Thursday, May 29, 2008


Sudan here I come! (Is it too late to change my mind...?)

OK, so here I am, awash with antibodies for just about every disease under the equatorial sun, just had my last cholera drink (rather scrummy actually, in a kind of sweet/ salty way), suitcase stuffed with 4 months' worth of malaria pills.

I was planning on travelling light, just taking the essentials and thigs I can't get out there, but once I'd packed wellies, deet, antibacterial handwash, 140 malaria tablets, soap, torches, mossie net, toothpaste etc, light wasn't starting to look so light after all.

Everyone at work, all my mates and the people around me have been sooo lovely - thank you dear hearts, I'll miss you. And of course Erica and my lovely pussy, who'd better not die while I'm away. Erica I expect to see regular pictures of Fungus looking in the best of health and don't forget to be nice to her while I'm gone.

So before you ask:
1. There is beer there though I'll miss Harvey's, Dark Star, London Pride etc etc like rotten.
2. I won't have to wear a burkha, thank you!
3. I won't be eating cows' ears unless I'm very desperate.

Just off now with the Maplin voucher from my generous work mates to stock up on solar powered chargers, radio etc.

So - farewell and adieu and see you in the autumn!


Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Daughters of Albion - sheer magic at the Brighton Festival 13.5.08

I’ve just been to a near-perfect gig (in a post-punk world, at any rate). Daughters of Albion is a collaboration between some of the finest female English voices of today, performing traditional folk songs and re-working contemporary compositions by PJ Harvey, Tom Waits and Kate Bush.

Earlier in the afternoon I’d popped down to the Dome for an interview and had the pleasure of meeting Kathryn Williams and guitarist Neill MacColl (son of Ewan, brother of Kirsty). Williams is a softly-spoken and self-effacing but hilarious interviewee, and they kindly performed a spine-tingling version of Ewan MacColl’s “The First Time Ever I saw Your Face”, sitting in an empty corridor at the Dome, just Williams’ fragile voice and MacColl’s guitar. It was a magical moment which raised the bar on my expectations of the evening’s concert.

And I wasn’t disappointed. Starting with an ensemble performance of North Country Maid with Norma Waterson on lead vocals, we were treated to a thrilling series of stellar performances from old-school folkies like Waterson and June Tabor to newer talent like Williams and Lou Rhodes (ex of trip-hoppy types Lamb) and up-and-coming Anglo-Indian psychedelic folkie Bishi.

Kathryn Williams bumbled endearingly through her role as compere, mysteriously introducing June Tabor as the one who keeps them in stitches on the tour bus, but who’s got such a fuck-off stroppy face you could only really imagine her handing out detention notes for bad behaviour. Tabor’s rich tones brought magic to an English and German version of Lili Marlene, and delighted on A Place Called England, Maggie Holland’s search for the true England, finding it not in flag and empire, but where someone’s sown “Marigolds and a few tomatoes right beside the railway track”.

Bishi is a new name for most of us, coming on like an Indian Billie Holiday, bags of glam and attitude and barely age 20. She played an impressive sitar on her own Indian Skin, Albion Voice and rocked out on Hares on the Mountain, enthralling the audience of old folkies and the younger fans drawn to see Williams and Rhodes. I’d like to see Bishi belt it out like Winehouse as she’s got the potential to be a massive star, but maybe she’s just happy doing what she does, and fair play to her.

Vocalist and fiddle player Lisa Knapp was the only weak part of the evening for me, as I found her voice undistinguished and her contribution low-key, until she performed her own There U R from last year’s Wild and Undaunted album, tempting me to find out more about her music.

The final ensemble piece was a gripping version of PJ Harvey’s dark and nasty Down by the Water, a chilling murder ballad drawing a thread through the traditional songs of the evening to the astonishing comtemporary lyricism which proves the art of The Song is still very much alive and well.

With a magnificent orchestra featuring Martin Carthy on guitar, a hurdy-gurdy player and even a knife player (!), arranger Kate St John deserves as many plaudits as the vocalists for creating an evening of sheer magic bringing together generations of our finest vocalists and celebrating a proud tradition of the English singer and songwriter.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Gravity/ Levity SHIFT at the Brighton Festival 12.5.08

One of the things I like about the Brighton Festival is you often never know what you’re actually going to get.

Some you win, some you lose… and some are just curate’s eggs.

Often the programme description leaves you none the wiser, so at least I had a sneak preview in rehearsal on Monday of Gravity/ Levity’s SHIFT at the Corn Exchange which gave me a clue.

Described by choreographer and performer Lindsay Butcher as an attempt to break the barriers between dance and circus, taking the action from the floor to the air, Shift featured dancers hoisted up on ropes with a complex system of pulleys and weights.

The show started promisingly with a sequence where a “bad boy” dancer character mischievously attempts to jeopardise two female dancers by kicking poles they’re climbing, and swinging them around dangerously, with much shouting and gesticulating.

However, this initial characterisation is bizarrely never followed up in the rest of the show, with an interminable sequence of a dancer swinging in a circle twirling with a board and another part with two roped dancers counterbalancing each other which was initially intriguing but just went on far too long.

Full marks for having the audience seated in a u-shape on the floor of the Corn Exchange at stage level rather than in a traditional auditorium, which was most effective in the final part where the suspended dancers created a percussion piece with wooden boards and weights thumping to the floor.

The backing music, composed by Luke Creswell of Stomp, was inventive and haunting, the stark lighting - specially in the final sequence – highlighted effectively the complex web of pulleys and ropes but ultimately this was an unsatisfying show as it failed to have any “wow, how did they do that?” moments which you expect both from modern dance and aerial acrobatics.


Friday, May 09, 2008


Bogeys, beer and the coming of summer

Hastings Jack in the Green, like the Brighton festival, really marks the start of the summer for me.

Although it makes like it’s an ancient tradition, it only started in 1983, but was immediately adopted as a fixture on the Mayday Bank Holiday weekend, as it involved the trusty combination of dressing up, music, reclaiming the streets and lots of drinking.

And this year’s was the best yet.

On Saturday night Erica and I put on the brilliant Chalkwell Ladies Drum & Bass League at our Another Planet night at Eat@ in Claremont. Lorraine and Karina have a great act of two WI tweedy types with a love of folk music, descant recorders and techno, and they mash up traditional tunes with fierce electro, lots of silly dancing and yodelling. My favourite’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” played on recorders to a techno beat. Brilliant. We had a full house again, augmented by three characters in full little old lady garb, with sticks, bandages and stinking of lavender, who joined the Chalkwell Ladies on stage to dance to “Gasolina”.

Pics here as I can't get this blasted blog to put pics in automatically:

A brilliant evening, thanks to everyone who came along. Looks like Another Planet’s on ice as I go to Sudan, but Erica will be putting nights on in the park in the meantime.

On Sunday we christened the new garden with a get-together which was lovely, loads of mates came over from Brighton too, and everyone got into the spirit of greening up. Special mention for Jackie who made a BRILLIANT Jack in the Green Cake!

Mike and Jackie stayed the night and we trolled around the Old Town to the Filo and Stag until alcohol-induced wilt kicked in.

Surprisingly bright-eyed on Monday and a scorching sunny day when Erica, Jackie, Mike, Terry and I went to see Jack unleashed in the morning.

It’s also the annual Mayday bike rally, so the sea front was jammed with thousands of bikes and bikers, an amazing sight and a real buzz seeing them all roaring into town.

We found the best spot at the junction of Harold Rd and All Saints Street and got there just in time for Jack to arrive, who’s got a different face this year which isn’t as sweet as usual, but he’s still lovely. Definitely the best parade ever, with morris troupes and drummers from other towns augmenting it, lots of black faced goth types, which are my favourites.

I love the way everyone gets into this, wearing masks and greenery, decorating the Old Town and taking over the streets for people as they should be. Most surreal sight was a bogey on a motorbike taking up the rear of the parade:

No wonder foreigners think British people are weird……


Thursday, May 08, 2008


Hooray! It’s May and the Brighton Festival is here.

Pictures being added to my Flickr site all the time:

Ah, where could be finer than Brighton during a sunny May? Last year’s Festival was a washout but this year is more than making up for it: the streets are buzzing, it’s t-shirt and shorts weather, and you can sit outside of an evening with an ale in a plastic glass (boo!) without freezing your arse off.

So, one week into the Festival.

The biggest disappointment of last year apart from the terminally shitty weather was the lack of the Speigeltent. It’s an elegant, decadent 1930s Austrian tent-cum-ballroom, a circular wooden construction lined with booths, stained glass and mirrors –hence the Spiegel bit – and topped off with a plush red velvet tented roof.

It’s just my ideal louche sort of hangout so I virtually lived there during 06’s Festival, so its absence last year was a severe disappointment. But it’s back! Well, at least one of them is back. There are a number of different Speigeltents knocking about the world, all with different managers and programmers, and this year’s one’s not looking as radical and outre as 06’s, but it’s still lovely to relax in a booth surrounded by fellow hedonists, flaneurs and epicureans.

Friday’s opening night was a bit thin. The can-can girls were great, really lively and brash, and I like the fact they’re all shapes and sizes and are clearly just “ordinary” gals who like to have fun, and they sure do.

The compere of the late evening show was just lame – being gay does not make you inherently hilarious, and the technical problems didn’t help the proceedings, so maybe he just had an off-night. One of the most bizarre acts was a man who climbed inside a giant balloon and bounced around the stage, popping his head in and out. Really odd, and one of those delights where you just end up scratching your head going “What?”

Ultimately a pretty tame night and I’m a tad underwhelmed by this year’s programming, but hey, we’re less than a week in so far, so that opinion will certainly change.

The biggest hype – and consequently biggest disaster – of last year was the Udderbelly. It’s a giant upside-down inflated purple cow plopped in the Old Steine, and last year it was rain- and windswept, freezing cold, corporate, with nasty scaffolding and seating, poor sound, a crappy stage and an entrance which made you fel like a cow being herded as you sloshed through the mud.

Well it’s back this year and I entered trepidatiously, but it looks like they’ve got it right. The weather helps of course, but this year they’ve got comfortable seating, ditched the scaffolding, improved the stage, sound and lighting, and the bar’s in a lovely multicoloured tent rather than a trailer, so it’s actually a pleasurable place to be. And I have to admit their programming is much more exciting than the Speigeltent’s.

I did the first radio broadcast from the Udderbelly for BBC SCR’s coverage on Monday evening, with live drumming on a bin and beatboxing from the amazing Aussies from the Tom-Tom Club, flamenco from Ricardo Garcia and song and cabaret from the outrageous WauWau Sisters. The Sisters do a spoof southern sisters country act schtick managed to do a song which punned on “country” to make it sound like “cunt”… ho dear, good start for the first show!

Unfortunately the WauWau Sisters were only doing 3 nights here, so Kath and I popped down to see their 9pm show and they were truly amazing. Rude, chaotic, running semi-naked around the (unfortunately small) audience, charming, alarming and impressively agile, with an amazing spinning trapeze act. I’ve seen more trapeze acts than I care to recall, so it takes a bit to impress me, and impressive they were. It’s just a pity that their run is so short, as I think word of mouth would have got around and started filling out the audience.

Le Scandal was a different matter. If you’ve seen La Clique at the Speigeltent in previous years or been to Coney Island, anyone promising bawdy burlesque and amazing acrobatics have a lot to live up to – which this largely failed to do. Yet another lame compere who couldn’t improvise and failed to engage the audience, a lamentable fire juggling act who spent more time picking his stick up from the floor, yawnable ariel work of people twiddling up and down strips of cloth and a strange sequence where some very gay-looking men rubbed their groins while a female trapeze artist swung around in a hammock.

The local house band perked things up by playing entertaining klezmer versions of Britney songs and others I can’t remember offhand, assisted by the audience joining in on kazoos, with gusto. The Evil Monkey act was genuinely startling but overall the show was tame, lacking edge and pizzazz, and failing to deliver to an audience with high expectations who’ve seen it all before.

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