Honouring Mnemosyne

This post and its author are somewhat obsessed by memory and its tricksy nature.  If we don’t recall a memory for long enough we tend to either lose it or the ability to access it.  Every time we do recall a memory it is changed by the very process of recall and gains additional links based on what is happening to us at the time of its return.  Even without these issues, our memories are modified to better fit with the fictional narrative we maintain of our lives and to support the somewhat confabulated basis of our identity.  Once you reach my great antiquity, whole chunks of existence don’t seem to get stored at all – or perhaps just become hopelessly muddled with all the junk that was already being remembered as new experiences continue to occur (and I am, perhaps, overdoing the novel new experience side of life at the moment).

Whilst this was never its intended purpose, this blog does serve the author as a useful external archive for at least some of the things that have happened to him over the last seven-and-a-bit years – along with a bunch of other slightly random junk and attempted witticisms.  More recently, and in response to my lifestyle causing ever more new experiences to need storage, my presence on Facebook has also started to act as an external memory to augment the role of the factory-fitted, neuron-based standard equipment.  If I’m honest, I think my internal hard-drive requires a de-frag as an absolute minimum and someone needs to delete a huge number of temporary files.

The broader issue of how we remember things were brought into sharper relief by some of my cultural activities over the past week.  For a start, I have just finished watching David Olusoga’s stunning TV series A House through Time.  This explored the lives of all (or at least many) of the people to have passed through a single house in Liverpool over the past 170 years.  This was a fascinating picture of the lives of relatively ordinary people – some richer, some poorer – against the backdrop of changes in society and the world.  It made me appreciate how recent are so many of the societal protections we enjoy (at least should for the next 12 months or so) and how truly fortunate my life has been.  It also made me wonder how many houses they had to research to come across such a gold mine of history: maybe fewer than you’d think.  My own flat is in a building of a similar age in a port city, so could perhaps tell a similar set of stories: perhaps I will do some research…

Last Monday, I attended a pair of musical events which acted as a memorial to a member of Southampton University’s music faculty who died suddenly and far too young at the end of last year.  I knew the chap himself only peripherally, but he had a hand in the development of virtually all of my favourite bands to emerge from the university in recent years.  At the first event he was remembered by colleagues who played a number of his own compositions and in the evening it was the turn of the young bands he had worked with to share their memories and music.  I found these events incredibly moving and they gave me a feel for the man and what the world had lost – and what it retained – following his untimely departure from it.

I recognise that these feelings could apply to anyone who dies young or does so before time robs them of their relevance, but as a human the specific is always going to have a more powerful impact than the general.  I have broadly managed to avoid ever acquiring relevance and have also jealously guarded my genetic inheritance rather than passing it, willy-nilly, on to the next generation.  Living in the affluent west, while I try to avoid being overly terrible as a human being in many small ways, I suspect these are completely swamped by the much greater evil done via my consumption of stuff.  On the plus side, I do suspect that my mouldering corpse is less likely lie undisturbed in my flat for several months after my demise than at any previous point in my adult life, as at least some of the gig-going public of Southampton will notice that I’m missing quite quickly.  Also, if I do go in a killing spree it will be hard for acquaintances to say “he kept himself to himself”.

Perhaps it is because I have a birthday in the rather near future, that I have found myself wondering what strange partial picture of me would remain in the minds of others should I be taken off to my eternal reward (or at least offered a very long lie down) in the near future.  If nothing else, my ‘thoughts’ would survive for a while in GofaDM and through my slightly erratic social media and cloud presence – which is an odd feeling.  On the whole, I think I am more comfortable with being forgotten after I have left this veil of tears: the prospect of being remembered seems to place far too much pressure on my actions during my time drawing breath.  I intend to return to the theme of what is remembered in my next major attempt at the fixed verse form: the sestina.  This is proving to need a lot more work than the villanelle, but I think I have chosen the key six words – I just need to compose the rest of the necessary 39 lines!

The number 39 leads quite neatly, via some steps, to the final theme that I am going to try and pack into this post.  Yesterday afternoon, I went to see the silent film The Guns of Loos, about the First World War battle, with live musical accompaniment.  My primary driver for going was that I knew a little about Loos from It is Easy to be Dead, the stunning play about the young poet Charles Hamilton Sorley and his death at the battle, which I saw back in 2016.  The film was released in 1928 and the university’s film department provided a very useful introduction setting the context for the film and some of the lenses through which a contemporary audience would have viewed it.  The film was fascinating and the action scenes were incredibly well done and involving (even without the Magnascope which would have augmented their original release) – and probably couldn’t be done in quite the same way today.  The miniature work was less successful, but still at least the match of that which I saw in the 1970s television of my youth.  The plot and its romantic elements were probably less successful and there was a very limited place for women, but I think this was recognised back in 1928: it was all about the spectacle!  There was also a lot of emphasis placed on authenticity in the film’s production with actual servicemen and guns from the war and battle taking part in the West Thurrock re-creation of the battle.  As so often, things (both good and bad) are much less modern that we like to imagine.

The film was also a fascinating social document with rather contrasting treatment of the ‘toffs’ (the aristocracy and captains of industry) and the rest of us (the working classes).  Whilst this was virtually caricatured to my modern eyes (and the working class clearly had a lot more fun), I was struck that it was not a particularly inaccurate portrayal of how the governing classes continue to treat and view the working classes.  All very handy for the modern version of manning your factories and providing fleshy fodder for the enemy’s cannons, but you wouldn’t want to spend time with them and they can’t be trusted to make decisions for themselves.  I suppose today there is a greater tension between this distrust and not wanting them getting above themselves with the need for their consumption to keep funding the profit-expectations of major corporations, but in some ways the last century has seen less social progress than one might have hoped and may indeed be backsliding.

One of the most striking elements of the performance was the live musical accompaniment from a score written by Stephen Horne.  He played the piano – and the piano accordion and flute (and a laptop to provide a recording of the actual piper who appears in the film – and, indeed, played the pipes at the battle) – and Martin Pyne played a variety of percussion.  This score was perfectly integrated with the action – in a way which probably would not have occurred when the film was released and I very much doubt even the most upmarket cinema would have boasted a Steinway D.  Mr Horne managed to transition between piano and accordion seamlessly (and indeed to and from the flute) and even managed to play both at the same time. After my own accordion lesson, I would have required all my limbs, most of my body and 100% of the processing capacity of my brain just to get the accordion mounted on my torso.  I certainly could not play the piano with one hand and the accordion with the other (and he did this both ways round), while keeping the bellows going.  Another chap capable of apparently superhuman physical feats!

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The musicians’ corner!  With the ‘artillery’ hiding behind a black cloth.

There are a couple more silent films about the the First World War with live musical accompaniment coming at Turner Sims over the next week and I would recommend any readers who can to try and go to at least one.  These films are not shown very often and almost never with live musicians and they are a fascinating document of an era.  I feel it is also healthy to view the past as its denizens would have viewed it: it can help us to avoid foolish beliefs that the people of the past were either much better or worse than we are today, or that their needs, desires and concerns were so very different.  There has certainly been some progress in gender and racial politics and in the understanding of mental health since 1928, but there still seems to depressingly far to go in all of these areas.  It is interesting to imagine how the films of today will be viewed in 90 years…

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Feast time for little lambs?

Well, it has been IV Week and according to a rather odd song while mares and does prefer oats, young sheep are gluttons for Genus Hedera.  I have often worried about the accuracy of these lyrics, but in researching this post I have discovered that our ovine friends, of all ages, love to eat ivy.  The internet is less unanimous on whether such consumption is wise.

However, while interesting the title and opening paragraph are merely be way of an amuse bouche to today’s more hearty fare.  The IV refers to Independent Venue Week which comes to a close today.   This describes itself as a celebration of small music venues – though does seem to have its focus away from classical and jazz music and more on the sort of fare which might feed BBC Radios 1, 2 and 6.  This event recognises the importance of small venues as a critical launchpad for new talent and promises to bring small venues together with a range of people including bloggers and tastemakers – into which categories I like to imagine I fall (the former isn’t much of a stretch).  Oddly, it fails to mention audiences – of which more later…

Southampton has four venues which were taking part in the scheme and so I decided to try and visit all of them during the week: I do like a pointless, self-imposed objective!  In a fruitless attempt to avoid going on too much, I shall attempt to say a few words about each.

The Talking Heads is the venue I visit most often.  This is partly because it is very closes, but also because it offers a range of regular events of interest including the Southampton Modern Jazz Club and the Maple Leaf Lounge Sessions which are well-curated and have introduced me to a huge range of new music.  It also provides the widest range of musical genres of any venue I know, including classical and experimental music.  This week I took in a couple of jazz gigs, a friend’s band and a particularly entertaining, and downright funny, Maple Leaf Lounge Session.  I don’t think any of these gigs actually operated under the banner of IVW.

The Joiners is a venue I find myself growing increasingly positive about.   I think it appeals to my feeling that a lot of proper culture should take place in slightly down-at-heel, cramped, dark, sweaty spaces.  The addition of Whitstable Bay Pale Ale to its limited range of ales has not done it any harm either.  Like so many venues, I think it struggles financially and had to launch an appeal to repair the structure of the building in 2017.  This prompted me to visit more often and I have always had a good time.  It holds the honour of hosting the most packed gig I have ever attended in Southampton, when This is the Kit visited in January.  I’d only vaguely heard of the band, but it was a really excellent gig.  This week I went to see the launch of Southampton Sampler Vol. 1, a curated vinyl album of some of the best local bands.  This was a lot of fun, but I can’t help feeling could have been better publicised and – perhaps – organised.  However, it did bring more significant media voices than mine to the city’s music scene which can only be a good thing.

The Brook is probably the venue I visit least often, partly because of its slightly remote location but mostly because it leans very heavily towards programming tribute bands.  My musical taste tends not to be especially nostalgic and so I’ve only tended to go to gigs when new bands are playing.  It is, perhaps, the most beautiful performance space in the city and I always enjoy going.  This week, I went to see Police Dog Hogan – a band I’d never heard of – who play a rather English take on Americana, Bluegrass and folk.  This was really enjoyable and I was glad my pointless project for the week had led me to attend.

The Alex is a pub and so a representative of a very important class of venues for music.  I think that by far the largest volume of opportunities for musicians to perform in and around Southampton is in its pubs.  I don’t know how many of these gigs are paid and the quality of the spaces and the audiences is very variable, but pubs must be the first chance to play in public for a significant majority of musicians.  The Alex has the advantage that it has a raised area for musicians to perform and does have proper lighting and a sound system (though I suspect it a relatively basic one).  It also does not require the audience to stand in what is basically a corridor connecting the pub to the toilets an/or smoking area.  It is probably the closest venue to my flat and I made it to two IVW-branded gigs during the week: headlined by Tom Hingley of the Inspiral Carpets and by SK Shlomo.  I had a vague recollection of the Inspiral Carpets, but no strong memories or feeling about the band, but really enjoyed Tom Hingley’s set.  I saw Shlomo (before the SK – but what a fine set of initials to adorn any name!) in Edinburgh a few years back and have been hoping to see him again very since.  His set at the Alex was less about building up the beatboxing and looping as it was at the Fringe and more  pre-written songs but was an amazing musical and sonic experience in a pub a couple of minutes walk from home.  It was like a bit of underground Berlin had moved in next door for the evening!

I had a lot of fun touring the IVW venues in the city over the week, but none of the gigs struck me as particularly well attended.  The mid-week gigs might have had a few more people than usual, but there didn’t seem much of an attempt to bring new audiences to small venues.  BBC 6 Music does talk about IVW during the week, but otherwise there didn’t seem to be any obvious additional marketing push.  Nor did there seem to be any obvious attempt to stress that small venues are not just for the first week in February, but, like a dog, are for life.

This raises the broader issue of the marketing of gigs – an issue which probably applies more broadly to the arts.  I follow a lot of local (and some less local) bands and venues on various social media platforms.  I also actively search local venue websites and Facebook Events in an attempt to find out what is happening in and around the city to maintain my gig guide (which grew from a merely personal interest).  I have even taken to visiting venues and scouring their walls for posters in the hope of finding clues about upcoming gigs.  This is a very time consuming project as most venues and bands do not make it easy to find out what’s on: this is particularly true as each month comes to an end as a lot of venue websites are loath to show any gigs occurring in a future month (even if that is a mere 24 hours away!).  Even if discover an event is happening, most venues give little or no detail about the band playing – so often I struggle to work out if a grouping of words is the name of the band, the name of its tour or genre (or is a band at all).  This places a lot of the onus for going out on the audience to seek out events and then research the bands.  I’m not sure that many people rely on the curatorial skills of the bookers at small venues or just take a punt on the “how bad can it be principle”, especially when it is so easy to slump at home in front of the TV and its alarmingly vast range of content.

Venues do carry out a degree of cross promotion and I do have a friend whose progress through the city I can trace by the presence of posters and brochures where he has been.  Bands – particularly if they have some fame – may be able to attract their own audience.  However, it strikes me that both of these approaches tend to draw from an existing pool of audience members or, especially in the case of newer bands, the friends and relatives of the band members.  This thesis certainly has anecdotal support from my own experiences at gigs.  This is exploiting a wasting asset unless the continuous generation of new bands can, like a Ponzi-scheme, bring enough new people to gigs to replace those lost.  (Not) A Trusted Music Guide is my attempt to at least create awareness of the existence of gigs, even if I don’t have time (or the skill) to write a bio for every band playing.  However, I don’t think this is a sustainable business model for the industry as I am probably a bit of an outlier audience-wise: in terms of my adventurous spirit, willingness to go out night-after-night and prepare listings for a wider public.

I must admit that I don’t have an answer to the issues raised in this blog and nor have I provided a number to call if you have been affected by any of them.  Nevertheless, I fondly like to think that there must be better options than are currently being used.  Maybe this needs greater co-operation between venues or with whatever remains of the cultural arms of local authorities, which may not be much after years of reducing the funding for soi-disant non-essential activities.  Perhaps it needs targetted funding by Arts Council England or similar body – but I suspect it will need to cover more than one week per year.  Or is it down to us as audience members to come together to physically drag people from their sofas to come out and have fun?  I reckon every four audience members could between them frog-march a fifth to a venue and force them to have a good time.  I’m hoping this would only need to be done a few times before they become a convert and start proselytising themselves. There may be minor legal issues with this approach, but there is a greater good involved!  Perhaps Public Health England would be interested?  Leaving the settee, walking to a venue and some bopping, moshing or grooving once there would all surely be some help to the beleaguered NHS – though the associated drinking might be a downside.

Talking of drinking, my liver may well be wilting under the consumption of beer purchased to maximise my support for venues, which obtain most of their revenue from bar sales.  Given the high level of duty on beer, I do find myself wondering if this is the best drinking option from the venue’s perspective.  Should I be switching to spirits, or does tea or a soft drink have greater margins?  I, and my hard-worked liver, need answers!  Sticking to session ales can only take a chap so far…

The word limit lies in tatters, but my chest feels a good deal lighter and this blog is written for my benefit not yours.  Still, for those feeling in need of an insincere apology please feel free to infer one here.

A Monday Villanelle

A modest degree of research will reveal that I am not writing this on a Monday, though thanks to the gloriously asynchronous nature of GofaDM you may be reading it on one.  Assuming that readers are equally likely to visit the blog on any day – which is by no means certain, or even likely – then there is a one in seven chance that you will encounter this on a day for which the Boomtown Rats held scant affection.  Further, I make no claims that consuming what follows on a Monday will, in any way whatsoever, improve the experience.

A while ago, in a moment of hubris, I promised a friend that I would write a villanelle.  At the time, I had only the haziest recollection of the nature of a villanelle, remembering only that it was a highly structured form of verse.  Inspired by a recent evening with Johnny Fluffypunk and a pair of ridiculously talented young poets (each a scant third of my own age), I decided it was time to deliver on my rash promise – though, when you read what follows you may feel it had more in common with a threat.

By way of introduction, I shall mention that I had a particularly enjoyable evening of music, good company and beer this past Monday and determined that I would prepare a post about it.  However, I am aware that (a) I can go on a bit and (b) reading about me having fun at gigs may become a little wearing.  To partially tackle these issues, I decided that my evening would make the perfect subject matter for my first (and – depending on the critical response – last) villanelle.  This will limit my natural loquacity to a mere 19 lines in a form where two of the lines are repeated four time – so a mere 13 lines of original content!  Or ‘one line short of a sonnet’ as I have yet to be described, but it can only be a matter of time…

I have chosen to use tetrameter, which I fondly hope is charmingly antiquated.  I can only apologise for the spacing of my tercets and quatrain: WordPress (or my skills therewith) seems ill-suited to the poet’s art (and to mine).

 

Reject the ever glowing screen,

Embrace Apollo’s métier,

Support your local music scene!

 

In ambered space do friends convene

With strings and reeds in vast array.

Resist the ever glowing screen!

 

Three hurdy gurdies intervene!

Girt by tunes: quelle belle soirée!

Support your local music scene!

 

Watch Lost or Stolen strut half-seen

In thrall to rhythm’s wild affray.

Resist the every glowing screen!

 

Songs full charged with power’s mien

Move hearts as bodies start to sway

Support your local music scene!

 

Such hallowed space: not evergreen?

Ne’er should dawn so dire a day!

Resist the ever glowing screen!

Support your local music scene!

 

Some visual support for the poetic imagery…

The return of the Ethenyl Group

I was taught chemistry in the late 70s and early 80s and so defer to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) when it comes to chemical nomenclature.  If you are going to chlorinate ethene (please don’t, it makes for a very unpleasant compound which is highly inimical to life) and then polymerise the results you will produce polychloroethene.  Sadly, I would seem to be in the minority and people insist on calling it PVC, or vinyl for short, for which we must blame a wine-obsessed German who first coined the term in a footnote, of all places.  I dream that one day I too will coin a neologism in a footnote that will still be in regular use 167 years later!

Vinyl, in the form of a rigid circular disk bearing music carved into a spiral groove, is making a major comeback.  It no longer seems to be limited to those who regard the Victorian butcher or lumberjack as their paragon of style, but has broken into the zeitgeist.  I continue to resist its lure on two main grounds: (i) I can remember vinyl records the first time round and just how annoying and impractical they were and (ii) they require hugely more physical storage space than either CD or MP3 and, despite physicists suggesting that it is being created at an accelerating rate, I am rather short of space.  In researching this post, I can now point to the very unpleasant nature of its constituent monomers as a third reason to avoid it.

Despite this resistance, I do find myself in vinyl record shops on a rather regular basis having visited examples in Romsey (Hundred Records), Winchester (Elephant Independent Record Shop) and (last night) Southampton (Vinilo Records). Each of these visits has been prompted not by the presence of vinyl but because the shops were playing host to live acoustic music sets.  These have always been absolutely glorious sessions despite the spaces always being small and rather cramped.

Though I have only a very limited interest in vinyl, I find that I am rather fond of vinyl record shops (or at least the local examplars).  This fondness must derive from an element of nostalgia, though I was never an habitué of record shops in my youth.  I think a larger element can be explained by the appeal of the visual aesthetic of these stores.  In these days when it so easy to buy stuff on-line (well, right up until the delivery) there is probably a need for shops to provide something that the internet cannot.  Book and record shops both provide the opportunity to stumble on something as a result of an unexpected juxtaposition, which on-line stores seem incapable of replicating.  Perhaps they also offer a secular meeting space where slow browsing and a form of contemplation is encouraged.  For me, there is also something very comforting about a bookshop: probably something about being surrounded by words, many of them in a form which I have yet to read.  There is probably some of that feeling in a record shop, but I think there is also something about the artwork of vinyl LPs.  The LP has a scale – and so a certain majesty – that a CD lacks and when a few are displayed on the wall they give a record shop something of the feel of a rather intimate art gallery.  They also tend to offer more interesting background music – even when not hosting a session – than many stores.  As a result, I tend to feel guilty that I cannot support these shops – though if they do offer CDs, I can (and try to) make a direct financial contribution via that route.

Last night was my first trip to Vinilo Records, central Southampton’s take on the vinyl record shop.  I went to see a mixed bill of music and poetry, but may well return for the vegan hot chocolate – made with almond milk and tasting rather different to dairy hot chocolate, but still delicious – and excellent ginger cake which the store offers.  They also offer coffee and tea and a modest range of other sweet treats.  It was while drinking their green tea that a thought about that particular beverage finally crystallised in my mind.  On its own, green tea always has a slight hint of sardine about it: there, I’ve said it.  Normally, I drink it as ‘green tea with lemon’ which removes the fishy element, but as a pure green tea that piscine under-note is always there.  Is it just me that feels this way, or can others detect a hint of the ocean in green tea?  Should I be seeking medical help?

Anyway, I seem to have digressed, how unlike me!  Vinilo is sited in an unprepossessing building in the city centre and you can easily walk past and miss it (as I have).  The interior decor is simple and slightly distressed, but does contain a very fine cactus (see below).  For the gig, most of the windows were shuttered which created a wonderfully intimate setting.  The evening alternated between poetry and music, with decent gaps in between for conversation and refreshments.  It was a near perfectly constructed evening and we were done by 9pm – so no need for a late night!  Sometimes in US TV or film dramas set in New York, characters will go to Brooklyn for some sort of amazing cultural event and I would once have wished that such delights were available closer to home.  With events like last night’s, I need wish no more: Southampton offers an extraordinary range of cultural events of a range that (in some areas) would probably put a city, allegedly so good that it was twice-named, to shame.

Last night started with the very affecting poetry of Chloë Beihaut, followed by the chilled musical vibe of Kitty O’Neal and her band in fully acoustic mode.

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What a glorious cactus!  Tempted to have one chez nous… (Don’t think the band would fit in my tiny flat though, sadly)

Then followed the amazing vocal delivery of Joshua Jones with powerful poetry from a Llanelli youth and life on the oft-ignored, more difficult side of 21st century Britain.   Finally, Joe Booley finished the evening with his elegiac songs and guitar harmonies (which later in the evening soothed me to sleep via the miracle of Spotify).

I particularly love the photo of Joshua on the left: nothing to do with my skill with a camera (if you take enough photos, a few are bound to turn out OK), but because it captures something of the magic of the evening and the space.  I feel Southampton should be using such images to promote itself as the truly great place to live that it can be.  It is not just home to a million traffic lights, a similar number of alarmingly brazen rats, some dreadful road surfaces and West Quay: there is an amazingly vibrant arts scene which I am still discovering.

Conversation with friends, three interesting new voices, great words and music and delicious cake in a lovely, welcoming space: what more could a chap ask from an evening!   It might even re-start my career as a tennis ace (in a game where aces are low, obviously).  A very fine investment of £3.

Musical cheer for the time of year

Fear not, gentle reader, I am not about to ‘come out’ as a closet poet and this post will not be written entirely in rhyme (although, now I’ve had that thought…).  Nor will I be exploring the horrific sonic experience which I fear shop workers (and some others) will have been subject to since a point in the autumn.  I feel that if Christmas “hits” were blasted into the unprotected ears of prisoners of war for several hours a day over a period of months, the Geneva Convention would be invoked and Amnesty would step in – but there seems no such protection for those who work in retail.  No, instead I shall be focusing on the live music that I have chosen for my ears to experience in the run up to the apotheosis of the annual commercial orgy of Saturnalia (and its successors).

Firstly, this post gives me a chance to mention two great gigs from 2017 missed from the last post (as I knew something would be – and something still will be, I have no doubt) given that they also occurred in the run-up to Christmas (or after August, as the period is also known).

ICP Orchestra: a truly extraordinary night of music from the Dutch ensemble, which probably had jazz as its starting point but ranged widely and joyously across and around genres.

Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita: another amazingly joyous performance that defied categorisation but used piano, kora and a plethora of percussion.

This last week, I have been to a number of gigs with a more overtly seasonal vibe about them.  Even where not directly Yule-themed, I think they have captured what (for me) is the real spirit of Christmas which is the coming together from our ever more atomised, siloed lives to enjoy something with others and a proper feeling of community.  It is said that Christmas is a time for family, and many a soap opera and sitcom episode has been predicated on this premise and the conflict that can arise, but my feeling is that it is a time to interpret the concept of family in its broadest sense.  As Adam Rutherford’s excellent book A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived makes clear, we have to go back surprisingly few generations before we are all related – and not just to Kevin Bacon.

On Thursday afternoon I had my regular piano lesson, with my repertoire being joined by the Snowman (well, the chordal element thereof).  My first Christmas song!  This was very exciting and as a result I did manage to smack my head into the piano lid a record (and skull) breaking four times!

That evening, only mildly concussed, I went to the Tuba Libres Xmas Bash at the Talking Heads.  The Tuba Libres are a funk brass ensemble, who clearly have both jazz and video game influences in their music.  I have also never seen them together and not in some form of fancy dress, though one member (no names, no pack drill) does appear to believe that Man United kit counts as viable fancy dress for every theme: I assume he’s hoping that the team will be a man down and he will be called upon to help close the gap with City at short notice.  I was hoping for something special for Christmas and the lads did not disappoint!

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Despite this fine example, I didn’t even wear the offered paper crown…  Three ghosts clearly await my Sunday night slumbers!

There were old tunes, new tunes and even festive tunes and, so far as I could see, everyone had a ball (the tenor sax sported a shiny pair!): some people even overcame their reserve and danced!  So full of some sort of spirit was I, that on retiring to the other bar I gave an unrehearsed (and best avoided – but it did help clear the bar) performance from Oklahoma!  Probably not my first choice of Broadway song, but the overlap between available music, bass parts and music I’d ever heard before was quite limited (and I sang the one piece in the sweet spot of that musical Venn diagram).

On Friday, it was the Christmas Three Monkeys at the Art House.  This is always a joyous event, as I have documented before, but there is something extra special about the Christmas show: this year we had five monkeys (though nominally grouped into three meta-monkeys) with one returnee from the 2016 Xmas show.  This gig was rendered even more special by me knowing everyone on stage (and much of the audience) which made it feel more like a party than a typical gig.  It would certainly have made it on to my list of the top gigs of 2017 had it occurred just a few days earlier (or I had kept my powder dry a little longer).  As can happen at such events, a whole series of in-jokes developed during the evening and will forever bond together those who were present (but will only confuse those who were absent and who should be counting their every hood cheap).  I can reveal that the sole male monkey was cast as the baby Jesus (to accompany three wise women and the VM) and that I shall expect a mention in the cover notes of the first album from Allure of Velour.

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Satin, Bridge of Sighs and Kitty O’Neal (+the baby Jesus): all in action!

Following the gig, I shall view any reference to a ‘glock’ as relating not to the gun, but to the xylophone’s metal cousin (a surprisingly versatile instrument) which is a much happier image (though it might make for a rather different next Bond movie).  I also acted as violin tech (OK, holder) for half of Bridge of Sighs, which was my first chance to get my (only slightly sticky) mitts on a violin (I was not trusted with the bow).  Still, it was a good opportunity for a discrete post-gig pluck and a fairly poor pizzicato rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star was the result (there have been worse consequences of illicit plucking…) I found the neck and fingerboard of the violin very cramped after the guitar and I think some basic knowledge of how a violin is tuned would probably have helped, but I feel basic nursery rhymes could lie within my grasp – well, if someone is fool enough to offer me regular access to a violin.

Finally, on Saturday I went to the Esterhazy Family Christmas Concert in Lewes.  This featured carols and other songs classic and new: though on the whole, the classics worked better.  Christmas is a time for shared rituals and I guess it is tough for new songs to break into the canon – but at some time every song was new, so I mustn’t be too set in my festive ways.  Listening to In the Bleak Midwinter, I couldn’t helping noting that Christina Rossetti wasn’t much of a farmer (or, indeed, a shepherd) as obtaining a lamb (other than from a supermarket freezer cabinet) at mid-winter would be a challenge: frankly, your typical shepherd would find it easier to source myrrh.  I also gained great enjoyment from the sight of ladies of a certain age wondering a church and approaching people with the phrase “pound a strip”.  I’m reasonably sure that they were referring to raffle tickets, but we were close to the loucheness that is Brighton and so perhaps your pound would have provided a more eye-opening experience.

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As London appoints a female bishop, Lewes still leads the way with its ursine vicar!

And, my musical Christmas is not yet over.  Tonight I shall join the Southampton Philharmonic Choir for carols around the (very dangerous!) piano (I may bring protection), whilst I am spending tomorrow night in baroque Italy (in sound, if not physical person – a much trickier proposition altogether) for some festive tunes from traditions past.

At this stage, I’m not sure what will fill the rest of the week – but it will certainly hold my annual viewing of the greatest Christmas film and the greatest Dickens adaptation ever created and also the high point of Michael Caine’s career (higher even than blowing the bloody doors off): I refer, of course, to The Muppet Christmas Carol.  There will also definitely be more live music and plenty of mince pies.  The last week or so has led me to think that I should have suggested the deep-filled mince pie to Tim Harford as one of the 50 Things that Made the Modern Economy (perhaps there’s still time for the second edition?).

In news about other things that will be filling me (and some of my week), my own take on pannettone has just emerged from the robotic grasp of my breadmaker.  It is currently both warm and delicious: one of these will fade but I hope the other will last right down to the last slice (which, if I can stiffen my will power, will not be later on this evening).

There may be another post before Christmas is upon us, but in case the muse stays away, readers should endeavour to enjoy themselves (despite the many challenges that the season offers to the achievement of that objective) and consider participating in some positive, seasonal community ritual.  Release the midwinter merriment!  (A phrase which will appear in my new line of GofaDM themed Christmas cards in 2018: it will be slightly tweaked for the southern hemisphere.)

 

 

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).

 

 

What’s the Deal?

Audiences regularly baffle me.  Sometimes in terms of their composition, but more often in terms of their numbers.  I rather suspect this is because I extrapolate from myself and, despite attempts to correct for my musical (and other cultural) tastes (broad though they may be), I am clearly not coming up with a decent model for the general public.

Most of this post will be about the Southampton scene, but I thought I’d start in the nation’s capital.  On Saturday evening, I went to a folk gig in a London venue I assumed to be somewhat famous to see a pair of musicians I also assumed to be famous: I was anticipating a fairly packed 200 seater.  I think I may have been confusing the concepts of “known to me” and “famous”.  The music venue at The Harrison was a surprisingly small cellar with dangerously low ceilings (well for me, my mother would have had nothing to worry about).  While the cellar became moderately busy by the end of the gig, I think I was in a very small minority having booked ahead and I suspect the only person to have travelled even a fraction of my 70 odd miles.  It was a lovely gig and Tom Moore and Archie Churchill-Moss (footwear sponsored by Adidas) do some amazing work with viola and melodeon (I am listening to Laguna as I write this post).  Even better, the boys finished in time for me to catch the 22:35 train home (albeit with some fast footwork across the Waterloo concourse): an important aspect of any night out in London!

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Moore & Moss: too formally attired?

I have been to some stunning theatre in Southampton, often very highly reviewed by professional critics (rather than random, self-obsessed bloggers like me), but very rarely in a mid-sized theatre even as much as half full.  This fact has proved quite handy for me as I can book very late once I know I will be at home, rather than over the Irish Sea, but can’t be ideal for the funding of the arts.  I also feel that lots of the folk of Southampton and its environs are missing out on some reasonably priced treats: I can generally go to the theatre half-a-dozen times locally for less than the cost of one trip to the west end (and this is very much what I do: there’s nothing wrong with thrift!).

However, the main thrust of this post will be about music and my totally inability to guess how busy a gig will be.  Part of this must be down to my rather sketchy musical knowledge: especially in regard to the popular music of my lifetimes.  There would appear to be large number of touring bands of yesteryear that visit Southampton, perhaps with some changes from the original line-up, of which my memory can deliver no recollection whatsoever.  I have, for instance, noticed that there were a lot more punk bands than I have any memory of and can also observe that the years have not treated the fans of these bands kindly.

I do have a feeling that a significant audience prefers to go (or only goes) to see musicians they fondly remember from a formative period of their youth.  Luckily, I don’t do this – or I’d never go out.  My youth seems to have been formative in non-standard ways, if at all…  Recently, in an unexpected (and now forgotten) context, I heard a JFK quote about not looking to “the safe mediocrity of the past“.  I’d been planning to use this in a savage indictment of the recent politics of both left and right – and perhaps typified by Brexit.  However, I shall instead – and perhaps more in keeping with the character of this blog – apply the principle to being culturally adventurous, with particular application to music.

I do wonder if there may be a certain lack of courage when it come too programming music – though, there may be some financial wisdom to this cowardice as I suspect audience caution robs them of experiences they would love.  Just this Sunday, I went to see the Armida Quartet playing at the Turner Sims.  My reading of the audience – including a few I chatted to over cake at half-time – was that the most enjoyed piece was the least safe choice in the Bach, Mozart and Beethoven: the third string quartet ‘Jagdquartett’ by Jörg Widmann.  It was the presence of this piece (well, that and the free half-time cake) that was my trigger to book the gig, but I suspect I was in a tiny minority (if not alone in this).  I was not disappointed: great music and visually exciting to watch as well – particular snaps to the acting skills of the cellist!

However, sometimes I am positively surprised.  Last Tuesday, I went to my Sofar gig – as part of Sofar Southampton.  These were traditionally held in people’s homes, with the venue announced only 24 hours ahead of time.  This has been an issue in the past, when I have been dependent on public transport or my bike.  They also have tended to require booking ahead of time, which has also been an issue with my rather variable availability midweek.  However, I now have a car and decided to take a punt.  As well as not knowing the venue, the artists performing are not announced at all: you find out who they are when you arrive at the gig.  So, no safety net: you are entirely relying on the skill and judgment of the local Sofar team (I will admit I do seem to know several of them).  I always feel slightly ambivalent about music taking place in unusual places: it is always great fun to see new places (I’m as nosy as the next man – more, if you’ve seen my face), but I feel I should be supporting established venues which have a hard enough time financially without the nation’s reception rooms filching their raison d’être.

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This is not the droid you’re looking for, it’s busy enjoying the music!

No cause for guilt last Tuesday as the ‘front room’ was upstairs at the Art House (a music venue I have often visited).  However, they maintained the usual Sofar vibe by having much of the audience (including me) sitting on cushions on the floor: I’m too old for this, I have come to realise and next time I’ll sit on a chair with the old codgers.  All four acts were great fun: Tom Pointer was originally from Southampton, Djuno are a local band and Ciircus Street had come from exotic Reading.  I enjoyed all of these, in each case sat underneath the neck of some sort of guitar, and would certainly seek them out again.  The headliner (or at least he was on last), Will Varley, claimed to have come all the way from Deal, however, post-gig conversation (as I was buying CDs) revealed he actually lives in Kingsdown (but he did have a range of Southampton gigging experiences, so I think we might still claim him as a son of the city).  I spent chunks of my youth in Walmer (I lived there for four years, as a blonde!  All natural!  Where did it all go wrong?) and regularly walked over Kingsdown with my grandparents and their dog.  Apparently, the area has changed somewhat and is now trendy and possessed of a vibrant music scene (in my day, I think the music scene was limited to the Royal Marines Band).  I now have a hankering to return to the places of my youth, walk the cliffs and prom and take in some live music: might wait for the weather to warm up a little first…  Nostalgia can be a cruel mistress!

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Will Varley with an almost JJ Abrams vibe, viewed from beneath.

Despite the uncertainty about location and musical fare, the gig was fully booked – and I believe this is not unusual.  Clearly there is an audience in the Southampton area with a sense of adventure, but where – I found myself asking (as I didn’t recognise most of them) – are they the other 29(ish) days of the month?  I’ve been to many gigs with three or four acts unknown (to me – and I suspect many others), often at lower cost than a Sofar gig, but been part of a sadly tiny throng: most of whom later turn out to be in (or related to) one of the bands on the bill.  What is Sofar‘s secret and how can we spread it more widely around the local music scene?

Every time I go to update (Not) Your Trusted Music Guide (as I did this morning) I find yet more music and other cultural treats in and around Southampton.  I think I might have to establish a new page to capture details of the potential audience so that we can (together) do suitable justice to our cultural riches!  It’s either that or some experiments of very dubious ethical standing to clone myself – and nobody wants that!