Books: Flashback to two years ago, when I mentioned that I'd just attended a book reading by veteran funnyman John Dowie. The book he was reading from was still a work in progress, and the gig was primarily promoting the crowdfunding campaign for its publication. Well, good news: The Freewheeling John Dowie is now written, published and available for you to buy. Dowie has fallen in and out of love with performing over the years, but his love of cycling has stayed constant throughout. So this is a memoir which uses his long-haul bike journeys as a framework on which to hang stories from his life as a performer. It's a structure that allows him to ramble, make unexpected detours and double back on himself, so it takes you a while to discover that the book divides roughly into two halves. In the early part, most of Dowie's stories are based around his sense of adventure and his delight with the people he meets: but from the death of his father onwards he becomes much more cynical and embittered, and frankly less interesting. (Memo to all men over 50 in the media: just complaining about stuff isn't automatically funny.) Thankfully, the chronology is juggled so that the book ends with his happier mid-career switch into playwriting, which leads me to suspect that Dowie's got a healthy degree of self-awareness. After all, he admits that mining material from personal tragedy has become one of those stages that all modern stand-ups go through, and he does so with the book's characteristic combination of brutal honesty and flawless comic timing. "There are, I would imagine, further Stages of Stand-Up that the current generation of comedians has so far failed to reach. But if one day you're leafing through the programme for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and come across a show with a title such as My Colostomy Bag and Me, you'll know that one of them has got there. My money's on Stewart Lee."
Music: Flashback to one year ago, when The Belated Birthday Girl and I were in Japan, and saw a Takashi Miike film there as we usually do. (Now available from wherever you usually buy DVDs.) The end title theme by Japanese guitarist Miyavi intrigued me, and I ended up buying his greatest hits album off the back of that. There were enough decent tunes on that compilation to make me sufficiently curious to check him out when he announced a live show at the University of London Union. But at £35 a ticket for a student gig featuring an artist almost entirely unknown outside Japan, who else was going to be there? And the answer was, several hundred incredibly noisy and up-for-it fans who'd obviously been following Miyavi for a lot longer than I had. As a guitarist, he's got a couple of basic tricks he falls back on: riffs using a slap style more commonly associated with Seinfeld-era bass guitar, and solos which eschew any note lower than the twelfth fret. For a show that's largely pre-recorded (apart from a live drummer, two backing vocalists and Miyavi's own contributions), it's a surprisingly great live experience, and that's all down to Miyavi himself: working every inch of the tiny stage like he's playing a football stadium, and pulling off all the rock god poses with just the right amount of tongue in cheek. The mixture of industrial noise and catchy tunes works brilliantly on songs like Long Nights, and apologies if that hook stays in your head for the next five years once you've heard it.
Theatre: Flashback to four years ago, when I wrote briefly about Max Richter's 'recomposition' of The Four Seasons, which took Vivaldi's original and produced a series of minimalist variations on its main themes. Just to confuse matters even further, that recomposition recently underwent a reimagining of its own at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. The Four Seasons: A Reimagining strips Richter's orchestral piece down to an ensemble of six, and uses it as the jumping-off point for Gyre & Gimble's bunraku-inspired puppetry. You couldn't really say there was a story in there, more of a series of vignettes vaguely covering the whole circle of life (it's not giving too much away to say that in this version, there's a thirteenth movement to The Four Seasons that's very similar to the first). It's probably closer to ballet than anything else, leaving a lot of narrative interpretation to the viewer. The intimate candlelit space of the Wanamaker has certain disadvantages, mainly that every seat apart from the most expensive ones has a restricted view to some degree or other. But there's enough of the gloriously fluid puppetry visible to make it worth your while, and if all else fails you can always watch the musicians up in the balcony.
And staying with Scandinavia and its environs, the plan for this month is to get Nordic Expedition II documented for you. As I mentioned this time last month, we spent a week and a bit over Easter doing another jaunt around multiple Nordic countries. I know I said I'd be writing about that in April, but there was a whole other lump of travel that got in the way of that, which you'll probably get to hear about in June. Let's say for now that all of May's posts will be focussed on the Easter holiday, and see how closely I can stick to that as a plan. Feel free to heckle in the comments below if I don't.