Bloody hell. My eardrums are bleeding, my throat is raw from bellowing at the top of my lungs, my adhesive encapsulitis is giving me gyp from the overhead fist-pumping I’ve been doing and I think I sprained my ankle doing the pogo for the first time in twenty years - and I really don’t care because I’ve just been to the most exciting gig I’ve been to since maybe forever.
Rodrigo y Gabriela are, of course, two Mexican guitarists from a thrash metal and Dublin busking background who have stolen just about every stage they’ve ever been on (if you don’t believe me, check out this Jools Holland performance that wrapped up his annual Hootenanny and popped it in their back pockets). I was gutted when I was out of the country at the time of their last visit to Glasgow two years ago, so I wasn’t going to miss this, especially as they’re touring their latest album, the fantastic Area 52, a collaborative reinvention of tracks from previous albums with a group of Cuban musicians called, spookily, C.U.B.A.
This is just out of this fucking world. Really, really astonishing stuff. The musicianship is unbelievable, and RyG’s aesthetic blends seamlessly with the Cuban groove, driven by a particularly phenomenal horn section. Their best numbers are all here – “Libertango”, “Hanuman”, Ixtapa” – but given Latin, eastern and African tweaks that serve them superbly. The Cubans are magnificent, especially Alfredo who plays a six string bass with a fretboard as wide as an average aircraft carrier’s flight deck. If this is what 50 years of American spite and hatred does for a country’s musical talent, I reckon we should tell the Yanks to fuck off pretty damned quick.
It’s as loud as your average nuclear explosion, but it’s always, always pin sharp tuneful. Every musician gets their spell in the limelight, including Alex Wilson on keyboards, who arranged the numbers. And every single one of them is a genius.
But everyone is here to see RyG do their considerable stuff. I can’t imagine the odds against two of the best guitarists I have ever seen being born in the same city at the same time; they were obviously made for each other. Rodrigo is the quintessential handsome lead guitarist, all balls and swagger. He’s an impeccable picker, tossing off amazing solos the way anyone else would flick crumbs from their fingertips. He plays the audience brilliantly, suddenly chucking in recognisable little riffs, most especially from Extreme’s “More Than Words” which is treated with the contempt he knows it deserves.
But the star of the show, I think, is Gabriela. Being the nominal “rhythm guitarist”, it’s perhaps a little easy to overlook what she does in this big band setting… and then she gets her solo spot, and it is eight minutes or so of just the most mesmerising music I’ve seen and heard in so, so long. And seen it is too, because she is visually gobsmacking, and it often seems as if she has two hands at the end of her right wrist, so blurred is the speed of her movements. She works every square inch of the instrument so that she becomes a whole orchestral section on her own. She is supernaturally brilliant.
The audience (me included) go more and more bananas, roaring their approval. RyG look as if they enjoyed the love, so I hope they come back. I’ll be there, despite the health risks: I just can’t do without this kind of raucous affirmation of being alive.
God, I loved every minute of this.
My short story “Gathering of the Clan”, one of my more twisted little tales, has just been published in Matthew Firth’s Canadian magazine Front & Centre # 26. Apologies for the quality of the scan – it looks much better in the flesh. It’s available by post at the Black Bile Press website: click on the cover photo..
Here’s the opening as a wee taster.
There was a smell in the room, no doubt about it, and it wasn’t from the dead body. She smelled better than she had for ages, you know that acrid, underwear reek because the poor old soul had been forgetting herself? No, it wasn’t her. She even looked good now, better than she’d done for years, and I marvelled at the undertakers’ art, the hours of moisturising, revitalising, to smooth off that dried up, deadwood skin like greaseproof paper left in the oven too long.
“She looks her old self,” said Carrie, clutching my arm with her left hand, her right fluttering on the edge of the coffin, her face contorted, mascara sludged, nose snottery.
“Your mother smells,” I’d once said, when Carrie’d noticed I avoided kisses. Goodbye ones were the worst, because by then she’d be well pissed and stinking of dark rum.
“She’s old. She’s never got over my father dying,” she’d said.
That was a laugh. From the snippets I’d got over the years, the bitch had spent three weeks mourning the old guy in the pub with a few of his cronies who’d fancied shagging her for years. And some who had. And all of them went on to.
Carrie sniffled, dabbed her nose with a handkerchief. Surely you can smell it too? I thought. Fuck, what was that smell. There was definitely something boak-inducing about it, and unless someone opened a window or I got out quick, I was going to deposit my dinner right in the lacy lap of the dearly departed.
“I’ll go and make a cup of tea,” I said. “Do you want a cup of tea?”
Carrie did not want a cup of tea, she wanted a large vodka tonic, but she had enough of a sense of decorum not to ask for one with the priest in the room, some fat wee cherub who didn’t know the McAllisters and would have run a mile if he had.
“Yeah, go on, Martin, go and make a cup of tea. That’s what you’re good at, isn’t it?”
The priest’s ears twitched, but he didn’t look at us. I smiled at her, leaned down into her hair as if to kiss her ear. “Fuck you,” I said.
Matthew also sent me a copy of his new collection., “Shag Carpet Action”, which I’ll review some time soon when I get round to finishing the mammoth Civil War history I’m reading. But a quickie called “Three Women on a Bus” is a bleak tale of frustration and temptation that is out of reach on the back seat. It reads really well and ends on a pitch perfect note. I look forward to reading the whole collection.
Nancy Harris’ adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novella of jealousy and murder is a wee tour de force by Hilton McCrae, probably best known recently for his chilling portrayal of Gary Glitter in “The Execution of Gary Glitter”. Playing Pozdynyshev, a civil servant just cleared of murdering his beautiful wife, he delivers eighty minutes of absolutely convincing monologue. On a train, he shares the story of his marriage with the audience, the conceit being that people reveal themselves to total strangers on trains.
And it’s a thoroughly recognisable story. Pozdynyshev lacks the ability to emotionally engage – as many men do – and so decides to fall in love with his wife, resolves to propose to her simply because she is somehow objectively better than the many women he has had before. This reckoning up continues until he is consumed by disgust for her and for the minutiae of married life with her, from the way she taps a spoon to the noise of her swallowing. Freed from the burden of child-bearing, she blossoms and takes up the piano, a gift he gave her eight years previously and which has lain dormant throughout their marriage, a constant rebuke to his sexual demands.
The arrival of Pozdynyshev’s old friend, the violinist Trukhachevski, prompts him to set in motion the events which will result in tragedy. Pozdynyshev virtually throws them together, nurturing and at the same time resenting the sexual attraction which is obvious between them. Torturing himself with visions of their affair, he travels back from business unexpectedly to catch them together.
What is so convincing – it is Tolstoy, after all – is the complicity of Pozdynyshev in the whole story. He engineers his escape from a marriage he has obviously grown tired of, and yet his jealous fury is utterly real. It’s a terrific psychological premise, and McCrae delivers it beautifully.
The set in the tiny Gate theatre works well too, the 19th century railway carriage realised with just a couple of button-backed bench seats and opaque windows through which violinist Tobias Beer and pianist Sophie Scott are backlit to provide the sound and the images which haunt Pozdynyshev from the glass he stares into. It’s thoughtful and thought-provoking, tense and intriguing: a terrific achievement for such a tiny company, especially from McCrae. A very satisfying evening.
It’s being hailed as a classic, though it isn’t really: it’s just so fantastically different from the mainstream CGI garbage that dominates the multiplexes these days, and so deserves all the awards it gets.
It’s a frothy and melodramatic tale of the death of the silent movie at the hands of talkies. Both the leads - Jean Dujardin as silent heartthrob George Valentin and Berenice Bejo as rising star Peppy Miller – are sumptuously glamorous, Dujardin smilingly swashing his buckles and Bejo winking and grinning and doing those kooky-sexy flapper dances. It’s “A Star is Born” all over again with laughs and cheeky dogs. A real treat.
There are a couple of stunning moments. Peppy, alone in George’s dressing room, finds his suit on a clothes rack. Sidling up to it, she slips her hand down one sleeve and grabs her ass. As she leans into his imagined caress, the visual effect is totally convincing, and her devotion quite touching. It’s a lovely moment. Then there’s the scene where George, at the bottom of the bottle and at his wits end, savagely ransacks his apartment and burns all his old film, the perfect soundtrack capturing his wild pain. And there were bits where, I admit, I had a tear in my eye.
I’m not sure what I’m left with, though. It’s not a film that will stay with me in any lasting way, or one that I’ll be tempted to rush out to buy on DVD to watch again. However, it’s a gorgeous whimsy that is brilliantly scored and beautifully shot, and damned fine entertainment to boot.
A very effective mini family saga, “Missing” tells the story of two brothers, Luke (Rob Heaps) and Andy (Joe Robertson) as they attempt to find their way into adulthood in the 19080s. Bright, confident and supercilious, Luke has little time for his younger brother, Andy, a lonely, limited boy who feels his only escape from his damaged mother is to enlist in the Army. It works well, particularly in the claustrophobia of the one shared bedroom which simply seems to drive the boys apart. Their tragedy is their total lack of a common narrative. Luke, an obsessive taper of chart shows from the radio and about to leave the family home for university, has nothing to say to Andy, a boy who latches on to friends at school who may or may not have plans for a band. The depth of Andy’s worship of his bad tempered brother is only revealed when, years later, Luke discovers Andy has continued to make the tapes as a penance for an earlier argument.
Both Heaps and Robertson portray the warring brothers very well, the latter giving the subtlest of hints through looks and shrugs that hint at the dark turmoil beneath the surface. The banter is good too, the cheekier Andy besting his more cerebral brother with a “whatever” attitude that always has the right answer. The play ends on a heart-rending note as Luke realises too late just how little he knows the boy he has shared a room with all his life, a feeling I’m sure most brothers will recognise.
I think I would have liked more of a sense of the hinterland that lies outside the room – just why is it so important that this takes place in Thatcher’s Britain isn’t all that clear, and I would have liked to have heard the mother’s voice as she seems to drive the drama – but writer Barney Norris (a charming young guy who I chat to before the show) has an obvious talent for capturing the dynamic of an intimate two-hander.