Welcome to The Perfect Curve.

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david garside + band - ceol castle, balsall heath, 16/08/2006

simon gray - 2006-08-20, 12:50:10

in my experience, there are two kinds of bands you're likely to see in a pub. 

firstly, there's the band which is designed to appeal to 'the crowd' - they'll typically be loud & impressive, with lots of guitar solos in practically every song (with the lead guitarist taking at least three axes with them onto the stage) and the obligatory drum solo in the last one, guaranteed to get all da chix cheering along. 

then there's the band which not only the crowd will like, but also any musicians in the audience too. not for this kind of band are the easy wins, the rock clichés. the muso's band relies on quality of performing and originality of songwriting to impress. it is into this category which david garside & band firmly fit. 

the band is basically an acoustic band - acoustic guitar & electric piano (Nick Wiley) being the mainstay, but although it's an acoustic band the sound is still a big sound, ably assisted by drums from Danny Howes & the electric bass of Matthew Cheale.

the actual music is just precisely the kind of songs i always like to hear; not your textbook verse chorus verse chorus dullness, but individual, unique songs in which each one tells its own story, and the music just as integral to the telling of the story as the lyrics (which unfortunately i couldn't hear last night) - think pulp or the divine comedy for the kind of thing i mean. it was also clear that the songs would work equally well whether they were performed as solo singer + guitar, with a band as in last night, and even with a full symphony orchestra alongside the band, if david ever feels that way inclined. 

the nature of the material also means it would work equally well in a variety of venues, be it a pub, the academy, or the theatre at the mac. though i would say there's a potential pitfall for promoters, as the contrast between this band & the loud straightahead clone rock band which followed showed neither in their best lights. 

no review of the concert would be complete without referring to david's trousers - as a piece of advice, just don't try this at home, kids... 

www.davidgarside.com

#birmingham #reviews #CeolCastle

In group Birmingham

paradise dreaming - a city fairytale, by hamfisted - chamberlain square 23/06/2006

simon gray - 2006-06-23, 23:09:18

it's difficult to know where to start with this performance; billed as it was as 'a contemporary performance of shakespeare's a midsummer night's dream', celebrating the wedding of 'helen' and 'dominic'. 

certainly when one arrived at chamberlain square to pick up your ticket (a buttonhole plastic flower) you were given the impression of something promising - if you had seen the setting up of the space in paradise gardens down in front of the conservatoire, you would have seen the potential for something magical. the staging around the chamberlain square fountain was less impressive - but that's ok, because most outdoor performances of amnd i've seen have been minimally staged for the first half; it's all part of that suspension of disbelief, innit? 

in the warm-up before the performance was scheduled to start at 8:30 a number of schoolchildren came in to the space, showing off their circus skills with diabolo, clubs, and unicycle, and did a show comparable with some of my older, hippy, friends. nearer the time a few members of the company started circulating, working to get the audience into our character as wedding guests ("so how do you know the groom, then?"). as a warmup, it was quite good. 

unfortunately, things started to go downhill before the performance proper had even started... 

at around 8:15 the music, by composer and musical director ian chapman, started coming through the pair of speakers either side of the stage. by 8:30, after i'd heard the same four bars of not-particularly-well-executed guitar riff go over and over and over and over again i was losing my initial good mood about the production. 

suddenly, something happenned - we heard the strains of the wedding march start up, and eventually looked behind to see a white rolls royce deliver the bride and groom to us. the wedding party promenaded to the stage, with an enormous train behind the bride's dress which, over the course of getting on for ten minutes (with no dialogue, no other apparent visual action, and four bars of a new incessant riff blasting out of the speakers) was slowly spread out as being the covering for the stage. it was an amusing idea, spoiled by being drawn out like home-made toffee. 

for another five minutes or so (again with no dialogue, action, and the same four bars repeated over & over) the photographer (graeme rose) spent time arranging the wedding party into their photograph. eventually the deed was done, and he revealed himself in a seemingly improvised speech to be puck (or should that have been pcuk in a contemporary setting?), set on making a merry night of mischief. he threw a handful of fairy dust over the father (greg hobbs) of the bride, prompting a change of riff to yet another repeated four bars sounding like a year 7 music class's interpretation of 'spooky' and causing the father to embarrass himself with his improv speech. that out of the way, some more fairy dust was thrown over the mother (sandra hall) of the groom, with the same effect. the bride (rachel priest), suitably upset by the affair, ran off in tears and we were treated to the earlier four bar riff for a while. the groom (paul edwards) looked confused and shouted out "has anybody seen my wife?". it was difficult to resist the temptation to reply "behind you". 

we were then invited, according to the colours of our buttonholes, to follow the flags of the bride and groom down into paradise gardens - one down the spiral staircase in front of the library, the other down the steps outside the conservatoire.

there was no apparent dramatic justification for this, but granted it was quite a clever device to shepherd a large number of people into a smaller space as quickly & efficiently as possible. 

now i had hoped that after this half an hour of scene setting the action would pick up fairly swiftly and we might then get on with the actual play. hope, as they say, springs eternal, and instead there was over ten minutes of watching some musicians, led by a vicar on stilts, parade around and around and around and around the garden doing what i think might have been a year 8's interpretation of 'native american chant'. 

by 9:15, with still nothing having happenned and no sign anything was going to happen in the near future, i'm afraid we decided to cut our losses and go home; on the way down into the gardens we bumped into a friend who had seen the production the night before coming out of the conservatoire, who informed us the second half was even more tediously drawn out than the first. we left wondering whether it was supposed to have been a performance with a defined start and finish, or whether really it was supposed to be an installation which you wander around for five or ten minutes, think "that's very nice", and then go off to the pub. 

birmingham alive! does actually have an editorial policy on bad reviews; we're much less likely to write and publish a bad one than a good one, working on the basis that ultimately they're up there doing it and we're sitting comfortably in the audience risking nothing. the circumstances for publishing a bad review basically are either 'has this poor performance actually taken away the opportunity for somebody else to have done something much better', or 'have people been ripped off by paying good money for rubbish'. 

now, the audience didn't have to pay anything, but the production itself clearly cost a lot of money - certainly thousands. this was money provided by sponsors and out of the public purse, money which could have been spent on some real quality community performing arts work, money which could have been spent on a really good outdoor performance bringing shakespeare to the modern audience. so much obvious potential ended up being so much down the drain. 

according to the back of the programme: "hamfisted! is a birmingham based, experimental arts company that produces live theatre, interactive interventions and visual arts projects, in conventional and unconventional spaces, in professional and community contexts, all with the aim of putting smiles on people's faces". i've seen some excellent community arts work and participated in some not-so-good professional work, but at the end of the day this performance had to be judged on the merits of what was presented - of which there were few. 

'experimental' should not be a synonym for 'unprepared'; 'improvised' should not be a synonym for 'unrehearsed', and 'community' should not be a synonym for 'mediocre'. the point of experimental arts and improvisation is that you spend time honing your craft and skills in smaller-scale workshop environments, and then when you know you can pull off experiments which will work you present to the wider public. when the experiment should obviously never have left the workshop, it gives the whole genre a bad name. i hope the result of this production is not that audiences and funders are put off experimental arts for a long time.

#birmingham #reviews #ChamberlainSquare

In group Birmingham

Jerry Springer: the Opera - Birmingham Hippodrome, 07/02/2006

simon gray - 2006-02-07, 23:03:46

Bill of Rights 
Amendment I
 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
 

Such is the above extract from the constitution of the USA quoted on the first page of the programme for Jerry Springer: the Opera - which is widely interpreted as being the part of the constitution which guarantees the people the right to free assembly, to protest, to speak freely, and to enjoy and practice their religious beliefs (or lack of them) without interference or favour from the State. 

Of course, the USA constitution does not apply to us (no matter how much George W Bush would wish it to be so), but many of its principles are sound enough, based on the British legal system anyway. And, in fact, the British constitution protects freedom of speech and religion perhaps more vigourously - the constitution position in Britain is that everything is lawful unless there's a specific common or statutory law to prohibit it. 

During this past week, as the controversy over the publishing of the cartoons depicting Mohammed has escalated into deaths and the Government's Religious Hatred Bill passed into law (though significantly amended), we have ironically seen much more hatred coming fromreligion than directed towards it. So as I approached the Birmingham Hippodrome theatre for the show I did wonder what kind of reception would meet me outside; in the end, there was little more than a handful of Christian protesters outside, mostly singing songs with one man acting as a street preacher. During a short gap in his shouting I tried to engage him in discussion about his views, but sadly he didn't seem to have any of his own - always giving the answer "it doesn't matter what my opinion is, this is what the Bible says". I had little more success with the different set of protesters after the show - one woman I tried to talk to (who told me I obviously know nothing about religion) said she was "too busy to talk because I'm handing out these leaflets". You can't beat good dialague, eh? 

It has been agreed that nobody has the right not to be offended, though it has been said a lot recently that nobody has the obligation to deliberately cause offence. But is that truly the case? It is the job of satirists to 'prick the bubble of pomposity and hypocrisy'. By it's nature, satire cannot work unless it is offensive - tame satire is no satire at all, and pricks no bubbles and effects no change. The response of those who are satirised and offended should be to examine what it is about themselves which has prompted the satire, rather than to demand its removal.

Extreme evangelical Christians denounce the show as blasphemous; but to paraphrase another, what is the greater blasphemy - seeing Jesus in a nappy saying he might be 'just a bit gay', or abortion doctors receiving death threats, people in Northern Ireland living in fear of the gun and the mortar as a result of their allegiance (or otherwise) to the Pope, or gay people being harrassed, spat at, and condemned simply because of who they are? And there is the matter of the portrayal of Jesus himself; as co-writer Richard Thomas himself put it, "Evangelical Christians lost all right to object to ways in which Jesus is portrayed when Christian bookshops started selling nodding Jesus dolls to put on the dashboards of their cars". 

The show itself is a masterpiece, deserving the critical acclaim it has received. The first half presents a typical Jerry Springer show, complete with cheating husbands, gay transvestites, fetishists, white supremacists, and a somewhat over-eager warm-up man; you could be forgiven for thinking you're watching the real thing. Come the second half, and the action shifts to Hell where Satan has commanded (it's either that or barbed wire in an uncomfortable place) Jerry to put on a special edition of the show in order to try to extact an apology for his treatment over the millenia, concluding with Jerry's 'final thought' that good and evil are actually shades of grey rather than the black & white we normally see on his show. The music ranges from the usual broadway musical through to a duet which could have been lifted straight from Mozart's Don Giovanni, and the sets and costumes whilst not lavishly expensive are more than good enough to suspend your disbelief. The only thing which was a weakness in the performance was the sound balance - all the actors were amplified much too loudly, drowning out the band and leading to poor sound quality. 

It's fair to say that one doesn't necessarily need to have seen something in order to object to it - but if you're going to protest against something, you really ought to ensure you have the facts. All the protesters I spoke to admitted they had not seen the play, and were in fact basing their objections solely on what they'd read or been told by their pastors. This was very much evident by the innaccuracies in what they were claiming; for example, the last paragraph of the afforementioned leaflet saying "God is not the 'fascist tyrant on high' as Jerry Springer: the Opera mocks" - if the author had actually seen it, they would have seen the play does not portray God as any kind of tyrant, fascist or otherwise, completely the opposite, in fact; "It's not easy being me, millions of voices making all the wrong choices and passing on to me the blame" is his lament when he makes his visit to the Hell studio. Which is the ultimate irony - in actual fact, Jerry Springer: the Opera did not set out to satirise Jesus, Christianity, or even religion in general. The point of the play is to criticise the kind of society which has given rise to programmes such as The Jerry Springer Show and which laps them up like cats around a bowl of milk. If the protesters were to stop and think for a while, they might find they actually agree with most of it.

#birmingham #reviews #Hippodrome

In group Birmingham

Jansen Ensemble - symphony hall, 18/10/2005

simon gray - 2005-10-18, 22:59:28

the three baroque concertos (or concerti, if you really are an italian) from tuesday evening's concert all stem from the body of music which treads the line between chamber music & orchestral music; indeed, prior to the rise of the so-called 'authentic performance' movement would often have been performed as orchestral works. 

the jansen ensemble, led by violinist janine jansen, whilst not quite performing in the totally authentic camp were certainly well in the spirit of it - a single player per part, & the musicians all (where feasible) standing to play rather than taking it easy on the award-winning symphony hall chairs. 

opinion is still divided as to whether there is a right or wrong way to perform baroque music, but for myself i certainly prefer to hear it cut back to the minimum, in order that the baroque twiddly bits (which are, after all, the point of the genre !) can be heard, & you still get a 'big' sound. performing this way also assists in holding to the original baroque idea of a concerto which was more of a piece having a featured instrument(s) but with the rest of the ensemble being just as important, rather than the later concept of a definite soloist with mere accompaniment from the orchestra. 

in the first half of the concert we heard two bach concertos - the concerto in d minor (bwv 1052)& the concerto no. 2 in e major (bwv 1042)

to my mind, bach is, well, bach really; music students mimic bach as technical harmony exercises, & one of his most famous works, the collection of keyboard studies known as thewell-tempered clavier was written less as music to be listened to by an audience & more as a showcase for the great new tuning system he was wishing to promote. 

most of his concertos were recycled from one instrument to the other, often in a hurry to meet a tight deadline, thus establishing bach in his time as being more of a composer of library choons than the precious bohemian artist we usually associate composers with. 

so for the most part it's difficult for me to get worked up about his music - generally, people will either play it well or they won't, without as much scope for getting serious emotion in there as with later work.

the jansens were definitely in the well department, though occasionally at times i did detect some of the ensemble playing go a little awry - it was then that i realised they were visibly playing less as a group & more as individuals playing together, without the visible interaction & playing (in the sense of a game) which separates the good from the great. this though could be excused with the knowledge that their usual first violinist was taken ill before the concert, replaced almost literally at the last minute by melinda madozzi

the second half of the concert was the main event - vivaldi's four seasons. commonly presented as a single work, it is actually four separate pieces which are themselves part of a body of 12 concertos collectively titled the trial between harmony & invention, catalogued as vivaldi's opus 8

this thus lead to the embarrassing moment at the end of the first concerto, spring, which a few members of the audience thought was the correct time to applaud - clearly though whether they were right or not, they gave in to the peer pressure of the majority keeping their hands to themselves for the rest of the evening until the very end. classical music applause etiquette does amuse me, especially given that outside white british culture audiences will generally clap whenever they feel the performance deserves it rather restricting themselves to the 'correct' time to do so! 

vivaldi has always been a baroque favourite of mine, & it was clear he's a favourite of the jansen's too - although some of the ensemble difficulties of the first half were still present, & some of the endings it has to be said were a bit sloppy, the interaction between them was much more evident, as was the joy of performing vivaldi's music. 

overall, janine jansen & her ensemble, whilst still having work to do before the artist-marketing-epithet "leading international performers" will genuinely apply, gave a concert which, though not life-changing, was definitely respectable & creditable. on leaving the hall i heard somebody behind me, in his early-20s so perhaps a music student, say to his colleague "technically: excellent, musically: very good". i think that's a fair summary.

#birmingham #reviews #SymphonyHall

In group Birmingham

the mexicolas + paperweight industry - bar academy, 22/09/2005

simon gray - 2005-09-22, 01:46:22

i have to admit to feeling a little sorry for the mexicolas after seeing them last thursday at bar academy. if the arguing about them, pro & anti, which took over the birmingham alive forum is representitive of real life, they've got a lot to live up to. 

now obviously a band can't control what people say about them in public, but when that discussion reaches the levels we saw here then you can't help but wonder whether their publicity machine has at least had a little involvement in it. it's a dangerous game to play, though, because when you create such a buzz about something, you've got to ensure you've got the product to match it - & sad to say, i don't think the mexicolas delivered. in any respect. 

in fact, when the previous band, paperweight industry took the stage, i actually mistakenly thought they were the mexicolas, as they had clearly brought a following with them - with audience members pressing right up to the front of bar academy's floor-level stage lead singerpaul ross was never more than a couple of inches away from his most adoring fans. i thought they were a band clearly with a lot of promise, but they need to do a lot more work right now, & maybe consider simplifying in the meanwhile - it's all very well having strong, distinctive songs (as they do), but if those songs are lost because the band has difficulties playing together & keeping their tuning together, & ending sloppily, there's not a lot of point really.

the industry finished their set, & on came the scolas themselves - with the audience drawing back a good few feet, & clapping politely. not actually hostile, since i'm sure everybody had turned up to listen rather than to heckle, but decidedly indifferent. the indifference of the audience was, to be frank, matched by the indifference of the band - they were just banging the songs out & barely making any effort to engage with us. 

apart from that, the songs weren't really anything special, to be honest. now don't get me wrong, i don't want to do them down by saying that - if i'd just turned up at a venue just to see a band or two, not expecting anything or knowing who was playing, i'd have probably thought they were alright. & i do admit for just three players they had a big sound which never thinned. but because i'd been led to believe i was going to see them before they became famous, my expectations were dashed & i was disappointed. 

perhaps they realise that themselves - as they left the stage vocalist jamie evans announced it was probably their last gig for this year, as they're "bored with playing the same shit over & over again". it showed, for sure. 

websites 
the mexicolas - www.themexicolas.com 
paperweight industry - www.purevolume.com/paperweightindustry

#birmingham #reviews #BarAcademy

In group Birmingham

against the wheel - flapper and firkin, 20/06/2005

simon gray - 2005-06-20, 01:42:57

i often see people complaining about the lack of a live music scene in birmingham. whereas there's some truth in it - there's not as much of one as there used to be - it's not really entirely true. you might have to look for it, but it is there to be found. 

i say you might have to look for it, but is the flapper & firkin really a hard to find on a monday night? many a band plays there to its gathered crowd of mates (& the other bands sharing the bill), but it seems not many people go out just paying 3 quid (just over the price of a pint in most city centre pubs) to see whoever might be playing on spec; to my shame i realise i've been a bit lacking myself in that respect of late. 

so perhaps that's part of the problem. if more people went out to see more bands they don't know, there would be more incentive to pubs to give more of their space over to live music - & the bands themselves get better with more public exposure & with a bigger crowd to support them.against the wheel at the flapper last night certainly showed they've been getting enough practice lately with roughly a gig a month so far this year, so they've had chance to refine their art - straight ahead loud, energetic, just polished enough to be a tight outfit, yet just still raw enough to have the edge of unpredictability & avoiding sounding safe. 

what i like best about them was the way they just got on with it - no apologising, no faffing about, no pretentious attempts to work the crowd as if it was the nec arena, & no having a different guitar for each song (which usually ends up sounding no different through the ropey pa anyway). i mentioned this to guitarist dan ratcliffe afterwards, & his reply was "yeah, we make it our business to turn up & just do our stuff - that's what it's about for us, we're all about energy". 

energy indeed - see them for yourself next time you can. 

website: www.againstthewheel.com

#birmingham #reviews #flapper

In group Birmingham

gilad atzmon and the orient house ensemble - cbso centre, 22/01/05

simon gray - 2005-01-22, 01:39:14

Under normal circumstances, if you went to a gig by a punk band at the Birmingham Academy on one saturday, you might be forgiven for being somewhat surprised the following saturday at a jazz concert in Birmingham's CBSO Centre to recognise the saxophone player in that gig from the one the week before. 

That's normal circumstances, but anybody who knows anything about band The Blockheads and saxophonist Gilad Atzmon knows that in this case, normal circumstances don't apply. The styling of The Blockheads as a punk band was always whilst in one sense technically true somewhat of an oversimplification - punk lyrics and attitude maybe, but always backed by a hard jazz-funk musical soundworld. An ideal setting in fact for Gilad Atzmon, perhaps one of the most creative musicians on the scene currently, to have his 'other band'. But The Blockheads was the other gig. 

Atzmon's stance is intensely political, and he uses his art, be it as a jazz musician or as the author of two short novels and numerous essays (readable online at www.gilad.co.uk), as the vehicle for his politics. He was born and raised as a secular Jew in Israel in 1963, and spent 20 years witnessing the suffering of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli government and army, eventually moving to England to further his cause from here. Unashamedly outspoken, his book A Guide to the Perplexed was banned in Israel within weeks of being published, and although he strongly affirms the legitimacy and need for a Jewish state he considers his main band The Orient House Ensemble to be just as much a political anti-zionist vehicle as it is a jazz-world group. 

Of this there was no mistake - during the course of the evening we were treated to pieces with titles such as Rearranging the Twentieth Century (dedicated to 'the three most horrible people in the world today - Bush, Blair, & Sharon'), Liberating the American PeopleSurfing(interpreted for us this time by Al-Jazeera as an allegory about Tony Blair's government), andGeorgina and Antonella, about two prostitutes nearing the ends of their 'careers' down the docks.

The political messages were reinforced by the vocal poetry as part of the jazz line, ably delivered by Argentinian Guillermo Rozenthuler. Apparently the last time the Orient House Ensemble played in Birmingham a couple of years ago a number of audience members walked out during the Jenine, dedicated to all those suffering at the Palestinian refugee camp of the same name. That piece was reserved this time for the encore, and the emotion Atzmon feels is clearly genuine. 

Pre-publicity describes the Orient House Ensemble as heavily middle-eastern influenced, though as Atzmon himself said at the end of the concert "we seem to be dropping the Orient from our music; but then if the USA gets its way there probably won't be an Orient left soon anyway", and although there were hints of arabic scales to be heard and the occasional Chinoiserie as he sang down his saxophone, the overall soundworld was more a combination of eastern European sounds with straight-ahead contemporary jazz, though Italian Romano Viazzani's accordian added a very French spice to the mix. 

Although each piece was laden with complexity of sound, rhythm, and dynamic range internally the overall effect was more like the whole concert was less several discrete titles and more movements of a single greater work, with a single overall 'something's about to happen but I'm not sure what' sinister feel reminiscent of the German cabaret jazz of the 20s and 30s - a feel reinforced by a short interlude based on Mack the Knife from Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera

Do politics and music mix? Opinion will always be divided, especially as for the most part people will tend to feel that politics which match their own fit with the music they like to listen. But jazz will always be jazz, and good jazz is the best - and Gilad Atzmon is certainly a proponent of the best jazz, well worth hearing whenever the opportunity arises.

#birmingham #reviews #CBSOCentre

In group Birmingham

Behzti (Dishonour) by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti - birmingham repertory theatre, 20/12/2004

simon gray - 2004-12-20, 01:34:09

I was hoping to be able to write a review of the young Sikh writer Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti's playBehzti (Dishonour) playing at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, but unfortunately I was unable to because it was cancelled before I had chance to see it. So this article is unfortunately going to be on the basis of 'what I've heard about it' rather than what I know to be the facts about it. 

The play is a black comedy set around a Sikh community, focussing on the relationship between Min, an unmarried woman ('past her prime') & Balbir, her sick mother. It was their first trip out together for some time. Min was hoping to meet up with a friend whose birthday it was, but Balbir had other ideas - a trip to their nearby temple. When Balbir meets old friends there a past shocking event is revealed... 

The shocking event in question is an act of murder & of sexual abuse which took place within the confines of the temple - & it was this aspect of the play which provoked such controversy. 

Members of the Sikh community in Birmingham felt this mocked Sikhism, & had been campaigning to have the play cancelled since before it started - in fact, the Rep, together with co-promoter of the play Sampad (the nationally respected South Asian arts agency based in Birmingham) & the writer had been in dialogue with the community since before it went into production. However, accomodations were not reached, especially the crucial request to change the setting from inside the temple to place it instead within a community hall, & since the play opened a peaceful protest had been taking place outside the theatre. 

This protest erupted into violence & rioting a few days into the run when over 400 protesters gathered in the currently cramped Centenary Square, & attempted to storm the theatre, also currently showing in the other house Roald Dahl's The Witches, a play for children. Over 800 people had to be evacuated, windows were smashed, security guards were attacked, & some demonstrators entered the backstage area & smashed equipment. As a result of this, the Rep has reluctantly cancelled the play on the grounds that it cannot guarantee the safety of members of staff & the general public. 

I have always been a passionate advocate of the principles of freedom of speech, & as a principle actually go as far as having the opinion that speech should in an ideal world be absolutely free. As a realist however, I accept that there do have to be some boundaries to that freedom - my free speech ends at the end of your nose, & I accept that speech which actively incites real violence has no place in a civilised society. I fully support the right of the people who were offended by this play to peacefully protest about it - but I also fully support the right of the theatre to perform the play & for the audience to see the play. I cannot support a situation where a mob is able to use violence to silence the voice of another, on any grounds whatsoever, & will always support the voice over the fist.

Parallels have been drawn with Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses. I read that book (it is a very gripping science fiction-esque story, with a slant of black humour in it itself), & with the very basic knowledge of Islam I have was able to see just what caused offence - but cannot see what might warrant the removal of it from the library shelves or the publisher's catalogue, let alone the removal of the author from the earth. I'm also reminded of the similar controversy which surrounded Martin Scorsese's 1988 production of The Last Temptation of Christ, in which Jesus during his torture contemplates whether he really is following God's plan for himself & has a vision of what his life might be if he gives up his mission & settles down to a quiet life with Mary Magdalene (notwithstanding the claims made in the book The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail that he did just that). That film provoked similar violent scenes this time by Christian protesters, most of them having never seen it & unaware that it emphasised the humanity of Jesus in a way entirely keeping with Christian orthodoxy. 

The government is currently pushing through a controversial bill to criminalise religious hatred along similar lines to the existing laws against racial hatred, & some members of Birmingham's Sikh community felt this play (written by a Sikh herself) was an example of the kind of religious hatred this bill is intended to prohibit, though Sikhs as it happens are already protected under existing race relations legislation. Ostensibly to protect minority ethnic cultures, the bill, together with recent events in Birmingham, may well actually provoke far more hatred than it seeks to prevent, as reductio ad absurdam 'political correctness gone mad' arguments are brought up by the political right & as some members of some religions feel the law will feel they will be criminalised by expressing their own faiths - most holy books have passages in them which decry those who don't believe in them in terms which are far from loving, including the Bible & the Qu'ran - & as people who might normally be of a moderate opinion are driven further to the right on the basis of 'what they've heard' & not been able to hear the true facts. The government is right to legislate against acts of hatred, but it must do so very carefully - it should not do so in a way which risks provoking the very kind of hatred it claims to be wishing to prevent, & it should always allow room for people to criticise aspects of any religion which they feel are unwholesome. 

The test for the recent case in Birmingham might be, 'how might people feel if the play was set in a mosque, a Quaker meeting house, a synagogue, or a church' ? The play did not accuse all Sikh religious leaders of committing murder or sexual abuse as part of their faith, it highlighted the conspiracy of silence which can occur in close-knit communities. I think such highlighting is as valid & even essential whatever the colour of that community, & whatever it's faith.

#birmingham #reviews #censorship #theRep

In group Birmingham

Mitch Benn & the Distractions - the glee club, 26/11/2004

simon gray - 2004-11-26, 01:25:00

"Mitch Benn is one of the foremost exponents of musical comedy in the U.K." - so opens the biographical notes in the press material for his current UK tour. 

I'm always somewhat dubious when I see an artist's own publicity manager make such bold claims about their clients, but in the case of Mitch Benn, the statement is more than justified. 

Is he a stand-up comic, is he a singer/songwriter, is he an impressionist, is he a guitarist, is he a bandleader ? For most people, to be able to do one of those well is an acheivement in itself, but Benn is one of those rarities who can actually do all five at once, & do it excellently. 

For his performance at the Glee Club he was unable to provide his usual gimmick, that of an all-female backing band because unfortunately his usual drummer Tasha Baylis was ill that night. A stand-in (male) drummer was hastily recruited for the night, with apologies in advance just in case anything went wrong. Although it was quite sweet watching bass player Kirsty Newton clearly helping him out all evening, the apology was not required as he filled the role almost perfectly with only one minor fluff which was turned into part of the act anyway - a feat made all the more commendable considering the complexity of some of the songs. 

Most of the material from the evening was drawn from Benn's current album, too late to cancel, a mix of satire, parody, & straight comic song. Benn switches seamlessly between different genres - sometimes even within the same track in the case of the Interactive Comic Song Machine where musical genres are matched with comic ones, so you get slapstick in the style of James Brown, or one-liners in the style of U2. In the Please don't release this song, not only does the soundworld sound like a perfect clone of late period John Lennon (remarkable enough considering there are only three members of the band), but if you shut your eyes it could be the man himself singing it. 

Nothing is sacred - if you were a Smiths fan in the 80s (or even at all) taking yourself as seriously as all the Smiths fans I knew did, be prepared to be upset ready to flounce off inSmiths Phase; but no English graduate or fan of the Reduced Shakespeare Company could fail to be impressed by The Tale of Macbeth in the style of Eminem.

Benn himself loathes pretentiousness, & the performance was entirely unpretentious - no big entrances, no poncey stages costumes, & no rushing off backstage immediately at the end of the show led to an evening which very much made the audience feel they'd gone round to a mate's house to listen to his band play a few songs & tell a few stories rather than the all-too-often situation of going to a gig by somebody who considers themself a rock legend. 

Whenever I go to a concert I always like to pay a bit of attention to the audience as well as the band, to see what they are made up of; Benn put it best himself saying "I see I've got the usual eclectic mix of bewildered Radio Four listeners, representitives from 'da kidz', & rapidly ageing thirtysomethings". I myself fit into two out of those three categories... 

The show closed with what seems to be rapidly becoming an anthem in itself - Let's have a minutes noise for John, Benn's aposite tribute to John Peel first heard on Radio Four's The Now Show. All in all, an excellent night out - but if you've not bought the album yet I would recommend leaving it until after you've had chance to see it live. 

My last comment is on the venue itself: strangely, it's the first time I've been to the Glee Club, & I can't say enough how impressed I was what a thoroughly friendly place it is, from the bouncers to the box office staff to the bar staff, all with smiles on their faces as you enter & speaking to you as if both you & they are normal human beings; a far cry from what I've got used to of walking into other places feeling like I'm being treated like a troublemaker before I've even got through the door. I look forward to going again. 

Further information: www.mitchbenn.com

#birmingham #reviews #GleeClub

In group Birmingham

the australian pink floyd - symphony hall, 02/10/2003

simon gray - 2003-10-02, 01:21:03

Just before the show started my colleague recounted an anecdote from an old Pink Floyd interview – “The time will come one day with technology when we’ll be able to just set the equipment up, press a button, & go. In fact the time will come when we’ll be able to send another four people out to do the gig instead of us!”. I don’t think when they said that they envisaged the modern day popularity of tribute bands... 

I’m not sure I really ‘get’ tribute bands; OK, we’ve all been there, from sitting in the music shop with the guitar we can’t afford to buy playing the opening bars of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ (or ‘Purple Haze’ if you’re of a different bent), through to your first few bands from school and college playing mostly other peoples’ songs. But when you’ve developed your ability a bit, you start exploring your creative talents into your own material. So if you have the talent to play another band’s songs so well, why not play your own? 

But on to the gig; the first thing I noticed was that the Aussie Floyd seem to have a bit of a following of their own, with plenty of people walking around with t-shirts sporting pink kangaroos & beams of light refracting through a glass map of Australia. There were a few seats left inside Symphony Hall empty, but it was as near to full as makes no odds which made for a good atmosphere, & compared to Earl’s Court where you might expect the real thing to play turns it into quite an intimate venue, considering. 

The band opened with Wish You Were Here, and I was immediately impressed with the sound the band made together. And just like a real Floyd show, there was a circular bit of scaffolding with a screen behind it onto which animations were projected – with the occasional kangaroo replacing a hammer head or whatever. No lasers, but the spotlights through the smoke-haze I tend to find more interesting anyway. Plenty of strobes abound (& particularly evil putting it on the mirror ball during the encore) – possibly exceeding health & safety guidelines, but imagine how dull a rock concert would be if it complied completely with health & safety guidelines.

Moving on through the rest of the first half, I think I could say ‘mostly good’. The Wish You Were Here material seemed to work the best, & on reflection I think the reason for this is that it was mostly instrumental – some of the singing could be described as OK, but frankly some of it was a lot less than that, to the extent that employing a separate singer & giving him a guitar to pretend to play would have been a good idea; though that said the bass player managed to have difficulty getting some of the notes in The Fletcher Memorial Home quite authentically. The full spectrum of Floyd’s era was covered ranging from Astronomy Domine through One Of These Days, which for a supposed note-for-note recreation missed out the crucial quote from the Doctor Who theme tune, up to The Division Bell. The post-Waters Floyd songs were a bit tedious, but then I’m reliably informed the real thing gets tedious at that point as well. 

The second half was a different matter; we were presented with a complete performance of The Dark Side of the Moon (go on, admit it – you’re saying how seminal it was, but 30 years on just when was the last time you listened to it?) which my colleague, a Floyd expert with a number of books under his belt, described as ‘spooky’. The pace was a little rushed at first, but soon settled down, & became a most excellent performance. DSOTM should always be performed as one complete work rather than songs from it, I always feel, because it’s the only way you can get the true spine-tingling effects. For an encores we were treated to Comfortably Numb, which was also truly excellent. 

Was it Floyd? Well, despite the quotes from other press reviewers, no it well & truly wasn’t, especially at a ticket price approaching what you’ld expect for the real thing. But it’s all a matter of expectation really – do you go to a symphony orchestra concert & expect to see Beethoven himself raised from the dead at the conducting stand, or do expect Sakari Oramo to reinterpret it? If you go into it with the latter point of view you’ll have a good time, with a fraction of the equipment Aussie Floyd do put on a cracking show, but if you want to see the real Floyd, go see the real Floyd. 

#birmingham #reviews #SymphonyHall

In group Birmingham

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