Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Theatre Book Prize judge Viv Gardner on Funny Bones

If you haven't visited the blog dedicated to Freddie Davies's autobiography Funny Bones, which I cowrote, here is a review of the book from Professor Viv Gardner (above, as painted by Daphne Todd), one of the judges of the 2014 Theatre Book Prize:
This is one of those stories that just have to be told. It is unique – there has never been quite such a long and varied a career as Freddie Davies’s - but it is also the story of popular entertainment over the past 70 plus years: the hey day and decline of variety, clubs, cabarets and cruise entertainment, the rise of television comedy and subsequent changes in fashion, and the shifting relationship between popular and ‘high brow’ performance. Freddie Davies has played every type of theatre in the country, from working men’s clubs and Butlins to the Royal Shakespeare Company, television and film, though his earliest memories are of the halls and variety theatres of the forties where his grandparents worked. His autobiography is replete with names and places, many long since forgotten, details of acts – his own and others’ – and whole bills. It is also a ‘back-stage’ story. Davies has worked not just as a performer, but also as a producer, so the autobiography charts not just his own stage career but also the challenges of working with and supporting other artists – the ups and downs, the nuts and bolts of the entertainment business.  A researcher’s dream.  It is a fascinating and important story, not just a personal but also a social and performance history.

Viv Gardner
Professor Emerita, University of Manchester
Judge, Society for Theatre Research 2014-15

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Spaniels # 2

The previous post was a bit convoluted so I am going to add something today which will, I hope, be clearer. In the meantime I have been rereading Richard G Carter's book on the Spaniels, which can be recommended. It's not necessarily superbly written throughout, but where it scores is that there is a degree of frankness about it which made me wonder at times whether it was wise for the group to embark upon it - at least if they were expecting a PR job.

But I'm glad they did, because you really are taken into the heart of things. Although the book was published in 1994 it ends before they have gone to London, so presumably the MS was completed around 1991. There is a lot of optimism and hope from the various members at the end, though I couldn't say precisely how much success the group had in later years. Group members seem to assume they're on the verge of a huge breakthrough - or at least are entertaining the possibility - and that finally they will get the money and acclaim which is their due. Whatever level of success they did enjoy I don't think it matched up to their expectations.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The Spaniels


After seeing the current version of the Spaniels in the BBC's Rock 'n' Roll America I resolved to find out a bit more about the group's various lineups. The above is a videocap from the programme; all I can say for certain is that Billy Shelton is on the far left.

From my memory of Richard G Carter's biography of the Spaniels there were two main lineups of the group which recorded on Vee Jay, and the original members were more instinctive singers than the Mk II version. It was the originals who were reunited in the 1990s and whom I saw perform in London.

Detailed information about personnel changes can be found online in Unca Marvy's R&B Notebooks, an invaluable resource for the doo wop fan. His page about the Spaniels, based on interviews with Pookie Hudson, can be read in its entirety here. Pookie's first group was formed in 1949 at Roosevelt Junior High in Gary, Indiana, when he was fifteen. Billy Shelton was a member of this, though the group which were to become the Spaniels were a separate entity:

Monday, 6 July 2015

All You Need Is Love (Tony Palmer's documentary series)


Having mentioned Tony Palmer's pioneering 1970s series All You Need Is Love, a history of the many strands of popular music, in the previous post here is a review I wrote at the time of its first DVD release in 2008.
I saw the original series when in my teens and have seen many, many documentaries on myriad aspects of popular music since then. So is this worth buying? The answer has to be a resounding yes: the original film material and the range of authorities Tony Palmer gathered together for this mammoth 70s project mean that it remains a vivid account of the genres which coalesced into rock.
Yes, some sections feel a little dull, and the quality of the film transfer doesn't help in the immediacy stakes, but Palmer has two big things going for him: recognised experts in their fields (eg Sondheim on musicals; Lyttleton on swing) wrote the scripts which became the basis of each programme and - crucially - interviewees are given ample time to talk. You get the likes of Hoagy Carmichael and Irving Caesar discussing their own songs, and there's even a bizarre turn from Phil Spector (who appears to be singing his hits in the style of Bob Dylan). Whatever the outcome, Palmer would have deserved our heartfelt thanks simply for the foresight to do something on this scale while the names involved were still around, if occasionally frail.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Rock 'n' Roll America (BBC 4 documentary series)


Just watched Episode One of the new BBC 4 series Rock 'n' Roll America, which will be available on BBC iplayer for a month (for those in the UK, anyway).

It was a particularly clear and effective retelling of what has become an oft-told tale, with enough freshness in the detail to mean that it can serve equally well as an introduction to the social roots of rock'n'roll and as a reminder of the music's importance for those who have read the books and seen the other documentaries. Archive clips seemed to have been very carefully selected and, crucially, the programme's length meant a decent chunk of time was devoted to the consideration of the contributions of key individuals. Each episode (this was the first of three) is an hour long, though the pace never seemed to flag in this debut show.


The great strength of the programme was the way in which the social background to this upsurge of a new kind of music was firmly sketched in.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Johnny Vegas Television Show


Don't know how long it'll be there, but someone has recently uploaded The Johnny Vegas Television Show to youtube.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Russell Davies interviews Ray Davies


This is to alert readers to the fact that Russell Davies recently interviewed Ray Davies for his The Art of Artists series on Radio 2 and it can be heard on BBC iplayer, here, for 28 days.

I haven't listened to it yet, and will add a note to this post when I have done so, but it has been interesting to hear Russell Davies as interviewer, as opposed to presenter of his sadly departed Sunday afternoon/evening music programme with those superbly scripted links. The unhurried, hour-long format seems to suit him, and as with the departed music programme you can tell he's done his homework and is, in any case, bringing a considerable breadth of cultural reference to the table, what with being Russell Davies and everything. I recall, in the interview with Sandie Shaw, her surprise and palpable pleasure at being taken seriously, and I think she has put the interview on her website.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Leiber and Stoller documentary

The 2001 Leiber and Stoller documentary which I mentioned in the post about Stand By Me is available on youtube, at least at the time of writing. There Goes My Baby, Spanish Harlem and Stand By Me are discussed and Ben E King is among the interviewees.

 

Friday, 20 February 2015

Get Carteret or No Place Like Home - again

I may as well give in and admit to myself that these entries on the 80s sitcom No Place Like Home, currently being repeated in the UK on the Drama Channel, are starting to become a diary. If you want to look over my shoulder at the entries, feel free, although other diversions are but a click away.



Unfortunately my PVR did not record No Place Like Home on Thursday but I did manage to watch Episode 3 of Series 4 today.

Again, most odd compared to the approach of earlier series. The episode was sparsely populated, with the new Nigel established as being the only one now living at home, and the story centred around trying to get a new lady friend for Trevor. Beryl and Arthur thought the object of his fancy was the matronly florist but oh, SPOILER ALERT, it turned out to be the much younger part timer - oh dear - but then she took umbrage at Trevor's not being married, so problem solved. But then Trevor got a new girlfriend, a rather butch policewoman, so Bravo, I say. Which is the sort of weak half-pun Jon Watkins has often included in the show in the past. I do hope they will return. (Maybe there'll be a spin-off series about Trevor's pursuit of his new love called Get Carteret?)

But as with the first episode the emptiness of that formerly heaving home really hit me. It can't have been much fun for the younger actors in the earlier series, often with little to say, but as I've said earlier the crowd effect helped create a frantic, confused speedy jumble, and the actors and script seem more exposed now. The new Nigel was given far more lines than Martin Clunes had ever been given, though I couldn't help wondering how Mr Clunes would have delivered them.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Further further thoughts on No Place Like Home

For those who may care about such things, the Drama Channel has just started repeating the fourth series of No Place Like Home - and by the show's previous standards the tone is distinctly odd.

The Series 3 finale, shown the previous day, was crammed with characters as usual, only more so, as the Crabtrees celebrated their silver wedding and non-speaking uncles thronged the living room. The plot, revolving around rival attempts to celebrate the occasion while those involved affected to know nothing about it, was properly farcical, even if the plotting was rather less intricate  than Fawlty Towers, and Raymond, the annoying but sort of endearing son in law, did an Eamon Andrews as the kids covertly arranged their surprise for their parents: a This Is Your Life type reunion of relatives.

Monday, 16 February 2015

TVDC5

A recently broadcast documentary about the Dave Clark Five - it's currently available on BBC iplayer here, if you are resident in the UK - makes me think some readers might be interested in my review of the group's film Catch Us If You Can.
Two Films in Conflict

Though he wasn't much of a musician (someone in Melody Maker once opined a list of the shortest books in the world would include Lessons in Drumming Technique by Dave Clark) Clark had aspirations to be an actor and this film (scripted by Peter Nichols, better known for his stage work, and the directing debut of John Boormanm) is a sort of road movie-cum-anti-advertising satire bolstered by a cast of interesting character actors. It's got great period charm and, as other reviewers have said, it stands up very well - it's certainly streets ahead of many other low budget pop movies.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Rich picking (Joe Brown and Chris Smither)



In the last week or so I've been listening a lot to a recording made of a Joe Brown concert at the Liverpool Philharmonic. I think this was the same show I saw, and briefly wrote up here, at the Millfield Theatre in Edmonton, although a few of the song choices are different. But there is still that same sense of the performers' enjoyment, that this is rather more than a greatest hits package, so I thought I'd share a couple of those video clips here.
 

The first is a rendition of Mystery Train, sung by drummer Phil Capaldi with an effect on the mike which really does suggest an Elvis Sun-era voice, along with a nice guitar solo by Brown. But the key thing is that the overall effect is of everyone, as they say, gettin' it on, and it's sheer pleasure to watch and listen. It's not a carbon copy of the famous recording but it seems to capture its spirit.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Further thoughts on No Place Like Home

I am still watching No Place Like Home (on the Drama Channel, if you are UK-based and have Freeview), and still trying to puzzle out precisely what it is I feel about it. And an episode broadcast yesterday has helped me along the way, hence this second post.

First of all, when I was talking about tempo in the previous post - well, it's obvious now. It's not a farce as such, but it is played at a farcical pace: that's why you're drawn in (if you are anything like me), and even as you register the improbabilities it is a place you want to be.

Because the performances are, uniformly, superb. From the morose Arthur (William Gaunt) holding it all together, to the manic son-in-law (Daniel Hill), a  sort of oversized child or puppy, repellent and endearing in equal measure, everyone seems to get the most out of the dialogue. My sense that neighbour Vera (Marcia Warren) was out of place no longer seems relevant: naturalistic it ain't. I can't remember now whether initial episodes were perhaps less certain, but the sense now (meaning in the middle of the third series being repeated as I write this) is that everyone gets it. It's not the same, but one of the joys of Third Rock From the Sun was that everyone had locked into a way of playing.

Friday, 23 January 2015

No Place Like Home (80s BBC sitcom currently being repeated)


The world will little note nor long remember my thoughts on the 80s sitcom No Place Like Home yet I feel compelled to record them. If you'd like to look over my shoulder - if, indeed, you too have been watching the current reruns on the Drama channel - then feel free.

I don't think I ever saw this when it was originally broadcast but now, thanks to the magic of Freeview, I have been able to watch most of the first two series over the space of a couple of weeks. 

And I still haven't come to a decision about it. I do recall seeing William Gaunt in a more recent sitcom with Penelope Keith (Next of Kin) in which his role was essentially that of feed to Ms Keith, but with occasional opportunities for pathos which made me wonder how he would be as the centre of a sitcom.