Blakeson - Writer

Cardiff-based film, theatre and gig reviews, cultural ramblings, whingeing, short films, etc.

Friday, August 24, 2007

30 Century Man

I finally managed to see “30 Century Man”, Stephen Kijak’s documentary about Scott Walker - the missing link between Lulu and Ligeti - at Chapter, Cardiff. I had feared that its thunder had been stolen by Alan Yentob’s “Imagine” film on the same subject which was on TV a few months ago; but although there was much shared material, some big-screen-friendly psychedelic animation effects and a greater emphasis on the musicological provided value for ticket-money. Since I’ve long been a devotee, the film contained little information which was new to me; it was simply good to watch such icons of cool as Bowie and Eno babbling like idiots, lost in frustrated admiration, and to catch glimpses of the master at work. While Chapter seemed to entirely misread the intentions of the piece by describing it as “slyly tongue-in-cheek” in their brochure, the film avoided a hagiographic tone by including long-time romantic Walkerite Marc Almond’s dismissal of 1995’s remarkable “Tilt” as “rubbish”, and pointing up the absurdity of a classically-trained session musician rhythmically punching a side of pork in order to get the perfect percussive effect for a track on his latest work, “The Drift” – absurdity which is acknowledged by Walker himself. My only criticism is of the somewhat hackneyed use of rostrum-camera slow-zooming around stills and newspaper articles illustrating the Walker Brothers’ 1960s heyday, but I guess this is inevitable given the lack of video footage – and, of course, all the tapes of his TV series were wiped by the idiots who were in charge of such things at the BBC in those days. It was a pity to hear Scott saying that he’s unable to listen to his albums once he’s finished them, having put so much emotional energy into the composing and recording process. Maybe eventual senility will allow him the distance required to appreciate the work of towering genius which is “Scott 4”.

Sad to see that, according to the latest issue of A470, the Welsh Academy’s newsletter, Leonora Brito, Wales’ most important Black writer, has passed away. Awful news for her family, of course, as well as for the wider literary community, since her work provided a corrective to the nostalgic romanticism of a lot of Welsh writers who reference Tiger Bay in their work. Her story “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe” provided the title for a highly-recommended anthology of Welsh short stories published by Parthian (and I’m not just saying that because I’ve got one in there); and I fondly remember the radio dramatisation of “Dat’s Love”, the title story of her first collection, about the internationally famous torch-singing diva returning to her Cardiff factory-girl roots. A great loss.

A belated “hats-off” to Steven Moffat, for his TV series “Jekyll”, and to the BBC for indulging him. A much-needed dose of barking madness.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Big Weekend '07 / Dirty Protest

The much anticipated (by me, anyway) Cardiff Festival Big Weekend 2007 was, mercifully, unaffected by rain except on the final Sunday night leg, which saw an otherwise triumphant set by the obscurely pulchritudinous Magic Numbers. I felt that the wisest course in terms of maximising enjoyment was to cherry-pick artists; thus I managed to experience the infectious funk-jazz stylings of former James Brown sideman (and current resident of Frome) Pee-Wee Ellis; the hearteningly energetic Jimmy Cliff who, despite some lacklustre filler material, did much to justify his position as arguably the most important living reggae artist; acoustic balladeer and sometime male-model (and son of Carly and James) Ben Taylor; and Richie Havens who, in-between talking a lot of well-rehearsed hippie guff, did his legendary intense soul guitar thing with some style.

I just managed to squeeze into the inaugural Dirty Protest, a New Writing event held at Milgi on City Road, Cardiff, organised by writer Tim Price and actress Catrin Rees amongst others, featuring work by writers ranging from the legendary (Ed Thomas) to the “cherry-popping” (Rhiannon Boyle), and all points in-between (Alan Harris, Gareth Potter, Kit Lambert, Branwen Davies), and, as always in the capital, an excellent line-up of actors: TV’s Siwan Morris, Alys Thomas (also of TV, but slightly less high-profile), and Lee Mengo, with whose work I was previously unfamiliar. The rehearsed readings took place in a yurt (yes, a yurt) at the rear of the bar/restaurant/gallery, and the pieces ranged from the surreal to the sit-comic to the elegiac. All highly entertaining, despite the non-existent sound-proofing. Obviously, such events are extremely valuable in terms of research/development, and allowing writers to get instant feedback on their work. The problem is that such is the impoverishment of theatre in Wales that there is a danger that such events will “become” the scene rather than simply supporting it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Incubator II/Simpsons

The second workshop for the section of the Incubator Project at the Wales Millennium Centre in which I’m involved took place over four days last week – variously entertaining, alarming and frustrating, but always invigorating. The idea is to come up with a play which manages to be coherent, despite multiple authorship. The consensus, though, was that when too much structure was imposed, things tended to fall a little flat. So it looks as though, by default, any piece that results will make a virtue of its random nature. Interesting to note that, despite the majority of the writers involved being female, the majority of characters generated, at this stage, were male. Probably says something deep about patriarchalism.

On the Saturday, our workshop coincided with the afternoon performance of “Never Forget”, the Take That musical. Through the wall, it sounded as though the audience was having a good time, although the fact that furry pink Stetsons were on sale outside the venue sounded a note of warning as to the tone of the piece.

I had to give a presentation of my thesis at the M.E.C.C.S.A. Post-Graduate network conference in Bristol a few weeks ago. Somewhat nerve-wracking, but I managed to get through it without embarrassing myself much more than I do in everyday life. The general message given via the various workshops was the importance of getting one’s work published if one wants to get anywhere in academia; so, painstaking, intellectually demanding work involving much rejection and little financial reward – where have I heard that before?

For the first time in ages, I visited the cinema this week full of nervous anticipation – it was “The Simpsons Movie”, of course. Naturally, I emerged feeling slightly flat, although I’d laughed all the way through, and it contained all of the elements (wit, warmth, facetiousness etc) which make the series so special. Maybe it’s just that brilliant television shows should remain just that. Or maybe, as with TV episodes, I need to see it eight times to get the full impact.