Tag Archives: The Lowry

Rolf Harris at the Lowry

Rolf Harris sauntered onto the Lyric Theatre stage at the Lowry last night, dressed in a white shirt and sun hat, looking for all the world as though he was in Provence. He wasn’t far out. It was a glorious day, even in Salford, and so much better for Rolf being there. Maybe he’d got the wrong postcode, maybe not.

That’s the thing with Rolf Harris. You don’t know how much is an act and what actually happened. Maybe they really did drive round looking for the Lowry. (It’s an apt name. One painter to another.)

Rolf Harris programme

He started with Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport, sticking to the same script he’s used for a while. We got emotional, we stopped clapping, we did everything Rolf told us to do. We sang. (Is there a discount when you become part of the act?)

Then he rambled a bit. Sang the intro to Kangaroo in Dutch. Spanish. Claimed he didn’t know the Japanese translation, although that didn’t stop him. Sang Kangaroo in Russian, which somehow turned into Kalinka. And Rolf finished with the Nashville version.

This all took a while, as you can understand.

A Japanese joke swiftly (no, pretty slowly in a roundabout way, actually) took us to Christmas and Six White Boomers. Then he moved via Aborigine art to Uluru and Raining on the Rock. He tried on his accordion for size. Several times. Then he finally played it, for tongue-twister Court of King Caractacus. The audience followed, still singing along. Was it an act, or was it for real? Rolf ‘completely lost it.’ Doesn’t matter.

You Are My Sunshine, with another slight hiccough. Who cares? We were all smiling in the sunshine. We sang Waltzing Matilda, and Rolf reminisced about singing it at Glastonbury with 130,000 index fingers counting ‘one, two, three.’ We found it hard to match this, having fewer fingers at our disposal.

Rolf Harris programme

We got a didgeridoo lesson, with Rolf doing unspeakable things with his glass of water and one belonging to a member of the orchestra. Basically, you blow raspberries while avoiding drowning yourself with the water. Don’t try it at home. This lead to Sun Arise, the most boring song the original musicians had ever played. Even George Martin felt it needed something a bit extra to counteract its mesmerising drone, and after three months on Radio Luxembourg it would have made it to number one had it not been for that upstart Elvis.

A short five-minute break for ten to fifteen minutes, meant we were back in 20-25. I’ll round that up to half an hour.

Rolf needed the time. He had a third leg to grow and clothe (orange trousers?) and a green tartan coat to put on. Yes, it was Jake the Peg, who had not only an extra leg, but sang the same bit a second time. Or tried to.

Rolf Harris programme

Once rid of the outfit and the spare leg, Rolf wore his cerise shirt, which he immediately covered up with a blue one so he could splash paint around. It was time for the painting. Fairly small canvas, for Rolf, but a great piece of work, nevertheless. Someone in the audience shouted out ‘can you tell what it is yet?’ I suppose it was worth checking he had some idea of what he was splashing the paint on. (Uluru, in case you wondered. With rain.)

The time spent painting, Rolf asked for permission to tell non-pc jokes. It was something about two Albanians, one of whom was called Patrick… He does do accents very well. You tend to forget this, in-between concerts.

Delilah and Stairway to Heaven raised the roof somewhat (we did sing very well, even if I say so myself). I now have a mental picture of Miss Given, for future use. Pavlova, on request, followed by Two Little Boys. I wondered how you can follow that with anything else, but Rolf did a rude version of it, which ‘lowered the tone’ sufficiently.

A lot of background information on Leadbelly, who wrote lots of songs, but not Sixteen Tons, which is why Rolf didn’t sing it. He forgot stuff. He dropped his money. And Leadbelly wrote Goodnight Irene, which will be why Rolf sang it.

Rolf Harris programme

Avoiding encores, we were firmly informed Rolf would finish with the British version of Kangaroo. We sat up straight and legs were uncrossed, and what we got was Kangaroo Elgar style. Or perhaps Land of Hope and Glory with dying stockmen. Seeing as it was the Last Night of the Proms, we felt we hadn’t missed out. And not a single varicose vein exploded.

Here he comes at last; Rolf Harris at the Lowry

We trooped out to the foyer where Rolf was going to sign. (They never said what, though. No merchandise, only programmes. And with no photography allowed inside, I have taken to photographing the programme to illustrate things. Sorry.)

It was a long wait, and a long queue. They had time to replace the pot of tea for a fresh one as we waited. I took a few photos and scarpered, so have no idea when the last ones left. This morning, I imagine.

Rolf Harris at the Lowry

I got to the tram stop as Rule Britannia was belted out on the façade of the BBC. Very nice.

Rule Britannia in Media City

It was all very nice. And if someone had suggested forty years ago that I would ever attend the concert of an 82-year-old, I’d have said they were crazy. But crazy would be not to go. This is feelgood stuff at its best.

Rolf Harris at the Lowry

I’d say come back soon, but I am a nice and generous person, so will say that it would be great to see you again, Rolf, but there are other deserving parts of the country, too. Probably.

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The American Dream

Isn’t it lucky that Sir Mark Elder went to New York? If he hadn’t, we might not have had Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town to enjoy, here at the Lowry in another wonderful town.

I could see his left ear, but for the most part I forgot all about Sir Mark, except when I noticed a pair of arms flapping somewhere in front of me, and wondered about it before remembering this was actually a musical with the whole of the Hallé hiding down in the orchestra pit. (Although Daughter sneaked a look down and said it couldn’t be all of them and she didn’t see Roberto Carrillo-García anywhere.) I love it when the serious players play lighter stuff. They do it so well.

That’s why it was easy to forget they were there. Perfection is unobtrusive. And this was perfection. Speedy Valenti had a nerve instructing Sir Mark and his band from up there on the stage…

Wonderful Town by Alastair Muir

What happened on stage was also perfect, but because it happened right in front of me I didn’t miss it. And who would want to miss this? Simon Higlett’s set and costume design must count as one of the most pleasing I have ever seen. Possibly the best ever. New York never looked more New Yorkish, including a natty little elevated train.

And those clothes! The clothes were to die for, and that goes for everyone from leading lady Connie Fisher’s to every last one of the dancers’. It was an interesting – and oh so American – blend of 1930s to 1950s style. The kind we privately aspire to and usually fail to achieve. It was a clever move to have the dancers help Connie and her stage sister Lucy van Gasse dress on stage.

Those dancers are every bit as marvellous as director Braham Murray said they were. Choreographer Andrew Wright even had his dancers conga-ing down the aisles at the Lowry, and as for the Riverdance sequence in jail, well…

Jailors and sailors all fell for Lucy’s beautiful Eileen. Every single male (and I don’t necessarily mean ‘single’) in New York followed Eileen around and having witnessed Michael Xavier try to walk into the ladies toilet at the launch, I know only too well what hit her admirers.

Wonderful Town by Alastair Muir

Michael as Bob Baker was a singing Dan Stevens-lookalike. Somewhat dim when it came to what he really, really thought of Connie’s Ruth, but eventually the penny dropped. There isn’t a tremendous amount of plot here. Two sisters arrive in New York, looking for jobs and maybe fame and fortune. They meet people. At least, Eileen meets people. Men. They make friends. Ruth gets her Bob – and a press card – and Eileen gets a job with Valenti.

Wonderful Town by Alastair Muir

The finale with the sisters wearing the most gorgeous glittery dresses and happy endings for both major and minor characters is perfect.

We need a CD. Possibly even a DVD. (Are you listening at the Lowry, the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Hallé?)

Wonderful Mancunians who haven’t yet booked need to do so urgently. People in other wonderful towns must see to their ticket needs for the wonderful tour of Wonderful Town. Who knows when we get to see anything like it again?

I want to go again tomorrow, and maybe next week, too. And if all else fails, I will really need that CD.

It’s starting today

Wonderful Town, that is. You know, the musical at the Lowry, starring Connie Fisher, who seems very nice, despite saying that Maureen Lipman has large feet. Here is a short video clip where Connie will persuade you that you need to come and see Wonderful Town. It doesn’t have to be at the Lowry, but if it is, you get the full Hallé orchestra (first two weeks) as well.

Connie Fisher and Wonderful Town

Book now, or it could be too late!

A Wonderful Launch

I couldn’t have planned it if I’d tried. There was a certain magic in finding myself in the Ladies at the Lowry yesterday, having Connie Fisher and Lucy van Gasse singing over the washbasins. Wonderful Town co-star Michael Xavier very nearly followed me and Lucy in there, in which case I could easily have been serenaded by three top singers. Let’s just say I took longer over my business than I usually would have.

Connie Fisher, Michael Xavier and Lucy van Gasse

As it turned out I needn’t have concerned myself over missing the first launch last February, because Connie had been told to keep quiet for a month (she said that was very hard for her), so didn’t sing. So, there we were, for the second launch of Wonderful Town, the joint venture from the Lowry, the Hallé orchestra with Sir Mark Elder and the Royal Exchange Theatre. This event is now happily much closer, opening on 31st March.

Connie Fisher

The Leonard Bernstein musical was a lucky find of Mark Elder’s, who suggested it to the other participants after seeing it in New York. That was five years ago, and they have worked towards this moment ever since. Simply a minor thing like booking the Hallé involves waiting two years. For director Braham Murray it was ‘hell on earth’ since putting up a musical is like giving birth. He had to whittle 400 wonderful dancers down to 60 in three days. And by some miracle the main attractions all said yes when asked.

Michael Xavier

That would be Connie Fisher, Lucy van Gasse and Michael Xavier, who were in Salford to sing to the collected press and prospective major ticket buyers. With the help of pianist James Burton they sang four songs from Wonderful Town, starting with Ohio, and then A Little Bit of Love, 100 Ways (to lose a man) and It’s Love. Apparently it all ends happily, and the beautiful girl does not get her man. The other one does.

Lucy van Gasse

As well as these fantastic singers, for the first two weeks the lucky audience at the Lowry will get the full Hallé in the orchestra pit. All 65 of them, and Mark Elder conducting. For the 11 week tour round the country – and the third, recently added, week at the Lowry – there will be an orchestra of 17 with James Burton. (I had been worrying considerably about how the Hallé could possibly take several months to tour, and now I know they can’t. So, for the full works, the Lowry it will have to be.)

After more information on producing Wonderful Town, there was a Q&A session with the three stars. The press was a disgrace, not coming up with any questions at all, whereas the normal audience did just fine. There might be a CD. (Let’s hope there is.) The rehearsals take six weeks, in three different rooms; one for the dancing, one for the acting and one for the singing. For Thursday’s performance the singers had a total of one day to learn songs and lines.

Connie Fisher, Michael Xavier and Lucy van Gasse

As a reward for their wonderful questions the audience were served afternoon tea, although I gather they were to be held to ransom until they booked tickets from the mobile box office at the back. The press went along to another room for interviews and afternoon tea. The Lowry put on a great spread for us, and once I’d sorted my Earl Grey with coffee (easy mistake to make…) to be Earl Grey without coffee, all was fine. The coffee cake was wonderful, and I chatted up a former almost-neighbour, who was the lucky man getting Connie’s attention in 100 Ways.

The handsome Michael Xavier might be from Knutsford, and he might be your typical romantic lead, but the two ladies were by far the most beautifully dressed. In fact, I did wonder if they talked colour coordination before getting ready that morning? I suppose it’s the sort of thing I should have asked while we were all in the Ladies…

Sequins in Salford – Fascinating Aïda, The Cheap Flights Tour

They knew Dogging from just the intro. And then – judging by the sounds of surprised delight – they didn’t know the Tesco song or the Little Chef one or even the German song. What kind of people do we have in Salford? I ask you?

The best kind, obviously, although I’m still somewhat concerned.

It was sold out, the Fascinating Aïda Cheap Flights Tour. So sold out that at the Lowry they did two shows on Tuesday, and as they said, it takes a certain kind of person to go to cabaret in the afternoon. The best kind, I suspect. The kind that doesn’t need to google dogging, and if they did, they would definitely clear their history after. Or ask the bar staff at the Lowry, seeing as they had been primed.

Fascinating Aïda, The Cheap Flights Tour

When I went to pick up my ticket, Fascinating Aïda’s latest recruit Sarah-Louise Young was in front of me in the queue. I’m guessing there was no ticket left for her, which will be why she ended up on the stage instead… Sarah-Louise halved the average age of FA when she joined, and that’s no bad thing, I say.

They have new songs as well as old ones. The new ones are new and some of the old ones have been dusted off and spruced up and given spanking (sorry) new details. So, their Bulgarian folk songs are new, but then they ‘always’ were.

The how to write a bestseller is now on Nordic crime, which to the uninitiated is Raymond Chandler with snow. Sort of an Ikea dunnit. We got songs on how to kill your mother, threesomes, one night stands and something for taxpayers. I wouldn’t know about that. Us foreigners are only good for making coffee. Baristas, is what they call us now.

Flying to Ireland for 50p is hard to do, or so they’ve found. But at least after 28 years they finally have a hit. As Adèle said, the YouTube version of Cheap Flights went fungal. It’ll be all the ‘fecking’ I expect. The first act finished with some ‘young’ dancing of the kind I’m forbidden to engage in at home, but P-Dillie is right in that grey is the new black.

Fascinating Aïda, The Cheap Flights Tour

Adèle and Dillie and Sarah-Louise were beautifully dressed to begin with, but in act two they surpassed themselves and their sequinned dresses almost required sunglasses.

I mentioned Little Chef earlier, and have to say I was most gratified that this beautiful Scottish travelling song has been resurrected. It’s one of the best. They really suffer for their art when out on the road so much of the time. Speaking of art, they don’t like what we have in Salford Quays. (Or was that a joke?) Anyway, it brought on a song about art.

We had the German song, and I could tell Dillie has kept up her practising on the piano stool. (Obviously, had she known 27 years ago that she would need to, she would never have come up with it in the first place.) More Bulgarian songs, a song about being bored, and they generally know how to look sad. But Sarah-Louise is far too young and far too new to be allowed near the piano for a Bulgarian ‘plink.’

Yes, they do have a bleak view of the future. Who doesn’t? I suppose it’s only fair that they should end a performance based on that man who sells flights to Ireland for 50p (except he doesn’t) by mentioning that unlike many, he pays his taxes. I suppose FA know about this?

We Are Three Sisters

The winds on Haworth Moor are fierce. They carried all the way to the Quays theatre last night for the new play about the Brontë sisters, by Blake Morrison. Or possibly about Chekhov’s fictional sisters.

Blake has blended the two sister groups so that you can’t tell where one ends or the other begins. You don’t need to know anything about either the Brontës or Chekhov’s play, but if you do, you’ll notice all the details he has stuck in places throughout.

There was a little publicised post show talk in the Quay stalls, where actor and director Barrie Rutter told us about some of the background, before he was joined by all three sisters plus brother Branwell, their father and the curate for some personal thoughts on the Brontës and Haworth and the play.

Last night was their first time on a traditional stage. Previously they have performed the play in a different shape, and in two weeks’ time they will switch to yet another. It takes them at least one night to get used to a new way of doing it.

Blake’s long-standing fascination with the sisters shows, although he has also used artistic license and it’s not all true. The curate for instance, is an invention, and the doctor and the teacher are straight out of Chekhov.

We met the sisters at home in the parsonage. It was Anne’s birthday, and their home was invaded by both the doctor, who was in love with her, and the teacher, who was busy handing out copies of a little book he had written. The new curate arrived and started sweet-talking the ladies. And there really was a Mrs Robinson. She was Branwell’s love interest, and she wore green, and she behaved rather shockingly for Haworth, which turned out not to be like Harrogate in the end.

The servant Tabby wavered from the role of almost mother to the children, to that of someone who was afraid she wouldn’t be allowed to stay. I was struck by the mention of the black spots on the potatoes, which is something I’ve always remembered from Mrs Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte.

Emily, Charlotte and Anne talked endlessly about their dreams for themselves and their writing. Charlotte and Anne went off to London, while Emily stayed at home, angry about all the attention. She didn’t want to write another book and she didn’t want to be discovered.

We Are Three Sisters

But for all their differences, they were together at the end, only days before Branwell’s death, which was so soon followed by the others’. But they said, ‘there’ll be our books, and in the end we will be remembered.’

Yes, ladies, you are. And according to Barrie Rutter your lives were not as ‘bloody gloomy’ as Mrs Gaskell made out.

(On at the Lowry for the rest of the week. And I would have loved to have given an unwanted Victorian ornament for them to break. Just didn’t have one spare. They emailed round to ask for ornaments to break, needing one per performance.)

The Dubliners in a dirty old town

They could be prescribed by GPs. In fact, they should be prescribed, if we could be sure the Dubliners themselves are up to it. Two of them are already performing sitting down, which didn’t stop Sean suggesting the audience should jig or waltz or even reel in the aisles. Not enough aisle space at the Lowry for too much of that, or we would have.

I was curious, because I distinctly remembered how calm they made me feel last time I saw them, four years ago. I wanted to see if the feeling could be repeated. It could, if calm isn’t the wrong thing to feel after some rousing Irish songs? It’s the feeling you get when you know you are in capable hands and that someone knows what they are doing. John started off by saying they weren’t ready, but they did pretty well on automatic, which is to be expected after 49 years.

Patsy, the baby of this group of grey-haired and bearded men was actually milling about in the foyer when I arrived. So was Eamonn, but he milled slightly less. You somehow don’t expect the star turns to take turns in the public areas of a venue. Saw no fans prostrate themselves at anybody’s feet, so either the audience’s eyesight is failing or they are mature enough not to.

But they can sing! The audience, I mean. We almost didn’t need the Dubliners, seeing as once they started people off the audience sang long and well, which you rarely get in this age of the computer.

The Dublin boys don’t sing badly, either. And he might be the newbie, but I do like Patsy’s voice. He’s no Luke Kelly, but why should he be? (How a boy can be called Patsy, on the other hand, is one of life’s mysteries, which I won’t deal with here.)

Barney roused himself sufficiently to sing his own style sea shanties and love songs. He must also have kissed the Barney stone at some point, as there appeared to be no off-button for his monologues. At one point I feared Eamonn had fallen asleep while waiting for Barney to finish, but he woke up swiftly enough when it was time to play. And the audience loves Barney. We’ll wrap him in that oilskin, I imagine, if the need should arise.

John is a bit of a poet and I think we had three poems from him in the end. He writes poems about his dead Dubliners pals, which are moving and funny in that very Irish way. His tune in honour of St Patrick’s cathedral is lovely. He strikes me as the Daddy of the group, and he encouraged us to buy CDs and anything else, so that they can support their large families.

Sorry John, but I didn’t. I don’t think anything can match that Auld Triangle song just before the interval. It has to be live, but you can come round to my house and sing it anytime. Anytime.

Two local songs, with not just the Manchester Rambler but the old stalwart, Dirty Old Town, which as someone pointed out as we left, could hardly be more appropriate than at the Lowry. So true.

Two encores before Barney and co shuffled out into the night. With so many grand Irish songs to choose from, it’s hard to see what they should pick to finish with. Molly Malone worked well. Even my Resident IT Consultant sang, loudly and badly. That rarely happens. The singing, that is. The badly always happens.

So, these five old boys, fully dressed and with not a single bare tummy in sight, and with such simple stage lighting that all I could think was ‘why doesn’t everyone stick with this?’, were exactly what the doctor should order. A wonderful night out, and let’s hope we are all here for their 50th next year.