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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

The Royal Festival Hall, London June 17th 2007

The Royal Festival Hall, fulcrum of the much-reviled Southbank Centre, the Festival of Britain’s gift to post-war London, has just re-opened following an extensive refurbishment. It’s a pity that this didn’t include air-conditioning in the public areas because as we wait for over an hour before a delayed entrance to the still-spectacular auditorium, the place heats up like an oven. Jarvis
We’re here for the second night of this year’s Meltdown – the Southbank's annual avant-garde musical bash, curated this year by Jarvis Cocker (“Cunts may be running the world, but a cock will be controlling the South Bank for one week in June” he declared), following in the footsteps of Patti Smith, Nick Cave, Morrissey and Scott Walker and suchlike. It’s a characteristically eclectic assembly including Motorhead, Melanie, John Barry, Iggy and the Stooges, Devo, Roky Erickson, Jerry Dammers, and of course Mr Cocker himself. But tonight we’re here for Forest of No Return, Music from the films of Walt Disney produced by Hal Willner (responsible for, among other things, last year’s marvellous sea shanty collection, Rogues’ Gallery) and for Jarvis.
Forest The audience are varied and restive. There are the hideously-dressed and cruelly self-obsessed and self-conscious fashionistas – Meltdown hardcore. Then we have the dreadfully loud chatteratti; over-privileged, over-educated, over-fed and over-opinionated. And, if I may observe, the first to start being rude to the attendants and bar staff as our long steamy wait continued. Not used to waiting I suppose. And of course we have the Mummies and Daddies with their Matts and Mollies. Already over-tired and over-excited the little fuckers darlings cause havoc playing with the lifts and running themselves into states of utter exhaustion. And with half of the audience getting quietly pissed in the evening sunshine, things look set for a lively evening. Oh - why are we waiting? Well, with a cast of hastily-assembled stars set up for the evening, including the likes of Pete Doherty and Shane MacGowan, you won’t be surprised to learn that they’re rehearsing until the very last minute (well, very last sixty minutes to be honest). We’re told that our patience means that we’ve been “part of the creative process”. Yeah – right.
Willner’s been here before – in 1988 he released Stay Awake, a collection of Disney songs featuring luminaries such as Tom Waits, Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt and James Taylor.
But tonight’s affair is on a much grander scale, with 38 tunes and songs (‘though in the end several were cut as time ran out) with twenty guest performers and an orchestra, featuring amongst many others Chris Spedding on guitar, David Coulter on musical saw and Kate St. John on oboe and Cor anglais. She was responsible for the pretty ‘Little April showers’, sung by former Morcheeba vocalist Skye Edwards and Ed Harcourt, but the majority of arrangements are shared between composer and pianist Steve Weisberg, Steve Bernstein (who also plays trumpet and flugelhorn) and Jun Miyake, who each lead the band for their own pieces. On stage for much of the evening is pianist Terry Adams, sometimes of NRBQ, whose apparently casual playing adds both breadth and edge to many of the arrangements – his vocal contribution on ‘Whistle while you work’ suggests his career should remain firmly with the keyboards. Also frequently present is veteran Sun Ra Arkestra saxophonist Marshall Allen, whose lightning and jarring solos helped to paint a different perspective of many of these Disney classics. For with such heavyweights on stage this certainly wasn’t Disney lite – more like Disney dark, as the Glums in the row in front of us soon discovered,
Did I tell you about the Glums? Maw, Paw and the two weans – who spent most of the night (well until their early departure) feasting on a malodorous popcorn and peanut picnic and guzzling down gallons of the brown fizzy stuff. Quite what they had expected I don’t know. You could see their unease as David Thomas, bare-footed like a St Kildan, dragged his heavy black-clad bulk onto the stage and broke into ‘I’m late’, pausing only to fix the audience with a menacing Cheshire Cat grin. Maw Glum held her hands to her ears as Nick Cave sang a remarkably expletive-free ‘An actor’s life for me’, and I’m sure the wee girl was crying when Cave and Thomas dueted on a wonderful ‘Heigh ho’ (is it possible to have two such Grumpies?). Thomas singing ‘When I see an elephant fly’ followed by ‘Pink elephants on parade’ with Adams and Allen at full tilt was enough to see them pack their bags altogether, having I think only really enjoyed the wonderfully hammy rendition of ‘Feed the birds’ by veteran British comedic actress Fenella Fielding. Needless to say, they left all their rubbish littering the seats and floor.
David Thomas
David Thomas
I had anticipated (no – hoped) that Thomas would steal the show, but good though he was, there were others who were equally impressive. After Cocker, Cave, Doherty and MacGowan had howled their way through ‘Home sweet home’, Richard Strange took the stage. “Who could follow that – me!” he shouted, as he Boris Karloffed his way through ‘Headless Horseman’ from Disney’s take on Sleepy Hollow, the 1949 movie The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Equally impressive was Gavin Friday singing ‘Siamese cat song’ and ‘Castle in Spain’. And a surprisingly melancholic yet impressive Pete Doherty made a boyish chimney sweep as he strummed and sang his way through ‘Chim Chim Cheree’. Beth Orton was characteristically tuneful on ‘Baby mine’. ‘Stay awake’ and ‘Second star to the right’. Cocker, of course, was not to be upstaged on his own night, with ‘I wanna be like you’ and the show closer ‘When you wish upon a star’, but it was hard for anyone to compete against a glistening Grace Jones with her simmering ‘Trust in me’, or the uplifting Baaba Maal singing ‘Bare Necessities’.
Grace Jones
Grace Jones
Perfect it wasn’t, but entertaining it certainly was. I only had one real complaint (apart from the Glums). How can it be entertaining to watch someone with a chronic illness display the symptoms of their disease on a public stage? I’m sure a younger and sober Shane MacGowan would have been the perfect choice for a Pogue Mahone version of ‘Zip-a-dee Doo Dah’. But his shambolic and drunken careering around the stage should have been a source of embarrassment and concern, not of the shameful laughter that he got. Never mind – everyone has to make a living, and no doubt there are a few making a living out of Shane. Well here’s a final thought and a strange coincidence. Just count how many of the artistes performing here were involved with Willner’s piratical ‘Rogues’ Gallery’. Don’t you just sense a barnstorming double CD on the way? - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)

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