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Posts Tagged ‘Kinks’

sunny-afternoon-programmeI’ll take it as read that Sunny Afternoon is this hugely enjoyable and successful award-winning musical, that it’s much more than just juke box theatre, and that it is performed  superbly by a multi-talented cast.  What we have here is ensemble playing at its best, full of energy, emotion and period feel.  (And of course there had to be dolly birds).  I’m taking the Kinks history for granted too.

So, I record just a few things here that occurred, after watching the touring cast at Milton Keynes Theatre, to one who has (for his sins) read all the Kinks biographies and was championing the songs long before the cliché of Ray Davies as ‘national institution’ was a given, before that soubriquet started being attributed liberally to any old Tom, Dick and Harriet.

Obviously much had to be telescoped into or left out of this telling of the story, but I thought the crucial dramatic band episodes were mostly nicely handled and worked well as theatrical moments too, in particular:

  • the ousting of co-manager Robert Wace as singer; ’50s crooner blown away mid-song by Dave’s blues guitar
  • the full enactment complete with legendary insults of the Cardiff incident where Mick Avory thought he’d killed Dave on stage in mid-show with a drum pedal
  • a collage of the all action run-ins with the unions and other awkward Americans leading to the band being banned from the States for 3 years.
  • (although I have to say, as a veteran reader and listener of the Kinks story, I thought the partial destruction of the Little Green Amp section a bit hammy, to tell the truth)

I particularly liked the way the songs were chosen and used, not necessarily chronologically, and not necessarily exclusively from the time frame of the show (1964-69), with some put into unexpected mouths as the story unfolded:

  • so Days is started by posh-boy managers Robert and Grenville when they’re given the boot; a lovely and powerful acapella spell cast over the audience as most of the gang join in
  • Pete Quaife’s exit to A rock’n’roll fantasy, the latest song in the canon featured, from 1978’s Misfits album; one of my least favourite Kinks songs, as it happens (but let’s just leave it as that being my problem for the time being).  (A friend with his own Kinks website describes “Dan is a fan” as the worst line Ray ever wrote; it has also led in fandom to disputes as to who Dan was, with pathetic claim and counter claims).
  • remind me, was Dead End Street, featured early in the show, sung initially by Ma and Pa Davies?
  • that passage in the play a lot of reviews mention, when Ray is calling wife Rasa on the phone from America, he singing Sitting in my hotel, and she the sublime I go to sleep as counterpoint; and yes, you really could have heard a pin drop.  Extraordinary moment.  I seem to recall she did a touching Tired of waiting directed at Ray as well.

A few other things less easy to categorise:

  • I was never a fan of the phenomenon, but that brilliant and witty drum solo at the start of the second half, after one had got over the initial shock of its unexpectedly being there at all, had me (and the audience) engrossed; I think it must have been a particularly good night because I thought I saw some congratulatory banter from the non-acting musician tucked away at the back of the stage.  Proof positive, I would say, that Ray does not share Dave’s famously derogatory opinion of Mick Avory’s skills.  Andrew Gallo take a bow.  (Have to report, too, a certain bewilderment for me that he was a spitting image of my niece’s husband; kept thinking, What’s James doing up there?)
  • the recreation of the genesis of Waterloo Sunset in the recording studio was beautifully done
  • Ryan O’Donnell has to get a name-check here as entering fully into the spirit of Ray; while Mark Newnham actually looked like Dave (but had a better voice).  The whole cast was tremendous (with the bonus of  Grenville and Robert being proficient on trombone) and their CVs refreshingly free of the usual Casualty, The Bill and Midsomer Murders credits.
  • a lot of football metaphors thrown in, but I thought they made a bit of a rush job with the collage of Sunny Afternoon, the show’s title song, and England winning the World Cup
  • Class: in the US Ray and Dave play up as working class socialists, and it is made quite clear that the touted classless society of the early ’60s was, if not an illusion, a very short-lived phenomena
  • a couple of neat ‘time traveller’ jokes
  • is Sunny Afternoon set to be the middle part of a very broadly defined trilogy?  I wonder this because of the way it ended, with Allen Klein reintroducing them to the American stage.  So we’ve had the Davies family background in more detail with the earlier rather fine but never made it to the West End Come Dancing musical, albeit with a fictional plot overlaid, and Ray is talking about “something epic” when the Americana – the what came next – CD is released?
  • so Allen Klein: I must admit I hadn’t realised that it was his team that cleared the legal or bureaucratic decks that allowed the Kinks to work in America again, and although there was the dramatic moment in the show when Ray made sure they didn’t sign another damaging management deal with him after he’d sorted a few things out (unlike the Beatles and the Stones), Klein’s voice announcing their return to a big New York venue seemed an odd way to end the narrative.  As if “the rest is history”, except for most people, it isn’t.  Apart from Lola.
  • indeed, I have to say I thought the admittedly joyous singalong clap-along audience on their feet finale of Lola was a bit of an artistic cop-out, a populist failure of nerve, seeing as the song Lola – the one, of course, the whole world knows – had no point of reference with the basic narrative in the show that had gone before.  Don’t worry, I was up on my feet with the rest of the audience, but I’d have preferred a reprise of Sunny Afternoon.
  • Great night, nevertheless!  I think I can see why a few of my Kinks fan community friends have seen the London cast show many, many times.  At certain times, excitement revived, when the lads picked up their instruments you could close your eyes and …  As well as all the fun.

shakespeare-circleMeanwhile, 400 years earlier …

Exactly 400 years had passed between his birth and the start of the action in Sunny Afternoon and You really got me being released, but there are still many things that are unclear about the life of William Shakespeare, born 1564.  Friday before last (Sept 2), in the local library in Stony we had a couple of world-class superstars of Shakespeare biography introducing their book The Shakespeare circle: an alternative biography (Cambridge UP, 2015).  The need for “Imaginative biography” is the phrase they used, if I remember correctly.  It was a fascinating evening, all done without the help of  a ss-shak-400PowerPoint presentation.  Paul Edmonson and Stanley Wells made for a fascinating double act, a splendid mix of wit, friendship and scholarship, their depth of knowledge staggering (but then this is what they’ve been doing for most of their adult lives).  Here’s the publisher’s puff, because I feel like being lazy:

This original and enlightening book casts fresh light on Shakespeare by examining the lives of his relatives, friends, fellow-actors, collaborators and patrons both in their own right and in relation to his life. Well-known figures such as Richard Burbage, Ben Jonson and Thomas Middleton are freshly considered; little-known but relevant lives are brought to the fore, and revisionist views are expressed on such matters as Shakespeare’s wealth, his family and personal relationships, and his social status. Written by a distinguished team, including some of the foremost biographers, writers and Shakespeare scholars of today, this enthralling volume forms an original contribution to Shakespearian biography and Elizabethan and Jacobean social history.

All great fun, honest.  50 years ago, in year 2 of Sunny Afternoon, I did a sixth form project on the question of ‘Who Wrote Shakespeare?’ prompted by John Peirce, an inspirational English teacher who knew of my keenness for Mark Twain and guided me to a late work of his, published 1909, Is Shakespeare dead?  (Here’s a link to the Wikipedia entry).  There Twain details humourously and not unseriously the known facts of the actor William Shakespeare’s life and compares them with the width and breadth of knowledge displayed in the plays, and promotes a conspiracy theory that has been repeated over the decades, invoking various other writers for any number of reasons, as the true authors.  All nonsense, of course, and research has found a lot more about the Bard in the century hence.

No-one directly brought up the question of authorship, but one of the questions from the floor invoked the supposed “missing years” in the documented life of Shakespeare, which some have used to reconcile the mismatch Twain highlighted – did he go to Italy, for instance, and pick up all the knowledge thereof that’s there in the plays?  Apart from the fact that London was a major cosmopolitan trading port where all sorts of things could be picked up in bars etc., Wells and Edmondson said that many of Shakespeare’s contemporaries also have big gaps in their documented existence, indeed one would expect it, given the times.  Anyway, mention of ‘the missing years’ reminded me of John Prine‘s rather wonderful part-song part-recitation  Jesus the missing years, which I leave you with here, to enjoy:

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Peter May - RunawayYou could play Swinging Sixties London bingo with Peter May‘s Runaway (Quercus, 2015), even if Del Shannon’s single of the same name doesn’t figure in the soundtrack.  Slightly unfair criticism, you might say, given Runaway is the tale of five Glasgow teenagers – a beat group formed at school called The Shuffle – trying to make it up in the Big Black Smoke in 1965, but the clincher was one of said merry band at a fashionable party, off his head on drugs, diving of a roof with the words “I can fly” not long left his lips.  Eyes down look in for, among other things:

  • a scene-maker and qualified pharmacist to the stars called (of course) Dr Robert
  • who has Bridget Riley originals hanging on his wall
  • picks up a demo tape en passant Abbey Road (“This is where the Beatles record, you know“)
  • helps Pennebaker with the filming of Dylan making that video in a Central London side street (“He seemed to me to be in need of a square meal“)
  • (more interestingly) is involved with a thinly veiled R.D.Laing and his experimental anti-psychiatry Kingsley Hall community
  • and climactically hosts a party where”The air was heady with the perfume of marijuana and simmering with unfettered sexuality.”

Basically Runaway has two timelines:  1965 (though it’s never quite clear who is being addressed with these sometimes very specific memories); something bad happened back there and then, and 50 years later one of the group, dying in a Glasgow hospital, sees a newspaper item that motivates him to gather the two other members of the band who returned to Glasgow to remake that journey (escaping from hospital in the process) in order to clear up what exactly happened back then and exact justice.

To be fair, the two journeys are quite eventful and not a bad read.  Before becoming a full-time novelist Peter May did a lot of television drama and the action sometimes reads more like a detailed shooting script than a novel.  Indeed, with a decent budget it would make a stunning TV drama wherein body language and motion and close-up shots would do away with the redundancy of, say, a discussion about road directions (p104) and various clichés like someone having “the startled look of a deer caught in headlights.”

Again, to be fair, it’s a pretty sour – and probably not without grounds – look at Swinging London, and there is some good stuff about friendship and growing old, but plot twists involving a). revealed adoptions and, b). an abortion that didn’t happen, creak mightily, though the resolution of the crime, of what actually happened on the fateful day in 1965, although a staple of crime fiction, is neatly done.  Which cannot, unfortunately, be said about then 17 year-old narrator Jack, for whom premature ejaculation was obviously never a problem, losing his virginity:

All my primitive sexual instincts wanted me simply to be inside her. But she made me wait for that, teaching me instead that we could give and receive as much pleasure with our mouths. Things I would never have known , or thought to do. But which, ultimately, led to the most heightened moment of release when finally I was inside her, feeling her grip me with her muscles as my hips rose and fell to the most ancient rhythm known to mankind.

Peter May 1955 HotspurI got hold of Runaway because of a recommendation in one of those year-end round-ups in a newspaper.  I discover that Peter May – with a lengthy back catalogue involving crime sequences featuring a Scottish/Italian ex-forensic scientist living in France and another set in Hong Kong – has lately become flavour of the month among crime novelists with his recent highly praised Lewis Trilogy (the island, not Morse’s chum) picking up all sorts of awards.  I’m afraid that for me, though, the name of Peter May will always first conjure up the Surrey and England cricketer of the same name, a big hero of my dad’s.

Ticket to rideHaving said that …

… I am indebted to the novelist Peter May for an insight that I find it hard to believe had never occurred to me before over five decades; the music had just floated by me.  There’s probably a moral to be had in that.  They are gathered at a record shop to hear the new Beatles single.  Yes kids, it really was that exciting.  Rachel has escaped a very bad relationship:

We joined the crowd … in time to catch Ticket to ride for the very first time. Hearing the first play of a new Beatles record was like sharing in a part of history. Our history. A seismic shift from the past and our parents’ generation.

But Rachel was listening to the words. ‘God, Lennon sounds just like Andy,’ she said. ‘Like it was all my fault, or hers in the song. Because, of course, he was bringing her down, and that’s why she had to leave. Couldn’t possibly have been because he was such a shit.’

[There are a couple of Kinks references in Runaway; I’ll write about them elsewhere, in the Kinks in Literature chronicle here in Lillabullero some time soon.]

Out and about

Scribal Feb 2016

For future cultural historians no-shows painted out.

Scribal had a birthday – its amazing sixth – and there was cake.  The Antipoet were doing new stuff, Paul Eccentric dashingly dressed as if – to these eyes – about to collect a well-earned Honorary Degree (“I’d refuse it,” he said).  Mr Hobbs made his debut as a qualified storyteller with a reworking of a traditional tale or two wherein bears did indeed shit in the woods.  [02.03.16: I would like to qualify that statement: after representations made to me by Mr Hobbs’ alter ego Pedantic Pete in the Comments below, I now recognise this was actually the first public airing of his first apprentice piece].  I came to a jarring halt in my stint when turning over the third page of a four page epic trilogy – large font size, mind – only to find a blank sheet staring back at me; last-minute revises freshly printed … and realising … as rationality defeated panic … placed straight off the printer the wrong way round in the plastic.  New Bard Vanessa was everywhere this month.  Another mighty fine show.

Vaultage Feb early 2016Vaultage mid-Feb 2016As per, there were two Vaultages, with the usual suspects and co-host Lois Barrett continuing to deliver up splendid fresh guests, new to most there.  Two thirds of the Roses and Pirates gals impressed with their own powerful songs and delivery; a pleasant prospect indeed to look forward to seeing them entire, with their ailing cellist in full flow.

And so to York House again … three times this February

Fire 350! was a series of readings from eye-witness accounts, including the context of the Great Plague the previous year and the spread of the Great Fire of London in September, 1666 – Sam Pepys, Evelyn et al – interspersed with period music played on period instruments by Mr Simpson’s Little Consort.  By turn entertaining, educational and moving;  surprised at the fire’s ferocity and extent.  The consort juggled lute, theorbo (a giant mutant lute, longer than its player), two viols and recorder throughout the evening, sometimes accompanying a cheerful soprano.  Ferocious indeed was their closer, a twin viol attack (it’s not just blues guitarists who use open tuning) on Purcell’s Ode to St Cecilia with a bass line straight outta AC/DC: “Wondrous machine!

Evie Ladin and Keith TerryEvie Ladin, with partner Keith Terry was a sell-out, and no wonder after their show a couple of years ago.  Can’t put it any better than they do on their website, where there’s plenty to see: ” Energetic and electrifying clawhammer banjo, bass, percussive dance, storytelling songs old and new, with nuanced, emotive vocals.  An intimate, robust evening of acoustic music and dance; a skilled hybrid of American folk arts.”  Great charm and fun too.  Raised in New York, her dad went to a bluegrass concert at Carnegie Hall and was converted; family legend has it he gave away all his Tamla Motown records.  Doesn’t stop her quoting the Stones and Badfinger (“English folk songs”) on one of the songs on the new album.  Which I bought, and holds up very well in the country miserabilism stakes, never mind the breakneck banjo workout on The cuckoo.

Clive Williams on melodeon. Photo (c) Andy Powell.

Clive Williams on melodeon. Photo (c) Andy Powell.

‘Twas another full and hugely appreciative house for S.S.Shanty! 4, and another grand evening it was of it too.  Less of the shanty overall this time, but plenty of maritime songs and hornpipes making up the slack, not to mention Bard Vanessa’s trip on the good ship innuendo and, of course, her paean to the men and women of the RNLI, who the gig was a benefit for.

Due to the pillar in the middle of the room I could only comfortably see four and a half of the six men who make up the lusty and infectious (in the best possible sense …) Five Men Not Called Matt (it’s a local thing) but I had no trouble hearing all those fine voices.  Melodeonist Clive Williams did a lovely tuneful set full of charm to belie what the Doxy from Liverpool (the distaff half of Trim Rig and a Doxy) said about melodeon playing methodology: “You depress the keys and every one within half a mile”.  Mind, she was sporting one herself.  It was to their fine selves that honour of leading the room in Being a pirate; their rendition of a poem about the decline of the Liverpool Docks set to music had a tendency to wet the eye.  Similarly Jenkinson’s Folly, with the sucker punch of a cello, also hit the tear ducts with a sad trawling tale.  Phil Underwood played another melodeon or two – was one of his the spectacular white and gold Russian one? – and sang from the perspective of a canal boat.  Another great evening.

DBDerren Brown …

… deserves a sub-head of his own.  We travel up city to the theatre for Miracle, his latest stage offering.  I think it’s probably fair to say that most of Derren’s audience these days have been to one or more of his shows before; I think this was at least my third.  Consequently there wasn’t so much of a noticeable buzz in the foyer for Miracle, and the audience did seem a bit older (self included).   Audience expectations of WTF moments can’t be easy for the man, but he continues to deliver all the same.  Dramatically, yes – but the WTFF moments weave a measure of contemplative wonder into the head-shaking spectacular.  He’s charming, witty, wise and serious as ever.  His demystification of his craft – the insistence that there is nothing supernatural going on – is a force for good (which is just as well considering his powers of persuasion).  The powerful core of Miracle, involving as per his usual modus operandi, several audience members, is the replication of an American tv evangelist healing extravaganza, in which he shows that something is definitely happening, while making it abundantly clear it has nothing to do with divine intervention; his motif for the evening was the power of the stories we tell ourselves and live by.  I was singing “Stealing in the name of the Lord” on the way home.

Gatsby_1925_jacketOutro

Book Group book for February was F.Scott Fitzgerald‘s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby (1925), a book I found I didn’t have as much familiarity with as I’d thought.  So nice to rediscover the book’s many qualities – as Hemingway said of his friend, he writes “like an angel” – and doubly delightful, at just over 150 pages, to have the luxury of reading something substantial in only a couple of sessions.  Just as Chuck Berry at his peak and his contemporaries  only needed 2 minutes 19 seconds for musical works of great profundity … Poignancy in that Jay Gatsby hardly drank while hosting the drunken revelry at his celebrated parties, while alcohol played a prominent part in his decline.  And I wondered when reading about those “blue lawns” of his … thuse enabling me to get a starter question on University Challenge on Monday.

Good turnout of performers at the Aortas Sunday open mic at the Old George, now a monthly event.  Naomi did a new song in which she rhymes ‘queen’ with ‘nuclear submarine’.

Those who’ve made it this far may have noticed that I failed even to make the deadline imposed on self in the title of this post.  Talk about failed New Year’s Resolutions to keep it short …

 

 

 

 

 

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DomeSunday, November 22:
In Tufnell Park
did the Official Kinks Fan Club a pleasure dome decree as the venue for this year’s Konvention.  (Stately? nah!).  In the Dome – still the Boston Arms but upstairs, entry gained from the edge of Betjeman country at the bottom of Dartmouth Park Hill – a more spacious venue than the more plebeian ground floor function room, entered from the more prosaic Junction Road, which had hosted the gig for a decade or so.  Biggest wrist stamp I’ve ever had, cloakroom £2.00 an item on a dry cleaner’s wire coat hanger and Guinness at £4.50 a pint, which I’m pretty sure was a lot cheaper downstairs last year.

A bit late, I’d foregone my annual mid-day pilgrimage – make that sentimental journey – to Waterlow Park, up on Highgate Hill, a place of succour, respite and inspiration (such trees!) when I first moved to London many moons ago (and lately a place Highgate resident Ray Davies often chooses to do print media interviews).  Turned out I could have made it, such was the amount of time it took for the queue to get in.  So it goes.  But once upstairs, of course, hey – always good to see the usual suspects; you know who you are.

OKFC KOK 1998Muswell hillbilliesThe Kast Off Kinks started off as Fan Club treat.  The first four London Konventions (there had been a couple further afield) were held at the Archway Tavern, where the fold-out cover photo of the KinksMuswell Hillbillies album – my favourite, for what it’s worth – was taken.  The set list was agreed by email and over the phone; no full rehearsals, cassettes were exchanged.  It worked, it was great fun for all.  This was basically the Muswell Hillbillies rhythm section of John ‘Nobby’ Dalton, to whose leukemia charity the profits went, original drummer Mick Avory, and John Gosling (aka The Baptist because Salome cut his head off – no hang on, because of his long hair and beard), with Dave Clarke, a mate of Dalton’s from the Hertfordshire rock’n’roll beat group scene and beyond – no, not that Dave Clarke, this one’s a musician – bravely taking on the roles of both Ray and Dave Davies.  Crucially, without attempting to take on either’s persona, he’s always excelled and has become a firm favourite with the, if you’ll excuse the spelling, the British Kinks fan Kommunity.

Geoff Lewis maintains a website for the band at http://kastoffkinks.co.uk/ with a whole bunch of live videos and some fascinating interviews – variously transcriptions and recordings – with the chaps.

2015: John Dalton taking it easy. (c) Julia Reinhart. www.juliareinhart.com www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

2015: John Dalton taking it easy. © Julia Reinhart.
http://www.juliareinhart.com
http://www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

The Konvention moved down Junction Road to the Boston Arms in 2002 and over the years more and more ex-Kinks have become involved, to the extent that whereas early on there were support slots, the Konvention Kast Offs became a moveable feast spanning all eras of the Kinks, filling the afternoon by themselves.  At the peak of all this re-gathering I think we had two back-up singers, (was it?) three bassists, two drummers and three keyboard players leap-frogging the performance area.  Ray Davies has been known to turn up and say a few words, sing the odd verse; Dave Davies has never had anything to do with them.  I won a signed photo of Ray in the raffle one year, put it proudly in a frame and the sun faded the autograph faded out of existence.

As things progressed the Kast Off Kinks started doing the odd gig elsewhere, and this has developed into the core members becoming a regularly gigging band up and down the land.  As The Baptist’s presence has diminished, Ian Gibbons, who continues to work with Ray Davies, has become the keyboards man in residence, with Mark Haley guesting.  John Dalton announced his retirement half a decade ago but no-one believed him, and so it has proved; Jim Rodford took up most of the gigging bass duties when available, though the recent resurgence of the Zombies‘ career may limit his appearances in future.  Jim and Ian’s fellow Kinks-as-stadium-rockers band era drummer, the amazingly well-preserved Bob Henrit, has been known to take a turn too; an interview covering his decades spanning career in the music business (including the introductory cowbells on Unit 4+2’s Concrete and Clay) is one of the highlights of The Kast Off’s website, and is well worth your time; he’s published an autobiography too, titled Banging on).

I've taken the liberty of posterizing Kevin Kolovich's photograph

2015: I’ve taken the liberty of posterizing Kevin Kolovich’s photograph.

So, Sunday before last, and we’re upstairs in The Dome, which is certainly an upgrade from downstairs.  A two tier stage – “I’ve played in pubs smaller than that stage” says Geoff Lewis – and  improved sound from the PA.  Stage left upper tier were back-up singers Debi Doss and Shirley Roden, looking down on Ian Gibbons, who, as Nobby said at one stage, was “on fire”, and indeed he was, a real tour de force.  He also called him “the funky gibbon”, but I never liked The Goodies, so find that regrettable.  Centre, raised at the back, the redoubtable Mick Avory, in front of him Dave Clarke, and to his right, the aforesaid Dalton.  And on the raised dias behind him, it was good to see the excellent Oslo Horns (from Norway!) again, sporting trumpet, flugelhorn and trombone – always adding something to the sound, never intruding.  Even better to hear them properly this year.

Julia Reinhart 06

2015: Messrs Gibbons, Clarke and Dalton. © Julia Reinhart. http://www.juliareinhart.com http://www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

Over the years, as the Kast Offs have turned into a working band, I’ve got a bit blasé about these performances, and – dare I say it – it had all got a bit routine.  Something today about the special emotions of an OKFC audience – international, spanning three generations – and the tightness that comes from constant gigging, along with the limited personnel which meant not so much chopping and changing, but this year I think it was the best I’ve seen them, really on top of their game and still enjoying it too.  With Nobby and Ian and the gals helping out on the vocals it was a storming show all round.  No-one’s put up a set list on social media yet so I’m running blind here; they probably played for at least 3 hours, doing most of the hits and more.  Almost at random, my highlights from memory: they do a slow and stately Village Green Preservation Society (outsider for new English national anthem, anybody?); Dave excels on the long intro take on a passionate Celluloid heroes; the band are really rocking with the fabulously obscure It’s too late; Debi fronts up for Stop your sobbing; they do a brilliant Better days.

DC & JD.

A delicate touch: DC & Doolin’ Dalton. © Julia Reinhart. http://www.juliareinhart.com http://www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

John Dalton always makes a point of saying how much he rates Shangri-La and that wonderful Ray Davies song hidden away for years on the Percy soundtrack album, God’s children (atheist that I am, singing along gleefully), and they are never short-changed.  Alcohol always gets full measure too; how I’d love to see him and Ray doing that as a double act, but later for him.

The incandescent Mr Gibbons and pal. © Julia Reinhart. www.juliareinhart.com www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

The incandescent Mr Gibbons and pal. © Julia Reinhart. http://www.juliareinhart.com http://www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

It’s one of those strange inversions that the passage of time brings about, but what could well be The Kinks‘ second worst recorded cover version (nothing can compare with their Dancing in the street) always turns out to be one of the rousing closing climaxes of a Kast Off Kinks show.  I speak of Louie Louie, which is swiftly followed by a Long Tall Sally, to which even I was goaded to dance (thanks … sorry, forgotten your name), and Elvis Presley’s One night, the first song, apparently, that Nobby and Dave Clarke ever played in public together.

Ronny Van Hofstraeten posterise2Ronny Van Hofstraeten posterise4Ronny Van Hofstraeten posterise7Somewhere in the third set yer man Ray Davies came out and said a few words, and towards the end was cajoled into delivering, in fine form, a full reprise of – what else? – You really got me, with Dave Clarke getting the first few bars of Dave Davies’s original guitar solo – something he never normally tries – note perfect. [That’s Ronny Van Hofstraeten’s photo of Ray I’ve mucked about with here]

A fine way to spend a winter’s afternoon.  Thanks as ever to Bill and the Official Kinks Fan Club stalwarts for putting it all together.

Stony Lights Bard launchAnd the next weekend …

… another fine way (with added mulled wine) to spend a winter’s afternoon.

Last Saturday of November is the Stony Stratford Lantern Parade leading up to the ceremonial switch-on of the Xmas lights that brighten the High Street, church Street and Market Square for the season.  Weather was not great – only wet and windy, though, as opposed to the gales and heavy rain at one stage forecast – but that didn’t stop the crowds turning out as usual.  Impressive community dedication.

Gimp night

Gimp night: Photo from the phone of Ray Roberts.

Earlier, a select band gathered in the Library for what has now become an established part of the tradition.  Entertainment and enlightenment from bards past and present, near and wide, poetasters, storytellers and singers, not forgetting the Stony Mummers and local kids’ group Act Out doing a scene or two from their panto.  Excerpts from a new Fay Roberts epic about the child of a mermaid and dragon had us entranced, while, as is now – that word again – traditional, the mighty Antipoet – self-proclaimed Bards of Bugger All – brought proceedings to a splendid end, showcasing new and newish material.  In their quest to alienate as many sections of the community as possible we got another fine atheist piece and a spirited demolition of hipster beards, particularly of a ginger variety; Sam Upton, Bard of Northampton, didn’t seem to  mind.  Then there was Gimp night (was it at the Rose & Crown? – NO: it was, much better, the Fighting Cocks (thanks to my pseudonymous correspondent Pedantic Pete for the correction)), a report on the parlous economic plight of many of the nation’s public houses, necessitating their resort to the promotion of niche nights for all variety of minority interests and perversions, including … poetry.

Here’s a link to Stony’s Bardic Council: http://bardofstony.weebly.com/

 

 

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20150815-KFK-unplugged-posterClissoldNo, it’s all good …

Standout performance for me at Kinks Night at The Clissold Arms “unplugged” session was a storming Twentieth century man.  When Geoff nailed the bit where the organ sweeps in two young men next to me – mid-20s? I’m not good at this – punched the air and cheered.  (Take a bow, Geoff Lewis).  I’d been talking to them earlier – favourite album Muswell Hillbillies (so men of taste) – and they got no kicks from modern groups at all.  With audience participation expected, these young lads knew all the words, on some songs better than the performers.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon, the way the musical generation boundary lines have faded.  At the annual Official Kinks Fan Club Konvention in November – a shindig graced on stage by a full cast of the Kast Off Kinks, with sometimes brief appearances from Ray Davies (though never Dave) – attendees’ ages range from teens to late seventies at least.

The Clissold Arms in Muswell Hill is where the Davies brothers had their first public performance, in late 1960, over the road from where they lived.  It now houses a room dedicated to The Kinks and their works.  The Kinksfan Kollektiv‘s Clissold sessions had their origins in an evening before the Konvention singalong and grew in scope from that to almost a military operation.  This summer special, outside the usual season, came about because of the vacation arrangements of Jim Smart, over from Hawaii, one of the original movers and performers of the fan sessions.  Was a good evening, heartening to talk to someone you’ve only previously known over the internet (hi Jim).  But … London prices: £4.40 a pint!

Cloud atlasCloud Atlas

Book Group book for August was David Mitchell‘s Cloud Atlas (2004).  I’d read it when it first came out and been impressed enough to give it a re-read.  I wasn’t the only one in the group, this time around, to subvert the subversion of the novel’s original unorthodox format.  It consists of six novellas, all relating to one another by various gestures, arranged like an onion with its layers, as if you were boring through to the earth’s core and then out again on the other side.

The initial nineteenth century diary of an eventful Pacific voyage cuts off suddenly and we’re into an epistolary account of an entertaining scoundrel of an English composer on the run in Belgium in the 1930s, wherein a purloined first (and only) edition copy of that diary figures in one of his personal fundraising schemes.  We move from there to a stylish fictional thriller novel set in post-Three Mile Island America, which breaks off at a genuine cliffhanger, into a very funny comic novel concerning an English publisher, whose experience publishing true crime has him on the run too, set in the present.  Then we move into the future, for a future archive interview concerning the development of artificial intelligence in cyborgs until we hit the core of the book, another kind of science fiction, a (not too difficult) dialect record of life when hi-tech civilisation has collapsed, into which an anthropologist from a surviving remnant of civilisation is allowed to stay for study purposes.  And then we are out the other side, in reverse order, with more links between them floated as the narratives develop, and the eighteenth century diary entries constitute the final part of Cloud Atlas.

But, as I say, this time I ignored the splits in the individual narratives and read each one straight through.  And the links between them became more obvious.  All are fascinating in their own right; he takes you into the working mind of a composer of music, for instance.  And it’s a lot funnier than I remembered and – definite shades of Thomas Pynchon – still just as seriously prescient a decade later.  Beautifully written too, an impressive fluidity of style.  It’s a meditation on human nature, really.  What drives us, makes us great, is what is also likely to be our undoing: “human hunger birthed the Civ’lize, but human hunger killed it too“.  Simple yes, but ultimately there is hope.  Near the end, our voyager comes out of his shattering experience, vowing, “A life spent shaping a world I want Jackson to inherit, not one I fear Jackson will inherit, this strikes me as a life worth the living.”  So over to us.  I thought the notion of a ‘cloud atlas’ was very Yoko Ono, and it turns out Mitchell got it from an actual piece of music composed by her first husband.

Vaultage late Aug 2015Music closer to home

No August open mic hiatus for Vaultage nights in the Vaults, which Pat and Lois have established as a more than dependable full music night out these past few months.  Featured act at the last Vaultage were VHS Pirates,  who describe themselves on FaceBook as, “a new uplifting exciting band from Northampton who play a mix of frenetic Folk Ska with a sensitive sprinkle of 80’s pop.”  Not to mention the unlikely sight of a banjoist supplying the rhythm on the up beat, the owner of one of two fine voices, a subtle keyboardist (the sprinkle) and original material of wit and no little invention.

Meanwhile, over at Aortas in the Old George a sparsity of performers on Sunday gave the bonus of what turned into featured sets from Dan Plews, Naomi Rose, an angry Mark Owen (his driven Getting away with it, a take on the Rebekah Brooks saga, given fresh venom with the news earlier in the day she was getting her job back), and comic verse from the poet Hobbs.  Would have happily paid to see that.  Earlier in the month stand-in host Pete Morton had led what turned out to be a decent night with his own songs and some well-chosen covers, in an evening also notable for an older couple leaving the pub muttering ‘Shouldn’t be allowed’ at Naomi’s most miserable song, Permanent blue.

MK-Calling-11

Keelertornero: Heads of assembly at MKG

MK Calling 2015

This summer‘s exhibition at MK Gallery featured selections from an Open Call for work from local artists, amateur, student and professional.  I went along with someone whose default position on a lot of contemporary art is disparagement, but she stayed the course well enough.  It’s a varied and interesting exhibition.  My favourite piece was Head-of-Assembly-KEELERTORNERO-2014-Vinyl-records1Chin Keeler and Emma Tornero’s Heads of assembly (2014), hanging from the ceiling of the Cube Gallery.  You have to be there: these are heads made from moulding vinyl records over mannequins’ heads, with the labels still in place.  The programme notes suggest the artists deal, among other things, with ‘unkempt fantasy‘.  Here’s an individual head, image filched from the internet (probably their website); click and click again for an enlargement.

Crossword clues I have loved

Can’t do cryptic crosswords but can appreciate a bad pun when you hear or see it?  Then you’re in with a shout.  Some favourites of old from the Guardian – an occasional series here at Lillabullero – with the compilers credited.  Zen punnery & thinking out(or well in)side the box.  (Crosswords are printable for free from the Guardian website.)

  • From Rufus: Space for army manoeuvres (5,4)
  • From Paul: One’s days are numbered (8)
  • From Pasquale: Call at table, suggesting preference for sirloin or T-bone? (2,5)
  • Paul again: Most adventurous combination of underclothes (7)
  • A favourite of mine, from Paul: Bad quality expensive jewellery? That’s clumsy (8)
  • More from Rufus: No beer left? That’s the limit! (6,3)
  • Arachne spinning: She’s over-groomed (8)
  • From Picaroon: Celebs ill-equipped for dinner parties (8)
  • From Chifonie: Space traveller posed on vessel (6)
  • One more time from Rufus: A loaded statement (8)

Solutions under this picture of some frogs ©moi:

Frogs

  • Rufus: Space for army manoeuvres (5,4) Elbow room [arm-y]
  • Paul: One’s days are numbered (8) Calendar
  • Pasquale: Call at table, suggesting preference for sirloin or T-bone? (2,5) No trump [not rump][a bid in the game of bridge][a US election slogan?]
  • Paul: Most adventurous combination of underclothes (7) Bravest [Bra vest]
  • Paul: Bad quality expensive jewellery? That’s clumsy (8) Bumbling [Bum bling]
  • Rufus: No beer left? That’s the limit! (6,3) Bitter end
  • Arachne: She’s over-groomed (8) Bigamist [women can’t do it too?]
  • Picaroon: Celebs ill-equipped for dinner parties (8) Notables [No tables]
  • Chifonie: Space traveller posed on vessel (6) Saturn [Sat on urn]
  • Rufus: A loaded statement (8) Bulletin [Bullet in]

Sorry.

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Complicated lifeIf you include Ray’s own ‘unofficial autobiography’, Johnny Rogan‘s Ray Davies: a complicated life (Bodley Head, 2015) is the 8th Kinks/Ray Davies biography I’ve read down all the days – sly Kinks song reference there – since 1984.  It’s certainly the heaviest.  At over 700 pages it weighs in at a whopping 1.12 kilos, leaving its most recent contenders – Nick Hasted‘s You really got me (2011) at 0.7, and Rob Jovanovic‘s God save the Kinks (2013) at 0.66 kilos – well behind.  Keeping a boxing the going, Rogan certainly packs a punch, but he’s also not averse to hitting below the belt.  Can it be called definitive on bulk and documented sources alone?  No, that would be difficult in any circumstances, but also because the book is so mean-spirited.  But does it add anything?  Yes, indeed.  For which thanks are due.

In what follows I take a lot about Ray Davies and The Kinks for granted; as might be gathered from elsewhere here in Lillabullero (see the header tag) I have rated his cultural contribution – finest UK songwriter of his generation, just for starters – highly for decades.

Ray Davies: a complicated life is a substantial piece of work, then, put together from a series of interviews with a broad range of people connected with its subject conducted by the author over the space of 30 years, including a recent one actually with Ray, that still did not entirely resolve Rogan’s quest for clarity, along with others’ unedited interviews made available to the author, and a wealth of newspaper and magazine articles, mostly based around interviews,  from the past 50 years.  Inevitably there is plenty about brother Dave in the mix.  The biographical progression through the life is accompanied by hum-drum zeitgeist summaries and relevant historical background information.  It has to be said he is not the greatest of prose stylists, but while there is not much that sparkles, he’s a competent enough composer of sentences (not something you can take for granted these days), albeit one prone to the odd purple passage:

While Dave Davies was bereft, lost in the voracious revel of his senses and wary of the uncharted topography of the future … (p72)
Harbingers of the cult of youth realized that 1963 symbolized a sudden erosion of the old order as teenagers paraded their discontent while spending freely on glossy magazines … (p87)

There is a 73 page apparatus of notes documenting and supporting the text, the lengthier of which of which are also worth reading.  There is no bibliography, there’s a pretty full selected discography if that’s what you need, and an intriguing list – the fullest I’ve seen – of unreleased compositions.  In writing this piece I’ve tried to find a couple of items in the index and failed.

Rogan first published a book about The Kinks 30 years ago.  He’s also done books on, among others, Van Morrison, The Smiths, The Byrds and Neil Young, and wrote the well-regarded Starmakers & Svengalis, about the ’60s generation of pop and rock management.  His first Kinks book was subtitled The sound and the fury in the UK and, more significantly, in the United States, away from the lawyers, A mental institution; the writing of it was not made easy for him and it showed.  There’s been a lot of water under the (Waterloo) bridge since then, but Rogan’s tack hasn’t really changed.  I’m assuming he had some say in the photos to be used on the dust jacket.  When I looked to put a date to the photos chosen, Getty Images, who own it, had 1,605 others to choose from.  I can see the design attraction (glasses on, glasses off) but … from 1979?  Hardly the most auspicious year in Kinks history, and not exactly doing his subject any favours in the instant recognition stakes.  Never mind the candidature for worst dark glasses ever.

Why should Kinks aficionados read this book?  Because Rogan has talked to people other writers haven’t, or didn’t get much out of if they did.  So we get more about the year Ray was at the Hornsey College of Art than I’ve seen anywhere else, and more about his musical apprenticeship gigging with the Dave Hunt and Hamilton King bands before he committed to the group that was to become The Kinks.  Both pre-Avory drummers get to tell their tales and erstwhile (twice) manager Larry Page is given plenty of space.  We get Rasa’s view of their marriage, all the more interesting for being presented unsensationally, and, without being prurient or intrusive, more about wives two and three – talented women – than I’ve seen anywhere else into the bargain, and is interesting to know.  Ray has said he can’t write love songs, he only does break-up songs; it’s a quote I’m surprised not to see used here.  Although obviously Rogan is going over much well-trod ground, he doesn’t labour Ray’s formative family and school experiences in too much repetitive detail (though still plenty enough for it to be a revelation to a friend for whom all this was new).

Why will Kinks aficionados find it a painful read?  Because, while it’s no secret that Ray can be a nightmare to work and live with, how mean a man he can be, Rogan seems to me to be going out of his way to document this to the detriment of everything else.  Yes, he’s talked to other members of The Kinks over the years, but I do wonder about the direction of the questioning.  The pluses of the experience don’t get the exposure that you can find in other sources, like the lengthy interviews you can find on Geoff Lewis’s splendid Kast Off Kinks website, or in Tom Kitts & Michael Kraus’s collection of academic pieces and interviews, Living on a thin line (2002).  Nevertheless, it’s hard not to contest Larry Page when he says, “Ray just enjoyed being awkward,” and bitter long-suffering tour manager Sam Curtis pulls no punches in this regard.  As for the fights and the sibling rivalry – not especially illuminated by quotes lifted from articles in psychology journals – well, there is no getting away from it, over and over again.  Back-up vocalist Shirlie Roden has some revealing things to say about touring with the warring brothers, which makes depressing reading.  As does John ‘The Baptist’ Gosling’s withering letter to Record Collector in 2006:

… it’s not easy working with a megalomaniac, and I got tired of being abused just to justify Ray’s unreasonable and selfish demands.

There’s something D.H.Lawrence wrote in his Studies in Classic American Literature – “Never trust the artist.  Trust the tale.” – that has to apply here.  We’ll come to Rogan’s problematic appreciation of the art later, but he certainly doesn’t trust the artist, and not, it must be admitted, without some cause.  He challenges the mythology, the narrative Ray has applied to, among other things, the ‘injustice’ of the NME Prizewinners’ concert (“Ray’s attempt to rewrite history was not merely eccentric but downright peculiar“), how much blame Larry Page should take for the early American tour debacle, or just how much of a commercial failure The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society was first time around; it was probably actually “a modest seller.”.  He runs down sources to back up such suppositions too.  On another tack, he logs, for example, a whole range of explanations delivered in interviews over the years – he barely scratches the surface, I suspect – of the genesis and meaning of Waterloo sunset.

When it comes down to it, I’m not sure Rogan trusts the tales so much as takes them on trust a lot of time either.  He’s no musicologist – doesn’t try, no bad thing – but nor do I don’t get any great love of music springing from the pages of this book.  It hasn’t got me racing to the turntable – always a decent measure of a book about musicians, surely, no matter how well the reader knows the songs.  Of course, it’s a truism that Kinks fans will always disagree about particular albums and songs, but I think he undersells a lot of the Kinks work from all eras, not least Phobia (“without Ray’s strongest songwriting” – really? Scattered?), never mind the brilliant Muswell hillbillies.  Does Arthur really sound “somewhat anti-climactic by comparison” with the single of Shangri-la that preceded it?  Mind, he does find Sleepwalker unimpressive and even finds a Ray quote saying he’s not convinced about it either, so it’s not all bad.

I don’t know how much he’s seen of The Kinks in performance (not too much, I’d wager), but I get no sense that he’s seen much, if anything, of Ray performing solo, or with the new band.  I get no sense from this book of the magic – of his joy in performing, the skill, the artistry, the energy – of what I saw when I was privileged to see him doing, say, Stand Up Comic at The Stables a few years back, of the absolute glee of his leap at that bit in The tourist, of the massive achievement of the Village Green Preservation Society suite with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Crouch End Festival Chorus in 2011, or the brilliant music-making of the three-pronged acoustic guitar trio on the Americana tour.  He almost certainly did see him as the narrator of Ray’s play, Come dancing, at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East.  But note the barbed, begrudging, proviso:

Never before had he been this revealing or more endearingly human.  Onstage at Stratford East, his more puzzling, petty and negative personality traits were consumed by the emergence of Davies the humanitarian.  Were he a great actor, this would be one of the most astonishing performances of his life […]  This was the Ray Davies of songs such as ‘Waterloo Sunset’, a fragment of a more complex persona but, for fans and idealists, the true essence of the man.

 clinnerAlmost finished here.  There was a surprise lurking under the dust jacket.  Not unwelcome, makes a change.  Matt laminate.  Not sure I understand what’s going on.  Vaguely reminiscent pattern and colours from the car on that old Marble Arch album?  Click on the pic to get a blow-up.  Looks like the image is taken from the back cover – those glasses – but … what happened to his mouth?  What is it all supposed to mean?  The creator remains anonymous, uncredited.

Before we leave the page within, though, a few thoughts and things that tickled my fancy that don’t fit in anywhere else:

  • I was hoping for more football.  That all those hours Rogan spent in the British Library newspaper and magazine archive at Colindale might have unearthed more details in local papers of the show biz teams the brothers played in, who with, who against, how did it go?  And I know you can’t include everything, but I missed the story about the group being late for a gig in Torquay because the 1966 World Cup Final went into extra time, and the fact that it was goalscorer Geoff Hurst that Ray chose to induct The Kinks into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005 rather than someone, like most, from within the music industry.  Because surely both are an important part of the genuine Ray Davies narrative of him not being like everybody else.
  • Fascinated to learn that the song Apeman might have been inspired at least in part by the David Warner character in the film Morgan, a suitable case for treatment(1966), one of my favourite films, that Ray identified with in his first crisis as a successful Kink.
  • There’s a wonderful quote in the chapter bravely titled The Negro’s Revenge (that taken from an early anti-rock’n’roll diatribe in a newspaper): “Contemporaneous studies such as … Richard Hoggart’s The uses of literacy … lamented the Americanization [sic] of modern society with unabashedly partisan zeal.  Hoggart’s description of a mundane coffee bar had the tone of a religious pamphlet mixed with the portentous prose of a science fiction novel.”  He’s right, it’s hilarious; it’s the end of the world as we know it.  (And Hoggart was one of the good guys!)
  • That story about the Registrar refusing to marry Ray and Chrissie Hynde because they were arguing too much?  Not true.  By the time they’d stopped arguing they’d simply missed their allotted time slot.
  • Shel Talmy: “Ray made Rod Stewart look like a philanthropist.” You have to laugh.
  • Did you know that Ray had changed his name by deed poll to simply Raymond Douglas by the time of his second marriage?  Neither did I.

EverybodyEverybody loves Raymond

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  If you don’t know the tv programme that ran from 1996 to 2005 in the US then, if you’ll excuse the imputation, you should.  It’s one of the most brilliantly sustained ensemble family sitcoms, well, ever.  This side of FrasierEverybody loves Raymond is both title and wearily delivered catchphrase out of the resentful mouth of his sibling Robert (the tall one at the back).  Raymond (blue checked shirt) is a bit of a monster.  I’m secretly in love with wife Debra (in the red) and only slightly less so on learning that the actress who plays her is an active pro-lifer.  And yes, that is Peter Boyle.  In context, his delivery, the pained yell of, “I used to be a gentleman” is quite simply one of the great comic lines of all time.  In the UK early morning cyclical re-runs of Everybody loves Raymond and Frasier on Channel4 (and an hour later again on Channel4+1) are reason enough to get out of bed of a morning.

james-mcmurtry_complicated-gameIt’s complicated

As it happens, the last two purchases I made from Amazon (I know, I know, I feel dirty) have the word ‘complicated’ in the title.  James McMurtry‘s Complicated game is prime modern Americana.  It’s on Spotify so go find.  Try the rockiest track, How’m I gonna find you now: “I’m a-washing down my blood pressure pill with a Red Bull.”  I doubt I’ll hear a better new album this year.  If a new Ray Davies album does come along, I’ll be happy if it comes anywhere close.  Baffling cover, mind.

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Blimey.  Done more this last week than since the last time on holiday.  So the intention here is for whistle stops, and given that brevity has been conspicuously absent from Lillabullero for some time now it should be good training.  Let us first bring on the books …

Scan heft front Scan heft backHeft

First thing to say about the edition of Liz Moore‘s Heft (Hutchinson, 2012) I read is: What a great cover, reflecting as it does beautifully the house in which a lot of the novel’s action takes place; and I love the steps leading up to the barcode on the back – take a bow Nathan Burton.  Click on the back cover and you’ll get some specifics, but without giving too much away – it says it’s ‘restorative’ on the cover – I’ll just add it’s a story of four lost souls, vividly told alternatively by two of them, one of whom rather annoying never spells out ‘and’, which is represented by an ampersand throughout his testimony.  The one who doesn’t make it, a particularly significant one, we only meet by hearsay and in her letters.  I zipped through Heft, engaged and moved by their various wretched situations; I don’t think the teenage boy would be out of place in a Donna Tartt novel.  It’s a really good read, the more so if you don’t think about it too hard; it suffers, this cynic would say, for all its contemporary New York locale, from a touch of that good ol’ American (modern Dickensian) sentimentality.  I read it because it was a Reading Group choice, but I liked it well enough, have no regrets for the time spent.

Darkness darknessDarkness, darkness

I’ve missed Charlie Resnick so it was good to see John Harvey had bought him back for a final fling with Darkness, darkness (Heinemann, 2014); Harvey’s other lead characters never came near Resnick’s resonance.  No longer a copper but working as a humdrum civilian investigator in the police service – “keeping the stairlift away” – he gets actively involved in a case again when a body is found in the process of a street demolition in an ex-mining village.  It’s a case going back to the dark days of the miners’ strike, a political milieu full of perils for the fiction writer which Nottinghamian Harvey treats even-handedly – and cites sources and contacts in an appendix to this end – while hiding nothing:

‘There was a lot of what we did that wasn’t right,’ Resnick said eventually.  ‘A lot we should have done differently or not done at all.  And a great deal of what happened locally, well, that was taken out of our hands. Not much of an excuse, maybe, but there it is.  But I met some good people, no mistaking that.  Either side of the picket line.’

Scargill’s tactics – how things could have been different in the Notts coalfields – get a critical airing too.  The scars of the conflict are still there as the investigation proceeds three decades on, with the women’s part in the strike an important element of the plot.  Chapters describing events concerning the murdered woman at the time of the strike cut intriguingly into the main investigation narrative.  The outcome is a long way from what might have been at the start, with the crucial intellectual breakthrough in the case down to Resnick’s passion for jazz, which also gets a familiar airing in passing throughout.

Darkness, darkness is a worthy coda to the canon.  His personal situation – ageing, wearied, crotchety, grieving, still interested – is affectionately and adeptly handled, and, fans, rest assured: he doesn’t die.

Pedant’s corner: in the ongoing query as to what editors and proof readers do for their money these days, how do you flick your headlights at someone “waiting patiently to overtake”?  And would a pro-strike miner get away with making a speech criticising the “false promises” of the NUM rather than, as it should obviously read in context, the NCB (p221 in the paperback)?

xoa-coverlores1Anais Mitchell

Saw Anais Mitchell at a stupidly un-sold-out Stables on Monday – the side seats were empty – but if anything that added to the intimacy.  Support and occasional accompanist Rachel Ries opened with a set of songs that kept the audience fully engaged, and – nice touch – was joined by her friend Anais for her last number.  Anais came out and was stunning from the outset.  She’s a decent singer, with a neat inflection, and a fine acoustic guitarist with a folksy presence that belies the power of her compositions.  She has an endearing habit of – standing with her guitar throughout – fidgeting about on her feet, (mostly softly) stamping or shuffling, the tour de force being a natural/naturalised balancing on one leg temporarily resting the other on the calf of her standing leg.  Her voice is much stronger live than heard on previous records, and the spare unaccompanied performances of songs from Hadestown and Young man in America (especially an intense Why we build the wall from the former, where opera-style, it’s sung by someone else, and the title track of the latter) really gripped emotionally; both are on Xoa, the fine new album of re-workings illustrated here.  Young man in America is a devastating, concerned song, looking into the void.  If she weren’t a song writer she’d be a writer, no question.  Wearing pretty new H&M dresses – I’m only telling you this because she told us – she and Rachel, when the latter came out again to add harmonies or piano, towering I guess a foot over Anais, were enjoying each other’s and our company.  It was a great night and, icing on the cake, for an encore, lovely touch, unplugged and un-miked they stepped in front of the monitors and gave us a thoroughly acoustic little country ditty.  Refreshing (well I’ve not seen it done before) and so satisfying.  Audience exit smiling.

MK Rose Nov 11Scribal Armistice

Tuesday was Armistice Day and we joined a small group of MK Humanists joined local worthies and other members of the public at the secular civic act of Remembrance at the MK Rose.  A bit blowy, but it was a relief it kept dry.  Not exactly massed ranks but everyone pleasantly surprised at the size of the turnout, a genuine gathering, the feeling being that this was now an established event in the civic calendar.  A feature of the ceremony, along with all the usual – the Exhortation, Last Post, Reveille, the laying of the wreaths and the Kohima Epitaph – was the reading of Day of names, an apt poem written by MK Poet Laureate Mark Niel for the occasion.

Scribal Nov 2014And the theme continued in the evening, with the November Scribal Gathering featuring a moving 20 minute reprise extract from The hell where youth and laughter go, the World War 1 commemoration in poetry put together earlier in the year by the late Scribal regular (and many other things) Dick Skellington.  Remembrance of one sort or other became something of a theme as the evening progressed with Alzheimer’s the topic of a Caz epic and touched on by others.   Couple of notable first time poets of distinction were blooded (rotten metaphor for a vegetarian, I know, but it is a rite of passage), while Mr Gurner performed a Japan classic, solo on the modern equivalent of Sparky’s Magic Piano, and Mr Frost was back in charge of proceedings (though, if memory hasn’t failed, sans chapeau.

Terror and wonderLondon libraries

And so to London for a celebration, but first Terror and wonder at the British Library.  A wide-ranging exhibition sub-titled The Gothic Imagination had me absorbed for a couple of hours or more.  Always a favourite place to visit in London, I was enticed this time by Andrew Graham-Dixon’s three parter on the telly, which for the first time seemed to make sense for me of the relation of Gothic architecture to all the horror stuff, from John Ruskin to The wickerman in easy stages.  Not so much of Ruskin and the general architecture here, but there was plenty else to take in.  Like Castle of Otranto author Walpole’s Strawberry Hill villa (hence Strawberry Hill Gothic as per Stony’s St Mary & St Giles Church) and Dr Dee’s obsidian scrying mirror that was part of Walpole’s collection.  Indeed, many things; I’ll just point at random to a goth adaptation called Jane Slayre (there were more); an aged cabinet housing a similarly aged but impressive ‘Vampire slaying kit’ (no example found older than the early ’70s);  original illustrations from Patrick Ness’s A monster calls (which Lillabullero raved about this time last year); and as part of a photographic essay of a goth weekend at Whitby, a goth football team (or is it even a goth football tournament as part of the entertainments?)  For the first time in my life the thought occurs that I might actually read Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Different kind of horror show at the 50th birthday ‘celebration’ of the iconic Swiss Cottage Library, which just happened to be the first port of call of my 40 year library career.  Missed the first introductory bit because Transport for London deemed it necessary to close Swiss Cottage station for the brief time I needed to use it so had to walk back down the Finchley Road (and nearly got run down by a honking taxi – one forgets about London traffic), but I was reassured later I’d missed nothing.  Then a rambling interview all about the building with a surviving member of Basil Spence’s architectural practice, and absolutely nothing about how it was a beacon in the library world for a decade, about the good old days of a thriving library, no recollections of how it felt to use it or work there.  Then some sort of performance art/mime performance that nodded to all the library clichés (“shhh…”) while most of us nodded off, culminating in a less than rousing ‘Happy birthday’.  Orange juice and crisps!  Good to see old colleagues, though, and even better, old friends in the pub afterwards.

mkg2

Photo taken from the MK Gallery website http://www.mkgallery.org/exhibitions/ where there is a lot more information.

An-My Lê

Went back for a second look at the An-My Lê exhibition at Milton Keynes Gallery.  As a child she was airlifted out of Vietnam near the end of the war to settle in America.  Was really impressed with the Events ashore sequence of large colour photographs in the Long Gallery.  Her subject is war and the military but she’s not a war photographer; rather she, to quote the leaflet, “explored the myth and memory of war.”  There a some stunning compositions here – like the hospital ship in the accompanying photo, and the medics awaiting casualties – beautifully composed in both sense of the word.  There is quietness, stillness, vehicle patterns in the snow and other seemingly set pieces, but such is the subject matter there must always be the unstated implication you cannot escape, even in the missions of humanitarian aid, of potential violence, the uniforms, behind the picture.  It’s an extraordinary feeling, not so much alarming as haunting.  Thought the video installation worked too – on one wall black and white close-ups and middle shots of troops in training being instructed, filmed movie quality; on the adjoining wall at right angles, long-range, less focussed film of a landscape in which a training exercise battle is taking place, the soldiers like ants.

Further musical adventures

Hey, and Saturday the awesome energy of women dancing at a party (happy birthdays L & S) with three bands – The Outside This, The Box Ticked (Waterloo!), and the impressive Fear of Ray.  Which gives me a chance to introduce events the next day with …

… but there was no fear of Ray at this year’s Official Kinks Fan Club Konvention at Tufnell Park’s Boston Arms.  And indeed, Ray Davies did turn up briefly to wish us well and lead us through a truncated You really got me (50 years old this year, same as, I suddenly realise, Swiss Cottage Library).  Now in the past I’ve given this escapade a big write-up and it’s got flagged in the splendid Kinda Kinks unofficial website and I get more visitors here at Lillabullero in the next couple of days than I get in a month.  But  I can’t see that happening this year.

Waterlow Park 2014.  Not the usual autumn leaves pic.  Something more reflective.  Oh, and Where's Wally?

Waterlow Park 2014. Not the usual autumn leaves pic. Something more reflective. Oh, and Where’s Wally? (Click and click again to enlarge).

But first, the annual pilgrimage to Highgate’s Waterlow Park, where I spent many a pleasant hour when I first moved to London.  And down Dartmouth Park Hill to the Boston with cranes much in evidence on the London skyline.

The thing is, the Konvention used to be special.  But for the Kast Off Kinks these days it’s … well it’s not quite just another gig, because (apart, of course for Dave) they’re all there, including Deb and Shirlie, and this is hard-core Kinks fans, who come from far and wide.  Now they’re regularly gigging throughout the land, not much new is happening on stage.  Not that they do not put on a decent show, but the sound is crap.  The bass, with either Nobby or Jim playing, is – there’s probably a technical term for it, but – too fucking loud an awful lot of the time.  No, I don’t swear very much on Lillabullero.  The bass coming out of the speakers is at times serious industrial noise pollution rather than music and it drowns out Ian Gibbons’ fine keyboard tinklings when he hasn’t got said keyboard functioning as an organ – his swirling away behind certain songs was a musical highlight for me.

KOK Phil Anthony WardDave Clark (the other Dave Clark, the one who’s still alive) puts in his usual sterling performance in the Ray and Dave roles (though thankfully not fighting among himself) and the others were fine.  I dunno.  Maybe it’s the familiarity, and/or I’m getting old and jaded.  Also, there were (no bad thing in itself) backing singers – here’s photographic evidence.  I certainly saw three young Swedish women trot through the crowd onto and off the side of the stage more than once, and heard them introduced, and Deb and Shirlie were there too, but apart from the latter two’s solo spots I never heard any of their contributions.  The sound improved for the closing rock and roll sequence and the final rousing Louie, Louie was great as ever, with Ian’s percussive Hammond-setting extemporisation outstanding.

And another thing …  Oh yes, it was too crowded – uncomfortably so; to quote one of Ray’s songs, “too many people.”  To be honest I have to say that the not necessarily worthiest part of me says I preferred it when Ray Davies was an unacknowledged national treasure.  Still, you have to pay tribute to the hard work that goes into this shindig, so again, thanks OKFC.  It’s always good to greet old friends and Kink community acquaintances.  But next year can we have raffle tickets that don’t change colour under the UV lights, please?

Dodo Bones by danni

Percussionist hidden, not a 4-legged Robbyn Snow. Photo (c) Danni Antagonist

The Konvention is an afternoon gig, so I’m back in time for the excellent Dodo Bones at the Old George.  Robbyn Snow has an extraordinarily expressive voice – country-tinged soul (maybe) contralto is the best I can describe it.  Tonight as well as regular partner, guitarist Stephen Patmore – they often gig as a duo – they are more than ably accompanied by Ian, the one in the Antipoet with the double bass, and the augmented – bass drum pedal attached and one-man band cymbal on the other foot – cajon percussionist hidden in the picture.  And a fine time was had.  Their own more than decent songs were interwoven with some craftily crafted self-confessed “cheesy” covers.  So you suddenly realise it’s a countrified Let me entertain you, they’re playing, and it works beautifully – a better song than you expected.  Specific lines in a raunchy Rihanna track with lyrics approaching the status of an instruction manual is greeted with laughter; “I am so pleased you laughed at that,” says Robbyn.  Spoiler alert: they close with Hey hey we’re the Monkees.  A delightful evening.

 Actual dodo bones

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Monday, March 3.  Not the usual way to start a week.  More’s the shame.  This post takes it for granted that:  i). The Stables in MK is a great little venue, and ii). you have a fair idea of what Ray Davies has achieved down all the days, and furthermore – iii). a few other things.

The Rails' album out in May - bit of a genre shot? It's on pink label Island.

The Rails’ album out in May – bit of a genre shot? It’s on pink label Island.

Neat lively and lyrical short support set from The RailsThe Rails are James Walbourne (“a teenage prodigy” it says here on their Facebook page, though he’s older than that now) and Kami Thompson (yes, a relation).  In as much as Fairport Convention were the British The Band – not that that is meant to diminish their achievement in any way –  I’d venture by the same token The Rails are shaping up to become the British Gillian Welch and David Rawlings in the near future.  James has the guitar chops in abundance and he contributed greatly to the main show when called upon, which was, lucky for us, a lot of the time.

Americana UK editionRay came on, initially with just regular guitar accompanist Bill Shanley; both were stationed well back from the front of the stage.  He told us tonight was “an experiment”.  The evening still involved more music than anything else, of course, but, as per earlier Storyteller/X-Ray tours, it was punctuated with a number of recitations from his new book Americana: The Kinks, the road and the perfect riff (reviewed earlier here on Lillabullero) and this time around, to add further spice, some rough-cut ‘home’ videos illustrating various aspects of the book, during which they left the stage (and a few members of the audience went to the toilet).  There were some new songs – hurrah! – the lyrics, or at least fragments thereof, had first been seen tantalizingly in the pages of Americana; there were some lesser known songs from his and The Kinks‘ back catalogue; and a fair sprinkling of the usual crowd favourites, mostly at the start and end, some given the by now traditional singalong treatment.

It was a great evening.  Fears that Ray’s voice was on its way out were soon allayed and he was in comfortable good form with the banter, mentioning Arsenal a couple of times.  I thought the format worked well.  Never mind that the idea of the ‘experiment’ was probably designed on an artistic level, to set up a few theatrical ‘moments’, given that Ray Davies is 70 this year I’d say he deserves a chance to recharge his batteries during proceedings, to preserve the voice, and while anecdotage from the queue in the toilets revealed a little disquiet from the odd attendee moaning about the videos (they might have been better off at a Kast Off Kinks gig), I found them absorbing, though I’d have to grant that is more likely the case more for fans of a certain ilk carrying a fair bit of pre-knowledge.

What struck me after the event was the realisation of just how much of an ensemble performance the outstanding moments were, with James Walbourne there on stage with Ray and the ever-present Bill.  An exquisite ensemble with the added bonus of including writer Ray Davies on lead vocals – always in charge, of course – but in the actual performance functioning as one of the trio, enjoying himself immensely and in awe of the instrumental prowess going on either side of him.  Quite literally no backing band this, lined up as they were across the stage, though their back-up vocals added another dimension when called upon.  Not that Ray Davies is a slouch as a guitarist himself, but the three-pronged acoustic attack, when in place, was a thing of many-shaded wonder to behold: exciting, inventive, powerful, beautiful.

Bill Shanley‘s jazzy embellishments have been a delightful part of Ray’s subtle reshaping of his old songs for a while now, but the addition of the folkier Walbourne to this show gave us a perfect British take on the music known vaguely as Americana. The workouts on Dead End Street and The Getaway were outstanding.  Who needs bass and drums?  Seriously: if you can be a part of music-making this good, why would you want to go back to being in a rock and roll band?  I see absolutely no musical point in a Kinks reformation in this 50th anniversary year of You really got me – if there’s any validity it can only be as a one-off symbolic gesture.  Even if that record still sounds as fresh now – despite its use in a hundred adverts – as it did then back then.

Just a few other random afterthoughts:
Strange that of the Kinks albums with the most relevance to the theme – the English Americana of the ’50s & ’60s mind – the great Muswell Hillbillies – they only played Twentieth Century Man (with updated date line) and nothing from the Arista albums, from Sleepwalker on, with which The Kinks conquered the States, and which take up a fair amount of time in the book.  But I look forward to Ray’s next album, intrigued whether he uses the arrangements on display here.  I’ve heard that beat before (or whatever the official title is) sounds particularly potent.  One of the video sequences reminded me what an under-rated song – though there are many of those in Ray’s canon – the actual song Storyteller is.

I’ll sign off with a random picture of Ray Davies from the cover of France’s premier popular music magazine, just for the sake of it.  When the forehead wasn’t quite such a feature:
Rock&Folk cover

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