness might reign, however he soon had a queue of 4, no… 8, no… 12 people ready to improvise a dance to Bobby’s improvised grooves. These varied from a quite obvious but fun bit of “dad dancing” from the first guy, to some very slick & able rotations by what could only be drama students – as with the Paris gig, Bobby seemed able to pick a mood & mode that suited each person & their moves, and had us all smiling & clapping with shared happiness. When he invited a few people to come sing with him he was immediately swamped, and there was again the same massive range of talent. The only lowpoint of the evening we felt was the one that the Guardian critic raved was the highpoint – when festival curator Ornette Coleman took stage to improvise a duet with McFerrin. They described it as “an impromptu two-part invention, replete with responsiveness and wit, that proved to be the highlight of the evening and maybe of the whole week”, and it might be my lack of scholarly appreciation for Free Jazz speaking here, but I’d go closer to “an uncooperative, opaque, atonal, self-indulgent & disappointing end to an otherwise magical evening”.
16th : A Little Night Music – HC, PB, Kat & I returned to the Garrick Theatre for a second serve of Sondheim’s stuffy Swedish swinging spectacular because we enjoyed it so much the first time. The only time I could tear my eyes off the amazing Hannah Waddingham was when the stage was taken by Maureen Lipman in the grandmatriarchal role, with a performance of such withering sarcasm that I considered adding her to my special list which includes Judi Dench & Anne Robinson. Don’t ask.
12th : Jason Byrne Show – The Puzzler & Pamela invited me to use their spare ticket for this rambunctious Irish comedian’s new radio show, although whilst waiting for them in the queue (by way of the usual transport issues this city offers) I managed to fluke another spare ticket out of a father & son queueing adjacent to me. I like Byrne’s irrepressable style, although I thought for topic matter for a radio show he was shooting a bit wide (the subject was “food” – a little bit on the general side I thought, as far as comic targets go), and it was weird to get the stop-starty transitions between standup and sketch comedy, which will presumably get cleaned up in the edit.
11th : Waiting For Godot – Pablo, HC, & BK were kind enough to accompany me to see Patrick Stewart & Ian McKellan’s performance of Beckett’s play encapsulating the meaning of the human condition, and precursor to Seinfeld. It’s a tricky thing to sum up in a line what this play’s about, because it’s something which many, many differing words have been written on and which I’d therefore be leaving myself wide open to counter-argument, and given that I’m not a scholar I’d feel like I was being led around by the nose by anyone who cared to throw a cap into the ring in this area. However WHATEVER was or wasn’t going on, it was utterly captivating from end to end. Seriously, I’d pay £50 to watch Patrick Stewart read out a telephone book.
10th : Morris dancing in Clerkenwell – always keen to drop in at The Gunmakers for a pint or 3, I cunningly manufactured an excuse in the form of setting up a morris dancing tour of Clerkenwell, taking in The Gunmakers, The Three Kings, and The Sekforde Arms. Anyone who says that this is an overly complicated way of justifying going to the pub clearly hasn’t yet got a firm grasp on what morris dancing’s all about. The tube strike didn’t help matters at all, and meant that we were a little shortstaffed, however this just resulted in some of us getting a bit more puffed out than usual, and we had plenty of time to recuperate following our discovery of the total non-audience at the last pub. A little tweaking, and we’ve got a cracker of a tour set up there.
8th : Bert Jansch at Jazz Cafe – Housemate James & I trekked along to Camden’s famous & not always accurately named Jazz Cafe to see guitarists’ guitarist, Bert Jansch. Hard to fathom what a special place this guy holds in the guitarists’ canon, when he just looks and acts like your average grandad in beige trousers. As soon as those strings start moving though you’re taken away to another place. I think the only song I really recognised was Blackwaterside, which I found myself humming along to without being able to place it, then realised it was the one which Jimmy Page reportedly ripped off as Black Mountain Side. Jansch was joined by a second guitarist whose name escapes me, but at least I remembered there was one – the Guardian review neglected to mention him at all. Then Bert called out two more guitaring guests – Bernard Butler, and then Beth Orton. A well behaved chilled out peaceful & attentive night, with incredibly skilled artists.
4th : The David Goo Variety Band – by stark contrast to any of the stuff mentioned above, the David Goo Variety Evening can only really be described as “random”. Chris & I got there late – well, I got there late, and Chris waited for me. We saw 3 musical acts and 2 short films. First musician was a girl who played the keyboard whilst accompanied by 2 string players – her memorable finishing piece was a quirky rendition of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, in which she played melody on one hand and sort of punched or elbowed key clusters with the other (but it worked). First film seemed to be about a boy & his granddad, and the reason for the granddad’s vexation with the boy was that the boy refused to say “fuck”. Second act was a fairly bewildering singer whose songs tackled such underrepresented topics as having a third eye on your knee, and a lament that nothing stays the same, and he didn’t see why they had to change the name of Jif to Cif (this is a cleaning fluid, and probably something which doesn’t rank highly on anyone’s list of world concerns). The second film featured a guy on a bus obsessing over a girl who was getting chatted up by a third guy on the bus – that description doesn’t barely do it justice, but we got distracted at the time by a 60 year old woman fainting in front of us at that point. The main act, the aforementioned variety band, finally stormed on to stage and played out their set of intricately orchestrated chaos which once again conjured up visions of Frank Zappa, Mr Bungle, along with gypsy dancing music and Jewish surf tunes. They’re really good fun, and absolutely worth a lookin.
Incidentally, if you ever ask me “So, what’ve you been up to?”, and I respond “Hmm, not much”, then I’m probably lying and you’re completely entitled to punch me.