Lonely Boy – Steve Jones, the biography

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I was there when punk broke. It was exciting. There was a sense that music, and the way that young people saw the world around them, was changing. The Boomtown Rats, Buzzcocks, Magazine, and Jam first tours, the Clash complete control tour, the Damned, Siouxsie, the Stranglers, all of that was happening around me. They were gigs I saw. I knew that something special was unfolding.

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Svengali Malcolm McLaren

The Sex Pistols were an anomaly. Undoubtedly the flag around which punk gathered, exactly what they were, was uncertain. For a start not many saw them play live. The relatively small numbers of shows they did play were at small venues, with attendances measured in hundreds, not thousands. Were the Pistols the band, or were they an artifice, puppets for puppet master Malcolm McLaren? Everything they did seemed to revolve round hyperbole. The “Anarchy” single was rudimentary, not revolutionary “God Save the Queen” was a PR masterstroke, the “Bollocks” album created more controversy for its title, than the music. Then there was the question of the music. “Pretty Vacant” was a classic single with a killer intro, and infectious sing a long chorus. Beyond that, little endures.

 

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Matlock Era Pistols- the classic line up

The Steve Jones biography has to be viewed in that context. With Mclaren dead, and Johnny Rotten as unreliably mouthy as ever, I looked to “Lonely Boy” as an opportunity for a more considered window into a hall of smoke and mirrors. It is helpfully divided into three sections, Before the Pistols, During, and After, and is surprisingly factual. Throughout it is an uneasy juxtaposition of push and shove as Jones regales us with prurient, salacious titbits, which in the end become quite laborious. Contrasted with factual progression was is often disappointingly scant.

 

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The infamous, ill fated, Sid era Pistols

Jones’ obsession with sex, and predilection for thievery, is a constant. A constancy which becomes tiresome. You only need to be told he is irresistible to women a few times. His thievery smacks as much of attention seeking as criminality or need. Yet amongst the spunk and stolen goods are some gems. Punk era Jones did not even have a bank account. Jones, far from being lonely, had drummer Cook by his side, while Rotten and Matlock were the outsiders. Vicious was an innocent pawn of McLaren’s Machiavellian masterplan, unlamented, unmissed, unloved.

 

To some extent the myth is laid bare. Jones was a music fan who learned the guitar to a fashion that made him competent and marketable. He would have loved to have been in The Clash and liked American Soft Rock. His gift has been charm and resilience, the latter in evidence with his musical career culminating in his current LA DJ career, the latter in his survival of sex, alcohol, drug and kleptomania dependence. His friendship with early conquest Chrissie Hynde has endured, but it has to be said that she did better as her career unfolded.

 

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Chrissie Hynde

His biography is light, readable and of interest to any contemporary with an interest in the punk scene. But it falls well short of the exaggerated claims on the front and back covers. The “puff pieces” are no doubt down to the connections of biographer and journalist Ben Thompson. Ben Thompson is one of Britain’s most respected cultural critics. He currently contributes to the FT, Mojo and the Sunday Telegraph. As well as two critically acclaimed collections of rock journalism (Seven Years of Plenty and Ways of Hearing) and a landmark history of modern British comedy (Sunshine on Putty), he has also co-written memoirs with Vic Reeves (Me Moir), Phil Daniels (Class Actor), Mike Skinner (The Story of the Streets) and others. Worth reading, not worth buying, Steve would not mind if you stole a copy.

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The Grand Old Days- Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

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***
A music hall variety show indebted to the “Good Old Days” format which was so popular on television fifty years ago. Vintage films were playing in the foyer to capture the mood for the audience. On stage, period photograph projections evoked chattered reminiscing. Ian Adams is chairman for the evening, combining master of ceremony duties, with solo and ensemble singing. Confident and ebullient, he kept proceedings moving at a brisk pace. All of the acts made two appearances, one in each half. Panto and comic local favourite Don Maclean topped the bill with material which was aimed squarely at the predominantly elderly audience. It is quite common to observe parents waiting for their children in the foyer as the evening ends, this night, there were children waiting for their parents!

 

 
The star was singer Julie Paton. Her vocals, stage craft, and charisma engaged all whenever she was on stage, her performance of “Burlington Bertie” was a sassy delight. Magic duo Van Buren and Allyson managed to combine retro kitsch with a smile. Plate spinning, unicycling, straight jacket escaping, and dress changing all made an appearance, with Van Buren providing the gasps, and the glamorous Allyson the sighs and sights. All the traditional songs that you would expect were there. An onstage three piece band provided musical accompaniment. With all the ingredients in place, the audience were given what they came for- plenty of sing a long opportunities, and no shortage of laughs, particularly from Don Maclean.

 

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Audience members entered into the spirit of the evening

 
This, the first of three performances, was not without its teething problems. The Director’s notebook will have been full. Soloists went unlit, microphones did not come on to cue, and so many songs were crammed in that, particularly in the second half, they were performed at a speed which the Ramones would have been proud of. The projected finishing time was significantly over run resulting in some members of the audience leaving early too. Presumably to meet travel commitments. Although Julie Paton excelled on the vocals front, some of her fellow cast did not. A more ruthless approach from the Director and Musical Director can easily correct a show whose fundamentals are strong, but whose discipline on the opening night, was weak.
Finishes its run with two performances on 5/6/18.

Gary Longden

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Stomp! Birmingham Hippodrome


After a fifteen year run in London, Stomp is now stomping around the provinces on tour. What is it? Loosely fitting into the physical theatre genre, it is a musical without narrative, a street comedy without words. A professional production which, for once, does not abuse the meaning of the word unique. A segment from the show was used in the closing ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012, and is showing, around the world with five productions running simultaneously.

Originating in Brighton, Stomp was created by Steve McNicholas and Luke Cresswell in 1991 as a percussive extravaganza utilizing street tricks and juggling that both had explored in earlier work. The basics remain unchanged, pulsating rhythms driven by everyday objects, borrowing the visceral impact of the music of a show like “Riverdance”, without the dancing, costumes, or need for musicians. The tour accountant will be happy.

A street/ yard set provides abundant fodder for banging, buckets, signs, ladders and pipes, together, they create quite a thorubos. This is not a show to watch if suffering from a hangover. There is no interval for its hundred minute duration, much to the Bar Manager’s despair. The absence of a break is strange because the production is episodic, and could easily take one. But, as it is, no-one should miss the last bus or train home. It opens to the sound of a gentle, insistent, brush before building, by degrees, to a level where everything including the kitchen sink is thrown at the joyous cacophony. A pole fighting contest is straight out of Little John and Robin Hood, culminating in a gladiatorial display, with dustbin lids as shields, which Ridley Scott must be kicking himself not to have thought of himself. The outsized tin boots would have Elton John, green with envy.

The singlets, dungarees and hard hats have a touch of the Village People about them, the predominantly female audience were certainly not complaining about that. An ethnically and gender diverse cast also produced a similarly diverse audience- casting directors take note. The running time may not hold the attention of young children, though older children, those for whom English is not a first language, and those whose visits to the theatre are infrequent, will find this accessible and rewarding. Seasoned theatre buffs will enjoy this off-beat, but on rhythm, show in which the eight stage performers throw everything at their performance. A family show for a family audience who rose in appreciation at the final curtain.

Gary Longden

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Brighton Rock – Derby Theatre

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Brighton Rock is one of the great 20th century British novels first published in 1938, later adapted for film in 1947, and again in 2010. This stage adaptation by Bryony Lavery is a timely reassessment of the work set in 1930’s Brighton. A “Peaky Blinders” for the South Coast. Ostensibly, the story is a crime noir, a thriller, visceral, brutal and unforgiving. Lavery offers us a literal and metaphorical noir, with dark space between spotlights, edgy, and riddled with angst. Episodic and jarring. Underpinning it is Greene’s Catholic world view, something rarely given a 21st century outing, a religious prologue, and epilogue, bookending the production.

There is a moment in the second act when seventeen year old anti-hero Pinkie Brown (Jacob James Beswick) pauses from his path of psychotic mayhem, his eyes staring out into the distance distant beyond, but simultaneously looking inwards into his own soul. He leads life on the edge, each vicious encounter a dramatization of the real life Russian roulette which Greene used to dabble in. Brown is a thug on the up, a Brighton Face who has stepped into the shoes of his erstwhile boss. But a revenge-murder is witnessed by a young waitress, Rose, whom he decides to marry to avoid the possibility of adverse testimony. An unlikely, love hate, Romeo and Juliet plot evolves. He loves her, he hates her, he loves his life, he hates what it makes him do. Sarah Middleton’s, Rose is naïve, but sound, she understands she is being manipulated, but has no idea of what love is. She is a girl thrust into a bleak adult world. Brown, for all his brash bravado, is a boy struggling in a man’s world. If in doubt- lash out.

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The entire play is a prolonged contemplation of the melancholy of Brown, a transcription and translation of his despair and the pain of his uncertainty. Moral failure is not only inevitable for Brown; it is also necessary for redemption. The world of sin finds its release in knife pulling, acid attacks, attempted murders, and turf wars. And it is here, amidst these sordid exploits, that Greene searches for Divine Grace. The play revels in social realism, good and evil, and the line between.

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Brown is counterpointed by “tart with a heart” Ida, (Gloria Onitiri), who is the star of the show. Her understated beauty itself counterpointed by a mellifluous, doleful, versatile voice, her statuesque figure swathed in crimson and leopard print.Ida, looks out for Rose, her humanity an antidote for the brutality around her, a beacon of hope. Defiant, it is she who wants to uncover the true circumstances of the death of a man with whom she was fleetingly acquainted. Her face to face confrontations with Brown are highlights as her dominating presence dwarfs that of her rat like opponent. Her relationship with companion Jack, sensitively played by Chris Jack, is a tantalisingly explored sub-plot.

Artistic director, Pilot Theatre’s Esther Richardson, offers us a wonderful period vision. The stage is dominated by an iron walkway, looming above the stage. Sara Perks’ stage design enables it, spot lit to becomes a pier, a bedroom, a nightclub and bar. No brash seaside colours intrude, just an all -pervading sense of gloom. Hannah Peel’s insistent musical score is omnipresent, manifested live by two onstage musicians, driving the tragedy on.

Brighton Rock is a visual delight, the longer second half more satisfying than the first. I was uneasy about the dramatization of the climax, which convention dictates I cannot reveal. A bolder showdown was called for. Continues until 19th May, before finishing its nationwide tour in Manchester the following week.

Gary Longden

 

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Mountains: The Dreams of Lily Kwok – Derby Theatre

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***

A play, playwright, and story, that were all new to me, adding a large dollop of intrigue on the opening night.

The playwright In -Sook Chappell is a Korean-born, London-based playwright and filmmaker. She studied dance in New York at Alvin Ailey before moving into acting. Her first play won the Verity Bargate Award. Her work for theatre includes; This Isn’t Romance and Tales of the Harrow Road at the Soho Theatre; Absence at the Young Vic; P’yongyang at Finborough; and Mountains at the Royal Exchange. Her work in film includes Full , and Kotchebi , and has made work for Film4 and BBC Radio 3.

The play is based upon a story by Helen Tse, MBE,” Sweet Mandarin”, a memoir of three generations of Chinese women, beginning with her grandmother, Lily Kwok, establishing themselves in Manchester . Before she became an author and restaurateur, she studied law at Cambridge University and then worked in finance and law .

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Director Jennifer Tang graduated from UEA in 2004 and is in demand across the country. She specialises in multi-disciplinary work which for this production involves on stage cooking! As a British born woman of Chinese descent she is well placed to present the story.

Ostensibly this is the familiar, but specific, story of an immigrant’s fight to establish herself in a new country. But as it unfolds, the reason for the touring success of this production becomes apparent. It is an Everyman tale which everyone should be able to empathise with, as well as a tribute to the play’s eponymous heroine. Its focus is food and family.

In an era of Brexit, the writing celebrates the qualities and resilience of refugees and immigrants and the contribution that they can make as demonstrated by Lily’s Sweet Mandarin restaurant. Food is used as a connecting theme, the onstage aromas drawing the audience in with real dishes prepared and cooked onstage, uniting cast and audience. Family recipes are offered as a badge of identity and a unifying cross- generational device.

Tina Chiang beautifully unfolds the character of Lily, an ordinary woman doing extraordinary things, an anonymous face which demands prominence. She is the standard bearer for several diverse themes, migration, identity , assimilation, colonialism, faith and superstition, amongst them, as well as the roles and expectations different societies, and cultures, have of women.

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Helen (Siu- See Hung) has been brought up in the UK by her Chinese family. She has always felt that a part of her story, and her, her identity, were missing. Thus she heads out to Hong Kong to visit her mother’s birthplace for the first time. However when she swaps Manchester’s Deansgate for Hong Kong she not only finds her grandmother, Lily Kwok, she also discovers things which will change her destiny.

Characters, time and locations do shift in a dream like way, meaning that you do have to pay attention, and sometimes work a bit harder than usual to work out what is going on. It is also narrative driven, told as a story. To illustrate the mix of old and new, samples of traditional Chinese songs are mixed with a modern electronic score, courtesy of Elena Pena, composed by Ruth Chan. Amelia Jane Hankin’s stage set is a marvel featuring a platform that can be deconstructed and reconfigured, Transformers style, into pretty much anything, lit pleasingly by Amy Mae, part of an all -female creative team.

“Mountains” IS different. Pleasingly so. It is also very good, taking the audience on a journey that tugs on the heart-strings, and tantalises the nostrils in equal measure. A set menu to savour- runs until Saturday 12th May.

Gary Longden

 

 

 

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Crazy for You – Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

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****
This was the first time I had seen this show. It seems as though it has been around forever, with the songs familiar by a process of popular osmosis. Yet upon conducting some dutiful pre-review research, I was surprised to discover that I was mistaken. It was written as recently as 1992. Ken Ludwig rewrote the book of a 1930 Gershwin musical, “Girl Crazy”, but retained only five of the original 19 numbers. The balance amounts to George and Ira Gershwin’s greatest hits. Thus, in some respects, “Crazy for You” can lay claim to be the first modern Jukebox musical.

 

 

Billed as a romantic comedy, we follow the fortunes of Bobby and Polly. Bobby Child is sent to close a failing theatre in 1930’s Deadrock, Nevada. He falls for Polly Baker and, assuming the persona of an Hungarian impresario, Zangler, decides to save the theatre by putting on a show. Mistaken identity, love heartbreak and joy await. The plot utilises a theatrical favourite, the show within a show, but the cast breathe life into the device. Tom Chambers, as Bobby, and Claire Sweeney as Irene, offer the star billing, but it is Charlotte Wakefield’s Polly who dominates the proceedings with a wonderful virtuoso performance.

18. CRAZY FOR YOU. Tom Chambers 'Bobby' and Charlotte Wakefield 'Polly' and Company. Photo Richard Davenport.

 

The show is vibrant, packed with great songs and awash with a feel-good mood, courtesy of Paul Hart’s direction and Nathan Wright’s choreography. The best known song is,“ I Got Rhythm” , a wonderful set piece of movement and colour. A battery of percussion provides a visceral, as well as a cerebral highlight, enhanced by the onstage musicians, framed by impressive sets designed by Diego Pitarch . Obviously, much work was required to convert the well- appointed, sumptuous Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton, into a ramshackle dive in Nevada!

 

Having musician as actors on stage is a shrewd move. It reduces the headcount for the tour, but brings an immediacy and zest to the music, ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’ and ‘Nice Work If You Can Get It’ come alive spectacularly.

 

Tom Chambers clearly loves his role, preening and prancing, and showing himself to be an accomplished comic actor too, particularly in a mirror routine with the real Zangler, early in the second half, when Child and Zangler are together, dressed identically, each playing their role to great humorous effect, “I am beside myself”. Chambers can dance too. What he lacks in vocal prowess he compensates for with energy, charm and brio.

Claire Sweeney and Tom Chambers

 

The female chorus line is a joy, boasting gorgeous costumes, sharp dance steps, and musical instrument playing prowess. The big dance numbers are also sumptuously lit by Howard Hudson. Director Paul Hart, musical arranger Catherine Jayes, and musical director Benjamin Holder have produced a magical alchemy in which all the parts of musical theatre come together in a joyful celebration of the genre.

 

The first half of the show belongs to the star turns as individuals, the second half belongs to the company. Sweeney is a hugely accomplished actress, her role here slightly underwritten, but being the professional she is, she demonstrates a determination to eke the maximum out of every opportunity she is given to shine.

 

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Claire Sweeney

 

The audience comes to see Tom Chambers dance, and hear the big Gershwin numbers. Director Hart delivers what is required. Narratively the end of the second act is a bit of a mess, compensated for by a big production finish. A very satisfying night which was enthusiastically received by a well- attended opening night house. Last but not least, do buy the large format programme, it is the best I have ever seen for a touring production.

Crazy For You UK TourPhoto Credit : The Other Richard

Crazy For You UK Tour Photo Credit : The Other Richard

 

“Crazy For You” UK Tour is running until 9th June 2018. For more information, venues and tickets see http://www.crazyforyoutour.com/

 

Gary Longden

 

 

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Sarah Brigham – Derby Theatre

 

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Sarah Brigham

 

As theatre reviewers we tend to focus on the script, score and cast of the shows we see. Production Directors are as anonymous to an audience as they are omnipresent to the cast during rehearsals. Yet their role is pivotal to a production’s success. Their insight, their vision, is what the audience has laid before it. Artistic Directors, as well as invariably producing and directing some shows personally, also welcome visiting productions and one nighters. They determine what the audience sees in their theatre.

Derby Theatre’s renaissance in recent years has coincided with the tenure of Sarah Brigham as Artistic Director. From relative regional obscurity she has established the theatre as a learning, and community, hub in conjunction with Derby University, and a place that offers the best of touring productions, as well as a formidable roster of in house productions. She has made a difference.

Sarah has found herself in the unwelcome position of being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Notwithstanding the best efforts of the NHS, a treatment not available in this country is required. Unsurprisingly, the professional and personal esteem in which she is held has resulted in a campaign to raise funds to assist her. The details follow. If you are able to help, please do via her crowdfunding page:

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/teambrig-aid?utm_id=60&utm_term=Y9zk8MQZK
Weʼre raising £60,000 to get Sarah Brigham the cancer treatment she needs

What is crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding is a new type of fundraising where you can raise funds for your own personal cause, even if you’re not a registered charity.
The page owner is responsible for the distribution of funds raised.
Story
Hello there!
As lots of you now know, our friend Sarah Brigham has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. She has a 6cm tumour in her trachea. The cancer is adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC) and only two in a million people have this type of cancer in the UK. The cancer is slow growing but relentless, and so it’s important that it is stopped in its tracks as soon as possible.
The best way to treat Sarah’s cancer would be surgery. Unfortunately, due to the size and location of Sarah’s tumour, this is not an option for her. This type of cancer doesn’t respond to chemotherapy and has limited response to normal radiotherapy.
There’s no escaping the fact that this is all devastating. But in true Brigham fashion, she is dealing with it like a bad-ass superhero. The amount of research, questioning and chasing of medical professionals that Sarah has done, whilst coming to terms with all of this, whilst also running a theatre and continuing to support artists, young people, friends and colleagues around her, is admirable… incredible… unbelievable… (there is no word big enough here to sum up her response thus far to this outrage of an illness).
And she remains very much herself. To quote Sarah:
“On the positive side (there has to be one right!) I physically feel ok and I remain positive. If you see me you wouldn’t know I have this 6 cm tumour in my windpipe. I’m still working, still laughing, still putting the world to rights and still talking in a broad Hull accent. So Cancer is not winning!”
But Sarah cannot and should not fight this on her own. Here’s where you all come in…
The best treatment option is Carbon Ion Therapy, which will hopefully stop the cancer from growing or spreading and may offer the best long term prognosis. But here’s the spanner in the frankly crappy works: this treatment is not funded by the NHS. Sarah will have to travel to Germany to receive the treatment, and to do this, she needs to raise £60,000. *Gulp* *Pause* *Gulp*
It’s a huge amount of money, but so many people have been in touch to say how much you want to support her, so we’re actually going to try and make this happen.
How do I help raise the money?
60k is a lot of money right? But what if 100 people pledged to raise £600 each? What if 1,000 people pledged £60 each? What if you donate an hour’s wages? A day’s wages? A week’s? Cut out a coffee a day for a month and donate that money! Feeling sweary? Get a swear jar on the go! £1 for slightly bad words and £5 for the really bad ones.. and so on….

If it’s legal, do it, if you can have fun at the same time – even better!
You can help as follows:
1. Contribute directly to this fundraising page
2. Donate via PayPal, fee free: http://www.paypal.me/BrigAid
3. Give cold hard cash to Nicky or Heidi in the Derby Theatre offices
4. Want to put on your own event? Great! We’ve put together some guidelines
Most importantly! Share, shout and shout some more! We have set up a Brig-Aid facebook page, which we will use to for updates and sharing your fundraising adventures. Like the page if you are on facebook and please share far and wide across as many platforms as you can, with your networks, friends, family, neighbours, rich distant cousin…
Important: If you have any questions or ideas relating to the fundraising campaign, please send them all to teambrigaid@gmail.com rather than bombard Sarah with messages and emails. Team Brig-Aid will be monitoring emails and will run things by Sarah if we need to.
Sarah is aiming to start the treatment in June, however we have set a target to raise 60K in 12 weeks. Following that this page will be extended after the deadline if we need to continue raising funds.
Who knows what the next steps will be after Sarah’s treatment in Heidelberg, so please keep sharing and shouting. And as you’d expect, Sarah, in all of her generosity, has already started thinking about where she will donate any surplus funds to.
Team Brig-Aid assemble!
Much love and thanks,
Team Brig-Aid
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