Monday, 17 May 2010

The Death of Little Ronnie - The Devil Horns guy.



Although my first ever gig was a show by Hot Chocolate in Paignton in about 1974 whilst on holiday with my mummy and daddy, my "proper" gig-going never began in earnest until about 1979/1980. And by this time I was - or so I thought - too late to see the mighty Black Sabbath with original "V-sign" flashing singer Ozzy Osbourne. The first time I got to see The Sabs was at Hammersmith Odeon in 1980. By this time they had taken on Ronnie James Dio as lead singer. Which was fine. Wasn't Ozzy. But fine.

So, there I am at Hammersmith, and the little fella comes on and starts doing this strange thing with his hands. Two fingers extended in a representation of a devil's head. Never thought that much of it at the time really. Just thought it was a different thing to do than the Ozzy-style "peace" sign. Wondered what on Earth he was doing if the truth be known.


Ronnie certainly had a lot to answer for

So now, 30 years later almost to the day, and Ronnie James Dio is dead at 67 years of age. My dad died at 67 too - so I guess if we're talking of dying young it's more of a "dead dad" age to die than a "dead rock star" age. But it's a tragedy just the same. And all over the World there will be people ranging from spotty, greasy-haired teenagers with pierced eyebrows right through to leaders of major World Superpowers flashing this same sign at each other, possibly with tongue extended, and completely unaware that it was little Ron who started all that.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Chihiro Onitsuka - She's not Twinkle Princess

If reports around the net are to be believed then she may well be about as potty as a large, rabbit-like creature in the third month of the year, but it has been my belief for a fair few years now that perhaps the greatest singer-songwriter on the planet is the little-known-outside-her-native-country Japanese singer Chihiro Onitsuka.

In typical Japanese style, she is a bit of a star in the Land of the Rising Sun and relatively unknown elsewhere, but internet searches will soon reveal pockets of dedicated fandom all round the free world. And deservedly so too, even if she has lost some of her vocal prowess in recent years following the dreaded throat surgery. So, for those who are interested, I give you... Chihiro Onitsuka.



Infection by Chihiro Onitsuka complete with dazzling 80s style computer effect.

Aaaah! Chihiro! Marvellous! If only I knew what the hell she was singing about.

Oh, what the heck. Here's another one.


Thursday, 6 May 2010

What's to like about Avatar?

 Had I been in Avatar I would have looked a little something like this

James Cameron's recently DVD released CGI classic Avatar has been on the Grachman family DVD player several times in the past few days. It was bought as a sweetener for the Grachettes after farming them out to Grandma's at the weekend so that I could go out to play. And they love it. As, I have to admit, do I. Hence, in the space of three days - Saturday, Sunday and May Bank Holiday Monday - the film managed to run its entire course a grand total of 5 times.

It certainly is entertaining, even after the glorious 3D world of Pandora is shrunken down to TV size and you suddenly realise that CGI still has a way to go before it ceases to look like a computer game once those 3D specs have been removed. Even so it's a great way to pass two-and-a-half hours despite the viewers being fully aware that they are being completely emotionally manipulated by a computer.

So, what is it about Avatar that makes it work? It's not the technology. Yes, the graphics and the technology are impressive, but it's still not the finished article even if my mum was convinced that it was people dressed up and seemed completely baffled when I tried to explain that it wasn't. You see, despite this being a major advance in film techniques (so we're told) you still get that funny "dribbling 1950s footballer" style running that films made on a computer inevitably possess. One day, in a few years time, it will still probably look as dated as "Reefer Madness" does today.

So what is it then? Subtle social comment. Oh sure, there are references to recent major news events. Or am I over thinking this stuff? American attempts at diplomacy conveniently failing - that'll be Iraq then. Natives in rough terrain getting a good home-track advantage. That's Afganistan. I think. Tree being knocked down. That's 9/11 that is. Alien trying to stop a bulldozer by standing in front of it. That's Tiananmen Square. It is. I notice these things.

Nope. It's not that either. It's this. It's because you can't beat a good old tribal epic in which baddie English speakers invade and attempt to wipe out poor, helpless, long haired, tree-loving natives of somewhere. And it has one crucial ingredient in particular to make it work. It has what every good piece of overly expensive anti-English-speaker propaganda needs. It has Wes Studi.

The moment the Studi-played head of the Na'vi clan begins speaking you know it's good old Magua himself. In that instant the film skips up a notch of the Tribalepicometer and you just long to hear him say: "When the Grey Hair is dead, Magua will eat his heart. Before he dies, Magua will put his children under the knife, so the Grey Hair will know his seed it wiped out forever." But he doesn't.

 Have a heart, Wes

And on the subject of hearts - the film manages to find a big one in the shape of Zoe Saldana, who plays the slim, sexy (no, really!), cat-eyed love interest. At least I think it's her. It could just be a computer graphic, but what the hell. She still does it for me and I still "would" given half a chance - just as Jake Sully rather recklessly does at one point in proceedings. This is what I'm not sure about. Is it actually her acting? Or is it just her voice? It's so hard to tell these days. Not like in my day when we had proper films, with real actors and tunes you could hum along to. Either way, you feel her pain when Daddy Magua (or whatever his name is) gets a bit of a rough deal during the film.

Poor old Wes. One day there might actually come an expensive tribal epic in which he manages to make it through to the final credits. He certainly deserves to at least once. Magua understand English speakers very well. But they or theirs always seem to get him in the end.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Hair at The Gielgud. What Ever happened to The Bed?

"Hell no, we won't go!"

I was an impressionable young child of about 11 the first time I saw Hair on Stage in the early 70s. Or was I 12? Can’t remember. Either way, the point is I was impressionable. And I was particularly impressed when an usher at the New Theatre in Oxford questioned my apparently liberal parents (although it never occurred to me at the time and still find it hard to think of them in such a way) as to the suitability of my school friend and myself to be seeing such a show. If you want to make a young school kid eager to witness what he is about to attend, then that is certainly the way to do it.

My trip to Oxford to see the show triggered something of a life-long obsession with the show which would rear its head every now and again as I'd dig out my Dad's scratchy old, original 12” LP featuring, amongst others, Paul Nicholas and – rather surprisingly hidden away in the band playing guitar if my memory serves correctly – Alex Harvey.

And so, for many years, I harboured a yearning to see the show once again and yet, at the same time, failed to notice a John Barrowman starring run of the show at the Old Vic in 1993 and a rather dubious sounding presentation at Gate Theatre, Notting Hill in 2005 that changed the show to make it about the Iraq war rather than Vietnam.

Actually, I'm rather glad I didn't know about that 2005 production. Because I would have probably gone to see it if I'd known about it. And it would have probably annoyed me. Yes, there is relevance in Hair to modern issues, but works best as period piece. I have no doubt about this - which is probably rather strange having not seen other versions. But the idea of a bunch short haired 21st century kids singing about Iraq fills me with the same feeling of wrongness that I felt watching the reshuffled 1979 film version. I mean, you wouldn't update Sound of Music to make it about The Falklands or have Miss Saigon about World War I would you? Or maybe some people would. I don't know. But I wouldn't. If I see Hair I want to see a bunch of hippies. That's why it's called Hair isn't it? Because they had, like, long hair and stuff?

Now, finally (for me) Hair is back. And, I'm glad to say, my yearning has been fulfilled. Because the new version at the Gielgud Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, London is a proper version of Hair. A full on, barely (though slightly) altered version of the show that I saw back in nineteen-seventy-whatever. Plus, as an added bonus, it even features real Americans which – considering it is set in New York – must surely be seen as a positive.

Sure, nowadays there are several wigs on display – but any prejudice that may be felt towards this soon dissipates as we still get the feeling we are back in 1967 and part of a hippy love-in. Old hippies, 21st century youngsters and former 11 (or was it 12) year-old school kids all converge and all get totally absorbed in the love and vibrancy of it all. There’s also the added attraction of getting hugged and kissed by members of the cast as they flow into the audience plus, if you’re lucky enough to get front row seats, you might even get a foot shoved in your face or a small cameo as the mother of one of the main characters.

I’ve now seen it twice. In fact, I saw it twice before it even opened. Not sure how I managed that, but for some reason shows seem to open about 2 weeks after the first show, making me one of the privileged attendees at what were apparently “previews”. There is a great deal of audience participation in the show, with cast members regularly leaving the stage to interact with the paying public or hand out flowers or photo-copied invitations to attend a "be-in" that definitely reminded me of flyers that friends of mine used to knock up to advertise their pub discos.

 Beads, flowers, freedom, happiness

The first time I went I sat in the upper circle, where (what with it being a bit difficult for those on stage to get to) we were treated to our own exclusive group of stage school type hippies, who appeared through the side doors to sing, dance and do the interacting thing every now and again. Which was rather strange. As far as I could tell they played no part whatsoever in the what was going on two auditoriums below, though I would assume that they did manage to get to the stage at the end when the audience was invited up on stage to join in with the rousing finale of "Let the Sun Shine In".

So, all these years later, does Hair still retain the capacity to shock? Well, yes it does. But the shocks come in different places now to where they probably did back in the sixties. Outrage at the nudity, swearing and simulated sexual acts is replaced by the shock of trying to figure out if the cast really are smoking indoors and their liberal use of the word “nigger” (a word that has become so taboo in modern society that I even wondered if I should use it here or replace it with that dreaded term – the “N” word”).

The issues surrounding the characters are both trivial and monumental. We can be part relieved and partly disappointed to discover that the now iconic teenagers of the sixties (albeit the oldest bunch of teenagers I've seen since the final series of Please Sir) were, in reality, not so different from the kids of today. Na├»ve teenagers who lived with their parents and could be prone to throwing what have become known as hissy fits over such things as bright yellow shirts not quite fitting in with the hippy image they are trying to convey. Yet there is also real power in witnessing the cast banging the stage in a desperate and futile “yip-out” to attempt to prevent their mate Claude being carted off into the army.

What I love about Hair is that it is a proper show. It was entirely written for the stage rather than being a rehash of some movie or a former top band’s discography revamped into a West End show. It is now, more than 40 years since its opening, old enough to be a historic period piece, but also recent enough to be nostalgic to some members of the audience. It is, for me at least, one of the best ways I have found to pass an evening when I find myself working up in London.

This show has the potential to really catch on, and possibly become a “dress-up” night in much the same way as The Rocky Horror Show has in the past. It would certainly be fun to see the theatre going masses dressed up in hippy garb of an evening – and early signs are that there is already a degree of this happening.

There one thing that has always puzzled me though. On my dear old Dad’s LP was a song called “The Bed”. Clearly this song was seen as one of the highlights and worth including on an album that only contained about half of the songs from the show, yet when I saw the show many years ago the song was not performed. Neither is it in the show now. It wasn’t in the 1979 film version either. But then, a lot of stuff was cut from that anyway. Early pictures show the cast cavorting with a giant phallus while performing it but it would appear to have been cut many years ago while the original run was still in progress. I’ve often wondered what ever happened to “The Bed”.

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