Various

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan - Azkena Rock Festival 2010 2

Bob Dylan performing in 2010


So now the dust has settled I feel the time is right  to say my piece about Bob Dylan winning the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. I think it’s brilliant. The old goat doesn’t need and maybe thinks he doesn’t want it but he certainly deserves it.

From the slight skip in his step and occasional half smile witnessed during his  performance at the Desert Trip Festival in California over the weekend one could even conclude that he was experiencing a certain degree of enjoyment.

Of course he didn’t mention the Nobel thing, in fact he didn’t mention anything, remaining characteristically mute between songs. However the general consensus among the long-serving Dylan watchers who scrutinised and analysed that show in the desert on Friday night was that they had just seen one of his best concerts in a very long time indeed.

That’s the thing about Dylan - his concerts range from magnificent to mediocre. The trick is to catch a good one. Over the past 40 years I’ve seen him in London, New York and the provinces. Only one those shows was really exceptional and that was in Bournemouth. It was amazing. Yet the following night at the same venue with the same band he played an absolute stinker. 

Equally in New York City it seemed as though he was just going through the motions.The support act, Merle Haggard as it happens, blew him off the stage. Now that’s not supposed to happen.

 It’s odd because it’s not the musicianship and it’s certainly not the material. It’s a communication thing and a willingness to engage that Dylan appears to have little control over. 

Which brings us to those mean-minded nay sayers who expressed horror at the announcement of his Nobel Prize.

Most I suspect wouldn’t have uttered a word if they hadn’t been goaded into it by the media but the world’s news industry loves nothing more than stirring a hissy fit or two. 

So we were told by some that it  was ridiculous and the prize should have gone to Philip Roth or Thomas Pynchon, by others that it shouldn’t have gone to a songwriter and particularly not a white, male one.

The truth is that the vast majority of people were only too pleased that Dylan walked off with the prize. The Nobel citation stated that that he was receiving the award for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”  

This is something he has undoubtedly achieved over his 55 year career. For however haphazard the performances, however gravelly the voice, the songs are masterpieces and their lyrics - so often inseparable from the recorded works - have touched us all. 

Bob Dylan is a worthy Nobel Laureate.

Tom Paxton

Tom Paxton played Lighthouse Poole last year ( May 2015). This video) was shot on an early visit to the UK in 1966 - nearly 50 years earlier. The photograph below is the press image that accompanied that 2015 tour. A little er red I’d say but he still sounded great. See my review.

Tom Paxton copyright Michael G  Stewart



Musings on Mac

Fleetwood Mac

I recently introduced, and interviewed live on stage, Jenny Boyd (twice married to Mick Fleetwood plus sister-in-law of George Harrison and then Eric Clapton) at the Wimborne Literary Festival. She was telling me how amazing the days in the video above were. Yeah, I remember the original Fleetwood Mac well.  I saw them several times and loved that particular line-up before things got complicated. Jenny has the inside story. 

From burgeoning blues band through the acid madness that drove Peter Green into the abyss, Jeremy Spencer into the arms of a religioius cult and Danny Kirwan into the gutter, Fleetwood Mac were an extraordinary rags to riches story. At the point when it seemed there was no future the eponymous rhythm section, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, drafted in Californian duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks together with McVie’s wife Christine - formerly Chicken Shack’s blues keyboards and vocal supremo Christine Perfect - they morphed, apparently seamlessly, into multi-millionaire AOR stadium rockers. There, amid a world driven by millions of dollars, they lived in Malibu-style mansions and struggled to survive non-stop cocaine-fuelled tours and multiple affairs. There are so many stories to tell. The insanity of Fleetwood Mac’s second incarnation as  Anglo-American West Coast soft-rock stadium-monkeys was so far removed from their humble beginnings as earnest young but virtualy penniless musicians hustling a  crust on the British Blues Circuit. Back in the sixties I met Christine Perfect - somewhere between Chicken Shack and Fleetwood Mac - out on the road with her own band. She was collecting old newspapers to pack round her legs in an attempt to keep warm as the band rattled back up the M1 in their battered and unheated Comma van. But that as they say is another story.


Jenny Boyd was there in the early days of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, lived on the road with them when they were a supergroup and amazingly has survived relatively unscathed. What a life - she travelled to India with The Beatles to meditate with the Maharishi, was muse to Donovan who wrote Jennifer Juniper for her and shared a flat with Magic Alex, The Beatles rather dubious psychedelic electronics guru. 

 

 Jenny who is pictured on the right in the above picture is now a fully qualified doctor and perhaps not surprisingly, given the number of creative and sometimes troubled beings she has encountered over the years, an expert in psychology. She’s also written a book - It’s Not Only Rock ’n’ Roll - developed from her original PhD thesis that explores the nature of the creative mind. The book of course was the reason she was a guest at the Wimborne Lit Fest or WiLF as it is affectionately known.

*Just for the record the left to right in the above photograph of The Beatles and the wives and girlfriends in India is Jane Asher, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Cynthia Lennon, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Patti Boyd, George harrison, Ringo Starr and Jenny Boyd,




The sound of the suburbs

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Katie Lightfoot, Helen Waterman, Martin Marquez and Emily Raymond revisiting Abigail's Party


Abigail’s Party: Lighthouse, Poole

The original stage and screen production of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party caught the zeitgeist so perfectly that it is impossible to take it out of 1977. 

What this revival by co-producers, Theatre Royal Bath and Chocolate Factory, achieves is a stunning re-reading of Leigh’s searing observation of the aspirations, hopes and lost dreams of suburban life.

The subtlety has been toned down and the characterisations cranked up. Somehow though it works. The original scenario: a nightmare drink and nibbles do as estate agent Laurence and his overbearing wife Beverly entertain the neighbours with disastrous consequences is both tragic and laugh out-loud funny.

EastEnders actress Hannah Waterman does the near impossible and steps out from the shadow of Alison Steadman who played the original Beverly 36 long years ago. Playing this self-obsessed control-freak forcing booze, cigarettes and cheese and pineapple snacks on her hapless guests requires a masterful piece of acting. Waterman glides through the deceptively difficult role with apparent ease conjuring up the coarse, selfish, unthinking Beverly as she creates her own suburban horror story.

Martin Marquez meanwhile articulates a real sense of distress as overworked, hen-pecked husband Laurence while Samuel James and Katie Lightfoot are excellent as new neighbours Tony and Angela from the “smaller” houses over the road.

 Instantly cast by wannabe social-climber Laurence as inferiors, an uncomprehending Angela wallops her way through the gin while strong, silent and fairly thick Tony attracts the simmering sexual attentions of the increasingly ghastly Beverly.

There’s fine acting too from Emily Raymond as Susan, the straight-laced rather upmarket divorcee suffering parental palpitations over a party being thrown by her wild-child daughter - the unseen Abigail of the title.

With music by Donna Summer and Demis Roussos in the background the living room set is a brown and orange masterpiece of 1970s kitsch. It has everything from a G-Plan style room divider and shag-pile rugs to geometric wallpaper and smoked-glass coffee table.

*Abigail’s Party is at Lighthouse until Saturday March 23. The original 1977 Play for Today TV production is being screened on BBC-4 at 10.00pm on Thursday March 21

Jeremy Miles

How Britain left Schwitters out in the cold

En Morn Schwitters

I have long admired the work of the German artist Kurt Schwitters but had not fully realised how shabbily we treated this extraordinarily creative man when he sought wartime refuge in Britain from the Nazis.

This is made abundantly clear in the new exhibition Schwitters in Britain (Tate Britain until May 12) and shows how his pioneering work, born out of European Dadism and a profound influence future artists was largely ignored.

It’s a startlingly exciting exhibition but also the sad story of a rising artist who  had suddenly found his work condemned by Hitler’s regime as ‘degenerate’. Schwitters had enjoyed much critical praise in the 1930s when he invented the concept of ‘Merz’ - the practice of combining all conceivable materials to create works of art.

 Under the Nazi’s he found his free-thinking world collapsing, his friends were being arrested and he was on a list of undesirables. Schwitters made first for Norway but the jackboots soon followed and he eventually jumped on the last icebreaker out of Oslo arriving in Scotland in the spring of 1940.

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Had Kurt Schwitters headed for New York like so many other European artists he would undoubtedly have found a warm welcome. Instead the UK authorities detained him as an ‘enemy alien’ and  banged him up in an internment camp on the Isle of Man. When after 16 months they decided he was relatively harmless they released him to fend for himself.

Schwitters would spend the next seven years living in near poverty but producing works of collage, assemblage and sculpture using found objects like tickets, buttons, string, feathers, bottle tops, scraps of cloth, paper-doilies and occasionally old skittles, a pram wheel or larger pieces of detritus.

He would die, all but forgotten, aged 60 in Cumbria in 1948. Years later as his work was rediscovered the consensus was that his best days were already behind him when he arrived in Britain. This exhibition shows that to be a far too simplistic way of looking at things. These works may be rougher and lack the finish of his pre-war output but they are no less dynamic. There can be no doubt that Schwitters was still producing works of  great importance in the most difficult of circumstances. With little or no support from the artistic establishment he would produce art that would profoundly influence artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi.  

Pictures Courtesy of Tate Britain. Top: Kurt Schwitters, En Morn 1947 © Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris / DACS 2012  Above left: Kurt Schwitters, Untitled (Quality Street) 1943 © Sprengal Museum, Hannover / DACS 2012


Lefty - 18th May 1999 - 4th December 2012

Lefty


A sad farewell today to Lefty - our pet and lovely feline companion for the past 13 years. She was diagnosed some months ago as having a tumour in her stomach but, apart from losing weight, until very recently she seemed surprisingly healthy. Around two weeks ago she started becoming a little breathless but seemed to be suffering no pain, had a glossy coat, bright eyes and a playful nature that never deserted her. Early this morning her little heart just stopped and she simply keeled over. We buried her in the garden where she had played, hunted and enjoyed so many adventures. Her  grave is beneath a winter jasmine in full flower. We will miss her dreadfully. She has been a part of our lives for a very long time. Her sister Dora is still with us and  in rude health. 


A Year in the Salt Pans

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Peter Joyce in his studio in France                                                                                        Picture by Jo Long 

It was so good to see our old friends Peter Joyce and Jo Long on Saturday (Nov 10) at the opening of Peter's latest exhibition of paintings A Year in the Salt Pans. 

The  show runs until 30th November at the beautiful Jenna Burlingham Fine Art Gallery in Kingsclere near Newbury. It's title is a reference to the atmospheric marsh landscape near Peter and Jo's home in Western France.  

Peter Joyce painting (salt pan)

Twenty five paintings trace Peter's close-study of the area, with its other-worldly charm and man-made salt pans, through a single calendar year.

Though it had only been open for a few hours, the show was proving  extremely popular with paintings flying off the wall. In the short time we were there at least one man paid over £11,000 for one of the works.

 Many paintings displayed red dots.  It's good to see Peter doing so well. He's a fine painter and a thoroughly decent bloke. Jo, equally wonderful, had brought us a gift of a jar of her home made medlar jelly. 

Thoughts on the funeral of Rob Zuradzki

Rob Zurazki Funeral

We said a fond farewell to our old friend Rob Zuradzki yesterday.  He died in September. He was only 60 but had 'lived life to the full."  This was the phrase used by the clergyman who conducted his funeral service at the Woodland Burial Ground outside Wimborne. It was a remarkably jolly  affair with music by the Beach Boys, a singalong to Carry On Regardless by the Beautiful South and happy memories shared by friends and family.  It was followed by an 'After Show Party' complete with Hog Roast  at a  large pub outside Christchurch.  

Rob meanwhile was buried, by request, facing another pub.  This was a man who had spent a working lifetime booking and promoting rock 'n' roll and country acts. As anyone who can remember rock concerts of 30 or 40 years ago will tell you, the schedules at gigs were haphazard to say the least. Bands turning up late arriving on stage at 11pm and then indulging in 20 minute guitar solos. Rob was a man of his era and never a good time-keeper. It was therefore fitting that his family decided that he should turn up 10 minutes late for his own funeral. 

The congregation included some grizzled old music business veterans understood this. They knew Zuradzki of old and they also knew that behind the bumbling facade there was a man who seldom shirked when it came to cracking a deal.  As the vicar commented on  Rob passing to a better place one old rocker pushed back his shades and  remarked. "Knowing Zuradzki, he's probably already up there promoting the celestial choir."



Roll up for the Magical Mystery Tour

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Ringo, George, John and Paul  in the Magical Mystery Tour 


When I sat down to watch the original TV screening of  The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour on Boxing Day back in 1967 I was a month shy  my  seventeenth birthday, had yet to experience any hallucinogenic drugs, was still largely ignorant of Kesey and his Merry Pranksters and knew little of the West Coast acid tests or the European avant garde.  No wonder the experience left me confused and a little disappointed.  Not that I admitted it at the time of course. Like all of my friends I had been thrilled to get the chance to watch a Beatles film on prime-time telly. Sandwiched between Petula Clark and Norman Wisdom on BBC 1 on a Christmas bank holiday evening when there was really little else to do but watch the box. It had a captive audience. Everyone would be tuning in but, unfortunately for the Beatles, only a tiny minority would also be turning on and dropping out. 

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The film was broadcast in grainy black and white, making  its carefully contrived trippy colour filter effects not only pointless but something that actually degraded an already diminished viewing experience.  The storyline such as it was - The Beatles going on a magical mystery charabang tour with a group of  strange friends and hangers on -  was held together with largely improvised set pieces played out by the fab four and a handful of actors and extras including Ivor Cutler, Nat Jackley and Victor Spinetti. There were six new songs but only I Am The Walrus was seriously innovative. The backlash from middle England was swift and savage. They hated everything about it. Teenagers like me meanwhile were desperate to love this crazy film but despite talking it up  we knew in our heart of hearts that, even though it had had its moments, that this was a project that was either badly flawed or, worse still, we just didn't get it.

Seeing it again last night, 45 years down the line, Magical Mystery Tour  made a whole lot more sense. Not only had the film been restored and remastered but it was now being screened in colour. It's influences may have become clear years ago but by the time people like me  become well versed in anarchic art school happenings, the joys of experimental music, film and art  and the interesting effects of mind-altering drugs the idealism of the 1960s was  giving way to the helter-skelter hedonistm of the seventies.  At the turn of the decade The Beatles were in meltdown. The Magical Mystery Tour was a thing of the past. 

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It is only now perhaps that its influence on popular culture can be properly gauged. It may have been shot on the cheap (£40,000 not very wisely spent) but it excited people like Martin Scorcese and Steven Spielberg who were thrilled at the sudden realisation that you didn't have to stick to any rules when you made movies. Much of the acting was wooden, the design virtually non-existent and the costumes pathetically cheap but it did have a real sense of freedom about it . In 1967 it was difficult for a self-concious teen to understand this mash-up of psychedelic revery, seaside postcard humour, music hall entertainment and Buneul inspired surrealism, particularly as it was being delivered by the nation's favourite pop group.

 The Beatles had of come a very long way since recording Love Me Do just five years earlier. The fans striuggled to keep up. Of course I bought Revolver, Sergeant Pepper and  joined the Flower Power revolution like everyone else but really at that stage the bells, beads and home-made kaftan were little more than fancy dress and a nod of recognitioin to snippets of information read in newspapers and seen on TV.   I now know everything about the London counter-culture, the Indica bookshop, Fluxus, the International Times, Robert Fraser, Allen Ginsberg…you name it. Back then  the way I dressed, the places I went and the bands I saw probably marked me out as being an insider. the truth was I was just another suburban schoolboy stating a lifestyle preference.

Victor Spinetti2

So for me the Magical Mystery Tour revisited finally scores because it is now possible to see its what an important position it holds in the history of  popular culture. It wasn't a great work of art but it was fun and kicked open a lot of  doors. It also has  one or two great moments  like the brilliant Spinetti (above and left) who appeared as a crazed Army recruiting sergeant. This wasn't entirely alien territory for Spinetti. He had appeared in all three Beatles films  after, he claimed, George Harrison's mum said she fancied him and he had also won a Tony Award for his portryal of the drill sergeant in Joan Littlewood's productioin of Oh What A Lovely war! on stage. Ironically the new screening of Magical Mystery Tour came just a few days after Paul McCartney had attended a memorial service for Victor who died aged 82 this summer.

I met the wonderfully indiscreet Mr Spinetti  a few times and he used to tell me about  working with The Beatles who had remained good friends ever since they first met on A Hard Day's Night. Victor always maintained that "underneath it all they were surprisingly normal chaps".  It's a lesson worth learning.  No matter how weird and wonderful the adventure, no matter what mind-altering substances and exotic encounters you dabble in, you're still you and it's important to remain as grounded as possible and take care of your physical and psychological well-being. I've known a fair few shot-away acid casualties and it's a terrible waste.  Use your knowledge wisely, look after yourself and, above all, treat people well.

I ran into McCartney once too. It's a long story but it involved me and a couple of photographers getting ourselves smuggled into a 15th century castle in pursuit of an interview. Wings were secretly recording what would turn out to their lamentably bad Back to the Egg album. Macca politiely declined to talk to me  and had us thrown out in an impeccably polite manner. He really was a surprisingly normal chap.


 

A brief history of Tim

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An Audience With Tim Brooke-Taylor at G Live in Guildford, Tuesday  2nd October 2012    Picture: Hattie Miles


You live and learn. Went to Guildford last night to see Tim Brooke-Taylor in An Audience With… Fresh off a Turkish golf course our Tim was in cheery mood as, in conversation with Chris Serle, he revealed some hitherto little known facts about his life and career. For instance I bet you didn't know that the young Tim was one of only two boys at his prep school and consequently found himself drafted into The Brownies. "I didn't  actually have to wear the costume," he assured us. Costume? What a luvvie! It's a uniform Tim. 

His mum was a games mistress at Cheltenham Ladies College and he was destined to become a small town solicitor like his father and grandfather before him. Then Tim found himself at Cambridge with contemporaries like John Cleese, Bill Oddie and Graeme Garden. The rest is history and, as it happens, pure comedy gold. 

The mild-mannered former Goodie and stalwart of BBC Radio 4's I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue  also described how he acted with Sharon Tate just weeks before she was slaughtered by the Manson gang and how he actually got to direct the great Orson Welles in a movie. 

The majn reason we went to Guildford was so that Hattie to get some more live theatre shots for the Clive Conway Productions website.  As you can tell from the image above she did rather well.


© Jeremy Miles 2017