Culture

July

Life of Galileo, Brecht, Young Vic – London

Energetic Brecht

Dynamic production, by Joe Wright, which failed to convey the power of Brecht I felt. Brendan Cowell was excellent in the lead.

Queen Anne, Helen Edmundson, Theatre Royal Haymarket – London

Female politics

I’m very vague on the history of the time but this was a compelling retelling putting women in the centre of the discourse. Sign of the times?

Giacometti and Fahrelnissa Zeid, Tate Modern – London

Fascinating survey

Loved the chronological development of this guy’s work.

Dazzling arrays

Never heard of Zeid but enjoyed her massive canvasses; interesting to see the vast changes in her style.

Playlist
Schoenberg: Gurrelieder, CBSO – Rattle. However, Mark Elder’s recent Halle live performance must rank as the best I’ve heard.

June

Guests – Krzysztof Wodiczko at Northlight (Brierfield) Mill, Brierfield

Eerily Other

Was a bit of a trek to see this but it was worth it. Wodiczko managed to both humanise migrants and emphasise the Otherness with which they are treated.

Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards – The Live Room, Saltaire

All ace

There’s always trepidation (for me anyway) when seeing a band a second time who were brilliant on the first gig. Halfway through the first song the anxiety of disappointment had trooped away. Could be one of the gigs of the year again. Support act, the unfeasibly young (I mean I’m unfeasibly old), Don’t Feed the Peacocks, showed confidence and consummate skill; going places.

Playlist
Ginastera, One Hundred

May

The Fall, Belgrave Music Hall – Leeds

Past it

One of us is past it. Mark E Smith looked haggard when I saw him nearly 30 years ago; now he sounds haggard and that’s being polite. It’s in The Fall’s contract, according to the venue, that they don’t come on ’til 10 (and the support failed to turn up) so I was pissed off before the excruciating yowling started. His band’s good though. I didn’t last long; maybe I’m past it.

Brad Mehldau Trio, Howard Assembly Rooms – Leeds

Dazzling

Wasn’t quite what I was expecting – jazz-bending of familiar tunes – but nevertheless was a virtuoso treat; particularly from drummer Jeff Ballard.

Maarja Nuut, Howard Assembly Rooms – Leeds

Fabulous

Maarja told us Estonian folk tales and wrenched her country’s traditional music idiom into the 21st century with loops and samples. Super spinning waltz too. Magical.

Playlist
Lambchop, Flotus
Aldous Harding, Aldous Harding
Elizabeth Hilliard, Sea to the West
Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure
Jamie Woon, Making Time
Hans Abrahamsen, Let Me Tell You – Barbara Hannigan, Andris Nelsons & Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Sibelius: Symphonies 3, 6 & 7 Minnesota Orch – Vanska
Elza Soares, A Mulher do Fim do Mundo
Clarke: Works for Viola, Rúnya Duo

Books 
A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson
The Filter Bubble, Eli Pariser

April

Brocken Spectre – Rieuvaulx Abbey 

Now we didn’t see it

English Heritage’s ‘light and sound’ experience was pathetic. To be fair to the installer, Charles Monkhouse, he was apologetic, reckoning the event had been over sold.

Lisa O’Neill, The Brudenell Social Club – Burley

Intense

The distinctive tone of O’Neill’s voice reminded me of Joanna Newsome. O’Neill clearly has battles with mental illness but, as she says, the benefit is she finds she writes songs when she spends too long on her own. Brilliant band played an intense set.

The Red Shoes, Matthew Bourne – Alhambra, Bradford

Dazzling movement and theatricality

Sensational production (typical Bourne) with great hybrid score conjured from early Bernard Herrmann. Perfect evening.

Playlist
Laura Marling, Semper Femina
Jenny Hval, Blood Bitch
Rufus Wainwright, Take All My Loves
Nadia Read, Preservation

Books
Children of Time, Adrian Tchaikovsky – quite brilliant

March

The Fair Rain – The Live Room, Saltaire

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An entrancing rain falls

Very varied, these guys roamed away from folk with great skill. Jazz-folk a one point; new one on me.

Gaudete Ted Hugues – OBRA Theatre Co., Laurence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield

Never heard of it; never want to hear of it

Great performances but of what I don’t know. Mistakenly didn’t see the sign: Act 1 45 mins; Act 2: 1 hour 55 mins. Aaaaaagh!

Trio Medieval and Arve Henriksen – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

Sublime

Three voices, singing ancient Norwegian folk, and one trumpet do offer a challenge to sonic variety but my attention only sagged once. Their artistry, and Henriksen’s playfulness, made this a great gig.

Stornoway – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

It’s been a blast

Maybe it’s me like last night (the Curious Incident below) I didn’t feel exactly engaged with this farewell performance (a good 105 mins) but I did enjoy it by the end. Apparently Brian Biggs is off to be a nature reserve warden: kudos.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, Mark Haddon (stage adaptation) – Grand, Leeds

Curious but not compelling

Great production but I never felt involved. Was is because of the impossibility of empathising with an autistic character (in the sense he won’t care if you care)?

Playlist
Clare Teal, Twelve o’ Clock Tales

Books
The North Water, Ian McGuire

February

Skylight, David Hare – Theatr Clywd, Mold

Jeany Spark glowing

Jeany Spark glowering

20 years old but not dated. Loved Kyra’s (Spark) rant against ‘wealth creators’ (“It’s not enough just to make money any more!”) aimed at Thatcherism but now mainstream to our detriment. Excellent production (though Jay Villiers was too old for Tom’s 18 years) and performances; Spark glowered in particular.

January 2017

Mandolin Orange – The Live Room, Caroline Social Club, Saltaire

Hotter without the mandolin

Hotter without the mandolin

I’ve nothing against mandolins but the sound here was a little fierce. Great variety of instrumentation and talent on view.

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra – Town Hall, Leeds

Centenary celebration

Centenary celebration

Shostakovich’s 12th, an ambiguous celebration of the 1917 revolution, was brilliantly played; Petrenko ran all four movements together which emphasised the drama. Not sure why Liszt arranged Schubert’s ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy for piano and orchestra but it was better than I thought it would be; Teo Gheorghiu was the excellent soloist. If the first three ‘intervals’ of Britten’s ‘sea’ movements were a little slow, the speeded up storm benefited with increased viscerality. Brilliant concert.

Aziza Brahim – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

Vibrant voice and rocky guitars

Vibrant voice and rocky guitars

She was good… but not as good as I hoped. Not complain’.

Playlist

Dvorak: Rusalka, Fleming, Heppner, Czech PO – Mackerras
Rachael Yamagata, Tightrope Walker
Reich: Early Works
Elgar: Symphony 1, Berlin Stattskapelle – Barenboim
Renee Fleming, Distant Light, Royal Stockholm PO – Oramo
Schubert: String quartet 15, Doric String Quartet

Books
Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Chris Cleave
Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel
The Portable Veblen, Elizabeth Mackenzie

December

Salsa Celtica – Victoria Hall, Saltaire

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Getting into the mood for 2017

Most people were getting into the mood for next year but, for some reason, I wasn’t. At least I hope I wasn’t: I didn’t enjoy it.

The Red Shed – Mark Thomas – Square Chapel, Halifax

Solidarity from the heart

Solidarity from the heart

Affecting tale of Thomas’ relationship with Wakefield’s Red Shed reminding how easily it is to forget and how important it is to remember class solidarity. Never more needed than now; I’m talking ‘working class’.

Books
Lover, Anna Raverat
Viral, Helen Fitzgerald

Playlist
Wolf: Kennst du das Land, Sophie Karthäuser and Eugene Asti
Lisa Hannigan, At Swim
McGuire: Entangled Fortunes, Red Note Ensemble
Drop Down, Ye Heavens: Advent Antiphons for Choir & Saxophon, Siglo de Oro

November

Dar Williams – Band on the Wall, Manchester

Relaxed singer-songwriting

Relaxed singer-songwriting

No heights in this gig for me but can’t think of a better way of spending Sunday evening.

Parallel by Laura Lindsay – Square Chapel, Halifax

Rolling the dice for roles

Rolling the dice for roles

Laura Lindsay (left) very interesting play shows life on the edge of homelessness. They chucked a dice for the roles at the start suggesting the randomness of ‘fate’. The role of ‘C’, was taken by a ‘stand-in’ for the tour and she was superb. Both Lindsay, and Arabella Giddens, were excellent too but – can’t find her name – fully inhabited the role of ‘batty C’. Will watching out for more Black Toffee productions.

Oakbank Mill, Styal

 

The impressive bad old days

The impressive bad old days

Victorian engineering was amazing, as I saw at this old cotton mill, but the exploitation of the workforce was appalling even in ‘enlightened’ places such as this.

Rachael Yamagata – King’s Head, Salford

Up close and soulful

Up close and soulful

Blimey Yamagata can sing and has tremendous stage presence. Having sailed across the very wet M62 to see her it was more than worth it.

Czech National Symphony Orchestra, Libor Pesek – Leeds Town Hall

Sound to small Or my position in the hall?

Sound to small
Or my position in the hall?

Seems unlikely that I wouldn’t be moved by Beethoven’s 5th or Dvorak’s cello; and everyone else seemed to enjoy it. Must’ve been me then.

Jon Boden – Victoria Hall, Saltaire

There’s no doubting Jon’s musicianship and showmanship but having been used to the intimate surroundings of the Caroline Social Club, back in Victoria Hall’s cavernous architecture might have mitigated my enjoyment. Support, Bella Gaffney, is a superb guitar player.

The Bad Plus – Howard Assembly Rooms, Leeds

Extraordinary musicianship ain't easy

Extraordinary musicianship ain’t easy

I was sitting near to the drums so could admire Dave King’s fantastic rhythms. The other too are great too. Brilliant gig with excellent support from Binker & Moses.

KT Tunstall – Barbican, York

KT rocking at a distance

KT rocking at a distance

Enjoyed this the least of the times I’ve seen Tunstall. The venue? Possibly. Maybe she harped on to much about living in California… Didn’t get to hear my favourites didn’t help. Doubt I’ll be frequenting the Barbican again; £3.50 service charge for buying a ticket? Shit beer at shit prices too.

Anna Meredith + Let’s Eat Grandma, Belgrave Music Hall – Leeds

The power of complexity

The power of complexity

Anna Meredith’s band were awesome musicians, one cello line was particularly breathtaking, and the cumulative effect of the performances made this the gig of the year so far.

Seventeen with a future

Seventeen with a future

Great support from Let’s Eat Grandma (the less said about the opening act the better). Though it sounded mushy to me (maybe I was too close) they know how to perform unlike the first support who shall remain nameless (XAM Duo).

Playlist
Nocturnal Variations, Ruby Hughes, Joseph Middleton
Tenet: The Secret Lover

Books
Bodies of Light, Sarah Moss
Her, Harriet Lane

October

Pink Martini – Barbican, York

Exquisite performances

Exquisite performances

Not dancing to Pink Martini means half the experience. Still cracking musicianship.

Flesh – York Art Gallery

Mueck makes you think

Mueck makes you think

Interesting, if slightly varied in quality, exhibition that does make you think about flesh. Particularly liked Mueck and the video of the decomposing hare.
Melt Yourself Down – Wardrobe, Leeds

Perfect punk jazz

Perfect punk jazz

One of the best gigs of the year.
Rent, Jonathan Larson – Theatre Clywd, Mold

Great stagecraft

Great stagecraft

Unfamiliar with this ground breaking (putting AIDS centre stage) musical. Loved the production but the music didn’t move me.
St Peter’s Singers – Town Hall, Leeds

Some superb sounds

Some superb sounds

Can’t argue (I do live in Yorkshire) with a free lunchtime concert. Masses from Martin and Vaughan Willams; the latter lovely.
Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker – Oporto, Leeds

Beautiful voice and interplay with guitar

Beautiful voice and interplay with guitar

Love these guys but only eight people there!
Jongleurs – Leeds

Never sit near the front!

Never sit near the front!

John Ryan was worth listening to; particularly his riff on high-vis jackets.
Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra – Vladimir Fedoseyev, Leeds Town Hall

Thrilling concert

Thrilling concert

Jennifer Pike’s Sibelius concerto was great and it was good to hear the Slavic vibrato in the horn solo of the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s 5th. The orchestra used to be the Moscow Philharmonic. Great concert.
Northern Lights, Howard Assembly Rooms, Leeds

Magical atmosphere

Magical atmosphere

Thought the Leeds light shows were poor (should’ve gone to Bradford) but this installation, with live performances, made up for it. Seckou Keita’s kora playing was the highlight amongst other great stuff.
Birdsong: Stories from Pripyat and Celluloid History Songs, Stockport Plaza

From another age

From another age

The Stockport Plaza is new to me; a 1930s super cinema that looks (probably) as good as it did then. Didn’t enjoy the Chernobyl documentary, though the live accompaniment of Robin ‘Dutch Uncles’ Richards was excellent. Highlight was Josephine (‘Why doesn’t she perform more often!) Oniyama’s songs to accompany archive footage.

Great singer

Great singer

A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennesse Williams, Royal Exchange – Manchester

Dazzling Peake

Dazzling Peake

First time I’ve seen Maxine Peake; won’t be the last. It’s great to admire a performance by an admirable woman (true to her working class roots).
Japanese Design – Manchester Art Gallery

Exquisite

Exquisite

Stuff the Vogue exhibition, full of self-regard, check out the Japanese design.
Playlist
Martinu: Symphonies, BBC SO – Jiří Bělohlávek
Arcade Fire, Reflektor
Afro-Haitianian Experimental Orchestra, Afro-Haitianian Experimental Orchestra
Books
Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver – brilliant depiction of the forces of nature and humankind’s stupidity.
Things We Have in Common, Tasha Kavanagh

September
A Night at the Museum, Yorkshire Sculpture Park – Wakefield

Looking at art looking at art

Looking at art looking at art

Ryan Gander has curated this fabulous exhibition where sculpture looks at art. Not sure why it works so well (in general the sculptures were incredible, the observed art less so) but I couldn’t stop taking photos.
Orchestra of Opera North – Huddersfield Town Hall

Fantastic 'Fantastic Symphony'

Fantastic ‘Fantastic Symphony’

The first concert in Kirkless’ season is likely to be the best. The orchestra’s new chief conductor, Aleksandar Markovich with the highly promising Pavel Kolesnikov (piano) gave a barnstorming ‘Paganini variations’ (Rachmaninov) and Berlioz’s mental Symphonie fantastique.
Home Gathering – Hoult’s Yard, Newcastle
The Unthanks curated festival was a great as The Unthanks themselves. The Young ‘Uns got the event going superbly followed by a stripped down Richard Hawley.

Hawley acoustic not as good as Hawley rocker

Hawley acoustic not as good as Hawley rocker

Saturday was a marathon starting and ending with jazz via rock, folk, classical.

Get the Blessing blessed

Get the Blessing blessed

Hyde and Beast - sweaty rock

Hyde and Beast – sweaty rock

Bonkers Moulettes brilliant

Bonkers Moulettes brilliant

Liverpool String Quartet give us Reich's superb 'Different Trains'

Liverpool String Quartet give us Reich’s superb ‘Different Trains’

The Unthanks star

The Unthanks star

Last minute replacement Headhunters blitzed and thin audience

Last minute replacements Headhunters blitzed a thin audience

Playlist
Get the Blessing, Astronautilus
Elza Soares, The Woman at the End of the World
Prokofiev, Violin concerto 1 etc, Viktoria Mullova, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony, LPO – Haitink
Case/Land/Veirs: Case/Land/Veirs
Tchaikovsky: Symphones 1, 2 & 5, RLPO – Petrenko
Maarja Nuut, Une Meeles
Books
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Becky Chambers
August
Picasso Linocuts – Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight

The process of genius

The process of genius

Pleased that this was so great for Liverpool museums after finding the John Moore’s art prize rubbish. The centrepiece is ”Still Life under the Lamp’ series (in the wrong order by the way). Brilliant.
Making Mischief, The Other Place – Stratford
This title served as an umbrella for four short plays, two new, that intended to challenge assumptions about 21st century Britain. And they did.
JoanneDEBORAH BRUCE, THERESA IKOKO, LAURA LOMAS, CHINO ODIMBA, URSULA RANI SARMA

The brilliant Tanya Moodie

The brilliant Tanya Moodie

Five playwrights, five characters, one performer, the brilliant Tanya Moodie, investigated the failure of public services to help Joanne.

Revolt she said. Revolt Again, Alice Birch

The ideology of language

The ideology of language

Superb opening scene when a man’s male attempt at seduction (‘I’d like to screw you’) is tempered by the woman’s co-option of his language (‘I’d like to spanner you’). The man can’t cope.
Always Orange, Fraser Grace

Bit scattershot

Bit scattershot

Ambitious (which is good) but the parts didn’t quite cohere with the whole. Linking the cutting of foreign languages in schools to homegrown terrorism needs more connections than an hour can give. Great performances.
Fall of the Kingdom, Rise of the Footsoldier, Somalia Seaton

Talking boxes

Talking boxes

Superbly staged look at nationalism (from yobs to toffs) which didn’t offer much hope (fair comment). It excoriated bourgeois liberalism something the title of the umbrella can be accused of. ‘Mischief’ is too jokey but that’s marketing for you. These plays did more than ‘make mischief’ they articulated ideas about our society’s problems. Brilliant theatre.
Twelfth Night, Shakespeare, Fathom Theatre – The Dell, Stratford

Twelfth Night in the day

Twelfth Night in the day

Superb three-handed reduction of Shakespeare’s farce. Great outdoor theatre for free.
Playlist
Shostakovich: Symphonies, 5, 8 & 9, BSO – Nelsons. One of the best Shostakovich discs I’ve ever heard
A Song of Farewell, Gabrieli Consort – McCreesh
Books
Tudors: A History of England volume 2, Peter Ackroyd
Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout – brilliant snapshots of a life, particularly good on ageing
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari
The Many Selves of Katherine North, Emma Geen
The Book of Phoenix, Nnedi Okorafor
His Bloody Project, Graeme Macrae Burnet
A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
July
As You Like It, Storyhouse, Grosvenor Park Theatre – Chester

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I liked it (again)

Enjoyable afternoon in the park.
Earl Thomas, The Live Room – Saltaire

I'm the man

I’m the man

Groovin’ blues on a hot hot night.
Books
White Noise, Don DeLillo
Generation Kill,
Evan Wright
The Children Act,
Ian McEwen
Gold,
Colin Cleave
Satin Island
, Tom McCarthy – JG Ballard but now, not the future. Brilliant.
But You Did Not Come Back, Marceline Loridan-Ivens. Devastating memoir of Auschwitz and after.
June
Rokia Traore, Howard Assembly Rooms – Leeds

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Modern icon of Mali

The little picture does no justice to the giant star.
Mbongwana Star, Howard Assembly Rooms – Leeds

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Could play Leeds Fest

Fabulous band.
Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy – London

No it wasn't this empty really

No it wasn’t this empty really

Unfortunately I was too tired to appreciate this; being an English teacher and all.
People, Places and Things by Duncan Macmillan – Wyndhams

Dazzling production

Dazzling production

Denise Gough has been rightly lauded but I was unconvinced by the play despite the superb production.
Tate Modern Switch House

Post industrial brilliance

Post industrial brilliance

Wow! This is a place to revisit…
Yayao Kusama – Victoria Miro, London

Dazzled by one light

Dazzled by one light

OK so it was free but queuing to spend just 30 seconds inside Kusama’s amazing installations…

Dotty pumpkins

Dotty pumpkins

…was extremely frustrating.
Mahler: Symphony 8, Orch of Opera North – Hill, Town Hall – Leeds

Epic

Epic

Epic doesn’t cover this work, it is overwhelming. They shouldn’t have had an interval after the first movement though.
Playlist
Rachel Newton, Here’s My Heart Come Take It
Phronesis, Parallax
Melt Yourself Down, Last Evenings on Earth
Books
The Loney, Andrew Michael Hurley
1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, James Shapiro
May
Kronos Quartet, Howard Assembly Room – Leeds

Ploughing a fertile furrow

Ploughing a fertile furrow

What a thrill it was to get the chance to see Kronos locally and they didn’t disappoint with the varied programme and virtuoso playing. Come to Leeds again please.
Playlist
Vasks: Dona Nobis, Latvian Radio Choir, Sinfonietta Riga – Klava
Britten: Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, Richard Watkins, Allan Clayton, Aldeburgh Strings – Markus Däunert
Brahms: Piano concerto 1, Paul Lewis, Daniel Harding and Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Books
Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh
April
Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards, The Live Room – Saltaire

The joy of music

The joy of music

I can’t describe how good this female quartet were. They encored, playing in the audience, with ‘Lay Me Low’; it was transcendent (not sure what that means in this context, but that’s the word I felt).
Bronwynne Brent, The Live Room – Saltaire

Compelling

Compelling

Thought this was brilliant.
Playlist
Empirical, Connection
Vasks: Presences, Sol Gabetta, Amsterdam Sinfonietta
Esperanza Spalding, Esperanza
Christian Scott, Anthem
Laura Cortese, Into the Dark
Pet Show Boys, Super
Talking Heads, Naked
Vasks: Mate Saule, Latvian Radio Choir
Laura Gibson, Empire Builder
Diana Jones, Museum Of Appalachia Recordings
Vasks: Grāmata Čellam, Partita & Episodi e Canto Perpetuo, Randalu, Sitovetsky, Geringas
Saariaho: Trios, Steven Dann, Pia Freund, Tuija Hakkila, Mikael Helasvuo et al
Island Songs, Amy Dickson, Sydney SO

March
Sam Lee, Howard Assembly Rooms – Leeds

Stories and songs

Stories and songs

It is churlish to complain about Sam’s stories about the songs as that’s what he’s about. Great arrangements.
Playlist
Bronwynne Brent, Deep Black Water
Polica, United Crushers
Books
Alone in Berliln, Hans Falluda

Blue Rose Code, The Live Room – Saltaire

Heartfelt

Heartfelt

Dunno why I didn’t enjoy him as much this time especially as his new album is excellent.
February
Escher String Quartet: Bartok and Beethoven, Howard Assembly Rooms – Leeds

Genius

Genius

Doing well this week; always wanted to hear a Bartok quartet live. His first: acerbically brilliant. Beethoven’s first Rasumovsky was great too.
Orff: Carmina Burana – RLPO, Liverpool

Blows your ears off

Blows your ears off

Always wanted to hear this in the flesh and it didn’t disappoint. What a fantastic chorus! First part was Grieg songs and arrangements of his lyric pieces; Mari Eriksmoen sang beautifully. Conductor Eivind Xullberg Jensen pushed the tempos very fast occasionally but held it all together. Baritone Audun Iversen was great too.
Faye Hield – The Live Room, Saltaire

Great stuff

Great stuff

Looking forward to the new album after these two great sets.
Playlist
Lucinda Williams, The Ghosts of Highway 20
Shearwater, Jet Plane and Oxbow
Lucinda Williams, Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
January
Cheikh Lo – Howard Assembly Rooms, Leeds

Power of the rhythm

Power of the rhythm

Baaba Maal followed by Cheikh Lo; I am a lucky bugger. Cheikh was event better than Baaba: fantastic Cuban rhythms and amazing percussion. Not a great venue for music with such power in its rhythms.
Baaba Maal – Academy 2, Manchester

Classy Africana

Classy Africana

Charismatic and enjoyable throughout. Occasionally absolutely brilliant.
Rod Picott – The Live Room, Saltaire

IMG_2573

Engaging Americana

Amiable and sometimes compelling music; shame there wasn’t more of the harmonica.
Playlist
Wollny/Kuse/Schafer, Em(III)
Sinead O’Connor, I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss
David Bowie, Blackstar
Ryley Walker, Primrose Green
Christian Scott, Stretch Music
Cheikh Lo, Balbalou

Books

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, Simon Mawer
The Other Hand, Colin Cleave – brilliant novel about migration, middle class guilt and UK’s heartless government
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Maggie O’Farrell
December
Playlist
Yelena Eckemoff Trio, Lions
Floating Points, Elaenia
Grimes, Art Angel
Kay Carr, Coquette
Badbadnotgood, III
The Champs, Vamala
Martinu: Violin concerto etc. Isabelle Faust, Jiri Belohlavek and The Prague Philharmonia
Eivind Aarset, EI and Connected
Auntie Flo, Theory of Flo

Books
Buffalo Soldier, Tanya Landman
The Whites, Harry Brandt
November

Despair of facing death

Despair of facing death

Great performances of Beethoven but the theatricality of dimming lights, leaving the stage candlelit at the end, in Shostakovich’s 15th was especially effective.
The Unthanks, Trades Club – Hebden Bridge

Harmony

Harmony

10th anniversary tour: hopefully we get at least 10 more.
Playlist
Pepe Deluxe, Queen of the Waves
Vaughan Williams, A Sea Symphony, Halle-Elder
Hannah Martin and Philip Henry. Watershed
New Order, Music Complete
Emily Hall, Folie à Deux
Haiku Salut, Etch and Etch Deep
Books
Pure, Andrew Miller
October
Richard Hawley, Scarborough Spa

Hawley the old rocker

Hawley the old rocker

I was slightly trepidatious about this gig as his new album didn’t grab; but the gig did.
Playlist
Public Image Ltd., What the World Needs Now
Cecile McLorin Salvant, For One to Love
Birmingham Jazz Orchestra, Burns
Books
The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics, Kenan Malik
September
Playlist
Richard Thompson, Still
Leftfield, Alternative Light Source
Smetana: String quartets, Pavel Haas Qt
Hanggai, Baifang
Samba Toura, Gandadiko
Books
The Secret River, Kate Grenville
August
National Gallery, Prague

Interesting mix

Interesting mix

Museum of Vienna

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Two of my favourite composers

Secession, Vienna

No photos allowed of Klimt's Beethoven Frieze

No photos allowed of Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze

MUMOK, Vienna

Pop at the MUMOK

Pop at the MUMOK

Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna

Hit and miss collections of artists

Hit and miss collections of artists

The braille Playboy was an interesting concept.
Belvedere, Vienna

Summer house

Summer house

For more Klimt but they seemed to split their stuff between the upper and lower parts to screw money out of tourists. Still, seeing his Lovers was special.
Leopold Museum, Vienna

A Klimt wall decoration

A Klimt wall decoration

Magnificent Klimt and Schiele.
Kunsthalle Museum, Vienna

Building as magnificent as its contents

Building as magnificent as its contents

We were here for the Klimt primarily (pictured centre right and up a bit) but, like Vienna itself, the building was as overwhelming as the art.
Auschwitz – Oświęcim, Poland

Tourists queueing for the gas chamber

Tourists queueing for the gas chamber

History not culture and it must not be forgotten. However its popularity means tourists are herded like cattle without time to contemplate the horror.
Romeo and Juliet – Grosvenor Open Air Theatre, Chester

Engaging production

Engaging production

Enjoyable and interesting to see the leads played as adolescents – convincing.
Jackson Pollock, Blind Spots – Tate, Liverpool

Into the darkness

Into the darkness

This was the first time I’ve seen Pollack ‘in the flesh’ and blimey I need to see more.
Playlist
Venables: Songs of the Severn, Roderick Williams, Graham Lloyd, Carducci Qt
Samantha Crain, Under Branch and Thorn and Tree
Samantha Crain, Kid Face

Books
The Holy Machine, Chris Beckett
Fire and Steam, Christian Wolmer
Herland, Charlotte Gilman Perkins
July
Lisa Mills, The Live Room – Saltaire

Belting out the blues

Belting out the blues

Another cracking dose of Americana in Saltaire.
Argo Part, Vox Clamantis, Manchester Camerata – Takács-Nagy, Bridgewater Hall – Manchester
Was, like the entry below, part of MIF and was… disappointing. The only other time I’ve heard Part in performance was an amazing experience as part of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival many years ago so my expectations were too high (particularly after the afternoon in the gallery). Too contemplative!…but it was good to have the chance to celebrate Part’s brilliance when he took his bow.
Richter/Part, Whitworth Gallery – Manchester

Stunning space and sound

Stunning space and sound

This collaboration between Gerhard Richter and Arvo Part is intense as the acoustic is perfect for Part’s piece – beautifully sung by the Oldham Youth Choir on the day I went – and the choir, scattered around the room, immerse the spectator in sound.
Cube Choir – Halifax Playhouse

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Protest for Peace

A choir for the over-50s gave us an ambitious concert featuring large extracts from Karl Jenkin’s Requiem in the first half and a collection of protest songs in the second. I found the second part more successful, probably because I don’t like Jenkins’ piece. Accompanied by the striking images of war and protest, and accompanied by fabulous schoolchildren, I left mightily impressed by the epic scale of the evening. Brilliant!
Playlist
LA Priest, Inji
Lisa Knapp, Hidden Seam
Bodies of Water, Twist Again
Rickie Lee Jones, The Other Side of Desire
Young Fathers, White Men Are Black Too
Krept & Konan, The Long Way
Roy Harper, Man & Myth
Lang: The Difficulty in Crossing a Field, Harlem Qt – Frost
Seu Jorge and Almaz, Seu Jorge and Almaz
Lisa Mills, I’m Changing
Booklist
Hatchet Job, Mark Kermode
The Bone Clocks
, David Mitchell – includes best post-climate change societal breakdown I’ve read.
The Woman in Black, Susan Hill
June
The Railsplitters, The Live Room – Saltaire

Bringing 21st century bluegrass to Saltaire

Bringing 21st century bluegrass to Saltaire

A band new to me but I will hopefully see them again. A 5-piece of bluegrass genre benders; brilliant stuff.
Drawn by Light – National Media Museum, Bradford

Mixture of the great and historical

Mixture of the great and historical

Really interesting exhibition that mixes iconic pics with those of historical interest including heliographs by Niepce.
Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan MacMillan – Square Chapel, Halifax

EVERY BRILLIANT THING - Barrow Street Theatre - 2014 PRESS ART - Jonny Donahoe - Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

Audience in the Picture

This is clever and superbly performed by Jonny Donohoe. Literally engaging the audience in a tale of dealing with depression. I’m not sure I learned much but it was enjoyable.
Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers – Square Chapel, Halifax

No words needed

No words needed

Seen these several times and I don’t need to say again how good they are. Interestingly, of the five drummers only the woman didn’t seem to break sweat or teeter on the edge of destruction. Kudos!
Playlist
Hindi Zahra, Homeland
Slaves, Are You Satisfied?
Major Lazer, Peace is the Mission
Leftfield, Alternative Light Source
Joe Harriott, Hum Dono
Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, The Seas Are Deep
Ablaye Cissoko, Saint Louis
Cheikh Lo, Balbalou
Aurora, Running With Wolves
Spoon, They Want My Soul
FKA twigs, LP1
Devin Townsend, Casualites of Cool
The Railsplitters, The Faster it Goes
Hudson Mohawke, Lantern
Jenny Hval, Innocence is Kinky
Booklist
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan – totally brilliant
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson
How Music Got Free: What happens when an entire generation commits the same crime?, Stephen Witt
May
I Told You This Would Happen, written and performed by Kathryn Beaumont – Square Chapel, Halifax

Here's lookin' at yerself kid

Here’s lookin’ at yerself kid

Full marks for ambition, using the tropes of noir, specifically Chandler’s private dick Marlowe, to investigate a woman’s relationship with a lothario. Virtuoso work from Beaumont, conversing with a recording of herself but I did keep losing the plot.
Stornoway, Leadmill – Sheffield

Hooks without pop

Hooks without pop

The brilliant Stornaway have the ability to create hooks in songs that eschew the simplicity of pop. Great gig.
Playlist
Janacek and Martinu: String quartets, Doric St Qt
Stornoway, Bonxie
Wire, Wire
Jenny Hval, Apocalypse, girl
Stealing Sheep, Not Real
Calexico, Edge of the Sun
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
Korngold/Barber/Walton: Violin concertos, Ehnes, Vancouver SO – Tovey
Beethoven: Symphones vol.2, Copenhagen PO – Lan Shui. These are breathtaking performances!
The Chopin Project, Ólafur Arnalds, Alice Sara Ott
Benjamin Clementine, At Least for Now
Cassandra Wilson, Coming Forth by Day
Terakraft, Alone
Mbongwana Star, From Kinshasa
Blur, The Magic Whip
Bang on a Can, Field Recordings

Booklist
Capital, John Lanchester
Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, Peter Pomerantsev
The Crucible, Arthur Miller
April

Blue Rose Code, Caroline Social Club – Saltaire

Mr BR Code entrancing his audience

Mr BR Code entrancing his audience

Ross Wilson made a strong debut at the Saltaire Live event (having cancelled last Sept) with brilliant guitar playing in support.

I Am Kloot, Brudenell Social Club – Leeds

I Am Kloot of the Unresolved End

I Am Kloot of the False End

Despite being overshadowed by Jimmy Anderson getting the record numbers of test wickets by an Englishman, this still was an excellent gig.

The Hard Problem, Tom Stoppard – National Theatre Live, Hebden Bridge Picturehouse

Hard to empathise

Hard to empathise

There’s nothing wrong with plays about ideas but they should be dramatic first not last.

Beautiful: The Carol King Musical – Aldwych

Completely convincing

Completely convincing

Jukebox musicals are obviously good box office: people like what they know. Although Ms King’s life lacks drama to be satisfyingly dramatic her songs are great.

Scarcity-Waste – Somerset House

No water

No water

Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album – The Courtauld Gallery

A grotesque old age

A grotesque old age

Never visited the Courtauld before which was a mistake as it has some fabulous impressionist paintings and Somerset House is an amazing building. The Goya was good but I’m too philistine to appreciate these amazing drawings.
A View from the Bridge, Arthur Miller – Wyndham’s Theatre

Abstract conflict with passion

Abstract conflict with passion

Justly raved about Ivo von Hove production with Mark Strong fabulous as the weak patriarch.
History is Now – Hayward Gallery

History is now but this show isn't it

History is now but this show isn’t it

Disappointing hodgepodge including a research project on the ‘mad cow’ disease which, apparently, pushes the boundaries of what an exhibition is; so far that it wasn’t one at all.
Playlist
Ghostpoet, Shedding Skin
Allison Moorer Down to Believing
Underworld, Dubnobasswithmyheadman
We Are Shining, Kara
Laura Marling, Short Movie
Catrin Finch, Tides
Patsy Matheson, Stories of Angels & Guitars
Bella Hardy, With the Dawn
Henze: Violin concertos, Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Parnassus Ensemble London – Henze
The Very Best, Makes a King
Elgar: Symphony 1, RLPO – Petrenko
Booklist
Guantánamo Diary, Mohamedou Ould Slahi
This brilliant book literally personifies the abuses perpetrated by America in the ‘war on terror’. It seems America thinks it’ll win this ‘war’ by out-terrorising the opposition. Slahi’s brave and painful diary, covering the years of interrogation and his incarceration in GTMO, are profoundly humane unlike the government that still keeps him imprisoned. Kafkaesque doesn’t cover it because it’s true.
March
Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker – The Live Room, Saltaire

Great gig

Great gig

Josienne Clarke has a great voice, and personality; Ben Walker’s a great guitarist and his arrangements for cello and viola are lovely. What’s not to like? Possibly the highlight was an Argentinean song. Clarke could do fado I think, so expressive is she.
Cornelia Parker – Whitworth Gallery, Manchester

Exploding old building

Exploding old building

This is a great ‘new’ (well, refurbished) gallery with some great stuff in a marvellous space. I liked the Parker stuff mostly, she seems to strain sometimes but that doesn’t matter when there’s far more ‘hits’ than ‘misses’.
Cargo in the Blood and Now Then, Russell Mills and Mike Fearon – Artworks, Halifax

Hear Now

Hear Now

Russell Mills’ stuff ranges from the strained, repeating the same idea with a different object, to the marvellous; many of the album and book covers he’s done. There’s more sublime than ‘not so good’ here and I was just starting to enjoy the ‘Now Then’ bit – pictured – when the music stopped.
The Unthanks – Irish Centre, Leeds

Magic

Magic

I’m not a fan of this venue but it didn’t stop The Unthanks from conjuring their magic.
Denis Bowen: Light | Space | Movement
and
Martin Waters: In Memoriam4 – Dean Clough, Halifax

Otherworldly wonder

Otherworldly wonder

There are two fantastic exhibitions at Dean Clough: Denis Bowen’s stunning otherworldly paintings and Martin Waters’ grim depictions, partly in tar, on WWI battlegrounds. Out of this world stuff!

Other worlds of hell

Other worlds of hell

Playlist
Champs, Vamala
Dan Deacon, Gliss Riffer
D’Angelo, Black Messiah
Public Service Broadcasting, The Race for Space
Dennehey: Composers of Ireland vol. 9, RTE National SO – Maloney
Seavaigers, Scottish Ens – Beamish
Badbadnotgood, Sour Soul
The Pop Group, Citizen Zombie
Future Brown, Future Brown
Badbadnotgood, III
Duke Garwood, Heavy Love
Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, Nothing Can Bring Back the Hour
Booklist
May We Be Forgiven, AM Homes

February
Playlist
Khachaturian: Cello and Violin concertos, Wallfisch and Mordkovitch, LPO – Thomson, SNO – Jarvi
Warpaint, Warpaint
SBTRK, Wonder Where We Land
Bjork, Vulnicura
Zun Zun Egul, Shackles Gift
The Decemberists, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
Woodkid, The Golden Age
The Charlatans, Modern Nature
The Decemberists, The Crane Wife
The Unthanks, Mount the Aire
Dr John, Locked Down
Booklist
A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness
Digital Media and Society, Andrew White
The Birth of Korean Cool, Hong Euny
The Strain, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
January
The Devil’s Jukebox, The Puzzle Hall Inn – Sowerby Bridge

Entirely staid when compared to the front man

Entirely staid when compared to the front man

This is the five-piece version of the Shanghai Syncopators I caught late last year. Great live band but a terrible audience. Why bother watch a band and talk through it pausing only to cheer?
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves – Alhambra, Bradford

The good old days

The good old days

Billy Pearce’s turn at the Alhambra panto is probably the same as it is every year: brilliant. He begged that it be he that gets the girl as he’d never succeeded once despite doing the panto for 16 years, it’s always some bloke who comes up from London who gets her he complained.
Playlist
Moulettes, The Bear’s Revenge
Babe, Volery Flighty
Jane Weaver, The Silver Globe
Moulettes, Horses for Hearses
Dan Mangan + Blacksmith, Club Meds
Kate Tempest, Everybody Down
Booklist
Fallen Land, Patrick Flanery
Transmission, Hari Kunzru
2015
December
The Fleece Comedy Night – Barkisland

Knows what he's doing

Knows what he’s doing

Skilfully compered by Justin Moorhouse, Tony Burgess’ (above) closing set was by far the best. All the comics had been bemused by the front row full of youngsters: cultural references over their head then. Geraldine got called ‘the slag from Huddersfield’ and he suggested Nick was a good name for someone from Liverpool. Thanks Manc!
The Moulettes, The Met – Bury

Variations on a theme

Variations on a theme

While they didn’t ‘blow me away’ as they had in Halifax, when supporting Bellowhead, last month this was still an excellent gig. Psyche-folk? Changing key signatures and apocalyptic tales: what’s not to like?
Gabby Young and Stephen Ellis (Artsbridge)

The spirit of friendship

The spirit of friendship

This front room gig become in a gallery gig but as the gallery was once a front room that was alright. This will feature in the top of the year list as Young, and her partner, were not only musically brilliant but filled the room with their warm personalities. Their encore, unplugged, ‘We’re all in it together’, celebrated the symbiotic relationship between performers and audiences. Top class.
Sowerby Bridge Mouse Club (Artsbridge)

The spirit of the '20s

The spirit of the ’20s

My second visit to the ambitious Artsbridge festival in Sowerby Bridge (the first is best forgotten) yielded the magic magic of Alexander Wells and klezmer bopping from Klonk. The highlight was the Shanghai Syncopators whose ‘twenties flapper music, and blues, were augmented by their deranged front man. The barmaid made the mistake of looking on bemused, not longer after the long haired crooner was climbing through her hatch. Off the wall brilliance!
Playlist
MacMillan: Alpha and Omega, Cappella Nova – Tavener
Native North America – Volume 1: Aboriginal Folk, Rock and Country 1966-1985
Gabby Young and Other Animals, One Foot in Front of the Other
Books
Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch, Nick Davies
November
Craig Ogden, Liverpool Mozart Orchestra – Floral Pavilion, New Brighton

Very well played

Very well played

I haven’t heard an amateur orchestra for some time but the LMO were excellent; my only complaint, the tone of the first violins. Minor when you’ve got a first rank soloist playing the Rodrigo warhorse and a piece new to me, the excellent Shadow Dancer by Nigel Westlake was the standout piece.
Bellowhead, Victoria Theatre – Halifax

As good as they ever were

As good as they ever were

Sixth time I’ve seen this brilliant band and if I had my reservations about John Boden’s pink jacket, and the over-chirpy brass section at the start, as soon as they got the jigs going it was clear that the now major label Bellowhead were as good as ever.

Where have you been in my life?

Where have you been in my life?

How often does a support act blow you away? How often have you never heard of them? I’m guessing the latter wins the ‘yes’ answer, but the Moulettes managed a double affirmative for me. How could I have not heard them before?! I have now and they have an off the wall brilliance; their album sounds fairly mainstream (not a criticism) but their live act goes fascinating places.
Playlist
The Civil Wars, Live at Eddie’s Attic
The Cloudmaker’s Trio, Abstract Forces
Arca, &&&&&
Mozart: Symphonies 29,31,35 & 36, Scottish CO – Mackerras
The Moulettes, Constellations
Natalie Merchant, Natalie Merchant
Books
Houseboy, Ferdinand Oyono
The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, Astra Taylor
October
Orch of Opera North – van Steen, Town Hall, Leeds

Sibelius chills on mild autumn night

Sibelius chills on mild autumn night

A new ending to Mozart’s Requiem sounded good but the highlight was Sibelius’ 4th where the drama was highlighted in this brooding masterpiece.
Brodsky Qt, Howard Assembly Rooms – Leeds

How mad is that?

How mad is that?

This should have floated my boat; Schubert’s Death and the Maiden and Crumb’s Black Angels; it didn’t.
Halle Orch, Viktoria Mullova, Mark Elder, Town Hall – Leeds

Sonic sensation

Sonic sensation

Whilst Mullova’s staggering playing of Shostakovich’s first violin concerto was riveting, Elder’s account of Sibelius’ fifth capped it. Fabulous orchestra and conductor. Concert of the year (admittedly one of slim pickings) so far.
Playlist
Alt-J, This is All Yours
GoGo Penguin, v2.0
Mompou: Volodos Plays Mompou, Arcady Volodos
Busoni/Berg/Zemlinksky/Webern: various, Katrien Baerts, Het Collectief
Shostakovich: Cello concertos, Mork, Oslo PO – Petrenko
Scott Walker and Sunn O))), Soused
Ben Howard, I Forget Where We Were
Books
The Martian, Andy Weir – the most scientific novel I’ve ever read; proper SF then. Gripping read too.
September
Playlist
Daniel Humair, Sweet & Sour
Boy George, This is What I Do
Schubert: ‘Death & the Maiden’ and String Quintet, Pavel Haas Qt; the Maiden is particularly brilliant
Brahms: Symphonies, Staatskappelle Dresden – Thielemann
Books
The Circle, David Eggers – timely satire about our wired world; or is it satire?
August
Playlist
Otis Taylor, Otis Taylor’s Contraband
Neil Cowley Trio, Touch and Flee
Mishaped Pearls, Thamesis
Alela Diane, About Farewell
Nils Petter Molvaer, Switch
Sinead O’Connor, I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss
Villa Lobos: Bachianas Brasileiras etc. RPO – Batiz

July
Tour de France

Tour flowing through Addingham

Tour flowing through Addingham

Fabulous days of the greatest sporting event. The vibe was incredible all along the route.
Playlist
Bellowhead, Revival
Alice Zawadzki, China Lane
Samba Toure, Albala
The Gloaming, The Gloaming
Arcade Fire, Reflektor

June
Transglobal Underground, Centenary Square – Bradford Festival

Rocking fusion

Rocking fusion

Took a while to get going but the grooves of Sheema Mukherjee on sitar were worth the listen.
Phil Shaw, Artworks – Halifax

Clever or just clever-clever?

Clever or just clever-clever?

Modern artists seem to need a USP which must be very boring for them. Shaw re-creates, mashes-up and prints book spines. Some are funny verbally, or visually – see above. He seems to be taking the piss out of semioticians in one of them; I hope not because Barthes’ Mythologies is a masterpiece. I think it was an over-stretched gag but worth seeing in a great gallery.
Thea Gilmore, Trades Club – Hebden Bridge

Didn't float my boat

Didn’t float my boat

Love her albums; loved the last time I saw her. Not this time though.
Playlist
Wye Oak, Shriek
Melanie DiBiasio, No Deal
9bach, Tincian
Martin Green, Crows’ Bones
Fatima Al Qadiri, Aisatisch
Bassekou Kouyati + Ngoni ba, Jama ko
Jack White, Lazeretta
Tim Garland, The Mystery
Tinie Tempah, Demonstration
Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence
EMA, The Future’s Void
Melanie DiBiasio, A Stomach is Burning
Khachaturian/Shostakovich, James Ehnes, Melbourne SO – Wigglesworth
May
Eliza Gilkyson, Live Room – Saltaire

Great gig

Great gig

What a classy voice, even with the ‘older person’s’ waver; worked well with the gritty, country edge. Loved both sets with great guitar too.
Playlist
Shostakovich: Six Romances on Verses by English Poet, Gerald Finley, Helsinki PO – Sanderling
Gil Scott Heron, I’m New Here
Neil Cowley Trio, Radio Silence
April

Only in England – Toby Ray-Jones, National Media Museum, Bradford

Are we really this bonkers?

Are we really this bonkers?

According to this fantastic exhibition, curated by Martin Parr, the English are this eccentric. The focus is on the beach and traditional events; the Bacup coconut dancers anyone?

Nina Murdoch – Marlborough Gallery

Light and shadow: rooms of desperation

Light and shadow: rooms of desperation

I’d not come across Murdoch before and these large canvasses were extremely impressive.

Richard Mosse: the Enclave – Photographer’s Gallery

Unreal world

Unreal world

Mosses’ images of the Rwandan border, using infra-red film, were suitably unreal for a place that is fucked up.

John Deakin and the Lure of Soho – Photographer’s Gallery

As it was

As it was

Quite enjoyed many of these snaps of Soho and its arty denizens. Seedy alcoholism was the spirit of the time it seemed; better than Vogue anyway. Olympic Park

The old East Berlin in the East End?

The old East Berlin in the East End?

The full title is Queen Elizabeth II’s park but I think it’s ours as we paid for it. Anyway, we went the wrong way and stumbled into the Olympic Village (above). I felt I was in East Berlin!

Jakub Hrusa’s Czech series II – Royal Festival Hall

Virtuosic brilliance!

Virtuosic brilliance!

Thoroughly enjoyed Arabella Steinbacher’s performance of the Dvorak; enraptured by her encore – Ysaye’s second sonata. The Philharmonia’s performance of Janacek’s Sinfonietta was great too; brilliant brass and woodwind. Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration – National Portrait Gallery

Famous but not for many films that have lasted

Famous but not for many films that have lasted

It was interesting to be reminded of how many films Leigh made, with renowned stars and directed, that have been forgotten. Will have to catch them to see her beyond Scarlett and Blanche. Turner & the Sea – National Maritime Museum

The progress of genius

The progress of genius

The reason for the trip to the ‘big smoke’ (fortunately last week’s pollution had dissipated) was to see this and it didn’t disappoint. His wild final years’ work seem to be as modern now as it was then. Correction, it was futuristic then. Dream and Poetry – Tate Modern

Mesmerising

Mesmerising

Loved this gallery as it mixed up so much including posters from the Russian Revolution and the above beauty from Turner. Not sure, but it may also be the first time I realised how great Rothko is. Once, Phoenix Theatre

Once was too many

Once was too many

I quite enjoyed the 2006 Irish film on which this musical was based; I didn’t enjoy this.
Tate Britain

'Merry-Go-Round', Mark Gertler

‘Merry-Go-Round’, Mark Gertler

Really liked the chronological hanging of the pictures. It’s striking that paintings get really interesting once the ‘great and good’ are ignored.
Playlist
Britten: War Requiem, Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh
Neil Cowley Trio, The Face of Mount Molehill
March
Thomas Dybdahl, Brudenell Social Club (Games Room) – Leeds

Unsung artistry

Unsung artistry

Only a half hour set, alongside three others, under-plays Dybdahl’s talent. He was third on and many chatted through the first two acts (why not go to the bar?!). However Dybdahl sorted that out with calm, ‘let’s be hippies and sit down’. Rapt audience then; and so they should have been. Too short a set.
Philip Henry and Hannah Martin, Caroline Social Club – Saltaire

Top duo

Top duo

Fabulous playing from Henry, on dobro, beatbox and harmonica; beautiful vocals from Martin.
Of Mice and Men – Leeds Playhouse Was interested to see what I would make of this 30 years after studying it. I was bored in 30 seconds. Purgatory.
Playlist
Aidan O’Rourke, Hotline
Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire For No Witness
Jacky Terrasson, Gouache
Neneh Cherry, Blank Project
Acoustic Ladyland, The Mighty Q
Linda Perhacs, The Soul of All Natural Things
Imed Alibi, Safra
February
Roddy Woomble, Caroline Social Club – Saltaire

Relaxed artistry

Relaxed artistry

Bit late for first gig of year but I’ve been poorly (‘ah’). Roddy’s terrific and played two sets. Enough said.
Playlist
Bruce Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town
Young Fathers, Dead
Tricky, False Idols
January 2014
Playlist
Jessica Lauren Four, Jessica Lauren Four
Britten: Quartets, Takacs Qt
Torres, Torres
Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels
The Numbers Band, Jimmy Bell’s Still in Town
Bruce Springsteen, High Hopes
Red Hot and Fela
Books
Autobiography, Morrissey
Blockbuster: Why Big Hits and Big Risks are the Future of the Entertainment Business, Anita Elberse

December

Martin Simpson, Caroline Street Social Club – Saltaire

Everyone else seemed to loving him

Everyone else seemed to loving him

Dunno why, didn’t like; left at half time.
Playlist
Mulate Astatke, Sketches of Ethiopia
Hannah Martin and Phillip Henry, Mynd
Vine: Complete Symphonies, de Waart
Empirical, Tabula Rasa
Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP 2
Oddarrang, In Cinema

Books
Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, Mark Fisher
November
The Paper Aeroplanes, Caroline Street Social Club – Saltaire

Eventually taking flight

Eventually taking flight

After a bit of a slow start (probably me not them) I really got into this gig; loved the stand-up bass!
Haas: In Vain, London Sinfonietta – Emilio Pomarico, Huddersfield Town Hall

Very modern in the traditional

Very modern in the traditional

Two out of my three trips to the Huddersfield contemporary music festival have yielded two stunners (Schnittke and Part) and a turkey (Stockhausen’s Sternklang). Haas’ In Vain was neither, there’s wasn’t enough musical argument for me (OK I couldn’t hear it) but the moments when we were plunged into darkness were very interesting. The swirling sound then almost became palpable; good one.
Takacs Quartet, Howard Assembly Rooms – Leeds

Four into one

Four into one

Couldn’t miss the opportunity to catch one of the world’s greatest ensembles on my doorstep and I thoroughly enjoyed their playing of Mozart, Beethoven and – best of all – Smetana. For me, mature Mozart and early Beethoven are too similar in palette to offer enough variation so the extreme romanticism of Smetana’s ‘from my life’ hit the spot.
Lau, Victoria Hall – Saltaire

Virtuosity at the service of the music

Virtuosity at the service of the music

I’d expected Lau to be excellent and they were; but so were the support, Haiku Salut. Rather disparagingly introduced by the gig’s promoter as a band he’d (and he expected us) never heard of proved to be engaging and impressive. The three multi-instrumentalists’ sound reminded me of Spiro and their stagecraft consisted of playing the many instruments at the same time; no ‘hello’ nor ‘goodbyes’ though.
All That is Solid Melts into Air, Jeremy Deller – Manchester Art Gallery

You couldn't make it up

You couldn’t make it up

I was disappointed in this as I loved Deller’s London show last year. The idea, looking at working class art, was great but, somehow, it was less than the sum of its parts.
Rokia Traore, Howard Assembly Rooms – Leeds

Rokia rocks

Rokia rocks

This is the gig of the year so far. I was expecting her fabulous voice and delicious rhythms but the all out rocking blew my expectations away. What a performer; need to see her, and her band, again. She even managed to rock the Howard Assembly Rooms – wow!
Playlist
Dirtmusic, Troubles
Nina Simone, At Town Hall
David Bedford: Twelve Hours of Sunset etc., BBC Symphony Orchestra – Jac van Steen
Drenge, Drenge
Lucy Ward, A Single Flame
Dean: The Lost Art of Letter Writing, Frank Peter Zimmermann, BBC SO – Brabbins
Vine: String quartets, Goldner Quartet
Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You
October The Young ‘Uns, Caroline Street Social Club – Saltaire

IMG_0699

Top performers

This is the funniest gig I’ve ever seen, mostly through the banter but also the second song inspired by the ‘tea and biscuits’ EDL neutering mosque in York last summer. Good singers too.
Tunng, Trades Club – Hebden Bridge

Spoiled by a gravelly sound

Spoiled by a gravelly sound

Pinkunoizu blew us away at first, but not in a good way. Then Tunng didn’t blow us away at all but that was because the sound was dreadful; it’s usually excellent at the Trades. This was probably due to where we were sitting but it wasn’t that great in the middle either. A disappointment.

Ralph Steadman retrospective – The Artworks 1830 Gallery, Halifax

Scabrous

Scabrous

It’s a bit of a coup for a new (beautiful) gallery in the ‘sticks’ to get a high profile artist to open the venue. Steadman’s stuff is brilliant and funny so do take this chance to see his stuff in the immaculate surroundings of the Artworks 1830 Gallery.
Eric Taylor and Tim Grimm, Caroline Street Social Club – Saltaire

Tim Grimm's songs

Tim Grimm’s songs

This guy was new to me but I bought his album in preparation for the gig; it’s – The Turning Point – extremely good. Includes a very rare example of a comedy song that’s actually funny. The guy’s acted in a number of Hollywood movies too, such as The Insider. He was excellent but the real star of the night…

Telling them old skool

Telling them old skool

…was singer-storyteller-songwriter Eric Taylor. His sometimes tremulous voice emphasised his years and he’d clearly lived hard (drugs) but this gave us some engaging tales. Townes van Zandt, when asked by a waitress for some cheerful songs, replied that these were the cheerful ones. Occasionally I felt as if I was hearing Tom Waits telling and singing his rascally tales; maybe Taylor’s where Waits got his ideas from.
Steve Tilston Trio, Caroline Street Social Club – Saltaire

Mellifluous charm

Mellifluous charm

Urbane? Is that an adjective suitable for a folk artist? Not sure but Steve Tilston’s friendly persona, and supreme artistry, made this a perfect Friday night gig. Plenty of good, reasonably-priced beer, in a small venue with great musicians; no more to add.
Playlist
Half Moon Run, Dark Eyes
Rokia Traore, Beautiful Africa
Daora Underground: Underground Sounds of Urban Brazil
The Civil Wars, The Civil Wars
Kanye West, Yeezus
Tim Grimm, The Turning Point
September
Halle Orch, Mark Elder – St George’s Hall, Bradford

Top trumpet

Top trumpet

The disappointment of Lesley Garratt’s indisposition was remedied by Alison Balsom’s performance; some fantastic piano. The Haydn concerto’s a bit of a warhorse but the Piazzolla Libertango was brilliant. It was (slightly) disappointing that four years after Shostakovich’s fifth, we were treated to it again. Then again, it was a great performance.
Cabaret – Alhambra, Bradford

Suitably subversive of the musical

Suitably subversive of the musical

I re-watched Liza Minnelli in the film (she is fabulous but the film is not) before seeing this Will Young fronted production which I thought was excellent. As was Young but the ending, in the concentration camps, was truly devastating. A brilliant way to end a non-feelgood musical.
Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, Alan Janes – Victoria Theatre, Halifax

Back to the past

Back to the past

This was one of the first jukebox musicals and is still touring nearly a quarter of a century after its debut. It’s easy to see why: packed with great songs the production brilliantly recreates the era (well, okay, the signifiers the era). I particularly liked the device of using the audience as an audience so, for a while, we were African-Americans in the Apollo Theatre, Harlem and, at the end, we were attending Buddy’s last concert. My only complaint is the cast took their bow in character; they were brilliant.
Playlist
Dawanggang, Wild Tune Stray Rhythm
Jupiter and Okwess International, Hotel Univers – this is going to be one of my albums of the year.
Kairos 4tet, Everything We Hold
La Yegros, Viene de Mi
Tunng, Turbines
Zemlinsky: String quartets vol. 1, Escher Qt
In the Shadow of War, Steven Isserlis, Deutsche Sinfonie Orch, Berlin -Wolff
Villagers, Awayland
Arctic Monkeys, AM
August
The Colne Valley Sculpture Trail

Not to be taken seriously

Not to be taken seriously

This is a brilliant spoof sculpture trail but you will need the anonymous guide downloadable from here to appreciate it. The author has picked things that resemble artefacts from a pleasant three mile walk above Slaithwaite (nr Huddersfield) and written paragraphs about their artistic intent. One collapsed wall, for example, is entitled Wall/Fall/Wall. The notes are pitch perfect not, I think, taking the piss out of modern sculpture but the often pretentious notes accompanying them. They are often extremely funny; my walking partner almost wet herself.
Another Place, Antony Gormley – Crosby Beach

Looking at the QEII

Looking at the QEII

Serendipity brought the impressive QEII past ‘Mr Gormley’ when we visited a favourite spot.
Rankin: Alive in the Face of Death – Walker Gallery, Liverpool

Death mask

Death mask

Most of the images in the marvellous exhibition are of people with life-threatening diseases; indeed, some were recently deceased. Their life affirming attitude is superbly captured by Rankin. There’s also a series of death masks, mostly of the living; spooky.
Chagall – Modern Master – Tate, Liverpool

I and the Village

I and the Village

After negotiating the scrum at the Portrait Gallery last week (we arrived at 10am at the Royal Academy so that was OK) it was relief to find plenty of room – though it was busy – at the Tate, Liverpool. I knew little about Chagall before this exhibition and found his work exhilarating. No minder of convention he painted from the heart.
Visions of the Universe – National Maritime Museum

Breathtaking

Breathtaking

This was stunning to look at but I want to know how they choose the colours; for aesthetic or scientific reasons?
Henze, Stravinsky, Tippett, BBCSO – Knussen, Royal Albert Hall

IMG_0482

Grand vista

I have no idea why I didn’t enjoy this concert. It had been 34C that day but doubt the heat was it. Pity.
Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum – British Museum

Hello pooch

Hello pooch

Whilst the towns’ story is an incredible one I was less than grabbed by this exhibition. I suspect I’m not into looking at household objects.
The Summer Exhibition – Royal Academy

See in motion

See in motion

There was the usual overwhelming, and stimulating, mix of stuff; Janette Kerr’s Holding my breath – above – was my favourite.
Playlist
Thea Gilmore, Regardless
Laura Marling, Once I Was an Eagle
Eleanor Friedberger, Last Summer
July
Passion Play, Peter Nichols – Duke of York’s Theatre

Dramatically daring

Dramatically daring

I loved the first half and the device of doubling the characters so we here the inner monologue of the protagonists. I lost the plot a bit in part two, however, and the sexual politics (the portrayal of the femme fatale) were very ‘eighties. Great performances.
Portrait Award 2013 – National Portrait Gallery

At last... a smile

At last… a smile

There wasn’t a lot of smiling in the entrants, guess that’s difficult to do whilst maintaining a pose. There was the usual mix of technically brilliant (but why not just take a photo?) and marvellously expressive work.
The Pitman Painters, Lee Hall – Harrogate Theatre

It was so good I went again!

It was so good I went again!

Playlist
The National, Trouble Will Find Me
Bloch: Suite for viola etc, Xiao, Hong-Mei, Budapest SO – Smolij
Chris Wood, None the Wiser
Policia, Give You the Ghost
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde, Alice Coote, Burkhard Fritz, Netherlands Philharmonic – Albrecht
June
The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Mike Daisey, Square Chapel – Halifax

Guilty

Guilty

This a cleverly written monologue about Mike Daisey’s journalistic investigation into Apple’s exploitation of workers in China. At first we get a run through the origins of Apple but the real focus is FoxConn’s factory in China with its dehumanising conditions. Yeah I like Apple devices but Apple exemplifies the corruption of capitalism as it will do anything to make money for its shareholders.
KT Tunstall, City Varieties – Leeds

Ravishing

Ravishing

Slightly disappointed to see KT in a solo set again, not that she isn’t brilliant on her own. However, any (extremely slight) disappointment was blown away by her performance of ‘No Better Shoulder’ from her excellent new album. Using her ‘wee bastard’ she harmonised with herself to devastating effect. Word of warning regarding the venue. Never accept a ‘side stalls’ seat as it’s under the balcony which turns the sound to mush. We ended up standing at the back – not happy punters.
Playlist
The Relatives, The Electric Word
Dusapin O Mensch! Nigl, Wagner
KT Tunstall, Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon
Warsaw Village Band, Nord
Serafina Steer, The Moths are Real
May
Haydn, Mozart: Masses, Liverpool Sinfonia – Ellis – Chester Cathedral

Awesome exploitation

Awesome exploitation

I am not a fan of either Haydn or Mozart masses though they were both well performed; soprano Linda Richardson, in particular, was excellent. The filler was Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto, superbly played by Crispian Steele-Perkins, who clearly enjoyed himself. The words of the masses, of course, were the same as the religion-dictated feudal ideology suggested everything was known and nothing could change. Well I’m sure Chester Cathedral has changed in its 500-odd year existence, its stone witnesses ageing with decay. It is a magnificent building built to keep the meek in their place. Things do change but often not quickly enough.
Rich Peppiatt: One Rogue Reporter – Square Chapel, Halifax

Rogueish

Rogueish

It’s rare for a journalist who works for Richard Desmond to understand ‘ethics’ (Desmond ‘admitted’ to the Leveson enquiry that he didn’t) but Peppiatt does know the difference between right and wrong and so publicly resigned from the Daily Star a couple of years ago. Although his show is comedic, it’s not a comedy routine; Peppiatt’s no comedian but has a tabloid journalist’s front enabling to produce a very engaging show. There are some excellent videos shown of Peppiatt door-stepping Dacre, taking Kelvin MacKenzie for a ride and displaying far too much of Neville Thirlbeck. The show does go beyond the bounds of respectability but that’s Peppiatt’s point; go see.
Playlist
Monoswezi, The Village
Shostakovich: Symphony 7, RLPO – Petrenko
Dutch Uncles, Out of Touch in the Wild
Richard Thompson, Electric and Small Town Romance and Sweet Warrior
Foals, Holy Fire
April FABRIC-ATION, Yinka Shonibare MBE – YSP, Wakefield

Not blowing in the wind

Not blowing in the wind

The terrific melding of colour in Shonibare MBE’s work displayed here are, I guess, a product of his African upbringing, though he was born in London. They look great against the big Yorkshire sky. Most of the work is in the Underground gallery and the same melange of colours are worn by his characters. There’s plenty of humour in the work too though, as usual, I didn’t spend long looking at the film.
Mind Walking, Tanika Gupta – Square Chapel, Halifax

Mind wandering

Mind wandering

I think this play suffered from the proximity to The Pitmen Painters, which I’d seen the day before. Excellent performances but I was uninvolved. Interesting after show discussion with two of the cast and the director in the bar though.
The Pitmen Painters, Lee Hall – Alhambra, Bradford

Pean to equality and art

Pean to equality and art

This is one of the best plays I’ve seen and the brilliant production is touring the UK. It combines an investigation into ‘what is art’ with a class based analysis of society. Though it’s set between 1934-46 its contemporary resonances are writ large, particularly in the week when Thatcher, but not Thatcherism, was buried. It’s based on the true story of Ashington miners who produced a remarkable body of paintings and were something of a sensation at the time. It struck me, again, that society should be judged on the education it offers everybody (the miners’ interest is stimulated by a WEA class). In UK we have educational apartheid (private/public) where those who went to the former use their positions in power to denigrate the latter (just this week the minister Gove made three announcements that will further damage state education). The play is: extremely funny; portrays class as it still is; inspirational; thought provoking; brilliant!
Within This Dust, Smallpetitklein dance companySquare Chapel, Halifax

Abstract beauty

Abstract beauty

I’m sure I didn’t follow all that was going on – not necessarily a bad thing – in these portrayals of 9/11, focusing on the ‘falling man’, but there were moments of great beauty and pathos. I particularly liked the start, a real coup de theatre, and S/HE.
The News at Kate – Square Chapel, Halifax

Politically sound

Politically sound

I couldn’t agree more with Kate Smurthwaite’s politics but that’s not enough for a stand-up; to be fair she had a hard act to follow with Mark Thomas (see below). Chuckles rather than laughs.
Sophie Ryder – Cartwright Hall, Bradford

Magisterial hare

Magisterial hare

You’ve only got to the 14th of the month to see these here and well worth a gander they are! The sheer physicality of Ryder’s sculptures is a joy to be near. There are also a number of interesting macquettes of her work. There’s stunning model of a dog with a hare wrapped around its neck; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen movement so brilliantly conveyed statically.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, Robert Tressell – Townsend Productions, Square Chapel, Halifax

Tressell's as relevant now as he was then

Tressell’s as relevant now as he was then

Neil Gore and Richard Stone certainly do their best in the impossible task of reducing Tressell’s great novel to a two-hander. Big turnout at the Square Chapel; my companion suggested that it might have been a Labour Party night out but I think the politics are too left wing for that. It struck a chord on the day the rich awarded themselves a 5% tax cut.
Mark Thomas – People’s Manifesto – Trades Club, Hebden Bridge

Funny and politically sound

Funny and politically sound

An immensely enjoyable show perfectly timed with Daily Mail’s disgusting front page equating a child killer with people on benefits. Of course Hebden Bridge is talking to the converted; wonder if those on the right think he’s funny.
Playlist
Suede, Dog Man Star
Fatoumata Diawara, Fatou
Dan Deacon, America
Katy Carr, Paszport
Goat, World Music
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away
March
Sleeping Beauty, Matthew Bourne – Alhambra, Bradford

As much the Lez Brotherston show as Bourne's

As much the Lez Brotherston show as Bourne’s

Brilliant design, courtesy of Brotherston, is the great strength of this production; and the puppet baby.
Light Show, Hayward Gallery

Ways of seeing

Ways of seeing

The formalists described art as something that ‘makes strange’ (verfremdung) perception; I agree that the best art does this but Carlos Cruz-Diez’s Chromosaturation (above) fundamentally changed my perception. The blue, red and green rooms envelope the viewer if colour that the eye soon tires of so the colour appears to change. Then you step into another room’s colour and the colour changes again and then you look at your hands as you move from the red to the green room and see yourself age 30 years in seconds: wow! There are 20 installations and, unbelievably, one other matches Chromosaturation is its effect; Ólafur Elíasson’s Model for a Timeless Garden ‘freezes’ water fountains with a strobe light. Simply, this exhibition has to be seen (experienced).
Man Ray Portraits – National Portrait Gallery

Photography of the surreal

Photography of the surreal

Of course popular exhibitions always end up ‘rammed’ (go early to the Hayward!) but, with a bit of ‘ducking and diving’, it’s possible to get close enough to appreciate M. Ray’s brilliance (though the tiddlers are not easy to see even if there’s only you in front of them).
Peter and Alice by John Logan – Noel Coward Theatre

Not convinced

Not convinced

I saw Judi Dench on stage over 30 years ago, in Juno and the Paycock; that was great but to say she isn’t as good now (at 79!) is not relevant as the problem with this production was the play. It’s potentially interesting, the affect of being forever being thought of as a fictional character (Wonderland and Pan) in their youth, but I found Logan’s extrapolation of the idea went nowhere. Good production and performances; good job at the price!
Manet Portraying Life – Royal Academy

Head stuck between the railings

Head stuck between the railings

Another rammed exhibition but, with my heightened perception courtesy of Hayward’s light show, I found myself looking at paintings’ colours more carefully. I found myself doing the same on a quick jaunt through the National Gallery’s Impressionist paintings. However, I found myself less than convinced about Manet’s brilliance than I thought I’d be. No doubting his artistry but I was less than moved to worship him; maybe a knock on effect of being ‘blown away’ at the Hayward the day before?
George Bellows (1882-1925): Modern American Life

Vital physicality

Vital physicality

After the disappointment of the Manet we were lucky enough to stumble upon this exhibition of a guy I’d never heard off. Famous for his boxing paintings he also excelled at landscapes. His paintings had an extraordinary physicality, they seemed to embody movement. Great stuff.
Jon Boden and the Remnant Kings, The Met – Bury

Slightly demented artistry

Slightly demented artistry

I fear for Jon Boden’s voice; on the back of a Bellowhead tour he goes on the road with his smaller band to be followed by his duet formation with John Spiers. Any way, he was in great voice tonight focusing on his Songs from the Floodplain album and featuring terrific covers of Kate Bush and Whitney Houston.
Playlist
David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust
Sam Lee, Ground of its Own
Laurie Levine, Six Winters
Talking Heads, Speaking in Tongues
David Bowie, The Next Day
February
Glam! The Performance of Style – Tate Liverpool IMAG1061 I was unsure about this as I was never into Glam Rock however this show shows the influences upon, and the influences of, Glam in its wider sense. So while no one particular piece was particularly brilliant the show as a whole is.
Rutherford & Son, Githa Sowerby – The Viaduct Theatre Halifax

Part made for the man

Part made for the man

It was a bit of a coup that Northern Broadsides got the once-famed Jonathan Miller to director this revival; Miller, 80, has recently complained about not being able to get work. Obviously he’s still compos mentis as evidenced by this excellent production and he drew numerous national newspaper reviewers (at least I imagine it’s his presence). Barrie Rutter as an actor isn’t to my taste but he was excellent in the role of the over-bearing patriarch; indeed, the whole cast were. My only complaint is I always end up sneezing in this damp cellar theatre.
I Am Kloot, The Irish Club – Leeds

Good, but not as good as the album

Good, but not as good as the album

Really like their new album, Let Them All In, and don’t me wrong they were good in concert. Maybe the fact I was standing near (again!) people who come to a gig to talk rather than listen put me off a bit. Why do people come to a gig and talk constantly pausing only to clap something they didn’t listen to?! Someone! Tell me! IT’S CHEAPER TO GO TO THE PUB! Nice venue though but why no real beer?
Stornoway, Trades Club – Hebden Bridge

I can see the static

I can see the static

Excellent gig in a top venue but why start at 10pm so those of us relying on public transport have to leave early?!
Playlist
Iness Metzel, Beyond the Trance
Martha Tilston, Machines of Love and Grace
Cody ChesnuTT, Landing on a Hundred
The Poozies, Infinite Blue
The Cure, Greatest Hits
I Am Kloot, Let Them All In
Rachmaninov: Symphony 2, RLPO – Petrenko
Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence, Norwegian CO – Brown
Ukandanz, Yetchalal
Bowerbirds, The Clearing
Sinead O’ Connor, How About I Be Me (and You Be You?)
Books Arc 1.3 Afterparty Overdrive
January
Playlist
Anne Dudley, Ancient and Modern
Daniel Herskedal and Marius Neset, Neck of the Woods
Josephine, Portrait
Books Granta 120: Medicine
2013
December
Paper at the Cutting Edge, Manchester Art Gallery

Paper trees

Paper trees

Unlike the Shrigley, below, this was curated; beautifully so.
How Do You Feel, David Shrigley, Cornerhouse, Manchester

Law of diminishing returns

Law of diminishing returns

Most exhibitions are curated, this one simply seems to have put everything Shrigley had available. The point seems to be to let the audience curate. Okay it was free but I would still prefer someone to extract wheat from chaff. I was bored by the end.
The XX, O2 Academy, Leeds

Anti rock rock band

Anti rock rock band

Shouldn’t’ve gone; near the end of an exhausting term and I didn’t even like their second album. I mean they were good but a packed Academy singing along to anti-rock songs seemed a bit weird to me.
Playlist
John Cale, Hobosapiens
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Magnificat – Cave
Brad Meldhau, Largo
David Byrne, David Byrne
November Bellowhead, St George’s Hall, Bradford

Bloody brilliant!

Bloody brilliant!

As always; my fifth encounter with folk rockers didn’t disappoint. The mandolin solo on the speaker was a high. The support, Mama Roisin, were great too.
Playlist
Oi Va Voi, Laughter Through Tears
Bruckner, Symphony 4, BPO-Wand
Bellowhead, Broadsword
Kristina Train, Dark Black
World Party, Bang!
Dennehy: Stainless Staining, Lisa Moore
October
Eddi Reader, Hebden Bridge Picture House

Classy entertainment
Classy entertainment

Great stuff from Eddi, Boo Hewerdine and their crew.
The Civil Wars, O2 Apollo, Manchester

Two as one kept audience rapt

Two as one kept audience rapt

We had an annoying start to the gig, Ticketmaster’s ‘all you need to know’ email stated the acts started at 8; by then the second support, The Lumineers, were on! They were alright; Mumford and Son clones I thought. The main event, a bit measly on for only an hour, were fantastic. Their encore, Billy Jean, was quite astounding (except for the idiots that insisted on clapping along). A packed Apollo was absolutely rapt and the quietest audience I’ve been in for a long time. A great gig.
Roddy Woomble, Brudenell Social Club

Mr 'laid back'

Mr ‘laid back’

Looking forward to Roddy’s forthcoming album and this was a very relaxed concert (except for people talking; they explained to me that they too had paid for a ticket, I pointed out that the ticket was for listening to the music). A bit too relaxed for me maybe, I like the propulsion of the drum kit.
Playlist
Natalie Merchant, Motherland and Live in Concert
Karine Polwart, Traces
September
Kathryn Williams and The Pond, Cockpit, Leeds

The sound stank

The sound stank

I enjoyed the first set, Williams solo, but when she was joined by others as The Pond the sound became a hard edged mush (if you get what I mean). We had to leave…
Playlist
Jessie Ware, Devotion
Alt-J, Awesome
The Cloudmakers Trio with Ralph Alessi, Live at the Pizza Express
Scriabin: Piano sonatas, Anatol Ugorski
August
Bingley Music Live

Please retire

Please retire

Mavis Staples was second top billing on the opening night but, really, Mavis, you must retire. Charlatans didn’t keep me long either but Spirit of St John rocked (as a five piece) and I was enjoying Small Words until the sound system went ‘kaput’.
Leedsfest

Suitably blue: listening to Grimes

Not my idea and was for one day only. Not my idea because there weren’t many bands I was interested in and as I can’t stand the size of arenas, Bramhope Park wasn’t likely to be any better; it wasn’t. Kasabian headlined – vacuous pomp – but Florence and the Machine managed to convey eccentricity though Florence was too far away. People nearby chatted (a common complaint of mine) only pausing to sing the choruses. I watched the performance on a video screen mostly. Grimes – disappointed but it’s not music for a tent middle of the day. Santigold – managed to conjure some atmosphere in the inevitable rain. Can’t remember the other acts I heard; which says something. Abiding memory? The ‘Slumdog Millionnaire‘ toilet. I did have a go at the silent disco; people were talking there too!
Berlin There can be few cities, if any, with more 20th century history than Berlin. A brilliant place to visit.
Reichstag

Panopticon

Norman Foster’s quite brilliant design for the Reichstag dome emphasises the reunification of Germany. Visit for free but be sure to pre-register online.

‘Double-helix’ walkway

The Berlin Wall Memorial

A division of souls

I am of the generation that grew up with the Wall; it was erected the year I was born. With such a perspective it seemed it would be never-ending and this memorial is heart-rending with its tales of how the overnight construction blighted lives.

Blighted lives

Arco Renz and Amrita Performing Arts An hour long modern ballet with an electronic score about he rebirth of Cambodian culture after Pol Pot in an extremely hot theatre (temps touched 35C during the day) led to an hallucinatory experience. Literally, I saw Batman on the stage and Geraldine saw her kids. This was no doubt caused by the heat and the fact that the first 20 minutes, or so (who knows?), were in virtual darkness. Sensory deprivation does peculiar things. Berlin cityscape

Metropolis?

Blade Runner?

Topography of Terror

Suitably bleak

This memorial serves to contextualise the Holocaust. Maybe it’s a strange place to visit on holiday…? Berlinische gallery

Weimar by Nikolaus Braun

At last air conditioning and that helped appreciate some great stuff in the gallery (there was also pretentious scheiße). Jewish Museum

Suitably striking

Daniel Libeskind built the extension to the Jewish museum which exhausts in the detail with which it details the Jewish experience in Europe. Rightly so but it doesn’t lead to a particularly enlightening experience.

Looking for lost souls

Liebeskind’s building feels like a psychological embodiment of dislocation; brilliant. Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart

Mao

Cy Twombly is shit but I did like the Lichtenstein and Warhol. Particularly striking, and disturbing were Morton Barlett’s children-dolls. These were never exhibited during Barlett’s lifetime and seem to me to be a paedophile’s view of children; though my brief trawl of the net, and the museum’s notes, either don’t agree with or are being coy. If you’re going to exhibit such stuff, and they are remarkable, I think you should be up front about the (possible) provenance. If such painstaking production kept Bartlett’s libido private then all to the the good.

Dubious provenance

Holocaust Memorial

Lost for words

Helmet Newton Museum

Both sides now

Both sides now

I’d always been uncertain about what I felt about Newton’s photography; heavily sexual focusing on the female nude but also quite unerotic in the hard surface sheen he favours. However, having experienced his museum I’m now sure he’s a ‘sexist pig’. Maybe it was over-dosing on his imagery or his wife’s (on the right above) dismissal of feminism that convinced me, I’m not sure.
Authentic German er cuisine

OK it’s only the bier that’s worth consuming

Neue Nationalgalerie

Heinrich Ehmsen: Wahnsinnige Harlekine vor den Trümmern des Krieges II, 1945/51

Marvellous gallery juxtaposing art for the east and west. Art and sociology.
Stasi Museum

Banality with consequences

I do admire the German’s determination to not forget their past. This museum, Stasi HQ, is East Germany remembered in its faults.
Konzerthausorchester – Dmitrij Kitajenko, Konzerthaus

Stunning building and concert

Stunning building and concert

Kim Kashkashian was the brilliant soloist in Schnittke’s wonderfully abrasive Viola concerto, which was followed by a marvellous account of Tchaikovsky’s fifth. The distinctive sound of Russian orchestras has dissipated in the last few decades; I always thought it sounded great in Tchaikovsky. The Konzerthausorchester, the old East Berlin equivalent of the Philarmonic I think, doesn’t sound like a Russian orchestra but it was distinctive; never have a heard such a beautiful bass clarinet. The building, rebuilt after the war, makes it appear you are stepping into the 18th century; quite an experience.
Film Museum

Louise and I

This has a spectacular design with mirrored walkways surrounded by screens depicting iconic moments of German film. The post-war era was rather scantily clad, but otherwise excellent.
Sachsenhausen

Enough said

Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks, Brudenell Social Club – Leeds

Rocking

After a day of watching England, mostly, being pummeled by South Africa, this gig was a perfect antidote to the soporific cricket watching (and ale consuming). Whilst on the ale (the subject I mean) it’s good to see that the Brudenell has, at last, some decent beer (Three Swords)! The support Milk Maid where loud without engaging the audience but there was no danger of the latter with Malkmus and the of fans in the audience.
Playlist
Samuel Yirga, Guzo
The Albion Band, Vice of the People
PiL, This is PiL
17 Hippies, Phantom Songs
The Flaming Lips, The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends
Plan B, Ill Manors
Richard Hawley, Standing at the Sky’s Edge
Esbjörn Svensson Trio, 301
King’s Daughters & Sons, If Then Not When
July
Brahms: German Requiem, Chester Festival Chorus, RLPO – Petrenko, Chester Cathedral

The only thing not classy about Petrenko is he supports Liverpool*

Vasily Petrenko is credited with turning the Liverpool Phil into a top orchestra and this concert of was evidence of that. The way he cranked up the tension was absolutely thrilling, particularly in the 2nd and 6th movements. Plaudits to the chorus too; this was the best concert of the year so far.
*and, belatedly discover, he’s sexist.
Steve Tilston, Keighley Arts Exchange

Great ‘old’ artist in great new venue

The big benefit of small venues, and this promises to be an excellent one, is that you get close and this is the closest I’ve been to such a terrific guitarists. So it’s not just hearing the virtuosity it’s seeing it too. Really enjoyed the affable Tilston’s set which was well supported by ‘old’ women showing their age and not caring: Gracenotes.
Playlist
Natalie Merchant, Ophelia
Cowboy Junkies, The Trinity Sessions
Natalie Merchant, The House Carpenter’s Daughter
Cowboy Junkies, Pale Sun, Crescent Moon
Christian Scott, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow
Beak >, >>
Books
James Gleick, The Information
David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Patrick Gale, Pictures from an Exhibition
Carl Zimmer, A Planet of Viruses
June
The Unthanks and Brighouse & Raistrick Brass Band, Victoria Hall – Halifax

Working class class

This was a, more or less, repeat concert of last September’s in Leeds. Good stuff again, if a tad short; included a stunning version of ‘Newcastly Lullaby’ replete with Steve Reich rhythms: hypnotic heaven.
Julaba Kunda, Square Chapel – Halifax

A mix less than the sum of its parts

I saw Juldeh Camara with Justin Adams a few years back and their African-west fusion was great. This isn’t to say that fiddler Griselda Sanderson is to blame for this slightly less than inspiring concert, her array of ancient instruments looked terrific. However, as in their album, she seemed distant in the mix and it wasn’t a partnership of equals.
May
Infinite Kusama – Tate Modern

Hello cube

Wow! I was entirely unfamiliar with Kusama Yayoi’s work until seeing the reviews of the exhibition; but what a discovery. Apparently she sees (always? sometimes?) the world with dots everywhere and, as above, her art manifests this. She also has a penchant for penises, disturbingly dominant and a legacy of patriarchy in Japan (she was born in 1929). It’s clear from the exhibition that she predated Warhol’s ‘pop art’ in the ’60s, when she worked in New York. No doubt the patriarchal art scene wasn’t going to let a woman, Japanese at that, take the credit. However, these works are the least interesting to me. Her early stuff is beautiful and exquisite; like the detail of the Chinese prints seen below. The later stuff, on a grander scale, is quite over-powering in its use of colour. She’s had a fascinating 60 years plus as an artist.
The Printed Image in China: From the 8th to the 21st Century – British Museum

The definition of exquisite

I don’t the techniques involved in many of these prints: paint brush using ink? Whatever, the detail and beauty was sufficient.
Picasso Print: The Vollard Suite – British Museum

Thrilling creativity

The great thing about Picasso is that he never disappoints. I guess that makes him a genius; a much abused word.

Babel, Wildworks – Caledonian Park, Islington

This was meant to be the main event of our trip to London but it was an undigested mishmash and mush that I can’t even be bothered to write about. However… when the ‘fascist security’ suddenly switched sides to join ‘the people’ the plot was clearly, even if there had been one, lost.
Louise Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed, Freud Museum, Hampstead

Where to look?

I visited Freud’s place in Vienna nearly 30 years ago and remember experiencing a frisson on seeing his couch. I think Freud’s work is bonkers, based as it is on neurotic middle class Viennese, however it also can give us great insights into the ‘human condition’. The frisson was dimmed, slightly, in his London house; but that’s probably my age. However, it was interesting to see Freud’s front room as it was 60-odd years ago. Why did Anna, his daughter who outlived him by 40 years, keep it the same? It’s clearly a shrine. The Bourgeois was a disappointment. The ‘maman’ (spider) in the garden looked like it was made of tentpoles (if probably was). Age hasn’t been kind to the sculptures on show here and it all looked a bit shabby.
An Intimate Evening with The Unthanks, Holmfirth Picturedrome

More bliss

I love The Unthanks: I love the way they sing and how they sing about ordinary folk. The arrangements are fabulous (take a bow Adrian McNally) and the musicianship of the highest order. The focus of ordinary folk’s troubles, often from the past, emphasises that the working classes have always been at the bottom of the heap. So it is now, giving the lie to the ConDem’s contention that ‘we’re all in this together’. At least after the budget only fools believe this mantra. The ‘intimacy’ of this gig was in the stripped down instrumentation, piano, guitar and viola, and, during the second half, each of the group did their own ‘thing’ offering great variety. This part included the support, Lucy Farrell and Johnny Kearney, whose seeming shyness failed to hide their artistry. Never seen them? Go!
Playlist
Frank Turner, England Keep My Bones
Gravenhurst, Fires in Distant Buildings
April
Big Daddy vs Giant Haystacks, Square Chapel, Halifax

I needn’t have remembered this

I remember the wrestling on ITV’s World of Sport in the ’70s because it was on before the racing and football results. Enjoyed Les Kellett, in particular; I taught his grandson once. The Foundry Group’s production does a decent job of creating a theatrical biopic in this two-hander but, really, I don’t care.
Andrew Lawrence, Square Chapel, Halifax

Not quite as funny as he thinks he is

It’s a tough gig for a comedian doing two sets and while Lawrence’s first was pretty good, there wasn’t enough variety for him to sustain another 45-odd minutes. He seemed to realise this with his parting shot that if we didn’t give him a standing ovation he’d shit in his hand. Now I thought he was going down pretty well with the audience but evidently he didn’t and it was a sour way to end. I think he relied upon audience banter too much and his material was spread rather thinly. At his best, the ridiculousness of the ‘If you’re happy and you know it’ chant for example, he was good. There just wasn’t enough.
Playlist
Mozart: String quartets 4, 17 & 22, Jerusalem Qt
Vasks: Plainscapes Latvian Radio Choir
Grimes, Visions
Paul Weller, Sonik Kicks
The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow
Spoek Mathambo, Father Creeper
Gregory Porter, Be Good
Books Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, Owen Jones. Brilliant analysis; a ‘must-read’.
March
O’Hooley and Tidow, 1:22 Club, Huddersfield

No nonsense wimmin

A new venue for me and a bit bamboozling as if you book online you don’t get a ticket (not even an e-ticket). Not a problem except then you have to go searching for when it starts. Doors 20.00; so, we guess, start 21.00? No; as we walk in at 20.30, the show begins. Needs refining that I think. Nice place though. Good(ish) show too. Loved some of the songs, off The Fragile, and O’Hooley and Tidow almost pull off ‘comic duo’ banter between songs but something was lacking. Or maybe it was too much; finishing at 23.00 with an interval. O’Hooley’s piano is pretty terrific; Listzian, at times, in its fervour.
A Doll’s House, Theatr Clywd, Mold

Man thinking he is dominant

Caryl Morgan is excellent as Nora Helmer, a woman who realises that the idea her husband is the man she thinks he is nonsense. It’s a tough role, there’s barely a scene without her. All the cast are excellent and the play works well in the intimate Emlyn Williams theatre.
Top Girls, Caryl Churchill, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Still having to battle

This is a superb play about the malicious influence of Thatcherism as well as dramatically daring as it features a meal for (mostly forgotten) women from history and overlapping dialogue. Unfortunately it hasn’t dated at all, since 1982, as the forces of reaction (men) are still trying to chain women in the virgin:mother:whore archetypes. An all female cast, an empowering event in itself, disport themselves with bravura acting aided by fantastic make up and costume; and we shouldn’t forget Max Stafford-Clark’s direction.
Lucian Freud Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London

Picturing decrepitude

There’s no doubt that Freud was a remarkable artist; an antidote to the Photoshop age were unblemished perfection infects representations. Freud saw the aging process, in his subjects, before they felt it. I can only imagine that this must have been a projection of his own anxieties. The exhibition covers his whole career and, if you can get to see the pics amongst the crowds, it’s quite an experience.
Bingo, Edward Bond, Young Vic, London

Lear like fumblings

Went to see this primarily as an opportunity to watch Patrick Stewart, and he didn’t disappoint. The play did somewhat: it’s myth-puncturing presentation of Shakespeare was good but could have been done in a less tangential fashion.
Hayward Gallery, London: Brain Activity, David Shrigley

We know

Shrigley’s playfulness ranges from funny to banal, and that’s not a bad thing. As he says: ‘It’s a matter of making fun of the things you could get depressed about.’ So he works like many comedians.
Joy in People, Jeremy Deller

Tea with your art

Had gone to see the Shrigley but this was far more interesting. Deller’s art is as much about making things happen, as making things; for example, he recreated the Battle of Orgreave in 2001. The political engagement showed up Shrigley’s show (which is worth seeing), and Stewart Lee (below), as it gives a meaning to the art suggesting that we should make life better for yourself and others by engaging with those who abuse their power.
Stewart Lee, Carpet Remnant Tour, St George’s Hall, Bradford

It’s the way I tell about tellin’ ’em

Stewart Lee’s an excellent comedian who effortless delivers his lines and stories and he’s even honest enough to say, as he’s kids to look after, he’s run out of material. Cue a story about not having any material. It’s brilliantly done but his postmodern take on comedy really has nothing to say, which is disappointing from an overtly political comic.
Playlist
Shostakovich: Piano concerto 2 etc, Melnikov, Mahler CO – Currentzis
Boy and Bear, Moonfire
Schubert: Winterreise, Florian Boesch, Malcolm Martineau
Thea Gilmore, John Wesley Harding, This is outstanding; one of my favourite singers singing my favourite songwriter. Hope Thea tours this; it’s stunning.
Dirty Three, Toward the Low Sun
O’Hooley & Tidow, The Fragile. Don’t like the first three tracks, but then excellent.
Books
A Doll’s House, Ibsen
February
Mark Maier, Tudur Owen, Harriet Dyer, Calderdale Comedy Club, The Works, Sowerby Bridge

Stop! No more! Please!!

The first time we attended the club, a drunken group at the front soured proceedings. This time there was no such problem and all the acts were good culminating in Mark Maier who made me laugh so much I was desperate for him to stop.
Stomp, Alhambra Theatre, Bradford

Crash, bang

This is breathtakingly brilliant theatre. Street dance with a dollop of music hall, resolutely working class in its use of whatever’s available and the worker personas of the performers.
Chicago, Alhambra Theatre, Bradford

All right jazz

The Yorkshire Evening Post complained that this was full of soap stars/hasbeens in the leads who were, mainly, not very good. Their presence, no doubt, was to sell tickets and I agree with the reviewer that we’re better off with unknowns who can do a better job. However, I really enjoyed the job they did. The music is great (John Kander), superbly played by the onstage band, as are the lyrics (Fred Ebb). The production is excellent, it oozed cynicism suggesting times (as the musical is based on true stories from the 1920s) haven’t changed.
He Calls Himself Margaret, Michele Howarth Rashman, Linden Mill, Hebden Bridge

Gis a kiss

This small exhibition of Michele Howarth Rashman’s micro-stitched mixed media sculptures is terrific; it’s on ’til 26th. The slightly larger-than-life busts are incredibly life-like, not in how they look, but in the individuality of the ‘skin’ that gives a ‘warts and all’ texture that we all have (assuming we’re still real).
As You Like It, Shakespeare, Theatre Clywd, Mold

I liked it

Terry Hands is Theatre Clywd’s artistic director and I remember, from 25 years ago?, headlines of ‘Hands Off!’ when he was at the RSC. I can’t imagine anyone complaining about this production of Shakespeare’s play about love and age. Simply staged, with lovely costumes, the staging was notable for the brio of its cast. I was particularly impressed by Philip Bretherton’s melancholy Jaques, he delivered the ‘All the world’s a stage’ speech quite brilliantly.
Playlist
Diagrams, Black Light
Ravel: Piano Works for Four Hands, Louis Lorte, Hélène Mercier
Eleanor Friedburger, Last Summer
Borodin: String quartets, Borodin Qt
Django Django, Django Django
Books
School Wars, Melissa Benn. Should be read by anyone who cares about education; clearly Gove won’t be reading it.
January 2012
The Unthanks Singing Weekend, Seahouses

Singing together

The Unthanks are currently my favourite live band so an invite (well you have to pay) to spend a weekend singing with them was irresistible. Another 40-odd folk found themselves similarly tempted and what a wonderful time we had. Learning the songs with Rachel and Becky, and then singing on the beach followed by, most memorably, with the Keelers in the Olde Ship Inn (I wonder what unsuspecting patrons thought of us).

Ordinary folk

Adrian McNally, the band’s pianist and arranger, was responsible for the ace food; and thanks to Becky for serving me breakfast on Sunday morning. I came away with a real sense of community, evidenced in the folk songs, from the bond formed by singing together.
Invisible, Tena Stivicic, Laurence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield

Us and the Other

I was attracted to this play as it was billed to be about the immigrant experience in the UK. Theatre is able to counter the prejudices of the mass media, who relish the opportunity to portray migrants as an Other to distract people from who is really causing their problems (the same elite that run the mass media). But that doesn’t mean it will be any good. Not that Invisible is bad; far from it. A committed cast take on the difficult task of showing a multitude of experiences. However, I found the multitude too much and theatre should not have to rely upon a voice over to tell us what’s going on. Ambitious, and important, but Invisible fails as drama.
Small Words, Arden Social Club, Halifax

Going places?

It’s unusual to find a riff riffing through your head ( a mindworm!) from a band of teenagers appearing at a showcase for new talent (Doghouse’s ‘Bright Young Things’) but this band are that good! I’m told ‘90210’ have picked up the synch rights (that’s where the money is!) to ‘Nice‘, the title track of their debut album, due in April. The band are all excellent and benefit from the front man’s, Patrick McCallion, confidence. It was a short and varied set with not a weak link; it’s rare to have so much good material at this stage of a career. I hope they go on to make an impact.
Playlist
1982, Pintura
Liszt: Harmonies du Soir, Nelson Freire
Tom Waits, Glitter and Doom, Live
Reading list
They Shoot Horses Don’t They, Horace McCoy
Time’s Arrow, Martin Amis
God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchins
December
The Unthanks, Hebden Bridge Picturehouse

Supreme artistry

This was the third time I’d seen The Unthanks this year and I’ve already booked for their tour next May. In March they were promoting their new album; in Sept. it was with the Brighouse and Raistrick Brass Bank; today they were singing the songs of Anthony and the Johnsons and Robert Wyatt. It was linked to an album recorded live last year which, in truth, verged on the dirge too much for me. However, in performance the songs were rendered beautifully. In addition to the sheer beauty of the Unthank sisters’ voices there were the terrific arrangements for string quartet, piano, bass and drums; plus an assortment of other instrumentation including a saw and squeezebox. As ever there’s the unsophisticated relationship with the audience (which took some warming up tonight) that is delightful; we might have been in their front room. At one point the chief arranger, and pianist, Adrian McNally, asked his wife, Rachel, ‘Are you ready dear?’ as she had appeared to have gone into a reverie. The Unthanks are consistently brilliant.
Festival of Light, Huddersfield

Fantasy in Yorkshire

Dropped into the weekend long festival for a couple of hours coinciding with the arrival of winter rain. Unfortunate but it didn’t detract too much from the magical atmosphere. Urban Angels acrobatics were particularly impressive.
Salsa Celtica, Victoria Hall, Saltaire

Cuba meets Scotland in harmony

The fourth time Salsa Celtica have visited Saltaire and, when they come back, I’m sure I’ll be wanting to see them again. Great fun and there was a particularly magical moment when lead singer and violinist, Holly ?, sang a capella to an eventually hushed hall.
Playlist
Jake Cogan and The Liberty Roses, Jake Cogan and The Liberty Roses
Jake Cogan, Parcel of Rogues
Michael Garrick (RIP), Martin Hathaway, Paul Moylan and Alan Jackson, The New Quartet
Lucien Ban, Enescu Reimagined
The Black Keys, El Camino
Music for a Time of War,
Oregon SO – Carlos Kalmar (Pentatone)
Shabazz Palaces Black Up (sounds like Tricky’s back but even better!)
November
Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize – National Portrait Gallery

Captured perfectly

Some fascinating portraits beautifully shot. It’s interesting to compare the photographs with the BP art portrait prize. Photos, by their nature, tend to be more naturalistic and, in capturing an actual moment, may be less contrived than paintings. This might seem obvious, but I emphasise the ‘may’.
Broken Glass by Arthur Miller, Vaudeville Theatre – London

Without identity

Last time I went to the theatre in London it was Miller’s All My Sons; brilliant as that was this version of Broken Glass almost trumped it. Central to Iqbal Khan’s production is Antony Sher’s quite stunning performance as the businessman who tries to avoid his Jewish identity. The rest of the cast are terrific too; as is the solo cellist accompanying scene changes. Well, at £50 a pop it better had be! Miller’s brilliance is his ability to dramatise psychological states in recognisable human beings. So, although it focuses upon Jewish identity, the problems dealt with relate to all.
Art by Offenders and Secure Patients: The Koestler Exhbition – Royal Festival Hall

Entrapped

This was extremely interesting: art by prisoners or those in secure units due to their mental health. Some of it was terrific; some of it scary; none of it boring.
Hidden Heroes – the genius of everyday things, British Science Museum

Interesting? Nein!

I resented paying six quid for this German exhibition on the genius of everyday objects. The Germanic perspective was irrelevant it just wasn’t that interesting! The film of how paper clips are made was good though.
World Press Photo Awards, Royal Festival Hall

1st Prize General News Stories: Olivier Laban-Mattei, France, Agence France-Presse. Haiti earthquake aftermath, 15-26 January. A man throws a dead body at the morgue of the general hospital, Port-au-Prince, 15 January

This is a literally stunning exhibition and many beautiful photographs showing many instances of hell on Earth.
The Unilever Series: Tacita Dean

Watching film on a big wall

This ‘turbine hall’ piece is meant to be a lament for 35mm film but I’m afraid I lost the plot within 1440 frames (aka one minute).
Rumer, City Hall, Sheffield

Lost in the mix

I must be getting old; this is the first time I’ve been to a concert (you certainly couldn’t call it a gig) where the audience claps at the start of a song. What does that mean?! ‘Hey, I recognise and like this one!’ I must be in Radio 2 land with Rumer’s easy listening but her voice is so beautiful that her debut album was one of my favourites from last year. However… her voice was lost in the mix. It was as if someone had turned the bass to full and so the drone dominated instead of supported. It improved slightly when the bassist went to the stand-up version but there was also the raucous sax (sounding as if it were out of Spandau Ballet) to contend with. Rumer’s been doing the rounds for years but she’s only been a star for a year and her stagecraft is lacking. She is relaxed but her engagement with the audience is weak at best (in stark contrast to KT Tunstall). A major (and expensive) disappointment; nice hall though.
KT Tunstall, The Picturedrome, Holmfirth

Solo rock

Whilst this show might not have topped her Feb gig – see below – with her band, it still emphasised what a brilliant musician Tunstall is. Playing solo, which included creating the loop for each song at the start, Tunstall had the crowd (in this excellent venue) in her grasp from the beginning. She’s a total show-woman that plays the crowd as well as her instruments.
Playlist
Florence and the Machine, Ceremonials
June Tabor and Oysterband, Ragged Kingdom
Kate Bush 50 Words for Snow
October
Florence and the Machine, Hackney Empire webcast

Forceful performance

Will have to see her live as this came across as a fantastic performance despite some glitches in the webcast (not bad for £4 given Florence’s brilliance). Watching live on the laptop is less than idea but it was clear that she was giving a terrific performance (as well as the band of course) and the fact that this was live added to the excitement.
Mugyenko Taiko Drummers, The Spa Centre Scarborough

Stunning drumming

I enjoyed these even more than last year with the climactic ‘Phoenix’ being mesmerising and exciting in equal fashion. The group were augmented by flautist Miyazaki Nobuku whose beautiful tone was, annoying, often lost in the wash of sound from the Northern Soul weekend that was also going on in the venue (they shouldn’t schedule shows like this).
The Billy Pearce Big Night Out Celebrating 30 years of Overgate Hospice, Victoria Theatre, Halifax

Old school humour

This misogynist, and homophobic, old fashioned humour is still popular beneath the broadcasters’ radar. So this was a slightly uncomfortable experience that reminded me of Les Dawsons’ ‘mother-in-law’ jokes: often funnily told but what are we colluding with by laughing? Fortunately not all laughs are dependent upon reinforcing discrimination and there was plenty of slapstick and The Stardust Dancers were very good, the best of Pearce’s supporting acts. Pearce is a fixture at the Bradford panto and he is brilliant at what he does. I particularly liked the running gag of him ‘performing’ magic tricks (‘we’re saving up for a magician’) badly and the ‘Morecombe & Wise’ sketch of the workman bashing his hammer during a song was excellent.
Marsden Jazz Festival Billed as ‘the finest jazz in the beautiful Pennine hills of West Yorkshire’ and I’m sure it is but the afternoon we were there any beauty was obscured by horizontal rain. I also had to put my foot into the Conservative club; I didn’t burst into flame but expected to. We saw The Dizzy Band: two excellent sets.
Playlist
Snakefarm My Halo at Half Light
Wilco The Whole Love
Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler Greatest Hits
Lisa Hannigan Passenger
Berlioz Grande Messe de Mort, Gabrieli Consort and Players, Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, Paul McCreesh
Books The Sense of an Ending Julian Barnes (excellent except I’m not sure I liked the ending)
September
The Unthanks and Brighouse & Raistrick Brass Band – Leeds Town Hall

Brass necks

The delicate folk of the Unthanks and the brass of one of the country’s premiere bands? Had to give it a go and if it didn’t offer the transcendence of the Unthanks ‘trad’ concerts then it was still worth a listen. The Unthanks don’t stand still – driven by McNally’s arrangements – and some of the ideas came off very well. Less successful was the brass band Father’s Suite but percussionist’s vocal performance of Queen of Hearts as a swing piece was a show stopper.
We Are Three Sisters by Blake Morrison, Northern Broadsides – Halifax

Sisters are doin’ it

An enjoyable play that didn’t quite gel for me; however that was probably due to my ignorance. I didn’t realise how Morrison drew so closely on actual events in the Brontes’ lives. Reading Chekov’s Three Sisters just before the opening night of this premiere probably wasn’t a good idea either as I ended up straining too much for parallels. Good production, though I find Dean Clough’s Viaduct Theatre stage distracting (audiences sit either side), and well performed. It was good to see a play about Yorkshire in Yorkshire and be reminded what remarkable sisters they were.
Po Girl, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge

Girls at the front

Unfamiliar with these but took a punt based upon a YouTube listen and well worth the chance they were. If they’re slightly too chatty, their banter is mellow and engaging. An extremely talented duo (with a great drummer in support) take the lead; they played guitar, ukelele, banjo, gutbucket bass, accordion and, best of all, clarinet. Allison Russell is a real presence and it was terrific when she jumped off the stage to dance. She also has a great voice and, for a moment, during their cover of Put the Blame on Mame I thought I was listening to Nina Simone! Her mellifluous clarinet gives the band a very distinctive sound. Urban roots probably best describes their music; in other words very wide influences and a folky texture. Well worth catching; they made an appearance on Radio 4’s Loose Tubes on Sat. 3rd.
Rushbearing, Ripponden

On parade

Something to do with laying the rushes in churches as Autumn begins. Also an excuse for a ‘piss up’. There’s a lot on offer from incongruous belly dancers to short medieval (style?) plays. And the sun shone at the end.
Scarecrow Festival, Norland

One of the bears

Although the theme of this year’s festival appeared to be pop music this was the first scarecrow we came across; very fine it is too.

Elton

This was the best we saw; there was music too. Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield

Hepworth Gallery

It’s great to have such a superb gallery locally rather than having everything crunched into London. This has some great stuff in it and the space is marvelous, if a little utilitarian looking for me. It’s also difficult to resist touching Hepworth’s work but I managed it. This is my favourite:
Playlist
Po Girls Follow Your Bliss
Schoenberg: Chamber Symphony 1; arr. Brahms Piano Quartet – BPO – Rattle
Laura Marling A Creature I Don’t Know
Tinie Tempah Disc-Overy
August
Roddy Woomble, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge

Folky harmony

Great gig. I struggle to comprehend why such interesting music, with plenty of hooks, isn’t more popular. Not, I suspect, that Woomble is bothered; he came across as extremely affable. His band are great; his songs are great. The gig was great.
The War Horse, New London Theatre – London

Convincing stylisation

This is a brilliant production of Michael Morpurgo’s novel however I was emotionally unengaged. I don’t think that was simply because the source material was aimed at children. Having just read Faulke’s devastating Birdsong made this seem rather trivial. Don’t let me put you off it is brilliant theatre.
Playlist
Strauss: Ein Heldenleben, Four Last Songs, Dorothea Röschmann, Rotterdam PO – Nezet-Sezuin
Britten: Cello Symphony etc. Paul Watkins, BBC PO – Gardner
Jim White Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See
Britten: Phaedra etc. Rysanov, Connolley, BBC SO – Gardner
Lucy Ward Adelphi Has to Fly
Books
Birdsong Sebastian Faulkes
Small Wars Sadie Jones
July
The American Four Tops, Ritz Brighouse

The eyes deceive

I’d never had a desire to see a tribute band and was never a particular fan of the Four Tops so it was definitely a punt to turn up at this gig. I friend recently, to her regret, paid £80 to see Rain on Broadway which was little more than a Beatles tribute band; clearly there is a market. Walter Benjamin suggested that the original work of art had an ‘aura’ that copies could not mimic. That’s true for music too, however when the audience ‘make believe’ it’s real (and that wasn’t hard given the sound and performance of this excellent gig) and share the facsimile’s fantasy then it might as well be the genuine article.
Northern Soul Weekend, Whitby Pavilion

The dance goes on

I’ve listened to Northern Soul but was too young for its flowering in the 60s-70s. I didn’t realise that the subculture is still thriving, mostly with the original participants, so I was amongst the youngest. Indeed, I think I’ve found my metier on the dance floor: as you don’t dance with anyone else, the fact that I’m always out of synch doesn’t matter! Hours of dancing, showing off and drinking; can’t be many better ways of spending a weekend.
Playlist
Shostakovich: Symphony 11, Netherlands Radio PO – Wigglesworth
Rachmaninov: Piano concertos 2 & 3, Trpceski, RLPO – Petrenko
The New Gary Burton Quartet, Common Ground
Schumann: Symphonies, Staatskapelle Dresden – Sawallisch
Couperin: Leçons de Ténèbres, William Christie & Les Arts Florissants
Beastie Boys, Hello Nasty (deluxe ed.)
Gillian Welch, The Harrow and the Harvest
Jill Scott, The Light of the Sun
Roddy Woomble, Impossible Songs and Other Songs
Mahler Symphonies, James Levine
Books Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to its Own Past, Simon Reynolds, Niche: Why the Market No Longer Favours the Mainstream, James Harkin Both these books combine a cultural analysis with their subject. Excellent books that cast light on the nature of 21st century society.
Delusions of Gender, Cordelia Fine Brilliant dissection of the sexism inherent in much of neuroscience. Funny too.
Estates: An Intimate History, Lynsey Hanley, superb social history and rage against class exploitation
June
Jon Allen, Brudenell Social Club – Leeds

More like Dylan than Rod

Despite a short 60 minute set, Jon Allen did enough to make me wonder why the Brudenell wasn’t fuller. A comfortable stage presence matched by excellent songs that, while obviously influenced by Bob Dylan, are distinctive enough to be his own. As he said, having gigged for five consecutive nights, his voice was sounding more like Rod Stewart’s than usual; not something that would sell a singer to me normally but with Allen it didn’t matter.
Playlist
Dennehy Elastic Harmonic, Joanne MacGregor et al
Cage the Elephant, Thank You Happy Birthday
David Binney, Graylen Centre
Tommy Smith, Karma
Eliza Carthy, Neptune
Boris Berezovsky, Russian Music (Teldec)
Jacqueline du Pre, Les Introuvables (EMI)
Nielsen Symphonies 4 & 5, LSO – Colin Davis
Geri Allen Geri Allen & Timeline Live
Fink, Perfect Darkness
Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What
Courtney Pine, Europa
Battles, Mirrored
May
Halle Orch, St George’s Hall, Bradford

100 years since he pegged

This was the stand out orchestral concert in Bradford in this season: Halle + Elder + Mahler. It’s Mahler’s centenary, but there’s no need to have excuses to play him (there’s a fascinating blog here recreating his last days). The Halle played his fourth symphony, with the finale beautifully sung by… (well, I didn’t buy a programme). That movement and the third worked well, but I found the french horn far too dominating in the first two movements (probably caused by where I was sitting) and this spoiled the cohesion of the symphony for me. The first part had two beautifully played rarities: Sibelius’ Scenes historiques, which sounded like bits of the symphonies he was yet to write, and Delius’ Idylle Printemps.
Ken Dodd’s Happiness Show, Victoria Hall, Halifax

Mad!

Ken Dodd’s shows are renowned for their length; and he’s 83. So the interval was two and three quarter hours in and when we baled, just short of five hours after the start, he was still going strong. He’s also brilliant and if it wasn’t for the dreadful support (alright Andy Eastwood is talented but not to my taste) this would have been one of the best comedy gigs I’ve attended. Dodd’s act is out of the musical hall, as is his support: a woman who murdered songs and Eastwood’s playing a ukulele behind his head. A series of rapid fire obvious jokes, I felt I’d heard many of them, but delivered with genius. He can’t be around for much longer so catch him; remember to take a thermos and sandwiches though.
Playlist
Beethoven: Piano sonatas (the named), Alfred Brendel (Phillips)
Gregory Porter, Water
Dvorak: String quartets 12 & 13, Pavel Hass Qt
Pina soundtrack
Kasbian Empire
Brahms: Symphony 3, Tchaikovsky: Symphony 6, New Moscow SO – Bashmet
Sublime and Yun Miyake LUDIC
Beethoven: Symphony 7, Chicago SO – Reiner
Schoenberg: Verklate Nacht etc, COEHolliger
Wild Beats Smother
Reich Kuniko plays Reich, Kuniko Kato
James Blake James Blake
Friendly Fires Pala
Jon Allen Sweet Defeat
Birtwistle Night’s Blackbird etc. Halle Orch – Wigglesworth
April
Villagers, Brudenell Social Club, Burley

From a capella to psychedelia

Leader Conor J O’Brien started off the gig a capella and the excellent Brudenell audience listened rapt. However I’d managed to position myself behind two lads who then decided to talk throughout the whole of one song; my polite request to them to be quiet was greeted with ‘are you serious?’. I was: all talkers at gigs go to the back! Anyway, they did shut up enabling us to enjoy the great Villagers narrative songs; though the stories they tell are often vignettes of (maybe) larger narratives. Satisfyingly the band didn’t simply retread the album versions but indulged in some screaming psychedelic guitars – great stuff. Support Sam Airey sounded promising; his first song (something about the sea) was exceptional.
Eddi Reader, Laurence Batley Theatre – Huddersfield

Top class

Eddi Reader has a sensational voice and sings some sensational song; often courtesy of Boo Hewerdine also pictured above. I liked the idea of not going through the ‘encore’ ritual and so squeezing another song in.
Playlist
Poulenc: Gloria; Stabat Mater – Hendricks, French National Orch – Pretre
REM Collapse Into Now
Dan Mangan Nice Nice Very Nice
Stravinsky conducted by Boulez (DG)
Orpheus in England Emma Kirby and Jakob Lindberg
Bruckner: Motets, Choir Of St. Bride’s Church – Robert Jones
Books
Big Short Micheal Lewis, brilliant dissection of what caused the financial crisis; ie the subprime meltdown not the Lab. Gov! Capitalism in all it’s glory. A friend said he’d seen on the BBC that the reason hedge fund managers are paid so much is that there’s a shortage. Bullshit! They pay themselves so much because we let them get away with it. Read this book.
The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires Tim Wu – a must read for anyone who’s interested in the media and believes the internet is inherently free from censorship. A quite brilliant history.
March The Unthanks, support Trembling Bells, Howard Assembly Rooms – Leeds
The Unthanks’ concert in Oct 2008 – in Halifax – was brilliant and I was slightly anxious about whether they could match it. Tonight was even better. Anxious because the first had been so good and their new album is, well even by folk standards, pretty miserablist. Though most of the set was from this album, Lost, the melancholy that suffused the air was hypnotic not sad. The sounds were beautiful, whether it was the sisters’ voices or the instrumentation, and I can only describe my state of mind as being enraptured. The arrangements are influenced by Steve Reich which encourages the hypnotic rhythms and the playing is absolutely magnificent. The stocky (and I mean that absolutely positively) northern lasses’ relaxed banter no doubt helped and this was one of the best concerts I’ve ever experienced.

A voice with a fantastic range

Up-an-coming Trembling Bells offered marvellous support with Lavinia Blackwall’s amazing voice added to some screaming guitar solos. They’re labelled psych-folk, though none of the songs on their new album, is trad.; it’s clear that they’re influenced by ’60s psychedelia. A great palette clearer.
Simon Armitage, Huddersfield Literature Festival

I loved Armitage’s first collection, Zoom, but didn’t get on with his second and hated his novel, Little Green Man. So it’s been a while but after his reading I shall be buying his latest collection, Seeing Stars. I often find listening to poets hard because of the tone poetry seems to demand – melancholic-profound – however a broad accent solves that problem, particularly if the imagery is as rich, and witty, as Armitage’s. As an aside, an attempt to have a pint afterwards in The Sportsman was thwarted by the barmaid’s inability to serve me. When I pointed out she’d served three others, who’d arrived at the bar after, before me she told me where the doors was and to ‘piss off!’. Don’t go there!
Cinderella, Matthew Bourne, Alhambra – Bradford

Bourne’s Swan Lake was my cultural highlight of last year and it was asking too much for his production of Cinderella to match it. However there were moments, particularly in Act2, that were magical. The coup de theatre at the start of the act consisted of a reverse explosion where the dancers, and props, reconstituted themselves in slow motion; the show’s set during the Blitz. Brilliant design by Lez Brotherston. On the down side I found some of the story confusing; but maybe I was forgetting the fairly tale. Other highlights included Cinders dancing with five men, at the same time and the arrival of the train.
Holly Taymar and Edwina Hayes, Square Chapel – Halifax

This was an interminable concert. Both artists have good voices but the songs were, mostly, only passable and rather ‘one note’. Their banter, they alternated songs but never sang together, consisted of bemoaning the success of non singer-songwriters like Kate Melua. All rather bitter.
Playlist
Beethoven: Piano sonatas, 30-2, Alexei Lubimov
Bruckner: Symphony 8, Suisse Romande Orch – Janowski
Bartok: Piano concerti, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, BBCPO – Noseda
Baaba Maal Television
February KT Tunstall, O2 Academy, Leeds

A terrific concert that both demonstrated the Tunstall can rock and sing songs softly; particularly the debut of The Punk, beautifully sung with only her guitar accompanying. Pretty hushed audience except for a couple of women at the back who were roundly shhhhed!
Imbolc, Marsden

The annual imbolc (a pagan ceremony where Jack Frost is beaten back by Green Giant) took place in biblical rain this year. Having spent three Saturday’s training with the fire clubs it was a bit disappointing to drown on the night. It was also difficult to see anything before the fire buckets were lit – a trick in itself – but I understand it’s usually better organised. I not sure how accurate my fire patterns were, but it was worth trying out. There were some truly dramatic scenes, when the fireworks went off, with smoke and shadow but, unfortunately, I’ve misplaced my camera.
Playlist
The Decemberists The King is Dead
PJ Harvey Let England Shake
Kit Holmes Driving Into the Blue
Rubbra String Quartets 1, 3 & 4, Maggini Qt
Verneri Pohjola Aurora
Books
Hello Everybody: One Journalist’s Search for Truth in the Middle East
, Joris Luyendijk – brilliant expose of the total inadequacy of news reporting.
January Annabelle Weir, Square Chapel – Halifax

I suspected that the pop psychology of Weir would irritate me. However, I didn’t know it would so went along… to be irritated. She promoted her latest book to a packed out, mostly female, audience. I think she was saying that women shouldn’t get hung up on their bodies but this sort of tripe reinforces the belief that they should.
Thea Gilmore, The Met – Bury

I’ve become a massive fan of Gilmore but this was the first time I’ve seen her (first time at Bury’s The Met too – great venue but don’t sit down). Brilliant but not great; why? Possibly because the arrangements of her songs aren’t quite as good as they are on the albums; no doubt due to economics. However, great voice, great musicianship (from all three), great songs.
Kevin Precious, Square Chapel – Halifax

There’s plenty to laugh about in the classroom (after the event usually, ruefully) – I should know – but Kevin Precious doesn’t exploit the possibilities. The best stand-ups are stories that run on and on, a flow of funnies that gel; too much of Precious’ routine stops just as it gets started. He also suffers from the bad habit of laughing at his own jokes, which you can only get away with when they are funny. The support, Chris Stokes, however, looks to have a future.
Snake Davis, Square Chapel – Halifax

Jazz for all

Snake Davis’ set was, essentially, jazz though the ‘j’ word can put a lot of people off. The concert was marketed as ‘soul and funk’, funky it certainly was with a 6-string bass guitarist riffing away. Soulful? Maybe but I wonder how many in the packed house would say they liked jazz? They certainly liked Snake Davis as he cleverly mixed pop favourites (Michael Jackson), and a brilliant version of Purple Rain, with his own compositions. Accessible jazz then, but then lots of jazz is accessible. I guess some people think jazz is when they ‘go off noodling on one’. Snake Davis is for fans of music; and his music is jazz.
Playlist
British Sea Power Valhalla Dancehall
Cee-Lo Green The Lady Killer
Mercedes Peon SOS
2011
December
Playlist
Cheikh Lo Jam
Kroke, Out of Sight
November Bellowhead, St George’s Hall, Bradford

Spot the band

One of the best live bands on any circuit; they regularly win Radio 2’s ‘best live folk’ award. Good to hear them branching out with Brel’s Amsterdam but the punky Little Sally Racket was a, er, racket; but then they know that.
Lysistrata, Aristophanes, Actors of Dionysus – Square Chapel, Halifax Great production that satisfyingly updated this Greek classic. The five actors, playing several roles, gave it everything. There was a Brechtian street theatre feel to the performances (enhanced by the songs) though I still don’t understand the ‘assassination of the Remembrance parade’ prologue.
Playlist
Rumer, Seasons of My Soul
Brahms: Symphony 4 etc. Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique & The Monteverdi Choir – Gardiner The final album in Gardiner’s fine Brahms cycle as interesting for the accompanying pieces as the symphonies.
Brahms: Piano concerto 1 & 2, Tirimo, LPO – Levi (CFP)
Byrd: Infelix Ego, Cardinall’s Musick – Carwood
Dar Williams: Many Great Companions
Neil Diamond, Dreams
Books
The Madman of Freedom Square, Hassan Blasim
October
A Mother’s Love: Music for Mary, The Sixteen, Christophers – Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

The Sixteen are no doubt one of the world’s top vocal ensembles and I enjoyed the beauty of their singing but the programme, ranging from Plainchant to James MacMillan including a lot in between, didn’t work for me. I guess it was an attempt to offer variety but the overall effect was bitty. I was also confused by the fact that during one organ interlude no one clapped. So I started the clapping, or meant to, but failed as no one joined in. Did I miss something? The last classical concert I went to featured Mark Elder explaining the music; Harry Christophers should seriously consider letting audiences into the ‘know’ or the sea of grey and bald heads will never be replaced by younger people. Bizarrely at the bar, before the start, people were queuing. Okay, very civilised, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but why then did one of the bar staff keep serving people who were pushing in despite being asked not to? Might be a riot next time.
Shappi Khorsandi, Burnley Mechanics
Plenty of pat-ter
Clearly Khorsandi is well known (Radio 4, Have I Got News…?) but was new to me. Having enjoyed comedians at The International, in Dublin, during the summer, I resolved to watch a female comedian soon. It’s a form that’s even more male dominated than most; but, of course, you can’t draw conclusions from one female comedian. The support (Neil somebody? – we arrived late – and apparently not the guy advertised) was brilliant. In the vein of the Dublin comics we’d seen in the summer: aggressive-self deprecating; crude; and using the audience brilliantly. In contrast I found Khorsandi stilted; her patter was often stuttering – but I assume that was part of the act – and, for me, it didn’t gel.
Playlist
Elgar: Violin concerto, Zehetmair, Halle – Elder
Kila, Mind the Gap Santiago a cappella, Monteverdi Choir – Gardiner
Plan B, The Defamation of Strickland Banks
Lou Reed, Transformer
Phantom Band, The Wants
Fay Claasen, Sing!
Tiken Jah Fakoly, African Revolution
September
Playlist
Talking Heads Remain in Light
KT Tunstall, Tiger Suit
Antonio Sanchez, Antonio Sanchez Live
Robert Plant, Band of Joy
Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
Grinderman, Grinderman 2
Madeleine Peyroux, Careless Love – this must be one of the best albums on the last 10 years
Thea Gilmore, Murphy’s Heart
August
Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Thrills but no spills

Why do people pay money to queue for hours for a few seconds of thrills? I guess it’s for the ‘out of body’ experience: the body is screaming that ‘this is not good’, as it is hurled off a precipice and spun around several times at an unreasonable speed, but, having survived the experience (the ride not the queuing) decides it was life affirming. It has been suggested that those who live cosseted lives seek thrills, in films as well as theme parks, in order to experience life as it might have been in, say, the Stone Age. Then there was the thrill of finding something to eat and avoiding big things like er mammoths. What makes Blackpool’s theme park special is the historic resonance of a working class resort doing its best to survive cheap air travel. The magnificent promenade, and tower, make it a special place to visit.
The Reasoning, Mayflower, Warley

In harmony

Whilst The Reasoning are (almost) unreasonably retro (Marillion anyone?) they are a set of superb musicians led by Rachel Jones (Phd). As you can see from the pic, they play in very small venues and are constantly worried about punters tripping over their five grand speakers on the way to the bog. We had to get so close as the acoustics in the pub were terrible, seeming to favour the raucous locals over the music. There was an expectation that the lead guitarist would take his shirt off; he did (not pictured). This was an acoustic set and you’re into ‘melodic rock’ then I’d recommend The Reasoning.
Jacqui Wicks, Square Chapel, Halifax

Singing them straight

Jacqui Wicks certainly has a powerful voice that can belt and be wistful. Her set consisted of narrative songs mixing standards and the lesser known, such as a couple of numbers from On the Town omitted from the film. She has an engaging stage presence and a highlight was an interlude where she played banjo to Lady Gaga’s Poker Face. When she did belt it out, however, it was a bit much; her tone gained too much of a hard edge. Kevin James was the terrific accompanist and starred in a fabulous self-penned song based on the works of a Chinese poet. His Keith Jarrett-like dense chords and his gentle tenor gave a hint that the musical he’s working on could be great.
Playlist
VenablesAt Midnight Dante Qt, Andrew Kennedy
Sviatoslav Richter – the terrific Icon set
Holmboe: Symphonic Metamorphosis, Aalborg SO – Hughes
Poulenc Figure Humaine, Tenebrae – Short
The Soundcarriers Celeste
Dhafer Youssef, Electric Sufi
Bloc Party, Intimacy
Chausson: Concerto in D Major for Violin, Piano and String Quartet, Op. 21, Itzhak Perlman, Jorge Bolet, Juilliard String Quartet
July
Charles Mackerras (1925-2010) Mackerras impinged upon my radar in the late ’70s with his recordings of Janacek’s operas; mostly with Elisabeth Soderstrom. I still love these recordings and Mackerras went on working until the end – he was due to conduct two Prom concerts. A great conductor.
Dharorhar Project, Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons, St George’s Hall, Bradford

Sensational sounds from Rajasthan

One of the great gigs because it’s (likely) to be unrepeated. Well it was on in London last week but, according to The Guardian, it had a crap audience; unlike here where it was brilliant because of the respect they paid to artists. Few would have been there for the folk musicians from Rajasthan, who had the first set, but they were greeted with warmth and genuinely enthusiastic applause.

Folkies rock!

Music is probably the most cosmopolitan of artforms. In classical music, multi-national combination are the norm, and it’s great to see folky rockers, Mumford & Sons, and (also folky) Laura Marling embrace difference. The climax of the concert, where each group had a set, was all on stage for four collaborative songs. It was truly thrilling to here the energetic bombast of Mumford infused with SE Asian vocals that cut through the wall of music. Heartwarming to see different cultures creating music together and fantastic to see it embraced by a predominantly young audience there to see, primarily, the other acts.

Exquisite power

Marling requires a quiet audience for her exquisite singing; Mumford simply requires an audience willing to rock. Whilst their song structures might be a little formulaic (quietish start will massive climactic waves of chorus) it is fabulous. Hope they can vary it for the second album.

Give us more!

A tremendous concert offering four sets, in more than three hours, of great variety and a very high standard of musicianship. Can that be beaten?
Benoit Viellefon & His Orchestra, Old Duke Inn, Bristol

Benoit: Charmingly Gallic

Stumbled into the last 25 mins of Benoit and his Orchestra’s gig on a crawl of Bristol. Terrific band and even if Benoit’s voice isn’t top dog, he was: ‘I affter stop at eeeeleven or the police come. I like it when poleeeece come as they pack up my equipment.’ His, 10 minutes late, finale was Dick Dale’s Misirlou which had the (small) pub rocking. Beauregard from Brussels was on accordion; we could have been anywhere in Europe. Brilliant!
Playlist
Tomasz Stanko Quintet Dark Eyes
Villagers Becoming a Jackel
Foals Total Life Forever
Harvey: Speakings, BBC Scottish SO – Volkov
The Sound of Wonder! Pop from the Lollywood Vaults
Adele, 19
Sounds of the World Presents: Anywhere on the Road
Necessarily the last of Charlie Gillett’s fantastic world music compilations.
June
David Nash, YSP, Wakefield

Sensory sculpture

Nash’s work on display at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a bit like Cirque du soleil – see below – in that it has to be experienced to be understood. Sculpting from trees (and coal, but mainly trees) Nash’s work is overwhelmingly sensuous and a wonderful use of natural material – in terms of its shapes and the quality of the wood. On ’til February so if you live in Britain there’s no excuse not to experience it.
Spirit of St John + Sabrina Piggott, Cookies Bar, Halifax
Lovely vocals and great drumming
Sabrina Piggott had a lovely voice and excellent accompaniment from percussion and cello; she needs some stronger material though.

Punk rockabilly?

The vocalist brought a raw intensity, reminiscent of punk, and the bassist propelled the music along at a great lick. Stunning stuff if a little one-note.
Cirque du Soleil: Saltimbanco, MEN, Manchester

Seeing is believing

Readers of the film pages will know of my boredom with CGI and it’s shows like this that explain why. I don’t think my jaw has dropped, or my lips said ‘wow’, as often since… well, forever, so brilliant are the stunts. And it’s extremely funny; the mime artist is Buster Keaton reincarnated. Cirque du soleil have to be seen to understand their genius.
Germaine Greer, Square Chapel, Halifax

Still making sense

Greer spoke for over an hour, without notes, rarely losing the thread and always interesting. The answers to the following questions tended to be a little long. The woman who suggested that Greer was anti-motherhood received a benign answer; the questioner had obviously been reading too much Daily Mail-like material. I asked Greer what the ‘female eunuch’ would look like now, she suggested that things are worse than they were in the ’60s. Time for a Greer of the 21st century to make herself known.
The Acorn, Hoxton Bar and Kitchen

Canadian Americana

They were good, interesting with two drum kits, but lacked the slower melancholy that infused their first album.
Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera, Tate Modern

Implicit looking

Interesting premise but, with a few exceptions, this exhibition didn’t really grab. The candid photos were the most interesting but I didn’t feel I learned anything about our surveilled society.
All My Sons, Arthur Miller, Apollo Theatre, London

Justly lauded production of Miller’s great play; stunning design, sound, lighting and performances.
Playlist
Scissor Sisters, Nightwork
James Yuill, Movement in a Storm
Jonathan Bratoeff Quartet, Mindscapes
Jean Toussaint, Live in Paris & London
Mumford & Sons Sigh No More
Gillian Welch, Hell Amongst the Yearlings
The Acorn, No Ghost
Megson, The Long Shot
Stéphane Kerecki Trio,
Tony Malaby, Houria
Stornaway, Beachcomber’s Windowsill
Books
Steig Larsson The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest
May
Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller, West Yorkshire Playhouse – Leeds

Thoroughly enjoyable production that is graced by a true coup de theatre when the final scene reveals the road to nowhere. I wonder about Miller’s play’s relevance to now; I’m sure the American Dream still holds sway for many/most in the States, but what does it tell us? What phony dreams do we have in Britain? Presumably JD Salinger’s ‘catcher in the rye’ derived his ‘phony’ from Miller.
Salsa Celtica, Victoria Hall – Saltaire Usual terrific set from Saltairelive regulars.

Salsa tappin

Playlist:
Stornoway Beachcomber’s Windowsill
Tracey Thorn Love and Its Opposite
Sumera: Cello concerto, David Geringas, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra – Paavo Järvi – This composer’s new to me and will enjoy investigating further
The National High Violet
Martha Tilston Martha and the Wolves
Goran Bregovic Alkohol Lutoslawski conducts Lutoslawski (EMI)
Books
The Death of Grass John Christopher
April

Between Kismet and Karma – Leeds Art Gallery

A dress for all bodies

Interesting collection of women’s art for SE Asia. The dress – pictured – was extraordinary. It’s designed to fit any body rather than having bodies fit the dress.
Playlist
Trembling Bells, Abandoned Love
Caribou, Swim
Dusapin 7 Solos for Orchestra Liege PO – Rophe
Paul Weller Wake Up the Nation
Ligeti, Piano Music, Fredrik Ullen
Elgar Dream of Gerontius, the classic Boult recording
Love Forever Changes
Norgard Symphonies 3 & 7 Danish National Radio SO – Dausgaard
Kathryn Williams The Quickening
March Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, Alhambra, Bradford

Fantastic version of Tchaikovsky’s ballet. My previous experiences of ballet had been less than thrilling; this was totally so. Funny and a night club scene to rival the Girl Hunt Ballet in Band Wagon. At the curtain call for the corps de ballet there was an extra rich oestrogen laced cheer; well deserved too.
Medea, Northern Broadsides – Halifax

Dont cross me!

Nina ­Kristofferson as Medea is great; the play is great; Tom Paulin’s version is good but… why was the production so static and what’s New Orleans blues got to do with it? It was my first Northern Broadsides production so I can’t comment on them from one play but Barrie Rutter cannot act!
Playlist L
aura Marling I Speak Because I Can
Bartok by Simon Rattle and Brahms Symphonies BPO – Rattle Both above under a fiver on Amazon – bonkers!
Skalkottas: Violin concerto etc, Georgios Demertzis, Malmo SO – Nikos Christodoulou
Jesca Hoop Hunting My Dress
Tunng …And Then We Saw Land B
ritten Peter Grimes The classic 1958 recording conducted by the composer of one of the great 20th century operas available legally for one Euro at http://www.classicalmusicmobile.com/catalog/
Books
One Day
David Nicholls Fantastic novel, perfect for fortysomethings who want to consider the last 20 years.
Hearts and Minds Amanda Craig Brilliant ‘state of the nation/London’ novel.
February
Don McCullen exhibition at Imperial War Museum – Manchester

Dont look and you wont see

McCullen’s responsible for many iconic photos of war – the above is from the Biafran Civil War, caused by oil companies in Nigeria. A week after Blair’s self-serving testimony it’s tempting to think that politicians wouldn’t declare war so readily if they absorbed McCullen’s photographs; however, that’s probably not true.
Playlist:
Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances etc, Royal Liverpool PO – Petrenko (Avie) Petrenko has revitalised the Liverpool orchestra and these performances are stunning.
Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate, Ali and Toumani Fantastic swansong of the fantastic Toure.
Marina and the Diamonds, The Family Jewels
Ceremony and Devotion – Music for the Tudors, The Sixteen John Sheppard’s Media vita in morte sumus is gorgeous
Mahler: Symphony 9, Bamburg SO – Nott
Andriessen: Die Materie ASKO Ensemble, Netherlands Chamber Choir Reinbert de Leeuw
Dutilleux: Tout un monde lointain / Lutoslawski: Cello concerto. Poltera, ORF Radio SO – van Steen (Bis)
Maxwell Davies Taverner, BBC SO – Knussen (NMC)
Michael Berkeley Or Shall We Die?/Patterson Missa Brevis, LSO- Hickox/London Phil – Hughes
Daniel Barenboim’s Beethoven-Schoenberg on Radio 3
Books The Rapture, Liz Jensen
January 2010
La Boheme – Opera North, Leeds Grand Terrific production updating the narrative to the 1950s.

Rare comic moment

Rare comic moment

Playlist:
Nneka No Longer At Ease
These New Puritans Hidden Lindstrom and Christabel, Real Life is So Cool
Fire on Fire The Orchard
Thierry Lang Lyoba Revisited
Schnittke: 10 Symphonies (BIS)
The Imagined Village Empire & Land
Vampire Weekend Contra
Amandine Solace in Sore Hands
Books
One Dimensional Woman, Nina Power
Granta 108: Chicago Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil, Peter Maas
November 2009
Damien Jurado, John Vanderslice, Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Great gig with John Vanderslice almost upstaging Jurado with a terrific set of Americana ranging from full-on rock to the humour of their last, acoustic, song (see below). Why isn’t this guy better known? I’d heard a couple of songs on his MySpace page but found them too jokey. However, with a wurlitzer and moog keyboard and full drum kit they blasted out a brilliant set. All together now! Jurado, on the other hand, relied upon his voice and guitar alone; that’s all he needed. Jurado is probably the gloomiest songwriter I know, after John Dowland, and his ‘What Are the Chances?’ is (probably) my ‘break up’ song: what did he start with?! While it lost something without the female voice mirroring his thoughts, it was still terrific. After half an hour of (brilliant) gloom Michael and I (and no doubt most of the attentive audience) were worrying about the guy’s sanity; all we’d got our applause were a grunted ‘thank you’. Then he opened eyes and apologised for the songs being so ‘heavy’, and stated he never listened to this stuff himself (he prefers ’80s rap). Brilliant! He also said he only ever plays songs he remembers as he never rehearses; that’s a new one for me. Great set; great gig.
Jurado emerging from the gloom
October 2009
Green Day, MEN Arena
Billy Joe can work a crowd; he had 16000-odd in his hand within 30 seconds of this gig starting. Some achievement. Maybe he peaked too early…? Not for the fans but as a disinterested bystander I enjoyed the first 30 mins; but there was two hours more. Value for money. Was it actually a gig, though? More like theatre with the props of melodrama: flames, lights, water pistols, cannons, Billy Joe’s mincing walk etc. There was even a Benny Hill riff; nearer Music Hall than a gig. And getting members of the audience on stage to sing! Brilliant; especially if they were as good as the lass. Even in an uber-loud rock gig I did manage the spend half the encores next to blokes who insisted on talking. Didn’t say anything though… And Northern Rail excelled themselves with a two-carriage last-train to Huddersfield which couldn’t move due to the bulk of people. Amazingly, I’ve never seen this before, they found a three-carriage one! Well done someone however didn’t they know there was a gig on that night?
The Unthanks, Halifax Paris Church This has to be one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. I’ve got the new album and Rachel Unthanks’ previous one; like them, some great tracks but live… Maybe it was a mixture of the Unthank sisters’ gorgeous harmonies and the very reverberant acoustic of the church or maybe they’re always like that but the music was spine chillingly good. The support acts seem to struggle with the acoustic but the Unthanks exploited it and Annachie Gordon, with its Steve Reich-like accompaniment on marimba(?), was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. Not sure I like the venue though. Impressive as the church is, didn’t sit in the pews (originally designed to stop people dancing in church), it did distance the group from the audience. Despite the stunning beauty of the sound some people where there only to talk: they should go down the pub! And to be accused of bullying, and asked outside to ‘continue the discussion’, having asked one (at first pretty politely) to shut up… Well it didn’t spoil the concert!

Sisters in harmony

Sisters in harmony

Bellowhead, St George’s Hall – Bradford Third time I’ve seen this brilliant group, lead by the charismatic John Boden. He is so cool that the flop of the high octane start (‘nothing like good timing ladies and gentlemen’) didn’t fluster him. Adding a horn section to a folk group gives the band a massive sound that never threatens to overwhelm the virtuoso subtlety of the players. They’re not promoting a new album but some of their earlier stuff has been reworked, keeping the gig fresh. There can’t be many folk gigs where in front of the stage resembles a, very polite, most pit as everyone joins in the Rochdale Coconut dance. Fantastic.

It is a folk group ladies and gentlemen

It is a folk group ladies and gentlemen

Halle Orchestra, Mark Elder, St George’s Hall – Bradford The top orchestral date of the season in Bradford with Shostakovich’s 5th as the highlight. Mark Elder explained current research into the symphony, explaining that while it might be a ‘Soviet artist’s response to just criticism’ it was also a howl of lost love. The (unhearable) Carmen quotations refer to a lover who’d left him for Spain and the repeated A at the end of the symphony also referred to her. I’ve always found this symphony overwhelming but the knowledge that the climax is an expression of his pain at losing a lover… Mark Elder has made the Halle a top outfit and although I didn’t find the intensity of the first and last movements in the middle two, it was still a terrific performance. He was unable to convince me of Strauss’ Horn Concerto 2 though; but the opener, Dvorak’s Noonday Witch, was brilliant.

Dmitri's despair

Dmitris despair

September 2009 Richmond Fontaine, New Roscoe, Leeds A great band in such a small venue?! Packed with everyone melting with sweat? Could have been somewhere else but you can’t beat the intimacy of a small place for music though Richmond Fontaine’s brand of Americana has a rock sound that could fill a field. Five nondescript looking guys playing music about losers in small town America; brilliant. They came across as really nice guys too, bandying banter with the crows and infusing their musicianship with great enjoyment. What is it with some people though? Why go to a gig, stand near the front, and talk during the support act?

Willy Vlautin, of Richmond Fontaine, outside a venue similar to the New Roscoe

Willy Vlautin, of Richmond Fontaine, outside a venue similar to the New Roscoe

Bingley Music Festival Well done to Bradford Council for getting a good line up at very reasonable prices (£25 for the weekend). I caught most of Sunday starting with VV Brown, who was obviously starstruck… by herself. Her celebratory ‘we’ve sold the sync rights to this song in America and we’re so excited’ probably didn’t mean a lot to the audience. However, she can sing, though I’m not a big fan of her rock ‘n’ roll pastiche. Maybe the only thing I can say about The Qemists is that they were loud. No, to be fair, they also had a few excellent heavy rock riffs. Their lead singer thought it was cool that the mosh pit was full of youngsters while the parents were far away, as she put, thinking ‘what the hell is this?’. I’ll have you know, Ms. Whateveryournameis, we parents were head banging 30-years ago and had heard it all before. Reverend and the Makers upped the macho ante and the invite for us to join them in the ‘up yours’ gesture to the BNP was very welcome. They sounded like a mixture of Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, which is not a bad thing. He tried his acoustic set, something he normally does in the carpark, near the stage but seemed more keen to upstage Calvin Harris, the next act… …which I didn’t like… I was primarily there for The Editors; their post-Joy Division rock has a melancholy strain that appeals to me. Good as most of the previous sets had been, The Editors cranked up the rock voltage. Lead singer Tom Smith doesn’t exactly twitch like Ian Curtis used to, but his bendy gyrations do suggestion a slightly unhinged mind. Despite the melancholy that infuses the music, Smith’s seemed to be enjoying himself; leaning out from the stage and looking up as if checking out the rain. The big guitar sound of U2 is also evident, ideal for a festival venue, rounding off a cracking gig. The Editors: bigger and better than the rest
June 2009
The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga (Atlantic Books, 2008) I’ve tended to steer clear of Booker books in recent years as I rarely enjoy them. I made an exception to this due to its ‘state of the nation’ theme. As India and China grow in dominance it would be daft not to engage with those countries’ cultures. If the book had been written by a westerner I might have found the portrayal of Indians (big-headed or kowtowing) dubious. However, unless Adiga was simply pandering to an international market (doubtful), we should take his representations at face value (which, of course, doesn’t mean they’re accurate). An excellent read that critiques Capitalism in a way that Slumdog Millionnaire didn’t (not a criticism); together the texts make an interesting portrayal of (new) India.
May 2009
Uncut, July This month’s issue of Uncut has a terrific CD from the Honest Jon label; it’s hooked onto the Blur cover as Damon Albarn is involved with the label. For many years the Uncut CD was full of crap but recently there’s usually been a lot of good stuff. I don’t rate the magazine very highly, I much prefer Word, but it’s worth buying this issue for the Honest Jon sampler. Stand out is Abdel Hadi Halo & the El Gusto Orchestra of Algiers.
Seth Lakeman, Victoria Hall – Saltaire After the less than wonderful sonic experience of Dylan in Sheffield, last month, I was alarmed to hear I couldn’t understand Lakeman’s words here either. Usually the sound at SaltaireLive is excellent so ‘it must be me!’. Decrepitude may be advancing but those with me confirmed his vocals weren’t clear at all. So that spoiled it. However, the second half was much better – though I still couldn’t make out the words. The music was terrific with Ben Nichols, bass, particularly shining. The pre-encore finale was Lakeman playing Kitty Jay: fabulous virtuosity; though the drum machine, played with his foot, was a peculiar hybrid: folk-techno.
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Stonephace, Stonephace (Tru Thoughts) John L Walters described this best, in The Guardian: ‘bring(s) Brit-jazz muscle to the world of beats and blips.’. It’s a fantastic mix of stuff.
Let the Right One In, Jonas Ajvide Lindqvist (Quercus, 2007) Politics less to the fore, in this Swedish genre novel, than Larsson’s below, but nevertheless left wing values are still in evident. Lindqvist adapted this for the terrific movie and it’s fascinating to see how faithful the film is, until the final 100 pages or so where the novel goes far more vampire than the film. An excellent read.

The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, Stieg Larsson (Quercus, 2008) If it sags a bit after 100 pages that’s a minor criticism of what is mostly a page turner; no surprise as it’s been a worldwide bestseller. What a particularly liked was the political edge; the book’s disgust with financial shenanigans shows that there really should have been no surprise when everything went ‘belly up’ last year.
April 2009
Berg, Orchestral Music, Gothenburg SO – Venzago Fabulous double CD offering the Violin Concerto (withIsabelle van Keulen) and the Lulu Suite, plus a lot more. Best performances of Berg I’ve heard in a long time.
Bob Dylan, Sheffield Arena This should have been the year’s highlight for me: I’ve been a Dylan fan for 40 years but have never seen him live (a contradiction in terms you might think). I know Dylan’s reputation for mangling/reinterpreting his songs, so that wasn’t problem, and I know arenas are soulless venues… but I wasn’t prepared for the terrible sound. It wasn’t Dylan’s voice, which is knackered; I still love Dylan’s voice. It wasn’t the the volume: loud but tolerable; it was the brashness of the sound – it was extremely ugly. The set was very ‘rock n roll’, guitar and drum-led, so that didn’t help with subtleties of sound but after the first song (which I enjoyed) I just couldn’t get into the performance. Only during the final song Like a Rolling Stone (didn’t stay for the encores) did the genius of Dylan shine through. Incidentally Bob did play guitar on one piece and it was great to see him rocking on the keyboard.

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Show of Hands, with Miranda Sykes; Victoria Hall – Saltaire There can’t be many groups who can get the audience happily singing along with the first piece but Show of Hands effortlessly had the sell-out crowd doing their bidding. The best was the political stuff Santiago and a new song about corrupt bankers. Classy stuff. showofhandscff702
What Would Google Do?, Jeff Jarvis (Collins Business, 2009) Google evangelist Jarvis argues persuasively how the search engine has changed everything (except lawyers and PR). Well worth reading.
Tracing Arcs, Fin LP (Dusted Wax Kingdom) If you fancy some laid back, trippy jazz influenced music got to http://dustedwax.org/dwk030.html and you’ll find an album to tickle your and not set you back a sou.
March 2009
Jon Boden, Brudenell Social Club (Leeds) Jon Boden’s touring his new album, Songs from the Floodplain, and what a treat his set was. As the fantastic photography, in and on the CD, suggests the song cycle (that may sound pretentious but that’s what it is and to call it a concept album connates it’s crap which it isn’t) is set in a post-Apocalyptic world. Like in a JG Ballard novel, we don’t know what’s caused the breakdown of society (the title suggests environmental catastrophe) and Boden focuses on how the ‘everyday’ of boy-meeting-girl would continue; it’s grim and great. Among the support was John Smith whose opening song, about an axe murderer, had the intenstity of Nick Cave and the melancholy of Damien Jurado.
jonboden
February 2009
Courtney Pine, Transition in TraditionWonderful jazz album that has is a tribute to Sidney Bechet and so resounds with the aural melting pot of New Orleans. Anyone who thinks they don’t like jazz needs to listen to this!
Bright Shiny Morning, James Frey (John Murray, 2008) This was the geezer who made up his life in the well-received ‘autobiographical’ A Million Little Pieces. Bright Shiny Morning shows how well suited he is to fiction; this is a brilliant portrait of the hell that is Los Angeles. The characters may by ‘flat’ types but this doesn’t detract from caring for them. Th city’s portrayed on a broad canvass, mixing fact, history and several narrative strands. LA is obviously a unique place brilliantly ‘served’ by this book.
The Big Nowhere, James Ellroy (1988) (Arrow, 1994) Noir writ long – a plot so convoluted that there is a several-page coda explaining how everything actually fitted together! I struggled in patches but other sections flew by with cracking dialogue and hard bitten (literally) men.
Emma, Jane Austen (1815) Failed to complete for a second time. I DON’T CARE ABOUT THESE PEOPLE!
Bodies, Susie Orbach (Profile, 2009) Absolutely terrific book. Orbach (of ‘fat is a feminist issue’) unpicks the ideological basis of society’s obsession with bodies and the panic about obesity. As she notes, the massive growth in diet products proves one thing: they don’t work. Although she doesn’t state as much, it’s clear that our relationship with food, and our bodies, is a political device ‘designed’ to take attention away from the way we are exploited. It’s not a conspiracy but the nature of capitalism.
Netherland, Joseph O’Neill (4th Estate, 2008) Terrific almost ‘stream of consciousness’ – it is written in sentences but meanders with the narrator’s thoughts – novel about personal crisis (mid life and marital) and a New York we rarely see based around emigre cricket. This was amongst the most-mentioned in critics’ ‘best of year’ lists and that’s an accurate assessment.
Alela Diane, Every Path (Uncut, March 2009) The current Uncut magazine CD has a pile of Neil Young covers. Standout is Alela Diane whose track has been haunting me all week. So her new album, out on the 16th, will be a ‘must’.
January 2009
McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime, Misha Glenny (Vintage, 2008) Absolutely brilliant expose of how globalisation has stimulated the rise of organised crime. Glenny’s epilogue, when he calls for greater regulation of financial markets, was of course spot on; and he wasn’t writing retrospectively. If you want to know how the world works then read this book.
Fresh, Mark McNay (Canongate, 2007) Wonderful slice (of chicken – much of it is in a chicken factory) of proletarian, Scottish life that convincing portrays how social circumstance can be completely entrapping.
Granta 104: Fathers (Granta, 2008) The usual intriguing mix best of which are Siri Hustvedt’s, Ruchir Joshi’s and Francesca Sagan’s investigation into their relationships with their fathers. The photo essay, ‘Wrestlers’, is disappointingly prosaic (better if it’d been shot in the gym). If you don’t then you should… subscribe.
Oliver James, The Selfish Capitalist (Vermillion, 2007 ) Tremendous analysis of the malaise caused by free market economics. Using research from Psychology James shows how, in the English-speaking world, we are afflicted by stupid materialism.
Richard T Kelly, Crusaders (Faber & Faber, 2008) Brilliant ‘state of the nation’ novel set in Newcastle mostly on the cusp of the arrival of the pathetic New Labour.
Joe Sacco, Palestine (Jonathan Cape, 2003) Brilliantly conveys the misery inflicted upon Palestinians by the Israeli government. Sacco’s funny and portrays the situation with muted anger. He is also conscious of his own role as a reporter who’s seeking a good story and as a westerner who’s, necessarily, an outsider. Needs reading by anyone who wants to know what’s going on in the world. It is a comic and the visuals both accompany and elucidates the story.
Salsa Celtica, Victoria Hall, Saltaire Caught these here a couple years ago and they were good. Tonight they were terrific. Not sure what the difference was but their two-set performance mixed irresistible (except to those sitting down) rhythms, virtuosity and showmanship (they started part two in the audience – a street performance for a few minutes). There was also a bagpipe solo that sounded more Free Jazz than tartan; extraordinary.
Amadou and Mariam, Welcome to Mali‘Poppier’ than their previous album but that’s not a criticism as the sound’s infectious from the Damon Albarn produced opening track through to the end.
Pixieguts, Walking on Mercury There’s no excuse not to listen to this healthy dose of trip hop because it’s terrific and free: http://www.jamendo.com/en/album/26686.
December 2008
Lloyd Jones, Mister Pip (John Murray, 2006) Ultimately frustrating as the politics are never clearly delineated (1990s war in Papua New Guinea).
John Gray, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (Penguin, 2007) Fascinating, and convincing, thesis about why our politics are a mess. Religion is at the root of our trouble but, as Gray, suggests it is probably integral to humanity. Grim that.
David Peace, The Damned United (Faber & Faber, 2006) Was the great Brian Clough such a ‘piss-head’? Apparently. Love the description of the football but there must’ve been more to Clough than we see here.
Portishead, Third The first Portishead album was a landmark – it didn’t appear to sound like anything else and it came from nowhere. The extreme melancholy that infused it heightened the emotional experience of listening. I never got into the second album and it seemed as if they would be a Stone Rose-like one-album wonder. Now Third. Although it’s been out for months I resisted it buying it; what is the point being disappointed by the group again? Well I’ve only listened to it once but it’s like hearing the first one again. Not that it’s the same, though Beth Gibbons plaintive vocals are characteristic; however, like the first it invites the listener into a stunning sound world. There are echoes of other bands (‘We Carry On’ – Joy Division) but combined in a wholly original fashion. Could be album of the year.<
Beethoven, Symphonies, Berlin PO – Abbado (DG) Do I need another cycle of Beethoven symphonies? After: Haitink; Harnoncourt; Karajan; Klemperer; Norrington; Toscanini. Well on first listening… yes.
Tchaikovsky, Manfred Symphony, Voyevoda, Royal Liverpool PO – Petrenko (Naxos) I first started concert-going at the Liverpool Phil over 30 years ago; I have no idea whether they – under Charles Groves – were any good in those days but reports suggests the Vasily Petrenko has reinvigorated the orchestra. This recording certainly suggests so: terrific drama.
November 2008
EL Doctorow, The March (Abacus, 2006) Terrific evocation of the American Civil War switching between a panoply of characters; mixes the horrific with the hilarious.
Nick Lacey, Image and Representation (Palgrave, 2nd edition, 2009) You might think it sad, reading your own book, but I had to for the index. It’s a peculiar experience as I find things I (thought I) didn’t know. That’s memory for you. For the record I think it’s good – out in March.
Brahms, Symphony No. 1 and Schicksalslied; John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and the Monteverdi Choir (SDG) Whilst the performance of the symphony is excellent, the choral works are fabulous too and rarely recorded.
Their Finest Hour compilations @ http://phlow-magazine.com/ Free downloads and a wonderfully eclectic mix of indie-avant garde sounds.
Vikki Carr, The Way of Today (1966) I stumbled across this on a dodgy download blog and I remembered loving her song ‘It Must Be Him’; I must have been six at the time! Carr (born Florencia Bisenta de Casillas Martinez Cardona) has a terrific voice: more like a ‘flame thrower’ than a torch singer.

Huw Warren/Maria Pia de Vito, Dialektos (2008)I struggled with this initially, I’m not a great fan of skat, but once I ‘tuned in/the tracks got better’ this proved a jazz delight.

Henry Flynt, Purified by Fire I don’t know where I got this from; it popped up on my shuffle. A 45 min. drone or wonderful combination of disparate sounds? The latter – see here.

4 Responses

  1. hello…..just want to say thank you for the kind words. Film is a huge influence on our work….so we are tickled pink!
    Thanks again…..Paul & Fran…..Tracing Arcs

  2. Great information 🙂

  3. The long-rumoured yet never-quite-confirmed designer of Kate Middleton’s wedding dress.

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