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Tuesday, 24 May 2016


The Dangerous Harpist
Ursula Burns

Before I listened to this album, if you’d asked me in a word association game to respond to “harp”, I would have said Mary O’Hara, Harpo Marx, lager and that dreamy music in films that introduces a wobbly screen flashback. That’s it. Have I won a major prize? And then I became aware of Ursula Burns via social media and I was sent a copy of her new CD. So, I put it on and waited for a nice, wee afternoon of plinkety-plonk, easy listening music to snooze by. Well, that didn’t happen. Far from it.

This is an album of soundscapes, of mini works of art, of enticing songs and incredible vocals that sometimes glide along beautifully whilst at others launches attacks with thunderous, epic arrangements. The first couple of times I listened to it at a respectable neighbour-friendly volume and then I thought to hell with it and turned it up to max. What a difference that made. 

On the first listens, I noticed a preference to repeat lyrics and I thought that might be a hindrance to enjoying the album but actually it works perfectly, helping to underline great rhythms and to embed songs in the memory, a neat trick that has paid off.

I know comparisons are unnecessary and potentially unhelpful but I feel I must mention a few. Every now and then I was getting Stevie Nicks or Kate Bush or Lynsey de Paul but most of all I was getting the unique Ursula Burns, a performer not afraid to take risks. But what else is a dangerous harpist for? At times the songs are enchanting, the voice acrobatic in its rollercoaster lilts, in its sultriness, its drama, its vulnerability, its sense of fun, its emotion, its honesty, depending on the intentions of the songs. The musical arrangements and production quality are outstanding.

I liked the gentle Wifi Lullaby, the powerhouse percussion of Comedian, a song about the angst involved in making people laugh for a living, 365 Random Days, Spell Of Cold Weather and Crying In The Portaloo to select a few from an album that takes you on several magical mystery tours. It is a beautiful journey, bonkers at times, but it works perfectly.

So, sorry Mary and Harpo, (the lager stays put!), you might still be on the podium but the top step is now occupied by Ursula Burns who has made the harp rock. I have not heard anything quite like this album before. It is full of surprises, twists and turns, changes of direction and a list of ingredients that shouldn’t work as well as they do. It is clever, imaginative and brave. It might take you time to warm to it but give it time and plenty of plays and it will pay off handsomely. Once you get it, you’ll not regret it.

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Every few years, we enter that "who will be the next James Bond?" season and out of the woodwork comes varying degrees of claptrap about some politically correct factor in choosing the next actor.

Should James Bond be black, female, gay, short, fat, ugly, bald and on and on and on?

My answer is a resounding NO!

Ian Fleming created the Bond character as a particular type - here's a link to a rather good website that explains the origins of the character - http://spywhothrills.com/jamesbondcharacter

In the 1960s, we had The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and then The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.  not the girl cancelling out the man.

We had Batman and then Batgirl, again, not the girl cancelling out the man.

So we can have James Bond as written and we can also have other Bonds to satisfy the PC brigade who want every box ticked to ensure we don't upset anyone. It is possible to create new characters based on whatever you think would make everyone happy - Idris Bond, Jane Bond, Shorty Bond, Tubby Bond, Brynner Bond, whatever takes your fancy.

But in the end, does it really matter? Bond films are not exactly taxing in the acting skills department, except in delivering witty one liners, looking anxious at end-of-the-world moments and cool in the duvet scenes. The plots aren't even that important. It's the entertainment value and the action that counts. Bond could be played by a robot and we'd still enjoy the hokum.

As cinemagoers, we get over things quite quickly. We got over the change of actors from Connery to Craig and we'll get used to whoever takes on the role next.

For some reason Doctor Who has crossed my mind. Now that is a character that changes in weird, wobbly screen moments every so often and is ripe for an actor/actress who is black, female, gay, short, fat, ugly, bald............

But hands off Bond as written