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Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween And Beyond...

Things started getting scary in the middle of the morning with Alys appearing in the doorway wearing the tea-cosy on her head...

Later in the evening, things got scarier still as Joe appeared in his Halloween party costume.

It need a final touch which Alys (sans tea-cosy) was on hand to supply...

When Joe went off his party we got our glad rags on and headed off up the Coast Road once more to Northern Stage...

This week we were going to see...

Time for a pre-match drink...

After a couple of hours of betrayal, sexual tension, jealousy, violence, dysfunctional family life, God and death, we declared ourselves sated and satisfied.

Two happy customers....

Then it was back down the Coast Road towards Whitley Bay...

Nominations For God LXII

Holger Czukay

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Street Life CXLI

Ongoing Chaos

This must be the "getting worse" part of the "before it gets better stage."

Meanwhile Min has a ring-side seat as the chaos of room-shifting unfurls at a snail's pace.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mr.Smith Goes To Newcastle

Things are never as simple as should be. The theory was that Debra and I would go in to Newcastle in the afternoon, pick up a couple of household things, and from there to the Tyneside Cinema to see the new Coen brothers movie and a terse number called Gomorrah. But before all that I needed to go and have my eyes tested.

In the last couple of days I’ve noticed a marked deterioration in the vision of my left eye. Given that the last time anyone looked into my eyes Richard Nixon had just entered the White House and Neil Armstrong had yet to take his one small step, I figured it was about time to get them checked over.

After about an hour and a half, the 12 year-old optician informed that my overall vision was 20/20. There was no evidence of glaucoma, diabetes and other dread diseases that could be gleaned by her extended peering into the windows to my soul. Eventually she gave the verdict.

“Mr. Smith, you need reading glasses.”

However, there was some kind of problem with the macula in my left eye and I was to go straight to the eye casualty department at the hospital. Writing out a referral note, she told me that going to the cinema today was out of the question and that I should get the eye checked out immediately as there was “something not quite as it should be.”

So we went and waited.

And waited.

As the clock hands crawled past 5.00 p.m., and the building emptied of staff, the unsettling ambience of long empty corridors, and the sound of doors being slammed shut faraway emphasised the feelings of vulnerability you experience in such moments.

Eventually, a nurse called me in and in a no nonsense-eager-to-get-home manner, gave me an old fashioned, read-the-chart eye test, took notes and then put yellow drops in my eyes that stung like buggery.

After some time, an equally weary looking doctor repeated most of the eye-peering that the 12 year-old optician had done. She looked at the referral note. She shook her head. She wanted her Consultant to take a look. For a moment those faraway doors slamming shut sounded like they were getting closer.

After a while he came and repeated the tests and then gave his pronouncement.

“Mr. Smith, you need reading glasses.”

And the macula? Beautiful. He then wanted the name and number of the 12 year-old optician “I’ll be sending them a rocket tomorrow” he muttered.

So, all in all, much ado about nothing.

That said I was grateful to the team at the RVI for taking the time to check that everything was as it should be, and thus being late in getting home to their loved ones. And I was even grateful to the 12 year-old optician for erring on the side of caution.

As for the cinema, although we’d missed any chance of seeing Gomorrah we did manage to catch Burn After Reading – a Coen Brothers confection that you can eat between meal times.
Hurrah for the Coen Brothers and hurrah for the NHS.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I've been tagged in the past but due to my extreme laziness in replying to such things I've never really replied. Recognising that today is a slow day in which little in the way of actual work is going to get done I've embraced this time-wasting device.

The tag came from Mr. CBQ who writes:
There are six rules:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

1. My mother originally wanted to name me Martin.

2. My favourite Johnny Mathis album is called I'm Coming Home. Released in 1973 it was introduced to me at the time by my pal Chris T. Without doubt my favourite track from the record is A Baby's Born. Not to be confused with Mathis' dreadful syrupy hit of almost the same name a few years later ("When A Child Is Born) this is beautifully produced (and co-composed) by Philly sound legend,Thom Bell.

Essentially a meditation upon the inevitability of old age and the possibility of hope embodied in our children, this is a masterclass in economy and judgement. Mathis' vocals are delivered with the assuredness of a man completely in charge of his talent, who knows exactly when to feign and when to strike.

Bell's instrumentation is understated and resists any kind of sentimentality. From the opening autumnal chill of the descending strings through to their shuddering fade-out this is a classic from start to finish. And no I don't mean that in an ironic, so-bad-it's-good way.

Discover Johnny Mathis!

3. I can't swim

4. I always cry when I hear the hymn "Jerusalem." The exception to this rule is ELP's version. Thinking about it I probably do cry on hearing that ELP rendition but they're likely to be tears of rage.

5. A few years ago an independent record label were interested in releasing some music I had recorded in 70s but I was too embarrassed by the tracks to go through with it.

6. My tendency to get too excited about things is only equalled by my inclination towards believing myself incapable of achieving anything.

The folks I've tagged are

Dual Julie Fowlis Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh

The Good Companions...

Julie Fowlis, Eamon Doorley, Ross Martin, and Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh
Machair Records

Long before file-sharing reared its dubious head, folk musicians were at it years ago swapping songs with the fevered enthusiasm of a Metallica fan and a broadband connection. Of course, the preferred means of sharing your favourite song back in the day was the good old fashioned word-of-mouth method, leading to all kinds of cross-pollination that has seen melodies, lyrics, jigs, and reels from far flung lands all thrown into a mix that has been well and truly stirred and shaken.

That interlocking meld of inflections and accents is reflected in the name of the latest project from Scotland’s Julie Fowlis and Ireland’s Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh. In Gaelic, Dual, means to twine, interlace and coil. Along with Ross Martin and Eamon Doorley, their various talents are twisted into one seamless stream of music that is as intimate as it is exuberant.

Resonating to the sound of quicksilver reels and slides, meticulousness piping and tightly focussed guitars, the songs are entirely sung in Gaelic and a passion that welcomes the listener in. Not for nothing was Fowlis elected this as 2008’s Gaelic ambassador; her cover of The Beatles’ Blackbird (not on this album) sung in the ancient tongue lent an exoticism to something otherwise familiar and everyday.

This goes beyond novelty though. It’s about keeping a tradition alive and breathing, and their twinning maintains an inventive evolution of ideas and crossing points between the Scottish and Irish perspectives. To this end the album is loaded to the brim with beautiful evocative tunes that are simply sublime. Housed with a nerdishly informative sleeve, copious notes in Scottish and Irish Gaelic as well as English translations about each song allow those of us not up to speed on the 16th Century origins of Alasdair Mhic Ghasda to appear impossibly well informed.

Not that any of that matters really. You don’t need any background material to be able to hear the phenomenal quality that hangs in the air when this album is playing.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Testing For Buzz LXIX 1968 And All That XX

Do you remember those creased-up copies of Reader’s Digests that used to litter the waiting rooms of dentists and doctors? They contained a feature called Improve Your Word Power. For those not familiar with the magazine or the feature it was basically a list of words, there meanings and (perhaps) the context in which you could deploy the new words and impress all and sundry. I recall flicking through them as a kid and getting my mother to test me on them after I had committed at least a couple of them to memory.

However, it was reading comics that really did the job. It wasn’t just the sonorous pronouncements booming from the lips of super-heroes that helped me get to grips with my vocabulary (although I was sometimes heard bellowing “By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth!”) but also the pages of Marvel Comics the Bullpen page.

I had absolutely no idea what a bullpen was but I used to love all that alliteration at the top of the page. I often didn’t understand what it meant but my mother would point me in the direction of the dictionary and I’d sharp find out.

You can see more examples of the Marvel Bullpen, including one of my favourites "A sagacious smattering of somewhat senseless small talk" here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Chaos In Theory And Practice (Again)

I talked to Joe this morning. He's in Portugal with his mother and Tom. He rang because I'd texted them with his school results. Joe is doing far better than I ever did at school so I'm pleased as punch with that. So was he by the sound of it.

Elsewhere, chaos looms in the yellow room as I undertake a fitful bout of redistribution in order to hone the working space so that it assumes the efficiency of an F-11 fighter (or something). The theory is that it will get worse before it gets better but it will get better!

Simply Red 25: The Greatest Hits

Simply not enough
25 Greatest Hits
Simply Red
Just as once every household in the land seemed to have a copy of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon in the 70s, Simply Red’s Stars was the mass market signature album of the following decade. For many growing up and making out in the 80s, no late night smooch-session seemed complete without Mick Hucknall’s sultry croon sidling up and coming on strong.

Proof that looking like Charlie Drake left out in the rain need be no impediment to a hugely prosperous career, Simply Red took no prisoners in their quest to bring a form of Blue-eyed Brit soul to the masses.

Presented in a Teflon coated funk with tasteful slicing brass, bubbling bass, and a busy but squeaky-clean production, there was a time when Hucknall merely had to clear his sinuses to spawn a hit. This 2 disc collection gathers them all together and updates a previous best of from the 90s, as well as re-presenting the material since Hucknall took control over his own back catalogue.

Given that most SR veterans will already have the singles and the albums, Mick has served up a new helping to tempt the punters. "Go Now" is a cover version of the Moody Blues hit from the 60s. Here the stark intensity and the lop-sided piano line of the original have been evened out and given well-lacquered backbeat-driven makeover.

The homogeneous nature of their production is such that you’d be hard pressed to put a cigarette paper between those tracks dating from the earliest album (1985) and this latest bonus recording, with no hint either in the super-slick performances or Mick’s approach to phrasing, that over 25 years separates these recordings.

The mellifluous gloss enveloping Hucknall’s love-weary wails and come-on-baby coaxing occasionally masked lyrics that critiqued the prevailing political values of Thatcher’s Britain (represented here by his co-option of The Valentine Brother’s hummer, "Money’s Too Tight To Mention.")

It’s unlikely however that such subversive content (or that of the obliquely anti-Thatcher "Wonderland" from Stars) pricked the consciousness of the wannabe sophisticates for whom the music was so much aural wallpaper and life-style window dressing.

As you’d expect, all the big hitters are present and impeccably correct. Yet for all the undoubted elegance and muscularity of the top-flight players who grace these tracks the music itself is often curiously inert, the dynamic possibilities of their contribution more often than not relegated to short cameos, anodyne quips or schmaltzy cliché.

Whilst understanding that Mick’s the star, this is a pity because had there been some instrumental competition vying for the listener’s attention, Hucknall’s voice may have been propelled beyond the well-worn paths of generic soul-tinged MOR that have been cherry-picked here.

Hucknall has announced the Simply Red brand is to be retired in 2009. If you’re a fan of what Mick does, and millions are, then picking up this swan-song collection is a no-brainer. If you like things looser and perhaps not quite so predictable then you’re going to have to look elsewhere.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Night At The Theatre

It's Friday night and we were whizzing past the Billy Mill roundabout and up the Coast Road...

Thanks to Bernard and Lesley we were off to Northern Stage - a revamped refurbished version of my old stomping ground the University Theatre. In the 70s I saw lots of plays and even more music by folks such as Mike Gibbs, Dexter Gordon, Bud Freeman, Roland Kirk, National Health and Soft Machine.

Recently this footage of Soft Machine playing at the University Theatre has surfaced on Youtube and though neither pal Chris or myself are directly visible (obscured by Karl Jenkins) we believe we can be heard going "Woooh!" at the start.

Anyway back to the present...

We were here to see...

We were momentarily joined by my niece Verity who works at Northern Stage.

Then it was off to see about two and bit hours of unrequited love, tragedy, infant death, grinding poverty, infidelity, flocks of sheep being driven off a cliff or falling foul to a bout of bloat (try saying that in a hurry), mistaken intentions, vanity, apparent drowning, humilation, betrayal and other bucolic intrigues.

Our verdict was the production was worthy enough but dull in its execution and full of scenes that added little to the story and could have easily been trimmed. Still just getting out and seeing the show for all its faults made for a highly enjoyable evening out.

Then it was back in the mirthmobile and homeward bound to Whitley Bay...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rothko And Bacon In A Day

A cup of tea is raised by your slightly bleary-round-the-edges correspondent at around 5.30 a.m in Newcastle airport.
I'm here with Bernard...

There's excitement in the air as we wait for our gate to be called. In no time at all we are in flight and London-bound.

and in no time at all we are back on the ground and on the train into London...

Here's the reason for our early morning start...

The Rothko show is superb. The real bonus is that there aren't too many people in the gallery when we go in. As I sat in the room containing the black paintings I heard an elderly woman talking about the work. I recognised her sonorous, reverential tones and turning saw Sister Wendy.

She was very frail, decked out in full habit and being helped around the gallery by two chaps and accompanied by a photographer. As she moved on I caught echoes of her voice which put me in mind of Eliot's line "in the room the women come and go, talking of Michaelangelo."

The Black on Grey at the end of the show are my favourites.
Travelling light
skating across thin ice

take care, take care

Our voices cry
warn our children
Echo one anxiety on to another

Who speaks?

Who listens?

Who cares?

Under all that weight

there's absence
the dread
at what's ahead
Back in the sunlight...

We take a trip up the Thames...

We head to for a bite to eat in an ancient greasy spoon cafe in Pimlico. I was last here in 1981.

Then it was off to Tate Britain...

The Bacon show was fascinating and provocative. In some respects it was far more challenging than the Rothko, who retains an certain elusive quality that allows you to approach it in very different ways.

Bacon seems far more direct and directive. You get the pungent absurdities of ego, arrogance, those lost-and-damned Soho characters who swim into view every now and then. He renders faces and limbs into mere blurs, peeling back the sheen of civility to expose the purest animal urges and instincts.
The show was very busy as we expected. What we didn't expect was to wander round in the company of Simon Schama who happened to be visiting the exhibition. Bernard and I were doing very well on the celebrity art critic front!

Every now and then we'd bump into him and listen as he talked about an aspect of Bacon's technique or the background to a painting. Later in the afternoon we went to the cafe and Bernard made a joke about having shaken the art historian off. Much to our amusement when we turned around, there he was with a couple of pals a few tables behind us.

Then it was time to go and head back to the airport...

Back at Stansted we wait for the gate to be called approximately 15 hours after our early morning adventure had begun.


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