A Royal Treat as the Prince of Hip Hop Brings Joy to Sting the King of Pain

*** World Exclusive ***

Message In A Bottle – The Musical
Rating: *****
The Peacock Theatre
Portugal Street
London WC2A 2HT
Tickets from £14
Ticket office: 020 7863 8222
Choreography by Kate Prince, based on the music and lyrics of Sting
A Sadler’s Wells & Universal Music UK production with ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company
6th February – 21st March 2020

I should have known this right from the start. Right from the moment the idea of a musical based around the music of Sting there should have been no doubts about its success, for as Sting himself sings in the eponymous title track ‘Message in a Bottle,’ “only hope can keep me together”.

Well I’m sure Director and Choreographer Kate Prince went into this project with a great deal of hope and faith, firstly that Sting would give his seal of approval for her to proceed and realise her vision, then for it to be written, produced and choreographed and ultimately make it onto the West End stage.

On 7th February 2020 the TV news reported on the UN Refugee Agency announcement that only 29 states offered resettlement places, with the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Sweden and Germany accepting the largest numbers of refugees. That happened to be just the second night of the Message in a Bottle musical I was at. It was quite timely as the theme of Zoo Nation’s latest show is the story of refugees. Its starting point is a village that is alive with joyous celebrations finds itself suddenly under siege. Everything changes forever. Determined and daring, three parted siblings step out on their own extraordinary adventures.

Message in a Bottle is of course the perfect title and song choice to base the show around as its theme is of “a hundred billion castaways looking for a home,” to be “rescued before they fall into despair.”

Kate Prince, Director and Choreographer, was keen to tell the human side of the international refugee crisis through dance and music, specifically that of Sting and The Police, with the main goal of humanising stories and showing empathy for a story often reported in terms of raw numbers, politics and civil war. Without a doubt she achieves that and provides a counter balance to the popular media portrayal of refugees as a problem for the UK and other nations affected, plus conflate the economic migrant situation with refugees merely seeking a safer place to go to just stay alive.

In the song ‘Inshalla‘ from the show and on his ‘57th and 9th’ album (2016) Sting sings about the refugees arriving in Europe from the war torn Middle East. Speaking with NPR’s Michel Martin in 2016, he explained: “The migrant crisis is something that isn’t going to disappear tomorrow. It’s driven by warfare in the Middle East. It’s driven by poverty in Africa. It may be driven by climate change in the very near future. So it’s not going to be something can we can hope to end tomorrow. 

I don’t have a political solution, but I feel if there’s a solution to it, it has to be grounded in some kind of empathy for those people in those boats. Because we as a species all migrate. We’re all migrants. Everyone in this country is a migrant, I’m a migrant, our ancestors were migrants. It’s not going to stop, that’s what we do.”

I was so blown away by the opening of this show that I knew within the first 15 minutes that this was a show I’d want to see again and again. Was I being a little premature? I don’t think so.

Message In a Bottle is a captivating, spectacular fusion of stunning hip-hop and balletic dance enhanced by the vibrant, outstanding music of Sting and The Police. What stood out like a giant neon lit bottle washed up on the shore was the lucid freshness of the music. It was such an unexpected joy and revelation. There’s a reason it felt like this which I won’t spoil by revealing here, suffice to say that fans of Sting and/or The Police will be in for a real treat. Even if you’re not the biggest of fans but just enjoy the big hits or some of the less well known songs you will find this riotous cacophony of outstanding music and dance to be an absolute blast. Remember, many of these songs are up to 30 plus years old but you would not have thought so watching this show. It brought back fond memories of first hearing the songs. You find yourself listening more carefully to the lyrics than you might otherwise have done in order to follow the unfolding story on stage.

It all sounded so current, so modern and all the songs were relevant in furthering the story. Where this was somewhat hard to follow visually from observing the dance alone, the lyrics helped to provide the context and meaning. The chosen songs were individually written and recorded at various stages of Sting’s careers and were never intended to form a thematic story, yet this is precisely what Kate Prince has done. She hasn’t gone for the perhaps relatively “easy” option of just creating a random story simply to shoehorn in hit songs. What’s on stage is the result of the effort (or rather pleasure for super fan Kate) in studying Sting’s extraordinary back catalogue to select the most appropriate songs to fit the story. This culminated in the curation of a wide range of songs and musical styles from the up tempo ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’, ‘So Lonely’, ‘Englishman in New York’ to the beautiful, reggae infused ‘The Beds to Big Without You’, to the more melodic, reflective, ballad songs such as ‘They Dance Alone’, ‘Fields of Gold’ and ‘The Empty Chair’. Not only that but, not surprisingly, all the big hits are there including of course a rousing rendition of the titular song ‘Message In a Bottle’ which, as with many of the songs, was gloriously acted out through hip-hop dance. It was tiring just watching the dancers incredibly athletic, thrilling, balletic movement in perfect synchronicity to the music. The range of dance styles and fleet of foot dance work dazzled and amazed in equal measure. It was simply outstanding.

There’s a part of the show where one husband is missing his wife and ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ is playing and being acted out which was reminded me of some of the scenes from last year’s hit movie ‘Blue Story’ with a number of menacing, hooded characters on stage. In a curious way it was quite poignant and amusing to watch at the same time. The story had plenty of humour and moments to bring a smile to the face, not to mention moments of pathos that saddened the heart.

One of the key highlights was just listening to Sting’s distinctive, powerful and emotive voice enthusing his songs with a new vitality, relevance and urgency that we haven’t seen before in this format as you catch yourself listening to something that feels quite different despite having heard many of these songs for so many years. His voice truly carried the show to heights it would otherwise not have been able to reach.

Fans will have seen many concerts and TV performances over the year but never before choreographed to dance music and certainly never putting them together to form a story based on so many “bloody brilliant songs” as Prince described them, from such an extended period of time.

There are plenty of neat musical surprises too, including lots of teasers … one moment hinting at one song to come, then sharply and subtly seque-waying into a completely different song.

Sting is quoted in the programme notes as saying he was really moved by watching a workshop of the show in the initial stages pre giving the project the green light. “I was blown away by it. The response for me was very emotional not just because I was honoured that they were using my music to express something, but there was something happening at a deeper level beyond understanding.” I totally got that, particularly as someone who’s been listening to his music from The Police to the present time. I too was moved in a way I hadn’t expected. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from the evening, but it exceeded any expectations I had a hundred billion times.


I refer to Sting in the review title as the King of Pain after one of the songs from the Synchronicity album (1983) but if you look at a number of his songs Sting truly is the king of crafting songs of pain with the uncanny knack of imbuing them with an upbeat, cheerful melody which are often the polar opposite of their melancholy lyrical content. ‘So Lonely’ ‘Every Breath You Take’ and ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ for instance are all sad, somewhat dark, melancholic songs really, yet their tempo is upbeat and almost joyful. When performed live these are some of the songs that get fans up on their feet dancing away. In their own way Kate Prince and her Zoo Nation production have pulled off the same uncanny trick with this musical. It’s clearly about the tragic international refugee situation yet it’s cloaked in the multi-coloured coat of a barnstorming high energy song and dance hip-hop musical. Speaking in the programme notes Prince states that Message in a Bottle is not a depressing story. It offers hope. “It’s there to uplift and inspire like all our work, because all our works is really about one thing: love. Everything comes back to love and the power of love and the healing power of love, forgiveness and acceptance. This is a piece about the strength human beings have to keep going, to find peace again in their lives despite trauma. It’s about resilience.”

I reflected earlier that within 15 minutes I felt this was a show I’d want to see again and again. Was I premature in that assessment? I think you’ve gathered by this point that it was far from that. It is currently on a 7 week run in the West End but I suspect there will be deafening calls for an encore.

Sting famously sings in ‘Message In a Bottle’ “I should have known this right from the start.” I did and I will certainly be going to see this again for ‘Message in a Bottle: The Musical’ is an exciting, complex, enjoyable and multi-layered show. ZooNation have delivered a breathtakingly stunning performance of stellar music, songs, dancing and energy that undoubtedly merits a further viewing or two. Maybe even a hundred billion!

© Tiemo Talk of the Town
Photo’s courtesy of Helen Maybanks


  1. United Nations Refugee Agency Briefing – 5th February 2020
  2. Sting and Shaggy Star at the Roundhouse – Tiemo Review – 28th May 2019
  3. Paul Simon and Sting – On Stage Together – London 02 – Tiemo Review – 16th April 2015

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Will Roger Federer Always Be The Greatest (Even if He’s Not)?

What do you think? This great article from Michael Steinberger  in the New York Times sums up the thoughts I’ve had for some years now. As the almost inevitable, but to Federer fans, almost unspeakable, seems ever closer to becoming reality, do Federer fans have to re-evaluate their feelings, highest regard and #1 standing they hold for him in tennis history as the Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T) ?

I speak of course of the fact Rafael Nadal on 19 Grand Slams currently may level with Roger Federer on 20 Grand Slams if he wins the Australian Open 2020 which kicked off yesterday. If he achieves that goal can you really see a seriously fired up Nadal being stopped from going on to win his 13th French Open title this Summer, 21 in total and being #1, the new G.O.A.T in the history of winning men’s Grand Slams?

What surprised but really impressed me a lot from the piece was the fact that Federer also seems to have been having the same thoughts and is fully expecting his amazing haul to be superseded not just by Rafael Nadal, but by Novak Djokovic as well and perhaps by some distance too.

Surprisingly he seem at peace with that and realises that the previously unthinkable may well come to pass this year or next unless he starts adding to his Grand Slam haul. That he can observe this with such equanimity is such a measure of the great man’s coolness, maturity, level headedness and the mindset that’s seen him achieve so much both inside and outside of the game and become the superb global sporting ambassador that he is.

What are your thoughts?

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Posh Reggae at The Palace from the Saxophone Queen

Posh Reggae at the Palace from the Saxophone Queen

Star Rating: *****
Alexandra Palace
Muswell Hill
London N22 7AY
Review date: 29th November 2019

On a chilly night in North London saxophonist YolanDa Brown warmed the heart with a wonderful, high quality night of musicianship she entitled ‘posh reggae.’ It certainly felt posh in the august setting of AlexanDra Palace.

The large audience for this, the final show of her 10th Anniversary Tour, was thoroughly entertained with a selection of songs from her last album ‘Love Politics War’ (2017) as well as numbers from ‘April Showers May Flowers‘ (2012). The music was beautiful, melodic and relaxing. YolanDa and her band were every bit as classy as the AlexanDra Palace they were performing in.

I loved her description of the music as posh reggae. Clearly a reggae fan, she regaled the audience with snippets of Bob Marley songs, jazz, more reggae and RnB tinged music. Her sax playing was stupendous, as was her supporting cast of top quality musicians.
I would have bought her ‘Love Politics War’ CD there and then I was so impressed, but alas they had no e-payment system set up, which was perhaps the only slight mis-step of the night.

She was supported by Omar who joined her for a couple of songs. His voice, as always, was superb. The singers were in equally fine voice and looked to be having a blast on stage.

YolanDa’s Band Jam win RTS North West Award

There were 3 very big announcements on stage too. Firstly that her CBeebies children’s TV Show YolanDa’s Band Jam won Best Children’s Programme (Pre-School) at the Royal Television Society North West Awards on 23rd November 2019.

Not only that but she announced she was expecting a baby girl next month. You’d never have guessed by looking at her and observing her energetic performance. A highlight was when she went into the aisles playing the saxophone so fans could observe her playing up close and personal.

The last, but not least, of the big announcements was that YolanDa will be performing on Jool’s Holland’s annual Hootenanny show on New Year’s Eve, always one of the NYE highlights (well, for those not going out on NYE anyway!) Other guests include Pauline Black, Ruby Turner, the Stereophonics and Stormzy.

Jools Holland and YolanDa Brown

It was a great co-indicence to be at this iconic venue as just a few weeks earlier I was enjoying the skating scenes in the hit movie ‘Last Christmas‘, which were filmed at the AlexanDra Palace skating rink.

This was a tremendously enjoyable show and although the album’s entitled ‘Love Politics War’ the evening was filled with love(ly) music but was refreshingly politics and war free.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town


  1. YolanDa’s Band Jam – All 24 episodes on BBC i-player
  2. Last Christmas – Tiemo review – 20.11.19
  3. Bob Marley & The Wailers Honoured with Blue Plaque – Tiemo Review –
  4. Marley  The Movie Stirs it Up – Tiemo review – 31.05.12
  5. April Showers, May Flowers – Tiemo Hammersmith Apollo YolanDa Brown review – 21.02.12
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Is Brexit a Revolution By or Against the Establishment?

Are the Conservative Establishment now the revolutionaries? Does Brexit be understood as representing a genuinely revolutionary moment in British history, or are there much deeper, longer-term trends that explain the current moment?

Conservatives as rebels and revolutionaries sounds like a contradiction, but if you think about it that’s what it has come to with Brexit.

It can be argued that the EU Referendum of 23rd June 2016 upset the apple cart, the established order of things. It wasn’t supposed to turn out that way. It’s been well reported that even Boris Johnson and Michael Gove didn’t really expect to win. This in part goes some way to explaining the curious post Brexit aftermath and the absence of rousing, triumphant victor’s speeches that set out the road map towards arriving at the Brexiteer’s vision of the nation’s future.

The reality proved that there was no plan or road map as Brexit wasn’t actually defined. It just meant leaving the EU. Perhaps the wrong referendum question was asked in the first place. Maybe we were all too gullible thinking leaving wouldn’t be that complicated. In retrospect the practice and ability to leave needed to be spelt out far more clearly in terms of the hows and wherefores.

It is not difficult to understand people’s wish to leave but I don’t believe it was clear to anyone how this could work without it being more detrimental than remaining in the EU. No one can deny that the Brexit campaign and overriding message was based on the implicit and stated expectation that, as D:Ream famously sang, ‘Things can only get better’ (1993).” However it’s clear that that is not necessarily so and no one, not even Brexiteer’s, was keen to leave if things were only going to get worse, in the long run.

That harks back to the initial poorly put question. It was never considered or put as a question such as – ‘Do you only want a Brexit that is better for the UK and doesn’t place an invisible hard border between Ireland and the island of Northern Ireland?’That obviously was a huge stumbling block and although that appears to have been removed with Boris Johnson’s October 2019 deal, still wasn’t enough to get through parliament.


This throws up questions re the efficacy of democracy, for it has as yet simply not been possible to deliver Brexit and it’s hard to see how this week’s General Election, without the referendum + General Election that Tiemo Talk of the Town called for as a proviso for holding the election, will resolve it. Strictly speaking we are and have continued to remain in the EU for a full 3 years since the vote and barring a clear Liberal Democrat victory in December’s General Election this is more than likely heading towards a 4th year of remaining post 2016 referendum.


Professor Anand Menon recently commented at one of the Battle of Ideas (BoI) 2019 Brexit debates that the problem with Brexit was twofold: “(1)the idea of Brexit – what it meant and how to implement it and (2) there is a dislike of the Establishment and how they’ve gone about trying to block it happening and it’s been impossible to reconcile the two.”

Professor Anand Menon

Actually we have many establishment figures on both sides of the argument. For once there is not a united establishment. We’re in a unique place in history where one can be a conservative Brexiteer and be perceived as a revolutionary seeking to overturn the established norm. We’re living in a time when people such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons and Nigel Farage, The Brexit Party Chairman are pro Brexit. Normally such establishment figures would be pro-Europe – pro-remain. Big, corporate businesses are generally in favour of the settled status quo they are accustomed to.

If you accept that the referendum question asked was too simplistic and lacking in the detail people needed and if you take into account how difficult it is proving to leave (bear in mind none of the other 27 EU nations are looking to leave. In fact 7 European nations have applied to join and their applications are in various stages of progress that have so far been going on from between 3-10+ years to date per nation) then maybe the question ought to have been one of ‘How could the UK and other nations reform the EU?’ Former Prime Minister David Cameron tried hard to do so and as they didn’t budge on their position Cameron felt he had to call the referendum he threatened to call if they didn’t reform. Calling the EU’s bluff hasn’t as yet worked out so well as we’ve not left and the EU hasn’t changed a bit! In fact the now former European President Jean-Claude Juncker recently joked that he left the EU before Britain did, on 30th November 2019, after 5 years as President.

The current election battle was initially thought likely to be primarily a Brexit battle and ought to have been Conservative v Liberal Democrats, but the media and to be fair, the opinion polls as well, have created the sense that it’s the traditional Conservative v Labour contest for the keys to Downing Street. This means in reality it’s a decision for the electorate between Brexit with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deal or no Brexit (Conservatives) or Labour’s position of a referendum and Brexit or Remain depending on the decision of the 2020 referendum Labour would call if they win.

Battle of Ideas Brexit Panel – Professor Anand Menon, Alistair Donald (Chair), Bruno Waterfield, Assistant Professor Lisa McKenzie and Daniel Moylan

The clarity of the Liberal Democrat message will appeal to many I’m sure as it couldn’t be clearer. If they win, they’ll revoke Article 50. Naturally that will be appealing to Remainers, but I would imagine it could also be appealing to un-decided’s (are there any?)* and those who just want this over and done with (including Brexiteer’s who don’t want Boris’s deal and realise there is no better Brexit deal likely to be had by re-commencing negotiations with the EU.

I value democracy but sometimes one could argue that the great British public get it wrong. If you look at the naming of the RRS Sir David Attenborough ship. It was put out to the public to vote for via the internet by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The public voted for Boaty Mcboatface. That was understandably deemed too silly a name for a prestigious £150 million polar research ship and so the NERC decided against that and named it, far more sensibly in my view, after Sir David Attenborough instead. Whilst that was a relatively minor matter, does not the same principle apply to EU membership? I cannot name one single economist or historian in favour of Brexit. I’ve yet to hear of real, tangible, undisputed benefits to be had from leaving the EU. On that basis the Liberal Democrats position is principled and democratic as they are standing on a crystal clear, revoke Article 50 ticket.

*’ – Lisa McKenzie, Assistant Professor in Sociology/Researcher, Durham University said, rather amusingly at the BoI debate, “I’m not a Brexiteer or Remainer. I hate all of them! I’m an anarchist.” Lisa Wrote an essay entitled ‘The Class Politics of prejudice: Brexit and the land of no‐hope and glory’, which, in part,  highlighted that all roads lead to the M1.

Assistant Professor Lisa McKenzie

These were EU funded roads in the North of England, which had no pavements or bus stops so to Lisa’s mind they were not really built for the people. Lots of EU blue plaques were put up along the road. So who was the road for if not the people? Well soon enough one of Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct stores popped up. Her answer is that the road was a connective road for commercial purposes, for big businesses’ benefit. This, for her and many others, symbolises the problem with the EU. It’s perceived as for big business, not for the benefit of regular citizens.


The Reaction to Brexit is the problem

It is said that it’s not Brexit in itself which has been the problem, but the reaction to it causing all the furore.

This was started and highlighted by the killing of a Polish man Arkadiusz Jóźwik on 27th August 2016 which was widely reported as being Brexit-xenophobia related. To have exposed the so-called reality of English racism. Doubts have been expressed over that interpretation as he was reported to have hurled racist insults resulting in the attack on him, but nonetheless there was a well reported spike in Brexit related racism in the wake of the referendum vote and it’s often been said that whilst not every Brexit voter is racist, most racists voted Brexit.

The Establishment’s fear was and is that the vote was a threat to their status quo. The reaction to it has been one of profound hostility which created the current situation. Those favouring leaving were viewed as morally less superior. Perhaps that tells us more about the character and mindset of the Establishment than anything else.

The left behind

Professor Anand said one of the problems for former Prime Minister Theresa May was that she made a great speech outside 10 Downing Street on the day she became Prime Minister, 13th July 2016, but then never did any of the things she said she would.


Professor Anand doesn’t see the General Election as the key to resolving Brexit. “Whoever gets in after election, won’t resolve Brexit. I don’t see this as a moment of change. I see a quick return to status quo as the leaders will do exactly what they wish to do. Taking back control would surely be about giving more power to local government. That would make a difference.”

I agree with this and said as much in my blog last month calling for a referendum with the general election. Anand raised an interesting point regarding why so many EU leaders prefer to remain in the EU as that gives the impression they are ceding their power to Europe. “Why do Prime Ministers give away power to the EU? That’s because it’s a lot easier to get laws through the EU than their own parliament!”


I started out by asking is Brexit a Revolution By or Against the Establishment? I think the answer is that the Brexit vote was a vote against the EU establishment, by the ordinary working people and by a fair few traditional Establishment figures, whereas most of parliament is pro-Europe, pro-remain. That’s created a big tension and thus far a hugely unresolved problem.

Arguably this positions the Conservative Party, the party representing the traditional establishment as the revolutionaries against the establishment they represent!

I think it’s uncovered something seismic that is about much more than ordinary politics as we are accustomed to. As Captain Kirk might have said, “It’s politics but not as we know it.

I can think of no other issue in my lifetime that has so stumped parliament and the country. We’ve voted on massive, hugely divisive issues before such as going into war (Iraq, 2003), not going into war (Syria, 2013), whether or not to renew our nuclear weapons (2016), the poll tax/revoke of poll tax (1991) … and parliament and the nation have made decisive decisions and moved on. At times public outcries have been acted upon e.g. revoking the hugely un-popular poll tax. Why is this different? This leads me to conclude that perhaps there is a spiritual element to this as the usual logic is just not applying.

If you look at the EU building. It was deliberately designed to mirror the Tower of Babel. Babel means confusion and thus the tower represented a tower of confusion, of a people thinking they could do without God. God was not happy with that and so the world went from a place with one, common language to one with many languages which was obviously confusing for people who didn’t speak the many other languages created. This is explained in far more detail in ‘The Rape of Europe‘ DVD, 2004) but could be seen as symbolic of the current period of confusion. Wherever you stand spiritually we are and have been living through highly confusing times since the 2016 referendum, of that I think we can all agree. How it will all end is anybod’s guess and I’m not convinced that this Thursday’s general election will bring forth the clarity to Get Brexit Done as some would want us to believe.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town


  1. Any General Election Must Now Include a Referendum– Tiemo – 29.10.19
  2. Brexit: A Solution to Break the Deadlock – Tiemo – 11.03.19
  3. The class politics of prejudice: Brexit and the land of no‐hope and glory – The British Journal of Sociology – 08.11.17
  4. Brexit: A Revolution by or against the establishment? – Battle of Ideas debate and video – 03.11.19
  5. The Rape of Europe – Eurovision Mission to Europe by David Hathaway (2004)
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Blue Story: A South Side Love Story

Star Rating: ****
Director and Writer: Rapman (Andrew Onwubulo)
Review date: 16th November 2019
Producers: Damian Jones and Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor
Executive Producers: Rose Garnett, Paul Grindey, Eva Yates, Charles Moore and Andrew Onwubolu (Rapman)
Starring: Stephen Odubola and Micheal Ward
Production: BBC Films, DJ Films, Joi Productions and Paramount Pictures UK
Distributer: Paramount Pictures UK
Classification Rating: (15) 91 minutes
Released: 2019

Blue Story tells the story of school friends and best mates Timmy (Stephen Odubola) and Marco (Micheal Ward, ‘Top Boy’) who had nothing to do with local gangs, but find themselves on opposing sides of an escalating, vicious, deadly gang rivalry. Both are from the neighbouring South East London boroughs of Peckham and Lewisham. They’re proximity resulted in them attending the same school. However things take a turn when Timmy is set upon by a gang including some with links to Marco.

In a very illogical, Othellian way, logic is booted right out of the park and Timmy finds it impossible to believe that his best friend Marco had nothing to do with the attack and is hell bent on getting revenge against his perpetrators. The viewer is taken on a journey that will see if their friendship will stand this testing incident or be jettisoned in the name of gang affiliation and keenly fought post code wars.

Despite the public perception of the movie and the impression given by the official trailer, Blue Story is effectively a South Side love story wrapped up in a gangster rap and street warfare that owes a lot more to West Side Story than Goodfellas, sharing timeless themes of friendship, love (romantic and brotherly) and gang rivalry. The face hiding black bandana is as ubiquitous as the numerous gang members. It’s the de rigueur clothing item of choice in this urban, gangland drama. Blue Story is a gripping, edgy, fascinating story with many of the relationships between characters very well portrayed and developed; the best friends, the friendships between their group of friends, those friendships and connections with tensions linking people from opposing ‘endz.’ This brings trouble where lines are blurred between genuine personal connections and what are effectively meaningless “postcode wars” but which in the interests of survival on the streets, carry serious weight and necessitates that some young people can’t be friends with those from rival postcodes. As one character memorably says when denouncing the frutility and stupidity of such gang rivalry: “You are fighting for a postcode you don’t even own.”

Blue Story is Director/Screenwriter Rapman’s (Andrew Onwubulo) debut feature film. It’s a well earned progression from his successful and hugely popular Shiro’s Story; a three-part YouTube series that explored the world of rap music, drugs and violence. It has had an incredible 20 million views to date, which will no doubt increase as those previously unaware of it go and catch up with the trilogy.

One pivotal storyline is that of the blossoming relationship between Marco and Leah, which was very well acted by Micheal Ward and Karla Simone-Spence. Their relationship is tested by the conflict between Timmy & Marco with deadly consequences.

Thanks to the excellent story and plot lines, convincing and authentic acting of lead characters such as Marco and Timmy and many others, it is an engrossing film. Although it’s not always a pleasant watch (and nor is it meant to be), that’s not just down to the brutal violence, but the aggressive language too. With regards to the later I can see why it’s in there, though I feel the messages could have been conveyed in equally harsh but less profane ways.

Marco (Micheal Ward) & Leah (Karla Simone-Spence)

I found it interesting that the mother of two of the key characters seemed blissfully unaware of the dangerous and illegal activities of her sons. Lesson #1 in the startlingly obvious – mothers and fathers must make it their business to know where their children are and who they are hanging around with. That is their parental duty and responsibility. No one else’s. The father’s in this case were not around, which is often significant, particularly when boys are going off the rails. I think any analysis of the problem with youths, men in gangs has to highlight the critically important role of the father or male role model/father figure.

Blue Story is a brilliantly told film with humour, love, aggression, violence, youthful boisterousness and a storyline that keeps you totally immersed and engaged from start to finish. The interjecting between key scenes of Rapman’s rapping was a novel, most welcome Shakespearean innovation. I loved the party scenes, the lively, noisy, night bus banter and goings on, plus seeing different areas of London on screen aside from the usual well known film set/tourist locations. There’s even the added bonus of a scene stealing cameo (party) from a well known comedian.

The film clearly highlights the gang lifestyle lived by some young people on the streets of London. Although it’s a London story, it is by no means unique to the capital and could have been set anywhere where gang rivalry exists.

The film is a terrific watch and a real eye opener for the many for whom this life is far removed from their own experience. For the critics who’ve been suggesting otherwise (most likely those yet to watch the film), this movie actually does precious little to glamorise the gangster lifestyle. However I do accept that for a significant minority, they will be undeterred, having weighed up that it is their best way forward to survive.

There was of course a lot of well documented controversy during its first week of opening from 22nd November 2019, with Vue Cinema’s reporting ‘25 significant incidents in 16 cinemas within 24 hours of opening’ resulting in it being banned in all 91 of its UK wide cinemas (60 had been showing it) between 25th – 28th November. Vue Cinema’s stated: “This decision is not, as some have alleged, based on biased assumptions or concern about the content of the film itself. At Vue, we believe passionately in bringing people together and using the power of the big screen experience to entertain, educate and inspire all of our audiences. Blue Story is a fantastic film and one with a very powerful message. It is a film that has the opportunity to change lives. We hope that Blue Story achieves the success it deserves and importantly its message does not get lost.”

On 27th November 2019 (within an hour of Tiemo Talk of the Town seeing the movie and giving it the thumbs up on social media … #JustSaying!) the chain lifted its ban on the proviso that security would be increased at Vue cinemas. Whilst I have no reason or evidence to doubt their stated reason, it’s of interest that to date they have not elaborated on these 25 incidents and I’m only aware of one reference (on social media) to an incident in Plymouth Vue on 23rd November 2019. No others have been reported in the mainstream media or social media as far as I’m aware which is very surprising in this day and age when people would be quick to tweet or Face book any disturbances.

Many people vociferously complained and campaigned on social media and elsewhere for the ban to be overturned citing the unfairness of this decision when it wasn’t considered to be the fault of the film or even the genre of the film. Some went further. Maryvn Harrison, founder of the Dope Black Dads podcast (Black Fathers movement) wrote directly to Vue Cinema. His letter and the public campaign succeeded. Vue listened and re-released the film in it’s venue’s last Friday 29th November 2019.

Despite the initial ban the film’s done exceptionally well for an independent production, grossing £1.3 million in its first week-end, making it the #3 most popular film, behind only ‘Last Christmas’ which took £2.2m and Frozen II which took a stonking £15.3m! Blue Story broke records for the most any British ‘urban’ film has made in that space of time. By the end of it’s second week-end it had more than doubled its box office takings to £2.9m.

Many flinched at the thought of ‘yet another gangster film.’ I admit I was one, but I have to say having now watched the film, this one’s different and really has the potential to be a game changer, one that can positively change lives for the better. It’s undoubtedly aimed at a certain demographic, 15 – 20 something’s, but its appeal is likely to be far broader.

Blue Story has a very serious and important message that needs to be heard by those involved in gangs, those wanting to understand how and why gangs exists, plus, without a doubt, those tasked with solving this and the wider socio-economic issues associated with gangs and communities from which members are drawn.

You see that a number of characters don’t really want to get involved but for understandable reasons, including persuasive peer pressure, find themselves drawn in to a life they know probably won’t end well. The film depicts how hard it can be to get out once caught up in the line of fire or even just because of where you happen to live, which as a schoolchild, they have absolutely no say in.

I would also add that it’s not just adults, politicians, who have a responsibility for tackling the problem. I think older school children (girls and boys) do too. They have a particular role and responsibility if their peers are involved or hanging with the “wrong crowd” which makes them susceptible to joining gangs. That might of course be far easier said than done, but they’re quite likely to be more influential than well meaning adults, authority figures, trying to step in and solve the issue once it’s become a criminal problem.

Whilst I, like many, would love to see a wider representation of more positive, less negatively stereotypical Black British lives on screen – think of Venus v Mars, Sunny D, Baby Father, All About the McKenzie’s, At Home with the Adebanjos, Black-ish (USA) – to name but a few hit shows, that’s another debate altogether. For now, for the reasons outlined above I strongly feel that Blue Story is such an important, superbly told story of our times, that it deserves to be a hit movie, not only in the UK, but internationally where violent, deadly gang warfare is a serious, criminal issue that needs tackling and defeating. Far too many lives are being lost and numerous communities have been blighted because it hasn’t been successfully tackled.

Blue Story is not just another gangster film. It’s a South Side Love Story that packs a powerful message.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town


  1. Shiro’s Story – 2018
  2. Dope Black Dads podcast
  3. Yardie – Tiemo review – 3rd September 2018
  4. Residential Movie: The Only Way Out Is In – Tiemo review – 24th September 2016
  5. Legend – The Krays – Tiemo review – 8th September 2015
  6. Ghetta Life – Tiemo review – 15th September 2012

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Last Christmas: Review

Star Rating: ***
Director: Paul Feig
Writers: Emma Thompson and Greg Wise
Screenplay: Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings
Review date: 16th November 2019

The much anticipated early Christmas present for fans of Christmas movies, rom-com’s and the late George Michael/WHAM! is out just in time for this Christmas. Curiously it’s set in 2017 despite a known release date of 2019. Perhaps that’s a nod to George’s untimely death in 2016. George Michael was aware of approved the film being made based on his famous Christmas hit.

Kate, played by Emilia Clarke, 33, (Game of Thrones) is a frustrated young Londoner for whom nothing much seems to go right. She works as an elf in an all year round Christmas shop in London’s Covent Garden.

Things begin to look much brighter when she meets Tom played by Henry Golding, 32, (Crazy Rich Asians) a charming, handsome young man who seems too good to be true. This grows into a yuletide romance between the two with all manner of interesting events in between.

There’s a lot to admire and really enjoy about this movie including the outstanding music from George Michael and WHAM! including over course the title song, though sometimes they did seemed to have been forcefully shoehorned into the movie – as much as a marketing exercise to sell the soundtrack as anything remotely related to the film.

Aside from the music and actors, the major star of the movie is London in all its beautiful night time glory. It was a particular delight to see not just traditional sights – such as Covent Garden and Regent Street, but the many, many beautiful, interesting and far less well known sights.

There were fine performances from Henry Golding and Emma Thompson (co-writer) as Kate’s Yugoslavian mother. She delivered some of the best lines and was a wonderful breath of fresh air and vibrancy to the film.

A disappointment and a big one at that was the relationship between Kate and Tom. Whilst pleasant, amusing and believable enough, I felt that as much as Tom oozed cocky, self-assured confidence, Kate’s performance lacked that sparkle and as a consequence meant there was an absence of genuine chemistry between them. Ultimately I would say that’s just bad casting as Clarke is not exactly known for her romantic comedies or comedic acting skills. However she did provide comedic entertainment in a sense via the considerable hilarity found in the many mishaps of her unfortunate life that is seen spiralling out of control.

There was an attraction between the two but it wasn’t a convincing romantic chemistry a la Julia Roberts-Richard Gere (Pretty Woman) … but then how many have pulled that off? Though their relationship held the interest and kept you wondering where it was leading to, for me that was a major flaw in the movie. It didn’t stop it being a good movie – for it effortlessly held your interest throughout, but it meant it couldn’t be considered a great one.

Another relationship between Christmas shop manager Santa, played by Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians) and The Boy, played by Peter Mygind was somewhat undercooked. There was certainly unexplored potential, both comedic and romantic, with those two characters.

Santa’s relationship with her wayward employee Kate had rather more bite and spiciness to it than even Kate and Tom’s. At times it was more mother-daughter than owner/manager-employee, but fascinating all the same.

The film moved along rather nicely, too nicely at times and lacked dramatic tension. It didn’t seamlessly flow. As with the music randomly shoe horned in, so too were a number of scenes that weren’t really vital to the storyline.

The aspects that focused on homeless were a nice touch and I’m sure George Michael would have approved as he was a big fan of supporting the homeless and occasionally gave exclusive interviews to The Big Issue, as did his sister, Melanie Panayiotou, earlier this month in a very rare interview.

There have been very good movies based upon a band’s music – where the story’s great and sequeway’s nicely with the music – think of A Hard Day’s Night (The Beatles), Mamma Mia (ABBA) and quite possibly Yesterday (The Beatles) and Blinded by The Light (Bruce Springsteen) but regrettably this isn’t one of them. Nonetheless Last Christmas is very watchable and entertaining, with plenty of laugh out loud moments. It’s uplifting too in its message to “look up” and explore horizons beyond the obvious, but this appetising film could have been so much more filling if all the various ingredients were better mixed together.

George Michael was quite the perfectionist – as is evident from his body of music, videos, tours and appearance. This film was nice enough but failed to touch the very high notes of excellence George Michael reached with much of his output. Although he gave his backing and input into the film whilst he was alive I do not believe he would have approved this film going out in his name if he were still alive and the further work needed to make it a far better film would have been insisted upon. Perhaps, like the classic single that inspired the film, it needs a ‘pudding mix’ and/or sequel … Next Christmas or Last Christmas II anyone?

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

If you’ve seen the film perhaps you can add your comments in the section below and discussion can ensue. Spoilers can be revealed as it will be assumed those reading the comments have watched the film.

N.B. Those yet to watch the film – please avoid reading the comments until you have seen the film to avoid any spoilers!

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Walking Good at 80 – Rudolph Walker’s 80th Birthday Celebration

Star Rating: *****
Hackney Empire
Mare Street,
London E8 1EJ,
Review Date: Sunday 20th October 2019

Starring: Caroll Thompson, Chris Tarrant, Curtis Walker, Glenda Jaxson, Janet Kay, Jermain Jackman, Kat B, London Community Gospel Choir, Lurine Cato, Paulette Tajah, Richard Blackwood, Slim, Tobago Crusoe and Victor Romero Evans.

Director: Sarah Moore
Producer: Geestor Productions
Comperes: Eddie Nestor & Robbie Gee

Oh what a night sang the Four Seasons back in late December 63. That song title well and truly summed up the spectacular night’s entertainment laid on to mark the 80th birthday celebration for legendary actor Rudolph Walker OBE.

It’s quite something to think that Neville Chamberlain was the Conservative British Prime Minister when Walker was born in September 1939, the year World War II started. Chamberlain resigned in 1940 when he was unable to generate support from the Labour and Liberal Democrats for his stance in the war. He was replaced by Winston Churchill and the rest is history. Literally. Brexit has echoes of this historic period all over it with our current and previous Prime Minister’s unable to secure the backing of the leading opposition parties and replacing one Tory Leader (Theresa May) with another (Boris Johnson) mid-way through an historic national crisis.

I am making the point that the state of the nation 80 years ago was in a similar dire crisis to that existing now (albeit without the life and death consequences of a World War). Anyway, digression over … although a little more on Brexit will follow.

Rudolph Walker

A packed audience of over 1,000 people at the Hackney Empire certainly didn’t get side-tracked by politics as they lapped up a feast of entertainment served up by the cream of the Black British entertainment industry including top comedians Curtis Walker, Glenda Jaxson, Richard Blackwood and Slim who brought the house down with their wickedly funny sets. Curtis Walker was on especially fine form, especially when taking the mick out of his mother in the audience and her response to her husband’s death in 2012. It doesn’t sound so funny at all in Black and White but trust me it was. As she set sail on a post funeral cruise to recover and her son waived her off, she shouted out the name of the Island she was heading to. I won’t repeat it here as it’s a family friendly blog, suffice to say thought, when Curtis mentioned it, it took a moment or two to gradually sink in and then you just saw wave upon wave of laughter reverberate right around the theatre from the stalls to the circle to the upper circle right up the gallery. It was so hilarious it brought tears to my eyes. Walker had been on cheekily edgy form when referring to the no swearing rule for acts but might just have inadvertently crossed the cruise line!

Curtis Walker

That was a feature of the night which went down well with the audience. Slim slipped up once but quickly corrected himself. That was a nice mark of respect for Rudolph Walker and the occasion. That he and everyone else delivered fine performances without having to use profanity just goes to show it’s not necessary and that talented performers have the ability to avoid such language and when doing so, are thereby able to reach out to and be inclusive of a far bigger audience who might otherwise be put off attending live comedy. To curse on stage is actually to curse your audience, even if that is not the intention. There’s little distinction in the impact of a curse word whether deliberately aimed at someone or liberally used for impact in a joke or theatrical scene and I can’t imagine comedians really wish to curse their fans and paying customers but effectively that is what they are doing when swearing.

Richard Blackwood was funny in his relatively short set. However I didn’t quite see the need or expect toilet humour from him – no matter how amusing it was as part of a tangled web of a yarn. It didn’t seem appropriate for this occasion.

All four comedians showed exactly why they are hugely loved on the comedy circuit and despite the nature of some of the material it was great to see Blackwood back doing stand-up again after his recent more serious acting roles in Typical and Eastenders.

I found Blackwood’s comments about the importance of being your “authentic self” quite significant. In a world which wants you to confirm, where your “otherness” be that skin colour or accent can separate you from employment opportunities it’s heartening to see that Rudolph Walker retained his distinctive Trinidadian accent in Eastenders, when he could have been asked to tone it down or lose it altogether to get the role of Patrick Trueman. Being his authentic (literally a true man!) self allowed his acting talent, dedication and professionalism to shine through and enable him to remain a key figure in the show for 18 years since joining the cast in 2001. That’s a very long time in the soap opera world. Blackwood highlighted this amusingly when recalling a scene in the Queen Vic between June Brown (aka Dot Cotton) and Rudolph Walker (Patrick Trueman) when he was trying to quieten her by saying “Oh woman”. It’s the way he said it – not just “oh woman” as the script writer had it but “Oh wooomaan” in a terse Trinidadian accent loaded with meaning and frustration!

Diane Parish and Lindsey Coulson

The Lovers Rock segment was superb with some of the Queens of Lovers Rock performing their greatest hits and getting the crowd up on their feet and joining in – including Caroll Thompson, Janet Kay, Lorna Gee and Paulette Tajah, plus one of the Kings of Lovers Rock, Victor Romero Evans. Although this wasn’t the comedy section of the night Lorna Gee clearly hadn’t read the script and turned the singing segment into a light hearted comedy moment as she bravely struggled to avoid a major wardrobe malfunction whilst singing. Early on in her first song, she had to stop the music, turn round and adjust the top half of her little black dress mid song, then start all over again! Not good as you could sense she was trying to literally reign herself in and be less mobile and expressive than she wanted to be. That’s a pity as her voice was certainly impressive when she hit those high notes.

A highlight of the night was when some of the singers sung personal renditions of Happy Birthday (whoever wrote that must be raking it in with the royalties!!) especially Opera singer Anne Fridal and Paulette Tajah. There was even some musical poetry with a topical, witty and funny Brexit poetic calypso song from Tobago Crusoe. See video below.

An unexpected surprise appeared in the form of TV and radio legend Chris Tarrant! He came on to pay tribute to Rudolph Walker … well only just as Robbie Gee amusingly did his best not to let him get hold of the microphone… the show needed to finish on time after all but Chris was fine, succinct and praiseworthy in his speech.

The acting community was unsurprisingly extremely well represented. With countless Eastenders on stage it’s a surprise we didn’t hear the ‘duff duff’s and that this wasn’t broadcast on the BBC! Diane Parish, Dona Croll, Ellen Thomas, Tameka Empson, Ricky Norwood were all on stage. It was interesting to hear that Ellen Thomas had at various points of her career played Rudolph Walker’s daughter, girlfriend and wife! Not a lot of people can say that!

Victor Romero Evans

The evening showcased the wide range and depth of talent across the Black British entertainment industry. That so many came out to perform and play tribute to Rudolph Walker was a demonstration of the high regard in which he is held. Many commented on how young Walker looked and that must be a tribute to good living, diet and positive state of mind. There’s something in that that we can all learn from as getting to aged 80 is far from guaranteed. Victor Romero Evans pointed out that he always sees Walker smartly turned out, well spoken, never swearing and generally carrying himself well. Romero Evans (whose age is a mystery) is also an evergreen performer himself, who doubtless is a lot younger looking than he really is as he seems to have been around forever too.

I’m sure that many of those who graced the stage would say they owe a debt of gratitude to Rudolph Walker for breaking down barriers and opening doors for them to walk through in their respective careers. One of the main breakthrough shows for Walker was ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ (ITV 1972-76) which Walker said attracted huge TV audiences and was the ‘Eastenders’ of its day in terms of popularity and viewing figures. I don’t know if the title was meant to be a biblical reference but the term ‘Love Thy Neighbour’s appears frequently in the New Testament e.g. Matthew 19:19. “Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The programme was about neighbouring couples – one Black, one White, constantly at war with the battlefield being race and lack of racial harmony between warring neighbours. The same message applies today and I think that’s one of the points the show tried to convey, that people need to love their neighbours irrespective of their racial origins and colour (people in general not just literal neighbours) and importantly, as Walker said, when it comes to our young Black youth and the terrible press they get, “It’s important to celebrate young talent when there’s a powerful media that seeks to stigmatise our young people.”

Ellen Thomas and Dona Croll

The show was not just an occasion to mark Rudolph Walker’s 80th, but equally importantly it’s aim was to raise money for the Rudolph Walker Foundation and it achieved that through raising £2,120 in a raffle. GeeStor Productions put on a super show and it was notable that they also put up a huge video screen on stage and made great use of it to display showreels of Walker’s early life, aspects of his family life, career to date and the live action from the stage. Far too often big theatres fail to think about those in the rear seats for whom the action on stage feels a million miles away and screens make the show more inclusive for all.

Oh what a night indeed. This was one of the best shows I’ve attended in many a year in terms of the wide variety and quality of acts on stage. With that, plus so many BBC stars, past and present, in attendance, this show was most definitely worthy of TV broadcast and I hope it does get shown before the year’s out.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

Photographs © Tony Attille

The Rudolph Walker Foundation exists to nurture and develop the creative and technical skills and talents of young people by providing them with equipment and facilities which will enable them to produce and distribute audio visual programmes and other types of digital content relating to their culture, history, music and the world in which they live.

Comperes: Robbie Gee and Eddie Nestor


  1. To Brexit or not to Brexit – That is the Question? – Tiemo – 29th October 2019
  2. The Rudolph Walker Foundation – RW Foundation

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