Friday, June 27, 2008

Found: Yoga Teacher with Own Sense of Reality

After Monday night's unsatisfactory yoga class, I did some homework to try and track down one that would suit my mental and physical needs, without being too preachy or esoteric. I came across a Brighton teacher who advocates a Humanistic approach to yoga, and whose teaching is informed by the needs of people in a modern context, stripping away all the ritualistic and mystical stuff that I find so off-putting. When I looked up the details of his classes, I realised that it was the same teacher who had been recommended to me some time ago by the lovely Sam Toft, my original yogi, when she stopped teaching. So I went along to a drop-in class last night with an open mind, and found that it was pretty much what I'd hoped for. The teacher was immediately likeable and approachable, guiding us through a series of asanas (poses), whilst occasionally provoking little philosophical discussions related to whatever we were doing at the time. This bit was a pleasant surprise, and the interaction gave the class a lovely friendly atmosphere. I came home feeling utterly chilled and resolving to go back next week with Ant, who I think would have really enjoy it too.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Merry-go-round of Words (and a Picture)

A couple of months ago I met children's author and illustrator Sam Lloyd, to interview her for the book review magazine Carousel. Although I've been reviewing for Carousel for a couple of years, this was my first full article for them, and the cover story no less! Having worked in children's publishing for many years, it was strange to be on the other side of the fence - actually interacting with the interviewee rather than being the publicist/minder in the corner. Sam was a great subject, and we chatted easily about all sorts of things, from writing and illustrating, to the imminent arrival of her first baby. I was already a big fan of Sam's Mr Pusskins books, being myself the custodian of a cantankerous fluffy ginger mog, so it was a real pleasure to talk to her in person, and even meet Mr Pusskins (well, a stuffed version of him made by Sam). The above photo was taken (by me) in her studio during the interview, and appears in the published piece (in the Summer 08 issue - just out), which you can see here. The editors must have been happy with the finished result, as they've asked me to interview Kristina Stephenson for the next issue.

Keeping my fingers in as many journalistic pies as possible, I'm also busy writing reviews for The Detour and reviewedonline.co.uk, which is my excuse for having watched the whole of Weeds series three in a week. Well they are only short! I'm actually sorry that I had to carve through it so quickly in order to get the review done, as I'm now in withdrawal. There is so little television that captures my attention and makes me laugh, that Weeds is a rare treat. I won't go on about it though, because you can read my review here. But if I stay indoors watching DVDs too much I get restless, so it's just as well that festival season is almost underway, taking me all over the country in pursuit of live entertainment. This year I'm giddily looking forward to writing about and/or photographing BooshFest (Kent), Latitude (Suffolk), Kendal Calling (Cumbria), and of course the unmissable Green Man (Wales). And thanks to my fabulous new camera bag (both practical and stylish, oh yes) I hope to not look too conspicuously hack-like, unless it's in a Lee Miller vintage explorer/correspondent type way, which would be cool.


Photograph of Sam Lloyd Copyright © 2008 Rowan Stanfield - www.jadedladyonline.com

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wanted: Yoga Teacher with Own Sense of Humour

As part of my renewed commitment to getting fit again, I went to yoga last night, dragging the other half along with me. We'd been once before to this particular class, over a year ago, and remembered it being a bit on the hippy dippy side, but had forgotten quite how annoying the teacher was. I have always pursued yoga for its physical benefits rather than to achieve spiritual enlightenment, which is not to say that there is no spiritual side to my experience of it. But I prefer not to have the finger cymbal stuff rammed down my throat, like being told I might as well not be there if I'm not reaching some kind of cosmic nirvana whilst in the frankly somewhat humiliating process of holding my leg behind my head. It also helps to have some practical individual feedback whilst attempting such poses, rather than being scolded from afar, which is what I felt last night. This guy had apparently achieved such bendiness that he'd accidentally disappeared up his own backside.

I'll admit, I have been spoiled in the past, which makes me a harsher critic. When I first started doing yoga, about 6 years ago, I was blessed with two wonderful teachers - Sam Toft and David Ronchetti, both of whom were attentive and interactive, never patronising or prescriptive. It helped that they also had a sense of humour. As far as I know, neither of them are teaching these days - Sam was also an artist and went on to great success with her now iconic Mustard paintings (of which I have one on my living room wall). I still see David out and about in Brighton from time to time, and he plays with a couple of local bands, including The Gin Club - check them out. Since Sam's and David's departure from the teaching game, I've yet to find another yoga teacher on my wavelength, and after yesterday's experience, my quest continues...

Photo by j/f photos on Flickr

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Coming to Terms with Vanity

A few weeks ago I bought my first tube of anti-wrinkle cream. This was a big step for one who always swore to grow old gracefully, without such trivial cosmetic interventions. As a self-righteous (blissfully wrinkle-free) teenager, I was quite adamant about this, refusing to believe that I would ever be shallow enough to let such aesthetic degeneration bother me.

Then this time last year, my first grey hair appeared. I pulled it out and stuck it in my diary; but what if more came? Thankfully I've always been into dyeing my hair for fun anyway, so followers of this lone crusader against youthfulness would easily be quashed. Little did I know that he'd be sending in back-up in the form of a couple of persistent frown lines between my eyebrows. These were made worse by the constant glowering brought on by the pain of having a fractured jaw and a mouth full of broken teeth, and are now visible even when I'm not actually frowning.

So yes, I take back everything I ever said on the subject. Give me the creams; give me the botox - I don't want wrinkles! Cheeky laugh lines are one thing, but ugly angry furrows in the middle of one's face are frankly unacceptable. Maybe these supposedly miracle unguents are all a fallacy, but just feeling as though I'm doing something about it makes my face relax a little, thereby forestalling any further encroachment by the evil enemy lines. I was surprised to discover that several of my friends (of both sexes) have also been revising their opinions about facial rejuvanation since suffering the first distressing signs of ageing.

If I'm prepared to get my mouth cut open and have my teeth fixed for aesthetic reasons (as I am in the process of doing), then why not my face or my body? OK, so maybe I'm not quite in need of a face-lift just yet, but I'd no longer rule it out. Clearly I've inherited my late grandmother's vanity, if none of her natural glamour. I don't think she ever had surgery, but she certainly wouldn't have gone out of the house without make-up. And now I totally understand why.

Photo by Giletti on Flickr

Monday, June 16, 2008

Recapturing Childhood Magic

When I was a child, we used to get taken on these big jolly picnics with a whole gang from the amdram crowd, including lots of other kids. We'd hike down the steep path from Beachy Head, little ones on shoulders, to a secluded sandy beach under the cliffs and spend long summer Sundays playing rounders, swimming, and going off exploring caves and rockpools while the grown-ups sunbathed. I once even found a fossil there. They were happy times, and I've held that beach in my memory as a place of childhood magic ever since.

On Saturday I finally went back there, hoping to recapture those carefree days and to share it with a few special friends. Contrary to all forecasts, the weather was perfect, with just the right amount of wind for kite-flying, and the place itself was just as beautiful and magical as I'd remembered it. Apart from the odd passing hiker or two, we had the whole beach to ourselves all afternoon, and time seemed to stand still as each of us soaked up the wonderfully tranquil atmosphere. If it hadn't been for the incoming tide, we could have easily sat there all evening - I don't think anyone wanted it to end.

Dragging out the day as much as possible, we stopped for a game of frisbee on the cricket green on the walk back - although the combination of cheap frisbee and a gathering wind made it a little frustrating. It was especially satisfying to pause and appreciate the sea in all its sparkly glory, away from the cheap distractions of Brighton promenade. I even had a brief pang of nostalgia for Eastbourne, as a crystal clear view of the town spread out below us. Sitting in the back of Olly's estate (perfect for picnics!) on the drive back, I was overcome by a severe case of the warm fuzzies, and an immense affection for my fellow passengers. It had been a truly lovely day.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, St George's Church

Mark Lanegan can come and read me bedtime stories any time he likes. Gravelly doesn't quite cut it as a description of his vocal talents - imagine a fist punching through warm treacle into broken glass and you will be close. Formerly lead singer with Seattle grungers the Screaming Trees and some-time vocalist with Queens of the Stone Age, Lanegan has now formed an unlikely musical partnership with ex Belle & Sebastian singer/cellist Isobel Campbell, with whom he is currently touring, following the release of their second album together. I caught them last night at St George's in Kemp Town, one of my favourite live music venues in Brighton.

Maybe it's my imagination, but the makeshift stage at St George's seemed to be even more poorly lit than at previous gigs, so that you could hardly make out the features of the performers. This combined with the fact that neither Lanegan or Campbell showed any effort to engage with their audience between songs, made for a strangely flat gig. The music itself was interesting - echoes of Nick Cave and Tom Waits, with a distinctly alt-country flavour (in other words, right up my street). Lanegan got by on the strength of his spine-tingling vocals, but Campbell's delicately ethereal voice was largely lost under the excessively enthusiastic (and for this small venue, just excessive) backing band.

The whole point of going to see a band live is to break down the barrier between artist and audience - to hear and see the music emerge from its creator and in doing so, enhance one's long term appreciation of their material. When musicians don't appear to be enjoying themselves, or even attempting to inject any enthusiasm into their live performances, it only serves to maintain and even reinforce that barrier, which does rather defeat the object. Both Lanegan and Campbell clearly have talent, and are making some compelling music together, but they lack any on-stage charisma, and come across as distant and aloof. If you are considering going to see them live, I would recommend spending the money on buying the new CD and staying home to listen to it instead. You'll probably get more out of it that way.

Monday, June 09, 2008

This One's for You, Dear Craig

After a stupidly prolonged absence, I finally made my grand return to the stage last night. I had been putting it off for one reason or another (studying, working, commuting etc) and it took a little push from a friend to get me back in the saddle, so to speak. I was performing at the Hailsham Pavilion as part of a charity concert organised by the gorgeous (and talented) Natalie, in memory of her dad and our mutual friend Craig, both of whom died before their time. As I was standing in the wings, waiting to give my all in their honour, I thought back to the first time I met Craig, when we were cast opposite one another as the lead roles in The Pajama Game, back in 1993. We hit it off straight away, sharing a mutually mischevious sense of humour that made rehearsals a scream, and were soon firm friends. It was a joy to perform alongside him in that show, and the others that followed. I'd always hoped we'd get to do a turn together again one day, but it wasn't to be, as Craig died of brain cancer in 2005, aged just 30.

It was an emotional and heartfelt occasion for so many reasons. All of the adult performers had either been in shows with, or were friends of, Craig and/or David (Nat's dad), and the audience included lots of old friends and family of both men. It was also the first time my mum and I had been on stage together since we did Annie about 25 years ago! She was compering the show, and a did a grand job, without the aid of a microphone. I was slightly perturbed at having to use a hand-held mic, something I've never done before. I don't think I really needed it in such a little venue, but our sound man wanted to make sure all the singers were level. My first appearance was a duet ('For Good' from Wicked) with Natalie, which closed the first half. In the second half I had my solo spot, singing 'Hymne a l'Amour' (in English), originally recorded by Edith Piaf. This was especially emotional, as it followed straight on from a very moving performance from 10 year old Gus, singing an original composition written in memory of Craig by his ex-boyfriend, Michael England.

video
Me singing 'Hymne a L'Amour' (filmed by Ant from row G)

For the finale, everyone piled on stage to sing 'Seasons of Love' from Rent - not one of my favourite musicals, but Craig loved it, so we gave it our all for him and the sentiment rang true. Belting out a ridiculously high note at the end, I looked skywards and devoted it to my dear friend - gone but never forgotten. After the show, cast members and their respective entourages piled into the pub opposite for a much-needed drink and hug-fest, congratulating Natalie on a job well done. There was also much discussion of what my next theatrical venture might be, now that I've been re-initiated. The trouble is, no one seems to be doing any shows that I fancy being in, and I'm also scared of turning up to a new society and braving the inevitable cliques. I guess I'll just have to put on my own production, casting all my friends and giving myself the juiciest part of course! Watch this space for further ponderings on this subject...

Friday, June 06, 2008

Another Surreal Lewes Moment

Jeremy Paxman came into our offices yesterday and I missed it. Apparently he'd been spotted filming down the road in the 15th Century bookshop, where a member of our advertising department stalked and eventually accosted him. She then persuaded him to come and pose for photographs with her colleagues, one of whom is a massive fan. He was only too happy to oblige, and spent the afternoon being fondled and fawned over by the over-excited team of ladies. This story was relayed to me at the bus stop last night by one of the girls in question, who had the photographic evidence on her phone. As she was recounting the story to an increasingly bemused audience of fellow commuters, the man himself was standing outside the legendary Catlin's, not 10 yards away. Only in Lewes.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

I ♥ Musicals, Deal With It

I'm not ashamed to admit that I like musicals. It's in my blood - my great-grandparents were singers in the D'oyly Carte Opera (which pretty much invented the genre of the popular musical, performing the accessible and often humorous works of Gilbert & Sullivan), and I've been in dozens of amateur productions myself. It's been a few years now since I graced the stage, but I still like to go and watch other people leaping around and expressing themselves through the medium of song now and again. Of course it doesn't always work, and there are some dodgy productions out there that drag down the good name of the musical altogether. I recently tried to watch the film of Rent on DVD and had to turn off after 20 minutes, it was such a depressingly flat affair. To me, musicals should be jolly and uplifting, or at least have a good story and some memorable songs.

The last couple of West End productions I've seen - Avenue Q and Wicked - were both brilliant, and hard acts to follow, so when the lovely Neel announced that he wanted to go and see Hairspray on his birthday, I was somewhat dubious. But going on adventures with Neel is always fun, and with a gang of 15 signed up for it, I knew we'd have a giggle even if the show wasn't all that. But as it turned out, I quite enjoyed it. Never having seen either of the films, I was oblivious to the plot, which is a good thing in itself - with so many musicals you already know what's going to happen and just have to hope that the songs are enough to keep you amused. In the case of Hairspray, it's a pretty obvious rise of the underdog tale, set in 1960s Baltimore when racial segregation was still the norm. With full marks for feel-good factor, this new production is bursting with energy and humour, with a classic performance from Michael Ball in (almost believeable) drag. I know that a lot of people find him irritating, but I have a secret soft spot for old dimple cheeks. No one could deny that he has great stage presence, and a lovely singing voice. Admittedly, he did milk some of the comedy moments a little too much, but more in the over-the-top spirit of the show than through wanton self-indulgence.

The costumes were fabulous, and made me want to get straight onto ebay and treat myself to some vintage frocks. I found myself foot-tapping (though not clapping along - why do people do that?) through lots of the songs, and can even imagine one or two of them making their way into my DJ setlist repertoire. Most of all, it was lovely to break up the week with a cultural adventure, even if it did mean braving the cattletrucks and crowded streets to get across London. It also made me feel more excited about my own imminent return to the stage this Sunday, as part of a charity concert in aid of St Wilfrid's Hospice at Hailsham Pavilion. The last I heard, there were still a few tickets left (available from 01323 841414) if anyone feels inclined to witness this *ahem* historic event.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Singing for Your Supper

Going to Bom-Bane's The Musical was a bit like taking a step back through time into my 70s childhood. My early years were punctuated by those slightly surreal, often quite musical television programmes like Bagpuss, Rainbow and that one with Christopher Lillicrap, the name of which I can never remember (someone enlighten me, please!) - not to mention a family life in which bursting into song was a daily occurrence, as normal as brushing your teeth. So having my Friday night meal narrated by singing minstrels somehow seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

From the moment we arrived through the doors of the teeny Bom Bane's cafe on George Street on Friday night, we were warmly received into the eccentric Bom-Bane family. Each of the upstairs tables has some kind of gadget that livens up your mealtime - ours was a motor that made the table go up and down randomly during the meal. Soon the place was buzzing with diners, all eagerly awaiting the evening's entertainment - which began with a welcoming song for which we were led downstairs by Nick Pynn's bewitching fiddle-playing.

The rest of the meal was interspersed with songs from other staff members, including the hostess, Jane Bom-Bane herself. Each humorous ditty related to the food or the venue in some way, enhancing the whole experience wonderfully, and breaking the ice between diners. For such a tiny venue, they managed to pack in an extraordinary array of instruments, including two harmoniums and a theramin. The food itself was hearty and unpretentious, starting with a selection of tasty dips with rustic bread, followed by Sausages and Stoemp (a type of mash) and concluding with the Bom-Bane's signature pudding -
chocowafflettes, with a lovely fresh fruit salad. The finale number was a very Bagpuss-esque tribute to Bom-Bane's The Hat - a model of the cafe, complete with motorised penguins representing the staff (!) and sported by a very deadpan Jane Bom-Bane.

While we were sat polishing off our second bottle of (delicious organic) wine afterwards, I kept thinking of people who would have loved the evening as much as me, so I have decided to try and organise a private performance for my birthday in September. The next public shows are on Thurs June 12th, Sat June 28th, Thurs July 17th and Sat July 26th - get yourself a ticket here.