Tuesday 14 February 2017

Some mellow Canadian music, theatrical literature, a bit of theatre plus some good old fashioned Baroque and Roll...

6th February - 12th February 2017

Another busy and varied week taking in some live music, literature, history, a scavenger hunt, art and theatre, a bit of something for everyone...

Andy Shauf

So Wednesday evening saw us heading over to Hackney, (bit of a pain to get to as the transport links aren't fantastic, luckily we were driving), to see Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf at Oslo.

Singer-songwriter is one of those terms which kinda makes everything sound a bit generic and 'beige' so doesn't really do Shauf justice, or anyone really for that matter...

First up the venue. Oslo is a restaurant/bar and venue, adjacent to Hackney Central train station, the restaurant downstairs and a large room with a bar upstairs is the setting for the gigs there. It's not that old so is still pleasant and not suffering from sticky-floor syndrome and manky toilets which many of these venues unfortunately sport. The sound's also pretty good so a win-win, we saw the Allah-Las here in July last year so knew what to expect going in.

We made our way in at about eight, to avoid hanging about too much in an empty room but also early enough to get a decent spot as it was sold out, and to catch the support band, Shauf's fellow Canadians Tasseomancy. We didn't know anything about them except from a quick Google search which turned up that they were classed as a bit 'dream pop' and 'experimental', in for a penny we thought...

So overall they were quite good, fronted by two sisters, one of whom sang the majority of the lead whilst the other played guitar and also sang, with the addition of a third member in charge of beats and other accoutrements.

The vocals were reminiscent of Kate Bush, very haunting and impressive, however being such a chilled, quiet style meant that audience chatter kind of spoilt the ambience and they seemed a little lost, maybe a bit of nerves too, overall though a good start to the evening.

After a short break Andy Shauf took the stage, staking his spot on stage left which was slightly quirky much like his music, this isn't a bad thing though...

The band was made up of Shauf on guitar along with a bass player, drummer and two clarinetists, an intriguing line up.

Shauf's most recent album 'The Party' was the main focus of the set, and the catchy little melodies delivered live with dual clarinets were fantastic, thankfully the crowd were respectfully quiet during his performance as you could have heard a pin drop.

A great example of what you can expect from Shauf is his song 'The Magician', click the link for the fantastic video too. 'Early To The Party' and 'Twist Your Ankle' are also firm favourites, he also showcased some older tunes from his previous album 'The Bearer Of Bad News', and for the encore performed the brooding but beautiful 'Wendell Walker'.

Some of the production on the album sounds quite Jon Brion-ish and throughout the evening his humble and polite attitude shone through, joking with the crowd a little. 

Definitely worth checking out if you like you music quirky and melodic.

Simon Callow Reads Inferno

Friday night saw us down the Southbank at the Tate Modern for an event tied in to the current Robert Rauschenberg exhibition, (a marvellous exhibition, our view of it can be read here), and featured respected thespian Simon Callow reading a selection of cantos from Dante's 'Inferno', the first part of the epic masterwork 'The Divine Comedy'.

The link to the show being that Rauschenberg was asked to provide illustrations which incorporated photographic transfer techniques to provide contemporary context for Dante's poem.

In all there are thirty four works, each of which pairs with one of the thirty four cantos that make up the poem, which recounts the tale of Dante's journey through Hell lead by the poet Virgil, detailing the nine circles of suffering and his interactions along the way, and was written as an allegory for redemption during a troubled political upheaval in Dante's life and fuelled by his exile from Florence on political and religious grounds.

Mr Culture's tried reading 'The Divine Comedy' in the past and it's pretty heavy going, although this could have been due in part to the particular translation, however the version related this evening was much more accessible and has reignited an interest in tracking it down and reading it in it's entirety.

Obviously due to the length of the entire work the evening was structured around Callow reading eight cantos, and briefly relating events between those told to give context, throughout which the related illustration by Rauschenberg was displayed on a screen behind him, (this was performed in the quite recently refurbished Starr Cinema, thankfully no longer the striking red colour it used to be).

Callow's recital was both stirring and theatrical, which also made the material much more user friendly, Callow's skill as both an actor and narrator really shone, and made us want to hear the whole thing being read by him!

It's really worth checking out the exhibition, not just for the 'Inferno' illustrations, and as ever Callow proved himself a captivating, entertaining presence. An enjoyable, slightly different event.

Handel & Hendrix in London/Breadcrumbs Hunt

We set off into town early-ish so we could get to Brook Street in Mayfair for the 11 AM opening of Handel & Hendrix in London as we'd decided to marry our visit with trying out a Breadcrumbs hunt tailored to this location. After parking up we had a nice walk in the smattering of snow that was falling which made for a nice wintry experience.

Breadcrumbs is a company which makes text message based scavenger hunts focused around popular locations/attractions in London. So far, apart from this one they offer ones for the V & A and Kew Gardens, and also are in the process of making hunts for the Natural History Museum, Imperial War Museum and the Huntarian Museum. They cost £3.99 each and can be pre-purchased as they only start when you choose to begin them, make sure you start them when you intend to actually begin as it gives you your completion time at the end!

This hunt tells you up front that there's fifteen clues in total, and if you get stuck you can text for hints or to solve the puzzle to progress, the intention being that you should pay more attention to the location and maybe experience more of the place as well as doing something fun and challenging.

Firstly a bit more about the place itself. The three floors here are split as they were into two flats, a two floor apartment and a single floor flat, which show how they were when inhabited by two huge musical figures, albeit from opposite ends of the spectrum genre-wise.

Some of the bumpf available...

Floors one and two were where Handel lived here from 1723 until he died, the apartment is furnished with instruments, paintings and furniture which recreate the look of the time and how it would have been during Handel's tenancy.

There are also knowledgeable guides on hand to help, and printed guidebooks which help explain the rooms and their contents.

The top floor of the building is where Jimi Hendrix lived for the majority of his time in the UK, and is presented mostly in a more exhibition-like manner with video, photos and other props illustrating a quite comprehensive timeline of his time here and his various musical endeavours.

One of Jimi's guitars...

Some of the displays illustrating Hendrix timelines...

There is also a room dedicated entirely to Hendrix's record collection which highlights his influences and tastes for every title, whilst his bedroom has been faithfully recreated down to the finest detail via archive footage and photos from the time as he carried out a lot of interviews here so there is plenty of evidence to draw from.

While it may be small overall, the whole building is packed with history and the blue plaques outside mark what is a remarkable and curious link between some musical greats.

The hunt itself starts in the first room on the first floor in Handel's apartment and gradually progresses up to the Hendrix flat and covers both of the artist's abodes. The clues themselves were a mixture of historical info and brainteasers and were pitched just about right in the mental stakes, we finished in a respectable 1 hour and 3 minutes.

At £10 each it's a bargain and is a great way to kill and couple of hours, especially in conjunction with the Breadcrumbs hunt, we're definitely looking forward to trying out all the others too.

Tim Noble and Sue Webster - Sticks With Dicks And Slits

Before our matinee trip to the theatre we went for a spot of lunch and just so happened to be passing BlainSouthern's gallery at Hanover Square which currently houses the latest works by former husband and wife artistic team Tim Noble and Sue Webster.

Known for their previous works which included signs and lettering made from lights and assemblages made from household rubbish, they have become well known as part of the post-Young British Artist crowd.

The last works of theirs that Mr Culture saw here were their 'Nihilistic/Optimistic' sculptures, collections of what at first appeared to be metal and wood junk which when lit from the right perspective created detailed shadow portraits of the artists themselves, really quite magnificent to behold which I revisited a few times, they can be seen here.

For the latest works, again the artists have decided to try working in a new medium, Bronze, and have created nude self portraits in a 'stick man' style, but fully realised in 3D as opposed to basic 2D line drawings.

Miss Culture being pointed at...

An artsy shot through one of the sculptures...

There are 6 sculptures in total in the large room, three of each of the artists, two of which are more three dimensional in a sitting pose, as seen in the second photo.

Noble and Webster's work has always had a playful, cheeky aspect to it, whether it's they blatant use of basically trash, the cast of certain orifices which are available to buy in different materials or even the customised chess set exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery a few years back where all the pieces were made of casts of dead wildlife which they found around there house in the countryside, (flat frogs and decaying birds for instance), and incorporated into tree stumps to serve as the board, another quite amazing piece of work.

If you're in the area check it out, entry's free.

The Boys In The Band

So we rounded off our day by taking in the matinee performance of a limited West End run of 'The Boys In The Band' starring Mark Gatiss.

Our interest was piqued after seeing Gatiss speak about the play during his appearance at Mark Kermode In 3D at the BFI last month, (reviewed here), and booked up that night as there are only fifteen performances scheduled and Gatiss is always good value.

Currently on at the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand, a quite nice small theatre, which means that you're never too far away from the stage to feel distant from the show, and quite reasonably priced at about £35 for stalls tickets, you could do far worse.

The storyline follows a group of nine men who come together to celebrate one of their number's birthday in 1968, however the arrival of a friend from the host's past causes conflict and secrets to be revealed, how will the night play out?

We'll state up front, this is often referred to as a 'gay play', yes the characters are gay, but it's a story, played out with interesting characters, relevant themes and fantastic performances, and the writing is brilliant. The dialogue is pithy and sharp and once Gatiss arrives the insults reach new heights.

However this isn't just Gatiss' show, the entire cast are on stage for most of the running time and their chemistry is fantastic, the ensemble includes Daniel Boys, Jack Derges, Ian Hallard, James Holmes, John Hopkins, Ben Mansfield, Greg Lockett and Nathan Nolan, many of who are recognisable from stage and screen.

Without giving too much away, we'll just say we enjoyed every minute of it, yes it's dark in places and the language has a couple of instances of ripeness, but it fits the piece perfectly and the time flies by.

If you're after a night of laughs and drama you can't go wrong with this show!

So that's it for this week, next week sees a bit of puppet based opera in a Victorian music hall, some sciencey chat plus Adam Buxton and a gangster movie classic at the BFI. Til then, get inspired...

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