Sunday, 6 July 2014

About Miss Julie at the King's Head.

Miss Julie is an 1888 play by Swedish playwright August Strindberg. It is regarded as a masterpiece, and regularly revived. For this run at the Kings Head in Islington, it has been adapted and renamed About Miss Julie – shifted to England between the wars with an upstairs downstairs set up in what is surely an eye on the Downtown Abbey audience. Hear the full review on East London Radio.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Excellent 'Mr Burns' at the Almeida - Radio Review

What is our culture of binge-watching heading towards? Gluttonous hours on Netflix, DVD boxsets and torrents. Might it be towards a world where the lights have gone out permanently and all that’s left of an age when we probably have more entertainment available than at any other time in history is an oral tradition of people trying to remember the plotlines of TV series?
That’s the premise of Anne Washburn’s 2012 play Mr Burns. Hear the full review on East London Radio.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Boxed In - No Joke

'No Joke' from Boxed In - AKA London-based Oli Bayston - builds on the house keys and live drums template of last year's 'All Your Love Is Gone' by lifting the vocals higher in the mix and moving away from washes of noise to pure groove. This creates something closer to Bayston's work with 2 Bears, whilst retaining the downtempo shuffle he had with previous band Keith. 

The real attraction here, though, is the bass: more complex than the usual four to the floor summer track, it adds a layer of interest that drives this tune into your consciousness, allowing it to stage a full on assault on your feet. As if that's not enough, the addition to the video of the Kolkata Laughing Club is worth your time alone.

Todd Terje - It's Album Time

Norwegian producer Todd Terje has always had a taste for novelty: 2012's mockumentary Whateverest follows an obsessed fan for 15 surreal minutes, he has remixed Roxy Music, and features Bryan Ferry on a cover of Robert Palmer's 'Johnny and Mary.' Detractors are quick to suggest that this renders his music trivial, but the status of 'Inspector Norse' and 'Strandbar' as Summer anthems for 2012 and 2013 suggests that when the sun comes out, this kind of silliness is exactly what people want.

Terje exploits this to the full on his first LP - finally complete following a decade of singles and EPs - by wedding the inherent novelty of cheesy synth loops with artful builds and full on ecstatic disco house moments. From the outset, however, it's clear that It's Album Time will not be making any concessions to his critics. The opener consists of the album title chanted over arpeggiated bleeps, and is followed by 'Leisure Suit Preben' and 'Preben Goes to Acapulco' (recently released either side of a 7"), which sound like a 70s sci-fi TV series set in a future Miami. Next is 'Svensk Sas', which can most accurately be described as polka with added scat singing. Like Metronomy without the arch humour, or Air without the Gallic cool, this does begin to get a little tiresome.

Fortunately, the middle section, announced by 'Strandbar', shows a (slightly) more serious side. Future smash 'Delorean Dynamite' features a grimy bassline that disappears into washes of synth before emerging even harder than before. This is followed by 'Johnny and Mary' which, despite dispensing with the drive and much of the melancholy charm of the original, is a great display of Terje's talent for building a tune that doesn't need to go anywhere to satisfy.

The final third is a gradual build through more nu-disco and 90s computer game themes towards 'Inspector Norse', Terje's calling card Summer jam that closes with a festival crowd chanting its riff. These final sounds show the true intentions of an album cloaked in irony and knowing references. "Yes," say the gradually fading crowd, "there may be silliness and whimsy, but listen to how much fun we're having!" Maybe, like a sullen teenager at the edges of a wedding, it might just be time for us to stop shaking our heads and head for the dance floor.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Elbow Sound Better in The North

Elbow make music for mornings. 'One Day Like This' begins with Guy drinking in the morning sun, 'New York Morning' - lead single from new album The Takeoff and Landing of Everything - is, well, about the morning, and even the track that follows it, 'Real Life (Angel)', has a "hallelujah morning". Listing to the album whilst searching through the sun-drenched city for breakfast, then walking to the station full of toast and eggs, it was clear that - even more than mornings - Elbow make music for Manchester.

The band's mournful but optimistic tone mirrors this city: much to be proud of, yet often displaying a preference for self-deprecating humour and quiet ambition over shout-it-from-the-rooftops boastfulness (with the obvious exceptions of Oasis and Manchester City FC - linked by both support and arrogance). Elbow are a much better fit for Manchester's psyche - not that they don't like to shout things from the rooftops, it's just that when they do they shout things like 'one day like this a year will see me right', which seems really to suggest that every other day is likely to be rubbish.

The new album does have rooftop moments, particularly 'New York Morning', 'Charge' and the brilliant instrumental part in the middle of 'Fly Boy Blue / Lunette', but mostly retains the intimacy that has always been a hallmark of the band's output. Given the bombast of their Olympics-closing performance, it wouldn't be surprising if they started producing music that only really worked in mega-stadiums, a well-trodden path most recently swaggered down by Coldplay. Instead, they have kept the voice of the old drunk in the corner of a Northern Quarter bar.

This voice pipes up after 'New York Morning' - around the halfway point - as if they had to get the epic stuff out of the way. The tracks that follow, 'Real Life (Angel)' and 'Honey Sun', share a Postal Service-like insistency, with the latter leaping into a playful chorus like someone bursting into laughter in the middle of telling a story. The highlight, though, is 'My Sad Captains', a pean to the moments in the small hours when a night is coming to a close. The part sad, part contented, and all nostalgic feel of this song came as the train back to London made the red brick and concrete South Manchester suburbs roll into the Pennines. Elbow might name songs after American cities and make music to close international sporting events, but, for me, their sunrises will always throw light on to Piccadilly Gardens.

Thursday, 13 March 2014


Unexpectedly recognising something is a powerful experience – spotting someone in the street that looks like a friend or accidentally catching your own reflection can be deeply affecting, and this seems to be magnified triggered by a work of art. In the exceptionally well-observed Visitors these moments are frequent but subtle enough not to be overly sentimental, making for an incredibly moving piece of theatre.

Read the review here: