Category Archives: Music

Ed Sheeran at 16

Most of my life, I haven’t really enjoyed mainstream music. Maybe the odd song, or a band/artist years after they stopped being popular, but rarely anybody on the charts. That’s why it always surprises me when I do like someone popular.

I really like Ed Sheeran’s mellower acoustic music. He’s pretty hard to escape these days, but I’d somehow managed it. Then he showed up on Game of Thrones, and on my Britannia High DVD behind-the-scenes documentary. But really, it was the end credits song for The Fault in Our Stars that got me listening.

Britannia High (2008) was a UK television series about a performing arts school for teens. It only lasted nine episodes before being cancelled due to poor reviews and low ratings. I bought the DVDs from the UK because I’m a fan of Matthew James Thomas (Jez in the series). Hundreds of young performers auditioned for the show in 2007, including 16 year-old Ed Sheeran. I made a YouTube video of his moments from the behind-the-scenes documentary. I’m still learning to use Shotcut, so it’s a bit rough.

Note: there are other clips from Sheeran’s audition on YouTube already, but this is clearer and has more footage than I’ve seen there.

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The PDX Broadsides & Leslie Hudson

Yesterday was one of those days when I couldn’t do anything right. I almost forgot that I had a ticket to see the PDX Broadsides and Leslie Hudson perform last night. I’m glad I didn’t miss them.
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The Booksmith on Haight Street is one of the last brick and mortar bookstores in San Francisco, and they recently opened an annex where the Red Vic Movie House used to be. Called The Bindery, it has an intimate performance/event space at the back of the store. This was my first time there. I get the email newsletter for both locations, because they always have great events.
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I’d never heard of the PDX Broadsides when I saw the listing for their performance, so I went to YouTube and listened to their Game of Thrones song and a few others. A folk trio based in Portland, they perform music for nerds. Awesome! Then author Charlie Jane Anders (All The Birds in The Sky) tweeted one of their songs. Seemed like a good omen, so I purchased an advance ticket.
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I arrived at The Bindery early, and everybody was mellow. The performance space had two old leather sofas that seated two, or three if you know each other well enough. In between the sofas were chairs, with only three rows set up, so no bad seats. The back wall has a small bar, and the drinks were reasonably priced. It’s nice that they allow food from outside. I should have used my extra time to peruse the book recommendations around the store, but I didn’t bring my reading glasses. Next time I’ll know better.
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The first up was Leslie Hudson, a striking redhead from Stratford, Ontario. She’s a storyteller, as well as a singer/songwriter with a keyboard, and I enjoyed the introductions as much as her songs. Her first song was Sisters & Sinners, about biblical women at a pub on the crossroads of heaven and hell (hope I got that right!). Unmasked is a song about Mary Jane Watson (Spider-man), while Eleven Feathered Sons is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swans. Hudson talked about prehensile hair and Medusa and love songs in the key of C in the intro to Entanglement; it was lovely and probably my favorite of her set list.
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Hudson also performed a song about Batman’s Poison Ivy (Welcome to Eden) and another one called Honey. I’m currently reading When The Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, and it’s about a girl nicknamed Honey. Her nemesis-es are four redheaded sisters, one named Ivy. What are the odds? I don’t usually recommend books until I’ve finished them, but I couldn’t help telling Hudson about it after her performance.
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The PDX Broadsides (Christian, Jessica, and Hollyanna) set up next. Jessica introduced us to her new keyboard, named after Rosalind Franklin (the double helix scientist). Christian played guitar. They had a few hiccups with the microphones, but they kept us entertained with banter while things got adjusted.
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I enjoyed all the songs they performed, mostly from their newest album, Trust Issues. Taking turns with lead vocals, the trio sang songs about Cold War spy cats (Acoustic Kitty), Westworld (Dolores), Star Wars (We Want Rey), Welcome to Nightvale (The Weather), mediocre love (I’ll Eat You Last), Japanese animated movies (Miyazaki Dreams), Conan the Barbarian (Best in Life), and Bitch Planet (Non-compliant). They made me realize that my wide-ranging interests are still rather limited, especially when it comes to comic books and graphic novels.
They finished with Jessica’s song called Nathan Fillion, and we sang along for the chorus (Please take off your pants!). The encore was Rocket Science, and then it was over too soon. I chatted a bit with Christian and Jessica before heading home. I also met Christian’s charming parents. It was their first time seeing the PDX Broadsides in person, just like me.
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I’m definitely going to keep listening and recommending them to friends and strangers. I hope both the PDX Broadsides and Leslie Hudson come back to San Francisco soon. I’ll be waiting.

The PDX Broadsides (Photo from their website, because I forgot my camera, too.)

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Life Lessons from Pippin

How to separate the drama nerds from the fantasy geeks: mention Pippin. A drama nerd will start singing Corner of the Sky.

Pippin is a Tony Award-winning musical by Stephen Schwartz, who also wrote Godspell. It’s about a young prince’s search for something meaningful to do with his life. Pippin was the son of Charlemagne, but the musical is not a faithful historical narrative. Bob Fosse directed and choreographed the original 1972 Broadway production, which starred John Rubinstein (Pippin) and Ben Vereen (Leading Player). Pippin’s grandmother Berthe was played by Irene Ryan, best known as Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies. I grew up believing the story that she died onstage during a performance of her song No Time At All. Not true, but it still makes a good “what a way to go!” story.

As a teen in the late 1970s, I was a little bit obsessed with Pippin. I knew the music and lyrics from the cast album long before I saw it onstage. A friend took me to a student production at UC Irvine in 1982, with the musical re-imagined as a futuristic space opera with loads of silver lamé. Then, in 1985, I worked with John Rubinstein at the La Jolla Playhouse (described here) which got me listening to the Pippin original cast album all over again. William Katt and Ben Vereen appeared in a filmed stage version in the early 80s, which I saw on videotape many years later.

Fast forward to 2013, and Pippin is back on Broadway. I watched the Tony Awards that year, so I was aware of the production and saw the musical number performed during the ceremony. I was also vaguely aware when the touring version came to San Francisco in fall 2014, but my budget was tight and my mind was on other things. Mostly I was busy pouting because I had to stay home while friends were at a festival in Utah.

Last summer, I finally listened to the Pippin Broadway revival cast album. My first impression was that Matthew James Thomas has a pretty voice, but it’s very different from John Rubinstein’s. I went to YouTube to see if there were any Pippin videos. And here we go, down the rabbit hole again!

I’ve now watched everything I can find with Matthew James Thomas, going back to The Bill in 1999. I was sad that he deleted his twitter account before I had the chance to follow him. I purchased his UK series Britannia High on DVD, watching it once through before my region-free DVD player packed up and died (boo). Then I actually cried when I found out that the San Francisco Pippin tour brought both Matthew James Thomas AND John Rubinstein to my doorstep, and I missed them. Thomas had given his last performance on Broadway, but he came back and filled in for the touring Pippin when that actor was put on vocal rest. John Rubinstein toured with the show as Charlemagne. Even if the tickets were beyond my budget, I could have gone to the stage door to meet the cast and see Rubinstein again. Heartbreak!

The biggest lesson learned from Pippin? Pay attention to what’s happening around me. Instead of wishing to be somewhere else, make the most of what’s right here. San Francisco isn’t perfect, and it’s way too expensive, but a lot of events are free or cheap.

(click to see better version)

Happily, Matthew James Thomas is now back on twitter. He was cast in a pilot called Shelter for NBC, but it wasn’t ordered to series. I wish him the best, look forward to seeing him onscreen again, and hope he comes back to San Francisco. (John Rubinstein, too!)

If I could have one MJT wish granted, since I can’t travel back in time to 2014, it would be to hear his Fenwick solo from the musical Diner.

Matthew James Thomas (Fenwick) in Diner. Photo by Matt Urban, Mobius New Media

Photo sources:

San Francisco Pippin tour: Review: A masterful ‘Pippin’ showcases Paulus’ bold vision

http://www.delawaretheatre.org/diner (Fenwick photo)

Screen captures made from YouTube videos, particularly from the official Broadway Pippin channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/pippinmusical/videos

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My Year End Wrap Up 2012

Another year has slipped away, and here I sit, reflecting back on what entertained me in 2012.  I always start my wrap up by going back to the beginning of the year, to see how my interests have changed.  I began the year dividing my time between British stuff and vintage television shows…and that’s exactly where I find myself now.  Only the faces have changed!

Best Books:  Might as well get the embarrassment out of the way first.  Normally I read a couple of books a week, but I went 8 months out of the last 12 without finishing a single book!  Oh, the shame.  I could blame my eyes, since I need new glasses, but the real truth is that I spend too much time online.  Making videos has also sucked up my reading time, but that’s for another category.  Of the small selection of books read this year, I really enjoyed Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt, Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth, and Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim.  (More about Arngrim’s book in an upcoming post.)  The biggest disappointment was Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James.

Best Television:  My television is usually always tuned to either Me-TV or CBS, except on Sunday night, when I watch Masterpiece on PBS.  I still enjoy The Big Bang Theory, but I do think it’s losing something from having too many separate storylines, with the characters spending less time gathered in the same living room.  More characters means less screen time for favorites Sheldon and Raj.  I discovered Leverage in reruns just as the show got cancelled, but at least I have five seasons to explore further.  Since September, I’ve been enjoying reruns of Emergency! on Me-TV.  Another season of Sherlock brought more delight, as well as more Inspector Lewis.  Thanks to a friend, I’m now back to enjoying EastEnders, the British serial drama, and already my life wouldn’t be complete without weekly visits to Albert Square.   This year’s favorite program was Call the Midwife, featuring new favorite Miranda Hart as the wonderful Chummy.  I can’t wait for more of this series!

Best Twitter:   I’m very picky about twitter.  Too much shameless self-promotion?  Unfollow.   Too many retweets?  Unfollow.   Too many conversations that should be private?  Unfollow.  No sense of humor?  I shouldn’t have been following in the first place!  I enjoy humor, whimsy,  and folks who don’t take themselves too seriously.   The most consistently entertaining tweets this year have come from Josh Groban.  I’ve also enjoyed following Russell Tovey.  I can count on a friend to share the best of Demetri Martin and The Onion, so I guess they count, too!

Best Theatre:  Oops.  Didn’t see any.  Never mind.

Best Movies:   I had good luck with the movies I saw in the cinema this year.  Mind you, I still haven’t seen three of the four films I was most looking forward to in 2012, so they will have to wait until 2013!  The Avengers was terrific, and I also enjoyed Life of PiThe Dark Knight Rises wasn’t a favorite, but Tom Conti and Joseph Gordon-Levitt made it worthwhile for me.   I saw my first 3D movie, John Carter, but I’m not a fan of the technology.  It was a great year for silents: Napoleon was stunning, and I also saw three films at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, with The Canadian (1926) making the deepest impression.   Shah Rukh Khan’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan had an entertaining beginning and middle, but I was disappointed by the third act.  The best new film I saw in 2012 was Argo.

Best DVDs:  I spent six months of this year with Wagon Train at the top of my Netflix queue.  They never sent me any on the discs, and my queue always said “short wait.”  I could have bought the DVDs for the money I spent on my Netflix plan, especially since I wasn’t watching the discs they sent me instead.  I cancelled my account.   This means I can’t go look at my history for this year to review, but this an easy category.  The best DVDs of my year have been the classic television western Laramie, particularly seasons one and two.  When I’m not watching the episodes again and again, I’m making tribute videos and posting them on YouTube.  I now have more YouTube followers than blog followers!   Which leads me to a new category…

Best Time-Sucker-Upper:  Call it a hobby, a passion, an obsession, a skill or an art.  But this year I started making videos, and now I can’t stop.  I’d been making slideshows using still images at animoto.com, and this summer I tried using their template program for short video clips.  It was okay, but I didn’t like their wide border which wasted space, so it forced me to try Windows Movie Maker.  I had no idea it would be so much fun!  My Laramie tribute videos aren’t very interesting to people who aren’t fans of the series, but I’m proud of my channel and grateful for all my followers.

Best Music:  Mostly I’ve listened to older stuff this year.  When Davy Jones died, I started listening to lots of the Monkees.  I love Gaelic Storm’s album How Are We Getting Home? (2004), discovered in a stack of my own CDs that I never got around to hearing.  I’m definitely going to listen to more of this group in 2013.  I’ve also been enjoying lots of Kate Rusby.  One of my favorite new old songs is “Can’t Turn My Heart Away” by Art Garfunkel.  I’m still enjoying The Book of Mormon Broadway soundtrack, but I learned the hard way not to listen to it in public.  Even with earphones, you look like a nutter snickering at the lyrics.

Best Music Video:  My choices are never conventional, but that’s what you get for taking musical advice from me!   Here’s my favorite:

Never mind that it was uploaded in 2008.  It’s still the most adorable video I’ve seen on YouTube this year!  If you don’t know it, this is India’s national anthem.

Best New-To-Me Software:   Handbrake for ripping DVDs, and Google Talk for saving me a fortune on phone bills.  I chat now with friends around the world, without the complications of installing Skype, and no webcam to show everyone how hideous I look through a fisheye lens.

Entertainer of the Year:  Honorable Mention this year goes to Miranda Hart.  I discovered her in Call the Midwife, and now I’m enjoying her comedy on YouTube and her BBC series Miranda.  The winner is an easy choice.  In April, I purchased season one of Laramie on DVD, and by the end of May, I was a member of Robert Fuller’s official fan group.  While my favorite role is Jess Harper in Laramie, I’ve been enjoying Wagon Train, Emergency!, and all of Fuller’s other television shows and movies.   I’ve spent hours chatting with other fans, making tribute videos and collages, and searching ebay for vintage photos.  For so much entertainment in so many different ways, Robert Fuller is my Entertainer of the Year.  Thank you, Mr. Fuller!

Jess Harper whip blog crp

Robert Fuller in Laramie

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Remembering Don Grady

Don Grady has passed away at the age of 68.  I woke to the news this morning when I visited facebook.  I grew up watching My Three Sons, became obsessed with The Mickey Mouse Club in reruns in the early 70s, and watched Grady in his guest roles on The Rifleman just this year.

Born in San Francisco (or San Diego, since different sites disagree) on June 8, 1944, Grady was a musical prodigy.  He was a third season mouseketeer on The Mickey Mouse Club.  After that, he had guest roles on shows like The Rifleman (in the episodes Heller and The Patsy) and Wagon Train.  He was almost signed for the part of Andy Sherman on the western series Laramie, but the role went instead to Robert Crawford Jr.  (More about this here.)  Grady was then cast in My Three Sons, which ran from 1960-1971.

Many younger viewers of My Three Sons thought Grady’s Robbie was the oldest son, because we never got to see the black and white seasons in syndication.  Tim Considine (Mike) was actually the oldest, but he left the show—er, went off to college.  Not enough sons?  Okay, let’s adopt Ernie.  How convenient that he looks an awful lot like Chip.  (Barry and Stanley Livingston are real life brothers.)   The series ran for so long, Grady’s character got married and had three sons of his own—triplets, no less.  I went to elementary school in San Diego for one year with those triplets.  Well, one set of them, anyway.  Don’t ask me if they were the Swansons or the Todds!  It was too long ago.  We weren’t in the same grade, but the kids were always talking about them.

Grady was in a band that had a hit called The Yellow Balloon in 1967.  That’s the name of the band and the song.  He went on to have a long, successful career as a composer.  His death yesterday from cancer has shocked and saddened his many friends and fans.  RIP, Don Grady.

Don Grady in The Rifleman (The Patsy, season 2)

Don Grady in The Rifleman (The Patsy, season 2)

Don Grady in The Rifleman (The Patsy, season 2)

Don Grady in The Rifleman (The Patsy, season 2)

The Yellow Balloon (1967)  Don Grady is in the wig and sunglasses.

The Yellow Balloon (1967) Don Grady is in the wig and sunglasses.

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Happy Birthday, Hadley Fraser (2012)

Today is Hadley Fraser’s birthday.  Currently playing Javert in Les Misérables, this West End performer is about to take a quick break from the stage to appear in the movie version of Les Mis.  (He’s playing the army officer who calls out to the student revolutionaries, “You at the barricades, listen to this!  No one is coming to help you to fight!” and all that.)   My friend and guest blogger extraordinaire, Scolytinae, has written this fine tribute to Mr. Fraser, in honor of his special day:

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Happy Birthday, Hadley – the Metal Monkey

According to the Chinese, people born under the Year of the Monkey are good at mastering anything they put their hands to and are highly successful. Those born during the period of the Metal Monkey are motivated by constancy, are self reliant and stylish, and have a good memory. Quite an accurate description of the lovely Mr. Hadley Fraser, who is, by anyone’s standards, having an amazing year.  From a triumphant return to the West End in Les Misérables, the show that marked his professional debut 10 years ago, to a stunning performance in The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary, Hadley hasn’t stopped working.  He has filming for the Les Misérables movie still to come next month.  But it’s not been all high profile public performances. In his quiet and unassuming manner, Hadley has also lent his support to charity by taking part in Les Mis Gives, performed shows and cabarets alongside friends and colleagues and, most recently, lent his magnificent voice to the concept album for the prospective new musical The In-Between by new young writer Laura Tisdall—all fitted round a demanding 8 show a week schedule as Inspector Javert, without fuss or fanfares.

He may disagree, but I feel he lives and breathes music in all its many and varied forms. Yes he can (and does) belt out a West End show stopper onstage, but just listen to him perform some of his own beautiful compositions for Sheytoons, or deliver the beautiful ballads of friend Scott Alan, and you begin to appreciate the depth of talent he has. Acting, singing, arranging, writing—he seems to epitomise that monkey by indeed mastering anything he puts his hand to.

As his year in the West End nears its end—his last performance is on 16th June 2012—I can’t help but wonder, what’s next for Hadley? Whatever it may be, rest assured he will have an army of dedicated fans wishing him all the best as he embarks on the next phase of an amazing career.

So it’s with the greatest of pleasure that I say “Thank you” and “Happy Birthday, Mr Fraser!”  Enjoy your day, because you certainly deserve the very best that life has to offer.

Thank you, Scolytinae, I couldn’t have said it more eloquently.  I too wish Hadley Fraser a great birthday.  May the cake flow, and save me slice of champagne!  (Perhaps we shouldn’t have started celebrating so early…)

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Ramin Karimloo’s “Thank You” Gig

Helsbrownie was one of the lucky few chosen to attend Ramin Karimloo’s special performance last night.  150 fans were invited to an intimate show as a way of thanking them for their loyalty and patience, since the release date of his new CD has been delayed more than once.  Here is her exclusive report:

You don’t get much for free these days, so when someone offers you something for nothing, I find it best to grab it with both hands.  On that basis, Monday night found me in a hot and sweaty basement bar near Oxford Street awaiting Ramin Karimloo’s “thank you” gig.

My verdict: anyone heading to the upcoming tour is in for a real treat.  We heard a few songs from the album including Constant Angel and Coming Home as well as a new composition, tentatively titled Here I Go, which has a Sheytoons-esque feel.  I was thrilled to hear some Sheytoons material which I hadn’t been expecting, given Hadley Fraser’s absence. But the highlights for me were the covers.  Everyone went mad for Raining in Baltimore by the Counting Crows, but my personal favourite ended the night: Green Day—Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).  The song suits Ramin’s voice beautifully, with a little country music addition in the middle by one of his guitarists.  Ramin stayed away from any musical theatre numbers, which was the right choice as they wouldn’t really have suited the venue, although Bring Him Home would have been stunning in the intimate space.

I think Ramin’s voice is incredible.  His ability to adapt to different musical styles effortlessly puts him in a class above other performers who try to vary their repertoire.  He is a performer comfortable in his own skin and clearly has a genuine relationship with his band, thus creating a lovely atmosphere for the audience.  There was an awful lot of talent on the stage—the band included two guitarists, keyboard, percussion, two violins and a cello, as well as Ramin varying between guitar, banjo and keyboard.  I very much hope some, if not all, are joining him on tour.

Ramin had asked that no-one record the gig (not that this stopped at least one disrespectful guy) and instead passed round his own video camera.  It is definitely worth keeping an eye out for that official footage to appear, once he has edited it.

Overall, I was very impressed by Ramin’s performance and his general attitude.  While he clearly used the gig as a rehearsal for his upcoming tours, he was generous not to charge for entry and he obviously spent a lot of time organising it—he had to send around 150 individual emails to those of us attending.  Most impressively, at the end, he stood at the door and said goodbye to everyone individually—like a line-up at a wedding!  When I approached, he knew my name (I cannot understand how) and seemed genuinely keen to know if I’d enjoyed the gig. Suffice to say I left on a high, both from that meeting and from the music.

Roll on the tour!

Thank you, helsbrownie!   We’re grateful to you for sharing your experience, not to mention envious of your good fortune!

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