A Musical Interlude

McBusted’s Most Excellent Adventure

Last night I took my daughter (and one of her bezzies) to her first pop concert – McBusted at what was the N.I.A. in Birmingham (now the Barclaycard Arena!). It was my first music night for about 15 years too and this morning my ears are still a bit affected. Our seats were in the middle of the arena floor – and I did wonder whether we’d be able to see anything once everyone stood up, but once my daughter pointed out that we were actually just 20yds away from the mid-arena mini-stage and thus in an excellent position I was ready to ‘Party on, dude.’ The show was themed on a video game based on teen films Bill & Ted’s Most Excellent Adventure and Back to the Future. It being McBusted, I already knew most of the songs as they’ve been on the TV a lot – they only have one album together, and played a few of their previous McFly and Busted hits too.

I have to say – it was a most excellent show. Both support bands were good, getting 20 minutes each, then McB played for one and three quarter hours. Very slick and professional – also very fun. These boys are all lovely! One thing you can do now at pop concerts is take photos with impunity (although you’re still not really allowed) – so here’s a flavour of what we saw…

McB montage 1
McB Montage 2
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It was a real thrill to see the DeLorean being lowered down from the roof (middle montage) – and then all six of them climbed out of it (they obvs have an underground passage into the arena middle and pop up inside the car once it is lowered), but it’s an impressive illusion. Then they played about four songs there before returning to the stage.

I’d go and see McBusted again like a shot!  As to which of these lads is my favourite?  I have a very soft spot for Tom, love Dougie’s grin, James’ dishevelledness, Harry’s pecs, Matt’s hair and Danny is growing on me…

The only down-side to the NIA though is that being in the middle of Birmingham, with the end of the concert moreorless coinciding with chucking out time and roadworks in the city – it took forever to get out of the car-park and then the satnav led us the scenic route back to the motorway!  Didn’t get home to bed until 1.30am – aren’t I a dirty stop-out!  I shall leave you with a video for ‘Air Guitar’.

 

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Two National Treasures at the Oxford Literary Festival

Alan Bennett and Nicholas Hytner in Conversation

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Earlier this evening I went into Oxford for my only visit to the Oxford Literary Festival this year. It was a sell-out event at the Sheldonian – with two national treasures who have been collaborating for decades in conversation. We were all crammed into the Sheldonian. I’d bought a lower gallery ticket, and the ushers were trying to fill the gallery up from the furthest corners. Not wishing to only see the back of their heads, I decided to be awkward and claimed a decent seat, happily moving to let people past – I’d got there early enough to pick my seat I’d hoped…

Time for the talk, and Bodleian Librarian Richard Ovenden lead the pair in, Bennett shuffling – he is 80 now. Ovenden then introduced them, and told us that Bennett had gifted his papers to the Bodleian in 2008. Bennett quipped that they were assured of legend status as both had been “a small stepping stone in the rise and rise of James Corden.”

They settled down to chat, and Bennett started off by quizzing Hytner about his time as a chorister aged 12 at Manchester Grammar School and the joy of singing under the direction of Manchester legend John Barbirolli. They then moved on to when they first worked together – on the Wind in the Willows in 1990 at the National Theatre. Bennett had been asked by Richard Eyre, then the NT director, to write a play coming out of Wind in the Willows incorporating Kenneth Grahame’s life, but Bennett found that too tragic and adapted just the book (I saw it twice – loved it). Hytner directed and went on to direct many more family-friendly productions for the NT including their adaptations of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and latterly War Horse. Here Bennett interjected that he had been approached to adapt War Horse, but said no, “not a literary work at all.”  He said that there was not enough in War Horse for the playwright to do to it – it’s all in the action and production design and direction.

Moving on to The History Boys – Hytner thought it better on stage than film. They talked about how they collaborated on the drafts of the play. Bennett told a funny story about how he performed one of the scenes at the NT 50th anniversary gala – it was from the French lesson – so all in French – but he got a laugh in one bit where Richard Griffiths who played Hector never did – Griffiths would have loved to get the extra laugh.

Maggie-Smith-in-The-Lady-In-The-Van-531772Then, before questions, they talked about their latest project – the film of Bennett’s play The Lady in the Van. This is the true story of Alan Bennett himself and Miss Shepherd – who moved into Gloucester Crescent in her van – Bennett invited her to temporarily park her van on his drive – she stayed for fifteen years. Dame Maggie Smith will reprise her role from the stage as Miss Shepherd, and Bennett will be played by Alex Jennings (left). They filmed it in Gloucester Crescent in Bennett’s old house, so a real nostalgia trip for Bennett – and the remaining neighbours who remembered Miss Shepherd. I shall really look forward to seeing this film.

The early evening lecture finished with Ovenden presenting Hytner with the Bodley medal, Bennett already has one. I resisted going down to the book stall, there not being signing on offer (and I’d succumbed to a couple of purchases in Waterstones on my way to the venue earlier!). I could have sat and listened to Bennett all evening – he is just so simultaneously Eeyorish and witty – when he could get a word in edgeways – Hytner tended to be rather expansive, but it was a lovely event.

P.S. I forgot to say that Bennett finished off the conversation by reading a speech from his play A Habit of Art. Kay, the stage manager (as played by Frances de la Tour on stage) speaks the speech which defines ‘The Habit of Art’.  This speech was another collaboration between Hytner and Bennett – originally it had stopped halfway through, but Hytner suggested it needed more.

Wandering in Wantage …

If you go SE from Abingdon, you get to Didcot – go SW and you reach Wantage – a town I very rarely visit. It has an historic association with Alfred the Great and his statue graces the market place. After having dropped my daughter off at King Alfred’s School – the starting point for her DoE Practice Expedition this weekend, I headed into town to look around…

P1020366 (1024x554)I’ve wanted to visit Regent Books for ages – which is a huge cave of a second-hand bookshop which also sells furniture upstairs. One of those musty rabbits warrens absolutely crammed full of books (right), it was presided over by a moustachioed old chap and his two younger sidekicks – not traditional booksellers – they are traders in books. But they do know their stock, and what they can sell it for! Having purchased £15 worth of mostly old penguins, I enquired about bringing some of my excess in to sell to them … ‘I’d have to sting you for them,’ said the old chap, ‘Got to make a living.’ Sad but true – I don’t know if I’ll be going back though.

Then, wandering around a bit more – I came across this place in a side-road…

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The door said ‘open’ – but it didn’t look like either a bookshop or a library from peering in – so I didn’t go in! When I got home, I googled it and came up with this piece about the place – turns out there is a Betjeman connection (although not surprising as he was local). If I go to Wantage again, I’m going to be brave and go inside.

Have you been to any interesting second-hand bookshops lately?

Penguin 80s …

Little Black Classics

TinderboxGosh Penguin is 80!

They’ve produced a lovely set of 80 little black penguin classics books priced at 80p each to celebrate, plus a lovely website to go with it.

I desperately want to collect the whole series naturally, but I’m going to be strong and just pick a few to treasure, which will probably include Hans Christian Andersen left – although I probably have The Tinderbox in several other collections of his tales already.

But, I have a problem…

You see, back when Penguin was 60, they produced a three series of 60 books all at 60p.  You can see the full list here.

60 orange spines, 60 black classic spines, and 60 other titles comprising 10 biography, 10 cookery, 10 travel and 30 children’s titles.  Ever the collector, I own about 135 out of 180 of these including the full original orange and black sets – (which I collected individually from bookshops – not knowing that boxed sets would be available and which I would have snapped up to save having to buy them separately and store in shoeboxes).

Phoenix books also produced a copycat set of 30 little black classics which I own.

Then Penguin published a set of 50 small volumes of Penguin Modern Classics to celebrate that imprint’s 50th anniverary (these were pricey though at £3 each) but I blogged about them here.  I ended up just buying a handful of these.

So my collection of these little classics now looks like this:

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Guess how many of them I’ve physically read?

Just 2! – which are those in my Modern Classics review linked to above.

I shall be disposing of the Phoenix set, and the little Penguins will go back into their shoeboxes for now, surely to be joined by a few of the Little Black Classic 80s.

I have always loved Penguin books (and their Puffin and Pelican imprints) though and always search for orange, black and white spines in bookshops.

Long Live Penguin!