Thursday, 20 May 2010

Dr Sketchy Anti-Art School Set List for 15 May 2010

Probably my most stressful Dr Sketchy’s yet -- bedevilled by technical glitches right up until show time (trying to sort out the audio so that the MC Dusty Limits can talk over music is not as simple as it sounds! Right up until the last minute his microphone was barely audible and the music sounded muffled). I was also waaay too sober – am definitely more relaxed and inspired with a few beers inside me!

/ The lucky winner. Me looking startled on the right. Photo by Celine Chaplin /

Anyway, here’s my set list from the 15 May 2010 Dr Sketchy's Anti-Art School at The Old Queen’s Head in Angel.

Revellion - The Revels
I'm a Bad, Bad Girl - Little Esther
I Ain't in the Mood - Helen Humes
Crank Case - Bill Black's Combo
Switchin' In the Kitchen - Don Covay
Work Song - Nina Simone
Someone to Watch Over Me - Jimmy Scott
Crybaby - The Honey Sisters
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Bye Bye Young Men - Ruth Brown
The Flirt - Shirley and Lee
Roll with Me Henry - Etta James
I Need Your Lovin - Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford
Baby Let Me Bang Your Box - The Bangers
Crazy Horse Swing - Serge Gainsbourg (Strip-tease soundtrack)
Anytime - Bill Black Combo
The Stripper - John Barry (Beat Girl soundtrack)
Harlem Nocturne - The Viscounts
The Girl Who Invented Rock'n'Roll - Mamie van Doren
The Man I Love - Hildegard Knef
Baubles, Bangles and Beads - Marlene Dietrich
Kiss - Marilyn Monroe
No Love for Daddy - Serge Gainsbourg (Strip-tease soundtrack)
Looka There Ain't She Pretty? Bill Haley and His Comets
Fujiyama Mama - Annisteen Allen
My Daddy Rocks Me - Mae West
Hit the Road to Dreamland - Dean Martin
Fever - Ann-Margret
Bewildered - Shirley and Lee
Destination Moon - Dinah Washington
The Immediate Pleasure - John Barry (Beat Girl soundtrack)
You're My Thrill - Chet Baker
Look Me Over Closely - Marlene Dietrich
Do It Again - Eartha Kitt
Let Me Entertain You - Ann-Margret
Some Small Chance - Serge Gainsbourg
8 Ball - The Hustlers
I Got a Right to Sing the Blues - Julie London
Little Girl Blue - Chet Baker
Boulevard of Broken Dreams - Denise Darcel
Strip-Tease - Juliette Greco (Strip-tease soundtrack)
Mack the Knife - Bill Black's Combo
All of Me - Mae West
Stagger Lee - Lloyd Price
St Louis Blues - Eartha Kitt
Crazy, Crazy Feeling - Esquerita
Drive Daddy Drive - Little Sylvia
Intoxicated Man - Serge Gainsbourg
Me Myself and I - Billie Holiday
Wo Ist Der Man? Jayne Mansfield
Uptown to Harlem - Johnny Thunders and Patti Paladin
Born to Cry - Dion
Let's Get Lost - Chet Baker
Love Me or Leave Me - Nina Simone
Misirlou - Laurindo Almeida
Lover - Peggy Lee
Jungle Drums - Earl Bostick

Whenever possible I’ll always play an obscure kitsch cover version rather than a classic original. So rather than Peggy Lee singing Fever, I’ll spin Ann-Margret's or Timi Yuro’s version. A particular favourite though is husky-voiced German chanteuse Hildegard Knef’s rendition. Check out Knef’s weirdly anguished, almost horror movie-like Germanic black and white 1963 video, with leotard-clad zombie-dancers interpretive dancing behind her. [Update: YouTube deleted this great clip!]

And speaking of German ...

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Grace Jones at The Royal Albert Hall 26 April 2010

Even if you’ve seen her perform before, it’s always genuinely astonishing to see Grace Jones in the flesh. The imperiously beautiful face with sculpted bone structure Nefertiti herself would envy; the taut and sinewy Amazonian limbs seemingly carved out of ebony. Onstage Jones is completely mesmerizing (and, at 62, eerily ageless). Her sexy but sinister and androgynous persona suggests a combination of dominatrix / alien / android and warrior.

Like her January 2009 gig at The Roundhouse in Camden, the Royal Albert Hall show melded tracks from her majestic 2008 comeback album Hurricane with classics culled from her essential trio of early 1980s recordings Warm Leatherette, Nightclubbing and Living My Life; songs which don’t just still sound modern, they still sound futuristic.

Thirty minutes later than scheduled, the curtain fell to reveal Jones isolated onstage entirely concealed within a silver tinfoil-like burka. She sang the opening song “This Is” from inside it, throwing art-y sculptural shapes within its folds. Withholding her appearance when everyone was gagging to see Jones made for a dramatic entrance but the song was a good five minutes long: you kept expecting her to burst out of her shroud but she stayed inside it for the entire duration of the song. Not being able to see her became anticlimactic, creating a sense of impatience.

When she unveiled herself from her burka, Jones was revealed in a brown and white striped catsuit that turned her into human / zebra hybrid, with a waist length mane of platinum white albino hair: the first of an amazing series of costumes by Eiko Ishioka, which included a black and red PVC catsuit and mask combo that turned Jones into a Spiderwoman/Medusa combo, and ancient Egyptian pharaoh chic.

(Ishioka’s costumes cleverly evoked memories of Jones’s key looks and images over the years. The brown and white stripes of the zebra catsuit recalled photos of the late Keith Haring transforming a nude Jones into a Masai warrior with white body paint).

For the first part of the RAH show the choice of song sequence felt disjointed and abrupt. And while her costume changes were remarkably speedy (her band continued playing, extending the ends of songs, and Jones herself kept up banter from the wings while changing) so many pauses couldn’t help but disrupt the momentum.

Keeping the band virtually concealed at the very back of stage was an odd choice (at first I feared she was performing to musical backing tracks until I started seeing the tops of the musicians’ heads bobbing on the horizon). It meant no opportunity for interaction or chemistry between Jones and her (awesomely tight and versatile) band, but then traditionally when a diva like Marlene Dietrich performed her musicians would have been hidden in the orchestra pit with her the sole focus onstage, so it did make a kind of sense.

The gig was also bedevilled by a surprising amount of technical glitches: no fan positioned where it should be (“I may have legs like a racehorse, but I don’t like to sweat,” she grumbled), no stool placed centre stage for the mournful ballad “Sunset, Sunrise”. The video for “Corporate Cannibal” stopped playing midway through the song. The eerie lookalike mannequin she was meant to tango with during “Libertango” was missing (which makes you wonder just how chaotic and disorganized it was backstage for such an important prop to be missing in action). “This is the Royal Albert Hall!” she fretted. “This isn’t supposed to happen at The Royal Albert Hall!”

(Corporate Cannibal costume)

They hardly mattered though, when Jones and her band were on such fierce form. As the gig progressed things began to flow better, sustaining a sinuous and alluring mood and Jones herself was utterly magnetic. Her bossa nova-tinged disco interpretation of “La Vie en Rose” was tender and dramatic.

(Note: for this number Jones wore an outrageous exploding flame burst orange dress and headpiece; towards the end she began twirling, revealing it was backless and she was naked except for a g-string. Except for anyone in the front you could clearly see she was in fact wearing a bronze catsuit that zipped down the back!).

Jones tore into the autobiographical “Williams Blood” like a tigress, working herself into a rage recalling her strict religious Jamaican upbringing. Both “My Jamaican Guy” and “Pull Up to the Bumper”, meanwhile, showcased Jones at her most warm, frankly lewd, relaxed and funny.

A hard rock “Love is the Drug” with green lasers pointed at the mirrored surface of her silver bowler hat, transformed Jones into a human disco ball.

Jones often makes musical and sartorial references to iconic chanteuses like Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich and Josephine Baker. She’s one of the few modern performers who belong in their otherworldly company. Seeing Jones live is a reminder she is the modern equivalent of a Dietrich or Baker: she transfixes and seduces us the way they did for earlier audiences.

/ Marlene Dietrich in butch Navy drag in Seven Sinners /

/ Grace Jones playing tribute in the eighties /

See more of my photos from the Royal Albert Hall

My pics from the January 2009 gig at The Roundhouse.