ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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The Independent Culture
WHICH BAND or singer is the most lovingly tended sacred cow in rock history. The Beatles? Too widely loved to have much appeal for any anal retentive worth the name. Bob Dylan? Possibly, but even die-hard fans found his Jehovah's Witness phase hard to take. I would put my money on the lesser known Velvet Underground. Formed in 1965 under the patronage of Andy Warhol, The Velvets produced some of the most innovative and exciting music ever made - no wonder so few people liked them at the time - and split up quickly to safeguard their status as rock legends. Their 'classic' line-up of Lou Reed, Stirling Morrison, Maureen Tucker and John Cale lasted less than four years and produced just three studio albums. But despite the fluctuations in the careers of individual band members in the intervening years, their collective stock has never been higher. Different factions have played together - Reed and Cale were reunited on 1991's Songs for Drella, a tribute to Andy Warhol, and Tucker and Morrison toured Britain last year. Now, for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, they're going to play together as a group again (see Going Out, page 78, for dates). The touts will be pleased, but the purists will have their doubts - it's certainly hard to imagine a less appropriate venue than Wembley Arena. I think it can only be a good thing - reverence and the avant-garde were never meant to go together. And if the reformed Velvet Underground are great then everyone can go home happy. Better still, if they are awful - a distinct possibility - then perhaps the pasty faced legions of copycat indie bands will finally be forced to think of something better to do.

SETTLING down to Kiss of the Spider Woman at the Shaftesbury last week, I was surprised to see that all the members of the next row were dressed in tracksuits. A discreet interval inquiry revealed them to be Sheffield United, up for the Wembley FA Cup semi-final. The choice of play seemed odd. You could understand them avoiding The Woman in Black: no footballer's going to spend his night off at a play about a woman referee. Or, The Deep Blue Sea: too reminiscent of the colours of their opponents' shirts. But wouldn't a more apt choice have been The Game of Love and Chance, by Motson, sorry, Marivaux? Or, given United's up-and-at-'em style, Blood Brothers. In fairness, the lads lapped up Kiss's prison fable of political repression and cross-dressing - maybe the difficult cell-mate syndrome was familiar from rooming on away trips. It can't have been hard to find a suitable post-match entertainment. A group booking for The Crying Game?

FURTHER EVIDENCE of mutiny in the ranks of those who would have us believe that CDs are fairly priced: anonymous marketing men from the chainstores have been seething to Music Week about the treachery of one of their number in cutting CD prices. The object of vitriol is Woolworth, whose current 'Street Value' promotion knocks, um, a quid off the Top 50 albums. A tiny gesture, but the chain's rivals are outraged: one critic fumes, 'If the net effect is to lower retail margins that's dreadful, absolutely appalling'; another prophesises a 'price bloodbath among retailers'. I cannot be alone in thinking that this could only be good news for the poor, beleaguered punter. Whether the Woolworth's promotion provokes more than cross words from its rivals remains to be seen, but we live in hope. In the meantime, don't pay full price if you can help it.