The Guardian from London, Greater London, England on July 11, 1992 · 26
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The Guardian from London, Greater London, England · 26

London, Greater London, England
Issue Date:
Saturday, July 11, 1992
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Thirty years ago Charfe Walls put together a biography of Charife Parker, rtawte's made a rousklri A proper pair of Charlies c i c HARUE'S good tonight, innee?" asked Mick Jagger on the Kolling stones 1970 live album, GetYerYa-Ya'sOuUHis remark was prompted by some uncharacteristically skittish drum flourishes from the nor mally frill-free Watts, and was a rare public acknowledgment of the existence of the Stones' pub- ucity-shy drummer. Watts and the motionless Bill Wyman brought a touch of the silent screen" to the Rolling Stones, a deadpan insouciance to counterbalance the headline-hogging excesses of Jagger and Keith Richards. While Jagger became rock's Beelzebub, Watts maintained the frozen mien of Buster Keaton. As Richards smgle-mindedly pursued a hectic 24-hour regimen of cocaine, heroin and Jack Daniels, Watte sipped the occasional lager and went to bed at a sensible hour. Nowadays, the public can con sider itself lucky it it catches the Stones in action once a decade. But despite having achieved the ripe old age of 51, Charlie Watts described by Philip Norman in his book The Stones as "English landowner and antique silver expert" still yearns for his sticks and the kick of his bass-drum pedal. Even in the youth-culture madness of the sixties, Watts never seemed less than middle-aged, and today he has indulged in the luxury of rolling back the decades to revisit the music he always loved best jazz. For Charlie Watts, the epitome of jazz greatness is Charlie Parker, alto saxophonist to the Gods and a man who burned the candle at both ends while taking a flame-thrower to the middle. Thirty years ago, Watts worked as a graphic designer in an advertising studio in London's Regent Street. As an exercise in draughtsmanship, he set himself the task of drawing an illustrated biography of Charlie Parker, which he called Ode To A High Flying Bird. Once the Stones had finished their marathon Urban Jungle tour in late 1990, and the inflatable women and 21st-century stage set had been stashed away, Watts set about using his Potatoes Nancy Banks-Smith RING Of Scorpio (BBC1) a mini-series so feminist it makes the Furies look laid back ended very merrily with Dirty Dick Devereux being held prisoner in a sort of cellar in the Australian outback and fed parsimonious j! $ 'HE jWii i original Bird book as the basis for a musical tribute to Parker. Peter King, Kings ton-upon-Thames's woefully underrated saxophonist, played a pivotal role as writer, musical director and soloist, and once the music was complete, the Charlie Watts faiumtet came into being to play it After they'd toured in Europe, the US and Japan, the Quintet were invited to perform at the new Ronnie Scott's club in Birmingham, where they recorded their new live album, A Tribute To Charlie Parker. Hence, the secretive Watts has been flushed out of hiding to grant an interview or two about the project. Like all the Stones, Watts is slight and skinny, and with his white hair and gaunt face he could make a perfectly plausible Dr Who. He's impecca bly dressed in two-tone shoes, striped shirt and pristine beige suit, which gives the unsettling impression that he's been carefully dressed and pressed before being allowed out for the day. "I was brought up on bebop," he explains. The accent is Islington, the delivery frequently non-sequituriaL and the subtext says "what the hell am I doing here?" "The bass player in the quin tet, David Green, was my next-door neighbour when we were at school, so we used to play records together," Charlie con tinues. "They were all Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. It was sort of the thing then. Jazz music, as it's called, has never been foreign to me, it's a perfectly normal thing. When I first used to hear jazz there was always traditional ana modern stun, traditional revival. In London, for example. there'd be Ken Collier or Tubby Hayes, like traditional or modern, and they were both the same to me. I like Louis Armstrong as much as I do Charlie Parker." But it was the legend of Parker which exerted the most vivid pull on the imagination of the young Watts. "Charlie Parker is the classic genius," he insists, becoming quite tongue-tied at the thought "He's black, playing life on his terms, and a genius. All those together didn't make an easy life, but he changed the alto saxophone with the porridge portions of mashed potato by the women he had wronged. For some time I'd heard myself saying "Oh, come on!" but perhaps I've started talking to myself. Ring Of Scorpio worked itself up to a fine, standing froth in the final episode. For those of you who have arrived late, smelling of strong liquor and saying the traffic was terrible, it began like this. Years before, D D Devereux had seduced Helen, Marlene and Fiona, ?ll 111 - ft II Q yya round completely. And romanti cally it's ail there the nignt-club, this fucked-up man ambles on the stage and plays . . . unbe lievably. Where everybody else falls over or makes a horrible noise. This is the romance. When I was young I imagined him doing that" The drummers Watts admired were supermen of bop like Max Roach or Kenny Clarke, but he claims he never felt he was missing out by playing with the somewhat raunchier and markedly less complicated Rolling Stones. Watts seems to consider it reward enough that when the Stones first hit America in the early sixties, it gave him the opportunity to check out the famed jazz haunts he'd previously only read about on album sleeves or in magazines. "We landed in New York, and I went straight down to Birdland and saw Sonny Rollins. I did all the clubs which are no longer there now, like the Hickory House, the old Half Note. I went to all those places, saw so many people play, and that was Amer ica for me. I wasn't interested in the rest of it" There's a basic diffidence about Watts which has meant he has always felt happier when wrapped inside a familiar setup. He doesn't like jamming with unfamiliar musicians, for instance. He feels secure when he's onstage with the Stones. Listening to Watts, it's as if the drug-busts, the death of Brian Jones, Altamont and all the hobnobbing with royalty and the international platinum- Amex brigade never happened. "I love playing with the Rolling Stones, and I think they're very good, and something happens when we get together," Watts mutters, scratching his ear. "But I've never understood why 90,000 people would want to come and see us. I mean, I could cynically say that they're waiting to see one of us keel over, but I don't understand why more people than ever before came to see us when we last toured America." He shrugs, as if it all happened to another Charlie Watts. Then his publicist tells him he's late for his next appointment and with a benign wave, Watts is gone. three ingenuous young Aus-sies, and planted drugs on them. In Spain the rather ill-named Guardia Civil, taking a poor view of this, raped Marlene and fractured Fiona. In Fiona you see that legendary patient who will never play the violin again. So often mentioned, so rarely met. Unfortunately. Time goes by. Marlene became neurotic, Fiona alcoholic and Helen a stockbroker, so you can see the lasting effect this y r r Is :fcir 11 ,.....,,... ,mm x x.- - II 11 " 11 11 11 Charlie Watts . . . 'could make early trauma has had on them. Then Dirty surfaces again in Sydney, floating a tungsten mine. I am reliably informed you can float a mine, though it sounds implausible to me. Now watch on. I have never met such a job lot as the men in Ring Of Scorpio. Rapists, drunks, sadists, psychos, venal lawyers, boring brokers ("You are the first woman to be admitted to this room except, of course, for the tea lady.") Really, there is not one you would take home to your mother except, of course, the tea lady. The women, though rather a motley crew themselves, undertake Dirty's downfall and set off to inspect his floating mine in the Australian outback. It proves to be derelict: "Doesn't look like anyone's here ..." A remark like this invariably means that there are two lunatics with sawn-off shotguns and a brightly painted helicopter inexpertly concealed round the corner. And so it proves. Marlene and Fiona and perforated Helen ("The bullet's gone all the way through!") are abandoned by Dirty Dick to die in the outback. A spectacular animal, the outback, it looks as if someone whacked it with a shovel until it gave in. There is no sign of the Bush Tucker Man or Floyd or the Flying Doctors or any of the TV crews who usually seem to infest the place. The women rise gloriously to the occasion, blowing up their Land Rover, saying the Lord's Prayer and (it gets a bit complicated after this) kidnapping Dirty with a hairbrush and burying him alive. Badger, a laconic aboriginal roped in for local colour, if I may put it that way, appears to mutter at one point "It's no good". Badger's critical standards are clearly more strin A little help Tom Hibbert at Hammersmith Odeon WHAT is the collective noun for American "legends" of rock music from the 1970s? A "grizzle" perhaps? Anyway, there they were stage front, brandishing guitars, indulging in high five hoop-la, sporting quite preposterous amounts of hair: Todd Rundgren, Joe Walsh, Nils Lofgren, Timothy B Schmit The grizzle was "rocking out" to an ancient song called American Woman and the audience was somewhat bemused, asking itself: "Where the heavens isRingo?" Ringo Starr And His All Starr Band, it said on the tickets, on the expensive programmes, on I f " & ' 1 g JhuL- . at ft a perfectly plausible Dr Who' gent than mine. Ring Of Scorpio seems a jolly good rollick to me. The cast span an interesting rainbow from the fine-boned, flickering expressiveness of Caroline Goodall to Jack Scalia, who looks just the same buried as unburied. It had atmospheric direction, nice nervous music (with an occasional thump as if someone had kicked an oil drum, then a yelp as it hurt) and a good, driving, opinionated yarn from Suzanne Haw-ley. What more do you want on a July Friday? A dogged old bloke on a radio talk-in insisted on referring to the new soap Eldorado as Granada. One Spaniard being much like another. As Granada make the opposition, Coronation Street, the scope for confusion here is exhilarating. But never mind Eldorado or Coronation Street, what about Prisoner: Cell Block H (Thames)? This is a highly addictive Australian soap about a women's prison, transmitted at midnight and faithfully followed by a mildly disturbing number of the mildly disturbed. Like Ring Of Scorpio, Prisoner is a highly feminist affair. Yesterday Neil, the male nurse I at the prison, tore off his whiskers and revealed himself as none other than the local psycho, who has been killing prostitutes and is about to kill Chrissie, the only prisoner at Wentworth with a recognis-ably human shape. "You nave to die! Enjoy your last meal!" he gibbers inconsequentially, serving her, oddly enough, potatoes. Do potatoes have some special significance in Australia? "You're off your bleeding rocker!" responds Chrissie. game girl. Of course, I don t watch it myself. from Ringo's friends the T-shirts. Yet our big-nosed clown the goofy one with the "natural Scouse wit" seemed notable only by absence. It was his Stateside chums rolling out their old hits, with which the many Beatlephiles in attendance appeared unfamiliar who were called upon to do all the work; it was his son, Zak, who was called on to "lay down" the drums. Rundgren, in his wandering minstrel outfit performed Black Maria, and this was rather magnificent Joe Walsh did Rocky Mountain Way, which was nice for anyone who could remember the thing from the first time around. Dave Edmunds (a Brit, not much hair, a foreigner in this company) played Girls Talk and I Hear You Knocking and those were terrible. Where the heavens was Ringo? ypii 'li Nightmare's muddy Michael Billington at the National A: LAS for high hopes! I ended my review of Rob ert Lepage's The Dragons' lniogy oy saying one looked forward to seeing what this French-Canadian illusionist would make of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Olivier. The result turns out to be the most perverse, leaden, humourless and vilely spoken production of this magical play I have ever seen. At first, I was quietly intrigued. The designer, Michael Levine, has filled the stage with a mud-fringed standing pool which an androgynous Puck traverses with crab-like gait. Theseus, Hippolyta and the curled-up lovers then appear in a floating iron bedstead. As the matrimonial dispute unfolds, we might be watching some strange ceremony in the upper Ganges. Naively, I assumed this was a prelude to a breathtaking transformation to the strange otherness of the wood. With mounting horror. I then real ised that the characters would be splashing around in the pool or stuck in the mud all evening. As a visual metaphor for The Dream, it strikes me as ludicrously inadequate. The whole point of the play is that the characters undergo a transfiguration in their removal to the dark, disturbed world of the forest: if they are in the same element all evening, what crucial journey have they undergone? With amazing precision, Shakespeare also shows how the separate worlds of fairies, lovers and mortals gradually Oh, there he is, stalking to the centre stage microphone for an amusing utterance. Then, swaying and jigging ineptly, he sang off key three of the woeful novelty songs that Lennon and McCartney would get him to do to fill up a Beatles LP, With A Little Help From My Friends, Act Naturally, and that embarrassment of modern music hall kitsch, Yellow Submarine, all delivered with spectacular reluc- , tance. Then he stamped off into the wings again. If you'd paid good money to see Ringo Starr (on stage for all of 18 minutes during the two-hour show), well, you were royally swizzed. But what did you expect? As rock and roll "legends" go, Starr is no John Lennon; he's not even Todd Rundgren. PHOTOGRAPH: EAMONNMeCABE I converge: a point entirely lost if they inhabit an aqueous universe governed by Puck from the start. On a purely pragmatic level, water also drowns sound and slows down movement: one reason this appalling production takes three-and-a-half hours to tell the story. Lepage, I guess, is trying to bring out the nightmarish eroticism that Jan Kott discovered in The Dream. All he does, in practice, is to diminish character and flatten language. The great scene of the lovers' quarrel, for instance, simply becomes a splashy wrestle in the mud. Even the Pyramus and Thisbe scene is killed stone dead by being acted out on top of the bedstead with Timothy Spall's hopelessly unfunny Bottom impersonating, of all people, Laurence Olivier. I have no wish to catalogue the production's absurdities. But clearly Lepage sees Angela m m H M M Lfl M & M M (mm. m No isnwsra wOennGta on drummers to best Bangers and cash NOT a competition but a scholarship say the Shell-LSO organisers. With workshops for young players all over the country and finally in London, leading to a grand final at the Barbican, the feel of the Shell-LSO Scholarship is very like the BBC's Young Musician of the Year, but more purposeful, more specialised and with the ages of players ranging up to their early 20s. This was the 16th year of the event the fourth year of the fourth cycle, when after strings, woodwind and brass they get round to what seems the least tractable of the orchestral sections for competition, the timpani and percussion. The process is crisply controlled, and not nearly as noisy as you might expect. After all, as we heard from Jack Brymer, the long-time director of the Shell-LSO Competition, though orchestral players can be divided into scrapers, blowers and bangers, percussion-playing is not about banging. It is a question of "drawing the tone" out of instruments. The ingenious scheme for the Barbican final is to have the four finalists, two timpaniste, two percussionists, in parallel pairs. The first pair in partnership with the orchestra goes through a sequence of sninnets from repertory works, each chosen as formidable tests for one or other instrument. Then the other pair are soloists in a beautifully crafted Concertino for timpani and percussion written specially for the first percussion final in 1980 by Sir Andrzej Panufhik, long associated with the LSO and himself a trained percussionist. For the second half the process is reversed, with all four finalists literally getting their whack. The whacking ot course is unbelievably subtle, yet even now after the results I am still not quite sure precisely what the judges were looking for. The finalist who plainly stroked his percussion instruments more lovingly than anyone, David Jackson from the Royal College of Music, was the one who came only fourth, yet equally there was no doubt of the flair and imagination of the timpanist who won the 5.000 first prize and the gold medal, Colin Currie from Edinburgh, by far the youngest of the four. aged only 15. waters Laurier's Puck as the key to the play. Laurier is a formidable contortionist and a remarkable physical presence. But it is typical of the production's upside-down values that the one gift nature denied Laurier was the ability to speak the verse with comprehensible clarity. Doubtless some gullible loon will claim this production is as big a breakthrough as Peter Brook's landmark 1970 Stratford Dream. But where Brook's white-box production mixed authentic magic, comic joy and rigorous attention to the verse, Lepage's production offers a lugubriously eccentric vision that reduces even the best performers including Jeffery Kis-soon as Oberon and Sally Dexter as Titania to mud-caked puppets. In Brook's hands, the play became fantastically airborne: in Lepage's version, it remains stubbornly earthbound. an mum V PREMIERE A

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