Category Archives: Media

Writefest 2017

According to the blurb Progress Theatre’s Writefest is in its 12th year but previous incarnations have passed us by. The idea is that six local authors write a short (c. 20 minutes) play and all are shown in one evening . It’s an interesting idea and one that means that if you don’t like one of the plays there is bound to be another along in a minute that you do like. We went to see if that was true last Thursday.

The six plays were very different, even if there were themes that were similar. For example political unrest, people who are different than us and Brexit all made their way into the offerings in one way or another. The sets were minimal just a chair or a table in order to allow the stage to be set quickly between each one and some of the actors were shared too.

In terms of the plays themselves it was a real mixed bag. The evening started strongly with “A Little Nibble” which told the story of a good Samaritan who was brought home by the person she helped only to discover that they were a zombie and wanted to eat her. Next up was “Pen” which while the idea was sound – that memories stored in the cloud are lost in the event of a disaster and paper is forever – but, for me, this one didn’t really work and wasn’t a very strong story.

The first half ended with “The Last Bus” which I think was probably my favourite of the evening. This showed a couple who were waiting to catch the last bus out of Pergatory which was being shut down. Nicely acted and a good idea.

The second half started with “If it be now” which was my least favourite of the lot mainly because it was a bit of a mess. What went on, I think, was that a couple were planning to kill someone who seemed to be stalking them after the wife of the couple had an affair with him a few year previously. It could also have been that the wife was setting up the husband but this wasn’t clear. It also came to an abrupt end and nobody seemed quite sure if it had ended or not.

Next up was “Buried” about a man struggling with his sexuality and hiding the fact that he really wanted to be a woman despite getting married and having children. This was done by having his inner voice played by another actor trying to guide him to do what he wanted rather than what society demanded. I would hope that this is an outdated concept but maybe it’s not.

And finally “Fairy Tails”- one that wasn’t set in the here and now as it was a fantasy of three, well I’m not sure what they were, who snapped the tails of fairies to make calls and ended up killing one of them. It was actually better than I have made it sound.

It was an interesting evening and there were some interesting ideas there but I am not sure that 20 minutes is enough time to give the subjects that some tried to cover justice. Also some left just a little too much to the imagination (or maybe I just suffer from a lack of it?).

The best bit in the whole evening though was when an audience member behind us, in a voice that they clearly thought was a whisper but really wasn’t, said to their partner “NICE COFFEE”. I spent several minutes following that suppressing a giggle!

Outdoor Cinema in August in the UK – What Could Possibly go Wrong?

Sometimes what seems like a bad idea becomes inspired after the event and other times, well, let’s just say putting on an open air cinema in August in the UK is a brave thing to do.

Originally we had intended to visit the Cult Screens open air cinema in Reading last year, however, for various reasons this didn’t happen. When we saw that this year they were showing La La Land, a Thompson favourite, we decided to try again.

I’d been watching the weather all week and the forecast suggested that we might be lucky and avoid a soaking. On the day though the rain was heavy and I swear at one point there was snow coming down for one brief moment. Anyway, as the allotted hour approached the skies were dark but it was at least dry so we set off.

When you booked you had three seating options: bean bag, deckchair or bring your own (and consequently sit at the back). We elected for a bean bag which was more bag than bean but perfectly adequate.  Unsurprisingly these were allocated on a first come, first served basis but the view seemed pretty good no matter where you were.

A change from last year was that you are now able to bring in your own food which plenty had done and we too wished we had. This is what I had which was fine but I wished that there were a few more options.

Of course, the most important thing is the film. By eight thirty it was reasonably dark and the film started – no lengthy ads or previews of forthcoming features here. The screen itself was what appeared to be an inflatable with a white frontage – perfectly adequate given the surroundings and sound was pretty strong too.

On some balmy summers evening  I’m sure that this would have been a pleasant experience but there was a cold wind that was blowing from across the Thames. Lying down on the bean bag helped present a low profile to the wind but I was also grateful for the blanket we had plus a wooly hat… In August!

And if you don’t believe me here’s a picture taken on the night with me not looking at the camera for some reason.

We had a good evening but in future I think that we would make a late booking when we could be more certain about the weather and we’d also take along our own food but it was certainly a different experience to your usual trip to the Vue or Showcase.

A Cut Above

Some 25 years ago my first son was born to be joined a couple of years later by the second. Who knew that two small people could take up so much space? Despite moving to a larger house to accommodate everyone and everything we quickly ran out of space and realised something had to go. Having considered which of the two boys should be released I was told that wasn’t an option so the axe fell upon my large collection of vinyl!

Looking back now I regret getting rid of pretty much all my collection gathered since picking up a copy of Mud Rock Vol 2 in 1975. However, then it really did make sense. Vinyl was dying, I had most of my records on the much more compact discs and we really did need the space. Oxfam was the winner that day.

Wind forward 20 odd years and vinyl decides to make a come back. By this point I need reading glasses and can no longer read the tiny print on a CD sleeve so the thought of something much larger suddenly appeals! My original Dual CS 505-2 has long given up the ghost so I invest in a cheap new deck and start hitting the charity shops and end up with a load of tatty vinyl.

Another three years pass and the replacement deck also expires so I upgrade once again, this time to an Audio Technica AT-LP5. This presents a different set of problems in that, compared to the last deck, it is huge and heavy and putting on or taking off a record requires a dexterity that I no longer possess. So now we also need to find a new resting place for this deck, a search that is ongoing.

At the same time I was surprised to find that collection now numbers 150 records and has outgrown the space that was allocated to it taking me neatly back to the position I was in 20 years ago!

All this is leading me to re-evaluate my purchasing decisions in order to inject a little quality into the collection and so I am trying to adhere to the following “guidelines”. I will only buy a record if it is:

  • a limited edition in some way (so numbered, signed, coloured vinyl etc)
  • 180g vinyl (amazed at how flimsy 140g feels now)
  • new (not cheap secondhand unless it is…)
  • a classic collectable (which, of course, covers a multitude of sins)
  • accompanied by a download card

I appreciate that this gives me a huge amount of wiggle room (I’m not that stupid) but if I do try to keep fairly closely to that I might be able to build a collection that is worth having and playing.

The good news is that both the boys have left home so now I can turn both their old rooms into record storage!

I say there is no darkness but ignorance

Some reading this may well conclude that I am either a heathen or, perhaps, a philistine – maybe even both. (My use of both heathen and philistine should count in my favour though).

However, let’s get it out of the way early. I don’t rate Shakespeare at all. So you can imagine my level of enthusiasm when it was suggested that we go with friends to see Twelfth Night at The Globe in London. I’m a firm believer that experiences are a great way to happiness and so I classed this visit in the same bucket, although I went along with more hope than expectation.

I nearly had a last minute reprieve when the friends we were going with, who also had the tickets, were delayed on the train into Waterloo. This last glimmer of hope was dashed as they ran from the station to the theatre arriving just as the bell was sounding for us to take our seats. Well, when I say “seats” I mean hard wooden benches. There are, no doubt, prisons in Siberia with more conformable seating arrangements. Nevertheless even this was preferable to the standing area at the front given the continual rain that fell on them during the play.

And then it began and the biggest shock was that Shakespeare seemed to have written a camp musical set in Scotland. Lots of jolly sailors with flags dancing to 70’s disco and some bloke with an impressive chest dressed up in a glittery dress and huge wig. I don’t mind a camp musical at all, I’ve seen a few in my time, but add the Bard’s impenetrable prose on top of that and you have an almighty mess.

Now, to be fair, everyone else seemed to be having a good time and laughing away so it could just be me but I don’t think so. Everyone else had simply been brainwashed into believing the “Shakespeare is the greatest playwright” schtick.

Our next trip to the theatre is to see Young Marx, the next play by Richard Bean – now there’s a playwright!

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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