Blog archive November 2005

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29.11.05 / 01 / tracey emin christmas wrapping paper

in selfridges, proceeds to teenage cancer trust. it reads 'remember easter is not just for christmas - it's for life' - a sentiment with which i heartily concur.

ok so it has a naked woman and giant rabbits too, but that's tracey.

28.11.05 / 01 / golden wedding

last weekend my parents came to london for their golden wedding anniversary. plus my two brothers and one sister-in-law. we went to a show, had a meal, came to ealing to see my flat, looked at the christmas lights in regent street, had afternoon tea in liberty's. i had been tasked with sorting out the meal, so i did a lot of legwork at nights after work checking out likely restaurants [though without sampling the cuisine]. ambience had to be right as well as food - a clattering metropolitan eatery full of thirty-year-olds would not do. my parents wanted british food - but london is italian, french, asian etc. 'british' food in london is either very low - pie and chips in a greasy cafe - or very high, split between 'modern british' which is the avant-garde stuff [therefore not suitable] or 'traditional' which is mostly aimed at wealthy americans. we ended up at the goring hotel which had the required ambience and cuisine - expensive, but clean plates after every course said it was worth it. hard to fault, in fact [i'm relieved to say].

london doesn't really suit my parents. my dad doesn't have the mobility now - i realised how virtually everything requires a five or ten minute walk plus a few flights of stairs. the tube upsets my mother's tinnitus. they can't or won't eat the standard cafe/coffee fare. the place just isn't built for 70somethings. i noticed for the first time how absent such people are - except the ones that come and go in coaches.

i was physically and emotionally drained afterwards. the weeks sourcing the restaurant, then trying to make sure my parts went ok on the weekend. oh, and cleaning the flat too. six people come round, i have only two chairs and five mugs. and i was off work sick a few days before, which at least gave me a chance to finally find a suitable present on the way home to bed. whew. still, i'm glad they stayed married for 50 years.

hence so little blogging. or it feels like it, though it's only two weeks.

13.11.05 / 01 / iDolatry

grace has a new toy. mixes your iPods. even fits on top of a lectern.

takes nanos too.

by the way there was another act of worship.

11.11.05 / 01 / blows own trumpet

the barclays atria have been published in november's Architectural Review [UK's premier architectural glossy]. must buy a copy. although they should be buying one for me...

10.11.05 / 01 / sigur ros concert

just back from the sell-out sigur ros concert at brixton academy. the four group members were joined on stage by a string quartet and brass band to realise their sonically ambitious compositions. the result was more like an avant-garde classical concert than anything else - easy to imagine this at the royal festival hall. one piece stopped in the middle for a minute or two of complete silence - a challenge to an audience to understand what's going on and wait. only a few broke the silence but the tension could be felt - were we getting this right? some quite formidable musicianship on display - the first time i can recall seeing all live instruments at brixton academy. no laptops on stage or mixers! you hear a sound and lo and behold, someone is actually playing it! unfamiliar territory. in that sense it was more impressive than just hearing the albums, where one assumes it's all done in a computer and everything is possible. but here the fades, tempo changes, 'digital' effects were played before our eyes. very impressive indeed.

visually it was fairly simple - the stage, musicians, some lighting effects and enigmatic projections [a bit like their album graphics] on a backdrop. but the last track - piece one should say - was a stunning coup de theatre. a white screen came down in front of the musicians, who were then silhouetted against it or visible through it as the lighting shifted. add the projections on the backdrop and overlay with intense fast-cutting projections on the front drop and the band are inside their own three-dimensional video, flickering faster and faster in an astounding assault on the senses. standing ovation results.

random thoughts:

if this is what can be done with some brass, some strings, a glockenspiel and a piano, why are church and school bands so unambitious?

[just as smile-era beach boys makes one wonder about possibilities for church choirs]

me and gareth were put in mind of the 1960s classical avant-garde - sigur ros music [cello bow on electric guitar and all] was probably done in some happening in 1965 attended by three people. and everyone laughed at them and said it'll get nowhere. and forty years later the queue is literally round the block.

we've gone full circle - from live musicians, to studio effects that couldn't be played live, to computers, to live musicians producing sounds one thought were made by computers.

would it have the same credibility if they were singing in welsh? ;)

06.11.05 / 01 / a pre-blog blog post

[searching through the first version of i found the following piece from 2001. it was never published at the time, but it's the sort of thing that would be a blog post now.]

I have recently been reading 'Tunnel Visions' by Christopher Ross. This recounts his time as a station assistant on the London Underground. His intention was to get a short-term job that allowed plenty of time for reflection on, and observation of, the human condition. Hence Oxford Circus tube station.

It is not clear precisely when he was working there - books have a time-lag to publication - but I must have passed this guy many a time, taking no more notice of him as an interesting human being than I would of any of the other station staff. I expect the aristocracy once dis-regarded their servants in just this way. It is a salutary warning that we don't know the people among whom we move. I am reminded of the story about a monastery whose monks have been told that "Someone among you is the Messiah". Not knowing precisely who, they begin to treat each other very differently. Well, someone among you is a writer, or a journalist, or a superstar on the lower rungs, momentarily becalmed.

A few years ago, major engineering works had taken out a vital section of the system, and the displaced traffic was thrown onto an adjacent route which struggled to avoid breakdown due to sheer weight of numbers. A certain platform at one busy station became repeatedly overcrowded to the point of real danger, not only of falling onto the tracks but of being crushed or suffocated. Given that trains arrived at this station already full, the frustration of the waiting passengers was enormous.

Presiding over this running near-disaster was a station assistant clutching a microphone and perched on a rail to get a view over everyone's heads. Whether he was a professional actor or comedian I don't know. Maybe he was one of those gifted amateurs who have just been waiting for a stage in order to blossom. His patter and crowd-working skills were extraordinary. The routine announcements of "move along the platform" and "this train terminates at" were dispensed in a stream of wisecracking improvisatory humour sufficient to lift the hardest of workaday hearts. It was genuinely good, not the sort of low-grade cheese that leaves you feeling demeaned for having yielded to a smile. Even so determinedly self-contained a person as myself could not resist amusement and warm feelings. Over repeated encounters the performance became a little formulaic, but still it never lost its charm or skill. I wonder how many lives he saved from electrocution or violence simply by making people less bolshy to their neighbours on the platform.

Occasionally one comes across similarly luminous talent among buskers - not, it has to be said, often. The shamelessness of busking is amazing to me. How can these people thrust their banal few bars onto the public, repeated over and over as if the trains were whisking us out of earshot every minute instead of every ten. Other people's music is seldom welcome even when good. I have often wished to practise extreme, unanswerable, grotesque violence on talentless fools who break my need for space with six bars of Chris de Burgh on bongos. At least it would get a laugh.

Not always is it like this. I remember in the mid-Nineties three - or was it four? - young men doing early Beatles numbers in close harmony. Their repertoire was not vast, but their skill outweighed their rather cheesy desire to please. A moment in cultural history was marked the day they sang Oasis songs instead.

At the bottom of the big escalators a man in top hat and tails is tap-dancing and singing snatches of stagey songs. He is a camp Thirties master of ceremonies from Cabaret, made up and glittery. The entertainment lies not in the song and dance but in the bitchy chit-chat exchanged with passers-by. The long escalators give him a little more time with a given audience.

But the best busker of all - one evening many years ago, singing sad songs in a high, rich voice. Not merely a good voice, a professional voice, but a once-in-a-lifetime heartbreaking otherworldly voice, drifting in haunted anguish through the tunnels. Edith Piaf reborn in Piccadilly Circus. My train came too soon. And how often does that happen?

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