Saturday, December 30, 2006

Classic Cambodia comes to London

The Lakhaon Khaol classical male masked dance, Weyreap's Battle, performed by members of the Amrita Performing Arts company will come to London in March 2007. Originally revived and produced with funding from the Embassy of the United States in Phnom Penh in February 2004, this production has toured to Bangkok and the 2005 Melbourne Festival In Australia and will be featured at the 2007 Barbican Bite Festival with performances on March 30, 31 and April 1 in London, at The Barbican, one of the most prestigious theatres in England. Amrita Performing Arts is an international performing arts production company based in Cambodia. Derived from the Sanskrit word meaning 'eternity', Amrita works to promote and sustain the revival and preservation of all forms of traditional Cambodian performing arts. Find out more here. The ANZ Bank in Phnom Penh is the first corporate sponsor for Amrita Performances. Their generous contribution will help Amrita mount three weekends of performances at the Chenla Theatre in the Cambodian capital featuring various forms of dance and theater in January 2007. I'm in Phnom Penh myself in January, so I hope to catch one of the shows.
* * * * *
One exhibition that I will definitely visit when I get into town on 12 January are the Auguste Rodin drawings at the National Museum in Phnom Penh. The exhibition opened last week and contains 40 (out of 150) of the sculptor/artist's most famous drawings, which he completed in 1906 after being captivated by the Royal Ballet dancers of King Sisowath, who were visiting France at that time. The French government are sponsoring the exhibition (which will run through til 11 February) to celebrate the 100th anniversary of King Sisowath’s visit, and to house the fragile works on paper, a wing of the National Museum has been renovated and a room with temperature and humidity controls room constructed. The Rodin exhibition will be some compensation for about 100 of the best pieces at the museum that are currently out of the country and on display in Bonn, Germany. However, their absence has allowed another 100 items to be taken from the museum's storeroom for a rare display. Every cloud has a silver lining.
* * * * *
If you haven't yet heard of a documentary film by Socheata Poeuv called New Year Baby, I'm sure you will, very soon. The film's world premiere took place on 25 November in Amsterdam at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), the most prestigious documentary film festival in the world. An audience of over 200 viewed the film and gave Socheata (pictured left) a standing ovation at the end. In addition, it received the Amnesty International - 'Movies That Matter' Human Rights award - the highest international human rights honor the film can win. The jury named New Year Baby a tour de force with universal appeal. Its success has seen other screenings in the Netherlands and Amnesty have expressed interest in supporting the film for more international screenings. You can read all about the film here. And I urge you to get out and see the film when it comes to your neighbourhood.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Reggae-Ska explosion

Birmingham's Jam House was the place to be last night for any self-respecting reggae, ska or two-tone fan with a superb show by regular house-band Gabbidon, led by Steel Pulse's founder Basil Gabbidon, alongwith special guests Ranking Roger and Neville Staple. The place was buzzin' with a large crowd and with a selection of music that you just had to dance to, the dancefloor was packed solid. Gabbidon played a host of reggae revival favourites in the 50-minute first half of the show, kicking off with Rise Up and following that with Respect For Jah, 54-46 Was My Number, Bad Man, Love & Affection, My Boy Lollipop and Could You Be Loved amongst others before vocalist Indigo took the lead for her excellent rendition of Walk On By. Next up was her vocal partner Leonie Smith with Police & Thieves before Lee Alexander finished the first half with Wear You To The Ball and Mister Bojangles. Gabbidon are a tight unit with talented musicians like Paul Beckford on bass, Colin Gabbidon on drums and band leader Basil on lead guitar and vocals. They also carry a brass section that includes Alvin Davis that adds that little bit extra to each live performance, alongwith the vocals that are shared amongst four gifted singers.

For the second fifty minute show, Gabbidon returned to support the two main guests of the evening. First up was Ranking Roger who went straight into Tears Of A Clown, and supported by Leonie and Indigo, carried on into a medley of The Beat classics, Hands Off - She's Mine, Ranking Full Stop and Mirror In The Bathroom. Roger handed the mic over to former Specials' frontman Neville Staple, who despite a car accident a few days earlier, gave his normal storming performance with Simmer Down, Do Nothing and Message To You Rudi. The two good friends returned for a joint effort of Enjoy Yourself, leaving the stage to loud applause, before Gabbidon closed the show with Love & Affection and Longshot - Kick The Bucket. Another night of great entertainment to keep the winter chill from the audience's bones. Roll on the next one.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Cry No More deliver the goods

Last night Cry No More did what they do every Christmas and gave a fantastic performance for their vociferous fans at the Turks Head in Twickenham. They never fail to deliver and despite Roy Hill's constant threat that this was their final reunion gig of all time, watch out for another sometime in the first quarter of 2007. My gig review is below but the photos will take a few days. In the meantime, here's one of Chas Cronk (left) and Roy Hill at their Dec 2005 reunion. To read about their previous gigs, click here. I recommend you get along to their next appearance - you never know it could be their last!

Review: Turkey, mince pies, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, the final Cry No More reunion gig of all time – each a Christmas tradition that we know and love and the 2006 version of the latter left no-one disappointed. The Cry No More formula for success is straightforward – excellent musicianship, a cupboard full of quirky, catchy songs, enough ad-libbing to fill Santa’s sack, guaranteed audience participation, all meshed together with the wit and repartee of Roy Hill and his fellow minstrel Chas Cronk. It doesn’t get much better than this, and all for a tenner, at The Turks Head in Twickenham.

So what did we get for our money? The first of the two sets was an hour long, consisting of ten kosher songs, half a dozen recognisable ad-libs, a Bob Dylan impersonation and a rousing version of Falling to take us into the break. Roy kicked off with his nefarious Sheep adventures and swept into his back-catalogue with Piccadilly Lights, recalling his solo days of the late ‘70s. Stories of Roy’s childhood and a letters section served as a breather between the rest of the musical gems on offer including one of my personal favourites, Don’t Leave Me Here, a slow version of Boy and that stirring rendition of Falling. The set-list (ad-libs in brackets): (Sheep/Tinkerbell); Piccadilly Lights; (Diggidy Dog); Keep Away From Me; (childhood/Bob Dylan); Just Too Late; Jenny Takes A First Look At Life; Don’t Leave Me Here; Man Overboard; (letters); Taller of The Two; Boy; Every Single Time; Falling.

The Turks Head crowd, old hands at these reunion events, really got into full voice for the second half of the show. Barber Jim began the set with Roy relying on the audience for the words to the first song, On Holiday. They followed it up with FASHION and a sackful of other CNM choice cuts with Steve Whalley joining them on stage for George’s Bar. Templar and Wooden Heart brought the gig to a close and the crowd to its feet – aside from those that were already dancing – before Roy & Chas returned for an encore of the Robin Song and I Like I Like I Like – a total playing time of 2 hours 20 minutes. Fantastic entertainment, and well worth the 200+ mile round trip. The set-list: (Barber Jim); On Holiday; FASHION; Trashy Doll; I Love Roxy; Cry No More; Lying In A Strangers Bed; (signed by EMI); Sleep; Forgotten Now; More; First Kiss; Caveman Rock; George’s Bar; (Life in Hollywood); Sixties Baby; Oh Sharon!, Templar, Wooden Heart. Encore: (Robin Song), I Like I Like I Like.

There’s talk of another get together in March or April 2007 to plug a DVD release and also some long-awaited Roy Hill solo gigs and CD releases from his extensive back-catalogue. Watch this space.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Heritage Watch calendar & more

The folks at Heritage Watch, based in Phnom Penh, know a good lensman when they see one. How's that...'cause they've employed the services of a pal of mine, Garrie Maguire from Australia, as one of the two photographers for their brand new 2007 calendar. It'll showcase the Angkorean temples through beautiful black and white photographs, taken by Garrie and German photographer Doris Boettcher. Both have photographed extensively in Southeast Asia, and have exhibited their work both in Cambodia and overseas. I've previously highlighted the important role that Heritage Watch are playing in doing their utmost to save Cambodia’s cultural legacy and other plans in the pipeline include the following; at the ancient temple complex of Koh Ker, they aim to start an innovative project combining preservation with sustainable tourism development. Also, HW will further its educational efforts with If The Stones Could Speak, a storybook promoting heritage preservation that will be a key part of a planned youth education program. You can read more about their efforts here. And you can take a look at Garrie's photography here, where I found this photo taken in the FCC a few years ago, of Garrie (left) and yours truly, regaling each other with our temple adventures!
* * * * *
A 35-minute documentary film dealing with the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime has been shown in Phnom Penh and is due to go on tour around the country early next year. The film, Wanting To See The Truth ('Chang Kheun Pit' in Khmer) includes interviews with Cambodians who describe the forced labour, starvation and mass killings under Pol Pot's rule. But it also shows footage of young Cambodians who do not believe stories of the atrocities of the late 1970s.The period is not taught in schools, and the film's producer, Tara Urs, plans to screen it around the country to boost awareness particularly amongst the younger population. Throughout the film older Cambodians describe the horrors of life under the Khmer Rouge, when up to two million died because of the regime's brutality. The camera then pans to giggling teenagers who declare that they do not believe a word of what their relatives have just said. Wanting To See The Truth was produced by the Open Society Justice Initiative in collaboration with award-winning filmmakers Rob Fruchtman and Lex Fletcher, and the Khmer Institute for Democracy. The film is intended for a Cambodian audience as an outreach tool.
* * * * *
A new book just published, Building Cambodia - New Khmer Architecture 1953-1970 by Helen Grant Ross and Darryl Collins, describes the flowering of Khmer architectural genius - namely, the New Khmer Architecture that emerged in Phnom Penh amid the heady national pride that followed Cambodia's independence from France in 1953. The book documents the tragically short-lived style that resulted in a spate of striking buildings until its demise amid civil war and genocide not two decades later. Taking seven years of research to complete, and packed with rare photographs and illustrations, the 334-page hardback pays tribute to this remarkable cultural interlude and focuses on the work of people like Vann Molyvann who designed such significant landmarks at the Independence Monument, the Council of Ministers and the Chakdomukh theatre, amongst many others. You can see some of his work here.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Face Towers of Banteay Chhmar - part 2

You may recall my blog post on 7 November - read it here - highlighting a book dedicated solely to the amazing face towers of this previously remote temple complex in northwestern Cambodia. Well, I was very pleased when the publishers, Goto Shoin from Japan, sent me a copy of their book, The Face Towers of Banteay Chmar, to review. For someone like me who has always found immense fascination with the face towers of Cambodia, this is the perfect Christmas present. 150 pages devoted to the enigmatic faces believed to King Jayavarman VII, from Banteay Chhmar, its satellite temples - which I visited in January 2005 - and the even more ruinous temple complex at Preah Khan of Kompong Svay.

For photographer Baku Saito this was an opportunity to complete his project to capture all of the face towers in Cambodia, having previously produced exhibitions and a book for Unesco on the more readily-accessible faces of The Bayon and the other temples at Angkor. In all there are 228 faces at The Bayon and more at the temples of Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, Ta Som and the Gates of Angkor Thom. These faces began appearing in the latter half of the Bayon style period, after 1200 and are known as 'the smile of Angkor'. The task of capturing the faces at Banteay Chhmar was a tougher assignment, one which Baku has come through with flying colours, with no less than 58 pages of the book housing gorgeous colour plates of the temples and towers, another 40 pages containing black & white shots of each face he encountered (31 in total) as well as plans of each temple site. No effective restoration work has yet taken place at Banteay Chhmar and the book highlights the need for urgent conservation studies to be undertaken, especially as one of the face towers collapsed in 2004. There are now 70 face towers still standing in the whole of the country, though some are in an advanced state of ruin - its time to act now to save these incredible masterpieces of Khmer culture.

The photographs show that the faces at the four satellite temples surrounding the main Banteay Chhmar complex, as well as the face tower at the temple of Prasat Preah Stung in Preah Khan are in considerably better condition than those at the main temple site, and adds further ammunition for the urgent restoration of these priceless gems. The book also contains an essay by Olivier Cunin who looks for evidence of more face towers at the themples, which are no longer standing, but the question of who exactly is represented by the faces is left hanging without any definitive conclusion. This book feeds my fascination for these bewitching temples and for that I thank Baku Saito and Goto Shoin for their foresight in publishing this exceptional record.

A Banteay Chhmar face pictured on my 1st visit to the temple in November 2001.

You can read about my own Banteay Chhmar adventures here and about my visit to the ruinous Preah Khan complex here.

A Museum for Siem Reap?

There is a large expanse of land on the road from Siem Reap towards the Angkor complex which currently has corrugated iron fencing around it and a sign declaring that this is where the new National Museum of Siem Reap will be. The necessity for a second branch of the National Museum explaining the art and architecture of Angkor in particular, next to Angkor itself, is abundantly clear. For years, a massive amount of free-standing statuary has been holed up in the warehouses of the Angkor Conservation Depot, gathering dust, when it should be on show to the increasing number of visitors that flock to the Angkor complex each year. Ah, if it was only that easy.

As far as I can make out, the main museum project is underpinned by private Thai investors in league with the ministry of culture and will be built on the expanse of land I mentioned above. However, the word on the street is that this will be more of a shopping mall with stalls for Cambodian handicrafts and souvenirs, alongwith the odd authentic Khmer sculpture from the Angkorean period! There's a suggestion this 'shopping museum' will open in the Spring or even earlier. This has already caused a storm of protest and a Las Vegas style of museum is not what the purists want, but it will line the pockets of the Thai investors and their cohorts. Its a worrying development, for what could be a major tourist attraction in Siem Reap if handled correctly with income being used to improve facilities and the like, but instead looks to be heading down the 'anything for a profit' approach under the banner of a new museum for a new future. We shall see.

I believe there is considerable unease in the corridors of the National Museum in Phnom Penh, where there are fears that if the museum in Siem Reap comes to fruition then no-one will bother with their museum any longer, especially if they are put under pressure to transfer some of their best pieces to the new museum. I think they, like everyone else, are being kept in the dark about the final outcome. Also on the cards is a private visitors centre-cum-museum to be erected close to the site of Banteay Kdei by JICA, the Japan International Cooperation Agency restoration effort at Angkor. The Japanese team have been excavating burial mounds near the temple site for a while now and want to show off their finds to the public as well as portraying their archaeological work, sometime in the Spring of next year. At the Angkor Conference in Sydney in July, Lydia Mittermayr presented her proposal for a museum in Siem Reap. It combined a display of sculptures alongwith reconstructed temple models to encourage visitors to see the temples in their historical context, as they were originally seen. Her idea also included a view of Angkorean studies starting with early art history and leading on to modern archaeological findings which look beyond the temples and seek to supplement current understanding of what Angkor used to be. Now that's what I call a museum that teaches and fascinates visitors.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Yaz Alexander - The Christmas EP

Anyone looking for a stocking filler this festive season should look no further than the brand new Christmas EP from Yaz Alexander, containing her own Yuletide offering, At Christmas. The song has already debuted on the Barry Tomes' Gotham Records-produced CD, Christmas In July.

The 4-track EP, cost £5, is available from all good music outlets in Birmingham including Summit Records, Sound of Music Records, The Hatman, Wildfire Music, Humal Records & The ACMC Centre. Yaz is sponsored by Birmingham radio station Newstyle Radio 98.7fm and the EP can be ordered through her website or by email.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Menu For Hope

Cambodia Now author and food blogger Karen Coates has sent me this message - she's on the look-out for your help.

"Please help fight world hunger. And a special plea to friends of Cambodia: please help spread the word about this year's Menu for Hope. Once again, food bloggers around the world are uniting in a raffle called Menu for Hope, with proceeds going to the UN World Food Programme (last year's raffle raised $17,000 for Unicef). Bloggers have donated hundreds of tantalizing prizes, from dinner certificates to cookbooks to care packs. I'm personally offering two prizes: a signed copy of my book, Cambodia Now: Life in the Wake of War; and a dinner invitation to Romdeng restaurant in Phnom Penh. I hope you can help. Each $10 raffle ticket gets you a shot at the prize of your choice (if you don't like these two, you'll have plenty more to choose from). Plus, your $10 will feed more than 34 hungry people. Please see my blog,, for full details. And please help publicize this information to your network of friends and colleagues. Thanks and happy holidays."

Monday, December 11, 2006

To Asia With Love - the series

Author Kim Fay (pictured) tells us on her website about some wonderful news... "As of August, I have the great pleasure of working as the managing editor of To Asia With Love, a literary guidebook series for Things Asian Press. Based on my beloved To Asia With Love: A Connoisseurs’ Guide to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, the series will include Japan, Burma, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, China, India, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. The first eight books in the series will be published in the winter/spring of 2007/2008." I couldn't possibly identify the editor of the Cambodia edition..., though I can reveal that former Siem Reap bookshop owner Don Gilliland will edit the Burma/Myanmar book, Lonely Planet's Joe Cummings will piece together the Thailand version, with Kim herself in charge of the Vietnam edition.

Kim will also publish her own part travel essay, part cookbook, part history, sociology and philosophy book, Communion: Meditations on Eating in Vietnam, which explores the culture of Vietnam through its intriguing culinary traditions, in the Spring of 2007. She also talks about a novel, In Yellow Babylon, which is close to completion. "I have always wanted to write a novel whose poetry would make Michael Ondaatje proud. I am also fascinated by the true story of Andre and Clara Malraux, who brazenly attempted to steal a six-ton bas relief from a Khmer temple in the early 1920s. With both of these inspirations in mind, I set out to write a literary adventure novel. The result: a story about one woman's quest for a lost temple, and an exloration of obsession set against the backdrop of post-WWI Indochina." I for one am eagerly awaiting the outcome of her writings, and of course, the To Asia With Love series of guidebooks.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Gabbidon gig photos

Another photo from the recent Gabbidon gig at the Jam House in Birmingham, 29 November. On the left is Reggaebaby herself, Jean Mclean, who recently put on a great show at the Ipanema Bar in Birmingham city centre, backed by a full band. In the middle is backing vocalist Anne-Marie, who has worked with both Jean and Yaz Alexander, on the right. They were there to support the Gabbidon show with Yaz taking the stage to sing Keep It Like It Is.

Reggae and beauty - a potent force

Two of my favourite female reggae singers join forces at a recent gig at The Jam House in Birmingham. They are (left) Yaz Alexander and Leonie Smith. You can read a lot more about both vocalists at Yaz and Leonie. Both are incredibly talented singers and I'm expecting 2007 to be their year. Yaz already has plans for an EP followed by an album later in the Summer. Watch this space.

Saturday, December 9, 2006


Where's that trumpet when you need's finally arrived....Dawn Rooney's updated and beautifully illustrated 5th edition of her Angkor 'bible' has hit the bookshops. I was in Bristol on a training course this week and there it was, holding pride of place in Stanfords travel bookshop. Its called Angkor : Cambodia's Wondrous Khmer Temples, its the fifth edition of Dawn's book and contains an additional 33 temple sites, 488 pages, 176 colour photos, 44 maps and a foreword from King Norodom Sihamoni no less. Its published by Odyssey Books and can be bought here. My own website gets a mention; British Andy Brouwer writes the best of the personal websites, packed with tales from his annual travels in the kingdom. A comprehensive links page that includes some travelogues, Brouwer puts in as much info on temples as contributors submit.
* * * * *
Those kind souls at Routledge Publishers have sent me 3 brand new books to review this week, so I better get my specs cleaned in preparation. Gregor Muller's Colonial Cambodia's 'Bad Frenchmen' : The rise of French rule and the life of Thomas Caraman, 1840-87 looks very interesting to say the least. 295 pages and the story of how Cambodia became colonized by the French in the 19th century and the tale of one man who came to represent everything that the colonial state dreaded. Expressions of Cambodia: The politics of tradition, identity and change is a series of articles, edited by Leakthina Chau-Pech Ollier and Tim Winter, that will be of particular interest to those working in the fields of Asian studies, tourism, diaspora and postcolonial and cultural studies. With an introduction by Ben Kiernan, Conflict and Change in Cambodia, by editor Caroline Hughes, isn't due out until next year and brings together an analysis of Cambodia's recent political and environmental history. All 3 books can be ordered through the publisher's website.
* * * * *
The Royal Ballet of Cambodia are scheduled to tour in March and April 2008 but I don't have any more details at this stage. I believe it'll be in Europe but where and when I don't know. Okay, so its a long way off just yet, but forewarned is forearmed! On Monday of this week, I was invited, but couldn't attend, the opening of the Audiovisual Resource Center Bophana in Phnom Penh, an archive started by renowned filmmaker Rithy Panh, that is collecting audiovisual documents relating to Cambodia to ensure they are not lost forever, and are made available to the Cambodian people in their own backyard. Good luck to Rithy Panh and his colleagues on their commendable endeavours.

Monday, December 4, 2006

An interview with Khmer film director Tim Pek

I caught up with Khmer film director Tim Pek, just before the release of his first feature film, The Red Sense. Born in Cambodia's second city of Battambang, Pek and his family moved to Australia to begin a new life in 1988 and after developing a passion for art, he became a graphic designer of some note in Melbourne before unexpectedly becoming exposed to film production for the first time when he took a small part in a short film. The Red Sense, or Vignean Krohom in Khmer, is the result of Pek's new found passion for film-making.

Tim Pek
Q. Tell me how The Red Sense came into being? A. Thanks for asking this question Andy. As you know I always wanted to look into a new medium, striving to find new challenges after many years in the graphic design industry. In late 2004 I was offered to play a small role in an Australian short film called Chhay, based on the life of two brothers, a legacy from two best friends, one of which died in the Pol Pot regime. Then a few months later I received a short movie from a friend of mine, which really gave me a big push to work on The Red Sense. The film was initially designed for a 10-15 minute short for film festivals, but due to a huge demand we decided to extend to a feature film.

Q. What's the movie about, and how close is it to completion? A. The core of this movie is about the lifestyle of the victim's daughter Melear, the son of the murder and the murderer all living abroad, and the problem needs to be solved. You can say its a sequel to the Killing Fields or a shockwave from the Killing Fields. We are working hard on public release in late 2006 or January 2007. The film can be seen in Cambodian cinemas, selected Australian cinemas, but we are still seeking an overseas distribution network. For more details, including a trailer, please check the movie's website at Initially the film was made for short film festivals, now the approx length is 1hour 20mins.

Q. Did you experience any difficulties in filming in Cambodia? A. Filming in Cambodia was superb, the rural sceneries took my breath away, the urban rich plantations and rice fields were beautiful. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum or S-21 brought me to tears and confusion, I was speechless while entering each room and looking through those items. Its extremely captivative and inspired me to explore the past - our next generation should be better then the last. However, I never thought I would be lucky enough to capture such footage from Cambodia, as you know working on a shoestring budget what could I expect, but I am very content with what I have achieved.
Q. I see you have also recently shot a film called Annoyed, tell me more. A. You are quick! I don't know how you heard about this project, but its true. To be frank I wasn't planning to shoot this film at all, a friend of mine Ravy from SSB Production, convinced me to collaborate with him. After completing a documentary project on martial arts in Phnom Penh, I had 4 days left for Annoyed. One evening we did a brainstorm, next day script is done, the day after casts and crews, half of them had to travel all the way from Battambang to participate in the film. I was overwhelmed with the passion and motivation they have, again most of them have no acting background just like in The Red Sense. Its my first attempt at a Cambodian ghost film, locations were mostly in Phnom Penh and outskirts. The film is about a young mute and innocent girl who is haunted by a female ghost seeking to restore her justice. The film will be in Khmer with English subtitles and 30mins in length. An official website and trailer will be out in quarter 1 of 2007 and a DVD will be available in due course. By the way, the lead actor and actress are Chap Chenda and Ung Bunny, watch out for them.
My thanks to Tim Pek for sparing time to talk about his forthcoming films. Pek's co-writer on TRS was Rithy Dourng and the film's lead actors are the gorgeous Sarina Luy who plays Melear, Kaply Mon and Narith Eng. Included in the film soundtrack will be songs by Jimi Lundy ('Cambodia') and Robert Sedky ('Walk To Freedom').

Morricone's soloists

Often overlooked in the clamour surrounding Ennio Morricone and his performances are some of the outstanding classically-trained soloists from the Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra that play key roles in bringing to life the music of the Maestro during his live concerts and on CD. The orchestra was founded in 1993 and have collaborated with Morricone for the last 12 years, performing in some of the best theatres in the world. The two know each other and trust each other to deliver and the London Apollo concerts this weekend did exactly that. Morricone is quick to identify and share the applause with his main soloists during his performances and three stood out for me, amongst the cream of the orchestra, at the concert on Friday evening. They were leading violinist Marco Serino (pictured top left), flutist Monica Berni (pictured right) and Carlo Romano on oboe (pictured bottom left). Serino, part of the celebrated Quartetto Bernini in Italy, was called upon to display his highly-tuned skills during the second part of the programme for Deborah's Theme from Once Upon A Time in America and Vatel. Monica Berni accompanied Morricone on his two previous visits to England in 2001 and 2003 and is his leading flutist during The Mission and elsewhere in the programme, while Carlo Romano has been a fixture, on oboe, with the Maestro for the last twenty-five years, and is the man behind the haunting Gabriel's Oboe. Both Berni and Romano were part of the Rai TV Orchestra for many years in Rome and are accredited soloists on many CD collaborations with Morricone such as his joint release with Dulce Pontes called Focus. You can visit Romano's website here.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Morricone weaves his magic

The Maestro has done it again - in only his third visit to these shores to perform on stage with his very own backing band, well actually the Rome Sinfonietta Orchestra, he had the 3,000 Hammersmith Apollo punters on their feet time and again, demanding more of his baton-whirling as he brought to life some of his best-loved film scores from a seemingly endless career in producing memorable music. At 78, Ennio Morricone won't go on forever, so each of his appearances should be savoured and enjoyed as if they're his last, and Friday night at The Apollo - one of two concerts in the Don't Look Back series - was another sublime offering. I've now seen The Maestro in action on all three of his visits to London - the previous concerts were at The Barbican and Royal Albert Hall - and I wouldn't have missed them for all the tea in China.

Without the services of the sensational Dulce Pontes for this trip, Morricone revamped his normal play-list to include at least half a dozen pieces I've not heard played live before, starting with Novecento. For me, Pontes is an integral part of the Morricone performance, she adds another dimension, but her absence meant a different approach from the Maestro and increased the workload for both the Sinfonietta and the Crouch End Festival Chorus, both of whom stepped up to the mark. And of course, as ever, soprano Susanna Rigacci weaved her magic during the Sergio Leone section, whilst Guilda Butta did likewise on the piano. Other outstanding individual performances were given by Marco Serino on violin, Monica Berni's flute and Carlo Romano on oboe. Morricone feels comfortable with this orchestra and they feel comfortable with him, and it shows, with both at the absolute pinnacle of their game.

A nice surprise was the opening cue from one of tv's most popular entertainers, Jonathan Ross, who was effervescent in his introduction of the Maestro and had a front row seat for the two-hour performance. However, it was the adoration from the audience that prompted Morricone to leave the stage and then return for three encores, stiffly and coyly accepting the plaudits and appreciation from both the house and orchestra alike, but suggesting its the music that is the centrepiece, not the man himself. I must also mention Andrew & Andrea Allen from North Yorkshire who sat next to me - Andrew has been a devotee of Morricone since 1968 and was overjoyed to be seeing the Maestro in action for the first time. Both he and I went home very happy and contented people. You can read more about my Morricone experiences here.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Gabbidon & Friends

By the end of tomorrow, I'll have experienced two extremes of my own personal musical tastes with last night's History of Reggae show by Basil Gabbidon and numerous friends at The Jam House in Birmingham followed by a extremely rare concert performance in London on Friday night, by the Maestro himself, Ennio Morricone.

The ten-piece Gabbidon band, led by main vocalist Basil on guitar with his brother Colin on drums, kicked off their journey from ska through to roots reggae with 54-46 Was My Number, followed by Hey Fatty Bum-Bum and other songs, including the superb Love & Affection, with Basil sharing vocals with Leonie Smith (pictured) and Indigo. Lee Alexander hopped on stage to take the lead, with Sweat, Wear You To The Ball and an instrumental version of Natural Mystic - aided by Pete Reid on guitar - ending the first forty-five minutes of the show. Just after 11pm, the band re-appeared with the first of a number of guest singers, Dennis Seaton, a former member of Musical Youth, belting out a brilliant version of Shine. The lead vocals then changed hands between Lee, Indigo (singing Walk On By), Candice, Leonie (with Police & Thieves) and Miss Banton, Lee returned to sing Now That We've Found Love and Mister Bojangles before Yaz Alexander stepped up to the stage for Keep It Like It Is, with the night's jam-packed session ending with One Love a little after midnight. Top quality music-making and some fantastic vocals showcasing a wonderful array of talent at the disposal of Britain's second city. I'm told Gabbidon have now secured a regular slot at The Jam House, with their next showcase taking place on Wednesday 27th December, when they hope to include Neville Staple on their invite list.

You can read more about Gabbidon here. And I'll be back, sometime on Saturday, to enthuse about Mr Morricone. Stay tuned. In the meantime, you can read about my previous Morricone experiences here.

Cambodia's Forgotten Children - documentary premier

The first of a handful of late nights and early mornings this week - hence the lack of Blog updates - was the premier screening of Matt Wenham and Chris Cook's 30-minute documentary, Cambodia's Forgotten Children on Tuesday at the Picturedrome in Northampton. The film was shot in January as part of their final year project for their media degree course with Matt and Chris' aim to raise awareness of the problems facing Cambodia's children, working with six local NGOs who are assisting the vulnerable and underprivileged kids in Phnom Penh. The main NGO was the Southeast Asian Children's Mercy Fund and they interviewed co-founder and author Sophal Leng Stagg, alongwith representatives from the five other agencies. The documentary was well-constructed and gave the large audience plenty to think about as they settled down to an evening of fundraising activities that included an auction, raffle, live music from Brendan Read-Jones & the Travelling Light band and a stills photography exhibition by Lara Holmes, who joined Matt and Chris for part of their Cambodia trip. A very enjoyable night was had by all and the guys have done a great job with the documentary. I also recommend you have a look at Sara's work at her website and the Children's Mercy Fund website too.
* * * * *
Tomorrow (Friday 1 December) is the final day of the 2006 Angkor Photography Festival, being held at various venues in Siem Reap, the home of Cambodia's Angkor temples. The festival brings together a veritable who's who of famous and passionate photographers like Philip Jones Griffiths, Roland Neveu, John McDermott and many others in the spirit of creativity and sharing. It showcases print exhibitions and outdoor projections by renowned artists and photo-journalists, but differentiates itself from other festivals with its strong humanitarian goals. By offering free workshops for young Asian photographers and developing outreach projects for needy Cambodian youth, participants contribute their art and their time, demonstrating that photography can really change lives. You can read all about the festival here.
* * * * *
To find out more about a forthcoming documentary being put together by two professional stuntmen from Florida, Kevin Ball and John Evanko, which they will call Freedon Fields, go to their website here. The film will focus on the work that Mia Hamwey and her Freedom Fields group have been doing to raise funds for vital demining work in Cambodia, with the help of the Halo Trust. Filming will take place in Cambodia and the US early in 2007.