Close Enough 4

The frankly disappointing follow-up to Close Enough 3.  By this stage, all the principle cast and characters have left the sinking ship and the cinematic release was extremely limited.  If we’re honest, Close Enough was (at best) mediocre and the attempts of Hollywood to defy the Second Law of Thermodynamics with increasingly desperate sequels have not been a great success.  Entropy has an inevitability that even death and taxes have to look on with a degree of envy.

However, all of that introduction was nonsense – though represents a worryingly large share of the reason for putting fingers to keyboard.  I have, for many years, used the phrase ‘close enough for jazz’ when further precision was unnecessary (or I was too lazy to continue with a task).  As this post will go on to explain (well, it might), I now spend a lot more time in proximity to the jazz community and so worry that (a) this phrase might be offensive to that community (LGBTQIA+J anyone?) and (b) jazz seems to require significantly more precision than I have previously believed.  I may be forced to retire the phrase from my rather threadbare wardrobe of idiom.

Until recently, jazz did not play a large role in my musical life (or, indeed, my non-musical life).  It really only figured in me occasionally hurling myself across the room to hit the off switch should I turn on Radio 3 to find jazz emerging from the wireless.  However, over the last year or so things have been changing as I pass through some sort of ‘jazz-puberty’.  Somewhere in my 30s olives became acceptable – and even desirable – to my palate (having previously brought nothing but revulsion) and it would seem that my 50s has unexpectedly delivered a love of jazz.

I’m not sure exactly where it started, it may have been going to a Southampton Youth Jazz Orchestra concert with friends (their choice) or experimentation on my part with the Norwegian jazz of the Daniel Herskedal trio (one has to try new things to avoid stagnation).  It started innocently enough, with the odd jazz gig every couple of months: it seemed under control.  I felt there was some modest subset of the world of jazz which I seemed to enjoy live, but I retained my loathing for recorded jazz in all its forms.

Then, early in 2017, I was sat at home early one Sunday evening wondering if there was some nearby culture I could attend to sooth the transition from weekend into working week.  I noticed that the Talking Heads had a free (to enter) gig courtesy of the Southampton Modern Jazz Club (SMJC) in their front bar.  This was less than 10 minutes stroll from my abode and I figured “how bad can it be?” – if it was just too awful, I could just slip away in a convenient break and still have most of the evening to myself: mayhap a little tatting would provide purposeful employ for my my idle hands?

As it transpired, it was the jazz some way from awful (certainly not practically walkable) and the Sunday evening SMJC gig has become a regular feature of my weekends.  I’ve also been going to other jazz gigs locally and enjoying myself – I’ve even started buying CD on jazz (argh!).  What has happened to me?  I was expecting the deteriorating eyesight, greying hair and annexation of my flesh by wrinkles as the years performed their ineluctable dance – but no-one warmed me about this love of jazz!  Should I have taken Oil of U/Olay more seriously?

I think this process reached some kind of watershed last weekend when I went up to Edinburgh to visit a friend, but primarily to attend the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival.

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One of the 7 signs of ageing?

I had a brilliant time with a wide range of jazz from young and old with practitioners from Scotland, Scandinavia and the US.  It also helped me to realise that jazz takes place in the sort of venues I associate with all the best culture: small, dark and sweaty (and, if possible, underground!).  My two favourite gigs (in a very strong field) both occurred in such spaces: the Alan Benzie Trio in the basement of the Rose Theatre and the Fraser Urquhart Quintet in the Jazz Bar.  The Festival also taught me that if an old jazzer invites a younger colleague over, it may be to jam but is more likely to relate to a need to fix their wifi or TV.

In an attempt to boost the appeal of the GofaDM, this post will now be offering scope for audience participation: oh yes it will!  At a gypsy jazz gig at the the Talking Heads on Tuesday, I confidently stated that the cucumber was not a jazz vegetable (this was not apropos of nothing, but made sense – of a form – in a conversation I was engaged in at the time).  This then raised the question, “so what is a jazz vegetable?”.  Clearly the currently popular supermarket apple is not a jazz fruit, despite its nomenclature.  Cavolo nero is musical but clearly operatic, as I demonstrated to the horror of those present.  I eventually proposed that celeriac was a jazz vegetable and subsequently think that the Jerusalem artichoke and okra might be.  It is here, dear reader, where you come in: what do you consider to be a jazz vegetable?

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The early bird

According to received wisdom, catches the worm.  I must admit that I am unaware of any research by vermicologists that would suggest worms are especially early risers – and it strikes me that the presence of early birds would place some evolutionary pressure on the worm massive to enjoy a lie-in.  I suppose it may be that worms love a rave and are returning to the earth in the early morn, fuddled by drugs and dance, and fall prey to their feathered foe – but again, evidence to support this hypothesis is scant (at best).

Still, I think that’s enough from ornithology corner as this post is less about birds (or even worms) and more about me: your feeble attempts to feign surprise are fooling no-one!

As July burst forth into 2017, I was in London to enjoy the Actually Rather Good Comedy Festival (or ARGCOMFEST as it is more punchily known).  This offers me the chance to see 16 Edinburgh previews (from a set of 48) over the course of a single a weekend (and without eating into the mornings).  I think I am growing in maturity when it comes to visiting such events: no longer do I attempt to make use of 100% of the opportunities on offer and leave exhausted with my brain reduced to a barely functional paste.  This year, I limited myself to a mere 11 previews and arrived back home in Southampton on the Sunday evening in a sufficiently viable state to enjoy some modern jazz in the latter part of the evening.  One of the joys of ARGCOMFEST is that of the 48 acts on offer over the weekend, exactly 50% can boast a substantially higher proportion of X-chromosomes than can the author – thus closely modelling the population as a whole.  Somehow, despite this highly unusual situation, the world failed to implode.  Still, it would clearly be dangerous to draw any conclusions from this one event and the industry (which doesn’t exist) should continue to apply the precautionary principles and treat female comedians like plutonium, i.e. enforce decent physical and temporal separation between them for fear of critical mass being achieved and dangerous amounts of energy (and/or laughter) being liberated.  I had a great time and my buttocks have almost recovered from the seating provided.

To make for a more relaxed experience, I stayed in London on the Saturday night and once again used my standard choice of accommodation when I’m paying (and sometimes when I’m not): student halls of residence.  This time, I stayed a stone’s throw from Waterloo in a shabby, but perfectly serviceable room which provide a decent night’s sleep, a hot and vigorous en-suite shower and even breakfast.  Having the morning to myself, I took the bus up to Piccadilly Circus to sample the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.  As I was the sole passenger, I viewed this journey as being chauffeur-driven in a particularly large, red limo.  Central London is surprisingly civilised before 10am on a Sunday morning!

So swift was my transport that I arrived at the RA a good 10 minutes before it opened.  This might have been considered slightly annoying, but as part of the exhibition the quad in front of the building was furnished with giant, ‘arty’ beanbags.  I have never been terribly impressed by the beanbag as furniture in the past, but I have now realised the error of my ways.  I had several giant, stripy beanbags to myself and reclining in the summer sunshine surrounded by beautiful architecture, with arts and comedy on the cards, may well have been the highlight of a very enjoyable weekend.

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The author’s skill with the selfie shows little sign of improvement!

Somehow, I did summon the energy to leave my perch – though it was oh-so tempting to stay – and enter the exhibition proper.  The RA was a revelation at 10am: I had the Summer Exhibition largely to myself – only a few other early risers had made it – which made for a much more relaxed viewing of the art.  It also struck me as delivering a particularly fine crop of artworks this year, particular snaps must go to the room hung by Yinka Shonibare for its many delights.  A giant photograph of three presumably Muslim women astride scooters with a couple of friends, all wearing niqab, is one of the most joyous images it has ever been my pleasure to encounter.  Even thinking about it to write this post, I can’t help smiling.

Leaving the RA, I wondered up towards the horrors of Oxford Street to catch my bus to Shoreditch for ARGCOMFEST part 2.  This would normally be a pain fighting past people and traffic, but it wasn’t.  Regent Street had been closed to traffic for some sort of street event – which involved fake grass and a gazebo (probably other things as well, but this is all I can attest to) – which also took out several side streets.  What a joy London is with the traffic removed!  That part of the city was in a state only normally glimpsed in post-apocalypse movies (but without the near mandatory zombies) or in car ads (the urban variety, rather than the empty twisty mountain road variety).  Surely, we can find some way to do this more often in more cities: think of the reduced stress and the happier city dwellers and visitors and the improvement in air quality and reduction is noise.

I think my forthcoming dictatorship (my bid for world domination will start with the UK, taking advantage of Brexit chaos and the clear incompetence of both government and opposition) has a new objective.  Traffic-free city centres!  I might sweeten the pill by providing free urban beanbags, in lieu of the rather hostile benches which tend to be provided by the current authorities.

Embracing the young

Only with their consent, obviously.  If I’m entirely honest I lack the confidence to initiate a hug and so limit myself to reciprocating when young folk (or even those much older than me) start the process.  While I was alive during the 1970s (yes, all of them), I have no intention of joining many of its stars in jail (or the grave for that mater, but I fear this latter project may ultimately prove beyond me).

Hug

This is the size I need emojis to be, if my fading eyesight is to have any chance of identifying the emotion being expressed.  Otherwise, I am an emoji Vulcan.

Since I arrived in Southampton, nearly four years ago, my life has changed in ways that I never anticipated (despite a career in forecasting).  A surprising amount of this change has been caused by my tendency to talk to people, especially bar staff.  A couple of years back, I was acquiring liquid sustenance at Turner Sims talking to the young chap serving me when he invited me to a free gig his band were playing at the Talking Heads the following night.  In the spirit of adventure, which is such a mark of my life (well, as long as there is no risk of physical danger or getting my hands dirty), I found out where the Talking Heads was located and went to the gig.  How bad could it be?  (Very much my ‘goto’ phrase when offered an opportunity – yes, I know I should be using subroutines).

I am probably now averaging 4-5 gigs per week and spend very few evenings at home (as I have other, non-musical cultural activities to fit in as well).   So, be careful where your spirit of adventure takes you: some adventures can be addictive!  Some of this upswing in activity can be explained by my desire to support the arts in the current financial climate and some from the Talking Heads having moved rather closer to my tiny garret.  However, I suspect the primary drivers are the way I daisy-chain my life and the interaction between my tendency to chat to strangers and to prove oddly memorable to them (then again trauma can lead to particularly vivid memories being laid down).

I’m not entirely sure where my tendency to talk to strangers came from, as I’m fairly sure it was frowned upon when I was a child.  I think some of it may arise from my attempts to simulate empathy (and thus more readily pass as human) but mostly because other people often provide a very cheap form of entertainment if you talk to them (just watching them can also work, but such observation does need to be performed with care and it’s best not to focus for too long on a single target: however funny they may be).

I am even less clear why I should be memorable – though the name must help (but I’ve found it is in no way a necessary condition for others to remember me).  I do tend to sit in the front row in gigs – I claim this is for the legroom and it also obviates the need to wear my glasses (which we can probably put down to vanity) but I suspect a small part of me is always hoping to wangle a part in the show.  However, I’m not sure why this should cause musicians, comedians, actors or bar staff to remember me – they must see far more audience than I see performers and I don’t think I’m that unique looking (so anonymous am I that I frequently fail to recognise myself in reflective surfaces).

Which brings us to the daisy-chaining…  Whenever I see a band or musician I know, I will invariable see a couple of other acts that I don’t on the same bill – and I may well find I enjoy their music.  Added to this, I’ve discovered that most musicians are in more than one band or group in addition to any solo outings.  So my knowledge of the local music scene rose exponentially – well, it did until I ran out of spare evenings!  This may have reached its apogee last Friday when I went to two gigs, but there were at least four others within a few minutes of my home which I also wanted to be at.

I have now reached the point where it is almost impossible to go to any cultural activity in Southampton without meeting people I know: either on stage or in the audience (usually both).  One of the enjoyable oddities of my cultural excursions to London is the strange anonymity they usually offer.

When I see a band or musician I like I tend to follow them on Facebook as this has proved the most efficient way of finding out when and where they are gigging.  However, as I now know a lot of these people to talk to and/or drink with I find myself as Facebook ‘Friends’ with them as well.  While I am still some way off Dunbar’s number, my list of Facebook friends has risen deep into double figures in recent months.  This has enriched my Facebook feed but also had a slightly odd effect on Facebook’s attempts to sell stuff to me.  There are now fewer offers of singles in my area and catheters (hooray!), but more offers of trombone related memorabilia (modified rapture!).  Much as I love the trombone, I fear I lack the room or embouchure to keep one myself.  I also worry about the impact on my poor neighbours were I to take it up.

Whilst I do go to some gigs with musicians around my age, the vast majority involve musicians who are yet to clock up even half of my own orbits around the sun.  A substantial proportion of the musicians I know are current or recent alumni of the University of Southampton’s music department – and what a fecund department it is!  I am now friends (in some form) with more freelance musicians, peripatetic music teachers and bar staff than I had even imagined.  The creative young have to manage matrix ‘careers’ in a way that I never had to – which I find rather impressive, though I fear it may not prove a workable option far into their thirties.  It has been a real privilege to spend time with such talented young people, though it does cast my own rather more modest achievements – suspended as they have been over a much longer timeframe – into rather deep shade.  Still, it is probably good for my soul (subject to its availability) and is almost certainly keeping my inner old codger at bay (or at least more frequently on the back foot).

 

Journey to the Pole

Not the North or South Poles – these have been done too may times before and I feel any sense of achievement remaining must be very modest.  Plus, I’m not very keen on wearing a jumper – though I am having a modest rapprochement with that particular garment could this be the bony fingers of old age?) – which I believe is considered important if one is to avoid a chill.

No, I chose to visit one of the several Poles of Inaccessibility.  Again, in my desire to the tourist hordes I avoided those listed on Wikipedia in their North, South, Oceanic or various continental flavours.  I tackled a far more challenging Pole.  A place so difficult to reach that an attempt to visit it made up a substantial chunk of a recent More-or-Less episode on the subject of labyrinths and mazes.

My Pole of choice lies in the city of London which I visited yesterday (and, indeed, on Saturday) to defy those whose stock in trade is terror or those who thought I should have been #reeling.  OK, I was going anyway and was not going to allow a small bunch of coins to interfere with my plans.  I lived in London and regularly used London Bridge when folk hoping to kill me where willing to go to the effort of learning a little basic chemistry and constructing explosives.  I will admit I did catch a slightly earlier train to be “on the safe side”, though that decision was probably more strongly influenced by my train into London on the previous which had lost the ability to recognise signals before it reached Micheldever and then limped into Basingstoke before retiring hurt.

Going in early worked like a charm and my train made it all the way to Waterloo without coming down with anything and was even slightly early.  This gave me the chance to have a quite splendid – if artery-challenging (but they do love a challenge!) – brunch (though as I had it at lunch-time, would that make it supper?) at Spuntino.  This was my second time at Spuntino – the best tentacle of the Polpo empire (which I like to imagine has 8 branches) – and it is now very much a favourite.  I love its distressed decor with the ghost of its previous life still visible, the friendly staff and most of all its delicious if often hard to fathom food.  I think it is supposed to exude a Brooklyn vibe – which it does for me, but then I’ve never been to Brooklyn.  Both my courses yesterday were loosely based on the idea of toast, but far tastier and worse for you than any toast I’ve previously consumed.  They also offered the option of having a Dutch Baby for dessert: but I drew the line at this: Brexit may mean Brexit, but I feel one can go too far.  (I believe that no youthful Netherlanders were harmed in the making of brunch, though a pancake or two may have lost their lives.)

After this filling lunch, I strolled in a rather leisurely fashion towards my goal.  I find it’s best not to approach it too directly or to let it see you coming.  In my perambulations (no, I was not wheeling a Dutch baby around London), I found myself in the delightful and almost empty (which it might not been on a weekday lunchtime) Postman’s Park which contains the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice.  This does not limit itself to those members of the Royal Mail who have valiantly lost their lives trying to ensure that the post gets through – not a single mention of a vicious dog – but instead mostly relates to fire or drowning.  Slightly frustratingly, the memorial does not reveal if the sacrifice was in vain or not – part of me likes to imagine that it was (but, as previously discussed, I am a Terrible Human Being).

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The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice

With this inspiration, I continued on my heroic quest hoping that it would not end in my own self-sacrifice.  Tracing part of the much depleted London Wall (sadly not a patch on its Southampton counterpart – our city fathers might not have retained much of the historic centre, but our wall is surprisingly complete), it was not too long before I reached my goal: St Giles-without-Cripplegate.

You may find this an unimpressive feat, but let me tell you that while it can be glimpsed from many a vantage point within the Barbican complex few indeed are the travellers who are able to reach its once hallowed environs.  Once I had arrived, I could look across the water to the crowds in front of the Barbican centre reclining from a choice of a myriad of benches within the empty churchyard empty: well, but for one other hardy explorer.  However, as he had used dogs and oxygen, I feel the laurels were very much mine to claim having travelled unsupported and with minimal equipment (a good book and a pair of glasses).

To briefly leave today’s conceit behind, I was actually travelling to the Barbican centre itself – but it is always good to invoke the spirit of Scott or Livingstone on any trip to the theatre.  In keeping with their spirit, I have decided to claim the area around the church and name it the Ffoulkes isthmus.  I know the locals probably already had a name for it, but I’m British and that sort of nonsense has never stopped us in the past!

I went to see a truly amazing theatrical “event” called 887 by Ex Machina (which I think is basically Robert Lepage and friends).  Last year, I saw their (his?) Needles and Opium which was incredible with its use of a rotating cube and projections: if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it possible.  I think 887 made N&O look like a walk in the park.  887 was incredibly technically complex and involved a huge range of styles of theatrical story-telling.   During the two hours you only see Robert Lepage on stage, but during the applause it did become clear that it used at least seven stage-hands (ASMs?) to make it work and there were three people sitting near me that also seemed to be controlling aspects of the show.  It is not just very clever, it was also a great afternoon of theatre and entertainment.  I even joined in the standing ovation – and not just to give my knees and buttocks a slightly earlier stretch.  If you ever have a chance to go to one of his shows, I’d strongly recommend you don’t let it pass you by.

I would not, however, advise the inexperienced to attempt to reach St Giles-without-Cripplegate.  I have been training for this sort of expedition for years and I would not want to have any reader’s blood on my hands following a failed attempt to emulate your hero.

Pub theatre

The Guardian recently ran an article about the resurgence of pub theatre, demonstrating that once again our author is well-ahead of the curve (in some areas, in others he can’t even find the curve and is uncertain whether one even exists).  I have been an habitué of pub theatres for more than 4 years now.  [Is it just me, or do any other (male or equivalent) readers feel cheated when typing (or writing) a French adjective formed from a past participle that they cannot correctly add the second ‘e’ for feminine agreement?]

What is not to love?  The title clearly illustrates the two key attributes for any potential visitor: there is a theatre “in” (or usually above) a pub!  Not only that, but it is usually a small, intimate theatre producing new writing and the pub is generally a good one with a fine range of well-kept cask ales.

The Guardian article included a production still (look at me, using industry jargon!) from the play that, in many ways, started it all.  It was a shot from Luke Owen‘s Unscorched which was the first time I visited the Finborough Theatre (a place where I am now often recognised by the team), was almost my first visit to a pub theatre and was the play which started my obsession with new writing in the theatre.  Since that day, my visits to the West End have declined to zero and my theatre-going has become increasingly dominated by new plays.  My attendance of the classics has become limited to those staged by the Nuffield Theatre – but a short walk or bus-ride from my door – or at the cinema via NT Live (similarly physically proximate).  This switch has also had the benefit of making my theatre-going budget stretch a lot further.

My visits to pub theatre – which are mostly in London (though I am tempted to try and set one up myself nearer to home) – have been somewhat restricted by the pain of getting to them from Southampton (and more significantly getting home again) by public transport.  They tend to be located away from the centre of London on underground lines not served from Waterloo.  However, on the Sunday before last I made a major transport breakthrough.  I discovered that, via the magic of the Overground, I can be delivered from Clapham Junction via a very frequent service to West Brompton in less than 10 minutes.  From there it is but a short walk to the Finborough.  This knocks 45-60 minutes off my previous route via Waterloo and the Jubilee and District Lines and saves me nearly a fiver on my train ticket!  This same little arc of the Overground also takes in Theatre 503 (another pub theatre) and the Bush Theatre (not in a pub, but still a small theatre producing new writing).  I also have the feeling that the Overground is largely unknown to tourists, which eliminates a whole range of frustrations which plague its subterranean sibling.  All hail the London Overground!  Your rolling stock was not named Capitalstar in vain!

Using this new knowledge, I found myself in the Finborough Arms enjoying a very fine pint of Luppol (not a new high-performance lubricant for your engine, but an unfiltered ale by Clouded Minds brewery) a mere 90 minutes after leaving Southampton Central.  I then enjoyed the drama of Late Company by the ridiculously young and talented Jordan Tannahill (he was 23 when he wrote it, and still hasn’t reached 30) another stunning Canadian play brought across the Atlantic by the Finborough team.  If the opportunity arises, go see Late Company – it is an uncomfortable experience at times, but is wonderful, thoughtful writing.  I then wended my way home via Theatre 503 and the excellent Sharp Teeth, starring inter alia The Greeners and Ben Norris.

Sharp Teeth is a cross-genre night taking in music and spoken word along the way which is usually resident in Bristol, but this was its first outing in London.  Bristol is, in theory, closer and easier to get to than London – but the operators of our rail companies find it inconceivable that the resident of a provisional UK city should wish to visit a nearby provincial city for an evening of fun.  Whether it be Salisbury, Bath, Chichester, Brighton or Bristol the last train back to Southampton is cunningly timed to ensure that any visit to the theatre (or similar cultural activity) will cause you to miss it.  Is ATOC in the pocket of big B&B?  Or is it just that the denizens of Southampton have a particularly lairy reputation?

Returning to Late Company, this is the fourth stunning play by a Canadian playwright I have seen in the last couple of years: two at the Finborough (the other being Proud by Michael Healey) and two at the Nuffield Theatre.  This latter pair were performed by the Nuffield Youth Theatre, Girls like that and Consensual, both written by Evan Placey.  These were both stunningly good productions but Consensual, in particular, never made you think about the word “youth” in “youth theatre”.  For my money (and as paying audience, it was my money), it could stand with any professional production I’ve seen in recent years.  The ambition of the NYT over recent years has been extraordinary.  I’d never been to youth theatre before I moved to Southampton and only went the first time as I had a free ticket and figured “how bad can it be?”.  I now book early for all their productions to make sure I get a seat: the performances are always worth seeing and they can tackle repertoire which the main theatre would struggle to programme economically.

I fear this post has wandered from its original theme of pub theatre, as many members of the NYT could not be legally served in a pub, but I like to feel there is a (tenuous) thread leading the reader through my rant: if not, can we agree to call it Joycean?  It is also becoming increasingly clear that if I am forced to flee this country as an economic migrant, Canada is looking an increasingly attractive option.  So I like to think we’ve all learned something today.

Mayday

Do not worry, I am not in immediate need of rescue – or at least no more so than usual.  I shall be discursing on the traditional holiday rather than the cry for help (or the deadly butterfly-toting Bond villain).  Wordpress does not like me using the word ‘discursing’, but it is a perfectly valid word, if archaic: so I shall raise a small number of fingers to ‘the man’ and continue.

People make a wide range of choices for their May Day celebrations.  The psychotic supreme leader or gerontocracy that traditionally run totalitarian states seem to prefer having a large proportion of their military forces paraded in front of them: usually sporting both silly hats and walks.  I know one chap who by 5am was not only up, but about and in town performing (I assume with other like-minded folk) in a bout of Morris dancing.  The lone Morris dancer is a very sad and lonely sight: even if there is no-one there to observe him.  Do his bells make a sound?

At 5am on May 1, I was still safely nestled neath my duvet: I may be a fool, but I’m an old fool and time in bed sleeping is rarely wasted or later regretted (which is more than can be said for many of a chap’s waking hours).  I did eventually stir and after a light luncheon took the train up to London to visit the Barbican Centre.  This is my fourth visit in the last 12 months or so, and for the first time managed to walk from Moorgate tube station to the Barbican and back (later) without going the wrong way or becoming hopelessly lost.  For my next trip, I think I can safely leave behind the reel of cotton and the 800g sliced loaf and rely on my own navigational ability to brave the heart of the labyrinth and then later emerge unscathed.  For any of you who were worrying. no man-bull hybrids were harmed in the making of this post.

I was visiting the Barbican Centre to listen to Philip Glass’ Music in Twelve Parts: a four hour extravaganza of musical minimalism suspended over 5.5 hours once the (3) intervals were included.  I have heard a small amount of Mr Glass’ percussion music in the past and some of his film soundtrack work, in particular to the film Koyaanisqatsi, but this was going to be something of a leap into the musical dark.  Still, I somewhat knew the chap organising and directing (from the keyboard) the gig (having twice shared a pint or two with him: which I think in many cultures would make us brothers) and follow the viola da gamba player on Twitter (surely, everyone must follow at least one viola da gamba player on Twitter, or how do they sleep at night?) so I figured it would be worth a punt.  Also, in purely economic terms, it was one of the cheapest concerts I’ve ever been to in terms of a pence per minute rate.

You will be pleased to know that my punt paid off handsomely: I had a glorious afternoon and evening.  It quickly became weirdly engrossing in a way that I imagine meditation or mindfulness is supposed to.  I felt oddly cocooned in music and it was slightly shocking once each segment came to an end and I was forced to face the real world again for the upcoming interval.  For perhaps obvious reasons, the piece is rarely played (despite being shorter and less stressful than most of Wagner’s output) and this was the first time it hadn’t been played by the Philip Glass Ensemble: so it was also  a fairly[sic] unique  – or at least once in a generation – experience.  I did find myself wondering how the musicians maintain their concentration and remember which ‘repeat’ they are in: I become confused/lost within even a couple of repeated phrases in a piece of music so would have been entirely at sea in the hypnotic soundscape of Philip Glass.

The intervals were also quite stressful as it was in these brief interludes that the audience had to attempt to refuel with the victuals needed to make it through the next three parts (of the twelve).  The Barbican did not make this easy of us: the Members’ Lounge was closed all day and the centre has few eateries.  I booked at table at one of these for the long interval (1 hour) only to be told when I arrived to eat that they had stopped serving food two hours before.  Not a welcome message I can tell you!  I had to make do with a merely adequate wrap and brownie combination from a snack bar in the basement.  The Barbican really isn’t very accommodating to the tapeworm-infested or merely hungry visitor: it has very limited options and going “off-site” to find and eat food in an interval of only an hour is quite a challenge.   It would really require a native guide and access to motorised transport.  In this respect it contrasts rather unfavourably with the Southbank Centre which has a huge range of dining options within a short walk and a vastly lower chance of becoming lost on the way.

Still, it did expunge some of the blot from its copybook in the short intervals.  The Jude’s brown butter pecan ice cream I had in interval one – continuing with the sense of adventure that characterised the day – was very tasty and the elderflower and ginger martini I had in interval three was divine (if rather too expensive for everyday – or even every year).

Overall, I had a brilliant time and must take my hat off (sadly left behind on the train on my way home, please don’t blame the martini) to James McVinnie for organising such a wonderful gig.  I eagerly await his next offering…

The King and I

Writers are often asked where their ideas come from.  Oddly, I have yet to be asked this particular question: I am forced to assume that my public persona is too forbidding and people are afraid to approach me to raise such an inquiry.

Extrapolating from my huge sample size of one (viz me), still more evidence than will be supporting most of the claims we’ll hear between now and early June, I would imagine that writers find this question almost impossible to answer.  I have no idea where my inspiration comes from or fails to come from (as the case may be).  In general, it comes from doing stuff and being out in the world, rather than staring into space in my tiny garret – but beyond that the affairs of the muse are subtle and thrillingly mysterious.

Last night I enjoyed a very entertaining evening of storytelling at the Art House.  This was far from my first experience of storytelling.  Many years ago, an unfortunate Argentine, who had the misfortune to look to me as his line manager, claimed I was unable to say anything without turning into a narrative: he probably had a point.  Back in the mists of time (ok the mid-nineties), I was an habitué of the Cumberland Arms in Byker to enjoy the regular storytelling evenings run by A Bit Craic.  On a couple of occasions, I even summoned up sufficient pluck to tell a story myself.

As well as the traditional elements of such an evening, the two storytellers last night (Jason Buck and Mike Rogers) filled in the space before the performance and during the intermission by playing a game of chess: well, after a fashion.  As I arrived, there were hints of Det sjunde inseglet, though it quickly became apparent that there would be more laughs on offer than are traditionally associated with the work of Ingmar Bergman (I can’t speak to his private life, which may have been a complete laugh riot).  

I think they started with a plan to play chess to the rules of Monopoly, but this quickly morphed under the influence of the audience.  Elements of Mornington Crescent, Connect Four and Play Your Cards Right soon arrived and then my surprisingly extensive knowledge of the back catalogue of the band Queen came to the fore: gained not through direct experience, but spending a lot of time in the podcast company of John Robins (and Elis James, Prods D and V).

It was at some point during this interplay between the audience, the storytellers, a chess board, the streets and stations of London et al that we we found ourselves led to Kennington Oval. From nowhere, my subconscious decided that I should sing this (out loud to the assembled minitude – like a multitude, only smaller) to the tune of Getting to Know You:

🎶 Kennington Oval

🎶 Kennington Ov-all about you etc.

[I’m afraid you’ll have to imagine me singing this with the look of a frock-begirt Deborah Kerr but the angelic voice of Marni Nixon.  Quite a stretch I fear, but at least I have discovered how to insert notes into a post: so that’s a major step forward for GofaDM!]

This is a terribly insidious earworm which I have now infected you with as well.  A trouble shared is a trouble doubled!  I fear none of you will be able to use the southern reaches of the Northern Line or the home of Surrey county cricket (the club with the fringe on top) without bringing to mind a little of Richard Rodgers work in the King and I.  Luckily for us, and unhappily for the estate of the late RR, there is no PRS to pay as long as the tune stays inside safely your head.

Oval

All together now: “Kennington Oval…”