Friday, 23 June 2017

Jackson Browne at The Sage, Gateshead, 2017 - review

Image result for jackson browne 2017 tour
Jackson Browne at The Sage, Gateshead.
21 June 2017

Time might be the conqueror, but not yet. Not in Jackson Browne’s case. The 68 year-old, still slim and cool with his traditional flowing locks now flecked with grey, played a blistering concert in front of a rapt audience at The Sage, Gateshead, backed by a terrific band consisting of the stellar Jeff Young (keyboards) Val McCallum (guitar), Bob Glaub (bass), Alethea Mills (Vocals), Greg Leisz (guitar, lap steel, pedal steel) and an outstanding drummer in Mauricio Lewak, who brought deft rhythmic subtlety and percussive power to the set.

Browne’s between song-chat and occasional humorous trade-offs with an eager audience, keen to sway the direction of the set list, meandered engagingly and added to the effusive atmosphere already engendered by the music, particularly in his introduction to Something Fine, which managed – in a round about way - to take in recollections of Stephen Stills, an apartment in London, romance and an earthquake in California! He was in fine voice, too, the lower pitch of his older voice adding more resonance and emotional depth to familiar songs like the one of the evening’s standouts, For a Dancer, one of several occasions where he switched from guitar to piano.

Delving into his back catalogue, he played tracks off most of his albums, including many favourites such as Doctor My Eyes, For Everyman, Running on Empty, In the Shape of a Heart and These Days, but he also featured newer numbers like The Long Way Around from his most recent album, Standing in the Breach (2014).

While Browne may be known for his forthright political views, he touched on issues without lecturing and saw fit to be self-effacing while covering Randy Newman’s A Piece of the Pie, an excoriating but sardonic look at the wealth gap at a time when ‘no-one gives a shit but Jackson Browne.’

This cover was one of three in the set; the others were Walls and Doors, by the Cuban writer and singer Carlos Varela, and Carmelita by one of his old sparring partners, the late Warren Zevon, which was another of the show’s highlights, lapped up by an appreciative audience.

Called back for an encore by a packed house - the crowd now on its feet, clapping and even dancing - the band played the opening notes of Take It Easy and everyone joined in!  in the audience knew it had witnessed something special and it would have been the perfect end to the night, but he managed to top it. Just as on his second album, Browne segued effortlessly into Our Lady of the Well, a romantic song with a political edge, to serve as a reminder that the cruel and senseless shadow over the USA of 1973 has been replaced by an even more senseless one.

FRANK BLACK

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Autumn Leaves
I'll See You In My Dreams


Da Elderly: -
Heart Of Gold
I'm Just A Loser


The Elderly Brothers: -
You Really Got A Hold On Me
Bus Stop
No Reply


The Habit was packed most of the time on what was a very hot and sticky night. There was no shortage of players either, with some fine performances. A flute, Spanish guitar, drum-box trio produced an excellent Oye Como Va. There was a surprise visit from Edwina Hayes who surprised us further with Loudon's Road Ode (that's a lot of lyrics to remember!). Dan Webster covered John Prine's Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness with everyone joining in. In a grande finale, ex-host Mark Wynn teamed up with Dave Ward Maclean, finishing off the evening with bluesman Henry Thomas's Don't Leave Me Here (Don't Ease Me In). Another enjoyable night to remember!

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Brian Cant RIP

Image result for brian cant playaway
Brian Cant obituary
Children’s television presenter and actor who spent 21 years on Play School and whose baritone voice graced Camberwick Green, Chigley and Trumpton

Stuart Jeffries
The Guardian
Tuesday 20 June 2017

“HERE’S a house. Here’s a door. Windows – one, two, three, four ... Ready to play? What’s the day? It’s Tuesday.” For those of us who were British, small and watching television between the mid 1960s and the mid 80s, those words, spoken by the much-loved children’s TV presenter Brian Cant, who has died aged 83, in his soothing, gently laconic baritone, are liable to provoke a Proustian rush.

For two decades from 1964 there was scarcely a BBC show aimed at little children that didn’t come with Cant’s distinctive tones. It was his voice that weekly introduced us in the late 60s to the townsfolk of Camberwick Green (1966), the puppet show created by Gordon Murray. “Here is a box, a musical box, wound up and ready to play,” he would tell us at the start of each episode. “But this box can hide a secret inside. Can you guess what is in it today?” And it was Cant who did the prosodically captivating roll call for the fire brigade in Camberwick Green’s sequel, Trumpton (1969): “Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb.”

Both shows, and the third of the trilogy, Chigley (1970), were set in an idealised English county, Trumptonshire, and suggested what we realised with hindsight to be the evident nonsense that a crime-free Britain ran like clockwork and that adult life was an orderly affair. Cant’s voice was the aural signature of these affairs. In 2007 he topped a children’s magazine poll to find the best-loved UK kids’ television voice, with Oliver Postgate, the voice of Bagpuss, second, and David Jason third for voicing the cartoon hero Danger Mouse.

Sensibly, Cant was modest about his effect on grown-ups nostalgically recalling their childhoods. “It’s obviously very kind and very rewarding to have that effect but I can’t believe it was that important to everyone,” he said once.

Cant might not have achieved such iconic status except for his ability to improvise with imaginary custard. In 1964 he was performing in a proto-Horrible Histories BBC TV drama about the Romans when he learned that auditions were taking place for a new show aimed at pre-schoolers. Joy Whitby’s Play School (1964-88) was aimed at taking kids’ TV to a new level, beyond such cherished favourites as Andy Pandy, The Flower Pot Men and Muffin the Mule.

At the audition Whitby asked Cant to climb into a cardboard box and row out to sea. He gamely did so, then dropped an imaginary fishing line in the water and, seconds later, hauled in his catch, a wellington boot filled with custard. How did he convince the audition there was custard in the wellie? Through the power of suggestion, most likely.

Cant remained on Play School for 21 years, long after its original target audience had moved not only on to solid foods, but into gainful employment. Some critics might be tempted to suggest that he and the other presenters – Floella Benjamin, Derek Griffiths and Johnny Ball among them – were overshadowed by the stuffed toys (Big Ted, Little Ted, Jemima, Humpty and Hamble), but that would be unfair: to sing, tell stories and otherwise captivate an audience composed mostly of under-fives is no mean feat, as any parent will tell you.

“One of the main rules of those Play School days was that we should play to the camera as though we were talking to one child,” said Cant in 2010. “It could be somebody in a tower block, a nice semi-detached somewhere, or a royal palace. You had to phrase everything so that, whoever was watching it, they felt you were talking to them.”

In 1971 Cant became, along with Toni Arthur, one of the regular presenters of Play Away (1971-84), aimed at slightly older children. Other presenters included, incredibly, Jeremy Irons, Julie Covington, Patricia Hodge and Tony Robinson. In his subsequent career he combined his work presenting children’s TV in shows such as Bric-A-Brac (1980-82) and Milkshake! (from 1997) with theatre, touring in plays such as Run for Your Wife, Doctor in the House, The Railway Children and The Canterbury Tales, in addition to pantomimes.

In 1984 Play Away was cancelled, and his services were no longer required on Play School. “All my regular programmes disappeared in one fell swoop,” he recalled. “Play Away had really run its course, but I was, rather unfortunately, considered too old for Play School.” That year, his first marriage to Mary Gibson having ended in divorce, he married the writer and director Cherry Britton and they went on to have three children.

Born in Ipswich and educated at Northgate grammar school for boys, Cant initially had dreams of playing football for Ipswich Town, having trained for the club as a youth. Instead, after some years working as a printer, he turned to acting, and an early review of his performance in an amateur production of the thriller Safe Harbour in 1957 judged that “Mr Cant does incredibly well within the terms of an almost embarrassingly inept caricature.” The following year he turned professional and spent the summer season in rep at Buxton, in Derbyshire. By the early 60s he was appearing in dramas such as the ITV police series No Hiding Place, before joining Play School.

Later Cant appeared on TV in more grown-up fare, including Casualty, Doctors, and Doctor Who. He had two roles in the last of these and was twice killed off, first by a Dalek and in another episode by a Quark, which he recalled was “a little polystyrene box-shaped creature that contained a schoolboy. I was from a pacifist planet and I had to wear a long skirt with a long pipe stuck up it which came to just below the neckline. When I was killed off, smoke belched out of this pipe for some reason. It was rather odd.”

But he carried on entertaining children. Younger Britons remember him not for Play School or the Trumptonshire dramas but as Brian the farmer in Dappledown Farm (1990–2003) and for his work from 2003 on two Channel Five kids’ shows, MechaNick and The Softies.

In one interview he defended the idea of children’s TV against the idea that it could be stupefying for kids. “No-one would suggest sitting there doing nothing but watching television, that’s obvious,” he said. “But programmes like Play School were always done with the idea that when it finished, the children could go away and try things themselves.”

In 1999 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but as late as 2011, after having been awarded a special Bafta honouring his career, he was still acting – making his third appearance in Doctors.

He is survived by Cherry and their children, Rose, Christabel and Peter, and by two sons from his first marriage, Nicholas and Richard, the latter of whom is also an actor.

• Brian Cant, television presenter and actor, born 12 July 1933; died 19 June 2017

Monday, 19 June 2017

Andy Warhol's jazz album covers...

Way before The Velvet Underground and bananas, Andy Warhol was known for his jazz album  designs. Owing something to Ben Shahn and David Stone Martin, he produced a series of striking  covers (with his mother helping out with the typography) for a number of artists on several labels, notably Blue Note and RCA/Victor.

Count Basie


johnny griffdin
Artie Shaw
Monk
Progressive Piano
blue lights_burrell
trombone by three

Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Book of Jeremy Corbyn



By Anthony Lane
The New Yorker
9 June 2017

And it came to pass, in the land of Britain, that the High Priestess went unto the people and said, Behold, I bring ye tidings of great joy. For on the eighth day of the sixth month there shall be a general election.

And the people said, Not another one.

And they waxed wroth against the High Priestess and said, Didst thou not sware, even unto seven times, that thou wouldst not call a snap election?

And the High Priestess said, I know, I know. But Brexit is come upon us, and I must go into battle against the tribes of France, Germany, and sundry other holiday destinations. And I must put on the armor of a strong majority in the people’s house. Therefore go ye out and vote.

And there came from the temple pollsters, who said, Surely this woman will flourish. For her enemy is as grass; she cutteth him down. He is as straw in the wind, and he will blow away. And the trumpet of her triumph shall sound in all the land.

And the High Priestess said, Piece of cake.

And there came from the same country a prophet, whose name was Jeremy. His beard was as the pelt of beasts, and his raiments were not of the finest. And he cried aloud in the wilderness and said, Behold, I bring you hope.

And suddenly there was with him a host of young people. And he said unto them, Ye shall study and grow wise in all things, and I shall not ask ye for gold. And the sick shall be made well, and they also will heal freely. And he promised unto them all manner of goodly things.

And the young people said unto him, How shall these things be rendered, seeing that thou hast no money in thy purse?

And he spake unto them in a voice of sounding brass and said, Soak the rich. And again, Pull down the mighty from their seats.

And the young people went absolutely nuts.

And they hearkened unto the word of Jeremy, and believed. For they said unto themselves, Lo, he bringeth unto us the desire of our hearts. He cometh by bicycle, with a helmet upon his head. And he eateth neither flesh nor fowl, according to the Scriptures. For man cannot live by bread alone, but hummus is quite another matter.

And the High Priestess saw all these things and was sore. And she gathered unto her the chief scribes and the Pharisees and said unto them, What the hell is going on?

And they said unto her, It is a blip, as if it were a rough place upon the road.

But they said unto themselves, When the government was upon her shoulders, this woman was mighty. But now that she has gone abroad unto every corner of the land, she stumbleth. For surely it is written that ruling and campaigning are as oil and water, and there shall be no concord betwixt them.

And the chief scribes wrote upon tablets, saying, Jeremy is false of tongue. He hideth wickedness in his heart. And his sums do not add up.

And nobody paid any attention.

And the elders rose up and said to the young people, If ye choose Jeremy, he will bring distress in your toils and wailing upon your streets. Do ye not remember the nineteen-seventies?

And the young people said, The what?

And the elders spake again, and said to the young people, Beware, for he gave succor in days of yore to the I.R.A.

And the young people said, The what?

And the young people said, Jeremy shall bring peace unto all nations, for he hateth the engines of war that take wing across the heavens. And he showeth respect for all peoples, even unto the transgender community.

And the elders said, The what?

And it came to pass that the heathen of this land came among the people, with fire and sword, and slew many among the faithful. And great was the lamentation.

And the High Priestess waxed exceeding wroth and said to the people, Fear not. For I shall bind your wounds and give ye shelter from the heathen, and shall take up the sword against them.

And there came again pollsters from the temple, who said, Will the people not vote for her in this hour of need?

And nobody paid any attention.

And it came to the vote.

And the elders went up to vote, and the young people. And the young people were as a multitude. And in the hours of darkness there was much counting. And the young people watched by night, and the elders went to bed.

And there came in the morning news that the High Priestess had vanquished the prophet Jeremy. But the triumph of the High Priestess was as the width of a nail. And she was vexed.

And the elders and the chief scribes and the Pharisees spoke among themselves, yea, even in the corners of their houses.

And there was great rejoicing amidst the multitude of the young. And they took strong wine, and did feast among themselves. And there were twelve baskets left over.

And of the pollsters there was no sign.

And the people saw Jeremy and said, Surely this man has won? Doth he not skip in gladness like a young hart upon the hills?

And there was great murmuring among the elders. And they said unto themselves, Weep not. For the High Priestess doth but prepare the way. Cometh there not one who is greater than she?

And they said, Behold, for the hour of the redeemer is upon us. And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Prince of Peace. And they cried in one voice, Boris.

And the young people said, Oh, shit.

And the people gave tongue, and made supplication unto the Lord, saying, Lord, let our cry come unto thee.

And the Lord thought the whole thing was absolutely hilarious.

And then the people said, Lord, what shall we do regarding Brexit? For henceforth the High Priestess shall be as weak as a newborn lamb. How shall we hope for continued access to the single market?

And the Lord said, The what?

Friday, 16 June 2017

Dead Poets Society #42

Related image
Nothing’s Changed by Tatamkhulu Afrika

Small round hard stones click
under my heels,
seeding grasses thrust
bearded seeds
into trouser cuffs, cans,
trodden on, crunch
in tall, purple-flowering,
amiable weeds.

District Six.
No board says it is:
but my feet know,
and my hands,
and the skin about my bones,
and the soft labouring of my lungs,
and the hot, white, inwards turning
anger of my eyes.

Brash with glass,
name flaring like a flag,
it squats
in the grass and weeds,
incipient Port Jackson trees:
new, up-market, haute cuisine,
guard at the gatepost,
whites only inn.

No sign says it is:
but we know where we belong.

I press my nose
to the clear panes, know,
before I see them, there will be
crushed ice white glass,
linen falls,
the single rose.

Down the road,
working man's cafe sells
bunny chows.
Take it with you, eat
it at a plastic table's top,
wipe your fingers on your jeans,
spit a little on the floor:
it's in the bone.

I back from the
glass,
boy again,
leaving small mean O
of small mean mouth.
Hands burn
for a stone, a bomb,
to shiver down the glass.
Nothing's changed.


Thursday, 15 June 2017

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Need Your Love So Bad
Wild Horses


Da Elderly: -
There Stands The Glass
I Don't Want To Talk About It


The Elderly Brothers: -
Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues
Bye Bye Love
Things We Said Today
Love Hurts
Bring It On Home To Me


Packed from the off, there were plenty of players and punters for most of the evening, things only thinning out after 11pm. Nevertheless a sizeable audience stuck it out until midnight and afterwards. Regular Deb pulled out two unexpected songs: Tom Waits' Time and Minnie Riperton's Loving You. And there was the welcome return of The Elderly Brothers following Ron's return from holiday. After the open mic had finished, we provided the backing for a general sing-along with a string of Beatles and Rock and Roll standards.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Batman RIP

Adam West: TV Batman actor dies at 88

Adam West, the US actor best known as the star of the 1960s hit TV series Batman, has died aged 88.

West died peacefully in Los Angeles after a "short but brave battle" with leukaemia, a family spokesperson said.

His tongue-in-cheek portrayal of Batman and the superhero's alter ego Bruce Wayne won a cult following.

He later struggled to find big acting roles, but won a new generation of fans in more recent times after joining the cast of Family Guy.

First appearing in season two in 2002, he voiced Quahog's eccentric Mayor Adam West, described by series creator Seth MacFarlane as an "alternate universe", satirised version of the actor.

MacFarlane paid tribute to the star on Twitter, saying he had "lost a friend" and described West as "irreplaceable".


West's family said in a statement: "Our dad always saw himself as The Bright Knight, and aspired to make a positive impact on his fans' lives. He was and always will be our hero."

The Batman TV series, with its onscreen fight-scene graphics of Wham! and Pow! became an unexpected hit. West and his co-star Burt Ward, who played Batman's sidekick Robin, won widespread acclaim for their kitsch portrayal of the Dynamic Duo.

Actor Julie Newmar, who played Catwoman in the series, paid tribute to West on Saturday, saying he was was "bright, witty and fun to work with".

"I will miss him in the physical world and savour him always in the world of imagination and creativity," she said.

In a 2010 interview with the website Slice of SciFi, West said the TV series had benefitted from very good writers.

"They saw the craziness, the comedy. You know, just as he's about to put her in (jail), Batman says to Catwoman, 'You give me curious stirrings in my utility belt.' That's funny stuff."

When the series ended, West struggled to break free from the character, but over a long career appeared in nearly 50 films including Drop Dead Gorgeous, An American Vampire Story and Nevada Smith.



Batman actor Adam West dies aged 88
Actor who played Batman in 1960s US TV series and voiced Mayor West on Family Guy dies

Chris Johnston and agencies
The Guardian
Saturday 10 June 2017

Adam West, the actor best known for playing Batman in the 1960s television series, has died aged 88 of leukaemia. He is remembered by fans for his kooky, exaggerated portrayal of the superhero in the ABC show, which ran for three seasons from 1966 to 1968.

West once said that he played Batman “for laughs, but in order to do [that], one had to never think it was funny. You just had to pull on that cowl and believe that no one would recognise you.”

In a statement, his family said: “Our dad always saw himself as the Bright Knight and aspired to make a positive impact on his fans’ lives. He was and always will be our hero.”

Tributes have poured in from the media world. David Walliams tweeted: “Thank you AdamWest for being the funniest superhero of all time as Batman.”

Many of those expressing their sadness shared the fact that West’s portrayal of the Caped Crusader had been their childhood hero. Author Neil Gaiman tweeted: “Rest in peace Adam West. We met once in 1987 and I was too embarrassed and too foolishly ‘cool’ to tell you what you meant to my childhood.”

Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright tweeted: “Farewell Adam West. You were MY Batman. Such a super funny, cool, charismatic actor. Loved the show as a kid, still love the show now. POW!”

John Barrowman wrote on Facebook: “Adam West my after-school hours were filled with excitement watching you battle fantastic villains. You were a delight to meet on the convention circuit.”

Mark Hamill, who played the Joker in an animated series of Batman and worked with West on a short called Batman: New Times, also shared his condolences. He tweeted: “AdamWest was such a wonderful actor & so kind, I’m so lucky to have worked w/ him & tell him how much he meant to me & millions of fans.”

The actor Matthew Modine tweeted:
I shared a flight #adamwest when I began my career. So kind. Sharing insights about the business of show. So generous & loving was he RIP

Batman initially proved a hit with US viewers, but its popularity waned and it was axed after the third season. Reruns of the show continue to this day, although it took until 2014 to make it on to DVD.

The Guardian’s Graeme Virtue wrote: “The licensing tangle between 20th Century Fox, which made and owns the actual episodes, and DC Entertainment, the renamed comics company that owns the characters, was hampered by contracts drawn up before home entertainment options were even being considered.”

West struggled to find steady work after the demise of Batman, complaining later that “the people who were hiring … were dinosaurs” who “thought Batman was a big accident”. it was not until he was cast as the voice of Mayor West on the animated series Family Guy that he found another regular gig.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Dead Poets Society #41

Image result for john donne

Song by John Donne


Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devils foot;
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy's stinging,
And find
What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.

If thou be'st born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights
Till Age snow white hairs on thee;
Thou, when thou return'st wilt tell me
All strange wonders that befell thee,
And swear
No where
Lives a woman true and fair.

If thou find'st one let me know;
Such a pilgrimage were sweet.
Yet do not; I would not go,
Though at next door we might meet.
Though she were true when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
Yet she
Will be
False, ere I come, to two or three.

Remember: "A man ain't island; John Donne wasn't lying..."

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Last night's set lists

Gamma Ray American Pale Ale

At The Habit, York: -

Military Madness
Teach Your Children
You're Sixty (
aka You're Sixteen)

It was quieter than last week but there was a fine array of players to entertain the punters. Regular Deb surprised us with an excellent You Belong To Me. Rising star Sam Griffiths delighted the audience with Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard and a blistering Tangled Up In Blue. At the end of the evening he joined our host for One Too Many Mornings and It's All Over Now Baby Blue; surely enough Dylan there to please any Friday Night Boy (even if it was Wednesday!). I chipped in with a couple of Graham Nash tunes and my own take on Johnny Burnette's 1961 hit. In introducing the song I made it clear that the re-write was necessary for one in excess of 60 summers!


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Peter Sallis RIP

Image result for peter sallis last of the summer wine
Peter Sallis obituary
Veteran actor best known for playing Norman ‘Cleggy’ Clegg in Last of the Summer Wine and voicing Wallace in Wallace and Gromit

Stephen Dixon
The Guardian
Monday 5 June 2017

Often self-effacing and meek, but with a sly smirk and a beady eye that hinted at mischief, the actor Peter Sallis, who has died aged 96, played the cloth-capped widower Norman Clegg for 37 years in the BBC TV comedy series Last of the Summer Wine, and was also the voice of Wallace in Nick Park’s acclaimed stop-motion animated films based around the adventures of a cheese-loving inventor and his pet dog, Gromit.

Running from 1973 to 2010, Roy Clarke’s meandering series about three childish old men getting into all kinds of scrapes in a small Yorkshire town was gentle and often poignant, and the character of “Cleggy” absolutely fitted Sallis’s nasal, hesitant and semi-apologetic speech patterns. In Clegg’s wry utterances there were many stereotypical British qualities: understatement, calmness in the face of adversity, self-deprecation and, above all, a willingness to see the funny side of life.

And it was that wonderfully evocative voice that made Sallis first choice for theWallace and Gromit films. He recorded the lines for Aardman Animation’s short A Grand Day Out in 1983 for a smallish fee, forgot about it, and it was six years later that Park rang him to say the film had been completed. From such modest beginnings came an industry that, for Sallis, climaxed with his attending the Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood, when the Aardman/Dreamworks full-length film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) won an Oscar for best animated feature.

Born in Twickenham, south-west London, he was the only child of Harry Sallis, a bank manager, and his wife, Dorothy (nee Bernard), and grew up in Palmers Green, in the north of the city. In his autobiography, Fading Into the Limelight (2007), he wrote that his parents did not get on at all well: “I had a little prayer that I used to say: ‘Please God, make Mummy and Daddy live happily together.’”

After his education at Minchenden grammar school in Southgate, he followed his father into banking, as a clerk, and during the second world war joined the RAF. Turned down in 1943 for aircrew because of a disorder that might cause him to black out at high altitudes, he became a wireless mechanic and taught radio procedures at RAF Cranwell.

One of his students was putting on a production of Noël Coward’s Hay Fever at a local YMCA, and Sallis agreed to play the leading male part, though he had never acted before. As he put it: “When I went on the stage and spoke the lines, people laughed … that night, in my bunk, I couldn’t sleep. I just lay there going through the play over and over again. I knew everybody’s lines and after a while I thought to myself, yes, I know what it is: I’ve got what they call the acting bug.”

He appeared in various other amateur productions and still had the bug when the war ended. He was accepted by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London, on an Alexander Korda scholarship, and when he left was offered work in the theatre almost immediately – he had been taken on by the Myron Selznick agency while still at Rada.

The 15 years that followed contained what Sallis considered to be his best creative achievements: in spite of his later fame as a TV and film performer he always saw himself primarily as a serious stage actor. His professional debut came in Sheridan’s The Scheming Lieutenant at the Arts theatre in 1946, and notable subsequent appearances included Orson Welles’s Moby Dick (1955) at the Duke of York’s theatre, Coward’s Look After Lulu (1959) with Vivien Leigh at the Royal Court, and Welles’s production of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros (1959) with Laurence Olivier, also at the Royal Court. He spent two seasons at the Lyric, Hammersmith – with John Gielgud in 1953 and the Fifty Nine Theatre Company in 1959.

He married the actor Elaine Usher in 1957, but it was not a happy relationship and she divorced him in 1965. They were briefly reconciled but she left him for good in 1983, describing him in tabloid newspapers as a devious, serial adulterer. Reflecting on his marriage in 2004, Sallis told the Daily Express that he was “not ideal as a husband”. The couple had a son, Crispian, who went on to become an Oscar-nominated film set designer.

Sallis was also frank about his inadequacies as a parent, saying he was “not good father material”. “I don’t know what it was but I never saw myself as a father figure,” he went on. “I didn’t understand children. I don’t actually like children. There was a distance between me and my father and now there is a distance between me and my son.”

Sallis began his television career at the top, with the title role in the 14-part BBC serial Samuel Pepys in 1958, and he also appeared in smaller parts in shows such as Doctor Who, Catweazle and The Persuaders! He became a busy film actor, too, with smallish parts in The Scapegoat (1959), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), Doctor in Love (1960), The VIPs (1963) and many others. Able to look terrified very convincingly, he also carved something of a niche in horror films – Curse of the Werewolf (1961), Scream and Scream Again (1970), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) and Frankenstein: The True Story (1973).

His was already a familiar face, and Last of the Summer Wine made Sallis a household name; he was the only actor to appear in all 295 episodes of what became the world’s longest-running comedy series. Clarke had already collaborated with him on various projects, and wrote Clegg with him in mind. Of the original trio of anarchic old men re-living their childhoods, Blamire (Michael Bates) was the figure of authority, the Nora Batty-besotted Compo (Bill Owen) was the funniest and most outrageous, and Clegg occupied a middle ground: a witty but timid little man who preferred to be observer and commentator on his friends’ follies but was invariably roped in to the stunts as a reluctant participant.

Bates died before the third series and was replaced first by Brian Wilde, as the ex-soldier “Foggy” Dewhurst, then Michael Aldridge as the former headteacher Seymour Utterthwaite and, finally, by Frank Thornton as the retired policeman Herbert “Truly” Truelove. Owen died in 2000, and was never really replaced, though Brian Murphy as Alvin Smedley became Nora’s new neighbour. In the final two series the physical action was undertaken by younger members of the cast and Thornton and Sallis appeared mainly in indoor or background sequences.

The first Wallace and Gromit short film, A Grand Day Out, was released in 1990 to tremendous acclaim. It was nominated for an Academy Award, and from the start the voice of Sallis was a vital ingredient in its success. The Wrong Trousers (1993), A Close Shave (1995) and the full-length The Curse of the Were-Rabbit followed. All three earned Academy Awards, and Sallis was awarded an Annie award for voice acting for Were-Rabbit.

Sallis was 84 when the film came out, and his sight was failing through macular degeneration. He had no immediate plans for retirement and adjusted his life to meet the challenges involved, moving from his cottage close to the Thames in Richmond to a central London apartment and using a talking portable typewriter with a specially illuminated scanner. With the aid of these devices he was able to voice Wallace in A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008) and the TV science showWallace and Gromit’s World of Invention (2010), and then had to step back from the role. Since 2011 Wallace has been voiced by Ben Whitehead.

Sallis was also able to complete work on the final series of Last of the Summer Wine in 2010 and shortly afterwards he formally retired. Just before doing so, he became happily reconciled to the fact that his enduring global fame lay with Wallace. “I realise now, though it’s taken me nearly a hundred years, that my voice is distinctive,” he said. “I’m very lucky indeed.” In 2007 he was appointed OBE.

Sallis is survived by Crispian and two grandchildren.

• Peter Sallis, actor, born 1 February 1921; died 2 June 2017

Monday, 5 June 2017

Hokusai at The British Museum

Great Wave

Hokusai: the Great Wave that swept the world
He called himself Old Man Crazy To Paint and made his best work in his 70s. As his dragons, deities, poets and wrestlers go on show, we look at the obsessions of the poster-boy for Japanese art

John-Paul Stonard
The Guardian
Friday 19 May 2017

Had Katsushika Hokusai died when he was struck by lightning at the age of 50 in 1810, he would be remembered as a popular artist of the ukiyo-e, or “floating world” school of Japanese art, but hardly the great figure we know today. His late blooming (the subject of an exhibition, Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave, opening at the British Museum next week) was spectacular – it was only in his 70s that he made his most celebrated print series, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, including the famous Great Wave, an image that subsequently swept over the world. “Until the age of 70,” he once wrote (self-consciously parodying Confucius) “nothing that I drew was worthy of notice.”

It was a good boast but not quite true – he had begun his manga, woodblock print books of sketches that were wildly popular, in his 50s. They stretched to 15 volumes (the last three published posthumously), and covered every subject imaginable: real and imaginary figures and animals, plants and natural scenes, landscapes and seascapes, dragons, poets and deities combined together in a way that defies all attempts to weave a story around them. Leafing through the manga in the original or a facsimile is a mind-expanding experience, one that should be prescribed for all aspiring artists. In their observation and invention they have been compared to Rembrandt and Van Gogh, and rightly so for the thrilling panorama they provide both of the world and of Hokusai’s imagination.

Clear Day with a Southern Breeze, colour woodblock, 1831

If the manga made Hokusai’s name, the Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (there are in fact 46 prints in the series) ensured his fame. Hokusai’s obsession with Mount Fuji was part of his hankering after artistic immortality – in Buddhist and Daoist tradition, Fuji was thought to hold the secret of immortality, as one popular interpretation of its names suggests: “Fu-shi” (“not death”). I saw the mountain for the first time last year, from the window of the Shinkansen bullet train. You quickly understand how it dominates the landscape, as the train curves around, revealing it over woodlands and cities, behind buildings, over the plains – and why Hokusai returned to it so often, like a pivot for his restless imagination.

Fuji appears in Thirty-Six Views in many different guises, sometimes centre-stage, elsewhere as background detail. The first five in the series were printed entirely in shades of blue (a combination of traditional indigo and Prussian blue, a recently invented chemical pigment), suggesting views of the mountain at dawn, seen now from a beach, now from a neighbouring island, now as passenger boats and cargo vessels head out over Edo bay.

Ejiri, Suruga Province, colour woodblock, early 1831

Hokusai gradually introduced colour into the series, delicate pinks and darker shadows, to show the illumination of the world as the sun creeps up over the horizon. The print Ejiri, Suruga Province shows early morning on a desolate patch of the Tōkaidō highway, Mount Fuji drawn with a single line, while in the foreground a group of travellers are struck by a gust of wind that sends hats and papers flying in the air. It is one of my favourite of the Thirty-Six Views. In Japan the best-loved print is Clear Day with a Southern Breeze. Included in the British Museum exhibition, an early impression of this print shows the delicate atmospheric effects of sunrise, lost in later printings probably made without Hokusai’s direct supervision.

Early impressions of the Great Wave, or Under the Wave off Kanagawa, are just as subtle in their colouring: atmospheric pink and grey in the sky, deep Prussian blue in the folds of the sea. Fishing skiffs are lost in the waves, while the great wall of water, with its finger-like tendrils, threatens to engulf both them and the tiny Mount Fuji in the distance. That the Great Wave became the best known print in the west was in large part due to Hokusai’s formative experience of European art.
Work by Hokusai from the Edo period

Prints from early in his career show him attempting, rather awkwardly, to apply the lesson of mathematical perspective, learnt from European prints brought into Japan by Dutch traders. By the time of Under the Wave, the sense of deep space was far more subtle. The rigid converging lines of European perspective drawing become the gently sloping sides of the sacred mountain. In all other ways it could not have been further from anything being made in Europe at the time.

I would love to see an impression of Hokusai’s delicately coloured print hung next to Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa, painted just over a decade previously, in which a similar large wave is about to crash down on frail humanity. The contrast, and extreme modernity of Hokusai’s print, was certainly on the mind of those post-impressionist painters who so admired his work. You can still see prints by Hokusai, alongside Utamaro and Hiroshige, lining Monet’s dining room at Giverny; Rodin and Van Gogh were also enthusiastic collectors.

Gamecock and Hen, 1826–34
Hokusai signed his Thirty-Six Views with the name Iitsu, adding for clarification that he was “the former Hokusai”. It was common in Japan, as in China, for artists to adopt different names throughout their careers, marking different stages of life, and perhaps also as a way of refreshing the brand. He adopted the name Hokusai (“North Studio”) in his late 40s, when he became an independent artist, leaving his teaching job and striking out on his own.

Gathering Shellfish at Ebb-tide
By the time he created his second great tribute to Mount Fuji, three volumes comprising One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji (in fact there were 102 views) he was using the artist names Gakyō rōjin (“Old Man Crazy to Paint”), and Manji (“Ten Thousand Things”, or “Everything”). There is indeed a spirit of crazy comprehensiveness to One Hundred Views, all the mad invention and curiosity of the manga combined with the exquisite technique of the Thirty-Six Views. Timothy Clark, the curator of the British Museum exhibition, describes One Hundred Views as “one of the greatest illustrated books” ever printed, and it is difficult to disagree. The drawings are brilliantly conceived, and the prints beautifully made, the woodblock carvers reproducing Hokusai’s line so accurately that we think we are looking at the drawings themselves, rather than carved and printed copies.
Sumo wrestlers by Hokusai, from a collection of woodblock print sketches begun in 1814

It’s important to remember that Hokusai was a thoroughly commercial artist, relying on a large turnover of sales of his low-cost prints and the many illustrated books he produced throughout his life. Despite his artistic success, he seems to have been permanently on the brink of bankruptcy, largely a result of financial ineptness. After the death of his second wife, in 1828, Hokusai’s daughter, Katsushika Ōi, returned to live with her father and provided him with support. Ōi was herself a talented painter and worked alongside her father in their cramped and messy studio.

The sketch of Hokusai with his daughter Ōi

An image of their situation is preserved in a memory-sketch by Tsuyuki Kōshō, one of Hokusai’s pupils, showing the master in rented lodgings, covered by a quilt, hunched over an ink painting on the tatami mat. Ōi watches him intently, smoking a long tobacco pipe. An inscription on the drawing says that rubbish was piled in the corner of the studio, food wrappings and other detritus. On the wall hung a sign: “We strictly refuse to paint albums or fans” – although you can imagine them taking on the work anyway.

The small handful of Ōi’s paintings that survive show her prodigious talent as an artist. Recent research has shown how she might have contributed to her father’s late paintings, which contain elements of her style such as elongated fingers, and depictions of beautiful courtesans (drawn from life in the pleasure district of Yoshiwara, if the 2015 anime film Miss Hokusai is anything to go by).

Hua Tuo Operating on the Arm of Guan Yu, by Katsushika Ōi
One of her most impressive paintings, Hua Tuo Operating on the Arm of Guan Yu, a scene from the Chinese historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, has a violent intensity and macabre quality quite unlike her father’s painting. Blood spurts from the arm of the general Guan Yu, who has taken nothing but a bowl of rice wine as anaesthetic, and continues with a game of go. It is one of the few authenticated paintings by Ōi, who disappears from the records following her father’s death in 1849.

Set alongside his prints, Hokusai’s rarely exhibited late paintings – large hanging scrolls on silk and paper – strike a different note. The subjects are often fantastical: a great dragon writhes in a rain cloud rising above Mount Fuji; a seven-headed dragon deity flies in the sky above the monk Nichiren (Hokusai was a devout follower), sitting on a mountain top reading from a sutra scroll.
Dragon in Rain Clouds, hanging scroll, ink and colour on paper, 1849

In small reproduction (the only form I have seen them in), they can appear a little like commercial illustrations, lacking the sense of emotional and atmospheric depth of his prints. A grinning tiger bounding through the snow, painted just a few months before Hokusai’s death, looks almost too quaint and jolly. All the more reason to make the journey to the British Museum and see them in the flesh. As with Hokusai’s prints, the real qualities of colour and surface, of detailed brushwork and painstaking construction, reveal themselves only on close and lingering inspection.

Self-portrait by Hokusai, aged 83, 1842
In his 80s, Hokusai was said to draw a Chinese lion or lion dancer every morning, throwing it out of the window to ward off ill luck. A number of these “daily exorcism” drawings still exist (probably thanks to Ōi running out to collect them up), and they are among his most lively and charming works. Hokusai’s only bad luck was to die 10 years short of his century, and never in his own mind to reach the state of artistic immortality, which he estimated would occur at the age of 110 when, as he once wrote, “Each dot, each line, will possess a life of its own.”

• Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave is at the British Museum, London WC1B, from 25 May to 13 August, and at the Abeno Harukas Art Museum, Osaka, from 6 October to 19 November.