Published: 04 November 2010
by ALAN STAFFORD
FRANK Zappa was never one for following rules, and his 70th birthday celebration is no exception.
Three days of music, film and special events at The Roundhouse in Camden. Five thousand miles away from his family home in California. And 17 years after his death.
You could see it as a mirror of the scale, range and iconoclasm of Zappa himself. This is the musician who played everything from rock, pop, disco and jazz to avant-garde orchestral. The lyricist who mercilessly mocked both the establishment and the counter-culture. And the man who inspired everything from The Beatles to Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright who became first President of the Czech Republic.
Zappa's widow Gail is playing a big role in the celebrations - including a rare Q&A on her life with Frank – and has some reflections on the lasting regard and affection for her husband.
"I think being well-respected reflects the force of his personality and his unique point of view," she says, speaking to Grooves by email from LA. "I think his audience understands that he refused to compromise his standards in musical excellence and elsewhere in his life.
"And as for being liked I don't know so much about that but if you mean appreciated, then it has everything to do with not taking himself seriously and taking responsibility for creating every opportunity from every stage he stood on to make sure everyone in the audience had a good time."
The birthday festival has the same philosophy, with three concerts at its heart. Friday sees the London Contemporary Orchestra playing The Yellow Shark, Zappa's last album before his death in 1993 at just 52 of prostate cancer. It has been described by no less than Tom Waits as "awe-inspiring ... the clarity of his perfect madness, and mastery".
Saturday is Zappa Plays Zappa, with Frank and Gail's eldest son Dweezil and his band playing Apostrophe, one of Zappa's most popular albums (including the immortal Don't Eat The Yellow Snow) and other fan favourites. Audio-video wizardry will see the band playing onstage with Frank himself. Also appearing are The Mighty Boosh band with Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt - whose crazy TV vision is pure Zappa.
And Sunday sees the London Sinfonietta performing the UK premiere of The Adventures of Greggery Peccary, an epic classical piece featuring Kwame Kwei-Armah, playing the eponymous free-thinking piglike mammal. There are also pieces by Boulez and Varese, the 20th century classical composers who were big influences on Zappa.
The weekend also includes a screening of all Zappa's movies, including the infamous rock star road movie 200 Motels.
The unlikely London Zappa extravaganza came about after Gail was approached by Roundhouse Director of Music Dave Gaydon backstage after one of Dweezil's Zappa Plays Zappa shows.
"The orchestral pieces were suggested by the ensembles and Dave asked for all of the films and that is pretty much how it started off," she says. "We hope to be able to do this on an ongoing basis and then we would be premiering many more orchestral works. This is one of the most exciting aspects of this opportunity.”
And what would Frank, with his taste for the weird and entertaining, have made of the massive party in his honour on the other side of the world
Gail adds: "The fact that it is in England would be great cause for amusement."
• Frank Zappa at The Roundhouse runs from Friday to Sunday firstname.lastname@example.org • T 0844 482 8008