Thursday, 27 October 2016

Ian at the Rustfest at Saratoga Springs and a trip to San Francisco and the Toronado Bar...

A trip to San Francisco...
More graffiti in the toilets than the Free Trade has!
Better than the Bagel of the North or Toon Sarny?

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Jimmy Perry RIP

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Jimmy Perry obituary
One of the greatest British TV comedy writers best known for Dad’s Army, Hi-de-Hi! and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum

Dennis Barker
Sunday 23 October 2016

With his co-writer David Croft, Jimmy Perry, who has died aged 93, created one of British television’s most memorable comedy series, Dad’s Army, with an audience of up to 18 million. But it had an uneasy start: in 1968, when Mary Whitehouse was campaigning to clean up TV, the BBC’s senior executives felt under pressure to avoid causing offence. Market research was called for: three 100-strong focus groups each spent a day watching the earliest episodes before they were transmitted and, according to the laconic Perry, 99% said they hated them.

The first woman who was asked her opinion said the show was rubbish and no one was interested in the Home Guard any more. Others felt that the material ridiculed the Home Guard’s behaviour at a time when Britain stood alone in its finest hour, and should certainly not be broadcast.

Fortunately the then head of BBC comedy, Michael Mills, decided to go ahead regardless – not with Perry’s title, The Fighting Tigers, but with his own, Dad’s Army. Perry was allowed to keep the song he had written for the series, Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Hitler?, which won him an Ivor Novello award. The programme ran until 1977, and is still regularly repeated.

Perry, an actor who had thought of the series when he was working for Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop company at the Theatre Royal, Statford East, London, also deftly accepted without resistance a piece of casting by Mills that transformed the approach to social class as shown in the relationship between Captain Mainwaring and Sergeant Wilson. Arthur Lowe had been cast as the officious bank manager who was commanding officer of the Home Guard platoon at Walmington-on-Sea.
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The original intention was that the sergeant under him would be a rough-hewn cloth-capped type. But Perry accepted the elegant John Le Mesurier as the sergeant. Perry remade him into a relaxed ex-public schoolboy and ex-army captain who always tries desperately to underplay his patrician background. The show ran to 80 episodes and a 1971 feature film, and was eventually recognised as the very essence of British humour, involving realistic sympathetic characters, and a gentle mocking of class consciousness and its instability in wartime conditions. A film version starring Bill Nighy, Michael Gambon and Toby Jones was released earlier this year. But Perry and Croft’s attempts at an American version failed.

Croft and Perry bounced ideas off one another and wrote together for a period of over 30 years. Along with Frank Muir and Denis Norden, Alan Simpson and Ray Galton, they were among the dominant writing teams of the period. They contrasted in both primary function and temperament, Croft tough in negotiation and Perry coiffured and urbane, rather in the style of Le Mesurier’s Sergeant Wilson. He guarded his privacy jealously and was rarely photographed.

He was born and brought up in Barnes, south-west London. His father was an antiques dealer with a shop in Kensington. His grandfather had been a butler in Belgrave Square, and some of his stories found their way into Perry and Croft’s last television series, You Rang, M’Lord? (1988-93).

As a child, he was told not to play with “common” boys. He went to Colet Court, the prep school for St Paul’s, where he saw that all races were welcome as long as they were rich. As the antiques business slumped with the approach of the second world war, his mother gave cookery lessons to aristocratic women left without servants. He became, as he put it, a closet socialist.
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The cinemas and theatres of nearby Hammersmith were his main solace as his schooldays became more difficult. Faced with a school report which said, “We fear for his future”, and asked by his father how he would get on in life without qualifications, he replied: “I don’t need any qualifications. I’m going to be a famous film star or a great comedian.” His father said, in tones more sad than hectoring, “You stupid boy” – the same phrase that Captain Mainwaring would use years later to the rookie Pike in Dad’s Army, played by Ian Lavender

Perry left school at 14 and was sent to Clark’s college to learn shorthand, typing and – a final irritant – book-keeping. He was then apprenticed to Waring & Gillow, purveyors of high-class furniture, but moved out of London with his family when his father took over the shop of his uncle in (safer) Watford after hostilities broke out.

It was in Watford that the 16-year-old Perry served in the Home Guard, thriving on its concerts if not its drill, appeared in monthly talent shows at the Gaumont theatre, and generally gained the experience that would one day enable him to write Dad’s Army. He saw himself as a version of the muddled and mother-dominated Private Pike.

After call-up, he served in the Royal Artillery, principally as a concert party manager, and was drafted to the far east, where his experiences came in useful for his later series It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (1974-81). Once demobbed, he went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art on a serviceman’s scholarship. To raise funds, he became a redcoat at Butlins holiday camps, which was to help him create another series, Hi-de-Hi! (1981-88).
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From Rada he went into repertory, his height and easy patrician looks then proved to be an asset, and for several years from the mid-1950s onwards ran the Palace theatre, Watford. He was having a rather lean time when Littlewood thought he might learn through the improvisation techniques she had perfected.

Perry, like many other actors, found Littlewood a bit of a puzzle and felt that his talents were being underused. He was on his way to Stratford East one day in the 60s when, after 17 busy but none too prosperous years as an actor, he conceived the idea for a television series which would include a plum part for himself: Walker, the fixer of the home guard platoon, who was a comic spiv and hustler. In the event, he never played Walker because the BBC pronounced that he could not be both writer and actor. Dad’s Army confirmed that Perry would become better known in the former role. He was appointed OBE in 1978.

Perry could send himself up as well as others. His autobiography was to be called A Boy’s Own Story, but it came out in 2002 under the title A Stupid Boy.

With Croft, he was in 2003 presented with a British Comedy Award for lifetime achievement. Croft died in 2011, aged 89.

In 1953, Perry married the actor Gilda Neeltje. He is survived by his partner, the costume designer Mary Husband.

• Jimmy Perry, writer and actor, born 20 September 1923; died 23 October 2016

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Loudon Wainwright III at The Sage, Gateshead, October 2016 - review

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Loudon Wainwright III at The Sage Gateshead

24 October 2016

Maybe those whining about Bob Dylan’s recent Nobel Prize for Literature should have attended one of Loudon Wainwright’s recent shows in which he mixes music (and words) with dramatic recitation of some of his father’s writing from Life magazine to get an understanding of how the selection and use of words have the power to involve, move and challenge people. In over 25 years of watching Wainwright live, this was undoubtedly the best show I’ve seen. There wasn’t the youthful tendency to cram in as many songs as possible, nor was he hampered by the demands of an audience who had come along purely in search of ribaldry – though there was some of that too! Last night’s crowd was simply enthralled by a man at the top of his game who had found a new way to present several of his songs.

He was relaxed and witty, looked better – more robust even - than I’ve seen him for a while and his voice was superb throughout. He treated us to old songs (School Days), obscure ones (I Don’t Care), covers (the late Michael Marra’s Hermless, here retitled Homeless), poignancy (The Picture) and the odd acerbically witty number (Double Lifetime).

The highlights, though, featured the use of the spoken (or rather, written, for all you Nobel dissenters) word mixed with music, a format taken from the recent Surviving Twin tour, a kind of posthumous collaboration between Loudon III and Loudon II, but featuring Loudon I and any number of family members and their dog. And in the intimate setting of Hall Two, it worked a treat, moving the audience with tales of childbirth, dying dogs and inter-generational resentments, mixed with some heavy ego and self-deprecation and then following up with an apt song, in one case, an outstanding Half Fist, a meditation on the way physical and emotional traits can be carried down the generations, that was so much more powerful than the album version that it warrants releasing a live recording of these shows.

No Loudon show is ever all serious and he had the audience laughing with a new song, Meet the Wainwrights, written to accompany a mini tour of Alaska where he was joined by his son Rufus, his sister Sloane, ex-partner Suzzy Roche and daughter Lucy Wainwright-Roche and where they seem to have taken the audience (or a goodly portion of it) with them to various venues. There was a little dig at Rufus, “more famous and much richer than the rest of us,” but essentially he was leading us to the killer line that if it hadn’t been for him, “none of you folks would be here.” Martha couldn’t make it but he was at pains to point out that she “and the bloody motherfucking asshole stay in touch,” which is good to know.

The great Chaim Tannenbaum opened for Loudon, who referred to him as the ‘absent-minded professor,’ when he couldn’t find the door to exit the stage – and he did, indeed, look like a professor and, of course, that’s what he was, studying mathematical logic and teaching philosophy while singing and playing folk music for over 50 years, often collaborating with Loudon, the McGarrigles or members of their extended family. With his first album only just released, he proved more than able support and joined his friend on stage for a few numbers, including a version of The Doctor that had to be updated because of Loudon’s age (an unbelievable 70 last month) and an almost nostalgic, affectionate take on Tom Lehrer’s The Old Dope Peddler.

Looking forward to the live version, Loudon. Just sayin’.


Monday, 24 October 2016

Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit Concert - Saturday 22 October 2016

Neil and Nils Lofgren - Believe

Willie Nelson reducing or special correspondent to tears with a Scoundrels' 'cover' - Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground
Neil and Norah Jones - Don't Be Denied

Neil and Roger Waters - Forever Young

Neil and Willie - Are There Any More Real Cowboys

The Rusties at the healing pole - not a euphemism, I'm told.

Ian On the Road with the Rustie Caravan

Friday, 21 October 2016

Dead Poets Society #14

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Wind by Ted Hughes

This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet

Till day rose; then under an orange sky
The hills had new places, and wind wielded
Blade-light, luminous black and emerald,
Flexing like the lens of a mad eye.

At noon I scaled along the house-side as far as
The coal-house door. Once I looked up -
Through the brunt wind that dented the balls of my eyes
The tent of the hills drummed and strained its guyrope,

The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace,
At any second to bang and vanish with a flap;
The wind flung a magpie away and a black-
Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house

Rang like some fine green goblet in the note
That any second would shatter it. Now deep
In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip
Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,

Or each other. We watch the fire blazing,
And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on,
Seeing the window tremble to come in,
Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.