Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Nish Kumar at Nottingham Playhouse 16.3.19

Monday, March 18th, 2019

Live comedy’s all about timing. With ‘The Mash Report’, the 33-year-old Kumar has positioned himself as our prime political comedian, the only satirist doing what US audiences take for granted in ‘The Daily Show’. After a somewhat shaky start, it’s established itself as the only UK topical news comedy worth watching, although, at six episodes per season, can’t compare to its US equivalent.

How to deal with an ever-changing political situation? A show written some months back might not cut it, and Kumar has a rep to maintain. The last week has been so tumultuous that I was curious about how Kumar would incorporate these farcical events into his set. I needn’t have been. He doesn’t.

After a well-received warm-up set by Rosie Jones, weaponising her cerebal palsy, Kumar does go straight into Brexit, acknowledging that half the city voted ‘leave’ while pointing out that his audience consists entirely of ‘Guardian munchers’ who didn’t. We are, he points out, a so-called ‘elite’ that consists of brown people and teachers.

But he’s off Brexit quickly. This is not the Daily Mash. The only up-to-the-minute material is about the Christchurch massacre and how the media treats white extremists very differently to Muslim ones. Generally, Kumar, points out, he has it easy, because he has a Hindu name. Which doesn’t stop him from being singled out at North American airports. Cue good anecdote.

This was a sharp, engrossing, fast-paced hour and a half, with plenty about family and a strong take on happens when your comedic heroes turn out to have feet of clay. The Simpsons, obviously. He’s very upset about Louis CK but positively savage about Ricky Gervais’s pathetic lampooning of trans people.

Many highlights include an encounter with Dominic Raab in the Question Time studio where Raab greets the first brown person he sees as ‘Nish’, despite his bearing no resemblance to the comic, and  a history of the word ‘gammon’ in relation to Piers Morgan. The sweary show gets serious towards the end, when Kumar, acutely and economically, sums up how we got the double madness of Brexit and Trump. He should have stopped there, but doubles back to a black Jesus routine for the close, holding up placards of white actors who have played Christ, including, most ironically, Liam Neeson. It falls relatively flat, but that’s live comedy for you: he’s allowed to run out of steam. Outstanding.

This review appears in today’s Nottingham Post.

Two Grey Rooms

Monday, February 11th, 2019

My favourite Joni Mitchell song (though, thankfully, no-one’s forcing me to choose) is from the 80s. ‘Two Grey Rooms’ is about a narrator who rents a flat so that they can watch somebody walking to work, someone who used to be their lover, though he or she looks to be too young.

You look so youthful/time has been untruthful/heaven knows, I loved you thirty years ago. Joni once told the LA Times the song was inspired by a story from the youth of the German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It’s a story of obsession… about this German aristocrat who had a lover in his youth that he never got over. He later finds this man working on a dock and notices the path that the man takes every day to and from work. So the aristocrat gives up his fancy digs and moves to these two shabby grey rooms overlooking this street, just to watch this man walk to and from work. That’s a song that shows my songs aren’t all self-portraits.

Two Grey Rooms has a haunting melody (I once bought a CD box set called The Geffen Years solely in order to hear the song’s original demo, Speechless, which finds the music almost complete, can now be found, with an interesting introduction on YouTube). Mitchell first recorded it in ’82 but didn’t come up with the words for another seven years. I’ve often thought that if anyone commissioned me to contribute to an anthology of short stories based on songs, that’s the one I’d choose (I’m open to offers, but the song works so well on its own, is so economical, that I doubt writers much better than me could add anything worthwhile to it).

This morning, I was working on a story idea, and Two Grey Rooms crept into it. Rather than retrieve the LP or CD from downstairs, I typed the title into YouTube and was startled to discover that, at some point, Joni made a video for the song (it first appeared on a video compilation, only ever available on VHS, called Coming In From The Cold in 1991). I’ve just watched it for the second time. The first striking thing about the video is that it looks like a Fassbinder film, which is apt. The monochrome opening shots of the street and rooftops viewed from the flat also remind me a little of Wim Wenders’ movie Kings of the Road.

Then Mitchell appears. I’ve had a crush on Joni Mitchell since I was 15 (tall, blonde, intelligent, arty women who love pinball in general, but her in particular), so the second thing that strikes me is how beautiful she is in it. She’d be in her early forties when it was made, and has never looked more beautiful (at the time, she was with her second husband, who was my age, which would have riled me more at the time had I not just set up home with my own tall, blonde pinball-player). We don’t see her object of desire, can’t make up our mind whether the guy she’s watching could be the love from her youth or is someone who happens to look like him. Which is as it should be, because the song is set on a Sunday, when he would not be at work.

The weekends drive me mad/Holidays are oh too sad/ ‘Cause you don’t go/ Below my window We see Mitchell write some lyrics, lays on her bed, looks out of the window, looking gorgeous in every shot, a precursor, in her way, of the arty peop,e who endlessly publish pretty pictures of themselves on Instagram or wherever, hoping we’ll confuse their looking good with proof that they must be a good artist. I’m not sure the video entirely works, this tantalisingly beautiful women hiding in a two room flat so that she can glimpse some bloke who doesn’t know she’s there on his way to and from work. Mitchell said that the song isn’t a self-portrait. The video, inevitably, turns it into one. Even so, I enjoy looking at Joni looking lovelorn and the short film doesn’t distort the song (which is gender-neutral).

Masterfully, the lyric unfolds backwards, so we only get the back story in the final verse: No one knows I’m here/ One day I just disappeared/ And I took these two grey rooms up here. The song ends with a wistful, repeated chorus of ‘below my window’s. The camera pans away. We’re unsure what happened and have to go back to the start and listen again, see if we can make more sense of it this time. What makes this song so great is how much it leaves out, leaves to the imagination. Knowing the Fassbinder story distracts, but only briefly. In recent years, Two Grey Rooms has had a few cover versions. Perhaps it’s being belatedly recognised as one of Mitchell’s greatest works, much like Cohen’s Hallelujah which also came out in the mid-80s, but wasn’t widely noticed until much later. This morning I watched Joni take a bow at last night’s Grammy awards. She’s relearning to speak after a brain haemorrhage, which is horrible, but at least she’s still with us, and – I hope – able to fully appreciate all of the tributes she’s been receiving in the year of her 75th birthday. At least many of the people who love her words and music are able to tell her how much we’ve been enthralled and inspired by her – in my case, for forty-five years. Thank you, Joni.

PS. A couple of days after I wrote the above, this was taken: two of my favourite artists. Yorkshire meets Saskatchewan. So I had to finish with it.

Dylan Moran: Nottingham Royal Centre 7.10.18

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

Extended, more considered (ie less tactful) take on the show at the Royal Centre last weekend, the original of which appeared in yesterday’s Post.

Dylan Moran has lost weight and gained a better haircut since he was last here, four years ago. He’s sharper in other regards, too, and starts with something he never does: audience participation. However, he warns

‘If you join in, I will judge you.’

It’s 22 years since the Irish comic, now 47, won a Perrier award, 14 since the glorious bookshop comedy, Black Books, opened the door for more TV and film. Yet his work in neither area has fully taken off and he remains primarily a stand-up, with a new tour every three or four years. Last time round, he gave the sense that his heart wasn’t entirely in it. Maybe Nottingham got an off night. To get us in the mood for tonight’s show, we rewatched a couple of episodes of Black Books, which remains gloriously funny.

Tonight, he kicks off in fine fettle, in a long piss take of comics’ ingratiating how nice it is to be back in your wonderful city routine, describing a visit to our non-existent standing stones. Riffs about Brexit and his family are broken up by other surreal flights of fancy, along with copious swearing. Half an hour in, we’re given a reason for his new demeanour (though he never explains the show’s title). One which also explains the large red teapot on stage. He gave up drinking wine in January. For a comic whose biggest role has been that of a wine drinking dipsomaniac, this is a big deal

‘Now every day feels like three or four years.’

He doesn’t want to talk about Trump. ‘I don’t want to go round the bin saying “that’s a smelly bin”. Everybody knows it’s a smelly bin.’ Throughout, there’s rather too much my generation’s getting old and people who don’t remember before the internet don’t know they were born. The stuff about his kids also feels lazy, and I suspect that’s not just because I don’t have kids. Most of it goes down well though. The forty minute first set flies by.

The second set, half an hour, mostly on death and marriage, doesn’t really get going. The encore, too, is brief and unmemorable. One can’t help but feel you’ve seen a 55 minute festival set fleshed out to fill the 75 minute minimum required to justify the seat price and interval. Even so, Moran remains an original, with plenty of fine one-liners. Good to see him in better form, but I might sit out his next visit.


PS A big thank-you to everyone who came to my book launch the night before (see below), especially Jim Burns and Gallery 47, both of whom were brilliant. It was a lovely occasion, really special, and great to get such positive reaction to the story. Thanks again to all at Candlestick Press for publishing it and Five Leaves for hosting.

Trailer Park Boys, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall 17.9.18

Thursday, September 20th, 2018

Slightly expanded version of my review in yesterday’s Post. Tomorrow, news of my next book.

This Canadian mockumentary has run to twelve seasons (the first eleven recently went up on Netflix), but has always felt like a secret. Indeed, the only person I know who watches it, and is going to this tour, is the internet buddy who introduced me to them ten years ago. Yet the Concert Hall is crowded with, thirty-somethings. How did they hear about it?

Some have taken the cast’s advice: come drunk and this docu-soap, about a pair of ne’er do well dope growers living in a Canadian Trailer Park and their neighbours, is best watched while well oiled. Julien (master mind/all day drinker) and the indefatigably dumb yet arrogant Ricky get into all sorts of scrapes, frequently assisted or hindered by their bespectacled, not-as-nerdy-as-he-looks friend, Bubbles, while wannabe cop Randy tries to frustrate them.

The TPB’s arch enemy, park boss Jim Lahey, was played by John Dunmore, who died a year ago, putting the series into hiatus. He’s featured heavily tonight, in the copious clips shown on a big screen, which is where Ricky and Julien first appear, in silhouette. They’re soon followed by Randy and his famous belly. Yes, TPB fans, Randy stays topless throughout.

The show is at its best when it’s just the four of them, affectionately riffing, talking filthy and teasing each other. Ricky, for instance, thinks that Cheerios are baby doughnuts. But there are two hours to fill, which means audience participation games and a couple of songs. Their version of Pointless (Sunnivale Feud) is endless but ‘Ball Off’ is funny and Randy’s Belly Baring competition is hilarious.

Before the interval, Randy sells playing cards in a raffle for Ricky’s bong. The winner is presented with it at the climax, then invited backstage.  The evening is anchored by Bubbles, who sings and plays surprisingly well. His band will appear on the Trailer Park Boys cruise, promoted on the stage backdrop before and after the show, where minor characters Corey and Trevor (& many more) will also be there for the faithful. Tonight was pretty good but I think that’s a step too far for me….

The biggest cheers of this good-natured evening come for the tribute to the late, not-so-great Jim Leahy at the end. The 18 year old I took with me loved it all and the TPBs say they’ll be back. The TV show may be over but this may turn out to be less of an ending, and more the beginning of a lucrative new chapter.

Martin Simpson & Martin Taylor, Lakeside, Nottingham April 6th 2016

Sunday, July 29th, 2018

Not only has the Post stopped reviewing ‘minor’ gigs (ie anything smaller than Rock City) but most of the old reviews have gone from their website, so, in the summer doldrums, I’m going to post a few of the older reviews that I didn’t get round to posting at the time, unaltered (bar the odd corrected typo). Call it vanity, if you like, but this website (one of the UK’s first author blogs) is collected by the British Library’s UK Web Archive which means that the posts won’t disappear, and some may, in future, be of interest to fans of the artists reviewed. They’re not in any particular order.

What happens when jazz meets folk? It’s not a common crossover. Last time I saw jazz guitarist Martin Taylor, 59, he was with the late, great violinist, Stéphane Grapelli, occupying a role once held by Django Reinhardt. Tonight, he’s performing with Scunthorpe’s finest, Martin Simpson, 62, one of our very best folk singers and guitarists. It’s an intriguing combination, and tonight’s show is long sold out.

Taylor wears a suit and holds his guitar upright, jazz style. Simpson, in blue jeans and open necked shirt, hugs the guitar to his lap. They open with a laid back version of Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time, a good indication that the jazz part of the evening will veer towards easy listening. The men combine beautifully on Ginger, with haunting sustained feedback from Simpson. Taylor’s solo slot includes his hero, Henry Mancini’s, Two For The Road, Piaf’s Hymn a L’amour and a bossa novaish take on the Carpenters’ I Won’t Last A Day Without You.

Both men are good raconteurs and Simpson sings with plenty of depth. His folk-blues solo set features the chilling story of the  Second World War raid on Slapton Beach in Dark Swift and Bright Swan and an account of visiting the Mississippi Delta in a Chevy 55 Bel Air. ‘You Learn a lot from playing with other people,’ he says, and the two Martins have a good rapport, best expressed in their looser second half. Simpson combines St James Infirmary and Dylan’s Blind Willie McTell, explaining the roots of each. Then Taylor plays an improvised fill so lovely that Simpson briefly forgets the words.

Wild Mountain Thyme and Taylor’s fun Down At Cocomo conclude the main set of this generous, two hour show by two fine guitarists who blend together surprisingly well.

Taylor and Simpson continue to play together, with shows advertised for this autumn.