Sunday, 29 December 2013

Like A Bat Out Of Hell: The First Performance

I believe I may have dropped hints in previous blogs that I would like to have a crack at stand-up comedy; I have the material ready, I have been told I would be good at it, all I would need to do is make a booking with a local comedy club, wait a while, then drop it like its hot.
But no, this is me, and getting out there in the world is not my forte.
But my absolute love of public performance did recently prevail. When the opportunity to take part in our annual Staff Variety Show ("The T Factor") displayed itself, I could not help but sign up to sing.
Eventually, contestant photographs were taken and then up went the publicity posters; flyers of my bearded grin plastered all over the College, with a dramatic MR. JONES emblazoned beneath. With this, students I had never met before approached me wishing me good luck, colleagues passed positive comments galore about the effigy adorning the school walls; this was almost like fame, and the ego was starting to twitch at the thought.
When the date on the posters needed to be changed, they were taken down and replaced, when I realized in this second wave of posters, that my image was this time not as commonplace, I sent a jokey email to the staff member organizing the show. In this email I essentially asked for "more Me posters". As soon as I pressed send, I was horrified to admit to myself that this jokey email was only half joking!
Soon enough, the time came when all the exposure of my name and face needed to be earned. It was time to sing. My song of choice was Bat Out Of Hell by Meatloaf, first of all as it is a very fun song to sing, and secondly, (and most importantly) it is a tune made for a fat man to belt out. Well, fat man? Present! Enjoy the show folks.

The performance itself, was an absolute ball; from the audiences initial frosty welcoming to the rapturous standing ovation closure, the whole experience was a joy. The performance was to a great audience of around 500 people, staff and students, so many of both have since approached me and said how much they loved the performance, and many saying that I should have won! I was extremely pleased with the winner though, and their success meaning that Delilah was the closing tune, generated an all acts sing-a-long that was a perfect conclusion.
So now the world (well, school) knows I can sing, and I can only thank the organisor of this event for giving me this opportunity to get my face around the workplace and for this huge confidence boosting exercise, all for charity too!  For a staff member 98% of the school doesn't know, I would say 4th out of 10 on votes is a great result. And everyone tells me they know me now!
So whether this is the start of something, or just a brilliant one off, I will have to keep you posted. But the response from it all really has been lovely; like in the first Rocky film, he doesn't win, but he did it. And he feels fucking awesome for doing so.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Goodnight Ladies: Lou Reed Has Died

I was 17 when I first listened to Lou Reed's Transformer album. The 17 year old me had side stepped albums by The Velvet Underground for fear of it being too artsy for my tastes that at that time were rapidly evolving around Best Of's by The Smiths and The Cure, so I remember thinking the Transformer album would be a safe start to exploring the work of Lou Reed.
Hearing the opening strums of Vicious on this album can only be compared to the excitement felt when I first heard Starman by David Bowie or I Want You by Bob Dylan. Instant.
I then quickly delved into the discography, picking up a copy of Velvet Underground & Nico and an adoration for Reed's output was sealed. Incidentally, if my top 10 musical artists entered an Olympic event for my adulation, Velvet Underground/ Lou Reed (yes, they can both represent one place) would proudly take a Bronze medal (R.E.M and The Smiths taking Gold and Silver respectively).
So it is with deep regret and sadness that I heard the news of Lou Reed's death on Sunday.
Those of you still only on the Best Of's stage of music knowledge, may still be yet to understand that Lou Reed is one of the greatest musical artists of all time, deserving to be heralded in the same light as those other "so talented it is surreal" rock poets Dylan and Bowie.
 You can hear Reed's influence in much superb American alt rock, from The Replacements, Violent Femme's, Sonic Youth and Husker Du. Like them since, Reeds work is often noisy and distorted yet always passionate and authentically heartfelt.
His songwriting is so deeply rich and important, I often feel shaken after listening to some of his albums. While always entertaining to listen to, the content and themes are often rotten to the core.
Two of my favourite albums ever: the eponymous The Velvet Underground and the twistedly good New York are fine examples of this darkness.
His death is MASSIVE news to music, but a perfect opportunity for you to relish in his work, either for the first time or just as you would have as normal before his death.
Here, I would like to share the albums I have been playing over the last week to commemorate the work of this remarkably good musician.

Picking out the best Velvet Underground album is almost literally impossible, feeling that you are somehow putting the others down by omitting them.
In truth, I would say that the Velvet Underground is the only band, in which it is genuinely essential to own their entire collection. Each album is so uniquely terrific, if you don't hear them all you will still be missing something. From the jagged onslaught of styles on & Nico, to the deceptively upbeat Loaded, each of the Velvet's four official studio albums has something that must be heard.

But for me personally, it has to be the constantly brilliant self titled album: The Velvet Underground.
There is nothing but great music on this album, one highlight being I'm Set Free, a terrifyingly uplifting song that would be top in a book called 1001 Songs To Die To Before You Die, if that weren't so impossible or tasteless in practice. The album is clearly crowned by the astonishingly good Pale Blue Eyes. I don't know what the proper meaning of this song is, but when taken literally as a tale of a faltering love it is devastatingly sad, and truly one of the best songs of all time. When it comes to VU albums you should own them all, but for me this is the finest.

From the one hour of static noise arrangements on Metal Machine Music to meandering poetry with Metallica on the Lulu album (both albums being highly difficult to actually like) the solo career of Lou Reed was not without its bogeys. However, when it was done right, few other artists manage to capture perfection so well (Check out Pink Floyd and Simon and Garfunkel for some other examples).
 Transformer is a perfect album: the excitement never dips, and the creativity never wanes. Perfect Day, Hangin' Round and Satellite Of Love are amongst the best songs here. Hangin' Round just sounds incredibly cool as Lou Reed has an outstanding talent to being able to sing like he really is not bothered, yet still sound totally emotive and serious. Check out Transformer if you have not already, as I said, it was my starting point and it could be yours too.
 New York is an outstanding album both in sound and content. My favorite Lou Reed solo album, each song tells a different story about untold life in "The City That Never Sleeps", each a stroke of desolation and despair on a very mucky canvas.
New York reminds me of the atmosphere of the book Last Exit To Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr, each strand a small window into New York life, showing a scene just as unpleasant as that before it.
The album according to Reed, is supposed to be taken in one sitting, like a movie or a storybook. If this was his intention, then it has been remarkably achieved.
With every cynical line and barbed lyric, the album does for New York City what The Smiths eponymous album did for the North West of England; paints a picture of a community that is as much on the brink of collapse as it is on a revolt its people are too fatigued to even begin. The final line of Last Great American Whale demonstrates little hope for America's social infrastructure: "Stick A Fork In Their Ass and Turn Them Over. They're Done.".
The surprisingly bombastic penultimate song Strawman, is no less unforgiving, and ruthlessly deliberates the point of much that America has an abundance of: million dollar movies, maverick politicians (yet another), innovations in space travel (another faulty rocket) and skyscrapers (blank).
Whereas Dylan and Marley proposed uprising and protest, Lou Reed amplifies the realistic voice of the Western World: "Even though your dissatisfied with society, what the fuck could you do to change it?". The atmosphere of the album is bleak and miserable, but brilliantly layered and forever listenable.
So there you have it, that is what I have been listening to in audio tribute to Lou Reed. His discography truly is outstanding, and any accolades you hear spilled out from critics and fans in the following weeks are most deserved. I find the most satisfying accolade for Lou Reed was from David Bowie, who said,
"He was a master".
And when Bowie says that about you, we can only nod in humble yet absolute agreement.
Rest In Peace, Lou Reed.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Banksy In New York 2013

It's official. I will never be happy. It all comes down to one geographical fact.
I don't live in New York. Or anywhere near New York. I couldn't be further away from New York.
Therefore, I will never be happy.
I have tried everything: Yoga, Retail Therapy, Amateur Dramatics; I even moved out from home. And albeit that move being into literally The Coolest Most Affordable Penthouse flat in one of the hippest areas of Merseyside, I am still not happy. People are now impressed  by me.
But me? Still not happy.
I have been to the shockingly good Barcelona, the breath taking Grand Canyon, the inimitable London and the other worldly San Francisco but New York is officially the most awesome place on Earth. And it's because of things like this that make it so.
For this month, street artist Banksy (for whom I appear to have accidently become an unofficial writer for), is creating a daily mural/ piece/ installation around the city of New York. The "exhibition", for which I will now on refrain from using quotation marks, is called "Better Out Than In".

 Most pieces have an accompanying toll free number next to them for observers to call, and get an audio guide relating to the piece. The recordings for, which happen to be a little too knowing, refer amusingly to the artist as Ban-sky.
Flaws aside, this is an astonishingly good idea. The streets of NY have become a gallery, and each day fans await which created piece they will be able to visit next.
Some of the works created this month are at least as good as classic lost pieces like Child Labour, but they are also in New York as well, so kind of get more plus points for that.
At this halfway point through the month, and also the exhibition, I would just like to highlight a few of my favourites.

The Street Is In Play- Manhattan
This nicely detailed piece, recalls Every Little Helps for it's amusing interaction with the surrounding environment. It depicts two 1920's style street kids helping one another grab a spray can hidden behind an anti-vandalism warning. I would very much have liked to have seen this work for real, however, it was sabotaged and painted over just hours after its location was revealed. The sign too was also rather pointlessly taken. Pictures from those people luck enough to get to it first are nice though.

Occupy! The Musical- Bushwick
Obviously a quick one this, with two others appearing around town, using exsisting tagging to create some inspired proposals for musical titles. Occupy! is my favourite of the three, and encourages an amusing brainstorm of what that actual show would be like. I can imagine the V for Vendetta mask chorus line opening with a campy Al Jolson style "We took St. Pauls, and then Wall Street, we've packed our tents up cos tonight we dine on Braaahdwaaay". Please send any donations to help make these ideas a reality to the Finance Office. I put this pitch to a group of Anonymous V mask wearing protestors in Birmingham this week (see above), and they just told me they weren't interested in merchandising. Shame.

Heart Balloon In Plasters- Brooklyn
Floating prettily across a  Brooklyn wall is this strikingly lonely image. Possibly referencing the outstanding Balloon Girl in London some years ago, there is a hint of nostalgia to this piece and it is weirdly direct in its reference to a previous work. In writing the last three lines this has grown on me very quickly, and is a shame it was obliterated by tagging not long after its creation.

Sirens Of The Lambs- Meat Packing District and mobile
The first of two installations that have made this list. I have to admit, call me immature but I found this irresistibly funny. Come on, the stuffed toys actually move!
Touring around the Meat Packing district (were New Yorkers pack meat), this van full of bleating cuddly farm animals bought smiles of glee and grimaces of alarm to children across the city. I am going to argue that this is NOT art, but for pure fun it beats anything involving animals created by Damien Hirst, surely? A joy.

The Stall- Central Park
Sorry to rub salt in the wounds guys if you actually seen this installation, but this was an absolute gem.
Set the scene: when you visit a high level tourism area, how many little stalls are normally laid out along the walkways, selling everything from caricatures of celebs, I Heart wherever merchandise, lighters, Banksy canvasses...And how many do you just glance at and walk past?
Most of them? Well, what if you later learned that one of those stalls had been selling actual authentic canvasses possibly worth thousands for 40£? This is exactly what happened here.
Only eight canvasses were sold, and that was only between three people too:three very lucky people.
I like this incident because if you watch the video, it really could have been you who picked one up. They really were there for the taking: you didn't have to break an inch of wall away, nor bid one million pound at Christie's; you could just buy one for the price of a regular canvas.
Certainly, I suppose this is just a reinterpretation of the old, millionaire stands on roof and throws out thousands of bank notes, but imagine how cool that would be in real life?

Most importantly, this makes me quite glad I don't live around New York, as I just know I would have been near this, and completely ignored it. One of those (real!) Keep It Real Chimps would look superb in my flat, and missing this would have howled of a missed opportunity.
But I didn't miss it. As I don't live in New York.
Now I am happy. Thank You, Banksy.

To see the full exhibit so far, go to Banksy's brilliant website.
For more from Methods on Banksy around the world, check out the following links:

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Banksy In Britain: LONDON Part 3

Illegal Rat, Clipstone Street, W1W 6UP. Nearest Tube Station: Goodge Street
State Of Existence: PRESENT
As the daylight began to give way, we made our way over to this piece in Fitzrovia, West London.
Illegal Rat is in great condition, and the peeling paint on the wall should now hopefully be held intact by the covering plexiglass for a good while to come.
I found one thing particularly notable about this piece, and you should look out for this because it feels oddly worth observing. Along with the nice little fleck of detail with the paint covered paw mark on the wall, there are also quite a few drizzles of red paint emitting away from the wall. It is these sort of rough cut details that make street art so appealing, and allows the viewer to think the work is almost spontaneously created, and the great amount of planning that goes into much of this work can go positively unnoticed.
It is a great piece for photography too, crouch down and get yourself a great James Stewart and Harvey type picture with an imaginary rodent friend. Like this.

King Robbo, Regent's Canal, Camden, NW1 9LN. Nearest Tube Station: Camden Town/ Camden Rd
State Of Existence: PRESENT
Night time now well upon us, we arrived at Camden, were things took a turn for the weird.
As soon as I left the tube station, I was instantly approached by a man begging, so enthusiastic in his approach he butted me with the peak of his cap. Next I queued for the toilet in Sainsbury's for what felt like days (you had to be there). Walking towards our intended point along the canal, we startled a man standing next to a woman who had her vagina fully on show, what was to occur next can not be confirmed; but if their shady attiude and tinned lager picnic was anything to go by I dread to think.
The work is in a dank underpass, barely lit by anti-heroin use UV light, where you can literally picture the Crimewatch reconstruction of the rape and murder of You. While we were observing the work (which doesn't take long), a mysterious Oriental man expressed interest in what we were looking for, and passed and me a business card advertising a Flikr Exhibition. This made me feel hip, and grateful he had not stabbed me.
Camden is a must see place, this Banksy by itself is not. My girlfriend at the time, who was with me even said: "Is that it?". Our photo taking was brief, and you must forgive me for looking a tad shit scared on the one photo I had taken with it.
 That said, this piece puts into context nearly every Robbo tag and alteration we had seen throughout the day. In this spooky underpass, the much reported Robbo/ Banksy feud began, when Banksy made a cheeky alteration to Robbo's original work from the 1980's.
This is apparently a cardinal sin in the graffiti world, and what I see as one of Banksy's best ever pieces was seen as a vicious insult. I liked the way the original alteration refreshed the fading Robbo original, while still retaining enough of the old for it to be appreciated. But I am just the humble observer, and since a tit for tat graffiti war has taken place, with at least five variations being created in this particular spot, be it the various stages of the Wallpaper Man, Top Cat's Grave and Goldfish Living Room (Google the current piece and you will see the rest).
What is there now is Banky's olive branch to Robbo, who is still comatose from an unexplained head injury, in the form of the original stencil, presumably for Robbo to recommence should he ever recover. Accompanying the stencil is a half lit gas canister image, either a light in vigil or something more symbolic?
My visit to this piece was extremely memorable, but was rather troubling at the time, so it is probably best seen in the day, when the rapey Trainspotting vibes are replaced by a more middle class stroll along the water feel. But if you like to feel slightly uneasy on your urban treks, by all means go at night, just seriously, do not go alone. Camden Town itself though, is an incredible atmosphere and must be experienced, perhaps only popping in on this piece as a kind of street art history trip.

Flower Painter, Pollard Street, Hackney, E2 6LR. Nearest Tube Station: Bethnall Green
State of existence: PRESENT
Behold the classic Flower Painter, no doubt Banksy's best existing piece, if not his best ever.
Like Every Little Helps, Flower Painter is now in an extremely tired state, but is an absolute must see. Frequently reproduced on canvases and tshirts, there is something quite magical seeing that large yellow flower towering in the distance as you approach the piece.
You have seen it in books and in television, but not until you see it in real life do you appreciate how unique and great it is. It is a lengthy walk away from the nearest tube station, but hanging around by this piece felt totally worth it, and I am sure we must have spent a good half an hour by it too.
It is just so largely iconic, you cannot help but resist the urges to take in the detail of every flawed or unflawed part of the work. The flower is in great condition and would be recognisable simply by the presence of that alone, yet there is also the painter sitting nearby that just furthers the magic.
In truth, the painter has had a very rough time; the surface of brick that was his knees has now been ripped away, leaving a gaping hole in the piece, and someone has foolishly tagged INSE across his face, seriously obscuring the detail (this presumably has nothing to do with INSA, an excellent "curves" obsessed street artist.). But this piece is the very realisation that in whatever state you see these pieces in, there is still something wonderful within to be enjoyed. Along with No Ball Games it is probably this Banksy piece that I am proudest to say I have seen.
If you remember pictures of Flower Painter at its most fresh, you will recall the flower lines adjoining with the double yellow parking lines on the road, and was a pure example of the simple wit that adorns many of Banksy's pieces, and the off the wall interaction between the mural and its surroundings.
Yes, on the whole, it is now in a poor quality state, the plexiglass over it seeming too little to late, but for its pure iconic nature and the sheer fact this piece defines Banksy's work, Flower Painter is an absolute masterpiece. Should you only visit one Banksy in London, make it this one.

Gas Mask Girl, Brick Lane, Hackney, E1 5HD. Nearest Tube Station: Shoreditch
State of existence: GONE
The last stop on our Bansky tour, (which had taken place over two days with a Blur concert sandwiched in the middle, beat that for Hipster points!) was Brick Lane: essentially the London haven for street art and in retrospect a rather poignant finale to end our tour.
I would encourage anyone to come to Brick Lane to experience the sheer unique atmosphere created by the endless street art and the dominantly Indian culture that has infused with the artsy nature of the area to form a town unlike anywhere else in the country. You can see work here by most top notch graffiti artists: Phlegm, Pez, ROA, Sweet Toof, Invader and many, many more.
However though, as a more recent visit shown, no Banksy. Not anymore anyway.
What was there on my visit as part of the Banksy tour, was the last few cracks of paint that once made up Gas Mask Girl. There isn't much I could say about this piece, as there wasn't much to see. But what you could see was enough to give a hint of appreciation for what was once clearly as classic piece.
Now the wall has been polished clean, it is a good example of the life cycle of a Banksy art work, especially as it seemed to have simply faded naturally.
In a period of time unknown, all these Banksy pieces will fade away and once again become a blank wall, just as they originally were. They are not made to last, and unlike classic works by DaVinci, Van Gogh, Picasso and Hockney, these works will not stick around to show the people of the future what it was all about.
The works are purely for us, for now; and it is this exclusive nature of the work that makes them so special.
I would look forward to the days when I could walk through London with the grandchildren, point at a few unconnected yellow specks of paint high up a wall on Pollard Road in Hackney and declare, "that's a Banksy that is". I imagine their indifference would be monumental.
But these pieces are there for you to see, for free, 24/7.
Go and see them.

For Part 1 of this blog: click here
For Part 2 of this blog: click here

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Banksy In Britain: LONDON Part 2

Clown House, Stoke Newington, N16 0UH. Nearest tube station: Manor House
State Of Existence: PRESENT
Prepare yourself for a little bit of a walk out for this one. Although both location and condition of the piece make it an essential part of the tour. This is situated in the strangest part of London, I have ever been to, if not being just 20 minutes away from a tube station, I would have felt I had taken a wrong turn to the Cotswolds or something.  Oh yes, this place is London, Village Style. I can imagine the properties surrounding costing a fair crust, and there is also a very, very nice park on the way to Clown House, which has a petting zoo right in the middle of it!! This was all highly alien for this Northern lad, watching London's most privileged folk engage in all sorts of activities: badminton, tightrope walking, champagne picnics while passing the joint and generally making me feel like a right pauper. So if you are into property porn, or looking to pull a stoned yuppie; this is an exemplary area to make a start .
But onto the Banksy, with which I was gloriously impressed. Remarkably more free hand looking than any of the previous pieces, it gives a glorious wash of color to the forecourt of the nearby flats. The piece was incredibly relevant for a trip on which we were going to a Blur concert, for this is an extension of an idea commissioned by blur to use on their EP Crazy Beat.
There is a story about this piece, where the council turned up with a long roller and a tin of thick black paint, and proceeded to go over it, eradicating a lot of the detail that once surrounded it. Luckily, an understandably hysterical resident quickly came out and managed to stop them. We where incredibly close to losing Clown House (see right to see how close that roller got!), and its nice to know, how lucky we are that the Clown Family are still intact, smiling over and brightening up this incredibly lovely part of London.

Child Labour, Tottenham, N22 6DJ
State Of Existence: GONE
The source of much controversy this year, when it was seamlessly cut out of its wall to be sold in Miami, Child Labour was one of the most recent and well preserved Banksy's to be situated in the British capital when I went looking for them.
I was particularly bitter on hearing the news of the pieces removal for two reasons: first of all the area had been one of the most viciously looted and terrorized areas during the notorious UK Summer Riots in 2011, and the work had drawn deservedly positive attention to the area just less than a year later. The influx of visitors it would have brought with it surely providing a bump up in profits for many of those small businesses shamelessly ruined in the carnage of the year before. Secondly, that my particular experience when visiting this piece was rather sweet and memorable.
While standing round taking our snaps of this wonderful, tightly stenciled piece, we got talking to a local man who asked us if the piece was by Banksy. We quickly got into conversation about Banksy's popularity and the value of his work on the street and also for sale in showrooms. It was a lovely, quirky exchange that demonstrated more to me, as a tourist, about the personality of the Capital's residence, than the crowd of any sycophantic, flag waving inner city event ever would.
Funny thing about this piece is it was originally created in May/June 2012, probably to concide with the Queen's Jubillee, just days before we went on our first ill fated Banksy tour. That's right, as we trailed aimlessly looking for Pulp Fiction Banana's (well gone) and Kissing Coppers (wrong city), the paint on this one was still wet and making fresh news. I kicked myself on the train home!
Nevertheless though, I seen it eventually, and now it probably hangs disjointedly in some millionaires wonderfully decorated mansion, please see these pictures as evidence to why street art belongs on the street.

Shop Till You Drop, West London, W1J 6PT. Nearest Tube Station: Green Park
State of existence: PRESENT
Almost secretively hidden away down a back alley high up on an office block close to Bond Street, Shop Till You Drop is now possibly one of the most famous, intact pieces by the artist in London.
Photography is not particularly easy either; due to the height of the building, the narrowness of the road, and the fatness of my head in the foreground of photographs, I decided to take a different tact. This provided some serious laughs.
Wearing fitted chino trousers and baked by the hot summers day, I took on the seemingly (for 5ft 8 me anyway) impossible task of climbling up on to the nearby four foot high, two foot wide wall, to get in the photograph a little more comfortably, without falling and breaking my neck. Thanks to my then girlfriends brilliantly twisted sense of humor, I am lucky enough to have a photograph of my (eventually successful) attempt at climbing onto this wall.
What is great about Shop Till You Drop, is despite its fame, it still feels wonderfully obscure to find this dark stencil loitering in a completely normal back alley. I have seen a picture of this online, that shows an ominous Team Robbo threat of "try putting plexiglass over this one sonny" sprayed at street level. Get this one seen while it is there: just take care climbing that wall.

Part 3 Coming Soon

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Banksy In Britain: LONDON Part 1

Since about 2011, I have consistently tried to make my life seem more exciting by engulfing myself in as much as the arts world offerings that is humanly possible for someone living in the North West of England to engulf. Scores of gigs, three festivals, four West End shows, countless gallery visits, numerous trips to the Capital, a good few foreign city breaks have pretty much ensured that every penny I earn has been well spent.
Yet ironically, one of my favorite arty jaunts ever was 100% free, and is now looked back upon as one of the most satisfying weekends of my life so far.
One August weekend in 2012, I was in London for the Alternative Olympics Closing ceremony in Hyde Park. The days roster of music featured Blur as the headliners, with The Specials and New Order as support (you might have guessed this bit wasn't free), and the city was just an awesome place to be, warmed with Olympic glee and summer happiness. So knowing that your typical tourist centers would be beyond crammed, myself and my then girlfriend decided to realise our ambitions of a London Banksy tour.
 A visit to London a few months before, had seen a first attempt at this, but with nothing but Google images to go on, obviously precipitating failure. Second time round, armed with the outstanding Banksy London Tour iPhone app and a London Tube Map, we planned our tour with military precision, and the payoff was great.
Getting the chance to have my picture taken with each of the works of street art listed in this blog, even in their various states of decay was a genuine privilege. The wonderful thing about these works is that because of the ever changing nature of their surface, and the everlasting threat of Team Robbo is that you will never see them in the same state twice. It is because of this one off feel, that at the moment of seeing these pieces, there's a little romantic voice in your head telling you that the version you are looking at is just for you.
Traveling around London to see these Banksy's took us through areas of London you would not have known existed: some slightly backwoods, and others mysteriously village like for London. It was an experience that made us feel that by seeing these other faces of the Capital, London is now a city we could say we had truly "seen".

I don't think much for the "messages" behind a lot of Banksy's work, they often seems a little obvious, but with the pieces so iconic looking (see their hauntingly prophetic appearance in the outstanding film, Children Of Men); they are just a pleasure to see.
In 2006 the appearance of a grand Banksy mural, wall and all in Children Of Men hanging in a private space seemed quite an absurd vision of future art culture. So it is on sad note that since my tour many of these pieces have since been ripped out of their walls and auctioned to hang out in celebrity homes for just a couple of people to see. Surely it then fails to be street art, and just becomes an expensive smudge of vandalism?
This blog celebrates when the work was in the street, free for all to see and is a tribute to the artist for creating what was an incredible, exciting experience. Plus a huge recommendation for anyone who feels tempted to go on a Banksy tour of their own (hence the info for condition status and best tube station to stick in your Map app to minimise walking distance!). (Please note, some of these where not seen on my August 2012 Banksy tour, but seen before or after. The majority, however, were seen on the properly planned tour).

Master Artist, Portobello Road, W10 5TE. Nearest tube station: Ladbroke Grove
State of existence: PRESENT
 Admittedly, this was one piece I seen a few months before the actual tour, but the Master Artist piece in the highly fashionable Portobello Road Market area is one of the most intact Banksy pieces London has to offer.
Anyone interested in photography would also be advised to turn back towards the market area, away from this piece for a shot of the Westway overpass, highly similar to the set design for Blur's 2012 Hyde Park Show in reference to their fantastic new single at the time, Under The Westway.
Cars parked in front of this piece are likely, so just hope you get lucky with a clear view like this. Ironically, I photographed this purely by accident, and when I went back this year for a picture of me with the piece, a man in a large Land Rover had parked right in front of it, with about a centimeter between the car and the wall! Still, well worth a visit; an added bonus being a large piece by street artist Stik, visible just over the fencing around the adjacent outdoor cinema.

Very Little Helps, Islington, N1 8NE. Nearest tube station: Highbury and Islington
State of existence: PRESENT
Our organized tour of Banksy hunting, began with this largely altered classic! Originally much greyer in colour, and depicting a Tesco bag flying to the morning salute of the onlooking children, we could not help but shout "oh no!" when we discovered the state of this one.
Still after spending a little time taking snaps at the site, a fondness quickly grew, and an anticipation to find as many other Banksy's throughout the city as I could quickly became great.
In all fairness, I have seen pictures where the plexiglass has been tagged much worse, further obscuring even that what is visible here. Plus its only the glass i believe, so on another day all the kids could be visible? The flag does appear to be permanently altered, and that weird tea stain effect is courtesy of London Council in an attempt to preserve the piece. Someone could add a real Tesco bag though; it has happened before!
Regardless of the condition, across the road from this piece is an absolute treat for anyone, like me, who gets a real kick out of seeing massively nostalgic, yet derelict cinema buildings. This one is stunning, and would be the first place I would try to buy and render if I ever won the lottery.
This Banksy is well worth a visit; I could not help but doff my proverbial hat to the kid on the right, still visible without impediment. Hang in there little man.

No Ball Games, North London, N15 4ET
State of existence: GONE
Unfortunate that this part needs to be written as an obituary, but the brilliant No Ball Games has since been removed, cut into three segments for reassembly and sale at auction. The only upside being whispers that the profits from the sale will go to charity, it is a real shame the piece no longer sits on its Tottenham wall, as it was both one of Banksy's most iconic, detailed works, and it was in near perfect condition to boot.
Marred only by the Robbo edit of the NO BALL GAMES sign to read BANKSY HAS NO BALLS, even that alteration at least was done by Robbo himself,  and at my time of visiting was near faded enough to reveal the original stencil. You actually see this edit being made in the excellent Channel 4 documentary Graffiti Wars: Banksy vs Robbo. I particularly liked the bit where an excited hipster runs up to Robbo and asks if he is Banksy, to which Robbo just starts a rather nonplussed conversation stating he isn't, and basically just likes fucking up Banksy work. For the record, I don't mind King Robbo, and think the grudges between him and Banksy are amusingly petulant. I do, however, find irritating the whole Team Robbo ethos, effectively random idiots who put this name to highly aggravating spoilers of Banksy work they know people enjoy.
The day we seen this piece, there was a small amount of cordoning due to maintenance work on the pavement, but this was still not an issue and I managed to get some good pictures, although none too close up. The piece will be sorely missed, as there was an extraordinary amount of detail on the faces of the subjects, plus it was also near life size, making it one of my favorite Banksy pieces I have ever seen in reality.

Part 2 Coming Very Soon!

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Hottest Women In The World

Or rather, The Hottest Women In The World, In My Mind.
That's right Internet, forgive the shameless title but if you came across this post, after desperately Google-ing the same words as my blog title, you were probably hoping for a "Cor Blimey" list of Jakki this, Jodie what and Mel who?
Well, thanks for the hits Sid James, but this is written from the perspective of the Beta Male- and the better man.
 Through naming some of the loveliest faces from television, film and theater, I intend to go off on positive and negative tangents related to these ladies listed, but possibly in some cases talk about things that have absolutely nothing to do with them.
I am Back In Blog, for three reasons;
1. I am still too much of a wimp to try stand-up comedy (I got a great bit about condoms if it ever happens).
2. The culture iron is hot at the moment, I need to discuss it somewhere.
3. I am freshly single after a long term relationship. Not from my choosing either. So its that kind of single that just turns life really sour; the kind of sour that makes the bottom of a beer glass look awesome (but not half as good as the next one does), makes every sad song sound remarkably poignant (when its probably actually about heroin or something), but most importantly you realize what you have lost and what you have learned from the person you were with (forgive me, I have been watching a lot of Sex and The City recently).
My ex-girlfriend was wonderfully fashionable, and had an incredible eye for clothing. If you are into that kind of thing, her blog is called Katie's Creative and you should check it out, it is like a free Wigan based Elle!
But one thing I learned from being with her is to appreciate people who are stunningly cool, in the most low key and non-ostentatious ways. This is a tribute to her, as she was kind of one of them.
So this is it, the Comeback Special, the Return Of The Mack, The Second Coming. Diving back into the cannon of culture, by way of the Most Quietly Lovely Faces According To Me.
And once again, if you came looking for tits Sid, fuck off, you won't find any here.

1. Emma Stone in Easy A
When I watched this film for the first time, I just thought it was really wonderful to have a romantic comedy made nowadays, that held all the loveliness of the old John Hughes movies. An 80's romance movie, made in 2010. The key to the films loveliness, however, is the beautifully dorky redhead in the lead, who has since become a very famous blonde. The scene in which she loudly pretends to have sex with her gay friend to help him placate the cruelties of college homophobia, is one of the most charmingly funny sequences of recent years, well up there in the sweetness stakes with the Sleeping Bags Hug sequence from Superbad, also starring Stone: there is a pattern emerging here...Mix this with her voice that would make a  newscast about genocide sound pleasant, and you have an actress destined to be mentioned in this here blog.
Jim Carrey went a bit weird over Emma Stone a few years ago on Youtube.
There was some method to the madness.

2. Alesha Dixon on Britain's Got Talent 2013 
I found myself going all Bruno, most weeks of the last series of Britain's Got Talent; each week Alesha Dixon made whatever outfit she had on look absolutely awesome. My personal favorite was a combination of curly hair and a playsuit that changed my mind on that type of clothing completely. It seemed incredibly subtle too which just made it all the nicer, as playing something like this down would obviously be a difficult task.
Obviously though, Simon Cowell is back on TV this week with the return of his other show, The X Factor.
What makes me so frustrated by The X Factor is its absolute terrible inability to create anything new, music wise. It is purely there to fill ratings, because it really is a Field Of Dreams scenario of "If you show it, they will watch". And what is so aggravating about this is despite continually vowing never to watch it again, I always do.
Yet why?  Each week we see nearly 3 hours of mind numbing footage, of semi good singers, get bombarded with superlatives from a panel of phoney judges, who know it has all been done before, but they keep talking shit because they know fat dullard bastards like me, will end up watching anyway.
My hatred and disgust for this show awake when i recently visited London. While walking through an Underground Station,  most likely Leicester Square, I heard The Best Busker Ever. An older man, with what I could best describe as a smart rockabilly hairstyle and outfit, with a low slung guitar, playing a version of You're The One That I Want from Grease with the vocal style and guitar sound of Paul Simon's Graceland.
 A hint of his song will be embedded in my mind forever, it was so sublime. I find it agonizing I will not hear that song again, and it generates this intolerance for The X Factor: there is outstanding music out there; yet this is the bollocks that makes it. There are X Factor 10th place runner ups you can hear entire albums from no problem, but there is true quality out there that is lost in a moment. Its a flagship of shitty music, and I wish it would stop.
I bare no grudge against people who watch The X Factor, so I offer a group pact to anyone who knows they are like me: if you think you are about to watch The X Factor, act like James Franco did in 127 
Hours to free himself;
To save yourself from watching The X Factor, remove your eyes. That is what I swear to do to myself if I so much as watch a results show.  
Top Of The Lake on BBC2 on Saturdays shown that the nights TV can actually be awesome, but I think it would be grossly unfair to impose a New Zealand drama about abduction, rape and domestic violence on everyone. I understand on a Saturday night, that dross can be just what you want, but new dross please, not the same old shit we have now watched for 10 years. The remote is in your hands...

 3. Paula Lane from Coronation Street
It all gets massively alternative here. Even under that chav costume design to play her Kylie Platt character, you can tell that Paula Lane is one of the most attractive women on British TV. I recently happened to see a picture of her walking about in real life and I just thought she looked awesome. Almost the embodiment of these low key lovelies I am constantly referring back to, I think the key here is beautifully applied make up and really nice skin too.
I always thought she looked like Joan Jett in the music video for Crimson and Clover, probably for me the Sexiest Music Video Of All Time (don't bother yourself, Sid).
I have a lot of respect for Coronation Street, it is by far the best TV soap, and often perfectly balances funny banal story lines with the tragic and genuinely emotive heavy stuff. Its London counterpart Eastenders, just cannot do this. Eastenders is maudlin, depressing, boring and often irritating drivel, that often confuses gritty realism with pure wickedness and mistakes comic relief as getting a bunch of Savvern teenagers you cannot understand to blub and gurn at one another about "rehnt" and "collidge". It is desperately bad television, that is in the same category of Flog Myself For Watching It TV as The X Factor. People who enjoy watching Eastenders should watch my life from afar; you would like it: it is dull and boring and does not really go anywhere.
Coronation Street is really admirable though. When Chris Fountain recently lost his job as Corrie's Tommy Duckworth for his ludicrous exploits as masked rapper The Phantom ("Benchpress your house..."? Seriously, Chris?), he really did lose one of the finer jobs on TV. I am also sure he'll have left the lovely Paula Lane a post-it begging "Stay In Touch!!".

 4.Zrinka Cvitesic as Girl in Once, Phoenix Theater, London West End
I went to see this this show over the summer and in all honesty was not majorly impressed. It is an incredibly modern production and probably a little too woolly for my taste. The songs are relatively samey, and unusual for me with West End shows, I had no hankering to play the lead character. Not in fiction that is.
Amidst all the chummy Irish backslapping, woozy romance (kind of struck a chord in someways), and acoustic soapbox drumming, I honestly felt genuinely warmed to Cvitesic's Girl. Probably down to her wonderfully defined cheekbones, dark almost sad eyes, and no doubt amped up yet never the less wonderfully sweet broken English accent. I am not one for put on accents, but after a glance in the program in the interval, realized that at least she is actually from the Czech Republic. By the end of a second half I had created a rather accurate sketch of What I Would Like My Wife To Be Like. Add this to her getting (albeit nicely) gibbed come the end of the show, now more than ever had I wanted to slap the lead "Guy", the lucky handsome bastard.

5. Allison Williams as Marnie in Girls
 I mentioned at the start of this blog I have been watching a lot of Sex and The City. It is an outstandingly well acted and well written comedy drama about the high life in 90's Manhattan. It is probably the definition of Couples TV; the female characters are all well rounded, and some of the male characters are so likeable you feel genuinely gutted for them when they inevitably get the push from the uber independent women. A lot of the time though it is just far too glamorous for comfort, that it almost borders on fantasy. HBO's wonderful Girls is essentially a modern take on the explicit antics of Carrie and the ladies, but with all the cynicism of the post 9/11 world present and correct. Girls is written by the shockingly talented Lena Dunham, and produced by the wonderful Judd Apatow, together creating a wonderfully hip, grim, depressing, vulgar, shocking and frequently hilarious comedy drama.
The atmosphere kind of recalls some early Woody Allen films, like Annie Hall, the neuroses of all characters blending together to create uncomfortable yet endlessly watchable content. Throw in the mix comical performances from Andrew Rannells and Chris O'Dowd, you'd think you have your comedy capped and qualified. Enter the stunning Allison Williams as the frustratingly mixed up Marnie. From the start Marnie's incredibly awkward yet realistic relationship with Charlie, has been the lifeblood of the shows laughs, cringes and tears.
Her rendition of Kanye West's Stronger at Charlie's app launch party is probably the most simultaneously sad, funny, sexy and cringeworthy scene since they started writing stuff like that.
She is a top notch actress too: her ferocious argument with Lena Dunham at the end of the first season, left me feeling completely rattled. Additionally her erratic and heart melting "I want to watch you die" speech at the end of the second series, is just the wonderfully barbed sibling to The Wedding Singer's "I Want To Grow Old With You" ending. Allison Williams perfect skin and teeth, not to mention wonderful style of clothing make her a really unique comedic actress akin to say Dianne Keaton, with a charming combination of knowing goofyness and the ability to light up the screen just by smiling. I look forward to the third season of Girls; the show is like nothing you have seen on TV before and I strongly recommend it.

So there it was, like it or lump it, the over baked slight return of Methods Of Modern. Join me soon for some slightly more focused blogs celebrating the greatest and shittest entertainment there is on offer.
And again, sorry about the blog title, that really was cheap.

 WilliaZrinka CvitešićZrinka
Zrinka Cvitešić