Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Out and About

Madness at Bedgebury Pinetum: Never having seen the Nutty Boys before, I was curious. What a show! 5,000 of us doing silly dances. Lots of men in fezs and kids wearing shades and little black trilbys. Suggs and the lads are master showmen with a natural rapport with the crowd. Hearing their songbook live reminds you what beautiful songs they are. A joyous time was had by all.

Taj Mahal, Brighton Dome: Preceded by an African acoustic quartet (featuring the Malian guitarist Idrissa Sournaoro), Taj was playing in his long-standing trio (with Bill Rich on bass and Kester Smith on drums), and treated us to a wide selection of his back catalogue – blues that whined and whistled and touched your heart plus Caribbean and African-inspired joyful tunes. He plays like a demon and has a voice that soothes and dances or growls and barks. He’s a big man wearing a big black hat. By the end of the show, the back of his shirt was soaked in sweat.
See Robin Denslow’s article ‘Blues Traveller’ for the back story.

Sly & Robbie, Brighton Corn Exchange: Arguably the most famous rhythm section in the world (known in Jamaica as The Riddim Twins) strut their stuff, backed up Taxi Gang fronted by trombone player and part-time vocalist Nambo Robinson - to be joined later in the show by Bunny Rugs of Third World fame. Sly hides behind his tooled-up kit, driving the show along, his miked-up drums thundering, snapping and cracking, doubling or trebling the tempo and then, on the turn of a dime, bringing it back to the main beat. Robbie, a towering figure dressed largely in black, pumps out a wall of sound that hits your whole body and internal organs and shakes them around. Impressive and essential to dance to in the summer heat, two feet from the stage, in an under-attended treat.

Patti Smith Meltdown: US-UK Folk Connections, Royal Festival Hall: An extraordinary bill of fare, selected by Lenny Kaye, long-time Patti Smith collaborator. He began the show with ‘Barbara Allen’ and Donovan’s ‘Catch The Wind’ and then duetted with Martin Stephenson from The Dainties who also did a couple of solo numbers. Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band and his wife Bina played a mixture of old English, Caribbean and Hindu folk songs – all in the same verse it seemed; Bert Jansch soloed, played with Beth Orton and then Johnny Marr (formerly of The Smiths), who then closed the first half with a set from his band The Healers.

Shirley Collins introduced both halves of the show with a pithy history of the bloodlines of US-UK folk, recalling how Cecil Sharp, the English folklorist and gone the Appalachians to trace the fate of the old folk tradition in the New World and Alan Lomax had come to England to do the same thing here.

Then we had Patti Smith, singing two old Joan Baez songs with Lenny Kaye. She forgot the words or chords on both of them. It didn’t matter. Her extraordinary voice is the strongest I have ever heard from a woman.

Then came Gruff Rhys from the Super Furry Animals with a girl from his home town of Bethesda and they did a song by a Welshman, in Welsh. He said it was a song that was usually accompanied by the stomping of hobnailed boots. He then went off the stage and found one boot that approximated a hobnailed and came back and did the number while stamping his booted foot.

Next came Robyn Hitchcock, dressed in the best paisley shirt of the evening and purple trousers, did three marvellous numbers accompanied by John Paul Jones from Led Zep, on mandolin and mandolin cello. Reminds me of Peter Cooke – lofty, imposing and with a powerful style and wit all of his own and a lordly voice to boot.

Then came Johnny Marr with Neil Finn (formerly of Crowded House) who sang ‘The Wild Mountain Thyme’ and made us do it too. He has a marvellous voice.

Finally the legendary Roy Harper, whose voice if anything outshone all the others, soaring and roaming and pounding out of the speakers. He recalled how he’d lived in a red light district and sat in his red lit bedroom listening to Miles Davis. How he’d read Keats and Shelley but really first got inspired when he discovered Jack Kerouac and the Beats some 35 years ago. He then talked about Duke Ellington and ‘Mood Indigo’ which has no major keys. And then sang a song himself which he’d also composed with no majors. He then recited from memory a poem about human perception and the planet, about recognising the Reaper in yourself.

We had to leave to get the train home mid-set. There may have been a lot more. An impressive and thought-provoking night.

Meantime at the Movies:

Hitchhiker’s Guide: How could they have got Marvin so wrong – a major flaw. Apart from that, amiable and suffused with Douglas Adams’ delightful humour. The Vogons are brilliant.

Sin City: Without doubt the most successful merger of the graphic novel and the feature film. Rodriguez is a multimedia master. Shot in black and white, this nouveau noir thriller looks like it’s drawn in ink. Key elements in the frame are highlighted in colour. It’s so damn effective, refreshing and powerful. This is a very violent film. Mickey Rourke is awesome – perhaps his greatest performance ever and so symbolic of Rourke’s own Dantean journey. Brilliant.

Batman: Christopher Nolan never quite manages to inject the final dose of magic that would lift the film to Matrix heaven.Mammoth resources mean you feel like you’re watching World War III. The stylised violence palls. Some stunning moments but a hammy performance from Michael Caine. Tim Burton always was a hard act to follow.

On the Turntable:
‘There’s A Riot Going On’ – Sly & The Family Stone
‘Black President’ - Fela Kuti

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