Joe Allen : Theatrical nirvana or theatrical hell…

I had the oddest experience on Thursday.  I left Joe Allen sober.  Before you start wondering what seismic shift in the universe must have happened to bring this about, I ought to tell you it was only 6pm.  Plus I had a slight cold and two hours of Jeff Goldblum to get through.  And he is a biyatch when you’ve had a few because he looks even taller and is twice as scary.

I go to Joe Allen because its sort of what I do, and what I have always done.  It’s where my parents used to take us, and where me and my siblings celebrated several of our birthdays, because they always did good birthday cakes.  I have been known to cross counties for one of their brownies.  It’s where you go before a show or – more appropriately – after a show, where people crane their necks to see if the bastard actor they saw IN the show is walking in.  They pretend to not be impressed, and return to their caesar salads with a frisson of smug glee.   London is bereft of decent dining after 11pm, so when Joe Allen opened in the 1970s it must have knocked everyone’s showbiz socks off.  It’s a stage away from a stage, unashamedly showbiz and unashamedly brash.   It looks like someone’s idea of what the West End theatre world is.  I enjoy the fact it’s fabulously dated, with it’s stripped back to brick, New York style walls crammed with more theatre posters than Danny La Rue’s bedroom.  Most of these posters are from 1974, many of which feature that doyenne of 1970s and 1980s Broadway, Bernadette Peters.  Of course, like everywhere, it hasn’t been the same since the smoking ban.  It used to be compulsory to light up in Joe Allen (fag or no fag) because acting is the last industry where smoking is mandatory.  It’s against the law not to smoke in rehearsal rooms.  I have not touched a cancer stick since 2004 but I still miss smoking in Joe Allen, so much so that I left with several of their ashtrays in the 1990s.   My attachment to the potato skins (with sour cream; always ordered “off-menu”) is partly gastric, partly clubby and hugely emotional.

Joe Allen has stood proud and unchanging in the face of dietary concerns and restaurant fashion, a bastion of carbohydrate excess in Exeter Street.  Whilst not having a Proustian madeleine moment with the potato skins of my childhood, I can look at the rest of the unchanged menu – still filled with the same ribs, steaks, large potato fries and corn muffins with no nod to the low-GI- obsessed, fad-driven, green juice gulping legions of actors who sit in there pretending to wait for casting directors.  Eight years ago, when I was still scooping up non-roles in the shallow end of the acting pool, the cast I was in had a birthday.  Deciding on what to do, I suggested Joe Allen.  I got a RADA-trained withering glance, and the unpleasant retort: “But it’s SO showbiz!”  They weren’t even interested.   I thought that as they seemed so much more intent on aggressively nurturing their careers than I did, they could do a lot worse than spend several evenings at Joe Allen trying to drag theatre producers into the toilet cubicles for sex acts.  After all, that was how half of them ended up in that play in the first place.   But apparently not.  They wanted to go that ugliest of all ugly private members bars, Teatro, drink Chablis with Soho media boys, and toy with a disgusting club sandwich before throwing up in a taxi all the way home.

Joe Allen is not a venue for those uptight, chin-stroking, miserable, prudish actoooors,who I spent most of my youth avoiding, very often slightly sadistic woman-haters, who do very very serious dramas, sniff and sneer at the out of towners (whilst pretending they’re not really from Guildford) and who look like they’ve never been laid properly.  Oh, no – this is more for the seriously glitzy actors – the blowsy but loveable Vaudevillians, the stage door Johnnies and West End Wendys.  They have more heart.  In Joe Allen you’re more likely to see teeth and tits that black polo necks.  This is what stops it from being pretentious.  You see, they are not pretending to be bottle blonde West End Wendys getting smashed on a Tuesday night while recounting anecdotes about John Barrowman that cannot be repeated in front of children; they actually are. They have no delusions about it, and neither do we.  They are not pretending not to look at the door to be resolutely unimpressed by whoever is coming in; they wallow in it.  The actors who come in for dinner wallow in being recognised too, so it’s all gravy.  The West End Wendys don’t have prejudices towards the out of towners; they couldn’t care less what town you’re from frankly, as long as you join in with the singing.

The unchanging menu has turned out to be Joe Allen’s winning ticket; by removing itself from any competition in the arena of so-called fashionable fabulousness it can be itself – and that is, I am relieved to say, better than ever.  I had heard horrid reports.  Several people had said it wasn’t what it was, that their steaks were tough, the staff dismissive, the service sub-standard, the food overpriced.  I saw Craig Revel-Horwood negotiating a steak last time I was there and he looked well miffed; like he wanted to put it in the dance-off.  Part of the bad reports from Joe Allen broke me a little, not only because I draw comfort from those aspects of London life which are impervious to change.  So, I was half dreading my experience, when I rocked up there last Thursday, grappling through the door with my London Library bag and my Italian grammar exercises.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that I’d booked a table in Italian, but it didn’t throw the door luvvie, who was so polite and kind and showed me to my table.  Service was attentive and the best I have received in London for two or three years.  I had a ten minute wait for my friend and ordered a small carafe of Chianti (enough for two glasses.  £8.50.  You can’t find that anywhere else in a good restaurant) and the only disturbance to me trying to translate the “Corriere della Sera” was the lady on the table next to me arranging her smear test loudly over the phone.  The place was fairly full with pre-theatre goers, as it offers a competitive pre-theatre menu up to 6.45pm, a cut-off time they stick to religiously.  The dining space is wide and divided into two – cheerfully lightly air-conditionned on this hot day – and all tables cunningly allow visual access to the bookings desk at the door, in honest recognition that what everybody really loves doing here is wolfing down a sirloin while watching that successful fifty-something, brutally blow-dried television actor arrive carrying an expensive overcoat and a third wife for a bash at the dover sole.

I don’t need to tell you how wonderfully gay-friendly it is, obviously.   Last time I was here two men were sitting on two separate tables on opposite sides of the restaurants wearing leather skirts and we spent the evening wondering which of them would go up to the other one to swap fashion notes.  When they eventually did, they left the restaurant together.  This kind of thing has been accepted in theatrical circles long before the rest of the world caught up, of course, and it’s been usual for that sort of thing to go on here for years.  Many years ago, after an evening at the theatre with a friend of mine, he said to me “Come on, let’s go to Joe’s….” and after mildly protesting that I had to be up in the morning for work, he twisted my weak arm.  I had assumed he was going to be bringing me HERE, but he actually took me to Madame Jo-Jos, where you have a very different kind of evening.  And they don’t give you a steak.  At least at Joe Allen you can have a hearty meal, a good bread basket, a bottle of Chianti – all the while accompanied by the tinkling of the resident piano player – and then pick someone up for a spot of consensual S&M.

My friend arrived and we ordered what we always order (rare sirloin, fries which are more like very very good 1970s wedges, buttered spinach with garlic and a tomato and onion salad) and it was the best steak I have had in a long time – probably since the last time I was there.  Soft as butter inside and perfectly cooked.  The potatoes were excellent, although nearly so hot as to blow your head off.  Craig Revel-in-yer-Wormwood would have given our dinner a “10”.  We even got service with a smile, proving that this New Yorkist London restaurant has learned its best trick from the city that inspired it; most London restaurants have waiters bristling with resentment, underlined with a smidge of class resentment. In America (and in New York in particular)where waiting is a respected profession, this is not the case.

I nearly forgot to go to the theatre.  This is quite understandable because being in Joe Allens is like being in the theatre; the restaurant cocoons you below street level in a strange pre-Blackberry, pre-internet theatrical alternative universe.  If the waiters waltzed in pirouetting their way through a Mack & Mabel medley you wouldn’t be shocked.  You just want to wallow forever in the bread baskets and the chitchat.  We ordered a swift double espresso, in my struggle to stay awake during a play when I was coming down with a cold, and headed off to the play.  I was delighted that the restaurant had exceeded my expectations, and yet another small section of my transient city life has proved slightly resistible to change.   Each time you return to a much-loved place is a revisit to the evenings and moments you had there before, and in that way a restaurant experience can be so much more than the sum of its pan-fried parts.  I had feared that this entry would be a disappointed and sad one.  I am delighted that it is not.

http://www.joeallen.co.uk/

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

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I thought she was a sandwich…

Morning, my dear readers, and – as I promised last week – this morning is the second instalment of my Beatles Film Guide. Although a week in real terms since my last post, in Beatles terms we are moving forward a year from 1964 to 1965.  Churchill has died.   Christine Keeler has done her 9 months in Holloway Prison for perjury (oh, the shame of it) and Dylan has gone electric, the cheeky little blighter.  And what has happened to our loveable cheeky Liverpool moptops?

COLOUR.  That’s what happened.  “Help!” is a jolly caper, completely absurd, a plot which seems to lose the plot, and a series of exotic locations that render the combined Liverpudlian carbon footprint absolutely massive.   It is clearly a much more expensive film than A Hard Day’s Night and indulges a surrealist humour that surrounded the group at the time, but which also owes it’s inspiration to the Marx Brother’s “Duck Soup”.    Beatles Soup, then.  (“Fab” soup?).  It starts out as a silly business that doesn’t really mean anything and ends as a silly business that doesn’t really mean anything, but the wonderful soundtrack and jokes on the way excuse the absence of plot. Its peculiar brand of anarchic nonsense seems ahead of its time, the tone of the piece marked by a surrealism that pre-dates Airplane and similar comedy romps by a long chalk.  Who needs a plot, anyway, when you’ve got this?

Oddly, this comedy starts with Ringo being the target of a murder via a nameless Eastern religion (now, stick with me, kids.  There are giggles, I promise).  Anyone who subscribes to this religion is in awe of the Great God Kahili, the higher power of a congregation led by a pre-Rumpole of the Bailey Leo McKern.  No one is entirely sure what kind of a cult it is.  The sum total of Ringo’s ecclesiastical knowledge is that “It’s a different religion from ours.  I think.”  He is Ringo; ergo he must wear the ring on which the thin plot hangs.  He is the butt of most of the jokes.

Here is the famous Ringo, with his famous Ring.  This is his smouldering look, ladies.  Brace yourselves.

In the opening scene, the congregation are perturbed to discover that that particular day’s sacrifice victim is not wearing the sacrificial ring.  If there’s one thing you don’t want it’s a perturbed congregation.   Even worse than that, head congregant Leo McKern has realised that Ringo is wearing the sacrificial ring in a film of The Beatles singing “Help!” which is shown in the temple.  Apparently, one of those naughty, flibbertygibbert Beatles groupies must have given it to him or something.  Perhaps that’s not all she gave him – Ringo does say “It’s from a fan.  I get all sorts.”  I bet you do when you are on the road, son.    With nothing left for it, Leo McKern decides to go to England to find Ringo and sacrifice him according to custom.  He will take Eleanor Bron with him.  Off they go.  Cue 1960s caper / James Bond parody film.

The Beatles all live together in one house which appears to be four terraced houses knocked together to form a hip and groovy mid-1960s shagpad.  They did of course live in Liverpool but have now made pots of cash and have decamped further south to Twickenham, which is where the externals for most of the London scenes were filmed, both in this and in “A Hard Day’s Night”.  Here they are in their Beatles Mega House which was actually Nos 5, 7, 9 and 11 Ailsa Avenue, Twickenham.  They are showing off their lovely longer lush locks while gazing down at the adoring masses below their bathroom window. George is looking particularly angry at the idea of having to go off and make another film.  In the opening scene they arrive at their house and wave at two old ladies across the street.  The one who gleefully waves back is Gretchen Franklin, who later went on to find soap opera fame as Ethel in Eastenders.  Here, she clearly only has eyes for the Liverpool Wonderkids, her little Willie hasn’t been thought of yet.  “Wave!  Wave!” she eggs on her friend.  “Such lovely boys and so natural.”   “Yes!” says her scarily bespectacled friend, “And still the same as they was, before they was.”  John sleeps in a sunken bed and Eleanor Bron attacks Ringo’s hand via the back of a sandwich machine.  It’s all going on.

In shock at the realisation that Ringo may be killed (many jokes are made throughout this film about his member) they boys go out for a rogan josh at the nearest hostelry.  But, lo, the evil Swarmi, a.k.a Leo McKern, resplendent here in Carmen Miranda headgear, arrives with a knife to try to cut off Ringo’s arm.  The boys are not best pleased, even if Paul has started to fancy the Eleanor Bron character.

Paul has a cheeky dance with Eleanor Bron in the curry house and hopes Jane Asher doesn’t find out.

When Leo McKern’s henchmen succesfully knock out all the waiters, they pretend to be restaurant musicians.  In an echo of things to come, they play a version of “A Hard Day’s Night” on sitars.  There is also a cameo in this scene from the actor Jeremy Lloyd, who became a television writer in the 1970s, creating “Are You Being Served?”.   He also appears in a Hard Day’s Night as a dancing toff.  After Leo McKern and his mob have attempted to smash up the restaurant, Lloyd is the man who happily says to his date “Oh – it’s rather a jolly place!”  At least he ended up in the final edit.  Both Frankie Howerd and Wendy Richard’s roles ended up on the Beatles cutting room floor.   It was only during the transfer of this film onto DVD that footage was unearthed of Frankie Howerd’s and Wendy Richard’s deleted scenes.  Here is an image from the deleted footage, with Wendy on the far right:

Meanwhile, back in the final edit version, Eleanor has batted Wendy out of the way by knocking her out using her heavily mascara-ed eyelashes.  Having earlier attacked Ringo’s hand, in an unsuccessful attempt to eat the ring, Eleanor Bron has changed her mind and switched sides.   She opts to help The Beatles and retires with them for an afternoon’s serenading in the Twickenham superhouse.  They obviously really like her, because she’s a pretty girl with pink boots on and stuff, and they individually vie for her attention during a heartfelt rendition of “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”.   George is trying very hard here; he thinks the best way to get her pink boots off is to strike a G chord and gawp at her.  You’ve got much to learn, Harrison.

John spends the entire film bitching to professionals “You’ve failed, jeweller!”  he spits at the posh chap from Aspreys, who can’t get at Ringo’s ring.  Two idiot scientists appear in the winning partnership of Roy Kinnear and Victor Spinetti, who John wastes no time in wounding: “You’re another failure, aren’t you, scientist?!”   And indeed, he’s right, as the scientists best attempt at getting at Ringo’s ring is this:

Ringo shows all those teenage girls in the Harrow Rex in 1965 what they’ve paid to see.  Cor.  Pop stars had to iron their underwear in those days you know.  Or at least ask Wendy Richard nicely to do it for them.  Eleanor Bron’s bizarre suggestion is to shrink Ringo’s hand with an injection, which causes John to turn on her most accusingly, and politically incorrectly, by exclaiming “See what you’ve done, with your filthy Eastern ways.”  Blimey, John.  Keep your moptop on.  But, in the true tradition of capers the syringe slips and Paul inadvertently receives a full dose from Eleanor Bron.  Lucky him.  This makes him shrink until he sits in the ashtray.

There is nothing for it.  The chaps have worked like dogs and frankly, could do with a break.  That annoying fundamentalist cult man is still after them.  Two weeks at Cilla’s bungalow in Malaga?  No, of course not,  they’re BEATLES.  Six days in Biarritz, singing, skiing and falling into the snow while singing “Ticket To Ride” please.

A shot from the fantastic footage used for “Ticket to Ride”.  Some lucky bugger got the job of carrying the grand piano to the top of the mountain (er…Wendy?) whilst John pops out from inside the piano to surprise everyone, but is shocked by the size of Paul’s feet.

Here are the Fab Four, barely concealing their glee at having found the only piano in Switzerland that has 12 legs.

I told you I would inform you of my favourite man suit on a man in a film with a man in it EVER and here it is below, oh yes, it’s John’s olive green corduroy suit with matching debonair cap he wears on the far left here:

This is certainly a hip scene.  It’s on Salisbury Plain, following the Beatles return to blighty and an attempt for John to insult yet another person in a professional position when he turns on the Scotland Yard inspector who has been assigned to protect them. “Great Train Robbery, how’s that going?” he asks.  Surrounded by cadets on army training (this is not suitably explained in the film) the Beatles sing “I Need You” and “The Night Before”, which is cleverly cut with “She’s A Woman” every eight bars or so.  It starts to rain but that does not dampen The Beatles splendour, nor can custom stale their infinite variety.  Leo McKern has a go though and tries to blow them up.  “I’ve hurt me suit!  I’ve hurt me suit!” says Lennon.  It’s a tragedy.  It may have to go to the tailors.   They do whatever any young popster can do, and go and stay in Buckingham Palace.  They are readily accepted and just wave their MBEs on the way in.

Of course, the Queen wasn’t that much of a fan.  She wasn’t going to let a bunch of ruffians have the run of One’s Royal Palatial Apartments.  Anyway, she couldn’t risk Princess Margaret getting wind of it all, because she’d have got the gin bottles out and tried to sit on all the Beatles laps quicker than you could say “Liverpool shuffle”.   Instead, the Buckingham Palace scenes were filmed at Cliveden House, just outside Maidenhead, and which was still smarting from the shenanigans of the Profumo Scandal 18 months previously.  The group are developing an increasingly mercantile approach to Ringo’s ring.  They want to chop his finger off and  George has heard that “there’s a good drummer in Manchester”.

John, on location at Cliveden on May 11th 1965, where he enjoyed playing with his new dangling Paul McCartney prototype doll.

After a brief attempt at going for a swift drink in the local pub, which fails, due to Swarmi’s attempts to trap Ringo in the pub cellar with a famous Indian tiger, The Beatles do the only decent thing they can possibly do.  They go to The Bahamas and sing “Another Girl”.  They attempt to creep away through the airport disguised as old men.  Oddly, they all look the way they ended up looking in about 1979.  The scientists and the fundamentalists follow them there, however.  Here they are, having a truly dreadful time in all that horrid Bahamas weather.  On arrival, the boys head to the beach to rendezvous with some lady fans.  Ringo guffaws happily at the idea of his imminent sacrifice:

The Beatles attempt to locate the Temple where the Swarmi’s sacrifices take place, but cannot find it. They had attempted running away but a sense of solidarity and justice pervades and they decide to “go back and get ’em, eh!!” and bicycle viciously in the direction of Swarmi and his gang of fiendish louts.  Ringo finds a shell and uses it to try to speak to his mother.  The sun’s got to him, poor lad.

“Hello?”

The film winds down on a Bahaman beach when Ringo’s ring inadvertently falls off into the sand.  “I don’t subscribe to your religion!” he retorts. Oh, yes.  Getting quite brave now the ring isn’t actually stuck to him.  The scientists, fundamentalists and Scotland Yard Inspector descend upon the beach for the final scene of unadulterated lunacy, soundtracked to a reprise of “Help!”.  The film is insensibly dedicated to the inventor of the Singer sewing machine and the end credits are filmed as reflected in myriad sides of a precious stone of the ring that, until now, has been stuck on Ringo’s award-winning and happily-drumming hand.  The Beatles sing along to a section of “The Barber of Seville”.  The End.

“Help!” is rollickingly good fun, and a filmic step between self-referential commentary on a rock and roll lifestyle (“A Hard Day’s Night”) and rich  psychedelia that pervaded the late 60s for The Beatles.  The colourings and surrealism are pointing to the rest of the decade, although still buttoned up in single breasted cordoruy suits.  The film was released three months after Lennon and Harrison first experienced LSD, when a dentist spiked their drinks at a dinner party. “Help!” is an album that captures The Beatles on the cusp of something extraordinary.  It’s the first studio album to include experimentation with classical music and the last which included a cover by any other artist (“Dizzy Miss Lizzy”).  The next two albums would be “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver”, both of which were released within one year of “Help!”, and both of which, dare I suggest, are the beginning of Beatles Mark II.  In “Help” The Beatles are emerging out of their uniformed selves and diversifying.  However, this is also the last “boyish” album, one which resonates with a kind of innocence.  “Help” the Movie contains a touching illustration of this naivety; in the Bahama scenes, John wears a woollen jumper and jeans on the sands of the Bahamas, looking like a pale Englishman leaving home for the first time, unaware and unprepared, looking out towards the exotic and unfamiliar horizon ahead.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Beatling Around

I love the Beatles.  There isn’t really another way to say that – but The Beatles I love are the pre-India, unreconstructed, Chelsea boot Beatles.  It wouldn’t bother me if I never heard Sergeant Pepper again, but the same can’t be said for me when it comes to”With the Beatles”, “Help!” and “A Hard Days Night”.  Give me a mop top and some cheeky Liverpudlian close harmony singing and I’m in musical heaven, my friends.  There is something about the infectious youth of these early albums that transcends things and is eternally fresh.  Not that I’m to be trusted, of course, after an hour of listening to this sort of thing.  I start behaving dramatically with liquid eyeliner and backcombing hair that already looks damaged, and emerge from Bluebird Towers looking like Valerie Singleton circa 1963 after she’s been dragged through a hedge backwards (by Adam Faith).

Anyway, I’m not going to tell anyone how fabulous The Beatles are because unless you have all been living in a hole in the ground since 1961 it won’t be necessary; this is a celebration of what is perhaps the finest mock-documentary style film that a band has ever made (ladies and indeed, gentlemen, I invite you to challenge me if you think there is a better one).  “A Hard Day’s Night” radiates a peculiarly British sense of musical hope.  The same year this film was made, The Beatles broke America.  The acting is in fact very good, and the script has no flab on it whatsoever.  Neither have The Beatles of course – there are none of the paunches and beards that made 1970 such a fashion disaster year for the Fab Four, after they’d spent three years eating all of Jane Asher’s cakes.  The scene in “A Hard Day’s Night” where “Cant Buy My Love” is played in the background and they start jumping about like nutters in a random field (in Isleworth, for the anoraks), complete with jumpy camerawork that creates a truly modern slant, is utterly joyous.

For those of  you who have not yet seen it, I suggest you pour a can of Vimto, shuffle on your single breasted suits and settle down for an hour or two of Liverpool’s finest.  I defy you, ladies, to not reach for the liquid eyeliner before the end of the first hour.  It’s stylishly filmed and stylishly suited and booted.  Every sartorial choice that is made in the film is the right one.   The plot is caper-esque – and there isn’t much of a plot, to be honest.  Boys arrive on train to London to film a TV show.  They get to lark about and defy the feeble authority of Shake and Norm, their warring managers, who spend the film ascertaining whether it is Shake’s fault he is taller than Norm.  Paul’s grandfather comes along for the ride (good comedy value, grandfathers) who prides himself on being “very clean”.  He sets up many of the films laughs, and mostly creates trouble.  He has a Republican outburst in a police station and gets bailed.   Ringo goes missing  but The TV show goes ahead.  Ladies scream.  People faint.  Beehives fall down with the sheer thrill of it all.  It’s BEATLEMANIA, don’t you know.

Wow, look at them go, eh ladies!  It’s the opening scene of the film.  Paul McCartney is so thrilled at the prospect of getting on the 16:14 from London Paddington to Strawberry Fields that he is hopping about on the pavement like a right raver, whilst Ringo Starr looks like he’s left something behind. George is having a right laff.  And, as for Lennon, the filthy-mouthed little urchin, well, all he’s doing is showing off his hairdo.  However, he’s still the only one any of us would have wanted to sleep with.   What?? No?  Prefer Ringo Starr, would ya?

They proceed to turn the corner and in a lunatic, half-baked attempt at tomfoolery, conceal themselves in a series of telephone  boxes.  The screaming extras at Victoria Station were all real fans, paid a little money.  At least enough for a Cilla Black record. The Beatles vault railings and it’s terribly exciting.  Paul wears a false beard, thereby unknowingly imitating his 1970 self, to get away from their hoards of screaming ladies.  They then catch a lift on a newspaper trolley before securing themselves in the official Beatles carriage for transportation of Beatles to glam telly filmings.  It’s rock and roll, kids.

John is delighted to have bagged the window seat before Gerry and the Pacemakers got on board.  Paul’s grandfather looks on ruefully from the bottom right hand side of the picture.  He distrusts the youth of today, but proceeds to behave worse than them all, and flagrantly abuses the trust that is occasionally placed in him due to him being “a nice, clean old man”. George negotiates the complexity of the Beatles crossword in this week’s Beano, (Drummer, begins with R, five letters.) whilst Paul realises he’s forgotten the tickets.

“No, no – look!” says Paul.  “Ringo’s hat IS scarier than yours! Look – it’s a horror!”

Paul meets one of his teenybopping fans whilst en route to Swinging London.  No, okay, okay – this isn’t actually in the film.  She is just a random old nutter.

On board the train, Paul’s grandfather becomes engaged.  This causes some disturbance, but this is momentarily dispersed by an impromptu performance by all four Beatles of “I Should Have Known Better” in the luggage hold.  Those were the days, eh, kids?  John gets his harmonica out (STEADY LADIES) and serenades the dogs in the hold and an unexplained trio of Fifth Form girls. One of whom is the model Pattie Boyd who George is so entranced by he marries her 18 months later.  Wowzers.

Grandfather is unimpressed with John’s “bottle up the nose” party trick.  Apparently it’s an in-joke about cocaine, but it just looks like John is picking his nose.   This coke joke print here is not used in the film as it is photographed here – John pretends to snort the coke bottle slightly off to the side while sitting down on the fab Beatles train.  As I said, cheeky little urchin.  You wouldn’t want your 14 year old daughter meeting him on the night out on the tiles.  As he says to one of the Fifth Form girls they meet on the train, once his manager has convinced the girls he is convict : “I bet you can’t guess what I was in for!”  I kid you not.

George has never been in a television studio and clearly cannot contain his joy.  Here he is dancing with what appears to be an enormous prawn cracker.  Make-up ladies in two piece suits gaze on lovingly and dream of being swept away to George’s Weybridge bungalow.   It’s the rehearsal, chaps, and they sing to Lionel Blair and the dancing girls “And I Love Her”.

In Swinging London, the Beatles have some fun with Orangeade before their fab hip TV show.    Meanwhile, there’s an interesting scene backstage, where John has a discussion with himself, and a small part actress nearby on whether or not he is, in fact, himself – or whether he isn’t himself.  Paul seems to be diligently tuning his guitar and doesn’t get to have adventures.  It is at this point that Ringo goes off for a wander, and the Grandfather figure gets arrested.  His arrest is just another excuse to see the Beatles racing through the streets larking about whilst their music plays.  Meanwhile, George is involved in a scene which lampoons the fashion industry and the youth culture industry in one fell swoop.  He is mistaken as an auditionee for a job in television presenting, as a possible co-presenter with a “trendsetter” called Susan.   He also gets to utter the word “grotty” for the first time on film (“Grotty? Make a note of that word and give it to Susan!” says the lunatic half-wit pretending to interview him).

Of course, the show eventually gets underway and goes like a steam train.  St John Ambulance have a day of it, dragging unconscious teens from Warrington out of the auditorium.  At the end of their “show” within the film, the Beatles do a short, slightly sombre bow, in unison.  It seems to smack of an earlier age.   It’s very restrained, as they shake their hair about to high chart-popping tunes in smart suits (at one point George hops from one foot to the other, and 16 ladies fall over with the thrill of it.  God, he’s hardcore!).

It’s brilliant.  See it, if you haven’t already.  And if you have well – I command you to see it again.

Next week, let The London Bluebird guide you through the magnificent 1965 caper that is “Help!”?  It’s in colour!  Cor!   And it also features my favourite outfit on a man in a film.  Ever.

Finally, anyone want to have a stab at what the blazes is going on here?  Is it a cover for a magazine of the specialist variety?

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

A little light reading

To bed, not for dreaming but for reading

But the authors words become misleading,

As soon as they meet ear and mind

My brain seems to leave them all behind.

And in the morning I find instead

Tumbled words at the bottom of my bed.

 

The coffee pot of Italian blend

(My morning caffeinated friend)

And I slowly open up my mail

and trace the letters like they were braille.

But the words can be read no more,

And fall into a puddle on my floor.

 

I squeeze into the daily grind

And blog to leave my cares behind.

I am perplexed, understandably

At glancing to my clock to see

It is bereft of ones and twos.

Then I find the numbers in my shoes.

 

What if words were not mine as read,

But chose to go out and dine instead?

In town at a ritzy, swank affair,

Where gossip of “p”‘s and “q”‘s would fill the air,

Where table plans say “i” must sit before “e”,

(unless he’s unusually following “c”)?

Would we panic at getting from “a” to “b”

If “a” and “b” have gone erroneously?

 

If the city is read, a nameless tube station,

Would not get lost in wordless translation

You’d count the stops – then walk the town

And find it’s nice that things aren’t written down.

If familiar with our streets and squares,

Geography cannot take us unawares.

If a bus had no name, in any event,

Why not get on the thing and see where it went?

No words around for the town hall clerk.

No signs to tell us where we can’t park.

And no street names in our faithful “A-Z”

But only taste and smells and sights instead.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Just one Cassotto

For those of you who have been following the blog recently, you’ve noticed it is Crooner Month here at Bluebird Towers.  This morning on the way to work I had the strange song “Artificial Flowers” playing on my i-pod during a walk I was forced to take when someone shut Baker Street station because of a silly fire.  “Artificial Flowers” is one of the oddest songs I have ever heard; it is a protest song against child labour, set to a upbeat, big band swing tempo.  It’s jollity is disturbing.  Lyrics include “They found little Annie all covered with ice / still clutching her poor frozen shears” having spent a short and fruitless life making artificial flowers until “her baby fingers went numb”.  The singer is Bobby Darin.  It’s utterly mad.  The awful thing is, the orchestration is so sublimely danceworthy you want to boogie to it, but then are plagued by guilt that you are dancing to the story of sweated labour and a child’s death.

But perhaps singing about a child that dies was a very different matter for Darin himself, who – it was thought – was unlikely to survive the perilous business known as childhood.  After developing rheumatic fever at the age of 8, Darin (whose real name was Walden Robert Cassotto) was told he would probably not live to see 16.   The rest of his life was conducted in a frenzied rush as he tried to cram a whole life into the short amount of time he felt he had by producing a vast amount of music, TV and film roles.  His vocal tone on his best recordings is therefore forceful, warm but defiant; with a friendly rasp in his tone adding extra ballast.   He wants you to remember him, keen to establish his musical legacy before death sweeps him up.

He decided as a young man that he wanted to be a legend by the time he was 25.  He did it by the time he was about 23.   It is the music he produced in his peak period at Atlantic Records between 1958 and 1963 that most cemented him in the public consciousness, with 1959 producing the triple whammy of “Mack the Knife” , “Dream Lover” and “Beyond the Sea”.   In the last twenty years of filmmaking, these songs rear their heads again and again; so often has his music featured on movie soundtracks that over at IMDB Darin has 74 entries, at least half of which are in the 1990s and 2000s.  Together with Louis Prima, Darin appears to be the artist many filmmakers have turned to in the last twenty years when evoking a particular (and usually Italian) moment in late fifties / early sixties American culture.  Less used than the big three hits I have already mentioned is his swashbuckling version of “Up A Lazy River” which I strongly recommend you listen to without delay.  Darin just calls it “Lazy River” – available on itunes here, at track 8 of this:

http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-ultimate-bobby-darin/id30394501

In 1961, “Irresistible You” and “Multiplication” appeared – more R&B, slightly more funky.  Readers, I defy you to listen to either “Irresistible You” or “Multiplication”, which are tracks 10 and 11 here on the link above, and resist the urge to tap your feet or shimmy-dance down the street.  His voice is not too polished, his phrasing terrific.  Towards the end of his life he wrote and performed music with a folk and country twist.  This also seemed to be a genre he handled with his signature ease.  Kevin Spacey’s film biopic “Beyond the Sea” is worth checking out for those who are interested – despite the tepid reviews it received on release in 2004.  I actually think it’s terrific; the live show tunes in particular are remarkable, and its worth it just to check out Kevin Spacey’s false nose.   The finale is particularly spectacular for those of you who like a tap dance, shimmy, jazz hands etc performed to a very loud orchestra.  Oh yes.  Many evenings at Bluebird Towers have been spent waltzing around the living room to the finale of this enjoyable film.   And for a blue mood, listening to track 8 here:

http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-legendary-bobby-darin/id24087491

will brush the cobwebs away.  Released in 1964 but still fresh as a daisy, it’s such an high-energy performance by Darin, that it will restore you with your will to shimmy through life forthwith.  You will, however, get odd looks on the Central Line when you start dancing along to this one in the rush hour.  It is a riot of raucous, contagious song which every day should start with.  Its ridiculously good fun.  Get your 1950s kicks on i-tunes, courtesy of Sig. B Darin, kids.

He’s like a more modern and slightly less debonair Dean Martin, whose universally accessible style hits you right between the ears, which is exactly where it should.  His voice – which once heard is not easy to forget – forges a swift and hip meeting point between swing and rock ‘n’ roll.    The man in the big rush released just over 30 albums, was nominated for one Academy Award, won a Grammy Award and hosted his own TV show.  He died during heart surgery at 37.