Exit Music

With the pandemic putting a pretty serious crimp in the activities that would traditionally fill my evenings and weekends, readers might (quite reasonably) be asking themselves about the very poor volume of GofaDM output in recent weeks. They may, of course, be grateful: irrespective of the cause that has, at least briefly, stemmed the tide of nonsense – but I’m not here to pander to the readership!

I have taken on new, or modified, activities as part of my response to the reduced gig going opportunities with the resultant reduction in social contact and increased risk of the author running amok in some way. Writing the occasional quiz and attending and making silly remarks at other people’s quizzes along with preparing increasingly baroque adventures in both Generic Fantasy Landia and the kitchen (for the monthly Quaranstein) do take up a (perhaps) surprisingly large amount of time. I have done these things not as a result of any special virtue on my part but more a combination of rearguard action to hang on to the tatters of my sanity and a set of stupid ideas that got slightly out-of-hand and have now developed a life of their own. So, I was frankly gobsmacked when, last week, I was presented with card saying worryingly nice things about the author (clearly my attempts to conceal the real me have been wildly successful) and an apron decorated in a combination of appliqué, collage and embroidery with most of the key memes from my lockdown social life. I am fortunate in my life and friends far beyond any level that I could claim represents my just desserts…

Apron-as-biography

Work has also become really rather busy in recent weeks, leaving me rather less energy to write after a busy day of modelling or script-editing. Still, it has probably acted as a welcome distraction from the major life event which has occurred since the last post.

On 12 September, I became a demi-orphan (I think half orphan is the more common phrase but we seek out the uncommon and uncanny here at GofaDM) with the death of my mother. We’d had a few days to prepare for the likely end, with several family conferences to try and make the appropriate end of life decisions but the exact timing remained uncertain (until it wasn’t). I think it was as good a death as could have been achieved given the severe dementia: though I really have no way of knowing.

I find that I have been oddly unemotional (insofar as I can tell) about the event, but this may be because the dementia has meant that I have been losing my mother by instalments for the last 3 or 4 years. Or it may just accurately reflect the fact that I am an unfeeling monster: we will never know for sure. I have continued to think of things I’d like to tell my mother but now can’t, though to a significant extent that has been true for the last two years.

I now find I am unexpectedly knowledgeable about the wide variety of coffins now available in all price ranges and their ability (or otherwise) to provide sufficient kindling for the incineration of a human body. Holding a funeral during the pandemic is not ideal, but we had lovely weather and I don’t think we lost out on too much as a result of the restrictions. There were more masks in evidence that is traditional (outside of Venice or the MCU anyway) and we couldn’t really have any sort of do afterwards. Still, my father and sister – with modest input from me (I may be pretty good at quizzes but I have a very shaky memory of my own life, it turns out) – put together a jolly good eulogy and our celebrant (slightly improbably named Candy) did a good job running the service: even my eyes slightly moistened at one stage!

Death-related activities and the importance of spending time (as much as feasible and feels safe) with my fairly small family does mean that I have driven more in the last few weeks than I normally do in a couple of years: my car must think it’s been stolen! Despite regularly shuttling the length of the 27s A&M, I still feel a terrible fraud as a driver and constantly expect the next roundabout or right-turn will leave me (a) found out and (b) unable to break into the traffic flow and so living out the remainder of my days as an obstruction at a moderately busy road junction. So far, this has not happened – though I’m taking nothing for granted – but I still find driving very tiring and do tend to start each journey before 6am to dodge as many other road users as possible.

The last month has also seen a modest re-starting of live gigs at indoor venues in the vicinity. In the last month, I have been to four gigs in a building with other people and it is both exciting and rather poignant. The expressions on the faces of both musicians and audience make clear how important live music is to people and what a difference doing things together makes. Social distancing means venues feel very empty, even when sold out, and though this has definite benefits in terms of legroom and sightlines it really can’t be great for the economics for either venues or artists. One wonders how long even this limited re-opening can last but I shall enjoy it while it does…

Very belatedly the government appears to be taking time out from its self-appointed task of spreading largesse in the direction of totally unqualified suppliers (who, in one of the least surprising events of recent years, turn out to be entirely unable to deliver on their piecrust promises) and organised crime to offer some support to the Arts. Some of this support appears very oddly targetted, and that which seems better aimed misses huge swathes of the live events industry and is probably barely managing the overdrafts for those that have received funds. It also seems weirdly sinister, and somehow reminiscent of a totalitarian state, that recipients appear obliged to be publicly grateful to the Arts Council and/or government on social media for any money they do receive. I do feel that both the bodies wishing to be seen as Lady Bountiful would do well to remember that the money they are disbursing is not theirs but ours!

I shall now dismount from my soapbox and attempt to melt away into the crowds before the authorities feel my collar. While I continue to miss so much that was taken for granted prior to March, I seem to have made the transition to a decent back-up life which will hopefully see me through the return of Greenwich Mean Time and the winter that is to come. I shall be keeping an ear cocked for the belling of the hounds of Spring…

The Spirit of Frankenmas

While it would seem that I am writing as we enjoy a brief interlude, perhaps while the celestial cistern is refilled (frankly, I think the directing deity should probably be looking at the ballcock), I find myself living through a period of permanent precipitation.  As the waters rise around me, it is proving a little tricky to manoeuvre my mind into some semblance of the appropriate festive spirit.  The default faith of these isles does seem to lack a suitably watery festival: its key books do mention that a small sea was parted and a stormy lake quieted, but I don’t recall much mention of rain or broader climatic change in my Religious Studies O Level syllabus.  I can’t help feeling that there is a gap in the market here for any worshippers of Tlaloc to fill…

A week today, I shall be driving east to spend the statutory days with my family: and this year it will be nice to be to do this without a medical emergency as the inciting incident.  So, I have roughly 168 hours left to complete my welcome of the three Christmas spirits into my life (and sober up afterwards to enable safe and legal command of a motor vehicle).

One of my attempts has involved my continued creation of a range of chilli-infused Frankenfoods.  I am now on the third incarnation of my Frankenballs (or Frankenkugeln, for the more Teutonic reader) which are my hot-take on the chocolate truffle: I like to imagine that these would be a suitable offering to Tlaloc (though should perhaps be more cartioid in form to satisfy his particular predilections).  In order to retain the childish joy of offering people my balls, it has been important that I should be able to form my ganache into broadly spherical sweetmeats.  This has proven quite the challenge!

My first attempt involved rolling the chilled ganache in my hands.  To prevent sticking, my hands were pre-chilled (under the cold tap, rather than detached and placed in the freezer) and coated in cocoa: this was an abject failure.  For some reason, my body chooses to run my hands very hot (there would seem to be no major issues with my circulation: though it might explain my generally inability to gain weight) and so they quickly overcame any cooling and almost instantly melted the cocoa.  As a result, my balls were horribly amorphous and my hands became increasingly coated in melted cocoa and ganache.  As I dislike my hands getting dirty, this was not an enjoyable process and the balls grew ever larger as I attempted to bring the process to an earlier conclusion.  This would have been my last attempt to make Frankenballs had they not been so annoyingly moreish…

For the second attempt, I acquired a double-headed melon baller and dipped this in boiling water to improve its ability to cut through the cooled ganache.  This produced more even balls, though there is a definite knack to using the baller which became trickier as the remaining material became more distributed round the bowl.  However, the large problem was with the second head.  While head #1 struggled to cut through the chilled ganache, head #2 found it all too easy to cut through the flesh of my right hand.  I think I managed to keep my life blood from entering the ball-mix but they did come perilously close to going “full Aztec”.  I’ve also found that all the thinking about a baller that this project generated has left me with Skee-Lo‘s 1995 hip-hop hit stuck in my head.  Despite considerable thought, I remain unable to see how a rabbit in a hat, even one with a bat, fits into the broader life goals set out in his treatise.

Once again, after the second attempt, my thought was to leave ganache and move on with my life.   However, a chance pub conversation suggested that without a chilli-heavy starter, the Frankenballs could be a tad eye-watering and they could use an additional buffering agent.  Somehow, the idea of adding spiced rum to the ganache arose, in what passes for my mind, to creative a more festive set of balls.  I researched a range of alternative recipes to try and come up with a less stiff ganache and also acquired a single-headed baller with a thick, padded shaft.  And so we came to the Mark III: this used a different (butter-free) recipe and was chilled less severely which I think created a slightly looser ganache.  It might have been a smidge too loose, next time I shall chill it for longer, but the combination of a thicker shaft and my improving wrist action led to a very satisfactory conclusion.  I also feel that the addition of rum helped to tame the Frankenballs blood-lust: my hands even stayed mostly clean!  Having sampled the more deformed, early attempts with the baller, I can report that the Mark IIIs are dangerously delicious: people may find themselves unable to keep their hands off my balls (should I ever release them to a wider audience)…

However, it struck me that chocolate is more associated with a later festival and the current season is more about dried fruit.  (Well, that and Frankenscents – but my signature, chilli-based perfume will have to wait for next year.)  So I decided I should attempt a Frankenmas cake: this would be like the more traditional Christmas cake but the marzipan and icing would be replaced by chilli.  I feel this is a good time of year to celebrate Frankenmas as the original story by Mary Shelley is very much about a birth; though Easter could also work as it is, in many ways, also about a resurrection.

It must be a good 30 years since I last made a rich fruit cake but I found a plausible looking recipe to adapt and gave it a go.  The recipe was basically very simple, though did require the tin to be double-lined (rather annoyingly labour intensive) and to be wrapped in two layers of newspaper!  I haven’t taken a physical newspaper in years, so it had to make do with some A4 work print-outs awaiting shredding.  While the Frankenmas cake cooked, the flat was suffused with the most glorious aroma: it was like Father Frankenmas was in the room.  On its emergence from the oven, in its best business casual, the cake smelled divine: it was all I could do not to drool.  Instead, I allowed it to cool and fed it with spiced rum before wrapping it and putting it away to mature.  Only after a couple of weeks, on Tuesday, did I take it to the Swing Steady Session at the Guide Dog to be eaten and act as an interval refresher.  For me, it was everything I want in a cake – moist, chilli-infused and mostly alcoholic fruit – but it also seemed to go down well with the swingers.  I have already made a Bride of Frankenmas cake for later, but have also considered stockpiling Aldi’s Specially Selected Brandy Infused Fruit Mix – which I consider a key element of its success – to last me through the next eleven months…  Let’s face it, I think we are going to need all the brandy infused fruit we can lay our hands on!

I have not just been relying on food to prepare for the twenty-fifth.  I’ve been to a couple of gigs with a seasonal flavour.  For example, last Friday I headed out to the edge of the land to the Lookout at Lepe – a very superior beach hut – for Sound Level Events‘ monthly residency.  On paper (or a screen), this was in many ways a dream line-up of local musicians for me: Tenderlore, Jack Francis and Bad Cat.  With some Christmas-infused numbers added into their usual repertoire and an appreciative audience, this has to go down as one of my top gigs of 2019.  It was a ridiculous amount of fun and I was sober(!) throughout.  I’d had to drive to the gig as Lepe is not accessible by public transport on a winter Friday evening and it was rather a long bike ride in torrential rain.  Still, it is good to know I can have musical fun without the aid of alcohol, I drank tea and ate cake to support the venue in lieu of my usual drunken excess…

Inspired by the message of the Muppet Christmas Carol, last night I took the bus to a very wet Bishopstoke for the festive Folk and Acoustic Session at Steam Town Brewery.   Despite the sad lack of West Coast IPA, I had loads of fun joining in with a bunch of seasonal songs and, coincidentally, discovering that the guitar chords for most lay well within my grasp (I just need to add a suitable G7 into my repertoire: which I vaguely remember Mr Owen teaching me back in 1978, that and English).  I may have to take my instrument east next Wednesday to ‘entertain’ my family: that’ll teach ’em!

I think after my traditional viewing of Arthur Christmas and, perhaps, of Die Hard, added to some more festive food and a few gallons of mulled wine, my festive spirit may be ready to peak in the middle of next week.  I shall aim to do Father Frankenmas and his monster proud!

The Red Queen

To the extent (disputable) that I have had any conscious control over the man I am today, I might imagine that I have modelled myself on a small range of almost exclusively fictional characters.  I think I like to keep my ‘heroes’, or at least ‘role models’, fictional as one can usually rely on them not to suddenly reveal new, deeply troubling sides to their character.  This is rendered easier if I avoid unnecessary sequels and re-makes: where a turn to the dark appears to have been de rigeur for quite some time now.

A worrying number of these characters came from a handful of movies released between roughly 1985 and 1995, none of which could be considered entirely serious.  Other people have seminal music that still defines them from their teens, I must have been seeking my way in the world as I headed into my twenties: always a late developer…  I think we must also place considerable blame on the Fourth Doctor who entered my life during an earlier impressionable phase.

In practise, I suspect the man I am today, while clearly path-dependent, has been subject to almost no conscious direction and has just involved the accretion of random bits of other people (real, virtual and imaginary) that seem to have stuck: like pocket fluff to a forgotten boiled sweet.  The original sweet is still in there but all anyone (including the conscious me) now encounters is the multiple strata of fluff that have accumulated over the years (this metaphor does pre-suppose a very lax approach to laundry).

In fact, following the unexpected receipt of a meme – and the even more unexpected fact that I understood it – I have realised that in the game of life I have completely stopped pursuing the primary goal: indeed, I can no longer recall what it was or ever having tried to achieve it.  Instead, my life is comprised of an ever more Baroque selection of side quests.  Sometimes a side quest may be parked for a decade (or two) before I return to it, but very few are ever entirely abandoned.  I like to imagine, in the final reckoning, I will have built up a decent score: albeit, not one that will trouble people who have pursued the actual objective of the game.

I recently realised that one fictional character that I have come to resemble is the Red Queen, from Through the Looking Glass.  I tend not to think six impossible things before breakfast – though only because my metabolism requires the prioritisation of victuals and their ingestion pretty promptly upon waking.  I have to save my counter-factual thinking until I have some fuel in the tank.

I certainly share her tendency to derail any serious conversation with wordplay and other such nonsense: though there is no evidence that, if shaken, I will reveal myself to be a black kitten.

My main area of congruence with the Red Queen is in my need to be constantly in high-speed motion (not always of the physical variety: I mostly refuse to run), if only to devote at least some time-slice to my myriad side-quests.  There are always more things that I could be doing if only I could move faster: without hurtling through life at full pelt I will just lose ground to some perceived, if undefined, substrate.  I have the feeling the pace of this movement is accelerating as though my psyche is subject to some analogue of dark energy.: or perhaps, I just lack sufficient psychic dark matter to hold myself together…

Normally, my mad race to fit as much into any given period as possible only involves myself.  Others will see me from time-to-time and,  if they know me, are rarely surprised to see me in almost any location: even if they thought I was in a distant city a few moments previous.  I think some people suspect I have a number of identical siblings (or clones) or access to time travel…

However, on the evening of the Saturday before last, a friend came along for the full ride: I assume they had taken out suitable insurance in advance…  It was one of my finest performances: having started in the Guide Dog for some Bishopstoke courage, we departed for the evening’s musical delights at around 19:40.  At the end of the evening, I was safely in my own bed by midnight but somehow we managed to fit in four musical gigs in four different venues in the intervening time.  Even now, I’m not entirely sure how we achieved this – I am forced to assume that the speed of travel between venues must have led to a degree of relativistic time dilation.  Not only did we fit in four gigs, I also managed to invent a new cocktail: organic whisky with chocolate ice cream – it probably wouldn’t have been my first choice, but the venue was very short of alcohol and had no ice, so I had to extemporise.  It was surprisingly potable, but I don’t think Harry’s will be beating a path to my door in search of the recipe any time soon.

It was a seriously enjoyable evening but I fear it might form the basis of a sustainable life plan: though, to be fair, I have been living it for a few years now.  Could it be time for a change?

As part of a potentially dangerous experiment, for which ethical approval has not been sought in the expectation that it would be withheld, I shall be spending this next weekend in a very different way.  Despite a plethora of gigs in both Southampton and Cambridge that I am itching (or Itchen in the case of the local gigs) to attend, I am going to be cast away on a tiny island, like a modern day Robinson Crusoe (though hopefully I will be a little more ‘woke’ than Defoe’s ‘hero’: I do at least have my insomnia to fall back on).

My island will not be of the sand and palm tree variety, but rather a granite rock mostly covered in dry heath moored in the liminal space where the Bristol Channel and North Atlantic meet.  Yes, I am spending a long winter weekend on Lundy: an island without music venue, art gallery or theatre – though I am told there is a pub.  In theory, I shall be deposited there by helicopter on Friday morning and returned to the mainland on Monday morning.  In between, there is no escape!  Indeed, I believe the weather can get quite spicy, so I may find that I am unable to leave on Monday – though, at time of writing, the weather looks to be relatively clement.

The island is some 3 miles by 0.6 miles – so a circumnavigation on foot shouldn’t take long.  According to Wikipedia, the island has a few features of historic and scientific interest and there is some hope of sighting some interesting flora and fauna.

I shall not be there entirely alone as I am going with six friends – and I believe the island has a tiny resident population and may have a small number of other visitors.  I am told there is little or no mobile phone signal and no wifi: so I shall probably have no access to the internet for approaching 72 hours.  Will I cope?  Are the share prices of various social media companies tanking even now?  There is also no power overnight, so this excursion may be good practice for the future of the country as a whole…

All of this means that my life will be required to slow down significantly from its traditional break-neck pace.  There is a worrying risk that my actual thoughts may surface and not been drowned out by the constant stream of incident and moment that normally keeps them nicely out of sight/harm’s way.  What I have I been keeping locked in my mental attic?  Who is the previous Mrs Rochester in this metaphor?  The island has had a turbulent history, is its near future going to involve more of the same at my hands?

The people with whom I am sharing a large classical villa (I’m not slumming it on my island redoubt) all know me, however, we have – heretofor – experienced each other in managed doses with plenty of opportunity for escape, if required.  Since I have lived basically alone for more than 30 years now, I wonder what weird idiosyncrasies I have acquired in all that time that will come to light?  How terrifying am I on a 24/7 basis?

I shall be bringing plenty of reading material and, part of me, is viewing it as a writer’s retreat.  I am certainly planning to keep a Lund(iar)y either to bore you dear readers with upon my return or to act as a partial explanation for the bodies that will eventually be discovered.  It could also be the perfect time to finally write that sestina!  I have some hope that the villa will provide some space for hand balancing practice and I might get in some musical practice too.  Yes, I am already trying to convert an emotionally (if not climatically) tranquil retreat into my normal life.  Either that, I shall I channel Dylan Thomas and never leave the pub…

Will I return with a yen for the life of the hermit?  Will I return in a straight-jacket?  Will the Southampton cultural scene collapse in my absence?

Some of the questions posed in this post may be answered when (if) I return next week: stay tuned…

 

Not a complete ranker

We are well into the season (and have been since mid-November) when various commentators favour us with their top X events of 2017 (for suitable X in the set of Natural Numbers).  X can be as low as 10, but I’ve seen a lot of 50s and I’m sure larger numbers are available (just one of the advantages of having a Maths degree!).  The events in question could be sporting (goals or innings etc) or cultural (films, books or TV shows etc) or I’m sure are available in many other spheres of fleeting human endeavour.  It is not just important to pick your top X but it also seems critical to rank the events in order.

In my modest sampling, this urge for ranking seems to be strongly linked to possession of a Y-chromosome by the commentator – and this certainly seems to fit the general male stereotype.  I must admit to having a Y-chromosome but do not really have the urge to place my experiences (or much of anything else) into a ranked sequebce.  Depending on your point of view, this may make me a very poor or very good example of modern masculinity – but I rationalise it by reference to my degree.  In my first year, as part of the module on Continuity and Differentiability, I was required to prove that no order relation exists on the complex numbers.  Despite their name, complex numbers are not that complex (though you do have to imagine a square root exists to -1, which is only slightly absurd) – they can be represented by a pair of numbers: one representing the real part and one the imaginary part.  If there is no order relation on something so simple, how can one hope to rank events in sport or the arts which one would struggle to characterise, even using many more than two numbers?

Despite the above, it has been suggested that I provide a list of my top 10 gigs of 2017 and, in common with so many media outlets, I cannot afford to ignore content suggestions from my public.  However, I will draw the line at ranking in such a pubic forum – I might consider it behind a paywall – and, as you will see, will be heavily caveating my selection.  It will offer more of a flavour of some of my favourite gigs of the year, skewed towards those that I can remember (so may favour more recent outings), and trying to capture some broad trends of my 2017 in music.  For the eagle-eyed, number-fans I will admit now that my list will contain twelves entries – very much an Imperial take on a top 10 (i.e. I’m working in base 12).

I have no idea how many gigs I’ve been to this year, but it must be into the low hundreds.  Not all of these will be have related to music – I have to find time for theatre, circus, dance, science and spoken word – but music is very much in the majority.  If I have missed your gig – or it has yet to happen – don’t think that I didn’t (or won’t) enjoy myself, its absence may be explicable by the insidious impact of age and alcohol on the fleshy-tablets of my memory.  Or I may just be harbouring a grudge!

Rafael Aguirre: a classical guitarist I’ve seen twice this year, first alone at Turner Sims and once with a cellist at King’s Place in London.  If I had to pick a stand-out tune played by Rafael, it would be Gran Jota by Francisco Tarrega.  His dad also makes a very beautiful guitar!

Manu Delago: a hang player and percussionist with a curious penchant for recording music videos up an Alp.  I saw him at Turner Sims – having no idea what a hang was – and am planning to seem him again in the New Year.

Extrapolations: this was chosen as just one example of the free Professional Lunchtime Concert Series at Turner Sims.  I’ve seen some truly amazing – and often seriously weird music – at these gigs, mostly recently Three Voices by Morton Feldman.  Extrapolations was amazing contemporary music using a harpsichord – and I do love a good juxtaposition!

Lau: the folk trio and subject of a recent blog post!

Maple Leaf Lounge Sessions: there have been a couple of dozen of these in 2017 and they’ve all been fun and some have been amazing.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember the line-up of a particular favourite as they sort-of blur together in the recollection (and while I could review my blogs for clues, I feel it is enough to write them and live with the author 24/7 without having to read the wretched things).  The sessions wonderful resource for musical discovery, ales, cake and meeting/making friends.  Snaps to Cat, Hayley and Satin for organising them!

Music in 12 Parts: My marathon with the work of Philip Glass at the Barbican.  My first time being total immersed in a soundscape and an experience alluded to in an earlier post.

Out-take Ensemble: hard to choose one of their three amazing gigs, but I shall go with the latest, as mentioned in a recent post.  One of the great, unexpected pleasures of living in Southampton.

Papillon: a violin/guitar duo which – as with so many gigs – I went to on spec, with no real idea what to expect.  They claim to create cinematic soundscapes based on Eastern melodies – which sounds about right to me.  I had an absolute ball, but this entry in the top 10 also stands in for so much new music and so many new artists I have discovered through the welcoming doors of the Art House.

Perpetual Motion Machine: Sunday night is Southampton Modern Jazz Club night at the Talking Heads and this has introduced me to so much great jazz over the course of 2017.  PMM were my absolute highlight with their rock-infused take on jazz.  The lads were loads of fun to talk to after the gig as well.

Playlist (@ Cobbett Hub): in a very strong year of Playlist gigs this was my favourite.  Tabla music, contemporary classical with the Workers Union Ensemble and the stunning folk of the Drystones.  I love three genres in one gig: even better when surrounded by books in a library (though surrounded by beer in a craft ale pub comes a close second).

Romsey Beggars Fair: not perhaps a single gig, and I didn’t stay for the evening – packed pubs full of the inebriated do not represent my preferred music venues – but a really great day of music (and stilt-walking Italian theatre).  Most of my day was spent at what I think was officially called the Abbey Stage, but which all right-thinking people refer to as the ‘Chris Lucas Stage’ (though I did defect to Hundred Records for a little while) .  So much great music with excellent sound (especially given the stage was a flat-bed truck), Bad Cat were probably my highlight from a very strong field.

Three Monkeys (Jack Dale/Charlie Hole/Real Raj): the Three Monkeys sessions at the Art House are always fun, but this session was a particular scream as documented here.  Are you practicing safe capo?

So, there we have it: a very partial and subjective take on my favourite gigs of the year.  I’m pleased to say that all but one took place in, or very close to Southampton, such is the huge range of music and talent available locally!   I know that as soon as I press Publish, I shall remember a dozen other gigs that should have made the list – but such is life: any blog post can only be a snapshot of the author’s soi-disant thoughts.  There were also dozens and dozens of local gigs alone that I failed to attend, how many potential favourites did I miss out on?  I’d make a resolution to try harder in 2018, but I think I am close to the physical limit for a human being without a major breakthrough in either physics or biology allowing me to be present in two (or more) locations at the same time and somehow successfully integrate the memories.  I’d also have to ensure that all versions of me provided “good audience”, a skill I have been complemented on more than once which I think alludes to my inability to remain stony-faced and physically immobile in the presence of good music.  This probably indicates that a career on the international poker circuit is not a great plan, unless I can ensure that my face acts as a better vizard to my heart when playing cards (I fear it would also fatally interfere with my gig going as well).

 

 

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 matter, 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).

 

Orange megaphone

“Where is he going with this title?” you may wonder.  The thought “Why has he been so poor at updating the blog of late?” might also have crossed your mind.  At most one of these questions will receive an answer (though not necessarily a satisfactory one) in the text that inevitably follows.

Southampton is a city of hidden delights.  Before moving here, I checked to see that it had all of my vital needs covered: an art house cinema, a theatre, a classical music venue, a John Lewis, decent rail links (in theory at least) and a blood donor centre.  A slightly odd list of needs – and certainly one which suggests I see myself as some way from the foot of Mr Maslow’s triangular hierarchy.  This post will cover none of these key conditions precedent to my relocation, but a lucky find that has oft been mentioned before in this blog will now be thrust into the limelight.

On my first visit to Southampton (as an adult, I may have come here as a child), to reconnoitre the town and view my flat-to-be, my first stop after leaving the station was the Art House Cafe for a spot of lunch.  No-one wants to meet an estate agent on an empty stomach (or, indeed, at all).  The internet had pointed out the cafe to me as a likely spot to offer some cake-centred breaking of my relatively brief fast.  The internet had not been economical with the truth and I was suitably fortified before my rendezvous.

Time passed (as is its wont).

I then discovered that the Art House also staged events, and so went to a few comedy nights there – at this stage, all starring Andrew O’Neill who managed to bring three different shows in a year.  After this lengthy introduction to their first-floor ‘venue’ (fools may rush in, but I don’t like to be so easily typecast), I branched out and started to attend some of their fairly regular musical offerings.  These have now become the mainstay of the rapid recent growth in my CD collection.

Going to a gig at the Art House is not unlike having the music performed in your front room – except, their venue is a little larger than my deceptively-spacious (OK, small) lounge and has a vastly better sound system (indeed, for my money offers the best venue sound in Southampton other, perhaps, than Turner Sims).  I nearly almost always manage to sit in the front row – offering good leg-room and allowing my glasses to remain in their case – as others seem to fear the potential for audience participation (though this has only happened rarely, despite my obvious star quality).  They also book the ‘talent’ and deal with all the admin and set-up (and down) – which is a major boon.

As a cafe, they can also provide drinks to satisfy both the temperate and the dipsomaniac, which can be consumed during the gig from ceramic or vitreous vessels (no plastic beakers here), and a selection of food, including cake.  Somehow, the lack of an interval ice cream is much easier to bear if a thick slice of cake is available in its stead.  Their cake is vegan – not something I have ever attempted to make at home – and I have no idea what they use in lieu of eggs (and will perhaps be happier remaining in ignorance), but the results are delicious.  As I have discovered over the last week, they also make the best mince pies in Southampton (based on my slightly limited, but growing, experience).

I have enjoyed some wonderful music there: recent highlights include the folk and gypsy-jazz infused work of Kadia (unusual, perhaps, for having a cellist on lead vocal) and the more classically strung delights of the Stringbeans Quartet (who improvised not one but two pieces in a key and style of the audience’s choosing: apparently C# Major is quite the challenge).

However, due to a recent rather dilatory approach to this blog, this post has been hanging around as an unfinished draft for quite a while and so the inspiration for putting digits to keyboard was a Sunday afternoon gig way back in October.  This was even more intimate than usual with myself lounging on a comfy sofa with a truly massive chunk of cake (and a responsible pot of tea) to enjoy some Hungarian indie synth pop from The Kolin.  I had zero idea in advance what they might be like, but the gig was amazing fun: the only disappointment being that they did not sing in Hungarian. How the band came to be performing in my local cafe/venue, on their four date UK tour, I have no idea but I’m grateful for the improbable juxtaposition.

The band have a certain fame for the use of body paint, rather than more traditional habiliments.  However, on the day they were fully clothed though I fear the drummer may have taken his style tips from the Swingtown Lads (perhaps ironically).  However, painting was still much in evidence – with some incredible face and body painting going on to one side of the stage (the stuff you see on children was as nothing to this) and a mural being painted on the other.  An afternoon at the Art House can truly be a gesamtkunstwerk.

The lead singer (keyboard player and driving force) of The Kolin as well as using a normal-seeming mike also used the style of microphone I had previously associated with taxi drivers and policeman for some lyrics.  For one song, he even used an orange megaphone (see figure 1).

Orange Megaphone

Figure 1: The title explained!

As you will glimpse, they are also the first band I’ve seen at the Art House who brought their own neon signage!  (You can also see a corner of the Muriel and the artist hard at work).

This reminds me of another great thing about an Art House gig: the performers seem to enjoy themselves as much as the audience.  It is wonderful to see musicians clearly having a really good time: it makes for a special evening (or afternoon) out.  While many of my readers may not have the good fortune to be local to Above Bar Street (oddly, not famed for its subterranean drinking dens), I suspect many a town or city will have a decent, independent music (and more) venue and at a time of year when people are making new resolutions might I suggest people plan to check out their local ‘Art House’ in 2016.  You probably won’t regret it (and I’m sure they could use your support) – and I’m taking no responsibility even if you do.  The buck doesn’t even slow down here.