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Posts Tagged ‘John Peel’

The soundtrack of my late teenage years was heavily influenced by John Peel, who introduced me to bands like Family, The Incredible String Band and Tyrannosaurus Rex, whose four albums I treasured, and still do (I’ve recently bought them on CD). Peel thought Bolan sold out when Tyrannosaurus Rex became T. Rex (a name change that was Tony Visconti’s idea, it seems). I fought this for a while, as Bolan was by now a musical hero of mine, but it wasn’t long before I was in agreement. It was all downhill from A Beard of Stars, the last Tyrannosaurus Rex album, a masterpiece. My view is that Bolan’s ego smothered and killed his genius, but I couldn’t resist this biographical show on my doorstep, well, in Kingston.

It’s a huge biographical arc, something like fifteen years, which is ambitious and at first seems rushed. They badly neglect the period from 1968 to 1970, the four folk / psychedelic / mystical albums, each bettering the last (well, I would think that, wouldn’t I). If I was nit-picking, there are a number of historical inaccuracies, like his audition piece for Simon Napier-Bell being a song he wrote three or four years later. Sometimes I thought Bolan was a bit tongue-in-cheek, like the infamous guitar lead in his back pocket on Top of the Pops, and the show sometimes has a bit of a tongue-in-cheek quality about it too. It’s at its strongest musically, with a judicious smattering of other people’s songs that fit the story (who knew Helen Shapiro was a friend and early colleague?!); music director John Maher has done a great job.

The production values are a bit AmDram and the staging doesn’t flow well enough, with some scene breaks way too long. In truth, the Rose isn’t the right theatre for it. Unlike a proscenium theatre, there’s no hiding place. To be honest, I think they could do with a stage director, as John Maher also directs. It could also do with losing 10-20 minutes; it doesn’t really sustain its three hours. As is customary with this genre, it ends with a mini-concert, with the audience on its feet. Both the cast and band are good, with George Maguire (promoted from Ray’s younger brother Dave in the Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon) perfectly flamboyant as Bolan, but please don’t get me on to the wig, or indeed the wigs in general.

It’s not up there with other bio-musicals like Jersey Boys, Beautiful and Sunny Afternoon, but I’m glad I caught it, though it was surreal looking around at T.Rex fans now in their sixties (senior concessions!) wearing their feather boas, pieces of which I was picking out of my jumper on the way home.

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By the time Ivor Cutler crossed my radar in the early 70’s, he’d been performing for a couple of decades but was now reaching people half his age thanks to the late, great John Peel singing his praises. Though he amused and fascinated me, I can’t say I ever became fan, more of a curious onlooker, but he stays with me in his contribution to Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom album, his performance as the bus driver in Magical Mystery Tour and, more recently, some Mark Morris dances set to his words and music.

It’s almost impossible to describe his oeuvre. He was a poet, humorist, singer (of sorts) and musician (with his trademark harmonium). He spoke in a deadpan mild Glaswegian accent, though he lived from his 30’s to 80’s in London. This Vanishing Point / National Theatre of Scotland co-production perfectly captures the essence of his eccentric, absurd, somewhat surreal uniqueness.

They talked to Cutler’s partner as part of their research and the first meeting provides the show with its starting point, Phyllis King becoming a character. What follows is a series of biographical scenes, taking us from his childhood (he tried to kill his baby brother when he was three!) to dementia in his final years, interspersed with songs, poems and other writings. Sandy Grierson’s Cutler and Elicia Daly’s King are joined on-stage by five multi-instrumentalists who provide sounds and voices as well as music. It’s a very charming homage, as quirky as the man himself.

The show visited Brighton as part of the festival and it’s perfect festival fare, attracting a very healthy audience for a Sunday matinee, accessibly priced. It has now become England’s biggest festival covering the whole month of May, with 750 shows (though still only a third of Edinburgh in 10 days less). Work like this suggests it’s time I gave it as much attention as the other one.

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