Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Being Human, Heroes, Lost... TV's All Gone to Sh*t

Once in a while, when I'm not off cavorting at gigs, skulking around seedy cabaret clubs or entertaining the unsuspecting streets of Kemp Town with impromptu showtunes outbursts, I sometimes quite like to stay home and watch TV. Ever hopeful for something new and exciting on the box, a few months back we downloaded and watched the pilot episode of Being Human, a new BBC3 drama about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost sharing a house in Bristol. It sounded fun, and the pilot was excellent - a bit This Life, a bit Buffy, a bit ER (the werewolf and the vampire both work in a hospital) - in other words everything I could possibly want in a the way of televisual entertainment. At last, I thought, a decent fix of intelligent dark-humoured fantasy drama and with eye candy to boot.

To my immense disappointment, when the actual series finally launched some time later and the two strongest main characters had been replaced with new actors - including a distinctly less edgy and not at all sexy vampire - it just didn't do it for me any more. It wasn't just the actors though, the whole thing just felt cheaper and lacking in the essential cool factor which the pilot had delivered in spades. Somehow they had managed to break what I hoped would be my new TV addiction. I don't watch a lot of telly, but I do love to have something absorbing and distracting on the go and there hasn't been anything that ticked all the boxes since Joss Whedon's ill-fated Firefly.

Last night I half-heartedly started watching the new series of Heroes, knowing full well that just like the previous ones, it would be certain to disappoint. When Heroes first came on our screens it had all the makings of being exactly my kind of show, but then just kept going round and round in tedious circles, ever dangling the promise of something better over our hopeful little heads. It so should be good, but in reality it never quite hits the spot. Nevertheless, I keep watching and hoping until something better comes along, sucker that I am. And judging from the largely dissatisfied Twittering going on during last night's episode, I am not the only one trapped in this endless cycle of disillusionment.

On the DVD-front, we just finished season seven of Smallville (big 'meh') and are currently watching series one of The Sarah Connor Chronicles (whose duo of boot-clad leading ladies keep Ant happy) as well as season four of Lost. Despite having jumped the shark some time ago, Lost at least keeps the heart pumping with non-stop action-packed adventure, and plenty of bare-chested male totty action (yes I am that shallow), and I am intrigued to see where they will take it from this confusingly convoluted point. Next up on our LoveFilm rental list we have (in no particular order): Mad Men, Six Feet Under, more Dexter, True Blood, Wonderfalls, Dollhouse and Veronica Mars - all recommended by friends with SkyPlus who get to watch all these things as they come out and go on about them until I am worn into submission. And let's hope I'm not being led astray, because if there's nothing decent in amongst that lot, I may have to throw the TV out of the window and take up cross-stitch instead.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

In Which I Finally Get Frocked Up and Go Dancing

You wait five months for a big night out, then two come along at once... I may occasionally possibly have mentioned once or twice lately my frustrations about not having been out dancing since my birthday back in September. It was a sorry state of affairs, which I am relieved to report has now been rectified with a double whammy of social festivities.

Brighton Twestival, 12th Feb

On Thursday Ant and I joined the Brighton Twitterati for Brightwest at the Black Lion, part of the global Twestival fundraiser, which I've already written about for the C&M blog. It was a fun evening of putting real faces to avatars and shooting the breeze with like minded, passionate and interesting people. Unlike the majority of attendees - whose morning-after hangover Tweets provided much amusement - I stayed sober for the duration, which was just as well because Friday night brought an altogether more epic and energetic adventure...

Last Tuesday Society Ball, 13th Feb

One of London's many 'alternative' nightlife purveyors, The Last Tuesday Society has been putting on weird and wacky events since 2006. The latest (and reportedly final) event was an anti-Valentine's affair entitled 'Loss' which took place, appropriately, on Friday 13th. I was there with the lovely Angell, whose acquaintance I made almost exactly two years ago at another alternative night - from the currently dormant Lost Vagueness. After fuelling up with vintage rum and hearty pasta on board Angell's cosy houseboat, we made our way to Notting Hill, where a queue was building up outside the Tabernacle. Most had made a decent effort with their attire (the theme being 'Decaying Beauty'), but as always there were one or two conspicuously under dressed punters, who were frankly just begging to be mocked.

Inside, peacock feathers were being handed out in a half-hearted attempt to furnish those without costumes, but unfortunately there was no dressing up area like at Lost Vagueness, leaving the towny element at the mercy of our ongoing contempt. Embarking on the obligatory exploration of the venue, with which neither of us was familiar, we discovered an atmospheric central room with a stage and dancefloor, and a surrounding mezzanine - perfect for people-watching. The rest of the space was a warren of less theatrical flourescently-lit side rooms and corridors, where various activities such as onion chopping (to make you cry) and a life drawing class had been laid on. It was in such areas that our more colourful encounters occurred, though the dancefloor did afford some quite sociable dancing episodes.

The highlight of my night - apart from Angell's charming company of course - was a storytelling session in a tiny side room, for which we demanded that the annoyingly intrusive lights be switched off. Six or seven of us huddled in a broom cupboard in the dark were just able to make out the flowing ginger hair and emphatic expressions of our rakish raconteur, who treated us to a spellbinding Arthurian tale, told faultlessly from memory. The gloriously sonorous storyteller was Giles Abbott, a true stalwart luvvie (in the best possible way) if ever there was one.

Both the live bands we saw were good fun, particularly The Guillotines, whose Saxophonist I'm sure I recognised from Brighton. I particularly relished flagellating the singer (upon his request, I might add) with a large stuffed tiger which had been pulled from one of the many bundles of cuddly toys hanging from the ceiling. An 'avant-garde' (i.e. wanky) drag mime act died on its feet and spelled the beginning of the end when punters began to boo and throw things at the stage. It didn't help that the bar had run out of spirits by 1am (note to self: conceal hip flask in stockings in future), and people were getting increasingly tetchy about it. But despite these slight hiccups, the atmosphere was a friendly one, and we had an excellent night of random conversations and wanton mischief.

Back at the boat, Angell and I polished off the best part of a bottle of rum and stayed up chatting til sunrise. I can't remember the last time I did that, and it was especially magical to do so from inside a houseboat on the Thames, which provided a most stunningly dramatic view. The following day was spent watching the world go by on the river whilst listening to an eclectic selection of tunes and reminiscing about our exploits the night before. I finally dragged myself back to Brighton in the early evening, feeling far less wretched that I ought to have done considering, and with my dancefloor cravings firmly sated.

More photos from the Last Tuesday Society Ball at: www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thomas Truax, Birdeatsbaby and The Veloes at the Freebutt

Remember when you were a kid and you used to think that your body was powered by lots of little people inside you, pulling levers to activate your brain or make you move your leg? OK, so maybe that was just me and my strange imagination. But I sometimes still indulge this notion, if only to explain the perpetual soundtrack accompanying my every thought and dream. I'm convinced that there's a tiny band playing inside my head, responding to my day to day actions and emotions like a well punctuated film score.

If ever a real life band came close to recreating the imaginary sound of my psyche, it's Birdeatsbaby, who I discovered at the Freebutt last night supporting Thomas Truax. A gloriously OTT ensemble, the twisted Brighton troubadours describe themselves as a 'dark cabaret band' but that doesn't quite cut it. Imagine a young Kate Bush, instead of signing to EMI and becoming a pop superstar, falls in with a bunch of gypsies and runs away to the circus where her true murderous nature is revealed... and you will be along the right lines.

Despite struggling against a shoddy sound system which clearly didn't do justice to her vocals, the lead singer threw herself wholeheartedly into the Moulin Rouge-meets-Hammer Horror material, while I stood entranced. There was an element of student fancy dress party contrived madness about the whole set up, but that only made it all the more appealing. The previous support act, The Veloes, had played a pleasing but not particularly original mix of jangly indie and 90s Britpop style numbers with the occasional departure into reggae-infused prog, so when Birdeatsbaby appeared in all their bonkers burlesque glory, it was a surprising and welcome contrast and a good warm up for the properly eccentric madness that ensued when Thomas himself took to the stage.

We'd all been speculating as to the nature of a curious contraption (pictured above) which had been lurking at the back throughout the support bands, and appeared to be constructed from several bicycle wheels and an assortment of bric-a-brac. The thing was introduced by Thomas as ' Mother Superior' and turned out to be a rather impressive steam punk drum machine, just one of many Heath Robinson-esque home made instruments to materialise during the set. Using these, a guitar, his voice and a live looping machine, Truax embarked on a surreal and brilliantly baffling voyage of weirdness, which ended with the entire audience howling at the moon. Looking around the venue at a mixture of delighted and bemused faces, it was clear that one needed to posses a certain sense of humour to appreciate this unusual man's equally strange offerings. Having been raised on the absurdist humour of the Bonzos and other such musical comedy acts, I was perfectly in tune, and went home feeling thoroughly tickled.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Snowy Day in Brighton

Sunday night's impressive snowfall meant an impromptu day off on Monday for many people, and a day of working from home for those of us with laptops and internet access. Despite my excitement about the snow, I did actually manage to get on with quite a bit of work whilst watching a string of giddy kids walking past the window in wellies, carrying makeshift sledges and accompanied by equally ecstatic parents.

They were all heading for Queen's Park, our local haven of greenery, or on this occasion, whitery. The sloping dog-walkers' field is just about steep enough to slide down, though perhaps not as exciting as the slopes of Paradise Drive down which I remember careering wildly as a child.

Not wanting to be left out of the fun completely, Ant and I organised a meet-up with our other snowed-in friends, most of whom are teachers whose schools had been closed. It was supposed to be a lunch date, but the local cafe had run out of supplies with which to cook, so we had to make do with tea, cheesecake and a single portion of chips between us.

The walk home afterwards inevitably descended into a snowball fight, with handfuls of snow being shoved down the backs of necks and other such mean and dirty tactics. It was the best lunch break I'd had in ages. Later on, Ant ventured into the garden to build this excellent snowman, accessorised by me.

Emmy the Great gig at Komedia

In the evening we wrapped up and braved the icy streets to see Emmy the Great at Komedia. I'd half expected the gig to be cancelled, but the fact that it went ahead in spite of the extreme weather conditions made for a convivial festival atmosphere among the welly and walking boot-clad crowd.

With the launch of a debut albumimminent, the band was evidently excited to be playing to their ideal audience of skinny-jeaned students and Brighton trendsters. A prim middle class alternative to Kate Nash, Emma-Lee Moss's earnest autobiographical ditties have been earning her a fair bit of praise and regular airplay on alternative stations such as 6Music, which is where she first came to my attention.

Such touchingly confessional songs as 'First Love' and 'We Almost Had A Baby' are refreshingly ingenuous when heard as one-offs over the radio, but when heard one after the other, Moss's clever lyrics get lost in repetitive melodies and start to sound tiresomely twee.

To be fair to Emmy, my overall appreciation of the gig was impaired by a drunker-than-she-realised punter who insisted on loudly goading her mates into dance along to even the most sedate numbers, undeterred by my politer-than-I-could-have-been objections. I'm thinking of getting some 'Did you realise that there is a special circle of hell for people who talk in theatres/shout through gigs/are nine feet tall and stand in front of me?' cards printed for such occasions; I doubt it would help much, though it would make me feel better.

Emmy the Great's debut album 'First Love' is out on Close Harbour on 9th February.

Photo of me and Angell walking in Abbots Wood on Sunday taken by meeware.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Into the Woods at the Gatehouse

One of my all-time favourite musicals, Into the Woods first came to my attention back in the early 90s, when the Broadway production starring Bernadette Peterswas televised. I've watched that version many times over, and know the London cast recordingoff by heart, but had only ever seen a bad amateur production live on stage. As is often the way with Sondheim, the combination of subtle dark humour and a complex score makes Into the Woods a challenging prospect for even the most talented professional company, and when I heard it was to be revived on the London Fringe, it was with a certain degree of trepidation that I booked tickets.

Last night was the penultimate performance of the 2008/9 revival, and we trekked all the way up to Highgate (via the British Museum) to see it. The main reason we went was to support my good friend Dominic Brewer (pictured here on the left), whose performance as the Baker has earned rave reviews. Dom and I worked at Waterstone's together in 1998/99, and bonded over our mutual propensity to burst into song at any opportunity, particularly during booze-fuelled Christmas shopping evenings. He's been a jobbing actor for a few years now, but I hadn't seen him in a lead role since he went professional. The Baker and his wife are the central characters in this clever ensemble piece, crossing paths with other fairy tale characters in the woods during their desperate quest to reverse a family curse placed upon them by a malevolent witch.

The Gatehouse production breathed new life into an established musical, resisting the temptation to emulate previous interpretations (which is exactly what made the aforementioned amateur one so painful). I was so overjoyed to hear beautiful diction all round and not a trace of that Americanised singing which so often infuriates me in West End shows these days. Very wisely, they had stripped out some of the weaker songs, and kept the dialogue zipping along so that it never dragged. I'm not just saying this because he's a mate, but Dominic gave a storming performance alongside his opposite, played by Rachel Bingham. The on-stage chemistry between them was electric, and despite knowing the score so well, I was regularly moved by their very individual and fresh delivery. Even Ant, who had been initially reluctant to see the show again, came away genuinely impressed and enthused; it had been a brilliant and memorable evening's entertainment.