Saturday, May 20, 2006

Martha Wainwright at the Hanbury Ballroom

In complete contrast to the previous night's entertainment, we went to see hippy folk-chick Martha Wainwright, who was headlining at the Hanbury as part of the Great Escape Festival. I may have mentioned once or twice how much I love Martha's debut album and so was really excited about seeing her live in such an intimate venue, before she makes it really big, which I'm sure is only a matter of time. The Hanbury is a strange hybrid of school-hall and Eastern temple and doesn't have the best acoustic for live music, but it is only down the road from us, which was a bonus on such a windy, rainy night.

We sat through two pretty lame support bands, entertaining ourselves by laughing at a painfully inebriated couple who had obviously been out drinking all day. The girl was staggering around and shouting at the bands, while her boyfriend struggled to stay upright and kept one eye closed, presumably in an attempt to keep his balance. It was unsurprising when they were quietly evicted at the start of Martha's set, after a few inane heckles. Martha dealt with this minor ruction, and a few subsequent technical problems, with unflappable professionalism, keeping the audience rapt throughout. It was just her and a guitar – no backing band - but she filled the space with a powerful, penetrating voice, like shattered honeycomb dipped in tequila. Everyone was eagerly awaiting the classic “Mother F**king Asshole” which she delivered with conviction as her final number. There was no encore, but then how could you follow that? She mentioned Rufus a couple of times, at one point proclaiming “I'm related to one of the best looking men on the planet...help me out here” and I wanted to shout out, “But you got all the talent”, but restrained myself. I figured there'd been enough heckling for one night and anyway, she seemed quite affectionate towards her brother and might not have appreciated such an obvious jibe against him. I do much prefer her voice to his though – it has so much more depth and character, while his is rather whiny. I hope she soon reaches the kind of acclaim Rufus currently enjoys, she certainly deserves it.

Beautiful Freaks

La Clique, The Famous Spiegeltent, Brighton Festival, 17th May 2006

Billed as “A Sideshow Burlesque” La Clique has been a sell-out at every festival for the last few years. It has acquired the sort of mysterious reputation in which those who have seen it are unable to sufficiently describe it, and simply recommend it with a nod and a wink. Having finally managed to get tickets this year, I can see why. From what I had gathered about it, I knew I'd have to take my two most theatrical friends (not counting family), Damien and Natalie. So I grabbed some of the last few tickets and we met up at the atmospheric Spiegel Garden on a rainy Wednesday night. The tickets carried an 18 certificate, so we decided to avoid excessive embarrassment by steering clear of front row seats, and instead heading for one of the cosy 'booths', which have an excellent view, but preclude eye contact with the performers! We also bumped into Sham and James and a friend of theirs, so we huddled together, giggling and chattering in anticipation.

The first 'sideshow' to appear was Camille, a smoky-voiced French/Irish cabaret singer, who captivated us with an energetic, quirky performance of a song about carousels and ferris wheels. Then came Miss Behave, who continued to pop up in between the acts with humorous tricks that included 'swallowing' the leg of a cocktail table. As the only straight guy at our table, Ant felt rather left out when the rather dishy English Gentlemen amazed and aroused the rest of us with their unfeasibly controlled acrobatics, demonstrating the kind of strength and skill most of us would never have the patience to accomplish. Their finale had the girls and gay guys fanning themselves, as they stripped down to very tight Union Jack pants, revealing the most perfectly toned bodies any of us had ever seen – each muscle defined and rippling... a collective "phwoar" echoed around the tent. The straight boys had their moment when cheeky stripper/conjurer Ursula Martinez concealed a little hankie about her person, removing a piece of clothing each time until there was nowhere else to hide it - I'll let you guess from where it finally appeared! The other acts included a Russian hula-hoop dancer, special guests 'Olé' – a cod-Spanish troubadour band, and a transexual mime artist in nothing but pearls, flailing around to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (I didn't get this one).

Damien was understandably overcome by the final act, a pretty German gymnast called David O'Mer who appeared in a bath full of water, wearing only a pair of jeans, and proceeded to swing himself up onto long straps, splashing elegantly in and out of the bath in an acrobatic display which included doing the splits mid-air over the bath. This is one of those acts which is impossible to adequately put into words – Damien's reaction probably says it best: “I've seen some gay porn in my time, but that was the most erotic thing ever!”, or something along those lines. A charming mix of traditional circus skills, vaudevillian-style cabaret and risqué comedy, La Clique must be seen to be believed.

We stayed on for a bit of a boogie at the Festival club, doing our own unique brand of free-form jiving to a fabulous mix of Rock 'n Roll, Bluegrass and Northern Soul, in the convivial setting of the Spiegeltent – not bad for a school night. Natalie decided to stay over with us, having had a few pints of cider, and we realised that it would be the first time she'd stayed at my house since we were teenagers.











Sunday, May 14, 2006

Antonio Forcione Quartet at the Spiegelgarden, Brighton Festival

Our first visit to the wonderful Spiegeltent this festival kicked off a typically eclectic Brighton Saturday night. Having had a sneak preview of Forcione when he was supporting Boothby Graffoe at Komedia, I was eager to hear the full spectrum of his talent, this time in the context of his quartet. The four musicians comprised a cellist, a percussionist, a bassist/flautist and of course the delightful Antonio on his many guitars. From what I'd previously heard at Komedia, I was expecting a bluesy set, with plenty of impassioned improvisation, and fingers moving at impossible speeds. There was passion and improvisation aplenty, and I was once again awed at the dexterity of Forcione's fingers, but was pleasantly surprised at the feel and style of most of the music.

Two of the musicians were African (percussionist and cellsit) and this came through in much of the material. What emerged was an uplifting fusion of bright Samba beats and avante-garde, extemporised jazz, all played with classical proficiency. Foricone embraces his intrument with evident fervour - using every part of it, not just the strings - and appears physically consumed by the music. Far from being a backing band, each of the musicians had their moment and proved themselves Foricone's equals in talent and execution. The percussionist looked as though he had most of Adaptatrap (Brighton's excellent percussion shop) in tow, as he deftly moved between an intriguing range of instruments, ranging from traditional drumkit to a bunch of shells on a string.

The Highlights included a jocular duet between Forcione and his percussionist on a type of African tambourine (I can't recall its proper name), and the closing number, which reverted to Forcione's native Italian style - a feverish Tarantella. The latter had my heart thumping and I left feeling thoroughly stirred and inspired.

Groupe F Pyrotechnics, Preston Park, Brighton

From the atmospheric Spiegelgarden, we walked over to Rob and Sarah's in Preston Park, where an afternoon drinking session/barbeque was in full swing. Being entirely sober amongst this evidently innebriated crowd was rather entertaining. Getting said crowd to the park in one piece for the Groupe F fireworks was an admirable feat, considering their collective condition. Not being a fan of fireworks particularly (it's the big bangs that upset me), I was somewhat wary, but had been assured by Rob that it would be worth it. He'd seen this same outift a few years back and had been blown away (bad pun, sorry). It was certainly a spectacular display, with men (or possibly women?) in illuminated suits appearing to fly across the stage, surrounded by various explosions and eruptions. I was mildly irritated by the pretentious music which accompanied the show and had to put my hands over my ears during several chest-thumping detonations.

The usual mayhem occured as 15,000 odd revellers tried to leave the park at once, and we lost Sarah & Rob et. al. in the process. Neither of us relishing big crowds, we hung back a bit until it had cleared sufficiently to walk, rather than shuffle, out. In a typically Brighton moment, we bumped into our upstairs neighbours, Sean and Sara, and ambled home with them via The Geese on Southover Street. Rounding off the night most pleasantly, we were invited up to theirs for a nightcap (or two) and finally started to get to know each other properly. Before we knew it, it was 3am and we were thankful to only have a few stairs to negotiate before flaking out.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Photogenic Accordian: The Tiger Lillies at Komedia

Forget light-hearted parodies and witty ditties, The Tiger Lillies served up a relentless offering of vulgarity, bad taste and grisly wit at their first of a three night run at the Brighton Festival. Dimly lit and presented in a seedy cabaret style in which the lead singer is a sneering, grumpy clown, they appeared like some sort of twisted vaudeville nightmare. Don't get me wrong, I love a bit of vulgarity and coarse humour, but it can become a bit oppressive when song after song features such macabre themes as kicking babies down stairs, dying from cancer and inciting abortion. Add to this the grating squawk of aforementioned clown/singer's limited-range vocals and you might want to have a stiff drink handy. On the up-side, I loved the general ambience of the occaision - an eccentric crowd (I wasn't the only one wearing a silly hat*), consummate musicians, and a real sense of 'theatre' in the burlesque tradition - even to the extent of the frontman staying in character for the (minimal) banter between songs. A few of the gentler numbers alleviated the incessant offensiveness, and occaisionally revealed a less irritating, softer vocal style. I wouldn't rush out and buy a CD, but might be tempted to download one or two songs, as there is certainly a place for the Tiger Lillies in my musi-comic hall-of-fame, albeit in its metaphorical gutter.





*On leaving the house to attend the gig, I felt compelled to don my bowler hat (purchased for my Sally Bowles costume) for the occaision and have decided it will become my festival hat! You can see the back of said bowler here, and birthday girl jen rolling up. Another interesting choice of head adornment in the background...


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Neil Innes at Komedia

I was brought up on the surreal humour of Monty Python, The Goon Show, The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and other such eccentric legends, and often bemoan the fact that there is little comparable comedy around today. I particularly love the type of comedy that involves music, or perhaps even more so, music with a comic element. Nothing beats a good old fashioned musical parody and who can do that better than Neil Innes; Bonzo member, unofficial “7th Python” (he penned the tunes for such classic ditties as “Brave Sir Robin” from Holy Grail) and co-creator of the genius Beatles spoof “The Rutles”? So when we learned he was touring again, we quickly snapped up tickets to his Brighton date at the Komedia, which also happens to be one of my favourite and most frequented local venues.

It was a real treat to see the man in action, albeit looking slightly lost without the repartee from his Bonzo bandmates. In their place he had two extremely talented and appropriately eccentric looking musicians, but their attempts to join in “the madness” seemed somehow contrived. Neil regaled us with anecdotes of the Bonzo years, touring with the Pythons, and generally ranted about life today in a charmingly tongue-in-cheek manner. He started off playing what he called a “medley of hit”, which was a quick version of Urban Spaceman (we got the full version as a reprise later). The rest of the set was mostly new material, which ranged from bonkers audience participation songs such as 'Charlie Big Potatoes' to a moving bluesy ballad about dealing with the death of friends. I laughed and I cried - always the sign of a good night out in my book.

It seems crazy that such a musi-comic genius is now unsigned (his latest album, Works in Progress is self-published) - OK it's not the Bonzos, but it has much merit of its own and certainly deserves a listen. Personally I would be in favour of Innes getting his own radio show - perhaps on Radio 2, as he himself dryly suggested he now belonged. He's got the gift of natural banter, and would certainly be an improvement on some of their current appalling DJs (Lulu ”I haven't had any surgery.....today” what-no-surname?, for example). Come on, let's start lobbying the BBC...