I’ve seen the future

The art of theatre is alive and well in Oxford, in the safe hands of three of the best bands to be found within the city walls. Some evil genius put them together on the same bill on Saturday night at the Wheatsheaf in a dastardly bid to RULE THE WORLD!

There were four acts on the bill. Undersmile, all fishnet and scarlet (well the two singers anyway), opened proceedings. They were good at what they did. I didn’t particularly like what they did, which seemed to be play the same song three times with slightly different lyrics. I could be wrong. I have been in the past as two ex-wives will testify. But Undersmile can play and sing, and that might just be enough.

Huck and the Handsome Few were on good form. Quite where that voice comes from in Huck’s slight body is a mystery of physics, or perhaps biology (one of the sciences anyway), but I love his driving, passionate version of Stagger Lee’s, Stagolee tale. Mississippi John Hurt was first to record his version in 1923, and among those subsequently covering the story are Woody Guthrie and Will Greer, and The Clash. Huck’s version is better. And he squeezes out one hell of a Passion Man. Joined by the gorgeous Tamara Parsons-Baker for part of the set, their searing, agonised vocals worked beautifully together on The Fall and Jason, a particular favourite. It’s dedicated to all the gay cowboys out there, and I always wanted to be a cowboy. They speak of pain with authenticity. They got up and lived their lives the hard way.

The Long Insiders blew the place away. Their filmy, dramatic, theatrical songs really rocked the Wheatsheaf, and had the audience on its feet, and at their feet, the coquettish, and very lovely Sarah Dodd strutting around the stage on killer heels, all nervous energy, belting out tales from the dark side. As always the dynamic between singers Dodd and Nick Kenny was beguilling and intriguing, as the pair act out their 1950’s leading man, glamorous 50s actress fantasies, obviously loving every second, as did the audience. Imagine how the Shadows might have looked and sounded had they ditched Cliff for Audrey Hepburn and descended into a wild world of glamour and decadence. The new songs, Nervous, One in the Eye and Temptation fit perfectly into their spaghetti western/rockabilly/surf rock vibe. Visually, and musically, The Long Insiders are a class act.

As the last rounds of applause for the Long Insiders echoed through the Wheatsheaf, I wondered how Mephisto Grande would top that. But they managed. Beautifully. It was hard to know what to make of them at first, but that was probably because I was scared. Partly because Liam Ings-Reeves has a voice that makes Tom Waits sound like Tom Waits, and partly because he wore a brown kipper tie. And you know what they say about men who wear brown kipper ties. He also seemed to be wearing the jacket for my trousers, which I would never wear a brown tie with anyway. I’ve been searching for that jacket for a while now, but I certainly wasn’t going to ask him for it. He also seemed to be staring at me, but that could be one of those painting in a museum things - “his eyes are following me!” The safety of distance gives me the courage to say they were fantastic. There was gospel in there, a bit of blues - an accordian even, and something vaguely like death metal - although there was nothing vague about this band. And Jonny Mitchell! He had eaten his own fucking cymbals. He is a demon drummer.

The whole evening was pervaded by a strong sense of drama, and an almost unbearble sexiness. Whoever put together this line up deserves a pat on the back and probably a pint. But hey, it’s someone else’s round. Huck and his Handsome Few (including Tamara, although there are better adjectives than handsome), The Long Insiders and Mephisto Grande are on the rise. This is their year. I’m telling you.

One Small Step in the snow and Kim Noble Will Die

I went to see One Small Step at the Burton Taylor tonight. I loved it. It was brilliant - two great, lovely performances, of a warm, life-affirming play that reminds of the beauty that mankind is capable of.

It was sold out, but due to the six inches of snow covering Oxford, there were quite a few returns, and in the end the audience was quite small for the 5pm show - there’s also an 8pm one, both preview shows for the world tour which takes in Australia (they’ll love it there) and Dubai. But the people who did battle through the snow were the lucky ones.

Somehow, I’ve managed to miss this show every time it’s been on for the last two and a half years. I know the writer, and really wanted to see the original production (it’s an Oxford Playhouse show), but somehow it never happened. I missed it in Edinburgh too, and then again when it returned to the BT and then went on a UK tour. When I saw these two preview shows, I thought I’d make it at last…then it sold out!

It’s about the Apollo space missions and the race to be the first nation to put a man on the moon. I loved the fact that as the vessel orbited earth and was over Australia, the people on the earth below all put their lights on and were visible from the dizzy heights of space. I don’t know if that’s a true event, but I really hope so.

The two actors were childishly joyful - I don’t know who the actors were, and I don’t know who their characters were or where the play was set, but they conveyed the innocence of a different age (it might have been set today?) beautifully.

A bit different from Kim Noble Will Die, which I saw the Soho on Monday night. Now that was an interesting night. Nothing innocent about it. A blurring of the distinction between life and art and a couple of uncomfortable hours of self-harm and wanking (Kim Noble, not me).

It puts the audience in a weird position, cos you’re laughing at stuff that is horribly real, and probably actually real. Conversations as a relationship broke up, conversations as an ex-girlfriend came back fro the hospital following a miscarriage. Kim Noble is an award-winning comedian who had his own (with his double act partner) show on C4 then had a massive breakdown. He took his anti-depressants during the show - good way to remember them every day! He lays out his mental slide on stage.

A lot of it was definitely real. But at one point he gave out a fiver and a couple of quid to audience members. Then he asked a few people in the rows in front of me for a fiver or tenner or twenty pound note. No-one moved then some poor fool (ok, it was me) twitched and he said ‘You Sir’. Like a cornered animal I … err meekly handed over £20 (it was everything I had) and he promptly shredded it.

Now, there’s no way I can afford to lose £20 like that, but even though the show was unsettling and disturbing, at no point did I fear that I wouldn’t be able to get my money back. So where’s the reality there then? I waited until the end (which was spectacular and strangely beautiful) then asked the front of house staff how I got my money back. They of course went off to reimburse me. He should probably have challenged me during the show to provoke a reaction. That would have been unpredictable.

There were a lot of projections and films clips in the show - one was onto a tiny marionette of dolls body and it was Kim Noble’s head. It looked bizarrely real. Very freaky and really well done. He got one audience member to stand up straight at the side of the stage from the start with a bucket over his head onto which was projected at various times Kim Noble and Kim Noble’s mother. So at certain points he was talking to himself and answering himself. He did the same on his films. Another audience member sat with a bucket on her head with another Kim Noble projected onto that.

Oh and he gave out sample jars of his spunk to female members of the audience. These were also shown in the film on sale in Morrison’s for 89p (probably a bargain if you collect that sort of stuff).

His version of a charity bean bath saw him sitting in a bath with one tin of beans over his bollocks. Then he tried custard with a mint leaf for garnish.

One filmed segment involved plasticine models of him and an ex-girlfriend. That was kind of moving, until his model was given a machine gun and blew his own head off.

Paul McKenna is very smug. We all know that. So I can understand him being the target for one of Noble’s stunts. But Des Lynam? He’s just a bit too smooth for his own good. I hope it’s a very long time before I see a copy of his auobiography used in that way.

And Floella Benjamin, ex of Playschool. What’s she ever done to anyone? Except beat Noble by 33 minutes in the London marathon a few years back. And we’ll just have to agree to disagree over Bono.