Hum Buggery and Dyking the Halls

Aren’t Sunday mornings just the best? I always set my alarm for 8.30am to wake and publish my weekly blog, and then try and spend a couple of hours still wrapped in the warmth and protection of my duvet sipping Assam tea and eating hot buttered toast. A boulevardier should relish these moments of extravagance.

As I languished in my decadence my thoughts turned to the evening ahead. I was looking forward to travelling to Brighton to catch up with a longstanding school friend, Sarah, and watch a Christmassy anti Christmas show hosted by the phenomenons that are VG Lee and Rose Collis.

I was ready to Bah Humbuggers or Dyke the Halls and join these two talented lesbians in their show. The title itself had caused some controversy in a more sensitive area of society, but I shall not discuss that here.

After fiddling around with my social media for some time and see Friends of Ally Pally retweet my blog and have it included in an online publication, The Daily Snapper, I could rise happy.

It was 11am and time for daily ablutions.

After a long soak in the bath, and another cup of Assam, I needed to decide what to wear. The temperatures were plummeting as they do in December and I didn’t want to be cold but wanted to be cool. After considering several options I settled upon a pair of grey jeans, grey desert boots with swirling circular patterns, black Jimi Hendrix t-shirt and a multi coloured H&M sweater.

With the trusty quiff revitalised it was time to go. As I closed the front door at 2.30pm it wasn’t as cold as I had imagined, and even better, the sun was low but out. I had earlier thought it was a grey day from my bed. The combination of clouds, blue skies and low sun made some beautiful shapes in the sky. This year we have been most fortunate in England with bright skies. Usually autumn is a grey sunless season. I have quite taken to capturing photos of the cloud formations and posting them through Instagram to Twitter and Facebook.

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A good friend Sammy Jo noticed my passion and text a couple of weeks ago asking ‘Have you given up work and are now a photographer specialising in skies?’ She followed this a few days later with ‘Your sky photos are getting a bit like selfies!!!lol!’

To which I responded ‘Shall we call them cloudies?’ And thus the cloudie was born. Not sure it’s trending yet, but I will persevere.

I boarded the train at Victoria and managed to secure a facing seat with table. I switched on my Kindle and decided to start rereading A Christmas Carol. I thought it rather apt when heading to an event containing BAH HUMBUGGERS in its title.

Starting A Christmas Carol on the 1st Sunday of Advent seemed fitting when en route to a Christmassy anti Christmas show. I smiled to myself and popped another Minstrel in my mouth. I tried to remember the original advertising and I think it was ‘They melt in your mouth and not in your hand.’

It was a little after 5pm and Sarah and I met and went straight to the Emporium Theatre. We were so early that the afternoon tea dance had barely finished. We found a comfortable corner booth and caught up on the last six months’ news since we’d last seen each other.

The Emporium Theatre started life as a Methodist Chapel at the end of the 19th Century but looks more like a gothic church. The main café area is where the main church aisle and alter once lived and is a wonderful large open space with high ceilings. Rather than pews there are less uniform booths, long worn leather sofas and dining sets. The serving area is abundant with lots of home cooked cakes and goodies. We ordered in abundance.

Our creamy, hot, yellow and plentiful scrambled eggs soon arrived which tasted delicious and was washed down with several large glasses of hearty red wine.

The team looked distinctly aloof and anti Christmassy before the show.

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It wasn’t long before we were called forward to enter the theatre at the back of the building. The stage was simple with two chairs, a small table with a half full bottle of Sherry (I knew VG was in the house as she is, like me, rather partial to Sherry), another table with a jar of pickled onions on a potty on it, a couple of music stands and Bud the Banjolele (Rose’s instrument).

It was rather chilly in the theatre and all patrons pulled their scarves and coats back on. Was this to add to the Christmassy anti Christmas atmosphere? No, it appeared that the heating had failed. The lovely Emporium served up free hot drinks at the interval to help warm everyone up.

Rose entered the stage looking very smart in a formal tuxedo with tails. Rose treated us to anecdotes about her famous pickled onions and a number of facts dispelling the myths of Christmas. Did you know the concept of sending cards at Christmas was a shrewd business move from the originator of the Penny Post?

Rose then picked up her Banjolele and beautifully sang a couple of feet tapping numbers.

Val (VG) Lee entered stage right with a richly tapestried dressing gown, rollers and her fluffy pussy. Val had previously, and rather salaciously, advertised her fluffy pussy. I might call it a stuffed cat.

Val mesmerised us with an epic tale of friendship amid her friend Deidre’s worship of department store bed linen. Val’s delivery as ever was animated and full of comic timing. The audience roared with laughter. Val even mentioned that she could hear my laugh above all others. I think this was a compliment.

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Val then sat down with Rose and interviewed her in a Parky kind of way. Rose gave us some more facts including some wonderful gift suggestions. My favourite was the Christmas pudding shaped juggling balls on offer from Marks and Spencer.

In the interval Sarah had more mint tea and I had more refreshing wine. Micra Mary, a good friend of Val’s, who drives a Micra was attired as an Elf and handed around delicious mince pies.

As the second half started Val treated us to information regarding her worst ever present which was a hot water bottle. She tried to trump the gift giver the following year with a tea cosy.

There were more tales and songs from Rose and VG read her solo erotica story, which had the audience blushing and roaring with laughter in equal measure.

We were on a high and when Rose picked up Bud the Banjolele and started playing Merry Christmas Everyone (accompanied by VG’s backing harmonies while wearing Elf ears) we all joined in the merriment and raised the rafters with our rousing chorus’.

After a brief encore and a couple of extra choruses we all left with a fine Christmas spirit. Had they failed in their mission to Bah our Humbug? Not at all. These great raw performers had put on a great show and we understood them both a little better and left sated with wine, food and song.

The show is on at The Hideaway, Jazz Club, Streatham on 15th December. There are tickets still available and your Boulevardier highly recommends you see it. If you’re lucky you might even see some of Val’s on stage dance moves!

TNW

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Because Laughing Matters

Exercise is an important part of the Boulevardier’s routine, and to comply I am a regular at Virgin Active, Crouch End. A few weeks ago I went to the Saturday morning spin class, as usual. I was, however, incredibly tired and after about ten minutes started to feel dizzy. Mia, on the bike next to me, looked at me and said I didn’t look great and recommended I stop immediately. I left the class feeling a little dramatic. As I walked to Waitrose I started to feel a pain right across my chest. There was a familiarity to it. It was not as severe as it had been in January and I hoped it was muscular pain rather than more pulmonary emboli. I took to my bed for the remainder of the weekend.

I hoped Monday morning would bring a refreshing spring to my step. Once awake I took a deep breath and could still feel the pain. Eleven hours later I heard those fateful words ‘I’m sorry but there are more clots on your lungs.’

I thought my January episode was a one-off, and with clots dissipated by the anti-coagulant medication, my only reminder was a degree of tiredness, which had been a feature of the year.

This chapter means anti-coagulants for life, a lot more tests and the return of the debilitating weakness and tiredness. I was determined not to let it affect me the way it had previously and tried to press on.

After seeing a preview of Laughing Matters starring Celia Imrie with Fidelis Morgan’s direction, I purchased tickets as soon as they were available. I had been looking forward to the show and wasn’t about to let the blood clots ruin my enjoyment. They would limit but not destroy it. The only challenge was that the performance was five days after diagnosis.

Saturday evening soon came around. I felt tired and weak and needed to ensure I used my depleted energy reserves sensibly. I made quick decisions regarding my outfit and settled upon Ralph Lauren painter’s jeans, All Saints T, and H&M jean and jersey jacket.

The Revue was held downstairs at Brasserie Zedel, which is just behind Piccadilly Circus.

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The Brasserie looks quite modest from the exterior. However, the downward sweeping staircase leads to a lovely restaurant, retro American bar, and an intimate and unique venue called The Crazy Coqs.

Crazy Coq’s oozes Art Deco with rich banquette seating along two sides, the stage and a Great Gatsby era bar occupying the others. The walls were lined with pictures from France in the 1930s. Chandeliers are draped richly from the ceiling. The room was filled with clusters of bistro style tables with red atmosphere lamps. 1930s Paris surrounded us.

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It was all very civilised, and while it was not possible to reserve seating, the  Maître d’ had our names and escorted us to our table. On stage were a set of drums, a coat stand and an ebony and sleek grand piano. The pianist enticed us to get into the spirit of the show with lots of Noel Coward numbers. I wanted to immerse and enjoy cocktails, served by blackuniformed waiting staff, but decided against it due to the state of my health.

I started to feel too tired already, but I was determined to ignore it. Stomach cramps were setting in too which added nicely to the way I was feeling. I was lucky to be surrounded by Michael, Alkan, Michael and Ange who looked after me.

Celia burst from the back of the room imprisoned by a straitjacket and launched into her version of Twisted made famous by Annie Ross which parodies the psychoanalysis of the protagonist’s insanity.

We were off and early signs were great!

The Revue combined music, dance and sketches perfectly and seamlessly. We were transported back to its golden years, the first part of the twentieth century.

This was going to be good and I wasn’t about to let my clots spoil the evening and popped a couple of paracetamol to lessen the pain.

The marketing for the show told us that Celia really believes that… laughing matters. It was true, she was clearly enjoying herself and we were too. Her classic training, pedigree and star quality shone through. However, she was not aloof. Celia was right there with us; yes on a stage, but if we were around a piano having a sing-song she would have been there too. And yes these evenings still occur. Only recently, after a few glasses of Prosecco at my friend Marina’s birthday, we retired to the home of her friends Patrick and Neil. They have a white, baby grand in the sitting-room of their terraced Islington Villa and we gathered around and sung show and popular tunes to our hearts’ content. Needless to say, we accompanied our singing with a few more refreshments.

One outstanding sketch for me was Common Talk by Alan Melville. It told the tale of a woman who had recently left the safety of central London and decamped to Wimbledon. Her vista allowed her to observe all the untoward (and mostly nocturnal) activity on the Common. It really is a common Common, or so she tells us a number of times.

I also really enjoyed ‘Smut’ where a rather well-to-do campaigner against double entendres tried to persuade us to reconsider hobbies to take our mind off of sex. She asked us to consider gardening and innocently delivered her own double entendres about her impressive melons and the like. I heard this piece, performed by Celia, earlier in the year at a Literary Salon where it was equally successful in having the audience guffawing out loud

There was a mass of nostalgia, of times lost, throughout the show and I for one would welcome back the Revue. We live in an age of auto tune and technical wizardry but none of that supplants the enjoyment received from raw and intimate performance.

I wish I had had the energy to laugh outwardly as loudly as I was inside. The show was all too soon over, but by this time I was really weak and needed to jump in a cab and straight home to bed.

The reviews of the Revue have been mixed, and perhaps I am not a professional, and therefore overlooked missing elements required to make the show a resounding success, but I thoroughly enjoyed its mix, and refreshingly new retro elements.

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I can do no better in summary than to quote The Telegraph:

The evening is tinged with palest blue, but the allure is definitely more Anglo-Saxon than Gallic – saucy rather than sophisticated, more Marie Lloyd than Mistinguett, with overtones that are sexy, but also strangely comforting – as though your favourite auntie had dressed up in something sparkly and started twirling her knickers around her head.

We need more shows like this, and who knows, I might just be brave enough one day to put one on.

TNW

Rules of a displaced Boulevardier

To celebrate over six months of weekly blogging I thought it was time to share with you the very essence of a displaced Boulevardier.

The trusty World Wide Web tells us that a Boulevardier is a man who promenades the fashionable streets of Paris. In other words an urbane, fashionable city dweller, who is usually of higher class and has knowledge of the city, and in particular how to find the best advanced cultural entertainment.

I do think that Crouch End is a suitable replacement for Paris. I also just about manage to replicate the criteria albeit in a displaced fashion.

I will now enlighten (and hopefully entertain) you by providing the seven areas of consideration in my self help guide.   

Hair

A Boulevardier, however displaced, should have a good head of hair. This should be coiffured into a chic style. The quiff is a good example of en vogue tresses, which equally retains a classic and classy element.

Regular visits to the salon are also required. Barbers do serve a purpose, but seem to deal more in volume sheerings than dazzling creations.

The most important part of the appointment is the initial consultation. It is not enough to provide the instruction

‘Just a trim please.’

The Tonsorial Artist will perform much better with a detailed description of each area of the how the cutting should take place for each area of the head.

For example ‘Please don’t cut any length from the front and top. The sides and back should be much shorter, and as short as possible without showing the scalp, and disconnected from the top rather than graduated.’

Healthy (some might say excessive) attention to clothing

Fashion is constantly changing and evolving, and while it would be fantastic to keep right up to the minute with every microscopic change it’s simply not practical. It is important to ensure sartorial sophistication exudes from your wardrobes and this can be achieved by developing your own essence of cool. Of course this will be wrapped around various genres, from hippie to punk, but it will be your own.

A cautionary note should be added. Please check with your friends and family first to validate your ability for natural panache, as without this creating your own style could lead to disaster.

Adding the right and the right number of accessories is vital. Think jewellery, manbag (to manbag or to not?), and shades. Shades are mandatory and the choice should be around which pair to wear.

And contrary to popular belief a man can never have enough shoes.

Social Media Presence            

Updating social media is an art. Each tweet, status update or photo should be interesting and make the reader or viewer wish they were in your world.

For instance if you wake feeling too tired to get up, then you post should read something like the following

‘Decadently lounging in bed savouring endless cups of tea.’

Timing your updates is also key and ensuring you still pay sufficient attention to any company you are keeping. It’s not wise to constantly update when you are in a social situation but sometimes needs must. Much will depend on the duration of your social intercourse. If you are meeting for a short lunch then it’s probably not prudent to be constantly tapping your phone or tablet, but if it’s a longer affair then it’s only reasonable to keep in touch with your wider circle.

Theatre, concerts and the arts

Regular visits to all manner of cultural events are required and enjoyed. Crouch End is vibrant with its own annual arts festival, and with so many nearby local theatres there is always something to watch and enjoy.

From the revue showings of new plays in bars to the acoustic music sessions in the cafes there is always something on.

These experiences should enrich your cultural conversational referencing.

We even had crocheted squares and woven pompoms decorating the trees and railings near the Clock Tower this summer.

Immergence and appreciation of all artistic expression is required.

Elegant Hosting

This is the area of Boulevarding (I think I just invented a new verb!) I struggle with most. The kitchen is not my natural sanctuary. If you think Carrie from Sex and the City, and her redundant kitchen you won’t be too far from the truth. However, I would like to protest that it is almost sacrilegious to stay in when there are global gastronomical opportunities minutes from my residence. Crouch End is bountiful with eateries. Everything from Caribbean fusion to Pan Asian via Spain, Italy, Turkey and Japan to name just a few.

The hosting at my home is finer tuned to thirst quenching and entertainment. My piano forte is often in use.

Drink Sherry and Tanqueray

A preferred tipple which coincidently sets you aside from the pack is also a bonus.

Sherry has certainly made a comeback in recent years, and our palates have been warmed to an excellent Fino or a darker Amontillado. Sherry is an elegant drink to enjoy and certainly raises the eyebrows of most bar staff when requested.

However, while it has been revived Sherry is not freely available. It is therefore important to have an alternate in mind. I oft for Tanqueray a lesser known London gin. My spirit of choice has long been gin, and I really don’t like the taste of the default Gordons. Amy Winehouse introduced me to the joys of Tanqueray when she sang of it in her track You Know I’m No Good.

If in doubt ask ‘What would Amy do?’

Replace ‘Amy’ with your own hero but it has to be someone qualified in style, cool and presence.

I hope my short and perhaps self-indulgent guide spurs some of you into the joys of Boulevardier hood.

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.

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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

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.

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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       

Trampling on Blankets

Saturday 6th July and it was time to start the day which would end with 70s and 80s legends aplenty. More on that later, as there was the morning to deal with first.

I was woken abruptly by the postman buzzing at 8.45am, but at least the Richard Ward shampoo and conditioner had finally arrived! (read Celeb Hair Blog for further information).

To spin or not to spin? A quick check in the mirror and last night’s hair had almost survived. Some rearranging and lots of hairspray and I would not need to redo it! Spinning was more likely in this eventuality.

My iPhone told me that the temperature was going to hit 28 degrees! Fabulous!

Spin was tough as usual but as always peppered with the instructor, Kathy’s wit and insults making it fun, funny and  good! And it was her last class for a couple of weeks with imminent holidays, so  very glad I went!

Home, Daft Punk on, and time to start getting ready. Shower completed, but outfit not yet defined. Hmmm I might be delayed. After streaming through the racks in my wardrobes several times I settled upon an All Saints white T shirt with explosive clouds on the front and denim shorts.

Facebook was starting to warm up and various other old friends and school friends were coming out of the woodwork to confirm they were attending the festival. This could be a mini school reunion.

Finally ready, and time to head to Wisteria Lane in Berkhamsted (aptly nicknamed as two good friends live next door to each other) for a pre Chilfest chill, where my good friends were waiting and preparing a sumptuous mid afternoon buffet and endless jugs of Pimms. The sun beat down upon us as we listened to oodles of 80s music.

It was almost disappointing to leave this perfect England garden afternoon and haul our sunkissed bodies to Pendley Meadow. We were not allowed picnics or to bring in alcohol, so reliving our naughty school days, we entered with our Evian bottles emptied of their intended contents and filled to the brim with vodka. This foresight would indeed serve us well, but more on that later.

We arrived at 6.30pm for a 7pm start and there was a buzz in the air. I had my small green manbag which was dutifully searched. The attendant asked if I had alcohol in there and when I answered in the negative, he said ‘Why not!’ and laughed. We found a good spot just over halfway back and laid out our non matching picnic blankets to create a patchwork effect. Diet coke was purchased from the ice cream van with the purpose of mixing with the vodka, but there was a problem. The queues for the actual bars for those wanting beer and wine were humungous. People were reporting having to queue for 30 minutes plus. The situation worsened and patrons were queuing for upwards of an hour and a half! Several members of our party headed to the pub, and others to Tesco to get some drink. That was disappointing but the show must go on, and we had flowing vodka to keep us sated.

A good friend Luisa was there with her husband and brother and I headed down for a ‘hello’ and catch up. She was quite near the front. I had a wry smile as this was no Glastonbury, and picnic blankets were set out with deck chairs aplenty. Territories marked out with side glances at anyone who came close to the corners, but it was all good spirited. I think it was indicative of the average  attendees age!

We then saw another good school friend Jo, who despite having tremendous health problems was there in her deck chair enjoying the sun with her friend Lu. Irrespective of the weather Jo has a very enviable sunny disposition.

First on stage (although I had been performing since arriving) was Hazel O’Connor who looked great in a coral dress, and treated us to her yet strong voice and blasted her old hits, the highlight of which was Will You.

Next came Carol Decker . We headed down towards the front for a close up and sing along once the first few chords of Heart and Soul hit our ears. This was followed by a beautiful rendition of China in Your Hand.

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We were getting more and more into the spirit as the vodka also took greater hold over us.

We headed back out of the crowd. I hunted down another friend Chele (pronounced Che (as in the South American dictator) and lay), who had been without her husband for over an hour while he queued for a drink! We found him and chatted for 15 minutes or so during which time Midge Ure started his set but the queue only progressed about 4 feet! We took a couple of photos and one massive plus was that one of Che’s friend’s mistook me for ‘someone from the telly’. I guess I have that star appeal!  I then left my hopeful friends in the queue, again grateful for the foresight of the vodka stash, and went back to the picnic blankets. Midge Ure was singing Dancing with Tears in their Eyes, and I had a flashback to the haunting video of a nuclear holocaust, as families headed home to die together. Nostalgia filled the fields.

Howard Jones was next on stage. Another friend Iain and I headed down towards the front again as Howard churned out the old hits, putting a new dance spin on a couple and demonstrating his ability with electronic music. Iain and I agreed, in an older kind of way ‘Modern electronic doesn’t have a patch on this!’. Howard’s voice was pretty unchanged but he did look like a little old man, maybe even hobbit-esque as he moved around the stage, with hair nowhere near as impressive as his 80s heights.

We reassembled as a group and headed into the crowds for some Rick Astley and Tony Hadley, the vodka taking its hold on pretty much all of us.

The party didn’t end there, and we walked to local friend’s home for an after party. The bar flowed freer, we pumped up our jam and danced until a little after 2am.

Suffice to say Sunday was a much quieter affair!

TNW