Friday, 16 October 2015

Hamlet Live - Big screen, up close and personal

I didn't book my ticket beforehand. Up until the last minute yesterday, I wasn't even sure I was going to go. But I did and I'm glad that I did.

I was sitting in seat E10, and it was pretty close - too close really, so the actors were way above me and often I felt like I was looking up their noses! But BOY was it powerful! The emotion was FULL ON.

Mind you, I hankered for the odd wide shot, and a view that would place the stage within the theatre and the audience. I almost had the strange feeling that they were performing in an empty auditorium (that was very different from the Coriolanus NTLive, which was in such a small 'in the round' studio, that you really had the intimate sense of being within the live audience. In this case, they stayed SO close in, it slightly lost its theatre essence (which it has to have, cos the performances are NOT filmic, they are stage-big)
It worked, though - the intensity was extraordinary (can't believe Benedict didn't wreck his voice, he pushed it so much in the graveside scene, in the conflict with Laertes).

Didn't much like Horatio (played as a geek). But apart from that, all the key players were good. Ophelia was superb, Gertrude and Claudius were very good. Polonius was good, the ghost/gravedigger - good.

Liked the fully unapologetic presentation of the ghost. Gruesome sores on his chest - yucky, and worked well as a shocking reveal.

But is it a flaw in the play itself - the chunk of the play straight after the ghost's revelation where Hamlet is only glimpsed, not really central to the action, and we just hear (and see glimpses) of his odd behaviour? I found that section a bit frustrating and odd (he's just heard that his father was murdered - does he actually fall apart, or is he acting mad - he's SO not taking revenge straight away... which is obviously the point, but...).

The production's gimmicks - particularly the giant fort - were a bit tiresome. Didn't work for me AT ALL. But the soliloquys were perfect - both in their staging (with the slow-mo freezing of time thing, which I really liked), and in Benedict's exquisitely accessible and emotionally convincing interpretation.

One thing I know about Hamlet is its fame for length. So any production has to make cuts - it's inevitable. And each production will choose a slightly different cut to suit the particular interpretation. I liked how much interweaving of the politics was in this one. I was surprised by how much there was with the players - both the Hecuba bit, and the play before the King bit (with Hamlet acting the poisoner - is that usual??) Did NOT like the coat with KING on the back that Hamlet ends up wearing for such a long time from that moment onwards.

I can't remember when I last saw a live production of Hamlet - I watched some bits of David Tennant's version online, but not the whole thing. Don't think I ever watched the Branagh one. Certainly read and studied it long ago in student days ofcourse.

Seeing/hearing it this time, after such a long gap, it was a constant stream of familiar bits, quotations that have entered the culture, mixed with surprising things I'd forgotten or never noticed (really? Hamlet is fortuitously freed by a pirate attack??)

Why did Ophelia have a camera? She seemed a bit flaky from the start; perhaps the fragility of mind and emotion  needed to be hinted at, so the descent into total madness doesn't seem too sudden or far-fetched. Her final scene and exit were exquisitely sad. And I liked the sense of the three bereaved children and their differing reactions to the death of their father (Hamlet, Ophelia, Laertes - the last being the 'traditional' avenger, so easily manipulated by Claudius)

In the play, Hamlet - while failing to avenge his father by immediately killing his uncle - directly (albeit accidentally - in that he was hoping to kill someone else) kills Polonius, and he deliberately, and with cold deliberateness, sends Rosencrantz & Guildenstern to their deaths. At the end, he unintentionally kills Laertes, then deliberately (finally!) kills Claudius, knowing he's about to die himself.

I'd be interested to see Hamlet at the Globe (they always seem to emphasis any humour, and even add more than is strictly justified - seems to be part of that Groundling rapport and the close link with the audience.

The depth of the pain, the horrible darkness of mental fragility and depression - that really struck me tonight. When Hamlet can only bear to stay alive because he's scared of the life thereafter (there's the rub) - I know what that's like (although for me, it was knowing the pain I would inflict on loved ones by 'self-slaughter', not any idea of heaven/hell/continued existence of a 'soul'!)

Now I can't really grump about the existence of the ghost - portrayed as a real supernatural presence - or the certainty expressed by Hamlet, Claudius etc regarding God, the soul and  judgement beyond for sins in this world. That's just part of the deal (and not even anachronistic, given the huge numbers of believers nowadays!)

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Faith - Derren Brown style

(This blog drafted back in November 2012, but held back to avoid spoilers)

I won't post this blog until after the show has been broadcast.

Lots of thought provoking aspects to consider.

The emotional conjunctions that create a seemingly mystical religious experience (which isn't - despite Derren's rhetoric - the same as a religious conversion!)

The failure to give due weight to poetic and symbolic realities - as if we are all irrational and stupid to want to avoid stabbing a photograph of a loved one with a knife in a satanic rite (when we don't actually believe in satan as an objective reality)

The potential hurt in our own sense of our love for the person - the blunting that is inevitable to allow such a mimicking of deadly attack (a photo REPRESENTS a person - so there is inevitable power in violence against such an image. We can easily imagine the meaning of tearing up a photo of someone, or dispoiling it with marks/scratches.)

What else? The imagining of phantom presences in an empty room, after planting the idea of a ghost.

The subconscious influence of a non-existent witness (a haunted chair that cuts down on cheating: the 'God-as-Policeman' usefulness in upholding morality - - - and the humorous cartoon of the Darwinian explanation of inventing the God-figure to watch us and keep us from disruptive actions to the tribe (such as infidelity)

The looking for patterns - faces - when they aren't really there (again linked to the survival advantage of glimpsing a tiger (or a shape that looks like a tiny bit of a tiger that 'might' be a tiger) - and reacting versus seeing the same and not reacting)

The perfume that wasn't there - and the low-frequency sound that supposedly makes you smell the scent of mint. - Used to demonstrate the power of suggestion in creating a sensory experience that the person believes they are actually experiencing.

The assumption of purpose and meaning in events - the projection of agency when it's not really there, because we start looking for it.  THIS PART WAS THE MOST INTERESTING TO ME.

Like placebos, the mechanics of religious faith (such as intercessory prayer) no longer work when you can see behind the curtain. And it's sad in a way. There are some secular equivalents - the psychologically helpful non-religious version of the 'examen', where you reflect on your day (or longer period) and discern what has been life-enhancing and what has been depleting, using this to construct your own lessons to inform your onward path.

The River - paddling in Butterworth's strangely compelling world

(I drafted this blog back in November, but didn't want to post 'spoilers', hence left it as an unpublished draft till now)

Another blog I'll have to finish another time. So much to ponder in the Jez Butterworth play I saw today. Been dipping into the script since I got home, reminding myself of various aspects.

The Yeats poem/song seems so crucial to the overall theme - a folk myth about a fish that turns into a woman. Catching something - losing it (like the fish he caught when 7) or killing and eating it (a fish caught with a poacher's help in the one instance, and with lied-about skills learnt from a father - as a desperate ploy to get close, but through lying at the same time (since she actually hated fishing!) And the link with her father's death, like a fish flapping on the kitchen floor.

The girl at the end - was she from earlier in time: the preceding instance? Or was she after the others. The man's joyful expression seemed to suggest long-since lost happiness, giving me the impression that this was in the past - perhaps the first?

The sense of Groundhog Day style trapped repetitive story loops was strengthened by the seemingly impossible coincidence of the kamakaze robin. (the choice of bird - a flash of red?) Virtually the same words used over again, and the same unknown outcome (did the bird recover when placed outside and fly away - or was it dead?)?

The haunting glimpse by the blonde woman of some other laughing (and sighing) woman down by the river - a chilling and ghostly moment.

Her naked dive into the pool. Naked truth?

The bits that annoyed me and which seemed clunky - 'do you remember what you said then?' - this formula used over and over. But now I'm realising it must have been deliberate - an artificial bringing into the here and now of a (recent) memory - turning past actions and words into the stories we tell each other - the truths we must face, the bits we have to acknowledge and not edit out (or making truth into fiction?) Description of something rather than seeing it or hearing it directly (connecting with the sunset moment? Words painting the colours vividly for us, yet a distancing technique in context)

Another aspect that really struck me - how unconnected the man and woman seemed (and ditto the man and other woman) No touching. Talk of love-making, yet the opposite, in front of us, of any intimacy whatsoever. And certainly no hint of love! In either direction. A very strange atmosphere, a strange version of the male/female thing. Very unsettling! Not nice at all.

Us - the audience - our role in the piece. What we DON'T see and DON'T hear. The indirectness, the reliance on descriptive language - all that we get is a verbal conjuring up of the scenes we don't get to see - reports of past conversations, actions etc! There is a dissonance between what we see and what we are told - he has said 'I love you' to her, but we don't witness any hint of love in his body language or the way he interacts with either woman. The physical distance is palpable. Weird. Not naturalistic, heightened. The reports of love-making, with failure of intimacy (the looking away).

Reflections, water. Catching. Experiencing a sunset versus poetically (yet reductively) describing it - as always the same (the story with each woman - and more? - being always the same. No individuality?

Why is the face scratched out? Who gets the stone? Does anyone get to keep it? Was there a platonic real first form 'woman', with the later women mere shadows on the cave wall?

He says the woman in the scarlet dress didn't die.

Did the Other Woman leave, in the version we saw, or just go into the bedroom, never to emerge. (there is a discrepancy between the script and the staged version on this point - perhaps to protect the ambiguity?

The Other Woman impinged on the other time-frame, setting out the bowl and candles while the first woman is still on the stage. So black-haired woman seemed more memory-like, from the past. But it was a big surprise (complicating things hugely) when she asks about a pre-existing sketch of a woman in the red dress (the same dress? a coincidentally similar one?) with the face scratched out.

The scratching out of a face is an act that takes away individuality. It is also a destructive and violent action, seeming to stem from anger (or perhaps despair?)

Link between the women and fish - the people themselves trapped in a modern folktale.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Duke Special - Shepherds Bush Empire, 20th December 2012

I first went to see Duke Special live at the Shaw theatre in May 2010 - I had a seat in the very front row, and he was playing with the same full band as tonight. On that earlier occasion the mix of songs was mainly from his Mother Courage and Silent world of Hector Mann collections. Since then I've seen him live at the Union Chapel and at Wilton's Music Hall  - both times mainly solo, save for the odd guest to duet with, or (at UC) one or two musicians accompanying. I think that's all the times I've seen him live - but that's only over a period of two and a half years.

But the full band sound - with sax, double bass, drums, quirky percussion, hammond organ and guitar - that's the business! Definitely the best way to experience the Duke! Wasn't so struck by tonight's main support act - Michelle somebody? (there was another featured female vocalist for one song in the encores - a song about an angel? And also the bearded chappy mentioned below) The duet with Michelle was reasonably good - a cover of a cheeky song but not terribly memorable.

Tonight there were lots of the old favourite classics, particularly during the encore (Salvation Tamborine, Apple Jack, I let you down, No CoverUp, Digging an Early Grave, Last Night I nearly Died, Love goes Deeper than This, but sadly not FreeWheel), plus my new favourite from his most recent album, about the human condition, and lots of lesser-known songs from Under the Dark Cloth and O Pioneer, his two most recent albums. Not all of them are 'big hits', but Hand of Man (spirit of America) and Snakes in the Grass are pretty good. And so is the Georgia O'Keefe one (which features the O Pioneer line), and also the final  'bird on the edge of space' one, (will add more if I can recall them.)

There was a fab duet with a singer/guitarist whose name I didn't catch, but who seemed to be scandinavian, judging from his accent. They first sang one of DS's songs (Washday blues I think it's called) and then did one of his. His song, with DS accompanying, was superb - the patience of angels? I recorded a goodly chunk to help me identify both the song and the singer in due course.

I was particularly struck tonight by how beautiful DS's voice is. He has such a fantastic range - there was one song in particular with very very low bits, then his fine tenor range - and then (in other songs) he can produce a very sweet and gentle falcetto at the top end too!

Wish I could recall which song featured a very fine screeching top note sung by the sax player! It was fab!!

And the squeeze box sustain notes accompanying No cover up - another terrific aspect.

The whole sound was just so wonderfully rich, combined with perfectly crisp audible lyrics.

I liked what DS was wearing - a red shirt, thin black tie and a dark grey suit jacket - quite a formal look really! He had a  real go at XFactor - really loathes it and sees it as inimical to art (he sees his job as being an artist with something to say via his music)

Standing was ok (there were seats up in the circle - not sure if I even knew that was an option when I booked), except for the pain I started to feel in my left knee towards the end - and the fact that my view of DS was only very much glimpses, albeit from reasonably close. But I stuck with my position - until shoved out of the way by two drunk and annoying blokes just in time for the final bop-along encore numbers. I almost let my annoyance spoil the end part of the gig! My view got even worse and - after trying to maintain my position despite them inserting themselves into my personal space, I eventually gave up and stood behind them again - because I couldn't even bop along otherwise.

I was paranoid about the risk of getting my phone(s) pickpocketted, so my hypervigilance prevented me getting too engrossed. I was also aware of feeling a bit sad about being on my own - I really don't think I will attempt to go to a gig like that on my own in the future.

My other REALLY big mistake this evening was the hotdog. Oh my god - that was so foul! And I attempted to start eating a SECOND one, just because I had a 'two for the price of one' offer via O2 Moments. Not a good idea. Felt so sick - in fact I STILL feel sick now!! I only ate a small fraction of the second one in the end. I did, however, enjoy my pear cider very much (despite its price)

Cheekily saved money on the tube fare by re-using Bob's card, since he was already 'maxed' on the daily limit. Seemed to work.

Forgot to mention - initially forgot my ticket and only discovered it when I had parked at Ealing Broadway - had to go back home to fetch it. Glad I checked before travelling to Shepherds bush, but wish I'd listened to my innner voice on leaving the house, cos it was telling me to check if the ticket was in my bag before I drove away from the house!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Jesus Christ Superstar - O2 and Wembley (Arena Tour 2012)

Just got back from my third time seeing JCSS with Tim Minchin as Judas, Ben Forster as Jesus and Mel C as Mary M (plus Chris Moyles as Herod) -


It was wonderful. Not such a close-up seat as my 5th row central position for the Sunday evening at the O2, but it was still a great experience to see it from the rear stalls (slightly tiered), giving an excellent view of the whole staging, ensemble choreography and the screeen (I noticed things I'd missed previously)

In general I thought the company were more 'in the groove' at this stage in the tour, and the show benefitted from that extra confidence and ease. Minchin's performance was as powerful as ever, if not more so, although his voice seemed to crack more than just for emotional effect during his song of despair, just before he hangs himself. I'm kicking myself now for not managing to grab a sneaky audio recording of his Heaven on their Mind number (sadly the video of that - by someone else - is now deleted from Youtube) and his Damned for all time/Blood Money song. I prefer both of those as vocal performances and as songs - although the Death of Judas bit is incredibly moving and powerful, and JCS at the end is fun, if slightly underwhelming in its impact, for some strange reason.

Apart from the incredibly moving Death of Judas, my favourite parts of the show (for differing reasons) are:

- all the songs by Pontius Pilate -the one while he exercises is cleverly staged and effective in its dismissive, casual exercise of power, but I particularly like the haunting quality of the first dream song, and the exasperated, powerless, forced exercise of 'power' in the final 'you innocent puppet' one.

- the Poor Jerusalem bit - another haunting moment

- the final part of the show - AFTER the big Jesus Christ Superstar number and Jesus' final words on the cross. The red petals fall as Jesus 'gives up the ghost', and then there's the dignified, gentle deposition, with the symbolically effective cruciform lift (on a big music cue) and thecarrying of the dead Christ. That, for me, was the more emotionally powerful crucifixion moment - far more so than the actual one (although the lighting burst when the cross blazes out is visually powerful). And - after the petals, and the carrying of Jesus up the steps to be lowered (buried) at the back of the stage - I remained captivated by the beautiful final strains of music and the placing of the flickering tealights on the stage by all the cast members, as a modern 'lest we forget' ritual, complemented by imagery on the screen of a kind of 'tributes' wall, with cards and flowers, similar to those often placed as memorials these days (such as at the site of a fatal car crash,, or on the railings of Crossbones Graveyard in Southwark). It's a very beautiful ending, pointing towards an 'immortality' of some kind, a life after death through being remembered so fondly by so many people (Jesus as 'the light of the world' I suppose, but a blazing cross becomes merely fragile and poignant tiny little dots of light scattered over the steps - although as the main light fades, I notice matching dots of light about, like stars - so perhaps the perspective is larger at the very end?

The lyrics of the songs - by the almost UNACKNOWLEDGED Tim Rice (Andrew - you didn't write the words - stop taking ALL the credit!!!) are so challenging and intelligent. The christian in me (as was) baulks somewhat at the reductive Last Supper 'for all you care, this wine could be my blood...', while the new sceptic in me nods wryly at the 'God as sadist' implications of both the Gethsemane number and all the other fatalistic references to Jesus' passion as pre-ordained death-quest.

The show's themes are not christian themes per se (although see * below)- they include reflections on what happens after you die in a much more human sense; there's a hint of the celebrity culture - of wanting more than anything to be famous - anxiety about being remembered at all, the transition from the man to the myth (Jesus the man to Christ the Superstar), how we mark the passing of the dead, and elevate the person - and (in the case of both Pontius Pilate and Judas) the fear of how one may be(unfairly) remembered....
 (* I suppose the Last Supper becoming Communion  'Do this in remembrance of me' is all about remembering = re-membering,- the bringing alive (!) through a ritual of memory is indeed at the heart of christian faith)

Wanting to be remembered in a particular way - it's about control, really - the desire for control over one's own fate, and the inability to control other people's perceptions of you. There is great emphasis on the death of Jesus being part of God's plan, something Jesus (albeit reluctantly) drives forward - so he (and God) are in control of his fate, not Judas, not Pontius Pilate (and not even Caiphas et al). There is deep irony and tragedy in Judas' anguished cry to an absent (about to be crucified) Jesus, as he prepares to hang himself  'You have murdered me'.

The 'could we start again' song - the desire to re-write the script, fearing how the story looks like it is going to end - feels like part of the theme of fate as someone's script - catching out those who thought they were in a rather different story.

(By the way - I found the sudden dispersal at the end of the Heal me Christ song jarring once again. It's a disturbing and powerful scene, but the impact just evaporates on the line 'Heal yourselves!' when they don't allow even a 'beat' before scurrying off to allow Mary to pass straight into the reprise of 'Try not to get worried...')

The Jesus in this show - partly deliberately as an interpretation, and partly through the limited charisma of the person playing the role - is definitely lacking in appeal. There is a hollowness at the centre - as if he never was anything very special - and all the hype, the poster boy image (on the Believe posters) is concocted like spun sugar around an empty space.

Tonight, for the first time, during the big JCS number, I saw Judas as diabolic - certainly in that song he seems to be taunting Jesus (in the hallucination) as if he - Judas - were the very devil himself. So is that Jesus's projection onto Judas, or is that an element in the story through-out? (certainly in church tradition Judas was seen as having fallen for the seductive whisperings of the devil....Damned (to hell) for all time...(Note to self - I must re-read that wonderful play about the Last Judgement of Judas Iscariot).

Blog to be further edited and expanded - if I get around to it. But rather than leave this as a draft in suspended animation, PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED!

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Malvern. Aberystwyth, Forest of Dean

(This isn't really worth posting as a blog; it's just a lengthy diary from when Bob and I visited the Forest of Dean earlier this year - I must check the actual date and add that)

Bob and I combined a bit of fun with our duty trip to see his parents in Aberystwyth. We managed to set off by 7pm on Friday and had a remarkably quick and trouble-free drive to Great Malvern - even beating the Satnav's initial timing estimate. We found the hotel easily and (after a tiny bit of confusion at the check-in desk) settled in to our lovely room, with an absolutely VAST bathroom! Bob enjoyed a nice soak in the bath, and I had a lovely hot shower the following morning. The view out of our window was rather nice, with the hillside visible in the dusk. Glad I saw it that evening - because all was veiled in heavy grey cloud and mist the following morning.

I ventured down to the bar before bedtime to  bring back a bailey's as a nightcap - it was remarkably noisy down there, with a live musician (but none of the noise reached our room on the 3rd floor). Had a fairly early night, but we had a nice relaxed start the following morning. We went out to see if Waitrose was open already and to try to buy a few missing items. Managed to get shampoo, toothpaste and wrapping paper, but not socks.

We put Cadi in the car while we went in for breakfast - Full english breakfast for me, kippers and scrambled eggs for Bob. Hilariously OTT 'host' - who I misheard when he asked me about 'fido', and who mistook us for coffee people (shock horror!) I noticed one particular rather attractive stained glass window in the dining room.

We checked out shortly after 10am but were able to leave the car where it was and go off to explore the town. First we took Cadi for a proper walk in Priory Park, which proved to be a lovely green space right in the middle of the town. Then we put her back in the car and went in search of socks (and possibly shoes). We ended up walking all the way to the very top of the town and a remarkably old fashioned Department store called Brays. Bob found some socks that he liked and we left the shop - only to be lured back in again when I spotted some rather funky pink trainers I liked the look of (we weren't supposed to be shopping for shoes for me, but hey) We went upstairs to the Outdoor section and I tried on several different trainer/walking shoes. Ended up getting the light-weight pink ones, even though they're not water-proof (which the lime green ones were).

After Bray's we walked back down to the Tearooms we always go to, and had an earlyish and fairly small lunch.

We then headed off for Aberystwyth, and again the journey went very smoothly. We stopped for petrol and I rang to give an ETA - and we did indeed arrive shortly after 4pm.

Tea and cake in the conservatory, and later a longish walk all the way down to the sea via the converted railway track and back along the river. Back just in time for an evening meal of ham with special potatoes with onion and sauce, and peas - simply but tasty (and upside-down cake for afters). Conversation rather than TV all evening, and a fairly early night.

The next day was a bit more problematic. The weather was horrible, but nonetheless we headed for Borth (Emrys in the end didn't come along, as he had first planned to do) - it was cold, wet and miserable there - so we only took the dog onto the beach for a very short walk. And when we drove along to Ynys Las we didn't even get out of the car - it was so cold and wet! Back to the other end of Borth and a choice of tea rooms for a cuppa and a cake. My coffee was extraordinarily awful - I couldn't finish it - but the chocolate fudge cake was nice.

Lunch back at Cae Pant was cold ham and lots of nice tubs of salad. After lunch, we started to watch the River Pageant - and that turned into the whole of the afternoon. Perhaps an easy distraction?

The evening meal was a delicious casserole with fruit pie to follow (Cadi later managed to climb up and steal a bit of the left-over pie - oops!) In the evening, Bob played welsh scrabble with his dad while Peggy did a few crosswords and I dozed (due to too much alcohol!)

And that was that, really. The following day was just a matter of getting up, breakfasting, packing and setting off (we were away by just after 10am.)

My plan was to drive to the Forest of Dean via a different route than usual. The route worked fine BUT it took a lot longer than I had realised it would!! We stopped off for lunch at an outdoor place called the Georgian Garden in ???  (Cadi came with us, but she was such a nuisance whining and begging)

We had initially thought of going to one or two places en route, but in the end I just wanted to get to our hotel straight away. We found the George Inn in Ayleburton quite easily and (despite my worries) it turned out to be very nice. For some reason we were both very weary, so we ended up having a long nap until almost time for our evening meal. Not sure if we walked Cadi before or after our nap - I think it was after. We walked through the village and then back to the playing fields, with a path out into the fields beyond. Cadi loved it!

Our meal in the Inn's restaurant was excellent! Another very pleasant surprise. (chilli prawns and fish for me, with choc tort to follow; Bob had duck spring rolls, paella and lemon syllabub) We were both STUFFED! And I had a couple of drinks - zzzzz! Back to the room, and the Jubilee concert on TV, much to Bob's disgust, but I ended up watching it to the very end. Not a good night's sleep for Bob, and Cadi needed to be taken out very early (my fault, cos I didn't take her out last thing in the evening)

We both had a full english for breakfast (despite the big meal the night before!) Then we checked out and  headed first for Lyney harbour - which (in Bob's eyes anyway) won the 'worst place we've ever visited' award! But Cadi liked it - and she did a poo, which was the main thing. We next set off for the Forest of Dean Heritage Centre (along a very scenic road), eager to spend one of our Tescoes days out vouchers! Cadi had to stay in the car, but that was fine, since it was cool and overcast. The Centre was good (and I vaguely remembered some bits from a visit several years ago. The pigs were adorable, the forester's cottage was great, and I liked the working models of various pumps, plus the 3D topgraphical model and the rubbing. Bob found a geological cross section which he liked and photographed.

We finished with a bite to eat in the cafe - a smallish lunch (we had 2 different soups). By now I had realised that I'd left my earrings back at the hotel, so we drove back to try to get them. And fortunately this didn't take too long - and we were successful.

By now the rain was coming down quite heavily, but I wanted to visit a National Trust Roman Villa along our route home (via the A40). The Villa turned out to be a LONG way from the main road along very narrow roads. Again the dog had to stay in the car. Bob was a bit too tired to be terribly impressed, particularly in view of the rain and the huge crowds, but I thought it was amazing! Extraordinary mosaics in situ - room after room. Very good new covered building, and the little museum was also a highlight. I also liked the water shrine. Time for another cup of tea and a cake, followed by a quick browse in the gift shop. Went back to the car and gave Cadi a very quick little explore (going along the public path at the far end of the car park, which led to a railway tunnel).

And that was enough - time to head for London. The A40 route was fine, with the M40 section allowing for some pretty fast driving (despite the wet conditions) Had to stop for another very short power-nap, to avoid falling asleep at the wheel. Got back home around 5.30pm. Very tired again (despite the power nap) so I had to go for ANOTHER nap!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Duke Special and more

Last night I trekked across town in the heat (Central line and Victoria line - actually not tooo unbearably sweaty) to the Union Chapel near Highbury and Islington tube station. Got there a little after 7pm to see the line of ticket holders still queuing to get in (the line was moving - it was just taking a while to get in).

Inside I spotted a good spare place in a central pew fairly nearly the front. Laid down my cardigan to hold the spot and queued to buy an icecream tub. Once in my place, I had time to photograph the beautiful ceiling,

and to tweet, and then the first support act was starting. He was quite good (and I later bought his CD, which was only £5) but I must confess I did carry on tweeting during his set. He had old TVs showing odd images (or, in one case an actual video of his song) Boxes used a lot of pre-recorded backing track music and beats. Hmmmm.

The next (main) support act were on next - Foreign Slippers. This singer is Swedish and she wore a retro looking red suit with matching red hat (later Duke Special was also wearing a bright red shirt - colour co-ordinated!) As she started to sing her first song at the piano, I thought her voice sounded like a female version of Antony and the Johnsons - although a bit less mannered. She does have a superb and beautiful voice. I liked some of her songs very much; couldn't hear all of the words and greatly disliked the songs when she used a horrible thumping pre-recorded drum track.

An interval gave me time for a pre-emptive loo visit AND the opportunity to go mad o the merchandise stall and buy a CD from each of the night's 3 acts. This included the new CD by Duke Special even though I hadn't heard any of the songs (a bit risky perhaps?)

This is the third time I have seen Duke Special live. the first was at the Shaw Theatre with a full band. The second was solo (just with piano) at the wonderful Wilton Music Hall. And this time he had a drummer (with a lot of big bass drum featuring) and a Hammond Organ player - plus of course the piano. And a couple of guest vocalists later on in the set (the drummer also provided some harmonies on a few earlier songs)

It was a mixture of songs from Under the Dark Cloth (I particularly love the long explanatory introduction to the Rita di a Costa one),

some older 'classics', including FreeWheel, Last Night I nearly Died and Digging an Early Grave, one Ruby Murray song and several from the new CD. I tried to keep track of the set list - although I think I may have missed some, and/or got the order wrong. I may come back to edit further, but this is my initial attempt (some titles not correct)

For me the highlights were the beautiful stripped back version of Freewheel, featuring guest vocals by Foreign Slippers, plus a final section of what sounded like extemporized lyrics referring to the Union Chapel venue itself and (very movingly) God - really stopped me in my tracks that did: quite a moment. It seemed so appropriate, in a song about Freewheeling, for him to stop a moment and just let his mind freewheel about what was right there and then in that very moment. I felt privileged to share that unique live experience! (I recorded part of it, but missed the first section sung by Duke Special before the section sung by Foreign Slippers)

I also loved the I am Perfect song with so many clever opposites - far from obvious ones and very subtle in the rhyming. The line about the words crawling back inside the ink was another real 'wow!' moment!

Spiritual America - Dark Cloth
Rita di a costa - Dark Cloth
Hand of Man - Dark Cloth
Snakes in the Grass (from the new CD)
Nothing shall come between us (from the new CD)
Last Night I nearly died
Apple Jack
Punch of a Friend - from new CD (& single)

Lost Chord ( I misheard this title as Wasps Court!) - duet with Foreign Slippers - from new CD

Freewheel (duet with Foreign Slippers) - with improv references to the venue itself. ONE OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NIGHT FOR ME!!

Condition (I am perfect) - from the new CD  (the words are crawling back inside the ink) A WONDERFUL SONG!!

Happy Days and lonely nights (a Ruby Murray song)

Wanda - Hector Mann

Salvation tambourine (I could go to London)

Hard times (duet with friend he pulled out of the audience)

How I Learned to love the Sun (oh the feeling) (from new CD) - with umpapa style - also featuring Duke singing part of the song up in his falcetto range - which I'd never heard before. Not sure about that aspect.

I wish I was a fisherman (Foreign Slippers song - with Duke singing harmonies) - I've found a You Tube video of this on a different night - see below. It's very lovely.

FINAL ROUSING ENCORE = Digging an early grave (with audience joining in, and also some from front rows invited up onto the stage!)