Ronnie Wood (72) “I never got past 29 in my head. I didn’t expect time to go so quickly”

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Ronnie Wood: Somebody Up There Likes Me (15)

Everyone’s favourite rock ’n’ roller Ronnie Wood looks incredulous at the idea that he is now in his 70s. “I never got past 29 in my head”, he explains. “It’s very surreal. I didn’t expect time to go so quickly.”

Oh Ronnie, You’ve got to love him and this wonderful film portrait by the acclaimed director Mike Figgis shows exactly why. The man is a phenomenal guitarist who first made waves as a  member of The Jeff Beck Group and The Faces back in the sixties. For the past 45 years he has been a member of The Rolling Stones.

He’s also a serious artist – “he can paint better than me”, says his mate Damien Hirst and a larger than life personality to boot – an almost Dickensian character for the 20th and 21st centuries.

Figgis’s film which received its only regional screening at Lighthouse in Poole in January, reveals Ronnie’s  extraordinary story in full. It’s a unique tale of talent and excess.

Against the odds he has not only survived near fatal encounters with booze, drugs and cancer but he’s thrived in a career that has been driven by a combination of brilliance, charisma and being in the right place at the right time. Or, as Ronnie himself puts it, Somebody up there likes me…”

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Film director Mike Figgis with Ronnie and guitar

Mike Figgis traces Ronnie’s life from his childhood in West London and the days when his hard drinking dad would rarely make it home from the Nag’s Head without falling asleep in one of the neighbour’s front gardens. If he did get back the chances were that Ronnie’s long-suffering mum would find him rattling the windows with a knees-up and singalong with the local rag and bone man, a couple if gypsies and sundry inebriated human flotsam invited back from the public bar.

It was a challenging if character-forming upbringing for young Ron but one that served him well when, in the early days, he found himself navigating a rock ‘n’ roll world run by gangsters and thugs.

Figgis’s film gently explores Ronnie’s  rock ’n’ roll beginnings, the art school influences, his journey to stardom and the characters he met along the way. There are interviews with Rod Stewart and fellow Stones Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts.

Other contributors include his wife Sally and his friend the singer Imelda May who appears on lead vocals in some excellent concert footage from Ronnie’s brilliant performance at the 500 seat Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne right here in Dorset back in November 2018.

Beautifully shot, this film finds a candid Ronnie reflecting on his life with warmth, humour and, above all, immense honesty. Jeremy Miles

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t even though Chappo’s still got it 50 years on

Now here’s thing. A little over 50 years ago my wife Hattie, then my new girlfriend, and I went to our first live gig together – a free all-nighter at The Lyceum in London.
Heading the bill were Family and among the support acts was The Edgar Broughton Band. So, when we heard that Family front man Roger Chapman was playing the Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne this week AND Edgar Broughton was the support we felt we had to be there.

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Roger Chapman

The Lyceum Ballroom December 1969: The place reeked of hashish, patchouli oil and the naive hope that somehow we could make the world a better place.
The Tivoli Theatre January 2020: We’re sitting in a theatre full of our near contemporaries wondering what went wrong. There may be a slight smell of Werther’s Originals.
Some of the audience are a little younger than us, some are older. Some look comfortably well-heeled, others decidedly battered by life.
There are several who appear to have been newly released after being trapped in a squat in Ladbroke Grove sometime in the early 1970s. For them nothing has changed. A few are even literally wearing rose-tinted spectacles. Lennon style granny glasses.
The concert starts. The great Roger Chapman is undoubtedly in fine voice. Backed by an exemplary six piece band featuring long time collaborators Geoff Whitehorn on guitar, Paul Hirsch on keyboards, Nick Payn on sax, Poli Palmer on vibes and Gary Twigg and John Lingwood on bass and drums, he still looks good and sounds invincible….most of the time.
However, at 77 years of age, the inimitable Chappo simply cannot compete with his younger self. The years have inevitably eroded the top and bottom of his considerable vocal register.
Though he can still deliver brilliant, beautiful songs in that astonishing, gritty vibrato that set him apart from the pack back in the glory days of Family and Streetwalkers, there are some notes that he really can’t reach any more. For instance My Friend the Sun, dedicated to his old Family bandmate Charlie Whitney, just shuddered to a halt. No shame there of course and Chapman knows it. He simply shrugged, laughed and carried on.
He is far better with the jazzier, bluesy stuff or numbers that utilise his still massively impressive middle register. Songs like Who Pulled The Night Down, Moth to a Flame, Midnight Child, Habits of a Lifetime and the ever popular Short List were a joy to hear. But one-time crowd-pleasers like Burlesque and The Weaver’s Answer were far from vintage cuts. And there’s the rub.You have to do the favourites. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Consider then the albatross that Edgar Broughton carries with him. Out Demons Out, his band’s signature chant from the 60s and 70s refuses to go away. Back in the day its sheer audience-swaying power made other bands fearful of following the mighty Broughtons on stage. Now, touring solo with just an acoustic guitar, Edgar clearly wishes it could be consigned to history. He’s halfway there. He didn’t play it but he did talk about it.
In fact he talked about a lot of things including fishing, the dental layout of the pike and the sad demise of his fallen friend, one-time counter-culture hero the late Mick Farren. Oh yes, and there were the makings of a couple of half decent songs in there too.

Walking in Memphis in memory of Elvis

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Graceland, Elvis Presley’s mansion in Memphis, Tennessee

It is more than four decades since they carried the bloated body of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll from his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. Yet still the graffiti outside the lavish, white pillared pile that he called home says it all: “Just pretend Elvis lives” 

For years desperate devotees hung onto the vain hope that his death had somehow been staged. That Elvis was alive and well, working in a video store or perhaps hiding out somewhere producing new material.

Never mind that at the age of 42 he was addicted to junk food and prescriptions drugs, that he weighed more than 20 stones and that his once lean physique was in ruins. For some his death, on  August 16th 1977, was simply too much to comprehend. 

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This year Elvis would have been 85-years-old and still tens of thousands of fans make the pilgrimage to Graceland. They hold vigils, light candles and weep at his graveside but now only the most delusional among them hang onto the dream that Elvis might actually still be alive. 

For every truly besotted fan there are dozens who are just curious to know little more about the man who changed the face of popular music and gave the world extraordinary hits like Hound Dog, Heartbreak Hotel and Jailhouse Rock.

A few years back Hattie and I made the journey to the heart of Elvis’ world, joining fans on a hugely popular six day package that offers a special insight into the astonishing rags to riches story that was  Elvis Aaron Presley’s life. The  tour took in his humble birthplace in the Mississippi Delta; the city of Memphis where he grew up and found fame and the hotspots of the Nashville recording industry where so much of his music was created. 

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The main focus though was Graceland – the 23 room, brown-limestone mansion bought by Presley in the late 1957 as a refuge from the screaming fans. Ironically the home he hoped would bring him some privacy  is now an officially designated National Historic Landmark and visited by morev than half-a-million people a year. The house had originally been constructed in the classical revival style in 1939. Records show that Elvis paid $102,500 for it. Today its price is estimated at well over $100 million dollars.

We stayed just a couple hundred meters away on the other side of Elvis Presley Boulevard. A few years back this road was known simply as Highway 51 but folks round these parts don’t like to miss a trick. Which is why we were staying at the Heartbreak Hotel and guess what? It was at the end of Lonely Street.  

For fans actually stepping across the threshold at Graceland is a chance to briefly experience life as Elvis did, walking through the bizarrely decorated rooms, including the famed Jungle Room with its indoor waterfall, they can perhaps get a glimpse of the singer’s exotic tastes in decor. A feel for this place he called home.  In the grounds they can visit the Meditation Garden where it is said he went for quiet reflection and where he now is laid to rest alongside his parents Gladys and Vernon, and grandmother Minnie Mae. There is also a small memorial to his twin brother Jesse who died at birth. 

Across the highway Heartbreak Hotel does a roaring trade in giant cheeseburgers and – “Elvis’ favourite” – fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches. This was the King’s midnight snack of choice, brought to his room by staff and eaten by the stack.  Frankly just looking at them feels like an artery-clogging venture that could well end with a one-way ticket to the cardiac ward.  That doesn’t stop the queues of fans eager to sample the King’s favourite comfort food though. So, a brief chance to live like Elvis and maybe even die like him too?

IMG_4193 2The real Elvis Presley story has long been distorted by myths and misinformation. An entire industry exists to part people from both their senses and their money and it does so with ruthless efficiency, churning out Elvis tat that is astonishing in its tawdry inventiveness. You can buy anything from an ornamental Graceland snow-storm to a replica Vegas-style rhinestone studded bat-wing collared jump-suit.  However for all the superficiality and artifice there was something genuinely moving about this tour which combined a fascinating journey through Tennessee with a big slice of social and music history. 

The people on our tour – 98 of them in two coach-loads – came from all kinds of backgrounds and ranged in age from early 20s to mid seventies. They were united by a common love of Elvis’ music and a fascination for the story of the boy from the hillbilly backwoods who went on to conquer the world.

It offered some wonderful experiences, including  a night out on Beale Street, spiritual home of the Memphis blues and a guided tour around Sam Phillips’ famed Sun Studios. It was here in 1953 that the 18-year old Presley paid $4.00 to make some test recordings. Phillips – a man who would go on to shape the careers of Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Howlin’ Wolf –  instantly recognised his potential and offered to take the young Elvis under his wing.

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Sam Phillips Sun Studios in Memphis

 A year later That’s Alright Mama was released by Sun Records as Presley’s first single.  Things moved fast with fans drawn to his smouldering good looks and high-energy performances. That same year he acquired a new manager in the form of the charismatic hard-nosed music promotor Colonel Tom Parker. He also signed with RCA Records and scored his first chart-topping single with Heartbreak Hotel. It was the beginning of a journey that took  Elvis Aaron Presley from lean, mean rock ‘n’roll star and teen idol to a lost-soul destined to end his days as a tragic, bloated, multi-millionaire icon adrift and lonely in the pleasure palaces of Vegas, drowning in a sea of excess.

But the fans would always love him. In Tupelo Mississippi – where Elvis was born, dirt-poor, in a two-room shack    they are told how as a boy he had to shoot squirrels for the pot. Our tour joined the line of hundreds of Elvis fans from all over the world who view his humble first home with tears in their eyes.

There was even a stop at the neighbourhood hardware store where, way back in 1945, a salesman called Forrest L. Bobo unwittingly wrote himself into rock ‘n’ roll history. The occasion – immortalised on a plaque on the shop wall – found Bobo persuading the 10-year-old Elvis that he didn’t really want a gun for his forthcoming birthday, he’d be much better off with a guitar. 

IMG_4139_2 2This sound piece of advice has kept the hardware store in customers ever since, cheerily supplying Elvis related knick-knacks and anecdotes along with the nails, paint and plumbing supplies. The best surprise of all though came when the tour buses rolled into Nashville. A couple of days checking out Music City included a visit to the old RCA Studio B in Nashville where our tour party got to make its very own recording.

There had been a chance to see the Country Music Hall of Fame, free time to enjoy the Honky Tonks on Broadway, a visit to the Grand Ole Oprey and more but nothing came close to the thrill of actually laying down a track on Elvis’ sound-stage. Standing in the same room where Elvis cut more than 250 tracks, the fans were invited to record a massed-voiced version of his heart-rending ballad Can’t Help Falling In Love. To be honest it was dreadful, but we all left with huge smiles on our faces clutching souvenir CDs.

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Hattie plays Elvis’ piano  RCA Studio B,  Nashville

The sheer sense of history in that simple studio was enough to really get to the diehard fans. This after all was the studio where Elvis cut It’s Now or Never and Devil In Disguise, where the Everly Brothers recorded Til I Kissed You and Cathy’s Clown and where Roy Orbison laid down Only The Lonely and Crying.

For older fans simply being in the room that gave birth to the soundtrack of their youth  brought the memories flooding back. One first generation Teddy boy told me how back in the 1950s he had eloped with his 17-year-old girlfriend.

Singing Elvis songs had kept their spirits high as they drove through the night in his pink Vauxhall Cresta, with parents and police in hot pursuit. More than half a century later this couple were still together, still very much in love and still jiving… in a room that just happened to contain Elvis Presley’s piano.

Campaign to honour Elisabeth Scott an award-winning architect forgotten by history

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Elisabeth Scott and Bournemouth Pier Theatre on visa pages of current British passport

Pioneering Bournemouth-born architect Elisabeth Scott was a talent to be reckoned with. In 1919, at the age of 21, she became one of the first women allowed to study at London’s prestigious male dominated Architectural Association.

Within a decade she had won an international competition to design the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Revered amongst modernist designers she should have become a household name. She had her own London practice, an Continue reading “Campaign to honour Elisabeth Scott an award-winning architect forgotten by history”

From the sizzling Grange Hill sausage to the colour and thrill of the fairground

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Artist Bob Cosford photographs by Hattie Miles .

I’m sitting in a suburban garden in Bournemouth talking to the man who created the Grange Hill flying sausage. The banger, which appeared in the comic book style title credits of the long- running TV school drama, has followed artist and illustrator Bob Cosford for more than 40 years.

He shrugs: “That title sequence will without a doubt be what I’m remembered for,” he tells me. And here we have the fundamental artist’s dilemma. Create anything that really captures the public’s imagination and it will stick. To this day you can buy a Grange Hill sausage mug, poster, even a t-shirt. But it was creating this iconic title sequences that set Bob on his professional path.

Joining the BBC straight from Art College in the early 1970s, Bob was soon on a path that would bring him a shed-load of awards and critical acclaim. He was nominated for a BAFTA, worked on TV dramas like Dennis Potter’s Pennies From Heaven and a raft of popular television series in the 1980s that included Nanny starring Wendy Craig, Bird of Prey with Richard Griffith, and Angels which was dubbed the Z-Cars of nursing.

He worked as a graphic designer and spent many years around Camden and Soho as a creative director for film and TV and ad agencies. It’s an impressive CV but that famous ‘flying sausage’ invariably comes up again and again. Bob is philosophical and recently told fan site Grange Hill Gold that he’s not only proud of the sausage but very flattered that his work has been so well received. “I’ve never actually seen an episode of Grange Hill,” he confesses to me. “The titles were for the first series ever made and the programme went out at 4.50pm, so I would have either been working or down the pub at that time.”

Continue reading “From the sizzling Grange Hill sausage to the colour and thrill of the fairground”

What links a voice coach, Frankenstein, a dead poet and Bournemouth summer rep?

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Vernon Thompson at the Shelley Theatre in Bournemouth. Photograph by Hattie Miles

Listening to the steady, well-modulated tones of actor and director Vernon Thompson it’s hard to imagine that he’s ever had a problem with his voice.

Yet Vernon, the creative talent behind the  summer repertory theatre season at Bournemouth’s Shelley Theatre, grew up with a significant stammer. It was so  bad that he spent the first five years of his life receiving speech therapy from a Harley Street specialist. And now he divides his time between producing and directing plays and working as a professional voice coach.  Continue reading “What links a voice coach, Frankenstein, a dead poet and Bournemouth summer rep?”

A town transformed by art

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Richard Wood’s ‘harbourside’ Holiday Homes

We went back to the old home town for the 60th birthday party of a young friend at the weekend. There were lots of reminders of why I love Folkestone. I was born and brought up in the town, went to school there, met and married Hattie there and cut my journalistic teeth on the local newspaper. Though we’ve returned many times since we haven’t actually lived in Folkestone for more than 30 years. It is full of good memories though, particularly of the local arts scene.  Inevitably I suppose most of the writers, artists, musicians and actors I used to know have moved on but great to find the old place still full of character and artistic energy. Continue reading “A town transformed by art”

Pages of the Sea – lamenting the madness of 1914-1918 and the boys who never came home

Folkestone, Sunday 11th November, 2018: An amazing day. We woke early in a hotel built on the old brickfields and headed for the sands. Found what was probably the last parking space in town and made our way in pouring rain to join  Danny Boyle and lots of other people on the beach to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that marked the the end of the terrible conflict that was the First World War.

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Wilfred Owen

Boyle’s Pages of the Sea project saw portraits of soldiers who never returned from the battlefields in France etched in the sand at low-water on beaches around the UK. They remained briefly as a poignant reminder of the sacrifice made by so many until their images were erased forever by the incoming tide. Continue reading “Pages of the Sea – lamenting the madness of 1914-1918 and the boys who never came home”

Remembering the fascinating and illustrious roots of Folkestone’s annual autumn book-fest

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Benjamin Zephaniah at Kent Literature Festival in 1984. Photo by Hattie Miles

Meet a young Benjamin Zephaniah. The year is 1984.  I had just interviewed the then still relatively unknown Rastafarian dub poet and Hattie took this photograph. We had talked about the scourge of heroin and the drug casualties that appeared to be reaching epidemic proportions on the streets of Britain. Little did we know… 

Zephaniah was just one of the fascinating and talented writers, performers and musicians taking part in that year’s Kent Literature Festival. This wonderful event, run by my old friend the poet John Rice, had been held annually since 1981 (or maybe it was 1980) and was really hitting its stride. Based in my hometown of Folkestone it offered a feast of literature with famous authors and performers rubbing shoulders with emerging talents and  newcomers.  Continue reading “Remembering the fascinating and illustrious roots of Folkestone’s annual autumn book-fest”

From leap to freedom to dance of death – the tragic final days of ballet star Rudolf Nureyev

image.pngA fascinating new documentary about the extraordinary life and mercurial career of Russian ballet sensation Rudolf Nureyev arrived in British cinemas this week. Called simply Nureyev it tells a story so astonishing that it is hard to credit that it really happened. It traces one of the creative legends of the 20th century. A dancer of such amazing talent that despite an impoverished background he kicked down barriers and enriched and changed the world of classical ballet forever.

Rudolf Nureyev was born on a train on the Trans-Siberian railway in 1938. He came from a poor family but discovered a love of ballet as a child. His father was horrified and tried to beat the passion for dance out of his young son. This brutality simply made a defiant Rudolf even more determined to fight for a place at ballet school. His brilliance, power and grace soon shone and by his early twenties he was a star of the famed Kirov Ballet.

Continue reading “From leap to freedom to dance of death – the tragic final days of ballet star Rudolf Nureyev”

Dorothea’s dustbowl migrants and Tom McGuinness on Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup

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Migrant Mother the photograph of itinerant pea-picker Florence Thompson and her children taken in California in 1936 that catapulted Dorothea Lange to international fame

A couple of weeks ago I found myself at London’s Barbican viewing The Politics of Seeing – an exhibition of superb and often troubling photographs by pioneering American photographer Dorothea Lange.

Across the gallery, admiring Lange’s iconic studies of Oklahoma dustbowl migrants in California in the 1930s, was a man who I was fairly convinced was Manfred Mann and Blues Band guitarist Tom McGuinness. I wasn’t sure though and short of wandering over and asking, I couldn’t figure out a way of finding out. Continue reading “Dorothea’s dustbowl migrants and Tom McGuinness on Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup”

Buy my lamps you won’t need drugs – a compelling and effective marketing slogan

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Craven Walker: daredevil, pioneering naturist and inventor of the lava lamp

I am intrigued to see that Mathmos, the Poole based company that, back in 1963, launched that soon to become indispensable hippy accessory the lava lamp are celebrating the centenary of their founder Craven Walker.

Craven – his full name was Edward Craven Walker – was in some ways an unlikely inventor of the lamp that fascinated the counter-culture.

A former RAF pilot with a passion for fast cars, speed boats and helicopters, he was also a pioneering nudist who made a number naturist films that avoided the censor by being shot underwater. Continue reading “Buy my lamps you won’t need drugs – a compelling and effective marketing slogan”

Tony Hancock – the comic genius who could not be saved from his demons

Fifty years ago this week one of Britain’s greatest comedians, Tony Hancock, committed suicide. Lonely and depressed, he ended his life with an overdose of drink and drugs in a rented flat in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia. He was just 44-years-old.  It was a tragic and lonely end, thousands of miles from home, for a man who just a handful of years earlier had been a huge TV and radio star, a household name loved by millions. Continue reading “Tony Hancock – the comic genius who could not be saved from his demons”

Dylan Thomas and New Quay – the little Welsh town that inspired Under Milk Wood

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Picturesque New Quay the town where Dylan Thomas wrote the first draft of Under Milk Wood

I am standing outside one of Dylan Thomas’s favourite pubs in a “cliff-perched toppling town” on the west coast of Wales. It is true that many a hostelry claims the notoriously thirsty Welsh poet as a regular. But this is New Quay, the picturesque fishing village on Cardigan Bay that Dylan often visited as a child. He and his wife Caitlin also made it their home and writing-base for a year during the Second World War.

The pub is the Black Lion where the infamous hell-raiser once got embroiled in a spat with a jealous husband who later attacked his £1-a-week “shack at the end of the cliff” with a machine-gun and hand-grenade. Continue reading “Dylan Thomas and New Quay – the little Welsh town that inspired Under Milk Wood”

When Henry the horse danced the waltz…

beatles 5.jpgIt was 50 years ago today that Sgt Pepper taught the band to play – well give or take a day or three. On Thursday 1st of June 1967 I was 16-years-old and like most of my schoolfriends made a beeline for the local record shop to hear The Beatles’ newly released album.  Little did we know at the start of what would become known as the Summer of Love that music, and indeed a whole bunch of other things, would never be quite the same again.

Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band may not have been the greatest album ever recorded but it was one of the most innovative, inventive and influential. It was unlike anything anybody had ever heard before and it caught the spirit of the time perfectly. Listening now to the remastered 50th Anniversary edition I realise that it gave us a soundtrack to an era and, as the 1967 Summer of Love morphed into the 1968 Year of Protest, the album stayed with us. Continue reading “When Henry the horse danced the waltz…”

25th May 1917 – the WWI air-raid that blasted Folkestone into a new age of violence

 

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My great grandfather William Henry Stokes one of 61 people killed in the Tontine Street air-raid

The date:  Friday 25th May 1917. The time: 6.22pm.

It was a beautiful early summer’s evening and for the people of Folkestone the start of a seaside holiday weekend. In bustling Tontine Street children were playing while their mothers chatted and queued outside Stokes Brothers the greengrocers. There had been wartime food shortages and a new delivery of potatoes had just arrived. A crowd had quickly gathered as news got around. Shopkeeper William Henry Stokes, my great grandfather, and his staff were doing brisk business.

The mood was surprisingly carefree. Despite the terrible death toll on the Western Front just a short distance across the English Channel, the actual violence of war had had little direct effect on the town. The sound of distant explosions caused scant concern to the shoppers outside the Stokes grocery store that evening. It was just the military practising at nearby Shorncliffe Camp. Or so they thought. Continue reading “25th May 1917 – the WWI air-raid that blasted Folkestone into a new age of violence”

Meeting Modernism at the Russell-Cotes

 

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A Dorset Landscape  by Leslie Moffat Ward (1930)  All images: Russell-Cotes Gallery & Museum

By Jeremy Miles

When Victorian art collector Sir Merton Russell-Cotes bequeathed his lavish cliff-top home, East Cliff Hall, and its huge collection of paintings and sculptures to the people of Bournemouth he created an intriguing problem. He was a fearfully hard act to follow. The collection that he and his wife Annie had spent decades acquiring was idiosyncratic and wide-ranging. Magnificent paintings shared wall space with those that were considered minor and mediocre, but somehow it all worked. It was a collection that reflected Sir Merton’s flamboyant style and generosity of spirit.

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Arthur Bradbury’s 1935 painting Pamela

But it also highlighted the fact that he had been a man of his age, born into the era of Empire. By the time of his death in 1921 the contemporary art world had moved on. Post First World War sensibilities were open to radical change and though public taste, as ever, lagged a few years behind the artistic vanguard, eventually the inevitable happened and Victorian art fell seriously out of fashion.

However Bournemouth was sitting on what was effectively a priceless time-capsule and the Russell-Cotes Art  Gallery and Museum  collection is now recognised as one of the finest complete Victorian collections in the world. That it is housed in its original home is a major bonus. Unfortunately none of this helped answer the problem of how to add to and develop the collection. The answer is found in Meeting Modernism: 20th Century Art in the Russell-Cotes Collection which runs at the museum’s galleries until 24th April.

Continue reading “Meeting Modernism at the Russell-Cotes”

Strictly Murder Review

Strictly Murder2.pngLara Lemon as Suzy and Gary Turner as Peter in Talking Scarlet’s production Strictly Murder

By Jeremy Miles

Strictly Murder – The Theatre, Lighthouse, Poole.

With its clunky title – full of murder mystery promise – and a plot that twists and turns with every scene, this classic stage thriller cannot fail to satisfy.

But then the man who wrote it is the late Brian Clemens, the mastermind behind such 1960s and 70s TV hits as The Avengers and The Professionals.

Strictly Murder is a good old fashioned stage thriller from the days when fictional killings (and real ones too) were not hampered by mobile phone technology, DNA analysis and state-of-the art forensics.

Clemens himself once described this as “the golden age of murder” and pointed out that not a single Agatha Christie story would survive if constrained by modern CSI techniques.

So it was that we were able to happily settle down to this production from the excellent Talking Scarlet theatre company without fear of anyone being nicked as a result of a remote criminal database scan halfway through Act One.

Strictly Murder is set in rural France in 1939 and tension is rising as  Europe braces itself for the outbreak of World War II. We find English couple Peter and Suzy living in a remote cottage in Provence and earning just enough to keep body and soul together. Their simple lives are thrown into turmoil when it is revealed that Peter (Gary Turner) is on the run. But who from and why?

Turner, best known as Carlos Diaz in Emmerdale, is excellent as Peter, full of barely concealed anxiety and burning on a short fuse, while Lara Lemon impresses as Suzy trying to work out what is troubling the man in her life.

But the real scene-stealer is Brian Capron (Richard Hillman from Coronation Street) as strange police inspector Ross who comes calling with alarming consequences.  Corinne Wicks – another familiar Emmerdale  face – plays a pushy murder squad superintendent and Andrew Fettes is a simple minded German vagrant with a gun and a head full of confused memories.

Eventually the tissue of lies, subterfuge and betrayal at the core of this story is revealed and so too is the savagery of the coming Nazi regime.

This production of Strictly Murder, directed by Samuel Clemens (Brian’s son) has a plot that never flags but I do take issues with the publicity that describes it as ‘fast-paced’. It is actually a bit of a slow-burner which is one of reasons it’s so enjoyable.

*Strictly Murder completes its run at Lighthouse with performances today (Thursday 16th March)  at 2.30pm and 7.45pm

Revisiting the punk revolution 40 years on

 

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Sex Pistols Oxford Street Glitterbest photosession – 1977 Photo: ©Adrian Boot

40 Years of Punk: Photographs by Adrian Boot 

 Proud Camden until 8th January 2017 

 

I have to confess that my memory of the events of 40 years ago is hazy but I can tell you with absolute certainty that something strange and wonderful happened. During the months that saw 1976 turn into 1977 punk rock arrived.

I was a 25-year-old writer and sometime music journalist and the effect seemed almost instant. My hair shortened, my trousers narrowed and my mind broadened. I was suddenly covering bands that were full of anger and energy and driven by a wonderfully unrefined commitment to change. Continue reading “Revisiting the punk revolution 40 years on”

We have colour TV and we’ve been to the Moon but some things just never change

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Ralph McTell: Lighthouse, Poole.

Celebrating 50 years on the road, acoustic folk giant Ralph McTell was in understandably nostalgic mood for this wonderful concert. For a start he was returning to Poole where he spent the freezing winter of 1962-63 living in a beatnik crash pad in a fish-crate store over a bookies shop in the High Street. There have been a few changes since then. “There’s so much more traffic,” he murmured in wonderment. “We’ve got colour television… We’ve been to the moon!”

Continue reading “We have colour TV and we’ve been to the Moon but some things just never change”

Discovering the hidden secrets of a town that didn’t even exist until 200 years ago

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Hotter staff and bloggers with Hattie (third right). Can you guess which one’s me?

Where can you find the grave of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley and the charred remains of the heart of her husband, the romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley?  What about the birthplace of the man who wrote the music for the nation’s favourite hymn Jerusalem?

The answer is Bournemouth which may sound surprising but these are just two ‘hidden secrets’ from a town that most people regard as little more than a popular seaside resort. Appearances, and reputations, can be deceptive though. For a place that didn’t even exist until 200 years ago Bournemouth is home to an astonishing number of fascinating historical facts.

To prove the point photographer, social historian and walking guide Hattie Miles (who also happens to be my wife) has teamed up with Hotter Shoes to present a self-guided walk that reveals the town’s often hidden histories. Starting from the Hotter shop in Old Christchurch Road, the walk covers just a small area of the centre of town, takes around an hour but is extraordinarily rich in amazing stories from the recent and distant past._mg_5471

This week I joined a select group of bloggers to road-test the walk with Hattie reading from the script that normally provides the phone or tablet text for self-guided walkers. It was a real eye-opener shining a light on the history and heritage of this popular tourist destination.

The fact is  that Bournemouth probably wouldn’t even have existed had it not been for a romantic gesture by well-to-do army captain Lewis Tregonwell. He built the town’s first house in 1812  because his wife, grieving over the death of their child, loved the location by the sea.

Until then Bournemouth had been an area of largely untamed heathland on the road between the ancient borough’s of Christchurch and Poole. Tregonwell saw its potential and bought 8.5 acres of land in what is now the centre of town. He paid the princely sum of £179.11 shillings. Initially development was slow but the arrival of the railway and Bournemouth’s growing reputation as a health spa soon led to rapid expansion.

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Look up and there examples of changing times everywhere

Look above the shops to upper storey level and the evidence of past times and passing events from war-time bombings to multiple changes of use are plain to see. We found the smallest shop in town occupied by a man who has effectively run a thriving business from a cupboard under the stairs for the past 40 years. We discovered a stained glass window in the back of a clothes shop and the hidden mansion built as a home for the original Mr W.H.Smith. There was also a poignant moment for me as we took in the full art-deco grandeur of the purpose-built 1930s newspaper headquarters of the Bournemouth Echo. I worked there for more than 20 years and have many happy memories of news stories, features, good friends and great characters. It looks a little careworn these days but is still the paper’s headquarters. In its hey-day the building teemed with people – reporters, photographers, sub-editors, printers, plate-makers, advertising staff. Forty years ago its editorial staff included ITN’s Mark Austin, TV and radio presenter Anne Diamond and a young American sub-editor called Bill Bryson whose breakthrough book Notes From A Small Island would contain quite a lengthy description of life in Bournemouth and his memories of the Echo.  Times change and the newspaper office is a lot quieter now but the history remains.

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The Bournemouth Echo’s classic 1930s art-deco offices

Hattie knows her stuff. For 24 years she also worked on the Echo as a photographer. It’s the kind of job that gives you a front-seat view of historic changes as they happen. She’s put her knowledge to good use and for the past two years has run the town’s popular guided ‘walkingtalks’ tours. The Hotter shoes connection started a long time ago when she began wearing them for her photographic work. Comfortable and practical footwear is an essential part of the photographers kit, particularly when the job often requires you to be on your feet all day. Hattie found that Hotter shoes were not only comfortable, but supported her feet well. No surprise then that she still wears them for her guided walks.

We bloggers were also kitted out with Hotter shoes and, I promise this is not merely PR guff, I really liked mine.To be honest I had never considered wearing Hotter shoes before. I suppose I thought they just did slippers and comfy shoes for old folk with corns and bunions. What did I know? Things have moved on apace in recent years. They now not only do comfort but very stylish designs too. My Hotter walking shoes – named, rather alarmingly I felt, Thor, after the hammer-wielding Norse God of thunder and lightning – are light, strong, very comfortable, waterproofed with Gore-Tex and not only feel great but look good too. I can hardly believe I’m saying this. I sound like an advert but it’s absolutely true.

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A stained-glass gem at the back of a  shop

I am reminded of a sketch that the comedian Jasper Carrot used to do 25 odd years ago based on the observation that, on reaching a certain age, the average British bloke would be walking past a branch of Dunn & Co, the long-gone gentlemen’s outfitter that used to specialise in dull, sensible clothing, and find himself thinking: ‘You know what? That beige car-coat is really rather nice.’

Is my new found love of Hotter just a 2016 version of the Dunn & Co car-coat syndrome? I’ve looked very carefully and have worn my Thor shoes a number of times over the past week and I am certain they really are as good as I think.

Curiously our Bournemouth walk took us past the shop that 25 years ago was the Bournemouth branch of Dunn & Co. It’s now a flagship store for High Street cosmetics giant Lush, a company which was started locally by Mark and Mo Constantine.

They still live in nearby Poole, still own the business and have done rather well for themselves. Indeed they were listed  in last year’s  Sunday Times Rich List as the 28th richest husband-and-wife team in Britain, worth £205 million. There you go. Another fascinating fact.

You can find  Hattie’s circular self-guided walk from Hotter shoes in Bournemouth at www.hotter.com/blog/walk-with-hotter-and-discover-bournemouth/

Meanwhile there is plenty more information about her guided walkingtalks at  walkingtalks.wordpress.com

Jim Morrison idolised Jack Kerouac but it seems Kerouac’s mum was not impressed

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Jim Morrison’s grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris in 1982. Photograph: Hattie Miles

Turn the clock back 34 years and you’ll find me standing in front of Jim Morrison’s grave in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. I didn’t need a map to find it. I just followed the graffiti. Arrows with the word ‘Jim’ chalked on trees and monuments marked the way to the final resting place of the American rock star they called The Lizard King.  As I drew close the graffiti became more dominant and the air was filled with the smell of marijuana.

Continue reading “Jim Morrison idolised Jack Kerouac but it seems Kerouac’s mum was not impressed”

Superlungs: gig of a lifetime runs out of puff

Terry Reid.jpgTerry Reid, The Tivoli Theatre, Wimborne.

Terry Reid has never been lucky. He was first choice as vocalist for Led Zeppelin but, busy on tour, helpfully suggested they might like to check out a chap called Robert Plant instead. Extraordinarily the same thing happened when they wanted him to front Deep Purple. Reid was out on the road and it was Ian Gillan who got the call. Continue reading “Superlungs: gig of a lifetime runs out of puff”

Barry and the curse of the Pier Theatre

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By Jeremy Miles

I was saddened by the recent death of Barry Howard. I will remember him as a lovely man with a sparkle in his eye, a waspish wit and a talent that belied the glib ‘Hi-de-Hi actor’ label that accompanied almost all of his obituaries.

Not, I hasten to add, that there is anything wrong with being associated with the classic David Croft/Jimmy Perry sit-com. It’s just that Barry’s career encompassed a whole lot more than the character of Maplins Holiday Camp’s resident washed-up ballroom dancer Barry Stuart-Hargreaves. Though he was extremely grateful to have played the role of the supercilious dance instructor through seven series of a prime time TV show, he felt a little trapped by it in later years.

Continue reading “Barry and the curse of the Pier Theatre”

Did Robert Louis Stevenson’s horror classic emerge from a drug-induced nightmare?

Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson

The fevered imagination of author and poet Robert Louis Stevenson shocked and thrilled late Victorian Society. His Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – said to have been written during a six day cocaine binge – appalled and excited readers in equal measure.

For nearly 130 years this psychological thriller – originally published as a novella in 1886 – has been revisited again and again on stage, screen and the written page. For decades there have been Hollywood movies, theatre productions, TV and radio plays and regular documentaries examining the Jekyll and Hyde phenomenon.

Continue reading “Did Robert Louis Stevenson’s horror classic emerge from a drug-induced nightmare?”