A busy week and then a wall

It’s been a pretty crazy month in April, but I have also, for most of it, been pretty ill. Last week my usual, ahem, failsafe plan of powering through and ignoring it did what it always does: works until it didn’t, when my body finally said enough and a three-day migraine wiped the feet from under me. So this week, work aside, I plan to take it easy: lots of green veg, lots of rest, lots of naps and nights in.

I did manage to do some fun stuff last week, though. Saw Avengers Endgame, a little movie you might have heard of, and went for cocktails at Beelim House again. Went to another gig in the Cluny – this time Cluny 2, which I liked a lot less, since it seemed to have been set up with no thought to the sightlines, and I’m never that fond of being in a basement. Still, it was to see Simone Felice, who my friend L is mad about (she was right at the front of the stage, while I sat at the back and felt a bit sorry for myself). While I am not totally converted, it was a good gig and we met him afterwards (I shamelessly insisted she took a photo with him), and he seemed very nice.

Yesterday I was back at Northern Stage to see Isle of Brimsker, a lovely wee play by Frozen Lights, a company that specialise in theatre for people with profound and multiple disabilities. It was a really well-done show: thoughtful, clever and performed with bags of charm, and I am pleased that Northern Stage is making such an effort to engage wider audiences.

But now, this week? Just lots and lots of naps.

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Holy Moly and the Crackers at the Cluny

Despite the fact that I was still feeling super shonky, dragged my sorry ass off the sofa for a gig last night and as usual, ended up glad I made the effort. After dinner at The Ship (where I tried their ‘fish’ and chips again, in the hope of finding it a little more exciting than last time, and still thought it was a little bland, so lesson learned) L and I went to see Holy Moly and the Crackers at their sold out Cluny gig.

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Since L is the gig maven – most of the bands I have seen so far since moving back have been at her suggestion – it was nice that this time it was my idea, and luckily the band didn’t let me down, putting on an absolutely barnstorming performance. They really are a great act live – personable, energetic and with a real connection to the crowd.

I also couldn’t help being a little pleased that the tour – named after their new album, Take a Bite, had some merch that was pretty much designed for me, so while I usually never buy merch at gigs, I thought this lip balm would make a nice prop for my bookstagram posts. So that’s almost like a work expense, right?*

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*Dear HMRC: I have not charged this as a work expense.

No Miracles Here at Northern Stage

Back at Northern Stage on Friday to see another show. I admit I wasn’t in the mood for it – a hectic work week had left me drained, which was evident when I arrived to realise I was still wearing my ‘house cardi’ (the shapeless, warm throw I schlepp around in, never to be seen out of doors), and I had completely forgotten what I was supposed to be reviewing, so stood at the box office for a good couple of minutes going, ‘um… a show?’. Then I tried to get in by confidently showing the usher my Metro card, so all in all not my best night for smoothness.

On top of that, my tiredness made me grumpy with the audience – did the man next to me not realise that jiggling your leg when you are on bleacher-style seating makes the who row move, and was making me seasick? (Why are men ALWAYS so unaware of how their behaviour affects others? Would it kill them to be at least a little in tune withe their environment, the way women are trained to be from childhood? But then, why won’t that woman stop talking all the way through the fecking show? Does she think her voice isn’t carrying right to the front of the stage?) How do SO MANY people need to go to the toilet during a show that was barely an hour long?

Despite these inauspicious factors, I was pretty won over by the show itself. A piece of gig-theatre by local group The Letter Room, No Miracles Here could be dark – it’s about someone planning to kill themselves – but ended up being warm, funny and ultimately uplifting. And short enough that I could get home in time to squeeze in an episode of Ghost Whisperer before bed, which is always good.

The Ship Inn and Gangstagrass at the Cluny

I seem to split my time fairly evenly these days between the Quayside (Live Theatre) and Ouseburn – and, following Friday’s snowy visit, I returned in mercifully better climes for a gig at the Cluny to see Gangstagrass.

I was going with my friend L of Raven in a Graveyard – and her parents, who are an absolute delight, and way hipper than I will ever be. It’s not often you see a couple of pensioners getting down to a mix of bluegrass and hip hop – not in my life, anyway – but her folks were long time fans, having seen the band in Edinburgh and the US. (They were chatting away like old friends before the gig – I was impressed!).

Dinner first, and we decided to try The Ship, in no small part because of its proximity to the venue. But it’s a place I have been keen to try for ages, but have so far only managed to walk past when it’s stowed. It’s is an old-fashioned pub – dog friendly, good beer, some board games – but has also successfully established itself as a venue for vegan food. I had the ‘fish’ and chips with mushy peas, which was filling, but not amazing: the chips were great, but the ‘fish’ – tofu wrapped in seaweed and then fried in batter – was a little bland, and the peas looked processed rather than marrowfat: L said she’d had better on previous occasions. Her parents fared better with a pie, gravy and chips that they said was great (and certainly looked fantastic). I’d definitely go back, though – a good range of options, really friendly staff (who were great about my nut allergy) and it’s a lovely space – no wonder it gets so busy.

The gig was in Cluny 1 again – the same place I saw Rob Heron. My only knowledge of the band was that they did the Justified theme, but their hard-to-quantify sound – an engaging mix of bluegrass and hip hop – and their fantastic stage presence made for a great gig, and I’m really pleased L suggested it – part of what I wanted to do when I moved was broaden my horizons, and do more than just go to the theatre all the time, and I’m actually doing pretty well on that. I’ll never be as cool as her folks, though…

Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra

The reason I was in Ouseburn in a blizzard (see previous post) was to go to a gig – my first at the Cluny. My friend Linda (of Raven in a Graveyard) is a regular there, and said that Rob Heron and his band were a fun night out. Well, she wasn’t wrong – the band were a delight. They’re a band that’s hard to categorise – I’ve seen them described as ‘swing honkytonk rockabilly’, and there was certainly some rockabilly style in the audience – but enormous fun, and with one of the most personable front men I’ve seen in a while. The music was toe-tappingly good, touching on everything from unrequited love to gentrification and bargain wine at Lidl, and the atmosphere was great (though we could have done without someone sending Linda’s drink flying then, instead of offering to replace it, just giving a cheery thumbs up. Er, thanks, love.)

The Cluny itself is a nice venue: small enough to feel intimate but not so small you feel squashed in, and with a decent programme of gigs (which is a good thing, since I’m going back this week…).

Holy Moly and the Crackers

Friday night saw me embracing something new while also reliving my youth, in a way. My friend M is a huge fan of the ban Holy Moly & The Crackers (whose song Cold Comfort Lane was featured in the film Ocean’s 8). She saw them at Alphabetti previously, so persuaded me to get a ticket to go with her when they played the Riverside. I’m glad I did – the gig was an absolute corker, the band – who I discovered were local – played their hearts out and the place was rocking. They are coming back on tour next year with a new album, but you better not beat me to tickets.

It was also interesting to see the new Riverside. In my youth I was a regular, and went to see bands as short-lived as Menswear (who were supported by Travis!), as well as more long-lived artists. Now that whole area of town seems to have been turned into luxury flats, the venue has relocated to the old Fish Market on the Quayside. It’s a gorgeous space, and a nice integration of old and new, with lots of neon and a well-laid-out interior (plenty of seats to chill out on before the gig)┬ábut something about it jarred. Maybe because I spend a lot of my time not only in theatres but thinking about making them more inclusive spaces. Maybe that’s made me oversensitive (certainly my female companion said nothing). But I couldn’t help noticing that, despite hosting a mixed gender band and a very mixed crowd (and having plenty of women’s toilets), the decor felt very much designed for the male eye: it felt a very gendered space.

Giant pictures of musicians adorn the walls: men look cool, women look sexy. (There are a few female musicians featured, but they are the traditionally hot looking ones, such as Debbie Harry). A giant Pulp Fiction Patricia Arquette reclines in her bra against one wall; upstairs, a woman clad in knickers and fishnets has her back to the camera, showing off a God Save the Queen jacket. Rock quotes – all by men, at least that I saw – are painted throughout. It adds up to a subtle sense that it’s a space for men, that music is male, and that women get to take part providing they look good enough.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with sexy pictures, of course, or boudoir design, but I’m also not sure that a 21st century venue should feel so squarely like it’s aimed at the blokes. Should it?

In which Baby Bushka blows me away

Last night saw me in Ouseburn again, an increasingly cool part of town that, while dominated by student accommodation, is also host to some great venues, including Ernest, The Biscuit Factory (home, remember, of the Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich I have ever had). Our destination was Cobalt Studios, a lovely laid back venue that hosts a series of cultural events, and which tonight was the location for Kate Bush Night.

I loved the vibe immediately: friendly staff, dressed for the evening in an array of strappy dresses and / or flouncy sleeves (the men included – there were several guys rocking frocks in a crowd where efforts to dress up ranged from minimal to spectacular). Neither drinks nor tickets were expensive, and though the place could do with more toilets – couldn’t everywhere – they are gender neutral single stalls, which at least means the blokes are stuck in the same (very friendly) queue rather than being able to waltz past a line of waiting ladies, and also adds to the inclusive vibe. Kitchsy decor struck just the right note, with benches, comfy chairs and sofas scattered around. And while most people might not notice, the fact that the venue is on the ground floor, with clearly visible, easily accessible exits and is small enough that even when busy it doesn’t feel overwhelming made me more comfortable. I spent too much of my youth in firetrap basements or claustrophobic clubs to want to revisit that experience now, and I like places that you know you can get out of quickly if you or one of your party is prone to anxiety and occasionally needs a fast escape.

A roster of local bands before the main attraction did make the evening a long one – though admittedly that is likely just me, who nearly always wishes everything was over five minutes after it starts – the mood was buoyant, and the bands were good. But my energy was definitely starting to wane a bit when the headliners came on – who then proceeded to utterly blow me away.

It’s been argued before that in some ways tribute bands can give you a more authentic experience of the artist you love than the artist themselves: you are, after all, guaranteed to get all the hits, rather than be subjected to the dreaded ‘and here’s something you haven’t heard before from our new album’ syndrome, and are less at the mercy of the vagaries of an artistic temperament. There is also less of a barrier between performer and audience: after all, you are all there for the same reason, the love of the music that is being performed. (When I saw Absolute Bowie in Brighton, it was in the company of someone who had seen the man himself in concert and who unhesitatingly proclaimed this a better gig.)

It also gives you access to a time machine of sorts – especially important when your beloved star is a chameleon whose look and style is constantly evolving. Kate Bush is 60: magnificent as she is, she’s likely not going to be wanting to don the same costumes and do the same moves she did when she was 20, just as the Bowie of later tours had abandoned his jumpsuits and capes. Tribute bands allow us to relive those moments in an artist’s history that are crystallised in our minds – even if it’s only from a Top of The Pops appearance glimpsed in our parents’ living room – in a way that is hardly ever possible with the actual person.

And Baby Bushka nailed it. An eight-strong, all-female troupe of incredible talent and bags of charisma and cool, this American band split lead duties between them, each tackling the songs most suited to their persona, and doing so with energy and aplomb. The setlist was tackled with plenty of artistic interpretation and humour, but never aimed at either Ms Bush or her fans, rather marvelling at the fact that even her most outre moments were touched with a sort of genius. Even I – the woman who spends even her favourite gigs mentally working through a checklist of ticked-off hits so I can gauge how much longer I have to stand and how early I can go home – would have been happy to watch more of them, and was on my feet roaring with the rest of a delighted crowd.

They are touring the UK at the minute – and funding the whole process themselves – so if you get a chance, go see them (check out their Facebook page for details). I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.