This was my second year at the National Association of Writers in Education conference, and it was again a thoroughly worthwhile experience. Workshops were varied and inspiring, and the venue was excellent. A great networking event, I’ve yet to meet anyone I didn’t immediately like.
NAWE is headed by the tireless Paul Munden, and offers a range of fantastic services every writer should be aware of. Find them at http://www.nawe.co.uk/metadot/index.pl?id=2383 .
Stuck in a strange town on a Friday night, what better than tracking down a long-legged, sexy-as-hell soul diva to spend the evening with?
A couple of years ago, I had a ticket to see Beverley Knight at Glasgow’s ABC, an up-close-and-personal venue where the sweat condenses on the ceiling and drips into your beer, which many gig-goers would reckon are ideal conditions. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go, though I can’t remember why. So, at my second conference in three days and full to the brim of academic talk, I decided to make up for that missed opportunity.
Annoyingly, though, the venue couldn’t be worse. It has all the charm of a Soviet Bloc warehouse used to store obsolete biochemical weapons. The effect is compounded by the loftiness of the stage which gives the impression, even only a dozen rows back, that you’re watching someone as distant as Stalin at a May Day parade.
As a result, what should be – and I’m sure is – a tightly knit professional funk band sounds bloated and echoey, which doesn’t do Knight’s belting delivery any favours. The rock numbers (I’ve always liked “Come as You Are”) fare a little better. There’s also a weakness in the repertoire and some mawkish X-factor type moments that add up to a disappointing evening.
Of course, there are compensations. The band, I’m sure, would be fantastic if we could hear them properly, and Knight is a truly great vocalist who has bags of energy and works the crowd like a trooper. She is also astonishingly gorgeous, and slickly changes outfits that become progressively shorter, revealing more and more of those truly perfect pins: I don’t know how tall she is – five-eight? – but her legs are easily six-foot seven.
But, lovely as she is to look at, I’m here for the voice, and the hall doesn’t do it justice. Am I prepared to give her a second chance in a more intimate venue like the ABC? Probably. I’ll just take an umberella for the beer.
Kwame Kwei-Armah’s new play is showing at the Tricycle as part of its “Not Black and White” season. A satire about the choices made by a potential black mayoral candidate for London, the script is erudite and taut, particularly in the second act, and the performances first rate. Star plaudits go to Aml Ammen as Lavelle, a street thug with 11 a-grade GCSEs, a powerful radar for the politics of race and a screamingly obvious humanity. The celebrity candidate, Jeremy, is played with oodles of charm and winning naivety by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, but he makes the right choices in the face of pressure from Karl Collins’ venal kingmaker Howard Jones (not the 80s pop star, one of the characters points out). There are nice touches in the relationships between characters, particularly in the contrast between Jeremy’s sad, broken relationship with his wife Alice (Amelia Lowdell) and his testosterone-fueled affair with Susan (Sharon Duncan-Brewster), the girl who, bucking the trend in politics, really does turn out to be the love of his life.
Slickly directed by the author, the play, for all the humble venue and the lack of truly star names, is a hugely rewarding experience, and unravels black politics for an audience of whatever colour in a way that is effortlessly unpatronising.