A few days ago my wife Hattie and I found ourselves staying in a seaside hotel as guests of a girls school reunion. The ‘girls’ in question were former pupils of the near legendary St Margaret’s School in my home town of Folkestone. The class of ’64 celebrating the fact that it is 50 years since they were first turned loose on the world.
So there we were, a couple of hundred musicians, artists, writers, photographers and old blues and R&B fans crowded onto a Bournemouth town centre pavement outside an unremarkable row of shops, bars and restaurants. Those in the know were staring nostalgically at a nondescript door sandwiched between an Italian coffee shop and a Polish Delicatessen. For beyond that door, at number 9 Holdenhurst Road, lies a flight of stairs leading down to a dingy cellar where, 53 years ago on 3rd May, 1961, the town’s first full-time jazz, rock and blues club was born.
Outrageous, outspoken and razor-sharp, American comedian Joan Rivers, who died at the age of 81 yesterday, thrilled and offended in equal measure.Continue reading “How Joan Rivers almost achieved her ambition to die on stage”
I really enjoyed Tate Britain’s recent examination of the enormous influence exerted on the 20th century’s understanding of art history by one man – curator, collector and museum director Kenneth Clark.
The exhibition explored Clark through the works of art that he loved. Called simply Kenneth Clark: Looking For Civilisation – a reference to his groundbreaking 1960s TV series – it showed him to be a man at one with works ranging from medieval manuscripts, old masters and Greco-Roman sculptures to contemporary artists.
As yet another ludicrous press release – a gushing piece of mindless spin – drops into my in-box I find myself yet again lamenting the way in which journalists are routinely taken for fools who can be manipulated for political or commercial ends. Of course as the media in general and the regional print press in particular is gradually reduced to a shadow of its former self by cost-cutting proprietors more interested in driving up profits than championing fair and balanced reporting, it is increasingly open-season for public relations departments. Continue reading “Avoiding the dark side or why I hate churnalism”
It was good to hear Tim Brooke-Taylor ridiculing the “pathetic” BBC killjoys who reportedly told I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue chairman Jack Dee to tone-down the BBC Radio 4 show’s famously innuendo-laden jokes.
In a recent interview with that well-know purveyor of scandal and gossip, Cotswold Life magazine, Tim revealed that the BBC had suffered a sense of humour failure after a listener complained about the smutty jokes made at the expense of the show’s fictional score-keeper and record researcher Samantha. As a result Jack Dee had threatened to quit. Cue a flurry of national newspaper stories.
Cotswold Life, name-checked in every article, must be delighted. You can’t buy that sort of publicity. Tim Brooke-Taylor meanwhile will be shaking his head in bemusement. Me too. With my publicists hat on I set that particular interview up. It seemed about as mundane as possible. Tim would give the magazine a half hour or so interview in advance of his appearance in his An Audience With Tim Brooke-Taylor stage show at the Stratford Upon Avon Literary Festival. Continue reading “BBC killjoys try to clamp down on smutty jokes”
It must be difficult being physically different. People who don’t conform to generally accepted expectations of how one should look tend to have a rough ride through this uncompromising world of ours.
There are exceptions of course and one of them is a genial Geordie called Neil Fingleton. Officially recognised as Britain’s tallest man, this cheery 33-year-old is seven foot seven and a half inches tall and weighs 25 stone and takes size 15 shoes. Continue reading “Genial giant Neil Fingleton would love to play a Bond villain”
It was Mollie Moran’s funeral today. She died just two-and-a-half years short of her 100th birthday. A good innings by anyone’s reckoning but somehow for this former kitchen maid who found literary fame in her nineties it just didn’t seem right. At least she died peacefully in her own bed just a few months after a cancer diagnosis.
I first met Mollie a year ago when I interviewed her about her best-selling upstairs downstairs memoir Aprons and Silver Spoons. Razor sharp and impossibly energetic, she seemed strong and well. She walked her dog daily, entertained visitors at her Dorset cliff top home, hosted weekly scrabble sessions and each month would invite 25 players from across the southern region to take part in a mini-tournament. Single handedly she would cook for them all, producing a selection that included cottage pie, chicken curry and a variety of puddings. I asked how she managed it. She shrugged and told me: “Oh it’s nothing. After all I don’t do the washing up. I get someone to help with that.” She seemed indestructible. Continue reading “Mollie Moran cooking lunch for two dozen and writing a best seller at the age of 96”
News that crime writer Colin Dexter has changed his will to ensure that his famous Oxford detective Inspector Morse will always be remembered exactly as he is now, has been greeted as though it were a revelation.
Which is a little odd as Dexter, 83, has been telling people for years that he has put a clause in his will banning new actors from playing the role epitomised on TV by his good friend the late John Thaw. For Dexter, Thaw was absolutely perfect as the opera-loving, real-ale quaffing, crossword-solving, classic car driving, curmudgeon of a sleuth. He fears, not without good reason, that the role (and his much-loved stories) could be dumbed down, spivved-up or otherwise messed about by future actors. Continue reading “Morse code – Colin Dexter bans new actors playing Inspector Morse”
Morrissey isn’t noted for saying nice things about people but he made an exception for one time sixties sex symbol Alexandra Bastedo who died earlier this month. In a statement following Bastedo’s funeral near her home in West Sussex at the weekend, the singer paid fulsome tribute to an actress who never chased Hollywood and remained “genuine and dignified.”
He was, he said, “Sad beyond words” at her death from cancer at the age of 67. It had come, Morrissey explained “…as I still struggle with the passing of Lou Reed. In this age where only plasticity is welcome, we are losing too many social thinkers.” Continue reading “Morrissey pays tribute to Alexandra Bastedo (1946 – 2014)”
Exactly 43-years ago today I walked into my first newspaper office to start a long and eventful career in journalism. The bi-weekly Folkestone Herald and Gazette was a great place to learn the reporters trade. The paper had the advantage of being based in one of the most characterful towns on the south east coast. It had been on the front-line during the war. Hell-Fire Corner they called it when the bombs rained down. I grew up there during the 1950s and had an unquestioning understanding of the place. It was strange but I knew nothing else. Continue reading “Learning a reporter’s trade amid multiple shipping disasters”
I was so sorry to hear of the death of Phil Everly earlier this week. He was just 74-years-old but suffered lung disease related to a lifetime of heavy smoking. Together with his brother Don he pioneered a sound that changed the course of musical history – stunning close-harmonies and songs that deftly drew from both country and R&B. They were the perfect vocal duo. Without the Everlys could there ever have been Beatles, Beach Boys or Simon and Garfunkel? Not as we know them, I suspect. Continue reading “Farewell to Phil Everly – one half of the perfect vocal duo”
It was good to hear pioneering campaigner for equal recognition of disabled actors Mat Fraser on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row the other evening. As someone who was born with arms stunted in the womb by the effects of the infamous morning-sickness drug Thalidomide, Mat knows what he’s talking about. Continue reading ““If a baby born to be King was like me, they’d kill him and get another one””
Like so many others I felt humbled by the courage, humanity and strength of character that allowed Nelson Mandela to fight tyranny with forgiveness and reason. His death at the age of 95 after years of ill-health comes as no great surprise but, selfishly, I find it a little bit frightening that he is no longer around to provide a guiding light.
Hopefully the world will learn by his example, although I doubt it. As someone once said: What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding? Nothing at all. I’m an atheist but fully admit there is a lot of sense in the core values of many religions. Turning the other cheek and forgiving those who trespass (sin) against us for instance. Incredibly difficult to put into practice but astonishingly effective if you do. Nelson Mandela had the strength to achieve it.
He also understood implicitly that anger is self-destructive. I’m not much into lighting candles and holding vigils, Mandela has gone. We should celebrate his life by practising forgiveness and compassion in our everyday lives. The other not so secret ingredient is humour. My work has brought me into quite close contact with Mandela’s old friend Desmond Tutu and he too uses humour in his ongoing battle against adversity and injustice.
Another extraordinarily charismatic and strong victim of apartheid who found the strength to overcome terrible events in his life was Joseph Shabalala. Some years ago I interviewed the visionary leader of the African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Not long before his wife of 30 years, Nellie, had been murdered, gunned down as she walked to church near their home in Durban, South Africa. Joseph admitted that even for a man of peace who had long advocated offering the hand of friendship to enemies, it was a testing time. A lesser spirit would have been consumed with hatred, crippled by thoughts of revenge. But Joseph responded by doing what he has always done… he sang. He told me: “It was very, very hard. There were times when I thought I would die. I was lost. People were talking but I didn’t hear them. But I sang and that gave me power and eventually I managed to lift my spirit.” He continues to strive for world peace: “I want to show people the way to peace,” he says. “Sing to those who think you’re their enemy and they won’t attack you. Getting people to listen, that is the answer.”
These are men who have faced down an evil regime that sought to oppress them with brutality and deny their people human rights simply because of the colour of their skin. I’ve been around a long time and know only too well the sorry history behind racism, prejudice and tyranny. I have never been able to understand it though. People are people whatever their colour, culture or religion. Whether black or white, most are good, some are bad. Simple as that!
By Jeremy Miles
SHE’S the larger than life opera producer who in recent years has staged touring shows featuring a positive menagerie of live animals, birds, naked women, dancing fountains, walls of flame – you name it!
Ellen Kent not only knows how to put on a production but she knows how to drum up a little publicity. Her shows in Bournemouth have included exotic dogs, a life-sized elephant, an eagle, stunt artists falling from the ramparts of an on-stage fortress and, making it all worthwhile, some extremely good opera.
Last time her company was heading for town she advertised for “slaves” to beef up her latest take on Aida.
So when she turned up at the Pavilion Theatre for a photocall for her latest production of Bizet’s Carmen with a couple of donkeys in tow, no one batted an eyelid.
However, it seems that while all those other grand gestures were simply business, this time it’s personal. For Ellen says that the look and feel of this latest production of Bizet’s masterpiece, which plays the Pavilion on Monday, is inspired by her own teenage years spent growing up in Andalucia.
As a result a lot of the scenes will be based more on Malaga than Seville, while the inclusion of a donkey in the cast is in memory of her mother’s voluntary work saving the creatures from cruel deaths in rural Spain back in the 1960s.
Ellen, the daughter if an Indian High Commissioner who retired to Spain, still shudders when she remembers her 13-year-old self being recruited to carry out lightning raids on donkey sacrificing rituals in the mountains.
“We had a man called Juan and a small van and my mother used drag me off to rescue donkeys from these festivals in which they would be killed.”
The locals didn’t take kindly to this intervention “They used to fire at us with air rifles,” recalls Ellen. “I can remember running like the wind with pellets whistling past my ears. It was terrifying.”
She admits she was indirectly responsible for her mother’s sudden calling as an animal rights activist.
“She had gone from being a diplomat’s wife to looking for something to do to fill her time. Then one day I came home with a couple of kittens I’d rescued from a ditch and that was it, I’m afraid.
“Mummy rather took to it and we ended up with 20 dogs,15 donkeys and 55 cats. I think she went a bit mad in the end, she bankrupted the family with all the money that went on the animals.” Eventually when her parents could no longer pay the school fees, Ellen herself had to be rescued. “I ended up being educated by the Masons,” she says.
Now, in a nod to her unusual childhood, each performance of Carmen will raise money for local donkey sanctuaries.
Despite turning up for her photocall wearing a jacket made of a patchwork of leather and fur, Ellen still has the welfare of her various animal friends very much at heart.
She had arrived by taxi, she explained, because her chauffeur driven Jaguar was needed to take her ailing cat Mimi to a specialist vet.
l Monday’s production of Carmen is one of two operas being staged at the Pavilion by Ellen Kent next week.
It will be followed on Thursday by a lavish new version of Verdi’s Nabucco – an opera close to Miss Kent’s heart as it was the first she ever staged back in 1993.
However she says that producing serious opera is getting more and more difficult as audiences educated in the classics dwindle.
As a result the takings from Carmen – which is also known through popular culture and musical theatre – will probably have to subsidise Nabucco which is likely to be far less well attended.
Carmen also has the added attraction of leading mezzo soprano Helen Shipp in the title role.
Hopefully it will feature a donkey too but as Ellen says: “Quite a few donkeys go on but unfortunately quite a few donkeys refuse to put so much as a hoof on the stage. I’m afraid they have a mind of their own.”
Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings: Lighthouse, Poole. Friday 29th November, 2013
This should have been a fantastic show. In fact I’m sure it was. Unfortunately, despite superb musicianship, an eclectic mix of blues and R&B and a whole bunch of other gems, it sounded awful. Struggling from the outset with a decidedly soupy sound, Bill and the band battled gamely on.
Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story
This phenomenal show has been on the road for 25 years now. It has zig-zagged the world and been seen by a staggering 22 million people. It’s a superbly packaged piece of musical theatre telling the true rags to riches story of Buddy Holly, the boy from small-town Texas who in little more than 18 months back in the late 1950s, rewrote the history of popular music, scoring a raft of inimitable hits and soaring to unimaginable success before dying in a plane crash on a snow-swept night in February 1959. Also aboard that fateful flight – trying to make it through the blizzard-battered Mid-West to the next gig – were his fellow bill-toppers The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. They were the pop superstars of their day. No wonder Don McLean immortalised the tragedy in song as “the day the music died”.
It is this heady combination of high-energy musical, bitter-sweet rags to riches success and a tragic ending that gives this show its enduring appeal. An excellent cast, zip-along direction and the heart-stoppingly perfect Buddy Holly soundtrack just seals the deal. Glen Joseph is a charismatic Buddy. All geeky charm with his horn-rimmed specs and headstrong self-belief, he takes the audience on a roller-coaster ride of wonder and nostalgia as together with his band, The Crickets, he outsmarts the beasts of the music business and becomes a star.
With a unique fusion of country, blues and rockabilly he develops a sound that redefines popular music, confounds the critics and leaves us with classic songs like That’ll Be The Day, Oh Boy, Rave On, Peggy Sue, True Love Ways, Maybe Baby, Everyday, Words of Love, Not Fade Away. An astonishing output and a massively influential one too. Both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones included Holly covers in their early acts. The Stones first top ten hit was Not Fade Away and as Paul McCartney once remarked: “Without Buddy Holly there would have been no Beatles”. Even the name of the band was a kind of tribute to The Crickets.
With The Crickets, Holly established the template for a self-contained band writing and producing its own material. His experimental work in the studio with Norman Petty would be echoed a few years later by The Beatles and George Martin. The Buddy Holly Story may not deliver genuine cutting edge rock ‘n’ roll. These guys are actor/musicians. But the tale is a compelling one with a tear-jerking sub-plot about Maria Elena – the widowed bride he left behind just six months after marrying her. And the musical illusion is complete enough to have the audience dancing in their seats, singing along, utterly transported. But the best thing is that we all know that when Buddy’s plane went down, the music didn’t die. It lives on and, more than anything else, this show capitalises on that glorious fact.
Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story plays Lighthouse, Poole, until Saturday 23 November. Shows 7.45pm each evening and additional 2.30pm matinees on Wednesday and Saturday. Tickets & information 0844 406 8666 www.lighthousepoole.co.uk
Words: Jeremy Miles Pictures: Hattie Miles
Scott Fellowes is showing me his favourite sonic screwdriver. He takes aim and fires at his desk. There’s a burst of flashing lights and buzzing sounds and I’ll swear that, just for a moment, this 41-year-old Dorset college administrator and sometime artist actually turns into Doctor Who. OK, a moment ago he was wearing a kind of frock coat, long striped scarf and a button bearing the Gallifreyan symbol of the Time Lords – the mystical Seal of Rassilon – so perhaps the illusion is understandable.
One or two of my friends have expressed surprise that I haven’t commented on the sad death of Lou Reed. Clearly I was as influenced by his music as anyone else of my generation. But I wonder, what can I say?
Recalling my distant youth, The Velvet Underground arrived like a bolt to the brain. Dirty, subversive and directly connected to the late sixties counter-culture. It was compelling stuff.
Words: Jeremy Miles – Picture: Hattie Miles (Paris 2007)
He was the king of heavy metal – an apparent magician who could imbue sheets of steel and iron girders with a kind of weightless majesty. Sir Anthony Caro, who has died at the aged of 89, was a sculptor who could do amazing things with solidity. A few years ago he produced an astonishing entrance piece to a show at London’s Tate Britain exploring his 50 plus year career. Millbank Steps was a gargantuan piece designed to explore the relationship between sculpture and architecture. Weighing nearly 100 tons, the walk-through work filled more than half of the Tate’s vast Duveen Galleries. The floors had to be reinforced before it was craned in piece by piece.
Phew! I snuck in under the wire and managed to get to see Tate Britain’s big L.S. Lowry show before it closed. I’m glad I did. It provided ample evidence that Lowry – so long out of fashion – will one day take his place among the great observers of social history. Hugely popular but derided by many critics as a repetitive and even downright bad painter, Lowry was nonetheless a skillful and impressive portrayer of a world that seemed solid and dominant yet was changing so fast-changing that, by the time the paint was dry on the canvas, it was already all but lost. A post industrial world was beckoning. Somehow it seems he knew that the great factories would grind to a halt and the terraces of workers homes would be smashed by the wrecker’s ball.Continue reading “L.S. Lowry: painter of misery, misfortune and the collapse of the workshop of the world”
I can exclusively reveal that former London Mayor Ken Livingstone has something of a problem with cheese. Indeed the one-time fervent left-wing leader of the Greater London Council and controversial Labour MP won’t touch the stuff. Which is odd because back in the 1980s he used to advertise Red Leicester on the telly. Neat one eh? Red Ken loves a spot of Red Leicester!
Not anymore though and it’s all to do with composting, as he explained to me when I visited his North London home to talk to about his passion for gardening. As we sat in the Cricklewood sunshine discussing the contents of his three magnificent compost bins, Ken told me: “They say you shouldn’t put cooked food on a compost heap but that’s nonsense. I put everything in my compost including the remains of yesterday’s dinner. The worms, woodlice, bacteria and fungi will break everything down. Everything that is except cheese.”
What a treat it was last night to sit in Bournemouth’s hidden gem of a theatre at historic Shelley Manor and hear an evening of music and readings.This extraordinary performance space was originally built in the mid 19th century by Sir Percy Florence Shelley – son of the tragic romantic poet Sir Percy Bysshe Shelley.
The theatre is an addition to the country home by the sea that he had bought for his mother Mary – author of the classic gothic horror novel Frankenstein. Sadly Mary, who died in 1851, never lived to see the grand Boscombe Manor but Sir Percy, a keen thespian and playwright, took up residence with his wife Lady Jane and soon added the theatre to the property.
Saw this fascinating stage production of A Clockwork Orange the other day. With an all-male cast and a bi-sexual vibe it somehow worked. It’s a strange, if understandable, fact that violence against women, as portrayed in Anthony Burgess’s original book and later in Stanley Kubrick’s famous film, is so shocking and unacceptable now that, if portrayed on stage, it would utterly eclipse the underlying message of the play. Even though it is a fictional account. So we have a production in which they substitute male rape with a broken bottle and it seems to go down just fine. What a weird world! Queer as a clockwork orange in fact. The word queer is of course being used here in its 1950s/60s sense to mean ‘strange’. What a powerful re-reading of a masterful story. A play that really gets its point across. See my review below.