Category Archives: Media

The Hypocrite – the Play that Went Wrong

A few years ago, when he was only famous for Gavin and Stacey, James Corden stared in a play by Richard Bean called “One Man, Two Govners” and we were lucky to be able to see it and him during its London run. It was tremendous fun and so when we saw that Bean had written another play we quickly booked up to see it.

The Hypocrite is set in Hull of all places during the lead up to the civil war during the reign of Charles I and has a stellar cast including Mark Addy, Caroline Quentin and Lloydy from Preston Front. 

The play retains all the elements that made One Man so good – the side achingly funny one liners, the riotous behaviour, the slapstick and the old and decrepit butler. If you have seen One Man you’ll be pleased that someone falls or is pushed down a hole not once but three times in The Hypocrite!

There was an added element in The Hypocrite in that it also had music in the form of, I guess, strolling minstrels who played between each section of the play. They also came into their own last night as they were called upon to improvise and fill in when there was an issue on stage…

There is a running gag through the play about a bed designed by Indigo Jones. Turns out that the last scene includes this very bed which is wheeled onto the stage. The problem last night was that the bed was too high to fit under the top of the stage. At first I thought that this might be part of the play, a bit like when Corden’s character interacts with the audience over his lunch. I still wasn’t certain that it wasn’t a part of the play when the stage manager came on to tell us that they were having problems and there would be a short delay. Turns out it was about a five minute delay during which the musicians, who were excellent, did an impromptu turn involving the audience. When the curtain came back up the bed was manhandled into place by numerous stage hands and things got going again. Somehow this added rather than detracted from the whole thing. 

Turns out that we were at The Hypocrite for the very last night of its run in Stratford having also done a run in Hull prior to that. I’m not sure what the plans for it next are but I’m not sure how well it would transfer to the West End due to it being a bit parochial (if you’re from Hull and know the area some of the jokes are just for you). I hope that it gets a longer run somewhere as it is quite brilliant and I would love to go see it again.

Record Store Day/Are You Listening? Festival 2017

In what is now rapidly becoming a tradition I was up at 05:45 and in the centre of Reading by 06:15 to join the back of the queue for Record Store Day 2017.

When the list was first published earlier this year I looked down it and found that little on it moved me. I did wonder whether to skip it completely this year but in the end it’s actually a fun thing to do – stand out in the cold for two and a half hours fretting that the one thing you really want on your list will have already gone!

What I really wanted this year was the new release by The The, limited to only 2000 copies UK-wide I did wonder whether by the time I reached the head of the queue it would be gone. That presented no problems as it turned out and I even managed to snap up the shops only copy of The Buggles “Video killed the radio star” a 12″ picture disc.

This is the 10th year of Record Store Day and when it was first started it was to help local, independent record stores. With the resurgence of vinyl one wonders if that is still necessary and whether the record companies see this as an opportunity to make a quick buck.

The prices for these releases can be eye watering. The The The single is an excellent but one sided 7″ coming in at £10. While the 12″ double Marillion album on gold coloured vinyl was better value at just over double that. My total spend this year was £63 but the guy in front of me spent £380…

This year Record Store Day coincided with the Are you listening? music festival held in town. By the time this started I was beginning to run out of steam (I’m not as young as I once was) and so I didn’t do as much as I did last year.

I saw Big Zero once again and I really like their quirky ways but being on at 2pm was way too early for their kind of music. I also enjoyed the Amazons in conversation with some Radio 1 DJ (Unless it is Tony Blackburn I have no idea on modern R1 DJs) so much so that I have had their “Black Magic” on repeat almost since then.

Looking at the dates for next years festival and record store day it is unlikely that I will be able to attend either as that is when we’ll likely be on holiday which is a great shame as both are great fun.

#KeepTheSecrets

About 18 months ago tickets for the Harry Potter plays went on sale and I found myself in an online queue waiting patiently to get to the front. When I did I managed to secure tickets for March 2017. That seemed like such a ridiculously long time away and, it was, but eventually it did come round and we finally went last weekend.

The reason that this post is called #KeepTheSecrets is that is what you are asked to do when seeing the play so I will try and not give any spoilers in this post but if you are at all concerned look away now, as they say.

I’d wondered how well the Harry Potter universe, which covers such a geographically spread and diverse set of locations, would translate to the stage. I was even more curious when I saw what was, to all intents and purposes, an empty stage. The designers has decided that there was no way that they were going to recreate the scenes such as Hogwarts or Diagon Alley and so went for a minimalist look that worked incredibly well. There were a number of stage tricks that were used to perform some of the better known tricks that appear in both the books and film – travelling by floo being simple but incredibly effective. Movable staircases and trunks are made good use of to cover all sorts of situations.

The story itself takes place 20 years after the last book and centres around the friendship of the sons of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy – Albus and Scorpius respectively. Neither seem to live up to the expectations of their fathers and Harry in particular just seems to spend all his time with Albus shouting at him.

Again without giving too much away I was pretty disappointed with the story which I thought was pretty weak and just an excuse to go over lots of old ground, sort of like a greatest hits of the books/films. Of course die hard Harry Potter fans will welcome this but to me it seemed a wasted opportunity.

Oh and I really don’t think that it needs to be spread over two parts – unless you are the promotor of course…

So an enjoyable experience yes and incredibly well staged but let down by a weak story that didn’t do the books justice.

Art

It’s been a while since I have posted because, well, because life has got in the way and basically I forgot! However, I thought that a trip to the Old Vic on Saturday to see Art was worth a mention.

It has been many many years since we have been to see Art – the play about three friends and one painting – in fact a quick Google suggests that it might be as much as 18 years. The last time the purchaser of said painting was Art Malik and this time it was Rufus Sewell. The play has a bit of the emperors new clothes about it with Serge (Sewell) buying a white canvas and waxing lyrical about to his friends whom he expects to also see the beauty in this all white painting.

I’m reminded of a trip we took to the Tate Liverpool where there was a picture by the American artist Ad Reinhardt. The canvas looked black but the more you stared at it the more that colours that had been painted underneath came through. Helen to this day insists that there was nothing there and it was a waste of wall space whilst I found it fascinating. So I can sympathise with Serge that his friends don’t really get the picture or the fact that he has spent €100,000 on it.

Of course the play isn’t really about the picture itself but is used as a device to bring the tensions in the relationships between the three men to the fore and in particular between Serge and Mark. It is all beautifully done and the three playing the parts we saw at the weekend were brilliant as was the set (with the worlds largest coving) and the music.

One aside is the ridiculous no photography rule that the theatre had. I quite understand that there shouldn’t be any pictures taken while the performance is underway but the bouncers ushers were on anyone that even tried to take a selfie long before the performance started. I don’t understand the point of this. No doubt many people would have posted the picture to social media which would have promoted both the play and the theatre. In this day and age it seemed very short-sighted. Oh and it wasn’t me trying to take a picture this time!

10cc, Reading Hexagon, 23rd October 2016

Thirty four years ago, on 13th March 1982, I went to my first ever gig to see 10cc at the Oxford Apollo. At that point they were really only 5cc and were distinctly past their best but I was hooked. Last week I saw them again. They are now down to 2.5cc but really rather much back to their best.

As is in vogue right now the first half of the show was taken up by playing the whole of one album – Sheet Music, which, in my opinion is their best along side The Original Soundtrack. Inevitably this means putting up with some rather dodgy material along with some cracking tunes.

Sheet Music was released when 10cc where at their very best and the original four members were all together. Only Graham Gouldman of the original quartet now remains but for this performance one of the original members, Kevin Godley, had created a video soundtrack and had even contributed the vocal to the operatic, Somewhere in Hollywood, which was a nice touch. It has some great lyrics including: “He’s out on the patio | With his polaroid and scenario”.

The second half of the show was a spirited romp through a number of the groups hits along with a few lesser known tracks such as Feel the Benefit from Bloody Tourists.

The fact that the group are still going strong and that the place was pretty full seems to suggest that there is still an appetite for 10cc. Which is why I can’t understand why there hasn’t been a big money offer for the original four to get back together and play again. Maybe there has and it has been rejected? Whatever the reason that’s a great shame as they made some really classy music together including one of the most sublime pieces of all time… I’m Not in Love.

7 Days 7 Singles from the ’80s

So I have been nominated by Dirk Manuel on Facebook for the “7 Days 7 Singles from the ’80s” challenge (you can read his selections here). I wouldn’t normally bother but this has been great fun to both read other’s entries and to sift through my single collection again to select my final 7.

I decided I would only choose where I still owned the original 7″ which, regrettably, meant that there’s no Love and Money but has allowed me to spend a fun evening listening to many other, forgotten, records. Some I listened to and thought “why did I buy that?”, others I didn’t even have to listen to think that!

And so to the first selection…

Day 1 (1981): In the Air Tonight – Phil Collins

I was 16, still at school at this point, and had a major Genesis obsession. I remember very clearly sitting on the floor in the lounge at my parents house listening to this with my headphones on.
Music was an area of friction between myself and my parents who always felt I played it too loud. They also objected to my singing along with the headphones on while they were trying to watch the TV!

This was so nearly a number one in the UK for Collins but was kept off the top by the death of John Lennon. But it did introduce the gated drum sound to a much wider audience.

Day 2 (1982): Market Square Heroes – Marillion

I was now 17 and going to college to retake all the O Levels and CSEs I had failed at school. I found the change of environment refreshing and gave me a new lease of life.
As an early Genesis fan I supposed a progression to Marillion was inevitable. They were one of the first bands that I went to see and I still clearly remember Fish jumping through a paper background at the start of the gig. Ever the showman. I still like Marillion and am eagerly awaiting 23rd September for the next release.

When I listened again to the single this week I was surprised as just how raw sounding and under produced it is. Such a refreshing change to the over produced sounds that it was competing against.

Day 3 (1983): What is Love? – Howard Jones

18 and on the cusp of leaving home to go to university (or, to be more accurate, Polytechnic in my case).

I’ve included this selection for a number of reasons:
1. it typifies the 80s sound
2. it’s a great tune
3. we’re all trying so hard to look cool with our selections I thought I would buck the trend!

Day 4 (1983): Relax – Frankie goes to Hollywood

Thanks to DJ Mike Reid this became a big hit and set Frankie on a path to success. There was a big fuss at the time but it seems tame now. Actually it was overblown at the time too.

This was another great piece of production by Trevor Horn (who I have written about before). He is pretty versatile as his work from the 80’s shows spanning everything from Dollar to Yes to Buggles to FGTH.

One slightly odd thing is that my copy of the 7′ has the b side label on both sides – wonder if this make is more valuable?

Day 5 (1984): Do they know it’s Christmas? – Band Aid

This, I’ll admit, is not the world’s greatest song but it is here for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it features so many of the biggest names in 80’s music and if you watch the video you will see just how you they look!

Secondly, because it highlighted the plight of those living in the drought of Ethiopia and raised substantial amounts of money through the single and Live Aid…

Thirdly, because I was there. I was 19 and now at University. Emma, my girlfriend at the time, and me were driving home and drove past the Guildhall. I have no idea where we would have been to take us back past there but we did. As we came round the square we noticed people queuing up so we stopped and went over to ask what they were queuing for. “Live Aid” was the response. So we joined the queue and “slept” outside the Guildhall overnight until the box office opened at 10am the next morning.

I remember the 13th July 1985 very clearly mainly because it so hot that there were people at the side of the stadium spraying water into the crowd to cool us down! We saw an amazing lineup of bands and for that reason alone is why Do they know it’s Christmas gets included on this list.

Live Aid

Day 6 (1985): Slave to the Rhythm – Grace Jones

So I rediscovered Grace Jones’ Island Life album again earlier this year and thought how it really hasn’t aged and could chart now. Can’t say that about much else from the 80’s. Of course it’s that big Trevor Horn sound (again). He really does know how to do it right.

The album cover to Island Life has Grace Jones standing wearing not very much, oiled up, arse in the air. I still remember to this day my dad commenting “she’s got a great body”. Which, of course, she has but that’s not something I needed confirming by my father!

At 20 I was still of the belief that to work out how often your parents had had sex you just needed to count your number of siblings and add one. So to hear anything vaguely sexual from my dad was quite shocking.

Day 7 (1986): Don’t Dream it’s Over – Crowded House

And so we reach the end of this music journey with the beginning of my Neil Finn obsession.

At about this time I would have been 21 and on my industrial placement at IBM. This meant more disposable income which went increasingly on CDs and a much better sound system. I still have the same speakers although the rest has gone.

I can’t remember what got me into Crowded House but it was also certainly this track which I still love to this day. For the jangling guitar at the beginning to the lyrics it is just sublime. After this I couldn’t get enough of the Finn’s output. In fact from 1991 to 2001 when, with a single exception, I saw no-one in concert unless they had been in Split Enz at some point! I’m also a member of the fan club but this is decidedly a very grown up affair.

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A Summer of Vinyl

Anyone that has been paying attention will have noticed that I am back into vinyl in a big way – mainly because I like having a physical product and also the print on a record sleeve is large enough for me to be able to read without glasses!

However, I am trying to be a little more discerning about what I buy now rather than simply plundering the local charity shops for dog eared copies of what I already have (although I do that too!). And with vinyls resurgence there is now so much new music being released on that format that it is increasingly possible to add new items regularly.

To illustrate that very point I have all of the following on pre-order, all of which are on “heavy-weight” vinyl and quite a few are also signed too:

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool – 17th June 2016
Peter Gabriel – So, Up, Us – 15th July 2016 – half speed, limited edition, remasters
Dodgy – What Are We Fighting For – 2nd September 2016 – Signed Deluxe
The Divine Comedy – Foreverland – 2nd September 2016 – Signed
Marillion – Fuck Everyone and Run – 23rd September 2016 – Signed

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There does seem to be a gap in August though but the La’s reissue would fill that nicely!

Reading Mammoth Record Fair

So I have been getting back into vinyl in a big way. No, not like that, but vinyl records of the round black variety.

I am trying to limit the amount I spend on records by only purchasing brand new releases and particularly if they are limited releases, special vinyl or signed. This isn’t working out too well for me as everyone seems to be jumping on the vinyl bandwagon at the moment releasing limited releases on special vinyl that are signed!

There are still some releases that are no longer available or I would like to collect so I am always on the lookout for them. When I saw that Reading was holding the largest record fair in the UK I had to check it out.

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I haven’t been to a record fair for probably about 20 years or more but they haven’t changed in any way in the intervening years other than now holding a smattering of CDs too. It was pretty well attended showing that there are a lot of people still wanting a drop of the black stuff!

I think in the end I must have made three complete circuits of the stalls looking for something that took my fancy but came away with empty handed. The issue was that for the most part nothing was in any order so if you were looking for something specific, which I was, you would have had to be pretty lucky to stumble upon what you were looking for. I did come close to a signed copy of the latest Steve Hackett but couldn’t bring myself to part with the required £35.

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So the visit to the record fair was an interesting trip down memory lane taking me back to my youth but I don’t think I will bother going again as I stand a much better chance of sourcing what I want to eBay.

Are You Listening? Festival 2016

Although it has been running for four years this is the first time that I have gone to the Are You Listening? festival (AYL) in Reading. AYL is a one day music event that showcases (mainly) local music in bars and event spaces around the town (so no mud and getting wet) in aid of the charity Mencap.

Starting at 2pm there are over 70 acts through the day at nine venues. And there is something for everyone from rock to folk to DJ sets and even a bit of close harmony.  

Like all festivals the quality of the bands on offer increases the later in the day it gets and it was the same here. During my limited time yesterday I saw all of the following:

  • Mickey & the Milkshake 
  • Amya-ray
  • The Royal Harmonics 
  • Jazz Morley
  • Khamsina 
  • Big Zero


Big Zero were a bit of a revelation and an unexpected find. I had been “invited” to come and see them by the band themselves and having nothing else planned for their time slot went along. 

The lead singer had such stage presence and he knew it. He could work the audience better than a lot of hardened pros I have seen over the years. He also suffered for his art cutting his finger and leaving a slick coating of blood on his guitar strings. 

The acid test is would I buy and for Jazz Morely and Big Zero I probably would. 

Record Store Day 2016 – Not Like a Virgin

Last weekend it was Record Store Day and for the second time I set off early to get to my local store and pick up some limited vinyl. Having already enquired earlier in the week I was pretty certain that what I wanted would be available long after the Saturday but queueing up before the shop opens I now regard as something as a badge of honour!

This year even though I set off (slightly) earlier I ended up in roughly the same position in line as last year only this time it was spitting with rain which made the wait less pleasant.

The friend that I met in line last year also came back and joined me in the queue which meant the two hour wait to get to the front of the line was more bearable.

I had gone along with two items in mind: Quincy Jones’ The Dude and a picture disc version of Del Amitri’s first single. Now, the observant amongst you will have spotted three items in the picture below. This is one of the dangers of RSD. When I made it to the front there in a box right in my line of sight was a import version of the Dandy Warhols first release. How could I resist that? So that went into the bag too.

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At the cash desk I was told that the total cost was £70. A sizeable amount to spend on vinyl but at least the sum was lower than last year and a lot less than someone in front of me that had spent £400.

Given that these are all limited editions of about 500-1000 copies I do sometimes wonder whether I should be playing them but what’s the point of spending that money and not getting any benefit from them? Also if I didn’t play them I wouldn’t get to see such a thing of beauty as this Quincy Jones yellow vinyl.

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Here’s to RSD 2017 then!