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