Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Design hero Chris Wilson continues to delight and amaze the creative team of The Ideas Mine with his quick, intuitive work.
The implications of yesterday’s power breakfast at Tynemouth’s Grand Hotel are discussed this morning in between admiring Chris’s offerings; possibilities and potential swim before our eyes.
Speaking of being spoilt for choice, the DGM archive continues to slowly roll out before me; there’s gold in them thar files!
And now I go to disappear into the pop-up hell that usually accompanies trying to track down international flights on travel agency websites. If I’m not back in a day or two send out a search party.
Monday, November 29, 2004
Boy, it’s been a long day. I was up not long after five. John S picked me up at 7.00 a.m. and half an hour later we were into a meeting with someone who recently worked in Sydney.
He’s agreed to help us with some of our Australian deliberations. By the time I got home at 9.30 a.m., I was well fired-up. Later in the day, Chris T and Eric O called over; we played catch-up on recent news and swapped stories. All good stuff.
Chris brought with him his recent purchase; Nuts and Son of Nuts by George Melly. These were albums from our shared youth; they sound surprisingly vital and spirited even after all these years. Very enjoyable.
By the time they left circa 7.00 p.m., I had to attend to a couple of Building Bridges items and was considering KC 1971. My considerations hadn’t gone far when I realised I was cream-crackered.
Bad tooth-ache makes the left side of my jaw tender to the touch. Otherwise bright as a button and firing on all cylinders. Both Debbie and Joseph are under the weather.
Sunday, November 28, 2004
Accompanying my labour is the kitchen radio which is usually welded into the Radio 4 position by a combination of old grease and what look like bits of cat hair. Only this morning it isn’t. Instead it’s the chatty jabber of Radio 2.
I hear a celebrity couple being interviewed about their life and times together and choosing records that evoke significant memories – sort of Desert Island Discs but without the complete works of Shakespeare and the loneliness.
The woman picks her favourite. What could it be; a bit of Bach, Jerusalem or on the lighter end of things Johnny Mathis or Ol’ Blue Eyes? Not a bit of it. Out of tiny and tinny speaker of my old-style analogue radio (a tenner from Asda since you ask) bounces the high-octane, kettle drum pounding of Iggy Pop and Lust For Life.
There was a time was when Radio 2 was all Vince Hill, comfy cardies and the honeyed-tone of Hannah Gordon fielding probing questions about her new book on gardening. Or was it cake decorating? Actually it was probably both.
Now, it’s all touchy-feely, coping with bankruptcy or some obscure yet hilarious disease contracted whilst presenting a holiday programme for the tele and reassuringly perhaps, gardening. All this and Iggy Pop!
Now, when I were a lad, Iggy was a symbol of rebellion, excess and somewhat perplexingly, a barely breathing advert for how dangerous living might also appear to be beneficial for one’s muscle tone.
Now here he is prancing about in the nation's kitchen and as threatening as a newly clipped poodle!
This is how you know the world is turning all too fast and you’re not getting any younger. Iggy Pop complete and unexpurgated early on a Sunday morning on Radio 2 of all places; what once appeared threatening and outré is incorporated and absorbed. The times, they are a-changin’ I guess.
In a few years time, I’ll be up and about on a Sunday morning, parking my Zimmer(man) frame as I listen to some celebrity waxing fondly on the Digital-only radio. The simpering DJ will ask for another choice of record. Then the air will fill with the sound of the clumping guitars of Anal Cunt and their old hit, Meatshits. Ah, the good old days.
Anyway, enough of the future. I need to solve a mystery here and now; how on earth (and when) did the kitchen transistor get tuned to Radio 2?
Saturday, November 27, 2004
The new DGM website continues to occupy my attention for a large chunk of the day; getting to grips with the editing and uploading process feels very light and easy to grasp even for my Luddite brain.
Later after baking big pizza for Tom and Joe and their chums I watched an excellent programme celebrating the music of The Beatles; iconic in every respect and of course made me want to listen to more of the stuff straight away.
But they’ll have to wait as right now, my son Tom is playing his chums a collection of witty ditties by Tom Lehrer.
Friday, November 26, 2004
The lighthouse looked very picture postcard this morning. Whenever I make this stroll I always feel very lucky.
My sense of something about to happen referred to in an earlier diary entry wasn’t wrong when I realised that the Black Dog that came to call earlier this year has gone. You get so used to it being there that it takes a while for you to notice its absence.
Does that mean my life is now without difficulties, problems and challenges? No of course not. However, with the Black Dog departed I feel better equipped to deal with, well, whatever needs dealing with and that surely is half the battle isn’t it?
Hot on the heels of this realisation came another no less important moment of clarity; I now know what it is I’m meant to be doing. Now that might be obvious to many people but in the last year or so I’ve not been sure at all.
Adding both of these things to the groceries I shopped for in Whitley Bay town centre I’d have to say it’s been a fairly productive day so far.
As for the rest of it, well King Crimson (various periods), the ProjeKcts and the preparation of the Friday feast await my attention.
Listening To...Erendira by First House
Thursday, November 25, 2004
Doreen and I thoroughly enjoyed a riotous performance Around The Horne Revisited at the Theatre Royal. We laughed until we cried. And then laughed some more. Afterwards, a woman we didn’t know from several rows behind came down and said “Well, it lovely seeing you two enjoy yourselves so much.”
A wet Wednesday in Newcastle (Theatre Royal on the left)
A belated happy birthday to Doreen (aged 77) and enjoying herself despite the drizzle!
Nosing around, sniffing about, sensing what’s right and what’s wrong. Getting the confidence to make mistakes. Very exciting indeed!
Sean Hewitt reduced me to complete silence with a revelation that reduced the certainties of my world into so much bricks and mortar; Thomas Pynchon made an appearance on The Simpsons in recent times! Twice in fact.
Thomas Pynchon!!! How sublimely, amazingly, supremely effing cool is that????
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
This comes under the heading “Shy bairns get nowt.” And then an excited call from John S reporting back from his breakfast pow-wow with big cheese decision-makers; they like Building Bridges enough to make encouraging noises about our Australian ambitions for the project.
John and I ponder the significance of this news; independent validation for a project that began life at the kitchen table in the green room downstairs.
Elsewhere, the ongoing engagement with culture continues as part of my day will be spent having lunch with my mother to celebrate her recent birthday. Thereafter, we’re off to the Theatre Royal located in the heart of Newcastle’s Graingertown – a place of architectural splendour left untouched by the ravages of T Dan Smith’s modernisation. This was a period where Council leader Smith wanted to see Newcastle transformed into the “Brasilia of the North.”
Doreen and I are going to see the matinee performance of Round The Horne. For those not familiar with British radio comedy, Round The Horne was one the funniest (and subversive) shows in the sixties. My mother and I used to listen to it back then.
Today we're attending a theatrical recreation of that show. Being terminally nostalgic (a great failing of mine) I'm looking forward to it. Go here for further details.
After this, I hope to be meeting up with Chris Wilson, ex-wok smuggler now designer daddio for a swift catch-up and pint. As Chris himself said to me recently “It’s been a lang time since we stuck the heed on.” Don’t ask. I haven’t a clue what he means. Perhaps I’ll find out tonight.
The sound of Biosphere and perhaps more appropriately, Boz-era KC accompany a morning tinkering with the back-end of the DGM site.
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Durham, Bergen, Gothenberg, and Barcelona featured in two of the several conversations. There’s a definitely something in the air as these exciting prospects bump around each other.
Later in the day in amongst those regional voices, an American voice prompts another conversation concerning Sydney, New South Wales.
The trick in everything is timing and being timely; being alert to the currents of possibility and potentiality. Opportunities open and close, fold in on themselves, shift and change, move on and sometimes come back. When someone asks you if you have any good ideas then (adopting the rich regional accent of Roy Harper), “you better ‘ad then.”
Listening To…Circque by Biosphere.
Monday, November 22, 2004
Bill has written extensively about the north east and also about the collision of music, fashion that coincided with his growing up in early 1960s Newcastle. He also moved down to London at that time and so is in a perfect position to be able to compare the two distinctive scenes.
During our conversation Bill outlined that there are basically two types of Geordies; the ones that leave and come back and the ones the just leave. And of course, those like me, who never left in the first place.
Afterwards I sat on a wall in a nearby car park waiting for John S to come and pick me up so we could go onto another meeting related to the Building Bridges project.
Making notes from the session with Bill I began to notice how many students were retrieving vehicles from the car park. Not that they were stealing them you understand but rather they were the owners. Things have changed since the time when I was rubbing muesli and lentils with students.
Last night the respected South Bank Show featured a doco on The Darkness. I fell asleep.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Reading the Sunday Papers for the usual clump of political gossip and brassy reviews. I note that Naxos have released a new Vaughan Williams recording. Surely a SS Xmas stocking filler?
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Elsewhere, I am politely warned off continuing with a project in development. From there I wander up town for a marathon session at the city library rooting about in the archives. I finished at 8.00 p.m.
One hour later I get home. Several messages and emails await my attention. It seems our antipodean ambitions just took another step closer. This is getting exciting.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
The Sting biog isn’t a bad read at all. His account of life in Wallsend (also my hometown) rings very true. I found the part dealing with Last Exit and their struggle for recognition especially revealing. I was a viewer on the outside of things at the time. Getting the inside track on this period was very useful in that it confirmed some things we suspected about the internal dynamic of the band at the time.
Talked with Martin Ellis re some publishing news. His Christmas catalogue (sans North Stars – now rescheduled for a February release) is receiving a lot of good press – Sunday Times, Times and possibly the Telegraph this week. This is good news for a small indie publisher like Martin. The appearance of a review in a national daily ensures that huge chains such as Waterstones will stock his product. Quite how one gets it to the book of the week status, read out on Radio 4, is another matter. That’s the one that really lifts sales – so I’m told.
As Martin was bringing me up to speed on things he suggested that the North Star editorial team (really just Martin, John T and myself) get together fairly soon – the equivalent of a staff Xmas party. We are meeting in the Grainger Market – a run-down, dog-eared Victorian covered market that has had the heart and charm renovated from it over the years.
Ongoing discussions with John S and The Ideas Mine regarding the Building Bridges project. Lots of reasons to be excited and also lots of detail to assimilate and master. Our attentions move to Australia and Sydney – in particular the Sydney festival. There is synergy everywhere!
Bright Lights, Big City takes a little more shaping up and refining. The sample script takes a tentative step into the big wide world later this week. Always a nervous moment; hailed or reviled.
Listening To. . .
The Moon and her Melodies by The Cocteau Twins & Harold Budd.
Gnu High by Kenny Wheeler
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Reading…Broken Music by Sting
Listening To. . .The Well Tuned Piano Vol 3 by LaMonte Young(though not necessarily at the same time).
Monday, November 15, 2004
Follow the link to the site to hear tracks from Pure and also watch the promo video directed by Eric Oliver – shaky hand-held camera courtesy of yours truly .
Brass monkey weather here today on the coast. The day has been spent partly preparing for the arrival of more members of Debbie’s family; this time it’s her father Bill and his wife, Kath. Given the state of the UK’s rail network they’re finding it cheaper to fly to Newcastle from Bristol than get a train.
Sunday, November 14, 2004
Saturday, November 13, 2004
Bill’s over here in the UK as part of a fellowship he’s taken up at the University of Birmingham. We had a nice lunch and chatted over the dynamics and micro-politics of Bill’s visit to Newcastle in December.
Although Bill and I have talked over the phone when he’s been at his home in San Francisco, we’ve never met before. It’s important to be able to look someone in the eyes and know if this is a person with whom you can do business.
Bill listened graciously and attentively as John and I outlined the current situation and climate of culture in the Newcastle area. His many years of dealing with the slow-turning wheels of the local state have prepared Bill for what lies ahead in terms of getting the Building Bridges project fully funded.
After a couple of hours of chatting it was time for John and I to get back in the car and head north. Travelling nearly five hundred miles for a two hour meeting might be considered as being somewhat extravagant. John and I regard this as a worthwhile investment. If Building Bridges is to be successful then it must be built on a firm, trusting foundation; that’s what yesterday was all about and that’s why the gruelling drive was worth it.
Friday, November 12, 2004
The family had opted for a humanist ceremony in which Eric’s life was remembered and celebrated. Not being religious, I have often found the standard service gets in the way of what I’m there for; paying respects and an act of remembrance.
The lack of the usual religious symbolism and its attendant paraphernalia lent today’s service a refreshing clarity, leaving those assembled to focus their attention on Eric rather than any imaginary chums in the sky.
After the service, several of us gathered at Eric’s club. It was a welcome chance to catch up with a couple of people I’d not seen for a long time. After several pots of tea it was time to leave. The rain had stopped and the sun was shining.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
In recent days, my mother and I have been making a start on chronicling the twist and turns of the family tree. When it comes to her father, George Rountree, it’s astonishing how little she knows about where he fought during. I think she felt a little embarrassed about this, pointing out that as a child she either never thought to ask or simply wasn’t interested.
As children we are often inattentive to what seems boring. We are only interested in those things that directly concern us. The stories that I would now relish, stories of how my Gran met my Grandfather when he was recuperating in his ‘infirmary blues’ in London during 1918, would have failed to connect with me when I was kid in summer holidays I spent in her house during the mid to late 1960s.
What did capture my young imagination though was finding out he’d been gassed and bayoneted during hand to hand combat; though it was never something my Grandad ever talked to me about directly on those walks in the rolling countryside around Warkworth.
Even if he had divulged the details and location of the push, to be honest I doubt I would have taken any of it in. I would have been to busy conjuring up the grisly scenes of the attack the way young boys in shorts do.
My recent foray in
Maps indicated the thrusts and counter-attacks over the fields of
Last Friday, as my mother and I shook our heads at how thin our knowledge of family history was, she unpacked a few items of family memorabilia and a photograph of young George Rountree circa 1914 aged 18 years old.
So on this auspicious, weighty day, I’m remembering my Grandad and what little we know about his part in that terrible time. I doubt that I would have the courage or blind loyalty or whatever it was that made him go over the top when the whistle blew.
And I’m also remembering him from a time that I knew him; The summer of 1964. walking up the stony lane from our cottage under the blue dome of an endless sky, a burning hot summer day, fields of golden wheat, birdsong, grazing cattle; his voice, a tangible sense of forever and permanence contained and conveyed in the weight of his hands on my shoulder.
31st July 1896 - 28th November 1964
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Elsewhere, the Bright Lights, Big City project appears to have made a potentially crucial contact.
This morning Brian and John called around to discuss the Building Bridges project. Things are moving at quite a pace although there is much to do; particularly if we want to maximise the benefit of being the creators of such a mammoth project. Visits to Leeds, Birmingham and London in the next few days appear to be in the offing.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
You’d think a movie about ex-lovers having painful memories of each other surgically erased would be perfect mix of the mundane and the fantastical for Kaufman to shine. Sadly Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind runs out of steam so quickly the only memory needing to be wiped is of this movie.
When Clementine (Winslet) impulsively has that part of her memory containing all references to her relationship with Joel (played by a gurn-free Jim Carrey) expunged after a lovers’ spat, Joel retaliates in kind only to realise half-way through his procedure that he’s changed his mind; he wants to hang on to what he has both good and bad. In a series of flashbacks and flash forwards, Joel’s time is no longer his own as he tries to outrun the big white-out of forgetting.
As all trace of their relationship literally disappears around him, Joel resorts to whisking memories of Clementine to other parts of his past (hiding her under the table of his childhood kitchen, etc), in the hope that the indifferent clinicians operating on him will miss a segment of his darling Clementine. Tragically, like the song, she is lost and gone forever. Or is she?
Which is fine as far as it goes. The trouble is what would have been great as a short – say half an hour or so – is stretched to breaking point to fill a whole movie.
Characterisation, normally a Kaufman strong suite is cursory, as though Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet were left to rummage about through some improvisation exercises; “shy but slightly weird creative type” meets “outré, convention flouting free-as-a-bird style muse” and see what they came up with. Pedestrian bit-parts stroll in and out of Joel’s real and remembered worlds to remind us in a rather laboured way that on balance it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved.
Given that this is a movie about trying to understand why things go wrong, who is to blame for this state of affairs? Clearly the writer has to take the rap but director Michel Gondry is also culpable. Whilst Gondry’s pop promo work for musical heavyweights and worthies might make for some snappy images, it seems painfully thin once it goes beyond the three minute mark.
Frankly after you’ve seen one empty bed sitting surreally on miles of snow-covered and deserted beach, you’ve seen them all. And no amount of smart-looking CGI can make up for the slack pace and loose story-telling.
Monday, November 08, 2004
Earth To Ether
15th November 2004
In the UK critics always seem suspicious of those artists who flout conventional wisdom by working outside their supposed genre. The broad-range of people Travis has worked with demonstrates his roots in both the jazz mainstream and progressive rock related field. Having just finished laying down some tracks for for a forthcoming David Sylvian album, Travis can also be found in the company of ex-Soft Machine stalwarts John Marshall and John Etheridge, serving up a flute salad in Gong, as well as post-rock auteurs, Tim Bowness, and Anja Garbarek.
The dividend paid out for this eclectic approach is a highly melodic, well-rounded music, full of dazzling expression and a deft fluidity.
The ascending chord sequence on "Earth To Ether" and "The Mystic and the Emperor" suggests that Travis regards onwards and upwards as the place to be. The allegorical title finds fitting expression in the exchange between spiritual matters and their temporal counterparts; Simon Colam’s ethereal piano shimmers in the air like a heat haze whilst double bass player Andy Hamil delves deep to produces an earthy solo.
These contrasting yet complimentary energies continue in an imaginative arrangement of King Crimson’s "21st Century Schizoid Man." Travis has said the inspiration for this came from ProjeKct Two’s loungecore version. Here, Travis lays down some prime tenor sax emphasising the hard-bop heritage that was drawn upon by at least one of the original composers of the piece.
The appearance of Richard Sinclair on three of nine tracks is particularly welcome given his lengthy musical silence. Yet his lugubrious vocals (along with Travis’ choice of cover material) will consolidate his prog-friendly profile and in doing so, most likely alienate himself from the serious jazzers who might consider fraternising with prog a heinous artistic crime.
However when the results are as convincing as the urbane ballad "The Book" or "This Frozen Time" (the latter lyrics supplied by Brit-Lit author, Jonathan Coe), Travis can afford to shrug off any naysayers. With its punchy dynamics (it was mixed and mastered by Porcupine Tree’s Steve Wilson), Earth To Ether is a triumph - a diverse album united by significant compositions and top-drawer playing from all concerned.
Sunday, November 07, 2004
With a winning combination of hard work and talent, Steve Lawson has established quite a name for his virtuoso bass playing. His diligent working of the support slot (stepping out with the likes of 21st Century Schizoid Band and Level 42) has given Steve’s work a life outside of the looping community. Albums such as the excellent And Nothing But The Bass (2000) and Conversations with pianist Jez Carr, show how comfortable Lawson is going solo or in the company of friends.
His latest collaboration with sax and flautist, Theo Travis – For The Love Of Open Spaces – is a superb blending of very different elements. Very much the coming man on the British jazz scene, Travis has included looping technology in his live performances for some time. What works best about this album is the way the pair have avoided going for the obvious ‘loop and solo’ tactic. Instead they create an expansive, integrated environment, moving elegantly across a broad range of moods and thematic ideas.
Beginning with the pensive Flutter, both Lawson and Travis produce a series of beguiling sketches that avoid any showy playing in favour of a reflective style that moves carefully without any fuss to support the mood or ambition of each piece in question.
Whether it’s the coy funk setting of Uncle Bernie or the frankly stunning Blurred Vision, the duo creates a brilliantly atmospheric album worthy of repeated investigation. Lovely, the fourth track on the album is just that; an aptly named and unpretentious pastoral oozing warmth as it celebrates the joy to be found in good unambiguous melody.
The coda to In A Place Like This contains one of the most exuberant bass solo’s I’ve ever heard exemplifying Lawson’s whole approach of keeping things simple, direct and to the point.
Elsewhere, though Travis’ sax playing offers a shining timbral contrast to the generally dark proceedings, it’s his alto flute playing that really connects, slowly engraving itself deep into the soul of the music; sparse and never overplayed.
Travis has the rare knack of making more from less, completely avoiding the breathy overblowing that is the last resort of flautists who are both running out of ideas and breath at the same time.
His recent UK tour showed Theo Travis in fine form fronting an excellent group of needle-sharp players. The popular stereotypical image of a sax player is that of a beret-wearing, shade-wearing outsider giving voice to his tortured soul through his horn. In concert, this potent archetype is politely disarmed as Travis makes his point without recourse to populist histrionics or reed-biting avant-garde posturing.
Friday, November 05, 2004
Given that this assembly was only ever going to have the power to commission deep-pile carpets for its new home, this is a good thing. Had John Prescott given the assembly real policy-making teeth then I might have been persuaded to actually open the envelope containing my ballot paper and scrawl an X.
Building Bridges is developing its own momentum – the critical point of any project. It’s the point at which it can be derailed or obstructed. It can quickly run away from you and slip out of one’s grasp. It’s relatively easy to come up with a good idea. The hard bit is keeping a hold of it once it enters into the public area and thus can be viewed as an easy ticket to the banquet by predatory chancers.
Thursday, November 04, 2004
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
The second part of the day was spent immersing myself in the past; the archives room at Newcastle City Library where I’d gone to dig up mouldy old accounts of Novocastrian nightlife. It’s a shame I’d forgotten to take my little camera. As one looks out of the ghastly library (a concrete monstrosity erected during Newcastle’s Brasilia of the north phase), there’s an interesting panorama of rooftops reflecting the changing cityscape; an archive of sorts comprised of roofing and materials. There’s the ornate fussiness of the Victorians, the simple efficacy of the thirties, the uncommitted modernism of the fifties and, of course the stark edifice of the sixties. Between them all, the cupola of the Monument Mall dominates the skyline; a cuckoo of conservative coyness, unsure if it in Venice or Venice CA; classical aspirations or classical gas.
I spoke with Martin Ellis this morning who tells me that he’s revising the publishing schedule for North Stars. The book will now appear next year. This suits me as it gives more time to consider the internal and external appearance.
An email from Dick Heath alerts me to an online debate taking place on a prog-related forum. They are considering who had a greater influence on the development of prog; Pink Floyd or King Crimson.
When I think of ITCOKC in terms of its influence, it’s nearly always the structure and its unity of presentation that comes to mind as much as the material. It remains a remarkably focussed piece of work; nothing dissipates its impact. Even the circumspect and ephemeral Moonchild improvisation is an essential, coherent aspect of the album’s lucidity. Whilst other bands limber up and develop a sense of their own identity, Crimson seemingly arrived fully-formed. With their very first album, Crimson had refined the various cultural and social influences of the late sixties - the zeitgeist even - into a powerful, unified and original statement.
In doing so, they created a blueprint that others would then adapt to their own needs and dialects; Yes, Genesis, VDGG, Gracious, etc.
After their psychedelic debut, Floyd was a band in flux. Barrett’s departure was cathartic and the upheaval is reflected in the unsettled and slightly muddled follow-up, Saucerful of Secrets. Of course, the live Floyd was a different kettle of fish as the Massed Gadgets suite and the first album of Ummagumma ably demonstrates. As for the studio, it’s not really until Atom Heart Mother that the whole shebang finally starts clicking into place.
Putting aside whether one considers Crimson or Floyd prog rock in the first place(at the time we viewed Floyd as rock and Crimson as something different – prog rock as we understand it today was a term that was still someway off being invented.), I would however concede that Floyd have probably had a greater impact and influence on bands than Crimson given the huge disparity of sales between the two bands.
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
Monday, November 01, 2004
It’s a collection of essays on everything from demographics to drink, dealing with the development of the city. Although very helpful in terms of explaining the city in sociological terms, its glancing cultural overview seems a touch cursory.
Predictably perhaps, the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll is fleetingly mentioned in the shape of The Animals. It seems a good cultural biography of the city wouldn’t go amiss. I know as I research Bright Lights, Big City it would be very helpful indeed.
North Stars, Bright Lights, Big City and Building Bridges…all taking shape and developing nicely.
Tom has learnt the opening bass line to Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater; an oddly compelling companion to the Get Carter theme tune and Love Like A Man by Ten Years After. I’ve also shown him Schizoid Man as well. All good stuff.
Listening To…For The Love Of Open Spaces by Steve Lawson and Theo Travis.