And Verily I Shall Ramble
I haven’t felt much like writing just lately (although, paradoxically, I was thinking of starting another blog. More on that if I decide I can be bothered to do it), but as ever the bold tales of fings wot I done are piling up. Don’t panic, though. You put your Reading Glasses on, I’ll don my Writing False Moustache, and we’ll get through this together.
Friday the 11th of April was my chance to bare witness to Top Girls at The Crescent Theatre. I’d never been there before, perhaps surprisingly. This was in the ‘studio’ room – a performance of ‘Seven Brides For Seven Brothers’ happened in the main hall. Apparently they had ‘Annie Get Your Gone’ not long after. Plenty of opportunities for both rootin’ and tootin’.
I ‘did’ this play (I mean ‘Top Girls’, not ‘Seven Brides…’ or ‘Annie Get Your Gun’) for A level English-Literature when I was at college (I think that this might not be uncommon), but since I’d never actually seen it staged I was quite looking forward to it. I can’t be bothered with any exposition about it, so just have a read of this if you’re not familiar.
I enjoyed this. The programme spoke of Brecht (and I’ve heard him mentioned in relation to the play before), but irrespective of what techniques of acting and scripting may or may not have been involved I found myself pulled in rather than distanced. It’s a very visceral and cathartic play, really, or at least that’s how I always perceive it – while (of course) it does make you think, I don’t think the various emotional dehiscent elements of it lend themselves to completely neutral viewing. They were the strength of this, and absolutely captivating (even if all of the shouting did make one member of our party’s headache worse). On a lighter note, the arguments/talking-over-each-other bits were done masterfully, which is surely no mean feat of timing. Lovely stuff.
The following night was reserved for AMMA at The Villa Ground (results in this messageboard thread, to save you having to brave the inaccuracies of MMA Universe). These are always good fightcards, although I’ve steadily come to hate the venue (it’s terrible for being able to actually see the ring, particularly for a shortarse like me). I missed the last three fights due to the ever-heavy-hanging spectre of needing to get the train, but had great fun nevertheless. There wasn’t a single bad fight on the card (or such of it that I saw), and the best amongst them was Ross Sutherland vs Ben Rose. Sutherland was throwing out almost constant submission attempts (I’m barely exaggerating), but Rose just would not give up. He gritted his teeth through a particularly gnarly triangle for absolutely ages, it was amazing. Sutherland took the unanimous judges decision in the end, but they both deserve all of the applause and plaudits you could possibly give them. (Edit: The UK’s best MMA fighter Rosi Sexton writes about cornering a fighter at this show on her excellent blog).
Skip on a week to Saturday the 19th, for Packers (no permalink, sorry – you’ll have to scroll down a bit) at Newhampton Arts Centre in Wolves (another one I’d never been to before). This was very sweet, very funny, and extremely well-observed – all of the characters were immediately recognisable archetypes of people. You’ll feel like you know ‘em all well. Happy ending, too. And proper accents.
The night after meant going to Birmingham Town Hall for Mahler’s 2nd – my favourite symphony to hear live (this was my third time. It’s probably my favourite symphony full stop, in fact). The Town Hall definitely isn’t as good as Symphony Hall acoustically, I found out (the choir and a few other things seemed a bit drowned out at times) but still stunning. The Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra were remarkable considering that they’re not professionals.
Tuesday the 22nd saw me heading to The Academy for a Gogol Bordello gig. I’d managed to avoid going to The Stankhole since October, and so having given them a bit of time I was expecting to find all of its ills remedied. Really? Nah. All of the commonly repeated bad points still apply, only now the reek of the toilets seems to have a longer range. I look forward to the day the citizenry will rise up and cleanse it with fire. There will be much rejoicing.
Skindred supported, and as such I must make the obligatory mention of the fact that a mate of mine put them on at Eddies some years ago and apparently they acted like proper spoiled little wannabe rockstars (TALKING POINT AHOY-HOY: Is diva-like behaviour from bands who aren’t actually rich/famous yet some sort of socio-cultural parallel of your middle class ‘economic expectation’ thing? A quasi-existentialist re-ordering of the model of the world in your mind based entirely on how you want things to be, and if others in the world outside object then goshdarnit there’s gonna be trouble? Discuss). I should also note that at this gig your man there reeeeally overdid the “That’s not loud enough” getting-the-crowd-to-shout bit. Beyond these things, though, they were ace. You wouldn’t call ‘em avante garde by any means but their songs don’t have 100% boring basic structures, they really give it some welly, and they’re damn catchy. That ‘Trouble’ in particular is a choon. Skindred are probably my favourite reggae-metal band who allegedly treat DIY promoters badly from all of South Wales, and I really mean that.
I have mentioned before that I see a direct correlation between how many members a band has and how aaaawesome they are (there may actually be a formula to work it out. Maybe “divide the number of personnel by two, and use that number of ‘a’s at the start of the word awesome”), and so it goes with Gogol Bordello. Like a livewire gypsy Pogues fronted by an alternate-universe version of Iggy Pop who has a crap moustache and is trying to talk you into letting him tarmac your drive, they combine both frenetic punky jumparounds with slurring ‘n’ roaring drinking songs. Their onstage business is circus-like (carnivalesque if you will) and all the better for it. Fun fun fun.
Word reached me that Carina Round was due to play a secret gig at Woom art gallery on the 23rd. Or a largely unpublicised gig, rather – it couldn’t have been that secret if I knew about it. I’m not in the loop. Or any loop.
Loop-envy aside, I made my way over to The Jewellery Quarter and found not-too-much happening at Woom when I arrived, so I popped around the corner for a pint of Peroni (tall, slim and suspiciously phallic glasses For – as I believe young ‘uns say – The Win) in ‘Vertu’. I couldn’t decide if it was swanky or just wanky. Laura Louise (who seems to be the guv’nor of these ‘Goo Stick’ nights) was already on by the time I got back to Woom, playing acoustic stuff with a jazzy sort of feel. I often think it comes close to damning with faint praise to say that someone “has a good voice” but that’s what it was all about here, with a lot of depth and feeling. She did an absolutely gorgeous version of ‘Summertime’ (the Gershwin one. Not the Will Smith one. Although that’s good too).
Her Wonderfulness Carina did a five song solo set, appearing very very tired. It was weird seeing her without lots & lots of people around (since this set seemed to be semi-secret ‘n’ such), although likeable. She started with a new one I hadn’t heard before and didn’t catch the name of (I faintly recall a line about Clawing someone’s fuppin’ eyes out. Lovely), before going on to ‘Simplicity Hurts’, a fierce version of ‘Ready To Confess’, ‘Downslow’, and finishing with ‘Thief In The Sky’ (which by now I absolutely love). A very atypical Carina gig, but nice enough.
Immediately after she’d finished, Mickey Greaney stepped up to the stage for a couple of songs in what appeared to be impromptu fashion. I’ve read some of the hilarious stuff his name has prompted over at the B:INS forum in the past (EDIT: I retract that, it’s now completely over the top and not in the least bit funny), but musically speaking he was new to me. His first song was a standard and boring acoustic ballad sort of thing, but the second had a nice dynamic build about it (fairly nifty trick with just a voice & acoustic guitar, few manage it) and I liked it a lot more.
I left after that. I think Laura was due to play again, but I was nearly as tired as Carina was and I needed to be up early the following morning to…
Picket! Yes, it’s still a question of a three year pay deal at 2%, 0%, and 1%. This one-day strike on the 24th was timed to coincide with quite a few other trades going out, which was a very good thing – ours was very well supported, but I’m pretty sure that’s only because the teachers’ strike left a lot of folk with no-one to have their kids. We’ve had too many outwardly ineffectual ones in too short a space of time, in my most humble of opinions. I was nevertheless one of the two (count ‘em) people making up the picket line at our place. What a show of strength.
I’ve spoken before about the wealth of choice that the evening of the 25th offered for entertainment, but I’m now incredibly glad that I opted to go and see Björk at The Civic Hall (especially since McDermott vs Elcock was postponed). There was a good omen as soon as I entered the venue – the London Underground Song was playing over the PA. They should do that at more gigs.
Leila’s part-live part-DJing support set was absolutely all over the place. This is a good thing if you ask me, although it did go on a bit. We got (at different times) distorted bits of speeches and other songs, drone, R.D. James style ambient, industrial breakbeat, techno, and possibly more besides that I’m forgetting. Not all of it worked perfectly, but some bits were ace. Half of the crowd seemed rapturously appreciative, and half nonplussed (the girl sitting in the seat next to me seemed bored out of her mind).
A brass band marched onto the stage all tootling and parping as brass bands do. All of a sudden there’s FIRE EVERYWHERE then there’s Björk in a floaty yellow number and looking elfin (it’s clichéd, but really the best possible adjective when you see her in real life). I was surprised (although I’m not sure why. Hmmm) to find the first half of her set having definite leanings towards a vaguely mournful feel, but she switched to high-priestess-of-the-rave mode in the middle. The highlights came when the laser-lightshow came into play (predictably. Perhaps I am shallow), in particular “Army of Me” (it’s my favourite of hers anyway, but combine that synthline with a lasers and loads of confetti and you can’t lose). The closing “Declare Independence” was breathtaking, shaking off the “Atari Teenage Riot haven’t been very well lately” air it has on record and becoming a joyous, life-affirming thing (also including the densest confetti cloud I’ve seen released over an audience since Britney Spears in 2004), and… oh too many too mention. Amazing stuff. Probably not quite a top ten live set ever, but hovering somewhere near.
That’ll do, I think. There’s been the English Originals folk festival since then, and there’ll be more stuff very soon, but this post is long enough already. I will return at some point with more parables of modern life. Same bat-time, same bat-channel.