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Monday, September 21, 2009

Mumford & Sons at The Cluny

There’s a time in a band’s life when everything falls into place; the press, the label, the fans the band, and the music all clicking together like a well-oiled watch mechanism - it’s a wonderful time to see a band and Mumford And Sons. Only one element in that delicate equation needs to be ever-so-slightly out of step with its counterparts and it can all go pear-shaped.

However, on the evidence of their performance at Newcastle’s Cluny, (a converted warehouse whose murky acoustics suggests its provision of live music was something of an afterthought), this group, riding the crest of a resurgent interest in nu-folk as the new rock 'n roll, has yet to put a foot wrong.

Entering the tiny stage in front of a capacity audience, Mumford And Sons immediately take charge with a devastating four-part harmony that introduces Sigh No More. That confidence extends to the entire length of their set, all delivered with the kind of conviction that comes from being in the right place at the right time.

Marcus Mumford himself, standing behind an amped-up six-string and stomp-along bass drum, sometimes comes across like a a one-man-band Bruce Springsteen, every ounce of his body sweating passion, wrestling with his guitar and hurtling through the chords as though his life depended on it. The spiky cut-and-thrust dynamics of White Blank Page builds into a frenzied waltz across which Mumford’s recriminations and admonishment twist and burn in righteous anger.

More than anything else, this is a set swept along by emotion - his voice dropping to the fevered last-breath intimacy of a tortured croak through to a raging, thunderous elemental force breathing fiery life into every syllable uttered.

On the breathtaking Thistle And Weeds he shimmers somewhere the between the sunny harmonies of Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold and the troubled declamations of Tim Buckley at his most harried.

Every bit as equal when it comes to a spirited performance are members of the band. Ben Lovett (vocals, keyboards) and Ted Dwane (double bass and vocals) provide a firm anchor in the barn-dance pulse that has the entire room bouncing up and down. Winston Marshall’s electric banjo provides a rippling accompaniment throughout the surging drive of Cave, sometimes coming across like white-capped waves over a turbulent, tumultuous backing.

Commanding the broad brush strokes of crowd control is something this band can do in their sleep. But it’s their grasp of finer details that give them such an edge and makes for such compelling listening.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Morning Reading X

I don't normally go to Newcastle at the weekends - it tends to be way too busy for my sensitive disposition. However, there was a book I wanted to check out at the Lit & Phil and I wanted to see Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen's exhibition, Byker Revisited down at the Side gallery. The show is part of the Reinventing The City series.

I'm currently reading Newcastle politician T Dan Smith's autobiography. It's long out of print of course, but those nice people at the Lit & Phil had a copy and reserved it for me.

I used to think of T Dan Smith as a modernist bogey man, dedicated to destroying the city simply to pocket the money that was undoubtedly swilling around and through the city council coffers.

It was after listening to this documentary on Radio 4 that I realised things aren't as (apologies for the non-intended pun) as black and white as this. I've become increasingly interested in getting to understand the man and his motivations.

It's certainly true that power corrupts and the scale at which Smith was operating - access to Westminster, the rise of regionalism, the flow of cash for rebuilding and regenerating, the temptations must have been immense.

What comes across from his own account of his rise to the top in the local power structure (against some stiff opposition) was his ability to get things done and to win the argument.

When it comes to the task of re-imagining a city there's always going to be a degree of horse-trading that can lead to a softening of principles and a "you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours" pragmatism.

Nobody comes out of such processes entirely clean as one vested interest trades with another. People can be bought off not with cash but with the promise of influence, the realisation of vanity schemes.

What surprised me in the book was reading about Smith's commitment to preserving as much of the Victorian architecture belonging to the city as possible. "With friends like this who needs enemies?" I thought. But reading further I learnt of the existence of a redevelopment scheme that might have been worse - including the demolition of a building right in the middle of Grey Street - prior to Smith becoming a councillor.

Not everything is as black and white as first appears, something especially true when it comes to politics.

Upon leaving the Lit & Phil, I walked along Mosley Street - the first street in the UK to be lit by electric light.

Turning right into Dean Street...

And here's almost the same view from the 1950s...

This black and white image was snipped from the internet some time ago. Sadly I failed to keep a record of the site from which it was taken. If anyone recognises where it came from please get in touch so I can put up a link and credit.

The viaduct was put in to accommodate the arrival of the railway during the 19th Century. In some ways the rather brutal nature of the 1960s additions to the cityscape pale into insignificance when considering this remarkable intervention.

How many businesses were lost? How many families displaced? The city cutting through itself, constantly throwing up new sculptures and models as a series of responses to different, competing crises in shifting times and spaces.

The routes, thoroughfares and desire lines once fixed in stone become something totally malleable or as ephemeral as a song. No matter how established something looks it can come unstuck and completely disappear in an impressive vanishing act that makes the likes of Glenn Miller or Lord Lucan look like amateurs. Eradicating one past, it creates another.

Turning 180 degrees, here is that viaducts 20th Century mirror, just as bold and as dominating; a fanfare to commerce and engineering scored in steel and rivets.

These bisecting lines and arcs have no room for sentiment. They are built, quite literally, from necessity; the means to an end that is always some way off in the distance. Though sometimes, the end comes sooner than we think.

This concrete walkway, built in the late 60s/early 70s and leading down to quayside as part of the rebuilding around Cale Cross House at the top of the bank, came to an abrupt halt. This inadvert act of hubris that reminds us of how hard the mighty can fall when the money, or the will, or both, run out.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Chaos In Theory And Practice (another recurring tune on a well worn theme)...

I admit that there are times when my working practices are so slobbish it embarrasses me if anyone comes to call. My excuse is that sometimes I'm just so busy that I simply can't find the time to put things away (books, CDs and other reference material, etc) before I move onto the next job. The next result of this is that the piles build up around me until I start to slowly disappear behind a wall of detritus.

Eventually the "noise" coming off all of this stuff is too much even for me.

Noise on desk one...

Even more noise on desk two...

Yet more noise spillage...

And still more noise lurking on the chair...

Sometimes the best thing to do is to grab the laptop, make a pot of tea and decamp elsewhere...

make and bake some bread as a way of unblocking and working things out...

Then, deadline out of the way, and resolve strengthened, head back upstairs and tackle it all. Sorting it properly, mind you!

Just in the nick of time as Chris T called around to do a spot of catch-up after the rigours of the summer...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Happy Birthday Joe!

Joe is 16 today. Blimey - how did that happen? Time flies and all that!

At the request of the photographer Joseph leans in for the shot...

Then he has the boundary-breaking, rebellious temerity to flip the finger at the camera!

Meanwhile Alys surveys the ice cream...

And as Joe opens his cards, Tom surveys the cookies...


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