Archives for the month of: June, 2012

In a marquee, this cinema. We’re the first in, so we get the best table, right in front of the screen. To our left, a little video camera is pointing at a small black backdrop, under an Anglepoise. In the middle is a portable projector. To our right, a heap of musical and non-musical instruments: autoharp, electric guitar, tambourine rattles sticks laptop keyboard. Waiters wearing bandannas and short kimonos bring us sashimi, then tempura, a seafood platter, saké, beer. This is the Paper Cinema night at Moshi Moshi, Brighton. A three-course meal and two – what? films? performances, really. Because it’s all live.

Exquisite cut-out drawings, black ink on the reverse of cereal-box cardboard, are filmed, live, in front of the black screen, and projected, while two musicians play the score. Many cut-outs are manipulated by the two puppeteers, moving, one in front of the other, in and out of focus, side to side. Live cinema. The drawings are pen and brush-stroked, solid blacks, the faces minimal yet full of character, the stories surreal and gripping, the music full and rich. It’s enchanting, engrossing, though you can’t help glancing at the two puppeteers wielding their characters and scenery – bushes, rocks, clouds, stars – that they take in turn from a stack beside them. It’s beautifully low-tech, inspirational and heart-warming, in an age of computerised 3–D sensationalism.

Walking back, we drop in to the Verdict: upstairs a small café, but downstairs a jazz club. It’s nearly finishing, but we take our drinks down to watch Tony Kofi’s trio winding up their set with John Coltrane’s Alabama, written after the bombing of a black Baptist church by the Ku Klux Klan – sobering and passionate. A small, dedicated audience (why are jazz audiences so small and dedicated and predominantly male?) wants more, and Tony’s happy to play more, and launches, solo, into Charlie Parker’s Relaxin’ at Camarillo, with the tricky tune then echoed by the drummer, then the bass-player – thrilling. We walk back to the car, amazed at a great night out. All live.

I sit, drawing, on a slab of millstone grit in the Peak District, while Max demonstrates a hand-hold for dealing with the peculiar nature of this sandstone. The rocks here make amazing shapes, weathered, in places, into particularly stupid-looking faces, and at the bottom of the outcrops, you can see the actual millstones carved out of the cliffs. These are, I guess, the less-than-perfect ones, discarded by their makers long ago, merged back into the landscape. I clamber about, my daredevil youth fighting with my fearful age. The horizontal cracks in the grit are weathered smooth on the top edge: in fact they’re not really edges, more curves, so are hard to grip. You have to wedge your hand into them, jam it in hard. I love the feeling of rock under my feet and hands, so solid… Walking up towards the outcrops are people with brightly-coloured folded mattresses on their backs, that they’ll put under their climbs, to fall on. Smart.

Joan Miró at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park! In the underground gallery, his smooth black anthropomorphs just beg to be stroked rubbed and polished. (Don’t worry, gallery attendant, I won’t. I know the rules). The massive characters face big bright lithographs, and constructions of found objects – a mannequin’s legs topped by a crude yellow head with a red tap-hat, a chair with shoes jutting out, coat-hangers and towels cast in bronze… a ‘phantasmagoric world of living monsters’ . And they do seem to live – they’re personalities. Scary and comic, sexy and serious, but playful and joyful. I bloody love Miró!

Fortunately the fader on the presenter’s microphone was slid to zero before the exasperated expletive escapes his lips. In the Sheffield Live studio, Max has just finished this Wednesday’s Mouthpiece, his weekly radio show that delivers ‘Sheffield stories, politics and culture – with a soundtrack of our times,’ to, well, Sheffield, and beyond. I must say, I haven’t exactly helped the smooth running of quite a complex operation by offering fatherly advice – while he’s setting up the next track, cueing up the pre-recorded interview, adjusting sound-levels, trying to coax out CD carriers that skulk inside their housing… As I say, I’m just trying to be helpful.

In the evening, we’re in Club 60. It’s like a small version of Liverpool’s Cavern: underground, it’s all brick caves. In the 60’s, it was called the Esquire, and featured Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Memphis Slim, the Kinks, the Animals…  Today it’s a recording studio, and Max, Paul and I are here to record the basic tracks for a version of ‘The Nearness Of You’. After they’ve put down the bass & drums, I immerse my head in a foam-lined metal hood: an inch from my mouth is a mic that cost more than my car. Much more. I like recording vocals into a dark void: expensive headphones and a touch of reverb make you sound great. Till the playback.

Look at this photo. I love it. Here I am, in Ilderton Road, Bermondsey, on Coronation Day, 1953. I’m in my new Hopalong Cassidy outfit, hat, gun, chaps. I rather fancy Britannia, in a 5-year-old way, but am scared of the 100-per-cent-burns victim behind me. I haven’t yet met a black person, so I’m not yet appalled by the blacked-up boy with the bow tie.

For some years after this was taken, I wanted to dress like your son: white knee-breeches, buckled shoes, red gold-frogged frock-coat… he’s a bit younger than me, but he was my fashion icon. He’s not now, no no no. Your coronation was just what the country needed after the war, in the midst of bomb-sites and real austerity. Although we did have a new National Health Service for people like us. (You can see where this is going, can’t you?) Your parents had done sterling service, touring the ravaged East End, bringing succour to the poor while bombs were still dropping. And, since then, you’ve done a grand job, being a Mother to the nations of the Commonwealth, dispensing wise and sometimes caring words on Christmas Day, and holding a rather dysfunctional family together. Ish. Not to mention what you’ve done for tourism!

Anyway: time’s up, Ms Windsor (respect – I don’t know you very well).  Thanks a lot, but 1300 years of monarchy is enough. Time to flatten the class pyramid, confound your family’s inheritance, and become Common. After all, you and your family have worn uniforms, and  even fought in wars, just like real people. Join us. No more Majesties, Lords, Ladies, Knights (in or out of white satin), Dukes, Earls, Duke of Earls, Counts… you can still be fabulously rich – that’s OK. There’ll be enough to share round your dependents, though I daresay a few palaces could be given to the nation – well, I suppose they’re ours anyway, aren’t they? in the long run?

Come on: enough’s enough. We’ve got the History, which is great: Offa, William, Richard III, Henry VIII, Charles I, etc etc. We’ve so much to look back on. Let’s look forward.