Gig review – Martha Wainwright @ Sydney Opera House (2013)

“The reviews could have been so good” Martha Wainwright mock-sighs at one point, during one of her lengthy digressions before a cover by one of her songwriting inspirations, Nick Cave. She needn’t have worried – the tune is ‘The Ship Song’ and it’s a suitably dramatic version, finding depths of emotion in the sweeping, hymnal melody.

As an interpreter, she is sublime – capable of shifting gears from a gutsy, soulful bellow to a delicate rasping whisper, but there’s also some affecting tunes in her catalogue, many tonight plucked from last year’s instantly enjoyable though somewhat overlooked ‘Come Home To Mama’.

Those songs include ‘Four Black Sheep’ and ‘I Am Sorry’, both which showcase her vocal gymnastics, injecting real energy and drama to songs which could come across as tasteful rather than exciting in lesser hands.

As well as her voice, her other stock in trade is bracing honesty. It’s no coincidence she appears artfully nude on the album’s cover – naked emotion is the album’s dominating mood. Older favourites like the confessional ‘Bleeding All Over You’ and ‘Factory’ go down a storm, the latter complemented by backing vocals from touring partner Bryter Later.

There’s a mid-set interlude featuring a single song by Bryter Later, who don’t appear in their own right tonight due to the venue’s policy of not having support acts.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a band who take their name for a Nick Drake album, the duo deal in a hushed, gently pretty brand of folk.

Having given her peers a chance to shine, Wainwright returns in a new outfit, a ‘Come Home to Mama’ T-shirt (“gotta move some of the merch”) and jeans, having changed out of a tight dress she quips made her look “like a sausage”. More oversharing follows, as she explains the inspiration about her “song about male genitalia”, ‘Ball And Chain’.

Subject matter aside, it’s a real family affair tonight, with husband Brad Albetta on bass. The dynamic between them is a joy to watch with Albetta giving knowing looks and resigned shrugs at her more outlandish moments. There’s even a charming appearance from their young son, who apparently demands to come onto stage every night by chanting the words ‘stage’ insistently. “I’ve got to get him to hang around with some doctors and lawyers” she sighs.

Then there’s ‘Radio Star’, a song that she explains was partly inspired by artistic jealousy at brother Rufus’ ability to write danceable songs and partly by seeing Melancholia, Lars Von Trier’s film about a planet crashing into earth and bringing an end to human life. It’s a confusing mix of influences sure, but makes for a memorable song in this case.

There’s also a couple of tracks from a former project where Wainwright tackled the Edith Piaf songbook, and despite her familiarity with the works, she has a sheet music in place on a stand in front of her. “These songs just have too many words. They’re not about me so I can’t remember them” she deadpans. She also gives a lengthy explanation of the story of ‘L’accordioniste’ which is arguably as entertaining as the song itself.

The set winds to an end with the nuanced emotion of ‘All Your Clothes’, inspired by her grief at the passing of her mother, acclaimed folkie Kate McGarrigle. She ends the set proper with a disarmingly beautiful reading of ‘Proserpina’ which McGarrigle wrote, its simple refrain of ‘Come Home To Mama’ having added poignancy in this context.

In the encore, she takes on the old chestnut ‘Stormy Weather’ and ends up lying on the floor in a kind of gentle mocking of the tortured artist. “I should really take myself more seriously” she says, but of course her withering self deprecation and irreverence are all part of the charm. Finally, she plays her best known song, ‘Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole’ to rapturous applause. No need to worry about this review – a great show, with spirit and personality to burn.

Gig Review – Laura Marling @ St. Stephen’s Church (2013)

“If you haven’t seen one of my shows before, it’s 25 percent tuning” Laura Marling tells a crowd, prompting titters from an otherwise reverent, almost motionless audience. That’s about as animated as she gets between songs, with most banter consisting of non-sequiturs, stock-standard “It’s good to be here in Sydney” style filler and confessions about her jetlag and lack of preparation, usually followed by apologies that she isn’t better at chitchat.

Her apparent discomfort in front of an audience is all the more surprising given the assured excellence of this set, which begins with the four tracks which form the unbroken song cycle that begins her most recent (and strongest) record, Once I Was an Eagle. Not only does running these songs into one another allow her to avoid more awkward banter, it suits the cohesiveness of tone established from the gentle strumming at the start of ‘Take The Night Off’ to the mellow fade of ‘Breathe’.

Rich in imagery and precise finger-picking guitar, these are songs which alternate between emotional brittleness and the kind of quiet forcefulness seen in the refrain of ‘I Was an Eagle’: “I will not be a victim of romance / I will not be a victim of circumstance”. Determined as she seems to talk her prodigious talents down, it’s hard not to be gripped by the emotional nakedness on display in these songs, which run the gamut from to lust to regret and a clear-eyed assessment of loves lost. With just Marling and cellist Ruth de Tuberville on some songs, there’s plenty of space around her lived-in, nicotine-stained voice.

There is often a stillness to Marling’s work which suits such an austere venue, but increasingly her songs include also moments of venom and a newfound knack for the killer kiss-off, like in ‘Master Hunter’ where she trades her usual stately delivery for a more urgent and dense style, flipping a Bob Dylan lyric on its head “If you want a woman who can call your name / It ain’t me babe”.

She can still do fragile prettiness better than almost anyone though and ‘Little Love Caster’ is a master class in spareness, little more than some flourishes of Spanish guitar and vocals which bring to mind the frail, almost whispered intensity of Nick Drake.

The set winds down with ‘I Speak Because I Can’ with its arresting opening line and swooping melody suggesting that while her latest record may be her strongest collection, the older favourites are still capable of landing emotional blows. After explaining that she doesn’t do encores “If it helps, think of that as the last song and this next one as the encore”, she concludes with the heartbreaking, almost hymnal ‘Saved These Words’, which includes one of her most preternaturally wise couplets: “Love’s not easy, not always fun / And words are sleazy, my love is better dumb”. A quarter of a Laura Marling show may be self-consciousness, stalling and guitar tuning, but thankfully the rest of it is completely and utterly disarming.

Film Review – Everybody Has a Plan (2013)

Deep in the woods of an Argentinian forest, Pedro (Viggo Mortensen) leads a simple life. He lives on his own in a cabin, tends to his bees with local girl Rosa (Sofia Gala) and is involved in less legitimate activities with childhood friend Adrian (Daniel Fanego) and the latter’s slow-witted godson Ruben (Javier Godino). But when he begins coughing up blood, he knows he is quickly succumbing to cancer and he decides to make a rare trek into the city to see his brother.

Meanwhile, in the city, his identical twin brother Agustin, a paediatrician, leads a comfortable but unhappy life and feels only numbness when his wife tells him they can adopt a baby. When the scruffy, chain-smoking Pedro visits unexpectedly and offers him a cash reward for treatment, Agustin seizes a chance to take his sibling’s life and kills him, leaving his body to fake his death, enabling him to return to the cabin in Pedro’s place.

Agustin soon realises his brother’s life was no idyllic backwater breeze, however, as he has to feign his sibling’s ailments while piecing together his estranged brother’s life and figuring out how to extract himself from the kidnapping scheme Pedro got himself involved with. The bees which make their way into his unfamiliar beekeeping suit turn out to be the least of his problems as he inherits a vendetta with the owners of a local general store, further isolating himself from the remote community. He also has to navigate an uneasy relationship the gun-toting, bible-quoting Adrian and convince Rosa that he hasn’t been acting strange since he returned from the city.

Everybody Has a Plan is a ponderously paced though richly atmospheric affair, its picturesque setting all broody swamps, hazy sunsets and fields speckled with ghostly trees. But a strong sense of place isn’t matched by the story, which is thin and difficult to ever really care about. Similarly, the romance with Rosa feels underdone. The main reason to see this, a debut picture from Argentinian Ana Piterbarg, is Mortensen, who turns in not one but two intense and convincing performances, in Spanish no less. Mortensen remains a great screen presence, but he needs a better avenue for his considerable talents.

Originally appeared in : Concrete Playground 

Film Review – The Look of Love (2013)

One of the UK’s most versatile and interesting directors, Michael Winterbottom, is a hard man to pigeonhole. Teaming again with Steve Coogan, whom he collaborated with on 24 Hour Party Peopleand the wonderful The Trip, his latest is a biopic of Paul Raymond, the controversial figure who became the ‘King of Soho’, pulling crowds with risque theatre at his nightclub and successfully branching out into the world of magazines with his bestselling lad’s mag, Men Only.

The action opens with a shaken Raymond (Coogan) pondering tragic events involving his daughter and driving around the district of London he rules with a small child, pointing out the business he owns, markers not just of his great wealth but also his striving for respectability. His rise was marked by his audacity and knack for turning setbacks to his advantage — when a newspaper condemns one of his theatrical productions for including “arbitrary displays of naked flesh”, he slaps the quote on the promotional poster as a selling point.

After leaving his family for his mistress, Richmond finds himself on the wrong end of an expensive divorce settlement (“I think you’ll find it’s the most expensive divorce settlement in UK history” he corrects reporters), but remains focused on empire building. Along the way he reconnects with his daughter Debbie (an excellent Imogen Poots), whose ambitions of stardom are not accommodated by the public and whose frail confidence is boosted by lashings of champagne and cocaine.

Moving from the swinging sixties to the darker onset of disco, Raymond continues to show an unerring sense for what the public want and gleefully pushes the boundaries with his magazines and live shows. He intuited what the public wanted was a taste of his hedonistic, womanising lifestyle. Yet behind the glamorous facade, there was a melancholy underside to his life, with Raymond’s inability to let go of his humble beginnings and his unusual relationship with his daughter forming the wounded heart of this impressive biopic.

Impeccable in its period detail and scored by the sweeping melodrama of Burt Bacharach songs,The Look of Love gives the always watchable Coogan meaty, complex material to wrestle with. Some will be disappointed at the way it brushes over the darker corners of his porn empire; Raymond had a way of deflecting difficult questions that the film also uses. Whether Raymond deserves such a sympathetic biography is debatable, but there is no questioning the aplomb with which Coogan and Winterbottom have brought this contradictory and ultimately quite sad figure to life.

Originally published at: Concrete Playground

Feature – Dr. Mohamed Khadra, author of ‘The Patient’

When most people go on holiday, they like to relax, maybe head somewhere coastal, kick up the feet, enjoy a long slow drink by the pool. Not Dr. Mohamed Khadra, however. The last time the urologist took a break from work he threw his energies into another project, writing The Patient, an urgent indictment of a health system in need of some serious therapy.

He spent up to 20 hours a day writing non-stop, the culmination of a project he had been thinking about for two years. He likens the process to a pregnancy, and any birthing pains, as it were, seem to have been well worth it; The Patient is a gripping account of one man’s battle with bladder cancer and his slow, sobering realisation that the health system is an impersonal profit-driven machine rather than a compassionate institution able to allay his fears.

With his polished, measured speaking voice and general air of calm, Khadra seems the very embodiment of the clarity and passion that makes The Patient a compelling read. His motivation, he explains in writing it, was not to be a whistle-blower or a doomsayer, but to convey to the public the new realities that confront those struck by illness. Every day he handles test results that will change a patient’s life, pushing them into a journey they never considered. “By and large, (patients) are unprepared for the journey” he says. “They’re unprepared financially, spiritually and emotionally”.

The book’s central character, Jonathan Brewster (a conglomerate of four different patients Khadra has treated), is definitely and tragically unprepared. He constantly deals with frustrating delays, a lack of communication, financial burdens beyond his expectations and the constant challenges of trying not to lose ground in his job and relaying news of his condition to his young children.
With his background including educational work as well as practising medicine, Khadra hopes the book provides readers with not just a more realistic view of the health system, but the means of getting the most out of it. Despite its depiction of at least one especially aloof doctor and an array of harried, jargon-spouting, clock-watching medical hacks, reaction to the work from Khadra’s peers has been “surprisingly, exceptionally good…the vast majority of us in the medical profession are desperate to see better care for our patients”.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, the reaction to Khadra’s missive from politicians and senior bureaucrats has been more muted. If politicians were to pay attention to Khadra’s heed for reform, they may be relieved to hear that he does not believe the solution to the current woes of the Australian health system lies in increasing funding. “The US government spends about 15% of GDP on health, we spend about 8%… The US doesn’t have double the health system we have, in fact they have a far worse system. So I’m not sure if we spent more…that we’d get a better system”

What the system needs instead, he feels, is leadership, a concerted move to free the medical profession from the grip of bureaucracy. Currently the prevailing culture is one where pencil-pushers wield more power than doctors and nurses and invariably adopt a conservative approach, knowing that mistakes will harm their career while inactivity and apathy won’t.

Giving further weight to Khadra’s criticisms is an ironic twist in his life story. Ten years ago, this award-winning doctor became sick himself – he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. While it would be tempting to reason that seeing the health system from the patient’s perspective made Khadra a better doctor, he explains that initially at least, the opposite was true.

“There’s a balance between drowning in the sorrow and suffering we see among our patients and the…detachment needed to decide on an appropriate course of action” he explains. When he first returned to his vocation after recovery, maintaining this balance proved nearly impossible.

Appearing as himself in The Patient as an ambitious professional faced with the challenges of maintaining a work-life balance in a role where opportunities for career advancement are fiercely contested and chronic sleep deprivation is the accepted norm, Khadra does not underestimate the difficulties facing dedicated doctors struggling to maintain motivation. “I see young medical students, and they’re gorgeous. They play the piano, they write, they read poetry, they do sport and they just embrace life. Then I see them again a year or two after they’ve been in the health system and they’re almost hollowed-out”.

The solution to avoiding such burnout, he believes, is maintaining balance. Away from the non-stop dramas of work (incidents from Khadra’s own experience that appear in The Patient include a pencil lodged in a woman’s bladder, a Prince Albert gone painfully wrong and the almost obligatory destructive ice addict), he believes doctors need to find some other passion, something with therapeutic value. “If it’s going surfing that does it, then go have a surf, make sure you find the time” he advises. Failing that, it seems, the odd 20 hour stint in front of the typewriter can also work wonders.

Originally appeared in: The Big Issue

Feature – Sam Sheridan, author of ‘A Fighter’s Heart’

An opponent covered in tattoos. A crowd screaming at the top of their lungs. The scent of blood lust in the air thick with atmosphere. Months of self-sacrifice and self-inflicted pain trying to learn muai thai, a Thai martial art style employing kicks and punches, on the line. It is, fair to say, a long way from Harvard.

For Sam Sheridan, author of A Fighter’s Heart, this bout, his first professional match in Thailand, was merely the starting point in what evolved into a cross-continental journey into the very mind, and heart, of a fighter. This “endless quest” saw him attempt to unlock the secrets of ground fighting in Brazil, learn from an Olympic boxing gold medallist and his guru-like trainer, experience the hype and hoopla of a high-profile fighting tournament in Japan and observe illegal dog-fighting competitions in the Phillipines and Thailand

As a child, Sheridan was well-off and well-educated, earning good grades at the “fancy prep school” he attended. While never involved in schoolyard fights, or a target for bullies, it was an action-packed time, with Sheridan and friends devouring kung-fu movies, James Bond adventures and Conan books, and playing lacrosse and varsity football. “But what kid is ever tough enough?” he muses “I think most kids want to be superman”.

But there was always a thoughtful side to this would-be superhero. He used to carry around a copy of a poem admired by John F. Kennedy, which scorns the critics at a bull fight, before concluding “only one is there who knows / And he’s the man who fights the bull”. This struck a chord with Sheridan. He wanted to be the one who knows.

It wasn’t until he boxed at Harvard, however, that he became serious about fighting. He felt pushed out of his comfort zone and recognised the opportunity fighting offered to test himself, to find out who he really was. “What fighting is about is self-improvement” he says “it’s about knowing who you are”. But most of all, he felt alive.

After graduating from the Ivy League school, Sheridan spent time in the Marines, considered joining the Peace Corps, and ended up sailing across the world. But he felt dissatisfied, bored with the “rich man’s toy”. A brief spell in a law firm proved equally unsatisfying. He needed adventure, challenge, to recapture the feeling he’d experienced in the ring at college; he felt himself “lured by the siren song of violence”.

Now back in Los Angeles, the 33 year-old Sheridan is married and his wife (who is “amused” by his love of fighting) is expecting a child. He explains that he always always had ambitions of turning his experiences into a book. “It was always something I wanted to do… Even when I was in Thailand, I was like ‘you know, I should really stay here until I have 10 pro fights’, but my visa ran out and it didn’t really work out that way, and money ran out. I was always looking at an angle to make it a longer project and then, as I discovered the mixed martial arts world, you start to realise there’s so much travelling and so much of an international presence”.

Sheridan proves an eloquent interviewee, an affront to stereotypical views of fighters and fight enthusiasts as grunting and inarticulate. Never one for half measures or timidity, one senses Sheridan thrived on the grand scale of the project, the challenge of winning the respect of the fighting community and of explaining something troubling about human nature: why people fight.He talks passionately about the endless layers of complexity involved in any fight which is part of the reason he finds it so compelling: “ At a very high level boxing match, of the ten thousand people, there’s five people who would have any idea what’s going on…It’s amazingly technical and complex”.

This nuance is often lost on the media covering professional fighting, with many of the worst media hacks, in Sheridan’s view, being those who have never experienced the gruelling preparation and discipline needed for professional fighting themselves. “I have a problem with people who critique without risk” he explains “When I read a book review, I almost feel like writing the book reviewer and saying ‘I’m really looking forward to reading your book’

Having contributed to magazines like Mens Journal and Newsweek prior to writing this book, Sheridan continues to dabble in fight writing, but notes “I try to stay as respectful as possible. There’s nothing worse than when you read someone write ‘Oh, this guy’s got no heart’ when the guy has 40 fights. It’s like, what the f*** do you know about it?”

Even in the short time since Sheridan wrote his book, professional fighting has proved resurgent in the States, with mixed martial arts in particular exploding in popularity. But some of the new trends dismay him: “There’s this thing ESPN cover out here, all these silicon valley nerds, tech-heads, guys who are on the computer all day, who are meeting and having these fight clubs, beating the crap out of each other… These guys aren’t involved in trying to improve themselves, that’s not what was I involved in”

His own involvement with boxing continues. He is persevering with training, despite still battling a chronic rib problem. “This year has been absurd” he says of the injury. “how ridiculous it’s been…I got healthy, and I was training pretty hard for almost a year, and then all of a sudden it started popping again, boom, boom, boom”

“It’s a very draining thing to pursue when it’s full on, because there’s so much training, your energy levels for other things, for living, are pretty low. Even in trying to write this book now, I have to really try and not give my life force to the gym. I have to give it to the book”

Said book is his newest project, which will focus more on the mental side of fighting. He has been conducting interviews with many of the top fighters and explains his non-judgmental approach to them is a key to his work: “Many people say ‘Oh that’s gross’ or ‘Oh that’s violent’. I have an open mind”

Despite A Fighter’s Heart being warmly received and containing some nerve-rattling descriptions of scenes like his fight in Thailand, Sheridan says he is “not satisfied with how anything came out”. His determination to keep improving as a writer is clear. It is this restlessness, this ceaseless quest for self-improvement, which is, to Sheridan, the very core of fighting. The curiosity which he believes is everyone’s duty to cultivate remains unfulfilled. “The thing about fighting” he has realised “is it’s never finished”

A Fighter’s Heart : One Man’s Journey Through The World of Fighting is published by Penguin, $32.95.

Originally appeared in: The Sun-Herald

Law Article – Sports Stars as Trade Marks, a new area of Intellectual Property Law

Sports stars as trade marks: an exciting new area of intellectual property law

sign football

Trade marks can be used to protect many different types of marks used in business, including logos, words, phrases, fancy text, colours and even sounds. But did you know names can also be registered as trade marks?

In recent years, some of Australia’s most famous sporting icons have registered their names as trade marks as they have moved into new business and charitable ventures.

Ian Thorpe has registered his name as a trade mark in three classes, covering his various business ventures in perfume and cosmetics, jewellery and clothing. Similarly, Greg Norman registered his own name as a trade mark in a number of classes relating to his business interests, including golf course construction, golf instruction and the design of golf courses and clubs. Shane Warne has a number of registered trade marks for ‘SHANE WARNE’ as well as other applications in progress. His marks are in a range of classes covering eyewear, watches, jewellery, leather goods, clothing, games, wines and spirits.

By registering their names as trade marks in this way, these athletes aim to restrict other parties that may try to use their name in connection with selling these kinds of goods or services. Registering a trade mark makes it much easier for them to take legal action against any party who offers infringing items for sale or who use their name in connection with these goods or services without authorisation.

Registering a trade mark can be a useful way to prevent other parties from economically benefitting from the goodwill and fame that has built up in their name.

Registered trade marks don’t just offer protection for business or purely commercial interests, however, and cricket icons Shane Warne, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting have all registered their name as trade marks for charitable services.

The estate of Sir Donald Bradman has also been active in registering trade marks relating to Bradman’s name. In registering these trade marks, they can prevent other parties associating themselves with the famous cricketer and potentially earning money from this association. This is an example of how registered trade marks can play a valuable role in reputational protection. Bradman’s representatives have also registered the phrase ‘Bradmania’ as trade mark, an illustration of how words or phrases associated with an athlete can also be worth protecting as trade marks.

In addition to registering his own name as a trade mark in different classes, Lleyton Hewitt has also taken the unusual step of registering the phrase ‘Lleyton & Bec Hewitt’ in one class, providing online information on health.

American athletes have been even more inventive in utilising trade mark protection to help prevent other parties capitalising on the fame they have built up. In a move described as unorthodox but smart by Forbesmagazine, New Orleans basketball star Anthony Davis has registered trade marks for phrases relating to his distinctive monobrow, including ‘Raise the Brow’ and ‘Fear the Brow’. These phrases had become famous as Davis had risen to fame and other parties were starting to cash in on his popularity by selling T-shirts and merchandise featuring the slogans.

When American football star Terrell Owens gave a press conference announcing his move to the Dallas Cowboys he told reporters to “Getcha popcorn ready!”. The phrase soon caught on and Owens registered it as a trade mark. Interestingly, he had also earlier registered his initials as a trade mark. Similarly, when baseballer Bryce Harper dismissed a reporter with the words “That’s a clown question, bro” the phrase went viral on social media and began to appear on shirts and other merchandise. Harper quickly registered the words as a trade mark. Perhaps the most famous phrase an athlete has registered as a trade mark, however, is John McEnroe’s ‘You cannot be serious!’ which he infamously shouted at the many umpires he disagreed with during his colourful tennis career.

Nicknames have also been trade marked. Most notable is the registration of ‘Thorpedo’ by Ian Thorpe. Another sportswear company, Torpedoes Sportswear Pty Ltd, opposed the registration of this mark, arguing that it was identical or deceptively similar to their own trade mark. Thorpe’s fame and the evidence showing this nickname was in common usage were key factors in proving that the two marks were not similar and would not cause consumer confusion. Thorpe won the case and also won again on appeal and has now registered the mark in 13 different classes.

We can learn a couple of things from this trend. Firstly, these often novel trade mark registrations show the value in protecting your name, image and reputation. By registering their names as trade marks, these athletes and former athletes have gained the right to exclusively use of their name in association with the business or charitable activities in the classes their marks are registered in.

Secondly, it shows how versatile trade marks can be in protecting various forms of intellectual property.  Many people associate registered trade marks with distinctive commercial logos like the McDonalds arches or the Nike Swoosh, but these applications are a valuable reminder that people’s names, initials, nicknames and signature phrases can all be protected by trade mark registration. Words associated with the athlete can also be protected this way – recently basketball star Jeremy Lin won a battle against several other parties to register the word ‘Linsanity’ as a trade mark. The phrase, which was frequently used in reference to the hysteria around Lin’s sudden rise to fame, had initially been used by another NBA player.

Finally, these trade mark registrations show that in one sense athletes and prominent individuals can be thought of as brands. There is an inherent value that has been built up in their brand names and like any other business, they need to take steps to protect their brand name and prevent others either capitalising on its value or diminishing its value by using it in ways the individual doesn’t want. Often the real value of a business lies in the intellectual property rather than the physical property a company may have built up.

Originally appeared on: Terri Janke and Company website