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RCA exhibitions

South of the Thames after six months in Kilburn, I took the chance to stop and review the RCA's end-of-year shows.

With a network of light industrial buildings around Battersea, hemmed in by real industry and car workshops, this is truly culture as industry; manufactories of creativity. The first building I visited was the sculpture building, There is a breadth of work on show here, from David Pringle's massed ranks of Kodak Carousel slide projectors making an unholy racket to Evy Jokhova's giant architectural printmaking and book-work. Both of them have produced solid, intelligent work in very different ways.

But sadly, that's all I can tell you about the next generation of edgy, exciting British artists. Before I got any further, I was 'challenged'.
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Best of British burlesque

Burlesque is a beautiful and very English thing. Slightly risque, but never pornographic; slightly smutty, but never filthy.  So Worthing's most seaside venue, the magnificent Pier Pavilion, should be a perfect place for A Night of Burlesque.

All the acts tonight are excellent at what they do, but they do struggle at times. The audience is keen; a mix of drunken women out for parties, metrosexual couples and a smattering of elderly couples who I suspect saw this stuff first time round. But there's a problem with the size of the venue. With no stage set, props or dressing, some of the more subtle moves are lost in the Pavilion's large auditorium. Certainly comedy act Piff loses some of his magic tonight; finger puppets don't work ten rows back. A couple of the dancers fail to get the whoops and cheers for small moves that they might get in a more intimate venue too.

Amber Topaz is the official headline act, and she certainly knows how to reach the back of the auditorium. She's old-school end-of-the-pier stuff, great moves and dynamite tunes. As you'd expect, she's also a lady who knows how to remove a stocking.  

Slinky Sparkles doesn't need to, with stocking seams tattooed up her legs and finished with bows below a Marilyn-esque bottom. She does anyway, thankfully. And lots of other rather charming stuff with feather fans. She's a classical pin-up girl, great looks and lots of attitude.

Ginger Blush gives burlesque a brilliant twist. Proving that men will always go for women with a sense of humour, she uses the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme for a rap about the life of Queen Elizabeth 1 and a wonderful costume - an ironing board that transforms into an Elizabethan dress. It's a mix of masterful burlesque, traditional variety and modern music that  means Ms Blush stands out from the crowd.

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Liverpool fills empty shops

Liverpool is suffering the effects of the recession like any other Northern city, and although new developments may be encouraging people into the city, it has left it with too much retail space, and thus a large number of empty shops. This article reviews three different responses to this problem.

Dot-Art is a Liverpool based non-profit organisation that works with local artists to provide a means for them to display & sell their art. Dot-Art provides website space, office rental of art, advice for artists, & pop-up art gallery. The latest pop-up galleryis situated in the Met Quarter.

The home of All Saints and Armani, this is a high-end shopping centre. Focusing on paintings, there was a range of styles and mix of media. Some were more conventional representations, others completely abstract, and differing levels of skill and execution. The art on display varies in affordability from £250-2000, which felt a good range to appeal to a wide audience, and the variety of art could mean that both seasoned collectors and people who have never bought an original before might find something that appealed to them. There was no explanation or descriptions of the paintings or artists.

The shop felt very much like a non-intimidating art gallery, rather than a scruffy ex-shop; it was neat, smart & a good use of space, although hidden away in the upstairs corner of the centre. You couldn’t refer to this as a particularly exciting or innovative way to use an empty shop, but it is revenue generating and aims to provide exposure and sales for those who artists who may struggle to gain such public recognition normally. Dot- Art may be relatively straightforward in the way it displays art, but the organisation is unusual and if it can remain a success, is cause for celebration. Their next gallery is from 2-4th June 2011.

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Lewes poet pens rollicking roadtrip tale on the train

The Commuter's Tale by Oliver Gozzard (Desert Hearts, £7.99, 62pp, ISBN 978-1-898948-07-0)

Lewes-based poet Oliver Gozzard has penned this rollicking tale of a frazzled commuter who leaves his workaday life to join a rapper he meets on the train in a string of adventures.

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Important Artefacts

While the thronging crowds flocked to the German Market in Birmingham city centre, last night, just a stone’s throw away, ARC’s ninth, and last exhibition was held at The Vaults, on Newhall Hill.

This stylishly furnished bar and restaurant, with its evocative, Victorian, bricked alcoves, lends itself well to exhibitions and performance art, becoming a perfect casket for the Important Artefacts exhibition, curated by Anneka French.

The exhibition theme was inspired by collecting and collections and the show included a variety of works using different mediums.

‘View from the Other Side’, by Matt Andrews , was a presentation of slides that tease our curiosity primarily for the ‘vintage’ quality of the images and their intimate character, arousing that latent (or even manifest) voyeuristic nature inside each and every one of us.

Through this journey into the ever-receding days of the early Sixties, we get a brief glimpse of the life of total strangers on sight-seeing expeditions, sharing a toast or standing proudly outside what will soon become their new home.

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Milton Jones and Richard Vobes at Matt's Comedy Club

In the space of a couple of years, Matt's Comedy Club has carved itself a rather nice niche. Serious comedians, and some very good names (tonight's headliner Milton Jones has certainly been on the ascendancy since he first appeared here a year ago), with a great atmosphere. Just light on the swearing, so that all the family can enjoy the laughs.

The three acts appearing upstairs at Worthing's Dome tonight are all good, clean fun and represent three comedy threads with a strong lineage. Importantly though they all have a modern edge.

Opening act, club founder and tonight's compere is Russ Bravo. He has a good line in neat gags, puns and wordplay (he's provided jokes for a few names) but he excels at comedy songs. He's a 21st century Richard Digance. Tonight, we have an excellent Royal Wedding song, and a ditty about paving slabs. Bravo is a natural compere, and holds the night together with ease and charm.

The next act takes a simple piece of whimsy and turns it into a powerful, punchy routine. He's a mime - and went to mime school - and has lived a mime's life. But he's giving up the most hated of comedy forms.
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Music legends bring South African groove to Dome

Brighton Dome: Hugh Masekela + The Mahotella Queens

It was South Africa night at The Dome this week, as veteran music legends dropped in to prove that some acts just improve with age.

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Sixty children and sixty ukuleles

Some musicians have such a distinct voice that their work is instantly recognisable.

Sean O Hagan's new piece, Music for Sixty Ukuleles and Sixty Children, proves he's that kind of composer. There's no way that a performance by sixty children from Worthing's Whytemead First School should sound like Hagan's work with Microdisney, The High Llamas or Stereolab. But it does.

It's in the blend of solid, 60s soundtrack groove and softly psychedelic harmonics.

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Even in the darkest moments, reasons to be cheerful

If ever there was a rock star perfect for the dramatic treatment, Ian Dury was it.

The product of a crafts-driven (if brutal) school for disabled children followed by a spell at art college, Dury was always as much a performance artist as a musician. Perfect fodder for Jeff Merrifield's musical 'Hit Me', previously seen at Edinburgh and now stopping for a night in Worthing as part of a punishing thirty date UK tour.

It's a two-hander, with Mark White's Dury up against Josh Darcy's take on Dury's minder and roadie Fred 'Spider' Rowe. The two clearly love each other dearly, but Dury is pulled apart by a deep-seated bitterness. Spider talks of the two Dury's, Ian and Tom, suggesting a manic, highs-and-lows depression inside the singer.
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Cultural Quarters

1985 should be a year that artists remember. It was then that a Greater London Council report introduced the idea of culture as an industrial sector. Of course, there's been a continuous argument raging since 1945, when the Arts Council was founded and the arts became something for government to be involved in.

This book, a collection of useful short essays, looks in depth and the economic and social arguments for setting up a dedicated Cultural Quarter in a town or city. If you're an artist and you think there should be one in your town, this book should be on your desk and you should be thinking about the arguments, evidence and case studies it puts forward. And if you've already got one, the examples, ideas and inspiration found here should help you to develop what you've got.

This book breaks the idea down into useful chunks, with plenty of meaty content about the landscape of Cultural Quarters. There's the historical background and economic arguments, a look at the policy framework and a shopping list for the ingredients of success. At times, the writers can be quite dry and make culture-led regeneration sound quite lifeless; it's worth remembering that colour and creativity are what makes this stuff work, but it is also useful to have the academic arguments and economic examples to hand. This is stuff that artists should learn – I have found that nothing scares a council officer more than a mad artist who not only a vision, but also solid evidence and sound examples.