Author Archive

Joni Mitchell

January 17, 2013 Leave a comment

Joni Mitchell Blue album coverI came late and slowly to Joni Mitchell. The first of her albums that got me was The Hissing of Summer Lawns. I thought this must surely be unique. None of the observations made, narratives plotted, music played or notes sung could possibly be repeated or form part of a greater body body of work. I thought I’d discovered her best work and everything else would either be sub-folky nonsense like Big Yellow Taxi or obscure wishy-washy jazz.

About ten years later I listened to Blue for the first time. For the next three or four months I listened to it at least once a day and drove my family demented with the sound of it.

About five years on from my Blue revelation, I’ve now discovered Hejira and it makes me feel warm when it’s cold outside.

For me, Joni Mitchell is among the greatest musicians/artists/songwriters there are/have ever been and, along with Kate Bush, represent the very pinnacle of what women produce in the realm of music. Like Dickens, I’m happy to leave long gaps between absorbing more of her. I need to know that when I’m sixty, seventy or beyond there will still be gems of hers to unearth and immerse myself in.

Categories: music

Titus Groan

November 24, 2011 Leave a comment
Titus Groan is the first book in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy.
Titus Groan with Mervyn Peake's sketch of Fuscia Groan as cover.A lot has been said about this book and this trilogy. The soundbite I have in my head for it is ‘a sustained work of the imagination’. It is definitely that. The narrative and characters are pushed to heights which, in different hands, would be ridiculous, but Peake manages to keep things engaging and ‘real’ with heavyweight characters and doses of allegory which are not so far removed from what we (UK, the aristocracy, old people, young go-getters, the yoke of tradition etc.) are actually like. His descriptions of place are so vivid you can almost feel the moss-covered stone or the dusty old velvet of Gormenghast castle.
There are many things I loved about this book:
I’ve mentioned before that I like owls. It was this book that really cemented my appreciation of them. In it owls are associated with learning and wisdom – constantly circling the tower and the library – but when the tower burns down and the Earl loses his mind it is the owls that dispatch him. They are not just wise and enigmatic, but also vicious and deadly.
In the version of the books I have there are several of Peake’s sketches he drew of his characters. Fuscia, on the cover of this one, is draw with a very heavy hand. There are other pictures which are drawn with a very light hand. Rather than these insane freakish protraits being caricatures or monsters, they are in fact credible representations of how these characters may actually look.
After reading this book I identified The Smiths’ This Charming Man with it. I assumed that Morrisey had written the line ‘a jumped up pantry boy who never knew his place’ about Steerpike. I’ve since learned that that is not the case, but I retain the association. I’m sure Morrisey wouldn’t mind.
Categories: books

Charlie dancing

November 3, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s been a while since I posted a photo. I do like a good photo and, without devaluing the form or lowering the bar, it would seem that good photos are becoming more abundant. My definition of ‘good’ has always been pretty broad; favouring neither technical proficiency, framing, lighting or content, but welcoming them all. Of course, luck can also play a large part in determining whether or not a photo is good.

I’ve taken many thousands of photos and very occasionally I get the sense, even before I’ve taken my finger off the shutter release, that the photo has been a good one. I got that sense when I took the following photo of my son at his street dance class. I snapped it on my phone.

I like this photo because I like Charlie’s shape in it. I like the light and the colours and the movement in it. I like that I wish I was the wee boy in the photo doing what Charlie’s doing. A few people have also said they liked it, so here it is:

Charlie dancing

Categories: me, photos

The Rough Guide To The Music Of Scandinavia

October 21, 2011 Leave a comment

One of the many great things about working in The Nomads Tent was that it stocked Rough Guide CDs and they were the staple background music of the day.

The Rough Guide to the Music of ScandinaviaEach one provides a selection of about wenty tracks from various regions of the world. I love the music of Okinawa, Eastern Europe and Tango, but my very favourite has to be the music of Scandinavia. There’s a wide and rich variety of music on there from fairly traditional to complex orchestral and vocal arrangements, to songs where you can see the origins of heavy metal and prog rock among the strands of folk music.

Of the many great songs on this album the one that stops me in my tracks is the last one: The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra With The Langholt Church Choir, Conducted By Jon Stefansson: Lofsöngur (Icelandic National Anthem). Once you’ve gotten through all the wierdness and beauty of the other songs, this one comes with the reward of bliss and peace. There’s a section about two-thirds of the way through it when the choir modulates up and it catches you and makes your eyes water.

I was tempted to post a link to the page where you can listen to samples of the tracks from this album, but I’d be doing a dissservice as they all must be heard in their entirety for full appreciation.

Categories: music

Ceci n’est pas une pomme

October 6, 2011 1 comment

Everyone’s favourite little bit of surrealism.

ceci n'est pas une pomme by Rene MagritteI came across this picture when I was at college. Magritte inviting us to reconsider what we take to be real, making a distinction between the representation and the object, pulling aside the veil to reveal the elements and structure of what surrounds us.

I was so taken by this picture that I got an apple, wrote ‘Ceci n’est pas une pomme aussi’ on a piece of paper, fixed the apple to it and photographed it, to recreate the message in the medium of film. Sadly, I couldn’t get the depth of field quite right so my lecturer was spared my misguided attempts at profundity.

I understand that ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ may be slightly better know than its fruity counterpart but ‘pomme’ will always have a special place in my heart – and I think it’s a better/nicer painting. I also love the sound of this sentence in French.

Categories: art


September 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Few films have blown my mind quite as completely as this one did.

Poster for If by Lindsay AndersonI was a member of the film society at high school. There was much excitement that this film was being shown. I had to get signed permission from my mum to see it. Immediately, that meant there was going to be something unusual or dangerous or grown up about it. It had all three, but I could still never have guessed what this film was going to be like. I’d never seen anything remotely like it before.

This film’s about anarchy breaking out at a public school. It’s a very English film. It’s Englishness and public school-ness didn’t prevent a strong connection in me with the characters and events of the film (in the way that I detested, say, Dead Poet’s Society, on similair grounds). Lindsay Anderson pushed situations as far as he could with incredible (or, is that uncredible) results. Malcolm Mcdowell became and has remained one of my very favourite actors.

The film switches into black and white halfway through. Not to make some kind of statement about conditions pre and post anarchy, but because they ran out of money to buy colour film.

Mcdowell and Anderson teamed up again for Brittania Hospital which may have been the second film in a whole new genre originated by If. Brittania Hospital just wasn’t as brilliant so the genre never really got off the ground and If stands alone. No other film like it.

Categories: film

Samuel Beckett

September 18, 2011 Leave a comment

I started reading Samuel Beckett when I was at college and planned to do my thesis on his place within Post-Modernism. I’m glad I left before obliging myself to squeeze him into such a prescriptive box.

Samuel Beckett - The Beckett TrilogyI continued reading Beckett long after college when it was no longer necessary to categorise him. Looking at the development and transformation in his writing from the early novels like Mercier and Camier to the later writing like Ill Seen Ill Said and Worstward Ho the only category that could really contain his work would be the category of truly great, eternal writers. His enduring vision of some bleak metaphysical existence, articulated with razor sharp, beautiful prose, captivated me for good.

Beckett wrote much of his best work in French. He loved the economy of that language. I speak a little French and understand the attraction, though I’ve never attempted the French originals. As it was Beckett himself who translated the works back into English I can be assured they are as faithful as can be.

I was going to use a photograph of the author to accompany this post but I’m sure everyone is familiar with his chiselled, world-worn features in stark black and white. Instead I took a photo of my copy of his Trilogy. I was reading this around the time my first son was born. I named him Samuel in the same spirit that I named my second son Charles.

I  paraphrase his ‘fail better’ quote as my Twitter bio.

Categories: books