Friday, 25 May 2018

THE TIME HAS COME, MEN: #YOUTOO





Good to talk with BBC Radio Kent's Kate Recordon on the Drive-Time show this afternoon, about Harvey Weinstein. The 'Pulp Fiction' and 'Shakespeare in Love' producer handed himself in to the NYPD this morning, was handcuffed, escorted to court, and charged with rape, sex abuse and other crimes against two women: one of them Lucia Evans, the other choosing to remain anonymous (as is her right). It is important to remember that no trial has yet taken place, and that Weinstein remains innocent until proven guilty. Having said that, the weight of evidence against him looks overwhelming, and appears to be increasing by the day.
This man undoubtedly used his position, influence, wealth and power to lure vulnerable young women, most of them would-be stars, into situations in which he could violate them sexually. He does not deny most of this behaviour. He has always denied non-consensuality. He would, wouldn't he. His attorney reminds us that Mr Weinstein did not invent the Hollywood casting couch, and that bad behaviour is not on trial here: it's criminality that is. Was there any? How difficult sex crimes are to prove. It's usually one woman's word against one man's, which is why so many rape victims recoil in horror from going public with their experiences. We all know how that can go. But how many other female victims will now feel galvanised and emboldened into coming forward to declare #MeToo?
I know few women of my generation who have NOT been subjected to sexual violation of some kind. My friends and I discuss it. We conclude that we were always made to feel that it was our fault in some way, for being young, cute, and irresistible to the beast in man. They 'couldn't help it,' they'd plead. Or they were 'having a mid-life crisis.' But we were not toys. And isn't it always the seemingly avuncular and safe sorts who get away with it for the longest time? Kevin Spacey. Bill Cosby. Rolf Harris. Roman Polanski is on thinner and thinner ice. And now, accusations against Morgan Freeman, which so many male friends are refusing to believe. Who next? Will Woody Allen's luck at last run out?
Meanwhile, as well as an additional federal investigation against Weinstein, similar cases are mounting in Los Angeles and London. Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie are marching at the head of an ever-swelling clan.
The time has come, declared one commentator, for men to call out other men who are guilty of such behaviour. The tide is turning, for sure. But the world will not change for good, nor to the lasting benefit of all our daughters and grand-daughters, until the male of the species stops sticking up for the bad guys and adds his voice to the chorus. Men, all of you, are you listening? #YouToo.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

SIMON DRAKE'S SECRET CABARET, LIVE




The story began one night at Chrysalis Records, in 1982. Ex Scorpion Michael Schenker was in the office at Stratford Place for a summit. There was trouble at t’mill, and the blonde bomber was pleading for help. Having sacked MSG’s original singer Gary Barden for Rainbow’s Graham Bonnet, he’d got more than he’d bargained for when blind-drunk Bonnet exposed himself on stage in Sheffield, broke the law and compromised the band. It was, funnily enough, Graham’s only gig with MSG. He’d managed to record just one album with them before falling off the side spectacularly. Talk was of Irish rocker Robin McAuley, formerly of Grand Prix, joining the line-up, and of whether the band should rewrite its name to reflect the collaboration. McAuley, incidentally, currently performs in the Vegas production of Harry Cowell's and Simon Napier-Bell's 'Raiding the Rock Vaults'.
Sitting silently in a corner of the Chrysalis board room that evening, taking it all in, was a threadbare, pixie-eyed artful dodger, belatedly of Decca and Rocket, shuffling cards, twitching knives and perfecting the art of the unexpected. His flick-fingered routines and libidinous innocence proved too much for the man with the flying V. Our peroxided metal guru leapt eventually from his chair, leather-squeaked his way to the walnut double doors and delivered a parting shot that went down in history:
‘Zeig mir nicht mehr Tricks!
Don’t show me any more tricks!’
Michael Schenker fell on hard times. The boy magician became a massive star. During the early Nineties, when British television broadcast on only five channels and when to be a household face on one of them was a really big deal, the young upstart had sharpened both his blades and his wits and had reinvented himself as the antithesis of Paul Daniels. His bizarre, almost X-rated approach to stage magic, vice and illusion turned his fortune. As if overnight, the over-lit world of light entertainment grew darker than anyone had previously imagined it could. Millions will remember the two globally-acclaimed series of Simon Drake’s ‘The Secret Cabaret’. The rest of you can find it on YouTube.
Why only two series? Television didn’t thrill the boy wonder for long. Mass media attention did little to whet his enthusiasm. He retreated to a Gothic mansion in one of London’s most ancient parishes, and became an eccentric recluse. He raised a family, wondered a lot about life, and licked his wounds for twenty years. What goes around, comes around. Now ‘The Secret Cabaret’ is back, but in a live format only, somewhere not too challenging a totter from the Thames, in a location which will never be disclosed. You have to be there, on the guest list of the House of Magic.
There is no indication, on arrival, as to what lies within. The mansion is situated in a quiet residential neighbourhood off the beaten track. Its exterior bears no clue as to its inner secrets. Stepping gingerly through the Enchanted Garden into a living museum of magic, one escapes the distant howling of wolves, sinister rustlings in the undergrowth and eerily-glowing ponds into the overblown gorgeousness of the Red Room, lured by a headless butler who points the way to knockout pre-dinner cocktails. Seduced on a whispering chair, persuaded with fortune-tellings, mystics and dungeon tours, and invited to feast on a fine repast while table tricksters do the rounds, the visitor is agog by the time the lights are dimmed, the smoke is belched, and the full-blown celebration of the Dark Arts begins.
Expect nothing of the brand of magic associated with ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ or some predictable Las Vegas revue. This show is terrifying, mesmerizing and arousing in equal blasts. So popular with the showbiz fraternity has Drake’s House of Magic proved that his diary is booked out for months: private parties for international celebrities, after-shows, movie launches, corporate happenings, the complete shebang. Still, our crazed host holds back a handful of nights for the experienced, the curious and the eager to suspend disbelief. And now, for the resurrection of ‘The Secret Cabaret’. For grappling with death is the essence of life. It is here, anyway.
www.secretcabaret.co.uk

Thursday, 19 April 2018

FAREWELL, DALE WINTON




So many memories of and thoughts about Dale Winton. Few knew what a prolific London club DJ he was during the Seventies and Eighties. His knowledge of popular music was encyclopaedic. It was what led Phil 'The Collector' Swern to cast him as host of BBC Radio 2's 'Pick of the Pops' in 2000. Dale hosted the show for a decade, and was born to the role.
His TV-presenter image was at times uncool, in the Michael Barrymore/Les Dennis mould. This was unfortunate. While he relished the roles, he never seemed completely at ease in them. I often felt how much better his face was suited to radio, in the figurative rather than the literal sense, and how much more comfortable he seemed behind a microphone than in front of a television camera.
There have been thankfully few bitter words about him. Many of those paying tribute have applied the word 'kind', and he was nothing if not that. I remember once being late for a medical appointment in Wimpole Street, and driving round and round. Edging along Marylebone High Street for the fifth time, I spied DW gossiping with a shop assistant outside the White Company, when it used to be on the opposite side of the street. He must have spotted me circling, because he started windmilling frantically, jumped in his Range Rover, rolled it forwards to make way for my Renault, and cried, 'Don't worry about the meter, I'll be here for ages and I'll keep an eye!' He relished doing a favour. Anyone and everyone. It is the little things.
Much has been made of his failure to attend his great friend Cilla Black's funeral in 2015. But that was easy to understand. Dale had never recovered from the loss of his mother Sheree, upon whom he doted. His personal void could never be filled, because he had not been able to bring himself to come out to his mum. He had never plucked up the courage to reveal his true identity - though it is reckoned that Sheree probably knew. Cilla, a little over a decade older than Dale, became an adoring mother figure to him. He could not face Cilla's funeral because it was like having to confront his mother's death over again. A similar thing happened to Queen's bassist John Deacon. Having lost his father when he was only eleven years old, John was forced to relive the loss when Freddie Mercury died. Freddie had long been his father figure. His death backed John into the corner where at last he had no choice but to deal with denial. John was unable to cope, lost the plot, quit the band, betrayed his wife with another woman, let down his kids... grief does things. Though it is inappropriate to speculate, perhaps Dale went there too. Reckon in the fact that Sheree took her own life. I won't be surprised to hear what I fear to hear.
R.I.P., kind man. I hope they have vinyl up there.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

THE FREE 9




Great churnings of citizens have evaporated from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea since Kim Jong Un came to power following the death of his father in 2011. The strangely-shaped and shaven dictator has since carved a name for himself as the chief executioner of the modern world, commanding the assassinations of family, friends and officials by firing squad, by blasting them with mortar rounds, by burning them alive via flame throwers, and by feeding their bodies to starving dogs. KJU is a bloodthirsty and murderous goon with the worst human rights record in the modern world. Under his rule, there is no such thing as 'human rights'. There is no free speech, the media is government-controlled, and foreign visitors are strictly monitored. Off to the peninsula on holiday? Mind how you go.
We're often assured that tales of forced labour, torture and human experimentation are greatly exaggerated. But the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International all condemn. The thought of President Trump sitting there idly considering five comfy locations for a summit with KJU is more than a little sickening, therefore. Shake hands and smile for the cameras, and all will be rehabilitated and well? Tell it to the estimated 200,000 North Koreans incarcerated in political prison camps tucked away in hostile, inaccessible regions, their existence denied by the NK authorities. Tell it to the family of his former defence chief, executed recently because he happened to fall asleep at a military event, his murder witnessed by hundreds of state officials.
Tell it to the teenagers of South London Youth Theatre, who have performed In-Sook Chappell's haunting, horrifying play 'The Free 9' at Theatre Peckham as part of National Theatre Connections 2018. Inspired by the true story of the 'Laos 9', it drops in on a clutch of street orphans forced to live a life of depravity and degradation while dreaming of a happy-ever-after of consumerism, sugar, fame and pop in the free South. Is their bid for freedom merely a fantasy, or a real and dangerous attempt? Haunted by lost relatives portrayed as eyeless zombies, and by the fear of capture and punishment, there will never be release for these youngsters. Not even if they escape.
How heart-stopping and mind-invading, the true efforts of this incredible group of teenaged performers guided by their producer-director Spencer James. They immersed themselves with every fibre in a slice of what the world needs to know. Out of the mouths of babes, President Trump. Out of the mouths of babes.
www.slyt.co.uk


Tuesday, 20 February 2018

WRITERS DON'T DO LUNCH




It remains the single most vital piece of advice I have ever been given by another writer. It was imparted by the matchless Joan Didion during an interview for YOU Magazine in San Francisco, mid-Eighties, when I was but a blade of grass in the lawn beneath the steeples of her Hemingway-inspired prose. Situation unchanged.
Lunch is time's thief, tearing scribes from their desks, luring motivation into the recesses of mid-day indulgence, and discarding it there with a sneer. Lunch divides the day, making a mockery of a morning's toil and rendering useless the flimsy hours thereafter. It is one of the reasons why I have long collected the better excuses for the cancellation of lunches I should never have committed to in the first place. Today's is a blinder and has been logged for future use. Do you think I'd get away with it?
'I've just returned from a holiday learning to kitesurf,' imparted the intended lunch date, 'and I have to see a doctor about my injuries. Call it a midlife crisis.' Though secretly delighted that an uninterrupted day of work now stretches before me - I'm ghostwriting a huge memoir for a formidable client - I couldn't help but wonder. Last year, my friend took up kayaking, and raised a tidy sum for charity - in the name of a friend's little boy who had recently died from a rare disease. Now kitesurfing. My initial thought being, for whatever reason, he is working his way through sports beginning with K. But Kabaddi and Karate fall before Kayaking in the alphabet, Kickball and Kickboxing precede Kitesurfing, and for the life of me I cannot imagine my friend, athletic and appealing for a fifty-something though he is, attempting Ken-Do, Knife-Throwing or Kung-Fu ...
He suggested further dates that I simply cannot commit to. Because Writers Don't Do Lunch. And anyway, would he still be alive? Would he have resisted the urge to hurtle on mindlessly through the sporting alphabet to the most life-threatening pursuits of our race's most gnashing dare-devils? Might he even, as we speak, be preparing to launch himself from Pyeongchang's mighty peaks in an attempt to confound the achievements of Eddie 'the Eagle' Edwards?
For the record, cocktails at around 5.30pm is the preferred slot. I usually feel deserving of a couple by then. On dry, sea-levellish land, with reasonable access to conventional forms of transport and a comprehensive beverage menu to hand. Soho is obvious.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

FUNERAL FOR A FRIEND





Perhaps it did not snow deep in the woods as mourners trod the time-worn path to the funeral of a friend. Perhaps there were not drifts and flurries to muffle misery, nor icy ground, though I had longed for them, maybe imagining an arctic setting for this tragic farewell. It only drizzled, and there were signs of life around the graves that would receive him; the shoots of coming daffodils against grey, ancient stone. He would have liked that.
That Nick Fitzherbert was a vibrant, exceptional, generous and dutiful man could be in no doubt from the eulogies that followed. We all knew this from having known him while he lived. Which was why we gathered, gripped in grief, remembering, giving thanks and doing ritualistic things while wondering for the life of us why he was taken.
Cancer is the grimmest reaper. He has scythed away the best in recent times. I remembered them yesterday, a roll-call of brilliant boys who were seized too soon: Roger Scott, Rob Lee, Nick Gordon, Charles Armitage, Jim Diamond, David Bowie. Men who changed my life and those of countless others, irrevocably. In the end, I had thought, there is always Nick. But now there isn't.
Many knew him better, for longer; had greater claim and more right to grieve. That there was standing room only in the church of his childhood was proof enough of his worth.
Nick's thing was music. A fervent fan as a young teenager at Charterhouse School, he launched a mobile disco with his younger brother Ivan and ran it enthusiastically for years, before deciding it was time to get a proper job. He surpassed himself as a PR, as a coach of presentation skills, as an internationally-published author and even as a magician and member of the Magic Circle. But his enthusiasm for music never waned. His knowledge was unsurpassed, too. His contributions to my books were of course invaluable. He and David Stark were my most loyal gig companions. You have your work cut out now, DS.
It had been a few years since I last visited Hurtwood Park, the Surrey polo club owned and run by Jayne and Kenney Jones. How Small Faces devotee Nick would have loved that his family held his farewell there. I expect he knows.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

LIN MANUAL MIRANDA: THE SHAKESPEARE OF OUR AGE?



'Hamilton' is breathtaking. I felt as though I knew it verbatim: my kids have been singing the songs to me for the past two years. They have the whole thing by heart, as do their friends. Its influence on millennials has been that nuclear.
But nothing could have prepared me. This is musical theatre rewritten and reinvented. It makes a mockery of the 'Mamma Mias', the 'Lion Kings' and the 'Phantoms' without trying. It takes 'Les Miserables' to a logical conclusion. It states, in so doing, that the language of the genre is simply the magic of song and dance distilled. Little else. It needs no special effects (although the lighting design here is inspired). It is political. It deploys the pantomime tweak of the evolving send-up of current affairs. It compares gun crime and the plight of immigrants in the 18th Century to those exact-same blots on the American landscape today. It ridicules our own imperial past. It is so quick, so subtle, that one could see it a dozen times and still get but a soupcon of the whole. But it's hip hop. How on earth can this work? You have to be there. 

Its creator Lin Manuel Miranda might be the Shakespeare of our age. The thing is, just see it, and let it wash over you, like a tidal wave. Less musical, more definitive moment in history. After 'Hamilton', things will never be the same.