Saturday, 21 November 2015

DAME JUDI DENCH'S BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

I can take or leave Branagh, but there was no way to avoid him at the Garrick last night. 'The Winter's Tale' is his own theatre company's adaptation of this exquisite and so often-overlooked Shakespeare play.
It's nothing personal. Old Ken may well be a decent bloke. In there, somewhere. It's his over-eggedness, his histrionics and his superiority complex that I can do without. Nor do I care for him gagging, spitting and dribbling all over the stage - what if someone slipped in it? That might be just me.
There are compensations. Dame Judi Dench in absolutely anything is a gift. I confess to a special fondness for this quintessential Shakespeare veteran, who first played Ophelia in Hamlet at the Old Vic fifty eight years ago, and who has since won an Oscar, ten BAFTAS, a record six Laurence Olivier awards, an OBE, a DBE and a Companion of Honour. She is also a thoroughly humble, human and compassionate being. Of this, I have first-hand proof. In April 2006, less than a month after my marriage collapsed and I was in a tremulous state, I drove my eldest daughter to the Haymarket Theatre to see Judi in Noel Coward's 'Hay Fever'. We were late, it was raining, I couldn't find the tiniest corner in which to park. In the end I threw the firstborn out of the car into the bus lane outside the theatre, hurled a ticket at her, and told her I would join her in the interval. I chucked a left, only to see a little yellow Porsche Spyder pulling out of a biscuit-sized space. It was mine, all mine. In I backed, at too sharp an angle, crunching the back near-side bumper of the Roller in front. Distracted, beside myself, not quite all there, I did something I would never otherwise do: I legged it, without leaving even a note.
We returned to the scene of the crime about three hours later, only to find a gorilla sitting on the boot of the Rolls, awaiting us. Turned out he was Dame Judi's driver. The Rolls Royce was her car. I explained the circumstances, and offered to pay. 'You'll be hearing from her lawyers,' he roared. Several written exchanges later, a charming missive from the Dame herself, and a 'compromise' cheque from me, not for the damage (thousands) but two hundred quid for 'polishing', and I was off the hook. I have worshipped the ground she rolls on ever since.
She brings dignity, gravitas and magic to this challenging play - the story of a king who loses his grip when he falls prey to the ultimate destructive force, male sexual jealousy. No longer able to distinguish between reality and delusion, he destroys the things he holds most dear. Shakespeare was approaching the end of his career and his life when he wrote it. The piece is consequently a confounding blend of psycho-trauma and sweet nostalgia, of tragedy and comedy. All's well that ends well, kinda sorta. In order to feel that, one must suspend disbelief. It's something I've found I am rather good at.
Freddie Mercury adored this play. He appeared in it at school, St.Peter's in Panchgani, India. An unusual choice for an all-teenage cast, it must be said, but the experience remained with him all his life. We talked about it. I was reminded of the conversation four years after his death, when Queen's fifteenth studio album, 'Made in Heaven', was released. Largely a Requiem to and a showcase for the diva in Freddie, the album features a haunting track entitled 'A Winter's Tale'. This was Freddie's swansong, which he wrote and composed at his Montreux apartment overlooking the Swiss lake he so loved. The lyrics, describing what he could see from his window, celebrate the peace and contentment that he found there towards the end. The song's title casts him back to the Shakespeare play he performed in as a boy, and appears to be an homage to the old romance. A major character in the play is Polixenes, the King of Bohemia - an ancient kingdom corresponding roughly to today's Czech Republic. If, as scholars believe, this play was an allegory on the demise of Anne Boleyn, its long-lost Princess Perdita character was based on the daughter of Anne and King Henry VIII, who would grow up to become Elizabeth I, England's Queen ...
Queen's magnum opus was, is, will always be, 'Bohemian Rhapsody'.
See what he did there. Clever Freddie.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

THE LAST GIG? COME UP AND SEE ME


What are the stand-outs?
Bowie at Madison Square Garden, Serious Moonlight tour, 1983.
I interviewed David in his dressing room, pre-show – he always preferred to do the chats early, get them over with – and we had dinner together afterwards. I was invited back out to the last gig on that tour, at the Hong Kong Coliseum in Hung Hom. The show coincided with the third anniversary of John Lennon’s death. David and Slick were thinking of playing ‘Across the Universe’ as a tribute, but then David said, if we’re going to do it at all, we should probably do ‘Imagine’. They rehearsed the song in Bangkok and performed it in Kowloon. It was from heaven.
The Who revisiting ‘Tommy’ at the Universal Amphitheater LA, 1989, one of my last before I came off the road full-time. A charity gig, unforgettable. Elton, Steve Winwood, Phil Collins, Billy Idol and the rest performed with Pete, Roger and John. They’d just parted company with Kenney Jones after a decade, sadly, so Simon Phillips was on drums. The after-show was a train wreck, we lost three days.
The Stones, 1982, for Tattoo You, an extension of their massive arena tour across America the previous year. The tour on which Keith whacked a fan. Hampton Coliseum Virginia, December 1981. A guy leapt out of nowhere and came charging across the stage towards Mick during ‘Satisfaction’ – God knows where security were. Keith walloped him with his black Fender Telecaster and carried on playing as the guards woke up and manhandled the guy off. The guitar stayed in tune!
Live Aid, of course. July 1985. Queen stole it. Who remembers much else about that day? We remember Bowie, all cool in his powder-blue suit. The sound going down on The Who. Phil Collins catching the Concorde to perform at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, right after Wembley. Paul McCartney playing live for the first time since John died, and his piano mic going down at the start, and Geldof, Bowie, Pete Townshend and Alison Moyet singing back-up on ‘Let It Be’. Madonna’s gravity-defying antics, le Bon’s bum note of all time, on ‘A View To a Kill’. But it was Freddie and Queen who owned Live Aid.
I saw Prince play an impromptu gig at the Kensington Roof Gardens, I can’t remember what year, but is was unforgettable. Saw INXS the first time at the Montreux Rock Festival in 1986, and couldn’t take my eyes off Michael Hutchence. Ten sex symbols for the price of one in a white jeans jacket and smudgy strides. So much of the Jagger about him even then; even the hands were hypnotic.
Women? Tiny Pat Benatar. Tina. Whitney. Dolly. Debbie. My favourite Blondie show was Hammersmith Odeon, January 1980; all the girls fell for Debs that night. ‘One Way or Another’, who could forget.
I have sometimes caught myself wondering: what will be the last gig I ever attend, and will I know it's the last one, or be simply oblivious? I came close to knowing last night, I think, at the Indigo O2, where Steve Harley reunited with his old partners in crime: sublime guitarist Jim Cregan (Rod Stewart), Stuart Elliot (Kate Bush, Macca, Al Stewart) and Duncan Mackay (10CC), playing together for the first time since 1976. Long-serving Cockney Rebeller Barry Wickens was there, of course, on violin and guitar. Austrian twins Mona and Lisa Wagner, YES their real names, lent fantastic second guitar, percussion and backing vocals. They performed the entire 'Best Years of Our Lives' album plus a selection of greats - 'Sebastian', and 'the pension fund': 'Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)', which Steve promised years ago to perform at my funeral. Every time I see him, he asks me if I've got a date. Who knows, maybe I have, I just don't know it yet. After Jim Diamond, anything can happen.
How fab, Julie Driscoll, Rod Stewart and his wife Penny in the audience. Rod's acclaimed new album 'Another Country' features a song penned by Steve and Jim in 2001. 'A Friend for Life' is the one that's going to haunt me for the rest of the century. Said Rod, 'I dropped one of my own songs off the album so that I could include this one. I've always wanted to record it. Steve's over the moon about it. He needed a new roof for his house.'
A whole lotta love in that place last night. Maybe it sounds trite, but who cares. It was as musical as it gets. I was reminded what a proud, creative, sensational musician Steve is. What a deeply probing lyricist. What a good geezer. Underrated for most of his life, but it don't bother him none. He has everything he needs. 
The last gig? Who knows. Who can ever know. But if that was it, I'll have no complaints. Come up and see me.