Thursday, December 20, 2007

'Go Marko Go!' by The Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar

20 December 2007

I've been listening this week to the new Boban Markovic album 'Go Marko Go!' (now credited to The Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar): while there are a couple of tracks I'm not sure I would have included there are several tunes that bowl me over every time - the tremendously funky 'Latin cocek', the slightly cheesy ballad 'Cig (Avalanche)' and the frenetic and amazingly exciting 'Dzumbus Funk' - wow!

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Monday, December 17, 2007

'Clare in the Community' (Series 4) by Harry Venning and David Ramsden

17 December 2007

We headed into London last Friday for our first visit to the BBC Radio Theatre in the basement of Broadcasting House. We were there to see the recording of two shows for the new series of 'Clare in the Community' by Harry Venning and David Ramsden (previously reviewed here in January 2007). It was great - still one of the best things on Radio 4. It always impresses me how slick radio actors are - recording a half-hour show in a single take then only needing a few small re-takes to amend minor slips. It was wonderful to see Sally Phillips whose facial expressions are just as funny on radio! And it was fascinating to watch those actors playing multiple parts - sometimes within the same scene. It is interesting how low-tech radio drama still is - all the actors clustered around a single microphone clutching their scripts - the technique hasn't really changed in the past fifty years. The new series of 'Clare in the Community' goes out on Radio 4 on Wednesday mornings at 11.30 am starting on 16 January.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

11 December 2007

This year's Northampton Symphony Orchestra 'Christmas Cracker' concert last Sunday had a teddy bear theme - featuring 'The Teddy Bear's Picnic', 'The Tame Bear' and 'The Wild Bears' from Elgar's 'Wand of Youth' and the narrated piece 'Paddington Bear's First Concert' by Herbert Chappell. The stage was festooned with teddy bears of all shapes and sizes and, when trumpeter Nick Bunker made his traditional fancy dress entrance at the beginning of the second half, he was inevitably disguised by a full bear costume - looking remarkably like he had just won the Turner Prize! Carols, film music ('E.T.'), mulled wine and mince pies and Leroy Anderson's 'Sleigh Ride' left us in no doubt that Christmas is definitely on its way.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

'The Three Musketeers' by Mike Ames & Steve Allen

10 December 2007

Barry has been painting the outside of our house and when he told me he was a regular pantomime dame my first reaction was to say "oh no you're not!". But it turns out that Barry is a leading member of the Tread the Boards Theatre Group in Milton Keynes so last Saturday we were at the Madcap Theatre in Wolverton to see this year's pantomime. In a move that would please Mark Pemberton, Tread the Boards had avoided the usual suspects in favour of a new adaptation of 'The Three Musketeers' by Mike Ames and Steve Allen. Rather a loose adaptation it has to be said - incorporating 'The Man in the Iron Mask', 'Phantom of the Opera' and 'Cyrano de Bergerac'. The musketeers (motto: "All for one and every man for himself") were obviously played by women. Barry was not playing the dame this year, instead doubling at the King of France and the front half of a great pantomime horse. The plot was perhaps a little ambitious for some of the younger members of the audience: I'm not sure they really followed the finer points of French politics though, by the end, they had certainly latched onto the need to boo Cardinal Richelieu vociferously. The quality of acting and singing was naturally a bit mixed but there was a great show-stealing performance from Ian Nutt as the Queen of France and some fine mugging from Sally Hulme as D'Artagnan. And as one of the villains was skewered by a sword in the final scenes she fell to the floor shouting "save me a part for next year!".


Thursday, December 06, 2007

'Segu Blue' by Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba

6 December 2007

For many people ‘world music’ really means West African music. The prominence of international superstars Youssou N'Dour and Baaba Maal has focused the attention of world music promoters and media on a small number of West African countries. But for me much of the most feted of this music sounds too like familiar American or European pop with a slight African tinge. I do have a soft spot for the retro fusion of the great big bands of the 1970s: the Rail Band of Mali, Bembeya Jazz of Guinea and, particularly, Orchestra Baobab of Senegal whose reunion album of 2002 ‘Specialist in All Styles’ first turned me on to the world music scene. Their Cuban/African sound is always infectiously danceable and I have fond memories of seeing them at the Derngate in Northampton in 2002. But my favourite West African artists are those who use traditional instruments and styles to create distinctively modern, serious and beautiful music. I particularly like the Wassalou music from Mali as sung by the clear strong voice of Oumou Sangaré or the more breathy vocals of Rokia Traoré. Rokia Traoré’s 2003 album ‘Bowmboi’ is a much played favourite of mine – a series of intensely rhythmic, sparsely decorated songs featuring the twang of the ngoni and the mellow xylophone sound of the balafon (and including two amazing tracks with the Kronos string quartet). As with much African music it makes much more sense when you dance to it: I saw Rokia Traoré at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2003 and every song lasted about 6 times longer than the recorded versions as she repeatedly lost herself in her joyously exuberant dancing. Many of the best CDs of traditional Malian music in recent years (including albums by Toumani Diabate and Ali Farka Toure) have featured the virtuoso ngoni playing of Bassekou Kouyate. The ngoni is a small guitar-like instrument that looks like a rough hewn wooden cricket bat with a few strings strung along its length and creates a quiet, deadened twang. Bassekou Kouyate comes from the hereditary griot tradition and is the outstanding ngoni player of our time. I have been listening this week to his own CD ‘Segu Blue’ (with his band Ngoni Ba) which is definitely one of my albums of the year. I saw him perform at this year’s Womad Festival and he was captivating. This music is quite unlike anything else and takes some listening (and dancing) to really appreciate – but that, of course, is an essential part of it’s appeal.

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