Sunday, 24 February 2013

Freddie Davies in The Secret Garden at King's Head, Islington

For fans of Freddie Davies within reach of London, the happy news that he is currently appearing in The Secret Garden at the King's Head, Islington, on Saturday and Sunday nights until Sunday 17th March. Click here for more details and to make a booking. The performances are at 7.15 but there is also one matinee performance at 3.00 on the last day.

Freddie is recreating the role of Ben Weatherstaff, the gardener, which he played in the original RSC production at Stratford which transferred to the Aldwych in 2001. The King's Head production is a concert version, so dancing is out, but on the plus side you're very close to the cast, who make good use of the limited space: there are effective moments as they walk through the audience.

I'm not the greatest fan of the singing style in some modern musicals but even I could appreciate that the singing was top notch throughout (no amplification either) and that the songs were about revealing character, advancing the story. There were several musicians onstage, too, so it wasn't just a piano backing. The orphaned Mary is a resolutely un-cute Ana Martin, and Freddie has a particularly affecting moment in Act 2 when, in a beautifully judged speech, he recalls her mother.

I have to declare an interest, as I am acquainted with several of the cast, but there is another review here and here, and you can find more online.

Read an earlier post about Freddie Davies here

Photo credit for above: Claire Bilyard.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Richard Briers

Have just read that Richard Briers has died. I was lucky enough to see him in Ray Cooney's Run For Your Wife at the Shaftesbury Theatre around 1983, in what may have been the first run cast which included Carol Hawkins, Bernard Cribbins and Royce Mills. Naturally I knew him from television but this was of a different order altogether: there was a sense of his absolute control of the audience, his surfing the laughs which he had chosen precisely when to unleash. Can you unleash something which you subsequently surf? Probably not, but anyway he made it happen, and then he shaped it, determined the length. We were his willing instrument.

This may even have been my first visit to a London theatre, a couple of years before I moved here. Every single moment of that production - and Richard Briers was present more or less throughout - was sheer pleasure. I believe there is, or is going to be, a film version but I suspect it's a purely theatrical experience, and something akin to music. Coachloads may have come in to see Briers because of his telly fame but there is no doubt that he owned the stage and knew this genre inside out. I've only had a handful of great nights in the theatre but that was undoubtedly one of them. There had been a review in the Sunday Telegraph which may be online somewhere; if I can find it I'll add it below, but the main point it made was that farce is closely aligned to tragedy in terms of structure but it is "one of the hardest of theatrical trees to climb" (if I remember the crtic's words correctly) although Ray Cooney had successfully done so on this occasion.

So the source material presumably wasn't any hindrance to Briers giving a good performance, although I can think of other Cooney farces with other stars which don't stay in the mind in the same way. So let me salute the memory of a performer whom I was lucky enough to see in a farce which was a perfect fit. He once said of his 1956 performance as Hamlet (top) that it wasn't one of the best, but it was one of the fastest; beat by beat on that night in 1983 in the Shaftesbury Theatre there could have been no possible complaints about timing.


I have found an extract from that Telegraph review:

“A frolic? It is much more than that, it is a triumph. The brilliance of the structure, the imaginative joy, the scope for comic acting … put this entertainment at the top of the hardest of all theatrical trees to climb - that of farce.”

And I have just read that the film premiere of Run For Your Wife was only a couple of weeks ago.

With one Danny Dyer in the Richard Briers role.

Think I'll pass.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The Beatles' Please Please Me: Remaking a Classic

This documentary about younger artists recreating the Beatles' day-long recording session for their first LP was better than I expected. It will be available on BBC iplayer here until 1:39AM GMT until Wednesday the 27th, and is worth watching.

As you may have guessed from this blog my interest in popular music and its makers falls off sharply by the seventies, so my expectations weren't very high: why watch this when you could be listening to the original album? But what was interesting to see was that quite a few of those involved were okay about following the Beatles' blueprints - not slavishly copying, but seeing them, not unreasonably, as a pretty reliable guides. And it was, essentially, about an act of homage, at a historical moment (the fiftieth anniversary to the day) in the place where it originally happened, so there was never likely to be much in the way of iconoclasm.

But it wasn't a tribute band experience either: Mick Hucknall's remaining ginger locks were neither literally nor metaphorically concealed beneath a Beatles wig. He made the point that Lennon stuck pretty close to Arthur Alexander's vocal for Anna, and the show was partly about acknowledging those artists like Alexander and the Shirelles, who had been covered by various Liverpool groups.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Hello Walls

I have written earlier in this blog of the surprising omission, in later editions of Philip Larkin's All What Jazz, of his review of St Louis Blues as recorded by Louis Armstrong and Luis Russell's Orchestra.

In the first hardback edition of this collection of jazz criticism, as pictured above, Larkin called it "the hottest record ever made" and claimed  that by a certain chorus you could actually feel the walls move.

In these days, when archive recordings are often compromised (don't get me started), it's harder to put that to the test but I certainly seem to remember experiencing such a sensation, or something like it, when I first heard St Louis Blues on the little record player I once owned. Listening to it now, however, the arrangement sounds too basic, too unadventurous - and maybe at some point Larkin felt the same and recanted. Or maybe someone in the chain messed up, who knows?

The other side, Dallas Blues, continues to excite, and there's a fair bit of bassist Pops Foster in there too, who must take most of the responsibility for any perceived wall-wobble in either performance. But Panama, recorded by the Russell Orchestra without Armstrong, is even better than Dallas Blues. In fact - and I'm talking cold, hard scientific fact, be certain of that - it is the Best Jazz Record Ever.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Spector trial film

It may sound like a premature April Fool, but according to Rolling Stone magazine Al Pacino is to costar with Helen Mirren in an HBO (ie TV) film on March 24th about Phil Spector's trial, written by David Mamet, and here is the trailer to prove it:

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

You Gave Me the WRONG Answer

Today, on a certain social networking site, I was informed that Paul McCartney has set up a new Q&A feature on his website entitled You Gave Me the Answer, named after the Honey Pie-style pastiche which appears on the Venus and Mars album. This prompted me to listen more closely than heretofore to the lyrics of said song, and it is not too much to say that the experience stunned me. Below is my analysis.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Such have I dreamed

Granted, the internet is full of a number of things, but here's something I really didn't expect to find. Someone has sampled the opening chords of one of my favourite (but little known) doo wop records, Chimes by the Pelicans. Not saying that I particularly like the result but it is - interesting.

Friday, 1 February 2013

The More the Mercerer

A quick note about the latest Bazza programme, this time about lyricist Johnny Mercer. No, Baz didn't play the Astaire version of One For My Baby, but there was a high proportion of archive recordings featured this time; he even said at one point that he preferred the older recordings, liked to imagine Mercer hearing his songs on record for the first time.