Friday, 30 September 2016


I have said it before about Stoppard. He is just a little bit too clever for his own good. or maybe I mean for his audience's good. Or just me maybe.

That is not say I didn't enjoy Travesties. We had a party of four going to the Meniers Chocolate Factory which is a very welcome change from many other theatres. First its very close to the office - just across the Thames a 10 minute walk. Then it has a very decent restaurant which is well worth going to on its own as a foodie destination. Its ex-industrial use has been turned into an impressive eating space with a raised central platform which means it doesn't feel overcrowded even when full. And with the theatre just through the adjoining door they know what time they have to get folks through for. So we had a nice meal beforehand rather than our usual snatched sandwich.

The play itself certainly has its intellectual bent - on many levels. Our hero is the English ambassador in Zurich (Tom Hollander - best known on TV as the rev in The Rev), and he plays both as an old man in his dotage reminiscing as well as back in 1917 where the events (such as they are) unfold. The story (such that it is) covers his friendship with a Dadaist (played by young Freddie Fox), his relationship with Irish poet in exile, James Joyce, and the presence in the city of Lenin, trying to write in the Zurich library and then escape back to Russia upon the revolution.

However, it is all a rather muddled comedy, but muddled in an intellectual way. Some scenes are looped, so the same scene starts with the same repeated bit of dialogue but then meanders off on a different path. There are some bits of song. There were several brilliant put downs but I can't remember any of them now. But the overall feel is that one is just about hanging on to what is happening in front of you. Any lapse in concentration and it would be gone. You are kept on your toes. Figuratively.

And then in the end, it becomes clear that everything you have just seen may not have happened at all, that the dates of Lenin and Joyce may have been wrong and its all the false memories of an old man.

It is all very well acted (and sung in parts), and justifiably sold out for its entire run in a very small theatre (with high calibre cast for such a small audience). But it is a little hard work.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Peter Hook & the Light

So to celebrate my birthday, my fourth gig of the week. This time going with my mate Kieron and his wife to see former New Order guitarist Peter Hook.

This was a long gig, with them playing all of New Order's Substance album as one "half" a brief interval followed by much of Joy Division's output, culminating inevitably in "Love Will Tear Us Apart", which is almost Indie's version of the National Anthem and Jerusalem combined.

The music was of course great, but two features one couldn't help noting - firstly that Hooky really does struggle with vocals, often becoming inaudible, and secondly such a long set is a lot for a man of his advancing years. You could see him blowing heavily as the stet went on. The band helped a lot .though to get him through. And as I say, the music is great. A celebration indeed. And while a lot of the audience were my age or Kieron's (so a bit younger than me), there were also quite a few who were teens. The music carries on, standing the test of time.

Open House Weekend (well Saturday morning)

I always try to take advantage of Open House Weekend in London and explore some buildings that the public rarely if ever gets the chance to see.

However, with work and other commitments, this was a somewhat truncated trip.

My first stop was in New Burlington Street for an architect led tour of a new office development. So far so boring, but this wasn't a new building, but an old one, and indeed not one old building but two, or at least two listed facades. So the interest is in what was done to make the place fit a new office development. A nice enough atrium, but a little bland.

More impressive were the empty floor plates. They had created large open spaces. Of course sadly its the emptiness that impressed, and when let they will be filled with desks and subdivided. But nice to see in its gleaming state

The striking parts were the windows. On the side that turned into a small side street there were "curved windows". Not curved glass, but just slanted windows, so that the office bends outwards in the middle like a corpulent office worker. The fat middle is a way of extending the floor plate of the middle floor offices, rather like the way Tudor houses jutted out over the road on their upper floors. You get more space than the footing below. And better light on the upper floors (with worse below of course).

The other interesting window feature you can just see at the far end in the photo above is the way that these windows seem cut off at the ceiling. They aren't - the ceiling of the floor doesn't reach quite to the window edges. The problem is that the old windows for the facade didn't leave room for all the services that need to be packed between floors, and also as I said above, this wasn't one building but two so the windows outside are not even all at the same level across the floor.

 The bulge can be seen better here.

 And here is the main street facade. The office space carries right across from the triple bay you can see below to the smaller windows on the right. Inside it looks seamless.

The problem with all the above is just that one was trying too hard to produce big open one size floors for offices to maximise rental, but frankly it would have been nicer to have two buildings. But no doubt less profitable. Some things just don't adapt all that well, however ingenious one is.

From their I took a fairly lengthy walk across to Belgrave Square, a square dotted with embassies. Its a beautiful Square laid out in Greek Revival style in the 1820s by Thomas Cubitt with a dozen houses on each side and 4 mansions filling in the corners. Unfortunately building work in the middle prevented a good view of the whole.

 My first visit was the most interesting of the day, top the Romanian Embassy. Most surprising in that they were playing a video of a documentary of the end of the War and the part played by King Michael, a cousin of Prince Philip, and the last monarch in the Balkans before being expelled by the Soviet puppet government.Anyway, that was fascinating, including his visit to England for the Royal Wedding of our current queen, on which visit he met his future wife.

He was persuaded to abdicate because the Russian puppet, a coarse ex-banker (communists don't tend to be too worried about the stock from which they get their rulers provided they are subservient to their masters and sufficiently ruthless) announced to the King that he had a thousand young Romanians in prison and they would all be shot if he didn't sign up and ship out. Nice chaps.

It seems Churchill had sold out the Romanians (possibly having little choice) in a deal whereby the Soviets would abandon the Greek communists in return for the Allies giving Stalin a free reign in Romania. So starting a long period of suffering until the fall of the Iron Curtain and death of Ceausescu, expelled from his newly built palaces (funny how communists love luxurious palaces which appear necessary for the well-being of the ordinary worker. Essentially they seem to mirror royalty except a lot less caring for their citizens.)

Anyway, so that was really interesting - a history lesson. But one could also admire the fabric of the house itself. The architect of this, and the other terraces, was one George Basevi (whom I had never previously heard of) a pupil of Sir John Soane,(who obviously I did know of).

Its all very tastefully maintained, having been leased to the Romanian Foreign Ministry in 1936

One of the four corner mansions

 I also popped into the Italian Cultural Institute on the same square. Unfortunately the interior has not been so well maintained. It hosed a rather bad exhibition, a modern(ish) library and offices. Only seemed to have one presentable "grand" room.

Thence I headed back to Leicester Square to have a sushi lunch with my friend Thibault (to sort of celebrate my birthday) before heading our separate ways for the rest of the day. My walk to Warren Street took me past this interesting view of the Post Office Tower.

Friday, 16 September 2016

The Enemy Farewell Tour

So farewell the Enemy. My hometown band is winding things up. So off I trotted on  Friday night to the Forum. On my own - the Enemy aren't everyone's cup of tea.

First I should say that I really like the Forum - convenient for Kentish Town tube - good size, and I like the Art Deco Roman decor, particularly noticeable upstairs in the unreserved seating where I was perched.

Downside is bad for my photos. Made worse by dodgy lighting. too much emphasis on flashing lights, as if they were particularly aiming at flushing out any epileptics.

I was looking forward to seeing two new bands (well new to me) as supports. First up were Asylums. I am afraid one could rarely witness so much frenetic effort wasted on so little product. Thrashing guitars and lots of running around on stage couldn't mask a lack of material.

 Second support came from a Nuneaton band called April. More accomplished, but still disappointing. Felt like they thought they were North Warwickshire's answer to Oasis. Specialised in rather long songs. Not awful but nothing to write home about. The lead singer couldn't stay still for a moment, but this energy wasn't really converted into anything appealing.


And finally the Enemy (after a pretty good DJ set of indie classics while we waited). Now what can I say about the Enemy? Lead singer Tom Clarke has a truly tremendous voice, which can soar over the heavy guitar and drum work of his fellow band members. Their first album "We'll Live and Die in These Towns" was terrific. Tom said he would do what they hadn't done enough of, play every track from the first album live as he knew how much it meant to us. Ah yes, but that was the problem. They never could recapture the success of that album.

I think in their minds that's because other people, the radio, media, didn't give them a chance. Well true maybe to some extent. Their music was never fashionable. Well it might have been in the late Seventies, but maybe they were a quarter century too late. But perhaps their demise really came from just not getting better, but rather getting worse. And from the band not being exactly media friendly, either in appearance or attitude. A little Brummie chap with a chip on his shoulder isn't going to storm the papers.

This was an emotional send off of sorts.A long version of This Song, during which they went off stage and returned while the audience just sang the main refrain continuously -"This Song is about, is about, is about you." was memorable. So was the encore. And the audience certainly loved it. A very boisterous following and very rowdy.

Now here I have to say something sneering though. I hated the audience. Laddish and boorish, and rather drunk. Lots of chanting and thrashing about, it had a night down the pub in the wrong part of town feel about it.

But I will miss the band. A lot of great songs. "Be Somebody", "Forty Days and Forty Nights"," Away from Here", "Happy Birthday Jane", "Had Enough", "Aggro". RIP