Friday, 8 August 2014

Monty Python Live (a 20th Century Vole Production)

"Meep!"
A once-in-a-lifetime experience x 4

How quickly the eight months passed from the day the Monty Python Live shows were announced last November to the first show on 1st July! With a little help from my friends, I ended up seeing it four times, and that included the first night and the grand farewell finale on 20th July.

Back in November on the day the tickets went on sale, I did 6 live radio interviews including The Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2. And on 1st July, in addition to being on two more live radio shows, I was interviewed by the Belgian equivalent of the 9 o'clock TV News: VRT Nieuws.

Monty Python fan John Wood on Belgian TV
Me, mid interview, on Belgian telly! Click the image to watch the interview. Click here to see behind-the-scenes photos of the film crew in my home: https://it.thislife.com/KHXVD2t4

So the day of the first show had finally arrived. In the courtyard at the entrance of the O2 Arena, there was a whole lot of silliness going on. 

Click the image to see more Python Live Silliness photos, including some of Python devotee Emma Thompson and her family!
Just before the show, by chance, I bumped into my old chum André Jacquemin of Redwood Studios (who features heavily in previous posts in this blog), and Sonia Jones who sang the theme tune to Life of Brian. They were just having a breather before curtain up. André, Python's sound engineer since day one, was doing the sound for the show and Sonia was part of the choir and she also played Mrs Betty Teale on VT. It was wonderful to meet her!

Sonia Jones, John Wood and André Jacquemin
And so, I was lucky enough to see the show four times, and all wonderful it was too, although I definitely prefer Lark's vomit to Mouse poo (I'm a purist) and I'm so used to seeing 20-something year old faces doing those sketches. But it's 2014... what did I expect? I was very pleased that so much of the older material was included, as the closest I had previously got to seeing a live Python show was the Secret Policeman's Biggest Ball in 1989. I really loved the new stuff too; essentially the huge dance numbers and notably, the Vagina Song and the Bottom Song.

 Monty Python Live shows (4 nights)
Click the image above for a selection of photos I took of the four performances 
Along the way, I was also lucky enough to get some shots of me with a host of Python-related celebs: 

With Terry Jones' wife Anna Soderstrom
With Polly Parrot, the Norwegian Blue
With John Du Prez, the show's conductor, who composed the score for Monty Python's The Meaning of Life and is the co-author (with Eric Idle) of the music for Monty Python's Spamalot.
With Graham McDuff who has played both Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad in Spamalot. We first met at the stage door of the Palace Theatre in 2007 and have met at many a Spamalot stage door since.

With Alan Yentob who recently presented the insightful BBC documentary Monty Python: And Now For Something Rather Similar
Over the four nights, I also met up with many Python fans, some for the first time in "real life", two of whom flew all the way from LA just to see the show! That's Professor Molly Lavik who is currently writing a very interesting book (much more on that later), and the up-and-coming actress BreAnna "Bo" Chérie Wittman who is one of the Monty Pythong players. It was so good to meet them both! There was also Sally Western, Chris Butcher, Gemma Harris, Jonathan Gash, Lee Blazer, James Gent (who's also writing a very interesting book) and Hanna Anevik. What a happy bunch we made!

 With Andre & Jamie Lisa Jacqueman
André Jacquemin and his daughter Jamie Lisa (one of the singers) kindly joined us after the show. Click the image above to see more photos. 
 Monty Python fan friends
Gemma Harris, Jonathan Gash and Lee Blazer. Click the image above to see more photos of my Monty Python fan friends
The most memorable night was, of course, the last ever show. It was actually quite a sad moment when Eric Idle, during the encore just before Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, asked the audience to join in to bid them farewell... and then seeing them walk off stage for the very last time. But it's not the end of Python as we know it, because the DVD of the show is coming out in November, and they are bound to release other spin-offs such as books and albums. And there is now at last, a Monty Python online store! Then there's Spamalot which is going on tour from January 2015. And next year also sees the 40th anniversary of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. So it's only Monty Python live which has gone to meet its maker; there's loads more to look forward to!

To conclude, Eric Idle did an incredible job putting the show together - it was a massive hit! And what a treat it was for me! The very thing I've been passionate about for 40 years is suddenly on stage at full blast right in front of me, and it's the talk of the town, not just in London but all over the world due to the live global broadcast of the last show. Pure indulgence. 

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Friends' reunion and memorial for my brother Nick at Old Thorns

On Feb 1st of this year, my brother Nick, aged 59, sadly passed away. His funeral was held in Munich where he had been living since 1980. Consequently, his friends from the 1960s and 70s were not able to be there to say their goodbyes, so we held a Memorial for him (which doubled up as a 30-40 year friends' reunion) on June 17th.

It was wonderful to see everyone again and hear the fond memories they have of Nick.

That's my mother Pat, my brother Steve and me in the centre (directly behind Tony who's kneeling)
The occasion took place in the Kenwood Suite (by coincidence and not by design!) at Old Thorns, our former family home, now a thriving golf hotel and country estate in Liphook, Hampshire. It's the perfect wedding venue and is so huge now, that it can hold two weddings at the same time! Funnily enough, Old Thorns was where Nick Berney and his bride Angie held their wedding reception back in 1979!

28 July 1979 - the first ever wedding reception at Old Thorns?

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

2 Days of Solid Rock! Download Festival & Golden Gods Awards 2014

Alter Bridge after their amazing performance at Download (photo credit: PG Brunelli)
I went to Download Festival 2014 and saw Alter Bridge and Aerosmith - what a show! And hung out with Alter Bridge and Steel Panther backstage. The friends I took with me shouted "I love you" to Steve Tyler as he drove right past us in his chauffeur-driven car, seconds after coming off stage and he replied "Love you more!" What a mind-blowing day! Here are my photos: http://ow.ly/ycep6 

The O2 in London
Then, the following day, I went to Metal Hammer's Golden Gods Awards Show at the O2 where I met Dave Prowse who played Darth Vader in Star Wars and Paul Geary, original drummer of Extreme. The show was hosted by Steel Panther who were outrageous and hilarious (obviously), and the bands I saw perform included Black Stone Cherry, Beowülf and Dillinger Escape Plan, and the rock legends who received or presented awards included Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Myles Kennedy & Mark Tremonti of Alter Bridge, Michael Munroe and Michael Shenker. It was an unforgettable night! Here are my photos: https://it.thislife.com/Ts9GaQ1t

My Golden Gods 2014 wristband

Friday, 6 June 2014

Preview of "Night Will Fall"


Yesterday, I was invited to a preview (the first-ever public screening) of the feature-length documentary "Night Will Fall" at the BFI Southbank. The audience comprised those involved with the making of the film. My father, Leonard Berney, appears on screen many times, giving his account of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen.

The film is really quite harrowing and it doesn't pull any punches at all. It gets across in graphic detail what it was like to witness the horrors at the aftermath of the Nazi concentration camps, close up. Just watching it on film was difficult enough, so to have actually been there; to have seen it and smelled it first hand is an experience that is difficult to imagine. 

When the credits had finished rolling and the lights had faded up, the audience were in stunned silence.

Night Will Fall (2014)
Feature Length Documentary
Synopsis
In the spring of 1945, Allied forces liberating Europe found evidence of atrocities which have tortured the world’s conscience ever since. As the troops entered the German concentration camps, they made a systematic film record of what they saw. Work began on a documentary to show the horror they witnessed to the German population.

Sidney Bernstein, chief of the Psychological Warfare Film Section of SHAEF commissioned the film. Those involved in the production included Alfred Hitchcock and renowned editor Stewart McAllister; they produced perhaps the most remarkable testament of the 20th Century. “No German can say he didn’t know” insists the commentary, co-written by Richard Crossman, the future cabinet minister.

These sentiments were judged by the British Government to be unsuitable to the bridge-building mood towards Germany. The film was never shown.

40 years later an American researcher found a rusty can marked “F3080” in the vaults of London’s Imperial War Museum. It was in very poor condition and the last roll was missing, but in 1985 a scratched and blurry copy was shown on PBS in America. Now after three years of work by Dr Toby Haggith of the IWM, the entire film has been fully restored and piece by piece, frame by frame, the lost last reel has been put together from the original shot lists. For the first time in history the completed “F3080” is ready to be shown.

Spring Films is co-producing with Angel TV a 90 minute documentary for theatrical and television release. This documentary, ‘Night Will Fall’ is to coincide with the release of the remastered original film and will tell the remarkable story behind the making of the film, the people involved and the reasons why it was never shown.

Team Credits
Director: André Singer
Directorial Advisor: Stephen Frears
Executive Producer: Richard Melman
Producer: Sally Angel

Partners
Angel TV
Cinephil

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Spamalot London: the end of another era


As I went to the opening night of Spamalot at The Playhouse Theatre, London in November 2011, I simply HAD to go to its closing night too. Would've be rude not to! And as usual, I took a few friends along with me. (I have promoted the show SO MUCH over the years on Twitter, Facebook, my blog and virtually to everyone I meet, I really should have worked out a commission deal with the producers back in 2007! I'd be loaded by now! Oh well. That wasn't why I was promoting it. The fact is, Spamalot is the funniest and most brilliant show I've ever seen, and I wanted others to enjoy it too.)

As the title of this blog post suggests, it wasn't the first Spamalot closing night I've been to. I also witnessed the end of Spamalot's run at The Palace Theatre (the executive version) back in January 2009.

With Jodie Prenger in April 2011
Every time I've seen Spamalot, there's always been something different about it; Spamalot never stood still, and last night's performance was no exception. It wasn't seeing the excellent Jodie Prenger (what a voice!) as Lady of the Lake because I saw her in that role at Aylesbury when Spamalot was on tour in 2011. I did manage to say hello to her at the stage door last night though, when she told me how honoured she was to be asked to close the show at The Playhouse. It was lovely to see her again. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to get a photo with her this time but she did give me a nice hug :-)

The main difference for me last night was to see Robin Armstrong as King Arthur for the first time. He was possibly the first clean shaven King Arthur I'd ever seen. It was so strange for me not to see him say "And then we LEAP out of the rabbit!" Consequently, it was the first time I'd seen Graham Newell in a lead role and I really enjoyed his performance. I thought his bent-over portrayal of Mrs Galahad was hilarious!

James Bisp |Robin Armstrong | Michael Burgen
I was so happy to meet James Bisp, finally. He wasn't on when I saw the show a few weeks ago, and the previous time, I didn't happen to see him at the stage door (which is always a bit of a scrummage - and it's also very badly lit. To The Playhouse management - if you wanted to do something fan-friendly, please install a light back there so we can see who's who!). What a charming fellow! I think his portrayal of Sir Galahad is, or rather was, outstanding! The parts he plays (Dennis, The Black Knight, Sir Galahad) are really convincing; he is such a good actor!

The atmosphere last night was, understandably, more upbeat than usual. However, I was expecting the audience to demand an encore of the finale, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, since it was the last night, but it was not to be!


Graham MacDuff with Harry in 2007,
with me in 2011 and last night

The biggest surprise for me happened not during the show but afterwards at the stage door. I bumped into someone who has become somewhat of an 'old friend': Graham MacDuff (husband of the gorgeous Anna Jane Casey) who has played both Sir Galahad and Sir Lancelot over the years. He just popped in last night to see the last show. We first met at the stage door of The Palace back in 2007, in the days when Dennis used to say "Soggy old blondes with their backsides in ponds can't replace the electorate." It was so lovely to see him again and such a nice surprise!

I think last night was the 16th time I'd seen the show. To be honest, I've lost count! If you really wanted to see every blog post of every performance of Spamalot I went to, then click here, but I'd understand if just wanted to see the highlights:


Do you think Spamalot will return next year as part of the 40th anniversary of Monty Python and the Holy Grail? I hope it does!