Wednesday, 26 October 2011

DC Terror Cell Caught On Camera

Check out the paramilitary chic in this surveillance shot from the City Theatre, courtesy of Janiece Spence. Open mic regulars may well spot one of The Brulee Brothers amongst the 'Plan C' plotters.

Durham Pays Tribute To Bert Jansch

The Tav was rocking until well after the witching hour tonight, with entertaining sets from Honest Jack, Nick G, Carol, Ross and Chris. The highlight though was Alan's moving tribute to recently deceased folk magus Bert Jansch. Slipping into 'Dropped D' tuning, he merged 'Reynardine' with 'Blackwaterside' to great effect in an extended folk-raga excursion. Suddenly, the spirit of Bert was in the house! I felt inspired myself to chuck in Syd Barrett's 'The Gnome' and to finish the night later on with 'Sweet Jane'. A grand night all round, although the Everard's Tiger may well have helped. This new date on Tuesday has all the potential to become a happening scene.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Kokoschka's Doll

The Austrian Expressionist artist Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) was a real eccentric. When his girlfriend Alma Mahler dumped him, he decided to continue the relationship with a life-size replica made by the celebrated Munich doll-maker Hermine Moos. Kokoschka dressed his doll in the finest fashions and wheeled her round town to be his constant escort at the opera, the theatre and the best restaurants. Polite society was, of course, outraged.

Sadly, the relationship cooled in time and Kokoschka's doll was ceremonially beheaded after a riotous all-night party at his gaff. But her memory lives on as the name of a local Durham electro-acoustic project, the brainchild of composer Bob Wieck of Brancepeth Castle. I used to be in band with Bob back in the 90's and though Britpop (or Goth-Psych in our case) is now but a memory, Bob's synthesizer frenzies are still going from strength to strength. You can check out his gear at

Monday, 24 October 2011

Open Mic Moves To Tuesday

The Market Tavern sesh has now moved from Monday to Tuesday nights, starting at about 9.30 pm. This is good news all round, as you’ve got to be pretty desperate to want to go out for a drink on a Monday. I went down with Nick to do a set this week and met up with most of the usual suspects. The audience was small but appreciative and unlike the usual Wednesday mob, they do seem to want to listen to the acts. Given time, I think this could build up a good word of mouth scene, so why not give it a spin?

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh fhtagn !!!

Last weekend, I met up with some friends in Newcastle for an art crawl. I missed the first half due to sloth, but eventually caught up with everyone at The Old George Inn, just off the Bigg Market. This is the oldest pub in Newcastle and was once a favourite of King Charles I back in the 17th century. It now does a very good pint of Bass and a rather less exciting chicken baguette and chips. One of the party did however have a Toffee Apple Meltdown, which sounds more like a 60s psychedelic group than a dessert but still looked pretty tasty to me.

After lunch, it was off to the Hatton Gallery to see Kurt Schwitters' 'Merz Barn'. This is the largest surviving Dada artwork in the world and was moved here by Richard Hamilton (who sadly died recently) back in 1965. Personally, I prefer Schwitters' Merz pictures, but the barn is an impressive artefact in its own right, consisting of (you guessed it) a barn with added detritus. The Hatton is also one of the hosts for this year's International Print Biennale 2011 Print Awards and had some intriguing works on show, though for me, the real juice was the display of old 50s and 60s exhibition posters from the Hatton Archive. There's an energy to these works, which all benefit from being hand-printed posters with a Situationist vibe produced on a shoestring.

We finished off with an extended trip around Newcastle's surviving record shops. I find these places a bit dreary to be honest, as they just feel like museums to former glories rather than nerve centres of a happening scene, but maybe I'm just getting old. We did however see the most impressive work of the day, a signed poster of George Best going for a mere £350. Now that's what I call art!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Durham New Writing Festival 2011

One of Durham's best-kept secrets is the City Theatre, a tiny 100-seater venue hidden away behind the market place. The City is home to the Durham Dramatic Society who perform at least five plays a year here, many featuring certain well-known faces from the local open mic scene. This year's New Writing Festival showcased three brand-new plays and offered a welcome alternative to the usual Thug Pub Babylon available elsewhere on a Friday night.

First up was 'Plan C', a gripping play by Alan Godfrey about a bungled Irish terror plot. This was a great idea for a drama and featured some interesting merging of music and acting, with the singing of the old Irish ballad 'Reynardine' every time someone was preparing to go out on a mission. On the downside, the mixing of comedy elements detracted from the seriousness of the theme, but with an expansion of the claustrophobic central scenes, this could be a real runner. And of course, black berets and mirror shades always look good on stage.

Chris Neville Smith's 'First Sign Of Madness' was the meat in the sandwich and featured the best performance of the night, from Nicki Doyle (portrait below by Janiece Spence) as the bereaved girlfriend reflecting on her lost love. It was written in the Alan Bennett monologue style and had some excellent observation and good use of sound effects. Those tweeting birds certainly gave me the first signs of madness after 20-odd minutes.

Last up was Chris Joby's 'Crossing The Line', a high-brow comedy about obsessive Dutch Modernist Piet Mondrian. For me, this was the best-written piece of the night, with some amusing exchanges between Mondrian and the other 'De Stijl' artists Theo van Doesburg and George Vantongerloo. Like the previous play, it was ultimately a bit of shaggy dog story, but the punch-line was a killer.

Three entertaining plays for a fiver means great value and with a bar in the venue, where you can meet the cast and writers afterwards, the City provides a much more involving experience than the offerings at the Gala. The next performance will be Dennis Potter's 'Blue Remembered Hills' starting November 27th and running until December 3rd. Make a date in your diary and be sure to support your local luvvies.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Open Mic Closed Down ?

Went to the Market Tavern Open Mic last Wednesday and was told that it was the last one. The pub is under new management and they've decided to replace it with a folk night for students. There was talk of the Open Mic restarting on Monday nights, but I'm not sure exactly what's happening at the moment. Actually, I'm not all that bothered myself, as I've been going every week since the start of May and could use some time out to woodshed new material and muck around in my home studio. The plan is to get some stuff up on Soundcloud in the near future, so watch this space...