Local Hero by Bill Forsyth & David Greig: My Thoughts.


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It was announced that Local Hero could be a possibility while I was still on the Royal Lyceum board three years ago and it seemed like a wild dream, almost a fantasy really; that one of Scotland’s most iconic movies could be turned into a stage play, and a musical at that.

Even though it rates only a solid, but unspectacular 7.4 on IMDB, it has been taken to Scotland’s heart.  I only watched it myself, a month ago, in anticipation of this production finally, miraculously landing.  But I wasn’t overly taken with the movie I have to say.  It has dated and I found too many of the performances pretty easy to criticise and that let  it down. So I approached last night nervously.

There was no need to worry.  This is a smash hit in the making.  The buzz around The Lyceum was palpable and the after show party felt like the West End had dropped into Edinburgh.

The Director is John Crowley for God’s sake – he of the Oscar-nominated movie Brooklyn: the man who has just directed the most anticipated movie (for me anyway) of 2019; The Goldfinch.

The set designer is Scott Pask – Book of Mormon – heard of that?

And, of course, the music was developed and expanded by none other than Mark Knopfler himself.

The cast is not a Take The High Road reunion, indeed only two of the 15 have ever appeared on The Lyceum stage, and have Girl From The North Country, Kinky Boots, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Les Mis, This House, Wolf Hall , School of Rock and Sweeney Todd, amongst many others, littering their CVs.

This is the real deal.  This is monumental ambition for a 600 seat theatre in  Scotland. (Albeit the Old Vic are co-producers).

So, onto a couple of old upturned fish boxes sidle Matthew Pigeon, as Gordon the hotel-owner and chief negotiator, and Ownie (Scott Ainslie) to conclude Ownie’s accountancy requirements with change from a fiver.  If only Gordon had change.

It’s a quiet start that does not prepare you for the technical wizardry that underpins the first showstopper of the night, “A Barrel of Crude”.  And there’s a laugh right from the off. Light humour that litters an excellent script.

Through the opening half hour the lilting lament that formed the musical motif of the movie slips and slides into earshot before finally emerging fully formed.  It’s beautiful.

The story is pretty much as per the movie, but the morals feels somehow even more upfront as we chart the greed of the locals over the environmental consequences of their signing away their home village of Ferness (You can’t eat scenery though).

The big bad American oilman (played impeccably by Damian Humbley) is a great foil to Katrina Bryan’s Stella and Matthew Pigeon’s Gordon in a love triangle that doesn’t really quite come off (that would be my only real criticism of the show).

I particularly liked the movement in this (directed by Lucy Hind).  It’s a play about contrasting scales (big skies, small villages, small-mindedness and big ambitions) and what she skilfully does is play with that scale through subtle but lovely choreography to bridge scenes and dramatise that juxtaposition of scales.  It’s really nice to see great movement that’s NOT trying to be John Tiffany: again.

The dance movement is slick and light of touch.  With a big mixed-age, mixed-size cast that’s no mean feat.

The band is top notch and excellently MD’d by Phil Bateman on keys.

Although the score is inspired mainly by the Celtic canon it succeeds much more than Come From Away (that I saw on Monday) which too draws from that canon – but does it to death.  Here we have ballads, tangos, a bit of rock and roll and, yes, that plaintive motif.

The light and shade in this production’s musical content, for me, frankly blows the multi Olivier-nominated Come From Away out of the water.  Indeed, on every level this is a much more enjoyable evening of theatre – so roll on the Oliviers 2020.

The comparisons can’t fail be made – both are Celtic musicals set in tiny communities, in wildernesses where big America comes to visit.

The Local Hero ensemble is universally excellent, the direction superb but the showstopper of it all is the scenic design.  You’ll need to see it to appreciate it.  I ain’t gonna do it any justice here.  All I’ll say is this.  You haven’t seen the aurora borealis until you’ve seen Local Hero at The Lyceum.

Bravo Lyceum.  Bravo.

The show richly deserves both its standing ovation and the Sold Out boards you’ll find in Grindlay Street for the next six weeks.

(I did take a peek at the website box office and you CAN get tickets for late in the run.  I’d do it if I were you.)

 

1971. Never a Dull Moment. Rock’s Golden Year by David Hepworth: Book Review.


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David Hepworth has researched a thoroughly entertaining and rapid-fire read in this paean to 1971.  The title is accurately describes its content which is a cultural contextualisation of why, in his and presumably many others’, view, in 1971, from a musical point of view you’d never had it so good and, as it transpires in Hepworth’s mind, never did again.

He makes a strong case.

It’s fundamentally a pivot year in musical history. Both rock and roll and pop have established themselves and ‘buying records’ is now a common practice.  Indeed it has replaced going to the cinema which is facing the low point in its history as TV and music have replaced the big screen in young people’s affections.

Furthermore the shift has begun to swing from 45’s (singles) to 33’s (LP’s), those beautiful 12″ platters that we thought had been consigned to history until Generation X discovered them to cover cracks in their bedroom walls.

This is a new dawn for music and it’s the year when many genres are emerging or evolving into more mature manifestations of their sixties’ inspiration.

The list of seminal 1971 records is not to be sniffed at (not all of these make Hepworth’s list).  I’ve picked out my own favourites in bold but there is so much to choose from. It’s an embarrassment of riches:

  • Janis Joplin’s Pearl
  • Tapestry by Carole King
  • The Yes Album
  • Tago Mago by Can
  • Aqualung by Jethro Tull
  • Tanz Der Lemminge by Amon Düll II
  • LA Woman and Other Voices by The Doors
  • War by War
  • Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones
  • The Stones also released their first ever compilation (a new thing at the time) this year
  • Maybe Tomorrow by The Jackson 5
  • Bryter Later by Nick Drake
  • Thin Lizzy by Thin Lizzy
  • Carpenters
  • Relics and Meddle by Pink Floyd
  • Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart
  • Ram  – Paul (and Linda) McCartneys’ first solo album
  • Marvin Gaye’s astonishing What’s Going On
  • Man in Black by Johnny Cash
  • Home Made by The Osmonds (the first real ‘boy band’ unless you consider the Jacksons as such – certainly the beginning of teen pop.)
  • Joni Mitchell’s seminal Blue
  • Surrender by Diana Ross
  • Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by The Moody Blues
  • Fireball by Deep Purple
  • Shaft Soundtrack by Isaac Hayes
  • Who’s Next – The Who’s best record
  • Surf’s Up – The Beach Boys mark II
  • Aretha’s Greatest Hits
  • Electric Warrior by T Rex
  • Judee Sill by Judee Sill
  • Trafalgar by Bee Gees
  • Teaser and the Firecat by Cat Stevens
  • Hawkwind’s In Search of Space
  • American Pie by Don Mclean
  • Fog on the Tyne by Lindisfarne
  • Reflection by Pentangle
  • Tupelo Honey by Van the Man
  • Zep 4
  • Nursery Cryme by Genesis
  • There’s a riot going’ on by Sly and the Family Stone
  • Muskel Hillbillies by The Kinks
  • Two Earth Wind and Fire albums
  • People Like Us by The Mamas and the Papas – pre-Ham sandwich?
  • Pictures at an Exhibition by ELP (their second of the year)
  • Nazareth
  • Islands by King Crimson
  • The Concert for Bangladesh (live) by George Harrison and friends – the precursor to Live Aid etc
  • The Electric Light Orchestra
  • Wild Life by Wings
  • America

And… on December 17th the greatest recording of all time.  Hunky Dory by David Bowie.

There’s 14 albums in bold there, more than one a month. (And I was only 9 year’s old at the time so I have had to discover every one of them retrospectively).

My Sweet Lord by George Harrison was the top selling single of the year, Imagine by John Lennon was runner up and Maggie May by Rod Stewart got the bronze. (Brown Sugar was fifth).

By any reckoning that’s a powerhouse of music with the emergence of AOR, Prog and heavy metal.  A golden year for folk. Seminal soul records (Shaft and What’s Going on in particular.) And the emergence of ‘Krautrock’ (Can and Amon Düll were contemporaries of Kraftwerk) which was to, in turn, influence the last 30 years’ dance music.

Hepworth tells this story month-by-month, cleverly cross-referencing collaborators, rock histories and using back stories to spice up the drug addled goings on of The Who, The Stones, Clapton and many more.

He drops in other cultural references, from cinema primarily, and peppers it with the politics of the time.

It’s an authoritative read with several eyebrow raising moments.

For real music lovers (like me) I’d go as far as to say it’s essential reading.  Hepworth’s style has its faults but I’ll forgive those for the quality of his research.  I’m not surprised it won 2016’s music book of the year in eight different newspapers.

Highly recommended (for music lovers.)

Footnote.

I don’t actually agree that it’s the greatest year of all time, but that doesn’t really matter.

I think 1979 saw a similar confluence of happenings.  (If you want evidence of that check out NME’s 1979 albums of the year.  It’s jaw dropping – London Calling only made number 8!)

  • The emergence of the new and highly influential post punk movement – Talking Heads Fear of music won NME”s coveted album of the year, PIL’s Metal Box was #2 and Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasure’s taking the bronze)
  • But with ‘Punk’ also maturing in its own right
  • The end of disco but still at creative high – 3 of the Top ten singles were disco (Gloria Gaynor, The Jackson 5 and Sheila B. Devotion)
  • Coventry Ska
  • Bowie still there
  • The emergence of electronica – Human League made the list with Reproduction

What do YOU think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The London Street Art and Graffiti Tour: Review


Last Saturday Jeana and I were in London visiting our daughter.  We decided to join a free street art and graffiti tour (we ALWAYS do free tours because we think, rightly or wrongly the guide has to perform well to get their fee-  in our experience they always do).

This was no exception, indeed it was at the top end of the scale.  Of course, you have to have an interest in street art to start with.  I do.

We met at the excellent Exmouth Coffee Company in Whitechapel High Street where we enjoyed a discount.

Our tour guide was Gregory, an accomplished graffiti artist himself, and it was obvious from the off that he knew what he was talking out with very clear explanations of the art of ‘the tag’, the difference between street art and graffiti, the lengths artists have to go to (tagging) to gain a reputation and respect from their peers and then a brilliant tour of tucked away gems in the streets of Tower Hamlets (Brick Lane, Shoreditch and the likes).

It’s a cracking two hours with some real highlights.

Take this beautiful commissioned piece, which began our tour, by comic artist Phlegm who’s based in Sheffield.  It beautifully follows the counters of the wall in which it is painted.

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Gregory told us about the fact that tagging over art like this is called ‘Fame bombing’.

Next up was this tribute to the film ‘Up’ by Fanakapan who specialises in ‘helium’ art.

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We visited the incredible Nomadic Community Garden, near to Shoreditch train station just off Brick Lane with its legal street art and graffiti wall where we saw the brand new work of PAD.

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In the garden we saw some great stuff…

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The Nomadic Community Garden’s feature wall is the highlight, and is ever changing.

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Random stuff in Brick Lane.

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This concrete sculpture by Portuguese artist Vhils is incredible.  He actually carves INTO the concrete to create 3D images that are stunning.IMG_3764_2.jpg

A cheeky wee Banksy.

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This technique is called ‘Pissing’: water bottles are filled with paint and you squeeze them betweeen your legs: it makes for an easy way to paint at height.

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Here we are on our tour beside this great piece by Ben Eine which sticks a finger up to the Shoreditch property developers whose office overlooks this piece (Extortionists).

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Look at how this piece by Long Island spray paint artist BK Foxx uses the jagged bricks of the building to create the hat.  Amazing.IMG_3758_2.JPG

And this Heron/crane by renowned artist Roa is just beautiful.

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And my old mate Clet Abraham is hard at work on London’s street signs.IMG_3761.JPG

We finished the tour at King John Court and New Inn Road at the HQ of Colt where the biggest street art mural in Britain has recently been completed by 16 artists.

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Including this collaboration by Mr Cenz and Lovepusher

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And this piece by Nomad Clan.

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I spotted a few more beauties after the tour was over.

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Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.: Movie (documentary) review


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No ordinary pop documentary, reads the poster, but M.I.A. is no ordinary pop star.

True.

If you’ve not see it before this video for Born Free is a shocking centrepiece to the documentary.

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

I have been a fan of Maya Arulpragasam (AKA M.I.A) for over a decade now so this film came as a pleasant surprise.  Allegedly it’s been over a decade in the making and the relationship between Maya and the filmmaker, Steve Loveridge, has been, to say the least, “challenging”.

She’s a bloody difficult woman, as it reveals.

The daughter of the founder of the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist minority resistance group that was formed in 1976, she had to flee her home land of Sri Lanka in 1986 to set up home in London with her mother, brother and sister while her dad fought the good fight in the face of what she claims was ‘ethnic cleansing’.  It was ten years before she met her father again.

Clearly she has inherited her father’s sense of justice and fighting spirit.

Basing her unique style of hip hop on political oppression she has been an unlikely success, rising to top the Billboard dance charts and  performing alongside Madonna at the Super Bowl where she raised her middle finger to camera and in doing so enraged the NFL so much that they sued her for $16.6 million.

Her right to be angry is, in my opinion, quite reasonable but clearly her detractors think it is a stunt as she has gathered considerable wealth since her politically oppressed immigrant days.

For me, her wealth is irrelevant.

The documentary is a curate’s egg.  Some of it rambles almost incoherently, using found footage on dodgy VHS tape from her childhood, some of it is expertly shot.  Its timeline is also so scattergun as to be quite confusing at times and this jolts the narrative.  At times one wonders what the point really is.

She doesn’t shirk criticism, but the reaction of the NFL on American TV drew loud guffaws from the audience I was in at their petty outrage.  It’s certainly a precursor to Colin Kaepernick’s ‘Taking the Knee’ and a good, if a little childish, one at that.

Madonna was not overly happy.

For fans of M.I.A. this is a must see, for others I doubt you will be engrossed.

For me, even as a fan, it took a good hour to reel me in.  But once there I was sold.