Sunday, 26 October 2014

UK Overseas Aid for.....France?

‘The growing unease over Britain’s continued commitment to overseas aid targets, regardless of the massive ongoing budget deficit, intensified today as news broke of the latest projects underwritten by UK taxpayers. Reports that British cash had been lavished on water standpipes in Toulouse, newly developed vaccines in Lyons, tattoo removal clinics in Cannes and emergency food drops in the Paris banlieues, over and above the irrigation projects bringing new hope to the impoverished French farming community, were badly received, with consternation in the Commons and demonstrations in Whitehall.

Beleaguered Secretary of State Justine Greening, defying calls for her resignation, asserted that there was little difference between the latest donations and those that had gone very recently to emerging superpowers and space programme pioneers India and China. “Charity does not begin at home. Britain is not an island. We all need to dig deep to support the victims of unforeseeable natural disasters. They were stupid enough to elect Francois Hollande in the first place…hang on, I think that should have been edited out.” Austin Mitchell’s interruption of Miss Greening’s statement with “Entente cordiale my arse” earned him expulsion from the Chamber.

Backbencher disquiet was not calmed when it emerged that the distribution of British aid had fallen to the sole discretion of a shadowy non-government organisation known only by the letters EU, its reputation notorious for the administrative expenses regularly offset from funds flowing into its coffers, and for the lifestyle enjoyed by its hierarchy…’
Yes, it’s only satire. But when we read about the EU’s peremptory demand for the UK to pay £1.7 billion into its coffers, in consequence of the British economy having performed better than expected, and the news in parallel that France is set to benefit to the tune of £790 million worth of rebates in the course of the UK surcharge being redistributed, isn’t there an echo of the old saying that today’s satire is tomorrow’s reality?

And tomorrow may be sooner than you think, Mr Cameron. What will you do about it? There’s still time for you to be a nonconformist. But not much.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Lady Gaga: Artrave Birmingham Review

Long ago, hell might have frozen over before I could ever have contemplated attending anything like a Lady Gaga concert. Not any longer. There’s no denying the talent of a genuinely versatile singer, songwriter and pianist whose first three albums speak for themselves and whose ability to capture media interest is legendary. But what about a full on live performance, especially the opening date of her UK tour in Birmingham? What chord would this strike with someone more deserving the label of big dinosaur than little monster?

Not the most promising of starts, regrettably. Two eminently forgettable support acts. The first, well meaning but out of his depth. The second, a painfully thudding and excruciatingly loud synthesised beat accompanied by a crazed performer whose sole contribution appeared to be waving her arms by way of accompaniment. Insider tip: arrive at 8.45 ready for the full two hour Gaga set, or just spend the first hour playing a private game spotting the fan best dressed for the occasion. Plenty of competition.
So what to expect when the curtain dropped and Gaga herself appears through the stage set tunnel, accompanied by a battalion of dancers and dressed in the first of many outrageous costumes, launching straight into a sequence of songs from her latest album Artpop? Thankfully, no diva behaviour and no lip synching. Just raw focused energy, hitting all the right notes. All the more so when the music briefly paused and she gave the first of her mini speeches, proclaiming forcefully that no artist needs managers or record labels. Will this deter Simon Cowell from pulling every string he can to get her on the X Factor live shows this time around? I rather doubt it. She’d be a match for him.

Anyone hoping for a break from the new material after Venus (and the seashell bikini) would soon have been reassured via Just Dance, Poker Face, Telephone and Paparazzi in quick succession. Soon followed by my own choice for song of the night, You and I – Gaga the born again rock chick, as she worked the crowd alongside the guitarists who had followed her to the end of the walkway? Well, any song that begins with ‘Been a long time…’ with a fast lead guitar solo midway through is going to have a certain attraction. If there’s any truth in the suggestion that her next project, hard on the heels of her jazz duet collaboration with Tony Bennett, is going to venture into classic rock, it’s going to be well worth the wait.
Back to the Artrave, with a slow piano version of Born This Way, not forgetting the two gay fans invited up from the audience to sit beside Gaga by way of thanks for their fan mail. Bang Bang was undoubtedly a tribute to Cher, not just the song but the costume and giant black wig, even if Judas might have been a less complementary gesture in Madonna’s direction. No further explanation needed for Bad Romance, before Swine (‘you’re just a pig inside a human body’ – wonder who that one was really meant for?) to end the main set and a final piano solo performance of Gypsy for the encore. Not forgetting the last costume change, the long white flowing number.

The true little monsters will have loved it. The undecided and the curious will have experienced a full blown assault on the senses. But in an undeniably positive way. I’m glad I went. And if Gaga’s next project is going to involve classic rock, there really will be no stopping her.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Happy Golden Wedding Anniversary, Charlie Watts

Cast your mind back to the English music scene in the 60s and 70s. Think for a moment about the aspiring rock bands who wanted nothing to do with the squeaky clean, goody two shoes, boy next door appearance of many of their rivals, and how they set about the task of proving themselves as nonconformists. It might start with a sneering image or a more defiant dress sense. It might then progress to destruction of their instruments on stage at the end of their live shows, and onwards to the use of hotel corridors for Harley Davidson trials, and hotel bedroom windows for the ejection of clunky old style TV sets from high floors. Not to mention the groupies and the opportunities to take advantage.

So how would any of those musicians achieve, in turn, the unlikely accolade of nonconformist within a nonconformist band? Let’s leave aside the fact that some of the present day survivors from old times would go back to their hotels after the show and tidy the rooms. Back to the past we shall go. As legend would have it, one particular member of a ‘bad boy’ group spurned the wild party and the groupies and went to bed at a civilised hour. Upon being rudely awakened by a 3am phone call, he is said to have washed, shaved, and put on a suit, before descending to the ground floor and expressing his displeasure with the antisocial caller. No doubt we can forgive the fact that he did so by punching the miscreant in the face, requesting in rather robust terms not to be described as ‘my drummer’ by ‘my singer’ ever again.

And on that rather contrived note, what better way to congratulate Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones on celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary, a truly rare milestone for any member of one of our long established rock bands?