Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Quick hits


I've read somewhere that poetry is the art of saying a lot with a few words.  That seems quite a modern view and probably isn’t something that Homer, the unknown writer of Beowulf or even Keats would have necessarily agreed with but there’s something to be said for it none the less.  Often a book will try to open a door to a particular experience or feeling using sheer weight of words.  And sometimes a poem will fit easily into an unseen keyhole and open it with the slightest twist.

Scots poet Norman MacCaig used to say in reply to the question  "How long does it take to write a poem" that usually it was "about a cigarette" or "two cigarettes for a long poem". I’m rather skeptical about this as I find his work sparse, spare but beautifully crafted and I can’t believe that he resisted the urge to go back later and to tidy up. I think in many ways it’s harder to find a single word that works than it write a sentence or paragraph. When you have the freedom to write you can chase the meaning around the page before eventually pinning it down in submission. A single word is hard.
I’ve tried to be economical and ruthless with the writing and editing of these two poems. Flowers was originally twelve lines long and now it’s down to five. I thought I’d better post them while I still have something.
‘Flowers’ is about a month old, ‘Bookcase’ a little longer.

Flowers
I wished I could have curled the sunlight
around the plain stem of my words,
twisted strips of bright sky into blooms,
and wrapped them in the blue morning.
When I realised it was you that I had met today.

Bookcase
The bookcase looms
Square-shouldered.
Five gaping mouths,
crammed with teeth.
One of us will eat the other
And I’m the hungrier.

David Millington
Nottingham
23rd November 2011

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review - Poland 3 Iran 2/Births, Deaths and Marriages - 7th June 2011 - Nottingham

Tonight’s main attraction was to be 30 Bird’s Production of ‘Poland 3 Iran 2’, billed as ‘The Perfect Pub Conversation about football, fathers, revolution, swimming, chess, love and Subbuteo’, but first up was Gareth Morgan’s piece, ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages: Nottingham Forest, my father and me’.

Births, Deaths and Marriages: Nottingham Forest, my father and me
Morgan’s piece is, as you’d expect from the title autobiographical, but was performed tonight by Richie Garton, who stood in for the absent author.  It concerns details of his birth, his formative experience in becoming a Forest fan and his relationship with his father through this shared love.  The twist is that the piece is designed to be performed on a coach as it takes us to tonight’s main show at the Forest Ground, via Morgan’s birthplace in Sherwood.  And it was this twist that was the problem with the show.  Garton tried to synchronise the script with the locations we were passing but this often led to timing difficulties or to him trying to fill time as we waited to get to the next location.  The final passage, which didn’t rely on the synchronicities of narration and place was by far the best bit as Morgan/Garton rediscovered his bond with his team, his home and his father and reconciled his twin loves of theatre and Forest. 
Despite the difficulties of traffic and geography Garton brought a charm and likability to the piece that well suited Morgan’s honest and touching writing. An interesting concept that needs more thought if it’s to really work but a worthwhile and diverting exercise.
Poland 3 Iran 2

 ‘Poland 3 Iran 2’ is performed by the artist Chris Dobrowolski and writer/director Mehrdad Seyf, with the aid of a large screen and a laptop that projects photos, maps and film to support their stories.   I say performed, but the impression gained was, as advertised, more of overhearing a particularly animated pub conversation between two great storytellers with a lot of great stories to tell.  Iranian born Seyf deals with the more political aspect of the show, mixing the comic tale of his parent’s courtship, his childhood in Iran and the time his father and uncle spent in prison for political crimes.  Dobrowolski’s stories focussed more on him growing up in Essex with comic reminiscences about holidays in Poland, Panini football stickers and being the sort of child who used football as a springboard for both his imagination and as a focus for his nerdiness.  Both men were able to be funny without trying too hard and be reflective without being sentimental.
The joy of the show was the way that the two men, who’d taken very different roads through life, were able to find resonances between themselves and their experiences.  Parallels between their childhoods, their relationships with their fathers, revolutions in their countries and their love of the beautiful game all drifted into and out of focus throughout the show.  That the audience were free to sit back and enjoy the stories as simple anecdotes or to fit them into a larger narrative added to the show’s quality.  The pacing  throughout was excellent and the visual aids, as you’d expect from an artist, were very well thought out and added a lot to the evening. 
Poland may have beaten Iran 3-2 at the Montreal Olympics in the titular game, but tonight the winner was theatre.  Another great show from NEAT/Hatch.

David Millington
7th June 2011
Nottingham

Monday, June 6, 2011

Review - The Cries of Silent Men – 5th of June – Nottingham Castle (Hanby and Barrett)

For theatregoers, 9pm on a chilly June Sunday evening in the grounds of Nottingham Castle is unusual territory in all senses, but it was a good sized and well wrapped up audience who were in attendance for this production of Hanby and Barrett’s ‘The Cries of Silent Men’.  This play was originally developed as a ‘site specific’ piece of community theatre, designed to be performed outside, in a particular location, by people from that location and its surrounding communities, but had been transplanted to Nottingham Castle for the NEAT Festival. 
The Cries of Silent Men

The play deals with the events at nearby Beauvale Priory and the order of Monks who called it home, during the reformation of the mid to late 1530’s.  This turbulent period of English history saw Henry VIII, with the political and religious facilitation of Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer (another local man), split the English Protestant Church away from Catholic Rome.  These events were of immense political significance across Europe, but also cut to the heart of each devout Christian in England, who had to decide whether God’s anointed King (Henry) or God’s anointed Priest (the Pope) was his authority on Earth. 
Andy Barrett’s script did a terrific job of balancing the need for exposition with storytelling, of contrasting the affairs of state against personal religious conviction and of setting Cromwell’s worldly pragmatism against the monk’s sacred idealism.  The characters never felt like ciphers and the Angelic visions and the reoccurring symbolism of the roses and petals, helped to ground the monk’s religious convictions in a reality that made their piety understandable and plausible.  Finally some sly references to England’s laws being unjustly set by a European Potentiate showed how history can repeat itself and gave the play some contemporary resonances.
The cast, drawn from the people of the community around Beauvale Priory, handled the script confidently and well.  The language was, almost without exception, well spoken and audible, not always easy in an outdoors situation close to the city centre and despite the large cast of characters the audience were well able to follow what was happening.  Ian Baxter and Russell Waters playing monks the doubting Thomas Dookmer and the capable Richard Wakefield respectively, were particularly good.
The production also made the most of the castle grounds in its imaginative staging and direction.  A passage that saw the angel appear atop the castle wall, whilst we heard the wind rustling in the trees and chanting in Latin echoing up from the stone tunnel was particularly atmospheric and really did transport the audience to another time and place.  A later scene set on a more conventional stage, cleverly used a wooden frame first to place Henry VIII in a familiar portrait pose and then acted as first gallows and then scaffold for the bloody executions than end this tale.  Costumes, props and lighting all played their part in creating a seductive atmosphere.
This tremendous show, strong in all departments, was a wonderful example of what can be achieved by community theatre.  It showed how with the right material and creative direction, memorable productions can be staged in unique venues.  I hope that more established theatres follow this lead to create similarly ambitious new pieces.
(also available on LeftLion - http://www.leftlion.co.uk/articles.cfm/id/3708

David Millington
5th June 2011
Nottingham

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review - Lady Chatterley's Lover - Hull Truck on Tour - 25th May 2011 - Lakeside Nottingham

Over 80 years after its initial publication, ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ by Nottinghamshire literary giant D.H.Lawrence is still, in approximately equal measure, as notorious as it is famous. This notoriety comes from the fact that the novel was not published openly in Britain until 1960 due to the sexual explicitness of its depiction of an adulterous relationship between a working class man and an upper class woman. Can this touring production of a new adaptation by Nick Lane of the Hull Truck Company, who also directs, make light of this baggage to get at the themes of Lawrence’s novel?
Lady Chatterley's Lover - Hull Truck Programme Image

The play opens with Lady Chatterley herself (Amie Burns Walker) walking out on her marriage to the wheelchair bound Sir Clifford Chatterley (Frazer Hammill) to be with Mellors (Karl Haynes), the estate’s gamekeeper and eponymous lover. The story then unfolds in flashback, with Sir Clifford as the main narrator but with Lady Chatterley and Mellors each taking turns to shed light on events and their inner life.
The three actors remain on stage throughout the production, taking on the parts of the other characters as needed and handling the minimal scene changes. Their performances were good, Frazer Hammill bringing out the complexities of the ineffectual and weak Sir Clifford and Karl Haynes giving Mellors the depth he needs beyond being a woman’s fantasy ‘bit of rough’. Amie Burns Walker, in her touring debut, fares less well as the underwritten Lady Chatterley who never quite feels as rounded as the other main characters but she quickly brings to life the smaller roles of Hilda Reid and Bertha Coutts.
The fragmented structure of the play allows the story to shift rapidly between time periods and viewpoints, allowing geographically and temporally dispersed events to happen side by side on stage. These rapid shifts are occasionally confusing as an actor moved from scene to narration to scene. Clearer signalling of these shifts by the lighting and sound design and direction could have helped, but this momentary disorientation is rare and generally the device is handled well. The music set the mood nicely and complimented the more emotional scenes effectively. The lighting design was less eloquent and sometimes could have been more imaginatively used. The set, a junkyard ring of clutter around the stage didn’t inform the action and seemed unnecessary and distracting.
The script was a little overcooked in places, the obstacle of class barriers between the lovers seemed to be shrugged off rather easily and the political concerns of the book are not fully explored but the production makes the sensible decision to focus instead on the relationship between the three main characters. Adapting such a well known work could be a thankless task, with those familiar with the book unhappy about what’s been omitted and those new to the story feeling that they’re not getting the full picture but Nick Lane has managed to create a play that feels self contained and satisfying and a production that, while not without flaws, is both absorbing and enjoyable.

David Millington
25th May 2011
Nottingham

Monday, May 16, 2011

Review - Rufus Hound - 'Just the Tonic' - Nottingham - 15th May

Roger Monkhouse

Just the Tonic is pleasantly full for a Sunday night and host Roger Monkhouse has a kind smile for the expectant crowd.  He’s a genial and reflective host, his saggy t-shirt, shorts and sandals a far cry from what you might expect from a whip-sharp comedy club compere but his gentle demeanour hides a sharp observational wit and a willingness to cross lines that you wouldn’t expect from his disarming exterior.  The audience are initially quiet, except for the couple from Mansfield on the front row, for whom the presence of electric light and a roof are enough to stir into a fever pitch of excitement, but are soon warmed for our first act, Philberto.


Philberto

Ted Bovis, the comedy guru from 80’s sitcom ‘Hi-De’Hi’ used to offer his protégé Spike the wise advice “First rule of comedy Spike, never insult your audience”.  Philberto has clearly not sat at the feel of the great Bovis and opens with a series of jokes and observations that initially wrong foot the crowd.  After this wilfully unsteady start Philberto gradually wins them over, steadfastly refusing to play to them and rather drawing them into his world and then onto the palm of his hand.  If I told you my favourite line of his was a response to a female heckler “I’ve got a massive cock but it’d be lost in your mouth”, you might think he was a crude comedian, but he really isn’t.  It’s a hard act to categorise and it’s all the more enjoyable for that.  He doesn’t seem quite sure if his act is character based or gag based and it’s to his credit that he could take it either way and still be a big success.  As good as Philberto is now, you feel there’s a lot more to come from this talented young comic.

Rufus Hound

In contrast, Rufus Hound is a performer who’s already made it.  He’s is a well known face from programmes as diverse as ‘Richard and Judy’ and Charlie Brooker’s ‘You Have Been Watching’, as well as being the winner from ‘Let’s Dance for Sports Relief’ where his version of ‘Fight for your Love’ triumphed.    For a performer who is so effortlessly funny and sharp on all manner of TV shows, he seems curiously unsure of himself tonight.  As he says to us a couple of times, “I should be on a big tour and have a DVD, but I can’t write those sort of jokes”.  After a funny but uninspiring opening section, on what could probably be categorised as ‘sexual politics’, he moves on to tackle religion and the meaninglessness of life.  While the act never loses its way, the out and out jokes rather dry up and it’s a steady polite laughter that rolls around the room rather than something more spontaneous and gut-felt.  He rallies for a more conventional finale and leaves a happy crowd and to a fine ovation but there’s definitely a sense that we’ve seen a performer who, while not in crisis, is grappling with his chosen medium.  Lesser comedians would be content to milk the sort of popularity he enjoys but he’s clearly chafing under the constraints he feels he’s operating under as a ‘TV funnyman’.  Hound is unquestionably very sharp and very witty when operating in the narrow confines of a panel show format.   When given more space to fill on his own he’s much less sure of his direction.  I’ll look forward to him finding the best medium to explore his ideas but I’m not sure it’s stand-up comedy and I strongly suspect he’s not sure either.
Overall it’s a typically entertaining, clever and ambitious night in front of a generous and switched on crowd.  Once again ‘Just the Tonic’ shows why it’s the best place to watch comedy in Nottingham.

David Millington
15th May 2011
Nottingham

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The 30 Day Song Challenge - The Final List

(The first song is on the first of April and the final one on the 30th.)
Day 01 - your favorite song                                              Colin Hay – ‘Waiting for my real life to begin’
Day 02 - your least favorite song                                     Black Eyed Peas – ‘My Humps’
Day 03 - a song that makes you happy                            The Buggles – ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’
Day 04 - a song that makes you sad                                  Nick Drake – ‘Black Eyed Dog’
Day 05 - a song that reminds you of someone                 The Wannadies – ‘You and Me Song’
Day 06 - a song that reminds you of somewhere             The Glenn Miller Band – ‘In the Mood’
Day 07 - a song that reminds you of a certain event       - The Stone Roses – ‘Fool’s Gold’
Day 08 - a song that you know all the words to The Airbourne Toxic Event – ‘Sometime Around Midnight’
Day 09 - a song that you can dance to                               The Blueboy – ‘Remember me’
Day 10 - a song that makes you fall asleep                        I Am Kloot – ‘No fear of Falling’
Day 11 - a song from your favorite band                           The Hold Steady - ‘Stuck Between Stations’
Day 12 - a song from a band you hate                                Limp Bizkit – ‘Rollin’
Day 13 - a song that is a guilty pleasure                             Idina Menzel - ‘Defying Gravity’
Day 14 - a song that no one would expect you to love     Take That - ‘Back for Good’
Day 15 - a song that describes you                                     - A Camp - ‘The Bluest Eyes in Texas’
Day 16 - a song that you used to love but now hate          -  Happy Mondays - ‘Step On’
Day 17 - a song that you hear often on the radio                Cut Copy - ‘Need You Now’
Day 18 - a song that you wish you heard on the radio      - Grace Petrie  - ‘Emily Davison Blues‘
Day 19 - a song from your favorite album                              Pavement  - ‘Cut Your Hair’
Day 20 - a song that you listen to when you’re angry       British Sea Power  - ‘Remember Me’
Day 21 - a song that you listen to when you’re happy      Bloc Party  -‘I Still Remember’
Day 22 - a song that you listen to when you’re sad            Caitlin Rose -  ‘Dead Flowers’
Day 23 - a song that you want to play at your wedding    Moulin Rouge  OST - ‘Come What May’
Day 24 - a song that you want to play at your funeral       Bon Iver - ‘Re.Stacks’
Day 25 - a song that makes you laugh                    - Otis Lee Crenshaw  - ‘He almost looks like you’
Day 26* - a song that you can play on an instrument          Drive by Truckers - ‘The Deeper In’
Day 27 - a song that you wish you could play                     Richard Thompson - ‘Beeswing’
Day 28 - a song that makes you feel guilty                          - The Wonderstuff  - ‘Can’t Shape Up’
Day 29 - a song from your childhood                                   - Brotherhood of Man - ‘Angelo’
Day 30 - your favourite song at this time last year             The Replacements  - ‘Answering Machine’
*Includes video performance by author...

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Day 30 – The 30 Day Song Challenge – Your favourite song this time last year...

Song 30 – Your favourite song this time last year – ‘Answering Machine’ – The Replacements

The Replacements
The final song, my favourite song a year ago, would probably be my favourite song of now.  That would make for a nicely circular but rather boring finish to this series of blogs so I’ll pick a song that I was listening to an awful lot at this time last year.
'Answering Machine' - The Replacements

This is an album track from the ‘Let It Be’ record by The Replacements.  Once again it’s one man singing and playing a guitar but is very different from the acoustic songs that I already picked.  The vocal is ragged, hoarse and raw.  The guitar is scuzzy and played in a style that you couldn’t get close to on an acoustic instrument and there are even a couple of samples playing away in the background.  The lyric, about the agony of trying to reach someone through something as impersonal as an answering machine, is dated and yet curiously relevant with the array of emails, texts and voicemails that we have now.  They’re all ways of allowing two people to communicate but often prevent them from really reaching each other.  Sometimes you just need to hear that human voice.
Art Brut - The Replacements

The Replacements are an alternative American band, formed in 1979, who released a series of critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful albums in the early to mid 1980s.  I’m afraid to say I’d never heard of them, until I heard a song about them by the band ‘Art Brut’...
 “I can’t believe I’ve only just heard of The Replacements, some of them are old enough to be my parents”
...sings Eddie Argos on the track.  I think Art Brut are great and so I hunted out a copy of ‘Let It Be’ which is reckoned to be their best album (no.15 in the ‘Best Albums of the 1980’s in Rolling Stone’s 1990 poll).  It’s certainly an excellent record and worth having a listen to.
The other song I was playing to death a year ago was ‘The King of Spain’ by ‘The Tallest Man on Earth’.  I’ll pop it on here too as it’s a lot more jolly and so is a nicer way to finish the songs I’ve posted.  It was around a year ago but here he is performing it on 'Later with Jools Holland' a couple of weeks ago.
'King Of Spain' - The Tallest Man On Earth 

Well we made it to the end!  It was a little touch and go on a couple of days but I managed to hit the ‘post’ button before midnight each day, even if it was a little closer to midnight that I would have liked.  I’ll post the full list tomorrow and probably examine it overall next week to see what patterns I can see.
Thanks for reading along.  I hope I reminded you of some old favourites, maybe introduced you to some new ones and at least made you appreciate your own music more!

David Millington
30th April 2011
Nottingham

Friday, April 29, 2011

Day 29 – The 30 Day Song Challenge – A Song from your childhood...

Song 29 – A song from your childhood...’Angelo’ – Brotherhood of Man

Brotherhood of Man
I’d actually forgotten all about this but it came on the radio a week or so ago and suddenly it all came back to me.  Brotherhood of Man were a sort of Northern club circuit version of Abba.  Their best know song is probably the Eurovision winning ‘Save your Kisses for me’ but this is the one that sticks in my memory.

Brotherhood of Man - Angelo


I probably picked up on it because there was a story in the lyrics so it was an easy song for a child to follow, just another nursery rhyme really.
For some reason there was a schoolyard version of this song as well.  I do remember singing the words...
“Long ago, high on a Mountain called Rattern Row,
there lived a young boy called Fostero,
he had a skateboard that wouldn’t go.

Down the street,
Faster and faster like Barry Sheene”
(Rattern Row is a street in Wadworth, the village where I grew up.  I can vaguely remember ‘Foster’, a kid a few years older than me but couldn’t give you his name (Neil perhaps?).  Fans of 1970’s motorbike racing will remember Barry Sheene as a legendary 70’s sportsman.)
I don’t know if there was any more than this.  I’ve no idea where this came from but it must have been something on TV that was changed by some particularly quick witted kid.
The song is a huge knock-off of Abba’s ‘Fernado’ (the song that Alan Partridge named his son after of course) but it’s kind of fun and catchy.  It stuck in my 5 year old brain anyway.  I wasn’t to hear the Sex Pistols, who released ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ that year, for another 10 years or so.

David Millington
29th April 2011
Nottingham

Celebrating the Royal Wedding


So, after weeks of feeling mostly indifferent to the Royal Wedding I suddenly seem to have an opinion on it.  I’ve struggled to care about it, having no emotional capital invested in ‘William and Kate’, but also couldn’t find it in me to be particularly cynical about the occasion itself or to view it as a reason to attack the monarchy.  There are hundreds of other weddings happening today between couples I’ve not met, so why care about that one?  But to use someone’s wedding day to raise issues of the relevance of the monarchy and the place they have in our country seems churlish.
I think the moment it suddenly got to me was seeing, on the BBC website, a picture of a couple of girls, in wedding dresses, beaming away and heading out to watch the wedding.  They looked like they were going to a giggly fancy dress party, aware of the silliness of what they were doing but not caring at all because it’s fun.  They didn’t look like die-hard monarchists or seem to be from the more eccentric end of Royal fandom.  They had their own idea of what the royal wedding was about and that was what they were going to celebrate.  Maybe they were dreaming of meeting their own princes (maybe they will today - how brilliant that would be!), maybe they’ll think about their own wedding day, maybe they’ll just have a fantastic time, buoyed by all that excitement and the camaraderie of the crowd.  Anyway, I was suddenly touched by the whole day and the whole occasion.
I must admit that I did laugh and sneer at the people who’d come from New Zealand and Canada to watch the wedding when they were interviewed on television earlier this week.  But other stories have seen people spending thousands on Olympic Games tickets which isn’t really any more worthy. And other large gatherings of people, at football matches this week, have been tinged with violence and the sort of hatred that leads to bombs being sent to prominent supporters of the opposing team. It’s a long way from the gentle eccentricity of the ‘united nations’ gathered outside Westminster Abbey.  In this context spending all that time and money to celebrate the love of a young couple and to wish them happiness seems more understandable, noble even.
So I’m going to watch the wedding and I’ll drink a toast with my cup of tea to William and Kate.  And I’ll be glad of all the people who’ve seen fit to travel to London from all over the world to be a part of this occasion.  I’m sure that for some it’s about celebrating the monarchy, but I’m sure for many more people around the world it’s about more than that.  They seem to be celebrating a symbol, not of monarchy but of love, of fairytales, of dreams and of happy endings.   That seems worth celebrating to me.  So let’s make this one couple an excuse to wish for joy for all of them.  And let’s dream dreams of happiness today so that tomorrow we can work harder to make them happen. 

David Millington
29th April 2011
Nottingham

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Day 28 – The 30 Day Song Challenge – A Song that makes you feel guilty...

Song 28 – A song that makes you feel guilty...’Can’t Shape Up’ – The Wonderstuff.

The Wonderstuff - HUP - their second album
Feeling guilty is a part of being human.  Life’s a complicated business and even when you do what you’re sure is the right thing you can still end up feeling for the people on the wrong end of your decision.  It’s related to the ability to feel empathy towards people and so it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Equally, guilt can be a crippling emotion.  It can paralyse you and prevent you from moving forward.  Being able to keep a sense of proportion and a sense of reality is important.  The world does not revolve around your actions.  You cannot move through the world without creating ripples, deliberately or otherwise and sometimes these ripples will have an impact on others.  You have to be able to forgive yourself when this inevitably happens.

I don’t feel guilty about much.  Most of my stupid actions have affected me more than anyone else, which is a lucky position to be in.  But I have to pick a song and so I’ve chosen this.  It reminds me of the first girl I ever kissed, my first girlfriend I suppose.  She was really cool, too cool for me really.  I was young and young for my age.  I was a bit freaked out by all these new feelings.  I felt great when I saw her, felt bad when she wasn’t around and didn’t like that someone else could dictate how I felt.  And rather than talk about it, which was far too mature a thing for me to do, I stopped seeing her, retreated back onto safer ground.  I didn’t speak to her, write or phone.  I don’t think I understood just how badly I’d behaved until years later and didn’t understand how much it must have upset her until I was dumped for the first time.  I still feel bad about this and while there are more useful bits of advice I could give to my younger self, I wish I could tell him to talk about it with her and then if I wasn’t happy to behave in a decent way.  So this is something I still feel guilty about.  Is it too late to apologise I wonder? It seems a long time ago but for what it’s worth I am sorry.  I think that in the end my timidity and cowardice cost me more than it did her. How different things might have been if I’d have grown up a bit faster.  For all my cleverness I do miss the point far too often.  This has turned into a confession!  Bless me internet for I have sinned.
The Wonder Stuff - Can't Shape Up - Live 2010

Here’s the best version of this song that I can find.  It’s not great – sorry about that.  The lyrics aren’t particularly relevant, but it was a band we both loved and I certainly felt like I’d run away from someone.  It is a great song, have a listen on Spotify.
The Wonder Stuff - It's yer money I'm after baby

The Wonderstuff!  They were a terrific band, at least for the first three albums.  Their hits are probably their worse records, their cover of ‘Dizzy’ being fairly dull and hugely overplayed at indie discos and ‘Size of a Cow’ also being a little silly.  Have a listen to ‘The Eight Legged Groove Machine’ and ‘Hup’ to hear them at their best.  They’re full of gloriously poppy and catchy snarky guitar songs that would have seen them become a huge band if they’d appeared 10 years later.  Hup has some of their best songwriting on it, with great melodies and lyrics.  Here’s ‘It’s Yer Money I’m After Baby’ and the countryesque ‘Unfaithful’ from Hup.  You can hear how much they developed from the pure power-pop of ‘The Eight Legged Grove Machine’.
The Wonder Stuff - Unfaithful

The Wonderstuff, make their acquaintance or renew it!

David Millington
28th April 2011
Nottingham

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Day 27 – The 30 Day Song Challenge – A Song that you wish you could play...

Song 27 – A song that you wish you could play...’Beeswing’ – Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson


Richard Thompson is a huge cult hero to many people, although he’s someone I came to late, only getting hold of any of his stuff in the last few years.  I fell in love with this song in particular although he is a great songwriter and for those who know (and I’m not in a position to judge) a great guitar player.  I would love to be able to play this as it’s just lovely and if I was good enough to be able to play this then the sky’d be the limit!
Richard Thompson - Beeswing (live, solo)

This song has got the most beautiful melody and his playing of it is divine. It’s simple and understated but with the most luminous passages imaginable.  There’s something medieval or baroque about elements of the tune, but the fiddle and Northumbrian pipes give it a nice folky air too.  I really love the lyric, a love ballad in a traditional style that deals with a real person although not a real relationship.
Richard Thompson - Beeswing (album version - extra instruments!)

Richard Thompson’s had a couple of folk singers from the 1960’s in mind when he wrote this.  Vashti Bunyan and Anne Briggs.  I wanted to talk about Anne Briggs a little more as she was more steeped in the traditional folk scene and the revival, rather than Vashti Bunyan who was more of a pastoral folk player.  You’ll probably have heard Vashti Bunyan as one of her songs was used heavily on a mobile phone advert a couple of years ago.
Vashti Bunyan - Diamond Day

Anne Briggs was born in Beeston, near Nottingham, and raised in nearby Toton by her aunt and uncle.  She cycled with a friend to Edinburgh when she was a teenager and there met the young Bert Jansch who it’s likely first turned her onto Folk Music.  When Ewan MacColl (father of Kirsty and Scottish folk stalwart) was touring England with A.L ‘Bert’ Lloyd (another key figure in the revival) on a TUC sponsored trip, he heard the 16 year old Briggs sing and immediately asked her to sing on stage and then join them on tour.  At 17 she left home and went to London to pursue a music career.  She’s a wonderful primal simple singing style, very different from anything you’d hear now.
Briggs met various people, fell into various relationships and made a number of records.  She spent a number of summers travelling around Ireland in a horse drawn cart, spending the winters in Britain, gigging to raise enough money to make a living.  In Ireland she was heavily influenced by an Irish singing style, ‘sean-nos’ which she applied to traditional English songs and her own compositions.
Briggs was notoriously wild, Richard Thompson himself recalling that he only met her twice and both times she was drunk and unconscious.  It was said that she only turned up to five gigs she’d been booked to play between 1965 and 1967.
She has not returned to a recording studio since 1973 when she was living in the Hebrides.  She still lives in a remote part of Scotland and despite the urging of pretty much anyone who is anyone in the folk scene, where her style and songs were hugely influential, will not return to the recording studio.  She should be a Nottingham music legend (the competition is not strong!) but not many people will have heard her.
Anne Briggs - She Moved Through the Fair

I really like this version of ‘She Moves Through the Fair’, an Irish folk song first collected in 1909.  Anyone who remembers the 1980’s and Simple Minds No.1 hit ‘Belfast Child’ will see that they used this melody.  It’s inspired me to write something too, although more on that another time.
I’ve never heard this song played by Richard Thompson, but almost a year ago to the week I did hear a couple of young Scottish folk musicians play a very fine cover of it in ‘The Ceilidh Place’ (a brilliant bar/restaurant/gallery/bookshop) in Ullapool in the North West of Scotland.  It was one of the highlights of the year, although that was probably to do with the company.  It was a long way down from that moment.  A fantastic place to go, take some good walking gear and a book of Norman McCaig.  It’s another country in so many ways and one you should visit.
Jose Gonzalez - Heartbeats (orig. The Knife)

I’d better get back vaguely on track.  My second choice for songs to be able to play would be this.  It’s got the most amazing video too.  I saw this at the cinema as an advert but it was probably as pleasurable a 3 minutes as I’ve ever spent in front of the silver screen.

David Millington
27th April 2011
Nottingham

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day 26 – The 30 Day Song Challenge – A Song that you can play on an instrument...

Song 26 – A song that you can play on an Instrument...’The Deeper In’ – Drive By Truckers
Me and my guitar

I thought the ’30 Day Song Challenge’ should be made a bit more challenging so I decided to actually play and record my song.  And this isn’t the one that was my first choice, but having not picked up the guitar for ages and not being very good in the first place, this is the one you’ve got!
'The Deeper In' - David Millington (orig. The Drive By Truckers)

‘The Deeper In’ is a song by the ‘southern rock band’ Drive By Truckers.  They’re not a band I know well and they’re a bit too rock for my tastes really but they’ve got some fine songs and if I ever take a road trip across the southern US states, I’ll take all their albums as soundtracks.  The lyric is a little sinister in that it’s about an incestuous relationship, a true story based on the only two people in the US who are currently locked up for this crime.  The title’s based on the saying ‘The closer kin, the deeper in’.  Lovely.  It’s a really nice little song for all the odd subject.  Well, who needs another boring old love song anyway!
I couldn’t find a ‘proper’ version of how it should sound so here’s a live version.
The Drive By Truckers - The Deeper In

I’ve linked to my attempt to sing and play Damien Rice’s ‘Cannonball’ for your entertainment.  I think it’s a really good song, perhaps spoiled for some people by the determination of the record company to use it to ‘break’ Damien Rice by endlessly releasing, remixing and hawking it to film companies to use on soundtracks.  My fingers are too sore to play anymore. In fact typing is no picnic.
 David Millington - Cannonball (orig. Damien Rice)

But while I’m vaguely on the subject of good but unfashionable songs, I’d like to stick up for James Blunt.  I bought ‘Back to Bedlam’ in 1995 off the back of a series of uniformly excellent reviews in the broadsheets and music press.  It was a nice summery album and I thought ‘You’re Beautiful’ was a really good song.  I continued to enjoy it for ages until it crossed over and all of a sudden it was too uncool for the critics to still like.  It’s harsh on James Blunt, although I suppose he can make a big pair of soundproof earmuffs from all the money he made to drown out the critics.
Damien Rice - Cannonball

It’s a funny old business being a male singer songwriter.  Huge success seems totally arbitrary.  Why did James Blunt cross-over and not Stephen Fretwell, Tom McCrae, Cherry Ghost, Amos Lee or a bunch of others.  I really hope my new favourite Benjamin Francis Leftwich manages it anyway.
Pictures - Benjamin Francis Leftwich

He's playing Dot to Dot in May in Nottingham and is the main reason I'm going.

David Millington
26th April 2011
Nottingham