Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

I’ve been listening to Roy’s music for years: originally, I read an article in a guitar magazine, and then heard down the grapevine about his live peformance, and I thought it sounded fun. This all happened when I was about to go to university. It was this collection of circumstances that has meant that Roy had a formative place in my musical upbringing. I bought a copy of his album Once, and shortly after saw him play live. Before this, my life music had been limited to blues in the local pubs; Roy was the first “real” gig that I saw live.

After this, Roy along with John Martyn ( (who was responsible for the second real gig I went to), became a regular. I would see him play every year or two, I bought a lot of his back catalogue and listened to it often.

As time has moved on, Roy has got older and tours rarely now; I last saw him in 2010 (as support for Joanna Newsome). And I listen to his music much less, largely because I listen to music much less. I decided to go down south, therefore, partly for old-time sake. I wanted to hear him live again.

Despite the passing of the years, he remains fantastic: he voice still has a grandeur and sweep to it. His songs are passionate, moving and his lyrics poetic. Over time, of course, his performance has changed: no longer the distorted guitar, nor using his mic stand as a slide, the full “One Man Rock and Roll Band”. His first song was about reminiscance, and this was perhaps appropriate; the strongest of his music is now in his gentler, more melancholic, quieter songs.

The strange thing about the gig, though, was my reaction. When he started to talk about the next song, I would often recognise bits of the intro, but then could not remember the song associated with it. But when he started playing, I knew the tune, and the words, sometimes without remembering what the song was called, it would slowly uncover in my mind.

Music is part of life. It has always evoked many emotions: the excitement when you discover new music, the passion when you listen it repeatedly, the sense of dislocation when the music lifts you away from yourself and takes you to a different place. Of course, it is not just Roy getting older: I am about the same age now as Roy would have been when I first saw him. Music can be many things, but now, as I age, I find a new emotion: the pleasure of association, with music that I have heard and changed with over time. I have learned it so well that, even where I cannot remember it, I will never forget it entirely. In that sense, it has become and will remain a part of me.


I was lucky enough to catch (er) the premier of Catch-22 at the Northern Stage on Saturday. I’ve been to quite a few shows there now, and they are generally good; an adaption of what I consider to be best book that I’ve ever read, I was optimistic. We had good seats as well, middle, fifth row (far enough away not to get a stiff neck, close enough to hear clearly).

Looking through the programme, I was confused as to who had made the adaption as it wasn’t not mentioned anywhere; fortunately, BBC News put me right; the play was my Joseph Heller himself.

The stage set was fantastic, a cut-away bomber with the back-end merging into a beach hut. Like the rest of the set, it was used for many purposes — as a plane, an office, an entrance way. The cast was the same; nine actors jumping backward and forward between roles, except for the actor playing Yossarian, who, as in the book, was a solitary figure in the middle of the madness.

On the whole, I think it worked rather well. It’s a mistake, I think, to compare it to the book directly; nothing ever could. Many fantastic parts were missed — including my own favorite great loyality campaign, and the shortening meant that only a few characters really came out of their own: Colonel Cathcart, Major Major, the Chaplain, Natley (and his whore). Not all of it, I think, made entire sense: the naked man in the tree was funny, but it wasn’t clear why Yossarian refused to wear his clothes; nor the ending, with Orr’s escape missing, it’s not clear why Yossarian got all optimistic. But how could there not be parts missing? The main thing is that the feel of the theatre show and the book are the same; it’s confused, dissonate, unsettling, challenging all at the same time as being very, very funny.

The BBC news article raises the question, in the 40 years since the play was written why has it not been performed more. Good question, indeed.

A few weeks back, I went to see Neil Young at the Academy. This represents quite a few firsts for me: although I’ve loved his stuff for years, this is the first time that I have seen Neil Young live, and likewise Crazy Horse. It’s also the first gig that I have been to for quite a while. I have never got over the sense of excitement of live music and this has only been increased by its rarity. I was definately looking forward to it.

Set against this, the Metro Arena is not my favourite sort of venue. Large venues such as this are fairly soulless places. The arena fits squarely into this category; like a football stadium, seats too small and uncomfortable. Moving around involves lots of shuffling around in big queues.

The stage set consisted of a Crazy Horse banner, some enormous packing cases, and video screens set in old style TV casing. All of this rather swamped Los Lobos, who none the less did a good support set.

The packing cases were the first sign of the melodrama of the evening; with the rather strange sight of roadies dressed up as mad scientists running around, these were lifted up to reveal the set of enormous amps familiar from Weld, backed by Day in the Life. This was a complete revelation; played loud over a big sound system with all the resonance of an arena, it’s a totally different song. Dramatic, exiciting; the John Lennon vocals in the second pattern were haunting, and the orchestral finale were stupendous, leaving the audience stunned.

This was followed by a slightly cheesy rendition of the national anthem, and then straight into Love and Only Love; this really summed the rest of the night up. It was loud, long and overblown. And, yet, somehow they get away with it. The songs are simple and direct. Despite the theatrics, at heart its just a bunch of guys on stage, hunched over their instruments playing in a way which cuts through all the messing, takes you into the music and carries you away. It’s live music and more over it is music that is at its best live. You need it there in front on your to appreciate it to its full extent.

There are times when, perhaps, it feels like one too many thudding chord changes too many, one too many feedback-laced false ending, but I didn’t care. I’ve been listening to some of these songs for 20 years now; the band is now all in their late 60s or 70s, and some of the songs over 40 years old. But, to me, it felt fresh; I dont know if I will ever get to see them live again, but I am glad that I have seen them once. A great gig for me.

It has been a long, long time since my last gig review. As this blog is mostly professional now, this is perhaps not such a bad thing. I did half write a review of Roy Harper and Joanna Newsome in Sept last year, but it never got posted. Don’t think I have been to gig since then. Still onwards.

I’ve been a fan of June Tabor for a long time, particularly her album with Martin Simpson even if it does have terrible cover art. Despite this, and the fact that she lives pretty close to my home town, I’ve never seen her live. Her music is dark and eclectic, her voice rich. Combined with the Oysterband’s tendency to do strange adaptations folk-style it was destined to be an interesting gig. The music is something like gothic folk if that is not a contradiction in terms. While singing, June Tabor comes as a foreboding presence on stage. Between songs though, she’s entertaining, witty and light, which was a bit of a relief.

The gig was fantastic. Her voice is as excellent live as on record, with adding prescence. She adds to the music by, erm, explaining what it is all about (this can be something of a problem otherwise). The evening was well managed, moving from gentle and quieter music to end-of-evening barnstormers. It was good to be listening to live music again.

But one thing I didn’t understand. Why does Ray Cooper stand on a box while playing bass? He’s already the tallest.

Last night was my first time at the Cluny 2, which used to be the Round, as some of the signs inside still claim. It’s not round any more, having a conventional stage. There is still noise from the Cluny 1 upstairs and the occasional flushing of toilets; I guess that they can’t complain about this anymore.

The support was Naomi Sommers. Pretty standard format, really, one woman and a guitar. She has a lovely voice, rich and warm which made the show. Some of her songs are pretty strong (“February”); some were less good, but no bad ones. Enjoyable.

Eric Taylor, I’ve not seen before. He also has a great voice, supported by some excellent finger-picking. His stage presence is dark and melodramatic. He’s also a bit nuts; songs were separated by repetitious and rambling talks about, well, something. Most of it didn’t really make sense. Combined with the increasingly cold Cluny 2, it was all a bit much, so I skipped the encore. Entertaining, in parts, but not entirely satisfying.

There is a mystery behind Brains SA; what exactly does it stand for? Among those who know, it is universally revered as skull attack. I’ve reasonably fond of it, but tonight, perhaps, I finally understood how it came by it’s moniker.

After getting home, following several pints, I was suddenly struck by a desire to listen to Jimmy Sommerville; there is, of course, no sanity or logic to this at all, but there you have it. Now, of course, his pop sensibilities are well known, but I remember, like a folk memory hidden deep in my brain, “For a friend” released shortly, perversely after “Never Can Say Goodbye”. No dancy pop tune this, but an elegiac ballad to a friend lost to the virus of the 80s. I think I only heard it twice before it disappeared; but I remember it was wonderful.

A quick search of spotify led me to his latest collection, digital only, called “Suddenly Last Summer”. The most bizarre, wonderful collection of songs, covers, with an odd twist. “Hanging on the telephone” as folk ballad; “Hush” with a mandolin solo.

I have my own ideas and opinions about the future of music. And as a sometime, occasional performer myself, I do care about musicians. I want them to be earning a living. I don’t know if Lily Allen is right, or whether the internet will be the death of middleman, to the benefit of us all. But, for myself as a consumer, the ability to gain instant gratification, to listen to such strange, marvelous music that surely I would never have remembered to buy, even if it had been available in a store has to be great thing. I don’t know for sure how musicians of the future will make money; but, I live in hope. Are there enough people like my, acting on a strange impulse, to make it worthwhile. But musicians have something to sell, something that people value; there must be a business model hidden in there somewhere.

The record companies and Pop Idol, well, that’s a different issue. Few people will mourn their passing.

SA, indeed.