Tag Archives: tour

Siberry the best: an intimate gig from ‘Canada’s answer to Kate Bush’

4 Oct

Jane Siberry: new album Angels Bend Closer is out in November

“My darlings, arise from your mossy beds, and leave your lichen dreams behind…”

These were the first words Jane Siberry uttered when she got up on stage last night. The opening lyrics to her song Morag were subtly altered to address her audience directly; they were liltingly spoken and not sung, without accompaniment from the guitar hanging round her neck. Instantly the 350-strong crowd gathered in London’s St James’s Theatre Studio – a far more intimate venue than this Canadian superstar would have commanded back home – were drawn close into Siberryland, a place where none of the usual rules of music, performance and even rationality apply.

Jane Siberry is sometimes described as Canada’s answer to Kate Bush, or to Tori Amos, as a way of explaining the reverence in which she is held in her native land. In truth, she has no more in common with them than they do with each other, beyond the fact that they all defy easy comparison or categorisation.

Siberry’s songs are like poems, or fragments of dreams. Her tunes are achingly beautiful but, like a painter who’s never quite happy with their canvas, she likes to mess them about in live performance until they are more perfectly imperfect. Her voice is a softly skirling, whirling bird of a thing, gusting upward on a sudden draught of inspiration and hovering briefly on its flight of fancy, before swooping down again to carry off the fugitive melody.

“Whoops,” she says at one point, smiling and correcting the fingering on her guitar, “I’ve drifted away from the chord.” After nearly 40 years in the music business, she seems more relaxed and at home on the stage with a crowd of strangers than most people are in their living room with close friends.

And she’s funny. After a particularly loud and long round of applause, she says, mock petulantly, “Fine. Chase me away with your clapping.” She introduces her song Dante by saying it’s not about the Italian poet, but named after a horse “who stamped negative energy into the ground”.

Having praised her sometime collaborator, k.d. lang, by saying “for some reason, artists like her and Frank Sinatra, their soul leaks on to their everyday voice”, she immediately undercuts her gushing with an aside, in the serious tones of a doctor delivering a diagnosis: “It could be leaky soul syndrome.” And, finding herself getting too deep about her combative mother, she adds: “I was thrilled when she died, because I finally got her to admit that if she’d been born in my times, she’d have been texting way more than me.”

Siberry has a new album out in mid-November: Angels Bend Closer, her first major recording in six years. On the evidence of this enchanting and enchanted evening, even with 20 previous CDs behind her, Siberry has plenty of magical surprises still up her sleeve.

Mac attack: Paul McCartney blows the roof off the O2

24 May
Paul McCartney and me. Outside the O2 Arena.

Paul McCartney and me. Outside the O2 Arena.

“I was round at George’s house,” says Paul, before breaking off, “let’s hear it for George!” It takes a while for the applause to die down enough for him to continue: “And we were playing these songs on ukuleles. I played this song then, and I’d like to play it for you now.”

The old man in the centre of the stage gets out a ukulele, and starts a solo acoustic performance of the sublime Something In The Way She Moves. He’s still lean, and still has those perfectly semi-circular eyebrows that give him an expression of permanent surprise; only the stoop of his shoulders betray his 72 years. The rendition is incongruous, but beautiful. You’d be happy to listen to the whole song like that, but then a third of the way through the drums kick in, the backing band step forward, Paul ditches the uke for a guitar, and the whole of the cavernous O2 Arena is bathed in a thrillingly huge, warm wave of sound.

I paid £125 to see Paul play last night . If this had been the only song, it would have been worth the price of admission, but there were nearly 40 others over the course of nearly three hours, almost every single one a gold-plated hit.

There was, I think, just one other song that was written by someone else. As the guitars started in on an instrumental, I thought, “What the —? That sounds like….” When the three stood in a circle, bending over their guitars as though circle-jerking over a biscuit, there could be no doubt: Paul McCartney was playing Purple Haze.

“I was lucky enough to know Jimi Hendrix in the ‘60s,” explained Paul afterwards. “We released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on a Friday night, and he played it on Sunday – he’d learned it all overnight. But he’s playing it with all this vibration and feedback, it sounds awful, and he calls out, ‘Is Eric out there?’ Clapton, of course. And he was! ‘Will you tune this for me, man?’” Paul purses his lips and mimes Clapton’s head-shake: “‘No.’”

There were a couple of times, notably when introducing Here Today – “The next song is a song I wrote about John. Let’s hear it for John! I wrote it after he passed away, and you know there are things you need to say but never get to say” – when Paul was choked with emotion, eyes welling with tears. (It’s certainly a kinder tribute than the song John wrote for Paul, How Do You Sleep?)

“When I’m playing all these songs,” Paul reflects, after he’s just ripped through Lovely Rita, Eleanor Rigby and Mr Kite in one glorious trilogy, “all the memories come back. Fifty years! I’m surprised I don’t faint.”

And you realise that, as astonished and awed as the audience are to be in the presence of an ACTUAL FRIGGING BEATLE, Paul is too. The young teens who took speed to get them through back-to-back gigs in Hamburg, who then released 12 albums in just seven years that changed the course of music several times over before splitting up when Paul was not yet even 30, who were idolised not just in the West but also behind the Iron Curtain where they became symbols of freedom that helped topple the Berlin Wall (see Leslie Woodhead’s book How The Beatles Rocked The Kremlin), whose joint leader (pun intended) John Lennon was shot dead by a lone gunman, whose peace-seeking guitarist George Harrison was stabbed multiple times in his home by a crazed intruder… how do you top all that? How do you live for the next 45 years in the shadow cast by your younger self?

You could become bitter. You could drink yourself into oblivion. You could play your own song, Yesterday, on repeat. Not Paul. He not only married happily, but went on to found Wings who broke the Beatles’ own record, unchallenged in 14 years, for best-selling single. Band On The Run still sounds new-minted when they play it at the O2, as does Let Me Roll It, with its huge choruses and lyrics that would be risible coming from any but Paul’s permanently puckered, heart-shaped lips: “My heart is like a wheel/Let me roll it to you.”

Paul’s family are in the audience, and he gives a shout-out to his grandchildren. While other grandparents are in the rocking chair, he’s rocking the O2. “Imagine you think your granddad’s just an ordinary guy,” he says, now behind a piano, “and then you come here, and see ‘Hey! Rockin’ grandpa!’ So, kids, this is what I’ve been telling you about!”

When the stage explodes with fireballs and pyrotechnics for a massive rendition of Live And Let Die, and the whole audience join in with the chorus on Hey Jude, many holding up signs that read “Na” for the “na-na-na-nas”, you can only imagine the grandkids have got the message.

But that’s not the end. Paul returns for the obligatory encore waving a Union Jack, and belts out disposable but up-tempo oldie Another Girl and Hi, Hi, Hi from Wings, before calling on stage a couple from the audience, as he often does. The man had been holding up a sign that reads, “Please sign my wife of 32 years.” Below the “32”, “30” and “31” are crossed out – he’s been trying to get Macca’s attention for three years. Paul dutifully signs Cynthia’s left shoulder. Apparently this is a thing: the devoted fan then has the autograph made into a tattoo.

And then Paul brings another surprise to the stage… and it’s only bleedin’ Dave Grohl! The Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman joins in on I Saw Her Standing There, grinning from ear to ear, bouncing around like an eager puppy and hair flapping like a spaniel’s ears, squooching in so close to Paul on the harmonies that they could be about to kiss. You can tell Grohl knows he’s on stage with an ACTUAL FRIGGING BEATLE.

And that’s it… strange song to end with, so no wonder they had to get a special guest… 11pm, finish time.

But no.

The lights don’t come back up. The few who have left their seats to beat the Tube rush pause. And Paul’s back…

It’s got to be a slow one now, for the pace, I think. And there it is: Yesterday, a song written when Paul was in his early twenties, but which must have so much more resonance for him now. And then, totally unexpectedly, Helter Skelter, that demented wall of sound with its screeching vocals and throbbing guitar that sounds like an army of sinister electric crickets, whose title Charlie Manson scrawled on the fridge of the La Bianca residence in blood after slaughtering its inhabitants. Paul’s a bit scrappy now on the vocals, but it still blows the roof off.

And finally, and this really is the end, the most apt closing song imaginable: the aching Golden Slumbers. Time to go home, says Paul, before singing the opening, “Once there was a way/To get back homeward”.

On “Golden slumbers fill your eyes/Smiles awake you when you rise”, my own eyes fill with tears. I’ve been a Beatles fan literally since the crib – my babysitter was an original Beatlemaniac, and carried around with her a hallowed sod of earth upon which Beatlefeet had trod – and their albums were the only rock/pop in the house when I was growing up, a rare generational bond between father and son. I know not just every word of every song, but every bassline and every drumbeat. And before I even knew what love was, Golden Slumbers would fill me with an inchoate yearning for its future pleasures and pains.

The closing line drifts across the arena and lodges, one can only hope, into the hearts of the 20,000 there assembled:

“And in the end, the love you take/Is equal to the love you make.”

The British Museum’s metrosexual Vikings are no good for Hollywood

6 Mar

Swords and skeletons! Giant longships and hoards of coins! Sorcerers’ staffs and, er, chess pieces! Today is the opening of the Vikings: Life and Legend exhibition at the British Museum. I write about my guided tour from the curator in the International Business Times (click to read), as well as the cover feature in Where London magazine.

One of the sad things about getting better educated about the Vikings is what that does to the films I love. [There is a commendably obsessive website that reviews every Viking-related film ever made, right down to Roger Corman’s best-forgotten The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (1957). Try sticking that on a cinema marquee in huge type.] The Vikings weren’t all about warfare, despite their scarily filed teeth and weird hair (shaved at the back, long at the front). They were traders, settlers, explorers, farmers. And, worst of all, they were rather picky about their grooming.

Far from being the football hooligans and punk rockers of the Middle Ages, they were in fact the metrosexuals. Contemporaries disapproved of their excessive cleanliness in washing every Saturday. Archaeological digs keep unearthing combs, tweezers, and ear spoons for removing wax – there is a gold one in the exhibition. They even dyed their hair blond. Thor, on the other hand, had red hair, despite what Chris Hemsworth would have you believe, so bang goes the Marvel franchise.

Still, we can at least look forward to the TV miniseries of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which though no longer with HBO was picked up last month by FremantleMedia. The facts can’t argue with an out-and-out fantasy.

The book cleverly posits that the powers of gods are in direct proportion to the fervour of worship they receive. Thus Odin, having sailed across to America with the Viking explorers at the turn of the first millennium, finds himself in the present day with greatly diminished powers, performing magical parlour tricks, as he wanders the land with other forgotten gods from Egypt and elsewhere.

And as to whether the Vikings really sat around the table singing about spam, I also ate the Viking Set Menu at the Great Court Restaurant: see here.

Blondie go Atomic at Kew The Music festival

10 Jul


You may know Debbie Harry as a singer, the first modern female pop star, architect of a string of hits including six UK No 1s across three decades with her group Blondie. But it was a different side of her we saw at the launch of Kew The Music last night in Kew Gardens: Deborah Harry the performer, an actress with 54 credits to her name on IMBD. A favourite of cult directors, her roles that stick in my mind are Union City, Videodrome and Hairspray, in which she was not just “good, for a singer”, but plain good.

After a sadly lacklustre and broken-voiced support performance by Hugh Cornwell, his old Stranglers songs sounding naked without Dave Greenfield’s swirling keyboard arpeggios, Blondie came on to the strains of an old Russian song, the intro of demagogues, and launched immediately into a blistering rendition of One Way or Another. As we know from her hit, she’s not the kind of girl who gives up just like that, and a week after her 68th birthday Harry’s voice was astonishingly good: not merely intact, but stronger and more melodious than in her heyday, hitting both low and high registers with ease.

The songs were not carefully reconstructed museum pieces, but living, breathing things. Firebrand guitarist Tommy Kessler gives them a new lease of life, though occasionally straying into the sort of Guitar Hero territory that would have seen him strung from the nearest lamppost in Blondie’s punk heyday. Demented human beat factory Clem Burke still whips up a storm on the drums at nearly 58. But it’s Deborah Harry who is Queen of F***ing Everything.

Wearing a bright red dress topped with vines, like Mother Nature at a ball – presumably in homage to Kew Gardens, unless Harry wears this sort of thing all the time – she prowled the stage like a panther about to escape its cage. Every song was told like a story, and delivered like the actress she is: singing with passion, playing with the words, dropping frequently into speech. Throwaway classics such as Hanging on the Telephone and The Tide Is High were mixed with creditable new songs such as A Rose By Any Name and I Want To Drag You Around, building to epic versions of Union City Blue, Maria and Atomic, the latter so yearningly beautiful on the simple chorus, “Oh your hair is beautiful/Tonight/ Tonight” that it almost made me cry.

The whole thing ended, precisely on the final note of the encore, with fireworks over the green-lit Glasshouse. They couldn’t possibly match the ones struck on stage.

Blondie tour America in September/October. See http://www.blondie.net/