Stewart

Writer, Editor and Founder of Planet-Thanet.com.
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Tony Bennett: Keeping The Music Playing

“If you study the masters – Picasso, Jack Benny, Fred Astaire – right up to the day they died, they were performing. If you are creative, you get busier as you get older.” So said the great Tony Bennett in 1999, at the age of seventy-two, when he had already had what could be fairly described as a good professional innings. Thirteen years later and not far off eighty-six, Bennett, “the world’s most boyish octogenarian”, is certainly busy and still has a schedule that would make even a busy twentysomething artist think: “Where the hell does he get his energy?”

Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Tony Bennett

Bennett has just released “Duets II: The Great Performances” on DVD. And what a selection of great performances it is! This is a visual companion to the CD that was released last year, “Duets II”, winning a Grammy and shooting straight to No.1 in the Billboard charts. Featuring collaborations with artists as diverse as Michael Buble (“Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”) and Aretha Franklin (“How Do You Keep The Music Playing”), this shows a singer who is equally at home with fellow legends from an earlier era and modern entertainers. He is also clearly comfortable duetting with singers whose voices are of different styles – how many other artists could sing with Andrea Bocelli (“Stranger in Paradise”), Lady Gaga (“The Lady is a Tramp”) , Mariah Carey (“When Do The Bells Ring for Me”) and John Mayer (“One for the Road”) and still stamp their own personality on each track? That’s testament to Bennett’s immense talent and sixty-plus years of recording – to give you an idea of the span of his career, he has performed for nine U.S. Presidents from Eisenhower to Obama.

The release also features a gorgeous “Body and Soul” with the late Amy Winehouse, whose early death (this was her final recording) makes listening to this particularly poignant. Their voices work together so brilliantly, too, and that alone is tear-jerking enough.

Bennett / LatifahParticularly beautiful from this collection of tracks is the rendition of “Who Can I Turn To?” which Bennett performs with Queen Latifah. The lush orchestral score and twinkling piano provide a bed as warm and smooth as a velvet hot water bottle for their voices – and a brief, ringing trumpet solo – to soar majestically over. (Incidentally, this is a track that my favourite jazz artist, the great Bill Evans, performed many times throughout his career, and this got me thinking about the excellent collaborations Evans did with Bennett in the mid-to-late 1970s. If you haven’t heard any of the tracks, here is a little taster for you.

If you want to see Tony Bennett perform – and, after seeing the tracks from this DVD, I’m sorely tempted myself! – then you’ll get the chance in a few months, because he’s coming to the UK for a tour!  He’s playing six dates in England and Scotland in June and July, bringing his unique vocal style to London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester.

Tony Bennett’s “Duets II: The Great Performances” is available now.

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The Rail Users’ Uprising

Travelling by train can be wonderful or unbearable.

I do it every day, long and short journeys, for work and leisure, and a couple of months ago, the monthly season ticket just for my daily commute increased by 7.5%. Thank Christ I don’t live too far from work! I am so annoyed about this that I’m on the brink of turning into Michael Douglas in “Falling Down” so I can only imagine the level of resentment that my fellow commuters living further out of town must feel.Train on track.  Photo: IBBoard

The service provided by our rail companies – across the board – falls short of an acceptable standard, with sub-categories ranging from “could do better” to “surely you’re taking the piss?”

Now, I hear, there are proposals to increase peak time fares and close ticket offices.

  • Charge even more for a service not fit for purpose and cut jobs as well? Nice one, Justine Greening. That was well considered, wasn’t it?
  • Commission a report by some aviation fat cat with a knighthood? Check.
  • Report concludes that inefficiencies on the network cost Muggins the Train User AND Muggins the Subsidiser, of whom there are several million, a staggering amount of dosh.  (Insert a pithy phrase about a pipe-smoking chap who was rather good at solving crimes.)
  • Wait almost ten months to announce your response to the report? Oh yes. (Doubtless bricking it because your so-called “government” is so out of touch that even the unelected and over-privileged think you’re going too far with everything you attempt.)
  • Tackle the immense problem by increasing fares, thus metaphorically kicking in the teeth (and literally taking money out of the bank account) of the very people your government is supposed to be interested in keeping on side? Why the hell not!

The Tories are in power (and so are the Lib Dems, to a certain extent – but sadly, we can’t tell the difference, so let’s call them Tories, too) so we can’t expect policy geared to encouraging the use of trains. This party doesn’t give a damn about the environment and cares even less about the people paying its MPs’ wages (well, what’s a taxpayer-funded salary when you’re already rolling in money?). They’re not going to invest in the railway system. It’s Beeching v2.0 – completely unsurprising from the party that stands for the individual, the car, the choked motorway and the creation of more wealth for the already loaded few.

I have a proposal to increase the efficiency of the rail system. They’re punishing us for…well, nothing. Why not punish them in return? After all, we have reason enough. My fellow rail users, it’s time to fight back.  Here are my suggestions.

  1. Refuse to show your ticket to the ticket-checkers if;

a) The train you have travelled on is late
b) There is no space to sit or stand – without having to come into contact with a fellow passenger – in the usual standing areas in the carriage
c) The train is at peak time on a major route and there are fewer than four carriages.

2)      If conditions a), b) or c) are present, demand a refund, either partial or full.

a) if you are late for work
b) if you are late for any other appointment
c) because you have paid for a service that was not provided properly.

3)      If you incur any additional costs, send the rail company the bill. For example:

a) If your wages are docked because you were late for work
b) If you miss out on a deal (e.g. restaurant) because you arrived too late.

4)      If you are charged an increased fare or a penalty fare on a train because you did not buy a ticket before the journey, refuse to pay. Point out to the ticket inspector that you did not “choose” to walk past a ticket office before boarding the train; rather:

a) You arrived at the station with sufficient time to spare but there was a queue
b) You arrived at the station with hardly any time but you intended to pay.

Either of the above is a valid reason. You have a life that changes – sometimes, you have to go somewhere at short notice. They’re providing a service that should accommodate the needs of the passenger.

Then go on to point out that:

  1. They have the technology to process payments in their hand, so what’s the difference?
  2. You refuse to pay extra for the same journey – this is extortion, plain and simple

If Greening’s plans go ahead, tell them:

  1. There wasn’t a ticket office open – there are no ticket offices now, remember?
  2. You will only buy a ticket from a shop or post office if the ticket office is reinstated as well – it’s all about consumer choice, these days, right?

If we all did the above, then the traToy trains on a wooden track.  Photo: Carniculain companies would have to provide a decent service, more people would want to use the trains and they would be far less resentful about paying the already high prices. This bunch of heartless fools in power would have to realise that the public are not just willing to protest against them and everything they stand for, but are also willing to claw back their hard-earned cash. They would be forced to invest in the rail network so that companies could provide trains with carriages that were sufficient in number and sufficiently clean. They would be forced to limit the prices that the rail companies would charge. In short, they would be forced to stop having a bloody good laugh at us.

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