My busy cultural week began on Sunday with Brian Wilson Presents Pet Sounds at Colston Hall. The gig took place on 15 May, just one day before the 50th Anniversary of the release of the seminal Pet Sounds, and the album was played in full in the second half. The first half was an hour of highlights from the Beach Boys back catalogue, including California Girls (one of their greatest, Brian said), I Get Around, Then I Kissed Her, Do It Again and Don’t Worry Baby. He was joined by Beach Boy Al Jardine and a fantastic band, which included Al’s son Matt, who played a key role in the evening. Brian’s voice shows the signs of his age and his life, so the vocals were sympathetically shared, with Matt singing the higher pitched lines. This frailty was most evident on some of the slower songs, especially Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder).
At the end of the first half, another former Beach Boy – Blondie Chaplin – joined them on stage for three songs which were dominated by his electric guitar. When the band kicked off the second half with the first song from Pet Sounds – Wouldn’t It Be Nice – many of the audience were still returning from the interval. The brilliant back-to-back renditions of Sloop John B and God Only Knows received a standing ovation. One of the highlights of the evening was I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times – which seemed to gain extra resonance from Brian’s slightly forlorn demeanour.
The encore was extraordinary, and a reflection of the incredible song-writing – hit-writing – ability of Wilson and his band. Good Vibrations, Surfin’ USA, Barbara Ann, Help Me Rhonda, All Summer Long and Fun, Fun, Fun – the audience was on its feet for the entire encore, dancing and singing along. It was a terrific, uplifting, joyous experience. And then Brian took centre stage again, a few spotlights shining on him as he brought the evening to a close with Love & Mercy (also the title of the 2014 film about the Beach Boys). It was a lovely end to a incredible, memorable evening.
On Wednesday afternoon, I travelled to the Theatre Royal Bath to see a impressive new stage version of Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Somehow, I have never seen the classic 1961 film which has long attracted criticism for sanitising Truman Capote’s original novella. Having never read that either, I did not spend the afternoon comparing versions. I was, however, intrigued to see how Emily Atack – best known for her role in The Inbetweeners – would take on a role made famous by Audrey Hepburn. (Emily is one of three actresses playing Holly Golightly during this show’s UK tour, sharing the role with Pixie Lott and Georgia May Foote, who will be playing the Holly at the Bristol Hippodrome). I thought it was a really engaging performance, capturing the mix of bold flirtatiousness, intrigue, and caring-but-can-be-cold that makes every man who meets Holly – especially aspiring writer Fred (Matt Barber) – fall for her (there’s an affecting little turn by Victor Maguire as infatuated barman Joe Bell). Emily also sings very nicely, and her version of Moon River was superb. Barber is also very good and there was evident, playful chemistry between the two during their head-to-head scenes.
The entire cast – including Bob the Cat – supported the two leads very well, it’s neatly directed by Nikolai Foster and Matthew Wright has done an excellent job with the set and costume design – the New York apartments, fire escapes and bars are superbly captured. Compared to the film, the play doesn’t whitewash Holly escorting, nor Fred’s sexuality, and the ending is, I understand, very different. I aim to watch the film soon to see what it’s like but it will have to pull out all the stops to entertain me as much as this production did.
After the matinee, I rushed back to Bristol to see M.R. Carey at Waterstones talking about his new book Fellside, a ghost story set in a women’s prison. In a wide-ranging chat with the always-knowledgeable Cheryl Morgan, he discussed economics, the dangers of privatised prisons, the influence of the media (especially during criminal trials), pseudonyms, addiction and the X-Men character he wanted to be when he was younger (Cyclops). In the comic book world, Mike is probably best known for his 73-issue stint writing X-Men, but his hit last novel, The Girl With All The Gifts, brought him to a wider audience. And with the film adaptation of Gifts coming out in September, that audience will no doubt become wider still. He revealed his satisfaction with the process of making the film, and explained how he worked closely with director Colm McCarthy in adapting his book. He said he had seen the film four times and “loves” it. In a bit of a sneak preview, he said that while he won’t do a sequel, there may be plans afoot for a novel exploring that world further… Mike was also asked if there would be a sixth book in his Felix Castor series anytime soon. He replied that he would like to write it – the last one appeared in 2009 – but suggested he may have to self-publish it. This was the second time I have seen Mike speak, and he’s a quietly-spoken, likeable and self-effacing guy. I look forward to reading Fellside soon.
On Thursday night I was at Bristol Hippodrome to see Bill Bailey‘s latest show, Limboland. I saw Bill last time he was touring and he instantly became one of my favourite comedians. His new show cemented that position – it was another two-hours of brilliance. I laughed pretty much all the way through and on several occasions had to wipe away tears. As usual, it was a mix of funny stories, audience interaction and very clever musical interludes. I’m not sure anyone there will ever forget his death metal version of The Wurzels’ Combine Harvester. There was also a revamped version of Happy Birthday and a country-and-western homage, played on his Bible guitar. His hilarious experience attending a One Direction gig was a highlight, and there were other tales – an Arctic sleigh ride, a meeting with Paul McCartney – that were beautifully told. An absolute treat.
On Friday, I went to see two new art exhibits: Hollow at the Royal Fort Gardens and the cute, creative Briswool at the M Shed. Then on Saturday I made a short visit to Crimefest to listen to author Ian Rankin. The event began with Ian reading from the draft of Rather Be The Devil – the 21st John Rebus book, which will be published in November. He read the opening pages, but warned these would only be the first pages of the published novel if his wife approves. It revealed Rebus on a health kick (decaf coffee, giving up smoking) after being diagnosed with COPD – his wife had suggested Rebus needed to have an illness after years of an unhealthy lifestyle.
In conversation with Jake Kerridge, he discussed the challenges of coming up with things for Rebus to do given he is now retired from the police force (a situation which led MSP Helen Eadie to ask the Scottish Justice Minister if the retirement age for the police could be raised!). He doesn’t want to go down the private eye route. He said he could do prequels but this would take more research and would be slower to write. But it sounds like he will continue to clash with Edinburgh gang boss ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty for a while yet…
Ian made clear he only goes to the police when he has a question or a problem – he doesn’t want to become a friend to them as he wants the freedom to write about cops who are corrupt or occasional rule-breakers. He talked about Black and Blue – the eighth in the series – at length. It was inspired by James Ellory in that it was based on a real crime, but was also the real breakthrough for the series, ten years after it began. There was a lot of anger in the book, a reflection of events in his life at the time (his son being diagnosed with a rare genetic condition, living in France and struggling with the language), but he said it was good that writers can get that anger out in their books. He agreed with Jake that the books are more elegiac now, as both novellist and characters get older (Rebus has generally aged in ‘real time’ as the series has gone on).
There were some nice reminiscences about William McIlvanney, and a good story about Rebus being made a Hibs supporter for the TV series simply because actor Ken Stott was a Hearts fan. This was a really enjoyable event and, as I have only read the first of the Rebus novels, I am looking forward to getting stuck into the rest. It sounds like there’s a lot of fun to come…