Friday Arts Diary | 8 November 2013

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.


World Press Photo 2013

Friday 8th November – Tuesday 26th November

Southbank Centre, Royal Festival Hall

This year’s World Press Photo winners capture a world in jarring transition, at scales ranging from the intimate to the industrial. The winner of the Spot News category may well become an enduring image of the Israeli-Palestine conflict; ‘Gaza Burial’, taken by Swedish photojournalist Paul Hansen, depicts the chilling scene of two dead toddlers, killed by an Israeli airstrike, being carried by their weeping uncles to a mosque, down a hazy, narrow alleyway.



I'm Sorry I Haven’t a Clue

Monday 11th November, BBC Radio 4, 6:30pm

Series 60, Episode 1

The preeminent and completely silly Radio 4 panel show – or, as it calls itself, the ‘antidote to panel shows’ – started in April 1972, and it shows no sign of slowing as it begins its diamond jubilee run. Prepare for the usual surreal, witty musical diversions from Barry Cryer, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor, joined by guest panelist John Finnemore. Jack Dee morosely chairs the affair, and Colin Sell ties the whole thing together at the piano. As the wonderful Humphrey Lyttleton once ended a round: ‘All good things must come to an end, so let's carry on.’
Recorded at the Playhouse Theatre in Weston-super-Mare.


Music Festival

London Jazz Festival

Friday 15th November- Sunday 24th November

Various venues around London

This year marks the 21st birthday of London’s biggest city-wide music festival. All grown-up, the festival is now spread across ten days, and takes in an extraordinary range of live music played in venues of all varieties, from Snarky Puppy’s slot at Shoreditch’s red-bricked Village Underground to the soulful voice of Natalie Williams playing the once-smoky, still-venerated stage of Ronnie Scott’s in Soho.




Released: Friday 8th November, 2013

Critics and audiences are falling for Alfonso Cuarón’s latest effort, which has just broken the all-time box-office record for an October release, grossing over £250m, and has so far earned a meta-rating of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Gravity stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as greenhorn medical engineer and grizzled astronaut forced to work together after a straightforward shuttle mission goes drastically wrong.

Or, if sci-fi isn’t your thing, and you’re in London on Monday 11 November, you can head down to Leicester Square to try and catch a glimpse of Jennifer Lawrence at the premiere of the new Hunger Games film, Catching Fire.



Stewart Lee: Much a-Stew About Nothing

Leicester Square Theatre

4th – 30th November, 7:15pm (Mon to Sat), 4pm (Sat)

Tickets £17.50 (Mon to Thu), £20.50 (Fri & Sat)

The dry, sardonic and obnoxiously meta comedian - once proudly ranked the 41st  best stand-up of all time, and made infamous after penning ‘Jerry Springer: The Opera’ - will be in residence at the Leicester Square Theatre this month, presenting ‘a mixed bag of unrelated ideas, read off of some crumpled bits of paper’ in preparation for his new TV series in 2014.  If jokes about William Blake and 20-minute Beckettian digressions about a man made of carpet remnants sound like your kind of show, grab a ticket now, as it’s likely to sell out fast.

Paul Hansen accepts his World Press Photo award (Getty Images/Robin Utrecht)
Show Hide image

Pete Burns: too abrasive to be a national treasure, his talent made him immortal

The musician's vulnerability and acute individualism made him hard to pigeonhole but ensured endless media fascination.

When Dead Or Alive's “You Spin Me Round” was number one in 1985, the singer Pete Burns found himself trapped in a limousine by screaming schoolgirls. It's a common enough occurrence — overnight success, autograph hunters, fans wanting a piece of you — but in this case Burns was in his hometown of Liverpool and the schoolgirls were screaming “We’re going to kill you, you fat poof!” From the moment Burns hit the public eye, his untethered wit and unapologetic appearance had the ability to inspire, inflame, and get under society's skin.

In 1985, freshly famous, Burns was already a familiar face about town. Liverpool's centre is compact, and he traversed it every day in the early Eighties to work in Probe Records, the city's equivalent to Rough Trade. Behind the counter, working alongside possibly the most caustic shop assistants in the country, Burns was the most approachable. His demeanour was something quite different, though – hair teased up into a dark lion's mane, a cloak dragging behind him decorated with bells that jangled ominously whenever he moved (he could be audible streets away), and black contact lenses for added horror. 

He looked like a star in waiting, but was in the shadow of Liverpool's Crucial Three: Ian McCulloch, Julian Cope and Pete Wylie. The relentless electro pulse of “You Spin Me Round” was light years away from the first Dead Or Alive single in 1981, an extraordinary slice of neo-psychedelia called “Flowers”, on which Burns' booming, vibrato-loaded voice seemed to be urging us to travel on a gothic time-travelling galleon back to San Francisco: “What's wrong with this world?” he roared, over shrill organ and sheets of echoed guitar. Liverpool's brief but iridescent pop revival at the turn of the Eighties – a dark strain of melodicism that linked Echo & the Bunnymen, the Teardrop Explodes, Wah! Heat and early Dead Or Alive — would later be succinctly demystified by Burns: everybody took acid, they all pretended they were living on the West Coast in 1967 rather than Toxteth in 1980, and they all listened to the Doors.

By the time “You Spin Me Round” hit number one in March '85, Burns' acid tongue and working class glamour were a necessary corrective to a year which would make stars of such catastrophically dull acts as the pop duo Go West. He was just what the media wanted after Boy George acquired a destructive heroin habit and fell from grace.

Neither was ever likely to happen to Pete Burns. He felt uncomfortable around anyone out of control on booze or drugs as it reminded him of his upbringing. His mother had escaped Nazi Germany, married a Scottish soldier, and settled in Liverpool. She became a depressive alcoholic after discovering what had happened to her Jewish family during the Holocaust in Germany. Burns made several suicide attempts, he said, to keep her focused and alive.

This vulnerability was combined in childhood with an acute individualism. He wore an American Indian headdress to primary school one day and refused to take it off. He fought compromise and conformity at every turn, and didn't care a hoot if schoolgirls called him a “fat poof”. He was never off, not even for a tea break; he was Pete Burns, full time. A friend of mine recalls being in the queue for a Liverpool club called the System in 1982 — Burns passed him, pulling full-on dance moves when he was only halfway down the steps, which led directly onto the dancefloor — he hadn't even paused to say hello to anyone.

As a pop star, Burns clearly couldn't give a shit, and wouldn't play ball with radio, record companies or the press. Fame didn't tighten his tongue, though it did allow him to be outrageous on a heightened level. After Haircut 100's Nick Heyward gave Dead Or Alive a pasting in a Melody Maker, the group burst into a toilet cubicle and sprayed Heyward with five fire extinguishers. On tour in America, Burns called his press officer's house at 3am in the morning, screaming “I need a plug! A rubber plug! For this fucking bath!” The upshot of the conversation was that Burns had never seen a bath plug operated by a plunger rod.

Pop stardom in Britain, then, was brief. The PWL team that gave him “You Spin Me Round” (their first number one, and unarguably their best) quickly cooled on him, following it with lukewarm soundalikes – only the luxuriant “In Too Deep” came close to matching its fire. Dead Or Alive's next truly great record wouldn't be until 1988 with “Turn Around And Count 2 Ten”, another poppers-at-the-ready electro-blitz which only reached number 70 in the UK but made him a superstar in Japan.

Burns' vulnerability later resurfaced in endless, much documented plastic surgery – he said that the only part of his body that hadn't had work were the soles of his feet. He was always too abrasive to become a national treasure, but he must have known that “You Spin Me Round” had effectively made him immortal — uncoverable, perfect, a saturated record on which it is impossible to add anything. It's so euphoric, so very full of life.


Reflections on Pete Burns:

Gary Kemp, musician and actor

"Pete was one of a triumvirate of cross-dressed boy stars, brought up on a diet of glam rock, who stormed the barricades of macho rock in the Eighties. He also created one of the best white dance records of all time."


Julian Cope, musician and author

"In a sense I’m relieved for him, he was in such pain and was never happy with how he looked… there was something so inevitable about his death, but it’s important that he’s remembered as a truly significant cross-cultural figure

I think the gender fluidity that exists today is really fucking useful — if Pete had become famous now he would have been fine… he was a pioneer. I think he had hero qualities.

He knew so much about music, especially underground stuff, but when other people were around he would revert to his thick babe persona. He wanted to appear superficial, but he was no more superficial than [Andy] Warhol. He was a deep mother fucker.

Pete was forced in a novelty direction by the time he lived in. He demanded that the rest of the world look at, not away from, people who were different.

Pete tried to live in freedom and at least where’s gone to he will find peace."


Bob Stanley is a writer and a member of the pop group Saint Etienne. His book, Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop is published by Faber & Faber.