j4: (books)
We've just been to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, at the Phoenix cinema. Do you see.

For those who aren't interested in the film: have some image macros instead )

For those who are: have a brief review, with spoilers )

Anyway, hopefully the next (last!) book will satisfy my plot needs. Only five days to go...
j4: (goth)
Glastonbury Festival
June 21-24, 2007

If I don't write this up soon I'll never get round to it, and the back(b)log will pile up like the Pilton traffic, so...

Glastonbury was MUDDY. That's the executive summary for those of you who've been on another planet for the last few weeks (or somehow managed to tune out the blah blah blah of festival-going friends). Sadly, the mud and rain and general meteorological misery really did eclipse pretty much everything else for at least some of the time; it's hard to feel the love or find the fun when you're worrying about whether you're ever going to be able to extract your feet from the swamp into which they're slowly sinking.

Despite the mud, we managed to see a lot of bands. In rough order of viewing, with the shortest reviews possible, here they are! )

Apart from seeing (at least a bit of) 35 bands, we managed to do some of the wandering around and seeing cool stuff that makes Glastonbury something other than a music festival. We saw a sand sculpture of a dragon, and sat on tree-stumps drinking hot chai, and admired Banksy's 'LooHenge' which seemed to be sinking into the mud with a big visual shout (unlike the 'real' stone circle, which just sat quietly underneath all the wellies and the weirdness). We got a portrait of us 'painted' (muddy felt-tip on notepaper) by the famous Jackson Pillock.

We watched "American Psycho" in the cinema tent, and heard absolutely everything else in the cinema field as we tried to sleep each night. ("This is England" sounded like a waking nightmare, all hate and misery. "Borat" just sounded like a load of amateurish rubbish.)

Owen wore fairy-wings. I wore my wellies of joy non-stop, and wore bright colours under cagouls. We ate tons of tasty hippy food (and a lot of doughnuts). We hardly had any alcohol for the entire four days, at least compared to some of the excess around us (half a pint of perry for me on the Thursday, hot chocolate with rum in it for Owen on the Saturday, a cup of hot cider each on the Friday, and THAT'S ALL, I kid you not). I ran across 10 metres of ankle-deep mud in 20 seconds to buy the Guardian (and get my free reusable fabric shoulder-bag from them).

On the last night Owen was ill, and we walked all the way to the medical tent and back, and had hot sugary tea in the café at the end of the world in the small hours of the morning, and got quite giggly at what looked like a bottle of MUD, though was probably just a bottle covered with mud. Later in the day I fell in the mud while trying to jump out of the way of a fast-moving tractor. A man laughed at me, but a nice girl gave me handfuls of wet-wipes.

At least 50 people asked me where I got my umbrella hat, offered me money for it, complimented it, or laughed appreciatively. (Seriously, umbrella hats are the best thing ever: your head stays dry, your hands stay free, and you make everybody smile.) A cheerful Scot asked me to do a twirl to show off the hat. He'd forgotten to bring his tent.

And that's about it, really; it doesn't add up to any bigger meaning, any shape or substance, it's just patterns in the mud. 180,000 different Glastonbury Festivals, as similar as snowflakes. It's as much about hats and chips and dancing in the rain as it is about being swept away by music or dazzled by fire. Fun in parts, difficult in parts, pointless and beautiful.

My photos are on Flickr.

Maybe it'll be sunny next year.
j4: (music)
With just three weeks left in which to pack up, up sticks, mix metaphors and move house, clearly the most sensible way to spend the weekend was in the heart of the Midlands, at the first ever Loughborough Folk Festival.

Regulars of Cambridge Folk Festival (and readers of [livejournal.com profile] smallbeds's eloquent rant about Cornbury Folk Festival) will be familiar with the peculiarly middle-class Gazebo-Rage-inducing type of Folk Festival, frequented by belligerent real-ale-drinking Guardian readers and people who don't-know-much-but-they-know-what-folk-isn't (and it usually isn't at least two of the main acts at Cambridge)...

Well, before you get too carried away with vicarious indignation, Loughborough Folk Festival was nothing like that. For one thing, it was indoors, and on reflection, I think this is a much underrated location for festivals. Throughout the weekend I found myself completely untroubled by nostalgic thoughts like "Wouldn't this be improved by six inches of mud?" and "It's good, but I'd feel more at home if I was trying to watch the act through rain-smeared glasses and a forest of other people's umbrellas". This also meant that real sound systems could be used: that is, ones that allow sound to be heard. It's jolly good, this amplification thing. They should patent it.

Secondly, the gigs were seated. Again, I didn't find myself yearning for the uninterrupted view of a bald chap's shiny head, or the smalls of tall men's backs; instead, I enjoyed a clear view of the stage and the performers. Clever idea on somebody's part, there!

Thirdly, there was real ale in abundance -- never mind your usual two-varieties-of-Charles-Wells-and-count-yourself-lucky, we're talking about 12 different varieties including a very nice stout (Grantham Stout, IIRC), which is not bad for a mini-festival in a town hall. (Unfortunately there wasn't really any food to speak of, which was probably the festival's only major deficiency; but with half-hour breaks between most sets there was time to nip out and sample, er, Loughborough's finest -- or in our case nip back to my parents' house for meals.)

Fourthly, there was some kind of respect for the performers. No mobile phones allowed (and I didn't hear a single one go off), no nattering through the gig, and no wandering in and out of the concert rooms except during the applause between songs (as I found to my surprise when we arrived late for one of the acts we'd wanted to see); and a general expectation that you'd sit and watch the performers instead of doing the crossword, eating pies, or playing games with your kids. A bit of a culture-shock after the usual festival fare, but a very welcome one. Imagine, actually listening to the music you've paid to hear!

And now, about that music... Demon Barbers Roadshow; Coope, Boyes & Simpson; Tiny Tin Lady; Tim van Eyken; Rachel Unthank; Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick )
j4: (Default)
Laura Veirs & the Tortured Souls + Thao Nguyen
The Shed, Cambridge, August 4th

Still catching up with the gigs from over a week ago: [livejournal.com profile] addedentry had seen Laura Veirs before she was famous (of course) and recommended her, so we went to catch her at The Shed (the Junction's little sibling, with proportionately cheaper ticket prices) where she was ably supported by Thao Nguyen.

Tortured song )

It was a long way in more than mere miles from the genteel jazz-club atmosphere of The Shed, with its comfortable seats and pre-ordered interval drinks, to the more traditional indie venue of Oxford's Zodiac, with its sticky floors, smoky air, and more or less complete absence of anything bearable to drink (until I spotted the bottles of Newky Brown hiding at the back). But the venue has to suit the band, and this was clearly the right place for the Saturday night's offerings...

Seafood + The Race + Rock of Travolta
The Zodiac, Oxford, August 5th

[livejournal.com profile] juggzy (who proved herself to be not only the unrivalled queen of indie cool but purveyor of the most amazing garlic scrambled eggs) had warned us that Rock of Travolta were past their best, but she hadn't warned us quite how bloody loud they were. Rock & Seafood: all you can eat )

Listen for yourself:
Thao Nguyen [myspace]
Laura Veirs [myspace]
Rock of Travolta [myspace]
The Race [myspace]
Seafood [myspace]
j4: (music)
There are few things as annoying as a boast disguised as a complaint (though praeteritio may come close), so I won't say that I've been to too many gigs recently (see?). It has created a bit of a backlog, though, so apologies in advance to regular readers for the coming batch of reviews.

The weekend before last was the Cambridge Folk Festival; I've never yet been to a bad Folk Festival, but this year we were particularly lucky with both the weather and the music. More about the music! )

Recommended music:
Rachel Unthank and the Winterset [also see myspace]
The Broken Family Band [also see myspace]

Reviews of the festival:
[livejournal.com profile] addedentry reviews more concisely from his own perspective (by which I don't just mean being able to see over people's heads)
[livejournal.com profile] sion_a has some interesting thoughts on definitions of 'folk'
A more balanced review from the Independent, but hey, they get paid to do this properly
j4: (kanji)
While I'm doing reviews... I don't really, deep down where it matters, think of myself as a writer with a readership: I think of myself as just some random broad with a blog, boring my friends over a beer in the corner of some kind of virtual pub. So it came as something of a surprise to find that some of the people who had participated in the choral concert that I reviewed the other week had read my review, and my first thought was to feel a pang of remorse for having been so dismissive about the Harmonia Quartet. Yes, they sounded slightly underrehearsed; but I've sung a lot of the music they were singing, which on the one hand means that I'm more likely to hear tiny mistakes, but on the other hand means that I appreciate the difficulty of what they do. And they were certainly enjoyable to listen to, and at the end of the day, that's what it's all about. All I can say is I'm sorry, guys, and I'll gladly buy any of you a flagon of the finest foaming fa-la-la if we find ourselves in the same pub.

It was probably a timely reminder, though. The lines between performers and audiences and writers and readers and critics seems to be getting extremely blurred (not that that's necessarily a bad thing, or indeed a good thing); I still have trouble thinking of my friends' bands as "real" bands, but there clearly comes a point when you have to admit that they're as "real" as it gets. And, in the other direction, real bands have livejournals and myspaces; they read blogs, they meet people, they make friends, they make typos, they flame lusers. They put their trousers on one leg at a time like the rest of us. Real authors whose books I've read have commented on my blog: that's a bit scary, and it's a bit humbling to be reminded that among the people I'm boring are people who actually know what they're talking about; but it's also empowering: if they can, I can. It's not news that famous people (whatever that means) are real people (whatever that means) too, but it's getting easier to cross the line at many different levels. The fourth wall's been rubble for a long time; now more and more of us are joining in the stage-invasion.

All of which is just my observation, rather than drawing towards some grand theory. Maybe all that separates me from the Real Writers is that they're more likely to bother to finish what they're saying, whereas I'm more likely to think ah the hell with it and make another cup of coffee. Maybe one day I'll finish saying something worth saying. Maybe one day I'll start.
j4: (books)
Beckett Shorts
ADC Theatre, 11pm, Tuesday 7th March

I've found that when going to the theatre to see plays by Samuel Beckett, everything seems to add to the Beckett experience: the darkness, the queue, the snatches of overheard halfsensical conversation, the empty seats to one's left or right. One's life becomes, albeit temporarily, a Beckett play; there is nothing to be done but sit and watch the events (their events, their lives, not ours, no) unfold. Or the lack of events. Which may, in the end, be the same thing.

I could also claim that this review is being posted a month late for suitably Beckettian reasons: that it, like everything else in life, has been subject to the countless pointless delays that slowly grind down our motivation; that in typing and retyping the words I've lost faith in their ability to mean anything. Or perhaps I could claim that it doesn't matter; that a day late, a month late, a lifetime late, is all the same thing; that in the face of certain death, the difference between one step and three steps to the scaffold is an absurd distinction to be making.

I suspect you'd rather I just got on with it, though. texts for next-to-nothing )

There may seem no point in recommending a performance which is no longer being performed; but what could be more Beckettian? Ah yes: just as I'm searching for the bon mot, the power goes out all over the building. The light gleams an instant, then it's night once more.
j4: (books)
Creation Theatre's King Lear
Saturday April 1st, BMW plant, Oxford

There was a Fool, of course, but this is not an April Fool: on [livejournal.com profile] sion_a's recommendation, [livejournal.com profile] addedentry and I persuaded [livejournal.com profile] bluedevi and [livejournal.com profile] juggzy to come with us and see Creation Theatre's production of King Lear in a car warehouse.

Is this the promised end? )
j4: (music)
The Organ
Club Goo, The Soul Tree, 29th March 2006

picture of The Organ's setlist [livejournal.com profile] addedentry and I went to see The Organ last night. He doesn't think I'm going to say anything about the music. Now, admittedly, if I try to describe the sounds I risk backing myself into pseud's corner: I could talk about hard drumbeats driving like the stroke of an oar through rising waves of synth and bass crested with the bright whiteness of a single guitar; I could talk about a yearning voice shimmering in the darkness ... but I suspect you'd rather I spared you that sort of thing. Or I could do that old triangulation trick, where I tell you that they sound like the Editors collaborating with the Cure, fronted by a female Morrissey; and let's face it, there's nothing really radical or new in there, so that would probably tell you pretty much everything you needed in order to decide whether you were likely to like them, though it wouldn't tell you how the music surrounds you like star-studded darkness. But then, in the end, none of it tells you anything, and frankly I might have been better going along with Owen's expectations and just telling you that if I was still a teenage fangirl I might well have taken down my posters of Toni Halliday and Alison-out-of-Cranes to make room for The Organ's Katie Sketch (vocals) and 'Schmoo' (bass). So there you go.

There was an almost comically bad support band, too, but since they couldn't reliably remember what they were called, I think I'll spare their blushes and pretend I've forgotten as well.

Evens song

Mar. 28th, 2006 02:23 pm
j4: (music)
The Evens
Portland Arms, 20th March 2006

Last Monday [livejournal.com profile] addedentry and I went to see The Evens. I feel less silly for taking a week to get round to writing a review now I find that the band don't appear to have got round to writing a website yet.

it's great when you're straight-edge )
j4: (music)
The Sultans of Ping
Highbury Garage, 18th March 2006

You know how it goes: I bought "Casual Sex in the Cineplex" as a teenager (on vinyl, of course), and was faintly embarrassed by the jokey smuttiness of the title, and yet somehow proud of being grown-up enough to know about casual sex, to know what "one night of mischeva in a yellow Vauxhall Viva" implied, to know the lyrics to songs about leather boots. Sure, on the outside I was a fat kid with acne and oversized glasses, but inside I was a Teenage Punk From Planet Sexylove.

So fa so good (as fellow 90s novelty punk act Carter USM said, before they got embarrassed by their "Unstoppable Sex Machine" epithet and swept it under the acronym). But it wasn't just the image: it was the songs. They were funny, and you could jump up and down to them, and imagine shouting the chorus out really loudly, and dream of the day when some floppy-haired indie kid would be impressed that you knew all the words to the shouty bit at the beginning of "Where's Me Jumper?", even the 'Latin' bit that didn't make any sense.

[looks at [livejournal.com profile] addedentry shyly from under an imaginary fringe]

So Saturday night was, at least in part, an exercise in time travel. It was going back home and picking up my teenaged self, giving her a gig ticket and a train ticket and enough cash to buy alcopops, and promising to tell her parents that she was sleeping over at my house if they called. And, for the full-on fairy gothmother effect, transforming her 8-hole Doc Martens into 6-inch-platform New Rocks. Cinderella, you shall go to the gig.

And it could have been purely an exercise in ironic nostalgia; it could have been a sing-a-long from the sidelines, with archly self-deprecating dance-moves. It could have been all that, until Niall strode on stage through the dry ice. White vinyl trousers, shiny black boots, white fur jacket, black tshirt, a string of pearls, a curl of the lip ... and the crowd surged forwards, and before I knew it I was shouting all the words and screaming myself hoarse in the gaps between. Oh, there was still plenty of irony; but it was kitsch, it was camp, it was laughing with Niall as he pretended to tease and we pretended to swoon as our fingertips finally managed to brush his fur coat, his pointed boots.

You've been away a long time. ... Good to see you're laughing, baby.

They played all their hits, a non-stop barrage of three-minute punk/pop songs that kept the temporarily-teenaged twenty- and thirty-somethings pogoing, and kept the stagedivers diving for dear life. It was all every bit as good as I'd remembered or imagined: the token harmonica solo was hammed up, the shoutalong choruses were shouted, and jumpers may well have been lost in the melée of the moshpit. After sustaining a degree of bruising from the barrier that I hadn't managed for a good 6 years, and after my glasses got knocked off for the second time (though remaining miraculously intact), I decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and ducked out for a breather... but soon handed my glasses to an indulgently grinning [livejournal.com profile] addedentry and launched myself back into the fray again.

Dancing at the disco! Go go go!

Standing at the front and seeing the setlist spoils some of the surprises, but we all knew they were going to end with "Where's Me Jumper"; what we didn't know is that they'd then play another few songs, shouting their defiance of the curfew in between. "We're going to play ALL NIGHT!" ... "They're telling us it's time to stop. But I don't believe in time! Do you believe in time? I NEVER BELIEVED IN TIME!!" I don't think most of us realised until afterwards that Niall had claimed it was curfew-time fifteen minutes early just for the pantomime of playing on in spite of it: that's showmanship. At the end, he threw his string of beads into the crowd at the end. I was too far back to catch them, but when I rejoined [livejournal.com profile] lnr at the front as the crowd started to disperse, I picked up a handful of loose beads from the floor, diving between people's boots, diving for pearls.

We bounced back to Highbury and Islington, and caught the tube to King's Cross, and then ran all the way from the entrance of King's Cross to the front four coaches of the furthest platform just in time for the 11:11 train, and I don't think any of us turned into pumpkins (though the crowded train was a bit of a squash).

All in all, the 1990s are proving so much more fun this time round.

[see also: [livejournal.com profile] lnr's review.]
j4: (music)
Richard Thompson & Danny Thompson (support: Jeb Loy Nichols)
Cambridge Corn Exchange, Monday 30th January

When I first saw Richard Thompson, at Glastonbury in 2003, he was supported by a full band. The music was all purples and blues and reds flowing over the edge of the stage, and a moth glittered like a slow-motion shuriken in the lights at the top of the tent. I wanted to see the bright lights, and I was seeing them. I have no idea what songs he played, but the set seemed to last for ever.

I saw him again at the Corn Exchange in May 2004 (and completely failed to write about it on LiveJournal), this time performing solo. Every word he sang was crystal-clear. A million notes rained down from his guitar and the entire room remained spellbound, faces upturned in the deluge. I cried at the end of "Vincent Black Lightning 1952". So did he.

With those two gigs to live up to, it was probably inevitable that this one felt like a compromise: neither a spotlighted solo nor a richly textured band, but somewhere inbetween. Don't get me wrong, it was still a superb gig; his guitar playing still effortlessly wrapped the listener around its fifteen fingers ... but at times it felt as though the bass was muddying the clear flowing stream of guitar music. A double shame, really, when either musician alone could have played a great solo concert. The songs (and it's all about the songs) still shone through, though, from the timeless melodic storytelling of "Crazyman Michael" to the bitter politics of "Outside of the Inside".

The set-list was as varied as you'd expect from a songwriter with thirty-odd years of great songs to choose from (though he might just have been exaggerating about the 47-disc boxed set), but the newer songs from the latest album Front Parlour Ballads blended seamlessly with the back-catalogue, instant classics. There was only one song completely new to me last night, but it was a good one: the delightful raft of ridiculous rhymes that is The Hots for the Smarts", during which [livejournal.com profile] addedentry practically had to restrain me from throwing my spectacles at the stage.

Not that the Corn Exchange's seating would have really permitted such fangirlish shenanigans: miles from the stage, our view was unobscured, but it was sometimes hard to feel fully engaged with the music when we barely had room to tap a toe, let alone polka (polka!) in the aisles.

The review we glanced at over the shoulders of the people in the seats in front of us gave Thompson four out of five. I can't really argue with that: he was brilliant, but he could have been better. Or rather (since my glass of gin and tonic was certainly more than half full), just because he's been better doesn't mean he wasn't still brilliant.

Oh, there was a support act, too. )
j4: (music)
Friday 10th December, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera

If Tuesday's entertainment took me back 11 years, then the previous Friday's outing should have taken me back even further. Before I caught the indie bug, before I even really got the hang of this thing called 'pop' that my friends liked, I was into musicals. I loved all Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals, but by far my favourite was Phantom of the Opera -- not just the music but the story captivated me, and rapidly became my obsession. I bought the cassette, sent off for the libretto booklet, read Leroux's novel (in two different English translations, and then in French), read Susan Kay's eminently readable rewrite, watched every film version I could get my hands on (from the Lon Chaney silent movie to Brian de Palma's Phantom of the Paradise), and devoured every bit of information in The Complete Phantom of the Opera, from biographical details about Charles Garnier to the number of beads used in the chandelier in the stage production of the musical. Actually seeing the stage production, as a birthday treat for my 12th birthday, was everything I could have hoped for (apart from Michael Crawford! -- though Dave Willetts played the title role admirably).

15 years later I still love the story, I'm still keen to see new film versions and read new rewrites; all in all, I was determined to like this film. And with Lloyd Webber's score (which I will still defend, though it does now seem rather dated) and a budget of goodness-only-knows how many millions, I didn't think there was any way it could fail to delight. The opening sequences certainly promised great things: the moment when the grainy monochrome and dusty memories burst suddenly into a blaze of light, exploding into glorious colour along with the first chords of the famous theme, promised the sort of spine-tingling romantic excitement that the musical always held for me.

Abandon thought, and let the dream descend... )

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