Category Archives: Reviews

2020 ➤ Hockney’s drawings lay bare the artist’s soul in the shifting sands of time

David Hockney, Drawing from Life, National Portrait Gallery, Reviews,

Fashion designer Celia Birtwell: drawn in crayon by Hockney in Hollywood, 1984 (detail)

◼ TWO OF OUR LEADING newspaper art critics have blown hot and cold over the new exhibition of David Hockney’s portraits titled Drawing From Life at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones awarded it five stars, raving in the most civilised way about the artist’s skill as a “graphic master” in this “the most dazzling display of his art I have ever seen”. Some praise!

However, the Times headlined its two-star review “Hockney gets hackneyed” while critic Rachel Campbell-Johnston complained that the show is repetitive: “less a fresh look at an innovative talent than a restricted rehash of what was just a small part of other previous shows”.

After two hours examining the 150 portraits large and small, many of them familiar images spanning six decades, I confess to having a foot in both camps. From the outset as a schoolboy Hockney’s eye for a spare line portraying fine detail was breathtakingly meticulous and, if you accept that capturing the eyes is the secret to any portrait, you will be thrilled to your imaginative roots by studying these 150 pairs of eyes up close! It’s a time-worn truism to say that you must visit an art gallery in the flesh because viewing reproductions in print or online can never do justice to an original painting or drawing. Here up close to Hockney’s strokes, in pencil, pastel, charcoal or etching, they are so evidently masterly, whether hair-fine or gesturally bold. The length of some lines is prodigious and intriguing to follow.

But yes, by the time I reached the final two rooms I’d already had enough, a mood that was visibly expressed there on the faces of the three friends who’d modelled for the great man for ever and again: onetime boyfriend Gregory Evans, designer Celia Birtwell and printer Maurice Payne. Hockney’s most recent frank portrayals of this visibly timeworn trio were not remotely flattering and they leave you wondering to what extent those forbearing friendships have been tested! Celia even told the Guardian her new chubby portrayal was “horrible” though conceding, “That’s life: One gets old”.

Click any pic below to enlarge all in a slideshow

David Hockney, Drawing from Life, National Portrait Gallery, Reviews,

The final gallery in Drawing From Life: the most recent and frank portraits of Celia, Maurice & Co.

In her Times review, Rachel C-J was essentially dumping on the predictable curation of this NPG show and especially the “lacklustre finale” that had required Hockney to redraw each of his subjects during 2019. She readily acknowledges his master draughtsmanship and his preoccupation with eroding distance “so that we can all come closer together”. Intimacy and mood are the keynotes to portraying his friends and RCJ happily recognises the portraits of his mother too as “magically intimate, subtle and tender”.

Much of this goes for his expressive self-portraits, some of which we view on vertical video screens which animate their progress as iPad drawings and always prove mesmerising. Many of the self-portraits are intense, starting with a precocious clutch executed in his late teens. Jonathan Jones makes much of Hockney’s learning curve: “What makes this exhibition so staggering is the picture it builds of a man who has never stopped learning”, ever since Picasso’s work imparted to him the essence of simplicity. And of staying alive to the world around us. Do go. There’s always pleasure to be had from the detail in a Hockney.

David Hockney, Drawing from Life, National Portrait Gallery, Reviews,

Old friends reunited at the National Portrait Gallery last week: Maurice Payne, Celia Birtwell, David Hockney and Gregory Evans. (Photo: David Parry)

➢ Hockney: Drawing From Life runs 27 February to 28 June 2020 at the National Portrait Gallery, before it closes for refurbishment

➢ The David Hockney Foundation archive

➢ Elsewhere at Shapers of the 80s:
1983, Britain’s favourite painter discovers a truer
way of seeing, with help from Proust

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➤ Stoppard’s superlative new play is a tearjerker echoing his own roots

Theatre, reviews, history, 20th century, London, Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard, Patrick Marber,

Iconic poster for Leopoldstadt the play: a 19th-century grandchild learns the new mathematics by playing with a cat’s cradle, emblem of cross-generational connections. (Photography Seamus Ryan; design Bob King Creative)

TOM STOPPARD’S MOST PERSONAL PLAY YET opened this week in London and detonated a mighty thunderclap of profound drama. I was not alone with tears streaming down my face when the curtain fell at Wyndham’s Theatre and many of us sat in our seats stunned. Heavens, even our greatest living playwright himself admits he has sat sobbing in the stalls during previews, as he did while writing the final scenes. “Nothing I have written has had that effect on me,” Stoppard told Radio 4’s Front Row on Tuesday about the play that proves more heart-wrenching than any of his previous 30.

Theatre, reviews, history, London, Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard, Patrick Marber,

Another gifted collaboration: Marber and Stoppard in rehearsal

Though named after Leopoldstadt, the poor Jewish district of Vienna, the play is set on the posh side of town. It is monumental in scale and epic in emotion. Its ensemble of 40 accomplished actors headed by Adrian Scarborough, Faye Castelow, Caroline Gruber and Ed Stoppard (yes, son) explore the traditions and fortunes of an extended cosmopolitan family through the first five decades of 20th-century history, made flesh with more harrowing detail and revealing dialogue than most of us could imagine or would want to when the jackboot of the Third Reich arrives. While a clock ticks loudly.

Untypically for Stoppard we hear less of his usual glittering wit and fewer laughs, while those that spasmodically do surface reflect Vienna’s intellectual achievements in art, maths, music and Dr Freud’s new-fangled psychoanalysis.

A glimpse of wit from the play: “Today’s modern is tomorrow’s nostalgia: we missed Mahler when we heard Schoenberg”

The bedrock is memory. Questions are raised about identity and heritage in a city and an era when Jews and Catholics happily inter-marry. Director Patrick Marber illuminates the interwoven branches of family trees as deftly as he did with the preposterous though mostly real life stories of Lenin, Joyce and Tzara that made his 2016 revival of Stoppard’s Travesties its wittiest production yet.

Theatre, reviews, history, 20th century, London, Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard, Patrick Marber,

Leopoldstadt the play: Jewish and Catholic families celebrate Christmas in the Vienna of 1899

Leopoldstadt is the nearest thing to tragedy written by the 82-year-old playwright. It also features himself in the character Leo who is aged 24 in the final scene set in 1955, a caricature of English privilege who has grown up in Britain, having arrived at age eight, as Stoppard did, after being whisked away from the Nazis in Czechoslovakia where he had been born Tomas Straussler. His four grandparents all died in concentration camps, though Stoppard only discovered his Jewish heritage relatively late in life owing to his mother’s reluctance to revisit the past.

The play has been years in gestation and might possibly be Stoppard’s last. For its eloquence, prescience, intimacy and empathy, it will stand as a gloriously moving testament to his humanity.

➢ Leopoldstadt runs at the Wyndham’s theatre, London, until 13 June

➢ John Wilson interviews Stoppard for Radio 4’s Front Row, 11 Feb

Theatre, reviews, history, 20th century, London, Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard,

At the premiere of Leopoldstadt: Sir Tom Stoppard and wife, Sabrina Guinness

REVIEWS THE MORNING AFTER

➢ Director Patrick Marber has knitted Tom Stoppard’s putative swan song into a compelling whole – reviewed at Theartsdesk

➢ Stoppard’s family portrait is an elegiac epic – reviewed in The Guardian

➢ Stoppard’s new masterwork is an early contender for play of the year – reviewed in the Evening Standard

➢ Raising the emotional voltage, the dramatist puts a version of himself on stage – reviewed in The Observer

➢ Stoppard delivers an unforgettable play from the heart – reviewed in the Telegraph

➢ Stoppard’s supremely moving new play – reviewed in The Stage

➢ A master playwright finds urgent lessons for the present in the past of a Viennese family – reviewed in the New York Times

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➤ Starman given new life by David McAlmont in concert

 david bowie, David McAlmont, Hideaway, Janette Mason, Sam Obernik, Wall-to-Wall-Bowie, live concert, jazz, review, Andy Polaris,

David McAlmont (centre) live at Hideaway: pictured with Simon Little on bass, vocalist Sam Obernik and Emlyn Francis on guitar


❏ Former singer Andy Polaris joins an annual celebration of David Bowie’s music at Streatham’s Hideaway wine-and-dine venue in south London. Here’s an excerpt from his review at his website apolarisview . . .

We were told Wall to Wall Bowie was a celebration, not a wake, as vocalist and songwriter David McAlmont unleashed a varied selection from Bowie’s back catalogue with an accomplished backing band. Dressed almost low-key in dark shirt and trousers, he opened with Watch That Man and immediately we realised these would be interpretations, not pure Xerox copies, and all the better for it.

Suffragette City followed, then Sweet Thing, one of the first stand-outs of the night from Diamond Dogs, elegantly capturing this favourite moody gem, stripped back to reveal the solemn beauty of the lyrics. Starman dazzled despite McAlmont’s irritation at suffering from a cold. Partner in crime Sam Obernik poured herself into a leopard print rubber dress and joined him for vocal duties on theatrical renditions of Changes and Life on Mars. The jaunty duet of Let’s Dance and an almost louche Turkish-infused lilt to The Man Who Sold The World made me imagine them as the house band for David Lynch’s Twin Peaks…/ Continued at apolarisview

➢ A Wall to Wall Bowie five-track EP featuring McAlmont and Obernik is available via musical director Janette Mason’s shop

BLACKSTAR LIVE AT HIDEAWAY IN 2016

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➤ Singer Tony Hadley wins royal gong for his services to charity

Tony Hadley, TH Band, pop music, Spandau Ballet, New Year Honour, MBE, singer

Tony Hadley MBE, still on-stage at 59 and proud of his work ethic

◼ THE POP SINGER TONY HADLEY, who came to fame fronting Spandau Ballet in the 1980s, has been appointed an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2020 New Year honours list. The annual awards recognise the outstanding achievements of individuals across the UK population and two other pop stars named included activist Sir Elton John who was made a Companion of Honour (CH) for services over five decades to music and to charity. The singer and actress Olivia Newton-John was raised from OBE to DBE (Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for services to charity, to cancer research and to entertainment.

Big Tone, aka Anthony Patrick Hadley, was honoured for charitable services to Shooting Star Chase Children’s Hospice Care, which provides palliative care to families with children who are not expected to reach the age of 19 because of illness, genetic conditions or incurable disease.

Trust executive vice-president Karen Sugarman tweeted this week: “I cannot be more thrilled or proud that at last @TheTonyHadley has been recognised in the Queen’s #NewYearHonours for his charitable work. We were privileged to nominate him @SSChospices for his work as Vice-President. Congratulations Tony on your MBE from us all.”

In 2017 Hadley tweeted that, due to circumstances beyond his control, he was no longer a member of Spandau Ballet. Having met during their teens at Dame Alice Owen’s grammar school in North London, the band first split in 1990 and worked together during two year-long reunions in 2009 and 2014. At the age of 59, he is the first among them to be honoured with an award from the sovereign.

Great Yorkshire Brewery, Tony Hadley, Gold, lager, pop singer,

Tony Hadley in 2014: developing a lager called Gold with the Great Yorkshire Brewery

Tony’s father, Patrick Hadley, worked as an electrical engineer for the Daily Mail, and his mother, Josephine, worked for the local health authority. He is proud of his work ethic, which he says was instilled into him from a young age by his parents. In 2011 he said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph: “Since leaving school I’ve never been unemployed or claimed benefits. My Spandau days didn’t make me rich, or as well-off as people might think. What I was earning went towards buying a lovely family home in Muswell Hill and bringing up my three children. In fact, 2008 was my best-ever earning year. At that point we were doing in excess of 220 shows a year.”

Of the 1999 dispute with Spandau’s Gary Kemp, which resulted in Hadley, John Keeble and Steven Norman suing for royalties, he said: “Spending 23 days in the High Court was a strain and an expensive way to learn about the law. It cost me hundreds of thousands.”

Later, in 2006 Hadley became a co-owner of the Red Rat Craft Brewery which produced Hadley’s Blonde. The business closed in 2013, after which he became associated with The Great Yorkshire Brewery, which issued a lager called Gold and a pale ale called Moonstone IPA. This association has since ended.

These days Tony is a regular live performer with his own line-up, the TH Band who in 2018 gave a superlative performance at the London Palladium. Shapersofthe80s reported: “His evident pleasure on-stage paid tribute to the songs written for his rich baritone voice and which fit him like favourite gloves. We heard familiar Spandau classics fizzing with new energy and melodic detail – numbers such as Chant No 1 and Only When You Leave moved along at a pace. Equally impressive was the other half of his set-list which showcased his own consummate solo album Talking to the Moon and other covers.”

Tony Hadley, pop music, TH Band, London Palladium, Talking to the Moon, UK tour,

Tony Hadley and his band: making magic at the London Palladium, October 2018

➢ 2020, Hadley’s busy New Year kicks off with February
dates in the Far East and Australia

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
2018, Hadley v Spandau – Whose superb band is paying
tribute to the other?

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
2017, Tony Hadley pulls the plug on Spandau Ballet

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➤ After his Spandau ordeal, singer Ross shakes off the blues

◼ EX-SPANDAU BALLET VOCALIST Ross William Wild seems to be finally feeling the warmth of the summer sun after weeks of black despair. Without being told his position, it became evident that he had been dumped by the band who recruited him to replace Tony Hadley a year ago. Provoked first by Spandau’s silence and then by an insulting media interview from songwriter Gary Kemp, Ross found a new band and in May announced he was quitting Spandau. Bass player Martin Kemp was next to insult him in a rambling TV interview that made no mention of Ross’s position.

On 28 May Ross told Shapers of the 80s: “I’d put my whole life on hold and was sick of waiting around for them to make up their minds. I told the boys I was quitting and then never heard back from them.”

Suddenly this month Ross has revealed how this tough emotional saga was taking its toll on him. He wrote on Facebook:

“This year has not been an easy one. Last year I was on top of the world and then this year the medical powers that be stuck me on everybody’s favourite mental tourniquet, antidepressants. After quitting Spandau I never even had the time to tell anybody before others were told to get on TV and do some damage control, which made me look like a dick and in turn f***ed me up mentally.

Francesco Lucidi, Emanuele Nazzaro, Fabio Staffieri , Ross William Wild, Dingwalls, Camden Rocks Fest, reviews, grunge, Rock music,

Mercutio at Dingwalls: Ross centre-stage in his second live gig with the metal band

“But things are looking up. Great concert in the West End coming up, couple of international gigs, a green energy company that’s really taking off (more news to come on that soon). And best of all, I’m going on tour with my band Mercutio. We’re really just starting out and I can’t wait to see what our future holds, but mainly, I’m going to enjoy the ride and be present, and get off these goddamn pills.”

His “metal with melody” band Mercutio has played a couple of riff-driven London gigs and released a video for their first single pointedly titled Where the Pain Lives, directed by contemporary dance choreographer Eleesha Drennan. Ross says: “The song is an epiphany. A realisation that some of our best ideas and most creative thinking come from our darkest and most painful places. Where the Pain Lives is an acceptance of this fact.”

Mercutio comprises Fabio Staffieri on guitar, Emanuele Nazzaro on bass and Francesco Lucidi on drums. Their stated aim is to bring mainstream rock music back to the forefront of people’s musical consciousness with a bang. From 28 October they will be supporting Inglorious (“a young Deep Purple”) on four UK dates, and another in Milan.

Ross’s West End event next week stars Jodie Steele (Heathers, Wicked, Rock of Ages) as Daisy Buchanan and Ross as Jay Gatsby, among a cast of eight in three concert performances of a musical take on Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age novel The Great Gatsby.

➢ Gatsby the Musical plays in concert at Crazy Coqs in London W1, 27-29 August. Box office 020 7734 4888 and online

➢ Mercutio support Inglorious at Oxford, Cardiff, Exeter, Brighton, 28 Oct-1 Nov, then 5 Nov in Milan

➢ On 18 Oct Mercutio play at 93 Feet East, Brick Lane E1 6QL

Gatsby the Musical, Crazy Coqs, London, brasserie zedel, Jodie Steele, Ross William Wild,

❏ 30 AUGUST UPDATE VERDICT: As Jay Gatsby, Ross William Wild’s own big numbers were superb, especially The Moon That Never Rose, also Escape the Heat and Broken Wings Broken Dreams with Jodie Steele as Daisy Buchanan confronting her fabled carelessness. Musically Gatsby the Musical proved very promising with Edward Court providing a sensitive accompaniment on piano. The show boasted spirited Jazz Age tunes by Joe Evans, though often touchingly melancholy in keeping with the elusive storyline by Linnie Reedman, plus engaging lyrics, as with I Bet He Killed a Man. Sadly staging concert performances always puts an unnatural strain on the actors so let’s hope the serious shortcomings of the tiny and cramped Crazy Coqs (with a super-loud wall clock ticking throughout quieter scenes!) won’t inhibit this show’s development.

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: New vocalist Ross rocks Spandau by announcing his new band Mercutio

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Another Spandau bombshell – Kemp Brothers drive out Ross their ‘perfect’ new singer

Steve Norman, Ross William Wild, Pop-Helden-Festival, Berlin, pop music

1 Sept update: Ross and Spandau’s saxophonist Steve Norman rehearsing in London today for their appearance together at next Saturday’s Pop-Helden-Festival of 80s Pioneers in Berlin, along with Marc Almond, Paul Young, Wet Wet Wet and Howard Jones

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