Archive for May, 2011

PETER SELLERS

29 May 2011

[Picture of Sellers as Clouseau]Peter Sellers is a childhood hero of mine.  I cannot think of him without smiling.  Loads of people have said that Peter Sellers is the greatest comedian of all time. They just might be right.

However, a lot has been written about Sellers, but most of this is rubbish.  I say that, not because I know better; I never met him, and never knew him. I say that because most of what’s been written has been by people who also didn’t know him either. There is also a lot of looking back with today’s prevalent views and dominant ideology, and I don’t think you should do that; Sellers was a man of those times, not of today’s.

I can recall the way men were when I was younger and everyone smoked and drank. I can remember my father’s friends and I can still pick up the vibe.  Those were days when women dressed very differently from men.  The gender gap was massive compared with today.  There was a man’s world and Sellers lived and worked there.  Back then you could understand someone turning down open-heart surgery after having 13 heart attacks in a short space of time.

I do not believe he was depressed in the modern sense.  I think he was a very creative and humorous personality, and this would naturally lead to periods of writer’s block, and of boredom.  I don’t think we ought to make too much of any of that.  Humans have good times and bad times, I think we can forgive and forget most of the normal human errors and traits in favour of the aspects that matter — in Sellers’s case, what made him loved and famous was his creativity, his fun and his personality.

I was not really old enough for The Goon Show era, but I did appreciate these later when I heard them. I got into Milligan, and then Sellers made it big.

Dudley Moore sort of did the same thing later — a very specialised form of comedy, and a not-all-that-good-looking man making it big in the States.  Super models and yachts in the South of France.  Sellers blazed that trail.

Sellers and Moore are so valuable in that respect.  This cannot be underestimated; it shows that yes, it IS possible to live that life — to join the megarich Hollywood jetset — as long as you had genuine talent. And you do not have to sell-out and change!  And its not just Dud, Rowan Atkinson has gone into movies, and he’s a hit with Mr Bean (even in cartoon form), Russell Brand is just starting.

[Cartoon Inspector]For me, and so many others, Peter Sellers was definitely a role model.  I adored his out takes (I am pretty sure he single-handedly invented the out take genre); they showed the fun he had at work.  Hey, I wanted to have a job like that.  Imagine enjoying your work? Everyday would be such fun! He was such a student of human nature (all mimics are), too much is made of him saying he had no personality as he was always adopting a character or other — THAT was his personality, he interprets and reflects, and uses inventive ways to communicate his views and feelings. I can identify with that, sometimes I have to put on a silly voice to say something important, and I really don’t know why, other than it is how I somehow have to do it!

I simply remember Inspector Jacques Clouseau as one of the funniest characters I have ever seen.  I love all the Pink PanthersSteve Martin, sorry, but the role is Sellers’s.  These films always make me laugh – and without fail – and within a few minutes because they are so tightly written, gag after  gag of comedy genius.

There really has been nothing to match it since.  The nearest have been American self-referential cultural parodies, such as  Porky’s,  Animal House, Police Academy, Police Squad, and Airplane.  All very silly, very, very funny, but not ground-breakingly genre-inventing original.  Pink Panther came from nowhere, it set the bar.  Edwards and Sellers were not doing ironic humour, developing a TV show sketch or referring to modern media culture (such as The Simpsons and Family Guy do).

[Picture of Sellers as Dr Strangelove]The legacy is obvious — not just the cartoon character in the Pink Panther show, or the Goon Show’s influence on Monty Python and so forth. But the character of Dr Strangelove too. We couldn’t have ‘Allo ‘Allo with their rubbish French accents without Clouseau. Harry Enfield and so many of today’s British comedians refer back to Goons, Sellers and Python as a matter of course.  But Sellers was kinda cool too, everyone wanted to be around that type of guy because it was going to be good fun.

Peter Sellers’s biggest feat was being able to pull off being a really funny comedian, yet being a proper grown up man (he managed never to come across as a fool or an idiot). He managed to be one of the cool crowd, a jet-setter, with his own ratpack, and yet he stayed himself.  He often said he was always in character as there was no Peter Sellers character, but he never changed into an American fake or flake.  For a man with no character, he had bags of something that everyone could agree was “Peter Sellers”.

I read not that long ago that he was brought up with a strict Roman Catholic education, and because his mother was Jewish, he was sensitive to religious topics especially anti-Semitic or bigoted comments.  He was not of any religion, but it is very clear that he had a strong moral compass.  He shared that with his close friend in the Goons, Harry Secombe – who later presented a long-running Christian Hymn programme on British TV.

But it is telling that with his health crises, he never turned to religion, but to alternative therapies.

“Being There” was simply wonderful acting, and a triumph in that it showed the preposterousness of our ways without hamming up the comedy. Textbook example of exactly how this ought to be done.

Ultimately, you can look back over Sellers’s work knowing that it is safe — you can watch with your family without fear. No political subtexts, no cultural references to date it, no swearing or off-colour stuff.  It’s not Carry-On, it’s not Benny Hill slapstick, it’s just real life with the fun squeezed to the fore. It shows up the preposterousness and pomposity of our world.

That’ll do me. It’s timeless; we never learn.

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BASQUIAT STRINGS

22 May 2011

[Picture of Basquait Strings' album sleeve]This self-named album from Cellist Ben Davis is sublime.  Basquiat Strings came out in 2007, but its quite new to me, despite loving Seb Rochford‘s stuff (Polar Bear, etc), and seeing the Mercury Nomination performance back when.

The Basquiat Strings are an innovative hybrid of classical string quartet (two violins, viola and cello) and a jazz rhythm section (double bass and drums), and with composer Ben Davis, comprises Emma Smith, Vicky Fifield, Jennymay Logan, Richard Pryce and Seb Rochford.

[Picture of the band line up for basquiat Strings]I am struck at times with how King Crimson Starless & Bible Black it can be. Other times, I can get a Jean-Luc Ponty feel — which is forgiveable to the point of being a compliment.

Read reviews and listen to previews here at Amazon. Folk have mentioned Surfjan Stevens and even Sigur Rós!

It ranges from trippy to dreamy, to driving along apace with a light heart and a slight trance.  Wonderful stuff. Remarkable that it manages to sit so well into several seriously complicated genres. Expect pizzicato, but also expect very yiddish violin moods too.

The whole album is  a well conceived and constructed project worthy of any collection. It will expand your mind!

Ben Davis has a website — www.bendavis.info They’re on Myspace too.

I like it because it takes me back in memory to my prog rock days — King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd — and the other strands, such as Bruford, UK, and even Jethro Tull and Gentle Giant.  But then, I like odd time signatures, key changes, long instrumentals and the creation of a really cool aural environment — a mood, a different vibe.

[Embedded video of Double Dares by Basquiat Strings at Mercury Prize 2007 on YouTube]

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BON IVER

15 May 2011

[Picture of Justin Vernon, Bon Iver]I love harmonies, and I love originality and musicality in bands. BON IVER have all this and more.  In some ways they are complex, (arrangements, harmonies), in other ways they are simple (acoustic, voice, simple lyrics).  I would recommend them because they have made 2011 for me.

So let’s turn to the helpful links and things that all worked at the time of posting this here…

Once you have found out How to Pronounce Bon Iver, you can check out videos on YouTube.  I came across BON IVER through the excellent French program “A Take Away Show” doing a live and on-the-move version of  “For Emma, Forever Ago”. Here’s a link.

[Embedded Video clip from YouTube A Take Away Show Bon Iver’s For Emma]

If you watched that clip, you would have to admit that Justin is very talented indeed, I just cannot understand the reaction of the American tourists in Montmartre. Bizarre!

[Picture of Album cover of Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago]I read about the band on Wikipedia:  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bon_iver, and found out that the name means (have a) good winter in French. Although a “band”, BON IVER is really Justin Vernon and members of the audience helping fill out the harmonies he recorded!

For Emma, Forever Ago is from 2007, but it’s a new find for me.  I know BON IVER have a new album out this year — a self-titled one — and I fancy getting a hold of a copy even though it is supposed to be more “electric”, and has “members” playing saxophones and other unexpected instruments.  I’ll check it out when i can and keep you posted!

As you would reasonably expect, they have their own site: boniver.org/ and a myspace area too (myspace.com/boniver), if you want to check them out that way.

I prefer checking out customers’ reviews on sites like Amazon, check out the reviews for For Emma, Forever Ago, and listen to some of the tracks too.

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ARNOLD BAX

6 May 2011

[Pic of Arnold Bax on cover of book]Years and years ago, I went to see the White sands of Morar with a girl called Barbara. This short trip was actually a long weekend that became My Scottish Tour.

We stayed at Fort William, travelled to Oban, and returned through Perth and Balmoral.  Apart from a wee run to the Electric Brae, that has been the sum total of my Scottish travels in my half-century.  Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against Scotland — nor England, for that matter (I know little of England too), but I will not get lost in Rome, London or Paris due to the weather, the food, the history, the museums and music and art…

Anyway.

Morar.

The reason I was talked into this Scottish Trip was because of Arnold Bax.

Arnold Bax was a composer I was studying at the time.  Not very well known even today, he was pretty famous once. In 1942, Bax was appointed Master of the King’s Musick, and he composed for the Queen’s coronation.

I was actually quite impressed with Morar, albeit on a blustery day, it had white sands, greeny blue sea, and palm trees, so our photographs (on my trusty Olympus OM10, with telephoto lens and filters) made it look like we were on a south sea tropical island!

Back to Bax. I have no problem with his Irishness, nor his romanticism; I think this is because he is always nostalgic for me.  Bax is my childhood, or at least that syrupy sweet, early television version of it.  There is something of the Whisky Galore, or Ealing Studio film about Bax that takes me to “that place”.

Through my study, I discovered that he was oddly in turmoil — receiving awards from the Queen (UK) pulled against his Irishness, and his music was being slated for being “old Fashioned” and melodic. He apparently never recovered from a relationship with a Ukranian lass, and he was influenced by quite a lot of disparate, but northern European, music, and I like that; I like that he was pretty conservative, and yet somehow he was the rebel. I like that Bax succeeded in his lifetime, but that it made little difference, other than to unsettle him.

In short, I had a lot of time for Arnold Bax.  I think he is all-too-quickly dismissed and forgotten.  Maybe one day Bax will be back, and we can hear his lush, large scale music more often.

The very least I owe Bax is that he made me do a lovely sunny mini tour of Scotland, during which I took a great many superb photographs! In fact, writing this has encouraged me to both dig out some Bax, and to consider visiting places nearer to home — maybe England, or Scotland again?  I’ve heard Yorkshire is lovely, as well as the Lake District, Devon and Cornwall. Hmm. We shall see…

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