Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Review: A little country rock n roll band

Kane, 9 June 2007, Barfly

It's been a while since I last went to Barfly. In fact when I was last there it was The Monarch and Barfly occupied the top floor. This first-floor room is still where gigs take place and it hasn't changed much over the years. Painted black, dimly lit, a stage at the front, a small bar at the back and little else in between. It's the ideal place for an up-close-and-personal gig.

On the night of the Kane gig this empty space was filled with assorted fans - despite this being the band's second night (the first date sold out within hours, I know because I tried to buy my tickets at around lunch time and there were none left). Not bad for an unsigned, little-known country band from the US of A.

But of course Kane do have one big advantage going for them - the singer is one Christian Kane, famed for played evil lawyer-with-a-heart Lindsey McDonald in Angel. I'm sure many of the band's fans started off as fans of the show, but while they might come for Linsdsey, they stay for the music.

It was an all-acoustic night and first on was singer/songwriter Niall Quinn. Niall's particular brand of country influenced folk was reminiscent of Ryan Adams, and his tender voice is the perfect foil for his lyrically charged songs. For a selection of songs Niall is joined on stage by Katie Harnett, a singer whose voice sounds like it made its way here by way of Nashville.

Second up was David Arthur Jnr, another folksy singer/songwriter, this time with tinges of the Libertines. And this is where David fell down. He's got a great voice and the songs work, but the Pete Doherty shtick doesn't. When David lets his own personality get the better of him, things definitely improve.

And then there was Kane. Duo Steve Carlson and Christian Kane have got themselves a fiercly loyal following on this side of the pond. There were fans there who had been to every show of this short but wide-ranging UK tour. So, yes, Kane were playing to the converted, everyone wanted them to do well. And do well they did, despite some unexpected problems. A few songs in and, just as Steve was building up to a crescendo on his guitar, the sound went... wrong. There was a nasty screech and the note was lost in feedback. And try as she might, the sound engineer just couldn't sort it out.

But Kane weren't going to let something as trivial as a lack of mics stop them! They simply unplugged and played as God intended: just man and guitar. And you know what? It made the gig. Before, the crowd had been supportive, but now they were fully behind the band. The room was small enough that us at the back (I'm too old for all that headbanging at the front) heard every word sung and every note played. The Chase was a particular highlight. The crowd sang along, knowing every word, it was quite touching, and pretty impressive as the only CDs available are those sent out by the band's own fair hands. Then there was some fruity talk about One More Shag, which got the female contingent rather hot under the collar.

The gig ended with a bang: the engineer sorted the sound out and Kane plugged back in and finished on a high note. It was a great night, and reminded me just how much I like live music and small venues. Next time Kane are in London, check them out! I know I'll be there.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Ask the Lowdown

Inspired by my first 'proper' question, I have invented a new series of posts: Ask the Lowdown. Ask me a question and I'll answer it here. And here's the first one, from Anonymous:

  • Hey im going to london for the fist time, and only for ONE DAY! =( is taking the LONDON sightseeing tour bus more worth my money or just buy a day pass to travel around? Any idea?

Really it depends what you're interested in. The bus tours are a great introduction to London if you want to see a lot and you've only got a short time, or if you've got a week or so and no idea where to start. But if you're looking for something more in depth it might be better to choose three or four places you really want to visit and dedicating more time to them. Think about whether there's anywhere you've always wanted to see - if you can come up with three of these, visit them rather than taking a bus tour. Several places do their own tours, the Beefeater-guided tours of the Tower of London being one particularly good example, which are a great way of learning some little-known facts.

It's interesting you mention day passes. You can actually see a lot from the top deck of a double-decker bus. You won't get a commentary or see all the best sights but you can get some great photos!

Hope that helps!

Monday, 4 February 2008

Review: The first emperor

It's taken me a while to get round to reviewing this exhibition at the British Museum, but as everyone and his mother was reviewing it a while back I decided to give it a whirl. So I grabbed my own mother and hot footed it down to Russell Square. The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army explores one of the greatest archeological finds of the 20th century and the man responsible for creating this amazing site: Qin Shi Huang.

China syndrome: Qin (pronounced 'chin') gave his name to modern China

Qin Shi Huang is a remarkable figure. He became king of Qin at the tender age of 13 back in 247BC. At the time what we know as China was a collection of warring states, of which Qin was one. The soon-to-be emperor set about unifying these states, and due to a combination of superior numbers and advanced weaponry the disparate territories fell to the Qin one by one. One of the improvements Qin Shi Huang introduced was the mass production of weapons, all were made to a blueprint so that if a part broke in battle it could simply be replaced, instead of rendering the weapon useless. The Qin were also extraordinary horsemen, giving them an advantage on the battlefield.

Qin Shi Huang united China in 221BC. He had built a network of palaces that reflected the constellations to illustrate his leadership over the heavens as well as earth. He also invented a new title for himself: emperor, to show his eminance over the other kings of China. While all this building above ground was going on, Qin was also having created an underground necropolis to cater for his death.

The tomb covers approximately four square miles; it took 700,000 conscripts 36 years to complete the mausoleum, and many of them would have been buried alive with the emperor (just one of the ghoulish facts you'll learn at the exhibition). According to Chinese historian Sima Qian, writing less than a century after the emperor's death, the tomb was filled with rare jewels, money, a map of the heavens and a map of China, with mercury representing seas and rivers. Along with all these riches, of course, were the Terracotta Army - a 7,000-strong regiment created to defend the emperor in death.

Toy soldiers: the warriors were mass produced, master craftsmen then added individual features such as moustaches or plaits

The head of one of the soldiers was discovered by a farmer in 1974, spawning an enormous exploration of the area. The exhibition charts this discovery and gives an insight into how the army was discovered and put back together. It shows how the figures were made, with each individual soldier given its own 'personality'. The First Emperor combines artefacts and information about the tomb, how it was created and the contents. The heart of the exhibition is a collection of terracotta warriors, and it is quite amazing to see them in formation. Each standing six feet or above, they are intimidating, even though their weapons have long since rotted away, and the level of detail is breathtaking - from their plaited hair to their hobnailed boots.

The audio tour, at £3.50, is definitely worth the extra cost. It contains much more information than that given on the cards describing each artefact and helps give a more detailed picture of the emperor and his final resting place.

The exhibition is fascinating, the number of exhibits and the trouble the curators have gone to to give a huge amount of information is incredible. And the down sides? Well it was very busy. At times it was simply a matter of standing in line waiting to see the next exhibit. And with all those bodies it got uncomfortably hot. But that's no reason not to go. And you really should, before these wonderful warriors return home, I can honestly say it's an opportunity of a lifetime. The exhibition runs until 6 April 2008 and tickets cost £12. I recommend advance booking.

So was Sima Qian right? Well as yet no one knows - the actual tomb has not yet been excavated. But tests have shown the soil to have an unusual amount of mercury.

The British Museum