Category Archives: Music

Albert, Paul and Jacqui 

Last Thursday I was in a very excitable state. It had been a good day at work. I was off to see Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott for the second time this year. And I was about to set foot in the Albert Hall. 

No. Not that Albert Hall. The Albert Hall, a former Wesleyian Chapel in the centre of Manchester and one of Manchester’s shiny tiled Victorian buildings of beauty. It is now a music venue operated by those Northern Quarter types from Trof. They may never have known it, but this was always my plan. I have long looked at the grimy exterior of the building in days gone by and it featured in my dreams should I ever win the lottery. I was going to take this building and give it the Marvellous Mechanical Mouse Organ mice treatment. I would mend it, fix it, stickle it and fix it like new, new, new. And turn it into a music venue.  But I have yet to win the lottery and Trof got there before I did. So I will just have to content myself with bringing the Space Shuttle to Manchester when I win big. 

So I was tremendously excited to go there to see Heaton and Abbott once again. Neither Albert nor Paul nor Jacqui let me down. The building inside has not been knocked around. It is still so obviously a chapel. With a slightly complicated one way system for getting up and down to the toilets. Which may have confused a lady who stopped to ask me directions. 

Shaven headed and basically square in body shape, this is not the first time I have been mistaken for Security. So this lady had good reason to think I might know where she should go as she pointed to a wristband and explained she was the mother of the guitarist. 

“How tremendously fun,” I replied, instantly revealing that I was an unlikely bouncer as I spoke like one of the Famous Five. 

“Well,” she said, evidently wearied by the one way system, “it used to be exciting.”

I hope she found where she needed to be. And I hope that she felt the excitement of the audience as her son took the stage. I am sure she was proud. 

Many moons ago a friend of mine decried my love for The Beautiful South by complaining there was just too much irony. Can you have too much irony? Certainly not when they began their set, up on the altar of a stage and the pipes of a church organ behind them, with The Lord is a White Con from their latest album Crooked Calypso

In between Moulding of a Fool, Five Get Over-Excited and The Fat Man, Paul explained to us that Crooked Calypso missed out on number one spot because of lack of streaming on Spotify. He observed that his audience probably thought that the CD was a new fangled development. And looking around it was hard to disagree. I seemed to be standing amongst a sea of shaven headed/bald men of a certain age. These were very much my people. 

One of my fellow baldies observed to his bald mate (sorry, there were no other distinguishing features) that Paul was “good at lyrics” as Jacqui Abbott applied her pitch perfect voice to the words of Rotterdam;

And women tug their hair

Like they’re trying to prove it won’t fall out

And all the men are gargoyles

Dipped long in Irish stout

As an observation, this is like saying Van Gogh did good at Art and Design. Paul Heaton is the poet laureate of the broken hearted. He gives soul to the heart of the North. He even manages to give beauty to the South. 

Like all true greats at their trade he does the simple things well. Their next song was The Austerity of Love with the part chorus; 

The obesity of love

The propensity of love

The depravity of love

The austerity of love

One word change, each building a tempo on the previous, and each speaking something different of the complexity of love. In a catchy pop song. 

The chap next to me, he was bald by the way, was getting quite emotional around the time of I’ll Sail This Ship Alone and She Got the Garden. I detected a hint of recent divorce. When we got to the line “She’ll grab your sweaty bollocks, then slowly raise her knee” in Don’t Marry Her I think he was convinced the whole show was dedicated to him. 

The last couple of times that I have seen them, both Jacqui and Paul have been behind large music stands. This time they were released, Jacqui to stroll around and Paul to dance. And for fans of the Housemartins you will be glad to know it is still very much a loose knee style of dancing. But we all danced and we all sang and the room pulsated with the joy. So much so that two air cannon’s worth of gold glitter tape were greeted by a middle aged audience like puppies seeing their first snowflake. 

And so they departed the stage having finished with the Beautiful South trio of Don’t Marry Her, Good as Gold and You Keep it All In. They carried on with the nostalgia in their first encore. A Little Time is a song by The Beautiful South which featured neither Paul nor Jacqui but was Dave Hemmingway and Brianna Corrigan. You would never have known it as they sang this tale of marital strife to a hushed room. 

And as Jacqui told us with crystal clarity “promises, promises turn to dust, wedding bells just turn to rust” a very Boltonian voice just couldn’t keep it all in. 

“Don’t they just,” said the bald divorced chap, with perfect timing and a little rhyme. Pop concerts can be therapy too. 

Of course we had Happy Hour. Of course we had a second encore with a Song for Whoever and Caravan of Love. And then it was all over. All over that is until July when they return to the Castlefield Bowl. So I am off to get my tickets for that. I do not claim that this is a review, for there is no hint of criticism. I am a fan.  But I will be a disappointed fan if the fabulous song Market Street does not get an airing at Castlefield. Come on, you know it makes sense.
 

Hull, Heaton and Happiness

Things I learnt about Hull last weekend – they have two stadia which are both, somewhat confusingly, referred to as the KCOM; the good people of Hull do not do suncream; they do do vaping; they do not seem to do ticket touts or concert parking; they don’t dance from the start; and they are immensely proud of coming from Hull. 

Hull is the UK’s city of culture, 2017. To many this will produce sniggers. It should not. Phillip Larkin lived there most of his life. Poet Laureate Andrew Motion taught at the university. Stars of stage and screen from John Alderton to Maureen Lipman hail from the Humber. John Godber, he of Bouncers fame, is synonymous with the Hull Truck Theatre Company. The city even boasts a winner of The Apprentice, surely the very epitome of modern culture. And all of that is before we get to music and  surely the most famous sons of Hull, 80s quirky band The Housemartins and members Paul Heaton and Fatboy Slim (before he was fat and/or slim and was just bass playing Norman Cook).

And it was a love of the music of Paul Heaton that dates back to The Housemartins first and penultimate album, London 0 Hull 4, that took me there on Saturday afternoon and the home of Hull KR rugby league club, the KCOM Stadium Craven Park (not the KCOM Stadium of the signposts, as that is the football KCOM, which is different). 

The evening was opened by Billy Bragg, a man a long way from home but very much in his environment with the industrial backdrop of the cranes of the Hull Joint Dock looming over his shoulder. The words “I was a docker, I was a miner, I was a railwayman, between the wars” probably fitted most men over countless generations who lived in the nearby streets. 

He called for cheers from each stand and the standing audience on the pitch. I wager it is the only time he will have called upon the people of the “Joinery Depot” terrace to give voice to their presence. Bragg gave us his version of working class folk and skiffle, interlaced with political comment. And as the lyrics to New England rose towards the sky, Mrs VFTN and I left our seats, stirred by working class, socialist lyrical rhetoric and ordered a wood fired pizza from the mobile pizza oven at the back of the stand. Fight the power. 

The second act was the divine The Divine Comedy. Opening with Something for the Weekend, following up with Alfie and I was back in my twenties. Those unfamiliar with Something for the Weekend should immediately stop reading this and go find it online. It is heady mix of puns, double entendre and story telling. Neil Hannon apologised to the audience for not delivering the political speeches of Billy Bragg but relied upon the fact that he did do pithy lyrics by way of introduction to the 2010 song “Complete Banker“. The lady next to me was so overcome by the pithiness of the lyrics that she failed to pour her rosé into her glass and instead poured it over the back of the chap in front of us. Even this rosé misadventure was forgiven amongst the members of this workers collective. 

Splendid though both Bragg and The Divine Comedy were, this is not why we were here. The people of Hull were not here for any other reason than for one of their own, Paul Heaton. And so the opening music to Heatongrad was greeted with cheers. Heatongrad is a rousing song, Heaton’s very own national anthem. And if Neil Hannon claimed a mastery over pithy lyrics, Heatongrad shows why Paul Heaton is truly a master. Has anyone ever described the Blair years and their aftermath better than the chorus words;

Remember Tonygrad?

The launching of the lad’s mag to the streets of Baghdad

That made you oh-so-sad

The left so far a cleft, like the first meal they’d had

They treated dear old Blighty like some dirt-cheap shag

Now they’re paying zero tax at Richard Branson’s pad…..

And does anyone have a voice more perfect to deliver those words than Jacqui Abbott? Every word beautifully clear in a voice that has just an edge of country and western delivering a pop masterclass. 

Immediately we traveled from the recent Heatongrad back to Hull in 1987 with Me and the Farmer. The whole crowd belted out “Me and the farmer like brother like sister, getting on like hand and blister” in unison with Heaton, everyone joined together as perhaps only music can, everyone getting on, well, like hand and blister. 

Half an hour in and we had the trio of Beautiful South songs, The Prettiest Eyes, I’ll Sail this Ship Alone and Rotterdam and it was like someone had taken my university bedroom and unpacked it in Hull. Which has a personal irony in that Hull was my first choice for my degree but apparently I did not speak good enough French for the purposes of a law degree. But the music carried me back and I could have been sitting at my desk, a beer in my hand, hair on my head and my first CD player filling my room with the angst of sailing ships alone amongst the sharks and the treasure. 

And so Paul Heaton introduced the band by aligning them to their favourite Rugby League teams. Which produced a crescendo of booing until he revealed himself to be the only Hull KR fan on stage. He is a cunning one. 

We were treated to a couple of songs from Paul and Jacqui’s new album (Crooked Calypso, released on 21st July, already on pre-order. And yes, this review is totally biased). I Gotta Praise is a corker and a choral corker at that. By now the band had been joined on stage by a choir and a horn section. For a duo, there wasn’t much room left up there. 

The crowd, seemingly glued to their seats earlier, came alive as we hurtled through DIY, Old Red Eyes is Back, The Austerity of Love and Good as Gold. Abbott and Heaton have been reunited for two albums with a third on the way. And it is in writing for his duets with Abbott in which Heaton excels. So we finished with a funked-up version of Perfect 10, a wonderful concoction of Abbott’s knowing voice, Heaton’s laconic delivery and the lyrics from his mind on the size of sex. 

As they left the stage Heaton, with trademark honesty, told us they were going to stand behind the curtain for two minutes and then come back on. And come back they did, raunching through Don’t Marry Her before introducing what Heaton told us amounted to a dance track – Happy Hour. Hull lapped it up. Every person in the ground was a plasticine model with sliding feet and wobbly legs (if you have no idea what I mean, Google the video). I was at every Footie Club university disco, at every wedding I went to in my  post university years, at every fortieth I have been to and every fiftieth that I am going to go to. I was dancing. I was dancing like a mad man. I was loving it. Everyone was. 

Which is why we wanted a second encore. And we got it. Now I happen to be a connoisseur of a capella singing. As a child I saw the Flying Pickets live in concert. Twice. (My cousin was in the Pickets. And yes, it is the bald one). Caravan of Love was pitch perfect and full of sound. Probably helped by that choir. And every voice in the ground hitting every note. Too soon it was over, Jacqui Abbott taking a photograph of the audience (if she zooms in to the back right hand corner of the pitch, I am the one grinning like a loon with my coat zipped up to my chin à la pd heaton) before they played out with You Keep it All In

As we walked away from the ground, my brand new nylon tour t-shirt stretching over every middle aged bulge (and failing to keep it all in) , the man walking behind us pronounced “I have been to some gigs, me. I have seen Johnny Cash and all them, me. But that were some gig just now…” And he was spot on. 

I was happy in Hull. Everyone in Hull was happy (although the presence of a few more taxis might have prolonged the joy). If I had to give the gig a score? Well it would have to be a perfect 10. Well, almost. I am still waiting for my sun-drenched, wind swept Jacqui Abbott kiss. 

Tins Of Fish

It has always bewildered me that there is such an array of rules across the Prison Estate. I get that there has to be rules. I get that different establishments might have differing rules to suit the type of prison they are or to deal with any particular issues that they have locally.

And yet prison rules have still long baffled me. From the sign on a door that prohibited visitors bringing in, inter alia, “door stops and ladders” (how could a prison be defeated by wedging doors open and who could ever smuggle a ladder in?) to the prison that made me drop my trousers (a very long and not particularly edifying story) to the prison that turned over every page of my brief because “we had someone trying to smuggle a doughnut in…”, prison rules are, well, a law unto themselves. 

In Manchester we briefly had “the letter of introduction”. This was a letter which basically had to say “Hello, this is Jaime, he’s a barrister, and today he would like to visit one of your guests, Burglar Bill.”  A part of me always wanted them to have to finish with the phrase “and you shall let him pass without let or hindrance.” But they didn’t. 

My first introduction to letters of introduction was when I arrived at a prison and they told me I had to have one. This was news to me. I had not previously been introduced to the letter of introduction. The conversation went a little like this;

Officer: Where’s your letter of introduction?

Me: I haven’t got one. What is it?

Officer: It is a letter explaining who you are and why you’re here.

Me: Oh right. Never been asked for one of those before. Give me a moment and I’ll jot those details down on a piece of paper for you. 

Officer: No, that won’t do. It’s got to be from your boss. 

Me: I am self employed. I haven’t got a boss. I guess I am my own boss. So do you want it from me? Introducing myself?

Officer: Yes. 

Me: I’ll just jot it down then, like I just said…..

Officer: No! It’s got to be on headed notepaper. 

Me: Right, have you got a fax? Cos I’ll get some note paper faxed over and then I will write a letter on it formally introducing myself to you and sign it from myself to say it is deffo me. 

Officer: There’s no need to be arsey….

And so it went on. I didn’t get in the prison that day. But from that day forward I did carry a letter of introduction, like some emissary being sent on a diplomatic mission, and presented it at every prison I visited. Often I may as well have dropped my trousers (again) and shown my backside judging by the reception it got at most places. 

The letter of introduction now seems a thing of the past. Prisons feel no more or less safe. And in one of Machester’s prisons I can wear my watch as I visit a man on remand for murder and in the other prison I cannot wear my watch as I visit a man on remand for murder. I am sure this makes sense somewhere. Just not in the real world. 

My watch wearing is just an inconvenience. The real issue is which prison you can take your laptop or tablet into. Or, more importantly, what you have to do to be allowed to bring it in. One prison requires 48 hour written notice, another prison just needs you to mention it when you book in whilst another wants a letter from the computer’s mother and an oath taken in blood and bytes that the computer is who you say it is. 

Today I represented a man who was moved from a prison in London to a prison in Manchester and then back to London for his hearing today. I have mentioned in a blog previously that prison food is so bad that prisoners are concerned that protein is missing from their diet. I have plenty of clients that order protein shakes from the prison canteen to make up the deficit. These people are not bodybuilders, they just lack protein. My client today had overcome this by ordering 150 tins of mackerel and tuna as part of his “canteen”. 

A prisoner’s canteen is the extra stuff they can buy with their wages. Often it is tobacco or sweets. This prisoner wanted protein and decent food so he stockpiled tinned fish in his prison in London. And he was eating it three meals a day, had to buy when it was available and he amassed 150 tins of fish. He then got transferred to a prison in Manchester. A prison that did not allow prisoners to have tinned fish….

Now I appreciate that this sounds like I am making it up, but I promise you I am not. So at the Manchester prison his tinned fish hoard had to be stored. And today, when transferred from Manchester to court in London, his canned fish had to be bagged up in several bags and brought with him to London, just in case he ended up in a prison that let him have a sardine or two.

I know both prisons involved. They are very similar. Both privately run. Both house the same category of prisoner. They even look the same:



And yet in one prison you can buy tinned fish and in the other tinned fish is as prohibited as Class A Drugs and ladders….

The Criminal Justice System has become a disparate loose collection of different departments and entities, attempting to work together with little by way of overarching aims and guidance. I have no idea, from day to today, what I need to do to see a client, what I can take with me or whether they will be brought to court. And they have no idea whether Governor Antoinette is going to let them eat tinned fish or not. 

This disparate uncooperative co-op leads to delay and waste. And a man in the back of a prison van hurtling along the M6 with see-through bags full of contraband tinned fish. 

It has been a long day…..

The Girl in the Green Skirt

Work has been a bit like hard work recently. The Bank holiday at the end of May was, therefore, a welcome prospect. It turned into the perfect escape.

I had never before been to Northern Ireland. I had never before been to a Blues Festival. These two gaps in my CV have been closed by a visit to the Warrenpoint “Blues on the Bay” Festival. 

Arriving Friday night, there was time for a bite to eat and a pint (or two) of something brewed at St James Gate in Dublin. Travel to different places always requires advance local knowledge. Thankfully some of my fellow travellers had ordered and eaten before we arrived, so I could be warned off the bacon and banana pizza. Not that I needed much warning.  And then, guided by a one-time local, we found ourselves in a function room of some local hostelry and immediately in the midst of a Roddy Doyle tale. 

Now I know that this reference is culturally and geographically a little bit out of place. But as Pat McManus took to the stage it was the only thought in my mind. I absolutely guarantee the man standing next to me once knew Wilson Pickett. I have no doubt that the man next to him ran a chip van. And Pat McManus himself was a three volume set of riotous stories.

You could tell his life story from his hair. With him, none of that “women want him and men want to be him”. Everyone would just want his hair, particularly the advertising executive in charge of L’Oreal’s creative output. It was full on, RockGod, shoulder length black hair with a Dickie Davies grey streak. But with sheen. And body. 

He had the taut, wiry forearms of a GuitarGod too. Which were undoubtedly the result of his twenty minute long guitar solos, two in every number he performed. 

What do you want? Guitar solo played with the guitar behind his head? Yep, Pat delivered that, with a flourish of his hair as he finished. This was Blues with a progrock self absorption. And just at the point in his set when I expected him to produce a double necked guitar he produced….. a violin. 

In an instant we went from Jimi Hendrix to Michael Flatley. And the audience lapped it up, with a heaving sea of bouncing, foot skipping devotees worshipping his hair and and his fiddle playing. With Mrs VFTN lost amongst the throng. 

The end of the night was a bit of a haze. There was dancing. There was a man with a CBE in the midst of the dancing (the Commander of the British Empire of the Dance, being one removed from the Lord of the Dance). There was a bottle of Buckfast Tonic Wine (empty and abandoned by someone else). There was the return to the fantastic house we were staying in and the sight of a drunk man falling over whilst already lying down (which was an impressive feat). To bed we went, with our feet still tapping.

After an Ulster fried breakfast (a slice of black pudding and a slice of white pudding, no vegetables allowed) we were taken to the Magic Road. I am not going to spoil the magic, but if you ever do find yourself in Warrenpoint then ask a local for directions to the Magic Road. There are no road signs, there may be a queue and there is definitely magic at work. 

Saturday was an afternoon of gentle drinking, sharing plates and background music in a local bar, Fusion. Sufficiently fed and watered, we headed off to the Forresters for the Shawn Jones trio. He was advertised as being accompanied by an Italian rhythm section, which called to mind a papal sanctioned form of birth control. 

What the festival blurb neglected to tell us was that Shawn himself was absolutely the real deal. His hair was the obligatory length but had not seen conditioner for a while. He clearly lived every single note that came from his guitar. No gimmicks, no tricks, just the sort of Blues favoured by Eric Clapton or Robert Cray. 

Everyone in the room felt the love Jones had for his guitar. It was a feeling of love that was infectious. It was probably the infectious feeling of love that inspired a local to repeatedly ask Mrs VFTN to dance. It was the same feeling of love that caused our host (who will remain nameless because Kevin didn’t want mentioning by name) to admire the chap next to him at the bar in the mirror behind the optics. And the same love that caused his companion at the bar to ask Kevin if he liked what he had done with his hair. 

I was beginning to think this was no country for bald men. 

There is something quite louche about emerging from your second gig of the day, stomach awash with a pint or six, to find it is still daylight outside. We admired the prone figure of Finn McCool the other side of the lough (he is a giant having a lie down on a hill, seriously). We enjoyed the tour of the hotspots of Kevin’s youth (which amounted to the arcade). And we enjoyed one more drink, a bit of a band and the sight of the youth of today managing a lot more fun than achieving the High Score on Galaxian.

Once you have discovered a recipe for success, repeat it. So the brave explorers of Saturday trod a familiar path on the Sunday. First port of call was Fusion for lunch alongside the deep and soulful tones of the Courtnay Magee duo.  

And then, once more, we found ourselves at the Forresters watching the ponytailed Jones and his Italian pals (introduced to the audience with the line “they do good red wine, they do good pasta and they do great rhythm”, which I am not sure the Italian Tourist Board will adopt anytime soon). 

The music was even better than they day before. The audience was on even finer form. A couple took to the dance floor. The gentleman had the look of a darts player from Stoke. And yet he guided his wife around the floor with the grace and accuracy of a handmade watch. The contrast of his pirouette and the other local gentleman attempting to do “the worm” across the dance floor could not have been greater. 

To our left was a man of menacing appearance. Not that I am obsessed by hair, but his was the mane of a biker. He was resplendent in denim waistcoat  and cut off sleeve t-shirt. This foregoing of sleeves allowed us to see his tattooed bicep. The bicep and the tattoo were generous. The arm was a canvas for a detailed sketch of a female’s face. Some said she looked like Katherine Deneuve, others observed she looked like Mick Hucknall. Neither were true. She looked exactly like the woman who brought her and his drinks from the bar. Which was a good job, but also a little disconcerting to recognise someone from a tattoo. His arm was better than any identikit Crimewatch picture could hope to be. 

Then entered a man with a guitar. Not on the stage. In the audience. He took his seat. He embarked upon an extensive ritual of guitar tuning. I should point out this was an electric guitar. So the tuning was purely electric. We were fascinated. Was this the music version of bringing your boots to the game in the hope the star striker would pull out just before kick off? Was it the most professional air guitar preparation ever? 

The answer, it seems, was that Shawn Jones was going to play one song on this audience member’s guitar. Why? I have no idea. Shawn had a perfectly serviceable guitar that he played both before and after. Both guitars sounded like, well, electric guitars. I guess it meant something to the guy who had gone to the trouble of bringing his guitar to a gig. Maybe it is like getting Bradman to score a run with your bat. 

We left the Forresters and, in the vicinity of a lone man from Dublin who had a sideline in dancing only with his shoulders, we made our way to the Whistledown Hotel Ballroom. Now fans of Jack Nicholson’s Joker will recall that he said: “I have given a name to my pain, and it is Batman.” Well I have now given a name to my joy, and it is Mirenda Rosenberg. 

As an aside, I was beginning to notice that the artistes all went for less usual spellings of their names. Shawn, Courtnay, Mirenda – maybe these were my kind of people. 

Mirenda has a great voice and she sings great songs. She was with a great band and they played a great set. What sets her apart, however, is her stage presence. Stage presence which, more often than not, takes her off the stage and into the audience where she will fix an audience member with a look and then sing only to them. 

Oh what a joy. She danced with the fleet-footed darts player from Stoke. She glowered and grinned in equal measure. She was alluring and intimidating, foreboding and intimate. Most of all she was fun. And we were all having fun. I am not sure whether it was the general giddiness of the whole weekend or the infectious walkabout nature of Mirenda or the ten pints of Guinness but I found myself in middle of the dance floor, sunglasses on my face (indoors at ten o’clock at night) and with sufficient joie de vivre abounding that I was able to kid myself I did not look entirely out of place. 

I obviously looked a total plonker.

As I said at the start, I had never been to Northern Ireland before. I will definitely be back. And hope that the Blues on the Bay Festival welcomes me as warmly as it did this time. I promise not to bring the sunglasses.

What’s that you say? What about the girl in the green skirt? Like the Magic Road and Pat McManus’s fiddle, she was just a part of the mystery and the joy of Warrenpoint. You will have to come along next year and see for yourself. 

Everybody Down

Kate Tempest, poet, rapper and archetypal modern day Londoner came to Manchester last night at Gorilla on Whitworth Street West. I have previously seen Tempest perform her Brand New Ancients poem at the Contact Theatre and this was a performance of her new Everybody Down album.

I confess I am a fan. Tempest is a genius of articulate naïveté. And she is a cracking storyteller. Musically this album has nothing of real note yet it is in the lyrics that the audience finds the real joy. My favourite part of the evening was undoubtedly when the performance was stripped right back to her performance poetry.

The curious aspect of the event was the assembled audience. Here we were, the beats of dual percussion musicians on stage and the rapped lyrics about Becky and a drug deal gone wrong, all being witnessed by a room full of people where I suspect the most common occupation was General Practitioner (I say that as a middle-aged, middle class lawyer).

As Tempest moved into a high tempo piece she invited us to party. And so the crowd, where heavy rimmed, Dom Joly style glasses where de rigueur, began to dance in a slightly awkward display that was vaguely reminiscent of Byker Grove. As the performer came to the front of the stage and told of grimy, lovelorn angst, the audience looked back….through the screens of their Samsung Galaxy Notes as they used the digital zoom to sharpen the image for their Facebook account. Or just had their GoPro on a selfie-stick. Street.

Tempest lamented a modern society where we live in a bubble of television to an audience desperate to upload the words to YouTube. She promised to be our voice against Islamaphobia, anti-semitism and hatred although she had no idea what she wanted to say about it, beyond the fact it is wrong. And the audience cheered. I suspect they would have cheered if she had offered to be our voice against littering the streets, inconsiderate parking in Chorlton and wearing socks with sandals.

She really is a marvel when telling a story. An ex tempore inspirational speaker she is not. If she has a message it can be told in the lyrics and the words, like the fantastic 13 Commandments that she treated us to as an encore.

If you are unfamiliar with her work go find it online. She is a rapper, poet, playwright and novelist. I suspect you can find plenty of it on YouTube…..

Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Leigh

Elton John played Leigh Sports Village on Saturday 21st June. Yes, you read that right. Elton John. THE Elton John. In Leigh.

The weather gods are clearly fans of Rugby League and Elton John (who isn’t?). The weather was glorious and as we walked to the venue the non-ticket owning public were out in their gardens enjoying the weather and looking forward to the sound of Elton being the soundtrack of a Saturday night.

A wise man goes when he can so, as my concert going friends joined the queue for the bar, I joined the queue for the Gents. Next to me was a sunburnt twenty-something. He looked at me and proclaimed “I have never, like, seen so many people, like, not from Leigh in Leigh. It’s amazing.”

As we waited in our seats for the main event the exact opposite struck me. Not since my university days have I been to a gig where so many of the audience so clearly knew each other. Old friends waved at each other from all parts of the ground, beers raised in salutation, grinning faces beaming enjoyment at each other.

And then came Elton. Blue sparkling jacket and hair by Fabricant, he was roared onto the stage. His band were reminiscent of a house band on Letterman, I want you to imagine the Commitments grew old and probably had a few grandkids. But by the third number, Bennie and the Jets, the whole place was rocking.

I have a confession to make. I came to the gig out of curiosity and because a friend was involved through work. I was ready to proclaim that I did not think Elton could sing. I am now ready to proclaim I was wrong. The boy can sing, the boy can play. And the boy can entertain.

When he told the crowd that as a child he used to watch Rugby League from Leigh and listen to the commentary of Eddie Waring we were all prepared to suspend disbelief to be enchanted by the magic of the night. We could believe his boyhood dreams of playing a gig in Leigh. To seal our admiration he told us he would rather play here than that there fashionable Manchester.

The hits kept coming. This was the fortieth anniversary of Goodby Yellow Brick Road and Elton announced he had played all the tracks on the first side of the album (for the Twitter, download generation – you will just have to accept the romance of that pronouncement). Many had wondered whether the early rumours of Elton playing Leigh was in fact promotion for a tribute act. This was no tribute act but was a tribute to his canon of work stretching back through the years.

The evening reached its crescendo with Saturday Night, Are You Ready for Love and Crocodile Rock. The crowd provided the lyric change in the title of this blog and it seemed like every voice of every man, woman and child in Leigh joined in.

Forty years from now they will still be talking about the night Elton John said Goodbye to the East Lancs road. The beauty of this concert was not just Elton. It was the lovely combination of stadium gig under a summer sky but on a small scale. It was the coincidence of international superstar and community event. If Elton was the star, the people of Leigh and the Sports Village were an admirable supporting cast.

Perhaps this should be the blueprint for future Elton gigs? Maybe next year we can all join in with a rendition of I’m Still Standish? The one thing that is certain is that Leigh proved the movie line “build it and they will come” is not just a scriptwriter’s dream.

Now For Something Completely Different

As the title suggest this is something completely different. Not just completely different from anything I have previously written about but an event which can be described as completely different.

Last night I went to Adam Curtis versus Massive Attack as part of the Manchester International Festival. This was most definitely not a gig. Thankfully I was not expecting it to be. If you were expecting a gig you would be sorely disappointed. This was less a concert and more a concept.

Everything about it was novel, beginning with the venue. The Mayfield Depot is one of those buildings which is part of the urban landscape of Manchester. I must have seen the building countless times on many a train journey throughout my life. I should imagine it has not been used for anything throughout that time. As we walked towards the venue it had the feeling of something clandestine. Security was, I anticipate, deliberately conspicuous.

As you entered the building you were in the underbelly of a large sprawling industrial space from Victorian times. It was dark. A temporary bar ran along one wall. Huge steel pillars broke the ground like mighty metal trees. The crowd milled around in a state of subdued anticipation, drinking cans of Red Stripe. By some unknown signal we moved into the area for the performance. We found ourselves in a long rectangular area, white fabric screens on the two long sides and the far end.

And so the event began. Images were projected on to the three sides of the room as a voiceover began a narration. Instantly it felt like we were stood in the midst of an installation in a Modern Art Museum. This was a concept and a novel concept that was well executed. The images were sharp and slickly cut together. The setting entirely fantastic. However allied to the fantastic concept you then need fantastic content. An installation in a museum can only hold your interest for so long. We were going to be there for over an hour.

Did the content live up to the concept? Alongside the barrage of images we were treated to subtitles, voiceovers and music. It was with the music that the whole thing began to take a turn away from the promising start. The live music was delivered from behind the end screen. The light of the projections and the lighting of the stage caused the musicians to appear as ghostly figures behind Adam Curtis’ film. One of the problems however is that I have no idea when they provided the music and when the music was part of the soundtrack.

The music was not Massive Attack’s material but a collection of covers. There were brilliantly executed. Guest vocals from Horace Andy and Elizabeth Fraser were exquisitely delivered. The combination of covers and vocalists meant that this music had no identity. Certainly nothing that spoke to me of Massive Attack, despite Andy’s previous work with them. Theirs was not an identity which imposed itself on the evening in the slightest. They became no more than a name on a poster. This was no juxtaposition of their music with Adam Curtis’ film such as the use of the “versus” in the advertising suggested. This was no collaboration of the two in producing music that spoke of the same themes as the film. The provision of ear plugs as you entered the venue spoke of the fact that the music would roar to us. It did not. Massive Attack were reduced to the role of the man playing the organ in the picturehouses of the pre-talkie era.

So what of the film? This was a quick walk through of aspects of modern history interwoven with personal stories such as the story of pop artist Pauline Boty and her tragic sacrifice of cancer treatment to save her unborn child and then the tragedy that subsequently befell the child. The basic themes were that 24 hour news is conditioning the thinking of society, analysing data cannot predict the future, politics is often corrupt, the West should not try to impose itself on other cultures, other cultures also do bad things and Donald Trump is the root of all evil.

The politics of the piece was just all too Lower Sixth common room earnest. It was the stuff of a General Studies A-O Level rather than an analytical thesis of political control. It was entirely possible to predict both the course and the content of the narrative. The whole feel of the film was that it was “clunking”. A sledgehammer voice of the author’s view. It may well have been that the ear plugs were not for the decibel level of the music at all but were a figurative comment by the door staff on the subtlety of the film.

Amongst the images were interesting and informative material from Chernobyl. But for every moment that did cause you to pause for thought came the heavy touch, such as the splicing of well known footage of the Ceausescu being executed with images of Jane Fonda exercising. Clunk-click every segue.

Another sequence showed an Afghan child seemingly rapt watching a blonde haired doll which danced in a hip-rotating mechanical style. A clash of cultures. Save for the boy’s eyes were not on the doll at all. They were fixed on the lens of the camera. The method of capturing the moment becoming the moment itself. Suddenly the whole self-conscious nature of all we were experiencing was brought sharply into focus.

9/11 was a story told by scenes from Hollywood blockbusting films showing the destruction of tall buildings and significant American landmarks from films such as Independence Day. It was telling of the heavy-handed nature of such imagery that the hints at the events at the World Trade Centre in the recent Star Trek film were more effective than this. And it is not a good sign when a Star Trek film deals with such a significant event better than a film by a celebrated documentary maker.

The whole occasion was best summed up by a woman who I saw bump in to a friend midway through the evening. After exchanging kisses one said to the other “so what do you think?”. “Well it’s all very…..well…and I mean….it’s…….” responded the other.

And it was. It was all very… not much of anything.

The best part of the performance (screening?) came in the last five minutes. Suddenly the music seemed to synch with the film. The two seemed to contribute to each other. The audience momentarily transformed from detached museum patrons to participants in the production. The music and the footage combined with the setting to make it feel like you were in the midst of an all encompassing, wonderful music video. The crowd moved rhythmically for the first time. It was a brief moment but gave you a sense of what it could have been.

Then it was all over and we left the screening area. Heading out of the exit doors we surprisingly moved in to another long arch-roofed train depot. Dry ice filled the air. One searchlight scanned the departing crowd. On the platform edge, security officers stood with Dobermans on leashes. A frisson ran through the audience. A sense of theatre was produced by the combination of a few simple things in addition to the setting. Suddenly we felt like “fugees” in Alfonso Cuaron’s film Children of Men. A subtle and simple creation of a dystopian world.

As we finally spilled out into the night I was left with the feeling that it was a great vehicle staged in a great venue but lacked content. I was not bored. However I was not entertained and, perhaps more disappointingly, I was not engaged. The star of the evening was the Mayfield Depot. The advertising flyers should have described it as Building versus Production. And in that contest the Building won easily.