Thursday, 29 November 2012

"The Jazz Age" or why I started watching Roxy Music on youtube

I can’t admit to be overly familiar with Bryan Ferry’s oeuvre, apart from a few songs (notably, ‘Love is the Drug’, ‘Virginia Plain’ and ‘Let’s Stick Together’) as well as a beautifully haunting version of ‘The Only Face’ on one of Jools Holland’s albums.  So when I heard that he was releasing a new album, it didn’t stir much excitement within me.  When I heard that all of the songs were covers of 11 of his hits from the last 40 years, re-recorded in the style of a 1920s dance band, I was suddenly interested.

In what I think is quite a brave step, Bryan Ferry’s distinctive vocals are absent from this album, as all of the songs are instrumentals.  The remarkable change in style may also leave some of his more die-hard fans a little disappointed.  However, they should put their reservations aside and listen to what has immediately become my favourite album of the year!

After hearing the songs of ‘The Jazz Age’, I must say I did go through my mum’s record collection and listen to some of the originals, which really enhanced my appreciation of the reworked tracks.

Produced by Ferry and long-time collaborator Rhett Davies, The Jazz Age truly is a love letter to the music of the 1920s, not a half-hearted attempt to jump on the vintage bandwagon.  Bryan Ferry said I loved the way the great soloists would pick up a tune and shake it up - go somewhere completely different...”, a statement which is played out to great effect on the record.

Highlights are the joyously upbeat ‘This is Tomorrow’, the lovely lilting refrain on ‘Avalon’ and ‘The Only Face’ – in which I half expected Cab Calloway to start singing about a tragic woman’s demise! 

The album’s artwork is taken from the 1927 collection of illustrations ‘Le Tumulte Noir’ by the French artist, Paul Colin.  These illustrations were inspired by La Revue Nègre, which included among its stars, Josephine Baker (Colin’s muse and lover). 

I for one would love to see this album performed live, although I’m not sure how the show would work as Bryan Ferry wouldn’t be singing and of course, they would have to play in venues with an ample dance floor, not the stadiums I’m sure he normally commands!

The album was released on 26th November 2012 with the 10” vinyl folio set for release on 3rd December (hint, if anyone fancies buying one of the folios for me, I dare say I wouldn’t refuse it!)

 Keep an eye out on The Vintage News facebook and twitter as we will be announcing a competition to win a copy of The Jazz Age next week*.

*should point out that the competition ran in December 2012

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Amidst Communists and showgirls, The Hour returns

When first announced, The Hour was (somewhat unfairly) billed as the British Mad Men, a comparison that I think did it a disservice.  I am a huge fan of both series’ but they are worlds apart in both subject and tone.  While Mad Men is very insular, with occasional references to the outside world (the deaths of JFK and Marilyn Monroe for example), The Hour seemed to have a much wider scope, perhaps helped by the fact that the ever familiar BBC was the main setting for the show.  Series one of The Hour took place against the background of the political turmoil surrounding the Suez Crisis in 1956.

I can imagine some people started watching for the clothes and design, but then stayed for the intrigue of this Abi Morgan-penned cold war thriller.  Bel (played by Romola Garai) is the (somewhat overly) glamorous producer of the eponymous news show, with a wardrobe not dissimilar to a certain Joan Holloway.

The chain-smoking foreign correspondent Lix Storm (a bond-girl name if ever I heard one, played by Anna Chancellor) has a wardrobe reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn, lots of simple tailored trouser suits and blouses in a muted autumnal palette.

As the show is set mainly in the workplace, the majority of the men are of course wearing suits.  However, as the characters differ, so do the suits; from the arrogantly elegant Hector Madden (played with aplomb by Dominic West) to the straight-laced government press advisors, Angus McCain (in a sterling turn from Julian Rhind-Tutt).  Also interesting to see is the transition of Freddie Lyon (played by Ben Whishaw) from local hack (quite tweedy and scruffy) to co-anchor (still individual but deeper, crisper colours).

A thread of Communism wove its way throughout the first series, a theme that is given greater prominence in the second with the Britain of 1957 preoccupied by the Soviet launch of Sputnik 2 and a fear of impending nuclear disaster.

The second series will also involve a lot of excursions to El Paradis, a Soho club and from the trailer I can see there will be a fair few showgirls– so lots more gorgeous costumes!  Peter Capaldi and Hannah Tointon are joining the cast as the new Head of News and Kiki the showgirl (I’ll let you decide which is which!)

I am very much looking forward to the new series starting – I mean I work for a vintage news crew and it is as though they were filming a day in the life of The Vintage News (apart from all the murder, spies, government interference and a proper studio)!  Apart from the obvious parallels with my life, I also enjoyed that The Hour has a much grittier storyline than is afforded most period dramas (although with a few slightly shy-making pieces of dialogue) and of course I loved the costumes (designed with remarkable detail by Suzanne Cave).

 Actually, this one is quite a lot like my job!

The second series of the Hour will start on BBC2 on the 14th of November.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Book review of 'Wartime Farm', based on the BBC show

After being told by three separate people I’d love Wartime Farm, I thought it was probably worth a look.  Having missed Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm, I had no idea what format the show would take but my friends were right, I did love Wartime Farm!  Presented by historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Peter Ginn and Alex Langlands, the show is a year in the life of a Hampshire farm under wartime restrictions, which got tougher and tougher as time went on.
However, I am not here to review the programme but the accompanying book (which was kindly sent to me by Octopus books).

L-R Peter Ginn, Ruth Goodman, Alex Langlands

The book is split into eight chapters covering different aspects of the wartime experience on a farm ranging from the livestock and growing food, to where all the labour came from and how people they made everything go that little bit further.

How to darn stockings – hair was often used in place of thread

The tone of the book is very similar to the show, very relaxed and friendly – not just a series of regurgitated facts.  I think because the presenters experienced some of the wartime difficulties personally, it gave the book a much more engaging tone.  I was also impressed at how humbled the writers seemed to be, acknowledging that no matter how hard they found it, at least they were never living in fear of being bombed and knew that it would eventually end.  Also, the course of the show condensed the six years of war into just 12 months.

Comparing the military timeline with what was happening on the home front

The layout of the book is very good, everything is very clearly set out and all of the information is very easily accessible.  Stills from the show abound, as do many contemporary photographs and government posters, a few of which I’d not seen before.

One thing I particularly liked about the book, is that even if you have read the original government issue books and pamphlets such as Food Facts for the Home Front and Make-do and Mend, having all the different topics collected in one volume really shows how the war really affected every aspect of a person’s life.

There is a whole chapter entitled ‘Make Do and Mend’

For those readers that are feeling a little creative, there are instructions on how to make a toy spitfire from scrap metal, how to darn stockings and how to make your own shampoo, roof tiles and soft cheese for starters!

Ruth making the dubious-looking
‘Baked Potato Pudding’

Overall, I am rather impressed with this book as I think some people will find it a very good resource as it combines many different elements of the social and agricultural history of the countryside.  As it covers so many topics, it may not go into enough depth for some, however I think it is a good starting off point for many.

Alex making a ‘skep’ for bee-keeping

I’m not sure where the series can go from the Second World War, as the country has not faced the same shortages of food since – I can’t imagine how the country would cope with the threat of impending starvation nowadays.  However, I would really like to see any subsequent series’ – and indeed books – from Peter, Ruth and Alex.

Peter making a camouflage ‘ghillie’ suit, as used by the Home Front