Saturday, 30 July 2016
Who knows? Not me. We never lost control
I sing with impertinence, shading impermanent chords
With my words
I've borrowed your time and I'm sorry I called
But the thought just occurred that we're nobody's children at all, after all
Live your rebirth and do what you will - Oh, by jingo
Forget all I've said, please bear me no ill - Oh, by jingo
After all, after all
The lyrics of David Bowie's nowadays-obscure 1970 album track After All (from The Man Who Sold The World) - done as a "sea-shanty" by the ensemble cast by way of a finale - sort of summed up the artistic endeavour that was the Bowie Prom that Paul and I went to see at the Royal Albert Hall late last night [and it did go on rather late; I didn't get home till 2am!].
Some, indeed, may well have accused the raft of arrangers (including Michel van der Aa, Jherek Bischoff, David Lang, Anna Meredith, Greg Saunier and Josephine Stephenson) who were called upon by the avant garde German ensemble s t a r g a z e [sic] and its artistic director and conductor André de Ridder to re-work and "re-imagine" selections from Bowie's vast and wide-ranging repertoire of such "impertinence" in meddling with a Master. There were definitely many examples of "impermanent chords" in some of the more - ahem - liberal interpretations of his music ["Did you recognise that?", Mr de Ridder said at one point. "That was 'Rebel Rebel'"; the arrangement, of course, bore no resemblance whatsoever to the original, so we were glad to be put out of our misery in that particular "guessing-game".]
Discordant and dissonant moments aside - you knew what you were letting yourself in for when the evening's performances opened with a new version of the already impenetrable scratchiness of Warzawa, upon which the entire string section was let loose with jarring consequences - the Prom was, thankfully, a lot greater than the sum of its parts. What it certainly was not, however, was a conventional panegyric. One suspects, from various opinions being bandied around the interwebs, that this disappointed some fans who had clambered for tickets for a "celebration" in the hope that it would be just that...
What made the evening great was not, perhaps, some of the indulgent orchestrations, but the brilliantly-talented performers.
Mr Neil Hannon (of The Divine Comedy) was very well-chosen for the opening Station to Station; his own vocal style echoing Mr Bowie's so closely at times it was quite scary. His This Is Not America, however, was almost (but not quite) fucked up by the inclusion of a verse done by a rapper...
His partner-in-crime/duettist, arch Bowie-ite and all-round fabulous performer Miss Amanda Palmer (formerly of the Dresden Dolls, who we so enjoyed at Patti Smith's Meltdown Festival tribute to Bertolt Brecht Stand Bravely Brothers way back in 2005) was herself a constant highlight throughout our evening. Indeed, her version of Heroes towards the end of the evening was utter bliss...
Unknown quantity Mr Conor O’Brien gave a rather lovely downbeat take on The Man Who Sold The World, but it was our beloved Marc Almond, the all-round audience-pleaser, who got the heartiest reception for his fine cabaret-tinged interpretations of Life On Mars and (later) Starman, which (despite stumbling over the words several times) were both excellent - in spite of the best efforts of the arrangers to steer the familiar into unfamiliar territory.
Another stunning performer who really made the evening something rather special was Miss Anna Calvi! Another of those artists I really should explore more, yet haven't (yet) - she has energy and power that belies her diminutive stature. This was more then evidenced in her wonderful Lady Grinning Soul, but the moment of all moments - the point at which I was reduced to breathlessness was her duet with the aforementioned Miss Palmer on David's final single while he was still with us - Blackstar:
Paul Buchanan, lead singer with another band of whom I know very little, The Blue Nile, has a beautiful vocal style, and presented a most wonderfully emotional rendition of I Can't Give Everything Away (marred only by the moronic people next to us who I had to "shush" as they were determined to talk or use their phones all through it), as well as a rather interesting take on Ashes to Ashes:
Laura Mvula was effervescent and sassy on Girl Loves Me, and even more so her jolly version of Fame. Counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky, however, brilliant though he may be on Vivaldi, Monteverdi, Bach and Saint-Saëns, would never in a million years have been my choice for Always Crashing In The Same Car. It just made a sinister, deep and dark song sound like a parody.
And then came John Cale. The only man on the entire bill who was there when Bowie emerged, whose work with Velvet Underground David acknowledged in that famous sleeve note on Hunky Dory referring to Queen Bitch: "Some V.U. white light, returned with thanks." He was triumphant - taking Valentine's Day to a hugely synthesised new level, and giving Sorrow (with Anna Calvi again) the treatment it truly deserved in a reverent nod to The Great Man. His Space Oddity (with the lovely House Gospel Choir, members of whom I spoke to much later while we were all waiting for a bus home at Aldwych) was also great, if somewhat drawn-out in its repetition of the "sitting in a tin can..." stanza.
And so, with After All, and a rather cheesy - for obvious, audience-participation-reasons - Let's Dance to conclude, that was it.
In many way a challenging experience, but the Bowie Prom was one I am very proud to say I was there for...
The Bowie Prom on the BBC website.
The review in The Guardian