Ship-shape

It may appear to the casual reader that I rarely stray more than a score of miles from my home, unless forced by the exigencies of work and the need to earn a crust: or even, the sweet, soft centre of the loaf!  There is a certain degree (or π/180 radians) of truth to this view, though I should point out that I do occasionally visit friends in Sussex, Edinburgh and Cambridge.

However, on occasion, I break with tradition and over the May bank holiday weekend I finally heeded the advice of the Pet Shop Boys and went west.  Even more out-of-character, I went with a friend and I did the driving: I even prepared a playlist for the journey should the art of conversation desert us at any stage.  Given that the car had last been used on Boxing Day, this did require a little help from the AA to give the kiss of life to the battery (no actual osculation was performed, even in its depleted state I could not recommend making lip-on-terminal contact with a car battery) but otherwise the drive to Bristol on the Friday was a breeze.

Thanks to my skills at the wheel, and the navigational advice of an app called ‘Here’ (a name that might not immediately inspire confidence when one is trying to reach ‘there’), we made it to Clifton, the rather upmarket suburb of Bristol, well within two hours and failed to get lost at any stage (though one choice of lane at a junction was sub-optimal).  At no stage did my companion have obvious recourse to a nerve tonic, or stronger medication, to cope with the rigours of the journey: so I think I still qualify as a somewhat competent driver.

We had travelled to Bristol primarily to enjoy its Folk Festival, but one of the many advantages of city-based festivals – over and above the ease with which can avoid relying on canvas to provide a roof over your head – is that when you fancy something different a whole city is at your disposal.  The Bristol Folk Festival was an absolute joy: spread across two venue and a pub on Friday and Saturday and switching to a third on Sunday, it was a wonderfully welcoming event of just the right scale.  There wasn’t so much going on to be overwhelming and its scale didn’t dominate the city.  It has had a slightly stop-start history in recent years, but I do hope it continues as I’d love to go again.

We saw a lovely range of folk musicians and picking one musical highlight from each day, I’d go with the following:

On Friday evening, we saw Spiro, who came highly recommended by more than one Southampton friend: they mixed some classical influences into their folk music and made wonderful musical close to our first day in Bristol.

On Saturday afternoon, we saw Sid Goldsmith and Jimmy Aldridge in St Stephen’s Church and really enjoyed them.  So, we completely changed our plans for the rest of the evening and pursued them to a packed Three Tuns for a glorious singaround session.  Sometimes spontaneous decisions are the best – and one of the many advantages to bringing a decision maker, other than idiot I live with, on an excursion!  My companion was also the reason we followed the singing with a fiery, late dinner of Sri Lankan street food at the Coconut Tree.  I think I may need to add some Sri Lankan dishes to spice up my own cooking…

On Sunday afternoon, we went to the wonderful venue that is St George’s: it really does so much right as a venue, including offering really good and well chosen food in the extension to the side.  We were there for my second chance to see The Drystones on their recent tour – and it was through this tour that I had discovered the existence of the Bristol Folk Festival in the first place.  I know the boys are my friends, but they have massively stepped it up for their new album (Apparitions) and to bring that experience to the tour: I frankly lost count of the number of instruments, pedals and mics they played/used between them.  At one point, Ford is forced to sit down so that he can simultaneously use both feet and both hands to play/control different instruments and effects.  I can see why the tour took so much rehearsal and they travel with their own sound engineer (and someone’s mother’s best tablecloth) to set the whole thing up.  It is clearly an incredible feat of concentration as well as musicianship to bring it altogether for the live show: they must be exhausted afterwards.  It is folk music, but so much more besides: as but one example, Oscar’s Ghost is just so hauntingly atmospheric that it sends shivers up my spine whenever I hear it.  I’m not sure where they are planning to go next: I’m expecting full pyrotechnics and a laser show which still somehow only exists only to serve the music…

As well as the music, we also had a chance to enjoy the Georgian architectural splendours of Clifton, no doubt funded by some of the more unsavoury practices of our mercantile past, and a lot of (probably) less morally compromised wisteria.  I think this was also my first visit to the engineering glory of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.  I suppose I may have been as a child, though I have no recollection – then again, I had no memory of just how hilly Bristol was either and I’m pretty sure it does not boast sufficient geological activity for the hills to have appeared since my childhood (despite my antiquity).  My calves were extremely taut (you could bounce a marble off them) by Saturday evening from going down hill (my body was fine with the ascents) and I feel I gained a small insight into the suffering high heels must cause their users.

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I had a lovely few days in Bristol (see a brief highlights reel above) and will return , if only because I have barely made a start on its museums and galleries: let alone its music scene.  However, after the end of the Drystones set, I had a mere 135 minutes to return to my car, drive back to Southampton and drop off my friend and make it to Turner Sims to attend a gig I had booked long before I even knew about the Bristol Folk Festival.  Somehow, I managed to do this with almost 60 seconds to spare and the laws of the land unbroken. SYJO and Phronesis were well worth the slightly unrealistic combination of gigs that I had chosen for myself and did illustrate that possession of a car does, sometimes, allow the achievement of goals that would be entirely impossible relying on public transport.

As I am insane (though I remain undiagnosed and so am free to wander wheree’er I will), I had also arranged to visit the Cheltenham Jazz Festival on the Monday.  This excursion, I did by train but could still recognise the irony of changing at Bristol Temple Meads a mere 17 hours after last leaving its vicinity.  I did feel very Plebian, not to say non-U, in the genteel surroundings of Cheltenham – but it was well-worth the excursion to see the Lydian Collective for the second time and this time I was sober and they had the nyckelharpa that had been mentioned in Cambridge back in November.  I found the signage at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival rather puzzling, especially the sign pointing to the “Jazz Puddle”.  I am a brave soul, not easily frightened, so I walked in the direction indicated but failed to discover its mysterious object.  Can any readers advise as to the nature of a jazz puddle?  Should I be glad that I never encountered it?

I also managed to stumble upon an excellent pub which was holding a beer festival.  I can thoroughly recommend the Beehive in Montepellier (which appears to be a part of Cheltenham, as well as more famously a city in the Pays d’Oc) which very much felt like my Cheltenham home.  I feel it is important that I should know a decent pub and a decent source of cake in every town and city in the UK: a project that very much remains live…

I feel I should organise more excursions away from home, even ones involving use of my car, to sample the beer, cake and culture of further cities.  It’s just so hard to tear myself away from all that Southampton offers: still, I must face the fact that until my clones are fully up and, if not running, at least shuffling, I cannot do everything…

Preceding North Utsire

I have recently finished reading Thomas Williams’ rather splendid book on Viking Britain. This was a fascinating and very readable history of the often (but not always) violent interactions between the various kingdoms of the British Isles and the peoples of Scandinavia (and probably beyond). I think I most treasured it for the translated quotation of a work from my Welsh roots, the Armes Prydein Vawr, which appears towards the top of page 284 in my paperback edition. The 10th Century description of the English given in this work as “the shitheads of Thanet”, for some reason, rather struck a chord with me in these troubled political times. Lest this should appear gratuitously rude, I should point out that, as my last ancestor born in Wales was my great-great-grandfather, I am at best one-sixteenth Welsh, with my remaining blood having been sourced from England (mostly from within the Danelaw), and that I spent many happy childhood hours on the beaches and sea defenses of the Isle of Thanet.

These days, their work building the concept of England done, the Scandinavians visit these isles in a more benign guise. In fact, it is the Swedes (and the Dutch) that I feel sorry for if we carry out our nebulous intention to leave the EU and finally come to terms with our much diminished role in the world, as they shall be cast adrift with the rest of Europe without the dry humour of, at least some of, the British contingent to brighten the more tedious committee meetings. However, it is their, perhaps unlikely, embrace of jazz that shall detain us here.

I’ve already mentioned how much I enjoyed Phronesis at the Cambridge Jazz Festival back in November, whose members hail from the UK, Denmark and Sweden. I’m really looking forward to seeing them with the Southampton Jazz Orchestra in early May: a rendezvous which I shall be making despite being in Bristol on the day of their gig and in Cheltenham the day after necessitating a frankly ridiculous journey back to Southampton (but as I am frankly ridiculous, this is entirely “on brand”). However, it is Norway which seems to provide an extraordinarily rich seam of jazz musicians, especially relative to its modest population. Perhaps I need to move nearer to the Arctic Circle to achieve my full musical potential?

It was a couple of month’s ago that I made one of my increasingly rare visits to London to see Marius Neset – saxophonist extraordinaire – give a performance in the Purcell Room at the Southbank Centre. This was everything that I’d come to expect, though I still don’t know how he manages to maintain that level of performance across a 100 minute set without an interval: it was exhausting enough to watch! The gig was also surprisingly good value, for London (and even Southampton) at only £18 and the Purcell Room made a very fine setting for jazz: and is very handy for Waterloo where my trains arrive into the city.

Back in March, I took a chance and went to see Trygve Seim at Turner Sims, knowing nothing about him other than that he was a Norwegian jazz musician – and I was willing to fork out £20 and an evening of my life on that fact alone. This gig took place while I was deep in Viking Britain and when Trygve walked out onto stage, with his flowing blond locks and plaited beard he could have stepped straight from a longboat. Fortunately, he came bearing a sax, rather than an ax, and no Anglo-Saxon blood was shed that night (or at least not at the gig). The gig was astoundingly good: the jazz reputation of the Kingdom of Norway was, if anything, enhanced. It was one of those extraordinary gigs where the music caused me to lose all contact with time and enter a somewhat trance-like state: when it finished I had no idea whether a few minutes or an hour or more had passed. Well, almost no idea: the seating at Turner Sims starts to interact painfully with my buttocks after much more than 45 minutes. My exercise regimen does not seem to be adding much in the way of padding to my backside: if anything, it seems to be reducing the limited cushioning they once offered. This is one side-effect of attempting to stay fit that is rarely mentioned in its advocacy.

About ten days ago, I was back at Turner Sims to see another Norwegian, Daniel Herskedal. This chap has a lot to answer for, as it was taking a chance by going to see him three years ago that launched my current love of jazz. On that occasion, he was joined by SYJO and so that was also the first time I will have seen musicians who have subsequently become friends. All of which suggests that my slightly random decision in 2016, has had much wider ranging implications on my life than I could possibly have imagined. Going out to see live music can change your life: in my case, immeasurably for the better!

Given the impact he unwittingly had on me, I felt I owed it to the lad to catch his return to the city. I was not disappointed, if anything he was, with his quartet this time, even better than I’d remembered. His performance proves how criminally neglected the tuba has been as a musical instrument and what a stunning pairing it makes with the, also neglected, viola. There was a magical moment when the valves of the tuba were cycling rhythmically and the instrument took on the visual guise of an exquisite, model Victorian steam engine: the tuba was a treat for the eyes as well as the ears in such skilled hands. I love the piano and violin as much as any man, but they already have stacks of repertoire: were I a composer, I’d be writing for the tuba and the other seemingly unloved members of the orchestra.

I have described Mr Herskedal as “the lad” above, but on trying (and so far, failing) to identify his instrument and its dimensions, I have discovered he is 37. I am starting to wonder if life as a tubist also has rejuvenating properties – or is it something to do with Norway? Daniel’s tuba seemed to be of a more manageable size than some: though that may have been down to the concert hall and it might look massive in my flat (as most things do, ooh err!) I have been told that I have the right sort of embouchure for the tuba (which I don’t think was – only – a more oblique of saying that I have a big mouth) and I’m feeling somewhat inspired to put this to the test: my neighbours may wish to put their flats onto the market now…

In addition to a desire to re-train as a tubist, I think the time has come to blow all my savings and go to a jazz festival in Norway: seeking out the wellspring of these musical marvels. Depending on how things are going back home, I may seek asylum while there:Farvel mine venner

Prodigious

I am long past the age when I am likely to be considered a prodigy in any field, though I suppose hope never entirely dies while breath remains.  I am now of an age where I find that the people who claim to be in charge and seem to be engaged in a project to drive the country off a cliff of (still) unknown height, through some combination of dogma, hoped-for personal gain and a failure to learn much (if anything) from GCSE History, are younger than I am.

Yesterday, for some reason now forgotten, I happened to encounter a photograph of the leader of Southampton City Council and, frankly, couldn’t help wondering how he was managing to cope with such a senior position while revising for his A Levels.  I suspect the only reason that High Court Judges haven’t begun to look surprisingly youthful is that I haven’t knowingly seen one in many years, well that and their tendency to wear wigs when on the clock.

To compensate for my impending dotage and rather pedestrian skills and their even more commonplace process of the acquisition (which, in many cases, still represents active projects), I seem to be filling my life with much more talented, much younger people.  While this has largely happened by accident (and time does make it increasingly easy to be surrounded by younger folk), I am still counting it as one of my better ‘plans’.

Given this background, I felt I was reasonably insulated against astonishment at the abilities of those born close to the turning of the millenium: as so often, I was wrong…

Last night I cycled through copious surface water to Turner Sims to see, among others, a young jazz guitarist and composer by the name of Rob Luft.  The chap had been highly recommended to me by a number of friends but even this had not fully prepared me for his extraordinary performance.  As far as I could see (and I was in the front row), he was possessed of only the usual human complement of five fingers per hand, each with the traditional number of joints.  I’ll admit that they were somewhat younger and more slender than my own rather agricultural digits (at least I’ve inherited something from the great tranche of my ancestry who laboured on the land) but were otherwise nothing apparently out of the ordinary.  However, their ability to dance across the neck and body of his Gibson and fiddle with the many dials on his well-stocked pedal board was nothing short of miraculous.  What an incredible performance and one which seemed to go down very well with the whole audience (not just the author), a surprising number of whom were yet to draw their pensions!

He also gave a good impression of being a very modest young chap who was slightly surprised to be allowed to do this and that anyone had come to watch and, as a result, was having an absolute ball.  He did let slip that the Ford Fusion which had brought him and at least some of the band to the gig (I don’t think it could have fitted the whole band, let alone their equipment) was in need of some modest investment to make it fully roadworthy.  I was struck by the gulf between on the one hand the level of skill evinced by many musicians, the effort needed to acquire that skill and the joy they can bring to a room (yes, it does need to be quite a big hand) and on the other (smaller hand) the level of remuneration that the vast majority receive.  A tiny few, not wholly correlated with their talent, make huge sums but for many life is a struggle – and one suspects is growing harder.  The substitution of the streaming of music for its purchase must have a negative impact on the income of most musicians and this is coupled with the number of venues to perform live being in decline.  I do my best to attend gigs and buy music but these efforts can feel like a very small drop in all too large an ocean.  Perhaps I should attempt, on my modest salary, to maintain an in-house musician – as Prince Esterházy did with Haydn, though we can hope that I would provide less oppressive working conditions (I’m not looking for 106 symphonies any time soon, for a start).  Young Luft was a chap of modest build and in no way excessive height, so I could probably find a berth from him somewhere.  I do worry that I would also have to house a substantial collection of guitars, amps, pedals and other paraphernalia which may be more of an issue, given the far from ample proportions of my garret.  To sweeten the deal, I could the offer use of an entirely roadworthy Fiesta, at least most of the time…

Perhaps the house musician idea needs more work and/or a larger house.  In the interim, I should perhaps work on a more practical support mechanism to support live music – or push forward with my illegal cloning experiments.  My current attempt to ‘clone’ bread is going alarmingly well, though at its current rate of growth it may force me out of the house before the end of the month.  Surely, as a fairly simple chap, I can’t be too much harder than some sourdough?  Wheat (and probably rye) definitely has a lot more genes…

This morning, after breakfast, I diligently went about my piano practice and then my guitar practice: refusing to be phased by the unachievable exemplars I had witnessed the previous night.  I have even started a little jazz work on the guitar, having discovered that just because a guitar has six strings you don’t have to use all of them (or even an adjacent set of them) to form a chord.  The novelty of 3 or 4 voice chords – some of which can, chameleon-like, represent multiple real world chords – has just entered my repertoire (albeit currently very slowly) as have the arcane mysteries of 1-6-2-5.  I did diligently try and listen out for this progression at last night’s gig but didn’t spot it: it is early days yet for my ‘jazz ear’ (and it may not have occurred)…

To better enjoy last night’s CD acquisition while preparing lunch (and in the future while out and about) , I spent a few minutes both reducing the audio quality and increasing the convenience of my consumption of Riser.  As I like to retain the album artwork for CDs that have been thus transformed, and am too lazy to use my scanner, I resorted to an internet search.  As well as finding the visuals I sought, I also discovered that the lad is a mere 23 years old.  I’ll admit that my thoughts did stray in the direction of the infant Mozart (or Gauss, well I am a lapsed mathematician) and my own rather limited achievements at 23 (or, indeed today, knocking on the door of 53 – and running away).  I have literally spent this afternoon walking around the New Forest in boots older than Rob Luft!  I would note that in addition to the broader cognitive dissonance this fact has brought about, my feet are none too happy about this either.  I think they may have changed shape somewhat since I bought the boots in the mid 90s: a shift that the boots have failed to mirror.

Replacing my boots with something more comfy seems an achievable objective; providing brilliant musicians with a viable career and a decent salary feels like a bigger project but I’ll stick it on my notional to-do list….

Whim away

Yesterday, I was away from Southampton and its environs for most of the day.  There were at least two interesting events in the city and a very tempting option on the Isle of Purbeck – which would also have enabled a triumphant return to the site of my fourth-form geography field trip – which I missed out on.  I can only hope that I can still keep up with the missed plot threads of my extended life story.

This choice to abandon my adopted home for the day came about after I was struck by a whim (fortunately without injury) as I was cycling home from the cinema on Saturday afternoon.  As I write this, I have come to realise (as I did not then) that the whim may have been prompted by the film I had been watching – Ladybird – with its primary theme of the coming-of-age of a teenage girl.  The parallels with the author’s own life will be clear to all, but to keep the word count up I shall mansplain them anyway.  Certainly, I will admit that the attraction to our heroine of one male character, who spends most of the time with his head in a book, did not speak to my own teenage experience: then again, it must be admitted that I did not then (nor now) look much like Timothée Chalamet.  Perhaps more relevant, was the conflict between the heroine and her mother which is threaded through the film.  Again, I don’t recall that much of that sort of conflict in my own teenage years, but it may have prompted me to consider what a terrible son I am.  As a result, I decided that I should use the stimulus of Mother’s Day to return to the bosom of my family and thus provide my mother with a gift she might actually want, viz my physical presence (there’s no accounting for taste!).

Having ascertained that my sister could handle an extra mouth at the lunch table, I then looked with mild horror at the impact of rail-replacement bus services on my planned route (or any even remotely feasible rail-based alternatives).  I could have driven, but I was already feeling rather tired and driving really takes it out of me – which I think we can blame on lack of practice – so I decided to persevere with the public transport option.  This did mean devoting almost five hours to travel a mere 100 miles, which does not speak well of the UK’s transport infrastructure (Southern, we are looking at you) but, as I noted during the journey, is still well ahead of anything achievable by my Paleolithic ancestors with their (allegedly) faddy diet.  The journey worked as advertised – including a longish layover in Brighton giving me a chance to wander its Laines to snigger at its more hipster denizens (and discover the existence of the bongo cahon – which I suspect is a marriage made in regions infernal) – and my rail-replacement bus was a very comfy coach which took me on the final leg of my epic voyage through south coast sunshine.

I was so glad that I made the journey as I had a really lovely time with my family, even though I did discover that several of them had been hiding a rather worrying Homes under the Hammer habit (you think you know people…).  I don’t see them – or any friends outside the Southampton area – as often as I should.  This failure is probably down to the sheer number of local friends and obligations to support them and my local scene more generally.  There is also, as recently diagnosed by one friend, a fear of missing out – or FOMO as I believe the young people would say.  Finally, I think there is the inconvenience of travelling any extended distance (and the scope for it to go horribly wrong) and the love of a short walk home to my own bed after any excursion.  Still, I am sneaking up to Edinburgh at Easter to see my friends up there – so I just need to try and fit in a visit to Cambridge to assuage the few surviving tatters of my conscience.

The journey did also enable me to collect my birthday present from my sister who knows my rather better than I though (or hoped!).  While wrapped, the size and weight suggested she had bought me a house brick but when I opened my gift back at home I discovered it was very “on brand”.  It was Cards Against Humanity – which I have been vaguely feeling I needed to own for a while – and describes itself as ‘A party game for horrible people’: so ideal for me!

I was offered a lift back to Polegate on my return, thus cutting out rail-replacement buses (or coaches) and speeding my return home significantly.  As a result, I was able to catch some jazz with the Sound of Blue Note at the Talking Heads by stopping off on my walk home from the station in the pouring rain (I did hope the sky might run out of water during the gig, but that hope was in vain).  Initially, I didn’t expect to stay: I was feeling very tired and had been watching a BBC4 documentary on west-coast minimalism on the train and the jazz just felt odd after it.  However, the chilled jazz tunes quickly worked their magic on me and by the second set I was totally under their spell. One should never under-estimate the reviving power of culture and its ability to convert a dozy drone back into a productive member of society!

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Rejuvenating jazz!

 

Feliz día de Andalucía

I’m sure each of my readers will be celebrating the historic day in 1980 when Andalucía voted to become una comunidad autonóma and eagerly await La Madre Reférendum slipping through the shutters with her traditional gift of jamón.  As you tuck into your toast, olive oil and orange juice, surrounded by happy juvenile cries of ‘Olé‘, spare a thought for those of us who share this date with our birthday and so only receive a single set of presents.  They tell us that there are twice as many, but who really falls for that old line?

All of which nonsense, founded on a few grains of truth, is by way of introduction to the annual post celebrating the author’s improbable survival of another year clinging by his very cuticles to this precious turquoise marble as it spins through the uncaring void.  I either remain one step ahead of the assassin’s bullet or have discovered a way to blog from the Halls of Mandos (and, at a stroke, dis-intermediated the whole disreputable gang of mediums and spiritualists).  However, I think readers should probably apply the most famous insight credited to one William of Ockham and assume that I continue to draw breath for the time being.

As is my middle-aged way, I have planned nothing out-of-the-ordinary (well, ordinary for me) for the day – though I have broken with tradition and had a mid-morning hot chocolate, rather than the usual green tea (with lemon), to create a very mild (almost imperceptible) aura of occasion about the day.  I have opened my birthday cards and they both look lovely: serried ducklings and some Purbeck scenery.  The Royal Academy have caused to be delivered their latest magazine by way of a gift and the sun is shining brightly upon my upturned apple cheeks.  What more could a chap with very limited storage space ask for?  Well, other than a pocket dimension and the return of his lost youth, obviously.

Unusually, I started my birthday with the breaching of the day itself for, as birthday eve morphed into birthday proper, I was enjoying a glass of Auchentoshan at the Talking Heads.  I had somehow failed to go home, despite the jazz finishing not long after 11: I can only assume some locals had managed to overcome my normally taciturn nature and inveigled upon me to share a few words.

The jazz gig itself had been somewhat forgotten and so was rather thinly attended, but it had the most glorious atmosphere – with a hint of being at something secret and slightly illicit.  There was a relaxed vibe as the ‘Bent Brief Gang’ were re-united and having a ball playing together: their sense of fun was contagious and I was soon infected.  I think the gig has a serious chance of making it into my best gigs of 2018 round-up in a few months time.

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The Bent Brief Gang in simultaneous action!

At the gig, I was also gifted with a copy of the Observer’s Book of Music which is even older than me and the score of that classic hit of yesteryear ‘O can you play the clarinet‘ (I bet that kept up morale fighting Rommel in North Africa!).  The former, falling open at a random page has introduced me to the most excellent word ‘purfling’ (from the verb ‘to purfle’) which you should all expect to form the basis of a forthcoming post.  I shall be applying my bass voice to the latter (transposed down an octave or two) once I’ve been fortified by a bite or two of lunch (or dinner, if you prefer).

Given that I have now had sufficient birthdays to use an entire deck of cards, I’ve decided that this is my ‘Ace of Spades’ birthday (using standard Bridge suit-ranking).  So, next year I get to play my Joker!  Consider this a warning!

I don’t do much during the day, I’m a double bass player

I think today’s post wins the prize for the longest ever title.  It also represents a use of ‘found language’.  Yes, GofaDM is now handling stolen words in an attempt to generate some much needed ‘edge’.  The victim of my lexical crime may be revealed later in this post or you may have to pry that particular secret from my cold, dead hands.

While I will admit this post is all about its title, I shall be attempting to add some intellectual heft (or roughly 1000 words, as others might call it) to the whole enterprise by considering the topic of barriers to entry.  This is quite a broad topic, so I shall focus my gaze – using a series of purely metaphorical lenses (which fortunately do not suffer from either spherical or chromatic aberration) – onto the narrow field of what keeps people away from the fun that culture can offer and in particular the idea that it is “not for me”.

I have largely found my own way to the broad range of cultural activities which now dominate my life.  As I frequently find myself an outlier in the audiences of which I am a part, I suspect that I am willfully going to things that are not for me – but, as yet, no-one has tried to stop me.  I think broadly I don’t really care for whom any piece of culture was made – if indeed its maker actually knows or is qualified to decide – but work on the principle that if I enjoy myself or gain something from the experience than I am a valid audience.  Even if something turns out not to be my ‘cup of tea’, I will at least have had an experience (which is what you get when you don’t get what you want) and either an anecdote or material for a post.

For live culture, I will admit that the people I’ve seen on the stage (whether real or imagined) are like me, i.e. they have generally been between the ages of 15 and 95 and human (though I have seen the occasional dog and, once, two piglets!).  They have come from a wide variety of countries, enjoyed the full range of skin tones, had a range disabilities and have certainly covered a reasonably broad portion of the gender spectrum – though I will admit that statistically rather more will have been from privileged, white cis-gendered backgrounds than is true of the planet as a whole.  A lot of this will be path-dependent, a lot of culture was originally made in the even less enlightened past and occurs in institutions that are products of the past: and we are all, ourselves, products of the past.  A lot will also be down to economics, an issue which seems to be growing both more acute and chronic.  However, I suspect a lot of culture is made by and for the people that are expected to comprise its audience – as this seems to be a viable way to stay in (show) business. This seems to offer an opportunity for us – the audience and especially the potential audience – to affect our culture and its institutions.  Our feet – and more importantly our buttocks (and their presence or otherwise on seats) – will affect the economics of cultural events and venues and if there is a market for something, eventually the Arts sector will notice and start to try and satisfy it.  If you leave the audience to people like me, the world will tend to produce stuff I like or think I might like – which is a fairly broad church, but will still leave a terribly culturally impoverished society.  I’m not really into hip-hop, for example, though I think I might be starting to weaken in some areas: I have caught myself enjoying it in public spaces so it may go the way of olives, Sibelius and jazz before it.

Well, that last paragraph certainly went in a direction I wasn’t planning: still, ‘better out than in’ as I often say.  It was supposed to be moving us all gently towards my unwillingness to dress up to go events, but instead I have been forced to use this horribly clunk segue.  Except in very extreme circumstances – once a decade sort of territory – I will not go to any event that requires me to dress up.  I am expected to wear a suit for work – though would drop that convention instantly if it were socially acceptable – so prefer not to do so for leisure.  Many years ago I learned, I think via the television (possibly not a documentary), that Italians only wear black shoes at funerals and basically haven’t worn black shoes since: I have also been very careful never to fact check Italian footwear conventions.  Indeed, there are very few events to which I will not wear trainers.  I do have some standards as to when and where I will wear shorts or a sleeveless top, but otherwise dress to suit myself.  Many years ago, I was offered a loan jacket and tie at the Hotel Bristol in Vienna but I have yet to be turned away from anything but the dodgiest of night clubs.  I lack to imagine that I am passing as an eccentric millionaire, but it is probably just that no-one much cares.

I have noticed that performers tend to dress up for classical music, though am pleased to see far fewer bow ties (terribly impractical for violin or viola) and a lot more trousers on stage. I suspect this will cause some blustering from military Blimps in Kentish spa towns, but as long as their disgust remains safely between the sheets of the Daily Telegraph it need not detain the rest of us.  I can see some value to the whole band wearing black (or similar) as it reduces visual distraction but given that even quite sizeable jazz ensembles seem to get away dressed casually (and sometimes in ‘gardening casual’) I think audiences would quickly get use to a more demotic dress code in even the largest orchestras.

Congratulations anyone who has stuck it out this far, we have finally made it to the actual subject matter which launched today’s post.  I think taking 1000 words to reach the point is a record even for me!  One of the things that put me off jazz for many years was the feeling that it was a terribly po-faced endeavour carried out be very serious men.  I am a terrible, but frivolous, man and I’m not sure where this idea originated – but it was firmly held.  I wonder if it had more to do with the audience that the performers?  Whatever its provenance, the last couple of Sunday’s at the SMJC have firmly disabused me of this notion.  The Baker Brothers – plus friends, to make a septet – celebration of the not quite 40th birthday of the SMJC’s éminence grise was a joyous riot of jazz and funk.  Last Sunday’s gig with the Matthew Read Trio also contained a lot more laughs than the younger me would ever have guessed possible – or appropriate – at a jazz gig.

I bought the latest CD from the MRT, which was appropriately named Anecdotes II.  Every song was introduced with an anecdote which purported to explain its inception, but any links were tangential or fully surreal with tunes inspired by a Guardian Sudoku and a breed of hen (go Burford Browns!) among others.  It was the trio’s eponymous leader who provided our title and I can’t help feeling that this kind of strapline would attract a lot more young people to take up his instrument.  As well as being a lot of fun, the trio – and especially the guitarist – were wonderfully relaxed.  His movement along the fretboard never seemed even remotely hurried and yet has relaxed fingers were always where they needed to be.  I fear this is a long way off for the author, but my fingers are starting to land the right chord shapes in the right place a bit more often – so there is hope.  I shall resist his use of the capo at fret 10 or (as a joke) 12 for a while longer yet.

If this post has a moral, and let’s all hope that it doesn’t, it must be that we all need to become the audience we want to see!  Also, you can mostly dress how you like and go to anything and you’ll probably get away with it: ignore the tutting (I use headphones).

The Jazz (w)Age

For me, in many ways, last weekend both started and ended with sax.  That is not a typo, I was fully intending to reference Adolphe Sax’s invention for use in military bands as my weekend was bracketed by jazz gigs.  While thinking of M. Sax, I find myself wondering whatever happened to the ophicleide?  I feel it is time for it to make a comeback!

This seemed a good opportunity to fritter away some words on the subject of jazz (and me, obvs) as this marks the first anniversary of my regular going to jazz gigs.  Before January last year, I had occasionally been to jazz gigs both in London when I first lived there in the early 90s and at the Preservation Jazz Hall in New Orleans when I briefly visited that city back in 1990: an encounter which brought an end to my exploration of the Vieux Carré as I lost the desire to move on (I also had a frozen daiquiri, which may have contributed).  However, since that time I had largely ignored – and at times actively avoided – jazz.

An attempt to diversify my musical experience had tempted me to a few Nordic jazz gigs at Turner Sims in 2016.  However, it was on the evening of a dismal Sunday in January 2017 (not unlike today) that I decided I fancied some live music.  A quick search revealed that the Southampton Modern Jazz Club (SMJC) had a free entry gig on at the Talking Heads and as it was both close and free, I figured “what’s the worst that can happen?”.  As Dr Pepper (a self-claimed title rather than a formal qualification, I think) has been trying to warn me in a series of harrowing public information films since the late 2000s, there can be serious consequences from apparently harmless, trivial even, choices.

Since that fateful day, I have (on average) consumed more than one jazz gig a week and I have even indulged my filthy habit while away from home in both Cambridge and Edinburgh.  Indeed, I visited Edinburgh with the express purpose of attending its Jazz and Blues Festival.  It has gone even further and I have started indulging in jazz chords at home, using my piano and only my lack of skill has spared the guitar and clarinet.

At the start of last weekend, I went to see Binker and Moses (and friends) at Turner Sims.  After a while, I was able to stop speculating as to whether Binker’s mother was a big fan of the poetry of A A Milne (does he have a sibling roughly six years his senior?) and really enjoy the music.  I was sufficiently close to the stage and at a suitable angle to see some of how the sax is played and it looks tractable at some level as it seems to share basic fingering with one of the descant or treble recorders (both of which I played back in the 70s).  This gig also highlighted what a great jazz instrument the tabla is (are?).

At the weekend’s close on Sunday night, the SMJC gig was billed as Ted Carrasco and Friends, though as it transpired it was very much Gilad Atzmon‘s show.  As so often with the SMJC, it was a truly incredible gig with some amazing jazz music and Gilad’s entertaining patter between.  On more than one occasion, he paid two saxes at the same time – which smacks of showing off!  Young Marius Neset is going to have to bring his A game when I see him in a couple of weeks in London: though, I’m quietly confident he is up to the challenge…

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Double the fun!  Two reeds and no sign of Victoria Coren-Mitchell!

The very high standard of (often international) jazz musicians which Southampton manages to attract is a source of constant amazement to me.  Turner Sims stages formal gigs with tickets priced at around £20 and can seat a few hundred punters and has support from the Arts Council (among others).  The SMJC on the other hand relies on donations from at most a 30 or 40 attendees to pay the artists with bar receipts paying for the space and (perhaps) topping up the donations.

I will admit that I am scarred by my time as the treasurer of a musical festival in Cambridge and still count empty seats at paid gigs and worry about how the economics of the event are stacking-up.  My experience of gigs funded by donation was that the contribution averages £2-£3 which, given the modest size of the Maple Leaf Lounge, wouldn’t cover petrol money let alone a fee for the musicians. The creative world does seem to be afflicted by those who believe that exposure has a much higher value than can conceivably be justified.  I think the level of over-valuation can perhaps be illustrated by how rarely one sees an accountant, lawyer or CEO working solely for the exposure.

I hope that Southampton jazz patrons are more generous than classical music aficionados in Cambridge and I always try and pay as I would for a normal gig at the Heads (and often buy a CD – yes, I am very old).  Ted is the force behind the SMJC and I must assume that he must be very persuasive – or has a very impressive collection of blackmail material.  He is not from around these parts – or spent way too much time in front of US TV at a formative time – but he adds immeasurably to the richness of Southampton music by staging such great gigs every week of the year.  He is one of several folk this city would do well to appreciate and support.

During the week, I was in Belfast and looking for something to do on Wednesday evening.  The city has almost three times the population of Southampton (based on official stats), but it is often a struggle to find a gig to attend.  This may reflect my lack of knowledge of the local scene, but I compile a local Gig Guide, which graces this blog, using the same tricks with which I research Belfast.  The guide shows that most nights Southampton can offer multiple gigs within walking distance of my home.  There is rarely nothing to do, more often than not there are far too many options: some nights we are into double figures (more if you go deeper into the suburbs).  I’m not sure that the city recognises its great good fortune and I’m sure it makes far too little of its riches when selling itself to the wider world.

So, if any readers find themselves at a loose end in Southampton on a Sunday night – and feel they will be able to cope with an escalating jazz habit – they should hie themselves to the Talking Heads and support the SMJC!