Sunday, 31 May 2015

KINKY ON A SUNNY AFTERNOON

Stick a fork in the jukebox-musical genre, it's done, would have been my answer this time last week. The bottom line of them all is that the songs are too good, but the performers, book, set, direction and production are never good enough. They clinch awards galore for their Emperor's New Clothes sensations, and I was so over it. Mamma Mia: Sublime Abba tunes, stupid storyline. Beautiful: The Carole King story, sort of. Let It Be can hardly be described as a 'musical' about the Beatles, it being your basic tribute act. Not a bad one, but by the end I was still hungry. The Commitments,Thriller, Sinatra: no comment. Jersey Boys at least tries with the Frankie Valli story. We Will Rock You? Thank God it's off. Ben Elton also wrote the Rod Stewart night out, Tonight's the Night, didn't he. Didn't last long, did it. I hear you: they are laughing all the way to Coutts and I am not.
Wild nags wouldn't normally have conveyed me to Sunny Afternoon. A few friends persuaded me to dip a toe. And you know what, as Cowell would say: a revelation. I take some of it back.
I was curious as to why Ray Davies, the classic complicated bugger, would have given such a venture his blessing in the first place. Because he has always been, and will always be, cool; and it's the antithesis of cool, a jukebox musical. Or is it? 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 little cocktail club. Braver theatre-goers sit bang among the action, and get sprayed-on. The stage is wall-to-wall amps, literally. Every member of the band can play instruments and sing, more than convincingly. This factor alone gives it the 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' compromised childhood. Little wonder that Ray enveloped in on himself, moulding and remoulding his troubled thoughts and inner struggles into songs until they R & B'd right out of him: his primary, punky-mod theme being ordinary working class people and their quintessentially British little lives. Consequent management wrangles, their bust-ups with the AFM in the US which prevented the Kinks from working in America during the very height of the British Invasion, Ray's mental and physical breakdown, their dalliance with rottweiler Allan Klein, are all confronted head-on. It's a brutally honest piece which serves to offset the nostalgic vibe of Swinging London and Carnaby Street Days, 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 really. As this show reminds us, brilliantly, they remain the sounds of now.


Monday, 25 May 2015

PAUL McCARTNEY: HE'S BACK

Nostalgia: it takes you back. To times that were innocent, simple and good. Times that can never be again.

There was a time when Paul was ridiculed for overt sentimentality and wistful longing in his live performances. When he appeared to dwell primarily in 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 but a ripple in a stream of embryonic ambition, when the four were little more than fans themselves. When it was all about the music.

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

So the voice gives a little, halfway through. So what. Show me a septuagenarian in as good a shape as he's in, with his effervescent energy and verve. What we're hearing may well be the voice of yesteryear. What we see defies description. He's Macca. He's ours.

This was the first time I was able to take my younger two children to see and hear for themselves what I've been banging on about all these years. They got it. Joy.


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

LAMBERT & STAMP: TERENCE STAMP SPEAKS

I resisted the urge to rush and see it up west, as we were waiting on a special guest.
Terence Stamp delivered, with a one-off Q&A following the screening at our swish new local cinema, East Dulwich Picturehouse, about his brother Chris - who, together with the fearless Kit Lambert, discovered and developed the raw material that became the Who.
It's a must-see flick if you've any interest in the band, Mod culture and the Sixties - if only for rare early footage and a plethora of candid interviews, in which intrepid Oxford-educated Lambert lords it as the multi-lingual adventurer and bon viveur, while Chris Stamp effs and blinds blithely, the East End boy made mogul.
They met randomly, and gelled, sharing chemistry from the first moment. They decided immediately to join forces as film producers-directors, even though they both lacked any kind of experience in either discipline. Recognising the emergence of rock'n'roll as the new currency, they set about finding a likely band on which to cut their teeth. Inspired to sign themselves up as the band's managers, they 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 never pan out quite as planned. But this was a dangerous, dare-devil pair, and anything could happen. Most of it did.
Flamboyant trouble-magnet Lambert died of a brain haemorrhage in 1981, aged 45. Chris Stamp passed 2 years ago, aged 70. Terence came down to speak for both of them, and to shed a little light on how the brother 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 76.
'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, 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 on earth 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 6 weeks he was no longer a part-time stagehand, he was running the show backstage. He was like 16 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 one of the most desirable sex symbols of the Sixties and early Seventies. A brooding, moody pre-George best-type, he George Clooneyed around with the world's most glamorous women. With early supermodel Jean Shrimpton, he was half of one of the highest-profile power couples of the day. 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 admitted.
'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 3 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 40 years. Why? Because there's nothing left to say.'
His brother and he were always drawn to 'big people', Terence agrees.
'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, he believes has ended.
'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 many 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 2,000 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.The Islamic State lot are said to believe that ancient relics promote idolatry, and must be obliterated. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has 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 gazed at the pyramids at Giza, and the Sphinx, and have wondered; the temples at Karnak and Tutankhamun's tomb, same. The cracked, crumbling relics in the Cairo museum are disintegrating by the day, because the conditions in which they are kept deny them long-term preservation. Sad but true. In Athens, the Parthenon shakes, but is not exactly a priority, given their economy right now. I happen to think we were right not to hand them back the Elgin Marbles. Meanwhile, Rome's Colosseum, and other monuments in the Eternal City, are said to be next on the hit-list ...

On a British Council tour of Syria,Iraq and Jordan some years ago, with a band from Newcastle called Hurrah!, we visited the ruins of Babylon, where the legendary Hanging Gardens are less than a memory; hung out in Baghdad and cavorted for the camera at the Arc of Triumph; rode donkeys into beyond-ancient Petra,the so-called 'rose-red city half as old as time'. Such a casual 'cultural' expedition would be rightly 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 but dust in the sands of long ago. Only the Great Pyramid in Egypt from the classic list of Wonders remains. It is widely assumed that those Wonders existed simultaneously, but you would have needed a Tardis to see them all at once. A
ll that remain of them are mouldering etchings. No digital technology back then.

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

All these ancient sites have suffered in turn the effects of war and weather, geology and nature, pillaging and looting, neglect, and time. Most of all, time. They will all, eventually, be nothing. At least we have the photos and films, and will always know that they were there, and what humankind was and is capable of.


But that's the point, isn't it? Mankind? Actual people? While the loss of irreplaceable monuments is lamentable, it's not tragic. Who is doing the headcount,keeping score of the executions? Sad though monumental destruction is, how can murder and barbarism be compared to it? 

Always something there to remind me. I have a ticket stuck to my office wall, from the last time I stood with my kids on top of the World Trade Center in New York, not long before before 9/11. Those gravity-challenging edifices and the many that surrounded them are gone. Others have replaced them. Life goes on. So what, a bunch of buildings. The ghosts of the thousands who perished remain the tragedy.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

RIP ERROL BROWN, YOU SEXY THING, YOU

It was lunch in the Groucho, as usual. It started with a kiss. 
'You sexy thing,' he said, or she said. 
'Put your love in me.' 
'Everyone's a winner,' quipped he, quick as a jumpin' Jack...
I believe in miracles. No doubt about it. I think of him every time I have a bedtime drink. So you'll live forever, dear Errol. You win again.
It was the last interview I ever did with him. For the record, here:

"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 32 years and the famous ‘Sexy Thing’ in the song which 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 a bit of Soho fishcake, is that men are not women, and women are not men. Not only that, but no two scenarios are the same 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 being creative with the facts of life must have proved invaluable to this smooth, understated, self-effacing musician in his songwriting. Errol shrugs, insisting he simply says what he sees. After more than 40 years in the limelight, an incredible 26 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.
With a legacy of hit-the dance-floor numbers that charm grandmas, toddlers and teenagers alike, as well as those of us who grew up on it, Errol Brown 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 an extraordinary career which has earned a humble and lowly-born lad global fame, a comfortable fortune, the respect of his industry peers - marked by an Ivor Novello Outstanding Contribution award - and an MBE (even Her Majesty is said to be partial to shaking a leg to ‘You Sexy Thing’).
Not bad for a boy with all odds 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 only an occasional visitor. Money and food were scarce, but Edna was determined to scrape her son a better life.
When I was 7 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 12. 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 even 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 in the Treasury as a clerical officer.
My musical talent only emerged unexpectedly after my mother died of cancer when I was 20. 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’m 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 to show that harmonious working relationships could exist between people of every colour and creed.
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 BETTER, 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 all these years. Knowing the feisty American former model, I bet she hasn't batted so much as a lash over it.

Heather knew too well 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 with gusto 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' - and his wife 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, which does not bear repetition in a family blog.

Mess with Heather at your peril, they used to say. Will Townshend ever learn.