Archive for March, 2009

Credit crunch? What credit crunch?

March 19, 2009

We sure are living through hard times.


It’s been reported that 2008 “X-Factor” winner , Leona Lewis, has just been paid £1 million for one show and seven songs.was for a concert before just 200 people, gathered for the 21st birthday party of Phones4U founder John Caudwell’s daughter Libby.

The gig took place on Saturday night at John Caudwell’s mansion in Eccleshall, Staffs. “X-Factor” Simon Cowell, who has Lewis under contract, is said to have the go-ahead to the  light to the gig, because of the cash involved. “Leona was not supposed to do any live shows until next year, but she made an exception. It’s a hell of a lot of money and was a great party, so it was fun being involved”, said a source.



Natasha Richardson (1963-2009)

March 19, 2009

Stephanie Zacharek has written a good early obituary in today’s newsletter


Remembering Natasha Richardson, 1963-2009

A tribute to the talented actress, whose unpretentious presence perhaps masked how good she really was.

By Stephanie Zacharek

March 19, 2009 | You don’t have to be a celebrity-obsessed culture vulture, or a movie critic, to be upset and saddened by the death of Natasha Richardson, who on Monday suffered a seemingly minor skiing accident just outside of Montreal and died on Wednesday in a New York hospital at the age of 45. The story is compelling for lots of reasons, not least because it reminds us of the always present possibility that the people we love best could be taken away from us in a heartbeat.

Most of us haven’t thought much about Richardson in recent years, largely because she hasn’t had that many starring roles in Hollywood. But anyone who’s seen Richardson perform, either in the movies or, I’m certain, on stage, knows that’s not for lack of talent or dedication on her part. The reality is that Richardson — the granddaughter of Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson, and the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and director Tony Richardson, and thus part of a multigenerational show-business family — was the sort of actress who’s too good, and too unusual, for Hollywood to reckon with. For every Julia Roberts or Michelle Pfeiffer — for every gifted actress who finds her footing as a star, at least for a time — there are dozens more whose gifts are just as great if not greater, but who perhaps are too subtle for Hollywood to know how to sell. Richardson, I think, fell into that latter category, and the fact that she was such a consistently likable and unpretentious presence perhaps masked how good she really was.

The many hastily collected biographical writeups on Richardson that have been streaming out in recent days generally list the roles that are most familiar to moviegoing audiences, like those in “Nell” (1994), “The Parent Trap” (1998) and “Maid in Manhattan” (2002). They also note, as they should, that she won a Tony in 1998 for her role as Sally Bowles in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of “Cabaret.” (She had made her Broadway debut in 1993 in “Anna Christie,” playing opposite Liam Neeson, who would later become her husband.)

I never saw Richardson on stage, but my favorite among her film performances is that of Patty Hearst in Paul Schrader’s 1988 film of the same name. “Patty Hearst” is a challenging and difficult picture, a stylized window into a particular kind of horror story. ………..

Mary Coughlan – in a “confessional” mood.

March 18, 2009

Although I have been a devotee of Mary Coughlan ever since her debut album Tired and Emotional, and believe that a lot of what she does is quite stunning, I’ve have some difficulty in summoning up too much liking for her insistence on bringing her personal life – very often unmediated by any discernable signs of artistry – into the recording studio or onto the stage during performances.

Much of what she does, when in what I call her “confessional” mode, seems to me to be little more than the trite, melodramatic posturing of a cut-price diva who has watched too much of Judy Garland in the last years of her career, and who thinks that the Garland tendency to over-egg everything amounts to real artistry. Coughlan may well think that she’s behaving like a latter-day Billie Holiday when she bares her soul and emotions in public, but that, it seems to me,  is to fail to understand that Holiday, in the recording studio or on stage, was rarely self-indulgent and even less more self-aggrandizing.

Coughlan, at her most brazenly off-putting, does not elicit sympathy. There are times, in fact, when one feels that the only appropriate response to some of her material is politely ask her to desist from foisting it upon the public.  

I have to say that not everybody who listens to Coughlan, or watches a Coughlan perform, thinks as I do, as this recent piece in the Financial Times proves.


Transforming heartbreak

By David Honigmann

Published: March 16 2009 20:18 | Last updated: March 16 2009 20:18

Mary Coughlan
The Brook, Southampton, UK

Six years ago, Mary Coughlan had her worst St Patrick’s Day. The details might have come from one of the songs she sings of betrayal and regret: drunken revelations from her now ex-husband about the nanny.

“I really needed to get away,” she says. She went as far as she could, to stay with her second daughter in Sydney, initially vowing never to return. Her antipodean exile led to a six-week residency at an arts centre in Christchurch, New Zealand. This residency led to a new album, The House of Ill Repute, and this album now sees her touring again. On Tuesday she celebrates St Patrick’s Day at the Pigalle Club in London.

Coughlan describes The House of Ill Repute as “a return to the concept album”. Its 13 tracks chart a course through the murky waters of infidelity, child abuse, pornography and prostitution. One song, “Antarctica”, is so bleak (“you lying bastard, whoring fraud/you rotten stinking cheat”) that an early listener wrote Coughlan a note begging her not to include it on the album.

“I put in most of my fucking horrific relationship with my ex-husband,” says Coughlan. “From the age of seven, this is my life. It was born out of unhappiness, and I’ve never been as unhappy as that.”

Coughlan built her career on a series of albums that played on her image as a hell-raiser, down to the titles – Tired and Emotional, Under the Influence. An early hit, “Delaney’s Gone Back On The Wine”, remembered a Galway tavern companion who drank himself to death at 33. She developed a ferocious reputation within Ireland’s musical industry.

“Sixteen years ago I stopped drinking,” she says now. “I thought everyone was going to love me. But people get used to you as a drunk. People have reasons for you to stay drunk.”

On Sunday, Coughlan and her band put in an appearance at London’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square, before her appearance at The Brook, a cavernous Southampton pub.

They ran through a mixture of songs from The House of Ill Repute and old favourites. A version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” she played slow and brooding, the central repeated riff carried on piano. As with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ “Mother’s Little Helper”, which she has also covered, she lifted the song out of adolescent callowness by inhabiting it with the voice of lived experience. When she sang about the “bedroom so cold/turned away on your side” it sounded less like a lovers’ tiff, more like an anatomy of an entire relationship.

As ever, she ran through a variety of styles. “The House of Ill Repute” began as Weimar-on-the-Liffey cabaret, swerved into a carousel waltz for a middle eight, then a snatch of “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic”, then a fairground horror-show with a carillon tinkle. “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do”, one of several old standards of her heroine Billie Holliday, added a bossa-nova tinge to its tango. Leiber and Stoller’s “Some Cats Do” had alleycat bass, with pawprints of cymbal and moonlit piano chords underneath Coughlan’s miaows; clinking glasses behind the bar fitted in perfectly. “Antarctica” she sang a cappella, icicle-precise.

Coughlan writes few of her own songs, but her choices and the way she inhabits them turn them alchemically into autobiography. Mother of five and grandmother of one, so far, she is an unlikely but transfixing performer, whether standing on one leg on a vertiginous high heel or kicking off her shoes – “now I’m six inches smaller” – to whisper, growl, cry out loud and occasionally lean against a monitor to listen appreciatively to her showband as they vamped out. No one should wish her heartbreak, but everyone should envy her power to transform it.


Friday 20 March 2009.

Caroline Sullivan, reviewing Coughlan’s Saint Patrick’s night appearance at Pigalle, London, like many others, forgives the singer her tendency to turn her life into melodrama.

…….One of the most striking things about Coughlan – beyond the deep, knowing voice and her complete mastery of cover versions such as Love Will Tear Us Apart and I’d Rather Go Blind – is her ability to inhabit each number. She’s a constrained housewife on Bad, filthily enunciating “arse” in the line “I want a hand on my arse in a Spanish bar”; then a dead-eyed hedonist on the raucous title track of her current album, The House of Ill Repute. Admittedly, she’s not above hamming things up in the interests of entertainment, but she does so on the understanding that this is, or was, her life. (my italics. KC) The showpiece, Antarctica – an ode to her “rotten, stinking cheat” of an ex-husband – is performed a cappella, with no embellishment at all. It’s a fitting climax to a memorable gig…… (full  review)


Obama & cosmetic changes?

March 18, 2009

In a article published by the conservative periodical, The National Review,  on the 13th of March, NR editor Rich Lowry points out that for all his posturing has not altogether abandoned his predecessor’s ways.



Barack Obama has perfected a three-step maneuver


 that could never even be attempted by a politician lacking his rhetorical skill or cool cynicism.

First: Denounce your presidential predecessor for a given policy, energizing your party’s base and capitalizing on his abiding unpopularity. Second: Pretend to have reversed that policy upon taking office with a symbolic act or high-profile statement. Third: Adopt a version of that same policy, knowing that it’s the only way to govern responsibly or believing that doing otherwise is too difficult. Repeat as necessary.


It’s tempting to dismiss the Lowry piece as the ravings of a right-winger determined to prove the Bush administrations policies were by and largely right and that his successor, for all his pretence of doing otherwise, has to follow them. However, as the columnist and blogger Glenn Greenwald pointed out a few days later, what Lowry says about the Obama administration is in this case fundamentally true.


If the last eight years have taught anything, it is that no rational person would listen to or take seriously anything Dick Cheney and his Lowry-like followers have to say.  That they’re motivated by everything other than the truth when criticizing Obama only bolsters that conclusion.  But their ill motives and unbroken history of deceit doesn’t mean that they’re wrong in this case.  And as much as one might prefer not to acknowledge it, it is becoming undeniably clear that — at least in the realm of civil liberties, executive power and core Constitutional rights — Lowry’s description of Obama’s “three-step maneuver” is basically accurate, and Cheney’s fear-mongering lament that Obama is undoing his Terrorism policies is basically false.


Tim Garland @ Coventry Jazz Festival 2009

March 17, 2009

This is a wonderful piece that showcases Garland, in the company of his Lighthouse Trio partners, pianist Gwilym Simcock and percussionist Asaf Sirkis. at the top of his game. This, I believe, is the trio which appears at this year’s Coventry Jazz Festival. If it is, then jazz lovers are in for a real treat. 

This is what All About Jazz‘s Chris May, in a piece published the 20th of January this year, has to say, first,  about Garland himself, and then about the track Bajo Del Sol as it appears on the double album Libra


A magisterial tenor and soprano saxophonist and bass clarinetist, Garland is also a richly atmospheric composer and arranger. He is at home in both jazz and classical musics, and in either big orchestral settings or smaller, more intimate surroundings. These qualities are all heard, seamlessly woven together, on the outstanding 2CD set Libra, which features one of Garland’s current trios alongside the massed ranks of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra……………..


…..The salsa and tango informed “Bajo Del Sol,” with Garland on bass clarinet, shows how intense the Lighthouse Trio can be and just how much noisy excitement three musicians can create while still remaining lyrical.


Coventry Jazz Festival 2009.

March 16, 2009


 I had a postcard on Saturday from the organisers of this year’s Coventry Jazz Festival. This is pretty much what it contained:





The dates for Coventry’s 11th Jazz Festival have been announced, with an array of world class artists set to perform.This year, the festival will return from 21st – 25th May 09 , and will see performances from some of the world’s most renowned jazz artists, which include Maceo Parker, Robert Fripp & Theo Travis, Jacqui Dankworth, The Don Weller Big Band and Portico Quartet.

There’ll also be performances from Empirical, The Neil Cowley Trio and Tim Garland Acoustic Trio , with more acts to be announced soon!

In 2009 we will be presenting music in several venues across the city, including The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry Cathedral and Taylor John’s House. 


I’m very pleased to see Tim Garland in the line-up. He is, in my humble opinion, one of the best performers and composers to come on the British scene in the last thirty years.

UPDATE 31.03.2009

Download this PDF to see the completed line up.

The first 30 days of President Barack Obama

March 15, 2009

The veteran American political journalist Elizabeth Drew has contributed a fine essay to The New York Review if Books summing up the successes and failures, as she sees them, of the Barack Obama administration’s first thirty days in office.

As carefully as Barack Obama prepared for it, the presidency has held some surprises for him—some foreseeable, some not, and some of his own making. Seeking to avoid the mistakes of the early Clinton era, Obama concluded that, unlike Clinton, he didn’t want to hold the numerous meetings that can chew up so much of the president’s time. Instead, according to his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, Obama’s style is to drop by an aide’s office—a restless man, he roams the White House corridors—or stop an aide in a hallway and ask, “How are you coming on that thing we were talking about?” Gibbs says, “The worst thing is not have an answer.” Asked what happens then, Gibbs replied, “He gets that disappointed parent look, and then you better go find an answer.”………….

She is especially good on how and why the Republicans have attempted to thwart the administration’s every move.

The most important problem that Obama and his aides weren’t prepared for was the degree to which the Republicans would oppose him. In part, this was circumstantial: the first major bill to test the President’s stated desire for bipartisanship was on the subject that arouses the most partisanship: taxing and spending. The Democrats were bent on using the opportunity of the stimulus bill to expand or create as many domestic programs as they could. Against the evidence of the past eight years, the Republicans remained wedded to tax cuts as the way to stimulate the economy. To some extent, Obama set himself up by calling for bipartisanship—especially on this subject. He was acting on his campaign pledge to “change the ways of Washington,” or “end the partisan wrangling,” which didn’t necessarily mean winning bipartisan support for every bill.

The House Republicans, greatly reduced by the 2006 and 2008 elections, were now as a whole more conservative than they’ve been in a generation—moderate Republicans having been reduced to a mere dozen or so. There were signs from the outset that the Republicans had no intention of cooperating with Obama. Lacking the leverage to affect policy, or the votes sufficient to defeat Obama’s stimulus plan, they could do what they wanted, however short-sighted, without being saddled with responsibility for killing it. Moreover, they concluded from their losses in 2008 that they hadn’t been conservative enough ; they had come under a great deal of criticism for having presided over too much spending. The House has been particularly polarized for decades: when each party gains the majority, it takes revenge for having been, as they see it, mistreated by the other. Since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was rushing the bill through the House, it was easy for Republican leaders to get their followers worked up against it. Emotion —over issues, over procedure—plays a larger part in parliamentary politics than people may realize.

Don’t speak too soon, Barack.

March 15, 2009

I hope that somebody from the Obama administration read Joan Walshs piece in yesterday’s edition of Salon. In it she issues a timely warning to the administration not got fall into the trap of claiming too early that the things it’s done to fix the economy are working.

I’m alarmed by the way the Obama administration has been hyping the slight uptick in good news about the economy in the last few days. Yes, the Dow had its best week since November, Citigroup and Bank of America say they expect to make money this quarter, GM won’t need an immediate infusion of tax dollars, and retail spending seems to have stabilized, at least for now. On Thursday Obama himself told business leaders that the crisis is “not as bad as we think,” and on Friday National Economic Council director Larry Summers said the spending numbers were “modestly encouraging signs” that the stimulus might already be having an effect.

As someone who has repeatedly defended Obama from GOP efforts to blame him for the current crisis and to deride the “Obama economy” only 55 days into his presidency, I think the administration could be playing a dangerous game. Live by the week’s economic news, die by it as well. If the Dow dives next week, or retail spending dips again, does that mean the stimulus failed?…….

Mary Coughlan “The House of Ill Repute”

March 13, 2009

I have not yet bought Mary Coughlan‘s latest album The House of Ill Repute , but now that I’ve read this review in The Scotsman and this one from today’s edition of The Guardian (both which suggest that album is artistctically much more than the embarrassing self-revelatory mess interviews with her suggest), I’m putting it on my list of those albums I need to get hold of immediately.


Mary Coughlan: The House of Ill Repute


Mary Coughlan is an impassioned performer who expresses herself best through the words and tunes of others. Her impressive new album has all the swaggering “nu-chanson” of artists such as Arthur H or the Tiger Lillies but with an extra, more accessible dimension. She knows it’s not enough to sing literate words over competent backing – the sound must embody the meaning of the songs. Erik Visser’s arrangements ensure that well-chosen tracks – such as Pornography, and Kirsty MacColl’s Bad – gain in translation. Coughlan is not a rock singer, but she gives pieces such as Moon in a Taxi Cab an authenticity that few rockers retain after their first flush. Neither is she a jazzer, yet she wraps her voice around the contours of Some Cats Know (Leiber and Stoller) as sexily as Peggy Lee in her prime. She can do scary, too: witness the eloquent bile of Antarctica, and the pounding, punishing Whore of Babylon. Tom Waits has met his Irish match.



Warwick Folk Festival & Dick Dixon

March 12, 2009

I have to say that I’m always in awe of people who devote all the time and  energy they have to spare to some project or other from which they reap no discernable reward beyond the knowledge that they have made a contribution to the promotion of a cause or project they believe in.


 One such person is Dick Dixon, who for the last thirty years has played a singular role in guiding Warwick Folk Festival from its humble beginnings to the success that it is today. Such selfless dedication is to be admired and should be celebrated at every opportunity.

Dick Dixon

Dick Dixon




Here is a column from the Leamington Spa paper The Courier that at least makes some attempt to acknowledge Dick’s contribution.

Warwick folk festival celebrates 30 years


Published Date: 29 January 2009

By Holly Whitmill


Big-name artists Kate Rusby and Jim Moray are signed up to play at this year’s Warwick Folk Festival.


The festival has been running for 30 years and attracts some of the top names in British and international folk music.

Young singers Kate Rusby and Jim Moray will take the stage along with songwriting legend Eric Bogle and the Australian Spooky Men’s Chorale.

Moray, 27, whose album Low Culture was the Mojo Folk Album of 2008, is the event’s new patron, taking over from Warwick-born folk singer June Tabor.

Festival director Dick Dixon has been involved with the event since the beginning when there was just one concert and a ceilidih.

He said: “Thirty years is a fantastic achievement for everyone involved and it’s a genuine pleasure to see people come back year after year to enjoy our wide-ranging programme of music and dance.

“Warwick attracts audiences and artists of all ages and many of our regulars are people who have grown up with the festival and now bring their own families.

“Some of our best supporters – and indeed our new patron Jim Moray – weren’t even born when the festival started!”

Kate Rusby is a Barnsley singer-songwriter and young ambassador for folk music who reached number six in the UK charts with her duet All Over Again.

Scottish-born Eric Bogle wrote the classic folk anthems The Band Played Waltzin’ Matilda and The Green Fields of France, one version of which was a number one hit for The Fureys.

The main events during the weekend of July 24 and 26 take place in the grounds of Warwick School and the Bridge House Theatre.

But the whole town is involved in the festivities with back-room music sessions, free open air concerts, music and dance workshops, meet-the-artist sessions, ‘singarounds’ and children’s entertainment.

Tickets prices and booking information will be announced shortly. Call 024 7667 8738 or visit