A new project for New York

I’ve been living in New York for nearly a year and a half now, and I haven’t always made the most of it. To remedy that, I’ve now taken on a new project – doing something new every new day I’m in New York. And I’m blogging about it.

Have a look!


(And suggestions are welcome…)

Little Faith in Paloma

Paloma Faith - Grand and Mercer

Paloma Faith’s coiffed blaze of hair and painted face seem to be plastered over every corner of New York City. Three years after her debut single charted in the U.K., she has elbowed her way into the U.S. and is now signed with Epic Records.

Two years ago, I interviewed Faith for Manchester’s City Life ahead of her performance at the M.E.N. arena. She was a little bit of a challenge, and spent half the interview complaining about how she had been invited to far fewer award ceremonies than someone of her success deserved.

“Did you know that for all the award ceremonies in this country this year, I have never been nominated or even invited to one? I don’t know why. It’s fine. That’s sort of how my life’s been. I’ve never been someone who’s won things.”

Sounding so bitter so early in her career, I wondered how long she’d stick at it and, after she failed to maintain the same high profile, I thought perhaps that was that.

(I knew the interview was the end for me and Paloma, at least. When we discussed her first handful of singles – which charted at numbers 17, 15, 64 and 55 respectively – and I asked whether she was bothered by chart success, she threw her toys out of her vintage pram and demanded to know where I’d got my facts.)

It’ll be interesting to see how she gets over in the U.S. She undoubtedly has an aesthetic charm and some catchy songs, such as New York, with beautiful orchestral production. And as a trained ballerina, former burlesque dancer and magician’s assistant who has enjoyed a few movie cameos, she’s also a semi natural entertainer.

Also, since we spoke, she’s garnered a few nominations, so let’s hope she’s actually started enjoying herself.

Fiona Apple is a good woman

Fiona Apple and Janet

Earlier today, I wrote a story for MailOnline about Fiona Apple postponing her South America tour to take care of her beloved 13-year-old pitbull Janet, whom she thinks is close to death.

“I just can’t leave her now, please understand. If I go away again, I’m afraid she’ll die and I won’t have the honor of singing her to sleep, of escorting her out.”

While some websites laughed at her decision – and her dramatic letter explaining it – the choice seems to have garnered more fans than it lost. And negative comments from guffawing readers on my story sent red arrows flying.

The decision is one any dog owner will understand. Janet isn’t just a pet. She’s been at Apple’s side during every song she’s written and has accepted her ‘hysterical, tearful face into her chest, with her paws around me, every time I was heartbroken’.

And I get it too. I’ve caught my Westie, Liki, looking at me judgementally on far too many occasions, reminding me there’s a person – albeit a grumpy one – behind those big brown eyes.

Her announcement also reminds us how Apple operates. On her own time, with her own rules. She is hurting for her friend, and that is more important than any money or career – although I suspect this very human decision has boosted, rather than hindered, her career.

Get well soon, Janet!

Videos: Isabella Marriott captivates in her first show

I’ve known Bella Marriott for about a year and, while I was aware she was a singer and pianist, she is far too humble to reveal the extent of her talent. But on Thursday, in her first solo set at Think on 8th Avenue, I heard it for myself.

Thanks to her vocal gymnastics, storytelling and poetic lyrics about love, lessons and adventure, there was something almost Regina Spektor-like about her songs. And, as she recounted teenage runaway stories and revealed her desires for relationships, she was just as passionate.

Her voice is dynamic and versatile – capable of cute lilts and deeper, soulful notes that hark back to classical musicals, and really elevate her piano melodies.

I’ve posted my favourites, ‘Close Your Eyes’ – a gentle, vulnerable lullaby – and ‘Spanish Coast’ below. But for more of Bella’s songs, have a listen here.

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Film Review: Denzel Washington skillfully pilots doomed Flight

Are we responsible for events in our lives, or can we blame them on greater powers? So is the debate driving Robert Zemeckis’ heavy-handed Flight, a lumbering descent into one man’s struggle between personal choice and influences beyond his control.

It opens with a flabby, hungover Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) lying on his stomach and leering at a naked, cute young thing strutting around his bed in her panties. Drinking the dregs of beer bottles on his hotel night stand, he introduces a horrifying idea: Within minutes, he will be piloting a plane through a thunderstorm from Orlando to Atlanta, with 102 lives in his hands. A line of cocaine for breakfast, and he’s off.

After a couple of bursts of oxygen in the cockpit, three vodkas and a nap, the inevitable begins. Whether due to the storm, faulty equipment or pilot error, the craft begins to plummet. Passengers scream, the co-pilot sobs – and Whitaker calmly manoeuvres the doomed plane into a field.

No one, we learn, could have landed that plane like Whitaker. But celebrations are short-lived. Not everyone survived the crash and someone needs to take responsibility – and our hero has a blood system flooded with alcohol. Continue reading

Halloween special: Goosebumps anthems

Seeing as you asked, you can have a treat.

In the spirit of Halloween, I thought I’d share these tracks that celebrate the Goosebumps series by R. L. Stine – you know, those neon-covered paperbacks that made you fear garden gnomes, dread anyone putting on a mask and convinced you never to go down to the basement alone. (We don’t have basements in the U.K., but R.L. Stine taught me I probably didn’t want one anyway).

A tribute to this ridiculously prolific author whose books were so central to the lives of children on both sides of the Atlantic seems long overdue. And in these newly-released songs, a group of friends from Minnesota perform ten of his titles with hypnotic guitars, enraged beats – and some hilarious lyrics.

So settle down with your pilfered KitKats, turn up your speakers and whatever you do… don’t go to sleep.

Art preview: John Warren exhibition

Summer Landscape, John Warren

With Hurricane Sandy painting the skies grey, a dash of colour in my inbox was more than welcome.

My uncle, John Warren, is an artist living in Limassol, Cyprus, and has sent me an invitation for the opening of his latest exhibition next week. Unfortunately, 1,000-mile-wide storms and presidential elections would have other ideas, so I’m having to admire his work from afar.

Growing up, our house was always dotted with Uncle John’s canvases – beautiful, almost cartoony landscapes in purple and blue hues. Their bright surfaces conjured trips to his family’s cool, tiled-floor house, flaounes and garden dates with their adopted stray cat, Scabby.

In this latest collection, his relationships with colour and the landscape endure, but they’ve taken an abstract turn. With the title of ‘Witnesses’, the exhibition takes his perceptions of his surroundings and mixes them with oil, acrylic and lashings of emotion to reach his final product.

The paintings emit a warmth of Spring, Summer and that tiled-floor home in Limassol. Just what I need beneath these grey skies.

Secret Garden

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New York City’s Howl-oween parade

After landing in New York just before Halloween last year, I was told not to miss the city’s parade. Twelve months on, I’ve realised that perhaps they weren’t talking about the event that snakes through the city’s streets on October 31st, but another that sets the East Village abuzz – and stars every possible breed of dog.

With a pug masquerading as a unicorn in tow, photographer Micaela Mclucas and I went to the Halloween dog parade in Tompkins Square Park to capture the madness.

More than 500 dog owners swarmed the park hoping their pooch would win best in show at the annual parade – the largest of its kind in the U.S. Top dogs included Edward Scissorhands, Donald Trump, ‘Mutt Romney’, Batman’s nemesis Bane and a Miss Piggy bulldog decked in a blonde wig, diamonds and pearls.

If you’re one of those killjoys who finds dressing up animals cruel, just have a peek at Micaela’s pictures, and let your cold, cold heart melt.

Best in show: The elaborate E.T. costume – complete with a man in the moon – won the top prize

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Review: The House I Live In

A little over a century ago, drugs were widely used, socially accepted and even bourgeois. Now, dabblers and dealers languish behind bars for life for carrying the smallest of amounts.

The reason for this shift, according to Eugene Jarecki’s powerful documentary The House I Live In, was to imprison the minorities whose cheap labour threatened to steal American jobs. One by one, as their users proved a threat, drugs were demonised. The Chinese were jailed for smoking opium, Mexicans for marijuana and African-Americans for crack.

It is a treatment The Wire creator David Simon, whose interviews provide a narrative guide for the documentary, brands ‘a holocaust in slow motion’. And, frighteningly, it is an attitude enshrined in law by politicians desperate to win elections.

Over the past 40 years, these lawmakers have spent more than $1 trillion dollars in the War on Drugs. Since 1973, the prison population has soared by more than 700 per cent – and the racial divides still persist. Despite making up just 13 per cent of the country’s population and 14 per cent of drug users, African-Americans account for 56 per cent of those imprisoned for drug offences.

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Dining in style: Afternoon tea at The Berkeley

In nearly a year now, I’ve not had a half decent brew. So on returning from the U.S. for a week, I made a beeline for the tea cups and cake stands at The Berkeley.

The London hotel’s traditional afternoon tea has a fashionable twist, with the waiter leading us through its Spring/Summer 2012 collection of treats. Each cake, mousse or biscuit has been inspired by the world’s top designers and their must-have items.

There’s the D&G blue wicker basket made from moulded chocolate wrapped around blueberry sponge cake and finished with a tiny gold ‘clasp’. A Christian Louboutin neon yellow high-heeled shoe became a beautifully crunchy biscuit – not forgetting the line of red icing along the heel. And the chefs paid tribute to a Michael Kors gown with a layered mocha mousse cake topped with a leopard print slither of chocolate.

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