A huge former warehouse south of the river Thames, lit by an infinite amount of neon lights is the perfect location for Emin’s new artwork. Emin is her own muse and her current work is born out of pain and longing: longing for love, longing for friendship, yearning for human touch. The pieces are minimal but heart-breaking, her paintings are oozing pain. I find her artwork a very uncomfortable, heart-wrenching sight, it felt like I was being admitted into the artist’s mind, I felt like I was watching Emin tearing her own body to pieces. It feels like cannibalistic viewing, each canvas dripping blood and pain. I was expecting the trendy crowd walking the gallery to burst out crying at any time. I pictured people walking around with tears dripping down their cheeks, mascara streaming from everybody’s eyes. The 3 oversized, wringing human sculptures wallowing in pain were particularly poignant though during my visit I was upset by one particular viewer posing for a photo mimicking the mother’s tormented stance with a cheeky smile on his face, totally unmoved. I could not believe the lack of empathy, the cynicism I was witnessing,
I could not face the full video on abortion featuring Tracey Emin’s younger, tormented self but I was moved by the silent stark video centred around Emin’s mother’s ashes. Just recently Emin lost her mother, her partner in crime, her accomplice, Emin and her mother a couple of outsiders and impostors in a stuffy, rich, fake art world. The video revolves around the ashes urn and it is frank and direct in its simplicity, sombre and moving, I felt the loss as if it was mine. It is intense, voyeuristic viewing, I just felt like I was intruding on a very painful, very private affair.
White Cube Gallery 2 March 2019
I had a magical visit at the Royal Academy of Arts giving access to a whole new world, known to us in avery piecemeal manner, normally through the filter of other artists’ perception, the originals being the spontaneous artwork created by the people of Oceania for no financial gain, reproduced and pillaged through the eyes of the commercially savvy modernists of the XXth century. Oceania first and Africa afterwards, the creative output of native cultures alien to the civilized Western world, have inspired a cultural revolution but have remained largely unknown and beyond comprehension. What is just a pretty picture worth loads of money to us is a vital part of a people’s identity and culture. What was sold as a curiosity and exhibited to amaze, is a visceral part of a whole we cannot belong to, let alone understand. Statues are spiritual beings, foreign cultures feel we have captured their ancestral spirit and kept it captive thousands of nautical miles from the place where they belong. What is just entertainment for us, is vital on the opposite site of the globe.
Oceania is a wonderful exhibition, opening the doors of perception into a world alien to us, a world made of water and populated by fantastical creatures. Only those fantastical creatures are simply part of nature, it is a world deeply steeped into nature, living in harmony with its surroundings, a total opposite to our artificial way of life, devoid of any contact with nature, animals, the cycle of life and death. Nature has become a mystery being appreciated maybe one hour a week in a documentary, any other living creature has been neutralized, be-gone. Deer are cartoons, frogs are princes, meat does not belong to an animal.
Oceania the exhibition offers a glimpse into a paradisiac world, no wonder Gaugin never returned from his haunts in the French Polynesia, captain Cook’s crew mutinied, and Robert Louis Stevenson chose to die in Samoa.
In the many rooms of the exhibition I could observe the silent presence of modern-day islanders, offering floral gifts, paying their respects to the soulful sculptures being exhibited. It was moving, witnessing a love and respect for a way of life probably contaminated forever by the poisonous Western influence, but still longed for so painfully.
Oceania Royal Academy of Arts London 10 December 2018
A freezing rainy night in Boston, a fast ride in the total darkness through silent skyscrapers, all I remember is fuzziness, the city torn in half by spaghetti junction style highways, greyness all around, distorted by the water, the city is flooded, the spray is horrendous, we are deposited in a daze outside the unassuming venue, I almost step on a policeman rushing by behind my back.
In through the double doors we get searched for the first time in our month long stay in the US, understandably, we are just a few days away from the carnage at the Borderline club in California.
I wish I had liked the opening act In/via more, but this solo venture voice and synthesiser felt way too monotonous, relying heavily on keyboard effects and the obsessive singing voice felt a tad too high for her range. It could have been magical, but it felt uneventful.
Low are unassuming professionals, while waiting in the darkness for the show to go on, I spot Alan Sparhawk walking by slight and with purpose. He seems even slimmer than usual in his dark clothes and dark cap. He looks like he has just stepped out of their latest video Always Trying to Work It Out.
Once the opening act packs up her synch, Low the band take over the stage almost immediately, taking care each of their own instruments, a minimalist guitar, bass and drums combination. The strangeness pervading their latest release Double-Negative hits the audience in the face starting from the first synthesized notes. It is a dark, fuzzy night, electricity is in the air. Soon Sparhawk excuses himself while working on his equipment. He claims the knobs are moving by themselves, he has never seen anything like that in his life. Is there a ghost in the house? Are there ghosts raining in on us? He uses gaffer tape to keep the controls in position… This is a weird night and Low’s music fits the mood, it fizzles, the distortion takes over. Compared to Double-Negative the album, the distortion live is toned down and Mimi Parker’s beautiful voice is as crisp and strong as ever, while Alan Sparhawk’s voice feels smoky, musky, with a hint of sea foam, the roughness of the sea. His guitar, mainly responsible for the band’s unique sound, emits a broken scream, it is painful, pungent… and eerie at the same time.
Technology makes Low’s music even more ghostly, at times I hear the sound of arctic winds and breaking glaciers, sometimes it is the scream of an animal dying in atrocious pain or could it simply be the sound of the breaking point reached by civilization as we know it?
Low’s sound is intense, their music is deadly serious. No time for fancy shows, the spotlight is on their sound. Their performance enhances the sense of fuzziness accompanying me tonight. It rings in my ears, it is reflected and expanded in the droplets on the window of the car taking us home. The rain is unrelentingly falling down, violent, definite, digging patterns in my brain. Patterns filled by ethereal music filling the gaps between the drops hitting the roof of the car, hitting the skylight, drowning the rest of the noise.
I find myself thinking that watching Low live tonight was a much more cerebral experience compared to my previous Low experiences, I find myself drawing patterns with my feet on the dark floor, a marked up path in front of me, bodies endlessly moving to and fro, apparently aimlessly, absurdly like life.
Low Brighton Music Hall, Boston 9 November 2018
I find myself visiting the North Carolina museum of Art. I witness a fresh approach to what a museum should be and how exhibitions should be organized. Comprising a huge sculpture park featuring a community beehive, built with public money and corporate donations, the NCMA in Raleigh feels fresh, vast and complete both as far as the space is concerned and for the richness of its oﬀer. The reason for visiting was an exhibition centred around Georgia O’Keeffe, Beyond, which included a few of her paintings on display compared with current work by emerging artists. The result is interesting; some of the new work on display is quite naive and unengaging but the approach is fresh and most importantly the exhibition convey how inspiring a character O’Keeﬀe actually was.
Through the diﬀerent sections we feel her presence not only through her artwork, but through her thoughts, her statements printed in large characters throughout, her voice. My personal highlight is a vast room displaying a 180 degree footage of her beloved, terracotta coloured home in New Mexico, and of the desert surrounding it, while the voice of O’Keefe herself tells us her story, her love for the desert and how she should not really talk about it as that might make more people interested in the area and that is not really her purpose, she wants it to herself!
She explains her love for the bones found in the desert, they are the only object that can be picked in the desert, there are no flowers, she tells us how to her they feel so alive and alive they become, immortal in her paintings. The room was magical and didactic at the same time demonstrating where her inspiration came from, pinpointing the exact spot in the desert that she has painted. A simple but effective way to bring new life to art by exploiting a multimedia approach, whereby most museums just put a tablet at the guest’s disposal and pat each other on the back.
My visit to the NCMA continues through so many artefact in the permanent collection, definitely acquired and organized so as to teach the local students about ancient civilizations without having to board a plane to Europe, but I was particularly impressed by the many unusual contemporary artists on display, hailing from Cuba, Jamaica, Ethiopia, so much more exciting, vibrating with colours and life and death. Particularly poignant Isla (Tierra Prometida) by Yoan Capote a painting depicting the sea from the Cubans’ point of view. A three dimensional sea full of fishhooks and nails, depicting the greyness of the sea, the danger, dividing and uniting, a sea of promise, a sea of death…
Just as fresh and playful and amazing appears to be a walk in the large sculpture park. Though I could not cover it all, it was wonderful to see kids interacting with the sculptures, namely the popular Gyre by local artist Thomas Sayre, 3 huge rings rising from the sand and made from the soil in the park, dug on the spot, and concrete, creating a wonderful game of shadows in the scorching Indian summer sun. And the British Nigerian Yinka Shonibare’s colourful Wind Sculpture II, an elephant trunk, a hand pointing to mother earth, a pattern imagined in Nigeria, created in the Netherlands, ending up as a sculpture in North Carolina addressing our global interconnecting selves, inviting us to see beyond barriers and fully embrace our mongrel true status: we are all the children of diﬀerent cultures mingling and mixing to create our complex selves.
Finally I couldn’t but mention Jaume Plensa’s Awilda & Irma, a mother and a daughter gigantic heads nested at the side of the museum, frowning in important conversations. Immediately the features, the shapes of the head made me think of Mandela and De Klerk negotiating the end of apartheid. When reading about the actual inspiration about the artwork, I felt slightly disappointed at first, but then again it made so much sense, after all interpretation is free, this is what I saw Mr Plensa.
Pity I was so enthralled by the park and its sculptures and the autumn colours that I missed the Mariachi band’s playing in the amphitheatre…
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, November 2018
Traditional museum exhibitions have run their course. We are a multimedia 24/7 society, museums are stale institutions. Including a psychedelically lit corridor does not do it. There is more to life and art than meets the eye, writing snippets of a story on a wall is not it. Fighting for space to read that tiny piece of storytelling, in a sold-out exhibition, is definitely not it. The didactical approach has run its course. Frida Kahlo is more than her eyebrows. Bringing just a handful of her paintings to London is a poor excuse for an exhibition on Frida Kahlo. Screaming that she is very influential means nothing to most. Why is she such a revered figure? Where is her art? Her art is herself, this is what we are told. But that feels like selling Frida Kahlo unibrow costumes for carnival, (incidentally this is what you find online when you type her name). We have strived so hard to democratise knowledge just to trivialise it. We just want to sell more rubbish, how many arty fridge magnets do we need? How many arty bags do we need? How many arty shawls do we need?
All in all I found the exhibition superficial. You can’t reduce a complex, hurt human being to selected biographical facts printed on a wall and a collection of rings.
How many operations are needed to repair a broken body? What do you need to repair a broken soul?
I found very moving the presence of one corset only – they looked like instruments of torture, the amount of drugs Frida Kahlo must have taken just to endure pain is impossible to quantify – I was saying that I found very moving the presence of a corset where a detailed foetus, more than a foetus, a baby had been painted in the space where it would have developed in her body if the only baby she was able to conceive were born. An impossible dream for a very sick person, a woman whose life was marred and eventually cut short by a fateful crash.
The rest of the exhibition was showcasing the handsome Kahlo through endless photographs and her colourful clothes. “I am my own muse” read the t-shirts on sale in the museum shop. She was one of a kind, but the self- advertising exhibition at the V&A in London, just doesn’t tell her tale, it certainly doesn’t portray her art.
Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, V&A museum London 16 October 2018
A minimalist concert, a string quartet accompanying Karen Ann and her guitar mainly electrified, sometimes acoustic. Sheer class and intense emotions. Sometimes the strings were trying to scream louder but soon the guitar would tell them who is boss. A tiny, figure dressed in black, a powerful smile, smooth melancholy melodies, lulling us safely towards our destination like a sailboat on a smooth, unsettling sea. Liquid music poured into our ears like honey poured from a smooth precious chalice. So many cultures connect in the creative mind of Keren Ann, she seems to make them universal through her art, smoothening diﬀerences, distilling them into what is a universal human experience. Her re-appropriation of her own Strange Weather, covered majestically by Anna Calvi together with an inspired David Byrne, brings goosebumps to my body.
Her twangy guitar courts and duels with the strings, it plays and dances an ironical battle, her voice dominates her emotions and commands our attention, sweetly but firmly. The experience is understated but magical, the perfect acoustic of the intimate Milton Court Hall enhances every breath Keren Ann takes, every words she says.
A touch of Bowie towards the end, mainly to show oﬀ the bravura of the Quatuor Debussy, Bowie’s range slightly too high for Keren’s range. She ends up a cappella, with the rendition of what appears an old fashioned love song, unidentified, she leaves us whispering:
“When I fall in love it is always with you…”
Keren Ann, Milton Court Hall, 14 October 2018
Cleopatra is a modern hero and a drama queen. Shakespeare is claimed to be universal but many a times it just sounds anachronistic. The theatre, being a male dominated world throughout the centuries, rarely manages to portray a female character realistically, so it is no surprise that a play could never be conceived as the hagiography of any woman.
Cleopatra is viewed as a highly volatile queen, who brings about Antony’s – her lover but most importantly one of the Roman triumvirate – inglorious defeat and eventual suicide.
The story unfolding onstage is a tragedy, valiant people run into swords or die of broken heart, the majestic drama queen commits suicide offering her neck to a live snake on stage, the same snake claims the life of one of her ladies in waiting as well, by design, not by chance. To modern audiences this sounds like farce material. Despite or maybe because of the play’s shortcomings, I loved the ironically nuanced performance. We witness a masterclass in acting while veteran actors, Fiennes and Okonedo, enchant us with their hilarious performance. I genuinely enjoyed their humorous, irreverent rendition. I heard many tutting amongst the audience, while I was totally gripped by the action on stage. And genuinely had a good time, as I was so close to the action, I felt I could smile with the characters, I could cry when they cried, I could share in the dramatic desperation and longing, no matter how foreign and remote the story unfolding was compared to my background and historical moment.
I felt the war action could easily be done away with, I can’t take any more combat boots and fake battles on stage, all totally dispensable. The waving of the Italian flag during a drunken party, should also be discarded, this was Rome 1800 years before Italy was even conceived.
But these are minor details, though really I had enough of western 3 piece suits and military attire, bring back the Roman toga, the flowing and glowing robes. Moreover indulging some serious wine and involving the audience should be a must. I could not help myself thinking of the audiences in Shakespeare’s times. There would be no tutting, there would not be any stuck-up intellectual demanding respect for the purity of the play. A three-hour drama could not be a serious aﬀair, I believe this ironic performance led by the wonderfully dramatic Sophie Okonedo has brought back some life into Shakespeare, new life, new blood. It could be more in your face, it could really challenge the perfectly rigid intelligentsia, just one further push and it would be perfect.
Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre, 22 September 2018
I had the privilege of meeting Anna Calvi at the end of her fiery performance in Paris, during the Rock en Seine festival. We had a nice chat centred around her new release Hunter and touching on a few hot topics, including but not exclusively, gender identity.
Hunter is a sensual, exciting, wild, intriguing, operatic record. Calvi’s performance on stage is mind-blowing. She uses her guitar as a shield and a weapon. She smoothly pours a powerful sonic attack all over us, enchanting us with her nuanced, powerful voice. It is a cathartic experience both for the musicians on stage and the enraptured audience. When I meet her, one hour after her performance, she has left her powerful stage persona behind and is wrapped in a warm white coat, matching her white boots, cuddled on a sofa, in the cool Parisian evening. I envy her for a minute, as I am freezing in my light summer clothes…
The interview was published on the Italian independent magazine, Rumore. The original transcript in English will be available on this website soon.
Anna Calvi live at Rock en Seine, Paris, 25 August 2018
Monumental is not new. It was created by Dana Gingras & Noam Gagnon with Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s music in mind. Ideally the musicians would be performing live but when it premiered in 2005 the dancers were moving to a recording of the monumental music of alternative Canadian band Godspeed.
This is the first time Monumental is performed in London and we are treated to the bonus of having the Canadian band live on stage. They are in the shadows, well at the back of the Barbican’s huge stage. All spotlights are on the dancers. The lighting design by Marc Parent, is dramatic, the action on stage is alienating and aggressive, the dancers mainly constrained to their own footprint, each on a tiny cube, isolated. When they do get in contact with each other, they can only do so by attacking each other, bully each other. Each on their own cube, their existence appears to be marred by obsessions and repetitiveness, they appear restrained by themselves to their own isolated vision of the world.
The video playing at the back by director William Morrison is industrial and alienating. At times surprising statements created by conceptual artist Jenny Holzer are sparsely played in the background. But I find the sensorial attack far too confusing, too much input, the video becomes just wallpaper, the messages are lost. At the back Godspeed erase their presence, make themselves almost invisible, if it weren’t for the unmistakable huge mane of hair of their leader Efrim Menuck. The dancers are powerful and committed. Their choral movements are enthralling. It is a troubling experience, this is not entertainment, this is inspirational, challenging work, exploring the absurdity of our existence.
Monumental, Barbican Centre, London, 13th of July 2018
Torn between art and making a living, having accepted the biggest commission of his life for a huge upscale hotel chain, Red portrays an imaginary, witty dialogue between the artist, Max Rothko (Alfred Molina), and his apprentice (Alfred Enoch), a fellow would-be artist ready to tear the establishment apart, to create his own groundbreaking artwork.
In real life people, even geniuses do not express themselves in John Logan’s polished banter but somehow Molina and Enoch not only make it credible, they make it real.
We arrive at the theatre and take our seat while Mr. Molina is on stage, sat on an armchair, already staring with puzzlement at his huge, fake Rothko canvases, surrounding him, tilted against the sides of his studio, Rothko’s studio. He is staring at his masterpieces, lost in its shades of red and its symbolism. Red can be life, blood, passion. Red can be engulfed by its opposite, black, by darkness. From then on, it is an exhilarating ride.
Red, Wyndham Theatre London, 20 June 2018
Nothing compares to seeing Patti Smith live. I never tire of seeing her. I never tire of listening to her. Her passion is stronger than life, her passion is stronger than time, time passing fast, pushing her over the 70-year barrier, making her seemingly fragile. She is human, I remind myself while watching her, she will not be there forever. I will miss her terribly when she will give up performing live, and she will, she will.
She started her performance reading Allen Ginsberg’s verses, “Holy, holy, holy, holy, everything is holy”, she thunders on stage. She fascinates us with her words, she enchants us with her presence, she conquers us with her musical powers. A powerful band surrounds her, including her son Jackson and the faithful Lenny Kaye. Throughout the show they stare at her, for renewed inspiration. They look at her as if something extremely precious and totally unexpected is happening in front of their eyes. She is beyond charismatic and her performances become more otherworldly with the passing of time. What are we going to do when she stops performing? Her shamanism is irreplaceable, I muse with another member of the audience. We have previously viewed Courtney Barnett’s electrifying performance. Maybe she can take a shot, I suggest? But Patti’s mystical energy is irreplaceable, my fellow audience member responds with a wonderful smile, behind her sunglasses. I know she is right. Seeing her live in the golden light of the sun going down on London moved me deeply, her performance was extremely powerful yet fragile. She gives it all. She gives more. She conquers all, even the arrogant youth pushing their way forward at all costs, determined to be part of the party.
Arrogant youth? That does not apply to Courtney Barnett, this is the first time I hear her live and she sounds fresh and fascinating and exciting. I just fell in love with Avant Gardner and Depreston – right? Preston is depressing even in Australia? The reputation follows the name… The festival format just leaves me wanting more. Pity in London everybody sells out so goddamn fast. Maybe next time.
I could not forget to mention Mr Tillman’s concert on the previous All Point East weekender. A bit of a let down by comparison, despite the special effects provided by God in the shape of lightning and thunder. Father John Misty is in and out of the festival too smoothly, He is a slick operator and his lyrics are sharp. The festival might be just a showcase, attempting to reach out a different kind of crowd – full as it is of pretty Scandinavians religiously waiting for Björk, probably the wrong crowd. All in all Misty appears a tad out of place and slightly arrogant. Though he gets most of the laughs from the crowd when he calls out the fake old London look of the shops surrounding the stage. “I keep on imagining Godzilla appearing at the horizon and crashing this amazingly fake shop front. We should have thought about recreating that, we have the budget, right?” My thoughts exactly. He ventures into his own personal eulogy of Björk, she is so high up in the music stardom, that even FJM has never met her.
Björk’s concert was definitely out of place. She concedes a couple of dance hits to the crowd but mostly she is pedalling her new age save the planet philosophy, with a stage made entirely of greeneries and 7 flute pipers, floating about – a DJ is stuck in the corner and a percussionist rarely appears at the opposite side of the stage. The stupendously hi-res pics being projected on the huge screens at the side of the stage are a show of its own, but Björk remains a mystery, hiding behind an orchid mask. It sounds like her, rolling those RRRRS but to be honest it could be anybody behind the orchid mask. Moreover, I can’t compete with the tall Scandinavians, my visual window to view the stage is really tiny and I can’t get over my tiredness after a hot and sticky festival day. The music is not taking me places.
By comparison the headliner the following weekend, the Bad Seeds, out stage all performances over the 2 weekends. Nick Cave at 60 is a power house and throughout the concert I am fascinated by his energy and by Mr Warren Ellis and his shenanigans. The show is a crowd pleaser, even fellow Australian pop superstar Kylie Minogue herself appears on stage to duet with Cave on their only collaboration, the Where the Wild Roses Grow. Minogue is all smiles, diminutive despite her golden dress, tiny against what appears to be the tallest man on earth, tonight, Nick Cave in his elegant suits and new shoes… So much so that, after the first number, Jesus Alone, Cave asks for a knife to cut through the new leather. He moves so swiftly between the stage and a platform over the crowds during the performance I do fear he will fall in the pit or over the adoring crowds in his patent leather brand new shoes. He doesn’t. He pulls it off, the consummate performer that he is.
“I sat and cried… boohoo” he mimics half serious, half exasperated, in case it is not clear, during From Her to Eternity… True, some of the songs are drawn for too long, Stagger Lee for one, but I must confess the performance is definitely worth the wait under the evening sun, amidst the suffocating pushing crowds. “Come on come on come on”, he encourages the audience to follow him on stage after dragging the security with him across the crowds to reach a platform just behind us… It took him ages to cut through the crowd, “That was fucking difficult”, he declares… Tell me about it, Nick, we’ve been fighting for space and air for hours… “Come on, come on, come on” he goes on and on and on until the crowds around us start pushing their way to the front, they climb over the fence. Amused I see the security running like headless chicken around me. Beautiful… The crowd just follows the leader, the security need not panic, the crowd just does what it is told. It sings like the children choir, sits down and jumps up on demand, just like a musician in the hands of a master conductor. Beautiful. We try to move away from the crowds, it’s getting too tight for air. My friend literally gets carried away, her bracelet stuck into somebody’s pullover… In the distance the choir accompany Cave, “You got to just keep on pushing, push the sky away…”. The man can boast magical powers.
I heard it on the grapevine that Kamasi Washington was good, but after seeing him and his band live, I can testify that he was better than good, he was magnificent. The whole collective, as he named it, was magnificent. Miles Mosley was magnificent, the wizard behind the double-bass creating sounds and vibes so diverse you would have thought elves were hard at work inside his sound box. Mosley made Les Claypool from Primus sound like an amateur. Miles-voodoo child-Mosley made Jimi Hendrix sound like an amateur. He made his double bass vibrate as tightly as a Sicilian scacciapensieri, or mouth harp, and rock as hard as a metal guitar. And the man has a voice as well. But I digress, each solo performance from each of the musicians on stage was beyond impressive. It struck me that all musicians on stage were fueled by water…
Kamasi made it clear, this is a collective and it is a collective performance of amazingly talented and inventive people. Amongst them Rickey Washington, father and mentor touring with his rising star son, humbly taking the credit for having taught the guy all that he knows. Washington is deadly serious about his music. He has rhythm, he has melody, he has powerful content. He goes beyond genres, he goes beyond cultural influences, he proudly harmonizes diversity, he gives sounds to his daydreams and takes us with him. The Latin influence is as powerful as his blues, coming from the melting pot that is LA, jazz in Washington’s world has no barriers, no borders, no limits. And I shouldnot forget to mention the only lady on stage the singer, Patrice Quinn, who, when she was not charming us with her enchantress voice, would definitely charm us with her dance moves. No embarrassed hands hanging on the side of the body here, just total joy and rapture at the beauty and power of the music. Amongst her best moments, Henrietta Our Hero, a song dedicated to Kamasi’s deceased grandmother sung by the smooth lady in gold, who also sang Fists of Fury, forcefully, beautifully, impersonating the victim who are determined not to be victims anymore, actively seeking retribution.The best collective moment? The multi-layered performance of Truth, without any doubt.
Forget the horrendous hall, which will not be named. Forget about the sound mishaps, microphones suddenly lapsing leaving us to wonder what the music coming out of that transverse flute would sound like. Forget about the light technician not realizing that both drummers, the amazing Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner Jr, were actually playing, starting a percussion dialogue between the two of them as announced by Kamasi and keeping one in total darkness. If I were left to play in the dark, I would have probably stopped and screamed for attention. No drama, the musicians on stage are just too cool and professional to play the trite part of the superstar. Starstruck was the name of the lorries parked outside the venue, probably just carrying the instruments. Well, I could not have put it better myself, I was starstruck tonight.
Living in London we are spoilt for choice as far as art and museums are concerned. Just one problem, they are so terribly crowded, experiencing an exhibition is experiencing a constant fight for space, juggling for the coveted position that would allow you to see and take the creation and the creative process in. You only get a few precious seconds before your privileged position shifts under your feet like quicksand. The experience is made even more unpleasant by the presence of attendants screaming at people trying to steal a picture, a momentum of their experience. You are made to feel like a criminal for even thinking taking a lousy picture with your mobile phone is conceivable. That is why by comparison a visit at the museum in Vienna appears to be heavenly, precious, valuable. It is not a stolen, unhindered moment of a skewed view of a masterpiece, the time at one’s disposal appears to be eternal, I’ve seen people doing a full photoshoot in front of Klimt’s divine Kiss. Walking through the Belvedere museum, the upper and lower section, and the many layers of the Leopold museum where fulfilling, enriching experiences. You could absorb the beauty, you could take in the desperation, you could study each brushstroke at your leisure and most importantly take a damn picture as many times as you felt like, so that Schiele nervous, skeletal hands can stay impressed in my mind forever; so that the luxurious bodily landscapes so preciously enriched by Klimt will forever live in my picture collection; so that Kokoschka’s disturbed visions of a man at war with himself and surrounded by war can still haunt me; so that I can feel the fear and the desperation and the beauty of their human experience forever. A few enlightened institutions realize that picture taking and spontaneous posting on social media by their punters works as a very powerful advertising tool. A few embrace it, too few to mention, especially where London is concerned. I visited the last night of Modigliani’s very successful exhibition at Tate modern on Easter Monday only to be put off by the security. It felt like I was entering a ghost museum opening late at night just to maximise their income. London’s uptight attitude to art is making me fall out of love with the city 18 years on.
Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka – Belvedere and Leopold museums in Vienna 27-30 March 2018
Going to the Donmar Warehouse is an intimate experience. The action happens so up close and personal, it is like being part of the chorus in a Greek tragedy. Moreover, throughout the performance I am extremely conscious of my laboured breath because of a bad cold, as it feels amplified to the extreme in the many moments of silence and staring, while the actors try to gauge each other’s reaction on stage. The York Realist is a very British aﬀair, a country constantly analysing itself as if on an analyst’s sofa, constantly analysing its idiosyncrasies. A country priding itself on its liberalism though still very much divided into social classes, a nation obsessed with its internal division, a country still reeling from its collective denial of LBGT+ rights, same sex relationships were only decriminalised in the UK in 1967, a nation currently intent on creating even more barriers. It is interesting to view this very British play with my foreigner’s eyes. It is a play about northerners, a country apart, a country inside a country. It is a play about a gay relationship blossoming with everybody’s tacit, embarrassed consent. A relationship collapsing not because of it unlawfulness but because of the class divide, the artistic urban type abandoning his counterpart solidly rooted in his rural environment, not out of choice, but out of duty. George, the northerner, knows that all his lovers’ middle class friends who were so nice and polite to him when they met him in London, could only keep up their polite facade for a casual visit not should he move in permanently, certainly not if he ever tried to become serious with his acting ambitions, not with that accent. In the final confrontation, there is sheer fear in his eyes, he is destroyed by the thought of losing his man, but he knows he would be even devastated by the scorn of the middle classes, if he dared even think stepping out of the spot chosen for him in society. It would be a double dare as a northerner and a gay man, stealing the spotlight from people worthier by birth and upbringing. Superficial politeness did not disguise the covert message “you don’t belong here” enough. The protagonist would have been satisfied if they were to keep up a relationship at a distance, having something to look forward to, but John, the urbanite’s approach is all or nothing, “there’s nothing casual about our relationship”, he quips and nothing it is. The end is grim with the hopeful spinster building her silent web around the only bachelor in town, spinning it closer and closer, until the victim cannot see any way out. The final sentence should have been her appropriation of the cottage, planning the removal of the AGA cooker, hard work but a symbol of the protagonist’s forbidden love, the first item admired by his Londoner’s lover. The final statement about the impossibility of finding happiness as human being rings true but is slightly redundant. All in all The York Realist is a passionate, funny, heart-wrenching, brilliantly acted anthropological study.
The York Realist by Peter Gill 14 March 2018 Donmar Warehouse, London
A joyful evening, stripped down of all the hat tricks of the music business, the show business. The location, the smallest pub in the world, without a stage, a man with a guitar followed by another man with a guitar. Daﬀodils in vases dotted all over the Alice in Wonderland themed pub. Pretty much the whole of Guildford is themed around Alice in Wonderland, as it was the chosen place of residence and burial of Lewis Carrol, its author. We catch the tail end of the performance of Hope Convention, an acoustic musician hailing from Dartford, telling us he knows he should polish his guitar tuning banter but hey, he’s got nothing to say, you know coming from Dartford and all. I was still recovering from the shock of how tiny the place is, how minimalistic, for the lyrics of Hope Convention to register but his guitar playing is fascinating. It just ends too quickly because of our late arrival, it would need further investigating. Charlie Parr is there all along with his partner, standing near the small table with his merchandising, attentive, silent. An untouched glass of red wine stares at him from the table. He jumps in immediately after Hope Convention, spending the interval tuning his steel guitar, custom-made by a man named Lee. It looks extremely shiny to us but apparently it is smudged by peanut butter somehow, Parr jokes. The guitar strikes me as the most luxurious item in the room, everything else is basic, or is it the power of the music that makes you just feel instantly transported to a wood cabin on the Appalachian mountains with the local wood chopper casually picking up a guitar in front of the log fire. Parr plays a mix of classics from the American folk tradition, Robert Thompson’s Devil stories, and his own ballads of an ordinary man living rough, living oﬀ nature, roasting opossums accompanied by imaginary dogs named Blue. Parr’s finger picking technique is not elegant, his hands have been working the land, not spent hours in parlours. His position is not elevated on a stage, he is sitting down on an ordinary chair and only the front rows and the tallest people in the room can actually catch a glance, but, the visual experience of his performance has been described as “a wet rag left to dry on the pavement, we are not missing much”, he reassures us. He is wide-eyed, genuine and hilarious, a true folk singer as they do not exist any longer. Towards the end of the show, he treats us to a Bob Dylan song, “you know, you’ve got to promote a local guy”, he jokes, as they both hail from Duluth, Minnesota. He’s been travelling up and down the UK during the only snow storm hitting the island this year. Duluth is under snow for most of the winter, you do not survive without a shovel. But he tries to cheer us up, “don’t beat yourself up about it, it happens in Georgia as well, stuck on the motorway for hours because of an inch of snow…”
No space in the pub to pretend to exit and come back for an encore, he sorts of gets up and sits down again saying: “I’ll play another couple of songs if you can spare the time”. He ends with a rendition of Claude Ely’s “Ain’t No Grave (Can Hold My Body Down)” voice only, banging his shoe on the floor. He sings it as high as he can, I sort of feel the ghost of Johnny Cash duetting with him in his grave, velvety tones.
The Keep Guildford 5 March 2018
I came across Pina Bausch’s work after her death in 2009 and thanks to Wim Wenders’ 3D tribute. Her world seems drenched in great melancholy and to date I cannot find any other art form that better depicts the absurdity of our lot in life than Bausch’s hybrid choreography. Her creations of theatrical performances created a new vocabulary crossing over between dance and theatre, allowing total freedom of expression to the performers, making each and every one of them the protagonist. Life is a choral performance, there are no solo performances. In Viktor’s case life in all its absurdity dances its way into a huge mass grave, with a gravedigger constantly trying to fill it in. The sound of the detritus falling on stage gently mixes in with the soundtrack of many traditional Italian songs along with classical pieces and Bolivian folk tunes. The eﬀect is soothing and unsettling at the same time. The infinite lines of performers on stage constantly amaze us and challenge our views, our certainties. All is fluid, roles are playfully inverted. On stage we see people being deceived, used, abused, traded. I still feel the chilling cries of the ballerina facing us up close down my spine, I still see the beautiful lines of dancers snaking down the corridors of the theatre in a human dance chain, the rocking waving arms, all movements amplified by the presence of at least 20 dancers on stage, each one at a different stage in their lives, the young alongside the middle aged, the tiny alongside the tall, a multinational lot based in Wuppertal, an industrial northern German city, all brought together by a visionary artist and performer, with a melancholy face. The old guard of performers, her historical companions are still there, carrying the torch. There may be no protagonists but luminous Julie Shanahan’s smiling, graceful performance will be fixed on my retina forever.
There was a time when it was normal to see Grayson Perry cycling around east London in a frock, turning heads, stopping the traffic. He is so busy and in such demand these days that even being in the audience at one of his talks today is quite a steep order, sold out even before it is advertised. Perry is such a master of ceremonies, stunning presence, allergic to stereotypes, he arrives on stage the grand dame of the pantomime, he jokes, this is me. The pretext for the comment is an exchange with the audience, you can always count on the participation of the audience as a member of the cast in the UK. Grayson warns the organizers that he might need some water at some point as he will be talking nonstop for over one hour and the audience goes Behind You!, referencing the pantomime season just over and pointing to the water bottle and glasses on a ledge behind the tall figure cut by Grayson Perry, even taller because of his high heels. He paces the stage gracefully in his grayish miniskirt frock throughout the talk, perfectly at ease in his stage persona, the successful, hard working artist, sharing his knowledge and wit with an audience of supporters of the Art Fund, art fanatics whose presumably impeccably furnished homes full of framed art Perry mocks from minute one. What is good taste, what is art, what is the perfect formula? Hard work transpires as his ethics, not a desire to shock. He is well aware of the public’s need to recognise what we see to be able to empathise and favour an artist or a work of art over another in a world that is flooded with so-called works of art and is run by business people. He has chosen a difficult path, both choosing to appear as he does, perfectly at ease in heavy makeup and frocks while being surrounded by gentlemen in coats and ties is a spectacle in its own right. He has also chosen a difficult path by scorning the traditional medium of art, as a student in the seventies he started challenging the traditional view that canvas is the only accepted and acceptable medium, He started with pottery with critics pigeonholing him as a craftsman.
He has managed to breakthrough with his disturbing political pots and he has moved on to tapestries painstakingly drawing every single detail on huge surfaces himself, mocking the perfect formula dominating the art world today: a half-baked idea, pushed by a greedy dealer, multiplied by a studio full of hundreds of crafts person actually creating the artwork, equals a big catch for investment bankers and nouveau riches… Playful and deadly serious at the same time, having an insight into Grayson Perry’s world was a very enriching experience.
Ondatje Theatre February 2018
I’m mad as hell and I cannot take it anymore! The stage becomes a screen where hundreds of faces are projected while screaming into their mobile phone, I’m mad as hell and I cannot take it anymore! This is the most powerful scene in a perfectly choreographed and perfectly acted play, a spin off from a cinematic release from the seventies. In Sidney Lumet’s film, Peter Finch landed the role of the anchor-man/ newsreader going mad live on tv, announcing his suicide live on TV. He becomes the news because, in his words, he could not handle the bullshit anymore, the bullshit he was reading while doing his duty as a news reader. On stage Bryan Cranston takes over the role. His performance is up close and personal, he is seeking contact with his audience, literally sitting next to a young member of the audience “I see you have dressed up for the theatre” he quips coming out of character, breaking the barrier between reality and narrated story. Wow, he gets in and out of character in a split second, never loosing his concentration for one second. I am impressed, his performance is powerful and flawless. Having a Hollywood star and such a professional as your lead helps but the play works perfectly because Dutch director Ivo Van Hove has created a perfect mechanism, moving from video to live performance smoothly, conjuring the chaos of the TV world, its cynicism, perfectly telling the story of the divide between old style journalists and the new sensationalist approach to all that is shown on TV, including the news, in the name of ratings, share and eventually profit. The message is powerful, the performance is pyrotechnic, full of surprises and fun visual effects. Moreover Cranston’s presence is a sure hit and such a joy to witness. I can’t help but notice that his mocking eyes are still teaching a lesson to the youngster in t- shirt and baseball cap while bowing for the final applause, as if to say, this is the theatre man, make an effort.
Network, National Theatre, London 23 January 2018
13 November 2017
A very musical week full of inspiring musicians, starting with the London Jazz festival and ending in Bristol, at the Colston Hall, a historical venue celebrating 150 years of service. We start with the elderly Italian poet and jazz enthusiast Paolo Conte conducting his full band in front of a full house at London’s South Bank Centre. This is not the first time I see Conte live. It is remarkable he still feels the urge to entertain despite his getting weaker with age. The concert is slick and observing his musicians move between instruments onstage is like witnessing a well-choreographed ballet. The music slides smoothly on our tired limbs after a busy working day. Conte’s understated but steadily influential music and rough but velvety voice and rhymes lull us into a sense of false security, transporting us into a world of glamorous, cool musical cats. One just hopes reality never sets in and we can be transported forever in music paradise where the only fight worth having is with a green milonga… where we can dance our way around dreariness, sipping martinis under the jazz stars… yes.
16 November 2017
The change of scene is sudden when by Thursday we find ourselves sat in the plush red seats of the Wigmore Hall for a totally instrumental treat: Justin Kauflin jazz trio bridging the gap between Virginia Beach and Denmark, where the bassist, Thomas Fonnesbæk, hails from. A mixture of jazz classics cleverly executed, original compositions and a couple of unexpected covers brighten our dreary November evening. Amazingly reinvented, the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever sounds as if it was always meant to be played by a jazz pianist and we also witnessed possibly the most moving rendition of a Sufjan Stevens’ song, Johnny My Beloved. Musical genius.
17 November 2017
The time to blink and we are speeding on the motorway westbound to catch Robert Plant’s latest tour, as a few tickets become suddenly available – the whole tour is obviously sold out. I’m panicking that we might miss it for some stupid reason, Friday the 17th is the worst day in the calendar for people like us hailing from Italy. We don’t miss it, of course, we are well on time, bags of time before Seth Lakeman takes to the stage. A man and a violin/acoustic guitar and percussions under his feet. Powerful, full of life and drenched in the history of the British west coast. Lakeman inscribes himself in the folk tradition and is a terrific fit when he later joins Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters on stage.
Plant is funny, still a very imposing figure, his red locks steadily turning to white. On stage he starts by presenting his latest creation, Carry Fire. Of the new songs he says: “we are not ashamed of them”, making no excuses for concentrating on the new compositions. His voice at times betrays his age but at times shines with the power of his inimitable style, so widely influential. Pigeonholed in the Led Zeppelin as a heavy metal band, despite half of their productions being acoustic, he has had to prove time and again his song writing skills are as powerful, not just wishy washy hippy escapism but poetical and at times political. “I don’t think a solution can come from any political leader”, he quips, “but hey here we are, we have all the answers” he jokes in his introduction to Misty Mountain Hop. The most moving moment is the rendition of Please Read the Letter, written in desperation in London, he says, recorded by chance in Nashville with Alison Krauss. Baby I’m Gonna Leave You is also monumental, showcasing the skills of his lead guitarist Liam Skin Tyson. Credited to Joan Baez, but originally written by Anne Bredon, this version alone is worth the price of the ticket. The energy and the passion of the performance, the fun you could read in the musician’s faces is more than one can ask really, it is a source of continuous inspiration.
18 December 2017
Finally hailing from Greensboro in North Carolina, Rihannon Giddens a powerful voice and a mean banjo and violin player, reinterpreting the history of black musical America and rewriting it with her own ebullient personality. Surrounded by a tightly-knit set of musicians their concert was sheer joy, in the midst of suffering, pearls in the desert, sheer foot stomping joyful release.
Was Basquiat just a meteor in the modern art world? He just kept on pushing boundaries by breaking into the modern, contemporary art world scene, a scene dominated by white western males. Breaking the rules was this tiny, elfish being whose inquisitive eyes were crowned by rebellious dreadlocks, questioning the rules of society, questioning the fabric of our civilization. From his puzzling messages tagged SAMO (same old, same old) on the dangerous, dirty streets of New York in the 70ies to becoming Andy Warhol’s protégé, painting ferociously in haute couture suits, his pattern has been meteoric, but his star was only crashed by a heroin overdose, aged just 27. A self-made, very political rock-n-roll star painter shaking the art world at its core. His paintings are uncomfortable statements, starting from his minimalist, painted diploma declaring his qualifications were not gained in conventional schools but on the streets of NY and devouring everything around him, the culture and the trash around him, along seminal books like the illustrated Gray’s Anatomy or Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawings. Underestimated, the school of life explodes in his paintings, its injustices towards black artists exposed at every turn on canvases as large as life.
Basquiat Boom for Real, Barbican Art Gallery 28 October 2017
The set up is sparse, a DJ in one corner spinning old Bob Dylan’s songs on a turntable, a dancer in the centre of a stage, her immaculate white shirt the centre of attention surrounded by almost complete darkness. Ms Gruwez moves pulsate with the rhythm, they start minimal, they become ferocious, obsessive, tailored to the music and to our state of mind. Dylan’s voice and acoustic guitar are given life in a minimalistic setting, no need for anything else really, just the expressive, suffering face of the dancer tells many storie The only other visual input is the casual coolness of her DJ, Maarten Van Cauwenberghe, a composer and musician in his own right. He only joins Gruwez on the dance floor for an unusual, poetic pas de deux, he just discreetly follows Gruwez’s body with a soft light, old style spotlight, enhancing the reflection of her body moving in impossible yoga poses on the shiny black surface. Gruwez jokes that her partner is not much of a dancer and that was the only way to have a duet. Visually this was the most captivating moment of the performance, so much so I cannot recall which song was playing in the background. While very vivid in my mind is Dylan’s It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) providing the most complete fusion between music, lyrics and dance. Forever impressed in my mind is the dancer’s tour de force, her moving to the rhythmically challenging guitar, suddenly interrupted in a frozen pose while Bob sings: “Even the president of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked”.
Lisbeth Gruwez dances Bob Dylan, Shoreditch Takeover, Shoreditch Town Hall 27 October 2017
I usually avoid large venues for any performance of any kind, venues like the Electric Halle in Düsseldorf are designed for sporting events, not music but the urge to finally see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds live again is too strong and I surrender to it. The location is so wrong for so many reasons, on so many levels. The current tour is promoting one of the most intimate recordings ever issued by the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree. It is raw, painful and anything but loud while, in stark contrast to the music being performed, the venue is so terrifyingly huge. Hard-core fans have been queuing since the morning to get the best positions… I find myself relegated to a terrible spot behind many very tall German people. There is only one choice, that is viewing the concert from the sides in what would be the equivalent of a balcony in a theatre but our position is so angled and remote that basically our vision is restricted to Nick Cave’s restless singing and a possessed Warren Ellis dancing around his violin. I miss the rest of the band entirely, though Cave and Ellis are the prime movers and seeing Cave’s interaction with his audience is a show in its own right. Before the concert I was unsure about the performance, listening to Cave’s shattered vocals in the documentary One More Time With Feeling was heart breaking, but I am relieved to see he has found a new powerful voice for his live performances and a renewed sense of humour. While performing, he endlessly jumps from the main stage to a detached slither running along the full length of the stage, where he can be in close proximity to his audience, often totally relying on their support to hold him up, their hands outstretched, in a continuous adoring embrace. I live the concert in fear, I imagine him disappearing in the gap, missing his step, tripped up by one hand too many stretched out at the last moment in the hope to even brush his legs for a brief nanosecond.
The acoustic is magnificent, despite the venue, despite the angled position which would only allow us to imagine the sound of the acoustic guitar played at times by George Vjestica, positioned at the extreme left side of the stage, the sound carried out in the opposite direction by the huge speakers. I can only imagine the percussions producing the sound I can hear, I can only imagine the presence of another multi-layered keyboard apart from the grand piano centre stage, the piano where Nick Cave at times joins in the playing and where he sits to play and sing Into My Arms accompanied only by the audience. Earlier on I mentioned his renewed sense of humour, apparent while he mocks a member of the audience for the lousy smart phone they were using to take his close-up picture, or again teasing the audience to “behave yourselves” when their hands got too close for comfort. I couldn’t even dream I would be smiling at a Bad Seeds concert.
Darkness has permeated the whole history of the Bad Seeds and the gruesome stories of Stagger Lee, the dead man walking in the Mercy Seat receive a new even gloomier lease of life in their elongated live version tonight. Red Right Hand, ever-present in the Bad Seeds’ set list, is updated for the 21st century with a topical reference to the obsessed tweeting of the sleazy red right hands in power right now. The Bad Seeds finish with a chorus of members of the audience led on stage by Nick Cave the piped piper, everybody singing “you got to keep on pushing, push the sky away”, in total enchanted respect of the physical boundaries. It ends up with loads of hugs, mainly for Warren Ellis after Nick Cave leaves the stage. He is not the only one able to hug Ellis, as he had boasted earlier in the concert, a few members of the audience in the chorus share the privilege tonight.
The whole evening is musically, lyrically and emotionally powerful and inspiring, a fully immersive and enriching experience. I am just looking forward to my next Bad Seeds experience. Just making sure I will not have to wait that long, this time around.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Düsseldorf Electric Halle 12 October 2017
Nothing is more inspiring than beautifully crafted cinema or as inspiring as meaningful music. Jim Jarmusch and his quirky, quiet, poetic films have put a spell on me. The music he chooses for his films are equally spellbinding and his soundtracks are works of art in their own right. I could not possibly miss an evening dedicated to the music in his films. It must have been hard for David Coulter, the artistic director to make a choice when preparing a set list for these 2 evenings at the Barbican theatre in London. Where would you start? I guess the choice of available talents to impersonate the music eventually dictated what to do next.
The performance was quite a treat starting with the band hidden by a gauze-like material onto which moving images taken from Jarmusch’s films were projected. Jarmusch has used a lot of black and white in his visually stunning creations and gigantic black and white images dominate the screen tonight: smoke drifts by and a deck of cards, high rises and fire escapes. Eventually Camille O’Sullivan’s golden, gigantic silhouette is briefly projected on the makeshift screen while she sings Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I Put A Spell On You. Her voice both metaphorically and literally brings the screen down and it feels like a veil has been removed from my eyes and a silencer /cotton from my ears, I can finally see the band on stage and live the music to the full. O’Sullivan is impressive with her effortless singing, the perfect voice for the evening. The singers and the soundtracks smoothly change in front of our eyes with the core band remaining on stage throughout the evening. Terry Edwards on sax, percussions and trumpet and Dave Okumu at the guitar create both the backbone for this evening’s performance and a series of electrifying solos, though the biggest applause goes to the Ethiopian maestro Mulatu Astatke and his xylophone while playing Yekermo Sew from the gentle Broken Flowers. My personal favourite of the evening was Kirin J Callinan playing Mystery Train. His aggressive look, sunglasses, kilt and Stetson hat and super cocky performance were impressive both in the vocals and in his guitar playing, transmuting into the sound of a spaceship taking off in front of our eyes. He apparently personifies the crazy Australian bravado but exudes shedloads of talent. Impressive. I catch a glimpse of him while driving by at the end of the concert, he is walking out of the stage door in is stage persona, amongst Franz Ferdinand fans probably waiting for Kapranos, too shell shocked to react. Perfect.
Kapranos’ presence on stage is also a hit, bleached hair, immaculate shirt and complexion. He has all the well-known numbers to sing, starting with an understated Memphis Train taken from Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, of course. Understated is also the presence of Jolie Holland, ex Be Good Tanyas. Beautiful voice, duetting on acoustic guitar with Okumu for the soundtrack to the magical, dazed Dead Man. The images from the films drift at the back of my mind, and I am sure it is a similar experience for all Jarmusch’s fans but tonight the visual side of his cinematic oeuvre is irrelevant, this is all about the music and we have witnessed some seriously impressive performances tonight. Camille O’Sullivan proves that she would have been a wicked front woman in a rock/grunge/psychedelic band while performing Black Angels’ You on the Run. Okunu dazzles the audience while taking on Neil Young’s beautiful Dead Man theme song. Kapranos’ whispered rendition of Tom Wait’s Jockey Full of Bourbon proves as scary as the original, “the house is on fire, the kids are all alone…”
Jim Jarmusch Revisited Barbican Theatre, London 20 September 2017
I have been in the crowd witnessing PJ Harvey on stage through many years. I have been playing her music in my headphones for even longer. I have seen her changing from her angry rock guitar persona to a gentle, brooding piano player, moving on to a plethora of musical instruments both ancient and new and a diversity of collaborators throughout the years. There is an urgency, a passion to her music that is so totally unlike any music written by any other woman in the musical world, she is so very English and so very atypical, she is tiny and powerful, classy and minimalist.
She is touring a few festivals during the summer and I witnessed her gig at the Route du Rock at the Fort St Père near Saint Malo, in France. There are hundreds, thousands of festivals during the summer, it has become big business, huge business. Most festival goers are not even interested in the music, it is just an excuse to party, an expensive excuse to party. But I do care about the music and PJ’s concert, totally well-rehearsed, goes like clockwork. She is accompanied by a band of 9 arriving in a procession all playing a percussion instrument, drums of all shapes and forms. Mainly the music on show is part of her recent musical past, The Hope Six Demolition Project, White Chalk, Let England Shake. She mainly sings but occasionally blows a sax, the same she has been holding in the recent promotional photo shoots. She is elegantly dressed in black, the cold wind blows her infinite sleeves and trademark long hair. She sings at us dramatically, theatrical, constantly posing for the cameras, very much camera conscious. She does not waste her time speaking to the audience, her focus is on her music, war and violence the main themes of her funeral band. We are only allowed a couple of tracks from her younger musical past, Down by the Water, the mantra-like, violin-droning fish swimming in the water, and Bring you my Love, with the loyal John Parish prominently featured on guitar and her vocal prowess displayed at her best. During her concert the sun sets, the cold sets in. At the end, we wait in vain for the next act, there is a big gap with no music on stage, typical French lunch-dinner time emptiness. We can’t be bothered to stay for the rest, cold, tired and with PJ’s music in our ears, we leave the festival.
We leave the festival after a long walk toward the parking lot, a walk lined with trees and very young army men armed with machine guns ready to shoot. When we arrived, we were welcomed by a gendarme with his drug sniffer dog. We leave as if we are in Belfast or Sarajevo in the 90ies…
PJ Harvey at Route du Rock Festival 18 August 2017
The musical genre does not sit well with me. It feels utterly uncomfortable the way actors all of a sudden start singing on stage at the end of a perfectly conventional conversation with other characters. It feels awkward and most of the times it feels like the plot is an excuse to introduce the music. It is like opera gone wrong. And the singing style is all strutting and showing off of some starlet’s vocal range. Though I find it utterly boring, the audience just love it. I am not sure what I expected from the Girl from the Northern Country, for sure not a musical, but a play featuring Bob Dylan’s songs, I did not realise that it would feature some of Dylan’s best-known songs, including Like a Rolling Stones alongside some more obscure ones all taken from his back catalogue. I resented that at times the play was overly sentimental, I was not impressed to say the least that at times Bob Dylan’s music was given the Disney-style musical treatment, making it utterly unrecognisable, but again Dylan’s rendition of his own music over the years has made the songs utterly unrecognisable, you would think he has kind of rewritten them every time he performs them anew. So, all things considered, the Girl from the North Country is not as mind blowing or revolutionary as I hoped it would be, nevertheless it is an interesting rendition of a story probably told too many times: a story of poverty, debt and rape set in Duluth, the city Bob Dylan himself hails from. It felt as if Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Man had been turned into a musical, moreover gender and race issues are treated with kid’s gloves, simplified or pre-digested for the sensitive minds of the new millennium. Good but not excellent, well sung, if you like the style, well choreographed, well-acted, Girl from the North Country ticks all the boxes of polite social analyses but it is stuck in the politically correct comfort zone, we are all in this together sort of feeling, pigeon hole. It is just so unlike Dylan’s music, so unreal and uncomfortably so.
Girl from the North Country – Old Vic Theatre London 21 July 2017
We are mainly inspired by fusion, by artists crossing boundaries, moving the goalpost further and further. We are inspired by artists like Devendra Banhart. Proud of his Venezuelan roots, perfectly bilingual, totally at ease with both his inner yin and yang side. We are in awe of his musical and visual talent, we are inspired by his quirky, deceptively simple creations. Live on stage at the Hackney Empire in East London, I was expecting Banhart to be somewhat aloof and distant, instead from the very first notes he was gregarious, inclusive, joyous, funny, a pleasure to watch. At some point he even lamented the physical distance from his audience, which was in reality minimal. He cuts a very tall figure on stage, his tall, slim body and body language reminded me of the Italian director Nanny Moretti, his beard more Latin American hero than hipster cool and I could see some of Beck’s naivety in his moves. At times when not playing the guitar, he would assume yoga-like stances, his hand movements spontaneous and well-choreographed to match the quirkiness of his music, this all meant that I had a smile on my face from start to finish. Visually the stage was bare, apart from the musicians and a small blue round circle projected at their back. The blue circle was getting larger and larger during the performance, in an almost imperceptible way, until the full screen was blue in the background, the perfect setting for the wonderful dancer joining the band behind the screen for the funky rhythms of Fancy Man creating an electric blue Chinese Shadows puppetry effect. Mostly playing his music from Ape in Pink Marble, his latest creation, Banhart symbolically started with a homage to a spiritual, visionary woman from the middle ages, Hildegard von Bingen and ended with a homage to David Bowie through Sound and Vision, once again the colour blue, or azul while singing in Spanish, as the main protagonist.
Devendra Banhart – Hackney Empire London 18 July 2017
I only recently saw Angels in America, A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, in its star-studded, HBO miniseries version (Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and Emma Thompson come to mind) and approaching the theatrical version in the knowledge that I would sit through a marathon 9-hour performance, my biggest question was, how would they portray the angels on stage? The staging is actually magical, thanks to master puppeteers playing the angel’s shadow and wings. Tony Kushner’s writing is excellent, engaging and engaged, the jokes are funny, the Pulitzer winning plot digs dip into the recent history of the US and its idiosyncrasies, the domineering force is what in the eighties was considered a new plague, the red plague, Aids. The play was written in 1993 but has not aged one iota. The comparison with the TV series actors was impossible to avoid (i.e. Nathan Lane v. Al Pacino portraying historical lawyer and hate figure Roy Cohn, Andrew Garfield v. Justin Kirk as the wonderfully camp Prior Walter, Denise Gough v. Mary-Louise Parker as the troubled but gloriously funny Harper Pitt) but nothing can beat a live performance when the collective acting is that good.
Angels in America by Tony Kushner – National Theatre London 28 June 2017
Owner of the most powerful voice and provocative personality in the music business, Diamanda Galás can be scary. She can be ice cold and sinister, her scathing voice is made to dig inside our deepest, inner self, a part of ourselves we would never confess existed not even to ourselves. Black is her state of mind and her attire, a grand piano her only accompaniment, nothing else is needed. Above all that voice reaching deeply into our soul and lifting us up to the highest, vertiginous grounds, nothing is safe during a performance by Galás. I seem to remember her previous performances might have been slightly more sober as far as the lights and effects on her voice were concerned, though the extreme whiteness of her facial make up, vertiginously high shoes and infinite nails can always be relied on. She fascinates and terrorizes us as she incarnates our primordial instincts buried under centuries of indoctrination in what we consider our civil societies. But we recognize the agony, we relive the pain with every single note she plays and every single scream she utters. Intensely loved by her fans, at the Barbican on the 19th of June you really felt the sense of occasion, we, the audience have dressed up for her as she has dressed up for us and I suddenly realize that I have not seen such a beautiful audience for years, probably since her previous performance, still in London, still at the Barbican exactly 10 years ago.
My picture taken on the 19th of June is inspired by the artwork on Diamanda Galás’s latest releases: All the Way and At Saint Thomas the Apostle Harlem.
Diamanda Galás – Barbican, London 19 June 2017
A trip along the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy, an area well known for oysters, radioactive power and Jazz sous les pommiers, a Jazz festival named after one of the biggest resources in the area, apple trees. So while sipping locally brewed cider and savouring oysters produced along the infamous WWII landing beaches, we skip in between venues and performances in Coutances, a smallish French town still quiet despite the musical circus hitting it for over 30 years now. It all feels odd, in a French way, during what appears to be the hottest and humid day ever. Extremely hot, and amazingly ugly appears to be the Salle Marcel-Hallé that hosts the main events of the festival, including the concert that sees Norwegian saxophonist, composer and all-round jazz legend Garbarek and India’s most talented and inventive percussionist Trilok Gurtu. I had dreamt of a performance under beautiful apple trees in full bloom, festival goers relaxing on the grass and fields of bluebells, whereas we are crammed on uncomfortable sits, gasping for air as no window or door in the venue is open to bring us some oxygen. But despite the hazy, uncomfortable heat, the music is divine, soothing, at times playful, often spiritual. We were all entranced by the performance of Mr Gurtu, with his ragas and myriads of sounds, featuring gongs, bells and a bucket full of water. It was an uplifting, inspirational performance. These gentlemen brought a smile to our faces and serenity to our minds. Hopefully it will also inspire the organizers to move the festival to a more apt location next time around.
Jazz sous le pommiers – Jan Garbarek and Trilok Gurtu 27 May 2017
After successfully funding the publishing of Lanterna di Luce (A New Light) with our first crowdfunding campaign, Stillarte author Francesca Patton and illustrator Elisa Algarotti are hard at work to complete the project on schedule and deliver copies to all supporters by September 2018. Below you can find the full content of our successfull crowdfunding campaign and should you feel inspired by this very touching project, you can preorder a copy of the book now by contacting us on email@example.com Please note that Lanterna di Luce is currently available only in the original Italian version. Do state your interest if you wish to purchase the English version and we will update you as soon as this becomes available.
Here is what Lanterna di Luce is all about:
My name is Francesca Patton.
I am a writer and journalist and I also teach Italian and history.
I have always liked reading and writing stories since I was a child and, so far, I have published a number of books of fantasy and a few collections of poems and essays.
What prompted me to write this book was a very tragic event that happened in my life in 2014. Following a complicated pregnancy, I was admitted to Santa Chiara hospital in Trento, Italy. After 30 days of hospitalisation, I gave birth to premature twins, Leonardo Domenico and Massimiliano Domenico, who, unfortunately, only survived one month.
Somehow, I knew that the only thing that could help me overcome this devastating experience was to put pen to paper. The book, Lanterna di Luce (A New Light) is the result of this endeavour. The book is part sci-fi, part sentimental, with a huge dose of personal experience weaved into it. However – and this is not a spoiler – it has a positive outcome. A New Light uses a variety of narrative techniques based on the STUDY OF DESIRES.
With Professor Thierry Bonfanti, I am currently undergoing a two-year training course in a new approach to philosophy and psychology focusing on DESIRE and the French psychologist, Michel Lobrot.
I offer courses on creative writing and writing therapy using a variety of writing techniques to create a feeling of well-being in the reader.
In my creative writing course, I often meet people that have lost the ability to dream or who are unable to set a distance between themselves and external events. To such people, I offer a series of activities to help fire their thoughts. Results obtained so far have been extraordinary; I have been able to restore some degree of reality in their lives, at the end of the course my students feel revitalized and full of energy. This is because they have regained the courage to reach deep down and liberate their desires.
WHERE DID THE IDEA OF LANTERNA DI LUCE (A NEW LIGHT) COME FROM?
A New Light came from observing that we humans are becoming more and more bogged down by our problems and thoughts. We find it hard to relax and find time for ourselves. We act frenetically and impulsively. By the time we get to the evening, we are worn out. All we want to do is to flop in front of the TV or catch up on the social network. Then we drag ourselves to bed without speaking with anyone. And the next day is just like the previous one, only even more nerve-racking.
That’s why I decided to create a book to help readers bring out their most intimate desires. A book that takes the reader to an ALTERNATIVE WORLD; one that is extraordinary, where you can find the energy and strength to confront your own reality: in short, a book that fulfils your own desires.
This is how A New Light was conceived; it is a book written in such a way as to help bring out your most intimate desires and find the key to achieve them.
To get this book published, I have decided to by-pass the editor and appeal directly to the those who share my same interests. I believe this will enable me to reach more people and I hope that the public is ready to appreciate a project aimed at promoting well-being in the form of a book, a book that can act as a catalyst for one’s own desires.
I don’t want to reveal any spoilers about the book, however, I will say that the story starts aboard a ship. A young lady, a physicist, reveals her scientific discovery to a complete stranger. The book itself is a series of unexpected events that eventually reveal the connection between the two main characters. A set of twins, a magic lamp and a Kingdom made of light and pure magic soon find their way into the story. I can’t say any more but you certainly won’t be disappointed.
To create the kingdom of light, I did some research into the world of colours and light and borrowed a lot from the scientific and philosophical works of Isaac Newton, Goethe and Schopenhauer. The key word in this section of the book is, indeed, LIGHT. A light that leaps out of the pages of the book and into to the heart of the reader.
It’s a special book; it’s a book that was conceived from the desire to bridge the gap between dreams and reality.
COLLABORATION WITH ELISA ALGAROTTI
Ten watercolour and oil illustrations were also commissioned to complement the book. Elisa, the illustrator, and I hit it off together immediately. Elisa was particularly intrigued by the letters featured in the book. “I was fascinated by the letters because they felt so real!”, she said. I was introduced to Elisa through a close friend of mine and we met up in spring, when she showed me the sort of work she did. I just loved her style. On the surface, her pictures appear to be so simple, yet complex. You are inevitably drawn into them, as if in a sort of trance…
For A New Light we spent a long time studying how to create images that the reader could immediately identify with. As I said before, the pictures are so complex and yet simple. Understanding her images relies on unveiling a hidden detail in each illustration. The illustrations themselves were inspired by images created for the book, The Little Prince, by Saint-Exupéry, only that these have more COLOUR, to help highlight the real protagonist of the picture and, indeed, the main theme of the book, i.e., LIGHT. In hardback copies, the illustrations will be printed on 130 gsm, high-quality, matte paper.
My dream is to complete the book with all its illustrations and to get it translated into a number of languages and distributed worldwide. This is more than just a book; it is a source of energy and strength and helps you to face up to your everyday challenges. I really believe in this project and wish to bring A New Light into everyone’s heart and I really hope I can count on you to help me achieve this dream.
The full crowdfunding campaign is available in Italian and you can support it by clicking on the following link: Lanterna di Luce
Here you can find the full list of the perks currently available for you to support the project:
Our heart-felt thanks for your interest and support. Please let your friends and followers know about our crowdfunding campaign. Thanks.
Digital version (eBook) of A New Light created by Francesca Patton and illustrated by Elisa Algarotti and our heart-felt thanks for your interest and support.
28 Euros inclusive of postage and packaging
Hardback copy and digital version (eBook) of The Magic Lantern created by Francesca Patton and illustrated by Elisa Algarotti and our heart-felt thanks for your interest and support.
40 Euros inclusive of postage and packaging
Hardback copy and digital version (eBook) of A New Light created by Francesca Patton and illustrated by Elisa Algarotti, signed by the authors and our heart-felt thanks for your interest and support.
150 Euros inclusive of postage and packaging (10 available)
Hardback copy and digital version (eBook) of A New Light created by Francesca Patton and illustrated by Elisa Algarotti, signed by the authors, our heart-felt thanks for your interest and support and the first 10 subscribers will be offered the right to become characters in the final illustration of the book. They will be required to send a recent photo of themselves to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
150 Euros inclusive of postage and packaging (10 available)
Hardback copy and digital version (eBook) of A New Light created by Francesca Patton and illustrated by Elisa Algarotti, signed by the authors, our heart-felt thanks for your interest and support and the first 20 subscribers will be able to add a comment to an illustration in the book, by sending a message to: email@example.com.
150 Euros (10 available)
One-hour creative writing introductory lesson + one-hour of creative writing consultancy via Skype (in Italian) with the author Francesca Patton.
WRITEMOTION CREATIVE WRITING COURSE (14 July 2018 – 10 available) + Hardback copy and digital version (eBook) of A New Light created by Francesca Patton and illustrated by Elisa Algarotti.
The course is only available in Italian and is divided into two 3-hour parts. The first part starts with a session focusing on observing and listening to nature and one’s inner self before immersing into the world of literature through selected passages by past, modern and contemporary authors. The aim is to record one’s own experience and share it freely with the rest of the group.
Details of the course:
– Saturday 14 July, 09.00 – 12.00 workshop focusing on oneself and creativity
– Saturday 14 July, 15.00 – 18.00 workshop on creative writing with feedback on work.
ARTEMOTION COURSE (15 July 2018 – 10 available) + Hardback copy and digital version (eBook) of A New Light created by Francesca Patton and illustrated by Elisa Algarotti.
This expressive painting course is divided into two 3-hour parts and is only available in Italian. The aim is to focus on freely expressing one’s emotions through fantasy and colours and on revealing oneself on canvas. The image part of the course will be complemented by a musical element: the brush strokes of the artist will be guided by sounds to help reveal one’s passion.
Details of the course:
– Sunday 15 July, 09.00 – 12.00 and 15.00 – 18.00
WRITE&ARTEMOTION COURSE (14-15 July 2018 –10 available) + Hardback copy and digital version (eBook) of A New Light created by Francesca Patton and illustrated by Elisa Algarotti.
The content of the course is identical to what’s covered in the individual courses and are available in Italian only.
Details of the course:
– Saturday 14 July, 09.00 – 12.00 and 15.00 – 18.00 painting workshop
– Sunday 15 July, 09.00 – 12.00 workshop focusing on oneself and creativity
– Sunday 15 July, 15.00 – 18.00 creative writing workshop with feedback on work.
TOUR OF THE SETTING of A New Light (28-29 July 2018 –10 available) + Hardback copy and digital version (eBook) of A New Light created by Francesca Patton and illustrated by Elisa Algarotti.
The level of difficulty of the tour is medium, i.e., it is aimed at experienced walkers, as it involves a good deal of walking up and down hill. Therefore, participants are expected to be in good physical and mental health.
The duration of the course is approximately 5 hours. Participants will be expected to bring along their own packed lunch and liquids to last them for the entire duration of the walk.
– Saturday 28 July, departure 09.00. Locations: Quaras, Piramidi di Segonzano, Cascata del Lupo and Bedollo. Return in the afternoon. (10 kilometres)
– Sunday 29 July, departure 09.00. Car to Malga Stramaiolo and then on foot to Tonini refuge; packed lunch at refuge and return on foot. Stopover at Malga Pontare and Inferno Waterfall. Return in the afternoon. (10 kilometres approx.).
New: Acquire an original and unique work of art! Only four available at 350 Euros each.
Original illustration measuring 30 x 30 cm, mounted on a white background, in an off-white, wooden frame (measurement including frame: 46×46 cm). Technique: Watercolour and oil, grammage 200g/m2. Price includes packaging and delivery by courier.
Choose an Illustration:
This illustration depicts the passage from the book: “It was like being surrounded by all my philosopher friends, with their long beards, as we engaged in long conversations…”
This illustration depicts the passage from the book: “I just couldn’t get Monet’s paintings out of my head… I was the boatman of tomorrow…”
This illustration depicts the passage from the book: “They were so tightly joined together like two cards. I couldn’t see their faces. They just emitted such a pure light…”
Occhi castani (Brown Eyes)
This illustration depicts the passage from the book: “He had a roaring tiger firing out from his brown eyes”.