Saturday, January 29, 2011

Spot the difference: a dispatch from Rio

January 11th, Hammersmith, London. Charity concert in aid of Killing Cancer, five acts headlined by The Who and Jeff Beck, average cost of ticket £100, programme, t-shirt and other slickly produced merchandise, extra.

January 27th Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Charity concert to support relief work in nearby towns devastated by the recent flooding (over 1000 dead, 30,000 homeless, with mediaeval diseases making an unwelcome return amongst survivors), ten top acts covering the gamut of Brazilian popular music. Cost of ticket? Three litres of water or two kilos of rice or flour paid at the door. No t-shirts, programme or ticket stub to collect. I’m lucky enough to be in Brazil for a few weeks and to get to the event - and to compare the two.

One event represented the way of the developed world, the other the developing. One was aimed at longer term investment needs, the other the immediate relief of those affected by natural disaster. The Rio event delivered direct, immediate action; goods to be distributed, no cash to be siphoned off in admin fees. Geldoff would surely approve.

Fundicao Progresso is a 2000 capacity venue under the breathtaking arches that make Rio’s downtown Lapa so exciting, distinctive and memorable. Crowds gather outside mixing with beer-sellers and makeshift food stalls. There’s a slightly chaotic feel to it. And not a ticket tout in sight. The venue is deceivingly big. You enter through a colonial period frontage behind which is a sprawling series of performance spaces. The main stage area is like a Brixton Academy but twice the size and without the sophistication (sic). There’s no seating and the vast majority of the crowd cram in front of the stage, like all Brazilian audiences ready for dance and involvement. It’s packed. There’s no air conditioning, and with summer night temperatures in the late twenties you sweat. Profusely.

The atmosphere is electric. The swaying, pulsating, expectant crowd can’t keep still. A warm-up DJ has them moving. Exotic creatures beside me move their feet and ‘shake their booty’ in the manner only a Brazilian manages. The acoustics are surprisingly good for such a venue with mix and the volume just right. Unusually, the event kicks off almost on time at eighty-thirty, much earlier than is the norm here. First on is crowd-pleasing local hero, Leandro Sapucai. Suddenly your feet take on a life of their own. No point in having seating; no one is going to sit it out.

Various acts follow, each doing a couple of numbers. The styles are eclectic. Although the audience is relatively young they both know and respect the traditional artists so veteran samba queen, Elza Soares, get’s a huge roar. She might be 74, require help walking to stage front but boy, her voice is undiminished! We’re also treated to other legendary artists, crossing genres: Alcione, Sandra de Sa, Jorge Vercilio. Inevitably, being just a few weeks before carnival, the great beats, humorous lyrics and easy to sing-a-long melodies of traditional carnival songs get the crowd really jumping.

The non-Brazilian spectator can tell the relative fame of the act on stage by the number of digital cameras held high during particular performances. From my rear back position the superb Zelia Duncan appears framed by hundreds of tiny screens held aloft. The younger Fernanda Abreu gets the same adulation.

The show climaxes first with George Israel, one of the countries best-known singers and song-writers. He has been the instigator of the event so says a few words. A heart-felt appeal and reminder why we are here is kept short but made poignantly. A few crowd-pleasers and then, graciously, he allows current rock sensation Lenine to wrap it up. This guy is great. But so are all of the acts. They may not be household names outside of Brazil but to the 200 million here they are all deservedly superstars.

It has passed in a flash. Three and a half hours without any pause, with musical styles switching easily between samba, funk, MPB, rap and rock. The exuberant rhythm that dominates Brazilian music has provided continuity. One act introduces the following, and with a shared backing band there’s no time wasted in equipment change or sound-checking.

Dripping with sweat, feet aching but totally exhilarated, I make my way out, leaving most of the audience there to continue the DJ-led party to whatever time. God knows when they sleep here.

Two weeks ago I walked out of the Hammersmith Odeon with the Who’s future on my mind and the intention of buying some more Jeff Beck CDs. I walked out of the Fundicao Progresso, past impressively high mountains of plastic bottles and bags of staple food, intent on giving further help. Charity events should inspire; to everyone’s credit, this one did.

Monday, January 17, 2011

News Flashes!

Summer Festival

Where could you see AC/DC. Jimi Hendrix, Queen, Santana, Pink Floyd, ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin all on the same bill in 2011?

Dream on... or maybe not!

A line up like this is beyond the wildest imagination even if only because several of the bands are now only playing the great gig in the sky. However, the next best thing is probably the Rhodes Rock festival, held annually on the Greek Island of the same name.

UK based tour company, Classic Rock Tours, hit on the innovative idea of holding a festival featuring the best of the tribute bands a couple of years back and the popularity of the festival unsuprisingly grows year-by-year. Close your eyes under the Mediterranean sun and imagine ... let's face it, this is the nearest we'll all going to get to experiencing the dream festival line up!

The festival is to be held between June 8-15 this year. Check out their website Just the thought of it brightens up a cold January day!

And Now For Something Completely Different...!

If Greece is out in these recessionary times, maybe taking a self-guided rock tour of Manchester is one cheaper alternative?!

'The Manchester Musical History Tour' book by seasoned authors Phill Gatenby ('Morrisey's Manchester') and Craig Gill ('Inspiral Carpets'), comes out on February 3rd it can be bought and pre ordered from for £6 UK orders, £7 overseas, free postage. It's a great way to explore the musical heritage of one of the UK's richest rock cities.

The first 30 people to order the book can also join a free Manchester Music walking tour on the afternoon of Saturday February 19th @ 3pm, followed at 6pm by a signing session launch party at the legendary Dry 201.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Who Are You? The BEST, that's what!

Charity concerts have a special feel of their own. You get an eclectic and often unlikely combination of acts performing with a low-key, 'pally', informality. It's professional but not produced, and if it comes off you kind of feel you've been part of an event rather than just a spectator. When they don't come off it's a complete embarrassment, and you feel you just parted with the hard-earned a bit too readily.

Last night saw The 'Orrible 'Oo back in their old west London stamping ground at the Hammersmith Apollo, headlining a benefit for 'Killing Cancer' a charity promoting non-invasive therapy. It was an opportunity of catching what may turn out be their last outing, with rumours flying around that Townsend's hearing problem may preclude them taking 'Quadrophenia' on the road later this year as initialy projected.

The 'strange bed-fellows' for this mighty night were Richard Ashcroft of The Verve (wisely perhaps steering clear of performing 'The Drugs Don't Work' given the objective of the benefit!), Bryan Adams, Blondie, Jeff Beck and natch, The Who.

Ashcroft kicked off. He has a sound and a swagger that is pure 1990s Manchester even if he's from Wigan. Great solo stuff. Daltry then came out, bantered a bit with the audience, nodded to his own past history at the Apollo (which included seeing 1950's Saturday morning film legend 'Hop Along' Cassidy on stage here, with horse!)and with band played some typical Daltry solo-stuff. Thankfully his voice threatening throat-nodules appear to have been successfully removed. The three numbers laid the foundations for Bryan Adams to stroll on next and get everyone singing along to 'Run to You'. Alas, Adams spot was too short (particularly disappointing the lad from Kyrgyzstan sitting behind me and there specially to see him).

It was hairs-up-on-back-of-neck time next; Jeff Beck launched into Beck's Bolero, before playing an amazing version of the Beatles' 'Day in the Life' (available on Beck at Ronnie Scotts). Then out of the wings came the unmistakable Blondie to join Beck on 'Heart of Glass' and a couple of her other hits. Beck and Blondie? It worked. Blondie still looked good from where I sat... though it was a fair way back!

Then Daltry and Beck did their duet, paying homage to the Chicago blues that underpinned the birth of British metal in the early to mid 60's. Daltry's voice and Beck's guitar, throwing them back 50-years to their own beginings around the mean streets of west London; aka 'The Thames Delta'!

The heart-stopping, throat drying, nostalgia-tear provoking synth opening of Baba O'Reilly announced the main men. Oh, Christ! 30 seconds in and you KNOW you're watching one of the all time greatest bands. Daltry doesn't hurl his mic quite as high, or swing it quite as far from his body as of old (after all he does wear glasses onstage now...) and Townsend's trademarked kicks, jumps and windmilling seem to be executed with an eye on balance. But there's no aging process at work with the delivery of the musical material. Ringo's lad, Zac, flails Moon-like at the drum kit, underpinning his dad's pals in their faultless renditions of 'Who Are You' and an all too quick final number, 'Wont Get Fooled Again'.

That's the downside and danger of the charity gig. Just that little bit unfocused and there's just that chance of feeling you've have been fooled again. But not this time. With all and sundry (apart from a mysterious disappearance of Ascroft) on stage to belt out 'Join together in the Band' it was the perfect crowd-pleasing finale - even if Bryan Adams seemed less than familiar with the lyrics! It might have been an expensive ticket but if it turns out that this was the last Who performace then it may prove to hve been a ticket beyond price.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Hendrix Film

Our weekend commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix's death last September was recorded for posterity and is part of a Brazilian film looking at Jimi's time in London.

The film will be shown on national Brazilian TV and has been entered for at least 5 film international festivals, including several in Europe

You can see a trailer for it, recently posted by the producers, here:

Most non-Brazilians watching this will not appreciate that the musicians being interviewed represent the cream of Brazil’s rock talent. The film is to be officially launched in March with a concert featuring many of these stars playing Jimi's music.

Working in London with the Brazilian TV crew, and rock star Pitty, was 'interesting' to say the least, and there's a great back-story to the making of this film. But that's for another time... The picture accompanying this blog is of Pitty with the legendary John McCoy, trying on one of Hendrix's stage jackets inadvertantly left at John Teeside club in 1967.

The Hendrix weekend was so well-received, by the way, that we'll be repeating it this year with John Campbell’s 'Are You Experienced' playing at the Troubadour on the night of September 17th. It'll be the next best thing for those who can't be in Rio for the film launch!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

RIP Gerry Rafferty

It has to be the most memorable sax line in rock. You don't need to hear many bars to know you're listening to 'Baker Street'. We play it on our rock legends tour, just as we turn into this major London thoroughfare. Gerry wrote the number while living with friends here.

There's no doubt that despite associations with Sherlock Holmes, the Apple boutique and writer H G Wells, the musical soundtrack to this street will always be Gerry Rafferty's.

Glasgow born Gerry died of alcohol-related issues on Jan 04th, aged 63. Rock music has lost a great singer-songwriter whose potential was never fully realised.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Battle for 9 Madryn Street

To the Liverpool councilors and council officials who might be reading this blog, a New Year quiz for you; rearrange the following words into a well-known phrase or saying ; Noses own your can't beyond see you.

Liverpool Council have apparently decided that Ringo's childhood home in Liverpool's Dingle district is 'beyond economic repair' and should be bulldozed along with the rest of the street. Thankfully, Grant Shapps, the British coalition government housing minister, has stepped in to ensure this dreadfully short-sighted action is further thought through.

'fer Christ’s sake! Here's a simple math question for the good burghers of Liverpool; How much would it cost to completely rebuild a two-up, two down Victorian working class brick terrace? Now, based on an entrance fee of say £5 per person, how many people would have to visit it to repay the rebuild costs in just one year, and let’s discount the next 20-years worth of tourist visits?

Now add a few immeasurables; what message are you sending to the world when you refuse to protect and preserve so important a part of global heritage? How many additional people would be attracted to visit Liverpool if there was another Beatles site on the 'Magical Mystery Tour' circuit? But conversely how many may start to say, 'sod you, Liverpool, if you can't be bothered to look after World heritage site'? And is their no benefit to the pride the locals of the deprived Dingle might feel in having a bit of their somewhat sparse history preserved?

Still worried about the economic cost? How many Beatle fans might be prepared to sponsor the rebuild by donating a nominal £1 a brick (donator's names to be inscribbed for posterity)? And if Ringo, with his well-known antipathy to his physical roots, might not be prepared to donate a bob or two in these economically straightened times, would not big-hearted Paul?

Save 9 Madryn Street! Liverpool councilors and officials your economical analysis is completely flawed. Think instead of the cost of NOT saving this piece of global rock heritage. And just in case your English skills are equally as challenged as your economics, the well-know phrase you were asked to rearrange was 'you can't see beyond your own noses'!