Archive for Music

 Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Freddie_Mercury_performing_in_New_Haven,_CT,_November_1977

Freddie Mercury:  a skilled performer with flair

PG-13 | 2h 14min | 2 November 2018 (USA)
Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Anthony McCarten (story by), Peter Morgan (story by) | 1 more credit »
Stars: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee

Wow! I loved this film. It transported me back to the 80s and reminded me what a great group Queen were and of the power of Rock music. 

The film tells us the story of Farrokh Bulsara (played superbly by Rami Malek) as he becomes Freddie Mercury. Bulsara is the son of immigrants from Zanzibar (now in Tanzania) who were Parsees, Zoroastrians who fled to India from Muslim persecution in Persia during the 7th–8th centuries. His family had moved to Zanzibar so that his father could continue his job as a cashier at the British Colonial Office. At the age of 17, Mercury and his family fled from Zanzibar because of the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution, in which thousands of Arabs and Indians were killed. To the credit of the film this is made clear (though not explained or emphasised).

I was intrigued by his family relationships. His father Bomi Bulsara (Ace Bhatti) was a conservative figure who had a portrait of our Queen on his wall and emphasised the three commandments preached by Zoroaster: good thoughts, good words and good actions repeatedly and sometimes critically to Freddie! His relationship with his Father, thankfully, improved over time. It can’t have been easy for either of them given their different natures. Brian May noted in 2016, “It’s probably true to say that Freddie’s father, strongly committed to the Parsee faith, didn’t find it easy that Freddie took the path he did, as a rock musician, and a fairly irreverent one, at that. Nevertheless the support was always there.”It’s one of the joys of this film that we see their understanding and acceptance of each other develop. His mother Jer Bulsara (Meneka Das) was more directly supportive.

We also see a young Freddie working as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport and experiencing the casual racism that was sadly the norm for many back then, there and on the street. Music was another side to his life. He was writing songs and watching local bands at small clubs. We see how Freddie first meets Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy). Bohemian Rhapsody leads us through the history from the origins of Queen right up to Freddie’s tragic death (he died from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991).

There is so much of interest in Bohemian Rhapsody that it is only possible to mention some of it in any review. I loved to see Freddie’s relationship with his cats, his love of opera and his interest in fashion. His personal relationships with Kenny Everett and his manager (a devil figure in the film) and record companies are worthy of separate consideration. The effects of addiction to alcohol and drugs on his health and music and personal relationships are a darker theme.

The film doesn’t shy away from looking at Freddie’s sexuality. Freddie married Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). In one scene Freddie tells Mary “I think I’m bisexual.” She says: “No, Freddie. You’re gay.”

Some have called the film out on this. Billboard said: “For many out there, this particular moment almost rang too true to real life. Bisexual people face the reality of bi-erasure on a near-daily basis, being told that they’re either “too gay” or “not gay enough,” with little to no attention paid to their actual sexual identity. So it’s natural that many critics and Twitter users would call Bohemian Rhapsody out for attempting to erase Mercury’s bisexuality in this scene, especially in a film meant to celebrate him.”

I’m not sure about that. Freddie wanted his private life to be private. He wanted his fans and the press to focus on his music. He never publicly identified his sexuality. Should he have had to? Should anyone have to define their sexuality publicly? At the time Freddie was pressured by the media to do so, now some LGBT people take the view that he somehow let the side down. Freddie saw himself first and foremost as a performer who was there to entertain the public with great shows and music. That was his choice.

There is a harrowing press conference in the film where we see the gutter press try to pressure him to answer questions on his sexuality in the style of a baying mob.

This wasn’t a case of exaggeration the press had no shame. In December 1974, the New Musical Express asked him, “So how about being bent?”. Even his illness was seen as ‘fair play’ by the irresponsible media. In October 1986, the British press reported that Mercury had his blood tested for HIV/AIDS at a Harley Street clinic. A reporter for The Sun, Hugh Whittow, questioned him intrusively about this. Anyone whoever read the late and unlamented News of the World will know full well how the gutter press hypocrites tried to trash people. Yet who now remembers the low-lives of the British gutter press? Yet Freddie Mercury left a legacy of great shows and music behind him. His music continues to uplift people.

Bohemian Rhapsody ends with Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985. I remember watching this at the time. To be frank to that point Live Aid wasn’t matching the hype. The performance from Queen changed that. It was electric. It’s given an incredible poignancy in the film by the knowledge that Freddie is doomed. Bittersweet and emotionally moving. Freddie knew how to deliver to his audience. He went out on a high note with a strutting, high energy and also nuanced performance as he was determined to do. True to his art and his fans to the very end.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Rip It Up: The Story of Scottish Pop

Blazing A TrailTill 25 November 2018
National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh

Rip it Up: The Story of Scottish Pop is the first major exhibition dedicated to Scottish pop music, exploring the musical culture of the nation over more than half a century, the first big exhibition dedicated to Scottish pop music, exploring the musical culture of the nation over more than half a century, from influential indie pioneers to global superstars.

Featured artists and bands include Lonnie Donegan, Gerry Rafferty, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Lulu, The Rezillos, Midge Ure, Simple Minds, The Skids, Big Country, Garbage, Franz Ferdinand, Young Fathers, and many more. The exhibition has been brought to life through original stage outfits and instruments, many loaned by the artists themselves, plus memorabilia, props, film and, of course, music.

Stephen Allen, Exhibition Curator said:
“Popular music is a shared experience, and a really important one in many people’s lives. We want the exhibition to capture people’s imagination and allow them to reflect on their own experiences of listening to and enjoying music. Between the objects, the AV and the music, people will be able to learn more about their favourite artists and see their treasured objects up close, but also to discover music that is new to them in a whistlestop tour of over six decades of Scottish pop.”

Everyone will have a different experience of this exhibition. It covers a broad time period and diverse types of music. There are over 300 items on display as well as film contributions and music. Some was familiar to me. Although sometimes I don’t know why and I didn’t know there was a Scottish connection at all when I first heard it. I always liked The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (particularly Faith Healer). I think it was how theatrical and unusual they were! Much later I was drawn to punk and politics. So I was interested to see the Rock Against Racism (RAR) poster from 5 August 1978 advertising the Scars, Valves and Josef K (among others) playing in Craigmillar Park. It’s interesting to note that the reasons for the foundation of RAR are somewhat glossed over. RAR was formed because of comments made by Eric Clapton at a Birmingham concert in 1976.Clapton had urged his audience to back former Conservative MP Enoch Powell’s anti-immigration stance. The guitarist, who has since said he is not a racist, suggested Britain was becoming “a black colony”. Inconvenient history.

Less so the Proclaimers poster for anti-apartheid gigs!

I was also interested to see that emphasis was given to independent Scottish record labels such as Postcard, Creation and Fast Product. These helped foster bands in Scotland. The media and production centre was always very much London of course but there was an attempt to do something different by creating local centres.

There was also a lot of material which provides you with further avenues of enquiry. I was really intrigued to listen to the excellent Needle of Death by Bert Jansch. As someone who has lost friends to heroin addiction it really moved me. I’ve since listened to many of his songs. All thanks to this exhibition. That’s just one of the things I took from the exhibition and followed up. As a big Bowie fan I was intrigued to see his connection to The Beatstalkers highlighted. They recorded a Bowie song called Silver Treetop School for Boys. A connection to another band Clouds wasn’t featured.

Pop quiz! Which Scottish artists did James Bond themes?

The exhibition had so much in it of interest that I couldn’t absorb it all in one viewing. I’m actually thinking of going again.

If you are interested in pop culture you would be foolish to miss this. I hope it tours other areas to make it easier for people to see who don’t live near Edinburgh! Go see it!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3X9T3rxmRk

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Songs from the Kop

songsfromthekop2

The Kop

Brunswick Young Women`s Players (Australia)
C too at St. Columba`s by the Castle

Inspired by the grandfather (a £10 Pom from Liverpool who emigrated to Australia in the post-war period) of Josie Coyle ,who introduced the performance, this was a lively and fitting musical tribute to a great period (1962-1994) in the history of Liverpool Football Club through the eyes of the Kop. The Kop was a terrace holding 28,000 standing supporters at the Anfield Road end of Liverpool`s Anfield Ground. Originally it was a vast mound of earth which acquired its name because it reminded soldiers returning from the Second Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa of Spion Kop, the Hill on which many soldiers from Lancashire had lost their lives in an unsuccessful attempt to relieve Ladysmith.

Before 1962 Liverpool F.C. had enjoyed an undistinguished history, inferior in every way to that of their great local rivals Everton. This was transformed by the appointment of Bill Shankly as Manager, which co-incided with the advent of the Mersey Beat, of which the Beatles are by far the most important example. Shankly`s rapport with the crowd and the performance of his team on the field transformed the atmosphere at Anfield. Success in Cup and League was accompanied by Shankly`s encouragement of the Kop to sing the hit song from “Carousel”, re-popularised by Gerry and the Pacemakers, “You`ll Never Walk Alone”, which has been the Liverpool Anthem ever since. By the time of Shankly`s retirement in 1974, although he never enjoyed success in the European Cup, he had become a legend. His successor, Bob Paisley, built on this, with his success in League and Cup AND three European Cups. Liverpool`s slow decline began after his retirement, and at the time of writing it is 28 years since Liverpool last won the League title. They have never won the English Premiership.

Unsurprisingly, the production concentrated on the glory years. The production was imaginative and performed enthusiastically. The songs, particularly the adaptation of the “Fields of Athenry”, were both relevant and moving. The inclusion of numbers hostile to Liverpool`s great rivals of the period, Nottingham Forest (who knocked out Liverpool in the First Round of the European Cup in 1978 and went on to win two European Cups themselves), Everton (inevitably) and Manchester United (who have won two fewer European Cups than Liverpool but two more League Championships) were not inappropriate. No-one who has ever attended a football match at Anfield can fail to have been moved by the Kop`s rendering of “You`ll Never Walk Alone” – an experience surely unequaled at any sporting venue in the world – and the audience participation in it proved a fitting end to the performance.

The Hillsborough tragedy of April 1989, when 96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives, took over the last third of the performance. The anger of the population of the city at the way in which the supporters were traduced by the press, blamed unfairly by the police and let down by the criminal justice system, was transmitted to the audience effectively by the whole cast, with Matt Hood`s solo as a climax. I was, however, left with an uneasy feeling. No mention was made of the events of May 1985 in Brussels, when 39 Juventus supporters were killed when charged by a group of Liverpool supporters, compounded by the Club`s attempt to deflect the blame elsewhere – a mirror image of the behaviour of the police at Hillsborough. Don’t the deaths of Italians also matter?

Reviewed by Henry Falconer

Gold star

Gold star

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Joan Baez: a Tribute by Miss Irenie Rose

joanbaezirenerose

Irene Rose

Venue 53 The Space @ Surgeons’ Hall Theatre 2

August 3rd to 25th

Launching straight into the mournful Scottish ballad, Arise Mary Hamilton; with nothing more than an acoustic guitar to accompany her; Miss Irenie Rose takes her audience through the canon of the songs the American singer and political activist Joan Baez has made her own over the last five decades.

In her good-humoured style, she recounts how Baez’s politics and pacifism has permeated all her work. She was more political than her old beau Bob Dylan and made much more use of some of his songs. Bob was paranoid when he was on drugs; Baez never did drugs.

The venue is intimate, so Miss Irenie Rose makes it seem that she is talking and singing just for you. All the old standards are there; Blowin’ in the wind, the haunting Donna Donna and the darkly humorous Farewell Angelina.

The audience joined in a rousing chorus of hope in the time-honoured civil rights standard, We Shall Overcome and went into ecstasy when her sister, Elsa-Jean McTaggart, joined Miss Irenie Rose on stage to finish the show with The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.  Joan Baez is in her seventies now; although she is still touring.  Fans who want to remember her at the height of her powers will enjoy this superb, respectful tribute from a young, talented Scottish folk singer.

Reviewed by David Kerr

#EdFringe2018 #EdFringe #IntoTheUnknown

five-stars

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Dietrich: Natural Duty

dietrichnaturalduty

Peter Groom as Marlene 

Theatre (cabaret)
Venue 33
Pleasance Courtyard – Beside
15:30
Aug 22-27
1 hour

Peter Groom is outstanding as Marlene Dietrich in this one (wo)man show. When Peter first appeared on the stage as Dietrich the audience applauded. The appearance, dress, make-up and figure were immediately convincing and captured Dietrich so well. Everyone sensed from the start that this was going to be good.

The material he has to work with is fascinating. It starts with her discovery and starring role in ‘The Blue Angel’ (1930) through roles in the US to the start of the conflict with Germany. It shows how Dietrich took the Allied side in the Second World War. She even held the rank of Captain and travelled to the front-line to entertain the troops and raise morale. Cue bawdy humour about being “long at the front” etc! A word of warning, if you sit at the front of the audience you might get roped in. It was a bit discomforting when I was included but also good fun.

Groom presents an image of Dietrich as a disciplined performer who worked hard to craft her presentation in whatever she did. The focus of the show are her songs and her relationship with Germany. This isn’t a show about her many love affairs (with both men and women). If it was an hour might not be enough!

Although a one (wo)man show there are voice only interruptions from a subtly threatening and yet entreating Goebbels and an insistent media interviewer. The dialogue hints at a hard side to Marlene, even a cruel one. It is not explored, perhaps because the focus is on the performer more than the woman.

Peter has a great voice and captures the spirit of Dietrich with a wry humour and passion. I must admit that whilst familiar with many of the songs I hadn’t realised that Dietrich had performed Pete Seegers “Where have all the flowers gone”. For me the delivery of that song on the futility of war was the most powerful in a show filled with emotionally charged songs.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

Editorial note: As an aside there is a lovely story here about how “Where have all the flowers gone” originated: https://performingsongwriter.com/pete-seeger-flowers-gone/

#EdFringe2018 #EdFringe #IntoTheUnknown

 

five-stars

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The Dolly Parton Story

dollypartonstorytheSpace @ Symposium Hall
Venue 43 13:45 daily until 25th August

The Queen of Country, Dolly Parton, needs no introduction to most people; she seems to have been around forever. She’s one of those entertainers that many people affect to despise but that won’t annoy her loyal fans one wee bit. They love her energy and her passion. Behind the big wigs, silicon tits and loud clothes, there is a fascinating story of success against the odds.

This production is in the new (to me) ‘show-umentary’ format. A large screen with a running commentary tells Dolly’s life story from her earliest days, punctuated by songs from all parts of her career. Although I haven’t come across this format in a live show before, it really works. I learned a lot about her early upbringing in dire poverty in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. She certainly didn’t get it easy. Who knew that the sentimental song, Coat of Many Colours was based on her actual childhood? This knowledge adds extra pathos to the song. I could feel involuntary tears trickling down my cheeks.

Dolly draws a big crowd, even in cosmopolitan Edinburgh. While Hannah Richards looks nothing like Dolly Parton she sure can hit those high notes in Tennessee Mountain Home and I Will Always Love You. Her renditions of these songs and others in her country music and mainstream pop canon delighted the audience. This production is bound to pack them in for the rest of the run. Hannah told the audience that The Dolly Parton Story might tour the country. If you can’t see it in Edinburgh look out for it somewhere near you soon. You’ll not be disappointed.

Reviewed by David Kerr

#EdFringe2018 #EdFringe #IntoTheUnknown

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Review: F**k the government

If profanity bothers you then this is one you should avoid. Apart from that key title line, however, the lyrics are rational and persuasive. This rap from XL sums up a lot of disillusionment many of us feel towards the ‘elite’, the ‘powers that be’ or the ‘establishment’. It isn’t just negative though as it gives a message of hope and unity. Here at Counter Culture we like that. Too many fall into the trap of division and the divide and rule strategy of the establishment. This song reminds us that we are all in the same boat and it’s sinking! XL is a rapper we will be following with interest.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfdNmLPkrtU&feature=youtu.be

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