Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band, Shephred's Bush Empire

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to see the last night of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band's 40th anniversary tour at the Shepherd's Bush Empire. It's not often we go up to town on a weekend, so we decided to make a day of it by taking in a couple of Nordic Christmas markets in East London (as you do) - a Finnish one which was really cool and classy, and a Norwegian one which was anything but.

After a slightly indulgent early supper at the Bush Bar & Grill, we joined the queue of eager Bonzo-fans and marked our territory in the middle-aged mosh-pit. Most of the audience seemed to be made up of 50+ balding men, but everyone was in good spirits. I wish I'd worn my gig boots (oversized buffalos with 10" platform soles), as the SBE is not particularly well designed for standing punters - the stage is quite high up and the stalls floor isn't raked, so I found myself jumping up and craning my neck to see the onstage antics, of which there were plenty. Ant was kind enough to give me a piggy back for one of the numbers, so that I could fully appreciate the visual capers. The ageing band members were full of energy, which is more than can be said for the audience, who were disappointingly static. I can't help myself leaping around to songs such as 'Mr Slater's Parrot' which have induced uncontrollable giddiness in me since childhood. Special guests included Adrian Edmonson, Phill Jupitus, Paul Merton, and most pleasingly, Bill Bailey. None of them could replace the unique contributions of the legendary Vivian Stanshall, but thankfully they didn't even try. Neil Innes seemed to take the lead when it came to banter between songs, while the others pranced around like giddy teenagers, obviously relishing the occasion. Getting back to Brighton from London on a Saturday night (especially with rail replacement buses in place) is never a pleasant undertaking, but it was certainly worth it to experience the Bonzo madness in the flesh.



Photograph of Roger Ruskin Spear courtesy of Hddod

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Brighton's Best Pubs

Following on from my recent 'Country Pub Rant', I thought I'd share some thoughts on my favourite urban hostelries in my home town (I still can't think of it as a city), Brighton. So here's my top five, in no particular order...

The Barley Mow, Kemptown Village
Although not strictly the closest pub to my home, I still think of this place as my 'local'. It's cosy and traditional, with comfortingly simple and tasty pub grub. The staff are all really amicable, and always acknowledge their regulars, making you feel at home even when you arrive before the rest of your friends (which happens to me a lot - my friends all seem to have a punctuality problem!). There is a huge pile of assorted games in the corner, from Connect 4 to Jenga, and more obscure ones to boot. We've been frequenting this place since we became regular participants in (and fairly regular winners of) the weekly quiz (Thursday nights, from 9ish). Sunday roasts are particularly recommended - the portions are so generous, I've never been able to finish one yet!

The Lion and Lobster, Bedford Place
I used to live practically opposite this lovely, buzzy hang-out, which manages to maintain a 'locals' vibe, despite its central location. There is regular live music, of which Thursday night Jazz is especially good, and the food is pretty tasty as well. The decor is entertainingly eccentric - lots of old showbiz pictures and pages from magazines pasted all over the walls, and an assortment of random ornaments. Since they extended it around the back, there are plenty of dark and seedy hideouts for romantic trysts. I've also used it as overspill accommodation for parties etc (they have rooms upstairs), and am told that it's very comfortable. What's more, they throw in Sunday lunch if you stay there on a Saturday (presumably no-one gets up in time for breakfast!).

The Basketmakers, North Laine
Tucked away in a quiet backstreet, The Basketmakers thankfully escapes the onslaught of retail tourists who flood the North Laine at weekends, and is instead a haven for all kinds of local characters. The walls are covered with an array of vintage style tins (see picture above), into which it is traditional to put handwritten notes for others to read - always a good conversation starter. You can still buy a decent meal for under a fiver, and the beer is reasonably priced for Brighton, making this my top choice for a cheap and cheerful night out in the centre of town.

The Regency, Regency Square
The phrase 'Camp as Christmas' comes to mind when thinking about The Regency, and indeed the festive season is probably the best time to visit in order to fully appreciate the flamboyance of this legendary establishment. Decked out in faux-regency style furnishings, including in the ladies' (I can't speak for the gents', but am told its decor is also rather unique), it has traditionally become something of a pantomime set around Christmas. I sincerely hope that this custom will continue under the new management, since the departure of the fabulous former landlords. It's a great place for 'holding court' on a birthday or special occasion, and I always seem to get drunker than I mean to if I spend a whole evening there.

The George, Trafalgar Street
Although not particularly atmospheric, this one had to make the list purely by virtue of being the only all-vegetarian pub in Brighton, and because it has a non-smoking area, which is a major bonus in my book. There is a little yard out the back which catches the sun in the warmer months, and is covered and heated in the winter. The veggie grub is excellent, as is the selection of beers and organic wines.


Coming soon, 'Top Five Cocktail Bars', meanwhile:


Thursday, November 23, 2006

My New Favourite Bond

Like many other fans of the James Bond film franchise, I was dubious about the casting of Daniel Craig in the legendary 007 role. Whilst I respect him greatly as an actor, I found it hard to picture him as the suave and sexy spy, who for me had always been embodied by the twinkly-eyed Sean Connery. In spite of my reservations, I was eager to see the new movie, so much so that I booked tickets for the opening night and braved West Street to join hoards of others at the Odeon. We chose the slightly later showing in the hope that we wouldn't be surrounded by kids, and it seemed to work.

From the opening scene - a film-noir-esque depiction of Bond's violent initiation into 007 status - Casino Royale immediately distances itself from its predecessors in both style and substance. Gone are the gimmicky gadgets and tongue-in-cheek humour. Craig has seized the role by the neck and shaken (not stirred) new life into it. His Bond is less self-consciously sexual, making him imminently more appealing than the suggestive and somewhat sleazy versions offered by Brosnan, Moore, and even Connery. The endless innuendos and puns have been replaced by a refreshingly understated humour, subtly executed by Craig, who skilfully resists the temptation to milk it.

All the classic ingredients remain – the scarred European baddie, the smouldering smoky-eyed love-interest, and dramatic chase scenes a-plenty – but darker undertones, superior acting and a more human approach establish Casino Royale as a new breed of Bond. Any remaining doubts I may have had about Craig in the leading role were banished at the moment he emerged from the sea, pecks glistening, in a pair of tight swimming shorts (see above). Need I say more?