Dancing Ledge

When the going gets tough the tough start blogging

Zoot Money, tales of a mayor in tights and a death hoax – just another Sunday afternoon

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Zoot Money and Bournemouth Mayor Chris Mayne exchange memories of their 1950s schooldays. Photographs by Hattie Miles.

So there we were, a couple of hundred musicians, artists, writers, photographers and old blues and R&B fans crowded onto a Bournemouth town centre pavement outside an unremarkable row of shops, bars and restaurants. Those in the know were staring nostalgically at a nondescript door sandwiched between an Italian coffee shop and a Polish Delicatessen. For beyond that door, at number 9 Holdenhurst Road, lies a flight of stairs leading down to a dingy cellar where, 53 years ago on 3rd  May, 1961, the town’s first full-time jazz, rock and blues club was born.

The aptly named Downstairs Club was a game-changer for a generation of hip young post-war groovers discovering the joys of a new wave of beat and R&B music. Like a strange magnet this sweaty, low-ceilinged basement almost instantly became the favoured haunt of musicians looking for the freedom to break free from the constraints of dance hall commercialisation. With half a dozen key characters calling the shots, its Friday and Saturday all-nighters sowed the seeds for what would effectively become the house band of Swinging London.

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The plaque outside the old Downstairs Cluib

For among the local boys cutting their teeth in that grimy, smokey hole  was a young keyboard player and vocalist called George Money and an equally youthful guitarist called Andy Summers. Fast forward a couple of years and the pair, together with another Bournemouth boy, drummer Colin Allen, would be the mainstays of Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band – resident musicians at Soho’s Flamingo Club. Of course it didn’t end there. After some psychedelic adventures with Zoot’s Dantalian’s Chariot, Andy Summers would go on to play with The Animals, Soft Machine, Kevin Coyne and Kevin Ayres before finally becoming a superstar alongside Sting and Stewart Copeland in The Police. Colin Allen would play drums with Bob Dylan, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Mick Taylor, Stone the Crows and Georgie Fame to name but a few

And Zoot? He remains to this day a near-legend One of those characters who seems to have the knack of being at the epicentre of whatever is important just a little while before anyone else realises it even exists. It was to Zoot’s Fulham flat that new boy in town Jimi Hendrix headed when he first arrived in London from the States. It was Zoot who Paul McCartney sought out when he was looking for talent for a new record label.  At the age of 71, Zoot is still playing, often alongside Colin Allen with singer Maggie Bell, bassman Colin Hodgkinson and various virtuoso guitarists in the British Blues Quintet while his latter-day version of the Big Roll Band is a regular must-see at The Bulls Head in Barnes.

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Some of the crowd that turned up for the unveiling

Zoot has also enjoyed success as a music producer and film and TV actor. A busy man, but thankfully not too busy to return to his hometown to join the jostling throng and officiate over the unveiling of a commemorative plaque marking the site of The Downstairs Club and its later incarnation as the exotically monikered Le Disc A Go! Go!  This cellar club was for a time one of the prized gigs on the south coast, a venue where the great and the good played, including, as former owner Allan Azern never tires of telling people, Eric Clapton. However it’s not so much the coup of booking Slowhand himself that Allan is proud of. It’s the fact that he got him for a fee of just 25 quid.

So to the great unveiling. There were many memories being discussed and stories, some of them taller than others, being swapped by the crowd which included several of the names and faces that made the club happen half-a-century ago. Michael Giles, founder drummer with King Crimson, stood quietly at the back. There was author Jonny Kremer – who in 1963 with his good friend Al Stewart (still several years off writing Year of the Cat) hustled his way backstage to chat to The Beatles at the Bournemouth Gaumont. Others included 1960s movers and shakers like John ‘Jet’ Berryman, Pat ‘Pee Wee’ Sheehan, John Penhale, Mike Bowerman – stalwarts of the town’s beat-boom years. Then there was master of ceremonies and blue plaque organiser Al Kirtley who played at The Downstairs Club with the very first Zoot Money band.

As Zoot would later remark many of those present seemed vaguely familiar.  “They sort of look the same, only upside down,” he said, pointing at the  disproportionate number of bald heads and beards present.  “People keep coming up to me saying: ‘I suppose you don’t remember me?’ “Well I can tell you, you’re absolutely right. I do not fucking remember you but I’m glad you’re all here and glad that at least you remember me because sometimes I don’t.”

Andy Summers

Andy Summers

Andy Summers, who of course Zoot still knows very well indeed, should have been present too but rescheduled dates during his current European tour left him marooned in Germany.  A few cynical eyebrows were raised at this news. I heard someone muttering darkly about multi-millionaires who can’t be arsed to acknowledge their humble roots. I know this was absolutely not the case. Indeed Andy, who is reputed to be worth around £200 million ( a figure that, true or not, has the capacity to irritate certain individuals)  sent his apologies in a witty and heartfelt email which was read to the crowd.

“I remember with great affection many nights playing at the Downstairs Club. Of course I was only a child of three and my mum was always waiting for me when I got off stage, but it is where I got to grips with the guitar and the road ahead as a musician. 
“Without the Downstairs Club it is quite possible that in my case none of it would ever have happened. The dark little cellar is where Zoot and I met and where we knew we’d have to brave the big time in London.  I’d live for our weekend all night sessions at the club. It is where I first tried to bring my dreams and fantasies alive and of course the dreams and fantasies of the many nubile maidens that I imagined were at my feet in glowing admiration. In a way it was the perfect beginning to a life in music…I’ll see you downstairs.”

That sign-off caused much guffawing about a collective misspent youth and maybe even deals with the Devil. Zoot told of sexy encounters with the many willing young women who’d find there way to owner Jerry Stooks upstairs flat and long nights fuelled by forbidden alcohol in the booze-free club below. He was positively glowing with nostalgia as he recalled how (decades before the advent of bottled water) he’d pour neat vodka into a milk bottle and keep it on his keyboard, saying it was  “just a little water for my throat.”

An even more graphic view of the club and the characters that surrounded it can be found on Al Kirtley’s website where he remembers Jerry Stooks as a jazz-loving beatnik with a penchant for the kind of huge open-topped car generally associated with minor South American dictators and an upstairs neighbour known as Johnny de Monk who had a club-foot, a pet monkey and a stinking, fetted flat. Click on link here. Those were the days, eh?

Zoot and Chris Mayne snap a selfie. Al Kirtley looks on

Zoot and Chris Mayne snap a selfie. Al Kirtley looks on

Before Zoot finally did the honours and pulled the cord that unveiled the plaque, one his old school chums, the current Mayor of Bournemouth, Cllr Chris Mayne arrived hotfoot from a civic lunch to add his official weight to the proceedings. Chris, it was explained, had been one of the crowd that used to see acts like Alexis Korner, Graham Bond, Jack Bruce, John Mayall, Manfred Mann, Jimmy Powell and the Five Dimensions and many more at the Disc A Go! Go!

Resplendent in chain of office, he was thrilled by this chance to revisit his colourful youth. I later heard that he considered the unveiling to be the undoubted highpoint of his engagement diary. It seemed to be doing his image quite a lot of good too. Not only did he get to snap a couple of selfies with his erstwhile classmate Zoot but he was suddenly being described by all and sundry as ‘the Rock ’n’ Roll Mayor.’

“What memories!” he said, beaming at the crowd. Zoot, always a jolly japester, took the opportunity to reveal that back in the 1950s he and Chris Mayne used to appear in school productions together and on the last occasion that they trod the boards the future Mayor had been cast as his girlfriend. “We both had to wear tights,” said Zoot before gesturing towards the slightly reddening First Citizen and gently pointing out that “His were a much smaller size of course.”  With that Zoot pulled the cord and revealed the plaque that has once more put the site of the Downstairs Club on the map.

*Bizarrely, just two days later, a hoax message appeared on the internet claiming that Andy Summers had died. Distraught fans posted messages of condolence before receiving reassurances that the guitarist is not only alive and well but clearly not ready to take that long walk downstairs just yet.

The agony and literary ecstasy of ‘Great War’ poets Sassoon and Owen

Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen

James Howard (left) as Siegfried Sassoon and Ben Ashton as Wilfred Owen in Not About Heroes

Not About Heroes: Blackeyed Theatre – Lighthouse, Poole

It is 100 years after the start of the war that was supposed to end all wars. What better time to reflect on Stephen MacDonald’s 1982 play about the appalling slaughter on the Western Front and its profound effect on two of the finest literary minds of the era?

The shameful events of 1914-18 changed the world but not for the better. Generations of old soldiers, traumatised by what they had been through, rarely spoke of its horrors.

In this centenary year the First World War is finally a subject for widespread commemoration and analysis. However as we honour the courage and sacrifice of the those who gave their lives, opinion remains divided over the actions of the generals and politicians who orchestrated the carnage.

Not About Heroes is uncompromising in its stance and delivers a hammer-blow to those who would be apologists for British commander Douglas Haig’s war of attrition.

MacDonald’s play examines the wider effects of the conflict, not least its contribution in changing poetry forever. It focuses on the meeting at the Craiglockhart Military Hospital for nervous disorders of two of the finest of the ‘Great War’ poets – Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.

Both have been invalided out of the living hell that is the ongoing Battle of the Somme. Owen, a young idealist at the start of what promises to be a brilliant writing career, is determined to tell the truth about the horrors of the battlefields. He is being treated for shell-shock.

Sassoon, just half-a-dozen years older, is established as both a poet and a war hero. His arrival at Craiglockhart near Edinburgh has been ordered by his commanding officers in response to a public and embarrassing (to the authorities) condemnation of the war. Best to pretend he’s suffering from nervous exhaustion!

This excellent production from Blackeyed Theatre, directed by Eliot Giuralarocca, evokes beautifully the curious mixture of despair, fear, weariness and thrill of what can still be achieved.

Viewed through a series of flashbacks, it is set on a bleak stage populated by ghosts and books, we witness a rare meeting of minds.

The nervous young Owen (Ben Ashton) and the arrogant Sassoon (James Howard) forge a friendship that gradually finds them becoming utterly inter-dependant. The homoerotic attraction between them is tangible but destined to remain unexplored.

As Owen’s confidence as a writer grows he finds literary success thanks to the ever supportive and well-connected Sassoon. MacDonald deftly weaves their powerfully emotive poetry and letters into the story. Atmospheric lighting and sound enhance the sense of dread as they both return to the front line

War-weary Sassoon is back in hospital within weeks after taking a sniper’s bullet to the head. Owen, with so much still to give, dies in a hail of machine gun fire… exactly a week before the end of the war. His death leaves Sassoon bereft amid the ringing of bells and ‘victory’ celebrations. The play, which slips back and forth in time, finds the older man wracked with guilt and tormented by nightmares….like hundreds of thousands of others. Nothing will ever be the same.

Jeremy Miles

How Joan Rivers almost achieved her ambition to die on stage

Outrageous, outspoken and razor-sharp, American comedian Joan Rivers, who died at the age of 81 yesterday, thrilled and offended in equal measure.

She made a career out of upsetting people and she did it brilliantly. What undoubtedly annoyed her critics was that, when it came to abuse, she was happy to take it as well as dish it out. She did so in her own inimitable way.

Joan Rivers joked she would leave her body to Tupperware

Joan Rivers joked she would leave her body to Tupperware

Chucked off a daytime TV programme for using a torrent of expletives she responded for demands for an apology by issuing statement: “I’m sorry I fucking swore!”

Ridiculed for her apparent obsession with plastic surgery, Joan Rivers faced-down critics by making the subject part of her act, joking that when she died she would donate her body to Tupperware.

Well now she has died, following a heart attack during routine throat surgery. Predictably perhaps many of those who were not too fond of her during her lifetime  have lined up to lavash praise upon her.

Joan would love it. She’d be howling with laughter at the wonderful hypocrisy of even her enemies finally admitting that she was a pioneer and a massive influence on women in comedy.

I suspect the only thing Joan wouldn’t enjoy about the subject of her own death would be the fact that she died in a hospital bed rather than on stage midway through her act.

I interviewed her several times over the years and it was clear that her own mortality was never far from her thoughts. The last time we spoke she was still coming to terms with being in her seventies and was about to embark on a ‘Farewell Tour’.

Not, she assured me, because she had any thoughts of giving up work – “No way, that would be so boring!” It was simply that “everyone seems to be doing farewell tours so I thought I’d better jump on the bandwagon. 

“That word ‘Farewell’ has such  a promising ring to it. “I figured it might get the audience interested if it sounded like there was a chance I might die on stage.”

She warmed to her subject fast: ”Wow yeah, dying on stage. That’d be a fabulous way to go.” Then she remembered something vital. “It’d only really be fabulous mind you if it was in the second half of the act. My contract says I don’t get paid until I’ve done at least 31 minutes.

“I used to say to my daughter ‘If I’m on stage and anything happens to me just strap me to the stool’… as long as I do those 31 minutes.”

The death on stage was never to be but I’m glad Joan was working right up until a week before her death. She would have hated lingering. It wasn’t her style.

She used to relishes her reputation as one of the hardest working women in the world – “If you don’t count the hooker on the corner…” She was adamant that she would have hated it any other way.

If you paid as much attention to your homework….

Simon and wife Lolly Gallup with his Emmy in Los Angeles last night.

Simon and wife Lolly Gallup with his Emmy in Los Angeles last night.

Woke up this morning and… No, don’t worry, it’s not going to be a blues lyric. My woman was safely at my side, my crops (well the runner beans at least) were just fine and my livestock (the cat) was happy, healthy and eating a hearty breakfast.

I woke up his morning to find that social media was alive with the fact that my brilliant, talented brother, Simon, has just won an Emmy for his lighting design work on the American TV programme Dancing With The Stars. The award is well deserved and it’s been a long time coming. Simon, an excellent lighting designer with 40 years experience of theatre, music, stage and TV work, has been nominated every year for more than a decade. Until now though the coveted Emmy has always gone to someone else. A few weeks ago he told me that his “loser’s smile” (perfected to avoid awkward TV footage) was as perfect as it was possible to be. Well let’s hope his winner’s grin came even more naturally.

Simon (right)  and me 44 years ago

Simon (right) and me 44 years ago

The fact that Simon became a lighting designer came as no surprise to anyone at all. As children ( Simon  is three years younger than me) we were often taken to the theatre.  From an early age he invariably looked, not at the stage, but over the back of his seat at the people operating the lights. He got some early hands-on experience with school productions and also at the Hong Kong Stage Club where our dad was a leading light.

The day he left school, formal exams finally over, he wrote the words “education begins” in his diary and headed straight for London where he was soon working in the West End helping to build sets for plays, operating a dry-ice gun for the Royal Ballet, taking any jobs going. Watching and learning. Next came years on the road with rock bands. Touring Europe with everyone from Caravan and Barclay James Harvest to Iggy Pop and Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith. He worked with Blondie, Madness, Wire, Simple Minds, Lene Lovich, Status Quo – a curious slew of musical styles but they all needed lights.

In 1981 Simon moved to Los Angeles and started establishing the well-deserved reputation that he currently enjoys. Over the past three decades he has toured extensively and produced a wealth of LA based work that encompasses live theatre as well as lighting for TV and video. He has worked with Sinatra, Streisand, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Liza Minnelli and countless others. There have been many one-off shows, TV specials, awards ceremonies and long-running series like Dancing With the Stars too.

It’s funny that we both remember an occasion back in the 1960s when we were avidly listening to Pick of the Pops on the radio and our mother – still going strong at the age of 88 by the way – told us that if we paid as much attention to our homework as we did to the charts we just might stand a chance of getting decent jobs when we finally left school.

Having watched one son earn a living lighting countless shows for musicians and the other pay the bills by writing about them, she admits this advice may have been misguided. Not that it matters. It was ignored.

Simon, our mum and me.

Simon, our mum and me.

Simon and I don’t see each other as often as we’d like to these days and when we do our encounters can be in unusual places. I remember catching him for dinner in Las Vegas once and saying our farewells in a vast hall full of glass cages where half-naked men were frolicking with lions. Then there was a long midnight conversation held on a traffic Island on the Upper Westside in New York and the last time I saw him was in a pub car park in Surrey.

But however long we are apart, as soon as our paths cross again, we seem to instantly take-up where we left off. I’m looking foreword to the next time so I can congratulate him on his Emmy face to face.

Kenneth Clark patron and champion of the artist

 

Kenneth Clark - Looking for civilisation

Kenneth Clark – Looking for civilisation

I really enjoyed Tate Britain’s recent examination of the enormous influence exerted on the 20th century’s understanding of art history by one man – curator, collector and museum director Kenneth Clark.

The exhibition explored Clark through the works of art that he loved. Called simply Kenneth Clark: Looking For Civilisation – a reference to his groundbreaking 1960s TV series – it showed him to be a man at one with works ranging from medieval manuscripts, old masters and Greco-Roman sculptures to contemporary artists.

Clark – known simply as K to his upper-crust chums – was the product of the last gasp of Empire. Born in 1903, he was extremely wealthy and supremely well-connected. He was by his own admission a product of the idle rich.

His father, Kenneth McKenzie Clark, already rich and heir to a textile fortune, was reputed to be the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo. He retired in his early 40s and enjoyed a lifestyle that led the young K to observe that while some may have been richer than his papa it was doubtful that any could have been idler.

Friends of the family, whose fortune had been secured by the invention of the cotton-spool, included the great art critics Roger Fry and Bernard Berenson. Kenneth junior soon developed a deep love and understanding of modern French painting and the Italian Renaissance. It was the perfect grounding for a career that, after Winchester and Oxford, would find Clark bestriding the art world.

He was director of the National Gallery by the time he was 30 and did much to modernise that fusty, crusty old institution. In addition to bringing in works by Cezanne, Manet and Degas he insisted that the gloomy old building should be introduced to the illuminating possibilities of electric light.

Clark’s taste as a collector and connoisseur was not infallible. He made some mistakes along the way, buying some duds alongside the magnificent paintings he acquired. He had his detractors. There were those who thought him aloof and patronising. But he did much to popularise art and was a skilled communicator who during the 1940s proved a highly effective chairman of the War Artist’s Advisory Committee and later a powerful and natural broadcaster.

He championed artists like Henry Moore, Paul Nash, John Piper, Victor Pasmore  and Graham Sutherland and even helped support them with his own money. He took his patronage seriously. In an article in The Listener in 1940 he stated: “…ideally it needs two people to make a picture: one to commission it and the other to carry it out.” He added that a patron should not simply pay an artist for his work, he should possess “enough critical understanding to see the direction in which the artist ought to go.”

Really? There is no evidence to suggest that Clark exerted undue pressure on those whose talents he supported. In Civilsation he said: “Above all, I believe in the God-given genius of certain individuals, and I value a society that makes their existence possible.”

Maybe Clark simply lavished attention, and money, on those he believed already fitted this description. Controversially, he believed that war artists should be exempt from doing their bit as say a stretcher-bearer or night watchman. Clark put it like this: As a firemen he will be of very little use to his country, but if he is a good artist he may bring it international renown.”

I met Clark a few times when I was a young newspaper reporter working in South East Kent. He had a patrician air but was not unfriendly and we had two or three interesting discussions about art and the direction it was taking. this was the 1970s.

Some years later my mother-in-law moved into a house next door to the Clark estate at Saltwood Castle. By then it was occupied by his throughly disagreeable son, the Conservative MP Alan Clark, best known for his indiscreet diaries, his womanising and his professed lust for Margaret Thatcher’s ankles.  K, long elevated to the peerage, had moved into a modern house in the grounds. He invited me for coffee one day. I couldn’t help noticing there was a Rodin on the window sill. The media had made much of Clark being a man of the people. The fact was that though his heart was in the right place, he came from a completely different world from those he now sought to communicate with. He was socially, economically and historically removed from his audience and I think that made him just a little bit unhappy. Kenneth Clark died in 1983.

Suzanne Vega: still left of centre and still on label-defying form

 

 

Suzanne Vega

Suzanne Vega

 

Suzanne Vega: Lighthouse, Poole

I first saw Suzanne Vega 25 years ago when she was flying high on the reputation of breakthrough hits like Luka, Tom’s Diner and Marlena on the Wall.  The media, expecting just another New York coffee house folkie, were stunned by her capacity for producing intelligent, emotionally charged lyrics.

They fumbled around for a suitable label to pin on her. Which is why for a couple of years Ms Vega was routinely described as ‘a Joni Mitchell for the Filofax generation’ Until that is her simple, wistful acappella recording of Tom’s Diner was remixed by the dance producers DNA, became a club hit and was used as an early experiment in music file compression. Hey presto, Vega was now ‘The Mother of the MP3’.

She shook off those horribly dated sobriquets long ago but not before absorbing some of the musical influences that had been visited upon her work. Quietly plugging away she has been producing material of depth and quality ever since. A quarter of a century after Luka so effectively explored the difficult subject of child abuse, she is still out there, left of centre, creating cutting-edge material with an experimental lyrical and musical slant –  intelligent, searching songs that still tend to defy glib journalistic description.

At Lighthouse in Poole last night (Thursday July 3) – one of handful of UK dates following her triumphant appearance at Glastonbury last weekend – she played a set that was both sophisticated and fun. Backed by longtime musical cohorts, drummer Doug Yowell and the brilliant guitar of David Bowie’s sometime musical director Gerry Leonard, it was poetry in sound. A collection of songs that found Vega’s distinctive and pure vocals juxtaposed against a magnificently mindful backing that chugged and chimed, swooped and simmered its way into your consciousness. Although the addition of bass and keyboards would have undoubtedly made the sound bigger and beefier,  this ambient approach worked remarkably well

When the old hits were dutifully performed – Luka in particular remains timelessly touching – they were gently but effectively re-worked. They gelled beautifully with the real purpose of the concert – to showcase a fine selection of songs taken from her new album Tales From The Realm Of the Queen of Pentacles. An impressive body of work,  it was produced and co-written by Leonard – a self-confessed super-geek. So who better to enhance it with a mind-blowing box of technical tricks? What an extraordinary guitarist!

Just a week shy of her 55th birthday Vega looked great. Dressed all in black – a point underlined in her song I Never Wear White – she chatted cheerily to the audience between numbers. An anecdote here, a telling aside there. Tales of lost loves and her occasional quest for spiritual enlightenment.

Stand out tracks included Fool’s Complaint,  Jacob and the Angel, Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain and a selection of oldies that remain definite goodies like Gypsy, Small Blue Thing, Ironbound/Fancy Poultry, Left of Centre and Blood Makes Noise, the latter delivered as the result of a surprise encore request.

Although this was a great concert it really wasn’t much of a ‘show’. Production values were clearly pretty low on the priority list. This was an occasion to let Vega’s remarkable songs speak for themselves. As such it might have worked better in a jazz club  or at least a more intimate space than the big, wide concert hall at Poole. But that’s nit-picking. This was a great night listening to a singer-songwriter who is always at her best when performing live. She didn’t disappoint.

Mention should go too to excellent support act from Brighton, singer-songwriter Chris Simmons. He could have come over as little more than a warm-up busker but the quality of his material, and voice, shone through.

Jeremy Miles

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now for something completely the same

Monty Python's Palin, Idle, Jones, Gilliam and Cleese 361 years old and coining it

Monty Python’s Palin, Idle, Jones, Gilliam and Cleese. 361 years old and coining it

With their pensions now well and truly enhanced, the Pythons can hopefully fade cheerfully into comedy history. Not that I have any problem with the five surviving members’ solo careers you understand.

I just happen to think that 45-year-old comedy shows tend not to mature very well and believe that Monty Python’s Flying Circus is best viewed as something that happened a very long time ago. It was astonishingly innovative back then and, occasionally, utterly brilliant.

However I also remember how distressingly dire some of the sketches were. People forget that one of the reasons Python worked was that the BBC gave the team an extraordinary amount of space to experiment. This wasn’t as generous and enlightened as it sounds.

The simple fact is that the stuffed shirts who ran the corporation at the time hadn’t got a clue what this bunch of Oxbridge jokers were playing at. What they did know though was that change was in the air.  So as somehow the Pythons seemed connected to the leading players in the satire boom and what’s more had been to the right schools, they just let them get on with it. The result was a pile of dross but also a superb collection of comedy sketches. The brilliant young humorists had caught the spirit of the times perfectly, attracting a cult following that endures to this day.

Flyingcircus_2

The Pythons in 1969

When news broke that they would be staging their first live shows together for more than 30 years, the media were quick to point that the five surviving members were now in their seventies. Indeed they have a combined age of 361. That inevitably led to questions being asked about the wisdom of playing a 10 night residency at London’s O2 Arena. Were they only in it for the money? Could they still hack it?

Predictably the opening night at the O2 Arena last night was greeted with mixed reviews.  To the diehard fans – and even our cynical national press has a few of those – the show was a triumph, a joyous romp down memory lane. Comedy gold revisited.

To those with a slightly more critical take on the proceedings it was a clever but lazy exercise in milking old material for capital gain. A bunch of old men dishing up re-runs of sketches that made them cult favourites in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

What everyone agreed was that a 2014 Monty Python audience contains significant numbers of people desperate to re-live their own youths and bathe in the reflected glory of their comedy idols. For them the chance to watch Cleese, Palin, Jones, Idle and Gilliam perform on the same stage together is a pretty big deal in itself. To see them deliver classics like the Dead Parrot Sketch and The Lumberjack Song is utterly irresistible. Sadly The Ministry of Silly Walks was literally a stretch too far for the old boys and was wisely omitted.

It’s a little ironic perhaps that today first-generation Python fans, once so proud of their anarchic and radical taste in humour, are not remotely interested in ‘something completely different’. They want a word-for-word re-run of everything they loved and held dear four decades. At the O2 they were not disappointed although one or two minor adjustments had been made to tone down some of the lines produced in the less enlightened 70s.

The devotees appeared not to notice. They didn’t bat an eyelid either at the eye-watering ticket prices or even at stumping up twenty quid for a programme. All they cared about was the joy of seeing their comedy Gods in the flesh and greeting their favourite routines like the return of long-lost friends that were once edgy and dangerous but are now comfortable and familiar. On that basis, Monty Python’s Flying Circus 2014 appears to have worked a treat.

Even the shows detractors admitted that the audience gave a pretty conclusive impression of having loved every second of it, even though a disproportionate amount of time was devoted to old TV footage.

There was also some concerns that younger members of the audience – and there were a few – might have had difficulty understanding the various references to pound notes, Bertram Mills and Timothy Whites, though I doubt this was a significant problem.

I’m sure the Pythons will sail through their 10 day run with adoring audiences hanging on their every word and if there’s anything the besotted crowd don’t like they’ll just pretend it was funnier than it actually was. Just like we all did with the original TV series!

 

Avoiding the dark side or why I hate churnalism

Jonathan Miller: Photograph by Hattie Miles

Jonathan Miller: Photograph by Hattie Miles

As yet another ludicrous press release – a gushing piece of mindless spin – drops into my in-box I find myself yet again lamenting the way in which journalists are routinely taken for fools who can be manipulated for political or commercial ends. Of course as the media in general and the regional print press in particular is gradually reduced to a shadow of its former self by cost-cutting proprietors more interested in driving up profits than championing fair and balanced reporting, it is increasingly open-season for public relations departments. Read the rest of this entry »

BBC killjoys try to clamp down on smutty jokes

Tim Brooke-Taylor.     Photograph by Hattie Miles

Tim Brooke-Taylor. Photograph by Hattie Miles

It was good to hear Tim Brooke-Taylor ridiculing the “pathetic” BBC  killjoys who reportedly told I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue chairman Jack Dee to tone-down the BBC Radio 4 show’s famously innuendo-laden jokes.

In a recent interview with that well-know purveyor of scandal and gossip, Cotswold Life magazine, Tim revealed that the BBC had suffered a sense of humour failure after a listener complained about the smutty jokes made at the expense of the show’s fictional score-keeper  and record researcher Samantha. As a result Jack Dee had threatened to quit. Cue a flurry of national newspaper stories.

Cotswold Life, name-checked in every article, must be delighted. You can’t buy that sort of publicity. Tim Brooke-Taylor meanwhile will be shaking his head in bemusement. Me too. With my publicists hat on I set that particular interview up.  It seemed about as mundane as possible. Tim would give the magazine a half hour or so interview in advance of his appearance in his An Audience With Tim Brooke-Taylor stage show at the Stratford Upon Avon Literary Festival. Read the rest of this entry »

Genial giant Neil Fingleton would love to play a Bond villain

 

Neil Fingleton and Jenny Platt  preparing for panto in Dec 2009. Picture: Hattie Miles

Neil Fingleton and Jenny Platt ready for panto  in December  2009. Photograph: Hattie Miles

It must be difficult being physically different. People who don’t conform to generally accepted expectations of how one should look tend to have a rough ride through this uncompromising world of ours.

There are exceptions of course and one of them is a genial Geordie called Neil Fingleton. Officially recognised as  Britain’s tallest man, this cheery 33-year-old is seven foot seven and a half inches tall and weighs 25 stone and takes size 15 shoes. Read the rest of this entry »

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