ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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MUCH TO my surprise, I find myself liking grunge. Not the fashion - my jeans remain doggedly unflared - but the music. There comes a time when a man has heard as many polite pop-soul bands as he can take, and that's the time for grunge - loud, dirty, but not just loud and dirty: tuneful too, at its best. So I hurried off to see the film Singles. As well as grunge, it has Bridget Fonda, acres of good reviews, and a writer-director (Cameron Crowe) who used to work for Rolling Stone.

It's unwise to expect an accurate picture of musical subcultures from the cinema - how sad to have been too rigid a disco-purist to appreciate the greatness of Saturday Night Fever. And grunge is in the eye of the beholder. But we can be fairly sure that nice apartments, dating, and well-paid jobs saving the environment were never meant to be a part of it. The film makes Peter's Friends look like a gritty portrait of young people living on the edge. The critical consensus is that Singles is 'sweet': the word I'd use is sickly. I emerged yawning, blinking and in need of a breath of fresh negativity.

THE CAMPAIGN'S holiday has been interrupted again. We have a new supporter: Sir Simon Hornby, chairman of W H Smith, Britain's biggest record-seller - it also owns Our Price and half of Virgin. Announcing the company's half-yearly results, Hornby noted that the music division had not done well: Our Price's profits were down 20 per cent. The reason? 'CD prices remain too high. It is a barrier to sales.' Spot on, Sir Simon] And what is he doing about it? Er - urging the manufacturers to cut prices. And what are they saying? Er - that it's up to the shops to cut prices. The Campaign continues.

MIXED TIDINGS from the South Bank. The good news is the Festival Hall is going to put on fewer of those classical concerts in which, as Nicholas Snowman puts it, 'orchestras churn out more and more of the same things', while attendances drop (current average: 60 per cent of capacity). The bad news is there will be more rock and jazz concerts. The Festival Hall is a dismal venue for popular music. I saw Ray Charles there a few years ago, and it almost defeated him. The acoustics are built for unamplified sound: electric instruments come out blurred and blotchy. And then there's the atmosphere: the place would be unforgivably sterile if it were a Scandinavian customs-hall. Use it for stand-up comedy, prayer meetings, charity balls - anything but rock'n'roll.

THERE IS little to be said about Bram Stoker's Dracula that has not been said already. However, there is one thing. Gary Oldman, in the second of his three incarnations, strongly reminded me of someone. The powdered face, the built-in tiara of white hair, so generously lacquered that it could break at any moment . . .of course: it's Mrs Betty Kenward, that doyenne of my trade who until recently was the serenely eccentric author of Jennifer's Diary. Could they be, by any chance, related?

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