Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hand & Star

Working hard these last few days before Christmas? Need to take the edge off a little? Then look no further. Pay a visit to ‘Hand & Star’ for all your literary needs! In its own words:

Hand + Star offers intelligent, fresh perspectives, open to the interplay between text, technology and popular culture. Hand + Star combines the speed and energy of blogging with the authority of the traditional literary journal, and is committed to seeking out new, independent and lesser-known voices in poetry and fiction.

Go on, seek some literary juices this holiday season, and whilst you're there check out my reviews on Abi Curtis’s Unexpected Weather, and Ryan Kamstra’s Late Capitalist Sublime.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Status Games

Following the Keith Johnson ‘Impro’ tradition, I’ve been playing some ‘status’ games recently. I can’t help but inject these little natural techniques into the workplace to gage reactions. Most are pretty normal day to day things that you probably do all the time, but when you’re aware of the way you’re behaving then you realise you can affect it. Like holding your head still when you speak. In certain situations like meetings this seems to make you appear more authoritative, where as jittery head movements come across as ‘the fool.’ Give it a try and see what reaction you get.

For Johnson, status games are a way to make improvisation amongst actors seem more realistic. His methods in ‘Impro’ encourage us to look at the way we react to certain situations and individuals in real life and use this to make acting on stage far more natural. If an actor knows his status in relation to the other characters upon entering a scene, then that scene is easier to improvise.

This makes sense really, using the office example again; we always play the inferior role to bosses, or those with director in their title. Shakespeare’s ‘All the world’s a stage’ quote rings a bell here, as I ask, are we naturally prone to status decisions, or are we acting a part based on our title? Try looking at the way shop assistants are treated. Lower status individuals will admire and ask for the assistant’s expertise, where as a higher status player might order them around like a servant. And then there’s the other form of high status where the individual plays low in order to hide their status, and only reveals it if vital to succeed dominance – a sort of flattery of the assistant you know is below you.

Johnson states that when a high status player is wiped out, then everyone experiences as if they are moving up a step. Wiping out could be as simple as talking about a culturally higher film watched than your fellow converser, thus confirming them as a lower status player. In the office space, you might notice a raise in everyone’s status when someone’s idea is shot down in a business meeting. Everyone becomes higher because they weren’t the ones shot down. In theatrical terms, the person who had the drop in status could be used to create sympathy in the audience, or to make them feel higher also.

Another trick in ‘Impro’ is to regularly modify status to keep up audience attention and the pace of a scene. So an example here could be two people having an argument where each character keeps getting one over the other. In office terms perhaps it’s something like:

Person A: Have you had a chance to finish that report yet?
Person B: Not yet, I’ve been too busy. Did you take a look at those costs though?
Person A: I can’t look at the costs until I’ve seen the report.
Person B: But the costs will help inform the report. I need them first.

There’s a wee bit of see-sawing that takes place next, but that can be used to comic effect, a sort of ‘he’s behind you,’ ‘oh no he’s not’ thing.

I’m only scratching the surface here, but if you’re interested in more, Johnson explains this a lot clearer than I.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Digital Priest

Recently I found myself on the way to a murder mystery evening in Richmond. I was late, frantically folding A4 paper to fit under by black collar to form what was to be the crux of my outfit. Yes, I was the priest, the saint, the holy father, the dirty beast, and I was the one that did it, but on the way I realized I’d forgotten my bible. Emails flew around the company, ‘has anyone got a bible laying around? Client has had a crisis of faith….’ and still no word. Until, that was, I remembered how we were in the digital age. Lo and behold, I saw a light, I reached for my IPhone knocked up the app store and downloaded the Bible app in seconds. I was now the bionic priest, a 21st century preacher with a digital reader. I could punch up any psalm, genesis, exodus, old or new testament in seconds. It was a revelation.

A while back I had this idea for the Catholic Church. It was an idea for a new business model, a way to cut costs by laying off staff. I figured, why not start a digital online confession booth? You’d get far more converts anonymously online than you would in church, and people could do it in the comfort of their own home. They could even set up online donations via paypal. ‘Absolve your sins – donate today’. In fact check out 'Group Hug’ which is an non-religion affiliated confession website.

If you’d like satire, EA have produced 'Mass We Pray' a sickeningly smug viral to secretly promote the video game interpretation of Dante’s Inferno.

Three days after the murder mystery LOVE and HATE were still stained on my knuckles. A sign perhaps?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Carry On Thought Criminals

It’s been a busy week. Long days and late nights punctuated by theatre. Let’s have a recap, in fact lets do a montage, turn up the stereo, radio, cassette player or iTunes depending on the era you’re living in and prepare for short snappy reviews. Let me start with last Saturday’s trip to Rich Mix over Brick Lane way to see Hardgraft's Poles Apart. A clever Brecht-infused take on the immigration issue where two Brits tried their hand at finding jobs in Warsaw. What followed was a comical tale of their endeavors, nods to Polish culture, and with just a ball of string Hard Graft demonstrated that no matter where we’re from we can all be joined together.

Come Tuesday I was at the BAC to see Amanda Lawrence's Charles Hawtrey biopic Jiggery Pokery.
In fact ‘biopic’ doesn’t do justice to what Lawrence created. Playing a plethora of diverse roles, she explored Hawtrey’s life on and off stage, shedding light on the infamous alcoholic made famous by the Carry On films. Lawrence’s performance had more energy than an entire X Factor audience as she darted around the stage in one scene playing a young Hawtrey, his mother as well as various actors and agents. A truly fantastic play.

The next day I found myself in a stormy Vauxhall at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern (RVT) for The Festive Happening featuring cabaret artists Bourgeois & Maurice, Johnny Woo and Scottee who made the traditional Xmas Knit look more glamorous than a night out at The Birdcage. Laugh’s a plenty as they rip-roared through a Barack Obama mime of Beyonce’s Halo, breast bursting performance poetry, and B&M’s 21st century dilemma Don’t Google Me Mother.

I polished off the week with a preview showing of Blind Summit's version of the classic Orwell novel 1984. If you’re expecting the serious intelligent tension of the book then think again. Blind Summit’s take turned what’s become a popular critique of society on its head. Borrowing the Brechtian style of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui Blind Summit began the show with a squad of thought police on the way to the BAC to perform the story of Winston and Julia, the thought criminals. Sets were words on paper cards and The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism was creatively performed as a complete puppet show with paper words and pictures. It begs the thought, if only all politics could be taught in this way?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Notes on Spare Time

Spare time is clumsy. It’s a large cumbersome cat too large for its flap. It’s a lowly status court jester laughed at by the hangman and the villains of the stocks. The children blow raspberries at it and throw playdough stones until it falls to the ground like a bad dream. Then they go to work, tying it down like an army of pixies, prodding it with tiny sticks and marking notes on bark with a flat rock. They consider the angles, lift the eyelids, pluck the hairs, shave a small square clear behind the ear. They wear it like fur, pick at its nails and slice off sharp small splinters to fit the tips of their spears. They communicate and laugh at its gaudy expression. They wonder where it came from, what it wants, why did it disturb them?

One by one they climb onto it’s chest to peer into its large sun-like eyes. Watching the marble swirl, they ooh and aah, make faces at each other and draw lead sketches like pupils. They form signs, hold up giant leaves with painted diagrams and symbols. They listen to it breathe, stand by the nostrils and let the wind make them go all silly. They wake earlier each day to spend more time with it in light. They sit silent as it reasons, as it wows them with stories, as it teaches them like faculty. They become disciples, they begin to worship. They erect tiny structures from their tiny sticks and hold court with its wishes. They like it. They respect it. They love it. They free it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Decemberists @ The Coronet 19/11/09

Standing in the lower part of their own portrait The Decemberists launched into the type of music that gives many critics' heart flutters; the dreaded prog-rock-folk-metal concept hour. The Hazards of Love played in full, with all the charming quirks of shouts and children chants that give Pink Floyds’ The Wall a run for its money. This is something the Decemberists have been building up to throughout their entire career with prog first rearing it’s time sapping head on their debut Castaways and Cutouts, continuing right through the back catalogue to the 20 minute EP The Tain based on the Irish folk tale Tain Bo Cuailnge.

The spotlights captured their silhouettes on the ceilings as they softly spun through the first part of the record, accompanied by Becky Stark as the beautiful Margret during Won’t Want for Love and Isn’t it a Lovely Night, and occasionally ramping it up a gear with the entrance of on-stage baddies, the Queen (stunningly played by Shara Worden) and the Rake.

Seeing the opera unfold on stage expanded it far more than a single record listen, and brought it to life far beyond expectations. Full of babies, infanticide and woodland shipwrecks, The Hazards of Love (heralded by the broadsheet lot as the weaker part of the set) was, in my view one of the most exciting performances of a pop-rock group I’ve seen in some time. And with the treat of a second set giving fans even more bang for their buck it’s sad to see the rock-opera format still blasted by peers. In the age of the download too, it’s impressive to see the full record selling almost 20k copies in its first week alone. Now that’s encouraging considering most music critics are already predicting the death of the album.

Having ended the Hazards of Love Meloy introduced the group after what was possibly the longest first number ever at a gig, and come part two the fans still wanted more of their prog brilliance. A medley of hits followed with the classic in-the-round audience participation during Billy Liar and radio fave Sixteen Military Wives. But the real treat was saved till last with the surprise performance of The Mariner’s Revenge Song which was teased throughout the entire second set with an inflatable whale dancing over the heads of an enthused crowd who all jumped at the chance to wail and moan as London was finally swallowed ‘through the jaws of an angry whale.’

Monday, November 16, 2009

Catriona Irving @ Pure Groove

We escaped the digital farm favoring something organic with cheese at lunch. Had to grapple through the pigs mind, and then there where the cows to deal with, but all in all it was an everyday city scenario. Pigeons flanked the workers and coordinated lunch crumb strikes named operation peg-leg and the sun came out like a rare breed dog, waggling its tail to show everyone how friendly it was. We pulled ourselves up on the cliff edge of Pure Groove and heaved our way through the glass doors.

Ale. Three barrels of the stuff tempting me like a drunkard on the Sabbath day. All I could do was order tea. Our journey’s reward was in sight however, when Catriona Irving, tight clad in nylon, plimsoll-footed her way onto the shop-floor stage.

Pure Groove, the music mountaintop of Farringdon has seen more changes in the last year than Prince Charles has made plans for Snowdon, and today it is better for it. Pushing aside the top 100 display in favour of a bar room set, it’s quickly becoming a cool hangout with its penchant at getting top new talent for lunchtime gigs so local workers can escape ‘the boss’ for thirty minutes. Catriona Irving’s set however short lingered like a sweet Satsuma and taught us all to slow down for the afternoon. With her clumsy guitar and fragile voice, it was one of those quiet moments where we remember that music wasn’t always an industry but once a chanting commune of cathartic expression. Irving’s songs were delicate and soft with the low rhythm of Sitting on the Shelf and the charming love note Untitled which is enhanced with subtle cello in the recorded version. Check out her EP here.

My friend says 'we live in an age of the niche' – anything and everything is on offer no matter what you’re into. And with musicians like Catriona Irving carving her own following with the ‘arts and craft’ label Need No Water he’s right. This certainly is DIY territory that feels far more exciting to play with than the big boys of pop. Give me handmade vinyl packages and pin badges any day over logo’ed t-shirts and plastic jewel cases.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I've been shooting things again

Like some inherent vice of a generation brought up with video games. Trained explosives experts of the electronic variety, reload time second to none, and with more lives than all the cats in the world. I am green beret, SAS, Navy seal and crack serious crime operative. Always look for the exits just like Manners, and never underestimate the enemy. Just because you can take out fourteen troopers with a knife doesn’t mean you can shoot down a chopper with an air rifle.

There's a lot of attention on the games industry today. The media's taking it's yearly magnifying glass out for the release of Modern Warfare 2. It’s rolling out the child psychologists all around the world to find out the experts opinion on the old debate, 'do violent video games cause violence?' We know there have been instances in the past where games have been the alleged inspiration behind killing sprees, we also know that the ultra violent games in question are ultra popular, selling millions of copies worldwide. People like shooting stuff it seems, and surely we don't have millions of potential killers on the make?

This is obviously a touchy subject that only comes in waves (i.e. whenever a new violent game is released), but the worrying thing is that all this activity only serves to increase the game notoriety and thus it's publicity. Seemingly it's a stunt, and it even had politicians arguing yesterday with Labour MP Tom Watson urging gaming fans to join a Facebook petition as a show of strength against the critics. In the pocket of one of the largest growing industries perhaps? After all, it's only a game. Isn't it?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Oh, My Green Soap Box

‘And what will we do on the days where there’s no wind?’ Lucy Foster asks addressing the solution of wind farms to the world’s energy crisis. It’s simple, ‘we’ll stay in bed,’ an answer the world leaders would chuff to like a gaggle of bankers, but in their hearts probably couldn’t think of anything more appealing. When did the economy become more important than love, anyway?

Oh, My Green Soap Box steps back from the racing protests and the urgent dialogues on how we need to act now, and thinks about our emotions. With a few well-crafted scenarios showing how we could be affected in everyday life, it made the climate change message even more poignant. It wasn’t preachy, nor did it require donations, and the point was more powerful for it.

On one occasion an audience member was called upon to take a walk across the farm; through the forest where the city stood, by the river where the motorway once lay, and into the farm where the banks used to be. The volunteer was shown what life was like on the commune picking apples, making pies, enjoying love. In fact it almost made climate change sound positive. As if it has the power to make us realize the error of a capitalist consumerist society, and get back to basics. Let’s face it; we never really needed all those handbags, IPods and celeb mags in the first place, eh?

Foster weaves in enough relaxants and jokes that remind us we don’t need to be militant to be revolutionary. At one point she wanders through London dressed as a Polar Bear to remind people not to forget about the beautiful creature and to demonstrate that it might be gone one day.

Unlike most climate campaigns out there, Lucy Foster’s isn’t after donations; her show wants us to understand it in a way that we haven’t considered before. It isn’t a pin-badge, or a plastic bracelet, a T-Shirt or a status update, but an actual organic thing that will change our lives. She opens the simple truth that in years to come we might need to teach children in schools what exactly the ‘white’ stuff was. As Foster points out from the start, ‘This is the biggest campaign ever’ and we are all going to play a part in it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

She's Electric

It was in the penthouse. Right by the whisky bar, the chattering teeth and the playing cards. The fairies strung lights like an electric warrior belting out the shocking tones of ‘Jeepster’. The charge sent forth a bolt like the light brigade and jolted her into the air like a tossed pancake.

Gallantly our heroine fought on, casting the sparks back to their wall bound prison with her left hand. Taping the wound with masking tape she tapped her two feet in victory and danced the butterfly.

Conversation after conversation she threw the static prints upon the floor and trampled over their reverberating microtones, she was prepared for any surprise the night could throw at her…

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bat For Lashes 05/10/09

It’s hard to connect with five thousand people, and I’m not going to say Natasha Khan overcame that this evening, but she gave it a good go. As usual at these kind of gigs the low murmur of chatter like an accidental baseline gave that feeling that few were really listening to Khan, as she weaved suburban magi-drama with her new dance led electro bop from this year’s ‘Two Suns’ release. It’s also worrying to see Khan still strut the amateur theatrics that’s hit the mainstream with the likes of Florence and the Machine and Little Boots. But it’s not the theatrics as such that are the problem, but rather the lack of them, and their reduction to a few well choreographed arm swishes and wolf howl manoeuvres.

I first saw Bat For Lashes shortly after the first Mercury nomination and was immediately drawn into her heart transplant bat ache moan, fluttering the wings of blind abandonment. She was god-like, handing out free bat masks and lyric books on the doors, and backed by a full choir of orchestral followers. But this time it was all too dull. The vague smatterings of theatre with her multi-media encore of ‘The Big Sleep’ salvaged something, but weren’t enough to dispel the comedy of tacky lighting bolts during ‘Glass’.

I feel the skin-tight spandex of 09’s fleeting fascination with American Apparel, has paved a predictable path into dull electro-clash, when what I loved about Khan during ‘Fur & Gold’ was the Bolan cat growl, the swishing hippie cloaks and the DIY sound production; banging a wooden stick on the stage to create the cardiac beat of ‘Sarah’.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Saint Cecile

We arrived sweaty from the over priced omelets of Saint Mont Michele and sad throngs of people pushing the sand along the hourglass. The cast assembled whilst the shirt stuck to my back, amongst the small country surroundings of Saint Cecile.

The cider shop door left ajar, and a note said they’d be back after lunch, the hotel was closed till two. A few more cars arrived during the interval, foreign number plates with smiles like a cricket crease and voices we’d later recall at dinner. I tried to feign French with them, whispering hellos and goodbyes and hoping they wouldn’t hear me speak English.

We checked in with a cleaner who finished the hoovering before she spoke with us. The whole place revolved around dinner, served between seven and eight and in the garden were some sheep searching for their lambs we’d later eat.

The evening would play out like a murder mystery. Middle aged women with seductive eyes crave bacchanalia whilst their husbands gave up sex in favour of instant personal gratification. The few staff moved with hidden intent.

The old man in the linen room shifting through white sheets with his moustache and I saw a few cooks open a back door somewhere. Frost expired from the frame and they dragged out a carcass and a dying bonfire outside gave wind of a gardener, although I didn’t see one.

At dinner the only waitress was short tempered. German marching music blasted from the small Ghetto-Blaster and a well dressed Dutch family began to laugh. The waitress proudly offered her coffee specialties, although I wondered where the other staff went and why the cider shop outside still had its door wide open.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A coffee protected by the batak people

Returning from holiday I am to discover the latest in the line of special club Nespresso varieties. Although this time the ‘exclusive’ coffee company has gone completely mental with an ancient civilisation of the Batak people. There’s enough marketing guile to give the impression a‘coffee expert’ (picture Mick ‘Crocodile’ Dundee with a travel espresso machine) climbed the highest mountains and swarm through leech infested jungles to bring you this intense flavour. Rather than the more obvious truth of a middle aged balding golfer liaising in glass fronted offices with a big-shot from the Batak coffee company looking to expand their business.

Monday, August 31, 2009


It was the first time I’d driven abroad, and before you get any ideas the car returned in mint condition with just a cool thousand or so more miles on the clock. If I’m honest it was surprisingly easy. As soon as we hit French soil I found myself on more roundabouts than the Romford circular, and although the French are still getting used to the phenomenon, I found myself slipping into all the right lanes. I loved the nonchalance of the drivers. They’d all pile straight onto the merry-go-round, happy to sit there for a minute or two, quietly puffing on a cigarette whist more cars poured from the estuaries into the turbine.

I quickly found that being a pedestrian in northern France is a little peculiar though. For some reason no one stops at ‘zebra’ crossings, and when I’d pull up beside one and let the fishes past, I’d be treated with the scornful expression only the French can pull off; as if I’d drank red wine with fish, or demanded an English menu.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tindersticks 1st July Hyde Park

Stuart A Staples

I finally got to see Tindersticks perform at Hyde Park's Serpentine Sessions this summer. Having shamefully missed 2007's Barbican show of the second record in its entirety, the band, originally hailing from Sheffield have seemingly left touring behind them to focus a wealth of side projects. Staples with his French home and studio 'Le Chien Chaneux' (The Lucky Dog) and original core member Dickon Hinchliffe escaping to score films, the battered line was left only three deep for last years release, 'The Hungry Saw.'

The 1st July saw the three warriors of sorrow backed by a full cast of musicians to crack into sleazy classic 'Rented Rooms.' Next the sticks pulled tracks from almost all their releases from the past 15+ years, that developed into the halftime paranoia of 'Another Night In' followed by the mid-show heart attack with 'Say Goodbye To The City' bursting the audience with a 'Tribute to Jack Johnson' esque smashing trumpet solo.

Highlight of the night though had to be the surprise inclusion of old favourite, 'City Sickness' with it's wise words of city life warning 'so this is where I ran to for freedom, where I may not be free' ringing true throughout the audience of tube trapped photo takers viewing life through the dusty lens of an IPhone. Makes me want a taste of that French escape Staples has found himself.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Journey to work

First in a series with Rashbre of 'cammuting'

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Engine Parts

I've been constructing a couple of scripts amongst other bits and bobs. Going to shows, conferences, clubs, having a peanut butter binge and generally doing lots of things. The end of last year was awash with spending money and now I'm considering budgeting.

I'm thinking blog minded again, and need to flex the old muscles to get this engine operational.

This has to be a well oiled machine if it wants to keep going. So I'm swapping out the oil pressure spring, cracking in a new gland nut and washer, replacing the head gasket, taking the spark plugs to town for a wash, and airing the carpets from flood damage.

I'm also thinking about getting one of those flux capacitors? Time travel is inevitable.