Kate bush

All a bit Blackadder: Hamlet, at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, reviewed

Never Not Once has a cold and forbidding title but it starts as an amusing tale set in an LA apartment. We meet Allison, a happily married lesbian, whose grown-up daughter, Eleanor, arrives with a hunky new boyfriend to show off. This set-up has the makings of a flatshare sitcom. You combine a straight younger couple with an older pair of lesbians and you throw in the mother/daughter relationship for extra instability. It could be a laugh. But a new wrinkle appears. Eleanor learns that she was conceived during a one-night stand and she decides to track down her absentee father. But he’s extremely reluctant to discuss what happened that

The death of the live album

Next week The The release The Comeback Special, a 24-track live album documenting the band’s concert at the Royal Albert Hall in June 2018. Meanwhile, Steely Dan’s last man standing, Donald Fagen, has just released two live albums recorded in 2019. Their musical qualities notwithstanding, these releases feel like relics from a lost world. Much like the fondue set, the live album is much reduced from its 1970s and 1980s heyday, when a pretty blonde sideman-turned-solo artist called Peter Frampton could somehow shift eight million copies of the anodyne Frampton Comes Alive! The stand-alone contemporary live album is now an endangered species; MTV’s Unplugged series in the 1990s offered a

Pure poison: BBC1’s Talking Heads reviewed

The big mistake people make with Alan Bennett is to conflate him with his fellow Yorkshireman David Hockney. But whereas Hockney’s art is generous, warm, bright, life-affirming, Bennett’s is crabbed, catty, dingy, insinuating. The fact that the BBC-led establishment keeps telling us he’s a National Treasure tells us more about the BBC-led establishment than it does about Bennett. Bennett is typical of the English intelligentsia Orwell anatomised in his ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ essay: ‘It is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings.’ I’d forgotten quite

The musical benefits of not playing live

Glenn Gould considered audiences ‘a force of evil’. ‘Not in their individual segments but en masse, I detest audiences.’ He retired from public performance on 10 April 1964, at the age of 31, having given fewer than 200 public recitals. The Canadian classical pianist had longstanding philosophical objections to the ritual of performing live. He found applause automatic and insincere, and often asked spectators not to bother. He even wrote a (partly) tongue-in-cheek manifesto, the Gould Plan for the Abolition of Applause and Demonstrations of All Kinds, in which he called for clapping to be banned. Gould believed that the most useful and honest response to music came following a

Rock’s quiet right-wingers

They will be sitting there right now, listening tearfully to the song for one last time on their dinky little iPods, before deleting it for ever. ‘-Heathcliff — it’s me, Cathy, I’ve come home, so co-wo-wo-wold, let me into your window.’ No, Kate. You are never coming in through our windows again. What about the cuts? What about the refugees? What about Brexit? How could you? The window is closed, double-glazed and with a mortice lock. ‘Wuth-ering Heights’ — which once I loved — is dead to me. Also that one about going up a hill or something. That’s gone too. Die, Bush, die. They are strange people, and perhaps

Visions of suburbia

Art is aspiring; hungry; acutely aware of what it could become, and of what it could lack; longs for safety and reaches out in speculative attempts to do something new; exists on the outer edges of lives, looking inwards with hopes, some day, to be more essential. Art, literature and music are, in short, suburbs to the grands projets of our lives at their most significant. Over the next year the Architecture Foundation will present new films, walks, talks and another instalment of the Doughnut Festival, to contemplate the transformation of London’s outer ring. It’s an interesting moment. The capital is not physically expanding, but the relationship between inner and

In praise of affectation

Aversion to pretentiousness was probably an English trait before Dr Johnson famously refuted Bishop Berkeley’s arguments for the immateriality of the world by booting a stone. There are plausible historical reasons for this. Suspicious of the Catholicism of neighbouring Ireland and France (where words were thought to contain spiritual power even if they were not understood), the English easily adapted the Reformation’s injunction to simplify scripture into a more general doctrine of ‘say what you mean’. This attitude is exemplified most famously in George Orwell’s essay of 1946, ‘Politics and the English Language’, in which long and Latinate words are anathematised. It ought to be read as a work of

The beat goes on

It’s rare that I see a piece about music that makes me want to cheer from the rafters and shake the perpetrator by the hand, but one such appeared in these pages last week on the subject of Ringo Starr, 75 this week. James Woodall, who may or may not be a Beatles tragic of the first water, argued that Ringo was a genius and that the Beatles were lucky to have him. True Beatles fans know this to be true and are enraged when anyone suggests otherwise. For years an urban myth had it that John Lennon, when asked if Ringo was the best drummer around, said that he

Letters: Andrew Roberts on Cameron, and a defence of Kate Bush

Advice for Cameron Sir: David Cameron once saved my life from a school of Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish, so now’s the time for me to save his political life with this advice: to do nothing. The British people are a fair-minded lot; they will give him another term in office because he and George Osborne have delivered the best growth rates in Europe despite the monstrous overspending and boom-bust of the Blair-Brown years. Every newly incoming ministry since the war has been re-elected — except Ted Heath’s, which broke all the rules anyhow — and this one will be too. Douglas Carswell is an intelligent man who has made

Portrait of the week | 28 August 2014

Home Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said that Britons who went to Syria or Iraq to fight could be stripped of their citizenship, if they had dual nationality or were naturalised. Her words came during a search for the identity of the British man in a video of the beheading of the American journalist James Foley. David Cameron had returned to London from his holiday in Cornwall to confer with security officials, but decided against recalling Parliament. In revenge the Daily Mail carried photographs of him in a wetsuit, which gave him a phocine look. Lord Dannatt, the former Chief of the General Staff, suggested Britain should deal with President

Kate Bush Hammersmith Apollo review: Still crazy after all these years

It says something about Kate Bush’s standing in the music world that, perhaps uniquely in the history of long-awaited live comebacks, nobody has suggested — or possibly even thought — that her motives might be financial. After all, this is a woman who’s stuck to her artistic guns ever since, aged 19, she defied EMI by insisting that her first single should be the abidingly peculiar ‘Wuthering Heights’. So, a famous 35 years after her last stage appearance, how on earth could she live up to such a fiercely idiosyncratic career, now regarded with almost universal awe? Well, at first the answer seemed to be by doing the most unexpected

Albums of the year? Some years we can answer it, some years we can’t 

Albums of the year? What a good question. Some years we can answer it, some years we can’t. The essence of pop music is its newness, its absolute determination to upgrade itself and keep on upgrading itself, often beyond anyone’s interest in its upgrading itself. Accordingly, there are some years when the paid-up music obsessive has to retrench and consolidate and — quite simply — stop buying new records until he can find somewhere to put them. I only bought about 25 new CDs this year, of which only five or so were new-new-new. As yet, none of them has really come through. But there’s time. There’s tomorrow, there’s next