Sunday, July 24, 2005

George Clinton, Forum

Some critics seem to have written him off, but the star-child keeps rockin’ hard as ever. Old fans may have got blasé, but they have merely forgotten; no-one does it like this lot. It don’t matter; any style they want; soul, funk, rock, doo-wop, hip-hop, they put anyone to the test. Although known primarily for their late-seventies disco hits, Parliament-Funkadelic encompass so much more they practically have their own corner of music. Two of the band sported AC/DC t-shirts, clear evidence that good, hard, show-stopping rock’n’roll matters to these guys just as much as beautiful vocal harmonies, booty-shaking bass lines or multi-layered horn-lines. George, dressed in a patchwork silk dress-shirt and with his multi-coloured locks tied up to show a subtle union jack, still helms the proceedings, but they go on quite contently with or without him actually on the stage. With musical virtuosos like keyboardist Bernie Worrell and guitarist Michael Hampton and a host of absurdly talented youngsters, the sheer exuberance, as they ripped through a practically bottomless back-catalogue, was gobsmaking. No question, these guys show how it’s done.

Named Parliament-Funkadelic for the occasion, instead of the usual P-Funk All-Stars, (due to the presence of Bernie Worrell, the name’s copyright-holder) the extended band (10 members? 20? You can never tell) blasted Kentish Town for over three hours. Although the name change didn’t herald much change in the usual set, they’re still imaginative, a female violinist, for example, playing the classic Maggot Brain solo, note for screaming note. How much longer Clinton, 66 last Friday, sporting some serious bags under his eyes and looking occasionally like he might like to keel over, can continue is a fascinating question. On this evidence he’ll still be out there with zimmer frame and (atomic) guide dog, leading both band and crowd in a lesson in how to party y’all. Towards the end the band filled the stage with most of the prettiest girls from the crowd. They all vanished backstage where, in the hey-day, the party went on for days. George himself, though, looked more like he was going to bed.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A Night in Baghdad, Purcell Rooms

Not, fortunately, actually in Baghdad and neither was this part of the apparently on-going attempt to bring some Baghdad life to London via the medium of suicide bombers. Instead Iraqi ex-pat Ahmed Mukhtar, virtuoso musician, played the Oud, an eleven-string fretless lute. Wearing snazzy shoes and a suit that seemed to have been made out of Plaster of Paris, Mukhtar took at first to the stage alone. Once there, he conjured music from his instrument that, while neither especially hypnotic nor beautiful, seemed still to entrance me. I became aware of sudden shifts in my attention, almost as though I’d been smoking hashish. Despite arriving with a sore back, thoughts of pain, unhappiness and discontent were momentarily unable to intrude through the music’s comforting glaze. Mukhtar explained that many of the tunes were versions of songs dating back four or five thousand years. The tunes lay on you as softly as a feather; they were there, but you couldn’t pick them out. It was gently eye-opening, the plucked strings softly resonating within me. For a moment there was danger of an impending spirituality; it was only resisted when I considered the possibility that I was indulging in this effect to stop myself from getting bored.

Ah, the turmoils of the agnostic! I needn’t have feared, since Mukhtar seemed to have a sixth sense; each time I’d consider being bored he’d be about to finish the song he was playing. After a few songs, he introduced the first of his accompanying percussionists and there was no more chance of getting bored. This guy came out in full Ali Baba get-up and proceeded to tap and subtly jangle a tambourine in a way unfathomable if you’ve only ever seen the instrument as a sop to rock stars’ girlfriends. He was soon followed by Kurdish drummer, Hassain Zahawy, wearing a kind of Kurdish kung-fu suit with white shoes like a cow’s hoof. He proceeded to batter the daff, a Kurdish drum, his fingers somehow doing the work of three or four drummers. To round off the set a third came out, this one in full Arabian headdress. With his pale face and pencil moustache though he looked curiously like an impostor, though he played his drums well enough. The three drummers showed how syncopated rhythms should be done, displaying a control of both timing and touch that puts to shame the harsh, computerised fare we generally subsist on. They finished the half with a Sufi rhythm in 9/8. When there’s a drum’n’bass tune in 9/8, then we might be getting somewhere.

In the toilet at the interval the guy next to me said “I think Bill’s right, it has been rather thrown together.” Oops, I thought, as a critic I need to keep my wits about me, rather than drifting off into a dream. The second half confirmed that Bill was right, it was thrown together, but it seemed all the better for it, as the drummers showed an exceptional ability to keep complicated poly-rhythms while taking cues, sharing solos (at which Zahawy excelled, playing a big marching drum with what looked like an umbrella handle) and all the while complementing Mukhtar and his soft, gracious Oud-playing. In fact the three drummers appeared genuinely impressed with each other, lending an extra glow to an already grand performance.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Arab-Israeli Cookbook, Tricycle Theatre

The Tricycle, currently vying for an unprecedented fifth year running as winner of the most uncomfortable theatre in London, plays host to this watchable blend of Amos Oz, Alan Bennett and Ready, Steady, Cook. An assortment of characters from both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict perform mainly monologues and some domestic scenes, interspersed with their favourite recipes. The gimmick is that they actually cook them live on stage, filling the theatre with smells of Middle East cuisine, while all the talk is of tear gas, gun shots and, of course, suicide bombings. The script is based on interviews with real people and casually drops in details of the appalling quality of life for all sides - but especially the Arabs - while you are struggling to remember their culinary secrets.

My own culinary prowess was exposed today when, after I put a watermelon in my fridge to chill, it came out tasting of my fridge.

The British Working Class, Channel 4

Michael Collins’ adaptation of his own polemic makes interesting, but frustrating, viewing. Following roughly the same course as the book, Collins aims to expose a new era of derision towards the white working class, exemplified by the rise of the ‘chav’, that social outcast providing the tabloids with so much of their fodder. Websites such as chavscum detail this particular sub-group with relish and Collins traces it back to the MacPherson inquiry into the Lawrence murder and the opprobrium heaped on the five accused, white working-class boys.

Beyond that, Collins investigates his family's life in Elephant and Castle in the last 150 years and turns up pretty much your average "gor blimey guvnor me rosy-tin'id specs are on and no mistake" view of the pre-sixties working-class.

Collins has a point, it does seem as though racism and prejudice sometimes becomes acceptable as long as its about the poor, white natives; its true that the working-class have always been down-trodden and remain ever more so, despite the best intentions of the do-gooders, city planners, demagogues, Thatcherites and whoever else has taken an interest. The demonisation of ‘chavs’ does make me uncomfortable. When I first came across the phrase, it was out of the mouths of people who were scared of youths I thought they should have smacked around a bit. But as the chavscum webmaster points out, the people most up in arms about ‘chavs’ are the people who have to live among them, ie. the ‘respectable’ working-class.

But in so many ways Collins wants to have his cake and eat it. For example the white working classes are both entitled to protest against enforced multiculturalism (and march for Enoch) and yet are the best racially integrated of all social strata. That these might be different people seems to have completely escaped him. And this sort of example shows precisely where Collins goes wrong, in his lazy and gratuitous lumping together of countless different types of people under essentially two banners – the salt-of-the-earth, misunderstood and downtrodden working-class and the pretentious, interfering, prejudiced and privileged middle-class.

Which raises a slightly ad hominem point - which of the two groups does a working-class born and bred yet now successful journalist and film-maker fit into? Much praise for this book from the likes of Julie Burchill, who's made much of her working-class roots despite never clocking on for work in her life.

Others have produced far better dissections of Collins’ book than me. Andrew Anthony, Mike Phillips and particularly Ed Barrett offer thorough and interesting rebuttals of the weak-points of his arguments while all agreeing that there is something to his complaint.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Irony Alert

Environmentalists today warned of an impending worldwide catastrophe brought about by the widespread overuse of irony.

“We’re using up irony at such a rate,” claimed Greenpeace spokesman, Pith Taka, “that very soon there won’t be any left for future generations.”

Fingers have been pointed especially at America, which produces irony-consuming statements at far above the worldwide rate. Mr Taka pointed to President Bush’s recent statement regarding the London bombs as a prime example of a wanton disregard for the potential irony shortage. Bush said, amongst other things, “On the one hand, we got people here who are working to alleviate poverty and to help rid the world of the pandemic of AIDS and that are working on ways to have a clean environment. And on the other hand, you've got people killing innocent people.”

Bush is well known for his belief that current reserves of irony are more than enough to maintain the US’s cavalier usage. And he is deeply sceptical about the well-researched claims that overuse of irony has devastating consequences for the political environment. It is generally accepted amongst scientists that overuse of irony will lead eventually to rising cynicism levels, more frequent and serious political storms and the endemic corruption of leading governments, also known as the Whitehouse Effect.