Category Archives: Reviews

2017 ➤ His name is Prince and his London tribute is downright spunky

Prince Rogers Nelson, exhibition, The O2, London, music videos, My Name Is Prince, pop music,costumes, guitars

Prince exhibition: chain-hat to conceal his identity in The New Power Generation and lyrics for We Want 2 Let the Funk Unwind (Getty)

Hold your breath! An exhibition that could so easily have been a lightweight commercial ripoff about the myth of Prince Rogers Nelson proves to be a surprisingly affecting tribute. Scores of artefacts have been loaned out for the first time direct from Paisley Park, Prince’s lush Minnesota estate, in a dazzling rush of bling and sentiment for My Name is Prince, his official exhibition which runs in London for the next ten weeks.

It seems a strange idea to visit seven galleries packed with video screens and to stand clad in earphones watching them play out the most vibrant highlights from the American pop icon’s uniquely anarchic imagination. Yet the very impact of so many screens disseminating so much talent only magnifies the intensity of the moment.

This one-man band’s genius is all too evident in every direction you look. In turns, you’re gasping at the audacity of Dirty Mind, smiling at the ingenuity of Sign ‘o’ the Times and shedding tears of envy for his sheer virtuosity in While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

Above all, the entire immersive experience is very, very lovesexy. The attention Prince lavished on his many lubricious costumes is revealing: so many apparently plush brocade garments are woven on light see-through black mesh that reveal the sinewy muscles of his tiny but taut 5ft frame within.

Prince the dandy also took any opportunity to shed his garments and flash his intimate zones, including his bare buttocks in orgiastic videos such as Gett Off, shot amid scantily clad girls and boys (“23 positions in a one-night stand”) at the 1991 MTV awards. Indeed one of the exhibition’s biggest draws is the video for Thieves in the Temple, from the 1990 Graffiti Bridge album, in which cutaway jeans reveal his bum and thighs and bouncing crotch capped with a glittering gold lamé jockstrap, in some of the most frenetic team dancing ever in high heels. The choreography is shamelessly horny.

The sheer range of Prince’s musical gifts during a 40-year career is well recognised – 70 albums, 2,000? songs, an Oscar, a Golden Globe, eight Grammies, 100 million records sold, and a ranking at No 28 among Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. But to assemble in a three-dimensional venue 200 tangible examples of his workaholic creativity as an all-round showman results in an affectionate multi-media tribute. For us to devour the close-up detail in his guitars, his hand-written notes and drawings, and his jewelled accessories becomes a truly moving privilege. And for a fan, the power of his achievements is reaffirmed as you bask in his subversive glow.

➢ The official exhibition My Name Is Prince runs from October 27 until January 7, 2018 at London’s O2

Prince Rogers Nelson, exhibition, The O2, London, music videos, My Name Is Prince, pop music,costumes, guitars

Prince exhibition: stage costumes from his Purple Rain tour (Getty)

Prince Rogers Nelson, exhibition, The O2, London, music videos, My Name Is Prince, pop music,costumes, guitars

Prince exhibition: bass guitar that inspired his trademark Cloud and diamond-studded cane from 2015

PRINCE’S PURPLE REIGN STILL EXERTS
ITS PULLING POWER

London’s Eighties pop star Andy Polaris visits the Prince exhibition to assess the enduring impact of the black performer who in his day challenged the norms of sexuality and race. . .

➢ Visit Andy’s own website Apolarisview for his full review
– here’s a brief taster:

The first time Prince triggered my radar was a review in the music press of his concert at the Lyceum in London 1981, part of his Dirty Mind tour. He was featured in the accompanying review wearing a trench coat covering a lithe brown body and wearing black briefs and leggings, topped by his mop of black hair and pretty face. I was miffed to have missed his only show but before the internet niche events could slip by easily without social media to flag them up.

It was obvious from the start that this was a black artist who, despite the flamboyance of disco/funk stage-wear and album covers, was taking it a little bit extra with some sexual ambiguity. The lyrics of the funky album track Controversy (a bass-driven early dance-floor favourite) set the tone:

I just can’t believe all the things people say
Controversy
Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay?
Controversy

I was fascinated to see the parade of Prince’s petite outfits complete with matching coloured heeled boots that covered Purple Rain, his purple metallic frock coat through to a crystal-encrusted cane and Balmain waistcoat he wore for W magazine. The materials are colourful, sheer and shimmering and in some cases boldly designed. He wasn’t interested in the toxic masculinity that permeates so many black artistes, one of the reasons he flew the freak flag for those who were not interested in paying £50 to see artists dressed in denim and T-shirts. . . / Continued at Andy’s own website


➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s – Prince RIP: ‘A funny cat’ and ‘sole authentic genius’ of the 1980s

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➤ How Bowie threaded blue notes through his final surge of creativity

David Bowie, The Last Five Years,TV,video, Sue,

Bowie as a projected image in the video for Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)

“If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel capable of. Go a little bit out of your depth and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting” – David Bowie

THE MOST GRIPPING SEQUENCES in the new TV documentary about Bowie’s final surge of creativity are those which assemble every musician in the bands he worked with from 2012 to the end. Each band re-enacts pivotal moments when they rehearsed the music, inspired by his lyrics, and laid down the tracks for the albums The Next Day and Blackstar. Particularly revealing is the session when pure jazz soloists created the nerve-tingling Sue (Or in a Season of Crime), which Bowie added to his 2014 “best-of” collection, Nothing Has Changed.

To mark the first anniversary of the star’s death, this weekend BBC2 screened David Bowie: The Last Five Years, Francis Whately’s sequel to his other superb documentary Five Years broadcast in 2013. The role of jazz in Bowie’s musical temperament seldom gets discussed, though his producer Tony Visconti says the jazz influence had always been there in the music but underneath the surface. As a small child Bowie heard a jazz band and right away said: “I’m going to learn the saxophone. When I grow up, I’m going to play in [this] band. So I persuaded my dad to get me a kind of a plastic saxophone on hire purchase.”

In 2013 in New York he met Maria Schneider, a jazz composer, handed her a demo disc and asked her to extemporise around a tune called Sue. In turn, she told him he had to listen to this sax player Donny McCaslin and without missing a beat Bowie went straight into the studio with his group and Maria and out came possibly the purest jazz number of his career, a discomfiting tale of infidelity. It won Schneider a Best Arrangement Grammy in 2016.

➢ Watch the Donny McCaslin Group working
on Bowie’s Blackstar

Click any pic below to launch slideshow

REVIEWS OF THE LAST FIVE YEARS TV DOC

➢ A thrilling portrait of a late-life renaissance
– Jasper Rees at the Arts Desk

The opening yielded much joyful footage of Bowie goofing around on the Reality tour (2003), seeming much more like one of the boys than he ever managed with Tin Machine. The band still seemed spooked at the memory of his collapse, before he was carted off to retirement in an ambulance.

Maria Schneider was one of many musicians – three complete bands – who re-formed to walk through the creation of the music. Drummer Zachary Alford still looked shocked at the NDA handed him as he showed up to work on The Next Day. “If I said anything about it,” remembered bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, “I would be in big trouble legally.” Nobody was asked if Bowie really would have sued his collaborators for spilling the beans.

The recent collaborators reflected on the extent to which the new music was steeped in the past. But there was also good stuff from the old lags who worked (and sometimes slept) with Bowie in the feather-cut era: Ideally there would be a DVD with extras featuring much more from each of them. Chief keeper of the flame Tony Visconti sat at a console and played excerpts of Bowie’s unaccompanied vocal takes. On Blackstar came the haunting sound of Bowie wheezing like an ancient mariner fighting for every last scrap of breath. . . / Continued online

➢ A treat and a treatise on music’s departed genius
– by James Hall, Daily Telegraph

The Last Five Years wove previously unheard Bowie interview material with on-screen contributions from collaborators including producer Tony Visconti. The access and insights were faultless. Whately’s programme was essentially a treatise on artistic rebirth. And it showed that although Bowie’s musical style constantly changed, the themes that preoccupied him — alienation, escape, the notion of fame — were there until the end.

During his final creative burst, Bowie gradually revealed to collaborators that he was ill. In the most poignant scene, we learned that Bowie only discovered his cancer was terminal three months before he died. This was in October 2015 when he was filming the video for Lazarus, in which he sings the line “Look up here, I’m in heaven”. Bowie worked and cared and joked until the end. Through tears, Visconti said that he was at ‘the top of his game’. . . / Continued online

➢ David Bowie: What have we learned since his death? Some astounding new Bowie facts
have come to light – via The Guardian

70TH BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE CONCERT IN LONDON

tribute ,concert, David Bowie, Steve Norman, London

Brixton tribute concert for Bowie: Gail Ann Dorsey singing Young Americans with Spandau Ballet’s Steve Norman. (Photo: Getty)

❏ On what would have been Bowie’s 70th birthday his friend the actor Gary Oldman gathered at the Brixton Academy a 30-strong all-star lineup of musicians who had collaborated throughout his career, with some glorious orchestral and choral support. The show is the first in a run of gigs around the world taking place in cities that have a strong connection with Bowie and his work.

The London concert featured Mike Garson, Earl Slick, Adrian Belew, Mark Plati, Gerry Leonard, Sterling Campbell, Zachary Alford, Holly Palmer, Catherine Russell, plus such guests as Tony Hadley and Simon Lebon. Special highlights saw Gail Ann Dorsey singing Young Americans with Spandau’s Steve Norman on sax; and an audience singalong to Life on Mars? led by Adrian Belew and gifted vocals from Tom Chaplin from the band Keane. Plenty of live videos at YouTube.



➢ 10 Jan update: Gary Kemp joins his friend Robert Elms on BBC Radio London to discuss David Bowie, one year on. (Catch up on iPlayer for one month: starts at 13mins)

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s: “I’m not a rock star” Bowie often said – No, David, you were a messiah

➢ 13 Jan: Iggy Pop’s tribute to The Songs of David Bowie on BBC Radio 6 Music and iPlayer for another month

➢ As a confused teenager living in Seventies suburbia, singer Andy Polaris retraces his obsession with Bowie

➢ Commemorating Bowie at the BBC

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➤ Ex-Blitz Kid Rusty Egan and friends dress 80s electro-pop in brilliant new clothes

Welcome to the Dancefloor, Rusty Egan, electro-pop, Blitz Kids, New Romantic, EDM, synthesisers,

Egan deejaying at Tramp this week: a nightclub launch for Welcome to the Dancefloor

AFTER FIVE YEARS OF BLAGGING, and five years of feuding with former collaborators, 80s Blitz Club deejay Rusty Egan’s own “electro-diskow” album, Welcome to the Dancefloor, amounts to a superb sonic landmark. He and his guest performers engage an impressive range of emotions by dramatically humanising the potential starkness many associate with electronica.

ALBUM REVIEW
Welcome to the Dancefloor
Rusty Egan

Spookily, their energy rockets us immediately into that vast clean stereo soundscape that uniquely defined the new music of 1980. Here synthesiser chords are stretched and layered and cracked like a whip, as if by an invisible hand in another time and space, which of course was precisely the sound of London clubland when its youth culture erupted as a volcano of creativity. The album’s pacey opening track finds ex-New Order’s Peter Hook on The Other Side spinning through the Milky Way, his thin 80s vocal style querulous and wistful, yet poppily optimistic.

That era did after all abandon the overpowering noise of the rock stadium and the punk nihilists to celebrate a return to melodious singing voices and to arch lyrics meant for listening, while synthesisers defined a fresh musical ambience. Inexperienced young artists unsure about their singing ability half shouted, half vocodered their limited vocal range to re-imagine their teenage dreams on a different planet.

Egan’s collaborators: click any pic below to launch slideshow

While Egan has carefully selected 13 tracks reflecting the wide spectrum of synth possibilities, half are love songs in the spirit of the 80s generation who were dubbed by the press New Romantics. Nevertheless he has created a consummate showcase for electronic music, co-produced by Nick Bitzenis (aka Nikonn). He has had a hand in writing a majority of the songs, many co-written with Chris Payne (of Fade to Grey fame), these being subsequently endorsed and expressed by a handful of starry friends such as Midge Ure and Tony Hadley on tracks of their own.

Despite its title, this is not dance music that the funk nation would groove to. Laying down a dominant 4-4 beat is not conducive to free-form movement unless you think you’re Tik or Tok. Exceptions include Egan’s own pulsating title track with robo vocals as if by Stephen Hawking and knowing breaks parodying Tenek and the Human League; also the nippy number Hero, which gains spiritual resonance from Andy Huntley’s richly textured delivery.

➢ Listen online to Welcome to the Dancefloor
track by track

The stand-out track is Midge Ure’s transformation of an Egan/Payne song titled Glorious. He rewrote lyrics and melody so as to construct one magnificent crescendo filled with space and tension reminiscent of “Ohhhhh, Vienna!” A close second for reconjuring the authentic 80s is Egan’s own Wunderwerke, driven by his Trans-Europe vocals through classic synth sweeps, hypnotic repeats and bass stabs. Third comes Erik Stein on the astonishingly contemplative Ballet Dancer, basking in a wonderful waterfall of synths.

Like Brexit, Tony Hadley *is* Tony Hadley and here (without the Ballet) on the coltish lovesong Lonely Highway he canters to the top of a whole new hill as a crooner. What distinguishes this album is that it’s awash with affecting lyrics and fine voices to listen to in the name of electro pop – among the gentlest are Be The Man featuring the gorgeous inflections of Kira Porter; Nicole Clarke’s ethereal contribution to Love Can Conquer All; and Love Is Coming My Way, a second number from the silken-voiced Stein.

And just wait for the Chariots of Fire finale: Egan’s intensely personal track, Thank You, which unleashes a shock of the best kind. To describe more would be to spoil a gifted idea. It is emotional and all too evidently sincere. Thank you, Rusty.

Welcome to the Dancefloor, Rusty Egan, electro-pop, Blitz Kids, New Romantics, EDM, synthesisers,

Rusty Egan: co-producer, co-writer and much else – has created a landmark album in Welcome to the Dancefloor

➢ Pre-order Welcome To The Dancefloor as 180g vinyl LP and CD variants, plus bonus mixes, at Pledge Music. – All pledges immediately receive MP3 downloads of the album, with the physical products promised by Rusty Egan “once we reach a target” (unspecified). At worst, PledgeMusic clearly says it “will refund you if the Artist doesn’t reach their target”.

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
1980, First sighting of the Blitz Kids

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➤ A chapter of Bowie’s musical legacy best forgotten

David Bowie, Lazarus, msjuicals, Michael C Hall, Enda Walsh,

Click to enlarge: cinemascopic stage for Lazarus in New York with Michael C. Hall (left), Cristin Milioti and Michael Esper. (Photo Jan Versweyveld)

WHOEVER GULLED DAVID BOWIE into endorsing the inconsequential and tedious off-Broadway production of Lazarus which opened in London this week can never be forgiven. It is a disgrace on two levels: there’s not an ounce of theatre to this live “play” in which Bowie’s songs are the sole source of inspiration. And the theatre’s sightlines are atrocious.

The only merit in the entire performance comes from the live musicians. The actors have forgotten any training they had, merely meandering around the stage, sitting or lying on it, semaphoring superficially; the script, “a new story” written by Enda Walsh with Bowie, hasn’t the first idea about how to deliver their characters; and the plot moves no further than it was left in the book by Walter Tevis and the cult film on which Lazarus bases its existence, The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), directed brilliantly by Nicolas Roeg and starring Bowie. In this musical claiming to be a “sequel”, after two mind-numbing hours nothing has been advanced for the immortal Earth-bound alien Thomas Newton who lives on gin and television.

Lazarus, Michael C Hall

Michael C Hall as Newton on the London stage

It creaks like a period piece of sci-fi by ignoring the major technologies that have transformed fiction no less than real-life during the past 40 years: the personal computer, the genome, the internet, artificial intelligence. This year’s TV drama The Night Manager, as an updating of John Le Carre’s 1993 novel, was infinitely more electrifying about the nowness of progress.

Nostalgia does find its place in the best new number Bowie wrote for Lazarus, Where Are We Now?, a deeply affecting tour of the melancholy old postwar Berlin which anybody who visited before the fall of the wall will never forget. Alas, here a culture gap yawns between the imaginative compass of music and the human efforts live onstage which all musical theatre must reconcile. Lazarus is a rock-world concept, bereft of dramatic chemistry, that relies on projected light to evoke the visual kaleidoscope of music videos, from which The Message is whatever key image the PR machine decides to promote. Theatre, it ain’t.

Worse, the biggest insult of all are the ticket prices in the 900-seat temporary installation calling itself the King’s Cross Theatre and being charged by Robert Fox and Jones/Tintoretto Entertainment. Quite apart from the external soundtrack from traffic and aircraft and railway activity, whoever designed this space and its sightlines has never sat in a theatre before.

From our so-called “TOP PRICE” * £65 tickets, situated about two-thirds of the way back, we never had a view of more than the top half of the wide cinemascopic stage. The angle of the raked auditorium was entirely to blame for placing at least six heads directly in front of each paying customer, and everybody else within range spent the duration bobbing their heads and weaving sideways to catch a glimpse of the stage and its often inanimate actors. The bigger disgrace is that other customers had been charged at “Premium” price levels from £160 downwards.

Frankly, I am convinced Bowie is turning in his grave at this presentation of his music.

* Surely a trades mis-description when there are THREE “Premium” price tiers above the so-called “Top Price”!

➢ Tickets still available for Lazarus which runs
until 22 Jan in London

13 NOV UPDATE: THE LONDON REVIEWS

➢ Michael Billington, the Guardian: “an exploration of the existential angst that pervades Bowie’s music: this is the story of a man never wholly at ease in himself or his surroundings. I found myself more impressed by the visual sophistication than emotionally engaged by the story.”

➢ Susannah Clapp, The Observer: “an extended pop video. Woozy and rapt. Long on style but short on wit.”

➢ David Jays, Sunday Times Culture: “an otherwordly muddle… Bowie devised a portentous scenario; Walsh keeps it dead on the page.”

➢ Roundup of reviews in The Stage: “Pretty much the entire world’s press turned out to review its London opening. And everyone disagrees.”

➢ Singer Andy Polaris experiences his own unsettling realisation during Lazarus the musical

David Bowie, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Nicolas Roeg, films,

Bowie as Newton in the film TMWFTE, 1976: androgynous rock star as an alien visiting Earth from the planet Anthea

➢ David Bowie’s last three songs: decoding the final transmission – Dorian Lynskey at The Guardian

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s: A sensational portrait of Bowie as the man who shaped our responses

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
“I’m not a rock star” Bowie often said

LAZARUS FROM BOWIE’S ALBUM BLACKSTAR

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