Birmingham and Rufus

(Rufus Wainwright by local artist, who is aiming to do a new one of him next, as soon as he gets the chance)

A really lovely run in Birmingham. Warm, responsive audiences (comparatively reserved at the end but hugely up-for-it throughout: a kind of opposite of Cardiff audiences) and a beautiful city. Birmingham has such a pride to it: when they re-developed Bristol’s city centre they did so with no sense of delight or style. Birmingham, by contrast, has become a truly enjoyable place. Found myself staying in the same hotel as Cameron and Clegg following the debates… I suppose I completed the trio, seeing as the other Brown had headed home. Hmm. I think I missed an opportunity there.

Thank you for coming if you did. I understand that some people were waiting for hours in the rain by stage door after being repeatedly assured that I had left (I had to dash off to a dinner appointment): apologies, but please do take it at face value if they say I’ve gone. They shouldn’t ever say it if I haven’t.

Spent much time around the canals, two excellent lunches at Bank, the best hot chocolate in the country (and excellent coffee) at Cafe Vergnano at the Mailbox (there’s one in Charing Cross Rd too, though the Brum one is friendlier and nicer), pottering around at snail’s pace, listening to Rufus Wainwright’s new album on my headphones. The new album – All Days are Nights: Songs For Lulu – is such a beautiful thing. I listen to RW continuously while painting, and am a hugely devoted fan. Last Monday, on a rare night off from the tour, I took  group of us to have dinner and see him in Oxford, a wonderful evening. The first half was a sing-through of the new album; we were instructed not to applaud until after he had (preposterously but brilliantly) exited the stage, the second a relative lightening of mood with a bunch of old favourites. Afterwards he appeared to us few invited guests, somewhat distant as he always is, to say a quick hello, mascara in stained rivers down his face, almost as if it were still part of the performance. As often seems to be the case, Helena Bonham Carter was nearby too: I have adored her ever since watching her being interviewed on some awful red-carpet thing going into the Willy Wonka premier, inside which I was already tucked away. One sits for hours before the film starts and watches a broadcast of an endless stream of stars answering inane questions from a dedicated hapless interviewer parked outside, and occasionally a brilliant and irresponsible answer from an interviewee breaks the turgid atmosphere in the auditorium and causes a burst of grateful applause. I cannot remember what HBC said, but she was so brilliantly unruffled by the whole thing, so couldn’t-care-less for any of the nonsense, that her unperturbed answers lit up the sham of the whole ritual’s absurdity. Since then I have found myself alongside her many times, normally when in Rufus’ company, but never said hello. On each occasion I pass by imagining she wouldn’t know me from Adam: then, when I leave, I wonder if she might have done, and whether I had seemed rude. Such are the conflicts of C-rate celebrity.

If you do not know Rufus Wainwright, he is a staggeringly talented singer/songwriter, with a style that is difficult to define, leaping from heartbreaking eulogies to a tragic self, to bawdy high camp, but in the main occupying a perennial, epic, tortured dream-space of self-apotheosis and virtuosic performance. His voice is as unusual as his music, and his articulation sometimes mellifluous to the point of incomprehensibility. For some this proves a stumbling block: equally, the songwriting is unyieldingly internal and coded, leaving me for one pretty clueless as to the meaning of some of the pieces. But this is part of the Rufus experience, and as a devotee of Bach’s equally solitary suites for lonely solo instruments, I revel in such ‘private’ music. Others, I know, just find him whiny and self-absorbed. To me this is like the criticism of Bach as sounding like a sewing machine: yes, all those things, and then some, if you must.

If you’re considering getting hold of an album, I’d recommend Want One as a good starting point, and be prepared for the songs, like anything of superlative quality, to yield their secrets over time. They are not all an easy listen to begin with.

We are returning to the Alexandra Theatre in six weeks or so, and looking forward to it hugely. The crew were one of the nicest we’ve met on tour. And the audiences just lovely. I shall look forward to more dreamy wanderings, having now missed for good my chance to tinker with the election candidates.

Thank you…

… for such lovely comments about the Dench sequence. I’ll endeavour to do the same again with future pictures. For those of who could see no difference between pictures 2 and 3, there were none: I have now removed the duplicate image. What a der-brain. Nearly left it in on purpose just to provide confusion.

Incidentally, my favourite comment was this:

“This picture shows so much talent, I’m truly impressed. But there’ a coldness to it, a barely perceptible but nevertheless evident sense of unkindness, disdain, superciliousness that I believe characterizes all of the artist’s work, both in visual art & in performance. This may be the sort of thing that will change with increasing age &, one hopes, wisdom.”

Fingers crossed.


(update, few days later: too much may have been read into this quote inclusion by commenters… I included it because its haughty tone made me laugh, that was all. The irony in my statement may have been lost, a common problem of blogging)

Cardiff and Woking and Coco the Mind-Reading Parrot

The curious phenomenon of audience identities continues: Cardiff crowds (though I expected a big raucous crowd) were very quiet, but saved it all up for the end. Which was a relief the first night: after that, I knew to expect it. I, to the amusement of many, struggled with audience members’ names and answers, as I did in Belfast and Dublin. The combination of unfamiliar names, strong accents, microphone amplification and the wobbly acoustics of the auditoria made this an unexpected comedy highlight. I do apologise.

Woking brought great, enthusiastic audiences – or rather ‘brings’, as I have one more night there tonight. The house has a resonant, bright sound, which helps the show enormously – it’s lovely to hear every reaction clearly. We have all benefited from a day off and time at home – although my builders have all assembled to work at mine this week, which has made the long-awaited time at home more stressful than being on tour. But hey, whaddyagonnado. Tonight, Andy comes to see the show: he hasn’t even seen it this time round, being taken up with Ghost Stories (transferring to the Duke of York Theatre on June 25th). That’ll be good.

The voice is improving, and I imagine I’ll be back to signing once we get to Stoke on Tuesday.

What else? This:

‘Tis true. Our very own Neil, from the Parrot Zoo, of which I am Patron Saint, presents Coco The Mind Reading Parrot at SkegVegas – the tourist attraction centre for Skegness. Coco has been trained in all sorts of arcane mentalist techniques and presents them to the public for the price of a pumpkin seed and a chunk of finger. Here’s Neil and Coco practising their elaborate two-person code  (man on left saying ‘Is it a cup of tea?’):

Expect further updates from Coco as they unfold.


PS Thank you also for your response to the Dench portrait. I did anticipate the request to see it in its various stages: once I’ve absolutely finished it and have had it properly photographed, I will post a little step-by step thingette in case it remains of interest.

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