Rage wants amateur actors

Rage, which teams amateur performers with professional directors, is about to cast its next production – Our Country’s Good.

They’re looking for people 16+ (older than school leaving age) for an  open workshop audition 11am – 5pm on  Saturday 31 Jan in Birmingham.

The play will be rehearsed at a central location, three evenings a week.

The show will be performed 14 – 16 May at a  Birmingham theatre (they haven’t said which one yet).

They’re also intersted in hearing from people who want to work behind the scenes.

Full details

MP’s expenses – they vote tomorrow

Today’s the last day to write to your MP insisting that s/he votes against the moves by the government to keep MPs’ expenses secret.

How they can justify this is completely beyond me.  There was a suggestion that MPs’ security might be compromised, but that has been dealt with – their home addresses cannot now be revealed.  Another claim that the record-keeping would be too onerous can be seen as facile by anyone who’s self employed and therefore has to keep all their receipts so they can put them through their books.

President Obama has just promised to make his administration the most open and transparent ever.  Our government seems set on the opposite course, in a move that can only make the average person despise polititians even more than they already do.

If you agree, tell your own MP.

To contact mine, I used the Write to Them website – very quick and easy to use, and it suggests the sort of thing you might say, with links for further information.

Update – later the same day

Looks like the campaign had an effect.  There is decency (all right, shame) in politics, after all.

Human League, ABC, Heaven 17 – review

Last night with a thousand other midlifers to see three bands from my youth at Wolverhampton Civic Hall. I usually avoid this sort of musical necrophilia, but I thought it would be a nice pre-Christmas treat for Mrs D, who can still play an Ultravox album without irony.

One of the inevitables with this sort of “back from the dead” tour is seeing how well the performers have weathered over the the years.  Pretty good in most instances, although there was the odd middle aged spread being held in by the apparently compulsory grey suits.

Heaven 17 were fun.  Someone’s son on drums, I suspect (certainly not an original member).  Glenn Gregory (vocals, trilby, waistcoat) was obviously utterly delighted to be performing.  Great female vocals too. Temptation predictably brought the house down and I could have done with that being twice as long.

I have a soft spot for ABC, having seen them in a very intimate pre-tour warm up gig in the early 80s.  I was particularly looking forward to seeing the drummer, who had quite an individual style.  Disappointingly the sticksman they have now was much more conventional in his technique.

They did have quite a charistmatic female percussionist/vocalist though, which made up for it a bit.

It was all very professional, but in the old days Martin Fry really committed to those nonsense lyrics he writes.  After so long, and with a new album (they did a couple of tracks, which were fine, but didn’t get the crowd going) there’s a feeling that he’d rather be doing the new stuff.

Human League

And then the main attraction.  And no doubt about the stature of Human League in this package.  Ambitious staging (two level, giant LED screen across the full width of the stage).

Shock to see the once hair-curtained Phil Oakey now with a male pattern baldness No 1. Still looking good, though and with that insistent baritone voice in good shape.

Of the two female  singers, Susan Ann Sulley (the blonde one) is great value.  Looking magnificent, toned and blingy, and with great stagecraft (actually better than Oakey, who is a better singer than he is a frontman).

The set was one electropop classic after another.  There was much wearing of keyboards. Giant love hearts rolled around the stage to Love Action.  Fascination, Don’t You Want Me… you know the canon, and they (Joanne Catherall apart) delivered it with conviction.

Returning quickly for a remarkably fresh-sounding Being Boiled, they spoiled it for me by finishing with Electric Dreams. Hey guys, that’s not a Human League song, it’s pure fromage.

The audience didn’t care, though.  They went back home happy, aching slightly, not caring (until the cold morning) about work and wondering where the last 25 years have gone.

Playing to an empty room

Yesterday we celebrated my wife’s birthday in our home town of Birmingham (UK).

It was a three-part event.  Sixty of our family and friends had a private viewing of the classic movie High Society in the small screen of the lovely Art Deco Electric Cinema, then a Chinese meal at Barbecue Village – who looked after us brilliantly.

And then we moved on to cocktails and dancing at Sence – a brand new bar/club on the premises of what used to be 52 Degrees North.  Again the staff there were lovely, helpful and thoughtful but they were rather let down by the young DJ.

I was concerned when we arrived at about 10pm. As Sence has only just opened, they are still building up their reputation, so it was far from crowded.  The (big) dance floor was empty and the DJ was playing banging commercial dance, very loud, over the punchy sound system. Classic error: trying to create a happening atmosphere, when actually it makes stepping onto the dance floor very forbidding.

We’d given them a steer as to the sort of stuff that our lot would like and he made a desultory attempt at playing that (but he clearly didn’t have any/much 70s stuff, for example). A few danced, but he very quickly went back into his comfort zone and cleared the floor again.

Technically, he was fine.  Good mixing, consistent levels and so on. But DJing is about atmosphere, mood and energy – assessing the mood in the room and moving it gently in the direction you want, which eventually is a dance floor full of people having a good time.

But you can’t do that in one jump.  If he had:

  • stepped onto the dance floor a couple of times to feel how isolated a dancer would be there under that relentless beat,
  • used his eyes to assess the people who were there (older, in black tie),
  • thought about why most of us were staying behind the glass in the VIP area, rather than venturing out onto the dancefloor,

he might have played some more mid-tempo, possibly some older tunes, and gently enticed more and more of us – and the other customers – into having a dance.  Once he’d got us in the right mood, we’d have danced happily to the vocal 4/4 and a lot more besides.

We’d have had a better time – and so would he.

The INQ 1 “Facebook phone”

A week or so ago I was surprised to get an email inviting me to a mysterious launch of some gadget that would, allegedly, improve my social life.

And it specifically mentioned this blog.

I was surprised because:

This is hardly a must-see blog.  Although my post on how I write the Who’s Who in The Archers book had over 1000 views, that’s exceptional.

And it’s not exactly a blog on tech or gadgety things.

Flattery turned to intrigue when the actual invitation arrived in the mail:  a rubber stamp, ink pad and piece of rough paper on which to print my own invitation.

dried on paper stamp and pad

dried on paper invitation

(These pix courtesy of Ms Geeky)

Dried on Paper… sounded like ink was involved somehow.

There was a little speculation in the blogosphere about what this was all about, but it was only on the day itself  that the suggestion arose that it was a phone.

A phone… seems a bit disappointing after all that build-up.  But it seemed like a pretty clever phone – very tied into social networking sites like Facebook, but at a much cheaper price than the iPhone or other smartphones.

So I made my way down to London’s trendy Shoreditch, partly because Unabombers were playing and Hexstatic were doing the visuals, which seemed to imply that that the event should be of good quality.

And it was.  Lots of attractive young people (who were they? why were they there?), plenty of free booze and not enough food to soak it up (nibbles courtesy of Jamie Oliver’s nearby “15” restaurant).  And indeed the music and visuals were good.

inq 1 launch - visuals

And I have to say the phone itself – the INQ 1 (‘Ink One” – geddit) is a cunning piece of kit.  Cleverly integrated with Facebook, Skype, MSN Messenger, Last.fm (not Twitter yet, although you can access Twitter via its browser, as you can RSS feeds).

inq1phone

It’s relatively small – much more the size of a Motorola RAZR than an iPhone or Nokia N95/96.

And at a base £15 per month with unlimited web/Facebook/Skype calls/texts plus 75 voice minutes (an extra £5 a month gives you  200 minutes) it’s very attractively priced compared with its flashier rivals.

I think they could be on to something.

Detailed review from The Guardian.

(I eventually worked out why I’d been invited, by the way, once I’d realised that 3 was involved.  It’s because I wrote about my 3 mobile internet dongle a while back. Somehow I didn’t think they wanted me because of my series about camping equipment for festivals :o)

Who’s Who in The Archers

 

The latest editon

Every year for the past ten years (more, actually) I’ve written a guide to the characters and places in The Archers. The latest edition –  Who’s Who in The Archers 2009 – is out now.

This is the book that I wanted when I first started listening to The Archers.  So many characters, with their interconnecting lives… Who were they all?  And why did so many people call this Tom Forrest guy “Uncle Tom”?

So when I actually started to work on the programme, I suggested we write and publish a guide and sell it direct to the public.  We weren’t allowed to make a profit, so the purchase price simply covered the production and mailing costs.

One of the early in-house versions

Various people worked on those early self-published editions, but it settled down to be my baby, and we sold over 90,000 copies.

BBC Books

Eventually BBC Books took it on and published it as a proper paperback.  It’s gone through some small changes over the years – expanded in size, adding a Frequently Asked Questions section and an index of characters’ forenames (as it can be many months before you hear a character referred to by their surname), and this year the cover has been redesigned.

But essentially it’s the same idea as the original – a guide to the main current characters – speaking and silent – and the main locations in Ambridge.  That’s about 120 entries.  We even list the numbers and types of animals and the acreages of the different crops on the farms.

Entertainment

“…Sid Perks is the nicest homophobe you could hope to meet…”

It’s a reference work, obviously, but I try to make it an entertaining read, which led to someone dubbing it “the little book with the big attitude”.  As well as a robust approach to the foibles of the characters, I’ve had fun with how the facts are presented.  Over the years I’ve had some entries that wrap up the basic information in formats such as a postcard from Grey Gables hotel, a rubbish website for Borchester Chamber of Commerce, and a Good Pub Guide review of The Bull, Ambridge.

“…Cynics would say that Kate getting pregnant by a black South African was just another ploy to shock the more conservative elements in Ambridge…”

And if any entry has been substantially the same for two years running, then I completely rewrite it, to keep it fresh.  I don’t want someone picking it up and saying, oh, no I’ve got this already.  This means that in some cases I’ve  written the same basic information several different ways, which makes it interesting for me, too (I don’t always use the word “interesting” when I’m racking my brains for yet another approach, I must admit).

Accuracy

Of course, the main thing is that it has to be accurate, which poses a particular set of challenges.  Most of the writing is done in April/May for a July press date and an early October publication date.  When I’m writing, we haven’t planned in detail exactly what’s going to happen on air in publication week.  I work from our longterm planning “grids”, which give me a fair idea, but there’s always a lot of fine-tuning at proof stage.

Even then I don’t always get it 100 per cent.  In one edition I anticipated by two weeks a character (Kenton Archer) moving in with his girlfriend, for example. A small error, but it annoyed me.

And there’s also the challenge of keeping the book as accurate as possible once it’s been published, because things are changing all the time in the programme.  I’ve developed a cunning use of the perfect tense, so that an entry is still accurate even when I know a character’s circumstances will change over the life of the book.

So, for example, I won’t say: “Ed is serving a community punishment for breaking and entering”, even though that might be entirely accurate at the time of publication.  I’d say: “Ed was sentenced to a community punishment for breaking and entering”, which is true even when the character is no longer cleaning graffiti off the bandstand.

Blogged

The first mention of the book in the blogosphere – at least the first that I was aware of –  was by Tim Relf, who writes Farming Today’s entertaining Field Day blog.  He hates The Archers, apparently, so it was nice of him to give it a mention.