Arts and Entertainment

A music documentary that oozes irritating smugness

Leading Article: Ermine, pray, for Bragg, Bragg and Follett

THE LATEST Labour Party nominees to the House of Lords, officially announced tomorrow, are a worthy enough trio. But the appointments of a former MP, a county councillor and a trade unionist are a touch unimaginative. The list, drawn up while Margaret Beckett was acting leader, highlights a lack of diversity in the party's ranks that Tony Blair will need to address. Why are there no business people or representatives of the arts among the favoured group? Where are the recruits equipped to give first-hand accounts of life closer to Britain's grass-roots to a chamber of predominantly elderly, wealthy men?

POP MUSIC / Centrefold: Freak Show: Almodovars droogs turn out in force for Kika bash

When Billy Bragg guested on The Late Show to review Pedro Almodvar's High Heels, the Red Wedger got hot under his blue collar over the movie's 'non-consensual sex. He should catch Kika, Almodvar's latest fruity schlock-shocker opening on Friday. Despite (or because of) being slammed, bammed and thank-you-ma'amed by critics who took umbrage with its frivolous treatment of rape, it's soaked up dollars 300,000 over three weeks in Spain. Until Kika, the precocious director (right) was pet urchin of the critical fraternity. Pauline Kael described him as 'the most original pop writer-director of the Eighties. . . Godard with a human face - a happy face, and indeed, he has the look of a latino teddy-bear, golf-ball eyes popping from a Yorkshire- pudding face. He also introduced Antonio Banderas to the world, and to Madonna, at the Fellini-esque party he threw for the Vogueing One.

TELEVISION / Down, out and deprived of redemption

'SAFE', last night's Screenplay (BBC 1), was the most sustained passage of misery to cross our screens for many years. It was like getting into a fight with a drunk: a bruising, frightening scuffle that moved too fast and wouldn't stop for explanations or defence; and when it finished and Billy Bragg's doleful ballad sent you packing with a flea in your ear the best you could manage was to let your breath out in a long, exhausted sigh. It was simply horrible, and there were no consolations.

MUSIC / Playing to the gallery: David Bedford was banned because he would keep bringing the audience into it. Mark Pappenheim reports

IT WAS all a mistake, apparently. When David Bedford was asked to contribute to Pierre Boulez's pioneering series of Roundhouse Proms back in those heady hippy days of 1972, he quite clearly understood that audience participation was to be the order of the day. So he wrote a piece, With 100 Kazoos, in which the audience, or at least the first 100 people, would be split up into male and female sections, each given a kazoo and a book of graphic notation, and drafted in to buzz along at key moments with the instrumental ensemble.

LYRICS / Bleeding between the lines: This month the South Bank takes a close and sceptical look at the art of fitting words to music. Kevin Jackson reports

Paul Simon is incompetent. Suzanne Vega is, if anything, worse. Michelle Shocked is not interesting. And as for the maudlin, maundering self- indulgences of that tedious old rambler Leonard Cohen, well, frankly . . . If such scathing dismissals provoke outrage in your breast, then protest not to these pages but to a heretic by the name of Leon Rosselson, to whom these scornful opinions belong. The thing which really gets his goat, though, is the attitude of the British press to the art of song: they just don't treat it with enough respect.

ROCK / Billy Bragg's new year revolution: Jim White sees Barking's Mr Reasonable play the Hackney Empire

BILLY Bragg's New Year's Eve concerts at the Hackney Empire have become such an institution that, rather like the festive season itself, they have stretched to accommodate most of December. And, like the other seasonal staple of the East End's last working Victorian music hall - the panto - the audience for Tuesday night's opener knew much of what to expect from the evening. Much, but not all.

RECORDS / Suzanne Vega - 99.9F (A&M 5400121)

The high priestess of Eighties New York loft-angst redefines herself in the nick of time with a surprisingly outgoing and jolly fourth album. The worldwide success of DNA's disco remix of Vega's a cappella 'Tom's Diner' seems to have opened her ears to new musical possibilities. Much as with Billy Bragg's Don't Try This At Home last year, the familiar tones of an established singer/songwriter are actually brightened and clarified by a bit of instrumental clutter. The old insipid tendency now and then raises its ugly head, particularly on the single 'In Liverpool', but mostly, from the zippy opening 'Rock In This Pocket' to the barbed 'As Girls Go', this is surprisingly spirited stuff. The presence of some other noises - a bit of bass, and even the odd drum - makes the plain old voice and guitar pattern more effective when it does resurface, particularly on the 'Private Goes Public', which is very nearly hard-hitting.
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