David Bowie IS V&A launch party review: music event of the year 2013

I’m posting various pieces I’ve written about David Bowie. Remember, David Bowie IS not was.

Republished from Madam Miaow Says 23.03.2013

The vast lobby of the Victoria and Albert Museum had been turned into the sort of joint where beautiful young men and women press cocktails and bubbly onto you as soon as you walk in. Mini canapés appeared transported on futuristic illuminated platters like something out of the Korova Milk Bar in Clockwork Orange.

Yes, here we were at the David Bowie Is launch party, surely the music event of 2013.

We sipped Green Genies: vodka martinis with lychee juice and absinthe. The orange cocktail was the BEST! Passion fruit juice, vodka and ginger beer over crushed ice and sipped through a straw. I had four of those (see how pink I am in the photo?), came back home and caught Tescos open. Tried to buy the ingredients (I was pissed and not thinking straight, only I WANT) but was vetoed by CSM who bought me Irish Cream faux Baileys instead. Not the same. But I got to use my new Bowie tote bag. Which is orange.

The exhibition is huge and begins with oranges. (I’m spotting a colour theme.) I can’t possibly do it justice in 400 words but every corner yields something fascinating: the handwritten cost for a recording studio session (£149); videos; drawings; costumes galore.

It opens today. You have until August 11th to catch it when it begins a world tour. Some 47,000 advance tickets have been sold so hurry up and book.

Anna Chen and Charles Shaar Murray at the Bowie IS launch party

So here’s my review for the today’s Morning Star.

David Bowie Is
V & A 23 March – 11 August 2013
Review by Anna Chen — Morning Star

Nearly a decade with nary a squeak from the house-husband, and suddenly this embarrassment of riches arrives, hot on the heels of his new and most excellent album, The Next Day.

Here I am praying at the altar of David Bowie, the eagerly awaited launch of his very own exhibition at the V & A museum. My heart throbs, my eyes goggle. I’m falling in love all over again.

Wednesday’s launch party carried a fitting sense of occasion like the rock events of old. I say a quick hi to Noel Gallagher, ogle Bowie lookalike Tilda Swinton, listen to Tracy Emin’s speech about swigging sherry to early Bowie, and hear Gary Kemp plan a film about Bowie’s much-loved sidekick, the late Mick Ronson.

One glance at the heaving crowd and I realise that there’s a new measure of wealth and taste. Forget tight buns: the mark of today’s pampered elite is a tight face.

On entry, I am immediately transported back to my childhood as a serious Bowie kiddie, camping out all night to secure front-row tickets at the Hammersmith Odeon and Kilburn State Gaumont, and glimpsed in the DA Pennebaker Ziggy Stardust movie.

The radio-headset is a vital part of the experience, surrounding you with super-duper 3D audio as you walk around. I wasn’t sure what the Carl Andre floor tiles were doing in the first bit but it sets the scene for Bowie as Serious Artist, a status the rest of the exhibition confirms.

This extensive selection from the Bowie archive has everything a fan could wish for, barring the presence of the great man himself. From his earliest artistic influences (Warhol, Burroughs), his first appearance in the public eye as spokesperson for The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long Haired Men, the space race (Space Oddity, Starman): welcome to Bowie World.

The scraps of paper on which Bowie scribbled lyrics and notes demonstrate that this wasn’t someone merely churning out product: this was someone in the seat with the clearest view of worlds of imaginative possibility.

Many of the costumes on show seem strangely drab and unmagical without Bowie filling them out, but the wing-legged Kansai Yamamoto outfit shines (literally), as does the bizarre black and white one-piece (influence Sonia Delauney) beside a screen depicting it in action for Bowie’s stunning 1979 performance of The Man Who Sold the World on Saturday Night Live.

By the time we reach the final hall where thirty-foot-high Davids and Micks sing to us, I remember why I fell for him the first time round. I’m ready to do the whole thing again.

First published at the Morning Star and Madam Miaow Says

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Understanding the viciousness of the anti-Corbyn tendency: shades of the Paris Commune

Jeremy Corbyn, the BBC and the democratic process

Why has Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party with a massive 59.5 per cent provoked more fury among the centre-left than the predations of the right which still overwhelm us?

I’m bewildered by the preoccupation among good friends with diversions that have little to do with the big central crises facing us: worsening poverty and wars.

Broadly speaking, my anti-Corbyn friends are focusing on Westminster-bubble concerns such as the cabinet reshuffle; personalities (they don’t like Corbyn or his cohort); plus JC’s sympathy for the Palestinians and his criticism of Israel. What is going on with this endless stream of pieces on a reshuffle in which he sacked one person (shadow Culture Secretary and former SpAd/corporate lobbyist Michael Dugher) and moved another?

Compare this with Tony Blair’s nights, weeks, months and years of the long knives, when Blairites were parachuted into constituencies against the wishes of locals, and his removal of the authority of Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) as a means of centralising his power along presidential lines. Were Seumas Milne even half as thuggish as rottweiler Alastair ‘sexed-up dossier’ Campbell, the media would be having a conniption. Oh, they already are.

The rest of us see Corbyn as representing the first real hope for people devastated by decades of intensifying Tory and Tory-lite policies: food banks; the breaking of the NHS; ATOS savagery towards the disabled; the transfer of wealth from poor to rich as “austerity” (for us!) while the super-rich TRIPLED their wealth since the 2008 crash; the break-up of education (academies — imagine Toby Young as your mentor); crippling tuition fees; neglected flood defences; banking scandals where no-one is held to account; tax avoidance by massive corporations; a tanking economy disguised by various financial tricks and an artificially inflated housing bubble; another crash on the way but without the safety net of a China powerhouse this time; wars without end; a destroyed manufacturing base since Thatcher and now steel, coal and a burgeoning green energy industry killed off; fire sales of public assets; ownership of the media by a handful of moguls; increased poverty, homelessness, debt and hunger; hefty wage rises for the political class while we’re pauperised; and general selfish corruption permeating every walk of life.

However, in the official narrative the realproblem is … Jeremy Corbyn. We’re told that he’s so weird-beardy extreme that he couldn’t possibly win a general election, but the consequence of their efforts to undermine him could well be the creation of a self-fulfilling prophecy, and an unintended demonstration of a contempt for democracy – remember, Corbyn’s leadership has a greater democratic mandate (almost 60 per cent of the selectorate) than any Labour Party leader of recent times, including Blair – which matches that of the Tories. Meanwhile, the notional ‘centre’ of British (and American) politics has moved so far to the right than it currently enshrines policies and attitudes at which even Thatcher and Reagan (during their first terms, anyway) would have baulked.

When the right and the soi-disant ‘moderates’ attack Corbyn, we see an attack not on one individual and his cohort, but on everyone trying to mount a challenge to the rich who are taking everything that isn’t nailed down, and damn the rest of us to hell. This is class war and it’s being waged unopposed by the richest class against us. We’re not allowed to defend ourselves. And whilst the membership of the Labour Party swells, the degree of influence which the party establishment wishes to allow that membership to wield proportionately decreases. In other words, STFU and stuff those envelopes!

Even conservatives like Nick Robinson and Peter Hitchens are worried by the concerted media assault on JC, while mainstream journalists Roy Greenslade and Nic Outterside are questioning the ethics of our partisan press. The blogosphere has rushed to ensure that the public is kept informed of the truth … which should be the BBC’s job, but – as that ship has sailed – we’re largely reliant on blogs such as evolvepolitics.com to fill in the gaps.

Laura Kuenssberg, BBC hit-woman for Cameron

VERY posh girl Laura Kuenssberg, BBC News Political Editor, was only serving her class when she and Andrew Neil facilitated Cameron’s ambush of JC and the rest of us by orchestrating the resignation of Labour MP Stephen Doughty in the studio five minutes before PMQs. Their boast of how they achieved this interference with the democratic process was deleted from the BBC website but you can read a cached version of it here.

So far over 10,000 people have signed the Change.org petition to sack Kuenssberg and Andrew Neil for manipulating the news rather than reporting it. BBC impartiality is now a joke. Instead of speaking truth to power and challenging it, they suck up to it. Although, given Kuenssberg’s background, she’s not so much twanging the vocal cords of her masters’ voice as much as taking a vocal solo with it. I am sure her rewards will be great now she’s made her bones with her class peers. Has she reserved a space on her office wall for the wooden shield on which she’d like to display Corbyn’s head as a hunting trophy?

One of the comments at Nic Outterside’s incisive piece reminds us: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” ― George Orwell.

I always wondered what kind of sicko poked out the eyes of women communards with their parasols when the Paris Commune was crushed in 1871. Now I feel I know. And it’s not a pretty sight.

First posted at Madam Miaow Says

EDIT 23 FEB 2016: THE CACHED VERSION OF THE BBC’S GLOATING ARTICLE HAS DISAPPEARED AS WELL SO I AM ADDING THE EVOLVE POLITICS TEXT FROM NIC OUTTERSIDE’S WEBPAGE:

The deleted blog by BBC producer Andrew Alexander:

Resignation! Making the news on the Daily Politics

Thursday 07 January 2016, 15:17

Andrew Alexander is an output editor for the Daily and Sunday Politics series

Wednesday is always an important day for the Daily Politics because we carry Prime Minister’s Questions live, which brings with it our biggest audience of the week and, we hope, a decent story.

As I arrived at Millbank at 7am it was clear that Jeremy Corbyn’s cabinet reshuffle, which had ended before 1am, was going to dominate at Westminster.

When the programme editor phoned in we agreed that in addition to covering other major stories, including the junior doctors’ strike, fallout from the reshuffle was likely to continue throughout the morning and this was a story where we could make an impact.

When the producers arrived at 8am they began putting out texts and calls to Labour MPs we thought were likely to react strongly to the sacking of several shadow ministers for “disloyalty”.

Just before 9am we learned from Laura Kuenssberg, who comes on the programme every Wednesday ahead of PMQs, that she was speaking to one junior shadow minister who was considering resigning. I wonder, mused our presenter Andrew Neil, if they would consider doing it live on the show?

The question was put to Laura, who thought it was a great idea. Considering it a long shot we carried on the usual work of building the show, and continued speaking to Labour MPs who were confirming reports of a string of shadow ministers considering their positions.

Within the hour we heard that Laura had sealed the deal: the shadow foreign minister Stephen Doughty would resign live in the studio.

Although he himself would probably acknowledge he isn’t a household name, we knew his resignation just before PMQs would be a dramatic moment with big political impact. We took the presenters aside to brief them on the interview while our colleagues on the news desk arranged for a camera crew to film him and Laura arriving in the studio for the TV news packages.

There’s always a bit of nervous energy in the studio and the gallery just before we go on air at 11.30am, but I’d say it was a notch higher than usual this week. By this point we weren’t worried about someone else getting the story as we had Stephen Doughty safely in our green room. Our only fear was that he might pull his punches when the moment came.

When it did, with about five minutes to go before PMQs, he was precise, measured and quietly devastating – telling Andrew that “I’ve just written to Jeremy Corbyn to resign from the front bench” and accusing Mr Corbyn’s team of “unpleasant operations” and telling “lies”.

As Andrew Neil handed from the studio to the Commons chamber we took a moment to watch the story ripple out across news outlets and social media. Within minutes we heard David Cameron refer to the resignation during his exchanges with Jeremy Corbyn.

During our regular debrief after coming off air at 1pm we agreed our job is always most enjoyable when a big story is breaking – but even more so when it’s breaking on the programme.

* Credit to Evolve Politics – www.evolvepolitics.com

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Heaven Sent Doctor Who episode satisfies this SF critic at last: five-star review

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

It is always good to be brought into the light, even though it may take an age: better late than never. And so the theme of Heaven Sent, the penultimate episode in the latest series of Doctor Who, brings me to my knees in grateful awe. Heaven Sent knocked me off my cynical perch where I’ve been nailed ever since Russell T Davies rebooted the Time Lord franchise to dreary derivative effect. And may I say I have never been happier to have had my opinions reversed so totally even if this turns out to be one glorious, single, solitary, diamond-perfect episode before it all goes back to normal.

Quite staggering in its concept and clever in its execution, this episode never makes a wrong turn. Blessed relief to find histrionics kept to a minimum, only reflecting the Doctor’s impossible predicament and thus earning him the right to emote furiously, epically and truthfully. At last, Steven Moffat gives Peter Capaldi a script worthy of his talent and our expectations.

A grieving Doctor is deposited in a vast unrealisable castle, who-knows-where, which turns out to be a gigantic puzzle reminiscent of the classic The House That Jack Built episode (1966) that had Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel so thoroughly trapped and beaten in The Avengers series.

Pursued relentlessly by The Veil, a monstrous shade of Death, it is only when the Doctor solves the first bit of the puzzle that we realise how difficult this challenge is. He is forced to struggle across all his levels of existence, from his deepest inner nightmares, to engagement with the ghost of Clara, to his survival on a colossal cosmic scale, and is tried to his utmost ingenuity and courage.

“How many seconds in eternity?”, he asks. Not such an empty question as you might think.

A truthful confession dredged out of his deepest recesses stops The Veil in its tracks and resets the castle, whose floors and rooms rotate and move, for the next stage of the chase. Here, even the constellations are all wrong: the stars tell him that his very own torture chamber is 7,000 years in the future. How long has he been playing this game? Will he work out his ultimate escape? Will he run out of confessions?

Piece by piece he solves the puzzle and escapes death time and time again. Who was the owner of the skull he finds at the top of the tower still attached by electrodes? What is the meaning of the word written in the dust? He discovers that the castle is an island surrounded by a sea of human skulls. What cruelty has the castle’s creator unleashed on these poor souls?

And yet, as in all the best stories, beneath the byzantine puzzle, there is a simple explanation whose driving force shoots this episode to the front of SF screen rankings.

Our Doctor finally reaches the Home room, the square at the end of the game, where the Tardis and escape is set tantalisigly the other side of a crystal wall. At 400 times the hardness of diamond and twenty feet thick, it is impossible to penetrate. And yet, this surely has to be the moment he vanquishes? Well, yes, but not in the way you might expect.

What follows is a tour de force sequence that satisfies every demand for great story-telling. The moment you realise how the Doctor is going to win takes your breath away and is beautiful in its simple, profound truth. Here is eternity in a grain of sand, heaven in a flower. You could almost call this Triumph of the Will, but let’s not go there.

So, bravo, Steven Moffat. It didn’t take you a billion years to get here after all. It only felt like it. Salud.

Where to watch Heaven Sent.
On iPlayer.

*****

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Cat conversation on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership contest

“Waddya think of this leadership contest?”
“It don’t half exposes the contradictions in the bourgeois democracy.”
“Ya reckon?”
“Just a bit!”
“They really don’t want the one with the beard to win, do they?”
“The one with the eyelashes fancies his chances.”
“I don’t. He’s deader than that mouse you found.”
“At least the mouse didn’t beg for his life the way eyelash boy did.”
“The little one looks like she’d confiscate your bikkies given half a chance.”
“And the other one would rub your nose in your own poo if you even looked at her funny.”
“Better than rubbing it in her poo, for which I hear she has form.”
“Beardie would give you the prawns off his own plate. ‘Stroo!”
“Let’s go and rub ourselves against his legs.”
“Okay but try not to trip him up. No point doing their job for them.”
“Race ya. Last one on his lap’s got fleas!”
‘C’mere. You need a wash first. You always show me up.”

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Poem for Jeremy Corbyn: Labour Pains

No slouching towards Westminster by JC. 

Here’s my poem about the current welcome rush to the heart and head. I guess that makes me a Poet for Jeremy Corbyn.

LABOUR PAINS

We snapped on a light
and in the glare all was laid bare.
Suddenly Yvette Cooper wasn’t so super,
Kendall won’t mend anything at all
‘cause Liz fights tooth and claw for biz.
As for principles, Andy says burn ‘em.
But the latecomer nails jelly to the wall,
walks tall among the fallen,
cuts a swathe through those in thrall
to the false gods in the shopping maul.
Looking like Santa, cast as Satan,
working like a dynamo, everybody’s smitten.
Bottle what he’s made of, someone nab the patent,
before the bloody Blairites get their twisted knickers straightened.
Groping in the gloom we’d forgotten how to stand,
the air up here so fresh and clean, the view they tried to ban.
Blinking in the sunlight, nerves and sinews flex,
this is how hope feels, it’s betterer than sex.
A pole star restored, a fiery dawn,
this way something bright is born.

Anna Chen
3rd August 2015

Anna Chen’s collection of poetry, Reaching for my Gnu, is published by Aaaargh! Press


Margaret Thatcher Died at the Ritz (2013)

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Chopsticks At Dawn on BBC Radio 4 Extra 2nd July

My programme, Chopsticks At Dawn, about chinoiserie clichés in music, is repeated tomorrow BBC Radio 4 Extra & iPlayer.

It’s on four times: 6:30; 13:30; 20:30 and again the next morning at 06:30, so no excuses.

First broadcast 2010 on BBC Radio 4.

Produced by Chris Eldon-Lee and Mukti Jain Campion for Culture Wise.
With musicologist Dr Jonathan Walker.

Chinese decorative arts are revered in the West. From Willow pattern dinner plates to the Brighton Pavilion, their designs are regarded as beautiful and sophisticated. But for the past two centuries European composers and musicians have had no qualms about mercilessly parodying what they thought of as ‘Chinese tunes’.

As a girl growing up in Hackney, the opening orientalised-flute strains of the 1970s pop record Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas were enough to send future comedian Anna Chen running for cover.

The same cliches haunt Turning Japanese by The Vapours, Hong Kong Garden by Siouxsie And The Banshees and David Bowie’s China Girl. They have all followed a pattern set by Claude Debussy, Malcolm Arnold, Albert Ketelbey and Lancashire Linnet George Formby, who were equally guilty of taking Chinese musical motifs and mangling them – or simply making them up!

How did this mocking abuse of a handful of venerable Far Eastern notes begin?

Musicologist Dr Jonathan Walker accompanies Anna on a historical mission, picking out examples on the piano and explaining why and how our western ears hear certain note configurations as “oriental” – from Chopsticks to Chopin.

They explore the pentatonic scale that chartacterises so much Chinese music, delve into the story of the Opium Wars which triggered a deep British disrespect of Chinese musical culture and unveil the earliest dubious examples of Chinoiserie in Western Music.

And we hear from a new generation of British born Chinese musicians who are putting right the discordant wrongs of the past 200 years.

Producer: Chris Eldon Lee
A Culture Wise production for BBC Radio 4.

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