Monday, May 21, 2007

Great Escape Festival 2007

Having spent the last few days indulging in one of my favourite hobbies - jumping up and down to live music - I am positively itching to blog about all the brilliant (and some awful) bands I've seen. But as I am off to Brazil in three days, and have a sales conference at work for the next two, it's unikely that I'll have time to write anything halfway decent. So instead, here is a photo-diary of my favourite bits of the festival...



One of the first bands we saw, ZZZ - from the Netherlands, were an eccentric mix of jazz hammond and hard rock drumming/vocals. Brilliant for stomping about to in my big green gig boots, and getting me well and truly in the festival spirit.



Wiflully kooky Icelandic songstress Hafdis Huld is produced by the delightful and hugely talented singer-songwriter Boo Hewerdine - and the influence shows in her witty lyrics and catchy melodies.



The very pretty guitarist from Californian rock band The Airborne Toxic Event. This was one of those fortuitous accidental gigs - we had expected to see someone else entirely - but they turned out to be really good. Definite shades of The Arcade Fire, but rockier and less tender.



There were various 'secret' gigs organised throughout the festival, for those subscribed to the text message info service. One of these was Foals, which kept being postponed due to weather conditions, and finally kicked off at Horatio's - a seedy karaoke bar at the end of the pier. Despite the odd choice of venue, there was a brilliantly spontaneous vibe about the gig, which complemented the youthful band's amazing energy and physicality. I spent the entire set dancing on the back of a sofa - trashing the furniture in true rock 'n roll style!



The Magic Numbers were one of the biggest names at a festival largely dedicated to 'new' and 'upcoming' bands. We hadn't actually intended to see them, but had bagged ourselves a good spot at the previous gig (Captain) in the same venue, and so decided to give them a go. Having been largely underwhelmed by both their (arguably over-produced) albums, I was pleasantly surprised and enthused by their infectiously ebullient and impressively rocking live performance.



Possibly my favourite shot of the whole festival, this shows one of the members Benni Hemm Hemm contemplating some sort of wacky home-made persussion instrument. This was at our final gig - part of an Icelandic music showcase at the Duke of York's - and a wonderfully mellow end to a rather frantic few days.

Loads more photos of The Great Escape, and other Brighton Festival happenings, are on my flickr page at: www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar

Friday, May 11, 2007

Heavenly Bodies

The Caesar Twins, Udderbelly, Brighton Festival Fringe, 10th May 2007

Last year’s La Clique at the gloriously decadent Spiegeltent was undoubtedly the highlight of my 2006 Brighton Festival (see my previous blog Beautiful Freaks), and remains the subject of fond reminiscences among the group friends with whom I went. The combination of a uniquely atmospheric venue and a quirky mix of sideshow cabaret acts - all held together with a mutual sense of twisted eccentricity – appealed to my theatrical heritage, and sparked an interest in the Burlesque scene, which has since led me onto other events such as Lost Vagueness. Sadly, both the Spiegeltent and La Clique are conspicuously absent from this year’s festival - the former being replaced by a giant upturned purple cow, The Udderbelly, which is currently dominating the Steine gardens along with a collection of smaller animals. One of the acts appearing at this unusual venue is The Caesar Twins – a Polish acrobatics outfit (& yes, they are really twins) who have previously toured as part of La Clique (though not when I saw it), and were recently described by the Brighton Argus as: “like seeing a whole circus but with just two performers”. After all the hype - including an interview on the oh-so-glamorous BBC South Today - I was keen to judge for myself, and braved the elements last night to meet some friends in the Asahi Pasture (the official Fringe bar) ahead of my first festival outing of 2007.

The atmosphere in the beer tent beforehand was somehow enhanced by the inclement weather outside - as the usual festival suspects huddled together round the gas heaters, leaving it ‘til the very last minute to dash across the muddy gardens and into the colourful bovine arena. Rather letting down its strikingly wacky exterior, the inside of the Udderbelly is disappointingly underwhelming – especially in comparison to its lavish predecessor. This may partly account for the general lacklustre vibe of the show itself. It’s amazing how much the context can contribute to the overall experience of a performance – and this was a prime example. The acrobatic feats themselves were indisputably astounding, even at times arousing, but as a production it lacked the drama and atmosphere of La Clique. Theatre critic Lyn Gardner put her finger on the problem when reviewing the show for the Guardian last year, rightly observing that: “what has a big wow factor in small doses in cunningly produced shows such as the knowingly naughty La Clique, looks mighty thin when stretched to 80 minutes in a traditional theatre”.

Despite my artistic reservations, I couldn’t say I was ever actually bored during the performance. There were some interesting (if not particularly well executed) ideas in place, and I found the whole set-up intriguing from a psychological perspective – closely contemplating not just the (frankly, fucking hot) bodies of Pablo and Pierre, but the intricacies of their twin-ship, and the way in which it evidently affects their onstage relationship - both physical and otherwise. This was reinforced by various photo and video montages of their lives together – from childhood gymnastic tournaments, right up to a near-fatal accident in which Pablo fell 40ft from the ‘Wheel of Death’ during a live performance in 2002. These more serious elements were balanced out by some welcome moments of humour, such as a cheeky stunt in which one of the twins cunningly flicked off his trousers mid-backflip, whilst bouncing on a giant inflatable mattress (kind of like a bouncy castle without sides). This saucy manoeuvre had most of the girls in the audience instantly shedding layers of clothing and fanning themselves, while the menfolk shuffled in their seats, self-consciously contemplating their paunches. A torrent of giggling girls in the ladies’ loo afterwards was testament to the rousing effects of this dextrous duo – perhaps best summed up as the thinking woman’s answer to the Chippendales…

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Djinn of the Tin

In between drinking gallons of ale (my new favourite tipple), buying a purple steston and some matching converse trainers, grooving to swing at a working men’s club in the East End, and making several abortive attempts to complete the Guardian crossword with a hangover this bank holiday weekend, I have also inadvertently become a virtual spiritual guide to a complete stranger. Allow me to explain… During the first instalment of Bank Holiday Indulgence (or BHI for short), I was in The Basketmakers with some friends - reading, as you do, the various scribblings stashed within the vintage tins that are nailed to its walls (see my previous blog ‘Brighton’s Best Pubs’). Some of these notes are mildy amusing observations, others barely legible drunken scrawlings. At the same time, Ant was handing out his shiny new Moo cards, and I was suddenly inspired to leave my own diddy calling card (I had them first!) in one of the tins, just to see what would happen. Of course I accepted the fact that I might gain a stalker, or that my image would be torn up and used as roach material by some grateful stoners, but my adventurous streak won over and, egged on by Damien, I picked a suitable tin – fairly high up the wall – in the hope that someone equally adventurous would find me. Two days later, whilst slumming around recovering after another night of BHI with friends in London (see my Flickr page for photographic evidence), I received a photo text of the tin in which I had left my card, simply saying: ‘found u in this tin’. After a few seconds hesitation, I playfully replied: ‘I’m the genie of the tin, you have three wishes… Be careful what you wish for!’, hoping that my finder would be on the same wavelength, and join in my little game. Maybe it’s something about living in Brighton, and the sense of eccentric affinity that exists between many of its residents (particularly in lovely ‘locals’ pubs like The Basketmakers), which made me pretty confident that they would - and my instinct proved right when the following text exchange then took place:

‘Djinn of the Tin, my first wish would be to meet you in the flesh’

‘Ah, but since I am non-corporeal this may prove somewhat problematic.’

‘Ok, ethereal states it is! In that case may my first wish be the privilege to text you at any time as my non-corporeal spirit guide offering astute guidance! Hehe’

You may call upon my infinite wisdom as requested, but beware – I shall not be accountable for the consequences of any advice so bestowed…’

‘Your disclaimer is duly noted. I shall not squander the wish that you have granted. Just about to take my first steps into a giant purple cow!’

‘Oh Genie of the Tin, my second wish is to have permission to keep the card that I discovered, rather than returning it to whence it came.’

I shall grant this wish, but on the condition that after your third wish, you become the genie and leave your own image in the tin for the benefit of another lost soul.’

‘Oh Genie of the Tin, I will honour the wish that you have granted. I would now call upon your infinite wisdom to ask, are all love stories the same? And what should I serve for dessert this evening?’

‘All love stories have definite similarities, but differ according to the lovers’ individual experience. Personally I favour lime & chocolate cheesecake.’

‘I am most grateful for your words of wisdom this evening. I think we each choose our own paths through each experience life has to offer. Lime and chocolate cheesecake sounds delightful. I shall not disturb you again today.’

I still don’t know whether my wisher is male or female, or anything else about them for that matter, but I am enjoying my new-found status as a virtual spiritual guide, and am rather tickled by this spontaneous/anonymous exchange. I wonder what their third wish will be…