Kate Tempest ROCKS

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Kate Tempest: prize-winning poet, novelist (her debut novel has just been bought by Bloomsbury), performer, musician, rapper – is a plain-clothed goddess. She’s a younger, ginger, Patti Smith. But with a hiphop edge to her music and poetry rather than the punk that inspired Patti. And she’s similarly determined to subvert convention.

When I went to see her touring show Brand New Ancients at the Royal Court Theatre last Saturday, Ms Tempest eschewed the mic, stepping to the front of the stage to introduce herself and make sure that the audience felt comfortable. She commented on the traditional rigidity of theatre-going and told the audience to make noise; to sneeze if they needed to sneeze. It was a perfect little warm up, helping everyone to relax through comedy.

Next she introduced her girl band. “They usually do it at the end but that don’t make sense,” she said. And she’s right.

Then the show began, opening with an instrumental section – Tempest perched on the edge of the raised platform, head hung, almost meditating to the orchestral sounds – before she took the mic and launched into her heartfelt spoken word. She told us (the audience/ society/ this generation/ every generation) that we are all gods. She explained that today’s antics are the myths of tomorrow (as ancient Greek stories are the myths of today). It was new, and powerful, and uplifting.

Then she broke into rap over music with a hiphop beat, before stepping back and getting stuck into the story. And the story is GOOD. It’s like an episode of Eastenders – with sex, infidelity, violence, class issues, abuse, career dilemmas. But it’s spoken rhythmically; a poetic story. And then followed more rapping over music, to add tension, before she took us back to the well-structured, gripping, tale of two families.

In a later interlude Tempest brought in the X Factor, Simon Cowell and our celebrity-obsessed culture. We look up to celebrities like they’re our gods, she said – not berating anyone for doing it, just trying to understand why we do it. (And she’s part of it – she admitted to watching the X Factor). It seems nothing is trivial in Tempest’s world: everything is poignant and worthy of commentary.

I was blown away by the energy; the drama, by Tempest’s modesty and inner beauty and positivity and kindness and sincerity. The show was well-deserving of the standing ovation it received.

EVERYONE should try to see this because I can’t think of one person who couldn’t derive enjoyment from such an amazing, accessible piece of performance art.

Pop Idols

Our daughters, the little ladies of the world, are idolising (and emulating) pop stars like this:

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And this:

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And this:

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A performer comes onto the stage. If they look ordinary, maybe interesting, but not particularly sexy – we wait for them to start performing and then judge them on that. When a pop star comes on stage in a sequin bikini, we judge them on what they’re wearing. And then we hear that they’re singing. But we remain a lot more focused on their booty and bouncing breasts.

Why? Because we’re not used to seeing women prancing around in bikinis when we’re not on the beach.

Now add to that some pornographic poses (leaning forward, ready for someone to take them from behind, sucking their fingers) and we’ve got a live porn show. Being watched by millions of little girls.

What will those girls think when they’re watching Rihanna, Beyonce and Miley Cyrus perform? They’ll think that in order to be as successful (and famous: most little girls want to be famous) as this woman they’ll need to plaster themselves in make-up, rip of their clothes, pose like a pornstar and strut around the place looking like they’re ready to be fucked. Except they don’t even know what sex is because they’re 8 or even 6 years old.

Rihanna’s response to this issue (that young girls idolise her and that the way she behaves and dresses isn’t appropriate for innocent eyes) is that she never asked young girls to look up to her. Mature.

Beyonce’s response is that she’s a strong, independent woman – living off her own $$$. Yes, and that’s great, but does it take a breast-and-bum baring get-up to achieve that? And, if so, isn’t it then less about the musical talent and more about the body? In which case – selling your body for profit isn’t really so strong and independent, and isn’t the message we want to be sending out.

And I’ve saved the most recent – Miley Cyrus – for last. Because it’s also the most controversial. This is why…

Miley Cyrus started out as an actress in the Disney series Hannah Montana. Her character leads a double life: Miley Stewart by day and pop star Hannah Montana by night. When Cyrus ceased filming the series, she wanted to launch her own pop career and decided (or, more likely – was told by MALE management) that she needed to sex herself up to sell records.

The problem was, Cyrus still had all those little girls idolising her, dressing like her and wanting to be her. And she couldn’t simply shred them as she shredded her clothes. Little people are often the most fanatical fans. They’re in it for the long haul. So when she started twerking (shaking her arse up and down in a sexually provocative manner) at the VMA Awards, those girls (and their parents) were a bit shocked. Let’s be honest, we all were. And then she released the video for Wrecking Ball – see here – in which she’s naked, sucking a sledgehammer like it’s a penis. This was Sinead O’Connor’s response.

Cyrus already had an established fan base of little people, so surely has an obligation to be a good role model. But, to be honest, just because Beyonce and RiRi didn’t launch careers as TV characters aimed at girls, they need to recognise their audience and check the messages they’re sending out too. And I’ve got this far having barely even mentioned their music. Why? Because all attention is focused on their sexual allure, and – seemingly – a lot less on their music.

Do we want our daughters growing up thinking that being talented is the aim, or being dressed like a pornstar?

Perfect Moon

by Patti Smith

I am calling
perfect moon
clad impure
I approach
your naked neck
barefoot
baying
perfect moon

perfect moon
I am with you
perfect moon
I adore
surrendering
to thy great
hands
I am yours
perfect moon

 

 

I’ll try anything once

Since watching Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere – the story of an actor who finds himself enlightened by his sweet, innocent teenage daughter coming to stay with him and soon after resolves to give up the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle – i’ve become obsessed with I’ll Try Anything Once by The Strokes:

Beautiful film, beautiful song.

patti on stage

Today I’m rocking a black blazer in homage to Patti Smith, who ROCKED Shepherd’s Bush Empire last night:

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She’s 66 but skanked on that stage like a teenager – bowing down to mock-kiss Lenny Kaye’s (the long-time guitarist in her band) feet, running to each edge of the stage to welcome her fans, hopping and jumping and dancing through the entire set.

She played a mixture of songs – new and old – and all AMAZING. Highlights were Dancing Barefoot:

Also April Fool and This is the Girl (written for, and about, Amy Winehouse) from the album she released last June, BANGA and her old 70s classics Gloria (from Horses):

And Because the Night (from Easter).

Between songs she entertained the crowd – spitting, saying ‘fuck’ a lot and responding to the wolf whistles and heckles with witty comebacks.

Halfway through, Patti left the stage – giving Lenny the limelight for two or three songs. The audience’s energy dropped at this point but it made her return to the stage all the more powerful.

Clad in her usual black blazer, jeans, loose t-shirt and cowboy boots, with her frizzy grey/brown hair flying around the stage with her, as she bounced and head-banged; it looked as though she’d pulled her clothes on that morning, in the dark, and hadn’t bothered to get changed for the performance. This, of course, added to the appeal. She said that she’d thrown black linen over the mirrors in her dressing room – and probably wasn’t joking.

Her arrogance (“I’m an icon, I’m a legend”) bequeathed her yet more allure – reminding the audience that she actually IS a living legend. She manages to pull off the brazen bravado because of her seemingly carefree attitude about her appearance, and what anyone thinks of her. A perfectly preened, conventionally beautiful woman wouldn’t get away with it.

She said (after an interlude to clear a bubble in her throat) “Now, I better get back to work. But if you knew me – I’m like this all the time.” She then explained that her work and life merge; are indistinguishable from one another. This is what makes Patti Smith so damn cool – she is first and foremost an artist: everything else is just a by-product.

She really did rock. It was emotional.

house of norman loves

As part of Walthamstow’s Appetite food festival, and to launch Rob Auton’s newly-published book of poetry and illustrations – In heaven the onions make you laugh – Jenny and Kate (of Norman Loves) arranged an onion-themed Sunday afternoon of food, poetry, performance, music and piñatas.

onion door

They set up a ‘main stage’ in the garden and served delicious vegan food: onion bread, onion bhajis, humous with a garnish of sweet caramelised onions, raw vegetable salad with sesame seeds and a bulgar wheat salad, which we ate whilst listening to a burlesque performer singing; Kate reading some comical poetry from her wonderful handmade, photocopied book of poems; a brilliant spoken word performer (whose name I need to check) and Rob Auton.

rob auton on main stage

I follow Rob on Twitter (I met him for the first time today, can I call him Rob? Yeah, I think that will be ok) and he is very funny. It’s difficult to write good poetry, it’s even more difficult to write good funny poetry. But he manages to do this.

He carried a rickety suitcase onto the stage with him and struck up a conversation with the audience, reacting to the passing trains (the garden backs onto train tracks) to make us laugh, as a stand up comic responds to to his environment for comedy effect. He then read some poems from a ring-bound writing book with dozens of post-its jutting out the top and pages sellotaped together – all very homemade, all adding to the comedy.

We passed around onion rings and mango chutney, laughed a LOT, drank beers (£3.20 for 10 stubbies, according to Rob – “that’s 32p each”), and then ate the best chocolate cake I’ve EVER eaten, and rhubarb and almond cake with the lightest, crispiest buttery base.

For a Sunday afternoon, it doesn’t get much better than that: amazing food, great entertainment, lovely setting and non-stop laughter.

This is Kate with her onion piñata before we bashed it to death:

Kate and pinata

Check out Rob’s website

Buy his book: In heaven onions make you laugh

Come to Walthamstow and eat lovely food being prepared for the Appetite Festival

And keep an eye out for Norman Loves food events…

Yesterday evening Guardian editor (and amateur pianist/ clarinetist/ classical music buff/ journalist/ author) Alan Rusbridger gave an illuminating, insightful talk at Kings Place about his newly-published book: Play it Again.

play it again

Upon reaching middle age, Rusbridger had an urge to take up piano-playing again. He’d played until the age of 16 (and grade 6, for which he achieved 101 – “150 is exceptional,” he explained, “100 is acceptable.”) and then drifted away, as so many teenagers do.

His university years were spent listening to classical music, tinkering on the piano at Christmas time and then later – when his daughters were born – he’d play nursery rhymes.

But it wasn’t until he reached the ‘afternoon’ of his life, as Jung describes it, that he experienced a longing to learn again properly – to play challenging pieces.

Rusbridger found a connection with Jung’s ideas about middle age – post child-rearing (mostly), settled into a career – as being the cultural years, the years where one should revisit music, enjoy art, languages, without the burden of young children, or trying to establish a career.

And so he enrolled on a summer piano-playing course for amateurs, to take place in the outhouses of a woman’s home in France. Visiting tutors would teach the small group of piano players, and they would preform to each other. On the last evening a guy called Gary – who Rusbridger had noticed seemed lost and sad – amazed the other players be reciting Chopin’s First Ballade, Op 23, a piece that most professionals live in fear of.

This awoke a yearning in Rusbridger to spend a year attempting to master this ballade. Only, as editor of the Guardian – and with WikiLeaks breaking, and the phone hacking scandal continuing to bubble up – he didn’t have much spare time. But then he read that if you sleep for eight hours and work for eight hours, what happens to the remaining eight hours? He set his alarm clock for 20 minutes earlier and began practicing each morning.

He soon realised that the more you do, the more you are able to do. And so he would interview pianists for the Guardian, and ask for five minutes at the end to talk about Chopin’s First Ballade, Op 23 and how to execute it.

The most difficult part of learning the piece was his memory. This ballade is so complex that the pianist can’t follow the music at the same time as playing, so although Rusbridger describes himself as a fairly good sight-reader, he found he couldn’t remember any music to play by heart. After visiting a neuroscientist, he discovered that you can train yourself to use as yet unused parts of your brain. Subsequently, he became able to memorise the piece.

He learned that there are different types of memory. After originally assuming that there was a muscle memory (like with golf, and remembering how to swing the club), he found out there’s no such thing and that instead, pianists must rely on a photographic memory, or a harmonic memory (memorising harmonic structures).

As he continued to improve, with the help of a piano teacher and advice from experts, Rusbridger began to enjoy the process, and the playing, more and more.

During a trip to Libya, to search for Guardian correspondent Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, who’d be seized, Rusbridger found himself in a hotel with a piano. He recited the ballade. He then discovered that they’d be leaving via Casablanca and he liked the idea of finding another hotel with a piano in Casablanca and playing it again. This is where the title of the book comes from.

The talk was fascinating because of Rusbridger’s ability to analyse reason and process so articulately, and also because of his journalistic experience: he answers the questions we want him to answer. He explained his own desire to find out about the intricate details of other people’s lives (musicians, sports players) and was generous with the details he divulged of his own.

He’s been contacted by amateur pianists who’ve been inspired by the book to take playing more seriously, which pleases him. And he highlighted the joy of being an amateur and not taking playing too seriously – less pressure, allowed to drink wine between recitals – against the huge strain of playing professionally.

When an audience member asked why so many children give up instruments, and if it’s the fault of the teacher, another audience member explained that Rusbridger had already answered that question: the autumn years are for culture. It’s natural for teenagers to move away from musical instruments, and search for other vices, concentrate on their careers and then build families. But we should all return to this creativity in later years, because if the editor of the Guardian can find time to fit in 20 minutes of practice a day – anyone can.

RIP Richie Havens

It’s a sad day today. Richie Havens, who opened the 1969 Woodstock with Freedom, has died of a heart attack.

I watched the Woodstock video projected onto a screen while sitting on a beach in Goa, about six years ago – and felt completely euphoric. Haven’s Freedom changed my life. I then heard him play live at the Big Chill a few years later and he rocked.

RIP Richie.