Arty Farty Lovey!

A good Boulevardier, however displaced, still views the arts as the air he breaths, and as such, I’m pleased to report a recent few days full of such activity.

I attended Boy George’s concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre earlier in the year when he trialled some new music. He mentioned that he would be doing some more concerts later in the year once the new album was released, and that is how I found myself at Koko, formally Camden Palace.

KoKo interior

It was a rather cold evening which is expected in November, but still a little disappointing. Dressing for a concert is never easy as there will invariably be queuing outside, but you want to be able to remove outer layers as the auditorium heats up, without either resembling the Michelin man, queuing for the cloakroom or having them all draped over your arm. I settled on punk zip black and white trousers with a half denim half jersey jacket (sleeves are jersey), desert boots and a long woolly scarf. The scarf kept me warm when queuing and could be tied around my midriff once inside the venue. I hope you are impressed with my foresight and practicality! I bumped into a few people I knew in the queue and was able to gossip the wait to enter away.

Once inside I purchased a warming and revitalising large red wine and looked for my friend Tony who was there with his brother. Camden Palace really is an amazing building. It was originally a theatre built in the early 20th century and became a music venue in the late 1970s. It hosted legendary nights by Steve Strange, and Madonna’s first UK gig. My first visit was in the late 1980s when it was a busy and innovative nightclub. We went for a friend’s birthday. The main area which had previously accommodated the theatre stalls was now a vast dance floor. The upper levels containing all the boxes were areas to sit, dance and drink. I am pretty sure there was also a massive inflatable pink pig which hung from the ceiling but this could have been the effects of the large quantities of sherry consumed.

The venue has been overhauled since my first visit but still retains a lot of charm, character and the essence of a theatre. The warm-up band came on and other friends of Tony arrived and I had the chance to meet the lovely, gorgeous and fun Fiona, Monique and Emma. We stayed together for the entire concert and danced, laughed, clapped and whooped at all the appropriate moments.

IMG_3307

Boy George was excellent. His voice has matured and sounds very different to the earlier Culture Club records. I like both. He looked great and oozed style from the stage and peppered his performance with witty (and sometimes slightly bitchy) quips. This is Boy George after all. The new tracks sounded great among the classics such as Church of the Poison Mind, Karma Chameleon, and Bow Down Mister.

The concert was all too soon over and we were on a high. It was a great time for further chat and to catch up with other friends I had seen in the queue earlier.

The following evening I was due to meet Tony again as we had purchased tickets to see Ferret Up The Arts starring Miss Eve Ferret with Hazel O’Connor and a couple of other performance artists. This was held at The Arts Theatre in the West End. After a day’s work I quickly preened and re-quiffed my hair and journeyed to central London to meet Tony for a drink before the show. We tripped down the outside steps to the basement which houses the private members’ Covent Garden Cocktail Club. After being validated at the entrance as worthy patrons we entered the dimly lit, atmospheric bar full with West End trendsetters and Boulevardiers. These however, didn’t look displaced.

Cocktails were two for one on a Monday evening and it would have been rude not to partake. We enjoyed several ‘London Calling’ which were gin, Fino Sherry, bitters with a strip of orange zest for garnish soaked glasses, at a high bistro style table. Even the route to the conveniences was signed by Old Gin Street. It is a secret haven and a great modern speakeasy hidden from tourists in the West End.

1234931_10151717767456867_1688596675_n

The show was a powerhouse of Eve Ferret’s quirky brilliance. Eve called it a Fabaret and it certainly had her stamp all over it. A mixture of song, dance and anecdote where peignoirs are once again the height of fashion (as long as they’re nylon according to Eve), mange tout are scattered at the audience like confetti, as a life size child doll is passed by Eve to crowd surf. Hazel O’Connor joined Eve on stage for several numbers, which was a real treat. Hazel finished with Will You. Her voice still holds the melancholy tune and it was inspirational to hear her sing it in a smaller venue, having already enjoyed her at Chillfest in the summer. Crazy Horses with Hobby-horses as props was genius.

This is what theatre really should be about – live cabaret steeped in tradition and talent, brought up-to-date. It hits you between the eyes and makes you sing along, laugh out loud and jump from your seat to applaud louder at the end of each number.

We had bumped into a couple of other friends; Jon and Paul, who seemed to have consumed a few more cocktails than Tony and I and we chatted with them in the upstairs bar after the show when all the performers (aside from Hazel who had an early recording session the following day) came to say hello. Eve is as engaging and witty in person as she is on stage a true West End diva. High on the evening, and after another drink, we said our goodbyes and travelled back to our various corners of London totally sated.

So the next day, fortunately not working, I awoke in my cold bedroom, lit a fire and climbed back into bed with a warming, revitalising cup of Assam tea and decadently watched the flames jump as they warmed the room. All Tuesdays should be days for just staying in bed, don’t you think?

TNW

Advertisements

Is it Real?

Reality television is a huge part of contemporary program scheduling and has grown vastly over the last decade, particularly with the arrival of Big Brother in the early noughties.

As a Boulevarider, reality TV first entered my sphere in the late 1980s when reruns were shown of the 1970s show, The Family. It was then called a fly-on-the-wall documentary and followed the Wilkins’ family from Reading, originally made and screened in the 1970s. We followed their daily lives and viewed everything – warts and all. It felt so voyeuristic and I watched with wonder at their transparency, and entered their homes and existences. Today we might refer to it as car crash viewing but then it felt fresh, innovative and just so exposing.

familyforweb_1955305i

I forgot about the format as it seemed to disappear and pressed through the 1990s and was aware of the format again with the first UK series of Big Brother. My flatmate had recommended that we watch it. We were glued from the first episode. I lived the ups and the downs and was instantly taken with the sheer pantomime. Who remembers Nick from the first series? I literally despised him and championed Craig who exposed his scheming! As soon as the series ended I was looking for the next.

big-brother-logo-101

Big Brother grew with the second series, as did my viewing pleasure. I carried on as a devoted fan through to series eight and partially watched series nine and ten. At the height of its popularity and my excitement I would throw Big Brother parties and invite friends who were also addicted to drink and BBQ while we watched the final few housemates emerge. We had shock, anger, tears and laughter and enjoyed every moment.

It seemed that the success of Big Brother and other shows, such as Survivor, catapulted the genre into the juggernaut it is today.

Talent shows like Pop Idol and The X Factor have maintained mainstream appeal.

However, a percentage of the mainstream has fallen out of love with reality television. There is not the same excitement among friends when new series start and the Facebook chat has slowed down also. I however, stay excited and shocked in equal measure at the shenanigans these shows portray. I completely immerse and believe everything I see. Well I believe while I am watching anyway.

When asked why I watch such shows I tend to attempt a response which provides intellectual reasoning.

‘I think it’s an anthropological study.’ or

‘The insight psychologically is amazing!’

While this reasoning is true and I hope gives me credibility, I also love the characters and their tomfooleries.

I can’t live without The Kardashians or Honey BooBoo. How could I sleep if I didn’t know the latest goings on in LA and rural Georgia?

The Hills started faux reality TV where most of the events are true but accentuated and some scenes are set up for our viewing pleasure. This resulted in UK versions such as TOWIE, Made in Chelsea and Desperate Scousewives. I loved them all. My excitement for TOWIE has waned and Desp Scousers was cancelled, but Made is Chelsea is still epic viewing. I don’t care if some of the scenes are staged. It makes for better viewing.

I wrote recently about Catfish which is also a recent and unique reality show.

I have a mini-obsession with the Real Housewives of Everywhere: Atlanta, New Jersey, New York, Beverly Hills, Orange County and Vancouver. The lives of these women and their friends and families are extraordinary and certainly eye opening. They constantly fall out. They create villains and heroes. And as the shows have progressed, we have seen how changes in the world economy  have really affected, in particular, the Real Housewives of Orange County.

real_housewives_logo

I think this genre is missing from any UK reality TV and I sent a pitch to reality TV production companies last year and am thinking about another.

The first was Bonkers in Berko and centred around a group of friends who live in and around Berkhamsted. I wanted to recommend a show which followed the lives of a group of cool, eventful forty year olds (mostly) as opposed to the twenty somethings who are the common modern reality fodder. I wanted to show that us forties aren’t all Horlicks and PJs.

No responses. Don’t they know a hit when they see it? Unfortunately a few of the would-be stars of the show, my cast, also said they weren’t as keen to appear as I was. Are they mad! It would have been a phenomenon.

More recently I thought of a new show which could be called, The Real but Displaced Boulevardiers of London. I’m pretty sure it would be a fantastic show. Don’t you? I need to find more candidates and build it into a pitch. Surely the production companies wouldn’t miss two hit shows in a row!

I’ll keep you all posted.

TNW

Midlife Transition

The Boulevardier is hurtling through his 40s and facing challenges usually associated with a midlife crisis. In fact they are no longer called such and the politically correct term is midlife transition. I guess the word crisis is not politically correct and might offend some.

I thought that the main component to hit me was a return to punk which I had lived in my latter years at school. At 39 (nearly 40) my hair was dyed blue black and I shopped in Camden again, rueing the closing of Kensington Market.

This has passed but I still score 16/40 on the top signs of a midlife episode as researched by the Telegraph and added to the end of this post for your attention and amusement.

midlife-crisis

Am I a cliché? I decided to check in with friends of a similar age, and potentially similar predicament.  Their responses and experiences are in some ways funny but also quite sad and delusional. However, this helps to put everything in perspective.

One glitzy friend who I have known for a number of years always strived for flashy and ostentatious cars, and sometimes when he could ill afford them. My dad often referred to him as trying to live life as a playboy! My dad also relishes opportunities to point out his greying hair which receives external and polite smiles but internal grimaces. My other friends subject to my study are in a similar type of situation but perhaps not as extreme.

midlife_crisis1

The main and recurring themes are as follows:

Forty seems to have been an incredibly difficult milestone to hit and attempts to reverse the effects have been avidly pursued since. Most are now plunging toward mid-forties.

This reversal took shape by weight loss and spending noteworthy time in the gym. The spoils of which are shared when hitting the town again on a Friday night; an occupation that most of them gave up in their late twenties. Are these social events to be enjoyable occasions with friends? Well yes in part, but also time to validate the success of the age-reversing project.

The need to corroborate with young men and women how old they look seemed to be an almost universal theme. The surveys have elicited responses from twenty six to forty three. To hear the numbers in the twenties fills them with ecstasy and motivates harder gym sessions to continue their successful age-reversal strategies. However, when the responses have hit forty and higher my friends get despondent and depressed. This surely is an unnecessary emotional roller coaster? One respondent said that if they give higher numbers he asks if they are joking and quickly moves on to the next one willing to engage with him.

To prepare for these events they apparently spend one and a half hours pruning and preening (not too excessive in the Boulevardier’s mind). They couple crisp shirts with Essexesque suits, highly polished shoes, don sunglasses and smother in St Tropez. The planning for Friday night events starts on Monday with the outfit planned and trialled by Wednesday.

im_having_a_mid_life_crisis_i_apologize_for-r2fdf3864c1d0425d9ce8ffe43c8f56da_804gs_512

They long to be compared to celebrities. I have heard everything from Gavin Henson and Mario from TOWIE, to George Michael.

Another said that he even asks those surveyed ‘Do you think I’m sexy?’ This presumably evokes various responses which he was not keen to share.

12242495_low

The celebrations are a mix of pouting, posing, drinking and dancing. The favoured drinks of Kahlua and diet coke, Malibou and Tia Maria scream the 1980s. Who do they think they’re fooling?

They stave off dad-dancing tendencies by practicing in the mirror. I’m not sure they successfully pull this off but I don’t have evidence either way to validate or dispel.

midlife

They feel as if they are acting naturally and not doing anything wrong. But they are. These are crimes against forty year old men. They should wear their grey with pride, which I can now speak of without reserve as ‘Operation Grey’ (see earlier blog) has been successful. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a nice Oloroso sherry in residence with a freshly cooked Boeuf Bourguignon while in raptures about your new napkin rings.

We all saw older men and women at clubs when we were in the prime of youth. They were often sources of amusement and in their own world. Are my friends any different? Should I put them out of their misery? Will they still be doing this on their Zimmer frames?

I think another shock is that these are not a group of friends who are mutual friends. I spoke to five separately who have no common contact other than me. It’s a disease. And oddly enough they all wish to remain anonymous!

The saving grace was one friend who said he didn’t understand this obsession with constantly striving to look younger. This was also directed at me. I suppose I should be grateful to have a balanced group to look to and at.

I found the below study published by the Telegraph detailing the top 40 signs of a midlife crisis. I thought I was struggling at 16 but was reassured by Harry at 24. I asked on Facebook what people’s scores were and those that responded ranged from 5-27 with an average of 18.

When we are young we will and demand the future. We push forward with such vigour and excitement. I’m not saying that we stop pushing forwards as we age but we also take time to appreciate the moments as they occur. We miss this when we are young. We miss savouring the good times and good people and can look back years later and wonder and yearn.

We need to strike a balance of not looking back to the point where we force ourselves into a second youth but attack, whatever our age, with the appropriate level of dynamism.

My poor friends, their flash is fading. I think this Boulevardier needs to sit down with them and help them to accept the displacement age brings with grace and class.

TNW

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/10156725/Top-40-signs-of-a-midlife-crisis-revealed.html

The top 40 signs of having a midlife crisis

1 Desiring a simpler life

2 Still going to music festivals like Glastonbury

3 Start looking up old boyfriends or girlfriends on Facebook

4 Realise you will never be able to pay off your mortgage

5 Joining Twitter so your bosses think you ‘get’ digital

6 Excessively reminisce about your childhood

7 Take no pleasure in your friends’ successes

8 Splashing out on an expensive bicycle

9 Sudden desire to play an instrument

10 Fret over thinning hair

11 Take up a new hobby

12 Want to make the world a better place

13 Longingly look at old pictures of yourself

14 Dread calls at unexpected times from your parents (fearing the worst)

15 Go to reunion tours of your favourite bands from the 70s and 80s

16 Switch from Radio 2 to indie stations like 6 Music

17 Revisit holiday destinations you went to as a child

18 Cannot envisage a time when you will be able to afford to retire

19 Read obituaries in the newspapers with far greater interest — and always check how people die

20 Obsessively compare your appearance with others the same age

21 Start dyeing your hair when it goes grey

22 Stop telling people your age

23 Dream about being able to quit work but know that you’ll Just never be able to afford to

24 Start taking vitamin pills

25 Worry about being worse off in your retirement than your parents

26 Want to change your friends but don’t meet anyone new that you like

27 Think about quitting your Job and buying a bed & breakfast or a pub

28 Flirt embarrassingly with people 20 years your Junior

29 Look up your medical symptoms on the internet

30 Start thinking about going to church but never act on it

31 Always note when politicians or business leaders are younger than you

32 Contemplate having a hair transplant or plastic surgery

33 Take out a direct debit for a charity

34 Can’t sleep because of work worries

35 Hangovers get worse and last more than a day on occasions

36 Constantly compare your career success with your friends

37 Worry about a younger person taking your Job

38 Take up triathlons or another extreme sport

39 Find that you are very easily distracted

40 Realise that the only time you read books is when you are on holiday

Here come the Fash Pack

The Boulevardier is displaced. This sometimes results in attempts to navigate the unfamiliar waters of advancing years while trying to retain cool, trend and panache. The days of uber fashionable parties filled with the fash pack of London were behind me. Or so I thought.

I rather fortuitously landed an invite to a rather fashionable magazine party in East London several weeks ago. I was pleased to see that my networking with media types still had bite when it was required.

First and most major consideration was what to wear. Leatherette jeans would have been perfect. However, they were snug when purchased, and with too much fine dining of late, the snug has developed into too tight. A trip to Brent Cross was required. I had ideas.

I wanted to achieve a hybrid of fashion and smart casual. And I am not talking about the boring smart casual of the corporate (non media) world i.e. keep your suit on but whoop-e-doo take your tie off.

I wanted a smart jacket perhaps with a 50s edge which I could couple with dark jeans and T. When combined with the quiff and jewellery I hoped I could pull it off.

I had seen some jackets which were varying shades of blue with a darker velvet(ish) lapel and collar. However, they only came in children’s sizes, well young men’s perhaps. The male body shape changes so much from mid 20s onwards. This idea was thwarted.

Fashion and grown up or bigger than sample sizing can create quite the challenge.

I looked in a number of establishments, but nothing said ‘Statement Jacket’. I finally found a black corduroy blazer with pink visible stitching around the collar and pocket flaps which was indeed unique, in Jeff Banks. Who knew the presenter of The Clothes Show still had ‘it’. I thought the jacket represented a portent for the impending autumn and would contribute nicely to my smart, casual, cool look.

New simple black jeans and an array of potential T shirts were purchased from All Saints and H&M.

Brent Cross has the ability to solve serious problems. It was like Breakfast at Tiffany’s but less glamorous.

Foresight works so well for me, and with the planned outfit on, complimented by blue and silver Prada trainers I set off. As I approached the venue with my good friend Justin it looked like an old man’s pub on a main road north of Hoxton. We double checked the address but it appeared correct. We were expecting a private members club. We strode ahead with confidence, as you do in these circumstances, and the doors opened and presented a wonderful oasis of vogue and elegance.

The ground floor was sumptuous with rich red velvet booths and banquette seating. There were chandeliers at every turn, and an intricately designed pewter ceiling. 90s swing was pumping from the DJ which is ironic as this was the music de jour when I lived in East London. An enormous stuffed taxidermic tiger pounced from the centre of the bar.

A winding Victorian staircase with heavy flock wallpaper led to an enormous lounge with further stuffed creatures in the shape of a massive polar bear and peacock.

We continued our journey upwards and found a flock of tropical stuffed birds perched on a wooden roost on the landing. I have a ridiculous and irrational fear of birds, which was heightened by the peacock a floor down, and dared not look up for fear of running from the building screaming.

We were unfashionably on time. The venue was more or less empty. We had broken the first rule of fashionable parties and not arrived several hours after the start time. Even the hosts didn’t arrive until 45 minutes after us. There was only one thing for it and we sunk into a red velvet booth seat and a quenched our thirst with a few Tanquerays.

The chic of London started to arrive from 9, from the trendy Hoxton/Dalston boys in tight chinos with baseball caps and sockless loafers to the artists, photographers, djs, drag queens and transsexuals, muscle boys in t shirts, fashionista females who only eat once a week draped around designers and even a couple of infamous 1980s party people.

There was no keeping up with this crowd. There were a few of similar age to me who were trying, and squeezed into child sized clothing. Maybe it’s ok to try when surrounded by your own peers, but not when attempting to play this uber stylish fash pack at their own game. Several other slightly more mature gents, of a similar age to me had opted for the jeans, suit jacket and t shirt and we looked cool damn it. We would look unique and original in our own peer circles and here we wished the young would look at us and hope they still had this degree of ‘it’ when they matured.

I headed out into the crowd, networked and made new friends. Even met a fantastic trendsetting and beautiful DJ known for her unique and outrageous fashion. Amy has already made a massive name for her Sink The Pink brand, and incidentally dates someone I knew when I was much younger and lived out in the provinces. He is cutting edge artist now.

I was really starting to believe that it’s distinguished to be a ‘displaced’ Boulevardier. I don’t need to wear clothes three sizes too small to be somewhat ahead of the pack. Those times have passed.

However with displacement came an early call for bed, and at 11.30pm my yawning had increased (been there since 7pm) and I decided to head home. As I exited the venue I rubbed shoulders with another of the moment Drag Queen DJ who just arrived to take to the decks. Unlike many of the young attendees I could afford more than the night bus, flagged down a black Hackney cab and headed back to the warmth and protection of Crouch End knowing that here I am the fashionista and Boulevardier combined.

TNW

North Marine Drive

I waited outside the school gates for Heather at the beginning of lunchtime. It had been easier to coordinate lunch in the 3rd year as we were in the same set and had the same lessons. The 4th year was the start of our ‘O’ Level options and as we had chosen differently had to plan meeting up at breaks.

At registration that morning she had tantalised me with news that she had new music from her older super cool sister who was at University. We were predominantly listening to The Smiths and Simple Minds until Helen, the older sister, had introduced us to Freur and their electronic album Doot Doot. In the same vein I hoped the new music would be original and something off the wall.

Heather appeared and immediately passed her school books to me. Heather was a young lady and preferred to carry a small, impractical for school books, picnic basket which housed her hairbrush and make up. I didn’t mind as my bag was much bigger and I was stronger. We had been good friends for over a year after Heather dated one of my school friends. They split but we stayed friends.

We hurried the 10 minute walk to her parents’ house, and I retrieved my cheese sandwiches my mum had prepared that morning. Cheese was my preferred sandwich with prawn cocktail crisps, penguin and apple. I sometimes varied the cheese sandwich with cream cheese. Heather went into the lounge and hit play on the large silver coloured ghetto blaster.

Brass instruments hit my ears followed by a distinct jazzy beat, and then the silky voice of Tracey Thorn ‘If you ever feel the time, to drop me a loving line.’

WOW!

WOW!

This was jazz, and I liked The Smiths. But there was something so unique and so simple. I didn’t like jazz. It wasn’t cool, but this was something else. It sounded like jazz but as the tracks flowed it was clear that there was a darker sound to the voice. I needed to get a copy.

My new sound stayed with me through the day, and Heather had promised to make a copy for me that evening. I got Everything But The Girl’s album Eden on one side and Ben Watt’s solo album North Marine Drive on the other. It’s funny that we talk today about illegal downloads, but either recording from the radio or tape to tape copying was commonplace in the 1980s.

The beginning to Eden gets me every time, even to this day. It’s so powerful and pure, and transports me to a different place and time.

Ben’s solo album is more raw, and a collection of melancholic but picturesque (however bleak) tracks. As a somewhat morose teenager at times, this fitted perfectly and provided a companion (alongside Morrissey) to the problems and depressions associated with growing up.

I never got to see Ben Watt or Tracey Thorn live either individually or collectively as Everything But the Girl. Concerts weren’t so accessible then. In fact I didn’t go to concerts until I was in my early 20s. I was not in the know to find out about concerts and rarely read NME so didn’t see any EBTG concerts advertised. My Boulevardier qualities were in their infancy. EBTG were silent popstars. Today the words silent and popstar create an oxymoron. EBTG were not emblazoned across the front of every newspaper, falling out of clubs or selling their souls. They just made music.

So that was that! I still loved and consistently listened to particularly Eden and North Marine Drive. It was such a relief when these albums were released on CD. CDs were more durable, and every time I played the tapes I feared it would be their last.

Earlier this year, Ben Watt posted on Twitter that he was performing a couple of acoustic concerts, at small venues. These would be the first solo gigs of this nature since the early 1980s. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted tickets and booked two. I really wanted to ask whether he would be playing some of the older stuff, but I always sensed they were not sentimental and preferred not to look back. This was confirmed by Tracey Thorn earlier in the year when I asked her at her book reading about touring and playing some of the earlier ETBG material.

Ben asked on Twitter who was coming to the gigs, and I responded positively. Justin, my good friend who was coming with me, stated that he wasn’t sure what to wear. Ben replied saying ‘It’ll be hot, so keep it simple.’

Fashion advice from Ben Watt on Twitter.

I decided to keep it really simple and wore denim shorts, sandals and a Jimi Hendrix T shirt. I met Justin at Old Street underground station, and he was wearing a long sleeved, but thin, sweater, jeans and silver pointy shoes. He was also carrying a jacket. A Jacket! It was still about 24 degrees. I did have an H&M graffiti hoodie around my waist but a jacket. We laughed and joked as we bound along Old Street expectant of a great gig.

The venue, interestingly called The Venue is a downstairs room at The Slaughtered Lamb Public House in Clerkenwell. The pub itself is a large square room with a mish mash of aging leather sofas and unpolished wooden tables and chairs. Justin walked in and instantly greeted the barman. Was he a regular? No, it was a friend he didn’t know worked there!

After quenching our thirst on delicious wine and beer, respectively not subsequently, we walked downstairs to the Venue. Two heavy dark wood doors opened into a medium sized dark room. At one end was the bar and the performance area. This was not a stage as it was not raised. It actually looked like a guitar shop as there were 6 guitars all lined up ready for use, along with a mandolin, keyboard, mikes and amps. One solitary standard lamp rather frayed at the edges lit the corner. In front of the stage were a number of small stools, and we selected the second row. The Venue gradually filled and started to heat up. Ben was right with his advice! I wondered if Justin rued wearing a sweater. Both our jacket and hoodie were redundant and on the floor.

At just after 8.30 Ben appeared to applause. He didn’t bask in the applause and instead offered simple non-verbal gratitude and sat at the keyboard and shared one of his new tracks with us.

Wow! It was fantastic. The sound more mature than his early solo material, but still full of emotion. His voice still as unique and haunting as it ever was.

Someone called Bernard joined him to play on a few tracks. Ben joked that Bernard hadn’t had time to learn them all. I wasn’t aware at the time but this was Bernard Butler from 90s fame and acclaim.

Ben warmed up and as he did engaged more and explained his journey back to music. He hadn’t written any new tracks for a number of years and was suddenly hit by inspiration earlier in the year. It was good to know that even the great and successful artists found it difficult to write when consumed with other projects. I have previously written here that my passion for the commercial world stifled and stunted my create writing. I am working hard at redressing this balance.

Ben hinted that if he was brave enough he would play a few of his old tracks. My excitement intensified. Was I really going to hear live interpretations of some of the sounds of my youth.

Ben continued playing some beautiful new tracks, mostly with the same gloom and angst present throughout his early work. Songs such as Golden Ratio, The Levels, Nathaniel we will always love you, and Bricks and Wood, or was it Wood and Bricks, spring to mind.

Ben announced that he had not played the next track to an audience in over 30 years. As soon as the first few melancholy plucked notes hit my ears, I knew we were in for the treat that is Walter and John.

Ben then played Somethings Don’t Matter and North Marine Drive, which are two of my favourite tracks from his North Marine Drive album. Ben forgot some words halfway through North Marine Drive, but it really didn’t matter. It felt like we were sharing a journey with him, and in doing so he was fulfilling my journey which started with these tracks over 30 years ago. This evening was a precious moment in time.

IMG_3076

The temperature in the room was akin to a sauna, but it somehow didn’t matter.

After a few more new tracks and a keyboard version of On Box Hill Ben’s first solo concert in over 30 years was over, and an amazing success. He even quipped that it wasn’t as tough as he had expected! And that he would be in the studio from September and hoped to release some new material next spring.

Ben came back into the room after the concert and it gave me a chance to say thank you in person.

A fantastic evening coupling a trip down remembrance avenue and some new fantastic material.

TNW

A Family Portrait

It was fantastic news when it was announced that the Jewish Museum in Camden was to exhibit a number of personal items belonging to Amy Winehouse. The family had given unprecedented access and promises of her first guitar, albums and clothing ensued.

The Mayor of Camden hosted a private reception and viewing of the exhibition, and in doing so raised money for the Foundation Amy’s father set up following her demise.

“The Amy Winehouse Foundation works to prevent the effects of drug and alcohol misuse on youngpeople. We also aim to support, inform and inspire vulnerable and disadvantaged young people to help them reach their full potential.” Amy’s Dad, Mitch

Tickets were obtained for the event.

Now as regular readers will know I plan with precision each outfit for every event. The Crouch End Boulevardier did not let standards slip especially when there was a chance to pay respects to one of the most contemporary influences in his life.

The difficultly was the temperature. It was so beautifully hot and I refuse to be one of the Brits who bemoan the cold and the heat! The only difficulty was in deciding what to wear. Cool clothes are not always loose and summery. The temperature gauge hit 30 degrees and I decided upon the leatherette trousers (again as always grateful they were not real leather), Paul Smith inspired Papillo Birkenstocks and a Kurt Cobain T shirt. A friend asked on Twitter whether the tee decision was wise. I wanted to reflect those who died too young, without wearing an actual Amy t shirt. Kurt is also a member of the awful 27 club.

I met Ange for a swift gossip and glass of red at the Bucks Head. We fortunately managed to drown out an unskilled busker as he murdered Creep by Radiohead.

Once inside the museum we were met by 8 foot display screens rotating images of Amy from school days to Back to Black performances. Part of Back to Black was playing. The song still sounds so fresh, and the emotion emanating from Amy still devastating.

Up a few steps, and a glass display cased the gingham dress immortalised by Amy in the Tears Dry On Their Own video. At its base were a pair of pink ballet pumps, another of Amy’s signature looks.

Image

The main reception was being held in a function room, and we were greeted by the Mayor dressed in a smart suit and adorned by his livery collar. We chatted to a few other patrons over a glass of wine and canapés. In typical British reserved fashion we danced around the canapés and watched for someone to breach the artificial barrier and grab a morsel, thus signifying it was in order to dive in!

The Mayor officially opened the semi formal part of the reception with a short speech of thanks and expressed his support and passion for the Foundation and invited Mitch Winehouse to speak.

Mitch warmed our hearts and brought a tear to our eyes as he spoke proudly of Alex and Riva, co-curators of the exhibition, and of Amy. He spoke of the last time he saw Amy alive, and how they had enjoyed moments pouring over old photos of the family. Amy had previously lost a suitcase full of photos in her various moves and found them shortly before her death. Mitch cited that the suitcase was part of the exhibition. Had Amy not insisted her Dad come to her home on the way to the airport and look at the photos, he would have been off to New York and missed this precious last time with his daughter.

Entering the actual exhibition was like entering Amy’s world. Quotes taken from her application and audition to the Sylvia Young School were printed in her handwriting on the wall. Her school uniform hung ‘pieced together from various members of the family’ Mitch informed.

Videos of early performances at school led toward one of her Grammy’s.

The open suitcase of photos provided a visual feast of Amy’s family. ‘Amy lived for her friends and family’ Mitch’s words rang in my ears.

The key exhibition picture printed to 6 feet shows a posed Amy, pre beehive, in front of a fireplace, one elbow resting on the mantle and the other arm over her head pulling her hair off her face. The chimney breast adorned with framed pictures of legends and Vogue covers, martini and khalua bottles in the grate, their usual purpose changed to candle holders.

And then the fridge magnets….  I am not sure why this part of the exhibition moved me so. I think it’s because it’s so simple and normal. I love a good fridge magnet and own around 20, which are functionally displayed on my own fridge . Amy’s were funny with ‘It’s better to have loved and lost rather than to live with this psycho for the rest of your life’ down to the poignant ‘It’s Sinatra’s World, we just live in it’. I stood and imagined Amy opening her fridge door and smiling at the quips and puns before her.

After having a look around the gift shop (I think there should be a law necessitating visits to any gift shops where available), and purchased a notepad with the lyrics to Tears Dry on Their Own printed in Amy’s hand on the inside cover, we went back into the reception and had an opportunity to speak with Mitch Winehouse, who graciously allowed us to have our photo taken with him.

After thanking him for sharing so many of the family’s private memories with the public he proudly asserted that Alex (his son and Amy’s brother) was responsible for the exhibition along with his wife.

We spoke about the Foundation and Mitch explained that he really had to do this in Amy’s memory, and she would have wanted him to do so. She was always helping people, even when they were undeserving. Mitch went on to detail the amount of help they have managed to provide already, and supply almost 100 ‘down on their luck’ youngsters a meal every day, which is a fantastic achievement.

We spoke somewhat about Amy, and I talked to Mitch about the Hammersmith concert I wrote about last week and explained my perspective as an audience member. Mitch talked about the difficulties they had with that tour, and how Amy would perform divinely one evening and then struggle the next. That very evening in Hammersmith Mitch had found Amy with Pete Doherty and had to remove him from the room.

Mitch told us of the birth of the beehive credited to Amy’s great friend and stylist Naomi.

Amy loved shopping, Mitch told us, and had an account with Selfridges and would come home laden, really laden with so much, too much, that he would have to take most of it back the next day!

We spoke about his book and I thanked him for providing a frank insight into struggling and living alongside an addict daughter who also happened to be a phenomenal worldwide talent. For anyone who reads who hasn’t read it I would highly recommend it.

I could go on, as there were so many little tales he shared with us, as he generously spent time talking. Mitch doesn’t always get the best coverage by the press but I can tell you all now, that he is an articulate and passionate man, who is also very earnest in his storytelling, which is why he probably gets a rough deal from the press sometimes.  I was so moved I offered to help with all the sales, marketing and fundraising for the foundation!

Image

Ange and I left the building full of emotion and gratitude to all involved in this event and for giving a glimpse into the world of Amy Winehouse.

TNW

Beehive Fanatic

Amy Winehouse would have been 30 years old this year, and it’s hard to believe it’s almost 2 years since her untimely death. This week your Boulevardier wants to talk about his relationship with Amy and her music.

Starting right back in 2006 I hadn’t consciously listened to any off Amy’s music until I started to hear Rehab everywhere. It seemed to be on the radio, on the television, and tickling your ears wherever you went. Who were Ray and Mr Hathaway she sung of? Mr Hathaway would unfortunately be a harbinger. Amy was referencing the late great Donny Hathaway who had also left this mortal coil too early in life, albeit for different reasons.

This was 2006 and iTunes was starting to gather momentum, and as a relatively new user I enjoyed the instant response it provided. If I wanted an album I could download and be listening to it within a few minutes. I could also just select a few tracks. (Remember when Amazon felt so modern where you were able to order album online and get it within a couple of days!) I took the plunge and downloaded the entire Back to Black album and started listening.  I didn’t love it on first listen, but it was good enough and different enough to keep going. I was drawn to the 60s sound next to modern arrangements and beats. Amy’s voice was breathtaking. The tracks Back to Black and Addicted started to stand out, and I couldn’t get Back to Black out of my head.

From there a complete immersion into Amy’s sound occurred, and I don’t think I listened to any other music, or rather no other music meant so much to me until at least 2008. Someone who is no longer a friend, but who I reasonable amount of time with in 2007 often remarked that ‘I listened to Amy Winehouse on a constant loop’. English was not his primary language, but he accurately summed it up.

With the growing success of Back to Black Amy’s personal life, which didn’t appear to be in a similar ascendency, was plastered all over the tabloids and internet.

I loved her look. I loved that she had taken 60s hair and makeup and turned them into something very modern, punk even. She was a punk to me. She found a way to rebel lyrically against the outward sugar of most of the 60s girl groups she emulated, The Crystals aside.

The beehive was iconic and I loved it. I really wished there had been a male alternative.

Her tattoos also added to her urban raw look. She worked effortlessly to bring a real urban cool back to Camden. Reports of wild nights at the Hawley Arms only added to the urban myth.

I have to confess heading to the Hawley Arms a couple of times in the vain hope of bumping into Amy, maybe getting a photo, and if I was really lucky having a chat. The best I got was seeing the Amy doll which stands 5 inches tall standing at the back of the downstairs bar.

Concerts were announced in 2007, and I got 2 tickets to see Amy at Hammersmith Apollo for Saturday 24th November 2007. I was really excited and my good friend Jane agreed to go with me. She knew I was obsessed with Amy’s music and loved live concerts where artists provide their face to face interpretation of their tracks.

However, Amy’s press coverage was getting worse and I was avidly following, but really couldn’t ignore it with regards to the concert. Her benders seemed to be getting worse, along with continuous allegations of drug taking. A lot of press put blame on her then husband.

The DVD release of one of her concerts ‘I Told You I was Trouble: Live in London’ perked me up as the performance was breathtaking. So all Amy needed to do was to stay away from the demons in her life and give a fantastic performance at Hammersmith.

Blake, her husband, was on remand at the time, and not only was the case not looking good but bail had been refused, and this seemed to affect Amy so much.

Jane and I met at Hammersmith underground station expectant of a great concert. We had a couple of drinks in a grotty pub near the tube station to get our buzz started, and headed across to the venue. The bar queues were extensive and several people deep. Everyone seemed intent on having a party! Jane and I decided to double double up, and had our respective vodka and gin and slimline tonics in pint glasses to accommodate the quadruple measures.

We excitedly headed into the auditorium, following another ticket check. We later discovered that it was not official, and a tout had taken our tickets! Fortunately we did not need them again.

We finished our drinks, expecting Amy to be on, but she was running late, so Jane headed back out to the bar and refilled our mammoth portions. Still no Amy! The crowd was getting restless, particularly as her gigs had been rather hit or miss.

I said to Jane ‘This is ridiculous! How do you think I get out the back to see what’s going on and gee her up?’

Jane was amused, laughed and called me delusional.

She eventually came out onto stage. Mitch Winehouse reports in his book ‘Amy My Daughter’ that she was only ½ an hour late, but I think it was nearer to 1 ¼ hours. I guess it depends on perspective.

About a 1/3 of the songs sounded OK, but most of them seemed a little off, and the entire experience made me feel nervous. Amy was clearly distressed, and so ‘not there’ I felt like a voyeur. I could have cried. I have never seen so many people leave a mainstream gig before until the end. I was determined to stay to the end, willing Amy to snap out of it and perform as we knew she could. She kept on digging her hands into her beehive and scratching her head. The hive was swaying from side to side, and I thought it was going to topple her over.

Image

I was upset, which turned to angry and I set about posting on line the next day and looking for a refund, as did so many others. Mitch countered in the press and asked people to give her a chance. At the time I was dismissive of his reaction and thought of my invested money to see a great concert, and that I was not there to support a charity. However, after reading his heartbreaking book, he was a father trying to keep his daughter alive and happy, and desperate for support. I completely get that and respect him. On reflection, I am glad I got to see Amy live, even if not at her best.

Months and years started to pass, Amy was no longer with Blake, and seemed to be getting her life on track and I longed for new music.

The news of her death on 23rd July 2011 hit hard. I remember watching the live news, and hoped so much it was not Amy. It was.

I visited her home, a beautifully restored Victorian Villa on a residential square in Camden. The tributes and flood of support was amazing.

Most of my friends recognised how much Amy and her music had meant to me, and lots posted on my Facebook wall to commiserate her death, knowing how upset I would be.

I have got to know and love all of her music, including the posthumous album. Even the music Amy had ‘thrown away’ or not completed was amazing.

I this week attended a private view of a new exhibition ‘Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait’ co-curated by her brother and sister in law.  Her legacy lives on. Next week’s blog will provide more detail.

To me she is one of the greatest musical talents of our age, and her voice will live forever. It’s a shame she is not here to live life and enjoy it.

TNW