A Condensed Pink Floyd Concert for 500 Quid?

I’ve just been flicking through my back catalogue and I came across this gem.  I remember writing this song.  I had just watched Les Miserable at Queens Theatre, London and I came up with the (mad) idea of trying to fit a whole musical into the space of a five minute pop song.  Perhaps I’ll Kill You was the result.  I was proud of it at the time – in fact I thought it might just be the best thing I’d ever done – and listening to it today it still sounds great.  And very, very mad!

Have You Ever Noticed?

I love comedy.  I’ve never hidden the fact that comedy is extremely important to me.  I believe a laugh is good for the soul.  And I’ve also made it quite clear that I believe comedy and music are intrinsically linked.  Rhythms and repetition.  Whether it be Hancock or The Office, good comedy is timed to perfection and is difficult to make look easy.  In fact I’d go so far as to say that great comedy is an art, and should be considered just as worthy of praise as Sgt Pepper or OK Computer.  A comedy series I hold aloft as one of the greats is Seinfeld.  Bar the final episode, I often use Seinfeld as an example of a near perfect comedy.  You’ll hear ‘experts’ telling you that it didn’t really warm up until season 4.  Well, I’ll have none of it.  Some of the finest episodes were very early on, and in my opinion, they were necessary to enable the show to progress.  For the show to be labelled the ‘show about nothing’ it at least had to have once been the ‘show about nothing’.  Parking in a multi-story car park.  Waiting for a seat at a restaurant. Classic episodes.  I could watch Seinfeld on a never ending loop – indeed at times I feel like I have!  It’s that good.  Yet… very few people in the UK have even heard of it.  Such a shame.

So… it was with great delight that I went to see Jerry Seinfeld’s stand up show at Manchester Arena.  To see the legend himself in action – excited was an understatement.  He has stated that this gig will be his last ‘arena gig’.  Hmmm… maybe… maybe not.  Seinfeld certainly doesn’t need the money.  He’s one of, if not the, richest comedian in the world.  He’s got to be up there… with Larry David.  Seinfeld and David… one of the greatest comedy writing teams ever!  It’s weird… when I watch Seinfeld (the TV show) I usually ascribe the best jokes to Larry David.  I assume he must have written them.  Perhaps it’s because ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm‘ has continued in the same vein without Jerry Seinfeld’s participation.  Whatever… it’s easy to dismiss Jerry Seinfeld in his own show.  When you’ve got characters of the calibre of George and Kramer and a writer like Larry David along for the ride it’s possible to wonder what Jerry Seinfeld himself actually did?  It was with all these thoughts that I settled down to watch Seinfeld in action.   No bass slapping music for the entrance…

Seinfeld is a class act.  The majority of the material seemed fresh – at least, it’s not on any DVDs that I own.  Seinfeld is now doing this for fun and he says he’s riffing on topics that he really wants to talk about.  So marriage gets a fair bash.  Lots of genuinely funny moments.  Relationships in general get a good outing.  Seinfeld is obviously at ease with this whole thing.  He’s been a stand up since the beginning of time.  He comes across as a little more hectic than the Seinfeld from the TV show… but he still seems like a friend, (or as he says to the crowd “I’m your little, strange TV friend”).  Funnily enough, the TV show does not get a single mention.  Not one word.  Nor does Larry David or any of his previous colleagues.  This is just a straight stand up show.  Very similar to the skits at the beginning of most of the Seinfeld episodes… but a little quicker, and a little more ‘shouty’.  Some good punch lines and some moments that receive applause.  But all in all I think people were just happy to be watching their idol. I can only guess at everyone else’s motivation for being there… but I would hope the Seinfeld show was higher up the list of reasons than, say, Bee Movie.

Jerry Seinfeld could have been in the Rat Pack.  He has that ‘ease’ about him.  Like he’s swinging through the moves… riffing on comedy like Sinatra would riff on a melody.  And no swearing.  This was basically a PG gig.  Smooth. Yes I think smooth is the word.  The typical subjects get an outing… mobile phones, energy drinks, things that suck and yet are also great.  But, as I said before, he seems to get a kick out of the ‘relationship issue’ gags.  One thing that dawned on me during the night was how much Seinfeld likely contributed to that great sitcom.  A lot of  ‘issues’ that I would have assigned to Larry are, on the evidence of tonight, likely to have originated from Jerry.  This just makes me hold him in even higher regard.

A few negatives…  He can occasionally come across as an old hand going through the motions.  There’s no real sense of danger.  There’s a slightly jaded sheen to the guy.  Perhaps this is ‘Jerry in the UK’.  ‘Jerry get on a plane to another country and switch on the joke-telling-auto-pilot-system’.  And a shame he had to end on a ‘toilet gag’ already referenced in old episodes of Seinfeld and Curb. Most damning of all though… he was only on for about an hour.  That is pretty inexcusable given the price of the tickets.  But… hey… I think we can probably make allowances for one of the all time kings of comedy.  Well… I certainly can.  I’ve seen one of my heroes!!!  And my face hurt from laughing!

Here’s a song written in the midst of my Seinfeld marathons! It’s called ’50s Teen Flick.

Les Miserables at Queens Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, January 2011

Where do you start with a ‘review’ of Les Miserables?!?  It has to be said that this show is a true epic work of art.  Anyone who has read this site before will understand all too well how preoccupied I am with all things epic.  I strive to produce the epic.  Well… Les Miserables is about as epic as they come.  Other words such as;  grandiose… emotional… heart-wrenching… all-consuming… come across as clichés I suppose.  But believe me… this is one hell of a show!

As Les Mis has been playing since 1985 then I would assume that most of you out there will have seen it by now.   I was, unfortunately, very late to the party.  I was only really converted to the cause a couple of years ago when my girlfriend played me the CD in the car.  “Here we go…” I thought, “another musical” (she likes musicals!).  But that was the end of the sarcasm.  I was blown away by the sheer audacity of the piece.  The complexity of the story.  The beauty of the music and the clarity of the lyrics.

So, I bought her a DVD of the show for Christmas.  I think it was the 10th Anniversary Concert at the Albert Hall.   And then I was blown away all over again.  Now… what I didn’t quite understand at first was that the DVD wasn’t actually the show.  It was just the actors singing the songs from the show.  I say ‘just’ – I thought the guy playing Jean Valjean was outstanding – but you get my drift?  It wasn’t actually “the show” apparently.  To see “the show” – I knew I was going to be in for a treat!

Now… I was taking my girlfriend to see Les Miserables.  So of course all of my enjoyment had to be secondary to hers.  Luckily she had a great time… and because of that I can now write about it as if it were just for me. 😉

Queens Theatre, London is a pretty, welcoming little theatre.  It oozes history and just being there you feel the aura of ‘specialness to come’.  I believe this theatre has played nothing but Les Mis for a few years now and – whether that is true or not – it shows!

Without giving too much away, and condensing the story to its essence, we have the tale of a convict pursued by a relentless policeman in revolutionary France.  There are many important side-stories… but basically, we are experiencing the life story of Jean Valjean.  When you see it for real it makes a lot more sense than just watching the DVD with the songs!  I now understand the difference between ‘watching the songs in a theatre’, and ‘watching the actual show in a theatre’.  The sets are awesome.  Truly marvellous.  Just to imagine the sheer work that must have to be put into every single night simply to construct and manoeuvre the backdrops.  The huge set-pieces, the spectacle, the immaculate singing.  The emotion.  Definitely deserved the standing ovation!

The actor playing Jean Valjean was the standout… although that always seems to be the case with Les Mis (from my extremely limited experience).  I also thought the guy playing the policeman Javert was outstanding.  The comedy couple, the landlord and his wife were excellent.  The only disappointments were some of the upper class/soldier characters, particularly Marius.  It’s hard to invest much sympathy in a character so dripping wet!

The show is a bit of a slog.  3 hours.  But it never drags.  Every second seems well judged and well paced.  This is the epitome of epic.  The “something special” that I myself am striving for.  I am nearing completion of a gargantuan piece of music that I am collaborating on with the American artist Bill Ryan.  This piece of music is going to be somewhere in the region of 7 minutes or so.  It will form part of the Eleventh Hour‘s debut album and I am hoping it will shape up to be the centre-piece of the whole show.  It certainly has the potential… it’s only for Bill or I to drop the ball now and spoil it.  🙂  Ha ha!  If I could just squeeze a fraction of the grandeur of Les Mis into the song then I will face 2011 as a happy man.

Anyway… in short… Les Miserables at the Queens Theatre, London is well worth a trip.  Bloody outstanding.  10/10.

… just one more thing

Any Columbo fans out there?  I watched Dirk Benedict playing the role of the greatest lieutenant tonight at the theatre.  I took to my seat with the dwindling hope the Faceman wouldn’t do any ‘Columbo shtick’…  and Dirk proceeded to trot out ‘Columbo schtick’ (hey, we’re not sure whether it’s shtick or schtick!) turned up to eleven.  To be fair he did it with some panache.  You gotta give credit where credit’s due – How the hell do you play the character after Peter Falk owned the character?  Peter Falk is/was Columbo.  But, play the part Dirk did – and he did enough to earn a pat on the back (if I had been in his vicinity).  Hell, he even smoked a cigar throughout – onstage!  Now, I’ve got to assume they produce special ‘stage-cigars’ for that purpose?!?  A stage cigar!  Ha ha.

Columbo is one of my all time favourite shows.  I can watch them endlessly.  I have done in fact – since I was a boy.  What you’ve got to understand is that good tv/film is like a good song.  No-one says “Why are you listening to that song again? You’ve heard it before!”.  But people will quite happily question why you’re watching a film for a second time.  “You know how it ends!  What’s the point?”.  Wake up!!!

A song is a song.  TV is TV.  Film is film.  Art is art.  “Why are you looking at that Van Gogh again?… you already looked at it before 5 years ago.  Remember?  We were in Paris?”.  Replace Van Gogh with any name you like and replace Paris with any place you like.  The song remains the same.  The score is always on the doors.  The song doesn’t change… and yet people wouldn’t query why you had to listen to Sympathy for the Devil 1000 times over the course of your life.  If a song can get you through the day then so can any other form of art.  Horses for courses.

So…  he mimics the mannerisms, wears the coat, holds the cigar, and even has the exact same moleskine notepad that I use to write my songs.  And you know what… I don’t care!  It’s a celebration of a character who will always be special to me, and a celebration of one of the greatest actors of all time (Falk not Benedict I stress!).  The essence of Columbo is engrained so deep down in my soul that I have a constant urge to become a cigar smoker.  But then the reality hits me.  It stinks!  I will curse the day when your common or garden 3D Holo-TV set comes with smell-o-vision.

I’m inspired by Columbo.  The foundations of the show are so rock-solid.  Reveal the murder and the murderer at the very start.  Then dwell on the cat and mouse interplay between Columbo and the guest star.  You see, no other TV show could pull off the trick up Columbo’s sleeve.  If any other crime show ever had a ‘guest star’ (i.e. an actor you actually recognised) appearing in an episode… you knew it would have to be the murderer.  Columbo thrived on this.  You KNEW the guest star would be the murderer.  And the ‘slowly slowly catchy monkey’ between Columbo and the killer would be TV gold.

It’s not necessarily about surprise.  Or at least not surprise as presented in most other cop shows.  The secret of Columbo is in the fine detail.  What are the flaws in the criminal’s master plan?  These people have all the time in the world to plan the perfect murder… but they ALWAYS slip up.  There’s a great conversation in the play I saw tonight (Prescription Murder) where Columbo explains it in simple terms to the smart-alec suspect.

“You see, the murderer gets one chance.  Just one chance to pull off the ‘perfect crime’… the ‘perfect murder’.  But you see sir. this is my living.  I get 100 of these a year.  This is my bread and butter!  And I’m good!”

I’ve written hundreds of songs in my time (well, tens anyway), and one thing holds true.  You don’t always have to surprise.  You can lay out the fundamentals of the song in the first few seconds.  It’s not necessarily about finding out ‘what’ the song is, but rather the journey towards ‘why’ the song is.  Music doesn’t just exist.  It has been brought about for a reason.  And that reason is far more important than the tricks used to ‘surprise’ you during the song.  We’ve heard it all before.  The new synth sound… new drum machines…  new romantic, old romantic, three bags full romantic, punk, rock, indie, emo, acid, dubstep, folk, trance whatever whatever whatever.  It’s all old news.  It’s not about finding out who the murderer is, but all about how and why.  Keep questioning.  Don’t follow.  An enquiring mind is where it’s at!

… just one more thing.  I have published the new song.  I changed the title to Reconstruct a Memory.  It seems apt.  You’re not supposed to feel you have to like it… more “do you understand why you should like it?”.