Sunday, 31 May 2015

SUNNY AFTERNOON

I was curious as to why Ray Davies, the classic complicated bugger, would have given such a venture his blessing. Jukebox musicals are not cool, are they. Or has the genre turned a corner at last, with this?
The Harold Pinter Theatre on London's Panton Street lends itself well to the style of the piece. They've transformed the auditorium into a cute cocktail club. Braver theatre-goers sit among the action, and get sprayed-on. The stage is wall-to-wall amps. Every member of the band can play instruments and sing, convincingly. This factor alone gives it five stars. There are few things worse than watching passable actors faking virtuosity on a guitar.
Nor does the storyline shy from the cold, hard facts of the Davies brothers' childhood. Little wonder that Ray imploded, moulding and remoulding his troubled thoughts and inner struggles into songs. His punk-mod theme was ordinary working class people and their little British lives. Consequent management wrangles, their bust-ups with the AFM in the US which prevented the Kinks from working in America during the height of the British Invasion, Ray's mental and physical breakdown, their dalliance with rottweiler Allan Klein, are all confronted. It's an honest piece. It offsets the nostalgic vibe of Swinging London and Carnaby Street, while reminding us that it was all about the music.
'Waterloo Sunset'. 'Days'. 'Lola'. 'Dedicated Follower of Fashion'. 'You Really Got Me'. Sounds of the Sixties? Not so much. These songs are the sounds of now.


Monday, 25 May 2015

PAUL McCARTNEY: HE'S BACK

Nostalgia. It takes you back. To times that were innocent and good, and that are gone.

There was a time when Paul was ridiculed for sentimentality and wistful longing in his live performances. When he appeared to obsess over the past, lamenting the loss of his dearly beloved. When his refrain seemed a dirge of 'If Onlys' - for Linda, for John, for Hamburg, all the way back to childhood Liverpool, most of a century ago, when the Beatles dream was a ripple in a stream of ambition. When the four were little more than fans themselves. When it was about music.

It is again. No more lonely nights, thanks to now-wife Nancy. Whose hand, he says, he will want to hold forever. No more bittersweet yearnings for the gone years, the places and faces that can never return. Paul has found the plot. He celebrates all that he came from, but he is rooted firmly in the now. Making the present count.

The voice gives in a little, halfway. What we hear may well be the voice of Yesterday. Who cares. He  defies gravity.

This was the first time I was able to take my younger two children to see and hear for themselves what I've long gone on about. They got it.


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

LAMBERT & STAMP: TERENCE STAMP SPEAKS


Terence Stamp delivered, with a Q&A following the screening at our swish new local cinema, East Dulwich Picturehouse, about his brother Chris - who, together with Kit Lambert, discovered and developed the raw material that became the Who.
It's a must-see if you've any interest in the band, Mod culture and the Sixties, if only for rare early footage and a candid interviews. Oxford-educated Lambert lords it as the multi-lingual adventurer and bon viveur, while Chris effs and blinds, the East Ender made mogul.
They met randomly, and gelled. They decided immediately to join forces as film producers and directors, even though they lacked experience in either discipline. Recognising rock'n'roll as the new currency, they set about finding a likely band on which to cut their teeth. They would sign themselves up as the band's managers, and would film the process of themselves discovering, on the job, how to be managers. The footage of their experience, and whatever the band became, would be their movie.

Wildly extravagant ideas rarely pan out quite as planned. But this was a dangerous, dare-devil pair. Anything could happen. Most of it did.
Flamboyant trouble-magnet Lambert died of a brain haemorrhage in 1981, aged forty-five. Chris joined him two years ago, aged seventy. Terence came down to speak for both of them, and to shed light on how the boy from nowhere came to collide with the man from everything.
'I credit my mother, Ethel, for Chris's and my success,' said Stamp, an unconvincing seventy-six.
'She was such a forceful woman. She worked as a barmaid at night, to keep food on the table. She instilled in us this belief that there was no thing we couldn't do. No thing we couldn't become, if we wanted to. As for our Dad, Tom, a real alpha male who shovelled coal most of his life, he told Chris, "You're not frightened of anything. There is no one in the world you need be afraid of." We never knew fear. It gave us an inner confidence. I came to understand this only much later. It's a case of, when the iron ore is in the furnace, it thinks that it is being tortured. But when it realises that it is, in fact, becoming a samurai sword, it regards the furnace rather differently. You with me?'
Er.
'We were always beautifully turned out. Perfectly dressed. Pristine clean. Nobody ever knew how hungry we were, or how our clothes were so mended. To my mother, keeping up appearances was everything. This stayed with Chris and me all our lives.'
The result was that Chris and Kit believed they could be anything and do anything at all, without any reason  to believe so.
'"Let's form a group, and make a film about the group", was the original ethos. Chris was a bit cautious at first. I remember he even told Kit, "We don't know anything about managing." "That's ok,", said Kit, "I've looked into it. Nobody does!"
'No one ever impressed them. Kit had grown up at Covent Garden, for Chrissakes, his father was the composer Constant Lambert. Chris had grown up punching people out when he didn't like the cut of their jib. Imagine the pair of them. Each as fearless as the other.
'I like to think I facilitated things a little. I'd been to drama school. My audition was Romeo's death speech, with me playing Romeo as a Cockney barrowboy, for which I won a scholarship. I had a union ticket for the stagehands' union. I gave it to Chris and told him to leg it up to Sadler's Wells and blag himself some work backstage.They were doing ballet and opera, so the palette was broad. Within six weeks he was no longer a part-time stagehand, he was running the show backstage. He was like sixteen or something. That was Chris. And that attitude set the template for his entire life.
'I had very little to do with Chris, Kit and their various groups,' Terence admitted. Presumably because he was too busy being a sex symbol during the Sixties and early Seventies. A brooding, moody pre-George best-type, he louched around with the world's most glamorous women. With early supermodel Jean Shrimpton, he was half of one of the highest-profile power couples. When movie goddess Julie Christie (with whom he starred in 'Far From the Madding Crowd') dumped him, he headed east in search of his spiritual self.
'I did go to the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969 with them, to meet Bob Dylan. The Who were supporting him, and Keith Moon was utterly mad,' he recalled. 'And I used to go sometimes to the Saville Theatre on Shaftsbury Avenue with them on a Sunday night, when they hired out the place to put acts on. I rocked up one night and saw Jimi Hendrix for the first time. There was a party at Eppy's (Brian Epstein's) after. Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, they were all huddled together in a corner, looking strange. Chris said to them, "Don't worry, guys, there will always be work for good white guitarists!"
In the early days, Terence lived with with Michael Caine, with whom he appeared in 'The Long and the Short and the Tall.'
'Caine became, in truth, my first guru,' Stamp said.
'I was from the East End, he was from the Elephant. Working class. Getting away with it. Doing it. A real example. There was nothing I couldn't turn to him for. Nothing. We lived together intensely for three years. He gave me very profound advice. About choice of work, women, the lot. Then he'd go out himself and do the exact opposite of what he'd told me! Have I seen him lately? No. We haven't spoken for forty years. Why? Because there is nothing left to say.'
His brother and he were always drawn to 'big people', Terence revealed.
'We were always learning from the best, although we didn't know it at the time.'
The blossoming, during the Sixties, of East Enders in the Arts, is over, he believes.
'What happened with us, we got lucky. Right place, right time. It was the writers first: Harold Pinter, Wolf Mankowitz. They started writing a new kind of theatre, and didn't want toff actors from RADA and Central. They wanted actors who were just like them.'
What goes around.



Friday, 15 May 2015

BARBARIANS AT THE GATE, IS IT SUCH A 'TRAGEDY'?

Twitter was alive last night with messages from the panic-stricken, warning of ISIS's march on the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria: the latest UNESCO World Heritage Site to be threatened. The potential destruction of this precious two thousand year-old city is being described as 'a human catastrophe'.
'If they enter the city,' warned a spokesman, 'it will mean the destruction of temples, ruins, tombs.'

We have seen already the demolition of archaeological sites in neighbouring Iraq, including those at Mosul, Nimrud and Hatra. Islamic State are said to believe that ancient relics promote idolatry, and must be obliterated. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon denounced the attacks as 'a war crime.' Others have warned that it heralds the 'destruction of civilisation'.
Really?

I sometimes think it incredible that any man-made constructions from the ancient world have survived. I've seen the pyramids at Giza, and the Sphinx. The temples at Karnak, and Tutankhamun's tomb. The cracked, crumbling relics in the Cairo museum are disintegrating by the day, because the conditions in which they are kept deny long-term preservation. In Athens, the Parthenon shakes, but is not a priority.  We were right not to hand back the Elgin Marbles. Where would they be now? Rome's Colosseum, meanwhile, and other Eternal City monuments, are said to be next on the hit-list.

On a British Council tour of Syria, Iraq and Jordan years ago, with a band from Newcastle called Hurrah!, our party visited the ruins of Babylon, where the legendary Hanging Gardens are less than a memory. We hung out in Baghdad. We cavorted for the camera at the Arc of Triumph. Rode donkeys into Petra, the 'rose-red city half as old as time'. Such a casual 'cultural' expedition would be unthinkable now.

Most of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - the aforementioned Hanging Gardens, Olympia's statue of Zeus, Artemis's Temple at Ephesus, the Halicarnassus Mausoleum, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria - are now dust in the sands. Only Egypt's Great Pyramid from the classic list of Wonders remains. It is widely assumed that those Wonders existed simultaneously. You would have needed a Tardis to see them all at once. A
ll that remain of them are mouldering etchings. There was no digital technology back then.

Meanwhile, the Great Wall snakes across China, not quite visible from outer space, as has been claimed. Venice wobbles. Stonehenge stands strong while Everest shakes, the antique culture of Nepal destroyed in a beat.

All ancient sites suffer the effects of war and weather, geology and nature, pillaging and looting, neglect and time.They will all, eventually, be nothing. At least we have photos and film. We will always know that they were there, and what humankind is capable of.


Isn't it the point? Humankind? People? While the loss of monuments can be terrible, it's not tragic. Who is doing the headcount, keeping score of the executions? Sad though monumental destruction may be, how can it supersede murder and barbarism? 

I have a ticket stuck to the wall above my desk, from the last time I stood on the observation deck of New York's World Trade Center, not long before before 9/11. Those edifices and their satellites are gone. Others have replaced them. The ghosts of the thousands who perished remain the tragedy.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

RIP ERROL BROWN, YOU SEXY THING, YOU


Errol Brown, who famously believes in miracles, reckons that marital commitment need not rule out the spontaneous, instinct-driven encounter, which he calls ‘the most erotically-charged and thrilling of all’. Describing the complacency of a stale marriage as ‘hideous’, he claims ‘total’ love for and devotion to Mauritian-born Ginette, his wife of thirty-two years and the famous ‘Sexy Thing’ in the song that has been a Top Ten hit in three decades, as well as the signature tune of blockbuster ‘The Full Monty’. As for ‘sexy’, the rubber-hipped star whose name is synonymous with that adjective is unequivocal.
‘Sexy girls have no idea that they are, which is what makes them so. But sexy men are well aware of what makes them tick. The more blasé a man about getting it on with a woman - to the point of seeming happy to let it slide – the more she is going to want him. This is my understanding, and it has never let me down.’
The point he is trying to make, explains the legendary former Hot Chocolate frontman as we share Soho fishcakes, is that men are not women, and women are not men. No two scenarios are the same, he says, when it comes to love, marriage and infidelity.
'We all need to learn not to judge each other and stay out of people’s business. Look how much easier life would be if we could just live and let live. We must also acknowledge the rhythms of our own relationships, the ebbs and flows, and know when to keep our mouths shut. If a man strays, going home to his wife and confessing that he ‘has something to tell her’ is not wise: it’s only going to break her heart. The family will crumble, the kids will cry, everyone will start hating you. If he loves her, and wants the stay in the marriage, he must keep his errors to himself and not project his guilt onto his lady. If he has been weak – in other words, if he has been a man - he should shut up, and suffer in silence. There’s a bigger picture to honour, you see, which so many seem to forget. One of the greatest lessons I have learned in my life is that the whole truth is not always the nothing-but.'
A talent for creativity with the facts of life must have proved invaluable to this smooth, self-effacing musician in his songwriting. Errol shrugs. He insists he simply says what he sees. After more than forty years in the limelight, twenty-six Top Forty Hits and countless international tours, there can’t be a lot which has escaped him. Two decades since our last encounter, we sit kidding each other that we haven’t changed. 
He barely has. He remains an enduring household name.
'There does come a time to retire,' he insists. ‘I’ve crashed around the world for years, doing the fame thing. Maybe I don’t own a private plane, but I have nothing left to prove. I live a beautiful life in the Bahamas, near the water. We spend a lot of time on boats and just chilling. Now is the time for my family – my wife, and my daughters Colette and Leonie - and my friends. But I couldn’t just fade away without bidding the fans farewell. This last tour is for them - my way of thanking them one last time for all the support and loyalty they have shown me over the years. I couldn’t just decide to retire without going out one last time to say goodbye.’
Refreshingly, there is no new album, no ‘product’ to flog. The tour is a simple celebration of a great career which has earned a humble and lowly-born lad global fame, financial security, the respect of his industry peers - marked by an Ivor Novello Outstanding Contribution award - and an MBE (even the Queen is said to be partial to shaking a leg to ‘You Sexy Thing’).
Not bad for a boy with every odd stacked against him when he was born in Jamaica in the Forties. Not even he is exactly sure when. His teenaged mother Edna was single, his policeman father Ivan, ‘a typical Caribbean father with children everywhere’ who was no more than an occasional visitor. Money and food were scarce, but Edna was determined to scrape her son a better life.
When I was seven years old, my mother left me with her younger sister Mary and came to England to stay with relatives in Gipsy Hill, London, and find work. It broke my heart,' he recalls.
‘I felt terrible. I didn’t have much, but without my mother, I had nothing. I no longer remember the details, maybe my memory has erased it all in some way. I do remember her letters, which came every three months. She worked as a secretary, and always planned to bring me over to be with her. But that didn’t happen until I was twelve. I couldn’t wait to get away. My uncle was a cruel man, who used to beat me and take his frustrations and disappointments out on me. I remember the day they put me on the plane alone. I didn’t look back. London was a challenge, a huge culture shock. There weren’t many black faces, and I did find myself treated as an outsider at school. There were signs in windows around the neighbourhood which said ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs’. It was the reason why minorities gathered together and made their own communities. But with my mother’s help I found ways to rise above.’
Diligence at school paid off, and Errol wound up at the Treasury as a clerical officer.
My musical talent only emerged unexpectedly after my mother died of cancer when I was twenty. After her death, I started to hear melodies in my head. It was as if a duck had found water. I have always held that my mother sent me the music. Though I don’t believe in religion, I do believe in God. I’m also certain that people who die help those still living. Whatever, I know that I am not alone.
'Maybe music was her way of compensating for her death, which I didn’t get over for many years. I had dozens of girlfriends – it’s what a pop star does – but I never let myself get close, for fear of the loss. It was different, though, when I met my wife. I found her at a party in Gulliver’s Club, behind Curzon Street. It wasn’t love at first sight. But she was the most beautiful girl in the room, very easy to be with, and if we hadn’t become lovers, we’d have been friends for life.’
As the UK’s third multiracial pop group - preceded by Eddy Grant and the Equals, and by the Foundations ('Baby Now that I've Found You', 'Build me Up, Buttercup') - Errol says that Hot Chocolate (named by John Lennon’s secretary at the Apple Corporation) knew instinctively how important it was to show that harmonious working relationships could exist between people of different colours and creeds.
Mix it up, was our philosophy. That way, we opened up our appeal to wider audiences. It was the way forward, it felt right. I feel proud to have played even a small part in the quest for racial equality in this world.'"

With thanks to Jon Kutner, Author of The Complete Book of the British Chart and 1000 UK Number Ones 
www.jonkutner.com 


Monday, 4 May 2015

MRS DALTREY WEARS THE TROUSERS? YOU BET

Pete Townshend declares in an Uncut interview, widely quoted in the red-tops, that he and Roger Daltrey might have had a better working relationship had Daltrey not stayed with his second wife, Heather. Knowing the feisty American former model, I bet she hasn't batted a lash over it.

Heather knew what she was taking on when she married Roger. The Who were the biggest band in the world and in demand on most continents, across which they wenched and wassailed for months at a time. She'd have been a deaf, dumb and blind kid to believe that her old man would keep his kecks on while he was off on the road. 

Now that septuagenarian Rog resembles an Ena Sharples acolyte with greying curls, more at home in the snug of the Rovers' Return than swinging microphones on stage, the balance of power has shifted. His cock has come home to roost. His relationship with Heather has metamorphosed, Rog reveals, into 'something much deeper'. His wife, he says, is 'the most extraordinary woman' he knows. 

I have rarely known a marriage so open. Feminists have blasted Heather down the years for putting up with it, but she couldn't give a toss. 'Infidelity is in the mind,' she once told me. 'I couldn't care less who he goes with, as long as he comes home to me.' And more besides.