Sunday, April 19, 2015

the incredible paul bradley at arnos vale…

Moira+I went along to a concert at the elegant Anglican Chapel at the wonderful Arnos Vale cemetery last night. Yes, this might sound a little bizarre, but it really is an excellent concert venue (Ruth+I went to a Daisy Chapman concert there a couple of years ago)!
I’ve previously posted a couple of times (here and here) about Paul Bradley (he’s also a member of my one of my favourite “bands” Three Cane Whale) and last night marked the official launch of his “Banish Cherish” CD – which I’ve possessed since the end of last year (and which continues to be my current favourite album!).
Last night was the first time I’d actually seen him perform in a solo capacity. I just KNEW it was going to be a wonderful experience and so it proved. Yes, he’s a highly-gifted guitarist (he also plays perhaps another dozen instruments!), but he’s also an astonishing vocalist - who truly uses his voice as another instrument. Oh, and he’s also a composer of music! He’s an artist in the true sense of the word. At one stage last night, he played what was effectively an improvised piece, with loop technology, on his own for perhaps 35 minutes, non-stop (literally)… it was completely mesmerising. Utterly captivating.
He’s an amazing, unique musician. A genius.
I recently tried to describe his music to a friend… and blurted out something along the lines of “well, I think he’s incomparable… perhaps John Martyn might come closest to a comparison with a bit of Mark Hollis or Frank Zappa thrown in, sometimes maybe, or even Tom Waite on occasions… actually, his voice also seems to go from maybe choral through to folk, jazz and blues… oh, and he whistles beautifully too”. Needless to say, my friend ended up none the wiser (and I realised I hadn’t come even close to describing him)!
Believe me, if you get a chance to see this man perform live, grab it!
But, in the meantime, just buy his CD for £7.99… you will NOT be disappointed!
Photo: a somewhat blurred image from last night’s concert.
PS: “advance sale” tickets for the concert were just £5 each(!) – how RIDICULOUSLY cheap for what proved to be a brilliant evening.
PPS: he’s also a bloomin’ nice bloke!
PPPS: sorry that the album purchase link is via Amazon!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

march-april 2015 books

More book stuff:
South (Sir Ernest Shackleton, edited by Peter King): This book gives Shackleton’s account of his Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17. It’s grim, gruelling stuff in terrifying conditions (and all undertaken with no communication with the outside world!). Edmund Hillary is quoted as saying: “For scientific discovery give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton”. After reading this book (and I’d previously read “Endurance”), it would be difficult to argue against Hillary. This edition (bought for £3 instead of the original £20!) – which includes Frank Hurley’s stunning photographs – also contains Peter King’s fascinating additional notes based on recent research and provides fresh insights into Shackleton’s life and methods (eg. major defects in his organisation, inadequate finance, lack of training provided for his crew, failure to provide proper supplies of food … and other various ancillary issues: his womanising, his temper, his disregard for his parents in their declining years, his attitude towards his wife and children – including living off his wife’s money etc). Nevertheless, despite all this, Shackleton (who was almost worshipped by the team in his charge) was clearly a remarkable individual and a highly-gifted “leader of men”. A truly epic, harrowing story.
The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It (Owen Jones): A very special book. I’ve been a great admirer of Jones’s articles in The Guardian over the past couple of years and also heard him talk at Bristol’s Festival of Ideas last October. A tough book about how we’ve all been stitched up by The Establishment (well, that’s his view and, frankly, I wouldn’t argue with him at all). It left me feeling angry (that we’re being hood-winked), enlightened and frustrated. Hugely impressive (I also blogged about it here).
The Long March (William Styron): A novella that I first read 20 years ago. Eight Marines are killed by misfired mortar shells whilst training in Carolina in preparation for the Korean War. The battalion Colonel calls for a 36-mile forced march to inculcate discipline. The march itself takes up less than half the book, but Styron’s prose is powerfully explicit… “a study in the pathological absurdity of military exercises”.
Utz (Bruce Chatwin): I love reading Chatwin. He writes beautifully… and with humour and great knowledge (especially if it involves art and/or travel). This is only a very short book (of some 150 pages?) and I first read it probably 15 years ago. The narrator goes to Prague in 1967 (a year before the Soviet tanks overran Czechoslovakia – I was in Yugoslavia at that time) to track down a man rumoured to have an incredible collection of Meissen china. The story is essentially an investigation into art, collecting and passion.
Eight Months on Ghazzah Street (Hilary Mantel): This is our book group’s next book. Published in 1988, this novel provides a pretty frightening account of life in Saudi Arabia as experienced by a British couple living in an expatriate compound (the husband working as an engineer on a massive construction project and accompanied by his wife). The position of women in this Muslim kingdom and their secluded lives; the wealth and power of the royal family; the attitudes of men; the fear; the rumours; the rules that need to be obeyed; the rats and the cockroaches… It’s all the more real because Mantel herself had lived in the kingdom for four years and she had experienced things that the vast majority of journalists and politicians would never face. It’s a compelling nightmare of a book and beautifully written and observed.

Friday, April 03, 2015

it really doesn’t have to be like this…

I didn’t watch last night’s TV Election Debate (I was at a meeting), but I think I’d caught up with most of it by breakfast time. It was, of course, all a little artificial but I thought that Nicola Sturgeon gave a pretty effective lesson in how to challenge the government’s record in office.  

I went to hear Owen Jones speak last October as part of Bristol’s brilliant “Festival of Ideas”. This is what I wrote on my blog at that time:
"Over the past year or so, I’ve become a great admirer of Owen Jones’s writing (he’s a regular columnist in The Guardian). Yes, he’s left-wing. Yes, he’s young (30!). But he’s also incredibly bright… and he talks an awful lot of sense (well, in my view at least). He’s recently written a book – “The Establishment: And How They Get Away with It” – and this formed the basis of the session. He talked for an hour (the first half an hour about the things included in the book and then another 30 minutes of questions-and-answers). He’s a remarkable and very gifted young man. He’s the sort of person who has the ability to express concerns on behalf of many of us who have become disillusioned with “establishment politics”. With certain exceptions, he doesn’t have a particularly high regard for our current batch of politicians (of whatever party)… in a recent article in the Guardian, he described them as “technocratic, rootless, soulless; a professionalised morass of time-servers who see ministerial posts as springboards to nice little earners on corporate boards; manoeuvring constantly not on the basis of political principle but for shameless self-advancement”!
There was nothing particularly startling (or new) in what he said last night (eg.
lobbyists who fund the thinktanks that influence the government, or the owners who appoint the editors who set the political agenda, or the tax accountants who get seconded to the civil service that decides how much their clients will pay), it’s just that I found myself agreeing with point after point he was making (and so did the vast majority of the full-house attending last night). His talk was very much a “call to arms” – to scrutinise the powerful (the corporations, the politicians etc) in these austere times and to redress the balance away from the poor, who are all too often (according to politicians and much of the media) blamed for our current financial predicament. Amen to that!
We all need people who make us think, who give us hope, who challenge us… and who encourage us to make our voice heard.”

Well, I’ve now read his book and would highly recommend it – whatever your own political leanings. I can almost certainly guarantee this: it will make you angry... and frustrated.

Last September, I wrote a blogpost about my political frustrations. This is the opening paragraph: “Somehow, last weekend, after the Scottish Referendum which saw a 84.5% voter-turnout, I was heartened to read articles from a couple of journalists making observations such as: ‘This campaign wasn’t about politicians persuading people how to vote, but people persuading politicians…’ and ‘On both sides of the referendum, people were energised by an astonishing proposition: take everything you're used to in politics and imagine you could put it to one side and start again. At that, the people did the talking and politicians were forced to listen’”.
The following day, I joined the Green Party.
I don’t pretend that this will change the world or that lots of other people will be persuaded to do likewise. Indeed, with the continuation of a “first-past-the-post” electoral system, many might view my Green vote as a “wasted vote”.
I would disagree.

BUT I would like to think that, with a General Election only a matter of some 30 days hence, maybe, just maybe, there’s still time for people to be shaken into voting for POLICIES rather than knee-jerk party politics?
Afterall, the SNP lost the Scottish Referendum – although you’d never think so in the aftermath that has seen them surge in terms of support. Whatever your political allegiances, perhaps for the first time for many of us, I think people REALLY did see through the last-minute panic measures of the Big Two parties… and came to realise that, DESPITE all the efforts of the press and the major political forces, the views of ordinary PEOPLE could actually start to make a difference. For example, although I absolutely abhor UKIP’s policies, I entirely acknowledge their right to be heard. For many people, voting UKIP in the European parliamentary elections was a protest against the cosy politics of the London-centric, Westminster village… and it really scared the major parties. I think the Greens, too (especially here in the south-west), have been justifiably gaining a lot of support from people who see them as speaking up for them.

I don’t know about you, but when I watch or listen to “Prime Minister’s Question” each Wednesday, it just makes me weep. I find the insults and exchanges from both sides utterly embarrassing and depressing.
It shouldn’t be like this. We need it to change. We need to make politicians listen to the electorate.
To paraphrase Owen Jones, we need to prevent the Establishment from continuing to get away with it!
Perhaps, over the coming days leading up to the General Election, I might post a few quotes from Owen Jones’s book via facebook - NOT to annoy you (hopefully) or to persuade you, but simply to make you think twice before you vote.
Now, there’s a challenge!
Photo: from the Huffington Post

Saturday, March 28, 2015

ian adams: unfurling poetry evening at foyles, bristol

I’d never been to a poetry “gig” before… but last night one of my very best buddies was performing some of his poems at Foyles Bookstore in Bristol. Obviously, I needed to be there! I’d read and re-read (and re-read) all the poems from his “Unfurling” book since it was published and loved them. But last night’s experience was really (and delightfully) surprising…
You know when you go to a music concert featuring one of your favourite performers? You know their music intimately. You know the words of the songs. You know all the tunes… and then the musician(s) starts off the concert with a familiar song that’s become a wonderful, well-loved friend?
Well, last night was exactly like that… except, of course, I’d only listened to the poems in my head or when I had read them out loud. Last night, for the first time, I heard Ian performing his poems… and it was fundamentally different and a very lovely experience.
I’ve often said that nothing quite beats live performance and last night was no exception.
And afterwards, in a completely impromptu way, many of us ended up at Carluccio’s, Quakers Friars, (ostensibly just for drinks) who managed to accommodated us all with much grace and humour… so we had an opportunity to meet up with old and new friends and reflect on a great evening.
Life is good.
Photo: Ian in action at Foyles last night...

Friday, March 27, 2015

february-march 2015 books

More book stuff:
Trouble for Lucia (EF Benson): My sixth, and last, Benson “Mapp+Lucia” book (written in the 1920s and set in Rye). Dominated by the exploits of the ludicrously, self-indulgent snob Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas. As before, lots of wonderful, elegant description of the “arduous” lives of the upper-middle-classes(!). To be honest, although I’ve really enjoyed reading these comic novels, I have to admit that there’s just part of me that’s grateful that I’ve come to the end of the series... time to move on!
From The Holy Mountain (William Dalrymple): Certainly the best book I’ve read this year… and probably one of the best books I’ve ever read. This is a brilliant, insightful, thought-provoking, saddening and illuminating book that follows the Silk Route of ancient Byzantium through the present-day Middle East tracing the 6th century journey of monk, oral historian and traveler, John Moschos. To describe it as a travel book would hardly do it justice; Dalrymple’s closest equivalent might be Bruce Chatwin – he has the same gift for words but additionally, for me, much humour and poignancy mixed in. First published in 1997, the book provides a depressing - but incredibly powerful and articulate - background to the world of today, 18 years on, dominated as it is by religious fundamentalism. At some stage, I might write a blog post focusing on faith and conflict over the centuries… but don’t hold your breath!
Her Privates We (Frederic Manning): Hemingway described this novel as the “finest and noblest book of men in war” he’d ever read. It’s set in the late summer of 1916 in the Somme valley, northern France. Manning himself had served in the Shropshire Light Infantry and took part in the heavy fighting on the Somme at that time. The book was particularly fascinating and poignant for me because my grandfather Frank Walker was also fighting on the Somme at the same time (he was with the Royal Horse Artillery). It’s gruelling, raw and brutally honest. It’s the closest I’ve got to even beginning to understand what it was like to have been there. Frankly, at times, I struggled to read it… but I’m glad I persevered. A superb book.
The Ship (Antonia Honeywell): This is novel starts in London, sometime in the not-too-distant future. Floods and fires have wreaked havoc; food is all tinned or dried – nothing grows, seas no longer support life. Parks have become shanty towns; gangs rule what used to be underground stations; lose your identity card and you lose your life. Mass culling is an official method of limiting the population to suit available food supplies. Climate change, globalisation, financial collapse, totalitarianism. You get the picture… it’s pretty grim (initially, it reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”)! But one man has a master plan to take 500 carefully-chosen people away from this mess on a large ship – stocked with vast quantities of food, clothing, medical supplies and sterilised water. They even have a cinema, a sports hall, book groups and much more. Life on board is wonderful. But the 16 year-old daughter of the master planner/messiah figure is a rebel. She wants to go back and do something to help all those left behind. It’s a fascinating, thought-provoking and disturbing book. At times, I found the synopsis flawed – or at the very least questionable or simplistic (it would make an excellent book group book!). I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since finishing it… haunting! I highly recommend the book to you.
Listening For The Heartbeat of God (Philip Newell): I first read this book 15 years ago and have decided to use it as my spiritual-book-for-Lent.  Phillip Newell talks about the experience we have all had at different points in our lives of “missing the moment”. All too often, we are guilty of “looking, but not seeing” or “listening, but not hearing”. Listening for God within the whole of life. It was good to re-read it. It reminded me of some fundamental truths (for me, anyway).

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

golfing again… at last!

I played golf for only the second time in 27 months on Sunday. Ken, Steve+I played at my old Studley Wood Golf Club… on a most wonderful, sunny, cloudless March afternoon. My golf was pretty awful (theirs was rather good!), but it was just great to be on a golf course again… and with two of my very best friends.

Friday, March 13, 2015

love’s labour’s lost… and won

Moira and I immersed ourselves in a little Shakespeare yesterday by seeing back-to-back plays, “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and “Love’s Labour’s Won” (otherwise known as “Much Ado About Nothing”) at the RSC in Stratford.
They were both simply stunning.
The plays, both directed by the excellent Christopher Luscombe, were staged to mark the centenary of the First World War. The productions were designed to straddle the Great War and both plays were to be set in a stately home (the originals were located on a country estate – “Lost” in northern Spain and “Won” in Sicily).
In the current production, “Lost” is set in June 1914 (two years before the start of WW1) and begins with four young men deciding to swear an oath to dedicate themselves to study for 3 years, giving up the “society of women”. No sooner have they signed their names than four attractive young ladies appear on the scene… and, of course, the men court the ladies and declare their undying love to each of them (I won’t go into details!). The play ends with the women insisting that the men show their commitment by waiting a year… and only then will they accept the men’s proposals. In the final scene, the men depart in military uniform to face the uncertainty and terror of war.
“Won” is set in December 1918. The war is over and soldiers are returning. The country house is recovering from having been pressed into service as a hospital during the war. It’s a time of huge relief for those who’ve survived the war… a time to pick up the pieces of life before the conflict, a time for love, for recovery and, for many, a time for reflection on events that had transpired, injuries endured and lives lost. However, it would take me far too long to go into all the details (and you probably know the plot any way – I think I must have seen the play at least four times?)… needless to say, it involves more love and conflict!
As you might imagine from the RSC, the acting across the entire company is absolutely excellent.  However, the stand-out stars are Edward Bennett (Berowne in “Lost” and Benedict in “Won”) and Michelle Terry (Rosaline in “Lost” and Beatrice in “Won”). Both actors truly captivated the audiences in both plays with performances that encapsulated passion, poignancy, tenderness and humour in huge measure (and when I say that the actors captivated the audiences, I really do mean it – at various times, Bennett and Terry really did have them in the palms of their hands (as it were). One moment laughing uncontrollably and the next desperately holding back the tears. The audiences absolutely adored them both.
Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett were utterly outstanding.
The music also played an important part in both productions. The company, as a whole, clearly includes some very gifted singers… and I particularly enjoyed composer Nigel Hess’s ability to blend the music of Cole Porter and Noel Coward (but, hey, what do I know?).
I’m always fascinated and amazed by the talents of the creative team in such productions. Simon Higlett’s design for both plays utilised elements from nearby Charlecote Park – with its twin octagonal  towers, lawns, imposing fa├žade and great hall – travelling through the house and grounds using a large sliding “truck” and a “substage trap” to make scene changes as swift as possible. Blimey, they were breath-takingly good!
A wonderful, truly memorable, theatrical experience.
PS: One massive bonus for us was that our lovely friend Sam Alexander was part of this remarkable and talented company (very impressively playing the King of Navarre in “Lost” and the rather sinister Don John in “Won”) and we enjoyed an excellent early supper with him at the RSC’s Terrace Restaurant between the plays!
PPS: I fell in love with Flora Spencer-Longhurst (who played Katherine in “Lost” and Hero in “Won”)!