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Friday, April 30, 2010

Great Moments In Music III

Siberian Khatru

You’d be surprised by how many times I get asked “what if push comes to shove is the quintessentially prog rock track?” Without any hesitation I always point to this piece of music. It’s not because I’m a huge Yes fan or that I think they represent the pinnacle of that period of music making - far from it.

But I reliably opt for this track because it seems to me to represent all the good and bad that came (or comes) with the genre.

From its jagged mutant rock n’ roll guitar opening, the soaring mellotron-driven main theme, the frankly daft and impenetrably mystical lyrics, shifting time signatures, ornate arrangements, absurdly confident musicianship - it’s all there, brimming with ambition as it it with excess, and I love every second of its nine minute duration.

But for me there’s a real magic contained in the moment when the music abruptly halts and we are suddenly escorted into the engine room of the track.

Here the heartbeat bass of Chris Squire pulses and throbs as Steve Howe’s increasingly strangulated guitar motif coils and circles back on itself; Bruford’s snare and Anderson’s voice are locked together, punctuating the machine-like regularity of the backing with clipped phrases which cumulatively build and threaten to go critical.

It’s the musical equivalent of looking into the back of watch and seeing the inner mechanism at work; cogs and wheels, brimming with energy and intelligence.

When the main theme kicks back in everything really moves into another gear and the track, by now already over seven minutes, finds itself renewed and refreshed once again. The ascending run on the bass from Squire almost sounds like giddy celebratory laughter, as though they can hardly believe how good that moment was.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Strange Days & Brown Moments

The couple of days have felt a bit strange as I've been easing myself back into work mode. Being a freelancer there's always the need to create your own weather and so I've been attempting to come up with some reviews and articles that might sell here and there.

Dare I say it but the jet lag seems to be at an end which is quick for me. Last time I came back from New York in 2008 I felt like I'd been sandbagged for a couple of weeks. Sadly, Debbie's still struggling with it as are the children.

And speaking of struggling, the plight of Gordon Brown continues to dominate the news of the last couple of days. Brown has so comprehensively shot himself in the foot that there seems little chance that the Leaders' Debate will do much of anything to help Labour scrape through now.

If Andrew Rawnsley is looking for a cover of his next book dissecting the fall of New Labour then I suspect that this one will sum up it nicely.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Getting Back Into Gear

It’s never easy getting back into gear after being away. It’s not just the jet-lag (although that is a killer at the moment), it’s that sense of slipping back into one’s old skin.

The break from one’s daily routine is welcome enough for restive purposes of course, but it’s also an opportunity to start afresh, a way of making a break and avoid slipping back into old ways and habits.

Not being up to doing much today work-wise, I took myself out for a walk and thought about what I’d like to do differently in my life, and why it might a good idea to try and embrace some changes.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Such a little word for something that is so vast an idea and important a reality.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Under The Volcano XI

In between watching Sherlock Holmes (good ripping yarn tosh) and The Damned United (not as good as it could’ve been) and finishing the bulk of Andrew Rawnsley’s dissection of New Labour, The End of the Party, I managed to grab a couple of hours of nodding, noise-filled sleep. So by the time we touched down at Schiphol I was actually very chirpy.

Even though our flight was a couple of hours late in touching down, we had plenty of time to stroll over to the KLM desk and begin the task of explaining why although we aren’t showing up on their system, we are nevertheless, frightfully keen to get to Newcastle today.

Before this gentle jousting match could begin I gathered in our passports. Tom said “You’ve got mine, Dad”. Of course I didn’t. In the time it took to frantically rummage though his hand luggage and break out into a cold sweat, Tom realised he had left his passport in the seat pocket on the plane out of JFK.

Adrenaline is a wonderful thing. It can get you from one end of a very large airport to another in a thrice. Of course the price you pay is a terrifically steep come-down that thunks you into the ground like a tent-peg. All of which Tom experienced as he retrieved his passport.

After about an hour’s wait at the desk we were processed by a wonderfully cheerful KLM person who quickly discovered a) that the flight to Newcastle was fully booked, b) we were not on it and c) according to the system, we had flown Amsterdam to Newcastle on the 16th April. She was a real pro though and did not need me to point out that pretty much nobody in Europe flew that day and certainly not from Schiphol. Rolling up her sleeves, she delved deep into the system and finally found a party of six that looked a lot like us. This was because it was us. Eventually.

Tickets in our hand we spent time in the retro confines of the Schiphol cafeteria - a low rent operation that tries to be all free and funky but comes off as merely cluttered and clunky.

With the air around us rapidly beginning to solidify, we moved to our gate and after an easy processing, fell into the doze of doom; that sweaty state of not quite being where you are.

On a packed-to-the-gills plane, the gang settled into a deeper sleep. As a result, they missed the captain announce that there would be a short delay as the oxygen system needed resetting and that a technician would be with us shortly. They also missed his announcement half an hour later, that his very own oxygen unit was faulty and would need to be replaced.

The good news was a spare was at hand and a couple of technicians would be able to fix it in no time at all. No time at all turned out to be about an hour.

At one point Joseph (who was sat next to me) jolted awake, looked out of the window, and seeing that we were on the ground and at a gate, declared he hadn’t even felt the plane land. It seemed cruel to have to tell him that we’d never actually taken off.

But take off we did and sleep through it Joseph did.

An hour or so later we cleared immigration and waited to see if our baggage had made it back. It had! Our holiday - the very one that I promised my children they’d never forget - was finally over.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Under The Volcano X

The act of going somewhere involves a lot of waiting around. But waiting around is never without incident or its own power.

Today our SUV took us on the short but seemingly perilous drive to JFK. The first time I ever did this journey was after the King Crimson tour of 2008 had finished. The cab driver kept falling asleep at the wheel and the car drifted alarmingly into other lanes filled with pieces of hurtling metal and chrome. In between squealing in fright, I had to keep the cab driver awake - window open, radio on, inane conversation - as his eyelids battled against gravity.

The next time I did this journey was just over a week ago. The woman driving that particular SUV was lovely but - and I say this as one of life’s unreconstructed passengers - her grasp of what might pass for the Highway Code in New York seemed, well, partial.

Today’s trip made her previous spinning of the wheel look cool, calm and impeccably judged. My response this time was to spend most of the journey with my foot pressed flat into the floor where I hoped I was somehow able to connect with an imaginary break pedal, whilst screwing my eyes tight shut for most of the journey.

Anticipating that the check-in at JFK would not go as smoothly as we might like, we’d built in plenty of time between arriving and the intended take-off time of 6.30 p.m. Our one bottom line from which we would not budge was to be sent from one desk to another - Delta to KLM and back again - when they discovered a “problem” that we were somehow not on the system despite all our very best efforts to ensure we were.

Sure enough within a few minutes the phrase “Oh you’ll have to go to the KLM desk in Terminal 4 to sort this out” was heard. Very politely but firmly we stated that we were here to stay until we had tickets. After an hour or so, we eventually had tickets. The unhappy passenger on the next desk who shouted at staff, and shouted even louder into her phone that the staff were pigs, did not.

Being firm and insistent that someone address the problem and take some kind of responsibility for putting it right need not involve screaming and shouting abuse. As we cleared security, in what I felt was even a lighter process than the one in Newcastle, we entered the limbo world of killing time, we ate pizza, read books, mused and mulled on the strange events of the last eight days.

Time spent watching the graceful ballet in the sky as an endless supply of little bright dots of light transformed themselves into jet planes under the hot sun, was quite beautiful.

Six hours later our own packed-to-the-gills plane prepared to transform itself in the other direction, the captain asked if a doctor was on board. There was a small unhappy child suffering from infectious chicken pox on board. It was determined that the child, his sibling and lone parent would have to be returned to the gate. We taxied back.

Two hours later than intended, we took to the air and began leaving America behind.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Under The Volcano IX

Another beautiful sunny day in Woodside as we leave the apartment and walk to the 7...

On the ride into Manhattan..

On the subway down to Battery Point...

The ferry arrives to take us to Ellis Island...

As we left Manhattan Chinook helicopters circled overhead clearing the airspace for the passing of Obama's helicoptercade (not pictured) after he'd been speaking in the city this morning...

As we arrive at Ellis Island another ferry pushed off with another batch of happy tourists...

We spent a couple of hours wandering around the exhibits. Many of the stories captured therein were very moving. Tom and Joe were frankly bored and couldn't quite get the significance of this place. Both Debbie and I are determined to come back and spend more time in this remarkable place.

Wonderful skies were laid on especially for us...

With the boys staying in Manhattan, Deb, Al and myself descended into the underworld with some sound advice to guide us on way...
Back to Queens and on our way back home...


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